Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Interesting Thing About Anxiety

Meet Obi, my therapy cat. 

My friend John has been writing a blog post a day for the new year. I admire his ability to write something short, pithy and with a moment of illumination. My writing is overwrought and overlong. I back into stories. I do this thing that I'm doing right now.

I wish I could be concise. I wish I could keep it light with a deft touch of wisdom. Hell, I'd even settle for something funny. But when I sit down to write, nothing funny enters my head these days. The only stuff that comes to mind is the tough stuff.

Maybe that means I should just go ahead and write about the tough stuff?

I've been in and out of therapy since I was 14 years old. For the majority of that time, I've worked on what I've perceived as my "heavy duty" issues. Things like depression, suicidal ideation, self-mutilation, an eating disorder. You know. The big guns of mental illness.

But mostly, as an adult, I've conquered or at least learned to manage those issues. The long-term depression is mostly a thing of the past, thanks to therapy and medication. (Yay! Science!) It's only very recently that I've begun to look at anxiety.

Isn't that odd?

Anxiety was never really at the forefront of my mind. Believe me, it's been running in the background   like so many of the apps on my iPhone. But it didn't seem like a life-or-death situation. Hell, it even seemed kind of useful at times.

Anxiety drove me to overachieve. Anxiety drove me to get shit done. Anxiety made my house really, really clean. Hell, anxiety kept me pretty slim, most of the time. What's not to like about a little low-grade anxiety? Keeps you on your toes!

It turns out that's not exactly true.

Maybe I've been avoiding looking at my anxiety because it scares me? What lies behind that anxiety? What causes it? As much as I describe it as an app constantly running in the background of my mind, what I fail to mention is that the app is run by a bunch of Russian hackers and they're stealing all my financial information.

What's even more interesting about dealing with anxiety head on, is that the more I talk about anxiety in therapy, the more anxious I become. Oh Irony, thy name is Psychoanalysis. Lots of people would tell me to just stop talking about it and then everything would be fine.

But the truth is, I'm not fine.

Anxiety causes a lot of panic in my life. I'm sure it's shortening my life by years if not decades. I'll probably drop dead of a heart attack or get stomach cancer because of all the worrying and stressing I do about every little thing. And my body carries the physical symptoms of anxiety. Headaches. Constant neck and shoulder pain. Stomach pains. It's not good.

Living with anxiety is like stepping on the gas pedal of your car while it's still in park. My engine revs, if not screams, at times. But nothing moves. You may not even know I'm so ramped up because my outer appearance is still set to "Park."

But inside I'm burning my motor out.

So I'm talking about it. I'm talking about why I'm so anxious. Why I panic. Why seemingly minor things cause me to freak out as if my world is about to end. It's not comfortable. I don't like any of it. And talking about it is temporarily making the symptoms worse.

That's how it is sometimes. Sometimes you have to get worse before you get better. Maybe that's why so many of us never get better?

It's not easy to walk through the fire. But I have faith that there is peace on the other side. And I also have faith that I'm strong enough to get to the other side. And that, my friends, is quite something. At least for a kid who didn't think anything would ever get better and that no one would ever come to rescue her.

Turns out, I can save myself. And I'm getting kind of good at it.


Wednesday, March 8, 2017

The Experience of Being a Woman


The first time a man flashed his genitals at me, I was about eight or nine years old. I was walking to the store with my friend and a young man—a teenager, I think—called to us and when we turned around, he was shaking his dick at us.

In some ways it's a funny story. I mean, how ridiculous. Right? I remember my friend laughed. But I felt simultaneously angry and sad. I grabbed her arm and pulled her along so we could run away. It felt like a violation. I didn't ask to see his penis. I wasn't old enough to see a penis. And I didn't know what he was going to do next. Would he try and hurt us? Rape us? I didn't know.

It wouldn't be the last time a stranger would flash me. It's happened a few more times as an adult and usually at gas stations. I have no idea why gas stations attract so many sexual predators. But there you go. It's an added experience some of us get as women that men may have no idea about.

When I was a teenager, I was chased by a group of boys on a playground when I was babysitting two children. I half-carried, half-dragged the two kids as fast as I could to my car, whereupon I stomped on the gas so hard the engine revved and the tires threw stones up into the air. In my panic, I still had my foot pressed on the brake, so we didn't move. One of the young men reached the car and punched my window. He left a greasy fist print on the window, but I released the brake in time to get away.

Another time, as a teenager, a boy assaulted me at a party. He grabbed me by the neck and threw me into a swimming pool in front of an entire party full of teenagers. Then he jumped in the water and grabbed my head and held me under until some other boys came and had to physically pull him off of me.

Was he trying to kill me?

I don't know.

Would he have let me up soon enough for me to breathe?

I don't know. It didn't seem like it, at the time.

Why did he do this?

Because I didn't want to go out on a date with him.

I was raped by a 50-year-old stranger when I was 17 years old.

I have been cursed at, yelled at, propositioned and grabbed throughout my life. There have been many mornings where I can't fill a tank of gas without having to politely accept some strange man's compliment. If I don't say thank you to all of these unwanted comments, I'm called a "bitch" or "cunt." I've been cursed at while jogging. I've been told, "I want to fuck your pussy" while shoveling my driveway. I've been called a stuck-up bitch for simply ignoring these comments.

If you say thank you, it's an invitation for more. If you ignore them, you're a bitch. If you flip them off, then they'll stop the car and threaten to assault you. I've had all of these experiences personally. I'm sure lots of people will have excuses for them all.

"Not all men" are like that.

"You should be flattered someone said something nice to you."

"You shouldn't have been alone."

"You shouldn't have been there at night."

"You're exaggerating."

"Get over yourself."

"It's not that big of a deal."

And on and on. All of the ways we minimize women's personal experiences because they are not our own experiences. And on and on. All the ways we tell girls and women to be quiet. To be polite. To not cause problems. Just suck it up and smile. Say thank you. Don't be difficult. Don't be a bitch. Why do you have to be such a bitch? Why do you have to be so dramatic? Give me a break. Typical liberal bullshit. There's a lot more women who falsely accuse men of rape and ruin their lives than women who've actually been raped. Why didn't you report it? Why didn't you fight back? Why did you fight back? Why did you say something? Why didn't you say something?

My experience of being a woman is that I can never get it right. I can never guarantee my own safety or protect myself in the right way, in a way that will please everyone, everywhere, all the time. My experience of being a girl and being a woman is that there is no one there to help you. You're on your own and if anything does happen to you, it'll be your fault.

My experience of being a woman is that everybody will tell me why I'm wrong.

I hope I can teach my daughter to have a difference experience of being a woman. That's why I write these words. That's why I say it out loud. That's why I don't care what you say or what you think. I will no longer be silenced or shamed. I will speak up. I will be a bitch and I won't give a damn what you think about that.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

High Anxiety

In paradise with a headache. 

I've been living with anxiety for, like, ever. I was an anxious child and it turns out I'm a pretty anxious adult. I do my best to hide it but I really only think I'm fooling myself. I recall when I was teaching high school one of my students described me as, "Anxious and nice." I was kind of taken aback by that. I like to think of myself as a calm, laid back Buddhist. But the truth is I'm edgy as all get out. Just lay a finger on my neck or shoulders and you'll be like, "Damn girl. I could bounce a quarter off of you!"

I carry my anxiety in my shoulders. They're usually hunched up close to my ears. When I'm driving, I look like an old lady with my shoulders hunched up and my chin jutting out over the steering wheel. I'm constantly having to remind myself to push my shoulders back down. To relax. To chill the eff out. But then—boing! There they go again. They pop right back up to the perma-hunch.

My anxiety has been so high for the past few weeks that I've had a constant headache. For the first couple of weeks of the perma-headache, Tylenol seemed to do the trick. But since last Friday, nothing has worked. I've tried Tylenol, Advil, Excedrin, Caffeine, Claritin, Claritin-D, Flonase, massages and I even went to the walk-in clinic and got a rather humiliating shot in my butt to try and kill the pain.

No dice.

I did notice that the headache did temporarily go away while I got a massage last night. So my therapist suggests that this means it's a tension headache rather than a brain tumor. (You know that's where my thoughts went—worst case scenario.)

It's so odd to me that your psychological state can cause physical pain. Your brain is so powerful that it can induce physical manifestations of your psychological pain. That just blows my mind. (Ha—literally!) And then I wonder—what's the point of all this? Why would nature design us that way? What good could it possibly do for us as a species to suffer physically as a result of psychic trauma? There must be some sort of evolutionary reason this happens, right Darwin?

Maybe attending to our psychic pain is necessary to our survival?

Maybe the only way some of us will take care of ourselves emotionally is if we're practically crippled with pain.

Or maybe that's just me?


Thursday, February 16, 2017

I Ain't Done Yet.

The manuscript in its present, unfinished state. 

Still working on my memoir. Still working on the edits and revisions. It was one thing to write the damn thing, to steep myself in pain so black and thick I never thought I'd get out of it the first time around, let alone willingly revisit it. Sticky tar memories clasp at my ankles and feet, sink me to my knees and pull me down, down, down.

What madness drives me to put any of this down?

What madness is this?

I've reworked and plumbed these memories for so long and so deep there shouldn't be any pain left. Saw my first therapist at 14, and at 45 I'm still tilling those fields. Fields that should be barren and dry by now, but heartbreak blooms anew like the most stubborn weed. Leave one bit of root and it starts to spread and grow again.

People tell me to let it go. People tell me not to live in the past. What's a memoir but living in the past? Re-submerging. Putting on that child skin. Looking through those child eyes. 

What madness is this?

Maybe if I tell it once and tell it right, it'll all be right. I'll make it right. Fix it. Exhume it. Exorcize it. But first I've gotta get inside and understand it. Relive it. Saturate myself in it. Baptize myself in it. Put it back on this one last time (I swear to god) and cast it out into the atmosphere. Let the gods and devils take it up from there. I don't want this to be mine anymore.

But it's not your place to tell me when I'm done.

I ain't done yet.

Not the manuscript and not the pain. I ain't done yet. I ain't done yet and you don't get a say. None of you. Not one. Not you who left me. Left me to deal with the mess you left behind. Not you who drank yourself into oblivion and left me to fend for myself in a house filled with trash. Not you who tied me to a chair and left me there to call for help that never came. Not you who held me down and took something from me that was not given. Not you who looked in my eyes and lied and called me crazy. None of you. Not you.

I ain't done yet.

It's so hard for me to access any of this pain. Most of the time I run on neutral if not apathetic. I can't cry in therapy. I analyze and shrug my shoulders. But my hands tremble at night.

If I'm angry, I get to be.

If my anger took 40 years to rise to the surface, you don't get a say.

That's right.

I ain't done yet.

This memoir is going to take as long as it takes. This anger is going to take as long as it takes. This pain is going to rebloom until I feel through the dirt and find each root and pick it out with my fingers. Fingers raw and bloody from digging. 

But I ain't done yet.

And you don't get to tell me when it's over. Because for me, it ain't over yet.



Monday, January 23, 2017

Candle. Flicker. Out.



Life is so brief. So painfully brief. The image that keeps going through my head is my finger and thumb snuffing out the scented candles in my house. Just like that. That small. That gentle. That violent, depending on your perspective.

If you look at the time etched in the walls of the Grand Canyon, time seems immense and humanity small. Particularly our own.

If I look at my six-year-old daughter's cheeks, hers seems all the more brief than my own. And so much more fragile. So breakable. I think this thought and snuff it out as quickly as if touching a flame.

As quickly as death. Death. It can just sweep in and wipe out a life. Just like that.

I've written about my friends' deaths before. Oftentimes I don't publish because it feels selfish. It's not my death. Not my lover. Not my brother, sister, love. But each time a friend dies I'm taken aback by the briskness of the thing. Death shouldn't come so easily to those so young.

Another candle was snuffed out yesterday. Too soon. Too soon. I feel my heart beat the rhythm of too soon.

I don't feel right daring to write about it here. It's not my death. Not my husband, brother, son. A friend. A writer. A man.

And now he's gone.

The cancelled coffee date hangs in the air.

The words I wrote in the margins of his manuscript hang there too. Did he even read them? Was he well enough? He emailed to apologize for missing his deadline. I'd been coaching him off and on for the past year and a half or so. The deadlines were his to miss. Not mine.

He apologized in the midst of battling cancer. He apologized in the midst of racing to finish his manuscript. He apologized in the midst of racing to live as much life as he had left. Three months? Six months? A year?

A week and a half.

Cut short.

Too soon.

Just like that.

It leaves me as breathless as if I'd blown the candle out myself.



Thursday, January 19, 2017

Traveling With Children.

Contemplating traveling with children. 

My friends are taking their children to Europe and want my husband and me to come with them—with our children.

My response?

I laughed and laughed and laughed.

And then I *shuddered.*

I don't enjoy traveling with children. Yes, I'm the mother of two children. But traveling with siblings is like traveling with two of your worst Facebook friends. Imagine the two friends who love to argue  and post nothing but long streams of apocalyptic political claptrap from both sides. Now imagine yourself stuck on a plane with them for eight hours. Now imagine you're sharing a hotel room with them. You're eating every meal with them. You're dragging them through foreign streets while they shake their fists at each other and shout statistics and quote Matt Walsh.

*Shudders again*

My kids can argue over anything. They argue over who the cat likes more. They argue over what their favorite color is. They argue over who sat next to me last. They are six years apart and it doesn't matter. They could be one year apart or two or three. The sibling dynamic is strong regardless of the difference in age.

What I'm trying to say is, I don't want them to ruin Europe for me.

At least not while my youngest child is still fluent in Whinese.

The only time they stop bickering is when they are near large bodies of water—chlorinated, salted or unsalted. If there's a beach, they are suddenly best friends. If there's a pool, they play contented for hours.

But city streets and historic sites? Aw hell no.

My youngest mentioned wanting to go to Greece. It's funny, because I want to go to Greece too. I've always wanted to go and then I recently read a biography about Leonard Cohen. He spent a year or so living on an island with other poets and writers. It romanticized it all the more. I even wrote a short story about it.

Greece has beaches.

I might consider Greece. With a nanny.

But they're not going to London and Paris.

No one but no one ruins Paris for me. Personne!


Thursday, January 12, 2017

What's the Point of Writing?





I got my fifth rejection letter today. Though I pretend not to care, I do. It takes something out of me each time that it happens.

So why am I doing it?

What's the point of all this?


* * * 


When I was a child I would pretend I could control the wind.

We had long uncut grass much of the time and when the wind whipped through it, it looked like a wild safari or the grasses of the Savanna. I orchestrated the movement of the wind with my arms, with mad, sweeping movements and grand gestures that demonstrated my command over nature. I was all powerful and in control — and it was transcendent. I could pretend that the chaos that was going on inside the house was far away. I'd get lost in the way the leaves of the grass would sway back and forth, looking like a silvery gray sea when the undersides of the grass flicked towards the sun, and then flipped back to a dark green sea as I commanded the wind to blow the other way.


* * * 


When I was a child I pretended I was a deep sea diver in a blue plastic pool in the backyard.

I had a snorkel and a mask and I circled about endlessly, the water warm the sun. Strips of grass and leaves floated lazily past the glass of my mask, twirling in a vortex I'd created with my circular laps. I'd pop my head up over the water, over the edge of the pool, and then taste the blue plastic while I gazed across the yard, watching dandelion puffs float through the sky. I could get lost in that world. Another world. Underwater, removed, silent and undulating with currents I'd created. I liked the feel of the grass under my feet as I ran back inside the house, pieces of grass sticking to my feet and ankles.


* * * 


Why write?

I've been wondering this since I've been trying to blog every day (or at least every week day) for the month of January. Scroll back and you'll see I'm not exactly accomplishing this goal. Why the resistance? Why the battle? Isn't this supposed to be something I love?

I've been struggling with the edits on my memoir. I'm blocked by a difficult chapter and I keep striking upon the same spot where I stop "showing" and start "telling" the story. I'm undone by this. I don't even know where to begin fixing it. And the chapter has fifty pages. I'm overwhelmed by the impossibility of the task.

So why write? What's the point?

I'm acting like it's a job or burden. I submitted some short pieces to the literary journals because I want to be read. The blog is supposed to be pleasure. The memoir is what I chose to write. These are all things I want to do. I have something in me that compels me to write. A song that needs to be sung. A song that's been stuck in my throat since I was that little girl conducting the winds and creating the currents.

Writing is not a burden.

Writing is getting lost in that magic space in my head. Writing is the lull of the wind across the tops of the grass. Writing is the warm water and the sun filtering through it. Writing is a music that only I can hear.

Maybe I want that song to be heard? Maybe I'm singing it because it needs to be sung? Maybe I'm singing because it's the only voice that I have?

I don't know.

But whatever the reason, it is not a burden. It's not a job. It's not something to feel ashamed of or to fret over.

This is magic. This is music. This is mystery. This is the only space where I conduct the song. Every note. Every measure. Somehow I keep forgetting to just open my mouth and sing.



* * * 


This is the only place where I'm free.