physiology 101

My dear friend of 40 years and fellow blogger writes  about life-changes she is seeking, and how she is trying to pay more attention to her gut instincts and give the constraints of pure logic a bit of rest as she searches for new directions.

I liked her post and it made me think (as her writing always does, bless her) … I was reminded of something I have done and should do more of … so I post a rephrase of my comment to her here:

My instincts don’t lie in my gut, I don’t think. The things that thrive in my gut are panic, anxiety, dread. Also extra pounds. I would just as soon not know about my gut – where it is, what it’s doing or thinking, what it wants to eat, how it is getting along with the size of my pants, etc.  

My question is to my heart — the soul part, not the bloody pumping part. “Are you there? How do I make you grow? How do I live out your desires? ”

One thing that has helped me in moving along when I have been stuck is visualization. Draw the image of where I want to be, who I want to be, what I want to do. Make the image as real as I can. I write it out in words, draw and diagram pictures of it. Keep looking at it, keep it in my head at all times. It becomes part of me, my conscience, my sub-conscience. I start moving in the direction I visualize as if by magic.

I learned this awhile back from a friend who shares some of my fears around horseback riding … specifically the performance anxiety that comes with competing, and my huge fear of jumping. I started to ride the perfect dressage tests or hunter classes in my head, over and over. I even visualized burps in the rides and how I would ride through them. In my car during my commute, in the shower, during boring meetings at work, whenever I could let my mind safely wander away from reality, I would put in my head the vision of where I wanted to go.

Build the vision and live it in your head. What are you doing? What kind of person are you? How are you dressed? What is your daily routine like?

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It is just like practicing for a speech or a difficult conversation, really.  Write the speech and then present it to an imaginary audience.  Have the audience throw some rotten tomatoes and then visualize how to deal.

I have my current passion, the Book, storyboarded on the wall of my home office — Will start posting pieces of it for my Fun with Murder Readers team …Googled images of landscapes and buildings and artifacts that figure into the story — timelines of events — an organization chart of the key characters’ interrelationships  — photos of people who look like my characters.    I am still looking for the character that will fit into Tommy Lee Jones.  Gotta have Tommy Lee Jones in the eventual movie screenplay, dontcha know.

I have been doing stuff, just not this

I have a lot of good reasons:

1.  I got myself a companion.  Nicest guy ever.  Came with the nicest dog ever (ok, second-nicest dog — my Golden Lily is the nicest dog ever).  So I have had to make some behavior changes.  Like try to be nice back.  Mostly.  Not trying so much in the morning.  Also, try not to spend so much time on the computer writing while we are together.  Mostly.  I give myself points for conversing with him at the same time I am spending so much time on the computer writing.

2.  My companion bought a new TV and DISH and put them in my living room.  I haven’t had TV for years.  Enough said.

3.  I got myself yet another job.  Way good money.  Way too much work and stress and too little job-well-done.  This yet another job is going to be replaced by yet another job as soon as I can manage it.  I am just happy I saved my “Just Shoot Me” Post-It note I used to stick on my forehead when I was having a bad day at my last yet another job.  

4.  I have been making friends with a new horse, who I believe has a tax-refund-friendly price tag.

5.  I did my taxes as soon as the W-2s and other tax stuff landed on my planet.  See #4.

6.  I got two new baby kittens around Thanksgiving.  Kittens are way too entertaining.

7.  I started a creative writing class (mystery fiction) so I can maybe learn how to write like a real writer.   Reader Team, go here.  This will be the writing focus for a bit,  but there will be blog.  I have missed it.

10 lessons learned from middle-aged dating

1. There needs to be another word for “dating” for people my age.
2. It is perfectly acceptable for Victoria’s to remain a Secret from my body type.
3. I am a perfectly acceptable to take out to dinner immediately after I ride a horse, still in boots, chaps and spurs, and with sweaty smashed-by-helmet hair.

helmethair

helmet hair

boots
4a. It is more important to be a good cook than to be able to fit into #2.
4b. I love cooking for someone else.
5a. When I invite someone over for #4b, I have the strength and stamina to clean my entire house in one day, not counting the scary Garage Sale/eBay staging room, and the stupidly-white-dead-center-of-2-ranch-dogs-and-5-acres-of-red-clay-featuring-4-horses’-worth-of-manure kitchen floor.
5b. He doesn’t look at the kitchen floor.
6. Being outside at night and looking at the Milky Way in silence is a perfectly acceptable date.

milkyway_hepburn_big
7. I need my own fishing license.lake and feet
8. Parts of me are stunning, some others at least in very good shape. The parts that aren’t (#2 for example) don’t matter.
9. Waxing is way easier.
10. Dating someone, as caring and comfortable as they may be, does not fix panic/agoraphobia. Dang it.

(originally posted on Facebook 7 Sep 13)

remedecorating part 2

i received some money in bonus and tax refund earlier this year, and decided i would dedicate a good portion of those funds to build a new look for my living room.  and i made a commitment to myself and the Source of my provision that shopping for new living room would not result in the purchase of a new horse.  as it did last time i went shopping for a new kitchen and came home with a Mo.

the new look began with the old look, which was in the neighborhood of shabby chic, next door to delapidated down-on-its-luck rental, and just down the block from partially boarded up but active crack house.

the quilt in the pic below is the only keeper, my first attempt at watercolor quilting — but it will get replaced by the new one in the bottom photo.   which will get started as soon as i finish the archeological dig for the fabric collection, buried somewhere in one of the garage sale staging rooms.   which are all rooms of my home at the moment.  think the reality show Hoarders but with visible navigable floors and working toilets, and without high potential for discovery of multitudes of dead cats (so far).

before ugh 1

before ugh 1

before ugh 2

before ugh 2

then came the virtual new look.  this is the culmination of months of virtual shopping, fiddle-f-ing with Photoshop, cutting and pasting photos of things I liked, moving the things around on the computer screen, discovering Art.Com (on my planet, oh-my-lord-equivalent in viewing pleasure to what i get from YouTube marathons).

on my computer i painted the room, put new flooring in, put in furniture and decor I liked, without spending a dime.

living room -  rugblog

dream in virtual life

then i commenced to buying the stuff in the picture, until the money ran out.  I actually got a couple more Acts of God in the form of voluntary trips to real stores twice — one to La-Z-Boy.  thank God La-Z-Boy employs an Amy who was so good at her job in picking out furniture for short people.  I eventually did buy furniture that was different than what I had virtually selected.  but the stuff I bought was still within the Genus Furniture, which is just a bit short of an Act of God in itself, inasmuch as I am so ardently attracted to the Genus Equus when shopping for stuff to sit on.

then to Home Depot to look at real floor samples and smugly concluding that the virtual sample i had installed in my computer living room was exactly what i wanted.   when the floor installers came, i was pleased that the three installer dudes were Croatians.  Or maybe two Croatians and one Serbian.   I liked their accents.  Which I heard a lot of because they carried on a non-stop argument of some sort the whole time they were here.

and, with more smug, the virtual paint color i found on Behr.com turned out to be the perfect color when the real-life walls eventually got real-life paint, thanks to Steve the real-life painter dude.  he showed up in immensely comforting all-white clothes spattered with paint.

now I am waiting for more money to finish up with lamps and wall art and what-nots.  hopefully not too much in the Genus What-Not, since the main reason for this whole remedecorating of my living space is to support the decluttering and relaxing and prettifying of the energy of my head space.   so that the real Carol will like it enough to come back and live here.  and then maybe relax enough to do some real writing.

remedecorating part 1

this is sort of like remedial decorating — or me-redecorating — or something.

for the past few months i have been working on my cosmetic fixer of a home.  well, it was advertised as a cosmetic fixer when I bought it 17 years ago.  since then,  in the entire 17 years, i have pretty much done nothing toward any fixing, cosmetic or otherwise, except paint a few walls and replace two rooms-worth of crawly-thing-and-dirt-haven carpet with laminate.

so now, a real estate ad for my home would probably describe it as cosmetic fixer of a house-corpse-in-full-rigor, laid out on the autopsy table badly in need of removal and/or rearrangement of its smelly and crawly insides.

i am determined to keep this house until I myself am beyond life as we know it.   so something must be done before i get so fed up with the beyond-shabby (and sans chic)  ambience that i will skip the house autopsy altogether and go straight to cremation.

part of the reason for not doing much with the house is that i am afraid of tools and hardware.  aka “not mechanically-inclined”.   or, more accurately, mechanically-a-danger-to-myself-and-any-nearby-misfortunates …

… so much so that it takes an Act of God for me to replace a burnt out lightbulb.   it takes a whole separate Act of God for me to buy new lightbulbs to replace the burnt-out ones.   which happens after yet another whole separate A of  G  – cowboying me to the grocery store.

these Acts must be way low on God’s priority list considering the state of my home’s present light bulb operational readiness.  which is Not.  which is OK.  because too much light hurts my eyes. and i have a miner’s headlamp when i need to see something.

i kid you not.  meet my favorite light source.

headlamp

i console myself for this lack of mechanical/hardware skill by reminding myself of my nice penmanship, which requires knowledge and application of pens and inks.  which are sort of tools, and i am not afraid of them.

pen

and i can use a sewing machine.  i am not afraid of fabric or thread.  as long as I just have to sew straight lines, like for quilts.  Quilts don’t scare me either, unless I am trying to finish one as a gift in a hurry, like two months after its birthday deadline.

waterfallquilt

Jan’s Waterfall – for my mommy

next up … part 2

grace in grief

what is happening with me lately is rediscovery of the person i used to be before panic and anxiety took over.  i don’t know exactly when that happened, but i remember the first panic episode that propelled me to the local ER occurred during the same general timeframe as the big Loma Prieta earthquake in ’89.  20-plus years ago.  Really?

not that i am cured — far from it.  i think a new set of meds is managing the symptoms pretty well most of the time … still, there are spikes, sharp intense punches of it that pretty much just flatten me,  maybe once a week.   but most days, when i first wake up,  i am normal.

of course, understand that normal for me is probably not normal for most people.    normal on my planet is simply the absence of panic — the absence of racing heart and heavy pit in stomach  and floating-outside-of-body feeling and weak knees and racing oh-no-something-is-terribly-wrong-or-about-to-be thoughts and absolute certainty that i am going to be forever lost.

i am continually taking my normalcy “pulse”  …  that is, asking my Other Half — are you there?  are you going to bug me today?  or are you far from me and i am free to live my life today?

visualize a deep gorge between two mountains.  my life path follows the edge of the gorge … some days the path winds itself  dangerously close to the edge, other days the path leads away from the edge and i am safe until the path heads back to the edge.  on very bad days i fall over the edge.

no matter where the path is leading, every minute of every day I am aware that the abyss exists and is near.

Dr. C asked me in a recent therapy session how much time I spend not thinking about it — that is, how many minutes of the day do I go about the business of living without being consciously aware of my disorder.

My answer:   None.  I am never not thinking about it.

Therapy with Dr. C is building my toolbox of tools  I can use to manage it.  Now understand  I have no concept of tools — what they are, how to use them — so when I think of the tool I need to redirect my path away from the gorge,  I imagine a hand-held battery charged and Internet-capable combination machete/bulldozer, turbocharged (whatever that means), with a pretty parasol to shade my head, a built in laptop with two very large flat panel screens (so I can watch YouTube on one while on-line shopping for lamps on the other), and a comfy cargo area big enough for two big dogs  and two horses to keep me company while I’m multi-tasking at trailblazing, YouTubing and shopping.   Clearing the path in the direction I want — farther and farther away from the edge of the abyss.

With this tool and others in  steady practice,  I am now being asked by Dr. C to try to see the panic as a gift.  This is very nutty to me.  I tell her so.

“Dr. C, you are as nutty as me if you think that I will ever be able to see this thing as a gift.”

“Carol, I know this sounds nutty.  Think of it like fighting nutty with nutty.”

Hmmm.  Ok, now that makes sense.

So I have been practicing.  When It comes, I invite It to stay for awhile and I just let It be.  I think to myself — “Ok, here we go.  Just be nutty.  Breathe.  It’s ok. “

I let all of the physical symptoms occur and I keep breathing.  I allow all of the swirling oh-no thoughts to bounce off the walls in my head without judging or analyzing them.   I try to just listen to them, and ask “What is this gift you are trying to give me?”

And then sometimes, miraculously, freedom.  Not from the attack itself, but from the  fear of it.   And that … that is the endless loop that has to be broken — the fear of fear.

I’m actually doing it.  Not always, but sometimes.  Sometimes is good enough.

The fallout … now that the fear is taking up less space in my energy field, and being excruciatingly slow about it mind you, other places are opening up.  Places I haven’t visited in a long time.  I am seeing the person I haven’t been in a long time.   The Carol I liked being, what seems now so long ago.

The voice shrieking at me in the midst of the panic is hers.

The gift – she is still there. And making a hell of a lot of noise.

And so I grieve.  For me and for her.  But even though I grieve for spending so many years not her, I am learning how to listen through the panic and recognize her voice.

I can see the possibility of becoming her again.   Indescribable, unspeakable comfort.

Grace.

teaching my bully how to tango

First, do not assume that I know how to tango.  I do not.

I do not do any sort of dancing.   I am not a dancer by any stretch of any definition of dancer, to which my dear ex-husband, who spent countless Spanish-expletive-filled  hours trying to teach me salsa, cha-cha, merengue,  would enthusiastically attest.  If he could.    He is in Heaven now.  But probably still making fun of my dancing from Way Up There.

Carlos (the dear ex) to me, repeatedly:  “Stop dancing like a white girl.  You look like an f-ing dork.  Dance like a Puerto Rican.”

Me,  repeatedly:  “¡Callate, pendejo!“*

   *”Shut up, asshole!”

Nowadays, if there were a fat chance of dance in my life, my choice would be the Argentine Tango.  Because it  looks graceful, passionate, intense, angry.  And because I like the outfits.

Teaching my bully how to tango is what Dr. C, my psychologist,  told me in last week’s session to do when panic/anxiety strikes.  Well, she didn’t really say that, exactly.  I don’t think.   I’m not quite sure what she said, exactly.  Because I was in the middle of a big fat full-on P/A assault during that session.    Which, it occurs to me now, was weird, since you’d think It would be so scared of Dr. C’s safe, comfy, Pottery Barn-ish office with those big Doctor certificates hanging on the walls.  It also occurs to me that It must have been fun for Dr. C.    You know, sort of like when Sybil turned into Peggy or whoever right in front of Dr. Wilbur.  Or whoever.

In any event,  I was not able to focus well.   I do remember that Dr. C made me stare at her potted fern and describe it in great detail while focusing on where my elbows were.  Or something like that.

My take-away from that session:  When It is Bad, I need to do something random — change it up.  Instead of  parking my butt somewhere overthinking about It, I need to get up and do something I would not normally do.  Like look at a fern.  Or think about my elbows.   Or wash the dishes.

When It strikes hard, it feels sort of like a crazy wild jitterbuggy dance that my mind is doing with my body.   The initial strike is an intense, out-of-the-blue, inexplicable  “Oh, NO!”  to which my stomach responds with a sudden, rapid nose-dive down to China or thereabouts.  My mind follows with, “Uh-oh, there is something terrible …”   My body says, “Ok, here comes some adrenaline so you can fight or run away from the something.”  My mind acknowledges      ”  … but I don’t know what  …”  Body says, “but just in case it is something even more terrible than you are thinking, here’s some more adrenaline.”   Mind:  ” Now I know there is something wrong!  Heart is racing, head feels like it is going to explode, I’m shaky, weak-kneed, maybe I am getting dizzy?  … something is REALLY wrong …”  Body:   “We need more adrenaline then …”   Mind:  “It’s getting worse, heart is pounding, I’m going to pass out or worse,  …  what if I’m having a stroke … or what if I am hallucinating, not where I think I am, what if I am on the freeway right now but I think I am at home (or vice versa)?  … ”   Body:  “Now you’re really scaring me!  We need A LOT MORE adrenaline …”

You see how it fuels itself.  That’s panic, my jitterbug.   But without great swing music.

What my psychologist is teaching me is that my partner in this dance, It  —  a nameless, faceless bully, cornering me, keeping me trapped in my bottom train  —   is born of combination of things … my life history, my overpowered and oversensitive neurological wiring, my brain chemistry, how I see myself in relation to other people.

And just like a bully, It feeds on my fear.  The more I cower in the face of It, the more pleased with Itself it gets, and the more power I give It.   It starts the music, It drags me out to the dance floor, It twirls and whips and be-bops me all over the place.

Dr. C says I can’t avoid It, because It is part of me.  I need to stay out on the dance floor and keep dancing with It.   But I can change it up.  Do something random.    Pick different  music.   Make different moves.    Throw some new steps in … slower ones, more deliberate, more graceful.  Do the tango.

It will surely keep trying to whip me back up into a jitterbug, at least for awhile.  I’m hoping It will eventually get bored and go do something else.   Like the dishes.