friday nite peace

Last week was Not So Good.  Let’s just say the Not-So-Good part started at Sudden Onset of Extreme Dizzinesss, went directly to Extreme Panic, made a bee-line for the ER with help from the serendipitous timing of a visit from my dearest long-long-time friend, and then ended with the realization that I am a Mo-ron.

This realization made me feel a lot better right away.  Although to arrive at it, I had to ride my spinning carousel of a living room while trying to focus my spinning eyeballs long enough to research my predicament on my spinning computer.

Now, after almost two weeks after fixing the Mo-ron part, which means going back on the SSRI I had inadvertently stopped taking cold-turkey, which was the cause of the dizziness, I am feeling like My Old Self,  Which is, as you know, mostly OK with some not OK parts.  Bottom line:  Drugs are good, at least for now.

So this week I have been spending a lot of time just being thankful for my life. For being able to watch summer evening sunsets from my front porch, work at a job that is enjoyable and pays me well enough to afford my front porch and drugs, have my lovely Mommy close by and willing to come babysit me anytime I need her, have a great big, sweet horse to ride, and have the comfort and support of my dear friend who I have just simply adored for about 42 years or so now, exactly when I needed her here, even though she lives 3000 miles away.

Tonight, Friday, the end of a busy and so-much-better week, I am reminded of something I wrote a few years ago while in a similar state of under the influence of gratitude.
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About 25 years ago, when I was more of a City Girl, I used to go with a friend to the Sacramento Symphony on Friday nights. We would get all gussied up in fancy dresses and jewelry (hers) and drive a red BMW convertible (hers) and act like Real Women of Culture And Sophistication. I loved the symphony.

At that time, I was also wearing suits and pumps to work, studying piano, taking college courses at night, buying my fingernails, living in a townhouse, and probably smelling better overall.

Fast forward to now. I still consider myself to be a Real Woman, but it occurs to me that the Culture and Sophistication parts have officially hightailed it out of here, as far from my present being as my feet are from their next pedicure.  The little black dress, good jewelry and convertible replaced by riding pants, boots, and my dirty beater SUV, I head out on a Friday night to different sort of symphony — dusty old Garth Brooks hits blaring from a loudspeaker.  I sit on a garage sale-quality dinette chair, eat a home-made pulled pork sandwich courtesy of Daisy’s Chuck Wagon, and watch local horse people do team penning.

  • Team = Two or three riders and their horses
  • Penning = separating a single young cow from a herd at one end of the arena and moving it down to the other end, into a pen.

The team sits waiting at one end of the arena.  When given the go-ahead by the announcer, they start walking, trotting, loping or galloping (depending on the horse and/or rider’s desire to actually get close to those cows) toward the herd of terrified or bored (depending on the cow) cows at the other end. The cows are wearing numbers, zero to nine. There are several of each number. The announcer calls the number of the cow to be penned when the riders have started down toward the herd.

The teams have to find one cow with the correct number, cut that cow out of the herd and then make it go by itself to the other end of the arena. Since the cows know by Herd Instinct that they are safer if they stick together (safer from what, one wonders, when the closest thing to a cow predator within miles is Daisy herself, and she’s busy with pork), the cut cow will try its hardest to get back to the herd, in which case the rider’s job is to yell “HAH HAH HAH YIP YIP YIP” and jerk their horse’s head around trying to get them to track the cow and scare it down the arena and into the pen.  The horse’s job is to either to be obedient to the rider’s jerking or jerk the rider around in a bucking frenzy. Which is way more fun to watch if you are the audience. Definitely more fun if you are the horse.

Or, the cut cow just won’t care anymore since it has been doing this team penning crap every Friday night for 6 weeks in a row and the outcome is inevitable — it gets driven down to the other end of arena, goes into the pen, waits for the applause, and then toodles on back to the herd. So the cow just plods along resignedly in a Just-Shoot-Me stupor, infuriating the rider who wanted to show off his riding skills and giving the horse a much-needed break from getting his head jerked around by those same riding skills.

And this goes on for hours, as long as there are teams that want to pen, and the cows are still awake. Long past sundown, and into the wee hours possibly. I don’t know, I didn’t stay until the end. But when I left, Garth was still singing and I thought this was just a way cooler Friday night than the symphony ever was.

Killing Me Softly (a.k.a. Yoga)

Yesterday was a Red Letter Day.

I think.  I have always thought of a Red Letter Day as a day chock full of pleasant surprises, but just to make sure what I write is as accurate as my wisdom-wrapped-up-in-nonsense can be, I looked up the meaning of the phrase.

I love Wikipedia for this sort of serious academic research, but this time I chose instead some obscure UK site.  Because I thought the British description would be more interesting. Because of their penchant for misspelling common English words over there.

Red-letter day*

Meaning

In earlier times a church festival or saint’s day; more recently, any special day.

Origin

This comes from the practise (see, told you) of marking the dates of church festivals on calendars in red.

The first explicit reference to the term in print that we have comes from America. This is a simple use of the term “Red letter day” in the diary of Sarah Knight – The journals of Madam Knight, and Rev. Mr. Buckingham … written in 1704 & 1710, which was published in American Speech in 1940.

(aside:  wondering what Madam Knight had to say in her journal about her red-letter day with the Rev. Mr. Buckingham in 1704 and/or 1710.  historical novel fodder.  Oh Wait.  Dim memory of an English lit class.  The Scarlet Letter.  Dang, Hawthorne beat me to it.)

The practise is much earlier than that though. William Caxton, referred to it in The boke of Eneydos, translated and printed in 1490:

 “We wryte yet in oure kalenders the hyghe festes wyth rede lettres of purpre.”  This makes no sense to me whatsover, assuming purpre = purple.  I am now too lazy to look it up.  But it doesn’t have to make sense to me —  I am studying Spanish, not Olde English.

Back to My Hyghe Fest Day

First, I got to work at home instead having to go in to the office.   This is good because I didn’t have to drive my always-a-potential-adventure-in-panic  commmmuuuuuuttttttteeeeeee, all the way from my little ranch in the boonies to midtown Sacramento.  Plus I get to play music as loud as I want while I’m working.  Plus I get a lot of work done while The Black Thing (my beast of a bloodhound) snores contentedly on my feet.

Then I went to visit my horse “Big”, who, having had some joint injections the day before, needed some bandages removed.  This was good because Big stood still while I used scissors around his hooves, which is always a potential adventure, especially when the horse is, well, big.

Then I went to Walmart.  Always a potential adventure, but I was on a mission — to get a Walmart manicure inside of 40 minutes (40 being the maximum manageable number, even though I was already reliably Rx-ed, in anticipation of the onset of panic to be caused by the enjoyable relaxation of a manicure countered by the crowd of Women of Walmart already packed like large, interestingly dressed mani-pedi-ing sardines in the little salon) by my favorite manicurist Kevin.  Who is Vietnamese.  No surprise there.  Except for his name.  He has a different given name I’m certain.  I asked him what his real name is, and he just smiled,  shook his head side to side, said “No No No” as if he was already suffering my butchering of his name in an attempt to pronounce it.  What Kevin doesn’t know is [1]  I work hard at pronouncing correctly the proper names of all cultures, and [2] if I can say Merry Christmas in correctly pronounced Korean**, then I can surely not butcher his name.

40 minutes later, manicured in hot flamingo coral to honor today’s 4th of July fireworks that are an Extreme Fire Danger and therefore against the law in my county, I headed to my first ever yoga class.  At a training stable.  During a warm evening after a 90-plus degree day.  In a barn.  Upstairs in a loft that was behaving suspiciously like a sauna.

Even though it killed me temporarily, I loved LOVED loved the yoga stuff.  I could not actually do any of it.  Well, hardly.  I could do the sitting cross-legged while breathing position and the laying down while breathing position.    But I loved the quiet confidence, reassurance and encouragement of my friend and fella horse rider Jackie who was instructing the class — I’m wondering if I call her Sensei or something like that — I’ll text her and ask — and I loved the trying to do it.  Even though most of it was pretty much torture, I liked it and I kept trying.  And I really liked that I kept trying.    And I was introduced to some of the position names which I now forget.  Get Down Dancing Dog, Wonder Woman, Warrior One (maybe that’s Wonder Woman), Surfer (maybe that’s Warrier Two, or Three), and Child something, among others.  Each of the positions were very hard for me to do,  but I can see how with practice I could get this (I don’t know if I have that many years left on the planet but surely it is good for me and should extend my planet time, dontcha think?) and be just as graceful as Jackie.

But never as tall as Jackie.  She is very tall and very lean and very limber and exceedingly graceful, both in yoga and on horseback.  I hate her.  But I adore her.  I am guessing Jackie has the perfect physical conformation for yoga.  My present physical conformation is only perfect for writing while seated super comfortably in my big super comfortable leather chair.  And, maybe, for riding my big Big.

Now, I’m typing my hot flamingo coral fingernails over to an on-line Yoga Mart to order a good yoga mat and some cute, short-round-person yoga clothes.  And some East Indian jewelry.   And some incense.

*http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/red-letter-day.html

**당신에게 크리스마스 축하!  (Tang-shin-eh-geh ku-ri-su-ma-su chuk-ha!)

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.

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)

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.

what I did on my winter vacation

I survived.

Not without many tears and complaints launched Upward, naturally.  But I get that He gets it.

Soon after my Mo’s passing in late October, something came along to consume 150% of my time and  focus  — my job, and specifically an impossible 12/31/12 deadline for a huge project delivery.  A death march, as we call it in my line of work.

I survived that too … met the deadline, passed the subsequent audit, tossed it all into the company Bonus pool, and even had a few Bonus drops splash back on me …

… but not without developing extreme crankiness about all things Work and even more extreme disdain for my management.  A few weeks after the beginning of the year, at peak of crank, having worked eight days in row, 12-14 hours days, on the stupidest shit my “Can we chat?”-at-any-late-hour-they-felt-like-it-management could dream up,  my phone rang at a late-hour, flashing Caller ID Guess Who.  Ignoring the air raid siren screaming in my head, I answered.  The bomb exploded a short fuse later.   I hung up on Guess Who and fired off my  resignation.  Oops.  Maybe I should have lined up another job first.

Utter peace and contentment and the joy of having something real to worry about (money) reigned on my planet for a few unemployed weeks, then another organization in the same company hired me back.  The Grace of finding a job quickly came along with a decent sign-on bonus, no loss of tenure, a line of work I love, much less management ineptitude, much less actual work, a bit less salary, and a solid and pleasantly nutty team to play at work with.

The bad news is that anxiety and panic are still my near-constant companions.  Worse since I lost Mo, yes, but I understand why.  The toolbox gets a lot of examination, restocking, reorganizing.  Drugs are necessary.  The good news about this bad news is that I am now in therapy with a psychologist and some of her insight I find completely fascinating.  I am not buying all of it quite yet, but some of our talks are very enlightening.  She is part Native American and she brings some of her understanding of spirituality into her therapy, and my spirit connects with that.  My spirit also connects with her taste in jewelry — turquoise and silver.  There will be many posts about what I am learning from her.

To conclude this catching up episode, there is a new horse.  Actually he is an old horse, borrowed from a local trainer who loves him to pieces but doesn’t have time for him.  His name is Legend and he is sweet, sound, unflappable, work-loving, people-loving.   Hanoverian, 17-2 hands (extra-large),  patient, quiet, affectionate and willing to partner with me to work on low level dressage while I wait for my next jumping horse and the $ to pay for him/her to fall from the sky.  In the meantime, I am enjoying building a partnership with the Big Boy and learning new stuff about horses.  Legend is a completely different being than Mo, but he is turning out to be a patient and agreeable teacher like Mo was.

the Big Boy ... upp three steps, then tippy toe, then jump into the stirrup.

the Big Boy … up three steps, then tippy toe, then jump into the stirrup.

Legend's first dressage show.  He was a good boy.  I was a sucky rider.

Legend’s first dressage show. He was a good boy. The rider (me) sucked. But we made it through our test without any unscheduled dismounts.

Life has been much worse.