Sometimes Fairy Tales are for Real

I am one of those people who always, always believed in fate and fairy tales and true love.  My husband and I are celebrating our five-year anniversary this week, so I thought I would share the beautiful and amazing story of how we met as children, lost each other for many years, and then reconnected as adults.

When I was a kid, I used to put on my mom’s wedding dress and parade around the house, carrying a bouquet of obviously plastic, yellow roses, pretending that I was marrying some great-looking man who would take care of me forever.  I am a serial monogamist– as my dear friend Sheri once called me– the kind of person who sees love everywhere, in everyone, and lives inside her own head, imagining people to be much better than they actually are.  Every boyfriend, every date, was a potential happily-ever-after (which explains why I became well-aquainted with disappointment by time I hit adulthood).

When I was still very young, and had not yet had the chance to become disillusioned,  I met my future-husband.   I was barely a teenager at the time and had traveled fourteen hours in a van packed full of relations to Salisaw, Oklahoma for our family reunion,  which always takes place on Labor Day weekend in order to coincide with the gathering at Stokes-Smith Stomp Grounds (due to my family being of Indigenous heritage and also wanting to kill two birds with one stone because we’re very  cheap when it comes to hotel rooms and gas).

My family reunion is always held at Sequoyah Home Memorial Park because Sequoyah  (George Gist/Guess, or Ssiquoya, as he spelled it– the man who created the Cherokee syllabary) is home to my family cemetery, as well as the log cabin owned by Sequoyah, which he purchased from one of my ancestors, who built that shit with his bare motherfuckin’ hands.  (I’m an encyclopedia on this shit, ya’ll– I love my family history.)   After attending the obligatory family gathering,  where we ate an obscene amount of barbecue and potato salad (lotsa diabetes there), everyone headed to the stomp grounds to celebrate our fire, the fire that has not ever lost its light, despite being removed from our original homes by the army almost two hundred years ago and deposited on some crappy-ass land that we didn’t want.

So there I was, wandering around the stomp grounds after dancing around the fire for a couple of hours.  I was enjoying myself,  taking in the stars and the chilly, night air, when I happened to look down from the sky for a moment.  My eyes immediately locked with those of the most beautiful man I had ever seen (seriously– this dude was hotter than anything else on earth).  He was staring very intensely into my eyes, like he could see every thought I’d ever had and ever would have.   I was not shy with the boys, but this guy made me quiver like a bowl of still-kinda-liquidy Jell-O.  He had black hair that swept around his waist as he walked toward me and the most sincere eyes I had ever seen.  I stopped mid-step as he passed me and looked down at my little cousin, who was tagging along, and said, “Let’s sit for a minute,” scared that my legs were about to melt right out from under me.

We sat down on a bench about three yards away, and I looked around, hoping to catch another glimpse of this intriguing gentleman.  There he was, walking past me again, still staring at me like he knew everything about me.  I had no idea how to react, so I looked at my feet.  Suddenly, there was a pair of feet directly across from mine, nearly touching my toes.  I slowly brought my head up to see the very mysterious gentleman standing not a foot from me and looking right down into my eyes.  And because we were kids, he said, “What’s up?”  His voice was so deep.  It felt like golden molasses rolling through my ears.  And because I was a very nervous girl, instead of actually responding to his question, I just parroted the “What’s up?” right back at him and immediately felt dumb as a box of rocks.

I knew, in that moment, that my life was going to be impacted forever, that I had taken a fork in the road that couldn’t be reversed.  And though in the years after, when I sought, and imagined I had found, real love in many different places, I never found anyone who made me feel so much with so little effort.  That moment made me believe in love at first sight for much of my life.  Though we had only a few hours together, my future-husband and I made it matter.  We walked up and down the starlit, dirt road, holding hands and talking and just enjoying being near each other.   As I grew to adulthood, it remained one of my fondest memories.   We stayed in touch for about six months, despite living a thousand miles apart, and it broke my heart when we had what I knew would be our last conversation for a long time.  But I always hoped that I would find that amazing, overwhelming feeling again.  I knew it existed because I had experienced it.

Unfortunately,  I grew impatient and impulsive and married someone else,  because I thought if I tried hard enough,  I could will that feeling into existence in any relationship.   We divorced after twelve years, the vast majority of which were quite miserable.   Any kind of hope I had for love or for a fairy tale or a happy ending had died.  I no longer believed that anything was real or lasting, that heartbreak was inevitable and was the only real thing I could depend on. The weekend my first husband moved out, I was digging through the closet, packing up his stuff, when I came across a letter my beautiful gentleman had written me exactly seventeen-and-a-half years earlier.   It was creased and faded and a little torn from all the times I had read it, all the months I had spent carrying it in my pocket.  I remembered taking it out and reading it many, many times a day.  So many times that, nearly two decades later, I still remembered it line-by-line.

I thought, “I wonder what ever happened to that guy?”  And honestly believing that he would not remember me,  I looked for him online.  And I found him.  So I sent him an email to see if he could even guess who I was.  His reply was instantaneous and ecstatic.   I couldn’t have hoped for more.  He was the first person to show me how intense love can be, and that love came back and saved me in the worst moment of my life.   He told me how he had searched for me over the years and had never given up on finding me.  His voice, when he called me, was just as I remembered,  rich and deep, making my heartstrings vibrate.

I will never forget what it was like, walking off a plane in Burbank, and seeing him again after what felt like a literal lifetime– because it really had been.   And he looked the same, as he wrapped his arms around me and held me until my luggage came out on the carousel  (which, if you’ve ever flown, you know takes a good half hour).  I knew then that, though I had not had a choice in letting him go so many years ago, I would never let him go now.  This week we celebrate five years together. Those five years have made me a far better and stronger and wiser person than I ever thought I could be.  We have walked with each other through some real shit, and being together has made the difference.   It’s not always pretty, and that’s okay– life isn’t pretty.   But it’s real, and it’s strong, and it has overcome the very worst life has thrown at us.  That’s something to believe in.

I love him more today than I did five years ago,  more than I did yesterday,  and I will love him more tomorrow.  That’s worth believing in and fighting for.  That’s what I was dreaming about, staggering around the house in my mom’s wedding dress nearly three decades ago– the fairy tale, the true love, the happily-ever-after.   And I got it.


The Time I Totally Saw a For-Real Ghost

Let me preface this by saying that it is exactly what the title implies– an actual encounter I had with a ghost.  This is amazing for two reasons:
1) I was a firm skeptic until it happened, and even after the event, it took me a few months to accept that I hadn’t hallucinated it;
2) I am THE biggest wuss who has ever lived in the history of mankind, except for my dear mother, and the fact that I did not go legally insane or physically die is a miracle in and of itself. 

I used to love historic buildings.  I was the annoying person who would sneak away from the tour group to go investigate areas that were off-limits to the public and later get caught and asked to leave while trying on a trunk of old hats (that did happen).  So when I had the opportunity to stay at a 200-year old plantation in Louisiana, I just about lost my mind with extreme joy.  I was planning to find secret passages and shit, ya’ll.  And maybe buried treasure.  I gleefully packed my “explorer” clothes (all black for being sneaky and kind of old because I didn’t want to get dust and musty smell on my nice stuff) and mapped out my route using the online floorplan.  I knew where the secret passages would likely be located.  And the treasure.

My excitement reached fever pitch as we rounded the dirt road and came up the driveway to the three-story mansion.   It was majestically coated in golden light from the setting sun and was surrounded by small outbuildings and acres of sugar cane.   I was bouncing in my seat like a toddler on cocaine by the time we parked the car, squealing like a piggy.  The only thing that marred my jubilation was a small, niggling feeling of uneasiness in the back of my mind.  I didn’t know what it was or what was causing it, but I was getting a little bit of a weird vibe from the place, as though the ground were vibrating with some sort of energy.  I pushed it to the back of my mind and zipped around the property the way a hummingbird goes after a flower garden.  I looked at every barn, every shed, every old farm implement, every old car and tractor.  I peeked inside every box and trunk I could find.  It was too late to tour the main house, so I explored all the outbuildings instead. 

The only place I didn’t go was our room.  We were staying in a brick building, separate from the main house,  that used to be the kitchen back when kitchens were kept outside in case of fire.  It had been turned into a double bungalow.  We had a bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, and massive fireplace.   And every time I went inside, I got the motherfucking creeps like nobody’s goddamn business.  I could swear up and down that someone was watching me in there.  Every time I turned my back to the room– to use the sink or turn down the bed– I had to stop every few seconds and glance over my shoulder, so I minimized my time in that area.  As night rolled in, we realized that there was a faint glow of fire all along the horizon behind the house.  They were burning the sugar cane.  It was so beautiful,  no lights except for the stars and the flames in the inky blackness.  After awhile, I grew tired, so we went inside to go to bed.

Because of my growing uneasiness, I made my ex leave the TV on until I fell asleep.   Despite the light and sound from the television, I could hear loud creaks and groans and occasional pops, all of which I assumed to be the old building settling as the cool, night air sank around us.  After about an hour of adjusting and readjusting my position, throwing blankets and pillows all over the place, I finally fell into a fitful sleep.  Sometime after that, my ex turned the TV off, and every sound of the building settling would startle me half-awake. 

I woke up fully at 3:30 in the morning– I remember because the red numbers on the clock next to the bed were the first thing I saw when I opened my eyes.  The numbers looked funny though, as if there were a fog floating in front of them.  I blinked a couple of times, assuming it was my eyes since I had just woken up.  But as I blinked, the fog actually grew denser, and I suddenly realized that it was forming into a shape.  To my complete and utter horror,  the black fog took the shape of a woman in a long dress.  I couldn’t see her features, but I got the distinct impression of a lady in 19th century servant dress with her hair tied up in a scarf.  I didn’t get a feeling of evil from her, but just the fact that I was seeing her at all was enough to scare the living daylights out of me.  I tried to reach over and shake my ex awake when I discovered that I could not, in actuality, move.   I was so terrified that I was completely incapable of exerting any control over my muscles.  I had no idea what to do besides panic (because panicking always helps), so that’s what I did.  It seemed like minutes that I was stuck in that frightened, immobile state, staring at the figure next to the bed, but in reality it was probably only a few seconds.  I blinked and suddenly recovered myself, so I did what any normal adult would do– I punched my ex in the face as hard as I could and screamed at the top of my lungs, “TURN ON THE FUCKING LIGHT FOR FUCK’S SAKE!!!!”  Most people don’t respond well when woken from a sound sleep with a right hook to the face, but in my defense, most people also do not respond well when woken from an unsound sleep by a friggin’ ghost. 

My ex sat bolt upright and turned on the lamp, yelling, “WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON???”  I couldn’t answer.  I just sat there hugging my knees and shaking and sweating profusely like a boxer at a prize fight.  “Just turn on the TV,” I said.   “Why the hell did you punch me in the face to watch TV???!”  He exclaimed in disbelief.   “I HAD A NIGHTMARE!! JUST TURN IT ON!!” I yelled back.  So he huffily grabbed the remote and turned on the television, the light and noise of which enabled me to relax enough to doze a little.  

After tossing and turning the rest of the night, we got up about 6:30 and went to the main house for breakfast.  While we ate, and my ex bitched repeatedly about being absuively awoken in the middle of the night, I tried to explain what I had experienced, which I still didn’t fully understand myself.  After we ate, the caretaker asked if we’d like a tour of the property.  So we followed him around as he took us from the front yard all the way through to the attic, telling us along the way about the many murders, suicides, and executions that had occurred there over the past 200 years.  And the ghost stories.  I began to understand why I had felt so uneasy the whole time we’d been there. 

“Now that you’re about to leave,” he said, “I’ll tell you what happened in your room.”  And he proceeded to tell us how, 170 years earlier, the cook had been poisoned by another servant and had died there in the kitchen where we had spent the night.  He also told us how people often claim to see her in the middle of the night, standing next to the bed or sitting in the chair in the corner of the room.  As he told us this story, I watched my ex’s eyes grow wider and wider, as I’m sure my own were doing, and I felt the blood drain from my face.  My ex turned to me and said, “Tell him about your dream.”  Which is what my ex assumed it was, since he couldn’t believe in anything he hadn’t seen himself because he’s an enormous butthole, but that’s a story for another day.  So, wringing my hands and tripping over my words, I told the guy in detail what had happened.  And the look on the caretaker’s face never changed.  He listened to my story and at the end of it said, “You have no idea how many times I’ve heard that same story.”  Which totally didn’t help because I’d been hoping he’d say something along the lines of, “Ghosts aren’t real.  I just told you all that crap to freak you out, and we drugged you to make you hallucinate your encounter.  You’re a twat for being so gullible.” 

After that night, I became obsessed with finding out more about the paranormal,  thereby better understanding my own experience.  And since that night, I have had more experiences, although none quite so shocking.  I have learned that there is a lot more to the world than I ever thought possible, that it is much bigger and is made up of far more than anything I could imagine.  And that’s pretty fucking cool.  I have also learned that ghosts are dicks, and they seriously should be a little more gentle about making their existence known to people, instead of shocking a perfectly innocent person out of a sound sleep in the middle of the goddamned night.  You, ghost, are an asshole.

Jenny Lawson is my Hero

I was just reading this post by Jenny Lawson  (a.k.a The Bloggess, a.k.a. my absolute hero), and it made me feel like a little less of a freak for a few minutes:
I got to meet Jenny last spring at her most recent book signing, and it was, hands down, one of THE greatest moments of my life. And this is why: Jenny has helped me find the courage to finally share my writing, to keep going when it’s really hard to put one foot in front of the other, and has shown me that I’m not alone, even when I think I am. She helped me by sharing her own fears and weaknesses and problems, and it showed me that there are other people like me– people who are different.

I hate crowds. I hate strangers. I hate loud noises. Those things kick my anxiety into overdrive. When I started reading Jenny’s books and blogs posts, I saw that there are actually names for this, that other people have the same issues, and I felt not alone for the first time in my whole life. People find different ways to treat this, whether it’s medication or therapy or maragaritas. Mine is forcing myself to do something good for me when I really want to isolate. (Today I went to the beach and wore a bikini in front of strangers without a t-shirt over it for the first time in forever, and despite the 2-inch wide strip of sunburn that now encircles my waist like an asteroid belt, I actually relaxed enough to fall asleep mostly naked on the sand in public. That is a HUGE fucking deal for someone who can’t even ride public transportation without an escort.)

Sharing struggles helps other people. Besides being an outlet that keeps me from exploding like a malfunctioning pressure cooker and killing everyone within twenty yards of me, I also really, really hope it helps someone to not feel alone. I also hope it helps them find courage to talk about it. Contrary to how some of these posts might appear, I am not a narcissistic butthole who just likes talking about herself– I have a purpose in mind.

I can be a hard person with which to be friends. I categorically refuse to talk on the phone because it gives me anxiety to have to come up with conversation on the spot. I have to do that shit at work all day– I’ll be damned if I’m going to do it at home. When I get into a dark period, I am impossible to reach for days or weeks. And if you get too close to me and find out too much about my vulnerabilities and who I really am, I will stop speaking to you altogether because now you know too much, and that scares the living shit out of me. I have no illusions about the kind of person I am– I can be a total dick. I don’t intentionally set out to do it, but it does happen.

But ya know what? I’m okay with me. It’s taken 35 years, but I am actually okay with who I am– neuroses and all– for the first time in my life, as far back as I can remember. And that’s a good place in which to find oneself. At least I don’t walk around anymore wishing I was someone else or feeling like no one could ever possibly like me or care about me. I don’t feel shame about my weaknesses anymore– just determination to never let them defeat me. So I’d say that’s a decent improvement.

This is the point, if I have one at all: it’s easy to feel alone in this world where true human connection has become a rarity. That does not mean that you are, in reality, actually alone. It means you need to reach out, as much as you may want to hide in your bed, under the covers, with a bottle of rum and a good book. Sometimes all we need is to be reminded that someone else does get it, even if that person is a fellow introvert-blogger halfway across the country. Knowing that one person understands is often all the encouragement we need to keep ourselves in the real world, rather than going into our own little cocoon of loneliness and alcohol-fueled depression. So next time you feel the need to make an entire blender-ful of margaritas and take it to bed with you, remember that, somewhere, someone else is feeling the exact same way. And then go have your margaritas at a bar instead and toast the other shy, anxious people out there who found the courage today to do the same.

I Suspect my Brothers Might be a Little Bit Immortal

I’m pretty sure that my brothers, if not immortal, at least posses some sort of super power that makes them immune to serious injury and death.  I came to this conclusion after looking back over our childhood and marveling at all the things we did to each other that, reasonably,  should have resulted in hospitalization at the very least.  But the worst thing that ever happened was stitches.  Lots and lots of stitches.

One of the worst whoopins (that’s Texas vernacular for ‘spanking,’ which is something most parents did to their kids when I was growing up) I ever received was the result of me putting my brother’s head through the windshield of our mom’s minivan.  Before you conclude that I was a monstrous demon-child, it’s not as bad as it sounds.  I had two brothers, one three years younger than I and the other six years younger.  For the purpose of this post, we’ll call the older one A-1 and the younger A-2 (as both of their names start with A).  Mom often made the mistake of leaving A-1 and me in the car while she ran inside with A-2 to grab milk or whatever  (preferring the inevitable hysterics we would cause to be kept in the parking lot and knowing that A-2 was unlikely to survive whatever we might do to him).  A-1 was in the front seat– this was before airbags, when no kid over age three rode in a carseat– and was sitting on his knees, leaning forward over the dashboard.   Being the excellent big sister that I was, I reared back and, using all the force my tiny body could muster,  punched A-1 straight in the ass.  I was small, but he was smaller, so his whole body flew forward.  Straight into the windshield.  I watched in horror, and time seemed to slow painfully,  as A-1’s head made contact with the safety glass.  A huge spiderweb of cracks appeared in the glass, radiating from the point of contact across the entire passenger side half of the windshield.  My short life flashed before my eyes, and I will  never ever ever as long as I live forget the look on my mother’s face when she walked up to the minivan.  I have, however, blocked out the actual corporal punishment, which is probably very fortunate.   In fact, I received so very many whoopins that they all just run together like one, big mega-whoopin.  A-1, by the way, came out of the incident completely unscathed and found great amusement in my resulting consequences.

Then there was the time I busted A-2’s head open,  and he had to get what turned out to be one of many sets of stitches.  I used to trip my brothers when we were kids because I was nine, and it was funny.  One day I got tired of wearing glasses, which I didn’t really need anyway (plus I hated the frames because my mom made me get red ones, and I wanted pink), so I decided A-2 would break them for me.  I carefully placed them on my bedroom floor, a little out of the way so A-2 wouldn’t see them, and called my youngest brother into my room.  I told him I wanted to time him and see how many times he could run in a circle around the room in a minute.   So he took off and, of course, stepped on my glasses.  I told him it was no big deal and to keep running, which he did– by then I had a better idea.  In addition to breaking my glasses for me– and I had A-2 do this because he was too young to get in trouble, so I wasn’t an ass all the time– I could derive some entertainment by tripping him.  Usually, when I tripped my brothers, the worst that would happen is that it would piss them off, but they would start laughing when they saw me laughing.   I never intended for A-2 to get hurt, but I was also incapable of forethought at that age.  So A-2 kept running, and I stuck my foot out, and down he went.  Face first into the rocking chair.  He didn’t cry, just turned and looked at me very surprised.  Then I saw the line of blood forming on his forehead.   When the thin line turned into a full-on faucet,  I got concerned and ran to get my mom.  I tried telling her that A-2 had tripped on his own, but he was old enough to speak for himself, so the jig was up almost immediately.   My punishment was that I had to ride in the back seat, holding A-2’s head in my lap as I pressed a bloody rag to his forehead, while our mom drove to the emergency clinic. Plus a whoopin’.

Before you decide that I am just a very terrible human being, bent on fratricide, I wasn’t the only one causing peril to life and limb.  There was also the time that A-1 sliced A-2’s chin open with a machete.  They were eight and five at the time, and before you ask why an eight-year old was playing with a machete, let me explain– because Texas.  If you grew up in Texas before 1995, you most likely knew how to wield a machete, a hunting knife, and a .22 well before puberty.  So my brothers were traipsing through the woods at our grandparents’ ranch, and A-1– being the protective older brother– was clomping through the brush in front of A-2, ineffectually knocking vines and plants out of their path.  A-2, being the most non-observant child I ever met in my life, was staring up at birds and got a little too close to A-1’s wildly-swinging machete arm.  So the machete ended up embedded about half an inch into his chin, resulting in yet more stitches and a funny-looking chin bandage that I made fun off every day for two weeks.   A-2 did not get a whoopin’ because our dad said it was an “accident.”  Pfft.  Technicality.

But A-1 definitely was not an angel, as much as he tried to put out that vibe.  I will never forget the day he knocked down A-2 in the backyard,  sat on his chest, and stuffed dog poo in his mouth.  And when our dad got home and was told what had happened, he made A-1 go pick up a piece of dog poo and put it in his own mouth.  And then my mom yelled at both A-1 and my dad because she said everyone was going to get worms.  I didn’t know what that meant, but it didn’t sound awesome.

There was also the time when A-1 and I were going through a fistfight phase, and our mom had to break up half a dozen fights a day.  And she would make us hug afterward, which we hated.   On one particularly bad day she took us to Walmart, and by the time she pulled into the parking lot, we were whacking the crap out of each other in the back seat.  Our poor mom, out of patience at this point, left us to have it out in the car while she took A-2 into Walmart with her.  She did her shopping and came back out to find both A-1 and me in tears.  We didn’t touch each other for a week.  

I have a thousand other stories like this.  I can’t believe CPS never showed up at our house.   Our childhood sounds a little savage to me now, considering that my kids rarely even call each other butthead, and I’d die before I’d “whoop” any of them.  Simpler times, people.  Simpler times. 

Shit I Did as a Kid That Wouldn’t Fly Now

I was listening to this podcast today that I listen to every morning, and the couple that DJs it is about my age. They were talking about how our generation is the only one to really know what life was like before social media but also be proficient in it.  And I realized that there are so many things I experienced as a child that my kids will never know.

I once locked myself out of the house when I was 11, and because we didn’t have cell phones, I was unable to call my mother.  So I tried to pick the lock with an Exacto-Knife,  broke it off in the deadbolt,  and had to get boosted through the bathroom window after my mother broke the glass when she got home, and then unlock it from the inside.  I got grounded for about a month for that crap.  (And if you’re a loyal followers of this blog, you’ll know that was just the first of a dozen times I have had to break-and-enter my own home.)

I also remember having a 9″ black and white TV with rabbit ears.  Ya know, the kind where you have to turn the dials and then adjust them to get reception.  I watched Jaws for the first time on that thing, and it immediately became my favorite movie (which should have tipped my parents off that I was not a typical six-year old girl).  I made mix tapes off the radio on my boom box.  I had a Walkman that I used to listen to them. 

Mine was the last generation to ride their bikes two miles to a friend’s house, alone, after dark on a summer night, and no one thought anything of it.  My kids will never know that freedom, and it makes me sad.  My generation became the one that was so intent on protecting our children that we took away all the possibility of adventure as well as danger.  As much as I take comfort in knowing my children are only a text away at any given moment,  I also wish they could know the fun of exploring the drainage ditch in the bayou without any adults knowing about it, and thinking they’d maybe found a dragon’s lair or a witch’s hideout.

There’s an innate fun that goes with a little bit of danger, and something is lost when everything becomes risk-free.  Sure, my brothers and I had a few emergency room visits when we were young, but we also had more fun than I’ve had since– like playing in the giant mud puddles at the elementary school across the street from our house and then having to hose off in the driveway in our underwear before our mom would allow us inside.   And riding motorized dirt bikes on the tracks, flying over jumps and berms and occasionally crashing and getting really hurt.  But we recovered, and we were never scared to climb back on.

As much comfort as I take in being able to protect my children and know where they are at all times, I sometimes wish they could know that sense of fun that will be an alien concept to their children.  So I hold tight to my stories and my photographs so that, someday,  I can tell my grandchildren about how their grandma escaped a water moccasin while chasing her little brother across a lake, or how their great-uncle required stitches no less than ten times before he was eighteen.  I will look like a wild and courageous woman in their eyes.  Maybe I should look forward to that.

The Beach Remedy

Sometimes, after life has handed you the world’s biggest shit sandwich, topped with a pickle-shaped turd and served with a side of potato-shit salad and a big, red, Solo cup filled with shit-aid (instead of delicious Kool-Aid), ya get a little pissy.  Occasionally I pass “pissy” and cross into “rage,” followed by “super-rage,” followed by “FUCK IT.”  And “fuck it” is when you know you’ve had all the shit-picnics you can take, and you. are. DONE. 
That is the point at which I found myself about two weeks ago.   And then, suddenly,  things got much better.

My problem, when things get better after a rollercoaster of holy-shit-this-fucking-sucks and wait-things-are-improving-now and then oh-damn-now-it’s-worse-than-ever to huh-I’m-getting-used-to-it-sucking is that I don’t trust things to actually be better.   I am waiting for the other shoe to drop.  I am waiting for the inevitable disappointment.  It’s not that I’m a pessimistic person; I just find disappointment less devastating if I’m prepared for it.  I’m the emotional equivalent of a dooomsday-er– hoping for the best but definitely prepared for the worst.  I want to enjoy the times when things are calm and boring and relatively predictable because those times are sadly few and far between.   I love boring.  Because I haven’t had a lot of it– I am so accustomed to operating in crisis mode that I’m not quite sure how to turn it off.  But I sure as shit know how to freak the fuck out and be generally unpleasant to myself and everyone around me.  

So now it looks like things are improving tremendously, and I am unable to trust it.  I’m trying really hard to chill my batshit-crazy ass and stop planning for “what if.”  And I think I have learned the key to it, for myself anyway.  No joke, the best way for me to release all of that tension and anxiety and fear and trepidation is going to the beach.   It works better than any medication or alcohol or therapy.   It’s like therapy for my soul.  There’s something about miles of yellow-white sand running down to seafoam-green water topped with   azure sky that allows me to release everything.   Add in the unceasing sound of the surf breaking on the beach and then roaring back only to charge forward again,   and I have reached nirvana.  It’s the only time I don’t have to distract myself or try desperately to escape my own head.  I can just… be.

So this is my plan: in order to enjoy the calm that appears to have settled over our family for now, I have promised myself that , once a week,  I will make the twenty-minute drive to Huntington Beach.  And on the way home,  I will go to Trader Joe’s or Central Market and get something awesome for dinner.   I will take one day a week,  with my husband or by myself,  to focus on enjoying my life.  Otherwise, no matter how “normal” things are, I will find a reason to be anxious.   This is my challenge to anyone who reads this: go enjoy your life once a week.  No errands, no work, no phones, no stress.  Whatever you love that is easily within reach, grasp it and revel in it on a regular basis.   The world will not fall apart without you– in fact, it will likely fall more into place when you return. 


P.S.  I’m going to write a book and market this idea as a lifestyle or therapy or something and make a million bucks off it.  Then I’m going to buy a house on the beach, and throw a huge party for all of you. 

Don’t Believe the Lies

I haven’t posted anything in about a week.   I’ve started a few posts and given up halfway through because they didn’t feel right.  I’ve finished a couple but decided not to post them because they need to be edited.  And I’ve been a little sick the past few days, so I didn’t really want to do much besides sleep.  I could blame it on writer’s block, but that’s a cop-out because it’s more than that.  For the past week or so, I have been completely absorbed by the monster that hounds me continuously– anxiety.

I loathe anxiety.   It is one of the worst feelings in the world.  Most people get twinges of it now and then– before a job interview or when there’s a crisis– but I am one of those wonderfully fortunate people who gets to enjoy it every. single. day.  It’s a lingering remnant of mostly-conquered complex PTSD (differing from basic PTSD in that it is caused by a series of extremely stressful events, rather than a single, massively-traumatic event), and I have come to accept that it will likely stay with me for the rest of my life.   It’s not nearly as bad as it used to be.  I don’t have nightmares very often anymore, and I rarely suffer from insomnia.  I don’t experience crippling depression like I used to or have full-blown panic attacks.   That was when it was really bad and made my quality of life pretty unlivable.

The anxiety I have now is like a shadow that stalks me.  It lingers at the edges of my thoughts and reminds me of its presence with heart palpitations triggered by seemingly insignificant, everyday occurences– like getting cut off in traffic or getting a phone call from a number I don’t recognize.  Things that “normal” people take as a matter of course are detrimental to me.  If someone knocks on my door when I’m not expecting anyone, it takes me an hour to get my heart rate back to normal.   If my boss says he needs to talk to me, I automatically assume I’m getting fired and break out in a cold sweat.   Most days, I can live with these little “freak-outs” and fully recover by the time I get home from work.  I shove the anxiety away and distract myself with menial tasks or TV.  I am a master at distraction.

Then there are the days when my anxiety decides it wants to take over.  These episodes usually only occur once or twice a year, but when they do,  they ravage me.  It drains my energy, makes my gastric ulcers flare up, gives me migraines, and occasionally sets off my autoimmune disorder.   It makes it impossible for me to relax or eat or sleep, and distraction only comes with alcohol.  The anxiety lies to me.  It tells me that I am going to lose everything and everyone.  It tells me I am alone and that there is no hope.  It tells me that my world is going to cave in on me, and there’s nothing I can do to stop it.  And it tells me that I am bad, that I hurt everyone, and that everything I do, or have ever done, is completely wrong.  These bouts typically last a week or two, and by the time I come through it, I am exhausted. I will fall asleep the moment I get home from work and not wake up until the following morning.   It takes awhile to recover.

What I have to remember, when I am drowning in this state of abject fear, is that it is temporary.   I have survived it countless times over the years, and I will survive this time too.  It might take a little while, but I will walk out the other side of the tunnel in which I am currently lost.  The biggest and most effective lie that all emotional/mental disorders have in common is that it will never get better. That’s simply not true.  And it’s my choice whether it gets better.  I have more control than I feel like I have.   I can choose to let it defeat me.  I can give up.  Or I can fight it every day, no matter how weary I am, and know that one day soon, I will wake up in the morning and not feel panic. 

It’s  vital to break the stigma of mental illness and to expose the lies it tells.  I didn’t choose to have this problem.   It was a direct result of trauma combined with a tendency towards chemical imbalance.   Just like you would never judge someone for having arthritis or hypoglycemia or asthma, you should never judge someone for suffering from depression or anxiety or PTSD.  It’s not something anyone chooses to have.  But a person does choose how he/she treats it and copes with it.  I watched depression defeat my own father.   I watched helplessly as it lied to him, and he believed it.  And it stole him from me.  That’s why I can’t allow the same thing to happen to me. 

I choose to break a cycle that started in my family generations ago.  I choose to show my children a better way to live.  I choose to be the strong parent I needed.  And hopefully, that will make a difference for the generations that come after me.  This is not an easy subject to discuss.   It’s not an easy weakness to admit.   But it’s necessary.   Bringing it out of the darkness of shame and into the light of knowledge takes away a lot of its power.  Any of you reading this who might suffer in silence– stop. 

I have fought my battles, one at a time, for many years.   And I have not lost one yet, as is evidenced by the fact that I am still here.  I don’t plan to lose.  Ever.  So when I’m trapped in that senseless fear and can’t see my way out of that very dark tunnel, I look at the tattoo I have on my left forearm– still I rise— and remind myself that this time, too, I will get up and keep going until I can see light again.  I get tired– weary, exhausted– of fighting,  but  I will never stop.  Because I will not allow anything to steal me from my children or my husband.   I would never have chosen this for myself,  but it has shaped me, molded me, made me strong.  It has given me the insight to help other people.   And I am thankful for those things.  So if you find yourself lost in the darkness, don’t stop looking for the light.  It will find you.