Someone broke my brain.  Fine, it was me.  I broke it.

Periodically, and for no justifiable reason, my brain tries to make me crazy.  Not my normal brand of crazy, made up of social anxiety and occasional depression, but insane-crazy.  It makes me almost non-functional for days at a time, but it hasn’t defeated me yet, and I don’t plan on allowing it to do so.  When these giant, existentially-challenging, brain wars don’t work, my gray matter will sometimes try a different tactic– seizing on one thing like a dog with a friggin’ bone and effectively creating an intense tunnel vision that prevents me from seeing anything else, making the one thing seem much more colossal than it actually is.  That is what my brain was doing the past few days.  I may as well do something constructive with it.

Two weeks ago, I had the first of what would be five interviews for a highly desirable job that could well turn into an actual career for me.  At the time, I told myself there was no way I would get it and that it was a crappy job anyway.  I do this any time I actually want something because disappointment is extremely detrimental to me.  Most people respond to disappointment with a sigh and a shrug– or if it’s significant, a bunch of shots– but they tend to get over it in a fairly reasonable amount of time.  When I allow myself to really want and hope for something and then end up not having it, I sink into a sad hole of discouragement so intense that I refuse to even try to accomplish basic life functions.  So my way of protecting myself from the rabid despair monster is to not get my hopes up.  Ever.  About anything.  Until I have incontrovertible proof that it’s mine.  I call it being realistic, but in reality it’s pure pessimism.  That way, when I don’t get something I want, I don’t get super upset– and when I do get it, I get to feel excessively happy about it.

So I walked into this interview planning to give it my best shot but fully believing nothing would come of it.  Imagine my surprise when, two minutes into my meeting with the GM, he looked me straight in the face and told me that I was perfect for the position and that he felt honored to have the privilege of meeting me.  He also said that my timing was perfect, as well as my knowledge and experience, and that he wanted to move me forward in the process and have all of the other managers interview me.  Essentially he said he wanted to hire me and then spent another half hour asking me questions while four other people waited in the foyer to be interviewed.  And if you know anything about a restaurant manager’s schedule, then you know that getting an uninterrupted, half-hour interview with a GM is about as rare as a narwhal sighting in Iowa.  So I walked out of the interview feeling better than I ever have walking out of any interview in my life (Honored to meet me?  Oh, he’s good).  And I proceeded to have three more interviews with three other managers, all of which went quite well, including the ninety-minute interview with the senior manager (the GM’s co-pilot), during which he basically turned my brain inside out and inspected it with a magnifying glass.

Thursday I had my final meeting with the GM, my fifth interview.  He said that the senior manager had written “HIRE THIS GIRL” in all caps across the top of my interview papers.  He said that was an unprecedented indicator of approval from a man who has been in the industry for three decades.  We settled my wage, discussed my schedule, and spoke more in depth about my experience.  He told me that he was hiring me and that I could come in for my first day of work after he spoke with three references.  I gave him three phone numbers of people whom I trust to deliver a glowing review of my professional and personal behaviors and accomplishments.  He assured me that I should not worry if he took a couple of days to call me because he was shorthanded over the weekend and would be very busy.  He even– no exaggeration– teared up as he once again told me how honored he was to hire me and how perfect he felt I was for the restaurant and the team.  All of these things would tell a rational person that they  have securely landed a job with a kind and intelligent individual.  Correct?  Any normal human being would walk away from this encounter with every certainty that they will start their new job in a few days.  Add to all of this the fact that, when I sent an email thanking him for the interview, he responded that he would be seeing me very soon.

Explain to me then why I have been in a fit of restless, pensive anxiety for the past three days.  My brain has seized on the lack of a phone call– a perfectly reasonable situation that has no negative connotation whatsoever– and turned it into doom.  My brain says, “What if one of your references said something bad?” or “What if he changed his mind because you said something weird before you left?” or “What if none of my references call him back, and he thinks it’s because they all hate me?”  Keep in mind that the references I gave him were two former bosses (one was my mentor, and the other offered when I left to be an excellent reference for me whenever I may need him) and a dear friend who used to work with me and whom I just saw a couple of days ago.  And I let all three of these people know that my new boss would be contacting them.  How in the HELL is my brain turning all of this logical and positive and explainable stuff into a hell-bound doom-rocket??!  I have a new job!  An excellent job!  I know this undeniably in the area of my brain that can process logic and facts.  That part of my brain is often incapable of defeating the other part, which I liken to a dark, damp, cold cave in the middle of a forest from which all irrational fears and doubts emanate.  Hence my utterly unfounded, anxiety-ridden, midnight rant.

I mentioned in my last post that I have been doing research into the psyche– more specifically the long-term effects of abuse and trauma.  Some people, when faced with a terrible and daunting problem, will stick their heads in a hole in the ground and pretend that it doesn’t exist.  And because of that, it gets worse, and it envelopes them, and they don’t even stand a chance.  I cope far better with health and mental issues if I gather as much information as I possibly can.  I want to know why and how and what to expect and what can be done to make it less disruptive to daily life.  Some people find the rush of potentially negative information very discouraging; I find it soothing.  The better I understand something, the less power it has over me.  I have learned that many of my quirks– thoughts and behaviors and feelings that I thought were unique to me and my particular brand of fucked up-ness– are actually symptoms that are quite common among survivors of abuse and trauma.  Which gave me a great deal of comfort.  And validation.

I wasted two days with my anxiety monster raging under my skin and preventing me from relaxing or spending quality time with my husband.  (It honestly feels like an alien inside of me, permeating my muscles and making them twitch, making my heart palpitate and my blood pressure increase.  It’s so intense sometimes that I can feel it physically, like a burning rock sitting on my sternum and a bunch of smaller rocks gurgling and grinding in my stomach.)  I tried to stay constantly busy, waiting for my new boss to call and tell me when my first day of work will be and checking my phone every thirty seconds.  I didn’t sleep well two nights in a row, holding my phone on my chest.  This is the weird and irrational compulsiveness of anxiety sometimes.  Today I woke up, and though nothing had actually changed externally, the monster was quieter for some reason.  

I never know how long it will hibernate, but I always try to take advantage of its absence.  I made breakfast and ate without feeling nauseous.  I did housework and enjoyed the fact that I didn’t panic when the hubby went to the gym and left me alone for an hour and a half.  I watched Workaholics all day and genuinely laughed and cut my husband’s hair for him and listened while he played his guitar.  And nothing interrupted my day aside from the occasional intrusive thought.  Today I felt close to “normal,” and I liked it.  I want to have more days like today.  One of my friends, who is more like I am than most, sent me a long and rambling text reminding me that I am not alone in being weird and a little crazy.  It made me feel grateful.

I don’t like my monster.  I don’t like that it tries to ruin days that should be happy.  I don’t like that it turns good things into doubts and fears.  I don’t like that it forces its way in uninvited and stays as long as it wants, putting its feet on the furniture and tracking mud everywhere and eating everything in the fridge and clogging the drain in the shower.  It’s an asshole for sure.  But it also forces me to be strong.  And self-aware.  And compassionate toward other people who have monsters of their own.  So I take those things and reject the rest.  My monster has made me a fighter, a warrior.  So far, I have won every battle, proven by the fact that I’m still here.  While the monster tells me to be scared that this amazing job– that I earned– isn’t real or that I don’t deserve it, I will shield myself from its lies with my truths.  I am smart.  I worked hard to get where I am.  I deserve good things.  I am a good person.  I can be happy.  I am as strong as a deep-rooted oak tree and as adaptable as rushing river, carving its path across the landscape.  I cannot be broken.  These are my truths, and I live them.  Find your truths, people.  Find your truths and live them every day.  Because the light of those inarguable truths weakens the monsters.  And that’s how you win. 


Isolation is a Self-Imposed Prison. And I Love my Cell.

I have been MIA from my blog for almost a year, and I feel I should explain why.  All of you who follow me on social media see only what I want you to see, as is true of all of us.  And what I have allowed all of you to see for the past 13 months or so is a gigantic lie interspersed with brief moments of alcohol-fueled semi-honesty.  I have posted pictures of cool shit and articles full of righteous political rage.  I have posted things designed to make you laugh and things designed to make you think.  I have posted anything but the truth, and I am going to do so now before I lose the courage.  (Remarkably, there is no booze involved in the writing of this post, which suggests that I have truly reached a point of desperation in the need to release all of this pent up crap-on-a-stick.)

A little over a year ago, I began training with a company that made big promises and kept them well– for the three months that I was in training.  I saw some things in the training process that I felt were counter-productive, but I didn’t think much of it because most companies are periodically moronic.  Upon completing training, I was placed at a location that was run by an individual who, I soon learned, was every abusive person I had ever encountered in my whole life.  This individual was so very mentally abusive (certain words come to mind, such as “gaslighting” and “narcissism”) that I began suffering from a daily recurrence of PTSD symptoms that I had worked  years to overcome.  In addition, his boss was just as abusive, if not worse, so I had no one to turn to for help.  In speaking with the woman who worked with this person before I arrived, I learned that she had suffered so extremely from his treatment of her that her doctor had required her to be medicated for the duration of her time there.  Anyone seeing a pattern here?

While this was going on, we also had someone break into our apartment and hold my husband at gunpoint.  With my gun (no one preach at me about guns– I don’t want to hear it).  A week after my children left to go stay with their dad.  In broad daylight on a Sunday afternoon.  This occurred a month after a massively devastating health issue hit me, and I was not recovered, physically or emotionally.  The thought of what I could have lost– and that it could have been taken from me with my own weapon– still gives me serious heart palpitations, nausea, and panic when I consider it.  So I don’t.  With this mountain of stress, I saw no way to hold myself or my life together outside of the greatest feat of repression I have ever attempted.  And those of you who have known me since my first marriage know that I am the widely-acknowledged QUEEN  of repression.  I was painfully aware that, should I choose to try and process all that had happened, I would have a full-blown nervous breakdown and lose everything.  I speak from experience.  This is exactly why I have become so good at taking all of those monstrous and evil things and tucking them away into tidy boxes in the attic of my mind with the label DO NOT OPEN UNTIL FULL MENTAL BALANCE IS ACHIEVED.  It is a necessity.  It is self-preservation.  Any one of these things I may have been able to deal with on its own.  After all, I have been dealt some shitty hands in my thirty-six years– chronic illness and anxiety disorder, the loss of both of my parents, a divorce, living across the country from my kids half the time, estrangement of most of my remaining family, etc.  (Don’t get me wrong– I’ve been dealt some straight flushes too: my second marriage, learning my own strength [which is nothing to shake a stick at], landing a brilliant new job, having three of the most beautiful and intelligent children ever to walk the earth, and on and on…)  So for me to say that something is too much… it’s really too much.

I operated on autopilot for a year.  I didn’t see my husband for more than a few hours per week, due to the fact that I was required to work every weekend, and most weeks I worked 60-70 hours.  Every day I dealt with crippling anxiety caused by my work environment, and every night I came home and had two or three shots to kill my racing thoughts so I could sleep for six hours.  And that formula was certainly effective in repressing most of my emotions for me.  I found us a new apartment right before our lease was up, so moving occupied any spare time I may have had between work and sleep (and there was none).  The moving helped tremendously– we went from an unsecured apartment in a crime-ridden area to a gated community with private security patrols twenty-four hours a day.  We no longer barricaded the front door and windows at night and no longer slept with a three-foot long sword (yes, a real sword) next to the bed.  We no longer had to search the apartment for intruders after every grocery trip, and we stopped jolting awake in terror at every sound.  The nightmares stopped for the most part.

Around Christmas we were allocated a therapist by the city to help us cope with the adjustment disorder and PTSD from which we were both suffering.  And do you know what I did?  I lied to our therapist.  My need to repress what was really eating me alive was so very overpowering that I lied to our therapist– the one person who was especially assigned to deal with all of that overflowing brain-garbage I couldn’t handle.  I said what I was expected to say.  I told him some other traumas that I had already dealt with to an extent and was therefore more prepared to disclose.  This worked for awhile.  Occasionally I would have verbal diarrhea or break down for fifteen minutes, but it was all very superficial– my heart wasn’t in most of it.  It wasn’t that I was being consciously disingenuous; I just didn’t know how to be anything else.  When you repress for so long, it becomes habit, instinct.  And you don’t know how to stop.

In March I stopped working for the company that was putting me through daily hell.  I knew there would be some financial worries for a minute, but I preferred that to the constant abuse and misery.  I was working 60-70 hours a week to spend my two days off alone, passed out on the couch, recovering from the other five days and preparing myself for another five.  And always, always suffering from a level of anxiety that I knew was very unhealthy both physically and mentally.  It wasn’t worth the decent paycheck.  Besides, with my experience, a job in my industry is never hard to find.  Once I left the company, I began to see exactly how badly the job had affected me.  I hadn’t seen the full scope of it until I was removed from the situation.  I stopped drinking immediately– I didn’t need it, and minus the stressors, I didn’t want it.  For the first two weeks after I left, I made an effort to go to the beach and to the store and to the park, etc. just about every day.  There was rarely a day that I didn’t leave the apartment.  And then that changed.  I stopped feeling capable of facing the world outside of my safe home.  I dreaded the thought of interacting with a stranger, even on the phone.  I started finding excuses to stay indoors.  I exercised at home.  I sent my husband to the store.  I would only go anywhere at hours when I knew there was likely to be very little human interaction, and then I would make every effort to appear as unapproachable as possible.  I even managed to throw out my hip and lower back, which– although frustrating and very genuine– conveniently gave me an excuse to stay home for a full week.  I felt myself sinking… and sinking… and sinking… down into that murky depth of suffocating sadness where everyone is an enemy and everything is a reminder of something that hurts.

I spent a lot of time on Facebook and Instagram to give the illusion that I was interacting with other people.  I played with my makeup for hours every day because it calmed me and made me happy.  And when I wasn’t doing that, I was watching TV (there is never not a TV on around me– I require the constant and mindless noise, even when I sleep.  It drowns out the monsters), exercising a little, doing food prep, looking for a new job.  Mostly watching TV.  And having an over-the-top emotional reaction to everything my husband said.  (I’ll say this for him– he has the patience of a saint, and he must honestly love me.)  I knew something was wrong.  I started being more honest with our therapist and letting him help me get the emotional blowups under control.

And then something triggered the trauma from the things that happened last summer.  The repression stopped working.  I stopped even trying to talk to people on social media.  I went to job interviews, and that was the extent of my human interaction (ironically this was when I landed my new job).  I felt like a walking wound, like an animal that has shed its exoskeleton and is soft and pink and fragile until the newly exposed skin hardens– vulnerable.  Hugely and terrifyingly vulnerable.  So I curled up in bed.  A lot.  For days.  And I drank a little bit (though not nearly as much as I had when I was working).  And I cried.  And cried.  And cried some more.  After a week of that, I started looking into what I had experienced, the science of how multiple traumas effect the brain.  I started researching how to deflect the inevitable abusers with whom I will occasionally come into contact.  I started seeking knowledge that made me feel powerful and in control of myself.  Able to protect myself.

I am not completely out of the dark and swirling waters of sadness yet.  I am sad.  I am comfortable with saying this now– I am sad about what happened.  It hurts when I think about it.  A lot.  But I have remembered that the sadness is temporary.  It will go away.  Today I got up early and asked my husband to take me to the beach.  It was the second time in a week that I have asked to go to the beach, which has always been my favorite place in the world and my solace.  I felt the waves pull the dirt and bad feelings out of my soul, making it feel clean and peaceful for a little while.  And while I am still not ready to socialize– I had to decline a last-minute invitation to dinner with friends this afternoon and send the hubby without me– I am consciously making the effort to walk out of my isolation cell.  I will keep putting one foot in front of the other.  I will keep going to the beach.  I will find a local community of like-minded women with whom I can feel mostly okay (I set a goal for myself to find a book club or something similar before the end of June).  I will have days that feel mostly happy and full of sunshine.  I will have days that are spent in bed, probably crying.  On those days, I will remember the sunshine-y days and look forward to the next one.  Because even though I know the bad days are inevitable, I remind myself that the good days are inevitable too.   On the dark days, I dig down deep and see how strong I am; on the bright days, I enjoy that strength and feel like Superwoman.  I have been through things in my relatively short life that most people will not experience, and I have seen and felt grief and sadness and rage that most people cannot fathom.  But that also means I have discovered a power in myself of which most people will never be cognizant.  And it means that no one can break me anymore.  That is very beautiful.  And it means that the happiness, the joy, the good things are felt so much more intensely than the vast majority of the population gets to feel.  That is also very beautiful.

Exactly one year after I lost my mom, I got a tattoo in honor of her.  It is the only one of my 20+ tattoos that is visible when I am fully dressed, and that is because I need to be able to look down and see it at any given moment.  Still I rise.  That is the most important lesson my mother ever taught me– that no matter what, I am to pick myself up and keep putting one foot in front of the other and keep breathing in and out until I don’t have to remind myself to do it.  Until it comes naturally again.  Because life is a gift.  It is not to be taken for granted or thrown away or wasted or given up too easily.  And I can choose how to use my pain.  I can use it as an excuse to stop trying, to hurt everyone around me, to turn into a little ball of meanness and anger.  Or I can use it to to make myself so very, very strong.  I can use it to appreciate the good things more.  I can use it to be wiser and make better decisions.  And I can use it to ensure that I do not give up– ever– because then the monsters would win.  I am the only winner here.  So still I rise.

Childhood Bonding Experiences with my Father, Some of Which Were a Little Traumatic

When I was a child, kids were reared very differently than they are today– especially in Texas.  My dad was “Texas” through and through.  When my mom went into labor while my dad was attending Yale, he brought a jar of dirt he’d dug up before they’d moved to Connecticut and insisted on placing it under the delivery bed so that he could tell everyone his first child was born on Texas soil.  My dad and I had some great– and occasionally really gross or fairly dangerous– times together.

For instance, my father was an avid hunter– because Texas, ya’ll– so I ate a lot of venison.  That wasn’t the bad part- venison is actually pretty awesome when it’s not game-y (I would like to say, however, that I do not advocate hunting, even for food, because we have these great things called grocery stores now).  In addition to eating a lot of recently murdered animals, I also grew up around dozens of mounted heads and hides (and one gigantic snake skin from an enormous snake my dad killed while doing a geological survey for Exxon).  My dad did not believe in wasting any animal parts that could be eaten or used for home decor or given as gifts. He once gave my mother a set of taxidermied turkey feet. She thought he was doing some voodoo shit on her.  He also believed in doing the “cleaning” himself.

**WARNING: This next part is super-gross, so don’t read it if you don’t have a strong stomach or get offended by descriptions of dead animals!!**

One day when I was about three years old, I wandered out the front door of my grandparents’ ranch house and was not at all surprised to discover an entire deer hanging from a tree with a giant hole cut in its side.  Next to the deer stood my father, covered in deer blood and dropping the last handful of deer guts into the pile he’d made on the ground.

“Whatcha doin’?” I asked, probably very cutely.

“I’m cleaning the deer I shot,” my dad replied, no attempt to shield me from the disgusting animal carcass.

“What’s that mean?” I asked.  (I was going through the ‘question everything’ phase.)

“It means I take out the guts and take the skin off, so we can eat it,” he answered matter-of-factly.

“Can I see it?” I queried.

“Sure,” he said, stepping back, giving me room to inspect the deer.  So I toddled over to it and poked at it a little and very probably put my finger in its nose because I was known to violate animals’ cranial orifices when I was little.  Seeing shit like this is almost certainly why.  I inspected every inch of the deer until I got to the gaping hole in its side and then stuck my head inside to look at the inside of the deer.  That happened, people.  And do you know what my father did?  Did he snatch me up in horror and try to explain how gross and potentially messy and dangerous that could be?  Nooooo.  My father felt the correct response to this inexplicably icky action was to lift up the deer’s tail, peek through its butthole, and happily exclaim, “Peekaboo!”  To which I responded by laughing hysterically.  So then and there, my father and I played a ten-minute game of peekaboo, using the asshole of a dead deer.  And I know I am remembering it correctly because my dad, when he was still alive, used this story to illustrate to his friends how “Texas” his only daughter was.  This explains so much…

He also proudly taught me how to clean his shotgun, and I used to look forward to it after every hunting trip.  He would take out his case of tools and gun oil (I loved the smell of gun oil as a kid), and he would let me screw the pieces of the plunger-thing together (I don’t know what it’s called, but you use it to clean the barrel).  Then he would thread a piece of cloth through the thing on the end that looked like a giant needle-eye.  He would let me shove it into the barrel and get it all clean, and then he would let me help him polish the gun all over.  Most parents wouldn’t want their small children exposed to firearms, but my dad wasn’t most people.  He thought I should know all about guns so I wouldn’t try to play with them, and I thought it was the funnest thing in the world.  I was not a typical little girl.

Think back to your last intestinal bug.  Was it a miserable day or two of running back and forth between the bed and the toilet?  Not at our house.  At our house, when you had a stomach virus, you were confined to the bathroom by my mother, who would not even chance someone barfing on the carpet.  She would make you a pallet and put the nine-inch, black and white TV on the bathroom counter.  You would snuggle into your warm, puffy pallet, watch cartoons, and get up occasionally to puke or be force-fed Pedialyte mixed with Sprite (back then they only had one flavor of Pedialyte– sweat) or to get an anti-nausea suppository rudely poked up your backside (no joke).

On this particular occasion, because Dad and I were both sick, my mom let us camp out in the master bath to give us room to get to the toilet without tripping over each other.  When we got bored with the TV and started to feel a little better, I snuck to my room and grabbed my cassette recorder.  I thought one of the most hilarious forms of amusement was to record myself on a blank tape and play it back over and over.  I brought the tape recorder back to the bathroom, and Dad and I spent the next two hours recording ourselves making fart sounds, singing, and making “bomb” sound effects.  Nothing passes the time when you’re sick like being trapped in a bathroom with your dad, a TV, and a tape recorder.  I saved that tape and played it over and over for the next two weeks, giggling behind my hand the whole time.

My dad and I had some great– and unusual– bonding moments.  He liked to tell the story of the time I saved him from a snake when I was four.  We were at my grandparents’ ranch again (lots of gross stories occurred there, often involving peril to life and limb), and we were getting ready to take the canoe out on the pond for a little fishing.  My dad had the oars and fishing poles, and I proudly dragged the tackle box along with both hands.  It was winter, so we weren’t really watching for snakes because they should have all been hiding underground or under rocks and stuff.

Dad laid the oars on the ground at the edge of the icy water and gripped the canoe on one side to flip it over.  As the six-foot, metal boat turned over and exposed the hard ground beneath, I caught a glimpse of something orange-y and white in the grass.  I looked closer and saw what I knew, even at age four, to be a Copperhead.  It was slow-moving because of the cold, and but even so, I saw it pull its head back as though readying itself to strike at my father, who was less than two feet from it and had yet to see it.

“DAD, THERE’S A SNAKE!!!” I yelled.  In one swift motion, he grabbed one of the heavy, wooden oars, looked to where I was pointing, and brought the flat end down hard on the snake’s head.  Then he hugged me tight and thanked me.

“We need to get a picture!” he exclaimed.  So we ran back to the cabin and told my grandpa what had happened.  He followed us back to the pond with the camera.  After poking at the snake a few times to make sure it was really dead, my dad scooped it up on the end of an oar and sat me on his knee while my grandpa took a couple of shots.  For the next few weeks, my dad proudly told anyone who would listen about how his four-year old had surely saved him from a venomous snake bite, twenty miles from the the nearest hospital.  Every time we flipped through our photo albums after that, Dad would point to the picture and say, “Remember when you saved me from Copperhead?”  And I would feel proud too– and thankful.

Dad and I had some strange and sometimes idiotic adventures, and I loved them all.  I also love that I have his wicked, sarcastic sense of humor.  I love that I can see him in my son and my brothers.  I love that I have these great memories of using my dad’s golf clubs to whack the heads off the mushrooms in the backyard every spring, and I love that he  introduced me the Beach Boys when I was eight.  I love that he always had a sports car and would sing “Barbara Ann” to me along with the stereo while we drove to the beach.  He called me “B,” and to this day no one else is allowed to call me that.

My dad would be fifty-nine years old today, and I am currently the same age he was when he died.  When I remember my dad, I smile.  I can never watch a bad ’80s horror movie or a Godzilla movie without thinking of him.  And how many kids can say they learned to read from the Sunday comics, while sitting on their dad’s knee?  My dad was funny and incredibly intelligent and also very, very complicated.  I look back on some of the very strange things we did together and– even though some of them are a little disturbing (like the deer peekaboo) or dangerous (like the snake)– I am grateful for every one of them.

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.

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.

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.