Rock Bottom?

I haven’t written for this blog in a looooonngg time. Why? Well, I was busy, I wasn’t “inspired” to write, I thought I was doing better, so I started examining other aspects of my life…all that stuff.  Today, though, I feel like I just had one of Oprah’s a-ha moments.  I feel like this is my rock bottom.  I’m seeing it really clearly right now, so I want to examine and share it here.

Right now I’m sitting on my couch with my dog.  She has fleas and needs a bath. So do I. I haven’t showered in about 5 days, I’ve been eating crap, I weigh more than I have in years, my house looks like an episode of “Hoarders,” and I’m broke (not I-can’t-pay-my-rent broke, but I-have-a-lot-of-debt broke).  I took 3 days off work last week with the intention of cleaning my house, doing my laundry, and then doing something nice for myself, something I enjoy, like quilting or something.  Today is Sunday, and I’m supposed to be at work tomorrow. I’ve done none of the things I planned to do. Not one. I did drive around to look at houses for my aunt who is moving up this way in the next few months, and tonight I have plans to see a show with a friend. But the house? Not clean. Laundry? Nope. Quilting? No. All I’ve done is read, sleep and watch TV.

I thought I was getting better, you know? Mentally I felt more clear and optimistic. But let’s face it, the house didn’t just become a disaster area this morning. Maybe this is rock bottom? Maybe rock bottom is not being able to get off my ass and take care of myself properly, not the anxiety attack and the aftermath of that, but this hole I’m in now. I hasten to add that this is me ON medication.  I have been questioning how much the meds are really helping as opposed to them being a crutch or placebo for a while now.  Looking at the evidence today, it seems clear they aren’t doing much at all.  I have an appointment in about a month for my annual physical, so I will talk to my doctor about this then.  In the mean time, I’ll keep taking them. It’s not an expensive prescription…

So, if this is, indeed, rock bottom, then it’s time to see what I can do to start climbing back up.  That’s the only option other than just hanging out here in my hole.  I don’t feel sad or suicidal, I just feel unmotivated and a little bit overwhelmed.  Truthfully, I’ve “felt” worse mentally and emotionally before.  It’s the physical act/actions of self-care that I’m lacking now.  Yesterday I was noticing just how bad my body feels, and I heard that little voice in my head that said, “Enough!”  I have to take better care of my vessel so I can get my outsides to look more like my insides.  Only I can do that part.  The rest of it? I could ask for help…but I really HATE to do that!! So I’m thinking of doing a version of that – maybe calling my boss and asking for one more day off? Obviously I have been and will continue to ask my spiritual team for help.  They’ve always got my back.  I did a significant amount of wallowing in this physical depression in the past 5 days (and more).  It’s enough now.  I don’t want to be this way anymore, but I also don’t want to sabotage myself by making an enormous to-do list either.  That doesn’t work for me when I’m already overwhelmed.

What is the plan then? Well, it’s 9:30 am on Sunday.  I have to pick up my friend at 1:30 pm to go to this show.  So I have a few hours right now, I’m caffeinated and feeling sort of inspired.  I think I’ll switch on the computer and type this up first.  Then I’m gonna get in the shower!! I really want to ask my boss for that extra day off, and I bet he’d be cool with it…but that’s really asking for help from outside myself…my stomach churns just thinking about it…irrational fear, right? What’s the worst that could happen? He says, “No”? I know the man, I’ve worked for him for about 15 years, and I think the real fear is that he won’t say, “No,” even though he wants to and he doesn’t understand what’s going on with me.  I mean, his dad is old and unwell, the business isn’t doing very well lately, etc.  On the other hand, is it my responsibility to worry about that when I’m sitting here in my hole? I mean, if I had the flu or something I would feel bad about missing work, but I would know that by taking care of myself I would get better faster and maybe not make other people sick in the process, right? Maybe I’ll think about this more while I’m showering…

It’s Been 15 Years Since I Last Had Sex – 12 April 2014

     Fifteen years today, in fact.  Bet I have your attention now, huh?  Yeah, it’s true…

     It’s been quite a while since I’ve posted here.  I’ve been busy, and I thought I was doing well; but now I think I was just busy.  A couple of days ago that hermit-crab-without-a-shell feeling came back.  This after I had a few really vivid and strange dreams which I believe were probably caused/influenced by my own meditation and questioning.  You see, I’ve been having some very tangible “symptoms” – maybe of depression, maybe of life – lately.  Part of me is naturally horrified by this development; and part of my is thinking, “This is a concrete thing to work on!”

     First, a little history about me.  I have mentioned my weight issues in the past, right?  Well, this has been a life-long struggle for me.  My mother was morbidly obese and died young as a result, indirectly.  All my life I knew how unhappy she was about it and how she worried that I was following in her footsteps.  I mean, when I was a little kid people always told me I looked “just like” my mom.  To me, before she died, that was really not a good thing – it meant I was fat and unattractive (even though people often described my mom as beautiful “in the face”).  Many, many, MANY times, as I helped her put on her shoes or dry off after a shower or get up out of a chair, she got teary-eyed and said, “Don’t be like me.”  (I should add that this was all before I was 18 – she died 4 months before my high school graduation.)  So I always “knew” on an unconscious level, probably, that I was NOT a pretty girl.  I was overweight all through school despite all of my sports, bike riding, horse stuff, and playing outside.   The “pretty” girls could do cartwheels and back bends, but as hard as I tried, I couldn’t – and I really tried!  I was pretty good at sports and I LOVED riding and being with horses, but I wasn’t a stand out talent.  My crazy curly hair was a style advantage in the late ’80s when everyone else was getting spiral perms, but that was my only good physical attribute as I recall.  Otherwise, I was a nice, friendly, relatively smart girl (but not the smartest in my class – and I knew it!), kind of a tomboy, but not pretty, not poplar.  Just regular – at school.

     At home I was the oldest child, the responsible one, and, according to my siblings, the favored one. (For more on this, read my previous posts.)  At home I was even less “cool” among the kids than at school.  Same at the barn.  I was among the 2 or 3 other girls whose parents didn’t have a bunch of money, so we didn’t have fancy horses, we didn’t go to shows every weekend, we only took one lesson a week; so we didn’t get a lot of attention from our trainer even though we worked really hard, helped out moving jumps, cleaning tack and tack rooms, even rehabing lesson horses who had been injured.  We were just “regular,” nothing special – but we loved our horses and being at the barn more than anything.  As you might have guessed, these other girls were also less popular and/or pretty away from the barn, so we bonded.

     Here’s the thing:  I never though too much about all of this!  I had friends and a horse.  I was the third smartest kid in the class, and we were all “friends,” really – some of us were just closer than others, right?  And it’s not like I was the only overweight girl in school, either.  I certainly knew I was less “ugly” than some of my friends.  I was just sort of “regular” – what’s wrong with that, right?!

     So why is this stuff coming up now?  Well, I’ve gained back ALL of the weight I lost in 2010 – I’m at 197 lbs. as of March – and, more troubling, I’m overeating.  We’re not talking one extra serving of rice here.  I mean sometimes two huge burritos in one evening.  It’s really bad, and I can’t seem to stop myself.  And, I can’t seem to get my ass of the couch to exercise either! I don’t understand.  I know exactly what I can do to change this situation, but I can’t get myself to do it!!!! Depression, you say?  Well, maybe…probably…but symptom or cause?  I’m taking my meds every day, but that’s about the extent of my self care at this point.  Needless to say, I am extremely disappointed and ashamed of myself.

     However, I’m trying to learn from all of this because I truly believe that we are here in this human incarnation to learn.  All of our experiences, challenges and talents are intended to teach our souls something valuable.  So, since I’ve been feeling so incapable of attacking this problem in a more direct, pragmatic way, I’ve been searching for the root cause of it all.  Because it’s not just my weight – it’s how I value myself, it’s how a manage my money, it’s how I relate to other people.  It’s all related.  I have recently come to know that I have my very own “team” who are here to help me.  I have guides, angels, ancestors and they want to help me learn and be successful in this life.  I’ve been meditating/praying and asking them for guidance in this troubling time.  “Please help me to understand why I keep gaining weight, why can’t I let it go, what am I afraid of, what can I learn here?”  This is what I have been searching for lately because this I can do.   And with it has come the dreams and the exposed feeling…Really, a couple of days ago I wanted to hide away somewhere safe….then, on the drive home from work I started thinking, “Hermit crabs have to find a new shell when they grow – this is growing.  Lean into it and see what happens.”  Then I came home, ate too much, and zoned out on TV – numbing.  The next day (yesterday) I was grumpy – a very not me way to be.  Everything annoyed me.  And, no, this cannot be attributed to PMS – I counted my days to be sure.  So I think/feel like it had to do with this “growing” business.  Thursday I felt sort of sad and unsure of every experience I had growing up, and on Friday I was annoyed.  Sort of like grieving?? Hmm…

     Clearly I’m still working through all of this, and I’m not entirely sure what is the best way forward.  I’ve been reading a new “self-help” book:  The Tapping Solution by Nick Ortner.(I know, I know – Who reads these things?! This chick is crazy!)  Well, here’s why I think it’s actually not so weird.  Massage, acupressure, acupuncture – are these really so weird anymore?  It’s kind of the same idea with “tapping.”  There are these energetic meridians in your body – which includes your mind, and that’s the non-Western medicine part of it all.  If there is a blockage in the flow of energy it can and will manifest some how – physical pain, illness, disease, or mental/emotional dis-ease.  Tapping is just another way to work on these “blockages.”  They (EFT people) talk about the amygdala and training your brain to respond differently to your triggers, and that may well be.  For me, since I’ve been lucky enough to spend a lot of time with bodyworkers, I know very well that the pain in my neck may have a “mental” or energetic origin.  I’ve felt emotional release when a knot is worked out of my body.  I’ve had really good experiences with polarity therapy/energy work.  So tapping is like that in my mind, except I don’t have to pay someone to work on me – which is good because I can’t afford it!  Anyway, in reading this book and opening myself to guidance/messages from “my team” I’ve become aware of all this past stuff – call if conditioning, memories, trauma – whatever!  In the past I would have totally discounted the whole idea.  I went to traditional talk therapy and I didn’t really find it helpful to rehash every little pain in my life.  It seemed to give those experiences more power and importance than I felt they deserved.  But here I am, almost 39 years old, still struggling with the same problems – so I have to take another look at this mess.  I haven’t actually started tapping yet (why not? what’s holding me back??) but I am looking at my life experiences in a new way.  When these memories come back with all of the associated mental and emotional pain that I didn’t feel at the time, I feel like the little girl who I was needs an advocate…and a hug.  And I’ve never been big on the whole “healing your inner child” thing either!  It’s change and an opportunity to learn, and hopefully grow.  It’s uncomfortable, but that’s OK, right?  I mean, I fell off my horse a few times, I fell every single time I tried to do a cartwheel, I even failed a test – VERY uncomfortable experiences, but I survived and I learned.  

     As for the sex thing…oh GOD!  That’s probably wrapped up in all of this somewhere too, right????  I mean, it’s a trust issue…or something.  I don’t know!  One thing at a time.  I have lived my entire life without a serious relationship with another human being – that kind of relationship at least.  I’ll live a bit longer without it, too!  There are more pressing matters at hand now, so sex will have to wait…again…

     For now, I have to focus on myself – as in “my – self.”  I’m kind of a mess…but I’m aware, I’m paying attention, I’m going with the flow…I’m going to do my laundry! 

“Baby steps…”

“Just keep swimming.”

4/13/14:  P.S.  Just so we’re clear, all that stuff about my mom, although completely true, is NOT the whole story.  I love my mom and I miss her every day.  This is just one story, one part of our relationship.  And people still tell me I look like her…

28 January 2014 – Ugh…Or Hooray! I haven’t decided yet…

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I haven’t decided if I’m giving in to my depression monsters or if I’m taking care of myself (which is the goal) so I can get better, but it feels weird either way…

Yesterday I got an email praising my brightness and abilities and asking me to do some at home volunteer work for my genealogical society.  Of course, it’s wonderful that these very together and capable folks think so highly of me, and my first impulse was to say yes to one of the options, at least.  But then I started thinking about it…

Truthfully, I’m not doing very well at just the things I need to do around the house.  Dishes are piling up in the sink.  I need to haul out the garbage and recycling.  My yard is a disaster area.  It’s taking everything I’ve got right now to get out of bed and get to work in the morning, get groceries, pay bills – all the little things we have to do to survive in the world.  You should see how terrible I look today!  Hair in an unflattering ponytail, jeans, sweatshirt, FAT, no make up…I look the way I feel, basically.  The bare minimum.  That’s what I can do for myself right now.

So I sent an email this morning that made my stomach do back-flips.  I said how honored I am that they think so highly of me, but that I’m having personal issues right now and don’t feel capable of taking on another project.  I also said that I would step up and help if/when I felt more capable.  I think this is about as close to asking for help as I’ve gotten recently. You know, besides crying out to Heaven!

Part of me – the self-critical part – is saying, “You can do just one more thing! How could you say no?!”  The other part of me – the new, quiet part – is saying, “You are honoring yourself by accepting yourself where you are now. This will help you in the long run even if it feels uncomfortable now.”  I’m trying VERY hard to tune out the old voice in favor of the new…but I feel like I could use it to kick me in the pants and get things taken care of in my house and my body, so I can’t let it go completely.  Finding balance, that is the task.

In the mean time, I have $12 in my checking account until I get paid on Friday, I have a birthday dinner to attend after work on Thursday, and it’s the end of the month, so I should be working hard right now rather than writing this post!  The anxiety keeps coming in waves, but I’m taking my own advice and grounding myself repeatedly, firing up my boundaries.  I can do this, right? Baby steps…just keep swimming…

25 January 2014 – Spiritual Growth

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As I often do, I allowed myself to sleep in this morning (and so did my cats!) before getting up, making coffee, feeding the animals, and taking my dog outside to do her business.  Then I climbed back in bed with my coffee, my dog, and my book (while the cats galloped through the house happily).  On mornings like this I usually read one of the many books that I feel require my fully awake brain, so non-fiction, often history or “self-help” books.  You know, the kind of books that require you to think, make notes, consult other books?  Some people go to church, I read and think…and today I also felt compelled to draw a bit.

I have developed the philosophy/belief that our purpose in each incarnation is to learn as much as possible and to become better humans because of it.  I also believe that all of the puzzle pieces are here, we just have to find them and put them together to see the big picture.  As a result, I tend to dislike words like “supernatural” which suggest that some of the experiences and/or tools that we have here are somehow outside of Nature; some things that exist somehow don’t belong and/or should be rejected or avoided or destroyed.  How can that be?  These things are clearly perfectly natural – they occur, they exist, the are experienced – but perhaps they are misunderstood or feared by the majority of humans.  Well, you know what?  So are spiders, snakes, earthquakes, asteroids – but they are real.  We can all agree on that, right?  Maybe you live in Iowa and you’ve never experienced an earthquake.  Earthquakes can only be seen in the damage that they cause or the needle moving on the page at Cal Tech.  But I grew up in So Cal, and I can tell you about many earthquake experiences that I have had.  You wouldn’t label me delusional if I told you that, right?  But if I said I was psychic or a medium or I could see auras or I spoke to angels?  Some people would say I was “crazy” because they hadn’t had the same experience and there was no evidence.  We call these experiences and/or heightened perceptive abilities “supernatural,” but they are perfectly natural – they occur in the “natural course of events” every day all over the world.  They are natural.

Where am I going with this rant, you ask?  Is she off her meds?  Does she need more meds?  No, I’m fine, really – I have a point.

The point is that our emotions are like all of the other unseen forces out there – misunderstood, misinterpreted often,but perfectly natural.  If we take the time to learn from them, pay attention to them, become more sensitive to them in ourselves, they can help us understand others better.  To that end, a friend (a very wise friend!) suggested I read Karla McLaren’s book, The Language of Emotions.  I’m so glad I listened!

Karla is an empath (as we all are, she’s just more sensitive and knowledgeable than most) and the central thesis of both The Language of Emotions and the more recent The Art of Empathy:  A Complete Guide to Life’s Most Essential Skill (the book I’ve been reading this morning) is that there are no negative emotions.  Emotions are natural and they all have a place and a purpose.  Sure, they can and do get out of balance, but they are all very natural and necessary in what Karla calls their “free flowing state.”  Do you see how neatly this ties into my world view? ALL of this – everything we see, feel, experience in our lives – is a potential learning experience and all of it is perfectly NATURAL.

For me, this takes away some of the fear-based response to things and gives me a sense of power.  It’s all natural, which means it’s all NORMAL and I can learn about and from it.  This includes EVERYTHING – depression, panic attacks, other people, the weather, my intuition – it’s like there’s an enormous library with a million billion trillion books out there, and I have this life to read as much as possible.  So I start with the ones that are closest to me and move out from there – my parents and siblings, my first cat, my friend who lives next door, my grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, my friends at school, the people I don’t like, the people who don’t like me, new words that I hear, etc., etc., etc. – hopefully until this life is over, certainly until my brain stops functioning properly/effectively.  Now, as I see it, one human lifetime can’t possibly be long enough to learn it all.  And, even if it were, then you would only learn things from a human perspective, you would only have human experiences, so you’d still be missing out on a LOT.  That’s why reincarnation makes so much sense to me.  Our souls are part of Nature, as I see it, and they are the part of us that goes on.  They must be the part that keeps learning until they’ve learned it all.  That’s what I believe, anyway.

So I’m trying to learn from my depression, I’m trying to get unstuck, and I’m trying to grow spiritually.  I have determined through reading Karla’s books, examining myself, and talking with some very wise and loving people whom I trust, that I certainly have boundary issues.  My boundaries become permeable very easily if I’m not paying attention.  This, according to Karla, is an anger issue, and I see it in my life very clearly when I read the following (p. 167, The Language of Emotions):

“SIGNS OF OBSTRUCTION:  Repressive:  Enmeshment, self-abandonment, apathy, depression, boundary loss”

If you’ve been reading this blog, you’ll see it too.  Depression, obviously, but the repression of anger in my childhood and the damage to my boundaries that that surely caused as well.  “Enmeshment” – well, I have experienced that several times as well in an unhealthy extreme.  You know, you and your best friend become one entity to those around you.  It’s unusual to see one without the other, they make plans and decisions together – like a marriage without sex, and a marriage in which the individual identity of each party becomes lost.  They need marriage counseling, they need to be seen as individuals.  Yeah, I so have boundary issues!

So I try to listen to the extremely knowledgeable and wise Karla McLaren so I can learn to be more balanced and aware of my emotions and what they are saying.  For me, I deal with a lot of fear and repressed anger.  I use the grounding technique in The Language of Emotions when I become aware of the fear rising inappropriately (and at many other times!).  It makes me feel in control, safe, grounded.  Then I use the boundary exercise in the same book.  Basically you take any excess emotional energy and project it out into your boundary.  It sounds so simple, but it’s a really profound feeling for me.  It makes me feel safe because, as Karla explains, anger in it’s free flowing state is the “Honorable Sentry” patrolling and protecting our boundaries.  I definitely visualize it that way:  I have a little soldier out there patrolling and protecting me!  All of my emotions are tools or weapons, depending on the situation, in my tool kit.  They are part of me, part of my body and mind and consciousness, but because I’m in this human body they usually get filtered through my brain/my conscious mind.  That’s where things get screwy…but I have the opportunity to learn no matter what!

So this morning as I drank my coffee, read and cuddled with my dog, ALL of this was going on in my brain…and it really needs to get out into the world now in case someone else needs it.  (Also because I have lots of other things to do today out in the world, not inside my head!)  I decided to draw (it felt right).  So here’s my little drawing.  I hope you get it.

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19 January 2014 – Feeling good!

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Feeling good and capable today!  It’s a weird feeling for me now, and I’m struggling to enjoy it rather than analyzing it.  I think it’s partly due to the excellent sleep I had last night and partly due to the really nice day I had yesterday.  Wanna here it? Here it goes!

I’m not sure how much I’ve said about this here, but one of my hobbies/passions is genealogy.  I love it, and I have a great community in our local genealogical society who share my love.  Recently I helped begin a new group within our society – a writer’s support group – in the interest of encouraging my fellow genealogists, most of whom are much older than I am, to write-up their years of research, memories, recipes, etc. to make them more accessible to our families, lay people, and future generations.

Yesterday we had a meeting, and as much as I hate getting up early on the weekends, this makes it so worth it.  We have had such a great response to the group!  We constantly have to add chairs to the table and squeeze together so we can all fit.  Everyone is actively contributing to the discussion in a very supportive and constructive manner, and so far our biggest problem is getting ourselves to stop talking in time for the business meeting.  I’m so happy to be the “head cheerleader” of this group, and I feel inspired to do more for/with them.

After the meeting I had time to chat with some people and my friend and I were invited to lunch with some of the “veterans” of the society.  These folks are the kind of people I aspire to be when I’m old.  They are pretty sharp still, relatively healthy, and still very much engaged in life.  The genealogical society is, for most of them, just one of their part-time volunteer positions.  They really seem to enjoy their lives as they are getting older, unlike so many people.  I had a great time with them yesterday.

Then, when I got home, I took my dog out for a walk around the ranch since she had been cooped up inside all morning.  We both needed the exercise, and it turned out to be a good thing I made the rounds out there.  My favorite filly was in a corral with a broken waterer, so I went in search of one of “the guys” to let them know.  When I finally did that and continued on the walk, I came across one of the sheep that was down and looked sick.  Luckily someone drove up just then, saw me and the sheep and said, “Is she dead?”  I said she wasn’t, but she sure isn’t doing well, so he called the owner right away.  When I went out later to make sure the filly had water, she had been moved to another corral and she let me give her a good scratch all over.  We both enjoyed that!

So I was useful yesterday, all day!  I actually did things that helped!  I’ll have to have a look around today to see what happened with the sheep and cuddle the filly again just for fun.  I pay rent to live on the ranch; I’m not responsible for any work or animal care, but I have the knowledge and ability to help when I see a need for it, and I can’t ignore and issue if I see it.  I love the critters too much!

Anyway, yesterday felt good, and today I hope for more of the same.  I’ve already made a list of to-dos and ideas for the writing group, and I’m developing a housework strategy as I write.  I feel so grateful for days like these when I feel as together and capable as I know I can be.

Now for something completely different!

This is my experience of PERFECT for the Daily Prompt:

In 2003 I scrimped and saved and took myself to the UK for a 19 day adventure.  I went alone.  This was my first time on a plane, my first time out of the country.  I dreamed and planned and asked advice all year, and everyone I talked to said, “You HAVE to go to Scotland!”  It wasn’t on my original wish list, but I decided to take this advice; and I’m SO glad I did!!  My final day in Edinburgh before boarding a bus back to London and catching the plane back home was, in a word, magic.

I was staying in a hostel on the Royal Mile, so I got up and got myself showered and ready to go out for the day relatively early.  I had been neglecting my journal for the past few days, so I took it with me to Starbucks, got a coffee and found a quiet place to perch and write. (I know, Starbucks! But it’s really the only place to find just plain, brewed coffee over there. I actually had to drink instant coffee in England once – BLECH!!) So, I did that – spent about 45 minutes writing about my adventures, and then I went out to see what the day held for me.  I didn’t have any particular plan, just wanted to soak up the last bit of Edinburgh I was allowed.  I walked toward the castle and I thought I heard bagpipes, so I followed the sound.  It lead me down Cockburn St., past the music store where I bought the Old Blind Dogs CD that a tour guide had recommended to me earlier in the week, down the sloping, winding, cobblestone street to an opening onto a balcony-like overhang to the next street down.  There were a few other folks hanging over the wall looking down and the music was very loud by this point, so I walked over to the wall.  There below me was a pipe and drum group in full formal kilts who looked to be warming up for a performance.

As I stood listening, the man next to me started chatting to me. “Where are you from?” “What brings you here?” – All the usual questions.  So I told him, “I’m from California, here on vacation and this is my last day before I head back to London and then the States.”  He told me he was from Leeds and asked if I had stopped there in my travels.  “No,” I said, “should I have?” He put his arm around my shoulders and, as the band played another tune, told me all about the wonders of Leeds – everything I had missed – and advised me to extend my trip to see it.  I explained that I really couldn’t do that – work, etc. were waiting for me back home.  He nearly cried! I’m pretty sure he hadn’t been home yet from the night before, but he was very nice and didn’t smell too bad.  Soon the band moved along and so did we spectators.

I decided to check out the New Town for a bit – I wanted to make sure I could find the bus station, and it looked busy down there from my perch above Princes Street Garden. There was a winter carnival set up as well, so I made my way down.  The crowds were huge, but I managed to find the bus station (complete with plaque explaining that it was the former site of the first veterinary school in the UK – which is cool since I work for a vet!).  Then I did a little window shopping, but the crowds were so overpowering that I got swept away and didn’t see much.  Soon, though, I heard music again and there were no cars in the street anymore, just people.  It was a parade! I watched for a while – still have no idea what the parade was for – and then I let the crowd carry me to the Christmas Bazaar.  There was a ferris wheel set up near the Walter Scott Monument and a bunch of little booths…and an ice rink.  I decided I needed to write some more, so I sat in the bleachers to watch the skaters (we don’t see a lot of ice skating in CA!).  Just as I sat down the song that, by then, had become the my magic song, “Babylon” by David Gray, came on over the speakers…it felt like a hug.  Pretty soon the spell was broken when I saw two teenagers in black, over-sized clothes approaching me.  I had not had a single bad experience in my travels, but you always hear stories of pickpockets, etc. so I tucked my bag under my arm and waited.  They said they wanted to do some magic tricks for me, would that be OK? I said, yes, but I still kept an eye on them.  It turned out, they DID just want to do some tricks! They were really sweet kids, we chatted for a while, and they moved on just as it began to rain again.

Since it was raining now and I hadn’t finished writing and I was getting chilly, I moved over to the covered seating area on the other side of the skating rink.  They were selling mulled wine and cider from a truck there, so I got some mulled wine and took a seat again.  Just a couple of minutes later the rain was really coming down and the tables under the awning were filling up.  When a couple of ladies asked if they could share my table I said yes, of course.  They were very chatty, asked me a lot of questions, and wished I was in town a bit longer as they would like to have me over for dinner!  [People were SO friendly in Scotland, so warm and interested.  They were lovely in England, too, but in Scotland? Well, they wanted to take me home with them!]  As soon as there was a break in the rain I decided to get back to my nice warm hostel.

It was getting to be late afternoon by that time anyway, twilight time since we were so far north.  The common room was packed because of the rain, and I was smiling like a fool from my serendipitous day.  An Australian guy and a few Canadians I had befriended in my week there gave me the, “What are you so happy about?!” face, so I told them about my day.  I guess it didn’t seem magical enough to break the cold and rain induced grumpiness for them, but I was still spellbound.  I stayed long enough to get warm and then I announced that I was off to get a potato (there was a baked potato place close by that everyone loved – cheap and easy and warm!).  By this time it had been raining steadily for hours and everyone who came inside was dripping wet and freezing, so they all looked at me like I had two heads.  “You’re going out there in this?! Aren’t you from California??” my new friend, Paul, said.  “Yep, I love the rain and it’s only a short walk,” I responded.  Pretty soon I was taking orders for everyone else and collecting money.  If I was crazy enough to go out in this weather, they were going to take advantage!  So my last evening in Scotland was spent sitting in front of the heater in the kitchen trying to get dry while enjoying a veggie chili potato with my new friends, continuing to be grossed out by the penchant for putting mayo on fries, making each other laugh, and just generally enjoying ourselves.

It was the best day I never planned, and it comes back to me vividly every time I hear that song.

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View of the castle from below on Johnson Terrace

12 January 2014 – It’s Contagious

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Yesterday did not work out as I had hoped.  After writing my post, I felt exposed and vulnerable and unable to deal with the activity I had planned – a walk with my friend and my dog.  How weak is that?  I just couldn’t deal with getting dressed and going out.  In fairness to myself, I have to admit that the friend I was going to meet can be challenging.  She was in a terrible car accident a few years back (drunk driver, he died at the scene & she barely made it – MAJOR trauma for all of us who weren’t in the wreck, but my friend only knows about it second hand…long story!) and she suffered a major brain injury.  I love her, but she’s not the same person she used to be and it takes a lot of energy to deal with her sometimes, especially one on one.  I just couldn’t face it yesterday, so I told her I had a migraine…and I stayed in my pajamas on the couch all day.  NOT good!!!

During my sojourn on the couch, I caught a couple of episodes of “Girls,” and I kinda wish I hadn’t.  I don’t know where they fit into the series exactly, so if you watch the show, this is either a spoiler or old news.  Read at your own risk.

What I saw is this:  Apparently Hannah has a history of anxiety and OCD, and she’s struggling with it.  At the same time, she seems to have a publisher for her book, but she’s unable to write because she’s losing it.  The pressure of her potential success is not helping.  She’s eating Cool Whip with a spoon from the container, hiding out in her bedroom, wearing a T-shirt and underwear out of the house, etc., etc., etc.  She’s calling her parents – especially her Dad, who seems to be the “softer” parent – for help and attention while avoiding her friends.  It’s terrible.  She even cut her own hair!!  She’s a total mess and I’m sure no one else really gets it.  Sound familiar?

It made me cringe (and take a shower).  I’m not that bad – no ticks, I wear clothes when I leave the house, etc. – but I understand this part of her.  Potential success is also potential failure.  It makes you question who exactly you think you are.  What makes you think you can do something as monumental as writing a book? Sure, that was her goal all along; she worked toward it in college; she was sure she could make it as a writer.  But when it’s actually happening? That’s a mountain of pressure!  The dream of your life is coming true – what if you screw it up? What if you aren’t as good as you thought? What if you succeed and then they want more? It’s more crippling (for me, anyway) than someone looking me in the face and saying, “No way.  You’ll never be able to do that.”  In fact, those words, that kind of feedback, drives me forward faster, with greater confidence and intensity than 20 people being supportive of me ever could.  I don’t know what the head-shrinkers would say about that, but it’s the truth….

Anyway, just seeing her lose it like that was a little too real, you know.  It made me want to crawl further into my shell.  And it made me think stupid things like, “Yeah, I could write a book, but that pressure of turning it over to a publisher for editing, critiques and re-writes? That would be misery!  And then, assuming I made it through all of that and, in the end, it was a success, they would want more because that’s their business!  What if I don’t have more?”  Cue the hyperventilation, fear and loathing! I got so scattered that I couldn’t remember if I had taken my meds…and the laundry is piling up again, and the sink is full of dishes, and I’m fat….

[Deep breaths.  Today is a new day.  Ddeeeppppp breeeaaatthsss.]

It’s now 10:30am on Sunday.  I’m still in bed as I write this.  My phone rang earlier, but I didn’t answer.  I’ve had my coffee; I’ve done some reading; I’m writing.  I’m scheduled to volunteer at the library this afternoon, so I need to shower, find some clean clothes to wear, and get my shit together…Why is is so hard?  I just want to be good, to do what needs to be done, to hold it together for a few hours today at least…Damn, now I really feel awful!!  Here’s the plan:  I can procrastinate – while eating some cereal – for another half hour.  Then I have to get in the shower and baby step my way through the next few hours.  When I get home, I can put my pajamas on again if I want to.  It will be OK.  It will.

11 January 2014 – Perfectionism

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WOW!  This blog is becoming my new, free therapy.  You know, therapists/psychologists/shrinks – they don’t say much, they just listen a lot and ask a question here and there.  It can give us comfort because we feel like they have some expertise or power that we don’t have ourselves; they have answers that we don’t.  Or, if you’re like me, you don’t want to dump on your friends and family – they have their own problems to deal with, plus you don’t want them to know all the crazy stuff going on in your head – so you can pay someone to listen!  They don’t know you outside of this experience, so you can just lay it all out there, AND you’re not inconveniencing anyone in the process, because it is this person’s job to do this.  It’s a service you’re paying for!  And that’s all good.  But at the end of it all, WE have the answers and insights within us all along.  Most of us just need to keep spewing it out there until we reach that insight ourselves, and THAT is what this blog is doing for me.  Thanks guys!

Of course, misery loves company, so making it public is maybe letting other “crazy” people feel less along, too.  I may have already said this to you all, but it’s worth repeating.  I feel that I am a terribly average American woman.  I’m 5 ft. 5 in., I’m overweight, I work full-time, I have credit card and student loan debt, and I have the luxury (yes, luxury) of being able to look at myself and see what I can do better.  I didn’t have an extraordinarily bad or good childhood.  I don’t lead an extraordinary life.  I’m just regular, average.  Now, I’ve been told that I’m really not average, and maybe that’s true in some aspects of my life and person; but in all of the things that people see everyday, I really am average.  I can prove it, too!  Come to the sale rack at any department store with me sometime:  size 71/2 – 8 shoes? Nope; 36C bras? Nope; size 12 pants? Only the very ugly ones left! See, AVERAGE.

So when I say I suffer from perfectionism, I am pretty sure I’m not alone.  (And, yes, I’m about to get Brene Brown on you again!)  Can you guess what I was reading this morning?  Yeah, so here are a few quotes I had to highlight (All from Brene’s book, Daring Greatly – Kindle edition, so I don’t have page numbers for you..):

“Perfectionism is not self-improvement.  Perfectionism is, at its core, about trying to earn approval.  Most perfectionists grew up being praised for achievement and performance (grades, manners, rule following, people pleasing, appearance, sports).”

“Perfectionism is correlated with depression, anxiety, addiction, and life paralysis or missed opportunities.”

” ‘ I remind myself, “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of good.” (Cribbed from Voltaire)  A twenty-minute walk that I do is better than the four-mile run that I don’t do.  The imperfect book that gets published is better than the perfect book that never leaves my computer.  The dinner party of take-out Chinese food is better than the elegant dinner that I never host.'” – Gretchen Rubin quoted in Brene Brown

“‘As a kid, I equated being perfect with being loved…and I think I still confuse the two.'” – Andrea Scher quoted in Brene Brown

“‘ Quick and dirty wins the race.  Perfection is the enemy of done.  Good enough is really effin’ good.'”  – Ibid.

“Shame enters for those of us who experience anxiety because not only are we feeling fearful, out of control, and incapable of managing our increasingly demanding lives, but eventually our anxiety is compounded and made unbearable by our belief that if we were just smarter, stronger, or better, we’d be able to handle everything.”

Basically, by embracing perfectionism all these years, I’ve been feeding my anxiety and depression.  That’s what is sounds like, right?  And it’s not all my fault (which I could have told you before reading this stuff):  I’m the first-born girl, I’m the oldest sibling, I’m smart and people tend to like me.  All of this was apparent when I was very young, I’m told.  And I personally remember being introduced to responsibility and the praise for achievement (and the disappointment of not doing very well) really early in my life.  For example, my brother is 4 years younger than me, and I clearly remember when he was maybe 6 or 8 months old (crawling, not walking, still in diapers) being told by my mother to “watch him” for a minute or two.  So, doing the math, I may have been 4 1/2 at this time…and I did watch him!  I remember saying, “Mom! Andrew is eating rolly-pollies!”  To which she responded, “I told you to watch him!”  Well, I was watching! I was watching him eat bugs and reporting the offense – not bad for a 4 yr. old, right?  But clearly not good enough.  Likewise, I was somehow responsible for my younger siblings’ (and any other younger kids around me) behavior.  I was the oldest so I “set an example.”  If my sister hit me and I hit her back, we both got in trouble, but I got in more trouble because I should know better and set an example.  Now how on earth does that make sense, I ask you?!  The example I set if I don’t retaliate is that it’s OK to hit me/people – there will be no immediate consequence.  Also, it’s OK for me to be hit, but not my sister…I’m supposed to just take it.  AND, let’s just throw this one in for fun:  “Don’t be a tattle tale!”  Talk about mixed messages!! She hit me, but I’m not supposed to retaliate AND I’m not supposed to tattle…Basically, my feelings are unimportant.  So how do I, the responsible older sibling, get love and attention? Well, I achieve, I achieve my butt off!  And it works – I am praised for my grades, my abilities, etc.  But it’s not enough.  Consistently my nearly straight-A filled report cards also included a comment from my teacher saying, “She’s not living up to her potential.”  WTF??  There is no higher grade than an A!! And I went to a very small, Catholic school, so it’s not like there was a gifted program I could move up to.  So that’s me:  Good, but not good enough.  Always.

My siblings were not held to this standard – not even close.  Most of my friends weren’t either, but there were a few.  Kids always compare themselves with one another whether consciously or unconsciously, and we judge those comparisons based on what we have learned of life, mainly from adults.  I learned that my good behavior and achievement gave me a bit more freedom and some privileges.  My teachers sat me in the back of the room because I didn’t need to be watched closely or helped often.  My parents scrimped and saved so that I could have a horse and riding lessons (which, BTW, is also a responsibility).  Want to know what my younger siblings learned from this?  From what I hear, they learned that I was the favorite, that I got whatever I wanted, and that I was smart and they weren’t.  They also learned that they didn’t have to work hard – EVER!  Again, we’re talking early childhood here – pre-teen, elementary school age.  They got Cs and that was good enough – it was, “the best they could do.”  They got detention regularly, so naturally they were punished/grounded and didn’t have the same privileges that I had.  My brother took it to the next level – the only boy and the youngest child.  His thing was, “I don’t know how! (boo hoo, weep, weep, sniffle)”  Which, either from exhaustion or just going with the path of least resistance, usually ended in, “You do it for him,” directed at me.  Not, “Show him how and let him do it,” but, “you do it for him.” (This SO made me crazy!) So when I struggled to do something – ride a 2-wheeler, do a cart-wheel, do algebra – I worked at it hard, for hours.  Usually I learned to do the difficult thing, I overcame the challenge, I achieved, and I was rewarded.  My siblings?  They just did “good enough,” they were in trouble a lot, and they got a lot of attention for it.  It probably wasn’t the attention they really wanted, but it’s what they learned to do.  They saw the attention that I got and turned it into, “She’s the favorite.”  They still don’t really see all the hard work I did to achieve, achieve, achieve even now that we are adults.  My sister has managed to turn her childhood experiences into an enormous persecution complex.  She’s ugly and useless and everyone is out to get her all the time, so she’s very defensive.  You can’t have a conversation with her (well, I can’t) without her feeling accused of something and coming out swinging.  Needless to say, we have a very volatile and not very close relationship.  My brother is a bit more like me.  He wants to achieve, but he believes he’s not very smart.  He tends toward depression, and he is very comfortable in situations and organizations where he is told what to do in a very black and white, no need to think for yourself way.  He’s in the Army; He’s super-robo-Christian.  He’s really pretty good at being vulnerable, probably because it has always worked for him as the baby of the family.  He’s very sentimental, likes those very patriotic or deeply emotional country songs – that kind of thing.  How is it possible that we all grew up in the same house??!!!

So, it’s clear to me where my perfectionism began.  Now I’m an adult (which is weird still, but it’s true), and this is the hand I’ve been dealt.  I have to learn how best to deal with it, repair it, and/or change it.  What I did learn in “real” therapy is that I am not actually responsible for other people’s behavior – particularly my siblings.  That seems like a no brainer, but I suffered watching them make mistakes and bad decisions when I was younger.  Part of that was because our Mom died when I was 17, so I felt even more responsible for them than I did before.  Anyway, I’ve learned that the only person I have control over is myself, and they are responsible for their own lives.  That’s still really hard for me, but I remind myself whenever I see it pop up.

“Perfectionism is not self-improvement.”  That’s what I’m learning right now.  For some reason – maybe because I’ve been thinking about redecorating lately – I started thinking about the type of furniture I’m most attracted to when I read this.  I really love old, handmade, lived-in stuff.  Not the faux distressed stuff, but the real, used, quirky things.  I love those old, scuffed-up, not at all shiny farm house tables, the kind with water rings and burn marks and nicks everywhere.  I love quilts because as good as you are, as hard as you try, they’re never exactly “perfect,” but you can tell that someone took time and effort and love to make them.  It’s the same with this old sideboard/dresser that I just can’t part with.  It’s clearly handmade, the paint is chipping, the drawers only fit in the exact right place, so if you take them all out, it’s like putting a puzzle back together getting them back in.  To me, these things are warm and comforting and sweet and beautiful and THAT is perfect.  They are unique because of their flaws; their flaws are what make them beautiful.  If I feel this way about furniture, why can’t I feel this way about myself?  I am a product of my history.  I have scars and burns and I’m a little wobbly sometimes.  But I’m warm and squishy and I mean well.  Shouldn’t that be good enough?

Clearly I still feel that I can improve, but it could be so much worse.  I am pretty darn good, I think, but I don’t feel comfortable saying I’m good enough.  That feels like an end to striving to learn and improve.  I guess I better keep reading….

The science of willpower: Kelly McGonigal on why it’s so dang hard to stick to a resolution

This dovetails so nicely with other work that I think is so important, valid and needs to be seen – especially Karla McLaren’s books, “The Language of Emotions” and “The Art of Empathy”. These internal experiences are there for reason and the sooner we learn to work with them – not against them, not viewing them as “bad” things to be avoided – the sooner we’ll all feel better and be more effective people. It is difficult to change the habits of a lifetime – like perfectionism and being your own worst critic – but these things are my obstacles to lasting peace and happiness. My NY resolutions this year are related to these wishes for myself , and they’re ongoing, constantly adjusting to get to those bigger goals for myself. I’ll let you know how it goes!!

TED Blog

By the second week of January, that resolution that once seemed so reasonable — go to the gym every other day, read a book a week, only drink alcohol on weekends — is starting to seem very … hard. As you are teetering on the edge of abandoning it all together, Kelly McGonigal is here to help. This Stanford University psychologist — who shared last year how you can make stress your friend — wants you to know that you’re not having a hard time sticking to a resolution because you are a terrible person. Perhaps you’ve just formulated the wrong resolution.

McGonigal has, for years, taught a course called “The Science of Willpower” through Stanford’s Continuing Studies program and, in 2011, she spun it into a book, The Willpower Instinct. The TED Blog spoke to McGonigal this week about how willpower is often misunderstood, and what we each can do…

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January 1, 2014 – Happy New Year (I hope!)

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Well, it has been almost a month since I saw my doctor and we changed my meds and added some supplements.  Has anything changed?

I think so, but it’s a small change that probably wouldn’t be noticed by anyone but me.  I have reached out for help, ideas, solutions, etc. to help me move forward.  Sure most of this “reaching out” has been in the direction of books, but they are really good books by really smart people! Any the bottom line is, as it has always been, that no one can do this for me.  There is no magic pill, spell, or exercise to “fix” my issues.  I have work to do.  What has changed is that I feel able, once again, to digest all of this new knowledge and use it to make my way forward.  That is progress in my book.

Being the person that I am, and this being the time of year when people vow to make changes, I made a quick mental list of my current obstacles.  I’m very critical of myself, so I have a huge list of things I want to change/do better/do less of, but the obstacles to my progress are few.  Right now my biggest obstacles are my anxiety and depression.  Well, I’m working on the depression with medication already.  In my case, I’m not “sad” so much as I am inert and lacking in motivation.  It’s faulty brain chemistry and hopefully the med will be/are already helping with that.  The anxiety – at this level – is newer and not medicated.  It is overwhelming, irrational fear manifesting physically for no apparent reason, in no set pattern.  No “apparent” reason means that I don’t consciously understand where it is coming from.  It’s not like I’m worried about losing my job or my house or something big like that.  I do worry though – a lot.  So I’ve decided to do a couple of things to maybe/hopefully refocus my thoughts and empower myself.  If all goes well, I hope that this will decrease my anxiety AND depression over time.

Here’s the plan:

1.  It may sound silly to some, but I think it’s a wonderful idea – saw it on facebook – HA!!  I’m calling it the “Joy Jar” (which may be what they called it on facebook, I can’t remember).  I have a spare cookie jar, but it could be a box, bowl or other container, in which I will place a note any time something wonderful happens in my life this year.  I may even use colored paper!  The idea is that this exercise will increase my focus on these good things in my life AND, at the end of the year (or whenever I feel like it), I will be able to look back at all the wonderful parts of my life and see how many there actually are.

2.  Today, as I’m not working, I’m going to make a list of things that worry me.  NOT the possibility of car accidents, comet impacts, etc. – things I can do something about.  For example, like many people, I worry about money and the lack there of.  So, I can (conveniently, as the year has just ended) review my spending over the past year (I use mint.com – check it out) and see where I can save or make changes.  Making lists makes me feel more in control.  I can see clearly what needs to be done, I won’t forget anything because I made a list, and I can make a plan to move forward.  Hopefully getting a better picture of things and taking control of it will make the anxiety recede.

New Year’s Resolutions?  I have only two – one of which will require another list: 1) Be on time for work every day, and 2) Take better care of myself this year.  I figure only one of these is the usual “pass/fail” variety of resolutions.  The other is part of the ongoing process of LIFE.

Time to make some lists!!