Plague Diaries #11

It’s no secret that I’ve been dealing with major anxiety, so bad that for a while there it was all I could do to force myself out of bed in the morning, bed being the safest place on earth.

It’s also no secret that I took some medical leave from work to deal with getting my head back on straight. I am trying everyday to meditate, walk, knit, listen to podcasts, read, and do other kind things for myself so that I can relax enough to get my breathing back to a non-panicked state.  It’s been slow, but my mood is lifting and I am getting better.

The one sticking point is writing. Some asshole will probably point out that I’m writing this, but that’s not the same thing at all. Here is just a journal of thoughts, feelings and events. It isn’t creative, although some other asshole might argue that too.

But this is where things brighten. I have a friend who teaches at our local university, let’s call her LC. I’ve known LC for almost as long as I’ve been living in Florida which means we’ve been friends for over fifteen years. She’s always been a shining light in my life, even though I don’t get to see her often. But we have been talking a lot on the phone lately and she has been prodding me to get back to creativity.

We recently read together an essay, deconstructed it, and then each wrote our own homage to the formula and the brilliant writer. I like the first draft of my essay about goats (Greek goats, specifically), even though I was wheezing through the entire process of getting words down on the computer screen. I tweaked it a bit the next day and became more pleased with it, even though it isn’t nearly as poignant and heartbreaking  as the original. But it was good to be writing something again.

LC is great at giving feedback. Always starting with the positive and then moving gently to where things could be improved. She’s a brilliant writer herself and I can’t wait to read her version of the essay. (It’s her wedding anniversary today, so I’ll cut her some slack.) But the feeling of putting words together and making some interesting connections fired something in me that had been doused by a bucket of mood disorder.

Things will always happen that will try to keep my from writing. The death of my mother stoppered things for a good year. This pandemic has strafed me as well. And next year it will be something else. Maybe the murder hornets will set up shop in the gardenia bushes out my back door. I don’t know.

But no matter how much water is thrown on the fire, I’ll keep going. Nathan Hill, the amazing author of The Nix, and a local, wrote this essay recently that said much more succinctly than what I’m trying to do here. Read it here:  Postcard From the Pandemic: A Solid Little Feeling

I will get back to writing. After my mother died and nearly a year had gone by I started with smaller pieces, flash fiction and some essays. Some got published in online and literary reviews. Maybe if my goat essay gets polished enough I’ll try sending that out too.

Writing is the fire in my blood. I might slow down, I might stop altogether from time to time,  but it always comes back, no matter what catastrophe I face. And if I just tempted fate with that statement, so be it. Bring on the murder hornets.

 

Plague Diaries #10

How long has this been going on? Six weeks or so? It seems so long ago and yet like it was just yesterday that my job shut its doors to the public.

You know I’ve been dealing with anxiety. But I’ve been taking steps to take care of myself. Herbal tea instead of coffee, guided meditation at least once a day, I stopped looking at the numbers and most of the news. And above all, I’ve been receiving the acupuncture treatments. I don’t feel great, like my old self, but I do feel a marked improvement. I have more concentration at work, and I ordered some yarn to start knitting again.

The one thing I wish I could get my head space wrapped around was writing. I stopped my novel (which I am 90% finished with the first draft) on March 8. And I’m just too wound up, too unsure of myself to get back into it again. I can feel my breathing ratcheting into the bad place even as I write about it now. It scares me for some reason.

But we have to remember that this self-quarantine is not “time we have been given” to do something great. A horrible thing is happening to our world and we can’t be expected to just shrug it off and write the Great American Novel. There’s a legend that Shakespeare wrote King Lear while he was locked up during a plague quarantine. It may or may not be true, but if it is, his name was Willpower, not William Shakespeare.

I want to finish with a quote from one of my favorite guys. Most people know (I hope?) that Calvin Coolidge was President of the United States from 1923-1929. He was taciturn, maybe a little grumpy, but had some interesting things to say. He was rational, he spoke carefully, he took the measure of things before jumping into the fray.

He had this to say about persistence:

Calvin-Coolidge-1920“Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan “Press On” has solved and will always solve the problems of the human race.”

Right on.

 

He also said, “Four-fifths of all of our troubles would disappear, if we would only sit down and keep still.”

Perhaps our current president could take some advice there.

Plague Diaries #9

I have a very dear friend who is one of those people who is without guile or pretense. She is a genuine, authentic soul who says what she means, is kind to the core, and doesn’t take shit from anyone. She is a beautiful soul.

I’ve been keeping in contact with her through email lately and have mentioned my problems with anxiety. And she offered to give me acupuncture treatments. She is a retired nurse who also studied eastern medicine for three years and is a licensed acupuncture practitioner. Yesterday afternoon was my first session.

I lay on cushions on the floor on my back. She took my pulse three places in my right wrist and three places in my left wrist, and also in my neck. She inserted two needles in each wrist, two in each foot, one in the top of my head and five in my left ear. And I lay there for a while.

It wasn’t unpleasant, in fact, other than being pricked with needles, it was actually nice to just lay there and not be expected to do anything. We talked a little, she told me about her journey through learning eastern medicine and even how she went to China to study acupuncture there for two months. On top of being a kind person, she also has the soul of a wanderer–she’s been so many places in the world and I love to hear her stories of travel.

After she took the needles out we sat and talked a little while and then I went home. I can’t say I felt a huge difference right away, but this morning I did notice an easing in my breathing. I plan to go back some night after work this week to do it again.

I can’t tell you how much her friendship means to me. She’s someone who understands anxiety and depression, having battled them herself. In a world where so many people are selfish and rude, finding a truly kind person is a rarity. To have such a person in one’s life is a gift and I will never take her for granted, even if she never gave me acupuncture. Just spending time with her and talking lifts my spirit and brings me joy.

Thank you, my dear, for your love and friendship and needles.

 

Plague Diaries #7

The new normal that I mentioned in my last post continues. I’m working, but I’m having trouble concentrating. I’m forcing my way through it, but at night I am exhausted and only want to lie in bed. But I go for walks because I know it’s good for me. I make myself eat well. I take my medications.

My anxiety has been getting out of hand. I’ve grappled with pretty harsh anxiety since I was a child, just built into my disposition, coming from my repressive Scandinavian genes, I suppose.

My husband doesn’t have anxiety, bless him. And I know a lot of you don’t either, and thank the stars you don’t. But if you know someone who does and you struggle to understand why they do weird things like eat their cuticles to shreds or have a penchant for hiding in bed, let me try to explain.

I know it is different for everyone. Some have severe panic attacks, some lose their shit and scream and cry, some of us can’t breathe. I fall into the latter category. When things get really bad I feel like I have a basketball shoved inside my ribs and my lungs are trying to expand and contract around it. Not easy.

But one thing, I think, that is universal for those with severe anxiety, is that it isn’t rational. It’s living too much in our heads and not being grounded in what is happening in the moment. We worry about the future, the past, the present and it all gets tangled in a whirling blur of color mixed with terrifying darkness that is impossible to slow down and separate into what’s real and what’s perceived.

The last time I had anxiety this bad was in the months after my mother died. No difficulty explaining why. And there is no secret to why it’s revving up now either. This pandemic is changing our world at a screaming pace. And the thing that makes me most anxious is I don’t know how it’s changing us, or where exactly (or even generally) we will end up.

I know this isn’t a post of stiff upper lip. (We can’t all be Queen of England.) I am a brave person–I go on living in spite of my anxiety. Some days are more difficult than others to put together the semblance of a well-lived life, but I never give up. But if I chew my thumb or have to lie down in the dark for a while, it’s okay. And it’s okay if someone you know does the same thing–as long as they don’t unpack and set up house with that feeling.

I hope you’re okay. I’m hanging in there. I’m doing my best, and I’m trying to be kind to myself and to others. We’re all going through a hard time and kindness is the best medicine for the ills that surround us.

Take care of yourself.

I’ll see you on the other side,

Anna

Plague Diaries #3

Yesterday I talked about all the things I worried about. And I talked myself right into a lovely little panic attack. So today I am taking new measures to stop the anxiety from ratcheting up exponentially.

  1. I am going to stop checking the state numbers obsessively. The Florida Department of Health reports the increase in positive cases twice daily. Up until now I was online at 11 am and 6 pm to see how much we had increased. It was making me crazy.
  2. I am going to limit my exposure to the news and Facebook to once a day, and then only spend a very short amount of time reviewing.
  3. I am going to find activities that are comforting to me. For example, reading old favorite books that are like home to me. I’m going to rewatch the Great British Baking Show from the beginning. Even though I’m a low-carb, no sugar girl, it is still satisfying to see friendly people making cakes and biscuits and bread.
  4. I’m going to find reasons to laugh. Watching the British comedy shows like Would I Lie to You and QI always take me out of my head for a while.
  5. I’m going to stop judging other people for their inability to take self-distancing seriously. I’m taking care of me and mine and that’s all I can do.
  6. And if I still feel like I have a kaleidoscope of rabid butterflies in my stomach, I have anxiety medication (used sparingly) that can help me settle down.

My husband and I had a conversation yesterday about being brave. We do need to go forward with the attitude that everything is going to work out. And if it doesn’t we have to face the worst without falling apart. I’m not equating courage with stupidity–I’m still practicing self-isolation. But we need to put on a brave face and not let our fear overwhelm us. This is a war. And I am not going to go quietly to death.

Take care of yourselves. Check in with each other. Practice kindness.

I’ll see you on the other side.

Love, Anna

Nerd is the New Black

I’ve never claimed to be cool. That is just not in my makeup. I’m not into parties or dressing edgy. I’d much rather have a beer with a few close friends or read, or sit with some needlework. I remember one time when I was in grad school a friend called to ask if I wanted to have lunch. She had asked me what I was doing, and I replied “Oh, just sitting on the couch, knitting and watching Unsolved Mysteries.” There was silence on the other end of the line, and then the question, “What, are you 82?”

Holly Hat Clown–Red Skelton

Yeah. I’m a nerd. Look at the needlepoint project I’ve been obsessively working on the past few weeks. It was a kit I discovered in my grandmother’s sewing basket after she died seven years ago. Mom told me she had bought needlepoint projects for all of her grandchildren at one point, but never finished them. This one had barely been started. I was also told that this particular project had been intended for my cousin Scott, who was just a little kid at the time. Hey Scott, you’re welcome.

I have hung onto this thing for years and never worked on it more than a few stitches here and there. But I dug it out right before the hurricane and started on it again, and somehow it clicked this time. I’ve been rabidly stitching ever since, and binge watching TV shows on Netflix. And just to prove what a total nerd I am, I watched the documentary series The Royal House of Windsor and and am now halfway through Secrets of Great British Castles. So, yeah.

I hope to finish this in time for Christmas. I plan on making it into a pillow to put in my office. It’s so awful that I absolutely adore it.

What’s my point? That I am proud of my nerd status. When I was in my teens and twenties it really bothered me that I wasn’t more outgoing, that I was awkward in large groups, that parties gave me wicked anxiety.  I did get better at it, I learned how to relax and be more outgoing, although it still takes its toll. But in my 40’s I have found that I really like me. I think I’m pretty cool just how I am.

I’m proud of my clown. I can’t wait to see how he looks in my office. I’ll post a picture when Old Red is complete.

Again, Scott, you’re welcome.

 

Change your tune

As Tom Petty once sang, “The Waiting is the Hardest Part.” And when you are waiting for something, be it doctor’s tests or whether or not you got the job, it is the hardest part. Even when you are pretty sure of a good outcome, there is still that tinge of dread that things could go this way:

Usually, however, there is no battle with a lion following. (Although I’d take Russell Crowe in a gladiator’s kilt any day.)

Why is waiting so hard? Obviously it is because we generally have no control over outcomes and that makes us anxious. The unknown sits like a vague shadow just out of our reach. Does it have fangs or is it smiling? Or, God forbid, both?

I am a champion worrier. You give me a topic and I can winkle anxiety from it with little effort. I can conjure entire conversations, scenario after scenario of how things can go wrong and hardly break a sweat. It is no small thing.

But what does it get me? A big fat load of anxiety, and time still marches on and events unfold like they were always going to. Except I’ve just given myself a headache from clenching my teeth in my sleep.

I once saw a meme on Pinterest of a monk sitting on a rock in the middle of a lake. Underneath it were the words: Relax. Nothing is under control. And as hokey as that might sound, it is wisdom I try to take to heart. Most situations in life are out of our control and there is very little we can do except change how we react to it.

Back to Tom Petty. You all know I am prone to ear worms. The last few days I’ve been replaying “The Waiting is the Hardest Part.” And while that isn’t a bad tune to have stuck in your head it is making me fret. Every time I reach the the chorus I feel the spring coil a little tighter.

But then this morning I had a flash of brilliance. In high school I was a big fan of Guns N’ Roses. And while most of their music palls to an enlightened feminist such as myself, there is one song that could effectively supplant Tom Petty’s voice in my head.

“Said woman, take it slow

And things’ll be just fine.

You and I’ll just use a little patience.”

Sing it, sir.

P is for…

PPort Isaac

Have you ever seen the TV show Doc Martin? If you haven’t, I demand you go find it right now and watch it. It stars Martin Clunes as a possibly Asperger’s surgeon who developed a phobia for blood and had to take a position as a town doctor in the small coastal town of Port Wenn in Cornwall. Port Isaac is the place where this show is filmed and Kosta and I made a special trip to see it during our 2012 trip to England.

My parking place at the hotel.

My parking place at the hotel.

Let me first tell you about driving in Cornwall–if you have any tiny little hint of anxiety disorder I suggest you avoid it at all costs. The roads are about the width of a horse’s butt, lined with tall hedgerows and corkscrew around like a Matchbox car race course. Don’t forget as an American, I was driving backwards to what I was used to. And then of course the locals drive like demons escaped from hell. I felt like peering through my fingers the whole time I was behind the wheel.

Doc Martin's house!

Doc Martin’s house!

A view of the port from up on the hill.

A view of the port from up on the hill.

But once we got there? PERFECTION. This town is so breathtakingly charming I could have stayed for months, just wandering the streets and the grassy cliffs above. We didn’t see anyone famous as they weren’t filming, but we did see Doc Martin’s house, Mrs. Tischel’s chemist’s shop, and actually stayed at the Old School Hotel which is the school where Louisa Glassin teaches. It was an extremely cool experience.

Old School Hotel

Old School Hotel

Until we had to get back in the car and drive back to Oxford.

Let’s Do This

Happy New Year!

I’ve been taking stock of 2015 for a few days now. Some really excellent things happened, the most exciting was that I found a literary agent who is head over heels in love with my book.  We’re looking for a publisher now and I can’t be more thrilled.

This year wasn’t really an easy one. I had to work out a lot of things in my head about my job, my passion for writing and how they can coexist peacefully. I’m still working on it.

New YearBut I have decided 2016 is going to be my sassiest year yet. Last night, when the clock struck twelve, I was in the middle of getting teal streaks put in my hair by a 19 year-old cosmetology student. (Who, by the way, did an excellent job.) I am going to keep hiring her to color my hair until she graduates and becomes too expensive for me.

Mid-life crisis? Nope, I really don’t think so. I’ve decided that I’ve spent too much time being miserable, waiting for things to happen. (Waiting to find an agent, a publisher, to get the hell out of my day job, etc.) And doing all that waiting makes one rather miserable. So I have decided to stop waiting and start doing things. Fun things. Crazy things. Daring things.

New Me

This was me in the car this morning on the way to my first breakfast of 2016. I had the bacon skillet at Hoots, I highly recommend it. See the teal hair? I am so in love with it. It is just the first of many things I will be diving into this year.

For instance, there are a few things I’ve been wanting to try for writing research. Archery, for example. In high school we had an archery unit in gym class and I was pretty good at it. I want to remind myself what it feels like to draw a bow and loose an arrow.

I found an outdoor archery club less than an hour away. They offer free lessons to newbies and let them borrow equipment until the newbie decides what is right for them. Now I just have to find a way to have a Thursday afternoon off in the middle of season. Wish me luck.

I’ve also wanted to know what it feels like to shoot a gun. Not that I plan on owning one, but I want to know the physical and psychological feelings a person has when they pick up a weapon and fire it for the first time. So I signed up my husband and I for our local sheriff’s gun safety class. There are four hours of classroom instruction and three hours at the range. My good friend, who is a former cop, is going to let me borrow her Glock for the actual practical aspect. I have to admit I’m a little scared about this, but the class isn’t until April so I have time to get used to the idea.

I’m also downsizing our posessions this year. We have way too much junk. Stuff that has been sitting in closets for years, things we never use, or even remember we had. I am making a run to the Goodwill tomorrow as a matter of fact. Every time I do I feel lighter.

Speaking of lighter, I also return to the gym tomorrow. In 2014 I went 3-4 times a week. I lost all momentum when I had to have my gall bladder removed this last January. That’s a whole year off. I think it’s time to get back on the elliptical machine.

But above all, I am going to be writing. It is the thing I love most. It gives me such a high to sit with my laptop and create a world and characters so real I feel like they really are out there somewhere living their lives. I have been on fire for the last month, writing every day. I am working o n rewriting my first novel and I am very pleased with how it is coming out.

So won’t you join me? Let’s go find new and interesting experiences to fill our days instead of stewing in anxiety until our fingers get all pruney. A champion worrier all my life, I have decided once and for all that anxiety can BITE ME.

Happy New Year. Let’s do this.

 

Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things by Jenny Lawson

FuriouslyHappyJenny Lawson (aka the Bloggess) is someone who has come into my world fairly recently. Last month I read a review of this book in the library publication Booklist, and thought it sounded intriguing. Since it had not yet been published I hunted down her first book: Let’s Pretend This Never Happened. I read it on vacation and came to two conculsions.

The first is that Jenny Lawson is a total wingnut, swears like a truck driver with Tourrette’s, and has a family that rivals the Adams Family when it comes to weirdness.

The second is that Jenny Lawson is completely and unequivocally hysterical.

There are some misguided people in this world who are easily offended by cursing, and I feel deeply sorry for these people. I believe the time one spends taking offense is inversely proportional to the amount of fun one has. I also know that trying to explain this to someone easily offended is like trying to convince a conspiracy theorist that no, McDonald’s is not own by Satanists.

The title Furiously Happy is rather poignant. Jenny Lawson has made her writing career talking frankly about dealing with mental illness. She suffers from depression and anxiety and a host of taggers-on. She has good days and really terrible days. Her theory is that on her good days she needs to live them to the fullest–the craziest, brilliant, most memorable times she can conjure. Then, when the bad days return she will have those memories and be able to tell herself they will come again.

To quote Furiously Happy:

“When cancer sufferers fight, recover, and go into remission we laud their bravery. We wear ribbons to celebrate their fight. We call them survivors. Because they are.

When depression sufferers fight, recover, and go into remission we seldom even know, simply because so many suffer in the dark… ashamed to admit something they see as a personal weakness… afraid that people will worry, and more afraid that they won’t. We find ourselves unable to do anything but cling to the couch and force ourselves to breathe.”

This.

I will admit that I have suffered from anxiety and depression. That’s not an easy thing to admit, especially when the whole purpose of this blog is to demonstrate my talents as a writer, and showcase my brilliant wit and sparkling humor. But I need to be true to who I am. Yes, I have struggled with anxiety and depression, but I would guess 99% of the people who have ever met me would never know it. I can speak in front of huge groups of people and not blink an eye. I give every impression of being warm, funny, and completely well-adjusted.

I have to say that being married has done wonders for my state of mind. My husband, who is a self-proclaimed “happy jackass,” is the best medicine. He makes me laugh every day and really helps to keep me on an even keel. True, I may get tired more easily than the average person, I may need more downtime to recuperate after social events, but I am proud of the progress I have made in the last 20 years. If you would have told me when I was 21 that I would one day be married and not be the drama queen in the relationship I would have laughed and laughed. Funny how things turn out.

I do warm to Jenny’s idea of living furiously happy when the opportunity presents itself. I already know that traveling has made the best memories I keep and I want to do as much of it with my happy jackass as I can in this lifetime.

The happiest I have been while not on the road is when I am writing, and creating stories. The worlds I create are so real to me that my husband and I speak of my characters like they live and breathe out there in the world somewhere. My greatest wish is to be able to do that as a full-time job instead of being a librarian. Don’t get me wrong, librarians are terribly important. But learn from my mistake and don’t ever expect to find fulfillment in a career you chose mostly because you needed a paycheck.

To all of you out there who are like me and have struggled with anxiety and depression, I salute you. Keeping going when all you want to do is hide in your bed is no small feat, even if compared to the rest of the world it seems small. We are working with a serious disadvantage and have to toil much harder to stay even with the rest of the pack.

I highly recommend Furiously Happy to anyone who suffers with mental illness or anyone who lives with one. It will make you understand things on a new level, give validation that you aren’t alone, and make you snort coffee out your nose.

Which is why I don’t recommend reading it with a beverage. That really hurts.