acting, beauty, depression, humor., ice skating, Life in General, Nature: Hiking, Wildlife & More

Learning to Fall

 

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When life knocks you down, try to land somewhere soft.

Recently, one of my most talented and positive friends asked on Facebook, “How do you reset when you are blue and stressed?” Wow, great question and there were many wise and humorous suggestions posted, most of them featured nature, music, or watching other people make fools of themselves, but I couldn’t help wondering if the better question would be “How do I keep myself from becoming blue and stressed?”

Which shows both my naiveté and a severe drop of IQ, probably due to early drug abuse combined with late menopausal symptoms, because the glaring truth of course is that you can’t. Anxiety, sadness, stress and frustration are all quite normal parts of being human and alive both at once.

You can try a few things; blunting, transference, isolation and alienation, but that doesn’t feel like much fun either, and ultimately, all of those things will only make you feel worse not to mention pretty much universally despised, which will make you angrier and more afraid which will make you stressed and anxious and well, we’re right back where we started, only deeper. That hasn’t stopped me from trying them all!

It’s the carnival ride of the insane. Climbing on the dark carousel of avoidance is a morose and discordant experience where the only appropriate exclamation is a wheezing gasp of despair. Nobody, and I mean nobody shouts, “Wheee!” when that funride gets up to speed. But we all seem incapable of avoiding being sucked into the line along with the rest of the crowd every once in a while.

In fact, the only people who don’t have a ticket to that not-so-merry-go-round is a true psychopath, and frankly a life without compassion, empathy and remorse is not a life worth living, so be grateful when you can recognize that the ticket in your hand was paid for by the yearning for unconsciousness and go get it punched in another part of the park. Oh look, over there, I can crawl into a cage and be the attraction for a bit, or see the circus freaks by entering the house of mirrors. It might be hard to keep your eyes open but at least you got the hell off the round-about and are moving in some direction, it might be down, but eventually it will lead to up.

So now that we’ve established that shit happens, we have to face it. And that’s where falling comes in, and here’s my advice.

Tuck and roll.

You might not spring back to your feet, you might lay on the ground moaning for a while— a lateral move to self-pity can be quite liberating actually, I personally recommend blaming everyone else from a hot bath from a view through amber whiskey in cut crystal—you might scream for mercy or smash crockery in a rage, you may stare at a blank wall and confess that you are nothing, less than worthless and there’s no hope for a bit, but believe it or not, those are all good. Well…better than pretending that life is a fairyland of sprouting wildflowers and gentle summer days. Because baby, I’m here to tell you, rain will fall and your best option is to dance in it, cry in it, rail at it, but damn it, get soaking wet. It’s the only way back out.

Now, wallowing is fine for a while, still you wouldn’t want to live there.

I was a competitive ice skater and falling was something I did several hundred times a day. You can actually get good at it, and you’ll never improve if you don’t do it, so suck it up and get bruised every once in a while.

It’s fascinating to me that science and experience are now showing me that we learn our responses to stimuli, like, say…your mom’s disappointed face, or your classmates mocking you, or a scary man yelling at you. Our brain actually memorises a chemical pattern that cannot be broken with logic, reason, or even intense self-examination and realisation. When the lady at the store twists up her little puckered mouth in judgement, those chemicals remember your mom’s criticism and start an instant chain of chemicals firing that affect a physical sensation your body and brain have diligently rehearsed. There is a perfectly good physiological reason for this: self-protection. When we are in fear or danger, we have responses that are necessary to our survival, but the odds are that someone attacking your political views on facebook don’t immediately threaten your life. (Okay, idiots who defend automatic guns and greed-fueled health care systems actually do endanger us all in the long run, but I’m talking about right now.) None-the-less, the reaction is the same in us. Trouble is, we don’t have any use for all that adrenaline and fear response so we can’t express or expel it.

And so, our hands shake, our head hurts, our hearts race, our stomachs churn with acid, and we generally feel like crap.

Which is not fun but it is unavoidable. We can’t help it, it’s what our amazing bodies learned to do to protect us. And those things are there to help us when we really need them. We can’t stop them from happening, nor would we really want to if you think about it. Should you stick your hand in a fire? Probably not, your brain tells you. When a car swerves into you lane, your adrenaline fires, time slows down, and you respond without even thinking to brake and avoid a collision. These responses are good and they are our friends.

But what about when they aren’t wanted or necessary?

Tuck and roll baby, tuck and roll. The chemical hit (anxiety, palpitation, increased blood pressure and the inevitable come down, i.e. sadness and depression) will still come, and all we can do it take the punch, lick the wounds and learn to let it go more quickly.

Best thing you can do, I think, is recognize that it’s happening. Identify where in your body it’s affecting you, and then change it up when you can.

That’s why nature helps so much, why the calming energy soothes us, especially water for most people, because the brain releases serotonin when your eyes gaze out over the ripples of a lake. That’s why music switches on a different reaction the strain cause oxytocin levels to surge. That’s why dancing and laughing stir a healthy dose of dopamine into the mix, exercise releases endorphins and that counteracts the overdose of other nasty chemical excretions that we unwittingly shot up with when we were triggered by the fear of loss of even very real exposure.

Aren’t I smart? Aren’t I so very capable of understanding and dealing with all of life and it’s many challenges? Aren’t I a ball of calm and light?

Oh HELL no! (Just ask hubby, he’ll be glad to tell you when he stops laughing.) What I have gotten better at is explaining it all to myself, that doesn’t mean I don’t weep in the back of the closet or wrap myself in a shell of bitterness or occasionally declare that I need nobody and nothing and I’ll show them…!

Oh yeah, living hurts sometimes like going over the handlebars a mountain bike downhill in rough gravel, which, I have done, recently.

But it’s nice to know that no matter how depressed I get, if I put a stupid, forced smile on my face and march around like an idiot clown on bungy cord springs singing “La la la la” in a ridiculously high voice I can actually change my chemistry! Works every time, at least a little bit, and sometimes when I’m desperate and beat all to hell I’ll take whatever I can get.

Tuck and roll baby.

The best thing I’ve found to make a permanent change is tapping, a process that can actually break and retrain those memorised chemical pathways and thought patterns but that’s for another day. I do recommend you look it up. Go on youtube and try a led session. It works. They use it for PTSD patients.

Meanwhile, drag your falling ass up off the carpet and look out the window at anything green. Smell some lavender, listen to Mozart or rap or whatever lifts your heart, and for Goddess’ sake laugh. Even if it’s not funny, even if there’s nothing to laugh at, even if it’s more-fake-than-bad-acting laughing, laugh. It will change the lethal mix of excretions and thought patterns that bludgeon you into an emotional pulp on a daily basis. It will smooth the ride through the Waring blender of life.

And then…share it with someone else.

Because they are hurting too.

We all do.

That’s okay.

Tuck and roll, baby.

Tuck and roll.

 

Shari, from Ireland, August 15th, 2018

depression, Life in General, mental illness

The Swirling Reds

 

 

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There is a moment in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” where Holly Go Lightly says she gets the reds and is corrected, “I think you mean the blues.” But she knows very well that she means the ‘reds’. I do too. It’s that muddy anxiety that starts with nervous prickling and grows until it’s as though sharp metal shavings and shards of glass are being power-blasted in your chest and stomach. The reds suck.

It happens to me more often that I would expect for someone who, let’s be honest, is having a pretty damn amazing life. I’m happy, strong, positive and lucky, yet it happens anyway. I can feel it creeping up on me, slithering into my body, my brain and my attitude, an actual chemical cocktail that I can now identify as surely as the flu. I know it is coming, and I know it will last a day, or two, or a week, or two. It sucks.

It is beyond my magic powers to just make it go away. I cannot reason with myself that it’s not real or worth the trouble, the shitty feeling is indifferent to debate. Like anyone experiencing ugliness and discomfort I’d love to simply make a different choice, but it isn’t simple. You can’t just shrug off the reds anymore than a virus or chronic depression. Talking about it incessantly or passing it on to others who are unfortunate enough to incur my wrath only exacerbates the situation. (Just ask the guy who tried to cut the line at the grocery store in front of me. He’s probably still muttering ‘bitch’ under his fetid breath. Oh how I hated him!) I feel as though I’ve been thrown from a car and then run over—scratched, bruised and bleeding, and even the mildest of irritants hit me like a switch on an open sore. Which sucks.

What does help is realizing what’s going on, naming it, and acknowledging its presence in the room. Of course, that doesn’t mean it will stay in the room while I sneak out and shut the door behind me. The reds are parasitic, they only exist because I do and the effects linger, mocking any attempt to shake them off. My efforts to muster a positive attitude are met with evil laughter like sniggers from a cruel sibling. So…that sucks.

There are some things I can do to lessen or even sometimes alleviate the worst of it. Exercise helps a lot, but getting motivated takes a herculean effort. Spending quiet time in nature, meditating, hot baths, massages, and comfort food can help, (though you have to watch out for overdoing alcohol and sugar which can both make it worse), and one of the best remedies is laughter. Which doesn’t suck.

On the worst days I cocoon. I lock the door, turn off my phone, and climb into bed with a good book, something that won’t hurt me like P.G. Wodehouse or Rex Stout. On these days I don’t read stories where children die or woman are abused. I don’t watch dramatic movies or violent TV shows, that would be like shopping for shock therapy.

It’s not that I’m weak or afraid. I am a strong woman, make no mistake. Once, at the funeral of a child I loved very much, my thankfully now ex-husband wanted to leave and when I refused he asked me, “How much of this can you take?” With a surge of fury, I looked through him and answered, “A lot. I can take a lot.” It wasn’t about him being comfortable, the son of a bitch, it was about the reality of pain and confusion and a horrible, sudden, gaping void for people whose loss was greater than mine. I was there to offer what small support or comfort I could. I was there to bear to witness. These are the things for which I save my strength, and I’ve come to learn that excess strength is finite, so I try to use it well.

Still, even with all the determination and will in the world, the reds come. Still, I have days where I find myself sitting in my car, slumped in my seat, feeling too vulnerable to face some random asshole cutting the line at the grocery store. (Oh how I hated him!) It’s not that I won’t stand up to someone, as that guy would probably love to tell you, it’s that to do so today will cost me far more any normal day. I am heavy, exhausted, sad and I do not know when my back will straighten and heart lift, I cannot see an end.

And then, miracle of miracles, a child laughs on the sidewalk and I find the strength to turn my head and watch his dancing eyes. The corners of my mouth twitch upwards. Right behind that beautiful boy two young women are walking hand in hand, clearly in love, and my heart soars with the realization that I have lived to see this freedom to love, it’s a gift for me. My forehead softens, the creases easing. A grey haired man walks up to a homeless family and offers them his lunch and couple of bucks, smiles and handshakes are exchanged and my heart flops like a fish in the mud, showing signs of life. Sounds dramatic, I know, but what do you expect from an author-slash-writer-slash-fully-alive-woman? I see the world in extremes sometimes. I did not choose a soft, easy, suburban life where the hard things are easily dismissed or wilfully ignored. I see it, I feel it, I know that I am a part of it. A part of what you ask?

All of it. Yep, even the reds. It may be hormonal, it may be a by-product of the evil that men project, I feel such things, I’m sure of it. I believe we all do, but very much like hearing or smell or vision, some of us have one sense that is sharper than others. When the reds sap my life force and defenses, the hits go un-deflected. Some days the reds leave me trembling and gasping for happiness, not for any reason that I can see, but oh boy, I can feel whirlpool sucking at my soul. Which…well, sucks.

Today is a red day. So I will look closely at flowers by the side of the road instead of the line of traffic in front of me, I will be still and listen to the river beneath my deck rather than the acidic news, I will go stand in the sunshine when my husband stresses over the real estate agent’s last text, and I will watch or read a comedy. I will laugh, I will heal, I will feel stronger tomorrow.

And slowly, the reds will fade, they will soften to vibrant orange, then pink, and finally blend into the myriad of colors that offer so much variety and vibrancy to my days, my months, my life. Until at last, I realize that I wouldn’t trade this experience, I wouldn’t choose to feel less. There is only so much of life and I will not live it numb.

I hope that when the reds get you, you remember that it will pass.

You are not alone and it is not your fault.

Be patient.

Joy returns.

Love is worth the effort.

If only you remember.

 

Shari, April 23rd, 2018.

acting, beauty, Life in General

Clawing my way to Happiness.

 

Wow, it’s been a tough couple of months. This election is insanity itself, and as someone who is fascinated by human behaviour both individually and societal I’m having a hard time staying positive.

It’s not the politics, it’s not even the supposed policies, it’s the anger, the loathing, the fear, and the virulence spewing from seemingly sane people that has me down. We live in a world where people believe different things, have different visions, and—call me crazy— I think that should be okay.

In the last day or so, I had to come to terms with the fact that I am actually, clinically depressed. My anxiety has been through the roof. It’s major life changes for me as well, selling a home we have built and loved, moving to a new life, the last kid leaving for college, etc, but I’m someone who usually embraces change, in fact, I’m enthused and energised by it!

So why am I so tired? Why do I feel like crying for no apparent reason? Why do I find myself wilting on a step or a rock and holding my head in my hands without knowing how I got there or if I can get up again?

Because I started to lose faith in people. I see people who should be trying to make the world better doing nothing but spreading hate and fear. I see supposed ‘grown-ups’ posting things that are cruel and juvenile with no intention of creating discussion or change, only to insult, hurt, and lash out.

What the hell is wrong with us? And how can we keep hoping and trying when there is so much narrow-minded selfishness and narcissism being shoved down our throats?

My immediate response to this kind of negative personal reaction is to do some good, to empower myself and the world around me with kindness or generosity or charity even. Something, anything, but even that effort has been difficult to muster. We feel so helpless when we continually see people behaving as though their goal in life is to make the worst possible choices for the overall good. When did we become this race that cared for nothing but ourselves?

The answer, of course, is that most of us haven’t. Yes, there is a huge portion of the population, especially I think in our country, who respond from ignorance and fear, I understand that, but what hurls my heart into darkness is watching people make those choices knowingly, gloatingly, gleefully.

The sheer mass of meanness has been overwhelming to say the least. So much so that in the last few days, I’ve actually been feeling tired of life. I’ve been scrabbling and scratching my way up for a breath of decency and hope. Just forcing myself to stand and step forward, to go a little further, to lift my chin a little higher, has felt like pulling a locomotive uphill with a fraying tow rope.

Usually, I’m the one offering a smile or a joke or a compliment. I spend a great deal of my energy trying to make others feel good, and that, much like compounded interest, gives me even more energy and happiness. I’m selfish that way.

So it was interesting to have a day where on my usual errands to the bank, the grocery, the post office and other neighbourhood places, to discover how many people not only noticed I was sad, but went out of their way to make me smile. I now understand the expression, ‘many happy returns of the day,’ because my bonus came in. At the coffee shop, one of the servers made a special effort to call me by name, to sincerely ask how I was doing. The checker at the grocery store who I always chat with came around the counter to give me a hug when I shared that I was suffering what I call, ‘the reds’ (extreme anxiety). The bank manager, who loves my books, actually got teared up when I explained that we were moving away.

And then, with all the perfect timing of the universe, my daughter sent me an essay she wrote for college about me. Here’s an excerpt.

My mom is a truly adventurous person. She will try any food or challenge that comes her way, excluding of course anything that would involve cruelty or is not within reason. Some of my most vivid memories of my mother and her adventures include my sister and I taking the role of the worried parent as my mother attempts some dangerous feat. “Get away from that bear” we would say, or “mom the ice bridge isn’t safe, please don’t… oh god no there she goes.” For all the times she has made us incredibly nervous for her well being, she has also pushed us to always be brave and never shy away from adventure.

What’s funny is that in the end the only thing that really makes me feel in danger is putting myself out there emotionally. Caring. I am not a person who can look away from bullying, cruelty or suffering, and that makes me vulnerable. It takes all of my courage sometimes to stay open, to care, and to not look away from those things.

And it’s true, I am seldom afraid, I always look for the beauty and positivity around me, but lately I have felt utterly drained and sad. Not sad for myself, but for humanity as a whole.

But I realise now, again, that it is time for me to be brave. Time to lean into the fear, the hate, the ignorance, and smile. To cross the ice bridge.

I look at it like this. I’ve said it before…We are all one. Now, if that’s true, then we can look at ‘us’ as ‘me’ and each of the billions of people on this planet are different aspects, emotions, thoughts and traits that make up the whole. If you look at it that way, it seems to me that things are becoming, just maybe, a little bit better. More of humanity is waking up to the fact that we are not alone, that we are not any better, nor more important than any one else. Needing to feel superior is one sure sign that you are not.

So, most importantly, I must be brave in order to be kind, not only to others, but to myself. I must remember that so many of ‘us’ are working hard every day to make the world a more loving place, in so many different ways. Even, or especially when I feel so tired and disappointed, I must make every effort to look up.

Or…I can remember what I saw at the zoo this morning when I was chaperoning my daughter’s class on a field trip.

Two lovely young women, both moms, were there each with one child. A small boy, maybe 18 months old, and a girl a few months less. Both babies were teetering about in that toddler, diaper-between-my-stubby-legs walk, and as I smiled down at them, the boy leaned forward, put a gentle hand on the girls head, and then kissed her on the mouth. Both the moms and I gasped in delight as the little girl clapped her hands and then laid her head against his arm.

That is who we are. That is where we start. Where we go from there, that loving, happy self, is up to us.

Choose well my friends, you are me, and I am you.

None of us are getting out of this world alive, or alone.

Spread some happiness.

What your option?

Shari,  November 3rd, 2016