Waking Life

I am drinking a mediocre cup of coffee; it’s my second one if I’m being honest. That probably doesn’t sound like a lot, but the mug is 16 oz. I normally drink iced green tea in the morning because DC summer has set in, so I’ve got a bit of a buzz going. Though it’s basic, I put four Splenda in it, so at least it feels like dessert going down. I normally add a plant milk- coffee tastes better with fat- but I’m out. I need to go to the grocery store, just one of the things I need to add to my growing To Do list because I’m ready to get out into the world again.

It startled me when I realized I hadn’t written anything since the end of May on this web site. I get so busy with e-mail and Facebook that I forget to be a writer in public. Facebook is easier because I can write in short snippets and it’s not a large, blank page staring back at me.

I have a different “voice” over e-mail, and I like who I am when I write them. I tend to make them weighted because I can let myself go with one person or a group of friends. It’s not so easy with my hundreds of subscribers and thousands of casual readers. It becomes intimidating when I think of it that way, so I need to go back to framing it as writing only for myself, an e-mail from me to me.

Since I’ve come back from Texas, my depression and anxiety has flared up to an enormous degree. It’s another piece of the puzzle when I think about why I haven’t been eager to write (or engage, really). It’s frustrating because with mental illness, I can’t point to where it hurts and I can’t vocalize what will make me feel better. I legitimately have no idea. I have tricks to fool myself into a brighter mood, like putting on gangsta rap with a great hook and lots of bass, or at the other end of the spectrum, ABBA or Aqua.

Today, it’s the Argo soundtrack, because I’ve been writing to it for years. It helps to go back to music that encourages body memory, the feel of typing into the night even though it’s 11:00 AM. Night is when I’m the most vulnerable, which I feel is universal. Conversations that happen when the sun go down are different than the ones had when it comes up.

For instance, during the day I am unlikely to admit what I’m really pondering. It is the barbed wire fence around my emotions, and how much I’m willing to take it down depends on the day. I get the most defensive when it comes to my lack of a love life, because I  think I have good reasons for not wanting someone to walk around in my inner landscape, but as more and more time passes since my disastrous break up with Dana, those reasons don’t seem good enough for other people. I grow weary of people asking why, as if it’s their right to know and try to the be judge and jury of my answers. I want to live life at my own pace, which is infinitely my choice. I just want to tell people, in the words of an old Texas gun safety video, “leave it alone. Don’t touch it. Call an adult.”

My reasons fall in many percentages, but the largest piece of the pie is that when two adults are in a relationship, it is codependent unless both people are strong in themselves. One of my favorite quotes from Khalil Gibran in The Prophet, paraphrased, is that couples should be like trees, not entwined at the trunks, but the branches. I am not that person yet, and I currently have no indicators as to when it will change. Because I am incredibly sapiosexual, I will be sparked eventually by the way someone thinks and interacts. It has happened three times over the last five years, but something hasn’t been right in every case, mostly timing. For instance, my admittance of feelings led to the conversation of “I’d totally be down for dating if I hadn’t just started dating someone else.”

Just to be clear, I thought I was admitting feelings to someone who was single. It wasn’t as if I knew she was with someone else and didn’t care because my ego was big enough to think she would jump at the chance to date me no matter her status. I also didn’t think of her “that way” until Samantha saw us together and said we looked cute…. and then, of course, I had to overthink about it before I said anything, and by then it was too late. This was about a year and a half ago, and since then I have been battling the up and down of depression medications, and if you’re taking them as well, you probably know what I mean. For the uninitiated, the downs mean lack of lust for life, much less anything else. However, I do enjoy being chilled out and relaxed, and that more than makes up for lack of a partner.

I also know that when someone does tilt my vision their way, it probably won’t come through searching profiles on web sites. Every date I’ve been on by doing so felt like a job interview, stiff and uncomfortable to the point of nausea. I just feel done when it comes to internet dating. I’m over it.

I am the happiest when going out alone or with close friends, those that have become as close as siblings while I wait out disinterest. When I’m alone, I am very good at chatting up strangers, so it feels like I’m meeting up with friends I haven’t met yet, as opposed to being insular. I am very much in love with my own thoughts, and I want to wait until I feel that way about someone else’s. I also feel that waiting is appropriate until I don’t feel like my crazy spatter is going to stick to their clothes. That seems like cruel & unusual punishment.

The smallest piece is not feeling ready to compromise or share. I enjoy not having to check in with anyone about where I’m going or when I’m going to be home. I don’t want a relationship to feel like an obligation instead of a joy. The woman I picture is drop dead gorgeous, smarter than I am, and has respect for the fact that we will not share everything. There is a box inside me that I will never unlock for anyone, for any reason. Lack of privacy or jealousy on her part would ruin everything.

In short, I would give my heart to the right person, but I’m not going to settle for the wrong one, even if she is a basket of hotness. More than one person has been worried I’ll be an old lady with seven cats.

Well, what in the hell is wrong with that? I wouldn’t necessarily choose it for myself, but I’d choose it every time over being irritated with someone else. As I have said before, relationships are a lot of work, but they shouldn’t feel like trying to nail a square peg into a round hole every damn day…. and those relationships are worth the wait.

As is, I hope, waiting for a new entry.

 

Master(s) of Disguise

I am already dressed for the speaking engagement I am attending tonight. Jonna Mendez is going to present her newest (and Tony Mendez’ last) book, 51bYPeOnLvLThe Moscow Rules: The Secret CIA Tactics That Helped America Win the Cold War. The reason I am already dressed and ready to leave is that I am inexplicably anxious.

Well, maybe not inexplicably. First of all, Jonna is credited as an author on this book, but she also assisted Tony & Matt (Baglio) on Argo: How the CIA and Hollywood Pulled Off the Most Audacious Rescue in History.

For those who are scratching their heads at why Jonna and Tony have the same last name, it’s because they were married for 28 years. Tony’s death this past January hit me extremely hard. Part of my anxiety is knowing in advance that I could be emotional, and because I’m going to be in front of his wife, I feel that they’re not really my emotions to have. I mean, I never met him (I wanted to, and I know for sure that if he was still alive and his Parkinson’s was under control, tonight would have been the night- he and Jonna were/are on the board at The International Spy Museum).

Even though he was not a personal friend and I can’t say I knew him, there are these authors that get under your skin to the point where you feel like you do. Tony is that author for me, and I am so glad that his stories did not die with him- that there are still more of his words for me to discover. After I finish The Moscow Rules, I’m going to read Spy Dust: Two Masters of Disguise Reveal the Tools and Operations that Helped Win the Cold War, which, according to Jonna’s web site, is often used as curriculum for new CIA recruits, and was the first book that the couple wrote together.

Attendees are encouraged to show up early, as Tony’s notes for this book will be on display. I will get to see his handwriting, his process, and hopefully some of his humor… which was always on display in real life. For instance, when Ben Affleck was cast as him in the movie adaptation of Argo, Tony said that he himself was much better looking.

It is in this portion of the evening, wandering around the glass cases, that I hope my emotions bubble up, because it will be more private. I’m not overly fond of emoting in front of a bunch of people, anyway. That being said, you cannot control feelings, and the more you try, the more they fight you to get out.

I am sure that I have mentioned this before, but one of the reasons that Tony’s books have become so precious is that my great uncle, Foster Fort, was in the military and later worked for both the C and DIA in different capacities.

He was killed in a helicopter crash when I was very, very young. I wasn’t old enough to have a real conversation with him after he retired, because he never got old enough to do so, and he couldn’t have told me anything while he was still working. In a way, he’s become a legend in our family, because when you work for either clandestine service, your family only gets to guess what you’re doing, and are often very, very wrong.

I mean, maybe he was just a helicopter pilot. I think that if you get tapped by the C and DIA, though, there’s probably more to it than that. When I think of Foster, I imagine him “putting on the last suit he’ll ever wear,” and I laugh to myself. I laugh even harder when I picture Agent O doing his funeral. But on a more serious note, it is comforting to feel as if our family has a connection to one of the stars on the wall at Langley.

I have no idea what kind of stories I would have heard, but I do know that I will hear some amazing ones tonight. You don’t get to be Chief of Disguise at CIA without living through a few. There are a TON of YouTube videos (this one’s my favorite– the Homeland gag KILLS me) of her talks and they’re all so interesting you wish they’d go on for three more hours. At the end of one video, the comment that literally sent tears and snot running down my face as I shook violently with laughter was, “who else was waiting for her to take off her disguise and find out it’s really a black dude?”

One of the best things she explains is “the quick change,” which is layering disguises so that you can take off clothing, glasses, etc. in 37 seconds, changing your appearance even while walking in the middle of a crowd. They have to be so precise that they are rehearsed beforehand, because as she says, you don’t want anyone to know you’ve escaped. You want them to think that they’ve lost you and it’s all their fault.

If Jonna doesn’t talk about it, I want to ask her if she was a consultant on Atomic Blonde, because for me, it personifies the Moscow rules. Even if she wasn’t, I still want to know if she’s seen it.

One of the Moscow rules that I learned from watching other videos (I’d give you a link, but I don’t remember which one) is that there was/is a shoelace code in the CIA. It’s to be able to pass messages to other agents without being noticeable. After I saw the video, I retied my Adidas Gazelles. I have no idea what they say, though. I hope I’m not telling other case officers that they’re being followed. Hey, in DC, you never know who’s next to you in a crowd.

Case in point: I once rode the Metro for four extra stops just because I got into a conversation with a female intelligence officer stationed in Germany during The Cold War. I don’t even remember how I got her to tell me that…. I just remember thinking in my head that she must be military or C/DIA because there aren’t that many black people in Germany.

My feet didn’t touch the ground for hours afterward, because even though I have no interest whatsoever in being a spy myself, I managed to engineer a conversation in which intimate details were spilled without her feeling as if a game was being played…. and there was. It was “how much can I get her to tell me in four extra stops?” It wasn’t like I was looking for secrets- she was retired and all her ops were UNCLASS. It felt like accidentally walking into Bletchley Circle.

Every time I think I would be a good case officer, I remember that I only speak English, I am often a little slow on the uptake, and more than likely I would trip, fall and die before I ever reached my contact…. which leads me to two scenes from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade:

Elsa: It’s perfectly obvious where the pages are. He’s given them to Marcus Brody.

Professor Henry Jones: Marcus? You didn’t drag poor Marcus along did you? He’s not up to the challenge.

Walter Donovan: He sticks out like a sore thumb. We’ll find him.

Indiana Jones: The hell you will. He’s got a two day head start on you, which is more than he needs. Brody’s got friends in every town and village from here to the Sudan, he speaks a dozen languages, knows every local custom, he’ll blend in, disappear, you’ll never see him again. With any luck, he’s got the grail already.

[Cut to middle of fair in the Middle East, Marcus Brody wearing bright suit and white hat, sticking out like sore thumb]

Marcus Brody: Uhhh, does anyone here speak English?

Then, later…………………

[Indiana and Henry are tied up]

Indiana Jones: Come on, dad. Help me get us out of here. We have to get to Marcus before the Nazis do.

Professor Henry Jones: But you said he had a two day head start. That he would blend in, disappear.

Indiana Jones: Are you kidding? I made all that up. You know Marcus. He once got lost in his own museum.

If this isn’t an accurate depiction of me as a spy, I don’t know what would be…. and I promise, it’s not that I’m short-selling myself. I just know myself too well. One of the overhead pieces of audio at The International Spy Museum talks about people “living by their wits,” and I thought to myself that if it were my wits, we were all gonna die….. accidentally, of course, but it’s not the sort of situation where you can say, “oops. My bad. Should I leave a note?” Being a good case officer is learning to think 50 moves ahead- knowing how to checkmate the king before you’ve even opened…. like Jonna and Tony.

I am honored to be an audience member for Jonna’s current book tour, and am looking forward to more. There are a few other cities in which she’s speaking, so if you’re close to any of them, I highly suggest you go.

I am so honored, in fact, that I have changed outfits four times…. just not in 37 seconds.

Nothing Stays the Same

I wanted to wait to post my next entry until I actually had something to say. I know that not updating my blog reduces traffic, thus dampening my quest for world domination. On the other hand, I don’t want to be one of those people who doesn’t take time to think before writing…. anything will do, because it’s not about craft, it’s about attracting views, visits, likes, and followers. I feel like I have enough already. Not believing I have enough just leads to verbal vomit for its own sake… and to me, that just doesn’t cut it.

I mean, I’ve always been the type to just lay out everything on this web site and let people make their own decisions about what they read, and when I post often, it’s because having something to say comes along that frequently. It’s organic, never forced. Lately, I’ve realized that most of my ruminations are just continuations of things I’ve already said, probably more than three or four times. I promise that I am not regurgitating content. It’s the way my brain works.

I think about a problem right up until I don’t. The interesting part (or, at least, it’s interesting to me) is that I tend to start a couple of steps back and rehash, but when I’m thinking about something a second (third, fourth, fifth, 17th……) time, the overall arc is the same and different small details jump out, often changing the course of the dialogue… conversations that happen between me and me. Though Shakespeare was not talking about discourse with oneself, he might as well have been. The play’s the thing… especially in moments where I’ve caught myself red-handed…. infinitely more scary than feeling caught by anyone else. I’m better at kicking my ass than you are. Write it down.

I’ve scared myself for the past couple of weeks because I make it a point to look at my Facebook memories, and along with all of my funny memes is this mountain range of emotions. Note to self: more peaks, less valleys.

WordPress propagates to my author page, which means that I am equally stupid and brave enough to post things to my own profile. If I skipped doing so, old entries wouldn’t appear at all. It isn’t about torturing myself- many, many more readers click through from my profile because I’ve been on Facebook for 10 years. The “Stories” page has only existed since 2015, and as of right this moment, only has about 100 followers. After a decade, I have 745 friends and 38 followers. The platform is exponentially larger. My Facebook profile propagates to @ldlanagan on Twitter, and my author page to @lesliecology. Again, I have more followers on my own Twitter feed than the feed for my web site… the difference is that @lesliecology is nothing but a WordPress feed, and @ldlanagan is everything I post on Facebook, period. My profile is public, and my Facebook statuses are generally longer than Tweets, so anyone can click through to the original post.

So there’s the setup as to why I wanted to separate out my blog entries from my Facebook profile/Twitter feed, and why it hasn’t worked out.

Scaring myself the last couple of weeks has been about entries from four years ago, starting with PTSD as a teenager and it unraveling my thirties into divorce, losing a good friend, and so much compounded mental instability that I needed more help than my friends and family could give. Poet Mary Karr gave me the phrase “checking into the Mental Mariott,” and I’ve used it relentlessly since.

Joking about it covers up deep wounds, and that’s why I write about them instead of speaking. When I am writing, I have a bit of clinical separation. I can look at the land mines without detonation. I cannot say the same is always true for reading. Occasionally, I feel the distance of having grown as a person, so that the entry feels like it was written by someone else. More often, I am remembering every tiny detail about the setting and the arc of the story. Then body memory kicks in, and if my heart and brain were racing in the moment, I feel it again; it doesn’t matter how much time has passed.

It isn’t all bad, though, because I write in equal measure about how good I’m feeling, and those excited butterflies also return…. sometimes, but not often, in the same entry. The other plus is getting to decide if what was true at that time is still true today, and as a rule with some exceptions, it’s not. There are truth bombs that hit me just as hard now as the day I wrote them, but for the most part, this blog has been dynamic, and has changed just as often as I have (which is, like, the point).

Whether I’m reading an up day or a down, it is exhilarating to see that few things stay the same.

I will always have the regular, boring adult problems… and at the same time, my life is bigger than that. Managing Bipolar II, remnants of PTSD (anxiety, mostly) and ADHD so that I am not a ball of negative crazy keeps it interesting. I emphasize “negative crazy” because I don’t know anyone who isn’t crazy in a positive way. I am not attracted on any level to the mundane. Regular people with big dreams are often lumped in with “crazy,” because most people don’t dream big.

Even my dreams have been adjusted. I am still dreaming big, but the focus is not on starting my own church anymore. Perhaps in the distant future, I’ll think about it again. But right now, when I enter into any church building, consecrated or not, “my mother is dead” becomes an ostinato.

From Google Dictionary:

Ostinato

os·ti·na·to
/ästəˈnädō/

noun: ostinato; plural noun: ostinati; plural noun: ostinatos

a continually repeated musical phrase or rhythm.

“The cellos have the tune, above an ostinato bass figure.”

Even the sentence used to illustrate the word is appropriate, because you don’t just hear bass. You feel it.

I have written before that she’s everywhere I look, because over our lives together, I cannot think of an element within church life where she was absent. I cannot think of a single thing that was all mine until I moved to Portland and began preaching at Bridgeport UCC.

I have always been the Mary. She was the Martha.

There was no judgment on her part. I just mean that I have always been the thinker and she has always been the actor…. Actually, I take that back. My mother was one of the few people I’ve met in this life that had extraordinarily creative ideas and the ability to execute them, which is rare.

Few people manage to live on the ground and in the air at the same time (it’s a miracle I can tie my own shoes).

In Luke 10:41-42, Jesus is speaking to Martha, who has complained to him that (I’m paraphrasing) “Mary’s just sitting on her ass while I’m doing all the work. Can’t you go rattle her cage?” And Jesus says, “Martha, Martha, thou art anxious and troubled about many things. But one thing is needful, and Mary hath chosen the better part, which shall not be taken away from her.” He actually says this to the woman that invited him and his entire crew into her house and wants to feed everyone. Now, I don’t know whether you’ve ever cooked and served for 16 (fairly certain Lazarus was there- unclear), but I can see Martha’s point and I get a little bit irritated with Jesus. It’s not that one part is better than the other. Thinking is not better than doing. Doing is not better than thinking. They’re just different mindsets, and the evening wouldn’t have been possible without both.

I am certain that Mary and Martha need each other. Martha is grounded, and keeps Mary from floating away. Mary reminds Martha to look at the stars once in a while.

So when I think about the work I did to investigate starting a homeless ministry in Silver Spring, what comes up for me is that my Martha is no longer with us. It rends the mental tapestry I created, and I descend into darkness.

I am still excited by theology of all types- Abrahamic, Eastern, you name it. But right at this very minute, I’d rather spend my time thinking and writing, sometimes posting sermons on this web site rather than waxing philosophic in front of a physical crowd.

What I do not know is whether I will always feel the same, or whether my time is not yet here.

What I do know is that the fight has left me. I am too mired in grief to get passionate enough to affect change. In fact, I wouldn’t say that I’m extraordinarily passionate about anything at all. When my mother died, so did several pieces of me. I know for certain that it would have been easier had I gotten to see my mother live a long life and there was no aspect of “dear God, they took her too soon.” I knew I would be sad when she died, but I was completely caught off guard by the rage at getting robbed.

Embolisms make great thieves who never need getaway cars.

I am still grieving the future that I thought I would get, and piecing together a new normal. It’s a good thing that on this day next year, I’ll read this again, and perhaps that new normal will have some structure. The concrete has been mixed, but I think I added a little too much water, because it just. Won’t. Set.

A Note

Ever since my mother died, I have had trouble singing. I can’t think of anything that is more loaded with emotion, mostly pain. I haven’t set foot in a church in nearly two years, also in my grief. I know damn well that this is temporary, that my love of church will return when my spirit calms. It is important to have a faith community that loves me through good times and bad, people that I can turn to in both extremes. Right now, though, when I walk into a church I don’t see comfort and joy. I see the ghost of my mother’s past. It is not peaceful for me. It is a white-knuckling, stomach churning experience of just trying to get through the service without a complete goose-honking cry of a meltdown. And the thing is, I know that would be okay, too.

It is my own fear of being that vulnerable in public that stops me. Perhaps fear is the wrong word, but anxiety. I am trying my best to keep my head above water, avoiding the things that will actively help me to stop functioning. Walking around in my mother’s inner landscape, even for a couple of hours, leads to me losing the rest of the day. I have to sleep it off in those depression and anxiety-fueled naps that last hours, even when I’m not sleepy. And even in my dreams, I’m thinking “I don’t have time for this.” The clinical term for this is “decompensating.”

According to dictionary.com, there is both a medical and psychological meaning.

Medical decompensation is “the inability of a diseased heart to compensate for its defect.”

Psychological decompensation is “a loss of ability to maintain normal or appropriate psychological defenses, sometimes resulting in depression, anxiety, or delusions.”

It is funny how incredibly close those definitions are, when you look at the heart metaphorically.

I feel that I should say for the record that I have never had a delusion, although I have come close by taking someone else’s crazy statement and believing it as fact, incorporating it into my reality to disastrous results… What turned their crazy into my crazy was not stopping for a moment to evaluate said statement for objective truth, because in a lot of ways, it was what I wanted to hear…………………

Objective reality slipped beyond my grasp, living in a reinforced bubble created by fantasy. I was living as high as one could possibly be on dopamine without taking a drug to raise it chemically.

Later, when the bubble burst, I came back down to earth. It was an amazing feeling to see life for what it was, instead of my own version. What was happening in the world around me no longer carried a malleable haze.

I present with depression and anxiety, though I’m Bipolar II, so I do get a few hypomanic days now and then. But the highs are not so high. They’re just enough to make me feel like I’m living without depression and can be extraordinarily productive, sometimes foregoing sleep to get things done. Part of this is chemical; the other part is not knowing when I’ll be hypomanic again, and trying to use that time wisely.

I am extremely lucky that my fluctuations in mood just go from not depressed to extremely depressed, and medication makes those swings even easier to manage. Whenever I feel sorry for myself, I simply think of the people who are much worse off, the people who have no trouble swinging between suicidal plans and megalomania…. or have poor impulse control akin to buying five cars in one day.

I have no doubt in my mind that I was hypomanic when I decided to audition for the Washington National Opera chorus, but again, it was just being productive. Had I been truly depressed when I learned that the auditions were in a month, self-doubt would have eaten me alive and I would have lacked the courage to sign up altogether.

Which brings me back around to church and my mom. I need to sing again. I need to be in a chorus with other great singers who will raise my own game. I’m not much of an actor, but I’ll learn. In a gargantuan way, this is all about finding a replacement for church choir while I work on my daily ups and downs during the devastation of grief. I know I will still feel it. How can I not since my sister was in the children’s chorus at Houston Grand Opera, and I have such fond memories of my mom and Lindsay “on set?”

I counter that with all the hair, costumes and makeup. If I audition and get in, I will have the chance to be someone else for a while. Lots of someone elses if I get a contract for the whole season. The operas happening after my audition are Eugene Onegin, Faust, and Tosca. The links are all to their respective Wikipedia pages, because opera is so much more accessible when you know the story before you buy the tickets.

As I was telling a friend the other day, I hope the writing that comes out of a successful audition is work that brings younger audiences to opera. It is not dead thanks to the old and the rich, but if that trend continues, opera will be less and less popular over time. Opera has such a rich history that I cannot imagine losing it. Lots of them are novels that come to life, and generally more accurate than the movies.

It’s also a great break from technology, as it is entirely immersive. You have to read the supertitles to understand the language translation, or in the case of operas in your native language, to be able to pick out the words from the music. Hard to look at your phone and comprehend at the same time…. plus, the ushers will get mad at you because of the light. If your phone actually rings, good luck. God bless. 😛

I’m not starting singing again with arias, though. Today I did some breath control exercises and sang along to Merry Christmas from the Family (the Dixie Chicks and Rosie O’Donnell version as opposed to Robert Earl Keen, because it’s in a higher key). It’s such a funny song that for the first time in years, as I was singing I felt……. merry. It reminded me of the funniest parts of being a Texan, because if you’ve ever lived there, especially in a small town, you know this family. They live two doors down. There’s a broken swing set and a rusted car on blocks in the front yard. Both have been there since you moved in, and will be long after you leave.

The backyard looks like a garage sale all year ’round. On a serious note, even though they have just short of nothing, they’ll give you the shirts off their backs and the shoes on their feet if you need them, because they know what it’s like to literally have nothing and they’ll do whatever they can to help. There is no better place to live than small town Texas, because even though you can’t take a step out of your house without all 2,000 people knowing where you’re going, that’s not a bad thing. They sniff out trouble like bloodhounds, and just rally around you until it passes.

However, if you are selfish in any way, you don’t belong there. Community comes with responsibility.

Which brings me to another important reason why I’ve dropped off the face of the earth in terms of church. I’m empty. I’m all tapped out. I have nothing to contribute because I am struggling to keep my own head above water.

And the thing is, it wouldn’t bother the church at all. They know that when I’m in a better place, I can do more for the people around me. It’s all my own “stuff” to work out, because I cannot abide showing up to a potluck without a casserole, capiche?

I have high hopes for this opera audition, even though I won’t be crushed if I don’t get in. I know for certain that I am a fourth as good as the people auditioning who’ve been singing arias for years on end (I’m not a pessimist, just a realist). The high hopes come from joining a community in a new context, without the baggage I carry when entering a church. I see the glory of God in classical music, which, to my mind, is running towards spirituality instead of away…. making my way slowly, but surely, back into the world communion.

I am surprised that this has been my reaction to grief, because for the first two or three weeks after my mother died, walking into the sanctuary made me feel as if she were right there, so close I could touch her again. Then a pointed sermon on grief made me absolutely lose my shit with anxiety, just crying and shaking as if exorcising a demon. I didn’t want to be comforted, I wanted to be invisible. I didn’t want anyone to see my grief laid that bare. On top of my anxiety, I am quite shy and introverted. If you think otherwise, it’s from years and years of practice at hiding it away. I can have entire conversations that end with you knowing nothing about me, because my go-to is deflection. I ask so many questions about your life that you don’t have a chance to get a word in edgewise to ask me about mine. In that scenario, I can be extroverted and gregarious, because I’m not revealing anything. It also cuts way down on me giving answers I think of as crazy or stupid so I don’t have anything to beat myself up with later.

Trust me, if I was weird to you 20 years ago, I still have the ability to obsess over it. It would be an absolute relief to be onstage as a character in a group, completely forgetting everything in terms of who I am and pouring everything into letting me go for a few hours a night. I am hoping it will give me enough clinical separation to see myself more objectively once the performance is over…. because then, I might be able to turn my anxiety about being vulnerable in public back into needing other people for support, and rising to the occasion of giving my own support to others.

My new copy of 24 Italian Songs and Arias is on its way. May it be the first step forward onto holy ground.

The Molotov Cocktail

I don’t believe that people don’t listen when someone throws a Molotov cocktail at their own preconceived notions of how wonderful they are.

This quote is from an e-mail reply sent to me when I was explaining a particular problem with which I am internally wrestling to the ground… like I do, in a “hold on, I have to overthink about it” sort of way. It was so astounding in its clarity, such a succinct rocket propelled truth grenade, that I felt it deserved top billing. This is because yes, I can apply it to this situation, but moreover, I can apply it to myself and the journey I’ve taken over the years to become a better version of myself.

I’ve mentioned before that being panicked all the time allowed things to come out of my mouth that never would’ve otherwise, and when someone threw that Molotov cocktail at me, at first I was angry and popped off even more, because in the moment, that’s all I could think to do. But once the cortisol wore off, I did indeed take those words away and think about them, making them a part of my heartbeat and using them as fuel, onwards and upwards.

Things calmed down somewhat naturally, but when I started taking Klonopin,™ the adrenaline I felt during conflict all but went away. It allowed me to shoot water at the (very, very tall) flames. I could sit back and remember the day I wrote that the fire inside me could not be contained with water. I had to bring in a much bigger fire, and then rest and relax in the ash-enriched earth. Before that, anxiety kept my own fire burning, and those words got lost in the middle of the mess. It was a wonderful day when they came back.

In case you’re wondering, I do read my own blog like a stalker ex-girlfriend at 2:00 AM. Mostly because after time has passed, I am so divorced from my own words that they seem as if someone else wrote them. It’s deeper than that, though. It’s about learning to rely on myself and, God forbid, take my own advice. There are some entries where I legitimately say, “that’s so wise. I wish I had written it.” It’s a shock to my system to realize that it was me, just a different iteration.

The truth bomb for me was learning that my anger at the world was rubbing off on people in ways that I both didn’t intend and indeed wanted to inflict the pain I was experiencing. This is because sometimes there were innocent bystanders, and sometimes my yard felt threatened and I went off like a rat dog with a Napoleon complex (at 5’4 and barely 125, the description is apt). I still occasionally say things that have consequences I don’t understand, but so does everyone else. There is no way to predict or be responsible for someone else’s perception of reality. The difference now is that I don’t feel threatened, because most of the threat was my own perception of reality and not external stimuli. It’s my medication, though, that I credit with allowing the anger within me to dissipate, because without the suppression of anxiety’s physical symptoms, I didn’t have time to coolly and calmly calculate my next move. There was no, “I could say this, or I could say that.” It was just the “think it, say it” plan. Sometimes it worked well for me, because for all its faults, it was definitely authentic. I didn’t have time to put on the mask of “everything’s fine.” What really forced me to examine my thought processes was the old axiom that hurt people hurt people… something I knew logically, but hadn’t instituted emotionally. Making the connection between heart and mind had previously eluded me. And while I am still intensely cerebral, I feel that now I am using more parts of my heart than I used to be capable.

This is because once I “relaxed in the ash-enriched earth,” some of the dead spots left by years of emotional abuse as a teenager started to grow back… and I won’t lie, those neurons were at first part of the problem, raising my threat level to DEFCON “OH MY FUCK!.” Though I take full responsibility for my thoughts and actions, I also can’t ignore the context… because as I say often, I won’t make excuses, but I hope I can provide understanding of why something happened, because nothing happens in a vacuum. And that is where writing really helps me, because I don’t generally lay out that context for the people themselves, but on my own. It is not their responsibility to understand. It’s mine.

It is amazing, though, how much pleasure and happiness have come back into my life via self-reflection. People have seen me heal and have drawn their own conclusions, just from trying to explain me to me. I am no longer a tight knot of fear ALL THE TIME, which was my modus operandi for a number of years. Seeing how it was failing me allowed my life to expand, taking a detour when my mother died, but not stopping progress altogether. I just had to find different sources of unconditional love, because it’s the one thing my mother was capable of doing that no one else did (though they do now, because with my friends, there’s a recognition that it needed to be replaced somewhere). My mother was the only person in my life that was constantly on my side, never ever saying “what did you do?,” but “what have they done to my baby?” And this was even after I reassured her I was being a right tool and I deserved every bit of the karma coming around. It just never mattered to her. She was always on my side, no matter how I behaved, and I think that’s a mother’s love in a nutshell.

For instance, I think she’d hate that I don’t go to church anymore, because it’s not a comforting experience. However, I think she would understand, because it’s me. My belief that God is the source of every story ever told, that we are all subtractions of the divine, has never faltered. But when I walk into a church, all I see is her. She’s at the organ. She’s in the choir. She’s sitting in the congregation. She’s pinching my hand hard enough to draw blood when I’m laughing so hard I just cannot keep it together… and if she’s in the alto section and I’m far enough away with the sopranos, she’s giving me the death stare instead. If you’ve never seen my mother’s death stare, you just won’t even know the half of how…… effective it could be. Therefore, every single church service I attend doesn’t feel uplifting. It feels like a knife in my front.

I am sure that as time passes, so this will, also. But I’m not there yet, and if there is indeed a heaven and she is watching, I hope she realizes this… that life is always in forward motion, and belonging to a faith community (or starting one) will happen in its own time.

My theology dictates that there is no heaven or hell, just which one we’re bringing to the life we’re living right now. But that doesn’t mean I can’t imagine it. I can also imagine, as I do in all things, that I could be wrong. It has been known to happen…..

…which often leads to the examination of how wonderful I think I am, and adjusting as necessary, because I listen.

One Thing

I’m in love. I’ve waited so long to write those words, because it is as if I’ve never said them before. Because I haven’t. Not to me, anyway. I have a gigantic capacity to love other people. It has never occurred to me to love myself that way. What I see in myself now versus even five years ago is astounding progress. I fought many demons, vanquishing some and making peace with others…. letting go of some relationships that seemed healthy and weren’t, and both introducing new ones and rebuilding others. When I was younger, I thought that there would be this magic day where adulting all came together… no matter how many friends I acquired who were older than me and assured me this was not the case.

I don’t think I’m wrong, though, because I had the epiphany earlier that this mystical day was not everything coming together, but the ability to hang on when they fall apart. It was literally my City Slickers moment.curly-city-slickers My one thing… my one thing… is that “if you don’t like the weather, wait ten minutes and it’ll change.” Everything gets better if you wait long enough, and if it doesn’t, perhaps you’re feeling a tad impatient.

In the past, I haven’t been patient enough. Not with anyone or anything, particularly myself. In a lot of ways, I think this is the only wisdom that comes with age. Winston Churchill nailed it when he said, “when you’re going through hell, keep going.” I think where I got tripped up was not realizing just how far. Some things take longer than others.

I have deep-seated anxiety, so before I started taking medication for it, I burned it as fuel for impatience. Everything was first priority, whether good or bad. I felt terrible every time a plate dropped, because whether the dish was large or small, it was a personal failure. I was one of those people who would feel equally bad about forgetting to bring something to a party and getting divorced. Forgetting to bring charcuterie and traumatic life events carried the same weight.

Stopping the physical reactions of anxiety with medication helped my emotions slow down. Once it kicked in, I had to reexamine my mood & behavior, asking myself what I was getting out of constantly being upset about everything. When I could get through a day without brain race, shortness of breath, and tachycardia (generally all at once), I had so much more time on my hands….. during which I learned what was worth worrying about, and what wasn’t. The things other people did and said in their interactions with me couldn’t affect me as much. If I am now in any sort of conflict, I don’t fly off the handle, because the trigger for it is gone. What made me a loose cannon was my body going into fight or flight (or freeze) syndrome. Conflict looks so much different when you don’t feel like you’re going to die in the middle of it.

I feel that I have stopped reacting, and have started responding. A reaction is just the first thing that comes to your mind, and a response is formulated. Not experiencing the physical symptoms of anxiety has given me some much-needed perspective, because not everything is riding on my first thought. I have time to second-guess myself, and third guess if necessary. Nearly a hundred percent of the time, my reaction and response are in opposing positions. Most people don’t get to see my reactions, because I wait to speak until I have a response. This is a good thing, as often my first thought is ridiculously impulsive in the wrong direction.

Falling in love with me has been the joy of seeing myself achieve calm, even in the midst of chaos. I admire myself for the coping mechanisms I’ve been able to implement so that I “have a backup generator when the electricity goes out.” I’m proud of my persistence in working very hard, for long hours, in a job where I have a chef that builds me up and hugs me every day.

It’s nice to have a “work husband” again after Knives and I “broke up” (I got a different job). Well, technically, Chef is more like my “work big brother,” but I’m not sure that’s a thing.

I’ve been in the dish pit a lot lately, because that’s where I’m needed, and Chef jokingly said he’d put me back on the line if I could name the five French mother sauces. Fortunately, the ticket machine went off, and he forgot…. because I could name three off the top of my head, but the other two escaped me. I woke up in the middle of the night and texted him. For the record, I did not have to use Google. The answer just came to me in my sub conscience and not while I was on the spot.

If you’re wondering, the five mother sauces in French cooking are:

  • Hollandaise (egg yolks, lemon juice, butter)
  • Bechamel (roux, dairy)
  • Velouté (roux, poultry stock)
  • Espagnole (roux, beef or veal stock, tomatoes, and mirepoix)
  • Tomat (roux, tomatoes, pork stock, mirepoix)

And yes, I can make all of them, even without a rat in my toque…. though some days I might wish for one. For now, I’ve gotten all the wishes fulfilled that I need.

For instance…. I’m in love.

 

Four and a Half Brownies

I’ve been playing on my computer since I woke up, failing to realize that the clock was ticking on taking my next dose of medication. My head started to hurt in that old familiar way, and I thought, “I should write about this…. just a stream-of-consciousness entry as chemicals flood my bloodstream.”

I generally need to eat before I take any meds, particularly Lamictal. I look in the fridge and the only thing I’ve got left is four and a half brownies. I get out a paper towel and take all of them upstairs, where I proceed to inhale them like an angry Dustbuster.

I open my blog post editor and get out my pill bottles, which brings us to the present. I have just taken Lamictal, Lexapro, and Klonopin. That means, at this very moment, I feel as if I am capable of tearing out my hair. I will not, and wouldn’t even if I hadn’t taken my meds. The feeling, though, echoes from a scene in one of my favorite movies:

Distraction isn’t always a bad thing. Works every time.

Well, actually….. there’s nothing that can distract me enough from this kind of pain to just let it go. A corner of my mind will be stuck there, wondering if I am about to cry or vomit, or better yet, cry and vomit. It seems physically impossible, but I have done it on multiple occasions. The best way I’ve found to explain the type of physical pain I feel during withdrawal from my psych meds comes from the eighties. Remember those tests of the emergency broadcast system that would come on your TV, and for what seemed like eight hours but was only in reality about 20 seconds the most annoying sound on earth blared loud enough to clear your sinuses? Now, imagine this sound coming from you internally so you can’t lower the volume:

The longer I go without medication, the louder the sound gets, and the louder the sound gets, the more violent my physical reaction. When the medication kicks in, everything becomes blessedly quiet. I am grateful that it is not just a dimmer switch and I don’t have to live like this all the time. Withdrawal creates the worst physical symptoms of my mental illness, because when I remember to take everything on time, I am generally very happy and healthy. All the highs and lows are gone, so I can get on with my day and not think about being sick anymore.

But that’s not where we are right now. I haven’t even begun to feel a twinge of relief. The good news is that I don’t have to take any additional medication. My brain chemicals will sort themselves out, I don’t need a painkiller or an anti-inflammatory on top of it. Sometimes I do think of Tylenol and ibuprofen as my “dessert,” you know, just to put a cherry on top of the sundae, but it doesn’t matter. My psych meds aren’t going to kick in any faster because I took something for the headache, and because the headache is psychiatric in nature, the painkiller won’t do much. I know this because when I’ve been truly up shit creek because I’ve left the house without medication and taken painkillers and anti-inflammatories on their own, I would have had equal luck getting rid of the pain by throwing five dollars against a wall.

I swallowed the pills this time before I started shaking, so I got that goin’ for me. It’s involuntary when I’m in this much pain. My brain feels like it’s trying to pull itself apart, and my body reacts by trying to “get away from the noise.” Reminds me of one of my favorite jokes:

Q: Why do bagpipers walk when they play?
A: To get away from the noise.

or…

A. Moving targets are harder to hit.

I can tell that I’m not depressed because wit can still make an appearance. It’s just withdrawal, and that’s a relief. Managing Bipolar II is hard enough without having to deal with mood swings…. and by that, I mean it’s hard enough staving them off. I don’t have to be in depression or hypomania for Bipolar II to be a total pain in the ass.

It’s not unlike a physical disease, though. Diabetics have complicated lives without symptoms, just maintenance alone is enough. I know myself well enough that I would much rather deal with the inconvenience of maintenance than the full-blown effects of going untreated.

The way my college psychiatrist figured out I was on the bipolar rather than unipolar spectrum was that I was getting way, way, way too much sleep, and then for about three or four days a month, not able to sleep at all. My productivity level was through the floor, and on the days I couldn’t sleep, would shoot through the roof, where I would try to fit in as much activity as I could before the next wave of depression hit.

Before my Bipolar II diagnosis, I couldn’t understand why I was taking depression medication and never getting any better. My behavior changed dramatically when a mood stabilizer was added to what I was already taking. I was able to sleep normally, and the world looked quite different. It was in color all the time, instead of when the color channel decided to flip on after a series of black and white shows… but never fun ones, like I Love Lucy. Every day was akin to the worst Perry Mason rerun on repeat.

It’s been 10-15 minutes, so any time now, I will be back to my regularly scheduled program. I’m not feeling as much better by now as I thought I would, so perhaps it’s time for a hot shower.

I have brownie crumbs in my lap.