a tale of anxiety in many parts: recognition

When I was a kid I was convinced of a lot of things.

There was a toothy monster lurking in the deep end of the pool, wild boars are evil and had a personal vendetta against me, I’d be kidnapped if I went to the bathroom by myself in a public place, my brother was adopted (quite possibly from another planet), and there was a coven of witches and a few spare vampires that lived under my bed. If I was particularly loud I might wake them during the day, but typically they were only active at night.

Now I know that most kids are afraid there’s something in their closet or under their bed. Maybe something in the attic or the basement. But I wasn’t just afraid they were there. I didn’t think they were under there. I knew it.

So even though I loved sleeping, every night when my mom told me to go to bed I experienced an unreasonable sense of fear, a lurking terror. It was all I could do not to break down in tears. Because as certain that I was that they were there I also knew that I was being unreasonable. That there was nothing but dust bunnies, Legos, shoes, and doll clothes down there. But I couldn’t shake that sense that I was going to be devoured like a child in a particularly grim fairytale. Every single night. 

So I devised a strategy.

My bed was just far enough from the door that I couldn’t climb straight into it but close enough to make me think I could. So I’d run down the hallway pitch left into my room, grab the post at the end of my 4-poster bed, and swing into my bed with my feet hardly touching the floor.

This left the door open, so once I calmed down and caught my breath I’d crawl to the foot of the bed and reach my short little arms wide across the treacherous open expanse and pull the door partially shut, always of course, making sure it was open enough for someone wandering down the hall to see if someone or something had eaten me or drained all the blood from my body. Then I’d wriggle into the covers making sure that I was encased in blankets from toes to chin.

You see the witches would be lured out by bare feet and the vampires obviously went for the neck.

Then I’d lie there in that terror state completely covered and quite probably overheating reasoning that there was nothing to lure them out and then I would take deep breaths and internally narrate  a different story, a calm story, a somewhere else story, until my little mind was too tired and distracted from spinning itself out to be awake any longer.

I didn’t know it at the time, in fact I didn’t realize it until years later as a grown ass adult, but that is the recurring event I can pinpoint as my first method for coping with anxiety. The groundwork for coping methods that would help me manage anxiety well into my adult life…

the sabbatical begins…

It takes a certain amount of effort being comfortable in your own skin, and really I thought I was closer to being there than I appear to actually be. But as my friend reminded me this morning this is a big change for me, for my rhythm. And change takes time. So for all of you now, and to remind me later, here’s a little update on my first three days of sabbatical.

Day one

I slept in! Delightful. I cleaned the kitchen and made some breakfast while I charged up my kindle and then it was out the door for a non-stop non-action packed appointment for a mani and a pedi.  I changed things up and DID NOT get my nails done in black.I know. I too was surprised.

All the while I read a book. Longing for more reading time I took myself out to lunch where I sat and drank two Thai iced teas and read more while enjoying an amazing lunch all by my lonesome.

And then it was time for some groceries before heading home in time to greet my kid when she got home from school. Then Rick made me a lovely dinner. All in all I considered it a success. But then…

Day Two

I didn’t sleep well. I had nightmares. I had weird stress. Rick coughed all night and clearly wasn’t feeling well. When I finally woke up it was because my kid was telling she hadn’t slept at all and wasn’t feeling well. Everyone was to be home sick except for me. But you know, I was home anyway. So I slept a while longer, cleaned the damn kitchen again, made some breakfast, and organized my embroidery supplies determined to start in on the sampler I’d picked up months ago for stitch practice. Upon organizing them I remembered why I’d never started on the stitch practice sampler. All of my hoops where too big or too small. I made a mental list and started forth on the day’s adventure.

  • embroidery hoop
  • cold medicine
  • lunch for sick people
  • Thai iced tea to feed my latest addiction

After an hour walk in the lovely weather and multiple stops to procure all of the items on my list I made it home where I spent the rest of the day watching tv, working on stitches, and talking to my people. Maybe, just maybe, I was going to get the hang of this sooner than later…

Day three

That brings us to now, doesn’t it? I did not sleep last night. I am not cleaning the kitchen. I’m not embroidering anything because I’m so tired I may poke myself with one of those big needles. I’m sitting at the kitchen tables while french fries bake in the oven. Because I’m a grown ass woman and if I want to eat french fries with melted cheddar cheese on them for breakfast I damn well can. The cats are circling me like vultures around a carcass that has roasted in the sun waiting for me to move into the living room because they want sofa snuggles. And I think this may be the day I don’t leave the house…

 

the sabbatical lists…

I’ve never been quite sure why, but particularly in times of stress or uncertainty my brain functions as a long series of lists. I have this mental image of those unending scrolls that would roll out in a movie about Santa neatly filled edge to edge with list after list after list.

All the work I need to do, grocery items, a catalogue of all the handbags I own, all the poetry I’ve written, all the things I need to do, places I’ve been, places I long to see, people I need to check in on, meals I want to try, tasks I need to complete, topics I want to research, movies I’ve never seen, movies I never want to see again, artists whose I work I want to further explore, historic events I want to research, posts I want to write, books I want to read, people I want to visit, art I want to create, tv I want to binge-watch, charities I want to support, projects I want to champion, crafts I want to learn, things that stress me out, goals I have achieved, pet names I will never use, coffee that I’d like to drink again, which places in Portland have the best bloody mary, who makes hollandaise correctly.

The list of lists goes on and on but mostly it just exists to remind me who I am.

Work gets done. Groceries get purchased. Sometimes chores get done. But that’s it. Kind of because that’s what there’s time for. Maybe I’m just super inefficient but  between work and spending time with the people I love and doing the things that need to happen to survive my time is all taken up. Okay okay… there’s s fair amount of movie watching too, but I’m going to slot that in with survival of my sanity.

But in 21 days I have an opportunity to rethink a lot of that. To focus my energy differently. To make other choices. To find out who I am when I’m not completely pre-occupied with work, and if we’re being honest, a bit burnt out.

On May 1 I’m going on sabbatical.

Now allow me to lend some context. Automattic, the company I work for, does a tremendous job of supporting their employees in any number of ways from day one (Yes… we’re hiring). But there are a few added benefits and gifts that surface over time, one of those is that after 5 years with the company (and every 5 years after that) they encourage each employee to take a sabbatical of 2-3 months. At the end of April I hit that 5 year mark.

The end of April is soon. Like… really soon.

And if we’re being honest I’ve been stressed out about it for the past few months. First it was just this passive little whisper of stress in my ear, but the closer I get to the day I stop work for a while the more actively stressed I’ve gotten.

Why? What on earth do I think is going to happen? I have no idea. NO IDEA.

One of the things I’ve come to learn about myself, and that whole thing about the lists might have given this away, is that I like to have a plan. I like to know what I’m doing. What’s in store. How I can contribute. Where I’m going to be. But that’s really something I’ve only come to understand about myself over the past few years. And if I’m reading this situation correctly, I’m mostly stressed because I don’t know what I’m going to be doing.

I mean I have a list but I’m not sure how much of that list is what I really want to do and will do and how much of it is me trying to calm my nerves by thinking of things I could do. What I need to do is take some time to recharge. To reflect. To find the calm center I’m sure is in here somewhere. I’m not sure how some to the stuff on my list of things to do on sabbatical is going to achieve that.

But hey if you have any great tips on home-brewing kombucha or self-publishing poetry or literature please drop me a line. Seriously.

Other than that I’ve not really been excited about any of my plans. My lists are calming my nerves short-term but maybe causing more stress long-term. I was beginning to dread something that I know I should be reveling in. Until Friday that is when my friend and I hatched a plan to go do something “cultured” twice a month while everyone else is at school or work. To visit museums and gardens and other stuff like that… you know. For fun.

And from that a ray of light has emerged. There’s a plan now. Granted it’s a loose plan and is only for every other week or so, but a touchstone has emerged. And it involves art and nature and also a little day-drinking. And leaves plenty of room for the scary scary work of learning about myself.

41 and learning to share…

It would surprise no one who knows me in my personal life that my birthday is, for me, a big deal. While others would like the anniversary of their birth to pass with nary a reminder, I prefer to be reminded that this is a day of  Cami celebration over and over and over again. I don’t like parties. I am not social. But I do love to know that I have touched the lives of those people who have touched my life.

And so as anyone who has worked with me in the past decade and anyone who is an integral part of my life could tell you, I don’t work on my birthday. I sleep in. I eat brunch. I watch shows. I take walks. I write poetry. I have treats. I reflect, reason, and indulge. I make this day about me. About what I want. And I do so without hesitation.

Not everyone has the luxury of that freedom. To simply declare they won’t work on their birthday and make it so. That privilege has come with age, hard work, and good fortune. But that privilege has given me time to reflect. And as I reflect, I gain knowledge, understanding, and temperance. And all of that has made my birthday much less about me in some ways.

Though March 8 has been International Women’s Day since long before I was born, it wasn’t widely enough promoted or celebrated to take up much of my attention until the last couple of years. It didn’t take up much space in the world or in my mind. So I’m a little ashamed to admit that my initial reaction to it picking up speed a few years ago was something along the lines of

I already have to share my birthday with the other people born on March 8! Now I have to share it with every woman in the world too? 

My feelings were less than ideal. Immature. Certainly selfish. Shortsighted.

But with age we can grow. Older. Wiser. Tempered. And so the last two years there’s been a shift. I find myself joyfully embracing the good fortune of having been born on a day that celebrates women. This year in particular I find myself thinking of the women I know. The women I work with. The women I admire and look up to. The women I call friends. The woman I’m raising. The woman who raised me.

Today feels like it’s more about them than just me. More about moving forward. More about all of us taking up more room in this wide world. Occupying the space we’re entitled to, not the space we’re allotted. Not just fitting in where we can and catching a breath of air if others allow it.

 

So to all of you women — and I do mean all of you women of every variety under the moon and sun — I wish you a wonderful day and a better life from this day forward.

Be who you need to be. Be who you want to be. Be who you are. Take up space in your life, in your home, on the streets, and in the world.

 

lessons from high school…

My high school experience, I’m sure, was different from the high school experience of many others. I hated everything. I was sad. I was angry. I was full of angst. I was covered in black lipstick. I hated my hair. I hated my face.

Also I wrote sad sulky poetry and had zits.

So while a lot has changed, some things remain the same. And so it should have come as no surprise (even though I’m 40 years old) that while on my most recent work trip I started to get a big fat huge painful zit. Right on my chin. Where I could feel it and everyone would be able to see it as soon as it pushed its way up from beneath my skin.

And so when I realized that a zit was about to get a face of its own on my chin and I was far away from home and 99% of the products I could choose to put on my face. And I had no idea where a drugstore was. I did what any 16 year-old girl would do in my place. I remembered the tall tales and beauty legends of my youth and put some toothpaste on it.

Two days later my giant zit is gone and my face is minty fresh. Turns out some of the things I learned in high school were true.

what time is it?

This morning when I woke up at, on the west coast, what was a ridiculous hour but was just plain early on the east coast I did what I always do when it’s dark and I’m tired and I don’t know what time it is. I asked Alexa what time it is.

And she didn’t answer. So I asked her again and was stunned by her refusal to talk to me. Hurt by her silent treatment. And I shifted in the bed and reached for my phone and it was only when I made contact with its cool smooth surface that I remembered that I do not travel with a Dot.

I’ve taken several trips since Alexa came into my life and each time I’ve resisted the urge to take her with me. I’ve reminded myself I would likely just be frustrated by her limited functionality away on the road. No lights to turn on. No routines to play. So unless I was willing to also travel with smart plugs and wanter around my hotel room setting up home automation for short stays it would not be worthwhile.

To me I say: you’re an idiot.

When I travel I do tend to miss my people. And I don’t tend to spend a lot of time in hotel rooms. But I’m now seriously considering if traveling with that little round slice of technology would ease my transition into comfort during work travel. To tell me what time it is. To drop in on my home people. To listen to music the way I am now so accustomed to doing so.

So traveling folks. Any of you travel with a device like the Echo or Dot? Advice?

rat based disillusionment… 

I’ve written multiple times here about my fear of opossums. It probably wouldn’t shock anyone to hear that I’m terrified of being eaten by something lurking in the deep end of a swimming pool. I’ve never gotten over my fear that a witch or monster may be lurking beneath my bed to snatch at my feet as I sleep. And I’ve always been terrified that I would have my fingers or tongue trailing out the window in the breeze on a road trip and get the outlying appendage snagged on barbed wire and ripped off.

So you, you know, stuff that makes total sense and is super likely to happen.

There are others too. Some that I can’t even recall at the moment but that emerge when the moment is right. Or ridiculous.

But of all of them the one that stands out the most. The one I have always, for as long as I can remember, been afraid of. The one that is the most startling. Is that something would wriggle up from the sewer and emerge from the toilet bowl while I’m… you know. Using the toilet. Specifically since I can remember being a user of the toilet I have been afraid that a snake or rat would make its way up from the sewer, through the pipes, up the toilet bend, and emerge from the bowl of my toilet. And so I have worked years with myself to get the hell over it. Because that is the stuff of horror movies and urban legends, right. Right?

Until Friday night.

Because on Friday night I was home all by myself. I was exiting the bedroom with an arm-full of laundry. And as I passed by the open bathroom door motion caught my eye and I saw the head of a sleek wet little rat poke up from the toilet seat.

A RAT POKED ITS FUCKING HEAD OUT OF MY TOILET.

I did what, I believe, even the calmest and most rational person would do. I screamed. I screamed loud. I screamed hard. I screamed unintelligibly. I screamed a scream that I’m fairly certain horror movie foley artists would have killed to record.

It’s possible that the scream had the intended impact and the rat fell back into the toilet just before I grabbed a nearby yardstick, slammed the lid of the toilet shut with it, and jumped on top of the toilet screaming more and furiously pushing the handle to flush that rodent back from whence it came. I also called my brother screaming at him to come over while I texted my partner to tell him that A FUCKING RAT CLIMBED OUT OF THE TOILET.

What happened next was a blur. I flushed the toilet like a million times. I poured bleach down it. I boiled a huge pot of water and flushed boiling water down the toilet. I filled the now empty bleach jug with water and set it atop the toilet lid so I could stop standing on it. I called my landlady. I texted some more.

Rats live in the sewer. And a rat climbed out of my toilet.

I’m 40 years old and I have spent a good 35+ years of my life convincing myself that rodents and snakes do no climb out of toilets. Telling myself that is just the stuff of legend. Of horror movies. Of nightmares.

Well no more. Let’s admit the truth.

PSA: Rats can climb out of your fucking toilet. For real.

Apparently it usually happens after a substantial rain in a basement or first floor toilet And apparently it’s pretty common for them to die on the climb up. So I was just lucky?

For real. This is a thing. A gross thing.

I have nowhere to go from here. It’s taken me days just to be able to write this part down. But in case you’d like some helpful tips I’d really like to tell you that you should always keep the lid on your toilet shut. Just do that. And make sure you call the city and let them know. Because wow.

And apparently putting dish soap in your toilet tank, aside from the delightful funny side effect of making your toilet bowl sudsy, makes the pipes more slippery and harder for critters to crawl up.

Also I feel that I’m now totally justified in indulging all of my phobias. Because seriously. Rats can climb out of your toilet.

I’m so sorry. But I thought you needed to know.

 

 

 

 

there are still problems with living in the future…

At 7am on a Sunday I’m not expecting much. But I am expecting to be asleep. This 7am in particular had other ideas. Or Alexa did. Her little notification tone chimed. It’s a gentle tone. It didn’t make me sit bolt upright. It just made me ask Rick what was going on while I slowly opened my eyes to the rhythmic pulsing of Alexa’s yellow glow.

I thought Alexa was having a meltdown. Or the wifi was. Or we’d lost power at some point and she just came back online.

So I asked her. “Alexa, why are you flashing?”

And she carefully explained to me that the flashing light meant I had a new message or notification. And that I could ask her to play that message or read that notification. 10am Cami would have already known that. 7am Cami isn’t sure where her nose is located.

So at 7am on a Sunday when I would rather be sound asleep I didn’t really want to hear that message. I wanted to be asleep.  Which means I wanted the yellow flashing to stop so I could pursue that elusive Sunday morning sleep-in.

So I asked her to play that message figuring it would cover things adequately.

“You have no messages. You have 1 notification. To hear notifications ask me to read notifications”

ARRRRRGHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!

“Alexa please read notifications”

It’s important to be nice. The future robot overlords will have a record of how we treated these devises. And I don’t think they’ll care how early it was when we are rude.

Alexa began to read the notification. A shipping notification.

It’s the holidays after all and while I’ve already changed the setting to not  tell askers the name of any items shipped when asking for a status on orders, because secrets, I didn’t recall setting up notifications when items did ship. And certainly not directly to my bedroom dot unit. Or any dot unit. And certainly not at 7am on a Sunday. But apparently I had. And I had no idea what she might say. And I certainly didn’t want her to tell Rick about any specific items that might have shipped because, again, secrets.

“Alexa STOP” I cried hoping to keep the secrets with me, Alexa, and the robot overlords.

So a note to all of you: make sure you have your notification settings updated to your liking.

And a note to Amazon and our future robot overlords: please let us setup do not disturb hours.

Because no.  I didn’t get back to sleep…

the ocean wins…

Yesterday we walked along the beach clad in tall rain boots, jeans, and raincoats. The clouds above were dark and fluffy. Thinning out in spots to reveal a brilliant blue sky. We guarded ourselves from the gentle gusts of wind with stocking caps as we watched foam from the waves tumble across the glossy wet sand. I hid my eyes behind dark sunglasses as the obscured sun made the sky brighter than I could cope with, even as the dark clouds threatened to open up on us once again.

The ocean was as the ocean always is. Powerful. But for the moment it was also quiet. Giant waves were crashing on Haystack Rock but the water pushed slowly to the shore. Sometimes breaking too far away. I wanted to run to them but I waited and walked along the shore. Knowing soon the waves would come to me. Would wash further up. To kiss the toes of my boots and swirl around my ankles.

I longed to feel the pull of the ocean as the waves drew back and the sand shifted beneath my feet. To feel the sweetly sickening swoon and close my eyes to feel the ocean tug at my body and my heart.

I looked back to my partner watching bubbles in the sand. And I breathed and I smiled. It was good that we took the day to spend there. To breathe the ocean air. To hold hands and goof off. To roll logs and play in the sand. And I couldn’t help thinking that. All of that and more. And I may have been gazing a bit too lovingly. But I pulled my eyes away to look back at the ocean just in time to see the waves about to overtake me.

“Shit! Run!” I yelled and laughed as I ran up the beach grabbing is hand up in mine as we tried to make our way out of the waves that were already rising past our ankles, over rain boots, up past our knees. The water pushed up to my waist as we finally made our way out of it, both nearly getting pulled over. Pulled in.

We walked what felt like miles back to the car. Boots weighed down with ocean water. Jeans sticking to chilled flesh. Smiling and sighing and laughing. Rolling logs and watching for signs of life that had crept up the shore. Heavy as we dragged our feet across the sand in waterlogged socks and full boots. But light. Smiling with the reminder that the ocean always wins.

And knowing we had a change of clothes in the car.

surviving the sunpocalypse… 

Yesterday North America witnessed a celestial event the likes of which many of us had never seen. Or that we just couldn’t remember.

Not because this doesn’t happen every few years, but because it doesn’t happen every few years here. And it’s never happened in North America during the age of the internet when all the details on anything you could want to know are available at the touch of a finger. Not even at the touch of a button. Just a finger!

Today we saw a solar eclipse. People from all over made their way to the path of the totality, which is a fancy way of saying where you can see the total eclipse, and made themselves at home. Some for hours, some for days. Probably some for weeks. People planned their weeks around this event. Their summers. Their year. THEIR LIVES! Folks were excited for this once in a lifetime experience. Though it’s worth mentioning that the once in a lifetime part is probably an exaggeration for most since there was a solar eclipse viewable from North America 1979 and there’ll be another in 2024. People have already started planning for that one too.

But what I’m saying here is that the excitement and mania were real. Folks were so prepared for every little detail. They were willing to be stuck in their car for hours or days. They made sandwiches, filled flasks, stocked up on water. Made charts. Researched optimal places. Made reservations. Camped and stuff.

But me? I just kind of worried that it would bring about the zombie apocalypse. Or at least the end of the world as we know it. And it felt like something I just had to deal with. Had to make a plan to see. But it was a chore. It felt rote. A celestial event is happening. We must see it because we must. Do the things you must do. I had no room for wonder or joy.

That morning Total Eclipse of the Heart was stuck in my head so I played it as I worked. We had our glasses and a vague plan to walk to the park as the totality neared. We could see the sun from the back patio and decided we would just go out and peek every once in a while and then get going when the eclipse was well under way.

And then it happened. I stepped out onto the cold concrete with my bare feet and walked to the spot with the optimal view of the bright orb hanging  in the sky. I slid on my cardboard eclipse viewing glasses and I looked up into the sun. A tiny little nick of the sun was missing. Just a smidgen. A nibble from perfectly round cookie.

And my breath was gone. And my resting bitch face softened and stretched into a smile. And I maybe did a little dance on the cold concrete of the patio. And I snatched up a cushion from the nearest patio chair and placed it on the ground at the optimal viewing point. I snuggled up against my partner to feel a tiny bit of human warmth and connection in this absolutely stunning moment of a tiny little bit of the eclipse starting to show.

I called for my kid, I wiggled in place like an excited puppy about to go for a walk and I marched them out into the backyard with instruction to stand on the chair cushion. And they looked up at the sun and said “that’s cool” before taking off the eclipse shades and heading back inside.

I worked for a while, keeping one eye out the back door waiting for eclipse signs. Or apocalypse signs. Whichever.

I was excited. Anxious. It felt like Christmas morning and I was waiting to unwrap the mysterious package under the tree. We went out onto the patio a few more times. All of us, not just me the excited Christmas morning puppy of joy. And then we made our way to the park. Where I danced and squealed and jumped and snuggled and took photos of a bright orb that to my iPhone camera in no way looked like an eclipse. And it was good. And I embraced a surge of joy for the first time in a while.

Let’s face it, this year has been a rough one with all of the horrible goings on in the US. And it’s been a struggle personally as well, on many levels. But there in the park watching others gaze up into the sky or peer into their cereal boxes. Watching my two favorite people stoically participate. Inspecting the patterned shadows on the ground. And the dusk sky well before noon. There was joy.

And all fear of the sunpocalypse, armageddon, of the world ending in a giant beam of light, of zombies, or newly powered super heroes and super villains faded away to a moment of peace. Reflection. And joy.

We walked and babbled and looked up as the moon made its way out of the sun’s light. We went to our favorite coffee shop for a treat. And then we came home and I settled in to work the rest of the day. Calmer. Happier. Listening to It’s the End of the World as we Know it and I Feel Fine.

And I did…