Nibbling at Your Joy

You know that feeling when you’ve discovered you put down a burden you’ve been carrying for a long time?

The relief.

The discovery at feeling that relief.

When did it arrive? What did it replace?

Like one of those tortoises that lives to be over 100 years old, it lumbers up your back. So slowly, so determined. It gets comfortable up there perched on your shoulders. Not comfortable for you, of course, but you get used to it. After a bit, the scaly creature becomes a part of you, stretching its neck and nibbling at your joy before you can have a taste, not aware of what you’re missing.

One day, as slowly and as surely as it arrived, it decides enough is enough. The tortoise turns around and crawls back down. You’re so consumed with doing all the things that you don’t notice. You reach up and absentmindedly scratch where the creature clawed at your skin. You keep going, staring straight ahead. Gotta get to the other side.

Until, for no reason you can tell, the wind shifts. Your face gets slammed with this new warm, sweet breeze. You stop in the middle of the road, close your eyes and inhale.

Your exhale escapes with frantic peals of laughter. Sudden. Uncontrollable.

Through the laughter you find that your feet have carried you the rest of the way across the road. You stop, turn around, and look back, a stupid grin still slunk across your face.

What is that, there just climbing up the curb on the side from where you came?

You squint to see through the dusty warm air.

What an odd thing. You think. What is that doing way out here?

As you shrug your shoulders, you dimly realize that they are now light enough to be shrugged.

With one last glance over your shoulder, you continue on, now with a spring in your step.


Day 27

Christmas Gift List Negotiation

Y’all know my preference for Halloween over most things, and that’s just my personality. Contrary to popular belief, I do genuinely enjoy the Christmas season. I do. I love the decorations and the fun, cheesy movies and I love Christmas carols even though I’m not religious. I love spending quality time with friends and family and the giving spirit.

What I do not like is how gift giving has morphed into a really robotic rat race in my family. I don’t entirely know how it got this way and I don’t know how to undo it. It irks me every year and this year it’s irking me even earlier.

What happens is this: in my family and extended family, it’s customary for each person to send out their Christmas list to everyone else. Excellent, nice. Then what happens is that some family members go out and buy up all (or almost all. or a good chunk.) of the items on said list immediately, leaving little else for others to get. What also happens is that there is this flurry of a million emails from various family members calling dibs on items or just informing us that items have already been bought for so-and-so. There is often another flurry of emails from folks asking if such-and-such was already bought for so-and-so? and if not, can I buy it? thaaaanks. This leaves me with an inbox full of emails from family and a whole hell of a lot of anxiety.

Once all of this happens in rapid succession, I have some choices to make. I have to decide if I want to try and open family members’ lists right away in an effort to beat other people to the “good gifts,” whatever that means. I have to decide if I want to send those emails asking if this gift has already been bought or not, and to do that I’d have to wait for responses before being able to just buy the damn thing. I have to decide if I want to then be the sender of the email saying hey I just bought such-and-such for so-and-so FYI ok byeeeee. And once I start getting those emails from others, I have to decide if I am going to go through them all so I can keep track of what has already been bought and what is still available.

Do you see how quickly the innocent sending out of Christmas lists has morphed into something so…yucky? It’s ridiculous and it stresses me the fuck out every. damn. year.

I struggle with it because I don’t see my extended family very often and I want to get them gifts that they want and will genuinely enjoy, and so we tend to rely on lists for those reasons. I, in turn, enjoy getting gifts from my list. Do they all need to be from my list? No. But some I’d really like.

I’ve experimented with opting out of different aspects of this Christmas gift list negotiation over the years. I’ve tried completely ignoring the flurries of emails and just bought from the lists what I wanted. That meant that some people got duplicate gifts and I included return info just in case. Less than ideal, but okay. There’s been a few years now where I’ve gone completely off the reservation and – gasp – got gifts for people that, gulp, weren’t on their lists! Did they enjoy them? I honestly don’t know. Was that Christmas season way less stressful for me? Hell yes. Were those gifts given from the heart with each recipient in mind? You bet they were.

A part of me would like to just do completely away with the gift giving. Just get rid of it. While that would definitely be easier, I do enjoy giving gifts and I’m not gonna lie, I like getting them as well. Just not this way. Not like this. Somehow the Christmas spirit got lost and I have no idea how to find it again. What’s the number for Hallmark?!

Soooooo here I find myself at the dawn of a new fa-la-la-ucking Christmas season and I have those same decisions to make. Maybe, for 2020, we can all agree that the adults get booze (their favorite kind of booze!) and the kids get candy (again, their favorite!). Or maybe we could all just take a fucking peppermint chill pill and settle down with the damn emails.


Day 16

Quiet, Sluggish Chaos

I’m feeling pretty drained. That’s an understatement.

I’m trying to think of a good metaphor for how I feel that won’t make me sound suicidal – because I’m not. But I have no energy left, you guys. I’m just trying to make it through the days and sometimes I dare to hope and then other days my state gets set on fire or RBG dies and I find myself at a new low that I didn’t know was possible.

Three things happened all at once: summer [weather] ended, fire and smoke made it impossible for me to breathe or leave my house for ten days, and distance learning began for my 1st grader. It sent the precarious balance we had achieved in our household over the summer into a quiet, sluggish chaos.

In 2007 the fire alarm woke me up and my boyfriend (now husband) and I grabbed whatever was in front of us and ran out of our burning apartment building. For months after I would go to sleep and hallucinate the smell of smoke. That thick, putrid, choking scent that makes one’s pulse jump. My heart would race, I’d get a rush of adrenaline, and then I’d have to get up and check to make sure there wasn’t any actual danger. After that, it was pretty hard to calm down and get any rest. It was bad.

I was in my master’s program for counseling psychology at the time and I had started therapy for the first time as a client that previous year. When the fire happened I was on a break from therapy in an attempt to stretch my mental health benefits to last until the end of the year. American healthcare – you suck. At any rate, when I returned to therapy I mentioned the fire and the difficulty sleeping I was having. PTSD, you say? Oooh, crap. So this is what it’s like. It’s always so much easier to diagnose other people. Well, shit.

And, while definitely not as bad, it came back recently. Our sense of smell is so powerful, so tied to our emotions. And the smell of smoke is a warning to everyone – it’s supposed to be. But put that together with absolute terror and it’s a horrible combination.

Plus, the chest pains I was getting from the smoke signaled anxiety to my brain aaand cue positive feedback loop. Sore throat, headaches. I felt physically ill on top of everything else.

With my bucket being pretty freaking empty, I’m struggling to be a good parent, teacher, wife, and friend.

As far as the friend thing goes, I struggle to be social. Being social in person really sucks because I’m worried about Covid the whole time. Being social, while I still enjoy it, often requires energy I’m not sure I have. It’s hard to pay attention and remember details. I find myself so worried about my and my family’s health and safety that it’s hard to be concerned with anyone else’s enough to ask. It’s not that I don’t care- I do. Stress just seems to push everything else out of focus. I’m really sorry if I forget about that thing going on in your life. I’m sorry that I totally forgot to ask how your new job is going. Sorry If my texts come across the wrong way. I feel like my stress and survival mode make everything come out wrong, even more so than my socially-awkward normal. I still love and respect my friends, and I still want to be friends.

I worry that writing about my mental health issues sounds…wallowy, self-centered, whiny. Repetitive. Fishing for pity.

While it might be repetitive (and none of the rest), I decided that talking/writing about it helps me. It’s honest, it’s real. If it helps normalize mental health struggles – great. But this is mainly for me. It’s a journal, it’s documentation, it’s creative expression, it’s cathartic.

In closing, I’ll remind myself that I’m surviving. I’m coping. I’m doing the best I can. I’m just happy to be here.

Failure doesn’t go with this outfit

So my application to sit for my licensing exams was approved!  Huzzah! 

Too bad I couldn’t have found this out a month ago when the licensing board actually sent out my approval letter…to the wrong address.  Sigh.  And trust me, this was their mistake, not mine.  Not that I am keeping score.  Except that I am.

Now I have a date set for me to take my first exam, and I ain’t tellin’ no one when that date is juuuust in case I fail and then have to go through what I like to call The Clueless Effect.

 

Rewind back to the year 1995.  O.J. Simpson was found not guilty, I was 12, and Alicia Silverstone hadn’t regurgitated vegan food into her yet-to-be-born child, but she had made the movie Clueless.

In this amazing coming-of-age film, loosely based on Jane Austen’s Emma, Alicia Silverstone played Cher, a girl who knows what it’s like to have people be jealous of her, me included (did you SEE her closet?!).  Cher turned 16 and took her driver’s test.  Of course everyone knew, and so it sucked when she got back home to find her makeover-doll-turned-best-friend flirting it up with her ex-step brother crush and she had to tell them she failed.

At the tender age of 12, I felt for Cher.  You try driving in platforms!  I screamed right along with her.  But I didn’t yet know exactly how shitty it felt to have to tell friends and family that I failed at something…until I turned 16.  I failed my first driver’s test, and that failure tasted like spoiled milk with black pepper.  And shame.  Bitter, bitter shame.  One of my classmates sincerely stroked my bruised ego: Wow, you’ve never failed anything before!  Humility burns like stomach acid.

I’ve learned a lot from Cher and from my own experience.  First, never waste time practicing to park.  Everwhere you go has valet.  Second, searching for a boy in high school is as useless as searching for meaning in a Pauly Shore movie.  Third, don’t ever tell people when you’re gonna take a huge, important pass/fail test.

I don’t plan to fail, but in the slim chance that I do, I don’t wanna talk about it.  As if.

So let’s just say that I am taking this 4 hour doozy of a test quite soon, I am freaking out, and I’ll let y’all know when I pass.  I’ll throw a party and I hope Marky Mark is there.

Send some dope vibes my way!

Talk to me, Goose

Hokai, so this is me telling the story of Brian’s and my flying day trip to Chico now that I have told all seven of you about what it’s like flying in a tin can with wings and how I deal with the feelings of mortality that result from it (answer: not well).

We drove the short distance to the small airport in our town, went into a small locked office to get the keys to the plane (Brian’s so cool that someone trusts him with a key to this office…dunno how that happened), and then went out to the plane where I gracefully jammed myself into the ever-sweaty co-pilot’s seat and read while Brian preflighted.  Same drill.

Sutter Buttes

Everything was a-ok, so Brian got in, gave me the lovely safety briefing, I popped in a piece of gum, plugged in my ipod (Sara Bareilles to the max), and we were on our way.  The trip there was about 45 minutes to an hour long and was rather uneventful for me.  There was absolutely no turbulence to speak of, even when going over the Sutter Buttes (thankyouthankyou)!  Brian said there was some sort of miscommunication with the air traffic control center where control was supposed to pass him off to Chico’s tower as we went on our merry way, and apparently this didn’t happen, and so when we reached Chico airspace, Brian had to awkwardly announce himself over the radio.  Apparently it was embarrassing because it made Brian look bad, even though it wasn’t his fault.  I tried to draw the undeserved negative attention away from him by cussing out the air traffic controllers over the radio for all to hear.  Too bad it was all in my head.  Silly airplane politics.

 

The landing was smooth into Chico airport.  What wasn’t smooth was that the airport deli was closed and we had been planning to grab some lunch there before heading back home.  This may not sound like a big deal to most folks, but it is to me, and by proxy it is to Brian.  See, when I am well rested, fed, and watered, I look like this:

photo credit to Shady Grove

 

But when I am tired, hungry, and/or thirsty, I very rapidly turn into this:    

 

We have learned this the hard way.  Too many times.  I had an apple, a granola bar, and water with me, so I was very much hoping that that would tide me over.

The other activity for the day in Chico was to visit the airport’s small indoor/outdoor flight museum.  Now, I lost count of just how many damn airplane museums I have been dragged to over the years.  Don’t get me wrong, airplanes are cool, and (to me) the space exhibits that sometimes accompany these museums are even cooler, but I have my limits.  And when I am tired and hungry, those limits drop through the floor pretty quick.

What I find particularly hilarious is that Brian expects me to have a working memory of the different museums and what planes we saw in which museum.  Observe:

Hey Lady, you remember that one big yellow turbo double engine supercool plane we saw at Big Joe’s Fly-By Museum on July 20 at about one in the afternoon about three years ago?

Hell, no.  I don’t even remember ______ .

Well, that plane is here now!  We get to see it again!

Again…for the first time.

——

Back in Chico, we (cautiously) started with the outdoor exhibit and I started on my granola bar.  The outdoor exhibit had about a dozen planes in various states of disrepair.  Here’s what I remember: one was old and Russian, several were homebuilt and extremely small and flimsy looking, one of those homebuilts was yellow.  There was also a toy fighter plane that kids could play in and I wanted very badly to be able to fit into it, but I didn’t even get a chance to try because I was surrounded by potential witnesses.

While walking through the exhibit, Brian asked the docent dude if there was any food nearby.  I think he could sense that my inner trantrum-y six year old was just inches from the surface at this point.  The docent said there was a hamburger joint about a half mile down the road, so Brian and I decided to walk there even though it might make us a bit late getting home.  About a quarter mile down the road, we decide to check our smartphones to make sure we’re indeed going in the right direction.  Alas, gps said that we were still 1.6 miles away from meaty, bready goodness.  At this point I began to lose control as I stomped after Brian heading back towards the airport again.

Brian still wanted to see the bloody indoor part to the museum, so I went to town on my apple and took a moment to sit quietly outside, marinating in my rage, for fear that I might rip Brian’s head off if I didn’t.  Once the apple started to digest, I pasted on a smile and joined Brian inside the museum.  I actually found a wall with signed pictures from lots of awesome astronauts, so I had a little moment of joy looking at Jack Swigert’s and Ken Mattingly’s John Hancocks.  Way cool.

After that, Brian and I made our way back to the winged tin can for our return journey.  I had woken up that morning already feeling like I was coming down with something, and at this point in the day I could feel a migraine coming on from lack of foodage and liquid.  While Brian preflighted, I downed some water with pain pills and chowed down on some emergency cliff bars Brian had on hand.

In times like these, I really rely on music to manipulate my mood, and right then I needed some major calming action, so I turned on some Jack Johnson and tried to sleep.

Midway through the flight I wasn’t feeling too bad, so when Brian asked if I would like to try taking the controls for the first time ever, I said sure.  Man, was that ever weird and terrifying.  I turned the yolk clockwise about an inch or so, and the plane began to slowly turn after a several second delay, which was very unnerving.  After a few minutes as pilot, my mounting anxiety got the better of me and I turned the controls back over.  Then I initiated a conversation about what might happen if Brian were to fall unconscious mid-flight, because now we need to plan for every worst case scenario.  We decided that I would get on the radio and shout that I was in trouble and needed a fighter jet escort, mayday, mayday, breaker, breaker, over!!  And then my anxiety got to dangerous levels just thinking about it, so we changed the subject.

Later on in the flight, I did my awesome job of pointing out another aircraft that was actually pretty close to us by airplane flight standards.  While Brian was trying to maneuver in such a way that would keep us alive, I started reciting lines from Top Gun about how we should take advantage of this opportunity to communicate…you know, the bird?  We should be inverted! I yelled at Brian.  I don’t think he heard me.

The last cool thing about the trip was that Brian heard over the radio that we were passing an area where people were actively sky diving at the time.  I kept watching for either the diving plane or for open parachutes, and just as we were about to land at our home airport, I saw two open parachutes way back behind us.  I was so excited about this that I practically had to clamp down on my mouth to keep from interfering from Brian trying to land the plane.  The second we touched down I dutifully tapped his shoulder and blurted, I saw two jumpers! Back there! But you were landing!  You missed it!

Hungry, Hungry Melissa Crisis averted, as we hauled ass to In N Out as soon as we left the airport.  Success!

Welcome to Thesis Hell, population: 2

Many of my friends already know that my partner is in a Master’s program for mechanical engineering and that he’s currently working on his thesis.  That all started out just great, but slowly and surely, he started crawling further and further down into the depths of hell and somehow I got dragged down, too.  yaaaaaaaaayy!!

When Brian works on his thesis, he’s nerdy, he gets excited, and he gets focused.  So focused, that he’s been calling that vibe/space/time his “hole.”  We’re always working on our communication, (because how can we not with one half of this operation being a therapist?) and so I’ve told him that I like to be alerted before he’s about to mentally disappear for hours on end and emerge looking like he’s been through a war zone.  The warning he’s developed for my benefit is as follows: “Lady, I’m going into my hole!” and away he goes.  This is what his hole looks like:

"The Hole"

Notice that Sadie’s been allowed to occupy the latter half of Brian’s chair.  Not even I get that much.  I’m lucky to get some attention if I flash him, or at the very least, if I come with an offering of food.

Brian defends his thesis TOMORROW, and I frickin CAN’T. WAIT.  This has been a summer+fall semester in the making, and has steadily been getting more and more stressful and frantic.  These past few days have been the worst, and honestly, I think I have put myself in a similar stressed-out state by starting this blog now, and I don’t think that was by accident.  I really think that, subconsciously, I gave myself something to do that would make my mental state roughly equal to that of Brian’s so that I would somehow feel “normal” under the circumstances.  Cool, huh?  You don’t need Freud, just ask me.

So.  Send good vibes our way starting now and continuing through about 5:30pm PST tomorrow.  Brian starts his defense at 4:30 and I plan to be there to cheer him on.  I am suuuuuper proud of him, but for the love of all that is holy, let this end and let it end asap.