little sarah Big World

Category: Self-Improvement

Kane (and Able)

 

little boats

This is a story about my nephew, Kane, who just turned 7 years old. About the things we have in common, and the ways that he helps me be good.

*      *       *

We rarely just say Kane, but rather Kane-o, and he is an odd bird, one of my favorites. Didn’t really talk until 3 or 4, won’t eat anything that’s not a cereal bar without extreme goading. Getting him to eat a single bite of apple required intense negotiations, and even then he chews it the exact way you or I would if forced to eat a spoonful of diarrhea, with his hand in front of his mouth to prevent himself from spitting it out. Still, he’s a sport about it, dutifully eating his fruit and veg. He wants to be a doctor someday.

Kane is incredibly affectionate and sweet, quickly befriending anyone who shows him kindness or attention. “I love you, Auntie Sarah. You’re my best friend,” because I sit and read with him on the couch. Or, “I’m sitting with my best friend Auntie Sarah,” announced to the room, after I offer him snuggles because Ollie punched him in the chest. This is not specific to me–anyone can quickly become his best friend, and yet that somehow doesn’t make it any less sweet or sincere.

Kane likes to have Harry Potter read to him, though–as Sam pointed out–he doesn’t really seem to follow the story at all. All he’s concerned about is that you’re moving forward in pages, which he keeps Rainman-like track of in his head. You literally never need a bookmark, since Kane always remembers what page you were on last, even after hours or days.

Sometimes while reading I’ll ask him what words mean, to try and keep his focus:

       Sarah – “ ‘Harry began to feel ill’–what does ill mean?”

       Kane – “Uhm…Sebastian? What does ill mean?”

       Sebastian – “Uh…it, like, means, like, sick, or whatever.” (Teenagers!)

       Kane (to me) – “It means like sick.”

He does this with every word, while Bastian and I smile. I think secretly Bastian is pleased to be considered an authority, especially in matters concerning Harry Potter.

Kane-o is 6 but relates most with Ollie, who’s 4 (as opposed to Rosie or Isaac, who are 8). They play together well, mostly, but tattle on each other nonstop, often over non-issues (“Kane-o’s reading a book!” / “Ollie’s not eating his carrots!”), and we are all so over it and have said “Use your words to talk it out” and “You just worry about your own self” more times than I can count. Sometimes they hit each other, though, and then we do Time Out.

*      *       *

This day what happens is that they climb all over the couch, smushing it up, which unnerves me. Getting ready to go to a museum, I ask that the boys help fix the pillows (of which there are SO MANY, Mom); Kane-o declines, without comment. Ollie helps, trying to motivate Kane (“Kane-o! It’s okay! We’re helping!”). But Kane throws a pillow–attitude–which accidentally grazes Ollie, and is obviously enough to end the world.

So we get a timeout, for resisting clean-up, and then throwing, and that’s when Kane-o REALLY blows: “God dammit mother fucker stupid shithead!”  with a hand gesture that’s like the “Rock On!” symbol, or like SpiderMan shooting webs. But from Kane, we know it means “Fuck you!” And so timeout is extended, and then extended again, after he lets loose another impressive string of swears, instead of apologizing to Ollie. And on and on, for maybe 5 minutes.

I stay patient, calm, clear with my explanations of what was happening and why. Though rarely and barely able to stem the flow of my own overwhelming emotions, I can be good in a crisis. I can be solid while somebody else crumbles, especially if it’s a child.

By the end, Ollie is standing next to the Time Out spot, where I’ve called him over, while Kane-o lays on the floor, on his back, stiff, eyes terrified, mouth taut, breath rapid, barely able to eke out an “I’m. Sorry. For. Throwing. A. Pillow.”

“That’s okay,” chirps Ollie, already off on his merry way. I pull Kane-o up to standing and he continues the motion, falling forward into my arms and already shaking with sobs. “Do you need to be held?” He nods yes, I pick him up, easily, as he’s bird-boned.

While he cries, I walk around, swaying gently, talking to him, trying to soothe. “It’s scary to feel so out of control isn’t it?” He nods, and I think of all the times I’ve come back from the brink: shaken, shamed, and uncertain. A few weeks ago I threw beet greens on the floor, so unable to contain my hurt and frustration, yelling at my Moms and then crying, inconsolable, for hours.   

“I know I don’t like when I feel like that.” And then, for both our sakes, “I think everyone feels like that, sometimes.” He tightens his arms around my shoulders.

*      *       *

On the road, in Colorado, I was hit by a wave of anxiety and depression so complete that I slept for days on end, waking to the disappointment of continued consciousness and praying for sleep to return, rolling me in its thick, merciful, obscuring blanket. Cried hours into the bedsheets, embryo-shaped, contracting around a center of pain and pity, meditations on all my own awfulness.

Outside, I could hear sounds of merriment, signs of life, people dancing and singing, teasing children, drinking whiskey, making and eating Pho, together. I felt no jealousy or resentment. Just the plain knowledge that they existed so far beyond my realm, and sadness at that thought.

I could hear that people were, but the best I could do was to seem, to appear, and I was too tired even for that.

How long could I lie hidden, without raising suspicion? My sickness showing through every crack, and I burned with the shame of people’s curiosity and concern, unable to even make eye contact. Unsure of my place in the conversation, my point of re-entry to the human race.

I think the hardest thing, sometimes, is to be forgiven, which is to say: to forgive yourself.

*      *       *

“Nobody’s mad at you, Kane-o.”

“They’re not?” more sniffles, optimistic disbelief. The best I have to offer him right now is love, and an open palm. An invitation.

“Of course not, sweetie,” I say, swaying. “We just don’t like it when you feel so out of control. We want you to be calm and happy. We want you to be here with us.”

“Nobody’s mad at me?” head heavy on my shoulder.

“Nobody’s mad, I promise.” Tighter arms, like a hug; I squeeze back. “You ready to be put back down now?” No, he shakes his head, not yet.

But then in a little bit he was.

beams

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The Year That Was

Funabashi, Chiba, 2014

~OR~

What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You a Far More Easy-Going Person

*       *       *

2014 was the year I stopped feeling homesick. The year I ran my first marathon and fell in love with Japan.

Nagano, Japan, April 2014

The year my best friend rushed home from work to spoon me on her couch while I fell apart, crying in her exhausted arms.

The year I was held together by so many, from so far, in so may ways that it is unbe-fucking-lievable.

The year I learned you can’t always reciprocate, you just have to pay it forward, and be better than you were. Sometimes you have to live the “thank you” or “I’m sorry,” because saying it isn’t enough.

The year I was brave enough to say no, not ready, not yet (even if later I wailed and wished I’d said yes).

The year I got dumped, for the first time in my life.

Broken Glass, Japan, 2014

The year I realized that I had a choice, about whether to fall apart or not.

The year I flushed a fistful of pills down the toilet, breaking plans for a very dark date with myself.

The year I tried head meds, saved my own life, and then stopped them, quit counseling, and followed my own advice.

The year I realized that I know better than anyone else, when it comes to my own life.

The year I started making my own damn decisions, without endless debate or consultation.

The year I held my own hand, small in my bed, and knew that it was enough.

Daffodils, 2014

I almost didn’t make it through 2014. I had to learn to live for others first, then for my own self second. If I could say one thing to the whole wide world, I would say: it’s okay. Everyone is doing their best.

Shibuya Crossing on a Rainy Day, Tokyo, 2014

I want to dedicate 2014 to all of my many many loves, but especially to these people, for these reasons:

To Erin, for bringing me a cookie and sitting with me while I hid in a stairwell at work and cried.

To my mom, for patiently having the same conversation with me, over and over.

To my dad, for being my soulmate, and my friend.

To Scott, who talked me down off of a couple ledges, even if he didn’t know it at the time.

To the folks at Tokyo English Life Line, for obvious reasons.

Meguro, Tokyo, 2014

To Daniel, who told me his story, bought me pizza, and helped me plan a trip that I didn’t take.

To Nicole, who gave me a book like a friend, when I needed exactly that.

To Eric and Izzy, who shared their bed with me and rubbed my shoulders until I fell asleep.

To Granny, for telling me it wasn’t so bad, that we all have to kiss a few frogs.

To Gramps, for the necklace I wore like an amulet, a charm to protect against evils.

To Paul, and Felix, and Cha and Kobe, for reminding me that I could make friends.

To Nami, for putting it simply; to Nozomi, for Halloween.

Flowers, Kyoto, 2014

To Espy, for the letters; to Griggs, for the laughs; to Sperry, for the pep-talk; to Sydney, for the sunshine; to Havilah for the flowers; to Melissa for listening; to Nikki, for trying to understand; and to Natalie, for fighting with me and still loving me, even after I threw a temper tantrum.

To Sammy, for making time to see me and create the world’s saltiest nachos.

To Kendra, for that time by the pool.

To Kristin, who stopped me in my tracks, made me repeat myself, when I said: “I stopped writing in my diary, because I couldn’t write without hearing that voice, judging what I said.”

To Darcie, who gave me a new diary.

Letter from Havilah, 2014

To Kasey and Rosie and Sydney and Carol, for being brave enough to tell the truth.

To Manu, who sat with me at my hollowest moment, and knew that I would get better.

To Marcos, for a well-timed hug.

To Nanako, for being just like me, and for all of the smiles and food.

To Adrienne and Luca, my divoster parents. You bore the brunt of this.

Nagano, Japan, April 2014

To Cammi, for being proud of me, because I followed my heart, and “aint nothing wrong with that”

To Adam, for giving me back to myself.

To Melanie, for giving me permission to move on.

To Betsy, for the SkyMiles (!), but also for listening and sharing and wishing me the best.

And to Whitney, for everything, for giving me everything you had, and then giving some more.

Showa Kinen Koen, November 2014

To everyone who sat with me, when I was a husk of myself, thin and brittle and shaking and dull—for listening, for waiting, for explaining, for understanding, for that quiet small space where there was nothing to say, where you held me tight as the waves crashed overhead. Thank you for letting your hearts break open a bit, just for me.

2014 was a hell of a year; you made it unforgettable.

Yokohama, 2014

And 2015?

Oh, my friends.

My friends!

Palmer, AK, August 2014

2015 is The Year of Fuck Yes

In a Nutshell

comedic relief

Even in the throes of a panic attack, I can appreciate that Wikipedia has chosen this exact image for this exact page.

I can get up out of bed, even though I’d rather shut my eyes and pray for this feeling to STOP. To GO AWAY. I can get up, instead, and go for a run.

I can stop drinking alcohol (due to hangover-induced anxiety, something I only started experiencing in my late 20s and WTF), stop drinking caffeine (a joke, at best, as I’m so sensitive that I only ever drink the tiniest amount. Still, even the tiniest amount can eff with my already-tremulous mental state), and start adding structure to otherwise nebulous days. I can run in the mornings, and eat Omega-3s at almost every meal.

I can console and comfort myself with the amazingly-well-written and thoughtful Anxiety blogs on the New York Times website.

I can read up on Buddhism, reminding myself for the one hundred millionth time to Just. Breathe. Breathe into the moment. Stop bumming yourself out over the past, or stressing yourself out over the future. You are married to an unbelievably gorgeous man who enjoys talking to you (all the time, about everything) as much as you enjoy talking to him. You live in Japan, where opportunities you could never have imagined practically throw themselves at your feet. Where new friends, sweet neighbors and earnest students show you a sort of quiet kindness, unassuming generosity and simple, silly camaraderie you never knew you needed.

Then, considering all of the above, I can consider, for the first time in my life, that my Anxiety may not be entirely situational. That it just might have some small relation to brain chemistry and genetic predisposition. And I can seek treatment, and help.

*       *       *

I may be in a nutshell, but I refuse to be a nut.

Simplify

(w/ Chad)

And so we turn towards simplicity. Towards sanity and good health, and that means early morning runs and healthy, home-cooked meals, fewer vices and better sleep.

Our first meal cooked together!

It means long walks and longer talks, checking in every morning, and after work, and before bed. It means facing our problems (for me: job stress and anxiety) head-on, rationally, and knowing the difference between a worthy challenge and a waste of time.

momiji

Most of all, a turn towards simplicity means a turn towards each other, and towards what really matters in life–our well-being, our friends and family, our passions and interests, and our sense of wonder, inspiration, creativity and drive.

And yesterday it meant epic shopping: new wardrobes for new jobs, plus bags of books to feed our hungry minds. It meant a day trip to Tokyo, a shopping field trip, with burgers and fries and iced coffee and frequent pauses to observe/avoid the madness, plus a Sunday stroll through the park, and big plans for the future.

*       *       *

It feels good to follow our own good advice.

A Breath of Fresh Air

Chad and Sarah = Jack and Rose

Sometimes I can’t go straight from things being broken to things being fixed, because I need to make a rest-stop in a place where things are okay. Like a waiting period between identifying the problem and tackling it.

I remember a camping trip, age 19, summer after freshman year of college. I had taken ecstasy for the first time (heavily cut with speed) and spent a wild night talking and emoting at full blast with my best-friend and roommate in the front seats of my boyfriend’s parent’s Subaru. Despite what I’d heard about gnarly emotional come-downs, the next morning I mostly felt tired and newly opened, or pleasantly vulnerable. I got dropped off back at my Mom’s place, where my older sisters were bustling about, cooking and gossiping with Mom, taking care of baby Bashy. The air seemed abuzz with a sort of hectic femininity, with childcare and recipes and house work and strong female bonds. I felt so susceptible to all that womanly grace, and also very overwhelmed.

Because…how could I ever express to my mother and sisters what they meant to me, and how much I admired and needed them? How could I gracefully make the transition from sullen, solitary teenage angst to warm, giving, jovial womanhood? Most importantly, how could I share this new-found love and appreciation without revealing the fact that I’d taken illegal, mind-altering substances the night before?

Ha! Then I remembered I didn’t have to do it all at once. That I didn’t need to make any grand proclamations or sudden life-altering turns to affect the change I wished to see in my life. I could do it little by little. I could start by just being there, spending quality time with my beloved female family. So I sat down on the bed where Natalie was changing Bashie’s diaper, and we talked.

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A Long Day

~OR~

Coping with a Camera

I didn't even let running late stop me from documentation--such is my devotion

A week ago I worked a double: 6am to 6pm with only an hour’s break for lunch (and/or napping) in between.

I know this is a thing that many people do, all the time, no big deal. But for me, working so much takes an instant toll. Knowing myself better means recognizing that if I spend too much of my time giving it up for the man, then I will hate myself, and life, and everyone’s stupid face.

But balancing 3 part-time jobs is tricky, and I found myself staring down a long, hard day in the cold, grey heart of winter. Kind of a bummer.

Except that…I’m trying to complain less. To be more grateful. To deal, and to remember that this, too, shall pass. Which is why I turned a bummer of a day into a self-assigned photo journal project. Hurrah for me, and even if I’m the only one cheering, it’s good to be cheerful. Here you go:

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Feelings

Sometimes I have too many feelings, Friends. Just all of the fucking feelings, like a bowl full of volatile liquid lodged behind my sternum, bumping up against my bruised and beating heart.

Dramatic, I know, but it really feels like that. And I really am that dramatic, too, so…

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I ran a race today

I’ve been sick for over a week now–sore throat, swollen glands, achy body, general exhaustion.

I don’t sleep anymore, hardly, averaging 5 hours/night. Even when I try to nap, I can get maybe 10 minutes of actual rest in.

I have a huge raised bruise on my right thigh from slamming into the corner of the bed post at Dad’s house.

I stored my contacts in tap water last night.

But still (still), I ran my favorite 10k this morning.

And kicked so, so much ass.

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Summer Ends

Last Sunday I went to a birthday picnic, in woodsy canyon area. A very summery event, indeed, complete with grilling, cocktails in mason jars, chips, dips, and coolers of ice. I wore a light summer dress, it was a good time.

Aaand…I’m ready for summer to be over. Come fall, come crisp air and flaming leaves and soft layers and new expectations.

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Doing the Best that I Can

“A nice heart…

…and a white suit…

…and a baby blue sedan…

…and I. Am. Doin’ the best that I can”

-Modest Mouse, “Baby Blue Sedan” (Building Something Out of Nothing)

*       *       *

The less I do, the more I think. The slower I go, the more I understand. A long walk to Perry’s, headphones on, plans for a mix tape, new energy, new Sarah, emerging. One step at a time.

“Baby Blue Sedan” by Modest Mouse