little sarah Big World

Tag: anxiety

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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This Is For You (You Know Who You Are)

~OR~

Worrying ≠ Thinking

Hey there, little happy leaf

I am no expert. At anything, at all. I try to share what I know, because I have not learned it on my own. I have been boosted up and helped along every step of the way, a living tower of family, friends, and mental health care professionals beneath me, so that I may survey my own inner landscape with some distance. From this vantage point, I can look down and say that it is not all bad.

I can tell you that this, too, will pass. That this awful, binding darkness, is fleeting, not forever. The sun will peek its rays through clouds of self-loathing and dark fear, slowly expanding to shed light and warmth on your oh-so lovable (I promise) body and soul.

Of course, as you’ve pointed out, this sunny intermission will pass, as all things do, and the darkness will come again. Yes, it is true.

But I’ve found, or been gently guided to see, that if you hold to the fleeting nature of feelings, a deeper sense of self will emerge, grown-up strong, like roots from the hard ground. And those emotions will not be yours; they will be like a storm front, passing through.

Then the vicious cycle of ups and downs will seem to have some forward motion, the anger and nothingness no longer blotting out the all light and air, nor even competing. Just shady spots, just clouds, over smooth, still waters.

Your cup is so full, and I know that feeling. Negative, poisonous thoughts and looming to-do lists, frustrations and obligations and days where even happy memories hurt. A brain so tormented, and tormenting, that it’s like being locked in a room with a crazy person hurling the most horrible, personal insults your way, with no end in sight. Of course you’d do anything to get away from that person. I know, because I have been that person, have wanted to kill that part of myself.

I know, because my cup is like your cup, too. All I’m asking you to do, as an experiment, is to empty your cup.

Read the rest of this entry »

Balancing Act

thanks, Starbucks dude!

Guys, it is not all doom and gloom here. It may FEEL like all doom and gloom, but it’s not. I guess that’s what’s so maddening–knowing that things are, in reality, quite pleasant and interesting but feeling increasingly like a twirly-out-of-control-stress-bomb-crying-anxiety-mess.

Still, I wanted to balance out ALL ANXIETY, ALL THE TIME with some sweet and silly tidbits from everyday life. Like my baristo excitedly running from the register to the espresso machine, in the middle of ringing me up, to write something on my cup, which turned out to be kind English well-wishings. Thank you, mystery Japanese baristo at Shinjuku station!

And thank you to all my dear and precious friends, who keep in touch with me through the ups and downs and give me an outlet to say things like:

“I’ll try to take some stealth fashion photos of strangers, though that may be difficult, as all Japanese-designated smartphones work in such a way that you CAN NEVER TURN OFF THE CAMERA SHUTTER SOUND. Not even in silent mode. This is due to rampant up-the-skirt photos. Thanks, Japan!”

Thanks Japan, indeed, and thank you, friendships, and thank YOU, Friends. More to come.

 

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.

Today

My role in society, or any artist’s or poet’s role, is to try and express what we all feel.

Not to tell people how to feel. Not as a preacher, not as a leader, but as a reflection of us all.

– John Lennon

Web - deW

Today I am pleased with a mid-morning snack of oranges and chai tea. With my new, clean work clothes, grown-up clothes, and a day to myself. I am happy to be outside, running, happy for the warm, misty morning rain. Dew drops on a spider’s web that stop me in my tracks. Small things, like that.

beauty in the details

And, like many days, I find beauty and elegance in the small details. A sense of grace in what might otherwise be simply puttering about the apartment, quietly ricocheting from one project to the next.

Except, in the past, this fragmented approach underscored steady progress, and all the projects came together, one by one, each occupying a determined and defined space in my mind.

Now I spin in a soft frenzy, unable to finish anything, worried about doing things the exact right way and unable to commit to even the smallest decisions. I am overwhelmed by what I perceive as an insurmountable chaos–lesson plans and textbooks and a closet without drawers–and overwhelmed by the choices required to properly order things–buying notebooks and folders, filing things away, choosing between a dresser for the bedroom or plastic bins in the closet.

And what if I don’t get the right laundry hamper?

(The BEST one. The one that will solve everything.)

I am stressed out by Chad’s email inbox, by my sisters owning too many clothes, by the thought of all of the people in the world and their own disorganized closets, email inboxes, photos, and files. I want to know that I’m doing things the right way–the best way–with no excess, perfectly streamlined, and that everyone else is, too.

Simple Citrus

So. I take solace in the curve of an orange rind on a tea-stained ceramic plate. A simple mid-morning snack. A simple day, not much to do. That’s about all I can handle. Still, even then…

*       *       *

I don’t feel very grown-up, at all. I feel anxiety closing in on me, waking me in the morning and keeping me up at night. Pushing me away from the love of my life. I feel it growing inside of me, like some long-dormant monster I’ve been unintentionally nurturing all my adult life, awakened by the one-two-three punch of marriage-moving-IUD.

Sorry, no conclusion yet, Friends. Just field notes. Just feelings. Just trying to give an accurate reflection.

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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Things I Have Not Been Telling You

On a Windy Day

It’s not just adjusting to a new life, Friends. It is everything all at once. It is a new life, new country, new apartment, new job(s), new marriage and new definition of myself. Who is littlesarah, after all, without her friends? Without her family, or her coffee shop job, or her perfect apartment in the Avenues? Who am I in this Big World?

Better question: how am I coping? (Answer: not perfectly. Not as well as I had thought/hoped).

Historically, I have not dealt particularly well with Changes.Yet, as my mom so astutely pointed out, “I don’t know anyone who places themselves at the epicenter of change more than you.” (And I did appreciate that little earthquake reference).

So. What I’m trying to say is there are many reasons I’ve been distant, silent, cryptic, etc. But I’m back, and I want to let you know why I was gone and what’s been going on.

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Adjustments

Plane Trails Like Boat Wakes

So cold in the morning I can see ice crystals hovering mid-air.

I found it!

So cold in the kitchen that steam rises from freshly washed dishes drying on the rack.

Hip as Hell

Last week I was lying by the pool, not a thing to do. Seventy degrees and sunny in Palm Springs.

Spotted on a run, captured on a walk

This week I feel that I must get out of the house, do something, anything, everything I can, just to stave of the mounting panic. This week I feel trapped, like a nesting doll, inside layer upon layer of confinement. Trapped inside because of the cold. Trapped under a thick city-wide blanket of toxic smog. Trapped in a web of my own anxious thoughts. Etc.

 

 

Cold Snap

The coldest winter I can remember, and days when it snows are actually warmer. Sharp enough to kill a man

This is how we dress to go out, and suddenly everything is an adventure, like climbing Mt. Everest, except we are only going to a movie, or the grocery store.

It's difficult to look cool in winter

The world is transformed–magical under the fallen snow, or bitter and harsh as the air and ground freeze–but strange and unfamiliar, either way. Bird houses wear ridiculous hats.

Russian Tweets

I try to keep positive, but the inversion is getting to me, bringing inner darkness and a deep sense of unease. I’ve always prided myself on bravely facing Winter, booted and gloved, like a challenge, or a chance for me to prove my inner strength and character.

magic and ice

This year, I find myself wanting to curl in, tuck my feet up under myself, and implode.

Right Here, Right Now

~OR~

Early Morning, Hungover, Anxious, Can’t Sleep

~OR~

I Made Something for You

in Palm Springs

in Palm Springs

So I will go on writing poems
Even if you don’t
Hoping one day
You will find the little collection
I have made for you

And smile.

I will go on writing poems
Even if you don’t
Because I don’t really care
If you write poems

I just love to read you.

I will go on writing poems
(Even if you don’t)
For the same reason
I go for runs
or long walks
The same reason
I write letters
and blogs
The same reason
I play music
or laugh
or dance
or sing

For the same reason I get up in the morning:

I love you.