Spring in the Chi.
Procrastination is the devil. I have put off reorganizing my music for a few years and today I finally bit the bullet and hooked up the external hard drive to my computer. It was overwhelming. It took a few hours. I had to listen to some songs individually (as in “who is this and how did it end up here?”). In the end, I deleted over 100 albums. It sounds like a lot. It’s not. I have 900 albums left. NINE HUNDRED. All that time and energy (and money) put into my music collection was so much more important in my twenties and early thirties. Now, I can listen to the same stuff over and over again. My favorites will always be my favorites. New stuff is always welcome but what the hell was I doing with Victoria Beckham’s solo album? Exactly. Todays slash and burn mostly consisted of music that was gifted to me by others or purchased during fever dream blackouts.
The Black Eyed Peas, with all due respect, are not my thing. A former coworker gave me their music after my husband died thinking it would cheer me up. It did not. What it did do was instill in me a sense of amazement that a ‘group’ could make multiple albums off of essentially one song. Fascinating. Another one that bit the dust was the music of the Foo Fighters. My sister gave me several of their albums and it just never sat well with me. It’s like trying a restaurant everyone raves about and getting the blandest meal of your life. I don’t get the fever of the Foo. I hope I never do. There was a few Lollapalooza compilations that were never listened to, several U2 albums that made me question what sort of poisoned water I was drinking in the late 90’s, and the atrocious Black Keys. They sneaked into the collection during a musical exchange with a few cousins. Every single time a song of theirs came on, I cocked my head like a curious puppy and wondered what sort of shitty recording studio Jack White was using and then it would hit me that it was the shit ass Black Keys. Rip off artists extraordinaire.
That was the bad. The good is overwhelmingly so. Reassuring, actually. So much good music that I don’t know how I’m going to get around to listening to all of it with the ten-year-old. I’ve been indoctrinating him since birth with good tunes, and with me, it’s never just about pressing play. There is a history behind every musical effort. There is meaning in lyrics. There is beauty in melody. There is intention in styling. There is ALWAYS a small lecture from me before I play a significant album. “Just play the music!” he’s said more than once, and I press play and try my best to stay quiet. For example, you can’t listen to Sergeant Pepper before you explain The Beach Boys and Beatles rivalry/respect dynamic. It’s all intertwined!
The Roots’ music is a gift that keeps on giving. Bob Dylan is a master but not live, I don’t like the way he changes the songs up in his live settings. Ani DiFranco is a gem, Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica bends my mind to this day, and my buddy Serge Gainsbourg still entices my hips to sway and google all the double entendres of his lyrics. Serge’s daughter Charlotte’s whispery melodies enhance the gloomiest day, Tupac shines no matter what time/place/frame of mind. I am a total music snob but the preteen in me gets weak in the knees for cheesy pop music. My heart stops when I hear David Bowie, PJ Harvey, Led Zeppelin, The White Stripes, Jay-Z, White Mystery, ATCQ, High on Fire, Jeff Buckley, Peaches, Jimi Hendrix, Thee Oh Sees, Mazzy Star, NWA, early Kanye, The Kills, Patti Smith, Lorde, Robert Johnson, Kylie Minogue, Prince, Madonna, Sleep, the list goes on and on. Memories of places, experiences, and moments frozen in time flash through my mind whenever a good song comes on. Good music is addicting. I am by no means an expert, a total neophyte compared to some true enthusiasts I've had the pleasure of meeting. But this collection means a lot to me. Three cheers to the nine hundred that made the cut. Long may they rock!
Bixby Bridge. Big Sur, California.
Self portrait. San Francisco. 2011.
The new year is here and it has brought a viral mess to my home. I felt it coming on earlier today at work and as soon as I got home, I crashed. One epic nap later, I've loaded up on every possible vitamin, tea, cough drop, and essential oil. I can't smell but I'm sure my space stinks like snot and eucalyptus. ATCQ accompanies my viral destruction mode. The album is bliss, the song title apropos. Q-tip, feel free to come by and chill for a bit.
Oh, that feeling. A terrible, body-filling, uneasiness accompanied by a total loss of control. It can be triggered in so many different ways but the effect is always the same. Nervousness, worry, panic, sweat, tears- there are so many awful combinations of ways to experience it. It is overwhelming and omnipotent. It feels inescapable. Narrows your vision. Speeds up your heart. Quickens your breath. Releases a million thoughts at once. Unshakeable. Alienating. Feeling like your world is crashing around you.
My first bouts of anxiety started in 2006. I was pregnant. My husband was dying of cancer. A foolproof recipe for anxiety, really. It got so bad I would have full on panic attacks in my third trimester. Usually, while I was driving. Even though I’m in the medical field, I had no idea what was happening to me. My worry would spiral out of control, and I would start to get short of breath. My heart felt like it would pound right out of my chest. Because of my pregnancy, my doctor was appropriately reluctant to prescribe me any medication. So, I would do my best at visualization exercises, breathing techniques, prenatal yoga poses (until I got too big for those). It was a challenge, to say the least.
After the kiddo was born and the husband died, I became an expert at sublimating my feelings and having them explode elsewhere. A real treat, let me tell you! The anxiety didn’t go away, the panic attacks were frequent, but the medication prescribed to me made me extremely emotional and tired all the time. I stopped taking the benzodiazepines almost as soon as I started. Having mood swings on top of panic attacks made things worse. It created an awful mental haze and I didn’t feel like myself. I smoked cannabis on occasion and while that would help, I didn’t like the super stoned feeling that came along with the decrease in anxiety. There seemed to be no good way to deal with it.
A few years later, when I thought my brain and heart would explode from the stress of my trauma, I finally went to see a therapist. She was instrumental in guiding me out of the woods. I saw her for two years and did a lot of heavy emotional hitting- going way back to my childhood traumas. I did a lot of coping exercises, faced many ugly facts about myself, and changed my diet and lifestyle. My panic attacks subsided but I had developed a bad case of social anxiety. The thought of going to a public place would send me down the road of bad thoughts and a severely heightened physical state. It was crazy, I would have to talk myself down before going grocery shopping!
My family doctor ran some tests and figured out my cortisol levels were through the roof. “Well, it makes sense to me that you have post traumatic stress disorder after everything you’ve been through.” Wait, what? “I thought PTSD was for soldiers of war,” I replied and she kindly informed me that, yes, soldiers do suffer from PTSD but they account for a percentage of total cases. The rest was everyday folks like me, enduring physical, emotional, and psychological traumas. I was floored. She didn’t prescribe anything to me, as a functional medicine doctor she looks into the why something is happening instead of just slapping a band-aid on it. So, B vitamins, Ashwagandha, L-theanine (an amino acid), and Basil were recommended as supplements along with physical activity and meditation.
Things were ok for a few years but I avoided social situations whenever possible. I’m mostly introverted so not going out is actually ok for me. I like to read, watch movies, spend time at home. For a short time after my husband died, I ventured out to avoid being home alone and that just created more misery. Staying in allowed me to create a bubble for myself in which I functioned. Any major excursions required hours of mental preparation, stressful internal debates about leaving the house, copious amounts of sweat and irrational thought, followed by emotional exhaustion before ever leaving the house.
Then I met my Man. He wasn’t a boyfriend yet, he was just a guy I met online and ostensibly clicked with. Before our first date, I bitched to my best friend that I had to meet him at a Starbucks and she had to keep yelling “It’s just Starbucks!” at me to realize, well, it was just a date at Starbucks. The social anxiety didn’t go away, it actually got worse because I was dating an extrovert. The first time he saw my full-on panic was on our way to C2E2, which is like Comic-Con, in Chicago. He didn’t understand it then, but he has come to understand it now. He never took it personally although he certainly could have at any time. I can’t avoid doing ALL social things as a couple so it forced me to really dive deep and hit the anxiety root causes head-on. Why am I feeling this way? Where is this coming from? What am I afraid of? A lot of muck floats up to the surface when you go deep sea diving in your own psyche. It’s not fun.
But, I did it. I read and read and read and did trauma release exercises and forgave people and avoided negativity and took my supplements and did visualization exercises and yoga and lifted weights and occasionally screamed. A good violent scream once in a while (when no one is around) cleanses the soul. Try it! I don’t abuse drugs of any kind or use alcohol as a crutch (there’s a lot of you out there doing this, it’s not cool). I am now to a point where I still get about 40% of the feelings I used to. Most of it happens as I get ready for a social event or if I’m going to be in a new environment or situation. I take my supplements and look at myself in the mirror and breathe. I tell myself that spiraling thoughts are self-defeating, not self-supporting. I tell myself I’m gonna be ok. I think about the feelings and why I’m having them- is the social situation a desirable one? If Yes, ok, how can I convert the anxiety into excitement? If No, then why am I doing it? I always have a choice. Always. Even when it seems like I don’t have one, it is there. Acknowledging this forces me to be accountable for my actions. That my emotions are valid but my actions from said emotions have consequences.
Now, if I sound preachy or holier than thou, I don’t mean to. I am not a perfect person. I am impatient and sometimes a complete asshole. I can provide references, trust me. With that said, it doesn’t help me or my family to sink into an anxiety-ridden state. It’s still there, it probably always will be, but it’s like being in the ocean and choosing to keep my boat floating or say fuck it and let it capsize in the waves. Keeping myself afloat over the anxiety involves being good to myself which I don’t feel like I deserve all the time. Some days are easier than others. Some days the anxiety takes over and I have to start from square one. Some days I’m like WHAT ANXIETY? Some days I resent others for using social anxiety as an excuse for their own poor manners and selfish actions. It’s not an excuse. It’s a reason to figure out why you’re feeling the way you’re feeling. Your body is literally screaming at you and it's a chance for you to listen to it. Sometimes I expect others to possess a shred of self-awareness. And a modicum of personal strength. Sometimes my expectations bite me in my ass.
That happened the other night. I expected an adult to act accordingly. The Man and I were on a double date. The couple we met up with was familiar to my man but not to me. He had spent some time with both of them, socially and privately, and thought introducing me to the group would be a positive experience for all of us. We made plans to meet in late December. In the weeks leading up to the meeting, I did not freak out. I had moments of spiraling thoughts and then cut them off at the knees. It was drinks and conversation at a minimum. I could handle that! I looked forward to it, especially since we planned a whole day in the city around it. All four of us group chatted, shared a few laughs and anxieties but all seemed to look forward to meeting in person.
The actual day was great. Discount furniture browsing, window shopping, dinner with family, it was a fantastic end to 2017. Being the eve of the eve, traffic wasn’t crazy and places weren’t jam-packed with people. An unorthodox Saturday night in the city to say the least. We showed a bit early. They were staying at the hotel that housed the bar so they met us a few minutes later. Everything I heard about W, the female, was contradicted the moment she sat down. My Man said she was a good conversationalist, yet in real life, she was extremely reticent. E, her partner, a handsome and kind man sat next to me but I spent most of my time focused on engaging W. It might seem odd but I can come across as intimidating (for a variety of reasons, the anxiety doesn’t help) and I didn’t want to create a bad first impression.
So, I tried. I wasn’t pushy, I wasn’t overly inquisitive, I flattered without kissing ass, I asked a few benign open-ended questions, I made polite jokes (that fell flat), I didn’t drink a lot, I didn’t talk about myself a lot, I genuinely wanted to get to know this woman a little bit. Nothing worked. Looking back, I realize she shut herself down before she even entered the bar. Quickly downing three very stiff drinks, she excused herself to the bathroom. E leaned over to me after she left and explained that “W has social anxiety”. “Yeah, so do I,” was my reply. My Man nodded in agreement. E proceeded to tell me how bad W’s social anxiety was. I responded with empathy, and that I had my own fears because I was a stranger to everyone. It wasn’t a competition, of course, but I felt like if I expressed my own fears and anxieties, it would help the situation. Level the playing field. My impression of W going into the evening was what my Man had related to me- good conversationalist, positive, extroverted, assertive, demonstrative, and eager. All these traits he discovered during a very similar situation- at a quiet bar during a snowy city night. The second time he met her she was equally as effusive and demonstrative. So, naturally, I was confused. When she returned from the bathroom she was near tears. More internal confusion. My mind was reeling! A few minutes later, E had excused himself to the restroom and I sincerely asked W if there was anything I could do. A few nonsensical sentence fragments sputtered forth but she didn’t even look at me. I ever so gently attempted to elicit an answer to no avail. I was at a loss.
As we left that evening, I became increasingly angry. First of all, I wasted precious time from my own life. A last minute text from them indicating a change of heart would have been totally cool. A brief appearance with a polite excuse also acceptable. Emily Post provides several ways to excuse yourself from a social event without being a dick. I get it! I’ve changed my mind about things before. W's blatant rudeness jarred both of us. Secondly, it felt like she used social anxiety as an excuse. She very well may have been anxious upon meeting my Man in November but her actions a few nights ago were so contradictory to her previous behavior that it made me think that more was at play. Perfectly understandable and acceptable. We all have a lot of balls in the air at one time and may present ourselves in various ways as a result. But it’s not ok to blame everything on one thing- that I also suffer from and could potentially relate to- and decide to end all communication. It’s also not ok to act like a colossal jerk. She shut down and shut everyone, including her partner, out. It was the single most awkward social situation I have ever been involved in. The Man and I were very relieved to head home.
The old me would have taken her emotional shut down personally. I would have found reasons faulting myself for W’s actions. It would have really fucked me up and triggered a panic attack. I probably would not have been kind to her. The now me wonders if I ever had such a public meltdown when I was in the deep end of my anxiety. I’m still so confused by W's choice of actions. I probably will be for a while, and I’ll mentally examine all the angles a million times in my head. But I don’t blame myself for it. I'm a stranger to her. There's no way I'm responsible for her choices. It was embarrassing to see her that way, especially after the kind words my Man had in regards to their previous encounters. I hope W figures out ways to deal with her anxiety issues and whatever else is troubling her. Truly. Here’s to a new year free from anxiety. A new year free from assholery. But let’s all be accountable, shall we? And kind. Life’s too short to be a selfish jackass.
A Christmas gift from my lovely soon-to-be Mother-In-Law. A lemon tree.
(Now I just have to wipe the leaves, water it regularly, google everything about it, and cross my fingers I won't kill another plant. Wish me luck.)