Monday, August 28, 2017

Counting Seconds

Once, when I was very young, my dad shook me awake in what seemed to me to be the dead of night.  I'm sure it was only about 8 o'clock or so, but to my sleep fogged mind it was midnight at least.  I don't remember everything about that night, but I do remember the disoriented fear that melted into relief when all was well.  He hadn't woken me up because something was wrong.  He had woken me so I could join the rest of the family as we watched a storm.

Thunder storms are rare in southern California.  Rare enough, at any rate, that I remember sitting in the living room in my sleep shirt, watching through the sliding glass doors, counting seconds between flashes of lightning and deep rumbles of thunder.

1...2...3...4...5...

It's not a scientifically sound way to tell how far a storm is, but it works as a rule of thumb.  

Thunderstorms are rare in Southern California, but they are decidedly un-rare in Nashville.  And so I find myself counting seconds an average of once a week.  

Sitting at my desk at work...1...2...3...4...5...

Cooking dinner in my apartment...1...2...3...4...5...

On the edge of sleep...1...2...3..4...5...

Listening to hear whether the storm is moving toward me or away, trying to guess how intense it will be when it's directly overhead.



Friday night I visited my Mimi in the hospital.  She had fallen a couple days earlier, had been stricken with pneumonia, and was gasping for breath.  We were told to see her if possible.  

So I did.

I glanced at the monitor showing her heart rate and breathing, looking for some sort of answer, some sort of clarity.  In an odd, sort of disconnected way, I noticed I was counting seconds once more, though this time with no real reason to do so. 

1...2...3...4...5...



She passed away yesterday morning.  

I am reminded, once again, that this part of grief - the beginning of the eternity that is grief - is a thunderstorm.  Something triggers - a smell, a song, a memory - and I start counting seconds, waiting for the boom of thunder, wondering whether the storm is moving toward me or away.

I hum a Dean Martin melody, and I remember when I was in ninth grade.  Mimi telling me that no, the song was wrong.  Being loved by someone doesn't make your life valid.  You are certainly already somebody before somebody loves you.

1...2...3...4...5...

Standing in my kitchen, remembering mealtimes with her, remembering that she may have told me not to get my hopes up when trying out a new recipe, but that she was also the first to sing my praises when it turned out well.

1...2...3...4...5...

Giggling during Pascha liturgy, laughing when we were absolutely not supposed to.  

Being SO MAD when she flew out to be with me after knee surgery, because she made me walk around the next day.  She made me pick up the project that had led to the injury.  She told me in no uncertain terms that the danger was not in the setback, but in the giving up. 

Learning that, "as a seamstress you rip what you sew," and not understanding the pun until far later.  

Looking up after a mistake or a setback to hear her say, "Oh well," before laughing about it.

1...2...3...4...5

Counting seconds.  Wondering whether the storm is moving toward me or away.  

Trying to guess how intense it will be when it is directly overhead.


One

Two

Three

Four

Five


With the saints give rest to the soul of Your servant, oh Lord, where there is no darkness, so sighing, so sorrow, but everlasting life.

And for our funeral song, we sing the song: Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.




Thursday, June 1, 2017

Thoughts from the Road

There's so much space.

Not in my car, mind you.  No, that is packed to the brim with as much of my life as I could fit in a VW Bug.  Just around.  There's space.   Space for imagination to roam.  Space for tall tales to grow.

Space.

I am not, and never will be, a desert dweller.  It's so dry - too dry.  But I have to admit that Disney certainly gets their landscapes right - I felt like I was driving through Cars.

The bugs on the windshield are a nice touch, don't you think?

210 miles into New Mexico every thought cleared from my mind except one:  What the actual f*** am I DOING???

Six miles later I thanked God and the sky for the torrent that expressed the sadness I couldn't.  On and on we drove, eastward, through all that space, cutting in and out of rainstorms as sudden and angry as my grief and fear.

I like the driving.  It's surprising, if I'm honest.  I wiggle and fidget and can hardly sit still at a desk, but driving hours on end seems to fit well.  I enjoy the sense of kinship I feel with other drivers, even the faceless long-haul truckers.  Especially the long-haul truckers.  I can identify them by their cabs, and I want to wave as we pass each other, following those unwritten rules of road etiquette.  Instead I just tap my thumb on my steering wheel and whisper, "You're doing great, girl," though whether I'm speaking to my car or myself I don't know.

I'm a terrible travel buddy, able to sit in silence for hours, listening to podcasts or music, or just caught up in my own thoughts.  What do I think about that conversation?  How different would that experience have been if I had acted on impulse instead of following whatever social script has been downloaded into my brain?  What will my job be like?  Do I already love my empty, little apartment?  (Yes.)  What are my characters doing?  When will I be able to let them soar again?  What will life be like in Nashville?

My mom doesn't mind the silence, either.  She says I'm the perfect travel companion.

I'm so glad she's here.

Every so often we pass a cross on the side of the road, and this is somehow a great comfort to me.  These odes to loved ones lost not only offer a reminder to be careful, but are evidence that we will never be forgotten.  After all, if a stranger moving her life from Santa Barbara to Nashville can see them and offer a silent prayer for the unknown, then how many others do the same when they pass?  In Orthodoxy we do not offer "Rest In Peace" as a wish for the dead, but rather, "Memory Eternal."  May his/her/their memory be eternal - everlasting - ongoing.  I feel as though, in the split second it takes to zoom past, the memory of these people is, indeed, eternal.

We are now over halfway to Nashville.  I haven't yet changed the clock in my car to central time.  I don't have it in me.  Not yet.  I am in between homes right now.  Once I'm there I'll make the change, but for now I'm appreciating that feeling of connection with my California tribe.

Amarillo smells like cow dung, and somehow this makes me sadder than I think I would be in another place.  The sad and tender part of me feels the smell as an insult, even though I normally wouldn't mind it.  Tomorrow we land in Little Rock, and I hope - oh, I hope! - it smells better than here.

 And then?  And then Nashville!  And then my sister, my brother-in-law, my four incredible and hugable nieces.  Friends and relatives and a church community, all already rooted, ready to make me feel like less of a transplant and more grounded.

And then the adventurous side of Steph will be bigger than the sad side.

Pray us there, friends.  Love to you all.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Me, My Anxiety, and I

Several months ago I wrote a post in which I promised I would talk about why I'm going to therapy: My anxiety.  It's taken 6 months for several reasons, two of which I feel I need to state here.

1. I don't want to give anyone the idea that I'm a big bundle of nerves all the time and am therefore not capable of doing anything, or that I need to be handled with kid gloves.  I am a bundle of nerves much of the time, but I am capable as shit.  And I promise you, the kid gloves only serve to make the anxiety worse.  Give me your authenticity - what you really think and feel and dream about and fear and hope for and can't abide by - give me something to connect to.  None of that will make me feel anxious.  I promise.

2. I feel gross using the phrase, "my anxiety."  Too often I've seen it used as a way people justify rudeness, flakiness, or just a general sense of discomfort.  I truly believe in removing the stigma - please, God, can we get rid of the mental health stigma?? - but seeing people flippantly say, "Oh, my gawd, I am so stressed I'm literally having a panic attack.  Literally." while standing in line at a coffee shop doesn't do much for the cause and makes me question the validity of using that language in my own life.

So, disclaimers presented, I guess I should  tell you a little about my experience as a fairly anxious person.  Here I go:




It's normal.

Guys.

My life?  It's a normal thing.  I'm a normal human.  (Well, maybe not completely normal, but my abnormality has less to do with anxiety and more to do with a goofy sense of humor and quirky view of the world.)

I go about my day and do my work and see my friends and family and laugh and cry and generally experience one or more anxiety episode a day.  I think of these as my "anxiety responses."  What am I responding to?  Any number of things, really.  I've started paying attention to my triggers, and have compiled a partial list for your entertainment.

A Not-At-All Comprehensive List of Things That Trigger An Anxiety Response in Stephanie
- Not getting enough sleep
- Eating sweets
- Eating some "healthy" foods (I'm lookin' at you, sweet potato)
- Not eating enough throughout the day
- My (very peaceful and gentle) alarm going off in the morning
- Slicing vegetables
- Making eye contact with another driver at an intersection
- Feeling unprepared for an upcoming event
- Feeling unprepared for a hypothetical event
- Having a busy schedule
- Having an open schedule
- Sitting at my desk at work
- Parking my car
- Coffee hour at church
- Walking in a large crowd
- Literally nothing at all

None of these items always causes an anxiety response!  They just do sometimes.  These are some of my general triggers.  Something happens (or doesn't) and the wave of anxiety hits.  I've learned to breathe through this experience, or to maybe take a nap or hit the gym.  It's certainly uncomfortable, but not debilitating.

Sometimes it feels like this.

Or maybe this.

Sometimes, though - sometimes it almost is debilitating.  Sometimes the wave of anxiety gets stuck in my chest.  Every so often I blow something from that list way out of proportion, or maybe more than one combine to make a SUPER RESPONSE that I can't seem to shake.  Or maybe something happens, something bad or good (like signing with an agent!) that trips my brain up enough that my body can't tell the difference between fear and excitement so I end up stuck in the anxiety cycle.  Or maybe - and this is the worst of all - maybe I find myself in a waiting season of life.

I am a doer.  I do.  And when I do, I do well.  I am confident and capable.  Powerful.

One could even say I'm super.

But when I've done all I can and am stuck waiting?  When I'm chained in the train yard when I should be powering along the tracks?  That's when the anxiety kicks in.  This anxiety:



This is the anxiety that shuts me down.  This is when my skin is electric, jolting not only me, but those near by.  This is when I don't want anyone to touch me, because even a pat on the shoulder might tear apart the tenuous grasp I have on myself, and I might actually explode.  This is the anxiety that makes me forget how to breathe.  It is the voice that tells me I will never be good enough.  That no matter what I do, it won't be enough.  It traps me in a loop, endlessly caught between the need to DO and the knowledge that it won't be enough.  I become a malfunctioning oscillating fan, clicking over and over again, unable to move to the next position.

Until I remind myself to breathe.

And breathe again.
Inhale.  Exhale.  Inhale.  Exhale.

And then I text my mom, or I walk through my office and find my dad, and I say to them, "I am feeling anxious about ________."

Suddenly the fist around my heart relaxes, and the knot in my chest loosens just enough.  I am okay again, at least until the next time it hits.

I'm learning, thankfully. I am discovering things that help.  Things like talking about it: telling someone, joking to the people at the gym about a workout being a good place to direct my anxiety, laughing at the fact that, "surprise, surprise, I'm anxious today."  It helps.  And so do a lot of other things.

Look!  I made another list!

A Not-At-All Comprehensive List of Things That Relieve Anxiety In Stephanie
- Talking to my parents
- Being with loved ones
- Public speaking
- Working out
- Eating a nutritious meal
- Taking a nap
- Laughing REALLY hard
- Roller coasters!
- Writing
- Talking to my therapist (duh!)
- Prayer/mediation
- Seeing people talk about things they really love
- Sitting at my grandma's graveside

See? Normal. Ish.

Friends, I am doing well - so freaking well - and I hope you can see that.  I hope you are doing well, too.  If you're not, well, drop me a line.  And maybe we can breathe together.


Sunday, January 29, 2017

"Here Is the List Of Jews You Require."

You know, usually I sit down at my computer with fully formed thoughts.  Maybe the post isn't formed in its entirety, but the major ideas are fleshed out.

Not tonight, though.  I can't think.  It's loud out there.  People are frightened and furious - and with good reason.  This most recent 'transfer of power' has been anything but peaceful, and the things being rolled out of the capitol are hurting people in a very real way.

I generally try not to post about politics because they elicit such a passionate response, and also because, like many Americans, I am not as informed as I should be.  (I'm not proud of that fact, but there it is.)  That's changing - partly because I'm somehow becoming a grown up, and partly because we now live in a world in which you have to actively try not to know about what's going on.

Do you know what's sad?  I've written three, not-very-expressive paragraphs, and I am already afraid to post this.  You see, I'm a people-pleaser.  I want people to feel encouraged and uplifted by what I share, and I'm sure some people I respect are probably mad at me for that second paragraph.  And other people I respect are probably upset over my third.  Even mentioning what's going on in our country right now is upsetting to people.  Some are angry about Trump, and what he's done.  Others are angry at those protesting.  "But look!" they shout.  "Other people have done this, that, and the other."

And you know what?  If you're saying that, you're right.  Obama did this.  Bush did that.  Clinton did the other.  That doesn't invalidate what's happening now.  Life doesn't work that way.

So I have to decide where I stand.  Amazingly, I may stand shoulder to shoulder with someone on one issue, but against them on another.  And that's okay.  I have to be able to look in the mirror and know that I am treating people - all people - with dignity and respect.

And with that in mind, I have a story to tell.

On September 9, 1943, Nazi forces landed on the Greek island of Zakynthos.  The Nazi commander went to the mayor of this island and demanded a list of the local Jews.  There was no secret as to what would happen to the people on such a list; they would be deported to death camps.  The mayor went to the local church leader, Metropolitan Dimitrios Chrysostomos, for help.  Chrysostomos went to the Nazi commander and tried to reason with him.  It was pointless.  The Nazi would not listen to reason.  He demanded the list.  So, Metropolitan Dimitrios did the only thing he could do.  He took a list from his pocket and handed over.  "Here is the list of Jews you require," he said.

There was one name on the list: Metropolitan Dimitrios Chrysostomos.

Here is the list of Jews you require.  It is a phrase that plays through my mind again and again, day after day, and it has become louder in the past week.  I am in awe - what a courageous thing!  And I am frightened - will I have the courage to do the same?

Make no mistake, I will be faced with this choice.  I am faced with this choice.  It's easy to look back at history and wonder what we would have done in that time.  Today, now, we are offered a rare gift: the ability to see that what we are doing now is what we would have done then.

I know thing are never as simple as we want them to be.  I know that there has to be some sort of protocol in place to ensure everyone's safety.  Turning away people who are fleeing the horrors of war, detaining people who have already worked so hard to find a better life - denying an entire swath of people entry into the 'Land of the Free' because of their religion - this can't be the way.

I don't have the answer.  I can only act the way I have been taught:

"'For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'
"Then the righteous will answer Him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?  When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you?  When did we see you sick or in prison and go visit you?'
"The King will reply, 'Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.'" -- Matthew 25: 35-40 (NIV)

I know these words aren't much - my words in this post, that is...Not the Lord's - that they are gentle where some would rather see strength, and soft where others prefer power.  I know.  I know some people are probably rolling their eyes because I am making the leap from what's happening now to the horrors of the Third Reich.  "That would never happen in America!" you say.  And I hope and pray you're right.  I believe you may be right.

But know this: when I am asked to hand over a list of names, I will take a deep breath, and - shaking, no doubt - offer my own name instead.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

New Year, New View

Happy New Year's Eve, friends!!

During this time of transition, as one year (finally) ticks into the next, our thoughts naturally turn toward change and growth. We talk about it with our friends and coworkers. Are you making any resolutions this year? We acknowledge that we should probably start eating better, drop a few pounds, quit smoking, save X amount of dollars, or some other such ideal, and we set a super ambitious goal. We may even map out a plan that we are determined to follow. We're amped up for the new year, and we can't wait to get started!

And then January 3rd rolls around.

We didn't make it into the gym, we ate outside our predetermined meal plan, we miscalculated our budget. We stepped off the track we set for ourselves. Discouraged and annoyed and guilty, we decide to just give up. We give in. We're done with those stupid resolutions – until next year, that is! It's a vicious cycle.

Or, "Sincerely, January 3rd."  Either way.

But maybe this year don't enter into it. Don't make a resolution. Set your intention instead. There's a difference there, folks. In making a resolution you set yourself up for discouragement. Resolutions are outcome oriented, and as such can easily connect our sense of success and value to a very specific result. Intention, on the other hand, is not connected to any outcome, but rather the way of being. With this in mind, I have spent the last few nights journaling. I reviewed 2016 and looked honestly at my hopes for the future, and I asked myself this question: What do I want 2017 to look like?

This applies to all areas of my life: family, social, love, career...everything. I jotted down some of my hopes for 2017. Some are major and specific (being published! a book deal!), and others are a little more general (“tasty food and healthy choices”). Rather than making a resolution to wake up every morning and write 1,000+ words, or to eat by a very specific diet, I asked myself how I wanted to go about achieving these things. How do I want to live this year?

Good ways to live here, friends.

I believe that typically, when asked these types of questions, the first word or phrase that comes to mind is what you should go with. This has been true for me in the past. I have set intentions to be independent, courageous, and – last year – purposeful. All of these words jumped to mind almost the exact instant I thought about setting my intention. This year, though, it took a few days. I let the question roll around in my mind and then, yesterday, I landed on it: Release.

It's a print!  Get it here.

My intention for 2017 is to basically live my life and see what happens. Rather than stress about how I am not achieving some resolution I pressured myself into, I am going to follow the things I love and consciously let go of trying to control the outcome. Here, from my journal, is what I'm hoping for in 2017:

But I am looking for release.
Release from fear.
Release from anxiety.
Release from perfection.
Release from the past.
Release from old ways.
Release – to give me the freedom to...live the life...set out for me.


I'm sure we're all eager for 2017 to hurry up and get here already, right? Let's make this year mindful and intentional. I would love to hear (or read) your intentions for 2017...share in the comments!

 Happy 2017!!


Sunday, December 25, 2016

In Which I am Overwhelmed by a Shirt...

So you may be wondering, "Who is Emily Rose? Which series is she in?"

It's a sensible question.

She's mine, friends. She's in the Light-Bearers Series, which is neither published nor even completed. My agent is pitching Emily's story to publishing houses, and while I am SO EXCITED that some editors have asked to read my manuscript I am also SO ANXIOUS because I can't do anything to make them take it. So I wait.

I work on the sequel to Book One. I plot and plan another project. I work not one, but two jobs. I go to church and choir rehearsal. I try to make time for a social life. I scrap and I save and I cobble together a living and I make sacrifices in order to write. I go to conferences instead of visiting friends, buying clothes, or going out very often. Because that's what you do to chase a dream. Sweat, blood, and tears, right? Oh, so many tears.

I get discouraged and disappointed.  And I get so tired.
SO. TIRED.

I tell myself that it's okay; what will be will be, and it's good that I have some distance from Book One, seeing as how I'll probably have to deal with editors passing on it. I start to wonder if maybe this book won't sell. I remind myself that this is the writer's life, the #writelife I tag on so many social media posts and photos.

And then --
Then I open a gift from my sister-in-law. I see my girl, my Emily Rose, sharing space with Frodo and Harry, and I make a sound that frightens me. I double over in tears, completely overwhelmed by emotion. Even as I am crouched crying, holding a white t-shirt in my hand, I know that my family is worried....even the Littles got quiet. All I can do is lay the shirt out so they can read it.

Mom cries, too. As do Sisters, and probably Dad, too. I am reminded that no matter how solitary the writer's path seems, I am not alone. I am reminded of how much my stories mean to me, and am given a hint of how much they may someday mean to others.

It's amazing. Sometimes the simplest things - like a white t-shirt - can hold an ocean of meaning.

Here's hoping you and yours have a wonderful day, friends. I hope that you, too, are gifted with reminders that your sacrifices are worth it.

Much love and Merry Christmas to you,

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Beast.

I've recently started seeing a therapist.

As an aside, I would recommend this to anyone everyone.  We can all benefit from speaking to a professional, even if just for one session.

I've been going to therapy for a few weeks now, due (in large part) to my anxiety.  I promise there's an anxiety blog post coming.  I just have to slog through some things before I can get there.

Yesterday my therapist and I were talking about romantic relationships and, more specifically, my fears surrounding them.  He asked me to identify something inside me that feels that fear.  Some people, he said, feel like there is a younger version of themselves, which suddenly rises up, hurting and angry, triggered by some sort of hurt/rejection/disappointment/whatever.  He wondered if I ever experience anything like that.

Folks, I knew what he meant by a "younger self."  More often than I like, I have had to talk to my 8th grade self.  When someone tries to cross boundaries I've set, 8th Grade Steph suddenly remembers what it was like to have boundaries crossed by a teacher.

(NOTE: This person no longer teaches.  Also, while there was no "officially" inappropriate touching in a sexual sense, there was a definite discomfort and ambiguity in his touch.  Also, I think hitting someone in the stomach and telling her to, "suck it in" on a daily basis counts as inappropriate touch.  Don't you?)

When this happens, when she rears up, I let my mind travel deep inside me and I meet 8th Grade Steph.  I wrap her tightly to me, the way I do to Little Sis when she looks angry or hurt or sad.  I hug 8th Grade Steph to me and tell her that I know, and that she is safe.  I ask her to forgive me for not taking better care of her, and I tell her that I have incredible grace and compassion for her.  I remind her that she was in eighth grade.  Of course it was confusing, and of course she didn't want to get herself, or anyone else, in trouble.  I know.

So you see, I knew what my therapist meant when he asked that question.  But 8th Grade Steph didn't come to mind yesterday.  Neither did 3rd Grade Steph, or Kindergarten Steph, or any other Steph.  What came to mind was the memory of a statement I made to Mary about 4 or 5 years ago:

Mary and I sat outside Starbucks as I cried about my relationship insecurities.  I summed it up by quoting one of my favorite movies.

"For who," I asked, "could ever learn to love a Beast?"



Ouch.

Now, I know my friends and family who read this are eager to tell me that they love me.  They'll feel the urge to inform me that I am not a Beast.  To them - to you - I say, "I KNOW."

I know that I am not a Beast (excepting, of course, the times I'm in total beast mode at the gym.)  And, to be perfectly honest, I'm embarrassed to admit I have ever felt this way about myself.  I wouldn't claim I feel this way now.  It's not an open wound; it's a scar, albeit a relatively recent and still tender one.

But I am afraid of that place in my past because it hurt so much.  I don't want to go back there, and in therapy I realized that I am afraid of relationships because I am afraid they'll send me back.

And, more importantly, I am worried by the fear, because the fear, I think, implies that it's possible to go back.  Which, in turn, makes me wonder if there is still a part of me that thinks so poorly of myself.

Of course, as is often the case, we stumbled upon this breakthrough? discovery? thought? with five minutes left of my session.

I left the therapist's office with a lot on my mind.  Where, I wondered, did this thought come from?  I have a few theories (being an overweight child/adolescent/adult with frizzy red hair that has garnered a lot of teasing comes to mind).  But more importantly, How can I remind myself that I'm not Beastly?  How can I recognize the Beauty within me?

So that's where I am.  Fun, right?

I think it comes down to self-care, self-love, and self-trust.  Which is not, as some may say, synonymous with selfishness, narcissism, and pride.  No.


It means recognizing my worth and not jeopardizing my mental/spiritual/emotional/physical health so as to be sure I don't make waves or cause others to feel uncomfortable.
It means treating myself kindly.
It means filling myself up with things that make me feel beautiful - sparkly, even.

Lots of ideas have danced through my mind.  Some are simple and straightforward, others are complex and out of my comfort zone.  Some will be done.  Others may not.  We'll see.

For now, in a terrifying turn, it means sharing one of my deepest hurts with the world.  It means trusting that you won't look at me with pity or disdain, but that you'll look at me the way you always have.  Like I'm Steph.

Because I am.