Monday, 26 November 2018

Sleepless nights: racing thoughts and looming questions?

I hate those long sleepless nights; those dark nights where your thoughts prey on you.  Every time that your head hits the pillow your heart races and those dark thoughts crawl out.  Those dark thoughts that hide in the dark corners of your mind, lying in wait til you turn off the lights, then they come slinking out.

I've been dwelling with them so often lately that I've come to categorize these dark thoughts into two distinct types.  Of late I've had two different types of sleepless nights.  Perhaps the best way to explain them is to describe all these dark thoughts as insects.

The first type of sleepless nights is what I'll call chaotic ant style.   These are the nights where you turn off the lights and a million tiny questions that have been hiding in the corners of your mind run out and race around.  Your heart races and thousands of questions run across your mind, hurrying in and scurrying out.  Barely giving you time to even answer the question for yourself, you are just subject to the barrage of thousands of questions running around you now that the lights are out.  It's overwhelming, your heart races at the sheer number of things you've been pushing back into the corners to deal with later.  You can't sleep.  The questions are not friendly, but they are not weighty.  They run around your mind the way that a mass of ants runs around after it's line has been disturbed.  A nice little train of thought in the daylight, the second the light goes off you've wiped your hand across the ant line and chaos ensues.  All the little questions you were ignoring or putting off til later run around frantically and confused, not sure where they belong or how to get back to normal.  By themselves each question is harmless but in such numbers, the situation is overwhelming. You panic.  The questions run around your mind panicked.  You don't sleep.  It could end there or the tiny questions could get nastier and start to bite you. Who knows what is in store for you on chaotic ant style sleepless nights.

The second type of sleepless night is very different and I'll call it looming spider style.  This type of night is usually dominated by one looming question.  It has hidden deep in a web in the corner of your mind.  You know it has to be in there somewhere but you haven't seen it.  It doesn't just get frantic when the lights go out the way that ant style thoughts do.  No, no.  This is much more sinister.  This question is the big ugly kind.  It hides in the day because you're actually afraid to ask it.  You don't want to know the answer because of the three possible options for answers.  You've tried not to think about it because you know the answer to this dark question is either bad or worse.  Despite your attempts to not think about it you've come up with roughly three possible Tenille answers to this looming question.  But at night, you discover it has more legs.  More ugly ways this question could be answered.  This questions fears discovery.  It preys on your mind in the darkness.  Slowly.  Methodically.  This is less of the heart-pounding overwhelming problem and more of the lie awake, cry, or be forced to get up and beat back that question with light and activity.  I have a few of these looming spiders I'm afraid to say.  One of them is named How.  He creeps out whenever there is a tricky situation that I don't know how to deal with.  How lurks around when I'm trying to figure out how to mend a relationship or how to get out of a jam.  He is often accompanied by his buddy What.  He lurks around with "What just happened?" and "what should I do about this?" situations.  Sometimes How and What creep around together, sometimes one comes out and then trades places with the other. 

But the looming spider I'm most afraid of is bigger and uglier than that.  He likes to wait til it's extra late and I'm extra tired and he looms over my bed.  His name is Why.  I fear him and he knows it.  He is the biggest, the ugliest and the as yet undefeated monster of my sleepless nights. For those of you who like Lord of the Rings, think of Shelob the spider.  The only respite from the looming Why is on nights where it has already fed before I try to sleep.

Don't get me wrong there are some facts that keep me up at night.  Not everything that makes me bleary-eyed and cross in the morning is a question.  But it seems that facts and darker realities can be met with some amount of peace and acceptance.  It is the questions that truly haunt me when the lights go out and the questions that rob me of my rest.

Monday, 5 November 2018

Therapy might just be therapeutic... who knew?

Today I went to my first ever therapy session with a psychologist.  Don't worry, I'm not going to air my dirty laundry here.  I just want to muse over the idea of visiting a therapist.  I found it an interesting experience and I would like to consider it as a thing unto itself.

I have to admit that I was nervous to go there and share my story, or rather all the stories that add up to my story.  I mean, I know it's a psychologist's job to be supportive and non-judgemental, but my experience with people is that they aren't always what they are meant to be.  So, how can you trust them with some of your darkest thoughts and closest guarded feelings?

Well, I mean, it helps that you can tell that this person was genuinely listening.  You can tell when people are distracted or don't really care.  Or perhaps worse is when you are going through something and someone points out to you that it could be worse.  They invalidate your pain, your struggle, your suffering.  It's not about how it could have been worse or how somebody else has gone through worse.  Your pain is real and it's your pain to deal with.

Perhaps that was the most surprising part of this for me.  I sort of expected the therapist to be professional but more distant.  I expected them to calmly and matter of factly tell me that what I was dealing with wasn't that bad and could be dealt with.  What I did not expect was for the psychologist to close their eyes like they were suffering on my behalf.  What I expected less was for them to explain to me that layers and layers of trauma were informing some of my outlook on the world.


That sounds like a harsh word.  But honestly using the word trauma was freeing.  It made me feel like I was allowed to be as crushed and upset as I am by what I've been through.  I don't have to compare or stand next to a measurement and be found wanting on a scale of who has dealt with the worst things in life.  It is irrelevant how many worse things could have been done to me.  The only thing that is relevant is how the trauma, my particular trauma, has left scars and what to do with it now.

In a way, acknowledging that my pain is real, was the kindest thing anyone could do.  And letting me know that it really is hard to sort through these things is in a strange way a reassurance too.  It means that if you struggle to fix it on your own it's not because you're broken.  It's because some things are too big to be dealt with alone.  And that's not some failing on your part.  If it was as simple as do x, y, and z, you would have done it already.

So, I very stereotypically cried through a majority of this, the very first session.  But it was cathartic in a way.  It felt more productive than the times I've cried over these traumas with friends.  Maybe because I was allowed to be completely and unabashedly traumatised by them instead of trying to keep it together and present a strong side so as not to worry anyone. 

So, I hope that seeing this professional will help me deal with my trauma going forward and help me reclaim my life a little bit.  I refuse to let past trauma and fear rule who I am today and in the future.  I don't know if this resonates with anyone but that has been my experience today.

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Hello, Handbasket!

Today I find myself concerned because I have stopped for a second, looked around and realized I'm sitting in a handbasket.  Yes, this is a metaphor.  And when you are sitting in a metaphorical handbasket you know what your ultimate destination is going to be.  If you don't, I applaud you and I would appreciate life advice.

Now, in the moment of inevitable re-evaluation that this sort of handbasket sitting causes, I thought about how I had arrived in the center of this particular handbasket.  Life has a strange way of wending around like a lazy river.  It takes its own time, bending here and swirling there.  Moving in a muddled way that can take a distracted traveler by surprise.  One moment you've put into the river in a canoe, knowing exactly what direction you are headed.  The next while you take a moment to admire the scenery, you realize that you are suddenly in the eddy of an oxbow facing entirely the opposite direction from the one you expected and your canoe has magically turned itself into a handbasket.

At moments like this, I like to assess my life and try to figure out which bend in the river has put me in this precise handbasket.  So, I looked around at a few of my fellow travelers.  A few of them looked shocked as though they'd been newly apprised of our destination.  A couple of them looked grim as though they'd known about our dire situation for a long time but seen no way out of the inevitable.  Not a one of us was entirely sure how the river of life had turned us around and spit us out into this handbasket on the highway to... well, you know.

Hindsight has proven the few souls that bailed earlier to be the wiser travelers on this path.  Alas, I was not so wise as they.  I have only now seen the handwriting on the road signs.  So here we are, a sad group of somewhat more or less shocked travelers in a handbasket speeding down the highway.  I gape as we roar past another group of people along the side of the road feverishly bent over their wickerwork; weaving a new handbasket for their own impending journey.  That's when I realized that not a single fellow traveler was arguing about whether we were, in fact, on our way to H*ll with impressive speed, we were merely quibbling about the ETA.

The way things have gone today, I think it might be wise to invest in wicker.

Saturday, 17 June 2017

On Talking to Dogs and Dads

After years of living with dogs, I have observed that they are very similar to my Dad in a few too many ways.  One of the most notable ways is how it's best to communicate with them.

First, you must address them by their name.  Dad, Boys, Rocky, etc.  This is so that they know that you are talking to them and not the wall.  So that they know you aren't talking aloud in an effort to amuse yourself by composing poetry to the void.

Second, you must use short, simple, single-word verbal commands.  Nothing too complicated or the words might lose potency and begin to sound like more poetry to the void.

For instance, you say, "Boys, stay" so the dogs know that whatever happens next they aren't supposed to move.  Or you say, "Dad, look" so he knows the paper you are waving in his direction is meant for his inspection.

Now, over the years, I've taught my Dad and dogs some unusual commands.  I've taught my dogs the command "Boys, smell," which means that they are allowed to smell but not eat any item I am about to present to them.  And my Dad I have taught "Dad, volume," so that he knows to turn the volume down or up on the TV if it's not correct.

But it's important to remember that all dogs and Dads have limitations.  There will be some tricks that you simply cannot train your dogs or Dad to do.  My Dad cannot be trained to put a twist tie around the garbage bag if he takes it out.  My dogs cannot be trained to not chase the cat when she runs.

There is always the chance that they will forget old commands when they are too excited to focus.  Intense sports may make Dad forget what volume even means for a second or two and the presence of a leash will make my dogs forget what sit means.

But a well-trained dog is not perfect, just one that tries hard to please.  A good and well-trained dog sometimes remembers the right commands, but always remembers that love comes first and the rest is simply not that important.  The same goes for Dads.  Nobody is perfect but love makes all the difference.

With Love to my Dad and all my dogs.

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

The Ghost of Valentine's Past

Every year the populace at large seems to gear up with excessive cheer for the holiday of Valentine's Day.  Hearts spring up everywhere.  Paper ones festoon the ceilings and windows of shops and homes.  Holiday cheer is found on every corner.  Pink blossoms in the most unlikely places and everyone bustles around talking of love and making dinner reservations for their loved ones.

And I, well, I am the Valentine Scrooge.  I mutter "bah humbug" at the sudden red tide sweeping through clothing departments.  I curse "rubbish" under my breath at the hearts on everything from cups, to teddy bears.  Cards of every variety are covered in red, pink and glittery horror declaring love, lust and a few other sentiments deemed appropriate for the holiday.  NO store or place is safe.  Red and pink flowers can be found at the garden nursery entrance.  Romance novels accost you at the entrance of the bookstore.  But worst of all is Home Depot.  HOME DEPOT!  Even the bastion of practical, get things done, down to earth type of active sensibilities is not safe from the dreaded holiday.

So, after grumbling my way past all of this blush coloured fervor I made it home.  And then as I fell asleep exhausted from the overwhelming assault of pink and red on my senses I wondered if maybe I was too harsh on the holiday.  Is Valentine's Day really so bad?  Maybe I'm just as bitter as they say.

The clock strikes midnight and I find myself unaccountably awakened by a presence.  Somehow I know it is St. Valentine.  It is probably the birds and roses that surround him that gave him away.

"St. Valentine," I begin "Am I hopelessly bitter like they all say?  And why do you have a rooster with you?"  I'm eminently practical even in my dreams you see.

"Ah, well, that's just one of my attributes." He says helpfully.  "But I've come to warn you about this holiday of mine."

"But why are you trying to help me?  Aren't you supposed to be busy taking care of couples in love?  You do know I'm single right?"

"I am the patron Saint of affianced couples, true.  But I am also the patron Saint of beekeepers, fainting, greetings, travellers, and plague.  You don't happen to keep bees, do you?"

"Um, no, I don't have any bees.  Wait, did you say plague?"

"I am here to warn you that you will be visited by the Ghost of Valentine's Past and urge you to listen to his warnings."

"Hold on, is this a Christmas Carol joke?  I don't want to appear ungrateful but I think you might be a bit early, you know, have the wrong holiday or some such thing."

"Listen to the warnings of the Ghost of Valentine's Past,"  He says eerily while he fades out of sight.
"Right that was odd," I say aloud to remind myself I am sane and dreaming.  I breathe deeply to calm my nerves, friendly or no, seeing apparitions is an unsettling business.  I notice the hint of rose fragrance growing stronger again and see St. Valentine beginning to reappear.

"Oh dear," he says confusedly "I always forget that part.  I am the Ghost of Valentine's Past.  How awkward.  Terribly sorry about all that fading in and out business.  Let's start, shall we?"

Without waiting for my brain to even process the whole turn of events St. Valentine grabs my hand and we fall upward it would seem into a mist that feels familiar and heavy and very far away all at once.  I'm a reader and I have realized that we are going to view my past Valentine's Day.  My only guess is as to the lesson that will follow.

We stop outside my old home in Phoenix where I am making Valentine cards with my mother and brother.  Happy hours spent in the company of people I love dearly, laughing and creating beauty out of little bits of this and that.  Eating chocolate that my father brought me and admiring the flowers he brought for mother I have an overwhelming sense of peace watching this scene from my memories.

St. Valentine sighs. "That is what it is all about.  Love."

Then we are flying through the fog again and we reach another time.  This time I am in a dark paneled room studying quietly for exams.  A few college friends bound in and find me caught up in my studies.  I cringe in anticipation of what is coming.  I had forgotten it was Valentine's Day and I was about to be mocked for wearing black.

"This is the first time they mocked you for being bitter about love," says St. Valentine.  "Ironically, this is not loving and may be the start of your real bitterness."

"I had just forgotten what day it was." I try to explain but the fog is closing in as the laughter fades away.

Then we whiz forward to a time I'd rather never visit again.  Except, I knew it was coming.  It starts well enough as St. Valentine and I stand in the balcony at the opera house where a friend and I are watching Madame Butterfly, both of us dressed up and having a fantastic time.  However, St. Valentine and I already know where this evening ends.  I smile ruefully with the knowledge of things to come.  Back at home, my drunk housemate arrives.  He tries to corner me in the stairs and I shudder in memory as I watch myself get away and flee up the stairs with a pounding heart.  The lock on the door did nothing to reassure me, then or now.  So many nervous moments and sleepless nights after that.

"I just had no idea they'd ever use my name to get drunk like this," says St. Valentine with as much horror as I felt.  "To think that my holiday is causing so much depression and drinking that it leads to THIS."  We both shudder and then move forward to the most recent Valentine's Day.

The fog is lightest of all here, for this is the current day.

"Aren't you supposed to let another ghost take over now?" I question mildly.

"Oh, well, there really aren't any others for this sort of thing.  And if you consider that this day really is over, well... I think as a past Valentine it can reasonably be said to fall within my purview."  He smiles clearly feeling triumphant.  "It is my holiday, after all."

So we watch the last portions of this Valentine's Day unfold.  Leaving the office rather late, I find a car too close to my car on the nearly deserted street.  Two men paying too much attention to my car for comfort are outside of the vehicle.  I recall, with visceral force, the fear that suddenly entered my body at this point.  St. Valentine and I watch as I pretend more calm than I feel and I return at a sedate pace to the office where I waited for them to leave.  My imagination is still running rampant from this latest episode.

"What were they doing anyway?" I feel the need to know.  Hoping to find out that they were security guards concerned about my safety rather than two large men planning terrible things for me.

"Oh, that.  I'm not sure honestly.  I'm just supposed to show you the past Valentine's so you can learn from them."

"Ok, ok.  I understand what you are saying.  There is no denying I'm bitter about this holiday.  But, you've seen my reasons why.  I don't hate love.  I'm not bitter about my relationship status.  I just want to feel safe and be allowed to hate pink like I do every other day of the year.  What am I supposed to do to overcome this bitterness, Valentine?  Wear pink?  Make Valentine cards for everyone?"

"NO.  You've missed the point entirely.  Love is what is missing from all these recent Valentine's days.  Tell your parents you love them.  Hug your cat..."

"And love everybody right?  And I'll just stop being bitter about the past?"

"No.  You're not bitter about love.  It's just been lacking from these scenes.  Next year when Valentine's Day comes around I'm truly concerned about your safety.  Stay in.  Lock the door and only answer it from behind the dogs."

"Is that all?"  I ask bewildered by this sudden turn of events.

"OH, and above all," St. Valentine adds, "Next year... wear black.  And you're a mad hatter.  Do me proud and throw in a hat."

As he fades away for the final time I smile knowing that I'll sleep really well for the first time in days.  I might even dream of the demise of Barbie pink hues everywhere.

"Let me know if you ever need any help with bees," St. Valentine shouts from the distance of the ages.

"I will!" I shout back.

Tomorrow I'm going to get an early start and wear all black in honour of my little adventure.  And I'm going to do so while enjoying discounted Valentine's Day chocolates and smiling about my newfound guiltlessness at hating this holiday, not love.

Saturday, 14 January 2017

My Immune System was Trained by the German Imperial Army

It's January and the rains have not missed their cue.  Weeds are popping up, joyfully coating Southern California everywhere in a haze of unexpected green.  Green everywhere and it's pretty for a moment until you blink and they've grown up into stinging nettles and the molds are proliferating with the best of them.  I mean really, they put rabbits to shame.  And it just so that happens that I have begun expressing my appreciation for this season by sneezing.

Mornings usually being worse, I have been known to wake up and declare with only a hint of melodrama that I am allergic to the entirety of Southern California.  On most days I have a fine vocabulary for expressing a great many sentiments.  But sometimes when my allergies are overwhelming I have no patience or brain power left to employ it and I curse my allergies with invective that could shock sailors.

Now don't go and misunderstand me.  I love my immune system.  It keeps me reasonably healthy and it has fought off all the crazy things that life and coworkers keep throwing at it.  I know that immune systems are complex and difficult to understand and I do appreciate that mine is tirelessly working to keep me healthy and happy.

What I have a problem with is its training.

Yes, training.  You don't think that the little army of immune responders called your immune system got to where it is today without training, do you?  They drill and practice and work.  They keep themselves in trim fighting condition all year round.  They are trained, tireless, professional killers in the defense of my immune system.  They are trained in the style of the German Imperial Army of old and they are extremely efficient.  And that's the problem really.

My immune system doesn't have that much to do.  I don't generally eat gently poisoned foods or sit around drinking mildly toxic water or have prolonged chats with infected herds of sheep for really any length of time.  So, without any real threats, they drill.  They are constantly on high alert for practically no reason.  They've read the manual; I could be subjected to typhoid, mumps, cholera or trench fever at a moment's notice.  And so they march, with a long list of rules and no credible attacks of dysentery in months and they are extremely bored.  So they begin to frisk everything that crosses the borders out of sheer lack of something productive to do.

Molds and pollens accidentally land on my body due to the fickle air currents that brought them nearby.  And my immune is waiting for them at the border in orderly lines and pointed helmets dating from the first world war and belonging to the German Imperial Army.
"Vat iz your name and rank!" Barks the leader of my immune responder patrol.
The harmless pollen blinks at them blankly.
"Vell, it must be a foreigner.  Ve vill bring you to Herr Colonel"
My little Immune Colonel sees a foreign body and consults the manual.  "Vell, vell vat do ve have here.  Dis leeddle pollen seems to be having ze fun with us.  Diz pollen does not have ze papers for being in dis area."
"But vat does ze manual say, Herr Colonel?"
"Ze manual says that all foreigners are invaders."
"Das ist richtig"
"Vait, vat iz dat?" A helpful immune soldier shouts, "Ze pollen iz bringing his friends."
"Dis iz definitely an invasion!" Herr Colonel says excitedly.

My immune system patrol falls into place behind the Colonel in perfectly distanced rows.  Helmets gleaming they await the commands.
"Rechts!  Rechts!" shouts Herr Colonel.  And they stride off on their right foot in perfect order.
Herr Colonel begins a World War I version of beat-box and using only his God-given talents he sounds a trumpet tune mixed with a drum beat for their march.  It would be enough to fill any military heart with pride.

And so my immune system, trained by the old German Imperial Army organizes itself thus.  It puts on its pointed helmets every morning.  The trumpet is sounded.  It marches in orderly lines.  The manual is consulted and everything that even looks like a pollen or potential invader is attacked.  I appreciate the sentiment and devotion to my well-being.  I really do.  But I don't care much for the result.  My body has decided, on the advice of my German Imperialist Immune System I might add, that the pollens and molds must be toxic and I should attempt to expel them with vigorous sneezing, eye-watering and a delightful but as yet not appreciated general itchiness.

Have you ever seen the film Those Magnificent Men and Their Flying Machines?  If not, you should.  Not only is it hilarious, it is filled with amazing and terrifying old flying contraptions.  If you are wondering what this has to do with this post you should simply watch a portion of the clips that deal with the German flying team.  You will know exactly what sort of thing my immune system is doing over here.

A sample of the German Imperial Army's finest trumpet/drum beat-box moments and a sample of what my immune system looks like while trying to maintain my good health.

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Welcome Sweet Shrouding Fog of Unknown Futures

Goodnight World,

Rest in the peaceful shroud of unknown tomorrows.  May the languid winds of unformed futures gently smooth your weary brow.  Too long have you worried over the unnamed monsters of the morrow; turning desperately this way and that to thwart them.  Morning's harsh light may part the mist and reveal to you the fearful outlines of Scylla and Charybdis.  But here, now, in these final hours of rest welcome the sweet shrouding fog of unknown futures.  Scylla's slashing teeth cannot steal your slumber from you.  Neither can Charybdis change your course this final night of sightless sleep.  Inevitable fate awaits you, World, one man, or even many being powerless to change it.  Fate, ah The Fates, there is no room for fear in the unfamiliar future they have fixed for you.  Mist will rise, the shroud will part and tomorrow you will stride forth boldly into the fray, the fight, the future.  Tomorrow, deeds having been done, the course of the future will unfurl before you in all its fury.  Scylla and Charybdis will greet you and the terrible consequences of the course set before you will be plain to see.  Tonight, embrace the twilight of unrevealed tribulations.  Lay fear aside, thank all the stars that you were not born into Cassandra's curse and gather the dusk around you in the final slumber in the blissfully unknown future ahead of you.