MuddyFingersMeg

Eat, drink, (garden, knit, quilt, think, fix, read) & be merry

Hi Friends!

Summer is winding down at an alarming rate.  In just over one month I’ll be standing in front of six sections of students as one of their teachers for the 2013-2014 school year.

I’m not sure I can articulate the jumble of emotions.  I feel both prepared and unprepared at the same time.  I quickly switch from “bring it on” to “Oh, heavens, give me another year.  Maybe two.”  I know I can make it through the first day, but I mostly worry about the incessant crush of things to do, the unrelenting pace, all the unknown land mines that await me as the year moves through its’ natural paces.

My methods teacher, a beacon of stability and confidence, always said, “Just because you are nervous doesn’t mean you’re not ready.”  I cling to those words with a a fierce hope.  A hope that I am ready.  Not only ready to teach but ready to try, to fail, to get back up time and time again.

In many ways I do feel more ready to fail.  And, surprisingly, this helps me feel ready to teach.  For the first time in my life failure means “growth” and “possibility” instead of “the final harbinger of eminent doom.”   Believe it or not, this is major progress.

I am trying to breathe in the excitement that comes with the fear.  I’m trying to parse out these two emotions that, at the moment, feel desperately twined.  I need to feel the rush of possibility, of accomplishment.  That’s sustaining in a time that is steeped in uncertainty.

I’ve spent the summer relaxing and preparing.  This is my third class of the year. I’ve now spent 4 weeks in various professional development courses, and I have two more to go.  I’m always the sole new teacher.  I feel lucky to be steeped in so much experience and expertise.  At the same time I exposed to all the dark sides of the teaching profession, sides that I tend to fixate on if given the chance.

Already I hold on to my students, to the memories of their smiles, their hope, their curiosity and even defiance.  I surprised myself with how much I appreciated them, and I continue to surprise myself with how much I lean on the inspiration they gave me.

In many ways they provide the impetus to be the best possible teacher I can be.  And I thank them for that, from the very apex of my heart.

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A new year, new perspective, new goals, new word.

It wasn’t an easy decision, but perhaps it was an inevitable one.  Yesterday, I filled my prescription for anti-anxiety medication.I cried.

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At first I assumed I cried from sadness, or resignation, or my pervasive sense of brokeness.  But I then realized they were tears of relief.

When I met with the psychiatrist on Tuesday, she drew a diagram very similar to this:

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I don’t consider myself a fatalist.  I don’t express, or believe, sediments such as, “everything happens for a reason.”  I can’t accept that there was a “reason” or “plan” that subjected me to ten years of torturous abuse in the hands of a psychopath.  And yet I find myself struck at how much of what has happened over the past few years has been so instrumental in me finding and utilizing the help I need.  For instance, in order to teach, I took several additional biology courses that were not part of my major.  Two of those – evolution and physiology – have been essential in enabling me to understand what happened to me.  Being able to conceptualize the workings of my brain and body have given me a much deeper acceptance of anxiety as a natural outcome of my experiences instead of a personal failing.

But I digress.  The main peak in the diagram above shows the natural course of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system.  The sympathetic response is a purely biological response designed to keep us alive.  “Fight or flight”, as it is often called, is a lightening fast, unconscious response to (perceived) threats.  The parasympathetic response, or the “rest and digest” or “feed and breed” branch of the nervous system, is a much more gradual process, that returns the body to homeostasis and maintains “non essential” processes such as digestion, reproduction, and relaxation.

These two systems work in tandem to respond to the myriad of situations that we encounter everyday.  Most people operate at the “normal” level where they experience a moderate degree of arousal everyday, punctuated by more pronounced periods of stress and relaxation.

Prior to therapy, I was operating at an frighteningly high level of sympathetic arousal.  Upon waking everyday, the anxiety kicked into high gear and kept me hyper-vigiliant to a whole slew of perceived threats.  I learned to do this because I grew up in an environment with very real, persistent threats.  This vigilance helped me to feel prepared for the dangerous, unpredictable world I was living within.

CBT has helped me bring that level of sympathetic response down, to a place that, to me, feels reasonably relaxed.  But the psychiatrist indicated that I was still living in a state of “high anxiety.”  Frankly, this was news to me.  I know I have periods of anxiety, but I’m learning to manage them and can often distract or calm myself down.  While therapy has been enormously helpful, it’s obviously not enough.  I’m feeling nearly ready stop my CBT, but it still appears that my anxiety is much, much higher than it needs to be.  So the medication is suppose to help bring me down closer to a normal baseline of sympathetic arousal.

As we’ve heard numerous times, long-term stress wears on the body and the brain.  The meds are suppose to help my brain calm down enough so it has more resources to repair some of the damage wrought from years of high stress.  Honestly, I’m so curious I can hardly stand it.  It takes 4-6 weeks for the drugs to take full effect (if these work for me).  What will it be like to live at the baseline?  Just writing that sentence makes the tears well up again.  Relief.

One of the most challenging parts about this whole process is figuring out “normal.”  When I was first diagnosed with PTSD, I kept reading statements like, “Therapy will help you return to normal.”  Or, “renew your interest in the good things of life.”  Or, “reestablish your sense of safety in the world.”  But in my case there is no “re.”  This sh*t started so early there is nothing healthy to return to.  My whole life has been calibrated to the initial, pervasive experiences of fear, abandonment, hatred and abuse.  Each time I find a new level of calm, I think, “Eureka. Journey over.  Healing, check.  I made it.”  Only to realize that I still have miles to go.  But when I turn around to see how far I’ve come, how I ache for that little girl who lived, so bravely and for so long, in such toxic circumstances.

The doctor also recommended finding ways to “exercise” the parasympathetic response.  She rattled off a list including yoga, meditation, tai chi, mindfulness, massage, acupuncture.  I immediately cringed.  I like yoga – the aerobic variety.  She meant the “slow, gentle” yoga, which I cannot imagine myself doing.  Meditation?  Ha.  I’ve tried it, can’t stand it.  Mindfulness?  I’ve actually worked on this over the past year.  It’s been a lot of work with no reward.  Massage?  I do it sometimes, but it’s hard for me, and it’s often not very relaxing.  I said as much to the doc and she laughed, kindly, knowingly.  “Of course you don’t like these,” and she smiled.  We became side-tracked, so I didn’t get to ask her why she said that.  But I realized later it’s because all of these activities are designed for deep relaxation, to a depth of which is currently not possible for me.  It makes me uncomfortable and anxious because it means putting my guard down, and that is so, so, so hard for me (damn PTSD).

Realizing that was like switching on a dizzyingly bright lightbulb.  It illuminated so much that I have struggled to understand about myself.  I don’t like slow music.  If it’s not upbeat, I tune it out or shut it off.  I always have at least two “projects” with me – reading, knitting, homework, etc so if I’m caught with any “downtime”I have something “productive” to do.  I start waking about 4:30 every morning.  I do not like long meals.  I often do not taste my food.  I always have to know what’s next.  I get explosively angry about “wasted time.”  I cannot really and truly relax. 

Yes, I do sometimes feel relaxed.  But the diagram above made me realize that there are degrees of relaxation.  You see, I have always dichotomized my experience.  If I didn’t feel “up tight” then I was relaxed.  There was very little in between.  But now I realize that my entire life experience exists on a continuum much broader than my daily experience.  My current experience exists in that narrow band between the peaks of my anxiety and the “valleys” of relaxation.  But that narrow band lives within a much broader range, and by working at it, I can move those valleys further down to more and more relaxed states.  But it’s scary, because I have memories – both conscious and unconscious – of very bad things happening when I was caught unawares.

It’s tempting to keep living in this narrow band (it feels safer) but continuing to live in a state of “high anxiety” is damaging to both my body and my brain.

“One Little Word”, if you haven’t heard of it, is choosing one word, in lieu or in addition to New Year’s resolutions, to help focus the upcoming year.  Two years ago I chose “Risk” and I really enjoyed the experience of molding my year around risks – big and small – and seeing what became of it.  It was a huge year of growth for me.

Last year, I couldn’t settle on a word, so I didn’t.  But I think I have a word this year.  Well, a phrase.  It’s “moving in.”  I’ve talked a bit about this before, this idea of “moving in” to my own body.  When reading up on “exercising” the parasympathetic nervous system, mindfulness of the body was a recurring theme.  Again, this makes me anxious just thinking about it.  Indeed, I’ve previously become aware that “I” lived in a small part of the back of my brain, but refused to really inhabit my own body.  It’s a scary thing, owning a body.  Bodies are vulnerable, to other people, to disease, to brokeness, to pain, to clumsiness, ugliness and humiliation.  I learned these lessons very, very early.  I retreated out of my body and carry it around as dead weight, refusing to invest much in it because it only leads to betrayal.

That worked, in its own way, for a long time.  But that strategy is no longer congruent with how I want to live my life.  It’s time to move in.  How?  Well, I have a few ideas.

– Pay attention, and then respond.  I often become aware that I’m sitting in such a way that causes me pain, but I don’t adjust.  I will sometimes get blisters or other injuries but don’t stop working.  Sometimes I know I’m in pain, sometimes I don’t.  I often don’t go to the bathroom when I need to, because I think I’m inconveniencing myself or someone else.   I rarely listen to myself.  This needs to stop.

– Count calories.  I know, this seems weird.  But I’ve increasingly become aware that I have no idea when I’m hungry or full.  I eat when it’s convenient or when I’m afraid I will be hungry. Hunger was a persistent part of my childhood.  I’m terrified of hunger.  So I subvert it by eating preemptively.  This needs to stop.  I have no gauge of a healthy amount of food.  I know I eat way more than I need (my clothes are getting increasingly less comfortable!) but when I try to “pay attention” to my body, I just feel “hungry” all the time.  I think that by counting calories for a while, I can calibrate my body to healthy amounts of food.  This would never have been possible for me before smartphones.  I downloaded an app that I think will help me do this for a while.  I’m not being down-to-the-single-calorie neurotic about it, but I need to get a handle on what is healthy.  I think this is a step in the right direction.

– I’m considering halting my alcohol consumption.  This is still an idea I’m just toying with, but I’d like to carve out room to think about it more throughly.  I don’t feel like discussing the reasons right now, but it might be a good idea.

– Exercise.  I’m actually pretty good about this, most of the time.  But when I start feeling down, I stop.  Considering that it helps me feel better I need to do it most when I’m having a hard time.

– Try acupuncture.  That is the one thing on the list from the doc that I can imagine myself doing at this point.  So I guess I’ll try it.

– Continue learning to take care of myself.  I’ve drastically improved my skills on this over the past year.  And I hope to keep getting better.

– Practice self-compassion.  This isn’t easy, either, but I think it’s helpful in body mindfulness, which is helpful in activating the parasympathetic nervous system.

– Give medication a good, solid go.  I don’t want to be on it permanently, but if it can calm my brain enough to allow for some healing and the experience of a “new normal”, hey, why not?

Well, that’s a pretty good start.  So much information buzzing in my brain.  Feels good to get it out on “paper.”  Thanks for reading.

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2012 in partial review.

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Blueberry picking in July.  Life doesn’t get much better.

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I shook hands with Bill Ny*e!

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I gave up growing carrots because of root knot nematodes (which result in carrots like those above)

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But then I accidentally grew these.  Aren’t they gorgeous?

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We went to Red*wood National Park.  This fulfilled a childhood dream.  Amazing.

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It was the Year of the Fruit in my garden.  70+ lbs of strawberries, rivers of raspberries, and even some blueberries (but those ones at the top were picked at a PYO farm)

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Diablo cosmos stole the garden show this year.  The bees loved them, as did I.

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A childhood friend got married and had a potluck reception.  I adore potluck receptions.  YUMMY.  I made this lovely fruit salad with heart-shaped watermelon slices and edible flowers from my garden.

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I finally graduated from college!

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I did this at a county fair.  No regrets.

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I learned how to make bath bombs.  And bath salts (not the scary kind).  And body butter.  It’s been a good year in the homemade cosmetics department.

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My soybeans nodulated beautifully.  Lots o’ nitrogen fixing going on in those bumps (a non-nitrogen fixing plant shown for comparison above).

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The garden.

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Sorry for the crummy photo.  It’s dark.  Anyway, I’ve been experimenting with various terrariums.  They’re much more aesthetically appealing in real life.  Promise.

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I ruthlessly battled japanese beetles.  They loved my roses, and demolished the flowers before the buds even opened.  Sigh.

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Ellie and I did a lot of knitting.  And she developed some very expensive health problems (entirely unrelated to the knitting).  Fortunately, they seem to be under control and the medication itself is very affordable.

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We did a great deal of cooking, baking, and eating.  These cuties are homemade ice cream sandwiches made to commemorate P’s 31st birthday.  One is chocolate basil and the other is coffee chocolate.  SO GOOD.

Raptor Release

Raptor Release

We attended a raptor release this fall.  Several hawks, two bald eagles, a peregrine falcon and other rehabilitated birds were released to the skies.  A very moving event.

We also remodeled our bathroom, I started grad school, and we traveled to Mexico and the Redwoods.  But this is a start.  Cheers, friends!  I hope to be back several more times before school resumes in early January.

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Happenin’

Hey friends.

The business and busyness of school has started.  But that’s boring.  So let’s talk about something else.  Here’s a little photo catchup.

Scores of bees have been visiting the gardens.  This photo was taken on P’s birthday when we took our birthday breakfast out to the patio and welcomed the day with the bees merrily collecting the nectar and pollen.  This striking flower is the Diablo Cosmos from See*d Savers.  They were planted in a sandy, barren patch of sand and they’ve put forth weeks of prolific blooms.  They’d look a lot nicer if I cared enough to deadhead them, but I don’t have time for fussing.  I’ll grow these again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Speaking of the patio/pergola, here it is, ready for a dinner with some friends.  Lovely, isn’t it?  Next year it will be covered with hop vines.  

 

The garlic was harvested late.  And then it sat curing in the garage for months.  I finally got around to cleaning it a few weeks ago.  Disease damaged many of the heads (not sure what it was yet), but they’re still edible.   Last year we grew enough to last us the entire year.  This year we’ll probably fall short.  So it goes.

 

Here’s the seed garlic, all ready to go back into the ground in about a month.  I do think I got enough seed garlic.  Thank goodness!

 

I made another pillowcase for a birthday present.  Isn’t it cheerful?

 

Well, that’s enough procrastinating for now.  Back to the homework!

 

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What Works

Welcome, readers, from the Blog Carnival Against Child Abuse!

I haven’t blogged much about the Sadness lately, or all the reasons behind it.  I have been thinking about it daily, even hourly, as I sometimes struggle to face a day, take care of myself in the simplest of ways, or continue to rage against the fear that always looms in the dark shadows.  But I have been trying to focus on the now, to be in the present moment, to look forwards sometimes instead of always looking backwards.

And that, in a nutshell, that’s what works.

Sometimes.

It’s hard being in the present.  It’s hard living wholly within my body.  It’s a constant challenge to respond to my current circumstance instead of reacting to my past.  And it has required some substantial reconstruction in my vision of who I am, what I can do, and what I will never be.

I’ve had to learn to listen to myself and accept a lower standard of daily productivity.  I used to be a whirlwind of activity, pumping out piles of fresh bread, overdone homework, and an endless stream of crafty projects.  But that dervish-like activity was a way to distract from the oppressive force of depression and anxiety that threatened to overwhelm me if I stopped moving.  Now I sleep more (too much, I think, but that’s a discussion for another day).  I stop and listen to myself.  I make time to go to the bathroom.  And I slow enough to spend time listening to how I feel and why that might be.  Sometimes I withdraw from everything to just lay on my bed and cry.

It is not easy to do these things.  Laying around trying to feel the Sadness instead of pushing it away seems lazier.  But it is an incredible amount of work – work I’d rather not be doing.  

But I’ve also found that when I can do it, when I can hold onto the present, stay within my body, and move through that darkness, it passes more quickly.  When I push it away, it lingers for days, weeks, months.  It’s a foggy cloud over my every waking moment.  But when I sit with it, try to focus on it, and listen to it, it dissipates.  It moves on.  And I feel better, sometimes within minutes, often within hours.

And to that end, I often focus heavily on tactile sensations that I love.  I use a new bar of soap with strong, 90 degree edges.  I pick a couple of lilies or holly hocks and focus on the silky sensation of the petals.  I go out and smell my roses.  I shave my legs and change the sheets.  I take a bath and wrap up in my best, most luxurious bath blanket.  I cuddle with my cat.  Or knit with my most indulgent yarn.  I cook something fragrant.  Squeeze my stuffed bear, Boris.

Being present and accepting my reality is what works.  But heavens, that’s often such hard cognitive work that I refuse to do it.  Then, obviously, it doesn’t work.  But I’m getting better at it, at taking little steps that bring me back and help keep me here.  This beautiful here where I belong.

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A few flowers for a Friday

 

Have I ever told you how much I love balloon flowers?  Oh, I just love their whimsy, their little airtight buds that suddenly pop open into a cheery flower.  And now I’ve found balloon flowers with double flowers.  See how the outer bud as opened but the inner bud is still sealed?  Oh, I just love it.

With their striking veins and luminescent color, I can picture many more of these in my garden.

And here’s the single flower, for comparison (and to savor their fleeting summer sweetness).

My hollyhocks were gorgeous this year. Until the Japanese beetles arrived.  Heavens, they’ve demolished the buds and blooms.  I dig dozens out every night but more keep coming to chew my poor hollyhocks ragged.

And I love these little guys.  I call them a double baby’s breath, but I’m not sure that’ what they are.  I love them regardless.

I’ve never been one to get very excited about day lilies but these have really caught my eye this year.  A friend’s mom gave them to me several years ago and I just adore the gentle color gradients and the strap-like twisty petals.

I do love a garden in bloom.

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Berries and Bombs

Remember when the strawberry patch looked like this?

I finally did a little rejuvenation and it looks much tidier, don’t you think?

Strawberries spread aggressively by stolons and they will take over if they’re not regularly thinned.  They also don’t produce as well when they’re over crowded.  Don’t be shy when thinning, be ruthless.  They’ll fill back in… and then some.  Believe it or not, I started this patch with just four crowns two years ago.  Last year I pulled out nearly 100 extra plants and I didn’t even bother to count this year.  But it was a lot!

Now that strawberry season is over, the raspberries are coming in.  I like strawberries but I love raspberries.  My dad used to take me out to pick wild raspberries and sitting on the soft earth with the sun at my back, smelling ripe raspberries is one of the purest pleasures in life.  Most of these don’t even make it into the house.

And I made lavender bath fizzies using this recipe.  Swoon.  What’s that?  It’s summer, you say?  Well, our (only) bathroom is under construction and we can only take baths.  So these will probably be used up in no time flat.  They’re ridiculously simple, however, and I will be making more.  I suggest you do, too!

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Spring.

Hi, friends!  I wish I had a compelling reason for my lengthy absence lately but I don’t.  BUT it is a whopping 21 days until I am in the first person in my family of origin to graduate from college!

It’s spring – which came ridiculously early – and spring brings loads of heavy emotions.  The lilacs are blooming (my dad’s favorite flower) and Mother’s Day is just around the bend.  I’m wrapping up a semester of 20 credits and preparing to enter a graduate program.  It’s no wonder I’ve been tired lately, no matter how much I sleep.  My brain is either learning or processing all the time!

The lilacs aren’t as sad as usual, though.  I miss my dad, surely, but it’s a dull ache now, and only when I press on it.  My mother’s absence isn’t as sharp, either.  I count her absence by holidays more than months, and it’s been nearly a dozen since she’s made any sort of effort.  It makes it easier to really close the door.  But, as “they” say, the closing of one door opens another and so it goes here.  I’ve decided since I did much of my own rearing, I’m going to celebrate myself on Mother’s Day.  It feels hokey and funny to me, but I, at a deeper level, like the idea.  I’ve finally given myself permission to give myself a little credit for who I am and how I got here.  In many ways I’ve been my own mother, and I was often a mother to my brother and other children that lived in our house.  I read bedtime stories, said prayers, and tucked in tiny children that lived in our house.  I woke them in the mornings and sent them off to school while I stay home, in a house by myself.  All day.  When I was seven or eight.

So I welcome the coming of May.  To me late spring feels like the beginning of a new year.  And this year I’ll be a college graduate, beginning a new career, free of my mother, with the world wide open before me.  It’s a transformative spring, and I welcome that with open arms.

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Honeybees

Yesterday P and I drove down to the farm to check on the honeybees.  I was nervous.  I had heard reports of hive losses from several beekeepers and I was steeling myself for a hive of dead bees or, worse, an empty hive.

I popped off the telescoping cover and peered down through the slot in the inner cover.  I saw several bees, frozen on the frames, and my heart sank.  But as I looked deeper in the hive, I saw more bees and… they were moving!

I popped off the top deep (it’s a three-deep system) and, sure enough, a dense ball of bees were huddled on the center frames of the middle deep.  It was too cold to pry out frames and look more closely, but I dug the frame tool down into the comb to check for honey.  It came out dripping and P and I shared a little bite.

I was ecstatic.  Not wanting to chill the bees further, I reassembled the hive but put my ear down to the top-bars before sealing it up.  And I heard, nay felt, that deep, resonate humming that sounds to me like the current of life itself.

I’ll be back bearing pollen patties in a few weeks.  If they’ve made it this far, there’s a good chance they’ll be a strong colony this summer.  Pure joy.

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Light.

I want to remember the sweetness and light that appear as the dark storms of recognition and heaviness begin to dissipate.

I feel a deep and resonating expansion in my chest as the crippling masses of trauma are liquified and pour out of my body through tears. My lungs start to feel cavernous and I breathe more deeply and with greater satisfaction.

Layers of fear peel and blow away, possibility begins to peek through, and I hold a future I never thought possible in the palms of my open hands.

I sleep more soundly.  I feel capable and ready.  I dare to try new skills and shatter old beliefs.  My fingers curl more protectively over a solid sense of self, and I challenge the inner demons, banishing them and their criticizing mantras.

The dark corners are still there. The sadness and insecurity and the crushing loss still press down on me. But I know I can rise, I know I will rise, and I once again believe in my future enough to fight for it.

This doesn’t happen everyday, but I relish it when it does. It makes me believe it’s all worth it, that I am worth it, that I’m making progress and that SOB isn’t going to win my future.  I will.

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