MuddyFingersMeg

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

Several weeks ago I hosted a bonfire to

Several weeks ago I hosted a bonfire to celebrate the end of the teacher licensure program.  After a tour of the garden, as we sat down to enjoy s’mores with homemade marshmallows fresh from my kitchen and as P brought over kabobs from the grill, a fellow cohort member said in passing, “I envy your life.”  For the first time ever I didn’t grimace or immediately think, “You say that now, but if you only knew…”  I didn’t flash back to years of abuse and looniness, I didn’t instead pour over my own envy of her kind and supportive family.  Instead I smiled, fully and sincerely, and said, “I do, too.”  

It’s true.  These days I live what feels like a charmed life.  I have my teaching license and was offered a fantastic position in my first-choice school.  I was the second person in my cohort to secure a job, and I didn’t even have to interview.  With guaranteed additional income this fall, P and I have been doing a lot of travelling this summer.  We’ve finally visited good friends in Maine, spent ten glorious days in Yosemite, and will be heading north this August for long-anticipated relaxing long weekend with family.  

I feel more in control of my life.  With the summer stretched ahead of me this spring, I knew I’d struggle with depression, so I secured a part-time job at a local garden center.  While the work is hard and oftentimes tedious, I’ve greatly enjoyed my co-workers and learning about plants new-to-me.  Embracing the discount, I’ve planted more than 20 new shrubs in our yard and I think it’s really going to look nice in a year or two.  I successfully turned an impending bout with darkness into a source of fulfillment and joy (& a little drudgery, for good measure.)  

I’m also keeping busy with professional development this year.  I’ve already attended two weeks of classes and have four more to go.  I’ve learned how to identify dragonflies, learned how to incorporate citizen science into the classroom, and will be learning more about metagenomics and biomed technologies.

I love it.  Teaching science has given me full license to embrace the nerdinest part of myself. It’s given me a sense of purpose and excitement.  I now have an excuse as TSA searches my bag full of rocks from distant coasts as I travel home.  I think this must be how some people feel about parenting – it gives my life breath and purpose, sharing my love of nature, science and the outdoors with the next generation.  

Speaking of parenting, P and I have been wrestling intently with the question of babies.  Well, we were wrestling until we finally decided we are perfectly happy childless.  We have so many children in our lives to love and spoil.  I will gain 200 more once I start teaching.  I love loving other people’s kids.  I just don’t know what I’m cut out to be a parent of my own accord.  This is enough fodder for a whole other post, but now it suffices to say that we are at peace without babes and I’m knitting like a fiend for all the other babes arriving in my life.

So much more remains to be said, to be chewed over in writing.  But I at least wanted to get this much out.  To say hi.  To see what ya’ll have been up to.  More soon, I promise.  XOXO

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Two Weeks!

In just a hair over two weeks I’ll be finished student teaching.  Finished!  I can hardly believe it.  These past two weeks have been brutal.  It’s the end of the quarter, I’ve been teaching full time, I’m planning my first-ever full three week unit, and I had my first task of the T*PA due.  OMG.  No matter how hard I’ve run I’ve been desperately behind, flailing through life.  Nothing was getting finished and nothing was getting done well.  P got me through with substantial and delicious homecooked meals, and the occasional pint of ice cream.  But there is a light at the end, and it’s getting brighter.  Or maybe that’s just spring finally arriving!  

Tonight P is gone.  He’s in Balt*imore for a long weekend of baseball with his dad.  I’m thrilled he went.  He so rarely does anything just for him.  It’s quiet in the house, mostly because I’m not talking.  It’s been a while since I’ve sat in silence, with nothing desperately knocking at my conscious.  I still have plenty to do, but it’s nothing that can’t wait until tomorrow.  I’ll admit, it felt weird coming home to quiet and solitude.  I was nervous.  But I’m over it.  This is luxurious!

It’s so heartening to reflect on how far I’ve come over the past four years since returning to school.  I’ve really settled into myself, and into a small community.  I love (most of) where I’m at – personally, professionally, inter-relationally.  It feels so warm and cozy knowing I’m safe, I’m loved, and I have a future.

I have so much more to reflect on.  But I’ve been running full speed for the past sixteen hours.  Last night I had 2.5 hours of sleep.  A new library book waits on my night stand.  And a kitty needs some snuggles.  Good night, friends.  As P would say, “see you on the flippity-flop.”  

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Check-in

Student teaching is half done on Friday! It’s going well. I’m busy, but it’s not as overwhelming as I expected. That was a nice surprise.

I heard this quote today and it was too good not to share:

“Experience is a hard teacher because she gives the test first and the lesson afterwards.” – Vernon Law

Good, eh?

Finally, I met with my psychiatrist today and she thinks I need to stop taking naps. Oh, the humanity! How will I live without naps? I’ve done a lot of hard work in therapy, but this will be a big adjustment.

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(Happy) sigh.

Yesterday when M, my therapist, asked me how things had been going, I waxed poetic about how good I felt.  For more than half of my one hour appointment.  I know, right?  Awesome.  I told her about a family situation that came up and I simply decided how to respond in a way I felt good about, asserted my limits, and didn’t feel guilty.  I talked about how bad days of teaching didn’t feel like a harbinger signaling the inevitable unraveling of my life.  My persistent sense of dread has nearly vanished.  I feel well-rested in the morning.  My shoulders and jaw are not always tense.  I don’t agonize over ever word I speak.  I no longer feel the urge to word-vomit my entire sob story to anyone who will listen.  I text friends about mundane things, and enjoy the sense of connection.  I, more often than not, can stop eating once I feel full.  I don’t dread social events like I used to.  People listen to me like what I have to say matters.  Oftentimes, people honestly laugh at my jokes.  The weighty darkness that used to shroud every waking moment has dissipated.  I no longer feel irreparably broken.

Hot damn.  If that’s not progress, I don’t know what is.

If I would have known that a little bit of chemical help would have taken me the last few yards to feeling good about my life, I would have done this an awfully long time ago.  These little pills obviously didn’t solve all my problems.  Because of the work I’ve done, I have a whole tool chest of skills that are helping me navigate this brave new world I find myself experiencing.  But heavens almighty, I would be lying if I said they didn’t help an awful lot.

Life isn’t perfect.  It never is.  But I feel competent and capable.  More minutes than not, I feel content, if not downright happy.  Part of me keeps expecting to wake up and find myself right back where I was.

I told that to M.  She said, “Nope.  I don’t think so.  This is your new life.  You worked hard for it.  Enjoy it.”

I think I will.

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Room to grow

The student teaching adventure has begun!  

One of the reasons I decided to teach is the limitless room for growth the profession offers.  Students, demographics, science, methods, best practices, and many other variables are changing all the time.  By choosing to embrace change and challenge, I hope to never be bored (for very long).  

However, the flipside of that means the learning curve is steep and overwhelming.  It’s an endless parade of names, faces, antics, ideas, questions, needs…  My body and mind are swimming by the end of the day.  It’s so much to keep up with.

My cooperating teacher is amazing.  While I don’t agree with everything she does, she is engaging, funny, caring, strict, straightforward, and demanding – all at the same time.  She had eyes everywhere, can come up with relevant examples on the fly, and can enable kids to achieve at higher levels than they thought possible.  It’s inspiring and exciting to be in her classroom – it’s also discouraging when I teach.  I stutter through my words, give ridiculous and confusing examples, spend way too much time explaining simple concepts, breeze over difficult ones (because my examples make zero sense), and fail to notice too much inappropriate behavior.  

I’m new.  I know this.  She’s been doing this for fifteen years.  I would expect that she would be a million times better than me.  But still.  It’s hard, feeling like a fish flopping on a sizzling concrete slab in front of 30 onlookers.  I’m trying to be patient with myself.  I’m counting my many blessings that I have such a wonderful mentor.  I’m breathing a HUGE sigh of relief that my district focuses more on “co-teaching” instead of traditional student teaching.  We do much more teaching side-by-side than me simply sinking-or-swimming.  This means I have more time to watch her work her magic so I can soak it up.  I’ll get there.  As my brain automatizes some of the routine procedures, I’ll have more space for noticing the antics, for capitalizing on the students’ many strengths, for making jokes and having more fun.  As I worry less, my stuttering will decrease.  As I master the students’ names, I can spend more time finding out who they are as people.  But right now I’m drowning in the mundane.  

It is what it is.  In many ways it’s great – it’s better than I could have hoped for.  In other ways, I want to curl in a ball and cry and never go back.  It’s hard to embarrass yourself in front of so many people, so many times every day.  But the kids are patient, many are incredibly kind and forgiving.  Like most people, they just want to be respected and cared for.  And I know I can do that.  And that’s why I’ll keep going back.

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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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Processing – Medication.

It was just about two years ago that I, yet again, decided to try therapy.  My past experiences with therapists have been awful.  So as the date of my appointment drew near, it took an incredible hope to refrain from canceling it.

God, I’m so glad I didn’t.  M has been my champion, my coach, my adversary and challenger.  She has been one of life’s greatest gifts to me.  It’s hard for me to remember what kind of person I was two years ago.  Have I really made progress?  Sometimes it feels like my troubles are different, although still weight with same strength.  And maybe that’s true.  But I do feel that I am more confident, more capable of accepting the love that surrounds me.  I am more aware of myself and more trusting of my instincts.  I value myself, at least in some ways, some of the time.

I trust M unreservedly.  Unlike previous therapists she didn’t rush to diagnose me and shuttle me along to a prescription-writer.  She listened, long and thoughtfully, before coming to any conclusions.  In fact she listened for two full years before suggesting that I consider anxiety medications.

That is the only reason I’m even considering it.  I am throughly resistant to being on medications.  I have trouble articulating exactly why.  I don’t have a problem with the existence of medications, or with the idea of anyone else taking them.  I just don’t want to do it.  I think, in part, it’s because it feels like a bandaid when I need stitches.  I don’t want to just feel better, I want to be better.  I hold tightly to this idea that if I work hard enough, try hard enough, believe hard enough that I can heal all those old wounds and this little anxiety problem will go away permanently.

But maybe that’s not reasonable.  I know very little about brain science, but I do understand that what happens to us in early childhood seriously and permanently affects the way our brains work.  I grew up under constant fear, neglect, and psychological manipulation.  I think I became hardwired to respond to average simulations as if they’re a real and dangerous threat.  And maybe no amount of therapeutic effort can change that wiring.  That’s so depressing.

So now the question seems to be – do I want to continue to voluntarily, and perhaps hopelessly, struggle against the dark curtain of crushing doubt and fear that falls around me several times a day?  Or do I want swallow a little help so I can experience a some success?  Believe it or not, it’s a really tough choice.

Frankly, I’m curious.  I’ve never known life without deep and profound anxiety.  I muddle through it, and overall, I do ok.  But what would it feel like to lose the curtain that always looms in the back of my mind?  I can’t imagine it as much as it intrigues me.

In my childhood home, every good thing was followed by something bad, sometimes something awful.  J couldn’t stand to see us happy.  So I learned to associate happiness, connection, and gentleness with a deep dread of what is to follow.  I can have a perfectly wonderful coffee date with a friend where I feel accepted and connected but the moment I walk away, my chest constricts and an overwhelming sense of doom falls around me.  I’m convinced I did something unforgivable, said something terrible, or acted in a way that was totally unacceptable.  And it’s because I have this antique childhood connection between goodness and bad.

And I can’t help but wonder what it would be like to walk away from that coffee date, that party, that craft date, that bike ride and just feel good.  I can never feel good for more than a few moments before I’m battling the falling curtain and the associated demons.

Could a little pill really banish those demons?  Could it clear away the cobwebs and the curtain?  Could I really feel better and be able to enjoy life’s sweetest moments and let them linger on?

I seriously have my doubts.  But, I’m also profoundly curious.

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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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Processing… the past.

Are you familiar with the constructivist theory of learning?  Essentially it’s the idea that we actively “construct” and maintain networks of understanding in our minds.  New information is both viewed through and tacked onto existing concepts.  We’re never “blank slates.”  Each person comes into any given situation with pre-existing set of understandings and that profoundly shapes what they experience and learn.  Our constructs can be true or false and they filter what we do or don’t take away from any given experience.

love this idea.  I used to sit in classes and think about how we’re each having a unique experience even though we’re sitting through the exact same lecture.  Those sitting near an open window have an entirely different experience than those sitting near the open door.  Those at the back of the room don’t have the same class as those at the front.  Differences in interest, previous knowledge, misconceptions, biases, temperament and a whole host of other variables profoundly chances the experience of people sitting mere inches from one another.  Constructivism hints at parts of that idea.

In a book I read recently (sorry – I can’t remember which one!) the authors discuss first impressions and how we tend to generalize our earliest impressions of people as accurate indicators of their overall personality.  If a chipper, upbeat person is having an awful day the first time you meet them, you’re likely going to form an impression of them as negative or withdrawn.  This impression holds true even if you have many subsequent encounters which are unambiguously positive.  We tend to weight our first impressions much more heavily than later interactions.  Incidentally, if you really like someone when you meet them and they later prove to be annoying, self-absorbed, and negative, it’s going to take you a long time to shake that positive impression even if they drive you crazy for a really, really long time.

But I digress.  I’ve been thinking about the weighting of impressions lately as I continually work to contextualize and understand my history.  I often wonder why I feel so compelled to process, process, process my childhood.  It’s like a hard drive that won’t keep spinning.  My brain whirrs endlessly trying to make sense of what did (and didn’t) happen to me.  It’s exhausting, and I often want it to stop.  But it doesn’t.

But the discussion on the heavy weight we put on first impressions helped me make some sense of all this.  My earliest impressions of life do not mesh with my current experiences.  For example, the idea that people are caring, reliable, helpful, and genuine is not something I experienced in childhood.  So I am forever trying to learn to really trust people while also trying to protect myself from the excruciating vulnerability that was mercilessly exploited when I was a child.  Even though I don’t think the people in my life are “out to get me” I default to that mentality because the pain of betrayal is still sharp and poignant.

Our earliest experiences profoundly shape us.  When I talk with friends of every age inevitably there is always at least one story of something their mom or dad did that was influential.  Sometimes it’s a joke, a disciplinary action, or a moment of connection.  It’s a rare conversation where people don’t share something about their first caregivers.  Many, if not most, people I talk to have many good things to say about their parents.  They can share their stories because their stories don’t make other people uncomfortable.  They can talk about and thus process and fully integrate their experiences.  I sometimes tell stories that are dark, sad, and perhaps frightening.  My need to talk about, make sense of, and integrate my experiences is no less than others.  The social acceptability of my experience is, however, very different.

So with those ideas in mind, the drive to process, process, process, seems less pathological.  It’s the result of a natural need to understand and integrate.  As people we tend to place heavy emphasis on early experiences and use those as a benchmark for understanding new ones.  Because my earliest filters are poorly equipped for understanding my current experiences, I experience a lot of discord.  Additionally, because we construct meaning and understanding in from previous experience, it’s not surprising I have a lot of processing to do.  Then, to add fuel to the fire, I have less opportunity to do so because there exist few social contexts where that conversation is appropriate.

Although this presents no clear solutions, understanding is waaaay more than half the battle.  At least I can let go of the nagging guilt that my need to process is overblown and exaggerated.  I do think I need to choose to think about other things sometimes, but that’s a story for another day.

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