On the Fluctuating Gunas (The What???)

Today I woke up anxious. Physically I had a slight tightness in my chest. My heart felt like it was a little heavy, but the worst was my breath. I couldn’t help but sigh every few moments. Obviously releasing some kind of tension. I felt slightly lost. Not sure where my life is going. Not but an hour later I was laughing and feeling like wherever my life is going it doesn’t matter and I’ll get there as I need to.

These are the “Gunas”. Fluctuations that are normal in the universe. They are everywhere. In the weather, in our moods. It’s a universal law. What goes up must come down. What swings one way will swing the other.

The Gunas are a term I learned in yoga teacher training and were often discussed. It’s now a part of my regular vocabulary and thought process. We don’t stay in one mood forever. Nothing stays in its state forever. We are supposed to feel good and bad. It should be expected that good things as well as bad things will happen. Fighting it is what leads to suffering. In Buddhism a key tenant is that any attachment causes suffering. Even attachment to feeling one way (like happy), being attached to an outcome you want, or any objects/feelings/desires/etc. The Hindu tradition (yoga’s roots) describes the same concept but in a different way.

From Yogapedia: https://www.yogapedia.com

A guna is an attribute of nature, according to Hindu philosophy. In Hinduism, there are three gunas that have always existed in the world in both all living and non-living things:

• Tamas (darkness, destructive, death)

• Rajas (energy, passion, birth)

• Sattva (goodness, purity, light)

Here in our Western world we are not taught to think in this way. We seem to feel that if something goes wrong or we don’t feel well (mentally, physically or spiritually), that something is wrong with us. Imagine we were taught that both elation and depression are normal and to be expected? Neither will stay. Both are an experience of being alive. The more we attach to any experience (the good or the bad ones), the more we will ‘suffer’. Suffering really meaning anything from disappointment to despair.

I’m signed up for daily emails from Richard Rohr. He is a Franciscan priest that wrote many books on spirituality. I recently finished “Falling Upward” which was amazing! Much of it was about how we need to fall in order to learn and grow. How opposite things are complementary and part of life. I will paste a quote from the Tuesday mediation.

“If we are going to talk about light, then we must also talk about darkness, because they only have meaning in relation to one another. All things on earth are a mixture of darkness and light, and it is not good to pretend that they are totally separate!”

Understanding the Gunas is one of the many ways I am learning to accept life as it is. When I remember them when I’m feeling down I almost embrace it as the full experience of life. Not always, but more & more often.

They have helped me- and if you have read this and are willing to try, perhaps that can help you or a loved one too!

Peace & Namste

On Why I Love Teleworking

Teleworking really isn’t for everyone. There are so many people that I talk to who tell me they could never do it. If you even think it’s not for you, it’s not. However if it’s something you have the opportunity to do and are considering, allow me to share why it works for me and how I feel it is beneficial to our workplaces. I now have a full year under the belt of at least one day a week. A few months ago I moved to two days, And most recently since my office has been under construction all my work time has been at home.

For starters I can sleep in much later. When you eliminate the commute time, parking & walking an additional quarter of a mile to my office, and the time I was spending before work to shower, dress and primp for the day- I am able to sleep in over an hour longer than I was before. I could stand to sleep in even longer, but I get up to enjoy a leisurely cup of coffee, a healthy non-rushed breakfast, and a short meditation session before I log in for the day. My morning routine is so much more pleasant, I no longer feel tired all the time, or dread getting up.

Next, I’m unbelievably comfortable for a variety of reasons. The most striking is in the attire I can wear. When I dress after waking up, I put in comfy workout clothes so I can go for a lunch run later in the day. Also my desk, chair and surrounding workspace at home is completely suited to my height, likings and taste. I can control the temperature of the room. Throughout the day my cats and dog come to visit, hang around and sleep on or near me. Their presence reminds me I’m home if I briefly get swept away in workplace politics. Not to mention that looking at them and petting them just seems to soothe my soul.

I move around much more. My chair swirls and doesn’t have weird side bars that give my legs bruises when I curl up in my chair as I type away. I’ll take stretch brakes and do some reinvigorating yoga poses that I wouldn’t dream of doing at the office. When I get up to make cups of warm herbal tea throughout the day, instead of walking across the room to the microwave like I do at work, I walk down a flight of stairs and don’t feel grossed out by the water supply or my surroundings. But my favorite is that I use my lunch break to run. I used to use that same break to walk at work. This required changing my shoes, never being appropriately dressed for the weather, and worrying about getting too warm. Now I can perspire as much as I’d like without worry.

I am so much more focused and productive. I’m not distracted by idle chatter or sharing my own nonsensical stories. There are no crazy alarms going off, constant overhead announcements, or loud trash barrels rolling by as I try to converse over the phone. I don’t see or hear the dings and distractions of other people’s computers, desk phones and cell phones. I don’t overhear anyone else’s personal or professional conversations. Two job roles back I worked for 7 years in a corridor that had a one person, non gender specific restroom right down the hall from my desk and around the corner from the transportation department where the drivers would pop in and out all day to use the facilities. The noise of a flushing toilet and horrendous smell would permeate my senses all day. One of my favorite funny memories from that job was when my then boss who had an adjacent office to mine said “Not only do we have to put up with a bunch of sh!t, but it actually has to smell like it too”.

Along the lines of focus, I pay attention during conference calls like I never had before. Unless I have a part to play in a conference call meeting, at work I find it nearly impossible to pay attention. I’m in front of my computer and always multitasking. Now I use conference call times to walk around the house and do some mindless work. I’ll sometimes sweep, start dinner, grab the mail, or do some other random things. Because I’m physically moving while mentally listening and not trying to do two mental activities at once, I am paying far more attention than I ever had on calls before. I’ll often unmute my phone and pipe in or stop to take notes in my email. That is something I hardly ever did at my desk.

It’s overall healthier too. I am in touch with what is going outside weather wise because I have windows. Many spaces I have worked in over the years have had no windows or access to the outside. Sometimes on a sunny day I will take my laptop out to the deck and actually feel the sun on my skin. The air quality at home isn’t ‘iffy’. I’m eating better too. At the office if I forgot my lunch or decided I am not in the mood to eat what I brought, I would stand on a long cafeteria line and purchase something overpriced and not quite as good for me as the things I have at home.

At the end of the day I log off and hop into the shower. I’m dried and ready for the evening before I would have even been on I-91 sitting in traffic and feeling extremely agitated.

Monetary savings in food, gas and clothing. Comfort. Healthier atmosphere and food. More sleep. More time. All good stuff huh?

Enough about me, this can reap great benefits for employers as well.

For starters there is likely less unexpected or short term notice time off. Snow days are just as productive and not to mention safer on both ends. If an employee doesn’t feel well but slugs into the office, other employees get sick, then they get their children sick. Then the children need to be stay home, be picked up from school or not be allowed in daycare, which is more time off for others. An employee without a telework agreement who opts to stay home will cost the organization a full day of work. An employee with one who opts to work suck from home loses the organization very little. Additionally, a doctor appointment in the middle of the day before telework for either my children or myself used to mean a whole morning or afternoon off. Usually the afternoon because trying to find a parking space by 8am where I work is like trying to find a needle in a haystack.

Speaking of parking and space, allowing employees to telework creates both! Office space in many organizations is at a premium. Even having everyone telework 1 day a week [staggered] would free up 20% of office and parking space.

There is overall less wasted time through the day. Lines at the coffee shop, lines in the cafeteria, waiting for elevators, looking for an open bathroom, being in a queue just to warm up food in the microwave, that 3rd Wednesday if each month where the computers reboot for what seems like infinity… just to name a few. Not to mention a lot of time chit chatting and socializing. Yes, there are times the remote connection kicks me off; but the overall time sucks favor the employer with all the other time wasters that happen in the office.

Safety is always an issue. When I was the strategic planner for VA Connecticut, one couldn’t imagine the number of complaints that would come in every week about air quality, requests for asbestos checks, mold checks, ripped carpets that folks trip over, furniture with sharp edges, etc. When it rains or snows someone was always bound to fall- meaning a visit to employee health, days off, workers comp… all kinds of stuff no employer really wants.

Employees are happier when they aren’t rushed, eating well, sleeping more, saving money, moving around, and feeling like their employer is doing something mutually beneficial for both of them. How can you go wrong?

Well… many things can go wrong. That could be a whole other blog. It may be comforting however to know there are some strong, sound advice, policies and guidelines out there. My organization for example has trainings required by both the employee and supervisor before beginning. Additionally clear expectations are required to be written up, and it comes with the caveat that either party can terminate it at any time. Why not swipe some of these best practices from a person or whole organization that does it well? There are hundreds of articles on the web and in HR journals around the world about why it’s a win-win for all to adopt it, and nearly none on how terrible it has gone.

For now if you are thinking about using an existing policy or implementing one in the workplace, these are some of the reasons I would humbly advocate for it on both ends. I am sure I’m missing many more benefits! Please don’t hesitate to pipe in or comment if you know of any. Horror stories are welcome too!

One of my “co workers”
View from my desk

On “Her Story”

Last Thursday I was at our second home in Branford turning it over for our Friday renters, and doing some well needed yard work on the one non-rainy day in the forecast. I craved a short lunch break from the hot sun, so I decided to head down to the local watering hole for a hearty sandwich. While I was waiting, the news was on every TV. Something about a case and the name Kavanaugh. 

I am one of those people that does not watch or listen to the news. When something important happens I always seem to find out in some other form as I did last Thursday. Not knowing what everyone was glued to, I whipped out my phone to google the latest news. In about 2 minutes I was caught up to the current moment after Ford testified. 

Today I am in Hollywood, FL where my mom lived before she passed 12 years ago. I’m visiting with my aunt, her friend Patty, and my cousin Camille. Four absolutely beautiful women with different life stories. I hadn’t seen my cousin in over 26 years following a tragic event that rocked our family. This is a reunion I cherish. 

When I picked up my phone this morning, I saw that on old high school Facebook friend commented on a picture that I posted from the latest U2 tour this past summer. The picture “HerStory”.

Women over the centuries have their own beautiful, good, bad, heroic and tragic stories. Women have been oppressed and in many parts of the world still are. They still don’t have the same rights men have. Not but a century ago voting was in question, even in the developed world. Much has changed, but not enough yet. There is plenty of history and little ‘herstory’. None of us are equal until all of us are equal. This not only includes women, but all skin colors, gender preferences, sexual preferences, handicaps, spiritual practices… everything and anything that imaginarily divides us and seems to lead some to believe that they have rights and power over another human being.  

As for Ford… I believe her. I don’t believe this has political motivation. Anyone who has been abused in someway should really understand this. She moved on with her life and kept quiet as most victims do. She was successful at ‘moving on’. But the trauma of an attack usually stays with you. It comes back at random times when the body is triggered by something that the conscious awareness didn’t pick up, and pieces of the memory come back. We are now learning that it is how the brain works. The brain is wired to protect you by blocking out pieces of the event(s). She shouldn’t be written off if she can’t remember how she got home after an attack. Allowing that to happen takes away the believability of so many victims and only gives perpetrators more power. Aren’t we civilized and sophisticated enough to understand science and the brain? 

I believe her. I don’t believe she would have ever said anything if Kavanaugh wasn’t nominated for Associate Justice of the Supreme Court. I think this was her own trigger. Whether or not he was 17 or 70; he hurt her, took away her power, and a part of her innocence. Most victims would have a hard time watching someone who hurt them be promoted, praised and raised to any position of power. I don’t believe it matters if he was a Republican, Democrat, Communist or member of the Rastafarian tribe. 

I believe her story. As a victim of abuse myself, I can almost sense when someone else has been traumatized in similar ways. It doesn’t matter how it started out or if anyone was drinking, or what age anyone was. For me, it’s about how it ended up, how someone’s life was affected by it, and the example we might set for other young men and women. 

It’s her story. The one that she experienced. I feel she did the right thing. Dragging up a 30+ year old traumatic event would be a difficult decision for anyone to make, not to mention making it into a nationally televised revelation. Knowing every moment you lived, skirt (or bikini) you wore, every tipsy laughter or wink… everything you ever did would be dragged up, scrutinized and questioned like a criminal when you know you are the victim. That takes guts and I feel Ford should be praised as an example for other women and victims to start talking.

In my humble opinion, the more women and victims talk and share their stories, and the more the perpetrators are called out publicly; the less likely current and potential perpetrators will be to take advantage of others. It has been overlooked and gone on for too long. Stand up, fight for human rights and let’s put an end to any type of human abuse. 

I believe her. I believe he is shocked and tearful and truthfully… even that he wouldn’t do or condone such a thing now. I’m on the fence about whether it should or should not allow him to serve in such a position. It’s not political for me. It’s human. We need to set some kind of example for the younger generation. I don’t have an answer about what the right thing is to do from here. All I know is that I believe her and that HerStory is the story of so many. Like the beautiful women in my own family, we all have stories and I think it’s time in general to hear “HERS”. 

My aunt Fran (left) and mom (right) as little girls
My cousin Anthony who left us all way too soon

Me, aunt Fran and Camille last night

Life in the Slow Lane

Today I woke up feeling good. On 7/11/18, 2 months and 2 days ago, I had just one of the worst evenings of my life. The following few days were even more difficult. These last 2 months have been a journey that I realize is life-long and I’m in no rush to finish. I’m enjoying and embracing every step forward and every obstacle that prohibits steps forward, or that even sets me a few back. Obstacles and set backs are really necessary learning experiences.

Today I’m in gratitude. I might not be in an hour, but for now I am and I’m incredibly grateful.

I could write for hours about how I got here (I promise I won’t). The biggest contributor was my childhood and the mal-adaptive strategies [albeit very normal] I developed early on to deal with life while my brain was forming. One of my newly favorite psychology writers Van Der Kolk calls it Developmental Traumatic Disorder (DTD). This diagnostic explanation is fairly new in the world of Psych. It didn’t quite make it to the DSM 5 which is latest edition of the manual by which mental health clinicians diagnose and bill for disorders. For now the closest diagnosis is PTSD, which DTD is branch of. Particularly for me, for now it’s Delayed Onset, Complex PTSD. It turns out I’m just another statistic and if someone were watching closely, everything that happened to me could have been predicted.

I’ve been through a gamut of emotions the past few months. Many before 7/11, but even more, and much more intensely since. Crazily, but also not surprisingly this episode took place just 2 days and exactly 25 years after what was one of the most transformational days of my life at the time when I was 17. I’d written about it before in My Mom. It’s one of my trigger dates, something I don’t think I fully believed in until this summer. I didn’t consciously recognize the significance of how the date triggered me, but my body did. The Body Keeps the Score.It really does.

What I realized most profoundly this summer is that I have PTSD. I really do. Two and a half years ago I had my first panic attack. I was immediately diagnosed with Anxiety and Panic Disorder. Last summer the PTSD diagnosis was added. While I remember telling people about it, somehow I didn’t realize how important it was to my mental recovery to embrace and work on it. In fact, when the true awareness hit me like a ton of bricks just less than a week after 7/11 this year, I was surprised to realize that I’d been sharing and telling people about it prior to then. A few days ago I re-read something I added to my blog page in May “About Me”, and it was there too! Why wasn’t I working on it?

I wasn’t working on my trauma and PTSD for many reasons. Because it wasn’t urgent and didn’t seem important. Because no one tells you that it’s important. In fact, no one can; it’s something you have to discover on your own when your body is ready. Also because I didn’t have the time or the life style until now. That is why I’m in gratitude this morning. I’m moving in the slow lane and I love it.

From a young age I moved fast. I always had excessive energy. I never understood how anyone could sit at a meeting or in a class and not fidget. I was just always bursting out of my skin. Driving… I had to be in the fast line. I was constantly assessing for traffic, changing lanes with the flow. Heart always racing. Breath always erratic. I was always, always, always looking for more efficient ways to do things. From driving to folding laundry to cleaning… to redesigning whole work groups and even departments at my job. I was good at it. It was a great outlet for my energy. I was efficient and I helped others to be as well. A good use of my talents. Or so I thought.

Now I’m living in the slow lane. I still have the habit of moving fast, but I catch myself at least 80% or so of the time when I realize that for no good reason my heart is in a lurch or my breath isn’t steady. I stop it and slow down. I manage my breath. I smell the roses. I ground myself in the present and it’s SO much better. I think about that quote about how nothing or everything is a miracle, and see things as beautiful. Even ugly things. I wish we could teach our children this from a young age. Instead we are programmed to ‘succeed’, to do more & faster, to have it all, to do it all. We are programmed to think we are a failure if we don’t meet this criteria. On paper by this methodology I was a huge success.

Take two driven people like my husband and myself, put them together, and what do you have? It’s debatable. 7 years ago I would have thought a match made in heaven. In fact at our wedding we incorporated the Japanese term of kaizen (continuous improvement) into our vows. Ugh… how I cringe now. All I can think of is U2’s lyrics in the song ‘Moment of Surrender’

The stone was semi precious
We were barely conscious
Two souls too smart to be
In the realm of certainty
Even on our wedding day

I do believe in continuous improvement, but not in the way it was taught to me (faster, better, do more, etc). I believe it the slow movement. That less is more. That slowing down and even stillness is where the magic of life lies. Take a look at the pets in our lives. They are content with doing less, watching the world outside the window for hours just as it is. Accepting us for who we are. Not caring about how we are dressed or what fancy letters come after our name. They are in a sense more human from a sense of connection than we are. I have four pets. I didn’t even have time to pet them before. I would shoo them away when they came to climb on me when I collapsed on the couch after 16 hours of non-stop movement. We had to have our dog in day care just to get exercise and go out because no one was home long enough to play with him or take him out. Picking him up and dropping him off was another burdened activity on the check-list. Why have pets, kids, a house (2 in our case), a garden, etc – when there was no time to put any love or life into any of it? It’s been a slow realization for me that none of this makes sense. That I was living by a clock and not a compass. It took even longer to do anything meaningful about it. I’m still on that journey and in no rush to any finish line. The unfolding is a beautiful experience that I’m embracing wildly.

I wrote a few paragraphs back that I could write for hours about how I got here. Everyone has their own journey, their own stories, their own level of awareness, and their own (hopefully) point in their life – more often than not in the second half of it, in which they proverbially “wake up”.

My own story started on March 1, 2012. At work I enrolled in a Franklin Covey industry based class for the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. It was a 2-day seminar that set the path of a new life for me. At the time I was recently remarried and my husband and I were just finishing up the renovations we worked on non-stopfor 2 months in our new home. I felt SO alive during those renovations. I loved working on the house. We often stayed up until 1 or 2am in the morning on work nights and didn’t feel the least bit exhausted in the morning.

Once the renovations were finishing up I started to feel trapped, bored, and useless. Something I wasn’t accustomed to feeling. Since my husband and I moved in together with our kids the year before I felt like I was mentally unraveling. The renovations were a pleasant distraction. I began going to a bible study at the hospital where I work which one of my vanpool mates hosted. I hung onto many of the teachings and words, learning new language to explain what I was feeling. The Covey class used similar language but explained it in a different way that opened me up in a special fashion. Three things I really connected with was the concept of a paradigm that we see the world through, that I make my own independent choices constantly, and that to feel in line with who you are; we should be living by a compass and not a clock. Wow. This was mind blowing and life changing for me.

Shortly after I explored the bible much more. Then I ran into a Bishop Spong book quite by accident (I honestly cannot remember which one). I was never religious, but grew up Catholic and felt like it was a sin to question anything that didn’t make sense. As soon as my mind took me to those questioning places, guilt kicked in and I pushed it away. The John Shelby Spong book provided the freedom to question what made no sense and shift the focus to something that did in a more mystical, metaphysical way where it allmade sense. From there I found podcasts on the Centers for Spiritual Living to help time pass while having to drive to Bedford, MA quite often for work in 2 ½ hours each direction. Those podcasts prompted me to read the ghastly large book by Ernest Holmes called “The Science of Mind”. The world was opening and unfolding in ways I could have never dreamed. From there for some unknown reason I started taking yoga classes, which spoke the same type of language. Then I would listen to Alan Watts during my lunch walks and long commutes. All different words, but the same beautiful, timeless messages that make sense.

Years later in January 2016 I loved yoga and this way of thinking so much, I started yoga teacher training. My regular life with work, the kids, pets, blended family, commute, and constant RUSH was becoming unsustainable. Why was I adding a full weekend a month commitment to this training? I don’t know but I just felt compelled.

For some reason I thought in yoga teacher training I would learn more about the poses, teaching, and the actual class. Instead, like the Franklin Covey class years before it became a personal journey. I quickly decided that it was a necessity to meditate regularly. Once I started quieting my mind and relaxing regularly, I realized that is how a body should feel and how I lived for the previous 40 years was anything but calm. It started to become unbearable to not feel calm. Combine that with what I now realize is a few PTSD triggers from work at the time, it’s absolutely no surprise that I had my first panic attack exactly when I did and they escalated from there; completely out of control. My body was releasing 40 years worth of emotion that was bubbling just under the surface. The same energy that kept me moving, grooving and successful; was the same energy that was keeping me stressed and mentally unaware that I was damaging myself by not dealing with the trauma that has plagued my mind, body and spirit.

The past two and a half years since have been transformational. A lot of bad and negative things arose, but more positive, learning experiences than anything bad. You have to go through it to move through it. It sounds simple, but it’s much harder than it sounds. It wasn’t until now that I’ve given myself the time and opportunity to heal. But you have to make the time. Your life has to allow it. You have to slow down.

This past summer was rough. I spent hours upon hours writing and allowing myself to remember and experience the anguish of old memories. Many were the same memories that came up during what I now know as PTSD episodes, but I’d felt too ashamed, embarrassed or dramatic to explore. In writing, crying, thinking, gardening, exercising, waking up in the middle of the night, reading, etc – I started to explore my triggers and where they came from. It made sense. I learned more about how the brain is wired and why I seemed to lose control at times. I logged and shared trigger dates with my family. I allowed myself to feel all that I’ve always pushed away and thought I moved past years ago. It was always there waiting for me to deal with it. I just didn’t slow down enough to hear it.

Today I feel good. Over coffee this morning I saw my husband petting one of the cats who was purring where he shouldn’t be (on a counter). When my husband moved his hand away to finish getting ready for work, our cat Gilmore bipped him on the hand – asking for more petting, which Daren provided. We are in a place where we have time to pet our cats. I am thankful I am in a job where if I woke up in the middle of the night and didn’t sleep for hours that the pressure of getting dressed and driving to the office with a smile is not there because I can telework and I’m part-time. I’m thankful for the mental health breakdown this summer. I spent so much time on the days I wasn’t working living like my pets. I napped in the middle of the day if I needed to. I only ate when I was hungry. If I felt like the sun was calling me, I read and wrote outside. If I felt the urge to move I went for a walk, run or bike ride. Listening to my body helped me to attune to what it’s telling me in other ways too. Our bodies are a walking, living, physical communication device. It’s a compass of that path we should be on.

This summer I also listened to the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People CDs that I was provided with from that class back in March of 2012. Listening to the late Stephen Covey’s voice felt like listening to an old friend with sound, sage, timeless advice. I also spent quite a bit of time doing those old exercises again. I created a mission statement, thought about my values and principles, my ‘rocks’, how I communicate with people, how I think and how I live. I thought about the life that I want to program. My own talents. Not the talents the world has barked at me – like designing things bigger better and faster, but what I wanted to be when I was a kid with no restrictions and what that meant. The imprint I want to leave on the world.

These aren’t overnight answers. If I thought for a New York second that I know them right now I’d be fooling myself. I’ll be working on them for the rest of my life. I’m trying diligently to listen to the compass. If we quiet ourselves enough, and ask our inner selves for advice, the most profound wisdom is all there, right within us. Our bodies know what we need. They keep the score.

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My dog Koji who teaches me all sorts of invaluable lessons without saying a word
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Bored at home after carpal tunnel surgery of my right hand this past Monday (9/10), I decided to try to open my right brain by painting with my left hand
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My left handed drawing depicting what is supposed to be a sunset
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This one started left-handed by I switched to using my wrapped surgical hand to clean it up (majorly). It’s a rendition of a little knickknack my step-kids gave me for the holidays several years back by one of my favorite fun modern artists (Miami artist Roberto Britto)

On Understanding Panic Disorder

I almost don’t know how to start this. “Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older, or 18.1% of the population every year” (1)

I am one of those 18.1% who suffer. When I’m in panic it’s almost as if a doppelgängertook over my body. So many people do not understand what happens and that the person has no control over how they feel. Stress and cortisol flood the body.

Last night I had a panic attack. I actually had several in the past week, and 4 or 5 just yesterday alone. What made my last two particularly long and painful is that other people were home and weren’t reacting compassionately. They live with me and don’t quite understand what I go through, how painful it is, and how little to no control I have over how I feel or can possibly react. I can empathize and understand that it can be scary to someone else – really I can. I don’t want to be in full-blown panic either, believe me – way MOREso than the people around me don’t want to see it.

A key driver is understanding. Panic disorder with panic attacks is not something that can be helped at the moment or have a lid put on it. What makes it all so much worse is when those around you and in society judge you and falsely believe mental health issues are something that can be helped (2). I’m writing this because if my own household doesn’t quite understand what this is about, how can any one else? I need to do my part in spreading awareness.

I didn’t know much about true anxiety either. Why should I? We throw the word around a lot. Many of us live with low -evel anxiety constantly. As a society we are mostly all anxious. Anxiety and Panic Disorder is a little different. “This is not to be confused with nervousness — what most people experience in normal situations. Nervousness and anxiety can both cause similar symptoms, but normal nervousness such as how one feels before making a big presentation or applying for a job differs from anxiety in that it’s rational.” (3) Some things can be helped or talked away from. Normal nervousness is one.

I’ve read a lot about anxiety in the past two years since I’ve been diagnosed. Stress is prevalent in our culture. A large part is due to technology and the bombardment of information. Also, the ability for others to reach into our lives at any moment day or night through social media, texting, email, etc. When I was younger and we had a house phone attached to a wall, either going to someone’s house or calling on that phone was the only way to let the outside in. When you left work everyone was shutdown for the day. No one was on texts and emails creating new things to sort through when you got to work – what you left it as the day before is how it was when you arrived the next morning. These things cause constant low-level stress. A text at 9pm makes our hearts beat faster and creates a false sense of urgency to pick up the phone to read it. Whether the message is from a loved one or your boss, the body reacts as if it’s in danger (heart rate, quickened breath, maybe stomach in knots). While we all might experience that quick burst of anxiety when the cell phone dings at 9pm, after a few minutes it goes away. For those of us with an anxiety disorder it not only doesn’t go away, it escalates.

This article describes it better than I can-

Picture this: you’re asleep at night when suddenly you wake up to the sound of someone breaking into your house. What do you do? You panic, like every sane human being would. You start to sweat, you breathe heavily or struggle to breathe, you feel nauseous, your heart races, there’s a heavy pressure in your chest, so on and so forth.

Now picture something else: all of those symptoms happening when you aren’t actually in any danger. No one is breaking into your house. Nothing is about to harm you or is currently harming you. Your body suddenly just starts to panic anyway. That is a panic attack.”

With panic disorder, the body for no real and current reason goes into full fight or flight mode. It differs for everyone, but for me in particular I’m often triggered by something externally that was threatening in the past. Many times I cannot initially identify the trigger. It is almost impossible too when the brain is flooded and the executive functioning goes offline.

Panic attacks arouse the body to a peak level of excitement which makes the individual feel not in control of him or herself. The mind is preparing for a false fight or flight mode, forcing the body to take over to help the victim face or run from the perceived danger, real or not.” (4) The reptilian brain that all land creatures have to flee or fight is what takes over. Rational thinking is completely shut down. It’s not the time to start figuring out the cause or rationalizing with the individual.

I want to feel normal and not panic more than anything. Riding it out, medicine and therapy are helpful, but it took years for the body to become dysfunctional to this point; it likely will not go away overnight.

I can tell you what makes it worse for me –

  1. Being with someone during a panic attack that doesn’t understand and gets annoyed or mad if they can’t help me. I can’t be helped at that point. Someone in my face rationalizing it for me feels condescending. Shunning me at that point feels humiliating and akin to abandonment. I’m humiliated enough. Standing in judgment only makes it worse.
  2. Another horror is trying to hide it to not scare other people. I feel further trapped. I’ve had panic attacks on an airplane, in restaurants, at work, while driving, while getting ready for bed, when waking up… Of course no one wants to see or hear it, but other people hiding or pretending nothing is going on just makes me feel like a freak creature that needs to be avoided.
  3. Last but not least on is the shame of having to hide a huge piece of yourself to others. Our society doesn’t look kindly to Mental Health issues. Before suffering myself, I too thought it was the sign of a weak mind and something you can control. Last summer I spent a full month in an IOP (Intensive Outpatient Program). But forbid I let people know. My own step kids and extended family were kept in the dark. I was afraid to tell people at work why I was on FMLA. It may sound silly or it may not, but if I felt that way I would be willing to bet I’m not the only one.

May is Mental Health Awareness month (5). If you don’t suffer from any mental health issues (Yay You!), it’s very likely you know someone who does; you just don’t know they do. Let’s all do our part to bring awareness and be compassionate to one another to avoid shame, humiliation and judgment. We are all human. Let’s treat one another as such.

Peace.

  1. Anxiety and Depression Association of America https://adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics#
  2. We Need to Talk. Our Society Has an Issue With Anxiety and Mental Health. https://futurism.com/we-need-to-talk-our-society-has-an-issue-with-anxiety-and-mental-health/amp/
  3. https://medium.com/@gtinari/how-to-handle-someone-elses-anxiety-or-panic-attacks-51ee63f5c23bHow to Handle Someone Else’s Anxiety or Panic Attacks
  4. How to Help Someone Having a Panic Attack https://m-wikihow-com.cdn.ampproject.org/v/s/m.wikihow.com/Help-Someone-Having-a-Panic-Attack?amp=1&amp_js_v=0.1&usqp=mq331AQECAEoAQ%3D%3D#origin=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.google.com&prerenderSize=1&visibilityState=prerender&paddingTop=54&p2r=0&horizontalScrolling=0&csi=1&aoh=15272981860562&viewerUrl=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.google.com%2Famp%2Fs%2Fm.wikihow.com%2FHelp-Someone-Having-a-Panic-Attack%253famp%3D1&history=1&storage=1&cid=1&cap=swipe%2CnavigateTo%2Ccid%2Cfragment%2CreplaceUrl
  5. Mental Health America http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/may

<a href=”https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/doppelganger/”>Doppelgänger</a&gt;

 https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/doppelganger/

On Being AWOL Through Life

via Daily Prompt: Rebel

Have you ever considered you might have been brainwashed? Why aren’t we rebelling against anything? It seems like everyone is an automaton just going about life without thinking.

Brainwashed? Me? No way! Why do you ask – How do you mean?

Let me try to explain. I think…

This was an email exchange between my brother and I just this morning. I had sent out the weekly schedule to help track (believe it or not) the 4-8 family members that regularly stay at our home in Cheshire on any given evening (including him).

Mario: “Looks good. I guess Tommy working is just every day thing. How’s Gabby?”.

Me: “She’s good. Needs eye-glasses, to fix her car, deal with concussion and find a job. 

Tom is only working Wed-Sun this week, don’t know next week yet. He wants to move to Maine for the summer to rent a house with friends from school- jobless, with a car payment, needing to save for next insurance installment & all…. We had a short scuffle about it on Monday with his Hollywood jazz blaring in the background over breakfast. Good times.

Kieran came back yesterday without warning and brought his friend Michele over. Despite me & Daren asking him numerous times what his plan is every week and if we will see him – he just showed up at 12 in the afternoon with the proclamation he is staying “many days” via a text to Daren only moments before which he later tells us is because “Mother is away”.  

Gilmore is missing. We all saw him before Devin’s concert last night & not since. He didn’t show up for breakfast. I’m a bit sad & worried.”

 Mario: “That’s all? I don’t’ think I could say anything that would help… Keep doing those practices. Gilly, I am sure will return. He has it too good there.”

To explain a bit –

Tommy is my 21-year-old biological son who moved back home from college last winter in what should have been junior year at the University of Southern Maine. He’s currently on the 5-8 year college plan. Gabby is my 18-year-old bio daughter who just got home from freshman year at the University of Rhode Island on Tuesday evening. Kieran is my 18-year old step-son who lived with us regularly since 2011, but in the past two years makes sporadic proclamations about living here or at his moms… he will often dramatically pack up everything and go to one place or another without warning. Devin is my 15-year-old step-son who is a high school freshman. Gilmore is one of my 3 cats… or was one of them. He still isn’t back. He’s never been gone before. Escaped yes, but we see him sneak out and promptly catch him. He’s 8+, never been outside (so not street smart from a cat sense) and quite plump– a perfect morsel for any wildlife that might live in the woods behind our home. And we have a dog. My brother Mario has been staying with us since last fall regularly on and off.

That’s my quick background of a standard, crazy week at the Anderson-Messeder household. I wish I could say these unusual things like busted cars, concussions, family members coming and going, missing animals, etc; was truly unusual – and they are, but there is ALWAYS something truly unusual and outstanding going on around here. It makes it hard to predict what it will be.

OK – so there is a lot on my plate. I think I’m a good person. I’m a normal citizen. I do my part & then some. I pay my taxes. I regularly shop with extreme coupons and donate the items to a domestic violence shelter weekly. I am involved in an organization to volunteer my time to teach yoga at a shelter. I teach yoga outside of that too. I work part-time for the VA hospital where I’ve worked full time for 15 years until recently. I manage a vacation rental that starting around now in May gets turned over around once a week. I take care of our home and pets. My husband & I are a blended family and I’ve tried to be the best mother and step mother that I can be.

So why don’t I feel good about myself? Why do I want to rebel against modern society and the way we live?

Because it’s all so selfish and if I’m honest with myself seriously quite ridiculous.

Because our kids have more than enough and then some and just don’t appreciate any of it.

Because I have more than makes me happy and I feel like a prisoner trying to keep up with it all.

Because other people are suffering and the non-sense… (and boy do I mean non-senseof my everyday life) just gets in the way of doing something meaningful.

Because as I sit here writing this, there are humans being trafficked around my own state.

Because 1 in 4 college girls is sexually assaulted and we accept this as the norm (and these are just reported cases!). One of my daughter’s best friends from high school was raped the first night of being a freshman. She went to the ER and did all the right things and has been working all year with the insurance company to keep it from her parents because she feels bad since she was drinking. A colleague of mine just posted a story on Facebook written by her daughter who is a sophomore – a tribute to how messed up the system has been to her after her own rape.

How do we sit tight as women right now knowing in our own first world countrythat we only make 81 cents to the dollar of men if you are white – and lessif you aren’t?

There are school shootings or a threat of one DAILY. DAILY!!! My niece who is 8 tells us about regular drills at school where they never know if it’s a real shooting or not. The kids have to run to the closest closet or hiding place for 20-30 minutes at a time so they are well practiced when there is a real school shooter.

GMOs in our food, chemicals in our tampons to make us bleed more, animals on antibiotics that are mindlessly slaughtered and consumed without a single thought, k-cups and other disposables being used like there is no tomorrow and the earth can handle endless plastic and CO2, hazing, gay bashing, homeless beatings, domestic violence… Whiskey Tango Foxtrot! For those who aren’t familiar with the phonetic alphabet – it’s WTF or even more literally translated as “What the Fuck”.

But we just come home and go to little league games where everyone is special and gets a trophy, have a beer or glass of wine on the sofa while watching the “heros” on TV who shoot up drugs, beat their wives and cheat on the sports we are watching, or make our favorite recipes using the chemically laden ingredients we bought off the supermarket shelves on the way home from (to mimic the sayings of a YouTube video I posted on Facebook not all too long ago [which shock of all shocks hardly got any likes]) our jobs in our cars that we need our jobs to pay off, to our homes that also aren’t paid off where no one is home to enjoy most of the day.

It’s all too much. I understand why we anesthetize ourselves and ignore everything else. It feels better to buy a new bag or computer than to immerse ourselves in the hard stuff of the world. To be absorbed in the world of fashion or some new mindless song about the cute boy who doesn’t know I exist. Or to drink, or to eat, or to have sex. Get me out of here!

Why aren’t we marching in the streets? Why don’t we realize or even want to stand up for our rights for ourselves and for other humans or sentient beings? To do so feels very anti-establishment, right? It shouldn’t. But we’ve been brainwashed to believe that if we could afford to buy that new car, bag, house, computer (on CREDITbtw) then we’ve “made it” and we should be happy.

Once you realize this and want to do something, the ones still brainwashed question your sanity so it makes you feel like you are the one out of your mind. Hence, we develop mental illnesses that we are prescribed drugs for, so we can comply with the way everything ‘is’ and ‘fit in’.

OK?

I’m not alright with this. This kid (me) is not alright.

The lyrics below are from a great song by Awolnation. Just look at the name of the group AWOL NATION.

That is what we are folks – just absent. It’s true whether you want to believe it or not. We should be rebelling. But like you, I’m too tired after dealing with the plethora of non-sense of my own small life. It’s the perfect system – make me love these things that I need to care for that take all of my time, leaving me with nothing to give and nothing to gain other than to pay for the things I hardly have time to enjoy on credit. Gotta love it all.

For now, I’ll just preach about the craziness of it all. I will never be in your face I promise – because I don’t have a leg to stand on like anyone else. I’ll be vegan most of the time and wear a nose ring until people ask me why. I can only hope to spread a little awareness and love along the way. Hugs, kisses, peace & Namaste.

AWOLNATION – This Kid’s Not Alright

 (I still don’t know what I’m doing…
Fuck!)

Troubles coming for the free men
We shake them, shake them with the free hand
So stand tall, shout out with me

Do your dirty work without me, Say you’re best when no one can see
Stand up, catch fire with me

(This kid, this kid, this kid, this kid, this kid)

This kid’s not alright
This kid’s not alright
This kid’s not alright
But this kid’s not alright

I’ve been sleeping with these
I’ve been sleeping with these thoughts, man
I’ve been contemplating singing them
So stand up, catch fire with me

(This kid, this kid, this kid, this kid, this kid)

You can follow them to hell

This kid’s not alright
This kid’s not alright
This kid’s not alright
But this kid’s not alright

I’m scared, I may derail

You can follow them to hell
You can follow them to hell
You can follow them to hell
You can follow them to hell
You can follow them to hell

This kid’s not alright
You can follow them to hell
This kid’s not alright
You can follow them to hell
This kid’s not alright
You can follow them to hell
But this kid’s not alright

Unknown

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/rebel/

On the Sun, Moon & Tides

Over the past few weeks due to two different workshops I have attended, I’ve been very interested in learning a little more about the moon and it’s cycles. Coincidentally and unrelated to the workshops, an organization I volunteer for is having a retreat in the Catskills one weekend to learn more about the moon.

The moon affects our tides and the sea. They are predictable, as predictable as the sun rising and setting. We can look up the sunrise, moon phases and tide tables for the next hundred years and be sure that is what is going to happen.

For my birthday this year Daren booked a trip a few months ahead to one of our favorite destinations in the world – York, ME. We are here now. We left yesterday afternoon and drove up in the pouring rain. As we pulled into the Airbnb he rented on the water, the rain stopped and the sun began an attempt to peep through the grey clouds.

Situated at the end of a small street extension, the quaint New England house from the outside was adorable. As we opened the lockbox to get the key I was already sad we only had three nights here.

We opened the door to the house and were instantly in awe at the view of the ocean from the house. The inside was even more special. We went upstairs to drop off our bags and the view from the master bedroom was even more amazing. I felt my heart slow down, my blood pressure decrease and an overall sense of peace. I love coming to Maine. We have vacationed here with the kids and alone for at least six years now. It’s like coming home.

There is something about being near the ocean that calms me and feels like home. The smell of marine life, the sound of waves crashing against the shore, the mystery and vastness… how it can look so different at any time of the day or year. Between the tide changes, sun position, weather… it never gets old.

We only live about 45 minutes from the Long Island sound, but it’s the furthest I’ve lived from the water in my life. It’s probably no coincidence that at this time in life I suffer from anxiety. There are definable other factors too- the second half of life, blended family woes, being more spiritual… but I can’t discount the lack of water in my life.

In a workshop I attended last week I learned that water absorbs our heavy energies and carries it away. I can almost feel this. It might be why I feel like a completely different person when we spend time in the house that we have on the Airbnb market in Branford, CT.

I feel that being near the water and being more directly, physically affected by the tides also helps to put us even more in touch with nature. For example here in Maine and in Branford, certain beaches don’t even exist at high tide. At our home in Branford during low tide you can actually walk down the steps in our yard to the cove and over to the sound or across to another house, or during high tide you can use those same steps to kayak away from the house. Fisherman, seaside towns, and many maritime cultures alike live and plan their day by the tides. When you accept that you can only do certain things as nature provides it to you, I feel it can help you accept that we can’t always manipulate life and that it’s important to live with the elements. Overall we became more adaptable, well adjusted people who can steer a sailboat (figuratively) using the elements of life rather than trying to fight them.

At our home in Branford, I provide our renters with a sunrise & set schedule so they can decide if they would like to watch it. I let them know where the best places are whether it be in our yard or down the street to catch either. I also provide a little chart with the tides and phases of the moon. The full moon at the beach 100 steps from our front door is not a site to be missed on a clear night. The tides in our area will dictate when you can sit on the beach or kayak.

I don’t think many folks know why, but in many comments in the guest book or on the sites where the vacation rental is listed, our guests have commented about how calm they feel and that they felt so connected to nature there.

Living in, around, and with nature helps us feel connected to it. In our modern lives we almost never feel that connection. Somehow the tree’s leaves just appeared or it was daytime. Sensing the change and being witness to the artistic beauty the universe provides helps me to be connected to the universe itself. Being connected gives me clarity about the role of my small, selfish thoughts in the big picture; helps me feel the divine connection I have to everyone and everything, and helps me to want to just be a better person.

Below,in order, is the view as I write this blog this morning,the sunrise that woke us up from the master bedroom window and some lobster traps left for the season at Perkins Cove last night

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/tide/

On Vagueness

via Daily Prompt: Vague

When an answer or story is vague, antennas should be tuning in because vagueness is often based in hiding something. There are some good reasons to hide something – like a surprise, staying out of drama, or even just dancing around an answer to the question about what you are doing a particular evening if you don’t know if the person asking was invited to the event you are going to.

More often than not though, vagueness is usually a warning sign to pay attention. If we pay attention we would know when to dig deeper. And if we really reallypaid attention; we might be able to even tell on a subtle level if there cause of vagueness is for a positive or negative reason. It’s not difficult, it just takes some awareness and tuning in.

Most of us want to believe what we would like in order to keep our worlds as we would like them to be. We ignore the vague nagging in our guts that is signaling something isn’t right. The answers that don’t add up but we don’t seem to have time to prod. The person we love and want to trust so we don’t question. The sales pitch that doesn’t quite sit right but the evidence to the contrary is showing all peaches and roses.

I’ve been duped many times in my life. When I look back at the lies I’ve been told or the hidden truths I’ve discovered, I know that at some point there was a very quiet alarm bell that I had ignored. In hindsight I recognize that I knew it, but at the time I wanted to believe what I wanted to believe. Sometimes it’s easier to keep going by ignoring the unpleasant. But it often makes things worse in the long run. Perhaps recognizing the feeling and asking just another question or two could really prevent future harm.

We could be saving battered women and children. Hearing a real cry for help from a depressed loved one. Finding out an employee isn’t really all he or she is cracked up to be after all. Learning that your spouse is an adulterer. Recognizing your child is using drugs. Unearthing who the real culprit is when you are in the midst of drama. Saving a trafficked human. Preventing a diploma getting into the hands of someone who hasn’t worked for it.

I know I’ve recognized the feeling before that arose out of vagueness. Have you felt that alarm bell too? Was it mostly good or bad? Do you wish you paid attention earlier? What could you have prevented?

 

 

On a Song for Someone

via Daily Prompt: Song

From
U2

The refrain of this song is used on both of U2’s most recent albums, Songs of Innocence (2014) and Songs of Experience (2017). It was called “A Song for Someone” on the 2014 album, and a “There is a Light” on the 2017 album.  Both titles make sense, as the refrain uses both lines.

It’s a beautiful song that speaks to me in the way of communicating with our own soul, or that part of ourselves that is all knowing and sits quietly waiting for us to be wise enough to just listen to it. To do so, we need to be quiet and tune in.

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If there is a light
You can’t always see
And there is a world
We can’t always be
If there is a dark
Now we shouldn’t doubt
And there is a light
Don’t let it go out

‘Cause this is a song
A song for someone
Someone like me

I didn’t like this song other than this part the first several times I heard it. Daren and I went to see the Innocence + Experience Tour in 2015. When Bono announced this song I believe said he wrote it for an old friend back in Ireland. When the last album came out a few months ago, Daren and I were listening to it together in the car on the way to Long Island. There is a Lightcame on closer to the end of the album (13). As soon as the refrain started I began to sing along. It was much slower than the original, but a welcome surprise I didn’t expect – like an old friend who is who is an improved version of themselves.

Like most songs – they have meaning in the ear of the beholder. Most of (if not all) of U2 songs have a very spiritual meaning to me. I was listening to this song in my own car a few weeks later when I started to thinking about the light that is always inside of us. Our own special light that can never go out but we cannot always see or connect to it. The world is at a physical level, so it would make sense that if there is a world we can’t always be connected to our spiritual/non-physical selves. At the time I was also putting together a yoga workshop on Tao yoga and was completely absorbed and fascinated by the concept of opposites. The dark/light comparison lines just really made sense. To me the songs speak of the relationship our ego and mind have with our soul, or that part of ourselves that contains the divine.

On the Songs of Innocence album – the lyrics are more of the innocent mind set. Likely before hard falls that take place in life, but about one who realized this relationship to their higher self and is on the journey of discovery. I hear it almost as if the ego is talking to the higher self, as the higher self doesn’t have a voice of it’s own. The ego translates what it tells us in words, but the higher self is not speaking in words. Similar to the way the bible explains how our ancestors may have heard the voice of God without hearing actual words.

You got a face not spoiled by beauty
I have some scars from where I’ve been

Our higher self cannot be anything other than perfect, while our physical self is scarred with imperfection.

You’ve got eyes that can see right through me
You’re not afraid of anything they’ve seen

Our own spirit is all knowing and you can’t hide anything from it, as it knows everything about you including what you think. And whatever it is – it’s all ok, we are human so we cannot be perfect and we have the capacity for forgiveness.

You let me into a conversation
A conversation only we could make
You break and enter my imagination
Whatever’s in there
It’s yours to take

Only we can have conversation with ourselves, and whatever is imagined we can decide if we want it there by taking notice and changing our thoughts.

And I’m a long way
From your hill of Calvary
And I’m a long way
From where I was, where I need to be

The hill of Calvary is literally & figuratively far away, and while I’m on the path to freedom/actualization/peace/heaven [whatever you want to call it] and far from where I started, there is still a ways to go.

The song 13 (There is a light) seems to speak about someone who has almost given up on their higher self. It’s off the Songs of Experience album and seems to speak to one who has been a bit more hardened by the cruel world.

And if the terrors of the night
Come creeping into your days
And the world comes stealing children from your room
Guard your innocence
From hallucination
And know that darkness always gathers around the light

There are negative thoughts in your mind. You don’t want them there but they show up. The world stealing children from your room (you/your construct) means that your innocence has been compromised. The lyrics ask that you guard it from things that aren’t there which you may think up and not want there (hallucinate); but know that there is a light right there that this dark drifts to. At the point of darkness in your life it’s normal to drift to the spiritual (light).

 

When the wind screams and shouts
And the sea is a dragon’s tail
And the ship that stole your heart away
Sets sail

When all you’ve left is leaving
And all you got is grieving
And all you know is needing

All these things will happen. Your heart will be broken, life is going to be hard, and we seem to only know through our physical self the perpetual never-ending material wants that can never be satisfied.

I know the world is done
But you don’t have to be

It’s to hard to fight the pull of the physical world so don’t be too hard on yourself when you fail, as the desires of the flesh will always be there. But that doesn’t mean you have to give up.

I’ve got a question for the child in you before it leaves
Are you tough enough to be kind?
Do you know your heart has its own mind?
Darkness gathers around the lights

Before giving up on the beauty and innocence you once had, know it’s tougher to be kind in a world that will always let you down. A child like heart will give you that strength to keep kind. The heart has a mind of it’s own and that “mind” has the right/kind answer every time.

This is my own loving/Esterina take on these two songs. I feel they speak of our own song with our souls or spirits within us. We just need to open up and listen. The answers and strength are all there in a never ending well.

‘Cause this is a song for someone like me.

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On the Sound of Silence

via Daily Prompt: Froth

When I first saw the word froth this morning as the daily blog prompt, images of cappuccinos and beer danced in my head. On the surface that is what I think of. Strangely, froth too is on the surface. Froth is mostly empty and provides little more than a fleeting pleasure to the tongue before it fades fairly quickly on its own. While it looks pleasant and inviting, it’s also hiding what is underneath.

When my husband Daren and I first moved into together with our four children, now well over 7 years ago; there was a noticeable difference between my two biological children and my two step-children. They had a lot to say and my two children and I did not. Often times when Daren and I were alone he shared that he felt uncomfortable with the silence and commented about how different it felt from being with his ex where there was non-stop chatter.

At first I felt motivated to talk more. The dinner table was usually dominated by Daren asking everyone questions with my two children providing short answers and my step-children providing very long detailed answers that dominated the rest of the meal. I tried to jump in and ask questions, but I felt very fake in doing so. When Daren would come home and ask how my day was I would say something along the line of ‘Good and how was yours?’ He would answer in detail about how wonderful the day was. Every day. To be honest I didn’t find this intriguing; I found it quite annoying.

It’s not a pleasant feeling to be annoyed with your spouse over a silly question about how the day was. I didn’t like myself for it and sort of felt embarrassed that I didn’t really care enough to hear about the wonderful day he had. Oddly he left out things that really mattered that would bug me or I needed to know– like that he drove to another state, had a paper published that he forwarded to his parents and kids but never thought to send it to me too, or that his ex asked him several days ago to switch an evening so the kids will be here tomorrow evening… and they need rides all over the state.

I was finding a lump in my throat when asked a question by my new family or when I even tried to consider a response. I started to become speechless. I never considered myself of my former family quiet by any stretch. I couldn’t quite put my finger on this. The blended family dinners were particularly of dis-ease. Daren would start to get desperate and go around the table with particular questions like what was your most favorite part of the day? My kids would look uncomfortable as his started talking. Eventually his children sensed this and became uncomfortable too. Everyone would clear their plates as soon as possible and ask to be excused no matter how many different attempts we made at having a conversation we could all enjoy.

I’m incredibly embarrassed to say that it took far longer than it should to even determine what the proverbial ‘bee in my bonnet’ was about the whole thing. It was almost two years later while listening to Simon & Garfunkel’s ‘Sound of Silence’ that I really heard their lyrics for the first time. I became teary eyed- “People talking without speaking. People hearing without listening”. What was bothering me wasn’t the amount of the conversation, it was the content. Or should I say lack there of?

The content remained very much on the surface and was full of air – like froth. The kids would sit at our dinner table politely waiting their own turn. No one was listening to nor cared what anyone else was saying Perhaps my kids picked up on that first and kept their answers short to spare everyone else the details. His children didn’t see the signs that no one was really listening and kept going. It was froth. You got to only show what you want to. It either felt like strangers waiting online at the coffee shop trying to make small talk, or two previous competing colleagues meeting up to catch up and notate each and every accomplishment and good thing in their life since they last met.

I started to notice the same conversations all around me outside of my home too. Conversations wrought with wonderful, just wonderful days. Days filled with accomplishments and learning experiences. The ‘engaged’ listener would mechanically ask the ‘right’ inquiring questions with a curious, well planted look on their face; smiling on cue and sitting on the edge of their seat. The edge of seat sitting wasn’t due to the amazing story the engaged listener was ‘hearing’, they were at the edge of their seat putting together their own story of how wonderful everything is and their own accomplishments. It seems as if everyone was “one-upping” each other. After all is said and done, there is an invisible pat on each other’s back – both acknowledging one another’s greatness. From my own experience in these types of conversations for a moment both parties feel confident and good about themselves. But moments upon walking away they are filled with emptiness.

On the opposite end of the spectrum are the complainers. The co-workers who consistently sit around with a scowl on their face having something to say about everyone’s every move. Little tiny molehills that would never even be thought about are turned into major catastrophes. Opinions and platitudes without substance are just spewed out like lava erupting from a volcano at periodic, random times.

The newfangled observation of conversations that always took place really started to trouble me. Although I participated in them myself from time-to-time, I had to really stop and think about how I must be perceived. Do I complain too much? Is anyone really interested in my stupid stories that might have gone on for too long? If I didn’t find a person interesting or I found them to be entirely too caught up in themselves, but I sat with them for a long time acting very interested – doing all the right things; looking them in the eye, asking the right questions, throwing my hair back and leaning in…. then perhaps they didn’t find me interesting either. What a concept! Me not interesting? My complaints not valid?? Then it hit me, or course not. We are all actors in a very lonely play. Doing what we are supposed to on stage, but not really connecting at any human level. If you were really paying attention to me; I was probably glancing at my watch, looking around the room to find a way out, and dropping all types of conversation enders. All until the conversation turned back to me of course. How engaging… not!

At home at least I thought I had a respite. A place to kick back, be real and stay away from the superficial banter of the real world. Prior to my new marriage; my children, ex-husband and I had plenty to say around the dinner table, but the content was different. We shared funny stories that happened that day, talked about something in the news or something that happened to someone we all knew, or chitchatted about things we all liked such as our pets. Sometimes there was a lesson or dinner manner correction, but it flowed all very naturally and with ease. In my new family I felt like I was on stage, having to watch every word. Sound happy so the kids don’t go back to their other parent with anything negative. Be cheerful and say the right things even when I was being called names and ignored. It was too much and too too too fake.

I started thinking entirely too much about conversations and communication. While I heard many details about Daren’s great days, the more he shared; the less I wanted to. I didn’t always have a great day. It was too much mental energy to keep up with him to rehash my ‘best of Esterina moments’ and amazing learning experiences. It’s not that I didn’t have any, it’s just that they didn’t fill me up or bring me pleasure to share. Yes, I want my partner to be proud of me and to be proud of my partner, but not in this way. Don’t get me wrong, we did have deep conversations too. Many evenings when both sets of kids were with their other parents, we shared some wine and sat for long hours after dinner having the most intellectually stimulating conversations. I just didn’t like what we did at dinner or after work.

The Sound of Silence resonated with me. These surface conversations that I noticed I was having or hearing all the time didn’t feel like anyone was really listening or cared. I didn’t connect with the other person through these dialogues. The topics stayed light and empty. I almost preferred the [How are you? Good and you? Good] types of exchanges because at the very least they weren’t pretending to be anything that they were not. People just hearing without listening. I was craving something more. I realized how lonely this is and desired deeply to connect with others.

I did talk with Daren about this occasionally. He didn’t understand and took it the wrong way. It was a bit of a source of contention. When I thought I discovered the meaning to The Sound of Silence, I played it in the car with Daren. When it was over I asked him what it meant to him. He honed in on the line “Silence like a cancer grows” and said he was happy that I could understand what he meant when he comments about how he felt uncomfortable with the silence. As the song states, it creates a cancer between people.

UGH…. That isn’t how I interpreted it. I became annoyed and said something to the effect of ‘that’s not what it means’. For me it meant that the emptiness of the conversation is the silence. People have so much more richer, deep, meaningful things to say than they communicate; but don’t share them (writing songs they never share). Perhaps people are to busy to connect so they talk about only the good stuff, but that feels very empty and phony to both the speaker and listener. If you always hear others talking about good stuff and posting social media images and messages about good stuff; then we never cut below the real surface of life to what we truly experience. It’s a construct, an ideal. A neon god that we are worshiping.

As a society we generally stay silent about things that matter. Simon and Garfunkel were pre-social media, but we’ve taken that to the online streets as well. Afraid that posting strong feelings about anything that could be perceived as controversial might paint ourselves in a negative light to someone else. So we hide our passions, we don’t act or behave as we really are from deep down in the heart, and we only share our surface facade. It leads to not fighting for social justice, animal rights, gay marriage – or anything that might bring us closer as a human race to acceptance and compassion.

The more we open up about what is really going on with us, share our failures in addition to our successes and stop giving ourselves and everyone else a trophy for mediocrity; perhaps the more willing we would be to put our beliefs on the line to fight for what matters to us deep down- picket, participate in a sit in, or even just write a passionate letter to a Congressman.

To revisit that day in the car, I said many of these things – only with a much hotter head and louder voice. Daren and I debated about what the lyrics meant, and didn’t even agree to disagree – we just disagreed. Not long ago we listened to the song again in the car. Daren, forgetting the entire previous conversation we had said afterwards – “Wow that is deep!”. I asked again what it meant to him. This time we had a very cerebral, respectful discussion and I felt a real connection to another human.

Presently Daren and I’s post work conversations are far more real and down to earth. Communication about important logistical matters has gotten better but there are occasional, annoying lapses. Our dinner table dynamic never did improve. It has remained an uncomfortable staple in our home for years. Every once in while we will have an enjoyable, participatory family discussion; but those are way too few and far between. At least I now know it’s the froth that bugs me. The knowing allows me to step back and not engage in what isn’t me.

It’s been years since Daren has said anything to me about silence. I don’t talk any more or less than I used to, but our norm as a couple has shifted. Although he may be annoyed with me for over sharing here in this blog, I am confident that he too now has little tolerance for empty blathering covered in froth and would actually prefer the sound of silence to it.

Hello darkness, my old friend
I’ve come to talk with you again
Because a vision softly creeping
Left its seeds while I was sleeping
And the vision that was planted in my brain
Still remains
Within the sound of silence

In restless dreams I walked alone
Narrow streets of cobblestone
‘Neath the halo of a street lamp
I turned my collar to the cold and damp
When my eyes were stabbed by the flash of a neon light
That split the night
And touched the sound of silence

And in the naked light I saw
Ten thousand people, maybe more
People talking without speaking
People hearing without listening
People writing songs that voices never share
And no one dared
Disturb the sound of silence

Fools, said I, you do not know
Silence like a cancer grows
Hear my words that I might teach you
Take my arms that I might reach you
But my words, like silent raindrops fell
And echoed in the wells of silence

And the people bowed and prayed
To the neon god they made
And the sign flashed out its warning
In the words that it was forming
And the sign said, the words of the prophets are written on the subway walls
And tenement halls
And whispered in the sounds of silence

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