All quiet on the southwestern front or: how anxiety is eating my lunch

All quiet on the southwestern front, I know. It’s hard to write when things are hard, not because there is less to say, but because it feels like those things might be less worth saying.

My instagram feed this weekend was a flurry of sunny pictures from the garden along with captions detailing my anxiety. Nothing if not dualistic, I guess. The last few weeks have been a challenge, a collection of challenges. I’ll go to open a spreadsheet or word doc, to pick out a shirt to wear, to look in the fridge for a snack and suddenly feel myself gripped by what can only be described as waves, Herculean waves, of panic and fear crashing into my core, the tips of my fingers, my shoulders, my everything. I’ll stand up, jump around to try to spur an endorphin rush. Pick up my phone and open the mental health app that provides prompts for helpful exercises, like breathing, meditation, or other ways over/around/through the anxiety. I’ll do 15 minutes of yoga. Text a friend. Change my setting. Eat something. Take a shower.

And sometimes it works, often it doesn’t. I still do those things, because as a friend and I commiserated this weekend, one of the biggest lies we tell ourselves in the heat of the moment is that those things aren’t worth it. They are. They absolutely are.

I finished a course of treatment (cognitive-behavioral therapy with somatic work) a few weeks ago, after pain from a surgical procedure triggered a traumatic event. It was, by all measures, successful. I processed the trauma, learned new skills, kept myself centered in the present. I saw my doctor and reported that things were, technically speaking, pretty okay. Yes, Mike had lost his job and that was stressful; yes, the transition was creating new challenges and we were experiencing some growing pains. Yes, Georgie is still nursing, with all the hormonal shifts that entails, but I’d gotten through it before, right? I could recognize those as external stressors and plan for additional time and space to cope.

And then– I don’t know what. Something changed. It felt like the medications I had come to peace with, that I took dutifully every day, just stopped working.  As I write, the kids are asleep, I have the house to myself, I’ve taken my medicine and had a cup of coffee and done some stretching, and yet– despite dutifully checking all of the self-care boxes– the knot in my stomach is tightening and growing. I’m breathing into it, pressing my feet into the floor, scanning my body for sensations of anxiety, or calm, or nothing.

I’ve been reading articles on how to talk with your children about depression and anxiety, and I think we’re doing okay on that front, being honest and respectful but putting no weight on the babes. I’m not feeling well, but I’ll be okay, and it’s not your job to make me feel better.  I completed an intake for a psychiatrist closer to home, with more availability should I need more frequent appointments, Mike and I are starting relationship counseling this week, and I’m seeing a GP to identify any nutritional deficiencies or health problems that might be exacerbating the issue.

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I don’t ascribe any agency or ill will toward my anxiety; it’s more like a force of nature: a cold wind that blows through your sleeves and skin and bones and then doesn’t, whether or not you have to walk to work and forgot your jacket; ocean waves that knock into your face if you’re there, or carry you gently to shore, you know, just whatever they need to do, with no regard for whether it benefits you or not. I respect that about nature, that sometimes there are ripe thimbleberries on our hikes and sometimes there are poisonous mushrooms, that sometimes it hails mercilessly on the mountain even when the sun was shining moments before, not out of animosity or generosity, because there isn’t anything moral or value-based about it. It just is.

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There are absolute, very definite spots of brightness: the words and actions of friends, knocking out a work task with skill, planting and harvesting our little backyard plot, those two girls so full of life. I can still volunteer with a postpartum mother, still eat roast bison dug from a five-foot-deep pit of burning juniper and corn alongside friends, still knock out some sauerkraut and kombucha and homemade wine from grapes Mike and Georgie harvested that Winnie and I stomped. It’s quite all instagram-y, really, including those captions:

My garden is still alive; look at this fennel! Also I suffer from debilitating anxiety

This is a pinto bean grown from seed and there is a lead ball made of worry in my belly

Spaghetti squash and tomatoes and sage and perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, did I mention those?

And later, I’ll pick up Winnie from school, pick up Mike from the same, and we’ll head to dinner with friends. I’ll sharpen my wit and my tongue and make biting, hilarious comments during the debate tonight, I’m sure. Soon enough, I’ll come out of this haze, the knot will soften, and like any pain, I won’t fully remember just how hard these moments were. Thank goodness.

I’ll also post a truly excellent zucchini bread recipe soon. This is a mommyblog, after all.

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The Goats and Their Hooves

I trimmed goat hooves for the first time this week. I’m not going to turn that into some kind of metaphor, so relax.

We’ve been in New Mexico for ten months now, a little longer than it took to grow Winnie or Georgie (barely). I met a friend (ten months means we’ve made one! or even a few!) for cocktails a few weeks ago, our first time hanging out without children or partners. We first bonded over our mutual vaccination schedules and lack of guns in our homes, then found out we had other things in common, like being and raising excellent humans, etc. This night, we wandered a whole block away from our cars to a bar– the Lowrider themed bar, thankyouverymuch– where the partner of a mutual friend was bartending. He made us strong cocktails, and I somehow woke up the next morning signed up for a shift at the goat co-op.

No, really.

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So I’ve been working every week at building those milking muscles, getting faster and more efficient and better able to note when Itsy is about to stick her hoof in the milk bucket or Souffle is sneaking up behind me to make a break from the paddock. Dee still manages to toss her bowl upside down every once in a while, but I’ve built up a wicked fast catching reflex, so the chickens only get an extra treat of spilled goat feed every once in a while.

The goats at a local school had some overgrown hooves and I had expressed interest in learning everything  how to trim hooves, so the woman who runs the co-op kindly picked me up and showed me how to brush and clean and scrape and trim and clip and scrape and brush and trim those hooves. It was immensely satisfying.

 

I’ve been acquainted with goats and their output for a decade or so now, but I’ve learned more about goats in the last month than I likely had the ten years prior. About bloat and mastitis, about their teeth and their toes.

Maybe one day we’ll have a couple of goats, a few chickens. The high desert has surprised me in the garden– after months and weeks of being sure that nothing would every get any bigger, the plants have exploded. While I see my friends in other climates rolling in ripe tomatoes and even winter squash (how do you do it, Okie Foodscapes?!), I’m delighting at the first pinto bean pod, the fact that my cassava melon plant is blooming and not, in fact, dead, and nearly ripe apples and grapes. The peppers are blooming, and so are the spaghetti squash. The basil has come from behind. Even the sage and the fennel are hanging in!

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We’re sowing turnips, broccoli rabe, radishes, winter peas, and some grains soon. Mulching has paid off. Weeding is a full time job, but watering isn’t because of these beautiful monsoons. We saw a puppet show at the farmers’ market. We’ll show up to milk and water and feed and greet the goats on Monday morning, bright and early. Friends will join us for dinner, perhaps just to see where I’ve worked in the raw goat’s milk and the purslane and lambs quarters I can’t seem to stay on top of.

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All Quiet on the Western Front

If only life were my tenth grade English class–

We wrote and wrote and wrote and read and talked and wrote that year.

It wasn’t the year of my favorite book- Julius Caesar, Old Man and the Sea, A Separate Peace, all were fine- but we wrote and we wrote and we wrote and wrote that year. It was– and if I’m honest, always will be– the writing.

Why does it have to mean anything? A student asked of the Old Man and his pieta. Why couldn’t he represent a lawnmower, over Christ? He bemoaned. Well, a lawnmower’s hands don’t bleed, for one, and I’ve yet to see one teach a man to fish.

We wrote autobiographies that year, individual exploratory writing exercises. Lists of things we loved and hated, moving ourselves into metaphor, “if I were a- if I were a- if I were a fish, I’d be a carp” and “if I were a jazz musician, I sure wouldn’t be Miles Davis, have you read about that guy?”

Perhaps inspired by all the self-reflection, I walked into class one day–probably late, probably without my assignment done, probably with plenty of excuses in hand– and told my teacher it meant a lot, her teaching. The writing and writing and reading and writing and thinking and talking. I knew we were getting better, and we’d always use those skills (it would take longer for me to feel the same about compounding interest, relevant though it might be). She thanked me, I went off for lunch with my friends.

The next day she pulled me into the hall. Stepping out into the hall with a teacher wasn’t new. I walked those halls with lots of weight, the weight of never finishing an assignment on time, of wondering if attendance had been taken the day I’d decided the park was more beneficial than class, of all that was going on at home and my inability to articulate it. I was afraid of everything. I knew I could but I wouldn’t. I ran, and hid, and destroyed any evidence of success.

The door latched. My stomach turned. “I was being thrown to the wolves yesterday,” she said. “Thank you. I needed to hear that. I needed to hear that it mattered.”

Weeks later, I turned in a completed autobiography, printed and bound. There were two post-it notes with her comments. The first–taking exception to my description of a clarinet as “soothing”. Sure, word choice could have improved there. The second–where I’d noted my wish to learn how to care for others without feeling guilty: “when you figure it out, let me know”.

Two children, one marriage, and many friendships and relationships and changes in the family dynamic later, here I am. A recent conversation about volunteer commitments met with disdain: “Shouldn’t you be spending more time with your family?” Shouldn’t I be showing them the size of the world, the size of our hearts, the size of our need and our obligation to one another? Shouldn’t I show them how to care?

I pulled myself into the hall that day. Told myself it mattered. Dropped the guilt in the recycling bin and watched it tumble into a truck, carted off into the distance.

If I were a- If I were a- If I were a- If I were a-

 

 

Apology

It is, every day, a reconciliation. An understanding that I will never have enough to give, but what I give must be enough. Reliance on grace to fill in the gaps, faith that one step and then another leads me somewhere, or through somewhere, or nearish somewhere.

I say lots of I’m sorrys, but I still work on repentance, to literally and figurative turn, and in so turning, view my wrongs, my sins, where I have taken from another, or not given what I ought. For not listening. For not being present. For taking my anger at and lobbing it full force at my husband’s heart, saying, “Take this. I can’t. It’s yours.”

I’m sorry is not an apology. It is a placeholder, a glib acknowledgment on my part, that just as soon as these wounds heal, just as soon as I find a minute, just as soon as everything is perfect, I’ll turn, and I’ll view you, really see you, and give you what it is you need, from me.

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Most Merciful God, I confess that I have sinned against you, in thought, word, and deed, by what I have done, and by what I have left undone. I have not loved you with my whole heart, I have not loved my neighbors as myself. I am truly sorry, and I humbly repent. For the sake of Your Son, Jesus Christ, have mercy on me and forgive me, that I may delight in your will and walk in your ways, to the glory of your name. Amen.

 

 

On the Refrigerated and the Grotesque | Daily Prompt: South

I’m spending a few minutes every day with the Daily Post’s Daily Prompt. I’m not planning to publish every brainstorm, but will post a handful, for accountability and that weird stomach flip I get when I hit the publish button.

Daily Prompt: South

Thick sliced tomatoes dressed with salt and pepper, cantaloupe and watermelon and sweet corn and white onions from a roadside stand across the highway, behind the fire station and next to the field with the giant pivot irrigators sucking up the Ogalla aquifer, the sugar as translation of the hot days, unrelenting sun, thick air.

My grandfather, raised in what is now a ghost town, and his mother’s house with a persimmon tree in the backyard, the color of the ripe fruit taking up residence in my memory as a picture and not a word at all.

 

His grandmother, who chewed tobacco and once brought a tray of fried chicken and biscuits and a pitcher of tea to him at school, who leant us her middle name for our oldest daughter, who helped to raise my grandfather as he helped to raise me.

 

The origins of my family on their journeys both through the rhotic South to Oklahoma as immigrants and colonizers, and in their safe, still lives in Mississippi before their forced removal to Oklahoma.

 

A car trip to witness to the love of my dearest friend, across Oklahoma and east and south, into the non-rhotic South, in chaos and fear and change, and the desperate need to reframe that into something romantic and lovely. Its talons deep in the Southern and the Grotesque, chasing, literally chasing– through lengths of draping Spanish Moss while hiking up my taffeta skirt– a drunk man with the keys to my car and some weird power over me.

 

Another man, the one I chose, correctly, who chose me, who made our family, and then packed up that family into boxes and bins and a trailer and tiny car, and moved us south and west, to the high desert and the mountains, to light. Who spent weekends north, weekends south, weekends west, and a whole honeymoon across an ocean east.

 

Who never puts a tomato in the refrigerator, anymore.

Minor Survival

I’ve committed to myself, as of today, to spend 5-10 minutes with The Daily Post Daily Prompt, well, daily.

Today’s one word prompt is survival, a word that–in the context of this week– veers dangerously far from mommy-blogging territory.

Tuesday, I had a minor surgical procedure done. I was nervous about it, as one sometimes is for such things. Deep down, though, I was sure I’d bounce back quickly, go back to work that afternoon, and maybe have a funny anecdote or two to tell about it. My arrival at the hospital that morning certainly encouraged that idea– I had a wisecracking nurse, I joshed the anesthesiologist about my upcoming “nap” which I felt was well deserved, and the patient across the hall from me was doing astrological readings for every member of his health care team.

The nurse anesthetist dropped some kind of antianxiety/woooooooooo med in my IV and my bed was off to the OR. I expected to wake up, newly dysplasia-free.

Instead, I awoke in chaos, and parts of my body that had been previously traumatized were alive with pain. I was trying to grab the rope of consciousness, but I couldn’t, and the nightmares that have been torturing my sleep for the past few months were ever present.

The surgery went okay. One minor mistake/complication. My throat is raw and sore from the breathing tube they inserted, and I didn’t remember my discharge instructions. I’ve been physically sick from the anesthesia since Tuesday, and my brain is scrambled. The pain has lessened, but I wasn’t prepared for how intense it would be immediately following– it brought me to my knees on Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, unable to sleep.

But here I am. Dressed. Washed. Medicated. Fed. Coffee’d. I’ve snuggled my girls, rescheduled a doctor’s appointment, watered the plants, and I’m off to work.

I stumble, I misjudge, I survive–through no great momentum of my own.

 

 

 

Lately

My friend Gina at Popcorn and Pandas does this great recurring series called “Lately” that she adapted from another blogger (you can check out all of Gina’s Lately posts with links to the inspiration here).  I love the idea of checking in with yourself and creating a record of the things that drive us every day. With that in mind, I’m snagging the idea, adapting a few of the gerunds myself!

Lately I’ve been…

reading A Short Introduction to the Hebrew Bible; Jesus and the Disinherited; Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, and Judges. You know, light stuff. I’m about a third of the way through the first year of a four year course affiliated with the Episcopal Church called Education for Ministry, for which these are our texts so far. Here’s a great explanation of the course from Sewanee:

Every baptized person is called to ministry. The Education for Ministry (EfM) program provides people with the education to carry out that ministry. During the Service of Confirmation we ask God to “Renew in these your servants the covenant you made with them at Baptism. Send them forth in the power of the Spirit to perform the service you set before them.” EfM offers an opportunity to discover how to respond to the call to Christian service. 

writing  Descriptions for our new classes, press releases for events, and email after email after email.

listening  Right now, to sweet, sweet silence, but we have a lot of Jack’s Big Music Show on heavy rotation, and I had a major craving for some Tracy Chapman today, so the self-titled album was on repeat.

thinking About how to better organize my time, so that I’m giving my best to myself and others. And also about the fact that’s nearly swimming hole weather!

smelling Lilacs. Everything is in bloom despite the fact that our last frost day isn’t for another few weeks. I can’t get enough lilac, though, since it always seems like they fade far before I am ready for them to go.  

watching The big, blue (and purple and pink and orange) New Mexico sky.  When we first moved here, I was a little overwhelmed by the size of the sky and the intensity of the light, but now I crave it, every day. It’s a wonder, that sky.

wearing  So much linen, y’all. Consignment shops +  Santa Fe ladies that give up their Eileen Fisher wardrobes for the betterment of others have been rocking my world. Linen pants, linen shirts, linen jackets, linen skirts. So many neutrals, so little time.

eating  The leftovers from the popsicles Winnie and I made yesterday: coconut milk, avocado, frozen blueberries and raspberries, and a couple bananas. I filled all the molds, but some of the puree was leftover, and, ya know, somebody’s gotta eat it.

drinking My first ever cup of totally homemade dandelion root tea!  I’m obsessed with roasted dandelion root tea, so Winnie and I dug up some roots in the backyard yesterday (or as Winnie called it, “gardening”) and then I washed, roasted, and ground them today. It’s a whole lot of work for something I can pick up at the store pretty easily, but it was so cool to know that it’s just right at my fingertips like that! And the flavor was spectacular. My liver is giving me a high five right now.

feeling Ready to do some gardening. We have a couple raised beds in the back, and lots of seeds started, so I’m ready to see things get going!  We’re hosting a meetup of local parents and kids next week to do a seed and seeding swap, and I’m really looking forward to it.

wanting For all of my thoughts, actions, and belongings to be organized and purposeful. Is that so much to ask? (In other words, put down your damn phone, Sascha.)

needing  To prep for tomorrow’s coffee and cheese pairing run through. Excited to cup coffee and pair with cheese– totally unexpected, but really delicious.

loving  Our little community. The folks we’ve met here, the people we run into day after day, and the new people who keep popping up at every turn, have totally made our transition to a new place

wishing I were going to to be in Brooklyn when my friend Elizabeth Mangum-Sarach (of BirthFocus) hosts the inimitable respectful parenting guru Janet Lansbury for an intimate tea at Elizabeth’s new space, Nurture(Bklyn). What a cool opportunity!

hoping  For excellent weather for Saturday’s Spring Fair, hosted by Winnie’s preschool. We think this nature-based preschool is just magic, and I’m really looking forward to the opportunity to connect with other Dragonfly parents and share a little bit of that Dragonfly magic with other folks in the community!

craving  A veggie burrito from the Betterday Coffee Shop: homemade tortilla, red chile, squash, greens. It’s so ridiculously good.

clicking  On todoist.com every other second.  It’s the only way I can keep my to-dos in order, between work, home, Winnie’s school, church, volunteer obligations, our garden, and the like. As soon as it pops in my head, it goes on a list, or I’ll never remember it.

Oh, and in keeping with the Lately theme: since I last posted, we got to hang with a pal from NYC, I went to a spa in the mountains and had no cell reception and soaked in a tub and walked around in a robe and it was AMAZING, we flew as a family of four for the first time to Mike’s sister Jenny’s wedding and it was fabulous– so great to see family and meet Jen’s friends,  we threw a Fleetwood Mac & Cheese party at the shop, we signed a lease on a house, and Winnie has gotten really into shouting ALLELUIA during quiet moments at church, which is totally liturgically appropriate (for now.)

 

Alleluia, y’all!