Tag: anxiety

too long

It has been too long since i have written here, although i have been writing like a fiend in other areas of my life. Four poetry collections are compiled and in the process of being edited and transformed into works that flow with some level of grace.  A short story and a novel keep plodding forward, although progress has been slow.  Most days, i fall into bed utterly exhausted and without a dent made in my to-do list.

My art has falls into stolen moments.  i have a thousand things i ought to be doing on any given day – from the regular job to housekeeping to managing the mental breakdown that seems to be stalking me to digging myself out of this financial hole.  However, no matter how busy or frenzied i get, i have to be creating, or i will truly lose my sanity. Huge amounts of micropoems and small drawings flood out of me when i have more than five minutes of idle time.  Most of them are being collected on another blog – handprints on the wall – to separate them from the work that requires more focus and editing.

Once these tiny poems are written, by in large, i don’t worry about them anymore.  When the drawings are scanned and cleaned up, they no longer rent space in my awareness.  Yet they are left, like the cave paintings in ancient times, scattered about my rooms.  They move effortlessly into the hands of others.

Hopefully, i will be back to writing here more regularly now that summer has passed and the demands on my time have begun diminishing.  Otherwise, i will be writing – just moving forward a bit more slowly.

on happiness…

angelkissesWhen i was very young, struggling with depression beyond my youthful comprehension, i can remember my mother fussing at me.  “You were such a happy baby!  So joyous! You could be fed last and still be happy as a clam.  You were always smiling!  What did you do to yourself?”

At the time, those were hard words to hear, they made me see my sorrow as a character flaw, but during the past few weeks, i have been remembering her admonition and wondering about it.

i have a job.  Soon, it will even start paying me. To sweeten the deal, i get to work with amazing, hilarious, brilliant people. Even though the financial hole i am in is deep and steep-sided, i can start bailing myself out by the middle of July.  Most important of all, i am feeling better. My endurance is better, my body feels stronger, this endless stream of work – which has become something of an unwitting summer ritual for me –  has not yet worn me down.  Most of all, i am being careful to treat myself with kindness and care – if i come home from work exhausted, everything but rest falls away.  i am transitioning from an intense night owl to waking up when i used to go to sleep, and that requires some soft adjustments.  However, there are glorious benefits.  i get to see the sun!  When i wake up without the crushing pain that had dogged me for so many years, i find myself in tears of gratitude.

Miraculously, with my burdens eased, i find myself content.  Peacefully happy.  Granted, there are moments when i panic; anxiety can still make me her plaything. Despair – particularly after reading the news or working on my bills – can attack me and pin me down.  However, i rediscover joy so much faster.  Deep within, this feels like i am returning to exactly that state my mother used to describe – the one who was smiling, entertaining herself, ebullient without reason.  My loud, rowdy laugh bursts out even more frequently than it did before.  And my art, when i can make it, makes that grin even broader.

All i can do is be thankful, and keep treating myself as i would my beloved: with kindness, forgiveness, understanding and gentleness.  My reward for such compassion, it appears, is a return to joy.

 

–written 26 June 2016–

 

Howling at the moon

Right now, i feel like Godzilla.  i am stomping through-out my house, absolutely graceless, quivering with agony.

The dog must have eaten something particularly appalling, because he has been sick all day, taking out every blanket, towel, sheet and quilt covering every soft surface in the building. He even nailed one of the cats. If he weren’t still begging for food and acting ridiculously cheerful for one so gastrically challenged, i would be more worried.

Thankfully, i think he will make it through this prodigious mess.  For the past two hours, he has been content to sleep on yoga blankets on the floor.

As i watched him suffer today, i realized, i don’t think i am doing much better.  Most of the time, i force myself into this state of magical denial. All is well, my body loves me, i can do anything – and then, on the odd night, all the illusions are stripped away. No matter the power of distractions, i start to feel it. pileoartMy mind starts to list all the things that i have to do, projects on which i have fallen behind, all the price paid for my current situation. Between the physical discomfort and the psychological torment, i am reduced. What remains is the most brutal fundamental: i am suffering and right now, there is no miraculous solution.  i am stuck with this pain, with this frustration, with the sheets being slowly cleaned of various disgusting things, so i can’t even lay down and take what comfort that could bring.

Thwarted, i did what i do – i made art.  Now that my brain is coming back to itself, realigning after stopping the antidepressants, two qualities have returned to me: the need to create and the hatred for being idle.  No slack is given for feeling this desperately bad, other than to shift what work i would do.  Since i could not throw as i had planned – i started working on pen and ink drawings.  The stack above includes most of the poems and drawings of the past three days.

dieoflonelinessPoem after poem poured out of me.  Drawing after drawing.  i lost myself in the world of art, and delighted in it as long as my focus lasted.  For the past hour – between one and two am – the pain finally reached the stage where i could do nothing. i howled at the moon, absolutely impotent against this misery. But in the silence between breaths, i kept staring the pile o’ art i had made.  Tears of rage streaming down my face, i looked over some of my favorite poems from today. i was comforted.  One soothing thing in the middle of the boiling cauldron has been this recognition: i have finally become a champion of my art.  i love these poems.  The images are smooth and i find them lovely.

Even on a night like tonight, when i am shouting at the laundry for taking too long, when i am wild with distress, when i ranted at the moon about the injustice of these ridiculous burdens, i have made some beautiful things.

And, i am grateful, even in this agony.

It has taken days to write this down…

For years, i have struggled with how personal i should allow this blog to get. It is an odd conundrum to have, given my general disposition. In conversation, i have very few boundaries. No personal embarrassment will stop me from making someone laugh.  As a poet, i am a spiritual and emotional exhibitionist. There is very little that i won’t write about, and have a peculiar lack of shame when it comes to flinging my secrets out into the world.  Think of a chimpanzee throwing it’s feces at random passers by, only substitute poems.  In rhyme or blank verse, i will describe any level of transgression or epiphany, love or suffering, without a thought.

If i appall someone with my poetry, after i am done celebrating my aim, i am quick to add: a poem is to a novel what a polaroid picture is to a movie – a tiny snapshot of reality, of Truth (if done well,) but not necessarily something eternal.  Writing can be an exorcism of sorts.  Once the words are down on paper, they do not haunt the heart.  These words may reflect a moment of profound grief or trauma, but that no longer apply to every moment of my existence.  Likewise, much to my shame, that moment of bliss and understanding might have also been swept away with the tide.  So, this temporary nature of the poem has left me feeling like the nakedness of the soul is appropriate.

Only, i have tried to walk a fine line here, in the prose, in this primary blog, between what i want to write about and what i deem appropriate for polite society.

Many people have told me that i already reveal too much and should back off.  Only, this afternoon, while i sit here waiting for glasses, i have no desire to be cagy or polite or wrap a cloak of denial over the situation in which i wallow.  This journey that i will be traveling for the next six months or so will require everything i have – keeping up a facade, or being vague about my problems, will not work.  Or, rather, it will take energy that i do not have to give, so today i will shed my inhibitions and tell you exactly what is going on with me.

Only, now that my defenses lie scattered around me on the floor, i suddenly feel shy. i have noticed that it is cold.  Perhaps i am remembering the loss of yesterday, twenty-four hours martyred to maudlin moaning and cuddling up in bed with animals.

A lot of what plagues my mind i have written about incessantly: a pitiful lack of courage, an over abundance of anxiety bordering on the ridiculous, continuing problems with my health, financial insecurity. These are all still present and strong – although, maybe, i am doing better against the depression/PTSD/anxiety than i thought, because i am still standing. In the parts of this blog focused on my spirituality, i have talked openly about despair and doubt as much as i have communion and joy.   

At least six months go, i reached the level of overwhelm that made coherent thought and action nearly impossible.  Instead of actively swimming through the currents of life, i have been thrashing, choking on the waves and spray, reacting but not able to move in a coordinated and productive manner.  i know this, so i have kept praying and begging and reaching out; my persistence fueled by desperation.  Only, with one tremendous, mind-boggling, life-altering blessing (the discovery that this world is filled with love and kindness) set aside for a moment, the rest of my troubles have continued on undaunted and undiminished.

What has my guts churning today, though, is my health.  i have to get a hysterectomy as my uterus is horribly swollen with tumors (biopsy pending) and even if they are simply fibroids (please! i have been praying ceaselessly on that score) this will be major surgery.  My right leg, because these things happen in groups, has been having problems working.  Indeed, there are times it will not work at all. Thank heavens i had company over Christmas that could move my leg when i was experiencing one of these brown-outs.  Unfortunately, now that company is back home and i am left swatting at my leg in the morning, trying to get it going. Thankfully, my dog, Darwin, seems to have more sense than me and does a laying on of paws to get me started.

At any rate, that too is surgery and my left leg has the same issue but somehow, magically, still works.

The glasses i am waiting for come because my vision has been steadily declining for the past couple of years – while so much of my hair has gone white that i have been turned into a blonde.  My primary concern, though, even before they hysterectomy and the hip surgery and the collapse of my finances (for with these injuries, no wonder my ability to run my small business has been horribly impeded,) is that i am diabetic.  i have to get my blood sugars under control. Three quarters of my problem is that when i am horribly stressed out, my sugars go sky high.  Once the stress abates, A1C gets better. 

But, when will the stress abate?  Sometimes i think that letting my life fall to pieces without a struggle would be less stressful than trying to get myself to change and be strong, fierce and fearless. Surely accepting powerlessness and submitting to the crappy things that have happened like they are some kind of judgment would feel more peaceful than demanding things from life (a living, health) that it seems so unwilling to give.

Yet, of course, here i am, pushing against the wall with all my might and demanding that it magically become a door. One of my friends – for these delightful people have been the awesome blessing that saved my life during the past eight months – keeps syaing that she knows i will be okay because i am the most stubborn cuss she’s met.  Part of me hopes she is right.  However, every time i push forward, doing something that i thought was impossible for me, i feel a quiet wave of pride and a huge inundation of WHAT WAS I THINKING?

#

Twenty four hours have passed since i wrote these words.  Glasses have made my world have sharp, clear edges again.  A seminar about selling your work at trade shows has taught me much.  But mid way through the class, i had an epiphany:

my path must be different than that of my classmates.

Simply put, i do not have the health to do major shows yet (or create the stock i would need) – perhaps in the summer or fall, but even then, by not applying for them now i will not be accepted into them.  Moreover, i am still substantially hampered in what art i can make.  So, i will have to forge my own path – taking advice from everywhere i can, gathering inspiration from the stories of artists who can pay their bills – but finding my own way. 

At least, as my heartbeat quickens with that realization, i can take comfort in the fact that i can finally see clearly again.

8-9 January 2015

poem: fear

i am afraid.

Every time the phone rings,
tremors
go down my spine:
i drown in irrationality
and uncertainty.

Questions flood over
a paralyzed body:

What will be demanded of me?
What can i give,
when i have nothing?
When i am so badly broken?
Who will have an opportunity
to judge me now?

Even as i get better,
crawling out
of the deepest pits
of anxiety,
i am often non functional,
brought low
by illness,
or by this ridiculous fear
and the sorrow
that rides on its back.

i need lessons
in courage.

i need the fire
inside my heart
to burn
in such a way
that i can withstand
what comes.

Oh,
i need faith
in my purpose
and being
especially
when logic
says
everything
is
crumbling
around me.

13 december 2015

The joy of Monday

Written 7 December 2015

Today, i worked at Harbor Artisans in Belfast.  In the peaceful quiet of a Monday, on the heels of a rather busy weekend for the store, i was able to spend most of my time writing.  First, i finished catching up on typing and editing my poems for the year, which included categorizing them into three different collections – two by theme and one for all the rest.  i ask again

However, the magic happened after that.  My hands were not very good for typing today, so i did not want to spend time frustrating myself working on a client’s project when that could happily be done at home where the muttering would bother no one.

Perhaps, i should also admit to a certain amount of awareness – for once, i had a singular sense of purpose.  i knew that this was the direction my spirit should go, into the stories that have been haunting my mind and dreams. Obeying that impulse, i took out the 3 x 5 cards i had bought in order to give my current novel a coherent structure.  For almost a year, this book had been creeping forward in several tablets of paper and in a ridiculous amount of digital files – all haphazard and spontaneous, creeping out during moments stolen from other work. The arc of the larger story has always been there, but the order of the chapters and the fine details about character and location had been unstable. This is a massive amount of information i am parsing in a memory compromised by healing and pain: this book crosses over multiple dimensions, includes at least two beings with the power to eat gods, several dragons and an abundance of characters whom i find outrageously fun to write.

Today, those 3×5 cards began to grow: one for every universe, one color to track protagonist, one for antagonist, then a stack for characters, finally one for all the major scenes, with a delightful number of them already in draft form by hand or on the computer. The book is much closer to complete than i thought. By the time the stack was collated and rubber banded together, i was humming with joy.  My sore body started dancing and moving with energy i have not felt in a long time. haiku Every bit of energy in my body was aligned and blissful.  Supreme confidence and a deep and abiding delight to be living this life filled me up like love.

About two hours after i stopped writing – having cleaned the store, closed the register, picked up the dog and driven home – i began to come down from the elation.  My spirit began to quiet.  A good friend waited for me at the house, we had a wonderful chat, i ate my dinner, all the while feeling my body lower in energy and embrace a peaceful calm.

Only, after she left, stillness started to turn on me.  The space opened to thoughts outside of flow, running against bliss’ current, doubting the certainty of action that had been such a blessing when i chose to work on the book.  It started with my phone impudently flashing bank account’s meager balance to my unexpecting eyes.  There is someone i wish i could help financially, but i cannot get blood from a stone. Every time i look at my washing machine, i feel a huge stabbing of guilt because i am so far behind on that bill, which in turn stoked a panic about all the bills i haven’t been able to pay while i had been unable to throw or move or function and the medical tests i’m having tomorrow and on and on.  Like an avalanche the stress can pick up to terrifying speed and mass as it moves.

i have worked so hard to recognize what is going on within my mind and heart so i do not feed such things, so panic and self-loathing flow through me as quickly as possible, but in that moment i was falling into belief in the worst about myself, ready to ignore the blessings of the day. i could have ruined one of the most sublime miracles of joy i have experienced in months.

i am burningBut, even then, the book saved me.  As i let the complaints about my competency wander through my mind, a character from the nexus wandered in. She manages to do amazing things despite what is a completely broken down situation.  As i wrote one afternoon, probably in early spring, she arose out of nothingness, a bit of the book that i did not expect but that has since been recognized as a pivotal point.

At any rate, by the time she entered the story, she had survived bankruptcy, lost nearly everything, but steadfastly kept working at her passions and helping those she could.  In what is probably the best testimony to my potential madness, i take great hope in the fact that she poured through my hands effortlessly and unbidden.  More often than most would believe, my writing has saved me – even if it is simply by giving a good role model for transcending financial chaos and social devolution.  Almost immediately upon the thought of her, i moved from anxiety back into the exhausted stillness.

Now, here i am, writing again.  The flush of flow has started to rev in my veins and i wonder if i will be up all night writing.  It seems likely if i don’t walk away from the computer after this blog.  It doesn’t matter, i have tomorrow morning for clients, and i will make good on my word to them.  For now, though, i am very tempted to lose myself in the story and the dream and the miracle of language.

poem: courageous or insane

When i read this poem
months and years from now,
i will be able to tell you
if i am insane,
or if i am courageous
with a smattering of stubbornness
poured on like gravy.

i am doing
what i know how to do –
finally making pottery again,
drawing and painting,
falling into orgies of words
that form in black and white –
the base pair of my creativity.

Reason tells me i have no hope.

Physically, i struggle every day
to do the most basic things
like breathe and move through space.
Socially, i am awkward and afraid,
hamstrung by my anxious incompetence.
Financially, i may be too far gone
for anyone to help,
other than a steady stream of customers.
Spiritually, i am shifting
away from that image of God
so many people have said
cannot love me,
into a broader vision of Spirit,
which unsettles everything.

i am incapable
of surviving
in a world constructed
solely of logic and reason,
dependent upon the tangible alone.
i envy those who can.

i tried,
and barely made it through
the devolution that followed.

So now
when stress eats me alive –
held at bay
only by 10,000 poems
and countless hours of meditation –
i keep fulfilling
my purpose and my dreams
with every able moment.

i throw
my worries
onto the pyre
of art.

After the frenzy of terror passes,
i always return
to a quiet space
where i am certain
i am on the right path.

In a life
during which
i have been sure
of so few things,
this is an irresistible encouragement.
A few seconds spent rejoicing
in that sublime confidence
and i am awakened.
i make more.
Words, clay, and pigment
bend to my need.

i am either embracing madness
or taking an inconvenient path
into tomorrow –
i have no idea
which this is.

But, i am aware
that right now,
in this precise moment,
i am doing all that i can do
and praying i survive
my folly and drive.

6 december 2015

quick and dirty

reachingout_qadFor two days, i have been utterly unable. Yesterday, it took all i had to put up the open flag and sit here in the studio.  Stuck in my comfy chair for hours, i drew with a cheap pen on cheaper paper – a fairly primal purging of image and idea.  Even at that level of semi-solid, i still managed to miss a friend visiting because i went to the bathroom. While i was able to chat with some wonderful people, there were no sales and simply staying awake had taken so much from me that my legs wobbled beneath my girth.

By the time five pm came around, i was ready for bed. i tried, very hard, to get some cleaning done, but could not move my limbs in a coordinated manner. Breaking three things in less than ten minutes, i surrendered.  Coordination and grace have become fantasies when i am in that much pain and that exhausted. So, instead of useful, tangible progress on the problems of my life, i created more of this quick and dirty drawing while i waited for the sheets, quilt and mattress pad to finish in the washer and dryer.

i keep hoping that things will get better. i repeat “All will be well”; i meditate for over an hour a day trying to keep the wolves at bay.  Maybe this weekend, i whisper to myself, i will make a big sale. If i advertise here, then i will maybe get a bump on my online sales. Perhaps that website or this commission will come through.  This job might be the one that i take, which will make the forsaking of art sit with greater comfort inside my heart. Most of the time, i am able to convince myself to keep going with these quiet reassurances.

Only, the past two days, i have been struggling so hard to move and breathe – i got stuck in my bra this morning, because i could not lift my left arm in or out – that all hope transformed into delusion.

praying_qadYesterday, i noticed the trees behind my house are turning autumn colors. They have always been particularly easy trees, ready to shed their greens at the first quick breath of cool air, but their eagerness feels even more like betrayal this year. Today, the wind and the rain smell of autumn, and i feel the urge to grab the clock off the wall and smite it against the cement floor.  i would hold off fall with a sword. Time, as always, shows no regard for my needs or wants and just keeps charging on like an angry, blind rhinoceros.

i wish i could explain it to myself, why i struggle with such desperate, perilous despair.  Even though i have been assured that this is incorrect, even irrational, i perceive myself as particularly week and unadaptable. Would someone else be crumbling like this?  Would their loved ones praise them for having such reasonable mental breakdowns or would they be praised for holding their head up and taking life’s blows on the chin?

i face major life changes, yes. i am falling apart physically, without doubt. That each of those feeds off the other, too, cannot be disputed although an engaging debate like the chicken and the egg could take place. i was already a broken unit before i decided to pursue art with all i had. Then, using all i had, which so clearly wasn’t enough, i wound up becoming more broken. However, i refuse to give myself permission to have myself days like today and yesterday.  i hate myself for falling apart, which does nothing to keep me active and healthy, but instead fills me with shame and graceless resentment.  i draw to stop thinking about my situation, or myself.  Only, even that desperate art reminds me of how futile this situation is: fall is coming, i cannot stop time, and i am dissolving.

As much as i hate to tell you this: i have nothing to give the world today. No strength, no inspiration. Indeed, i think with this blog, i will have used up my full allotment of words for the day.  Once more, i will use all that i have to make useless art – hoping beyond hope, this madness that drives my heartbeat, that somewhere in word or line, i will find that one thing that can save me.

when art fails

Every so often, things get bad enough for me physically or emotionally, i cannot even make art. Every bit of strength i have is consumed with moving for one moment to another. At this moment, my left arm is being ridiculously recalcitrant – a torn rotator cuff, apparently – and every movement hurts. Even walking, somehow, manages to mess up my shoulder. It’s been a long time since i carried anything heavy in two arms. For two and a half months, this has been getting worse and worse, but now it is impeding everything. i tried to throw the other day, and managed a lot of small pieces, but then wound up feeling much worse. For awhile, my hand was numb, it felt like a spike drove through my elbow.  Indeed, it has kept me from sleeping, or at least, from staying asleep.  That development, i am sure, contributes to my current emotional drowning. My mind cannot shake off terrible memories.  A sense of doom feels unconquerable. i am working toward getting my heart and mind in a better place so i can move forward more quickly and confidently. That said, right now, i am slow and tormented by indecision. Stress and anxiety have become constant companions.  Usually i heal myself through word and form, but today, i could not.

After many hours of desperate insomnia, i awoke barely able to move. Realizing that without downtime i would be very useless indeed, i spent the day with bell hooks, Rumi and Oscar Wilde, when i didn’t nap. The increase in my normal level of pain has left me exhausted. Over the years, I have learned to move through much discomfort, but every once in awhile, i am decimated. Today has been decimation. And yet, for whatever reason, i cannot quite surrender to my misery.

So, i have printed two books (thanks to the wonderful gift of a workhorse printer from amazing friends) and as i type, i’m printing out two years worth of poems.  Between those four works – 2014 poetry, 2015 poetry to date, Practicing Kindness and a series of interconnected stories that normally has me so excited that the writing flows from me feverish and fast – i have used up nearly two reams of paper.  As my words poured forth from the humming machine, destined to fill the next few days with editing, i realized that even on these days, i have a tremendous amount of things for which i am grateful.

 

unbelievable kindness

Gratitude21A few days ago, a friend – a former student – left me an absolutely gobsmacked, burbling idiot by committing one of the most unexpected, serendipitous acts of kindness i have ever experienced.

She could not know how deeply i needed help that day, how overwhelmed i felt, how helpless my situation seemed, or the tears and sorrow that had woken me and followed me through that morning.  Her generosity came without prompting.  She simply did something kind for the sake of being kind.  While hugging her several times more than necessary, i wept with gratitude.  i babbled incoherently because i did not know what to say. As she drove away, i vowed to myself to be a better person because of this kindness – for eventually this wave of suffering will subside and i will being a better position to make a difference in the world.

In the time since, as i have contemplated the right level of ‘thank you’ this tremendous gift deserves, i have occasionally cried over her kindness, but with a fierce intensity have been working very consciously to keep myself from falling into the spasm of anxiety that effected me the night of the gift.

Even that morning, i had been very low.  While she was here, being so unbelievable, i was held aloft, but afterward i felt utterly unworthy of her kindness.  My failures loomed larger than ever; i felt like my urgent need for help had made me less valuable as a human being.  My gratitude never wavered, but i beat myself up with anxiety and self-criticism.  After another friend called me on it, i realized something very important: if this were anyone else, and i were forced to listen to their meltdown over such a tremendously wonderful thing, i would be deeply frustrated with them. There is no sin in accepting kindness. Everyone needs help at some point. Why was i making myself so grief-stricken over something so generous?

So, i have been making gratitude an even greater practice than normal this week. Even though there is a limit to how much i can stifle anxiety, i am not augmenting it by fighting the emotion.  And, i have added something new. Each time i insult myself (which turns out to be a lot more than i thought,) i have been forcing myself to stop, calm down, take a few breaths and then counteract the criticism with three things that i actually like about myself (this is almost like an exercise in masochism, but i will eventually start finding it less painful.)  i can sense a change already. i am insulting myself much less, mostly because i don’t want to have to self-praise.  But, either way, i am adding another gratitude to the pile.

Thank you.