Month: December 2012

Anxiety Follow Up

Writing the list of why I am doomed and then mocking that list was extremely helpful in establishing perspective. It let me quell the fears and move forward with the day. However it also revealed something else. I expected the list to be much longer because I thought the anxiety was a generalized mood for the day. Instead I found it to be very localized to those specific things. This means that later, when I was feeling more stable, I needed to come back to those seemingly ridiculous things and dig to find out what in them was an anxiety trigger for me. I did it by writing extensively about every detail of what I was afraid would happen for each thing. I also wrote out any wandering thoughts which were attached to the subjects. This process helped me dig out the not-ridiculous things which were at the root of the ridiculous things. Figuring out the roots is important in the long-term strategy of reducing anxiety. In this case, I am once again assigning myself responsibility for things which are outside my control. I need to figure out how to stop doing that.

Poking in the Irrational Recesses of My Brain

I really should not have written that post about how I was not feeling afraid. I summoned it, or taunted it, or something. Today everything terrifies me, even though some part of my brain can step back and see how completely irrational all the fear is. So I am going to make a list of my recent decisions and how those choices will obviously lead to my ultimate doom. Then I will mock the irrationality and maybe when I’m done things will feel better.

I paid a large bill. It reduced the number in the checking account significantly. Therefore our business is doomed, we’ll never be able to get ahead, all my efforts are in vain. (Which makes complete sense, because hey I paid a big bill in full and had money left over. That’s always evidence of financial doom.)

I made a request of Howard regarding social media. Therefore I am a horrible over-controlling person who is neurotic and needy. Also interrupted his writing in order to make the request and therefore I’ve thrown him out of the writing space and he will not be able to complete the work he needs to do today and that will be my fault.(Because it is unheard of for spouses to ever need things from each other. Also, the request took him less than a minute almost two hours ago. He’s been writing this whole time.)

I agreed to baby sit my sister’s kids while she goes to a job interview. But instead of it occurring during the already chaotic afternoon hours, the kids will be here in the middle of the day. Therefore I’ve just ruined both my work day and Howard’s which will ruin the entire rest of the week because we’ll be thrown out of kilter. (Borrowing trouble anyone? The kids in question are much quieter than mine and we manage to work with mine in the house.)

I engaged in a business discussion via email. Therefore our business is doomed because…I have no idea. It just somehow is. (Yeah I can’t explain this one. The discussion is friendly with no horrible outcomes. No clue why so much doom has become attached.)

I was up until 2 am last night because the brain hamsters were running on their anxiety wheels of doom. Therefore I will never get a good night’s sleep again. (All the nights when I sleep fine are insufficient evidence to counter this.)

The laundry overfloweth. Again. Always. Therefore I am an awful slovenly person who will never accomplish anything good. (The clean kitchen does not count just the grubby carpets.)

Huh. I just ran out of reasons to be doomed. Either making this list helped and my brain is no longer seeking evidence of doom everywhere, or it really was just those things bugging me and I now have a list of things to complete/adjust in order to feel better.

Sympathetic Vibration and Depression

If you slowly press down the C key on a piano so that the hammer does not strike the string and then keep it pressed so that the dampers are off of it, that string is now sitting free inside the piano. Then take a different finger and play a different C somewhere on the key board. Just push and let go so that the second string plays and then is dampened. You can hear the free string still vibrating in tune with the other. This is resonance or sympathetic vibration. The two strings vibrate at the same frequency, which means that they can cause each other to sound.

I am in tune with the people in my household. It is like those resonant strings where I start to pick up whatever tune it is that they are playing. I have my own music, naturally, but if two or three members of my family are playing mournful songs I pick up on that. Even when I am trying not to, my heartstrings will vibrate sympathetically. Sympathy is a good trait to have in a relationship, yet often what is needed is not sympathy but harmony or counterpoint. When Howard is depressed he doesn’t need me to sing along in tune. He needs something else so that the tune of the day will not all be bleak. This is one of the hard things about dealing with depression. I must have enough sympathy to feel compassion and still have enough detachment to play a different music.

Learning that was hard. Even harder was learning that I can’t fix someone else’s depression. Not really. I can succeed in alleviating bad moods or cheering up a child. I can get quite good at it, but I have not actually solved a problem in a lasting way. I’ve just acquired a never ending job as the make-it-better person. This job burdens me and prevents anyone from taking the long hard steps to seek out a true solution.

So I sing my own songs. I do my own soul searching to figure out why some of my songs are sad or scared. I find ways to be happy. And I try to sing in harmony with those around me. Because sympathetic vibration works both directions. Sometimes I’m the one who gets lifted by it.

Fear and Growing

One of the side effects of putting together a book composed of all the blog entries for the year is that I get to review the year just past and let me tell you, I would not re-do January through May of this year ever again. June calmed down a bit, but July and August were made out of crazy. I think I finally found my balance in October. There was just a lot of stuff, much of which did not make it into the blog. I’d say something like “rough homework time with Patch, I’m really tired” when what actually happened was four hours of crying, cajoling, scolding, and arguing because Patch could not be convinced to try to do homework. There was about 20 minutes of work to do. After that one hideously hard day, all the rest of the struggles were easier. Except there were other things. Thing after thing after thing without much respite in between. On top of all of that I was still trying to dig deep inside my own head to see if I could find the sources of my anxieties. The digging was effective. I learned the first half in April when I finally realized that I have value independent of what I do or don’t accomplish. The second half came in September when I finally knew that it is not my job to prevent my loved ones from feeling stressed. It is my job to love them and help them deal with the stresses as they come. Both of those are things I would have assured you that I already knew, but this year that knowledge sank deep and finally filled up the holes which believed the opposite. All the emotional chaos finally helped me open up enough that I could really believe when the quiet voice of inspiration spoke these truths to me.

It feels strange. I am not afraid. I am busy, often stressed about meeting deadlines, but I am not terrified that everything will fall apart if I’m not good enough. Last week was pretty exhausting. I was thoroughly worn out, all of my emotional reserves tapped to their limit, and yet I was only afraid in short flashes that vanished as quickly as they came.

I feel wary about claiming victory over anxiety, because I’m not sure that my battles there are over, however I do feel like I’ve gained some important ground. Perhaps I’ve constructed a fort, a better refuge for when I have to manage things again.

Hopefully I will never again have to manage all of these things in a two month span: a trip to see grandma in the hospital, a trip to the Nebula awards, remodeling my office, two kids having panic attacks at school, those same kids needing interventions with teachers, book release deadlines, a local professional event, a family vacation trip, major psychological realizations, a teenage relationship issue, and all the end of school events. We grow through hardship and this was definitely a growing year. I could do with a little bit of coasting for awhile.

Edited Dec 11, 2012 to Add: And then last night I had an anxiety attack which kept me awake until 2 am. Not fixed yet.

Resting Day

This was my day of stopping after going all week long. I slept late. I barely participated in food preparations. I ran a couple of errands. I napped. I processed a dozen store orders. I did some dishes. I ate cookies. These are the sum total accomplishments for my day. My plan for the rest of it is to write some words and then go to bed on time.

In all the spaces between the things I did, I was scraping thoughts out of the corners of my brain. They accumulate there when I do not have time to think about them. Many of the accumulated thoughts are random or silly, the kind of thing I would think about for a minute and then forget. But in my rush even those thoughts get stored for later. This morning my head was filled with swirling thoughts and not at all restful. Somewhere during the day the thoughts slowed down, as if they realized that they do not have to frantically attract my attention. They can be quiet and I will still get to them. I like it when I remember how to be quiet.

The weather turned cold today. We’ve been lingering in the fifties, not typical for December. Even when it rained, the air stayed warm–much to Gleek’s dismay. She is ready for snow. I hope that we do not get the twelve foot snowfall that she keeps speaking about wistfully. She has no idea how inconvenient such and epic snowstorm would be. I think a couple of six inch falls would make her happy. She wants to be able to sled down our hill and build a snow fort. I’ve been fine with the warmer weather and rain. I wish I’d been able to take greater advantage of it to get outdoors and finish weeding some of the flower beds, but the time went to other projects. We’ll have to see whether the rest of the winter smiles upon Gleek or upon my gardening intentions.

I just spent thirty minutes reading through the last month of blog entries. No wonder I’m tired.

The Choir Concert

“Is Gleek’s Mom here?”
I looked up from the row of chairs I was helping to set up. “Yes?”
One of the choir directors came over to me with an earnest look on her face. My tired brain flitted over reasons she might need to see me. Top fear was that Gleek was not cooperating with the pre-concert practice or that she’d had a meltdown. I knew she was pretty keyed up, over tired, under fed, and with some pain in her mouth caused by twelve year molars trying to make an entrance through her gums. With all that, it seemed likely there would be some sort of issue. Getting Gleek dressed and out the door had been a significant cat-herding experience, which was why we’d barely had time to feed her a light snack with a promise of Wendy’s after the concert.

“I just wanted to make sure that you knew the kids are supposed to be in best Sunday dress, because Gleek’s clothes are kind of casual.”
As if I could have missed all of the four emails which had stressed this point in the past week. My tired brain stuttered over forming an answer. This was not the conversation I expected. I wanted an answer that conveyed, yes I had read all the emails, yes I’d understood them, yes I’d planned to help Gleek look her gorgeous best for the concert, but then the day had turned out so differently that I was just glad we’d made it at all. Because making it to the concert was important. I loved that Gleek was singing and finding a focus for her energies. I also wanted to give a somewhat biting response because I could hear between the words to the message Gleek doesn’t match the other students. She doesn’t fit with my vision of how this concert would be perfect.

The words which came out of my mouth were “I tried to get her to dress up, but she argued.” It was a half truth. Gleek had come downstairs wearing a swingy skirt and her choir t-shirt along with a pretty purple scarf. She’d obviously chosen the clothes with care, I’d mentioned Sunday dress, but my brain was full of a dozen other things, so I hadn’t argued. I’d just hustled us out the door.

“Well there is plenty of time. So if you wanted to run home and get something…”

I nodded and said “I’ll go ask her what she wants to do” as I walked away.

The thing is that we attend our current school, not because we live in the neighborhood, but because my kids tested into the program. Running home would be a twenty minute round trip. Yes there was time. No I didn’t want to do it. I was tired. I’d spent the afternoon helping Kiki nurse an injury and evaluating whether the injury was severe enough to merit an ER visit. The following doctor’s appointment had been reassuring, but we’d returned to immediately launch into a dinner scramble and helping Gleek get ready for the concert. In the middle of all of that there was an issue with damaged calendars that Howard needed fixed so he could sketch and then there was an email telling me that my childhood best friend’s mother–my surrogate mother–was hospitalized after multiple strokes. I’d also been short on sleep every night for a week. I wasn’t just tired, I was weary in my mind and heart.

I found Gleek. She wanted me to go fetch fancier clothes because she felt out of place among the fancier dresses of the others. I’d been prepared to face down the director and stand up for my daughter’s choir t-shirt, but for my daughter I would drive home. On the way to the car I berated myself for not grabbing a dress on the way out the door. It would have been easy. Then I would not have to give up the excellent parking space which had been the reward of our early arrival. Then I could sit in the gym and work on a critique for writer’s group which would begin at my house just after the concert was over. Instead I drove carefully through the dark, aware that my fatigue and frustration might impact my driving.

I couldn’t find the shirt Gleek wanted. Instead I brought back a Christmas red shirt which turned out to be a little too big.
“It’s okay.” Gleek said “I’ll just keep it pulled up.”

I went to sit in the gym. I had a good seat because I’d taken one page of the story I was critiquing, wrote Reserved on the back, and left it on the chair. During my twenty minute run, most of the seats had filled, but mine was still there. I looked up at the stage then focused on reading because I did not want to think about the last time Gleek performed on this stage. The stress and excitement of performing had triggered a panic attack. I’d spent half the show smiling at her, making “you’re okay” gestures, and pantomiming taking deep breaths. Gleek seemed to have forgotten that experience, but I had not. I worried that this concert would trigger the same response. I wondered if I was about to spend forty minutes trying to help my child manage anxiety from forty feet away. I’d intended to have a calm afternoon, a solid dinner, all carefully staged to reduce stress. Instead she’d skipped dinner, ran around in the gym before practice, and was wearing a shirt which made her feel self-conscious. There was a tap on my shoulder.
“Gleek looks lovely. Thank you.” said the choir director.
I just smiled at her and she moved on. I barely knew the woman. I barely knew anyone at the school. I felt bad about that sometimes, as if we were interlopers and freeloaders in their community. The solution would be for me to get involved, volunteer, work to chat and make connections with the other parents at the school. I haven’t had the emotional energy to spare. Not last year. Not this year. I watched the director and knew her for a good person. She cared so very much about choir, about teaching the kids, about making this concert be a good experience. I thought all these things, but mostly was glad that she didn’t stay to chat more. I didn’t have any chatting energy left.

The concert was lovely. Gleek sang with all the others and while she did fiddle with her shirt and fidget with her feet, she didn’t show any other outward signs of stress. We acquired Wendy’s on the way home and headed on into the rest of the evening. The next day brought a general thank you email, in which the choir director was gracious and praised everyone who participated in the concert. She also mentioned how she would be stepping down from her director position because her step-father was dying and she needed to focus on her family. I was not the only one that evening with a head full of more things than I could possibly express. The new knowledge did not erase my frustrations of the evening before, but did increase my ability to bestow the benefit of the doubt. The director was right. Gleek would have felt awkward in her t-shirt.

Some days are difficult and there are no villains to blame.

This Is Where a Clever Title Would Go if I had Enough Energy to Think of One

Sometimes I get to the end of a day and I am too tired for clever and pretty words.
The day in list:
Everybody up
Early school drop off
Homework scramble
Kids to school
Shipping and email
Setting up Howard to work
Attend a friend’s birthday lunch
Leave early because Kiki injured herself at school
Make Dr. appt.
Arrange for someone else to do afternoon carpool.
Shipping and observing Kiki because a trip to the emergency room is still under consideration.
Go to doctor
Kiki has an acute abdominal strain. She acquired it during yoga in PE. She is now excused from PE for four weeks. We have a prescription for physical therapy, but we’re only to use it if we feel it is necessary.
Come home
Feed some Children
Solve shipping problem
Read email and learn that a beloved childhood friend is hospitalized after multiple strokes. She was a second mother to me and she’s all the way across the country where I can’t visit. I haven’t even spoken with her in years. How did I not keep in touch better?
Departed house with Gleek for choir concert
Helped set up chairs.
Was asked did I know that the kids were supposed to be wearing Sunday best? (Gleek was in a skirt, but a casual shirt.)
Drove home to get a change of clothes, kicking myself because I could have avoided the trip if I’d been paying more attention prior to departure.
Listened to an adult acapella group put in a solid performance.
Listened to an elementary school orchestra play christmas songs that were recognizable. Barely. They were cute though.
Listened to Gleek and her choir.
Came home.
Attended writer’s group because it was at my house.
Ushered kids into bed, but later than it ought to have been.

Thoughts that have Accumulated While Shipping Packages

I can tell it is shipping season by looking at my hands. They are dry from handling all the paper. The fingertips are sore from holding the edges of cardboard in place while I fold boxes. I have scratches and scrapes on the backs of my fingers from sliding product into boxes. I often have a cut or two from accidentally scraping some part of my hands against the cutting surface of the tape dispenser. Also my right wrist develops an ache.

I re-watched Brave on Monday night. It is a beautiful film that consistently manages to lance open unexpected emotional sores. Apparently I have unresolved emotional conflicts relating to freedom vs. restraint and Mother Daughter relationship struggles. I love Merida. I want to be Merida. Yet I am the mother. This makes me sad. It also makes me aware of how much depends upon what a reader/viewer brings with them to the story. No one else I know has such strong emotional reactions to this film in the places that I have them. I suspect I need to periodically return to the film to keep digging out what causes me to be upset. Also because it is a beautiful and fun film.

Two kids, two pocket knives, and several bars of soap results in soap carvings and soap dust coating one half of the kitchen. In theory soap dust is easy to clean up, but in truth it has to be carefully managed or one just ends up with soap scum on every available surface. Also, the kids are discovering that inadequately cleaned soap dust does not taste good. If soap carving is still a thing come spring, it will be evicted from the house.

My meal planning needs an overhaul. Frozen pizza should not be a staple.

When googling around to find answers for computer problems, it is best to picture yourself treading through swampy, snake-infested waters. Check multiple sources and think three times before downloading any “solutions.” Knowing this is half of what made me so panicked and exhausted when contemplating fixing my computer. The landscape out there changes fast and I don’t speak the native language.

The shipping of unsketched calendars is all done. Only sketched calendars to go. This is good since I’m starting to get emails from folks worried about Christmas presents. I don’t want to add to their stress.

Tomorrow I need to get my act together, conquer the laundry, and pay more attention to the kids and their homework. They’re pretty good at getting the daily stuff done, but I’m certain some longer-term projects are falling through the cracks.

Computer Issue Resolved

Monday, in the middle of frantic shipping, my computer declared that I had no space left on the hard drive. This did not make the day better.

Tuesday, I cleared off enough files to give me space to work. I also kept a log of space usage and watched the space I’d cleared gradually get eaten up. I focused on getting work done, but noticed that internet connectivity had no effect, so my computer was not infected with malware. A friend suggested that I had some stray program creating a log file. He pointed me at a program called WinDirStat (Short for Windows Directory Statistics).

Wednesday, I continued to baby my computer, then finally installed WinDirStat. Within minutes it showed me that Kaspersky was using up over 700 gigs of space. All of that space was text log files. One file alone was 59GB. I deleted them and now I have 748GB of free space on my computer. I could design 250 books in that space. I then opened up Kaspersky to see why on earth it was making massive log files. The only thing I could find was in the settings, under System Watcher, there was a little check box for “save activity log.” I unchecked that box.

Tomorrow, I’ll be keeping an eye out to make sure that Kaspersky doesn’t start filling up space again. I’ll also call their customer support line to see if they have any idea why it happened and how to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Calcifer also has Kaspersky and does not have this problem at all. On the other hand, if it does happen again I know how to fix it, which is very empowering. I no longer have to be afraid that my computer will randomly stop working. I like not being afraid.

In tangential news, the little mini laptop, which I thought had the same problem, has a different problem entirely. It is not losing memory. It just doesn’t have enough. Windows 7 requires 14GB and the hard drive is only 16GB big. Upgrading that machine to Windows 7 was a mistake. Ah hindsight. WinDirStat is an excellent program and helped me solve both issues.

Building a Family Culture for a Happy Holiday Season

It is December 5th and we only have two wrapped Christmas gifts under our tree. They were deposited there by my sister who visited last weekend. Usually the tree starts to accumulate presents within a day or two of when it goes up. This year the tree has been lovely for more than a week and we can still see both the tree skirt and the stuffed nativity set. I kind of like letting the tree be a center piece without the distraction of packages. I like even more that none of the kids have commented on this. None of them are hovering hopefully to see if there are presents for them as has been the case in years past. In fact our house has a significant lack of the things-I-want vibe. Howard and I have had a couple of discussions about what to get the kids, but there aren’t any items we must get or be faced with disappointment. Some of this is because our kids are older, but I think some of it is the family culture we have gradually built around Christmas. I thought it might be useful to list out the things we consciously do to focus on the non-commercial aspects of the holiday season. I ended up with twelve list items which seams seasonally appropriate.

1. We keep it small. All of our Christmas decorations fit into four medium size boxes and one big Christmas tree bag. It is enough to make our front room lovely, but not for a dazzling show. If we want to spread the holiday through the house we light a scented candle and play music.

2. We don’t do Santa. This was really hard when the kids were little and everywhere we turned people expected them to believe in Santa. I was always afraid that my kids would talk Santa with other kids and then angry parents would confront me. However, without a belief in Santa, my kids never believed that their wildest dreams would just appear on Christmas morning. They understood that even Christmas has practical limitations because the providers of Christmas were a very human Mom and Dad. Christmas morning surprises supplied by parents were still magical.

3. We avoid exposing ourselves to advertising, particularly television commercials, as much as possible. Advertising creates a false reality which aims to make people believe their lives will be better if they buy something. This is rarely true.

4. If at all possible we avoid shopping in a hurry. Going to stores and looking for gifts can be an enjoyable part of the holiday season, but it is when we’re stressed and in a hurry that we blow our budget or buy items we regret later. We usually try to enter stores with a clear idea of what we’re looking for and why we need it.

5. When gift giving commences we sort the presents by who is giving them not by who gets to open them. We take turns and each gift is handed over by the giver. This practice really helped our young kids focus on the giving aspect of the season.

6. We remember that disappointment happens and it is not the end of the world. Christmas does not have to be perfect. The gifts do not have to bring ecstatic joy to be good gifts. In fact, we try to avoid frenzies of excitement because they are always followed by a let down. Half of our Christmas efforts involve slowing things, calming things, and pacing the season.

7. Many of our traditions and decorations are about lights in darkness. We light our tree, light our house, and burn an advent candle each evening. (Except when we forget and light it extra long the next day.) On Christmas eve we light all the candles of a nativity pyramid. Light in darkness makes us all more happy and peaceful.

8. We don’t travel during the holidays. These days staying home is critical because I’m in the midst of holiday shipping, but even before that we stayed at home. Connecting with extended relatives is lovely and important, and we do get together with the ones nearby, but any trip which requires a suitcase can find a different time of year. That way we can focus on the visit instead of holiday logistics.

9. Optional events are optional. This season is full of concerts, special events, displays, and limited time offers. No one person can take advantage of them all. We sample as the mood strikes and try to not feel obligated to do too much.

10. Traditions which add more stress than joy get culled from our holiday practices. The best traditions are the ones that happen of their own accord because someone loves them enough to spend the effort. We have a tree because we all care about it enough to haul the thing up from the basement and assemble it. This year we have outdoor lights after a long outdoor light hiatus, because this year I wanted them enough to put them up.

11. We know that holiday culture grows and changes. When the kids were younger, I had to spend a lot more effort creating the holiday, planning the gift choices, planning family traditions. We’ve reached a stage where we all create the holiday for each other in small ways. Ten years from now things will be different again.

12. We weave our religious beliefs into the holiday celebrations and preparations, but not every single thing has to be about Christ. We try to make themes of Christ the ever present background music of the holiday rather then always requiring it to be front and center. That way when we do bring it to the front, we’re able to focus and attend.

I’m aware of the irony that I try very hard to de-commercialize and simplify our family traditions, while simultaneously running a retail business for which we offer holiday sales and incentives. I can only hope that our books and merchandise are things which add joy to holidays rather than stress. Because I really do wish for everyone to have a December that is tailored to their ideas of what the holidays should be. That is the key really, finding what brings happiness and paring away the rest.