What are you hiding from yourself?

It’s time to come clean. It’s time to ‘fess up.  It’s time to look yourself in the mirror and see who you are, scars, blemishes and all.  You don’t have to share these things with everyone; but at least be honest with yourself. (A)

So after a long absence from this blog, I decided it’s time to start writing again. Because I want to, because I can, because it keeps me honest.  I do have one legitimate excuse for not writing for awhile – I moved a few months ago and have had a hell of a time trying to get the Internet hooked up in this place, but now I’m set again.

I was looking at some of my past blogs and the one that caught my eye was “How about getting off of these antibiotics” which I found kind of amusing because I have been sick for over a week now and finally went to the doctor and got some drugs. I am quite prone to respiratory problems and have quite a large folder built up at my doctor’s office with various times I have come in for these issues.  My regular doctor was out and so I had a new guy I had never seen before.  He flipped through my folder, asked me some general health questions, then closed the folder.  For a long moment, he peered over his glasses at me and then said, “So how is your life going? Are you happy? What is bothering you?”

This completely threw me for a loop.  It’s true that I have been having a lot of trouble focusing on things lately, but don’t have any real reasons to complain.  I am in a good relationship, I have a decent job, I have plenty of friends, I’m finally out of debt…I explained these things to him and as he continued to stare at me he said “I think something is troubling you”.  And inexplicably, I burst into tears.  He started to ask me questions about my family and the more questions he asked, the harder I cried. And all I could think is “Why am I crying?  My life is good!”

He looked at me sympathetically and said, “When I have a patient who is a non-smoker, who comes in frequently with this kind of illness (respiratory, sinus infection, etc.), I often find that they either aren’t getting enough sleep or they are repressing emotional stress. I think you are doing both.”

I didn’t know what to say, but I also couldn’t stop crying.  He gently said, “I think you may have reached a point where you need to do something different or you are going to make yourself seriously ill one of these days and I am not going to be able to help you. I think maybe it might help you to make an appointment to talk to someone to help you figure it out.” I was dumbfounded. I had come here to just get some medicine, not for someone to tell me that I needed to see a therapist!

As I started to calm down, I told him I would think about it. Well, I have been thinking about it all evening…and thinking about all of the times I kept my mouth shut about how I really felt to keep the peace, or because I didn’t think it would make any difference, or because I had to do the dishes or run an errand… But, the truth is, sometimes I don’t think I am even honest to myself about how I feel or what I want. I know that I don’t want to continue be sick.  I have a blog to write, songs to sing, music to create, and yes, dishes to do and errands to run.

So I think I am going to try to start going to bed an hour earlier every night and I have a phone number to call… Peace of mind to all of you and I will be back sooner on this blog. Because this is one thing that I really do want to do. For me.

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Get a pet

Pets will love you unconditionally… just take care of them! (A)

I’m not married. I don’t have kids. I don’t own a home.  What I do have is a very full and somewhat chaotic lifestyle (although not as much as it used to be). I have a boyfriend but we don’t live together and as he has a quite chaotic lifestyle, we often don’t see each other. Sometimes I do get lonely and wonder what it would be like to have children and a family of my own, but often I think that maybe that is just not for me.

Friends had urged me to get pets in the past, but I did not feel this would be a good choice as I am frequently gone and I couldn’t commit to walking a pet every day.  I was pretty resigned to living alone when a pet was sent to me.  I say that because I was feeling especially lonely and thinking about kids and how I might like to have one but that I didn’t know if I would be a good enough parent. Then one day, God sent me a cat.

It was right before it froze for the winter and I was getting ready for work when I heard crying out on the back porch. I went outside and there was a tiny kitten with a little bloated tummy staring at me and mewing furiously.  Every time I tried to approach it, it ran away, but continued to cry.  I had to go to work, so I set a dish with some tuna out in back and went to work.  Most of the people I work with are cat lovers and they told me that I HAD to take it in, at least for the night, as it was going to snow that evening.  I decided that this was a good idea and that I would find a home for it if no one came to claim it.

When I got home from work, I could hear meowing from the front of the building.  By the time I got out to the back porch, the kitten was ravenously scarfing down the tuna. But once again, every time I got near it, it ran away.  So kept moving the tuna closer and closer to the back door and then stepping away so the kitty would come back and eat some.  I got a sweatshirt out to grab her, but I didn’t want to scare her more, so I patiently (as patient as I ever get!) coaxed her through the door until I was able to shut it.  Then I sat down on the floor about six feet away and talked to the kitten the whole time she ate.  Once she was done, this unapproachable kitty ran over to me, climbed onto my lap, put her tiny front paws on my chest and started purring.  Uh oh, trouble.  But I didn’t want a pet!  It was too late, I was already falling for her.

I called a kitty rescue friend who immediately brought over cat litter and a container, a food dish, and a few cans of kitten food. “She’s adopted you, you have to keep her!” my friend said.  Over the next couple of weeks, I half heartedly attempted to find her a home, but she know that I was smitten.  After a few tries for different names, my boyfriend came up with “Rambo” because the markings on her face looked like camouflage. 

“Rambo, Commando Kitty” lived up to her name.  She was a holy terror – digging up the plants, tearing down the curtains, shredding toilet paper and the side of my bed, and sneak attacking me whenever she could.  She would wake me up by biting the tip of my nose and laying on my face.  She would attempt to climb up my leg if I was wearing jeans and had a habit of jumping on my back and then lying down whenever I bent over to pick something up. My poor bassist is severely allergic to cats and can only stay over for short periods of time. Rambo is both frustrating and entertaining all at once. I tell her “You are so bad, no one else would take you!”

Yet, she has also made my days brighter.  When I come home from work, she is there to greet me with purring and nuzzling.  When I am sad and crying, she pats my face with her paws. She makes me laugh with her antics.  But most of all, she keeps me company.  It is very comforting to go to bed and she jumps up beside me and purrs until we fall asleep. I am grateful for her presence in my life.

Right now she is actually being good and sleeping in the guitar case next to me. In the morning, I will not be as excited as she wakes me up by walking on me and telling me to get up and feed her, but when I see her cute face when I walk in the door – it will all be worth it.

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Try Again

Seriously, stop whining and get up now.

As long as you wake up again tomorrow, you can usually try again. (A)

Of course, this doesn’t apply to saving someone’s life in surgery or viewing a “once every 200 years” event or… well you know what I mean. Last week I wrote that I was going to start riding my bike to work “the very NEXT day!”  The very next day, I woke up tired, looked outside and decided, “Well, maybe tomorrow…” I felt guilty about it all day because I had publicly announced my intentions (a good way to make yourself do something that you don’t want to do), but after all, it was just a bike ride! So the following day, I got up and left on my bike, although it took me a good half mile of riding to stop questioning whether I wanted to or not. However, finally I made it and I felt great!

I have been struggling with writing this blog lately – not because I don’t have any ideas but more because I have not been committing the time.  I really would like to do this for at least a year and see if I can develop any kind of readership and also, I think it would be good for me and my writing to be persistent and disciplined.  So while this post is more than a week late, here it is. 

One thing I have been determined to do is keep getting up again.  Sometimes it takes me awhile to do so, but so far, so good. Now trying again doesn’t mean you have to keep doing the same thing.  If you keep sliding down the side of the mountain after several tries, find a new route. I know I get quite stubborn about things and think that my way is right – sometimes I have to get a bloody nose from running into the wall so many times before I stop and look at it to find a new plan. 

I rode my bike home today and I will ride to work again soon.  I missed some time blogging but I plan to get back to posting on Tuesdays or Wednesdays.  I didn’t like the way my band’s last show went – guess this means I need to practice more.  Time to back up and look for a new route up the mountain!

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Moving meditation

Use consistent cardiac movement (walking, running, biking) as a time to think about things that make you anxious and use the physical exertion to trick your body into thinking that the anxiety symptoms (increased heart rate, breathing, etc.) are a result of physical, not mental activity. (A)

I am not personally a fan of running long distance.  However, I have found biking and walking to be very helpful as relaxation techniques when I am anxious.  When I had panic attacks in the past (increased heart rate, labored breathing, chest pains, shakiness, etc.) I would sit in one place and implode or pace in little circles.  The longer I remained in one place, the more anxious I became.  One of the doctors that I went to suggested that I go for a brisk walk instead.  He said that since my body would naturally have a higher heart rate and quicker breathing when doing cardiac exercise, moving would help me calm down subconciously because my body would start to think “Oh, that’s why I am reacting this way – because I am exerting myself’”.  This has been one of the most effective things that I have done for this condition. (Plus that, no one wants to sit there and hang out with someone who is freaking out for no good reason.)

Not only that, but as everyone knows, regular cardiac activity gets you in better shape. Being in better physical health increases your self esteem and confidence as well as helping you have more energy and sleep better.  What is there to lose?

As I have mentioned in previous posts, I haven’t had a severe panic attack in quite some time.  However, I have still had periods, as everyone does, of dealing with ongoing situations that were very mentally and emotionally stressful.  When a long term relationship was distentegrating I began riding my bike to work.  This helped keep me stable at work because I could work off some of that negative energy before I got to my job. I felt satisfaction that there was one thing in my control that was doing several good things: saving money on public transportation, being good to my body, being disciplined enough to take action, and being environmentally friendly. Once again, what was there to lose?

The city I am in now unfortunately has long winters and so I don’t ride my bike year round (there are hard core cyclists who do, but I am kind of a wimp when it comes to cold).  However, every summer, I get excited about the thought of those long rides to work.  It’s about 10 miles, so it takes a little while, but I can ride along the lakefront with the sun rising over the water and it is beautiful! That first ride of the season is challenging, especially when I haven’t gotten much activity over the winter, but once I get back into the swing of things I feel SOOOOOOOO much better! 

I am going to take my first ride of the season tomorrow.  It’s been a little chilly, but it’s been sunny, so no more excuses!  I am going out to build my body and my mind, to practice my willpower, to enjoy the glorious sunrise, to melt away my cares.  See you on the road!

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Try a yoga class and bend past your inhibitions.

There are many different types of yoga – try one for at least 3 or 4 sessions and see how it affects how you feel physically and mentally. (A)

I have to admit, I was pretty skeptical about the whole yoga thing.  Not only did it seem like something that once the turf of hippies was now attended by mainly white yuppie moms it also didn’t look like more than some overpriced fancy stretching to my untrained eye. I have always been a fan of more vigorous exercise and an hour of bending and reaching looked pretty boring.

However, in the last couple of years, I began to reconsider. I had a couple of coworkers who swore by its health benefits on posture, flexibility and getting rid of physical ailments.  I am sometimes a bit hard on my body, so I have been developing some aches and pains over the years, plus being kind of stiff.  So I thought maybe I would give it a try. I saw a special on Groupon for Bikram (hot) yoga.  That sounded more challenging and it was $40 for 20 classes – what an unbeatable price! I signed up myself and my bassist and we have been going about once a week for the past couple of months.

I have to say that it has definitely made a difference, even for our limited attendance.  Often in the morning my back and neck make Rice Krispie snap, crackles and pops but on days after yoga, it barely makes any noise at all.  I have some spider varicose veins pretty badly on one of my shins and I noticed that as I attend these classes, they have been becoming less severe.  I have improved my range of motion and notice (as well as adjust) my posture more.  And as for yoga not being much of a workout?  Well, I don’t know about non-Bikram classes but I am soaked with sweat and exhausted by the end of our class.  Yes, it is in a hot room, but I think even in an average temperature space, it would be a workout.  Quite a few people in the class need to sit down at some point or another during the session.  My bassist and I credit our ability to get through it with years of playing on hot stages under blazing lights.  Nonetheless… whew!

Our 20 classes will be at an end soon, but I am considering perhaps going once a week or at least a couple times a month in the future.  The benefits have been undeniable.  Just another example of how trying something that you would ordinarily not consider can have surprisingly positive benefits.  What’s next?  My bassist and I have been discussing skydiving…

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How ’bout getting off of these antibiotics?

Think about what you put in your body and why.  Talk to your doctor or a different doctor and see what you need and what you can live without. (J)

I was a pretty well medicated kid.  I had allergies, recurring bronchitis and sinus infections as a child. My well meaning parents took me to a host of regular doctors and an ear/ nose/ throat specialist.  I don’t remember what the names were of all of the pills and antibiotics that I took – just that some of them made me extremely hyper and that I constantly had to pee for a couple of years in junior high. TMI, I know, I know.  I really think that the amount of medication I took kind of screwed up my immune system. For many years, I was frequently sick, no matter how much medicine I took.

I also began having severe panic attacks around the time I graduated high school and in college – so there was more prescriptions for that.  One doctor said I had a mitral valve prolapse (which later doctors said they could not find a trace of), so he prescribed beta blockers. Another doctor recommended anti-depressants, one of which (Serzone) has been taken off the market for the rare complication of causing severe liver damage. The panic attacks, which could last for hours, came and went throughout college and into my mid-20s.  I was given Xanex, Valium, Clonopin, Serzone, and I may have forgotten one or two others. I didn’t like taking these kinds of drugs because they made me very tired and sometimes nonfunctional. I would level out for awhile, get off whatever medication I was on, and then if I came under much stress, I would be back to shaking and hyperventilating. I went to emergency rooms generally at least once or twice a year due to chest pains, trouble breathing, dizziness, and a feeling that I was absolutely going to die.

Finally, after a very traumatic experience that made me question the very core of who I was – I flipped out to the point that my roommates called an ambulance. The emergency room gave me a referral to a psychiatrist after being unable to find anything physically wrong with me. I didn’t have insurance at the time, but it was sliding scale fees and even someone on my limited income could afford it. The psychiatrist put me on Paxil for awhile and also helped me work through some things.  The Paxil kept me calm enough to work, sleep, and function at a fairly normal level and the talk therapy helped me figure out how my habit of keeping all my feelings inside was leading to an extreme amount of anxiety.

Around this time, I made some other changes in my life as well. I began attending a martial arts school, which helped me work out some of my frustrations and feel stronger.  I started meditating and trying to eat better.  Slowly, I started to feel more normal.  After about 6 months, I told the doctor that I didn’t want to take drugs anymore. She agreed that I could start cutting down and within a few months, I was off of everything.  Within a few more months, I was no longer seeing the psychiatrist either.

I am happy to say that while I do still get very anxious on occasion, since that time I have not had any more debilitating panic episodes.  I have learned to recognize what triggers me the most. I am learning to be a more positive person and I take better care of myself in general. I also know that if I ever do get to that state again, Paxil is the only one of the medications I have tried before that I would consider taking.

For the most part, now I try not to take medication at all unless I am really, really sick.  I feel that all of the medicine I took when I was younger caused some of my hypersensitivity today.   I don’t believe on relying on drugs as a crutch because you don’t want to address your problems (this includes both legal and illegal substances) – I look at them as tools.  I do think that you can work with a knowledgeable health professional to find out what works best to get you to a more stable place where you can use other measures.  I have had good doctors and bad ones – I am very happy with my current physician who answers all my questions, treats me with respect, and listens to what I have to say.  I have gone from having hypochondriac tendencies and feeling I need medication for every little thing to understanding that if I take a day off and take care of myself – many times whatever is bothering me will go away.

However, I also know that some people who could really be helped by medication don’t want to take it. If you are not able to function in society or work, you should really consider talking to a qualified professional (mental or physical) who can help you find the resources you need to get yourself together and feel better.  If what you are taking doesn’t help, try something else until you find what fits your unique chemistry the best.

It’s all about freedom!  The healthier and more self-sufficient you are, the more your own happiness will be in your control!

meditate, healthy food, sleep

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Learn to cook something

Everyone has to eat to live but eating to survive and eating to enjoy are very different.  Gastronomic appetites and cravings mimic how we approach life.  Why not approach life actively to try its many flavors and combinations? (A)

My mom was not big on cooking.  Well, maybe not that – it’s more that she was not big on being a chef. Don’t get me wrong, she tried to make sure we had at least a hot dinner and that the menu varied, but she was also feeding seven people on a very limited budget and with several of those people constantly underfoot, she didn’t have time for culinary experimentation or complicated recipes. Although, looking back on it now, I have to admit it took some creativity to constantly turn yesterday’s leftovers into today’s dinner.  Our food was generally solid Midwestern meat and potatoes fare - some of our most common meals were rotini/ vegetable/ hamburger soup, or a chicken boiled with parsley and onions with white rice, or spaghetti with squash to make it go farther. Some of my favorite meals were sauerkraut with hot dogs and homemade dumplings, grilled peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and homemade pizza. Generally the food was fairly bland and my father put enough garlic powder on almost everything that the smell permeated the kitchen.  To this day, I can’t smell garlic powder without feeling slightly nauseous.

My dad cooked occasionally as well and his experiments were usually pretty good, although kind of different.  He took a Chinese cooking class and decided that adding white pepper and oyster sauce to anything made it Chinese.  Sometimes we would have rice paper wrapped breakfast sausage, eggs, and bean sprouts. Or “Chinese burritos” with black eyed peas, cabbage, white pepper, water chestnuts, and Asian seasoning wrapped in flour tortillas.  Both of my parents were fond of food coloring (usually in baked goods), and as children, we were too.  It wasn’t uncommon to have green pancakes, purple birthday cakes with blue frosting, or red cookies.

I appreciated my parents’ cooking much more when I moved out.  I had not really learned to cook much of anything myself – I “heated” things up.  After college, I lived with roommates who introduced me to Thai food and banned me from the kitchen for fear of food poisoning or a fire.  I am embarrassed to admit that I tried to inflict my parents’ frugal ways on them.  I would buy ramen noodles while they bought pineapple and tofu; they were kind enough to share with me anyway.  We were on a tight budget, but I didn’t yet understand that you could budget shop and still eat well.

Then I lived with a boyfriend who cooked simple casseroles and Midwestern foods handed down from his grandmother. When he and I broke up and I ended up living completely on my own for the first time in my life at the age of 30 – I did not know how to cook.  At all.  For the first six months I usually ate microwave food and hummus/ spinach/ tomato sandwiches. I would look at the kitchen and recipie books with a feeling of overwhelming dread. I was used to eating for survival and was proud that I would generally eat whatever I was given.  For the first time in my life, I could buy and make whatever food I wanted and not worry whether it was what anyone else wanted. No one else was cooking for me and I didn’t know what to do.

Slowly, I started trying a few dishes and found that cooking was not as terrifying as I had imagined it would be, in fact, it was kind of fun if there were other people to cook for! I wanted to taste everything.  I still didn’t want to cook everything, but found myself using a large part of what disposable income I might have on restaurants and coffee.  When I was a child I thought that Pizza Hut was a fancy restaurant, because we only went there on special occasions.  Suddenly, I learned about quiche, dim sum, wine, sushi, organic beef – it was very exciting! Then I looked at my receipts at the end of the year and realized I was spending way too much on food and that I needed to scale back on unique eating experiences.

Now, I try to balance between eating simple, healthy, affordable food but still taking time to try new things and occasionally going to restaurants.  I learned from one of my bosses that often the best way to network with people or even discuss something challenging is to take them out for a meal or a drink.  The pleasure of the palate lowers our defenses. The appetite we have at the table often reflects our appetites in other areas as well.  As Ruth Reichl said in her book Tender at the Bone, “At first I paid attention only to taste, storing away that my father preferred salt to sugar and my mother had a sweet tooth.  Later I also began to note how people ate and where…I was slowly discovering that if you watched people as they ate, you could find out who they were.”

Today, I don’t eat just for survival and I don’t necessarily accept whatever people give me in other areas of my life either.  I am learning to cook, to spice, to appreciate flavor.  I am learning new recipes and cooking for people, not just offering them boxes of crackers and water. My favorite recipe so far?  Fresh vegetables, stir fried with garlic, onions, soy sauce and ginger with or without meat. It’s not too fancy, but it is good.  I think I will have to crack open a cookbook this weekend and keep learning to expand my taste…

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Learn to say “NO”

Maybe you have a problem with conflict and so instead of saying “no”, you let all kinds of people push you into doing all kinds of things you don’t want to do.  Maybe you are used to being a people pleaser for everyone except yourself.  What will happen if you start saying “no” to things you really don’t want to do – will you lose all your friends?  The people who are really your friends will still be there and maybe you’ll lose some of the excess people who don’t really want anything  except control. (A)

OK, I admit it – I have trouble saying “no” to people. In fact, you could say I have a history of being an enabler – something which I am working diligently on changing.  I don’t like conflict and I hate hurting people’s feelings, but this has led to me into all kinds of complicated and sometimes compromising positions.  It has allowed someone to persist in behaviors that I find annoying or ones that are flat out harmful to me in the context of being a “friend”.  Being known as a “nice” person has its drawbacks when you find yourself playing the role of a “nice” doormat for people to wipe their feet on.

Now before my current friends who are reading this assume that I am talking about them – I would like to state that I have been working on this for quite some time and I am acres away from where I used to be when I was much younger.  I still do need to work on saying “no” occasionally, but I am much more comfortable and confident in saying it now when the need arises.  I have realized that while it may be somewhat uncomfortable at first, it saves much time and heartache in the long run.  I wouldn’t want someone to tell me yes and then resent me for it, so to follow the Golden Rule, I MUST say NO to things I really don’t want to do.  (Providing of course that it is not refusing to help someone who is in dire need or that I am not just being lazy.)

For example,  let’s look at dating. Someone asks me out whom I’m not very attracted to.  They are persistant, I am not dating anyone else, so I say yes. Of course, reasonably so, they think I must like them too, otherwise, why would I say yes? Then it’s just a matter of time until I have the guts to break up with them and hurt their feelings even more than if I would have persisted in my denial.  “It’s not you, it’s me” may be certainly true -but why would I do that in the first place?  Or I allow someone to cajole or pressure me into buying something I don’t want, going somewhere I don’t want to go, agreeing to obligations that I don’t have time for….the list goes on.  NO!  My life is mine and the happier I am in it, the more quality time and energy I will have to cheerfully help those who need it or enjoy the things I do agree to. The more I am able to say no to unreasonable requests and offer alternatives, the more it will help my fellow man to grow by helping her/ him recongize what is and isn’t a reasonable request.  I would want someone to tell me if I was being unreasonable! (Am I?) :-)

This is a matter for careful judgement – I do want to give everyone a chance and I think that in general we gain more from saying “yes” than “no”, it’s just that when it starts to cause you more harm than gain, it is time to examine the reasoning behind your acquiescence. As I have gained more confidence in myself, I feel more comfortable saying no and not being cowed or intimidated by someone’s frustration when they do not get what they want.  I think the balance is to seek win-win situations.  Can I say “Not right now, but later”? Or do I just need to put my foot down altogether?  For those who sometimes have trouble deciding, like me, I would highly suggest you take a look at a book I have found very helpful: Boundaries: When to Say Yes, When to Say No – To Take Control of Your Life by Drs. Henry Cloud and John Townsend.

It’s ok to say “No” to the wrong things today so you have the time, energy and resources to say “Yes” to the right things tomorrow!

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Take a day off

When you get so overwhelmed that you do more harm than good and either spend your time snapping at people, staring out the window wishing you were somewhere else, or doing your work poorly because you can’t bring yourself to care – it’s time to take a break. (A)

I have a very bad habit of filling all of my time with as many projects and people as possible.  In my quest to be productive, this way of doing things can get quite a few mediocre projects done, but I have come to realize over the years that quality may suffer. I want to help everyone and I want to be involved in as many creative endeavors as possible, so I say yes to as many people as I can.  However, sometimes I end up frazzled and forgetful. 

I am not the kind of person who can stay idle very long, because it makes me extremely anxious to not do anything. Here is a journal entry from November 2007 that explains how I feel sometimes…

A Hurricane Formed by a Butterfly’s Wings
Current mood:   restless

The more time that goes by since I decided that upheaval was a truer path than filing my teeth down, the more I see how chaos has been both my friend and the bane of my existence; which is how it should be.  Disorder, conundrum, repeating patterns, beauty in Mandelbrot sets, disjointed, ending up in strange situations and places and yet more patterns and random pieces of the spectrum that add up to light to shine out the dark corners. 

I read about this condition today (of course now I can’t remember how to spell it) that is a psychological state of such unrest that one must pace anxiously and then pacing becomes painful and one must sit down and then is so unquiet that one must jump up and pace again and back ad infinitum.  It can be a side effect of anti-psychotic drugs.  I have felt like this sometimes and sometimes it is as if I cannot contain the energy and must pace to siphon some off.  It can be a very productive state if channeled correctly or if left unchecked can lead to a panic attack.  Which is strange, because I think that most of those who know me see me as a mostly quiet, calm person, except on stage where I can let the monkey out of the cage. 

Sometimes I wish for a more quiet existence, but then it feels as if I am being muffled under a hot blanket and melting into a pool of wax.  Or just waxing philosophical? Curious, this turn of events… 

Yesterday, I accidentally stood up a friend who really needed to talk.  He doesn’t have a car or a cell phone and he walked to a coffee shop near my house for my convenience.  Where was I? On the other side of town, running errands.  I had set a reminder on my phone, but for whatever reason, it never went off. This was forgetfulness and too many irons in the fire on my part – I never stand people up on purpose – and he was very forgiving about it. Nonetheless, I feel that this was an extremely bad lapse on my part. Unfortunately, this is not the first time something like this has happened because I was trying to do too many things at once and attempting to make too many people happy.When I come to a point like this – I realize it’s time to take a day off.

I also realize that I have not been doing the best I can at my day job lately because I am thinking of all of the other things that I want/ need to do. I am still effective, but no where near the excellence I strive for.  So, I need to take a step back to see the forest, not just the trees, and where I am in it and where I am trying to go. I also need to realize that while I want to be helpful, sometimes I just can’t.  And also that my efforts to help people (not my friend mentioned above,) may do them more harm than good because sometimes they need to figure out things for themselves. Now we all need help sometimes, and that is what friends are for, but it is often when I am forced to take action on my own behalf that I learn the most.

I realize that sometimes, you really, REALLY need to take a day off and you can’t, due to circumstances (single parent with kids, big project with a tight deadline, a job that requires you work the hours you are given or you lose it, etc.) But even in that case, sometimes you need to at least take a couple of hours off. And THIS is when friends really come in handy – to watch the kids for a few hours or work a shift for you or help you with your project so it gets done sooner…

So I think I am going to take a day off soon and sit at home.  I will play music and chase my cat around the house and maybe even just lie on the couch for awhile and stare at the ceiling.  Then I will go for a walk and enjoy the fresh air and think about what is really important to me and what lesser priorities I can let go.  And the next day? I will go back to work smiling and refreshed with an updated plan of action and the ability to pick up the slack so someone else can take a much needed day off.  I will be newly focused on the creative endeavors that matter the most and be ready for ACTION! Sounds like a plan! :-)

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Go spend a day at a Veteran’s Hospital visiting injured military.

Ask to visit a soldier who hasn’t had any visitors in a while.  How about talking to someone who intentionally put their life at risk serving their country (and you by extension)? (A)

I have mixed feelings about the military conflicts that the United States is involved in. Sometimes I think it is justified when we are trying to protect people who can’t protect themselves or of course when we are defending ourselves.  Other times, it seems much more like the people with the money sending other people who don’t have money out to fight and die for their special interests or things that they want.  Why are the suffering people in Iraq more of a concern to us than the suffering people in Rwanda?

But this post is not about which military actions are just, this is about the people who have dangerous, difficult, dirty work to do and try to the best of their abilities to accomplish what needs to be done at the risk of life and limb.  This is about men and women in the prime of their lives who are injured in the line of duty. They come back wounded, then need to figure out how to get back to work and society as well as they can.

Both of my grandfathers and all of my uncles have been in the military.  My grandfathers were in Europe for World War II.  My mother’s father suffered a leg injury in Europe just days after the war ended that would eventually be the cause of his death. (I believe a case of shells fell on him when he was riding in a truck with supplies – but I might have the details wrong).  In any case, before he shipped off to Europe, he was a poor farm kid who had made it to college on a football scholarship and became a heavyweight boxer.  When he returned from the war, his days as an athlete were over.  My mom said that while he worked hard to feed the family by running a restaurant and driving a bread truck, he was in constant pain from his wound.  I don’t know the exact details of his injury, just that the leg was severely ulcerated. As a child, I remember that it was always wrapped in bandages and he had a very difficult time walking.   He had to go to the VA Hospital at least 50 times (!) throughout the years and as he got older, his stays were longer.  Eventually, his leg had to be amputated and he died not long after that.

One spring day, a year or so later, I was driving by the VA Hospital in my hometown and I saw a squirrel get hit by a car.  It made me sad and then when I looked up from the street, I found myself staring at the hospital.  I started thinking about my grandfather and how sad it would be if he had sacrificed his health defending the place where I live and all of the people he cared about, and then no one ever came to see him. I know he had to have gotten extremely bored and lonely all those times he had to stay in the hospital.

So, I felt compelled to visit, but I didn’t know anyone there.  I went to the visitor’s desk and told the nurse that I wanted to see someone who didn’t get any visitors. It seemed strange even as I tried to explain it and she gave me one of those quizzical looks you give someone when you are trying to determine if they are joking. But then she smiled and said, “We have someone here who has never had a visitor”.

The man I talked to that day was not a cheerful person, but nonetheless he welcomed me in after my garbled explanation of why I was visiting him.  We talked for about an hour. He had been in Vietnam and had been chemically poisoned (by the U.S., by the Viet Cong – I don’t know if even he knew who was responsible) and had health issues ever since.  He was hoping to be released soon but figured sooner or later he would be back.  He was quite bitter about being a soldier because he felt that after all the trauma he had been through, no one really cared. He told me a couple of stories about some of the terrible things he had seen. I told him about my grandfathers and he said he appreciated the visit, even though he didn’t really understand why I was talking to him. When I asked him if I should visit him again, he actually smiled a little bit and said no, because he was leaving soon and hoped he would not be back for a long time. I never saw him again, but I hope my surprise visit helped break up the monotony. It was good to see him smile, even if it was just briefly.

I pray that I personally do not have to fight in any wars, but if that ever happens and I am injured, I certainly want someone to appreciate my sacrifice and efforts. Since the United States continues to send men and women off to war, with the risk of death or life-changing injury, the VA Hospitals are never going to lack for patients.  I hope that not only do these soldiers receive quality care but that no matter what our personal views on whether wars are just or not, that we respect that these are people just like us with hopes and dreams and goals. 

So if you have some extra time and you happen to be passing a Veteran’s Hospital, stop in and say hello to someone who just may someday protect you, and in the meantime is doing the best they can in a rough world. Or send flowers or cards. As long as there are wars, there will always be injured soldiers.

In the words of my friend, songwriter Matthew Morgan (see Links page for more of his work)
Be good to your soldiers
Be kind to your friends
You never know how much you need them
Until the fighting never ends.

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