Marching Forth

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It’s the fourth day of Lent, which happens to also be the fourth day of March, hence the silly post title. It’s late at night, and I am sitting on the couch in my underwear, watching a trio of cats go about their nightly ablutions. I should probably be weirded out that they’re all in sync, but I’m too tired to care much. Maybe they’ll all decide to go to sleep when I do, and I’ll get a really good night’s rest. Nope, the youngest just zoomed across the apartment and skittered under the bed like a little maniac. Oh well, it was a nice thought while it lasted.

My apartment smells vinegary, like maybe there’s mold growing in the air conditioner. I’ll have to see about getting an AC repair person in to clean it out before long. I also need to find a handyman who can patch the sheetrock above the window where I slipped and grabbed the curtain and pulled the curtain rod out of the wall (then tried to put it back with spray foam, which kind of worked for a few months). And need to talk to the landlord about the kitchen sink water pressure, since it’s slowed to nearly a dribble. Also, time to replace the toilet seat and the shower/tub knobs. While we’re at it, let’s make a wish to the genie to send us an upholsterer to reupholster this couch, and put new foam in the cushions while he’s at it. Isn’t it funny how long you can just keep ignoring your problems if you work hard enough at it?

Today was a good day. Last night, the boyfriend and I went with one of our good friends to watch Logan (awesome), then met up with four other friends at Holy Ground, my favorite little Irish pub. I didn’t really struggle with not having my cell phone at my disposal, but there were a few times when I was vaguely uncomfortable and realized that typically I’d have Facebook out by now. Both of my girlfriends who were there were on their phones most of the time, and it made me vaguely sad that we couldn’t just all be talking. But we did talk about the photos and stories they were looking at on their phones, so it wasn’t as though I were being ignored. It was just something to think about.

While we were chatting outside by the front door, getting ready to leave, a group of guys in their mid-20’s came up and asked us how to catch the streetcar to head back to the French Quarter. I taught one of the guys how to use Google Maps to find out public transportation schedules and transit times. It was a nice interaction; the wait times were long, so I convinced them to try out this bar instead of heading all the way to the French Quarter. It felt nice to just be chatting to strangers for a second, but maybe because I had the upper hand and they were just being grateful and respectful.

After we got home, the boyfriend and I stayed up and talked for a couple of hours. That was also great, since we’re not on the same schedule anymore, so it’s tough to find the time to connect in meaningful ways. I’ve been way too anxious to go out to public things, so this was the first time in a while that we went out and did a fun thing together, and probably the first time ever where we went out and had fun without either of us getting on social media at any point during the night. Golden.

Today we got up and went to a late breakfast at Horn’s, then ran some errands until it was time for him to get ready for work. I cleaned the house, then went to The Franklin to grab dinner with Dena, a friend from Nashville whom I met on the Camino in 2015. She and her boyfriend Scott are in town before heading off on a cruise tomorrow. It was a wonderful dinner. Neither of them were drinking at the moment, so she and I shared one Estrella Galicia in celebration of Spain, then we had a perfectly lovely dinner with lots of water, and talked Camino, spirit, meditation, life, pain, humanity, all the best bits that I love to discuss. It was so great getting to hang out with the both of them. She’s the first Camino friend I’ve seen in person outside of Spain. Hopefully there will be more of these moments to come.

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It just passed midnight, and my blog title is no longer relevant. Whatever, I’m keeping it. It’s time for bed. I picked up a few great books at the free library this afternoon, so I think I’m going to get to sleep now, then wake up and read all morning on the front porch.

Day Two: Kyrie Eleison

Munky is curled up my lap and refuses to get off, so I’m writing this from a Macbook propped precariously on the back of a rather fat, annoyed, and slightly under-the-weather tabby cat. You insist on the lap, you have to take the consequences. *Pauses typing to accommodate overly emphatic tail swish.*

I am emotionally worn out, and need to make this quick. My day started with a text from my dearest cousin to say I love you in the way that only we share. Soon after, I got another text from my college roommate, to say she was in labor with her second child (and is still, unless I’ve missed any memos). I walked to work, and listened to “Kyrie,” by Mr. Mister, a few times. It’s been my top song for the last few days. I read this interesting autobiography a week or so ago by an Irish musician who mentioned hearing “Kyrie Eleison” being sung in church, and I got kind of obsessed with listening to various versions of the actual song. Then one day I remembered loving this silly rock song as a kid, and surprise, surprise, now it turns out that the song is directly referencing an inner Camino. So it’s been on heavy rotation lately, helping me untangle myself. Here’s the real deal, in case you’ve never heard it:

Work happened. There were a variety of screw-ups and triumphs. I’d gotten some math wrong yesterday, and had to deal with the consequences today. A housekeeper yelled at me because she needed to yell at someone and I was the only person available. A sales person in one of our other offices was let go, and consequences rippled out from there. A guest was angry that central reservations had told her the hotel was a short walk from the convention center, when it’s actually about 20 minutes away, and expressed her displeasure to me at great length, since I was the first person she saw (there’s a pattern to my day, isn’t there?). A trio of travel agents asked for an impromptu tour of the hotel, and brought their own scorecards to rate various facets of the hotel AND my performance in showing them around. By the time I walked out of the office at 5pm, I felt bruised and battered.

Today I found out that my TripAdvisor account (necessary for work) was also linked to my Facebook account, and I couldn’t log into it without reactivating Facebook. So I had to make a whole new account, which is fine, but was a time suck, to be sure.

After work, I went back home to grab my dirty laundry and head to the laundromat. My parents had called a couple of times over the course of Mardi Gras, and I hadn’t had time to call them back yet, so while my sheets were washing, I called for what I thought would be a short call. It ended up being two hours, and being mostly nice. There was lots of wasted conversation, of course. I hate smalltalk, but it has to be done. I wish I was the kind of person who could stop someone and say, “Yes, you’ve told me that five times already!” But I can’t, because it’s not polite, end of story. You just have to suck it up and write off those ten minutes of your day, and be grateful that you still have a parent to talk to, because so-and-so’s parents are dead (possibly because so-and-so was honest about the smalltalk being boring, and her parents dropped dead instantly). Yeah, I know, I’m super mean. I’ll get what I deserve for being a terrible person. Blah, blah, blah.

Anyway, my dad asked me how I was doing, and I told him the truth, that I’m not OK, I’ve mostly been white-knuckling it lately, and am doing my best to take the steps necessary to treat my anxiety. That I’m considering bankruptcy, because I can’t figure out how to carve a path out of the debt. That I’m not going to kill myself, but that’s all I can promise. That I have a hard time leaving the house. He listened, and then for a couple of minutes, it went downhill. We were back to where I regretted being honest, because he laughs it off and turns it back to a story about how he’s had it so much worse before. Like it’s some awful contest. So I reacted in the only way I’ve learned to keep my temper in check. Don’t fight back. Don’t make it worse. Just let it go. Realize he’s not my therapist, and not capable of helping, and not trying to hurt, even if he is. I thought briefly about just hanging up. But then the weirdest thing happened. It was like he caught himself mid-stride and heard that he was hurting me. He suddenly got serious and told me that he loved me and I could always talk to him if I needed him, and he knew where I was coming from, and had faith that I was going to be OK. My mom chimed in from the background that I could always call her, anytime. It was really nice. I know they both mean it.

The boyfriend is also foregoing Facebook for Lent, and around mid-afternoon, I texted him to see how his day was going, telling him that I was just so worn out already. He reminded me that I’m used to getting many mini-doses of dopamine throughout the day. My body and mind are going to be going through withdrawals from social media for awhile yet. He mentioned feeling anger. I mostly feel sad. I’ve been crying the whole time I’ve been typing this, and am only just now realizing that the front of my shirt is soaked.

I keep remembering what it felt like a couple of months after the Camino, when I felt like someone had taken a grapefruit spoon to my inner self, and scooped all of me out. Plop. I was a husk. I just laid in bed, watching Call the Midwife for days. Just thinking of my cats made me cry. I started to see my dead friend Josh everywhere. I felt like I was already just a milky memory to anyone who had known me. I barely remembered myself. This time, the feeling has been hanging around since Monday. I don’t like to think of it, but this is probably going to get worse before it gets better.

Luckily, Munky seems to be feeling better, and now I’ve got freshly laundered sheets, so that’s something. It’s time to pill the cat, clean out the litter boxes, sweep the floor, put sheets on the bed, and get some shuteye.

Deactivation

Just deactivated my Facebook account, and am feeling a little ill. I took the app off of my phone this weekend, went a few hours without it, added it back, went a few hours without…etc. Finally took it off for real last night. Instagram was easier, though I did see a really funny Instagram account called @tchoupacabra that had me looking through the photos one last time this morning. I mean, who doesn’t adore a (really poorly) taxidermied raccoon in a miniature police uniform, attending various Mardi Gras events?

Anyway, I think that the first week or so is going to be pretty hard. I know that sounds lame, and weird, and like I could possibly need mental help (spoiler alert – I do). But I realized on Sunday that Facebook (well, my phone in general, but Facebook more specifically) is where I go when I’m bored, when I need validation, and when I need an update on news. OK, and it’s a great place to share kitten videos. Guess I’ll just have to share them here now.

But what makes it worse is that it’s become a community for so many, yet it is empty, so empty. It’s where a LOT of people go when they’re bored, need validation, want to get up-to-date on whatever new horrible thing is happening in the world. Somehow we’ve managed to become convinced that Facebook is the real world, a true hub for finding out all the things you need to know to be a successful and connected human being. And maybe that’s not all that bad for more extroverted folks. But along with the fleeting promise of online connection, people like me receive the gift of real-world isolation. We’re so busy being plugged in, checking on who likes our latest photos or music recommendations or snarky updates, that it’s easy to ignore the things that make us uncomfortable: everything outside the front door (well, you know, other than trees and rocks and other inanimate, outdoorsy things). It’s easy to convince yourself that online existence is more meaningful than it really is. It’s easy to ignore that there are real people out there with whom we could be making meaningful, in-person connections.

And if there’s anything I should be sure about, it’s that real friends are made in the real world. Yes, I have two friends that I’ve met online and have never spent time with in real life. It’s not impossible to get to know people over the internet – especially if you’re actually writing TO each other, and not just commenting on the same posts – that’s just having a modern day pen pal. It is, however, extremely unlikely. If anything should remind me that it takes depth of interaction for me to make true connections, I only need to look back to the Camino. I met hundreds of people over 45 days of walking in Spain. We all had at least one thing in common, and there were quite a few superficial conversations, to be sure. But out of those superficial conversations, a few deeper ones grew, and out of THOSE conversations, a tiny handful of friends were won. Good friends. Lifelong friends. People I love like sisters and brothers. However, had I not been forcefully removed from other online options, I might never have started talking.

Here’s the thing – friendships are beautiful, and I truly believe that making connections on that level can make life brighter. But making friends is HARD. It’s uncomfortable. It’s painful. It’s not quite as bad as having a tooth pulled, but honestly, it’s close to it, and it lasts longer. It is also fraught with pitfalls, even after you’re pretty sure the other person likes you (but DO they REALLY? What if you screw this up? What if you say something that upsets them? And do you know ALL the things that could possibly upset them? Isn’t it easier to just not make the friend you’ll inevitably piss off at some point, and just forgo that pain?). And after all that, after you overcome what feels like insurmountable fear, you press ahead, you ask the person if they’d like to hang out sometime, you become friends, it weirdly turns out that you’re complete opposites but still enjoy each other’s company…and then the other person abruptly moves back to Minneapolis and once again you’re on your own. (You know who you are, and I’ll be up to visit soon!)

As Carrie Fisher said, “Stay afraid, but do it anyway. What’s important is the action. You don’t have to wait to be confident. Just do it and eventually the confidence will follow.” I’m not certain that I’ll ever be confident about anything. I’m only ever confident about traveling and trying new things that don’t necessarily involve having to interact with other people. Give me a flight plan and a suitcase, and I will go. Don’t care where it is, I will happily traipse right off to whatever foreign desert or jungle or metropolis you’ve chosen. I’ll enjoy the hell out of it, too. But ask me to attend a house party a block down the street tomorrow night and there’s a 99.9% chance that I won’t be able to force myself out the door. But maybe this is just the first step of feeling slightly more confident. Maybe this will help me start to feel less like curling up and dying whenever I get invited to a social function. And if not, well, maybe it’ll give me the extra time I need to start a new hobby, maybe learn to knit, like a proper crazy cat lady. (Actually, my bestie gave me a paper piecing kit, so that’ll be the first crafting attempt.)

Overall, I think there are going to be three major things that will suck in my social media detox process:

  1. Being comfortable in public. On Sunday morning I was supposed to meet up with a friend for brunch, and arrived early. Since I was already trying to get used to not using the phone, I started to read a paperback while waiting in line. Even though, technically, I was doing exactly the same thing that every other person who was in line and on their phone was doing – reading – I caught people giving me weird looks. Which of course took me right back to the days before phones, when I always had a book or a notebook with me, for reading or jotting down thoughts as I waited in lines or had a solo lunch. Back then I wasn’t suffering from anxiety (that I know of), just experiencing introversion, and though I felt like I was under scrutiny for my nerdiness, I let it roll of me. It’s going to be interesting trying to recapture what that felt like.
  2. Sharing music. This is probably the worst. I connect to other people through music. When I hear a song that touches my heart, I want to share it, to share a feeling that I can’t describe in words with the people that I love. On Facebook, only a few people interact with my music posts, but they’re all my favorite people. It feels good to be jamming out to a song on Spotify, hit “Share” and share on my FB wall. Now I won’t be doing that anymore. I know that when a tree falls in the forest, it still makes a sound. The song has still touched my heart; does it matter if anyone else knows? But who are we without sharing our experiences? Well, for the next 40 days, we’re confining that kind of sharing to my blog. Probably not too much music, though. It’s not as impactful if it’s not of the moment.
  3. Not creating beautiful photos via Instagram. This isn’t that bad, really, because I’m just going to get a different photo app. Instagram makes you post your picture in order to make the filter and editing last (otherwise you’re asked if you want to discard these changes, or if you want to save as a draft). I don’t want to discard or save as a draft. I want to edit my photo, then keep it. I don’t really care about sharing, or getting likes, etc. I just want to take a picture of my cat, edit it to look nice, and save it.

Today, though, my big focus is just not losing my cool and logging in to Facebook. We’ll fill the void with work until 4:30, then it’s home to check on the cats and clean the house, and after that, well, it’ll probably be time for bed, but maybe I’ll get to start a new book. Did I tell you guys that I’ve already read 13 books so far this year? I’ve almost beaten my (sad, oh so sad) record of 15 books read last year. I’ve been working on putting together a list of feminist comic books to share with my book group, but I just realized that I won’t be able to access our group Facebook page for awhile. Hmmm…

Lent (Terms & Conditions)

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This is just how it is. That’s important for me to note. I am an optimist, and I believe that we are constantly evolving, changing, shifting our perspectives and thus, our realities. However, it’s key for me, at this junction, to realize that I have been fighting a losing battle against an immovable foe, and have finally tired out enough to realize that I haven’t budged an inch in all the struggle. I have been fighting for the wrong thing(s), yet again. And in coming to this realization, I also find that I’m not new to this knowledge, or rather, that the knowledge is not new to me. If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing, over and over, and expecting different results, go ahead and ship me out to the bin. I am not coming back from myself.

The other day, I was reading this comment on an online forum for ex-Fundamentalist Christians in various stages of deconstruction. The original poster was discussing how problematic it was for white, middle class, Christians to tell people from different backgrounds to stop expressing their fears, because “God loves you and all you need is to go to church more.” I don’t want to make this a political post, so I won’t explain more than this, just that the comments under the original post broke the sentiment down and explained it in various ways, some people agreeing that it was at best short-sighted, and at most classist and racist, while other people tried to explain that with God at your back, fear is pointless, blah, blah, blah. I refrained from sharing my perspective, because I intuited from the overall tone of the comments section that I wouldn’t be understood properly.

But here’s what I think about it: we are all going to die, fear or not. This is not a dark thing, or a pessimistic thing, or a sad thing. It’s just the truth. You are going to die. There’s no way around it. Repeat after me: I am dying right now, and will be dead soon. (Whether by bus tomorrow afternoon, or in sleep 50 years from now, the individual human timeline is a minuscule thing.) With nothingness on the imminent horizon, why waste any time on fear? Physically speaking, after that first jolt that gets you moving, fear is pretty pointless. Overall, it’s an impediment. Long term exposure can be quite harmful – just ask anyone with an anxiety disorder. If you want to fight, fight. If you want to seek pleasure, seek it. Your life is your own, your death is inevitable, and it is not my place to tell you that you’re an asshole. Why would you believe it, if you can’t see it already? When we die, we are gone. There’s no heaven, or hell, or great beyond. At best we are energy that gets recycled. We are worm motels, and if we’re lucky, there will still be trees left to nourish when we’re done making a terrible mess of this beautiful place.

So with my impending death and the pointlessness of fear laid out before me, I am changing my tactics. I have come to terms with the fact that I’ve been going about this all wrong, and I’m not too proud to admit that it’s time to change.

I am sick. A couple of years ago, I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression. Like an idiot, once I started feeling better, I stopped taking medication. For awhile it was OK, but now it’s not. And it’s been “not” for far too long now. My thoughts are scattered. I have trouble finishing projects (which is nothing new, but worse now). I work myself into a knot just thinking about the wording I will eventually use to write about specific things, then eventually just avoid writing about them, altogether. I am nearly incapable of holding down a conversation in person, and my fear of public gatherings manifests in such a way that I appear aloof, annoyed, and impatient. On the good days, when I can force myself to go out in the first place, I end up just having a panic attack and shaking in silence in the darkest corner I can find. At least then I just look like someone who’s having a bad day, rather than someone who wants to burn down the building with everyone inside it. While I was scared of not fitting in as a younger person, now that I’m in my 30s, it’s come to pass that I never did find a way to fit in, and now I’m sick, so the awkwardness is also wearing a layer of anxious, bad-tempered energy anytime I’m put into a position where I have to interact with people I don’t know that well. I eat and drink to tamp down some of the fear and unease, and frequently find myself eating pure junk in large quantities, knowing that I don’t want it, but doing it anyway as a form of self-punishment.

While most of the symptoms of this have been disagreeable, there are some small positives. The largest of these is that while I have lost the things that used to tether me (music, sensuality, costumes, fantasy stories), I have traded out my appreciation for these things for a new appreciation in being completely untethered. I am wandering. I don’t know who I am or what I am doing here. I have a feeling like I’m walking between rain drops, like I can see more of the world because the world has forgotten how to see me. It does hurt a little, but it is more like a memory of pain than the pain itself. Though my connection with humans is tenuous, at best, I have learned that I feel a deep, energetic connection to animals and the earth. I have also begun to see how very few people actually matter to me, which gives me the ability to wonder why it is that humans feel a need to be loved by many, when they can actually only reciprocate appropriately for relatively few. Why, for instance, pretend that I care about the people with whom I went to high school? We don’t share any of the same goals, other than continuing to breathe. Which reminds me that I need to find someone else to take over the 20-year reunion. Let them eat Rotary Club meatloaf and share photos of their children on someone else’s time. I think I’ll go to Italy that weekend.

Anyway, as you can see by now, I’m stuck. I can’t really see a way out of this particular cycle, so instead of treating the symptoms, it’s time to go to the root. It’s time to take out the anxiety, itself. After that, we’ll rebuild.

Step one is to go on a break from social media for Lent. I really only use Facebook and Instagram, but I use them both to get that dose of dopamine when someone likes, shares, comments, or reposts. I took Facebook off of my phone today, and will deactivate my account on March 1st. I’m still thinking about Instagram, but I’ll probably remove it from my phone in the end, as well. I never actually look at my Twitter accounts, but this is a great excuse to deactivate all but the Compass & Quill account (which I only use to repost blog posts, so I’ll just continue not checking it).

Step two is to get serious about finding a new psychiatrist and therapist, and getting back into treatment. I’ve looked around on my new health insurance page a few times, but they make it so convoluted that I always end up getting confused and giving up. I think I’ll just call customer service and ask for help during a lunch break next week.

Step three is to get physical and get sleep. Those are two things, but they work together. Physical activity is proven to help with symptoms of anxiety and depression, and they will also help address my weight issues, which will also, in turn, help the anxiety. I have been having a lot of trouble getting in my 8 hours of sleep a night, but I think if I’m properly worn out from working out, it will help me climb into bed earlier every night.

Step four is to cut out sugar, dairy, and caffeine. They’re all highly addictive, and are all playing an unhealthy part in my life. I always reach for one of the three when I’m uncomfortable – and I’m always uncomfortable. So I’ll just take a break, even if it’s only for 40 days.

Step five is to finish something. So I’m aiming to finish writing all of my Camino posts by Thursday, April 13th.

What am I looking for? So many things. That’s a whole new post, at some later date. For now it’s time to get out of the coffee shop and home to my cats. Isabel’s going to be very happy about her favorite heating pad’s resolution to spend more time in bed.

Belly Button Lent

Can you tell that I like horrible jokes? I’m as corny as they come. Last night, in fact, I spent the better part of an hour reading a website for The Potato Rock Museum, an online collection of rocks that look like potatoes, with arguments that these rocks might actually have been potatoes at some point. I laughed over some of the images until there were tears streaming down my face. I mean, seriously – you can’t possibly tell me this isn’t one of the most amusing things you’ve seen today:

Yum, what a lovely baked potato! Wait a minute, that’s no spud – that’s a ROCK!

Whatever, I thought it was hilarious.

Anyway, I’m just writing this little post because it’s the first day of Lent, and I felt like it deserved some attention. Not for any religious reasons, mind you. I’m decidedly not Catholic. I’m not even celebrating Lent in any official capacity. But since the first day of Lent happens to mark the end of the Mardi Gras season, it’s a useful demarcation for me in other ways.

I didn’t get too crazy over Mardi Gras. In all, I had eight drinks over two weeks. I ate a tiny sliver of king cake, a huge BLT poboy, a slice of pizza, and a decent enough helping of fried foods and snacky things, as is my custom during the season of debauchery. Overall, though, this was a very tame holiday season for me. I didn’t even leave the house on Fat Tuesday. I’m getting old, and as it turns out, I really enjoy being sober and healthy.

That being the case, I’ve decided that this Lent I’m going to go for it. No drinking for the next 40 days. I’m also going back to eating paleo, and even though the Iron Tribe transformation challenge is over, I’m going to keep working out four to five days a week. Right now my loose goal is to get to around 170 lbs by Easter.

Now here’s the kicker. If I can get to my next goal mark of 170 within the next 40 days, I’m going to buy myself the present I’ve wanted for a few years now. I’ve had my eye on this ridiculously trashy diamond belly button ring.

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I’m currently wearing a sterling silver one with swarovski crystals, but if I can keep up the good work, I think I deserve to get something lovely and silly for my good work – a genuine white gold and diamond ring for my naval, perfect for accenting my prized lint collection.

Too bad I can’t find one with potato rock accents…