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Archive for July, 2010

Sawing

In the ongoing adventures of my state of mind:

I’ve been catching myself doing something I’ve decided to call “sawing.” It goes a little something like this. If the thoughts we think help construct our material reality (because those thoughts reflect beliefs, beliefs create actions, actions create character, character creates who we are in the world and the decisions we make, etc.), then we would do well to attend to the thoughts we are thinking, and to change the ones that perpetuate realities we don’t want to manifest in our lives. And if the thoughts we repeatedly think affect our actual brain chemistry, as the brain scientists tell us, then thoughts have a chemical dimension, a biological expression, as it were. We know, for example, that rumination is not just a product of but actually a creator of depression. Likewise, fear thoughts perpetuate anxiety because they trigger hormones that prepare us to fight or flee. And so on with angry, happy, sexual, etc.

I have ample evidence of all this being true in my own life. (Caveat: I don’t believe thoughts alone create all of everyone’s life circumstances; no one thinks their way into a birth defect or life on a destitute reservation, for example. But there is such a thing as a poverty mentality.) And so I’ve put a lot of practices into my life that help me notice and where possible reshape my thoughts in more positive directions.

But when I’m worn down, or my self-esteem is floundering, or I’m sleep deprived (i.e., most of this summer)…that’s when the sawing begins. My thought-filter weakens and a thought creeps in like an insect. And it starts sawing.

Let’s take I’m always alone.

Ok, I’m not always alone. In fact, I often am surrounded with good company. I’ve been spending most days with my friend Lisa, working on our books together–which is a huge blessing. I have family in Denver that I love, and family in California that I can call anytime. I have amazing friends who love and take care of me, and who make all the difference in my life. I have a partner that I adore who, despite the rough ride she’s been on in the last year and a half, is a loving presence in my life. I also have students, mentees, neighbors, and acquaintances I could get to know better as friends if I chose to. Also: I, unlike a lot of people I know, actually enjoy spending time alone and feel agitated when I haven’t had enough of it. Alone is not my enemy.

And yet I come home from some day of doing stuff with other people and I am always alone gets in my head. It starts sawing a groove. I make something to eat. Always. I call someone who doesn’t answer. Alone. I sit at my desk and respond to some emails. Paco pads in to the office and flops down, purring. Right in the middle of an ordinary task: Oh god! Why am I always alone? Maybe I turn on some music, or go in the backyard and do some gardening. I’m not trying to avoid the thoughts, just doing things I enjoy. But maybe I’m tired from a long day, and some other worries are floating around in my head. Somehow that perpetuates the sawing. The ugly thought–which I realize is not only a thought but factually untrue–settles into its back and forth groove. It looks for evidence to prove that I have been or always am alone. It builds an argument. It makes a case. And, worst of all, it begins attracting emotional energy around it–a pool of sadness under my sternum, a kryptonite ball in the belly.

I try to build a shield in my mind, to catch the thought and “weed” it up before it can express again. Each time it tries to run its groove, I pluck it first. Sometimes that works, but if I’m tired, if I haven’t slept enough, it just saws and I don’t know how to stop it.

The only solutions I’ve found so far:  1) yoga, 2) sleep medicine, 3) reading (if I can concentrate), and 4) noticing, and naming, the sawing. And telling the thought that it doesn’t have permission. And trying to love the poor self that’s struggling with the thought.

What do you do?

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Uppers & Downers

Educational drug prevention films of the seventies would invariably use the vocabulary of “uppers” and “downers”–dangerous substances likely to lead unsuspecting teens to the edge of a high balcony, or tragedy in a urine-soaked alley. Between these films and the biographies I used to read of people like Judy Garland and the Beatles, I’d muse about what it would be like to pop a pill and experience manic or morose moods while wearing, say, a crocheted halter top and bell bottoms.

I did try a Quaalude once in college, which was kind of passe by 1986. I guess it lived up to its rep as a “downer,” but mainly because it was like drinking a case of beer and then banging against dorm hallways, slurring like an idiot. One could do that any day in college. And I gave other things the occasional whirl, mostly so I could understand what people were talking about. Drugs had their pros and cons; I found sex a lot more interesting.

I’ve been reminded this summer that  life has turned out to present more than enough experience on the matter of uppers and downers, and I don’t even have to take the little red or blue pills. But now I understand the need for them.

A quick recap of some of the highs and lows as of the halfway mark in my summer:

Upper:  I finished my Spring Quarter classes with high marks from a really strong group of students.

Downer:  I started teaching a Summer Interterm class before I’d even turned in grades for the Spring class. That kind of overlap doesn’t make me happy when people comment on me having “summer off.” On the other hand, the Interterm class was filled with adult, working women, and it was rewarding and transformative. (So, Upper.) It did, though, include one very rabid, religious, and aggressive student who wanted an A for C-level work. (Downer.) At any rate, I feel like I’m meant to teach that class in some larger forum. If I could only figure out what that forum is, and how to make it pay financial dividends.

Downer:  I got paid $1K less than I’d calculated to teach that class. And then the next one I had on tap did not get enough students to roll. Nor did two other little side-classes I’d been planning. Which ups the ante on my already-dicey summer finances. And silver hair turns out to be a real liability on the hooking front.

Upper:  I’ve made some solid progress on my book, especially when I camp out in the public library or a cafe. It’s always slower going than I’d like, but conceptually I’ve made some breakthroughs and I think a lot of the writing so far is pretty damn good. It feels like I’m finally writing the book I want, and need, to write. Or I feel that most of the time, when I’m not torturing myself over some aspect or another of it.

Downer:  I’ve probably only gotten 10 full nights of natural (non-assisted) sleep since the beginning of June. Steady insomnia due to any number of factors in combination: worrying about money, career, or relationship; heat; R.A. pain/discomfort; and the chemical side-effects of not sleeping previous nights.

Upper:  It turns out that Kaiser now covers Ambien (a downer, surely) at the regular $10 co-pay rate, which was not the case a few years ago when I asked. Ambien is a huge comfort because 95% of the time it works for me. I mean, I fall asleep within 20 minutes of taking it. This means that I can *know* I’ll sleep at least 5 hours that night, usually more, which translates into not going 2, 3, 4 consecutive nights without sleep, as has happened in the past. But it also means I’ll likely feel kind of cloudy in the morning (but still better than Tylenol PM or even Valerian root). So I try to use it as a last-ditch solution, and I only take half. But there have been too many last-ditch nights as of late. That worries me. The last thing I need is to become an Ambien junkie and find myself like some Kennedy wandering the streets of D.C. at 3 a.m., dialing exes. In a crocheted halter.

Downer:  Given the fact that the bulk of next month’s pay source remains a mystery, I started looking at bartending jobs again, mostly on CraigsList. That has led to two promising no-gos and two humiliating experiences standing in line with 30+ others under the age of 30 to fill out 45-minute questionnaires–only to be obviously shunned by interviewing male managers (age: 27ish) who’d clearly dismissed me on sight. Consider the ego-blow of filling out the “education completed” section of an application to sling shots for people the age and mentality of my undergraduates. This raises the question: what the HELL am I thinking? Under the right circumstances, bartending is a sweet little side-gig. In this economy, the process involved in securing such a gig is…well, let’s just say, it makes me want to sit on the toilet eating Twinkies, like Elvis.

Upper: I rocked out an entertaining and informative public talk on Carl Jung at the Museum of Contemporary Art’s Mixed Taste series last Friday. No small achievement, and kind of a coveted little opportunity I am fortunate to have had. Lovely life-highlight and a rare chance to do what I’m good at in front of friends and family.

Downer:  In the wake of that, all my major joints feel achy to the point of distraction and the fatigue hit Sunday like an anvil swinging on cables. I am pretty sure this is called an R.A. flare. And every time I look at CraigsList it seems to surge. That leads to the popping of pills–just Naproxin, but still. If I go looking for another source of income, my R.A. hurts. If I don’t, I worry so much I can’t sleep. I mean, this is ugly honest, but it’s where I’m at.

Upper:  I feel like I’ve totally rediscovered watermelon, and that turns out to be significant. I bought one for $3.99 a couple weeks ago, and on the first bite found myself devouring it like a starving dog.  It was like my whole body was THIRSTING for watermelon. And that craving has been steady ever since, so I keep eating it. I think I could survive the summer on watermelon alone (which is good, as I might have to). So I looked up the nutritional contents of watermelon and here’s the deal: Aside from copious quantities of Vitamins C, A, and B1 and 6, it’s full of this stuff called lycopene, an antixodant that kills free radicals, among other things. Free radicals cause the inflammation associated with, guess what, Rheumatoid Arthritis. How about that? My body sidestepped the rheumatologist and seized on what it needs.

Upper:  I also discovered (or remembered) that art is therapy. In the process, I happened on  the “monster” that is my forlorn, freaked-out inner child.

On the other hand (downer), I often feel guilty while drawing or writing that I’m not using the time to search for work or write my book. And then I feel humiliated that in my 9th year of teaching college I’m still having to whore myself out for side jobs to make ends meet. I try hard not to feel guilty about blowing a few hours on art, as I know the creative stuff helps everything else–not to mention it’s where part of my heart lives–but the pressure of getting that book out and under contract is getting pretty concrete.

All in all, I’m kind of a mess this summer. And though I know there are pills designed to even out the psychological responses, like anxiety and depression, that come with this kind of roller coaster, I guess, for now, I’d rather try to ride it out with minimal meds. But I may have to hit up the thrift store for some seventies fashion, as I’m definitely feeling like a poster child for uppers and downers.

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