A Shatter, A Death Knell, A Wail, A Rallying Cry

I’ve been writing a lot about mental health recently. At least, it seems that way— for Teaching Tolerance, thinking about it as a runner and educator. I’ve been talking about “fighting monsters” for years now, mining stories of the times I “got off the mat,” or “made the choice to stand up.”

Those stories feel good and victorious, don’t get me wrong. I’m happy I’ve written them. Those days do feel good— the days where I am able to look my monsters in the eye, to get up, to not let them control me. Those are stories that feel good to share too— reading how other people cope with mental health has also been an inspiration for me to move forward too.

There are days when the monsters win, though.

These are the days that are hard to write about.

They start slowly. Lots of times, a panic attack will hit me out of the blue– a blind-turning-truck-into-a-deer-in-headlights hit. The tsunami wave you were so sure would never come. I don’t expect, and the ferocity of it flashing through me is enough to knock me on my ass. It hits. I cry. It passes. Panic.

Some days, though, my body has been a battlefield for weeks. I start noticing little things– I’ll stutter when I talk, I’m tired all the time. I start struggling with my spatial awareness and running into desks and doors, bruises blooming on my arms and thighs.

Still, even now, I try and see if I can outrun and out work Panic. Two-a-days and yoga in between. An extra beer at dinner. Nights laying in bed, hand on my heart, repeating, I am fine, I am fine I am fine Iamfineiamfineiamfine, like a talisman to protect me. If I run my tongue enough over the words, maybe I will conjure some sort of magic that will make the statement true.

You can’t ask the external to protect you from what’s already inside you, though.

And so, over the course of the day, a few hours, it comes. I am lightheaded all afternoon, my heart feeling like it will beat out of my chest. I am so hoping it’s just an upset stomach or tired mind. I try to calm myself, taking my own pulse to prove that I am not having a heart attack or dying. I just feel that way. I hang on, for as long as I can, to the rational part of my brain.

I begin to shiver, and my body becomes the Hoover dam holding back the flood, bursting at the seams. I wrap my arms tightly around to try and hold myself in, as if I could keep my rabbit-heart safe in my embrace so it does not beat right out of my body and lose a bad fight bloody on the floor. I breathe. I tell myself, iamfinefiamfineiamfine,

And then, I call my parents. They immediately hear something in my voice. “Can you stay on the phone with me? I think I’m having a panic attack.”

And then, I break.

They stay with me as the first wave passes. They’ve been here before– comforting and cajoling me to breathe, just breathe. As I alternate between hyperventilating and sobbing, they tell me that it’s okay. They gently remind me that I’m okay, they’re okay, everyone is okay. They sit on the phone and tell me that this, too, will pass. That they are there, and that they love me.

And, in many ways, this is more than enough. The first wave passes, I am able to breathe again. They remind me how much they love me, ask me to get some rest and stay safe and, when I am ready, they hang up the phone.

The fight is not over though.

I roll onto my side and begin to heave, my body furled tightly into the fetal postition like a flag rolled up to try and survive the storm. I cannot stop crying. I openly weep, long unfettered wails pulled out of as I mourn the gentle peace my body had built. I try and let loose everything bursting from me, as if I could scrape the bottom of the well of my sadness as a sign that, just maybe, it’s finally gone

I roll onto my hands and knees on the bed, the blanket draped over my back like a fallen warhorse making its last stand that I saw in a book somewhere. “You need to get up now,” I beg myself aloud, sobbing as I press my forehead to the bed in a desperate prayer. “You have to get up.”

I continue to cry, to wail, to try and somehow call my body back out of the hole we are falling into and try and find my way. I slink and slither to the foot of the bed, trying to breath. One foot touches onto the cold linoleum. Then the other. I come to my knees on the floor, pressing my eyes into the mattress as I finally, finally start to calm down.

I don’t know how long it takes, but by the time I am able to stand, it is dark outside.

I get up, slowly find my footing.

I breathe.

And I begin to rebuild.

These are the days I do not often write about. The shatter, the death knell, the wail, the rallying cry trying to bring me back home to my body. They are the not the Cinderella-story where Panic is the thing I find some magical cure to overcome.

Yet, they are just as much a part of my story as any. At the end of the day, I always come home. After it all, this, too, does pass. And today, raw and wounded as I feel, I have put hand to body, and begin to rebuild.

Pause Before Crossing: A Life Update

I am 30 years old and today I am experiencing my first snow day.

I have to say, my trip to Philadelphia so far has been exactly what I needed it to be. I haven’t written here in a while because, frankly, I had overwhelmed myself past the point of feeling like I could do anything other than breathe and try to exist.

It’s not like I haven’t done that before. I find things I like, get really into them and then overextend myself to the point in which I sit on the couch in a state of stress-induced anxiety, unable to move.

That’s where I’ve been the past month. Don’t get me wrong– the general structure of my life is great– still love my job, still have amazing people in my life– but once I started feeling good, I went too far too fast and put myself in a bad space.

Thankfully, I have a lot of people in my life who love me and help me take care of myself. I made it to Spring Break and got on a few red-eye flights to Philadelphia to see my friends Daria and Chris. I had every intention of doing Crossfit’s 18.4 Workout when I arrived and, fortunately, there is a box a two-minute walk from where Daria lives.

Of course, I was barely able to get two hours of sleep on the flight. I ended up writing and reading, so by the time I made it to Philly, I was pretty zonked.

Still, I planned to get to Fearless Athletics, until I made it to Daria’s apartment. “You know,” I told her, “I kind of wish I could nap instead of doing the workout.”

Daria looked at me for a moment, then said, “Yeah, it definitely sounds like you should do that instead.”

I thought about it. My brain screamed at me that I couldn’t miss a day of working out, that I  needed to push push push. Then, I stopped, and decided that now was the time to take care of myself.

So, instead, I got into bed and slept.

The past few days since have meant some working out, sure, but also just… being happy. I slept a lot, hung out with Daria, Chris, and their adorable dog Max while watching Bar Rescue, met Daria’s grandmother, had some stupid good food (much of it homemade), and just… took a breath.

Recently, I was lucky enough to get interviewed by the 30 by Thirty Photo Project, a photo project by Erika Nizborski. She took some beautiful shots of me, and interviewed me about my experience as a thirty-year-old woman. I told her that, now, at 30, when I turned thirty, I was in the best shape of my life.

IMG_7540.jpg

And that may be true–  I certainly put in the work.

But, looking back, I don’t think I was the healthiest I’ve ever been. Health isn’t just the measure of how hard we can push, but our ability to step back and let ourselves heal as well.

So, in the name of healing, I’ve tried to be kinder to myself the past few weeks (hence, skipping 18.3 and 18.4). A few Saturdays ago, I spent the day on my couch, watching Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and, honestly, crying. I realized there were a lot of things I needed to let go of, and some things I needed to forgive myself for.

I also gave up teaching Yoga at Mango Tree. As much as I really do love teaching Yoga, I needed to create space in my life to do some other things I need to focus on like my writing. Funnily enough, the day after I quit, some exciting opportunities started down the pipeline. God is always working.

I feel like there are some things coming, but I know I have to prepare myself for them, if only to appreciate the view.

The morning after I arrived, I woke up and took a very chilly run across the Ben Franklin bridge. It was beautiful, and right before I crossed over the bridge to head back, I took a second to stop, looking around, and just appreciate where I was.

That pause is so essential, such a powerful part of experiencing not just happiness, but understanding joy. Happiness is temporary and situational. Joy is being able to appreciate your life and its bustling craziness and the beauty in the breaths before the grind. Joy involves taking stock because it is the bone-deep belief that there is beauty and magic in your life if only you are willing to wait. 

So, at this pause, before I cross, I am so, so grateful, and excited to see what comes next.

The King’s Speech

“Today, I will talk about
gaslighting,” the boy
started his speech. I
smiled, proud of him
for choosing such an
interesting topic.

As he continued, though,
the parts of his speech
meant to be dry facts,
hit all the soft, wounded
places I am trying to
let recover and heal.

“Gaslighting is a form
of mental and emotional
abuse. Sociopaths [his
word, and yours] will
nurture, then ignore,
then nurture, then
nurture again, causing
the victim to lose the
ability to trust their
own recollection.”

How many swinging
catwalks did I
learn to navigate,
legs aching as they
tried to find safety.

How many times did
I praise the safety
of your hand, tell
you how much I
appreciated the steady
guidance it provided,
not seeing that the
other was the hand
pushing me off balance
the whole time.

“I’m giving this speech
because none of us is
perfect. We all might
be gaslighted or gaslight
someone else. But the more
we know the more likely
it is we can take care
of ourselves,” He finished.

I smiled, nodded, and
in my heart I sighed and
said, “Yes. We can.”

The Prayer

When the unthinkable happens
and we are without words
that could console or heal.

When the tragedy is too senseless,
the wells of our sorrow without
any seeming end to its depths.

When there are no answers–
only questions, anger, the
curled fist, hurling at the sky,

Why
Why
Why

a gaping, sorrowed wail
echoing through the night,
making it darker still.

In those moments, all
we can ask for is grace.
All we can plead for,
when it seems no haven
exists, is some small
spark that, someday
maybe, it will not
be so bad.

May we find that grace
in the hand we squeeze
a little tighter tonight,
the embrace we give without
question, the “I love you”
exchanged with no pause in
our breath because we know
how unruly and unreckonable
the world can be, moving,
it seems without a care
for our wellbeing.

In those moments, let
joy– somehow still
ever-present like
the sun that never
ceases to rise, despite
the death dirge that
rang through the night–
run in the hand, the
hug, the breath we share.

When it seems like
there is no possible
answer, may my soul
find the strength
to hold onto those
things like the last
flickered smile before
the light shuts off
at night.

Let it find some
kind of foundation
in knowing that,
as each day and
its everpresent sun
somehow still rises,
so, too, will we.

And even though
it is not enough,
we pray that somehow
it will be enough.

 

 

Bones

Fuzzy-fingered, she pulls up
old messages— an archeologist
searching for some kind of
hidden meaning or a code
she could not break. Maybe
now— when the dust has
settled and the light is
better— she will be able
to understand what happened.

Instead, flips through the
old notes, trying to figure
where the bones of her
being started to shape, and
whose fingerprints were there
that she might need to erase.

“What is the half-life of love?”
She was sure she’d read that
in a book somewhere— the
words not quite clear, yet
something clearly moving
through her soul already.

She stops, finally, takes
a breath, puts the notes
away and heaves a heavy
sigh, with breath like barley—
ready to be let go, renewed.

She looks deep within and
knows, suddenly, that
the only fingerprints on
her skeleton are hers,
slowly building, patching
healing, every time she
finds herself broken.

There is no erasing to be done.
There is just the smoothing
over of the places once cracked
now stronger than they were before.

Find the Body Home

I wrote but didn’t publish poems the past few days.


Stop. Breathe.
You have time.
You don’t need
to put everything
down all at once.
You don’t need to
live everything
all at once.

Find quiet pleasure
in the feeling of
your breath swelling
then ebbing out of
your chest, knowing
you have your body
to come home to.



burn it all down now
the anchors tied to your feet,
the harbor you made.

 

The Body at Peace Time

She breathes, lays her
back against the couch
as she takes sinks into it.

The cool glass rolling
across her lips. She
closes her eyes and
appreciates the quiet
whirring of the fan,
the blinds rustling.
This, she thinks, is
what peacetime feels like.

For so long her body
has been a battlefield.

It is hard to come to rest
when you have trained
your ears to listen
for signs that the calvary
is coming, waiting for
the bomb to drop— not
just for the aftermath
that will rip through her,
but for the way she
will pay for existing
to be bombed
in the first place.

Now that she has
walked away from
the war, it is strange
to try and live normally
again, sometimes.

What does it mean
when her body’s
ability to feel safe
is novelty and
not the norm?
How long will it
take for her to
stop listening for
the whistle of bombs
every time the wind
rustles the blinds?

She rolls the cool
glass against her
lips, breathes, and
tries to see if she
can learn to train
her body for peacetime
too.

At The Cathedral

Hush, look up in awe.
See the redwoods rise,
and feel the breath in
your chest lift to meet them.

Put your palm on the base,
shocked at how soft the bark
feels underneath your hand.
The crevices are so deep
and dark, they looked like
they were carved in stone.

This is no cold stone, though.
This is teeming and alive,
rough and supple under your palm.
Spiders weave delicate and
intricate webs inside the
places where the redwood’s
small, dark slabs layered over
like a thatched roof, dips
dark into itself. Mossy
softness, like streaks of
paint, a child’s hand across
the canvas, runs up and along
the massive body of the tree.

The rustle of leaves
makes you look up,
makes you realize just
how small your hand is,
your whole body and being
are, really, in this place.

Still, the treetops call,
invite you to see the decay–
cracked, brown, broken leaves
slowly turning  dead to
fertile– at the roots, all
the way up to soaring
branches above that weave
shadow-green lace, ‘God’s
kaleidoscope,’ you marvel.

You stand there, wondering,
as the redwoods ask you
to look at your own supple
softness, to see the places
turned brittle, let them fall
and feed your roots. They
ask you what you will let
die so you can meet them
up there.

The Last, Best Thing

I’m on the second day of the OnBeing Gathering, and I am already in awe of the number of connections, spiritual fulfillment, and pure grace I have gained here. Every time someone has joined me at a meal or started a conversation, I have been so grateful to be pushed outside of my introvert zone and made some truly fantastic connections.

One of the benefits of this has been the space to refocus and start clarifying my own purpose and desires. I’m beginning to realize, very quickly, that I really love writing— poetry, prose, short, long– I want to write more. 

So, beyond giving up coffee, I’m going to write a poem a day for the rest of Lent. I have some making up to do, but I’m excited to push myself in this way. It won’t be perfect, I know many of them will be bad, but I know I need to start rehabilitating and rebuilding the muscle.

Anyway, here’s the first.


2/16/18

When the last, best thing
spills forth from
your lips, what will be
the image that you paint?
The story that you tell?

You have lived a life on
the cusp for years now,
so carefully dipping
that funny toe of yours
right the buoy marked, “SAFE.”
You have reached around
that barrier trying to
find some sign saying to “GO.”

Can you see beyond yourself?
Can you find the place
in you that is pure
movement? That bubbling
red blood in your gut
that fuels the body
to movement, to action?

Can you ride that river
to the sea that called
your ancestors, as it
once did to you? Can
you find comfort in
the raging currents,
see the beauty and
not fear the white-foamed
wave that swallowed you?

See your rabbit-heart as
the paddles of your ship,
the curve of your hip the
rudder of riding the current.
Know that the last, best
thing you say or see will
be found on the side of a buoy
or ever be the safest route.

Go, now, knowing the best
thing will be to set out
and find yourself home
again.