February 10, 2014

I meant to write this post a couple of days back, but my body had some other ideas (sneezy, wheezy feverish ones) as to how I should spend my weekend. Resting, Kleenex, and Netflix pretty much sums up the experience as my sinuses tried to bridge the ocular socket gap to achieve a unified homeland on my face. I’m still recovering today, but I finally feel well enough to sit at the computer to type this out.

It was a year ago yesterday that I had the largest continuous anxiety attack of my life. The proximate cause of the attack was the idea of flying to meet The Girlfriend in Aruba for a couple of rest and relaxation days. I had been looking forward to it for weeks since it was also where I wanted to propose to her. Tropical sunsets, sandy beaches, and the two of us together for a couple of days of doing not much of anything. That’s not the part that scared me.

I was nervous about the flight leading up to it, but my thoughts were decidedly mixed. While I was not the best flyer over the years, I did manage to Australia and back which entails fourteen hour flight times. The statistics are on the side of safety, despite what popular culture and media outlets like to tell us about flying. Surely, I could have a four and a half hour one.

I was decidedly wrong.

My previous experience with anxiety had been handled well by Xanax. Not so this time as each dose I took was steadily consumed by the terror that now wracked my thoughts and body. Literally, I could not stop shaking from the fear. Rational thoughts bounced off the irrational feelings like paper balls thrown at a fire door. Even with the intervention of The Girlfriend and my parents, I could not stop it. I got a few hours of sleep before waking up for my airport departure time. I couldn’t stop shaking or heart racing or the impending terror that was building from all the “what ifs” parading through my head, intensified by what limited options I would have once I was up in the air.

I simply couldn’t do it. And it killed me to finally admit.

It killed me because that day and the few days afterward I could not imagine my future at all. I felt detached from my life entirely, that it was over in the sense of I didn’t know what would happen next or what I should do. (I would note that feeling my life was over did not cross paths with suicidal thoughts. I just couldn’t imagine what I was supposed to do.) I felt like I was standing before a great blank wall, unyielding and impassable. So deep, so primal, so complete was this failure that I just completely shut down. I felt like I had disappointed everyone around me, that I was no longer reliable, and that I had nothing left to offer the world. It reminds me of an expression that Hell is not a place where we do when we die, but a place in our minds that amplifies all of our negative emotions. In that sense, I was in Hell.

Life goes on, as they say, and this simply notion is the first step towards emerging back into the light. As the cataclysm of that wicked day started to recede, I felt my feet return back to ground. That awful fog lifted and I started to see what I needed to do to recapture my life. I made the call to an employee mental health line and found a really awesome therapist. I found a good anxiety medication that works without side effects that I had experience before on other medications. I am very lucky in that I had a very good support system with The Girlfriend, my parents, my brother and SIL, friends, and coworkers. I’ve gotten back to almost normal not simply because I got treatment, but also had the support network to help me get there.

The importance thing to share is that my story doesn’t end there. While I didn’t get to propose in Aruba, but I did propose on Valentine’s Day in our hotel room in Lambertville, NJ. As she is now The Wife, you can tell what the answer was. I still do feel the anxiety especially when I’m traveling, but the more I go places the easier it has gotten for me. I feel that I am still moving forward, even though I have no plans for stepping on an airplane in the near future.

I do have somewhat selfish reasons for writing this since making it back this far over the course of a year is something to crow about; I’m proud of having brought my anxiety under control and resumed my life. But I also know that these kinds of posts can help others by encouraging them to seek out treatment and help, to step out and say that they have anxiety, and to bring visibility to the issue. My career has not yet peaked and my life is not yet done for all the things I want to do. Anxiety is my personal struggle, but not something that I will suffer in silence or let contain me.

Happy anxietyversary to me.

January 7, 2014
Cooking for Two, Frustration for One

In doing a diet with The Wife (yes, this is January, the two faced month of resolutions), I’ve discovered something unfortunate:

I am totally out of practice for cooking. 

I used to cook all the time. When I lived on my own, I got back into the cooking once more. Then, in dating The Wife, I got out of the habit because I was ping-ponging back and forth between her place and mine. 

This does not encourage culinary skills.

And while we did cook together at her place and mine, it was not a steady habit. After all, it was one night here, one night there, and adding in the driving time made it totally not a priority. Needless to say, my eating habits succumbed to not-as-healthy food.

Cooking was one of those skills that I only learned once I left my parent’s house. Try as they may, cooking was not something I was going to do or help out with to any degree of proficiency. Once I moved into a place with The Ex, the skill matured from the source that most men cite: necessity. 

I got tired of take-out, fast food, and other frozen concoctions. So, I cooked, tried out things, and developed skills on my own from recipes I found and heard about. I’m a decent chef most of the time, a great one every now and again, and a we-will-not-be-hungry-today one when needed. 

I hope this diet gets me back into the kitchen. It’s a fun place, even as I learn about the foods that I should avoid. :P

4:40pm  |   URL: http://tmblr.co/ZV9k5p13ccUDB
Filed under: cooking 
January 3, 2014
Snow Day Memories

Snow days are a lot like Santa Claus: the anticipation and joy of the day tends to wane once certain truths start to settle in. The play of youth is replaced (or at least supplemented) by the work associated with it. Clearing cars, sidewalks, driveways, and other snow moving/removing activities become the first thing that you associate with a snowfall. It’s not that I’m too old for making a snowman, having snowball fights, or other winter activities. It’s that the priority of actions has slipped to the responsible side, even though I’d rather be making a snowfort than shoveling the walk. 

I remember as a kid hoping, praying, and wishing for snow during the winter. If ever a Jedi Mind Trick could have been used on a passing cloud heavy with precipitation, I would have been a master. You wanted snow not simply because of no school (also nice), but for the play stuff that just doesn’t work in a dry winter like sledding and snow block molds and such. Sledding was a big one as there was a gigantic hill(Stokes Hill) in the town over where you could really get some speed.

This is a big deal in a flat state like New Jersey, especially in the south side of the state that was extremely flat. I grew up in Cherry Hill and thought that my house was on the hill part because it sloped in the back. There aren’t many contour changes in the area.

I won’t say that I don’t completely appreciate snowdays as an adult (albeit with no kids). Sometimes, the world needs to slow down a bit and enjoy the scenery. Walking in a snowy landscape does bring a peace to the world.

Now, it’s time to go uncover the car. I need to be ready for when the world starts up again.

4:41pm  |   URL: http://tmblr.co/ZV9k5p13B0NAN
Filed under: snow snow day 
January 1, 2014
Whiskey, er, I mean Memories in the Jar

Last year, I kept a memory jar for all the good things that happened in my life. I found the concept on Tumblr or Pinterest (it’s something you can easily Google as well) and it doesn’t require a load of effort. You have a container (I used a mason jar), you write things down on pieces of paper, fold them, and then place them in the container. As the year goes by, the jar fills up with your experiences. On the last day of the year (or whenever you want), you open up the slips of paper and remember the good things that happened to you in the previous year.

Last night, The Wife and I sat down on the couch to open up my memory jar. Some of the events were pretty easy to recall: our marriage, our engagement, and some of the shared events (wedding tastings! holidays!) that happened over the course of the year. Others required a bit more detective work since it wasn’t immediately apparent as to what the event meant. It was a lesson that writing down weekend dates with “so much fun!” isn’t going to be helpful six months later when you’re trying to remember what you did. (It does certainly put the “fun” into perspective, but I digress.)

There was one that we simply couldn’t figure out: we could not remember what we did on Memorial Day weekend at all. We know we went out but that’s about it. We can’t remember who we were with or what we did. A scan of our online calendars revealed nothing. We remember going dancing on Saturday night… and that’s about it. It’s like an alien abduction, time lost in a haze of ‘what the hell did we do?’

I bagged up the notes from 2013 so that the jar stands ready for 2014. I have learned to be more specific and to widen my definition of ‘good things’. Last year, I stepped back from my library stuff and focused more on the personal stuff (having a wedding to plan helps with that). I like that trend and will continue to follow it. For too long the balance has been so library oriented; I don’t feel like I’m missing out on personal things but it’s certainly not the priority it should be. I look forward to my current bevy of professional commitments, generating some new ones, but also to spending time and doing activities with friends and family.

I have a jar to fill. :D  


December 31, 2013

Anonymous said: Why, Andy? Why?

Why not?

December 31, 2013
Another Trip Around The Sun

Part of my afternoon was spent behind people, slowly going mad.

Specifically, I was at the grocery store grabbing a few things for the apartment. In proper “man on a mission” fashion, I traveled light with just a basket and my reusable bag. I thought this might save me, but I was wrong. While I gained some additional routes, the crowds worked to negate some of the advantages of a cart-less trip.

As I have come to observe, conventional right-of-way movement within grocery stores has been supplanted by people standing in the center of things. Center of the aisle, center of where different lines form, and center of wherever I’m trying to walk to. This has to be a very unstable state since, as a rule, the closer to the center of whatever they are walking or standing, the slower they must move or act. I believe this is a law of physics noted by Newton after he chucked an apple at people who wouldn’t get the hell out of his way. It’s probably in a lost appendix, but I assure you it’s there.

Being in the center of things is also important for amateur epidemiologists like myself who watch as people cough, sneeze, and otherwise contaminate large swaths of areas from their central vantage point. These airborne immune system assaults go uncovered because you only have so many hands: one for the cart, one for the cell phone, one for the child escaping, one for holding a handwritten grocery list, and one for the reading the ingredient label of that specially prepared organic fruit chip like it’s the Magna Carta. Keeping others from your germs is clearly a low priority since it doesn’t function to fulfill your purpose in shopping there. 

Upon gathering my list of things, I made a hasty retreat to the check-outs and then back home. I mean, if I’m going to be ill, it’s going to come from my diet, not from the people who were there when I was buying the those things, right? 

December 30, 2013
At Year’s End

First off, they really should move New Year’s off of a Wednesday. Seriously, it is crimping the whole week; just move it to Thursday. Take one of those leap year days in February and just tack it on the end of December. It doesn’t matters whether it is December 32nd or February 29th, but it does matter that New Year’s falls on a Wednesday. It really makes scheduling work and life a giant pain in the ass. 

Second, ever since being indoctrinated into the (American) school year, this still doesn’t feel like the beginning of the year. My life is still on the school year calendar which starts in September after Labor Day (the end of summer in New Jersey). This just feels like a midyear break since it’s cold and we had a bunch of holidays so why not tack another one on. Here, have some champagne while you freeze your nuts off here in the Northern Hemisphere. If the new year started in September with the school year, you could have possibly gone swimming without it being a polar bear plunge.

The time between Christmas and New Year’s is a stretch of the holiday spirit for me. Since it’s been Christmas since August, what’s another week? It’s the turn towards a reflective time since the big number at the end of the date ticks upward. I have some ideas for what I want in 2014, but I still need to put 2013 to bed. Closure, as you will, for a year that has had some tremendous highs and lows in my personal life. 

One more day, then a ball drop, champagne, and sleep in. Sounds good to me.

4:40pm  |   URL: http://tmblr.co/ZV9k5p12m3qPx
Filed under: year end 
December 28, 2013
Cell phone confessional (not mine)

I’m at a bookstore listening to a woman loudly talking on her cell phone.  Ordinarily this a major pet peeve but since I havetime and patience it affords me a glimpse into someone else’s life. She is talking about her elderly mother won’t come out after presumably being in at some sort of elderly care home. It’s a fascinating dynamic in which people try to remotely manage other people’s lives.

I took care of my grandmother for two years so I can only imagine what my calls sounded like to others. From what I can tell, this is a battle between children: the remote caregivers versus the live-in ones. It may sounds judgmental, but they are handling it poorly. Not directlytalking to each other but through proxies is a recipe for family disaster. This will not end well nor will it be over once the mother dies. I just hope it doesn’t go on through the rest of their lives.

December 26, 2013
Cancer & Boxing Day

My cousin just emailed me a reminder that today was the 10th anniversary of the death of his mother (my aunt). She would be the first aunt I would lose to cancer, the second being taken just over a year ago, within a few days of my wedding back in October. Each time was a long, knock-down drag out fight with the wicked disease. Each time ended with the same result with cancer spreading to the point where it could not be contained.

I remember Christmas Eve 2003, hearing the news that my aunt was being moved to hospice care and was not expected to live through Christmas. I was at my parent’s for dinner, a newlywed in my first marriage, sitting at the long table in the dining room. It was a gut punch, a moment in which the somber mood slipped in and gently ushered the holiday cheer to the exit. It was Christmas and these things were not supposed to happen then. Sadness was what we were going to get for Christmas, even as opened presents and enjoyed each other’s company that night and the next day. 

My aunt held on till the wee hours of the day after Christmas. Boxing Day as it is known the lands of current and former countries of the British Empire. Whether she was aware or not, I don’t really know and will never know. It’s just what it is.

When I think of her, she is standing in the doorway to the back porch at my paternal grandparent’s house. It was a raised porch that looked out across an acre of backyard, complete with a sizable vegetable garden. It faced the south, picking up all the sunshine which made it hard to see who was coming out until they were standing on the threshold. She’s standing there with her short sunbleached hair, sunglasses perched on the top of her head, and a flush red face from the summer heat. She’d wear a solid color polo shirt tucked into belted colored long shorts with well worn boat shoes. There’s a crooked little smile on her face as she takes in the company on the porch, pausing before finding a seat.

She had a great laugh, infectious in that way that makes me smile even now. My best story of hers I can share is that she used to play the organ for weddings at the Pequot Chapel across the street from my grandparent’s house. It’s only open during the summer months and my aunt was an avid beach goer. In order to maximize beach time and play these weddings, she’s throw on her organist gown on top of her bathing suit and visit the beach between weddings. It makes me laugh to think that about my aunt as a barefoot organist smelling of sunscreen and sand sitting at the organ playing the hymns and songs that people will always remember for their special day, then back on the beach with her friends waiting for the next service. 

I miss her. I wonder what she’d think of me now since I feel like I’m eons away from the person I was in 2003. Every time I hear organ music, I think of her. The best thing that has happened in the ten years since her death is that all the happy memories remain at the forefront.

I’m thankful for that.

December 25, 2013
Christmas Eve Service

It’s probably an occupational hazard, but I couldn’t help but notice how many hymns in the church service were attributed to “public domain”. Leafing through the hymns, I could see that most of the music was out of copyright. This may not be important to most people, but the idea of public domain now seems so foreign. Behold, something I can use, play, alter, redo, and otherwise totally remake and there is no copyright holder waiting in the wings to wave their finger. I know that copyright is important in the creation process, but to have something that is (legally) of the world, it’s a small wonder.

Merry Christmas