Brave

Hey friends! Here’s a link to a reading of my book, “Tink the Bravest Donkey,” that I hope your kiddos / students at home may enjoy while at home. I am in complete awe of how teachers, librarians, parents, and all y’all educators have come together to literally change the educational landscape overnight so that kiddos can continue to learn, feel connected, and grow in this unprecedented time. This is all y’all. This wasn’t any fat-cat politician with no educational experience touting orders from an uninformed bubble….no….this was Y’ALL! Please know how appreciated each and everyone of y’all are!

And to the kiddos — I am so proud of all of y’all for how you’re adjusting to this crazy time. I hope that each and every one of y’all knows that you are so brave (just like Tink!) Hee-Haw!

We’re all in this together, friends. Keep taking care of yourselves and each other. Parents, if you or your kiddos have any questions, please feel free to comment here or on any of my various social media accounts!

 

Much love to all, Jess

While You’re At Home…

Hey there y’all — during this time of uncertainty, I want to urge y’all to take time to connect with yourselves. It’s incredibly easy to get sucked into the news cycles, (not that you should be uninformed…but it’s also a risk of becoming addicted to and overwhelmed by it, so take breaks) and if you’re like me, your routine, schedule, rituals, and finances have all spun out into the abyss.

But please don’t lose yourself in it. Take the time — MAKE the time — to turn your phone off, go for a walk outside, hike in the woods, chop some wood, plant some herbs, play frisbee with your dog, or do some yoga.

Speaking of yoga…I know there’s a ton of content out there — like a TON of videos — so I don’t want to add to any burnout, but for anyone who might be interested, I do have two little online yoga classes available on YouTube. For years, teaching yoga was my full-time job and although I rarely teach these days, it does remain a part of my routine (which yes, is off kilter right now but dammit, I’m trying to stitch something resembling a schedule together).

Here’s the first: a 40-minute vinyasa class for y’all who want to get sweaty.

 

And here’s the second: a 20-minute gentle yoga (with a curious baby Bodhi!)

 

And finally, while I’m sharing videos, I made one just the other day of myself reading my latest book, “Will You Be My Val-Equine?” with my donkeys as little helpers. For y’all who’ve got kiddos home from school, I thought they might enjoy!

 

Happy social distancing, y’all. Please, please, PLEASE take care of yourselves. Slow down when you can. Breathe deep. Relax your shoulders. Unclench your jaw. Unfurrow your brow. Check in with your loved ones. If you’re struggling with your mental health, reach out for help. Times like these, people may not be able to afford their medication. Job loss, financial stress, isolation, etc can be incredibly triggering. But also, y’all who are doing alright, check on those who you know might be struggling. Remind them that they’re not alone. Ask what you can do to help. Though we may not be able to embrace each other right now, we are still all in this together. We can’t forget that.

Much love.
Jess

Will You Be My Val-Equine?

Hey y’all!

For anyone who’s got kiddos at home, I made a little recording of me reading my book, “Will You Be My Val-Equine?” with two of my donkeys (and of course, they steal the show ❤ ) I hope that y’all enjoy & if your kids have any questions / comments, just leave them in the comment section here on my blog!

 

Please also remember that 100% of the proceeds from this book go to the Peaceful Valley Donkey Rescue (donkeyrescue.org) so that thousands (yes, thousands!) of donkeys can receive the care they need and deserve.

Much love,
Jess

Brakes

I’ve no idea the time of day. Through the slits in the shutters it’s light, but dim. Maybe it’s cloudy or maybe we’re dipping towards the evening. I really have no idea. Although I can’t see them, I know my eyes are swollen because even that dusty blue light trickling in burns the backs of my eyeballs. I’m not a cinematically pretty crier. Blotches. Snot. Puffy eyes. Real-life, y’all. I let out a long sigh (something I haven’t been able to do for hours now), adjust the heavy comforter around my neck and close my eyes once more. My throat is sandpaper.

However many hours ago it was (more than 4, I know this much) my body snowballed into a full-blown panic attack. Snowball might not be the right term…more like instantly transported. Appeared then reappeared like a subatomic particle. Was not and then *poof!* was. Anyway, I say my body and not my mind because throughout the whole episode, my head stayed surprisingly in the right place. Instead, my body and primal instincts completely overwhelmed all of my systems and nothing my brain, sense, or breathing could do or say was enough to be heard by my instincts. The bullet train had left the station and there was no catching it.

I’ve had panic attacks before. Real panic attacks. Real, crippling episodes of utter chaos. They’re almost always random and not in response to some in-process circumstance. They’re always terrifying and they always take time to realize what’s actually happening. Being someone who was diagnosed with a panic disorder years ago, I’ve learned that it’s damn near impossible to explain the realities of panic attacks to those who’ve never experienced (or witnessed a loved one experience) them. They’re often written off as just being anxious. Overreacting. Being dramatic. Hey just breathe. Just try and breathe. 

I’m not laying in my own bed which in a weird way, I’m grateful for. On the one hand, my own bed would offer the safety and seclusion of home, the view of my donkeys outside the bedroom window, the chattering of ducks and chickens in the yard (all my critters which tether me to the planet), and the knowledge of being completely alone which my ego would certainly prefer. Panic attacks are not pretty. I hate to use the word humiliating but laying in this bed with a swollen face and wearing an old t-shirt of my little brother’s because mine is somewhere on the floor in the bathroom covered in vomit is, well, awfully vulnerable and difficult to have anyone else witness. The loss of all rational function and contrast between mind and body is…what’s the word…otherworldly. An out-of-body experience but also weirdly, deeply, internally intimate. 

On the other hand, had I been alone, I’d have believed I was having a heart attack or a breakdown and no doubt would have called an ambulance and ended up in the ER. Thankfully, I’m at my parent’s house. If there’s one person who has seen me at my absolute worst, raw, and real, it’s my mom. Fate, I suppose, held off on cutting the wires of the elevator sending it plunging to the ground until I was with her.

With my eyes closed, I try to relax all the little muscles around my eyes and the lines along my neck but just as soon as I consciously let them go and jump to thinking of something else, they’re tense again. My jaw. My brow. Even my guts. All of my insides have banded together. I imagine all my organs clenching one another to try and keep safe from an imminent attack — see because that’s what my body has told them to do. Danger is near and we are either going to run or battle. There’s something calming in imagining they all have little arms so they can group hug. Sweet body. I imagine my liver is scared not having her gallbladder friend to hold onto. Maybe pancreas has stepped in. She is known as the most empathetic organ, afterall. 😛 

Here’s what a panic attack is NOT:

  • Worrying too much
  • Overreacting
  • Overthinking
  • A sign of weakness
  • Just your anxiety
  • Being scared
  • Being dramatic
  • Something you can just relax away from
  • Something you can just distract yourself from
  • Something you can talk your way out of or breathe deeply to make go away
  • Something WRONG with or about you
  • A sign that you’re too emotional
  • A sign that you’re too sensitive
  • And let me repeat: A PANIC ATTACK IS NOT A SIGN OF WEAKNESS

Here’s what is actually happening during a panic attack:

  • Your body & mind have triggered its “fight or flight” response which is not a mental function but instead, a physiological one
  • Something has triggered this response. It could be something real-time (a near-miss car accident, being mugged in an alley, someone jumping out of a dark room to scare you etc) or it could be something stored in your brain somewhere. Maybe it’s a response to long term and unrelenting stress. Maybe it’s stored up trauma. Maybe it’s a phobia you forgot about or didn’t realize was there. Maybe it’s a suppressed event which you can’t even recall but physiologically is still quite active in your mind.
  • Your instincts (and subsequently entire body) go into survival mode which triggers a complex, impressive, and instant hormonal chain reaction
  • Your brain sends signals through your sympathetic nervous system which pumps your body full of adrenaline (imagine flooring the gas pedal in your car) so everything speeds up. Heart rate. Breathing (because literally your airways widen). Blood pressure. Blood to the muscles. Senses become sharper. Even blood sugar reserves are released. And keep in mind, this happens instantly before your eyes and ears have even processed any sort of threat.

What SHOULD happen after a panic attack (or once the threat has been mitigated) is that the parasympathetic nervous system (the brakes, if you will) should return your body back to homeostasis. But where I guess the disorder kicks in is in the imbalance of these two systems: the gas and the brakes. Someone cut the brake lines (much like the below video for you Always Sunny fans.) Dammit Charlie. Wildcard! 

 

I flip over in this guest room bed and pull the blanket over my head. This has been by far the worst attack I’ve ever had. Most of them last no more than an hour. There’s not a specific thing or ritual that pulls me down from them. I think it’s usually just within an hour (or two) my parasympathetic nerves start to breathe and a bit or normalcy returns. This time was different. It wasn’t until I eventually passed out from pure exhaustion that I suppose things were able to begin resetting. For the hour before I fell asleep / passed out (whatever may have been the case) my mom told me over and over to try and sleep. “You need to close your eyes. Try to sleep. You don’t need to go to the ER. You’re not having a heart attack.” She kept her hand on my wrist feeling my pulse the whole time.

But that adrenaline. That uncontrollable response Would. Not. Cooperate. That van was going to crash.

My mom must hear me stirring because while still under the blankets, I hear her footsteps. I pull the covers down to peek out with my swollen eyes and she asks how I’m doing.

I don’t know, I tell her. But I’m really sorry you had to see all of that.

She reassures me that it’s okay. That she was glad I was here instead of alone. That she hoped she hadn’t upset me by trying to convince me I didn’t need to go to the ER, but she’s seen me do this before and knew we could get through it. We could get through it with grounding.

Moments before I ended up in the guest room bed, my mom filled the bath with a few inches of water and told me to sit on the edge of the tub with my feet in the cool water. The idea of sitting still felt out of reach but I must admit that within a few minutes, I did finally feel like there was ground beneath me. Though I was still sobbing and shaking and trembling, and feeling like this must be a mental break, this can’t just be a panic attack, I need to go to the ER, my heart is about to explode, I can’t see straight, I need to run and jump but I also can’t move what do I do what do I do what is happening what is happening—the cool water on my bare feet did something.

Or maybe it was that my mom ran a bath for me. I’m in my 30s and my mom ran a bath for me. As an independent adult there was something both embarrassing and reassuring for me about this. How did I get here and why am I like this are questions that bubbled up like a newly opened Coke. Why do I need my mom to take care of me. Why can’t I just calm down. Dammit body, what the f*ck. But also, my mom is still here for me. 30 years later and my mom is still here. She still knows. She’s around and we have a solid relationship and I know that if the tables had been turned, I’d be putting her feet in water. Reassuring, indeed.

It was shortly after that that I changed my shirt, crawled into bed, and slept.

You’re not shaking anymore, my mom tells me.

I think my insides still are, I say, but yeah, it’s not as bad.

She runs her hands through my hair like she used to when I was sick as a little girl and says, you got through that, honey. You got through that on your own.

I tell her that I wasn’t on my own, that she’d been there to help me like she had so many times before.

For the rest of the evening, I don’t eat but I do drink Gatorade. I sit in the living room with both of my parents now and we reminisce about my childhood. That it’s funny to see me in my brother’s shirt and how when I was a teenager, I raided my older brother’s closet all the time. Remember my goth stage? There’s that picture from that one Easter where I look like I’m about to sacrifice a small animal in a pentagram. We laugh about my mom having never been able to handle us throwing up and I applaud her for not abandoning me as I, an adult, upchucked over and over to the point of dry-heaving in front of her. I thank her again. I ask them if I’ve always been like this and they say that this is the worst they’ve seen it but that I made it through and if it happens again, they know I’ll make it through then, too. That they’re glad I was at their house. And honey, you’re safe. You’re safe.

I tell this story because panic attacks are real. They are real and I’ll say again, they are not a sign of weakness. Being in the storm is terrifying but you will get through it. You will, I promise, and when you do, instead of letting your mind fizz with self-deprecation for being someone who has these episodes, thank your body for doing what it’s wired to do. Your body is trying to protect you. Even if there’s an imbalance in your systems where the brakes have been cut, still, it happens because your body, even without your consciousness’ control, wants you safe. In time, it will pass. Maybe stick your feet in the water. If you’re alone, maybe call someone you trust to just be on the other end of the line while you’re crying. Try anything to find the ground. But most of all, love yourself. Love yourself for everything that you are.
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A final note — if you do struggle with panic attacks and are not confident in your ability to get through them or want help to start digging at the roots, please contact your doctor, counselor, or therapist. I do. I think that if I didn’t, I wouldn’t be able to even type a post like this. Take care of yourself. Lean on others when you need to. Seek help before things are out of control. There’s zero shame in that. Instead, there is a lot of strength in doing what you need to do to feel supported, whole, and seen. Whoever you are, I love you. Truly, I do.

Polka-Dots

I know of a shore that harbors magic: an old, forgotten magic that lies dormant beneath the rocks and pebbles of all shades and sizes. They sit atop the sand at least two feet deep and two miles long. In my memory, I return there often. The Atlantic whips the coast with salty daggers and it’s no wonder the rocks are smooth and shiny like jewelry. I think my face would’ve become that too if I had stayed. I wanted to pocket a few of the rocks before I left as some sort of souvenir, but that’d be kidnapping. They belonged there. They belonged there like the birds that darted around in the tall grass behind the rocks—birds I’ve not seen anywhere else. Plus, I’d whispered to the rocks that I’d be back someday. I asked them to wait for me. 

I sometimes imagine that if the world were ending and I had some sort of heads up, I’d return to that shore and wait to be consumed. It’s a place of deep pondering; a place that takes the whole brain to attempt comprehending. Just imagine how many rocks decorate the sand and how many more hide under the waves which crack and foam. How many critters have made homes between, inside, and under the rocks? How many hundreds or even thousands of years has it taken to build a collection of stones this size? How much longer might it all last?

I had a dream once that I stood on that shore atop the rocks barefooted and wearing a polka-dot dress. I watched the sun begin to unravel into a purplish, pinkish version of itself. It swirled into what looked like a portal and all I can remember feeling in this dream was that nothing would ever be the same. An end, maybe. Or beginning. I wasn’t (and still am not) sure. I also stood very tall. I wasn’t taller, per se, but I stood tall. I can picture myself because in the dream, I must have been a spectator watching myself from somewhere in the tall grass with the flitting birds. Maybe I was a spectating bird. She, (or I, I guess) was fearless. She stood unshaken even though the world was moments away from swallowing her.

That dream sits vividly in the front of my mind always. Everytime I see a collection of stones, I think of it. Everytime I visit a shore of any kind, it appears. When my posture sinks and I worry the waves may sweep me away, I try and picture that version of me in the polka-dot dress standing in complete defiance of the chaos swirling around her. A strong, stoic, secure pillar in a melting world.

I wonder what became of her all those years ago. I wonder if she’s still standing there watching the world burn. Or perhaps she went down in flames with all of it. She seemed like someone who could fight and fight hard. A woman who could destroy. Who could snap open her eyes and they’d be filled with flames and like a terrifying beast, scream and roar causing any nearby danger to dwarf and whimper in the presence of her power. Polka-dot dress versus the whole, freaking world. In the dream, furious waves battered the coast—mean, ugly waves  trying to manipulate the shapes of everything. They tried to sweep and steal the rocks and drown the birds along with their entire history of existence and their impact on the evolution of this place. They were the kind of waves that I think I’d run from, terrified, submitting to the fear, hoping that my feet would carry me fast enough.

But polka-dot dress and all, I stood there. I couldn’t see my face from my post in the tall grass, but I know the face I make when I have no more patience for intimidation. My jaw clenches tight, my eyes narrow, but my brow does not furrow because I have nothing left but will: the will to preserve all in which I believe. All which I have yet to discover. All which I stand for. And there’s a calm, unfurrowed freedom in running on pure, honest will.

I know of a shore that harbors magic. There must be a billion rocks, no two the same. It’s no wonder the mysterious birds live there. I asked them to wait for me and my gut tells me they still are. I’m sure it’s changed, the landscape an entire shift from what I remember. But it’s still there. Soon, I hope to return.

 

Sweet Girl

For the third day in a row, it’s pouring. My grumpy donkeys huddle together in the barn as the rain batters the tin roof so loud that it rattles my bones—it must be deafening to their large ears. After piling their feeders with extra hay in lieu of typical grazing time, I pull the hood of my rain coat over my head and slide the barn door shut behind me. Like a million pellet guns, the drops strike my whole body.

The ducks scatter around the yard, rain wicking from their slick feathers. Like children in a ball pit, they bounce and play gleefully in the growing muddy puddles. The chickens on the other hand, band together in one of their coop’s nesting boxes even grumpier than the donkeys—wide, feathery, pissed off floofs. I make sure they’ve got dry food, then check to make sure none of my little infant plants are flooded, and finally check on the part of the fence that leans too far when the ground is soft and the wind is harsh before finally seeking refuge on the porch. Like a dog after a bath, I shake as much water off myself as I can. To nearly the top of my rubber boots, mud goops like raw brownie batter so I sit down on an empty milk crate — (a milk crate that I’ve had forever, although I’m not sure where it came from?) — and slide them off with a suctiony, slurpy sound. Even my socks are soaked. 

It’s too early for us to have rain this heavy and consistent, right? These are the kinds of showers that roll through with fury in the springtime. Then again, we’ve hardly had a winter down here—a single hard freeze and only 2 or 3 light ones. The summer will be a bug nightmare. This is the year I should build a bat house. Maybe today is the day I need to build a bat house. I should build my bat house. 

*Sigh* I forgot to bring towels outside with me before my morning critter-care chores and so until I’m not dripping, I’ll stay seated on the milk crate. A shiver runs down my spine and echoes through my limbs. It’s cold. Cold for East Texas, at least. Low 40s and wet. I briefly consider wrapping the grill cover around me but that’s also where I’ve seen not one, not two, but three different black widows over the past year. So nevermind. I guess black widows prefer their meals grilled?

The cold scurries up and down my spine like a mouse whose chilly feet tick-tick-tick in my limbs. The shivers follow the rhythm of my heartbeat: pangs like beating drums ripple back and forth…back and forth. A puddle of my dripping self has formed around the milk crate below me—its rounded edges creep outward with every drop, latching onto stray bits of mulch, dirt, and bird shit. The puddle grows and grows swallowing all the grit around me, the mucky water now littered with specs of dirty farm junk. 

The temperature’s become painful in it’s dampened strength and at this point, has swallowed me whole. It would make sense to end this torture by going inside regardless of the dripping, but I’ve become completely enamored with this slowly expanding pool. It just keeps growing. Of course I could end its growth at any time, I am in complete control of this particular puddle’s fate. Subsequently, I am in complete control of the fate of all the bits of ground stuffs that one by one are being sucked into the edges and then belly of the beast.

It grows and it grows and it grows because I’m allowing it to. I’m invested now. If I were to move, I’d step in it, break it, free the yucky stuff, and proceed on with my day as if this thing I’ve created never existed and then what would all the effort of sitting out here in the cold, shaking and quivering, be for? This is time I’ll never regain, a scene I could never recreate, and why? Why would I leave? For my own self-care?

For my own self-care?

My own self-care?

Self-care?

Carefully, I stand. I step delicately over the puddle which recoils a bit and as I walk towards the door, a trail of splats follows me. My wet socks leave footprints across the cement and even after I strip myself completely down and wrap up in a thick blanket, some remnants of the dampness is with me. Even now, in the softness of my blanket, my toes and fingers are pruned and my guts still shiver. I pull the blanket tighter and wrap my arms around myself. Relax. Try to relax. Let your eyes sink back in their sockets. 

Sweet girl, it’s okay. It’s okay. Come here, it’s okay. 

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Follow the Cardinal

“Afterall, if you look the right way, you can see that the whole world is a garden.”

A Donkumentary

It’s colder than Narnia out there, y’all.

I’m looking out the back window at the small patches of snow hiding in the shadows of my backyard when down from the bony trees, a bright, red cardinal descends. He lands in the damp leaves and hops about, cocking his head side to side. He bounces with authority as if he knows precisely where he’s going on this cold day. I scramble to find my camera but manage only to snap a few, blurry photos of a red smudge. I wonder if he’s leading me to something like the robin leading Mary to her Secret Garden? I decide to bundle myself and go out to follow the bird.

Last week, I started re-reading The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett for the first time since I was in middle school. I remember, as a pre-teen, enjoying the book, although my memory…

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