Broken but Still Blooming

Sometime last year, I found a blooming whisper beneath a broken gutter. She brought a pale yet warm light to an otherwise dank, dark place and I left in absolute awe of her strength, will, and bravery. I’d forgotten about her until an aimless wander yesterday which led me to her again. My girl, I am wonderstruck.

Here is a link to that story: https://adonkumentary.com/2019/09/29/broken/

And here she is today. I am so, so proud.

In Orbit

It’s 3:30 in the afternoon on a clear, late-spring day in Texas which means that it’s painfully bright outside. That’s not to say I’m not grateful for the sunshine, but it’s times like this I wish I’d just go ahead and get myself some prescription sunglasses. In quarantine, I have yet to wear my contacts and I don’t intend to start unless I absolutely have to. The problem with having shaky hands is that even mundane tasks like putting in your contacts are often frustrating enough to set your mood up to be annoyed and grumpy for the rest of the day.

I’m outside tinkering in my garden which is already yielding the best tomato crop I’ve ever, ever had. From between the leaves that I’m pruning, I look over at my sweet donkeys three on the other side of the fence and let out a sigh of silly relief. They all three had their hooves done yesterday and I’m not sure why, but I absolutely obsess over the health of their hooves. (Not in a healthy, responsible pet-owner who should care about the health of all their animals kind of way…no…this is utter, panicky obsession). I worry every single time that my (amazing) farrier will see something terribly, terribly wrong with their hooves. I don’t know why. I actually lose sleep over this. It’s a worry I’ve latched onto which at this point in my life, I realize is 1) a part of the larger anxiety/OCD/panic disorder that I’ve been wired with since I was born and 2) always worsened when I’m going through something or distracting myself from dealing with something (consciously or subconsciously). But they’re all fine. They’re all just fine. Happy and healthy, from their ears to their hooves, and so for a while, I can let out that anxious breath I’ve been holding onto.

In a row along the table in my garden, I’ve lined up the tomatoes that were ready for picking and there are 29. 29! That’s in addition to the 17 three days ago. I’m so proud. I’m so incredibly proud of both the plants for just straight up kicking ass and also of myself for (literally) being able to reap the fruits of my labor. It is so, so satisfying. 

And geeze do I need something to feel good about right now. Don’t we all? 

Whoever you are reading this here blog, I know you’re going through some varying degree of discomfort, stress, fear, worry, grieving, frustrated, sick, recovering, or mourning that the rest of the world is experiencing in one way or another, so I don’t have much to add to that topic.

Instead, I’d like to add that we’re all spending a whole lot more time with ourselves than we’re probably used to and so space is becoming tight and certainly uncomfortable. And for many of us, that means having to use a kitchen knife to finally pry open a puffy scar on your arm that has a nasty infection brewing underneath it but haven’t dealt with because you know the second you pour antiseptic on it, it’s doing to hurt like the dickens. But now you’ve had a fever for six weeks, so time to bite the washcloth and dig in, I guess.

And as expected: it. effing. hurts.

But look, what matters is that you’re opening that shit up and giving it the air that it desperately needs. Will it heal all the way? Probably not, but maybe. Who knows? How long will it take? Don’t worry about that (ha, I get the irony of that last statement 😛 ). Just let the air in. Give it the right kind of medicine. Let it breathe. Contact a professional if it’s beyond control. And most importantly, know that you are brave for facing your pain no matter how bad it hurts. 

Also, let out long sighs every once in a while, even if it’s not necessarily attached to something you’re able to “let go” of. (I hate the term “just let it go” like, wowza, brilliant solution. I hadn’t thought of that, thank you! I’ll just unclench my fist, let it sail into the wind, and frolic through a fucking wheat field with perfect beach hair under a cute boho hat because I LET IT GO).

Let out an exhale because it feels good. It just feels good. If something attaches to it (like okay great, I know that at least TODAY my donkey’s hooves are fine but I know after the next time it rains and they’re walking around in mud I’ll inevitably panic), well then, great. Let that go with your breath. But do not hold that expectation of having to let things go and solve every problem over yourself. That is false-positivity and incredibly toxic, especially to the most vulnerable. 

Sigh.

As a weird (and sophomoric) side note, I’ve connected with most of you by way of social media and I should let y’all know that I have closed down my Facebook account—not just my Donkumentary page, but my personal one, too. I loathe Facebook. I get the importance of it for growing and sustaining businesses, but I was at the point of being downright mad every time I logged in and so, (as it goes) I put on my cute hat and frolicked through a field barefoot as I let Facebook go. (side note…do people not worry about ticks out there running around in fields?)

The closure of my Facebook page also comes at a time where I’m beginning to wonder if this here Donkumentary (in its current form) has run its course. If you’ve been with me from the beginning, you may recall that I started this 5 years ago when I moved away from my hometown for the first time as a way to keep in touch with my friends and family back home. Then I took up a fascination of and love for donkeys and had to tell the world about it. But there are a lot of wonderful and more consistent, dedicated, and expert resources out there and specifically, many good books and essays that talk about the wisdom of donkeys and how they’ve changed people’s lives and symbolize the misunderstood and stereotyped. So I don’t want to be redundant. My life is completely different than it was five years ago in both incredibly empowering but also very difficult ways and so I have to ask myself, “what do I need?”

I hang out on Instagram pretty regularly so if you’re on that platform and want to keep up, you can find me at the handle: adonkumentary. You can also message / email me. I love that kind of stuff. Digital pen-pals, as it is.

Perhaps this wonder is coming from this place of social distance and isolation (although I’ve never really been comfortably social) or perhaps it’s brewing because the entire, literal world is undergoing a massive black-hole of change and is pulling me and my small bliggity-blip-of-a-blog into its gravitational orbit. I don’t know. I still love donkeys. I still love telling stories. I still strive to break the stigma over mental health. I still want to sell my cute books to raise awareness about bullying and donkeys while supporting a really great cause. But. Change is a thing. So, who knows. I’ll take my time. My mom always warns me about being impulsive and even though I’m in my early 30s, she still calls me out on it. So mom, you can exhale 😉  

Sigh.

I’ll leave you with this: a song someone sent me just earlier today that I just think is great. ❤ 

 

 

Love you.
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.
20150511_192329

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. 

wp-1579973243824.jpg

sit

you want to
perch upon that
branch

the one which
overlooks the meadow
where even when it

rains, rabbits skip
between flowers,
unbothered

but to rest
to observe means
stillness silence

steadiness

you can’t grip
the mug between
your hands

without spilling over
the edges shaking
unconscious

unconscious

so sit.

sit with it.
sit with it.
sit with it.

spilling, splashing,
spinning, sit.

sit with it.

the meadow will wait

Afternoon Pause

It’s a typical late-Texas summer on an early, weekday afternoon where leaves hang completely still from the treetops. The chickens have dug small holes outside of their coop in which to rest (the dirt beneath the surface being much cooler than anywhere else they may find) while the ducks drift gently in their pond with their heads tucked into their feathers. Little naps. Flapping bugs hop through the grass—pops of glittery movement in an otherwise motionless yard.

I’ve been sitting on the floor for some time gazing aimlessly out the window with gratitude for a working a/c in my house. I keep wondering if the ducks will wake or if the chickens will grab a skipping bug as it passes. I wonder if the donkeys will emerge from the barn but even they’ve foregone grazing under this afternoon sun and opted, instead, for the shade and coolness of their stalls. I suppose even I’ve been frozen for a while—perhaps time on this afternoon has simply paused.

I take a long, slow breath and as I exhale, I lay back and place my hands over my heart. I stare at the ceiling fan above and try to focus on one blade and follow it around and around, but I keep losing track. I can feel the beat of my heart in my hands. It’s wonky. It’s always wonky in heat like this. So I breathe deeper and more slowly, hoping that will calm her down. Ba dum, ba dum, baaaa dum dum. Ba dum, ba dum, baaa dum di dum dum. 

I‘ve learned to take advantage of quiet, still moments like these in an effort to find the same kind of calmness within my brain and being by trying to visualize various things depending on what I need or what’s going on. I’ve described some of these images before—things like purposefully pushing boulders down mountains in an effort to establish new grooves in the thought process. Streams of light that swirl into my body as I inhale and carry out the dark as I exhale. Muscles relaxing and releasing over the bones that support them, even the tiny ones around my eyes and ears. Lately I’ve been walking down a long hallway, slamming doors of busy thoughts as I pass while focusing on the dark end which I can’t quite make out yet. 

But anxiety is several doors pouring open at once, their insides tumbling and scattering all over the floor. Before you can even think about receiving the satisfaction of slamming the door shut, you must shuffle all the pieces back into their places, careful that you’re picking up the right stuff and not accidentally mixing up this door’s thoughts with the contents from the door across the hall that just spilled open, too. And when you’ve finally, meticulously stacked all the screaming thoughts back into their boxes and arranged them just so, two more doors with even louder and more fragile thoughts burst open. 

It’s then that I lay down in the growing pile of crashing thoughts and chatter and close my eyes into an even smaller, darker hallway with smaller, more finicky doors—a sort of inception of my own coping mechanisms. 

Over and over I do this until the darkness swallows me.

Dizzy, I open my eyes quickly. The room is bright with afternoon sun. The ceiling fan spins around and around and again, I try and find one blade, but can’t. I take in a deep breath and stand as I exhale. The ducks are splashing in the pond. The chickens are pecking through the grass. The donkeys are out in the pasture, heads down and tails flicking. 

As I wander back to my office, I wonder how many versions of me might still be laying in piles of thoughts with their eyes closed? I wonder if there even exists a hallway that can be silenced? Or maybe that’s not the point? 

Thoughts for the next pause, I suppose. For now, the afternoon is alive once more and so too is my need to return to it, spilled contents and all.

20190805_161738-01.jpeg

 

Softness

I’m sitting in my spot—the one in the far, left nook of the couch by the window that looks out towards the donkey’s barn and pasture—as my coffee cools and the night is swelling into its final, heavy moments before the prick of dawn. I spent the fifteen or so minutes before this trying to meditate without much success. Meditation for me looks more like a whack-a-mole game of trying to silence my internal dialogue. Relax your face, I tell myself. Soften your shoulders. I don’t know how I’m going to respond to that angry email I’ve let sit in my inbox for a day. I guess it was my mistake that got me there, but it was a mistake nonetheless. And I owned it. But the world seems so unforgiving these days.

Relax your throat. Deep belly breath. Notice the crickets outside. Mistakes are supposed to help us grow. We are supposed to embrace mistakes as learning opportunities so that every day, we can do just that much better. But that email. The failure. The broken glass on the floor with me standing over it. In many ways, I’ve always been clumsy. 

Soften your eyebrows. Unclench your jaw. Imagine your breath is a jellyfish gently propelling itself through darkness. I’m sorry, I’ll say, I misunderstood. Because I truly did. I thumbed through my notes which I remember jotting down with what I later learned was incorrect information. My cheeks get hot and red when I realize I’m wrong and a giant hole opens up around my heart which swallows it into a pit of shame. 

Whack-a-mole. Whack, whack whack. So I abandoned my not-so-quiet spot on the floor, made myself some coffee, and settled into my couch nook.

I take a sip of my coffee which is mostly cool now. My brother makes fun of me for preferring room-temperature coffee. I don’t like hot coffee and I don’t much like cold coffee either. Hit me with that middle ground. This makes me smile because my brother never pokes fun with harshness, only silliness. He’s appalled at my coffee preferences and habits (because I also do this thing where I’ll make a whole pot of coffee, only drink one, cool cup form it, and spend the next three days pouring my morning coffee from the same full pot I brewed days ago instead of making fresh coffee). But he never makes me feel bad for it. He just laughs about it which in turn, makes me laugh. Actually, his recognition of my (albeit strange) brewing practices makes me feel seen.

Dawn will break any moment. To me, the anticipation is exciting every single morning. Sip. Breathe.

I recently finished watching the Amazon Prime series, “Good Omens,” which is based off the novel written by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. It’s a fantastic read (and wonderful listen if you’re an Audible subscriber) and I’m happy to have found that the television series is just as remarkable as the book. They did a phenomenal job adapting the story for the screen. I highly recommend.

I bring this up because there’s a moment in the television series where the angel, Aziraphale, sighs and says, “I’m soft.”

tumblr_psdjoekJai1sfp43vo1_400

Since finishing the series, I think about this moment often. 

I’m soft, he said. I’m soft. 

My chest still feels hollow and empty as my shame is berating my heart somewhere else that I can’t see, but boy can I feel. I absolutely loathe making mistakes. I hate letting others down, of course, but I also know that a misstep means the beast of self-consciousness is fed. I close my eyes. Stupid, stupid, stupid. 

“I’m soft,” he said. And he said it with a sigh. With a release. With a surrender. 

Softness. 

Softness, I think, is porous. My big donkey, Bunny, keeps relapsing with what’s called “white line disease” because her hooves are soft and porous. It’s been raining nearly non-stop for months which hasn’t allowed her desert-evolved-hooves to dry out and bacteria thrives there. Only in dry, open, and clean air can white line disease start to heal. The hooves need to harden and in hardness is protection. 

Maybe I’m soft. Maybe that’s why the monsters of doubt, anxiety, and depression thrive in my being like bacteria. My face feels so hot. I hate screwing up. How could I be so careless?

I take another sip of my cool coffee. The blackness outside has shifted into navy blue. Ron Swanson, my rooster, perches on the fence and crows—a deafening break of silence. 

I’m soft, I realize. I’m soft. 

I picture Aziraphale’s face and try, too, to surrender to the idea. I let go of the tension in my face, my shoulders, even in the muscles between my ribs. I let out an audible sigh. Ron Swanson crows again. 

But softness is what allowed Aziraphale to become sympathetic to the human race and even, I think, fall in love with them. Softness is how Aziraphale was able to connect with and find a partner in the demon Crowley, ultimately saving the world through their camaraderie. Softness allowed them to see one another. 

crowleyandaz

Softness is why my brother making fun of my coffee habits doesn’t hurt my feelings. He sees me as a person with unique traits and I receive the comments as being seen as an individual. Softness is our ability to see one another as humans with strengths and weaknesses. With talents and flaws. With complex histories and room for growth. Softness connects us, it doesn’t block us out. Heck, softness is why I got into donkey rescue in the first place—because those long ears and thoughtful eyes passed through the netted walls of my soft heart and found a home in there and I never, ever, wanted to see another donkey suffer.

To be soft is to be vulnerable and to be vulnerable, in my opinion, is to be brave. Knocking down the calloused walls knowing that the rawness behind it might be seen or judged by others takes strength. To recognize, admit, and own missteps with the intention of improving moving forward is something that as imperfect beings, we should all be trying to do. No one is perfect, so bust down that wall that you’ve built around the insecurity of not being perfect all the time—it’s not doing you any good.

I learned quickly as a novice gardener that the soil must be tilled, soft, and porous in order for plants to find strong rooting, ultimately allowing them to grow larger and hopefully, bear more fruit. So maybe if we till ourselves, allowing the surface to soften from time to time, we’ll experience growth in ways we hadn’t previously imagined. We’ll see each other as individuals with complex pasts and beautiful minds—that in our collective imperfection is infinite possibility for growth and connection. 

I’m soft. 

I’m soft.

I’m soft and for the first time all morning, I don’t have to remind myself to relax. Let flow, the feelings that rise. There is so much to learn and so much room to grow.

nuzzle

It’s You, Baby

It’s morning rush hour as I inch along in my gray car on a 10-lane, gray highway beneath a swollen, gray sky. The whole world is a heavy gray and the weight of it all seems to rest right in the center of my gut which turns with a groaning sound. Start, stop, start, stop. Inch, break, inch, break. Sweat beads on my brow which sucks because today is a day that I have actually and carefully applied makeup. I dab at my forehead with a crumpled napkin from the center console.

On the passenger seat next to me is my travelling-reading bag which I’ve toted around to several schools who have invited me out to read my book, “Tink the Bravest Donkey,” and talk donkey rescue with their students. Within the bag are several signed copies of my book, the actual blue boot that Tink the real donkey used to wear, my laptop, a Tink story board, and little bracelets to give away. I’m on my way to an elementary school to read for several different groups and for reasons which I’m unsure, I’ve spiralled into a full on panic attack.

This isn’t the first time this has happened, not by a long shot. As a person living with anxiety, it’s not uncommon for my mind to spin out without warning at the most inopportune times. I used to think there was something wrong with me—like physically wrong—when this would happen. I’d be fine, going about some mundane task, when all of the sudden, I’d start having trouble breathing in. Was something wrong with my circulation? Was I having a heart attack? Stroke? Only in the past couple of years have I understood that these symptoms were not physical sickness, but unrest from deep within my mind.

Google maps (my forever driving companion) tells me my exit is in half a mile, but still, it takes me nearly 15 minutes to get there because of the heavy traffic. Inch, break, inch, break. I’m so worried that the giant, shiny pickup truck that’s been riding my tail with what must be only centimeters between us is going to bump into me. Why won’t they back off? Why do people do that?

I feel nauseous and the idea of being sick to my stomach only deepens the worry that I’ll have to take a vomit break while trying to read my story to eager students. You have to breathe, I tell myself over and over, but it’s about as useful as telling my dog to stop barking when the squirrels chirp at her from high up in the branches. Try as I might to pull my breath down to the bottom of my lungs, over and over it breaks at the base of my throat.

Finally, I exit and pull off to a gas station on the corner of a busy intersection and park in front of the Stop-n-Shop which advertises Monster Energy drinks, buy one get one free. I imagine two of those would make your heart explode. Mine feels like it might right now. I’d planned my commute to get to the school about 20 minutes early, so I have a few minutes to spare. I unbuckle my seatbelt, lean back in my chair, turn up my music, and close my eyes.  

I’ve learned over time that panic attacks are not situations from which you can just “calm down” because they’re not a mood and at least in my experience, they’re not even circumstantial—at least not consistently. They’re sporadic, sudden, and often inexplicable. In the case of this morning, am I nervous about doing several presentations at this school? Sure, a little. Who isn’t nervous to perform no matter how well they know their subject? Also, this is my first children’s book: it’s a really big deal to me. But I’m not afraid. I’m not panicked about it. This attack is coming from somewhere else—somewhere deeper and over high heat. It’s water bubbling up and beginning to boil because the fire’s hot under that pot.

After several minutes of trying to picture jellyfish-like movement of my breath, I open one eye to look at the clock and realize that I need to be on my way. I don’t have time to sit here and wait for the panic to pass, so I sit up, pop myself on the cheeks a few times, and back out of my parking space.

In my mind as I near my destination, I start reciting lines from my book. “Cock-a-doodle-doo, what’s with the shoe?” The kids love this part because I ask them to make rooster sounds with me (and as loudly as they can). I also recall a comment on one of my Instagram posts a while back where someone told me that the rooster is their child’s favorite character.  “‘Cock-a-doodle-cool!’ The rooster said.”

I pull into the school’s parking lot and grip my steering wheel tight. You’re going to be fine, I tell myself again and again, even if I can’t quite believe it.

I check to make sure I haven’t smudged my makeup, grab my travel bag, and head towards the school’s front door.



I’m happy to report that the presentations I gave all went wonderfully. It seems that as soon as I got busy with the task at hand, there was no more oxygen left for panic to consume. The children were amazing, the staff was amazing, and I suspect that donkeys gained some new, little advocates.

I write about this because there are many of us out there—many of us with anxiety, panic, and depression in our brains and I for one have spent a lot of time scared and ashamed to admit it. I’ve feared judgement, distrust, and condescension because to much of our society, mental health is still wildly misunderstood and often pushed aside or swept under the rug. The more we avoid talking about it, the more stigmatized it becomes and the more myths about it perpetuate. Studies show there are 40 million people in the US who have anxiety disorders. That’s no small thing. And it also means you’re not alone.

So my victory I share with you in case you might need it as a tool in your toolbox: apparently the remedy to my sudden and inexplicable panic was busyness with something that I couldn’t (and certainly didn’t want) to wiggle my way out of. I put one foot in front of the other until without me realizing the shift, I was breathing normally again. The distraction must’ve snuffed out the panic attack. I suppose it’s along the lines of what we give oxygen to is what will live and breathe—although I recognize that it’s not always that simple. An anxious mind rarely has the ability to compartmentalize, so it’s not always easy to pick and choose what you allow to breathe. But who knows, maybe in some instances, it’s exactly what’s needed.

The bottom line is this: your mind is a beautiful thing—lined with panic or not. It’s powerful and complex and nothing to be ashamed of. Love and care for it deeply and always because it’s you, baby. It is your most powerful tool, your most valuable asset, and it’s you. You are worth nurturing. You are worth taking the time to understand. You are worthy of love. You as you as YOU.

DSC04931-01-01.jpeg

 

Roots

It’s a chilly afternoon and I’ve finally decided to clear the weeds and old roots from the garden in order to prepare for a new, spring crop. My fall garden was a bust: I didn’t do enough research on planting in sticky, gumbo soil and we had a bizarre, hard freeze in mid-November which killed off everything weeks before I was planning to harvest. My fall garden yielded three green beans. Three.

I suppose it’s fine—I was travelling a lot last fall, so my chances of upkeeping a garden with the love and respect it deserved and needed were probably low. Plus, I haven’t built up a proper compost heap this time around. The odds have been against it and for more than two months now, I’ve let weeds and grass overtake my sad, little garden.

I pick a corner and kneel down to begin pulling up weeds. Dampness from the soil soaks into the knees of my jeans, but I don’t mind. I start by raking the stringier weeds with my fingers which are tangled loosely across the top of the bushier and more deeply-rooted growth below. Rake, rake rake. Dirt gathers beneath my fingernails and what was a chilly afternoon has become quite warm with my repetitive movements.

The repetitious motions of backyard gardening is therapeutic. Row by row, whether planting or clearing, there’s a natural rhythm that guides the process regardless of your being a seasoned gardener or not. Rake the loose weeds. Dig around the stubborn ones. Pull the deep roots. Brush away the leftover. Rake rake, dig dig, pull pull, brush, brush. Rake rake, dig, dig, pull, pull, brush, brush. One, two, three, four. One, two, three, four. 

Bit by bit and breath by breath, I travel through my garden removing that which is alive with rapidly reproducing weeds and dead from poor management and unfortunate circumstance.

It’s a bit grim: the idea that death must occur and be grieved in order to make way for new life. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it means to move on from things of the past and how to start the healing (replanting) process. Like all people, I’ve had my share of heartache, hurt, missteps, and much like my garden, have fallen victim to poor management and unfortunate circumstance. Neglect. Distraction. Habitually pushing care to the back-burner. All that.

So here, squatting down in the mud and the weeds that are here because of my neglect, I imagine that the soil is life-giving light and the weeds are darkness, swiftly crawling across and covering the richness and space from which life, love, and nourishment sprouts. Rake, rake, dig, dig, pull, pull, brush, brush.

Gosh, there are weeds everywhere. It’d be easier to just let the whole thing go, I doubt I’ll have time for a garden this spring, anyway. My hands are beginning to hurt and the dampness from the ground has spread past my knees and down my shins. For the first time, I notice my fingertips covered in tiny, red cuts from small spikes in the seemingly infinite growth and holy moly they sting. Why didn’t I wear gloves? It’s so hot out here.

My heart rate has risen significantly and I can no longer find my breath. I try counting, but can’t hold my attention span to the count of four anymore. I pull my phone out of my back pocket and find the app which is connected to the USB-sized monitor implanted in my chest, right above my heart. It’s recording all the time, but I’m supposed to report when I can feel abnormal things occuring, which is often and especially when I do things like squat down for too long. I sit back, butt in the mud, and lean against the small, picket fence as the app begins to record my heart’s rhythm which is heavy and fluttering. The space around me vignettes itself and my fingers and toes begin to go numb. 

I close my eyes feeling the wet ground absorb into my jeans and try again to find my breath. Rake, rake, dig, dig, pull, pull, brush, brush. One, two, three…One, two…One, two, three.

It’s like I can’t get the breath all the way to the bottom of my lungs: it stops halfway. I make a concerted effort to relax my gut, pelvis, chest, and eyes, and try to imagine sinking a little farther down into the wet ground. Instead of counting, I picture a jellyfish gently and repetitively pulsing through the water. My friend and teacher, Stacey Ramsower, shared this image with me recently and it’s since resonated quite vividly. I picture my diaphragm and pelvic floor moving in tandem in the same way a jellyfish propels itself through the deep: smoothly, rhythmically, and beautifully. Something about the image seems more accessible than the count right now. Blub, blub, blub she goes…soft, smooth, and infinite. 

Blub, blub, blub, through the blue.
Blub, blub, blub, held by water.

After a while and once the flapping wings of my butterfly heart calm down, I open my eyes and lean forward, placing my forearms on my knees. My fingers and toes prickle as blood begins to pour back into them and the world around is light once more. I submit the recording to my doctor and slide my phone back in my pocket. I figure I ought to be heading in to get some water and rest, but then something catches my eye. What is that?

I scramble to my hands and knees and crawl to a tall, bright green growth reaching from the weeds. I trace my fingers down the delicate stems and carefully pull up. Oh my goodness. I start to laugh.

20190218_091020-01.jpeg

I stand, holding the small carrot ball and look around. This bird’s eye view has allowed me to discover that several other plants have inched above the weeds reaching for sunlight, so one by one, I trace their stems and pull their roots gently from the ground.

20190216_174724-01.jpeg

Brave, little root veggies. My goodness, I had no idea anything could’ve survived multiple hard freezes and certainly not beneath the heavy darkness that’s blanketed their space for so long. They may be small and oddly shaped, but boy they are phenomenal (and cute!) I suppose small specs of light can indeed penetrate darkness. Maybe it just requires a shift in perspective.


I spent much of the rest of this day reclined on the couch with a big glass of water while imagining whole blooms of jellyfish pulsing together through the deep. How strange it must be to pulse endlessly through the darkness…strange but oddly encouraging. Blub, blub, pulse, pulse, on and on they go. Infinite, rhythmic movement.

I imagined the proverbial weeds that often stretch themselves across me and how somehow, someway, light manages to get through. Sure, sometimes, that light goes undiscovered for a while, but it’s there. It is. And certainly it’s worth the blood, sweat, and pain to pull back the darkness and make way for more light. Just start in a corner and see what happens. Darkness breeds in neglect. I’d say, get in and get your hands dirty.

Even if you don’t find anything the first few times you start raking, digging, pulling, and brushing, the process is still wonderfully meditative—the re-examination of a familiar space that’s gone untouched for a while is so helpful for growth. Afterall, you can’t start a new garden without first tearing up and dealing with the old, deceased one. In that death and chaos lies life waiting to bloom and be discovered.