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.

Grow. Grief.

It’s dark out which by no means means it is late. No. We have entered that time of year where the sun falls at 4:30PM forcing the chickens, ducks, donkeys, dogs, and heck even myself into an earlier, Pavlovian need to eat and bunk down for the night hours before they (we) otherwise should. I’m standing at the back window watching the patches of ground visible from the light by the lamp next to me. Leaves swirl and snap in all directions as the chimes outside my backdoor clash and clang. My phone griped earlier as a “wind advisory” alert was issued for my area and boy, they weren’t kidding. I could swear my house (though short and stout) is swaying.

Although I can’t see it, I’m looking in the direction of my garden. The weather forecast suddenly showed yesterday that tomorrow night, this swampy little corner of the world would welcome (well, maybe not welcome, but we’re polite in Texas so I’ll say it) the first hard freeze of the year. When I say hard, I mean low 20’s. To give you perspective, I wear a jacket below 75 degrees always. Low 20s is otherworldly. That kind of cold just isn’t in my blood. Give me heat, give me humidity, give me air like a warm washcloth. Like a fancy fungus, I thrive there. Maybe this means I’m cold blooded—I do sometimes think after I’ve eaten too much that I could stand to lay on a flat rock beneath a strong heat lamp like a pet lizard. Come to think of it, I’d do well under a heat lamp most of the time. My office. My kitchen. My bed…there’s an idea.

My garden also does well in this marshy place. It’s happy here. Hot sun, wet ground, pollinating bugs-a-plenty. But for the squirrels, this is optimum garden housing. Though I’ve pretty much always struggled with growing a cooperative garden (be it the soil, my technique, a one-off drought, or my inability to give it the attention it deserves), I have done really well with this one. I’ve become utterly obsessed with it. I spritz it. I fertilize it. I prune it. I talk to it. And for the first time in years (the last time being at my funny farm in north Texas with buck wild cucumber, onion, and pepper success), I’ve grown plants and achieved a small harvest. I enjoyed a bowl of my very own, homegrown edamame the other night. I’ve got a pile of green beans sitting in my refrigerator that I plan on frying in a couple days. And I had a dozen or so perky, little tomatoes that were a mere two or so weeks from reaching ripeness and I was really hoping I could slice them up and dash them with salt and pepper. 

Alas, tomorrow night, the hard freeze. Hours of it. Low 20s. That’s a death sentence for my last remaining growth out there…my sweet, sunny, perfect little tomato plants.

Sure, I’ll cover them with a warm blanket and hope that somehow, someway, they survive, although I’m not optimistic (in fairness, I am by nature not an optimistic person…so even if the conditions were even slightly different, I doubt I’d be at all sunshine and rainbows about it—further proof that maybe I am in fact, cold-blooded.) I’ve also decided that I will pluck some of the larger tomatoes from their stems, place them in a sunny window and hope they continue to ripen. 

Another gust of wind whips the window and I sigh. What will I do now when I become over stimulated or feel myself tumbling to a panic attack? For months, it’s been the ritual of escaping to my garden which has helped pull me down into quietude. My own, secret garden. Only I have known what lies within its boundaries and there, I have found peace. My fortress of solitude. 

Of course I have my donkeys and the barn and a place with them to rest, relax, remember who I am, and find grounding. I always do. I talk often about how those three, little peanuts are my tethers and that’s not changed. But there’s been a uniqueness to this place I’ve grown—this place that without my constant tinkering and attentiveness may have otherwise not succeeded and tomorrow, I must say goodbye. 

I feel streams of tears begin to roll down my cheeks and I have to laugh a bit. I don’t think I’ve ever shed a tear over plants. What’s wrong with me? But then the seal breaks and suddenly, I’m in a full on, blotchy, snotty cry. I don’t want to say goodbye. I don’t want to see it die. I want her to continue to grow and glow and reach for the sky. 

She’s worked and tried so hard. She’s overcome so much. She’s created incredible things and tomorrow, it ends.

I wipe my face and wonder if I ought to make some tea and turn on a dumb TV show to distract myself from this confusing and odd moment, but I stop myself and hold my place at the window, staring into the barely illuminated darkness where leaves are flitting chaotically. This means something. This means something because I don’t think I cry for no reason. I don’t think I spend my time doing things that don’t matter. So what does it mean?

I wonder if my compost will freeze? I do love composting and the whole idea of it: the death and rot and breaking down of once living things that over time, transform into unmatched nutrition for future growth. What a circle of life there. 

Maybe that’s what this whole garden thing is—a breakdown of something in order to make room for something new. A closing door. An end but also not really. My hope is that the soil will be healthier when I start a new garden in the spring. Maybe it’ll have held onto some of its nutrients that I fed it and maybe after a till and a fold in of compost, it’ll be ripe and ready to begin again.

Another gust of wind whips and although it’s barely past 5:00, I decide I might change into comfier clothes, take my contacts out, and stare at something for a while—the ceiling, outside, or maybe some random show that just makes some noise to fill space so that the only room that’s left is the consideration of my own rotting, breaking down, shifting, dying, grieving, and regrowing with something (hopefully) fuller, brighter, and more fruitful on the other side. I think we must all experience this cycle whether we realize it or not. I suppose the important thing is that we’re minding it. We’re giving it time. We’re trying and we’re taking care. Most of all, I think it’s important to admit that we, like the seasons and the things that thrive within them, change too. We till. We nurture. We grow. We die. We breakdown. We grieve. We start building again. 

Yup, I’ll make some tea. And there’s always Fraiser on Netflix, although that show is not dumb or random. Not even a little. It’ll forever and always be one of my favorite. That sounds good right now.

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Broken

This morning, I followed a hummingbird after she made a stop at the feeder hanging on my back patio. She flew around to the darker side of my house; the neglected side of my house shaded so heavily by overgrown trees that grass doesn’t grow. This is the side of my house with the grumbling a/c unit that needs to be fixed, where spider webs hang between every surface, and where leaves from last fall still lay in deep stacks in the mud. I wondered why the hummingbird chose to fly this way.

I turned the corner to the dark side of my house just in time to see the bird buzzing away into the mess of trees. I rarely visit this place and it’s been a while since my last time. It’s a sloped surface protruding with large tree roots and scattered, rotting leaves. Cloudy, white webs speckle the wall and tree trunks and there’s a damp coolness to this space which is exaggerated in the already hot morning. 

Down from the trees, the hummingbird zipped once more to the far side of the a/c unit. Quietly, I stepped around to see her hovering in front of a small, bright green plant right next to the wall. She stuck her long, stick-beak into a tiny, yellow flower, body frozen (but for her wings). She switched flowers just as a stick snapped beneath my boot and—poof! She disappeared into the trees.

The small plant was no more than a foot and a half tall with delicate, glossy green leaves. Near the end of every thin branch was a shy, pale yellow flower, each one with five petals. The plant practically glowed in this otherwise shadowy, wet place. What was it doing here? 

I took a few steps closer and crouched down in front of the juxtaposed plant. Its leaves were jagged along the edges which seemed to contradict the sweet softness of its flowers—like small kittens in razor wire. I didn’t dare touch the plant, scared that I might get poked or worse, that I might smush or harm one of its pale, yellow whispers. It’s strong, I thought to myself as I stood. To survive on this side of the house—to even have the will to grow—must take courage and will power. Still, it puzzled me how the plant came to grow in this spot all alone. 

Suddenly, a drop of water plopped onto one of the leaves from high above so I looked up only to see a hole in the rain gutter which lines the roof of my house. The hole was about the size of a quarter and rusted around its uneven edges. Moments later, another drop dripped down. 

I was unsure how the hole would’ve gotten there, but also realized that if not for that rusted hole, this small, strange plant may have never grown. Not only did water drip from it, but I imagine at high noon, light shined directly down onto the plant. 

Crouching back down, I sang a little tune, having heard somewhere that talking and singing to plants helps them grow. I don’t know if this is true, but it couldn’t hurt. Plus, this small, circumstantial growth must be quite lonely in the darkness of this forgotten place. A strange and beautiful plant, born from brokenness, here only because something else over which it had no control, failed. A smile in the shadows, a source of food, and a pop of pale yellow in a dark and otherwise dreary place. She stands her own with jagged armor and with perfect, petite poise. 

As I stood and walked away, I heard the buzz of the returning hummingbird but continued on without turning, leaving the plant to provide on her own. She has what she needs, there on the far side of the house. A happy happenstance. A light in a dark place. A product of brokenness. 

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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.”

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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. 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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. 

Humidity. Healing.

Few places hold a torch when it comes to humidity intensity in the East Texas piney woods, especially after four straight days of early-summer rainfall. Breathing outside during dawn or dusk is like inhaling warm, invisible snot that sticks in little teardrop beads to every single part of you. It’s oddly sentimental though; growing up in SE Texas, the humidity is like a tight hug from your grandmother who always smells like home cooked something: noodles and pork chops, rosemary bread, brown gravy. Humidity like this can be embracing and comforting—a reminder that at the end of a long, stressful day, she’s here for you whether you think you need her or not.

Under a darkening, blue sky with broad, brush-stroked pinks and purples, grandmother humidity wraps herself about me as I close the barn door and secure the latch. I faintly hear hay crunching from inside: donkey dinner time.

This is a chore I’ve had for years now (the shuffling of donkeys into their shelter and distribution of their hay) and for the first time, it’s completely worn me out. I stand in front of the barn and lean my weight into the door for a moment to catch my breath, the damp air lining my lungs like teflon. My vision blurs and my heart hops heavily as I close my eyes and wait for the feeling of lightheadedness to pass. I’ve been ill—at times severely—over the past two months. It occurs to me that I’ve never been the kind of ill that causes such a profound loss of strength: my muscles having diminished to soft, wobbly blobs on my bones. King Ranch was right, it was probably too soon for me to bring the donkeys in alone…but I missed that part of my evening routine and insisted I give it a try. I see him now standing in the window watching me from the house, his face a mix of concern and I told you so.

I think I’m beginning to heal, but healing is a tricky thing. It’s not like illness, injury, or brokenness must come to a clean stop before healing can begin; I think there’s a lot of overlap. There are gains and losses between brokenness and healing. They toggle around: a tug-of-war that pulls one way, then another. Back and forth and back and forth as each side loses and gains strength, they fight to win you over.

Healing is a funny thing: her ability to be happening and not happening at the same time. Healing can be busy at work even when we don’t think she’s there but I also think we can control parts of our healing, too. Healing is like breathing: when you’re not thinking about it, healing involuntarily happens on her own but simultaneously, when you’re aware of it, you can either help healing or hinder her. You can decide to block healing by not letting go or being too afraid to look forward.

Of course, some things never fully heal and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Healing, as I’m imagining her as this personified ghost in our beings, is smart. I like that healing allows for some scars to stick around to remind you of the past…like if you were bullied in school, I think she leaves those memories there so that you can remember to be kind to others—that what we say and do to each other really does matter and it really sucks when you’re treated badly. She leaves scars over our hearts so we can remember how brave we once were and when life buries us with piles of uncontrollable circumstance, we can look down at the discolored scar and remember our bravery….our strength.

My vision finally clears itself of yellowish stars and through the heavy dampness, I begin what seems like a very long walk back to the house. Cicadas call from the treetops—their buzzing and clicking chorus an audible illustration of what the inside of my head and chest feels like. Everything is just so unfocused and fuzzy.

But a few days ago, I couldn’t make this walk on my own and yet, here I am. The bandages stuck to me itch in the humidity and I’m anxious to remove them soon to see what’s left in their place…but I still have some time before I can do that. Right now, I’ll take the itching, the pain, the frightening vulnerability and fear of infection all as parts of healing doing her job. It’s because of her that I got the donkeys in tonight and could run my fingers through their shedding fur. But now she’s telling me to go lay down. The beads of humidity roll down my arms and it almost feels as if grandmother humidity is pushing me back towards the house: all these forces telling me to take it easy.

We should listen to them: listen to what our bodies are trying to tell us. Intuition is a powerful thing.

I hear ya humidity. I hear ya, healing. I’ll go lay down now and try again tomorrow.

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Tiny Dots

It’s late. I’m not sure of the time, but it’s been night for a while—long enough for the dark to feel damp and for the scattered clouds to have a purple tint. In my jammies and boots without socks, I’m walking through the wet grass out to the barn where Bunny, Tee, and Baby Bodhi are likely resting.

With both hands, I slide open the barn door and flip the light switch just inside. Three sets of ears perk up high and like a burst of beautiful light, Bodhi leaps for me with his ears back and his tiny tail wagging. Bunny and Tee, from behind their stall door, begin to bray. Shaky, I kneel down and scratch Bodhi’s soft fur, his chin resting on my shoulder. He still smells like a baby.

It’s been three days since I’ve seen my sweet donkeys: I’ve relied on King Ranch and my parents to help care for them while I’ve been severely ill. In and out of the hospital and unsure of the time when I wake up from long rests, it’s been a blur of chills, lightheadedness, groggy sips of Gatorade, and much anxiety over what is happening in my tired body.

I stand, my head dizzy for a starry-eyed moment, before I open the stall door. Normally, Bunny and Tee race to reach me first (especially if it’s been some time since I’ve seen them) but tonight, they’re delicate in their approach. They know I’m unwell, I can see it in the wideness of their eyes and in the care of their steps. Bunny nips at my hair while Tee presses his head into my thigh. Bodhi stands against my other leg, his tail swishing from side to side.

In the dim barn surrounded by the quiet of night and warmth of my donkeys, I peer up at the light above which flickers with silhouettes of June bugs and moths. I draw in a deep breath, close my eyes, and surrender the walls I’ve taped up around my emotions to the midnight air. Tears begin to stream down my cheeks.

I don’t remember a time when I’ve been this sick, at least not as an adult. And to complicate things, my pre-existing heart condition is succumbing to the stress and making my movements and presence tedious and difficult.  The good news is, I’ve seen a host of doctors and have seemingly turned a corner to see a light at the end of this dark, dank, claustrophobia-inducing tunnel where I’ve left a scattered trail of my weight, strength, and optimism.

I’ve been unsure as to whether or not I wanted to write about this but the thing is, I write to figure out my feelings. I have to spell out thoughts to see them straight—to remove them from the neon nebulous of my anxious mind where I don’t have a single train of thought, but rather, a bustling train station buzzing with people yelling in languages that I can’t understand.

I have a friend, a wonderfully talented novelist who bravely moved her life overseas and is one of the most inspiring people in my life. She writes her stories and essays in a way that transfers the reader to the front lines—to the smells and tastes of places they’ve never been—and the other night, she messaged me out of concern to check on my health. It’s been years since I’ve seen her in person, but across the world, her concern and love of my feelings made way for a platform to begin to explore my own understanding of the depth in which this aggressive illness has dug. In talking with her, my heart touched by her words (because she’s just the kind of person who can be so warm and empathetic, even oceans apart), I realized that in this illness, there have been moments where I have actually feared for my life…like really thought it might be over for me. I think this must have been the first time I truthfully and legitimately feared that my end might be near and although that moment is now in my distant and hopefully unreachable past, it’s left me in a strange, emotional place. I don’t mean to be dramatic, but the swift severity of my condition left little room to feel like I had much of a fight. 

(To be clear, I am fine. I am going to be fine. There were just a few days in there where I really thought I might not be fine and those ripples are still splashing around pretty hard.)

As I stand here in the barn, these three donkeys doing everything in their ability to comfort me, I am overcome with…I don’t know what it is. Gratitude for sure, but something else. Purpose? Raw presence? I’m not sure. That very real fear has done something to me and even though I know I’m out of the thick of the threat, there’s this pulsing light from beyond my field of vision that’s reminding me of the fragility of all of this. It’s a blocked off area  that stays just beyond my sight with giant, red, boldface letters that says “RESTRICTED” because only those who are emotionally equipped to handle the reality of how temporary life is can enter without crumbling. This very human condition: that we are all momentary. 

Little Foot climbed up into bed with me yesterday and rested his curly head on my chest.

“Mommy,” he said, “I hear your heart going ba-boom ba-boom ba-boom.”

I twirled his hair between two of my fingers and said, “I think my heart is happy you’re here.”

And it was. It is. Oh my it is, my heart flips in my chest at the sight and even thought of my sweet, little boy. He’s barely three years old and already he helps me feed the animals, collect eggs from the chickens, tells me stories that are made up in his imagination, and reminds me that you don’t have to be of a certain age to really know how to love.

Bunny lowers her head and rests it against my chest. I wonder if she can hear my struggling heart, too. I look down to see tiny, damp dots freckling the donkey’s faces—my tears having dripped from my chin onto them. I think they’ve moved closer to me, the weight of their bodies giving me strength to stand even though I’m so, so tired.

On the shelf beside us is Tink’s bright blue halter. He was wearing it the day he passed. Little Foot asked about Tink for the first time in a while the other day (before I fell ill) and I told him that Tink died. I used those words….he died.  “But where did he go?” Little Foot asked with a puzzled look. I told him that I wasn’t sure, but I believe that even when people or animals die, they’re still out there somewhere in some way. I told him that I think they must be out beyond the stars, so maybe you can look up at night and see if anything up there reminds you of him and if it does, then he’s definitely still alive in your thoughts. Among all those twinkling, tiny dots are so much more than meets the eye, so look as hard and as often as you can. This seemed to satisfy him. He also asked if the slug that he accidentally stepped on the other day is up there, too, because he was very sorry that he smushed it, he just didn’t see it before he stepped. I told him that I’m sure the slug is up there.

After a while, I shuffle the donkeys back into their stalls, laying a kiss upon each of their heads, and close the barn door. Purple clouds glide across the sky which is nearly singing like a full choir with twinkling stars. So many tiny dots. I breathe in deeply, their light filling the broken parts of me, before exhaling deep gratitude, relief, and hope with a long sigh.

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