Boundaries

It’s pouring, I tell y’all. Pouring! A tempest. A typhoon. A piney-woods tidal wave with impressive lightning bolts and thunder which both crashes and growls. Something’s angered the gods and boy howdy they’re letting us know. The ducks are loving it but the donkeys, not so much.

I’ve microwaved a cup of coffee from yesterday’s unfinished pot (a brew practice for which I’ve been heavily criticized by many folks but hey, you do what you do) and have turned off all the lights so I can watch the lightning like fireworks. This is one of those storms you see in movies. I half expect a terrifying figure in either a trench coat or tattered, victorian dress to appear out beyond the garden—a spooky someone here to collect my soul or something.

It’s 6:30ish in the morning and although I remain on the couch with my trembling dogs and my mismatched jammies, I have this urge in my gut to hop up, open my laptop, and begin the work day. When I say urge, I mean serious urge that’s not just a mental feeling, but also a physical one. On the other hand, this is one of those moments: a perfect storm, a flashing, gray room and sweet dogs who equate my closeness with their safety. This contrast of feelings: the obligation to begin work right away and the allowance of myself to have a moment of peace is puzzling. I feel both guilty and silly. Also stressed, confused, self-conscious, and pressured. In no time, there’s a storm inside me rivaling the one out there.

I close my eyes, let out a long breath, and relax my shoulders. Boundaries dear girl, I tell myself, Boundaries. 

Here’s what I mean by boundaries (to name a few):

  1. If you’re working from home, please remember that you’re working from home, not living at work. It is crucial that you set business/operating hours. 
  2. Set routines (even small ones) and abide by them. Maybe that’s just doing a 20-minute stretch followed by day old coffee in the morning before you open your phone and inevitably be flooded with notifications and saddened by the news. Those things can wait, I promise.
  3. Set boundaries in relationships. You are not responsible for anyone’s happiness no matter how much someone might be trying to convince you as such. You can be a good friend, partner, listener, advocate, supporter, and champion for people but you are not responsible for their feelings. Ever. Full stop.
  4. Holly Whitaker said it best: “Know what you can f*ck with.” This has been a game-changing practice for me. When you know what works and what doesn’t work for you, you can set boundaries to both respect yourself and the expectations of others. Let me give you an example: I have anxiety & OCD which is heavily connected to my hard-wired impulse to be a people-pleaser. As such, I’ve spent so much time doing things and making choices based on what I thought would make others happy. Eventually, I found myself in an empty shell devoid of any knowledge about what I want. Then my anxiety would spiral and my compulsive rituals would intensify. So. Take the time to what you can f*ck with. That’ll help you find a good base from which you can build solid boundaries (and maybe help with your mental health).

    (Quick pit stop: I have an ask. Please stop saying things like, “oh, that’s my OCD kicking in” when you’re talking about wanting things to be tidy, organized, or look right. OCD doesn’t “kick in.” OCD just is. It always is. Also, anxiety is not a mood nor is it just being worrisome. It’s often far bigger and far uglier than that. You can’t just “not worry” or “chill out.” It’s insulting to simplify mental health like this and I’d ask that you please be mindful about throwing around these terms in jest)
  1. Finally, set some self love boundaries. This includes, but is not limited to: 
    1. Keeping your internal dialogue in check. How are you making your own self feel?
    2. Feeling no guilt when indulging yourself in your guilty pleasures. (For me, that’s binging The Great British Baking Show on Netflix while eating too much of my own badass bread bakes).
    3. Don’t sacrifice your own comfort for someone else’s.
    4. If there are people or relationships in your life that make you feel small, worthless, self-conscious, and/or sub-par, draw a line. There is never, ever an acceptable reason to berate, belittle, harass, or abuse someone. In order to draw that line and feel confident in removing those people from your life, you must realize that you deserve that line. You do. I promise.

I have many, many more thoughts on boundaries which continue to change as I continue to explore and understand them. It’s why I go off on soap-boxes about the toxicity of false-positivity and the absurdity of unreachable expectations society puts on us (especially as women). And if you’d like, I’d be happy to share more of those thoughts as I learn to put them into words.

For now, I look at the clock again. 7:00am. My workday from home begins at 8am (no sooner) and until then, my phone will stay plugged into the charger, on silent, in the bedroom so I can watch a storm, protect my dogs, and sip my shitty coffee. 

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

 

While You’re At Home…

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Much love.
Jess

Brakes

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s what a panic attack is NOT:

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Polka-Dots

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Sweet Girl

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For my own self-care?

My own self-care?

Self-care?

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

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

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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

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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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.

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Sunflower’s Story

There once was a patch of sunflowers (10 stems, to be exact) who divvied themselves upon either side of the walkway through a garden. Some said they were oddly placed, but the sun shined strongest right there along that path and as we all know, sunflowers not only need, but love the sunlight.

For weeks, the stems grew and grew and finally, one early summer afternoon, the first flower bloomed.

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Her petals stretched wide as her face turned toward the sun and soon after that, other flowers upon other stems began unfolding too. Each flower was beautiful and strong, always turned towards the light which fed them–a stunning, vivid patch along that little garden path.

But as the weeks went by, one stem (the one on the far end of the patch) still had no flower—no face to turn towards the beaming sun. The stem just kept growing taller and taller, spitting out giant and heavy leaves in every direction.

By mid-summer, the other flowers began to droop (their time having passed) and still, the tall stem remained flowerless.

The gardener, curious about this large, barren stem, removed the old lifeless flowers from their shorter, less leafy stems. She wondered if this towering stalk would ever bloom? She pruned the other flowers, readying them for a new season. Day after day, the gardener checked on the growing stem at the edge of the harvested patch. The plant grew so tall that she could no longer reach or even see the top of it.

Finally, one humid morning where the heat laid in wet fog along the surface of everything, the gardener awoke to a beaming yellow crown, high above the otherwise empty patch. She ran outside to greet the soaring sunflower which was bigger and more beautiful than any flower she’d ever seen.

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For days the glorious flower radiated her beauty—her face so large that she didn’t need to turn towards the sun for the sun reached her from every direction.

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People came from far and wide to admire her. No one could believe that a sunflower could climb that high. She had been worth waiting for.

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As the summer blazed on, so too did the wheel of time, and so the day came that this mountainous flower—the largest and most beautiful that had ever been—started to slump. Her time had come.

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The sunflower’s strong stem began to buckle under her wilting weight, and so the gardener, with her best pair of shears, was forced to clip the crown from the queen of the patch.

The path through the garden was empty again, the only remaining growth being skeletal stems of their former, shining glory. Seemingly the end of an era.

But the gardener knows that this is no end. This is in fact the beginning! Because from the heart of every one of those sunflowers are the seeds of tomorrow.

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What started from a single seed is now dozens! Dozens that will line the little garden path. Dozens that will ship through the post to friends and family who have bees and butterflies anxiously waiting for a patch of their own. And from there, an infinite number of sunflower seeds…seeds from flowers that remind us that we all move in our own time. We grow in our own ways. We find strength in our roots and inspiration in the light that feeds us.

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…seeds from dried out and drooping death. Life goes on, our legacies and time taken to do what was right for us is built into these vulnerable, harvested seeds so that they may grow in awe inspiring ways.

…seeds which carry with them the pride and stamina and determination of those that came before them. Bury deep, your roots. Reach high, your ambitions. Be proud, your growth, even if it takes more time than the others.

Shine on, sweet sunflowers, shine on.

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