Life Update: Back and Forth

I had a really thoughtful post all planned out in my head for today about song lyrics that struck me the other day in the car.  But then I barely slept last night and I need to go to bed early because I’m flying out to North Carolina tomorrow to start unpacking our new house.  So instead you get a brief update about the logistics of the remaining month until the wedding:

>First, I fly out to meet the Engineer and his brother at our new house (yay!) in North Carolina.  I’ll be there for the Engineer’s first few days of classes, then…

<I fly back to the Pacific Northwest to finish up wedding details for 2 weeks.

<He flies back to the Pacific Northwest so we can get married.

<We go to Hawaii.

>We fly all the way back to North Carolina and finally stay put for a while.

Oh, and here’s a question I was mulling over with the Commodore: can I put Wedding Coordinator and Moving Director on my resume now?

 

Address Book

Starting our own (empty) home means things keep occurring to me that I’ve never had to think about before.  Silverware, for instance, has always just been there, in the drawer, and so has the plastic organizer sorting it into its neat little categories.

My mom has always had an address book we referenced whenever we needed to send out thank-you notes or invitations, so I always wanted to have my own when I moved out.  I forgot that this involved writing out all those addresses.

I’ve gotten through the Cs.

Security Questions Make Me Examine My Life

Due to, apparently, Wedding Thieves, I had to choose a security question for one of our registries this afternoon.  As I scrolled through the options to find my usual choice, I noticed a new one: what was your first concert?

I haven’t been to one, I thought.  Concerts weren’t something I thought of spending my money on.  For one thing, I was raised largely on Disney and Broadway soundtracks, so the closest thing I had to seeing those songs in person was Beauty and the Beast On Ice or going up to the 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle.  For another, I didn’t notice advertisements for bands.  In high school, when two of my friends got Death Cab For Cutie tickets, I was utterly baffled by the idea that a band whose name I barely recognized would be nearby.

Then later this evening I suddenly remembered sophomore year, when I was helping the Engineer unpack his new apartment and dancing around to the Love and Theft album I had just bought.  A few days later, the Engineer said, “So do you want to go to CampusFest?”

“W…why?”  (This was not a normal activity for him to suggest.)

“Love and Theft are playing.”

In that case, sign me up.

It was actually pretty fun, crammed onto our campus mall with a bunch of other students, dancing around to the songs (one of which is still “our song”).

And then there was last year, when the Engineer’s sister came to visit because Chase Bryant was coming for a concert.  The Engineer bought our tickets and entered a raffle for a meet-and-greet.  “There are only five people entered right now, so you’ll probably win,” they told him.

He did.

The meet-and-greet was rapidfire and not that fun, but swing dancing on the edges of the room till we were breathless was great.

And I just now remembered that the Commodore and some friends and I went to a One Republic/Sara Bareilles concert at the beginning of sophomore year for a friend’s birthday.

So my initial response to the security question was wrong.  But considering I can’t seem to remember any of these concerts, it still wouldn’t be a great password protector.

Review: The Girl From the Metropol Hotel

We bought this because of the nonfiction link to A Gentleman in Moscow, and Bird, Mom, and I passed it around.  This short memoir chronicles the childhood of Lyudmila Petrushevskaya, who was born in the Metropol but spends little time there throughout her wild, chaotic upbringing.  Told in vignette-style chapters that seem to overlap and occasionally go out of order, Petrushevskaya shares her experiences alternating between near-homelessness and schools/camps with rigid expectations.  Sometimes I was cringing at the feral society she found on the streets, beyond the reach of her aunt and grandmother.  Sometimes I was sympathetic toward the unreasonable strictness of the structures that attempted to socialize her.

But Petrushevskaya’s language is the stuff of fairy tales (in fact, now I want to go read her other books, including There Once Lived a Woman who Tried to Kill Her Neighbor’s Baby).  So the rhythm of the sentences and the pretty diction make the horrible things she writes about seem bearable.  It’s presented in the way of children – this is just how things are.  Her faith that her mother would return someday was a little heartbreaking from an adult perspective, but little Lyudmila is just so sure.  Mama will come back.  No one else will do.

It was the writing itself, presenting uncomfortable realities in such a pleasant way, that made me like the book.

3/5 stars on Goodreads

A Favorite Lie to Tell

I’ve learned that there is hope and that when I feel that there isn’t hope my brain is lying to me.

-John Green, “On Mental Illness (and the end of Pizzamas)”

It seems like most mental health issues have a favorite myth to perpetuate in the sufferer’s brain.  Friends with anxiety have described to me the baseless urgency, the panic without a catalyst, the lie of a magnified threat.  In John Green’s talks on his personal experiences with OCD, he tells of the intrusive thoughts, the lie of an underlying capacity for terrible things.

My depression tells me, as I slide further down the dark spiral, that I am dragging others down with me.  The first time this happened, my sophomore year of college, it told me that I was a terrible girlfriend, that remaining in this relationship would sap the Engineer of his emotional energy as he tried to help me back up the spiral of my quickly numbing mind.  (At the time, I wasn’t exactly the most supportive partner, but that’s because it’s pretty hard to be emotionally available when you don’t have emotions anymore.)  It was kinder, the depression said sagely, to let him go.

Thank God he didn’t let me do that.

Even after I started going to counseling, I tried not to talk about it.  Not because I was ashamed of the depression, exactly, but because I was ashamed to demand anything more from my friends and family.  The depression kept telling me that I would drag them down with me, and that I should at least go through the motions of generosity even if I couldn’t remember how that felt.  Since I no longer felt any real impulse toward either kindness or cruelty, my brain held up the abstract concepts and said, “You used to want to be a nice person.  A nice person wouldn’t do this to her loved ones.”  If I had to be dragged down this path, at least I wouldn’t be bringing anyone with me.  I had forgotten, of course, that emotionally stable and healthy people have more strength to help pull others up.

“Don’t drag them down with you.”  It has a slogan-y ring to it.

A nice person wouldn’t do this.  A nice brain wouldn’t do this.

I’ve learned how to better tell when my brain is lying to me.  I’ve learned that emotional states are not personality traits.  I’ve learned that my family and friends want to help and they do not resent me, nor have I pulled them into the spiral with me.

There are tools available to make the lies more apparent.  That doesn’t mean they can’t sometimes be convincing.

If you suffer from mental health problems, there is hope; when your brain says there isn’t, I promise you, it is lying to you.  And if you know someone who struggles with mental health, help remind them of the truth.

 

Top 5 Self Care Habits I’m Bad At

These are the things that pop into my head whenever I see an article about self-care, the things that I immediately know will make me feel better and more at peace, the things I somehow can’t seem to do consistently despite knowing their benefits.

1. Journaling. I definitely notice a difference when I keep this up for even a few days in a row. My emotions seem more reasonable and orderly if I take time to name them and examine their origins in writing, especially at the end of the day. But my usual excuse is that I’m too tired.

2. Going to bed on time. I am a toddler when it comes to getting myself to bed. The more tired I am, the more likely I’ll stay up reading or scrolling through Pinterest. (And then I’m too tired to journal.)

3. Keeping in touch with family and friends. I love my friends and I like to think I’m close with my family, but I don’t reach out or respond to them as often as I should.

4. Exercise. Cliche, I know, but this is another one that leaves me feeling a positive difference when I do it…but is still hard to keep up past a week.

5. Prayer. My faith is a foundational part of my life, so when I take the time to recenter my thoughts and motivations on God, I’m reminded that I am not the one in control. (Maybe that’s why I approach this habit halfheartedly, given my love for control.)

Bonus! 6. Hydration. It exasperates the Engineer to no end, but I hardly ever drink water unless it’s heated and poured through coffee grounds.

All of these little things make a noticeable difference in how I feel both physically and emotionally. But even knowing that, I can’t seem to make myself keep up the habits. The inertia is too hard to break through.

What good habits do you have trouble with even though you know they’re good for you? Got any tips to get over that inertia of Not Doing Things? 

Pets

Our new place doesn’t allow pets, so I’m taking advantage of all the snuggle time I have left with our cat at my mom’s house and the two (gigantic) cats and Husky mutt at my dad’s.  Just having a fuzzy animal around is comforting, even if Dickens (the dog) is always. Squeaking. His. Toys.

Maybe it’s because we always had cats and dogs growing up, but I’ve never liked birds.  They’re just not cuddly enough for me; they fall somewhere a little higher than reptiles and goldfish on the pet scale.  So when my roommate said she wanted a parrot last year, I thought, sure, as long as I don’t have to touch it.  Bird feet, to me, feel like a baby’s hand with talons wrapping around your finger.

Here’s the problem.  The bird freaking loved me.

This was partially my own fault – not wanting it to develop a grudge against me for ignoring it, I fed little Caspian dried papaya every time I came home in the afternoon.  Soon my roommate was calling me the Papaya Aunt and the bird himself was loudly protesting if I didn’t say hi to him when I got home.

Then one day I was in my roommate’s room and Caspian decided to leap onto her desk (his wings weren’t fully developed, so this didn’t go well), slide wildly across it, and then step, chirping happily, onto my panicked, outstretched hand.

My roommate maintains that it’s one of the funniest things she’s ever seen, second only to later when the bird would waddle across the back of the couch to try and sit on my shoulder.  I didn’t know what to do, only that I didn’t want him climbing up onto my shoulder, so I stood there with my arm outstretched until my roommate came to rescue me.

And now I’m one of Caspian’s favorite people in the world.  When I visited with Bird to get the last of my stuff, Caspian trilled at the sight of me, stepped onto my finger (I’m used to him now) and puffed up happily for a good fifteen minutes.

I still don’t think birds are good pets.  But I’ll be damned if it wasn’t really affirming to have a little creature greet me with that much excitement.

Home Part II

the place in which one’s domestic affections are centered

(in games) the destination or goal

The Engineer has lived in the same house his whole life.  I have lived in five – the one in Ohio where I was born, our first house in Washington (the “old old house”), the house that was great for pretending to be Cinderella (the “old house”), and my mom and dad’s current respective houses.  That’s not even counting Dad’s apartments while he looked for a more permanent house.

I dismantled my old room when I went to college, since Bird wanted the big room for her high school years.  I pared down my belongings even more when I moved to our Small College Town full time last year, putting mementos and old school projects into plastic totes for storage in the basement and cramming the rest into Bird’s and my cars to drive across the state.

Fitting, then, that she also accompanied me last week to move the last of my stuff out of that apartment.

I have transferred my affections from one home to another several times.  The Engineer’s childhood room is still exactly as he left it.

But this weekend we’re packing all our now-mutual belongings into a truck for him and his brother to drive to North Carolina.  The Pacific Northwest will still be home even in that gaming sense, because our ultimate plan is to move back here.

So the two definitions for “home” at the beginning of this post are comforting to me, because while we wait for our “domestic affections” to catch up with us and recenter on the opposite coast (at least for a few years), our pretty new townhome and all that goes into it can represent our new goals.  It will be our home base while we explore a new part of the country.  It will be a sort of home for Bird, who plans to take advantage of our presence in her university’s timezone to visit often.  It will be our first home together.

And honestly, though I know we’ll both be homesick at first, the Engineer himself has been “home” to me for a while now.

Review(ish): Let’s Talk Tropes in “‘T’ As in Trapped”

For Christmas, the Engineer gave me a Detective Book Club book from the 1940s.  It’s one of those special printings for members of a specific subscription service, like Heritage Press, containing three separate mystery novels.  The first, Agatha Christie’s There Is A Tide, we’ve been reading together, mostly because I started reading it aloud to him as a joke (the first scene was amusing and I wanted to share it) and he ended up wanting me to continue.  The third, called Borderline Murder, is why he bought me the book (besides its old-book smell – both of us found it funny to consider the concept of “borderline” murder.  Is it like the difference between mostly dead and all dead?

The only one of the mysteries I’ve actually finished reading is the middle one, Lawrence Treat’s 1947 novel T’ As in Trapped.  It follows Wayne, an architect from New York, as his girlfriend’s estranged husband tries to frame Wayne for the murder of a psychic.  While I wouldn’t say I really enjoyed the book beyond the campy fun of a classic old-fashioned murder mystery, the other reviews seemed harsh to me.  Granted, only two other people on Goodreads have apparently read this book, but neither of them gave Treat any credit for the era in which he was writing.

Yes, Wayne’s constant monologuing about his own inner strength and how sure he was of himself became grating by the end of the book.  Yes, neither of the female characters seemed to pass the “sexy lamp test,” even though one of them was the murder victim.  Yes, Wayne uncovered increasingly convoluted and unlikely connections between his own colleagues and the murdered girl.  And yes, I barely rooted for any of the ensemble besides a side character, a forensic detective (such as you could be in the 1940s) named Jub.

But I honestly didn’t expect any better.  It was written at a time when murder mysteries were supposed to be full of strong, silent men and characters who all spoke the same.  It reads like a 1940s detective novel, which is what it’s actually supposed to be.  Modern writers and creators have parodied this genre so much (and with such fun results) that I think we forget there was a time that the tropes were executed in earnest.

I might not recommend this to a friend who adores mystery novels, even older parlor mysteries like Agatha Christie.  But someone who understands the era and can appreciate a bit of campy fluff would probably enjoy this as a light read.

3/5 stars on Goodreads, partly because I felt bad about its low ratings when it had accomplished what the contemporary genre demanded


Am I overthinking this?  Does understanding a book’s era mean we should cut it some slack?  What are things you wouldn’t forgive in a piece of writing, despite the expectations of the time in which is was written?

Never-ending Easter Egg Hunts

“In, two, three, four, out, two, three, four, five, six yourefineyourefineyourefine seven, eight.  In, two, three four…”

I said the words in my head like a crazed conductor, sternly scolding my chest when it tried to contract again too soon.  My lungs preferred hyperventilating to this slow, rhythmic exercise.  I felt like I was choking every time I breathed out for too long.  But eventually my heart rate slowed.  The air stopped feeling oppressive.  I stopped counting as I drifted off to sleep.

For a few weeks, this was my bedtime ritual.  As soon as I got under the covers, I would immediately feel guilty that I hadn’t completed all these tasks.  But during the day, when I had the time and energy (and daylight) to devote to working, I only remembered a fraction of them.  They seemed to hold back, waiting to rush at me the second I turned out the light.

It was like a protracted Easter egg hunt.  Some eggs, hidden in obvious places, were easily spotted and placed safely in my basket – the completed tasks that I had already planned on doing.  Then there were others that I glimpsed as I went about my day – the random, little things I suddenly remembered and addressed even though they weren’t part of my original list.

And then, when it got too dark to look for Easter eggs, my workaholic little brain piped up: “You can’t go to bed yet.  We didn’t find all of them.”

“It’s fine.  They’re plastic.  They won’t hurt anything if we don’t find all of them until tomorrow.”

“But what if we don’t find them in time and the candy in them melts?  Or what if someone gets annoyed that we didn’t collect them all?  No, we should keep looking.”

“I promise you, it’s fine.  We’ll look with fresh eyes tomorrow.”

“Did you check under the sofa?  I think I saw one under the sofa.”

And on it went.  As much as I told myself that I had time, that I hadn’t missed any deadlines or accidentally forgotten to reply to someone, my anxieties had a new worry for every one I dismissed.  The most compelling of these was, “But if you forgot to do it today, what if you keep forgetting until you completely forget?”

Cue racing heart and shallow breathing.

My mental state, whether in the midst of my depression or just a lot of stress, has always been the most frantic at night.  I have trouble with the concept of “rest” when I feel I haven’t earned it, whether that be letting go of emotions until I am better equipped to address them or getting some sleep even though I haven’t exercised/written/worked “enough” that day.  So bedtime, when I put away all distractions and wait alone with my thoughts before falling asleep, is a great time for my mind to rebel.

Some nights found me up with that damn basket, hunting the rest of the Easter eggs (e.g., all-nighters on projects that weren’t even due the next day, just because they were worrying me).

Other times I’d stay up long enough to map out a plan for exactly where to look for the eggs the next day (putting together a specific schedule for the next day to address all the random tasks I was suddenly remembering).

On occasion, I do manage to shush my brain entirely, with exercises like breathing (fun fact: exhaling longer than you inhale is supposed to disrupt the fight-or-flight response) or doing something similarly meditative like saying my rosary.

Melatonin supplements work too.

I’m still learning how to negotiate with my own mind and body in order to get some sleep.  But even just recognizing that this time of day can be difficult – that’s a start.


What stress-reduction/brain-quieting strategies work best for you?  What time of day do you find it hardest to deal with stress and anxiety?