Tag Archives: anxiety

Retirement

I retired officially, in December 2015. In the past  year I have learned a few things about myself.

1. My Social Security check ain’t enough.

Well, duh. I knew that going in. I knew I would have to find something part-time to bridge the gap. My SS check covers the bills. The bills that come every month no matter what, the bills that must be paid if I want to avoid living under a bridge. But, as we all know, there are ALWAYS other things that must be paid for. Tires. Car repairs. Art supplies. Books.

2: I love being at home. All the time.

I have a quiet, peaceful little life. The more time I spend on my own, with just my cats for company, the better I like it. I dread going to the grocery store, but look forward to time spent at the library. Eventually, I realized a part-time job might be a good idea if I didn’t want to end up a caricature of the anti-social “old cat lady.”

  1. I love winter…now that I don’t have to drive in it.

My new part-time job is going to be tricky this year, because I am still adamant about not going out in icy weather. The chance of wrecking the car and injuring myself is NOT worth any job. I had to do it before; I don’t now. Last year, I stayed home in January and February. I watched it snow, heard sleet on the roof, listened to the winter birds call. I drank a lot of hot tea, read a lot of books, did some drawing, hand sewing, watched Netflix (my new guilty pleasure) and petted my cats. They spent hours in my lap, purring while I nursed my tea and watched The Walking Dead. I still got out and walked every day, but I waited for the temperature to rise to 40.

  1. Relaxation training.

I don’t actually know how to relax, apparently. I find myself getting anxious for no reason. I flit from one project to another, frantically trying to find the one that will SELL. If I wake up and there is light coming through the windows I panic, thinking I’m late. If I’m sitting on the deck, watching the birds on the trees, I’m good for about 5 minutes. Then I start fretting, thinking I should be doing some mending, or drawing, or reading…something productive. Something I can SELL. I get up and make myself sit back down, force myself to continue to watch the birds and BREATHE. Relaxation depends a lot on breathing, I’ve learned. I finally figured out that a lifetime of poverty has trained me to worry about money. Not relax. And I think constantly about what’s going to happen to take away my new freedom.  I hold my breath every time I get in the car, hoping it will start. Actually, I find myself holding my breath while I’m driving anywhere, fearful that someone will run into me, wreck the car and a new financial apocalypse will be upon me. This is not a joke.

  1. I love playing.

I’ve wanted to experiment with so many art forms, all my life, but there never seemed to be enough time, or money. Since I retired, I have spent embarrassing amounts of money on art supplies and books. (Which has added to my anxiety about money. See above.) Instead of working on things that I’m pretty sure will sell, I’ve been playing. I spent time with Papier Mache. It’s a great medium, but it gets so humid here in the late summer that drying things, and KEEPING them dry, is a challenge. I played with shrink plastic-another fun medium and I made some interesting, lovely jewelry. I may keep working with that, but I just wanted to experiment with other stuff, so I have a lot of jewelry and bits and piece of projects sitting in my little plastic bins until I’m ready to get back to them. Now I’m knee deep in polymer clay. I’ve messed around with this off and on forever, but now I’m doing more than ever before. Still nothing to sell… My brain is turning over ideas and designs when I should be falling off to sleep at night so that’s a good sign.

  1. I am not drawing like I should be. Or writing.

These two activities have sustained me all my life. What is with the sudden lack of activity in the two things that I love most? I think (hope) it’s because I have time I never had before. Poverty is still with me, and I doubt seriously that will ever change, but time…time has become something entirely new to me. I’m still not used to it. Suddenly I’m not on deadline. I don’t have to get this or that done in the next hour. My hours are my own. I’m off the leash. I’m wildly running through tall grass, leaping at butterflies. Every time I set myself a schedule a little part of me says..I don’t want to!

Maybe all this freedom has scared me. All these years I’ve been convinced if I had the time I could make something, or write something, that would provide me with a living. Well, here it is! And still I run through the tall grass and leap at butterflies. I know me, and success was never in the cards. I never believed I would succeed at anything and I’ve been right. Yeah, probably more than a little self-sabotage going on there, and now is the time to rectify that. But I‘m still running and leaping. So instead of doing the 2 things I know I can do I’m playing with everything else. Is that a good thing or a self-sabotage thing? I honestly don’t know. I could make arguments for either opinion.

I struggle with anxiety every day. I have trouble with my entire digestive process. This is what goes first with me when I’m upset, anxious. There are days I can’t swallow. Some days, EVERYTHING gives me heartburn or sits in my stomach like a brick. I have trouble swallowing WATER. It has eased off some since I took this part-time job. I’m starting a fund for another car. Until then, I still hold my breath and hope the car will start, or that it won’t suddenly STOP while I’m driving. I hope it will get me to work and back home. I guess that’s the last big problem. For someone who is poor, a decent car is a huge problem, so don’t sniff and say, “is that all you have to worry about?”  I’ve got plenty of other stuff to worry about…swallowing, for one.

In the meantime, I’m reading. And reading. And reading. I’m reading Val McDermid and Elizabeth George crime thrillers…and slowly making my way through The Rise and Fall of The Third Reich. I am! I’m reading for hours sometimes. Oh, that’s truly liberating.

I’m watching all the movies I ever wanted to watch. Yes, I have a list of books and movies and I’m slowly checking them off. I’m watching Netflix. I’m relieved to know the term “binge watching” wasn’t invented just for me. Hey, I’m retired. I can binge watch without guilt…it’s part of my relaxation training.

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And I am making art. I know, I know, not as much as I should.. I found these chairs ages ago and recently came across a small table that fit perfectly between them. SO, after weeks and weeks of cleaning and sanding and cleaning and more sanding I started to draw. I call it my “bistro set.” There should be better pictures of this, and as soon as I can afford them, I’ll replace these. But look, I’m making art!

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After the Trail

3 weeks of pain, misery, and trudging long after I wanted to stop because I couldn’t find a place to stop has left me with tendon damage and relief that I finally made myself stop.

I listened to more than a few hikers talk about the incredible amounts of ibuprofen they took every day to keep getting their miles in. Hikers who talked of “open wounds on their heels that shot pain up their legs with every step,” who kept walking because they had to get so many miles in. Is it worth liver damage, blood that may or may not clot properly if they sustain an injury, just to get to Katahdin?

I felt shame, the inevitable sense of failure, until the day I actually stopped walking, standing on feet that could barely hold me up and said “I hate this!” Then, relief. I have lived for years with the sense of panic that I might not make the rent, that my car won’t get me to work and back, that I won’t sell the art I’ve put in shops, that something I do won’t work out as I hope. That same sense of constraint, of being in a type of prison, was with me every step of the trail. I couldn’t stop when I saw something beautiful (oh, I did, sometimes, but not with the usual feeling of awe and satisfaction) or even when I was tired and my feet hurt. I couldn’t tell how far I’d walked and even though I knew how far the next shelter was, I couldn’t tell how far I’d come, how far I had to go. I knew I needed to find a campsite before full dark, with a water source, and I went through long stretches where I couldn’t stop because of terrain. I was carrying about a quarter of my body weight so uphill was slow going. I met every step with a growing sense of panic. Where could I stop if I didn’t make it to the shelter? At the shelter were campsites, water, and the safety of people, even though I wasn’t interested in lots of interaction. The point is that I found every day meant nothing more than walking, constantly, for 10 hours to get to the next shelter.

I had trouble eating. Trail food was so far removed from what I normally ate that I really had trouble getting it down and keeping it there. When I’m really tired, and anxious, I can’t eat. If you walk with a pack on rough terrain, uphill and down for hours and hours, you use a lot of energy. I needed to eat and I couldn’t. That added to my panic, and of course, made eating even harder.

Many days I encountered no one until I got close to the shelter. That didn’t bother me, and it gave me hours and hours to think. I realized that my life on the trail was not so different from the life I’ve been leading for years. Getting from one rent day to the next was a lot like making it from one shelter to the next. Wishing I could stop and just look at the sky was a lot like wishing I could spend a day making art instead of going to a job that would leave me exhausted, physically and creatively. I had no more freedom on the trail than I did in real life. Less, in fact. In real life, I did find time to write, to make art, just not nearly enough. On the trail, I couldn’t draw, or write. The longer I went without doing those things that have always sustained me, the harder the days became. I couldn’t sleep, no matter how exhausted, because of the pain in my feet and my heart. I wanted to draw. I wanted to write. I wanted to read.

The trail taught me, in far less than 6 months, that I wanted to return to my life and refine it, enjoy it. I learned that freedom is a concept more than an actual environment, and we often make our own. When I go into the woods to get away from noise and work, I feel refreshed and grateful. I left the trail because I don’t want to spoil my relationship with the woods, with Nature. She doesn’t care, of course, but I do. I will still go hiking, backpacking, and spend the night out when I want to get my fill of stargazing and peace. But I’m not going to do more damage to my feet and ruin my love of the outdoors so I can say I hiked the AT.

I hiked the AT long enough to realize that I can find what I need here. I can’t speak for what other people find, or don’t find, on the AT. What I found is that I need to write, to make art, to eat fresh food and stop walking when I want to stop walking. I found that I want to get back to making my own life again, constraints and all.

I have art bouncing around in my head, stories weaving themselves in and out of random thoughts, and I can’t wait to get busy. My feet still can’t hold me up, but I can write. I can draw. As soon as I can walk, I’ll be back to work. I’m looking forward to rebuilding my life. I have a lot more appreciation for my humble building blocks.

Random thoughts before leaving

There are only 3 days before I leave for Atlanta. The trip is still an abstract-though it is getting clearer, like driving through fog. My brother, who loves to buy things, gave me a new backpack yesterday. I must use it, of course, and he says he eagerly awaits the return of this fabulous backpack and stories of how it performed on the Appalachian Trail. I had asked him not to buy anything unnecessary. I wanted to make this trip with what I already had, or could borrow. It is a big part of my personal philosophy, my life’s core values. I use what I have. I take care of things, I keep them orderly, and well maintained. I don’t create unnecessary waste. I don’t  buy processed foods or many new items at all. I’m poor, so that is a big reason, but mainly I am trying to make as little impact with my presence as possible on the earth.

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I  buy only fresh, whole food. Because I don’t buy processed, prepackaged foods, I can afford the good organic stuff. I can experiment with exotic foods to create interest and balance in my diet. I must explain that I do buy some processed foods-dry beans, grains, tea, honey (raw), foods I cannot process myself in order to eat them.

I have only myself to please and support, so I know my decision to live this way is easier than someone who must deal with a husband and children who have become accustomed to Burger King and sausage at breakfast. But I maintain that education about the effects of meat production on the planet, the corporate cruelty, and the negative dietary results can eventually redirect any family toward a healthy, compassionate lifestyle-if they choose to do that.

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In planning this trip, I have thought a lot about my decision to live under the radar, to be as non-intrusive as possible, and I’ve shocked myself at my own hypocrisy. I stayed with friends in order to save money. So much of their behavior annoyed, disgusted and alarmed me that I realized I was only being accepting and compassionate when human behavior was abstract, something on TV or in the  newspaper. I could sigh and shake my head and wish people would calm down, accept their neighbors and their neighbor’s differences. I held my head in my hands when I heard about every little, brutal war in every little beaten-down country. The people who live there have no choice about where they are born and their lives are days on end of poverty and cruelty, their “leaders” bleeding them dry of money, hope, purpose. When I see the deliberate cruelty of corporate farms and the people who run them, casually tossing animals into trucks or beating them because they can, I weep and wish I weren’t  part of this mess at all.

After a few weeks with friends whose personal lifestyle appalled me, I had to re-educate myself. When I caught myself silently bitching about some behavior  (no, I’m not going to list sloppy housekeeping or personal hygiene here, that’s not the point) I would mentally step back, open my hands and raise my arms to the sky. It is what it is, I would chant, their life is not mine to change or judge. They are encouraging my decision and helping as they can. I do not have the right to belittle anyone’s lifestyle or behavior. It helped to breathe deeply, close my eyes and say “let it go.” It does work, if you want it to work. I did have to unclench my fists more than once, I had to bite my tongue. Once I had to leave the house and pay for a motel room, but it was worth it to be in a quiet place and gather my own thoughts. Once I had to let go of a relationship, but that, too, was easier to do once I accepted that the person was not who I thought they were, something we can’t know without actually living with them. And it’s alright for people to come and go in my life. I’m sure the person I let go of has also let go of me. I am not important in the big picture, after all. Yes, I am connected to everything, everything is connected to me, so my importance is no more or less than the boxwood by the drive, or the cardinal in the feeder.

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I’ve been reading essays explaining the basics of existentialism (we are responsible for our own behavior-there is no deity who makes us do anything, or decides our fate for us), Buddhism (we are responsible for what we do, everything is interconnected so compassion, being good, is good for everything, including ourselves. Karma is the consequences of every action) and variations of those ideas. I’m tired sometimes, when I read a basic tenant-you are responsible for your actions-and then the explanation goes on and on, page after page. Sometimes I think all these  books about a particular philosophy-take your pick-are long and complicated because we have this idea that philosophers are so much smarter than everyone else that when they say something it must take up hundreds of pages.

For Pete’s sake. I’ve long believed, deep inside most of my conscious life, that of course we’re responsible for our actions. I don’t CARE if your father raped you, that doesn’t justify beating your children until they bleed, or berating your employees in front of everyone else. Using a sad, abusive childhood to excuse your actions is cowardly and lazy. It seems to me that most of us have had traumatic events in our childhood and young lives. It’s like making pots. They are beautiful as wet clay, but useless for any purpose. They must be fired. Some don’t survive the firing process, but the ones that do are strong and functional as well as beautiful. We must undergo a firing process or some sort of rite of passage before we are truly adult. I’ve known people who appeared to have lived idyllic childhoods and they are mostly useless as adults. They don’t understand other people, they are pale and weak and often unable to make difficult decisions.

Having trauma in your young life doesn’t have to make you incapable of growing up, of accepting the consequences of your choices. You can learn to be an adult. It isn’t easy, but it’s worth it. Education helps me see every day that my life, the one I have and the only one I figure I’m getting, should be lived with appreciation, enthusiasm, and no regrets. Oh, I regret not figuring this out sooner, but  I no longer regret the decisions that led me here. I mourn my youth, of course, and I mourn the time I lost because I didn’t realize it would pass so quickly.

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Now, I’m planning to walk 2,000 miles to listen to Nature in Her own element . I will emerge somewhere on the Trail, I hope, and will be a cleaner, purer Self, the one I’ve been trying to build these past 10 years . I am a little frightened, because it’s a journey into the Unknown (in spite of all the books written about hiking the AT) and because I don’t know who this person is that I’m trying to find. That sounds so 60’s and flakey but I haven’t figured out another way to say it.

By this time next week, I’ll be hiking the trail, trying to get used to the rawness of wind and rain and sleeping on the ground. I’ll be getting used to the sound of my own breathing, and the beating of my heart after climbing hills and mountains and rocks. I’ve hiked enough, alone, to know what to expect at first. Knowing it will go on longer than a few hours, or days, leaves me anxious, but not profoundly. It  will go on longer than some jobs I’ve had, I will be walking farther than I’ve ever driven. I will be my own world longer than I ever have before. But then, I’ll also be able to sit and listen and look as long as I want, as long as Nature allows me to be part of Her day-to-day activities. If I get in the way, I know She’ll simply brush me aside, so I must be mindful of what is going on all the time. She won’t be responsible for my carelessness, She won’t catch my arm if I go tumbling down a slippery hill. I will be on my own more than I ever have. There is fearfulness in my heart, but there is also a great anticipation, like going onstage. There is no real audience, except for me. The animals most likely won’t even reveal themselves, just crouch in the underbrush, giggling at yet another two-legger bumbling through their property.

I can hardly wait.

roadblocks

The date for the art show looms closer and it seems everything that can go wrong has…and, no, I’m not surprised!

It’s even difficult writing since I sliced my finger a couple of nights ago. The bandage makes me hit several keys at once so my poor typing is really crappy now. Bear with me, please?

My car died a sudden and violent death on I-26 as I was coming back from dropping art at the photographer’s. It was as if I suddenly STOMPED on the brakes. I did have a couple of seconds of shuddering before the big STOMP so I put on my turn signal and began easing off the road – the truck behind me knew something was up so luckily he managed to get in the passing lane-the truck behind him went around on my right side, on the shoulder. Miraculously, there wasn’t an accident. I couldn’t get the car all the way off the road. A man stopped and told me to put it in neutral so he could push it off. I tried to explain that it wasn’t going anywhere-when he couldn’t push it, he gave up and told me to get out of the car because someone was going to hit me. Heavy traffic and everyone going 70+ made his statement a fact. Another man who was with the work crew I had passed earlier (in another life-when my car MOVED when I pressed the gas pedal) and pulled me off the road.

I called AAA. It only took a little more than an hour for them to get there…and anyone who has had car trouble knows the rest of the story-inconvenience, dirty looks from drivers who obviously have never had car trouble. Yeah, I thought, I made my car stop in traffic so I could wait out here in this heat just to inconvenience you by making you slow down to 60. Yeah, this is FUN!

Anyway, I have no money; of course, I have been paying for a website, photography, supplies, etc., trying to get my art business going. I have a full time job that doesn’t pay much so I have been skating from paycheck to paycheck, hoping that if I can make enough really good stuff this could be my “breakout” show since I have the website and professional photos to submit to other shows and galleries…and the show is the 19th. I’m almost there.

Almost there. The work I’m making is good. New designs are swimming in my head every night when I settle down to sleep. Almost there.

If I can hang on until this show, even if I don’t sell a single damn thing, I will feel as if I have gotten over some kind of huge roadblock, the kind the Universe sets up to keep you in your comfort zone-and if you can get past it you can move on. Grow.

I won’t go into great, depressing details about the roadblocks that have littered my path the past few years-along the way I have lost everything except my need to write and make art. It is, literally, all I have. Send me positive energy, reader; help me get over, past, and though, this roadblock.