struggling with anxiety

this summer has been a long struggle for me. i’ve had moments and days of beauty and wonder and happiness, but they’ve been bookended by physical and mental struggles that are outside my normal range. i’ve been dealing with nearly overpowering anxiety. i’m easily stressed and pushed to tears, i’ve lost so much of my energy and enthusiasm for athletics and eating and spending time with others, physically i just don’t feel well. it seems like i always have a sour stomach or headache or am tired or feeling on edge/unhappy. anxiety about even tiny things builds me up into knots and it keeps me restless for days. turns me nervous and pensive. pushes me deep inside a shell and i just want to keep hiding and pretend there is and i hope this emotional drain is passing and no problem.

i have dealt with similar problems in the past, but nothing like this intensity or longevity has popped up before. it’s so frustrating. i wish there was some quick-fix but one doesn’t exist. through counseling, i’ve learned some techniques that have helped me cope, but crawling out of this hole is such a long process. whatever triggered this path down the dark, shameful spiral of anxiety is a complete mystery. i thought things were fine and then…i just hit a wall. it’s so hard to accept that these destructive, awful feelings are real.

being so open and public about emotions is very difficult for me, but for some reason this felt important. maybe my admission will help someone else along, or maybe it’s okay just to put this out into the void anyway.

tunesday (late edition): suddenly everything has changed

everything changes, always.  today i realised how much my job has turned into a career (weird, i know) and how i care a lot about it, about impressing my boss, about taking on more responsibility and learning and being more awesome all the time.

and later today, looking for hotels to stay in while i’m visiting san diego next month – how painful it is to stay in my former city as a tourist and not a local.  i have so many painful and beautiful memories tied up in san diego.  i was trying so hard when i lived there, to build a life, and to have something good with my husband, and to be a better person, and my dreams kind of curled up and turned into dust.  i love the city but it makes me sad, too.  i used to listen to this song while i lived there and think about time rushing by me, thoughts of pink sunsets and a life together and now it’s six years later and holy cats.  this is how it happens.

travelogue: krakow

sweeping east on a night train from prague, in which we shared a compartment with a sweet ukranian-american family and their cute baby, i discovered that waking up in a new country is magical.  it also felt kind of special to travel to poland because i have family history there– i have one ancestor from sweden, but a larger part of my family tree originates in poland/ukraine.

krakow is a city full of intense emotional leftovers.   near six million poles were killed during the war, approximately 16% of the population.    not only was auschwitz located in poland, but the nazis implemented practices to eradicate the polish culture and people.  krakow was where schindler’s list took place.  auschwitz is only 50km away from krakow.  the city was heavily bombed during the war, including some of the impressive buildings in the city’s main square, but so much of it has been rebuilt it was hard to tell that anything had ever been destroyed.

the pain of the people was so large–it was hard to walk through the jewish quarter, to visit auschwitz, to see people my grandparents’ age and think about all the suffering.  visiting auschwitz itself was so terrible.  i didn’t even want to go.  i wanted to be a coward and not face its horror.  i was nauseous the entire time i was at the camp.  being there was such a horrible feeling.  it was the worst place on earth, so haunted it was just hollow.  i felt like an animal being led into places it does not want to go.  i wanted to dig in my heels and retreat and not walk through buildings housing crematoria, torture chambers and hair shorn from the one million people who died in the camps. it was overwhelming and terrible. growing up in canada, i really had no concept of how many people suffered in the world wars. traveling around europe, seeing bullet holes in buildings, memorials, etc, really hit it home to me.

the first synagogue i’d ever been inside. so beautifully decorated! still being restored from the damage it sustained during wwii when nazis used it as a stable

inside a jewish cemetery, looking at the old jewish quarter

memory stones (i think) on headstones. this particular cemetery was the only place i saw this custom.

the cemetery wall, made up of reclaimed headstones. the nazis smashed them and used them for paving, sidewalks, etc.

i just cannot fathom the depth of this tragedy.

but krakow was not all pain, it was happy people celebrating the euro 2012 soccer match, people sitting in squares and cafes and visiting farmer’s markets and playing the trumpet. it was 24hr perogy restaurants, the largest square in medieval europe, intense thunderstorms, matryoshka dolls, beautiful amber jewelery, greying plaster buildings, crazy traffic that was only rarely constrained by stoplights.  malls and museums and pastry shops full of things i wanted to eat.  we ate at a swanky hotel which used to be exclusively for communist bigwigs, drank polish beer, cheered for soccer teams like the locals.

a communist-built car, before they started eschewing styles like fins

inside wawel castle grounds

accordions, market square

a latte while i was hiding from a thunderstorm that blew up suddenly

was attempting a long-exposure of the rain, and caught a lightning-strike as well.

planty (park ringing the old city) at night

wheelchair basketball in the main square

from there, we headed deeper into the former ussr.

check out the other parts of my trip: reykjavik pt 1pt 2, oslo, stockholm, copenhagen, berlin, prague .

inkformation v. 1

portmanteaus are pretty much my favourite, so i bring you a new blog-feature. ink-formation. get it? ink/information? GROAAAAAAN

ok, now that we have that over with, i wanted to share a few of my tattoos with you, specifically the ones i have gotten for other people.

THE FIRST

is a coffee cup that says FRED. it’s kinda silly; it’s for my super-goofy grandpa z (mom’s dad). his name is harold, but he calls everyone fred cause he thinks it’s funny. when i was living in the us, he was diagnosed with cancer and for some time was refusing treatment. i kind of panicked and thought i’d never see him again; but then he caved and got the tumour removed and was fine (no chemo necessary!) and since then we have had some nice visits.

the reason i chose a coffee cup was that he has always had this warm grandpa smell of coffee and cigarettes. obviously (i hope) i wouldn’t get a tattoo of a cigarette, so coffee it was.

THE SECOND

(hah, i’m even wearing the same shirt in the photos! crazy coincidence, since they were taken something like 3 years apart)

the second is a strawberry for my grandma w (dad’s mom). i spent a lot of time with her growing up; my parents split up early, and my dad and his parents live near eachother, so they were kind of automatic babysitters. i have fond memories of long summer afternoons with my grandma in her giant garden, picking strawberries, peas, raspberries, carrots, etc. i remember searching for kittens and for eggs under hens; holding tiny chicks in my hands until they fell asleep; feeding the sheep, checking on ewes and lambs; her putting my hair in a bun before ballet every week; watching her strong hands peel vegetables; being spoiled by her getting our favourite kinds of ice cream and letting us have some every day after school if we wanted.

my sweet babushka-wearing grandma was diagnosed with alzheimer’s disease maybe six or seven years ago. she’s progressed fairly slowly, in that the time between diagnoses and death averages seven years. she’s still living at home, but won’t be for much longer. she’s really cheerful even though she’s pretty much oblivious to everything around her and can’t follow conversations. it’s painful to accept that she has slipped away but i have had a few precious moments with her. because her mind was in the past, she shared some stuff with me about working on the farm after my dad was born. although i spent much of my childhood with her, in many ways we had a surface relationship. i didn’t, and still don’t, know a tonne about her past, so it was a real gift to find out a little more before she slipped back into whatever reality she inhabits.

it feels like my grandma is already gone, even though her body is still here. i got this tattoo to keep the good memories of her alive and not buried by the more recent sad ones.

THE THIRD

(and unlikely to be the last dedication) is a lady gouldian finch for my good friend vanessa. it is colourful and grumbledy, just like her.  unfortunately, it’s impossible to photograph the entire bird at once due to the curve of my small arm, but let me assure you it has a beautiful blue-and-green tail wrapping around my wrist.

vanessa has been a really important part of my life for something like six years. she has been such a solid, wonderful friend since we met. when she finds people she likes, she kind of adopts them as her friend and i’m so lucky to be a recipient of her intentions. for most of our friendship, we have lived in different cities, and now that we’re in the same place it’s a real treat.

she always bosses me into taking photos that turn out incredible. she makes me laugh so hard (she has this polished vulgarity that kills me) and gives me great advice when i need it, even if it’s a kick in the ass. she’s wonderfully direct. she has great style and always looks well put together. she’s so smart, has an incredible vocabulary, eclectic tastes and is such a talented artist. we have long been planning to get a tattoo together but nothing suitable has ever occurred to us. when i started working on adding birds to my left arm in 2008 i knew i’d add a piece for her. she is irreplaceable and such a gift in my life. we have had some wonderful times shopping, looking at art, painting our nails and taking photos together. i am so looking forward to many more!

going beyond it

today, january fifth, is such a hard day for me. it is my wedding anniversary. five years ago, greg and i started a journey that brought us so much happiness and so much sadness. it seems important that i acknowledge it; last year, after everything fell apart, i took pains to conceal the break-up or just avoid mentioning the whole thing altogether, on this blog and in other online communities i participate in. i felt so vulnerable. i was so afraid people would say ‘i told you so’ or be otherwise unsupportive (for all i know, they have been, but not to my face. yay!). i didn’t really want to enter any kind of discourse about it except with those closest to me.

i can’t just pretend that this day isn’t happening, that five years ago greg and i weren’t celebrating our love in a series of small ways. i can’t hide the cynicism i have toward marriage and formal unions, the small bitter sadness i feel when hearing others plan their weddings lives together. i don’t see the point in dating anyone because everything ends, eventually. it’s a dark view that doesn’t resonate with my generally positive outlook on life, but right now it’s all i can see. it’s more important to me to put time into myself and my friendships because romantic partners are unreliable companions.

before i got married, i was so nervous! i talked to my friend maggie, who advised that i’d probably regret not doing it more than i would regret taking the plunge, and i think she was right. despite all of this–i have been so grateful to the experiences that came my way, the people i met, the places i traveled. the love i experienced.

although, in one way, i have been very fortunate. greg and i have worked through our problems, forgiven each other, and become close friends. we have realised the difficult differences that keep us apart and the things we love that keep us close. the gap in my life is still there, though; the plans we made together, how it felt to have a constant companion.

it would be dishonest not to list the ways my life has been positive since the separation: my move to vancouver, my artistic flowering, the massive amount i have learned about myself, the new closeness, honesty and peace in my relationship with greg. but god damn it, today i cannot help but to reflect on the love i saw before me on my wedding day and compare it to the lonely-sadness that creeps up once in a while. but it’s okay. it’s to be expected. every year it will get better. i’m not sad all the time–usually i’m quite content to be on my own, but this day is causing my introspection. pain is ephemeral, and i’ll forget. i have so much happiness in my life. this one sad day will not be able to hold my attention for so long.

passing

the past couple days have brought news of death; first, a friend’s brother. They were so close and he was very young, only 23. How do you comfort? There’s nothing to say. I don’t know; words fail me, so I put it into felt.

It’s a sugar skull for her. They’re reminders of those who have gone before us. Mexican tradition holds that the dead get saddened when we remember them sadly, so this is to keep happy thoughts in our hearts. They make a colourful mockery of death. While I was sewing, I kept thoughts of them both very close to me.

And the other news that darkened my day: the young Beninese girl I’ve been sponsoring for about three years died of a snakebite. She was only twelve years old…I really enjoyed getting her letters, her lumpy cursive and French simple enough for me to read.

Not to mention, I have been re-reading the Anne of Green Gables series, and they are full of death! UGH passage of time, shortness of life, futility of really planning anything…! What a pessimistic few days. When older people die, it’s sad, but not with the sharpness that accompanies the passing of the young. Sad times in this old brain of mine.

To round it out, here is a poem I have been mulling over the past few days.

When Death Comes

When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse

to buy me, and snaps his purse shut;
when death comes
like the measle-pox;

when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,

I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering;
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,

and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,

and each name a comfortable music in the mouth
tending as all music does, toward silence,

and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.

When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was a bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened
or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.

~ Mary Oliver ~