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Posts Tagged ‘anxiety’

I need a root canal. Deciding that the tooth pain was bad enough to warrant a dental appointment wasn’t super fun. Confirming that I needed a root canal – first at my dentist’s office, then at the endodontist – was agony. 

The dentist kept saying he was sorry for causing me pain, even though the whole point of the tests he was doing was to elicit pain. It was kind, but I have that reflex where I say, “that’s okay” or “it’s not that bad” in response to someone apologizing, which felt a) silly and b) untrue. 

The endodontist did not apologize; not in a sadist-y way; he was kind, but just sort of stood there watching me clutch at my jaw as tears leaked from my eyes. He also offered me an Advil. His tests – which were very similar to the ones my dentist had done, just 30 minutes earlier – elicited a MUCH higher pain response. One test – he put liquid nitrogen or something on a swab and swabbed my tooth – hurt so bad that I cried. And then I felt ridiculous for crying. I tried to comfort myself by thinking that I couldn’t be the ONLY person to ever cry in that office; that must be why the assistant had tissues at the ready for me to dry my tears.

My dentist thinks, based on how nervous I get for dental work, that I need some sort of extra medication. Either something like V@lium or @tivan prior to the appointment, or conscious sedation during the procedure. He said, kindly, “That’s what I would recommend for my wife; she gets nervous about dental work. But I’m just telling you the options – you don’t need it. I wouldn’t do it, myself. Dental work doesn’t bother me.” Which made me wonder: ARE there people who are unbothered by dental work??????? This was a wholly novel concept to me. I figured that there was a spectrum, of course, from moderately nervous to requiring sedation just for a simple cleaning. But I never once imagined that there exist human beings who don’t mind dental work. 

(As for my spot on the spectrum: I get nervous for a simple dental cleaning; I clench my hands into fists, my arms and legs are rigid the entire time, I have to do anti-anxiety breathing while I’m in the chair, waiting for the exam to begin. I did a LOT of focused breathing today, let me tell you. And then cried in my car all the way home.)

The thing is, for me to do any sort of pre-medication, I need someone to drive me to and from the appointment. And my husband is unlikely to be able to do that anytime in the near future, if at all. And I don’t know that I have any friends who I would feel comfortable asking. So I am feeling very sorry for myself indeed. I suppose there is always Uber, but I have never once used Uber so that’s another hurdle to surmount.

Part of the reason I cried in the car (aside from the lingering tooth pain following the swab) was that I felt so ridiculous about crying. The crying was bad enough on its own. But then I couldn’t stop crying. And even when I finally got the actual tears under control, I still had Wobbly Voice. Ugh. I couldn’t stop thinking of that awful anesthesiologist who commented on my ability to withstand pain when I was in labor. Maybe I have a very low pain threshold, and other people are going around dealing with similar or worse pain without being fazed one bit. And maybe everyone thinks I am a huge baby who is making a mountain out of a molar pain. And I am FORTY YEARS OLD for floss sake, why can I not just GET IT TOGETHER like the adult I supposedly am instead of acting like a whiny child? 

This is just the latest in a run of negative self-talk that I can’t seem to squash. It started with my writing and has since spilled over into every other aspect of my life. 

I am suspecting – and hoping – that it has at least something to do with the calendar: both the monthly calendar, which has spun right around to canker sores and chocolate cravings, and the annual calendar, which has turned once again to the anniversary of my friend’s death. Not to mention, we are now sliding down the dark slope of fewer hours of sunshine each day and facing the looming pressures of the holiday season. 

While I do my focused breathing and wait for the calendar to flip a few pages forward, if you have any advice for how you pull yourself out of this kind of self-talk tailspin, I would greatly appreciate it. For now, I have self-medicated with Trader Joe’s macaroni and cheese and some of my only-on-the-weekends good tea. And, of course, I am blabbering it all to you. (Thank you for listening.)

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Important note: Carla has recently discovered that she likes sourdough bread, and especially so if it is toasted and coated in butter. She refers to this as “sour toast” which is its name henceforth and forevermore.

This morning I helped myself to two (2) healthy slabs of sour toast, which was small compensation for a night that was not in the least bit restful. 

The troubles began at tennish when my husband and I were laughing heartily along to Derry Girls – if you, like me, are very behind on Good Shows, please note that so far this one is Very Good – and my daughter poked her head into the kitchen to inform us that she was (metaphorical ironic jazz hands) still! awake! 

First, we allowed her to come snuggle with us on the couch. We carried on a silent conversation with our eyes about whether we should turn the TV back on and see if she would simply fall asleep there; that has worked exactly once in the past. (We decided against it. Not only has it only ever worked once, but this show also uses curse words with great gusto and Carla is at an age where she loves to say, “Did that person say the f-word Mommy? Why did they say the f-word?” except she likes to USE the f-word because it is a Sanctioned Circumvention of the no-cursing rule.) In the end, we took her back to her room and did all the soothing, get-back-to-bed things – set up a lamp that shed more light than a nightlight but less light than the one on her bedside table, adjusted her covers for optimum temperature, played some spa music on her ipad, lots of hugs and kisses and reassurance that she could leave her room if she was still asleep in half an hour – and went back to Derry Girls

As a totally unnecessary aside, that I still feel I need to share as Important Background, the “you can come tell us in thirty minutes if you are still awake” directive stems from a night earlier this year. Carla woke up at midnight and then proceeded to try to get herself back to sleep – which I commend! – for TWO HOURS until she finally came to me for help. At that point, I didn’t think it was advisable to give her melatonin (why? because it was the middle of the night and my reasoning faculties were sleep-logged), PLUS she was already so awake that there was no getting back to sleep at all. I tried ALL my get-back-to-sleep techniques (including rubbing her back and singing her lullabies) for an hour before we finally gave up and went downstairs and turned on the TV. If she had come to me at midnight when she first woke up, or at 12:30 when she’d given getting back to sleep a good solid go, a) I would have been more likely to be awake and b) I would definitely have given her melatonin. Anyway. Now she has a thirty minute limit to how long she needs to lie awake by herself. 

She did indeed return after thirty minutes. It was by now eleven. 

This time, I gave her melatonin and crawled into bed with her and rubbed her back. She was very chatty for a child who should have been asleep for three hours at that point. It was upsetting to hear her have the same thoughts that I have when I can’t sleep: if I don’t sleep NOW, I will only get X hours of sleep! What if I never fall asleep? What if I am tired tomorrow? I tried to reassure her that it totally doesn’t matter if she doesn’t even sleep at ALL (no school), and that she will feel tired but that’s okay. We can have a low-key day and/or take a nap and/or go to bed early. That seemed to smooth out some of the rumply anxious feelings, so I went to bed and read and tried not to worry that every sound was Carla popping out of bed to tell me she was still awake (semi-frantic metaphorical jazz hands).

At around midnight, the thunder started, so of course Carla popped into our room, this time awake but also Scared Of Thunder and worrying about power outages and whether we would have to relocate to the basement. 

(Did you do this, growing up? Pretty much any time we had a thunderstorm when I was a kid, we’d load up armfuls of blankets and pillows and stuffed animals and flashlights and head into the basement to wait it out. This may be because of Tornado Concern, although my memory is fuzzy on the details. Anyway, it’s still my immediate response to a severe storm: get to the basement!) (My husband did not have the same childhood experience of storms, nor is he remotely concerned about weather, so we occasionally have Heated Discussions about whether we need to go to the basement or not. Carla has probably overheard those discussions, which is probably why she was so concerned about it.) (Our current, finished, carpeted-with-couches-and-a-TV basement is a MUCH nicer place to wait out a storm. My childhood basement was unfinished and we used to gather in the exercise room, which had a concrete floor, a Nordic Track, a stationary bike, and a set of weight lifting equipment. It did have a small, old-fashioned-even-for-the-time black-and-white-TV.) 

Carla set up a little nest of blankets on our bedroom floor and eventually we all fell asleep. But I was awakened throughout the night by very obnoxious wind. 

Possibly because of Tornado Fear, I really hate wind. And I know that some parts of the country experienced tornadoes last night, which is devastating, and my heart goes out to the people who lost their property and homes and loved one. I feel deeply grateful for (currently) being safe in my own home, with my family, and working electricity. But I also know that the whims of catastrophe could descend upon us at any time – it is purely luck that we haven’t encountered a devastating event yet.

So every time the wind shook the gate next to my bedroom, or sent a bucket of rain slamming into the window, I would jerk into wakefulness and lie there, shaking, desperately scrolling through the radar section of my weather app, trying to determine from the little moving blobs of color whether we were nearing the end of the storm or whether tornadoes were imminent, and wondering if we have a local tornado siren, and wondering if the neighbor’s tree – which scrapes shriekingly against their siding in even a gentle breeze – is going to snap off and pierce the wall beside my bed, and, if so, would it reach my husband and leave Carla an orphan or just impale me. 

Of course, today also happens to be Trash Day, so I would wake up at any sound of the trash bins flapping, alert to the possibility that the recycling bin would topple over and spill cans and bottles and cardboard boxes all over the street. Would I emerge from my house to find my neighbors judging the number of pickle jars and wine bottles and cans of tomato puree I use in a week? And just how many Target boxes does one person need, really? (Not as many as Target thinks I need, that’s for sure.) Would I be chasing down soda cans and peeling soggy medical journals off my driveway all morning? 

The arrhythmic crescendo and decrescendo of the wind – plus the addition of the normal slam and clang of the garbage trucks making their rounds – finally tore me away from any semblance of sleep at about six. I lay there worrying about things like power outages (mainly, the prospect of losing all the frozen meat and veggies in my freezer) and insurance coverage (based on previous snow/wind destruction, we are already pretty sure insurance doesn’t cover damage to our arborvitae, but would it pay to replace the swingset?) and the possibility of tornadoes and some additional really dark, upsetting things until seven when a particularly lusty gust sent the now-empty garbage bins tumbling down the street. Ours were in the middle of the road and had to be moved immediately, which gave me an excuse (as opposed to doing something healthy like getting up to write or exercise or ANYTHING else besides worry endlessly) to get out of bed and start the day. 

We have a huge oak in the backyard that is perfect roof-crushing size and distance from our house. Until recently, I had never considered that it posed a threat to our neighbors’ homes as well – I suppose it could do some damage, but I don’t think it would crush the entire roof right over the sleeping inhabitants’ heads as it would if it fell on our house. In any case, earlier this month, we had an arborist come out and prune it. We’d set this appointment up in August, although I don’t have the faintest idea whether that’s a reasonable timeframe for securing the services of an arborist.

On the long-awaited day, two giant trucks arrived, carrying at least four people. But only two people emerged from the trucks – one to talk to me about the plan, and the other to execute the plan. The plan executor used a series of ropes and pulleys to climb up our tree, seemingly on his own – the other three people were nowhere in sight during his ascent or descent or pretty much at all in between; I guess mainly they moved the cut branches from our backyard to the front yard – and somehow carrying a chainsaw, and it all made me deeply uncomfortable. The entire time he was here, I kept darting from window to window, taking photographs and marveling at how many branches he extracted and trying to keep him firmly in the tree with the power of my brain.

This is an objectively terrible photo but it DOES capture a) man in tree, b) CHAINSAW, c) DANGLING, d) no one around to offer any sort of support, moral or otherwise, e) all the branches. And it gives you some sense of how tall the tree is, with a good thirty percent of the tree missing from the top of the photo..

I sent one of the photos to my husband – a photo of the man in the tree – and made a dumb joke about how the squirrels were really out of control this spring, har har. But then later, when the human arborist told me that our backyard squirrel (Howard, we call the squirrel Howard) was quite irate with him (human) for tampering with HIS (squirrel) tree, and I passed that information along to my husband (human), he (husband) was very confused about which squirrels in which situations were real or human. I didn’t think it was that confusing, but I was the one relaying the story. And the one referring to a human person (arborist) as a squirrel.  

The arborist cut off a LOT of dead branches. That’s what one of the two giant trucks was for – turning the branches into woodchips and hauling them away. (I have no idea what the other truck was for. Medical supplies, in case the arborist fell out of the tree?) With the oak being so tall, the size of the branches is disguised by distance. But once they were on the ground, it was clear just how enormous and abundant they were. I wish I had taken better photographs of just how many branches there were. (I felt ridiculous, scurrying around from window to window, trying to get good shots without alerting the arborist to my paparazzing.) 

After he was done pruning, the arborist also “sounded” (?) the trunk and examined any wounds on the tree, and declared that the tree was healthy and not in danger of falling on my house and crushing me while I sleep. That was, as you might imagine, a relief. 

But it turns out that even a healthy, de-branched oak does not prevent me from hating the wind. 

I keep wanting to find out exactly how gusty these gusts are, and then find out what the typical gusts were during my childhood, and compare them. As though I could say, in a tone of slightly-exasperated reassurance, “Okay, Self, these are only 60-mile-per-hour gusts, when the typical gales you experienced in childhood were 75 miles per hour.” and that would completely soothe my galloping pulse and send me immediately into a deep, untroubled slumber. 

When, in fact, it’s just different. We live in a crowded suburb surrounded by lots of large trees and other potential projectiles (lawn furniture, standing umbrellas, garbage bins, mailboxes) while then I was in my lone house on top of a barren hill, with only a handful of immature pines nearby. Plus, then I was a child, and I had the luxury of parents who could offer comfort, who could also carry the burden of worrying whether we would lose power and two freezers full of food, and of hoping fervently that our insurance covers wind damage, and of listening to the weather station with an ear out for the portent of tornadoes, and of deciding whether it was time to gather in the basement. Now I am the adult, with all of those anxieties to shoulder, while still maintaining an outward expression of competent calm, for the sake of the child who is already beset by so many hand-me-down worries she can’t sleep even before the wind starts blowing.

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Well, yesterday’s sunshine has been washed away by an hours-long thunderstorm that woke me at 6:00 am and seems to have settled right over my house for the duration. It is very dark and wet with intermittent startling bursts of lightning and the grumpy follow-up of growling thunder and I am trying Very Hard to tamp down my School Is Actually Starting Anxiety. So I am retreating into happy memories – forcibly, this time – and still dreamily eating my way through my childhood summers. The food nostalgia is real strong, folks. 

Let’s talk about food! 

Today, for Labor Day, we are having ribs (it will be very fun and soggy to grill them if the downpour continues) and lemony potato salad.

(As an aside, potato salad is one of my Family Tradition Foods. We had it several times a year when I was growing up: New Year’s Day, Super Bowl Sunday, Fourth of July, Labor Day. My mom makes the BEST potato salad – it’s got a mustard base so it’s a nice sunny yellow, and it’s speckled with little bits of pickles and celery and red peppers and also – hork – hard boiled egg. My mom performs some sort of magical chopping technique on the egg so that it becomes dust and I barely even notice it. The potato salad is amazing and when I go to visit her, she makes a big batch of it and I eat it for breakfast. There is NOTHING that beats my mom’s cold potato salad for breakfast, you have to trust me. But even though she hand-wrote a copy of the recipe for me, I cannot make it so that it tastes the way her potato salad tastes. There must be something special she does, or maybe she doesn’t measure the ingredients as exactly as the recipe implies, or maybe she includes some sort of special ingredient like – hork – love. Whatever it is, I cannot replicate the flavor. So I have found my own potato salad recipe that I love but which tastes NOTHING like my mom’s. So even though it is Tradition to eat potato salad on Labor Day, it doesn’t really feel like tradition, because we’re not eating the traditional potato salad. Have I used the words tradition and potato salad often enough to create semantic satiation?) 

(My family is still sort of floundering to find our own Family Tradition Foods. Even for Thanksgiving and Christmas, we haven’t really settled on specific meals that are so good we want to eat them every year forever and ever amen. And that’s okay! I think variety is wonderful! But I also have such fond food-related memories of holidays growing up. The foods we ate at specific times throughout the year took on such significance – and eating something like my mom’s potato salad can bring so much warmth and happiness flooding back that I would love to create the same kind of thing for Carla. Of course, there’s the added hiccup that Carla doesn’t EAT anything, so…)

(Family Tradition Foods must be a thing for other families, too, yes? Do you have any that you remember with fondness? Or horkitude, I suppose – I’d be interested to know about the Special Food your dad made every September First that only he liked to eat, or, like, the hot dish Aunt Violetta used to bring to every family barbecue that you all pretended to love, but would dump behind the shrubbery at the earliest opportunity, or whatever.)

Back to the Labor Day holiday pigging: my husband made these AMAZING brownie crinkle cookies for dessert. We may have eaten some yesterday already. You know. To make sure they weren’t poisonous, and weren’t going to ruin the holiday or anything. They are so fudgy and delicious. You should make them immediately. 

Here’s what else is on this week’s menu. Spoiler alert: it’s full of comfort food.

Dinners for the Week of September 7-13

As I have already mentioned, several times, Carla is starting in-person school this week. She goes to a very small private school that has expended significant money and thought into how to make in-person school work safely for all involved. We feel hopeful and grateful and that this is the best decision we can make for our family at this time… but I am still nervous. Any and all distractions, especially but not limited to food-related memories or your dinner plans for this week, would be MOST welcome and appreciated. 

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Yesterday, I parted my hair on the opposite side. It felt and looked very weird and I do not think I will repeat that particular experiment.

 

One of the remarkable things about These Unprecedented Times is that going to the grocery store has now become such a major source of stress. I realize this is not a new topic nor a concern specific to me. But I am Right In It now and it’s so odd. I literally had stress dreams about the grocery store last night – where I discovered at the last minute that the store was open a whole hour before I thought it would be and I was able to dash in and grab some half-and-half. I mean, this is causing Major Anxiety these days which is absolutely ridiculous.

It’s been about twenty days since I last set foot in the grocery store, and a little less than two weeks since I picked up a curbside order (which did NOT contain half-and-half). I was supposed to go to the grocery store yesterday, a plan I’d been working toward for many days. Our store opens at eight and has seniors/immunocompromised shoppers hours until nine. My plan was to arrive right at nine and get in and get out quickly. But my husband actually had patients that morning (which is A Good Thing) and had to go into the office, so I couldn’t go. He has patients this morning, too (also A Good Thing). So yesterday we decided I would go later in the afternoon, once my husband got home.

I ordered a mask, which is supposed to arrive sometime later this week. So I fashioned a mask out of an old baby blanket and hair ties. And I got all dressed — in actual Real Clothes — put my hair in a bun, even put my contacts in, and drove to the grocery store. And then I chickened out. The parking lot was SO FULL. And there was a line of people outside stretching along the entire side of the building. Which I know is a good, smart innovation. And yet it made me feel all panicky and trembly so I turned around and came home.

But we obviously still need groceries. So I filled a virtual cart at the grocery store that offers curbside pickup. Curbside pickup is not ideal – for one thing, I worry that I am taking a spot from someone who has limited mobility or is immunocompromised or for whom going into an actual store is otherwise difficult/impossible. Plus, on a selfish level, it’s so much easier to be able to decide on the fly that the store doesn’t have fresh strawberries so I am going to get frozen berries or blueberries instead, rather than counting on the grocery store shopper to find an appropriate substitution. Curbside pickup is not something I am relying on, is what I’m saying. But it worked fairly well the first time I did it. And I figured it would be good to have a backup if I can’t get to the store myself, or if I do  get to the store but they are out of half-and-half.

The app for curbside pickup allows you to choose a date and time from a selection of five upcoming days. At least, that’s the idea. These days, all the spots are full. This means that the earliest possible date I could hope to pick up my order would be this coming Sunday. And that’s only if I happen to open the app at the exact right time and catch the new pickup times before they fill.

This happened last time, too. I stalked the app for three days at all hours of the day. The timeslots opened up one morning and I was able to grab one. So I tried it at midnight last night… and then woke up at five to try it… and then seven… and then kept checking all through the eight o’clock hour… At nine o’clock, the app added Sunday as an option… But all the timeslots were full.

This is not anything to be Truly Panicked about. We still have plenty of food. But we are down to our last package of ground beef. We have only one remaining can of chickpeas. We have no eggs. And we are going to run out of half-and-half ANY MINUTE NOW which makes me feel very anxious.

This is all SO RIDICULOUS. I know that I am in a very, very privileged situation. I think of the news footage of miles and miles of cars lined up at food banks across the country and I feel ashamed. We can OF COURSE survive just fine without ground beef and without half-and-half. We have PLENTY of food. Obviously, we are FINE. But it turns out that running out of half-and-half is my personal grocery store breaking point.

Can I also say that my husband and I are having… disagreements about grocery shopping? We have always been on opposite ends of the preparedness spectrum. Even in The Time Before, I have always been the type of person who prefers to have a backup ready to go before I even start to run out of something. For instance, Carla eats a lot of frozen pancakes, so I always have two boxes in the freezer. When we get down to the last two or three of the first box, I put pancakes on the list. That kind of thing. (I also grew up in a remote, cold place where it was prudent to never allow your gas tank to be under half full; even today when I have a gas station within walking distance of my house, I still get very nervous if the gas dips below the half-full point. Maybe the food thing is related.)

Yesterday when I went to mix the ingredients for chili powder, I discovered that we are nearly out of paprika (which I use A Lot), and that we are – for me – uncomfortably low on garlic powder, oregano, and cumin. My husband sees that the (admittedly giant) canisters are still about a third full and says we don’t need the spices urgently. But to ME, I don’t WANT to need them urgently. I want to have backups ready to go.

The same goes for tortillas and chickpeas and sour cream and cheddar cheese and pancakes and iceberg lettuce and carrots and ranch dressing and chicken breasts and black beans and taco shells and hot sauce and onions and all the other things that make me feel like I can put together a normal and/or comforting meal. Do we need  cheddar cheese to survive? Of course not. But does it make me feel better to have a backup in the fridge? Yes.

This is how I would feel in Normal Times, too. But I feel it even more acutely now, when a) who knows when I will be a store where I can purchase these things and b) who knows if the store will even HAVE these items when I do manage to get there.

So my husband and I are experiencing a little friction on the groceries/necessities front, I have to say.

Part of it is that he is frugal and doesn’t see the point of spending money on something that you don’t actually NEED. (To which I say, but we WILL need this thing. Or, if not need, WANT.) Part of it is that he is not the designated shopper, neither now nor in Normal Times, and so doesn’t really fully understand the current shopping situation. I would guess he hasn’t set foot in a grocery store since late February, so he just doesn’t get how different it is. And/or he is in denial about how quickly the situation is going to improve. (Possibly never, says my doomsday brain.) He was surprised when I said that our online options for ordering spices (Costco and Penzeys are the ones I checked) were experiencing delays. (Not to mention that Costco’s website reacted as though oregano is a concept I made up out of thin air.) And yet, even when I point these things out – shortages and delays – he still seems to believe that we can just get whatever we want whenever want it. When I told him I was going to order curbside pickup, he said, “Oh great. Are you going to have it ready to pick up tomorrow?” and I had to temper my incredulous tone when I responded, “Of COURSE NOT, it will be Sunday AT THE EARLIEST before I can hope to pick up the things we ordered, and even then it is HIGHLY LIKELY that we will not get all of what we wanted.”

I would think that he would defer to me in this case, WOULDN’T YOU AGREE?

Pant,  pant,  panic, panic!

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You know a book is good when it’s still on your mind EIGHT YEARS after you first read it. So, while I have VERY MIXED feelings about Gavin de Becker’s  The Gift of Fear, I have to grudgingly admit that it must have a been a good book. I think of it regularly.

The Gift of Fear

Unfortunately, the overwhelmingly strong “lesson” of the book, the one that lingers on nearly a decade after learning it, is that Whatever I Do, I Am Doing the Wrong Thing. If I am anxious and nothing bad happens, it is because I am not paying close enough attention to the perfectly clear signals that are right in front of me for easy interpretation. If I am anxious and yet plow forward with the belief that I am anxious for no reason, and something bad does happen, it is because I was not paying close enough attention to the signals. Either way, I fail. (If you want to read a more balanced review of the book, that lays out its many very good points alongside its weaknesses, check out Swistle’s post about it.)

Anyway, it is on my mind AGAIN this week. I am going to tell you the story, but keep in mind before reading that I told my husband and at the end he was very disappointed that It All Turned Out Okay. So it’s not a story of narrowly escaping Certain Murder, or anything. Just to be clear.

Now that you have surely clicked away to something much more interesting: I go walking in a nature preserve after I drop my daughter off at camp.

The nature preserve is beautiful. It’s got a lot of trees and foliage and wildflowers and birds and rabbits and deer. There are people who take care of it – clearing and repairing the walking paths, protecting species trees with deer-proof fencing, mowing the sides of the walking paths so that the nature doesn’t physically overwhelm you – but it’s still very wild-seeming. It’s bordered on all sides by a bustling suburb, but when you’re in the middle of it, you feel very removed from city life. I like it in great part because it feels fairly isolated and remote.

Nature preserve 1.JPG

This is not a good picture — I was trying (and failing) to photograph a specific purple flower so I could look it up — but it should give you a sense of what the preserve is like. 

Lots of other people like it, too, of course. On a normal, good-weather morning, I might pass twenty or so people as I’m walking. People bring their bicycles, their baby strollers, their dogs. There are a couple of small ponds, so people can fish as well. It’s very pleasant, and lots of people take advantage of it, but I’d never say it was CROWDED.

 

 

Nature preserve map.jpg

Poorly labeled map of the nature preserve.

Recently, a new segment of the preserve has been opened to the public. It has a short loop of walking path and it’s very hilly. A friend recently suggested to me that I might want to switch up my exercise routine (my beloved workout DVD is not giving me the same results as it once did), so I have begun incorporating sprints into my walking efforts. This little loop is perfect for doing a nice sprint-on-the-flat-places, walk-on-the-hills pattern that leaves me feeling exhausted. It seems like the general public either hasn’t discovered it yet, or steers clear of it because of the hills, so it’s nice and quiet and I can gasp for breath in peace. I usually see maybe one to three people while I’m staggering up and down those hills.

On Monday, I saw not a single person. There’s construction on the road that leads into the preserve, which may be keeping some people away. Plus, it’s been HOT. I passed one guy in a bright green T-shirt as I was entering this side-loop area, but he was on the sidewalk outside the preserve (I think), and I didn’t see anyone else. I hit the gravel entrance to the loop and started sprinting. I am no longer fast, which is major blow to my ego. Whatever. Age is a jerk.

I did two loops, planning to do four. Leading into the third loop, I heard a rustling in the grass to my right. I wasn’t scared — there are so many squirrels and frogs and groundhogs that call the nature preserve home, “brush rustling” is not an uncommon sound. I did wonder mildly if there were any mountain lions in our area; I know that coyotes come into the preserve at night, but I’ve never seen a coyote and don’t have a particularly healthy fear of them. (They seem scrawny and timid, which is probably a VAST misconception.) (I am going to meet my end at the jaws of a coyote, aren’t I.) Mountain lions are different, though. I tried to remember what you’re supposed to DO if confronted with a mountain lion – make yourself as big as possible, I think? It’s different than with bears; I think, with bears, you’re supposed to speak calmly, wave your arms slowly, and back away with your eyes on the ground – and I kept eyeing trees to see if they were climbable. As if I could climb a tree.

About halfway through the third loop, I was still thinking about the invisible mountain lion. Keep in mind that I do my best thinking when I’m walking, and that I’m usually thinking about the manuscripts I’m writing, in which horrible and violent things happen, usually in nature. My mind was in a Dark Place, is what I’m saying. But I felt like I was on high alert – higher than usual.

I kept scanning the area, noting spots where the vegetation is taller than a man. No one would hide among the cattails, I told myself; the ground must be wet there.

It was so quiet, the heat lying on top of everything like a blanket, dampening sound. No wind. Even the blackbirds, who patrol the preserve with their red badges, calling the all-clear to one another across the bushes, were silent.

I could not get over the strong feeling that someone was watching me, that there were eyes somewhere concealed by the grasses. Even though I kept looking and seeing nothing but nature, it was very unsettling.

When I started thinking that I should have brought my water bottle – which is made of metal, and heavy enough when full that I could use it as a weapon – I realized I was more worried about my own safety than that of my fictional characters.

Okay, I thought, I should leave this isolated section of the preserve and go back to the more heavily populated section.

No, no, I argued with myself. I can’t let a case of the heebie jeebies get the best of me. I still have a whole loop and a half to do! This is just me being lazy and not wanting to do any more sprints!

What would Gavin de Becker tell me to do? I wondered. Would he tell me that I should listen to these signals that are making me feel uncomfortable? Would he tell me that I am not paying attention to all the perfectly clear signals that are saying I am completely safe? (He would wait until something did or did not happen, and then use it as an anecdote to prove whatever point he wanted, is what I think he would do.)

Self-preservation won. It doesn’t matter if I am being silly. It doesn’t matter if I am misinterpreting signals or reading signals that don’t exist. I am uncomfortable and I am going to leave.

And I did.

On the way out of the loop – there’s a little bridge over a little creek that connects the loop to the main section of the preserve – I spotted a man. I am 99% sure it was the same man I saw when I first entered the loop. White guy, tall, slim but not skinny, neon green T-shirt, sunglasses, khaki-colored fishing hat. He may have had a beard – close cropped or stubble, enough to give the impression of darkness on the jaw area. That’s all I remember. The reason he caught my eye was because he was not on the path. He was IN the creek, almost completely hidden from the path by the same grass where I’d started thinking about the mountain lion. Seeing him was startling and very creepy and I was really glad that I was leaving the area.

Now listen. LISTEN. He was probably there fishing! I’d seen him earlier, and I don’t remember that he was holding anything at all, but he could have totally been toting a fishing pole and it didn’t register. Or maybe he was on staff at the nature preserve! (Although later I passed one of the staffers, and he was wearing a dull green vest rather than a bright green T-shirt.) Or maybe he was a scientist studying water sources in urban forest land. Or maybe he was a walker and had climbed into the creek to pee or save a wounded duck or pick up a discarded shoe or something. He was MOST LIKELY there for something completely benign. I mean, at the very least, if you are a murderer/rapist planning to attack a woman in an isolated stretch of nature, would you really wear a NEON GREEN T-shirt to do so? I am SURE he was a perfectly nice guy who was doing something normal and not at all creepy.

Nonetheless, I felt vindicated. I had noticed a disturbance in the atmosphere and had listened to my intuition, and my reaction was based on a real source of potential danger. Probably the situation was not at all dangerous. But I felt much better about cutting my planned workout short when I discovered there actually was someone hiding (perhaps with absolutely no intention to deceive or harm!) behind the tall grass, and that that someone was a man who was bigger than I am.

Gift of fear, FTW!

Okay, now that we are past that long, boring, anticlimactic story, here’s where I ask you some hypothetical questions about how YOU might have reacted.

When I was nearly back to the main portion of the nature preserve, I saw someone coming toward me, heading toward the isolated loop I’d just vacated. I decided that I would tell the person about the man – just say, in an embarrassed, oh-I’m-so-ridiculous tone, that there was a guy there, doing something probably very normal and insignificant, but nonetheless in a kind of creepy and concealed way, and it made me uncomfortable, so I just wanted you to know.

But as the person and I approached one another, I saw that it was a male-presenting person, and that he was well-muscled and had a nice heavy cast on one arm, and, just as I was trying to work up the nerve to tell him ANYWAY, he said good morning and we passed one another and went our separate ways. (This is how most men I encounter in the nature preserve act, by the way! They stick to the paths! They acknowledge you with a wave or a greeting! They do not lurk in creeks under a bridge behind thick vegetation!)

(Distance from the experience is making me feel both silly and defensive. I KNOW that at the time I felt really uncomfortable and creeped out. At the time, telling someone seemed like the right thing to do; NOT telling someone seemed like a deeply cowardly decision. But today, recounting the story, I feel like it seems SO OBVIOUSLY NOT A BIG DEAL that I am rethinking my feelings.)

If it had been a female-presenting person, I would have told her. She may have thought I was ridiculous or unstable or whatever, but she also would have understood.

But a man… I don’t know. I made the judgment based on a) his gender presentation and b) his physicality that he could stand up to the creek wader should he need to.

I feel bad about it still. I wonder if I should have pushed past my feelings of embarrassment.

And I wonder if I really WOULD have been able to share my feelings with a female-presenting person.

(This is the point where my husband said, “Now I expect you to tell me that you looked it up later and a man got attacked and murdered in the same isolated loop you left!” And I shook my head and he sighed and said, “Great story.”) (I did look it up, and there were no reports of any attacks in the area.) (Thank goodness.)

What would you have done?

Would you have listened to your discomfort in the first place, and left the isolated loop?

Would you have told anyone about your discomfort? Would the person’s gender presentation affect whether you told them or not?

Do I tend to WILDLY overthink everything at all times? (YES.)

Nevermind the answer to that last one. It’s been on my mind, and this is my space to excavate those feelings. (Or, more accurately, dumptruck them onto a webpage and never think of them again.) I’m curious to hear your thoughts, if you have them. Or your own Gift of Fear situations.

And I really do think it’s time I read the book again. If only to give Mr. de Becker a second chance.

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Poor Carla is just off  lately. Saturday she ate practically nothing – some bacon and a tomato from her BLT at lunch, a handful of fries; a peanut butter sandwich at our friends’ house that night – and then she ate a great lunch yesterday but literally NOTHING for dinner. Not a single bite. She requested instead to go to bed. But then she woke up at 11:30 and could NOT fall back to sleep. She was up until well past two. Two a.m. in the morning. And if by “she was up” you are assuming that maybe I was sleeping, no. I was reading Harriet the Spy and playing YouTube “spa music” and fetching water and taking her temperature and reading old favorite picture books and giving her Tylenol because her “neck” hurt when she swallowed and making a “nest” in my room beside my bed and lying quietly in the dark and hissing at Carla in my most soothing way to just be STILL and close your EYES.

No surprise that she was dragging this morning. She didn’t eat as much for breakfast as I thought (hoped) she would – most of her smoothie, one French toast stick – and was just kind of slow. Which could be tired slow. Or not-feeling-great slow. Or just plain old Kindergarten Slow. Who knows.

Why is so much of parenting so unknowable? That’s what I’m bemoaning this morning. I mean, I get it. There’s no handbook. No two kids are alike. Yada yada blah. But I have had this particular kid for nearly six whole years so you’d think I’d at least have the hang of dealing with her by now. But you’d have thought incorrectly, I’m sorry to say. (Mainly sorry for me, not so much for you and your misplaced faith in my supposed parenting “ability.”)

There are so many QUESTIONS. And I have answers to SO FEW of them! Sure, some things, like “should she be holding that sharp knife?” and “should I give her a hug?” have simple answers. But so many do NOT.

Some of the questions for which I do not have answers just TODAY:

  • Is “not eating dinner” a totally acceptable thing once in a while, or does it indicate something is WRONG?
  • Does a repeated claim that a child has a headache indicate an actual headache… or is it a bid for attention… or is it a parroting of my own not-infrequent headaches and therefore a cautionary tale against complaining too much about my own minor aches and pains… or is it a way to divert attention away from the not-eating?
  • And if there IS a headache, is it a normal Everyone-Gets-Headaches-Sometimes headache or does it indicate something is WRONG? And how do you know the difference?
  • How in the world do I stopper the effervescent frustration of Slow Child Not Moving Quickly Enough When We Need to Get to School on Time FOR THE LOVE before I burst forth with a Mean Mom snarl of PUT YOUR COAT ON OMG?
  • If there is no fever, and no REAL reason to keep a child home – especially when everyone seems to think that a snow day or two is imminent this week, based on predicted temperatures – is it really okay to send her to school? Even though this guilty feeling keeps nagging me like a staticky sock stuck to a pant leg?

This is not to mention all of the day-to-day questions I have, including but not limited to:

  • How much screen time is REALLY acceptable? And if my kid squeezes it all into the weekends, does that make it better or worse?
  • How am I ever going to get her to tie her shoes? I don’t want to buy shoes with laces until she knows how to tie them; cod knows I’m not going to tie them for her. But how is she going to learn until I buy her shoes with laces? DILEMMA.
  • Should we be FaceTime-ing with relatives more often?
  • Is my kid’s behavior around other adults totally typical of her age, or something I need to be more on top of correcting? (Things like not answering when being spoken to, sticking out her tongue or otherwise being playful, ignoring them totally and wandering off…)
  • Am I preparing her well enough for Real Life? While still allowing her to enjoy the freedom and innocence of childhood?
  • Is she really going to lose ALL her teeth? And how am I going to handle the horror that is a piece of my child’s bone hanging by a slim bloody tether from her gums MORE TIMES?
  • Do I read to her enough?
  • Do I play with her enough?
  • Does she have enough time to play?
  • How many stuffed animals are too many stuffed animals?
  • Are my expectations too high? Not high enough?
  • Am I giving her enough intellectual stimulation? Social? Physical? Creative?
  • Am I teaching her good eating habits?
  • Am I a good enough role model?
  • Is she getting enough sleep?
  • Is she happy?
  • How many ways am I failing her?

I don’t know if you are aware, but this parenting thing is EXHAUSTING. It’s like taking a midterm exam every single DAY and knowing that you haven’t studied enough and you are pretty iffy on big chunks of the material. But you don’t get a grade now  – oh no, you have to take 4,560 more exams just between now and when your kid presumably heads off to college. And they’re really important but there’s no way to know if you’re just squeaking by with a C average or totally bombing. That’s the hardest part, right? I could be TOTALLY SCREWING HER UP and I won’t know until she’s an adult.

I am going to go treat this bout of parenting angst with some melted cheese and maybe consider a nap. How’s that for being a role model, hmm?

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The Pre-K year, for us, has been The Year of Play Dates. We maybe do one or two a month, but that’s a 53,008% increase over previous years, so I’ve been devoting a LOT of energy to them.

Does everyone find playdates unbearably awkward? Well, I do. My personality – introvert, people-pleaser, awkward in general – is just not suited for focused encounters with other parents and children I may or may not know.

This is not to say I don’t want to do playdates with my child! I do! I want her to have friends. I want her to build the kind of social skills that playdates seem suited for. I want to get along with other parents. Hell, I want to make new friends.

Some of the issue, maybe, is that playdates are relatively new to me. For the first three years of Carla’s life, my husband and I both worked full time outside of the home. So playdates on weekdays were a no-go. And because we spent so much time away from Carla during the week, we typically spent weekends together, just the three of us. If we had anything resembling a playdate, it was a get together with our friends and their similarly-aged children.

But this year, we’ve had many. And by “we,” I mean me and Carla because my husband obviously still works full time outside the home. I cannot tell you how anxious these stupid playdates make me. Well, I’m going to try, I guess, considering I’m writing a post about the topic. Let’s see if I can break down the awkwardness into a few categories.

Initiating a Playdate

I don’t really know how to go about arranging a playdate. I mean, it seems pretty obvious, right? But I am shy and I am deeply afraid that the other parent won’t want to hang out a) with me or b) with my kid. There’s been a little bit of the old, “Oh, we should do a playdate!” kind of thing that never results in anything. And that kind of thing totally feeds my own self-consciousness/despair. When, in fact, the other parent could be feeling just as awkward/nervous as I am and/or could just be BUSY with LIFE as people tend to be. Also, the phone works two ways, Me.

Previous to this year – last year, Carla and I went on a whopping three playdates, two with the same friend – the other parent and I would suggest the playdate. But now, Carla and her friends have figured things out. And they seem to be scheduling playdates at school, without their chauffeurs in attendance to record the details. Once, Carla’s friend’s mom came up to me and said, “Carla said she wanted to do a playdate with my child. Let’s get together!” and then, miracle of miracles, we actually did end up getting the kids together. That’s my ideal, right there. A sort of mutual mention that results in an actual playdate.

But that ideal was a one-time thing. Usually, Carla comes home ALL THE TIME saying she wants to have a playdate with so-and-so and I get overwhelmed. Do I pick up the phone and call them up? What about the moms who have additional small children – will they even be interested in getting/able to get together? And what if I’ve never said more than hello to the parent at drop off? Some of the other parents seem to get their kids together all the time, but it also seems like those parents are friends. Would they welcome a suggested playdate from me and my child? Would they recoil in disgust? WHO’S TO KNOW?

The Playdate Location

This fills me with dread, too. First of all, who suggests where the playdate should take place? It’s the playdate initiator, right? That makes sense to me but… it hasn’t always worked out that way. Anyway, when I suggest a place for the playdate, I am always at a loss. I have gradually come to be okay with having Carla’s friends over to our house (listen, I’m an introvert and having people in my space is always nerve wracking), but… is that too forward? Is it too boring? Should I be presenting an option that’s super stimulating, like a trampoline park or a museum? And, if I DO suggest something like the latter, who pays? Am I supposed to pay for everyone because I suggested it? I am HAPPY to do that, but I don’t know what the protocol is! Summers are easier, at least, because you can just go to a nice, free, stimulating playground. But it is NOT summer and summer feels a million years away and I need to know what to do now.

I do love having playdates at other people’s homes, though. I love to see other people’s houses, and how they decorate, and the level of neatness they have (it is SO refreshing to see some clutter). But then there’s the awkwardness/stress of my child not eating anything they offer, or possibly breaking something, or bothering the dog, or whatever. And I always feel super self-conscious: how should I sit, what should I wear, do I trail after my kid or sit here like I expect to be entertained. Blah blah blah.

What to Do on the Playdate

So far, my playdate experience has been that the kids run off and play, and the other parent and I stay pretty much in one location and chat, intervening with the kids in case of an argument/injury/extended silence. Is that the expectation, universally? I mean, it is pretty ideal for friendship building. But what if you aren’t interested in/meant to be friends? Carla has a friend who is darling and wonderful and whose parent is someone I think is lovely and very nice, but we just aren’t clicking the way friends do, you know? It’s all small talk, and I find it exhausting. The PARENT is wonderful and does a marvelous job of keeping the conversation going, but I find it so terribly draining to be “on” with a person that I don’t feel 100% comfortable around. (This is the introvert thing again, I fear. If you are an extrovert, you may be furrowing your brow right now, trying to understand why ninety minutes of chatting leaves me feeling like I’ve just completed a biathlon.) I suppose I could just tell the other parent they could leave their kid with me but… that fills me with new layers of terror. And do I need to feed people? So far, when we’ve had playdates at my house, I’ve tried to have some kid-friendly snacks on hand and then I’ve offered the other parent coffee or tea. But is food expected? I certainly don’t expect it, when we go to other people’s homes. But that’s because Carla and I are both super picky, so eating at other people’s homes is additionally fraught with anxiety.

What If the Playdate Goes Sour?

And then there’s the other worry, that the kids won’t get along, or that something bad will happen. My daughter’s teacher gave me a Hot Playdate Tip, which I now pass along to you: groups of three are a bad idea. If you have three kids (at least, Pre-K-age kids), one of them will inevitably end up feeling left out. Okay, so as long as I’m the playdate initiator, that’s easy enough to control for (and egads I have enough trouble working up the nerve for a one-on-one playdate, let alone a playdate involving more kids!). But what if your kids start fighting? Or are bored? Or want to do completely separate things? How do you salvage a) the playdate and b) the potential for future playdates? Do you just throw in the towel? Write it off as normal kid behavior? WHAT DO YOU DO?

How Do You Get the Playdate to End?

You know how most birthday parties are about two hours? I tend to go by the Birthday Party Rule for playdate length, too. Carla has a playdate threshold of about ninety minutes. Sometimes she’s good for two hours. Other times, she’s done after an hour. And I can tell she’s done because she starts wanting to be alone and there is an increased level of pouting/irritability. Fine; she knows her boundaries, and so do I. But how do you communicate that to another parent, whose children may have no limit to how long they can be together? I have usually just said from the beginning, “Carla’s good for an hour or two but not much longer than that.” And when I am in control of the planning, I try to say things like, “We’ll meet you at this indoor park for an hour and a half and then we’ll split for lunch.” Or whatever. But sometimes the other parent wants to extend it! Or they’ll invite us for an open-ended playdate! Ack! We had one of those open-ended jobbers at our house recently, and I was able to close it out with my need to prepare dinner. But it can be tricky! Especially if the kids are getting along really well (as was the case at my house recently). (Although, believe me, “getting along really well” can transform into “the world is ending tears” in a matter of moments.) And, okay, sometimes it’s really just ME who needs the playdate to end. I guess this is a lesson for me to always have something to do immediately after the playdate, whether it’s going to the grocery store or making dinner or whatever.

How Often Do You Do Playdates?

I really think two playdates a month is my limit. But I think other parents and their kids are getting together once or twice A WEEK.

Okay, I am back after taking some deep, restorative breaths; the thought of two playdates a week made me a little dizzy. I think that’s my answer right there: two playdates a month. Sorry, Carla.

 

I do wish I could put less pressure on the whole situation. It’s a playdate, for goodness sakes. The way, for me, to make playdates the most palatable and least stressful is to have them out in the world. My preference is for going to parks in the summer (although, as I noted above: NOT CURRENTLY SUMMER DAMMIT). That way, you can be outside in the fresh air. No one has to cook (although I do bring enough snacks for everyone). No one has to clean. You can take breaks from chatting to push your kid on the swing or the merry go round or the teeter-totter. It’s free. The kids get worn out pretty quickly, so it’s easy to not spend seven hours together. If I could do a playground playdate every time, AND if I could get over my crippling dread of initiating the damn things, they might not be so bad.

I am holding out hope that the awkwardness will fade with time. Either that or Carla will develop a deep and lasting friendship with a mom who turns out to be my Friend Soulmate.

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Unrelated to the title of this post: Carla has recently begun speaking with what I can only describe as a Baltimore accent. We do not live in or near Baltimore.

Now to the topic at hand.

You know how sometimes there are good things going on in your life – good, or at the worst, neutral – and you know you should feel happy and grateful… and you DO, you do feel happy and grateful… but also they are kind of stressing you the cluck out?

Yes. That.

It’s kind of like saying that you have an exotic luxury cruise coming up, and you are so stressed about whether the new bathing suit you ordered is going to give you weird tan lines but you may not have enough time to get the strapless version shipped to you from Milan… and you are having anxiety about making sure that your Ferrari is going to be driven once a week while you’re gone… and you’re hosting a welcome party for Beyonce’s twins but the caterer isn’t very responsive and you’re not sure if she was able to get the live baby lobsters you wanted to give out as party favors.

Why are you complaining about something that is a) voluntary and b) positive? Why are you expending energy on being anxious about THIS when there is so very much going on in the world to which you could direct your worry? CAN YOU NEVER BE HAPPY?!?!?!?!

I mean, I’m not saying I’m going on a fancy vacation or that I even have a Ferrari. (Nope. My turn-of-the-century Honda doesn’t even dress up as a Ferrari for Halloween.) And Beyonce and I are just not that close. But… good things, nonetheless.

[Edited to add: This is nothing crazy out of the ordinary, by the way. It’s more along the lines of — but not quite — buying a new house: great! But accompanied by lots of meetings with the mortgage broker and dealing with home inspections and packing and learning the new neighborhood. Or like — but not quite — getting a promotion, where you may get a raise and a new title but you have added responsibilities and maybe need to take a management class and also now you have to give presentations to the whole company. That sort of Good Thing with Added Stresses.]

So. Good things. And yet… I am stressed out.

There are so many logistics! And planning! And phone calls! And Unknown Things!

My face is breaking out from the overwhelming weight of Copious Junk Food and Excessive Anxious Thoughts (not to mention the heat, that awful old-dish-sponge heat that lies on you in a stinky, sticky, damp layer). I cried on the phone to a stranger this morning. My sentences tend to begin in my head and end in speech, leaving the person I am speaking to feeling confused and a little concerned that I am in need of medical attention. I am forgetting things, and having to re-do things.

Part of this is because I have not had an uninterrupted night’s sleep in a week, instead spending the wee hours of the morning staring at the ceiling fan as all sorts of horrific tragedies play out in my brain in Game of Thrones style gore.  Waking up at every hour like clockwork solely to watch the ticker tape of Things That Have to Be Done scroll across the bottom of my mind screen while a wide-eyed newscaster screeches Breaking! News! of Things That Are Making Me Anxious one right after another. Sitting straight up in bed in a panic about something ridiculous, like the well-being of the (now two) baby deer who live part time in our yard. And when I am sleeping, I am having nightmares of the trying-to-save-my-child-from-a-shooter variety.

On top of everything, Carla is turning FOUR, which means that I am also smack in the middle of my annual Mooning About the Relentless Passage of Time and also Having Strong Feelings About Carla’s Birth because that will apparently never stop being a hot topic for my brain to stew over.

Also, there was a centipede in my kitchen this morning.

[Edited to add: Not five minutes — MINUTES — after I posted this, I went into my bathroom and there was a giant silverfish lounging on the floor, all, come at me, bro.]

To combat the stress, I am: A) Making lists. B) Reminding myself, in a stern but kind way, that the stress is in service of a positive outcome. C) Working out as often as possible (which makes it sound like I am at the gym multiple times a day, when really I am trying to get back up to the baseline of multiple times a week), because there is something weirdly soothing about sweat and working-out-related pain. D) Writing it all down in great melodramatic whiny paragraphs, then deleting it. (This post is, um, the not-deleted part.) E) Telling you, in hopes that you Get It and/or will distract me with something, anything. F) Trying to take some of the creative energy that is currently going toward catastrophizing and redirect it toward my actual writing. G) Keeping caffeine to a minimum. H) Reciting the things I am grateful for in a loop while in the car, in bed, in the shower.

Are any of these things working to keep the anxiety at bay? Not so far, no. But these are early days. And what do I know? Maybe they are keeping the stress at a lower level than it would be otherwise. WHAT A FUN THOUGHT THAT IS.

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