Posted in Mental Health, Motorcycle

Go, Go, Glow

Red Bike Red House
Red bike at the Red House (my AA home group)

I joked in a post last year that “you never see a motorcycle parked outside a psychiatrist’s office,” but last week that’s exactly where I parked my bike. So okay—riding a motorcycle doesn’t actually cancel out my need for mental-health meds, but it sure does put a grin on my face.  A manager said this week that I’ve been glowing since I started showing up to work with helmet in hand.

We made the decision a few months ago to trade in my BMW1200 for a smaller, lighter bike, so I’m the tickled new owner of a shiny red Yamaha V-Star 650. The Beemer (beauty though it was, and as sweet as my hubby was to buy it for me) was just too much bike for this Rookie Rider. I never got over being scared of the bike, and I never “graduated” to riding by myself. Jon tailed after me like a security blanket every time I took it out, and it felt like a big production every time. I was starting to associate a feeling of dread with pulling on my motorcycle boots, which is never how I’d felt about riding before!

bike Starbucks
To Starbucks.

So we posted the BMW on Craigslist this spring, and I was sitting with a friend when a text came in inquiring about it. I apologized for interrupting our conversation to respond, and explained the situation… Whereupon she asked me if I were looking for a bike! She’s a missionary in Thailand, just back in the states to visit her daughters, and her bike has been in storage for a few years. Not running—but hey, I’m married to a mechanic. Long story short, we trailered this bike home from her storage a week later.

I came home from work the next day to find her stripped to her frame, and my kitchen counter strewn with bike-bits.  Mr. Mechanic worked his magic, and days later I was testing her out, up and down the rows of our RV park. Days later we had her registered and I took her out on the road. Days later, after Jon had followed me to church and work, I went to work by myself. Days later I was pulling up across town in front of my AA home group. With a shit-eating grin beneath the helmet.

I’m still a rookie, but I’m riding now! To work. To AA. To the dentist. To church. To Starbucks.  And yes, to the psychiatrist.

Yesterday we hit triple-digit temperatures, and the parking-lot pavement still radiated heat when I came out of Home Depot at ten p.m. The first breath of cool air I’d felt all day was the wind on my face at fifty miles an hour riding home under the moon. I’m just about ready to bet it wasn’t my lights or my reflective gear that made me visible as I rode. I’m pretty sure it was my GLOW.

bike Emmett

 

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Posted in Lists

Drawing up a gratitude list 

November is a popular month for gratitude, given the holiday that’s named for the emotion, but my motivation this year is a little different. I’m grateful that October is over! “Isn’t that the same thing as being-in-November?” you ask reasonably. Well, not precisely. 

The thing is, almost every major Drama, Trauma, and Tragedy in my life has happened in an October–leaving me with a superstitious fear of a “cursed” month. Add in the fact that those events (ranging from loss of a job to loss of a spouse, from severe complications of childbirth to last year’s vacation in a psych ward) have left me with a lot of unpleasant “anniversaries” in October–and it’s just a rough month. 

I literally spent the month praying that I could get to November 1 without anything awful happening–aware that if I did, it would be the first time in about a decade.

It happened! I broke the streak and got all the way through October without an Awful Event of any kind. I’m very nearly giddy over it. And helping with that reaction is the fact that I got my mental-health meds adjusted a couple weeks ago, after realizing I was on a downward slide toward Depression. I’m emerging from the haze of lethargy and indifference and feeling increasingly like ME again. (Witness the fact that I’m back here writing again–a silent blog is a danger sign with me.)

All that said… I’ve been on a sketching-kick, specifically a gratitude list. So although I’m usually one to express myself with words, today I’m offering my “gratitude album.”


I’m grateful for the man who married me. His voice puts a smile on my face, and his laugh lights my world. He has loved me (and prayed me) through some of my worst. It’s a joy and an honor to be “Mrs. Smith.”


I’m grateful for a job that keeps me challenged and interested, and where there’s room for growth.


I love RV-living, and our cozy little home. I’m grateful to live so comfortably!


I’m grateful for Vertical Church, and my church-family.


I’m grateful that I grew a pair of bright, vibrant, good-hearted people. (Readers, too.)


I’m grateful for modern medicine, and my mental-health meds!


I’m grateful for COFFEE!


I’m grateful to live in Idaho.


I’m grateful for my Ma, who has continued to love me no matter what.


I’m grateful for my teddy bear, Toots, who has been a comfort for more than four decades. (Here with Jon, who sewed Toots an Army outfit.)


I’m grateful for Open Adoption, and that the boy-I-grew has such a fabulous family.


I’m grateful for BOOKS!


I’m grateful to have my driver’s license back, and for the car Jon bought me when I got it back. I so appreciate being able to drive myself to appointments and work rather than hiking everywhere.


I’m grateful for open roads and motorcycles.


I’m grateful to be Sober! This is my owl-sticky-note marking my favorite page of the Big Book. “If we are painstaking about this phase of our development, we will be amazed before we are halfway through.”


I’m grateful for my health. Crohn’s Disease has been in remission for 16 years, and I’m healthier than I deserve to be, given my alcoholism. God is good.


I’m grateful for my great Sis, who shares many of my memories (and quite a few of my quirks). And a grand welcome this week to her new daughter!


I admit it–I’m grateful for my iPhone. 


I’m grateful for challenges–like learning to ride.


I’m grateful for seaside vacations!


I’m grateful for a guy who fixes things… and builds things, and COOKS things!


I’m grateful for FUN!


The back of Jon’s helmet is a reminder for the road-of-life… I’m grateful that God has ALWAYS had my back.

Posted in Mental Health, People

The Science of Smiles

Okay, I have to admit my body is not yet accustomed to day-long shifts standing on concrete. Or more accurately, it’s not yet re-adjusted to that… When I owned and ran a restaurant the days were a lot longer, and sure, they wore me out—but they didn’t make my muscles sore like they are this week.

imageThat’s right, I have sore muscles from cashiering—how goofy is that?

Compared to sitting on my couch with laptop and feet up, freelance writing, Home Depot is proving to be a workout. Given the variety (and sometimes size) of the items people are bringing to my register, there’s a little bit of gymnastics involved with my hand-held scanner… And I end the day with dirt under my fingernails and a splinter or two… And that mild ache that tells me I was actually doing something with my day.

I’m actually finding that satisfying—though nowhere near as satisfying as the number of smiles I get to “collect” in a day. Some people prove a challenge, but I like a challenge—can I get a smile out of them? Usually, yes.

Home Depot plant cartWhen I don’t have a line at the register, I stand out in the aisle to let people know the register is open, smiling at the people walking past. It’s almost amusing to see the faces going by, switching on their smiles one by one as they make eye contact and respond to the smile I’m giving them. I was so intrigued I had to look this up: research says smiles actually are contagious. (Smiling reflexively and responsively to another smile is an involuntary and instinctive reaction stemming from the cingulate cortex, if you wanted to know…)

I find there’s also a scientific explanation for why I get such a charge out of smile-collecting… Seeing someone else smile at you doesn’t only trigger a responsive smile, it also directly triggers the brain’s “reward” center. And then when you smile, your body releases some of those “feel-good” chemicals that give you reason to smile. All in all, it’s a pretty nifty self-perpetuating feel-good system. (God is GOOD at design! I wonder how many more mental-health meds I’d need if I smiled less…)

image
“default setting”… Yup, I’m sitting on my couch blogging and smiling

This is where I think I’m particularly suited for the job of customer service… my face’s “default setting” is a smile—not a big grin, but definitely a smile—so at least that’s one set of muscles that’s not sore from unaccustomed use.

And a default-smile definitely keeps the smile-cycle going for interactions on the job. It’s what I missed in the solitude of freelancing—I literally do sit here with my default smile, sometimes even when I’m writing about something awful (today’s topic: laser vaginal rejuvenation, ick)… but I don’t get the “charge” of return-smiles during a day at the computer. On the other hand, my feet are enjoying a break on the couch-recliner  this morning, so it’s all good!

Okay, I’d better get on with that freelance article. We’ll see if the default-smile lasts through that topic!

 

Posted in Mental Health, Recovery

On Vapors, and Vapers

who vs whomLast week CBS This Morning hosted a lexicographer from the Merriam-Webster dictionary, talking about the malleability of language and the ongoing task of incorporating new words into the dictionary. Although prescriptive grammarians (unlike descriptive ones) would have you believe that our language and its rules are static, nothing could be further from the truth. (Sure, I know when I’m supposed to say “whom”—and I sometimes even do it—but these days those rules are largely at odds with actual usage.)

Speaking to new words that have been recently incorporated, the Merriam-Webster editor gave examples like “photobomb” and “binge-watch.”  By this point, “selfie” has been in the dictionary so long it’s old news. I’m fascinated by the cultural commentary afforded by new words…  The one I’m interested in today has only been in the dictionary for a couple years, and won Oxford’s “word of the year” honor in 2014:

vape definition Oxford word of the year

The Merriam-Webster definition adds to the verb definition of vape: “like someone smoking a conventional cigarette.” That definition might already be outdated. Most of today’s vapes have so little in common with cigarettes that they’re not even getting called e-cigs anymore. Early models did look like cigarettes, but these days they range from boxy models to flashy pens—virtually no resemblance to the nasty originals.

Yup, I just called cigarettes nasty. I actually thought so even for the eight-or-so years that I was obsessively smoking them. And there you have the strange face of addiction. Cigarettes are nasty—but I liked them. They were my friends, They were a treat, every time I lit up, even though I hated the lingering ashtray-odor that clung to me afterward. Continue reading “On Vapors, and Vapers”

Posted in Mental Health

Sea Legs & Side Effects

imageYesterday morning I walked through a rainstorm to the gym we just joined—a Planet Fitness decorated in garish purple-and-mustard, and plastered with heartening signs proclaiming it a “No-Judgement Zone.” I owned a StairMaster in my twenties, but my forties-self clearly needs some shaping-up because that thing was kicking my butt after six minutes. So I thought I’d try out a treadmill.

My discovery about the treadmill: it gives you an odd form of “sea legs”… When I got off it half an hour later, I felt like I was weirdly gliding across the gym. Now, anyone who knows me knows that I don’t glide. I’m not that graceful. But I felt glidey till I was halfway home.

I’m on a mission. I already said it: I need some shaping up. I’ve been big-time frowning at the bathroom scale lately, because the dang thing insists I’m heavier than I’ve ever been, pregnancies included. Continue reading “Sea Legs & Side Effects”

Posted in Recovery

What Paper Plates are For

There’s a TV ad for an antidepressant that features a paper plate on a popsicle-stick handle with a smiley face sketched on it… Various people are holding it up in front of their faces, which (behind the paper-plate-smiles) are unhappy, disengaged, or entirely expressionless.

rexulti-put-on-a-brave-face-large-2
from the Rexulti “brave face” ad…

That ad speaks not only to the experience of Depression, but also to an odd aspect of our culture. It’s somehow unacceptable to show anything other than the smiley-face, isn’t it?

In that ad, the people only tuck the paper-plate facade into pockets or purses after they have their own smiles back in place.

Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but I also notice that all of these people keep their paper-plate smiles close at hand. One tucks the stick-handle into her pocket, another into the strings of his apron while he barbecues, others tuck them into outer pockets of handbag and briefcase. One of them fingers the plate as she walks away, not unlike a smoker patting a pocket to assure herself of the presence of her cigarette pack.

In addition to its inferred promise that it will put my own smile back, this ad tells me that no matter what’s going on, I’d better face forward with a smile of some kind.

Our false smiles (whether or not they’re sketched on paper plates) are like security blankets—we don’t dare show ourselves without them. Why is that? Why are we so conditioned not to let stress or worry show, not to answer the question “How are you?” with anything but a variation of “Fine“?

I’m wondering what we fear about letting our faces be real. Continue reading “What Paper Plates are For”

Posted in Recovery

Taking Out the Trash

housework no one notices when you do itThis week I volunteered to help out a church acquaintance with some cleaning and reorganizing of her house. She’s a single mom with numerous health problems and two active young boys, and she babysits an infant who’s now mobile enough to require baby-proofing of the house—and she was finding the project overwhelming. I won’t lie: I found the project overwhelming when I got there.

I tackled the kitchen the first day, removing bags of trash and recycling, stowing in her pantry the still-bagged groceries that took up the entire kitchen floor, running loads through the dishwasher and tackling the stacks of unwashed pans and pots.

It crossed my mind that this kind of clean-up is only truly useful if it’s accompanied by some changes-in-habit to prevent the same from happening all over again… And that thought brought me right back to my own messes—more internal in nature, but just as daunting. A tidy kitchen-cupboard is not necessarily the mark of a put-together person!

kitchen cupboard cabinet
my RV kitchen cupboards are far tidier than my mind!

I had a session with my counselors that same afternoon, told them about my day, and made the observation that even if I take out my own “mental trash” through counseling, I have to change the way I handle the trash, going forward, if I’m truly going to benefit from the clean-up.

It’s a timely analogy, because I’ve been writing an A.A. “Fourth Step,” which is essentially an inventory of all the garbage I’ve created in my life. A lot of folks “go out” on the Fourth Step.  We call it the “A.A. Waltz:” Steps ONE-two-three & OUT-the-door! It’s a tough thing to look at your own faults honestly and objectively…

The Step begins fairly easily, by listing people against whom you have resentments, and enumerating what you resent and how it has affected you. Oh yeah, we can all happily write about how other people have messed us up, right? The tough part comes with the oft-dreaded “fourth column,” where it’s time to look at your own part in each of those messes. What have I done to contribute to each situation, what wrongs have I committed, how have I harmed other people? It’s heavy. No, it’s excruciating. This is the stuff I don’t want to think about myself, let alone admit to someone else.

cleanBut that’s exactly what comes next. Step Five: We admit to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs. The whole list. Even (especially!) the stuff we least want to cop to. Continue reading “Taking Out the Trash”