Saturday, July 25, 2015

Seven Weeks and Counting

As of this morning I have six weeks and six days before I board a plane to London and begin my journey around the world.  In my past few entries I have written a lot about my anxiety around the trip.  You've seen a list of all my fears and worries about leaving home for three months, my struggles with preparing for the journey and what may happen when I return.  I want first to send a thank you to all of my friends who have taken similar journeys and who have told me that this crushing, gut wrenching, nail biting anxiety prior to departing on such an adventure is perfectly normal.  Second I want to note that today's post is not about any of that.  Today's post is about the things I am excited, or at least trying to be excited, about on this journey.

What am I looking forward to while spending three months on Semester at Sea?

1. Only having to focus on one thing.  My life is a constant whirlwind.  I am usually working two jobs, going to school, running a troupe, rehearsing for a show, performing in a show, prepping to teach a class, teaching a class or doing one of the many necessary life things we need to do to survive (eat, sleep, have a social life, etc.).  I live and die by my calendar. When I board the World Odyssey all of this stops.  I will only have school and the trip to focus on.  I have heard that Semester at Sea students have a jam packed schedule but I have a feeling to me it will seem like a break.

2. Crossing the Atlantic, the equator (twice!) and going through the Panama Canal.  Yes, I am thrilled to visit 10 different countries but really, one could fly to any of the places I am visiting should one choose to do so.  Not many of  us have the opportunity to do a transatlantic sea journey.  I am looking forward to seeing the sun and moon rise and set above the sea.  I am eager to look up to the sky and gaze upon stars I've never seen before.  And the Panama Canal has fascinated me ever since I was a child.  These are three once in a lifetime things that most of us will never have a chance to do.  I am so lucky that I get to experience this.

3. Visiting 10 different countries (England, Spain, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Morocco, Senegal, Brazil, Trinidad and Tobago and Costa Rica). Well, DUH!  I'll be spending four to six days in each and while that is really only enough time to offer a taste of each, I hope to experience something special in each.  I know this will be the experience of a lifetime.

4. The classes.  All students are required to take four classes on board the ship.  I will be taking Global Music, Conservation of Natural Resources, Travel Writing Workshop and Drawing at Sea.  I am particularly excited about the Global Music course as we will be spending a day in Morocco with the organizers of the Visa for Music Festival.  I'll be with students from around the world and learning from professors I'd not otherwise have the opportunity to study with.

5. Stepping outside of my comfort zone.  This might seem to be a bit of a surprise coming from someone prone to anxiety as I am but I actually do enjoy new experiences, even if they scare me a little.  I hope to return having conquered a few of my fears or at least having learned to live with them .

6. Sharing this adventure with all of you.  I am a writer and I express myself best through the written word.  I will be keeping this blog up to date at least bi-weekly.  I'll also be writing a column for the University of Southern Maine student paper, The Free Press.  Those who contributed to the GoFundMe campaign (and who shared their email address with me) will also receive special updates via email.  It will make me feel like I have all of you with me on this journey.

I am trying to keep all of these things in mind as I prepare for the trip.  There is still so much to do, textbooks to be purchase, funds to be set aside and a million other worries but after all of this is done, and it will get done, I have an incredible adventure ahead of me. I am eager for it to begin.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The Process Begins

In yesterday's more than slightly angsty post I talked a lot about the uncertainty of my future plans.  In early September I leave for three months of study aboard a ship that will be traveling all over the Atlantic ocean.  There has been a lot of preparation for this journey; the application, the fundraising, scholarship applications, visa applications, medical visits for vaccinations, and so much more.  As part of this process of preparing for my departure on this journey I have also had to give some thought to what will happen upon my return.  After much consideration I have made the decision to give up my room in the apartment I currently share with two roommates.

There are several factors that contributed to this decision.  The primary one being that it makes no sense for me to pay three months rent for a room I am not actually living in.  I did try to find someone to take the space for that time but that led me to my second reason for my not wanting to keep the space.  In ten months I will be graduating from school.  I have no idea what will be happening in my life after that point.  Even if I had found a person to take the space, signing a lease for another year, which would go well beyond my graduation date, just didn't seem practical. And so here I am now, contemplating not only what will happen upon my return (I do have a place to stay in the immediate), but also what needs to be done to prepare for this rather big life change.

When I first started giving the idea some thought I admit to having a shit ton some anxiety about the prospect of not having a permanent home, but I realized soon after that, having been a renter for my entire adult life, I have never really had a permanent home.  I've always lived with the possibility that rent could be raised to an amount higher than I could afford, or that the building I lived in could be sold, or that I could have terrible neighbors and choose to move on my own, or any number of other uncertainties that renters live with. I also came to realize that this decision also presented me with an opportunity to do something I've wanted to do for a long time and that is to simplify.

I know that the term simplify is somewhat of an overly trendy cliche these days, but as I said it is something that has appealed to me for some time now.  I look around my living space and there are moments I feel overwhelmed with 'stuff.'   I have so many things that are saved for rainy days, heaps of "I might use this someday," and piles of "I'll get to this one day."  The rainy-some-one-day has yet to arrive; its time to let those heaps and piles go.  I also have a deep desire to live in a fashion that is as low impact as possible, which, while I've not quite figured out exactly what that will entail either, in the long term likely means living in smaller spaces that simply to do not have the room for rainy-some-one-day stuff.

Over the next month I'll be selling, giving away, tossing and otherwise paring down my belongings.  I'm giving myself a month because I want to have my last few weeks before the trip free to visit friends and to take care of any last minute preparations that might be needed. I'm also a terrible procrastinator and having a deadline can be motivating.  Having talked with friends and having read the blogs of those who have gone through a similar process I know it won't be easy but it is my hope that when it is done I will feel lighter not only in physical "stuff" but in my heart as well.

The process begins now...

Monday, July 20, 2015

The next moment of today...

The last time I shared a post on this blog was June 9th.  I've made several attempts to start blog posts but none of them have gone anywhere and they now sit in draft status in my Blogger post list.  The topics are various: art, fear, things about summer that annoy me, things about tourist that annoy me, the stress of planning for my three month journey with Semester at Sea...the list is long. 

Why have I not been posting?  It isn't that I've not been writing.  Just this morning I put pen to paper and filled in the last page of a hard copy journal.  I could in part pass it off to being busy.  I'm at the end of a six week research assistant position that took up far more hours of my time than I originally anticipated and due to the early morning hours it required I've been rather tired these past six weeks.  In fact my last post was done the day before the position began.

Mostly though I have simply been turning very inward, which is why my journal has been getting far more attention than my blog.  I've been trying to make some decisions about my future or at least establish a trajectory.  I've a major, potentially life changing event taking place in less than eight weeks, I'll be leaving my life as it is now for three months and when I return I'll be faced with the last semester of earning my bachelor's degree and graduating in May.  After that life is just sort of a gray fog...

I've never done well with uncertainty, yet the next ten months will be full of so much of it.  I know all of the tricks I'm supposed to do to help deal with this.  I try to pause, to breathe, attempt to bring my thoughts to the present moment rather than worrying about what will happen a week, a month or ten months from now, but even with these tricks and tools the anxiety of uncertainty remains.  It doesn't go away, it just sort of becomes a simmer of background noise rather than the headlining act of my thoughts. 

Trying to talk to people about this proves to be nearly impossible.  I'm often met with, "Oh, I'd not be anxious at all!  It's so exciting and you are going to have an amazing experience.  I'm so jealous and don't understand why you are so worried...don't be so silly."  And while I know that the words are well intended I can't help but feel a bit dismissed, as though there is something wrong with me for feeling anxious.  For the record, I am also feeling excitement and I do expect the next ten months to be transformative, but the anxiety is still there.  

I do take some comfort in the knowledge that, other than establishing a rough outline of a plan, it would be impossible at this time to be able to be plan the next ten months at all.  It simply cannot be done with any sort of firmness and I'd likely explode my brain if I tried to do so.

In the long run I know things will likely turn out okay.  That I will have tales of adventure to share, a feeling of great satisfaction when I am handed my degree and that I'll head off into a potentially awesome future.   Right now though I need to deal with the next hour, the next five minutes, the next moment of today.


Tuesday, June 9, 2015

The Elusive Conscious/Evolved Man (or why you fail at love!)

Today I came across this gem of an article, How to Attract a Conscious/Evolved Man, on ElephantJournal.com.  This is a website I usually avoid because, while I am sure it is well intended and sent forth with white light and love, it tends to be full of the sort of new age advice that often leaves me feeling like an utter failure due to an excess of negative thinking or not doing the right sort of internal cleanse or maybe not I'm not letting my inner wild woman run free enough.

I will also add that when it comes to so called triggers this sort of thing is really FUCKING HUGE one for me (all caps...it's important).  I have spent much of my life surrounded by those who professed to be seeking their authentic self or finding a way to live a so called right life.  And I witnessed all sorts of selfish, rude and sometimes outright cruel behavior because of it.
"Depression?  There is no such thing as depression.  You just need to think more happy thoughts man.   Stop being so negative..."

"Oh come on honey, what do you mean No? You can't deny that you are a sexual being.  Let your inner goddess run free...embrace the phallus." (I am truly not making this up)

"Why are you crying?  I was just being honest and authentic.  I'm sorry if being told a long list of your flaws and faults as I see them causes you pain.  You really just need to start doing the work..."
I freely admit that I come to this sort of thing with more than a bit of baggage BUT this has to be one of the most condescending bits of love advice I've come across.  It isn't instructions on how one can attract a so called "conscious/evolved man" so much as a step by step breakdown of why you will never, ever, in a billion million years attract such a man.

I went on a bit of a rant on facebook...:


Why can't you attract a "conscious/evolved man" because a "conscious/evolved man" is awesome and lives in a state of...
Posted by Spinster Jane on Tuesday, June 9, 2015


That's right you can't attract a "conscious/evolved" man because you are ugly on the inside.  Forget outside beauty standards!  You have not done enough inner self work to be worthy.  In fact you are so crazy fucked up you aren't even aware that such an amazing state of perfection with a penis exists!!!!
"The reason for this is that women can turn a blind eye to a conscious man as they are afraid that they may not live up to the same standards a conscious man lives to, or it may be that some women aren’t fully aware of how to recognise a conscious man when they meet one.
Due to a conscious man standing strong in his own truth, he can make others feel as though they have come face to face with all of their insecurities. It can feel as though the conscious man holds out a mirror so that other people see their reflections clearly and vividly"
In other words you don't see him because when you encounter such a man you are so repulsed by the reflection of your own flaws and inner faults that you simply turn away.  Like the elusive unicorn you can't see him. approach him or touch him unless you are as pure as he.  And sadly, my dear, you have not yet achieved such a state of being. 

It is okay.  Take a deep breath.  Ground and center yourself.  I am here to tell those of you who are worried that somehow your failings have caused you to miss out, that you indeed have nothing to fear for like the unicorn the "conscious/evolved" man as described in this article is a myth.  He isn't real; and if he were he'd probably be so damn tired from maintaining the strict regimen needed to maintain this state of awesomeness that he'd never leave the house. No human being on earth, aside from possibly Buddha and Jesus who apparently didn't date, have attained such levels of perfection. 

It is also possible, as suggested by a friend, that due to the deep sense of self loathing and neurosis women have lived with for oh, the past several centuries, that the "conscious/evolved" man never found his mythical match and has simply been bred out of existence.  And though we might mourn the loss of this legendary creature, "I'm okay with it, because the alternative seems exhausting."

One final note.  I am not completely dismissive of the new age movement.  I use techniques like mindfulness and meditation to cope with my anxiety.  I have used mantras to help me keep focus and I've done my share of labyrinth walks.  However, articles like this to me only serve to make people feel less than.  We've enough less than that we deal with every day (less pretty, less smart, less successful, less rich, less worthy, etc).  Healthy self esteem is a good thing, confidence is a good thing so is happiness, but for many people, myself included, and for a variety of reasons, these are sometimes elusive states of being.  To make someone feel that the reason they can't find love or companionship is because they are 'less than conscious or evolved' is damaging.

Each of our journeys are intensely personal ones, who is anyone to judge where in that journey we are supposed to be? We are all muddling through here, doing the best we can and we could all stand to have a little more compassion for where ever someone is on their path...man. 

Thursday, June 4, 2015

A list...

I am sitting at the computer staring at a blank screen without any real idea of what I want to write about but with a deep need to express myself.  This blog post could go anywhere.

By the time it is done it might be...

...a rant about the seemingly bottomless pit of exhaustion I am in.  How not matter how much sleep I get, how easy I take it, or how much self care I do, I'm still so freaking tired.  How much I desperately wish I could afford to take a real vacation and for just one week not be in charge of anything. 

...a mish mosh expression of my mixed up feelings about spending three months at sea.  How I'm super excited (I heard a stop in France was added to the itinerary, OMG!) and how I'm also experiencing anxiety Will everyone forget me while I'm gone?. It  has added so much more to my summer to do list and how will I ever get it all done? Will my kitty remember who I am?  What if I don't bring enough underwear?

... an angsty diatribe about how it's been terribly difficult spring for me.  How I feel like I was chopped up into a million tiny pieces, crushed, melted and poured into a formless mass that has yet to cool down or solidify. And about how I'm starting to feel comfortable with this sense of formlessness I am experiencing. 

...an expression of the heaps and heaps of gratitude that I feel towards those who have helped to get me to the point where I can afford to do the Semester at Sea and how despite the anxiety I feel I know it is going to be awesome.  I could never have done it without all of you. 

...a few sentences about relief.  How I am getting better at self care.  How I'm realizing I can say no to things.  How I'm starting to maybe feel a bit like I can rebuild myself, make myself stronger, faster...better than before.  Um...

...a list of all the things rolling around in my mind right now that I want to publicly express in some fashion because I feel the need to share but I'm really hoping it doesn't come off as a plea for external affirmation because I really am getting better a providing that for myself.

The End

Monday, June 1, 2015

Where have I been?

The last post to this page was well over a month two months ago.    I always tend to slack off once the semester is in full swing.  Between classes, teaching, performing, working and life I just run out of time.  However, the past few months it isn't that I haven't been writing, it's that I've just not been writing publicly.

I've spent many hours doing some old fashioned style journaling with pen and paper.  I've kept a journal pretty regularly since the fourth grade.  I don't have all of them as I have developed a habit of purging them every few years (I burn them) but I have come to rely upon writing long hand as a way of processing things that are going in my life.  Blogging, while wonderful and cathartic in its own way, does not provide the same sort of "working through" that old school journaling does...at least not for me.

And I've had a lot to write about.  My life has changed immensely in the past few months.  My creative world has been in upheaval (though finally settling).  I've been working towards raising funds for my Semester at Sea journey and that too finally seems to be coming to fruition.  Mostly though I've been doing a lot of what you'd call personal work.

It's been a rather self reflective, inwardly directed couple of months which, as life always seems to have a sense of humor with timing, has occurred during a period of time when I've had to be rather extroverted in order to manage things like school, performing and teaching.  It has been a lesson in exhaustion and balance. 

In any case.  I'm finally feeling ready to write publicly again so you can expect at least weekly posts.  I also have one bit of other news.  I will be writing in this blog under my own name, Joie.  I already link this blog to my creative page and though I enhoyed the anonymity, Jane was never really meant to be a pen name but more a prepresentation of all women who are choosing their own path.

Here's to a happy summer of blogging!!!


Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Panicking out of time...

Trigger Warning:  Panic Attacks

It begins with a tightening at the midpoint between my stomach and my heart.  The lower half of my lungs feel cut off; I cannot draw a full breath. 

My heart begins to pound. It feels as though my heart has quadrupled in size.  That my entire chest is filled with this hyper beating mass of my heart.  I imagine this is why I can't breathe, my heart is suffocating me. There is not enough room inside of me for it and air.

My palms go cold.  My fingers numb.  As my hands and legs begin to shake I can hear the pounding of my blood in my ears. 

I feel sick.  I clench my jaw to keep myself from vomiting.  

Everything is tight.  My neck, my spine, my belly.  Softness disappears from my body. 

I know just what is happening and I know that at this point there is nothing I can do to stop the panic attack that has overtaken my body.  What started with a word has become an unstoppable, physical thing. 

It could not have happened at a more inopportune time (these things never happen in an appropriate manner). In twenty minutes I am supposed to play music and dance before a crowd of 150 people.  I feel as though I can barely stand and yet somehow I'm supposed to be entertaining.

I make an excuse to go to the ladies room.  I put a cool wet towel to my neck.  I pace.  I count. I speak mantras to my mind. I do all of the things I know to do to calm myself but the shaking does not stop. 

A friend approaches.  Tries to comfort me; to tell me things will be okay.  Still it does not stop.  I ask to be left alone.  There is nothing to be done.

I go back to waiting.  My fists are clenched around my zils (finger cymbals), the edges dig into my palms. I feel cold sweat down my back.

I am telling myself that once I take the stage I will be okay.  Once I am there this will fall away. 

I hear the announcer call our name and I step out.  My zils begin to ring.  I'm playing too fast and I know it but I can't stop.  I'm waiting for the entertainer to come to life but nothing happens.  Inside I am frozen.

I'm depending entirely upon well drilled and memorized movements to get me through this.  I feel as though I am letting everyone down.  I cannot meet the eyes of the audience or my fellow performers.  Later, when I see photos of the performance my eyes are downcast in every one, looking only at the floor.

One act down.  I sit to play the drum.  I am trying to keep the rhythm but all I can hear is the pounding in my ears.  My racing heart and the music are out of sync.  Please, I think to myself, can't I at least panic in time?

One more to go.  We finish, the crowd cheers, we bow and I leave the stage as quickly as I can without running.  I need to get out, to get air. 

(Note: Despite the location of this occurrence, this was not a case of stage fright.)

----------

It was many years ago when I had my first panic attack.  They came upon me in the middle of the night.  I'd wake up in a cold sweat, my heart pounding, fists clenched, feeling full of dread and convinced I was dying.  I'd get out of bed and sit in the living room with blankets piled upon me, sipping tea and watching the Home Shopping Network until it passed.  During the day I'd make excuses for finding a quiet space alone to sit until it passed.  For a long time they were sporadic, sometimes with years between them.  But about a decade ago, I began to have them so frequently I was afraid to go to sleep and leaving the house was cause for extreme anxiety. It was then that I sought help.

I tried medication for a time but it made me feel numb.  I began to work with a therapist and over time I learned what things triggered the attacks.  I learned to sense, sometimes days ahead of time, when the circumstances of my life and mental state made me more vulnerable to them.  I would up my level of self care, get extra rest, seek out peaceful places, move my body more - whatever it took to put myself at ease. After a year they stopped all together. Until a few weeks ago I'd not had a full blown panic attack in nearly nine years.  Now I've had two in the past three weeks.  The attack described above only happened a few days ago.  

I'm already seeing a therapist and you can pretty well guess what our topic of conversation will be at this next appointment.  I know that with her help, a lot mindfulness and self care I can again reach a state of relative equilibrium. I say relative because I've also lived with anxiety for most of my life.  Over the years I have learned to keep it from controlling me and my life.  But it is always there.  It is my white noise, humming along through every hour of my days. I live my life despite it.  My struggles with it have been a more than occasional topic of this blog.

I will get through this.  While I don't expect it to be easy, and I worry that there may be more of this in my future,  I have at least learned that as frightening as it can be a panic attack will not kill me, and though it is at a higher level than it has been in some time, neither will anxiety.