Saturday, September 24, 2011

Bitch Slapped by the Universe, Again - Part I

Hello Friends:

You know how it feels when you are cruising along, and things seem ok (or at least meta-stable) and you think you are handling it ... and then suddenly from out of nowhere ... POW - bitch slap.  You are on the ropes, hoping you don't pass out and end up TKO'd.  You don't just get a jolt, or any kind of new manageable challenge.  Instead, you get handed something about three orders of magnitude above whatever it was you were just coping with.

I've been doing a lot of travel.  A lot.  When possible, I've been posting some of my so called insights here to share with y'all.  It's been rough, but I've been having some good times, and am grateful for the chance to have these experiences.  But we are running ragged around here, not even bothering to put suitcases away before the next trip.  They just sit out on the floor and clothes cycle through them as we come and go.

So two days before having to get on a plane for an international flight ... I'm in the kitchen at 3:00am, 'cause of course I can't sleep, and figure I might as well try to get something useful accomplished.  I stop a moment, standing by the trash, and gaze out the dark, foggy window.  It is in fact trash day, which is why the bag is there, so it can be taken out in the morning.

It seems it did not get taken out quite quickly enough.

Rustle.  Crinkle.  Munch.  Scratch.

I back up and stare at the bag, my mind simply refusing to process this.  We've lived in this townhouse for six years, and although the centipedes are big enough to cart off small children, we've never had to deal with uninvited mammals.  Yet somehow the rustling is unmistakable.  I grew up in an old colonial house that was often visited by small grey mice.  The cats (and the dog, actually) kept the population at bay.  I didn't like them, but was used to the fact that they would occasionally pop up.

That was before my contamination OCD's hit, of course.

Anyway, I knew immediately what it had to be in that bag, there.  I stood for a moment, trying to talk myself out of it, when the perpetrator suddenly emerged and scampered at high speed to disappear under my sink.

I squealed in an octave I didn't know I could reach.  Probably would have jumped on a chair if there had been one handy.  Instead I tore up the stairs and woke my poor spouse, who was trying to get some much needed sleep.

It took a while to get the story out, since he was groggy and I was panicking.  A mouse (or a small rat, possibly, for God's sake) was in our house.  The KITCHEN.  As if the kitchen wasn't hard enough, fraught as it is with all my food OCD issues.  Now there's a mouse.  In the kitchen.  Holy f*#k.  I had no idea what to do, what with it being 3am and all that.  All I could think about was plague and rabies and fleas and worms and ticks and all sorts of things that somehow I never worried about as a kid.  This ... this furry thing ... was in my kitchen and spreading its whatever all over whatever.

And the floor had just been mopped, too.

Spouse got up and took the trash out, of course, and we resigned ourselves to just dealing with the fact that it was down there until morning, when we could actually be proactive in getting rid of the sucker.  I couldn't sleep.  (What a shock.)  I was still up at 6am, and went down to make tea.

And heard ... heard ... munch.  Chew.  Rustle.


OMFG.  My pantry.  All the FOOD IS IN THERE.

This was finally a bit too much for me, and I sort of looned.  I didn't have a panic attack, and I didn't run around screaming, but I decided that all the food that was not in the fridge, freezer, or in metal/glass containers was no longer viable.  All of it.

Poor, poor spouse.  I woke him up and said, basically, that he had to empty the pantry.  All of it.  And haul it out with the rest of the trash.  Fortunately for us, all this travel meant we didn't have too much food on hand.  Still, the guy dragged himself downstairs, tore out everything, bagged it, and took it all away.  There was no sign of the mouse, and so I was wondering if my spouse thought I'd imagined all of this.  But I certainly had not.

I spent most of the time he was doing this trying to hide the fact that I was crying.  What had me most upset was that I had to get him to help me.  I knew he was beat, that he had to have some sleep, but I couldn't do this myself.  It was all contaminated beyond reprieve, and beyond the point I could even touch it.  I sat on the stairs, and watched him a while, wondering how, HOW, my kitchen would ever be a place I could eat again.

And I'm sorry to leave the story there (cliff hangers suck), but I am so tired, I just gotta go to bed.  To be continued!

Your Hostess With Neuroses

Image credit/info:  Mindy Mouse by Wednesday Elf - Mountainside Crochet, on flikr via Creative Commons, CC 2.0

Monday, September 19, 2011

Taking on Travel Anxiety with some Fun

Hello Friends:

So last time I talked about flexibility.  This time I want to talk about fun.  Turning a strange circumstance into a party is definitely a skill worth learning.  Wish I could do it more often.

Anyway, after being at home a week, we were pounded by another storm.  Three days of rain, and the Susquehanna valley up to the north suffered the kinds of floods it hasn't seen since '72.  For the first time in years, we lost power ourselves.  That's odd for us since all our power lines are buried.  But, never say never.

Certainly not the night before another trip.

So there I was, packing, doing laundry, getting some things folded, then with the small, wailing blip of a surge protector, all the lights are gone.  I stand a few seconds, feeling totally disoriented, and then bravely start calling out for my spouse.  We are on different levels of the house, and are both fine.

I calm down and my mind starts to move again.  No flashlights, since they all got bought out during Hurricane Irene and ours are old and dead.  But I have more candles than you can probably light in one home and still meet the fire codes.  I wait a few minutes for my eyes to adjust, and find there is plenty of weak, filtered moonlight to be had.  I start lighting candles and distributing them around the house.

It's fun.  Like a spooky party, and I am such a fan of Halloween.  It's actually fun.

I start thinking we should find some ghost stories to read to each other.

Then I reconsider, since tomorrow (it was tomorrow at the time I wrote this, anyway ... my verb tenses are all over the place) I will be doing one of the most terrifying things I can think of - flying.  No horror for me tonight.  It does not, however, take the shine off of the novelty of packing suitcases by candlelight.  I can't even be sure if the clothes all match.  Normally this would be the sort of thing that would have me freaking out.  But somehow knowing there is absolutely nothing I can do about it has absolved me of the responsibility of matching my colors.  Packing actually took me less time than usual.

Then taking a shower by candlelight.  Very fun.  Really.  I think about all those people out of power for weeks and weeks from Irene and other storms.  No doubt this post would seem utterly silly to them.  How many showers have they had in the dark?  I can't help it, it is still fun.  I have candles on the sink, flickering away, and it's kind of romantic.

So another entry into the book of travel: Don't assume you are going to be able to pack with adequate light.  Be prepared to shower in the dark.  (Or skip it if the water is cold.  No one will notice, since by the time you get to the airport you will be drenched by the torrential rains, anyway.)

I realize that having things shaken up like this has actually made things better.  I always do the same things before I travel, all the same way.  Just doing them makes me jumpy, because it means *travel.*  The power going out made me alter the pattern, and it felt like a party.  I could have allowed myself to get even more worked up than usual, but instead I let it become something fun.  Not sure this will work again, this idea of 'altering the pattern,' but I'm going to see if there are other ways I can make travel surprises fun, instead of frightful.

Your Hostess With Neuroses

Image credit/info: Floating lights by ToastyKen on flikr via Creative Commons, CC 2.0

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Taking on Travel Anxiety with Some Flexibility

Hello Friends:

Not that I'm an expert on the subject.  I do travel a great deal.  I do have plenty of anxieties, OCDs, phobias, and the like.  I do have my own ideas about how to make it easier.  And then I go right ahead and get all worked up anyway.  Still, I've had a lot of success creating a strategy and support structure for dealing with doctor's visits, it's time to do the same for travel.

I am, in fact, writing this blog post on an Amtrak train.  I'm headed from Boston to Washington on the Acela, the first day after hurricane Irene when the tracks near Trenton were clear enough to get all the way through to Maryland.  I thought long and hard about what would be a good opening topic for travel, and in the end, it was pretty obvious.  And it's a no-brainer to see how all of this ought to apply daily to that great journey called life.

Topic of the moment - Flexibility.

I had to change my trip three times because of the hurricane.  This is not a complaint.  I think that would be ungrateful since I didn't have any property or personal damage to anything other than my nerves.  Others didn't fare so well.  So I'm not complaining.  Just a fact, the trip changed three times, and seeing how I'm still well north of NYC, getting through to DC still remains a theoretical construct.

Changing plans is something that is very hard for me. Travel is tough enough.  Not knowing when it is going to happen makes it all quite a bit worse.  And yet travel delays, cancellations, rescheduling, and all the rest are so commonplace that you can't travel if you can't deal with them.  Or you can go ahead and travel and NOT deal, but you'll be pretty miserable.

I'll go so far as to say that travel is *defined* by unpredictability.  It's not the exception, but the rule.  If you can accurately predict some set of events from beginning to end, I'll bet you are not traveling. 

So how do the anxious ones (i.e. us) maximize our travel enjoyment?  It is hard to just start being 'flexible" about travel issues overnight.  If I could generate flexibility on a whim, I"d be less OCD and much more yoga.  But if you break down "flexibility" into a few other concepts, it seems like something different.  It seems to include an acceptance of how situations can change, a willingness to change with them, and an ability to make the most of it when you do.  So here are a few thoughts as I consider the nexus of flexibility, adaptability, compromise, and resourcefulness.

Being flexible is understanding that plans are guidelines, not a script.  The plans you made before the trip might not be the best (or even possible) when new data comes to light.  So we end up having to accept the change, and then find creative ways to deal with the situation.  Never assume a change in plans inevitably means your trip will suffer.  You could end up with a better trip in the end.  One year we were stranded by a snow storm up north.  I'm not a fan of snow, so wasn't too pleased.  Instead of brooding, however, we all ended up at a local ski resort, and I had a facial at the spa there.  It was the perfect cap off to the trip.

Being flexible is being willing to tolerate some level of discomfort.  This might be physical (sitting on hard benches) or mental (dealing with a crowd of people).  Those of us with MIs have a host of constraints and discomforts that others do not have.  Imagining that they won't crop up during travel is totally unrealistic.  So we have to find ways to deal.  The more creative and resourceful I am with my responses to discomfort, the more likely I am to find something I can tolerate, and occasionally something better than I would have had in the first place. My husband and I were walking through NYC one time, and I said we should get a taxi back to the hotel because I was getting a blister.  Next thing I know we are taking a pedicab through Times Square.  Thought we were gonna get mowed down by a real taxi, but still, it was some wild fun with a view I don't think I'll ever duplicate.

That was also an example of compromise, since I never would have gotten into that pedicab unless my spouse had really wanted the ride.  I was able to keep a handle on my anxieties, and take advantage of the little adventure.

Compromise isn't just with others, of course, it is with ourselves.  Sometimes I can't keep a handle on my fears, and end up missing out.  When a group of friends went on a guided tour of a volcano, I couldn't make myself go because I was (am) afraid of the poisonous gasses.  Hikes that include gas masks are generally not in my repertoire.  I do regret not having had the experience though.

So this takes more acceptance.  I need to focus on what I can do, not what I can't.

I like to think of it as evolution - adapting to become the organism that is best fit to the situation and environment.  The person on the train next to me wants to talk, and I want to write.  Well, I can put my headphones on, or I can choose to chat.  This time I'm choosing to chat a little.  Scary for me, but worth the discomfort to have the experience. 

Especially since now that we are south of Philly, I know I'll actually be getting home tonight :)  Well.  Probably.

Your Hostess With Neuroses

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