Oh, I’m sick. What a relief!

My anxiety levels have been a bit out of whack for many years. And by “a bit out of whack” I mean “crazy high, with a side order of panic attacks”. Anxiety attacks bring different symptoms for different people. My go-to symptoms most commonly include some or all of: chest pain, shortness of breath, pounding/racing heart rate, chills and shaking, nausea and sometimes stomach cramps. Full-blown anxiety/panic attacks are rare for me these days, so usually I just have chest pain, an elevated heart rate and some shortness of breath. Compared with how life used to be, this is really not a big deal and I have learned some excellent techniques for getting it back under control.

The other night I was watching TV after dinner and I started feeling a little… uncomfortable. Chest pain, racing heart, cramps, chills, shaking. Wait, an anxiety attack? I couldn’t think of anything that might have triggered it. It was baffling, and none of my usual anxiety-management techniques seemed to be making any difference, which of course made me feel worse. It’s very hard to concentrate on calm and even breathing when my mind is yelling at me, “What is going on?? Why won’t this stop?? PAAANIC!!!!”

I suffered through about 20 minutes of this until it finally registered. Oh, hang on. I’m not anxious; these are the symptoms of a tummy bug.

Yep. Not anxiety; gastro. Hilarious. I’ve never been so happy to discover I was sick.

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Movement-challenged

This post is not about exercise, because we don’t talk about exercise in this house. We talk about enjoyable movement, and rejoicing in the things my body can do. NOT exercise, because that has connotations of rules, calorie-burning, punishment for eating the wrong things or only doing it to earn the right to eat something ‘bad’. (Obviously when I say ‘we’ I mean me. My cats don’t talk.)

Aaaaanyway. Movement. I have been going for a 70 minute walk most mornings, and that has been great. Well, until about three weeks ago when it started being cold and wet in the mornings. I love my morning walk but I DON’T love being outside when it’s 5 degrees and drizzling. That is not ‘enjoyable movement’. It’s miserable and feels like punishment. So what to do, then? I don’t want to avoid movement all winter (which goes for a long time in Melbourne) but I don’t want to walk when the weather is uninviting. I thought about joining some sort of local sporting team, but the fact that I don’t know how to play any sports, combined with dodgy knees, limited depth perception and lousy hand-eye coordination seems to rule out most team sports. I have a treadmill but after walking outside for so long I’m less than enthusiastic about the treadmill these days. I also have a few different workout DVDs but they’re not fun. I have forced myself through them many times and I never, ever got to the stage of (a) feeling like I had the ability to do the exercises and (b) feeling like it was a good thing to do, rather than a penance for being fat. Workout DVDs and I don’t have the best relationship and it’s probably better that we have some time apart.

That eliminates a lot of options, doesn’t it? I was frankly starting to feel a little despairing about the whole thing. But then I remembered reading a post, ages ago, by Hippomanic Jen in which she talked about Zumba. I remembered the post because she used phrases like, “there’s every chance I will entirely stuff it up”. That kind of thing is very encouraging to me. BUT… I didn’t want to go to a Zumba class (even though there is one that is literally walking distance from my home) because classes intimidate me. They doubly intimidate me if it’s something where I’m required to be even the slightest bit coordinated. Because I’m not. Not even close.

Happily, we live in the DVD age. And yes, I know I just said I am avoiding workout DVDs, but a Zumba DVD felt different. Because this is something I wanted to try, and thought might be fun. There really is a difference. So, as it turns out, Target has just brought out this Zumba DVD collection – which means that the ‘old’ one, which seems to contain almost exactly the same things, was drastically reduced in price. Guess which one I bought?

This morning I popped the first disc into the DVD player. I decided to start with the instructional DVD, which goes through each movement slowly, giving you a chance to learn it. Given my unco performance at aerobics classes in the 80s and early 90s, this seemed a wise option.

The instructional disc runs for about 40 minutes. After 25 minutes I was practically in tears. Some of the movements were beyond me even in slo-mo, let alone at normal speed. Why the heck do so many people say Zumba is fun? This isn’t fun – it’s horrible! It made me feel completely rubbish about my ability to do anything. Move my legs AND arms? Wiggle my hips? Quickly shift my balance from one foot to the other without falling over? FORGET IT.

I took a little break (which is code for “I threw the remote control across the room and stormed out”). I googled “uncoordinated at Zumba” so I could read stories from other people. (No joke. I really did that.) Then I decided to ditch the instructions and just get into the first 20 minute workout. And it turns out that I was right – I do completely suck at it – but I was also wrong… it wasn’t horrible. It was fun. It really was. The 20 minutes flew by as I tripped over my own feet and did awkward, shuffling, hoppy, unco movements that were only remotely like what I was seeing on the screen. When I compare that with Jillian Michaels’ 30 Day Shred, which is also a 20 minute workout… ugh. When I did that, it was the longest 20 minutes of my life and I couldn’t even do half of it. I don’t mean I was uncoordinated; I mean I physically could not do many of the things. Horrible.

Edit: I’ve just worked out one of the big differences. In the workout DVDs, people are constantly exhorting me to “push through” and “bring it” and “don’t quit”. In the Zumba DVD, they’re having fun. It genuinely looks like they’re kindly allowing me to participate in the awesome time they’re having at their own little dance party. And not one person told me to “push through”.

So yay, Zumba! I don’t know that I’ll ever get to the point of joining a class (see above point about my technique) but I think I’m going to love the DVDs.

Even if I can’t wiggle my hips.

Rocking at basic survival

Today I made a large batch of spicy beef and vege soup – which is what I’m calling the end result of chucking ingredients in and adding various spices until it was edible. That’s what I love about soup. Chop veges, throw in some kind of liquid, add a few spices, then walk away and let it do its thing for a couple of hours. The occasional stir and it’s done. Awesome.

As I filled up containers to go in my freezer I felt this surge of pride. My freezer is full of yummy food (several other dishes are in there already), this batch of soup is tasty and also happens to be full of vitamins. I mean, the vitamins were practically jumping out of the pot. It was all I could do to stop myself gazing adoringly at the containers in my freezer.

Seriously, I am invincible. Avoiding starvation? Keeping myself alive? Warding off scurvy? Oh yeah, I am ALL OVER that.

Um… who are you?

I may have made a purchase recently…

I really didn’t think I would ever buy a Kindle, because I love books. I love the feel of them, I love the smell of them, I love writing in them (YES, I’m one of those people), I love the way the edges of paperbacks get all fuzzy as they wear out. An e-reader, on the other hand… it’s just not the same.

However, I’m also, as I’ve mentioned, in the middle of a major decluttering project. (Haha – and I’ve just realised that post was where I talked about buying nothing new until the end of May. Clearly THAT didn’t work out, did it?) As part of the project I’ve been getting rid of lots of books. Wait… WAIT. Bibliophiles, please stop hyperventilating. I swear I will not be getting rid of all my books. I promise you, they will have to pry my battered copy of To Kill a Mockingbird out of my cold, dead hands. Nevertheless, I have many books that I really don’t care about that much and, although I might read them again, I don’t want them hanging around and cluttering up my house.

Enter the Kindle. A Kindle-evangelist friend of mine has been singing Kindle-praises for some time, and she also put me on to the fact that Dick Smith and Big W often sell refurbished Kindles for $99. “Refurbished” in this case means “brand new but Amazon is clearing them out to make way for a newer model”.

A Kindle is great, but here’s the problem – I’m still a cheapskate. But good news! It turns out there are websites which will email you lists every day of what free Kindle books are available, mostly rated at 4 stars (out of 5) or above. Yay! But the thing is, I have never heard of ANY of these authors. You know how large bookstores often have a bargain bin out the front with 4 books for $10, and they’re all unknowns except for the one famous author that entices you in so you buy the other 3 books? It’s like that but without the famous author.

And… I’m loving it. I’ve downloaded any books that sound vaguely interesting, and I’m reading them, which is kind of important because, despite being a book lover, I have lost the habit of reading. I used to read a couple of books a week but I haven’t done that in years. Now I’m reading all the time – partly because I love the new toy, I’ll admit – and it’s been great. I’m not reading literary classics (although I’ve downloaded lots of those too, because they’re free) but I’m reading. I’ve read a few short stories, a Christian fiction that was much better and less cringe-worthy than I anticipated, and some ‘contemporary fiction’ (mindless paperbacks, in other words). Next up is a non-fiction book about some very famous prison or other. I forget… but I’m sure it will be interesting. 🙂

So… what are you reading at the moment?

It’s not what you say…

Over on a well-known blog there was a post recently about mothers and whether they have a right to complain about motherhood when there are so many women who would love to be mothers but, for various reasons, are not. I’m not even going to link to it because the comments are driving me crazy – endless repetitions of “but you have no idea how hard it is!” from both sides of the fence – but I will link to the article that started it: a Guardian article by Bibi Lynch. Here’s a quote from it:

I don’t want to mum-bash, but I do want mums to open their eyes and see what they have. At the risk of being lynched – or, worse, incurring the wrath of Mumsnet Towers … give it a break. Give me a break. Give women like me, who wanted children but don’t have them, a break. You mums do not know how blessed you are – so please just be happy and quit complaining. You got the prize. You have the child. Rejoice.

The whole thing is pretty intense, and I have to admit there’s a part of me that wants to scream, “YES! How can you complain about motherhood when I would give anything – ANYTHING – to have what you have?” But I don’t scream that. I don’t even whisper it.

There is absolutely no doubt that there is a deep grief that comes with childlessness, whether that childlessness comes from medical infertility, miscarriage, lack of opportunities or other reasons. And hearing people complain about the very thing you desire can be excruciating. But if I cry, ‘how dare you complain about that?’ what am I really saying? Isn’t that just a way of saying, ‘MY pain is more valid, more important, more painful than YOUR pain’? Of course this cuts both ways – when anyone suggests to me that I shouldn’t complain about not having children because I don’t understand just how hard and exhausting motherhood can be, they’re saying the same thing. THEIR pain is the real pain. THEIR experience is valid; mine is not.

So of course the solution to this is that no one ever complains about anything in their life ever again, right? Hm, perhaps not. There’s a difference between ‘complaining and whining’ and ‘being honest about how you’re feeling’. I think it’s really important that we’re honest about how we feel, because pushing those feelings down and pretending they don’t exist will lead to an explosion at some point in the future, and probably not at the time and place you might have chosen. We don’t want that.

Well, what do we do? We don’t want to whinge (so say nothing), we usually don’t want to listen to other people whinge (so don’t let them say anything either) but we don’t want to ignore other people’s feelings (so let them speak) or our own feelings (so speak up). And we definitely don’t want to hurt people (so… say nothing but let other people speak). It doesn’t take long to get really confusing, and that’s exactly the kind of confusion that almost certainly will lead to me saying the wrong thing, at the wrong time, in the wrong way. Probably whilst wearing the wrong shoes.

Caring for each other means picking our moments and our audience. So, if I miss out on a swish new job I really wanted, it’s totally okay to complain about that… but it’s probably unhelpful and maybe a bit unloving to complain about it in front of an acquaintance who has been unemployed for a year.

But picking our moment means that there IS a moment, a time to speak up about our pain instead of keeping silent. It’s so important that we are able to acknowledge our feelings, and have them acknowledged, in a safe place. Safe for us and safe for other people. When I’m speaking with close friends, those people with whom I have shared the ups, downs and occasional sideways lunges, I should be free to say, “Sometimes, childlessness hurts.” And they should be free to say, “Sometimes, motherhood is hard and exhausting.” Without any “but at least…” responses – ‘but at least you have children’… ‘but at least you get to be an aunty’… ‘but at least you know your pain has an end date’… ‘but at least you are able to sleep late if you want’. No. Those are all “my pain is more important than yours / my experience is the only valid experience” statements. That’s not the message we want to give each other. It’s not about whose pain is worse. Let me quote the words a friend said to me the other day:

It’s not a competition. I hurt. You hurt. We hurt different. I don’t want your pain, you don’t want mine. We both need to say to each other: man, that really sucks. Because it does. And then give each other a hug and some chocolate.

Indeed.

This life is… occasionally terrifying

I shall never again complain that my life is boring.

Two nights ago I went to bed at about 10.00pm, snuggled down with a hot water bottle and two cats. It was all peaceful and lovely. At 12.25pm I woke up and realised I could hear a noise. A loud noise that I couldn’t identify. Maybe it was machinery… there was banging and popping and a kind of hum. And it was LOUD – it sounded like it was in my house. Was my fridge about to explode?

I decided to get up and investigate. As I did so I realised that my house seemed awfully well-lit for the middle of the night. Still my brain hadn’t quite put it all together. I took two steps down the hallway and went through this thought process (in the space of a millisecond):

  1. That ‘hum’ is actually a roar
  2. Something is very wrong
  3. The light coming through the laundry window is orange
  4. The sound is coming from the kitchen
  5. I can smell smoke
  6. FUCK – my kitchen is on fire! (I was going to tone down the language, but I can assure you that is exactly what I really thought.)

BUT FEAR NOT! My kitchen was not on fire… I ran in there and did see fire, but it was outside the window. The house two doors from me was completely engulfed in flames. It’s the scariest thing I’ve ever seen or heard. I ran for the phone to call 000, then realised the emergency services might be there already. I checked out another window and saw they were. Phew.

In that brief moment of relief I thought, “I’d better put on my jeans and some shoes, and get the cats into carriers, in case my house is in danger.” I had barely articulated the thought when I heard a loud bashing on my door. I ran to open it and was greeted by a member of the fire brigade. She yelled, “FIRE! You have to get out of your house right now. NOW!”

You know what? You DO NOT argue with that tone of voice. No time to get dressed, no time to get the cats (who had run to hide as soon as they heard the bashing on the door), no time to do anything but grab my mobile phone, shove my feet into ugg boots and get out. As I ran out of my door I was showered in burning embers – they were raining down on my house, the house next door and the house on the other side, furthest away from the fire. It was bloody terrifying.

I congregated across the road with my other neighbours and we watched the fire brigade fighting the fire. The shower of embers (the reason they decided to evacuate us) had happened when the roof collapsed but it dissipated fairly quickly, which meant our homes were probably safe. We were out there for about half an hour, watching the fire, choking on the smoke once it was out, and chatting with the police who suspected arson (this was later confirmed – they hit at least two houses and two cars in the area within a 2.5hour period).

Finally they let us back into our homes. “Great,” I thought, “I can get back to sleep.” Hmmm… yeah, as it turns out one doesn’t get to sleep again easily after that kind of adrenaline rush. Nor does one function well the next day – I spent most of the day thinking I could still smell the smoke, as well as feeling highly anxious, and worried that when I went to sleep I would again be woken by something terrible. Not a happy feeling, that’s for sure. But I practised some self-care when I got home, including watching mindless TV whilst cuddling my cats, and ended up sleeping well. I woke up briefly at 3.30am, confirmed that nothing was on fire, and happily went back to sleep.

I’m feeling fine today, and happy to be back into a quiet little boring routine. I’m not complaining – turns out there are worse things than boredom.

This is the house the next day

This is the house the next day

And this is another house a few streets away, lit on the same night, apparently by the same person

Quote of the day

I saw my counsellor this morning. At one point I was bemoaning the fact that I am hopeless at lying and have a terrible poker face, so there’s no point ever trying to hide anything since my expression always gives it away. A bit later on she mentioned the way I appeared to feel about something. I jokingly said, “Gosh, how could you tell I felt that? I’m usually so good at hiding it.” She replied, “Oh yes, of course you are… I worked it out because I’ve been playing with balls.”

[cue awkward pause while she processes what she just said]

“I meant crystal balls! CRYSTAL!!”

Plum spoiled

In Sunday Club today we did an activity where I was a robot and the kids had to give me instructions on making a jam sandwich. (The point of the activity was to show that we are not God’s robots, just following instructions and never thinking, but that we have a relationship with him.) The kids had fun with it – I followed their instructions to the letter, so when they said “put the knife in the jam” I stuck it in handle-first. Anyway, it was all good, until we got to the end. Once the sandwich was made the kids started laughing and chatting, then one of them looked more closely at the jam jar.

“Plum jam? Does that say PLUM jam? Are you serious?”

I looked at the child with a mixture of amazement and pity. Poor child, what kind of neglectful upbringing has he had that he has never seen plum jam before? Then the other kids joined in.

“Did you say plum? Plum JAM? Do they really make that? WEIRD!” One of the Children and Families staff, whose son happens to be in my class, came in. His son said excitedly, “Hey Dad, check it out. Plum jam!”

Huh. Really? When I was growing up, all jam was plum jam. It came in a large tin and it regularly grew mould on the top. Later, I discovered apricot jam, and sometimes we’d have that for a treat. I was a teenager before I realised that jam came in flavours other than plum and apricot. But kids these days… I don’t know. They’ve been spoiled with their pear and raspberry jam and their wild cumquat and spiced fig exotic fruit spreads. What’s wrong with good old plum jam, I’d like to know?

Next week’s lecture topic: “Kids these days – why can’t they walk 15 miles to school through the snow like we did?”

Lemony goodness

This morning, before I left for work, I made two batches of lemon slice. For no reason whatsoever. As you do, right? TWO BATCHES. I’m thinking I probably should have checked whether lemon slice freezes well…

(Picture from here, although I used this recipe.)

Rethinking compassion

I have this friend (no, really) who’s been having a tough time recently. The reason I know she’s been having a tough time because she told me… and when she did, I said something like, “Yeah, I was pretty sure you were unhappy.”

Sounds very caring and sympathetic, doesn’t it? And of course I DO care and I AM sympathetic, but it bothers me that I never once asked how she was really going. What made me see her, suspect she was having a tough time but still wait to have it confirmed before I was able to care ‘out loud’?  Why should the person who is in pain have to initiate this kind of conversation?

In truth, I just wasn’t sure how to start the conversation, and a part of me hoped I was reading it wrong and in fact she was fine. I guess that’s pretty normal, but it has made me rethink some things in my own life. There have been times in the past when I’ve been struggling – barely getting by, really – and not one person has asked me how I’m going. And I thought that meant no one had even noticed, which seemed impossible to me. How could my suffering be so invisible? Or worse, was it in fact highly visible, but no one cared enough about me to ask? I have felt hurt by what seemed like a lack of care, a lack of love, a lack of compassion. I have felt unnoticed, and therefore unimportant and unloved.

But now I think… probably people did notice, but they were like me – didn’t know what to say, didn’t know if their concerns were real, didn’t want to get it wrong, didn’t want to hurt me with clumsy words.

When I am hurting, I expect compassion. But perhaps I also need to show some compassion to others, and not expect my friends to get it exactly right, every time, all the time.