Posts Tagged ‘stress’

Into the Hills

The mountains have pulled on my heart-strings all Summer long.  I guess when the end of August approached, I felt an urgency to go into the hills, and so I did.

The Devil's Garden Overlook on the Blueride Parkway in North Carolina

The Devil’s Garden

Click on above image for a closer view of The Devil’s Garden Overlook

We first arrived at Stone Mountain state park in North Carolina without a reservation.  The trout-laden creek makes the area especially desirable to fisher-people (most of whom are men and boys).  The park ranger instructed us to keep driving north, which I didn’t mind too much.  The higher up we went, the cooler the weather became, and we found a nice little spot to camp. 

I’m not sure that the area we were in is specifically what the Cherokee called, Shoconage, meaning, “The Land of Blue Smoke,” but we did see the blue hue over the mountains and the clouds did look a bit like blue smoke.

My son and I went on our first mountain camping trip when he was only five years old.  I was pretty young myself.  We had joined a friend who was always saying that I should give camping a try.  He was right.

Oddly, after more than twenty years and many outdoor adventures later, I find myself longing for and returning to that same area of the Blue Ridge mountains in North Carolina, Doughton Park Recreation Area, where my son and I first camped with our friend. 

The rolling green hills and awesome views always make me feel like I’m in the right place.  Happily, my son still enjoys coming along with me to camp.

“What do you think would make you feel better?” my son had asked, several days before I decided to pack my gear and go camping.

“I’d like to sleep under the stars and wake up when the sun rises,” I told him.  “I want to feel the rhythm of nature.”

Little did I know that only a few days later, my wishes would come true.

We could only camp for a few nights.  Neither of us wanted to leave, but I hadn’t packed well enough to stay longer and was tired of driving to the store, which was twenty-some miles away.  Twenty mountain miles make for a pretty ride, but feel like fifty when you’re tired.

My favorite part of the trip was on the second day when my son and I had a heart-to-heart talk.  He was more relaxed than I’ve seen him in a long time.  We both remarked on the good night’s sleep we had each experienced.

There’s something about sleeping outdoors, feeling the wind blow, listening to the sound of nature without background noise and tuning into the rhythm of nature that brings clarity to the mind.  Perhaps Mother Nature unfolds a veil.

My next favorite part of our short trip was sitting by the fire, which was the night I removed the rain-fly from our tent, providing me with my second wish the following morning; an awesome view of the sun rising above the mountain. 

On our way home, we drove down to the creek at Stone Mountain State Park, where we spent the day by, “the small falls.”  We enjoyed local sour apples and tart blueberries.  My son and our dog rested on the flat rocks.  I chased a pretty little black and blue butterfly.

Water Energy is a Green Healing

The Small Falls

Butterfly Beautiful

Two children, a girl and an older boy, came to play and of course, they loved our dog, sweet little Ruthie Mae.  Everybody loves Ruthie. 

They were mountain people.  The boy looked about eleven years old. 

“You want me to take her down to the water for you?” he asked. 

Ruthie Mae feels my stress and one way she shows this is by pulling on her leash when we walk, which she’s been doing off and on for a couple of months.

“Sure,” I said to the boy. 

I trusted him right away with my dog, which is unusual.

“C’mon girl,” he said in a lovely Carolina mountain accent.  “C’mon now.  We’re gonna go right down here.  Okay?  There ya go.”

His way with her made me feel good.  I love seeing her happy and she was smiling.

I could tell he had been to those falls many times.  He had a sure foot and the younger girl with him did as well.  I liked him and so did Ruthie.

Ruthie’s enthusiastic walking didn’t seem to affect him.  He continued talking to her in his kind voice and down the craggy path they went toward a sandy spot by the water. 

“You’re really good with her,” I told him.

“Yeah,” he said.  “I been ’round dogs all my life.  I can tell she’s a good one.” 

For a moment, I could imagine him being a grown man and what he would be like.  I imagined a gentle man in the making.

He and Ruthie Mae didn’t get to play together for long because his mother’s cell phone wouldn’t work.  I liked that mine didn’t work.  I figured the woman had to be available for some important reason. 

After the boy and his family left, Ruthie joined my son for a nap on one of the big flat rocks by the water.  He made a soft place for her and she cuddled up next to him.  I occupied myself chasing the pretty black and blue butterfly that liked the sand.

I wanted to stay.  I mean, I really wanted to stay and I almost did, but I had responsibilities waiting and not enough money to do whatever I wanted.  I wish I could go back and stay for the rest of Summer.

(You can click on any photo in the gallery to view a slide show)

Responding to Stress

red flowers on stems

While the tears poured,  I thought how I surely didn’t look like a green healing girl, nor did I feel like one.

Shingles had hit me fast and hard.  In the past, I’ve been able to recognize the virus before an outbreak.  Not this time.

I had been sickly for several weeks losing a precious nine pounds.  I even went to the doctor fearing I had a tick-borne disease, but my doctor said he didn’t think I have one and instead, blamed my symptoms on stress.

I get tired of my health problems always being blamed on stress, but I realize it’s a serious problem, particularly when it’s ongoing.

My mom and I were talking on the phone when I saw the outbreak.  I was relieved because I’d rather have shingles than a tick infection.

My son was a resident at a small farm, where I thought he might live for three months.  I had gone to visit him two days before getting sick and thought he was going to stay. 

He had said he was homesick and sometimes felt pretty down, but after spending more time with him, he said that most of the time he felt good being there.  Most of the time is a lot to me, so I encouraged him to stay.

He wasn’t sleeping well at the farm and as a result, was often so tired that he was a little late for the chores and classes.  He was trying really hard and the farm’s director informed me that he was improving.

I left the farm after that visit feeling more hopeful than I have in a decade.  For the first time since my son was diagnosed with a mental illness, he was at a place where people treated him like a full human being.  He wasn’t a ‘case’ to be managed.  He was treated the same as the other residents, which meant he was expected to arrive on time for classes.

During the few weeks he was away, even though I had to drive a lot, which was difficult, I had enough time to see what it was like being me.

I was not a full-time caregiver.  I was Michelle.  I was a single woman.  I saw parts of my personality that I hadn’t seen in a long time, such as my sense of humor.  I’d forgotten that I have a pretty good one.  I had fun.

It’s not my son that I need a break from, but instead is the caregiver role that I don’t have help with.

Two days after our weekend visit together, my son was an hour late for one of the farm’s classes.  He said he was so tired that he lied down for what he intended to be five minutes, but then fell asleep.

The man leading that particular class, which was a prayer time, asked him to do a writing assignment.  It was a long and arduous assignment.  He refused and as a result, had to leave the program.

I am not proud of myself for the way I responded to the situation.  I was angry and didn’t handle my emotions well.  I needed someone to talk with about the situation.  Someone with experience, empathy and a positive attitude.  I didn’t have anyone who could offer that.

I told the manager when I arrived that I was sick.  I also confided in him that I wasn’t sure how long I could keep going the way I have been.  He said they would pray for me and we parted ways.

The six months before my son went to the farm had become more and more difficult for us.  I didn’t get a break.  I deeply desired and needed help. 

My son needs peers and friends, something to do with his time and more activity than I alone can offer. 

A few months ago, he was rejected from membership in a clubhouse for people diagnosed with a mental illness.  The reason was because he’s doing well and doesn’t have a case manager.  They aren’t used to that.  I’m not sure their response is altogether a bad thing. 

My son talks about recovery and has a reputation in that particular community of not taking medication.  Sometimes this causes ripples in the water.

I had begged God for somebody to help me.  The director of the farm called to say they would accept my son as a resident the same day that I had nearly screamed at the sky.  I thought my break came and it was one that I believed could change my son’s life. 

Things simply didn’t work out the way we had wanted.  I wish I could go back and respond to this fact differently than I did, but of course I can’t.  I can only try to do better in the future.

I feel better now.  I don’t know exactly what to do or where to turn in life, but I’ll keep on keeping on.  I’ll keep on trying and hoping and praying that there is a way to help my son, that we both can heal and recover, and that perhaps one day our lives will look much brighter.

I learned from the farm experience that I need to work on myself.  I need to take time for me.  I need personal time, as well as time for healing my own wounds.  I want to  heal.  I want to respond to life in a way that doesn’t cause me illness or worsen existing health conditions.  I certainly don’t like responding in ways that bring harm to others, hurt feelings or make the situation worse.  All easier said than done I suppose, but giving up is not a good option.

I’d like to say thanks to my blogging friends for the awesome support and encouragement you have given me.  I’ve said it before, but I’m proud to be a part of this community!  Thank you so much!

Even though my mother will likely never read this, I must say here that I am truly grateful for her love.  She sure stands by me when I’m sick and for that I sure am grateful. 

I am proud of my son for trying the program the farm offered.  He’s a strong young man with a kind and good spirit.

Thanks for visiting Dogkisses’s blog!

Red flowers in the garden, by Michelle and Son.

Overwhelmed and Confused

directions in the south

A little help finding our way

Life is kicking me around.  My attempts to rest have been continuously and consistently interrupted.  I wish very much I could write about the experiences I’m having.  My difficulty lies not in what to say, but what not to say.

I feel like so many things have happened over the past decade that it’s all jumbled up in my mind now.  I used to be good at dates and remembering events.

I feel upset most of the time.  My guts are torn up.  My heart is heavy.

My responsibilities have become so completely overwhelming that my brain feels like a computer barely working and about to crash.

For the first time in my life, I don’t quite trust myself.  I don’t know how I’m going to respond to people.  I feel like a volcano and many little things are shaking me up.  I feel emotionally raw.  I feel a bit defeated.

I recently got angry at a woman in an elevator for pushing the button to go down after I’d waited on three that were going up.  I was immediately ashamed of how I reacted.  I apologized.  She responded by saying, “I was going to help you Mam.”

How did she know I needed help I wondered.  I didn’t feel that I deserved her kindness.   The elevator doors opened and even though it wasn’t her floor,  she stepped out to help me find my way.  Two nurses were walking by and when they saw me they stopped.

“Do you need some help?” they asked me.

I wondered why they were all being so nice.  I had dressed decently and fixed my hair normally.  My eyes had been terribly red from sleep loss and pretty consistent crying spells, but I had used eye drops so what was it that they saw?  I hoped they couldn’t see how desperate I felt inside because I was afraid someone would try to put me in a hospital.

I got lost on my way there.  I called the clinic and the receptionist treated me much like these women in the hallway had.

She gave me good directions and didn’t want to let me off the phone.

“It’s okay,” she said once more before ending the call.  “We’ve told the doctor you got lost, so don’t worry.”

Getting lost on my way and then in the hospital too had more than frustrated me.  I felt scared that perhaps I’ve had a stroke and don’t know it.

I realized that I hadn’t eaten and it was about 2pm.  I told the woman who registered me that I was going to be sick, which was the truth.  I was looking for a trash can just in case.  She gave me a grape juice and a graham cracker.

Checking into the clinic the desk clerk asked me if I remembered where I parked.  “Yes,” I answered.  “C.”  They all looked worried.  I realized then that each level on the parking deck has a C and I had no clue what level I had parked on.

I felt as disoriented as I had the time my son and I drove to South Dakota from North Carolina.  Illinois and Iowa made me feel strange inside my head because I had lost all sense of direction.  I realized I don’t like being in the middle of our country.  I like it on the edges.  At least I know where the ocean is.

Jack…

The Crowntail Betta fish, Jack, died this morning.  This time, I know he is gone.

I now know the difference between a sick fish and a dead fish.  What a horrible way I had to learn and I am not buying any more fish.

I had driven back to PetSmart, which didn’t do any good.

The young woman who sold him to me was there.  The first thing she said, in front of my son, was, “Let me ask you what you might have done wrong,” and she giggled, saying she knew that sounded bad.

When she learned that I had done exactly as she had instructed, she said maybe Jack was depressed and starving himself!

I couldn’t believe it.  Why would my fish be anymore depressed than any other fish if her instructions on how to care for him had been correct?

She said it may have been the real plant I used, instead of the fake one.  She sold me the real one.

She finally said maybe he was sick when I purchased him, that he would most likely die and that they would reimburse me for my expenses.

I returned home with hope for Jack.  He had started swimming a little and hadn’t lost his beautiful colors.  I gave him dried blood worms, but he wouldn’t eat.

I thought about him being depressed and starving himself.  I understood this all too well.  I stared at him and thought he must be a pretty smart guy, because that is surely one way to get out of a fish bowl.

I barely slept all night.  I had night sweats and finally got up after drying off for the fourth or fifth time.  Yesterday was a stressful day and Jack was only a part of the story, so I guess, stress did me in.

I looked in the bowl after finally giving up on sleep and knew, for sure, that he is gone.

Jack was a beautiful fish and had a lot of personality.

 

 

What I can’t say no to

How do you say no to nicotine addiction with severe anxiety going on?

I guess there are a few things I can’t say no to, but most likely, outside of not being able to say no to air, water and food, tobacco is the one thing I can’t say no to.

I didn’t begin this post with tobacco as my choice of something I can’t say no to.  I was going to tell you about something else, something more fun and exciting, but maybe I’ll go with the flow on what I’ve already written on this page.

Maybe I should tell it like it is how addicted I am to smoking and nicotine and how I feel like I’m going to explode, or rather implode, if I go too long without a cigarette.

I may be in denial because I had to pause to write the word cigarette.  It sounds ugly to me.  I wondered before I wrote the word if I want to tell of this awful habit, this complete failing of myself and my family, especially in my attempts to heal my body.  This one thing that feels like if I hadn’t ever started that my entire life would be different today.

I could have been a great athlete.  I could have gone to New York and studied modern dance.  I could have taken job offers as an aerobics and aquatic fitness instructor.  People offered to pay for my training, but smoking made me feel like going into a career like that would be misleading or false.

My habit got worse during a very bad time in 1996.  It got worse again in 2003 when both my son and I became ill.

One day during the summer of 2003 I was smoking a cigarette and thought of a local man whom everyone downtown knew.  He had schizophrenia because his older brother, “dosed him with large amounts of acid,” when he was fifteen years old.  He died in the mental institution when they committed him and put him on a new medication.  It was a tragic loss to all who knew him.  I didn’t know him as well as some of the men did, but I cried when he died.

I was having tremendous anxiety the day I remembered him.  I felt like smoking an entire pack at once, like he did.  He cleaned windows for local small businesses and the owners paid him in food and cigarettes.  He would wait until he had what looked like over a hundred cigarettes.  Then he would sit down at the coffee-house, put them all in a large pile between his legs, and smoke every last one of them back to back.

I always felt his anxiety when I saw him smoking.  He rocked back and forth and smoked hard and fast.

I saw myself in his memory that day I wanted all those cigarettes.  My son was in serious trouble in life and utter fear was overwhelming me with anxiety.  That summer, before my son finally received medical help, is when I remembered our friend who smoked the pile of cigarettes.  I went in the side room of my little home, opened the window, and smoked while I wrote an ode to him.

“The tobacco plant, Nicotiana, has probably been responsible for more deaths than any other herb. At present, tobacco smoking is causing over 3 million deaths a year worldwide, and if current smoking trends continue the annual mortality will exceed 10 million by around 2030.”  (1)

The Nicotiana plant isn’t what’s so bad.  It’s the addiction to smoking and nicotine that leads so many to the doorway of death.

A beautiful plant meant for healing not harming

Nicotiana tabacum

A beautiful plant meant to heal not harm

Nicotiana rustica

Nicotiana tabacum, the plant now raised for commercial tobacco production, is probably of South American origin and Nicotiana rustica, the other major species which was carried around the world, came from North America. In 1492, Columbus found Native Americans growing and using tobacco, sometimes for its pleasurable effects but often for treatment of various ills.”  (1)

“As early as 15 October 1492 Columbus noted that dried leaves were carried by a man in a canoe near the island of Ferdinandina because they were esteemed for their healthfulness.  In the same year, two members of his crew observed people in what is now Cuba carrying a burning torch that contained tobacco, the purpose of which (it later emerged) was to disinfect and help ward off disease and fatigue.”  (1)

One time a wasp stung me and my leg swelled and ached badly.  I put a compress of wet tobacco on it and the swelling went down immediately.  I wore a patch for a couple of days and my leg was fine.  My grandmother had taught me that when a bee stung my foot around age seven.  I loved walking barefoot and we had more than what I considered our share of bees.

I grew up in the 1970’s in a rural cotton mill town where everyone smoked, except my grandmother.  She was the only adult in my family that didn’t smoke.

I remember my dad smoking in the line at the grocery store, along with everyone else.  The store manager walked around with a wide broom to clean up the butts on the floor.  He didn’t seem to mind this at all.   He would greet people as he did this.  I didn’t think anything about it.

I smoked my first cigarette in elementary school.  I stole them from my grandpa.  They said he was blind, but he always knew when I reached into the drawer where he always had a carton of Winston’s.  I don’t know how he knew because the drawer was out of his sight in the hallway.  One day when I opened the drawer there was a dozen packs of Juicy Fruit.  He never kept his cigarettes there anymore.

I nearly passed out the first time I inhaled smoke, but that didn’t stop me.  I thought I was cool.  I would go behind the neighbor’s outdoor shed, which was beside the cow pasture and smoke.  I didn’t do it often, thank goodness.

It was when I was around fourteen that I began to practice the habit.  I’d ride my bicycle and hide a pack of Marlboro’s in my socks or if I wore my cow girl boots then it was quite easy.  Nearly all my friends would hide cigarettes in their boots.  The cool ones anyway.

I quit the habit when I was seventeen.  That was the year when I made life-changing good decisions.  I wanted good health and an education and I got both.  I had many accomplishments when I was seventeen.

I started back one day when my son was a young toddler.  I was sitting around the kitchen table at my former sister-in-law’s house.  I hadn’t thought of a cigarette in five years.  I was having a hard time being a single mother.

“Maybe you need one of these.  You need something to calm your nerves,” my dear in law said to me.

She handed me a Marlboro light.  I thought I’d smoke only one.  I was wrong.

I was going to write that I can’t say no to severe sexual desire that has gone past the point of no return, but I wrote a little about that in The Elusive Fence.

Thank you for visiting Dogkisses’s blog.  Please feel free to leave a comment.

(1) PubMed Central, Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, Medicinal uses of tobacco in history.

(2) Image of sign via Wiki Commons

Click on images of plants for Wikimedia Commons description.

Topic #60 from The Daily Post, “What can’t you say no to?”

From the brain to the heart

invisible pathway

I was connected to the computer through a wire with a clamp attached to the tip of my index finger.   I thought about what I’m grateful for, particularly the unconditional love and companionship I feel from my furry little angels with four legs.

As I talked about my dogs the computer screen generated colors on several graphs.  Talking about them created intense colors of purple, violet, orange and blue.

The biofeedback therapist was enthusiastic about her work.  “Look!  Look how much the graphs change when you talk about your dogs!”

There was one column on the computer screen that detected activity in an, “invisible pathway” from the brain to the heart.  Talking about my dogs filled this column with a deep purple color.  

The therapist laughed and said she knew an invisible pathway sounded silly, but I didn’t care.  I’m interested in learning how to reduce physical pain and calm my spirit.  

I think the essence of biofeedback is about creating awareness of changes in the body when one is faced with stress and, changes when one actively chooses to calm the body, such as intentionally experiencing gratitude.

Outside of the sessions, I started to notice the changes in my body when I felt upset.   A rising heart rate, a familiar feeling in my gut that comes with anxiety, or the start of a negative thought pattern.  Being aware of the physical changes in my body help me to back up for a second.  It helps to see the changes before they get out of control, although I haven’t by any means mastered this practice.

Living with chronic illnesses means I need to lessen any stress that I can.  I may not be able to change circumstances, but I do have some control over how I respond to the stresses.  If I can slow down enough in a highly stressful situation to take slower breaths, then I can hopefully better choose my battles.

If I see myself falling quickly into depression, sometimes I’m able to think my way out of going too far down or staying down too long.

“You have to think grateful thoughts,” the biofeedback therapist told me.  “Positive thinking does not produce the same effects as does grateful thinking.”

I think of my dogs when I want an instant dose of gratitude.  Living with chronic illnesses has shaped my life in a way that isn’t always easy to accept.  Dogs offer an unconditional kind of love and understanding that’s like a golden elixir to my spirit.

Practicing gratitude helps me with depression.  It helps me to feel more accepting about things that I cannot control.  Feeling grateful helps me keep my chin up.

Thanks for visiting Dogkisses’s blog!

Image link:

http://commons.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Descartes-reflex.JPG