Monday, July 31, 2017

Surviving a Panic Attack

I sat my three kids down to give them the news. I was losing control, overwhelmed by the divorce.  I felt my brain on overload and I was inches away from a breakdown.  I needed their help. I needed them to take care of me while I rode out this storm.
          All three sat there stunned.  In their early twenties, they were barely adult enough to care for themselves, and I was “the strong one,” the one parent they relied on, their tether while they tested their wings on their own.  I had always warned them not to put me on a pedestal.  My feet were made of clay.  I was mortal and finite. And just as human as they.
          Right now, I was moments from slipping into a serious anxiety attack. I knew this because it wasn’t the first time I’d had one. Twenty years prior I froze in front of an auditorium full of educators who had come to hear me speak about the use of a computerized reading program.  I was legally separated (from the same man) back then, so my mind was on more important things than selling an expensive product to school administrators.  The sales person who had invited me to testify took over, but I doubt many sales were made that day.
          When none of my kids stepped forward, I didn’t blame them.  They too were traumatized by their father’s abandonment, so losing me scared them beyond words.  We were all a mess, so I called my mother and told her I was packed and on my way to her house.  I gave her the route I would take and ETA, then I drove to her house on autopilot.  She took care of me for four days, the time it took for me to come out of my dreamlike state of detachment, and I found my purpose and determination again.
          I always wonder why people do not die from a broken heart.  I guess some do; those who do not have healthy bodies.  The rest of us keep on living and the closest we come to dying is through anxiety attacks.
          I had another one a few months later.  I was still feeling a little wobbly when my brother-in-law passed away suddenly and my sister and niece asked for my help with the arrangements.  I was supposed to read Scripture at his funeral mass but when it came time, I froze.  I grew roots to the floor and panicked.  At the same time, I wanted to run out of the church but I could not move. I could not do anything, so I looked at my sister and niece and choked out something.  They calmed me down and covered for me.  The grief for my brother-in-law plus my own personal tragedy was more than my brain and my heart could handle. It only lasted for a few hours, but it proved I was a fraud. I wasn’t as strong as EVERYONE thought I was.  I was human and I hurt just like everyone else.
          I hadn’t had a panic attack in sixteen years, so I do not understand what triggered the one that visited me last week in the middle of the night while I slept. I was dreaming nonsense, some humdrum, boring conversation between me and some faceless person about some nothing subject, when – bam! – I woke up with a jolt, a whiplash like one experiences when a roller coaster makes a sudden stop. All my muscles were immobile, frozen, mummified. My heart was racing and I felt an overwhelming fear as if Satan himself was in the room. I looked over in the dark at HoneyBunch, but I could not move nor talk. It would take an effort I did not possess to tell him what was happening, so it was up to me to help myself.
          I assessed the damage.  I was not having a heart attack or stroke.  I recognized it as a panic attack.  I searched my brain for the cause of anxiety but found nothing that would cause a reaction this extreme. I took three deep, slow breaths.  I grounded myself, noting three things to identify my surroundings.  I forced myself to relax using the yoga technique where you start with your toes and work your way up the body.  I kept taking deep breaths and felt myself regaining calm.  As I thought of three, good things in my life that make me smile, I got into a comfortable sleeping position, and I prayed myself to sleep.
          I shared this with HoneyBunch the next day and he and I have discussed it several times since.  Our best guess is this time of year.  Many sad things have happened to us in the month of July over the years, so that might have triggered the panic attack. All I know is I am alive.  I am human and my feet are on the ground and not on a pedestal.  

          

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

The Infamous, Ginormous, Dreaded School Supply List


          The day after the 4th of July, the stores in my area ripped everything summer off the shelves and replaced it with Back to School merchandise.  Rows of backpacks replaced swim vests and bathing suits.  Sneakers and ankle boots kicked hundreds of flip flops into clearance bins, and the amount of material on shirts and pants grew longer.
          Though I no longer have kids of school age, seven of my nine grandkids head back in less than a month, and their parents are not looking forward to the infamous, ginormous, dreaded school lists.  One son has five kids, four of them in school, and my daughter has three in school.  Not only do they have to face School Supply Lists for each one, but there are also other back to school expenses: doctors, dentists, haircuts, clothes.  The list continues on and on.  
          It can be quite a hardship that swoops down on parents all at once.  I picked up three different SSLs while out shopping last week, each from three different school districts in my area.  The least number of items on one list was twenty-one different items; the most had thirty-eight. But this will not end there.  No sir.  The children will come home the first day of school, if not by the end of the first week, with additional items required by some of their teachers: lab fees, uniforms, mouth guards or mouth pieces.  They will have bought the wrong color ring binder and the teacher will insist it clashes with the color scheme for the class or the class period. The student will need to replace their four-inch, three ring binder with a three-inch, three ring binder. Mom and Dad will scramble to buy these things while trying to feed their family with whatever money is left in their budget for the month.
          We always had just enough but I sometimes wished I had a second job or a fairy godmother.
          My advice is to hoard.  Along with buying all these many items listed on the SSL, buy extras if you can and keep them for later.  A ream of notebook paper on sale in August costs twenty cents. They do this to bait parents into shopping at their store, so buy extras.  In January when your child needs another ream of paper it will cost about the same as a sirloin steak. You will thank me for this advice later.
          Look for sales.  Shop dollar stores.  Take advantage of the tax-free weekends. You’ll wish you had a second job or a fairy godmother.
          At the end of the year, force (threaten) your children to bring home all their school supplies.  Don’t let them throw them away at school or donate them to the teacher.  It is your property and you want it back. I recycled pencils and pens, scissors and rulers, pencil boxes and zipper bags.  My three handed down map pencils and water colors to one another all through elementary.  In fact, I still own some of those things. It embarrassed them when I dusted and wiped off binders, or when I sent them to school with lumpy erasers, but embarrassing them was part of my job description.
          So was providing for them.
          They came around when I used the money saved on them on new jeans or sneakers or eating out. They agreed with me that some of the stuff on the school supply list was rarely used.  Scissors, rulers, and the immortal water color set do not wear out.

           

Monday, July 17, 2017

Creating Magic Takes Hard Work


I am an organizer, a planner, a list maker.  There is a clock or an egg timer, a calendar or a notebook, a dry erase board or a magnetic clip with note attached, in every room.
When family comes to visit, a meal magically appears on the table.  The house is clean and the lawn is mowed.  Covered dishes warm on the stove and cold dishes chill in the refrigerator.  Pitchers of ice-cold lemonade and tea wait to fill glasses, and the coffee pot only needs to be started. The dessert takes center stage on the kitchen table. We say grace, we sit and eat, we enjoy our time together as a family. 
No one asks how it all got done.
The week before, I took inventory, making lists of things that need to be bought or set out before the company arrives. Every day of the week has its own list and on the last day the focus shifts into hourly checklists.
Almost as soon as the first guests arrive, everything falls into place as if by magic and I sit and enjoy my children and their families. They did not witness all the work it took to get here, all the pots and pans, bowls and appliances that I used and washed. It looks like I wiggled my nose and everything came together on its own.
We say grace, we sit and eat, we enjoy our time together.  Every minute of planning and work is worth the effort. My family is growing in size and in age and magical moments together like this are more precious than gold or diamonds.

When it is time to leave and the last car drives off, leaving only fading echoes of children’s laughter and grown up chatter, I have no need for a list or a clock or a pencil. Things will get done, put away, and straightened over the following week, but first, I will sit, smile, and enjoy the tiny bit of magic I helped to create.  

Monday, July 10, 2017

Growing Some Grandkids


Four of my grandchildren will be in high school this coming year, one at each grade level: ninth, tenth, eleventh, and twelfth grade.  They are moving into adulthood at an alarming rate.
When they come over, HoneyBunch and I try to set a good example, one that compliments that of their parents who are doing an amazing job.
It helps to know and examine that “good example” every once in a while, since it is not a given that with our age comes wisdom.
I would like to say to each of them:
1.      Value yourself and who you are, and do not let anyone take that from you. Learn to be independent and educate yourself as much as you can before going out into the world and starting your adult life.
2.    When you give your word, make a promise, stick to it.  Know when to apologize when you make a mistake, sin, or take a wrong turn.  Don’t repeat the mistake and learn to make restitution for it.
3.    Educate yourself about the world, the environment, politics.  Educate yourself and find a job that you will like enough to do it for the rest of your life, one that will provide for your needs and those of a family.
4.    Do your part in protecting your values and of those who depend on you. Learn to protect and defend yourself. Guard yourself and your values.  Be educated enough to know when to dismiss the invasiveness and divisiveness of the world and its insidious rants. An educated mind is hard to sway.
5.    Learn to love and trust, show your affection through actions and words.  If it does not work out, hold no regrets.  Life is messy but well worth the struggle. It is better to love and lose than to never love at all.
6.    Protect those who depend on you.  Children are a great and wonderful responsibility, but life will stop being about you.  It will about them and all their needs.   
7.    These suggestions are not temporary quests but last a lifetime, so while you are educating your mind and heart, learn to guard your body as well.  Eat healthy.  Exercise.  Keep active so that you can stay mobile and in good health for as long as you can as you age.

8.    Lastly, remember that each of you is loved by a fierce army of family who only wants the best for you. 

Monday, July 3, 2017

My Flair for Prayer


Sitting in alphabetical order in high school English class, I hide behind Johnny Martinez’s wide, football fullback shoulders.  I am in a panic because the teacher announces a pop quiz.
I pull out a clean sheet of paper and shoot a quick prayer of desperation to God and His entire choir of angels as I write my heading and number one to five. 
God knows I am no slacker.  I always do my homework, but after tackling an entire chapter in my history book and doing all the odd-numbered math problems for Algebra II, the English poem about love, virgins, and seduction put me to sleep last night. 
What do I know about sex, especially written in complicated “olde” English?  I am sixteen, I have been kissed once on the lips by a non-relative, and I have been on a total of three dates, all heavily chaperoned by my mean and vindictive older brother.
I had no frame of reference as I read the poem, just some icky feeling that the poet had the hots for some zaftig maiden.
I promise God all sorts of things as the teacher rattles off the questions, and I attempt weak answers.  I promise to be kind to my younger sisters.  I promise to say a rosary every night to the Virgin Mother for one whole month.  I promise to control my impure thoughts about Johnny’s very wide, very muscley shoulders. 
Please, please, please, dear Lord, help me get through this quiz.  My A-plus average depends on this. 
We hand in our papers and the teacher goes over the quiz and the poem.  I get a sinking feeling that I will not get anything more than a few points on the quiz, but on the bright side, I won’t have to keep the promises I made in desperation.
To my surprise, the teacher returns our papers the next day and I have made an 80.  It must be a miracle or a mercy.  She explains that upon looking at our answers, she has reconsidered some of our answers and has accepted some of our literal interpretations though she expected a better understanding of the allusions. 
Her explanations the previous day helped me some with those, and I think it is funny that the poet and I had more in common that I first expected.  He wrote about his salacious attraction to a beautiful maiden and I spend most of English class wondering how it would feel to run my hands over Johnny’s double wide shoulders.

But now that God has kept His side of the deal, I will have to keep mine.