If I can get to sleep by ten, I’ll be waking to see the clock by three. If I push my bedtime back to midnight, it’s almost certain I’ll be up again by five. Even with the prescription sleeping pills. My mother’s body has worked this way for years – so it’s not really a surprise. The difference between us is that she accepts it, but me, I don’t want to. I cherish my sleep, and I’ll do whatever I need to do in order to get it. My dreaming world is far more interesting and compelling one than this waking one. Besides, my body has always needed and wanted sleep. Always. I find that either exactly seven or nine hours is best. Less or more seems to throw me off. But five? That’s more my ex-husband’s speed. Not only do I need sleep – but I fairly live for it. I exist for those heavenly departures from the constantly-running mind. The endless worry over money, over heating oil, over my worsening arthritis. The endless tangential branches of thought that almost never return to their origin, the constant interior spinning of my head.
Once, when remarking that I hardly knew what to do first in order to get the Studio completed, a friend asked if I had ADD. The idea had come as a complete surprise. Did I? I didn’t think so, cuz I did manage to pull off a lot – but maybe, maybe… Further contemplation on the question tells me that that’s not the issue. It’s just that I have so many interests and goals, and for the time being, it’s just me getting them all done. As my son gets older, he does more for himself, and that helps a lot. And soon, with any luck, it won’t be just me piloting the Studio into its future. But for the moment, it feels like the world won’t turn unless I figure out how to turn it… And my thoughts just won’t turn off.
Rooting hormone – where can I get that stuff? And how much longer will those cuttings last before it’s too late to root them? If I get a 32″ wide door for the utility room door and frame it smaller, will the sink fit inside? Will people fit through ok? Who’s the biggest person who needs to get in there anyway? Gotta measure that sink. Can’t forget to cancel my old car insurance and call the new agent back asap… How will I afford the additional storage space for the blog? Gotta get a sweep for that east-facing door, have to make sure the thermostat works in the outside closet before it freezes, gotta pay Al, gotta pay Joe, gotta buy a new door – and is that door still sitting at the side of Locust Grove road? – gotta pay the lawyer, the dentist, the electric bill for the Studio… I’ll need more students to make the new expenses… Man, how will I make the insurance payments? How can I get people in the place? How do I keep going with no money? I’m getting fatter these days and sure am glad I kept my bigger clothes… How will I ever get back into shape again? Shall I start Weight Watchers again this week, and how embarrassing will that be? Why oh why did I let myself go over the summer? How will I make Elihu’s costume? Wonder if the head or the shoulders support the weight… Damn these arthritic fingers, I can feel them crossing now…. When was it I first noticed that? August? Beginning of September? There’s no going back, my fingers will never, ever be as they were… God I wish my fingers would just stop getting worse. No sense worrying about it, but damn it, I can feel them right now, rubbing against each other. But then again, what am I complaing about? I have fingers. And they work. Could be so much worse. I don’t have cancer… yet. Dare I even think that? I used to think I’d never get cancer, but just look at all of my friends who have had it, they probably didn’t think they’d get cancer either…
And on it goes. But deeper still, beneath the white noise-like chatter of my conscious thoughts is a near-constant sense of fear, of imminent doom, rumbling away. I used to wonder if I was the only person – but I’ve always known that I couldn’t possibly be; there are enough of us here on the planet that I can be damn sure that I’m not the first to do or think anything. Just yesterday I came upon the blog of a fellow who describes himself as a constantly depressed ‘type’. And for him, as it is for me, it isn’t that he’s unable to laugh or to enjoy life, it’s just that he always starts from a melancholic place. That’s just the way he’s always been. It relieved me to hear someone else talking like this. Someone else for whom good cheer and positivity must be cultivated. When I read his ‘about’ page, my first thought was finally. Finally someone else who isn’t always up, who isn’t wired to see a glass half full. Someone who knows better, and has to work go get there. I honestly do feel it’s easier for some than others. Me, I look at my hoarder, depressed and alcoholic brother and I realize there’s a physiological component to my temperament as well. Aside from the general ill-ease I feel, there’s always the threat of panic attacks – or at least acute pre-panic episodes. My panic attacks may be helped along by certain triggers, but at the end of the day, they are physical events over which I simply do not have the sort of control I might wish. People may think it’s a way in which to shirk responsibility for oneself, but it’s not so. That being said, there are some things I can do to help keep myself aloft as well as to keep the panic events to a minimum, and they’re on the list. Even if I can’t control the panic thing entirely, it’s true that I need to take more action. And I think of the things I mean to do about it as I lay in bed each night, spinning.
“You know why you’re having panic attacks these days” my new friend miChelle said with complete confidence. “It’s because you’re not meditating”. I knew that she was, in part, correct. I also knew that I wasn’t exercising in any way, and that contributed. So did drinking alcohol daily. The challenge about drinking is just as it was for me with smoking; you’re always chasing that buzz, that wonderful, warm and ‘hopeful’ feeling, but it’s gone almost as soon as you feel it. It’s elusive, and demands you chase it down the hole. But in the end, it just makes it even harder to sleep, adds more useless calories to your day, and leaves you with a fuzzy headache the next morning. It helps to know that the Studio’s hump is behind me now, and so too are my taxes (which I got done late this year!) so I can afford to turn more of my attention to figuring out a game plan for living better. At least I don’t smoke anymore. That God for that.
Another spin cycle starts… People who know me personally might think of me as energetic, positive and outgoing, and on the outside, yeah, I am. But that’s not how my soul feels… Daily, sometimes even hourly I think of the horror that fellow humans live with; the poverty, the disabilities, the indignities, the physical torture at the hands of other humans. I’m always aware that unspeakable pain and fear exist on the planet at this very moment. I also realize that because I’m powerless to change anything other than my small sphere of influence; fretting over this stuff is wasted mental and spiritual energy. So instead I take moments throughout the day to send my love and peace to these people. Even those back through history. I try to comfort them across time and space, because I feel for them. Remembering them should help me to understand how fortunate I am, but somehow, I can’t get it as I know I should. Why am I so deeply bothered by other people’s traumas? Why do I feel as if I myself might also be only steps away from a horrible fate? The view outside my window is lovely, my child is thriving, and so far, I’m not in pain or acute distress. So far. Man, what is with me? I feel like Woody Allen here.
There are times when I think if I only had a partner, things would be so much easier. Someone to say ‘don’t worry, I got the dishes, you go and update the website.’ Or someone to make supper, go shopping, run into town… But then I scold myself. I know damn well that while it might be nice to have a dear friend and peer in my camp (and having someone who actually made decent money in the household would undoubtedly lift an enormous burden) I’m not sure it would fix everything. In fact, it’d be one more person who needed a piece of me. And the way I feel about life these days – I just don’t have the energy for that.
I can tame the spin a bit by getting it down on paper. Seeing the lists helps. And I’ve collected half a dozen small spiral notebooks in which nearly every item has a line through it. Lest I lose myself in despair I must remember that the Studio is open for business and populated each week (albeit by only a couple dozen people), and one year ago the place was gutted and barren. So I got that going for me. Which is nice. (Yes, my in-the-know friends. Caddyshack.)
Elihu and I walked in the woods just down the road and visited the beaver pond this afternoon. Years ago there was no trail; my mother gave us the directions she’d used in those days – we were to head east until we came upon Sessleman creek, at which we should take a right, following it until the waterfall at the pond’s head. (Elizabeth Sessleman, of the family for whom the creek was named, married Ralph Ellsworth and they built the home in which we now live.) As we entered the property we met a fellow walking two big dogs, and he told us to follow the trail, crossing the bridge and continuing on to the lookout. I expressed my surprise at the infrastructure, and he told me that the property had been donated to Saratoga PLAN, a local land conservation group. Martha had given her land to them too. While it was ultimately good news, it did kinda sadden me that the old days of finding one’s way through the woods without benefit of a trail were gone. But the trek didn’t disappoint, and in fact my previously cranky pre-teen enjoyed himself thoroughly. We were met with cairns everywhere, and there were even Tibetan prayer flags hung at the entrance to the lookout, which perched over the waterfall at the creek’s end – the creek which my mother had followed years ago on foot.
In the woods, all my panic-related thoughts eased. The scent of a damp forest in continual, soft decay restored us both. Penny-sized flecks of mirror-like mica peeked out from beneath the moss, and the roots of huge trees hugged giant boulders, coaxing them gently out of the ground in super slow motion. The trail had some pretty elevation changes throughout, with large ledges of exposed rock marking the topography. We found our way down to the water’s edge and although we found none, we kept on the lookout for frogs. Elihu wove me a bracelet from sedge grass and noted that he really was a Waldorf kid. ! We followed a small penninsua out into the water and had a fine time exploring. As the sun began to dip down below the treetops, we turned and followed the trail loop back to the road.
Now we’re home. It’s been just about as fine a fall day as one could ever have, and we’re pleasantly tired, holed up in my bedroom and waiting for the electric space heater to take the chill off. I feel better, both for having moved in the fresh air, and for having had the chance to express a little of my inner world to the outer one, so very far from the confines of my tiny room. For now my head is clean, and even though my house might not be the same, I feel fairly content. I’m in my favorite chair, and Elihu is here beside me in my big bed, cozy and playing a game on his Ipad. Every now and then he tells me he loves me. He asks if I’m happy, and I tell him that I am. It feels good to be home, healthy and safe. So for now, I’m going to try not to worry about anything at all. Because I know very well that the world spins just fine without me.
We’re on a ridge about 30 feet above the expanse of water, but Elihu can’t see anything but the closest trees. He gets that there’s some ‘white’ out there, but that’s it. I promise him that when we get home I’ll show him the pics of the water on the computer. This kind of stuff always breaks my heart, but I don’t dwell on it – especially not in front of him – because it’s simply how things are.
The view back at the place from which we came; it hardly looks like any elevation at all, and yet the bridge and waterfall are mid-way to the tops of the trees, in the center of this pic. (I felt the elevation on the walk back up!)