Reno Week #2

The living room turned storage space.

The living room turned storage space.

Wouldn’t you think that once you learn a lesson it would stick?  Letting go is one of the biggest lessons I’ve tangled with all through my life.  It’s probably because I’ve spent my life trying to control everything around me.  As the family caretaker when I was young, I was in charge of keeping the peace. Most of the time it didn’t work. My parents didn’t stop fighting because I went out of my way to be the best little girl on earth. And my brothers never listened to me when I told them to stop slinging mudballs at each other. But I kept trying.

When I grew up and had kids of my own I got fairly good at controlling them … until they became teens and started developing attitude.  Then they flew the coop and  I was left holding the empty control bag. I turned to everyone else around me. Who could I control now?  Why wasn’t I being awarded the best controller medal of the world?

But time, a few therapists, and life in general has taught me that there is absolutely nothing I can control.  Life has a way of doing it’s own thing. I can try as hard as I might to make the sun shine on a rainy day but it won’t happen.  The world is what it is and I find it best to work at having a good time rather than spending all of my energy trying to make everything run smoothly.

I ticked off one more try at it this past week, which resulted in a meltdown. For a meltdown it wasn’t as bad as they can be and I apologized profusely to everyone in sight. I felt awful for making an ass of myself and spent a couple of hours hating silly, stubborn me. I thought, “No more home improvements for me! I’ve had it!” When the end of the day came and everything looked wonderful and just as it should.  Nothing was shattered or broken. The sun was still shining and the birds were singing.  But I had hurt myself. I’ve been there before. Every time I react without pausing to think through something that isn’t going my way, I end up making a mess of myself and sometimes those around me.

I figured in order to keep it from happening again,  I had to approach all of this from another angle. Somewhere in my head I heard the suggestion that I should stay away from the construction zone as much as possible.  The next morning I went to the house to put a load of laundry in. I worked in my studio and didn’t go back until later in the day to put the laundry in the dryer. I stopped to look at what was happening, but made no judgements. I smiled and went my own way again until I went back to fold the laundry, again admiring the work that had been done.

I did somewhat the same thing on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday.  What a difference. I was happy. Things were on schedule and the world hadn’t ended because I wasn’t paying attention. I even took time for having tea with a friend, reading, walking the dogs, and napping.

But the thing is, I should know better by now.  So once again I’m making a promise to myself and the world that the next time steam starts pouring out of my ears, I’ll pause and stop trying to keep the world from coming to an end.  Maybe I should take a notebook and fill it up with the same sentence over and over again: “I will not react before I stop and think about what is happening.”

Just to let you know the latest word, the crew boss thinks they’ll probably pretty much wrap up the kitchen part of the  project by the end of this week or early the following week.  I’m elated and have promised  to keep my cool at least until then. The laundry room is now tiled and the electricians and plumbers are hard at work.. The appliances should start going back into the kitchen today. I’m totally surprised and in awe of how quickly this has gone and so far am extremely happy with the results. And though I embarrassed myself pretty badly this past week, I’m proud of myself for stepping back and accepting the fact that I am just one imperfect human being amongst all the rest.

Meltdown: What Happened After A Recent Trip And How Not To Let It Happen Again

Lily and Sam taking a nap.

It’s Tuesday. I just walked in the house after a six-hour plane trip from Vermont.  It was a fast paced and emotion filled trip seeing friends, family members and revisiting old haunts.  I’m tired, but before I can sit down and pull all my lose threads together and get back to my ordinary life I need to make a list of groceries so that Bill and I can have something to eat for dinner.  Out the door I fly, back into the car that just delivered me from the airport and head out to Whole Foods.  I’m back a little while later with fresh local produce and some Thai spiced chicken breasts from the deli counter.

The older I get the more exhausting travel seems to be. I’ve been up since five AM and it’s now three in the afternoon.  I need to lie down for a quick nap, but my suitcase lies open and unpacked in the middle of the bed. Sam is sniffing around in the dirty clothes trying to figure out where I’ve been. The easiest thing to do is to do the unpacking now and take a nap later.  I haul the laundry downstairs and since there is so much of it and tomorrow will be a hugely busy day, I set the washing machine on regular and walk away as the tub fills with water. Upstairs there is a pile of mail for me to sort through and I notice that the answering machine is blinking. There are eight messages to listen to.  My feet hurt. I have a headache and that list of places I need to be tomorrow is attacking me.  I need to take a nap, but there is so much to do. I only have two days to get my life back in order before a good friend comes to visit.

It’s now Sunday, almost a week since I’ve been back. Susan, a friend I haven’t seen in several years left an hour ago. This weekend was the only time we could fit in some time to see each other. We spent our days together talking about what we’ve each been up to, enjoyed delicious food together and stayed up way past my bedtime.  In between conversations, thoughts and feelings about my trip to Vermont kept whispering in my ear, telling me they needed to breathe. They wanted out of my head and onto the pages of my journal. But it will most likely be another few years before I see Susan again and I didn’t pay any attention to what I needed to do.

I’ve watered the garden, checked emails and Facebook and just finished lunch.  My head hurts and my stomach is churning like a cement mixer and I feel my eyes begin to fill with tears. My weekly calendar, a page I print out every weekend so that I know what is ahead of me for the coming week, sits in front of me.  Tuesday and Wednesday, days I always set aside as “My Days,” are filled with things that won’t necessarily be relaxing or creative  There is no time for sitting in the garden, reading or writing the next piece of my memoir.  I’m still playing catch-up and on Friday another very dear friend will be arriving to spend a good piece of time with me.  I so look forward to her visit.  We met two years ago at a writing retreat and we’ve become fast friends ever since, talking by phone every week and trying to come up with plans so that we can get together.

I’m feeling the first pangs of an incoming meltdown.  I start breathing deeply and envision myself on an empty beach. As I inhale fresh air into my lungs I say, “ocean” to myself.  On the exhale, I say, “wave,“ and find myself breathing to the rhythm of waves washing up on shore and then returning to the sea.  This is what I do when I meditate and also when I’m feeling unsafe and highly stressed.  But today it’s a struggle and my mind rushes back to all of the things I need to do before Sharon arrives. I’m shaky and I find myself entering that no-man’s land of panic, all alone and unable to pull myself back.

The tears start flowing. I am impatient with Bill and my world seems to be collapsing around me.  I still haven’t written much about my trip except for a brief blog post, which is more of a travelogue than anything else. It doesn’t cover what being in Vermont meant to me.  I feel as though time has boxed me into a cell without access to paper, pens, or my computer.  I want to write it all out but as I sit down to do it, my Inner Critic arrives, seating herself on my shoulder. She starts hammering, “You’ll never  write your memoir, so why bother feeling so glum.  Just turn the computer off and go clean out the refrigerator.”  My Angel of Sanity, who just flew in says, “Your tired. You need some alone time. Cancel all of your appointments for the next week. Be calm. Trust the process.”  I take a nap, then a walk, wondering if I will ever write again.

A week has passed and all is well.  I had a meltdown.  Sharon knew as only good friends do, that I needed to be by myself.  It wasn’t the perfect time for her either, so we bagged our get-together and decided to do it another time.

I’ve spent the week taking it easy.  Being alone, naps and going to bed early help a lot. I cancelled some of my appointments and I started writing. Slowly at first. A day or two later it began to flow and I feel as though I’ve returned to the land of the living.  Ms. Inner Critic has been banished and my angel is sitting over on the book shelf, looking smug, trying not to say, “I told you so.”

Three days ago Sharon called and asked if she could take me to lunch.  She and her daughter, Amy, were on their way to New York for a workshop/retreat.  She arrived too late for lunch but we had a wonderful dinner together.  They stayed the night and went their way early the next morning.  I loved seeing them and they didn’t intrude on my recovery.   Actually, seeing Sharon, helped a lot.

What I’ve learned:

  1. I need time after a trip like this last one to rest and process what just happened.

2.  I need to take plenty of time to be alone.

3.  I mustn’t fill my calendar with appointments right after a trip.  I need to give myself time to readjust.

4.  I need to be aware of how I’m feeling and be honest with myself and those around me who need to know what they’re up against if they plan on hanging out with me.

I have another heavy-duty, emotionally challenging trip coming up in October, when I go up to Long Island where I was born and spent my childhood. I will scatter my mother’s ashes in the places she loved the most during her lifetime.  And I will hopefully visit with cousins I haven’t seen in fifty years.  Before I leave I will revisit this post and take heed.

 If like me you suffer from overstimulation and have meltdowns when life gets too busy and emotional, how do to keep yourself from going ballistic?