I’m happy to report I’m feeling much better in general (although it’s raining, and that seems to activate the dizzy button in my head), and the anxiety and depression I was feeling was simply the fallout from me messing with my medication. Even though I returned to taking it as prescribed, the up-and-down rollercoaster effect the entire week had on my body, mind, and spirit was just a bit too much for me to handle without having something of a nervous breakdown when my roommate was kind of an ass and my toilet broke. (these things have since been fixed.)

Fortunately, I’d had an appointment to go and see my doctor on Tuesday, which was how I began my Valentine’s celebration. The Guy I Am Currently Dating came to pick me up and drove me to the doctor’s office. As always, she spent a long time with me talking about my issues, and agreed that a majority of my issues were related to the vestibular disorder I’d been diagnosed as having, and the health-related anxiety and predisposition to panic attacks. She gave me instructions not to mess with my medications until the next time I saw her, and she assured me that my heart, lungs, and other vital organs were perfectly fine.

She also reassured me that feelings of anger and depression and low self-esteem were natural, and almost everyone who’s been told that they’re facing a long recovery process and need to learn to live with something that there is no cure goes through that, whether the illness is life threatening or not. She pointed out to me that, in certain ways, my extensive medical knowledge, gained from a lifetime of reading and exposure to the field, and friendships with people with actual medical knowledge, was actually enhancing my symptoms. Apparently, highly intelligent and highly intuitive people are more likely to suffer from anxiety issues, simply from thinking too much, and believing whatever they’ve read about applies to them. For instance, medical residents routinely come down with a number of illnesses, all induced by hypochondria. Studying a brain tumour leads you to imagine every little thing in your head is a symptom of a brain tumour, since you are aware of many things that are symptoms. Certain personality types are prone to suffering symptoms after reading about them; oddly, the same personality type that excels at method acting, and can bring on not only the feelings of but physical signs of certain ailments. In the end, she told me to take my pills, eat right, exercise, stop stressing about weight loss because it would happen slowly on this medication, and to realise my problems were a simple vestibular disorder that happens to cause some weird things to happen, much like the struggles of chronic migraine suffers. She told me to talk to a psychologist specialising in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, stay off any other drugs anyone might wish to prescribe me, and go to the vestibular rehab sessions. Mostly, she told me the only “cure” for my problem was time and a willingness to keep on moving past the obstacles, and eventually, things like depression would pass as I retrieved my self-confidence. All that was very good to hear, and I left feeling pretty awesome about things, actually.

Tuesday evening was a low-key Valentine’s Day…it was Tuesday, and both The Guy I Am Currently Dating and I had a ton of work. So, we exchanged cards and gifts, and went to play trivia! It was one of our best trivia nights ever…we were in 1st all the way down to the tie-breaker. We tied the tie-breaker, but the other team handed it in first, so we still came in 2nd. ARRRRGH. We’re trying our best for that 5th place spot, and the tournament is in two weeks. Of course, plenty of other teams are trying to get in the top 5 as well. There’s really no incentive, other than we’ve been in the top 5 for the past 4 tournaments, and we get a plaque. I like getting plaques. It reminds me of being 12 years old and getting an award for something that’s really awesome when you’re 12.

The Guy I Am Currently Dating bought me a stuffed blue M&M. I love it. No flowers or balloons or chocolates, but I love my M&M. Everytime I go to NYC, I bring back an M&M for him from the M&M Store. Last time, I got him the pillow shaped red one for the bed…and he got me the blue. The colours of the M&Ms correlate to different emotions. Blue is happy and energetic.

I got some other lovely Valentine’s gifts from friends and family in my life, including a beautiful book called “The Art Of The Moment”, DVDs of “Phantom”, “Chess”, and “Les Mis” from Royal Albert Hall, a few copies of a book written by an aspiring author friend (one of which was immediately passed along to The Guy I Am Currently Dating), and a poem. Not to mention, there were of course some Facebook greetings, which always spread the love. Naturally, I bought myself a Valentine’s gift, too, long before the holiday. I’d pre-ordered the latest DVD in the Twilight series, and it arrived on the 15th, so…that’s what we’ll be watching this Friday.

The Day After Valentine’s Day was pretty good, too. It marked my debut with Atlanta’s Write Club Atlanta, a group of writers, actors, directors, and other artistically inclined folks who put on a show that features three pairs of performers reading 7-minute stories/poems/monologues composed on opposing subjects. As it was February, ours all had to do with things that could (but did not have to be) Valentine’s Day related. My round, “Stay Vs. Go” had me representing “Go”.

I had a million reasons not to do this sort of thing; getting on stage with bright lights, a sound system, a huge crowd, and just having been diagnosed with a vestibular disorder makes something that most people dislike by nature (public speaking) even more challenging. Add to that that I’m a self-conscious person these days, having gained 25 pounds and learning it’s a long road to losing weight on a beta-blocker, and it would seem that signing up to get up on stage in front of strangers…and then invite all my friends…would be a remarkably bad idea.

It wasn’t. In fact, my friends were very supportive and the Write Club people very kind, diverse, and funny. They’re the kind of people who not only embrace quirkiness but demand it, something I’ve missed since living in Atlanta. I’d definitely participate in their projects in the future, and will certainly return to hear other people read their works. It’s just a good, creativity-affirming time.

Also, I actually ended up winning my round (audience applause is king in these situations) although the guy who wrote about “Stay” was really funny. I actually clapped for him, until I remembered audience applause counted, so I was effectively voting against myself. Oooops. The best part was hearing praise and encouragement from other people on my way out. I met a group of people who asked if the story I’d written about was true (absolutely, 100%, and then some…I had to omit quite a bit in the name of time and because not everything is funny.) I also met a girl who told me she knew exactly who I was talking about in my story ( a humorous anecdote based on a guy I went out with a few times), because her friend met said guy at a party and almost went out with him. It’s a small, small world.

I’d post my composition here, but, it will eventually be released in podcast form…so, all in due time.

Most importantly, I conquered a potential fear. I wondered if this inner ear/dizziness problem was something that would keep me from ever getting on a stage again. While I’m not quite up for doing a musical yet, I proved to myself that the answer is “No”. I may be afraid of having a panic attack, but I can get up on stage for 10 minutes. I can go to parties and concerts and even shop at Kroger. I can start working off the extra pounds with exercise, and learning to cook for myself. Maybe I can even travel.

After the show, I went out to a nearby pub for a few drinks and conversation with a group of close friends here in Atlanta. One of them told me about a time in his life he went through a similar situation that I’ve been dealing with, albeit for different reasons, and likely around the same point in his life that I am at right now. (my friend is a bit older and wiser than myself, though just by a few years.) It made me feel, for the first time in months, I was talking to someone who understood.

Few things make you feel stronger than talking to someone who understands, who has been where you are, and survived.

All in all, I had a pretty good week, although work has been intense, I started a new project, things kept breaking, and I feel the internal need to slow down and rest, but have too much to do. Also, it has occurred to me that I may have offended a friend/acquaintance of mine, as I sent a “here’s some random “thinking of you” stuff in the mail” package to him, as I’ve been known to do. Yet, I’ve not heard from him in quite some time..so, I don’t know. I tend to offend others unintentionally and when I’m not looking. I’d say I’m paranoid, but the fact that I’ve actually lost friends I cared about without explanation, have been kicked out of social groups, and still avoid certain places in multiple cities for fear of running into those who are openly not Alayna fans…well, I’d say I’m just a realist. ;)

I hope you all had a wonderful Valentine’s Day week, as well…single or couple, married or not, children or not, long-distance or in the same house. I like Valentine’s Day because it’s a reminder that there’s so much love in the Universe, and it’s the kind we could be putting out there every day, without all the inhibitions and insecurities and judgments and limitations. I’m not just talking about romantic love and sexual attraction (though it applies to that, too), but to friendships and familial relationships and saying hi to that barista at Starbucks you have the secret crush on. I’m talking about remembering to put love and support and compassion out there as much as possible, and to have more true friends, and fewer acquaintances (my personal focus for this year, along with getting back to myself, physically and emotionally.)

I’m also incredibly happy my toilet is fixed, although the Y on my computer is not.

That being said, I kind of wanted a balloon. I love balloons. :P But I’m learning to be a little less high-maintenance. ;)

You may have noticed I haven’t been around a whole lot lately, and I’m not sure why, other than I’ve been struggling with a sense of depression and isolation I don’t wish to inflict on my readers day in and day out, just as I don’t wish to be that person who’s always bringing my friends down in real life. The result is often a feeling that it’s too much work to talk to anyone, and I’d prefer my world quiet and filled with solitude. At the same time, I feel kind of a large weight on my chest that’s either anxiety, or a warning sign that my heart is about to go on permanent strike.

I’m still not recovering. I’m still gaining weight steadily, despite eating and drinking less than ever. Research into the subject shows this is an unpleasant side effect of my medication, along with hair loss, and short of discontinuing my use of beta blockers and restricting my calorie intake to about 800 calories per day to maintain my weight, there’s little I can do. I still suffer from headaches and intolerance to bright lights and sometimes, merely leaving my house. I sometimes wonder, “What if the doctor is wrong, like so many before him?” I wonder if I am dying, and how best to put my affairs in order, to make it easier on everyone if I don’t wake up tomorrow.

According to the literature I’ve read, my feelings are pretty normal, although they seem pretty screwed up to me. It mentions that being diagnosed with a chronic illness sends people through the five stages of grief typically reserved for coping with the loss of a loved one or receiving news of your own impending death. Instead of mourning for another person or preparing for the end of your own life, you’re mourning the loss of your former self, of things you believe you can no longer do, a person you can no longer be…at least for awhile. This makes a lot of sense to me, because it *is* how I feel. I just feel compelled to go through my process in isolation more days than I’d typically feel comfortable with just my own company. Too often, I don’t feel strong enough to face the world…and when I try and fail, the failure hits me hard. I wonder if I will be alone and unloved for much of the next portion of my life, after a life spent constantly on the go, in the spotlight, seeking the attention and approval of others.

I did make it out this weekend, despite some struggles with anxiety and feeling physically ill, and to a concert of all things. We saw Ani DiFranco at Variety Playhouse, and although Ani didn’t perform many of my personal favourites, I enjoyed a lot of the stuff from her latest album. Her opening act was a rather unknown act from Brooklyn called Pearl And The Beard. I liked their music a great deal, although the acoustics made it difficult for me to enjoy them as much as I’d have liked to. Their lead singer is a fabulous, eccentric lady, barely taller than I am, but with a belt voice that encompasses almost her entire range. It’s unusual to come across a white female who can belt without a break in her voice (no, it’s not racism, it’s just one of those weird biological facts learned throughout my years of vocal training.), but this band’s singer, Jocelyn, belts almost up to a high C. As an operatic soprano whose belt voice won’t even think about trying that, I’m both jealous and impressed….enough that I wanted to purchase their CD. Alas, it was sold out. We said a few words of congratulations to Jocelyn after the show and received hugs, so I hope to see and hear good things from them.

As for Ani, I think her voice only gets better with time. Like Tori Amos, she has an unusual, quirky voice that may fool you into thinking she lacks true vocal skill, but you’d be dead wrong (on both accounts.) Ani doesn’t have an interesting range or the ability to play with light and darkness in her voice the way Tori does, but she performs in a variety of styles and shows off a really strong voice when she chooses to. Other times, she chooses to take a Bob Dylan-esque, musical-without-singing, narrative approach. Both are equally compelling. As a person, I think she’s extraordinarily likable, slightly to the left of me in her personal and political views, and not afraid to tackle the controversial. This was my third Ani show, and I’ll keep seeing her, as long as she keeps coming to town.

This was my personal favourite from her latest album:

Ani DiFranco: Promiscuity

I made it through most of the concert without any unwanted feelings or panic attacks, until the bright blue gels went on and everything started flashing. I sat with my black wrap covering my head like a burka and using the hat The Guy I Am Currently Dating always wears as a shield. But,all in all, I’m glad I went to see the show.

In other news, I was invited to perform at an event at a local theatre, a monthly showcase called Write Club. It seems to consist mostly of actors, writers, and other theatrically-minded individuals. You’re given a challenge partner, and two sets of contrasting themes (i.e, Happy Vs. Sad.) It’s not improv; you have about two weeks to craft a 7-minute monologue, story, poem, performance art piece, essay, whatever you want to do. The person receiving the most applause “wins”, which pretty much means you’re entitled to choose a charity that one-third of the proceeds will go to benefit (there are three winners per night.) You also have the benefit of hearing some pretty interesting and talented people do their thing.

I submitted an application at the end of December, when on my “I’m going to break out of my comfort zone and focus on doing things I like, even if I’m sick” kick. I had rather forgotten about it, but was kind of impressed they wanted me to appear so soon after I’d submitted my application. It made me feel liked for a brief nano-second. :P

Since the show occurs the day after Valentine’s Day, the three themes are relationship related. Mine is “Stay Vs. Go”, and, appropriately enough, I have “Go”. I immediately wrote a piece that was funny and charming, in my own opinion, but since The Guy I Am Currently Dating has encouraged me to explore writing different pieces instead, I’m not sure he agrees with my assessment. The hardest part, of course, is fitting the story you’d like to tell into 7 minutes. On first reading, mine was 11. I had to edit my piece 5 times to get it down under 7 minutes, and there’s not much room for leeway still. I’m totally not used to editing, so of course, now I think the whole thing probably sucks. :P I’ll throw it under my bed somewhere with the rest of the random stuff that was a good creative idea at one time or another, but really wasn’t. :P

I also read Paulo Coelho’s Aleph, which I would have finished in one sitting, did I not have the terrible habit of only reading and writing late at night. Paulo Coelho is my favourite author, probably the best thing I got out of my time with someone I’ll likely never cross paths with again, but who made an impact upon my life in terms of love and spirituality and finding the essence of oneself. Not coincidentally, these are Coelho’s favourite themes. I enjoy some of his books more than others; the more abstract, philosophical stories he shares appeal to me on a much different level than those that read like a “My Trip To The Mayan Ruins’ docu-drama. Aleph is one of his strongest, along with “Eleven Minutes”, ““Veronika Decides To Die”, “The Alchemist”, and “The Witch Of Portobello”.. I have a habit, borne out of the friendship previously referenced, of sharing these books with those who touch my life in some extraordinary way…and are also the type to understand and appreciate the complexity of what’s being shared. This is certainly one I’ll be passing along.

On a similar note, I started reading a book called Yours Ever: People And Their Letters, a sad reminder of how bleak and emotionless our world will look 50 or 100 years from now, when impersonal communication has taken the place of the outpouring of ideas and feelings. I don’t think one person will be saving the tweets and e-mails of those who may potentially change the course of our world, which is a little sad. I think I am simply, at heart, part of a different era, one where communication and expression and vulnerability and human connection are valued….and not in blocks of 140 characters at a time. I think I may always continue to write little handwritten notes and cards, although it’s impractical and unfashionable.

The author of the book, Thomas Mallon, agrees:

In this electronic age, a letter is personal and permanent. It says you took the time and trouble to communicate. The impact of a letter is unique, whether you’re complaining about a disappointing purchase or declaring your love. The point is, write. A letter or a card is truly a unique gift—a piece of yourself.”

That being said, I’ve crafted some pretty memorable letters—both of the disappointed-and-pissed-off-with-your-product sort and the hopelessly-and-secretly-in-love-with-you sort, and sent them via e-mail. And I didn’t give myself an ulcer agonising for weeks until receiving a response. There are advantages to instantaneous communication.

I didn’t watch but the the last 3 minutes of the Super Bowl; I don’t follow football, commercials disinterest me, and it was largely too much work to turn on my TV to see Madonna. However, happy that New York came out victorious, since it’s only like the world’s most awesome place and stuff. :P
R

Earlier this month, I came across a great book called 365: A Year Of Journal Prompts, and promptly added it to my Kindle. It was one of my intentions this year to focus on my writing as something I like to do, rather than something I need to do, which is often what I feel when a specific deadline is looming over my shoulder.

When I had my tarot cards and my astrological chart read for the upcoming year—by two different sources, incidentally—both told me that 2012 was going to be a year for life to be put on “pause”, rather than one of adventure or decisive action. This made sense to me, since I knew a main focus of my year would be concentrating, little by little on improving my well-being, on getting on a path where managing my illness doesn’t have to zap my strength or dictate my mood or my life. At first, I was extremely depressed about this. I’m the sort of person who likes big gestures, fast solutions to problems, impulsive reactions, instant gratification. Learning there was no surgery, no magic pill, no quick fix that would take me back to the person I was plunged me into a state of depression for about two weeks. To some, it would be encouraging to hear that with time and patience and the willingness to face fears and anxieties, life would steadily get better. But for me, the eternal realist (and often pessimist), all I heard were words like “chronic condition” and “permanent damage” and “physical and emotional rehabilitation.” All I heard was that I wasn’t going to magically get my life back, I wasn’t going to be able to just ditch the drug that caused me to gain over 20 pounds and zap my energy level, I wasn’t going to be the person I used to be for a very long time.

I didn’t react very well to learning that it would be a year of “pause”, because there are so many things with which I am discontent, things I’d like to change about my life. Shortly after the disheartening news about my life came disheartening news about my job, which no longer gives me the economic and practical sense of stability it once did. I am again a starving artist, uncertain about the future, not sure where life will take me. I used to enjoy that uncertainty at one point in my life, but now, it causes me anxiety. Ironically, both my tarot reading and astrological chart for the year told me that I could expect to experience setbacks, which were necessary to my greater success in life.

Another thing that my tarot reading mentioned was that I have a lot of “success” aspects in my cards, in my natal chart, in what’s perceived to be my personality in general. Countless times, psychics and astrologers and tarot readers and other intuitives have told me that I will have great material success in my life, thanks to my ambition and determination. I always laugh at this, sitting there with no long-term career prospects, a retired actress that no longer has the looks or charisma or talent to perform, a chaotic dreamer with little business sense, a person who keeps getting knocked down by life every time success gets anywhere close. Yet, year after year, they tell me this same thing. Contrary to what my mother always advised me to do, it is not that I will marry well. I will be the one in control of building an empire for myself.

I can’t say I put a ton of stock into all that sort of thing, but it’s amusing to have someone predict your fortune. Sometimes, though, it goes beyond uncanny to relatively specific details that don’t necessarily apply to everyone..and then you have to start to wonder. Is there really such a thing as someone with the gift of intuition enhanced to the point that they can see into who you are, as well as who you might become?

This success thing has always baffled me, because I have always seen myself as someone ill-equipped for success. At this point in my life, if someone asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I wouldn’t know. What I do know is that sometimes I have so many dreams and ideas and thoughts and things I wish to communicate swimming around in my head, that I’m not sure what to do with them. More often than not, I ignore them, and go back to my daily routine. I take my anxiety pill and try to relaaaaaaaaax.

I read somewhere recently that anxiety was an artist’s natural response to pent-up emotion, to not being given an adequate creative outlet. After that, I got this idea in my head that I was going to compile my poetry, even if I never published it. I was going to write a book of fiction, even if I never let another person read it. And I was going to use my blogs and journals to release whatever it was that was hiding, causing my sudden shift from free-spirited example of joie de vivre to being physically and emotionally overwhelmed by too much life. Is it really as simple as a nerve in my inner ear that doesn’t know how to calm down, that freaks out when it’s given too much information to process, and responds with demands for anti-anxiety pills and alcohol and silence? Or is it some other newly discovered fear in my life that’s erected a road block, one designed to keep me from living too freely.

All my life, I’ve fought tooth and nail against those who would constrain and limit me, who judged and disliked me for living too freely. Ironically, the largest fight seems to occur from within, as if those people, those voices, have set up shop somewhere inside my essential self.

Hence, when I found this book, giving 365 prompts for the journal writer, I decided I would spend a year answering the questions presented in my posts; whether telling a story, reflecting on the question, or doing some soul searching. The questions appear to be for the personal journal-keeper, but I can never seem to remind myself to write in my handwritten journal on a daily basis. The thoughts flow more freely here.

The first day’s prompt is this: What strengths have you developed over your life?

It isn’t as easy as I’d think, answering this question. I have always been smart, but not particularly ambitious or motivated to make good use of those strengths, so it’s more a positive quality than something I’ve developed. I’ve always found it easier to make friends and find lovers…but I’ve found it equally effortless to make enemies and incur hatred from those who don’t even know me, so I’m going to disqualify people skills from the list. There are other ways I could describe myself; unconventional, free-thinking, uniquely attractive, quirky, humourous, well-traveled, well-read, a talented performer, a good friend…but sadly, many of these have been transient qualities. When difficult times hit, at various points in my life, I found myself essentially abandoning many of these qualities, replacing them with inhibition. Uncertainty went from meaning possibility to signifying danger. I was no longer as young, as fun, as attractive. I stopped performing, stopped traveling, stopped making as much time for those I care about as I’d like to. I stopped seeing shows, listening to music, reading books I like. I found how easy it was to lose myself.

Yet, I am not lost. I know who I am, if I sometimes forget. I am sensitive, fragile even, but I am also strong, something I never considered myself to be. The quality life has instilled in me…often with me fighting every step of the way….is resilience. When life knocks me down in a way that disables others, I always find a way to get back up. I always find a way to begin again, to reinvent myself, to replace old dreams and circumstances and ways of life with new ones. I do not handle these defeats with grace; I cry, I scream, I hate the world and everyone in it, I sulk in a depression for awhile, listen to emo music and refuse to get out of bed, wonder what it would feel like to close my eyes and never get up…but I always do. I always find a way to survive, even in situations that seem to unbearable for me to comprehend muddling through. I’ve always come through, one way or another. It’s as if the word survivor is encoded in my DNA. Some of these experiences, I still can’t think about. They terrify me. They give me nightmares. They make me feel unbearably alone. But I always remember, “I am here, and somehow, I am supposed to be successful”.

Part of what the tarot reader told me regarding 2012 was that I needed to make peace with my past, because not doing so was keeping me from my future. She did not know I was working on a collection of short stories that are loosely based upon some of my own life history, nor that I had more of a past and less peace than most.

Perhaps the lesson I’m learning now is that you can always move on, you can always adapt, reinvent, thrive, prosper…but wherever you go, everything you’ve ever been and done, everyone you’ve ever loved and hated, it all goes with you. I’m not sure how to let go, or even if we’re meant to. I think that maybe, making peace and practicing forgiveness and non-judgment towards yourself and others is one way to begin.

Life has taught me that on the outside, I might appear a little delicate, a little high-maintenance, a little less likely to adapt to new circumstances than others. But beyond that exterior, there’s something in me that’s a fighter. Even when I’d like to simply give up, that piece of me won’t let me take the easy way out, walk away, let others win. I’m strong and resilient, words that I’d never apply to the somewhat pampered, oversensitive, overemotional, histrionic person I’ve always been. Other people have called me narcissistic, and I firmly reject that label: but sometimes, I wonder if there’s an element of truth to that off-handed characterisation often applied to people that others simply don’t understand, those who seem to live in their own little world.

Maybe there’s a tiny piece of narcissism and pride that will fight tooth and nail to help me survive virtually anything, when a majority of me simply doesn’t feel strong enough.

The next time someone calls me narcissistic, or an egotist, I will inwardly remember to thank them. Without that tiny piece of my psyche that may very well be those things, I might not be here today. It’s much harder to survive and come back from difficulty than it is to simply let things fall apart. That knowledge is, I think, the most important strength I’ve learned throughout my lifetime.

We must overcome the notion that we must be regular. It robs you of the chance to be extraordinary, and leads you to the mediocre.”—Uta Hagen

Life has been a fairly stressful endeavour for me lately, but I feel as if I’ve been pushing myself, and I think that’s a good thing. Unfortunately, largely due to the types of drugs I am on, I don’t really have much stamina and endurance anymore. I used to be able to sit and work all night long if I needed to, or stay out until the sun came up, partying with my friends. These days, at some point, I inevitably start to feel tired and shaky and as if the only place I want to spend time is my bed.

The main stressor in my life is the work situation; courtesy of some recent changes, I’m working twice as hard (or at least 1.5 times as hard), but the net result is a paycheck that’s 50% smaller. I know this has probably caused some people to either decide to leave the company, or to buckle down and try to become a veritable factory of quality work, but I need stable income in order to pay my bills, never mind get the medical care I need. The logical alternative is to work harder and try to complete more articles per day, or look for additional projects to supplement my income, but my lack of stamina doesn’t just affect me physically. After 4-5 hours of solid, undisturbed work, I feel both physically and emotionally exhausted. It is the time in my life I can least afford to be ill, and yet I have little to say about the whole deal. On top of it, the company has now instituted a 24-hour turnaround on all assignments, and have made it clear they don’t intend to be too forgiving towards those who don’t meet deadlines. I suppose they look at it as if everyone’s replaceable, and nobody indispensable, which is largely true.

Yet, I’ve been doing my best to restructure my life to make myself stronger and keep up. I don’t really have the extra time and energy to seek out new assignments, or try to find a new job, so it’s mostly taking it one day at a time. It’s just a sad realisation that I won’t be able to make it working on a freelance basis with this pay cut. For over a year, I’ve made a nice income for a single person…more than I’d make working in an office, waiting tables, or giving people coffee at Starbucks. It’s even more than I’d make becoming a teacher or whatever else people with degrees in liberal arts subjects end up doing. But, that’s the income I need to make in order to improve my life…and it would have, significantly, had I not gotten seriously ill in 2011…and not half that sum. :( I don’t feel like I have a lot of options, and I feel a bit depressed about everything sometimes, which is far from productive. I just wonder why someone with as many talents, varied life experience, and unusual personality as I possess can’t figure out how to use any of those assets to get a stable career that I enjoy off the ground. Sometimes, I wonder if work just isn’t my thing; other aspects of life have always come easily to me. I was always smart enough to do well in school, personable enough to succeed in the social aspects of life, interesting enough to not have trouble meeting people to date or starting relationships, clever enough to formulate a nice place to live even when I had very little. When it comes to money, though, I have always struggled.

Herein lies the problem. I like money. I like shopping and martinis and nice restaurants and jewelry. And I am not lazy; if I knew what I needed to do to make the sort of money I need to comfortably engage in the type of lifestyle I’d like to have, I’d do it. I don’t want to be a millionaire, or part of the 1%, or even well-to-do. I just want to never have to worry about the practicalities of life, and still engage in the little frivolities that make my world a better place.

All the things that interest and intrigue me aren’t skills that translate to making money; the blogging habit I’ve had for 10 years, the book I’m working on (that nobody will ever read), the poetry I write, the parties I throw, the events I plan, even if I were to take up acting again. Nobody pays you just to be unique and creative and different and fabulous in that weird way that makes you stand out. It wins you friends and admirers, it makes you enemies, it throws adventures in your path, it makes life interesting…but it does not pay your bills, or your medical expenses.

For those who don’t know, in addition to recently being diagnosed with a vestibular disorder called vestibular neuronitis, I’ve also been diagnosed with panic disorder. Panic disorder sucks, and I don’t know why I’ve suffered with it for the past six months, but after reading the Wikipedia entry on it, it’s clear that I have it. I believe I developed it when I developed the vestibular neuronitis, following a severe sunburn and subsequent infection and dehydration from not taking care of myself wisely on the beach. I had a number of panic attacks over a period of two or three weeks before visiting the ER for help, and the ER, as well as a number of doctors who misdiagnosed my symptoms, put me on drugs with some terrible side effects. The result is that any time anything feels wrong with my body, I have a type of panic attack. It can range from mild enough that it’s gone within 30 seconds of changing my surroundings to needing to take an extra 2 milligrams of Valium to simply needing to leave and go home. (the last kind, the most severe kind, typically triggers a migraine. Within an hour or two of rest, Coca-Cola, and someone comforting me, I am typically better, although left very drained.).

The doctors have recommended that I see both a specialist for vestibular rehab and a psychiatrist who specialises in panic and anxiety disorders. I’ve been a little hesitant about doing these things, although I know I need to, because I know they may make me feel worse for awhile before things improve…and I simply don’t have the time to feel worse. I can’t afford to get fired because I was too busy freaking out to work.

I also would like to get off my current medications, the ones that cause me to resemble the Goodyear blimp and gain weight if I eat more than 800 calories a day. Psychiatrists, on the other hand, just want to switch you to whatever drug of choice they believe is most helpful. I have at least four types of commonly prescribed anti-anxiety medicines in my cabinet. They all made me feel like I’d rather discontinue existing than take that pill, which seems kind of contrary to the point.

They also told me about something called “cognitive behavioural therapy”, where I teach my brain to react in more positive ways. (obviously, nobody gets that my mind and body falling apart are reasons for my brain to feel less than positive, and for me to every day remind myself “What the hell happened to the charming and attractive person I used to be?”.) It’s basically “face the fear and do it anyway, unless you have a panic attack”.

So, I’ve been trying. I went out to dinner with a number of friends on Friday, and when I got there, immediately felt lightheaded and dizzy because we were seated on the highest possible level (seriously, in another room, we could stand on a chair and touch the roof. If it were a house, it would be really cute and I’d love it. ) There were also flickering lights, both of which seem to trigger vertigo and feelings of panic. I managed to ignore it, and even stood up for about 15 minutes to converse with people at the other end of the table. (standing up for too long often makes me want to fall down.) In the end, it ended up being a very good night, but it took a lot of discussion with my brain to get me to that point.

Today, I decided I was tired of being fat, when the scale hit the highest number I’ve ever seen in my life. My metabolism is slowing down to the point where I could not eat for days and not lose a pound (yet, I can’t do that, because the drugs I’m on make me light-headed and mess with my blood sugar if I don’t eat enough.), and I know/have heard of people on the drugs I’m on gaining 50-75 pounds. There is no way I’m letting that happen to my body. So, I decided to fight back and go for a 10 minute walk. It was exhausting, since one of my anxiety triggers is wide, open, overwhelming spaces. (I can’t set foot into Target without hyperventilating, which is apparently not uncommon for people with this inner ear disorder.)

I felt panic setting in twice, but I focused on telling my brain “NO, I’m going to walk for 10 minutes, period.”. Every other day, I’m going to add a minute to my walk, and slowly try to increase my endurance. This will, of course, not burn any calories, but at least it will get me outside again.

My well-intentioned roommate cooked tonight, making a chicken pot pie recipe he found on the low-glycemic recipe site I sent him. Little did I know, he “adapted” it, adding a ton of fat and calories and carbs. He really is a very good cook, and I applaud him learning to cook…but since he has, not only has he gained a noticeable amount of weight, his best friend is also starting to sport a bit of a belly. It could be that we’re all going through middle age, but I think it’s more of a “Don’t cook like Paula Deen” issue.

I may have to learn to cook healthy recipes, although I hate cooking, so I know I have control over what’s in what I’m eating. The problem: I really hate cooking.

I never knew that feeling and being healthy could be so difficult. I always took health so much for granted. I’d give absolutely anything to be able to rewind my life a year, and feel the way I did then. I would never take the ability to feel and look good, to seem “normal”, for granted again.

The only blessing that I have in my life is the supportive network of friends who seem to care and stick beside me, no matter what. I know they miss the person I used to be, too, but I’ve gotten an immense amount of support through things. The prideful, egoistic part of me simply wants to hide away from everyone until I’m better, rather than have people ridicule me for being fat or talk about how difficult I was the last time they saw me. I don’t want the world to see me when I’m unattractive, fragile, or just a downright unpleasant person.

But, another part of me is reminded that’s what friends are for, and nobody judges me as harshly as I do myself…except,of course, the people who hate me. They don’t cut me one bit of slack.

I just get sad sometimes because I know, deep inside, there’s this person who is so much better—on so many levels–than who I am now. And it confounds me that the person I am now, who is damaged in so many ways, could be loved, or liked, or even tolerated, by anyone else.

I know, I know…you haven’t seen me much around these parts lately. There are many reasons for this, most of which are good, and some which aren’t quite so positive…but, hey, I’m still alive and kicking. Here’s a quick update on what’s been going on the past two weeks or so, and why it’s rather killed my inspiration to blog about my life:

  • Work.I’m back on a full-time work schedule now, which is wonderful, because it means I am off “probation” and make a somewhat decent amount of money writing again. The bad news is that I’m not making great money, since I only have one project going on right now. Hopefully, as my health improves, I’ll have the energy to take on some new projects.
  • Health stuff The health challenges continue. I finally found a doctor I like, one I consider both smarter and more knowledgeable about medicine than my brain and the power of the Internet. (surprisingly, this was a long and exhaustive search.) She is also the first doctor to take the time to perform a full physical exam, during which, she pointed out she believes I may have fibroids. Not at all related to the ear or the vertigo, but a possible cause of my hypertension, back pain, extreme PMS, and appearance of weight gain in my abdominal area (atypical for me; I carry all my extra weight on my hips and thighs). I thought these were just all signs of aging, but my doctor suggested that I may have had this problem throughout my 20′s, and the fibroids actually are increasing in size due to too much estrogen on my body. Long story short, another potential health worry. I have to undergo an ultrasound on Monday, and of course, I need to pay out-of-pocket. Today, I was sent for another extensive battery of blood tests; this time, they took 16 vials of blood from me. Last visit to the lab, it was 20. That’s not counting the 6-8 taken in the ER, and the countless IV’s. I am exhausted, and have no more blood left to give. While the experience is always anxiety-provoking for me, this is the first I’m feeling the physical effects of blood loss. :( Oh, and I have my super-duper, majorly expensive ear test coming up on the 30th. I am at the point where i don’t care what’s wrong with me; I just want a diagnosis and a normal life. I’m not masochistic enough to enjoy all the pain and discomfort of the “Guess what’s wrong with Alayna?” game.
  • Friendship drama. I’ve really been saddened by a falling out with someone I’d just started to connect with and consider a friend. The falling out seemed inevitable; for whatever reason, we don’t seem to have the ability to discuss anything of a serious nature without conflict arising. It doesn’t necessarily make sense to me; I have plenty of friends with whom I don’t see eye to eye on politics, or personal matters, and the discord is hardly one-sided. Being an overly-sensitive person, I’d find this person would inadvertently hurt my feelings, causing tension. On the other side of the coin, the friend has a habit of arguing things until his point is made, and then, if you continue to defend yourself, to dismiss you; i.e. “If you’re going to say this, I see no need to continue the conversation.” or “You’re much smarter than the argument you’re making and I expect more of you”. I think this particular friend and I just exist in kind of different spheres of being, and don’t understand how to communicate well. I brought this up and provided the opportunity to discuss our communication issues, but we somehow just never got there. While being “dismissed” by someone you actually like and respect and would have desired a friendship with is extremely hurtful for someone like me, I’m not sure we’d ever have gotten past our inability to communicate. A pity, because we actually have a good deal in common. Unfortunately, the things we’ve in common are all the wrong things. In retrospect, the way this friendship played out is very similar to another in my past, which is likely why I kept pursuing it rather than just saying, “C’est la vie”. I never received the closure and validation I needed from that friendship, and it doesn’t look likely to occur here, either. I’ve grown to realise that I’m too valuable to be “dismissed”, and if someone doesn’t see that, of course it hurts…but there are those that do. Sometimes, those you believe have the potential to become great friends turn out to be acquaintances, and that’s just the way of life. Maybe Adele should write a song about that. :P
  • Writing. In addition to working on writing for work, I’ve been devotedly reassembling my collection of lost poems and short stories, most of which I figured were gone for good. I also, after many years of the idea being suggested, have decided to work on writing a novel, and it’s going surprisingly well. I’ve never been able to work on such a large project without losing interest before. What started as a collection of anecdotes and autobiographical diary-type entries has turned into a cohesive story that has transitioned from being about me to being about the lives of these characters I’ve created. I do not know if the manuscript will ever see the light of day; although much of it is fiction, there is also much about it that’s biographical and autobiographical in nature, and perhaps too personal to expose to the world (on the assumption anyone would care to read a book by someone they’ve never heard of, or just because they’re friendly with that person.) But there’s nothing like thinking your health is so fragile that you might die soon to get you motivated to leave behind a piece of art, a piece of your soul that will outlive you. I don’t think it’s mere coincidence that some of the most revered classic writers and poets died at a relatively early age.
  • Swap-Bot! As it turns out, I love making packages, cards, postcards, and writing letters to virtual strangers. I also love receiving them. It makes me feel connected with the world at large through creativity, and because many of my friends in my life here in Atlanta aren’t artistically-inclined and don’t care if I’ve drawn, written, or crafted something, it fills a definite void.Sometimes, I think that’s the thing that’s missing most in my life; someone who truly understands my desire to express myself and make an impact upon the world, and doesn’t dismiss it as “That’s too long for me to bother reading”. For instance, we’re (the boyfriend and I) are going to the opera tonight tomorrow to see Lucia di Lammermoor, and I remarked that I was excited to see a coloratura performance (I was trained as a lyric coloratura), as I hadn’t in ages. I didn’t get any sort of response to that, and it made me feel as if I’m missing something in my life, not having anyone who shares and understands my passions. It isn’t a failing on his end only; I don’t necessarily understand his passion for science fiction, and know little about computer programming. It just often feels that so many people in my life are so opposite from me, it’s hard to feel completely understood, as if I’m really connected.It doesn’t mean I love those people less, it just means I go through life feeling as if about half of me is something even those closest to me “don’t get”.

    I guess, simply put, I miss having a soulmate, platonic or otherwise. I miss connecting with other human beings on a soulful and visceral level. I’ve found terribly little of that since moving to Atlanta, which is one of the main reasons I can’t see myself staying here. It’s as if I’ve sacrificed a lot in order to try to fit in to a culture that doesn’t really reflect me, and never will.

    So, those are the things that have been keeping me away from my blog (another hobby few of my friends really “get” or care about, but is important to me nevertheless.) I’ll have to try harder to have thoughts worthy of sharing more frequently. ;)

It’s been a bit of a challenging week here so far, so you’ll have to forgive me for being a little forgetful about keeping everyone in blog-world updated. I had the misfortune to, a few days ago, run out of my prescription Valium about a week before the next prescription was to be filled. This is completely my fault; rather than being on the suggested dose of 5mg per day, I’ve been steadily using 7.5 mg per day for the past few months, the “set point” at which the desired effect of the drug sets in.

For anyone who hasn’t experience with this type of drug, Valium, and all the drugs in the benzo family (Xanax, Klonopin, and Librium, to name a few) are frequently prescribed—and over-prescribed—for anxiety, panic attacks, PTSD, and as one of many drugs in the cocktail used to successfully treat bi-polar depression. My experience with benzos started after my first admission to the ER in July, returning from a trip to the beach where I’d gotten heatstroke and 2nd degree burns, and started to experience lightheadedness, chronic vertigo, intolerance to light, and worst of all, these never-ending moments where I felt as if I were having a heart attack. Finally, three weeks after my symptoms began, I started hearing a “wooshing” sound in my ear that drowned out everything, and intense spasms under my ear. I thought I had an aneurysm, so I went to the ER.

After a lot of tests, they found nothing was wrong with me except “sinus tachycardia” (an exceptionally high pulse rate) and an elevated BP, probably due to the chronic panic attacks I’d been having. (I didn’t know they were panic attacks, as I’d never had one before. I legitimately thought I was dying.) They put me on Ativan (another benxo) and antibiotics for a supposed ear infection. Although the Ativan let me sleep, the vertigo and light intolerance never let up, and as soon as I was out of Ativan, the panic attacks returned. 3 trips to the ER later, they’ve put me on a beta-blocker to keep my pulse rate from elevating and a long-term anxiety drug called BuSpar.

From my perspective, BuSpar is evil. From the second day I was on it, I was sitting in the dark (because I couldn’t stand light) with vertigo too bad to ride in the car, and a serious fear of leaving my room. I cried for hours at a time. I wrote suicide notes and burned personal letters and diary entries I didn’t want anyone to find when I was gone. I seriously needed help. I didn’t get it. The doctor told my boyfriend that it took 10 days or so for the body to get used to the drug. By day 7, I was on the phone with 911. I couldn’t stand the movement of the ambulance, and I thought my head was going to explode. The right side of my face was paralyzed. In the ambulance, they told me I was exhibiting signs of “aura” (associated with migraines and seizures) and my pulse was 180, high enough to indicate a trans-ischemic-attack, rare in a previously healthy 30-year-old.

That’s when I met Valium. After a CAT scan, MRI, and tons of blood work, nobody could find a thing wrong with me. My scary symptoms were caused by a negative reaction to BuSpar, which works by blocking your dopamine levels. Oooops. If being on BuSpar was bad, the three days I spent detoxing from it were worse. They prescribed me Valium to help me through withdrawals, at 20 mg a day, a very high dosage for a petite woman with limited tolerance to prescription drugs. I still had horrible BuSpar withdrawals; “brain zap” that felt like electric shocks going through my brain, shaking, constant headaches, the inability to sleep or leave bed for days. I immediately made an appointment with a neurologist, given a history of epilepsy in my family, and arrived in a wheelchair, wearing sunglasses, unable to stand without assistance. Thanks, BuSpar.

Many doctors and many tests later, what they discovered is nobody knows what’s wrong with me. I’m off caffeine, limit chocolate and alcohol, and don’t put any drugs in my system that don’t come from the doctor. The result was always the same: I have a generalized anxiety disorder. I’m not coping with life. Take your benzos and see a psychiatrist. They tried me on Xanax and Klonopin, as well as Antivert for the vertigo. Nothing worked.

Nothing, that is, except Valium. Although I’ve inconveniently gained 20 pounds as the result of Valium + beta-blocker (my heart rate no longer rises high enough to burn calories, and beta-blockers are notorious culprits of a 7-10 pound weight gain due to water weight, while Valium makes you want to sleep instead of exercise.); I am actually functional. I self-adjusted my dose over time, finding out that at about 7.5 mg of Valium, I don’t have vertigo. I don’t have panic attacks (although, ironically, I do sometimes panic about having panic attacks, which manifests as a form of social anxiety. Two drinks with vodka, and it’s gone, which tells me it’s an anxiety issue.). I sleep more than I ever have in my entire life:;9-10 hours uninterrupted.

Since then, it’s been discovered by visits to specialists that I may be dealing with a vestibular (inner ear) issue that causes the vertigo, which in turn caused panic attacks, which in turn caused high blood pressure and pulse. So, possibly, I have a physical disorder that shouldn’t be treated with psychiatric drugs, or heart medication. Unfortunately, until a diagnosis and cure is established, the only thing that keeps my vertigo and panic attacks at bay seems to be Valium.

Valium is highly addictive. The Prozac of the 1960′s, it was called “Mother’s Little Helper”, because it was given as the cure-all for stressed out, disenchanted housewives who needed jobs and a nanny instead. Nowadays, doctors dislike prescribing it, because you can get addicted to it in as little as a week. If you abruptly stop using it, you can expect detox symptoms ranging from shaking, vomiting, and the inability to function as a human being to seizures, coma, and even death. (Amy Winehouse was on the benzo Librium when she died, though she obviously disregarded the “Do not mix with alcohol” warning.)

I’ve been using Valium for well over 4 months. I am on a very low dosage, but two separate times I’ve tried to discontinue use, I’ve had severe side effects. Quitting Valium is apparently a long-term plan; one that involves your doctors lowering your dose every 3-4 weeks until you’re basically done with it. My doctors aren’t aware of this, which is information out there at every rehab center and on every medical advice website. They simply want me to stop taking it, so they’re not going to prescribe it anymore.

Never mind that they haven’t fixed the primary reason I’m using it in the first place: my vertigo and panic attacks leave me alone and help me function. For a time, I was on the brink of losing my job and not able to leave my house. Now, life is often normal for weeks at a time, courtesy of the “not messing with my drugs program”.

I now basically have 3 weeks to see the ear doctor and hope for some sort of diagnosis that will help me get past all this, and a psychiatrist or GP that sees the value in either keeping me on Valium or doing a safe detox plan. On top of it all, I’m broke and my insurance doesn’t want to pay…they’re dubbing everything a “pre-existing condition”, although no one knows what condition I have.

So, I spent the past few days going through physical and emotional hell because I dropped my Valium dosage from 7.5 to 2-2.5 mg a day. I couldn’t cope. I finally got a refill, with the caveat that there would be no more Valium for me, so I need to find a qualified doctor to handle this problem.

As if I weren’t stressed and broke enough…now it’s back to hunting for doctors, solutions, and finding more guesses and experiments than actual answers. And I have a limited time frame to accomplish it, if I don’t want to spend the holiday season in my bed, detoxing from Valium.

Don’t mean to sound whiny, because I know plenty of people have it worse. But when life decides it hates you, it really throws some crappy shit your way, and says “Let’s see you get out of this one”, while laughing hysterically.

During this rather depressing period, I’ve been reading a biography of Sylvia Plath (there’s something for every mood, I guess). Interesting character; one it’s a little to easy for me to identify with, with her oversensitivity, attraction to older and accomplished men, perfectionistic and ultimately masochistic nature, and high level of intuition. I mentioned to a friend that, as far as the Jungian/Meyers-Briggs types go, Intuitive Feelers seem to have the most difficult road in life, either becoming so disenchanted with themselves and the world that they commit suicide or get involved in self-destructive situations, or try to save the world, only to become disillusioned and depressed when they cannot. Just as there’s been much written about the link between creative genius and insanity, or at least eccentricity, there also seems to be a link between NF personalities and the ability to live a long, quiet, understated life.

Plath’s story is sad, but the sadder one belongs to her husband, Ted Hughes. A poet who is also a narcissist, sadistic, and likely meets many of the markers for being labeled a psychopath, he not only pushed his manic-depressive wife to stick her head in the oven, denying us years of literary genius—but years later, the woman he had an affair with while married to Plath would also commit suicide, killing his child along with her.

Sylvia Plath is an understandable tragedy. She lived a lifetime suffering from inherited bi-polar depression, in a time when nobody knew what bi-polar depression was. The story of Ted Hughes makes far less sense. From a psychological standpoint, at least, it’s interesting how one person can have the power to destroy without ever lifting a finger.

If you would not be forgotten as soon as you are gone, either write things worth reading or do things worth writing.”
~ Benjamin Franklin

Although today was not the best of days, mostly because health-related issues were the worst they’d been in some time, probably due to the weather changing rather dramatically (from 83 and sunny to 53 and rainy in 48 hours), I did try to make the best of it. In addition to work and reality TV night, I also caught up on some phone calls, did some reading, completed some SwapBot stuff, and in a burst of inspiration, decided to write in my poetry journal.

I’ve been writing poetry since I was about 8 years old, and my first published piece was in a literary journal at the age of 10, so it goes without saying that it’s been a crucial part of my life for much of my life…and like many pieces of myself, one that got lost along the way.

Almost as if by a message from fate, I lost my beloved poetry journals, which I’d meticulously written in for years. Shortly thereafter, while indisposed and without internet, I lost my domain, which stored the only remaining copies of many of my poems and all my short stories. For the past year or two, I’ve been trying to piece together fragments of lost creativity, always excited when I come across something not taken away from me.

At one time, I had a significant amount of material for an amateur writer: three volumes of poetry (one each from 1993-1999, from 2000-2005, and from 2006 until the present), plus a collection of 12 short stories. In addition, I was publishing a daily and verbose blog, until deciding to take my feelings offline entirely due to some negative experiences in 2006.

I had kind of had to come to the acceptance of the fact that, through some bad luck and negative situations, much of my creative work from most of my adolescent and adult life was gone. It was a hard separation to deal with, and as a result, I largely stopped expressing myself, writing few poems and not resurrecting my blog until last year.

Today, the best thing in the world happened. I was able to rescue a huge portion of material from an earlier, more online-oriented phase in my life. Not everything was there, of course, but I was able to retrieve a number of webpages, all my short stories, and close to 100 poems. It isn’t that everything…or even anything…I retrieved is good, worthy of reading or compiling, but it’s mine and it is immensely special to me.

I feel like a piece of me has been restored. This autumn and winter, which I anticipate will largely be a period of convalescence and solitude, since I’ve been suffering with illness, and feeling the weight of the world on my shoulders, I intend to reconstruct my poetry journals, and also perhaps add some of my old pages to this site, just for nostalgia’s sake. At some point, I’d like to cross off one of my “bucket list” goals and actually publish my volume of poems, even just for those closest to me.

Some days, you feel like life has rewarded you with allowing you to unexpectedly unearth a jewel. This is one of those days, a day where I’ve regained a piece of myself that’s been gone for some time. I feel more complete, more inspired, and jubilant about this admittedly unimportant discovery.

One of the very best things about being an online diarist…or, in a less fancy-sounding word, “blogger”….for over a decade of my life is that when I get in one of those introspective moods, there’s a record of my life, often in a form I don’t remember writing. Of course, rarely does the record reflect the whole story, and when I’m 90, I’m bound to be quite confused about what actually happened, to whom, when, and why. But, on occasion, the record makes me smile.

I found this old, old, old entry on one of my previous journals. It was before Jaded Elegance was even a concept, and I somehow had more friends interested in my life than I do now. (there was no Facebook back then, and yes, my life was tremendously more interesting. This entry, I can only assume, has something to do with being cheated on by a lover who garnered my trust, my promises of monogamy, and yet simply “just wasn’t that into me”.

The funny thing about the recollection of events and truth is this: it’s so often subjective. In it, I make statements that were true *at the time*, regarding the type of relationship I was looking for, the type of person I found myself attracted to, even the way I saw myself. However, the flaw in this story is that a year prior to this entry, those things weren’t the case…and a year later, they certainly were not.

It’s funny how the truth of one’s perceptions and feelings about the world is an ever-changing process. The more you learn about who you are, the less you understand about pretty much everything.

Suffice it to say, I don’t feel the same way now as I did in the 7 or so years since this was written. The extra 5 pounds has become 15, and experience has taught me I’m not cut out for a life of militant lesbianism, since I’m not particularly well-suited to either. I no longer remember to put the napkin in my lap or use the right fork, and in the morning, I’m more of a 4 than a 7. I hadn’t yet discovered other views on relationships outside of monogamy and happily-ever-after. And I can’t tell you the last time I baked cookies for anyone. However,it amuses me to hear the voice of a person I once remember being, and maybe it will amuse you, too.

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When it comes down to it, I really can’t understand my problems with men.

I’m a pretty nice girl. I’m down-to-earth, and am attracted to people for the “right” reasons, instead of their looks or their annual income. I’m always attracted to nice,sweet,boy-next-door types who still believe in that whole one guy,one girl,love,romance,happily ever after stuff. It does not seem right or just that I am perpetually hurt by my relationships, or that it should be so damn hard to find a guy who can love me, stick around, be faithful, and not “forget” to treat me with respect and consideration.

I really do look at myself honestly. I know I’m not perfect, or anywhere near it.

But I am an extremely kind and loving person. I have alot to give, and once I trust someone, there is nothing I wouldn’t offer to those who are important to me. I am capable of almost nearly unconditional love and support, and forgive almost anything, as long as someone makes amends for their mistakes and doesn’t repeat them. I go out of my way to drop an e-mail or telephone call to those closest to me nearly every day. I send greeting cards for no reason. I bake cookies for my friends. I answer the phone at 6 AM when someone is upset and needs a shoulder. If you end up in jail, you can call me for bail, and I’m not going to hang up on you. I don’t step on bugs. Or people. I give change to homeless people. I don’t always talk to strangers, but everyone at least gets a smile. I’m not a social climber, a gold digger, a moocher, or superficial. I firmly believe in karma and treating others as you wish to be treated. Sometimes, I’m wrong. But I always apologise. I’m not judgemental or prejudiced against anyone, unless I’m given a reason. I’m not by any means beautiful, but it’s been agreed by most that I’m at least an 7. :P I’m stylish. I can throw a dinner party for 6 with nothing but pine cones, tissue paper, glitter, and a bucket of fried chicken. I’ve read at least 20 books in the last month, and none of them were Harlequin romances. I can talk about art,music,politics,philosophy,religion,and a list of other subjects, and still remain quasi-intelligent and interesting. I have opinions, and thoughts that aren’t just echoes of what other people express to me. Most people don’t intimidate me. Very little makes me uncomfortable. I have good manners, and know what fork goes with which course of the meal, and always put the napkin in my lap. I’ve never in my life been disrespectful to anyone’s family when they’ve brought me home. I watch movies and television, and listen to popular music,and am by no means a culture snob. But I can give you the plot synopsis of every musical written after 1910, and understand opera,and ballet,and a variety of other things that may put non-understanding folks to sleep. I’m not cheap, or easy. I’m not frigid, or boring. I’m actually alot of fun to be around most of the time. I’m energetic and creative and free-spirited, in more ways than one. :P I’m not suffering from any issue that involves a 12-step program. I’m not a kleptomaniac. I don’t set things on fire. I’ve travelled to at least 20 countries. I speak 4 languages. I play 3 musical instruments. I have a college degree. From a school even pretentious Ivy League folks agree is pretty decent. :P I don’t forget anyone’s birthday. Children and animals love me. I’ve flown hundreds of miles across the country to meet people I’ve only met on the internet, and they’ve instantly become among my closest friends. I’m spontaneous, and take chances. I value stability and the little things in life. I’ve been told I have alot of interesting stories. People who know me come to me for advice on a regular basis. I think I’d do really well if I set myself up as a psychologist. I’m fairly photogenic. I’m not outdoorsy, but I’m always up for new adventures. If you’re interested in something I’m not familiar with, I’m likely to learn all about it, just because it’s your passion. I have a list of at least 100 things I want to do before I die. If the last 20-odd years are any indication, I’ll cross off at least 97 of them in the next decade.

All in all, I’m a nice girl.

So, when did I trade lives with Bridget Jones?

I admit, I have some shortcomings. I’m emotional. I am the stereotype of the sometimes “irrational” woman, because I think with my heart. I can’t keep my opinions to myself. I’m way too fond of shopping. I’m not practical. I’m a little arrogant, but just because it’s a convenient way to hide my overwhelming insecurity. I think I can do anything I set my mind to…but I suck at bowling. I can be slightly pretentious, according to some folks. I refuse to “blend in” or be less of who I am in order to make sure that everyone likes me and nobody finds anything about me objectionable. I’ve been through some tough life experiences that have left a few emotional scars…but nothing that alot of love,and affection,and support,and understanding won’t cure. I’m not close with my family, because they are dysfunctional and emotionally harmful to me. I have a hard time thinking about “long-term goals”…mostly because I’m somewhat convinced I’m going to get hit by a Mack Truck when I’m 30, so it’s all irrelevant. I have a fear of being betrayed and abandoned, and take a good while to really open up and trust anyone. Mostly because of the great number of people in my life who have screwed me over and made me wonder “What’s wrong with me?” So that’s baggage some people aren’t prepared to live with. I do get that. I can only be involved with those who are genuinely sensitive, supportive, and patient. But I know there are plenty of those folks out there. Believe it or not, I completely trust that most people are beautiful at heart.

None of these are desperately fatal character flaws. I don’t think. Honestly.

Is it because I can’t lose those annoying 5 pounds? Is it because I want someone thoughtful enough to call and e-mail every day to tell me they’re thinking of me? Is it because I don’t like sports? Is it because I feel I have a right to be loved and appreciated, and deserve better than knowing when the object of my affection is out with me (a gorgeous,interesting,intelligent woman that is regularly noticed by available men…and women…*laughs*), he is staring at every other woman in the room, wishing he were alone, and wondering if he can do better?

I mean, shouldn’t I be rewarded for not being one of those shallow, marriage-chasing “Sex In The City” girls? Would I have better success in matters of the heart if I only date yuppie guys with BMW’s…because if I’m going to end up being completely screwed over, at least THEY’re going to be the one paying for dinner? I don’t understand.

What did I do that the type of men who I fall in love with, the type who are interested in me in return, are of the variety who are sweet and thoughtful and tell me how much they care about me, how much they appreciate me, how much they are touched by me being a part of their life, how wonderful they find me, how they even suspect that they love me and look forward to seeing me all the time…but then,after all that, manage to add “But,of course, it doesn’t matter, because I don’t want a relationship with you.” Why do I find people who say “You’re everything I’m looking for”, and want to invest their time and energy in me, and tell me how close they feel to me, and even if the relationship becomes a physically involved one, it’s OK, because their feelings for me are something quite beyond friendship…but refuse to “date” me, or take me seriously, and at random intervals, run away and say “We’re just friends, you know, why are you so demanding? It’s not like we’re IN a relationship.” Why do I find guys who appear to be nice,stable,down-to-earth folks who claim they’re looking for love and a monogamous, committed relationship…but when it comes down to it, they’re willing to offer me anything but…while enjoying all the perks I’d offer to someone who actually cared enough to pursue a meaningful relationship with me. And then, to top it all off, why does the person spend a few weeks of their life telling me how special I am, how much they feel for me, indicate in every possible way that their feelings for me are what they’d feel for a “girlfriend”…and then casually point out, “I’m thinking about moving away.”, and when I get very upset, they remind me that they never claimed to actually want any kind of meaningful relationship with me…and kind of imply that even though they have feelings for me, it’s never going to mean anything…I’m just fun to be around while I’m here, on a temporary basis.

What the hell do I do to deserve to be treated with such disrespect, especially by those who claim to love and care for me, and who occasionally demonstrate through their actions that they are sincere, and not just saying the correct words?

And maybe if it were just this one person in my life who has spent a very long time taking me for granted and treating me like a “friend with benefits”, I could say that he has issues, that he doesn’t deserve me, that I have too much to offer to love someone who refuses to give as much in return, and it’s my own fault for continually putting up with it, and not saying “Value me the way I deserve to be valued, or just live without me..you can’t have your cake and eat it too, just because you happen to be afraid or committmentphobic, or whatever.”

But,of course, it’s not an isolated incident. I fall in love with people who put so much time and energy into me, and I have so much in common with, that I start to believe they’re a soulmate…until the woman they live with answers the phone. Lately, even in my non-relationship-seeking state, my life seems to be filled with a variety of “nice guys” who are attractive and interesting, and respond to me in every which way from “You’re attractive,but not my type”, and “I just don’t see you that way” (which is a pretty new one for me, and I can accept that,especially when I don’t think I’d see that person “in that way”, either…but they have to underscore that point by being blunt enough to mention “Sometimes I just talk to you because I feel like I have to.” Oh,my gosh. Can people who call themselves friends BE a little more insulting?), to “It would be odd for me to get involved considering your current situation”, and “I can’t date you, because I think my best friend is in love with you.”. And, of course, there’s my personal favourite: “I think you’re the most amazing woman I’ve ever met, and in 10 years, we’ll probably be married and have 3 kids…but right now, I so totally can’t handle monogamy”.

What the hell? What am I doing wrong?

I see all these people out in the world who are thoroughly difficult. They don’t treat their significant other the right way. They’re self-centred, and superficial, or just plain lacking in depth. And yet, they have someone who loves them and goes to the ends of the earth to prove it.

Are people going to only chase after me as long as I’m unavailable, uninterested, or a psycho bitch?

Because, seriously, I can totally work on that.

So, to the men of the world, I am giving up on you. I’m tired of being used, or taken for granted. I’m tired of being seen as a good time in the sack you should call once a month. I’m tired of you wanting me to be your “friend with benefits”, but telling me I’m not good enough to be a “girlfriend”. I’m tired of the committment-phobia and the mind games. I’m tired of chasing after you.

You see, I’m pretty wonderful. You all should be chasing after ME.

It’s not my fault you’re idiots, and that the “nice guy” thing is a complete myth.

So, let’s call a truce, OK? You all stop trying to break my heart, to use me for sex, or to get me to fall in love with you and then refusing to take me seriously….and I’ll become a militant lesbian, and stop calling.

Do we have a deal?

***********************************************************************************************************************
I’m glad that over the numerous years, there were a few people not willing to take me up on that deal. It seems to have worked out far better.

This morning I woke up to discover that my cable and internet were down; the icing on the cake for what I like to call the 2011 Summer Of Doom. After verifying that, yes, everything was plugged in properly, and, no, the dog didn’t unplug one of the multitude of cords and splitters that ensure delivery of TV and internet happens throughout the apartment on a daily basis, I was told they’d send someone out. After explaining that I worked from home and internet connectivity was essential to my job, they said they’d upgrade my case to “urgent” status. This means, at the very latest, someone will be by between 11-2 PM tomorrow, which in cable guy time, probably means 5 PM.

Annoying as this is, I kind of have the same feeling you’d get when you were a kid and there was an unexpected snow day. It’s that “YAY, I totally don’t have to do anything at all today!” feeling, which everyone appreciates. There’s a difference between choosing to do nothing…which everyone does from time to time, but it’s easy to feel guilty about being lazy….and actually having a valid impediment that makes it impossible for you to be productive.

For some reason, it gave me flashbacks to the summers I spent at CTY (also known as Center For Talented Youth; also self-mockingly called “genius camp”. ) For those who have never heard of it, it’s a 3-week program for kids 11-16 that score exceptionally well on the SAT’s at a very early age. The program is sort of a mini-introduction to college life, and allows kids to stay on a college campus while taking a freshman or sophomore-level college course. It was actually an incredibly structured program, but for thousands of overachieving youngsters, often with extremely pushy and demanding home lives, it allowed for a specific type of freedom. It allowed for “finding yourself” long before the age when most people actively started looking for themselves.

In any case, I adored my summers at “genius camp”, where I took all manner of writing classes…not because I had any specific desire to be a writer, but because my math scores weren’t in any way, shape, or form “genius”, and I was restricted to humanities-based classes. One of the built-in facets of ‘genius camp’ was that from 7-9 PM each night, you were required to stay in your dorm room, preferably to study, read, or work on homework. As one of the more extraverted spirits on a campus full of introverts, I always thought the two hours of “lockdown” would be tough for me…no TV, no radio, no distractions, just you, your thoughts, some books, and some paper. As it turned out, this “lockdown” time is what put me in touch with my introspective side, something that was previously neglected, with a highly busy schedule, demanding family life, and need to be popular and well-liked and all of that.

Years later, after learning about the Meyers-Briggs personality inventory, I read that my personality type (ENFP) is the only extraverted type that needs regular opportunity for introspection. Apparently, it is my nature to learn, observe, experience, and take things in from being around other people…and later process them internally. In some ways, that’s the very essence of what blogging is, and perhaps why it’s a creative outlet that suits me much better than, say, trying to write a book or getting sucked into the world of academic research.
The result of those years at “genius camp” is that I learned just how distracted I truly am by any possible distraction in my vicinity. Even when I think I’m concentrating on one thing, there’s another part of my mind that’s thinking of three other things I might be doing. I learned to appreciate those few hours of forced, distraction-free “alone” time, because it helped me feel a little more centred and fond of my own life, even on those days when I wasn’t the most productive. Of course, I was also the first person to be excited about the two hours of social time that followed those study hours, because the chance to have fun and meet other people typically trumps introspection any day…at least it did until I hit about 27.

Days where everything decides to slow down and shut off, days like today, remind me of those locked-down study hours at “genius camp”, and although my first response to the inconvenience is general annoyance, I then feel a little happy about having the time to myself. I can write in my blog, I can read, I can work on some of the crafty projects I’ve been doing for Swap-Bot, I can write long e-mails to friends I won’t have opportunity to send until later…and I don’t have to feel guilty because I could be using that time more productively, making money, or doing things that other people would rather have me do. It’s anxiety-free, distraction-free time, and I wonder if maybe having a bit more of that in my life would help me cope with the anxiety-related aspects of my recent illness a little better. Perhaps I should start taking more regular retreats at Starbucks (if I still lived in a city, or a walkable area, I definitely would.), and stop feeling that even when I’m at home, suffering through the equivalent of “bed rest”, I need to be constantly entertained by outside forces, or working, or stressing over my situation.

As an adult, two hours of uninterrupted quiet doesn’t sound so much like a punishment anymore. And, I was reminded of another entertaining “genius camp” story to relate in the future…but that will have to wait for a future day of blogging.

Happy Tuesday, everyone! (and if you’re wondering, this post made it up courtesy of someone’s very slow unsecured wireless network.)

Remember when you were a kid, and the best days in the world were the ones where you were unexpectedly allowed to do whatever you wanted, even if that was usually mostly nothing at all?

It’s harder to get that excited, lazy “snow day” feeling as an adult, unless you live in an area that’s prone to significant snowfall—but not often enough, so that it’s a novelty, and where everything shuts down for a day or two. Days off as an adult are a little different—even on weekends, there’s household chores and errands to be taken care of, and children or pets that don’t exactly understand why you want to sleep in. Even if you’re relatively obligation-free, like me, you may often find yourself working on the weekends, or attending social events that start to feel more like work and less like play after awhile. Sometimes, the weekends are actually more hectic than the work week.

Day #3:

 

Play Hooky

Most of us don’t have the freedom to do it very often, but playing hooky from life can be extremely liberating, and just downright fun—particularly if you’re not sick, don’t have an emergency to deal with, and there’s not a foot of snow outside your front door just waiting to be shoveled.



That’s what I’m doing today…a full day of nothing. I’ve had a pretty stressful week, working my butt off (if only there were a way to *literally* do that!) to make sure I can afford to do everything I want to do over vacation, and still pay my bills, both before I leave and after. People often think that working from home—or working in a way where you manage all the details of your own career, rather than showing up to an office every day— is a license to do less work. In reality, it’s the opposite. Working for yourself gives you certain freedoms (for instance, I can avoid getting up at 9 AM and do my work at 2 AM instead, if I choose.), but it also doesn’t give you the option of a traditional schedule that ends at 5 or 6 PM every day. Even on vacation, I still have to carve out a few hours each day to work, because clients tend not to wait. If you’re not going to be around for a few weeks, you’re replaceable, no matter how much they love your work.

My life involves far less time off than you might imagine, even if I am technically able to work in my PJs (incidentally, something I never do, unless I’m actually sick that day.) I sometimes miss keeping a less hectic, more traditional schedule, although not enough to inspire a massive lifestyle change and join the ranks of corporate America…which, as far as I can tell, is filled with uninspired, underpaid, and overworked Americans.

But, today, I am playing hooky. I might break down and work on a few projects here and there, but mostly, I’m planning to give my overworked mind the opportunity to do as little as possible. Afterwards, I’ll head out to play some trivia with The Guy I Am Currently dating, and will probably end up looking as low-key as I feel.

Too much playing hooky is bad for the soul, the body, and the wallet. But, every now and then, it’s the best possible way to re-charge. :)