Great strides were made today toward becoming an independent and responsible adult. By the end of the month, I will have all the utilities in the apartment hooked up in my own name, hopefully making life easier for the next time I move (should I end up staying in Atlanta.) The annoying part is how much they’re charging me for deposits, since I am “rebuilding my credit” after years of not living like a responsible adult, but they are apparently refundable if you pay your bill on time each month, for a certain period of time.

Note to self:pay bills on time.

Not much to blog about today, since I’m a bit behind on pretty much everything, but today the podcast for my Write Club appearance (which seems like years ago) was posted. I highly encourage you to check it out; my competitor’s piece is a riot, and mine pretty much sounds like what you’d get if you read my typical relationship-oriented blog out loud and added a laugh track.

Good times. :P

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