I Hide My Chocolate

Midlife observations

Tag: Anxiety Dreams

Comfort Food

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Jangled

I’m a little jangled right now. My son started his first day of 11th grade, which I dealt with by feeling overwhelmed with stress on the work front. My daughter leaves tomorrow for her second year of college, which leaves me feeling excited, proud, melancholy, and old. Less stressful than Year 1, but still emotional. I took a too-hard, too-crowded, too-much-rap-music (wtf?) yoga class, which made me angry and tearful: My hip is cranky; who are these people who CAN do this class? Clearly I am getting too old. Maybe I will just sing and knit and get fat. Yowza!

Jangled.

Thursday night, I dreamt that my pet parakeet had a new water dispenser and I realized that she could drown in it if I didn’t watch over her at all times. Do you think I am worried about my children? As our pediatrician counseled us at baby-proofing stage, only half-joking: “Never let them out of your sight.”

Friday night, I dreamt that my hair suddenly was much grayer. I wondered if I should begin to color it, debating between being my authentic self and not wanting to look too old. Do you think I am worried about aging? Who IS that woman in the mirror and what did she do with my 35-year-old self?

When doing some back-to-school errands with my daughter, someone made a strange turn at an intersection. I thought about my son beginning to drive and was overcome with the dangers of driving and the fear of losing them to an accident. Which would be devastating.  Which led me to musing at how wonderful both my children are. Precious, good, honest, empathetic, better than me, better than my husband. How is it possible that these two amazing human beings are my children? Which led me me to tears at a stop light. Praying that they survive the dangers of everyday living.  Overcome with love and gratitude.

Jangled.

Clearly, I am in need of some comfort food. The problem is that traditional comfort foods (Macaroni and Cheese, Oreos and Milk, Pot Roast with Gravy) are too rich. I don’t enjoy these foods. I feel too guilty.  And too full.  For me, comfort food is simple and easy, includes favorite childhood foods, can be eaten in large quantities, and is healthily guilt-free.

When I was a little girl, we had a neighbor with an extensive garden who would let me eat tomatoes warm off the vine. They were perhaps the most delicious food ever. I never tire of good tomatoes but am usually frustrated that they never live up to my memory of those garden tomatoes.  Every summer, my mother would make a simple salad of tomatoes and avocado.  She must be one of the first people who put together a simple composed salad without any lettuce. Who needs lettuce!

The local tomatoes have been pretty good this summer. And, ballerina-eating-trick: you can eat vast quantities of tomatoes without incurring a lot of calories. No need for lettuce, the tomatoes form a delicious base for salads and require minimal dressing. While I don’t eat very much meat any more, I do love chicken and indulge in it occasionally.  This is one of my favorite go-to salads and is what I had for lunch on this day of mixed and jangled emotions.

Grilled Chicken Salad with Yogurt Vinaigrette

  • 1 small grilled chicken breast
  • ½ cup leftover brown rice
  • ½ beefsteak tomato
  • ½ avocado
  • Corn, cut from 1 leftover cob (I always make extra corn on the cob for leftovers)

Dice everything into roughly equal sized small pieces. If you are OCD, like me, you can even make sure that you have the same number of pieces of each ingredient, insuring that each bite has a little bit of everything.

Yogurt Vinaigrette

  • 2 Tablespoons plain greek yogurt (ballerina-eating-trick: Replace some fats with plain greek yogurt. Adds tang and has fewer calories and fat. I use plain greek yogurt instead of mayonnaise on sandwiches.)
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 Tablespoon white wine vinegar

Whisk together and spoon over salad.

1 large salad for lunch – good for jangled nerves, especially if you share the salad with your college-bound daughter.

Forgetting to Breathe

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The Aftermath

The dreams have begun. Mainly anxiety nightmares. Like the one where the memorial service is happening for my mother and I am not ready. Confused at the presence of many people I don’t know and frantic that I haven’t written the eulogy I want to write. (I wish I had shared my blog with her.) Like the one where my new plants that seem so beautiful and alive are actually infested with microscopic bugs.  (Ugliness lurks, even when the outward appearance seems to thrive.)  Like the one where I am navigating an avalanche, struggling upstream on an iceberg. If I fail, I die. (No interpretation required.)

And then there was the one Friday night where I am sitting on a bench between my old father of my now and my vibrant mother of my youth. She is wearing one of her fantastic colorful handknit dresses and has black hair without a speck of gray. She is speaking to me, but no sound is coming from her voice. I urgently tug at my father, “Dad! Look! Mom’s alive! She’s speaking!” I am the bridge between the past and the now, between the physical and the spiritual, between my mother and my father.

It doesn’t help that it’s the holidays. The busiest time of year. Not the most joyful time of year. Bah humbug. I had promised to enjoy the holidays. That was before my mother died. Sigh. The finality of death seems, well, final. How can I possibly enjoy the holidays now?

How can I not? There is so much to live for! So I talk to myself. Fight with myself. Pretty much every waking minute is a negotiation with myself that goes something like this:

Oh my god, I have so much to do! It’s never going to get all done.

Remember, Sally, every year it gets done.

But this year is different. I’m too tired and sad.

Breathe and do what you can.

Ack! My father is coming for Christmas. Now, I’ve got to deal with my father. Is this some joke that God is playing on me?

Well, as Elizabeth Gilbert has said, our most challenging family members are the most powerful spiritual teachers of our life.

What am I going to get him for Christmas?  What am I going to get everyone for Christmas? What do I want for Christmas?

Nothing! I hate Christmas!

My kids love Christmas. Pull it together. It doesn’t have to be perfect.

Smile. Breathe. Go to yoga.

I don’t want to go to yoga. I’m too tired to breathe. I’m too busy to breathe.

Why do we resist doing what feels good for our souls?

Oh my god, I have so much to do! I want to go back to bed.

Breathe. Be kind to yourself. Do what you can.

Remember, Sally, you can choose to not be anxious and depressed. It’s not your go-to place any more. Choose life. Choose joy.

The finality of death can seem final, but life goes on. Clearly, not the same life as before. The new normal is one where my mother is no longer “declining,” but gone. The new normal is one where my father is alone and cognitively not sharp. I am his only child and feel love and sadness for what he is experiencing and anxiety about what the future holds and, frankly, some dismay and anger and selfishness. (Those evil bugs infesting my beautiful growth.) What if I don’t want to take care of him? The new normal is one where my children are growing up and leaving home. What is next for me, for my family, for this next phase of my life? The new normal is one where my mother lives in me and my dreams. Death is not final. Death changes life.

When I am sleepless from a nightmare, in the grip of anxiety, I tell myself not to shut down and close myself off. I can tackle the avalanche coming my way.

Remember to breathe.

Hide-and-Seek

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I am at my childhood home, playing Hide-and-Seek with a little girl.  Myself as a child?  The little girl and I go to hide while another little girl (also young sally?) counts to 60.  Or is it 50…my age?  Yes, there are two little girls.  They are both me as a child.  One is hiding and one is seeking.  Hiding girl waves to me and urges me to hide with her.  She slips seamlessly into some bushes.  Small, young, lithe, flexible – poof!  Young sally is gone.  I study the bushes.  There is no place for me in there.  I cannot hide.  I don’t want to disappoint this sweet and innocent girl so eager to play with me, so eager for a friend.  I crouch into a nook beside the house and behind the bush where hiding girl is obscured.  I know I will be found – ending the game…ruining the game.  Seeking girl’s counting is coming to an end.  “48! 49! 50!  Ready or not!  Here I come!”  I hold my breath.  Here she comes.  Humming around the corner of the house, she spies me immediately.  Yelping, “I see you!”  Exposed.  Found out.  Game over.

I am “it” – my turn to be the seeker.  I walk to the side of the house, unsure of the spot where I should count or to what number I should count.  100?  I find a spot (not sure it is the right spot), cover my eyes, and begin counting out loud.  “1!  2!  3!”  I hear everyone sneaking behind me to find their hiding place.  I raise my voice.  “98!  99!  100!  Ready or not!  Here I come!”

The sneaking footsteps were heading down the hill to the backyard.  I begin my search in that direction.

I walk toward the backyard where the swing set used to be, like the swing set my children have outgrown and that we are now passing on to a younger family.  The childhood swing set was where I bit Mary-Ellen because I was so angry and didn’t know how to deal with my frustration.  I don’t remember what I was angry about but I felt so provoked that all I could do was lash out with my teeth.  My father was furious with me.  I remember no effort on his part to discover why I was angry; to support my side of the argument; or to teach me a more constructive way to be angry.  In shame, embarrassment, and with complete humiliation, I had to face her scary and formidable father and go to her to apologize.  My father made me do it after dinner.  You can’t disrupt the dinner routine.  It was the end of my friendship with Mary-Ellen, because I didn’t know how you could be angry and still love someone.

Heading to the backyard in my dream, the swing set is gone.  In its place are cats.  Not small cats.  Big cats.  Cougars.  Pumas.  Panthers.  Sexy older women?  Cougars everywhere.  Baby Cougars.  Adult Cougars.  Slinking, Stalking, Hunting.  Frightened for my life, I become desperate to find my husband.  Where was he hiding?  I had to find him and save him.  He wasn’t in the backyard.  I run to the front yard.  More cougars.  A voice was speaking to me in my head.  “They may seem to not notice you, but they are aware of you and very dangerous to you.  BEWARE!”  I could not find my husband.  The little girls were gone also.  Just me, grown up Sally, exposed.  Heart beating with fear at the danger.

Waking from Anxiety

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Letting Go of an Anxious Past

Sunday I woke.  That familiar feeling was there.  I didn’t want to face my day.  In times past (before children), I would succumb, lying in bed, staying home-bound, overwhelmed with the feeling that it was all too much to handle.  In times more current, I ignored the feeling, plowing through my day, my duties.  This time, I observed the feeling without getting lost in the feeling.

I lay there reconstructing my dreams.  All anxiety dreams.

Dream #1:  A classic – I forgot to go on my upcoming business trip.  After that horrible moment when I realized I had missed my plane and was supposed to be in Miami for an important meeting, I was rushing around trying to find another plane to get me there that same day.  New job performance anxiety.

Dream #2:  Our parakeet, Cooper (who I am ridiculously attached to probably because I feel guilty for not being a better pet care-giver as a child), was struggling up the stairs looking for me.  When he found me, something was the matter with him.  I looked at him and his body was missing.  Just his head and his tail feathers.  A big gaping hole where his body was.  He was going to die.  And it was my fault.  Parenting anxiety.  I am a terrible mother.  Especially when I am absorbed in my work.  See Dream #1.

Dream #3:  I had a tattoo.  I thought it was kind of cool that I had acquired this tattoo.  My having a tattoo would be quite out of character.  But the tattoo was of a stick dog with a skull.  I did not like it.  It was not my choice.  And now it was a permanent fixture of my body.  Anxiety over what?  Not having a say?  Elements of my past imbedded in my body that I don’t want – were not my choice. were inflicted upon me?

I lay there ruminating.  I made a decision.  I did not want to have a “generalized anxiety” fog of a day.  I decided to not succumb.  Time is too precious to waste a blissful day off feeling unsettled and blue.  I made an important discovery for myself a few years ago on a ski vacation that anxiety was a habit that I could choose not to give in to.  We had arrived at the top of the mountain.  The wind was blowing, which always increases my skiing anxiety, and we were going to do a challenging run.  I stood there looking down.  My heart was pounding and my breath was short and shallow.  “I can’t do it!  I hate skiing!  It’s your fault and you better notice how hard this is for me and take care of me!”  My husband, truly the perfect match for me, calmly chooses not to notice my panic, calmly chooses not to cater to my false victim-y incompetence.  And then the shift happens.  I change the tape in my head.  “I can do this run.  I did it several times last year and loved it!  I am a good skier.  Anxiety is a habit.  It got me attention as a child, as a young adult.  But it does not serve me well any more.  Let it go.”  I took some deeper breaths and felt my confident persona rise up.  There she is!  Let’s go.  And down we schussed, my confident persona and me, leaving the anxious child behind.

I left my anxiety dreams in bed and got up and enjoyed coffee with my husband and went to my Sunday yoga class with wise Alex.  I have worked hard to create a community of friends at my yoga studio.  But I regularly forget that they are there and that they notice when I am not there.  I walked in and was greeted with hugs and a genuine welcome.  Good God, I have friends.  Friends I have cultivated with care.  And then another shift happened.  During Warrior 2, where my left hand was my back hand, it started vibrating.  What was happening?  The only child of (anxious) cerebral scientists, I searched for a scientific and physical explanation.  Probably some mildly pinched nerve was being released.  But maybe, just maybe, there is a different point of view worth considering, worth being open to considering.  I wonder what the yogi’s have to say?  Some crazy hokum, I am sure.  Kundalini awakening or some such nonsense.  Oh yeah, I am a yogini.  I am supposed to believe this crazy hokum…right?  Skeptical, I ask Alex.  He suggests that my back hand represents my past.  I am releasing energy from my past.  The left side is my feminine side, my heart.  I am releasing energy from my past, from my past with my mother, my anxiety enabler – as I make the passage through mid-life and become more grounded in my confident self.  Good God, this resonates as true and believable!  Could it be that it is not crazy hokum?  Perhaps the logical explanation is not the only point of view?  I felt the decision I made that morning, to leave anxiety behind, in the vibration of my left back hand.

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