Fires

Yesterday I was jogging and started to feel sick—wait, not sick exactly, but something was off in my—stomach, maybe? It wasn’t nausea, I hadn’t eaten something strange, but I didn’t feel right. It was in my gut, definitely. There was a pit. It took me a few minutes of wondering, sincerely, to realize that it was depression. I could have guessed that it was coming, and here it was, making me feel ill in spite of doing the healthiest thing I had done for my body in months, despite being outside on a warm fall day at the start of a weekend. This insidious thing. I had spent the previous day home from the office to try to rescue myself from a freefall of anxiety. While that was a good decision, perhaps I hadn’t caught myself early enough to avoid skidding into the dark mud at the bottom.

As I continued jogging I had the kind of woo-woo thought to which I’m not usually prone: that some negative energy was bubbling and seeping out right now. Maybe that was why I’d felt such an intense need to do this run, why I suddenly found the motivation to put off brunch and coffee until I had worked myself out. Strange that I didn’t take a single walking break, too, which is something I normally need for a run of more than a mile. There was some kind of desperation inside me. I’d had a particularly difficult week, not in any critical way but in several ways that hit my sensitive spots. I made a few foolish decisions and put myself in some vulnerable places, and naturally, I’d gotten hurt. Maybe I had tried to shrug off the pain, but now I needed to reckon with it. Or maybe that is too abstract an explanation for what depression is.

I knew better than to cancel any of my plans for the rest of the day. Depression didn’t want me to run my errands or go to a party, but I did both, and I felt lighter by the end of the night. I still was not at rest, though. Today I’m further along this odd trajectory—I am not depressed but filled with an exuberant ache, if there can be such a thing. I drove down the freeway into the sun, with music playing loud, and I felt painfully alive, as if I was on the verge of either great joy or great sorrow. Nothing extraordinary was happening; I was on my way to volunteer at a library among giggling high school students. Yet I felt like I could cry and burst and dissolve into the orange-yellow sunshine that surrounded me. I didn’t know what to do. As when I’m depressed, the best course to take is the one already laid out. Pretend that things are going normally. Of course, I don’t want to pretend that all the time. Life is ordinary enough, filled with days that are more or less predictable. If I feel like bursting, I should burst, even if only question marks come out. And I’m asking myself a lot of questions right now. The most salient are, What is the nature of this fire in my heart? and What can I do with it?

Crunched

I’m not yet convinced that my hand will ever make a fist again, or that my fingers will stand up straight. For more than ten weeks I’ve been trying to train them, but like beginner yoga students, they don’t assume quite the right position without a push. The ring finger will bend nicely at the middle joint but hardly at the tip. Its little neighbor bends somewhat nicely at every joint but doesn’t stay in its own path, preferring to lie on top of the ring finger. The hand therapist measures my progress in millimeters, and when I get frustrated, she assures me that I’m getting better even if it’s not obvious.

Due to a reckless moment on my bike in early March, my right hand has progressed from total incapacity to partial usefulness to, now, a stiff and sensitive version of almost-normalcy. It started with foolishness, pain, and regret. During the second half of a long bike ride, I came to a familiar juncture where the bike path broke continuity to cross a busy street. I hadn’t been there in a while but I knew the way to get back on the path was to ease up onto the sidewalk via the curb cut … or was it? Maybe I had to get on the street, in the bike lane, instead. With a split-second maneuver I decided to do the latter, and a moment later saw that I’d been wrong. There was a curb between me and my intended route. From a place of bad judgment came the idea that I could jump it on my steel-framed touring bike. So I tried, and speedily crashed forward into the pavement. Read the full post »

This year, I resolve …

… to do the following:

  • Reduce my weight to 165 pounds
  • Do an Oregon bike tour of at least four days
  • Reconsider self-centered behaviors
  • Take music lessons
  • Go on three photography walks
  • Run a few miles every week
  • Write for at least two hours per week
  • Catch up with car maintenance
  • Add [a certain amount of money] to savings account

Crater Lake

I’ve seen rainbows in the sky, in the mists of city fountains, and among the spray of waterfalls, but only once have I seen a rainbow in the middle of a lake. Everybody was in awe at the Crater Lake Lodge. Drink and meal service stopped as guests and employees came out to the back porch with their smartphones and cameras. The rainbow was a short, pale arc emerging from cobalt-blue water and dissolving into the wintry air. There had been snow, rain, and hail that day, marking the end of autumn in the mountains of southern Oregon, and we felt this was a reward bestowed by a temporarily clear sky. It was too cold to stay and gaze at it for long. We, mostly strangers, smiled at each other and filed back inside to enjoy our hot drinks.

I had been on the other side of that rainbow a couple hours earlier, on the rim of Crater Lake, riding my bike on an empty road with my friend Fiona. Park administrators had closed the road to motor vehicles for the weekend to give cyclists a rare opportunity to enjoy it without the fear and stress of car traffic. They, and we, had expected nicer weather and a much larger crowd of visitors. I had helped to lead a caravan from Portland the night before, transporting about 13 people. Most of us had ratcheted down our cycling ambitions after we’d arrived and found ourselves pitching tents under freezing rain. Many people wanted to ride the entire car-free portion of Rim Drive, which was about 26 miles. A handful of them followed through, starting early in anticipation of a snowstorm. Some went a few miles before heading to the lodge or back to the campsite. One didn’t even leave the campground. Fiona and I biked about seven miles before encountering a few friends who were going the opposite direction, and reversed course. They told us it had begun to snow at some of the higher points of the rim. So far, we had gotten no worse than an interruption of sleet against the persistent chill of the air. Read the full post »

Self inflicted

Picture yourself leaning against the kitchen counter at a party, talking to someone. You’re pressed into the edge of that counter, and it’s a little uncomfortable, but you have a drink in one hand and you’re distracted, lost in conversation. When you finally pull away, you notice just how hard you’d been leaning into that edge; there’s a deep red impression that won’t disappear for hours, and will leave you with a bruise.

This is how it feels when I realize just how much psychic damage I’ve caused by not taking care to write, to engage my creativity, to be kind to myself. For the first time I’m participating in National Novel Writing Month, which forces me to shove through my clogged-up thoughts and write something nearly every day. I started out being very resistant, and I still feel a lot of resistance; but the first time I found a groove, it opened a door and threw light upon the dusty, neglected room where my creative ambitions lie. It’s a blinding, beautiful light, showing clearly that a kind of salvation is waiting for me in that room. That’s where I can play with ideas, think deeply about life and emotions and people and relationships. It’s where I have no distractions, no obligations—only expression, release, and contentment. I can’t understand why I’m so fearful of entering and staying there a while. It’s too easy to let the door swing shut. Every time that happens, I’m hurting myself.

There are forms of self-harm that are simply wired into our brains. It took years of therapy, and digesting that therapy, to show me that my brain had been working in overdrive to make me feel worthless. Ever since I was old enough to judge my own value, I’ve been a harsh critic. So much precious effort has been wasted on insisting that I need to be, or do, “better”. When I had this epiphany, it was like uncovering a wound that I’d assumed was healed, but turned out be shockingly raw. I wept, hard, for the fact that I had tolerated it for so long. Did I think so little of myself that I thought I actually deserved to feel this constant ache? It was a sad realization, but a powerful one that revealed the depth of my own potential. If my mind has created all this hurt from nothing, then surely it can erase the hurt back to nothing.

I’m accustomed to inertia, pain, and frustration. When I write, the writing sputters with constant interruption from my critical brain. When I try to practice self-care, I get distracted by things that are easier (or shinier, or more sugary or fatty). But in my heart, I know absolutely that I am better than my worst inclinations. I need to pull away from that hard-edged countertop, and join the party with all the weight on my own two feet.

Bike touring lessons

Three weeks ago I left for a bike tour through the San Juans and Whidbey Island, up in the Puget Sound north of Seattle. I’d like to share the whole story, but I haven’t had a stretch of concentration long enough to start writing about it. I do have a few snippets, however. This was the longest tour I’ve done yet, at five days with a median distance of 33 miles per day (total of 170 miles). I also planned and went on the trip alone, so naturally I got some things a little bit wrong—but all that means is, lessons have been learned for next time.

What I learned from my trip:

1. Bring mosquito repellent if you’re going near the woods. This should have been obvious, what with the Northern Hemisphere being in summertime. But I had figured that mosquitoes wouldn’t be a problem on the coast, so I didn’t bring protection. In the first couple days, along the rocky shores or among the farmlands of the San Juans, no mosquitoes came to bother me. Instead, they had a secret meeting and planned an ambush at the forested campground in the northeastern corner of Lopez Island, where I had hoped to relax for the night. They were so vicious that I zipped myself into my tent and had granola bars for dinner, rather than staying outside and cooking.  Read the full post »

Pushing it

I wore a mid-afternoon veneer of sweat and sunblock, in a mixture that dripped helplessly down my body. I gulped the last of my warm Gatorade and moved on to the bottle of water, which was also warm and getting close to empty. The temperature in the sun was about 96 degrees, and perhaps a few degrees cooler where I stood on the shaded sidewalk. My bike was near me, idling against a fence. I started to relax as my body slowly cooled. I had been biking for 37 miles, and another 11 stretched between me and my apartment. Under better conditions I would have had no trouble completing the ride, but the hottest day of the year had gotten the better of me. I had just come down from the Columbia Gorge Scenic Highway—shady, downhill, river-adjacent—and found myself on the completely sun-exposed shoulder of Halsey Street in Troutdale. It was 3:00 and I could no longer handle the heat radiating from the asphalt. I caught a bus, put my bike on the front rack, and returned to Portland in air-conditioned comfort.

Earlier that day, while debating whether or not to go out in the forecast heat, I assumed I’d be home before the temperature hit its peak. But I hadn’t started early enough. My 9:30 breakfast stop turned into a sojourn, since my little pre-ride to the restaurant had me sweating already. I wondered if I should go on, even as I downed the stack of pancakes that I ordered specifically to fuel a long bike ride. In the end, I couldn’t convince myself to give up the goal of reaching Crown Point in the Gorge. This was the very ride that kickstarted my knee problem over a year ago and prevented me from riding the Tour of the Unknown Coast, and generally sidelined me from doing long rides for a while. Read the full post »

A sense of gratitude

Dear friends,

Have you noticed that I started using this salutation last year, for some (maybe many) posts? It is supposed to make my blog seem like a less formal place for writing, to take the pressure off, to make me feel like I’m composing a letter (which I still do, sometimes, with pen and paper) instead of an essay. The net effect should be that I write more prolifically. It hasn’t worked very well, but I still enjoy—and need the outlet of—writing, so I will keep coming back here.

Today’s post is about embracing the good. By and large, I’m not a complainer. Even as a kid I held the notion that negative attitudes are a drain on a person’s energy and a drag for everybody around. I complain about the complainers! But lately I have shamefully expressed some gripes about my own life. The list is short: (1) I am single again. (2) My belly fat is unattractive and makes my clothes too tight.

Right away, you’ll see that the brevity of this list indicates that my life is pretty f*cking good. And if that’s what you’re thinking, I heartily agree with you. Here’s why. Read the full post »

On my own

Dear friends,

I don’t have much perspective on my situation yet. What I know is that I don’t feel good. My heart broke when I made the decision to leave him, and I think it’s still lying there inert. Only a few days have elapsed since it happened. I’m clinging to things that should offer comfort, but I can’t say that that’s working. I have lost a potential lifelong mate and it’s hard to grasp what that means. The best I can do is continue trying to embrace the other good things in my life, hoping (trusting) that I will feel better. That I’ll learn how to welcome back my memories from the last eight months. Right now my brain seems physiologically incapable of bringing them to light.

I don’t want to be on my own anymore.

-Kristen

Into the light

Dear friends,

I’m about to fall in love for the second time in five months, and it’s with a baby girl. My brother’s first daughter was born two weeks ago. A photo of her is pinned up in my cubicle; her eyes are gazing upon her daddy while her mouth forms a serious little O. I look at her and try to see the different generations of my family. The shape of her features will become more apparent as she gets older, but right now, I could swear that the nose definitely comes from her daddy, and from my dad and grandfather. I can’t wait to hold her and make her smile. In two days, I’ll be in California to get my turn.

Fred is coming with me to even the score in our relationship—I’ve already met every member of his immediate family, while he’s only met my brother and sister-in-law via Skype. Fortunately for me, my brother’s family lives in the same town as our parents, and I have aunts and cousins the area too. As the word spreads, I imagine lots of people “just stopping by” my parents’ house to see my male caller. It’s been almost eleven years since I have brought a boy home. Fred is already being treated like part of the family from afar, so I know how warmly he’ll be welcomed in person. Read the full post »

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