Category Archives: me

Thankful #13 – #30

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I know, I know. November thankful posts have come and gone, and I am still stuck back at day thirteen! I could brush it off, but I hate to leave anything unfinished, so you’re getting the quick, quick version. If you don’t mind, do my work for me and imagine each of the following bullet points lovingly fleshed out into a fulsome paragraph of purple prose.

Today I’m thankful for:

13.  The snooze button. It’s a love-hate relationship.

14. Fleece sheets. November hits, the temperature plunges, and Paul and I change our pedestrian cotton sheets for the sublime slumber of the fortunate, fleece-encased few. It’s like sleeping on a cloud.

15. The self check-out line at the grocery store. When you need to get in and get out in five minutes, there’s nothing like self check-out. I am a leaf on the wind.

16. My library card. The most powerful piece of plastic in the world.

17. Willie Ford. If you know me, you probably know him.

18. Text messaging. With the brief exception of a few years in the nineties, I’ve always had a phone aversion. To the talking part, I mean. I love, love, love the ability to convey essential information in a few keystrokes without doing all that verbal massage on the front and back end of the communication. Wow, this really makes me sound misanthropic, doesn’t it?

19. Online shopping. Amazon Prime, we were made for each other. Thank you for your free, fast two day deliveries. Christmas shopping has been a joy since you came into my life.

20. iPhone.  Let me count the ways.

21. My chiropractor. It’s much easier for a girl to face the world once she has her head on straight.

22. Pentel Energel Deluxe Liquid Gel Pen with a .7mm roller ball tip. Pen nirvana.

23. Digital content. Movies, music, books–now that I can own them in digital form, I am no longer limited by the constraints of my bookshelves and CD racks. I can download ALL THE THINGS!

24. Christmas trees. Some people *cough*Paul!*cough* don’t like to put them up until after Thanksgiving, but you better believe it is going up the moment the leftover turkey is wrapped and put away! There is an unearthly peace that descends when you’re sitting alone in a dark living room lit only by a Christmas tree. It’s a little bit magic.

25. Cream, sugar, and Torani syrup. Without these things, I would never have discovered how much I love coffee.

26. The McDonalds drive-thru girls. They know my name at McDonalds, which is probably not something to be proud of. It’s the iced tea. I don’t know how they make it, but I need it. And the drive-thru girls are my delightful dealers. They are nearly always smiling, and they know exactly how I take my McTea: unsweetened, in a styrofoam cup. (Sorry, Earth, but it keeps my ice from melting so fast.)

26. Duolingo.com. My espanol lessons are going muy bien, gracias.

27. My new doorbell. At last, we can dispense with the post-it note by the front door that says, “Doorbell broken. Please knock!” It can play the Westminster chimes, but I was outvoted, so now it just goes “ding-dong”. I don’t care; I still love it.

28. Real, honest-to-goodness letters. I still get one occasionally, written in ink on paper, sealed in an envelope with a colorful stamp in the corner. Why are they so much cooler than email?

29. Pixel & Widget. A functional cat can serve as an antidepressant, a hot water bottle, a live stage show, an alarm clock, a therapist, and an exterminator. Ours also manage to be super adorable.

30. Idaho winter. The wind, the snow, the clear sparkle of stars through night air so sharp and cold that it hurts your lungs to breathe–my inner Jack London is roaring.

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Thankful #6 – #12

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website

Today’s list of blessings is comprised entirely of websites. What an amazing time we live in, with a world of information (and misinformation) right at our fingertips. With the aid of the internet, we can be either madly clicking paragons of productivity or ravaged wastrels lounging atop a throne of empty pizza boxes in our underwear. Either way, here are some of the websites I’m thankful for:

6. WebMD. How else could I find out all the things I didn’t know were wrong with me? By the way, today I either have mild wrist swelling caused by overuse or creeping bone cancer. Could be either, according to WebMD.

7. Google. It’s the search engine whose name became synonymous with searching for things on the internet. I’ve tried a number of others, but always come back to the megalith of internet construction. Not only is it the most comprehensive and useful, but the Google doodle occasionally provides hours of entertainment.

8. I Can Has Cheezburger. Life can be brutal, man. Some days, we get knocked down so many times that staying down starts to seem like the best option. On those days, I like to fill my brain up with cute hedgehog babies in teacups and puppies wearing tiny fedoras. I like to imagine that I live in a world where my cat has something clever and pithy to say about the mess  I left in the kitchen, and where every animal, from cow to platypus, is blessed with a rapier sharp sarcastic wit. Cheezburgers for everyone!

9. Lifehacker. This too-practical-to-be-believed website has tips and tricks for everything from making your own bicycle-powered battery to optimizing your Google searches. I just recently used it to find a good (and free) language learning app. No matter what you want to do (deseed a pomegranate, interview for a job, water your plants), Lifehacker has a tip for you! Never again will I have to suffer from excess pool noodle accumulation. Thanks,  Lifehacker!

10. Wikipedia. It’s exhaustive. It’s crowd-sourced. And it’s mostly accurate. To think, my parents had to spend $300 in 1995 for an actual printed set of World Book encyclopedias. It was out of date before we received it.  And it didn’t even have an entry for the Hollywood Freeway Chickens. Well-researched accounts of roving feral chicken bands living in the urban jungles of Southern California are exactly the sort of thing I look for in a good encyclopedia.

11. Craigslist. Buy stuff. Sell stuff. Even meet people (if you’re brave/crazy), and get a chuckle out of seeing the weirdness of humanity on full display.

12. The Marriage Bed. There’s a vicious rumor going around that Christians don’t like sex. I’m pretty sure I’ve debunked that idea at length in other posts, however, if you need more convincing, check out The Marriage Bed, a website that celebrates sex in the context of Christian marriage. There are general discussion boards that are open to click through, as well as boards that address more specific interests; those can be accessed by registering on the site and opting in to the boards you’d like to read. There is also a library of articles and helpful links. Whether you’re facing challenges in your sex life or are just looking for some new ideas, The Marriage Bed is a great resource!

Thankful #3, #4, and #5

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Here are three things that win my gratitude today:

3. For Paul’s birthday this year, I got him a Keurig coffee maker. I honestly wasn’t thinking of myself when I bought it (well, perhaps I was thinking about those three dollar cups of coffee Paul routinely purchased on his way to work. That adds up in a hurry!) However, since its appearance on our kitchen counter, I have used it almost as much as he has.

I’ve never been much of a coffee person, but when Keurig came into our lives, dazzling us with his lightning fast, one-cup brewmastery and his intoxicating array of K-cups, I was easily hooked. Morning by morning, I’ve spilled out of bed and clawed my way to the kitchen with increasing anticipation, my mind on the possibilities: Donut Shop coffee, or Newman’s Own? Hazelnut creamer, or vanilla? Ooh, maybe I’ll have a mocha today! Whipped cream? Yes, please. Whatever I choose, the first scalding sip of that bold elixir squares my shoulders, propels me out the door, and sets me face-forward on the day’s path.

So THIS is coffee! I get it now, world! (Plus, at 30-50 cents a cup, the savings would make Scrooge McDuck do the money dance!)

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4. It never fails. I’m working on a big project in Microsoft Publisher, a document that has taken hours of cutting, pasting, and tweaking to perfection, and I decide to do just One More Thing to it. It’s a thing I don’t know exactly how to do, but I tell myself that if I play around with the tools long enough, I’ll figure it out. In a few short keystrokes, my carefully calibrated document is a mess, the casualty of unseen forces called into being by the misuse of my feeble wizardry, set on destroying my formatting and breaking my brain.

Just as I’m on the verge of a temper tantrum, I remember! The Undo button! Merciful mother of microchips! A click or two, and the world has once again righted itself. I make the decision to leave well enough alone, print my document, and collapse in a grateful heap. Day saved. (It’s too bad there’s not an Undo button for the analog world. Just think of all the poor decisions that could be undone! All the inappropriate Facebook statuses erased, the ill-conceived tweets untweeted, and the bombed jokes untold…)

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5. This being November in Idaho, our weather has just made the transition from “brisk” to “biting” cold. Add in the damp from the fall rains, and it’s a chill that slowly works its way down into your bones. On days like this, I am thankful for the heater in my car, which warms up surprisingly quickly, within 60 seconds or so. I can get in with the shivers and, in moments, be toasting my frozen fingers in the lovely flow of warmth from the dashboard heater vent. It would be hard to survive an Idaho winter without it!

Thankful #2

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toilet paper

I have used leaves. I have used crumpled up fast food napkins from my purse. In a pinch, I have even used a very scratchy and uncomfortable piece of loose leaf notebook paper. These experiences have only buttressed (Heh. Get it?) my resolve to offer thanks for the subject of today’s gratitude post:

Toilet paper.

What would we do without you, toilet paper?

Well, we know that, actually. Before there was toilet paper, our ancestors used grass, leaves, fur, corncobs–you name it. The Vikings used lamb’s wool. Eskimos used snow and moss off the tundra. The French used hemp, various coastal people used seashells (carefully, I assume), and throughout Medieval Europe, straw and hay was the common choice.  In ancient Rome, they used a sponge soaked in salt water and fastened to the end of a stick. And in the Middle East, well… there’s a reason it was considered rude to offer your left hand for a handshake.

Perhaps those days are past, but it wasn’t that long ago that country families would hang the Sears & Roebuck catalog in their outhouses to serve a purpose beyond providing reading material. You had to be a fast reader to get through all of it before it went to its final resting place. It may have been convenient, but soft it was not.

Now we have Mr. Whipple, whose curmudgeonly admonishment not to squeeze the Charmin serves to remind us how soft it is. And that’s not all. We have so many choices! Do you want it quilted, three-ply, extra-soft, extra-strong, and extra-absorbent? We have that! You can buy it mildly scented, sprinkled with embossed flowers, and in a delightful array of colors to match your bathroom decor!

I myself have experienced increasing satisfaction in the area of toilet paper performance, ever since leaving behind the insufficiencies of the thin, sandpaper-y institutional toilet tissue of my college dorm years. We are now Cottonelle people, and you’ll never convince us otherwise. The only way to go up from here would be to buy a bidet.

At any rate, I am enraptured to be living, loving, and eliminating in the enlightened age of toilet paper. The alternatives do not even bear* thinking about.

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“European toilet paper is made from the same material that Americans use for roofing, which is why Europeans tend to remain standing throughout soccer matches.” –Dave Barry

“It’s not hard to tell we was poor – when you saw the toilet paper dryin’ on the clothesline.” –George Lindsey

“Today you can go to a gas station and find the cash register open and the toilets locked. They must think toilet paper is worth more than money.” –Joey Bishop

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tp bear

Letter to my Newlywed Self

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wedding

I’ve seen plenty of inspiring, wisdom-filled essays from people to their younger selves. They are generally uplifting and full of good advice about choices and chances—wisdom gleaned from painful years of wrong turns, shifting perceptions, and painful falls. Sure, their younger selves wouldn’t listen any better than they did, but it feels good to say it out loud, nonetheless, to acknowledge how far you’ve come and how much you’ve grown. Looking back over almost 18 years of marriage now, I realized that I also have a lot to say to my younger self–specifically the self I was when I married Paul at the tender age of 22 and embarked, for better or worse, on the crazy adventure that follows the choice to spend the rest of your life with the person you love.

Dear Newlywed Katrina,

The wedding was beautiful, wasn’t it? Aside from you accidentally smashing your groom’s fingers in the car door before making your getaway, the day was sheer poetry. Looking over at your new husband, I know you can’t imagine that anyone before or since has ever had a love as profound and unique as yours. And all those people who talk about marriage being hard work full of fights and frustrations and misunderstandings clearly didn’t manage to marry their perfect soulmate, as you have cleverly done.

You might want to sit down, girl.

It turns out that the finger-smashing incident was a pretty good metaphor for marriage. Even when everything is beautiful and amazing between the two of you, blood and tears inevitably make an appearance here and there. Expect them, and learn from them (For example, you’ve already learned to check for fingers before slamming the car door. Don’t tell Paul, but there are a lot of accidental injuries in his future. Watch where you put your knees and elbows, and remember that your diamond ring can scratch.)

Anyway, here are some things I wish I could tell you before you have to learn them the hard way:

1. Guess what? You’re not your husband’s mother. I know, as the oldest child, that you have spent a lifetime assuming you know the best way to do everything and bossing around the people you love (in their own best interests, of course). But that’s a habit you need to break. Your husband needs a lover and a friend, not a nagging know-it-all correcting the way he loads the dishwasher or making sure he gets his work done. Believe it or not, he even has some things to teach you. Life will start being a lot more fun for both of you when you figure this out.

2. It’s his home, too. Sure, you’ve spent hours poring over magazine articles about decorating on a budget and combing through thrift shops for those beautifully aged shabby chic end tables. You consider your home an extension of yourself, an embodiment of your unique personality, and Paul’s framed Star Wars movie poster, as attractive as it is, just doesn’t jibe with the casual neo-Grecian vibe you’re trying to create. I mean, you’ve already given him a four foot steamer trunk in which to stuff all his unsightly computer cords and gaming paraphernalia; what more does he want? Well, I’ll tell you. He wants to feel like he lives there. He wants to be comfortable and at home in his own place. He wants to be able to see his stuff, and to use it without feeling like it’s a barbaric offense to the civilized world. He wants to meld your life and his into a new life that is better and richer than before; he wants to create a home for the two of you, one that reflects both of you and this new thing that you are together. Besides, deep inside, you are a way bigger geek than you even know right now. You’ll want to hang on to that Star Wars poster.

3. Let some things go. Right now, you think that good communication means airing your every single complaint and irritation with each other immediately and in full. You don’t want to “let things fester”, and that’s good. Festering is bad. But what you don’t know yet is that a lot of those things that bother you now just aren’t very important. They aren’t even big enough to fester. They’re more like little welts on the surface of your skin that will entirely disappear by morning. For example, it’s certainly not worth killing two hours of a precious Saturday night to wage war on his annoying habit of putting empty containers back in the fridge. Just throw them away for him. Seriously. It takes two seconds. Save your energy for the big battles, because there will be a few, and you don’t want to have spent all your emotional capital on empty Miracle Whip jars.

4. Make time for each other. I know, you think you’ll always have these late Saturday mornings to lie in bed gazing into each other’s eyes and talking about everything under the sun. You can’t imagine that a time will come when you don’t call each other at work to coo adoringly into the phone or spend evenings strolling hand in hand along downtown streets, dreaming about your future selves. But life has a way of happening, filling up the hours and days with children and projects and obligations. Before you know it, you can find yourselves falling into bed after a busy day without having said more to each other than “good morning”, “goodnight”, and “don’t forget your dentist appointment at four”. You have to fight this with all of your will! Connections are much easier to maintain than they are to rebuild. Don’t ever let busy schedules and worries make you forget what you have in each other. The back burner is no place for a marriage. Keep the heat on under it, and stir it constantly. Trust me, it will be delicious.

5. Be on the same team. The world is full of adversaries – people who want to tear you down or take what you have, people who only want to win, to dominate, to stand at the top of a heap of fallen opponents and bask in their victories. That’s the opposite of marriage. You and Paul are comrades in arms, shouting encouragement and sharing canteens as you take this hill of life together. You will disagree with each other; one or the other of you will fall down and lose focus; you will encounter obstacles so big they seem to block out the sun. At such times, it’s easy to turn on your teammate, but don’t. Take turns picking each other up. Forget about blame and focus on the next step. Carry each other when the need arises. To quote Malcolm Reynolds (from the show Firefly – you’re going to love it!), “You’re on my crew. Why we still talking about this?”

6. When it comes to sex, say yes as often as you can. Sex is glue for your relationship. Apply liberally. A few months after your honeymoon, when you’ve worked out all the mechanical details, you will fall back into bed one night, turn your eyes to the heavens, and ask blissfully, “Can it possibly get any better than THIS?” And the answer, I am delighted to report, is “YES!” Better and better and unbelievably better! (But now I’m just bragging.) Here’s the thing. You will be tempted to set the tempo of your sex life solely to the beat of your own desire. And, female sexual response being what it is, that desire will not come knocking on your door quite as often as it does on his. But if you say yes, even if you don’t feel like dancing at first, you will usually find yourself getting caught up in the beat. Sometimes you’ll want the seven course meal, and other times, you’ll just be in the mood for a quick burger and fries. (Wow, I’ve got like three sex metaphors going here!) Either kind of meal can be satisfying. The important thing is the nourishment it gives your relationship. It’s amazing how powerful sex is. When you’re stressed out, when he’s had a setback at work, when the argument is over but the tension isn’t — sex says, “I love you. I choose you. We are in this together.” It makes the highs higher and the lows less harrowing. Plus, it’s fun. Do it a lot.

7. Show Paul how much you admire him. You picked him for a reason — lots of reasons. Does he know what they are? When you find yourself appreciating his sense of humor, or his easy way of talking to strangers, or how good he looks in his jeans, open your mouth and tell him! Say nice things about him in front of others, and try not to share stories with your girlfriends that would embarrass him. (I admit that I still struggle with this. See if you can do something about our compulsive oversharing, will you, 22 year-old me?) Be the one in his corner, the one who cheers louder than anyone else, the one who speaks into the self-doubt and discouragement with words that build up and show him who he is in your eyes. He needs that, just like you do.

8. Do new things. Sure, you don’t like football now, and the mention of tabletop gaming makes your eyes glaze over with boredom, but don’t reject his favorite activities out of hand. Give them a chance. Yes, you’ll discover that you truly never, ever want to play Shogun again in your life, but you’ll also be surprised to find out that you quite like fantasy football and computer gaming. And the effort you put into sharing his interests will pay off in a hundred little ways, like the warm smile in his eyes when he has to crown you Queen and Champion of the Fantasy Football League in your very first season..

9. Don’t give up. There will come a time when you think about it, when the wrong turn your marriage has made takes you so far into the weeds that you can’t even see your feet. Don’t give up. You get back to the road the same way you got off of it — one step at a time. In a marriage like yours, made of two people who love and trust God, there is nothing He can’t fix.

10. Finally, I know you hate that ratty plaid flannel jacket that Paul always wears, but do not throw it away and pretend it got lost in the laundry. He will know it was you, and you will still be hearing about it 18 years later. Trust me.

You’re in for a wild ride, Katrina, but the scenery is fantastic. Hang on tight and don’t let go!

Me llamo Katrina. Yo no soy una manzana.

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When asked to name one big regret I have in life, I’m pretty lucky. I don’t have a lot of terrible, life-altering mistakes to choose from. Sure, I’ve been through some things that, at the time, I would have skipped if I could, but I wouldn’t change the pattern God has woven into my life for anything, even if some of the threads were not of my choosing. No, my one big regret is actually one of mere practicality:

I regret not taking Spanish as my foreign language in high school.

Don’t mistake me; I enjoyed the French language very much. At one time, I was surprisingly proficient in it, and was even able to navigate among native speakers for a six week exchange program in Aurillac, France. My fluency has ebbed away with disuse, but I still remember the essentials. Ou est le WC? = Where is the bathroom? J’ai besoin d’aller à l’hôpital! = I need to go to the hospital! Est-ce crêpe sans gluten? = Is this crepe gluten-free? (Okay, I confess. I had to look up the French word for “gluten”. It turns out that it’s “gluten”. Who knew?) I was understandably proud of my French-speaking abilities once upon a time, especially on those very rare occasions when the villains in a spy movie we were watching would speak a smattering of French and I was able to (sort of) translate for all my friends: “If we don’t get the (something) letters within two days, the man in blue will (uh…do something) to our (something – did he say cadavre or confrère?), so hurry!”

Okay, so it wasn’t that useful.

On the other hand, there have been scores of occasions when the ability to speak Spanish would have been a real, tangible asset. I’ve met people from South America in nearly every state that I’ve lived in, and some of them have not yet learned enough English to be clearly understood. It would have been nice, for example, to be able to talk to the soft-spoken man back in Searcy who turned up at Hastings with Paul’s stolen bicycle. It took half an hour and some earnest charades for us to make him understand that the bike belonged to Paul and to find out that he had bought it from a man who “had many bicycles” that he was selling out of his truck. Fortunately, the next time we met him, to give him a hand-me-down bicycle we had lucked into, he was surrounded by bilingual friends, and communication was much easier.  I would have liked to have been able to make my homesick Nicaraguan college roommate feel more welcome, but our interactions were painfully limited by our language barrier.  And just recently, I had a sweet family come in to use our church food bank who didn’t speak any English at all. Though our smiles were there, the words were not. It took a long, awkward effort on all of our parts for me to figure out that they were looking mainly for diapers and baby food.

Time and again, I have wished to go back in time and check the little box marked “español” on my 10th grade class schedule application. Time and again, I’ve regretted the whim of fifteen year-old me, who thought French sounded more mysteriously romantic and better befitting a wannabe Baudelaire like myself.

It finally occurred to me this week that I could stop regretting… and just learn Spanish.

So that is my new project! Voy a aprender a hablar español! Sure, my brain is older now, and my language acquisition center is probably draped in cobwebs, but I don’t need to be a qualified UN translator. I just want to be able to hold a real conversation (i.e. one that doesn’t involve la biblioteca*) with people I meet. I can learn that much, right?

The first thing I did was look up Rosetta Stone. Ouch. Our budget doesn’t have a “language education” category, so that’s out. Aren’t there any free options out there? I poked around on the internet for a few days, not really finding anything useful. And then, Lifehacker did that magic trick where they featured an article that told me exactly what I needed to know.

So I’m signed up on Duolingo. I created an account and downloaded the free app for my tablet and phone (it’s available for iOS and Android platforms!) I’m already halfway through lesson one (yo soy una mujer)! Now all I need is a Spanish-speaking friend to practice on. Or a classmate. Anybody else wanna hablar español?

* Donde esta la biblioteca?

Back from the Steamy South

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Actually, it wasn’t that steamy, but 70 degrees and sunny in the middle of February was a gift to delight the heart of this North Idaho girl.  My sister and I took daily walks in the sunshine, and I could almost feel my body ramping up its vitamin D production.

I got to enjoy loving on my beautiful nieces and nephew:

Mufaro, 3-1/2 months

Riley and Seth

I ate at my much-missed Chick-Fil-A and at my favorite high school hangout, Waffle House (which one comedian famously described as a truck stop restroom that serves food.):

Chicken Biscuit

Scattered, Smothered, Covered

I did neurofeedback treatments twice a day, and, judging by how much better I feel, I’d say they were a great success in bringing down my anxiety levels and calming my poor, overstimulated brain.  Sadly, I don’t have any pictures of my sessions.  Have you seen the movie “Total Recall”?  Yeah… it was nothing like that.

Best of all, I got to hang out with my dad and mom and sister and brother and their families, and it was wonderful.

Amber, Bill, and yours truly

I might not even wait until the next time I go crazy to make a return trip.

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I feel like a character in a scifi horror movie.  Namely, the one who comes back from a routine jaunt on the surface of an alien planet feeling fine and dandy, only to realize hours later that she has been somehow mysteriously mutated by alien DNA or impregnated with a terrifying little pod baby.

After two courses of antibiotics for a sinus infection, I am still having pressure headaches in my face and head most of the day (worse at night).  More worrisome, my panic attacks are back.  I’ve had one every night for the last five days, including one that woke me up out of a dead sleep, which has never happened before.  My doctor says that is probably a side effect of the azithromycin, so I’m hoping it will go away.

At any rate, we’re at the part of the movie where the audience finally finds out what’s going on.  At least I hope we are.  Dr. B scheduled me for a CT scan of my sinuses today.

I’ve never had a CT scan before.  I’m not nervous about the procedure itself, but I am a little worried that it won’t show anything.  What if I don’t find out what’s causing all these symptoms?  That would be extremely frustrating.  After all, how are they supposed to extract the alien brainsucker if they can’t find it?

Can’t worry about that now, I guess.  I just have to buckle down, keep my wits about me, and hope I’m more of a Hicks than a Hudson.

Stay tuned.

Panic

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The first time it happened, I thought I was dying.

Paul and I were just relaxing after putting the kids to bed, sitting around and watching a movie together, when I felt my heartbeat stutter.  That’s how it started.

“What was that?” I wondered.  Unarticulated fears and the words “heart attack” flashed frighteningly across my mind, and all at once I couldn’t catch my breath.

“Paul, something’s wrong,” I gasped, and found myself suddenly swirling in the center of a storm of horrible sensations.  My arms and hands went numb and cold, my heart raced as if it was trying to escape my rib cage, and I dashed to the bathroom, sure that I was going to throw up.  Hovering helplessly over the toilet, I was shaking all over as wave after wave of nausea rolled over me.  My chest was in the grip of a giant fist, the pressure increasing along with a choking sense of fear.  Even though I felt like I couldn’t get enough air, I was hyperventilating, and the lightheadedness cast an impression of unreality over everything.

Paul was worried.  He wanted to take me to the emergency room, but I thought we should call Urgent Care first.  I hated to wake the kids up and drag them to the hospital for a three hour ordeal, and as scary as my symptoms were, they didn’t seem like classic heart attack symptoms.  The Urgent Care doctor agreed with me.  He ran down the list of signs:  chest pain, fainting, shortness of breath, shaking, weakness or pain localized to one side of the body.  I had some of them, but not the biggies.  He advised me to get some rest and come in the next day to be checked out.

Get some rest.  Not much chance of that.  Instead, I lay my head on Paul’s chest, shaking, trying to take deep breaths, and clutching his shirt like a drowning swimmer clinging to the lone buoy in a dark and angry ocean.  After a small eternity, sleep finally drew her curtains around my exhausted body.

I’ve already written about the medical follow up to my heart attack scare.  A visit to the cardiologist and a battery of tests confirmed the good news that I was in perfect heart health.  The palpitations were judged to be the result of a high caffeine intake, and I promptly cut the offending drug out of my life.  The palpitations themselves didn’t return, thankfully.

What I didn’t write about at the time, partly because it was still too emotional to talk about, was all the other stuff that happened that night.  The nausea, the shaking, the hyperventilating, the hot and cold flashes, and, worst of all, the disconnected feeling of terror rocketing around in my head.  I looked up my symptoms at WebMD and made an appointment with my general practitioner, who confirmed my diagnosis.

Panic attack.

“Tell me,” I begged Mark, our friend and doctor, through tears, ” Tell me how to make it never happen again.”

He didn’t guarantee that, but said that cutting my caffeine consumption and trying to manage my stress was a good start.  He also gave me a small prescription for Lorazepam, a benzodiazapine that is sometimes prescribed to treat panic.  He said that if I ever experienced another attack as intense as that one, I could take a half a tablet and it would take the edge off of it.  He recommended that we take a wait-and-see approach to any further intervention, until we determined whether or not the dietary change would help.

And it did help.  I ended up using the Lorazepam twice while my body came down from the caffeine saturation, but after a couple of weeks without caffeine, I felt completely recovered.  Months passed uneventfully, and I was pretty sure my experience with panic was behind me.  I wish I’d been right about that.

***

Unfortunately, I don’t think caffeine or stress told the whole story.  This summer, the attacks started back up again.  Is the cause physiological or psychological?  I don’t know.  I usually get them in the evening before bed or first thing in the morning.  It can’t be caffeine, because I’m not drinking any, and I don’t think it’s stress; I’ve been on summer break for the past three months.  Happily, I’ve never had an attack as bad as that first one, maybe because I know what they are now.  And I’ve picked up some coping techniques.  I pray.  I focus on breathing slowly and deeply.  And I talk to myself.  “You’re not dying,” I tell myself.  “Oh, yeah?” myself replies, “How do you know?”

Exercise seems to help, too.  Mark described a panic attack as your body triggering its flight-or-fight response over and over again, flooding the system with adrenalin.  Working up a sweat seems to burn off some of that extra adrenalin, so whenever I start to feel myself getting twitchy, I head for the gym or for the elliptical machine that our friends Alan and Kathy have generously loaned to us for me to use.  It takes the edge off, and the firm thighs and calves are just a bonus.

I’ve also done some research (by which I mean I typed “panic attacks” into Google) and have decided to cut aspartame out of my diet.  Aspartame toxicity has been linked to panic attacks, and if anyone has absorbed enough aspartame to qualify for “toxicity”, it’s me.  It takes a few months to cleanse it out of your system, so I won’t know if it’s helping for a while.

Meanwhile, my little 10-pill prescription of Lorazepam is only about half gone.  I usually take it as a last resort when nothing else is helping.  My hope is that I’ll be able to continue to cope with the attacks on my own, or that they’ll go away altogether.  However, I’m glad to know that there are medications out there that can help people whose lives are being persistently and negatively affected by panic disorder.  Only time will tell if that will be me.  I’d appreciate your prayers.

I’m So Happy That I Can’t Stop Crying

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crying

I hate to cry in front of people.

Hate it.

Despite that, or maybe because of it, I sure seem to do it a lot.  I cry easily.

The more determined I am to appear cool, calm, or unaffected, the less successful I am. The more desperately I’m trying to hide the depth of my worry or heartache, the more likely it is that I will be overcome by unwanted emotion and dissolve into a liquefied puddle of embarrassment in front of whoever is around, whether it be friends, coworkers, or visiting foreign dignitaries.

It doesn’t take much, just the proverbial drop of a hat.  I cry when I see little old couples holding hands. I tear up when I pray out loud. I even get suspicious sniffles every time Clinton and Stacy teach another poor, clueless woman how to shop for her body type.  Some days, for no reason at all, I just wake up feeling weepy, and I know it’s only a matter of time until something sets off the deluge.

Just recently, my traitorous tear ducts have spilled over while I was singing at church, when feeling a little overwhelmed at work, when an unexpected financial expense popped up, and during a group meeting that got a bit tense.  And forget trying to surreptitiously dab at your eyes; someone always notices and approaches with the tender-hearted question guaranteed to turn a couple of transient tears into a truly horrifying gusher: “Are you all right?”

The embarrassment of having my waterworks noticed coupled with the emotional impact of someone reaching out in compassion never fails to intensify the storm.  Suddenly, it’s an Incident.  People walking by feel the need to stop and see what’s wrong with me (answer: a lot) and to offer hugs and pats on the arm while I try to explain, between sobs, that I’m okay, really, and it’s nothing, and as soon as everyone stops looking at me I’m sure I’ll be able to get myself under control, I promise.

It might be different if I cried pretty.  You know what I mean.  In the movies, the ingenue always weeps quietly, lower lip trembling, moisture pooling sweetly below her beautiful, shining eyes until one glistening tear escapes to make its careful way down her face, miraculously leaving her makeup intact before it is kissed or wiped away by the studly love interest gazing rapturously into her soul.

When I cry, it’s nothing like the movies.  My face gets all red and blotchy, my eyes swell up, and the only thing glistening is my nose, which runs like it’s being chased by a mugger.  My vocal cords seize up and I can barely squeak out a word, let alone form a complete sentence.  The muscles in my face each go off in their own direction, and anyone looking at me finds himself thinking inexorably of Heath Ledger’s Joker from the last Batman movie.

I know some people view tears as manipulative and immature.  A 36 year old woman should be able to reign in her emotional reactions, they’d say.  Apparently, the six year old inside of me does not agree, and she will not go quietly.

I’ve tried to stop.  I pinch myself.  I think of puppies.  I blink really, really fast.  Nothing works.

I guess there’s nothing for it but to accept my ridiculous eyes and all that goes with them.  It’s not all bad, I suppose.  There’s a certain wanton relief in having a good cry.  It leaves the heart feeling like the woods after a hard rain: fresh, clean, and cleared of debris.  Far, far worse is the feeling of needing to cry and not being able to.

Or so I’ve been told.

Frankly, that’s never been my problem.