the gift of wildly fluctuating hormones

651d184b026fb7ecd9f9e6575e822f6bI want to talk about anxiety. And depression.

Do they always go together?

I’m new at this. Not new at experiencing them. But new at knowing I’m experiencing them.

It’s not only that I didn’t have names for my feelings when I was younger,
but that I didn’t fully feel them.
Until I had no choice.

Hormones.

Earlier this week, I found myself humming and singing what has become my tell-tale sad song (it knows I’m feeling sad before I do):

I learned the truth at 17,
that love was meant for beauty queens,
and pretty girls with clear-skinned smiles,
who married young and then retired.
And those of us with ravaged faces…

Oddly enough, I was one of those clear-skinned, pretty girls.
But still, this song comes to me more and more as I age, to the point where my youngest, at 15, hears it playing on YouTube for the first time and says: “I like the original better,” not realizing that he’s only ever heard it sung by me.

This is Janis Ian, I say. It’s her song.

I’m relieved when I Google her and find that she’s still alive: and 64, happily through menopause no doubt, even winning a Grammy in 2013!

Mid-life women inspire me. They are such warriors. So full-hearted.

This morning I wake with a crushing weight on my chest. (Well, maybe not crushing. But pressing.)
I’m unable to take a full breath. (I taught yoga yesterday.)
When I consider the day ahead, even the smallest part of the day ahead, I feel immobilized. (It’s a relatively straightforward day.)

I’m expecting my period. And menopause. (Soon, please.)

I stay put and feel into the sensations of weight and panic until they soften enough. I take a shower, pack my work things–while scaling the items shouting for my attention around the house–and I drive away.

I feel lighter.

Until I enter our Co-op grocery store. I decide not to shop first as planned, but instead take a seat in the corner of the cafe and get to work. I always feel good when I work. Almost always. It’s how I’ve kept ahead of anxiety and depression throughout my life, though I never knew that then. I thought I loved work. Until someone said these words:

What you love brings you balance.

Work never brought me balance. It brought me 100-hour work weeks at 20. And teacher burn-out by 30. So I decided to stay home. For two decades.

That didn’t fare well either. I found at-home-motherhood excruciatingly boring. Diapers, dishes, routines. Sitting down on the floor with the kids was the worst. I couldn’t still myself into their worlds. I thought it was play that I resisted, but now I realize that it was me. Without complexity to consume my mind, anxiety devoured me.

I had a window into those years when I went shopping with my son earlier this week. I noticed that if I kept my focus on items that engaged me, say the household aisle of TJ Maxx, then I could keep the anxiety at bay. But if he wanted to talk to me, or worse yet, show me something, particularly something that held no interest for me, my anxiety magnified.

I wonder when it all started.

Is it genetic?
Environmental?
Universal?
Trauma induced?

I remember a high fever at the age of 4 and the way the world grew too large and then too small and far away for me to handle.

I remember a fire at the age of 9–the one that took the lives of an entire family except for the boy who went to my school–and how I trembled with that news all night long.

I remember my arm in a sling at age 11, broken on the ice–the result of a mind game that I played often that year–counting down how quickly I could get from place to place–before I blew up.

Aha!
That would have been sixth grade,
the first year of my mother’s alcoholism,
the year that my father poured the bottles down the sink,
and said, “You have to watch your mother. She’s sick.”

My breath catches on this memory.
The weight on my chest returns.

I see this young girl, and go to her.
I rub her heart, and lift the weight from it.

I’m here, I say.
I’ll watch your mother.
You go play.

winging it…

Winging-It-Text
“I expect you to have a lesson plan for every day,” Steve says following his first observation. We’re sitting across from one another, awkwardly, in children’s desks, in a third & fourth grade open classroom.

I find Steve attractive, both in face and form, particularly on Fridays when he wears jeans, and often when he is arrogant.

“I mean, if you get home, and your husband insists on taking you out to dinner, then of course you might miss a day’s planning, but don’t let that become a habit.”

I take in the dimples on Steve’s face, the snug fit of his pants, and consider whether I want to tell him that I have never arrived (and never would arrive) unprepared, and that this has nothing to do with his expectations (or my husband’s.)

If I had been more than 29 at the time, I would have understood that Steve liked his teachers subservient. Female. Uncertain. That he accomplished this with carefully measured combinations of charisma, charm and intimidation.

I remember a real-estate agent, who was also a board member, showing me the available apartments around town, and saying proudly: “Steve keeps his teachers in line.”

I leave at the end of the year.

I am a planner. In fact, I still have the index card onto which I penciled a timeline of my life: Wedding. Relocation. House. Baby.

It didn’t work out that way. Instead it went like this: wedding.. miscarriage…relocation…miscarriage.

Lucky for me, I burnt out working for Steve. Burnt right through my masculine approach to life which allowed the feminine to finally force her way through.

Twenty years later, as I instruct Let Your Yoga Dance instead of fractions, I begin to notice that when I leave space in my plans, spirit conspires in unimaginable ways.

With this growing awareness, I explore new rhythms of preparation and release; and each time I am rewarded with greater inspiration and an unfolding, effortless ease.

Back when I worked for Steve, I expected myself to know everything and do everything well, and I drove myself to physical, mental and emotional exhaustion in this pursuit; But at 50, I find myself drawn to endeavors that I’m unable to master, knowing that I will be forced to bask in imperfection and to seek the alliance of spirit to see me through.

This past week, at the last moment, both a class and a retreat had to be relocated to spaces that wouldn’t accommodate what I had carefully planned.

I had a choice to make.

I could reinvest time and energy–nose to the grindstone–in fairly unpredictable directions, or I could release my tension and show up, open-handed, letting spirit guide the way in the pause between the in-breath and the out-breath of me.

Hobby Lobby Hocus Pokus

scotusI lifted this from a friend on Facebook for how she SO deftly illustrates WHY this SCOTUS ruling matters to WOMEN, no matter their party, religion or stance:

So, this guy sits down next to me at the bar and falls into conversation with some friends about his dentist and his crown and some decisions he has to make and then the C word appears and he realizes there’s a female in earshot and he turns to me and says, “You didn’t hear that, of course,” kind of nice-like, and I say, “I most certainly did,” and he starts to apologize and I say, “And, by the way, I’m a dentist.”

So, now he’s totally fucked and takes a second to consider his options. Choosing badly, he goes with, “You’re . . . a . . .den . . tist? . . .dental something?” and gets the death stare but marshalls on relentlessly, “I mean, you’re a dentist? Not like the office manager? Or . . .?”

And I had to ask him: “Why would I say I am a dentist if I were not a dentist?”

I mean, for the sake of humor, I’ve dropped some untrue punchlines, but I always clarify quickly that I was making a joke. Or, at least eventually I do.

But it is 2014, and I am knocking on the door of 50 years old, and some dick in a local bar still feels totally at home throwing the C word around and acting as if there’s no way a “girl” is a dentist.

And you wonder why some people watch SCOTUS rulings like the old country read tea leaves.

Dr. Patricia Gibbons, DMD.
(with permission)

50 Shades of Gratitude

Leave behind the gray and step into gratitude, in 50 shades, of course.
Here’s my list on the approach of my 50th birthday.
No doubt you have yours…
1451610_10152087307363746_954805326_n

  1. An entire week, a year, a life… to sense, reflect & write my way to 50.
  2. The gift of my body… to love, to dance, to birth, to nurse, to move through space.
  3. The community of Marlboro, Vermont.
  4. Marlboro Elementary School.
  5. Southern Vermont–where so many find so many ways to celebrate art, voice and humanity.
  6. The state of Vermont which I’ve been proud to call home for 20 years.
  7. SOUTH POND.
  8. NERINGA POND.
  9. The Whetstone Brook.
  10. MacArthur Road.
  11. Dan’s emerging rock sculptures up MacArthur Rd.
  12. Whetstone Ledges Farm Stand
  13. The music makers. Local. Worldwide.
  14. Libraries, everywhere.
  15. Cafes, everywhere. But especially our Amy’s.
  16. Cities. Kyoto. Paris. New York.
  17. The United Nations.
  18. kelly-back-2-version-2-e1386332111765WOMEN.
  19. CHILDREN.
  20. Men, men, men.
  21. New life… plants, babies, animals.
  22. The splendor of frost.
  23. TWILIGHT.
  24. The sun on the water at day’s end.
  25. That time of day when water becomes glass.
  26. 7 Sisters.
  27. ONE BROTHER.
  28. Two sons.
  29. One AMAZING man who has loved me and taken care of me and celebrated me for almost 30 years.
  30. Childhood friends. Highschool friends. College friends. Traveling friends. International friends. Local friends. New friends. Friends to come.
  31. Mentors. Colleagues. Leaders. Teachers.
  32. The SUN.
  33. Conversations.
  34. The male mind.
  35. Male confidence.
  36. Male competence.
  37. The men who have been my friends. Who have fed my mind. Who have complimented me in ways that have nourished me through time.
  38. WATER. Drinking, bathing, showering, playing, watching, gliding, skating. Wine with.
  39. The women who have shaped my life. Who have paved the way.
  40. Bellies.
  41. Birth.
  42. Lovemaking.
  43. Tequila.
  44. Irreverence.
  45. The sacred.
  46. Bliss.
  47. Yoga.
  48. Loving Me.
  49. Being 49.
  50. (Shit, how did I get to 50 already!)
    To Be Continued…

Kelly BackMore on the Path to 50:

FU 50′s
Flat 50
Being 49

Tribute to the 40′s
30′s Retrospective
Turning 20
The Hardest Decade? 10-19
The First Decade

Flat 50’s?

photo: Kelly Salasin
photo: Kelly Salasin

The past decade has been… tumultuous… inside. With flamboyant expressions of anger, despair, sadness and depression. I’ve retreated more and more into myself until I spend most of my days alone, in silence. It’s been delicious.

Thank you mid-life hormones for paving the way.

Now, as I approach 50 (in 74 hours & 5 minutes), I find myself settling. Placid. Flat.

There are still rises in my emotional temperature, but they are more subtle, contained, measured.

Is this maturity? Evolution? Or just another chemistry experiment inside my hormone-ridden body?

It’s not actually pleasant. I’m not accustomed to a life without highs. But I question the source of the highs that I relied upon most of my life. Did they come from inside or from my mind? I suspect the latter, and thus doubt their sincerity.

Perhaps this shift in chemistry is paving the way for yet another treasure. Equanimity. A life without sharp edges and brittle peaks. (Or perhaps the time has come for me to consider medication?)

Despite this flatness, my life continues to unfold. My learning continues to blossom. My world continues to open. My work continues to expand.

If I am careful. If I align myself from the inside out. Say with meditation and yoga and right diet (all dull choices), then I find myself slipping into effortless ease. Effortless ease. Imagine that… Things just fall into place. Details. Objects. Solutions.

Without the distraction of the dramatic highs and lows which have colored the past decade, I sense the way with greater clarity. I get out of the way more often. I learn, again and again, that the way begins… in me.

~

More on the path to 50:

FU 50′s
Being 49

Tribute to the 40′s
30′s Retrospective
Turning 20
The Hardest Decade? 10-19
The First Decade

The First Decade: 0-9

1467296_10152082797143746_86987810_nShe was delivered by the sea, to the Sisters of Mercy, on the Immaculate Conception of Mary–December 8, 1963–her due date; conceived out of wedlock to a woman who had given her first born to adoption the previous year.

She would be a perfectly average child, reaching each of her milestones, as expected, but never ahead of schedule.

By the age of 2, however, she was 30.

These are the things her mother told her.

As the first of a fourth generation in the same home, her days were spent with adults–aunts and uncles, grandparents and great parents, all giving orders, which she mirrored back.

She even bossed the Sisters of Mercy who had delivered her, when she accompanied her grandfather on his rounds.

Her first home was a castle. A stately brick home with white columns and green ivy; set on the avenue between the ocean and the bay, just across from the white steepled church where she would go to Sunday School and return home to her Nana and her Poppop.

Her next home was the trailer park where she lived with her mother while her father finished school. She talked incessantly. Her mother gave birth to a younger sister.

When she was 4, they moved to Philadelphia, to the highrise built for the medical students with families. Her mother walked her to school each morning, 4 city blocks and back again.

When she was in the first grade, she walked through the park, and across the city streets to have a quiet lunch at home. Only her mother wasn’t pleased. “How did you get here!?” she said.

(She never came home for lunch again. Or cut her own bangs.)

Second grade was spent in New Port News, Virginia, where her father did his internship. This is where she became less than average. She went her pants in the lunch line, and she couldn’t ride a two-wheeler. When she tried, she split her knee open and her father sewed it up in the kitchen. Though below average, she was still adventurous. She’d walk to the railroad tracks and lie down upon them. She’d even lie down in the middle of road; but to be fair they lived on a quiet cul-de-sac; and what she was really after was the smell of the hot tar after the rain.

540342_10152082792808746_907869917_nAt 7, she returned to the castle for an entire summer, and her life was… HEAVEN. No parents, no sisters (she had two now.) Just her and her grandparents.

She spent her days at the beach or around the block or at the yacht club, and was able to walk just about anywhere she wanted, on her own, as fast or as slow as she wanted to go.

The world was hers. The castle was hers. Her grandparents were hers. Her life was hers.

Approaching 8, she was turned back into a child, exiled from the castle, by 2,000 miles.

The flight attendant ripped her from her grandparents arms, and later slapped her across the face so that the plane could take off without her sobs.

She was given golden wings when they landed.

Her family met her at the airport in Denver, but they were no longer familiar, and her place among them had vanished in the months apart. A dog had been chosen. A house. Bedrooms. A garden planted.

She created a club. They held fundraisers, community service projects, field trips, variety shows and fairs. She got tape across her mouth from her third grade teacher, Mrs. Campbell, who was very, very pretty.

Her best friend lived next door, but they went to different schools because Trisha was “mentally retarded.” Years later, when they moved to New York, Trisha would fly to see her, and years after that, when they were both grownups, Trisha would call and tell her about her boyfriend and her two small children.

Just before she turned 10, the family bunny was decapitated by Trisha’s dog, who couldn’t be blamed because of the puppies.

She would gather her club mates around the dead bunny to bring it back to life. They would hold hands and pray. Praying  had worked when she desperately wanted to keep the black kitten they found in the sewer; and also she had won a stuffed frog each week on the bus to Sunday School until they gave her a huge frog and asked her not to memorize any more verses.

She read the Bible every night. It was her own. It had a green leather cover. She still has it.

But the thing was, there was only one book with a girl’s name; so as she came of age, she read Ruth again and again and again, admiring her dutifulness, but always hoping for more adventure.

~

more from the FU 50′s:

The Hardest Decade? 10-19
Turning 20
30′s Retrospective
Tribute to the 40′s

The Hardest Decade? 10-19

Hodler
Hodler

It would not be fair to say that I hated my teenage years; but when I look back at that decade it is shrouded in pain.

I imagine that I’ll have to clear that fog before I arrive at anything true.

Where to start? At the beginning? At the greatest pain? At the simplest?

It occurs to me that I never realized this before. That my years from 10-20 held so much agony.

Once I wrote a piece cataloging my life’s losses, but I never zeroed into this particular decade as being the weight bearer.

At 10, my mother began drinking, and I don’t need to tell you the pain of that trajectory for a child. Shortly after, I lost my best friend, my cat, Licorice, and I went a bit mad, crawling into people’s backyards to find her, bringing home strays with scratched arms. A child from my classroom lost his entire family that year, to a fire, only he and his grandmother survived. He was thrown from the window by his brother who returned to rescue his sisters and his parents. Just the thought of it again and I can’t breathe.

At 11, we left our home and our friends and our life in Colorado for New York. We cried as we drove out of our neighborhood for the last time. I cried outside my best friend’s window that night before, moaning her name. My mother left when we arrived at West Point, taking the youngest two with her. When she returned she was sober and I turned 12. My heart still burns with her absence and the uncertainty of what would unfold.

At 13 and a half, to the day, I got my first period. Alone. In the tiny bathroom off of the kitchen. I stuck toilet paper in my underwear, even at summer camp, even when swimming, because I didn’t know what to do.

At 14, the woman I loved most in the world, who I adored, was killed in a fiery car accident that took her 2 best friends too, just a week before I was to move home, to live near her again. I never trusted life again after that. I turned my back on God. I snuck beer at summer camp. I had no idea how to reach out of my pain. I didn’t cry again for the remainder of my teenage years.

At 15, I fell in love. Or maybe I fell in love with being loved again. But his love was confusing. Consuming. Jealous. Demanding. At times humiliating, and I didn’t know how to find myself within it.

At 16, I was pregnant, twice. Shame spread throughout my cells and took residence there.

At 17, I graduated highschool and left for college and returned home to my family falling part.

By 18, I had an ulcer.

Approaching 19, on the day our family dog was hit by a car, in the summer my parents’ marriage imploded, I began writing.

And perhaps, that, was the greatest gift of an entire decade of loss.

~

(More looking back from 50:
The First Decade
The Hardest Decade
Turning 20
30’s Retrospective
Tribute to the 40’s
FU 50’s)