Death

I had kind of a panic attack the other day because I thought, for just a few moments, about dying. I mean, really thought, not just one of those passing realizations you have that someday you will die. I imagined myself on my death bed, ill or old–I’m not sure which–and I tried very hard to think about how much I pain I’d have to be in to want to die.

You see, I’m not religious. I don’t buy into any particular system of faith. I call myself spiritual because I am fairly open to new ideas. I’d like to believe that there’s life after death. I’d like to believe a lot of things that involve faith. I’ve kind of made up my own religion, my own thoughts on what a higher being could be. But I know it’s all lies I tell myself to make myself feel better. I think that’s probably why religion never stuck to me very well… I’m not good at trusting anything on faith alone (hell, I don’t have faith in people to catch me which is why I’ve never successfully done a trust fall). So now matter how much I want to believe something, I just can’t. It’s how I’m wired.

When I look realistically at death, I realize that the most likely outcome is that my life will just end. It will be like falling asleep if it’s gentle and like being knocked out if it’s sudden, unexpected, or tragic. I had a taste of this notion when I hit a dog and crashed my bike on a commute home from work back when I lived in Denver. I don’t even remember anything other than the sensation of my bike wheel hitting the dog, and then the realization that I was going to crash, and then nothing. A big blank. I know my head hit the street from examining the huge dent on my bike helmet days later.

I woke up in an ambulance sometime after the accident. How much time went by? I’m not even sure. I figure at least 20 minutes to a half hour. I don’t know how called 911. Or when 911 was called. Or who found me on the street. But I woke in the ambulance to someone calling my name. (Thankfully, I always carry my wallet with ID one me.)

I was confused. I didn’t know where I’d been. The last thing I remembered upon reaching consciousness was waiting out a rain storm in a BP station about halfway between work and home. I didn’t understand why I was in an ambulance. People were working hurriedly over me. I had an oxygen mask on and an IV in my arm. The ambulance rocked me ungracefully around as it bounced along the city streets.

“Do you remember what happened?” one of the paramedics asked. I must have given him a blank look because he prompted, “You hit a dog…?”

And suddenly it all came back to me in fast forward. The ride home, speeding up my bike to over 20mph in an attempt to make the radar speed limit sign in my neighborhood flash, the white blur moving from my the corner of my eye right into the street… I hit a dog! I remembered.

That event shook me to my core. What if I’d taken a fatal hit to the head? Thankfully, I always wear a helmet. But a helmet does not always save a person’s life. What if I’d died? I wouldn’t even know. I just never would have woken up. And the world would have gone on without me. Game over. Unlike a cat, or a video game, I am not awarded extra lives.

Every once in awhile, my mind slips to thoughts about my own death. I think about being on my death bed and realizing I’ve got little time left. I have witnessed people die before. I’ve seen them go in fear and against their will, as with my first husband, and I have seen them slip away peacefully, as with my Grandpa H. (and, as I heard told, my Grandma H. also went). It’s easier for me to imagine going out the way my husband did–fighting, unwilling–than to imagine going of my own free will as it seems my grandpa did. No matter how much I think about it, I cannot imagine being so worn down that I want to die. When I look at death, I see darkness and oblivion. Nevermore. And it scares the living crap out of me.

It’s hard to imagine the ceasing of one’s existence. I mean, unless you’re Bono or a Beatle or some other equally as famous person, the majority of the world does not care if you’re here or not. Most of the world does not even know you exist. It goes along fine without you. And yet the world is all that I know. And all I know is my single sliver of existence in the grand flow of time. When I think about all of history, anything that came before me is just as real to me as any story I’ve read in a book of fiction. I wasn’t there when the Civil War took place, I never knew a world in which racial segregation is the norm, and, while I’ve known people who have fought in World War II and Korea and even Vietnam, these events are really just a story to my frame of reference. All I know is the way the world was when I became aware within it (which was much later than the day I was born), all the events that have happened in my life time, and the way it is now. I imagine this experience is the same for everyone else as well.

Yet… it’s impossible for me to real absorb the idea of no longer being in the world. Of no longer being. How is that possible? I feel so real to myself. I’m full of thoughts and ideas and ponderings. Where does all this energy go when I’m gone? Does it just deflate like a balloon?

It likely does. I’ve seen it happen with my first husband who was a very real person to me and all those who knew him, but to those who only know him from my description, he’s as real as a book of fiction too.

It makes me rather sad.

I admit that I fear death. Not in any way that keeps me from doing the things that I love to do. I realize that if it happens, it happens. I can’t hide from death by never leaving my house. What I have trouble dealing with is the realization that no matter how alive and real I feel now, I am going to die someday. I think that is the fact I overlook a lot. I still think I’m immortal, I guess.

I’ve been ill before. I’ve had mind-splitting migraine headaches and I’ve doubled over with a really bad fever. I’ve had the chills, I’ve been so sick I was throwing up every half hour. I’ve dealt with depression issues. I lost my first husband at the age of 26 and suffered with about 4 years of grief-related depression. Through it all, I’ve never wanted to die.

I can’t fathom suicide. Volunteering yourself to die? No way.

No matter how bad life has gotten (since being a teenager when I couldn’t think things through like this), I’ve never wanted to end it all.

Stay in bed for weeks and not do anything but stare at the TV, sure.

But die? Never.

To want to die would require me assurance that life continued after death. And I don’t have that assurance. So for me there will always be fear and trepidation about death. I try not to think about us. I’m sure most of us don’t. But it’s always there, looming in the distance, and I never completely forget it. Every once in awhile, reality hits and I find myself staring down the gaping black maw of life’s terminus, and for just a second I feel like I know what it’s like to face death. My heart pounds. All the air in my lungs turns to a vacuum. I feel cold and alone.

It’s not that I think about death all the time. The reality of it just worms its way into my thoughts from time to time. Perhaps it’s when I feel most comfortable and happy with life that I’m reminded of that nothing lasts forever. I wish it did. Don’t we all, right?

Well, with any luck, it’s a long way off for me. I’m still aiming to live to be 100. Maybe by the time I get there, they’ll have found a “cure” for death. Or at least doubled the human lifespan through many medical advances. I think, though, that no matter how much time we had to live, we’d still feel it wasn’t enough. And maybe if we could live forever, we wouldn’t appreciate all the beauty and wonders in life enough. That’s what they say, anyway. I think I would still appreciate all the beauty and wonders of the universe. Forever is a nice number.

Fearful and faithless

I didn’t get the H1N1 (aka “Swine Flu”) shot. In fact, I mocked the whole thing and, secretly, all my peers (those my age) who got one. I feel like everyone who does this sort of thing on a yearly basis for any flu is a hypochondriac. Unless, of course, you have some pre-existing condition where your immune system may be weak or compromised. For people like me–young, healthy, athletic–it seems ludicrous to feed into such hype. I rarely get sick as it is. Once a year, maybe twice. I’m not exposed to much, having no children who bring various “bugs” into my home from school or other “bug-infested” children.

Now I know there’s been different talk about H1N1 and how it has affected people younger than me. It seems most of these women were pregnant. Some of them may have had other issues. Either way, I didn’t feel the need to alter my convictions for a so-called epidemic. (How many such scares have we had in the last year?) I feel like I have a hearty immune system. My only on-going health complaint is asthma… and despite the fact that H1N1 seems to attack people with respiratory weaknesses, I still refused to go out of my way to get the shot.

So fast-forward to this week as I find myself with a cold. My mom has stated in the past that sometimes what I think is a cold is actually a flu. I pretty much thought a flu was something I haven’t had since my childhood where you are dizzy, alternately wracked with chills and fever heat, and throwing up a few times an hour. But I looked up flu symptoms online and found that they actually represent in much the same way as a cold. In fact, “cold and flu” are both listed as the same entry on wikipedia. Not that wikipedia is the source of all knowledge. I’m just saying.

Anyway, yesterday I suffered from muscle aching that wasn’t associated with my stupid decision to exercise that morning. My face felt like it was exploding with pressure. I don’t think I was running a fever;  I never had a chance to check. I thought my face felt hot, but I’ve thought that before only to find no abnormal temperature when I checked later. I had the alternately stuffy and runny nose.

This morning I woke up feeling as thought a gorilla was sitting on my chest. (No, it wasn’t my cat.)  But that might have just been the NyQuil I took before bed. I was worried that this might develop into issues with my breathing and lungs later during the day, but it–thankfully–never did. I have just a slight cough right now. I’m sure that will get worse as the week goes on. All my colds end in at least one day of endless coughing. Yuck.

Throughout the day at work today, I could barely keep my eyes open. A few times I caught myself starting to drift off–you know, that feeling where the room starts to disappear for just a second and the sound in the room becomes a soothing, unintelligible mumble. It almost happened once during a meeting, too. Ugh. I was struggling to stay awake all day. I decided when I got home, I would just sit around and veg. Which I did. After doing the much-needed grocery shopping and stopping at a pet store to pick up equally much-needed cat litter.

So I sat on the couch, watched a movie, let my cats comfort me. But I couldn’t completely concentrate on the movie. I was having visions of going to bed tonight and not waking up. My mom, who works as a respiratory therapist at a local hospital, filled my head with images of young girls on ventilators due to H1N1. I started to worry that perhaps I have H1N1. I thought about the last communication I’d had with my various friends today, through Facebook and email, assuring Joanna and Diane that I’d be all right for a trip to Columbus on Friday, making jokes with various people about their Facebook statuses, talking to people at work so casually during the meeting about the cold. What would they all think if I didn’t wake up from my sleep because I’d chosen to not take some stupid vaccination based on the stupid principle of not wanting to be labeled a hypochondriac like all the people I silently mocked for their fear of an upcoming epidemic?

I am a person with a faith that turns on and off. Most of the time, I’m pretty convinced that there’s no life after death. I imagine dying being like the time I fell off my bike at upwards of  20 m.p.h when I hit a dog… only I wouldn’t wake up in the ambulance a half-hour later. No, this time, I’d never wake up. I’d be lost in that enveloping darkness in which consciousness does not exist. I had no dreams in my unconsciousness. No thoughts. Nothing. One minute, I was swerving on my bike to avoid an inevitable collision with a dog and in my next conscious moment, I was waking up very confused in an ambulance with paramedics all around me saying my name. I didn’t remember immediately, then, what had happened. I didn’t know why I was in that ambulance until one of the paramedics informed me I’d hit a dog. Then I remembered it all. Well, all of it until the point where I actually hit the dog. That part’s still a blank. And all the part in between is blank.

I think the reason I talk about that accident so much is because it was an eye-opener for me. It happened while I was living in Colorado. I had no family or friends around and I had to completely rely on myself to get through the whole situation post-accident. I had recently broken up with my boyfriend, who had moved out there to be with me, and he was out-of-town for work. I was totally alone. And I could have died.

The blankness of unconsciousness, that moment of waking up very confused in an ambulance and not knowing how I got there–both these moments made me realize how easy it is to die without even knowing what’s coming. Had I not been wearing a helmet that day, there is a very real possibility, judging by the fist sized dent in the helmet–it could have been my head–that I could have died. How long would it have been before someone would have found my parents’ number to call them? Would anyone know to call them? What would work have done if I never showed up the next day? With no one to check up on me, I could have been missing for a long, long time. I think this experience confirmed for me that deciding to move back to Ohio (which I already had in motion) was the best choice. Even in death, I wouldn’t want to be a forgotten person, a body no one would know what to do with.

I can’t help but wonder if that’s exactly what death is like. Just disappearing. Forever. Gone. Like petals on the wind. Like fireworks fading in the sky, leaving behind darkness. I wouldn’t even know it happened. But all my friends and family would. And they’d just go on like they always do. No, I’m not vying for pity or assurance here. I’m just saying, they would go on as my life has gone on since Mike died. My memory would linger for a while. They would feel a lot of pain–especially my mom–but eventually the pain would lessen and they’d go on living. It would be a very sad thing all around, but just another event in the series of events that make up one’s life and shape a person.

And me. I’d be nowhere. That’s absolutely frightening. Looking into the engulfing blackness my mind has filled in as the space I experienced as I was unconscious, I fear death. I fear ending. It’s so much easier to just take on any faith–or make one up–than deal with the idea that you might be blindsided by death without any of the preparation–no chance to say goodbye or let go peacefully. I am Fox Moulder with a poster in my office that proclaims, “I want to believe.”

I want to, I want to, I want to. But at the end of the day, I mostly don’t. Rather than gain spiritual insight from what was for me a near-death experience (though it was only being knocked unconscious and having a concussion), I lost some spirituality that day. No, no, I wasn’t expecting a near-death experience; I’m sure I was nowhere near death. The experience of that day just put me in touch with something I’d never experienced before, even after Mike died: I was shown the fragility of my mortality. It shook the foundations of everything I was. In a way, I’ve been running from that experience since it happened.

So today I got panicky because I always liken dying to that bike accident. I started to think about no waking up in the morning due to some respiratory failure caused by a H1N1 virus I mistakenly called a cold. I could see my mom crying and shouting at me the way I shouted at Mike’s dead body in the hospital room, “Why didn’t you just take that vaccination??”

This is not a “come to Jesus” moment. I probably don’t have H1N1 and I still don’t feel compelled to take the vaccination. I think H1N1 is just another thing in a long list of things I find to fear on a daily basis. I don’t let my fear destroy me. It doesn’t stop me from doing the things I love to do; I continued to ride my bike after the Dog Incident, though I’m a bit more careful than I used to be. I go the places I want to go even though every once in a while on an airplane, I think too much about it going down (and I love flying). Or I find myself wondering if a headache I have is cancer. I’m probably a bit more of a closet hypochondriac than I used to be. I guess the world sometimes to me feels full of danger I never saw before. And I’m ay too aware of it.

In pleasanter moments, I try to imagine that I continue to exist when I die. It doesn’t make much sense–I’ve never seen anyone dead walking around as a ghost–so my imagination of it is ridiculous. I try to picture myself relieved when the act of dying is over and I no longer have to fear it. I try to picture myself haunting the heck out of my family and friends just to let them know that they were right, that there is something beyond this life.

And then I try to think about seeing Mike in that light they say is there. I wonder if he would look like himself or something astral. I would know him right away, I am sure. We would fly through the Universe, exploring stars and watching other civilizations. I try to stay in this place whenever I think of accidentally dying too soon rather than think about that scary place where I cease to exist. It’s hard to imagine anyone–myself especially–just not existing.

It’s really hard to picture all that because it doesn’t seem to make sense. Yet it’s just as hard to conceive of all these thoughts and talents and ideas and goals and dreams and questions–everything that is me–just ceasing to exist. I try to use this realization of self and intelligence as my proof that there is more to life than what we can see, smell, hear, taste. But really, all that comprises my personality is just a bunch of neurons firing in my head. They aren’t any more real or consequential as those alien landscapes I imagine in my head for the stories I’ve never written. Or Santa Claus. So I guess I’m just looking at the importance of existence through the centric lens of my human arrogance. We may be just a happy accident of evolution and when we’re gone, we cease to be.

I hope that’s not the case. But I fear it is. And I don’t want to die. Nor do I want any more important people in my life to die.

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To vaccinate or not to vaccinate

My mom called me (while I was at work) about a week ago, frantically imploring me to get the swine flu vaccination. I told her that I hadn’t planned to; I never get any sort of flu vaccination and, incidentally, I never get sick. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I had the flu. Sure, I’ve had flu-like symptoms (vomiting, headache, body aches, and lethargy), but these were self-inflicted from a night of drinking just a bit too much past “the line.” I get colds once or twice a year and they sometimes affect my respiratory system, but usually nothing to keep me from going to work or aborting my usual exercise routine (I’ve often ridden my bike with a nasty cold).

So that’s why, with my general healthiness in mind, early on in this swine flu panic, I had pretty much determined that the illness was the typical media hype and I wasn’t going to bother to buy into it. It seems every year there’s a new strain of something everyone’s afraid is going to become the new, great plague and I’ve got better things to worry about than the end of the world. Apocalyptic fears plagued my childhood with the threat of nuclear war; I certainly don’t need one more thing to panic about. Especially in my second life of widowhood where Death seems always to be stalking me around every corner.

My mom’s not usually the alarmist sort. Yeah, she can be somewhat overprotective of  her children, but she’s not one to easily buy into hype. Or so I would think, anyway. After I got off the phone with her, I was a little shaken. I had already been thinking a lot about cancer–and, of course, worrying occasionally that I might have a tumor growing inside of me that I’m completely unaware of–since a former coworker’s husband had recently died of this disease as well as a few people from my church who I only knew marginally. But the Big C has been on my mind as a potential unseen threat. Swine flu really hadn’t been on my radar at all. Just another flu season. I’m the complete opposite of a germophobe.

It took a few days for me to come back to my senses. I read a few articles against the vaccine (some containing a zealous fanaticism bordering on quacky) and some articles for it. I listened to various takes on the “epidemic” on NPR. I took in opinions of those around me and those of radio celebrities I respect (such as Dr. Joy Browne, the radio psychologist I worship). I then went back to my original conclusion that it was all hype, that I didn’t need to get the shot at all.

To be honest, I’m not entirely sure what I should do. A little fearful voice in the back of my head squeaks, “But what if you don’t and you do die? Game over! Game over!” It’s the same voice that questioned whether the world was really going to end on January 1, 2000 or that still wonders if something bad’s going to happen on December 21, 2012 when the Mayan calendar ends. I’m not sure that voice is rational or reasonable.

Here’s what I don’t believe:

  • I don’t believe that the vaccine–or any vaccine–causes autism.
  • I don’t believe the vaccine is intentionally or unintentionally harmful. Taking it is not going to make you die; this is the quacky hype that feeds on a medically ignorant public.
  • I don’t believe the vaccine will make you have the flu. It’s a dead version of the virus. Biology 101, people: your body learns what the virus is and is able to build an immunity to it.
  • I don’t believe that we really accurately understand which strange/mutation the virus will take on.

The only reason I don’t bother with the normal course of flu shots is because of the last bullet point, actually–the doctors who design these flu vaccines are only guessing what strain will be out in the next year. Maybe they generally guess pretty well, but getting the flu vaccination is never a guarantee that you won’t get the flu. I always figure that I’d rather take the gamble than take the time out of my day to go do something I find really uncomfortable. And I’m just talking about going to the doctor in general before we even get to the needles. I have not gotten a cholesterol test in years because I’d rather not have blood drawn. When it comes to doctors, excepting my OBGYN, I am of the philosophy that I don’t go and see them until something’s wrong or feels wrong (and only after I’ve worked myself into a panic about it).

I haven’t bothered with the swine flu shot  for the same reasons listed above including this last caveat: I am outright and insufferably stubborn. Looking at this media craze, and how panicky people are reacting, I have the complete knee-jerk reaction to rebel against the mainstream. To not give into the hype and avoid the minions waiting for the shots in the long lines at the health clinics. To prove at the end of this “epidemic” that I was right, there was no need to be afraid.

But do I really want to play this game with my life? What if the hype is right? It’s so hard to tell fact from fiction in age of instant, round-the-world communication. I’ve always said, Joe Blow’s horse dies on a farm in the middle of Montana and the world knows before Joe Blow returns home to tell Mrs. Blow. And by that time, it’s turned into a sensational conspiracy theory about aliens, men in black vehicles, and the image of the Virgin Mary in the horse’s stool.

A few years ago, the Big Scare was bird flu. Before that, it was SARS. It’s like the media is drooling to find just one pandemic prophecy that is fulfilled. I didn’t get bird flu (though I think one of my friends did) and I didn’t get SARS. But I did panic about it for a while. Because, you know, that whole widow thing makes me extremely sensitive to unseen threats. Especially since my husband died from an unseen threat, though it was a genetic condition of his heart and not a disease.

It’s really the media’s fault that I look skeptically at anything I read or hear. If they didn’t play Chicken Little, shouting that the sky is falling every other day, maybe once in a while I’d believe something instead of regarding it with the same judgment I do for the eye-witnesses of a car crash.

The fact that it seems so hard to get the Swine Flu vaccine is making the choice easier for me. I’m not going to wait in some three-hour long line like a cow in a slaughter line. I haven’t called to check if my doctor because I don’t want to look like one of those panicky germophobic sorts. I envision my doctor saying, “You’re really not eligible for this vaccine. We’re giving it to people who are at high risk.”

As my mom points out, H1N1 has been largely a respiratory issue. I have (very, very mild) asthma. I guess that puts me in some risk category. But I just can’t see myself as going down that way. I suppose no one really sees themselves meeting their end in a particular way. But I just don’t see myself as frail. I’m pretty healthy and energetic. It can’t affect me, right?

I’m really on the fence. After listening to more people tonight prophetize pandemic doom, I started thinking about getting it again. Of course, on the way home, a local radio show host was also discussing Swine Flu and getting vaccinations. Even though it was the dullard who is oft the conspiracy theorist, and all the people who call him are freaks,  it still caused me a moment of pause.

I wish they gave them out at work or something. Then it wouldn’t inconvenience me–taking time out of my work day because doctors never have hours that are friendly to those of us minions who have a job–to get one. Maybe if a local bike shop or something had them. Then I could look around at bike toys while waiting for my turn at the needle. Hmm. That would be a great promotion. Get one “Define Your Life. Ride a Bike” item with every flu shot… I still need the coffee mug…

Why am I so DEPRESSED?!

I’m having one of those weeks where it feels like nothing is going right. This feeling culminated with the big mistake I made yesterday. I was supposed to go to an interview at the hospice to which I applied to volunteer. It was written correctly on my day planner as 4pm Wed. February 27th, but for some reason beyond my comprehension, when I looked at the calendar this week, I thought the appointment was on THURSDAY. So, of course, I’m plugging away at work at 4:30 and my phone rings. Only I don’t pick it up because the caller ID says “RESTRICTED.”

I break here to explain that I don’t answer my phone if I don’t recognize the number–I have this weird fear of talking to people on the phone who I don’t know. To call a stranger, I usually have to prepare myself for the call by practicing what I will say when they answer, anticipating all the questions they might ask and thinking through my possible responses. So, naturally, I don’t answer the phone if I don’t recognize the caller ID because I haven’t had time to prepare myself to respond to the person and it makes me incredibly nervous. Can you believe I actually worked on telephone support for a software company once? Let’s just say that it definitely did NOT cure my fear of talking to that unseen stranger.

It’s dysfunctional and stupid, I know. What’s less imposing than someone on a phone? You can just hang up on them if they are being rude, right? Well, for some reason or another, I’m more afraid of people I can’t see.

Anyway, I let the call rollover into voice mail. A minute later, the voice mail tone alerted me that there was a message, so I dialed in to listen. It was the lady with whom I was supposed to have that interview. Doh! She’s calling to ask where I’m at and hoping that I’m on the way. Here’s the hitch: I can’t call her back because the hospice rolls their calls to an answering service after four. I tried anyway and she was right; I couldn’t get through.

The feeling of panic that washed over me when I realized that I had the date mixed up and I was missing the interview I was supposed to be at…. I usually don’t get over-worried and stressed about these kind of things, but this time, we’re talking about my possible future–the career path that may be, for the first time in my life, the one that fits and fulfills me. I could have potentially blown the one opportunity that I was looking forward to beginning all year. It’s a volunteer position, but they have all this rigamarole and hoops to jump through to get there. I respect that because, as much as you need volunteers, you probably don’t want just anybody volunteering at a hospice. I’m pretty sure they want to make sure you’re serious. After this interview, should I have made a great impression (as I was planning), I would have been invited to a week long training in April.

I felt like I was going to get sick to my stomach. I know that I can probably get her to reschedule, but this sure looks like I’m an irresponsible heel. Sure, people make mistakes and mix things up; however, this would certainly be a mark against me in a real job interview. I want to be the best volunteer I can be. I don’t want to be known as the volunteer who is not reliable because she misses appointments or shows up late. This position is very important to me because I was going to use it to determine if I could handle working in grief situations (not to mention the fact that I would just like to feel like I’m somehow helping someone in something that is to me vitally important).

I tried to call this morning at 8am, but the answering service picked up the call again. Apparently, the hospice is having a meeting this morning and they won’t be answering their phones until 10. Another couple of hours within which I can beat myself over the head for my complete stupidity. At least I will have a well-practiced monologue for this phone conversation…

Other than that, I’ve just been feeling plain depressed all week. And restless. I’ve accomplished nothing in the evenings after work and I’ve only worked out once. I feel trapped in my career. If I can’t start my counseling venture immediately (and I can’t because I don’t even know yet if my desire to be a counselor is more than a passing flare of an idea), I sure wish I could apply my creative skills for a job somewhere. Creative jobs don’t pay much, though, and I’m quite used to my lifestyle. I’ve always thought I could do marketing, but those jobs are pretty much awarded from the “bottom up,” meaning that you have to collect the trash for a marketing firm for several years before making it up to making small beans with the actual concept people.

I’d write novels, but my 9-5er and 1+ hour commute each way situation doesn’t afford me the energy and time to attempt one. Besides that, I couldn’t handle all the rejection. (I get depressed when no one posts comments to my blog. Narcissist, I told you.)

Sometimes it seems too painful to dream… The more you dream, the more frustrated you become when things just don’t work out the way you planned. I wish I was like my grandma H who, when she encountered those nasty turns in the road of life, managed to navigate them and still found something positive to say about the experience. I think she passed this trait onto my mom. It’s probably my self-centered view of life, but I always feel like my sharp curves were tougher than theirs. I guess you don’t gain anything by trying to measure your problems with someone else’s. When you’re feeling gloomy, it’s so easy to do that, though.

I wish I could get myself to exercise regularly. This is obviously no problem for me during bike season. In the winter I like to ski, but I can’t afford to use that as regular exercise (unless I “lower” myself to getting a season pass at Boston Mills/Brandywine). I do like to walk, but I’m of the philosophy of “no pain, no gain.” Walking is too easy and cannot possibly help me lose weight (go ahead, everyone, and send me news items and research studies that prove it does). I need to sweat. I’m such a freak about cardio that when I used to do yoga once a week at my gym, I would run for a half hour before the class because I felt I wasn’t going to get any “real” exercise that night. Those of you who have done yoga probably can guess how I would feel by the end of the night…

Stationary equipment just makes me annoyed. I thought it would be easier to entice myself to work out at home with a trainer because it was at my house and did not involve the hassle of packing up clothes and such for the gym. I could exercise any time with it at my house–10pm if I wanted. Ha. Well, I’ve still managed to bail quite consistently. I’m full of excuses:

I’ll do it tomorrow morning. I’m not a morning person. I have a morning commute of about an hour to Highland Heights. Though I set my alarm for 5:30am, I mostly hit snooze until 6am no matter how hard I try. That doesn’t leave me much time to exercise, shower, and style my hair to get to work by 8:30.

I’m hungry. I’ll do it after I eat. Um… cardio is not that pleasant on a full stomach.

I’ve got too much to do. In a house constantly in a state of remodel, I always have too much to do. I’ve gotta learn to just let that go and exercise, and then worry about the details later. Anyway, despite having too much to do, I usually end up goofing off on the internet or watching TV anyway. And it’s not like I can’t work out while watching TV.

I’ve actually found that I can tolerate using the trainer if I pop in a DVD. I started watching Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire on Tuesday when I worked out. That really worked great. I was going to watch Tuesday’s DVRed episode of Jericho yesterday while working out, but I was hungry when I got home, so I watched it while eating. I have two episodes of Big Brother to watch. The only problem with watching shows I’ve recorded on my DVR is that I have to fast-forward the commercials, and there’s nowhere to put my remote on my bike (where it will stay, anyway).

I also need to get some kind of equipment for working out my muscles. Okay, to be honest, all I really want to do is crunch my abdomen about fifty-six different ways to get ride of that stupid fat roll at my waist. I wouldn’t give a damn what my weight was if that thing were gone. Michael’s been trying to talk me into getting a Total Gym. I worked out on his and it was pretty cool (my abdomen hurt for two days afterwards). If my basement were finished right now, I’d be more inclined to buy one. The only thing I worry about, though, is that once I have all this exercise equipment in my house, I really won’t work out. But I am tempted when I think about all the gym fees I won’t have to pay if I can do it at home. No muscle heads around to watch me do my wimpy lateral pulls at 20lbs.

My coming trip to Colorado, although short, is much needed. I hope to catch up with a few friends while I’m out there. For some reason, I’m completely obsessed with driving the car myself all weekend. I have this vision in my head of how it used to be, that feeling of complete contentment as I viewed the impossibly brilliant scenery through the windows of my car. I used to drive every morning from my suburban town north of Denver to Boulder (sometimes I rode my bike). Driving to Boulder, you are looking straight at the Flat Irons. I knew those peaks not by name but how they looked each season. I knew every crease in their jutting rocky surface. There is not a day that went by where I was too acclimated to Colorado life to not notice the beauty of the world in which I was immersed. I wonder how many years you’d have to live there to become immune to that landscape. It can’t be possible.

Ohio has its moments, though. We’ve been hit with snow for the last couple days and I can’t help but notice each branch on the trees that line the roads on my morning commute; each branch is highlighted icy white. Piles of snow everywhere, streets carved through it. There’s a beauty there too.

At least I’m not too depressed that I don’t notice these moments in nature. Then I come through the doors of the place where I work and my mind goes numb as I struggle to motivate myself to concentrate on the task at hand.

Playing with sticks

An essay I wrote as a sophomore in college is being published in a literary magazine my college’s professional editing class is releasing called Hiram, U.S.A. Tonight, we’re having a sort of banquet and dessert reception at which the writers were invited to read three-minute selections from their essays. Stupidly, I opted to read since, sadly, nothing I’ve ever written has ever been published and this probably the only time in my life when I ever will be recognized for my writing (not entirely my fault — my fear keeps me from submitting anything for publication anywhere). The thing is, I absolutely abhor public-speaking and I’m an even worse oral reader. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve asked to be passed up when invited to read a passage for an audience — even a small class in which I knew all the attendees — because I am so horribly self-conscious about how bad I sound when I read aloud.

I think I noticed I was a horrible oral reader when I went on the campus radio show of a friend at the University of Toledo. “Poetry Rodeo” was a show my friend hosted weekly, featuring various poetry and literary selections. Once in awhile, he would invite a friend (or his girlfriend) as a guest to the show to read some of their personal favorite literature. He invited me once and I stupidly accepted, thinking that it was no big deal to read something out loud to an audience I couldn’t see. I couldn’t be more wrong.

What made it worse, I suppose, is that I brought in the writing of an author I’d recently studied in my Natural and Cultural History of Trinidad and Tobago class (a class that concluded with a trip). Though the natives of Trinidad and Tobago speak English, it’s not an English that is readily recognizable to the ear (often in TT, I forgot completely that people were speaking English). The poetry was beautiful, but it included a lot of idioms, cultural references, and speaking rhythms, which just made it worse for me to read aloud.

I became embarrassed as I listened to myself feeding back through my headphones. Did I really sound this horrible? Every stutter, every too-long pause, every mispronounced word was amplified in my ears. And I wasn’t imagining it either because I could tell from the look of panic on my friend’s face that he was a bit worried about the quality of the show. By the time he got to asking me questions about the readings, I was absolutely terrified, so much so that my tongue just became one huge mass of immobile lead in my mouth. Everything I said sounded garbled and my words came out as sloppily strung together ends of incoherent thought.

Unfortunately, my friend also taped the show. I still have the tape and I refuse to listen to it. Add to it the fact that my voice on recordings always conjures this vision in my head of a little nerdy boy with curls, horn-rimmed glasses, and zits, I just have no desire to hear the follies of my ineptness. (I remember I let my ex-boyfriend, Frank, listen to it and within the first few minutes he was patting my back and saying, “Oh, you really shouldn’t have done that.” The friend who had the radio show tended to be a little bit arrogant and Frank claimed that “the friend’s” arrogance increased the worse I got. He sincerely felt bad that I’d put myself through that.)

If you know me well, you’re probably surprised that I’m such a coward when it comes to public speaking. I’ve been described as having a gregarious, social personality (though I’d probably disagree with that assessment). However, I do think of myself as somewhat of a socialite. I enjoy getting out and talking to people and accumulating more friends than I could possibly have enough time to hang out with. Because I’m so comfortable in social environments, I’m fairly certain that I’d make a good grief counselor.

It frustrates the heck out of me that I always hear myself speaking in my head better than it comes out before an audience. I would love to be one of those people to deliver great, motivational speeches that inspire people. But as soon as I see that all eyes are on me, my brain just spasmodically blanks out. I never stutter unless I’m on the spot. My palms sweat and my face burns.

I know this isn’t that unusual. Most people are uncomfortable when speaking before an audience. I think the difference with me is that I actually kind of want to be good at public speaking, even though I hate it. Maybe I just self-indulgently think that because I’m a good writer, I should be a good speaker too.

I did make an honest attempt to overcome this fear by taking a job as a software trainer. For awhile, I was fairly descent at it, though, I never stopped feeling all that fluttering in my stomach. And every time a student forced me to deviate from my standard “script,” my fear symptoms would increase. It was a relief when I left that job for a quiet desk position as a tech writer (though, I’ve come to realize, this is too anti-social for me).

Anyway, I’m nervous about tonight, almost to the point of feeling ambivalent about the whole event. I know I should be excited — something I’ve written is being published. Yet as I read the paper over, deciding what I’m going to chose to read for my three-minute segment, the super-critical persona in my head keeps saying, “This is not even worthy of publication. It sucks.”

I wish I could shut that voice out. I have trouble not agreeing with the voice because I see places where I could have added so much more to this simple paper. Because I suddenly feel like the work is crap, I’m almost embarrassed to be praised for it. My mom’s going to be there — I invited her.

My friend, Diane, also got a paper of hers published and she’s ecstatic. As well she should be. Her paper outlines a night of karaoke at the local pub/hang-out we frequented throughout our senior year. That particular pub is no longer in business there, so it’s very much like she captured a piece of the past that warms my heart. Her paper reminded me of how college was the best years of my life until I met my husband. To add to the embarrassment, I’m mentioned all over in her paper. That’s really no surprise. After our sophomore year, it always seemed like Diane and I came as a unit everywhere… Not that either of us didn’t have other friends because she’s connected more closely to other classmates I’m less connected to these days, but there was a period of time in which “Di & Hei” seemed to be inseparable. Maybe it was because we toiled through our the madness and anxiety of senior seminar together (at Hiram, senior seminar is the final, last big paper that English majors complete to get their degree).

I guess I’m a little nervous about the big to-do nature of the whole thing. To be perfectly honest, I just don’t know how to react when people are congratulating me or giving me compliments. I get embarrassed and humiliated at the same time. I don’t understand why this is. Maybe it’s that little negative voice in my head who’s always telling me that my writing sucks. On some level, I probably don’t feel that anyone should praise me for anything. After all, I’m no William Shakespeare or Kurt Vonnegut or F. Scott Fitzgerald. My thoughts aren’t grand or original or anything that inspires one to live life differently. I guess, though, you’ll always lose when you try to compare yourself to the greats.

I think I’m a lot like my dad… He can be pretty negative about himself. I don’t know what motivates his chagrin, nor can I even attempt to speculate. When I hear myself responding to people who are trying to give me a compliment, my words echo in chorus words I’ve heard him say. I guess we all become our parents, good or bad. I think my parents were trying to teach me humility and I took the idea to its most extreme. What they were really telling me was to not praise myself; I heard “You are never good enough to take the compliments people try to give you.” I know that’s not what they meant. I have a bad way of exaggerating most of the things I’m told.

For example, as I was growing up, my mother (rightfully) told me not to play with matches because they could start a fire and I could get hurt. On numerous occasions, she recounted the story of my uncle, John, who burned himself severely while playing with gasoline and matches when he was a kid. The idea terrified me (rightfully!).

So this one time, my cousin, Jimmy, and I were playing with sticks in my backyard. My dad opened the window to talk to us, and he said, jokingly, “You could rub those together and start a fire.”

WHAT?! my little brain exclaimed. Start a fire? With sticks? I immediately tossed the sticks to the ground and refused to pick them up. I was afraid that merely holding them would start a fire. Dad and Jimmy tried to explain the difficulty in starting a fire with sticks, but I refused to return to my blissful world of playing with sticks.

It actually wasn’t until I was at least a sophomore in high school before I allowed myself to light a match. I’d been afraid of matches all my life, much to the frustration of my girl scout leader who had to deal with my flat-out refusal to use them to light fires and, sometimes, the crying fits that would follow when she tried to make me do it. I would experience the usual set of nervous symptoms — sweating palms, pounding heart, panic. It’s almost funny when I look back on it.

I remember sitting at the end of the cement porch in our front yard with a box of matches. This location was strategic because cement couldn’t catch on fire if the matches suddenly behaved in a manner I’d never witnessed and a fire burst out of control before me. My fingers would get numb out of fear as I struck the match to the side of the box, trying to light it. It took a handful of broken matches on the ground before I finally had to nerve to strike one hard enough to ignite the tip. I held the match in my hand and watched with amazement as it first flared, then toned down to a medium size, and then put itself out when it came to the end of its energy source. I repeated the process a few more times just to ensure I would over it. I never feared matches again, though I will admit I still hold somewhat of a reverence towards them and to all flammable chemicals and electrical equipment. (We won’t even get into my fear of lightning here…)

That’s just one example of a well-meaning lesson from my parents gone so horribly wrong. I can now see why my dad always accused me of being so serious. I guess in my early years, I was.

So… here I go tonight… facing yet another one of my fears… one of the ones I can’t seem to conquer… If I can just tell Ms. Critical in my head to shut up, I might do okay…