The Wild Idle

I don’t do idleness. Not well, anyway. Here’s a picture for you: In Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire, you remember how Professor Moody (who isn’t really Moody) would start to twitch and jerk all over the place if he didn’t drink his “pumpkin juice” ? Put me in idle, and it’s like we could be twins.

The times I am reading, or watching a show – these are strategic periods of idleness; I have implanted them in my daily apparatus. I enjoy a little bit every day, but only after I have put in a long, hard day of mind-labor, and only if I feel I’ve earned it. Otherwise, I just feel lazy and insolent, left with a sinking hole of unmet gratification. Fun times! said Sarcastic Sal.

The other reason I don’t do idleness is because of the Chatter. The Chatter is what happens when I am left alone with my thoughts for too long. The Chatter is not kind, nor forgiving. It is not intelligent, nor decipherable. Nor is it constructive. It is just what it means: Purposeless or foolish talk. Through much prayer, I have discerned that Its sole purpose is to: 1. berate, 2. distract, 3. petrify, 4. discourage. When I am thriving in the rush of writing, the Chatter is silenced. This is not by any thwart or fortitude on my part; there simply isn’t enough room for It and my characters.

Allow me a moment to elaborate on number 3, petrify. There are three definitions given for this word, of which, in referencing the Chatter, I feel all would work.

1 - to convert into stone or a stony substance. Of the three, this definition is likely to be the most metaphorical. Obviously I cannot literally be turned into stone; but surely I’ve found there to be a certain pallid indifference taking place.

2 - to benumb or paralyze with astonishment, horror, or other strong emotion. Absolutely, 100%. You remember when you were a child, and would play that super-fun game, Freeze-Tag? Seriously, so much fun! BUT – if you were touched by the person who was “it,” then by decree you were supposed to stop and pause, just as you were, freezing your pose until someone came along and un-freezed you. Well, that is exactly what it’s like when the Chatter gets a hold of me.

3 - to make rigid or inert; harden; deaden. It’s as though I have lost all desire to do and be. I turn listless and apathetic – just the thought of making a simple meal exhausts me, proves to be too much effort for the proposed result. I am a rock – no, less than a rock. Rocks provide purpose: offering a place to sit, holding things down, or beautifying landscape. I am nothing more than a mass of inert energy, draining the supply of oxygen in my cloudy, loathsome atmosphere. All I want is to sit and be miserable. It is the highest form of self-loathing I can think of. When this happens, all is lost until someone comes along and unfreezes me. Usually, bless him, this person is my husband, and with kindness and love and words of wisdom, usually I can be roused from paralysis, compelled to remember that Life is bigger than my momentary sorrows or troubles.

I like big things: Big results, Big events, Big praise, Big hair. But the most dangerous way this predilection takes shape in my life is in the form of BIG EXPECTATIONS. Each day I expect of myself a certain amount of work to be accomplished. It isn’t necessarily a number or a concrete goal, but more or less something I feel in the pit of my stomach. Did I write something meaningful today? Did I help a friend through their struggle. Did I seize the opportunity to take part in a simple act of kindness? Did I set out to accomplish a tedious domestic task and finish it. If the answer to these questions is “No,” there is a strong probability that, as soon as I pause long enough to be alone with my thoughts, the Chatter will get me. (I’m completely dating myself, but right now I am hearing Gloria Estefan’s “The Rhythm Is Gonna Get You” in my head. I loved that album . . .)

Anyway,

The Chatter is something I deal with on a day-to-day basis. Sometimes I have barely cracked open an eye when It starts hissing: You’re so tired. What are you doing with your life? Why don’t you have more friends? You’ll never be a successful author. You should have accomplished more by now. Look at how much everyone else has compared to you. You’re so tired. Soon you won’t even have your looks, and then who will you be? You’re failing at the only thing you might have been good at. You’re stuck in a rut and there’s no getting out. You should probably give up. You’re so tired.

. . .  Friend, if this sounds anything at all like the inside of your head, take comfort in knowing you are not alone. You’re not alone and you’re not defenseless. If it doesn’t, truly I am very glad for you, and please, you can pray for those of us with louder, nastier voices trying to usurp our minds and break our spirits.

I’ve told you I’m most vulnerable to the Chatter during idle times. But what I haven’t told you yet, is, to avoid the Chatter I am willing to commit myself to a number of things. Actually anything, rather than hear what It might have to say. This means – and please forgive me; I am an imperfect creation trying to follow a Perfect God – while driving, sometimes I will take out my phone and check my Facebook, my Instagram, or my Messages; even though I know if I had received a message, I would have seen the little notification pop-up on my screen. Habit has turned into compulsion. And this is not the only time, either: Brushing my teeth, waiting in line, pumping gas, sometimes just walking from the parking lot to my destination. I take out my little companion, seeking to stimulate myself because the Chatter is after me; it’s chasing me, and if I give my eyes something to look at, my mind something to think about, even a dull-something, it is – or so at the time I would think – a better alternative than facing my enemy’s voice. Ultimately, this is not the answer: It’s simply another form of idleness, and in fact more dangerous, due to its presumed and purported productivity. It’s not even a temporary solution, because what ends up happening is, by peeking through your windows, I am left feeling sad, empty, and more alone than if I had let the Chatter come and deflected its assaults with Truth.

The Truth is – I am not alone.

The Truth is – I am enough.

The Truth is – I will seldom meet the world’s expectations.

The Truth is – I am being pursued by the Chatter because it knows exactly how important I am.

And even more than short periods of idleness, I am all the more susceptible to its villainy during longgggg periods. If you know me and follow my author page, you will perhaps know I have recently finished my second book. For days I basked in the sunny warmth of a job completed and well-done. Yes, of course: There is still editing to do, Beta-readers to whom I must hand the manuscript, followed by another round of edits, the query, the waiting, yabbidy-yabba-yabba. But, whatever, Dude – I finished writing a book. And not just one, but my TWO books. Boo-yah, Punk, take that! Hi-yah! Kung-fu-like-bruce-lee-in-yo-face!

Fast forward a week, and I am face-planted in a soggy bowl of Golden-Grahams, plus I’m starting to smell a little.

Honestly, I don’t know what to do with myself. I dread getting up in the morning, because I know I have no idea what I’m going to do all day. I have ample time, a glorious blessing I never for one moment stop being grateful for; but presently I lack the tools necessary to make something awesome and shiny. My job – or so I would tell myself – is to be brilliant, every day. Sadly, this just isn’t possible. I’ve begun researching for my third book (a process by which many pleasantries arise, as it involves copious amounts of reading). I have a slew of notes written down, character bios are coming along, the plot is very slowly developing, but . . . it’s not enough to begin writing a book. It isn’t.

Amateur writers – galvanized after a sip on the ambrosial idea-chalice – often make the fatal mistake of prematurity, only to be found later, utterly dejected, utterly exhausted, and utterly wishing they could turn back the clock and do things differently. I’ve been there, and the place is just sad. Picture a world without Ian Sommerhalder or Ryan Reynolds, and maybe, just maybe you’ll understand what I’m describing. <— Joke. (Obviously there is no imagining something so insidiously chilling.)

Oddly enough, I write best when I know what it is I want to say. That may sound like a no-brainer, but we writers can get desperate; and in our desperation, sometimes we’ll hit the keyboard impulsively, hoping some magical entity will appear on our shoulder and whisper hella-fantastic ideas in our ears. (J.K. Rowling is rumored to occupy one such creature.) Me? So far, I have yet to receive a visit. If you have, though, or if you know of a place or person from whom I might acquire this treasure, I would thereby be obliged to you for life. I will happily pay you in accolades and Skittles. :-)

Seriously, though . . .

idle wild

The Truth is, I am having a hard time sitting alone with myself right now; in the quiet, in the idle, in the unproductive. The Chatter is making a feast of me. Every fiber of my being being is crying out for greater purpose, for something to validate my existence. I’ve only just finished my book, an amazing feat, and already I am half-crazed and ravenous for something else to do, so I can fill up that hole inside of me with things. Give me something – anything! – to take my mind off how alone and empty I feel inside when I’m not doing something. And then, when nothing comes, well, there’s always my phone.  . . . Last night, on the way home from the gym, I conducted a little experiment: I turned off the music and counted how many times the urge to pick up my phone and check something occurred.  And in the eight minute journey, guess how many times I forgot, then remembered? SIXTEEN. Sixteen times my hand went to my gym-bag. Sixteen times I had to remind myself that, if something dire were happening, my phone would be ringing. Sixteen times I had tell my mind it was okay to feel scared, or sad, or lonely for a moment.

It’s okay. It will pass. Just be there.

I don’t know how this happened, but I know it isn’t good. I am searching for fulfillment in things and companionship in technology, and neither is good for my soul. So yes, I am having a hard time sitting alone with myself; but I think this is exactly where I need to be right now. Sometimes it will mean I have to feel unpleasant things. And sometimes it will mean breathing and marveling at the God-given ability to pull air into my lungs and push it back out.

Love to you & Lighting it up,

~ Cara

So Long But Not Farewell

SO long, is right . . . my goodness, it feels like a century has passed since the last time I sat down to compose a post! I think I actually saw a spider crawl across my screen when I opened WordPress . . .

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The Balloons Will Fly

It’s been so long, I think I may have forgotten how to do this . . .

I’m sitting here, telling myself “just pick a topic and go.” But that in itself is the problem. I have an abundance of raw and uncultivated fodder, and the prospect of culling the relevant and essential from the “stuff that makes me me” is moderately overwhelming. I’ve never been very good at narrowing down things. I imagine most writers contend with this persnickety character trait. Or is it just me?

When I sit down to write a scene that hasn’t quite developed, but rather spotted my imagination with colorful gems of potentiality, I can’t help but swoon, moaning, “Oh, the possibilities!” This results in a milieu of mundane and bizarre tactics and responses.

A) Check my Twitter

B) Stare at the computer screen and wait for genius to strike

C) Get a glass of water

D) Check my Facebook

E) Make a snack

F) Check my e-mail

G) Give myself a short pep-talk: “Come on, it’s easy — just write something, anything, doesn’t matter what, just write. Writewritewritewritewritewritewritewrite.”

H) Realize I’ve had a small, but nonetheless stunting, mental break

I) Practice cathartic pacing and breathing, all the while still actively engaged in tactic “G.”

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The Day After Today

Before I begin musing, I do want to start off by saying I have missed my WordPress community. One of the highlights of my morning, while sipping on coffee and preparing to spend the day immersed in editing, is to sojourn through your blogposts, enjoying your anecdotes, stories, encouraging messages, passions, and projects. I love that. My negligence can be explained simply by saying that I have existed in what I would call a living nightmare for the past five days: insomnia.

It started Sunday evening; I awoke in a panicked state, grappling with the sheets, sweating, disoriented, and in pain. A severe, dull throbbing pulsated at the back of my head, just above the slight indention. I shook violently. I couldn’t catch my breath and my heart raced like I had spent the last ten hours running for my life. I was terrified.

Nearly swooning when I stood up, I reached over, turned on the light and woke my husband. Groggy and confused, he asked me what was wrong. I could hardly speak, but managed “I don’t feel well.” I was unable to tell if my nausea was related to an actual symptom of what was happening to me, or if in my terror I had caused it.

Our bedroom felt like a cell; if you live in California, you might know we have been experiencing unusually high temperatures which hardly cool off in the evenings. It’s been miserably hot lately and nearly impossible to rest comfortably. Amid the shaking and the flush like a fire I couldn’t snuff, I knew I had to get outside. Michael and I walked out the front door and I took off down the sidewalk at a slow gallop. I think I was trying to outrun whatever was gnawing at my neck and stomach. The pain was unfamiliar, nothing I could remember experiencing.

My first thoughts in those moments: I have a tumor. I know, it’s crazy, but exhaustion depletes you of sanity. Also, about ten years ago a sudden double-vision struck me over night. I simply went to bed and the next morning woke seeing double. Just after insomnia, double vision is one of the worst, terrifying, stressful times in my life. And of course, one of the main predicators of a neurological issue is double vision. Though it was likely no more than a week or two until I had my MRI and we received the news that I did not have brain cancer, I would have pledged on a bible that at least a century had passed.

Moments grow into decades when you’re living in a bubble made out of fear molecules.

The sky had only just turned; a pale, streaky pink, with blue and white blotches. We had decided for whatever reason to take Bella (my pup) with us on our walk. I can remember watching her zig and zag across the sidewalk thinking, “I’m dying. I know it. I’m dying.” I should mention now that I have anxiety issues. They run in my family, and when anything potentially life-threatning occurs — usually the completely irrational fears — I start spinning backward in a tumult of hypochondria.

Michael eventually suggested I sit down, and so I did, thinking that any moment here, any moment . . . I would wake up.

That day, I continued to experience an awful head pain and a plethora of other weird pangs and sensations, both bothersome and uncomfortably eerie. I couldn’t sleep. The best I could so was sit on the couch, watch TV, and try to take my mind off the situation. My husband began researching my symptoms, to which we eventually arrived at either a “tension headache” or a sinus infection. I was experiencing lots of popping in my ears; however, none of my sinuses were activated to any painful degree. My mother-in-law, a nurse, shared that we have sinus cavities all around our head and it was possible they were inflamed, or my ears were filled with fluid. After an ear examination, normal bloodpressure, lack of fever, and Sudafed that helped none at all, I privately contended with the possibility that I was having an aneurism, bleeding in the brain, or my tumors (hypothetically) had grown to the point where I was now in serious peril.

I didn’t sleep that night. Or the next.

A tremor had developed, usually starting in the evenings just before bed, shaking me so hard my teeth rattled and causing my abdominal muscles to ache with constant pressure. I shook for fourteen hours straight. I thought I would die of it. The headache, too, would not lighten up. It circulated around my head, touching my temples and lower skull with hands like slow firing grenades. I fell into an exhausted delirium at some point, my legs dangling off the side of the bed in attempt to ease the tremor. Possibly I might have slept about ten to fifteen minutes at a time, amounting to something close to an hour, but the sleep was fragmented and not restorative.

After the third night, I had Michael take me to Urgent Care. Only, he had a very important meeting that day, from 8 to 10. He couldn’t miss it, as it was the very first meeting that would start his new career as a permanent School Psychologist. When he came in that morning — he was sleeping on the couch at this point — I told him I needed help now, right this minute, knowing it was impossible, but unable not to want it. It was 6 a.m. and I hadn’t slept. Tiny explosions continued to detonate all around my head, stomach, and heart. We discussed my coming to the meeting with him, which would get us to Urgent Care maybe thirty minutes sooner. I couldn’t stomach the idea of just sitting in his car, counting the minutes until he would come find me. I stayed home and waited, pacing the short corridor of our home.

Around 11:30 a.m. we saw a doctor I had never met, and I desperately pleaded my case: “Help me. Please.” I think he cared. I don’t know. I can only imagine the amount of patients he sees on a daily basis, all of them complaining about this and that and such and such. I informed him of my long-standing history with insomnia; that at eighteen it, just like the double vision, sprung up and persisted for over a month. (To date, this was the lowest time in my life.) I let him know what medication I had taken for over ten years, how I was able to wean myself off with acupuncture and extremely strict bedtime rituals. It was not easy. In fact, it is the most difficult thing I have ever done. But I did do it. And now, the thought of putting that drug back into my body was all at the same time devastating and liberating.

I just wanted my life back.

After that appointment, we went to see my friend Patrick, a chiropractor I see on a weekly basis. We were all fairly certain that it was tension headache ailing me, because I have constant issues with my trapezium muscles, to the point where they knot and swell so badly I can hardly see straight. I can work with the double, I’ve adjusted, but the blurry vision is just too much. Anyhow, the moment he felt my neck he knew something was very wrong. My atlas — the bone at the top of my spinal chord — was completely out of place. Within three adjustments he had put my bones back in alignment.

Guess what? The headache went away. This was the very first victory in three days. I celebrated with a Chai Latte.

That night the tremor came on at 9 p.m. I took the other medication the doctor prescribed me first: the anti-anxiety pills. The doctor had assured me they would absolve the tremors. I took two. Nothing happened, so I took another. Still, nothing. I couldn’t do this again. The idea of it was enough to send me into a writhing panic. I had shaken for hours and hours and hours the night prior. I wouldn’t survive another night of it. I took a sleeping-aid and had my husband hold me, him whispering prayers of peace and mercy into my ear. He didn’t just hold me, though; he grabbed me; as if I was his life-support and it was the only thing that would keep him alive. I cried, thinking that this could be one of the last times he ever held me like that.

The tremors began coming and going. They would be there for three minutes, then go away for five, only to arrive again with a maddening swiftness. Michael had me lie face down on the bed, then pressed his body on top of mine. The pressure helped a little; it prevented me from shaking hard, though I could still feel it there, like a fault line teasing my thighs. With a cocktail of drugs in me, I lay that way and eventually had Michael cover me with a blanket and told him to go to sleep. He left the room and I slept fitfully.

The next morning I thought I had died and been resurrected. Everything, I mean everything, hurt. If I opened my eyes, even for one second, nausea formed bile that launched into my throat. Somehow I found the remote and turned on the TV, trying to focus on that instead of the other stuff. After a while I started to function somewhat normally, had coffee, because if I didn’t, I would incur a reduced-caffeine headache. I didn’t taste it, I just drank it, the same way I was eating, the same way I was doing everything: with perfunctory obedience.

Mercifully, around 1 or 2 every afternoon I would start to feel better and even had desires of going out. We would go get coffee — decaf — walk around Target, take walks; just do normal people things.

The fourth night I only took the sleeping-aid. I took one. Then I took a half an hour later, then another half thirty minutes later. It’s hard to recall, but I think I slept about an hour that night. How this is possible, I don’t know, but I felt better that day than any other. Even more so than today, after nearly a full night of sleep.

I slept. Finally.

I think it was the acupuncture. I had went to see him (Dr. Hing, he’s a character.) yesterday, and as I mentioned before, this treatment was what helped me permanently cease using medication to fall asleep. We also went to The Lazy Dog Cafe and had a lovely dinner. We do this almost every Friday, but this time it was vastly different. This I’ll save for another post, but eventually I want to talk about what happens to a person when the customary and mundane suddenly becomes magical, making every moment with the ones you love something special beyond words. Another post . . .

So, today my double is still pronounced, but I am hoping that goes away with a few more nights of healthy sleep. I celebrated the slept night with cleaning out the fridge and dusting, wiping, and Febreezing our bedroom. It felt wonderful, let me tell you.

Now, I wait for the day after today. Will I sleep tonight? I don’t know. Perhaps I was so overly tired that the meds worked only because I was prepped for sleep. Or maybe I will sleep even better because it’s one more night my body is accustomed to the medication. Either way, I would appreciate your prayers. Jesus has been livened in me. At night, I pray without ceasing, clinging to His strength, asking for no more than enough strength to endure the next sixty seconds. It’s all I need: just sixty seconds of Him at a time. His promise to not forsake me is what has allowed me to hold tight, to not completely break and burst apart. I know He is with me, suffering as I am.

I continue to operate at half-mast. I am fuzzy and emotional and at certain times bleak. I am hopeful, though. I beat this once, I am pretty sure I can do it again. Once I am sleeping well enough to do things like exercise and think coherently, I plan to start weaning myself off the drug, which is always tricky. I have do it, though. I refuse to live enslaved to a pill.

I hope to make my way around to your blogposts. I really have missed them. Computer work, however, for any length of time is taxing on my eyes. As I type this, I really don’t even see the screen or the keyboard; my fingers do most the work, as they know letter placement better than even I do. But wow, does it feel good to write something. Even this, even just purging myself of the ordeal of the last week. Thank you for listening, thank you for reading. I hope each and every one of you is well and happy. I hope to be back soon.

Take care, my friends, and be well.

~ Cara