Dismantling Fear

Beyond survival, fear lurks not only in the dark corners, but also in the joyful moments, waiting for an invitation to withdraw serenity and instill anger and sadness.  Fear often wears a disguise of concern,  uses ego as a henchman, and usually surfaces as “what if?”.  What if I express an idea and people reject it/me?  What if I look stupid?  What if I fail or make a mistake (and look stupid)?  What if an accident or an illness takes away someone I love?  What if my health declines?  Thoughts run in gangs and possess a mob mentality.  I desire an upbeat, kind, and intelligent gang of thoughts to hang out with, but how do I control non-essential fear, the bully of my gang?

Fear lives in the amygdala, our base emotional center, where fear conditioning occurs and unconscious evolutionary memories are stored apart from complex reasoning in the cortex and higher learning in the hippocampus, .  The amygdala soaks up sensory input from our experiences and assigns emotional tags.  In similar situations we may feel threatened, fear triggered by a smell, a room, a voice, or an action.  Wired to react quickly to fear, I can easily damage relationships or sabotage my work by overreacting or withdrawing, two perfectly reasonable fear responses.

The amount of fear hiding out in my amygdala is understandable, thousands if not millions of memory bits collected long-ago during  times of abuse and rejection.  Understanding fear is a biological process, evolving with our experience, re-frames unreasonable fear responses as manageable.  Desensitization can minimize or even destroy unreasonable fears using exposure and relaxation exercises.  A rise in blood pressure and cortisol dumps dictate a two-pronged approach with relaxation at the center.  I am not addressing a phobia, but an imaginary fear, so I begin by imagining my worst fear.  Creating a list of fears aids in choosing the biggest, baddest and most destructive fear bully.

I can pick apart my fear of rejection, imagining a rejection letter, a negative blog comment, or an in-person query regarding what I do all day.  I can imagine “what if?” and write the story to its end, even if only in my thoughts.  Imploding from shame does not happen in real life, so I survive to write, live, and love another day.  Using diaphragmatic breathing and a memory of Lake Huron’s waves lapping the shore helps me release anxiety induced by my imaginings.  I also use exercise to reset my brain and confirm I am alive and safe, even if I do look stupid.  I’ll repeat my exposure and relaxation exercises until looking stupid or being rejected is unimportant and what may happen holds no power.

“Don’t give in to your fears. If you do, you won’t be able to talk to your heart.”
Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist

 

 

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Conscious Coupling, Because Divorce is Expensive

“Conscious uncoupling”, a descriptive term for a mindful ending where two people try not to rip one another to shreds out of hurt and disappointment. Perhaps “conscious coupling” will prevent the need for untangling ourselves, separating our lives.  It certainly seems worth the effort when I consider the life we built, the love we share, and the amount of money we do not owe.

We are consciously committing to the following habits, because neither of us is going anywhere so we may as well be happy.

  1. Hugging every day for at least 30 seconds.  Hugging bonds us, releases stress, and cultivates trust.  A good long hug wipes other thoughts away and makes us conscious in the moment.
  2. Habitually expressing gratitude prevents us from falling into a habit of taking each other for granted.  Every one likes to feel appreciated and partners contribute to our happiness in dozens of ways.
  3. Doing kind and thoughtful things for one another.  A phone call, a message, flowers, a back rub, a listening ear, a favorite dinner, a bubble bath, lit candles, there are a million ways to say “I love you”.
  4. Holding hands.  It tells the world “we’re together” and strengthens our bond.
  5. Playing board games.  We talk when we play a board game, we compete, we let someone else get ahead for the sake of keeping the game going.  Board games are sexy.
  6. And we cannot forget about sex.  Sex changed as we changed, and is not the star of the show as it was when we first fell in love.  What counts is connection.  If I am in pain or exhausted, that may consist of our feet touching under the covers.  If nurtured, intimacy grows,  eclipses good sex, and expands our comfort zone with that one, and only that one, lover.

 

Endometrial Ablation, An End to the Bloodbath

 

*Warning:  If discussions about menstruation and lady parts make you queasy, this post is not for you.

Since perimenopause set in eight years ago, I developed penis envy, not so much because I’d like one, but simply to eradicate several unpredictable and exquisitely painful periods per month.  Never prepared, no matter how many bloody tidal waves assailed my linens, my pants, my chairs, my life, I was taken off guard.   I am unaware of a more irritating interruption than a distinct gushing feeling in the middle of a meeting, especially when you are the one taking minutes.  Several times I prayed for a fire alarm.  When my red blood cell count fell to a level worthy of a gynecological consult, I felt relieved.  Dr. Burns, well into his 8th decade, said I seemed a good candidate for an endometrial ablation as long as fibroids did not lurk in my uterus.  Two tiny fibroids, one smack dab in the middle of my uterus and likely the painful trouble-maker, showed on ultrasound.  Fortunately, Dr. Burns has practiced for more than 40 years and was competent in more than one ablation procedure.  The simplest ablation procedure used a triangular mesh electrode that expanded in the uterus and delivered an electric current which cauterised and destroyed the uterine lining, and if needed, he had a back-up plan that used a roller-ball for the trouble-maker fibroid.

Elective surgery, while not typically as serious, entails risk and pain.  Infection is the scariest risk to me, likely due to a 3 month post-surgery infection following a previous gynecological mini-surgery.  I did not agree to an endometrial ablation sooner because of it.  Fear is a bitch, worthy of a post all its own.

Dr. Burns used the electrically charged mesh with success.  Prepping me with information, introductions, consent forms, and anesthesia took longer than the ablation, positively making me comfortable before asking Patrick to hurry up with the anesthesia in the operating theater.  Such a simple procedure to require such a dramatic environment, but…the risks.

My recovery nurse enjoyed my eyes-closed rendition of Gin and Juice and said I was her new favorite patient.  Apparently, I had my mind on my money.  Over the next few days I got to know the pain-killer norco as my uterus healed and I laid about on the couch drinking lots of liquids and eating toast.  So this is what it’s like in the 5th decade.  We endure procedures, therapy, and surgery to make life doable, and in this case, better than previous decades.  Little spots of blood every couple of months are all I have now.  Feminine hygiene companies are devastated by the decline in sales.

 

 

Walking & Gawking in Ireland – Part 4

While visiting the pubs in Kinsale we met a happily drunk group of Canadian golfers who insisted we absolutely had to visit Old Head where they lost their golf balls in the sea.  One of the revelers called “Mikey” snuck away to the Actons Hotel with the intention of one last whiskey after a comedic rendition of Tura-Lura-Lural.  Intending one last beer, we found Mikey and everyone’s good intentions flew away as good conversation ensued.  A brilliant business man, he counseled me on building a customer base, his winning personality and eyes shining.  The first to comment on our ages, Mike said he wished he’d brought his wife to Ireland when they were younger; she died a few years ago.  We heard versions of his sentiment throughout our holiday.  The messages we brought home are live every day, joy comes through experience rather than possessions, and saving for old age is a gamble at best.  Again, human connections rounded out our day of sight-seeing and we slept with a cool salty breeze blowing in from Kinsale harbor.Old Head Kinsale

K at Old HeadA hardy Irish breakfast under our belts, we drove the long way to Kenmare via Old Head Kinsale, which took us up the cliffs, then wound us through country back roads all the way to Killarney National Park and Ross Castle.  Not the quickest route, but the Canadians were right.Ross Castle

Ross Castle, built in the 15th century and home to the Earls of Kenmare, is beside Killarney’s lower lake, Lough Leane.  It was the last stronghold in Munster to hold out against the bastard Oliver Cromwell.  I think the prefix is part of his legal name in Ireland and Scotland.Muckross House in Killarney

Built in the 19th century, Muckross House is comparably modern.  We chose to skip the tour for a walk that tuned in to a hike around Killarney’s middle and upper lakes.  Path in the gounds of Muckross House

A pathway next to Killarney’s middle lake led us away from the crowds and into the woods, which provided a rougher uphill  terrain, and made me grateful once again for a splurge on high-quality hiking boots that tightly cradled my ankles and supported the arches.  Waterproof hiking boots are my #1 footwear suggestion for Ireland and my # 2 is Sketcher Go-Walks for ladies on pavement.Killarney Upper Lake

Killarney Upper Lake

The path dwindled after the upper lake, but still, I hoped that it would lead me back to the immaculate flat lawn of Muckross House.Muckross WoodsYou never realize a path disappeared until you are well off it, however we were halfway back, just a little lost.  My stamina almost spent, I could not hike back the way we came, so my husband went up a hill to appraise our options.  Luckily he found a shortcut.  Unluckily, it entailed me climbing over a log,  up a steep hill, and down again to our original woodland path.Muckross hike

As I weighed my options that really were not options, he of course snapped a shot of me.  Unaware that I mistakenly set the camera to video, it caught an under-my-breath reference to sweating like a $2 whore.  Nice souvenir.Muckross House lawn

After resting on the lawn for a good half hour, we drove a short way down the road to Torc Falls.  Killarney National Park covers 26,000 acres, basically a walking and gawking expo.

Torc Falls in Killarney National Park

Torc Falls in Killarney National Park

Ring of Kerry

The Ring of Kerry, terrifying drive with large tour buses crowding a trim road, but luckily there are pull-offs to catch your breath.

Down the road from Killarney is Kenmare and Sheen Falls Lodge, our accommodation for the next two evenings.  Kenmare is the jewel in the Ring of Kerry,  and Sheen Falls Lodge, a fantastical manor hotel to which I often return in meditation.

Fish & chips stop in Kenmare

Fish & chips stop in Kenmare

Sheen Falls Lodge

Kindly Siobhan led us to our room on the second floor of Sheen Falls Lodge and handed us a key with a huge fob on it.  A king size bed dressed in pure white and light gold, a bathroom the size of most hotel rooms, and Louis XV cream brocade chairs still left plenty of room to walk around comfortably in our opulent haven.  We built in a slow day midweek so I could write, rest, and gain energy for my husband’s walks that turn into hikes and other escapades, and he could go fishing.  My swollen ankles and fatigue indicated perfect timing. Sheen Falls

First, however, a Portugese gentleman in the lounge regaled us with pictures of his seaside villa and hilarious stories about marriage to an Irish woman who didn’t go home after holiday.  An older Irish gentleman, to our benefit, competed for our attention.  Jokes and stories kept us up laughing and making new friends until midnight, a pewter statue of Molly Malone as witness.

Rushing water and birdsong

Rushing water and birdsong

The next morning I sat on the balcony at 7:30 a.m. in a soft white robe with a cup of coffee and eased slowly into my unstructured day, while my husband had to meet his fishing guide with a full-on hangover, so rushed down to breakfast after groaning about that last pint, or maybe the last two.  I almost felt sorry for him, but we were in each other’s company every minute of the past four days, and pulling rainbow trout out of Loughbarfinnity is to him what writing is to me.  We were both better for it.Sheen Falls Lodge

Following a light breakfast, I found the pool.   A pungent herbal aroma  and lilting Celtic notes lent to a healing vibe as I lazily floated on my back.  A couple laps and a soak in the blue glass hot tub were restorative.  Then I explored the hotel with my camera and notebook.

Getting lost at Sheen Falls Lodge

Getting lost at Sheen Falls Lodge

I settled on the patio next to the river and wrote some horribly flowery prose in my state of infatuation, then sought out a book of Father Brown’s photography I spied earlier in the library.

When he returned hungry from his adventure and found me with tea in a sunny yellow drawing room, he smiled and shook his head a little at my extravagance, then showed me the picture of his fish and told me about Damien the guide on the way to the car. 

 

 

Chapel on Ring of Beara, where tour buses cannot fit.

 

Ditching Shampoo, Tales of a Greasy Head

Michigan winters are especially cruel to 5th decade skin, so along with stocking our pantry and medicine cabinet, my winter prep routine includes stocking up on shower oil, body cream, sugar scrub in oil, and tea tree shampoo.  In a quest to retain dissipating moisture, I shampoo my hair every other day and can slip in a third pin-up day if I don’t have anywhere to go, but still, I fight dry scalp all winter.

Driven by this quest to keep the scales and itchy urges at bay, I decided to try cleansing conditioner in lieu of shampoo.  At one week in, doubt has taken root as I pin-up the hair I “washed” with cleansing conditioner yesterday, complete with a headband to keep the heavy greasy mass away from my face.

I wonder… is this yet another failed beauty experiment, the first of which took place early in the 2nd decade.  There is a sweet spot in the 3rd and 4th decades when our hair and skin is as healthy as it will ever be and the same products work for a long while.  Then the time to pay for our youth in the sun begins and hormones once again go wild, unsure if they are coming or going.   And again, the experiments begin, not as stupid as those of the teen years (I once steamed my face beet red), but more expensive.

The cleansing conditioner may work better on thicker, curly hair.  Frustrated with my greasy pin-up, I am now off to shampoo my hair, probably twice.  Maybe if I wear hats I can use up the rest of the bottle.

Walking & Gawking in Ireland – Part 3

Gawking at Blarney Castle was a slow process.  We arrived at The Spaniard late for lunch with the only other patrons a few men visiting the bartender.  From the yelling and laughing I surmised they were good friends.

Lovely place to eat and drink on The Spaniard's bar patio

The Spaniard’s bar patio graced by a handsome German man

We sat on the patio in the sunshine enjoying pints and the view from The Spaniard’s lofty location on a curvy road snaking up the Kinsale hillside.  Jim had fresh fish and home-cut chips, while I gave in to a Cajun chicken wrap.  Complimenting most of our meals was the standard bit of greens tossed in a light vinaigrette.

Tasty lunch at The Spaniard in Kinsale

Tasty lunch at The Spaniard in Kinsale

During our respite at The Spaniard we noticed a good number of vehicles with deep scratches or dents on the passenger side and mirrors torn off, all driven by local folks.

It made us feel more comfortable about the hedge scratches on our rental, which was brand new when we picked her up.

 

We left The Spaniard refreshed and drove on High Road to Charles Fort, an English 17th century  star-shaped fort which once guarded Kinsale Harbor.  The walls packed with turf, they were almost impregnable to cannon fire.

Charles Fort on Kinsale Harbor

Charles Fort on Kinsale Harbor

During the Williamite wars William of Orange defeated the Catholic King James II at Charles Fort by approaching from the land side and laying siege for 13 days, finally breaching after 3 days of steady cannon fire on a single spot of the outer wall.  My most important lesson of the tour was do not ask questions about William of Orange if you want to keep your friends in The Republic.

Inside Fort Charles

Inside Fort Charles

We wandered the fort after our tour silently taking in the panoramic vistas and the sailboats of Kinsale in the distance.  Ireland once again struck us dumb, smiling nostalgically even though we had not left yet.

Charles Fort

Back at our hotel we laid our heads down for a mere half hour before Kinsale’s pubs called to us to come play.  We found The Sea Captains at The Armada, a duo who played the banjo, acoustic guitar and Irish whistle.  We settled on Caesar salads with warm, dense brown bread, and a few pints for dinner.  The Armada is one of the few pubs that served us beer at our table, in which case it is entirely appropriate to go against the standard and leave a fat tip.  As I listened to The Sea Captains tears began to roll down my face.  I was actually at an Irish pub listening to two Irishmen play after visiting Blarney castle, eating well-prepared, flavorful, and fresh food in Ireland, hiking the grounds of a star-shaped fort, and eating the best brown bread I tasted so far.  My tears were happiness overflowing and I took a deep breath and told myself “remember this, remember this”.

Irish Flag flying at Charles Fort

Irish Flag flying at Charles Fort

View over Kinsale Harbor

View over Kinsale Harbor

Charles Fort

Expansive grounds of Fort Charles

Expansive grounds of Fort Charles