Anxiety, The Beast That Roars

Anxiety is a stealthy, creeping beast.

I have lived with its low hum in the back of my skull for my whole life but only in the past decade have I actually named it and looked it in the eye. When it starts to affect your ability to leave the house, it’s time to square up.

My anxiety is not always like everyone else’s, although it does share some very similar characteristics.

I have trouble with large crowds, and although I do some of my best work under pressure, tight deadlines and too much to do can trigger an anxiety attack (sometimes days later). Loud noises and lots of activity (e.g. sporting events and live music) can also cause anxiety.

Anniversaries like the death of my husband (February 16, 2013) tend to have long anxiety attack lead times, but they are like a train that is right on schedule, every year.

I am also unfortunately very sensitive to the suffering of others, whether they are right next to me or across the globe, and too much pain and sadness can bring on anxiety for me. Since the election cycle began my brain has been on high alert, and shootings and bombings and racist violence all around the world has not helped.

The drill is always the same: it starts with not feeling quite right.  Off, a little, sometimes mentally, sometimes physically. Sometimes the world looks a little sharper, but sometimes it is blurry. I start to worry in my head about whatever it is I have to get done that day.

Then I will notice tinnitus in time with my heartbeat. It’s that ringing in the ears, only in time with my heartbeat, so it’s allinmyface about how fast my heart is beating. My breath gets short, sharp, and shallow, high up in my chest, right below my collarbones.

At this point, or very shortly after, if I can identify what is causing the anxiety and move away from it to a quiet place, or some big patch of nature like a forest, I can usually breathe my way out of it. This is after years of practice (and lots of failure).

If I cannot identify why I am anxious, I can’t move away from it, or if it is something that has been building for awhile, then the shit is about to hit the proverbial fan.

From here, I will get sweaty clammy hot cold. This is my body trying desperately to regulate itself as the pressure in my brain builds.

I get nauseous. I urgently need a bathroom. In short, evacuations are occurring at both ends of the airplane (TMI). For a long time, multiple times, until nothing is left.

Add to this party the fact that I faint before I puke. I recently found out that this occurs when the vagus nerve in your stomach gets overly excited and cuts blood flow off to the brain. Excessive emotions, nausea, or sudden upset can overstimulate this nerve, causing fainting. It is usually only a brief loss of consciousness, and it has been happening to me ever since I can remember. Since I am aware of it I am usually able to get on the floor so that all 5’10” of me doesn’t come crashing down  from standing (this has happened. In a public restroom. No good.). Sometimes I don’t make it and end up with my face on the floor and a bruise on my cheek.

At this point I have no choice but to chew up an anti-anxiety med (no swallowing in case I throw up) and wait. Generally in the dark, under covers, with lots of clothes on. I alternate shivering under the covers with running to the bathroom and trying desperately to get enough long, slow breaths in my body so I don’t hyperventilate. Every sense is hyper-aware so that I can smell whatever was cooking in the kitchen from hours before, and I can hear the wind blowing the metal flap of the fan from the kitchen, outside of the house and two floors down. The sheet feels like sandpaper on my exposed skin, and I can feel the layer of air between my skin and my clothes.

Each attack lasts about four hours if I manage to medicate myself (sometimes it takes two pills), and the next day I am exhausted and wrung out. I suffer from anxiety most at night, after I have held myself together all day long. I guess that’s good in that I can do what I need to do before I fall apart in the safety of my own home.

In spite of anxiety, I have done things. Not everything I have wanted to, but I have tried like hell to do what’s most important. I have started a school, built a house, raised a kid, survived the death of a spouse, moved us a thousand miles, and gone on multiple road trips when we needed. Most times I need to talk myself into things I know I will enjoy having done.

This Saturday, January 21st is the Women’s March on Washington, an historic event that is going to bring hundreds of thousands of people from all over the country to raise their voices together in support of everything that is right and good in this country. It is a direct response to the evil that is the president-elect and his suppression and ignorance.

My cousin and her friend are coming up from Miami to march with me. Khristian and his friend, two men who know where it’s at, are also coming. I have purchased Metro passes for the whole day, and we have a transportation plan of attack.

I am worried I won’t make it.

I am worried that I will not be able to control my anxiety, even with meds and supportive people who understand, enough to be crammed into a crowded Metro and then among groups of thousands of people.

I am worried that I am too vulnerable in my fear to block out the negatives that will surely arise from the day – the vitriol of Cheeto Jesus’s supporters is deadly and personal.

This worry, as you might imagine, isn’t helping.

As a food blog, this is a terrible post. But it’s real, which I always try to be.

If you can, on the 21st, show up and march. March for everyone who can’t, for whatever reason.

If I can, I will.

Si, se puede.

 

Happy New Year!

I only post resolutions and any of those types of things on my other blog, but I will say here that I wish you all a very Happy New Year.

Here’s to 365 days of doing the very best you can with whatever you’ve got.

To giving more than you take.

To seeking first to understand, and only then to be understood.

To being kind.

To practicing patience.

To truly caring for yourself.

To speaking up (and standing up) for those who cannot do so for themselves.

It’s only 365 days, but there are tons of possibilities. Do something amazing.

What Value, Art?

A makeshift memorial.

Right now I should be researching how to get my site indexed on Google, or a million other things that deal with researching recipes and driving traffic to my site, but I can’t really focus today.

It’s not the horrible nights of sleep I have gotten the past three nights or the dog poop and pee that welcomed me downstairs this morning (although to be honest neither of those things help and they both make me want to kick the dog WHICH IS JUST WRONG I know but still. #Asshole).

It’s not the complete lack of holiday cheer outside of my home, or the fact that every single person in the world seems to have forgotten how to drive (I have been nearly T-boned three times in the last two days from people running red lights).

It’s art.

I am deeply troubled by the fire at the Ghost Ship in Oakland. So many lives lost, so much creativity and spirit of Other-ness out there literally gone up in smoke.

And why?

It’s because we (America, in general), don’t value art.

We don’t value art beyond paintings to be hung over the sofa, tchotchkes for the mantle, and the occasional sculpture in the garden.

Moreover, we don’t value the creative life. We don’t value the people who have chosen to leave the daily grind in favor of living communally so that they can surround themselves with like-minded, creative people who really just want to make art and live a life that doesn’t conform to the norm.

We don’t value the outsiders, which can include anyone non-white, non-normative of gender or gender identity, or who just colors outside the lines in any other aspect of life.

They don’t want a new car every three years or a fancy house or the latest electronics or clothing with labels.

But here in America, that type of thinking doesn’t make money. So the same artists that suburban moms come into the city to ogle and feel cultured about cannot afford to live in the city that only has an actual real culture because of these artists.

Ya feel me?

When we talk about the loss of human life in the Ghost Ship and the recent eviction from The Bell Foundry here in Baltimore, we don’t talk about the fact that these artists cannot afford to live in the cities in which they make art. Some of them moved to the city to gain more acceptance than was available in their small towns; once here, the only affordable housing option is living cheek-to-jowl in unregulated warehouse spaces.

Now cities, fearing litigation, are cracking down, evicting artists with mere hours’ notice on fire code violations.

Don’t get me wrong: they should. No one should live or work in a space that is unsafe.

But these are basic human rights: food, safe housing, and clean water.

This should be available in every area of the country. Flint. Oakland. Baltimore. Appalachia.

Artists should not have to choose between a safe space to lay their head and practice their art or living in a small rural town with safe spaces but no access to acceptance or shows or support.

Why aren’t we talking about this?

Because America doesn’t give a shit about the creative life.

They don’t care about art that can’t be turned into a mug or a meme or a sweatshirt.

The people who practice art in these spaces are fighting to claim their right to exist in rapidly gentrifying cities that only welcome certain types of culture. If your art is transient or too wacky, it’s not really art.

If you are gay or trans or non-white or uneducated or poor, you don’t really belong in the neighborhoods filled with craft beer halls, restaurant incubators, and live/work community arrangements that favor only middle to upper-income residents who trend white, straight, and upwardly mobile.

Big secret: many of the workers in these places live in unregulated, unsafe spaces, too. Spaces that are increasingly rare and being bought up by investors who own property in a dozen cities across the country.

Pretty soon, helped along by corporate investors and communities that hang large-scale painting in elevators and coffee bars on the first floor of new high-rises, our acceptable artists will be so smoothed over and generic, our cities so same-same that we won’t even need identifying city names; we can simply say City 1 and City 2, just to differentiate where they are on the map. With Whole Foods, Lululemon, and megaplexes replacing small performance spaces and artist warehouses, the soul is rapidly draining from our country’s cities.

Oakland’s average rent for a one-bedroom apartment is around $2,400. The Ghost Ship residents paid around $700.

Baltimore’s average rent is about $1,500 for a one-bedroom apartment in the city. A 2015 ad on Reddit listed a Bell Foundry “rafter room” (unfinished) for rent at just $285.

You can see how an artist who just wants to create might choose cheaper rent to stay off the wheel of commerce.

You can see how a landlord with a shitty building and a muddy conscience might feel okay renting to “outcasts” who wouldn’t make much of a stink to keep rents low.

You can see how most of the country just shrugs and moves on when these same buildings burn down, taking lives and life works with them.

This is unrelated to the food that this blog generally focuses on, but I find it deeply troubling. I have chosen to close a school that I started and in which I worked 80-hour weeks to make it successful. I have chosen not to get a 40-hour a week job and even have the most tenuous of assorted jobs that one could perhaps cobble together (personal chef, writer, and yoga teacher).

That we are so far gone down the rabbit hole of More and Better, that we are gentrifying the core of our cities and funneling the Middle and Upper Classes into pre-approved art museums and other cultural arenas, that we don’t give a rat’s ass if out-of-the-norm people who make out-of-the-norm art live in dangerous buildings, matters.

Food, safe housing, and clean water.

This matters.

These are basic human rights.

Let’s all start there.

Oakland’s mayor has just announced a nearly $2 million initiative for safe artist space. That’s one step.

A GoFundMe page has been set up for the evicted artists of the Bell Foundry.

There are many resources for families, loved ones, and artists affected by the fire at the Ghost Ship.

 

 

 

 

 

Gratitude, Day 29: Moveable Feast

NOTE: I am a fan of 30-day challenges, and November is traditionally a time of two: National Novel Writing Month, and 30 Days of Thanks. As I am not a fiction writer, this year I have chosen to publish a daily blog for the entire month, expressing my gratitude. This may not be entirely food-focused, but expect recipes aplenty. Feel free to join me in the comments below. What are you thankful for today?

I love the Ernest Hemingway novel of the same name; a moveable feast is something that is available to you no matter where you are.

It is a symbol of abundance and and comfort, the idea that you always have enough no matter how much you have.

Today I am grateful for Moveable Feast, a non-profit Baltimore organization that provides meal delivery and groceries to men, women, and children with HIV/AIDS, cancer, and other life-threatening illnesses so that they can focus on healing.

So grateful that I am donating to them today on this Giving Tuesday, a day created as a powerful antidote to the mindless consumerism and ceaseless commercial pandering that is on tap from now until January 1st (and let’s be honest – well beyond that). It’s not much, but it’s something, and thousands of not muches winds up to a whole lots.

And because giving shouldn’t be confined to just one day out of the year, and doing good doesn’t require money, I plan on contacting them to volunteer as well.

What are you grateful for today?

 

 

Gratitude, Day 28: Happy Customers

NOTE: I am a fan of 30-day challenges, and November is traditionally a time of two: National Novel Writing Month, and 30 Days of Thanks. As I am not a fiction writer, this year I have chosen to publish a daily blog for the entire month, expressing my gratitude. This may not be entirely food-focused, but expect recipes aplenty. Feel free to join me in the comments below. What are you thankful for today?

A first-time customer classes his Moroccan cauliflower with smoky couscous and spinach right up and shares it online. #Winning
A first-time customer classes his Moroccan cauliflower with smoky couscous and spinach right up and shares it online. #Winning

Today I am grateful for people who express their gratitude, openly and generously.

I realize as I write this that this will be the third post I have written this month about cooking for other people and my gratitude surrounding that.

I can’t help it. Y’all are the bee’s knees, and this picture of a first-time customer’s first meal from me, posted on The Facebook along with sweet words, just warm me and make the effort and thought and attention and love I put into shopping and prepping and cooking and delivering all worth it.

Another friend and customer from the very beginning gave me a bottle of olive oil when I delivered her dinner tonight; she saw it when she was shopping and felt like I would appreciate it.

With friends like that, it’s hard to not be grateful.

What are you grateful for today?