Walkin’ and Talkin’ With My Boy

“The true charm of pedestrianism does not lie in the walking, or in the scenery, but in the talking. The walking is good to time the movement of the tongue by, and to keep the blood and the brain stirred up and active; the scenery and the woodsy smells are good to bear in upon a man an unconscious and unobtrusive charm and solace to eye and soul and sense; but the supreme pleasure comes from the talk.”  –Mark Twain

My boy is growing up– no question about that. He has gone from a scrawny little peanut with wild hair and dimples to a broad-shouldered, strong, responsible boy with carefully combed hair– and, thank goodness, he still has the dimples. Conversation doesn’t come as easily for us as it used to. With my daughters, we talk about the cooking shows we like to watch and the Little House on the Prairie books that I’ve always loved that they do too– cute outfits and hairdos and our mutual affinity for Target. My son hates stores– detests shopping– and he prefers tales of dragons and other mythical creatures to stories of pioneer days. But, my girls aren’t crazy about taking random walks to nowhere– and my son is.

So we walk. We take adventure walks around West Seattle with no clue how long we’ll last or where we’ll end up. We walk to QFC and Safeway to get groceries, and he practices his gentlemanly skills by insisting on carrying the groceries home to leave my arms free. We walk around the West Seattle Junction and pop into the little shops that line the street. He affords me a stop in the sock store if I promise that we’ll stop by the book store. He lets me look at the Seattle Skyline socks that I so badly want but refuse to pay $14 for, and I let him look at the new hardback release of the next Percy Jackson novel that costs even more than  my socks, so he says he’s willing to wait for the paperback version.

And in between shops, or grocery stores, or parks– we talk. Sometimes I tell a funny joke to kick things off and break the ice, and that’s really all it takes to get him giggling and think of a gazillion funny stories he wants to tell me. We may not have a whole lot of interests in common, but we do have a kind of messed up sense of humor in common. So we laugh about silly commercials we’ve seen or funny segments of television shows or humorous dialogue from our books. I ask him if he’s nervous about going into middle school and he surprises me with his courageous spirit and confident mindset. He tells me about his friends and the games they play at the age of eleven, because I honestly can’t remember what you play when you’re eleven and you still want to play but you’re feeling too old for certain toys. I tell him that I always want him to feel comfortable bringing friends– and someday girlfriends– to our house and he says he always will because we are cool parents and don’t embarrass him. Yet.

When our legs finally give out, and our voices too, we head home. Most of the time we head home in silence, all of our stories and jokes told, but we walk with smiles on our faces and the sun on our shoulders and the breeze in our hair. And if I’m lucky– super duper hardly ever happens kind of lucky– when we’re off the main road and in the back alley that leads to our house, I feel a strong, warm, dirty, getting-bigger-every-day hand reach for mine, and I grip that hand tightly, feeling that all is right in the world.

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Anxiety Isn’t

People– friends, strangers, acquaintances, family– have interpretations of what an anxiety diagnosis is. Some think it’s just worrying a lot. Some think it’s silly. Some insinuate that I should just get over it and get on with life. Oh, if only I could. What is anxiety? I myself am puzzled by the beast that lives within me. I struggle to say what it is, but I know for sure what it isn’t.

Anxiety isn’t just feeling stressed out.

Anxiety isn’t a lack of trust in God.

Anxiety isn’t imagining the worst and becoming obsessed with it.

Anxiety isn’t something I can just wish away.

I believe that some people confuse anxiety with worry. I know I did. And believe me, I’m a worrier too. Worrying runs in my family. I do get stressed out and forget to trust God and imagine the worst. But that– that is called worry. Worry is something I can talk myself out of. Anxiety isn’t.

Anxiety isn’t predictable. It strikes when I’m mad, when I’m stressed; it strikes when I’m happy or excited, too. There’s no way of predicting when it will make an appearance. My brain seems to lack the filter that allows emotion to come out of me in a smooth, easy manner. Whether I feel like I want to strangle someone or I feel like I couldn’t feel more love than I possibly do– whether I am nervous about having to compete a task or tremendously excited about an upcoming event– whether I have to give someone bad news or I just want to tell a group of friends a funny story– Bam! I shake and I’m floating and I’m as stiff as a board  and my chest hurts and I’m breathing too fast and I think I’m gonna pass out  and it seems to last…. for….ever.

Nope, anxiety most definitely isn’t my friend. It preys on my introverted self and almost convinces me to hole up in my house and watch movies all day. But I won’t. I will keep on going to work and playing with my kids and visiting with friends. Because anxiety isn’t going to win.

It might play tricks on my brain and flare up at the most inopportune times and inconvenience me a whole heck of a lot.

But anxiety isn’t my life. There’s more to me then some stupid brain affliction. Anxiety isn’t my defining characteristic.

I write this blog and share my frustrations and try to muddle my way through and find paths that let me catch my breath for a moment. For now, anxiety is there. Anxiety is always lurking there. But someday, maybe, I can say that anxiety isn’t.

Sunbreaks

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One of the first new-to-my-vocabulary, local-to-the-Northwest terms I quickly learned after moving to Seattle was the term “sunbreaks.” I remember having the local news on one evening in our tiny Ballard apartment and hearing the forecast, which, I’ve found, is a very common forecast for Seattle at least 9 months of the year: “Tomorrow will mostly cloudy with occasional sunbreaks in the afternoon.” Sunbreaks? Why had I never heard of those before?

Well, most likely because I had previously lived in a place where the weather was one way or the other– blazing hot sun or cool cloudy weather. Sun and rain didn’t exactly mix in Georgia. Sure, a day could start off sunny and then in the heat of the afternoon you’d see thunderheads on the horizon and know what was in store– but once the storm was over, the skies would quickly clear and that would be the end of it. Not so much in Seattle. We even have days where the sun is shining and it’s raining at the exact same time. My husband taught my kids the South African term for that: a monkey’s wedding. 🙂

While living here, I’ve learned to very much appreciate sunbreaks. Some days, I’ll be sitting at my dining room table, feeling that the misty gloom is just about going to overwhelm me… and then– brightness! And I look up at the sky, and streaks of light are coming down out of the clouds, and there’s a hole in the sheet of grey where the sun is peeking through. A sunbreak!

I’m sure glad for sunbreaks in the sky, and I’m glad for sunbreaks in my anxiety-ridden life. I’m thankful that when I feel like I can’t take the worry, the stress, or the panicky feelings for one more second– the clouds part and the sun shines in, if only for a few moments.

The sun takes the form of my daughter’s laughter.
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A fireworks display on the 4th of July.
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Watching my kids do something they love.
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My husband’s mere presence, his arm around my back, letting me know things are really ok.
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Sometimes living in Seattle is hard, especially when it’s January and the warmth and light of the holidays has passed and it’s 5 long months until clear, sunny summer. Sometimes living with anxiety is hard, when life seems overwhelming and I can’t fully enjoy a day out with my family for fear of a panic attack and I wonder when my emotional summer will ever come. In both situations, one thing is true: A brief sunbreak makes the cloud cover a little easier to bear.