What If’s . . . And Other Scary Things In The Night.

“It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.”

I suspect that Tale of Two Cities’ opening line is a pretty apt description of most people’s lives. I certainly is of mine. Drama has always found me like a homing pigeon. and I’m pretty certain that “what if” were among my first words.

They say worry is a relentless scavenger. It’s an insidious little thing that crawls around your mind, feasting on whatever it finds. And it finds plenty. At any given moment, your head is host to a whole variety of negative possibilities that ‘could’ happen. In most areas of our life, we’re uber reasonable. We’re self-aware. We can laugh at ourselves. We’re even pretty cool. But that worry thing keeps real peace of mind on hold.

“Worry gives a small thing a big shadow.” Swedish Proverb

Are some of us just born worriers? Does stress come attached to life experiences? Yes — and yes. I’m an heir to legendary anxiety. My parents were worriers to the max, and an array of possible disasters was always on the menu. Could it be that we, like many people, have autonomic nervous systems that seem always to be higher than the average bear? Studies have shown that some of our brains are more wired for worry than others. Great. We can buy a lot of stuff on Amazon but a new brain? Nada

Experiencing trauma gives constant stressing a step up. Been there, done that. Traumatic experiences reset ‘normal’, and raise thoughts about what could happen to the Olympic level. Once encountering that dark side, we can’t take anything for granted ever again. Going forward, everything has a question mark assigned to it and a panic button ready and waiting.

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.

Reinhold Niebuhr

I think my first wake-up call came the day I arrived home from school as a high school freshman to an empty house and a ringing phone. The person on the other end offered condolences on my brother’s death – but not the one who’d die a few years later. No, their call was about my other brother who, unbeknownst to me, had been hit by a car and was in very serious condition. My terrified parents had raced, to the hospital with no time for a note, leaving me in a vacuum to wonder what had happened. That brother today is a father and grandfather but on long ago fall day, trauma visited us all.

I’m no stranger to panic attacks. They’ve dogged me for years and anyone who’s had one, knows how it feels to have your body hijacked. All of a sudden, you’re breathless, dizzy and feeling doomed. Your heart is out of control and you think you are, too. But once again, you’re being conned by your brain. Oh, that brain of ours. Continue reading

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The Blue/Green-Eyed Travel Monster

I see you. Smiling faces peering over ship railings. Eyes squinting in the brilliant Italian sun.  Bodies sleek in scuba gear in the Galapagos. One more happy Facebook vacation picture — and the computer gets it.

Okay, I feel better now.

Somewhere among those Facebook pictures of a river cruise and toes in the sand, I ran dry. Don’t get me wrong. I’m more than happy for friends’ ability to get outta Dodge and realize their travel dreams, just as they’d be for me. When you’re livin’ the hard-earned dream, it’s only natural to share it – with everyone. Glimpsing a buddy trekking through the Grand Canyon can be an actual public service, right? (I’m kidding) Poring over gorgeous Instagram shots might be the only way I’ll ever get to see those magical sites. (Those pics also incite my inner wannabe fabulous photographer)

It’s a big world. We all want to press ESC and see all we can before the curtain closes. Travel is what we save for, and dream of. It jazzes us to check off each destination box, especially when it comes equipped with memories to relive again and again.  I know. I have pictures to prove it.

These days though, not so much.  Maybe that’s one reason the rolling visual travelogues on my Facebook timeline triggers me; but not for the reasons you might think. At first, even I thought the cheerful travel odysseys were a sneaky bazinga of all the places I may never see. But slowly I realized that’s only one piece of the missing. Maybe those barefoot in the sand toe shots, or glistening views of the Eiffel tower point up the sedentary chiaroscuro of a shadow life. Yet, hey, I’m not exactly STUCK to that couch; my life is pretty damn full. In fact, the only thing that needs changing is the empty space next to me, but that ship sailed when my husband left. So why the stupid pity party? Why, when I click those ‘hearts’ and ‘likes’ on friends’ vaca pics to parts known and unknown, do I sometimes feel so empty? And what’s with the wanderenvy? Continue reading