Saturday, October 29, 2011

Quiet voice

If you're a regular visitor here at Healing Morning, then you're aware that I do my best to focus on positive topics. Occasionally, something happens that isn't necessarily a light, happy topic and I do discuss these things here.  My goal is to always find the positive in the midst of the whole story.

This week, I experienced something on a personal level that was alarming. I was followed home to my townhouse complex by someone who saw me at a gas station/convenient store.  When I say I was followed home, I mean this was someone I didn't know and I am convinced this person had very negative intentions in mind.

The whole situation played out in about 10 minutes' time, from start to finish, when I left the gas station and drove home.  This was after dark, and I was alone, which is exactly why this person chose to follow me.  A single woman, alone, unfortunately provides what most think will be an easy target and victim.

When the vehicle pulled into the lane of my complex, I was still inside my car.  I had a couple of things happen that I now believe saved me from harm, and very possibly saved my life.  Because it was dark, it's not always easy to see the numbers on the parking spaces allotted to each unit.  My next door neighbor's car is usually my marker to recognize my own parking spaces, but he wasn't home.  Because of this, I had parked two spaces over from my own numbered spaces and I was on the verge of backing out and pulling in again to the proper parking space when this vehicle appeared.  It was driving very slowly down our lane, and at first all I could see were the headlights.  Once it got level with my location, I recognized it to be an SUV that had been at the gas station when I was there.  That started the niggling feelings of doubt, because no one on my lane drives a vehicle like that particular SUV.  It drove on past me and I expected it to go down the hill to the last two units on this lane.  It didn't do that.  It pulled into the parking spaces allotted for the management office, then reversed, pulled back out and drove towards me, pulling into my neighbor's space.

At this point, alarms were going off in my head.  I waited to see if this person would get out and go into one of the town home units and they didn't.  The next time I glanced over, the SUV was empty.  Again, I waited, but couldn't see the driver standing anywhere near their vehicle.  I was far enough away that I should have been able to see their feet on the other side of the car, but it appeared no one was there.  Thinking they had walked back down the hill, I did something incredibly stupid.  I got out of my car and shut the door, but didn't lock it.  Immediately, this guy popped around the end of the SUV and headed straight for me, walking fast.  I, in turn, yanked my car door open, got in, slammed the door shut and locked it.  I made sure to look him dead straight in the eyes and he veered away, walking past my car and started talking on his cell phone. I started my car and left, driving up the hill into the subdivision that backs up to the property of my complex. I parked where I could see the entrance of my lane, shut my lights off and waited.  About three minutes later, that same SUV pulled out and left the neighborhood.

Several years ago, a book came out called "The Gift of Fear" by Gavin de Becker.  I remember watching an Oprah show with him as the guest, and his comments stuck with me.  Trust that voice of fear.  What I can now clearly recall was that as soon as I saw the headlights of that vehicle turn into my lane, I was instantly on guard.  Something felt wrong.  As the rest of the story played out, I felt that sensation stronger and stronger. What I also experienced were whirling thoughts and a lot of self doubt.  Women are raised to be polite and that very habit has most likely caused many unfortunate deaths over the years.  The young man who followed me that night was clean cut, nicely dressed and appeared as pleasant as could be in the convenient store of that gas station.  He even smiled at me as I walked in.  I did the typical response of smiling back.  When I was sitting in my car watching this whole thing play out, I experienced moments of doubt where I was rationalizing everything.  "He's probably lost."  "He must be a relative of my neighbor."  "He's just parking here and walking down to those last units."  All of those thoughts could have caused a terrible outcome if I had acted differently.

Reflecting now, I realize that my "mistake" of parking in the wrong space is probably what saved me from harm.  If I had parked in the correct spot, I would have already been out of my car with arms full of bags, my purse, keys, etc., walking to my town house by the time that SUV drove down my lane.  This guy would have been able to drive right up to me, jump out and grab me or do whatever it was he had planned.  If I had been at my door, he could have run up and forced his way in behind me.  So, that "mistake" was the main thing that changed the outcome that night.  The other thing was my own instincts.  I am not exaggerating when I say I could literally feel a sense of urgency pressing in around me.  Perhaps it was my angels or Guides, or God/Universe surrounding me and attempting to communicate to me to not get out of my car, and to leave immediately.  Whatever it was that I was sensing, I paid attention to it and I'm alive and unharmed today as a result.

It can be argued that I misinterpreted the whole situation, that this young man had no ill intentions.  I do not believe that to be the case.  The fact that he left the neighborhood after I drove away is a pretty telling sign.  Now I am left with a very unpleasant sense of not feeling safe in my own home.  Although I didn't walk up to my unit and identify specifically where I live, common sense indicates that I live at one of the units of the building I was parked in front of.  I have taken steps to beef up the security of my town house and am looking into purchasing firearms for the house and possibly to carry with me.  Mace will become a regular tool in my purse and on my key ring.

I've often said that as we live our lives, endless layers are stripped from our rose colored glasses.  This incident definitely robbed me of a certain inalienable sense of safety that I used to carry around with me.  All that I did was stop to get gas and pick up a bottle of water and some snacks on an evening after dark had set in.  That's all.  I wasn't in an unsafe neighborhood.  I wasn't dressed provocatively.  I wasn't rude to the young man in question; to the contrary, I was my typical friendly, smiling self.  The harsh truth is that we live in a world that harbors people of dark nature.  Those people don't need a reason or a trigger to urge them to make dark choices.  Because of the choice that young man made, my life has changed forever.  I don't know that I'm going to feel safe in quite the same way that I used to.  That's not necessarily a bad thing.  Many would argue that a healthy sense of suspicion and fear is a good thing.  I don't disagree with that concept, but I do refuse to adopt a victim mentality or demeanor as a result of this experience.

The person that I spoke to at the local county Sheriff's Department told me that the fact that I stared at this guy, looked him directly in the eyes, was probably one reason he veered away from my car.  I was told that by doing this, I made it clear I was not a victim in a very primal manner.  I don't know if that is true, that that action made that much of a difference.  I'm more inclined to believe that being in a locked car made the biggest difference, but I'm sure my direct stare made it clear I wouldn't hesitate to use my car as a weapon if any threatening moves were initiated.

The outcome of all of this was a happy one.  I am safe and nothing happened that night other than me getting a big dose of fear.  I have done all the right things, following up with the Sheriff's Department and filing a report about the incident, informing the management people at my complex, and taking steps to increase my own personal security.  By doing all those things, you would think I would feel nice and secure, but I expect that will take a while.  I haven't slept well since this occurred; I've been jumpy at night every time I've heard a car drive down the lane I live on.  I suspect that's absolutely normal.

As for my rose colored glasses, they're still on my nose.  The rose color has been impacted, I admit that, and it may take time for the color to come back to a stronger tint.  I refuse to let this experience permanently damage my outlook on life.  As many have pointed out to me, I was able to think on my feet, even in the midst of panic....and believe me, I was as scared as it was possible to feel when this played out.  That answered a question for me - I had always wondered if I would be the type to crumble in the midst of true crisis and fear, or if I'd be one of the ones who is able to function and think clearly.  Now I know.  I'm capable of very clear, logical thought, even when I'm in a situation where I am feeling unsafe and threatened. Although I did make one colossally dumb mistake - getting out of my car - I acted quickly to turn that around and everything ended well.  The only regret that I have is that I wasn't in a position to get the license plate number of that SUV.  I would have had to get too close for that.  The gas station has surveillance cameras on site, and they have been made aware of what occurred, with dates and times.  The police report has been filed and is on record.  I am hopeful that this person won't harm anyone in the future, but something tells me it will happen.  I was fortunate to make the right choices in the midst of my own experience and didn't come to grief.  Some other woman in the future might not be that fortunate.

For whatever reason, my own experience ended well.  I paid attention to my own instincts and I'm okay.  My emotional state and sense of personal security took some blows, but those will rebuild in time.  I'm writing about this experience primarily to get it out of my system. That's what writing does for me.  I'm also writing about it here to remind everyone that dangerous people are out there, dangerous circumstances can surround you without a moment's notice, and how you react is going to impact the whole scenario.  If you haven't read "The Gift of Fear", I encourage you to purchase the book.  I'm including the Barnes and Noble website hyperlink to purchase it.  This is for the paperback edition and it is available in used copies for as little as $2.74.  If you're unable to purchase and read this book, then make an effort to be more aware of your surroundings.  I am speaking first to women, but this applies to both sexes.  If someone is intent on inflicting harm, they're very possibly not going to be picky about gender.

Finally, pay attention to your instincts!  If I had not done that very thing, I believe there might have been a very different outcome to my recent experience.  Happily, I'm fine.  Shaken, and changed as a result, but alive and well.  I'm also appreciative of the support of friends and family when I made this experience known.  Despite the fact that I knew this was not a good situation, I was falling back on "good girl" mentality and doubting myself, thinking I was unfairly judging the situation.  With the support and encouragement of friends, I became firm in my resolve to report this incident.  I am hopeful that by doing this, and by writing about it here, maybe other people will also avoid a negative outcome in their own lives.  Be safe, everyone, and pay attention to that still, quiet voice of intuition and instinct.  I believe it saved me.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Soft stillness and the night

I'm feeling nostalgic tonight for some reason.  I have been browsing through my Drafts folder here at Healing Morning to see what snippet might jump out at me to elaborate upon and birth a new blog article.  This one seems to be it.  A stanza from William Shakespeare:

How sweet the moonlight sleeps upon this bank.
Here we will sit, and let the sounds of music
Creep in our ears; soft stillness, and the night
Becomes the touches of sweet harmony.
I ran across this weeks ago, most likely on Facebook.  It brought to mind summer evenings from my childhood, long before the advent of cable television and the internet.  Indeed, at that time, we had three television channels and were lucky if two of them could be received on our antenna way up on the ridge where we lived.  Thus, many evenings during warm months were spent outside in lawn chairs doing this simple thing....talking.  And looking at the stars.

It was such a peaceful thing.  Being with family, visiting, laughing together.  Or just being silent and gazing upward at the expanse of stars.  Some nights we would spread out a blanket to lie on, and it was then that I would imagine that the stars would drop down to touch my face.  We lived far enough out in the country at that time that city lights didn't compete in the night sky and we could see the constellations clearly.  The Big Dipper and the Little Dipper were always easily discernible...and we would attempt to identify other constellations from the Encyclopedia.

Balmy summer nights, filled with quiet conversation and cicadas humming in the background.  The scent of freshly cut grass, blooming roses and honeysuckle would hang heavy in the moist night air.  If it had been an especially good day, there might be the rare store bought treat of Jiffy Pop popcorn...that miraculous creation that we watched in fascinated delight on the stove top, the shiny aluminum dome poofing up as the popcorn popped inside.

Those days are long gone, and I remember them fondly.  The Shakespeare snippet above brought the memories to mind, soft and misty, like an old photograph whose edges have been gently worn soft with time.  Ghosting along my mind's eye, hovering there with wraith-like purpose, insistent to not be forgotten.

"...soft stillness and the night..."  The words bring a slight ache of wistfulness to go back there again, to that back yard in the country on that side of that ridge...and let the stars drop down, once again, to touch my face.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

As the plane goes down

When was the last time you felt short of breath?  After exercising?  After laughing with friends?  Rushing to a meeting?  Or perhaps because of being ill?

In August of 2010, I dealt with a protracted bout of pneumonia.  It lasted for well over a month, with the recovery process a long, grinding one.  I wrote a blog about this experience, called The Manifestation of Wellness (Healing Morning, 09/27/2010) in an effort to better understand what was happening with and to my body.  Most of us are aware that there is a strong mind-body connection that has impact on our health, although there are differing opinions on the veracity of this concept.  Depending on which side of the proverbial fence you stand, it makes sense or it's a bunch of nonsense.

Why am I bringing this up?  Because I am currently battling through another bout of pneumonia.  What surprised me was that in my mind, I had somehow convinced myself that that last bout of pneumonia had occurred more than two years ago.  Imagine my dismay when I searched for the blog article here on Healing Morning and found a clear pattern of approximately a year between recurrences.  Granted, last year's pneumonia was in August and this year, it has hit me in October, but they both occurred in fall months and they both progressed rapidly to full blown pneumonia.  Of course, many will say that this is simple logic - we're in the thick of flu season, with myriad viruses, bacteria and germs flying about in fall months.  I don't dispute that logic at all, and I agree that it is definitely a part of the cycle and pattern I've detected.

What I'm looking at is the mind-body aspect.  There are many esoteric tenets that have identified an emotional tie to specific health concerns.  I have talked with friends who follow/practice some of these esoteric tenets over the years to identify what the emotional tie is with flu and pneumonia.  The following are individual comments that happened during private conversations, so in the interests of protecting the privacy of all, I am not going to annotate a specific dogma, religion or person's name.  I will say that I have discussed this topic with people from a wide range of walks of life, spanning many organized religions, esoteric tenets and even what we would call "mountain wisdom" here in the southeastern region.

One friend offered the following information:

"...fatal bouts of pneumonia and influenza usually result from an individual's inability to handle multiple fears and challenges overwhelming them in a shorter, more compressed timeframe. Usually the person is drowned in the flood of emotions (fear, anxiety, panic) that engulf them. The 'internal floods' manifest as severe lung congestion which cuts off their connection to breath and sometimes, ultimately, their connection to life."

Another opinion:

"...issues involving the lungs indicate a need to address grief that may have been tucked away and not properly dealt with..."

Yet another, of a mountain wisdom perspective:

"Anything around the heart and the lungs that is severe is telling you that you're literally cutting off your own air.  You're allowing something emotional to grow to such proportions that it feels as though you're suffocating, and that begins to manifest physically in your body."
I think many of us can admit to being guilty of any of those three.  We all battle fear based thoughts on a daily, sometime minute by minute basis.  We all have had moments of loss where we didn't properly address the grief stages, whether from personal preference or from necessity of getting back into the hectic pace of work life, we've all done it.

When I began to delve deeply and pick apart the layers of my own life in this past year, I was able to easily identify areas and experiences that I could have dealt with more efficiently and more honestly.  I say "easily identify" because when I began this process, it was with a borderline ruthless determination to put an end to this cycle of repetitive illness.  I have dealt with pneumonia and respiratory issues most of my life, and I feel it is time to put stop to that cycle.

So, this inner searching had to be very honest.  I had to admit to areas where I had possibly been sloppy in my own processing, or where I had avoided tending to my own emotions.  THAT was the bigger wake-up call...that I was clearly slapped in the face with the fact that I had been regularly neglecting my own emotions.  Those who know me well would say that I am a very nurturing, caring, loving person, yet there I sat, confronting my own culpability.  There were both small and large issues where I had failed to care for myself properly because I was focused on caring for the world at large.  Over time, this type of personal neglect is going to build up and eventually, something will have to give.  The most obvious effect is illness, as all that toxic build-up has to find a path of exit.  Now that this illness has set into my body, I am doing my best to ride the wave of it all and allow it to burn off what is necessary to be burned off.

Am I saying that I've been walking around in a constant robotic state, endlessly stuffing down my emotions? Not at all.  What I have been guilty of, however, is of allowing myself to fall into what I call a "frozen state" when a slew of crisis points hit all at once.  I think that's probably a common reaction, because it hits that instinctive, reptilian fight or flight response deep within our brains.  We shut down on some levels in order to keep functioning, promising ourselves that when things calm down, we will address the emotional side of things.  The reality of life, however, is that things rarely calm down.  Life offers us a steady supply of challenges, scary moments, stressful experiences that lead to grief, anger, loss, frustration and more.  My own life in the last calendar year has been chock full of virtually every aspect that I just listed, and I now am looking at the fact that I need to go back and address some of the emotions that I put on hold out of necessity.

I need to create a more timely approach where I am honoring my own fears and reactions.  Everyone has a different freak out point - that thing or event that hits that will cause a meltdown to occur.  I won't go into specific detail about my own freak out point, but I think the central, common denominator for most is a loss of control.  We all have a very clear picture in our minds of who we are "supposed" to be, how we are "supposed" to project ourselves and how we are "supposed" to be perceived.  Strong.  Independent.  Intelligent.  Powerful.  Happy.  Successful.  Plug in the label of choice - we all have a persona we identify with.  It's when something....or many somethings....hit all at once and possibly jeopardize that persona that fears set in.  Freezing up, for many, is the result.  For me, that freezing up process is an internal one.  While that can be a good coping mechanism for the short term, it is the long term fall out that I am now focused on mitigating.  It's time to find a better method for dealing with high levels of stress, rather than putting them immediately on the side burner to tend to at some foggy future date that rarely receives true attention.

I know the habits I've neglected that are helpful - yoga, meditation, reading and writing for pleasure, spending time with family and friends, being out in nature, being artistically creative.  The firm truth is that I need to get back to creating time for myself first. This is a malady that has reached epidemic proportions the world over, putting ourselves last.  We all know that if we are not healthy, we are not going to be of any good to those we love, we are not going to be efficient co-workers, employers or employees.  That analogy of the airplane going down is a good one - unless YOU put the air mask on yourself FIRST, you won't be able to be of any use to anyone else as the plane goes down.

In my own personal experience, how apt is that analogy?  I failed to put my proverbial oxygen mask on throughout much of 2011, and the result has been that my body finally rebelled in a manner that mimicked my emotions....I got sick with a respiratory illness that rapidly progressed to pneumonia.  I cut off my own oxygen supply, in a way, from freezing up over and over.  From putting my own emotions on hold to tend to everything else in the world, I was communicating to myself on an emotional level that I didn't matter....and I slowly cut off the oxygen.  The smarter move would have been to immediately reach for that proverbial oxygen mask, to take care of myself first, to establish a clear airway for myself first, so that I was given time to access tools to carry on.

As that proverbial plane goes down, reverting to crisis thinking has become a negative habit for me that I  now need to change.  Will it be an easy process?  It can be, if I embrace change instantly, but that's not a realistic expectation.  I'm like most people in that I adapt to change slowly, and my own spin on it is to be very methodical in my approach.  Falling dramatically ill is as good a wake-up call as any, I guess.  It's highly unpleasant to be this ill, so who wouldn't want to investigate new behaviors that can help to avoid a repeat of that experience?

I also want to stress that I am not indicating that I believe we are 100% masterful creators of every single illness that strikes us.  I would not suggest that certain dread diseases are brought about by our own intentions, conscious or otherwise.  I do, however, believe there is truth to some of the emotional tenets I've discussed here; I think that if we are not mindful of our emotional state, this, in turn, can possibly compromise our immune systems enough to allow opportunistic maladies a toe hold in our bodies and then illness can be the result.  If there is even a fraction of truth to this concept, then it behooves me to do some personal house cleaning and put some clear focus into my daily habits and the care that I give myself.  Yearly bouts of pneumonia are unnecessary and I am aware that each bout is dancing with a knife-edge of uncertainty as to the outcome.  Pneumonia, as has been impressed upon me over and over by medical professionals, is not something to take lightly.

So, getting back to that plane going down analogy, we know that I'm not a pilot, obviously.  I can't fly a corporeal plane.  But I CAN  pilot my own Life Path and I can make better, more conscious choices when I am in the midst of a maelstrom of stressors.  I can choose better reactions and I can take care of myself FIRST, and don that oxygen mask as the plane goes down.  That plane going down isn't necessarily a bad thing, because all stories have a natural life cycle. That is a topic for another blog, perhaps.  For now, as this specific plane goes down, it is absolutely possible to save the flight by donning that personal oxygen mask.  By saving myself first, I can do so much more for the rest of the world.  Breathing is good, yes?  I remind loved ones of this regularly, so it is with a gracious acceptance that I embrace the concept as well.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Grasshopper Thoughts, Vol. V, October 2011

I've mentored many a writer in my adult life, taught many adult education classes on creative writing, and lent a helping hand to countless new bloggers.  At some point, the question always arises of, "What do you do when you get writer's block?"

That's the age old nemesis, isn't it?  Writer's block, artist's block, musician's isn't career specific to just writers.  We all hit moments where inspiration just refuses to flow.  It has been 29 days since I last posted here at Healing Morning and this is outside the norm for me.  While I am not of the blogging daily approach, I do tend to write at least once or twice a week.  I won't go into the reasons for my recent dry spell, but I will share that the answer I almost always offer to the question above is, "Just write.  Don't focus on whether it's good or bad...just sit down and start writing. The very act of being in writing 'motion' will often wake up your writing Muse."

Another favorite tool of mine is to Grasshopper.  If you follow me here at Healing Morning blog, then you're familiar with this concept.  Grasshopper Thoughts is a process of just allowing your mind to flit....or hop (like a grasshopper) in myriad directions with no logical focus.  I find it to be therapeutic to do this.  It can be as entertaining to write this way as it can be for people to read it, and it allows a glimpse into that writer's soul in a curious manner.  Little tidbits, little gems, little windows into who they are.

So, in the time honored tradition, I now commence Grasshoppering to encourage my own Muse to release her death grip on my normally prolific writing.

  • I'm a fan of the good, old fashioned Emery board to file my nails.  Yes, I know that all manner of new inventions exist for this, including metal nail files that are touted to be better for your nails.  They don't work for me.  Metal nail files take forever for me because I'm fortunate to have nice, healthy, strong nails.  Nope, give me a traditional coarse grit Emery board and I'm happy.  Besides, those metal nail files make my teeth hurt with the sound they make on my nails.
  • Some genius person took the Cool Whip concept and morphed it into chocolate Cool Whip - bless their hearts!  I'm not a big sweets eater and can go long stretches without eating ice cream, sometimes longer than a year.  It's just not a temptation to me.  Once in a blue moon, however, chocolate Cool Whip, still frozen is ideal.
  • I opened an old book the other day, and from its pages fell a perfectly pressed sprig of Lily of the Valley.  I lifted it to my nose and it still carries that beautiful fragrance.  I think I pressed that flower there when I was wee, and it remains to this day my favorite old fashioned flower.  It was a delicate, floral time capsule moment to my adult self from my very young self and I was assailed with lovely memories.
  • The last time I bought Crayons, they smelled different and I was devastated.  How could Crayola do this?!  Whose idea was it to tweak the formula?  No doubt it was done to save money, as that drives any corporation's bottom line, but it made me sad.  The aroma of Crayons is iconic, or it used to be.  It's still close to the original smell, but different.  These are the moments when I stubbornly dig my heels in against change.
  • I was driving my Mom somewhere recently, just out running errands, and I said something to make her laugh unexpectedly.  We glanced at one another and smiled, that silent "I love you for who you are and how I feel when we're together" communication.  I'm blessed.
  • Someday, someone is going to invent a way to prove that creative people are NOT airheads, dingbats or incapable of remembering things. We just think and process things differently, but we manage to get everything accomplished.  I'm serious - someday, someone will invent a way to quantify this fact. And THEN you'll all be sorry! ;-)  Just sayin.  *And if this way has already been invented, then I'm the first to cheerfully declare that I TOLD you so!  :)
I think that's plenty to get the writerly thoughts warmed up.  With luck, it won't be another 29 days before my next post.  For now, Grasshoppering has done the trick to shift the logjam loose a trifle.