On phobias, weaknesses, and phobia-shaming.

A largish roach appeared in my spot in BodyPump at the end of class on Saturday morning. One minute, I’m lying on the floor working my abs, the next minute a roach appears where my head just was. Obviously I’m still alive, so it was of no consequence. I say that because I’m phobic about roaches, as many of you know.  No other critters get to me – just roaches.

When I described the incident and ensuing antics to Callaghan, he was mildly surprised to hear of my uninhibited reaction in front of others. I think he was envisioning me running around flapping my arms and screaming incessantly, which I didn’t do and never do, in fact. I’m more of the get-away-and-stand-paralyzed-while-trying-not-to-hyperventilate sort. But as he later clarified, he’d responded as a product of a culture that’s widely reluctant to acknowledge or address topics such as phobias, therapists… any kind of mental health-related issue.

Interestingly, his initial surprise met with my surprise; the idea of even a suggestion that I would want to hide my phobia gave me pause. It got me thinking.

I think it’s normal to be hesitant in admitting that we’re afraid, because fear is considered to be a weakness.

But none of us are without a weakness or two, and having a weakness doesn’t mean that we’re weak. It may make us vulnerable, but being vulnerable doesn’t make us weak, either. While a rule such as “never let your enemies know your weaknesses” is important to remember when we’re sitting in a bar (lest a foreign spy sidle up in the guise of an admirer when they’re actually after information), forthrightness about our state of mind can’t hurt.

I have two phobias, and I talk about them readily: roach phobia and claustrophobia. I know that many of you can relate, so I share my adventures in phobia encounters and efforts. The incidents strike me as funny after the fact, so I’m glad to share when I can laugh at myself!

The opposite of “courageous” is “fearful,” which I know doesn’t characterize me or others who have phobias. I don’t feel the need to demonstrate this. There’s no reason to be ashamed of our phobias, especially since we know that when it comes to life or death, we’re capable of confronting and conquering the ogres, whatever they may be.

 

Momotaro conquering the ogres. Japanese folklore illustration by George Suyeoka (from “Momotaro: Peach Boy,” Island Heritage Limited, 1972)

 

No one in the vicinity of Saturday’s roach incident phobia-shamed me, by the way. No one ever has. If you’re ever phobia-shamed, know that the person simply doesn’t understand that a phobia is a specific, irrational fear. And if they decide that you’re a generally fearful person because of it? Consider that to be a benefit to you. The element of surprise is, after all, a formidable weapon for any warrior.

I stepped on a tiny cactus and it was hilarious. (On relationship – and other – articles.)

Yesterday, we were standing on the gravel in our front yard when I shifted my weight and my left foot rolled toward the outside of its flip-flop. It rolled to the left and stuck itself onto a tiny cactus.

 

Foot, meet (camouflaged) cactus.

 

The mishap wasn’t terribly painful. It was a very small cactus, as you can see at the top of the pic, and my feet are pretty dry and callused all the way around. (Apologies if this is TMI.) It was more, you know, that moment you realize that you’ve managed to roll your bare foot onto a cactus. It was more the idea of it.

There was no need for a fuss. I just exclaimed in surprise.

Me: Ah! I stepped on a cactus.

Callaghan: Poor cactus.

I thought his response was hilarious. I laughed, and I thought, he gets me. He may have been kidding, but I shared the sentiment: poor cactus! Granted, I also thought it was funny. But still… this is just us being us. Callaghan knows my sense of humor. (He also knows that my feet aren’t delicate.)

If we were a different couple, the one of us who planted the edge of their bare foot onto a cactus might’ve been miffed when the other responded with flippant sympathy for the cactus. If we read and believe the numerous “relationship” articles people are writing, we might even worry about it. Is our relationship doomed because I stepped on a cactus and he said “poor cactus”?

I’m talking about article titles such as: “10 signs that you’re headed to divorce,” “Signs that your partner might be cheating,” “What your sleep position says about your relationship,” “How to tell if your relationship is toxic to your health,” “5 things men/women hide from their partners,” “10 things he’s thinking when you’re naked,” etc.

Do you ever wonder whether these articles are written to ring alarm bells? Maybe they’re written by divorce attorneys who need clients. Maybe our divorce-rate is higher because we read such articles. I know this is hyperbole on my part. I’m just saying.

Some of the content of such articles may be universally true, but a lot of it isn’t applicable to every relationship… a person is unique, so the anatomy of a relationship is unique. How can these articles apply to everyone?

Generally speaking, I think, reading everything in the news and believing everything we read can give us doomsday ideas. Paranoia. Maybe even self-fulfilling prophesies.

On that note, I’m running late. Happy Tuesday, everyone!

Rest in Peace, Chris Cornell. (And Gen-X. And okayness.)

Man, I’m in a dark and strange mood this morning. I shouldn’t be. It’s gorgeous out there.

I live in Arizona and it’s May 19 and we’ve been sleeping with the windows open. It’s been like this for almost two weeks. The bedroom air is slightly chilly in the morning, so I reach for a light robe. This bizarre behavior can only mean one thing: we’re entering a new Ice Age.

It’s not just at night, either. After I get up, I go around the house and open one or two other windows and the front door, and leave them open for a good half-day, if not longer. I open them again in the evenings. This, my friends in other places, is paradise. We desert-dwellers love the desert, but we also love an unseasonably cool breeze through our security screen doors.

For posterity, here’s me this morning:

 

May 19, 2017 – in a light sweatshirt. In Arizona.

 

At the same time, awful things have been happening in the world, including the recent and tragic departure of Chris Cornell, whose widespread fame was launched with his Seattle grunge band Soundgarden. His death was not only shocking and sad, but also somewhat alarming for we “lost ones” of Generation X.

When you spend your childhood in the 70’s, your teens in the 80’s, and your twenties in the 90’s –and when the 90’s was your favorite decade, and Ten is one of your all-time favorite albums – the untimely deaths of icons like Kurt Cobain and Chris Cornell are sobering. It makes you want to watch Singles (older Gen-Xers), Reality Bites (younger Gen-Xers), and Office Space all day, kicked back on the couch eating chips and not looking for a job, all of us stereotypical, slovenly losers and slackers of Generation X.

Should I complete my own stereotype as a Gen-X writer and install a coffee pot on my desk?

Should I stare off into space and then write a letter? (“Dear Eddie Vedder: please don’t.”)

But I’m lucky. My depression is under control. I’m okay. We’re okay. Everything is okay. Everything is fine, despite global shenanigans at the highest levels of power, shenanigans of which there’s no need to speak. It’s like that one meme… that one where the dog is sitting in a house that’s burning down around him, and then he perks up and says, “This is fine.”

That’s a sign of our times, though, isn’t it? “Okay” and “fine” have long since been code for “things aren’t exactly hunky-dory.”  

“How are you?”

“I’m okay.”

“JUST okay?”

Commence questioning all of your life choices as you’re prompted to consider why you said just “okay.” You can’t be okay if you say you’re okay, because okay isn’t good enough. To tell the well-meaning inquirer that you’re okay is to send yourself an invitation to spill all of your not-okayness right there in the office hallway on your way to the water cooler.

Is this the product of a society defined by extremes? If we’re not flying high on the vaporous joy of life at all times, then something is wrong?

I’ll take “okay.”

Maybe this entire post was a sort of tangent. Maybe I just wanted to say, Rest in Peace, Chris Cornell.

 

 

“Be the best version of yourself.” (And other stories.)

I have a confession to make: I don’t like the phrase “Be the best version of yourself.”

The phrase has become one of my pet peeves. When I hear it, I immediately think of that Batman slapping Robin meme. You know the one.

Mind you, you don’t annoy me. I’m not judging or making fun of anyone who uses the phrase in any of its derivations. If it’s helpful to wake up in the morning and think, “Today I’m going to be the best version of myself,” then that’s awesome. It’s awesome because it works for you, and what’s more, what works for you is none of my business. Sometimes, catchy self-help adages are motivational. Whatever works!

If I may ask again, though – at the risk of sounding like a broken record – why do we insist on pressuring ourselves with all of this honing in on the self?

We’re constantly analyzing and judging ourselves, and often feeling not good enough. “Be the best version of yourself” seems counterproductive. It’s a command that could readily set us up for failure. We could end up feeling worse if, at the end of the day, we conclude that we didn’t live up to our own expectations.

Because that’s what “be the best version of yourself” means, I think: “Live up to your potential.”

“Potential” in terms of being good human beings: we don’t always have to be the hero risking our lives to save everyone all the time. It’s just as good to smile genuinely at someone to make their day a little brighter. Maybe that’s how you save someone.

“Potential” in terms of achieving excellence in everything we do: we don’t have to expect perfection of ourselves in everything we do all the time. 

Being the best version of yourself can mean that you smiled genuinely at someone, and you also made sure to not miss any spots when you cleaned the table.

Sometimes, it’s too much to try to be the best. Why even put a superlative on what “version” of yourself you’re going to be on any given day?

If you make it a personal policy to be a decent human being, there’s nothing wrong with deciding to be the flea market version of yourself, or the mix tape version of yourself, or whatever version of yourself you need to be that day… whatever version lifts your spirits. Whatever version makes your smile genuine, so you can pass it on to someone else.

 

Simple advice on a tank top (from my friend in France)

 

Phoenix Forgotten. (Failed non-review movie review!) (+PTSD diagnosis story)

We went to watch Phoenix Forgotten, which brought back the year of 1997.

As I sat there, it occurred to me for the first time that the beginning of my PTSD coincided with the Phoenix Lights.

[NOTE: The link function to open the linked page in a new window is down at the moment, so you’ll have to back-arrow to get back here]

 

 

Probably many of us living here in Phoenix metro in 1997 remember the lights that moved over the Valley in March. For me, 1997 was also eventful because it involved numerous doctors throughout the year. 1997 was the year I was diagnosed with PTSD. Yes – six years post-main event.

I wasn’t in school in 1997. I was taking a year off, the year after college and before grad school. There were only two things on my agenda for 1997: write poems and train for my black belt in Tae Kwan Do. I was also working.

So I was doing all of that, just minding my own business, like you do, and then, one night, I went to bed feeling sick to my stomach. As soon as I closed my eyes, my heart jumped in and crashed the party, like, Hey! I’m here too! Whheeeeeee! Cannonball!!!… and I couldn’t breathe, and I thought I was going to die of a cardiac event.

Then I was waking up. It was morning. What the hell just happened?

It happened again the next night, and the next and the next. It got to a point where I was too gun-shy to go bed. Going to bed had become a horrifying prospect, so every night, I put it off until I was passing-out tired. I don’t know why I didn’t go to the doctor sooner.

Eventually, I did go to the doctor, because I had an episode that was different than the others, and that was the proverbial last straw.

In that episode, I was trapped in another dimension and I was going to die for sure. Somewhere between awake and sleep, something happened. If I was completely asleep, it would’ve been a nightmare. Whatever this was, it was psychedelic and real, like, 3D real… and that was on top of the physical Armageddon that was my new normal. After I survived that night, I finally went to the doctor.

*****

1997 became a year of medical mystery. I went back and forth between different internists and specialists, cardiology and gastroenterology and cardiology again, everyone referring me to everyone else. I was deemed healthy – good news! – but I was still having these ridiculous episodes.

Then my baffled first internist started asking me questions about my background. When it came out that I was a combat vet, she referred me to a shrink. The shrink explained that panic attacks mimic heart conditions and other physical issues, which was why no one thought of the PTSD possibility.

He explained that the first episode was a panic attack. After it recurred nightly for a period of time, it became a panic disorder (PTSD, in my case). And the next-level attacks, he said, were “night terrors.”

Why did it take so long for the PTSD to manifest? He said it wasn’t unusual for vets to come home fine and then experience a trigger years later. The trigger could be anything, he said. So what was my trigger? We’ll never know, and it doesn’t matter.

All we know is that my PTSD was triggered by something in the spring of 1997. Coincidentally, I’m sure, the Phoenix Lights also happened in the spring of 1997.

*****

I sat in the movie theater remembering and pondering all of this, and that is how my non-review movie review became a post about my PTSD diagnosis.

I can’t be objective about this movie, but I can say that in my opinion, it wasn’t bad.

Phoenix Forgotten begins on a robust note, then bleeds out into the Found Footage horror movie sub-genre. In my experience, Found Footage movies made after the first Blair Witch Project are doomed to the basement where Bad Horror Flicks live. I often really enjoy Bad Horror Flicks, but I can’t even say whether this movie was bad enough to qualify as that bad.

If you’re intrigued by the Phoenix Lights and/or you’re a fan of Found Footage horror movies, you may dig this one.

 

 

Mind as muscle. (Working out: suggestions from a non-professional.)

This is for anyone who’s decided to start working out, has started working out, and is now wondering, “How can I continue to do it?”

I’ve been asked. There’s no single answer. I can suggest, though, that one way to stay committed to working out is to stay interested in working out, and one way to stay interested in working out is to focus – not on other people, and not on yourself, but on what you’re doing.

That’s the key: In order to follow through on your commitment, you have to stay interested.

 

Fire in stone

 

1). Here’s my first suggestion:

Don’t compare yourself to others. 

Those people working out around you? Ignore them.

2). My second suggestion is the one that’s the most important to me, personally:

Focus on the fight in front of you.

Don’t focus on all the fights, all at once. Just on the one directly in front of you right now.

If you balk at the word “fight,” remember that “fight” is a common word, and that most of the time, we don’t use it in a violently combative sense.

Fight cancer, fight fatigue, fight the urge to laugh, fight the impulse to say what you’re thinking, fight for air. Fight for equality and justice and rights, if you’re so inclined. Fight for your family. Fight to defend yourself. Fight to stay alive. Fight back.

Fighting is a mental endeavor, first and foremost.

When someone says, “You have a lot of fight in you,” that’s high praise. It suggests that you’re mentally strong. You persevere. You don’t give up. You’re brave.

Imagine taking that perseverance and bravery with you when you go to work out. Imagine setting small goals to achieve your long-term goal in increments. Each small goal is a fight. Focus on it, and you may find that your interest is held because you’re immersed in a moment that has an end goal.

Fitness goals come from somewhere. They come from your mind. They come about because you’ve thought about them. You had a thought that became a decision that led to the statement “I’m going to work out.”

That’s a testament to your strength, already! You’ve declared that you’re going to work out, and it was your mind that got you over that hurdle. Your mind already did the hardest part, so you can trust it to help you follow through.

What about confidence, though?

I remove confidence from the equation because I don’t consider it to be the means to an end. I would suggest, “Just focus on what you’re doing. Don’t worry about confidence.”

After your workout, you can exult in the confidence you’ve gained knowing that you gave your ALL to that workout.

Your confidence will increase each time, developing gradually as a result of what you’re doing. Eventually, you’ll carry it with you into your workouts without even knowing it. It becomes a force that you can access subconsciously.

Going into your fitness endeavor trying to believe “I’m confident” is setting yourself up to focus on that. Your focus should be on what you’re doing, not on how you think you should be feeling.

My two suggestions are interrelated: If you compare yourself to others while you’re working out, your focus will no longer be trained on what’s in front of you. What’s in front of you is the goal you’re aiming to achieve in that moment. It’s your fight… use it to direct your focus and to keep your focus where it can benefit you the most.

Muay Thai 2 (Garage gym post!)

Surprised to see another garage gym post again so soon? Well, the other day – that would be Friday – our houseguests took off in the morning, and Callaghan went back to work. I could’ve done any number of useful things, but I was feeling better after a couple of days of medical shenanigans, and the garage was just sitting there in the fine spring weather.

I had no plan, so what ended up happening was a Muay Thai workout, because that’s usually the direction I go when I wing it in the garage.

Whatever the case, I recorded my workout again. That’s just the best way for me to see where I can improve. It also allows me to share a few pics with those of you who enjoy these garage gym posts. Thank you for that, by the way!

During the 45-minute workout, I practiced the techniques in haphazard sets, mixing it up at random. Instead of jumping rope, I started with a little resistance-band rowing for a warm-up.

Speaking of which, it’s already getting warm in that garage! This year we must find a way to make it survivable during the hot months.

 

Let’s get this party started.

 

rowing (with resistance band)

 

rowing

 

(dummy migration)

 

lower-body warm up with a little side-shuffling (tentatively, because of my knee)

 

keeping warm

 

round chamber (warmed up and feeling okay)

 

round kick

 

(I was mindful of how I felt during this workout; I wasn’t going to continue practicing a technique if it was causing discomfort.)

 

teep

 

teep

 

(teep pullback)

 

(down elbow dummy set-up)

 

down elbow chamber and throw

 

down elbow

 

(same thing on the other side)

 

down elbow

 

down elbow – sticking it

 

back to the bag for side elbow strikes (this one’s a jump)

 

(That whole move right there should’ve been higher. I didn’t get in close enough, so I missed my target. I cringed when I saw the footage! I threw this strike something like 30 times throughout the workout, and it was all terrible.)

 

side elbow

 

(My ground side elbow was a little better. To be fair, though, it’s hard to get in close on a bag with a base such as this one, especially with my short reach.)

 

back to the dummy for knee strikes

 

(Left side only, since my right knee had just recovered.)

(Also, I would LOVE to have a B.O.B. again, especially for knee strikes.)

 

back to the bag for speed punches

 

(I also practiced power punches and combinations on the bag.)

 

to the floor for stretches (holding a modified plank – active rest)

 

plyo push-up (top)

 

plyo push-up (descending)

 

I finished with speed punches on the dummy, sitting on the floor and stabilizing the upright dummy between my lower legs. That was a good core workout as well as a speed and knuckle-conditioning workout…. the dummy provides a more solid punching surface than the upright bag.

Oh, there’s no “walking back” pic this time. I walked away around the edge, for some reason. But there’s a “walking on” pic at the beginning, so maybe that’ll be the new tradition. Haha.