Digging In

The past week has been a pretty introspective one. I’m continuing to work on expanding my repertoire of self-care techniques. As I mentioned last week, I signed up for a three-week intro to yoga class, because it’s about damn time I started taking better care of my body. That started on Saturday. It came with the bonus of giving me free access to all of the other basic yoga classes at the studio for the duration of the three weeks, so I did yoga twice over the weekend, and am much less sore than I expected.

I’ve been continuing to try to reincorporate meditation and tarot into my daily routine. It’s been an anxious week, but I’ve been trying to give myself space when I need to in order to focus on my breathing and ground myself. This, along with yoga, has made me very conscious of something I was only dimly aware of before:

I am really bad at breathing.

I’ve never had a huge lung capacity, but wearing a chest binder for five years did me no favors in that regard. Today marks seven months since I had chest masculinization surgery, but even though I haven’t been binding for months now, I haven’t gotten out of the bad breathing habits my body developed over those five years. When I try to breathe deeply, I find that it all feels stuck high in my chest. Belly breathing is a mystery to me. I can visualize how it should work, but in my body, it’s not. At least not yet. So that’s a major piece of grounding that I’m going to be focusing on for a while, I think.

It feels like my life is taking a very meditative direction lately, and my initial reaction to that was to feel guilty: after all, there is so much to be done, such chaos in the world around me that needs to be confronted. I brought this up in therapy on Sunday, and my therapist pointed out that self-care is essential to resistance. Resistance is in large part about stamina, going in for the long haul, and that’s not possible if you don’t take time to dig in and build a solid, sturdy foundation for yourself.

I still feel guilty, but I recognize the truth there: I’m no good to anyone if I’m not taking time to take care of myself. I’m acutely aware of the privilege I hold that allows me to take that time. I hope that I ultimately use that privilege for good.

A Brain Full of Pollen and Bees

Spring has officially sprung and is out in full force in Chicago: there are fresh, bright green leaves on the trees, flowers everywhere, fearless bunnies in our courtyard…and pollen. Pollen, everywhere.

This is the glorious time of year when I want so badly to be outdoors, drinking in the signs of new life…but alas: I’m allergic to damn near everything outside. Trees, grass, flowers, weeds…if it can spew pollen into the air and over the sidewalks, it’s going to make me sneeze.

I’ve been walking around in a sort of pollen-induced haze for the past couple of weeks as a result. I’ve had a lot to get done at work, and I’m worried that I’m not doing enough of it, or that I’m forgetting important things because my brain is so foggy.

In the past couple of days, my brain has decided to up the ante: the pollen appears to have attracted bees.

I think I have mentioned on this blog before that ManicBrain feels a lot like having a head full of bees, and that is exactly what’s happening right now. Thoughts buzz around in my brain in so many directions that, at least half the time, I have no idea what I’m actually thinking about. So far, it’s mostly been the mental equivalent of bumblebees: busy, but generally harmless. I feel on edge, though, because my own personal hive mind tends to turn from bumblebees to wasps if the anxiety starts to spike, and if you’ve read the news or are even dimly aware of current events, you probably understand that there is no shortage of reasons to be anxious right now.

I’m working on expanding my repertoire of techniques for keeping myself grounded. After a couple of months’ hiatus, I’m getting back to incorporating tarot and meditation into my morning routine. I signed up for an introductory yoga class. I’m continuing to see my therapist even though a lot of the time I don’t have a clear vision of what I want to get out of therapy, because I find therapy a useful time to sort of check in with myself and a neutral third party about where my head is at. I’m trying to remember to breathe when I start to feel flustered. I’m listening to a lot of Deathmole.

Mostly, I’m just doing my best to dig in and hang on.

Going to Ground

I’m not sure whether it’s a factor of turning another year older, or Mercury in retrograde, or wonky weather messing with the barometer, or just my brain, but it’s been a challenging week so far. I’m on my way up into another manic phase, and thanks to one, some, or all of the aforementioned factors, the mania is manifesting itself as some pretty intense and occasionally paralyzing anxiety. This is particularly frustrating in light of the fact that my ManicBrain wants to DO ALL THE THINGS, but AnxietyBrain is too overwhelmed.

Tuesday morning during my meditative time I was thinking a lot about the need to ground myself amidst the mental chaos. A friend suggested I go through one or more of my tarot decks and pull out a card or two that helped me to feel grounded that I could carry with myself during the day. The cards I have tattooed on my arm actually do a pretty good job of that, but I wanted something else. Which was about the time that I saw, in front of a pile of things my partner had set out to sort, a bag full of rocks I picked up at some point on a trip to Lake Superior…and I thought, if it’s grounding I need, why not carry a literal piece of ground with me?

I am a person of Earth. My roots wind deep into my little daily rituals and my most closely held convictions. I grow in seasons, my greatest sense of purpose comes from providing shelter and shade from life’s storms, and I contain vast capacities for both strength and vulnerability. Much as I love the convenience of living in the city, my soul sings at the sight of trees and wild spaces. Earth is an integral part of who I am.

But sometimes I need an extra little bit of Earth. And that’s when I turn inward, and go to ground, and look for tangible little reminders to stop and breathe and dig in deeply when I feel my brain trying to fly off in a hundred different directions at once – tarot card on my arm, a little river rock in my pocket.

Before you think I’ve gone totally “woo” on you, never fear – there are plenty of other things I do to manage my anxiety, from my regular medications to deep breathing to cutting back on sodium and caffeine so my heart has fewer excuses to race. I try to stick to a schedule, to get enough sleep, and to avoid situations where I know I will feel overstimulated. These are the logical steps to anxiety management.

The trouble is that anxiety so rarely has any sort of connection to logic. It’s visceral. It comes out of the most primal part of the brain.

And when all of my logical options have been exhausted and I still feel like screaming and crying and curling into a ball under my desk, it’s comforting to look down at my arm and be reminded that my body is the home that I have built for myself, or to reach into my pocket and touch that solid little bit of stone.

So when I look at the forecast and see storms predicted every. single. day, instead of caving to the impulse to break down, I’m going to stop, and breathe, and dig my roots into the Earth of my life, and know that somehow, I am going to weather the week.