Panic! At The Grocery Store

It happens fast.   One minute Emmeline is pushing a grocery cart, turning the corner from the international foods aisle into the canned vegetable aisle, and her world slams sideways. It’s like a scene in a movie where the characters are riding in a car and then BAM!, a truck slams into their peaceful world, turning it into one of broken glass and twisted metal.

When Emmeline pushes her cart into the canned vegetable aisle, the force that hits feels as big as a truck, but there is nothing there, and nobody except Emmeline feels the force of the impact. The crash is in her brain, and the truck is a spot of red on the grocery aisle floor.

Emmeline sees the red blotch on the floor in front of her and her reaction is sudden and instinctive. In the nanosecond that it takes her to see and register the red her brain delivers a message straight to her brainstem, bypassing all rational thought: red-puddle-probably-blood-check-for-drops-must-be-blood-could-be-infected-with-aids-no-way-to-know-must-assume-it-is-might-get-on-your-shoe-when-you-take-off-your-shoe-your-hand-might-brush-it-hangnail-on-your-finger-conduit-to-your-bloodstream-you-will-DIE”.   The thought explodes in her amygdala, sending out a surge of adrenaline so strong she starts to shake.

Emmeline’s response is not to fight or flee, but to freeze. She stops so fast the cart jerks. Her vision narrows to pinpoint focus on the puddle of red on the checked linoleum floor. Everything else is blurry white noise. Her rational brain checks out — scattered into broken pieces like the glass of a broken windshield. Icy cold starts in her fingers and moves through her body. Her breathing is shallow and fast.   Her thoughts spin and spiral: BLOOD. What do I do. BLOOD . What do I do. BLOOD . The same thought circles around and around, tighter and tighter, squeezing the air from her lungs.

She stands there, unable to move, until another cart turning the corner runs into her, making her jump .

“Sorry,” the woman says, giving her a strange look as she maneuvers her cart around Emmeline’s. The woman continues on down the aisle, not even glancing at the spot on the floor that has taken Emmeline hostage.

What must she be thinking? Emmeline hears her mother’s words in her head. Social anxiety kicks in and Emmeline starts to sweat. She goes from icy cold to sweat dripping down the backs of her legs. She backs up her cart and parks to the side, buying time for her mind. The woman has shaken her thoughts loose from the spiral, but her brain is still scattered, thought pieces jiggling like little toads. Her knuckles are white where her hands grip the cart. She pries her hands loose and pulls a wet wipe out of her purse. She scrubs her hands, front and back. She takes a slow breath. Do something. Her thoughts are still too scattered. She can’t think.

Emmeline has no idea how much time has gone by. She is exhausted. The normal activity of the grocery store continues around her. She wipes the handle of her cart with her wet wipe out of habit. Her ears feel like they are filled with cotton; she can hear “Landslide” by Stevie Nicks coming through the store speakers as if from miles away. But her sense of sight and smell remain strong and focused on the source of her fear. She stares at the linoleum gleaming beneath her feet, and her vision tunnels to see every scratch, crumb, and mark dotting its surface. The smell of the wet wipe — alcohol and disinfectant — is like a weapon that she carries against the monster fear. The OCD monster.

Her rational brain has finally caught up and intellectually she understands that it is the OCD monster that is causing her panic, sending her false messages of danger. Her rational brain knows that even if it is blood on the floor in the next aisle, her chances of getting HIV are less than her chances of getting into a car accident as she drives home.   But her rational mind is too late to the panic party. The tornado of anxiety has already been triggered, released from the Pandora’s box in her mind. Now all she can do is try to pack it back in as best she can.


Why I’m Not Writing

When I was a little girl, I probably had a lot of dreams of what I wanted to be when I grew up. The one that I remember the clearest, though, is the dream of being a writer. I was an avid reader at a young age. My mom tried to read books before me, but she eventually gave up and just let me read because she couldn’t keep up. We had something called the Scholastic Book Club at our school. We would get a thin, newsprint magazine of the books available for purchase that month, fill out the order form, and give it to the teacher with our money. One of the greatest things my mom did for me in my childhood was allow me to order as many books as I wanted. A week would go by, and the magical day would come when the Scholastic book order was in. I could always spot my order on the teacher’s desk, because my it was the only one that was a pile of books that had to be double rubber-banded together.

I read everything. And then I read A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L’Engle, and my love of reading became a desire to write. The book was unlike any I had read. It pushed the boundaries of imagination, it made me think that I could do wonderful and unimaginable things. I decided then that I wanted to write books like that when I grew up. Now here I am, some forty plus years later and I haven’t written a book, much less become an author like I dreamed. So I am asking myself — why am I not writing? It is not a new question, but one I hope to unpack a little further.

The first thing that comes to mind is 1. I don’t know what to write about. To the casual reader, this sounds lame. Just write about anything! I have done that in the past, and that kind of writing doesn’t really get you a book. It just gets you a bunch of free-form, journal type writing that nobody is every going to read. I have had some good ideas in the past, but I didn’t write them into existence in time for the story to be relevant. I heard someone say recently, “If you don’t do it, someone else will. And then you’ll be pissed.” This is true, and it has happened to me. Why? Because I had the idea and then I didn’t write it. Or I wrote part of it and stopped because it got hard.

The second reason that comes to mind is 2. I am wasting my time writing. There are already so many people out there writing, what makes me think that I will be any different? True, with the attitude that I have had so far, there is no reason to think that I will be any different. There is also a deeper element to this reason — the extreme self doubt. I don’t know exactly where it came from. I didn’t have it when I was eight years old, or even when I was fourteen years old. But somewhere after that the doubt in my abilities as a “creative mind” starting building. It built slowly, insidiously, until one day I had graduated from college and I no longer believed that being a writer was a viable option for me. It was a dream in the sky, like all of the guys who dream of someday being professional baseball players.

I have been reading a book by Rachel Hollis, and she poses a question that I am now asking myself: “Am I one of those people that wants an excuse for why I didn’t chase the thing I wanted?“. Maybe I am. I don’t want to be that kind of person, but I have definitely been behaving that way. To paraphrase Rachel, why do I keep telling myself that my life is so hard (because I have OCD, because my brain freezes up with anxiety, because I am on medication that dulls my brain) that I can’t write a novel or do anything productive for that matter? Why? Because it is true, yes. But if I listen to myself, I will do nothing, if I listen to Rachel, I am capable of more than I think I am capable of. Which is true? Does it matter?

Rachel Hollis says: It’s not about choosing what you want right now, it’s about choosing what you want most. My stomach drops when I read that. It sounds like she is going to ask me to do HARD THINGS. Hard things are exhausting and debilitating and, well, HARD. Like an-alcholoic-not-taking-a-drink hard. I don’t want that. Do I? Maybe I do. Maybe it gets easier, and maybe if I do hard things now I won’t be here next year and the next asking myself the same question that I have been asking myself for the past thirty plus years. Why am I not writing?

I’ll end this post with another paraphrased quote from Rachel Hollis. “Someone else doesn’t get to tell you who you can be (your spouse, your mom, your sisters, your community, statistics). Go all in. Take massive action. Anything I want, I have to do myself. I must set my mind and go ALL IN. I will only become the person I want when I take a huge leap of faith, flying through the air, not knowing if I have a parachute or where I will land. I must rise up from where you’ve been, scrub off the tears, and start again. Girl, wash your face.



We have a beautiful paved running path near our house that is my constant refuge.  Above me the tree branches, most still green from summer, arch across the running path,  creating a tunnel of leaves. I run the path at least three times a week.  A sort of trade-off occurs when I force my body to move forward at a pace that is at best slightly uncomfortable and at worst painful.  Ironically, the more energy my body exerts, the less energy my mind exerts.  I am able to come closer to the “still point” as T.S. Eliot called it.

The thoughts start small and tentative as I move into my run, loosening and slowing as my legs under me beat a cadence that is felt throughout my body.  I stop noticing the pain in my problem knee, a song lyric sweeps across my consciousness, my eyes track a bushy brown squirrel in front of me – I feel the switch as I instinctively leap over the squirrel without breaking stride, caught in the joy of being airborne  if only for a moment.    And then my mind is moving freely: forward, sideways, backwards.  .I look down at my thighs, still tan from summer, my black running shoes appearing in cadence beneath me.  Da. Da. Da. Da. Even and strong.    My body feels strong and my mind is calm.  This is the dance for me.   There is no waiting for the other shoe to drop when I am on the path.   No self-recriminations, self-doubt and all of those other feelings that daily plague my monkey mind.

I have always been a little too pre-occupied with death.  I blame Disney.  All thosetouching, cute little movie characters that were abandoned or orphaned.  I was a sensitive child, and despite reassurances from my own parents, the world terrified from a very young age.   Around middle school  — not long after one of my classmates lost most of his family in a car accident  — I started “collecting” songs about death.  Then as I got older I was drawn to books about people surviving  unimaginable tragedies. I believed that with enough research  I could uncover a strategy, or a game plan for either dealing with or – even better, avoiding – the tragedy that I felt certain was coming my way.

I didn’t discover a plan.  I only fed my worrying, fretting, monkey mind.

I read something today.  “If you don’t change directions you are going to end up where you are headed.”  That simple line hit me harder than the dozens of “inspirational” quotes that I have pasted or posted around my home.  That simple statement was like hot oil landing on my arm.  It burned, and it made me move.  I want to change direction.  I don’t need to, but I really, really want to.

Up until a few weeks ago, I thought that my life had set its course, that it would go round and round and I would never be able to get off the damn spinning ride that I had somehow back-stepped on to when I wasn’t paying attention.  Through my running and my family, I had found my way to some small bit of serenity, and along the way that had become enough.  I had settled into the idea that I was incapable of extending those “still” thoughts into my “real” life in any substantial way.  I had settled into the rut and called it good.  But God is on my side even when I’m not and he kept nudging.  I am very good at undermining myself, and awful at taking simple, easy steps to improve my quality of life.   Yet I can force my body out to run at a grueling pace, and do so in any kind of weather.

I crave a still point that comes from the cadence of my fingers typing on a keypad.  I want to apply the same discipline that I applied to running to my writing.  I made it work with running, so why I am so frightened to do it with writing?

Change. Lots of noise. Change again.


My husband drew the picture above to illustrate a productivity point that he was trying to make.  “You have big change, and then a lot of noise.  You get used to it and then you have big change again, and you have a lot of noise, but it isn’t as loud.  Then everything levels off.”

One of the changes that I am trying to make in my life is to have a regular writing schedule.  Like so many writers, I have put off my writing again and again, until the day is done — and on and on and on.  No noise.  No change.


With the hope that I will finally be able to make a lifestyle change to a place where I am writing regularly,  I am attempting BIG CHANGE.  Part of this big change is writing every day.  Someway, somehow, I must write every day.  And I anticipate a LOT of noise in the form of anxiety, urgent tasks, illnesses, and lots of sweating.

I haven’t defined exactly what type of writing that I must do for this BIG CHANGE.  Only that I must write every day.  So here I am on day two (I failed on day one), at 9:30 p.m., attempting to write a blog post.  I spent about thirty minutes before I started writing looking for a kitchen timer on Amazon, so that I might properly follow the Pompadora technique as so many how-to books have advised.   But then I recognized the search for what it was — procrastination, resistance — and opened up this blog.

My creative brain is being of no help whatsoever.  I can’t think of a single thing to write about except the fact that I am trying to write every day.  How in the world do those writers of “This Is Us” come up with all those amazing stories and dialogue week after week?  I feel like the stupidest person in the blogosphere.   What can I write?  Uhmmn, my dog is lying on my foot, nudging a pink fuzzy chewed tennis ball with her nose.  My husband is watching a football game.  It’s dark outside (not even a dark and stormy !)  The mosquitoes are bad.    And……   That’s all I’ve got.  No wisdom, no insightful quotes, no charming metaphors.   Just lots of noise.  White noise.  Irritating, nothing noise.  My husband was right.

In Medias Res

Let me explain … the title of both this post and this blog.  I like Latin words, and I am a writer, and in writing it is considered good storytelling to start “in medias res”, or in the middle of things.  This technique is used to draw people in to the story right away, rather than making them wade through all kinds of boring narrative just to set up the good part of the story.  Thusly and therefore I am starting this blog/story/tale in the middle of things, even though it is technically the beginning.  But not for me.  In my life, that is.  Are you still with me?  If you are, I give you high points for endurance and fortitude.  Let me explain more:  I am in the middle of my life (46 years old), in the middle of my quest to become a writer, in the middle of my life-long love of reading, and eighteen years in to my battle with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.   More on the OCD in another post — I really over-explain when it comes to that subject.

You have heard the expression “a picture paints a thousand words”?  Well, I am more of a believer in “why look at a picture when you can use a thousand words?”   Through self-evaluation, I have determined that there are two reasons why I always over-explain.  1) I dread — and I mean DREAD — the idea of being misunderstood.  I think it may even be a phobia. There may even be a name for it. *pause for internet search* There is!  It is called ambiguphobia.  
2) Nobody just “accepts” my thoughts or ideas when I state them simply.  I don’t know if this is something I have caused by always explaining so thoroughly that nobody feels the need to tune in to my specific words, because they know that they will absorb it through repetition, or if it is because I have no credibility whatsoever.  *breath*  I tend to believe the second, mostly because if I cite other sources when speaking, (CNN, Oprah, my husband, etc.) then I elicit the proper response and my need to continue talking ends.  So.

I decided to write about the things that I think in a blog, and get feedback from readers on how I could have said what I have said (this is starting to sound very Dr. Seuss) with few words.  OR, if readers believe that I am not over-explaining and that I in fact have used just the right amount of words, in which case I will use this blog and those comments to say “nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah!” to those who have ridiculed me in the past.

Does that just about explain it?  Or over-explain?

Bibliophile and other “philes”

A bibliophile is defined as “a person who collects or has a great love of books”.   The term is derived from the Greek word biblion – ‘book’ and philos – loving.  Since I both love to read books and I collect books, I am pretty much a full-blown bibliophile.  I can’t even remember how old I was when I started reading, but I do know that reading was a way for me to understand the world and more specifically, the people in my own orbit.  I’m sure I wasn’t self-aware enough to know this about myself when I was in elementary school, but I did know that other kids thought I was weird or stuck-up because I read so much and so quickly.  We had this thing called the “Scholastic Book Order” when I was in elementary school.  We’d get a paper to take home with the month’s offering of books and we could order books at really low prices.  My mom never put a limit on the number of books that I was allowed, and I can remember how excited I got when the knock came on the door to the classroom and the teacher was handed a pile of books.  I never understood why I was the only one in the class who ordered more than one.  I usually had a pile of at least five to take home with me, and any classmates that actually ordered books instead of comics or posters only ordered one.  That was the beginning of my addiction to books, and it has only grown since then.  It’s not just reading the books, I love holding them, feeling the heft, smelling the pages, displaying the covers, reading the dedications and sometimes underlining or writing in margins.  I am not a fan of the Kindle or the Nook or any of the digital readers.  In fact, I would go so far as to say that those who read strictly on a digital reader cannot call themselves bibliophiles.
Collecting books is by far my biggest virtue (or my husband may call it a vice), but there are a few other “strange” things that I collect that contribute to the idiosyncratic wonder that is me.  I collect stuffed animals.  Yes, I know, I am a grown up, but I like stuffed animals.  I use my many nieces and nephews as excuses to “have them on hand”, but the truth is if I see an adorable stuffed animal I can’t help myself.
I also collect rings.  And not only do I collect them, I like to wear as many of them at once as I can.  Yes, I do.  My mother gets exasperated with me, but then again she thinks that denim shirts are still in style.  So.  I also collect music, but this is really more of a subcategory of my bibliophilic nature since I consider most good songs to be mini novels, with the lyrics, music and intonation providing the full story.    Books, stuffed animals, rings.  Not too bad.  At least I don’t buy shoes.  That would just be too NORMAL.

Why I Run

So there is this misconception out there that people who run do so because they have some sort of malformed gene that allows them to enjoy and activity that most people abhor.  Not true.  Running is not fun, and those of us who are out there pounding the pavement aren’t doing it because we love it.   I can’t speak for everyone who runs, but I run because it something that I know I can both do and tolerate.  I ran  high school track (a sprinter who thought the 100 meter dash seemed like a long run),  and I continued running in college because it was a social activity.  I had a lot of friends who liked to take a break from studying and go on a group run around campus at midnight or one o’clock.  It was more social than exercise, but what those runs on campus did was give me a lot of great memories that I associated with running.  I attended a few aerobics classes during my time in college too, and I hated those.  No chatting, no BOYS, and we were inside a stinky gymnasium.

So when my son started school and I had the time to start an exercise program again, running was a no-brainer.  I already knew that I could do it,  I didn’t have to be a member of a gym or club to do it, and the biggest equipment expense was a pair of running shoes.  I have learned a great deal about how to make running more tolerable since then, and in case anyone reading this is thinking about starting a running program, I want to share what I have learned.
1) mailbox by mailbox — my husband gave me this little pearl of wisdom.  I don’t know where he heard it, but it is the running equivalent of Anne Lamott’s ‘Bird by Bird’.  Basically, start small.  If you try to run as far as you can on your first run, then chances are there won’t be a second run.  Decide before the run how far you are going to go and make it do-able, both physically and psychologically.  Then increase the distance week by week by nothing more than the distance from one mailbox to the next.  Eventually you will work your way up to a distance that fits your exercise needs.
2) find ways to put your mind into “wander” mode while you run.  For me, a combination of an upbeat playlist on my ipod and composing facebook posts, e-mails, or story ideas works best.  Don’t think about problems or stressful situations or anything that will get your anxiety up and subvert your adrenaline away from your legs and arms.
3) approach the run as an empowering event.  Don’t think of it as “something you have to do so that you can lose weight/look better/lower cholesterol.”  Think of it as something that you choose to do so that you will feel great about yourself afterwards and for however many days it is until your next run.  If this sounds like self-psychology or playing a mind game, that’s exactly what it is.    You know yourself best. Figure out how to outsmart yourself when it comes to exercise.  Find ways to trick yourself into getting it done.

I am an impatient person.  This is why I don’t ‘walk’.  It drives me nuts.  So when I first started running, I ran out toward a specific point before I turned around, so that I had no choice but to run home.  The distance out to that point didn’t seem too bad, and I knew that by the time I got out there I would be too impatient to stop and WALK, so I would run back.  My husband, on the other hand, enjoys leisurely walking.   Running is not the sport for him.  He likes to bike, and walking a bike is probably more work than riding it, so he never finds himself stopping to walk on a bike ride.

I run because I like the feeling of having finished exercising.  It is a wonderful feeling. And I run because it is the only form of exercise that I can fool myself into enduring a few times a week.  The bottom line.  Analyze yourself.  Don’t waste time looking for an exercise that you ENJOY.  Nobody enjoys exercise, we only enjoy being done with exercise.  Look for what you can tolerate and then find ways to make it more tolerable.


 We have a beautiful paved running path near our house that is my constant refuge.  Above me the tree branches, most still green from summer, arch across the running path,  creating a tunnel of leaves. Most of the time by forcing my body to move forward, my brain lock gets jostled enough so that the log jam in the river of thoughts that is my brain breaks loose and my thinking runs free and clear.  The thrill of new, clear thoughts is its own high.  The thoughts start small and tentative, not quite clear of the logjam yet : the pain in my problem knee, a song lyric, the black eyes of squirrel frozen on the path in front of me; my instinctive leap over it; the joy of being airborne for even a moment.    And then gradually my mind is moving freely, fluidly.  Forward, sideways, backwards.  I look down at my thighs, still tan from summer, one black running shoe landing on the scattered yellow and red leaves, and then the other.    The cadence of my arms and feet matching  the music coming through my headphones.  Da. Da. Da. Da. Even and strong.    I am moving forward, but the irony is that at the end I will be at the beginning again, and that is right here.  At THE END.   Up until a few weeks ago, I thought that my life had set its course, that it would go round and round and I would never be able to get off the damn spinning ride that I had somehow backstopped my way on to when I wasn’t paying attention.

At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only dance.