Archives for Childhood
It's the end of a long week, isn't it? This week's rap sheet includes sub-zero temperatures, frozen pipes, and a dead car battery. Dearest polar vortex: you're drunk. Go home. But I'm not here to grumble about winter any longer -- well, not in this blog post, at least -- because this week, I found one of the most beautiful and therapeutic videos I've ever seen.
We have this drum kit in the basement now, and just for fun, I sat down. And I tried to play. And I became woefully frustrated -- no surprise there, if you read yesterday's post about my coordination-related woes when it comes to drumming. But this time, I kept playing around. I yelled at my right hand for moving when I wanted my left hand to move instead. Slowly, it began to comply. That was two weeks ago. And now, today, I can keep a beat -- a very simple beat, yes, but this is a notable change for me. With concentration and practice, my brain adapted to the idea of my right foot on a kick drum and my left hand tapping a snare. No longer does the kick drum kick when I want to tap the snare; no longer does the snare make that, uh, "snare" sound when I want to kick the kick drum. My limbs, it seems, have resolved their life-long impasse with my brain. UM, HELLO? THIS BLOG IS ABOUT ANXIETY, RIGHT? I know, I know. I'm getting there -- promise! So, why do these drumming revelations matter to me? Well, for starters, I think it's pretty damn fun to now say that I can keep a simple beat on a basic drum kit. I can drag my laptop down to the basement, play any of my favorite songs, and pass the time by drumming along in a really rudimentary-yet-satisfying way. And, of course, I'm pretty pleased with myself for trying something new and sticking with it for long enough to get past the "I HATE THIS!" hump. But most importantly, this reminds me of something very important: the brain's capability to learn and change.
In kindergarten, I played the woodblock. Yeah, the woodblock. And I was such a badass about it, too. By the end of the year, I was ready for some stage time. (The other kids at our kindergarten graduation got kazoos or something. Lousy, whining kazoos.) But I got a motherloving woodblock, people! And I was proud. A small wooden mallet in my right hand and a -- well, a hollow block of wood -- in my left, and there I stood wearing my construction-paper graduation cap, ready to keep time to songs like "Fifty Nifty United States". And kept time I did with my toothy grin and crimped hair. BOOM BOOM BOOM I grew up rather fond of tapping out beats on tabletops with pens, but that's about where my percussion experience ended. Yeah, I took piano lessons here and there, spent a year with a clarinet and a horribly cranky band instructor in 5th grade, and I sang in choir from middle school up through the end of college -- but that's it. Nothing with drums. Drums have always fascinated me. Well, let me reword that -- drum beats have always fascinated me. No, no wait -- that's not it either. Drummers. No. A drummer's ability to drum. Yeah, that's it.
Once, when I was in elementary school, I got a 97% on a test. Pretty good, right? I took it home to show my mom. This was fridge material. "Wow," she said, "not bad..." Pause. "...but you probably could've gotten 100%." Ugh. As an adult, now, looking back, I know she was kidding. She had to be kidding. Right? I wish I could go back in time and watch this interaction with adult eyes, detecting the subtle nuances in her brow movement, to prove to myself that it was a harmless joke from a mother who knew her kiddo was on the straight and narrow. But that pint-sized brain of mine, tucked inside my skinny little body that wore a hefty neon pink and yellow backpack, heard only one thing: you could have done better.
(Note: the following is a guest post written by Kayley Eshenaur, a 21-year-old senior at Lycoming College in Williamsport, PA. I haven't done much yet in this blog to address the anxiety that many young women feel when it comes to body image. I thought Kayley's well-written piece -- originally published in The Lycourier, the student newspaper that I advise -- would help to fill that gap.) Growing up in today’s society can be strenuous on a woman considering the ideology of unrealistic female body types. Everywhere she looks there are magazines with bold headlines shouting the same reoccurring words, “loose twenty pounds in two weeks,” or “achieve radiant and perfect hair by using this product!” The television does not offer an escape from this call to “perfection” either; specials like the E-Entertainment “30 best and worst beach bodies” pinpoint all the rights and wrongs of the female body. The messages that the media is sending out to girls today is that they need to have the perfect hair, clothing, and body; overall they should be gorgeous. The media coverage on the female body puts a lot of stress on a woman’s appearance which deflates her self-confidence and leads some to self-destruction.
(This is the sixteenth post in a series called “Anxiety Society”, in which I interview everyday anxiety sufferers from all walks of life about their struggles, their triumphs, their coping methods, and more. I believe that the more we openly talk about our mental health, the less of a “thing” it becomes. Conversation can reduce stigma, and my interviewees want to be a part of that.) Meet Sveta. She loves music, listening to bird calls, and reading. Although she's just in her early twenties, she's already been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and dysthymia. Her diagnoses follow a difficult and abusive childhood. What makes Sveta's story a bit different from most stories of PTSD and abuse is this: she's also blind. Although she can perceive colors and shapes, and distinguish between light and dark, that's the extent of her visual ability. The blindness affects everything from her ability to escape triggering situations to her anxiety coping strategies. Her parents still largely control the minutae of her everyday life, so Sveta finds herself struggling to carve out her own strategies for controlling her environment. Summer: Have you always been blind, or were you able to see at some point in your life? Sveta: I was born 3 months and 2 weeks early. I was put on oxygen because I couldn't breathe. The result was that not only could I breathe, but the blood vessels in my eyes grew too fast, forcing the retina and the eye apart. SB: And you suffer from an anxiety disorder, correct? Do you mind sharing your diagnoses? S: I have been diagnosed with dysthymia, also known as chronic depression and complex PTSD, which is like BPD but to a lesser degree. SB: Do you feel the dysthymia was always present, or did it develop at some point in your life? S: The dysthymia was always there for as long as I can remember. My parents used to make fun of my love for minor keys saying, "You only like songs where someone dies". This, of course, isn't true. I like the minor key, not the death. It happens, sometimes, that songs where someone dies are in minor keys. It also happens that in songs in minor keys, sometimes, someone dies.
Meet Jenny Whalen. She's a Rutgers graduate who lives in New Jersey with her husband, Patrick, and their cat, Dr. Watson. She works a day job in a corporate office but keeps busy the rest of the time creating and selling handmade products for pets. She loves art, music, cooking, and writing. Jenny enjoys reading and her numerous bookshelves are filled with art books, classic literature, and true crime works about serial killers. She is outgoing, loves meeting new people, and is always up for an adventure. Jenny hates close-minded people, disrespect, and Ugg boots. Oh, and she hates -- hates -- spiders. Summer: So, I understand you're afraid of spiders. Is the word "afraid" an understatement? Jenny: In most situations, I would definitely say yes. If I see a spider when I’m not expecting it, my reaction is complete uncontrollable panic.
As an adult, I definitely understand the logic of how small things sound like big things at night. It's the Contrast Principle in effect: during the day, there are so many sounds in nature that we're unlikely to hear a tiny mouse scurrying near our feet. But at night, with its absence of light, dull orchestra of crickets, and an imagination open wide, tiny sounds get amplified by our minds. As we learned in my last blog post, in a tent full of scared eleven-year-old Girl Scouts at summer camp, a field mouse scurrying through the leaves = a big hungry bear searching for a late-night snack. At the right (or, well, wrong) thoughts and a tiny mouse becomes a big bear. It doesn't necessarily need to be dark outside for our mind to amplify the wrong message. When anxious, small things sound like big things. When sick, small things sound like big things. When depressed. When overwhelmed. When tired. I mean, think about it: when's the last time something small -- say, washing a load of dishes -- seemed like a gargantuan task? Maybe it was yesterday when your nerves were already abuzz thanks to your colicky little one screaming her head off.
If you're new to my blog, I'll let you in on a little not-so-secret secret: I have panic disorder. With agoraphobia to boot. Simply put, I get panic attacks. Sometimes they're frequent. Sometimes (like right now!) they're not. And, sometimes, I find it difficult to leave my apartment and stretch the boundaries of my "safe" radius -- the area around that apartment that doesn't feel threatening. I'm happy to report that my safe radius is ballooning these days, folks. A year ago today, I could barely make it down the street to Walgreens to buy a roll of toilet paper without feeling faint and shaky. And now, I'm camping in the middle of the woods?
(This is the tenth post in a series called “Anxiety Society,” in which I interview everyday anxiety suffers from all walks of life about their struggles, their triumphs, their coping methods and more. I believe that the more we openly talk about our mental health, the less of a “thing” it becomes. Conversation can reduce stigma, and my interviewees want to be a part of that.) Meet Jemima Puddleduck. If that name sounds silly, know this: even anxiety sufferers can have a sense of humor when it comes to creating a pseudonym for a blog interview! And, if that name sounds familiar, know this: the original Jemima Puddleduck was brought to life by Beatrix Potter, famed author of children's books. Not everyone is comfortable with sharing their real name on the internet. I respect that decision -- especially when the information they provide can help others to better cope with mental illness. I feel that it's better to share anonymously instead of not sharing at all. Jemima is in her late twenties and works in television production. She describes herself as a "lover of anything with a beating heart," but quickly notes that bears are the sole exception to this rule. Jemima also loves running, playing trivia games, and blogging about dating and relationships. She currently resides in Brooklyn, New York.