I could be dead but my horse Concho saved me. No, it was not something as dramatic as my horse pulling me back before I fell off a cliff, but it could have been just as tragic.
Whenever I exercised or rode Concho at the forward trot or canter I would sometimes feel a tightness in my chest that I attributed to anxiety. Most importantly to me was the fact that my usually very calm horse was also showing signs of anxiety such as spooking or shying from something that hadn’t been alarming to him before, so I was also anxious about his behavior.
I rationalized that anxious feelings would not be unusual since I’d dealt with some difficulties in my life (some of which has been touched upon in other blog entries) and because it had been an especially stressful summer beginning in June when we lost my stepdaughter to a suicide event, so I just chalked the feelings up to anxiety. My own diagnosis was supported by the fact that the anxiety medication prescribed by my primary care physician eased the symptoms. However, I was also referred to a cardiologist to rule out any heart problems.
When tests indicated that an angiogram was needed to check for any other issues I agreed reluctantly, because an angiogram is an invasive procedure where the cardiologist would place a catheter into an artery in my wrist all the way up to my heart!! My first thoughts were that I was fine and I didn’t need that. I’m very fit and eat well — my cholesterol levels have never been high and I am slim for my height. I’m not one of those people who doesn’t take care of themselves or ever exercise so I couldn’t have heart problems, could I? The only thing that made me suspicious was that my biological father likely died from a heart attack. I only know this because his obituary indicated that “Donations to the American Heart Association would be appreciated.” I didn’t grow up with my biological father and only determined that fact a couple of years ago, but that is a whole other blog entry.
My first memory upon awakening from the angiogram procedure was being shown a sketch of a heart that had an area circled with 90% written next to it. It was explained that they had found that the LAD or Left Anterior Descending artery had been 90% blocked. I was told that it had been opened and a stent placed to keep it open, and that I would have to spend the night in the ICU. It turns out that was the worst part — being flooded with IV fluids to the point where I needed to make a trip to the bathroom every hour throughout the night. I focused on the fact that the danger was past since they found the blockage and opened it.
I believe that the anxiety I felt was at least partly because my body knew something was not right and was trying to ‘tell’ my mind that something was wrong. But when I was exercising at the gym on the elliptical I would just push though the feelings and continue because I was fit and healthy. To me it was urgent that I address what I thought was anxieties that I felt when riding because I was making Concho anxious, so it was because of my horse that I went to the doctor and kept the appointment with the cardiologist. I didn’t think I needed all of that medical intervention, but I wanted to get to the root of all this to be able to continue to ride well. I wanted to rule out anything possible that was affecting my horse — and because of that, I think Concho at least played a part in saving me from dropping over from a heart attack. I was told that a blockage like mine was called the Widow Maker for just that reason, and likely what had happened to my biological dad in 1986 before they could as readily diagnose and treat the condition before tragedy struck.
This is not the first and possibly not the last time a horse has saved me. The connections I’ve had with them are so profound that people who aren’t familiar with horses would find it hard to believe. I think that I literally rode my horse Uppie out of the darkness I’d been plunged into following the sudden death of my first husband, and we developed a very close connection. I remember the last time I saw Uppie when he was coming out of anesthesia following a pre-operative procedure. I was told that I could see him only if I promised not to go into the padded recovery stall since he would be very unsteady on his feet when he woke up. When I assured the vet that I would stand in the doorway and go no further, he opened the door. My sweet horse was trembling as he’d just gotten to his feet in the safety of the padded stall. When he saw me, he tried to walk to me, but wasn’t able to. I saw the concern in his eyes and told him that it was OK and that he was a good boy. He breathed a big sigh and stopped trembling. The vet was impressed but I was not surprised and I was glad to be able to see and reassure him, especially since that was the last time I saw him because he died on the operating table the following day.
I believe that our pets and horses who have passed on are waiting for us in heaven because it would not be heaven without them. I especially look forward to seeing Uppie again.
However, I hope that I don’t see him for a long while yet since I’m just not ready to leave here. I have way too much to do before then.
I don’t really watch that much TV, but I realized that the media can have an effect on people first-hand when I saw something on a talk show the other day. It really made me think as the day wore on.
The guest on a talk show really got fired up and started talking in a very hateful manner, not allowing anyone else to speak and share their views, which was the point of the show. This person kept going until the host/moderator had to speak over her and address the hatefulness. The moderator didn’t address what the guest was ranting about, but talked about the widespread hatefulness that seems to be so popular lately, and why she found it offensive. It was then that I noticed something odd. The person who was ranting stopped talking only to smile broadly at the reaction. It was obvious that the person spewing the hate was not just happy, but delighted! What is wrong with someone who so obviously loves to be so very mean and make others angry? Is it because they need company in their hatefulness?
I reacted with what I thought was righteous anger at the person who started spewing the hateful words who didn’t allow anyone else to speak. As I went about my day, mowing the yard, I could tell I had a change in my attitude. I thought about how I would react if someone would try to take something from my unattended garage while I stepped away into my back yard, and relished the thought of how good it would feel to catch someone taking a power tool from my garage. I would sure deal with them! I wasn’t someone to be trifled with in the mood I was in!
But it didn’t make me feel good — about myself, or anyone else.
Contrast that outcome from a particular catalyst to today. At the Neighborhood Walmart grocery, in the produce section alone, I encountered three employees who spoke to me in a friendly manner. In that pleasant mood, I initiated a conversation with a little girl choosing some apples from the bin next to me. Two more employees spoke pleasantly to me in other areas of the store, and I exchanged smiles with another shopper that I wouldn’t have made eye contact with before. The best interaction was when I spoke pleasantly to another employee who I could tell wasn’t quite as outgoing as other people working in the store. I felt good when she smiled and responded to me.
On the drive home from the grocery store, I felt much better than I did yesterday after watching a hateful exchange on TV. Witnessing good or bad things has an impression on us and I choose the goodness. It seems that some people are just hateful and can’t participate in a conversation where compromise and to respectfully disagree can happen.
I plan to refuse to engage with hateful people when possible and talk to others going about their business — like the little girl choosing apples next to me. I’ll sure feel a lot better as my day goes on.
Lovingkindness and hate have one thing in common: they are both contagious. As Ellen says, “Be kind to one another.” If for no other reason than the fact that you’ll feel better!
I haven’t wanted to tell about the new guy in my life. I guess it’s because I’m afraid that it’s tempting fate but I know the reality is that anything can happen under any circumstances so….here goes.
I’ve found the right horse. Not just any horse but a bay roan gelding (a true horse of a different color) with white eyelashes and the kindest eyes. We chose each other, I think partly because we speak the same language. When I first met him he was a ranch horse who had not been fussed over and had some ticks on him. I looked him over then put a hand on his withers as I talked to the owners about him. For some reason — I think he ‘told’ me — my hand on his withers moved down to his shoulder where a tick had attached and I absentmindedly picked it off him and scratched the spot as we continued our conversation. Just coincidence? Maybe. I think it was the beginning of a connection.
When I rode him, his canter was at first brisk until I asked him with — was it my mind? — and weight to slow his canter. He responded and I loved the ride. I walked him over to the owners and told them I wasn’t getting down, but that I wanted to discuss the terms of the sale. You know it’s your horse when you don’t want to get down.
I’ve had him for a while. I rode him with the fox hunt all last season and it’s going well but I haven’t wanted to publicly — in a blog! — talk about him. Kind of like some of those African jungle tribes that don’t name a baby until they are about six years old, just in case something bad happens.
Life can change in an instant but there’s no reason to worry about it. I try to catch myself when I start to think ahead that something bad can happen and to do like the horses and be in the moment. After all, you can’t jump the last fence on the course without first paying attention to the next stride. It’s all one step at a time.
I’m learning the true meaning of the phrase, ‘Be where you are.’ It’s easier to do on a horse of a different color that speaks my language.
Laura was four years old and Marissa was just a baby when we decided to choose a kitty at the adoption fair. We picked Hairry, a young cat whose calm demeanor seemed like a good fit for our family.
But there were bumps along the road to him becoming a full-fledged family member. Hairry delighted in darting out to ambush Laura and bite her ankles, which sent her scrambling up onto the kitchen island, hopping up and down and screaming. So they didn’t immediately develop a close relationship, and we chose another young cat for Laura. Hairry became her little sister Marissa’s pet and he took his job seriously; her room and bed were his domain.
It seemed that Hairry considered himself Marissa’s cat even after she grew up and left home for her dream job. When she came home to visit, Hairry happily slept with her in her bed, purring his joy, and followed her around the house. When her visit ended, he would nap on her bed whenever I left the door to her room open, patiently awaiting her return.
Near the end of Laura’s cat’s life, we took him to the vet for the end, but it did not turn out to be as peaceful as we had wished for, so we decided that when the time came for Hairry we would let him pass away at home, if possible. It was only just a few weeks later when I could tell that it was near that time. Hairry would not eat, no matter what I tried to tempt him with and he sought out strange, small spaces in the house. I knew he wouldn’t be with us for long when I had to haul him out of the TV console where he’d hidden behind the cable box.
I was relieved when Hairry then went to lie on the cool tile in the hall bathroom corner where I could keep an eye on him. I managed to slide a fluffy towel under him, and he laid there for a couple of days. It was heart-wrenching to hear his occasional loud meows, and I would rush into the small bathroom to pet and comfort him, but he soon seemed to have slipped into a coma. When his shallow breathing finally stopped, it was difficult to accept that he was actually gone. I was so glad that my nephew Frankie was here visiting with his fiance Spencer, and it was good to have help — mentally as well as physically — in digging a grave in the backyard.
It took real determination to do the last thing that I could do for our sweet pet, a chore I never want to do. I wrapped Hairry in the fluffy towel with some yellow flowers and carried him out to the yard where we carefully tucked him into his grave. I was relieved to have that job behind me and was able to look forward to plans for the day with my family members.
Back in the house, Frankie, Spencer and I were talking about our plans for the day when we heard five distinctive meows. The mind can play tricks on us and for me, there was a split second that I thought, “Oh! Hairry is OK, I must have dreamed that bad thing that just happened,” before reality set in and I thought more practically that it must be a neighbor’s cat outside the kitchen window that I was hearing. I looked and did not see a cat, but when I turned back to Frankie, his expression was one of wide-eyed surprise.
He pointed to the Amazon Alexa unit and said, “It came through the Alexa! The blue light on top was on so I know it was the Alexa.” Spencer’s listened in disbelief and he asked Alexa to meow, which sounded entirely different than what we’d heard before. He shivered and said, “Let’s get out of here!” as he headed for the front door.
I like to think that Hairry found a way to tell me Good-bye and to let me know that he was OK. At least that’s how it is in Doris Land, i.e. in my mind. I’ve had dreams or heard things from those who have passed on before. I especially remember that after my first husband died in an airplane crash, he came to me in a dream to tell me how sorry he was that it had happened. We had a chance to talk and in a way were able to, if not say Good-bye, have a better parting than what it had been.
In Doris Land, it makes perfect sense that Hairry would find a way to let me know that he’s OK.
No, I haven’t left my husband for the pool boy, I don’t even have a pool. This is another kind of boyfriend.
Jimmy Wofford, the famous coach and Olympic and World Champion eventing competitor wrote about a special horse in his book Take a Good Look Around: “The moment I slid onto his back it felt as though I were putting on a glove. That horse was Carawich. I rode him for four years and there was never a time when I did not feel that he could read my mind.”
In August of 2015, I thought I’d found my special horse. Maybe not as talented as Carawich, but one that was close enough for me. I was convinced, not immediately when I climbed aboard, but when I hopped him over a jump. It brought tears of joy to my eyes.
Imagine my disappointment when I got that same horse home and things began to go south. No matter how much I tried to reassure him or how I rode him, things deteriorated to a point where I felt like the poor horse was convinced that the sky was going to fall any minute, and he used every opportunity to try to convince me that disaster was imminent. That kind of ‘conversation’ with my horse at every ride chipped away at my own self confidence. It reminded me of other difficult times in my life — and worse, they started to catch up with me. Usually, it was around 3 a.m. when all the dark, negative thoughts and memories came back to life, circling my bed as I tried to sleep.
We’ve all had tough times. They make us stronger and teach us many things. But I’d become so vulnerable that I couldn’t get it all into perspective. One low point was when I turned into a quivering mess who couldn’t even persuade my horse to canter during a riding lesson. It was only the fear of what everyone would think that kept me from climbing off the horse and falling into a sobbing heap in the arena dirt. So I sucked it up and cantered the horse, then made the decision to sell him. To my great relief, a friend bought him and they are doing just fine together.
But I remained a nervous wreck and I wondered how just riding a horse had pushed me to that point. After all, I’d been a successful fox hunter for years, and before that had won at Training Level Eventing — jumping 3’3″ jumps across country at speed. What exactly had changed me into the mess I’d become? My trainer summed it up best when she said that a bad match with a horse can take away so much.
I told myself that it was like a bad relationship with a boyfriend, so I found another one.
My Rebound Boyfriend is Dancer, a fifteen-year-old palomino with a broad background that may include western, dressage and who knows what else. He quietly came into my life in the form of a lease, and he has taken on the job of teaching me that he can do calm transitions in gait when I need him to. The ‘conversation’ with him does not have anything to do with expecting imminent disaster, it is more along the lines of, “I’ve got this, just please lighten your pull on the reins to stay off my mouth.”
Because it is so much more relaxing to ride a horse with balanced transitions who doesn’t have to run like a freight train to go into a canter, I am getting back some of what had slipped away when riding my last horse, during those ‘conversations’ where he tried to convince me that the sky was falling and a disaster was waiting around the next corner.
Riding Dancer, my “Rebound Boyfriend,” the sky is a little brighter these days and it is staying up where it should be.
I was surprised about how I felt on the morning after the election — depressed, crabby and feeling a little hopeless. I felt better about 10:00 a.m. after having a little dark chocolate, but the feeling persisted.
It’s taken another day for me to fully realize just why. This election has been trying, to say the least for us all. I don’t discuss politics with my friends because I respect everyone’s views and my friends mean more to me than political viewpoints. After months of reports in the media of presidential candidate’s not very nice comments about each other and minorities, Mexicans, and women, I felt personally bullied — like I was back in high school with that abusive boyfriend.
Back then, the verbal put downs came with split lips and black eyes that I tried to hide because I felt I must have done something to deserve it. That’s what the boyfriend kept telling me and after a while, I believed it. Family members knew about the abuse but didn’t help me, so I had no one to turn to. It was an extremely helpless feeling that has stayed with me to an extent. I finally got that boyfriend out of my life when he got a red haired girl pregnant and married her. She had a supportive family to answer to and because of that, he wouldn’t dare desert her.
So the bully that he was got away with verbal and physical abuse, smacking me around without anyone to stop it until circumstances changed and he left my life. But he found me years later after I had married and moved to another state before internet searches made it easy to find people, which was chilling. When I heard his voice on the phone I was again the scared, lonely girl who felt worthless. But I’d become stronger since high school and was able to tell him we had nothing to talk about and hung up. I thought it was all in the past.
I realize now that after this election, I feel like another bully got away with saying and doing mean things, and it’s hard for me to think that he will now be President of the United States. It will take me a while to process this feeling of vulnerability, but I’m older and wiser now so I think I will succeed.
I’ll just add a glass of wine to go with the chocolate.
There is a saying about worrying: “Worry is like a rocking chair, it gives you something to do but doesn’t get you anywhere.”
I’ve always been a bit of a worrier and lately I chalked it up to the wear and tear of life over the years. Tragically becoming a single parent a few years ago probably contributed to it. There was no one else I could count on and I felt like I had to anticipate every scenario involving my two young girls and be prepared. Then there was that rotational fall from a horse, and dealing with a troubled teenage daughter, etc, etc. . .
I shrugged it off and reminded myself that all that is in the past, and who hasn’t had bumps in their road of life? But with me, it turned into baggage — and mine is all carry on without the wheels. After lugging it around over the years, it’s no surprise that it turned into the feelings that I learned were depression and anxiety.
Add to that the Empty Nest Syndrome that I’m still dealing with. I always said that anyone who cries when their last child leaves home just needs a hobby. Me? I’ll go to the horse barn to ride and be fine. However, I found that my new horse and I weren’t a good match. I think he had some anxieties that spoke to mine and together we were in a downward spiral. I’ve always sought solace in riding a horse, but when I was riding him it was anything but therapeutic. So I sold him to a good friend and I’m glad they are doing well together.
I could accept the fact that the horse and I weren’t a good match, but not how I was feeling. Why was I such a shaky mess on the inside? It got so bad that during a riding lesson I wanted to climb off the horse and fall down into the arena dirt and wail! I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me. I mentally told myself, for God’s sake pull yourself together! I am a strong person — or at least I used to be — so why can’t just suck it up and deal with it?
Even in these currently enlightened times, it can still be considered a character weakness to be depressed and anxious. It cannot be fixed by ‘cheering up’ and being told to ‘just relax and quit worrying about everything.’ But that’s exactly what I told myself until I came to realize that depression and anxiety is a disease that doesn’t make sense because — it’s a physical disease! Telling a depressed friend to cheer up! is like telling another friend who has high blood pressure to think calm thoughts to bring their blood pressure down. Yeah, like it’s that easy to fix.
Anxiety cannot be rationalized away, and it’s especially hard to make sense of it when depressed or anxious people have every visible reason to be relaxed and happy. Recently, Bruce Springsteen announced that he has struggled for years with depression, and who hasn’t heard that Robin Williams, who brought such laughter to others, lost his own battle with depression.
Newswoman Elizabeth Vargas recently spoke out publicly about her anxieties and alcoholism. She said it was the anxiety she was feeling that led her to drink which helped numb her problems, but also blurred anything good and positive in her life. She realized she was being profoundly selfish.
Self-medicating with alcohol, drugs or similar crutches are only a band aide to the problem and I’m lucky I didn’t get to that point. I love being happy and I wanted to get it back. I have some great friends who helped me find a good therapist and the yoga and meditation that I do help me to be in the moment and to control negative thoughts. Properly prescribed antidepressants can be a lifesaver for some people. I know that I may need to go back to the therapist for an occasional tune-up, and it’s OK. It is important to treat yourself like you would your best friend. Give yourself a break, it isn’t being weak to be depressed or anxious. Quite the opposite, a person who is paralyzed with depression and anxieties has to be brave as a superhero to do something about it to get better.
If you are also struggling with anxieties and depression, mentally put on your superhero cape, (or go ahead and tie a bath towel around your shoulders, or whatever it takes to help you make a change) and be a superhero. Life can be rewarding and fun again, get ready to enjoy it.
As a staff writer at Sidelines magazine, I had a blog there about the people that I had interviewed. But there has been some reorganization with the magazine and the blog is gone, so I will try to bridge the gap and add that information to this blog.
Look for some exciting entries very soon!
I woke up last night and couldn’t get back to sleep. Not unusual but this time it was different. I was sad and not sure why. I thought it might be my usual feeling of missing my kids since we now have an empty house, but then I reminded myself that they are all doing well on their own. I was excited about plans to see the youngest soon, so concern for kids wasn’t what was bothering me. I was puzzled for a few minutes as the tears went from my eyes down into my ears. It wasn’t until I just relaxed and listened to my heart that I figured it out. Could it be the date? Yup, that was it. The next day was May 26th.
On some days it seems like two weeks, and other days like thirty years ago, but in reality it was fourteen years since police officers showed up at my front door. They announced that my husband had been flying an airplane that crashed, and he didn’t survive.
“It has been said, ‘time heals all wounds.’ I do not agree,” Rose Kennedy said. “The wounds remain. In time, the mind, protecting its sanity, covers them with scar tissue and the pain lessens. But it is never gone.” Rose was a smart lady, and she knew what she was talking about, having buried several children and her husband.
Life goes on. I met and remarried an amazing man who didn’t feel threatened by my first husband, and tried hard to be a good step-dad. So I’m happy a lot of the time. But the heart remembers.
Since then, May has always been a tough month to get through. There is a cluster of kid’s birthdays, our wedding anniversary and my first husband’s birthday all together. It’s a mix of happy occasions with the reminder that he is missing. Last year was especially difficult since our youngest daughter turned eighteen, graduated high school early with honors, then left for another state in an exciting working student position. I was left stunned and missing her while she was busy and out on her own.
I learned to remember to try not to run from the sadness, and to let grief into my house like an annoying relative at a family gathering. The one who drinks too much and embarrasses everyone by telling dirty jokes. If ignored, grief gets worse. It turns into a mean, nasty dog that will sneak up behind you and bite you in the rear — you just can’t run from it for long. So, I’ve mentally turned around to whack that nasty dog on the nose with a rolled up newspaper several times, then had a good cry. I knew I would survive when the crying led to remembering good things and I smiled while drying the tears from my face, or more recently from my ears.
I guess the trick is to not be afraid to grieve and cry — whether it’s been fourteen years or fourteen hours, and to get some control of it. So if you are struggling, mentally turn around and whack that nasty, mean dog that is grief, firmly tell it to behave, then smile with a good memory.