My Rebound Boyfriend

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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. 

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Thoughts Following the Election

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.

Worry, Anxiety, and Getting Up From the Rocking Chair

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.

Update

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!

 

Entertaining Grief or Thoughts at 3 a.m.

FullSizeRender (2)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.

Time Traveling After Taking The Time to Smell the Flowers

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The iris are blooming again.

I closed my eyes as I caught the scent of an especially beautiful purple bloom and went back to another spring day when I’d stopped to smell the iris.

I could again see the iris plants that surrounded the back porch of the house I grew up in and hear the distinctive click of the latch on the back door before my sister came out. She was carrying the rug that went next to her bed and some tin play dishes. I also carried my rug and some saltine crackers. We trotted across the yard next door — Grandma’s yard — to the line of forsythia bushes that marked the boundary.

Between each bush was a room. Into our kitchen went the tin dishes, my sister’s rug covered the floor and made a place to sit and eat. My rug became a bed for our bedroom and next to that, a bathroom — handy for avoiding those pesky trips indoors.

I smelled the iris again and went back to another day when we were filling May baskets we had made at school, construction paper rolled into a cone with a strip of paper for a handle. My sister and I would fill them with cherry blossoms from our grandma’s orchard, (“Don’t let her see you!”) and purple and yellow iris blooms.

Then we would ring doorbells, (Aunt Ethel and Mrs. Fletcher were the only people we knew who had doorbells) and hide while they opened the door to find our makeshift baskets on their porches. Maybe those baskets were what kept Mrs. Fletcher from calling to complain to our mother when we would chase her cats. (The darn cats were just so unfriendly, it was too tempting!)

My dog’s cold, wet nose on my leg brought me back to the present as mud seeped between my toes and the rain began to drip down again. But maybe, in a way, I’m still back there. . .

Saying Good-bye

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Marissa and Badger at his birthday last year, and schooling at home.DSC_0300

For the first time I can recall, I prayed to a Saint a couple days ago. I guess those of the Catholic faith do that, but being a Methodist, it wasn’t something I’ve done.

I was conducting an interview that day by phone before writing a profile article. I record the conversation by putting my phone on speaker and placing it in front of me next to my recorder. So when a text appeared at the top of my phone screen, I couldn’t ignore it. Especially since it was about my daughter Marissa’s horse Badger, who was at the vet’s where he was being treated for a bout of colic.

“He is not responding and he is in so much pain. I think it’s time to end his suffering.”

While my interviewee was answering my most recent question, I tapped out a short text answer. Knowing the time line and treatment we had already tried for Badger, I could only agree, thinking with great sadness how our sweet horse was suffering. The very nice lady I was interviewing is also a horse owner and she seemed very understanding as I mumbled something about Badger, but I couldn’t possibly talk about this without losing control, so I took a deep breath and pressed on with the interview.

I went through my list of questions automatically, having successfully compartmentalized my feelings. I thought of Scarlett O’Hara saying ‘I’ll think about that tomorrow.’ Well, thank God for the recorder, because I’m not sure if I even knew what was said in response to my questions, but I managed to conclude the interview.

I called my friend Richal who had Badger at her barn, since Marissa is off in another state as working student to a Grand Prix jumper professional. We decided that I would go to the vet’s to be with him at the last.

Being able to mentally compartmentalize is a very good skill, especially when driving, and I arrived safely.

Although he was heavily sedated because of the pain, I think he knew I was there, even as he took his last breath. It was then that I prayed to St. Peter, because I’m sure there are horses in heaven — it’s heaven so there must be, right?

In my first conversation with a Saint I said:

“Saint Peter, open the gate wide and send out the light. Call Badger’s name and watch for him in case he is lost in the dark on his way, don’t let him be afraid. He is a very much loved, sweet, gentle soul and deserves one of the best places in the kingdom over the Rainbow Bridge. I didn’t say amen, I whispered in Badger’s ear as he took his last breath, God Speed!”