My Rebound Boyfriend

img_2080-1    

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. 

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.