Memoir as a Body of Water

Long ago, in the storm rocked Cantabrian Sea,
My friends and I heeded some impulse to strip
And plunge below the jagged breakers.
Blood pounding in my ears the only sound
As waves swirled above like illuminated thunderheads.
Later, we sat on pockmarked boulders at dusk,
An electric charge in the air. Hushed breath, chests rising
And falling as though joined by an invisible current,
The shared knowledge of what we had risked.
Today, I enter the pebbled shallows of a man-made lake.
My footsteps tear through the reflection of pine trees,
Warp their curve upwards with hill’s rise, their sun-bright
Branches greening the water’s mirrored darkness.

Today I’m thinking about youth and the vitality I once had. When I wrote this poem this past spring, I was feeling content with the peace and calm I had arrived at.

But as I’m going through another depression of the agitated variety, my nerves completely shot, I marvel at how I used to thrill at riding wooden roller coasters or swimming in rough water.

Yesterday I took the second Covid booster, which hasn’t seemed to cause me any great distress, but the new medication I’m taking for anxiety has tired me as my body adjusts. I’m still hoping the anxiety will ebb, but so far, after ten days, I’ve only experienced minor improvements.

Guided meditations and lap swimming have helped ease some of the pain. Distractions like walking my dog or gardening when the heat is not too unbearable also help. Remembering that all things change and are changing every moment is a consolation, too.

I copied the owl’s face from the cover of this month’s Atlantic, “How Animals Perceive the World“ by Ed Yong, photo by Shayan Asgharnia

Mother’s Day and the Blues

Today is Mother’s Day, and I’m thinking about my mother-in-law who passed away this year on April 1, just a week after her 88th birthday.

She spent so many holidays and other visits at my house, and although I would not say she was like a second mother to me, she was a positive presence in my life, and she imparted her tidbits of elder wisdom to me and our family over the years.

At the end of yoga class yesterday my teacher wished us a happy Mother’s Day, and I responded that I wanted to wish her a special day, too, because even though she never gave birth to a child, she has nurtured me and many others over the years as her spiritual children.

I’ve tapered off the anti-depressants that I’ve been taking since my youngest son was three months old. For almost thirty years I’ve been on one kind of SSRI or another, all stemming from severe post partem depression and then ensuing trauma.

Maybe because I’m off the meds, a certain kind of pervasive sadness has returned. I’m trying to work my way through the fatigue and mild anxiety in the hopes that my body will re-learn to regulate itself and I can learn how to let these moods come and go without latching onto the idea that I need the SSRI to cope. Thirty years on these meds is a long time. I want to give my body a chance to heal on its own.

What helps me is going to yoga class with my beloved teachers, listening to guided meditations, and being outside under the wild waving trees who stand sentinel over my garden, these oaks and pines that quiver with nonjudgmental aliveness. And tea. Tea steeped in my MIL’s pot.

First Tarot Reading

I received the Oceanic Tarot by Jayne Wallace as a Christmas present from one of my sons. It’s a beautiful deck that appeals to my love of water and swimming, and it provides simple, positive explanations for each of the cards. This morning I did my first reading with it.

In fact, it was the first reading I’ve ever done. Even though the tarot has always fascinated me, I’ve only used individual cards as writing prompts, and I’ve never taken the time to learn the symbolism or history behind them.

My interpretation of this three-card reading, which pertains to past, present, and future, is the following:

I need to let go of the guilt I feel about taking a semester off from teaching English. Devoting time to healing from depression, regaining my energy, spending time with family and friends, and completing my current poetry project are more than worthy endeavors–following this path is lifesaving, at least for now.

Time for reflecting on my relationship with my father and also with all the people I met on the Camino will help me finish the poems I’ve been writing for the last three and a half years.

Time for practicing yoga, reading about Ayurveda, balancing my doshas.

Time for writing in community with fellow poets online–

Thank you to Dave Bonta and Kelli Agodon for continuous motivation and opportunities for building online friendships.

Yoga on the Porch

This past April, my father passed away after a six-month illness. It’s too soon for me to write about the experience we went through as a family, but I can talk about my own health.
I had been experiencing early morning anxiety since November, around the time my dad got sick, and then I started waking in the night with panic.

By the end of April my nerves were completely shot and my “fight or flight” response was firing 24/7.

I ended up finding a wonderful doctor whose integrative approach is helping me recover, and in the meantime, I’m spending my mornings practicing gentle yoga on my back porch. 

My backyard is completely wild and overgrown, a place that could definitely be tagged as a wildlife refuge in the middle of the suburbs. All I hear in the early morning is the wind in the trees and birdsong. 

May we all experience healing and wholeness, the feeling of wellbeing, of feeling safe and secure and at peace.

Keeping the Camino Alive

On a physical level, the best outcome of my pilgrimage is that after 22 years I have been able to go off anti-depressants. 

I don’t mean to judge anyone who takes SSRIs, not at all. We are all trying to figure out what our lives mean and how best to live.  

It wasn’t the Camino alone that helped me ween myself off them. I also had the help of a mind-body therapist who continues to offer suggestions for passing through anxiety and panic, the two main symptoms of the depression I have experienced off and on since childhood. 

If the medications work, then take them. But after more than two decades on various SSRIs, I had fluctuating blood pressure and strange head rushes that led to near fainting, symptoms that have now disappeared since I went off the medication. 

I attribute my peace of mind to the days and days of spending six to eight hours outdoors, walking and meditating. Even though the heat in Georgia can be unbearable, I continue to walk.

Each day is a new challenge in maintaining a balance of body, mind, and spirit. I’m tottering on a fragile tightrope of sanity, but walking and writing continue to be my medicine. 

   
    
    
    
   
Yesterday’s hike:

About 8 or 9 miles, from Burnt Hickory Road to Dallas Highway at Kennesaw Battlefield Park, then on to the visitor’s center and back to Burnt Hickory.

Creatures I noticed:

Dragonflies, ants, butterflies, various birds, including two giant vultures, a wee toad, about the size of my thumb pad, a chipmunk, many squirrels.

I stood still and listened to the cicadas in the trees and the grasshoppers in the tall grass. There was very little breeze, and the trees were still and silent, their leaves dry and weary from the heat. The noise from the highway and the passing trains at times overpowered the silence of the woods.  

It was a heavy, humid trek. I encouraged myself to keep walking by remembering the way I felt toward the end of my walks on the Camino–with sore feet and tired legs, I still managed to make it up those steep inclines. You can do this, I told myself.