It’s all in your Head

This may come across as ranty. That’s because it is. A few weeks ago, as many of you know, I had a brief trip to the hospital. As many others of you know, I was diagnosed with severe panic disorder in 2000.

Based on the responses I often hear about panic attacks, it means, it must mean, that people are misinformed. Or, they’re assholes. As Hanlon said, “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.” So I’ve opted to write this in the form of a PSA, and swap out “stupidity” for “ignorance”.

It’s a Tuesday night. I’ve gotten home from work at a reasonable hour, and am sitting on the couch with a glass of wine, a couple of sips in. I’m relaxed, and my husband has just gotten home and is starting dinner. Life is good. I got enough sleep the night before, ate two regular meals that day. Suddenly, the corners of my vision start to go black, and it feels like my brain is pulling away from the inside of my skull; not pain, just dizzying disconnection. I go to move, but my arms feel insanely, insanely heavy, like I can’t move them at all. I decide to go to the bathroom and have a glass of water. Because I am pretty sure I can’t stand up without fainting, I crawl to the bathroom, and ask my husband to talk to me the entire time through the door, to ensure that I haven’t passed out. My limbs feel like dead branches. When it doesn’t get better after a few minutes, I call an advice nurse while my husband drives me to the hospital. I pick up the cat and cuddle him and say goodbye before I leave. I am not convinced I’m going to see him again. The advice nurse tells me to get to an emergency room and, when my husband drops me off so that he can go park, they take one look at me and let me immediately in without going through the metal detector. When I check in and tell the receptionist my symptoms, I’m triaged first.

(It’s all in your head.)

The medical tech immediately calls an ER doc and, within minutes, my husband is there, trying to remain calm, and I’m being hooked up to an EKG. My blood pressure is 146/110. I’m normally 100/70. Check out this informative link.

My bloodwork is good. Great. I think I’m the only person who ever came into an ER who said they had a half glass of wine who… actually had a half glass of wine. I’m in very good physical shape; I work out constantly. I had to explain the rope burns on my legs to a confused-looking ER team.

So, what does it mean?

(it’s all in your head.)

As with so many things, I think the first issue can be attributed to a language problem. The word “panic” invokes visions of hysterics, waterworks, deeply emotional responses. I’ve come to refer to this as an anxiety attack. Those are easy…simple. There’s usually an obvious trigger; a stressful day at work, not enough sleep, being hungry, anticipation of a stressful event, any number of things. These can often also be mitigated with a few easy… Well, a few simple, tricks. Get enough sleep. Eat. Don’t eat a lot of preservatives and crap. Eliminate drama in your life. When you see something stressful, take a step back, and take a deep breath. Easy. Well, simple. This is not meant to minimize the seriousness of anxiety attacks – just an effort to highlight the differences. Knowing that you’re having an anxiety attack can make it better. Being unsure whether it’s a panic attack or heart attack makes a panic attack worse, without the victim knowing why.

When I mentioned that there is a good chance what I experienced may have been a panic attack (we’re still checking it out), the first question I get is “what triggered it?” My snarky response is often “having panic disorder.” This blog is basically a long and (slightly) less snarky version of that same sentiment. For panic attacks, there is rarely one trigger. If there were an obvious trigger, I could point it out, freak out, call it anxiety, take a Xanax and be done with it. No, a panic attack is something much more sinister. For reference, please check out the link above.

(It’s all in your head.)

But numbers don’t lie. So, you’re sitting on the couch. You’re relaxing. You feel the need to respond to every email you get from every acquaintance that you have, asking for a small favor or response, you feel obliged to do it or risk people not liking you, or calling you a flake. There is nothing in this world worse than being called a flake. Every week, 15 to 20 requests flow in that have nothing to do with your day job, or singing, or even with your work for Thunderdome. And why do these requests keep flowing? Because I have always, always said yes. I have always responded, regardless of the nature of the request, without a lot of thought about the minutes/hours it might take to respond properly and thoughtfully. I never just say no. I have always figured, it doesn’t cost me anything to help people out. I could not have been more wrong.

(It’s all in your head.)

I have a career about which I care a great deal. A flourishing and rewarding singing career. A madcap working vacation in the desert and an endless stream of requests from people who apparently can’t read meeting notes. (I love you guys.) These things are a constant, pervasive pressure. I am well equipped to handle these things, and they fulfill me. But the nagging trickle of everything else? The inability to say no, or even just to delete? Impossible. My inbox, on Tuesday, March 4, was full of “this will just take a second” requests. In reality, full of requests whose responses will take anywhere from 5 to 20 minutes, most of them from acquaintances. Nothing against acquaintances but, when you have a lot of them, there will naturally be more requests. And so it was, but on the evening of Tuesday, March 4, my head decided it was time to rebel against me. Being Marisa was a trigger.

(It’s all in your head.)

The second response I get is “I’m glad it wasn’t more serious”.
They haven’t done the research, they haven’t looked at the numbers, they haven’t seen what an incredible killer this is. The symptoms have a lot in common with those of a woman’s heart attack. That’s why they send you to the hospital.

There there’s the “It’s all in your head.” You know what else is on your head? Schizophrenia. Every thing you have ever learned. Every feeling you have ever felt. Migraines. Love. Pain. So, the next time you get the urge to tell someone that panic is in their head, go ahead and take a mallet and slam it into your foot as hard as you possibly can. I work out a lot, so I can do it if you’re worried you’re not strong enough. Then, as your nerves are sending screaming messages back to your brain, begging you to stop, remind yourself.

(It’s all in your head.)
Better yet, tell a woman in labor that the pain is all in her head. See how that goes for you. Or, if you’re diagnosed with really, crazy, life-threateningly-high blood pressure, just know that it’s all in your head – you can just think your way out of that stuff.

My solution? It seems to be working well. I’m telling people that it’s like I’ve been in a car accident. My body’s in shock, and recovery is slow, and foggy. And that’s after Wednesday the 5th’s weepy ativan hangover wore off. First of all, this whole seven hours of sleep thing is pretty amazing. My body responded to this experience by practically insisting on seven hours of sleep a night at a minimum, and it is fantastic. Of course, I think this detracts from my catlike state of readiness, but I can do this for now. I’m not making plans, I’m not saying yes, and I’m not allowing myself to feel even the smallest bit of pressure based on other people’s expectations. This is the biggest one. When you spend decades saying yes, accommodating every tiny request that comes your way, you set certain expectations of your behavior. That ship has sailed, my friends. And my acquaintances, especially. If someone thinks it’s personal, well… that’s all in THEIR head.

Not allowing myself to feel pressured by other people’s expectations has yielded amazing things. It’s given me vast insight into my amazing friends; the people who are jealously guarding my time and my health. The people who have not seen this as an antisocial act, but a changing of the guard, openness for more spontaneity. I’m not deciding in advance when I don’t have to. And so I find myself doing amazing things on the weekend, or when I don’t have rehearsal. Free, uplifting, amazing interactions that could never have happened in an overly scheduled life. I am free to let go of interactions that were largely one-sided. The Friends I’m gaining through this process, the friendships I get to nurture, are so incredible and fulfilling, that I fear what would have happened had I not ended up in the hospital, had I just kept going on this path, filling every moment with the lowest common denominator responses for the lowest common denominator interactions, never making room for the amazing ones with which I am now rewarded.

I’m a silver lining person. I have found the good in the worst of situations; it’s my combination of snark and optimism that has kept me good-natured through nasty terrain. Maintaining this new world order (now with slightly less order(tm)) will take vigilance and attention; no more setting and forgetting. It will take some re-setting of expectations. I will be ok. I will. It will just take time, it will look different. I will be different. I’ve spent a lot of time taking care of my body; in addition, I’m going to be taking care of my head.



Mansplaining – Exhibit A

I have only myself to blame.

I should have swapped out the battery weeks ago. But, you know, things are busy, my mechanic has been focused on the dirtbag challenge, and the trickle charger has been (mostly) fine. Besides, I normally bicycle to work.

So I rode to the dirtbag today. Delight! I went to Support My Man, you know, like you do. His gas tank would get him about 15 miles, and he needed a jump whenever we stopped. We were quite a pair, but we knew we’d be around a bunch of gearheads and, hey, we have jumper cables.

So, I see Luke off, go about my day (did I mention my awesome new church job?) while he goes on the Dirtbag-only ride, come home, pull my bike off the trickle charger, and go and meet Luke in the city with a whole ton of other crazies. We have a delightful day, we see some stunning rolling art, we catch up with friends. We get ready to go and, unsurprisingly, neither of our bikes start. I open my trunk (yet another point for the 929 RR – you can put heels in the trunk!), pull out the jumpers and start asking around.

Two very sweet girls on Harleys stop. “I don’t know how to do it, but you can use my battery!” “Thank you so much!” Luke and I decide to jump mine first – the minute his is running, we have to leave; he can’t waste the gas idling. So. We take the bike-sized jumper cables, and try. No dice.

Insert Dude No One Knows, “helping”.

“Did you try to bump-start it?”

Me : “No. It won’t work.”

We try again, this time with the girl’s bike running (to jump a bike, in order – bump-starting, then off a bike that’s off, then off a running bike, then off a stopped car, then off a car with a running engine. If it doesn’t jump off a car with the engine on, you tow.).

DNOK : “Is it the starter?”

Me : “No, I need a new battery.”

DNOK’s : “Did you try bumping it in third gear?”

Me : “No. That just makes me all sweaty and doesn’t get my bike started. I need a new battery.”

DNOK : “Are you sure you don’t need a new starter?”

[try with the bike on]

Me : “Ok, it’s not working this way. We’re going to need to try someone with a car. Thanks so much, though!”

Harley Girl : “No problem, have a good day!”

DNOK : “Do you have a rope?”

Me : “You’re adorable. Hey, is someone coming with a car?”


This whole time, Luke’s bike is right there, he’s getting it ready for a jump, and DNOK doesn’t even go anywhere near Luke, nor make any suggestions to Luke. Guy doesn’t stop making asinine suggestions while ignoring me until Luke says “It’s fuel-injected, so it needs a lot more juice to get started.”

It was not until a man stepped in and talked to this guy that I was listened to. Ben and Luke witnessed the whole thing, to the point that Ben was standing behind me, rolling his eyes at the dude and making throat-slicing gestures at him to try to get him to stop talking.


Finally, the bike got a jump – AFTER we switched to car cables, and jumped it… off of a running car (last resort). And made it home – I led my husband and best guy friend in the lane-split through game traffic until we got to Treasure Island.

Deathiquette VI : They’re Not in a Better Place

They’re not in a better place.

How do you know? You don’t. Even if you do know, how horrible is it to suggest that being away from loved ones is a better place? If you have nothing but platitudes, just… zip it. Everyone wants to say something that will make someone feel better. There’s nothing. Americans are terrible at acknowledging that. We have to put a shiny gloss on everything, and attempts to do this during the worst time of someone’s life is when that attempt is the most putrid. It’s ok to say…

“This fucking sucks.”
“I’m so sorry.”
“Do you need anything?”
“I never liked her anyway.”*

And then bring soup. That’s it.

*Friend group contingent. Your mileage may vary.

Deathiquette V.

He was asking for it (shouldn’t have dressed that way)

Traveling the I5 today, I picked up snippets of the Zimmerman verdict from checkings of facebook at various rest stops. A friend of mine changed her profile picture to the silhouette of a hoodie. My first thought was “would the same thing have happened if he hadn’t been wearing that hoodie?” Then I realized how similar this line of thinking was to another line of thinking with which I am intimately familiar. And I was sad; sad for myself, and incredibly sad for this world. When you’re a girl, your parents tell you not to dress certain ways, lest people get the wrong idea. Society tells you that men can’t control themselves, and so you need to plan for that. You don’t wear skirts of a certain length, you don’t walk alone, you don’t don’t walk certain places or with certain people. We’re taught to be fearful of groups of men walking together, even if they’re co-workers. It is so ingrained that, even now, as I get older and thus less of a target than I was when I was young and fresh, these things subsist. So I asked myself a really hard question. If I see a man alone, and he’s on the same side street that I am I, will I cross the street? Would I cross the street if he was white? Would I cross the street if he was black? Would I cross the street if there were more than one of them? Or two of them? Where are my lines? Where are the ugly places in my head? The answer, as much as my conscious mind could come to it, was “it’s based on how they’re dressed.” I ran through different scenarios in my head, and the consistent factor was presentation. If a man in a suit is walking down the street, I might not cross. If a young man in baggy jeans and a hoodie who is slouching is walking down the street, it is almost guaranteed that I’ll cross. All things being equal, the presentation is most important factor. And then I thought of Trayvon. Had he been wearing a button-down shirt, would this have happened? Did his parents not give the speech? “You have to be careful where you walk and how you dress, or people will think you’re asking for it.” Did Trayvon’s father give him the speech my father gave me? “I’m not worried about you. I trust you. I’m just worried about everyone else.” Did his mother not say “Looks like rain! Wear your raincoat. Looks like scared white men with itchy trigger fingers! Don’t be black. Or at least wear a button-down shirt.” Is his mother berating herself now, because she didn’t adequately prepare her child for the world in which we live? The fucked up, horrible world in which we live, the world that says that you have to protect yourself because of your appearance, because people can’t be trusted? I am so accustomed to living in fear of walking down the street, as is every woman I know, that I forgot to consider that there are a million applications of this, alive and well in this world. I realized I had been as surprised by my black friends feeling this way as my male friends are to hear my perceptions of the world.

Then I think of my nephew. Of watching him draw his first breath, and of his sweet face, and his dimples, and I forget that he is black. And I need to remind myself that he is going to experience the world differently because of it. I want this world to be better for him. Boys are so stupid already, drinking and riding motorcycles and falling out of windows and showing off and doing stupid, stupid shit. I cannot … my heart hurts to think of one more thing to teach him when it comes to his safety. I really wish it could be something about rollerskates, or swimming in shark-infested waters. As long as we have to watch what we wear, and where we walk, based simply on our parentage, and how we were born, we are not free.
*This blog approved by Jade, my black lesbian jewish disabled friend, who reviews all my potentially un-politiaclly-correct content, and tells me what to not post…and then I post it anyway.
**I am, no shit, writing this at a Starbucks JUST after crossing into Seattle, sitting outside poaching their wifi… and Redemption Song just came on. No shit.

It’s not selling out (it’s just selling).

Every time a familiar, beloved song turns up hawking Hyundais or British Airways, the cries begin. The cries are never more pained, more rife with perceived betrayal, than when a favored subculture icon’s music is doing the hawking.

Not when their face or voice is used; not nearly as much. Then, it can be about the individual – they needed money. No one cares that William Shatner is selling insurance, or that Kevin Spacey is selling Hondas. Nope, no one cares about the people behind them. But take a song to which someone has personal attachments, one that represents something to them, and use it to sell something to which the listener has no association and you have committed a grave personal injustice.

“What a sell-out!” you’ll hear from the assaulted when they hear Joy Division as the musical backdrop for the latest hair treatment.

What they’re saying is – that was my thing. I loved it first. It represented a time in my life when I was first learning to buck the system. Hearing it used to sell mass-produced items is indicative of end times! It can’t mean both. If it means both, then it means that I wasn’t original, that some marketing lackey figured it out.

These thoughts, these sentiments, rarely if ever spring from the lips and keyboards of people who are supporting themselves as artists. Artists are often mum on the subject. Why? Because their job is to sell. If they hadn’t sold in the first place, you’d never have heard them at that club when you first made eye contact with that boy with eyeliner and that memory would never have been created for you to feel insulted that it was defiled. And, guess what? Artists aren’t picky about who buys their stuff because we can’t afford to be. Sure, in a perfect world, only kind people who donate to the right charities and who have never beaten their wives and who rebel against the same aspects of the establishment that we do would buy our wares. But we don’t get to be picky; selling our goods as-is to the highest bidder means that we get to continue to create on our own terms; it means we didn’t have to change the nature of what we did to become attractive to deeper pockets. Changing what we do, the kind of art we create, our statements, in order to attract that kind of buyer? That is selling out. It is gross, it alienates the original fan base and, to be honest, isn’t appealing to that aforementioned marketing lackey. You know. The one who sourced this music in the first place and sold it to his higher-ups, the one who wore the eyeliner in the club 20 years ago, who thought “If I love the Descendents, maybe other people will, too. And they could probably use the money. At least it’s not Britney.”

It’s a fine line – Morrissey songs being used to sell beef would smack of hypocrisy. But, in most cases, we can take a moment. Sit back a moment and appreciate it. Appreciate that someone whose art you respect (or their heirs. we are getting older as moments go on.) is, finally, making a bit of money from their efforts. Appreciate that, perhaps, this will mean more music of the kind you enjoy, produced by artists you support. Take a moment of glee in saying “I remember dancing to this 20 years ago…” Free yourself from the attachment to who else might enjoy this (and allow yourself to bop your head in time to the latest U2 if you like it without beating yourself up about it while you’re at it). Realize that your perceived uniqueness in enjoying subculture artists is, at best, a misconception and, at worst, an ancient, adolescent, clung-to lie that fits you about as well as acid-wash.

Enjoy the ride – enjoy the 20-or-so year span during which you are most marketed-to – it wasn’t happening when you were 15 and when you hit 60 no one will care about you anymore. Remember that artists and marketing lackeys are people, too, and we all have to eat, and create, and produce. And maybe, just maybe, some 14-year-old kid in suburbia will hear that ad on their parents’ wide-screen and think… I HAVE TO FIND THAT BAND AND BUY ALL OF THE THINGS. And the cycle of life will be complete. And hey. At least it’s not Britney.