I won’t just survive
Oh, you will see me thrive
Can’t write my story
I’m beyond the archetype
[I heard Katy Perry’s song “Rise” around August of last year and it about blew my soul wide open. Every now and then, a song just gets under my skin and become self-defining. To me, “Rise” defines my battle with – and continuous defeat of – anxiety. I hope its lyrics speak to you, too.]
This blogpost has gone through something close to six months of revising, editing, deleting, and rewriting as I figured out what I wanted to say.
The original title was “What No One Told Me About Getting Engaged.” I intended to write about how odd it was to be scared after getting a ring on my finger and contemplate the seemingly (hopefully?) normal pre-wedding jitters every bride-to-be experiences.
But over the days and weeks and months, I realized that my nerves were rooted in something far deeper than post-engagement flutters. The dizzying, uncontrollable trepidation that seeped into my head fueled negative feelings (mainly about my own self-worth) that I’d rejected before but wildly seemed completely legitimate.
Basically, this stark, sudden, and bizarre fear took control of every aspect of my life.
For several months after I got engaged, getting out of bed in the morning was a nightmare. Tasks I’d managed to do for months became overwhelmingly difficult. I couldn’t eat without throwing up, and I was constantly shaking, sweating, trying to swallow the dry lump out of my throat, or trying to reteach myself how to breathe.
I tried to cling to any bit of sanity or sense of understanding, like a drowning man clutching at a life raft.
Why on earth would I have any negative thoughts or feelings about marrying my best friend? Why would I have such a fearful reaction to marrying the person I’ve known all along was meant to be my husband?
Nothing seemed rational. Nothing made sense.
I won’t just conform
No matter how you shake my core
‘Cause my roots, they run deep
It took me no time at all to conclude that I was being pulled back into the depths of a deep, dark, out-of-control Something I had beaten down to a manageable Something several years ago.
It took me no time at all to conclude that the time at last had come for me to acknowledge that Something for what it was. And over the months it’s taken me to write this, I’ve unearthed a great deal that I want to share about anxiety and mental illness as a whole.
I’ll be honest.
I don’t necessarily want to share. My heart is beating as I write this, thinking of the idea of those I know and love reading these words.
But a few months ago, when I posted the link to a blogpost about anxiety on my Facebook timeline, I did so in the off chance that someone found it as powerful and relieving as I did.
The response I got astonished me.
Several of my friends called, messaged, texted, and told me in person how glad they were that I’d shared that post. They too were impacted by its message. They too dealt with anxiety. They dealt with other mental illnesses. They no longer felt alone. And speaking as someone who has felt alone in this battle against anxiety and silently struggled with deep depression and suicidal thoughts in the past… those words from my friends hit me harder than I could have imagined possible.
Then, last month, I stumbled upon End The Stigma, a Facebook group dedicated to opening dialogue about mental illness and other struggles that have often been stigmatized as shameful.
People were sharing the badges to which they felt connected, writing their stories of abuse and survival or self-harm and recovery or medical challenges and overcoming obstacles in public for the world to see. Living their pasts. Sharing their stories. It overwhelmed me. It awed me. And as I sat connecting to people I’d never met, it made me realize how powerful dialogue can be.
How powerful it needs to be.
So, friends, it’s not that I have wanted to write and share all this.
I need to.
Oh, ye of so little faith
Victory is in my veins
And I will not negotiate
I will transform….
I have anxiety. And it’s okay that I have it.
I don’t even know how long it has lived with me, a swelling, billowing and consuming force during some parts of my life and a shriveled, almost-forgotten speck during others.
Its roots probably began when I was 12, when my life fell apart for a time until I was 17, but this post isn’t about that. Through years of therapy and self-reflection, I understand why I have it. I understand why it reared its ugly head when I got engaged. Suffice it to say that such a monumental event – exciting but not necessarily threatening in perhaps any other person’s life – brought up a lot of suppressed memories of my teen years, the years my brain literally had been unable to process so it coped by making me forget all the trauma.
Now, that is my journey with anxiety. Understanding its source for me was part of finding my method of coping. But, it is important to understand that anxiety or depression or any other mental illness does not need to be justified with a reason. In other words, oftentimes it can exist for – seemingly – no reason at all.
Every pathway is different.
For me, my anxiety had crawled out of the dark hole into which I had pushed it several years ago, and it gradually slipped its long, clawed fingers back around me before I could even comprehend what was happening.
But there was one big difference this time than from all the other times.
Like the time I was 14, and my stomach problems began because it was forever twisted in a knot of fear any time I was home.
Like the time I was 16, and I missed the first day of school because I couldn’t leave my room without having panic attacks.
Like the time I was 18, and started therapy because I wanted to normal again.
Like the time I was 20, and went through a year of perpetual anxiety so aggressive I quit my job, took online classes, and was terrified to even venture out of my room or boyfriend’s apartment.
Like the time I was 22, and curled into a ball on my bed on my graduation day because I was so scared to leave my room and enter the adult world.
There was one difference this time around.
I didn’t hide it, like I’d tried to do before.
I didn’t deny it, like I’d always done in the past.
I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and told myself, my new fiancé, my family, my friends that I was suffering from anxiety.
When, when the fire’s at my feet again
And the vultures all start circling
“You’re out of time.”
But still, I rise
That might sound super cool and brave to you, but it wasn’t. Part of talking about it wasn’t really my choice. Full disclosure: when my anxiety reaches full throttle, I throw up.
Kinda hard to explain to your fiancé – the day you get engaged – that you’re throwing up in the bathroom in the hotel room just because, you know, it’s all new and you’re really happy, you really are, you promise, it’s just a big change and you’re just excited. No big deal.
Kinda hard to tell your friends you’d rather not go to a restaurant to eat because the last, oh, 47 times you did this you were running to the bathroom to puke or else locking yourself in a stall until you could focus on the world past your own two shaking hands and rattled breath again.
Kinda hard to explain to your new volunteers on orientation day at your job that you’re sick because you couldn’t eat that morning, and your head is screaming at you to just quit and go home and count your losses.
No, the time had come for me to be open. The time had come for me to be honest with those around me and say those words.
I have anxiety.
And… that’s okay.
This is no mistake, no accident
When you think the final nail is in
Don’t be surprised
I will still rise
These past few months, as I’ve been open with people about what I’ve been going through, I’ve mostly had wonderful and understanding responses. I’ve had several conversations with others who too struggle with anxiety or some form of mental illness, and they were so comforting and relieving. My world which had closed in on me in August started to open up again.
But there were a few comments from people that – while they were well-meaning – reflected a deep misunderstanding of anxiety and mental illness as a whole.
“Oh, yeah, I get stressed out, too! One time I was soooo nervous for a test! I totally understand!”
“You?? I just can’t see you with anxiety, you’re so well put-together and accomplished!”
“Have you tried essential oils?”
“Do you do yoga? Definitely look into yoga. And be sure to meditate every day – that’ll kick your anxiety to the curb!”
“Just don’t think about it, there’s nothing to worry about!”
I get it. I really do. People care. They want to help. I got a lot of the same comments when I was 16 and suffering from depression.
“Just think positive thoughts!”
“Snap out of it!”
I think the problem is people don’t know. They don’t have anxiety, so they can’t relate to it.
That’s why I’m writing this. (Hi.)
I want people to understand. I want there to be dialogue. I want people to ask questions and receive answers and start to make connections. So this is just a little of what I want others to know and understand about anxiety as a whole:
1. There is a huge difference between stress and anxiety.
Stress and I aren’t just old friends. We go way back. We’re old flames with one of those dumpster fire relationships in a Taylor Swift song that usually ends in us returning to one another. I think I can count on one hand the number of days I haven’t had stress in my life. But, we get coffee together. We hook up. We have a complicated relationship, but the point is that I can function reasonably well with it.
That’s the point, though. It doesn’t dominate my life.
Anxiety is another beast entirely.
Stress comes from an outside force. Anxiety is an internal force that pulsates through every part of your body without warning or reason.
Stress makes you irritable. Anxiety has the power strong and swift enough to make you feel like you’re about to die.
One night I was trying to describe an anxiety attack to my fiancé and could really only come up with a description of a Dementor from Harry Potter.
Anxiety is a hooded, creepy figure that sucks the good thoughts from your mind and leaves you with terror.
Your vision blurs and you break out in a sweat that makes you feel as though you’re on fire but icy too, in a completely bizarre way.
Your heart doesn’t beat; it contracts. You feel every pulse, every nerve working rapidly, the blood tingling and buzzing as it works its way through your veins.
Your throat dries and you usually can’t speak for trying to swallow and remember how to breathe. Your lungs feel empty and filling them takes every ounce of strength you have.
Usually, you get tunnel vision after a while. Nausea is inevitable.
And for me, if things get really bad, you’ll throw up.
And the thoughts cloud your brain – thoughts you’d normally laugh at and push away without hesitation but, during an attack, you clutch at them and ponder them with desperation.
Even today, sometimes I wake up and the Something is there hissing and spitting in my ear.
Just stay in bed. You’re a failure. You’ll never be good enough for anybody.
It’s like he always said. You’re worthless and nobody ever loved you.
“Knock it off.”
What if you can’t eat again? Then you’ll be dizzy and sick and you won’t do your job right and everyone will know you for what you are: a failure.
“I said SHUT UP!”
But stress? Stress is like Draco Malfoy, who can be fabulously silenced with a swift punch to the face.
2. Anxiety prohibits you from exercising rational thought.
Let me say it louder for the people in the back.
ANXIETY PROHIBITS YOU FROM EXERCISING RATIONAL THOUGHT.
The best way to explain this is with a metaphor.
Imagine seeing a baseball enclosed in a glass cube just feet away from you. Somewhere far away, a voice tells you to reach out and pick up the ball.
So you reach out to grab the baseball, but your fingers can’t penetrate the glass.
“Just grab it,” your hear the voice say. “It’s right there.”
And all the while, you’re trying to move your fingers through the glass. “I’m trying,” you say.
The voice gets irritated.
“It’s literally RIGHT THERE!” the voice says. “Just grab the ball!”
You try. You push the glass.
And self-loathing rises inside of you.
You know how to grab that baseball. You know the motions your fingers need to make to pick up the ball enclosed in the glass. You know how to move your arm to raise your hand. You’re smart. You know this.
But you can’t. There’s a big fucking cube of glass in the way.
Trying to get your brain to understand that your fears are irrational is like trying to grab that enclosed ball.
“There’s nothing to worry about!” the terrified voice inside your head squeaks. “It’s all in your head!”
In other words? “It’s right THERE! The ball is right there! Just take it!”
You can recognize that your fears are unfounded. That doesn’t make them go away.
3. The foundation of anxiety strikes at random times, for no apparent reason.
I must stay conscious
Through the madness and chaos
So I call on my angels
When my anxiety is bad, I can only focus on one thing at a time.
I remember one day, while my future in-laws were visiting, they sat with my fiancé at the kitchen table and I was trying to make a ham sandwich to take with me to class.
There was nothing going on that would have warranted a panic attack. But I was having one anyway.
There was no hope whatsoever of me participating in the conversation. I could only focus on navigating my shaking hands while voices dominated my mind:
Take a breath. Okay, good.
Grab the tinfoil. Put a slice of bread on top of it.
Steady your hands, Lex.
Okay, get a piece of ham.
You’re not breathing. Take another breath.
Oh, God, that was too much of a breath. What if they heard at the table? What if they look over and realize I’m losing it?
Stop. Get another piece of ham.
Nod at something my fiancé said. Pray nobody wants me to speak.
Okay, take another breath. Exhale more slowly.
You can’t open the bag of cheese when your hands are shaking. Stop them.
I can’t do anything.
I don’t want to go to class. What if I get called on and I don’t have an answer?
Open the damn cheese.
I’m really going to throw up. Then they’ll know I’m a mess.
Maybe I should just go back to bed.
You can’t do anything.
Attacks happen randomly.
Even now, before I go to class, sometimes I have to lock myself in a bathroom stall for a few minutes and put my shaking hands over my eyes and give myself a pep talk.
Even now, when I get out of bed in the morning, sometimes I have to remind myself that it’s okay to have a sudden oncoming of fear. Accepting it and facing it head on is more effective than denying its existence at all.
4. If we say no to any social outing or commitment, a) it took every ounce of our courage to do so; and b) we just really, really need to take care of ourselves.
I can’t emphasize this enough and honestly can’t think of too much else to add here.
Medicine for anxiety-sufferers will differ from person to person. This is important. For some – at least, for me – that medicine often means being alone to self-reflect. And in the day-today business of work, school, chores, wedding planning… any free time I have to spare I need to selfishly take for myself. (That’s why I love traveling so much. In exploring other places I explore my mind.)
Please, don’t be hard on those with mental illnesses for doing what they need to do to get by. And on that note….
5. Give us time.
‘Oh, ye of so little faith
Victory is in your veins
And you will not negotiate
And be transformed…
A few months went by after my first initial return of anxiety. With every day I survived, things started to get a little easier.
The more I got through difficult days and the more I talked about my anxiety to my friends and family, the better grip I got on it.
The Something, the huge, Dementor-esque figure in my life started to shrink again. I started to think more clearly most of the time.
The horses at my workplace, to whom I give credit for saving my life when I was 17, did wonders for me. My therapist started to help me get out of my own head, as did my boss who completely understands my struggle. My fiancé, who is the most patient and understanding man I’ve ever known, helped me work through some deeply personal fears which reduced my anxiety immensely.
Then, for whatever reason, I had a really bad day close to Christmastime. I could barely get through the day without having anxiety attack after anxiety attack.
And I forget if someone said this to me or if this was one of my own thoughts, but it came up nonetheless: “But I thought you were managing this really well!”
Well, I am managing this really well, came the other side of that statement. But it’s okay to have bad days.
It should be known that there’s no time frame on anxiety. It takes a long time to get to a place where you feel somewhat in control. And just as is the case with life… the journey will consist of good times and bad.
And I think the main takeaway is this: there are ways out.
There are ways out.
Deep down, we know this. We just need time to find those ways that work best for us.
How much time do we need? Well, it depends. A day. A week. A month. A year. Maybe even a lifetime.
Every day is a new battle. But, then again, even though this concept is sometimes impossible to grasp, every day is a new opportunity.
All of the above are words that have sat on my heart for some time, words about anxiety I wish for others to know and understand and relate to.
Everything else I want to say? Well, they’re words that have sat on my heart for some time, words for those with anxiety I wish them to know and understand and relate to.
Words for anyone with a mental illness.
Words for anyone feeling lost or misunderstood.
I spoke of needing time to find ways to cope, and I won’t ever presume to say there’s a universal fix-all for everyone, nor would I dare to assume that everyone is in a position to be looking for ways to cope.
Asking someone to get help can sometimes be the equivalent of telling someone who is drowning to sing an opera.
So first let me just say this: If you feel like you are in a position where you might need help, but don’t have the ability to seek it or ask for it or even really want it… please call this number. 1-800-273-8255.
It is the number to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, and the individual who answers the phone will pull you out of the water.
You will not be drowning anymore.
You will receive help.
And for those who are ready and willing to accept help, I thought I would share two of the things I personally have found incredibly helpful when things get really, really bad.
1. I talk to myself as though I’m a child.
I often talk myself out of my own head as though I’m a little girl. I imagine five-year-old me, with shoulder-length hair and big eyes, curiously looking around which clutching her favorite stuffed animal, a rabbit she named Rejoice. I have to do this, because only someone completely heartless would talk cruelly to a five-year-old little girl, and I tend to beat myself up a lot.
So, what are you a-scared of? Why are you scared of that? Well, take my hand and let’s explore it together. Let’s be a big, brave girl. Good job! Okay, now what else is scaring you? Oh, my goodness, yes, that’s very scary, isn’t it! And you have every right to be scared. What can you do to make yourself feel better?
2. I name things in a list. For me, it’s all the names of the horses at my ranch.
Don’t have horses? List fruits. List all the animals you know. List your relatives. Write them down on paper or say them out loud or go through them in your head.
The point in all this is to ground you. It’s to get you out of the prison that consists of anxiety-stricken thoughts. I have gone through a great deal in this life, and nothing compares to being trapped inside my own head.
Everyone who struggles with some kind of disorder – be it medical or mental – has the ability to find a way to deal with their obstacles that works best for them. And here’s the really baffling and amazing thing: It can be done.
Against all odds, it can be done.
When, when the fire’s at my feet again
And the vultures all start circling
“You’re out of time.”
But still, I rise
I don’t have all the answers.
I don’t know you. You. You, who are capable of anything and who are the writer of your own story.
I just say this to you as someone who – many years ago – once seriously contemplated different ways to end her life, as someone who once sunk to the depths of rock bottom from the weights of depression and continues to sense anxiety resting on her shoulder:
You are not alone.
You are not alone.
You are NOT alone.
Only you know what you need. Only you feels this way, the way you do. You have a right to take care of yourself.
You are doing the best you can, and that is more than enough.
You are you, and that is more than enough.
This is no mistake, no accident
When you think the final nail is in
Don’t be surprised
I will still rise
Days will be good and days will be bad. Without darkness, there cannot be light.
Sometimes you’ll fall. Sometimes you’ll get knocked down.
But as spoken by the main character in one of my favorite books, “The weakest step toward the top of the hill, toward sunrise, toward hope, is stronger than the fiercest storm.”
Walk on, warrior.
Don’t be surprised
I will still rise
FURTHER READING AND RESOURCES ABOUT MENTAL ILLNESS
This article on anxiety offers some statistics on anxiety as well as a breakdown of the different types. It also discusses some of the physical side effects of anxiety and offers a list of ways individuals can cope.
One of my all-time favorite posts, What It’s Like to Have Anxiety Disorder Explained in 12 Self Portraits is a photo series by Katie Crawford that is incredibly eye-opening.
This comic explains the difficulty in fighting both anxiety and depression.
This blogpost covers eight things not to say to people with anxiety.
And perhaps the greatest comic of all time is Hyperbole and a Half’s Adventures in Depression.
Read more about mental illness at The National Alliance on Mental Illness website. Their helpline number is below:
I walked into Jim’s house/Tierra Madre Horse Sanctuary’s office on a Tuesday morning after I got back from Washington to collect a pile of mail that’d built up in my absence.
It was December 27th, and we’d survived another Christmas. I’d been on pins and needles the whole morning, waiting to hear if anything had gone wrong (our last few Christmases at the ranch have ended in either hospital visits or emergency vets coming to the facility) and practically wept with relief when Leah texted to me to say all had been fine. On this first day back, I was especially grateful that all I’d been briefed about in my absence had been mostly good things about the horses.
Jim shuffled through the mail on his desk, taking out our bills and returned holiday letters to our donors (damn you, USPS) to hand to me, then lastly took out a thick envelope.
“Read this,” he said, handing it to me. “It’s from a lady named Sheila, and she sent us a $600 donation—”
“Well, yes, and she also wrote us a letter. And attached pictures. Of her horses.”
“She doesn’t want us to take her horses, does she??” I said, snatching the letter and looking it over.
“That’s kind of what she’s asking, yeah,” was the response.
“Well that’s not gonna happen,” I snorted. I skimmed the letter. Couldn’t afford horses, divorce, lonely and worried…. I’d heard the same thing a hundred times.
Dear Jim Gath, she wrote,
I was fortunate enough to find you while searching online for a horse sanctuary that could possibly give my two beautiful horses a forever home.
You and your sanctuary truly touched my heart, like none of the others I found online. I could just feel the love and dedication coming from you and your volunteers to seem to care so deeply.
I understand that you are unable to take in more horses at this time (“Damn right,” I mumbled under my breath), but I thought I would take you up on your offer of perhaps finding someplace through you. I also understand that you only take in some of the worst case scenarios.
My horses have been with me now going on 17 years, and both of them will be 23 years old come spring.
I thought and promised them both that we would never separate, that I would never let them go, but life can be cruel, as we all know and my dream of keeping my beautiful and sweet and loving babies is crushing my heart and spirit. I am filling ill all the time and find it difficult to eat, so I need to really push myself, so I can stay healthy for my sweet babies.
When two horses become such a wonderful part of your life for so many years you want to be able to feel peace and pray they will receive the help they so dearly deserve, as all creatures do.
I am in a desperate situation, and will try to keep this as short as I can.
I am a 70 year old woman who was divorced in May of this year.
The divorce decree ordered my ex husband and I to live together in this house until it sells, then we pay the mortgage owning, and close out our joint checking account.
My only income now and will be a small retirement sum from Canada, and $91.00 from Social Security here in Tucson.
I am a Canadian citizen, but U.S. resident with green card.
The court here in Tucson ordered my ex husband to pay me minimal spousal support, but I know I cannot count on receiving it as he is moving back to Canada as soon as we finish off here.
Canada and the U.S. do not have a treaty whereby I can get him to legally pay me that support money.
There is only one vehicle involved, and I was awarded that. A 2000 Ford f150 with about 40,000 miles left on it right now, by mileage going down as errands need to be run and hay to be picked up.
I was diagnosed with rotator cuff injury last Nov. and cannot lift things, as the pain only worsens when I do.
My ex husband has been kind enough to take care of the horses for me this past year, and was also ordered to pay for all their needs including veterinary care, but I will be unable physically, mentally and financially.
I also have extreme depression and social anxiety, which I have suffered from since childhood.
I have not one friend or any family. I will be totally alone, which does frighten me, but don’t choose to think about it if I can.
I just cannot afford to pay rent and other expenses as well as feed and keep my horses healthy.
When I look out the window at my horses they look so beautiful and happy and so innocent. They have no idea of course what the future may bring.
My horse vet was here yesterday and I told him how desperate I was to find forever homes for my horses, but he does not know of any sanctuaries off hand.
I am wishing for a miracle. For my mare “Miss Daisy Mae” a paint Tennessee walking horse and my beautiful Arabian bay gelding “Braveheart.”
Both horses have had their winter shots and semi annual exam.
“Daisy Mae” is suffering from some lameness in her hind end and could possibly have DSLD, but right now she is managing well on Previcox.
“Braveheart” is in really good condition but cannot be ridden as I believe he suffered abuse at some point. (There is a story there.)
I would pray that they could be together forever, as they are extremely close.
I will be praying very hard that you may be able to save their lives from going to an abusive situation or worse yet to slaughter.
They need love and affection just like all God’s creatures do.
Thank you very, very much, from the bottom of my heart for reading this overly long letter, but wanted you to know as much as I could about my horses and myself.
Also I need to tell you that I would never surrender my horses to anyone who could not keep them both and together. I never want them to be separated. If you can help me find my impossible dream, I will gladly make as large a contribution to their new home as I can. it would make my heart feel good to know I could help them as well.
I am also sending a check to Sierra [sic] Madre Horse Sanctuary in hopes that it will help your horses with their daily needs.
My name is Sheila [last name omitted for privacy], and I will be sending along a few photos of my babies in hopes that it could help find them a good-best home.
My situation is not urgent right now but will become so as soon as house sells. I will be desperate by then, and one never knows when a house will sell, this is why I am preparing now and doing my searches.
God bless, and keep you and your angels and all the wonderful people who are part of Sierra [sic] Madre Horse Sanctuary safe and happy.
I sighed deeply, and looked at the attached pictures. One was a low-quality image of a handsome bay gelding. The other was a paint mare, looking at the camera.
Something in my heart stirred.
I tossed them aside. I saw pictures of horses needing homes all the time.
We had 31 horses. We didn’t need any more.
“We’ll put her in touch with our network,” I said to Jim, referring to our network that consists of every nonprofit horse rescue and sanctuary in the state of Arizona along with well-known, regularly checked individuals who save and rehome horses from auction on a regular basis. “Every time we send out an email to Susan she forwards it to everyone and that horse finds a home within a day.”
Jim looked down at the floor. But, he nodded. “Okay.”
A few days later, I typed up a response to Sheila. As I’d told many other individuals before, I let her know that I would be working with her personally to try to help find a home for her two horses and that I was grateful for the dedication she was showing her animals.
Far too often, in a surrender case, the owner is out of time to find a new home, and the result is that the horses are snatched up by a kill buyer.
And we all know what happens then.
I told Sheila that I would be sending her information and story to our network head and that she would send it along to all the horse rescues, sanctuaries, and individuals in the state.
Keeping horses out of the slaughter pipeline is our mission and our priority, I wrote, and Jim and I just want to reassure you that one way or another, we will find your horses forever homes.
Sheila wrote back almost at once.
Thank you so much for getting back to me so quickly, I cannot tell you how very much I appreciate your kindness.
I too have had anxiety and deep depression my entire life.
Thank you for sharing with me, and giving me a little background on your four legged family of animals as well as your two legged ones. I wish them all well and much happiness.
God has answered my prayers. Now I can start believing my horses will never go to slaughter or cruel hands.
I wish I could say more, but keep crying for joy and sadness. The tissues are really piling up on my desk.
I knew immediately when I found ” Tierra Madre Horse Sanctuary” online, that you folks were the ones! It was magical and heartbreaking watching your YouTube videos. I honestly cannot describe all the feelings I had about your “heart filled” work.
I was watching each horse’s face and could almost read their past and present in their eyes. So beautiful and so fortunate to be “home”.
I read all this and smiled. Then, I scanned her letter and pictures of Daisy Mae and Braveheart, wrote up an email to Susan, and sent it off in relief. Our network hadn’t failed us yet. We get requests with regularity to take in horses, and whenever we hit up the network someone always stepped up.
Two weeks later, I checked in with Sheila to let her know I’d mailed her a Tierra Madre painting to show appreciation for her donation and asked how the search was going. I recommended an additional network on Facebook where people post pictures and stories of their horses to find them homes.
Her response – that I got Wednesday – shocked me.
Thank you for your email.
Alexis, I just got back from Canada. My brother is in the end stages of his life, and I unable to function as well as I would like.
No I have not been looking, on facebook or anywhere.. I thought Tierra Madre Horse Sanctuary would help save them. I have never done any sort of social networking. I am a very private person.
Also I am a loner and very seldom go anywhere, so have no contacts regarding horses whatsoever. I asked my horse Vet Dr. Michael Conaway from Reata Veterinary and my farrier Wes Robinson from here in Tucson and neither one knew of anyone.
I was hoping for a miracle in that you could find them a forever home. I wanted to feel that they would be very loved and wanted.
Now I am starting to get very frightened.
I must have read your first email incorrectly, as it gave me hope that my horses could be saved, with your contacts. It is sad to hear that no one has shown any interest to give them love.
I guess there is no one out there who wants 2 horses they cannot ride, and one with beginning stages of DSLD. (it is a very difficult situation).
My horses really, really need a miracle. (someone that doesn’t care about their disadvantages, but will love them in spite of them).
I had and will continue to look online, but your place was the only one that I felt I could really trust. The others made me fearful, and needed me to give them money. I will have very little money for myself as I mentioned, so that would not be possible.
I think I mentioned in my first email, that I have really seen TOO MUCH out there. Things that broke my heart. Things that were acceptable to certain people, but I could not believe, anyone could treat horses with such cruelty and think it was ok because they were humans, and horses were just animals to be used for the peoples pleasures.
It is in God’s hands now. I trust in Him.
Thank you, Alexis,
I read and reread the email, trying to wrap my head around her words. Around two things, mainly:
Number one: This lady had no contacts or network of her own to work with, nor – as it seemed to me – she was at a point in her life where she just couldn’t handle networking anyway.
And number two: Nobody from our network had come forward.
No, I thought to myself. That can’t be right.
I sent what I thought later was a somewhat curt response, telling her that we were happy to help find her horses homes, but that the effort had to be a team effort. As in, we couldn’t be the only ones looking.
Then I emailed the network head – Susan – and asked if anyone had responded to her to say they could take Braveheart and Daisy Mae.
“No one,” she responded.
No one? I thought in despair.
I emailed Sheila again before driving downtown to class, to a) apologize if I’d come off as rude; b) reassure her that we wouldn’t let her horses go to slaughter; and c) ask for a timeframe by which she needed her horses rehomed.
I wish I could give you a date in which Braveheart and Daisy Mae will need their new home, she responded, but this house has been for sale since last May, and it is hard to say when it will sell. When my ex husband and I do get an offer on this property, we are asking for a 60 day close.
The reason I asked for 60 days was to insure the horses would have a good chance to have a home to go to. Right now there it is no an emergency. I will give you plenty of notice.
Living with my ex is just another stressor in my life and why I find it difficult to function at times. I am sure he feels the same.
Unfortunately the Arizona divorce law is such that we must remain under this roof together until the sale is finalized, and any profits from sale will be divided. It’s sort of like being in prison.
I spent all night with a debate raging in my head and in my heart.
Two older, unridable horses needed a forever home. And for the first time, the network we’d relied on for years had failed us.
There’s still time, my brain told me smartly. There are others. Let it go.
But I couldn’t. Yesterday morning – the equivalent of my Saturday morning – I got up, ran errands, came home around noon, and started making lunch.
I paced back and forth in my kitchen. You know those cartoons with the angel on one shoulder and the devil on the other? It was like that for me.
We couldn’t take in two more horses.
We had an open pen. And for God’s sake, those two horses probably ate the same amount of hay Bentley alone ate in one day.
Your volunteers will riot. We already have 31 horses, all of whom need daily care and love and attention.
Should I contact out of state rescues? But how would Sheila afford a trailer to move them? How would we ensure their safety?
Your management committee will want your blood. We just met to talk about how we needed to stabilize our organization and prioritize our short-term and long-term goals.
Two lives. Two innocent lives.
What if people left? What if people got fed up with the number of horses we already have and stormed out our gates after hearing we’re getting two more?
No one had come forward to take them. It’d been two weeks.
So what?? We can’t save them all. And there’s still a chance. More people to contact Sheila and offer a forever home.
Who? Who would take in two older, unridable horses??
I couldn’t handle it anymore. I called Jim. If anybody had the right to tell me no for what I wanted to do, it was the person whose finances had kept the ranch going for many years and continues to keep it going when we’re short.
“Okay, just hear me out,” were my first words.
I told him the story. Jim listened patiently.
“You know, every time I’ve taken in a new horse,” he told me, “people told me I was crazy. They said, ‘Jim, you don’t need another one.’”
I was silent. I’d been one of those people. I still can be.
“But,” he went on, “I get letters and pictures and stories all the time. I don’t respond to most. But there are just some where I feel that that horse needs our help. Something deeper. Something different. I felt that when I opened Sheila’s letter.”
“We keep talking about solidifying our structure and going back to our roots and rewriting our bylaws…” I said, turning off my stove so I wouldn’t burn the chicken I’d set in a pan and forgotten about, “but I think this is the core of what we are and what we do. Jim, they have nowhere else to go.”
“And our mission first and foremost is to save horses.”
“It is,” he agreed. “And they’ve had a good life. They’ve had love. To break that would be a crime against nature.”
And so, as soon as I hung up the phone with Jim, I dialed Sheila’s number and waited with a beating heart as it rang.
Knowing what was at stake.
Knowing there would be those within Tierra Madre who would not be happy with me.
But knowing what I’d known all along from the depths of my soul since the moment I saw the pictures of Daisy Mae and Braveheart: they needed us.
And – I’m not making this part up to make the story more flavorful or help my case at all – the smallest, most dejected, driven down voice answered.
“Hi, is this Sheila?”
“Sheila, it’s Alexis, from Tierra Madre Horse Sanctuary.”
She sniffed a little. “Oh, hello,” she said in a flat, empty tone.
“How are you?” I asked.
I can’t make this stuff up. She told me she’d just gotten off the phone with her brother. He lives in Canada (I gathered) and had just requested to receive euthanasia in the hospital. He would be passing away within a few days. [UPDATE: As of yesterday evening, her brother has passed away.]
I listened in stunned silence as this broken-hearted lady spilled her heart out to me. She hadn’t been kidding in her letter (not that I’d expected her to). She had no one.
“I’m so sorry,” was all I could say.
“Well,” she mumbled. And she paused, then asked tentatively. “Do you have any news for me?”
Oh boy, do I ever.
“Well, Sheila,” I told her, struggling to keep the emotion out of my voice. “I do.”
I took a breath. “Ever since we read your letter and saw the pictures of Daisy Mae and Braveheart, I just have to say… our executive director, Jim felt a connection to them. I did too.”
At this, she let out a little cry and began to weep.
“I mean it,” I said. “I see pictures of horses needing homes all the time. But listen. I just got off the phone with Jim and Sheila, we’re gonna take them.”
I’ll be on my deathbed someday, looking back on my life, and I will remember the moments that happened after I said these words.
She cried out again – a joyful sound I’d never have expected from her – and began to sob uncontrollably. “God answered my prayers, God answered my prayers,” she bawled. I started crying too, but caught phrases: “Oh thank you, thank you.”
“You just get them to us,” I managed to say. “Just get them to our gates, and we’ll do the rest. They’ll be loved for all their lives. You don’t have to worry any more.”
She cried and cried and thanked us over and over. “You are angels sent from God,” she sobbed. “Good things are going to happen to all of you there, I know that. They’ll never hear a cruel word. They’ll never be separated. They’ll never know a horrible fate. Oh, Alexis, thank you, thank you.”
I listen to the logical part in my head every minute of every day. I’m a list-maker, a task-checker, a systematic creature of habit that abides by rhythm and plans and schedules.
I listen to my brain which guides my choices and my actions and my life.
This time, this one time, I listened to my heart.
And as Sheila and I hung up, as I sat in the knowledge that two more innocent lives were saved and that we’d helped a very lost human spirit in need, I will never regret it.
It’s been ten years since a day that shook me to my core and set a precedent for how I would drive for the rest of my life.
It’s been ten years since the brief time I lived in Bradenton, Florida – six months of hell that almost destroyed me – and within those six months came a day one of my fellow high schoolers was taken from us far too soon.
November 20th, 2006.
It was seventh period, the end of the day. I was in chorus class, my chosen elective. We had broken into groups to practice for our upcoming winter concert when over the intercom came an announcement from our principal. We were to stop lessons immediately and turn on the classroom TV, to the live school news station.
My teacher flipped on the TV and we watched silently as my principal came on the screen, looking shaken and serious and terribly, terribly grave.
I remember my heart sinking. I remember watching him talk, telling us that a sophomore named Tyler Isenhour had left school earlier that day with a friend, lost control of his car, and crashed into the median before flipping his car over into the side of the road.
His friend had been wearing her seat belt. She walked away.
Tyler hadn’t been. He didn’t.
Ten years have passed since that day, and I’ve never forgotten the way my principal’s voice had cracked as he begged us to always, always wear our seat belts.
I’ve never forgotten the horrified silence that followed the end of the announcement that lasted minutes, hours, days for all I knew.
I didn’t know Tyler. I’d seen him a few times, walking around school, but with the thousands of students that attended my high school I’d never talked to him.
But knowing that it had been one of us that’d been killed and not just some other student on the news absolutely shook me.
We had to take the road on which the accident occurred home. I remember my mom driving by the cones and the police cars – I can’t recall if Tyler’s car was still there or not – and thinking to myself, That’s where it happened. Right there. That’s where he died.
And from that day on until the day we moved away from that wretched, god-awful place, we’d pass that spot in the car on the way to school and I would think of how on those grounds, an innocent boy, only a year older than me, had gone away and would never come back.
It’s been ten years and I still remember that. I’ll always remember.
Every time I sit down in my car and pull my seat belt across my lap, I think of Tyler.
Every time I think that I’m just going down the street, or that I’m in a hurry, or that my trip will only last a few minutes and just maybe a seat belt is unnecessary, I think of Tyler.
Every time I have passengers in my car and have to wait for them to buckle up before I hit the gas, I think of Tyler.
“If you guys go forth today always wearing your seat belts,” my principal had said to us that awful day, “then maybe Tyler won’t have died in vain.”
The day after Tyler died, my mom insisted I stay home from school since grief counselors were going to be on campus all day and she didn’t think I could handle the atmosphere. I protested but eventually agreed to stay home. And I tried to do homework but I could think of nothing but Tyler and somehow finding a way to honor him, to remember him. Eventually, I wrote him a song.
Back then, I wrote songs on my piano quite often. It was my way of coping with the living hell I was going through, and some of them I still remember and play to this day. The chorus to Tyler’s song summed up everything I felt on that cold, cloudy day ten years ago and still captures my feelings perfectly.
Always wear your seat belts, guys. If for no other reason, for a sixteen-year-old who had his entire life ahead of him taken away in moments.
Never knew seconds could be enough
Never knew God could take someone so young
Sometimes I wonder, I question fate
Was it meant to be, or was it a mistake?
The rest of the world will go on and on
Acting like nothing was ever wrong
Our lives are paved, but we just don’t know
For now, it’s a broken road
Read the original news article here.
On this Election Eve I want to tell a story.
Earlier this evening I was walking towards the salad and sandwich place at which I often stop for dinner before class. An elderly homeless man was standing a bit away from it, holding out a cup and asking passerby for change. We’ve all seen those situations.
He softly asked me for money and I said I didn’t have any and walked away. My mind usually goes back and forth when it comes to those who are homeless. On one hand I know of the circumstances that exist which would keep people on the streets: mental illness, drug dependency, faulty insurance… And on the other hand on my crabby days I get pissed at those asking for my hard earned money and think that if I can bust my ass to eat and put a roof over my head, they can, too.
As I walked away I didn’t feel either of those things.
I just felt sad.
Sad because we live in a nation where homelessness is a problem. Sad because I didn’t know this man’s story and perhaps I’d judged him unfairly. Sad because he was alone.
And in those few moments, perhaps I felt sad too because for the past few months I have felt that this entire country is made up of people who are alone, in a way.
Alone with their anger.
Alone with their hopes.
Oh, there have been rallies, yes. Lots of joining together and cheering and chanting and organized gathering for what several groups of people believe is right.
But to me, we are all alone until we are able to unite despite our differences.
As a nation, we are all alone until we live with a little less judgement and a little more acceptance of those with whom we do not agree.
There are only two emotions from which all other feelings are derived: love and fear.
And we will all be alone in this world until we focus on the latter.
So I turned around.
And I walked back to the homeless man and asked if I could buy him dinner. He happily asked for a meatball sub from Subway, and after I got it and brought it, chips, and a drink out to him he smiled and carefully tucked the food in his bag before walking away.
A president is of the people, for the people and by the people. He or she is only as strong as his or her nation.
Please, let’s remind whoever we call President by the end of tomorrow that we are united. Let’s remind him or her of the values on which this country was founded and hold the new Commander in Chief to a high standard. Furthermore… Let’s hold ourselves to a high standard. That goes for supporters of all candidates.
We only have each other, guys.
Love, not fear.
(Featured image source: https://www.jacobinmag.com/2014/11/serve-the-people/)
Yesterday evening I was sitting in my car in the ASU Cronkite lot, putting food in my face, when a guy came up to my window and indicated I should roll it down.
“Hi,” he said, “do you know you’re getting a flat tire?”
I’m pretty sure it took me something like twenty seconds to respond. It was Monday night, I was about to walk into my last in-person class of the semester, I was still recovering from a huge fundraiser my work had all day Saturday, I had about ninety seven end-of-the-semester assignments on my mind, I had just finished checking my email to discover I had at least twenty of them needing a reply and…
“Well, my light came on yesterday night,” I said vaguely. “Um, the pressure light. The light on my dash saying I need to fill the tires.”
The guy nodded. “Cool. Just wanted to be sure you knew.” And he walked away while I stared out my window, my bite of salad halfway to my mouth, wondering for the fortieth time in the last few weeks what I was doing, juggling a billion different things at the same time, doing nothing but school and work as evidenced by the fact that I was sitting eating dinner with my textbook propped open next to me in my car that was apparently getting a flat tire.
To ease my mind, I got out of my car and looked at the two tires on the driver’s side of the car. Somehow, within my completely fried brain, I made the connection that if those two tires were fine then all four of my tires were okay, albeit a little low on air. I figured that’s what the guy meant. My tires were just low on air. No problem. I’d fill them up tomorrow, at a gas station that was not in downtown Phoenix at night where I’m pretty sure not knowing how to fill tires would be the least of my problems.
I got back in my car, finished my food, checked my makeup in the rearview mirror to confirm I didn’t completely look like a zombie, gathered my books, and got out of my car again to go to class.
And looked at my other two tires.
Getting a flat tire, alright.
When I’m in my final stage of exhaustion before I completely break down, everything becomes funny to me. I think it’s a defense mechanism. Laugh so you don’t scream and bang your head into a wall cry. That sort of thing.
So I started laughing, thinking that my car had decided to show me what my brain was going to look like in a week or so, when all my classes are done and I completely forget the material I’d learned. I jokingly texted my boyfriend the picture of my tire with the caption “Wat do.” I figured dang, I needed to fill them, stat, especially the back right.
And long story short, because I didn’t want to go fill the tire at a gas station in downtown Phoenix at night by myself and he didn’t want me driving on a deflated tire, my boyfriend drove downtown so he could go with me.
Some knights don’t come riding up in shining armor. Sometimes they come driving beat up ’97 Saturns.
When I got out of class he was already at my car, investigating. When I’d texted him the picture, there was still a significant amount of air in the tire. At the point he arrived in the parking lot and I got out of class, it was completely flat. Crap.
We got out the spare and the jack, couldn’t figure it out, said screw it, and called AAA.
“Okay, so we’ll be there between now and 8:47pm.”
It was 7:20pm. Double crap.
Luckily, a very nice police officer nonchalantly rode up to us on his bike (there are cops that roam around campus during the day and the evening) and offered to help. At one point my boyfriend said that he thought we could handle it. The cop said, “I’m bored. This’ll give me something to do for a few minutes.”
Turned out he changed tires all the time and he changed mine in about twelve seconds. Alex called AAA to tell them not to come while the cop and I chatted about drunk students and drunk homeless people he’s had to deal with. Poor guy. Being a police officer can’t be a fun job.
Before I got in my car to drive home, he and my boyfriend both warned me not to drive fast on the freeway since the spare wouldn’t be able to handle it. “Be sure you go to somewhere like Discount Tires tomorrow – don’t go to a gas station to just get the others filled,” the cop said. My boyfriend and I thanked him profusely and he left.
It’s a slow drive through downtown Phoenix to the freeway, so I was fine driving reeeeeally slowly on the service streets. But once I got onto the freeway and started needing to go fast, people behind me started getting seriously pissed. I didn’t want to drive over 40-45, so when I was only going 45 in the acceleration lane everyone stuck behind my car wanted my blood.
So I did something that changed everything. I put on my hazards.
Now, I’m not entirely sure that driving with your hazard lights on is legal. Several cop cars blew past me and no one stopped me, so it must have been somewhat acceptable. Either way, I didn’t care.
Because once I put those hazards on, once I put out the message to my fellow drivers that hey, I need to drive slowly right now, dammit, so get off my freaking back, boy did those people change their tunes. People stopped tailgating and honking. They politely went around me and gave me distance and just let me and my car do our thing as we went clunkity clunk up the I17.
And in my state of utter exhaustion, there I was laughing the whole way. Somehow, it was just so appropriate. I couldn’t get over the fact that the minute I simply let the world know that my car was falling apart (sort of) and to back off while it was down, everyone went out of their way to make my life easier. Once they saw the hazards, they knew the situation was escalated and not to try and mess with me.
I imagined what some of the other drivers might have been thinking as they swerved around my car.
“CRAZY BITCH GET OFF THE ROAD YOU PIECE OF—Oh, hazards. How sad, she must be falling apart.” -swerve-
“Oh look, she’s about to go kaboom. Alright, I’ll give her some space.” -swerve-
It was simply amazing. I didn’t have to worry at all. Everybody just left me alone.
And I got to thinking about how this is where I’m at right now. Finishing up my semester, struggling to keep up with work without an administrative assistant, everybody needing something from me all at once, recovering from a 60 hour workweek last week, and very close to absolutely losing my mind. Falling apart. Trying to keep moving down the road with a flat tire.
So what do I need to do between now and May 9th, the start of my first glorious vacation since December, when I took three days off of work to go to Vegas?
I need to put on my hazards.
Do I want everyone to leave me alone? Of course not. And besides, I can’t stop working, because I’ve got an organization to run. I can’t stop doing school, because I refuse to let my grades take a hit.
But I sure can make it clear to the rest of the world that I need just a little bit of understanding. I need just a little more time to get where I’m expected to go. I need just a little bit of swerving around my slow-moving car at the moment.
So, other drivers? My hazards are on, and while the car isn’t stopping any time soon, for now it’s not going to go as fast until it gets that tire replaced.
I have started, stopped, restarted, erased, started again, and temporarily given up on about twelve blog posts over the past few months. I’ll get the idea for a post based off life observations, random epiphanies, or stories from my life that hold some kind of personal meaning (all of which stick to the theme of this blog)… and then I just can’t finish them.
Why? It comes down to a lack of time and energy.
And there are some good posts in the making, if that counts for anything. Just a few that I’m really trying to finish are “Fair,” which is about the realities of adulting, namely spending all earned money on bills; “Punishment by Kisses,” which is about my discipline tactic for Theon, our absolutely insane kitten-almost-grown-cat, and “The Weirdest Thing I’ve Ever Wanted,” which is about…well, I’ll get around to writing about that level of crazy soon.
That’s what I keep telling myself, anyway – that I’ll get around to writing down all my ideas eventually.
And I’ll also get around to vacuuming my apartment, and scrubbing my showers, and deep-cleaning my car, and maybe trying out a new recipe, and actually reading all the pages in my textbooks, and answering all the texts I get when I receive them and not putting off replying for two days, and meeting up for dinner or coffee with my friends to assure them I’m still alive, and going through my closet to throw out things I never wear and and and –
Honestly, I think that the reasons prohibiting a steady stream of posts on this blog can describe my life right now.
Only work and school. And eating occasionally. Though to be fair, I very rarely sacrifice sleep. I go to bed and wake up at the same time most days in order to get my eight hours.
So, okay. Work, school, and sleep.
I’m sitting here at my kitchen table on a Friday night, which is my Sunday because my workweek starts on Saturday. I have laundry in the dryer, dirty dishes in the sink, and about 47 million homework assignments in my head quite literally giving me panic attacks if I think about them too much.
I went to a Carrie Underwood concert last night (which was AMAZING), and the only downside to it was that I didn’t get to bed until 1 in the morning, which is about five hours past my bedtime. And I can’t sleep in to save my life (see above), hence why this whole day has gone by in a haze of exhaustion.
So naturally I’m writing this post rather than doing my homework. After, oh, eight hours of trying to study, I’ve given up. For tonight, anyway. But now more than ever I just want to give up forever.
Even with sleep.
My apartment needs to be cleaned. I haven’t gone grocery shopping in over a week. Gypsy – our six-year-old calico kitty – peed on the couch cushions for two consecutive nights now so the couch is taken apart and the covers are sitting on top of the washer. She has an appointment to see her vet on Sunday since peeing on the couches in the past always meant that she came down with a UTI.
And as I sit and look around I realize that I haven’t had the time or energy to do anything besides work or school since January. Sooner later, I figured, I would start to feel the strain, but that I’d be able to handle it when it came. But after several months of a balancing act… something eventually has to give. I fear that thing is my sanity. Or my health. This past week I’ve just felt awful – nauseous and weak all around. Stress does wonders to the human body.
Where am I going with this post, other than to shamelessly and selfishly complain about first world problems on social media? I have no idea.
I guess all I intended to say is that I knew I would break down eventually.
I am taking a week off (an entire week!) in May, during which I will have no work and no school. At long last, I’m going to Monument Valley for one or two of those days, and my boyfriend will probably tag along. We are both in desperate need of a vacation – or at least a date. This vacation is going to be what gets me through.
Until then, I have a huge work event to help run (which, to be fair, is going to be incredible – details here: https://www.facebook.com/events/521077841398233/) and two classes worth of final papers, assignments, research article summaries, discussion board posts, and textbook analyses due in the next few weeks.
One other blog post I’ve attempted to work on is “Adulting Definitions,” in which I give my own definitions to words or terms. One of my terms is grad school, and it is currently defined as “two years of making bad decisions and justifying them.”
Guys, this is hard.
I thought undergraduate work was difficult. And it was. Undergraduate degrees are brutal.
But it was all just a sample of the daily hell that is grad school. For the first time since I started my program in January, I am truly beginning to question why I started.
Luckily for me, the reason I started is the reason that will keep me going. All 32 reasons will keep me going.
To all of my ranch friends and coworkers reading this….please let this blogpost serve as an explanation as to why I haven’t answered your emails or texts yet or sent donation receipts or planned meetings or completed my part of a group task.
No time, no energy might be the theme of this blogpost, but I know that life is a battle of finding both for the things that are important.
Life, you haven’t won this round yet.