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Monthly Archives: June 2015

What Goes Up…

Remember how I was still riding the high from my trip to Europe in my last post? Well it’s gone now. Now it’s back to boredom, sadness, anxiety, and loneliness. Interspersed with tennis and dinner with friends, thank goodness. But still. It was nice to be free from random anxiety attacks. From my drill sergeant making up chores for me to do to make my existence seem worthwhile. From figuring out what to do on days when I was not going to have any human interaction.

I guess that’s one of the disadvantages of experiencing something so wonderful: its extraordinariness is only possible when juxtaposed next to the ordinariness of your every day life.

This weekend I had no evening plans so I decided to watch “Still Alice.” I don’t know what I was thinking. I knew it was going to be depressing. Maybe my inner critic made me watch it as a way to shame me out of my sadness: At least you don’t have Early Onset Alzheimer’s, so stop moping around! And I have to say, it was effective in putting my pain in perspective.

The whole time I watched, I was bracing myself for the agony of watching Alice’s cognitive decline. And it was painful, but it was also beautiful, in a way. I was moved by how courageous and mindful Alice was about the process of losing her memory. How determined she was to stay connected to the person she was and to the people she loved.

There is a scene where Alice gives a speech at an Alzheimer’s conference about her personal experience with the disease. She tells the audience that even though she may forget this experience tomorrow, she treasures it in this moment, because speaking in front of them allows her to feel like her old ambitious self: an expert in linguistics who was fascinated with communication.

My other favorite scene is when Alice explains to her daughter why she wears a butterfly necklace. As a child she was distraught when she found out that butterflies had such a short life. Her mother reassured her that although their lives are short, butterflies have a beautiful life.

Alice’s mother and sister died in a car accident. Alice also has a short but beautiful life. She was intelligent and successful, with a great job and a loving family. In one moment, we can be on top of the world, celebrating how great our lives are. In the next moment, everything can change.

It made me think about how all of the wonderful things in our lives are gifts, and no gift lasts forever. And we don’t know when the expiration date is. The most we can do is to fully enjoy them and appreciate them while we have them.

At some level, I think I hoped that practicing mindfulness would somehow protect me from pain, like some kind of psychological talisman. But it doesn’t. Saying good-bye to vacations, to memories, and to aspects of my identity that I hold dear still terrifies me, despite my attempts to blog, meditate, and be in the moment.

But I practice mindfulness anyway, because being fully present allows me to extract all of the joy out of every experience that I possibly can. I guess that’s the most that any of us can hope for.

Photo courtesy of Allison Gentry Szuba

Beginnings and Endings, Part 3

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Interlaken, Switzerland

You know how I said I’m not good with beginnings and endings? Well I think I’m getting better at it!

After obsessing about it for seven months, I finally decided to go on a trip to Germany and Switzerland because I wanted to stop worrying about money and start living with no regrets. But I was still wasn’t excited about the trip until the day we left because, as with the meditation retreat in California, I was consumed by seemingly insignificant details. Things like:

What kind of clothes should I pack? Will I be able to wear anything other than tennis shoes? How cold do I need to dress for the glacier?

Which luggage should I bring? Is there any way I can weigh my luggage without having to get on a scale? Because that might depress me.

What should I do about my snoring? I can’t pack my GERD pillow. Should I go to my dentist and get one of those mouth guards?

Should I try to get cell service? Would that make me obsess about my tennis teams the whole time? Can I go 10 days without texting?

Will I get along with my roommate? Will I feel like an outsider, since everyone else has some kind of German connection? Will I go crazy without having any alone time?

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My fearless travel companions

While my travel companions were excitedly researching our hotels and itinerary, I could barely name two cities we were visiting. Which my friends thought was weird. Which brought up those feelings of not being normal. But I tried to practice self-acceptance and reminded myself that this is who I am. I obsess about all of the things I have to do before I can look forward to any trip. At some point, I would know what city I was in. Hopefully.

And luckily, once I was there, I was fully present. I got a few emails about tennis but didn’t try to fix everything as I normally would. I didn’t obsess about my sleep cycle, even though I got very little sleep. I wasn’t anxious at all on the trip–which is astounding. I didn’t worry about how much I was eating or whether I looked fat in pictures. I just enjoyed the experience of being in another country.

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Mountains and Glaciers

The trip exceeded my expectations in so many ways. Switzerland was breathtaking. The scenery was so beautiful it almost hurt to look at it. No wonder Federer lives there! I tried to take in every detail and store it in memory for future reference. So that when I need an image to make me feel calm, I can close my eyes and remember how it felt to be in the presence of so much beauty.

I got to feel like I was in my early 20’s again, which was an unexpected gift. I sang and danced in the rain, stalked band members, and took hundreds of pictures of stuffed animals. Sometimes when I look at happy family pictures on Facebook, I feel this envy and uncertainty about how I live my life. It doesn’t seem very adult-like. But the feeling of euphoria I had on this trip would not have been possible unless my life were exactly as it is.

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Even riding on the train was fun!

Even though I only knew one person in the group, I felt at home with my travel companions. No moments of insecurity about being accepted. About saying the wrong thing or embarrassing myself. I even blew out all of the power in our hotel with my hairdryer and no one held it against me!

And on my way home I wasn’t sad, even though I would never be able to repeat this experience again. And I wasn’t anxious about returning to the stress of tennis drama, boredom, and loneliness. Today, four days after the trip, I still feel happy when I remember how much fun I had. But I also feel happy about returning to my life of playing tennis and eating out with my friends.

I’m sure at some point this dream-like state will fade, but for now I will allow myself to enjoy this feeling for as long as it lasts.

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Waddles, our trip mascot, getting shot from a cannon at Hohenzollern Castle