Sunday, September 26, 2010

Fear Is Crippling

“Tell me now, what was my fault in loving you with my whole heart?” – White Blank Page by Mumford & Sons

There seems to be a reoccurring lesson for me in everything I am doing right now, which I can only identify as the constant internal debate between “falling in love” with everyone in my life and with everything I do, and distributing my energy in neat little portions. Ever since I began to care about my sense of self, and undertaking the emotional journey that is self-discovery, I have dealt with this. For a long time I was numb to everything and everyone around me. I didn’t cry for like, four years. Then when I truly fell in love for the first time, I discovered again what it meant to really feel. The transition was 180 degrees. I felt everything in excess and I began to withdraw again. Since then I’ve kept an extremely close watch on what I give myself fully to and what I tend to withdraw from. I’ve always held in very fragile balance the will to stay committed to things that could end up hurting me.
What really got me thinking about this again was actually The Daily Coyote, which oh my god, everyone in the world needs to read. It is the memoir of Shreve Stockton, who goes from fast-paced city girl to small town Wyoming, girlfriend of a cattle rancher. I resonated with it in about a hundred ways. The book is a year of her journey after she is granted the care of an orphaned coyote pup. Shreve is incredibly insightful about herself, everyone and everything around her, as well as being extremely dedicated to everything in her life. When she made the choice to take the care of Charlie the coyote into her hands, she made that choice whole-heartedly. She spends the next year learning literally everything about him and growing to understand their relationship fully and completely. In the process she grows to understand herself and her other relationships more fully as well. She knows full well that he is a wild animal and their story could very well end unhappily, but she perseveres.
Today, Laura and I came back from the Tucson Reptile and Amphibian Expo (a story for another day, haha) to find that two of her horses were acting sick and colic-y. Both of them are doing okay now, but I sat and took note to how I was reacting to the situation. My first reaction was to want to stay in the house while the vet dealt with everything. I was scared that it would end badly and I’d have to deal with the heartbreak of my sister losing two of her horses. I was drowning in the worst-case scenario. I did go outside to watch everything, but I felt distant and disconnected. I didn’t want to care about the horses so it didn’t have to hurt me that they were hurting. But I sat and watched and forced myself to let worry in. I watched as they pumped Jazzpur’s stomach, and while he got a bloody nose from the tube that was up his nose, and down his throat. It honestly just left me in awe of people like my sister and Shreve Stockton that can give themselves so fully to loving and caring for a creature that really at any second could drop dead. It made me realize how not ready I am to make that commitment to an animal. Because if you’re not loving and caring for it 100%, you shouldn’t have it.
Shreve Stockton writes that living in the presence of animals holds you accountable for everything you do. Charlie relied on her to be the alpha or else he would turn aggressive. She couldn’t be half there for him. It forces you to understand all your motivations and every consequence, and most importantly, it forces you to be completely present. I learned this working with dogs over the summer, and Laura teaches this with equine assisted therapy. One of the most important lessons we can glean from spending time with animals is purely the ability to be completely present in everything we do. I would say all of human anxiety and depression comes from beating ourselves up about the past, or being overly concerned with outcomes, consequences or reactions that are coming in the future. When I freeze up and start to detach from feeling, it is always because I am remembering how something turned out before, or because I’m fabricating a negative outcome in my mind.
I’m excited and terrified for this year because I’m picking up and doing things that no one I know has done. I’m going to be doing them mostly alone, and all the people I love are going to be far, far away. I’m scared I won’t get what I want out of these trips, that the traveling will be stressful, that I’ll get sick, etc. The list goes on. But I also know that it’s these fears that will keep this year from being everything it can be, so I’m learning to let them go. I’m learning what it feels like to not be afraid of getting hurt. In this recent process of learning how to throw myself into things passionately and wholly, I have met more amazing people than in the rest of my life combined, and made the most amazing new friends, reconnected with old ones and revitalized relationships with current ones. I’ve learned not to judge myself for how I’m feeling, and to reserve judgment on other’s feelings. And mostly importantly, I learned to let myself cry again.
In the end, everything you felt, and anything you learned along the way make it completely worth it. So I resign to ask myself to feel everything and dedicate myself to my friendships, activities, relationships and emotions wholeheartedly, even when it’s scary as all hell. I was numb for long enough, and I know that even when it hurts, life is a way better deal when you let yourself live it. Like the quote at the beginning of this post (from the song that I named this blog after), there is no fault in loving something with your whole heart.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Tucson, Part Three (September 21 – 22)

“I need freedom now, and I need to know how to live my life as it’s meant to be.” – Mumford & Sons
I’m starting to have anxiety dreams about my plans. I know everything that I want to will happen, and I know it’ll all come together soon, but right now things are so tentative. I probably won’t feel better until I have plane tickets booked and everything. For someone who hates following rules, I suck at not having a solid plan. We booked tickets for tour today at least though! Yay.
I’ve now had two full days of barn work with Laura. Mostly just getting the cleaning, feeding routine down, but she also took the time to work with me and a couple of the horses. One of the exercises she does with her patients is unstructured round pen work with a patient and a horse one on one. The round pen methods are really interesting because the guy that developed them based them off of actual horse herd behavior. Which only makes sense, but it’s still cool to put it in to action. If a baby horse is misbehaving the mother will actually scare him or her away from the herd and stand facing baby to keep them away. Being separated from the herd is extremely anxiety producing for a horse, and generally they will correct their behavior when invited back, as to not be sent away again. When the mother thinks the baby has learned their lesson, she will turn her shoulder towards the baby and not look them in the eye, which invites them back. In this round pen exercise you act the mother horse, facing the horse you’re working with full on. By putting “pressure” on the horse’s hindquarters (by swinging a rope wand or a lead rope), they will trot around in a circle. You keep yourself fully facing the horse, level with their back legs. This is a predator position so the horse will continue to do what you’re asking as long as you keep applying the “pressure.” When you’re ready, you put down the rope, and turn your shoulder to the horse and avert your eyes, as the mother would do. The horse should come and stand at your shoulder, walking with you when you walk. This exercise can open a lot of emotions. For someone dealing with emotional baggage a fraction of the size of most of the patients my sister works with, it still made me think about a lot of things.
First I worked with Bridget, who is 22 and I’ve known her as long as my sister has had her. She’s a huge sweetheart but extremely submissive. She’s the bottom of the totem pole in Laura’s herd. Chocolate Heart loves bossing her around and generally just being as mean to her as possible. In the round pen this really shows. She gets more worked up the longer you keep her running, and will come back to you immediately when you take off the pressure.
After working with her a while, I realized how much I enjoyed the feeling of pushing her even when she was getting worked up. Then when she came back in, and we were walking around the circle, she was crowding me because that’s how she felt comfortable, but it drove me crazy. It made me thinking about how stressed and irritable I can get when I’m not fully in control of a situation or my relationship with someone. I have been working on letting go of that need to control situations, but I can tell that I’ve been burying a lot of that stress. Had the same experience with Rusty, who I definitely have the most connection to of all Laura’s horses. His energy just really clicks with me, but he is stubborn as all hell. Maybe that’s why I like him so much (har har). He is a horse, that if he doesn’t want to move, he will not move no matter what you try. I got him to go around the pen a couple of times, but every time he would come back to the same spot, stop and face me. Not in a challenging way, but just enough to hide his back legs from me. Smart horse. Then when I tried to get him to change directions, he just wouldn’t have it. So I kept him going in the same direction. The compromise felt awkward and wrong. Shouldn’t he be doing what I’m telling him to? I finally had him come back in, but I was frustrated with him. After realizing there is no right or wrong in that exercise, I started to feel like that had been a good compromise. Rusty is old and stubborn and maybe that is just something I have to accept. I’m getting better at compromising and letting situations go when they don’t go my way, but Rusty definitely helped me realize how deep-seated that need for control is in me.
Today I took him in to the round pen again, and he wouldn’t even budge. I got him to move maybe 5 steps at one point. When I told Laura, she just laughed and said that’s pretty good for Rusty. Definitely made me think about the importance of understanding every part of someone and their motivations before assuming anything about your relationship to them. That second time though, I didn’t take it personally, which I think is a step.
This is going to sound super emo, but I’ve been thinking about loneliness a lot. Or at least the feeling of being alone for a long time. I don’t know if I’m lonely right now. I went from college dorm life, to work and a relationship all summer, to being alone. A lot. I know I’m freakishly extroverted, but I think I was using my social life to get away from thinking about my feelings and myself. So it’s kind of depressing being alone all the time in a relatively unfamiliar place. But not because I feel really lonely; it’s because I’m basically being forced into all this self-reflection that I’ve been hiding from since some time in my senior year of high school. I’m certain that it’s good for me though, so I’m trying not to push it away. This disconnection from the internet, college life, constantly calling people to hang out is definitively necessary for me right now. So cheers! Here’s to accepting being alone even when all I want is to be surrounded by my friends right now.
Current song: Re: Stacks – Bon Iver
Last meal: CHIPOTLE
Currently reading: The Daily Coyote by Shreve Stockton

Monday, September 20, 2010

Tucson, Days Two, Three and Four (September 18 -20)

The bed in my sister’s guesthouse is SO COMFORTABLE. I sleep so well here.
So my sister has somewhat of a rattlesnake problem on her property. It’s been an ongoing issue, and they seem to still just love it here. I’d never been here when she found one, until this morning! She caught it and put it in an empty cooler and we took it about two and half miles away, where she released it. It was way smaller than I was expecting, must have been pretty young. That was pretty cool. He slithered like 2 feet away and proceeded to wind himself into a bush and just hang out there. Laura (my sister) thinks she’s relocated him before and he found his way back. I guess snakes can find their way home from pretty far away, so let’s keep our fingers crossed he stays where he is.
Other than that, I just read a bunch and went to dinner with my brother, dad and nephew. My nephew is a FRESHMAN in high school, I feel so old.
Saw the movie Town with Laura and her friend Gene. It was pretty slow, very character and dialogue driven. It was pretty good, but The Departed was way better (it’s by the same people).
I also picked up my old car that was being shipped down, and the back of it was facing the front, if that makes any sense. On one of those big 12-car rigs. It is COVERED in bugs. So gross. Need a carwash.
The days are already starting to blur together a little.. yikes. This is what happens when I don’t have a lot of structure in my life. I spent Sunday with my family. Well, in their pool. The pool is a necessity when it’s over 100 degrees, so that was great. I watched the premiere of Boardwalk Empire in the evening, which is enjoyed even though it was super confusing. There are definitely not enough period pieces like that on the air. I hope it’s as accurate as it looks.
Today, I got up at the lovely hour of 6:15 to head in to work with Laura. I forgot how short the summers are here. It’s crazy how just this much of a difference in latitude is so noticeable.
Getting to the barn at Cottonwood, I was immediately reminded of how long it’s been since I’ve worked with horses. I can’t even remember the last time I had to muck a stall. But Laura put me to work right away and it all came back quickly enough. I also remembered how much horses do actually scare me. That being said, I feel a lot more comfortable even after just a couple of hours of work today. I am very excited to see how I feel after two weeks.
My sister’s horse Rusty and I had an immediate connection. He did one of my favorite horse things, which is when you put your hand out, they don’t wait for you to scratch their head they just go ahead and start bouncing their head up and down against your hand. He makes me giggle. Laura gave me the tour and then took me to fill out all of the confidentially forms, etc. that come with working at a rehab and treatment facility. They also made me get a TB test. Ouch. On the bright side, I got an official intern badge that I get to wear around!
Right now I’m sitting in a Starbucks near my sister’s house, on the Wif, researching trip and volunteer stuff I can do in November and February. It’s funny as much as I try to look in to other type of project besides, animal or nature-related ones, I’m just not as interested. I like the idea of teaching English to kindergartners in Indonesia, but I’d rather clean a monkey enclosure… All of the possible trips I’ve found are SO COOL. The one I really want to do is working at a lion rehabilitation and conservation center in Victoria Falls, either on the Zambia or Zibabawe side, I’m a little fuzzy on which. There are other wildlife rehab places in Namibia that look amazing as well, so we’ll see. It would be a dream come true to cuddle a baby cheetah or walk a lion. I mean, seriously, who gets to do this stuff?
The other trip I’m looking at is working on a fair trade coffee farm in Nicaragua. I love fair trade movement and it would be so cool to be involved at, literally, the ground level. Will update on what I decide to do! So excited!

Friday, September 17, 2010

The Beginning

“It’s never too late to be who you might have been.” – George Eliot
It’s kind of hard for me to explain why I’m taking this year off from school to take my own kind of journey. I can say that I’ve always sucked at following structure and rules; so that somewhat explains my abhorrence of the “high school-college-grad school-good job/life of boredom in a cubicle” formula. I never went to a college counseling session in high school and my college searching was limited to like, two places and the internet. I probably ended up limiting myself a lot in where I could have ended up, but at the same time I had always thought I would never finish college in four years and would probably transfer AT LEAST once, so my dedication to the process was somewhat…meager. That makes me sound like a huge flake, and maybe I am, but I also think it’s healthy to keep exploring for your whole life. If that means changing your goals and passions all too frequently than so be it. It’s better than being stuck in an abysmal career for the rest of your life and I’d like to think of this as the evolution of my goals and passions anyway. I’M BABBLING. Basically it comes down to this: I don’t really believe in doing what you should do, but doing what will take a person’s breath away.
I’m taking this year off to:
- Gain the most confidence in myself, my actions and my beliefs that I possibly can
- Become reacquainted with myself
- Break the rules
- Go places I would never have even fathomed going to
- Spend more time with my family
- Get excited about school again
- Try a new way of learning
- Make up for lost time when I didn’t treat myself or the people in my life well
- Meet new people
- Get my hands dirty
- Play with animals
- Go to Disneyland… more
- Remember to cherish everything
Basically, I’m excited for what’s to come. This is going to be where I post stories and ramblings and attempted wisdom.

Tucson, Day One (September 17, 2010)
I didn’t sleep last night. Well, okay, I got like 1 hour and 45 minutes of sleep. Blame Tyler. He’s distracting. Anyway, I was already ready to pass out at like 10:30 but I want to write this down before it starts to fog up from exhaustion.
It was a lovely 104 degrees here today. This may be hard to believe, but I actually love it. I’m a desert kid at heart. We landed and came straight to my sister Laura’s house. I love driving up to her house because it’s like a little piece of paradise and you feel like you’re completely alone in the desert even though she’s surrounded by neighbors. Driving in, we’re greeted by four of her curious horses and of course Prince and Rider barking at the gate. After saying our hellos, my sister announces that Omelet, one of her horses has a sinus infection and the vet is coming over momentarily to drain his sinus. Okay, I think, yay for Omelet. Then she says, “they are drilling a hole through his sinus to drain it.” Uhm, WHAT. Good introduction to my two weeks of horse business I guess! There were a lot of needles involved and I was assuming I’d have to just walk away at some point because I usually HATE needles. But I didn’t. I even watched when the vet pulled out a mallet and hammered a needle into Omelet’s skull, above his sinus. I don’t know if I wasn’t afraid because it was on a horse and I couldn’t picture it happening to me while I watched or what, but it made me think about why I’m afraid of stuff like needles and spiders and bees. If I can easily a hole be hammered into a horses’ skull, I really should be able to get over these petty fears. Gonna work on that because being afraid is debilitating and doesn’t feel good.
Tonight Laura and I talked about what kind of goals I had for this trip and what I hoped to have learned by the end of September. I explained how I feel like a much more confident, capable and outgoing person since working at the Downtown Dog Lounge over the summer. I was able to master the kind of confidence you need to be the alpha in a pack of up to 50 or 60 dogs. I loved how working there made me feel, and I can see how much more confident I am in multiple aspects of my life. I thought that having mastered this confidence with dogs, I should be able to be more assured around horses as well, but after about an hour here today I knew it was not the same at all. Horses are subtler in how they react to humans and therefore are much harder to read. I am pretty lost when it comes to reading a horse’s body language and actions. I guess this is along the same line as conquering fear in other parts of my life. I don’t want to be afraid of a horse’s size anymore. I don’t want to constantly worry about if one will accept me or not.
In the next two weeks, my sister is going to help me form a relationship with Junie, her percheron to help me build the confidence I want to have around horses. I can’t wait to be working with horses, and to ride again.
More soon.
Also there's no internet at my sister's house so I might be posting kind of sporadically. I'll try to write a post every night but I'll probably post them in chunks. Hope you enjoy :)

Current song obsession(s): Parallel Lines by White Lights (go listen to them now) and Little Lion Man by Mumford & Sons
Currently reading: Dark Force Rising by Timothy Zahn. Yes, a Star Wars novel. Deal.
Last meal: Awesome salad, corn bread and frozen yogurt.
Location: bed, my sister’s guesthouse, Tucson, Arizona