Tag Archives: life lessons

Fear Challenge 1/5: Souffle

In the post that is called ‘The Things I’ve Never Done: Part 2,’ I set five goals for myself.
Well, I completed one.

I made a vanilla souffle.

…And it did not go well.

Do me a favor: Visit Google, type in ‘Vanilla Souffle,’ and click on the image search function. Then, look at the pictures.
Do you get how the souffle is supposed to look, all puffy and bursting out of the ramekin?

This is mine:

photo 2

It ACTUALLY did the COMPLETE OPPOSITE of what it was supposed to do!
And NO, I didn’t slam anything or bump anything!

I was PISSED.
…Then, I found it kind of funny. And I ate them.
I actually have never eaten a souffle before this and, if I’m honest, it was quite disappointing. Sure, it did not rise, but that wouldn’t have mattered. It tasted like…baked eggs with sugar. If you want that kind of taste, why not make a smooth, yummy custard instead of this?

So, all of this time, I’d been scared to make a souffle.

Did it hurt my ego a bit that it didn’t rise?
Sure.

There are those people who are good at almost everything…you know who I mean? The people who are kind of scary because everything that they do just turns out great and wonderful, or they take to a game or a sport or whatever, and they’re perfect at it.

Oh, this woman who I know is a doctor, but on the side, she knits opera gloves for orphans! Oh, you need to have her show them to you, but that’s nothing compared to what she did for her daughter: She sewed her wedding dress! Didn’t even use a pattern; it was her first time, too. …Yes, her first time sewing! Oh, and you know those amazing cookies in the break room? Guess who baked them!

Well, I am not one of those people.
I default to ‘inept,’ and that really bugs me sometimes. Yes, this involves practice time, as well. It’s downright tiring.
It makes me feel like I’m always outside looking in, which is how I’ve felt my entire life; like a puzzle piece that doesn’t fit anywhere.

Don’t get me wrong: I like being the odd puzzle piece.

But being inept at so many things makes it so difficult to interact with other human beings when you know, no matter how hard you try, that you will lose that cutesy board game, or that new project you wanted to try that is outside of your comfort-zone will turn out a mess EVERY TIME.
A lot of people enjoy ‘a bit of competition;’ it motivates them to be better and strive for greatness, but all it’s ever done for me was make me feel like shit. There are many times in my life where I’d asked myself, in earnest:

Am I good at anything? Anything at all?

The silence following that question is awful.

So, I came to the conclusion that instead of feeling horrible about myself for my ineptness, I would strive for MY best. When I did not bother to compare how I was doing next to others, it made me happier and more willing to continue with all of the things I’m inept with that I love to do. I no longer thought things like:

Why bother? I’ll never be any good at this, so what’s the point?

…and started thinking:

So what if this person is so good that it makes my skills look juvenile? I did my best, and I’m proud of myself!

It was one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself.
So good, in fact, that I had a revelation: I reject competition, in and of itself.
It’s certainly not a popular thing to say, but it works for me.

Even though I’ve made this personal progress with myself, I do become fearful of failing at something I feel I’m good at; it’s something I need to work on. Baking is cooking’s sister, so I honestly become scared to do it sometimes because I hate it when I make mistakes.

I would salivate whenever people made souffles on TV; they look SO good…but I was sure mine wouldn’t come out right. And I was jealous of the people who could make them so perfectly. But the funny thing is…it wasn’t as delicious as I thought it’d be. It looks amazing (when it’s done correctly), but I’d be almost embarrassed to serve something that tastes like that to my friends and family. Cut up some strawberries, sprinkle some baker’s sugar on them, and serve it with some angel food cake…call it a day. It is way less work, more filling, and a better dessert, anyway.

Maybe people make souffles simply because they’re difficult and they want to impress people…

Anyway…I did what I said I’d do: I made the souffle.
Did what I was afraid of happening happen?
Yes.
How did I handle it?
Just fine.

The Things I’ve Never Done: Part 1

There’s something I haven’t revealed about myself on this blog before. I really want to come out with it now, but I’m not quite sure how to word it…

I guess I could say that I’ve suffered from severe agoraphobia.

Let me set the record straight on what agoraphobia actually is, because it’s a very misunderstood mental illness. Most of the time, people believe agoraphobia is a condition where a person cannot exit their house. Even I, before I had it, always thought of the heroine of the movie ‘Copy Cat’ whenever I thought of agoraphobia, but it really isn’t like that all of the time.

The literal meaning of the word is ‘fear of open spaces,’ but it translates into the actual mental illness a bit differently. It’s like this: People who are agoraphobic TYPICALLY (and I say that quite generously because there are some people who ARE literally just scared of open spaces) have a ‘safe spot,’ which is very often their home. If the person should attempt to vacate their safe spot, there is generally a radius outside of it in which they are free to travel without panic, and that’s IT. The safety radius could be up to the threshold of their front door, or it could be 30 miles from their house. Go past the oh-so-holy safe spot, and it’s pure panic, unending.

When I first became agoraphobic, I didn’t HAVE a safe spot. I had a SEMI-safe spot, but I didn’t have a true safe spot.
I panicked in my living room, bedroom, kitchen…and I had to take baths because I panicked in the shower. Hell, I panicked in my sleep; I woke up night after night, gasping for air. I almost did a sleep study to find out why I would stop breathing while I was sleeping, but soon realized that it wasn’t the case. This was in the Spring of 2008, and it all started with a stupid fucking vaccine.

Don’t freak out: I had had a panic disorder long before I got the vaccine, so I was predisposed to panic…it had just morphed into OCD while I was in college, which made it tolerable.

What had happened was I got a letter from my insurance company saying that all women who were younger than 26 were eligible for a free HPV vaccination. I remembered this one very tragic story I had heard about a woman my ex-roommate had known. If I remember correctly, the woman had just gone shopping at the grocery store in the middle of the day, and as she was walking to her car, she got pulled into the back of a van and got raped…and sadly, this horrible story doesn’t end there: It turns out that the rapist was infected with HPV, and passed it on to this woman. Well, it was one of the strains of HPV which causes cervical cancer, and she ended up dying from the cancer.

That put the fear of God into me, and I decided that I should probably take this free vaccine.

So, I went to the doctor’s office after making an appointment. You only visit a nurse or MA when you JUST need a vaccine (most of the time), and that’s what happened: I got my shot, and they sent me on my way.

Well, apparently, the protocol for administering vaccinations wasn’t being followed at my doctor’s office that day. I try my best not to be bitter about things I cannot change, but it’s exceedingly difficult in this situation, because if that mother fucking bitch had JUST FOLLOWED PROTOCOL, my life may’ve been COMPLETELY different.

The protocol for any kind of shot (for those of you who aren’t familiar with it) is to make a person wait 15-30 minutes after it is administered, because the person MIGHT BE ALLERGIC to what has been injected.

And SUPRISE! I fucking was.

The allergic reaction happened about three minutes after I went through the office door. I was driving home, when suddenly, it felt as if the world was closing in on me. It’s very difficult to explain the sensation, but it’s like you’re in an invisible box that’s getting smaller and smaller and smaller…and I HAD to get out. Panicking, which I hadn’t done in YEARS, I called my mother, who is a nurse, and told her what had happened between the desperate gasps for air I was swallowing and saying ‘I have to get out of here! I HAVE TO GET OUT OF HERE!’

Calmly, she explained that this was an allergic reaction, and that I needed to get Benedryl immediately. As we were speaking, I pulled into a left turn lane, which was packed with people in front of and behind me, with the lane to my right completely filled, and cars whizzing by in the left lane. If the previous sentence doesn’t sound like a reason to panic to you, imagine feeling like you are in an invisible box you need to get out of WHILE being in that situation. It was one of the single most terrifying experiences of my life.

I eventually made it to a store, and, paranoid as FUCK, found the Benedryl, ripped the package open, popped a pill or two, then paid for it. After making my way to the car, I sat there and smoked a cigarette (ahh, back when I used to smoke), and waited for this horrible feeling to subside.

And wa-la…it did. I drove back to my house and fell asleep on the couch with the cat, and when I woke up, I felt almost completely back to normal.

…So I thought.

Suddenly, I was panicking in stores, panicking while driving…panicking in my sleep, in my house…and the panic feeling was so scary, I would panic when I believed that there may be a situation I was entering that could cause me to panic. I became agoraphobic, and had to move in with somebody else because I couldn’t be alone…I was too scared.

…Hmm. I wonder if I could sue that doctor’s office.
But, then again, what’s the point? Even if I were to win, no amount of money could compensate for how much time I’ve lost.

Anyway…

I think the worst of it came in the summer of 2009, when I completely avoided anything that could trigger panic attacks, yet I still had them. 2010 was in no way fun, either.

I’m vehemently against being on anti-anxiety medication, as I am a staunch believer in cognitive behavioral therapy (I do have a degree in psychology), so I did try to get some help in 2010, but the therapist began to waste my time. He actually yelled at my once when he revisited the idea of medication, and I said something along the lines of feeling like he was violating my wishes in regards to that issue. I’m from New York; I’m used to people yelling, but it was relatively scary to get yelled at in the way he did it. It drove a rift between us on my end, and I no longer felt like I could maintain a good rapport with him, which was actually a very good thing. Having a rift allowed me to be more critical of his technique, and I soon realized that he had no idea how to implement CBT, and he was too lazy to actually go to the store or drive with me to teach me coping skills. The two last sessions I attended, he played movie trailers on Youtube and talked about nonsense for a half an hour before we discussed anything related to panic. I was officially done after that.

In the beginning of 2011, I moved to the town in which I currently reside, and I did a lot of research and found an anxiety specialist. This woman allowed me to do Skype sessions with her at first because I couldn’t drive to where she was; once she taught me the coping skills I needed to do so, she made me drive to her house, and stayed on the phone with me the whole time. She’s even driven with me. I also researched the herbs that are effective in treating anxiety, and I wound up on St. John’s Wort and Passion Flower, which are amazing. Should I find myself having depersonalization (which is FUUUCKING scary), I take two Passion Flower on the spot and I’m typically good within five minutes. There have been no side effects, and I’ve been on St. John’s Wort for about three years, Passion Flower for around two.

[By the way… Depersonalization: Feeling as if one is having an out-of-body experience or in a dream-like state. It can be a form of panic, and it feels like nothing is real or makes sense.]

Like I said, I do try not to be bitter. This whole ordeal has afforded me the opportunity to work out a lot of the issues I should have worked out in my early 20s, but I was so focused on school that I never made time for myself. Plus, being able to find the strength to complete my master’s while having severe panic is something I wasn’t sure I could do…but I did it. I had a lot of my freedom ripped away from me, and I’ve been trying to reclaim it. I’ve missed out on a lot of experiences because of my own fear, experiences that I feel like I really should have.

To be continued.

The Trouble with Tulips

I’d say that most people I know maintain their friendships the way a gardener maintains pansies or roses:

If a pansy should begin to wilt, stick it in the sun and throw some water on it, and it will perk right back up.
Roses, though…they’re different. They need constant attention, lots of sunlight, pruning, et cetra, but if the gardener is consistently paying mind, the payoff is fantastic.

Lately, my friendships, seem to be the most comparable to the gardener and the tulip:

The gardener plants a bulb, spring comes around, and the plant grows extremely fast. The petals look strong and vibrant, and the colors are bright and happy.
However…
Just when the gardener has gotten used to seeing these beautiful flowers everyday, the petals fall off and they’re left with nothing but the green stems. No matter what the gardener does, that tulip has a shelf-life of a couple of days and there’s no way to extend it. They pop up very quickly, and just as quickly, they disappear.

What a bitch.

My ‘tulip’ friendships began around the time I was 26 or so.
I never really had much trouble making friends in the past, but as I got older, it got increasingly difficult for me to find new friendships with staying power. The friends we make in college move away, people have babies, priorities change, and then we’re left in this late-20s rut. Gone are the days of striking up a conversation with the person smoking outside of a building at school between classes or lab partners. Co-workers are sometimes far too different to form a real relationship with outside of the workplace. So, how does one make friends with people in this semi-isolated state?

I was able to find that ‘rare gem,’ that wonderful stranger I found by happenstance a few times, and form a friendship with them over the last four years. About 90% of the relationships have died, and one is currently dying on the table, seemingly unresponsive to any attempt at resuscitation by my hand, or mouth, in this case.

When this first started happening, it really hurt me. To be blunt, it sucks to think of how nonchalant people are when it comes to dropping another person out of their lives. I’ve always seen every person I’ve ever known as a one-of-a-kind original…something that simply cannot be replaced. It’s always been a damn near inconceivable notion for me to just drop a relationship, as I believe there are ways of working our issues out. And there will be issues, as almost no two individuals will never have a misunderstanding or fight of some kind during their relationship. Nevertheless, people will loosen their grips on those with whom they have even the smallest of conflict.
The other issue I have are people who I get along very well with, who are too busy to include me in their lives. This usually happens with people who have children, and I have yet to find a way to break through this barrier.
Either way, I felt like the others were to blame.

After some reflection, I was able to break out of blaming and ‘victim mode,’ and tried to think critically about my role in these tulip friendships. Could I honestly be completely innocent? Could it really be that everybody else in the world is a perpetrator, just waiting to hurt me?
Cue panic:
It IS me! It MUST be! If it were just one or two people who this happened with, then maybe I just found a few bad eggs, but it just keeps on happening! What if this is it? What if I never make any friends ever again? Is this my life? Oh my God…I’m a completely dysfunctional person! I’m too stand-offish! My standards are WAY too high! Nobody will ever care about me the way I care about them!
I’M FUCKED.

Once I calmed down, I thought about the last few friendships that the petals had fallen off of, one of them being a girl who lived a few minutes away from me.
Before she had a job, we spent lots of time together, but after she found full-time employment, every time I asked her if she wanted to get together (like on my birthday), she’d be busy, but she’d call me every two weeks or so at around 9:00 pm, on a weeknight, drunk, telling me to come over. She’d somehow make time for other people, was constantly throwing parties for her other friends…hell, I even helped her make Jell-o shots for a party to which I wasn’t invited, but I couldn’t manage to plan anything with her. She would do these things, then proceed to call me her best friend. I just couldn’t take the mind-fuck of it all, and I had to walk away from it. But, I tried, oh lord, did I try to make it work with this woman because I cared so much about her. Even now, I’m worried about whether or not she’s eating right or drinking too much or if her marriage is alright.
I had a choice to make: Hurt myself and endure, or hurt myself and stop more pain from happening?
I chose the latter.

Pain like that makes you want to go outside and dig up every single fucking tulip bulb in your yard. I swear, sometimes, I just want to hide, to run away, to stop trying anymore: To be frank, there are times I actually do.
Why even bother anymore? What’s the point? Everything turns to shit, nothing lasts, and people don’t genuinely care about each other. All they care about are people who can provide them with money or sex, and no matter how much of yourself you give to them, you will always be second fiddle to them. A throw away…do you want to be a throw away? No; you’d rather be alone.

So, what does it all mean to somebody like me?
What IS the point?

The point is that these people have taught me so many valuable lessons. Sometimes, they were to blame for the deterioration of the relationship, and sometimes, I was. Sometimes, the petals just fell off, naturally. Either way, there were always lessons for me.

Even though I was hurt by my friend, we had some really good and meaningful conversations and provided each other with the intimacy of a close friendship (for at least part of the relationship, anyway). She was there for me for a particularly trying time in my life, and if she hadn’t been, it would’ve been even harder. Most of all, though, she taught me that I do have the strength to walk away from a relationship when it’s hurting more than enriching me, and that is something I didn’t know I was capable of before.

I still want roses, though.
Hell, I’ll even take pansies. I think they’re both a lot prettier than tulips (and smell better, too).
However, the tulip isn’t all bad. The sight of the tulip signals the ending of the cold, lonely winter, and inspires the hope of warmer weather to come…the kind of weather in which roses thrive.