For those habituated to high levels of internal stress since early childhood, it is the absence of stress that creates unease. ~ Gabor Mate
As is so often the case in therapy…the really important breakthroughs are rather simple and obvious; the hard part is applying them in daily life. ~ Ken Wilber
I am hoping this week I shall feel less pressured or that I can make myself calm down and not be so driven. ~ May Sarton
Ron and I were sitting on a red sandstone cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean. We had just climbed to this perch from the beach, and as I settled into my seat the stone felt warm against my legs. A sweeping vista opened before me: Cape Lookout, massive and dark and forested, stretching like a long arm into the bright ocean to my left; a sandy spit extending northward from the cape’s base and enclosing a small blue bay; the charming hamlet of Oceanside down the beach to the north, its houses jumbling down steep bluffs to the shore.
Closer in, between our red cliff and the mouth of the bay, a clear stream cut through sand to meet surging waves. The warm sun and light breeze played across my skin. It was a perfect day in May 2016, eight months since our new jobs had started, a year since we’d been to the ocean. Where had the time gone?
Ron asked if I wanted to meditate. It was something we rarely did, but this weekend was for relaxing. We made ourselves comfortable on the rock, letting our eyes close, and I breathed into the darkness and tried to empty my mind.
It felt unfamiliar, and a bit unnerving, to close my eyes in public. Though no one was nearby, animal trails formed tunnels through the foliage behind us; teenagers sometimes used the trails as shortcuts. I slitted my eyes and reached for my bag. I inched it closer till it rested against my leg, then closed my eyes again.
The roar of pounding surf filled my ears, deafening and constant, broken only by yodeling seagulls. Sometimes the ocean’s power can sound more frightening than peaceful. Years ago, near this same spot on a cold, gray, stormy day, I had stood with my family in the rain on the beach while a helicopter hovered over the churning water. The ‘copter dipped and rose in a slow, desperate dance, scanning the waves. A boat had capsized at the mouth of the bay. We shivered in the rain from our distance, then after a creeping, dread-filled hour, grew too cold and trudged to shelter. Later, the outcome became known. Two survivors, a father and son. Both their wives drowned.
I shuddered now, banishing these morbid thoughts. Today there was no storm. Today was the time to be happy.
Deep breath in, deep breath out.
There was still the urge to open my eyes. They say never turn your back on the ocean. Dad had raised us to watch for sneaker waves and tsunamis: if the water ever draws back rapidly, all at once–he cautioned–drop everything and run for your lives!
Eyes still closed, I pictured a black wall of water approaching us now. It would come impossibly fast. I saw Ron and me, eyes closed, hearing it at the last minute, its approach inevitable as a giant train. I saw us being knocked from where we sat. Not knowing which way was up. Knowing for a few frantic, flailing moments that we were going to die.
My heart was pounding, my breathing shallow. I gave up and opened my eyes, looking around.
All was still tranquil. Sunlight, sand, water. No tsunami in sight.
Next to me, Ron breathed softly, in and out.
No, I told myself sternly, as Barbara had taught me. My new counselor, Louise, called these dark fantasies “intrusive thoughts.” I couldn’t seem to help them–they came unbidden at random times throughout the day. She and I were piecing my chronic anxiety together, trying to make sense of it, and I knew that somehow these dark images were one of the pieces. We just didn’t yet know how they fit in.
I closed my eyes again. All was safe. Barbara had taught me to notice what I was sensing in these moments, so I inventoried my senses now. Warmth on my skin. Grit of sand between bare toes. Constant, churning roar of waves–ordinary waves, beautiful waves. Salty smell.
I am safe, I thought. We are safe.
I felt my breathing slow, my shoulders become heavy. My mind cleared at last. Several minutes passed. Relaxed, I opened my eyes, happy with my meditation. When I occasionally meditated, I used it solely as an exercise for calming down. Once I became calm, I always stopped, not wanting to become bored.
Ron was different. He still hadn’t moved–he could meditate for an hour without getting bored.
I got my book out of my bag: Learning to Breathe by Priscilla Warner. In a Google search for “best books on anxiety,” this one had popped up. Warner suffered from panic attacks for decades, and the book is the story of her year-long quest to calm her nervous system through meditation and mindfulness. My own progress was harder to measure than hers, since I had no panic attacks, but I was enjoying her insights.
As I opened the book, I mused about our cliff, and my sense of impending danger returned. Was the cliff stable? Were we, after all, on an overhang? I tried to picture the shape of the cliff from below, but couldn’t remember it. Mom knew a woman who had plunged to her death on a hike after venturing unawares onto an unstable overlook.
Over the course of several seconds, again I saw our death take place. A crack forming beneath us in the sandstone. The shudder of earth. Ron and myself dropping amidst a cascade of sand and rubble; people running to dig us out; their distress upon finding our broken bodies.
My breath had turned shallow again. Coming to myself, I exhaled and shook my head, as if to rid it of these thoughts. I felt irritated with myself. Usually I only had a couple intrusive thoughts a day, but these two had come close together. I wished they hadn’t come at a time when I was otherwise so relaxed. They were marring my perfect morning.
No, I told myself again sternly, going through my inventory of senses. Sight: Vibrant red of rock. Beauty of stream below. Sound: Voices of children approaching the stream. Touch: Solidness of sandstone; its raspy warmth.
I am safe. We are safe.
But after reading a few pages of Warner’s book, I caught myself in yet another intrusive fantasy, this one yet more ridiculous than the others. Coming to myself again, I realized I’d been picturing the family below shooting at Ron and me with a rifle. My mind had transformed the teenage boy into a sociopath who decided to take pot shots at the hippies on the cliff. I had seen myself collapse, blood trickling from my temple. I’d seen Ron reacting with alarm, horror, anguish.
My face was again tense and focused, my heart pounding, my breathing shallow. I tried to relax. No! I thought again, almost desperately now. Again I went through my mental motions.
Louise, my new counselor, had once asked me what purpose these episodes served. At first, when she asked What purpose do they serve? I thought she might be chiding me, pointing out that they served no purpose. Then I realized she was really asking. She thought they did serve some purpose, or at least they once had, when I was younger. We just didn’t yet know what.
But now, sitting on this cliff, my dark fantasies had my full attention. It seemed uncanny that they were plaguing me so strongly right now–this had to be a clue. I had never found a pattern to their appearances, but this did feel like some kind of pattern.
The fantasies had come at regular intervals, I realized. Every fifteen minutes. Was this what happened when I had nothing else to occupy my mind? Were they always lurking beneath the surface, pushed aside by my busyness? Maybe when I cleared my mind long enough, like today, fifteen minutes was the thoughts’ natural cycle. Each image had come just as I was beginning to fully relax again.
I paused. This timing, I suddenly realized, was no coincidence.
The thoughts had come when I was feeling relaxed–or more precisely, when I just was starting to fully relax. Each time the dark images had risen, though, they had prevented me from relaxing.
That was their purpose.
The pattern was suddenly as clear as the bright light on the water: my intrusive thoughts kept me from relaxing. They kept me on guard. I had found the pattern.
My mouth open in surprise, I turned to Ron, wishing I could tell him my revelation. He knew about my intrusive thoughts, though they occurred so often I almost never mentioned them to him. But he still sat with eyes closed, oblivious to all I’d experienced.
You are never truly safe, my subconscious self was saying to me. You must never fully relax. If you do, something awful will happen.
I had started therapy with Louise in October of the previous year, two months after Ron and I had begun our new jobs. With my remission and the stability of those jobs, the several-year earthquake in our lives had subsided. Looking around in a daze, I could see more clearly that I needed counseling. My old anxiety was still there. On the surface, all the basic, foundational pieces of life now seemed to be in place–health, home, work, money–but this pulsing, frantic anxiety seeped into everything I did. It was seeping into our marriage, too.
We now had excellent health care, and therapy was covered. I could pick up where I had left off years ago with Barbara.
I wanted to get at the roots of my anxiety: what caused it and how to make it subside. I had long known it related to Dad, and this understanding had recently crystallized when a friend told me about a support group called Adult Children of Alcoholics. I had Googled the group and found that adult children of alcoholics typically “Cannot have fun because it is stressful” and “Remain hyper vigilant, constantly scanning their surroundings for potential catastrophes.” That was me! What a relief, to recognize myself so clearly, to know that I wasn’t alone and was even normal for my situation.
And it made sense that Dad’s alcoholism had triggered anxiety. As a kid, I had always been on guard. There were the spectacular, imagined disasters, like tsunamis, that Dad often told us might be imminent–he let his own anxiety, no doubt from his own chaotic childhood, ooze into our moldable young minds. And there were also the real disasters, like losing his job, or failing to show up for our weekends together, or falling and cutting a gash in his forehead, that he actually created in our own lives. Of course my young nervous system had gotten used to anxiety. Even now, it didn’t know how to exist without it.
“Do you really think it’s possible for me to change?” I asked Louise in one of our early sessions. I held my breath as she reflected on my question. A lot rode on her answer. I couldn’t quite believe, at this point, that I could change. I could picture her and me coming up with solutions, like meditation or journaling or cooling thoughts, and me doing them for awhile…but eventually, I knew, I’d slip back into my old anxious habits. I always had.
Dad had been the same. Unchangeable. He’d been to dozens of rehab programs and had even excelled there, raising his hand a lot, becoming a peer leader. He knew all the psychological terms for his own habits, like catastrophizing. In structured settings, his brilliance shone–he got top scores on tests, had an encyclopedic memory, could articulate complex concepts. But no matter how much he understood himself intellectually, when released back into the real world, he always relapsed.
Louise was a quiet woman with long, wavy hair and perceptive brown eyes. She looked at me thoughtfully when I asked whether she thought I could change. She often paused before speaking.
“Yes,” she finally said, nodding slowly. There seemed to be much more behind that word–more caveats, more struggles I hadn’t yet anticipated. But she said yes. I exhaled and tried to believe her.
In one session, she led me in a guided visualization. I closed my eyes and listened to her soothing voice as she walked me through the internal steps: traveling to a safe place, looking around, feeling what it felt like to be there. I felt my mind, my brain, opening and relaxing. A place appeared, conjured out of nothing: a cloud world with white light and mist, with doorways and robes and sunbeams and an expansive, neverending sky. It was a nonsensical, impossible place. A world atop the clouds. With nothing between the sky and me, I saw daytime, blue and white, and also nighttime, with dazzling stars like jewels across the blackness. I saw wings through the mist, white and silent as an owl’s. Perhaps my own wings, or a horse’s, or some other unknown being’s. Whose wings didn’t matter. This world didn’t have to make sense.
After the session, I felt lightened all day. A burden had lifted. And yet, I still wasn’t sure I believed Louise. There had always been moments like this, when I could briefly touch the inner peace that I sought. I had experienced it with the minister and the craniosacral healer, and for a while it had lingered after those sessions. But by now I understood that that was different from trying to bring this peace, this space, into my day-to-day life. A single session or revelation could not permanently change my internal wiring. What I needed, day to day, hour to hour, was to somehow change my own physical and mental habits.
I explained to Louise that I normally existed in an ultra-cerebral, left-brained mode. This mode involved ticking efficiently down my list of tasks: accomplishing a task, checking it off, moving on to the next. At home, these tasks centered on setting up our house–even after living here a year, there were still boxes to sort through, possessions to purge, walls to paint, rooms to decorate. At work, too, I had created one of my trademark task spreadsheets, with different colors for my different projects. Colleagues oohed and aahed at its complexity and detail, and I never missed a deadline.
Awaking each morning, I always had a plan, my day mapped out, my mind already focused. Productivity was a brain space I knew and understood. It was familiar and efficient. I had been this way since grade school. And it had served me well–I had always excelled in school and in work, had founded nonprofit organizations, had written and published books. I had been rewarded by society for my productivity. The rewards had been so gratifying, in fact, that it had taken into my thirties before I saw the flaws in my way of doing things.
Focusing on tasks felt like being on a train, I explained. Productivity in itself was good, not inherently dysfunctional. It was easy to get on the train. But the problem occurred when I grew hungry or tired and the train just kept going. This was how productivity became a neurosis for me–an addiction. Workaholism. I often didn’t stop working even when the work became bad for me. Just as Dad had medicated his anxiety with alcohol, I medicated my anxiety with work. It was much healthier than alcohol, but it was still ultimately dangerous. It may have even contributed to my colitis.
The act of stopping, of changing to some other, less productive, more spacious way of thinking, felt like jumping the tracks, I said. It would be totally unfamiliar. I didn’t know how to stop.
When I did relax, as in the guided visualization, I sensed the spaciousness that was usually out of reach. It felt wondrous. And yet, I told Louise, sometimes it also felt frightening. The guided visualization had taken place in the safe space of her small, quiet room. In the real world, letting go of plans and tasks and entering into that nothingness would feel like free falling. On weekends, if I tried not to make any plans, the emptiness on my calendar yawned like a gaping chasm. The feeling of not knowing what I’d be doing, from one hour to the next, was so discomfiting as to be unbearable.
“I would love to be one of those people who can just wake up to an unplanned day,” I said to Louise. “Or be able to drop everything when someone invites me to something. That’s what I want.”
She smiled gently. “That state of mind might be down the road. But you’re not there yet.”
First, I needed to build some foundational pieces. Trust: that unresolved plans and problems didn’t need to be resolved immediately. That I didn’t need to work straight through on a project until it was done, without breaks. That things could be put down. They could wait. They could be resolved later. I could rest along the way.
And I needed to learn to recognize when productivity became detrimental to my health. To notice when the train was running away with me, so I could someday step off it–switch tracks–when that was happening.
At first, she had me work simply on the noticing piece. I didn’t need to fix this right now, she said. Just to begin observing it.
I began to watch my own behavior with a new kind of interest.
I noticed that planning and controlling seeped into many aspects of my life, not just my productivity. The way I babbled in conversations, for instance. I had never caught onto this before: when nervous, I said too much about myself, or made little jokes, or peppered the other person with questions. Anything to avoid silent pauses. Those pauses made me uneasy. In pauses, anything could be said, and I might not know how to respond. My babbling was a subtle form of control. I feared silence in my calendar, and I feared silence in conversations.
Louise asked me to think about what purpose my habits served. Her question was a new way of framing my thoughts about anxiety. I was not simply sabotaging myself, but was trying, unconsciously, to accomplish something. To feel better. Being out of control made me feel anxious–in my family as a kid, I had needed to control as much as possible, though that wasn’t much because I was a kid. That early hardwiring had stayed with me. Now, I unconsciously tried to control my schedule, conversations, and the tidiness and “doneness” of my home. All my attempts at control were efforts to manage my anxiety: the anxiety that if I didn’t have control, disaster could strike. And at this point, if I wanted to let go, I had to work on it consciously–make an intentional, long-term effort, with guidance from a therapist.
Working with Louise, I came to see that by staying cerebral and focused and productive, I managed to avoid whole aspects of my being. The emotional. The physical. I existed in the mind, not the heart or the body. I ignored my own feelings, and even my own basic needs, like hunger. I felt them distantly. I overrode them. My tasks disconnected me from myself.
I began to become aware of when I was careening down my task-oriented train track. I noticed that sometimes I felt upset beneath my focus–felt lonely or sad, but pushed it aside while I worked. It made sense to avoid feeling down by working, but other times, to my surprise, I discovered that beneath my focus I felt happy. My work pushed that happiness aside, too.
“It’s like I’m avoiding feeling anything,” I lamented to Louise. “Not just the negative feelings. I’m also avoiding feeling good. I’m avoiding feeling anything at all!”
I still wasn’t sure what purpose this might serve. Why would my unconscious want to avoid my own feelings, even good feelings? But this revelation seemed like another piece of the anxiety puzzle. By focusing on tasks, I steered clear of my emotions in general.
As the 2016 New Year dawned, I vowed that this year I would become healthy and calm. In 2015 I had achieved remission, emerging from my hole and learning to care for my body. Months later, I still ate better than ever before, often eating rice or kale, avoiding too much pasta and cheese, and I tried to exercise by at least walking 20 minutes a few times a week. But now that I’d been mostly healthy since May, I felt myself lapsing into older habits. Sometimes I neglected exercise or didn’t bother with vegetables. The New Year would be a reset, I thought. A reminder that I had a disease and needed to always attend to my health.
And this would be my year to overcome anxiety, if it was possible to do so. Sometimes, lately, I could literally feel in my brain a tightness from thinking too hard and being too productive. Now that I was working full time in a demanding job, my brain was in hyperdrive both at work and at home. That couldn’t be good for me. This year I wanted to rewire my brain. To un-anxious my brain.
What’s better than spending 2016 making our house the way I want it? I wrote in my journal. Spending 2016 making my brain how I want it. So I can be happy even when my house isn’t done.
It’s one thing to understand your neurosis; it’s another thing altogether to change your habits. I had witnessed this truth in Dad’s life, and as spring progressed in 2016, I experienced it myself.
In February I tried a health-tracking scheme devised by my sister and her girlfriend. Jeannie had long been better at caring for herself than I was. Now I decided to copy her methods. She and Anne each had a weekly calendar on which they gave themselves stickers for healthy activities: exercising, meditating, eating vegetables. Looking at all the stickers each week, you could see which areas needed attention. I knew this kind of structured, cerebral method would just play into my over-intellectual tendencies, but it seemed worth a try for the health benefits.
I bought a packet of smiley-face stickers and a Thich Nhat Hanh weekly calendar with beautiful artwork and inspiring quotes about mindfulness. Maybe the art and quotes, at least, would remind me to live more in my heart and less in my head. I carried the calendar and stickers around in my purse, giving myself little colored smiley faces throughout each day. Different colors represented different goals:
- Purple – Do something creative.
- Red – Exercise at least 20 minutes.
- Blue – Drink water.
- Pink – Eat/drink sauerkraut and kefir.
- Green – Eat vegetables.
- Yellow – Do five minutes of meditation.
I used the sticker calendar for all of February and part of March. I still have some pages from the book–most days in February, I walked for 20 minutes and drank enough water and ate my daily probiotic foods and enough vegetables. Occasionally I even did 5 minutes of meditation. The method worked, for that first month.
But in March, the blue stickers peter out: I often forgot to drink water at work. The green stickers, too, soon disappear–some weeks I hardly ate any vegetables at all. The other stickers diminish, as well.
By March 9th, there are no more stickers.
Another health attempt had failed.
Spring was, I discovered, the busiest season in my job. My main role in our watershed council was to coordinate stream restoration projects, and those projects mainly take place in summer, when the salmon aren’t running. That meant that by June, I needed to line up all the permits for my projects. I made endless phone calls and emails to contractors and permitting agencies and partner organizations throughout the work day. Meanwhile, I was in charge of a May science symposium at Reed College, so each week my intern and I spent hours lining up scientist speakers, generating publicity, coordinating with the venue, and managing a hundred related details. Those were just two of my many projects–there were also upcoming beaver-dam surveys to run, salmon-survey data to process, a stormwater program to create from scratch, and a website to overhaul, plus various reports, newsletter articles, and web content to write, not to mention interruptions to answer watershed residents’ questions or to meet with other staff.
At work I could often feel stress hormones coursing through my body. I would arrive in the morning, turn on my computer, and become instantly so consumed by work that by the end of the day I could only remember a constant, stressful blur of activity. Each day passed in a whirlwind, my heart and mind racing.
Weekends were no reprieve. I knew Saturday and Sunday were my chance to get off the “task train” and rest, but at home I felt drawn inexorably to my latest to-do list. The house tasks were tantalizingly close to completion. When all the tasks on my list were finished, I felt we’d really be settled in for the first time since moving here almost two years ago. All the furniture and decor would be set up. All the rooms would finally look how I wanted them to. All the boxes would be unpacked. I couldn’t wait till that was accomplished. I longed for the simplicity of knowing everything was tidy and in place and uncluttered, and it felt stressful to walk into a room and see things that still needed doing. So instead of resting after my frenzied work weeks, on weekends I built off their momentum and tried to get as much done as possible, often working ten or twelve hours both Saturday and Sunday. This work was easier than my job, I reasoned, since it often involved mindless things like driving to Home Depot or painting. And it was gratifying. And soon it would be finished.
But sometimes, collapsing into bed Sunday night, I would be nauseous with fatigue.
I couldn’t tell how much of this drivenness was neurosis and how much was a genuine, healthy desire to be done moving into our house. Most people would feel the latter, after two years in transition. The only difference between neurotic work and healthy work seemed to be the feeling the work gave me, and that difference was subtle. I tried to notice whether I was ignoring my physical needs while I worked. It was tricky. Often, I mostly felt excited about finishing a house project. Could that excitement be unhealthy?
Gradually, I began to recognize a certain mindset. I wasn’t always in this mindset when working, but when I got into it, it signaled the hyper focus that tended to override my other needs. I called it Frantic Mind. It was a stretched-thin, almost hungry feeling. It accompanied racing thoughts and a cool rush of adrenaline in my veins. Frantic Mind felt almost like chasing something, running toward some shapeless prey. I felt it often, and I wasn’t good at turning it off once it started. But at least I was beginning to recognize it.
In April, my new awareness of my anxiety gave Ron and me a gift.
We had been fighting more this past year. Both of us brought baggage to the fights, and mine was the way his forgetfulness triggered me easily, and the way I quickly escalated to anger when triggered. But now, more able to recognize anxiety when it consumed me, I realized that my quick anger was yet one more aspect of it. Anger was a way of grasping for control.
“Anger is independent,” I explained to Louise, excited to tell her what I’d realized. “It can be useful–I do think there’s a place for anger. It was really useful to me, with Dad after I grew up. I needed to draw boundaries between him and me. Anger is good at building walls between people; sometimes you do need walls.” She nodded. (Society tells us to be generous and kind, but therapists know that boundaries between people are often crucial.) “So now, anger comes naturally to me, with Ron,” I went on. “I think anger makes me feel in control when I’m upset with him.”
Telling Ron I was hurt instead of getting angry at him would be harder for me. Much more vulnerable. It would require trust in him. I was afraid to need anyone, I now understood. In my own family, I had learned to be independent, the Protector, the Big Sister. That was useful. But I had not yet learned how to depend on another person, which requires monumental trust. Instead, in moments of hurt, the frightened child in me turned to the fierce independence of anger. Anger felt safe.
A new, tender space began to open for Ron and me. When we argued, instead of getting mad, sometimes I was able to catch myself and confess that I was actually hurt. It made him soften too, and made the arguments less painful.
Something surprising had happened after we had started our jobs: both of us realized, independently, that we wanted to rethink having kids.
Technically, now was the time to start trying. I was in remission and our income was stable at last, and there wasn’t a minute to lose. We were thirty-seven and would be thirty-eight at the youngest when our first child was born. And yet, we now found myriad reasons to balk.
For one thing, we were more tired than we’d been a few years ago. Whether from aging or from the previous years’ tumult, we both felt worn down, not excited to embark on that most exhausting of enterprises. For another thing, we had only just arrived where we had long wanted to be, financially. A baby would plunge us right back into the penny-pinching mode we had so recently escaped! Our new financial security was precious. We were reveling in it, and we didn’t want to part with it anytime soon.
I feared losing myself in a child. To years of sleepless nights, to fatigue, to the boredom and claustrophobia I saw in the eyes of new mothers in grocery stores. I feared the strain a child could put on our marriage. Suddenly, it felt like my hypothetical child was competing with my own future wellbeing.
The thought of being childless–child-free, I tried to say to myself–still made me deeply sad, but perhaps our moment had simply passed. Maybe we had just not been healthy enough, with stable enough income, at a young enough age. Now we had arrived at that stable place, but maybe it was simply too late.
We agreed to put off talking about kids a while longer. What I most wanted was a happy family, but perhaps that family could be smaller than I had thought. Our home felt a little empty, but maybe that would pass. Maybe Ron and I, alone, could become the happy family I needed.
I had vowed never to take health for granted again, but by late spring I knew I was slipping.
I still ate daily sauerkraut and kefir, but for meals I’d begun eating mainly pasta again. It occurred to me that mac n’ cheese was like my cigarettes. I knew I shouldn’t eat it much, and periodically decided to stop eating it, only to discover that I had accidentally bought myself another couple boxes. Unpacking them from the grocery bag, I would stare at them, befuddled. Only vaguely could I remember taking them off the shelf in the pasta aisle. Reasoning that now that I had them, I might as well use them up, I would eat them and tell myself they were my last. But then I would accidentally buy them again.
Sometimes, I would decide enough was enough–I really did need to stop–and would tell Ron to eat the boxes of mac n’ cheese for me. But soon I would find that I had unthinkingly cooked myself another box, moving like a robot to the cupboard, heating up the water, dumping the noodles in, and stirring in the cheese from the packet. Mac n’ cheese was such an ingrained habit that I could go through all these motions without catching myself. When stressed, my mouth tingled with the craving for this little meal. And this spring, I was stressed all the time.
I’d had one minor colitis flare in October, but it was brief and had receded once again with Proctofoam. Over the winter I’d been more cautious with my diet, and by February I was again in full remission. That had only boosted my confidence that I could, in fact, get away with my fast-paced lifestyle. Now I understood my disease, and I felt had mastered it. If a flare happened again–which it was bound to sometime–I could just zap it again with more Proctofoam.
Week after week, I reported sheepishly to Louise that I was still feeling anxious, still constantly focused on keeping up with my tasks, not living a particularly healthy life. But I explained that in summer things would finally ease. Really, they would. By then, my watershed science symposium would be over, my restoration permits should be complete, and this final round of house tasks should also be done. My goal for summer 2016, I insisted, was to have no projects at home other than my own health.
Health had once been my goal for 2013, then more recently for all of 2016. Now I was pushing that back a few more months.
In summer–I told myself and Ron and Louise–I would finally do the big reset I needed. Slow down, stop focusing on tasks, become more healthy. I just needed to get everything in place first. Once life was in place, then I could pause and rest. I only needed to hold out a little longer before the opportunity arrived.
And it turns out that in a way, I was right. Although I didn’t know it, the opportunity was about to arrive. There would indeed be a big reset this summer. It just wouldn’t be the kind I had pictured.
Since regaining my health, I had been running to stand still, chasing some unknown beast, careening along on a speeding train that I didn’t know how to stop.
But my time was about to run out. I was about to catch the beast.
And my train was about to crash.