Monday Notes: The Power of Story

Shortly after the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, I received several notifications from writing platforms. These publications had an urgent interest in “personal abortion stories.” Suddenly, hearing about women’s lived experiences was integral. I understand why. 

Stories are important. 

It’s one thing to be marching around in your knit, pink pussy hat; it’s quite another to share why you feel the need to. 

Sometimes, marching is easier than telling the person who disagrees with you that, you too, had an abortion at one point in your life. However, I’d argue that the narrative you share is what will actually create empathy, and eventually, a nuanced understanding of an issue.

Personal story is why the #MeToo movement was partly successful. For the first time that I know of, not only women, but also men were discussing definitions of sexual harassment. Is giving someone a compliment okay? Can I ask my coworker out on a date? If someone says, “yes” to sex, and then “no,” what should happen? I believe the only reason we were able to openly have conversation is because your favorite celebrity, your mother, or your friend shared a #MeToo story, and you offered a compassionate ear.

But personal stories are hard to share. 

I don’t want to speak for everyone, but it seems we’ve collectively bought into a similar message: life should be lived in shame. Sometimes, we do it to one another. For example, anytime you suggest for someone not to openly share what happened to them, you’re encouraging them to live a secret life of shame. And so we keep things from one another, but to what end?

I guarantee you know at least one woman who has had an abortion, and I’d bet money that at least one person explicitly or implicitly told her to hide her story. Subsequently, women who’ve chosen abortion live with the following: shame for getting pregnant, shame for getting an abortion, shame for not choosing motherhood, or D: All of the above. 

Even those of us who lived in homes supportive of our choices still navigated a bickering country that saw women who had abortions as another type of human being, separate from society and meant to be shamed, shunned, and lectured. We were seen as people who committed shameful acts. We were called murderers. In our own ways, each of us wore handcrafted scarlet letters, even if the only one who saw that red “A” was us when we looked in the mirror. 

So I get it. Choices can create isolation, and sharing about them can feel as if you’ll be further ostracized from society. 

But stories are important. Shared narratives make something less of an anomaly. 

So, I was thinking…What if instead of scaring and shaming women, we actually provided them with our own sex stories: stories about contraception, stories about sexually transmitted infections, stories about sex without love, stories about sex with love, stories about pregnancy, stories about birth, stories about miscarriages, and stories about abortion. The stories about abortion would be encompassed in stories about sex, not as fear tactics or moral instruction, but as an option for what could occur, should you need it.

Personal abortion stories should’ve been a part of our sex conversations since 1973. Now, it seems major publications are seeking narratives as a reactive form of storytelling. The conservative, Republican Supreme Court has “gone rogue,” so we need abortion stories—NOW! 

Sheesh! Reactivity to issues seems like an immature and exhausting way to be in the world. 

Personal abortion stories should have been part of our lives over the past fifty years. Perhaps, if more women discussed the commonality of our experiences, then we’d be less likely to allow a court, men, or anyone else to take away our rights. But as long as we’re tucking our lives away in the crevices of our closets and acting as if we know not of what those other heathens speak of, well…we get where we are now. 

Please don’t mistake this for victim shaming. It just seems that at some point, we have to stop living in shame for fear of what others, especially those who look like us and may have had similar experiences may say. Maybe if we would’ve shared “personal abortion stories” sooner, we would have a different national narrative. 

Or maybe I’m living in la-la land, we’re all powerless, and Roe v. Wade was always going to be overturned. I’d like to think otherwise, though. I’m a writer, after all, and believing in the power of story is what gives me hope.


Writer’s Workshop: Voice

My first blog post was “Why I Refuse to Judge Any Mother.” In it, I describe my observations of a friend’s mother, juxtapose her mother with how I felt about my own mother, and then explain how I hope my own daughters will see me as a mother—when they eventually begin to reflect.

Out of all the texts I received, I appreciated my journalist friend’s the most.

“Kathy, this is good,” she said. “You have what they call voice. In grad school, they used to always talk about how you should have voice in writing. You have it.”

In literature, “voice” refers to the rhetorical mixture of vocabulary, tone, point of view, and syntax that makes phrases, sentences, and paragraphs flow in a particular manner.

https://www.masterclass.com/articles/how-to-find-your-writing-voice

Whenever I write, I want the reader to experience exactly what I was thinking or feeling.

But how do I do this?

Brace yourself.

I may tell you something that goes against what you’ve been told before:

I pretty much write how I talk and think. Even that last sentence is an example. I promise you a grammar program will tell you to remove “pretty much” because it’s unnecessary, but I left it in because that’s how I talk and think. If we were together, and you asked me how do I write? I’d say I pretty much write how I talk and think.

What is also helpful is my brain’s duality. I was raised in a family that valued so-called standard English, so I grew up learning the syntax appropriate for news personalities and job interviews. However, I was also raised on the west side of Chicago, which by all accounts is the hood. I quickly learned how to switch the verb “to be” around or to insert a cuss word so as not to be accused of talking like a White girl. I’m not special. Many Black people know how to codeswitch in this way.

What this means for my writing is I can create a sentence that appeals to White folks and Black people…or should I say Black folks and White people. You see how just interchanging those two words—folks and people—shifts meaning and tone?

I also want my writing to be accessible. I want to have a conversation with you. In order to do that, I have to write how I would talk if we were together having a latte, green tea, or Caipirinha. So, sometimes I stop, and address you directly. Maybe I’ll add a question, like what do ya’ll think to invite you into this conversation we’re having, while also throwing in the Southern dialect I’ve acquired from living in Florida for over two decades.

Most of my in-real-life friends who read my blog say, “Girl, I could hear you saying…” And that’s what I want.

To reiterate, if you’re concerned with developing voice in writing, then you have to determine what “vocabulary, tone, point of view, and syntax” you want to use and why. Only you know what that is.

And remember, voice, kind of like personality, cannot be imitated because it’s something only you possess. (Full disclosure: I sat here for five minutes flip-flopping between the word possess and own).


Do you worry about voice in writing? Does it matter?

Monday Notes: About Europe

Disclaimer: I realize all European countries are not alike. The entire continent is not a monolith. However, I have visited six European countries over my lifetime, and there seem to be a few commonalities.

TEENY-TINY THINGS

Europeans like things small. This ranges from coffee to living spaces. Our Zagreb Airbnb was 400 square feet; that’s the size of two dorm rooms or a garage. Maybe I’m set in my big-ass American ways, but even if I was alone, that wouldn’t be enough space. I’m a little over five-feet tall and around 135 pounds; the showers in both rentals were too small for me to wash my hair or shave my legs. I found this interesting, especially in the Netherlands, where the tallest people in the world live! How does the population function in capsule-like spaces? 

SOCIALLY CONSCIOUS

A Dutch Uber driver found out we were from the States and shouted, “Yay, Trump! Yee-haw!” in a facetious way. In our Rotterdam Airbnb, the owner asked us to use the heat sparingly, because “it’s not that cold outside, because of you know…climate change.” We met a thirty-year-old biracial woman from the UK who wants to visit the US, but is afraid because she “doesn’t want to get shot in the street, minding her own business.” And a Croatian Uber driver began a conversation with me about the “race” and “gun problem” we have. According to him, he wouldn’t even know how to obtain a gun in his country. He would have to “find someone in the underground, like the mafia, and even then, know exactly who to speak to to get a gun.” 

FRESH BREAD AND MEAT

If you like bread, then go to the Netherlands. The bread is freshly made, and it is evident. One time, we bought a loaf of bread on a Monday and by Wednesday or so, it was moldy. When we’re home, bread stays “good” foreva…and that’s probably not a good sign. If you like meat, then go to Croatia. That’s all we found in the grocery store: red meat and chicken. I had fish when we went to Hvar, which is off the coast; otherwise, meat is what’s for dinner there. But be careful of fillers. We bought some ground beef, and you could literally see and taste the filler. Well, that’s what we think it was.

SALADS

Both countries offer salad, whether it is breakfast, lunch, or dinner. The Dutch seem to really enjoy arugula, in particular. I don’t mean a spring mix with arugula, I mean…that’s the salad—arugula. In Croatia, the salads are a mix of shredded varieties, like iceberg, romaine, and arugula. Croatians also have a fresh, light vinegar and oil dressing. However, if you want something other than salad, then you will probably have to buy it at the grocery store or market, and even then, especially in Croatia, it is hard to find other types of green veggies. 

HANGING CLOTHES ON THE LINE

I know I’ve spoken ad nauseum about this, but hear me out one more time. Hanging clothes on the line seems to be cultural. When we were in the Netherlands, everyone in the apartment hung their clothes out. They even had special contraptions that allowed the clothes to hang out further and be brought back into the house. When we toured ruins and other places, I noticed surrounding areas where residents hung their clothes on the line. And when we got to Croatia, that again, was the expectation. If any of my European friends want to enlighten me about this, then please feel free in the comments. The only place I saw a dryer was at the laundromat.

WASHING WITHOUT A WASHCLOTH

Years ago, when I visited Spain and England, I learned that washcloths weren’t a thing. But I totally forgot about this on our trip. The owner of the Holland Airbnb had hand towels, but they were really too big to use as washcloths. When we visited Belgium, it was the same; there were hand towels but no washcloths. By the time we flew to Croatia, I was prepared and had purchased some smaller towels (but they weren’t washcloths). I looked this up to find out why some people, not necessarily Europeans, don’t use washcloths, and the answer is because it’s seen as unsanitary to repeatedly use a washcloth due to bacteria buildup. Who knew?

SMOKING

The Dutch and Croatians smoke…a lot. I legit thought I was going to get an illness from second-hand smoke. Whether it was when we were at home, relaxing or out and about, eating, cigarette smoke wafted through the air and into our nostrils. Europeans smoked so much I thought maybe no one had told them that it was bad, until I saw an empty pack on a table that said, “Smoking kills.

UNITED STATES IS A MICROCOSM OF EUROPE

If you’re familiar with any United States’ history, then this should be a no-brainer, but sometimes you have to see something to fully understand. When I visited parts of London, Manhattan’s setup made sense. New Orleans reminds me of parts of Spain. On this trip, I learned more about where specific cities, ideas, and people originated. For example, do these cities sound familiar: Breuckelen, Haarlem? Yeah. They originated in the Netherlands, so did the stock exchange. Neckties came from Zagreb, Croatia (as well as Nikola Tesla), and lace was invented in Bruges. Finally the Belgian waffle, which we (or I) love so much, is not Belgian due to its shape; it is Belgian because of the ingredients, which by the way, is not pancake flour.


Overall, this trip has broadened my perspective of the world and myself. I think it’s important to see how other people live, and traveling, whether it’s for a short or extended period of time, provides that. I’m grateful we were able to take this trip, and I’m looking forward to the next one.

Mental Health Matters: Avoiding Stress vs Managing Stress

  1. yoga
  2. work with a therapist
  3. self-therapy
  4. daily meditation
  5. find meaning and purpose
  6. connect with nature and natural light
  7. correct your nutrition and supplement
  8. correct your nutrition and supplement for detoxification and anti-inflammation
  9. heal your gut
  10. exercise
  11. practice “radical acceptance”
  12. use mantras
  13. practice gratitude
  14. keep a journal
  15. manage your technology and social media use
  16. balance your hormones
  17. sleep better
  18. change your lifestyle habits 

I do a combination of these eighteen things a minimum of four times a week. On the weekends, I rest, and call it balance. 

You may be wondering the following: if these eighteen habits are already a part of my daily life, then how did Stressed in the Netherlands occur, and why was there some residual when I was De-Stressed in Croatia?  

Well, apparently, there’s a difference between avoiding stress and managing stress

AVOIDING STRESS

Dr. Linear Passaler (the person with the dysregulated nervous system quiz) said that a lot of the narrative around sensitivity is built on the idea that in order to honor it, we need to reduce stressors

Exactly, Dr. Passaler, exactly, I thought as I listened to her. 

In addition to the eighteen above practices, my husband and I have designed a peaceful home. 

Our walls are creamy white. Our gray, wraparound couch is soft to the touch, and easy to fall asleep on. When we open the blinds to our Florida room, otherwise known as an enclosed patio, the sun lights up the entire kitchen, dining, and living room. It is spacious and light. Each of these was an intentional choice to create calm.

Aside from the eighteen habits and a peaceful home, I block stress with a tight schedule. I have two agendas: written and electronic, so I will never be caught off-guard. Lunch with friends, editing clients’ books and dissertations, and posting to social media are logged onto both to maintain a sense of control in my life. There is no room for a surprise-something-or-another. Unless it is a death situation, I do not and probably will not make time for your “emergency.” People who know me accept this.

I’ve spent the last thirty-three years developing and perfecting a system to avoid stress, which works in the States when I adhere to it. But when I’m somewhere else and don’t? Stressed in the Netherlands creeps up.

It’s easy for me to become dysregulated, because I’ve never really learned to be regulated in the moment. However, learning to manage stress is important because stressful events will always occur, and for someone like me, whose set point is stressed, events will always appear more stressful than they may actually be. 

REBALANCING THE NERVOUS SYSTEM AND MANAGING STRESS

Instead of eliminating stressors, Dr. Passaler says, deliberate stress exposure trains us to expand our capacity. It teaches our nervous system that we have some control over external circumstances. This is one way to learn how to rebalance your nervous system. She also says moderate stressors can help us be more resilient, adaptable, and successful.

I haven’t found more information about deliberate stress exposure; however, I do know one thing I can practice to include moderate stressors—not having an airtight agenda. 

One example is before Dwight and I left, he asked me if I could drop him off to get an oil change. This wasn’t on either of my to-do lists, so the answer, without blinking, was no. Moving forward, I plan to take baby steps toward saying yes to some unscheduled requests…not all, but some.

I developed the above list from MindHealth360, a site that describes how complex this issue is and lists ways to rebalance your nervous system, depending on your specific issue (e.g., hormonal or cognitive).

As it turns out, I’ve already been working on rebalancing my nervous system. However, when I’m out of the country again, I have to not only prioritize things like finding fresh fruits and vegetables and exercising, but also making time to meditate and using pranayama breath when unexpected stressors appear. 

WHEREVER YOU GO, THERE YOU ARE

That’s the lesson. Wherever I am, there I will be—sensitive nervous system and all. In addition to my hair care supplies and jacket, I must pack my eighteen strategies for avoiding or managing stress, especially if I am planning to live somewhere with unknown stressors for eight weeks. On some trips, like Central America, I may only need five. On others, like Europe, I may need more. Either way, next time I’ll be prepared.

Thanks, as always, for reading and commenting.


RESOURCES

Are you an orchid, tulip, or dandelion?

Heal Your Nervous System blog

Fix Your Nervous System


Mental Health Matters: De-Stressed in Croatia

I want to show you how easy it was to de-stress and regulate my nervous system while I was in Zagreb, Croatia. I mean, that’s the social media way, right? But that’s not my way. I want you to understand this was a process. 

So, here we go. 

Day 1

I am angry with my husband because he doesn’t take the day off from work when we fly from Amsterdam to Zagreb. Instead of talking with him about it, I use a familiar coping mechanism: suppression. Consequently, I am overwhelmed with the thought of finding lunch for both of us and grocery shopping in a new country by myself. However, I must do these things; otherwise, I will not eat, so I use another familiar coping mechanism: hyper independence

Day 2

I am still angry from yesterday, but I say nothing. My husband found a food delivery service: it’s called Bolt, like Uber Eats or DoorDash. Due to miscommunication between us, he orders food only for himself. This causes meltdown number one. In this case, crying serves as a purifier for the stress I’ve suppressed. Our conversation yields resolutions: (1) he will grocery shop in the morning because he wakes up much earlier than I do; (2) I will take clothes to the laundromat; (3) he will wash white clothes and hang them on the line; (4) he will be more attentive; (5) I will ask for help. 

Days 3-5

It’s my birthday weekend, and stress won’t ruin it, this is my silent declaration. Dwight rents a car and drives us to Split, Croatia, where he’s planned birthday events in Hvar, an island you can only reach by ferry. We miss the ferry. But I don’t feel stressed. Maybe it’s because I declared victory over anxiety at the onset. Probably not. That’s not how anxiety works. We tour Split and arrive at Hvar late Friday night. It is too dark to see the water, but even in the dark, I hear the Adriatic crashing against the shore a few feet from our balcony. I’m able to engage in another coping mechanism: soaking up the sounds of the sea. The next day, the Adriatic helps to regulate my mood. Everything is okay. The resort allows me to eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner with ease. My body re-sets. 

I’m glad Dwight planned this.

Day 7

I’m overly excited about going to the laundromat. I head to the bank with a two-hundred kuna bill (the equivalent of twenty-eight dollars). I need change so I can use the machine, which only takes one hundred kuna. 

“I cannot do that,” the bank teller says when I request two one hundred kuna. 

Her reply sends me over, and I start crying—mini meltdown number two. I didn’t anticipate the bank would be a place where I couldn’t change money. Tears fall. The teller looks surprised. She tells me where to go. I can do hard things, I tell myself, while dragging a suitcase full of dirty clothes through downtown. I scan the corner store and choose a Sprite.

“Do you have anything smaller?” the cashier asks as I hand her the two hundred kuna bill, now wet and crumpled.

“No,” I lie.

I successfully wash clothes in two hours. This seemingly small feat makes me proud. 

Day 8

I’ve been eating oatmeal for breakfast. Its thick sliminess helps to move my bowels. I practice virtual yoga, amused that I can join the six AM class, because in Zagreb, it is noon. In a couple of hours, I Zoom into a work meeting. They’re still not taking my suggestions, but I do not feel the urge to cry. 

Week 1

I have a schedule. Three FitOn workouts one day. Virtual yoga the next day. Rely on the eighteen thousand steps we accumulate during our walking tours for added exercise. Eat thick slime for breakfast and ramen for lunch four times a week; these are easy meals that do not require thinking. Make dinner four times a week. Laundromat on Thursdays. Write everyday, even if it’s gibberish no one will read. This regimen isn’t perfect, but it is predictable, and that’s what I need…predictability. 

My bowel movements are regular, and sleep has returned—all signs that my nervous system has returned to “regular.” 

Laundry day number two, a German man put too many kuna in the machine and doesn’t need them. He gives me his tokens, enough to last two weeks. It’s the kind of event that makes you believe someone beyond the veil has your back. 

Week 2

All is well. An Uber driver tells me there’s an electronic music festival beginning on Friday. I grew up on house music, so I’m ecstatic. 

“Are you going to be able to wake up?” Dwight asks because we’re scheduled to ride the Flixbus to Venice the next day and also because he’s showing attentiveness. 

“I will,” I say. “I have a plan.” 

Drinking and dancing for three hours in a park releases toxins from my body, and I feel free.

When we return late that night, I follow my plan: shower and pack clothes and the popcorn Dwight bought me for the trip.

I don’t lose it when we almost miss the bus to Venice because neither of us knows the exact departure location. I don’t lose it when I find out there are no Ubers in Venice, only taxis that cost fifty euro. I don’t lose it when we get lost in the 150-canal maze that is Venice. I…am…calm. I almost lose it when my husband implies he could have found closer accommodations than I did—almost—but I don’t. 

Week 3

“I feel good today,” I write in my iPhone notes. I’ve been keeping track of my moods and activities, so I know what to continue and what to discard. It’s working. I’m sailing. Even though Dwight works from one to nine at night, I realize that is his schedule. I am not bound to the apartment. This is a revelation. I plan a “me” day: Zagreb Zoo and Evergreen Sushi. A conversation with my goddaughter, someone who simply listens, without offering judgement or advice, is appreciated. 

Week 4

The past few weeks have been steady, but I am ready to go home. Dwight has listened: he makes dinner that lasts two days and finds breakfast for us. This is important. The food is nourishing and so is his attention to my wellbeing. The morning we go to breakfast is perfect, except…I’ve left my phone in the Uber. I’ll spare the details of how it was recovered, but Dwight’s help was imperative. The important part is now, I am really ready to go home.

We drive to Pula, Croatia on our last Saturday. Once again, I pay my respects to the Adriatic Sea, which in my mind is a perfect ending to an imperfectly perfect extended vacation.

Now that there’s some context, I can share what I actually learned on this trip.


Mental Health Matters: Stressed in the Netherlands

Beware: This is not your typical post-vacation writeup. If you want to see cute reels about our European vacation, then check me out on IG. If you want to hear cool stories about our time in the Netherlands, Brussels, Croatia, and Venice, then follow Garlands Abroad. But if you want to hear about how something I’ve lived with my whole life re-surfaced, then keep reading.

While in the Netherlands, I did an online sensitivity profile. The cutesy name got me: Are you an orchid, tulip, or dandelion? Each flower represents a nervous system type. For example, dandelions can withstand anything. Orchids? Not so much. According to this quiz (and life), I’m an orchid; we have highly sensitive nervous systems. We are easy to stress and hard to calm down. 

Duh. I’d already developed an understanding of myself, explored, and written about the following: 

Though I’d learned how to keep stress levels at bay in the States, I had to modify methods while out of the country. If you recall, stressful events ranged from having a crazy laundry washing schedule to losing a debit card. Initially, I wasn’t going to blog about these events, because I thought they didn’t sound like “real” issues. But learning the terms highly sensitive nervous system and dysregulated nervous system validated that these issues are real for me. 

When I couldn’t figure out how to work the stove, for example, I could feel anger and anxiety building up. It was a simple task: light a gas oven, but at the same time, it wasn’t. You had to hold a button down with all your strength, while turning another knob just right, until flames appeared. If you released the knob too soon, you lost the flame. Some people (i.e., dandelions) can keep trying three or four times, while maintaining a laugh and a smile. I cannot. 

After I found out I was an orchid, I was sent the Top 10 Signs of a Dysregulated Nervous System. This list resonated with me so deeply, and I’ve decided to show you how while telling you about what it was like for me to live in the Netherlands: 

#1: You’re constantly on-edge and overwhelmed

Facts. Overwhelmed is an understatement for how I felt when I had to wake up at six in the morning to catch a train to Amsterdam to ride in a van with six strangers to Zaanse Schans to do a walking tour. While on a food tour in Rotterdam, I ruminated: How am I going to wash clothes this week? What are we going to eat? Should I buy a blender? That was my brain while eating a kroket or listening to how Jewish people were captured in Rotterdam.

#2: You’re frequently snappy, irritable, or reactive

As a reminder, I was working while we were away. I almost cried during a Zoom meeting because I felt as if people were ignoring me during the conversation. I never have hurt feelings at work, so this was unexpected. I ended up turning off my camera and muting my mic so they couldn’t see my crimson eyes or hear my sniffles.

#3: You experience chronic pain and illness

Laryngopharyngeal reflux is considered a chronic illness, because it never really goes away. Like me, most people with this condition learn to manage it with rest and diet. Guess what else is considered chronic illness? IBS. In Rotterdam, increased stress and a lack of appropriate nutrients caused my cough to briefly re-surface. Ginger tea helped with digestion. 

#4: You’re highly sensitive to sensory stimuli

I don’t like noises: small or big. You know how people click a pen top or tap something on the table? Yeah, that makes me want to commit murder. My husband is a pen clicker. I didn’t know this until we were in a one-bedroom apartment overseas. I could hear the click, click, click from the bedroom and it distracted me to the point where I couldn’t concentrate sometimes.

#5: You experience sleep problems and daytime fatigue

Insomnia returned during week two. Sometimes, I awoke two or three times a night. The night before our excursion to Giethoorn, I got three hours of sleep. It took four hours for me to get my shit together just to be pleasant. After that, I purchased a box of chamomile and lavender tea to help me downshift before going to bed. 

#6: Chronic attention and concentration problems

Friends have an idyllic perception of me writing in the mountains or next to an ocean when we’re away. That’s not reality. I need complete silence and comfort (see #4). I need to be well fed and well rested (see #5). When we were in the Netherlands, I was none of that, and it was not only hard for me to write, but also to read. I found myself re-reading sentences multiple times while grading, and it took four hours for me to review nine applications for a contest.

#7: Cravings and extreme appetite changes

If you ever see me eating chocolate, then there’s a problem. I’m a meat and potatoes girl; chocolate means I’m de-centered. But luckily/unfortunately (depending on your perspective), in the midst of my stress, we traveled to Bruges, the “chocolate capital of the world.” I found some little chocolates the size of a half-dollar and started putting them in my morning coffee. By the end of our Netherlands trip, I’d also purchased and eaten a box of Dove bars. 

#8: Immune and hormonal symptoms

I am perimenopausal, and I attribute any hormonal imbalance to that. On this trip, I could tell my hormone levels had decreased and contributed to me having a hard time regulating my nervous system. You can read about that here

#9: Skin and gut conditions

For the first two weeks of this trip, instead of IBS, I actually pooped less, like every four days. Even though it’s the opposite of having loose bowels, irregular bowel movements, in general, can be a sign of stress. Not knowing when I could or might poop added more stress. Additionally, in Brussels, you have to pay for a bathroom, and in Amsterdam, you may be riding in a boat down a canal, neither are ideal situations for immediate bathroom breaks. 

#10: You’re highly sensitive to other people’s emotional states

This is usually the case for me, but because I was only around Dwight, and his emotional state is as steady as a rock, this issue didn’t surface during this trip. 

So yes, I’m an “orchid’,” who has a highly sensitive nervous system. I need lots of things to regulate, but I didn’t put things in place until I arrived in Zagreb, Croatia. 

More about that in the next post.


Monday Notes: Non-Attachment

Unlike other blog posts, I don’t have a clear definition/citation for the Buddhist concept of non-attachment. Instead, what I’m going to share is what I’ve gathered from reading articles, having conversation with my husband, and living life. What follows is literally my interpretation:

Non-attachment seems to be one’s ability to simultaneously care and let go.

Here’s what I mean.

CAREER

When I began my job as a community college professor, I took a twenty-thousand dollar decrease in salary. This pissed me off the entire first two years. I couldn’t believe I had a doctorate and decades of experience yet made far less than my peers and far less than I did my first year of teaching high school in 1996. How little my paychecks were clouded my vision.

Unlike at a university, I couldn’t negotiate my salary. My choice was to either find a new job or accept what I was bringing home, so I chose the latter. It wasn’t until I released worry about how much money I was making that I was able to develop a creative solution that didn’t involve quitting. Two years later, I began a small editing business. While my salary affords me basics, like food and shelter, my editing business helps me to afford the lifestyle I desire.

Do I care about making money? Of course, that’s how we live in this capitalistic society that commodifies people and their talents. However, letting go of the worry that comes with being low paid in my field is what led to the lifestyle I currently have, which I’m still not attached to because I know it could cease to exist tomorrow.

ROMANTIC RELATIONSHIP

Dwight and I have been together for nearly three decades. I’ve written before about how attached I was to him when we first met. There was an inherent fear that if I lost him and our relationship, then somehow, I would be nothing. Our relationship was attached to my self-worth.

After healing unresolved trauma, I was able to see the flaw in my perception. If Dwight and I separate, I will not die. I will be fine. Don’t worry. He feels the same. I once asked him if he needed me. His response was no, and so was mine. I mean, think about it. It sounds a bit desperate to say that you need someone, like in a life-or-death way. In our relationship, we’re happy because we both want to be with each other; we’re not together out of obligation or desperation.  

Do I care about Dwight? Of course, care is a part of love. However, I know at any moment, this relationship could end for any reason, and I’m at peace with that. This not only applies to my romantic relationship, but also familial and friendship ones.

BLOGGING

Like many bloggers, when I first began, I was concerned about gaining readership. I participated in WordPress’s Blogging 101 and Blogging 201. I religiously followed Janice Wald’s advice. I begged family and friends to subscribe to my blog and felt bad when people didn’t. You know where all of that got me? Worried with a side of hurt feelings. I was so attached to what it meant to have five, ten, eighteen more followers that I was ignoring the creative part.

I had to stop worrying about who was following my blog and who wasn’t. I had to become unattached to the outcome of blogging. One day, I received one of those WP automated announcements about having 500 followers or something like that. I was surprised because I’d been focusing on just creating meaningful content, not gaining readers.

Do I care about blogging? I think most of you know the answer to that. However, I am not attached to how many likes or comments I receive. I rarely look at statistics, because I’m happy to engage with whoever happens to stop by.

Ultimately, what I’ve learned is that worry is a type of fear and it is linked to an attachment of some sort: I was attached to my pay because I feared being broke; I was attached to my husband because I was afraid to be alone; and I was attached to accumulating likes and comments because I was scared of not being a “good” blogger.


But in each example, when I released worry, and subsequently the fear associated with it, then that’s when the magic happened. I still cared, but I was also able to let go, and eventually, reach some level of non-attachment. Let me know what you think. Can you be non-attached to people, things, and circumstances?

Postscript: Non-attachment is not detachment. Detachment is not a healthy coping mechanism. Non-attachment is not a lack of care and concern. Not caring and being concerned with people is another form of detachment, which is not a healthy coping mechanism.


Monday Notes: 4 Weeks in the Netherlands

On Friday, May the 13th, Dwight and I ventured off to breakfast. I checked my workout pants pocket: phone, ID, no debit card. 

“I left my card at home,” I said.

But when I returned home, my debit card wasn’t inside the deep pocket of my travel backpack where I’ve kept it since we’d left the States. I’d lost it. 

I checked my bank account: 

$-52.67 (Spar City Witte)

$-52.67 (Spar City Witte)

$-39.60 (Spar City Witte)

Someone found my card and had repeatedly used it at a corner store (where I probably dropped it). It had only been an hour. 


This incident describes part of how I’d felt while vacationing in the Netherlands for four weeks. 

It was an explicit balance of stress and relaxation. 

The stress began week one when I found out there was no clothes dryer. I would have to hang clothes on a five-foot clothes rack. This may not sound stressful to you, but for someone like me, who successfully washes, dries, folds, and puts clothes away every Sunday, this immediately interrupted my carefully organized routine that I maintain to avoid stress. By week two, I realized it would take three days to use a small European washer and several clothes hangers to achieve what I usually did in one day. 

Stress compounded week two when we didn’t grocery shop for the week. No groceries meant no food, and no food meant buying food at restaurants for breakfast, lunch, and dinner or multiple runs to the grocery store. Consequently, because Dwight worked from one to ten at night, if I wanted groceries, I’d have to do it alone. Shopping by myself wasn’t an issue; fitting this into my existing schedule was.

These new stressors occurred in between finishing Spring semester, starting Summer semester, agreeing to be on a work committee, and taking on an editing client—all manageable tasks when I’m completing household tasks under normal structured circumstances.

But these weren’t normal or structured circumstances.

I needed to rely on strategies so the stress wouldn’t build up in my body and turn into uncontrollable anxiety. I immediately scheduled a virtual yoga class with a studio in Jacksonville. Unlike being in Costa Rica, where the serenity of the mountains calmed me, in Rotterdam, I needed an organized practice once a week. 

Because I’d been working hard on balancing my microbiome in relation to my digestion system, I noticed when I was eating too much sugar or too little fiber. Unlike in Panamá, I didn’t have to wait until my belly was bloated to know when I’d gone too far. Instead, I began no-weight workouts with an exercise app; I had to meditate to stay calm; I had to journal. I had to work hard to be balanced in this new environment.

Without these practices already in place, it would have been easy to spiral when I lost my debit card, and I almost did. I was angry at myself for being careless in another country. But you know what? I first settled something in my mind, and then, out loud:

“I am not about to let this f**k up my day!” I said to Dwight but more so to myself. “I’m going to get my nails done.” 

Did I choke back tears when the bank representative asked me where I was located and then the country and then my zip code—twice? Yep. Did I wallow? Nope. 

Instead of spiraling into an abyss of anger after playing twenty-one questions with customer service, I thought rationally. I am not without. I have another bank account to transfer and use money. I am not lacking because of a mistake, and I’m not some sort of dolt because I made an error. 


The reality is in between dealing with the stress of unexpected events, I’ve done the following:

  • eaten authentic Belgian waffles in Brussels, the way Belgians intended, 
  • tried premier chocolate from a chocolatier in Brussels,
  • visited Gieethorn, a wealthy town built around a canal, 
  • watched sex workers solicit clients in Amsterdam, 
  • drank shots at the nine degree below Ice Bar
  • viewed Jesus’s (alleged) blood captured in a capsule, 
  • toured the city where In Bruges was filmed, 
  • eaten at a myriad of outdoor cafes, 
  • photographed tulips on the last day of tulip season, and
  • walked an average of six miles per day. 

It’s super easy to get caught up in one or two bad events, right? But we can’t let a few negative encounters dictate our entire experience. Overall, I’ve enjoyed living in the Netherlands. Sure, there were unexpected cultural shifts for living our lives; however, there were more “good” days than “bad” days. Was washing clothes half the week a pain? YEP! Was eating an authentic Belgian waffle worth it? ABSOLUTELY!

I’ll check back in once we leave our next destination: Croatia. Until then, I hope you enjoy these photos.