Stress Dreams: A Cry for Help You Can’t Answer

One thing that becomes clear to me is that if I try to squish down stressful situations and pretend they don’t affect me, my anxious brain has its own ways to beg to differ. It’s all well and good to consciously remind yourself that the only things you should concern yourself with are things you can do something about. But some part of you (probably hanging out somewhere with those unconscious biases, over in the unconscious stressors area) still feels stressed about those things.

Envying butterflies. They eat a lot, then sleep a lot. After that they just have one job, they do it, and then they go to butterfly heaven.

Usually I feel okay during the day, sort of observing what’s going on and doing my best to let other people’s problems be their problems and not take things personally. That’s a major triumph right there! I do a lot of deep breathing, just like I do with the horse. People, horses, they’re all things I can’t control, only offer information to.

At night, though, I have a completely different type of dream when I’m feeling anxious and overwhelmed than when things are just normally stressful. First, it’s the dreams about being in school and not knowing where to go or what the test is about. Then I’ll be at a large conference trying to avoid the scary people. Lately I dream about trying to get dressed in fancy clothing, but having forgotten how. That sounds like a COVID dream, doesn’t it?

I also think I’m trying to cover up my insecurities and put on a more professional/fancy face, but failing. People try to help me, but that makes me end up dressed really funny. I tend to end up going out to the party, meeting, or whatever half dressed. That’s a work-based interpretation. It means that all this hashing out of the same problems but only coming up with half-assed solutions ends up creating something totally unworkable. Hmm, that’s what my colleague L. and I talked about just today!

This is how I feel. All “extra” and woozy.

Otherwise, I’m overwhelmed with baby animals, adult animals, and their excrement. Duh. That’s literally true at the ranch, and figuratively true with my work and family life.

The dreams partially come from having so many animals in bed with me, and partially come from my problem of wanting to take care of everyone who’s helpless or needs comfort. Even when I consciously tell myself I can’t help people who don’t want to be helped or comfort everyone who’s hurting, my heart wants to anyway. Oh, stop it.

For me, I get physical symptoms only when my subconscious’s other ways of communicating don’t work. Right now they’ve been screaming at me for a week or so, and that’s led to my favorite anxiety symptom: chest pains. That means I need to do something NOW or I won’t be fully functional. I also get weird feelings like everything’s in slow motion, which makes it hard to talk. Usually, I can get through these and still do what I need to do, but it takes so much energy!

My mind and body are crying for help, obviously, but there isn’t a darned thing I can do to make today any different. I just have to get through today and see what tomorrow brings. We can’t always cope, and that’s actually fine. Sometimes we have a right to have an anxiety attack. It helps to know they will pass, and things can get back on an even keel.

Hope you aren’t having the ups and downs I am today! If you are, know you aren’t alone, because I’m surrounded by people in the same boat!

Ways We Cope with Stress: Featuring Plants

Because I’m so darned introspective, I’ve been examining how I cope with stress these days. I find that I can only handle a subset of the priorities I could before, and I avoid duties that appear like they’ll bring on more stress. That’s how I’m coping now, to the detriment of a couple of projects. But, as I look around I realize mine is only one way to cope. I also notice it’s not just us people who cope in different ways, so rather than call out people today, I’ll illustrate my points with how local plants are coping with the stress from Winter Storm Uri.

A perfect example is how some trees have died, some are struggling to come back, and some look fantastic, and this difference can happen in the same types of trees.

Some of us seem to deal with stress as if it’s not there at all. These people are often deeply grounded, have been through a lot, or have lots of support (roots!). These people, just like the Ashe juniper trees, often support others.

Others retreat and focus on one thing at a time, and try their best to do it well, like a rose bush with just one perfect flower.

Only one blossom, but it’s a good one.

There are people, and I know quite a few of them, who not only handle stress well, they thrive on it and so some of their best work when there’s a lot going on. Sometimes doing something is a way of coping and staying busy (I’m guilty of this), while others find challenges energizing. They enthusiastically bloom where they’re planted!

There are those, and who can blame them, who go into hiding, and only begin to peek out when the danger is over. Even then, they go slowly. It takes a lot out of people and plants to get their bearings when a stressful situation begins to ease up.

Stress tends to scatter some folks, too. They try this method of coping, and that method of coping, trying to find one that will actually work and get them through the hard times. I see this a lot in stressed oaks, which start putting out new growth all over, and not just at the ends of their branches. Some pop up along old limbs, and other pop up from the roots (very common).

This motte of oaks is sending out new sprouts all over the limbs and trunks.

When stress is really causing problems in living your usual life, though, sometimes starting again in a new place might help, like the redbud trees I’ve seem who look pretty sad up top, but have vibrant new growth farther down their trunks.

How many of us know people who have no choice to start over, even when that, too, is a struggle. I saw this poor tree with no leaves or other signs of life on its branches, but that hadn’t given up completely, and was starting again, hesitantly, and perhaps slowly. But, it’s still THERE! I count those of us who are in this situation as stronger than they realize.

I’m coming back!

Many of us fail to thrive during stressful periods. And it’s hard to say who’s going to cope well and who’s going to fall apart. One thing I noticed was that often there are two or more trees of the same variety near each other, and one looks great, while another struggles or succumbed to the weather? What’s the difference? You can’t tell on the surface what internal resources a tree or person has. That’s why we need to be patient and not blame people for their problems.

Same tree (an oak), different success rate.

I think flexibility, along with resilience, makes a difference in how we weather the inevitable Winter Storm Uri events in our lives. People who lived very rigid, inflexible lives really have had trouble with pandemic changes, just like a plant that’s been groomed into a stiff hedge with no choice in how it grows may have more trouble in a winter storm.

There are hundreds of these around the office, all very sad looking.

Those of us who aren’t well situated in the first place or already have anxiety issues may cope by throwing things every which way. A lot of the plants I seem seem to be reproducing like crazy, trying to grow, and growing in weird ways, like they’re trying ALL the options to make sure they’re making a good, healthy, happy impression. This has to take a lot of energy, and I wonder how well they’re going to do if they keep all that extra-perky energy up. I’ve noticed some crashing and burning of late…maybe a bit by me, to be honest.

This inland sea oats has come back strong, and has generated dozens of little buddies, just in case things don’t work out.

Now, some of the trees, and some of the people don’t make it at all through intense stress. I know more than one person who seems to be hanging by a thread right now. Some of us are just out of our element, like tropical trees (palms and such) that look pretty awful right now. I can’t fault them, and can only offer support and virtual hugs. And I will honor those we have lost.

We salute you, fallen non-native and non-cold hardy tree.

Looking at all the ways we humans and plants deal with unexpected stress is a good exercise for me. I can easily see the parallels among us, and what’s most clear is that there’s no right or wrong way to cope, nor are we all going to cope equally well. So, I’ll try to be patient with those who are struggling, including those who cope differently from me. I hope you can, too.

Roll with the Changes (like a tumbleweed)

True fact: every time you figure out a way to lessen one type of stress, another one comes up. Ha ha, life, you are SO FUNNY!

I had gotten a handle on some of my worries about the greater angst in the planet, which has helped me see our political stuff a different way (thanks to the mushroom book). And reading Caste gave me concrete ideas for working to make relationships among Americans better, so that wasn’t upsetting me as much. I even grappled myself into a place where I can deal with the changes at work in a positive and productive way. So proud of my own self.

But, no, I did not dwell in my feelings of equanimity for long at all.

Like I said not long ago, it’s always something. Image by @LittleIvan via Twenty20

The details are not important, just know they involve a not insignificant collection of sad animal tales and sickly family member tales (not just me; by the way I feel better).

BOOM. I got knocked right down and feel like a tumbleweed rolling down a hill in a rainstorm. Not a lot of control. But then, you NEVER have a lot of control, do you? I have to hand it to life, it doesn’t take it long at all to remind you of lessons you should not be forgetting.

Some of them there tumbleweeds are BIG, too. Image by @Dari via Twenty20

There are challenges out there and they aren’t gonna stop. That’s always been true, even if right now seems like they’ve sped up, like an old 78 RPM record or something. Round and round and round, zoom!

While there will always be challenges, there will ALSO always be ways to deal with them! And I know what those are, because I’m prepared!

Where I will imagine I am. Image by @Barefoot_Traveller via Twenty20

I shall:

  • Deal with one day and one challenge at a time
  • Not worry about what’s next or what just happened
  • Breathe deeply and get to my familiar place of comfort/ease
  • Light a candle and stare at it for a while
  • Read a book on a non-sad topic (I’m looking at YOU, book on the color blue!)
  • Pet a small animal (hi Pickle, since Vlassic is staying with Jim, ’cause it’s cold)
  • Go on a brisk walk (guaranteed brisk, due to aforementioned weather)
  • Send out loving-kindness to all my friends and families dealing with similar crap as mine

So, I hope you can do some of these things with me! Peace to you.

Nightmare Time

Hmm, since I decided to just flow along with all the disasters and challenges of our times, my subconscious has been staging a rebellion in the form of really bad dreams and insomnia. These are things that I’m lucky enough to not suffer from, normally.

I had a dream so scary about my mother disappearing that I yelled in my sleep and scared Lee. At least the source of that one was obvious; I’d started a book in which a child’s mother drops her off at her grandparents’ house and drives off. Apparently that bothered me more than I realized.

Let’s pause to look at some fuzzy white calves.

But that’s not all, the endless dreams of being lost, deserted, confused, unloved…you know, the kind of things an anxious person would dream about…they keep coming and coming. And if I wake myself up to get away, I drift off, eventually, to visions of things I’m confused about at work dancing in my head. I’m feeling a little challenged, I guess (not necessarily a bad thing).

This is not normal.

And trying to get to sleep, a thing I have finally perfected in my old age, has suddenly escaped me. I get all sleepy, lie down, and weird fuzzy thoughts pop up. Go away, weird fuzzy thoughts! (By the way, you do NOT need to give me advice on getting to sleep; believe me, after all these years I know exactly what works for me, am an excellent relaxation breather, own CBD/hemp oil, etc.)

I know the things I’m trying to let lie dormant don’t want to be dormant. That’s the real challenge of living in the moment, isn’t it? The past and the future keep vying for your attention. I’m not sure why things I did that were awful (when I was 26) keep popping back up, unless there’s some useful tidbit I need. And I sorta DO know why the future keeps poking me, even though over the weekend, the family worked out a long-term plan for that.

I want to get back to my centered self, subconscious. Leave me alone.

Maybe I need to rethink how I deal with the totally legitimate stressors that are buzzing around me at the moment and give them some space and time. Okay, they get a half hour around 3:30 pm. I hope they will show up and present their cases to gain my attention, then wait until the next day. Yeah, right.

What’s keeping you up at night? Illnesses (yes)? Interpersonal things (yes)? Family issues (yes)? Work or lack thereof (yes)? Natural disasters (yes)? Politics, climate change, racism, religion? Whatever it is, you’re normal, and however you’re dealing with it is just fine. We’re all doing our best, right?

My Brain-o-meter Is Reading FULL

Usually, I enjoy taking a blogging break each day, because it gives me a chance to stop thinking about work and stuff, and instead focus on fun or fascinating (to me) things. This week, my mind has been so full of other things that there’s just no room for fun. Well, maybe there’s a LITTLE room…

I’m still working on decorating the office, just figuring out what works and what doesn’t. While I’m waiting for my plant stand to arrive, I’m enjoying my plant corner a lot using the old table that’s been hanging around for years.

They’re all getting plenty of light, even with the window down here. I sort of like it this way.

The big change for today is that Chris put up a piece of plywood in my window that looks out into the hall, to dampen the sounds of me in my office, and I assume also to keep noise from coming IN, as well. It’s just temporary, I think, until the actual piece of glass comes. I’m sure the gaudy vase of flowers makes the plywood practically blend in with the surroundings. Sure, Suna.

You can also see my Mercury glass candle holders and a vase I got to go on the glass shelves, when they arrive.

I had a bunch of candles that were just sitting on the shelves, so I got some inexpensive candle holders for them, such as the shiny silver ones above and these extra pink ones for the mantel. They aren’t fancy heirlooms, but they are cheery, and will look good lit up (too bad I still haven’t managed to sneak into an uncrowded store and buy more AA batteries).

They set off the garlic teapot nicely, so I say.

Apparently, shiny things and lights help keep my mood up, and right now, I’ll take all I can get! If they distract me from work challenges, political grumblings, and natural disasters, they’re worth the time, effort and expense. I feel lucky to be able to make myself a haven here at the Pope Residence, and I’ll work really hard not to interfere with the work everyone else is doing, in return.

The other great improvement of the day is my keyboard and mouse tray. Typing is a joy, and I’m glad Chris figured out a good way to attach it to the desk!

When stress is high and change is swirling all around, little things can really bug us, am I right? The little thing that bugged me was that the inexpensive toilet paper holder I’d gotten for my bathroom had turned out to not hold those giant rolls of Charmin that I love. The horror! It was also so lightweight that it tried to fall over every time I touched it. That just would NOT do.

Sturdy and thematic.
Shiny, shiny!

This new one is made of iron pipe and has nothing to restrict the size of the spare roll. Rustic romantic, fits the theme! My bathroom is complete. Hooray. I’ll donate the other one to the thrift shop next time I go over there.

So it’s time to go think about hard stuff again. I’ll be keeping a part of my mind on everyone in the path of hurricanes and tropical storms today. I do hope we can get enough rain to have an effect on the grass from it. The little bit that showed up last night didn’t help much at all!

May you all find something shiny to smile about, and that there’s a little extra space in YOUR brain-o-meter for fun.

Too Much Right Now

There’s just so much in my head that I’ve no time nor ability to write. I was analyzing work stuff in my dreams last night. I couldn’t stop dreaming about data.

Hey, grasshopper, you’re supposed to distract me.

I’ve pushed through everything today, which is great, but there’s still more coming up! Being occupied with work challenges isn’t all bad, of course. It keeps your mind off the state of the world, sick friends, and natural disasters.

That’s really a cool color!

I did enjoy a lovely sunset last night after the wee bit of rain. And I reconnected with a friend from grad school whom I greatly admired and had thought about often.

Plus, I can disguise myself with even more masks, since I got some pretty ones in the mail. Guess I’m not a plain black mask person.

I’m blinding and blingy.

Hope you’re handling your surprises and learning curves today. We’re all in it together.

Spooky pretty.

Asking for Input in Troubled Times

While I do try to remain upbeat, some days are easier than other. And the daily grind is challenging. I don’t know anyone who disagrees with that right now!

Every day I hear grim statistics about COVID-19. Every day I read about people who “don’t believe in” the virus. Every day I see people scurrying around in masks trying to complete their business and get back home. Every day I see people playing contact sports, walking in large groups, and choosing to ignore social distancing practices.

Everyone has their own ideas of what’s safe, it seems.

Such contrasts!

The NY Times says fighting over masks is the new national pastime. That’s so sad.

How do you deal with the conflict that’s so obvious in our state and nation during this pandemic? I don’t think yelling at each other is a good idea. Shaming doesn’t seem to work. Everyone’s stressed out enough as it is, and being yelled at and shamed won’t make anyone change what they’re doing. I totally understand that, but I also understand how people react that way.

So, I’m looking for input. What are some ways of coping and maintaining an even keel that you’ve tried? Here are a few of mine (which aren’t working too well right now):

  • Deep breathing
  • Limiting reading of social and news media
  • Spending time with animals
  • Reading cheerful books and magazines
  • Writing letters
  • Doing kind things for others (I ordered some herbal supplements for a young friend, for example, since I could get them at a discount)

This is a good start, maybe!

Be good to each other. We’re all we have!

Anxiety, You Are My Weird Friend

Goodness knows, we are living in unprecedented times of stress. But, they are also times of opportunity for positive change. I’ve actually been feeling encouraged by some events in the past week or two. Even my most pessimistic coworker had to grudgingly admit that that there ARE positive trends (though he stuck firmly to his trademarked pessimism).

Anxiety, while in a Zoom meeting.

So, why have I been dealing with an onslaught of anxiety symptoms for the past couple of days? Why was I unable to get to sleep last night thanks to pesky thoughts about potential issues popping into my head (totally unbidden; I was relaxed and ready to sleep). Why am I having my least-favorite symptom, big ole chest pains? Why is my head all fuzzy and buzzy?

The answer is that at the moment I have no idea, but I know well enough that these symptoms are a part of my makeup and that I need to listen to them when they make their presence known. It’s like, “Hi Suna, are you doing the things you need to do to maintain your mental and physical health? Is there something going on that you are choosing to ignore and not deal with? Are you concerned about someone else?”

So, I’ve been sitting here thinking about what my conscious mind may be trying to hide from me that I need to address. I know there are three family members with health issues that concern me. They’re very important to me, and it’s hard to see people you love in pain. One is getting better, but two are struggling (physically or mentally).

As I type this, AHA, I get the idea that a lot of the anxiety is about my struggling family members. In the past week or two I have tried to help out and really not had much success. So, I’ve stepped back. For one of them, matters are becoming more pressing. I know I tend to get anxious about things I can’t do anything about, especially when I really NEED to do something.

Thanks, weird anxiety friend. You have told me in no uncertain terms that I need to not keep hoping issues will go away if I don’t think about them. Some part of me is concerned and it’s causing physical symptoms.

What a good lesson this is for me, and perhaps you, too. Like I realized when the Enneagram book helped me embrace my inner sloth, the problematic parts of our makeup have a place in our whole selves. My anxiety is my messenger. I’ll listen.

Still embracing that inner sloth. Image by  @jandall via Twenty20.

It’s worth thinking about what parts of yourself that you may not be thrilled about actually are serving a useful purpose. I hope you enjoyed reading how I worked out what was going on in my head. What do you find? How do you figure things out?

Well Past My Limit

I hit my limit on Wednesday. Today I surpassed it.

Work continued to annoy, mainly from being out of the loop when hard work was supposed to be done as a team. We worked it out.

Glad I had my squishy thing today.

And. We had been waiting to close on our Villa Park property all week. Ever so many weird delays occurred.

I was sad and disheveled.

I had hoped for a quiet day in the Cameron office today, but nope. While I was in Austin, all sorts of…things happened on our Pope Residence project, but no one had told me.

They also broke this light fixture.

Blah blah. Who cares. At some point I just started crying as Kathleen talked to me. I just wanted to flee. I couldn’t take any more bad news.

The bathroom window looks out on the yard now. The scary laundry room is gone.

I didn’t. Breathing occurred, and I sat through all my meetings, politely said how I felt, and did my work for all my jobs.

There the laundry room isn’t.

We actually got the closing on that house done, though our real estate agent, Carol, had to drive up to Cameron to bring the papers and our friend Liz had to rush through all the papers. Whew.

Carol and Sierra rest during their brief stop in Cameron for the closing.

I just decided to go with the flow. It worked. Sometimes that’s all you can do!

Yep. That’s an incredible number of papers for sellers.

The sight of all the work going on at the Pope Residence, along with thoughts of chandeliers for our offices helped. And some wine.

Nothing relaxes me more than decorating houses, so tonight Kathleen and I looked for chandeliers for our offices. Which one do you like best?

I’m sure things will settle down soon. I’m sure being out of the loop won’t be permanent. Challenges are part of life!