My Current Trigger Word

Dreadlocked

Old Knees

Six Lids

 

My Current Trigger Word
By Mara Boughton

You know how a certain word or phrase or smell or sound or taste can suddenly bring back a memory that you haven’t thought of in ages? This week it was a name that triggered a memory for me – Harvey Weinstein.

Harvey Weinstein (NOT Fierstein) has been in the news this week for sexual misconduct, abuse of power, etc. He is heavily involved in show business and if you haven’t ever heard of him just Google his name to see that even if you don’t know of him specifically, you know his work.

Anyway, my memory isn’t really about Harvey per se, but he does briefly appear. Let me state right up front, he did nothing negative in my presence. Believe me, I had that covered, for both of us and then some.

It was about 1990 and I was about 18 years old. I had been playing classical piano since I was seven years old and I was pretty damn good. I was in special programs, spent a year at the School of Performing Arts (of “Fame,” fame) in NYC and finished high school attending a performing arts program half day on Long Island.

Things were generally going well except I kind of had a little problem. I LOVED to play music. I could lose myself for ages in a practice room, playing whatever pleased me, blowing past whatever didn’t and enjoying. I felt calm, at peace, tranquil. And that was great. Until anyone else showed up. If it was just one other person and I was close to them, I felt some apprehension but could usually push past it and play for them (or with them). Two people and the apprehension got a little more intense. Someone showing up at the door to listen when I was in a practice room at school and mistakes would happen. My breathing became a little more shallow. My hands tingled.

I noticed that the performers around me didn’t seem to have this problem. They LOVED to get up on the stage and perform, or, at least, they didn’t shy away and were able to create just as well as when they practiced. As soon as I knew a performance was scheduled, even if months away, I would get tightness in my chest. For days. My breathing would become erratic. I felt like I was being chased, even though no one was chasing me. The joy evaporated. I felt the need to escape, wherever I was, even if I was alone and no one was bothering me. What if I made mistakes during a performance? What if I completely lost where I was and couldn’t get it back? What if it happened in front of an audience? I continued to push through these feelings but I always wondered why I was different than the others. In time, all of these symptoms began to happen when a performance wasn’t pending. I felt like a deer in the headlights almost daily.

When you are 18, all you want to do is fit in. I began to hide my feelings. Hide my symptoms. Looking back at my entire life, a couple of decades later, I remember other times as a young child when I had similar experiences but this was the first time I had a big problem. It was creating a conflict. I had a talent that I loved and couldn’t enjoy unless I was alone. My peers, performers themselves, expected other performers to be able to perform. And when I did, it was extremely painful.

Around this time I was dating a guy who, somehow, through his work, was able to get me an off-Broadway audition for The Fantasticks. With about a month’s notice. He did this without asking me first and came to pick me up and gave me the big reveal for a surprise he was sure that I would be thrilled to receive. How did I respond? I was 18 and in love. I told him it was the best thing ever and thank you so very much.

Guess what? In The Fantasticks, there is only one musician. That person sits right smack in the middle of the stage and plays the piano while the show goes on around them. For two hours.

Anyone that I went to school with and I mean ANYONE would have given their left arm for a chance like this. I was absolutely sick. I didn’t want to do it but I couldn’t think of how to tell my boyfriend. My parents, especially my father, were thrilled beyond measure. My piano teacher and I got the sheet music and worked on it and I think she may have been the only one who had a clue. Because I wasn’t working on it like I should have been. I was too busy trying to breathe normally, get through the day and think about anything else that could distract me from the crushing, and I mean crushing, pressure I felt in my chest. Still, she and I moved forward. I wasn’t anywhere near as prepared as I should have been for a professional audition such as this.

The day came. I had spent weeks envisioning everything that could possibly go wrong from every angle that existed and maybe a few angles that couldn’t have possibly existed. I got on the Long Island Railroad and headed into Manhattan. My entire body felt like it was on fire from the racing and tingling that was running rampant, completely out of control. I felt like I was about to get hit by a car constantly and also wished it would happen so I didn’t have to go into this audition. I got on the subway and headed down into the Village, finding the place in the nick of time. Having to pee really badly but not having time, I headed into the theatre. It was dark, the walls painted black. The stage was spot lit and there was a man playing the pieces I came to play and damn, he was better than good. I couldn’t breathe. The dark walls got closer and closer together. The music stopped, a small chat ensued. It was my turn.

In 1990, when you went to an audition, if you were wearing a skirt, you would definitely be wearing panty hose. If you were wearing a knee length skirt and you slid across the piano bench to position yourself to play there was a great likelihood that your pantyhose would catch the corner of the bench and rip. When your pantyhose ripped, there would be a huge sound, almost like a mad zipper cartoon would make if it could make sound. In the big, dark, silent room. Just you. And Harvey Weinstein.

Not a word was said about it. At least I didn’t pee.

I tried to breathe. I played. I sucked.

There was a severe lack of joy. Not a piece of me felt uplifted by what I produced (couldn’t really call it music). This man, this famous man, was doing my boyfriend a favor, by allowing me to audition. It was pitiful. It was painful.

I stood. Harvey Weinstein was gracious about it. He thanked me for coming in. I thanked him. I left, turning my body almost sideways in a vain attempt to hide the huge rip in the back of my panty hose, still squeezing my legs together so I wouldn’t pee.

Outside the theatre, I ran to the nearest coffee house and dashed into the bathroom. Finally, at least one pressure was off of me. Before I came out of the bathroom, my ripped panty hose were tossed in the trash. Followed by the sheet music for The Fantasticks.

When I was about 31 years old, after years of similar physical and mental experiences, I was in a store one day when I suddenly felt like I was having a heart attack. Severe pressure and pain in my chest, shooting down my arm, tingling in my hands and feet. There was a chair nearby. I sank into it. I was with my father at the time and he rushed me to the hospital. In the ER they did at EKG and found nothing. My heart, pounding and out of control to me, was strong and healthy on a printout. They told me that I was having an anxiety attack. I thought that I didn’t know what that was. I soon found out that I knew it intimately, we had just never exchanged names.

My GP diagnosed me with anxiety disorder. Symptoms? Shortness of breath, fight or flight syndrome, tingling extremities, situations can be perceived as much bigger or more intense than they really are, seeing situations from multiple alarming angles that may not be present or ever come to fruition and more. I suddenly realized that this stranger by name was my constant life companion. I remembered situations when I was a little girl, 3 years old, 6 and 7 years old, where these symptoms were present. I remember being described as “extremely sensitive.” No one knew I had a problem. And, of course, the second I realized that I was different, I tried to hide it.

I often wonder how that audition situation would be different now. Although, I probably wouldn’t allow myself to be in that situation in the first place if I didn’t want to be. I have learned to say no and take whatever comes afterwards. I have medication that alleviates the intensity of my symptoms but the symptoms are still there. I have learned coping strategies and created a few of my own that make my life better. Examples? Being ten minutes early is on time. That way there is always time to pee. All pantyhose belongs in the garbage, ripped or not. Be over prepared because you never know when you will need to be. If you don’t want to do something, don’t. Say no. Sometimes a feeling is just that, a feeling. They always pass so wait for it. Just because there is “no reason,” for you to feel the way that you do, doesn’t mean that you don’t feel that way.

And don’t let anyone steal your joy. Recently, my father bought my daughter a piano for my home so that she could learn how to play. I am teaching her. After a 26 year hiatus, I have also decided that it is time for me to begin playing again. Alone. Where I can feel calm, at peace, tranquil. Joyful.

You know how a certain word or phrase or smell or sound or taste can suddenly bring back a memory that you haven’t thought of in ages? This week it was a name that triggered a memory for me – Harvey Weinstein.

 

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Dreadlocked
By Mara Boughton

Until my thirties, I had a lot of difficulty dealing with death and dying, God and living, and how the ending occurs. Being the child of an atheist and a non-committal possible believer meant that my parents were unable to model how to handle these concepts well, in theory and in practice. So over time it became harder and harder to attend the rites and rituals of death. I stayed away. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know what to say.

Awkward becomes deer in the headlights when you have anxiety disorder. Anxiety magnifies interactions. “Objects are closer than they appear” becomes “appearance is closer than object’s position.” Everything seems more important to you than to other people. At a funeral, if I perceived that my interaction went badly, my perception invited countless rethinking processes, what I coulda, shoulda, woulda said. I might still be working on it a year or two down the line. Or ten years down the line. Fun times, those.

Having now experienced the position of being the close mourning family member, I have had a realization. The mourning most often don’t remember what you said to them after the service, anyway. It all blends together. For me, I was mourning so hard when I lost my mother when I was 40 years old that even though I intellectually knew that I was in the presence of color, I literally saw everything around me in black and white. I don’t remember any comments that people said to me with the exception of two. Every single other comment was made and faded away almost immediately.

The first comment I remember is that many people would say, “Is there anything that I can do?” I didn’t say it aloud, but my thought every time was, “Can you bring my mother back? No? Then, no. Nothing. There is nothing that you can do.” I think people like to have something to do. It makes them feel like they are contributing to making things a bit better. But you can’t. Not in this situation.

The second comment I remember, the one I heard over and over, is, “I don’t know what to say.” Interestingly, I knew, by this time what to say. It was interesting because I learned it from my mother herself.

I remembered that, about 20 years before, I had a conversation with my mother where I asked her what I should say to people at times of mourning. I found that I was dreadlocked. I was extremely anxious and uncomfortable (this was at least 11 years pre-diagnosis for me so I didn’t know why it was so extreme, but it just was). My mother, the atheist psychologist, told me that she had something for me to say that would work in any situation like what I was describing. This made me sit up and pay attention. My mother was a college psychologist. She got her Master’s degree at Harvard and her doctorate at Columbia. She didn’t even start college until she was 28 years old. My Mom was the least impressed by her accomplishments as anyone could possibly be. But, still. When someone has this background and is about to impart wisdom, one could expect great things. I was all ears.

“When someone is mourning and you want to comfort them, all you have to say is, ‘God,that sucks.’ And if it’s really bad than you change it to, ‘God, that really fucking sucks.’” That was it. The doctor had spoken.

“How can it possibly be that simple?” I thought she was nuts.

“Because it is. It’s true. And there is nothing else to say.”

When you suffer from anxiety disorder, you create all kinds of coping skills to get you through situations. When you have a plan in place for things that you know will trigger you, you feel the anxiety, remember the plan, put the plan in action and follow the steps. I don’t know why I know this. I may have read it somewhere, but I don’t recall that. It’s just something I do. And most of the time, for me, it works. Since I couldn’t come up with another plan, the next time I was dreadlocked in a death and dying situation, anticipating discomfort with dread, I tried out my Mom’s line. It works. And it has worked. Every. Single. Time.

In fact, it is so powerful that at my own mother’s celebration of life I found myself telling other people about it, comforting THEM when they were attempting to comfort me by telling them this story and teaching them what my Mom taught me. It is comforting. It works. It is true. Because when I lost my Mom, my lifelong best friend, God, it really fucking sucked.

 

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Old Knees
By Mara Boughton

My mind swirls like a tornado, spinning tightly, clockwise around me,

The background seems to be black and the swirls are white,

I am at the center but it encompasses my head, squeezing me tightly.

My thoughts are the swirls, speeding by.

Moving, packing, Christmas, presents, groceries,

Bills, cooking, shopping, exercise, cleaning,

Sick husband, special needs son, daughter needs homework help,

Piano, crochet, hydration, assault, bastards,

Talking to adults, pretending to be normal, eating food that I have cooked,

Veganism, feminism, absenteeism, assimilationism, romanticism,

Dirty socks, diapers, wipes, sparkle lights,

Healthcare, my Mom is dead, my brother once wrote “The craps of the Southern Colonies,” but really meant crops, in the fourth grade,

New house, New Town, New People, New Environment, Old Baggage,

It’s twirling, swirling, whirling through my head,

Rotations abound.

It used to be that I could breathe by doing a simple exercise.

In my mind I would sit criss-cross on a mat,

Like in some video game, I would reach up and touch the surface of the swirl and gently push it back,

The tornado would loosen, swirl around me instead of in my head,

I would sit in the center in my mind and take deep breaths of what felt like fresh air,

Watching the swirl continue several inches away from me but no longer touching me, no longer encompassing me.

As I have gotten older, this is beginning not to work.

My knees have gotten stiff and it’s harder to sit that way.

Even though it’s only in my head.

 

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Six Lids

Last night, head aching fiercely, came downstairs, shook Ibuprofen into the palm of my hand, thought, “I should eat something before I take this,” and then, “It hasn’t been that long since I’ve eaten,”

Swallowed, then counted and realized it had been six hours since I ate,

I always get an upset stomach taking pills without eating,

Dumbass.

Heated a bowl of congee, ate a little, extremely nauseous, laid on the couch, passed out,

Up at seven, late for us,

Son has a fever, 102.9,

Husband is still sick in bed, at least 5 ½ months to go,

Can’t find oral syringe, ear cups for thermometer, searching, searching,

Mom, can I have milk, chicken, hugs, love?

Husband needs breakfast,

Son needs meds,

I need coffee,

Head still hurts,

Running around, trying,

And that’s when I notice,

I have been packing because we are moving,

I need help, going to be near family,

I have seven plastic tote boxes, 18 gallon, Christmas red,

And six lids.

I stop cold.

How is this even possible? I do a recount, hoping, like in the latest elections, that there was an illegal fix that needs to be corrected,

Six lids.

I am searching for the oral syringe in the cabinet while trying to figure out how this could possibly happen to me,

What will I do with a box with no lid?

I could go to the store and ask for another lid,

I could use the open box in the trunk of my car,

I could push my son around in it like a car,

I could save it and if it ever snows in East Texas, my daughter could ride it like a sleigh down the hill behind our new house,

I find the syringe, the meds, hey, I have ear cups for the thermometer,

Coffee is dripping, toast is toasting, orange is peeled, milk is dispersed, I HAVE SIX LIDS!!!!!

My anxiety is flaring, my fingers are tingling, my chest is tight.

I could do another recount, but what’s the point? The count is done, the election is lost,

WHY IS THIS SO IMPORTANT? Dumbass…

And yet…

It is.

In the grand scheme of things, sick husband, sick son, big move, daughter has needs, headache, Christmas, closing on a house, cleaning out this house, lists of things to accomplish,

I have six lids.

 

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