Anxiety Self-Care and Vacationing

I took a trip to Wyoming recently with my family to visit Sheridan and Gillette and as rewarding as vacations are, I am always happy to get back home.

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Flying back into Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport

Home means stability for me and it helps me greatly in managing anxiety.  I don’t over schedule myself when I am at home the way I do on vacation.

This vacation, in particular, was a bit more full than I expected.  I had dreams of lounging around a bit more but now that my daughter is 7 years old, she wants to, naturally, do more.  She wants to explore and visit, and being a young child, she is demanding, hates naps, and will squeeze every ounce of daylight when not impeded by her mother.  Unlike when we lived in Wyoming, she is also old enough now to have a fully fledged opinion.  She was “meeting” people for the first time because she didn’t remember them from years ago and she also was insistent on having as much time with her young cousins as possible.  As an only child, she craves time with other children and summertime is the worst time of year for her.  She is not around her school friends and with high temps here, we spend more time indoors.

My daughter does not yet comprehend the stress I carry on a daily basis.  She knows I don’t like fireworks but she hasn’t caught on how a significant change of routine bothers me.  I look forward to vacations but I also struggle with leaving my comfortable environment.  I worry about what could happen when I leave my home, both to my home and the people in it while we are away.  There’s a lot of history recorded in my journals, photo albums, and scrapbooks that I can lose if something happens.  Additionally, I don’t like the idea of someone’s possessions becoming personal effects, to include mine should something terrible happen while we are away.  I considered writing about these feelings when I took my trip to Albuquerque last year but was quite hesitant to do so; while I am beginning to feel more comfortable talking about my personal struggles and coping, I still tread lightly.

I’m not surprised by my sensitivity to people and possessions, but I’ve had 12 years to wrap my mind around the intense situation that was my first deployment.  After spending 12 hours of nearly every day on deployment knowing people died and others were wounded, I became more aware we don’t all get a fair shake at living (and living the way we choose).  Without knowing the true number of people who died on my deployment, it’s still safe to say I have few peers who will ever understand the human toll of a deployment like I do.  (For any newbies, my alternative view of Operation Iraqi Freedom, as incomplete as it is, is available for viewing here. If you check out the video, please also read the blog entry for clarity purposes.  Thanks. )

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Some of my most precious possessions

For me, this vacation was a beautiful experience and one of the true breaks we’ve taken this summer as we had quite an unexpected–but necessary–financial burden demanding our immediate attention.  My husband’s service dog tore her ACL in June but was (and is) recovering from surgery and was unable to walk more than five minutes shortly before we left for vacation.  Her recovery will still take months but she is starting to show tremendous progress and is happy again, instead of her morose state when we couldn’t let her do any activity except use the bathroom.  If she had been able to walk, she would have flown with us for the first time and yes, there was some anxiety about that issue as well.  As you can see, she’s not a petite girl and even with my husband, daughter, and I all in the same row, she would attract attention.  I have no doubt other passengers would have inquired about her and peppered my husband with questions.

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That happy kid look after surgery was too precious.
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She became quite leery we’d take all the fun out of her day with her surgery recovery restrictions.

I’ve made great strides to significantly reduce my chest pains this year through regular self-care, but I had four of them during the course of this trip.  The additional stress of monitoring my husband because he didn’t have his service dog was a contributing factor. While I can recognize times where my husband needs additional support I notice it much later than she can and I didn’t feel quite as prepared to be his “service person”–yes, that’s what we joked I was doing in my caregiver capacity–because she had to stay behind.  Other things, like not being consistent about my sleep routine, contribute to the frequency of my chest pains.  Normally, I like to be in bed no later than 10pm and  I think most nights we were lucky to be back at our hotel room by 10:30 or 11pm.  Different noises also present challenges when it comes to sleep as I have trouble drowning them out; my bedroom at home, by comparison, is kept very quiet.  I do not have a wall clock and after living in my home for a year, I am used to the sound of the house fan when it’s on during hot evenings.  I am also a big fan of blackout curtains; the darker the room, the easier it is for me to stay asleep.  There are other things I can do like moderating my consumption of coffee and alcohol that also help reduce the frequency of my chest pains.  (I know I drank far too much coffee on this vacation, nearly 3-4 cups a day, but I was pretty good about keeping my alcohol consumption in check.)

In spite of my continuing battle with anxiety induced chest pains, the vacation was successful.  I think one of the things we need to keep at the forefront of conversation about anxiety and coping is resiliency.  I’ve had these annoying things for 12 years–and it’s really only in the last few that good medical professionals have worked with me to control this condition so it doesn’t destroy my quality of life.  Occasionally, they have to remind me not to pass up opportunities because I know they may or will exacerbate the stress I already have in my life. They also remind me I’ve been through the worst so the things that bother me are triggers (fireworks, sudden loud noises, people walking behind me surpising me suddently, etc.) and not actually life threatening events.   The fact that I had four chest pains on this trip is a sign I do need to plan better for my vacations.  I am still learning to say ‘no’ and I think because I’m in my 30’s I still feel silly to say I go to bed so early and in many cases, need the additional sleep.  Not everyone understands this issue and unlike my peer group, I find it harder to forgo time with family and do not wish to come across as being rude.  Next time, I’ll also work on cutting back on coffee.  I’m sure it’s not bad to have a day or two with that much coffee but the others I should probably stick to two or less cups.

I’m only taking you on a partial journey of the trip but below are some of the wonderful things I photographed during my weeklong visit.  If you want to see more things from the trip, feel free to check out my Instagram, she_wears_dogtags.

Like always, thanks for stopping in to visit.

~Cheryl

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The view behind our hotel room
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One of the flowers in my husband’s grandmother’s garden
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My grandmother-in-law has this sign from her late husband’s job working for telephone companies.
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My readers know suicide prevention is important to me and I love how this sign is integrated into community spaces.   
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I got to see inside a home built in 1905 and it had all this gorgeous mahogany on the walls and stairs. 
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I enjoyed sharing a flight of beers at Black Tooth Brewing Company. (I also learned IPA’s are not my thing.)
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My beer of choice at Black Tooth Brewing Company is the seasonal blonde ale.
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I’m a sucker for architecture and I’m glad my husband took me to the old post office in Sheridan to check out the marble staircase.
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I didn’t get donuts from this little place only because it wasn’t open when we walked by.
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This JC Penney’s is where I got clothes after returning stateside from deployment #2 as the only civilian clothes I had were the ones I was wearing.  It was surprising to see the store is closing.
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Clearmont, Wyoming
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The potato oles were one of my favorite foods when we lived in Cody, WY and they are still as good.  I just eat less of them now.

 

 

 

 

 

America In Times of Conflict: Creating Peace From Conflict

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Yesterday, I volunteered with a handful of other veterans to be part of a local community collaboration sharing our stories interwoven with pieces of The Odyssey for Odyssey Home: A Veteran Performance.  The Chandler Public Library held this event called Creating Peace From Conflict at the Chandler Center For the Arts in partnership with Arizona State University and Veterans For Peace.  We also had Veteran Vision Project photos on site for attendance goers to see along with the individual narratives associated with each photograph.  Once the footage is available, I’ll provide the link.

This collaboration starting off with group drumming and continued with our storytelling mixed with selections from The Odyssey.  A few musical pieces were played by Guitars for Vets and another veteran, Ahmad Daniels was there as a representative for Veterans For Peace, also sharing his story.  I know the event was scheduled to conclude with audience engagement, sort of a Q&A opportunity.  I only stayed for the Odyssey performance as I had another engagement in the afternoon and with today being my daughter’s birthday, I wanted to make headway Saturday on some other issues I’ve currently slacked on.

The theme of the performance was homecoming and I am quite thankful the event started with the group drumming.  While I did not choose to drum (I am embarrassed by my lack of rhythm) the sounds that filled the room reminded me of the wonderful performance given by citizens of Sao Vicente when I visited Cape Verde in high school.  My peers, teachers, and I landed to a beautiful musical performance at the airport that reminds me still music is a thread shared globally; we may not always understand each other’s words and actions but music binds us in such a spiritual way.

I loved being reminded of a place that was my home for a short period of my life.  Three weeks may not be an eternity but it’s sufficient time to be welcomed as a stranger, treated like a daughter, and remembered as a friend.  I am forever grateful for that experience and everyone who welcomed us into their country, their homes, and let us savor their culture that we might never have experienced in our lives had our paths not crossed.

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The airport in Sao Vicente

I think I was better able to embrace my role as a participant yesterday feeling like I was welcomed to this group much like how I was welcomed into Cape Verdean life.

My cohort of veterans included an ASU professor, my close friend and fellow ASU student, and a future student.  For our individual tales, we provided the audience a better glimpse of ‘homecoming’ as experiences shaped by individual perception and built a bridge that homecoming is not exactly a single finite moment in time, but a process.  I focused on the more immediate aspects of coming home to family tragedies and feeling like I did not fit into my life stateside.

I think a vital part of the construction of this storytelling was how well Robin Rio and her students shaped the music performance.  I met Robin back in the fall of 2014 when I started my graduate degree at ASU.  She is an Associate Professor with the School of Music and the Director of ASU’s Music Therapy Clinic.  I interviewed her to gain a better understanding of ASU’s chapter of Guitars for Vets.

Looking back, I did not ask great interview questions, but I think we all have moments like that in our lives where our place as students does not necessarily provide us a sufficient lenses to see and understand the larger context of our community because we are also shortsighted about more immediate concerns like passing a class, juggling work, and testing our fit with fellow students.  Seeing Guitars for Vets on campus though did inspire me to get out of my comfort zone about trying a musical instrument.  I purchased a Taylor guitar awhile back and now, with my reduced commute, can commit more to my goal of learning the acoustic guitar.  (Maybe I’ll be able to play a song before the year ends!)

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This talented bunch just wow me; there’s so much musical talent in this group. I cannot wait to share the performance so you can understand how beautifully they play.

 

Veteran Vision Project: Sentiments of a “Model”

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My Little One and I

Yesterday’s photo shoot with Devin Mitchell (Veteran Vision Project photographer) went so well, I wanted to share my feelings about it. I won’t divulge exactly how the photo was laid out, although I did discuss it with my local peer group (perks for those who work with me and for whom I work for) because this is such a big deal for us. Devin did a fantastic job putting the finishing touches on my general concept. The photo above is an after shot my husband took of Avery and I.

In encouraging others to participate as models, let me say, Devin does not direct how something should look or feel. His interest and his heart are for allowing your message [whatever it may be] to shine. I indicated what room we would be photographed in, the items I was interested in having in the shot, and I picked my uniform, my civilian dress, and my daughter’s clothes. Devin managed the logistics for us, because he has the eyes as the photographer on where things (and us) had to be moved to make best use of our space. He listens and he notices. He found a better arrangement for our artifacts I had not considered as I was looking through the situation as the subject and how controlled I see my everyday life.

In sharing details of my life and what I want both stories to say, Devin figured out what I could not see.

As well, I want to touch on Devin’s professionalism. He has done a great job tackling multiple assignments and when the one before mine was running over time, he called me right away to discuss his scheduling conflict. He also asked my permission to bring over two of my ASU colleagues, which we didn’t originally plan for the photo shoot. My anxiety crept in a little because ASU has lots of employees–trust me I do not know them all–and I wasn’t sure what the vibe would be like meeting them on the spot for something so personal. Taking to heart the notion of Semper Gumby (Always Flexible), I once again trusted Devin and opened my home as well to my fellow ASU peers. It turns out I already knew one, Kevin, and I met Ben. Both were respectful and had a good time hanging out with my husband and daughter while I changed over from my civilian dress into my desert camouflage uniform and pulled my hair up so it was up and off the bottom edge of my collar per regulations.

Trust me…it sounds like it should be easy to change over, but not when shoulder length, layered fine hair is involved. On top of those issues, I had spent probably 45 minutes or so curling my hair, spritzing it with product, and re curling the sections that fell flat as I curled other sections. I expressed decided against a sock bun although that was the way I wore my hair when I was in, except for the time period where I cut my hair short. That time period was post my first deployment and I donated the hair to Locks of Love. Although I had a period of instruction in boot camp on how to do either the sock bun or a French braid, I never mastered a braid until after having my daughter. (Thus far, I’ve learned to do a French braid, Dutch braid, waterfall braid–barely–and a fishtail braid, although it’s difficult for me to do on my own hair.) I asked Devin to not photograph the back of my hair…there were some wispy pieces, which have always been a problem for me. I was constantly critiqued for my hair at boot camp.

Putting on my full uniform (minus a cover, what civilians call a hat…not on duty, not wearing a cover) again was an experience. I last tossed on boots and uts [utilities] for a camping trip awhile back. It’s been 8 years since I wore my uniform as I would wear it for work. My utility bottoms felt huge; I had to look at the size tag to ensure I didn’t have my husband’s trousers. I was 108lbs. when I left the Marine Corps. I now weigh 112lbs. and there was still plenty of room for a second one of me in those trousers! The full experience of getting dressed “for work” again was striking. I measured the proper placement for my brand new chevrons on Monday–no room for error. Thank you to Sgt. Grit for getting my items to me on time. I ordered the chevrons, an extra gray martial arts belt–which surprisingly now has velcro on the inside–and boot bands. The martial arts belt ended up being unnecessary as my husband located my old one. No problem with an extra belt though…it will always come in handy on camping trips!

I felt like a completely different woman again coming downstairs in my uniform. Avery’s never seen me dressed that way. As well, I also wiped a full face of makeup off I had on specifically for the civilian photo–primer; two kinds of concealer; three different kinds of mascara; gel eyeliner; and a lip stain. For everyone who knows the daily me, I do not invest 45 plus minutes of doing my hair or don this much makeup in my every day life, with the exception of special occasions. Yesterday was about making a statement on so many levels, even if not all messages will be recognized by all audience members. Photographing myself as ‘flawlessly beautiful’ versus my ‘barely there make up beautiful’ was an important message for me to convey based on my feelings about society and makeup.

I will save my discussions about the context of my photo for when it becomes available. Now that the nerves have (mostly) gone away, I will report I am happy I took this leap. I put myself out there to make my statements, all important in different ways. More so, I am happy to support Devin who is doing great things with the Veteran Vision Project. Once he gets his book is published, I am definitely purchasing a copy!!! I can’t wait to have his time capsule of history as a treasure in my home.

Semper Fidelis, everyone.

~Cheryl