Protein Shakes, Panic Attacks & Portefeuilles

Prior to returning to Alaska 7 weeks ago, I was having a pretty hard time of it. In a nutshell: I was experiencing chronic, terrifying, and nearly debilitating panic attacks. (And that was the last time I updated my blog. I mean, how nice of me — I dropped my crisis in your lap and then disappeared. Sorry about that.)

It was really hard to leave France. But I was clearly waaaaay off-balance and I needed some solitude to figure a few things out. Looking back, my panic attacks and developing phobias were my body’s way of making me pay attention to something. Luckily, I decided that I’d devote my time here to ruthless self care. Having only a few months before I head back again, I have been disciplined about re-programming my brain with new habits that I can take with me to France next time, and it’s quite astounding how far I’ve come in a really short period of time. If change is something you’re after, let me just say — if I can do it, anybody can. So read on. :)

Now, I’m going to share my experiences so far with you, but I’m not at all trying to “give unsolicited advice” or paint myself as a “winner” or anything like that. I’m not an expert and I don’t have it all figured out yet and I don’t think what necessarily works for one person will work for another. But if something here seems right to you and it helps you, that’s super cool.

I just spent most of the day at the Alaska Native Medical Center. I’m incredibly lucky and grateful that I have such great medical care at my disposal and I knew it was time for me to take full advantage of that.

I was a bit nervous going to a new doctor (lost my last one to doctors without borders), but she had taken the time to study my history before I even met her (how cool is that?) and she discussed my case with a therapist beforehand and was so happy that I was open to meeting with her (well, of course!). She took all the time I needed to discuss my philosophy about things and was in total alignment with all of it. I tend to take an eastern approach to wellness, and we chatted about chakras, hypnosis, seeing one of the tribal healers (apparently, it’s all about energy and I’m so down for that), the exercise classes offered at the hospital (it’s about wellness, incredible!), my relationships, getting out into nature and letting the sunshine hit my eyeballs and all kinds of wonderful things. And, my strong desire to not get addicted to meds that I really like that really help — “I won’t let that happen. I don’t practice medicine that way.” I hugged her at the end and almost awkwardly grabbed a boob and she said, “It’s okay, they’re small.” LOL I LOVE HER SO MUCH.

Anyway, she confirmed that I’m doing a lot of things right. And, we discussed traditional medicine as well — I’m no hero. Sometimes when your brain chemistry is all screwed up, it’s not something you can deep-breathe your way through. She wrote me a couple of prescriptions to take as needed, but said that going on a short-term program of meds is something we might do if life hits the fan again. I’ve tried to avoid this all my life, but so long as I know I’m hitting it from all possible angles, I’m open to that.

The first thing I did was fix my sleep. That’s pretty much the approach I take whenever I’m out of balance. Nothing is harder than trying to implement new habits when you’re not getting good, restorative rest. I have been taking melatonin, and have been going to sleep early and waking up very, very early. I spend those early morning hours doing things for me: meditating, studying, exercising, reading, enjoying my one indulgence — a daily cup of gloriously strong coffee with organic half & half.

I also stopped drinking. This was a tidbit of advice I got from one of my blog readers that really resonated with me. It was just time. I haven’t had anything to drink in two months and while I do miss my wine, this was the right direction for me. The benefits far outweigh the sacrifice of a habit that wasn’t, ultimately, doing me any good. I knew this intuitively, but it really took these panic attacks scaring the hell out of me to make the change. The result is better focus and energy, more control over my emotional ups and downs, and much better sleep. A moment of silence for delicious wine. *moment of silence*

I worked on nutrition. I started doing Isagenix, which is a nutrition program that came complete with the support of some really good, positive, health-minded friends who are also doing it (it’s awesome to have cheerleaders!). I now have the peace of mind that I’m getting the nutrients from quality sources that I know my body really needs, and having the luxury of having it all thought out for me and delivered to my door every month really works for me. I don’t consider this a “diet” but a way of life for me now. I have lost my cravings for comfort food (emotional/stress eating has done a lot of damage, I gained over 10 pounds in three months on my last trip to France — but now, I crave stuff like lentil soup and cauliflower. SO WEIRD!) and I feel energetic and strong. I’ve lost a considerable amount of weight (about 15 pounds) and know that my body is coming back into balance and I’m getting closer to a much healthier weight. There’s a cleanse component to it as well, and if my initial throbbing headaches were any indication — I had some toxins to get rid of.

I decided that learning French would help me get my power back too, because some of the stress I feel when I’m in a foreign country is down to me just not feeling entirely secure and independent because of the language barrier. So I’ve been studying more and every single day without fail, and Michel — my toughest critic of all — says my French is getting better and better. I can even pronounce portefeuille now. (It’s a huge deal!  YOU TRY IT! lol)

And most importantly, I started exercising and meditating. A good friend of mine basically broke it down like this: my brain responds by going into panic mode when it’s not appropriate, so I need to teach my brain how to relax. The exercise helps me burn off the stress energy and the meditation gives me a peaceful place to go every day, my inner day spa. My doctor and the therapist were quite pleased about this in particular; the therapist said, “if more of my patients used meditation you don’t even know how much easier my life would be.” I have a zen buddhist therapist  on my team now y’all, YAY!

My panic attacks haven’t completely gone away. I’ve had a few zingers since I’ve been home, but mostly — I feel a tingle and that burns right off really quickly before it takes hold, and I go for days with no symptoms at all. Progress!

From here, the next thing I’m going to work on is learning how to relate to other people who I sometimes let take my power away. The therapist will be vital in this regard, and I look forward to learning some coping skills from a pro.

All in all, it’s been a very good seven weeks because ultimately, I am feeling ready to book my next ticket to France soon. And it’s going to be better than ever.

Before I go, I want to thank everyone who reached out to me with compassion and advice — I took so much of it to heart and used so much of it that’s been incredibly helpful. Perhaps most of all — hey, thanks for just letting me know none of us are alone in this world. We all have our struggles to overcome. I’m lucky to know people who do that LIKE A BOSS.

xoxo~Taughnee

PS Resources I’ve found immensely helpful if you’re interested:

Mind Valley
Hypnosis Downloads 

PS2 Happy Birthday to my dearest friend Frances. <3

 

3

Let it Be

I’ve been itching to write a blog post for some time now. But, much of what’s been influencing my life in the last few months is difficult to share with the public — not because I don’t want to (you know I’m a totally open sort of person), but because it’s not all about me. It’s too bad, because I sometimes feel like I could write a novel based on a single day’s events.

I can say that I’ve been in Paris since October with Michel, and I would have loved to share a romantic story of adventure and bliss and good times, but alas, life takes you where it will. In my time here, we’ve been dealing with some worrisome and difficult experiences. Some wonderful times too (at the end of the day, I’m with my love and there’s no place I’d rather be), but this has been a rough trip.

Just as an example, pretty much the minute I arrived we learned that Michel’s apartment had a serious plumbing issue that left us without hot water for several weeks. Working with insurance companies and the pace of these types of repair services is drastically different than what I am used to. From what I’ve read about expat experiences, this is just how it goes here. BUT FOR REALZ NO HOT SHOWER 3 WEEKS.

We’re okay, and I’ve learned how tough I am in many ways. How to appreciate the simplest things, find blessings in every day (“today I have hot water” is now on my go-to list when I’m having a shit time of it).

But with a heightened level of stress, my energies focused on situations out of my control, and not taking the time or having the opportunity to take care of myself — I’ve gained weight, felt discouraged more than I’d like to admit, and started having panic attacks on a regular basis.

Panic attacks are something that began happening when I was in my 20s (it’s genetic to some degree), but I’ve always been able to control it. Lately, it’s gotten out of control. Like, on New Year’s Eve, I had to abandon my purchases at the grocery store minutes before I would have been checked out  … the woman in front of me could see I was turning white and she freaked: “Allez!!! Allez!!!” (Go! Go!). The cashier could see something was wrong with me and offered me her chair as a crowd of party-preparers were staring at me. Which totally didn’t heighten the anxiety or anything. I struggled to find the words in French for what was happening but I could only say, “Pardonne moi” and stepped outside for some fresh air. I started walking, and kept on walking, and walking, breathing and walking until I stopped shaking. Then I went home and fell into a deep sleep from the exhaustion of the experience.

But wait, there’s more! These attacks have led to the budding of various phobias — something that’s never happened to me before. I began having episodes every time I’d get on the metro, or go to a grocery store and stand in line — my anxiety would set in way before I had to do those things and it started becoming impossible to do them. I began seeing my future me as an agoraphobic.

I do have emergency medication for this, but I started doing hypnosis sessions and that’s been really helping. I’m not going to let it get the better of me.

All of this has presented a challenge for the year ahead: I simply must find a way to manage stress and take better care of myself overall. I have to release the grip a bit and take life as it comes. I need to make the time to do the things that I know work for me: yoga, meditation, clean eating, time with friends (laughter, most of all), etc. and I have to be disciplined about doing them. Relentless self care.

I am learning (and learning, and learning, and learning!) that the external — situations, events, people — and even life itself and its outcomes, are largely out of my control. I can only do my best every day to be who I am, to be grateful for the day’s blessings no matter how small, and to master the art of being centered in myself. Accepting life on life’s terms sucks, because life can be a real jerk sometimes, but I’m fed up with being thrown off balance. Centered. That’s something I need to figure out. Any advice?

I sometimes envy people with religion because they have a faith in something that is bigger than life itself. Me, I just believe in this life, and facing it as a mortal human — with all of its twists and turns and joys and heartbreaks — can feel terrifying at times. I’m fed up of feeling terrified. I know I’m not alone. So many of my friends are facing challenges right now: grief, loss, remorse, depression, and stress and worry of all shapes and sizes. I am really thankful to everyone who shares their experiences, “sounds like your life is similar to mine right now” brings so much comfort. None of us are alone in having to wade through the tough stuff of life; I’m just super grateful that the people in my universe practice optimism and gratitude. It inspires me.

Pretty depressing for a New Year’s post so far? I dunno. I think that life’s challenges are put in front of us to teach us something. I am starting to think that what I really need to focus on is to release the image of  this “person I want to be” and just be. I’m kind of missing out on who I am. I want to sink into this new year and just let it be. Do my best every day, of course, but to not lose myself entirely when life throws curveballs at me, when they don’t fit into my master “plan.” Screw the plan!

I have been trying to pick my 2014 “Word of the Year” but I can’t think of one that describes all of this stuff. I just know that I don’t really want to strive right now. I am exhausted from the striving, from the feeling of always being less than I should be, being knocked around by disappointment. Anyway, maybe you know a word for me. But today I stumbled upon this phrase by chance, and I’ve decided that this year, I’m going to have a “Phrase of the Year.” It’s pretty perfect. Happy New Year to you!

“Be yourself.
Life is precious as it is.
All the elements for your happiness are already here.
There is no need to run, strive, search or struggle.
Just Be.”

~ Thich Nhat Hanh

 

 

 

3

When Bad Things Just Feel Good

shit

Ever know someone — a friend, an ex, a relative, what-have you — who makes you feel kind of shitty about yourself? I think we all have that, no?

People are mirrors, and sometimes it’s not always easy to understand why we’re attracted to certain personalities (ever look back at a past relationship and think, “Gah, what was I thinking?”). Or maybe you’re tangled up with someone in your family who puts you down, but they’re in your family, so, changing the dynamic …. that’s complicated.

Sometimes, we get into relationships not because it makes us feel good, or that we think they’re good people, but because — and I’m just going to get to brass tacks on the matter — they make us feel insecure. When people make us feel insecure, it’s quite seductive when they give us their attention and sporadic approval — maybe if we change, we can get more of that approval, then we’re really winning.

(Warning: it’s a trap, the game is rigged!)

If you know what I’m talking about, you also know that this is what they refer to as a toxic relationship. It is not self- and life-affirming, and if the relationship is important enough, a person can find oneself in a negative spiral that is very hard to get out of. This on my mind today because I ran into an old friend who I once found myself in a negative spiral with — I’ve not talked to this person in some time and thought it would be nice to catch up, being at peace with people is always better than carrying around regret, but for days,  I just felt kinda icky about it all. Having worked hard to be in a positive spiral for several years now … I found myself slipping back into this feeling of utter worthlessness and confusion.

But the great thing is, I have soul-deep and enlightened friends who remind me when I am giving my power away. And because I have so many incredible blessings in my life and great people around me, I can quickly snap out of it. I know I won’t ever get stuck there. Still, I was up in the middle of the night thinking about this, about power, and about what makes us feel good and what makes us feel bad, and why don’t we only ever gravitate toward the good? Like, isn’t that a “duh!?”

Then I read this post on Facebook about a friend who is making big changes in her life — she and her husband have started eating healthier and they’ve lost a lot of weight (congrats!!!), but most importantly, they are eating to feel good. This is a paradigm shift that I’m working on as well — understanding hunger vs. emotional hunger, what cravings are really all about and all that jazz. Why don’t we only eat the foods that we know make us feel good and healthy?

Then it all started to click for me. I know what makes me feel good. Doing  yoga, eating “clean”, meditation, reading a great book, practicing self-discipline and working toward achieving some goal, learning, giving my best for my clients, taking time for myself and treating myself to the expensive soap rather than the bottom shelf stuff, talking and laughing with Michel … you get the point. Healthy things. I also know what makes me feel bad. Drinking too much, eating junk food, interacting with toxic people, laying around all day watching “Orange is the New Black” marathon-style. Unhealthy things.

It’s so simple, but still, so many of us have our vices — we smoke, drink too much, get into toxic romantic relationships, sit around eating cheetos rather than going for a walk. It’s not complicated to see that we gravitate toward things that make us feel bad, though we may not be self-aware enough to realize that we even feel bad, it’s just auto-pilot and we’re soothing deep pains (and creating more) without realizing it.

I’ve come to a realization after this sleepness night that feeling bad just sometimes feels good. We are complex creatures, we humans, and it’s not always so easy to be 100% happy, 100% healthy and 100% well-adjusted. I don’t know about you but sometimes when I am on a really great “healthy/happy/yay” streak, I feel a little anxious. Like, is this it? I kinda miss my cheetos.

I know people who live their lives as Very Happy and Cheerful People™. I am fascinated by them. Never a bad mood, never a bad habit, never a setback, never a wrong turn. And I think about this, a lot, because I am the kind of person who thinks about things a lot. And as I observe these Very Happy and Cheerful People™ I wonder, where is it broken? It must break down somewhere, this is not really human nature, is it? It’s not our default setting. It takes a certain kind of discipline, or more likely, a certain kind of denial or escape from reality to be all-happy-all-the-time.

Do I want to be perfectly well-adjusted, perfectly perfect? I just don’t know. I think the dark things, the bad things, the weaknesses — there are lessons there, and understanding what it means to be human, and flawed, and overcoming obstacles — this is just life, and making peace with that is where I’m at, man.

Do Very Happy and Cheerful People™ ever evolve? I just don’t think so, but I don’t think it’s because they’re “there.” I would never exchange the full range of human emotion for being in denial about the unpleasantries and disappointments of this weird thing called life. I rather enjoy observing the whole thing, the good and the bad.

But I decided something. I think accepting that sometimes bad things feel very good, maybe feeling insecure or lazy or binge eating feels good in a bizarre way, otherwise we’d never indulge. Accepting that sort of takes the power away from the bad things. If I can look at an experience from outside the experience and say, “this just feels good, but it’s going to make me feel worse in the long run, so don’t indulge for too long, self” and just let it happen and then move forward, then progress is possible, so long as we take more steps forward than steps back. Right?

0

Au Revoir LiveMocha.com & The Death of Online Communities

When a great online community is formed, it is a glorious thing. GoodReads brings book lovers together so they can discover their next book, form book clubs, interact with their favorite authors and write authentic reviews. LiveMocha is a site where people from all over the world come together to learn, chat, make new friends and give one another feedback.

Back before the days of Facebook, I used to spend a lot of time on sites like About.com and GraphicDesignForum.com, where, when I was just starting out in my business, I was able to ask other designers for feedback on my designs and get help with business matters. Later, I spent a great deal of time mentoring others just starting out — helping them troubleshoot CSS code or suggesting the perfect font or telling them to always use a contract and never work on spec.

On those forums, I met several people whom I’ve “known” for a decade now — you know who you are — people I consider close friends though we may never have met in person, and many of them I do business with to this day. For example, I met my WordPress developer on About.com almost ten years ago, now he is a part of my daily life. My dear friend Viki reads this blog (hi Viki!) and we keep up with one another’s lives on Facebook, and so on.

When I was just starting out in web design, there literally was no “web design curriculum” at the university level. We taught ourselves and we created communities and we helped one another along the way. I came from the advertising industry and a corporate marketing environment, but when I made my first website and went to my first web conference in San Francisco back in the late 90s — I knew I had found “my people.” The advertising world was filled with dog and pony shows, smoke and mirrors; I wore Ann Taylor dresses to work and wore red lipstick. I was stressed. (No offense, advertising industry.) Web nerds were smart, they were community-minded, they were creative, unpretentious, they worked in their pajamas and they were fun.

And that’s how the internet was ten years ago. Forums and blogs were different then, businesses didn’t blog — they didn’t know what a blog was and neither did your mom — but then somebody caught on that there were search engine benefits to be had and money to be made and the web changed forever. The blogging friends I made back in the mid-2000s are still my friends but I can’t say I’ve made many new blog friends since. It just isn’t what it used to be. Get off my lawn. Where’s my cane?

And it’s not all bad, the web is still full of awesome, and many businesses on the web enrich our lives. And I wouldn’t be in business if people weren’t able to get a return on their website investment. But damn it all, I’m old-school and I mourn the loss of every great, authentic, non-corporate web community. 

When a community gets big enough, big businesses get dollar signs in their eyes.  Where a targeted group of people gather en masse, that’s where you put your billboard and construct your beer garden off to the side. Understandable and smart for them, but rarely great for the culture of the community. Amazon bought GoodReads and I know it made a lot of people uncomfortable, but so far they have respected the foundation of what makes this site great — the community and the ways in which its members love to interact. But here’s what happened to LiveMocha…

Rosetta Stone — we all know what Rosetta Stone is, right? If you’re unfamiliar, it’s a language learning software curriculum and I’ve used it, but personally, I found it incredibly dull and it didn’t really work for me. And, it’s really expensive so it’s not accessible for most people around the world, I’d imagine. Many of whom need to learn another language to better their lives. When I found LiveMocha, it was smart like Rosetta Stone but it had this layer of community and social interaction behind it and that’s what made it great. I was able to help people from all over the world and they helped me too, there were people from countries which notoriously don’t exactly love America but that didn’t matter in this environment — we were just people with something in common coming together to help one another. I loved that about it, that was cool.

Rosetta Stone purchased LiveMocha.com and that was totally understandable. But what they did in redesigning the site was probably the worst example of a web takeover/redesign I’ve EVER seen. Where customers had purchased premium services on the legacy LiveMocha, those were not translated into the new business model and they weren’t credited, so, basically, uh, WHAT? Then, they stripped many of the community aspects of the site and people who were very active on LiveMocha — some people spending a lot of time there each day and forming real relationships with fellow-learners — lost their ties to their friends. Basically, what Rosetta Stone did was to create a brand new business model and load up a completely new site with a database of existing “potential customers” and has completely done away with every facet of the site that made it great to begin with — the community.

So, it angers me, but not so much for myself (I was not a really active user, I am using a different language learning method and LiveMocha was more of a supplement ), but for the thousands of people around the world who have been completely cut off from a community that is very important to them. In reading this blog post and the LiveMocha facebook page, I haven’t seen a single, solitary instance of a person who is not outraged at the relaunch of this website. People are beside themselves and that makes my heart hurt.

If Rosetta Stone wanted to enter the online space, it should have had some understanding of and respect for online community. Or they should have just build their own online community. But why do that when you can demolish the competition while you’re at it?

For those interested in learning a new language, I recommend the Pimsleur system and the Tower of Babelfish method.

21

Life, Death & Facebook

brian2Since it’s public — the obituary is published and let’s face it, nothing’s real until it’s on Facebook – my friend Brian Roberts passed recently. Some of you who read my blog and follow me on Facebook don’t know Brian, and might be wondering why things are all-80s-all-the-time and suddenly Michel’s photos have been replaced mysteriously by photos of some handsome guy named Brian … well, that.

It’s been many years since Brian and I have been very close friends. In fact, it was only six months ago that I even realized he was on Facebook and we were able to re-connect. But when I saw him there, I was so excited to see this smiling face!

January 10th, 2:25pm

ME: Hey! Miss your face, you look great — glad to see you on Facebook. What’s up? You’re in Morocco? That is so cool!!! Tell me things. ~Taughnee

BR: You look fricking AMAZING!!! Im not on much now, been way too busy out on the plate trying to build this plant for the King! I would love to talk soon though and catch up if you want

ME: I would love that! Anytime just let me know.
Seen Jan 12

For all intents and purposes, that was my last private conversation with Brian. People may hate on Facebook, but I for one am forever grateful it exists if for no other purpose than this: to reconnect with people you’ve drifted from but never stopped adoring. Brian was just one of those people.

Facebook has allowed those of us who knew him to reconnect, and I’ve really enjoyed talking with so many people I’ve not seen in 10, 15, 20 years … though, of course I wish under better circumstances. Before Facebook, those connections just wouldn’t have happened, and those connections are healing. We live in an age where people disperse and drift away, we don’t all stay in our home town villages and form lifelong day-to-day relationships. I may not be able to have a day-to-day relationship with everyone I’d like to, but I like knowing they are there. Facebook is good feng shui, you know? I am attached to things I love even if I don’t see them every day.

Facebook and this blog brought me to my sick fiancé, it’s reunited me with some really great friends I wish I’d never lost (like my favorite friends from college, and the woman who took this photo — we were once besties, and through all of this, we’ve rekindled that friendship). And recent experiences have made me realize that you just never know who is out there caring about you. It may be the person you least expect. Maybe Brian would be surprised that I’m taking his loss quite hard, because we hadn’t remained in each others lives these last years … and when people helped get me to Michel when we needed each other most, I was shocked at who responded, who was there. Touching, profound. Our connections to one another are not always as they appear. Sometimes they’re deeper than we know.

And sometimes it’s just a simple thing. You fall in love with someone and stay in love. And I don’t mean that in the romantic sense, it never was and isn’t about that. I think even his buddies will understand what I mean about Brian. He was just one of those guys.

I wish I had stayed in better touch with him, I wish I had more time with him. What an awful feeling. But this week has made me realize that I would feel that way about many, many people. And maybe I need to change something, I don’t know. I’m working that through in my mentals.

Many, many of my school friends are really feeling the loss of him, and I am feeling their pain. The cracked voices and the heartfelt, painful tears … and I understand. It’s so strange how something like this brings people together.

There’s only a finite amount of time we have each day and each lifetime, but when you love a friend, I guess it’s best not to take that for granted. I’m guiltier than most, but from what I used to know, and from what I can tell, Brian never did that — he always had friends around him and many of them lifelong. It speaks to what a great guy he was; he made a lot of people happy and created a lot of lasting, wonderful memories for us all.

That sticks, y’all. For those of you grieving this loss, may you soon find peace. See you Saturday. xoxo~T-bird.

 

2

And just like that, life twists

I met a lovely woman today. We had an instant connection, the kind where you feel you’re old friends within the first few minutes of conversation. Somewhere along the way I showed her a ring I wear every day. On it is an inscription, a reminder, and it reads:

Be true to your dreams.

It resonated with her because she’s got fabulous dreams. I look at this message often and it reminds me not to get too caught up with the things that don’t really matter and lose sight of my dreams, the big picture, the who I want to be and the belief that I can be it. And that I’m living so many dreams I’ve worked hard for already.

Then I read her blog, and she wrote a post that resonated with me too. In it she said that the eight words which define her are:

I choose to live my best life everyday.

And then, I found out one of my friends died today. Because life’s like that. One minute you’re bopping around stressing about workloads and thinking about inspirational quotes and the next minute someone you care about, and adore, is gone.

I’m going to write my new friend’s mantra on my chalkboard wall and start my day tomorrow remembering that this is it, this is my best life, right now. Not someday, but now. My life doesn’t have to always be perfect … I don’t have to be perfect for it to be my best life. It’s about giving it your best effort and then being gentle with yourself when you can’t, being true to yourself and your dreams and enjoying the joys as much as you can. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: what are we waiting for? 

When I look back on my life, I know I’ll regret not acknowledging and celebrating my achievements and blessings more often, not spending more time with family and friends, for worrying and letting myself become irritated with petty things and complaining so much — because life is not about those little things, we forget the little things, but we don’t forget great friendships and experiences. Vivid memories of good times with my friend are etched forever, I’m grateful for those moments. They all weave a texture that becomes the entirety of my life, the little petty things fade, but the good stuff sticks.

My friend lived a big, happy, full life. He embraced it, enjoyed it, took risks and had grand adventures and always had a smile on and friends around him. That’s the way to do it. It’s just a bummer that he didn’t get to do it longer.

Go love big. And may my darling friend be at peace. <3 

1

Seventy Billion Things

I’ve been back from Paris for what, two weeks or a decade or something?

I was determined hit the ground running when I got back and manage all of my obligations with grace. And by grace I mean drink lots of Diet Rockstar and listen to trance music and push hard through a whole lot of work I was behind on. For the first few days. Because here’s the thing about that:

The human body is a wondrous thing. If you stress it out long and hard enough, it reminds you who is boss by giving you such things as BRONCHITIS. Here is a helpful thing for you, the inability to breathe!

AND PANIC ATTACKS IN THE MIDDLE OF CLIENT MEETINGS. Excuse me while I walk around the restaurant a few times and pop a Xanax!

My immune system shut down, so I had no choice but to take a bit of time off. I got so sick I practically slipped into a sinus-infected coma. I poured the remaining Diet Rockstars down the drain and started juicing organic fruits and vegetables and took some naps. I began to feel better.

So naturally, I piled on more work.

I took on a side project helping a film crew from the BBC, here to make a couple of shows about Alaska. And because my life is all about making as much money as possible while I’m home in Anchorage so I can return to Paris, I figured this would be a great way to make some extra cash while still managing my client workload ha ha ha ha ha.

In the end, it turned out to be one of the more GLORIOUS adventures I’ve ever had … the producer, cameraman and host were three of the most interesting and kind people I’ve ever met. I didn’t have any idea I was driving around world-famous journalist-types because had I known, I would have been all nervously loud-talky or worn inappropriately fancy pants or something. But as lovely as it was (when they left Alaska, they asked for group photos and gave me the biggest, warmest hugs and well-wishes, I practically teared up as I dropped them off because I wanted to keep them all in my pocket forever), the project was far more all-consuming than I expected. And now I’m even more behind on seventy billion things. And counting …

Like how I gave myself a deadline for a relaunch of my website that can never, possibly, humanly, happen, on, time, now. (Now on my to-do list: strikethrough the word “June” — that is happening, that is happening, I hate myself.) And how I signed up for an expensive 8-week fitness program and we’re on week two now and I am already a week behind.

Y’all…

I’ve declined three lovely offers to get out of town this weekend and over the holiday next week. Time to pay the piper. If I plant myself in one spot and never move for the next few days, I still will won’t be able to get it all done. And even if I did get it all done, I’d want to finally focus on prioritizing learning French and getting into a bit better shape so I don’t have to be the fattest girl in France anymore. The French, they are a cheese-and-baguette eating, wine-drinking, skinny lot of people.

But you know what?

I know what it feels like to lead a boring life. For a few years there I was lonely, burned-out and apathetic about just about everything. I was stuck in a deeply-grooved, unsatisfying and depressing rut. And now, I’m taking life as it comes and staying open to opportunities and filling my plate a little bit too full. I may have seventy billion things to do but it’s better than zero things to do.

The sacrifice we make for having adventure in life is that we yearn for routine. I yearn for a few months where I can work steadily and calmly toward some professional and personal goals. Then I think, that ain’t gonna happen, my life’s not like that by design. When you have routine, you yearn for adventure. Right? Would I rather be in a cubicle waiting for 5 o’clock and a steady paycheck? No, that’s not for me, it works for many people I know but it’s just not what I chose. It doesn’t mean I’m better than cubicle guy — cubicle guy has a lot of stuff I wish I had. There’s a trade-off no matter which road you take. 

Watching the professionals at the BBC work was inspiring for me. They don’t take days off even though they fly across the world and have to adjust to time zones. They work hard. They lead exciting lives. I loved watching that in action. They are comfortable in this state of “there’s always more to do” and “a day is never going to turn out exactly as you plan.”  I have to get comfortable with the chaos if I want to remain unstuck and continue to grow. Being unstuck means, for me, that life is going to take me places and I can never know where they will be. C’est la vie!

(By the by, I haven’t had a whole lot of time to talk with Michel, which isn’t the way I want it, but he knows I am busy working my way back to him. He’s doing well, still on the mend and healing, but doing well. Thank you for your continued healing thoughts and support. <3)

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An update from France, just in time for me to leave uh… France.

So…..

I’ve been in France for over two weeks now and nary an update, I do apologize.  Thought I’d fill you in on the haps before I head back to the states this Sunday (*lip pout*) because being travel-weary … It. Is. Coming.

First thing’s first: Michel is doing really well. His friend Charly and I collected him from the hospital the day I arrived, and although his diet has been really restricted, he grows stronger every day. The color is back in his cheeks and he’s annoyed with my high-maintenance American ways on a regular basis again. Success!!! 

At first we were like this — pale and puffy and wrinkled and scruffy and beaten down a bit… but there were smiles.

Then later we were like this, a little more rested, a little more color, a little more Tour Eiffel.

Seriously, it’s like this. His treatment was experimental and successful; we are so lucky you don’t even know it. (We know it.) He goes back in for a follow-up in a few days and I had hoped to have the visa thing figured out long before then so I would have the option to stay if it was necessary to stay … but the visa situation is like this: sigh.

Nobody in either government is in any kind of hurry to get us the documentation we need to get married, to process long-stay applications, to what-have-you. They don’t read my blog, they don’t…. they just don’t know.

So, after spending many, many, many hours and days calling, downloading and filling out forms, trying to find somebody to help us (even after some helpful and kind friends and friends-of friends from the State Department tried to get us connected with people who might care and listen to us) … we finally just decided to just stop spinning in circles of stress and enjoy the time we have together and get back on track — I’ll go home for the summer, work my butt off and save money so I can come back, and get things in order so we have options.

Meanwhile, I’m shopping for apartments in the 12th arrondissement (a charming district just blocks from here where we spend our Sundays here and here) because having a dream, a hope for the future, a goal… is always a nice thing to have when we must get our arse up in the morning and giddy up and get ‘er done.

It’s going to be a busy summer, but I’ll be back, France. And I have nothing but high hopes for a future filled with many more Michel adventuresThank you again for getting me here, it’s an experience neither of us will ever forget.

Gros bisous. xoxo~Taughnee

PS  To be continued… And see you soon, America.

 

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Where the Marne came into the Seine

It’s Friday morning, 7:40am. I’m having my morning coffee on our balcony in Charenton Le Pont, France — my second home. (Or is it my first home by now?). It’s a charming little community just outside Paris proper on metro line 8, one Hemingway mentions in A Moveable Feast: “There was better fishing in Charenton, where the Marne came into the Seine, and on either side of Paris, but there was very good fishing in Paris itself.”

I left Charenton only six or so weeks ago and didn’t expect to be back until the fall after a focused, hard-working summer spent saving money, studying le français and researching how to acquire a long-stay visa. Like the saying goes, life happens when you’re making other plans. And so here I am. However it came to be, it feels so good to be home again.

This is our view. It overlooks a courtyard and parking area (which is not so pretty for photos), but when I stand out here in the early mornings, I always look up. So I took a photo of ‘up’ for you. The sun is shining and the sky is blue today, et mon Michel is sleeping in the next room. Yes, he is home from the hospital (more on that in a minute). All is quiet, I’m relaxed and rested, and savoring this peaceful feeling because it’s so unlike how I’ve been feeling the past few weeks.

The journey from Alaska to this was a long and stressful one. I’ll fast forward past the complaining about how unpleasant it is to travel for more than 24 hours, and all the worries and panic attacks, because that really could take all day and all that matters now is that I’m here, and so is Michel, and my heart is no longer pounding out of my chest. Today is a good day.

During my layover in Seattle my dear friend Cynthia picked me up in the early morning hours to take me to breakfast. As we were walking through the Hyatt in Bellevue, Michel called with great news: his latest test results came back and the doctors agreed to release him the next day! Cynthia and I grinned in unison, “YAYYYY YAY YAY!!!!” I’d be arriving just hours before he’d be released! While I had hoped he’d be able to come home at some point during my stay, I didn’t expect that. *Breathes.*

Upon arrival in Paris, our friend Charly picked me up at the airport. He was there! And on time! (Take note, Michel! lol) He greeted me with a big smile and hug and that was a very good moment. Here. Phew. We made our way back to the apartment, dropped off my bags, then hopped right back on the metro and straight to the hospital to collect Michel. Oh that smile! And that hug that lasted for a very, very long time. All the checklists and laundry piles and security checkpoints and worries and sleepless nights … they were all were worth it in that very long hug.

He looked a bit thinner but handsome and strong and wonderful. We headed home and were all very hungry, so stopped for a fine lunch at a brasserie in Charenton. The sun was shining and I had my guy’s hand in mine as we said goodbye to Charly and walked back home. Finally. Home. Together. Relaxed in our little Parisian apartment. Aaaaaaaaaaah. 

A lot of people are asking how he’s doing (by the way, thank you for that) and I can tell you that he’s been through a lot in the last weeks: very painful treatments with no guarantees, but most miraculous results. We both credit your support and prayers and campaign to get me here as a huge component in giving him the strength to fight and endure it all. He’s on the mend and coming through to the other side, where we intend to keep him. My job now, the reason why I’m here, is to ensure he is taking good care of himself — plenty of rest and relaxation, low stress, a bit of exercise (walks in the sunshine today!) and good nutrition. His restrictive diet is a healthy one and good for us both, but like, phew … the doctors allow a glass of wine with dinner because it’s France and we love France.

Jetlag has been brutal, but I’m nearly acclimated and looking forward to getting into routine and even getting some work done. Now, besides getting healthy, our other priority is to figure out a way for me to be in France as much as I need to be, because worrying about visas is really something we need to remove from the equation. It’s a bit of a torturous bureaucratic process but we’ve got to put it front burner now. I don’t ever want to feel like I can’t be here for him because of some regulation. Yes, getting married is an option and it’s on the table but believe you me, it’s not just that simple. We would be married by now if it were. I’m American and as such, there is a whole process. We’re doing the research, getting all of the documents we need, filling out forms, etc. We’re also looking into all other options as well. I will, of course, keep you all posted.

Thank you for getting me home, y’all.

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When life gets messy

As I’m zooming around cleaning, packing and making lists — preparing to leave for France tomorrow night — I’m thinking a lot about messes. This post might get a little gross you guys, so if you’re the squeemish sort, turn back now. You’ve been warned.

When I told Michel that I was coming, one of the first things he said was “Sweetie, the apartment is very dirty, I’m so worried. I was vomiting a lot and was too weak to clean so the smell is very bad.” I had to laugh, because here is a man, fighting for his life, worried about smells. Not only that, but compared to week before last when I was processing never hearing from him again, cleaning a bit of vomit was the last thing I was worried about. I welcome the cleaning of the apartment because it means I’m there, and he’s here in the larger sense of that word.

But I know for a man who is very proud and very loving, this was a real worry for him. (“But be sure, the sheets and linens are very clean and there are a few papers on the table but it’s not messy!”) And because he needs all of his strength, I assured him that it was absolutely positively not something he needs to be thinking about. I will happily clean the apartment! Do not worry!

But truth be told, preparing on short notice to leave work and routine and get to France, not to mention the 24 hours it takes to get there and a 10 hour time difference jetlag … this is and will be a feat of endurance during a time when I’m not 100% rock solid healthy in mind and body. Somehow the early morning yoga sessions have slipped off the list and I wish I were the sort of person who could do all the right things in times of crisis, but I’m the kind that survives the day by starting it not with meditations and walks in nature, but by driving over to Mountain View to pick up an egg and cheese biscuit with a side of greasy hash browns. Anyway… I know when I turn that key and enter that apartment, I’m going to need to crash. And because funds were raised for this sort of thing, I contacted his friend Charly to see if he could arrange a cleaning service to come over, I would send him some money.

Charly went over to visit Michel and got his key and spent his holiday cleaning the apartment. And he will take a day off to collect me at the airport and bring me to Michel and get me settled in. This is Charly. Charly is the kind of friend who doesn’t mind messes. We love Charly.

On the other side of the pond, I’m trying to clean my house because my roommate’s sister Kat will be visiting soon. She is also a client and I was really looking forward to meeting her in person. But since I can’t be here, I wrote to her and told her to make herself at home in my room, I have a very comfortable bed and apple tv. YIKES, I have to make certain all the linens are clean and the shower is scrubbed and the sink is combed. Zoom!

As I was sweeping the kitchen floor I remembered a day earlier in the week when I walked into the house — Jen was dog sitting and the living room and kitchen were an awful mess. Normally this would be an annoyance because though we both keep our personal spaces as we wish, our “common” areas are typically kept very clean and tidy. On that day, I remember feeling this sense of home because of the mess, and I told Jen I was comforted by all the dog toys strewn about and muddy paw prints and dirty dishes on the counter tops.

Then I started thinking about my mom, seeing as how today is Mother’s day. How she’s endured chronically messy rooms, sickness, weathered hearing about life’s heartbreaks and very messy times of life with grace and strength. This is my mom. We love my mom.

Michel is feeling stronger today, he’s emailed me several times and that’s also new, he’s not had the strength for the emailing lately. He told me that today is the first day he’s not vomited, and the pain is subsiding, and he was able to eat his first “real” meal. He’s going to absolutely murder me for sharing this photo because this is a French  man, who does not leave the house even to run to the store, without showering, putting on a black blazer and fixing his hair. He hates that his hair is long (I love it that way but who am I?) and I know he probably hates that his skin is pale for lack of sunshine but I would remind him that people who care about him will see the INCREDIBLE beauty in this photo. It is the most favorite photo of him I’ve ever seen.

This is Michel. We love Michel.

(Please note: even in the hospital, meals simply must be eaten at the table. Oh France.)

Maybe love happens when things get messy. Maybe the best part of life happens when we stop worrying about our six-pack abs and polished granite countertops and achievement certificates. When we have the courage to come together to help our friends and family through the messy stuff.

I think I’ll leave my room a little bit messy for Kat, and hope that she will enjoy her stay here and have the time of her life. I hope when Charly cleans Michel’s apartment, he understands the beauty of his kind act and that it will be returned to him a thousand-fold (it will, the universe is cool that way). And I hope my mom knows I love her for holding my hand through the messy stuff, that’s what makes her a profoundly wonderful mother.

Happy First Meal Day and happy Mother’s Day to the ones I love most.

 

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