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the eighty-ninth key

…to a body beauty and to a soul wisdom and to an action virtue and to speech truth, but their opposites are unbefitting.

There is a song by the Canadian band Metric (or should I say The Clash at Demonhead?) that I am pretty sure is about zombies. Or falling in love. Or dealing with life. Does it really matter?

If I tremble,
they’re gonna eat me alive.
If I stumble,
they’re gonna eat me alive.
Can you hear my heart beating like a hammer?
(beating like a hammer)
Help, I’m alive.
My heart keeps beating like a hammer.

Hard to be soft, tough to be tender….
Come take my pulse.
The pace is on a runaway train.
Help, I’m alive.
My heart keeps beating like a hammer.

-Metric, “Help, I’m Alive”

Being chased and having an accelerated sense of adrenaline is something I identify with in a more emotional way.  Anxiety is a very palpable emotion for me. I have always considered myself to be a deadline-driven person (read: procrastinator) who doesn’t feel really alive about a project most times until the eleventh hour. Change excites and enthralls me, but being out of control leads to being overwhelmed, which soon manifests itself in anxiety. It’s a familiar feeling that definitely varies in severity, a pressure in my chest that would send me to the school nurse daily in the third grade when I was bullied and had a hard time fitting in. In middle school it would leave me gasping for breath, on rare occasion pushing me to almost passing out. Anxiety and me have a long standing relationship, and I don’t delude myself with thinking it’s going to cut me off completely any day soon, although at this point we mainly are ‘it’s complicated’ at best.

Many people live with anxiety. I have found mine to typically be extremely manageable, after a little counseling in my early teens and a lot of group and self lead Buddhist style meditation practices. I, as many do, have a short list of things to keep balance. Eating well and exercise helps a little. Feeling confident in my physical self plays an enormous factor. Being involved in writing and playing music is monumentally significant in my emotional health, second only possibly to being able to anchor myself in a community of friends and family.

My travels to beginning this new chapter in Illinois have currently left me void of nearly all of these stabilizing factors. Not to say I’m off the deep end now, have faith, but it is a strong reminder of how blessed I have become over the last ten years to develop a near system of important behaviors to allow me to live a higher quality of life. Waking up to a dull ache is a strange reminder of times where I was far younger and less understanding of how to take care of myself. The anonymity of being thousands of miles away from home leaves the question of earlier lyrics ringing in my ears as I carry out different chores in a day, going to the bank, getting milk, even talking on the phone to a customer service representative at the electric company. Can you hear my heart beating like a hammer? 

It’s strange how intimidating something can be without a familiarity. Calling the cable/internet/phone/gas/electric companies in my hometown? I wouldn’t ever think twice. But my first call to set up utilities here was nearly as exhausting as waiting on hold for two hours to get through- for no other reason than the company had an unfamiliar name, had an area code that I am not yet familiar with, had a logo that I haven’t seen printed on ads at the home stadium or in receipts in my home mailbox. Each little step some days feels like a mountain, but each flag I place in the summit is a little less weight on my chest the next day.

Metric might be right on with this one- a big part of being alive is the little calls for help. Maybe I’m only telling half the story- for those of you who haven’t listened to the video yet or aren’t familiar with the song, here’s the second part of the lyrics:

If I’m still alive, my regrets are few.
If my life is mine ,what shouldn’t I do?

I get wherever I’m going, I get whatever I need-

While my blood’s still flowing, and my heart still beats.

And so I continue going through the motions until they get easier. The beauty of this all being hard and unfamiliar is that it means somewhere, other places have grown familiar to me. Streets in my hometown of Reno, trees and names of brews of craft beers in my college town, Salem; even bus route numbers in Portland. When a friend traveled to San Diego a couple days ago, I couldn’t hold back my opinions long enough to even count the number of restaurants and sites I knew she had to see.

Surely many people have made far further transitions with far less support. A few generations back, members of my family traversed oceans alone into places where had no roots, no promises, and no shared language. This too will grow to be familiar. Until then, I write blog posts with many words and am grateful for the many friends and family from other homes who drop me messages to remind me that I’m not alone, even when I am.

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