21: Three-legged dogs

I’m moving. Again.

It’s Saturday and the sun is still down and I’m bending over boxes in my kitchen wondering where I put my keys. I’ve been out of bed for less than five minutes and already I feel behind on my day. Coffee is a 15 minute drive from here and the tools I need to make my own are sealed behind flaps of cardboard in one of the five boxes I’ve marked, with lawyerly precision, “kitchen.”

Because, of course, I’m moving.

Again.

An hour and a half later I’m speeding from east Sacramento to my new home in midtown, wondering why everyone drives the speed limit on H street. I’m ahead of schedule but assuming I’ll be late because the smoothie making at my favorite shop is executed with all the speed and urgency of a desert tortoise on a hot day. I mentally run through the parade of consequences that follow from my inevitable tardiness: My dad has to meet my new boyfriend without the aid of my social orchestration. My best friend has to run interference on my divorced parents and fails to keep them apart just long enough for one or both of them to be pissed off for the rest of the day. My dad surveys my packing job and takes out his frustration on Amy’s defenseless husband who has been his unofficial sounding board during my last, four moves.

I come back in to the moment just in time to notice the sky is darker than when I left my house this morning and that there areĀ  droplets forming on the windshield. It hasn’t rained in Sacramento since before Christmas so naturally, it’s raining today.

It’s become apparent that I am, as we say at lululemon, below the line.

Below the line is that place where everything I think and say and act on is a negative interpretation of my environment. It’s the land of judgement and ridicule. Ego and frustration. I typically take up residence there when I don’t get my way or something (or someone) interferes with my plans. When I feel out of control of my own schedule and routines or my expectations are left unfulfilled. I like to think I have a high threshold of misfortune before landing there, but once I’m settled in, it’s difficult to get back up.

Today, I’m moving. But I feel stuck.

Resigned to a late arrival and a bad attitude, I dive in to my mental to-do list. Somehow it’s three times as long as it was two hours ago and just as I start to wonder how someone else is adding tasks to my imaginary agenda, my attention is pulled away.

To the left side of the street where a jump-suit clad couple is walking their three-legged dog. There he is, small and white and blissfully happy. Floating down the street with such grace and easeĀ  that it takes me more than thirty seconds to notice his missing hind leg. His bright, sharp teeth are showing, signaling the pride and joy he feels in his early morning routine. There is no sign of struggle or resistance. He is scampering along, completely un-phased by his disability, maybe even unaware of it.

I roll my eyes and slink lower in the driver’s seat.

“I feel like an asshole.”

I love dogs more than just about anything else in the world, but I love dogs with deformities and disabilities the most. I spent hours and hours in law school lectures scouring the internet for pathetic rescue dogs with severe physical limitations. I dreamed of having a whole farm of rehabilitating animals who would daily remind me of how good I have it.

I shake off the shame and recommit to gratitude and remind myself of the four, working limbs I’m blessed with and the countless other fortunes that shape my insanely happy and abundant life.

Here’s the thing about three legged dogs: They don’t just hobble dejectedly through their lives until they see someone, or something who is worse off than they are. They leap to their three feet with every opportunity to move their bodies and are happy and content no matter what the circumstance. They don’t need a reminder to be grateful and open and loving. And I’m guessing, though, I’ve never asked, that they don’t ever question how and why they ended up with three legs when their friend down the street has four.

A day later, I’m flat on my back on the sideline of my adult, co-ed soccer game sick to my stomach. Fifteen minutes earlier I’d put my entire, tiny body behind an aggressive tackle and wound up in tangled mess on the turf, shocked and scared.

Because I always bounce back up.

This time, I was slow to my feet and a little disoriented and I had just enough sense to think, “I need to sub out.” Nothing feels right and this could be bad and holy shit what if I never play soccer again? The stream of anxious thoughts continue as I struggle to the sideline to take a seat. And collect myself. Trying to figure out what’s next.

Everyone is looking at me with fear and hesitation because, I always bounce back up.

When the shock subsides, the nausea sets in and the only thing that makes it tolerable is to lay flat on my back. So that’s where I go, and stay, until the game is over. Ice packs and tylenol seem to be helping and when I finally stand up I’m hopeful I’ll feel bouncy and recovered. I stand on my left foot and drag up my right and the feeling is, devastatingly, worse than before.

The anxious narrative comes pouring in again and my only defense is forced, deep breaths. I want to cry and call my mom and I just keep cringing, doing my best to hold it together. It’s only been 60 minutes since I came off the field and already I’m frustrated and I want my old body back.

That was 12 days ago. And I’ve been been able to do, pretty much nothing*, ever since. There’s a deep indentation in my couch where my butt lands when I put my legs up the wall. There are three blue ice packs in my freezer and half-full bottle of Motrin on my kitchen table. I’ve taken more pills in two weeks than I’ve taken the rest of my life, combined. Everyday tasks of coffee-making and laundry-doing take three times as long as they usually do and I’m fiercely impatient even though I have all the time in the world to do them.

I feel angry and frustrated and can’t quiet the voice repeating my new favorite mantra, “is this over yet?”

I’ve cried only twice in 2015. Once when I left my team in Roseville, and once when I read my mom my blog about my nephew to my mom. I’ve cried about my knee, at least once a day, already. I’ve cried about the immediate pain and limitations of my injury. I’ve cried out of fear of the permanence of my condition. I’ve cried because I’ve lost control of what’s happening and all I want to do is get it back.

I’ve cried during repeated, failed attempts to channel the three-legged dog.

In the struggle, I am aware of how ridiculous I am. I think about my brother who is highly functioning and rarely in complaint despite losing the use of his right arm entirely, eight years ago. I think about the heroic Sacramento woman, a victim of the Boston marathon bombing, who, just weeks before my Sunday afternoon collision, decided to amputate her right leg in order to live her life with more peace and comfort.

She, was a soccer player, too.

I pile on shame and disappointment and judgement to the mounting volume and variety of discontent I’ve been dwelling in at the big piece of land I purchased way below the line.

I am aware that my gratitude practice is missing. That my ability to breathe through challenge is missing. That grace and patience and acceptance, are all missing.

My entire yoga practice, all six days a week that I “do it”, is missing.

The lessons from facing the ceiling with my right leg in the air for the last 192 hours are many. I am learning how to be still and uncomfortable and soften around my resistance. I am learning how gratitude is not a daily or a weekly practice, but that it is cultivated in every moment that I choose it, or not. I am learning how much more work I have to do on my yoga mat and seeing, for the first time in months, that “doing it” requires more than just showing up to the yoga studio and moving through the poses every day.

I am learning what it feels like to: walk slowly, with intention, from place to place. Experience life without a packed agenda. Watch the light get dim in my living room as the sun sets every night. Read more and move less. Be still. Be grateful. Be graceful, patient and accepting.

To find peace and comfort in this body, in this life, the way it is, right now.

*By nothing, I mean on day 3 I went to yoga and on day 4 I tried spin. Everything felt “fine” because from a seat of pure denial everything feels exactly how you believe it does. When, on day 5, my knee swelled to the size of my head, I consulted a doctor and I’ve been (mostly) flat on my back (again) ever since.

“Please do not feed the fears”

It’s Monday, I think.

What used to be my life has deteriorated into a repetition of sun-ups and sundowns wherein my tiny, soft cotton shorts are increasingly stuck to my ever-sweaty skin. Los Angeles is hotter than normal and I am grumpier than usual and for no real reason at all, I refuse to use the air conditioning in my apartment.

My apartment. Where I’ve eaten, slept, studied, read, cried, practiced yoga, called my mom, baked cookies, and devoured family-sized packages of pretzel M&Ms, pretty much without leaving, for three months. I recently read an article about the complexities of life at the international space station. How everything feels and moves and acts different in “zero G.” How the adjustment period for an astronaut is sometimes six months, even when their mission is three. How they have to re-learn how to do everything earth dwellers take for granted and even after years of preparation some of them, never adapt.

My life, studying for the bar exam, is orbiting in space.

By Friday, I’ll be back in the gravitational pull of the ordinary- brushing my teeth upright and sleeping flat on my back. Eating more than one meal a day and spending fewer than eight hours at a time in front of a computer. Crying only during Oprah’s Lifeclass and the occasional youtube video my mom sends me about a heroic service dog.

All day I’ve been simultaneously wanting to speed up time and stop it entirely. Torn between the intense anxiety of the impending exam and the anticipation of relief when it’s finally over. I’ve developed this habit of mindlessly looking at social media when I need an escape from the many sensations in my body.

“Please do not feed the fears.”

My friend, mentor, attorney-goddess and pro-bono life coach, Anne Collins posted a picture on Facebook of the above words, just in time. Just in time for me to abandon my newly formulated plan to blow off the exam all together and spend the next three days in Disneyland charging churros on my mom’s credit card and watching back-to-back showings of Captain EO, while contemplating whether or not my J.D. will help or hurt me in landing a gig as a Jungle Cruise skipper.

The fears have been creeping in on me all summer, but accelerated their approach about three days ago when I blanked on all  112 of my criminal procedure notecards during a mid afternoon review session.

“I’m going to fail this exam.”

I immediately retreated from my bedroom into the kitchen where I set out to bake three dozen chocolate chip cookies and plan the rest of my life.

“Maybe I’ll go to culinary school.”

I’ve been perfecting this pattern of (anxious) thought, (dramatic) reaction, since I was five years old. An uncomfortable experience or conversation sends me into a spiral of doing and fixing. My contingency plans have contingency plans and I can re-route my entire life purpose in seconds. I’d get in a fight with one of my girl friends and have the next five years of my social life mapped out before she even realized we were fighting. My dad swears when he looks at x-rays of our family members we have prehistoric bone density. For 31 years I’ve been navigating life like a cave man cornered by a saber-toothed tiger. I worry that it’s in the genes.

My fears are relentless, hungry beasts. They travel in packs, sometimes in disguise. They hunt me day and night and I am especially vulnerable when I’m alone, sitting still and quiet, for an unusual length of time.

I move around a lot.

After almost a decade as a single woman, adjusting to a new relationship sometimes feels like a space station mission I didn’t get to prepare for. Like my life was training for six months on a submarine and without warning I’m hurtling through the galaxy wishing for gravity to pull me back down to earth. I am upside down and backwards and helplessly trying to grasp at a  vacuum dried sandwich that’s floating in mid air.

There are moments where it is calm and easy, but then, even a small challenge launches the fears into the orbit of my imagination.  When they land, I’m in survival mode, swift into action on my plan to eradicate the sensation before it can settle in. I feed them old stories of disappointment and heartbreak. I toss them my self-sufficiency and complacency with being alone. I give them a hearty dose of how easy my life is without a partner and let them feast on my discomfort in feeling vulnerable and opening up.

The more I feed them, the more powerful they become.

Sometimes, in the frenzy, I hesitate. I pause to consider that the conversation in my head is not an accurate reflection of my reality. In my mind, I’ve been running, with my head down, as fast as I can move without looking up. When I pause, my legs stop, then I shift my gaze up and my eyes meet the warning sign I’ve been ignoring.

“Please do not feed the fears.”

I both hate and appreciate the reminder that I’m creating this myself. That there’s nothing wrong and nothing to be afraid of and that even when there is, dwelling in the anxiety of what might happen does not change whether it will, or not. That my version of the future is no more certain than the real one that can only be unknown.

I hate flying because I can’t see where I’m going. From the driver’s seat of my car the road is clear in front of me. And even though I know from both logic and experience that my vision in one direction does not prevent intervention or accidents or the unexpected from coming up on all sides of me, it gives me the illusion that it does.

And I feel safe.

My move to action in a perceived crisis is the same type of illusion. Even, or especially, when I play out the worst case scenario I feel comfort in seeing something even if I don’t like what I see.

My fears are a fuzzy outline of the uncertain. I feed them until they are strong enough to take shape.

Lately, I try to be still long enough to pause, and look up. To catch myself in the reaction before it becomes reality, to me. To sit in the discomfort of not knowing and not seeing. Of floating through zero G. To find acceptance. And peace. To adapt to a new environment. To take it in and take it on and give myself time to make the adjustment.

To know that I cannot keep the fears away from me, but I can open up the space and allow them to leave.

Hungry.