Sunday, December 28, 2008

Kristina is twittering.

I started "twittering" this week. Twitter is kind of like a blog, only you are limited to 140 characters. This keeps you to 1-3 sentences, so the idea is that you update it more often than you might a blog with clever little musings throughout your day. It is a lot like the status on Facebook, and you can even connect the two so when you post on Twitter it also shows up in your Facebook status, AND you can post updates by sending a text message on your cell phone. Also like Facebook, you can follow your friend's twitterings, which show up on your Twitter homepage. (I am tealrat on Twitter so you can look me up if you're on there.)

I'm trying to focus on blogging more regularly, and twittering during the week. This has been difficult for me lately because I've been feeling irritable, resentful, and angry. I don't like writing when I feel like that. It doesn't make me feel too good about myself, and I certainly don't like to share my crabby with other people. I like myself better when I'm fun and uplifting. I don't like to be a downer. I’m manic pixie dream girl! (This is from a funny story on NPR about one of the many female stereotypes that show up regularly in movies- the irreverent kooky spontaneous girl who lifts the overly serious guy out of his self-absorbed rut. This term was coined in reference to Kirsten Dunst’s character in Elizabethtown. Think also of Natalie Portman in Garden State, Melanie Griffith in Something Wild, and Holly Golightly from Breakfast at Tiffany’s (Audrey Hepburn). The problem with manic pixie dream girls, as the website referenced above so diplomatically points out, is that they are marked by the "lack of an inner life". It’s hard to maintain a real life (with a job), acknowledge your own problems, and generally be a real person who is not happy all the time, while trying to keep up a free-spirited, charming naïveté about life and amusing everyone around you. Believe me, I’ve tried. There’s a reason “manic” is usually paired with “depressive”. Maybe Kirsten Dunst in Crazy/Beautiful is slightly more realistic. Slightly.)

I'm trying to figure out a happy medium between dealing with my feelings and wallowing in them, and on the other hand, between keeping a positive attitude and being in denial. It's good that I'm working through unresolved crap from my past, not so good when I start feeling distrustful and suspicious in regards to my life now. I would like to make some kind of New Year’s resolution to not be bitter, but how can I do that and be sure that I won't just go back to suppressing any feelings I have that are distasteful and negative?

I don't like anger, but anger is really just the tip of a huge betrayal iceberg. I could live with the anger at my parents if I could just let go of all the seething resentment towards the people that I felt could have helped (or just paid attention) and turned their back on me. My parents are just two people- I know who they are and I never have to trust them again. I hate the feeling that I will struggle to trust anyone (or anything) for the rest of my life. Friends, situations, my job, money- I'm always waiting for the bottom to drop out from under me. I hate feeling this way. I was starting to feel more confident about the life I have now and that I might finally be ready to accept my brother's death, and then my co-worker committed suicide and I started questioning everything all over again. You just never really know what's going to happen, who people are, and what they might do. Other people can live with that uncertainty. Sometimes people surprise you in positive ways. I have too much awareness of how things can go wrong. I can usually focus on the "glass half full" but right now I'm in the empty.

This is why I’m trying to blog more, even twitter. One of the happiest surprises of my blogging experience has been the support and warmth I have received through this blog. It gives me hope, both that I will work though this and not get stuck in depression forever, and that there are a lot of people, friends and well-wishers, who are there for me and understand, and who won’t turn away. Who listen and sympathize. I really appreciate that. Especially when I am feeling crabby and mad, I suspect that I should be quarantined until I can be sweet and pleasant to be around again, but people still read my blog. I don’t ever feel alone.

Monday, December 22, 2008

It's cold here, I swear

I feel like I could stop talking for the rest of the year. I am sure of it. I mean, I can talk at work about work, but I have somehow lost the ability to make small talk. I can talk about hockey just fine as long as it’s just about hockey.

About a month ago, I was playing in a pick-up game and I was knocked out. The puck got loose in front of the other team's net, and I was about to shoot it when I saw a hunter green jersey coming at me out of the corner of my eye, and then I was lying flat on my back. The goalie was asking me if I was okay, but the lights seemed too bright and all I could think about was closing my eyes and taking a nap. There were voices around me but they seemed very far away, like I was listening to the TV while dozing on the couch. I thought about the green jersey, how white the rink looked before I closed my eyes, how my head hurt but I was still grateful to my helmet even though I did not remember when it hit the ice. It was surprisingly comfortable at that moment lying there, and I felt safe with the black cage protecting my face and my head resting against the padding. I could feel the hard, flat surface of the ice under me, the padding around my body, and the stiffness of my skates around my ankles. I was in a hockey cocoon.

People were saying my name and telling me to open my eyes, and I did not want to worry anyone, so I opened my eyes a little. It was less bright since the people looking down on me were blocking the lights. I could see the goalie to the right watching me, and I wondered how I had spun around so my head was facing the boards behind the net. People were asking me those stock questions- what's your name, where are you, how many fingers am I holding up? I felt kind of stupid actually answering those kinds of questions, but there were so many vague thoughts swirling around in my head that I was trying to grab on to, mostly to stop them from bouncing around in my brain, that it took some time for me to find the answer and then figure out how to verbalize it. Of course, I know my own name, but so did they and it was a lot of effort for me to repeat it back to them. I could remember driving to the rink, but it took a while to remember the name of the city I was in. I didn't have any problem counting the number of fingers; it just took a moment to remember the word "five".

They helped me up and I slowly skated to the bench, trying not to fall down. I pulled off my gloves and helmet. My head was throbbing so acutely that I could not really think of anything else. I heard green jersey yell from across the ice “sorry” in a sarcastic way, like when you’re apologizing for something you don’t really feel is your fault, or that the person deserved anyway. Her voice floated to the back of my brain, where my head had hit the ice, and stayed there. Almost everyone besides her stopped by the bench periodically to ask how I was doing. I went back to talking in sentences, and explained I had better stay on the bench for the rest of the game. My friend Carrie, who I carpooled with, asked if I wanted her to drive me home, but I said, no, finish the game, I’ll just sit here on the bench and rest. As the throbbing lessened and turned into an ache in my head and neck, the white glare of the lights flickered around me and I started feeling lightheaded and sick to my stomach. I diverted my attention from how I was feeling by watching the game, and talking to the people who came to the bench to rest.

A word about pick-up games- there are no referees and you don’t keep score. They are kind of a combination of practice and an actual game. It’s an opportunity to practice skills and positions in a game situation without the pressure of winning and losing. The pick-up games I play in are Monday nights, and half the people going that week wear a white jersey and the other half wear black. (I'm always on white for some reason.) We start out with five people on each side and everyone else on the bench, and when you get tired, you go to the bench and someone takes your spot. This means someone who would normally play wing can end up on defense or center, and defensemen can play offense. Sometimes there are a lot of beginners, and the beauty of these games is you can make mistakes and do things you wouldn’t normally do in a game, like play a position you’re not comfortable with or try a different shooting technique, and it doesn’t matter. (Shooting can make you especially vulnerable because you have to shift your weight to power your shot so you’re off balance.) In summary, its friends having fun, you avoid hurting anyone, and if you get caught up in the adrenaline or competition and accidentally trip, high stick, check, knock down or even come close to hurting someone, most of the women cannot apologize enough. In fact, most of the women playing that night were totally apologetic and coming over to check on me during the game (including the people on the other team) EXCEPT the one who leveled me.

It wasn’t until I had to be helped off the ice, Carrie had to put on my shoes for me and drive me home, and I was lying in bed that I started to feel pissed off. I’ve only had one other concussion, and it was much worse both in circumstances and effects, but since this has been the year of working through unresolved feelings from the past I got angry about that too. I mean, what happened during the game was crap. I wasn't expecting to be played that hard at a pick-up, I was off balance, and she was trying to knock me down instead of trying to play the puck or my stick. And it was especially crappy to be so unapologetic about it. But, everyone else was really concerned about me, and her and her friend were frozen out in the locker room afterwards. It was obvious that no one else approved of the way she was acting. I didn't get anywhere near that kind of sympathy when my dad beat me. That terror has never left me, though. I thought I was going to die. I lost language that time too. Constructing sentences, especially, but pronouncing words too. Communication was a struggle, including expressing emotion. I was in shock for a while after escaping from my family, and with everything that happened to me I couldn’t even let myself feel what I was feeling, let alone say it.

That Wednesday I had planned to play in a game with the LA Chill, a women’s tournament team, vs. the USC women’s team. As the game got closer I started to feel nervous, even a little terrified. What if it happened again? My neck had stiffened up the next day, and I found myself absentmindedly massaging the sore spots trying to rub out the stiffness and thinking about how some of my friends said they saw my head snap back and my eyes flutter when I hit the ice, things I don’t remember. It’s terrible that I don’t remember. Just before the game I felt like I was going to throw up, although part of that was that I’d never played with the Chill before. My former teammate on the Blue Lady Kings was playing center, and we were on the same line. I realized that she had assisted on all my goals so far. My nerves calmed when I got on the ice, though. In the last Lady Kings season, she had been trying to work out a move with me and the other wing where she pretended to go behind the opposing team’s net, but then kicked back the puck on that same side. We didn’t even talk about it before the game, but she did it, I was there, and I put it in. Less than a minute later we did it again. I was a little shocked. It was definitely the first time I’d scored twice.

My line tried really hard to get me a hat trick, and it seemed like the puck was flying towards me every second I was on the ice, but so were USC. We did win the game, though. Quite convincingly, as a matter of fact. On Friday I played my Blue Lady Kings games, and scored two goals again. So it was the worst and best week of my hockey career so far.

Sunday, December 14, 2008


On October 25, one of my co-workers committed suicide. She didn't work in my department, but she was my HR representative, and the person in HR my team worked with on some of the projects we work on, like ethics training. I used to see her mornings in the locker room at work, where I showered after hockey practice. Of course I felt sad and shocked when my boss told me she had died, but then it really got sad when he told me the company was going to say she died in an "accident" and that I shouldn't tell anyone it was suicide. This put me in the ridiculous position of having to tell my direct reports without saying it was suicide, so when one of them naturally how she died I danced around it by saying "the company says it was an accident" even though I knew that wasn't true. Then the company never did make any sort of announcement that she had died even though she was in HR and practically everyone knew her. Most of our co-workers that came to her memorial service were either in HR or higher up in the company, which I realized later was because unless the head of their department or their supervisor told them, a lot of people didn't even know she died. I was talking to a co-worker and mentioned the memorial service, and she was completely taken aback because she hadn't heard.

Regardless, a lot of people came to the memorial service. I managed to hold it together until someone else started crying, and then I lost it. My co-worker (and friend and fellow hockey player) that I had gone with immediately whipped out a tissue, saying that she knew I would cry so she was prepared. It was sweet.

Two days later was the election. As a liberal and a democrat, I was nervous. I was genuinely shocked when GW was elected the first time, disturbed when he was re-elected, and regardless of my feelings about the competition this time around and no matter how good it looked for Barack Obama, I didn't want to get too excited and have my hopes dashed against the rocks. In California, we also had the propositions to worry about, especially prop 8 (banning gay marriage) and prop 4 (abortion restrictions). That afternoon I was in my car listening to the radio, and they had called Vermont for Obama and either Kentucky or South Carolina for McCain, which meant McCain was ahead 8-3. An hour and a half later I get back in my car, and they are talking about how very, very hard it would be for McCain to get enough electoral votes to win, like he'd have to take normally blue states away from Obama. This was before the polls had closed in California, so they couldn't call the election yet, but when I realized that's what they were hinting at, I started screaming. Obama won!

The propositions were a mixed bag. Prop 4 was defeated, Prop 8 was not. Cue the disbelief here. In a state that's as blue as the day is long (for those readers outside the country who may not spend all their time following U.S. politics, blue states tend to be more Democratic and red states are more Republican) the success of Prop 8 was disappointing, to say the least. And embarrassing. It seems California's liberal leanings were overestimated outside the state as well, and a lot of non-Californian were shocked that the state would pass an amendment to the state constitution which is straight-out (no pun intended) discrimination. You just can't assume anything about how people will vote.

Regardless, Obama's victory wasn't just politically or intellectually satisfying. I felt elated, and the feeling of it seemed to permeate our country afterwards. People were happy. Political commentators were smiling when they talked about it. Even people who voted for John McCain seemed to feel hopefully and magnanimous.

As uplifting as it was, though, for me it was bittersweet. I feel sure that my brother would have loved Barack Obama. Not only would he have voted for him, I think he would have been one of the many volunteers spending all their free time working for the campaign. He would have thought Prop 8 was stupid, and would have fought against it. He might have even joined the protests that erupted around the state. I thought about that as I sat in traffic, trying to get home in the days after the election, with the protests closing streets and taking over parts of L.A. (that I happen to live near). I thought about how this should have been his time, his place, his world. He should be here. I started having dreams where he was talking to me, and then I would realize it was a dream and wake up sweating, and sometimes crying. I miss him terribly.

The fires came back to Southern California, I scored 5 goals, I made it through Thanksgiving and I'm gearing up for Christmas and New Years Eve (my brother's birthday). I've been sick a lot, and I'm struggling to write. It's hard to talk about how I feel right now. Depression doesn't make a lot of sense sometimes. A lot of the feelings I had but couldn't deal with after Jeff's death are coming up, especially anger at the lack of support I had and how people didn’t seem to want to talk to me about it. This has a lot to do with the reaction to my co-worker’s suicide. It brought up a lot of the frustration I felt with other people’s reaction to my brother’s suicide, and peoples’ discomfort with suicide. When the most catastrophic thing that could possibly happen to you happens, and your whole reality is tore down and destroyed, and you feel like the people around you want to pretend like it didn’t happen because it makes them feel weird, it can make you feel pretty resentful. Grief causes intense pain, both emotional and physical, and when you’re going through it and you have no choice but to feel it, and other people are doing everything they can to avoid a little discomfort that doesn’t even compare to what you are going through, it can make you feel intensely alone and abandoned.

These feelings, mostly left over from the year after Jeff’s death, have been resurfacing all year, but the year is almost over. It might get better after his birthday. My birthday is in January, and that week I will be playing in a women's hockey tournament in Las Vegas. Our team is called the Hot Flashes (a little joke about how we are getting older) and we are choosing funny names to put on our jerseys. I could be a lot of things right now- Irritable, Bloated, Crabby, Annoyed, but I went with Sweaty. I may be feeling better by then, but I will still be sweaty no matter what happens.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

hockey, travel, death

It's been a rough 5 months- my rat Jay-Z died, and then I got depressed first about Jay-Z, then about the possibility that Ulysses could soon be next, and then the anniversary of my brother's death. I felt like I was really, full-on grieving, which was a good thing (I guess). Depression is part of the grieving process, or so they say, but I was always afraid to let myself go through the depression because didn't want to get suicidal or lose myself in it. After growing up with my mom, who is clinically depressed and deals with it through denial (she can't even talk about my brother's death, or really acknowledge what happened in our family) and of course witnessing my brother's slide into oblivion, it's hard for me to believe that I could let myself get depressed, work through it and get better. In other words, depression can be emotionally healthy. Not an easy concept for me, but I tried my best to go with it and have faith I would come out the other side stronger and more grounded for it.

I also had things in my life that helped me keep external perspective and not get overwhelmed with my internal grappling. I have my job, which I still love and it keeps me busy. Writing was a struggle because I was so self-absorbed, but my weekly writing class kept me writing a little, even if I didn't feel it was blog-ready. I saw my psychologist at least once a week, and counted on her to step in if I ever started to lose touch with reality (the slide). My friends were always there for me, and since I live by myself my apartment is my sanctuary, my safe place where I have control and can hide out when it gets to be too much. My apartment is also a good gauge of how I'm doing- for those of you who have struggled with depression; you've probably experience how difficult it can be to keep up on basic chores like doing dishes and cleaning the bathroom. The longer the depression went on, the more my apartment resembled the female version of a bachelor pad. (Most bachelor pads aren't dotted with Hello Kitty and stuffed animals though.) I can actually have people over now, so things are looking up!

My real salvation during this time has been hockey. I'm happy when I play (as my Cheshire Cat grin on the ice testifies too) and some weeks I was only happy when I was on the ice. I try to practice during the week as much as possible, which makes the Friday night games a lot easier, and my skating has improved pretty dramatically. I can actually skate backwards during a game now, and pivot, and play defense a little. (Not that I’m good at defense. But I can do a decent job of it.) Hockey keeps me in my body and in touch with myself, and I love the linear, straightforward relationship between what I put into it and what I get out. I practice, I get better. The more I play, the more I improve. Hockey rewards me for my efforts, unlike some areas of my life where the more crap I go through the worse things seem to get (i.e. dating, my relationship with my parents, some of my previous jobs). There are lots of other reasons I love it too- it's fun, exciting, the women I play with are amazing, I feel tough and strong when I play, it's fast, I could go on and on. Even though it feels like I've spend the last 5 months moping around my apartment and traveling (getting sick of that!), a lot has been going on. I will write more about these things later (I take requests), but in the meantime here's an spine-tingling synopsis-

May 27- Returned to L.A. from Seattle/N.Y. trip

June 11- Trevor Linden officially retired (this has triggered a whole grief process of its own) (btw, he’s my favorite hockey player)
June 12- On my way to my writing class after work, got a funny feeling and went home to spend time with my rats
June 13 (Friday the 13th)- Woke up to find Jay-Z dead, Tim Russert died, scored my first goal in a game that night
June 19- Had a panic attack trying to drive to writing class
June 20- Got my first assist
June 21- Buried Jay-Z at a pet cemetery in Calabasas
June 22-25 Went to San Francisco for manager training
June 26- Had another panic attack driving to writing class
June 29- Got 2 baby boy rats, Chuck D and Jason (named after Jason and the Argonauts)

July 4- Went to Santa Monica pier with my fantastic friend for the 4th of July, which was the anniversary of the last time I saw my brother alive (11 years ago)
July 7-10 Traveled to Phoenix, AZ for an inventory count. I know there are hotter places- Death Valley, Saudi Arabia, Hell, but Phoenix is damn hot!
July 25- Scored my second goal, second assist, and first penalty (interference minor 2 minutes) all in one game
July 30-Aug 1 Traveled to Fresno, CA for another inventory count

Aug 17-22 Went to Denver to conduct SOX training (missed the DNC by one week, our team missed the Lady Kings playoffs by one point)
Aug 26- Anniversary of Jeff's death

Sept 19- First Lady Kings game of the new season
Sept 27-Oct 1 Traveled to Tumwater, WA for yet another inventory count

In summary, hockey, travel, death.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Cheese and Crackers, So Civilized

First off, I get to La Guardia and the security twit throws away my Colorado snow globe. Fascist. He was a real jerk about it too. He even mocked my liquids in tiny bottles, insisting that they had to be in the original bottle. Okay, whose rule is that? That is the first and only time I've heard that you can't put conditioner in a smaller, less than 3.4 ounce container because the container is not the one you bought it in. On top of everything else I have to deal with when I travel, now TSA agents are making up new, capricious rules. If this is a real rule, why isn't it on the website? If it’s not on the website it’s clearly not a real rule.

La Guardia is kind of a lame airport. All airports are lame, but La Guardia is a lot like New York itself- crowded, claustrophobic, impossible to get far enough away from jerks and the food is about on the same level as street vendor food. I was hanging around the terminal waiting for my flight to start boarding around noon and I hadn't eaten all day. The safest thing I could find was this hot dog pig in a blanket thing. This is not really safe for me because it had bread around it. I am either gluten-intolerant or I have celiac disease, either way my abdomen blows up like the blueberry girl in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory when I eat bread or anything else with wheat or wheat flour in it. I am also dairy intolerant (cheese, milk, sour cream, yogurt, and butter are all out). This makes it difficult to find something to eat with any substance in certain places, places such as airports, sports arenas, and, well, restaurants. I live in a sorry state of dependence on the overpriced yuppie blackmail of Whole Foods as my main source of gluten and dairy-free foods. When I run out of the special Kristina-friendly goodies I bring with me when I travel, I am in dire straits. The forbidden food cheating and accompanying stomach pain began in La Guardia.

I was flying to Seattle with a layover in Chicago. (Those of you who are road warriors are probably already anticipating the O'Hare debacle.) The actual flight from La Guardia was fine. When I got to Chicago I had about an hour until my flight to Seattle, so I speed walked from the far end of one of O'Hare's octopus arms to the far end of another, only stopping to pick up a colorful Chicago snow globe (ooo, pretty) and experience O'Hare's state of the art toilets. (They have electronic seat covers.) I also called my friend in Seattle to tell her everything was okay so far, big stress on the so far.

Traveling really stresses me out. There are so many opportunities for something to go wrong- get detained going through security, lose a bag, get there late, argue with some insane airline stooge... I could go on and on. I know that most people are not crazy about airline travel these days, but for me traveling requires a lot of PTSD symptom management. I have a very overactive fight or flight response, so seemingly little things can cause me to go into full-on panic mode. The other day I was in a bathroom stall that didn't lock properly, and someone started to walk in on me. I was startled, which for me meant that my heart attempted to force its way out of my chest to freedom, sweet freedom. I ran out of the bathroom and attempted to put up a normal front while hyperventilating, my heart settling on the goal of beating as fast as it possibly could for as long as it possibly could rather than actually breaking through my rib cage. Thank you, heart! Much better than the feeling that my internal organs were hell-bent on abandoning my physical structure, I thought as I sat on my hands to hide the violent shaking. All that in response to an unexpected and accidental violation of my privacy. Just another day in Kristina World. It only gets worse on the actual airplane. Have you ever thought about how trapped you are on an airplane? I generally avoid talking to the people I'm sitting next to because I have no idea if they are "safe". Who knows what kind of a psycho could be "accidentally" brushing my shoulder as he fiddles with his seatbelt. Thank god for my iPod's ability to discourage friendly banter.

I manage all this anxiety with "self-talk" and by diverting my attention with semi-brainless activities. I tell myself that the flight will be over soon, everything will be okay, nothing will go wrong, and I distract myself with the Sudoku puzzles in the in-flight magazines, NPR podcasts, and by watching DVDs on my laptop. My boss and some of my former co-workers (workaholic auditors) have given me the impression that they are highly productive while on airplanes. I don't know that I believe them, but that's definitely not me. Moving numbers around in spreadsheets and writing action-packed, brilliantly convincing memos requires a level of attention that I need to direct towards PTSD management. It's almost like meditating, and if I lose concentration on maintaining my calm, Zen-like state of relaxation I start having flashbacks. The flashbacks have nothing to do with how freaky my seatmate may or may not be. They just have to do with how anxious I am, and their ability to break into my conscious mind and take over when I'm stressed. Accounting and flashback don't go so well together.

I brought a bunch of Doctor Who DVDs with me. My computer only lasts a couple hours when it’s not plugged in (i.e. on the plane), so I was trying to meter out my time so I could watch while trapped on the plane. Doctor Who totally pulls me in, so it’s an excellent diversion, especially wearing headphones and in the soothing dimness of the plane. I have been impressed with how imaginative this new series is, and some of them have such great, dark atmospheres. I was watching season two, which includes the episodes "The Impossible Planet" and "The Satan Pit". Dark, atmospheric, engaging, relaxing. (The picture above is from the 4th season, though. Donna is about to travel back in time, sans the Doctor. Great episode.)

Okay, psyching myself out for the flight from Chicago to Seattle. I can't wait to get to Seattle. I'm staying with my friends there and sleeping in the bed I stayed in right before I drove down to L.A. I can't wait to see them, and my friend Juliana who is picking me up from the airport. I've got an aisle seat, and my seatmate seems nice. I even chat with him a little. The seatmates across from me are chatting pleasantly as well. I'm relaxed as we coast away from the gate, excited as we build up speed on the runway, and then, the roar of the engines suddenly drops off, and the plane starts to slow. We all look at each other quizzically. The plane cruises into a right turn, and we're almost back to the gate before a voice crackles on the intercom- "Sorry folks, we had a warning light come on. It's for a door, and we think it's just a malfunction in the wiring of the warning system, not the door. We're going to have the ground crew check it out, though, just to be safe. It should only be about a half hour, and we'll try again. Everyone sit tight."

There was an audible moan in the cabin. I felt my consciousness slip back, like a person sliding into water. I held my head above water by looking around the airplane and thinking dispassionately about the other people on the flight. There was a little boy, a toddler who was already starting to whimper in front of me. A baby gurgled behind me. The man beside me looks at me with a friendly shrug. I decide to attempt to be somewhat productive, getting out my CPA ethics book. I've already got past the tax chapter so the reading is not so dense. A half hours goes by, then another, and another. In the absence of any information from the crew, people started asking the people in the window seats if they could see what the ground crew was doing. Yes, they confirmed, there were people working on the outside of the plane, but they couldn't see what they were doing. I kept reading my book, but listened for information.

Finally a flight attendant came on the intercom- "We've had some requests to get off the plane. The problem is, if we let you de-plane, it will take time for us to board again, and we want to leave as soon as we're cleared by maintenance. Please be patient, it should only be another half hour." The toddler started to howl, as if he understood exactly what the flight attendant had said and didn't believe him, like the rest of us, "I want to get offfff; I want to get offfffff." I couple people chuckled, and someone said, "I know exactly how he feels."

I am really, really glad I was on a flight to Seattle. People around me were joking around about how they needed to start bringing us free drinks, and even about how they were going to miss their connecting flights to Alaska and Portland, Oregon. Joking, like in a, well, there's nothing we can do, so might as well make the best of a bad situation by commiserating with our seatmates, kind of way. If I was trapped on a flight full of pissed off, stressed out people, it would have been sheer hell for me. As someone who is really affected by other people's moods, someone who compulsively tries to cheer up anyone in a bad mood, I would have felt not only deeply claustrophobic, but emotionally assaulted if I was trapped for hours with angry people. Like, say, New Yorkers.

I was also deeply grateful that I was sitting in an aisle seat, so I could go to the bathroom whenever I wanted. My bladder is the size of a pea, a really small pea, and it helped to walk around a little. On one of my trips to the back of the plane, I overheard a passenger politely explaining to a flight attendant that he was getting hungry, and couldn't they please give us all some of that food that they normally make you pay for these days? She said they didn't have enough for the entire plane, but 15 minutes later they were passing out snack boxes of cheese and crackers.

Yes, both cheese and crackers, especially the crackers, are not Kristina-friendly foods. Combined, even worse. Listen, I am only human. A hungry human. I don't know what kind of willpower it would have taken for me to turn down the free food that had just been handed to me (with a smile), but I didn't have it. Who knows how long I could be stuck on this plane. Boy did the cheese and crackers taste good, and boy did I start paying for it almost immediately. (See the blowing up like a blueberry section above.) Shortly after the bloating and pain began, we were told that the plane was ready for takeoff. I was relieved that in a mere four and a half hours I would be on my way to sleeping in that bed. A non-hotel bed with a regular bedspread instead of those plastic-y polyester monstrosities that feel like a shower curtain, and without the covers being tucked into the sides so tightly that I feel like I'm being restrained by the sheets.

That is, I was so relieved and happy until we taxied to the runway and the exact same thing happened again. The collective groan on the plane was the most vocal protest so far. A few minutes later, the guy comes on the intercom again, and tells us again that the same light went on and we're going back to the gate. By this time my iPod had ran out of juice, so I broke out the computer and DVDs and blanked out. I've never concentrated on Doctor Who so much in my life. I didn't even notice that the plane hadn't made it back to the gate until the intercom explained that there was another plane there we had to wait for. An hour later we finally docked, and a couple people bolted down the aisle and off the plane. Almost everyone else stood up, perhaps indicating a non-violent protest was occurring. The man on the intercom took notice- "Folks, we're going to let you get off the plane if you want, and we'll give you all vouchers so you can get something to eat. You'll have to check back in to get back on the plane. We'll let you know when we're ready, so stay near the gate. We want to leave as soon as we can."

I grabbed my computer, barely able to stop myself from running down the aisle, throwing people who were in my way into the seats. (I fantasized about it.) Instead, I shuffled towards the door, moaning softly and patting my belly. I used my voucher to get the biggest bottle of water I could find, because the whole concept of eating food, or even drinking anything besides water, was not something I could handle at that time. I'd rather chew on the plastic bottle than try to ingest anything that would require the cooperation of my digestive system. I took my water and my computer and curled up in a corner with a power outlet so I could try to recharge my computer enough to watch the rest of the two part episode I had been sucked into. (I know it's not very civilized of me, but I would much rather sit on the floor than in those seats at the airport. They are so uncomfortable; it's like they were made to piss off my lower back.) From my vantage point in the corner I was also able to stare pathetically at a group of people whose plane had successfully arrived at the gate next door. Wow, I thought, those people look so happy to be done with their air travel, and I am so sad to be stuck in Chicago, which I'm sure is a nice town but I can't wait to get away from here.

In conclusion, yes, I did make it to Seattle, and only five and a half hours after I was suppose to. Eventually, my abdomen returned to a somewhat normal size. And yes, I will never schedule a flight through Chicago O'Hare again.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

New York- the big apple or stinkville?

I think I may have cursed myself with my prayer to the "Great Travel Goddess". I did get everywhere I was trying to go, and I did get a Chicago snow globe, but that was about all that went right. On the way to New York, I was sitting next to a guy with stunningly bad gas. I spent most of the flight with my face buried in the sleeve of my sweatshirt.

The first thing I noticed coming into NY was that it was Fleet Week, which made me laugh. I remember watching David Letterman in high school when his audience was full of sailors, and there was a Fleet Week episode of Sex in the City. The hotel that I stay at is in midtown right next to Times Square, which just adds to the surreal feeling that I'm on the set of a television show. (This is sort of ironic, I suppose, since I don’t feel like I’m on a movie set when I’m in L.A.)

I got to the hotel after 10 pm, which was when they stopped doing room service. The woman at the front desk assured me that the Irish pub next door was still serving food and it was "really good for pub food" so I dropped off my luggage in my art deco room (black and white all over with surrealist prints on the wall) and walked over there. No big surprise, the pub was full of sailors, but they were concentrated at the back with the handful of women who were there (about four sailors per woman). I sat at the big wooden bar and ordered fish and chips to go and a shot of tequila to enjoy while I waited for the food. As I settled in, my eyes were drawn to the NBA playoffs on TV.

A few minutes later, I looked around and, out of nowhere it seemed, I had a guy sitting on either side of me. The second they got my attention they were both hitting me with a barrage of questions- where was I from, what was I drinking, could they buy me another (no), what was I doing in New York... Of course, they wanted to tell me all about themselves too. One guy was in his twenties from Israel having his first New York adventure, and the other was in his forties from Norway on a business trip. It wasn't the first time I've had men 10+ years younger than me and 10+ years older than me competing for my attention. It's a little disconcerting because 1) I'm trying to keep up with two conversations at once happening on either side of me, 2) I'm not very interested in either and just want to be left alone, and 3) the whole time my brain is frantically thinking "how do I get out of this?" I start to get this feeling that the competitive spirit has taken over for these guys, and I'm stuck in the middle of a grudge match between the desperate yearnings for female attention of The Youngster vs. Middle Aged Man. (It was just like the Stanley Cup final this year between the upstart Pittsburgh Penguins and the highly seasoned Detroit Red Wings, only way less entertaining and no one won.) And what do you want to bet that Middle Aged Man is married, and The Youngster has a girlfriend back in Israel?

When I finally got my food and was getting ready to leave, the youngster bitterly and sarcastically says to me, "It must be great for you to have two men trying to get your attention and you're not even interested." Oh yeah, it's great.

Wait, what is supposed to be so great about it for me? I'm the only woman in this bar who's not being monopolized by sailors, and these two guy want to get laid while they're in New York so of course they come sit next to me because there's no sailors around me to compete with. It has nothing to do with me- my intelligence, my personality, my creativity, or my Je ne sais quoi. I could be any moderately attractive woman (or not) and they'd be just as interested, and that's supposed to be flattering to me? That I'm fuckable. Wow. I am so flattered that the indiscriminate attention of men has landed on me. As a woman, my life purpose is fulfilled since random men who don't know me find me attractive, or at least, not so unattractive as to turn them off sex. How dare I not be interested?

I know New York is supposed to be such an amazing place, and it is, but the level is discourse here often leaves something to be desired. Case in point, my first conversation with a New Yorker on the street:

Guy in a suit- "Hey, stop and talk to me for a minute."
Me- "No."
Guy in a suit- "You're an asshole."
Me- "Fuck you."

Every time I visit my company's New York office, I get into the Los Angeles vs. New York debate with one of the guys here. Actually, the debate usually consists of him ranking on L.A. people, that "they" (he leaves me out of this characterization, at least while talking to me) are shallow and silly and lame. At the same time, he acknowledges that his argument is very male-centric. As he says, there are so many women is New York that a man can dump a woman for the smallest thing he doesn't like because he can replace her so quickly. This trip he also told me that men in New York consider it to be their prerogative to date multiple women at once. I responded that there was nothing wrong with that, as long as the women were free to date other men.

"No" he says, "the men expect that the women they're dating are only dating him." I made a face at him, and he says, "Yeah, I never really thought about how unfair that is. I guess it's not so great to be a woman in New York. But I stopped acting like that and got married, so I'm not one of those guys."

I love it when someone talks themselves out of their own argument without me having to say anything. I guess if women are used to dealing with assholes, it doesn’t take much effort to be a “nice guy” in comparison. It’s the power of low expectations and a society that accepts the idea of treating women as commodities, like that cell phone that has all the features and the look that you love when you get it, but grows tiresome in the face of newer, different models.

Even the signs in New York are argumentative:
No Standing
No Bus Layovers
No Honking
No Parking
No Photos
No Videos

That said, I forgive New York because of Times Square, St. Patrick's Cathedral, Rockefeller Center, Central Park, and a store that appeared in between my hotel and our New York offices since the last time I visited- the NHL store (above). Of course, I was thrilled just to see the store, but slightly less thrilled by the prices (no t-shirts or other clothes below $55, hardly anything below $85. Ouch. Do hockey fans really pay these prices for crap other than jerseys? I guess if you're willing to pay $250 for a jersey, maybe.) I would have been totally disappointed if it wasn't for this shocking find-

I was shocked, anyway. New York doesn't strike me as a Trevor Linden town, which is driven home by the commercials I see on the NHL channel advertising a commemorative video celebrating the New York Ranger's victory over the Vancouver Canucks in the 1994 Stanley Cup finals. (Grrrr. I have to change the channel when that comes on; it drives me so crazy.)

You can't really see all the detail in the picture, but it’s amazing. (Even more amazing, it was one of the cheapest things in the store at $14.99.) This super-cool action figure comes with a tiny little puck that has the NHL logo on it, but what really impresses me is that the handle and blade of the stick has "tape" on it. Stunning.

In my next blog post, I come up against the real wrath of air travel.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

I forget what 8 was for

Hello from Denver! I am here to conduct SOX training. Next stop is New York. Today was the first of 5 flights in 8 days.

Oh Great Travel Goddess, I beseech you

Let none of my flights be delayed, and if they are, let them be delayed by less than 30 minutes

May I not sit in a plane waiting on the runway- may all my planes be cleared for takeoff in a timely fashion

Please bless me with inoffensive seatmates and an innocuous bladder

To show my appreciation and devotion to you, I offer you this gluten-free cookie and Lara bar
If you wish me to eat these offerings on your behalf, give me no sign

Thy will be done (please don't strike me down for ripping off the Simpsons, oh great goddess)

My goal this trip was to avoid checking bags, which meant all my products had to be 3.4 fluid ounces or less and I had to keep my packing at a minimum. Even with my work laptop, clothes, and shoes for 8 days my suitcase is not stuffed. It looks like all my years of travel experience is finally paying off. (When I was an external auditor, I was on the road about 35% of the time.) The smartest packing decision I made was to bring my Doctor Who DVDs to watch on the plane. I love that show even more when I am stuck on a plane. I've come to appreciate some of the perks of travel- the adventure, the odd people you meet, little acts of kindness (people who help other people get their luggage down from the overhead bins are saints), the occasional styley rental car that's not a hideous color, not having to clean up after yourself in the hotel room, the cooshy beds, and especially the free breakfast that most mid-range hotels offer (i.e. not in New York). I am getting up at 5:45 am tomorrow because I cannot wait a minute past the 6 am start time for free juice, eggs, and sausage. (I was too lazy to go looking for dinner when I got to the hotel at 9 pm this evening.) Sausage is bad but oh, so good, and free sausage is impossible for me to resist. Gosh darn this gluten intolerance, or I would be welcoming the day with biscuits and gravy!

Denver seems like a cool place, but all my trips here have been less than 24 hours. I made this junket last year, and like last year, I am leaving for New York after the training tomorrow. What I can say about Denver is that the air is clean and fresh (and thin, but no marathon running for me), it seems pretty judging from the limited amount of time I have seen it during daylight hours, and they have a kick-ass alternative radio station. On my way to the hotel (which is just off the freeway, another perk for an easily lost person like myself) I heard the Violent Femmes and engaged in one of my favorite things- singing (very badly) at the top of my lungs while driving on the freeway-

You can all just kiss off into the air
Behind my back I can see them stare
They'll hurt me bad but I won't mind
They'll hurt me bad they do it all the time
Yeah yeah, they do it all the time
Kiss Off- Violent Femmes

Now you know why I love cheesy songs like "Don't Stop Believin'" while driving. It's so easy to sing along. And singing along badly to the Femmes is the BEST. If you have never done it, I recommend you get their self-titled album and start singing/whining immediately!
I have encountered my first travel issue, though. I collect snow globes from the airports I visit, and even though I already have a Denver snow globe, I could not resist the Colorado snow globe with beautiful trees and mountains. It occurred to me later that it probably has more than 3.4 ounces of water in it. I am debating whether I should try to hide it in my suitcase and hope they don't notice it, or declare it and risk having it taken away. That would be horrible!

Isn't it cute? I'll have to update you tomorrow on how it went. Contraband snow globes!

Oh Goddess of Travel, please let my snow globes travel save and secure, and let me find a kick-ass snow globe in Chicago to add to my collection.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Blue's Clues

Before I say anything else, let me just point out that these two pictures are of me and my coworker / friend Carrie playing hockey at the Staples Center after a Kings game. Pretty cool, huh?

Carrie and I are now playing for the Lady Kings- Team Blue. (I know, I know, shouldn't the Lady Kings be Queens? I guess they are trying to make it seem as if we have some connection to the Kings, although I've seen no evidence of any actual link, besides that we have their logo on our jerseys and we play at the rink that they practice at.) There are 6 teams, Silver, Gold, Black, Red, Purple, and Blue, and we play each other for sixteen weeks, every Friday. There are playoff games after that, and a few months later there's a winter season, so if I keep with it I can be playing at least eight months out of the year. We are also taking lessons from Maria Dennis, ice hockey and super clean goddess. She is a fantastic teacher; I've only had two lessons from her and my skating has vastly improved.

I have to say, though, that I think I am a little insane for doing this. As you may recall, I ice skated for the first time last January, took a women's workshop in March (6 sessions), and now I'm playing hockey with and against women who have been playing since they were kids and in college. My lack of skating skills is a struggle (although not as bad as you might think), and then there's the positioning, stick handling, the puck, oh god, the puck... The difference between men's and women's hockey is that there's no checking against the boards in women's, but that's not to say women's is not physical. As a forward, I experience that reality every time I get close to the other team's goal, and they are pushing and shoving me out of position and lifting my stick so I can't take a pass. It's pretty satisfying, actually, because I know I'm doing what I'm supposed to be doing when I have two defense women all over me. The bad thing, though, is that I haven't yet figured out how to get a shot on goal under those circumstances. I have gotten shots on goal, though, which let me tell you, is REALLY exciting.

So that's why I'm doing this, even though I feel like a tool a lot of the time, and it's kind of embarrassing to be playing with women who are so, so much better than me. Whenever I do something right I feel so good about myself, even if it’s something little or just some sign of progress. I know that if the defense is tied up with me that they are distracted from our better players. When I shoot the puck towards the net, it may not go in (and hasn't so far) but it’s close to the net and someone else may be able to get it in, or it may go in by accident because the goalie screws up. I can still contribute even though I'm not experienced, and I get better every game I play.

I'm not the only newbie on our team, either. There are about 8 of us from the women's workshop on our team, something that drives our team rep crazy because there are more new players than experienced players on our team, while some other teams have hardly any newbies. She, and our other experienced ladies, are trying to be magnanimous about the situation but it clearly irks them. We also didn't have a coach in the beginning. Our team rep (who is a player on our team and is kind of like our team captain) kept saying that the league was "sandbagging" us. (It makes me smile every time she says that word because I love how it evokes a physical reference, i.e. someone getting hit in the back of the head with a sandbag swinging from a rope. I think the hockey equivalent would be to be checked from behind. My other favorite word right now is "tangentially", another word with a physical reference. I use it all the time, i.e. "No, I haven't written this week because I've been too busy crying about my brother, which is tangentially related to my book since I am writing about his suicide so yes, I am working on my book even though I haven't been writing.")

Our first game, sans coach, would have been a blow out except for a forward on our team who can singlehandedly take the puck, beat everyone on the way to the goal and make a perfect shot into the corner of the net. Still, we lost 4-7 to the Gold team (that name seems inherently unfair), and they were literally skating circles around us. I don't think I even got close to the net that game. Our second game was against the Purple team who has about the same number of newbies as we do, and one of the coaches from another team agreed to coach us because his team had already played. He is a very mellow, encouraging guy, and he helped out immensely. It really makes a difference to have someone helping with line changes, for one. You're only supposed to be on the ice for 45 seconds to a minute at a time, but of course you can't just go off the ice whenever, so it takes some coordination to rotate the players on and off the ice. This is pretty difficult to accomplish without a coach. He is also really into positional hockey, so he helped in telling us where to be. This is a big part of hockey- being at the right place at the right time. We won the game, 2-1! In that game, our teams were more evenly matched, we had a coach, and we were deeply motivated by the humiliation of the first game. On the other hand, we were without our super-good forward, who had finals that week.

Let me tell you, I was ecstatic. Winning that game was one of the happiest moments of my life, no kidding. That may be a sad commentary on the rest of my life, but here's the deal- I get really wrapped up in the emotions of other people, and I was really bummed out by how depressed my teammates were by our loss the week before. No one likes to be humiliated, even us newbies. Most of us have played/are playing other sports, and we are all competitive people. I was afraid our experienced players would rather quit than to be on the loser team. For me, this brought back memories of my soccer team in high school. There was no girls’ soccer teams before my sophomore year of high school in the town I grew up in (back in the days before Mia Hamm). We had one player whose dad was a coach and had grown up playing with boys, otherwise we were all new to the sport and playing teams from other town that had girls who had played since they were young and had played together for many years. We were so outmatched that it was a major victory for us to even score a goal, and we never won a game the whole time I played. So when my hockey team won that game, it was the first time I had EVER been on the winning team! It felt great. It felt amazing.

Our next game was the first with our own coach. She normally coaches the little kids, and she is normally a player with the Lady Kings, but she is pregnant (with a boy, we found out last Friday). Her husband is a coach too, and a goalie. She is already friends with all the experienced women on our team, and immediately got to work trying to recruit other players to our team and figure out where our experienced super-good forward was, who didn't show up to that game either. Unfortunately, we got creamed that game by the Red team, 0-6. Our coach was undaunted, though. She kept telling us not to worry about the score, and kept encouraging us to skate hard and keep trying. Personally, I had a major victory in that game- I had three shots on goal. They were all at the same time- the puck came to me when I was about four feet from the goal. I was trying, as quickly as possible, to move into position with the puck and I could hear the coach yelling, "Shoot it! Shoot it!" A voice in my head was also yelling, "Shoot it! Shoot it!" My knees were knocking together as I hit the puck as hard as I could. The rebound came back to me, so without thinking this time I shoot it again. It came back again, so I shoot it again. Obviously, it didn't go in (since we didn't score that game) but I keep thinking about that experience and thinking, "Someday, hopefully soon, I will score a goal."

Driving back home, I had one of those perfect moments. Our games are late; most of them start at 11 pm, so by the time I leave it is 1-2 am. (It is another way we are being sandbagged, only in relation to the men's teams. They get to play earlier than we do. Another is that they gave us XL men's jerseys, which they are obviously trying to get rid of. My jersey comes down to my knees. We look like smurfs, not very intimidating.) Even in L.A., the roads are fairly empty at that hour. I still get a thrill driving on the freeway here, and being able to drive fast on the 405 (usually there's too much traffic) in the dark is fun. I like to listen to music after the games instead of my usual, NPR, so I listen to a station that plays a lot of eighties music. Journey's Don't Stop Believin' came on the radio (I know, cheesy cheesy cheesy) and it made me think of hanging out in bars in Seattle, and how, since moving to L.A. and leaving that crappy boyfriend I had, everything seems to be falling into place for me. I'm finally writing the book I've always dreamed of writing, all my hard work has paid off in my career, and I've rediscovered who I was in high school- strong, quirky, and didn't care what anyone thought of me. I was unapologetically myself. (Also, this was after I had started running away to avoid the sexual abuse and before losing my virginity and being raped, so my body was mine.) Then I got home, looked at a picture of my brother, and cried for an hour.

Last Friday, we had our super-good forward back, plus the player our coach was trying to recruit the week before. It's starting to feel like we have a real team going. We were playing the Silver team, who are, according to our team rep, one of the best teams in the league. We scored first, then they scored twice, we tied it, and we went into overtime and they scored. We stayed after to talk about positioning and face-offs, and scrimmaged for a while. I didn't get to sleep until 3:30. We get better every game, and I love our coach. I'm actually in (platonic) love with our whole team. (My life would probably be a lot easier in some ways if I was gay, but unfortunately switching teams doesn't seem to be an option for me. I've never even managed to be bisexual, and believe me, I would if I could. Women feel more non-threatening to me, but if I was gay that might change anyway.) Two of our newbies are sisters who play soccer. They are under 21 and remind me of my soccer teammates from high school, so I have a lot of fondness for them. We have another soccer player who also works for the Kings. All our soccer players seem to get really competitive, which is a good thing. Our goalie is originally from Minnesota (hooray!), plays on 3 or 4 teams besides ours, and works for the Colorado Avalanche. (She is living in L.A. for the summer.) She is pretty quiet, but last Friday she talked to me for a while. We have a lot of "hockey moms" on our team- their kids and husbands play hockey too. About a third of our team is women in their early twenties, and the rest are around my age- mid-thirties to forties. The married women inspire me because they are strong, opinionated, vivacious women and I'm sure their husbands aren't beating them down (either physically or verbally) or trying to break their spirit. They seem really happy, and they love talking about their families. They seem so normal, which for me seems kind of idealized. I got such negative messages about women and marriage from my parents (my mom as well as my dad) that it heals my soul to be around women who are full of life and don't see themselves as inferior (as I was raised to be). This includes my co-worker / friend. Just being around her, I feel hopeful that I could be like her and stop seeing myself as damaged and less than other people. I'm not treated as inferior in my job, and even though I'm a newbie, none of my teammates treat me as inferior either. As time goes on, I get better at hockey, more secure in my job, and more comfortable with myself.

Sports do wonders for my body image. Instead of thinking of myself as someone's sexual plaything, I think of myself as an athlete. When I look at my body, I see the muscle tone developing and think of what I've done- sprinting for the puck, crashing into someone and not falling down, standing my ground in front of the net, instead of having flashbacks of what was done to me. My body is my own and my life is my own. The feeling of being fragmented has lessened considerably; I don't feel like so much of me is frozen anymore, or drowning. I’m active and I’m not afraid. I feel like I can start over from that point in high school when I was my own person and no one was going to tell me how I should act or what I should do with myself, especially when it came to my body.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

I've got nothing left to prove

Love you so much
It makes me sick
Come on over
And do the twist
Beat me out of me (beat up, beat up)
Beat me out of me

Nirvana, Aneurysm
#16 Trevor Linden is my favorite hockey player and the cause of my most recent depression. (It wasn't really his fault.) The playoffs started on April 9, and my beloved Canucks were not among the playoff teams. (The Kings weren't either, but everyone knew they wouldn't make it since January.) That's not why I was depressed, though, even though that's a perfectly good reason to be depressed. There's a good chance Linden will retire before next season. This got me really, really depressed. Like, not being able to sleep, crying, worried about myself depressed. As much as I love Trevor as a hockey player, I knew this was about something else because I don't love him that much.

I first became a hockey fan in the early 90's. The sport intrigued me. I like the competitiveness and strategy of team sports, and how everyone on the team has to work together in ways that are sometimes hard to understand and achieve. I played soccer in high school but I don't like watching as much as playing it. Hockey is almost like soccer on ice, in terms of how it is played, the positions, and the rules, but faster and more physical. I love to watch them zip around the ice, fly around the net, crash into the boards, fall down, and yes, I like the fights. It's an intense game.

What really amazes me is the skill it takes- as fast as the players skate to the puck, they can stop on a dime and go the other way, skate backwards and sideways, control the puck and shoot it exactly where they want it in the net, and the goalie, with everyone skating in front of the net and the puck darting around, has the reflexes to block it, sometimes catching it. Now that I'm playing hockey myself I'm even more impressed with how easy they make it look. Believe me, it's not easy. Watching Wayne Gretzky play, it seemed like he always knew where everyone was on the ice, as if he could float out of his body and look over the game like an angel (a hockey angel). He knew exactly where to pass the puck so that it would be where his teammate was going to be when the puck got there, which as fast as they go, could be anywhere. I have no idea how he did that. His assists were just as impressive as his own goals. It seemed like he could get anyone to score just by passing him the puck.

I had a boyfriend who was sort of casually into the L.A. Kings when Gretzky played for them, but I got really into it. I watched games every weekend and checked the scores almost every day. I knew at least something about every team in the NHL and their major players. I even had statistics memorized. I knew way more about hockey than anyone I knew. Despite its proximity to Canada, Seattle is not a hockey town. The biggest personal connection I had to the sport was that my mom is from a small town in Minnesota, on the border of Ontario. I have a lot of respect for Canada, probably more than your average American. As someone who likes to cheer for the underdog and do my own thing, being a hockey fan in the U.S. is right up my alley.

Back then, I never considered learning to play. I never heard of anyone even ice skating in Seattle, besides the guys on the Seattle Thunderbirds (the minor league team). Vancouver, British Columbia is 2-3 hours north of Seattle though, and man did I love the Vancouver Canucks. Trevor Linden was their captain from 1991 to 1997, and took them to the Stanley Cup Finals in 1994 (where they lost to the New York Rangers, my most hated team). As crushing as that loss was, the 1997-1998 season was much worse. Linden gave up his captaincy to Mark Messier from the Rangers, and was subsequently traded to the New York Islanders. As devastating as that was, it hardly mattered to me at the time. Just before the 1997-1998 season, life as I knew it ended when my brother killed himself.

I was so angry at myself. I felt stupid, naive, and worthless because I hadn't stopped it from happening. My whole life up until that point seemed idiotic, pointless. If I couldn't save the person who meant the most to me, what good was I? How could I love someone so much, and yet it didn't matter, didn't do any good, and I still lost him? I felt nothing but cold, heavy, terrifying grief, and everything my life had been lost all meaning. Hockey, something that I had been so enthusiastic about and enjoyed so much, seemed completely trivial. I don't think I felt I deserved that release anymore. It seemed like an indulgence. In fact, what I saw as "wallowing" in my feelings at all seemed like an indulgence.

Before Jeff's death, I had been struggling with depression as well. I had no idea that I had PTSD or even what PTSD was, and didn't understand that the emotional scars from living on the streets, being raped, and being abused for 14 years didn't just go away because I was in college and I wanted it to be over. I had dropped two winter quarters because I was so depressed that I could hardly get out of bed, but my problems now seemed stupid in comparison to what drove my brother to take his life. I didn't see my life in terms of how well I had done considering everything that I was up against, that my problems were probably comparable to my brother's problems, and I had managed to get off the streets (which was not easy), get into college, and was going to graduate the following June.

Besides the guilt that prevented me from experiencing and working through the grief, I was afraid that grief would worsen the depression, and depression would sabotage my last year of college and everything I had worked so hard for. I truly believe that I could leave my past behind me if I could just become a different person than the one who had been abused and had been so confused and hurt by the way I was treated. I thought that I was a loser who deserved abuse, but if I could be successful, have a "normal" life, and prove to everyone that I wasn't less than everyone else, they would treat me differently. Jeff's death made that fantasy of the "normal" life seem even more improbable, but that just drove me harder. I had even more to prove because not only was I a loser, I was a failure as well. I failed my brother. I was supposed to take care of him, and I didn't.

I even blamed myself for being depressed before Jeff's death because I thought if I had been more focused on him I could have prevented it. Instead of having sympathy for myself, I interpreted my feelings and struggles as evidence that I was too self-involved. It was selfish to pay attention to my feelings. It was selfish to let myself grieve, and it was selfish to alleviate the pain with things I enjoyed or with happy memories. The only "indulgence" I felt like I could allow myself was The Simpsons, but even that was self-flagellation because The Simpsons was my brother's favorite show so in watching it I was both honoring his memory and chastising myself. Writing poetry became a form of torture, a way to prove my worth rather than something I enjoyed. Everything I did had to have some higher purpose, a way to justify it as making me a better, more worthy person. I was struggling to prove to myself that my life had meaning, that I deserved to live in the same world my brother had been driven out of.

I rejected myself, and became very disconnected from who I was before Jeff's death. It almost felt like my memories and everything that had happened to me actually happened to someone else, someone I shared a body with but not a life. The one thing I retained was self-hatred. It has been less than 3 years since I realized just how numb I was, how disconnected I was from my feelings. I was going through life like I was sleepwalking, like I was a mummy hiding myself in layers and layers of self-reproach. It has been quite a process to unwrap all the layers of repression, diversions, attempts to focus on other people's problems to alleviate my guilt, ways of thinking about myself that were unfair and mean, trying to punish and torture myself, to beat me out of me. I don't know what I was trying to turn myself into, just someone different with different memories and different feelings about myself. How ironic, then, that in dealing with those memories and feelings I tried so hard to distance myself from, now I do feel different about myself. I am starting to like myself, or at least not hate myself. Accept myself for who I am, good or bad.

Which brings me back to hockey. I have no Sherman Alexie style argument for how hockey makes me a better person, how it has some higher purpose or demonstrates some great truth. I just like it. It’s so unpretentious and fun. The personalities of the players don't overwhelm the game and it doesn't suffer from the same celebrity overexposure that some sports suffer from, sports that I have lost interest in because of all the drama. It’s the most exciting to watch, fast paced, physical, never boring. It’s also surprisingly intelligent. There are reasons for all that fighting. It’s actually very strategic. If you watch a playoff series between closely matched teams with a history, or a history between certain players, you come to appreciate just how mental the game is. Just watch the activity in front of the goalie. The goalie has the toughest job, and it’s not just because he has pucks flying at him. What really sets hockey apart from other sports are the fans, though. I love the fans (mostly).

In 2001, after playing with the New York Islanders, Montreal Canadiens, and Washington Capitals, Trevor Linden was traded back to the Vancouver Canucks, where he's played for the last seven years. I, however, took longer to make my way back to hockey. I had gone to a couple of Seattle Thunderbird games over the years, but last March I saw the L.A. Kings play the Ottawa Senators, and four days later (thanks to my cousin and his connections) I sat in the 7th row behind the goal when the Kings played the Canucks. (Unfortunately Linden was a healthy scratch for that game so I missed my chance to see him up close and in person.) I took hockey lessons and played on the ice at the Staples Center after a game. Something inside of me started to thaw. I started to remember how hockey made me feel back then, how it felt like something that was mine. It was a part of my life that wasn't dictated to me, that wasn't about my family, it wasn't to impress anyone or fit in with a group of people, it wasn't an activity I shared with some boyfriend, it was about me. I liked it and that's why I was a fan. It was something that no one could take from me, no one, apparently, but me.

When I realized that Trevor Linden might retire this year, it felt like the end of an era. Of course, it would be the end of an era for him, but for me, it has been a difficult and challenging transition from my teens to my twenties and thirties. I got off the streets, graduated from college and grad school, moved a couple of times, and landed in my dream job and a city that I love. I also lost my brother and my immediate family, and spent years punishing and hating myself; years that I wish I had been kinder and more forgiving to myself. It's a hard cycle to break, beating myself up for beating myself up.

When the depression hit me, I felt that fear coming back. I thought I might sink into a depression with no end in sight, that the grief would wash over me, overwhelming my life and all the progress I've made. It did feel like grief- I was transported to the time right after my brother died. It really felt like I was there, emotionally. But I did something that I never used to do, I called some friends and talked about how I was feeling. I felt exhausted but surprisingly better. I reassured myself that I could handle it. I cried, and felt bad, and couldn't sleep for a couple days. And then it passed. It was the fastest recovery I've ever had from a depression. I'm surprised; I don't understand it, but I've been trying to let myself feel what I feel and talk about it, no matter how uncomfortable, unpleasant, or threatening those feelings are. When I stop fighting it, they seem to wash over me like a wave and then slide back down the beach, leaving me upright and breathing. I still feel like pounding on the beach and yelling at the ocean, why why why, but I'm not drowning. I can feel the sand between my toes and I'm standing (in a hockey jersey).

Sunday, April 06, 2008

She's alive!

Dear sexual side of me, (If I'm going to write you, I think you need a name, so I'm going to call you Veronica. I know, that's my bowling name, but bowling is sexy, don't you think? Okay, so bowling is not so sexy, but I'm sure you could make it hot, so we're going with Veronica. I don't want to have too many alter-egos or I'll get confused.)

Dear Veronica,

I see you've gotten work. I love the dress and the knee socks. Very cute. I don't know about your friends' sweaters, though. I never understood trying to make granny sweaters sexy, but I'm no Dolce & Gabbana. I have to ask, are you taping our boobs down? We haven't been in the chest since 1985. It is the modeling world, so I guess I understand. Still, I hope you're not keeping the girls bound up like that all the time. I don't want to look like Posh. And don't make that face.

I just want you to know that I'm VERY sorry about that last guy. I know, he was really selfish and truly terrible in bed. Believe me, you weren't the only one to suffer. The experience was painful on so many levels. I've learned my lesson- no more insufferable prick boys. I totally understand why you left. You just take all the time you need. Have fun.

Don't be a stranger, though, okay? Send me a postcard every once in a while. I promise to take our bowling ball, Betty, out on the town. Maybe I'll even wear a mini-skirt, in your honor. Maybe not. It would be hard to bowl if I was worried about flashing everyone. How about a push-up bra? I could do that.

Take care, you little minx,

P.S. Thanks to Bliss of The Strait of Messia for the Dolce & Gabbana link, and all the Sarah Chalke. I feel brainwashed into liking her. And look, D&G advertising porn!

Saturday, April 05, 2008

The refusal of suitors

The floods is threatening
My very life today
Gimme, gimme shelter
Or I'm gonna fade away

-Gimme Shelter, Rolling Stones

I was born during a flood, and I always wondered if that was symbolic of something. Water is a symbol of the unconscious. I have a powerful unconscious, but the thing about the unconscious is that you cannot control it. I stuff my feelings in there, and they come out in ways I don't understand. I feel like I'm trying to purify myself- let the floodgates of my unconscious open and wash over me without drowning.

Part of me is a very talented survivor. Some of the things I've done, without knowing why at the time, were critical to getting me where I wanted to be. Especially with my career, if I decide I want something it usually seems to work out, but always in unexpected ways. I could never plan out the good things that happen to me. I seem to have a talent for being at the right place at the right time. It's almost like someone, some higher power, is watching out for me, or some part of me has foresight that I'm not consciously aware of. On the other hand, I also seem to have a talent for making things difficult on myself. My move to Los Angeles is a perfect example.

Before I moved, I longed for a job where I was appreciated, paid fairly for my level of experience and education, and with co-workers that I liked and fitted in with. I also fantasized about writing a book, and having a supportive group of writers to give me feedback and encourage me. I have found both in L.A., and, unexpectedly, I've reconnected with something I really love, hockey, and in a much more satisfying way, because now I am playing hockey and I live in an NHL city with the most dedicated fans I've ever seen, and I get to be one of them. I never could have predicted that one. I miss my friends and my cousin in Seattle, but I have friends in L.A. that I adore, and some of my favorite times in L.A. have been with my cousin who lives here, and his family. I love this city, and I feel like a truly belong here.

The way I got here is so signature me making it hard on myself though- I hooked up with a guy who seemed sweet and supportive at first, but turned out to be angry, cruel, and mean as a junkyard dog. I moved in with him, and let him take his anger out on me for a number of months before I had enough. He insulted and belittled me, kind of like that part of myself that still does not believe in me. That part of me has focused in on my love life as the nexus of my self-destructiveness, so I can trust in my decisions and gut-instincts about my career and other areas of my life, but I have no confidence in my ability to make good choices about boys. That area of my life is so fraught with self-hatred, I feel like I should just stay as far away from it as possible until I can work out all the self-reproach and self-esteem issues.

My therapist chides me for using the phrase "work out". She says I'm giving myself the time and space I need to heal. I don't need to think of it as work. I think she's right in that there is part of me, maybe the same part that knows how to be successful in other areas of my life that knows exactly what I need to heal myself. I started writing this blog having no idea it would be a pivotal part of my quest for recovery from my life of abuse and tragedy. It just seemed like a good idea at the time. Somehow I find people who help me through this, who hold my hand and keep me from feeling lonely. They are the positive powers that pull me out of the negative waters of the abyss.

Sometimes I struggle with feeling angry that I had to go on this journey at all, angry at the people who put me here and left me with so many questions and unresolved feelings. I wonder who I would be and what my life would be like if I hadn't been so challenged. I sometimes think of myself as a twisted distortion of who I was supposed to be if I had been supported and loved, and hadn't lost the person who meant everything to me. I want to burn away those memories, those betrayals, and the knowledge that life can be so terrible. But I can't. And there are parts of me that are strong and insightful because of what I've been through. I would be a different person if I hadn't been through this, but there's no way to know who. I like who I am now (most of the time). I have things to write about. I can relate to other people's struggles. I like people who are like me- survivors who know about the dark sides of life but don't want to live in despair and self-ignorance.

Sadly, I have (temporarily) bid a fond farewell to my sexual self. She understands that it’s just too confusing for me to incorporate her into my life right now. I'd like to think she flew standby to Hawaii, and is now frolicking in the ocean in a teeny tiny bikini, and learning to hula. Then maybe she's go to San Francisco, make eyes at bike messengers, and dance in the clubs all night long wearing outfits that would get her written up on the internet. She'll be back, someday, with lots of exciting stories of her adventures. I will be happy to have her back.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

You put the fun in dysfunctional

And the sky was made of amethyst
And all the stars are just like little fish
You should learn when to go
You should learn how to say no

Might last a day yeah
Well mine is forever

When they get what they want they never want it again
Go on, take everything, take everything I want you to

And the sky was all violet I want it again, but more violet, more violet
Hey, I'm the one with no soul
One above and one below
-Violet by Hole

In case you are wondering, the title of this blog is not directed at my beautiful friend in the picture, who is a fellow rat and Halloween enthusiast. She is a very, very good friend who cheers me up when I am feeling pissy (and when I'm not, too). This week I have tried to reduce the astronomical level of stress I tend to operate under. I experience a lot of anxiety that I used to suppress, but now I am trying to work it through. It is one of the many joys of having post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). I am afraid and nervous that bad things will happen, and that fear and unease causes me stress. Writing is a big part of my efforts to address my emotional distress, and talking to my friends who provide a lot of understanding and support.

The anxiety wears on me physically, with my digestive problems, migraines, and insomnia. Plus, I feel disconnected from my body a lot because of the sexual abuse. I've been disassociating from my body and my feelings for so long I have to learn how to be present in myself. So much of me was banished to my subconscious that I have to work at remembering to pay attention to my feelings, like trying to remember to include a co-worker who sits on the other side of the building in the lunch plans. Last week, my goal was to do yoga every morning, both to try to calm myself down and ground myself in my body, so I don't go through the day feeling edgy and numb. Those two adjectives sound odd together, but they describe my normal emotional state, and the opposite of grounded, pretty well.

Oddly enough, I noticed that when I did yoga in the morning I felt kind of angry. I don't know if that's because I was more awake while driving to work and therefore more aware of people who drove like jerks, or that I have a lot of pent up rage that is slowly being released. I suspect the later. I like the way people drive in L.A. better than Seattle anyway. I also have odd, unexpected flashbacks when I do yoga, but I think it’s probably healthy to have them come up and deal with them while I'm calmly doing yoga, as opposed to, say, when a large man walks up behind me or a crappy boyfriend is yelling at me. Jerk. Guess what, I'm still mad. Jerk jerk jerk jerk jerk. I'm mad at the PTSD too. Stupid, stupid, pain in the neck disorder that is screwing up my life and making me feel bad. Bad disorder, bad mental illness, bad adults who did this to me. Jerks jerks jerks jerks jerks. (How's that for letting out my feelings. I'm experiencing feelings! This is GREAT.) Next week my goal is to keep up on the yoga, and to get enough sleep every night. I was sleep deprived all last week. I think adding yoga at night too, or at least meditation, will help. It's amazing how high my stress level goes when I'm not getting enough sleep, and then I'm too stressed out to sleep, then I get even less sleep...

You may wonder how I am doing with the "I am not going to suppress my feelings about the sexual abuse any longer" campaign (or maybe you weren’t but you are now). Well, my concerns about ever having a decent sex life have only gotten worse. (I said "decent" rather than "normal" because I no longer think normal is a possibility.) Even if I try to masturbate, which is supposed to be a safe and non-traumatic way to explore one’s sexuality according to my sexual abuse books, I get such vivid flashbacks I have to stop. Let me just reiterate that- I can't even touch myself while totally alone without reliving the abuse. It kind of makes me wonder how I lived through years of trying to have a "normal" sex life. It really took a monumental effort to shut out the flashbacks, and I couldn't do that and see the guy as a source of emotional support and friendship. He was the abuser surrogate.

Harsh, I know. That's why I usually went out with guys I really didn't like all that much (with two exceptions. You know who you are, hopefully.) That way, I wasn't disappointed by the lack of emotional connection. And judging from the way they treated me, they didn't like or respect me much either. It seems sad now that I wasted so much time, and only made my issues with men worse. I actually don't dislike men- I have a lot of male friends, but in my mind, there's a big difference between a guy I'm friends with and a guy I'm having a sexual relationship with. The sex is a trigger for anxiety, fear, helplessness, anger, and dissociation. Those feelings are so overwhelming that I can hardly see the guy for who he is. I stick it out as long as I can stand it, and ultimately, with a sense of failure, have to give up on my dream of having a functional relationship with the guy.

The solution to this may seem to be that I should be friends with the guy before getting involved with him sexually, but sorry smarty-pants, I've tried it and it doesn't work. My feelings about sex wipe out the friendship; I feel like a sex object, and I feel like he wants me that way and I don't see him as a friend or trustworthy or someone I can be close to anymore. I go into disassociation mode to protect myself. If he's a jerk to me, I'm too numb to react, and even if he's not I'm not able to emotionally engage with him because I'm dealing with a full on anxiety/terror/PTSD/inner child emotional meltdown in my own head. Even nice guys are jerks or insensitive sometimes, and some people are emotionally unavailable without being jerks. I get that. I just don't feel like I can react appropriately and get the things I would want out of a relationship, like understanding and support. I get that from my friends. What I get from sexual relationships is the temporary illusion and reassurance that I am not so damaged and used that I couldn't at least put up the facade that I could be in a relationship.

I realize, unconsciously, I was trying to work out my daddy issues the only way I knew how at the time. It was re-enactment (another lovely symptom of PTSD). I was reliving the abuse, trying to come to some resolution, some understanding of why it happened and why I wasn't able to stop it. It was a compulsive attempt to make an abuser surrogate love and accept me in a way my dad never did. My behavior was based on the idea I had from childhood that there was something fundamentally bad about me that caused adults to mistreat me, and that I had to fix it, fix the flaw in myself. It was self-destructive. I wanted to be someone I wasn't, pretend I wasn’t hurting.

I have been reading a book called The Narcissistic Family by Stephanie Donaldson-Pressman and Robert M. Pressman. One of the really interesting things about this book is that it offers a definition and explanation for what a dysfunctional family is, and why these kinds of families are damaging to the children who grow up in them. The term "dysfunctional family" has gotten thrown around so much that it seems to have lost all meaning, but I think the term still has value. I know and have known many people whose families, while not abusive, have scarred them emotionally. And for those of us who did grow up in clearly abusive homes, it can be hard to understand why, when the abuse is over, the emotional distress continues. In this book, dysfunctional families are called "narcissistic", but I think the terms are interchangeable:

"Our model is indeed about a parent system that, for whatever reason, can mirror only itself and its own needs (Narcissus), and about a child who only exists for the parent to the extent that she meets or refuses to meet those needs (Echo). Although in a strict sense this model is not about pathological narcissism, it is about a system of relationships or interactions that bear qualities we commonly associate with narcissism: self-absorption, detachment, lack of empathy, the putting of the self (parent system) first, an exaggerated need for reassurance, and concern with external appearance over internal substance." (p. 44)

"In narcissistic families, be they covert or overt, the children are not entitled to have, express, or experience feelings that are unacceptable to the parents. Children learn to do all manner of things with their feelings so as not to create problems for themselves vis-à-vis their parents: they stuff them, sublimate them, deny them, lie about them, fake them, and ultimately forget how to experience them. What has been extinguished in childhood—the right to feel—is difficult to call back in adulthood. But until adults understand that they have a right to feel whatever it is that they feel, and that they always had that right, they will be unable to move forward in boundary setting. And without appropriate boundaries, all relationships are skewed and unhealthy." (p. 38)

"It is helpful for individuals raised in narcissistic families to have a realistic idea of who they were as children. One of their childhood coping mechanisms often was to think of themselves as somehow responsible for the problems in the family (as bad, defective, stupid, and so forth) in an attempt to gain control, believing "if I broke it, I can fix it." As adults, they still have a skewed idea of how responsible (or powerful) they were--how much control they had, and who they were as children." (p. 52)

Under this definition, dysfunctional families are not wacky, unusual, or silly (as they often are portrayed in the movies and television shows that celebrate non-normal families), they are families in which the dramas, problems, and desires of the parent(s) eclipse the emotional needs of the child/children, where the child/children take care of the parent(s) instead of the other way around. Adult children of these families can often be identified by the intensity of their conflicted feelings about their parents and loyalty to their family that may seem unwarranted and not in keeping with the person's outbursts of anger and resentment towards their parents.

By loyalty, I mean deferring to their parents on decisions about their own life, believing that living their own life and focusing on their own needs is a betrayal of their parents, discomfort with saying anything bad about their parents or the family, denial and minimizing of the negative effects of their parents' behavior, the inability to confront their parents or express anger and disappointment, or talk about and acknowledge the past, being overly concerned about their parents and feeling that their parents are dependent on them, talking about their parents as if their parents were the children, feeling obligated to take care of a parent who is insensitive to their needs, suppressing their feelings for the good of the family, etc. There is an awareness that the parent(s) have acted inappropriately, but a desire to protect them from the consequences of those choices and cover up the true nature of the family dynamic.

I've known a lot of people who do this, and I struggle with it myself. For example, I am currently writing a book (based on this blog) and I feel guilty about it. I feel like, if it was published, it would hurt my mom and the rest of my family. It's not stopping me from writing the book, but that's because I've worked through a lot of my feelings about my family. There was a time when I could not talk to my mom about the past at all because I didn't want to "upset" her, and I certainly would not have written about it.

It seems so unfair. You get dumped on your whole childhood, and yet you still feel this sense of obligation and sympathy towards the parents that didn't have that kind of regard for you. It's especially confusing to sort out with the parent who was less "bad". My mom did all sorts of horrible things to me- blamed the abuse on me, refused to do anything about the sexual abuse even though she knew it was happening, watched my dad beat me and didn't do anything to stop it, left me on the floor bleeding and with a concussion and didn't take me to the hospital, called me lazy and ridiculed me, refused to hug me or be physically affectionate, and neglected us. She didn't protect us. She let it happen. She still holds me responsible, and talks as if I could have stopped it but my dad couldn’t help himself.

Yet, I can't hate her even though I do hate my dad. I feel sorry for her- she is clinically depressed. She was depressed for a lot of my childhood. My dad abused her too. She didn't think she could take care of us if she left him. She was worried about money. She didn't mean to hurt us. All these excuses don't excuse the fact that she did not take care of us emotionally. She was not there for us (my brother and I). She was not on our side. She supported our dad to our detriment. She told me after I was put in foster care that I was hurting the family. I resent her. I'm angry at her. I still have this sense of loyalty towards her, though. I don't want to hurt or abandon her. I feel like she needs me.

It is so hard to express anger at my parents, even as an adult. I can't help relating to them and feeling tied to them. They have this mystique about them. When I was a kid they were gods, kind of in the vein of Greek gods who were self-involved, immature, and unpredictable, but still gods who had complete power over me. If I rebelled I got a lightning bolt directed at me. I'm still ducking my head. It was that instability and capricious use of power, treating me like my feelings and needs didn't matter, that made it so difficult for me to develop into an emotionally mature person who could have healthy relationships. I felt like a peon without rights and I still do.

I read in one of my books that a man who has unresolved anger at his mom may deal with it by taking it out on other women rather than expressing it to her. In my experience, this is a warning sign for abusive or misogynistic men- men who seem unrealistically loyal to their mom, as if she was without fault, yet have unexpected outbursts of resentment and anger towards her. And women who talk about how they don't want to turn out like their mom end up dating screwed-up men like their dad, it seems. It always comes out somehow, no matter how hard you try to suppress it. The subconscious will not be denied. Some people say it is the real source of all our behavior, the home of all the secret motives driving everything we do. I don't really know how to fix it except that, according to all the books I've read about this subject, if you work through the emotional messiness you stop attracting dysfunctional relationships. It sounds like magic to me, but I'm trying. At this point, I have my doubts that I will ever have sex again, but maybe my subconscious has other ideas.