Monday, May 15, 2017

An April Adventure: venturing into and out of fear

Life just keeps on happening, and sometimes I just can't seem to keep up in my head, let alone writing about it. I always want to write about everything; I have trouble teasing out the different strands, but so much has happened over the last 6 weeks that I'm just going to have to try!

April saw me go on an adventure. Not what many, most even, people would call an adventure, but it challenged me in so many ways, it has been transformative.

In April 2016, Mac and I went away for two weeks, to Golden Bay where I went to a five day basket willow weaving workshop. It was a challenge to go into a situation with a lot of strangers, but I had Mac to go 'home' to at night. Despite a lot of anxiety over how to interact with strangers, and fear of being slow and not good enough, made worse than usual by my recent diabetes diagnosis and subsequent vision difficulties, I mostly enjoyed it. Not long afterwards I heard of the NZ Fibre Arts Week to be held in Whanganui in April 2017, and that my favourite book artists, Liz Constable, was one of the tutors, doing a week long version of her Dyed and Gone to heaven workshop. I had previously attended a 2 day workshop and enjoyed it despite the other 5 attendees all being good friends and spending the whole time talking to each other about friends and events that I knew nothing of.

This NZ Fibre Arts Week was a different kettle of fish though: over 80 other women and I knew only one - Liz. And it was to be a mainly live-in situation at Whanganui Girls' College - probably 90% were all living together for 6 nights. Issues: social; dietary (gluten-free, vegetarian, diabetic); boarding school hostel (with accompanying memories); and the usual anxiety about my work and my Self being judged. But my desire to do the workshop won, especially 10 months out from the event so I booked.

At the beginning of this year, my son, Simon, moved to Dunedin, and another son, Steven, moved to Wellington. Mac, my husband, had been looking for an excuse to go for a long motorbike ride, so decided to go to Dunedin for a couple of nights, calling in to see Steven on the way. I am way past wanting to ride pillion that far for such a short time, and besides, finding house / animal sitters out here in the counrty is difficult. So I decided, well, I'm going to Whanganui for a week, why not go via Dunedin? And promptly booked ferry tickets, and accommodation for the first week. As soon as I had booked and paid for all that, I panicked! But I'm a bit stubborn and I'd paid.....

Since my diabetes diagnosis I have roughly followed Michael Moseley's programme, and that included learning meditation, particularly Mindfulness. Well, I tried, but had problems with that because of deeper problems, and so I have spent many months seeing the Mindfulness teacher in his capacity as a counselor, and my internal life has been dramatically changed. I have grown a lot, and my fears and anxieties are far smaller now, and the Mindfulness practice has become an almost automatic go-to when anxiety threatens my ability to function. It was certainly used a lot during my time away.

So many fears were faced, challenged, and overcome. I have often thought, 'if only I could just step outside of the structure and 'comfort' my life and and sort my head out, I could overcome a lot of problems.' The counselling sessions have been that for me to a certain extent, but this three week break was amazing.

  • Fear, arising from my diabetes and my awareness of aging, that I couldn't manage the long drives any more: dismissed. The day-long trip from home to Wellington, arriving in rush hour traffic, dispelled that fear. GPS guidance is a wondrous thing, and I stayed alert and capable, with a sensible number of short breaks to stretch my legs and drink coffee.
  • Fear that I would not be able to eat adequately because of my dietary limitations: dismissed. There were challenges, but most times I could find something that was good or 'okay'.
  • Fear that the long drives, the 'okay' meals, the stress, would cause an unhealthy rise in my blood sugar levels: dismissed. There was a rise, but well within acceptable levels.
  • Fear, since childhood of heights, dizziness which could indeed be very dangerous if it overwhelmed me and caused me to faint: managed. With Simon by my side, and Mindfulness awareness inside my head, I walked out to a lighthouse and looked over the edge to rocks below, without incident. I walked over a railway line via a pedestrian overpass, twice, on my own, with minimal dizziness. With a day up my sleeve before the workshop, I decided to go to Whanganui via the Manawatu, because I'd never been there. I failed to notice that this meant travelling the Rimatakas: I had to stop twice to breathe, focus, and talk to myself because the dizziness became bad enough to threaten loss of consciousness - fainting while driving, especially on roads with steep drop-offs is not conducive to life. Having survived that, the Manawatu Gorge was not the slightest problem, and a few days later I walked from the school into the Whanganui CBD via a long, high bridge over the river without hesitation, albeit slight trepidation. I think I might be ready to start a bit of training towards a goal of doing the Redwoods Tree Walk one day.
  • Fear of dealing with emergencies: dismissed. During the workshop week I developed a cold, and one night was quite sick, didn't have water handy, must have had a fever and sweated, and next morning fainted in the bathroom, faced planted on the floor and knocked myself out briefly. (Subsequently discovered to be caused by dehydration.) I discovered I didn't 'need' Mac - though it would have been nice to have him there. An ambulance was called, I was whisked off to hospital, and spent a morning in hospital having the best medical check up of my life, and having two bags of fluid poured straight into my veins. I was okay! I didn't fall apart. I managed. (Also, I have seen my heart beating, my aorta doing what it oughta, and my liver, livering. I am healthy - those parts anyway.)
  • Fear of strangers. I talked to people. In cafes, on the ferry, in camping grounds, wherever. At the workshop mealtimes, I approached tables and asked if the empty chairs were free, and if I could join them. I talked to fellow book artists, even those who were obviously better at it than me. On the last morning I was saying goodbye to one of the women I had spent evenings with, playing cards, and said how lovely it had been to come somewhere where everyone was so welcoming and inclusive to first timers - about 80% of the women had attended before and had developed friendships - and she replied that she was glad I felt like that because someone else had made a complaint about her experience being quite the reverse. I was gobsmacked and then realised that maybe the difference was in me, and how much I have grown in the past year. In the past, I always waited for others to speak to me first. In the past, I would have gone straight to any empty table at meal time. I know that there have been times when people have been cliquey and non-inclusive, but mostly I realise now, it has been my attitude that's been the problem. And that's the reason why my way of meeting people has been by entering or organising structured situations where I had something concrete to offer - secretary of the bee club, newsletter editor of the homeschool newsletter - something more important than, I thought, my Self.
  • Fear and awkwardness of being alone in cafes and restaurants: finally over that! I genuinely am no longer bothered by that!
  • Fear of being unable to function without Mac: I have realised that I can function well without him. I can have fun without him. I now know that although I prefer and choose to be with him, he is not absolutely necessary to my existence - which makes life a lot less fearful.

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