Sleepless Beauty

I woke up this morning feeling like I’d been slowly smashed by a steam roller. And my face looked it – swollen, puffy and multi-colored. It had been a long night with frequent interruptions to my REM cycle, but there was more to it than that.

On top of the allergic reaction causing itchy welts all over my poor puppy, the week of backyard construction and TV filming, and a weekend full of friends (and booze), I was suffering from a severely punctured ego. An unfortunate interaction earlier in the day had shattered my carefully (and slowly) built confidence and I feared the worst – that I might forever retreat back to my cave of pacifism where I spent so many years simply doing as I was told.

After surviving the confrontation and sucking in any tears that threatened my big girl face for the rest of the day, I pushed forward. I worked out, I helped cook dinner, I even meditated and convinced myself that I had moved on. But, it only took about 15 minutes of relaxing on the couch with Mr. Rathroy for me to lose my shit.

At that moment, I needed an insane amount of positive reinforcement and affection, which of course I opted not to communicate (because sometimes I can be ridiculous). I sat on the couch, watching water levels rise in my eyes and anger levels rise in my brain because he wasn’t fixing it. And we hit meltdown Mach 3. By the time I realized it was going to externalize, it was too late to wrangle. I did my best to compose a sentence as my face squished into ugly cry and my voice disappeared into a squeak.

“Sometimes I’m afraid that you’ll decide you don’t like me anymore.”

Holy abandonment issues, Batman.

batman onomatopoeia

The wounding interaction that I thought I had survived was only burrowing deeper. Like a porcupine quill in my subconscious, it dug all the way down to the center of my insecurities and my only choice now was to pull it out the other side.

Like the superhero he is, Mr. Rathroy sprang into action – genuinely listening and intently comforting. He let all the contents of my bottled up fears spill out as I tugged, painfully at the barb that had punctured the facade of “fine” that I’d created without even realizing it. I traced my fears of imperfection all the way back to the 5th grade when I had lost my homework and received a pink slip warning that nearly killed me. Nearly my entire life, I’ve been convinced that any mis-step, any imperfection, any mistake would render me worthless. And despite intensive investment in healthy and healing practices, I realize now that I may never be rid of that fear.

But, while that evening devolved into sleepless hysterics, the lessons I’m choosing to learn are much more beautiful. I can feel my fear. I feel it ping my heart like a hot needle. Lately, I’ve been choosing to ignore the ping or even tell it to go away. I force it out of my mind and muddle through the task at hand. But, this sleepless night, this Mach 3 meltdown, this confidence crushing confrontation, has reminded me that only I can control how I feel. No one else made me feel bad or made me feel better, not even Mr. Rathroy. That’s my job. When I’m honest with myself and acknowledge my feelings, even my fears, I stand a far better chance of staying stable, even after a jolting experience.

Don’t get me wrong. It is terrifying to face your demons. Why do you think so many people are walking around with them? But, the better you know yourself, the better you can build a happy and healthy life.  And that sounds like a pretty sweet kind of life to me. So, tonight’s blissful sleep will be thanks to my fears being realized and my courage to face them. I always thought that being brave would manifest externally, but the bravest I’ve ever been was when I chose to look inward, and never turn back.

Priorities 101

Welcome to your crash course in adult priorities. The class is Pass/Fail and there will be a test every single day. Some days, you won’t even know it’s a test, and on those days you can rest assured that you are failing.

For the last few weeks, I’ve been on a parkour course between the workplace and the home place – trying to keep a handle on the revolving door of adult life. You mean I have to do laundry again this week? And why are people still sending work e-mails at 8:00pm? Nothing ever settles or stays clean or is laid to rest and I’m left with an ever increasing list of tasks that need tending. And on the opposite team are my beloved Mr. Rathroy, our dogchild, my new favorite workout routine, and the oh so anticipated drama of House of Cards. Not to mention quiet time that a person might use for some light reading or blog writing…

Despite the juggle routine, I had been feeling pretty smug about my pass to fail ratio these last few weeks. Sure, I haven’t blogged in a while, and our house is a tad less tidy than I would prefer, but I was killing it at work, finding time to exercise, and everyone had clean underwear. That sounds like winning to me. That is, until a particularly rough Monday landed me and Mr. Rathroy on the couch with beers and a couple House of Cards episodes. Normally, I would allocate that time in my mind as a deserved break or fun bonding time with my husband, until I realized the next morning that there was no food in the house.

Mr. Rathroy would have Carl’s Jr. for lunch the next day (not that he minded), and I would spiral into guilt-town for spending an entire evening on my ass instead of taking care of something, anything productive. Where were my priorities? And from there, the snowball grew. It chased me down my mountain of to-dos like a bad Indiana Jones dream until I found myself on the floor of our bedroom, huddled in the corner next to the outlet so that my phone could charge while I held it to my ear to discuss a work emergency at 9:30pm. Smug doesn’t last long in the corner…

I’ve been hearing a lot about the rule of thirds lately. It’s been applied to everything from social media posts to personal finances, and it might be time that it applies to my own priorities. I still feel like I’m being chased by the insatiable snowball at times, but I’m hoping that setting goals and standards for task hierarchy will help me stop running and start accomplishing.

1/3 Work

1/3 Home

1/3 Fun

This is, so far, just a theory. I am currently not the leading expert on setting appropriate priorities as indicated by my muddling through these words after an 11 hour work day on a laptop in bed with a snoring husband next to me. There are a lot of things about this current picture that would change according to the Rule of Thirds, and that’s exactly what I’m hoping for. Whether it stands the test of time as the greatest Priorities 101 lesson remains to be seen. But it will be a shift toward balance, and I think all of the thirds in my life will appreciate that.

Life Among the Trees

In the 4th grade, we did a huge rainforest project. Each student selected one flower, one animal, one fungus, and one bug that lived in the rainforest and researched it extensively (as extensively as a 4th grader could research before the internet was invented). Our finished product was a life size rainforest display in our school cafeteria for open house. Complete with a rainforest sound track, water misters, and 3D artistic renditions of each researched critter, this project was the peak of my elementary school career. It was the reason that I traveled alone to the jungles of Costa Rica and one of many motivations for my two trips to Africa. It’s the reason that Madagascar is still on my bucket list and why I appreciate decomposers like the dung beetle.  But it’s not the only experience that pushed me to be a professional in the environmental field.

From being told to go play outside when I was bored to camping trips with my family, I was repeatedly exposed to the outdoor world and how much bigger it was than me. It wasn’t until I became an adult that I started thinking the world revolved around me (my parents might contest that based on some of my teen years). As a kid, I understood that I was a small part of something really big. Something worth having around. Something that made me feel magical and calm and happy.

Tree Planting

After a stint working with ducks that taught me how to do tick checks and made me face my fear of fish (seriously), good timing and a solid reference got me a job with trees. I knew that I was passionate enough about broad environmental issues that I could peddle trees no problem, even if I didn’t have specific arboricultural experience. It was expected to be a 6 month, grant funded position so I tried not to get too attached. Two years later, I’m still peddling trees and it’s given me similar feelings of magic, calm and happiness that I felt when I was a kid. It’s been obtuse and difficult to pinpoint, so I just enjoy the dirt under my nails and the smile in my heart.

Tree planting hands

I talk about trees all day, every day. I notice trees no matter where I am. I judge entire cities based on their trees. Mr. Rathroy is sick to death of trees. Because it’s my job. But, while I couldn’t articulate the driving force behind it for a long time, I really REALLY care about trees above and beyond my job duties. And yesterday, I finally learned why.

I attended a 9 hour workshop about trees yesterday. Yeah, we talked about trees for 9 hours. I met people doing research on the economics of wildfire (an issue near and dear to my drought-ridden Californian heart), people that have received national awards for their work in climate change, people that cared even more about trees than me. I learned about research that links faster rates of recovery from stress to a view of trees. I learned that life expectancy can be predicted based on the amount of available green space and tree canopy in your zip code. I learned that trees can improve your focus, prevent asthma, reduce crime, and benefit your psychological and physical well-being. I saw numbers and graphs and references and scientific proof of how important trees are to our communities.

Staking a young tree

And after the 9 hour science based workshop, I went to a 3 hour dinner with speakers, board members, and executive committees to debrief on the day. After we settled around the table with wine and ravioli, we were asked to individually share our “tree story.” Having worked in the tree world for a couple years, of course I knew my tree story – a peach tree that my parents planted where I sat for many afternoons reading aloud and sharing stories with its leaves. But as we went around the table, I was amazed at the breadth and depth of others’ stories – trees connected people at this table to their marriages, their parents that passed away, their childhood home, their favorite memories. And after all of the science and all of the logic behind the importance of trees, the most important fact of the day was that trees make you feel. Whether it’s magic or calm or happy or any other emotion, trees are deeply rooted in our hearts.

Not everyone is interested in the facts and figures, but everyone has a tree story. Maybe it’s a tree from your youth. Maybe it’s a tree that you have yet to meet. Whatever it is, honor the memory and the emotion that it brings you. Plant a tree. Hug a tree. Read aloud to a tree. I bet that if you reconnect with trees, you’ll feel that magic all over again.

What’s your tree story?

California redwoods

For extra inspiration, check out this video from one of the tree organizations that I work for. I even have a cameo in it!

Escaping the Fear Jail

Today, I walked my dog all by myself. For a lot of people, that happens every day – sometimes more than once. But for me, it’s been about 3 years. I’ve walked lots of dogs before – everything from family pets to shelter dogs. And it wasn’t until Piper came to live with us that I stopped wielding a leash.

I adopted Piper before I had space in my home for her (but there was endless space in my heart). So, she lived with my parents and their dog for about a year until their collars got tangled together when no one was home and they nearly killed each other.

Maggie & Piper

Piper post-surgery

It was $1,400 to stitch and staple her back together but I had no idea how costly the situation had been on my mental state. The vet told us very sternly that the two dogs should be separated forever and so Piper came to live with us. She came on hikes and camping trips and played fetch in the yard, but never really spent time with other dogs again. In fact, whenever another dog was present, she usually yelped and hid or tried to bolt away from the situation.

Piper Adventures

Between her fearful reactions and the trauma that I never really dealt with after being confronted with her possible death, my brain created a jail. What if an off leash dog rushes up to us? What if she reacts poorly? What if people think I have a mean dog and I’m ordered to put her down?

It was a non-stop rush of terror every time I thought of stepping outside with my dog. I had created a fake situation in my mind that doomed us both and I refused to let it become a reality. Nope. We would just play fetch in the backyard and she would never come in contact with the outside world again.

It’s obviously been unfair. Especially to Piper but also to Mr. Rathroy as he drags me, oftentimes in tears, out the door with Piper in tow to prove that it’s okay. And even though he proves it time and time again, I can’t get past my crippling fears that it won’t be okay next time. I’ve worked on it in therapy. I’ve worked on it with Reiki. I’ve meditated and medicated. And still, I feel my heart quicken and my breath seize when Mr. Rathroy suggests a walk around the block. I simply cannot face the possible confirmation of the outcome that I’ve fabricated.

I’m not completely sure what changed today. I don’t know exactly what made me charge through that brick wall of fear and grab the leash. But I would bet it had something to do with the weekend we just spent running around on an empty beach.

IMG_1590

This was Piper’s third time at the beach house and she was no stranger to a mouthful of sand and the smell of crab skeletons. Even though it’s not allowed (don’t tell on me), we walk down to the beach, make sure no one else is breaking the rules with their dogs too and let her run. She ignores everything but the ball. At this point, I’m confident that a pack of wolves couldn’t distract Piper from playing fetch. But on Sunday, we didn’t bring the ball. We just unclipped her and let her frolic (much to my terror).

California dog.

She ran by our sides and then zoomed ahead. She stopped when we asked her to and then ran some more. She was the happiest and most free I had ever seen her. Those moments on the beach helped me realize what an incredible dog we have. It proved that we trust each other and don’t need a physical tether to control the situation – that she is a really good dog and that she deserves more opportunities to show us just how good she can be.

When I came home to let her out of the crate at lunch today, I knew she deserved some time to stretch her legs and I knew that I deserved, finally, to overcome my fear. So, we walked out the door without hesitation, ignored the three years I had spent convinced that something terrible would happen, and enjoyed every single step. We made it down the street and back without incident or trauma, and I’ve never felt so satisfied to be proven wrong.

With this unexpected victory kicking off 2014, I’m vibrating with excitement over what I will conquer next. I know a walk down the street with my dog won’t seem like much to most people, but it’s one less brick in the wall of fear and anxiety that has been holding me back.

So, listen up, Wall! I’m in charge now and it’s high time that I grabbed the leash to my own life too. No limits. No fear. Just life, however I choose to live it.

Piper kiss

The Resolution Revolt

I’m not much for resolutions. Don’t get me wrong, I spent a fair amount of New Year’s Eves dreaming up the perfect resolution to make the following year, “the best year yet!” But over the years, as the motivation wained and the results stayed consistently unchanged, the word “resolution” has mostly lost it’s meaning to me. It’s a tradition. A mental ritual. An emotional trick in an attempt to float hope through the rest of the winter. But not a strategy to actually better my life.

The only photo we managed to take on New Year's Eve.

The only photo we managed to take on New Year’s Eve.

Lately, instead of resolutions, I’ve been trying to perform periodic self-evaluations. Anytime something is not quite right or I get a ping of discontent in my life, I try to adjust. Sometimes that means a new workout routine. Or trying something like Reiki. Or planning an adventure vacation. Whatever the adjustment, it tends to be a short term project in the beginning and often times becomes ingrained in my daily life as a healthy habit.

Going to Patagonia was one of the crazier adjustments.

Going to Patagonia was one of the crazier adjustments.

After an insightful co-worker read my post about successful friends, she asked if I had recently set any goals for myself. I quickly (and almost proudly) answered, “Nope.” I was feeling comfortable in life and was taking the opportunity to glide through the latest resolution round-up.

Strongly, she stated, “You should,” and explained that as she read my post, all she could hear in her mind was the song, “Is That All There Is?” playing.

Oh. My. God. I had written, edited, and published a pity party for myself and passed it off in my mind as being “comfortable” in life. The truth is, I am incredibly satisfied in all realms right now, and that has never happened before. I genuinely feel pure happiness every single day. So, maybe I’m scared to shake that up and risk breaking it. Maybe I’m exhausted from the whirlwind of fixing an old house and planning a wedding. Maybe I’m just getting lazy and allowing contentment to take the place of fulfillment. Maybe it’s the fact that 2013 was the best year of all time and what if it can never be beat? Whatever it is, it sounds like I need to re-evaluate my plans for this year.

Sometimes I can't believe it's possible to be this happy.

Sometimes I can’t believe it’s possible to be this happy.

I’m really proud of the work I’ve done on myself over the past year – mentally and physically. But I’ve used that hard work as an excuse to take a break from my evaluation process. So, fine. You got me, 2014. I officially submit my New Year’s Resolution for your records.

I, Mrs. Rathroy, resolve in the year two thousand fourteen to plan my next big adventure.

I have no idea what form it will take (fingers crossed for a trip to Southeast Asia), but I resolve to keep up those periodic self-evaluations, pinpoint and plan the next big adventure in my life (with Mr. Rathroy, of course), and experience it fully.

Now, does anyone have any suggestions?

Things I Want My Kid to Know

With all the new babies in my life, I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking, reading, and talking about parenting. Indeed, I am of the age where the weddings start to dwindle and the baby showers boom and I would be lying if I said I hadn’t caught the I-Want-A-Baby bug.

While Baby Rathroy isn’t exactly on the way (it’s only been 3 months since the wedding, people), all of this baby brain has helped me reflect on being a woman, what I think it might possibly mean to be a mother, and how truly difficult it can be to grow up gracefully in this world (Lord knows graceful was not the path I chose…).

So, I compiled a list. A list that I’m sure will be obsolete by the time I have adolescent children, and may even be way off the mark to people that are parenting right now. But, it’s a list of lessons I’ve learned through tears, heartbreak, cruelty, therapy, and a continual search for self awareness. It’s a list of things that I want my daughter to know, that I hope might help with the tears, heartbreak and cruelty that she’ll encounter in this world.

The sisters and parents that helped me learn so many lessons.

The sisters and parents that helped me learn so many lessons.

1. It’s not your job to cater to other people. Not to a boy, not to your teachers, not even to me. Your job is to be yourself, your best self, and to provide that to the world.

2. Sexy is a state of mind, not a body type.

3. Being outspoken, opinionated and decisive are leadership skills. That makes you an extrovert, not a bitch. Though there is a thin line. Use those skills to be a leader, not a dictator. (And if you’re an introvert, that’s okay too, but you’ll have to talk to your father about what that’s like.)

4. No one in this world will ever complete you. It is up to you to make and keep your life full. Whatever someone else brings into your life (be it a friend, a mentor, a partner) is a wonderful bonus.

5. Your body belongs to you. No one else gets to determine what happens to it.

6. Your mind belongs to you. No one else gets to determine what happens to it.

7. The world does not owe you anything. It will provide for many of your needs, but if you want something, you work for it.

8. Drama addiction is real and it’s capable of draining the happiness from your life.

9. Be proud of yourself. Don’t wait for someone else to pat you on the back. Acknowledge your own accomplishments. Because if you know that you’re awesome, then it won’t matter if someone else thinks differently.

10. Education will create incredible opportunity in your life. Learn everything. I don’t care if it’s a Ph.D. in astrophysics or vocational clown school. If something interests you, gain as much knowledge about it as possible.

11. Sometimes death isn’t the end. It’s complicated, and everyone has their own ideas on the subject. Find your beliefs and let them help you through grief, because there will be grief. But it doesn’t have to be the end.

It’s far from a comprehensive list, and I’m screwed if we have all boys, but it’s a start to hopefully building a confident, courageous, and curious daughter. And even if this list is moot for one reason or another, it’s nice to see that positive lessons really can be created, even in the face of tears, heartbreak, and cruelty.

Calendar Drudgery

It has been pure calendar drudgery around Camp Rathroy these days. Late meetings, social engagements, softball games and the like have crushed any illusions we had of free time lately.

I’m a program/event coordinator by day, so it’s only natural that my compulsive scheduling and planning bleeds over into my personal life (and into the personal life of my laid back almost husband). We have synced calendars, we e-mail each other appointment requests, we review our evening itinerary before heading to work each morning. It’s a well-oiled routine – for a business. For a young couple starring down the barrel of the marriage gun, it’s probably the least romantic, least enjoyable way to go about spending time together.

As I stared at my growing task list on my desk this morning, the “to dos” started to paralyze me. I didn’t want to call that person. I didn’t want to create that spreadsheet. I had so many things to do in so many different directions that I found myself unable to do any of them. After checking Facebook for the 7th time in 3 minutes, I finally stood my ass up and walked into our small meeting room – no windows, a door that closes, and comfortable chairs (a welcome respite from the cubicle world). I sat down, set a 5 minute timer, closed my eyes, and meditated. I’m not talking about the chanting, nirvana seeking kind of meditation. Just 5 minutes of breathing, feeling, and listening to myself rather than the crazy calendar that I had been staring at all morning. It wasn’t the most relaxing meditation with heels click clacking down the hallway, impromptu water cooler meetings next door, and the constant knowledge that I had unopened e-mails, but it was a break from the source of my mental paralysis, and it snapped me right out of my funk.

I got back to my desk and realized that I had allowed my calendar drudgery to not only overtake my professional morale, but to make our wedding planning far more stressful than it needed to be. We don’t have a marriage license, we don’t have any décor planned, we haven’t even started on our vows. And even though those are things that I’ve been really excited to do, by the time we get an unscheduled minute to sit down together, neither of us want to do them.

For far too long I’ve been focusing on just getting through everything we have scheduled for that day and I’ve forgotten to notice why we’re doing them in the first place. I scribbled my “To Do” lists all over the big picture until I couldn’t even see what the picture was anymore.

Immediately, I composed a text to Mr. Rathroy (because a text is the most romantic gesture I could drum up while we were both at work). I had to let him know that I was no longer taking him or our life for granted. That I cherished everything. And that those things were more important than any frantic list of tasks that I could ever create.

As I allowed the daily details to fall from my line of sight, I realized that I had an amazing view: family, an almost-husband, a home, a piglet disguised as a pit bull, a super fun wedding, amazing friends, two jobs.. And those are just the big things that make up my life’s landscape. That 5 minute self imposed timeout spiraled into an entirely new perspective on my day. And while I know the task lists and calendar requests will continue (short of moving back to Malawi, I don’t know what could stop them), I feel so much more equipped to deal with them proportionately. Breaking down a goal into accomplishable tasks is a very effective way to achieve things, but if you lose sight of the original goal, you risk losing your direction, your purpose, your view of the landscape.

All too often we view breaks from work or other stressful situations as weakness. If you can power through and pile on the stress, then you’re a big, bad productivity machine. But we almost never ask why. Is being a productivity machine better than taking in the view from where you are in that moment? If it is, then congratulations, you are right where you need to me. If not, then what could it hurt to experiment with your own timeout and see what pops up?

Today, my timeout helped me remember to cherish Mr. Rathroy. Tomorrow, maybe it will help me write my vows, or find my true calling in life, or just keep me afloat in a sea of tasks. Allowing myself to step away from the calendar drudgery for a moment helped my focus, my clarity, and my gratitude. I can’t think of too many unopened e-mails that could trump those results.