Taming Your Dark Imaginings

“When it comes to terror, reality’s got nothing on the power of the imagination.”
-Fredrik Backman, My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry

Imagination is more than a conduit to creativity. We use it for problem solving, for visualization. It’s an influence on our daily lives and life as a whole, but if left unchecked, it can run wild. It’s easier for us to imagine the bad than the good, and for that reason, often our imagination defaults to the dark side of what’s possible and steers our minds towards it.

When I was in college, I went to hang out with my friend C who answered the door with a drink in his hand and looking exhausted and disheveled. It was 2002 and the first deployment of U.S. troops had just arrived in Afghanistan. C’s little brother was there on the ground in combat, and he was only 18 years old. C was beside himself with worry. He watched footage of the fray on the news and imagined his little brother surrounded by an endless onslaught of gunfire and explosions. He pictured him lying on the ground scared and confused, dying alone.

When we are facing a story that is incomplete, we fill in the gaps with what we imagine could be true. When I arrived at C’s house, it had been two days since he’d heard from his brother, and he had been filling the gaps in his mind with the darkest possibilities. He could not get control over the stories he was playing out in his mind. His imagination tormented him.

Our imagination takes the darkest turn when we are in a state of worry. We have a tendency to imagine the worst scenarios rather than the best ones, conjuring images of all the things that could go wrong and that terrify us. We manifest fear rather than hope, and the only way to overcome it is to take back control over our thoughts.

Here are a few things to try:

1) Recognize that your imagination is running wild, and find a distraction to change your mind’s focus. An activity like taking a walk will allow your thoughts to continue wandering, so instead engage in an activity that requires you to focus your mind on something specific. Read a book or article. Start a conversation with someone around you or call someone.

For example, maybe there was a recent natural disaster that resulted in destruction and loss of life. You can’t stop thinking about it, imagining families torn apart, people missing, homes destroyed. It’s a sad and upsetting story, and allowing it to consume you is not doing you or anyone else any good. Focus your mind elsewhere.

2) Try shifting the disposition of your imagination. Rather than picturing the worst, try picturing the best. Visualize positive scenarios playing out in your mind. This will help ease your fears and anxiety. This is a good skill to have for any tough situation.

If you have a job interview coming up, don’t imagine yourself struggling to measure up in all of your nervousness. Visualize yourself responding to questions with smart and insightful answers. Picture yourself appearing poised and confident and smiling.

3) Focus on the facts and let go of the unknown. Accept that you don’t have the complete story. Rather than allowing your imagination to fill in the gaps, seek out the remaining truth of the story or let it go.

Maybe your significant other was unfaithful and you cannot stop imagining your person interacting with someone else, picturing all the painful details that go along with it. You don’t need to fill in those gaps. Focus on the facts, deal with the situation, and let the rest go.

4) When you find yourself imagining a worst-case scenario, create a plan for overcoming it. Think about how you will survive it and how you could even turn it around to your advantage. When I do this it puts me more at ease and I feel stronger and more prepared for what’s to come.

I get nervous when I’m home alone, especially at night, and imagine that every bump and creek I hear is an indication of a home invasion. My heart starts to race and I get anxious. So just in case it’s not simply my imagination, I think about how I will handle the situation and make a plan of action and then I begin to relax.

A couple of days after we hung out, C heard from his little brother who was safe and doing okay. C ended up seeking professional help however to gain control over his thoughts and to manage his fear and anxiety as his brother continued with his military tour.

Imagination is a powerful gift that can influence and overwhelm. It’s a beautiful and amazing thing, but we must be mindful of how we use it to make sure it doesn’t turn against us, to make sure we don’t turn against ourselves.

 

Photo via VisualHunt

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The Quiet and the Storm

I am immediately suspicious when I didn’t hear any scratching at the door. K and I are returning home from dinner, parking in the driveway and entering the house through the garage as usual. The dogs usually hear when the garage door opens and wait for us in the entryway, Sid scratching at the doorknob impatiently. Since adopting him last year, he has gradually worn away the wood of the door in strips, his excitement at our arrival taking its toll. I listen, but I don’t hear the scratching. Perhaps Sid is asleep.

We enter the house to an empty hallway. Coming into the living room, we see our dog Haley curled up asleep on the back of the couch. She has lost some of her hearing, and the sound of our arrival is too quiet to wake her. Cora, our other dog, is curled up asleep as well in her bed in the closet. All is quiet. So where is Sid? He’s probably out roaming the back yard on this cool night, feeling the breeze rustle his thick Husky fur. I look out the window.

Sid is lying on the ground just outside the dog door. And he is seizing.

This isn’t his first seizure. The first happened four months after we adopted him from the local rescue group. The second happened about a month after that.

It starts in his hind legs. He tries to get up or run, but his legs slide out from under him. He tries a couple of more times and then gives up, laying on the floor, looking at me in confusion, asking me with his amber eyes why his legs aren’t cooperating. Then his legs stiffen. They stretch straight out, tight and tense, and the rest of his body follows. He continues to look deep into my eyes, confused, as his body starts to shake under my hands as I stroke his fur.

And then he disappears. I see it when it happens. I see when his eyes go blank and he is no longer aware of his surroundings. Sid is in full seizure at this point, and all I can do is pet him and wait. I hold my breath and watch him intently, feeling helpless and distraught.

I wonder where his mind goes, what he is experiencing. At a recent consultation, the vet described the seizures as a storm in his head. I imagine sounds of booming thunder and clashes of lightening. I imagine Sid scared in the dark, alone. Meanwhile, I am stuck here on a separate plain, and all I hear is quiet.

And then he is back. His eyes focus on my face and he sees me. He recognizes me. I continue stroking his fur and whisper to him softly that it’s okay. He continues to shake and flex his limbs. He begins panting from the physical exertion of the seizure and from the heat of his raised body temperature. He lies on the floor a few minutes longer as gradually his involuntary movements cease. He his calm but exhausted, and when he’s ready, I help him back up on his feet. He slurps water loudly from his bowl and life continues.

We did research that indicated his monthly parasite preventative could be the cause of the seizures. We changed it, and he went two months without an event. Then over the holidays he had three seizures in five weeks. The night we came home from dinner and found him in the backyard was the worst one. It took him longer than usual to recover.

Three weeks ago Sid started taking epilepsy medication. We opted for the least aggressive, lowest dose option to minimize the side effects as much as possible. Every twelve hours we give him a pill wrapped in peanut butter, one of his favorite treats. While the strict schedule is an adjustment for us, K and I agree that we will do whatever it takes to stop Sid’s seizures, to stop the storms in his head.

We are 27 days seizure free so far, and Sid contines to be himself. He brings in treasures from the yard, steals things out of the cabinets, and shares his toys with us to play tug. He is happy, and we are hopeful.

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In response to the daily prompt Sound

 

 

We All Go Through Something

“We all go through something in life.” These were the words Antoinette Tuff spoke to the man who entered the front office of the elementary school where she worked. The man was carrying an assault rifle and five hundred rounds of ammunition.

As a school administrator, Antoinette had been through training in preparation for situations like this. She kept a calm, business-like demeanor as she spoke with the armed man and relayed his messages to the 911 operator on the other end of the phone. I recently heard part of the 911 call replayed during a podcast. I heard Antoinette’s attempts to mitigate the situation and knew she must have been terrified. But it wasn’t her ability to stay calm under pressure that struck me, that caused tears to roll down my cheeks as I listened.

It was her compassion.

Antoinette saw something in the gunman that wasn’t clearly visible. She saw his pain and suffering and fear and loneliness. She saw recognized him as a person and attempted to relate to him, to connect with him, human being to human being.

The gunman gradually revealed in conversation that he wasn’t on his medication, that he wanted to go to the hospital, that he wanted to surrender. Antoinette offered to walk out of the school with him to make sure the police didn’t shoot him. As he waited instead for police to enter the school to detain and arrest him, Antoinette waited with him.

“We’re not going to hate you. It’s a good thing that you’re giving up. We’re not going to hate you.”

The gunman set his weapon down and lay on the floor, all the while talking of remorse and suicide. Antoinette continued to talk with him:

“It’s going to be alright, sweetie. I just want you to know that I love you though, ok? And I’m proud of you. That’s a good thing that you’re just giving up, and don’t worry about it. We all go through something in life.”

“…I tried to commit suicide last year after my husband left me, but look at me now. I’m still working and everything is okay.”

She found a way to relate to him. She felt compassion for him, despite her fear. Not only that, but she expressed her love for him. She opened her heart and gave genuine love to another person, a stranger, a man who had walked into her school with a gun.

Listening to the recording of the call I couldn’t help but cry. The compassion and love was overwhelming. Sometimes that is all we really need – for someone to show a little compassion. Sometimes that is all we need to do – to be the type of person who is there to show that compassion.

I realized listening to Antoinette speak that I likely would not have had the same instinct as her. Attempting to connect with and relate to the gunman might never have crossed my mind at all. Even as the gunman, who was only 20 years old, surrendered, it probably would not have occurred to me to be compassionate, and that’s a sad thing. More likely I would have drawn a mental line in the sand that separated me from him, labeling us as entirely different people with nothing in common.

We may not always understand each other, but we all have certain things in common. We have all felt angry. We have all felt lost. We all want to love and to be loved. It’s important to recognize also that we all have our struggles. As Antoinette said, we all go through something in life. It isn’t easy for anyone.

Perhaps what we need is more practice in connecting with others on a more intimate level, on a more human emotional level. I, for one, know that I need more practice. Over the years I have gradually shied away more and more from deep personal relationships and recently decided to change that. Harnessing a sense of compassion and showing it towards others is a good way to start.

Love is another way. It is the ultimate in human emotion and need. We require love to survive. Perhaps if we spend more time and attention on the things and people we love and try to be more present in the existence of love around us, we will be more open and compassionate and connect more with each other on a deeper level.

We can generate more love and compassion, and perhaps one day we will use it to save someone.

A Moment to Myself

I enjoy time alone. In fact, I crave it. Solitude is a personal joy that is essential to my wellbeing. In solitude I am free from judgment, obligation, and expectation, aside from the conditions I create for myself. Retreating to a place of solitude renews me.

Only when I am left to focus on my inner most thoughts and ideas do I feel like I know who I am. I have enough peace in those moments to ponder the thoughts that follow me through the days, to replay the memories stored away, to make sense of my emotions, and to find meaning in the array of ideas and wonderment that floats around in my mind.

I often find myself feeling my own pressures to spend solitary time on responsible and productive tasks and begin to feel the weight of guilt as a consequence. Then I look outside and see my dog Sid, lounging in the sun. He watches the birds and squirrels, looks for treasures, smells and nibbles the plants and flowers, takes naps. It does not matter that he is outside alone, that the other dogs have opted to spend their time elsewhere. He is happy in his solitude and often seeks it out when indoors becomes a little too chaotic and disruptive. Sid finds peace in having a few free moments alone, and he reminds me to do the same. He reminds me that being alone with only ourselves for company is necessary and often a saving grace when we crave a little extra peace. For both of us, solitude is source of happiness.

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In response to the Weekly Photo Challenge
Solitude

The Best Kind of Drive-Thru

I never cease to be amazed by the vast array of creatures that populate our planet. The creativity of nature is evident in every species, and to see them up close and interact with them is a treat that fills me with pure joy.

When I was growing up, my parents sometimes took me to a drive-through wildlife park. The park staff handed us huge buckets of animal food to dole out to the free-range animals as we encountered them on our drive. I remember being wide-eyed with both terror and excitement as a buffalo stuck its entire head through the car window to partake of my food bucket. He was an impressive beast, and he left a lasting impression in my childhood memory.

This past weekend the hubs and I along with the in-laws ventured to a nonprofit wildlife reserve spanning 1800 acres featuring a 9-mile drive-through park. I felt giddy sitting in the back seat of the truck with my hubs holding a bag of food pellets, thinking of the times I had visited similar places as a kid. We drove through the entry gates and started our adventure.

Immediately we could see deer and wildebeests wandering the open range and we watched them in awe. I scrambled into K’s lap eager to see the animals on his side of the truck. I leaned over him and out the window to take photos, but as we circled around deeper into the park, we encountered a slight roadblock. K said, “It’s a velociraptor.” and I leaned back img_9582away from the window.

Two emus stood in the middle of the path, their long legs and toes reminding K of a Jurassic Park predator. Their wild amber eyes, feathered scowl, and wide pointy beaks didn’t make them appear any less intimidating. They peered in at us through the windows we had rolled up in our nervousness, but they were incredible to watch as they displayed their curiosity towards us as we squeaked past them.

img_9630I’ve seen deer before in the wild, but it’s a rare treat to get so close them. Along with young bucks and does were sweet little babies, watching with hopeful eyes as we approached. The variance in their colors and patterns and shapes made each one unique, and I wished the park let us dole out more food treats to these small furry creatures with stick legs and soft faces.img_9724

The horns of these creatures were astounding. Some were long and curved, others wavy and thin, some thick and curled, others like tree branches growing out of the tops of the animal’s head, like the fallow deer, which is similar to an elk. The bravado of their antlers balanced with their calm temperament as they patiently waited at the edges of the road for us to drive up to them and give them food. We laughed noting this was like a reverse drive-thru, them waiting and us driving through to bring them something to eat. I locked eyes with an elk as I gave him some food and wished we could be forever friends.

img_9688As we came around the next corner, the graceful saunter of the giraffes brought us to a stop. They stretched their long necks to reach to tastiest leaves jutting from the treetops and then moved towards us with ease, their heads disappearing over the top of our truck, too tall for us to see. One leaned its head down towards our window and ate the food out of our palms before moving on down the road. We watched them in awe and eventually pulled ourselves away to continue on our adventure.

As we drove towards the end of the park, we came upon img_9735a jumble of zebras. They turned out to be the comedians of the place, leaning in through the car windows and opening their mouths wide to say, “Food please! Just toss it in my mouth!” They were incredible with their straightforwardness and their iconic stripes.

We ended the trip as we started it, with a scary bird encounter. An ostrich set us in its sights and headed straight for us. It greeted us by pecking at the front of our truck and then peered in anxiously through our windows, pecking the top of the truck a few times as well. We agreed he was there to make sure no animal food left the park. He was going to make sure he got the last of it! K bravely rolled down the window just enough to toss out the rest of the food. The ostrich gobbled it up and strolled down the road towards the next victim.

No matter how many animal encounters I experience, I always find myself in a state of wonderment at all the different types of creatures that occupy the earth and the uniqueness of each one. It reminds me that we aren’t the only animals living out our lives as best we can and renews my respect and love for nature and all the animals it encompasses.

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