Archive for Writing Posts

published in Anger, Dogs, Home, Mental Health, Peace, Pets, Vulnerability, Writing by Maryanne | September 24, 2019 | 6 Comments

Trigger Not So Happy – When an Emotional Trigger Sends Us Into Red Alert

 

A trigger can be anything that sets off your personal “red alert.”

– Richer Life Counseling

Apparently, even, a barking dog.

Have you ever experienced an emotional trigger?

Here’s a good definition:

“A trigger in psychology is a stimulus such as a smell, sound, or sight that triggers feelings of trauma. A trigger is a reminder of a past trauma. This reminder can cause a person to feel overwhelming sadness, anxiety, or panic.”

Goodtherapy.org

On the morning I had to put my dog, Sadie, to sleep, I experienced an emotional trigger that launched me, lickety-split, into red alert.

Here’s what happened:

The previous afternoon, I had received the news that Sadie, my 12-year-old Golden Retriever, had bone cancer. I had left the vet knowing I had to make a very difficult decision that evening, seeing as I was leaving the next day on a 3-week trip to Ecuador. I had taken Sadie home and we’d spent a special, albeit heart-breakingly difficult, last evening together.

Sweet Sadie Pope

We shared a T-bone steak 😊 as I talked to her and thanked her for all the fun times we’d had together. I cried and cried and cried, hoping to God she would understand that the time had come for us to bid farewell. Yes, it was a dreadfully sad evening…but it was a peaceful one because I was able to quietly make – and accept – the decision that was best for her. I knew I had to call the vet in the morning and make an appointment to have her put to sleep.

Unfortunately, the next morning did not go as I had hoped.

What I had wanted – and expected – was to spend my last few hours with Sadie, talking to her, petting her, giving her treats and saying goodbye in the peaceful back garden of our new home…in our QUIET new neighbourhood.

You know…the one I moved heaven and earth to find because of the experience in my last home – the one in Sidney, where I pretty much lost SEVEN years of my life living next door, in constant anxiety and frustration, to the world’s noisiest neighbours.

After I had finally made the decision to flee that sinking ship (rats moving into the crawlspace was the last straw), I sold my home, put my belongings in storage and embarked upon – and fully embraced – the gypsy life with Sadie for 18 months. If it wasn’t for Sadie’s deteriorating mobility due to arthritis, I probably would have continued the gypsy life indefinitely…mainly because I was terrified of purchasing a home again, only to discover I had landed near noisy and inconsiderate neighbours…again.

Perhaps you can see where this is going?

For on my last morning with Sadie, guess what happened? The morons across the street allowed their Pit Bull to bark, non-stop, for three hours. And let me tell you, the psychological and emotional response this triggered in me was rather like The Tell-Tale Heart, the short story by Edgar Allen Poe, where the main character thinks he can hear the heart of the man he murdered beating in the wall of his home. In his head, the heartbeat gets louder and louder and LOUDER.

So, too, did the barking of the dog across the street.

In reality, of course, the barking dog wasn’t really that loud (especially since I had moved inside and shut the windows) but in my head it certainly was.

I had gone into Red Alert.

Thankfully, I was still able to think somewhat rationally…

This, I thought to myself, is what it must be like to go crazy. This, I thought to myself, is not overly conducive to the state of mind I need to be in to put my beloved dog to sleep. This, I thought to myself, could end badly…for the neighbours. I had the fleeting idea of calmly walking across the street, knocking on their door then cheerfully ripping their heart out.

No, I thought…better not. That would be messy.  Plus, I already have one death ahead of me today that I have to get through.

In other words, I was a little too close…to losing my shit. 

Now the astute reader, such as yourself, might be inclined to point out that when the barking dog trigger occurred that morning, I was already in an extremely emotional state because I was preparing to put my beloved dog to sleep.

This, of course, is true…which is another reason I didn’t walk across the street and get into what would have undoubtedly been a spectacular Jerry Spring style argument with my neighbor. They probably weren’t even home anyway and had just left their distressed dog in the back yard.

At any rate, yes, I was indeed already in full-on grieving mode and had the wherewithal to recognize that I HAD to stop a moment and ask myself: “What’s Important NOW?”

The answer: I had to calm down enough so that I could fully be there for Sadie when the dreaded (and rapidly approaching) time came to say goodbye. I needed to be in a relaxed, peaceful and present state of mind.

So I loaded Sadie in the CRV and drove around awhile to calm down. Then I took her to the vet and was able to sit with her, comforting her as she passed, peacefully, between life and death.

Then I drove home, threw my suitcase in the CRV, backed out of my driveway, gave the finger to my neighbor’s house, yelled a few choice words then drove away…knowing full well that the anger – the fury – I felt towards them was going to have to be dealt with at some point.

And over the next couple of months, it was.

Thankfully, I was able to grieve Sadie’s death, and pretty much come to peace with her passing, while I was in Ecuador. But the anger I felt towards my neighbor stayed in my heart and mind.

And I realized that beneath the anger was something else: fear.

I was terrified of what my future might hold. The entire time I was in Ecuador, I worried that the new home I had just bought – partly for the dog I had just lost – would not be the quiet and serene surroundings I SO needed for my work and peace of mind.

What if I returned home from Ecuador and not only would I not have my furry best friend around anymore, I would now be subjected to the irritation of a constantly barking dog? Dear God, what if I was in for another seven years of noise?

I began to realize that the dog barking on the morning of Sadie’s passing had, in fact, been an emotional trigger to a past trauma: that of remaining next door to a noisy neighbour far longer than I should have.

Now, some people might laugh at the fact that I had been “traumatized” by a noisy neighbor (one person did laugh when I shared this recently). But I had. And I make no apologies. For different things are important to different people. And for me, as a writer who works from home, a quiet neighbourhood is really important to me…and I will never again waste precious time and energy pretending it isn’t.

In preparation for writing this blog, I did some research into triggers and came across an excellent an article, How to Deal with Anger Constructively, by Registered Clinical Counselor, Esther Kane, that helped me better understand what I had experienced. Here’s a snippet:

“From the vantage point of my therapy chair, I can often sense lots of emotions coming up in the person seated across from me, even if they aren’t necessarily showing what they’re feeling on the surface. When I checked in with a client recently who I sensed was angry, she said, “I AM angry. Really angry! I don’t know what to do with this feeling.”

At that moment, the image of a volcano came to me: On the surface, my client was the calm-looking solid volcano, but brimming beneath the volcano’s surface was red-hot lava bubbling and churning and wanting to explode. I see this a lot with women-especially when it comes to identifying and dealing with anger.

But before I go on, I’d like to make you laugh with a wonderful clip from INSIDE OUT– a children’s movie about emotions…this one explores anger and will definitely make you laugh.

I always tell my clients who are startled by the hot-lava emotions which bubble up to the surface that while it can be upsetting to feel such strong emotion; that there is no danger in any feeling. Feelings like anger are energy that come up and out and with some mindfulness applied, can be channeled for healing and peace – in our relationship to ourselves and others. The most important caveat I give clients is to not lash out in anger either to ourselves or at another person. That never turns out well.”

Esther Kane, MSW, RSW, Registered Clinical Counsellor

A volcano about to erupt is a perfect analogy to what I experienced that morning. And if you haven’t seen the clip from the film, Inside Out, take a moment and watch it…it’s brilliant.

As for the barking dog across the street?

When I got home from Ecuador, the Pit Bull across the street did still bark on occasion throughout the summer. But in all honesty, not that often. I have been keeping a log of when the dog barks and for how long, just in case I decide to make a noise complaint to the town. But truthfully, it hasn’t been a big deal…and for this, I am extremely grateful.

How to Cope with an Emotional Trigger

As for how to cope with an incident that triggers you emotionally, I shall leave that advice to the experts, such as Esther Kane. But this much I can tell you: when something happens and we lose our shit – or are dangerously close to losing our shit – then we better pay damn close attention and start asking ourselves some questions:

#1) What might be happening here?

#2) What do I have to do to get safely out of this moment: What’s Important NOW?

#3) Why do I think I was so impacted/triggered?

#4) Why do I REALLY think I was so impacted/triggered?

#5) How am I going to deal with it, if it happens again in the future?

Then we need to get some sort of plan – and healthy coping mechanisms – in place.

The world is full of stimuli, any of which could be potential emotional triggers. We can’t always control what happens around us, but we can control how we react to it…even if that means simply getting ourselves AWAY from a distressing situation as fast as possible.

Related Blogs by Maryanne

Celebrating Sadie – Saying Goodbye to Sadie Pope

Sometimes Things Have to Springer Before They Settle

Anger in the Garden – Pruning Back for Future Growth

When Opportunity Knocks on the Door – Literally

What’s Important NOW? The Question that Took Me to Chicago

Anchors Away – Letting Go of Anger

Maryanne Pope is the author of A Widow’s Awakening, the playwright of Saviour and the screenwriter of God’s Country. Maryanne is CEO of Pink Gazelle Productions and Chair of the John Petropoulos Memorial Fund. If you would like to receive her weekly blog, please sign up here.

Purge, Toss, Recycle, Reflect: Is This What Happens At 50?

 

“I hope you will remove the clutter that prevents more from coming into your life.”

– Suze Orman

Purge, Toss, Recycle

As I ever so slowly continue to unpack my 200+ boxes from the move, I am purging, tossing and recycling like a mad-woman…not crazy-mad (although some would argue that) but a MAD WOMAN. As in, I am furious with myself for accumulating so much damn stuff over the years, never mind holding on to it for so long.

Upon reflection, here’s what I’m noticing…

The actual decisions as to what to keep and what to toss are easy. As I enter my sixth decade on the planet, I know what I want, need and love. As Marie Kondo would say, I know what “sparks joy.”

Making the decision is simple. Executing the decision is fast (put the item in the recycling bin, the thrift store box, the garbage or place it where it needs to go in the house). Where I am struggling is dealing with the psychological fall-out of purging all the old files in my office.

For it’s not just papers I’m getting rid of. I am also having to let go of an awful lot of goals, hopes and expectations I had set for myself as a writer. Not that I’m dying…I’m sure I still have plenty of time left to write. But I AM having to face the fact fact that despite my best intentions, I have not achieved anywhere near what I had hoped to, in the writing-department, by this point in my life.

Perhaps even more disconcerting is the fact that it’s not like I’ve been sitting around for the past 20 years, thinking about writing instead of actually writing (like the old days, before John’s death when I was 32 and got the wake-up call of all wake-up calls about the importance of working towards our dreams instead of just talking about them).

No. I have been writing…like a mad-woman. And yet I have not accomplished anywhere near what I had set out to. This is an extremely uncomfortable conclusion to arrive at.

And yet, I think it’s healthy. As such, I am trying to embrace this discomfort (rather like hugging a cactus) instead of denying it or running from it.

The fact of the matter is: time IS passing very quickly. And I’m hoping that the sooner I can shed that which I no longer want or need (or is no longer serving me), the more time and energy I will have to focus on what really matters to me – the relationships, projects, causes & activities – in the years that remains.

Is this what happens in our 50’s? We reach some sort of…point of reckoning? 

I would love to hear your perspective!

In the meantime, here are some photos from the past few weeks of purging, tossing & recycling:

Boxes of stuff headed to the thrift store 🙂

 

My wood nymph dress from ballet, complete with adorable cat pin (this did NOT get tossed)

 

My Nan Nan’s telephone table fits perfectly in the foyer

 

A cozy nook by the fire a.k.a. the reflection chair

 

My assistant on yet another backyard break

And here comes the new…

Of course, now that I am shedding stuff left, right & center, this is creating a vacuum in which to receive new stuff – but believe me, I am being VERY selective as to what new items make their way into my home and life.

Case in point is a BBQ.

I had left my old, rusted, beast of a BBQ behind in Sidney so was going to have to get a new one. But I looked out my living room window a few weeks ago and low and behold, right across the street a BBQ had appeared on the curb overnight – with with a big FREE sign stuck to it.

I raced out my front door lickity-split, dashed across the street and pounced on that BBQ like a fat kid on a Smartie. I had just opened the lid to inspect inside when the home owner came out her front door and greeted me with a big smile.

“It’s older but it’s barely been used,” she said. “Can you use it?”

Beaming, I rolled that puppy back across the street, parked it in my backyard and have been using it almost daily every since 🙂

Slow Motion Multi-Tasking

Interestingly, shortly after beating myself up about not getting enough writing projects completed yet, I heard on the radio about a concept called “Slow Motion Multi-Tasking.” Apparently it is a creative process that many geniuses (such as Einstein) have utilized to their advantage over the years.

Basically slow motion multi-tasking refers to the practice of working for a significant period of time on a single project then putting it aside, working on another large project then putting that aside and returning to the first project with a fresh perspective. I have been doing this for years with multiple projects and I DO see the benefit. I just get freaked out sometimes that nothing will ever get finished and sent out into the world.

Apparently, however, I am in good company with this practice of slow motion multi tasking, so I shall continue to persevere with patience and passion!

But I reckon a little self-reflection now and then is not a bad thing.

Maryanne Pope is the author of A Widow’s Awakening, the playwright of Saviour and the screenwriter of God’s Country. Maryanne is CEO of Pink Gazelle Productions and Chair of the John Petropoulos Memorial Fund. If you would like to receive her regular weekly blog, please sign up here. As a thank you, you’ll receive a short but saucy e-book entitled, Dive into this Chicago Deep Dish – Ten Bite-Sized Steps for a Yummier Slice of Life.

 

Shaping Our Lives – Lessons Learned from Eyebrows & Play Scripts

 

“The first step in crafting the life you want is to get rid of everything you don’t.”

― Joshua Becker

What do eyebrows have to do with a play script…and more importantly, what do they have to do with you?

I was looking in the mirror the other day and it occurred to me (not for the first time) that I scarcely have any eyebrows left.

I’m not the only who has noticed this. In the summer, a friend (after one too many drinks, mind you) commented that I looked “rather like an egg.” With such candid friends, who need adversaries?

Anyhoo…last week I paid a visit to my hairdresser and she offered to wax my brows.

“NO!” I cried. “I have nothing left to wax. I already look like an EGG!”

“Trust me,” she said.

So I did. A few strips and several plucks later, she leaned back from her handiwork and smiled. “Voila!”

I looked in the mirror and low and behold, I had eyebrows again.

By removing the “peach fuzz” (her words not mine; 14-year-old boys have peach fuzz, not 50-year-old women) from around the actual brow, she’d given shape and clarity to my eyebrows. They were still thin but at least you could SEE them.

Maryanne in Saviour play workshop, Jan 2019

Fast forward a couple of days and I found myself in yet another workshopping of my play script, Saviour, throught the Alberta Playwrights Network. The last time my Big Fat Greek Play Script had been workshopped by professional actors, it was a whopping 143 pages. That bad boy sized script would translate to more than two and a half hours performance-time.

Ugh.

This time around, however, I was heading into the workshop with a 119-page script…better but it still needed a good trim. My goal is to get the script to about 100 pages (which would translate to approximately one hour and forty-five minutes performance time).

Thankfully, this workshop was only 3 hours – versus the 8-hour workshop I had in 2017. This meant that after the actors had read the script out loud, there was limited time left for discussion. So what little discussion we had was very focused and succinct…and therefore extremely helpful to me, the playwright.

L to R: Col Cseke, Kathryn Kerbes & Trevor Rueger in Saviour workshop at APN, Jan 2019

 

Kathryn Kerbes reading the part of Virginia Woolf

 

L to R: Trevor Rueger & Val Lieske reading Saviour at APN, Jan 2019

I left the workshop with a very clear idea of what had to be cut and what sections needed clarification. I went home and, while it was still fresh in my mind, immediately made the rough changes on the actual printed copy of the script. The next morning, I sat down at my computer and started making the changes in the word doc.

And voila! My Pleasantly Plump Play began to shrink even further…and low and behold, the essence of the play emerged.

Just like the brow trimming, it was only by removing the extraneous bits in my script (that I had been unable to see) that my play began to take shape.

My challenge to you (and me) for 2019

What extraneous bits could you trim from your life? Are there any habits, behaviours, attitudes, beliefs, thought-patterns, relationships or activities that you could delete (or at least cut back on) that might help give you more clarity about your purpose?

Just as it can be difficult to see the forest for the trees (or the eyebrows for the peach fuzz), so too can it be difficult to live up to our potential when we are being pulled in a dozen different directions…many of which are likely NOT helping get us where we want to go.

If the shape of your life is not quite as you’d like it, I challenge you to trim a component (or two) that is no longer serving you. And I shall do the same 😊

Related blog by Maryanne

Perilous Playwriting – Let’s Air Some Dirty Laundry Shall We? 

Maryanne Pope is the author of A Widow’s Awakening, the playwright of Saviour and the screenwriter of God’s Country. Maryanne is CEO of Pink Gazelle Productions and Chair of the John Petropoulos Memorial Fund. If you would like to receive her regular weekly blog, please sign up here. As a thank you, you’ll receive a short but saucy e-book entitled, Dive into this Chicago Deep Dish – Ten Bite-Sized Steps for a Yummier Slice of Life.