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Baseline Road

Baseline Road

I've moved a few times in my life, as have a lot of us.  Having been born in West Hollywood, Cal-eh-forn-eye-aay, then to Nashville, before my parents came back home to Troy (the home of Uncle Sam and DeFazio's hangover cake), I think the itch to be in motion is somewhere deeply rooted at the bottom of my spine.  

Even though I was cripplingly homesick as a kid, I went away to college, then stayed away for that scalding hot year of law school, then back to Colorado for another few years before buying a house in the boonies of Upstate New York.

Even that couldn't keep me tethered; I got a job right away that took me around the country for a month at a time dealing with disasters.

But every time I sat still, I felt that itch somewhere in between my ribs telling me that I wasn't ok.  That I had to find comfort.  That something was wrong with me.

So I moved.  And now here I am, in my cute little downtown, contented AF, loving my life and reveling in as much stillness as my busyness allows.  

But you want to hear something weird? 

Er...read. 

You want to read something weird?

When I'm tired - and I mean that kind of tired that you can feel in your bones...the kind that comes right from your heart and grabs your guts on the way to your eyes...tired - I sometimes find myself on the road toward my old house by accident.

It's so strange.

Last time I was in Colorado - granted, I was power crying and listening to Celine Dion ballads at the time - I pulled into the parking lot of my old apartment like I was home again.

That's what the power of habit will do.

And here's what that kicker is...it's not like I loved my house when I left.  This isn't a case of my heart pulling me toward some long unresolved heartache.  I just think when I'm feeling a similar mood to when I lived there, my distracted/mindless instinct is to follow the same route.

The grooves from my little emotional tires are deeply entrenched on that road, after all.

<I just feel like now would be a good time to give you the time to gather yourself for a thorough eye roll.  You do realize that this will be, as per usual, a big metaphor, right?  Get yourself those Raisinets on your kitchen counter...you'll need the strength.>

The other day, I asked a friend whom I so deeply want to understand as deeply as I care for her, whether she liked liked being constantly in a state of turmoil more than she liked being in a state of peace.  

Actually, the way I believe it was phrased was, "Jesus Christ, do you just love being in a fight all the time?  Do you ever want something that's easier?'  Then probably gave her a frustrated look before realizing I've done the same thing all my life, and stomping out of the room with indignation.

That sounds about right.

Her response to me was, "I don't know what to do when things are calm.  I feel more comfortable with a mess.  I think it's my baseline."

Her baseline.

I think so many of us can relate to this.  We're moving so fast from the second our alarms go off to the second we take our sleeping pills, that if we ever have a second to sit still, we suffer from brain-matter whiplash.

We complain that our thoughts race and that it makes our hearts race which makes our tears race, and all of that is something other than what our aunt tells us is the standard of happiness with her shared quotes on Facebook, so therefore we must be wrong.

And I don't mean that we feel we've done something wrong, I mean that we often feel that we *are* wrong.  That we were a mistake.  That we were put in the wrong place.  That this world is foreign and our lungs didn't develop to breathe this atmosphere's air.

That's a kind of silent pain that can barely put into words, but is so raw that every breath feels like an exposed nerve in a tooth.  So we numb.  

We smoke weed.  We have a glass of wine.  We take a Xanax.  We have sex.  We eat a family sized Kit Kat bar.  I had two beef empanadas tonight just to make sure I had enough examples to give here.  We do anything to avoid that itchy gut telling you that something's wrong.  You'd do anything to make those voices quiet.  Even if that sweet lullaby makes it all that much worse later.

When our baseline is one of such turbulence that we'd feel more at home on The Scrambler at the local fair than in the quiet places of our mind, it's ok to get to a point in your life when you just want something different.  

If you're like my friend, you're probably reading this, rolling your big, brown, Disney baby deer eyes and saying, "Yeah, well, people in hell want ice water...I can want a different baseline all day long, but this is just who I am.  I'm f'ed up."

Or.

(There's always an "or".)

Or, you're just driving down your little habit road so often that the grooves of the tires are making you think they're too deep to choose a different exit.

This, by the way, is not the first time I've written about this, and it's not my analogy.  You can thank Kelli Walker of "Not Another Anxiety Show" podcast fame.  And if you haven't listened to our show, freaking do it.  We're on iTunes and Stitcher.  We're very popular in New Zealand.  Don't fact check that.

Anyway.

So here's what I know from extensive Googling after losing my mind: when we're stressed out, say, from being chased by a tiger, things happen in our body.

Our brain decides to tell our glands that we need to fight or flee, then they release cortisol, which raises our blood sugar, suppresses our immune system, shuts down digestion (or evacuates it all together), increases blood pressure, constricts blood vessels in our extremities so our organs are protected, and tenses our muscles - and that's just the start of it.

I go to physical therapy for my shoulder once a week, so I'm pretty much a doctor now.

It's the stress response, and now we're ready for that tiger.

But these days our tigers are presentations at work.  And family picnics.  And money.  And medical tests.  And whether that text from our girlfriend was passive aggressive.  And being thinner than thin. And how we don't quite fit into our significant other's family.  And how we might be loving the wrong person because it's easy.  And how those empanadas are giving me heartburn.

And consciously choosing to stay on a well traveled road that leads to the same old house that you've never been sure you ever liked, but you're going to keep driving there day after day because it's what you've always done.

The stress response that should be a quick hit of hormones lasts for days and weeks and years, and it's killing us.  And that's what we think our baselines are.  We think we're meant to feel this way, so we keep driving to the house to get a hit of stress.

I have great news for us...getting off the road is not rocket science - everyone can do it, it just takes a choice and some practice.

And I have terrible news for us...getting off the road is not rocket science - everyone can do it, it just takes a choice and some practice.

I know you.  I mean it.  I know you really well, don't I?  It sort of happened by accident, and you would have never thought it would be me, but here I am, in your mind, knowing you.  Gross.

I know you think that you're just "this way."  I'm telling you that if you want to make the choice to get off the road, you can make it.  

Yeah, I know about your depression, and I know about your anxiety, and I know about the speed bumps and nail strips your family has put in the middle of your road.  

And no, your anxiety isn't the thing that gets you out of bed and keeps you motivated in the morning, just like your depression isn't something that makes you unlovable.  

What you being here and being aware enough to ask whether it's possible to change your baseline means is that you are thriving despite all of these obstacles. 

If you're here, you're thriving.

So, what now?  

I mean, listen, you know me too.  You know me really well, don't you?  And you know that I'm on a road of my own, and there are plenty of times I find myself turning on to Route 2, heading toward Cropseyville. 

It can hurt to turn the wheel the other way, but it starts with a choice.  I have to make the choice about what direction I want to go in, and I've learned the long and hard way that when the road I'm on feels wrong, it probably is.  It might be the easiest road, or at least the one where I think I can see the destination, but wrong nonetheless.  

The thing about those wrong roads is that the destination you think you can see is actually a mirage.

Make the choice to change your baseline.  That's all you have to do for now.  The work is hard, sure, but not impossible.  It's like building a muscle.  Which, ps, it literally will do in your mind.  Google it.

So, once you've made the choice about Baseline Road, the hard part is turning the wheel.  For me, turning the wheel was not screaming in terror at the sound of my own thoughts.  

I would sit for ten seconds at a time with eyes closed and just hope I wouldn't die.  That's not much of an exaggeration - our thoughts are the things of horror movies.  That's how I turned the wheel.  

The more I veered out of my lane, the more my baseline made grooves elsewhere.  

It's all practice.  And I've been told that life - and all the things that go in it, like loving someone and making crepes- takes skill, so it's worth the practice.  

Ten seconds turned into a minute.  A minute into ten.  And I started to see more clearly what I needed in my life, versus how my old baseline told me that the pain was deserved.

Hello.  That's how I found out that I'm gayer than all the flannels at an Indigo Girls concert tied end to end.

What I know now is that effort is hard, but worth it.  It's when something takes work, and you start spinning your wheels and wasting gas, that's when it's time to make some decisions.

Effort and work are not the same thing, you know. 

I know you're tired.  You're as tired as I have been when I've taken the old road to the country by accident.  You're tired of the work, and you're tired of the fight.  I know.  I can't promise you that it's easy, or even painless, but I can promise that you don't have to live in this baseline that you have now.

And I can promise you're not alone, because now you have me.

You just have to start by making the choice.

So.  What road do you want your baseline to be on?

Kintsugi?  I hardly know ye!

Kintsugi? I hardly know ye!

Sister Your Studs

Sister Your Studs