Why do I save spiders?

Ok, I really thought I had gotten over my fear of spiders. At least to the point where I could remove them from my kids’ rooms when needed. You always know when it’s needed. There is no shriek quite as piercing as a child spotting a spider in his/her room, or–even worse–in the shower.

My newfound confidence went right out the window this morning when I was sitting in bed, working on my laptop, and saw movement along the baseboards out of the corner of my eye. Maybe it’s just a cricket, I thought.

Why would a cricket be any better than a spider? Actually, it would be worse. You can’t catch those things, and they JUMP! At least spiders don’t jump. Not spiders this big. Dear god . . . That IS a spider, right?

I crept out of bed and put on my flip flops, then decided to take one off in case it decided to attack. Then I put it back on, because . . . that thing was huge. I didn’t trust my aim with a tiny flip flop against a behemoth arachnid. Smacking at it might just make it mad.

I ran (as quietly as possible) to the kitchen to get a large plastic cup, heart pounding. What if it wasn’t there when I got back? What then? It could be ANYWHERE! Oh my god. The cats were perched on the dining room table as usual, but looking concerned. “Don’t worry about it,” I said. “It’s just an enormous spider. You would be helpless against it. Besides, it looks poisonous.”

Back into the bedroom. It was still there. Thank god. I crept closer, and closer, trying to get the cup in position before it spotted me. How do spider eyes work, anyway? Do they have more than two? Can they see in all directions? I feel like I really should know this before trying to sneak up on one.

No matter. The cup is all I’ve got. I brought it down slowly, slowly. It didn’t move. Plunk. Got it! Too late, I realized that the cup wasn’t flat on the floor. It was propped up on the–what do you call that thing at the bottom of the baseboard? A kickplate? My years of binge-watching HGVT failed me. In horror, I watched it go scampering under the door of the closet.

I paused outside the door, cup in hand, for a very long time. Damn it. What now? I can’t start poking around in the closet, it’s sure to drop on me from whatever it’s attached to. I opened the doors and just stared. Eventually I worked up the nerve to slowly push aside a 4-pack of paper towels, expecting it to come charging at me from the other side of the package. Nothing.

I stepped back and noticed the flashlights on an upper shelf. That’s it. I’ll be able to see it better without having to physically enter the closet, and maybe I could paralyze it with the light. I didn’t know if that was possible, but I really, really hoped so. It happens with deer, right? Spider in the headlights?

Just then Betty (cat #1) entered the room. She loves chasing lights. I trained the light on the closet floor, and she ran right in after it. “No, Betty! Don’t scare the spider!” I turned off the light. But before I did, I saw something right there on the floor, in the open, that looked a lot like the spider. I turned the flashlight on again and kept Betty at bay with my foot. I think that’s the spider! Just sitting there! Why is it doing that? Oh my god, it’s actually paralyzed by the light! It was like I had discovered fire.

I brought the flashlight closer and closer, testing the light paralysis theory. It didn’t move. PLUNK. Just like that, he was trapped. Hooray!

Now, how to get him outside? The old “slide paper under cup” trick worked, but I couldn’t pick it up because the paper was flimsy. One wrong move and he would make a break for it–probably down my arm. I had to slide him across the floor, inch by inch, trying not to jump out of my skin listening to him skittering around in there. Six agonizing feet later, I remembered that there was a rug between me and the screen door.

What would McGuyver do? Duct tape. We have duct tape. Feeling accomplished, I ripped up what little duct tape was left on the roll into small strips, and started folding the paper up the side of the glass and taping it in place. Almost done . . . and then the tape ran out. One section of paper was going to be loose when I picked up the cup.

Sigh.

Holding that section tight against the cup with my hand, I maneuvered the screen door open. Carefully, gingerly, I walked him (or her) to the very far end of the yard and put the cup down. It ran around the inside of the cup, but didn’t find the loose section in the paper. Dear lord.

I untaped a few sections and put the cup back down. Thankfully he/she/it found its way out this time.

Hopefully it will not find its way back in the house! Because I’m all out of duct tape.

I don’t believe in ghosts. But I believe in ghost cats.

There are certain places that my departed cats seem to like hanging around. They’re basically the same places they liked to be when they actually walked on four legs–any place where they might get fed, or could play with water.

Often I’ll be standing at the kitchen sink, or at one of the bathroom sinks, and I’ll feel that familiar delicate brushing of the back of my leg with their whiskers or the side of their face, inquiring if dinner is going to be soon. Or the slight flick of their tail as they circle me, winding between my legs and making it impossible for me to take a step for fear of squashing them. Sometimes I’ll feel the cool, “bop bop bop” of a tiny nose tapping against my leg, sniffing for who knows what.

I’ll turn around, and sometimes it’s my actual, living cats. But sometimes there is nothing there.

I’ll look around to see if maybe one of them brushed past me and quickly left the room, but usually I’ll see them both snoozing on their cat beds on the dining room table. Beds that, inexplicably, they refused to get inside, but will make biscuits on the top until they flatten out and become mattresses instead of hidey caves.

They don’t just make themselves known by touch. I’ll also hear them going down the stairs. Always down, never up. I’m not sure why. I’ll be sitting on the couch, right next to the stairs, and hear the unmistakable padding of paws down the stairs, each one followed by the slight click of their toenails. I would like to say that sometimes it’s my actual cats, but there’s never a cat there. Our floors are creaky, but they don’t mimic the sound of a cat walking down the stairs.

But most unsettling is seeing them. I mean, I don’t see them. But my two cats do. Always in our bedroom or closet, and always on the ceiling. They will both pause, look up at the same spot on the ceiling, and then their eyes will dart back and forth, back and forth, always looking at exactly the same spot. I have followed their gaze many times, looking for a bug, or a spider, or a swaying spider web, or a shadow, or a flash of light from outside. There is never anything there. I think, maybe it’s a sound coming from the HVAC system, or a bird or squirrel on the roof, but I never hear anything.

This mostly happens in our walk-in closet, where we have one of our cats’ ashes.

If I thought there were a ghost of a person in my house, I would move the hell out. Even if it was someone I knew and loved. That’s just too creepy. But the cats? I don’t know, it’s kind of reassuring. Like they’re just visiting to make sure everything is ok, maybe giving our cats some pointers about getting at the hidden snacks, sniffing the different foods they’re eating, sniffing their butts.

Our cats don’t seem too concerned about it, so I guess it’s ok with me.

Sometimes you just have to quit: How I prepared in advance for my own mental breakdown

I’ve always been an independent person. I don’t like to ask for help. I’m slightly on the introverted side, so I prefer to work by myself. Or with one or two people I really like. But most of all, I like to be creative. This was a good place to be, more than 20 years ago, when I started my career in corporate communications and was in a small team, managing a small publication on my own.

Then things started getting uncomfortable. There were promotions, there were children, there were projects and people to manage. All normal milestones in life, and of course there were many aspects of these changes that I enjoyed. And I was good at it. I could work 12 hours a day, take care of the kids, pay the bills, and all with a sunny disposition.

On one hand, I was proud of being able to accomplish so many things at once. But being good at getting things done is exhausting when the things you’re getting done are not ones you want to be doing. I’m talking about the work side of things, not kids or my home life. Those areas of my life I always cherished, but I never had enough time to really pay attention to them. To just enjoy them.

A slight buzzing had started in my head, a kind of background noise that crept in during times of stress and faded when things got quiet. Things were never quiet for long, and the moments of peace got to be few and far between.

The moment I knew I was in the wrong place, doing the wrong thing, was when I was at home, giving a presentation to our CEO on the phone, with my boss on the line to assess my performance, while holding a squirming, sick, screaming toddler. I thought: Ok, now is the time to start hatching my escape plan.

You would think that planning ahead to leave something you don’t enjoy would make “that thing” easier to deal with. It didn’t. It made it worse. Watching my nest egg grow much too slowly, doing the calculations to determine when it was “safe” to leave . . . And the guilt of knowing that I was making a conscious decision to go from supporting my family to potentially making no money for a long time. It was suffocating.

The buzzing got worse.

I was anxious all the time. My heart raced, my blood pressure rose. I sweated even when I was cold.  In quiet moments I would sit and listen to my pulse pounding in my ears, and I could feel it in my nose. Sometimes I would get nosebleeds.

Eventually I got depressed. Nothing could make me happy. I withdrew from friends, family, activities, everything. I just wanted to be left alone.

One morning I found myself in my hotel room, pacing up and down the floor in my towel, gasping for breath. The reason? An event I was running later that day, one that I had run for 5 years in a row. In fact, one of many events and large meetings I ran throughout the year. Nothing major had ever gone wrong at any of them, and there was nothing special about this one.

But as I was getting ready to dry my hair and get dressed, I had a horrible thought: I couldn’t imagine the event happening. Usually before an event, I run through it in my mind, and I can see everything happening the way it should. That always gave me peace of mind, like I was just following a script that was already written. In this case, however, I couldn’t “see” the event. I took it as an omen that something was going to go terribly wrong, and my brain was protecting me by not letting me see it.

I panicked. I thought about packing my bag and running away. But I didn’t. I got through the event, it went well, and I got on the train and was happy to see my family when I got home. Fortunately that was only a few weeks before I walked out the door of my building for the last time, because I don’t think I would have survived another challenge.

I’ve been “free” for 9 months. Quitting wasn’t easy. I felt like . . . a quitter. And I still do.

If I had been a stronger person, I could have gone to therapy, taken antidepressants and continued on in my job for another 20 years. But even the thought of that depressed me. I don’t want to look back on my life and think “wow, I really hung in there, didn’t I?” There are no medals or rewards for suffering in silence.

So here I am, hustling to get freelance writing work every day, getting some here and there, writing personal things for my own amusement, and slowly adjusting to a life without constant stress. It sounds easy, but ironically, it’s a little . . . um, stressful. But there’s negative stress that eats at your mind and body, and then there’s constructive stress, which drives you to work hard at doing something you enjoy.

I can deal with constructive stress. So . . . Here I am. And here I go!

“How Far I’ll Go”

Well, apparently I’ll go all the way to WordPress, since Facebook won’t let me post audio files! But if you’re a Disney fan, maybe you’ll like this homegrown pop/punk version of “How Far I’ll Go,” from Moana. Enjoy!