A Bad Fall, and a Return

the trees are blue and pink
lightly edited photograph of a tree covered path

(This is part of a series. You can read related posts here.)

I had a bad fall. As in the season. My mood generally turns dour around September, but then usually gets better by Thanksgiving. My birthday is in September, but I've never felt that that was a factor. On the other hand, I don't recall my family celebrating my or my siblings birthdays in any way. So, maybe that fact is a factor?

My fall started earlier, in 23. I publish a tiny online literary and art journal, Exist Otherwise. In August, one of my contributors, a person whom I had published a few times and a person for whom I had gone out of my way to accommodate with many requests for special consideration, accused me of hijacking one of their poems for my own personal gain.

I write (and read) on Medium, a writing community. My transgression involved using the title of a poem I had recently published in a blog post to promote my journal. Medium has a paywall, and I get a few cents each month from people who read my articles. In this case, I posted the promotional article outside the paywall, meaning I would receive nothing for it.

The gist of the offending article was this: "This really great writer posted this really great poem on my tiny lit journal. Here's a link to read it."

I was floored when they sent me the accusatory email. It was harsh. They wrote angrily that they felt violated, demanded an apology, and that I delete the article. They accused me of trying to capitalize on their work, and they threatened to report me to Medium.

My "fight or flight" mechanisms are easily triggered. They are so easily triggered that, even as I write this, long after the situation has been resolved, I am trembling.

This person obviously didn't even bother to read my article. Upon seeing my article's title, which also happened to be the title of their poem, they immediately assumed the worst about me, despite the numerous instances in which I had demonstrated my allyship. After I defended myself, they backed down and admitted they had made a false assumption. I even received a partial apology. I even published them again.

To this day, when I see this person's name in an email, my heart races and I start to panic, even though we have had some perfectly pleasant exchanges since then.

I owned a hot yoga studio in Atlanta from 2002 through 2017. In 2008, we got a new neighbor who presumably didn't do any due diligence before occupying their unit next door to a hot yoga studio. They quickly decided that they didn't like being next door to a hot yoga studio, and they frequently complained to me about it. Initially, the issue stemmed from my clients placing their yoga mats on the common area's outside railing. This was not an unreasonable complaint, so I banned the practice. They then complained about clients "lounging" outside my studio after class "in their underwear," so I forbade that, too. Hot yoga clothing is similar to beach wear, which I guess offended this person.

The complaints eventually became harassment, and they became a large enough conflict that the condo HOA became involved. However, while the problem never went away, I was able to keep the guy somewhat at arm's length. I am not easily intimidated. He was a pain in the ass, but a manageable one.

After I sold the yoga business to one of my instructors, I retained ownership of the units and transitioned from yoga studio owner to landlord. It took a few years, but the harassment resumed and eventually escalated. One of his loudest complaints had always been about the odor of sweat that results when we open the yoga room door during or immediately following classes.

In the Fall of 2023, my friend tried to convince the HOA that the yoga studio was in violation of the Association By-Laws. The HOA ultimately sided with me and told the guy to suck it up. Not happy about that, he sued me (and the yoga studio) for defamation for some of the things I said in a board meeting.

I'm leaving out a lot of details because this isn't about all that; it's about this point: Most of his communication with me about this was through email.

By mid-September, I now had two names I dreaded seeing when I opened my email app.

My birthday is in late September, and Pam and I often use our birthdays as a reason to go somewhere fun for a few days. We had such a weekend planned, and just a few days beforehand, I received an email from a sibling that I hadn't been in touch with for years. It began, "Hi, do you still want that box of family photos? BTW, I'll never forgive you for...!" They wonder why I haven't kept in touch.

The resulting email conversation was complicated, but parts of it were good and necessary. There was some acknowledgement of each other's abuse and resulting pain. There was some discovery on both of our parts, much of which was traumatic. It was mostly a healthy exchange, albeit awkward and unsatisfying for reasons beyond our control. I'm honestly not sure exactly how it ended. I mean, I know how the emails ended, but I'm not sure how I feel about the situation or how they might view it today. I said that I would follow up, but I decided not to.

When I tell people how much I hate email, they usually nod their heads and agree. But they have no idea what I mean.

Three major trauma triggers in a few weeks left me, well, traumatized. The intense emotional turmoil I was experiencing was almost unprecedented, surpassing even my hospitalization for suicidal ideation some years ago.

We have close friends in Key West who we often visit for the last two weeks of the year. We had such a trip planned for 23, and I can't say how much I was looking forward to it. On top of my personal struggles, I was also working on a big project that I had put a lot of pressure on myself over. I was desperate for some relaxation and rejuvenation. I vowed to myself that I was going to spend those two weeks practicing self-care with the goal of getting out from under the weight of my newly triggered trauma. I was confident I could regain some composure, become grounded, and return home refreshed enough to finish my big project in January. Dear reader...

On day five of our vacation, I caught COVID. Again. I had a pretty severe case early in the pandemic. This second bout wasn't quite as bad, but it was still pretty fucking miserable. I had to isolate myself from my friends and family. I did not return home rejuvenated.

Most of this year has not been good. My mental health was the poorest it's been in a very long time. My physical health has somewhat returned, but as I turn 65, I feel fragile and old.

I'm taking piano lessons from my thirteen-year-old granddaughter, who said to me recently, "Your hands are shaking." I replied that I have always had shaky hands. I remember first noticing it in grade school. It's never been significant or serious, and I can hold my hands steady enough to play my ukulele and draw. But it's definitely getting stronger. On top of that, my arthritis is surging.

Worse than that, I have been shrinking inside. I have been isolating. I haven't been getting outside as often as I should. My work and creative projects have not been productive.

Thankfully, I have been keeping my yoga practice regular. I had a physical recently, and I am in reasonably good health. For the last twelve weeks, I have been in a MenHealing Peer Support Group, which has kept me from falling deeper into my hole. Pam and our family have consistently provided support, and their love has buoyed me, for which I am deeply grateful.

I recently returned from a week-long visit to the breathtakingly beautiful and luxuriously lush Whidbey Island in Washington State. Dear reader, I am happy to report that last week provided the rest and rejuvenation I missed in December and that I sorely needed. Best of all, I reconnected with my little guy (who is me), and I returned home with a revitalized sense of purpose and a renewed sense of belonging.

I spent half of my days on the island alone, just wandering at a leisurely pace, from small town to small town and into the woods. I spent the other half of the conference with the amazing team of people that make up MenHealing. I've written a lot about them before, and I'll continue to write about them and the work they do. Rather, I shall write about the work that 'we' do. When I was invited to attend this gathering, I thought it was to give everyone an update on the new website I am building for the organization (this is the work project referenced above) and to lead a yoga session. Those things happened, but something else happened for me. Something big.

Jim Struve, one of the founders of MenHealing, invited me to this retreat. I don't know how he knew—or even if he knew—that I was in dire need of this renewed connection. I was desperate for some physical and personal connection with people I trust and feel safe around. These are individuals with whom I share fundamental values and beliefs. I was floundering and somewhat lost. I was beginning to lose sight of how amazing life can be and is.

We started the weekend by telling each other what we hoped we would personally bring to the group. Not knowing what that might be, I told everyone that I hoped I could surprise them. I had no idea exactly what I meant. I wasn't fully comprehending why I was even there. In the end, it was I who was surprised.

I showed up with no expectations beyond simply being there. I had no specific goals or plans. I hadn't even prepared for my eight-minute website update or the yoga session I was to lead. (I always do my homework at the last possible minute.)

What I discovered was myself. As we met, talked, and considered MenHealing's work, vision, and mission, I realized I had more to contribute than website skills or yoga instruction. I have insights. I have ideas. I have confidence in my own beliefs and vision. I rediscovered my voice. How to be present, open, and honest. I also rediscovered the little guy (me again). I remembered how to have fun. I remembered how to play. I remembered that I like to make people smile and laugh. I remembered that I like attention and that I like to be seen.

One of the core principles I adhere to, which I tried to instill in the yoga instructors who worked for me, is that everyone who shows up wants three things: to be safe, to be supported, and to be seen. I remembered that last week, not only for the people surrounding me but also for myself. I realized that the work I do when leading a group of people in a yoga session is something I can also apply in the real world.

During the final session of the weekend, we were asked to tell the group something that we were taking away from the conference and where we see ourselves (in our personal lives) four to five years from now. What I came away with was a reminder and confirmation that I matter. And where I hope to be in the near future is simply: more in the world.

I have so much more to say. And I will be saying it to you again through this medium. I realize now that the shift away from these kinds of messages was a symptom of my shrinking. I continue to write weird poetry and make bizarre digital artwork, but I have so much more to offer than those. I have an ability with words. I know how to tell a story. And there are many stories to tell.

One of the new connections I made this weekend was with a South African man. While I was looking for lunch on my return to the airport, I stumbled on an African restaurant. I had never had African food, so with my new friend in mind, I dropped in. It was a tiny hole in the wall. So tiny and such a hole that I wasn't even sure I was in the right place until I opened the door in what looked like a dilapidated and abandoned building.

The young man behind the counter looked shocked to see me walk in. There were no other customers. The place was dingy and dark. He gave me a menu and said, "To go order?" He looked even more surprised when I said, "No, for here." The food was lovely. The dish included yellow rice, marinated chicken, and green peppers, along with unfamiliar, rich and complex spices. Simple, but delicious. On the way out, a co-worker had joined the server behind the counter. After expressing my satisfaction, and I have no idea why, I said, "I'll be back." The two of them cracked up, laughing, and repeated my words a bunch of times. It took a few seconds until I realized they were mimicking Arnold Schwarzenegger's Terminator. It was a delightful departure.