Out of the Darkness

I read in my son’s high school news publication that stress and anxiety are a reality that today’s students have to face.

Admittedly, it’s been a “few years” since I was in high school. But I remember that time in my life fairly well. I remember feeling “stressed out” on occasion when Judy Lebryk slammed us with a paper, or when my chem experiment had 98% error Again, or when I’d prep for Mr Ellis’ Algebra tests (math was hard!). I remember my brother’s Commodore 64 crashing at Midnight while he was finishing a paper and the drama that followed. And I recall a LOT of homework and hours spent studying — as well as some frustration over grades and general High School angst. But … I don’t remember “Anxiety.”

Furthermore, I don’t recall discussing “Anxiety” with my friends. Heck, if I’m honest, I don’t think I heard the word “Anxiety” until about 10 years ago when I ran smack dab into it. And, I definitely wasn’t in high school at that time.

So, it more than concerns me to learn that according to the American Psychological Association, 48.7% of college students around the country seeks counseling from anxiety-related mental health concerns. In fact, the American Institute of Stress (heck, I didn’t even know there was such a thing) reports that 3 out of 4 doctor visits are stress related.

This article informed me that high school counselors have noted an escalation in stress and anxiety in recent years. And that got me wondering … why IS that? Why is Anxiety running rampant in our high school students … and in our world?

I have my theories, most of them related to the intensifying pace we accept as “normal” and the constant technological and informational bombardment we experience.

We go go go. I go pretty fast myself, from my day job to schlepping a kid somewhere to making dinner to a meeting for my second job to grabbing time with a friend. I juggle house work with work work and emails and messages and keeping track of my kids’ schedules and projects. At times my heart races. And I don’t have to worry about my “future” or which college will let me in. Today’s teens manage a lot more than I ever did.

I’ll date myself when I say I remember the 1 a.m. playing of the Star Spangled Banner and the “white noise” that followed. At that time, TV and all electronic stimuli turned Off. Something that few can say happens anymore. We are perpetually bombarded with light and sound from our cell phones. We spend our days not writing paper memos but starring at a flashing cursor and furiously typing.

I organize events in my “day job.” And I organize my kids events … and my personal activities in my “off hours.” I run between my Chamber job and my Water Works job as well as yoga classes and rehearsal schedules. I have a Google Calendar on-line so I can keep up with not only what I have planned but my son’s film projects and social outings, my husband’s social, Scout and theatre commitments, as well as my daughter’s ballet classes, student council and girl scout meetings and choir practices. Plus, I have a paper calendar to back it up, just in case.

This past weekend, I ran a big event. It’s honestly not a stressful experience — I’m very organized.  Just have lists of things to do to make it happen and run it the day of, a few fires to put out when things don’t go as planned and long, long hours. (Did I say LONG hours?) Anyway, I have to remind myself to do the “normal things” like eat 3 meals and drink water. I’ve paid the price when I didn’t take care of myself. And even when I do, I find that PTED sets in and sends me straight into the darkness.

PTED … Post Traumatic Event Disorder syndrome … is what happens after the stress of an event. I struggle with sleep and find more than a bit of Anxiety surging through my skin.  The only thing I can do is keep perspective …breathe deep, drink milk, eat Peach yogurt and bananas and — when I’m too keyed up to sleep — either read a book or watch TV til fatigue takes over and I come out of the darkness. Two days post event, I’m fine. Like nothing happened. Explaining that I’m in the throws of PTED is hard for those unafflicted.

So … Anxiety. Where is it coming from? Why are our teens so affected by it? How do we stop it? Perhaps it can’t be stopped. So … how do we Manage it?

For me … I do yoga. A lot of yoga. And Barre3. I walk and take deep breaths — and I don’t scroll Twitter, Text Messages or Facebook during that time. I drink less caffeine. I diffuse and use Young Living essential oils that support natural relief. I have a playlist to wind down with. I generally put my phone away when I get home and I spend very little time on my computer after work hours. Instead I hang out and read or binge watch episodes of Charmed or Ghost Whisperer with my daughter as we snuggle on the couch. Or I play with my cat. Some days, I meet a friend for a drink or just to hang out. Other days, I color. Or, I write … using paper and a pencil.

I unplug. And it helps. Most of the time. Sometimes the only solution is to lay low until I can come out of the darkness. Hide from the noise or demands of others. Other times it helps to talk to someone — a friend or even a therapist — about the surge of emotion and the anxiety it whips into a frenzy.  To feel the touch of a hand or the warmth of someone holding onto you until you can stop vibrating.

Sometimes there are prescriptions or medications necessary — and as Kristen Bell recently stated — there should be no stigma associated with self-care. Anxiety and the panic or depression it elicits can be paralyzing and it’s difficult to cope alone.

Our world Buzzes. And Anxiety is the pollution from that Buzzing. Breathe deep and know that you aren’t alone.

— Jenni




I’ve Been To The Zoo …

The Detroit Zoo is not far from the street where I live. I’ve visited there regularly for years — have been a member for years. As they were growing up, my kids and I spent a lot of time there. My son had his first PB&J in his stroller while we watched the construction of the Polar Bear exhibit. Though at the time, I’m pretty sure he was more excited about the trucks than the animals.

As they grew older, I packed lunches and took them in a wagon. We’d arrive at the zoo when it opened and take the train to the back. Pretty much the first thing my son asked was when and where we were going to eat lunch. Lunch at the zoo always happened early in the trip. We’d then make our way from the back to the front, stopping at different exhibits along the way.

The Zoo has changed a lot over the years. The Elephants are gone. We have a Kangaroo exhibit and a chance to feed the giraffes. There are a lot of new food areas and the play area — where my kids and I spent a ton of time — is dramatically different and smaller. My kids have grown and so we spend less time there. But recently they added a beautiful new Penguinarium. So today, I decided to go to the zoo.

I arrived with thousands. I’ve never seen so many people at the gate. The road into the entrance was backed up onto the freeway. At 10:10am — 10 minutes after the official opening — I found one of the few remaining parking spaces near the top of the parking deck. I parked and headed in — without the cooler, wagon or stroller I’d taken for so many years. It was just me. And as I successfully crowd-walked my way to the entrance and into the Zoo, I happily gazed around to take it all in.

It was a beautiful day and there were so many families. So many school groups. So many kids. I couldn’t help but smile. I remembered those days … those end of the year school trips with kids full of boundless energy. And, as I donned my headphones, selected a playlist and began my walk toward the back, I felt joyful. I was at the zoo.

There isn’t one time I go to the zoo, though, where a memory of a play I was part of in college doesn’t come to my mind. It was called Zoo Story — a one act drama written by Edward Albee. My friend Donna directed it. My friends Matt and Gary played the two male characters. And my job as “Prop Master” was to make a sack of blood that Matt would wear until the final moments when he would bleed out on stage.

The play debuted in 1960 and explored themes of isolation, loneliness, miscommunication, social disparity and dehumanization in a commercial world. And days after the two tragedies in Orlando, these themes and that story rattle about in my mind and remind me that those themes still exist and that they have terrible consequences. See Albee worked his ideas out in the Theatre of the Absurd where goofy people act nuts and do really crazy things. But the Theatre of the Absurb is … life. It’s all around us. It’s prevalently displayed in the hate, in the intolerance and in the technologically-centered, disconnected society we have become.

In the play, there’s the self-satisfied, bourgeois Peter, who is just sitting on a bench minding his own business, and then there is Jerry the outsider — the outcast who disrupts his life and sets all the crazy in motion. It’s so normal as it begins that I see glimmers of it in modern life.

“I took the subway down to the Village so I could walk all the way up Fifth Avenue to the zoo. It’s one of those things a person has to do; sometimes a person has to go a very long distance out of his way to come back a short distance correctly.” – Jerry

Okay … so back to the Zoo today. I stood a while and watched the Tiger. He was napping at first … seems a lot of the animals there are when I visit. But as I stood there, he awoke and gave himself a bath much the same way as my cat does … she is just smaller with fewer teeth.

But as I watched, kids shouted at the tiger, trying to draw its attention. To get it to entertain them or smile for the camera or other such weirdness. The kids yelled at these innocent animals who are trapped in a compound, commanding them to entertain them. And I thought about how crazy it is to cage wild beasts for the entertainment of the human population… the bourgeoisee … and well, it got me thinking about Albee and Zoo Story and how the very different characters in that play came together to remind us how separated and crazy we all are. That we are people who need people … and who desperately reach out to find acceptance and understanding. And we are aggressive and unkind to anything or anyone different who isn’t doing what we think they should be doing.

And I thought about my friends Donna and Matt, who I don’t see very often, but who played a really significant role in my life for many years — who gave me the gifts of acceptance and understanding during the tumultuous “college years” as well as more than a few years after graduation — and who still hold a special place in my heart today.

And I thought about how sad it is that there is so much hate that people like Jerry in the play have to reach out to find someone to talk to … to connect to. That they have to justify themselves or yell at others or or pull a knife or shoot people to get attention. And I thought about all the hate that prompts actions of distruction.  I thought about Jerry and Peter fighting for a bench … and the blood … and Jerry’s final word.

“Oh, Peter, I was so afraid I’d drive you away. [He laughs as best he can.] You don’t know how afraid I was you’d go away and leave me. And now I’ll tell you what happened at the zoo. I think … I think this is what happened at the zoo … I think. I think that while I was at the zoo I decided that I would walk north … northerly, rather … until I found you … or somebody … and I decided that I would talk to you … I would tell you things … and things that I would tell you would … Well, here we are. You see ? Here we are. But … I don’t know … could I have planned all this? No … no, I couldn’t have. But I think I did…. You won’t be coming back here any more, Peter; you’ve been dispossessed. You’ve lost your bench, but you’ve defended your honour.” – Jerry

See … I’ve been to the zoo. And despite all the joy I feel walking about in the lovely summer weather gazing at beautiful animals and energetic children — as well as recalling the many happy moments I’ve shared there with my kids on the train, in the play area and among the animals, the Zoo also makes me a feel a little uncomfortable. My enjoyment of creatures confined to cages unsettles me. And the sometimes aggressive nature of the kids — and the parents as well — as they shout at the animals and each other upsets me.

And I think of Orlando. And wonder if the disconnect and the hatred and the visciousness began with someone feeling isolated like the characters Albee wrote. If it began with yelling at people or things that don’t do what someone decides they should be doing. I see resemblances to a play and a world where characters lives were shattered with bloodshed and how it all began with inability to communicate.

I see brokenness in people, relationships, and our world. I read it in Zoo Story … I see it at the Zoo.

Like the character of Jerry in the play, I’ve gone a long distance to come back to my point. See, Zoo Story the play brought me in contact with people that positively impacted my life … Matt and Donna specifically … and crafted lifelong memories of laughter and more and fused me to something bigger with lasting power. So we CAN choose to connect and find commonalities. To put down our cell phones to gaze into the face of someone we care for. To make time to understand instead of separate from someone different.

To stop yelling at the animals and just enjoy time in the sunshine at the zoo …

— Jenni










Valley of the Grey aka Fifty Shades of Dolls

Dolls … a way for a girl to find security. Dolls … a friend to help a girl to lay down cares and get rest. Dolls … a source of playfulness and energy to get through the day. Dolls … something to cling to when you find your way to the top and discover what no one tells you … that it’s more fun at the bottom than at the summit.

I’m not talking Barbie or American Girl when I talk of “Dolls” here. Sure, these Dolls come in a variety of colors … green, blue, red and yellow. But they aren’t found at a toy store. In this Valley, these dolls come in prescription bottles and are more commonly referred to as stimulants, depressants, diet pills, and sleeping pills.

Assigned by the #ClassicsChallenge2016 to read a trashy novel, I made a wise selection when I chose Jacqueline Susann’s Valley of the Dolls.  It was a stirring and fascinating read with characters who possess a vibrancy that made them real to me. And the book, 50 years after its publication date, absolutely stands the test of time. It’s sexy and raw. I’d planned to pick it up at the library but when I stopped by Barnes & Noble and found one solitary copy, I didn’t hesitate … grabbing it and opening to the first words … a poem actually … to see if it was something I wanted to add to my bookshelf.

I was drawn in.

“You’ve got to climb to the top of Mount Everest to reach the Valley of the Dolls,” the poem began. “It’s a brutal climb … but the last thing you expected to find was the Valley of the Dolls. You stand there, waiting for the rush of exhilaration … but it doesn’t come … You’re alone and the feeling of loneliness is overpowering…The elements have left you battered, deafened, sightless — and too weary to enjoy your victory.”

I will admit though that like the readers of the Fifty Shades series I was tempted to wrap it in a brown paper cover. I mean, everyone’s heard about this book wrought with drug addiction and a very frank look at sexuality — it was described as “decades ahead of its time.” I’ve seen the 1980’s mini-series (with Lisa Hartman, Veronica Hamill, Catherine Hicks, David Birney and all those popular stars of the era) so I had some idea where it would go. But … what a great ride.


The cover is by no means subtle. And it hasn’t been updated since the initial publication. It still features that pink color background, cut out pills and the faces of the three main characters peeking thru — their eyes and hair styles so very 1960 with expressions wary yet strong, and no apologies for their ambitions, desires, choices and behavior..

“They say I’m difficult. They say I’m drunk even when I’m not. Sure, I take dolls – I’ve got to get some sleep. I’ve got to get up at 5 o’clock in the morning and ‘Sparkle, Neely, sparkle!'” – Neely O’Hara

There are a lot of dolls in this book. Characters pop them like candy to serve their emotional issues and help them get through their days and nights.

Valley of the Dolls is NOT Fifty Shades of Grey … thank goodness. Valley of the Dolls breathes life into characters that are so meticulously defined as to seem real. Valley of the Dolls has a feminist tone to it. And the women in it are fighters you can’t help but cheer for, more than slightly ahead of their 1945 start date.

Released in 1966, the book was an overnight success, becoming the year’s bestselling work of fiction. Since that time, it has sold 30 million copies (well, 30 million and ONE now), making it one of the bestselling books of all time.

What earns it that “bestselling” rank? Both the writing and the characters draw you in. The story is descriptive and interesting, keeping you turning the pages with enthusiasm and dread too, since you know the girls are going up and then down. You cheer for them. And you suffer with them too.

You first meet Anne, a smalltown, wealthy East Coast beauty with class who comes straight off “the boat” into New York City, determined to make her mark and experience life. She finds quick success and attracts a rich guy whose desperate to marry her. But Anne wants to hold out for real love. She finds the guy  … gets the guy … loses the guy … gets the guy back but then tries to control the guy —  her big mistake. And that plunges her from the top into that damn Valley.

In the early chapters, Anne befriends sweet Neely who lives in the same shabby apartment building. She’s a vaudeville artist originally known as Ethel Agnes O’Neill who coins her last name after spending a long evening reading Gone With The Wind. Scarlett and Neely have a lot in common, though Neely’s character is shamelessly and transparently based on Judy Garland. Neely is the first character to experience sex and share it unabashedly with all the readers (it’s Trash, remember). Neely rises to super-stardom and becomes vicious and arrogant at her peak — plunging into the psych ward but clawing her way out again with destruction in her wake.

And then we meet Jennifer — drawn clearly from the image of fascinating Marilyn Monroe — an ambitious blonde insomniac whose intelligence may be overlooked but whose beauty and buxom figure never will be. Jennifer’s sex life runs the gamut. A product of a bad home life and a needy, greedy mother, all Jennifer truly wants is to find someone to love her and have babies. And she knows how to do that. “Remember there’s only one way to own a man,” she tells Anne. “By making him want you.” And when she finds the right guy … well, that would be telling and I’m not gonna spoil it for you. But I’m sure you can guess by now that this book doesn’t have a Disney tone or a Disney ending.

The supporting characters and their adventures on the pages of this book are 3D real. You see echoes of Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra and Ethel Merman on the pages. And you find yourself cheering for Neely to find success, hoping Anne will finally have the nerve to love out loud, and longing for Jennifer to get the guy, find happiness and have that baby. And, when they start taking the pills … well … it’s devastating.

Jennifer takes the Red … the Seconals … to sleep. And the Blue to end the pain.

Neely takes the Green at first … to lose the weight … and then adds Scotch to the mix with a variety of “Dolls” to help her find strength to wake and face the gruelling, unglamourous real Hollywood life.

And Anne … sweet Anne. She holds out the longest. She’s the strongest of them all. But her love for Lyon does her in and she ends up with the Red too. To get her through.

Uppers, downers, pills to cope and pills to sleep. Plenty of sex. Glimpses of life at its real peak … before these characters find themselves lost in the Valley of the Dolls.

Read it. It’s Trashy. But Valley of the Dolls is a classic that stands the test of time. I just heard Madonna, J Lo and Anne Hathaway may be starring in a remake of the film …

— Jenni