A little bit of life, love, and artisan jewelry but mostly the

Home of the Confused Muse..

Where you will find the meadering thoughts of an actively artistic brain - as well as my latest creations, events, soapboxes, dramas, crisis, blessings, and life in general.

This is also the home of "ChrissyMarie Jewelry and Accessories", named for my daughter! Twenty-Five Percent of all sales from this line are donated to B.I.T.S. aka "Better in the Saddle", a local non-profit Equine Assisted Therapy Program ....because we KNOW horses help make miracles!


June 29, 2010

A Quiet Mind...

Meet two of my Heroes. The big guy with four legs is "Boo", a Missouri Fox Trotter and Equine Assisted Therapy horse.  The guy leading him is Pat, my Instructor.  This duo has turned my life upside down over the last couple of weeks. 
I had planned to post here every day while this experiment was in process but I never seem to have the time!  Although it is not a long drive to the barn, the traffic has been horrific because the highway on my route is under construction.  Damn those orange cones!  It's a double edged sword, the highway definitely needed work but the idiot drivers out there sharing the road with the rest of us make it a truly unpleasant experience.  I get really tense in heavy traffic especially when so many people ignore the "left lane ends ahead" sign and then cause a traffic jam in the middle of nowhere because they are trying to squeeze in at the last minute.  I mean, really, if I can read the sign and follow the directions I would assume a "normal" person could do it better :)

The point is this: I have trouble figuring out how to schedule my time.  I'm always running late. It takes a while for Chrissy and I to get ready to leave what with changing into blue jeans and boots, remembering to take ice water along, and covering all the miscellaneous details. I just can't seem to gauge how long it's going to take even though I've been doing it for a couple of weeks now.  My inability to figure out what time we have to leave almost always gets us tied up in traffic. My anxiety level starts to rise, I get terribly impatient, and the STRESS sets in.
I would drive through flood waters to get to that barn and the white horse waiting for me there.  He has become my friend and a source of relief from the physical pain and mental frustration I live with almost constantly.  He is trustworthy and comforting and I am finally experiencing what I can only assume to be the equal of a "runner's high".  Riding Boo provides me with a time and space of my own to leave my worries behind and turn down the volume in my head.  Pat or Chrissy lead him so I don't really have to worry about where we're going.  I've learned to relax enough that most of the time I do not have a tight grip on the saddle but allow my hands to rest on each side of the horn. "Relaxed but Ready!" is the mantra I hear from Pat's soft and soothing directions.  I just sit and enjoy the gentle rocking of Boo's steady gait. I concentrate on breathing with his hoof steps and becoming tuned in to his natural rhythms.

When I first started riding it was hard to keep from conversing with Pat about all of the day to day "stuff".  I'm a talker and always have been.  It's the way I work things out in my head.  Now... conversation is almost an intrusion in that "quiet place".  I'm developing a quiet mind.  Before this program began I can honestly say I had no idea what it felt like.  My mind has always been this way. I have A.D.D. (Attention Deficit Disorder) and now with the brain injury it's like having "A.D.D. on Steroids"! My brain runs at high speed constantly, flitting from one subject to the next, seldom resting. My thoughts must look like a hummingbird in flight, zipping from one blossom to the next while batting it's wings like crazy just to stay aloft. 

Riding has allowed me to experience for the first time in my life a kind of self-induced peacefulness.  Can you say "Ohm"?  Yes, I'm aware of the obvious facts...I'm sitting on top of a 1200 pound animal that could startle or stumble at any moment. Boo is after all, a prey animal.  He is calm and easy going for the most part but he is always aware of his surroundings.  He is not fond of the beeping car horns of friendly neighbors as they drive by.  He is always on the look out for the "lion in the tall grass"...even if it's just one of the family dogs chasing a rabbit.  He seems to know just when and where to adjust his step to avoid the slick spot that might cause him to lose his footing. I can feel him tense during those times just as he can feel the slightest stiffening of my muscles.  Most of the time I get the feeling Boo is just as concerned for my safety as his own. 

I am not afraid on the back of this horse.  In fact,  I am sometimes so relaxed that I "startle" just a little when he takes the occasional misstep, or responds to an unexpected noise or movement in the grass.  Even so, I have learned to relax and trust his instincts and I am amazed at how easy this part of the journey has been. I am amazed at my own reactions!  I have never felt a moment of panic when Boo spooks or is startled. Even my daughter (who has taken to "mothering" me") is impressed.

Yes, I do need the constant coaching of my daughter and my Instructor to gently guide me and remind me check my "center" and to watch for the first signs of pain, spasm, or aching. They have to remind me to get off this gentle ride before I get too tired. Do you have any idea how amazing it is that I am so unaware of my own pain that I must be reminded to check for it?   I feel truly blessed to be involved in this experience, to have the loving guidance of people who are quietly cheering me on, and to have met this horse who never fails to show patience and compassion both during and after I ride.  His soft nuzzles on my neck are better than any massage.

The extra bonus....my drive home, no matter how heavy the traffic, doesn't stress me out!  I am sleeping deeply and for longer periods of time after I ride.  I'm taking less medication and having less pain.  My brain remains calmer and more centered for hours afterward.  I am definitely feeling the benefits of Equine Assisted Therapy for Adults!  The only drawback?  I'm just too relaxed and calm to post to my blog every day.  I don't want to think too hard...it might take away my "Zen" mood :)

June 25, 2010

Riding my hiney off and my stress away....

The second day I rode Boo was much better than the first.  This time I was able to relax a little more.  I still struggled a bit with the mount and dismount, those will be some the more difficult things to master at this point.  What I did notice was a little more acceptance from my ride.  The first day I rode Boo he pretty much just snorted and walked away from me.  Today he seemed to recognize me and accept my presence in the barn.

Once again Pat and Chrissy took turns leading while the other stayed close to my side...just in case :)  I worked on deep breathing, keeping my head up and learning to relax to the sounds around me.  There are a lot of songbirds, trees, a couple of ponds, and beautiful flowers all around me.  I began to realize I can still see them with my head up looking at the horizon. I can still listen to them with my helmet on if I allow my  mind to be clear and calm.  I can "breathe" in time with the hoof beats of my horse....breathe in (one, two, three, four) breathe out (one, two, three, four), and relax. I'm learning to focus my thoughts on "the ride" and getting used to feeling "centered".  I've a ways to go...I find myself thinking about jewelry designs, things I'd like to write about, and everyday "stuff".  I need to learn to clear my brain and just focus on Boo and Me.  That's a tough one but I'll get there!

By the end of the second lesson I was feeling comfortable and relaxed emotionally but the pain in my lower back and the muscle spasms were a reminder to get off the horse.
I dismounted and that was still very difficult for me, both physically and emotionally. I was very aware of how awkward I was.  Graceful is not a word I would use to describe my dismount at this point. I know I will get better but for now it's just flat embarrassing!

 The muscles in my lower back just aren't loose enough or strong enough to pull my leg over the saddle alone.  Not only that, to dismount you have to move the upper body in the opposite direction.  For instance, to dismount on the left I have to lean my upper body forward and to the right of the horses head while trying to tell my lower body to move the opposite direction.  My brain just won't let me go there.  I get "stuck" when I think about it, therefore I need help.  I hate that part!  I want to be independent of help when mounting and dismounting!  Well, maybe a little help would be okay but just to hold the horse and saddle when I need to get on and off.  I do appreciate the mounting block!  My short legs would have a hard time getting up and over such a tall horse. I don't know how many "hands" high Boo is, but he's a big guy!

Today, after riding, I tried to give Boo a gentle stroke and thank him for allowing me to ride.  He actually turned his head toward me!  I leaned forward to give him a hug and BAM! smacked him right in the head with my riding helmet.  He was fine, I was mortified!  Thank goodness he decided to be gracious and ignore the head bump :)  He did accept the carrot I offered afterwards with vigor!

I'm so looking forward to my next ride.  You know....I don't think my back hurts nearly as bad after I ride...time will tell.  I know I feel calmer and walking around afterwards helps stretch any tight muscles in my legs, back, and thighs.  It feels GOOD!

I may just sleep tonight!

June 18, 2010

A Life without Jewelry...is it even possible for me?

I've been wondering for a while if I should take a little time off from jewelry design. So I made a list of "pros" and "cons"...

Pros: Time to get my house in order, organize my files, spend more time with my family, write about non-jewelry subjects. Spend much needed time taking care of ME (Doctor's orders), My dear husband, and my Dear Daughter. Try NEW things! Spend more time playing with my dogs.(I have one, a rescue, who doesn't know how to play. We need to teach her!) De clutter my life....the list goes on and on.

Cons: Lost sales, loss of "my place" in the jewelry community, loss of my Identity as a creative jewelry designer, less stress, less paperwork, less pressure to keep up with my creative friends.

The Con list is short but that doesn't mean it's less important. I've worked hard to create a small following of loyal clients both online and locally. I'm afraid to walk away, even for a little while from this passion and my "jewelry identity". It is still fairly new to me and very precious.  I spent 45 years as a "left brainer" with a Type A personality.  This new version of me - the one since my brain injury - is the "right brainer" and I'm still getting used to the "new Adrienne". How do I find the courage to just walk away?

The real question here is "How long can I continue to run this business without sacrificing my health and home?" The second,  a nagging presence in the back of my mind.... "Is this what I'm supposed to be doing right now?" What is God's plan for my life in this moment in time? I need to find out.

Something has to give. I'm afraid my Muse is getting rather bored and even a little rusty! It seems I spend more time working on the "business stuff"...you know, taxes, paperwork, photographing my work, writing up descriptions, and filing, filing, filing! The creative, fun, therapeutic side of my art has been lost in the business. My Muse is feeling neglected and ignored. I used to spend so much time playing with my designs, enjoying the creative process, learning new techniques. I literally dreamed up jewelry designs in my sleep! Making jewelry was and is a healing process for me. It's the "selling jewelry" portion of this business I dread and deplore.

Having looked carefully at my lists I have been thinking a sabbatical from the rat race of photographing, listing, selling, mailing, figuring out fees would be good for me. I had planned to start the new year way back in January with a fresh new logo, and lots of brand new listings, networking and advertising galore. Then...

Life got really big in my house. In the fall just before the holidays my body just hit "the wall", a term my husband uses quite often. The side effects of a Mild Traumatic Brain Injury, Fibromyalgia, a severe Vitamin D Deficiency and Chronic infections caught up and dragged me down. Just surviving the holidays was a great accomplishment! Sales were pathetic because advertising, listing, and networking was under par. My bad.

In March, just as I was beginning to regain a little energy, my daughter was badly burned in a cooking accident at home. I launched myself into cleaning wounds and changing bandages. Although she recovered much faster than anyone predicted and I am so very grateful for that gift, physically I was back in the same worn down condition.

April came and I thought Spring would provide lift and inspiration! It did provide inspiration. Unfortunately I developed terrible pain in my legs, back and pelvic regions. I couldn't walk! Finally I gave in and went to the Emergency Room only to be admitted for a battery of tests that resulted in few answers. Bone loss, bulging disks in my spine, and arthritis have taken hold. I spent a couple of weeks on ice packs and pain pills then decided I was too darned young to be benched on the sidelines of my own life.

Then it was discovered my husband is also a Traumatic Brain Injury Survivor!  The cause of his injury occurred before we met and the symptoms had always been there, we just were not able to recognize them for what they were. I was so efficient in handling the details, organizing, and running the family we didn't realize he had lost the ability to do those things until I no longer could.  Our lives began to fall apart and I couldn't understand why.  Now I "get it"!  He is just like me :)  Although I'm glad we finally know and understand the "why" we now have to figure out the "how" of managing a home with three brain injured adults living under the same roof. Can you say S-T-R-E-S-S!?  LOL!

A serendipitous opportunity came my way! My daughter, a former disabled rider in a local Equine Assisted Therapy Program was asked to assist our friend Pat with an experimental program. They needed her assistance with the horses. While speaking with Pat, a NAHRA certified instructor and horse owner, I found that he was offering this therapy program at no expense to three riders he would choose to participate. He would use his own well trained horses, on his property, and he would be the only instructor. The riders would spend as much time riding during the month of May as possible. The reason for this experiment was to find the answer to one question...Would riding a therapy horse more often and for longer periods of time be more beneficial to the handicapped or disabled riders? Most programs offer clients/riders one therapy session per week lasting approximately twenty to thirty minutes. We've all heard "less is more" but it is true in this situation? Maybe "more is better" in the world of Equine Therapy.
Pat's theory had even captured the attention of local hospitals and therapists. He and I were working out the details of Chrissy's volunteer time..what days he would need her help, how many hours per day, etc. when I asked him how many riders he had lined up. He told me he had two riders lined up but was looking for another. The two were both children with different forms of Autism. The mothers of the children would be required to keep a daily journal of the progress or problems they would observe during this experiment.

I really don't know what made me do it but I suddenly asked if he would consider taking on an adult rider with multiple issues....me. After a moment of surprised consideration he agreed. It would be interesting to see the benefits or problems I would experience with my own physical and mental challenges and it would be interesting to get the responses directly from the "rider" rather than from the mother's point of view. As an adult I could voice my own feelings, fears, opinions and progress - something that had yet to be considered.

After committing to the month long program I realized I was TERRIFIED! I wasn't comfortable around horses, hadn't ridden since I was just a small child, and started to question whether I could even handle the riding exercises in my physical condition. I almost chickened out but Pat wouldn't let me and neither would my daughter!

So, in the end, I guess the decision was made for me. I would take a short break from my business for the month of May 2010 to experience something new. We'll see how I feel at the end of this experience. It's possible I will be ready to jump back into my business...or not. I may discover freedom in stepping forward to try something new and relief in taking a step back from the "normal",

I'll keep you posted. In the meantime I won't be listing new products, or taking new orders. I'll be listening to my inner spirit and hopefully discovering new inspiration. See you soon!

(Note: I originally posted this a few weeks ago but somehow managed to post it to a different page. If you've read my post Meeting Boo...the first day of riding you have already seen the first post about the actual experience. Have I confused you completely? If so, I completely understand :) The important thing is that you understand...this post should have come first. After you read it you may want to click on the link and read about my first experience with riding Boo......)

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June 09, 2010

Meeting Boo...the first day of riding.

On May 2, 2010 I arrived at the barn to begin my month long commitment to the experimental Equine Assisted Therapy program.  I went pre-medicated knowing I would have a "melt down" without the drugs to keep my anxiety and muscle spasms under control.  Despite the medication I was nervous.  I went into the barn to meet Boo, the white Missouri Fox Trotter I would be riding.  He really wanted nothing to do with me, a stranger in his barn. His aloof attitude stung me just a little.  I'd been reading a bit about the connection between a rider and his horse and decided to try an approach I'd read about.  Feeling a little silly I carefully approached the horse and whispered in his ear, "Hi Boo.  I'm here to ride you today. I'm scared and a little nervous.  Please be patient with me while I learn."  He snuffled a little but I wasn't sure he understood my request.

After a few verbal instructions and setting up two mounting blocks to allow me to mount the horse without stressing any of my muscles I was ready to begin. (Big deep breath!)  I struggled to mount Boo. I was high enough to simply step forward into the stirrup but finding the muscle strength, courage, and coordination to climb on was a challenge.

 I was on his back a total of six minutes, so tense I could hardly breathe, and on the verge of a full blown panic attack. But in that six minutes, with the slow, gentle gait of the horse, the soothing voice of my instructor, the beautiful surroundings, and the encouraging smiles of my daughter I experienced hope. It felt good and yet it was a poignant experience.  I had always wanted to ride horses but it wasn't something my parents were willing to provide on our cattle farm.  Cattle = $$ but Horses = Expense. I had dreamed of riding free but here I was, at 51 years old, riding a therapy horse because of a multitude of medical issues.  Not exactly the circumstances I'd imagined.

We walked SLOWLY around the paddock.  My daughter leading the horse and Pat, my instructor walking by my side constantly coaxing and encouraging me to breathe and relax as much as I possibly could. (Breathe IN, Breathe OUT), and then it was over.  I spent a few minutes learning to just sit and relax my muscles, not an easy assignment for me. The first ride was short but I'd done it and without falling off or injuring myself, the horse, or my instructors

My first dismount was embarrassingly painful and difficult. I couldn't get my brain to let my body do what it was supposed to do.  The instructions were "backwards" and I really had to struggle to dismount.  I kept thinking, "This isn't how I remember doing it" but my instructor was patient and I finally managed to drag my right leg over the back of my horse and still needed Pat to assist by pulling on my leg just to get it over.  Poor Boo, I was bumping him with the toe of my boot the entire time.  He must have thought me a terribly awkward ride. Pat watched me carefully for balance issues, helped me walk around the paddock to loosen up and get my bearing and questioned me about any vision problems or other possible side effects.  I thought I was just fine!

The one thing I wasn't prepared for were the overwhelming emotions. I felt the tears begin to roll down my face and was surprised to realize I was crying. My instructor told me to "let it go..the release would be good for me." He comforted me as if I were one of the child riders, let me regain my composure and then instructed me to take a slow, steady walk back to my car. He had me stroll around the flower gardens, visit with his wife - Boo's owner, and when he was sure I was able; allowed me to drive home.

That night I slept for the first time in months. Even with heavy medication I have a terrible time closing my eyes and shutting down enough to rest.  Many nights I don't sleep at all.  That night I was able to fall asleep within four hours of taking my medication and experienced a deep restorative sleep. Amazing.