Rosemary for Remembrance
Thinking about alternative therapies lately for health issues. It’s not like I haven’t tried herbal remedies before. Ginkgo and zinc and I still use, um, what’s it called? Starts with an E? Echinacea! I swear by that stuff for colds. Ginkgo did not help my memory, alas. But now comes a new option: rosemary.
Actually, it’s pretty old. Shakespeare wrote it into Ophelia’s speech as she goes mad with love of Hamlet, strewing flowers and herbs hither and yon. “There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance…” she says, tossing the flowers like scattering tears. Sometimes not remembering can be a blessing. Remembering better times with Hamlet, after all, is what brought about Ophelia’s suicide. Memories can be precious or poison.
But forgetting an easy word, or someone’s name, is simply annoying. When I get together with my friends, we say this forgetfulness is because we have so much more to remember now. Passwords, for example. I have a million of them. You, too, right? So maybe that somewhat wonky memory of mine is a product of life today. And maybe putting a drop of rosemary oil into my shampoo will make my hair healthier and improve my memory.
Meanwhile, I’m trying to pop fewer pills. Not because taking tons of pills is an old person cliché. I don’t mind being old; I quite enjoy it. For one thing, I have lots of time to peruse the dictionary or just putter patiently until the right word comes. It almost always does. Personally, I like pills just fine, it’s the side effects I despise. I’ve heard certain essential oils (herbs in concentrated liquid form) are cures for sleeplessness, migraine, acid reflux, even stress, which, come to think of it, probably caused all the other things.
I put a little drop of lavender into my palm last night, rubbed my hands together, and swiped the bottoms of my feet. My little instruction book said I could have put the lavender on my pillow, too. Slept like a baby. Another perk of being older, as in old enough to retire from the day job: I can stay in bed as long as I like. After slumbering a soothing eight hours (almost never happens) I lolled around in my warm cocoon for another hour, meditating. Not only had the lavender given me good rest, it had calmed me to the point of an early meditation, something I used to do regularly until anxiety to get my day started robbed me of that meditation time.
Meditation is the best way I know to cure ills, particularly mental ones like fear and panic. I regularly meditate in the afternoons (I’m happy to add a morning meditation in as well if the lavender keeps working!) and recently I added an element to a twenty year practice. I’m phobic and have been for most of my life. I’ve written about my struggles before. Until recently I thought that phobias were a permanent part of what it meant to be me. I accepted them and made peace with my less than easeful mind. Then I decided I’d try a few things, like facing my fears and learning to be braver with age.
Somehow just deciding helped. My plan was that I would, instead of immediately reaching for a pill or (worst case scenario) emergency vodka, I’d breathe and I let myself feel fear. I’d face it with the in breath and do my best to let it go with the out breath. I practiced this letting go during afternoon meditation and on sleepless dark nights. And breathed it in, tried to let it go with the out breath. I worked at it. I didn’t just auto-pop a pill or six.
When you meditate, everything slows down, so it’s very easy to watch fear unfold, to feel the heartbeat slowly accelerate. I have even meditated my way through mild panic attacks. It’s interesting. Not pleasant, but the side effects of doing this inner work are remarkable. Some months back fear of public speaking abruptly departed, and a few months later I started flying without meds. That’s actual flying in a plane, not a metaphor for euphoria. But I do feel euphoric!
Because, amazingly, without warning, in real life, phobia number three vanished a month ago. It happened in Florida while Al was driving. I knew about the bridge. I knew we’d be driving across it. I knew soon it would come into view and that would start the panicky feeling in my head, in my heart. I had already decided to let the fear come and to white-knuckle it. After all, I’d done that for years before things got too unmanageable and I went on medication.
Then, as the bridge came into my line of sight (I believe it’s the tallest suspension bridge in the world. Or maybe just the country. Or perhaps only Florida.) I didn’t feel the fear. I expected it and had my little bottles of emergency vodka in the glove box, just in case. But emergency vodka can be very inconvenient at nine o’clock in the morning, and I was hoping not to have to resort to it. So no fear. No anxiety. No panic.
To say I was amazed is making light of the liberation I felt. I was so happy and uninhibited, I opened the sunroof and popped out of the top, snapping photos as we approached the bridge. Absolutely zero fear. Also, I arrived sober at our destination, which is always nice. I gradually realized that I didn’t have to face that fear in the moment because I’d already done the work, months before. Meditating. It works.
So those are some mental miracles, but the physical ones still stubbornly cling. I’m making progress, though. My neurologist of close to two decades told me on our last visit that my migraine symptoms had decreased so dramatically that he felt I was fine to just let my GP handle the occasional medication refills. That is huge. No more “my” neurologist. No more “my” migraines.
Yeah, sure, I still stress. I still have fears. Phobias. Probably I have not experienced my last panicky moment. But full blown out of control panic attacks? I can’t remember the last time one came upon me. I had a dream last night about one of my remaining phobias. I have two left to conquer before I shuffle off this mortal coil, claustrophobia and fear of heights. I know the bridge is high, so maybe that’s all gone, but I need to tackle a mountain before I’m sure. So I had the “buried alive” dream under lavender’s spell. And I didn’t wake up in a panic. I woke up calm and ready to face anything. And that is something worth remembering.