Living accordingly

“Maybe the reason nothing seems to be ‘fixing you’ is because you’re not broken. Let today be the day you stop living within the confines of how others define or judge you. You have a unique beauty and purpose; live accordingly.” ~Steve Maraboli

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I’ve been beating myself up pretty good the past couple of days, feeling like a failure, abnormal, an alien. Feeling like an idiot for getting myself in such a desperate place again. Thinking about how hard I’ve worked to get well, to accept myself as I am, to have compassion for the trials I’ve faced and the ways in which they have shaped my journey. Berating myself for throwing all that away by willingly putting myself in a situation that has brought me to my knees once again.

What was I thinking?

Well, I thought for once I could do something meaningful for someone else. I wasn’t thinking of myself, necessarily. I was challenging myself to feel compassion for the one person in my life I felt least deserved it, but probably needed it the most. I knew I would be challenged, but I felt like I was up to the challenge and that it was almost pre-ordained by the universe. Major karma between me and my mother all these years, and I felt this would be the end.

I had no idea it would take this long. Honestly, if I had known I would still be here 6 years later with no end in sight, I might have run away screaming when she asked me to move in with her. Really, though, there was no other choice. She couldn’t live alone. What else could I have done? Looked my then 80 year-old mother, recently widowed after 60 years with the same man, living on meager Social Security and in poor health as always, in the eye and said, “no?”

Well, yes, in theory I could have. She would have died in a short time, probably, and I would have gone on with my life. I wouldn’t have felt good about that, though, and in some ways that might have been more challenging anyway. I’d still be around, and she would have called on me constantly no matter where I was.

Ultimately I would have felt like there was something more I could have done. So instead of feeling bad, I did that something more. I wasn’t being true to her so much as I was being true to myself. This is who I am, who I always have been – loyal to a fault. Like a dog. To my detriment, almost always, especially where my family is concerned.

So now I’m a better, if not happier person. I have never believed that the purpose of life is to be happy. I believe the purpose of life is to be of use. I believe in the Golden Rule. I think if there is a god, that’s really all the bible needs to say: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Treat others with love, acceptance and understanding. Even your worst enemy is a human being worthy of respect and kindness. Everyone is deserving of forgiveness, love and care.

Even my mother. I forgave her a long time ago, and now I’m working on the “love and care” part. Everyday. Mostly it’s on-the-job training, but I’m getting through. It’s so hard, especially the last few months when she has been so ill and my life has been turned upside down again, much as it was over and over as a kid by her poor health, and then later by depression. I’m tempted over and over again to question my decision to be here, and the life that led me here.

Over and over, however, I find that the answer to those questions is simply that “this is who I am.” This is who I’ve always been. I believe I have lived my life according to my purpose, even when I wasn’t really sure what that was. This is the family I got, and they are and have been my path to enlightenment. The path has been arduous – strewn with rocks and pits, over mountains and deep valleys – just like everyone else’s. I’ve been tempted to lay down my pack and stop so many times.

But I haven’t yet, and I hope I won’t. As I have gone on I’ve become stronger, better equipped, and better at seeing the way ahead. I can’t see where the path ends, but the next step is clear, and maybe the next step after that. I try to stay in the moment, and I find I’m happier if I don’t think about what’s ahead. I’m tired, but I focus on putting one foot in front of the other and that’s all. Just keep moving I tell myself every morning when the alarm goes off.

Get up, and just keep moving. I’ll be where I need to go soon enough.

Wasting Away

“To do the useful thing, to say the courageous thing, to contemplate the beautiful thing: that is enough for one man’s life.”
T.S. Eliot, The Use of Poetry and the Use of Criticism

I caught up with a childhood friend yesterday on Facebook. She and I were best friends and neighbors until she moved away when we were both 14. I’ve seen her once since then – 30 years or so ago when she came back to town to visit her mother – but then we lost touch. It was nice to see pictures of her now and to hear about her life, but it made me sad, too.

When asked to superficially describe my life I find the only thing I’m comfortable talking about is my work. I don’t want to admit that much of my life was determined by the severity and duration of the chronic depression I’ve struggled with since high school, and the rest by my obligation to my parents. I feel good about myself and the fact that I’ve survived the depression and done right by my family, until I’m talking to someone else, especially someone I grew up with. Then I find that I feel that – compared to them – I’ve wasted my life. Or, at least, that I have nothing to show for it.

On the face of it, anyway. In the condensed Facebook version you can’t see how much I’ve grown as a human, or what I went through just to be alive now. On the surface, it seems like maybe I took the “easy way out” by staying in my hometown and living a “small” life by myself. Maybe I was lazy or scared and couldn’t manage anything more important or exciting. Or more normal. 

What’s not clear is that my life has been the hardest way out, for me, anyway, because none of it is what I wanted or dreamed of. I’ve had to deal with the worst things I could imagine as a child – never getting away from my family and being alone all my life. I didn’t ask for depression; it just took over. I didn’t ask to have the parents I got or to feel obligated to them. I didn’t choose any of the things that made other choices impossible as my life went on. I have always just made the best of what I was given, which in terms of freedom to choose, was not a lot.

In the vast realm of human suffering, my life doesn’t even register on the scale, but it was hard for me. It’s been a struggle. I don’t have anything to show for it except that I AM STILL HERE. Still getting out of bed every morning and facing the days as they come. Going through a very difficult time right now and hoping that things will get better, but knowing they may not for a while, and still getting out of bed.

Every. Single. Day.

That’s worth something, isn’t it? Not giving up? Still trying to be a good person, and trying to do the right thing. Isn’t that valuable? I think so. But it doesn’t condense well, and that will always be a problem for me, as much of what goes on between people never goes below the surface.

I know, though. I know the whole story and I know I’m alright. My life has been worthwhile. I haven’t wasted anything. Most importantly, the ending hasn’t been written yet. There is more to come and I will keep showing up for whatever it is with the best that I have to offer.

 

Journeying on

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I struggle to remember this everyday now. I have every reason to believe my life will go on after my current situation is over, and that belief is what keeps me going. If I thought this situation with my mother would be unchanged for the rest of my life I think I would give up.

It’s hard and I look forward to the end, while trying to stay in the present. Not an easy task when the present is so unpleasant and difficult in so many ways, and life beyond it is freedom.  The end is not in sight, though, so I try to remember that living in the future and wanting something different than what is happening now is the very definition of unhappiness.

This is what is, and this is what I have to deal with. It’s not permanent, but some days it seems so, and I guess that’s what’s hard. I can’t see the end, and though I keep telling myself, this too shall pass, it doesn’t.

Over and over things seem to get better – I might have part of a day in which mom is feeling pretty good and work is okay and all the housework is done – but in an instant it’s gone. Mom is calling for me with some problem, and/or, as in the case last weekend, we get 2 feet of snow that I had to deal with for 5 days. Or I feel like I’m pretty on top of things at work and catching up from all the time I missed in the last two weeks, and I get an email that in an instant changes everything and I’m behind again.

I wake up in a panic every morning thinking about the day and all the problems that could be waiting for me, anxiety crushing my chest. I’m tired before I even start. In the shower, in the car, at my desk, in my chair in the living room in the evening, I tell myself: Everything ends. This is not forever. I know that’s true, but it doesn’t feel like that, and I’m tempted to lose heart.

I’m just so tired.

So at those times I allow myself to think about my hope for the future: About a time after my mother is gone and I can move back into my little house, and have only myself and the cats to worry about. I could travel again, and have time out with friends, go for walks and bike rides; do the things I enjoy doing. The things that make life enjoyable for me.

But I can’t linger there. That’s not reality now and while it does give me hope to think about that time, I have to be present in this time to do what needs to be done. This is all there is right now. Until it’s over, this is where my energy belongs.

This is my journey, not my permanent destination, so the only thing I can do is keep moving. It always comes back to that, doesn’t it?

JUST KEEP MOVING.

 

 

Looking back, looking ahead

When I was younger I lost huge blocks of time – days, sometimes weeks – lost in the fog of depression. Everything just stopped for a while and then when the depression lifted, I went back to doing the things I liked to do – the things that made life worth living. My life.

I couldn’t lose my job, so I put every bit of what little energy I had into getting there most days during those times. Some days I did nothing but sit in my office and stare at the wall for 8 hours, but I was there, and I stayed employed.

That’s what life during those times boiled down to: focus on that one thing – the thing that had to happen so I could go back to my life when I was well again. Most days when I got home from work I went to bed. The next day I would do it again, and the next, and the next, until slowly, as the depression lifted, I could begin living fully again.

This time I’m spending caring for my mother feels like that time again, and it scares me. I find myself using some of the same techniques I used in those days to maintain my life so I can go back to it when things get better. I don’t have time, opportunity, or energy to do any of the things I enjoy; the things that keep me healthy. I have to postpone appointments, get togethers with friends, daily walks, posting on this blog – the list is long.

My focus this time is trying to eat properly and working as much as I can. This last week 1/2 days, next week, hopefully 6 hours per day. I keep telling myself I survived all those years with the depression, and I will survive this. I will survive this, and then I will have to rebuild my life just as I did before.

What’s different this time is that I don’t have to hide what’s going on. There is nothing shameful about caring for a family member, and everyone has been very supportive, and for that I’m grateful, especially at work. There was nothing shameful about the depression, either, but I didn’t know that then, and I had no support.

There weren’t drugs then like there are now, and I didn’t know anyone else who struggled as I did. I felt broken and different, and I did everything I could to conceal what I was going through from everyone I knew. Sooner or later that deception ended most of my relationships, so I was even more isolated, but that actually made it all easier.

I don’t have to do any of that now, and I’m very grateful for that difference. This is hard, but it isn’t as hard as that was, and I’m so much better-equipped to deal with the disruption now. I’m ready to get back to my life, but it’s not time yet, so I’m just hanging on. I know someday I’ll get back to it all and then I will be able to enjoy it all the more knowing that’s it all for a reason, and that I’ve spent the time away doing something worthwhile. My mother will be better (I hope), and I will be better for the experience.

So it’s the same in some ways, but very different also, and I have to keep reminding myself of that. I’m going forward, not backward, and it’s okay.

This too shall pass.

 

Not going down

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I have never liked the idea of “every man for himself.” I’m an Aquarian. I’m much more of a “we’re all in this together” kind of girl. I’m beginning to understand the concept of “every man (or woman)” though. You can’t let someone drag you under if saving them will kill you, too. There is no point in dying for a principle. Life is too precious.

If you can save the other person and yourself – awesome. That’s noble. If saving them endangers you, however, no dice, especially if they’re not willing to try to save themselves. Remember the Poseidon Adventure? It was so sad when Shelley Winters died. That haunted me for weeks. Now I realize that ultimately it was her choices in life that led to her demise – because of the way she had lived her health was too poor to survive swimming to safety. Her husband couldn’t save her, so he had to go on alone.

That’s really sad, but the reality of life is that there are consequences to our decisions and actions. There isn’t always going to be a happy ending. There is no script. There is only what is and how you deal with what is and if you choose not to deal with what is then nothing can be done for you.

That seems harsh, doesn’t it? But…THAT’S LIFE. Everyone has to face that fact sooner or later. I can’t change that reality for anyone and they can’t change it for me. Pretending that something isn’t happening, or wishing it was happening differently are behaviors we have to leave behind in childhood, or we make ineffective adults. We hurt ourselves and those around us. The only way to deal with life and its struggles is head on, eyes wide open; with compassion for ourselves, because, man, is it hard.

Straight ahead, nonetheless.

Do I feel compassion for someone who is struggling? Absolutely. My heart breaks with compassion and empathy. I will try to help if I can, but if I can’t, either because it’s not within my power or because the person won’t accept help, then I have to let go. Especially if I am to keep moving on. If I get stuck in that heartbreak then I’m doomed, too.

I intend to survive for as long as I can on my own terms, dealing with my own stuff. Period. This is the only life I get, and I mean to protect it. I’ll help you if I can, brothers and sisters, cuz that’s the Aquarian way. If it takes too much out of me, though, you’re on your own. I’ll be over here cheering you on, but I’m not going to risk my life to save yours. You make your choice and I make mine:

I want to live.