Signposts

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Winston Churchill has been a hero of mine for quite a while. To me, he embodies the word “resilience,” and that’s something that has meant a lot to me over the years. My goal throughout all of my life, through some pretty rough stuff, has simply been to keep going. No matter what.

I didn’t want to. There have been plenty of times, deep in the cold morass of the blackest depression, especially, that I’ve thought of giving up. In the middle of bitter disappointment, abject failure, burning rejection, aching loss, I asked myself, “Why?”

Why keep going? What is this all for? What will change?

I didn’t give up, though, and it turns out the answer to all those questions is: ME.

Life hasn’t changed – it’s still hard, and will always be so, but I’ve changed. Turns out I’ve always been resilient, though I didn’t think of myself that way. When I look back at my life, though, I see it. I kept getting up. I took some pretty hard blows, but I got up every time and went on. Bruised and bleeding, for sure, but I got back on my feet and I went on. Every. Time. Sometimes I had help, sometimes I didn’t. Either way, I was the one who had to find the strength to go forward and I did.

As I’ve gotten older I find that I get up faster and that I see those difficult times differently. That’s what’s changed. I see the benefit, the opportunity for growth, quicker than I used to, and while I probably still don’t welcome hardship, I am able to embrace it more fully and faster than I used to. For that I’m deeply grateful.

Last weekend brought me to my knees, literally and figuratively. It pressed all the buttons, hard. In thinking about it now, though, I realize a couple of important shifts.

First, I didn’t get angry. Amazing, cuz that’s my first reaction to most everything unpleasant, typically. I didn’t this time, though cuz I didn’t take it personally. I joked about being punished for taking time off, but it really was a joke, not something I truly believed. It was all just stuff that happened, and I got that right away.

Second, I didn’t make more of it than it was. I did what needed to be done, for myself and then later, for my mom, which is normal. I’ve always been good in a crisis. Afterward, though, I didn’t obsess about it for days and days, and that’s new. It was nasty, and not something I hope to go through again anytime soon, but it’s over. Life goes on.

Resilience.

Never give up. Never, never, never, never. We all have the capacity – that resilience. All creatures are resilient, but for humans it’s different, in that we have a choice. You have to make it over and over.

Everyone I know goes through really rough stuff, again andagain; really gnarly rotten stuff. We all have our own curriculum here in Earth school, so the obstacles are different for all of us, but there are always obstacles, no matter who you are, or how in control you think you are. There is no way to do it “right” so that everything goes well for you. There just isn’t. There’s no point to that. We don’t learn from easy.

We don’t get stronger. We don’t get better, unless we’re challenged. That’s another thing unique to humans. That’s just the way it is. Getting angry, or bitter, or blaming someone else, or numbing out in some way is not helpful. Those are not ways of going on; they are ways of getting stuck.

Stand up. Dig deep and find your own resilience. It’s in there. Shake off the past. It’s over. Look ahead. Check in with yourself right now. Figure out what you need to do to keep going and do that thing, whatever it is. Take care of yourself and soothe your wounds. Reach out if you need help.

Then go on. Take a step, and then another,  and before you know you’re on to the next thing. The other thing – the past – that’s a part of you now, part of your life resume. It’s not all of you, though. You got through that. Pat yourself on the back. You did it!

There will be more, and you’ll do that, too. Cuz you just keep going. That’s all there is. There is no other way. No matter what. Through all of it – the highest highs and the lowest lows – all that this amazing human life has to offer.

Never give in – never, never, never, never. Thank you Mr. Churchill, for showing me the way.

What it’s like here

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Autobiography in Five Chapters

ONE

I walk down the street
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk
I fall in
I am lost … I am hopeless
It isn’t my fault
It takes forever to find a way out

TWO

I walk down the same street
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk
I pretend I don’t see it
I fall in again
I can’t believe I’m in the same place
But it isn’t my fault
It still takes a long time to get out

THREE

I walk down the same street
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk
I see it is there
I still fall in … it’s a habit
My eyes are open
I know where I am
It is my fault
I get out immediately

FOUR

I walk down the same street
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk
I walk around it

FIVE

I walk down another street

© 1977 Portia Nelson


I love it when the universe sends me a love note. They don’t always get through – my “mailbox” isn’t always open, I’m sad to say – but when they do, they are appreciated. This time the love showed up in the form of this poem, which, at the time I heard it for the first time this week, snatched all the air from body in a most insistent way for a moment or two, and hasn’t given it all back yet. It made me laugh, and then it made me want to cry, cuz, man, ain’t it the truth?!

This is the autobiography of all of us. For each of us the streets and the holes are different, but we’re all out there everyday falling prey to the again-ness of life over and over and over and over, aren’t we? You drag yourself out of whatever hole – hell – you stumbled into, and then, right around the corner, there it is again. Different hole, maybe, but the same stinking pile of muck at the bottom of it.

Again.

Yep. That’s life. The poem ends, but the holes don’t, even on another street. The autobiography continues to be written for as long as you’re walking around, right? Many more than five chapters, I hope. Some of my holes have been patched. Some of the really big ones, I’m happy to say. But I’m always discovering new ones, or old ones on new streets.

Most recently I encountered one of the larger craters on my particular street – my birthday.  It comes around every year, and that’s a good thing, right? I’m so happy to be alive for another year. Truly. I never thought I’d live this long, so every year is another milestone reached. I couldn’t be more grateful for the life I have and for the life I’ve lived.

The hole’s still there, though, of course. In the bottom of that particular gaping pit labeled “Birthday” is a great big pile of steaming, stinking dung that I’ve plunged into every year for a long time. Even when I finally could get out, I still had the stench of it all over me for a while.

Adoption. Loss. Rejection. Abandonment. Muck. The anniversary of the pain of my entry into the world, for me, and for everyone involved. A month later joy for my adoptive parents – yes! But that day, there was only the sadness of a young women giving birth to her first child in a strange place – a baby she would never see or hold or care for – and the sadness and fear of a baby without a mother.

Ugly Black Sticky Stinky Muck.

Though I have no conscious memory of the day, that baby resides somewhere in me still, and she is hurt, and angry and so, so sad. When I was a kid and a young adult, I was sad only for myself, and I was down there in that hole alone, unable to share my pain with anyone else. As I got older and could better understand my birthmother’s experience of that day and the days after, I was sad for both of us.

Now it’s a part of my autobiography, but not the all-consuming story it was for so many years. I don’t fall in that hole very often anymore. In recent years I’ve stumbled over it a couple of times on the actual day, which is mostly the only time I think of those events anymore, but I haven’t fallen in. It’s not the months’ long slog through the depths trying to claw my way out that I experienced as a younger person. Thank goodness for that.

This year, I didn’t even stumble over the hole. I saw it was there. I stopped, said a little prayer of gratitude for both my birthmother and I, and then walked around. I realized that it really doesn’t matter anymore. It probably didn’t really matter for as long as I agonized over it, but that’s just the way it happened, and I forgive myself for that. This is my autobiography, and I’m writing it with my one-of-a-kind pen. If I could have done it differently I would have.

I wish her and myself well. Happy Birthday to both of us. We’ve survived. Our lives went on, chapters have been added, and our autobiographies are still being written. She’ll be 77 in August and now I’m 58. We made it to another street.

Wow.

I would like to meet her, but that’s probably not going to happen. We corresponded 10 years ago, or so, and she answered all my questions. That contact helped me make peace with the whole thing, and I’ll always be grateful to her for that kindness. I’m sure it cost her something. She doesn’t want to meet me, and though I wish she felt differently, I have to respect her choice. She doesn’t owe me anything. She gave me the greatest gift of all – life – and that’s enough.

So on to the next chapter. There will be more of all of it: streets, holes, chapters. A lot more, I hope. For all of us. Each of us writing our own autobiographies, describing for each other our own again-ness, sharing our stories of what it’s like here in these bodies on this planet at this time, in this moment. Right now. Tell me yours and I’ll tell you mine.

Happy Birthday to me. Happy Birthday, Linda.

Many more.

In the Bleak Midwinter

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The light returns home
And illuminates the heart.
Candle burns bright.

The solstice holds deep meaning for me; much more than Christmas. The return of the light in winter has been a powerful metaphor for surviving depression for me since I was quite young. I was raised in the Episcopal church and the season of Advent has always appealed to me, too – the weekly lighting of the candles, and the anticipation of the return of the Light. The imagery continues to resonate with me, though I no longer attend services or believe most of the liturgy surrounding it.

Hanukkah – the Festival of Lights – appeals to me also, for the same reasons, though I’m not Jewish and I don’t know anyone who is. It’s also about overcoming oppression (darkness), represented by the lighting of the menorah candles each night.

It’s all so powerful, and no accident, I’m sure, in this otherwise desolate season.

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I have lived most of my life in Michigan, above the 45th parallel, and here we have a lot of winter and not much sunlight for most of the year. I love Spring and Summer cuz I love to be outside, especially on my bike, but also because I need color and sound, which are life for me. Unfortunately, those seasons are brief, and Winter’s quiet and dark monochrome days go on and on here. Each day without sunlight and warmth and color is a hammer blow to my fragile brain chemistry.

The imagery surrounding this season of the light – hope, warmth, life – returning is powerful to someone struggling in the darkness, metaphorical or otherwise. It’s all about hope and possibility and overcoming whatever it is in your life that has dimmed the light within you and requires renewal.

Happy Solstice, friends. The future looks brighter from here. 😉

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Rock hard

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I saw this tweet last night and it made me laugh. It summed up so wonderfully this past week, and really, the more I thought about it, the last 7 years. A kidney stone! Yes.

Hard. Painful. Perfect.

It’s the again-ness of life that is so hard. It’s the same stuff over and over and over and over again, until you think you can’t stand to go through it one more minute. You do, of course, because this is life and for better or worse, this is all there is. And the kidney stones?

That’s what it’s all about.

When all is said and done, moving forward gracefully, freely, and authentically in life requires the pain of letting go that which no longer serves us, even though it’s excruciatingly painful and it seems to take forever sometimes.

The past week has very nearly done me in. Personal health issues, my mother’s bottomless pit of health problems, work challenges, and the weather all gave me a run for my money this week, and I’m a little worse for wear.

The proverbial stone hasn’t passed yet, though. It’s still in there grinding away at my insides. Nothing has passed except time, nothing has changed. All the same old stuff just goes on and on… Five years until retirement. Who knows how long my mother will hang on, or how long the cold and wind will persist in the glacial Spring awakening this year.

I keep reminding myself that nothing lasts forever, that all is well in this moment, even when it isn’t, and that there is more to life than the crap. It’s hard to see, especially when the again-ness is what is most evident lately. The hits just keep on coming, and I take them all and keep going.

So far.

I worry that there will be a point at which I can’t keep going. I worry about what would happen to my mom if I became unable to care for her, and the cats. I feel sad about the idea that I might never live in my little house again, or that I might never know what it’s like not to have to work so hard all the time.

I have been grasping the ledge all week, barely hanging on, hoping to pull myself up and find my footing again. I’ve been looking for and clutching the handholds – friends, books, sunshine, hockey (Steve Yzerman is coming back to Detroit!), online connections, music – and still this morning, I’m grasping for hope.

This difficult week – this kidney stone – is passing. There will be more stones, though – difficult days, difficult weeks, difficult years. That’s life. It’s hard. Everything seems to happen over and over, again and again.

Each passing takes something from me and leaves a void. I have to really talk fast to the idealist in me, who is very, very discouraged – to keep her going, to convince her not to give into cynicism or  hopelessness. To convince her to let go of her idea about the way things should be, and to find the joy and reason for hope in what is.

It ain’t easy, let me tell you. Honestly, I’m tired of the pain and the again-ness. I’m ready for freedom and fun and all the good things that I sort of envision as just outside the field of possibility right now. I feel certain that I’ve mastered pain and that I’m due something else.

Ha Ha!

I know that’s not how it works. When I’m in my right mind I know that life is less about being happy and more about being of use. If I’m thinking clearly, I know that I am just fine, and it is just the story my ego has made up about my poor beleaguered self and how bad she has it that is making me believe anything other than the truth of my fundamental well-being.

So I guess that stone is on its way out. There will be another and another after that. Sooner rather than later, I’m sure. Each one provides me with an opportunity to let go of something else I no longer need, and in that light, I should be looking forward to the pain.

Ha!

Not quite there, yet. But further along than I was, so that’s good enough.

If you celebrate – Happy Easter! Here’s to the resurrection of us all.

Three little words

I’m clear about who I am, where I’ve been, where I’m going, and what I’m doing. What I realized this week, though, is that isn’t the whole story, especially at work. What matters in that arena is how others perceive me – correctly or incorrectly – and to a large degree, that isn’t up to me. I suppose that’s true in all areas of life, but to me it matters less in those other areas. I can do without friends; I can’t do without a job. Not now, anyway.

Acme Health Services hired a new Public Relations person, or in our industry-speak, a Public Information Officer, a couple of months ago. She’s really fabulous and enthusiastic and young. She’s brimming with great ideas and on fire with the desire to succeed in this job and spread the great news about AHS. I’m excited to work with her. She is not my boss, but I take direction from her regarding many of my job responsibilities, as I do the website and social media and all the promotional publications.

We went to a class together on Thursday to learn about using Instagram for business. I’ve wanted to add an Instagram account for a long time, but couldn’t really wrap my head around how our business would translate to that platform, but our new PIO has a great idea about how to go about it and she got admin staff approval and so we’re full speed ahead! The class was in a town nearby, and lunch was provided. I was looking forward to learning something new, and also the chance to get to know my new co-worker a little better outside the office.

So, the first thing I noticed when I got there was that I was by far the oldest person in the room – by at least 20 years. Whatever, right? Being older doesn’t make a difference in my mind, except I’m more experienced in business than any of these other people. A positive, as I see it. Ultimately it doesn’t matter, I’m thinking, cuz were all just trying to navigate this new way of marketing, so what does age or experience have to do with any of it? We’re all beginners.

And the fact that my new co-worker is at least 20 years younger than me? Why should that matter? We’re just people working for the same company, wanting to do the best job we can. We want the same thing, so we’ll work together! It’ll be great! I’m great! She’s great! We’re going to be GREAT!

Yeah, so I can be pretty naive.

First, before the class started and we’re eating our lunches, the two young women at my table, my co-worker and someone who had taken the third chair, knew each other, and are talking, talking, talking, about their kids and all the people they know in common and blah blah blah blah blah. I smile and eat my lunch, pretending that I’m listening and that I care and that it doesn’t bother me at all that they are completely ignoring me.

Then class started and it’s okay, though I actually knew most of the information the “social media expert” was giving us. Still nice to be out of the office for a while and to have lunch out, not something I get to do very often anymore. And then two things happened simultaneously:

  1. I felt sick. Really sick. Did I mention the name of the restaurant is the Cheese House? Cool! Did I mention I’m lactose-intolerant? Yeah, you can guess where this is going, right? It wasn’t pretty.
  2. When I excused myself, with a smile on my face, and absolutely no indication of why I had to leave, my co-worker looked at me in a way that let me see exactly how she sees me: old and irrelevant. See ya.

And so began one of the worst panic attacks I’ve had in my life, and I had to get out of there FAST. Fortunately, the class had run over the scheduled time at this point, so other people were leaving, too, and I scurried out of the room and straight to the bathroom. I was in there for about 20 minutes, trying to get my breath and waiting for the dizziness to pass, and when it did finally, I slunk out of the restaurant and out to my car, which was not very far away, fortunately, and collapsed in the driver’s seat. I sat there for another 20 minutes or so, and when I felt like I could drive, I headed out toward my town. As I passed a hospital on the way, though, I started to feel dizzy again, so I pulled into the ER parking lot and contemplated going in.

Not my first panic attack though, fortunately, so I knew I probably wasn’t dying, and I sat in the car for another 10 minutes or so. Finally the pain in my chest, the tingling in my limbs, the sweating and the dizziness passed and I put the car in gear and headed back out again.

One of my favorite old songs came on the radio and I was singing along, trying to feel better, until all of a sudden I was overcome with memories of when that song was popular, when I was young, and pretty quickly I was sobbing so hard I couldn’t breathe and I had to pull over again, and wait until the worst of it passed. I started out again finally, cried all the way to my office parking lot, pulled myself together, walked in and continued my day.

Exhausted. Bone weary. But I was there. Damn it. Because that’s who I am. That’s age and experience. I’m committed and loyal and I see things through. I had work to do and even though I felt like crap, I went back and did what needed to be done.

As the afternoon went on, I kept thinking of all I wanted to say to that super fantastic clever and bright young woman:

I WAS YOU.

25 years ago, I was you. I was the super fantastic clever and bright young woman ready to set the world on fire and LIVE A FABULOUS LIFE! Despite years of depression, despite utter fall-on-my-face disasters in other areas of my life, I was always good at my work and for the 5 years I had my business, I was golden. I was smart and innovative and creative and soaked up information like a sponge and turned it into Wonderful! Brilliant! Amazing! projects for my clients. And when I came to Acme Health Services 20 years ago they were thrilled to have me, and I was amazing, and wonderful, and brilliant then, too, until…well, I don’t know.

When did I get old? When did I become irrelevant?

I didn’t imagine it. It was there. It was in her eyes and in the eyes of all the other 15 year-olds in the class. I said something I felt was relevant to what was being discussed, and they all turned around and looked at me like they were amazed I could speak, including the teeny-bopper conducting the class.

So, I’m comfortable in my skin, and I’m confident in my abilities and ready to go everyday. What worries me, is that it may not be enough. As someone pointed out to me the other day, I’m almost 60 (sounds so much older than 57, doesn’t it – gave me chills) and I guess there is probably a lot I don’t know about the generations behind me and how they think.

They’re running the show now, and that is as it should be, I guess, but they don’t appear to be interested AT ALL in what went on before they came along, or how much experience someone older has; in fact, I think most of them think there must be something wrong with someone who stayed in a job for 20 years. An eternity! My god, how could you stand it?

So there were other factors in the panic attack (one being the never-ending plumbing issue we’ve been dealing with at home that FINALLY was resolved yesterday after much stress and aggravation all week), and I’m going to address the 24/7 care-giving stress issue with my doctor in May. I’m thinking some good drugs, but I’m open to whatever she suggests. I’ve had my fill of ill-timed panic attacks and almost constant anxiety.

I have no idea what to do about work, though, and I’m really afraid at some point the bean counters are going to look at me and look at her and think, why do we need both of them? This is not the first time I’ve experienced the age handicap at work, and I know a lot of people have gone through the same thing. I get that my experience is not unique.

Somehow, I just never thought it would happen to me. Naive, I know. But that’s who I am – ever the optimist, ever the idealist, wanting always to believe the best about people and hoping that things will work out if I just work hard enough and try as hard as I can.

So, back to be here now, and one day at a time, and just doing the best I can. Whatever is going to happen will happen and I’ll deal with whatever it is.

Ultimately that’s all there is, isn’t it? Dealing with whatever is. Doing the best we can. Hoping for the best.

Life goes on.

 

The real deal

I’m tired. My heart hurts all the time lately, and I don’t know whether that’s anxiety or something more deadly, and it scares me, but I don’t know what to do about it. Most days my stress level is through the roof, and I’m sure my blood pressure is higher than my doctor would like it to be, but I don’t know what to do about that, either. I go to the gym, I get plenty of exercise, I watch what I eat, I do all I can to take care of myself. There just isn’t much time and there’s so much to do and to worry about. There is so much that is just not the way I would like it to be.

Stress at work, stress at home. Even the weather is stressful. Winter just won’t quit, and I’m worried about the snow on the roof, keeping the driveways at both houses open, and about possibly losing power this weekend in the predicted ice storm and what I’m going to do with my mom if that happens.

There is no time at which I feel on top of things; no time that I can take a deep breath and just be. I try so hard to embrace it all, to let it all be what it is and be okay with what it is; to keep my mind and my heart open and present in each moment. Sometimes, though, even that is stressful. I find myself thinking ahead or worrying about something in the future and I think Damn! I blew it!

Lately, it’s when I start feeling sorry for myself, and/or beating myself up for not being who I want to be in every moment, that the alarms start to go off. Thank goodness. I didn’t have those limits when I was younger; those red flags that tell me now that I’m headed for trouble, that I’m overwhelmed and sliding down the slope straight into the abysss.

Yesterday I heard the alarms, saw the red flags, and instead of ignoring it all and trying to soldier on, I said wait a minute. What do I need? I sat still and listened, and the answer was: TIME. So I took the afternoon off from work, and got a couple of big things done at home, and I felt better about the weekend and the resulting shorter list of things to do, and less overwhelmed in general, thanks to my decision to take a few hours’ vacation time.

I was not a wife or a mother when I was younger, so I get that I’ve been lucky that my time was mine mostly for the largest part of my adult life. I really try to avoid feeling sorry for myself or heeding the siren call of resentment telling me that it’s not fair that this is the way my life is now.

Of course it’s fair, and more than that, it simply is what is. Never in my life have I been clearer about what I was doing and why I was doing it. Living with and caring for my mother at the end of her life has been the hardest, but best part of my life in many ways. Despite the fact that much of the time lately it feels like it might be the end of my life, too, I know that it is the right thing to do, and the best use of my time and energy right now.

hope it’s not the end of my life, but if it is, at least I know my life will not have been wasted. Major karma between me and my mom, and I feel confident that we’ve cleared that up, and beyond that, honestly, what else do I have to show for 57 years on this planet? Nada, zip, zilch, zero. I was too caught up in faulty brain chemistry to contribute much for most of my adult life. I was becoming who I needed to be now, I guess, and I take comfort in knowing that I made it. If nothing else I was able to take care of myself and stay alive long enough to be able to take care of someone else and for me, that’s enough.

So my challenge is just to maintain my health; manage the stress as best I can, continue to do the things I know I need to do – the gym, eating properly, getting as much sleep as possible – and just keep going. Keep listening for the alarms, and watch for the red flags. Put my needs first when I need to. Meditate. Practice mindfulness as much as I can remember to. Acknowledge my gratitude as often as I can remember to.

I’ve come across several articles and blogs this week about self-care. It’s on all of our minds, whatever path we’re currently on. But writing about it, reading about it, or talking about it is not the same as doing it. Taking the afternoon off yesterday was the real thing, and it made all the difference.

What do you need right now? Listen to your heart. What is it telling you?

Patti LaBelle’s got nothin’ on me

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I’ve been making some changes. Internally mostly, but externally also. You may have noticed a new name for the blog, and if you access it via the web (not via WP reader), you’ll notice a new look.

I started this blog over 10 years ago, and I’m not the same person I was at all then. Frankly, I’m not the same person I was 2 months ago, or even two weeks ago, before the snow wall and a couple of other things that have happened recently. I still drink a lot of green tea, and I’m still grateful for my life and all that daily existence on this planet teaches me, but it’s time for a broader view.

The prompt for the 12 Short Stories challenge this month is “New Me” and I’ve been thinking a lot about what my short story is going to be about, and what my story is about: the story of me and my life and how I navigate my path through it.

Non-fiction.

Last week I wrote about my idealism and how it gets me in trouble now and again. I look for the best in people and I’m often disappointed. That has everything to do with me, and my expectations, and almost nothing to do with them, as they are just living their lives, walking their own path as they see fit, and none of that has anything to do with me. None of us knows what another is here to accomplish or learn; we’re all unique and we’re all alone on our particular journey.

There is common ground, certainly, but each of us has a perspective on life that no one else on this planet has. We can tell each other how we see things – about our experience of this life – and sometimes it resonates with someone else’s experience. But we can never really know what another person is thinking or feeling or what it’s really like to walk in their shoes.

That’s a good thing and a bad thing. Two sides of the same coin, as so many things of importance are.

I have a dual nature, in that my astrological sign, Aquarius, has two rulers, unlike most of the other signs in the zodiac – Saturn and Uranus. Saturn rules time and is the taskmaster, the stern schoolmaster teaching difficult lessons. Saturn is all about structure – creating and maintaining – at all costs.

Uranus is more volatile. Uranus is all about surprise and behaves unexpectedly, powerfully, bringing change and new possibility. Uranus crushes structure, if necessary, to free the higher mind and bring about a new era. Uranus is electric.

Saturn is conjunct my natal sun, which essentially means Saturn has been sitting on my head all my life, making sure I followed the rules, towed the line and behaved as expected, i.e. lived up to my responsibilities, of which I’ve had many in my life, from the time I was very young.

Uranus resides in my natal 5th house, hanging out there with my True Node (or North Star/True North in folklore), which lights the way to my soul’s highest purpose and desire in this life. The 5th house is the house of creativity and creative expression.

Boom.

So, I’ve been towing Saturn’s line all my life – reliable, serious, studious, disciplined. I think it’s time to give more attention to the other side of the coin. Now I’m going to try a little less reliability, or more appropriately, predictability, more creativity, and more FUN. I’ll still be reliable, especially where work and my mother are concerned, cuz that’s still very much who I am, but I’m also going to give free rein to some of the other parts of me that haven’t received much attention to this point.

There’s going to be more of what I want, and less of what others expect of me from now on. More going with the flow and reveling in it, rather than dreading it and fighting against it. I’m going to work with my electric nature instead of trying to tame it. Embrace the unexpected in myself and in my daily life, rather than letting it upset me.

More rule-questioning and less rule-following.

I’ve done the dance with Saturn. I’m tired of that old tune. Time to have a go with sexy Uranus. The bad boys are always more fun, if a bit dangerous. Time for a new song and a new step.

Time for a new me.

Dispatch from the other side

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I struggle a lot with my expectations of people. I’ve written about it here before. It’s an ongoing thing; one of the lessons I’ve grappled with since I was very young.

When I was young and people let me down, I assumed it was my fault. I thought there was something about me – I didn’t know what it was – that alienated people and I accepted that as fact. I grew up believing I was unlovable. Again, I didn’t really know why, but I took my cues from the way important people treated me – my mother, other adults, kids, and the reality that my birthmother gave me away. That seemed like proof-positive to me that I was indeed, unlovable, certainly unwanted.

I felt that way well into my 40s. Less so, perhaps, but when people treated me badly or let me down I just chalked it up to me being hard to love. I’ve lost enough friends to populate a small town. It got so it wasn’t really even a surprise anymore, just another loss. My lot in life.

My fault.

Three years of therapy and 10 years on some powerful drugs went a long way to convince me otherwise, and alleviated the depression that went along with those thoughts and feelings. I’m perhaps not the easiest person to love, but I’m not unlovable, either. No one is.

We are all worthy of love.

So now I realize that it’s not just me, but my expectations are still too high. I keep getting tripped up by them, even though I know better. Because people let each other down. That’s just what happens. As the young, mostly unhelpful, but very nice policewoman said to me last weekend:

Most people really only think about themselves.

She’s right. I would like that not to be true – about myself and other people – but I think that’s really it. It isn’t so much that we don’t care about other people – we do. In theory, and sometimes even in practice. It’s just that for the most part – for whatever reason – we don’t go out of our way for others, even people who matter to us.

Mostly.

I can think of a couple of situations in my life in which someone rose to the occasion for me and really tried to make a difference. I’d like to think I’ve done the same for others a few times, at least.

Mostly, though, we just plod along, and try to get through on our own as best we can. At least, that’s been my experience. I can think of quite literally hundreds of situations over the years in which people have let me down so completely that the thud reverberated for weeks in me. It goes the other way, too. I can think of times I let people down, especially when I was deep in the abyss of depression. No one’s perfect, and when it comes right down to it, we are all fundamentally alone.

It’s become increasingly clear to me over the years that being disappointed really has nothing to do with my friends, or co-workers or people in general; it’s all about my expectation that I should matter to anyone other than myself.

That’s the mistake I keep making. And here’s why:

I’m a people-pleaser. Always have been because of the way I grew up, mentioned above – always trying to figure out how to get people to like me/love me. Scanning every word, every movement, every expression for a hint at how to give them what they want so that maybe they’ll like me. A chameleon, changing shape and color to be pleasing to the person I was trying to connect with.

I was astonished as an adult to realize that other people don’t do that, for the most part. Some do, most don’t. No one cares what I want or need, at least not to the extent I’d like them to, even people I’m close to. They’re not trying to please me in the same way that I’m killing myself for them. While I’m knocking myself out to figure out just the right birthday or Christmas gift, or rushing to answer an email or get a card out to someone for an occasion, or worrying myself sick over why I’m not hearing from someone for a while, they’re just getting on with whatever. Not thinking about me, not worrying about me, even if they care about me. They put themselves first.

Imagine that.

I alienate people cuz I expect more than that.  I really think it’s just that simple. I kill friendships by caring too much, trying too hard. I wear people out, and I must have seemed very needy until I finally wised up. Now I think I’ve gone in the other direction, actually.

I’ve been thinking about the metaphor of the snow “wall” in my driveway (I love me a good metaphor!) and I think that’s what it represents to me – the ways in which I’m cut off from other people, mostly through my own choices and life circumstances in the last few years, but not entirely. A few people in my life have had a part in erecting that wall from their side.

Whatever.

I’m doing better at pleasing myself and worrying less about pleasing others, except when it pleases me to please someone I care about. I still get caught up in expectations, and I still get let down when I least expect it, but that’s probably just the way it’s always going to be. That’s just who I am. An idealist. And that’s what being vulnerable is all about, isn’t it? Keeping our hearts open is risky, cuz we can be hurt, but it’s also the only way to connect and heal the rifts caused by life.

It’s the only way to melt the wall. 

It won’t happen quickly, but it will happen. Life goes on. This too shall pass. We’re all just doing the best we can, including me. What’s called for is forgiveness; not blame, not anger, not shame or retribution. Just forgiveness for our broken humanness.

As with everything else, at least for me, it’s a work in progress.

Ins and outs

 

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Me (on the right) in college roughly 100 years ago.

I have never been cool. I’ve tried; but I just can’t pull it off. Not when I was a kid, not as a college student, not as a thirty-something, not now. I’m geeky, wear what I want, do what I want (currently within the bounds of my responsibilities at home), and I’m not at all interested in most of the things that American culture says I should be interested in.

In school, while other kids were passing notes and giggling about boys, I was reading every book I could get my hands on, and playing at home with my new microscope, or writing a new story or play. I put on puppet shows. My mother made me wear my hair cut very short, and she picked out my clothes until I was 14 or so.

Not good.

In high school I wrote poetry, and was on the student council. I was in the French club, and on the Drama and Debate teams. Total geek (or nerd, as we were called then). I worked and bought my own clothes, and my mother gave up on the hair thing. So I didn’t look like a loser anymore, but I still wasn’t cool.

Which is not to say I didn’t have good friends, and actually I got along okay with everybody in my class. I smoked, so there was common ground with the “burn-outs,” and my best friend was a cheerleader, so I had an “in” with the  “popular/jock” kids. True Aquarian–everybody was my friend. But I was still not cool, and I knew it. Sometimes it bothered me, sometimes it didn’t.

In college I was wild about computers and journalism. My roommate was cool, and I got a little “cool” benefit from her, but mostly I was really into school, but not really that into the social aspects of school. I didn’t have very many friends, but I didn’t really care that much. I got along okay with the girls on my floor, and later with my apartment-mates, and we had a lot of fun, but mostly I was more involved with the sort of obscure things that interested me, and not much into the things that went on around me.

My college boyfriend was a geek at heart, but was still trying really hard to be cool. Mostly we just did our geek stuff, and talked endlessly about computers and writing and how we were going to save the world from itself. But coolness was always very important to him. He was a “yuppie” before the term was even invented; and we just couldn’t bridge that gap. Ultimately we parted ways. It took me a while to get over it.

I have always been drawn to the people on the fringes. They were usually the people who were interested in the same things I was. The ones just trying to find their way; certain that there was more to life than all the superficial stuff going on around them. They accepted a lot in me that at the time was hard even for me to accept–depression and self-doubt, especially.

So I have been fortunate to know some extremely interesting and unusual people, and now I’m able to understand that they are the cool people, after all. They (and I) didn’t fit in with popular culture at any time, but that’s okay. For whatever reason, we had to make our own way, and when we were able to do it together that was great.

So, I’m a little past middle-aged now, and not worried anymore about being cool. I worry about being a decent human being and my health, and that’s pretty much it. I still have long hair and I still wear what I want, without worrying about whether I fit in. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t.

It’s okay either way.

Maybe people should worry about whether they fit in with me. Who knows, maybe those of us who are a little bit “out of it” are the “in-crowd” after all. Ultimately I think we’re all okay, and there’s room for us all on this great big planet. Cool or not, in or out. We’re all just us, doing the best we can, and that’s what really matters.

Cover your ears

This is really it, isn’t it? You are doing the best you can to cope and survive amid your struggles, and that’s all you can ask of yourself. We’re doing all we can; there isn’t any more. That’s what “best” means. There’s nothing better.

I read a blog post yesterday written by someone who is struggling with perfectionism. As a recovering perfectionist, I felt the writer’s pain in a very real way. It took me a long time to get over my issues, and I’m so grateful that I was able to live my life the last 10 years or so without carrying that heavy burden.

My mother was a perfectionist, so my childhood was defined by the dichotomy between her need to be the perfect mother and my imperfections, which she seemed to take personally and viewed as “wrongs” to be righted. She believed she could make me into the perfect child she had envisioned. She aimed to do this by attempting to control every aspect of my life and personality. I got the message very early on that the person I counted on for my survival felt there was something wrong with me – a lot wrong with me – and I did all I could to convince her otherwise by being the best little girl ever and doing everything she said. It wasn’t enough, though.

I was never enough.

This screwed me up pretty good, I’ll tell you. As I grew up I gradually took over the browbeating where my mother left off. She had convinced me that I was worthless and that my best bet was to hide all that was wrong with me by trying to control everything and everyone around me. Believe me, I tried.

The depression started when I was 14, and got worse as time went on. Decades later, in therapy, I saw how the perfectionism and the depression were connected. Not rocket science. Perfectionism is all about control. It has nothing to do with striving for excellence. Striving for excellence is healthy and empowering. Perfectionism is exhausting and paralyzing. Ultimately, you can’t do anything for fear of doing the wrong thing, and that’s where the depression comes in.

I try to be easier on myself now, and I’m much happier – much more comfortable with who I am and what I need – than I was most of my life. I wish I could gift that freedom from the need to be more to that young blog writer. I wish I could convince her that she’s fine just as she is, and that no one is keeping score, perfect, or otherwise. I wish she would believe me that she is enough, and that she is welcome in the world with all the rest of us imperfect humans.

It’s hard enough to get along the path without standing in your own way or tripping yourself up because you’re beating yourself up over every little thing you can’t control or accept. The reality is that there’s no right way to live, or to be; we are all unique and that’s what makes us wonderful. Every single one of us. We all have a place here. Everyone is deserving of love and understanding. Period.

Don’t believe other people when they tell you they have it all figured out, and that there’s a “best life” or that having more stuff or more experiences or money or relationships or anything will make you happy. It’s not on Facebook or somewhere else “out there.” Real life is right here, right now, whatever is happening in this moment, just as it is.

Real life. Real life that’s scary and wonderful and imperfect and glorious. It’s in you, that safety, that comfort. Happiness. Acceptance. Relax into it and let the rest go.

You are enough. You always were and you are now.

Let it be.