Up on the watershed

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This is my favorite part of Christmas – after it’s over. I’m not the Grinch and that hasn’t always been true, but it’s been my general feeling for the last 15 years or so. Christmas Present was sort of disappointing and lonely, and the ghost of Christmas Past gets harder and harder to deal with. Kind of a sadistic s-o-b, isn’t he? I have enough trouble keeping all I feel in check these days. The upping of the ante Christmas brings is not welcome. I’m all in as it is.

So now we move on to the new year, and man, I am all about that. A fresh start, and my hope is that next year is going to be better than that just passed. If not, too bad and I’ll get through it, but at the beginning there is always that possibility, the potential that something will break loose and take me in another direction and it’ll be better than where I am currently, and that’s where I hang my hope. I’d even settle for just a better view of the road ahead, cuz I’m really not sure where I’m headed.

This week I’ve been reading alot and sleeping in and going for long walks and taking photos in the abnormally warm and sunny weather we’ve been having. I feel creative and open in a way I haven’t for a very long time. I feel like I’m back, though I couldn’t say exactly where I’ve been. Me, and yet not me, for several months now. Not depressed, not anything really – getting through the days as they came, hanging on hard to my ideas about who I am, who I want to be, and who I should be. Doing what was expected of me – meeting my responsibilities at work and at home, and taking care of my health.

I’ve come to think of this last year as rebuilding, or moving into a new house. You bring all the old meaningful stuff with you, leave all the crappy stuff in the dumpster, and set up in your new place. It’s different, but good, and your old stuff looks good in the new living room with the new stuff you bought cuz the house is bigger than the one you’ve been living in. It all goes together, and there’s room for all of it – all of you.

So this is me, maybe not back to an older version of me, but a new and improved version – incorporating the best parts of the old and adding some new. Willing to let go of the idea that I need to be a certain way at all; that I need to be what I used to be, which frankly was not that great, or who I think I’d like to be. I’m going to try to just be and see how that works out.

I’ve been envisioning myself hanging on to a branch above a raging river. Clutching it with all my strength, scared to let go and float away. My fingers are raw and bleeding, and my muscles ache with the effort. I have been so afraid to just let go and let the river carry me away, cuz I don’t know where I will end up and I’m not sure I won’t drown. I know how to swim, but the water is churning and seems dangerous. It probably is, but that doesn’t mean I won’t be okay.

So that’s what I’m telling myself now: Just keep swimming. Float when your arms and legs get tired. Trust the flow to take you where you need to go.

I have loved the Indigo Girls since I first heard them 30 years ago. Watershed is my favorite song:

Thought I knew my mind
Like the back of my hand
The gold and the rainbow
But nothing panned out as I planned
And they say only milk and honey’s
Gonna make your soul satisfied
Well I better learn how to swim
‘Cause the crossing is chilly and wide
Up on the watershed
Standing at the fork in the road
You can stand there and agonize
‘Til your agony’s your heaviest load
You’ll never fly as the crow flies
Get used to a country mile
When you’re learning to face
The path at your pace
Every choice is worth your while

© Emily Ann Saliers

It has meant alot to me, this song; from the first time I heard it I felt it had been written for me. And so now, again, here I am. Not so much learning to swim now, though, as trusting that I know how. It seems scary, but exhilarating, too.

So I guess you could say that my goal for the coming year is just to be. (How’s that for an oxymoron? Ha! My whole life the past few years is a study in contradiction.)  Let it be is my mantra, and it applies to myself as much as anything else. It has arisen out of my eat the Christmas cookies approach to life the past couple of weeks (still one week to go!). I didn’t realize how tightly I had been hanging on until I started to let go.

On we go, into the future, the unknown. No ghost to show us the way. That’s just a story. This is the real thing, and ultimately we have to find our own way through the past, the present and the future. Every choice is worth your while.

Equal Opportunity

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I believe this. I believe this is what people mean when they say “everything happens for a reason.” I’m not willing to speculate about whether things are “destined” to happen a certain way, but I definitely have come to believe that every “bad” or hurtful thing that happens in our lives can be used as an opportunity to grow – to encompass and process the experience, and in doing so to become a more peaceful, whole, and useful human.

You can think of these experiences as “tests,” but what’s at stake is much more than passing or failing. In fact, failure is usually more effective in teaching us whatever lesson is available. In my experience, getting to the place emotionally and mentally at which you are able to process the “lesson” can take a long time, but if you’re open to it, that I could have had a V-8 moment comes quicker each time.

Something happened at work a couple of weeks ago that really hit me where I live. I stumbled and fell hard for a couple of days after, and to some degree, I’m still reeling a bit.

Anything that angers you teaches you forgiveness and compassion.
Anything (in this case, anyone) that has power over you teaches you how to take your power back.

I’m trying to get to the “lesson learned” part of those sentences, but it hasn’t been easy, and I’m sorry to say I’m not quite to forgiveness and compassion yet, or figuring out how to get my power back. It’s not keeping me awake at night any more, and I have started processing it (which is why I’m writing about it – it helps), and that’s a step in the right direction, but it’s been a longer journey than I would hope for.

The difference between what we know to be true and what we feel about any situation can be vast and seemingly unable to be reconciled. I can tell myself all kinds of rational things about the dynamics at play in the situation, blah blah blah, but what I felt and still feel to some degree, is betrayed, disrespected, devalued, and lots of other “someone treated me badly” emotionally charged words. It happened. I didn’t imagine it, and I didn’t misunderstand. I didn’t see it coming, so that made it that much worse.

I haven’t had to see or speak to the person who…uh…gave me this opportunity to forgive…since the meeting in question, and now I’m out of the office for two weeks, so even though I have evolved from the younger and less wise version of myself who would have said exactly what I wanted to say at the time (almost never a good idea, right?), that’s a good thing.

I’m not still angry – oh man, was I angry – but I am still hurt. Bruised and achy in some places, and not ready to face another encounter – good or bad – just yet. She won’t apologize, cuz that’s not who she is. She’s young and in a powerful position and I’m sure she felt she was completely in the right in what she did and in the way she did it. That’s okay. I’m not in charge of her growth; only my own.

The knowledge that someday she will be in my shoes and that likely the same thing will happen to her brings me a little comfort, but not much, cuz actually I think it’s just really sad women of any age step on each other that way in order to get ahead. I think we all lose when we treat each other the way most men treat us. In telling me a story once about something that had happened to her in her own career, a former boss said, “She’s knocking herself and everybody else out trying to get to the top of the hill, and doesn’t yet realize there is no hill.”

Yep.

My challenge is to forgive her, for my own peace, and because I have to continue to work with her. Secondly, I either have to prove her wrong in her assessment of me (unlikely) or simply continue to be true to myself and my abilities and trust that it’ll all come right at some point. That second option is made simpler by the reality that I am going to retire in a few years, so I’m not interested in ascending the proverbial ladder or even maintaining my place on it anymore.

Even if it doesn’t work out all right, I realize I don’t care that much. My objective these days is really just to remain employed, and I don’t have any reason to believe that this situation endangers that objective. Continuing to collect my very comfortable salary serves my purposes now and as far as this job goes, beyond the value I find in the good work we do for the community we serve, that’s about all I’m interested in.

So rather than getting my power back, I just have to remember where it is (in here, not out there), and what that means to me. I work hard and I do the best I can always, and that won’t change. My day-to-day priorities and idea of who I am and what I have to offer the world have changed, however, and those changes have come into clearer focus as a result of this event.

So I can thank that young woman for that. She offered me a mirror in which I see myself and who I am now very clearly, and I like what I see, even if she doesn’t. I forgive her, cuz she doesn’t know any better, apparently, and I have compassion for her because someday she will. I know now not to trust her, and that’s probably a good thing going forward cuz she has proven herself unworthy of my trust, but it makes me sad, just the same. Finally, I would hope for some warning next time, but that’s rarely the way the universe works, so I just have to let that be.

I’ll continue to heal, and I hope to be ready for the next…uh…opportunity. It will come, for sure, because that is the way the universe works, and if we pay attention, we can benefit from these rocks in our path, even if they don’t seem helpful right away. I’m certain I’ll continue to stumble over them, but as long as I keep getting up again I’ll be okay –  bruised, but not broken, and still moving forward. That’s all that really matters, and it’s all I hope for these days.

Just keep moving forward.

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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Birds of a feather

I am an optimist by nature, so despite years of debilitating depression, habitual failure in every area of life, and persistent evidence to the contrary, I’ve held on to hope that someday my life would be as I imagined it could be. That the world would be as I imagined. That the happy ending was just on the next page. There was no doubt that it would come. The only question was “When?”

That death-grip on hope for the future has saved me time and again. My life has been distinguished by loss and failure, but I don’t think of myself as a loser, or less-than anyone else, because I have always believed (and still do) that everything is temporary and that someday it’ll all come right. The ending hasn’t been written yet, and until it has been ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE.

Life is uncertain. No one can see into the future, and as it turns out, that’s a good thing. That uncertainty allows us to hope, and to believe that everything will be okay. If it weren’t for the knowledge that anything is possible in any moment and that life can and does change in an instant, how would we keep going? If you know how the story ends, why read it?

Uncertainty forces us to be creative, and hopeful, and resourceful. To solve problems, rather than wilt in the face of them. To overcome hurdles, because we don’t know how it will turn out until we try.

Yes, it’s uncomfortable, especially when you’re in the middle of an seemingly intractable situation, or faced with a problem over and over again. You never know what tomorrow is going to bring. The next thing you try may be the answer to the problem you’ve been dealing with for years. Or not. Or something may happen to you, or to someone else that changes a situation instantly and makes it better. Or worse. Bad things happen, but so do good things. Anything is possible in every moment.

We don’t know ahead of time, so all we can do is hope for the best. Cuz the alternative is grim. We all know someone who’s given up; someone who is cynical and/or grumpy, because they’ve lost hope that anything can be different than whatever misery they’ve faced or are facing.

I had a conversation this weekend with someone about something that concerns both of us and the greater community, and I heard myself saying that I didn’t think anything she was doing to try to solve a problem was going to work. The problem is huge, and involves a lot of people, and I heard myself say, “I just don’t think there’s any point in trying.”

Yikes.

I got off the phone and thought a lot about the conversation that afternoon and yesterday, and I’m thinking about it now. That’s not who I am. That’s not who I’ve ever been before. Do I really believe there’s no hope?

No.

One thing my life has taught me is how quickly things can change, and how unpredictable human beings are, especially. As long as those two things are true, anything is still possible. There is always a point to trying. Even if you don’t succeed. Just hanging on to the hope that makes trying again possible keeps your heart beating and your head in the game.

Having said that, what I recognized as I was thinking about all this was exactly what I wrote about in my last post. I’m depleted. I need a rest. The battles I’ve been fighting are not big, and they’re mine alone, but they are difficult just the same, and I’m tired of fighting. I need to regroup. I think that’s what I should have said in that conversation, and I think ultimately I did. I hope so anyway.

I feel that there’s no point in trying because I don’t have it in me right now to fight this fight.  I will support you in your fight, however, in whatever way I’m able.

Uncertainty is the human condition. Hope is the cure for anxiety about that condition. I became aware of the following poem early on in my life, and I’ve had a copy of it posted on my office bulletin board for years. Truer words were never written. It’s all we need to know:

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –

And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –

I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.

-Emily Dickinson

Eat the Christmas Cookies

I’m tired.

Mentally, physically and emotionally. Exhausted. Spent. Bushed.

Stick a fork in me, I’m done.

2019 has been a crap year. For me, and for a lot of people I care about. I’m hoping 2020 is better, but I have to admit that I have no real hope that it will be. I have no reason to believe anything will change – including my ability to see things differently, which is really the problem ultimately – any time soon. You never know, though, so I’m setting my sights on January and cruising easy the rest of this year. Miracles happen. After all, the Red Wings won last night.

Anything is possible.

That’s what I’m counting on. No matter what, though, the reality is that I just keep going. That’s all there is: one foot in front of the other, moving forward, one minute at a time. As long as I draw breath, I’m not giving up.

For the rest of the year, though, I’m giving in.

My plan for the next 3 weeks (actually I started this week) is simple:
1. Eat what makes me happy.
2. Drink what makes me happy.
3. Do what makes me happy (as much as I can, within the confines of my responsibilities).

Simple. Life is short. For me right now there is no value in denying myself things I enjoy. Most of the time I have to, and I’m okay with that. There are constraints on my time and on my freedom, and I acknowledge that there is value in being vigilant about my health. I accept all that. I’m depleted now, though, so I have to do something to refill the tanks for the next part of the journey.

For the rest of 2019, I’m giving myself a break and indulging in whatever makes me feel good, as long as it’s legal, affordable, and not immediately dangerous. I’m not wild by nature, so what this really boils down to is that I’m probably going to gain a little weight and my blood pressure will go up a little again cuz I like to eat and drink things that are not exactly healthy, and I’m taking some major time off work so that I can indulge my desire to do as little as possible for the rest of the year. My goal is to be dressed in anything other than pajamas and slippers only if absolutely necessary until January.

Eat the Christmas cookies.. That’s my motto. It sums it all up. It’s a reasonable short-term approach to life; very in the moment, enjoying limited opportunities and not looking too far ahead. I’m an adult, and I can decide what I do with my body and with my free time. Being gluttonous and slothful are only two of the Deadly Sins, and probably won’t kill me, but if they do, I will have died happy.

Starting next Friday, I’m taking vacation time from work, so in addition to eating and drinking and being merry, I’m going to sleep in, read for hours on end, go for walks. Whatever I want. I’m stepping out of my normal life as much as possible and giving myself permission to have what I want (within reason) and do what I want (within reason and time constraints) for the rest of this year, which I’m sooooo happy to say farewell to in three weeks.

See ya! Don’t let the door hit you on the way out! Ba bye!

I’ll still be doing all my normal stuff at home – meals, shopping, shoveling, dishes, laundry, and I promised mom for Christmas I would actually really clean the house – but beyond that, I’m free to do what I want during the hours I would normally be at work, and that to me right now seems like the BEST THING EVER!

On January 6, 2020, I’ll return to work and to the gym and to eating normally. I hope I’ll be renewed, refreshed, rejuvenated. If not, it’ll still be okay.

Keep moving forward, one minute at a time.

In the meantime, eat the Christmas cookies!

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Where the light peeks through

This ruined house - Shikibu
Everything is relative and perspective is what makes the difference. My mother dislikes sunny days. I love them. She likes cold weather, the hotter the better for me. I read fiction, mostly. I have a friend who reads non-fiction almost exclusively. Cats for me, dogs for a friend.

We’re all different and what matters to me may or may not matter to you. Doesn’t mean either of us is more or less than the other, just that we’re not the same. Though different, we’re all deserving of love and consideration. What matters is that we remain true to ourselves and do what’s right and best for us in our own lives.

You can’t see life from my perspective, and I can’t see it from yours. You are upset about the wind. I’m rejoicing in the moonlight. I can say to you, “Forget about the wind! Look at the moon!” You say to me, “Are you crazy? Who cares about the moon? I’m freezing!”

Both things are present; both are true. Which is the “best” way to think about that situation?

It’s all in the perspective. We are each of us entitled to our view of the world. No one sees things in exactly the same way I do. I can tell you what I think and feel, and you can share your perspective with me, but neither of us can get inside the other’s head and really know what the view is like from there.

This is something I’ve struggled with all of my life, especially with my mother. When I was young, I simply adopted her view of the world in order to be accepted. I learned early on that she wasn’t at all interested in my view, and if I made the mistake of sharing my thoughts or feelings about anything, she was quick to explain all the ways in which my view was incorrect. Period.

I was just wrong. All the time. So I simply dissolved into an extension of her. It took a long time and therapy to distinguish myself finally from her, and to believe that the way in which I perceived things, including myself, was equally as true as her view. I’m not wrong, just different.

We’re not the same person. She’s not wrong, and neither am I.

Living with her again these last 7 years has certainly put this principle to the test. It’s a challenge everyday for each of us to accept the other as she is. There is lots of common ground, and we meet there and enjoy each other’s company most of the time.

Every so often, though, we unintentionally prod old bruises and one of us is tempted to think of the other as the villain and lash out in retaliation. Suddenly I’m 6 years old again, only now I’m not afraid to speak up for myself. I have to remember, though, that she’s not a villain; she is simply a human being doing the best she knows how to do – always was – and that ultimately she wants the same things I do: to be loved, to feel safe, and to be happy.

When I see her that way, with compassion, everything changes and we’re back on common ground again. We are the same, and we are different. Both things are true.

Nobody’s wrong, and no one is to blame. We’re different, and we’re both okay as we are.

We’re all okay, just as we are. I feel the wind, you see the moon.

It’s all good.