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.

The home stretch

Compassion - Kornfield

I can’t say this about very many days, but I know exactly where I was at this time on this day 21 years ago. I know because it was the day my life started to unravel. Just a little thread that day; I didn’t realize that it wasn’t easily repaired and that ultimately everything would come apart. I would lose everything that mattered to me, including a business I put heart and soul into for 5 years. I would end up in bankruptcy court and the judgment would be harsh. It would take years to recover financially, mentally and emotionally.

But that was all still a long way off on this day in 1998. That day I was starting a new job waiting tables at the Country Club. I know it was this particular Saturday because the first day I worked was on the afternoon of the Kentucky Derby that year. I was working as a waitress, serving wealthy people who came to watch the Derby and drink mint julips in the lounge with their rich friends. I think of that afternoon every year on Derby day. I’ll never forget it, for lots of reasons.

First, never in my life had people been so rude to me. I had worked in restaurants on and off since 1976, but I had never waited table. I wasn’t very good at it, and the people I was waiting on were not very understanding. It was a LONG afternoon. It sucked, but I went back the next day, and the next night and on  and on for a couple of months because I had to.

I had a business, and a client who didn’t pay on time and I was in financial turmoil. I had to do something to keep myself and the business afloat, so I took that second job at night and on weekends to bring in some cash. During the day I did client work as usual, and at 4 o’clock almost everyday I put on my uniform and sturdy shoes and went to work serving privileged and unpleasant people.

I hated every minute of that job. Every single second. The chef was a tyrant and the members were unkind and dismissive. I had one man tell me he thought I should go get a job at Burger King because that seemed to be more my pace. This after he had known me a half hour, and because I had made a mistake on his wife’s drink order. Please, just shoot me now. What would make you believe it would be okay for you to say something like that to a complete stranger? And what makes you think it’s so easy to work at Burger King, asshole? Money does strange things to people.

They were all like that. I would like to report that most people were kind, but that would not be true. With the exception of one couple who were celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary and had obviously saved up for a special dinner out, every single person I waited on for the two months I was there was simply unkind and impatient at best and verbally abusive at worst. I’ve never been so happy to leave any job in my life, and I’ve had a lot of jobs.

I left after two months because I got a job at a different restaurant in town where I could make more money and where I knew a lot of the staff. It was better, and I stuck with it until Thanksgiving that year. The extra money helped and I thought I would be okay then, but the writing was on the wall and two years later I would have to admit it was there and that it was true. I closed the business and got a “real” job doing graphics work for Acme Health Services. I’m still there today, and it has been a good thing, though it has taken me a long time to see it that way.

It`s been a long road. It was hard and on any given day I would have said that I would never recover all that I lost that summer and after. But here I am, and I’m okay, and if I need money like that again I know exactly what I won’t be doing. I’m grateful for the experience though, for several reasons.

  1. It humbled me. I took the job cuz I thought it would be an quick way to make money. I never considered that I wouldn’t be good at it. As I said, I had worked in restaurants on and off for 25 years at that point, bussing tables, hostessing, and even as the bookkeeper one summer. I thought I knew everything there was to know about hectic dining rooms, eccentric staff and rude clientele. This experience opened my eyes about just how horrible human beings can be to another when they believe they are superior to someone else.
  2. It taught me that sometimes you just can’t have what you want, no matter how hard you try to get it. For a long time that made me REALLY bitter. I carried around a chip on my shoulder about that experience and the client who had done me wrong and caused me to have to go to those lengths to survive. It got too heavy, though, that chip, and I finally laid it down. I realized that it had been my naivete as much as his callousness that had gotten me in that situation. It was a valuable lesson in just how much control you have over other people (zero) and that good people don’t always do the right thing.
  3. Not having any money and the bankruptcy experience taught me so much about so many things.
    1. Failure doesn’t kill you, but if you let it, it will transform you.
    2. Poor people are not lazy or stupid. I didn’t believe this to begin with, but this experience deepened my compassion for people who are down on their luck.
    3. Not everyone is good at their job and even people who are supposed to be on your side will let you down. My attorney was late for my banktruptcy hearing, didn’t have everything with him that he was supposed to, and didn’t say a word on my behalf during the hearing. The judgment was harsh (it took 10 years for me to pay it off). After the hearing, the attorney said he hoped I had learned my lesson. I considered not paying his staggering bill, but finally decided that was not in my best interest. A year later he was dead of cancer. I had learned my lesson, but I wonder if he learned his before he died.
    4. Being forced to give up my business and take the job at Acme was one of the best things that has happened to me in my life. I didn’t see it that way for a long time, but looking back I see it very clearly now. I think I was on the right path in my business – it was the happiest and most fulfilled I’ve ever felt – but financially it wasn’t working and I wasn’t seeing that. I believe in karma, and looking back, I see that situation with my delinquent client through that lens and then it makes sense. I was getting deeper and deeper in debt (metaphors in our lives are very powerful, aren’t they? The universe is so eloquent) and I had to give up something that mattered very much to me to pay the karmic debt. The money took a lot longer, but I paid that debt, too, thanks to the stability of my job at Acme. The other things I’ve gained in the last 19 years, and the ways in which I’ve grown through my relationships there and the work we do, all tell me that I’m right where I should be, doing exactly what I should doing, even though some days it’s not what I want to be doing.

It wasn’t all sunshine and roses (or mint julips), but the whole experience, beginning on that day so long ago, has been worth the pain and the struggle to survive. I wish I had been wiser and could have made those changes without the body-slam from the universe, but that’s not how it happened then, and I’m not sure it would happen any differently now, though I fancy myself as being a little wiser than that waitress in 1998.

Humans are a hard-headed, stiff-necked group, though, and I’m 100% human. I hope the next time I’m so clearly headed off-course, that the universe will steer me right once again, though a little more gently next time, please. It’s those hard come-arounds that give you whiplash and do damage to the ship. However it happens, though, I trust that there is more in store for this old girl.

I hope so. Cuz, man what a trip around the track it’s been so far!

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.

I, myself

All acts and facts are a production of spiritual power,
the successful ones of power which is strong enough;
the unsuccessful ones of power which is too weak.
Does my behavior in respect of love effect nothing?
That is because there is not enough love in me.
Am I powerless against the untruthfulness and lies
which have their being all around me?
The reason is that I myself am not truthful enough.
Have I to watch dislike and ill-will carrying on their sad game?
That means that I myself have not laid aside small-mindedness and envy.
Is my love of peace misunderstood and scorned?
That means that I am not yet sufficiently peace-loving.  –Albert Schweitzer

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I would love to believe that my life begins and ends within the boundaries of my skin; that I’m connected to nothing and no one, and that I bear no responsibility for anyone other than myself.

But that’s just not the way the world works. For better or worse, we’re all part of the same big world. We’re all connected in so many ways to each other and everything else on this planet.

There are ways of being in the world that do not contribute to its wholeness or well-being. I would like to crawl up into my head and say, “Not me!”

I’m doing it right. It’s the others. It’s them over there. They’re screwing everything up. And they should have to experience the consequences of their misguided, stupid, irresponsible, thoughts and actions. Not me. Not my responsibility. I’m doing it right.

But it is me.

As long as anyone on the planet is hungry, the responsibility is mine. As long as children are abused, the responsibility is mine. As long as other living things are devalued and not respected, the responsibility is mine. As long as the planet is being abused, the responsibility is mine. As long as anyone is homeless, unable to pay the heating bill, unable to get the drugs they need, unable to be educated, supported, loved, cherished, the fault is mine.

Because I am you. And her. And them. And us.

All of us. We. This world, and all the two-legged, skinned, finned, furred, feathered and green things in it. Whatever is lacking is whatever is missing in me. And I’m the one who has to fill those holes.

It begins with me. And until I really understand that, I’m not doing it right, after all.

All or nothing at all

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I’ve been working hard this year on accepting what is. It hasn’t been easy, as most of what is is not what I would like it to be. Resisting is not only demoralizing, but exhausting, however, so I’ve been trying to just let things be and rest in the NOW.

As is. All of it.

I say “trying” because I’m not really very good at it. Mostly I’m overwhelmed at how wrong everything seems and how unhappy I am with most of the circumstances in my life, and then I feel ashamed because I don’t have it as bad as a lot of people; those in North Carolina who just lost their homes, for example, or several people I know who have died suddenly lately and left families and friends grieving their loss.

It’s kind of a spiral I get caught in fairly regularly, and though I try to just be still and grateful in order to stop my brain from spinning out of control, it doesn’t last long, if it works at all in the first place. Feel bad, beat myself up for feeling bad, feel worse.

Over and over again.

And now here it’s Fall. The end of everything that I enjoy about life, and the beginning of suffering through cold and ice and no color and no life for 8 months or so. Last winter was so bad for me I get choked up when I think about going through it again.

I keep trying to think of a way out – a way to “fix” what seems wrong, or a way to “disappear” that wouldn’t hurt anyone else. Sometimes I feel desperate for change.

But, I know, there is no way out.

There is only a way through, and that’s what I’m working on. Acceptance. Day to day, minute to minute. I have to remind myself constantly that all I really have to worry about is right now. Friday morning. Not winter. Not next month, or next week, or even tomorrow.

Just today.

It’s Friday and the sun is shining.  I’m not in danger, I’m not ill, I’m not homeless. I have a job, money, and plenty of food. I’m alive.

Easy to accept the good, harder to embrace the rest. It’s all there, though; it’s all life. A package deal. Never all good, never all bad. A mix of both, always. All or nothing. Not in equal measure, but both always there. I hate the expression, “It’s all good,” cuz it’s not all good. Clearly. But it’s all now. Present in every moment. All the good and all the bad.

Here. Now.

Life. Accept it.

 

Rest in Peace

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Kate Spade. Anthony Bourdain. Julie Farmer.

The first two you know. The third one you probably don’t. She died this week, too. Unlike the other two, she didn’t choose to die. Cancer stole her life just as thoughtlessly and heartlessly as a thief in the night. She was 47 years old, beautiful and kind, and the mother of three children. She wasn’t rich or famous, but she had lots of friends and family – people who loved her and stood by her until the end, which was brutal. She was brave and loved life, even as she lay dying.

Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain took their own lives. For whatever reason they felt they couldn’t go on. We will probably never really know. To look at them from the outside, they seemed to have everything. We look at them in the media and think how lucky they are, how easy life must be for them. Money, and work they loved and were good at, travel, excitement. Awards and accolades, fame, luxury. They had everything we think we want. In the end, apparently, none of it mattered. It wasn’t enough.

No one understands depression and suicidal ideation better than me. Believe me, I get it. I’ve considered suicide on a regular basis since I was a teenager. I have deep compassion for anyone who makes that very final choice. Depression whispers in your ear – it’s hopeless, it will never get better, there’s only one way out. It convinces you that the problem is not that life is hard, and that it’s hard for everyone, even if it doesn’t look like it from the outside – the problem is you. You suck. You can’t cut it. You’re a loser. What’s the point?

Depression lies.

It’s like cancer, in that it steals your life, your mind, your joy.  Maybe Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain discovered that all the money, fame and success are not what makes life worth living. Those things are nice and they bring us momentary happiness and the buzz of millions of endorphins. None of us would turn any of that down. But it’s not what lasts. It’s not what gives us the strength to keep going when things aren’t so great.

To truly find joy in life and to make it through the hard times, you have to have one thing: LOVE.

Love for yourself, first and foremost. You’re fine. Life is hard for everyone. It’s not just you. You’re not perfect. No one is. We’re all just doing the best we can. Don’t compare yourself to others – you’re only seeing the shiny clean outside wrapper, not what’s going on inside. There is no such thing as a perfect life.

There is only your life and mine and what we make of it. You don’t have to save the world. You only have to save yourself. Don’t worry about what you imagine other people think about you or your choices. The only person you have to answer to is yourself. This is your life. It’s the only one you get and it’s short. Be kind to the part of you that’s broken, that tells you you’re less than or that you’re doing it wrong, or that you’re unloveable. Love that part of you and then let it go.

Love yourself and then you can really love others. In this life love is the only thing that matters. It’s not a cliche. It’s simply true.

Love yourself. You’re here on this planet and you’re doing the best that you can, and you’re awesome. You’ll be gone before you know it, so enjoy the ride. Don’t get off before your stop. You’ll be there soon enough.

Too soon.

RIP Julie.

Julie H. Farmer 1970 – 2018

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Truth be told

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Some of the most difficult things I’ve had to come to terms with over the years are:

  1. Life isn’t fair.
  2. You can still fail, no matter how hard you try.
  3. Not every problem can be solved.

Like most children, I learned the first one pretty early on. I wasn’t happy about it, and I’m still not, but I certainly know it’s true. Over the years and into adulthood, it led directly to a distrust of the idea of the Christian God, or any god worth believing in, cuz in my mind, what would be the purpose of a god if not to make life fair?

I was drawn to Buddhism, and more simply, mindfulness, because it starts out by telling you that life is hard. Period. No illusion. No Santa Claus god. No notions of good and evil, fair or unjust. There is only us, here now, and this life and being kind. Embracing everything and then letting go, cuz none of it matters ultimately. It’s all in the past. There is only what is, not what should be. Not only what’s fair, but what isn’t. All of it. Everything.

The second one hit me square in the gut almost 20 years ago when I lost my business and had to get a job and file for bankruptcy. Like most American kids, I was raised with the idea that if you worked hard enough, you could achieve anything. The American Dream! I was living exactly the life I wanted, the one I had worked for, for a while, and then BAM! It was gone. I was stunned. I had been so determined. I had worked so hard and I wanted it so much, surely that would make it so.

Nope. I fell to earth and landed on my butt with a resounding and painful thud. It took me a long time to come to terms that what I had been told and what I believed to be true all of my life to that point was not true. There it was again: Life is not fair. Add to that: It doesn’t matter how hard you try, you can’t make it so.

Ouch.

Even though I had struggled with depression since I was a teenager, that event and finally realizing that fundamental truth about life was the thing that made me decide I couldn’t go on. Prior to that I believed the I was the problem, Not life. That I was doing something wrong. I had hope that someday I would get it right and then life would be what I hoped it would be, what I thought it could be. What I thought it was supposed to be.

I always knew that people suffered horrible lives, especially in other countries and in other times. I was an avid reader and some of the books I read were about really difficult lives, but I guess I always thought they were just unlucky or they didn’t work hard enough, or something. I don’t know what I thought. Maybe I didn’t really think about it, or maybe I just thought that it would be different for me because…I don’t know.

I was absolutely convinced growing up that despite all evidence to the contrary, I would have a wonderful life once I got to be an adult and could take control of my life. I was raised in the Christian church and I fell for all those stories in Sunday school about right and wrong and God helping good people and punishing bad people. I believed all the stuff in school, too, about the American Dream and Manifest Destiny, George Washington never telling a lie, and Abraham Lincoln walking through the snow for 1000 miles to return a book cuz it was the right thing to do.

I had fought through the depression over and over again because I believed that I could have the life I wanted if I just worked for it. Then, suddenly that was all a lie and I felt betrayed and stupid and that there was just no point in going on with this ridiculous unfair life – in which bad people thrived and good people got screwed. Knowing that there was nothing I could do to change that – no matter how hard I tried – was more than I could take for a long time. It took 10 years of medication and 3 years of therapy to get me past it.

The third thing – that for some problems there are no solutions – was the last bastion of earlier life to fall. Living again with my mother and her health problems finally beat that one down. Not only are some of her medical challenges baffling, even to her doctors, but more simply, the challenge of living with her and caring for her has become less of a problem to be solved, and more of a truth to be accepted.

It just is.

She’s not a problem to be solved. She’s a person. My difficulty at times with this situation can’t be solved, either, it is just part of my life, something I have to embrace and then let go of, just like everything else. It’s another step on the path for both of us. We’re traveling together on this journey.

Life.

Not a problem, not fair or unfair, not good or bad, just what’s happening now and no matter how hard I try, I can’t solve it all for her, or for me, or for anyone. We celebrate the good things and mourn the losses, but ultimately it’s all the same. What is, and what was, and what will be.

Us. In it together. All of us just doing the best we can to accept the truth.

Life is hard. And beautiful. And painful. And amazing. So big sometimes it crushes us, and other times lifts us to great heights. It’s everything and nothing.

And that’s the truth.

The beat goes on

Remember those really old Kung Fu movies in which the sound track was a beat or two behind the video, so the actors’ mouths were not in sync with their voices? Or you know those dreams where you forget to set your alarm for the biggest test/appointment/job interview of your life and you wake up in a panic and realize you’re late, but you can only move in slow motion and you get further and further behind?

That’s exactly how I feel today: out of sync, a beat or two behind. I didn’t sleep well last night or the night before and I’m feeling it today. I treated myself to some comfort food for lunch, and a visit to the chiropractor perked me up a bit, but still I’m just not that interested in being a functioning human today. The workday is almost over, though, so after I go grocery shopping, unload and put away the groceries, make dinner, and do the dishes, I’ll be able to slump in a chair, which is really all I’ve wanted to do all day.

I’m tired, and a little cranky, and by the time I get in bed tonight, it will have been a long day. They’re all long days lately. I wish I could say that I’m just sailing through, on top of everything, multi-tasking and having a grand ol’ time, but that’s not the case. I’m making it through, and everything’s getting done – mostly – but I’m not Doris Day and this isn’t a movie. This is just imperfect, exhausting, fabulous life.

I have good days and not-so-good days, and both are okay.

There was a time when I wouldn’t have been able to accept the not-so-good days; I beat myself up mercilessly for the things I didn’t accomplish perfectly, and even worse for things I didn’t accomplish at all. The message I got growing up was that if you’re not perfect, you’re nothing. The definition of “perfect” had everything to do with other people, and nothing to do with me, but I didn’t really get that. I heard their voices in my head, so I thought those expectations were mine.

Turns out – no, not so much. By the time I realized that, however, I was in my 40s and then I had to figure out what I thought of myself, and what I wanted for my life.

I still hear those other voices, but I’ve gotten better at telling them to quiet down, and then telling myself that everything’s okay just as it is. I’m not perfect today. I’ve been a little anti-social, I gave into my desire for comfort food and enjoyed every minute of it, and I’m feeling a little sorry for myself that I have so much to do yet tonight when I’m so tired.

Tomorrow I’ll probably be better, but if I’m not, that’s okay. I don’t like feeling cranky or anti-social, or sorry for myself, but that’s just the way it is today. Good things happened, too, and I’m remembering to try to be aware of those things – I made it  to work, I got some stuff done. My crankiness didn’t get in the way of any of the conversations I had today, lunch was really, really good, and the sun is shining.

Today was everything – all of it. Good and bad. Not really good and not really bad. Just a day. I showed up, and today that was all I could manage. Maybe tomorrow I’ll be fabulous, maybe not. I’m okay with it all. I have learned to treat myself with compassion and that has made all the difference. Life is hard. We all deserve a break. Sometimes you have to give it to yourself, if no one else will.

 

 

Fuzzy thinking

312645_1988371195600_758685913_nI have two cats, Clare and Grace. They don’t like each other much, even though they have lived together since they were both kittens. Clare likes to ambush Grace with some regularity, usually on the stairs, and Grace falls for it every time. I think she knows Clare’s waiting for her – she’s always in the same place – but it’s a game, so what the heck? Breaks up a long, boring day.

Today at lunchtime, Clare saw Grace heading through the den on her way upstairs, so she scooted through the living room quickly to get in position. She waited…and waited…and waited. I have no idea what Grace was doing in the den, but in a few minutes she wandered back into the living room.

It took Clare a few minutes to realize her plan had been foiled, but when she did, she sauntered back into the living room, grabbed a toy and plopped down on the floor to play. Grace walked past her on her way upstairs and that was that.

That is exactly what I’m trying to get to in my life: immediate acceptance when things don’t go as planned, and the willingness to move on to the next thing without looking back. Totally in the moment, totally in the flow of life. A lofty goal, and one I will never achieve totally, but I’m working toward it everyday now.

It’s the default for animals, of course. They are, for the most part, free of worry about the future, as well as regret over the past. Humans…not so much. In fact, almost not at all. Anxiety and depression are pervasive among humans. Life is hard, and our brains are hard-wired to alert us to that fact. The fact that it’s not hard in the same ways it used to be – we rarely encounter animals that mean to kill us anymore – doesn’t matter. That wiring is in place and it works very well. Too well.

Granted, some folks are more prone to anxiety and depression; either we’re born with faulty brain components which overreact to life’s difficulties – real or imagined – or something happens to us which causes the wiring to short out or the chemistry to be thrown out of whack. In my case I think it was a combination of both.

Whatever the cause, my life has been shaped by depression, mostly, but since menopause, anxiety has joined the party. It’s very popular there in Brainland, and is  now selecting the music and serving the drinks. The life of the party, and the life of my life.

I could take medication, but I don’t want to. I took drugs for depression for a number of years. They saved my life. After 10 years or so, though, the side effects outweighed the benefits, and I weaned off of them. I don’t regret that decision – it was the right one for me at the time and it still is. I had been through therapy and was going through peri-menopause – consequently I was in a much healthier place at that point, and depression no longer ruled my life as it had when I was younger. Therapy had given me tools to deal with my emotions, and menopause had stemmed the tide of hormones.

After I moved in with my mother and I was post-menopausal, the anxiety moved in, too. So it’s been about 5 years now, and I’ve been looking into natural remedies and coping techniques. That’s how I came to mindfulness. It’s been on my radar for a long time. I was a yoga practitioner and a regular meditator many years ago, so it has been like welcoming an old friend to revisit those teachings.  Mindfulness is more than just meditation, though, and my practice now is more meaningful.

Gratitude and self-compassion are part of my mindful journey now, but when I was a young woman, both of those concepts were utterly foreign to me. I wasn’t ungrateful, necessarily, but I didn’t really think about gratitude in the real, tangible way I do now.

Self-compassion was the farthest thing from my mind as a young person. I was very hard on myself – and on other people. Very judgmental, beating myself up for everything that didn’t go well, certain there was something different and terribly wrong with me. There was, of course – my brain didn’t work like most other people’s – but that wasn’t something people acknowledged or talked about then. I, and probably most everyone I knew at the time, thought I was just immature and lazy, terribly needy and self-centered, difficult to get along with, and an unforgiving perfectionist.

It took decades of suffering for me to finally learn just to give myself a break. It took being ready to end my life to get me into therapy, and it took 3 years of therapy to get to the point where I could accept myself as I am: flawed.

Not perfect. Just like everyone else.

What a relief. That was quite a few years ago, and since then I’ve been trying to keep my head and my priorities straight, manage the anxiety, be kind to myself, stay well, and take care of my mother.

This winter life with my mother got a lot harder, and I found myself at my wit’s end again. So I started reading and watching videos about mindfulness and taking baby steps toward meditating with regularity. Life is not much easier yet, but I am starting to feel better-equipped to cope with the daily twists and turns, and that helps keep the anxiety at a more manageable level.

I simply try to focus in the moment. In each moment there is safety and sanity, and as long as I stay there and pay attention to what’s happening now and how I’m feeling now, anxiety doesn’t have a chance to sneak up on me and start spinning everything into chaos.

Is mindfulness the cure for anxiety? No. It’s a way of thinking about and experiencing life that makes you more aware: of your mind, your body, other people, the planet, life. Studies have shown, though, that being more mindful can fundamentally change the way your brain works, including calming the centers that send the erroneous danger signals to the rest of your brain and body all the time. So though it is not the intention, mindfulness has the effect of calming anxiety.

That’s a side-effect I can live with.

 

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.