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.


Tell me yours and I’ll tell you mine

My first computer was a Coleco® Adam.

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You had to write the programs, type them into memory and save them on a tape drive that looked just like an audio cassette. I loved it. Mostly I used it as a word processor cuz I had a program for that, and I was in college so it was really handy for papers, etc. That was 1983. I LOVED it. I wrote other programs for it – games and other easy things – and I spent hours on it. I had it for a long time.

My next computer, after college, was an Apple IIc. I got a bank loan to buy it and an ImageWriter printer.

I had a 5 1/4″ and a 3.5″ floppy drive for it. No hard drive. No mouse. I LOVED it. I used it for years. I ordered software by mail from catalogs – Broderbund, mostly. The screen was all text, no images, of course, but it was awesome. I used it everyday to write stories and balance my checkbook and play games. I had it for a long time. At work, I used an Apple IIe:

Apple IIe

It had a modem and that was the first time I used email. I’m guessing that was about 1986 or ’87. I still have that computer and the modem. Up to that point we had used a Telex machine. Remember those? Yes, Virginia, there was a time when fax machines and email didn’t exist!

I got a modem for my IIc at home and learned how to connect to our local college’s BBS system and email, then later ftp. After that, things moved pretty quickly. I bought a Mac and joined eWorld, which was Apple’s online system, then AOL. Then finally, we had access to an reasonably inexpensive ISP here in my little town, and I had access to the WWW. Text at first, and then Netscape (1994) came along and the internet as we now know it started to take shape.

I had a series of Mac Performas, and then a Windows laptop and then a series of Windows towers and laptops. Early on I had a business designing websites (starting in 1995) and my own website for my business, which became a personal website after my business failed in 2000. In 2003 I started a blog on Journalspace, called Friday’s Child.

I LOVED blogging. I had always journaled on paper and loved writing, and now other people could read what I wrote! And comment! And I read what they wrote and we were a community! Sadly, Journalspace died, so I started a blog on my website using WordPress software. I don’t remember what it was called. Since then I’ve written 2 other “special project” blogs – not for public consumption – and I started this WordPress.com blog in 2008 after scuttling my website.

So, now, here we are. Why did I force you to go on that trip down Tech Memory Lane with me? Well, cuz I think it’s interesting, for one thing. A revolution in the way information is deciminated in a VERY short time historically. I was a part of it, in the way my mom can remember when there was no TV and my grandmother could remember when there was no radio.

Cool.

My geeky brain recognized the importance and potential of computers when I was young, and I have always been excited to be a part of the evolution of computer use and the internet. For all its imagined evils, the internet is an amazingly empowering thing. The blogsphere, especially, represents a revolution in the world of communication and information transfer among human beings in the last 20 years, and I’ve loved being a part of it.

As a writer, I’ve benefited enormously. I can publish whatever I want online whenever I want. That was not true even when I was in college – in order for a writer’s  (or singer or movie maker or artist) work to be available to “the masses” he/she would have to pass through a publishing gatekeeper. Editors and movie producers and record producers held all the keys and could decide who “got in” and who didn’t.

For writers and photographers and artists, blogging has caused a dramatic shift in what it means to be successful. I won’t ever be published by a big house, or even a paper magazine, probably, but I’ve connected with 100s of people over the years through my writing, and that’s what matters to me.

Community is hard-wired into the human brain. The explosion of the internet – a network of networks – is remarkably like our brains in the way connections are formed and likeness is sought. We want to connect to others who are like us and the internet allows us to do that without physical presence. I can connect to the world sitting in my living room typing on my laptop.

As a young person, I didn’t know anyone who struggled with depression. Even though I knew a lot of people in high school and college, I didn’t know anyone who dealt with a mental illness in the way I did. I didn’t know I had a mental illness – something that was known and had a name. I just thought there was something really wrong with me and I found ways to manage life and stay alive in spite of it. On my own. I had friends, but I was really alone. I did everything I could to try to appear as normal as possible.

It was exhausting and lonely.

That changed when I got on the internet. I found information and found out I was not alone and that yes, there was something wrong with me, but it wasn’t my fault. It isn’t a character flaw,  There are other people who feel like I do. 

What a revelation! When I started writing my blog and started really being myself online, I connected with people who were more like me than anyone I had ever known, and who supported me as I supported them. Through my blog and blogging friends I found other resources online that were helpful – groups and forums. It changed my life in that it changed who I believed I was. 

Online I was a writer and people liked me as I really am, not as I pretend to be to fit in in daily life. Anonymity is a two-edged sword online, though, and that’s where social media runs into trouble. People misrepresent themselves all the time, and that’s too bad, even if their intent isn’t criminal.  Because the real power in the internet, and especially in blogging, is in really being able to be yourself and to connect to others like you – as we really are. Mask off, warts and all. Here I am, world! Anybody out there?

Yes, we’re out here. Ready to reassure you, ready to know you as you really are. No need to hide. Not here. Be yourself, tell us about yourself and we will welcome you. Tell your story. Post your photos, your art, tell us about your dreams and your failures. Make us laugh, make us cry, make us feel who you are and what you’ve been through. What has the experience of life on this planet been like for you? Tell me yours and I’ll tell you mine and we’ll discover that we’re not so different after all, and that we are not alone. 

And that will make all the difference.

Thanks, Jenny, for the reminder.

Popeye and me

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I’m 56 years old. I’ve never fit in. I’ve never been what anyone wanted me to be, or thought I should be. At times I’ve tried – especially when I was young – but it never really worked. I always end up just being me.

My original mother and father didn’t want me. My adoptive mother wanted a daughter, but she didn’t want me. She wanted me to be more like her, and I tried, but I just wasn’t. Our relationship has changed now because I take care of her and I’m all she has, but we still argue about the way I do things vs. the way she thinks I should do things.

I’ve never had a lot of friends, and I’ve managed somehow to alienate almost all of them sooner or later throughout my life. Depression played a large role in that, I’m sure. It’s what has damaged all of my relationships – with men, too. In many ways, that, more than anything has shaped who I am.

I’ve made the wrong decisions about almost everything in my life and I’ve failed at almost everything that ever really mattered to me.

At work, as I’m winding down my career, I find that I’m not fitting in with the 15-year olds who are running things now. I’m getting the message everyday in a thousand different ways that there is nothing about me that is valued in this company. It’s hard to get up in the morning knowing that I’m going to go to spend the day being reminded over and over again that once again I don’t fit in.

Social media tells me that I’m not living life the right way. The 15-year olds tell me I’m not working the right way. Most people I know have friends and family, as they have managed to live a full life, in spite of obstacles. On TV my life would be portrayed as the butt of jokes on a sitcom.

The Loser.

I’m a loser, baby. So why don’t you kill me….

In spite of all that…I’m here. I’m alive. I’m real. Against all the odds I’ve made it this far without being a burden to someone else or to society. I’ve struggled to stay alive and to become a better person. I have value simply because I’m here on this planet.

I’ve worked since I was 14. I’ve worked a lot of different places in several different capacities. I ran a business of my own for 5 years. I’ve given 18 years of my working life to this particular company. I have done a crapload of good work over the years. I have experience and I’m loyal. If others fail to see that, too bad. When I started here, many of my current co-workers were learning to use the potty or drawing pumpkins in elementary school. Someday, I’m guessing, they’re going to know what it feels like to be devalued, too.

So none of it matters. I’ll keep fending off the blows, healing the wounds, and going on. All that matters is me and what I think about my work and my life, and I think I’m doing just fine. My mother won’t live forever and in 5 1/2 years I will retire. I’ll be free in my life then in a way I never have been and who knows what I might accomplish? Who knows what I’ll have to offer the world before I’m gone?

I’m not done yet, and I am who I am; simply me. One and only. Not a loser, not a winner. Just me, doing the best I can.

And that is enough.

 

Balancing Act

I’m not really into working today. It’s gloomy outside and I didn’t sleep well last night. It’s a perfect day to be curled up on the couch with a cat reading and/or napping. I had a meeting with a department director first thing this morning, though, so I couldn’t take the day off, and so far it’s been a typical Monday, which makes me wish I wasn’t here just that much more.

If it hadn’t been for that meeting, I would have called in (actually I email) and rolled over and gone back to sleep for a couple of hours. I took last Monday off (pre-arranged) and it was really lovely. No Sunday night dread feeling, no Monday crap. The weather was beautiful that day, so I had a nice long bike ride and really enjoyed the day.

What was nice, too, was that I had taken the day off just because I wanted to. I didn’t feel the need to justify it to myself or anyone else. I wanted to do it, I did it, and I enjoyed it. Easy peasy. Doing something just because I want to is one of the things I have missed the past few years. My life is not as uncomplicated as it used to be, and there isn’t much time, money, or energy available these days to indulge my whims.

I’m focused mostly on what needs to be done in the next 10 minutes – cuz there’s always a list and plenty on it between work and home – and I forget to have fun. I forget to just be. I forget that there are things that make me happy that don’t require a lot of effort or money or time, and that I need to do them/have them.

All work and no play makes this girl depressed.

I noticed a couple of weeks ago that I was wearing the same pair of earrings everyday and had been for quite a while. Kind of a silly thing, but it was a red flag to me that I was in “robot” mode, and that if I didn’t try to get out of it I would be completely emotionally paralyzed soon enough.

So I got out all my jewelry and picked out things I hadn’t worn in a while, and I’ve been trading off different rings and earrings everyday. Believe it or not, it makes a difference. Ditto food. I bought some different things at the store last week and I’ve been adding a forgotten favorite or something new to every meal.

Friday I went to the fish market and bought smoked whitefish paté, a particular favorite that I don’t usually allow myself cuz it’s expensive and high in calories, but man, is it good!

Saturday night I had a campfire. I made s’mores, and sat outside in the dark watching the flames and drank a beer. Yesterday I had fried potatoes with breakfast.

Just because I could.

Most importantly, I rode almost every evening after work last week and both afternoons this weekend I was out for 2 hours or so in the heat and the sun, turning the pedals and getting happier with every drop of sweat I shed.

It’s summer and this is my favorite time of year. I need more outside-enjoying-it and less inside-working/doing chores. The work and the chores need to be done, and sometimes even need to come first, but there has to be time for the good stuff, too, or life is just too hard.

So I had to work today, but when I get home I can have some crackers and whitefish paté, and maybe even a short bike ride if it’s stopped raining by then. After dinner and the dishes and the evening with mom, I can climb in bed with the good book I’m reading, and then (I hope) get a good night’s sleep. I’ll think of this as a good day, cuz there was time for everything, including and especially me.

My wild, messy heart

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I’ve been thinking a lot about connection and belonging, since listening to this TED talk by Brene Brown a few days ago. Belonging is not something I’m particularly good at, proven over and over throughout my life. I almost always feel more comfortable on my own. I was an only child, so entertaining and comforting myself were skills I learned early on.

I also learned early on that when you are connected to people, family especially, their problems are your problems and you can get caught up in the chaos forever. I discovered young, too, that if people think there’s something different about you or if they think you may need help, they will shy away. Having spent much of my life experiencing major depressive episodes 2 or 3 times a year, I found it was best to have fewer connections so that I could slip in and out of my life as necessary without losing too much each time. So, while friendly, I kept most people at arm’s length.

Depression made belonging to a group or club difficult, too, as there were times I couldn’t go to meetings or complete an assigned task on time. I usually ended up quitting fairly quickly, even if I enjoyed the people and the club, and finally I just stopped joining things. Ditto friends and lovers. Hard to maintain a relationship when you can’t be counted on to be the same person everyday.

Now my mother consumes my time, not depression, but the effect is the same. I have very few connections now. The ones I have are solid, but not usually a part of my daily life. They are busy people, too, and it’s hard to keep in touch or get together. That will probably not always be true, especially for me after my mother is gone, so those connections will remain and get stronger, I’m sure, and for that I’m grateful.

But then the question becomes where will I belong? Really the only group I’ve ever felt fully a part of is my family – my mom, dad, and grandma. For better or worse, I belonged to those people. I belong with my mom, now, just the two of us left. I know that’s where I’m supposed to be and that she is my “home.” Our family was not always a refuge for me, but it was always where I knew who and how to be and that I was loved. They took care of me and I took care of them, and continue to take care of my mom, and that’s what connection and belonging is all about.

Commitment. That’s really what it boils down to. Shared commitment to each other. Shared interests, common viewpoints, similar, if not completely shared, goals. I see you, you see me, we are the same. In order to have that kind of connection, you have to be clear about who you are and what you want, and you have to be willing and able to show that to others.

Vulnerability.

For me, and for most people, that’s a very scary word. Without it, though, you can’t really connect with another person, and you can’t really belong. At least, not authentically. If you can’t let people see the real you, then that connection doesn’t really have much meaning and it will break fairly easily. That’s what I’ve experienced most of my life, as I was mostly hiding, not living fully, and not connecting fully – or at all – in most cases.

That’s not me now, though, so the question becomes where do I find “my people?” After the last of my family is gone – my mother – where will I belong?

I think Ms. Brown has the answer in the quote above:

True belonging is not something we achieve, accomplish, or negotiate with others – it’s something we carry in our hearts.

I belong to me, first and foremost. I belong to the universe and the stars, the Earth, and the human race. I belong to my ancestors, and to my family as long as they live in my memory. I belong to my friends – the people I love and the people who love me – and to all the people I don’t know personally who have helped me on my path.

I know and love who I am – messy heart – and all, and I’m not hiding anymore. Here I am, all of me, ready to rejoin the world, life.

I belong.

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.