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.

 

Blisters

I raked for a couple of hours yesterday. It was a warmish sunny day, and there was no reason not to rake. Believe me, I tried really hard to think of one. 🙂

I wait and rake in the Spring because I’m more willing to be outside in wet cool weather in May after 6 months inside than I am in the November, when it seems much colder after 6 months of nice weather. Mostly in Autumn I’m just pissed off about the prospect of the long miserable winter ahead and not in the mood to do much of anything outside. When Spring comes, though, I always wish I had done all the yardwork in the fall.

All my neighbors do their leaves in the Fall, so mine was the only unruly lawn once the snow melted. I would rather have been out for a nice bike ride, but I succumbed to the “yard guilt” and picked up the rake. There was nothing for it but to get out there and get ‘er done.

While I was bringing order to my lawn universe again, I thought about my dad, whose birthday it was yesterday, and the pride he took always in keeping the house and the yard looking good. I thought about all the years he had raked leaves, and all the years I’ve done it at this same house, and others I’ve lived in over the years.

Sometimes the “again-ness” of life gets me down, but other times, like yesterday, it brings me comfort. So much is uncertain, but there will always be leaves to rake (as long as there are trees, and let’s hope that’s forever), and snow to shovel, and laundry to be done, etc. No matter what horrible or fantastic thing you’re dealing with, you still have to do the dishes or someday you’ll have to eat raw potatoes with your hands. There’s no changing that. You just have to figure out how you’re going to deal with it.

Raking (and all chores like that) are opportunities to connect with the essence of life – it’s againness – and find your place in it. The leaves don’t care who or how important you think you are, or how you feel about raking, or the seasons, or your job, or your life, or anything else. They’re just there, and you have to deal with them…or not. It’s your choice. How you feel about any of it doesn’t matter. The trees drop their leaves in the Fall whether you want them to or not. Period.

The universe couldn’t care less about you or me, or what you’d rather be doing or having or being.

It just is.

You can rail against that is-ness – cry and moan and feel sorry for yourself – or you can just go get the rake and get out there. Do the dishes, shovel the snow. Or not. Deal with life or don’t. Life doesn’t care. It’ll break you if you let it. It’s not personal, it’s just the way things are. Over and over again.

Do what needs to be done, and shut up about it. It’s the same for everyone. Life is ultimately about the ease with which you handle your particular again-ness.

As the man said, “Let it be.”

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.

Looking back, looking ahead

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This too shall pass.

 

Throw me a line

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I spent most of yesterday at the hospital with my nearly 86 year-old mother. First we were in the Emergency Department, then later she was admitted for an overnight stay and some tests this morning. (She’s home again now and everything’s going to be okay.)

What struck me most about the day when I finally got home last night and thought about it was the waiting. There is no sense of urgency in the ED these days. We’ve been fairly frequent visitors since I moved in with mom 5+ years ago, and it doesn’t seem to me that it has always been as bad as it was yesterday, but waiting is definitely a big part of that experience.

There’s no choice but to gut it out, though, cuz the fact that you’re miserable and that it might be their job to ease your misery as if it were an emergency, clearly does not seem to register with anyone there. It makes me wonder how these people are being trained, and maybe even why they wanted to be in a “helping” profession in the first place. Didn’t they know they were going to have to deal with sick people?

The most helpful thing they did in the 5+ hours we were there was to admit mom into the actual hospital, which was a completely different experience. Thank goodness.

Anyway, that’s another blog. Back to waiting

I had an epiphany sitting in the uncomfortable chair in the little room in the ED in which my mother was on a gurney writhing and moaning in pain, and we were waiting for someone to decide to do something. I realized that I’ve been waiting for my mother all of my life. Waiting for her to let me go. Waiting for her to grow up and realize that she was the parent. Waiting to begin the life I dreamed of, not the life she envisioned for me with her as the center and my own needs secondary (read: non-existent).

There are a lot of dynamics at play in our relationship, adoptee guilt, fear of abandonment and need to please not being the least of them. I take responsibility for my choices – I could have walked away and never looked back, certainly. That’s not my nature, though, and there were other reasons I gave in to the manipulation, so I own my decisions. I spent a fair amount of time in therapy a while ago working through the resentment, so that’s not really an issue anymore, and I am certainly here now with her since my dad died by choice. I have been a good daughter to her and my dad and I feel good about that. I think it matters. 

But I realized yesterday that now instead of waiting and hoping she will change, I am waiting for her to die. I think about the changes I’ll make in my life after she passes and that makes me feel hopeful about the future in a way I’ve never experienced before. Being tied to her and her needs has always been a given, a limiting factor in my life, and the end of that is in sight now. I’m not wishing for her death, and it is most likely years away, but it’s no longer a lifetime away.

It seems a little ghoulish, but I’m making plans for my life without her and looking forward to that time, much the same way I’m looking forward to retirement. To me both those things represent the freedom – the liberation – I’ve been hoping for all of my life.

I felt a little guilty last night when I realized I was thinking in those terms, but there it is. It’s probably just rationalization, but I feel like I have done my time, and it’s not horrible for me to be thinking about my mother’s demise as a good thing. My parents have lived good long lives, and in a lot of ways I eased the way for them, certainly for my mother. I served my parents well and when that service comes to an end, I will be free and clear. All debts paid, and a clean slate before me on which to write the rest of my story.

No more waiting then – for anything or anyone. I have a lot to catch up on!