Only 7? Cool!

5a8fff4057e1fa52618946b336835a70

Who knew? I guess we all did probably, but man, are they hard to remember. Then you’ve got the 10 Commandments, and the 7 Deadly Sins. Yikes! There’s a lot to keep in mind.

In my experience, these seven rules work pretty well. Fairly simple to write down and post on Pinterest, I guess, but not so easy to live by. For me, one of the hardest is #5 – Don’t compare your life to others, comparison is the thief of joy. That is just so true it glows. Facebook and Instagram make that rule even harder than it ever was to keep a handle on. Those two bandits sneak right in and grab your happiness so quick it defies logic. Look how much fun (money, sex, family, friends, whatever) everyone’s having – what’s wrong with me?

The truth is they’re probably not having that much fun or whatever, either, but if they really are, good for them! Has nothing to do with me. Unless it’s someone I know and care about and I can be happy for their happiness or good fortune, those happy, shiny people photos don’t mean a single thing to me in my life at all.

I went to the doc yesterday for a 6-month check-up and it didn’t really go that well. My blood pressure is through the roof again, I’ve gained a little bit of weight and my cholesterol and triglycerides are climbing again. I feel okay and have been doing well mentally and emotionally the past few weeks, but the numbers don’t lie, and I’m going to have to do something about it. That just really p*sses me off, cuz I had been doing really well with all that stuff, and now here it is again. I. Can’t. Catch. A. Fecking. Break.

It made me angry, and anxious, and I didn’t sleep very well last night – I’m going to have a stroke! I’m going to die! – but this morning I feel a little more reasonable and I know what I have to do and I accept that I have to do it. We all know someone who smoked and drank everyday, ate whatever they wanted, never exercised and yet still lived to be 100, right? Yeah, well, that’s not going to be me. Bad genes, mostly, but also a general winter laziness and fondness for sweets are my burdens to bear. Never mind all the fat people who do what they want and still live forever, I have to exercise and lay off the pastries if I want to live to be 100, and I do.

Thinking that I’ll be okay because I’m doing better than someone I work with who weighs twice what I do, or someone who doesn’t exercise at all ever – I rode my bike over 1000 miles this summer, after all – is not serving me well. Forget joy, comparing myself to other people in this way is likely to steal my health, if not my life, and I need to just get over it. Do what needs to be done. Period. Suck it up, Buttercup. Figure out a way to get some exercise this winter. Say “no” to the goodies in the break room everyday (and the lovely blueberry scones that call to me in the grocery store bakery every week).

Surely I can manage those two things again. I wish I didn’t have to, cuz geez, I hate going to the gym, and OMG, do I love sugar cookies (and scones). I have to do what’s right for me – in all things – and just not think about what other people are doing. It’s right for them – great! Not right for me. Oh well.

That’s life.

 

 

All or nothing at all

Dm_zwe0XgAAEaL5

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.

 

Scary Clarey

Clare

This is Clare. Notice how her right ear looks a little odd? Well, we had quite an adventure with that ear 10 days ago, or so. If she could talk, I’m sure she’d tell you all about it. It was a small thing that turned into a very big deal.

She has trouble with her ears fairly often. Week before last she was going after her right ear with a vengeance and the things I do normally to give her some relief weren’t helping. Then she started acting like she didn’t feel well, so I called the vet. We went to see Dr. Rob on that Friday, and he discovered that she had a sizeable hematoma in that ear and an infection. She would need surgery.

So I left her there and went to work, and planned to pick her up later that afternoon. They called me after the surgery and said that all went well, and that she would be ready to come home about 4:00 pm.

A couple of hours later Dr. Rob called me. He started out the conversation by saying, “I don’t think it’s anything to worry about, but…” So, of course, I was instantly panicked. “Clare seems to be having trouble waking up from the anesthetic.”

My heart in my throat, blood pressure pounding in my ears. My baby! What have they done to my sweet girl?!

So, he said, she’ll need to stay overnight, but we think it would be good if you came to visit her this afternoon.

I rushed out there right after work. She was in a cage, and she looked so small. I petted her and talked to her and told her when she came home she could have all the treats she wanted, and that we were all waiting for her and we missed her. She opened her eyes, but she couldn’t focus, and she could barely hold her head up.

The vet was next to me saying he thought maybe she was just sensitive to the anesthetic and that it was just going to take a little longer for her to wake up. Okay, I’ll go with that. He seemed worried, though, and that scared me. They told me the next morning that he stayed late with her and hand fed her cuz she was still half asleep. He’s a good guy, and a good vet, and I think he was just as worried as I was.

The next morning was Saturday and I went to get Clare as soon as they opened. She was awake, and pissed. When I brought her in the house, she paused briefly next to her treat spot, scarfed a couple down, and headed upstairs. She went in a closet and didn’t come out except to use her litterbox and to eat for the whole weekend. She hissed at Grace whenever she ventured near, and she completely ignored mom and me.

Fast forward to this weekend and she’s doing really well. Her ear is healing nicely and she’s more her regular sweet gentle self. I have gunk I have to put in the ear once a day and she’s even been a good sport about that. Slowly over the course of the week she has forgiven us and life has gone back to normal, for the most part. She has to go back next Friday to have the stitches taken out, and that might be a little scary for her, but she won’t have to stay and she’ll get treats when she gets home, so not a big deal.

It all worked out well and this event will just be a scary memory. We were lucky, because certainly things can and do go wrong very quickly all the time. I think it’s good to be scared like that once in a while. This was a good reminder that you can lose something important to you in a heartbeat, and you probably won’t see it coming. Life can be so harsh, and unlike in the movies, there isn’t always a happy ending.

Just like that what really matters jumps into sharp focus and puts everything else into perspective. Scary, but I’m grateful for the jolt. I’m grateful for our good and caring Dr. Rob, and I’m grateful for my sweet little Clare and her willingness to forgive and forget and just get on with it.

Treats all around!

The life I’m not living

37363174_10211385893512257_3079328634532528128_n

This is the family I don’t have – my birthmother, Linda, in the middle, with my brothers and sisters (l to r) Robert, Julie, Betsy, and Andy around her. The man in the back is Linda’s husband. This picture was taken this summer at the get-together they have every year with all of their families at their cottage on the lake up north.

I don’t know my siblings, and they don’t even know I exist. My birthmother knows who I am and where I am, but wants nothing to do with me.

I think they’re probably an average upper middle-class family, with their ups and downs like everyone else. They’ve done well financially thanks to the start given them by my grandparents and the business they built and handed on to my bmom, who handed it on to my sisters when she and her husband retired several years ago.

They go to church in their small town and are very involved in it. Bmom and hubby are involved in the community volunteering, clubs, etc., as are my two sisters, who still live in that town. My brothers are in two different states far away. All my siblings have children – lots of them – and I’m sure all of their families are nice, but with their joys and sorrows, too. Betsy, for example, is divorced, and I’m sure that’s been hard.

I don’t imagine I have a single thing in common with any of them. I might have, if I’d been raised with them. I would have been the oldest; one of 5 children, rather than an only child. My whole life would have been very different, and I think about that a lot.

I think about the moment that changed my bmom’s and bdad’s lives, and sent my life hurtling in a completely different direction than the one I might have experienced. There was a moment in the summer of 1961 when Linda told Richard (Dick) she was pregnant, and he walked away and left her on her own to “solve the problem.” In the space of an instant following her telling, and before his response, my life balanced precariously between What Will Be and What Could Have Been.

The moment in which he turned his back on her was the moment I became a different person than I was just seconds before. Instead of Linda and Richard’s daughter, I became Byron and Colleen’s daughter. In that instant I became the only child of an uncomfortable mother and a wonderful but weak father, destined for a lonely, difficult life marred by depression. My bmom went on with her life, my bdad on with his – my life simply a footnote in theirs. A blip on the screen that maybe sent a little pang of sadness through them in later years, perhaps.

Linda married someone else, had four more children and has lived a comfortable (from the outside it looks really good) life. Dick was a Vietnam veteran and (when he came back) an alcoholic and died young. Whatever. They had choices. They made them and went on.

I had no choice. I had a troubled childhood, but that may have been my lot anyway. If Linda had married Dick and I had grown up with them, I may have had a difficult childhood living with an alcoholic and/or experienced a “broken” family if they had divorced. If Linda had made the choice to keep me in spite of Dick’s abandonment, I might have been in that family photo above as the oldest sister, or she may have faltered as a single mother and we would have both suffered in poverty. Or she might have married someone else completely and who knows then what our lives would have been like?

It’s all What If.

There are a lot of What If moments in everybody’s lives. I have a bunch and I have regrets, but this is the one that haunts me. I think what bothers me about it is that it isn’t my What If. I think about it all the time. It might have been different. I might have been different, but it wasn’t my choice. I look at that photo (and the ones from other years) and I think how lucky my brothers and sisters are to have each other and to have their own families, and to have grown up with young fun parents who had enough money to have a vacation cottage and to give their kids a good start in life with college paid for and a ready-made successful business to hand them.

None of that happened for me, but as I said, it might not have anyway. Life is a web – break one string and the others vibrate and change shape. I grew up with a wonderful father and a grandmother who was everything to me, and for that I’m very grateful. I’m too old now to blame my failures (or my successes) on my childhood anyway. It happened the way it did and that’s just the way it is. It’s water under the bridge, and it’s only hard for me to remember that now because I’m so unhappy in my current circumstances and the thought of a different life seems appealing. I could have made choices in my life that had led me down a different path, too, so I take responsibility for where I find myself now.

That’s not what this is about. There are times when I can’t help but think about that moment, and the life I’m not living and the family I don’t have. And sometimes it makes me feel better for a short time to think that it’s not fair and it’s not my fault.

But…of course it is.

It’s just what happened and all any of us has to work with is this moment and what’s happening now. The rest is gone.

Frankly, even If I could make it so, I’m not sure I would change any of it. I do not believe that things happen for a reason, and I don’t believe in destiny or divine providence or anything remotely like that. But I do believe in karma and I don’t believe you can avoid the lessons you were meant to have in this life. I think I’m probably living exactly the way I was meant to live and most of it is my fault. My choices, my consequences.

Happy belated birthday, Linda. I wish you and your family well.

 

My wild, messy heart

30601614_1248330455296943_6506109656476155904_n

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.

How do you mend a broken heart?

This has been a pretty intense week. All about life and death, really, nothing less.

On Monday my mom had an episode of some kind – I’m not sure if it was a stroke or a seizure – and she fainted. She was out cold for 2-3 minutes. She stopped breathing twice, and for several seconds I thought she was dead. She woke up, though, and over the course of that day came fully back to herself, though she felt a little like she had been hit by a truck. By Tuesday evening, though, you would never know it had happened.

On Wednesday I went to have an echocardiogram, cuz when I was at the doc for a physical last week she thought she heard a murmur, and was concerned that maybe I have a partially blocked artery. I had high cholesterol and high blood pressure, and in the past 2 years or so I’ve managed to control both with exercise and diet, and bring those numbers down. So I thought I was in pretty good shape, and honestly, I’m not that worried about something that’s going to kill me in 30 years. Cancer is what concerns me. I’ve had 2 middle-aged friends die in the past 2 weeks from cancer, not heart disease. I don’t know anyone who has died from heart disease, in fact; everyone I know died from cancer.

Laying there listening to the blood whoosh through my heart was sobering, though. I had a psychic tell me a long time ago that I had a broken heart; that’s what I was thinking about while the friendly young women was moving the sensor around my chest. Could there really be something wrong? Is my heart broken? I’m only 56. How could I be having heart trouble? I don’t have the results of the test yet, but I’m hopeful that it was nothing and that I’m as healthy as I think I am.

Then yesterday, I got word via Facebook that a friend who has been battling cancer for a few years had taken a turn for the worse and the doctors had sent her home to die. She was only 50, a recent grandmother, a bright spot in our little community – just a beautiful soul. Last night she died, with her very large family around her, and I just feel so bad about that. I will miss her, even though I didn’t know her very well. She always made me smile.

So near-death, worrying about death, and actual death in the space of 5 days. My head is spinning a little and my heart is breaking (figuratively) for Leslie and her family and friends. Through it all I’ve really been trying to just take it all in, let it be, and then let it go. So much sadness and loss in the last 2 weeks; but life goes on. My mom will die, people I care about will die, and I will die. That’s the reality of this Life, and there’s no getting around it.

Don’t take a minute for granted.

img_0753
Leslie Anne Miller Knoop 1967-2018

Rest in peace.

Rest in Peace

e987f29dc691ad9c82726a5dbfe41397

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

34644204_10214147436818813_1833310544099016704_n

 

 

 

Truth be told

DeO2jOAXkAE8oly.jpg large

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.

Loud and clear

The universe seems determined to show me all the ways in which I don’t measure up this week. There are a lot of them, and I’m painfully aware of them all, but I try to look past them and just do the best I can with what I’ve got. This week, however, I keep running into those walls at every turn and I’m a little bruised.

Those obstacles are people-related, mostly, with a few work failures thrown in. As I said, nothing I’m not aware of, and if you know me, chances are that you’re aware of them, too. The work troubles are new, the people thing, not new at all. I’ve tripped over myself coming and going over that one all the time, all my life.

I don’t know why. I like people, and I’m friendly. It seems to be that like some snakes or toads that have markings to let you know they’re dangerous, I send out some kind of signal that folks pick up sooner or later that lets them know that I’m different in some way. With two notable exceptions, I have trouble keeping friends, and consequently, I’m lonely and feel left out sometimes.

It’s something I’ve come to terms with for the most part, though, and luckily I enjoy my own company. Most of the things I like to do are solitary pursuits, so not a big deal most of the time. Every now and again, though, I hit that wall hard and this week I’ve run into it multiple times.

As for work, I seem to have outlived my skills. I was not wildly talented at what I do to begin with and now 25 years later, the expectations have outpaced my creative ability and my skills in some cases. The young people who run things now have no patience and no respect for experience; they have their own ideas about how things should look and be done, and they’re not interested at all in what I think. I think that’s probably as it should be, but it’s hard to take being treated as if you have no value after working so hard at something for so long.

So that’s really what it comes down to – being treated as if I have no value. I tell myself over and over that I am fine, doing the best I can, and that I’m worthwhile. The message I get over and over from other people in most areas of my life repeatedly, however, is different. This week that message has been particularly loud. And clear. It’s been hard to take.

Ironically, though, when I go home to my mother I’m reminded that I have a lot of value in her eyes. That hasn’t always been true, but it is now, and that’s a good thing. So the hardest part of my life has been the best part this week. Maybe that’s the message I’m supposed to be getting from the universe – that I’m where I’m supposed to be, doing what I’m supposed to be doing, and the rest of it isn’t important.

Maybe.

Another step forward

491930967_f98d9b5bf6_o

I was listening to a talk by Dr. Christine Carter today. I’ve heard her speak before, and I read her blog, but she said something in this talk I’ve never heard or thought about before that really resonated with me.

She pointed out that being comfortable is a relatively new thing for human beings. For the most part, our ancestors led mostly uncomfortable lives by comparison to ours – long days of manual labor, the constant threat of disease, early death by our standards. Even creature comforts like a warm house, readily available food, and comfortable clothes were not something they could take for granted.

Pleasure was an occasional thing. Not the focus of every day and every activity for most people. Folks were much too busy just staying alive to make pleasure a priority. Certainly they found pleasure in life, but it wasn’t the focus or the expectation. Those who survived were those who could tolerate and survive physical adversity. Until relatively recently humans didn’t have the luxury of considering their mental health – about whether they were happy or comfortable or leading a meaningful life – they just lived. They got through each day doing what needed to be done to survive to the next.

In some countries, this is still true, as well as for the poorest in this country, to some degree. But for most humans living now, life is relatively easy in those terms – our basic physical needs have been met and in many cases, exceeded. Now we are free to spend our time and energy pursuing pleasure – and we’ve gotten very good at it. Sugary foods, mind-altering substances, shopping, the internet, gambling, TV, porn, etc. are all readily available.

The trouble is that we’ve confused pleasure with happiness. They are not the same thing, and we’ve lost sight of the distinction. We’ve become addicted to pleasure, but we’re unhappier than ever. We’re too comfortable and we’ve become complacent and dissatisfied because it takes more and more to meet our need for pleasure. The “high” wears off too quickly. It’s not the robust, sustaining happiness we really need and that we think we’re reaching for. Pleasure is merely a brain receptor thing, not a soul thing. It doesn’t feed us fully – quite literally, pleasure provides only empty calories.

This was quite a revelation to me this morning, let me tell you. It caused me to evaluate my perception of my situation with my mother yet again in these terms. I realized that some of the things I’m missing by devoting so much time and energy to her care are things that really only bring me short-term pleasure, not necessarily happiness, and that being without them for a time isn’t that big a deal.

Further, my anxiety stems from the fear of discomfort in this situation. I’m not comfortable having her rely on me for everything. I’m not comfortable going to the emergency room every few weeks. I’m not comfortable being unable to solve all her problems. I’m not comfortable having another person, especially her because of our history together, determine the course of my days. I’m uncomfortable spending so much time with her because I’ve always been uncomfortable with her.

So.

Life is uncertain. Life with my mother is, and always has been, uncertain. This is something I’ve struggled with all my life – I am never safe from having to deal with her. She has always been ill, she has always been needy. She has always been a big source of discomfort. All of my life.

So.

I survived, didn’t I? The discomfort hasn’t killed me to this point, and it won’t going forward. As Dr. Carter said in this talk, human beings have survived for millennia being uncomfortable. I can make it through a couple of months, or in this case, years. Being with her and taking care of her now is still the right thing to do, and the fact that it makes me uncomfortable doesn’t change that. Having less pleasure in my life makes it dull, but that won’t kill me, either. What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger is a real thing – adversity helps us learn and grow as humans. It’s hard-wired.

Having said that, there are a couple of things that I’ve identified in the past couple of months as being necessary to my health and well-being – my long-term happiness – and mom and I are figuring out ways together to insure that I have time and energy for those things. So that is easing the discomfort to a great degree and has raised the pleasure quotient at the same time. It doesn’t remove the uncertainty, but that’s just the way it is. Life is uncertain for everyone, all the time. Even under the best of circumstances.

This too shall pass is true of all of life – the good and the bad. The pleasure and the discomfort. The trick is to be happy through all of it. In each moment joy is available to us, and if we reside there as much as possible, focus on what’s good, even joyful, in each moment, we tilt our brain scale toward happiness. That’s a lot easier to say than it is to do, but it’s worth a try every single day.

In another talk I heard yesterday, Geneen Roth said she tells her students to list everyday the 5 things that aren’t wrong. It made me laugh when I heard it, but it resonated with me because it’s related to gratitude, but it’s not as hard as gratitude. Sometimes I find it hard to feel grateful for really difficult things, really difficult days. Often I look back on those times and realize what I’ve gained from going through those uncomfortable experiences and then I am grateful, but in the moment, not so much.

But even when everything seems to be falling apart, there are things that aren’t wrong, that are still wonderful and helpful and beautiful – friends, pets, books, flowers, bicycling – and focusing on those things and knowing they’ll be available to us again at some point, is very comforting.

I may not always be able to list 5 things on any given day that I’m grateful for, but certainly I can think of 5 things – even really mundane things like the hot water heater is still working – that aren’t wrong. A shift in thinking is sometimes all it takes to turn things around even when you’re the most uncomfortable and feeling low.

So. I learned a lot this week, and that makes me happy.

I’m grateful without reservation for these and other teachers who offer their wisdom and insight to us daily. Thanks to the Awake Network and the Shambala Mountain Center who sponsored Mindful Living Week, I have been able to listen to these speakers and others for free. What a gift. Definitely tops the list everyday this week of things that aren’t wrong, and how appropriate during this time of new beginnings.

Happy Spring.