A More Honest Look at My Year

Someone I follow online sent out an “end of year exercise” to think about all the aspects of the year that is coming to a close. There were many questions to think about as I reflected over the past 11 months. I was kind of surprised by the negativity I expressed. In my last post I said I thought it had been a “healthier, happier” year. Now I am questioning that.

When I compare the two years, I see that while 2016 had a series of dismal times that culminated in a tragic event, I was relatively unaware of the severity of the problems. So while the year was punctuated by a handful of unsettling and hurtful experiences, I feel like I passed from one to another with relatively little distress in between. On the other hand, 2017 saw me actively dealing with pain for the greater part of the year. Emotional pain, physical pain, and financial pain all found their way to my days. When reflecting on the year in free form writing, the words that surfaced were Pain, Money, and Fear. That surprised and concerned me. I’d like better than that. So I used them to develop new words for 2018 – Comfort, Resiliency, Enrich, and Assurance. I will use these words to shape my goals for 2018. I also chose a “Word of the Year” – Recovery.

 

As for my official goals, I have done so-so. I did pretty poorly on issues of creativity and self-care. However my goals for health & physical fitness and personal relationships were completely realized. Taking care of my kids and my house came in at pretty much the expected level of completion. I have a few more weeks to see if I can hammer out a little bit of progress on some of them (I give myself partial credit, remember?) In January, I’ll make a full report.

I am a positive, optimistic person in general, but I am given to Pollyannaism at times. I’m glad I stopped and took a better look at what I thought was a “good” year. I deserve better than what I have been getting, but I also need to realize that it takes a while. I’ll work on making next year just that much better again.

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Thanks for Reading

I wrote my first blog post a year ago today. It would be so easy to say ‘what a long strange trip it’s been’, so I will do better. These past twelve months have been difficult for me. There has been a lot of healing going on both internally and externally. There was significant, hard, emotional work to be accomplished involving my family of origin, the family I created, and the family I am recreating. I had a serious financial challenge coupled with extraordinary expenses (did I tell you my furnace was CONDEMNED??!?!) And it was a shit year for the country, a place where I thought we had well established rights, freedoms, laws, and expectations. But as much as I have been dealing with, it has been a healthier, happier twelve months than the previous fourteen.

While I am pretty sure you don’t care about the stats I looked up, I still want to list them for my own reference. I averaged nearly three posts a month and 20% of them had over 50 views. That’s really exciting to me. I don’t know that I need to post as much now since my life is again on track, but I am happy that I took the plunge. My therapist told me I needed to find a way to be both vulnerable and not care about how my vulnerability was received. It’s also been a good place for long form discussion of my thoughts. I still have some ideas on things to say from misophonia and prime numbers to chocolate and OCD, so I’ll keep going.

The good thing is that I am well settled into my “baseline state of being happy”, which is something I regained several years back, but had a hitch in the get along for a while. I know what I need, I want what I like, I am willing to fight for both. Just like the damned cliche of not finding love until you stop looking (yeah, I did that) so too you often have no idea how resilient you are until you are tested.

Thanks for coming along for the ride.

Yes, #MeToo

In light of #MeToo, I thought I’d speak out more specifically as one of my friends has. Not too many people know this story because I have always worked hard to repress it.

I’ll start off with the easier stuff to work up to it. Like most woman, I have been subjected to misogyny flung at me from a passing car, a guy being way too close to me for comfort, sexuality used a a method of humiliation. More specifically, I have had a company manager ask me what color my underwear was and my direct supervisor ask me to have sex with him (even knowing I was married.) Strangely (or not) when I left the workforce some 18 years ago, whatever harassment I experienced diminished. Or perhaps my perception of its danger reduced because I was no longer dependent on the people in power for my job. But the actual assault happened in high school.

I was one of the “smart kids” and never felt like I could attract the interest of a boy. When a boy two years older than I asked me to dance at a local dance, I was over the moon. I started dating him. Looking back, I am fairly certain he started manipulating me right at the start. My parents hated him. They were right. He somehow put a proprietary stamp on me and certainly after that no boy would even look my way. I’ve actually spoken to at least two men who say they were interested in me back then, but didn’t move on it. I told them I wish they had, they could have saved me.

We dated about a year and a half, and I freely admit that we did what was then called “heavy petting”. He worked his hardest to convince me to “go all the way” and one time I let him try. It was a disaster for me and I made him stop. The next time we went out, I was not so lucky. He was not interested in my protestations. We were in an isolated area and I remember trying to work out how far I’d have to run before getting to a house where someone would be. When he was done, he took me home. Without saying what happened, I told my parents I never wanted to see him again. I am pretty sure I was enlisting their help to protect me because I knew things were going to get worse. They did.

He tried to call, he got hung up on. He came to the restaurant where I worked, no one would seat him in my section. He glowered at me from the counter with a cup of coffee, colleagues made sure I didn’t have to go to the front area. He volunteered at my high school in the theatre (he had already graduated and the theatre was my only “extracurricular”.) He defaced property at my house and I was TERRIFIED he was going to burn down my house – copying a popular movie at the time. He also tried to kidnap me. I was driving to school early (for a National Merit Scholarship meeting!) and I saw his car in the lot across the street from my house. I tried to leave the back way, but he saw and started following me at a terrible pace. Being just 17, my only thought was “if I can get to school fast enough, I’ll be alright.” I did not, however, remember that I was going to school early and that there was going to be no one in the parking lot. I made it to school, jumped out of my car, and started to run. As you might imagine, I was not fast enough. He grabbed me, dragged me to his car, and started to shove me in. What I saw next has stayed vivid since that day. My father’s car came flying over an embankment and stopped feet from the front of his car. He leapt out, grabbed the guy by the shoulders, and threw him off me. My dad was about half a foot shorter than this guy, but he had fatherly rage on his side. This, by the way, is the reason I always believed I could “save” one of my kids if I needed to. My dad escorted me into the school office and frankly I have no idea what happened next. Were the police called? I don’t know. Did my dad confront him? I don’t know. Was the school told to bar entrance to this guy? I don’t know. I do know that the cop in my very small town  DID find him and inform him that he was no longer welcome and he better not show up there again. I never saw him again. Sadly, that did not mean the end of it though. Even though I went off to college the next year, he continued to harass my family. But that’s another story.

For years these events haunted me. When I started each new college year, I mapped out in my head two different ways to escape my dorm room and most academic buildings if I learned he was coming to find me. I decided what guys I could trust to be bigger or stronger than him so I could go to them if I needed it. I fantasized about shooting him (there were no guns in my household, so it was only a fantasy.) Eventually, it all faded. And yet, when I joined Facebook, the first thing I did was block him. When Google+ came into existence, I was signed up automatically because I had a Youtube account, but I never used it. In 2012 HE ASK TO ADD ME and I was momentarily thrown back into panic. I ignored it for months then blocked him. I didn’t want him to see he was being blocked in response to the request. And now, because of the bizarre climate we are living in, I am dredging it up once again.

Back then, “date rape” and “stalking” weren’t a thing yet. I wish they didn’t have to be a thing now, but they are. So……..

#MeToo.

I Tried So Hard and Got So Far

I was supposed to see Linkin Park play in less than two weeks. They are my guilty pleasure band (I know music lovers should proudly like anything they want, but I have some good reasons why I consider them a “guilty pleasure”.) I never managed to get tickets to a show, and finally rectified that this summer. Until yesterday. Chester Bennington hanged himself and took away a father, a musician, a human being who was clearly in a lot of pain. I read that he had experienced childhood sexual abuse, turned to hardcore drug use, and had to get clean more than once. He was also open about the fact that he dealt with daily, crippling depression.

I don’t claim to have an insight on depression. I have “been depressed” when I’ve had bad times, but that is COMPLETELY different from the insidious disease that is clinical depression. When I worked in Human Resources, I recall working with an employee who had that diagnosis and required an unbelievably large amount of time off from work. As a young person who had yet to experience much in the way of sadness or distress, let alone an actual illness, I had a hard time understanding how or why it could be so bad. I was then blessed with a child who’s special needs were apparent within the first few months of his life, although it was impossible to tell at the time how they would manifest. Fortunately, the depression he dealt with early on in life did not rise to the level of suicide (although the school counseled him for suicidal ideation at 7 YEARS OLD without my knowledge – is it any wonder I homeschooled?? p.s. his actual therapist disagreed with the school.) So while I don’t “know” what it’s like, I have had a taste of helping someone I love who simply cannot bring themselves out of difficult thoughts. Without my son, I might still be like the clueless youngster I was when I was in HR so long ago.

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I also have the challenge that the person I was going to take to see Linkin Park play deals with mental health issues themselves. I reached out as soon as I learned of the singer’s death to offer support in case they were feeling fragile. The brief exchange we had was a tad worrisome because it expressed concern over their ability to “have hope”, I want them to know I am here for them any time. I have been asked to assist them with getting some more activities that prevent isolation, so I am glad to have opened up the conversation with them. It’s horrible to know that people I love can be so crippled by this disease and I hope I am able to help anyone who needs connection. I will try my best to listen and help; I want others in my life know that I am a sympathetic ear and possibly even a pragmatic helper.

 

Because in the end, it DOES really matter.

Rolling in the Deep

It’s a beautiful sunny day and it looks like spring has finally sprung, but I may be stuck back in the fall. I had an event back in October that brought on a severe and lengthy episode of anxiety and anguish and its affects are still lingering. It’s very hard to use self talk to pull yourself back when your brain knows perfectly well that “last time” your anxiety was not only 100% right and everything was true but that it was actually worse than you imagined.

These days, three or four mornings a week, within moments of waking up, a wave rolls over me that starts at my head and continues over my body down just past my hips. Wave is really the best word to describe it because it feels undulating, but not in a pleasant way. It’s hot, heavy, makes my heart race, and causes everything to tighten. Usually there is a perfunctory “reason” for the panic – have I awoken in time to get to that place, do I have enough time in the day to get X done, did I forget that really important thing I was supposed to do? Most of the time nothing is valid enough to cause anxiety and I usually can’t even remember what the trigger was by lunch.  But at the moment I wake, my body can do nothing other than tell me that something critical is in jeopardy. I start the “everything is alright” speech in my head to see if I can get it to calm down and as I fully wake up I can usually get a hold of it. Fortunately, I am not burdened by anxiety to an extent that I cannot eventually right myself. Even still, I am sitting here half an hour after getting up with my chest still tight, wondering what I can do to get this cycle to stop for good. The “bad thing” from autumn has passed. There are lingering issues sure, but the reason for actual dread has subsided. I am now just dealing with the legacy of having been affected so acutely by it.

Exercise, getting proper sleep, eating well, and taking time for yourself are all good practices for managing mental health, as described by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.

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I think I do a reasonable job at those things. There are others on that list that I could add like meditation, volunteering, or journalling but those things do not appeal to me in the least and I think part of their success is in the wanting to do it. I’m not sure I would reap the benefits of those tactics if I were only going through the motions. I have already talked about how volunteering does not make me a calmer, better person.  Meditation and journalling strike me as similarly futile pursuits to me. What I wonder is how one controls something that occurs (or at least starts to occur) before one is really even thinking about anything coherently. I feel like this is my subconscious’s last grab at me before the day starts. I’d really like it to stop because depending on how successful I am in my “everything is alright” mantra, waking like this can cast a pall over my day, or at least a portion of it depending on what is happening.

Part of the reason that happens is because I have a hard time letting go. I talked before about how I often just wait things out.  It does mean I can spend a lot of time suffering, but it’s not always all bad. Having a hard time letting go means I don’t give up easily either. On people or things. It also means things like I am not an early adopter of technology (I got my first smartphone only six months ago;) I still have 75% of the furniture I started out with in this house twenty four years ago; and recycle/reuse (or simply don’t replace until it is non-functional!) were practices for me before they were chic. It means I will be there for friends who need me or organizations that rely on me. It’s only through painstaking review do I ever decide to shed a relationship or responsibility.

Brain Loss

But, the flip side is that when misfortune swirls through my life’s path, that too sticks with me for longer than it should. I’ve always told people that I am not interested in horror movies/TV shows/books, or ones that are “disturbing” because pictures get stuck in my head and I just don’t need that. I know this happens and I do my best to avoid it. I saw a movie with a prison rape scene nearly 30 years ago that will still unsettle me occasionally. I am THE BEST at covering my eyes just at the right moment to avoid seeing something gruesome or distressing. You know when the Nazi’s face melts at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark? Never seen it.

Spring leads to warmer, brighter days. There is some hope that this change in season will also lighten my load and my mornings will calm down. Until then, I have to trust that “everything is alright” and keep up with strategies that are known to help.

Viva la ‘Braska

Today is a special day. Eight years ago today my sister brought Snow Patrol into my life. No, it wasn’t that ‘Chasing Cars’ song – I probably had heard it before because I do remember Denny dying on Gray’s Anatomy, but that particular song had no impact on me whatsoever. Instead it was ‘Make This Go On Forever’.

The repeated last line “Please just save me from this darkness” burrowed through my layers of self-imposed isolation and reached me in a way that nothing yet had. I grabbed hold of that line and used it to pull me through my darkness and loss. Without going too much into it, this was the time when I was mired deep in a marriage that neglected me and a parent/child relationship that sucked me dry. Something broke free in me that day and music re-entered my life. It filled me, changed me, saved me.

Things then happened fast. Both my sisters liked Snow Patrol too and we started plotting how to see them play live. Turned out that just months later they were playing in the U.S. (they are a Northern Irish band.) But, they were coming over as the support band. Not knowing ANYTHING about touring bands at the time (and thank heavens for that because we would have missed an awesome experience) we thought this might be our only chance to see them. We had the choice of either seeing them support Coldplay in Omaha or U2 in Chicago. Since none of us had ever seen Coldplay, we decided to go to Nebraska. Yeah – NEBRASKA. Crazy, I know, but it was the best decision of the decade! So the first concert I went to in fifteen years, the one that started my obsessive live music attendance involved flying 1,150 miles to see a support band! Don’t get me wrong, Coldplay’s Viva la Vida tour was to die for, but that is NOT why we went.

So here’s the story. Before heading to Omaha, we learned that there was going to be an in-store at a local record shop before the show that evening. That meant we planned on two nights in Omaha, so we would arrive the day before to be able to attend the in-store. Julia and I met in the airport when we arrived and called for the hotel shuttle to ferry us into town. As we tittered and schemed in the back seat, the driver suddenly asked, “Did your other sister arrive earlier today?” Yes she had and we exclaimed excitedly wanting to know how he knew she might have been our sister. He only cryptically asked, “Do you know the secret?” When we said no, he said he’d leave it to our sister. Cynthia was waiting for us in the lobby of the hotel when we arrived and could barely hold herself together as we made our way to the elevator. As the doors closed, she announced the secret – Snow Patrol were staying in our hotel that night! We squealed all the way up to our floor!

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Enjoying our first day in Omaha, knowing we were going to try to meet the band that night.  First time we had ever tried fried pickles too.  (I *still* think they are weird.)

After calculating when we thought the band would be rolling into town based on where they were playing that night, we enjoyed the evening in Omaha and then camped out at the “Cookie Bar” (I kid you not – cookies, milk, tea, the works!) in the hotel to wait for the band to arrive.

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Seriously – see the different outfits?  Cookie bar vs. with the band?  That change almost cost them!

Some point after midnight Julia and Cynthia went upstairs to change, so I was sat there alone. And the bus pulled up. I was one step from paralyzed! I managed to get to a house phone, dial my room, and Julia answered. “BUS!” was literally all I could manage to shout into the phone. Moments later I heard the clamor of feet pounding down the stairs, no time to wait for a damned elevator! We three stood in the lobby of an old-fashioned, boutique hotel and through the enormous, iron, double doors the guys from the band walked in one by one. Right past us. As we stood dumbfounded in silence. They gathered at the chairs by the elevator while their tour manager did the checking in and we were still standing there, rooted, stockstill. Finally Cynthia found her senses and propelled herself forward saying hello and introducing herself. Next thing I knew, I was shaking hands and introducing myself to each of the members of Snow Patrol and all I could think of as they introduced themselves was “NO SHIT you’re Gary, NO SHIT you’re Nathan, etc.” They were lovely to us as we stumbled over our story of coming from the east coast for the show. We then got the most awesome photo of the three of us with the entire band. To this day, we are still the only ones I know that have a photo with the entire band.

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The entire glorious band!

The next day we went to the in-store and staked out a spot literally sitting at the feet of the lead singer and guitarist (the aforementioned Gary and Nathan.) There were tears.

When the tour manager was packing up at the end, I had a plan so I made my move. I have often said that while I have a hard time asking for things for myself, I have no problem asking for things for others, especially my sisters. So I stepped over the monitors on the floor and approached Neil (yes, I had already researched his name!) I quickly told him how my sisters and I had come from the east coast just to see Snow Patrol and could he upgrade our seats so we could loudly scream for them? And you know what? He did! We then got a few minutes to meet and talk to both Nathan and Gary (and kinda apologize for ambushing them the night before) before heading out to get ready for an amazing concert experience. There we were, in the Snow Patrol guestlist row, dancing and screaming our lungs out. Oh, and Coldplay was way better than OK too. 😃

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This is how insanely close we were to Chris and Jonny when they came down the side ramp. Only photogs between us the them!

That was the beginning of my journey into live music. It started an obsession that developed into something that I cherish and nurture. That first show in Omaha, NE made me feel alive like nothing had in many, many years. Fortunately, eight years later live music still does.

Help From Friends – Observed

My last blog was about how hard it is to ask for help. Just days after I put it up, a Facebook friend actually needed help. The replies to her post were interesting and seemed to support the notion that while it is very hard to ask for help, sometimes it’s hard to get help too.

First, she started out apologetically and called what she was doing “a rant”. But what was immediately clear to me was that she was drowning. She acknowledged that she had a good life, a wonderful husband, and three fantastic children. But I know that doesn’t mean that her life wasn’t very, very hard for her. With two of her children still very young, life was at its most difficult point and she didn’t know how to get herself out of it. She felt alone and isolated. There were a lot of people who responded to her immediately with comments like “don’t worry we love you so much”, “I’m here whenever you need me”, and “let me know anytime you want to chat”. These were all people who I speculate were local to her and could have done something immediate and tangible. But that’s not what happened. They seemed to be putting the onus on her to orchestrate a get together to relieve her own suffering. When you are drowning you simply are not in a place where you can exert anymore effort. This Facebook plea was probably all she could do.

My reply, from the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, made it clear I thought her friends who were but a stone’s throw away could do much more for her. I pointed out that she didn’t need someone to say, “hey give me a call”, she should not be required to make another effort. What she needed was for someone to say, “I’m coming by Saturday at 2 o’clock for coffee and cake, and I’m bringing the cake.” I’ve been there, I know what it feels like and how you can’t see your way through or around it; keeping your head above water is pretty much all you can handle.

I don’t know why it’s so hard to ask for help. And more curiously, I don’t know why it’s so hard for people to proactively provide help. Why weren’t those local friends showing up at her doorstep to take her baby out for a stroll while she washed her hair, why weren’t her friends arranging playdates so they could talk intimately about how hard it was to have young children? It shouldn’t be this hard.

I also found it very interesting that not one but four people that know her online only and from different countries than her own were the ones who gave the concrete explicit advice. One especially sage woman replied to a well wisher “Can I be really naughty and say [she] has now asked? You sound lovely, can you check up on [her] a bit and not wait for her to contact you right now? … I know it’s very hard to do the instigating of contact right now for [her].” Maybe the distance of a couple of times zones made it easier for me and the Aussie to be blunt, but I think it was important for the people who were in a position to do something to be told that THEY were the ones who needed to be DOING.

So I wasn’t the one who was going to be able to show up with “tea and sympathy”, but I hope I was able to prompt those who could.