Tuesday, September 30, 2014

“It is never too late to be who you might have been.” *

I can remember, when I was young, that I saw the world stretching out in front of me, and I had no idea who or what I would one day become. Every day was a chance at something new, and I followed a path that I set for myself.

There came a time, though, when the only thing I saw stretching out in front of me was time. I saw nothing to challenge me...nothing to do more than to draw me from one day to the next. I saw no possibility of change...of adventure...of becoming more than someone who went to work and came home, only to restart the process again the next day.

I was asked yesterday how it was I came to find the courage, the willingness, the chutzpah even, to resurrect my life and make the drastic changes I made.

It was a challenge that put it all in to motion.

"Kim," I was asked, "what is your passion in life?" A pause while I thought...and found no answer. "Or do you even have passion anymore?"

And I had to admit to the friend who had gently asked me the question that no, I no longer had passion. I had been going through the motions. I had been taking one step after another on a long familiar road that only led from one day to the next. I had no deviation, no experience outside of work and home, no plans that were not made for me to follow.

I thought about that question and remembered that my passion used to be words. I had been a newspaper editor and reporter. I made my living investigating stories, attending meetings, writing about the events in our town in a way that people who had not been able to attend would understand them. I had a column. I wrote humorous insights into daily events. I wrote inspirational columns because I thought deep thoughts and still could. I read every day...all kinds of books. I spent my free time writing to friends and communicating with others.

So I took that question...that challenge...and took a step off the path I'd been on. I decided, at age 45, to go back to school and get my degree before I was 50. At 46, I started school. Almost every day for the next four years, I poured myself into writing and did receive my degree in Creative Writing and English one month after turning 50.

It wasn't enough to get my degree, though. With the confidence I'd built in doing well in school, it was time to step out of my safe job as a cashier in a retail/restaurant establishment, and start doing something that made a difference.

Just before my 50th birthday, I became a Peer Provider at a mental health facility in my hometown in Texas. It was now my job to share my story of depression, bipolar, panic and anxiety...and how I'd come to live beyond my diagnosis and become my own person again. It was a step I'd never dreamed I would take...but rekindling my passion, pursuing my education, and deciding that the status quo was no longer satisfactory made taking that step not only possible, but necessary.

Now I'm 51. I have decided to enter into a relationship with my long-time friend, Pat. We've BOTH made a conscious decision to stop thinking we had to be alone the rest of our lives, and started entertaining the possibility of being part of a couple. We are 51 and 55 and I for one don't feel old. I feel rejuvenated...rekindled again...resurrected as my client mentioned yesterday.

Who will I be in five years? I will be strong, confident, and sure in what I'm doing. I don't know what that is yet, but I will know it when I see it. Until then, I will be strong and confident and sure of what I do and do not want. I will be bold in going after the things that I feel passionate about and not be afraid to think outside the box or be held back because I'm a woman of a "certain age".

It's not too late. It's never too late. And I will still be exactly who I might have been. :)

* George Eliot

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

"No one can grow in the shade." *

I've been in three major relationships in my life.

I married a man at 20. I divorced him and later married another man in my 30s. We divorced in my mid-40s. And at 50, I entered in to the relationship I am in now.

At 20, there were a myriad of reasons that I chose to get married. None of them were good enough to base a life-time commitment on. I barely knew the man, who was older than me...who had been out in the world...who had embarked on a career. I was young, had never seriously dated anyone before, had never worked out a compromise in a relationship, and had only worked the typical high school/college jobs. I had no clue about how a relationship was supposed to work, so I decided to take his word for How Things Were Supposed to Be and tried to submit to his ideal of What A Wife Should Be.

Seen and not heard. Maybe not seen at all.

He preferred attending military functions, which typically included the spouse, on his own. He preferred shopping different parts of the store than me when we were out.

Shy. Submissive. Subjugated.

Which I'm not. Which I tried to be. Which I became.

And what growth I managed to do in the shade of his attempted control turned out to be rather stunted.

So in my 30s, when I was manic, and I married again, I made sure not to marry a controller.

Instead, he wanted me to be in charge of everything...and he wanted to be close. All the time. Overwhelmingly close.

I couldn't leave the house without being called every few minutes to "see how you're doing." I couldn't talk to my friends or family without him interrupting me to make jokes or ask questions that could very well have waited. I couldn't leave the room without him asking where I was going.

And in the shade of his clinginess and smothering, I did not grow at all.

I was also very unhealthy at that time -- in the throes of a bipolar roller coaster, not yet diagnosed, and desperately needing help.

When I got help...when I started to get healthy...when I tried to take back some of the strength I had gained when I was on my own...the marriage (always shaky) quickly died and we separated, then divorced.

I became strong. I began to grow.

Slowly, and with the help of family and friends who did not try to control me or smother, but always encouraged me and supported me as I began to take steps to set my future in place.

Now, in this third relationship, I started out healthy and strong on my own. My friend and I met on equal footing, in a long-term supportive friendship, and built on that. We talk...about everything. We discuss important things and chat about silly things. We celebrate both our similarities and our differences. We explore each other's thoughts, dreams, likes and dislikes, discovery ways to interact and connect. We support each other in the decisions we have to make. More than a girlfriend...more than a lover...he wants a partner. He doesn't want me to be anyone but me. He doesn't want me to put myself under his control...he wants me on equal footing. He doesn't want me to be his mother or his constant-every-minute-of-every-day-touchstone...he wants me to be his companion. He wants us to have our own interests independent of each other, as well as things we enjoy and do together.

It is the healthiest relationship I have ever known.

I had to grow and get healthy to find it.

I could not grow in the shade...but in the nourishment of family and friends whose love was unconditional.

* Leo Buscaglia

Thursday, August 7, 2014

“Anger always comes from frustrated expectations” *

Tonight, I spent far too much time being angry.

That it was based on frustrated expectations I was well aware. That I was choosing to be angry over a perceived slight was also clear to me. Yet I wasted some precious time and a lot of energy being angry at someone I love deeply and with whom I celebrate many things every day.

Because of assumptions about what certain phrases mean to him because they mean something clearcut to me, I let myself get angry when I felt I was being left out of his evening plans or being blown off for something else.

What was his heinous crime? Something atrocious. He made plans with me for tonight, had a slight chance in plans this morning, and didn't tell me that things were going to go a little differently than originally thought. So here I was, ready for one thing, only to find out something else entirely was going on. He meant to tell me that we were still on for the evening...that things were only temporarily delayed...but didn't know that my understanding was that this was all going to take all evening and I may as well find a good book, read, and nurse my wounded pride and hurt feelings until I felt like being civil again.

He came home, all happy to see me, ready to talk, and I was icy.

"I'm glad you're home. I'm upset and not talking to anybody. Maybe we can talk later this week."

(Put me off, will you? I will put YOU off and you can see how it feels.)

But he hadn't put me off...only run into a slight delay in our plans...and through no fault of his own did not know he hadn't communicated adequately with me.

Poor guy didn't know what he'd done.

And what he'd done was no big deal. And I was already kicking myself because I know I was being mean and stubborn about my hurt feelings and anger. I know I was choosing to disregard the thousands of ways he shows he loves me and focused on one thing that made me think I didn't matter much.


I knew it.

And I became angry then at myself. Frustrated because I was letting expectations...frustrated though they might have appeared...bring me down.

This is the second time it's happened. A miscommunication. A misunderstanding. My mind going to dark places it has no business going...no reason to seek out.

And both times he has been concerned about my well-being. Has apologized without accepting blame for my own actions but acknowledging his part in the misunderstanding. And neither time did he get angry back.

I don't think he's incapable of getting angry, because we've had a falling out before in the distant past that we eventually worked through. But I find I have great difficulty in accepting that he can work with me through a difficulty without first getting angry back at me and demanding an accounting.

I apologize readily when I know I'm wrong. Hell, I apologize readily for things that have nothing to do with my own actions or emotions. I spent years figuring out how bad things were my fault and accepting blame for many things I had no influence or control over. I spent years trying to unlearn those ingrained behaviors and deferences.

My first husband took advantage of my willingness to believe everything was my fault. If I dared raise questions or get high emotions of hurt or anger, he always turned things around and called me neurotic for expressing emotions or concerns. I was quick to believe then that he was right...and I was right...and any discord was completely my fault.

Pat, while acknowledging where I've screwed up and not making excuses for my leaping to conclusions or making false assumptions, never blames me or tries to make me feel guilty for being a very flawed human working through a new relationship. He doesn't yell at me. He doesn't get angry with me. He doesn't make excuses for me, but he always tries to understand what happened.

It's scary being that accepted.

It's unnerving to be forgiven when I feel I should be held accountable and made to make amends somehow.

He holds nothing over my head. He lords nothing over me. His equanimity is generous and so far, boundless.

I don't get it.

But it has the aroma of grace.

And I am humbled at the manner in which he bestows it.

I only hope, when the tables are turned and I've inadvertently wounded him and he thinks to lash out, that I will be as simply loving and gracious as he has been with me.

This is a relationship in which I am learning many new things and striving to unlearn old thought patterns and behaviors.

Wish him well, for he will need patience.

And wish me well, for I will need to learn to accept...acceptance.

* Elliott Larson

“Our first gift is us…” *

For a romantic evening with my boyfriend last weekend, my friend Rhonda loaned me a beautiful cheese plate and cheese knife so I would have something prettier than a dinner plate upon which to serve baked brie. It was a lovely presentation and Pat and I thoroughly enjoyed our meal, at which the brie was the main course.

This morning, I realized that I had not yet returned the plate and mentioned that I would do so when she returns after her trip this weekend.

“Not to worry,” she said. “It’s a gift. I bought it and never used it and you two will enjoy it. It’s yours.”

I thanked her, then texted Pat a short message about the plate telling him it was a gift…”our first couple gift.”

He texted back and said, “Second. But the first from someone else.”

I started racking my brain. I couldn’t think of another gift we had been given as a couple…or that we’d bought for ourselves as a gift. I didn’t think he was considering a couple of games we’d bought for the house. Backgammon and cribbage are nice games and all, and we plan to enjoy them, but that couldn’t be it. I wondered if he meant our trip to the Wichita Mountains in Oklahoma.

Feeling like the world’s worst girlfriend, for not having a clue what he was talking about, I had to ask, “What was our first gift to us as a couple?”

He rapidly replied, “Each other. Our first gift is us, from us.”

Sweet, sweet man.

But he is right. As he often is.

We chose to be in a relationship together and we made ourselves open and available one to the other in order for that to happen. We have had to talk through some serious issues which has required sometimes scary honesty and we’ve had to be willing to be completely open and trust one another.

That giving ourselves…that willingness to be important to one another…is the first gift we gave to ourselves as a couple.

And indeed, it should be for any relationship that the giving of two people is the first…best…gift.

*Patrick Wolfe

Monday, July 28, 2014

“The history of your happiness is the history of your feeling connected.” *

Tonight, when we were each finally home from work and able to chat, Pat and I spent some time inquiring about each other's day...how it went...how we were. A simple thing, "How was work today?" "How are you feeling now?" We were each able to share some good things and each good thing was not only acknowledged by the other, but jointly celebrated. On other nights, when one or the other of us has had a bad day, we've been able to hear the other one out, offer support and encouragement, and be available for as long as necessary one for the other.

It's a way of coming together after another day apart and reconnecting. It's something I have always craved in a relationship, and while I have often asked how my partner's day has been, there has never been the same type of give and take and the same type of connection that Pat and I have been able to create with one another. 

It is that feeling of being connected that we seek in one another that creates our happiness together.

I was married once for sixteen years. Even excusing the last six of that union as a time of illness, there were still ten years of relative youth in which we should have been happy. 

But we weren't.

Because there was seldom any connection.

I can count on one hand the times when the two of us were truly happy and purely able to enjoy any time together. Each of those rare moments happened when both of us were truly present and available emotionally. It never worked if only one of us showed up.

Another time, I was married briefly, and there was a similar pattern of disconnectedness. Again, I can count the times we were happy with each other. Which is a shame given the many days that make up a year and the years that made up the relationship.

Whatever my motivations for marriage in the past...in my youth and in a time of similarly discordant choices in my life...I tried to make connections where none existed. 

Maybe because I finally became my own person...maybe because we are older and wiser...maybe because we started out as friends first...maybe because stability and recovery have become more ingrained in our psyches...Pat and I have always been able to connect in more than just a cursory manner.

We have been friends for ten years. As our relationship has changed and grown, I can count the times when we have seemed not to connect...but I cannot count the number of times that we have met each other intimately on an emotional or intellectual level. There have been myriads of moments when like met like, when we learned something new about the other in which we can delight.

My history with him...and the history we are making...is already one of abiding happiness...in ways I could only before imagine. Because we know how to connect with each other...and we make a choice to do so every day.

*Vironika TugalevaThe Love Mindset

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

“To thine own self be true…” *

In the throes of young love, I have recently seen several friends and relatives post about their relationships stating, “He is my whole world.”

I am always dubious about such statements. Perhaps from being some 30-odd years older and a few relationships wiser, that kind of “he’s my all in all” thinking just doesn’t sit well with me.

I get that people become wrapped up in one another the more time they spend together. I have a best friend that has become my boyfriend, and we probably think about each other more than we think about anyone or anything else. But he is not my world. And God help him if I am his.

Besides the sheer practicality of having work to think about for a large part of the day, there is just no way Pat can be everything I want or need in my life.

He can never replace (nor does he want to) my parents, my daughter, my other friends. Each relationship is unique and offers a specific give and take that is only fulfilled in that relationship.

We were talking about this last night. We have been commenting on how nice it is – after a couple of failed relationships in our lives – to have someone with whom we are finally so compatible. And we are. We like many of the same styles of music, genres of literature and film, stage productions, and jokes. We are well-matched intellectually and emotionally to the point that we each feel a benefit from having the other in our life, without feeling drained or stressed at any point.

One of the beauties of this relationship, however, includes the areas in which we are different from one another. I like Duck Dynasty; he doesn’t. He is intimately knowledgeable about computers and I have a nodding acquaintance with them. I’m never going to get him to go to an event with me to meet Uncle Si and Willie because it’s probably not something I will ask him to do. And though he plans on teaching me some HTML and wants to help me with some planned podcasts, I don’t anticipate “getting” all there is I will need to know.

There are other differences. I like wine. He doesn’t. He likes spicy brown mustard on his steak and I’m thinking I won’t try that. The man does not seek out zucchini in a salad bar. I can forgive him for this.

Recently, Pat has introduced me to the joys of riding motorcycles, flying, and the music of Al di Meola. I’ve introduced him to Cards Against Humanity and Norah Jones. Each of these things were outside of our realm of experience, but we were each willing to learn something new.

Still, he would love me no less if my old fears of motorcycles and airplanes were still in effect. We would work around it. I would not demand that he give up his beloved Goldwing to accommodate my dislike of them.

Similarly, if he didn’t like Cards Against Humanity, he wouldn’t ask me not to play it with my family when we all get together. He’d probably just go out and talk with my mom, who also doesn’t play, and they’d crack jokes about how crazy the rest of us are.

We would each have our own separate pursuits…indeed WILL have our own separate pursuits…and we will each be fine with that.

Because here’s the thing. We fell in love with each other for all the parts that create our whole self. There is nothing you can separate from me that wouldn’t change the person Pat decided to love. There is nothing I can separate from him that wouldn’t make him some other man in part or entirely. We are the sum of our experiences, our likes and dislikes, our thoughts and feelings.

To deny ourselves the things that make us uniquely ourselves is to deny ourselves the freedom to be the person we have been created to be. Not being true to ourselves denies us the authentic self we have become…and ultimately robs the other of the person we were first attracted to.

As a relationship progresses, of course there are periods of adjustment when people adapt their behaviors to one another for a more harmonious existence. But if it becomes that one person has to bury a true part of themselves to keep the peace, then something is wrong and needs to be addressed.

The key to all of this – the adapting, the changing, the being true to oneself – is communication. And if you have good, strong, open lines of communication – you can have the whole world at your fingertips…without being someone’s “whole world”.

*William Shakespeare

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

“Travel makes one modest; you see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.” *

I have recently been on two trips with Pat. The first was a three day get-away to a tiny little town in the Wichita Mountains in Oklahoma, and the second was a three-day weekend in the Wasatch Range of the Rocky Mountains in Utah. In each place, the scenery was breathtakingly beautiful, though each was vastly different from the other.

The Wichita Mountains would likely not be considered mountains at all if held against any of the other better-known ranges in the United States, but they are one of the most prominent land features in an otherwise flat region of the central part of the country. The dirt...the rocks...of so many sizes...come in all shades of red and orange. It's dry this year because of a drought that's been plaguing us here.

The Wasatch Mountains were incredibly tall to me, having grown up near the Wichitas. They stretched far up into the sky so high that even on the sixth floor of our hotel I had to crane my neck to see the tops of them. There were trees that were several stories high, and so many shades of green that I couldn't even begin to name them all. We were 8000 feet about sea level, and even on the Fourth of July weekend, there were pure white patches on the highest parts of the mountain from a not far gone snowfall. Mountain streams, something I'd never seen before, cascaded down the mountain in full view of our picture window.

Another difference in the two visits was the distance we traveled to arrive at our destination. Pat rode his Goldwing motorcycle from Georgia to Texas to take me to Oklahoma for our first vacation. For him, it was a trip of better than 1000 miles. For me, a mere sixty miles from home. Riding on a motorcycle was a completely new experience to me. The sounds of the engine and wind roaring in my ears was exciting; the feel of the sun was warm and enticing; and the scents in the air as we rode over bridges and waterways was so exhilarating. It was just the two of us, so it was a very intimate way to travel...with my knees touching the backs of his legs and my hands on his shoulders or around his waist.

Heading to Utah, we both flew out from our respective hometowns. It was my first time to fly any great distance, and I was doing so on my own. I navigated the airports with more confidence than I ever thought possible, thanks to some heavy-duty preparation preflight from Pat. I managed to find myself...over the course of that weekend away...on two airlines, five planes, two buses, two SkyTrains, and in a rental car. I overcame a long time fear of flying and refusing to even think of air travel, and discovered to my delight that I really enjoy it. I loved the experience of the bustling people and all the many destinations they represented at the airport; I loved looking out over the clouds, mountains and Great Salt Lake; I loved the sensation of taking off and even landing. I loved that I was really and truly traveling and having a whole new set of experiences added to my life story.

I think the biggest thing I took away from both the trips is how big the whole world is...and how very small I am in comparison. There are seven billion people in the world now. A billion more than when I was a senior in high school a scant 33 years ago. And I am only one among them all.

Thousands at the airports. A thousand or more in Utah at the hotel and conference. Not so many in Oklahoma, but we were two from away in a small town...learning the lay of the land. Meeting people in both places, briefly, having conversations and going away richer for having met others in new surroundings. Finding our commonalities, learning our rich differences.

A year ago...even five months ago...I would not have dreamed of so much travel this year for just the sake of pleasure. And neither could I have known what interesting things I could learn about myself and others merely by meeting the challenge and getting out of my comfort zone.

*Gustave Flaubert

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

“…but the one thing love never did have was logic.”*

To a large extent, we choose the people we love and we choose how to love them. Sometimes, we choose wisely and well…sometimes we squander our love on people that don’t seem to care that we are offering them one of our greatest gifts.

But that’s the thing about love, isn’t it?

It is a choice more than simply an emotion…and it is one of the myriad of human sentiments that is a direct reflection of the love God has lavished on his creation.

I believe that God does love the people he has created. I believe that he has chosen to do so…against any indication that most of us are deserving of it. I believe that he, as the ultimate parent, loves us as children…in spite of our willfulness, stubbornness, and tendency to wander away.

That is without any logic that I can fathom.

My human mind…with its selfish bent…is prone to love the lovable people. The ones that will love me back. The ones that shine the brightest and bring out the best in others. My human heart wants protection from hurt and misuse. It only makes sense to protect your investments, right?

Yet God loves the unlovely. The unrighteous. The sinners (which, last I heard, was pretty much all of us). The people who fail time and time again to love anyone else. The people who ignore him or outright choose to hate him.

He keeps putting his love out there for them in the form of other people, circumstances, unannounced blessings.

It’s highly illogical.

And he does it anyway. Because he chooses to. Because he cares and wants the best for us. For all of us.

So I hope that is how I want to choose to love: illogically…willingly…lavishly…even recklessly…without need of a return on my investment…only wanting to bless another human with the same blessing I’ve been given by God.

*Dick Francis, “The Banker”

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

“Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does.”

“No man is an Island, entire of itself,” John Donne wrote. It’s true. There is not a single person whose life does not touch another’s life. Family, friends, neighbors, strangers in grocery stores – we all enter into and exit out of the lives of numerous people on a daily basis.

Perhaps we think our daily interactions have little impact on other people’s lives, but I’ve not found that to be entirely true in my life.

A receptionist’s sincere greeting can set my mood for an entire doctor’s appointment. A friend’s compliment can boost my self-esteem. A smile from the person in front of me at the check-out will bring one to my face in kind. A grin from a toddler in a shopping cart as his mother and I pass in the aisles of a store can lighten my mood.

Seconds only of interaction, but it makes a difference in my life at that time.

How many times has the opposite been true, though? Someone’s bad day and surly response can cause an irritated reaction. A frown or glare from a stranger who may not even know he’s giving me the evil eye can make me uneasy. A couple arguing in my presence will upset me...even if it has nothing to do with me at all.

All of our actions make a difference to someone.

Because my mouth has a natural downward turn, when my face is most relaxed, I can appear to be frowning...or even angry. When I go out in public, I try my best to keep a pleasant look on my face, and I make a concerted effort to smile at everyone who makes eye contact with me. Why not? It costs me nothing and even if I don’t gain a smile in return, I’m still better off for having lifted the corners of my mouth.

I also try to watch my tone of voice. A quick response, off the cuff, can sound snippy to others and many is the time people have thought I’ve been upset when I was just giving a cursory answer. I don’t always succeed, but I try to do better.

“Act as if what you do makes a difference” also applies to us individually.

My daily decisions to eat right (or not) impacts my weight, my sleep, my sense of well-being. My decision to go to bed on time impacts whether or not I feel rested and at my best the next day.

My decisions to spend time with my family, my boyfriend and friends impacts my sense of community and connectedness; to go to work and do my best impacts my sense of purpose and meaning.

We all have a choice in every situation as to how we will present ourselves and how we act toward others and ourselves.

Choose wisely. Do and be the best for yourself and others. It will always make a difference.

*William James

Saturday, June 28, 2014

“Family... a group experience of love and support.”*

“My friends and family are my support system. They tell me what I need to hear, not what I want to hear and they are there for me in the good and bad times. Without them I have no idea where I would be and I know that their love for me is what's keeping my head above the water.” ~ Kelly Clarkson

Whenever I talk with a new client about recovery, or lead a group on the tenets of recovery, one of the main tenets I present is maintaining a healthy support system. Based on an outline my boss created about what everyone’s ‘treatment plan’ should be after being diagnosed with a mental illness, the list includes taking our medication,  sleeping and eating well, and exercise before touching on the support system. There are other things, too: do enjoyable things, manage stress, be your own advocate, make small and easily achievable goals, be thankful, and help others.

I pretty much agree with that list of steps that aid us in recovery and to a place of wellness and stability. Maybe it was arbitrarily drawn up, though medication is almost always the first and best step in getting any thought or mood disorder under control. But if it were me, that bit about the support system would rank right up there with the meds.

For me, taking meds was not enough. When my depression and anxiety was at its worst, the meds only took the edge off things. Maybe I quit sleeping all day. Maybe I was able to go the grocery store. But there was no enjoyment or sense of accomplishment. There was no “yay, me” in my heart…just a resolve that something had to be done and I did it. Mundane. Ho hum.

When my husband decided to leave, my parents invited me to move home with them in order to give me time to recover from my many psychiatric hospitalizations that year. I was on my meds, but still unstable, and I took them up on their offer. My in-laws came and loaded up my few belongings on a trailer and brought me home.

It was overwhelming at first. My brothers were here. Their wives. My nieces…some of whom I’d never met before. We’d all get together on Sunday afternoons for a big dinner, loud conversations, and games. No one pried into what was going on in my head or with my marriage, but they were available to listen and to ask if I was doing okay whenever I’d start to pull in to myself.

For the first few months of being home with my parents, I would wait until everyone left Sunday evening and then go crash in my room. It was wonderful and exhausting all at the same time. Sometimes, I didn’t make it until everyone left before I had to retreat for a while, but no one complained.

All they had for me…always…was the amazing acceptance of me…wounded, bleeding, trying to heal and act normally and not quite pulling it off. They gave me love…quiet, with many hugs, lots of affirmations, and with lots of laughter.
I gradually became better…more able to interact…able to keep up…ready to lead the charge even from time to time.

 Finally, I was back on my feet. Back to my old self. Happy again. Confident in new areas. Ready to try new things.

And again, my family had my back. Cheering and supporting me enthusiastically as I went back to school and pursued a degree in Creative Writing. Doing the same as I accepted a position with the local mental health authority and started working with other people who have depression, bipolar, and anxiety. There’s never been a time when I have felt unloved by my family.

Added to that are my friends who have always been encouraging to me. Willing to tell me when they are concerned about me; willing to ask questions when they don’t understand something I’m doing or saying. 

Beyond that, there have been case managers, counselors, and psychiatrists...all working with me in my pursuit of recovery...of living well with my bipolar disorder...of keeping me as symptom-free as possible, but able to cope with the symptoms as we’ve waited for new meds to work, too.

I’m one of the lucky ones, though. I have this huge support system at the ready whenever things start to go south. And believe me, after working with people in the public mental health sector for the past year and a half, I know how very, very lucky I am.

So many people with a mental health diagnosis come from severely dysfunctional families. Negligent or nonexistent parents. Siblings dealing with their own diagnoses and dramas. Symptoms so bad that they have little insight into what they need to do to stop some of the behaviors that keep them in their illness.

It’s harder to tell people like those that they need a support system. They’ve never had one and don’t know how to build one.

So we, as peers, start outlining what we can do to help them navigate the system. We emphasize the role of their case managers and doctors in getting stable. We share the stories of when we were in our illness, and show them, by example, what recovery can look like. We become a small part of their beginning support system.

No one has to be without someone to encourage them, to believe in them, to cheer them on to obtaining the goals and dreams they have for themselves. 

I am one of the very lucky ones. Maybe you are, too. If you are, may you join me in being willing to hold out hope and encourage others that aren’t so lucky.

 * Marianne Williamson

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

"...the meaning of life is probably the journey..."*

There is a recent study that says the anticipation of an event like a vacation or trip is often more enjoyable than the event itself. That may well be true. How often do we plan for a party, a family reunion, a long trip, and then spend weeks or months outlining the details, counting down the days, and daydreaming about how things will be?

Even the best outcome – and there are many great outcomes from all of our planning and work – does not build that same excitement as the anticipation does.

So perhaps it is true then that the meaning of life is in the journey...the getting to milestones and plateaus, the meandering through woods and riding along the twisty curves of mountain roads...not the graduation, the tenure, the historical marker or the tourist town.

The meaning of life...if it is in the journey...is the accumulation of experiences and interactions rather than of things. The meaning is found in conversations, in hugs, in giving and receiving love, in writing letters, in forging friendships and relationships that ground us when storms buffet and help us soar when the winds of life are favorable. It is not in grand houses, wealth, the best cars and toys. All of those things have their place, but they are the bones of a life and not the spirit.

We are all on a journey...some to farther horizons than others...and none of us walks alone. We all touch lives...in some small way or other...almost every day. A smile or comment to acknowledge another person can have the most profound effect on someone whose path is particularly difficult. Spending time to help someone in need...when giving objects would be easier and less demanding of self...can impact a life for years...even forever.

As you go your way in life, be mindful of the things you do and say...savor the moments that make up your happiness...and don’t mind the things that will never remain with you in the end.

*Charisma Carpenter

Friday, June 20, 2014

"Just because the past taps you on the shoulders, doesn’t mean you have to look back." *

Yesterday, I complained that I felt disconnected. I felt unmoored and adrift. I was physically and psychically uncomfortable. I wanted to talk with my lover; I wanted people to reply on facebook more quickly than they were; I wanted to talk to clients and make some profound statement that would somehow touch them and give them something to hold on to. I wanted to make an impact...and I wanted acknowledgement that I do make an impact.

I was needy. And small. And frustrated with myself for being so.

But I think I nailed down the reason for my disconnectedness. It is anxiety-related and fraught with some self-doubt and insecurity. I have to remember that my fears are generally unfounded and not let my imagination run away with me. I have to remember to be tethered to the positive things I know to be true rather than be quick to attach to things that may not be anything at all. I also have to trust and believe in other people.

In my first marriage, I was often put down. For just about everything. My weight. My lack of housewifely skills. My laugh. My sense of humor. My desires. My dreams. My looks. My attempts at intimacy...emotional and physical.

In my second marriage, I could almost do no wrong...except that to have or want or desire anything outside of him and us was wrong.

I thought I was over all the repercussions of that. But the truth seems to be that while the past was put away, it was not done away with. It had no impact on me because I was not in a relationship. Like a muscle that does not ache until it is over-exercised, my past was merely resting somewhere in my head, waiting for a chance to start playing back old memories and feelings.

So I have love in my life now. A man who does not make fun of me when I get silly, even if he can't quite go all the way with me into my silliness. A man who is thrilled for me that I am losing weight ONLY because I am thrilled with losing weight. A man who shares my humor, my appetite for life and loving, and my housekeeping skills. A man who neither rejects me outright because his own time is too precious to himself nor demands all my attention because he is so insecure that he needs constant reassurance that he still exists.

And it is apparently scary.

To a part of me that is not used to being treated well, it is apparently a daunting thing to be loved and cared for just because I'm me.

And so the past comes up and tries to poke holes in my happiness. And the past me who was so attention-starved that any scrap would do slinks in the door.

The past few days, memories of what Pat has told me about myself...about himself...about us...were not as firmly held in my heart as the old insecurities about whether or not I was worthy, wanted, acceptable. I was scared I was being smothering, so I didn't ask to talk. I cut back on my texts. I reigned myself in...maybe not well, but I know I did try. The harder I tried not to seem needy, the needier I felt and the more upset with myself I became. The me of the past wanted to text and say, "Are we okay?" though I had no indication that we weren't. I wanted to say, "Have I upset you?" though, again, there was no indication that I had or that he was even upset with anything.

I worked hard to get to the bottom of my disconnectedness...to find a way to get comfortable with feeling needy and not doing all my old behaviors that reflected it. It was difficult, and I don't know to what degree I succeeded, but at least this time I tried.

The past is apparently not gone away completely. It still whispers and taps me on the shoulder, trying to get my attention and drag me back where I lived so long.

But I don't have to look back anymore.

I know that with most of me.

I just need to remember it better.

* Facebook meme

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

“I fell in love the way you fall asleep…slowly, then all at once.” *

Admitting to being in love, at the age of 51, seems an odd thing to do. The world does not recognize great loves that start in the middle of life…looking at the sunset years. The world delights in painting lovers are young…so very young…and yet the young seldom have a concept of what truly loving someone is really all about.

When you are 51 (as I am) and 55 (as Pat is) loving someone is more than giddy feelings (though it involves that), more than physical attraction (though there is that), and more than all the syrupy lyrics of all the best love songs (though I’ve been inspired to write poetry again these last few months).

I read a meme this weekend that said mature love is about choice.

And there is definitely that.

After years of being single for both of us, we have chosen one another for companionship. We have chosen to put the other’s needs as equal to our own and sometimes above our own because we want to. We choose to make changes in ourselves that make us better people – not FOR the other person – but BECAUSE OF the other person.

I have known Pat for almost ten years. We met in an online support group for people with anxiety and panic disorders. We hit it off almost from the start. We met in person for the first time about nine years ago when he drove through Indiana on his way home from Illinois just to meet me. We’d been talking a lot online and some on the phone, and we wanted to at least say we’d met in person.

We had a good visit. Short, but good. I liked him as a friend and he returned that sentiment.

And we kept talking off and on over the years. On the same websites, friending each other on facebook, chatting online while watching our favorite TV shows 1000 miles apart.

We’d talked through unemployment, job changes, depressions, my divorce, my college career at the late age of 46. We’d talked each other down from anxiety and panic attacks in the past...helped each other see what is and is not real in our perceptions of life around us.

During that time, we came close…a couple of times…to admitting that the feelings we had for one another were something a little more than friendship. But we’d dance close to admitting something stronger, then move away back to our own side of the dance floor and act as if nothing had happened.

I don’t know what changed.

I don’t know how we went from talking sometimes to almost every day. From the occasional (months apart) phone calls to almost daily FaceTime.

I don’t know what it was that “clicked”…but like Hazel Grace in “The Fault in Our Stars”, this falling in love with Pat seemed to come on slowly…and then was all at once just there.

We are enjoying getting to know our daily selves in our talks and online chats. We are getting used to each other’s moods. We are taking trips together and planning more to see how we get along in person.

We are 51 and 55. We did not invent love…but what we have is new with us.
When most people are planning their retirement and not looking beyond their twilight years, Pat and I find ourselves with more to look forward to. We are serious about our health in a way that we might not have been before because now there is something beyond the 50s to look forward to.

Like Hazel Grace and Gus, in TFIOS, we may not have long decades spanning out in front of us as a possibility…but there is an infinity between 0 and 1, and a bigger one between 0 and 2.

Whatever bit of infinity we have in common…

It is enough.

*John Green, “The Fault in Our Stars”

Friday, June 13, 2014

“Supposing it didn’t…”*

“Supposing a tree fell down, Pooh, when we were underneath it?”

“Supposing it didn’t,” said Pooh after careful thought.

Piglet was comforted by this…

As a person with an anxiety disorder, I’m used to having my mind race to the worst-case scenario with the smallest of hints that something could go wrong. For that matter, I’m used to having my mind rush off to “what if this bad thing happens now” even when things are going well.

I’m not alone in this.

Many people, with and without anxiety, have a hard time accepting a happiness, a grace, a blessing of time and love when it comes to us. Maybe we are jaded…or have been hurt too much (or just enough)…that we think all silver linings come with a dark cloud.

This past week, I had the most amazing vacation with the man I love. It was six days that we had together.

At first, I thought how quickly the time would pass. I thought, even in the midst of doing some pleasant thing or having some adventure, how much I was going to miss him when he went back home. But wise man that he is, he cautioned me to just enjoy the moment. Each moment.

And hard as it was for this anxiety-prone, what-about-the-future, scared-it’s-all-to-good-to-be-true girl to do…I made that happen.

When my thoughts would race ahead, I would reign them in. Difficult at first, it became easier.

And an amazing thing happened.

Instead of hours rushing by like minutes…like I’d feared…I found moments that felt like hours.

Time spent lingering over coffee, browsing the news, and holding hands felt like all day. Yet we still had time to ride the motorcycle, shop in the little tourist town we were in, find lunch at the place Everybody Said We Should Try, and have a long, lazy afternoon and evening that stretched into the stars.

It’s over now. It was more than a week ago. That time has been the time that has flown by…when I’ve been busy with work, home, and friends.
But that time away in the cabin was drawn out like a silken spider web…strong and taut and ethereal…because I chose to live in the now. To savor the simple elegance of each moment.

And nothing bad happened, either.

We enjoyed each other’s company. We didn’t have an accident on the motorcycle. I didn’t make an idiot of myself getting on or off the bike, though I’m still not perfect at it.

We laughed, loved, and lived in the moments and racked up scores of memories to see us through until we get to spend time together again.

Had I fretted the whole time about how quickly it was going or wondered what could go wrong at any given second, I would have missed so much.

I’m glad for the wisdom of my love and Pooh…who teach me to think counter to how my anxiety would lead.

* A.A. Milne

Thursday, June 12, 2014

“Faith: It does not make things easy; it makes them possible.”*

Depression has a way of sapping all the good things out of life. And it doesn’t have to be depression that comes about because of anything. No event, no maltreatment, no change has to occur for those of us prone to depression to fall into pits of despair and think we will never find our way out.

Tempting thoughts, those.

“I will never find my out.”

“It will always be this way.”

“Nothing will ever change.”

For a while, it was only because I didn’t want to have anyone think less of me that I clung to life with a hardly tenacious hold. I didn’t want to let anyone down, sadden anyone; make anyone ever wonder what they could have done to have convinced me to keep on living. A sense of guilt or obligation can be a powerful thing, evidently.

After a while, stubbornness wasn’t enough and I turned for help to the medical professionals. I took medication. I received counseling. I joined support groups. I was a “getter” – someone that “got help” from others. I looked to those with more knowledge and expertise to guide me through a maze of depressive episodes.

I’d like to say that I bounced back. But when one is depressed, one is deflated. There is no bouncing.

There can, however, be a slow re-inflation.

The meds? The professional care? The support from family and friends?

It all has a place in recovery.

There have been times in my life when my faith has been small…weak…almost (but not quite) non-existent. My spiritual faith has faltered. My faith in others has been shattered. My faith in myself has dwindled down to almost nothing.

But it never died.

Always, there was a spark of faith…a glimmer of hope…that there would one day be more than the obstacles I could see, the darkness in which I was engulfed, and the mind-numbing dreariness I felt.

Today, about seven years out from my last deep depression, I find myself not only in a stable place…but standing firmly on a foundation of faith.

Faith not just in meds or doctors or others who have believed for me all these years, but faith, too, in myself.

I set some goals and achieved them. I stepped out into the unknown and landed on my feet. I stretched out my hand from the merry-go-round and grasped the brass ring.

Good things are happening.

With my job. With my friends. With my family. In my heart.

Some things are happening that I could never have expected.

I had faith that things could get better…but even I couldn’t have dreamed what things might come when I was willing to step out in faith.

Indeed the verse is true for me. Faith has been there…however much in small measure…and it has not magically made things easy.

But it has made a rich, full life possible.

My friends, if you are in darkness, know that someone else has been there, too. We…I…hold out a candle…a flame of faith…in the night for you until you can walk again in the light of day.

It will come.

Have faith.

*Luke 1:37

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

"Dreams can come true again When everything old is new again..."*

Wow! If that's not a true lyric, I don't know what is.

I just turned 51...an age I would have once thought "old". I remember being little and learning my grandmother was 50...and she was ancient.

But here I am, 51 years old, and my life has been nothing but change, change, change the past year.

As mentioned before, I did graduate in July of last year. I'm sometimes slow, but I'm writing again now that I don't HAVE to do it for school. I have been writing letters and poetry, and bouncing around ideas for some short stories and blog posts. It's good to be coming back into my stride again with the words I've always loved.

I'm still working for the local MHMR and have been to even more trainings. I'm getting the hang of packing light, learning lots, and relaxing in hotel rooms after class is over. I've been to a national conference for people with all kinds of mental health diagnoses and came away with more information and ideas of what it means to live in recovery.

I have fallen in love with a dear friend of mine whom I've known for almost ten years. We just had our first vacation together where we both enjoyed many firsts. He rode his motorcycle 1000 miles to see me and to teach me how to ride a bike. From a girl who has always been terrified of them, I have turned into a woman who loves riding on them. My mounts and dismounts are still far from graceful, but I'm doing it. My love gives me a thumbs up and a big grin whenever I perfect a move off of the bike and I laugh like crazy when we speed up on the road. I've gone from holding on to the handgrips so hard that my hands have lost feeling, to riding comfortably with my hands on his back or around his waist. F

New is how I feel. Not old and ready to retire, but young at heart and ready to meet new adventures and face any challenges that life might bring. I've sometimes been one to settle for the status quo. Okay...I've almost always been one to settle for the status quo...to not rock the boat...to not try new things. But this journey that started when I set my mind to going back to school in my forties just keeps getting better and better.

Here's to being "new again"!

*"Everything Old is New Again" by Peter Allen and Carole Bayer Sager