Friday, December 26, 2008

The Funky Blues

The day after. I'm already looking forward to spring. This was the hardest Christmas I've gotten through since 2003, which was my first Christmas after separating from Karl. What is frustrating about it is there is really no 'good' reason for the way I'm feeling, but there it is.

I do know this: every year since separating, Karl stays with us on Christmas Eve and spends most of Christmas Day with us. It's the right thing to do. But I don't enjoy it. Still, the arrangement makes things easier on Rebecca, as this way she is not pushed and pulled during that time.

I suppose the other part of this blah feeling is 'organic', but it doesn't make it any easier to deal with knowing that it's not my fault. I just hope that this particular Rx will start working soon. I am not by nature an unhappy person, and this feeling I've had lately, well, it's overwhelming.

But I'm pushing through it. I do not wallow in these feelings, I fight back. It takes a lot of energy, but I'm managing.

And I have this terrific daughter who helps keep me grounded. Thank goodness for her, and for all my friends who are supportive, even if they don't always get what I'm going through. I don't really get it either. Therein lies the frustration: I KNOW all that I am blessed with and at the same time feel weighed down with this sadness. Ugh.

It feels good to get it down on 'paper'. Thanks for 'listening' -- listening is an act of love.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Looking Forward

Really, really looking forward to a nice long break for the holidays. University employees get an extended period off since there are several other holidays that state employees get during the year that we do not. So, except for a little half day on December 22, I will be off work until January 5. This combined with a recent change in my mental health care plan (read: new prescription) will go a long way towards a renewed state of mind come 2009. For this, I am very grateful. This break also allows time for just enjoying the season, and for Rebecca and I to spend some time together doing things we don't normally get a chance to do. For instance, she really enjoys the spy museum in DC, and we both want to explore Carytown in Richmond. We will also be breaking tradition on Christmas Day to take in a movie and eat Chinese food, something I think we are both really looking forward to.

So now, the house is decorated, and it looks and smells festive, we both have gatherings with friends we are looking forward to, and the holiday break will be a time of rest and rejuvination. Looking forward is a very healthy way to live.

Friday, December 12, 2008

"Dear Darkness"

From NPR's web site, Dear Darkness, By Kevin Young, Hardcover, 216 pages, Knopf.

This one in particular struck me:

I shall be released

What we love
will leave us

or is it
we leave

what we love,
I forget—

Today, belly
full enough

to walk the block
after all week

too cold
outside to smile—

I think of you, warm
in your underground room

reading the book
of bone. It's hard going—

your body a dead

I've begun
to feel, if not

hope then what
comes just after—

or before—
Let's not call it

regret, but
this weight,

or weightlessness,
or just

plain waiting.
The ice wanting

again water.
The streams of two planes

a cross fading.

I was so busy
telling you this I forgot

to mention the sky—
how in the dusk

its steely edges
have just begun to rust.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Merry yet Melancholy

Received an email the other day, from an old friend I love dearly, demanding that we put Christ back in Christmas. It was one of those forwards, with all kinds of colors and bold lettering and lots of pictures of CHRISTmas trees. It just makes me weary to contemplate this kind of email, so I just deleted it without responding.

But it does cause me pause to ponder: why is it so important that we continually try to push our truth onto someone else? Why is it so difficult for us to consider how absolutely real someone else's truth is to them? Why is it that if we cannot relate to someone else's circumstances, we dismiss them as trivial or unfounded or unimportant. I remember recently mentioning to a friend that I had some concerns about the security of my job, and she dismissively responded with a "Oh, you'll be fine." This kind of comment didn't give my concern any validation, and left me feeling empty and brushed aside.

I don't even want to get into the debate that the holidays always seems to bring about, that we've become too PC, too commercial, etc. As with every aspect of our lives, the holidays mean different things to different people, and undoubtedly bring with them a mixed bag of emotions. This is all very real. Yes, it can be a very joyous season. But it can also be a time of anxiety, stress, sadness, and loneliness.

It is certainly not the time to be pushing our agenda or our truth onto others. So yes, let's go out and be merry with each other. But let's also be gentle and aware of those around us who might be suffering. The suffering is a necessary part of life, but it can be hell to go through at the time. Reach out, squeeze a hand, pat a shoulder, offer an ear, or give a hug. Lower the expectations on yourself and those around you as you make your way through the next few weeks. Peace to you and yours as we move into the new year.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Mental Health Day

So, I took off work yesterday. Spent the entire day doing little things to help subdue the terror. And it worked. I do feel a lot better today, and will be taking more steps in the coming weeks. Thanks for the comments/support/words of wisdom, it is greatly appreciated and gives me strength.

And we did decorate, at least we got our tree up. It was quite pleasant and the tree is beautiful. Rebecca loves finding all the ornaments she has grown up with, and comments about each one she has received from me over the years. The tree is getting very, very crowded!

We enjoyed a bit of mindless, humorous television, and then I got a solid, straight 6.5 hours of sleep (I did resort to taking a teaspoon of Benadryl, but how luxurious it was to sleep that long and wake up at 5 a.m. realizing I had slept the entire time, with no struggle to fall asleep!)

One foot in front of the other . . .

Sunday, December 7, 2008

I'm terrified

From an earlier post and a favorite essay of mine from This I Believe: 'Friends, I would like to be more cheerful, but right now I am too terrified to be cheerful. So I will let you know when I am not terrified anymore.'

Maybe I AM depressed, maybe it's anxiety, it's probably both plus stress. All I know is that my daughter had a talk with me tonight. She is upset because she feels I've been edgy lately, and unhappy, and too hard on her. I am so grateful that she trusts me enough to talk to me about this. And she's right. And I am taking immediate (but painfully slow!) steps to remedy this muddled mess I find myself in. And I am terrified. It feels good just admitting it.

Meanwhile, I feel like I've disappointed the most important person in my life, and all I want to do right now is have a good cry...but I'm afraid she'll hear me. So I'm writing, hoping to work through it this way.

Why do I feel like I have to keep it together all the time? I can't do it all, I'm not perfect, and some real changes need to take place so that I can take better care of my emotional health. And I have to try to overcome the tendency to feel guilty, as I make hard decisions about things like money and time. But there it is. It just has to happen.

This really, really sucks. I had heard it sucks, hitting menopause and dealing with the emotional roller coaster. I mean, the hormone stuff has always been rough, so I figured how much worse could it get?! Ha, careful what you get smug about. There are days I feel like I'm barely ahead of completely falling apart. But I can't. Or at least, I can't at home. So I am going to do the next best thing, and find somewhere safe to fall apart. Hopefully it will help me to pull things back together.

Now I'm afraid I won't be able to sleep. The chatter gets worse when I turn out the light and try to sleep. And then my neighbor's poor dog starts crying, pitifully, for lack of attention and from the cold, and of course I feel horrible for her, and I feel angry at him. And then I'll wake up tomorrow exhausted and so weighed down I just want to stay under my covers and hide. But I won't. And I'll try to get through the day without revealing just how terrified I am. It doesn't always work well, since being terrified is not something I'm used to feeling and it manifests itself in other ways, usually impatience with people and situations around me. And then I'm ashamed.

Tomorrow night we are supposed to decorate for Christmas, and I hope by then I am past this current state of emotions, because my heart is just not up for it. I've got some work to do, and I will need help with that work. I've just taken a big step tonight, admitting I'm terrified, and I have Rebecca to thank for it. Wish me luck.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

I am not depressed...

...really, I'm not. I still am truly moved by the things I love (nature, music, a good book, good friends, my home, my cats, my daughter, and so much more.) But more and more, I feel overwhelmed by life. I think a lot of this is financial, and I'm working that out (I'm not one to wallow) because I do have options that will make things easier. But it's more. I feel overwhelmed by the things that are bigger than me. I know it is not up to me to fix things (war, hunger, homelessness, homeless pets, poverty, my neighbor's neglected dog, on and on the list goes), but I am in touch with myself enough to know that these things bother me. I'm also overwhelmed with the task of single parenting, and worrying constantly that I am doing the right thing, keeping her on the right track, giving her enough of my time. It would be lovely to have help, and yet when I was married parenting was almost harder than it is now. And it's all the other stuff too: doing my best to take care of my health (cholesterol, weight, exercise), trying to manage my money in order to plan for retirement, wanting to take good care of my home and create a place that we find solitude in, but not getting too attached at the same time, caring about how I look and what I wear, but not getting too caught up in the ego, questioning whether or not I am 'good enough' to date someone who is 'out of my league'...this stuff seems to swirl around in my head daily.

I don't consider myself a negative person; but I am an impatient person, one who is annoyed easily by egotisical, or inconsiderate, or overbearing, or intrusive people. The truth of the matter is, I don't love everyone around me. I care about them and I care about what happens to them. But I think the emotion of love is tossed about too loosely. Love is a deep emotion, and it is developed over time and must be nurtured. I am a giving person, friendly, and make friends easily. But I am also a private person who is cautious about who she lets into the more intimate parts of her life. My love is kept on reserve, and I am okay with that. When I observe others opening themselves up completely and 'loving' everyone around them, I can't help but think that this is prompted by their need for love, approval, acceptance (any or all of these.) And I too have those needs; I just don't feel it is necessary to let everyone in just to feel better about myself.

There isn't a point to this post. Just another random putting-muddled-thoughts-onto-paper kind of post. This post is not directed at anyone in particular, it is about my thoughts about myself. Because I do care what others think of me and how I project myself, but at the same time I have to learn to be able to love myself, flaws and all. A work in progress, that confusing combination of accepting me and improving me. One foot in front of the other, deep breaths, and a smile. I can do this.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

One Is Silver....

I am grateful for old friends. Those are the ones that have known you the longest. Those friends know about your flaws and have loved you all these years anyhow. They realize that you have made mistakes; they realize you have a life that is busy and doesn't always involve them; they also realize that, when they really need you, you will be there for them. I am so grateful for these friends.

I've found newer friendships to be more tricky. There seems to be a lot of judgment and expectation attached to them. As adults, we've developed life experiences that affect how we interact. We are caught up in situations that affect who we let in, who we relate to or click with, and how we react to things.

What I've realized is this: we all (and I SO include myself in this) need to stop and give each other the benefit of the doubt. Instead of assuming that someone is not a good friend because they (fill in the blank: skipped your party/dinner/event, couldn't help you with (whatever), or didn't agree with what you said/did/wrote), assume that they are in a different place in life than you are, and are devoting their energies in that direction. Assume that their current situation in life is different than yours (of course it is!), and that their take on life is obviously colored by that situation. Assume that they care, and they need you to care. Give them the benefit of the doubt that they are putting one foot in front of the other on their journey, a journey that is often difficult, and that sometimes your paths will cross. When they do, smile, say hello, and ask, "How are you?" And when they answer, listen to them. Don't move on to talk about your life, your angst, your joys. Listen to theirs. They will truly be grateful.

So, this is my Thanksgiving promise to myself: I will give people around me the benefit of the doubt that they truly do have the best of intentions, and I will do more listening and less judging.

I'm off tomorrow to spend Thanksgiving with an old and dear friend. It will be so good to be myself around her, and to know that all the years will melt away as we reconnect, laugh, and nourish each other. For this I'm very thankful.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Peaceful Easy Feeling

That's kind of my state of mind today...what a pleasant surprise! I'm cash poor right now, and yet I feel calm, rested and happy. We enjoyed a weekend close to home, doing mundane chores, getting homework done, but also hosting a friend of Rebecca's for about 24 hours, a trip to CiCi's for pizza, a quick trip through the Super WalMart (hey, we got out right at $40, I'd say that's an accomplishment!) then back home and played a game in front of a nice fire, followed by s'mores.

Then, yesterday morning, our annual Thanksgiving service and feast at UUFF (Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Fredericksburg) -- a morning filled with song, fellowship, and community as we welcomed old and new friends into our Fellowship Hall and later around the tables for a bounty of traditional and non-traditional dishes.

This topped off with a brisk four mile walk, yet another fire at home, and a snuggly warm good night's sleep with flannel sheets and cats for insulation all add up to a great weekend.

Now I am looking at a short work week, a trip 'home' to Norfolk for Thanksgiving with a dear friend (since fourth grade) and her family, and then back to the 'burg in time for the weekend.

Peaceful easy feeling. Not a feeling that comes over me often, and I embrace it now.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Trying to think good thoughts for my sister and her husband. For the past almost ten years, he has owned a company that designs and installs luxury pools and landscapes, and guess what? People aren't putting in pools much these days. He had to declare personal bankruptcy (which protects my sister's credit) and is now tasked with finding work in an industry that has seen business drop by 75%. He is currently looking at something in San Antonio, and right now it looks promising, so I am doing my best to send positive energy their way.

It's tough to watch someone who earned their way to succeess without benefit of a college education suddenly lose everything and have to start all over again. It is a real test of their confidence and stamina, but Scott is by nature an optimistic guy. Whatever company does end up with him will be very fortunate to have him...he has excellent people skills and is extremely conscientious and reliable and talented.

They say every time a door closes, a window opens to new opportunity. I hope that is true for Karen and Scott. Change is not easy, but it can be very exciting and freeing, also. I hope this holds true for them and their family.

Friday, November 21, 2008

And a poem for mom:

Sounds of September (2008)

The call of the blue jay does it for her,
My mother once told me.
That clear, insistent reminder,
Of the stillness that would soon be.

Clouds whispering to a blue sky,
Thirsty leaves rustling in the trees.
A tired butterfly drifting by,
Stealing some life from the breeze.

As the nagging geese set the mood,
The excitement of summer gives way,
To the quiet, the peace, the solitude,
Of a young mother on an August day.

She notices each sound, quiet and clear,
And allows them to briefly transport her,
To that promising, melancholy time of year,
And the sweet, sad sounds of September.
Ah, I just figured it out. This is why I like writing/blogging: It is cathartic for me...

Catharsis: A technique used to relieve tension and anxiety by bringing repressed material to consciousness (The American Heritage Dictionary, Second College Edition)

There you go.
And one more previous thought:

Thursday, July 31, 2008

good days and bad days

Not having a good week; post-vacation reality has set in: bank problems, terrible news, friends suffering losses, sick, unsettled situation at work, and PMS add up to a cranky girl. While I am be no means a giddy person (my nickname will never be 'bubbles'...) I do tend to remain very content with my life and see the positive side of things, and can usually roll with the inequities of life. This week is just a little more overwhelming than most. I do believe a large part of my inability to handle things more gracefully lies with the thyroid (hormones suck!) but it would be nice if I had a better ability to rise above it all. This to shall pass. This is when I like to reflect on the following essay:

A Positive Outlook Is Overrated, by Barbara Held

Barbara Held is a professor of psychology and social studies at Bowdoin College, and the author of Stop Smiling, Start Kvetching. Trained as a clinical psychologist, she practiced therapy for many years. Held lives with her husband on the coast of Maine. Photo Courtesy of Barbara Held
"I believe that there is no one right way to cope with all the pain of living. ... If we are prevented from coping in our own way, be it 'positive' or 'negative,' we function less well."

All Things Considered, October 22, 2007 · Many Americans insist that everyone have a positive attitude, even when the going gets rough. From the self-help bookshelves to the Complaint-Free World Movement, the power of positive thinking is touted now more than ever as the way to be happy, healthy, wealthy and wise.

The problem is that this demand for good cheer brings with it a one-two punch for those of us who cannot cope in that way: First you feel bad about whatever's getting you down, then you feel guilty or defective if you can't smile and look on the bright side. And I'm not even sure there always is a bright side to look on.

I believe that there is no one right way to cope with all of the pain of living. As an academic psychologist, I know that people have different temperaments, and if we are prevented from coping in our own way, be it "positive" or "negative," we function less well.

As a psychotherapist, I know that sometimes a lot of what people need when faced with adversity is permission to feel crummy for a while, to realize that feeling bad is not automatically the same as being mentally ill. Some of my one-session "cures" have come from reminding people that life can be difficult, and it's OK if we're not happy all of the time.

This last point first became apparent to me in 1986. I came down with the flu accompanied by searing headaches that lasted for weeks afterward. Eventually a neurologist told me that a strain of flu that winter had left many people with viral meningitis. He reassured me that I would make a full recovery, but I was left traumatized by the weeks of undiagnosed pain. I really thought I had a brain tumor or schizophrenia. Being a psychologist didn't help; I was an emotional wreck.
Fortunately it happened that my next-door neighbor was a brilliant psychiatrist, Aldo Llorente from Cuba. I asked him, "Aldo, am I a schizophrenic?" "Professor," he pronounced, "you are a mess, but you are not a mentally ill mess. You are just terrified."

I told Aldo that two of my friends insisted that I cheer up. I tried to be cheerful for a week, but that only increased my distress. Aldo told me, "You say to them: 'Friends, I would like to be more cheerful, but right now I am too terrified to be cheerful. So I will let you know when I am not terrified anymore.'"

The moment I delivered Aldo's message, I felt better. Aldo had made it OK for me to cope in my own way, to recover at my own pace, to be my own mess of a self. That is when I began to realize that I had been tyrannized by the idea that everyone must always have a positive attitude.
Having flourished in my own authentically kvetchy way, I believe that we would be better off if we let everyone be themselves — positive, negative or even somewhere in-between.

Independently produced for All Things Considered by Jay Allison and Dan Gediman with John Gregory and Viki Merrick.
More previous thoughts:

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Did you know you’re the best, Mommy?

My daughter says this to me on a regular basis. And I don't just mean weekly, I mean several times a day. She is also regularly asking me, "What did you like best about ___________?" or "What was your favorite part of __________?" But I am always hard-pressed to pick a best or favorite anything. I guess that's why I have a difficult time when someone tells me about the best (you can fill in the blank here...) I mean really, unless you've experienced all of the (okay, I'll use...eggs benedict, since I love food) there is to try, how can you possibly know it's the best? Certainly, it's the best you've tried, in your opinion. But then, maybe it was the fact that you had this eggs benedict at a restaurant on the California coast, al fresco, with the humidity hovering at a high 20 percent. And maybe you were sharing the eggs benedict with your oldest and dearest (dare I say it, best?!) friend. Absolutely, it may qualify as the best, in your book. But I'm betting it isn't the BEST.

The same is true with parenting. Of course my daughter thinks I'm the best...I am her only mother, and her loyalty to me is by nature very strong. She may meet other moms who are more fun, more patient (easily!) or more 'cool', but I will always be the best. I am what she knows, what she is familiar with, and to whom all her memories of childhood are so connected. But I bet there are better moms out there.

So, I'm not comfortable with superlatives. I feel there is always room for good, better and even better, but best is elusive. I feel the same way about experts...those who feel their life experience with (once again, fill in the blank) gives them superiority in that given area. Not true. For every definitive fact they may give you about (gardening, cooking, raising cats, etc.), I am fairly certain someone can give them an exception. That is what makes our life experiences so special. If we listened to the experts, we might not do things our own way. Throughout time, improvements have come from deviating from the tried and true. By all means, gardening (for example) requires sun, earth and water. But have a little fun, experiment! Make it your own.

That is all.
Some previous thoughts:

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

the nuances of human relationships

After a weekend that was all over the map, I'm feeling the need to put some words down.
Thought I'd share with my friends (you know, the touchy feely, word lover ones... )

I'm overwhelmed with the subtle and not so subtle emotions that come and go with the various friendships in my life. How some connections are so positively crackling, and others are so tenuous. There are times I feel like my nerves are sitting right on top of my skin, I feel so alive. This weekend was one of those times.

It is amazing to me how gratifying and deep some of my friendships are, much more intense than love relationships of the past. And yet that depth in those friendships is love. It's a love that accepts, indulges, and forgives. It is the kind of love I hope to have one day in a love relationship, and I do believe I won't settle for any less.

Yes, I will hold out for a love friendship that transitions naturally into a love relationship. For now, my love friendships more than sustain me.

My First Blog Post

I blogging just a virtual way of hearing ourselves talk? Is it a platform for espousing our viewpoints and soliciting validation for those viewpoints? Or do we really want to hear what other people think about what we think? I wonder.