Thursday, May 26, 2016

To be called...

photo by J. Grandbois
“Behind every specific call, whether it is to teach or preach or write or encourage or comfort, there is a deeper call that gives shape to the first: the call to give ourselves away - the call to die.”  Michael Card, The Walk: The Life-changing Journey of Two Friends

“The tailor put on the girdle, and resolved to go forth into the world, because he thought his workshop was too small for his valor.” Jacob Grimm, The Complete Grimm's Fairy Tales

What does it mean to be called? Those of a religious or spiritual bent might say that to be called is to hear the voice of God or The Universe directing you towards a higher purpose; to do something that would serve the greater good and better the world.

Others might say that it isn't related to a higher purpose at all but that to be called is simply your subconscious sorting through all of the mental distraction and debris of life in order to point you down the path that will be most fulfilling for you. And then there are those that would say what we'd refer to as a being called is simply our own ego, our self centered nature, trying to convince us that our individual life has more purpose and meaning than those of our fellow humans.

How do we know if the call is genuine? Whether we believe it is God, The Universe, or our own deeper selves, how do we avoid the trap of ego? To be chosen, to believe that I might be singled out from amongst the seven million human beings on this planet to do a particular something rings dangerously close to hubris to me. If it is my own mind? We humans have a talent for self delusion and a desire to be unique. What sense of self importance makes us believe that we are somehow different than the rest of the world. Is it that we simply talk ourselves into believing we are "more special" than our neighbors, friends and family?

When we think of those who are called to do something we think of the saints, teachers, those who speak out against injustice, artists and adventurers of the world, but there are dictators, tyrants and those who seek to oppress those different than they in our world. Do they feel called too? Our concept of just what serving the greater good means is a very individual thing. The dictator who seeks to purge the world of a particular race and the volunteer scrubbing pots in the soup kitchen might both see their actions as God's work. In our history there were scientists who tested on the mentally ill, the disabled, and those who they saw as less than human, in order to pursue what they saw as a greater good.

And what of those who hesitate? Those who hear a call, but ask, "Why me? Who am I to think I can do this thing? Am I crazy?" Are those who are called but proceed forward with doubt in their pocket, more likely to avoid the pitfalls of ego?

I'm not sure any of these questions have concrete answers (few questions of this sort do). If there are answers I am certainly not the person who has found them. But I am contemplating the questions...

Friday, March 18, 2016

Depression



Note:  This post was written about a month ago now.  I chose not to share it at that time, in part because I was looking for housing and it is a fact that in our world people don't generally have a very positive image of those who live with mental health issues.  

The sad truth is we all live with mental health issues of one degree or another.  Our culture is not supportive of a healthy mental state.  We work too much.  We are more and more isolated from each other; community seems on its way to becoming a word we Google. And  when we do come face to face with our own pain, there are a plethora of options out there for numbing out so we needn't ever actually deal with it.  

 I tell myself that there is no shame in living with depression, but these words and the actions of my mind very different.  There is that voice that tells me over and over again, "You are broken and because of that you are unlovable."

 A hundred outside voices can tell me, "That isn't true, I love you..." but the voice inside will find a hundred reasons why those words are false.  And each reason makes sense.

A few weeks ago, at the end of my second therapy session in as many days, my new therapist asked me what I wanted out of this work.  I took a deep breath and I replied, "...an end to my self-loathing." 

It was one of the most difficult things I've ever said to another person.  I'd like to say that the acknowledgement of my own pain made me feel better or somehow lighter, but it didn't, at least not in that moment.  I felt very vulnerable.  I felt afraid.  I felt a deep sadness akin to grief.

I don't know why this time is different.  Why, after decades of living episode to episode, this one pushed those words past my lips.  This one was darker than most, and it still lingers. But as the mental fog that accompanies these times begins to clear there is another voice that is there in my mind, and this one is asking, "...but what if they are right? What if there is a way to see with my own eyes what others profess to see through theirs?"

And I'm listening. 

--------

No.  It’s not returning from my three months at sea. 

No.  It’s not beginning my admittedly super stressful and last semester at school.

No.  It’s not sleeping on the couch in my mother’s apartment while trying to find an affordable living situation in the city I love.  

No. It’s not having one friend threaten suicide and being terribly worried about another, and I do worry – about everyone and everything, but no, it’s not my anxiety either. 

No. It’s not coming to terms with the still unprocessed feelings around nearly losing my best friend several months ago. 

No. It’s not trying to figure out how to balance my day job, teaching, school, rehearsing, performing, friendships, creating and everything else that goes along with being alive.  

Yes.  These things may contribute and yes, they make living with depression all that more difficult but they are not the cause.  No.  I can’t just suck it up, deal with it or think it away.  It is a part of me. 

Depression.  I’ve lived with it for pretty much all of my adult life.  For many years it went undiagnosed, unacknowledged and untreated.  When I was first told that I had depression I was angry and I cried (my reaction to nearly any intense emotion is tears).  It wasn’t like being told I had anxiety; anxiety to me made sense and it had these identifiable episodes, panic attacks, that I had learned to see coming and which I could prevent.  And I was used to it.  “Anxiety is my white noise,” I used to say.  

Depression.  Maybe that was it.  Maybe it was because I hadn’t named it before, maybe it was my own preconceptions about what depression meant (comatose, unwashed in a dark room, unable to function…).  Not that I hadn’t had periods in my life that were like that, I did, but somehow those periods (my dark hole wallows) passed, or they didn’t last long, or well that was last year and this year will be different…and because they passed or the calendar changed that must mean I don’t have this thing called depression.  

Depression.  The episodes come and go like the seasons of your favorite reality show.  You don’t want to admit you watch such things, but you can’t tear yourself away.  You, the outsider, can see the train wreck that is to come, you yell at the television (OH MY GOD don’t be stupid, don’t say that, don’t do that, don’t……) but the players stay right on track, chugging along to disaster.  

Depression.  My life is not a reality show.  And I can hear my own thoughts, I can talk to myself.  There is no unbreachable fourth wall in my life.  I can seek help, and I do.  I can reach out, and I do.  And even though there are all sorts of other feelings mixed up in this thing called depression (self-loathing, shame, anger, sadness, grief…) I can name them.  I can face them. 

Depression.  It isn’t easy.  I choose to deal with this without medication.  This is my personal choice.  If there is a side effect to any medication I get it – dizziness, nausea, weight gain, darker thoughts, no thoughts at all, itching, rashes, numbness.  My body seems unable to handle much beyond aspirin.  Though a few years ago I gave medication a try too – it left me feeling spaced out, detached, tired, and uninspired.  And I gained 25 pounds.  I asked if it was okay to try dealing with this without pills.  Yes. 

Depression.  I knew this latest season was approaching.  I saw the previews (the not sleeping, the melancholy, putting on the mask, going through the motions to cover up my waning desire to do…well anything).  This past week I hid out on the couch.  I definitely drank too much. I neglected my school work.  I watched waaaaaaay to much QVC/HSN and Real Housewives (we all have our dark coping secrets). I shut down. I crashed. Hard.  

But…

This week I also started therapy again.  I reached out to close friends to ask for help.  And I’m attempting to reestablish the routines I need to get back on track. Sleep, hydration, exercise, food, meditation, journaling...all of the things that help me manage life (all of the things that I seem to let go as soon as things take a bad turn...) 

Depression.  It’s just another part of who I am; like my asthma, my height, my hazel eyes, my weirdly over-sized second toe on my right foot, it is a piece of me but also like those other things, I do not need to let it define me.  

Nor do I need to hide it.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Oh won't you please, please, please like me????


People like me...
I have a morning routine.  The first order of business is the bathroom, followed by feeding my feline mistress.  After this I pour myself a coffee, take a sip or two and then begin my morning yoga.  I write a few pages in my journal, do some sort of breathing exercise or a short stillness meditation.  During this process I am continually fighting the urge to pick up my phone to check for text message or Facebook notifications.  Generally, I do a fairly good job of resisting (putting the phone on Do Not Disturb helps) which means that by the time I finish the first thing I do see what’s happening in the world of social media.  

This morning was no different.  Well, mostly no different. 

I scrolled through my feed while sipping my coffee, clicking likes, making short comments, sharing stories I found interesting, moving along my Facebook feed at a steady pace until…

…I saw the post.  Not an offensive post.  Not a post by someone who is down in the dumps who I want to try to console.  Not a post of a horrific news story, or a funny cat picture, or a lost animal.  It wasn’t anything that was in the content of the post that made me stop.  It was who made it. 

I stared at it, my fingers hovering above the home keys, wanting to write a response to the post but unsure of what to say.  

I typed a sentence.  No, no, that won’t do it sounds too over thought.  Backspace, backspace, backspaaaaaace. 

Maybe just a like and a smiley face?  Uh uh.  That will seem like I couldn’t be bothered to actually write a real response. 

Tippity-tappity-tippity-tappity…a paragraph.  TWO paragraphs.  Oh I’m on a roll here!!!!!  Wait. No.  You can’t write that.  It comes across as trying to show how smart I am.  I definitely don’t want to sound like a douche. 

Time check.   Holy smokes I’ve been staring at this post for 20 minutes?  What is wrong with me?  Tap “Like” – move on.  Breathe.  

Do something!!!!!

Nothing.  I delete my paragraphs. Scroll down.  The post is soon lost in the depths of my feed. 

I think we all have someone like this in our lives.  Well, maybe not all of us do.  Maybe the rest of the world is perfectly secure in who they are and never craves or has a need for any sort of outside approval.  Maybe I just don’t want to be alone in my insecurities, but however together the rest of the world may or may not be, I do have someone like this in my life.  Someone who I admire and respect and who I really, really, really, really, really want to like me. 

This isn’t admiration from afar.  I cross paths with the person on a fairly regular basis.  We are friendly when we meet (though my tongue usually refuses to cooperate beyond, “Hello.”) and I manage to not jump up and down frantically screaming, “Notice ME!  Look, look I’m over here!  I think you are really awesome and I do awesome stuff too and can we please be friends?”  Instead, I agonize for twenty minutes over Facebook comments.

I know some of you will try to tell me I’m a great person and that I don’t need anyone else’s approval to be happy, and you are right; I don’t need it.  Logically I know this.  I know that if I just keep working on this self-love thing, that I’ll one day I won’t need anyone’s approval.  That I’ll be a super hero of self-esteem.  But today, today I’m terribly human.   

Monday, January 18, 2016

Slow and steady...


Preparing for the semester...
Tomorrow morning at 8:45AM the new semester begins.  It is my last semester. I started the journey towards my bachelors degree five years ago in 2011.  I started as a part-time student and had plans to continue working full-time through school.  Due to a variety of circumstances, such as the realization that I'd come to detest my job, I left full-time employment and began the life of a full-time student.

Translation: This was one of the scariest things I've ever done.  I might have hated my job but I liked the security of it.  It was safe and leaving full time employment for a part-time job and full-time school was unknown territory.  I was not at all sure, even after I made the decision and gave my notice, that I could do it.

It has been a very intense five years. During these five years I worked two part-time jobs, I managed a performance troupe and began to teach belly dance classes.  I maintained a very full performance schedule with many hours of  dance and music practice each week.  Yes. There have been moments where I questioned my sanity and the wisdom of my choice to return to school.  I had many times where I considered quitting altogether.  My stress and anxiety levels were pushed to their limits.   I lived and died by my datebook and relied on my buzz of my iPhone to remind me of when things were due. 

Translation: It was difficult as fuck getting through these past five years.  Most days I was stressed out and the anxiety that I've managed for my entire life was triggered to the utmost.  I fought against my natural inclination towards procrastination but knew that if I put something off it would only feel that much worse later.  How more things didn't slip through the cracks is beyond me. 


Somehow I also managed to have a social life.  I know my friends at times must have been frustrated with my seemingly endless event declines and the need to schedule even a cup of coffee weeks in advance.  I'm am grateful for their patience, their understanding and support.  I believe I probably, maybe, could have done this without the amazing people I have in my life but their presence made it far easier. 

Translation: My friends were my life saver.  They answered my 2:00AM text messages when I was in the midst of panic and self doubt, they listened when I went on and on about some fantastic new energy or business idea I'd encountered that I was completely jazzed about, they were patient with my scheduling issues and they stepped in to tell me when they thought I was taking on too much.  And when I hit really hard times a couple of years ago, they arrived with food and love to get me through a very tough winter.  When asked how I manage to cram so much into my life I can really only answer with one thing:  I have a lot of help.

The semester that is ahead may be the toughest semester I have had yet.  Academically I am taking four of the most difficult courses that I have ever had in one semester.  I am actually looking forward to the challenge of this as they also appear to be four of the most interesting classes I will have taken.  I am anxious though, perhaps more so than I have been in the past, about keeping up with the rest of my life over the next 14 weeks. 

Translation: AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!

I will be making self-care a priority.  Taking time each day to myself; making sure I get enough rest and hopefully not falling in to a food rut of pizza, wings and coffee; dancing and making music as regularly as I can; walking; and of course making sure I spend time with those I love. 

Translation: I'm going to need a pile of sticky notes on which to write reminders to do all of these things and I shall stick them all over the apartment, in my textbooks, in my notebooks, and in my underwear drawer.  If I don't take care of myself I turn into a stressed out, angry, overtired, crank of a human and no one wants to see that.  "Breathe...breathe...breathe..."

I'm on the edge of finishing up a long term goal.  I'll be counting the days until May 14th, when I will be donning the cap and gown and going through the ritual of commencement.  That day seemed so far away five years ago, something I barely dared to think about, but today I can see the finish line. 

But there will be no sprinting to the end of this race...slow and steady, slow and steady. 

Translation: There's gonna be one hell of a party when this is over. 

Thursday, January 14, 2016

#doingthebestican

Incubating...
I blog a lot about my struggles with insecurity and anxiety.  I publicly worry about my ability to get everything on The To Do list completed.  I share my worry over school/work/life stresses.  I do these things often enough that at times I have worried about what sort of image I am projecting. 

Do I come off as too neurotic?  Will my readers stop visiting the page because I seem too negative?  Should I work harder at projecting more of an image of "having it together?"

Okay, wait a minute, I am neurotic.  I live with anxiety and I obsess about seemingly unimportant things.  I struggle with body image issues and my self-esteem has days that its level could be measured as somewhere between "in the toilet" and "flushed."   Yes, I have days where I feel pretty darn good about myself too, but I also have days that are just sort of okay and others where surviving them without bursting into tears is an achievement all on its own.

Yes.  I am human.  And more often than not my anxiety and stress is due to the amount of work I am putting into achieving the goals I've set for myself.  The struggle IS real, so why not own it?

There are plenty of blog posts, Instagram photos and Facebook status updates about how #blessed,  and #lucky everyone is to be #livingthedream.  There seems to be plethora of luck, blessings and perfect lives being scattered about social media these days.  If it isn't #amazing it's not worth posting and gods forbid we have a hashtag that says #iworkedreallyfuckinghardforthis or #Iamreallystressedoutrightnow. 

The internet is full of folks in workout gear with perfect hair and makeup who apparently don't sweat.  We've all seen enough yoga mats surrounded by flowers and soft lit by candle light, selfies with the best sunset EVER in the background, status updates that are counts of how many mantras were said today and just what we are #soooooooograteful for. 

It seems we've all become our own brand, marketing ourselves and our lives to the world.  Just who is it we are selling to?

I don't really make New Year's Resolutions but I do try to set some general goals for myself.  This year I have two, one has to do with learning to let go of control (another blog post for another day) and the other is to be more honest about what I am feeling, both to myself and my community.  That includes social media and my blog.  I want to own my good days and my bad ones.  When good things happen I want to acknowledge what it took to bring those things into my life.  When I am struggling I want to be able to share that too. 

I hope we all have an awesome year but it's okay if that year also includes a bit of #imperfection, #doingthebestIcan and #onestepatatime.

Peace.






Thursday, December 31, 2015

Happy New Year! (almost)

There is for sure gonna be more music
in 2016!!!!!!!
New Years Eve is one of my favorite holidays.  There are three main reasons for this...

1. It is a secular holiday.  There is no religious tradition that lays claim to it.  It is a holiday open to anyone to celebrate in the manner they choose to do so.

2. It's a holiday for adults.  You can be too young for New Year's Eve, I mean you have to have lived long enough to have a few regrets behind you, but you are never, ever too old.

3.  I love that we have a day in which we take the time to assess where we have been and where we hope to go. In our go-go-go lives this is not something we often take the time to do and while it might seem like nothing more than a day to take down the old calendar and put up the new, I believe this sort of intentional reflection is important.  New Year's Eve is the annual reset button and the fact that so many of us do it at the same time feels like a collective deep breath. 

New Year's Eve is a reminder that no matter how much we have struggled, or how much we feel we've failed we recognize that there is always the opportunity to do better. Whether measured in moments, days, months or years all things in this life are temporary.  New Year's Eve is the chance to acknowledge and celebrate that. 

Normally this is the paragraph where I'd summarize my year by listing my successes, failures and struggles, and then ponder my hopes for the next year, but this year instead I'd like to just take a moment to say thank you to everyone who has been a part of this past year. 

This year I witnessed people and communities stepping up to help friends in need.  I shared creative space with folks I'd only dreamed of ever collaborating with.  I saw so many individuals who stepped up to speak on behalf of those without a voice. I was brought closer to old friends and made several new ones.  This year for sure had its ups and downs but it was the people that made it a good one. 

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Post SAS Reflection III: The Processing...

Not the same woman...
In the week that I have been home there are two things nearly everyone has asked, the first, "How does it feel to be home?"

Which I generally answer with, "Oh good, I really missed my cat and good beer."   

And it's mostly true. I'm happy to have my cat sleeping next to me again, to not worry about how long it will be until the next good wi-fi and I am soooooo grateful to be back in the land of good beer and buffalo wings. I'm happy to have regular access to a washing machine.  I was thrilled to spend Christmas with family and that I'll be among old friends for New Year's Eve.  I am indeed glad to be home, but...

(oh you had to know that was coming)

...as grateful as I am for all these things familiar, I've a deep desire to be far away and alone.

Which brings me to the second things people ask, "Wow.  That must have been a transformative experience, I bet you have a whole lot of processing to do, right?"

And I respond with, "Yeah, I'll be mulling this over for some time.  Please pass the cheese..."

Because the truth is I don't know how to answer that question.  Part of me wants to roll my eyes and thank them for stating the obvious.  I mean, I stepped out of my life for 100 days.  A life that was well established, safe and at least somewhat predictable.  I may not have had a long term plan but I was fairly sure where I'd likely be in the next year or so.

And over those 100 days I lived out of two suitcases, on a ship with 500 other people.  Together we visited three different continents, 11 countries and 13 port cities.  We crossed the Atlantic Ocean, journeyed south of the equator and sailed through the Panama Canal.  I met dozens of new people, heard a hundred or more stories, tasted new foods, danced to new music, played drums I'd not known even existed, and reconnected with long abandoned forms of creative expression.  At 43 I found myself feeling deeply homesick.  I battled and (mostly) came to terms with the sense of loneliness that has been my life companion.  I cried, shook my fist at the sky, sent weepy emails to friends at home and yet by the journey's end when it came time to leave, stepping off that deck on to the shore and was one of the last things I wanted to do.  I had come to love living on that ship, as well as the people on it and the experiences we shared...

After three and a half months at sea it took only about 24 hours for me to go from the World Odyssey gangway to the baggage claim at the Portland Jetport. 

Yes, it was transformative.  I know I am not the same person I was when my plane left the ground in September but right now I've only a tiny inkling of who this new person is.

When I'm asked about the trip and how it was I find myself faced with a traffic jam of thoughts; thoughts and feelings I've not even begun to assess and sort out in my own mind let alone summarize in 60 seconds or less.

And so I find myself wishing for a week of retreat from the world.  A time to adjust to not being on board that ship, to convince myself that the past three and a half months really truly happened; to pause and take a deep breath before I jump back into my life and the processing really begins...

I know that in the long run, as with anyone who has had a life transforming experience, whether traumatic or amazing, I will only know for sure how it has changed me once I have started living my life again.  It is only when faced with  how things were that I will know who I am now and who I might become.  There are no, "Tah-dah" moments in these sorts of things.