Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Five Hundred and Two

de·spair - dəˈsper/ - noun  1.  the complete loss or absence of hope.

"driven to despair, he throws himself under a train"

synonyms: hopelessness, disheartenment, discouragement, desperation, distress, anguish, unhappiness;

Sometime last week I published my 500th blog post.  Normally in a blogger's world this would be a significant event.  It means that there were 500 thoughts I felt valuable enough to share with the world.  It means well more than 500 hours of my life had been spent writing these posts.  It was some time in mid-January that I noticed the number approaching; the count was 497 that day.  Oh, I thought, I'll have to do something special to mark it...

And then January 20th happened.

Blog posts 500 (Pink) and 501 (Self Care in Tough Times) were written and published without noting their numerical significance.  It seems like a small thing to go unnoted.  It makes sense that with all that has occurred in the United States since Donald Trump's inauguration that something only personally significant to me went uncelebrated.  But, it is yet one more sign at how things have changed and of how other things have become more important.

My concern for my friends, my neighbors, and my community have filled my mind this past week and a half.  It was not that I had a conversation with myself about how I shouldn't note this milestone when there are far greater issues before me.  No.  It was that those issues so occupied my mind that the thought of what to do about my 500th post simply never came back into my mind.

The truth is that I am deeply afraid.  I'm afraid in a way I have not been since I was about 11 years old and found out about the existence of nuclear weapons and the cold war.  I would lay awake at night listening to planes flying overhead, wondering if, should a nuclear war begin, I would be able to hear a missile approaching or if I would just vaporize in my sleep, never knowing what had happened.  Laying there in the dark I felt powerless.  I also felt a deep sense of unfairness, that there were people in the world who had the power to decide the fate of millions.  People who did not know me, or my family, or my neighbors. People who could, with the push of a button, condemn the world to death.

This realization changed my life, it changed me.  This inherent wrongness made me want to do whatever I could to bring about a more peaceful world.  It was during this time that I wrote my first letter to a politician.  I became an activist.

In the intervening 40 plus years my activism has ebbed and flowed.  I have written letters. I have voted.  I have boycotted. I have marched.  I have organized.  I have spoken out.  I have crashed and burnt out.  I have angrily turned away in frustration.   I've fought always the desire to hide, and have, at times found myself wishing that I could go back to ignorance because to not know would be far less painful.

But however dark times have been I have never truly despaired.  At least not deeply or for very long. There has always, always been a reason to have some hope.  Whatever awfulness human beings are capable of there have always been people willing to stand up for what is right.  Even now, when we face a very real threat to the foundations of what really does make America great, a time when it would be far easier to tap into one of the millions of distractions and turn away, we are choosing not to.

Today, instead of marking the 501 posts that have come before, I am looking ahead.  Today, I am stating that I am not willing to give into despair.  I will continue to act, to speak out and to look towards hope.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Self Care in Tough Tiimes

“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” ― Audre Lorde

Self care has not always never been a habit that is easy for me to maintain.  I could delve into all of the  possible reasons why this is the case...but that is a long and depressing list; one that really isn't the point of this post.  No, the point of this post is that somehow, over the past week, it has become a easier to make it a priority.

There is no denying that our country is in a very troubled place right now.  Many of us, myself included, are very angry at the actions of the new administration and fearful of what they will do next.  Their actions are harming our friends, families and communities in very real ways.  We are faced with the decision of what to do about it.  Take a stand or hide our heads in the sand and pray it all goes away.

I have struggled with depression, anxiety and other issues for a number of years.  I call these things my monsters and I imagine them living in dark little caves of discontent inside my mind.  Even when they retreat into their particular corner of darkness I am always aware that they are there, waiting to emerge again.  Unfortunately, right when they emerge, right when I should be stepping up the self care, I more often than not step into a place of "let's pretend this is not happening and it will just go away."

Maybe it is because this monster is outside my head and thus more concrete, or maybe it is the fact that the actions that have been taken in the past few days are impacting those I care about deeply and I, like many women, so conditioned to being a caretaker, am kicking into Mama Bear mode, or perhaps I remember the extreme burnout and crash I suffered from when I was more actively involved in the peace movement, but I find myself feeling a determination that I've not felt when it comes to facing my own inner struggles.

More surprisingly what has come a long with that is a recognition of how important it is to take care of myself in order to be ready to do whatever needs to be done.  Suddenly getting enough sleep is really, really important.  Eating well and making sure I get adequate water is now a priority.  I have even made a written list of all the things I can do other than self-medicate and I find myself actually making use of it.

(I know, I know - there is a whole discussion here about why I am not able to do this for myself but I can when it is of benefit to someone else...)

Of course it has barely been a week since this administration stepped into power and I could crash and burn some day down the road, but that would mean that they have won, and that is not something I am willing to let happen.

What are you doing to keep your head together and your strength up during these times?

Sunday, January 22, 2017


Women's March - Portland, Maine 
For much of my life I pretty much avoided any association with the color pink.   To me the color pink represented a femininity that I did not want to be a part of.  Pink represented passivity and weakness. It was too cute, to soft, too...(yes, I'm going to say it)...it was too girly.

In 2002 I began to be involved in the peace movement.  Leading up to the Iraq war some of the bravest acts of civil disobedience that I witnessed were done by Code Pink, a group of women activists founded by Medea Benjamin who were willing to put their bodies on the line for what they believed. With their hot pink banners, clothing and signs, they were also some of the most visible among a sea of other activists.

In 2004 I attended the March for Women's Lives in Washington D.C and found myself in a sea of pink; 600,000 or so people with pink shirts, pink signs, pink hats.  It was worn by women and men alike, all of whom where there for the purpose of making their voices heard on women's issues.

My view of pink began to change.

I began to recognize that for all of my life pink meant someone else was defining for me what it meant to be female.  To wear pink, to like pink, meant that I was in agreement with that definition.

These thousands, upon thousands of women activists who I have witnessed and met did not fit into any predefined mold of what it meant to be a woman.  Instead they were defining for themselves what it meant to be a woman, to be female. And what did many of them choose to represent that power to decide for one's self what it means to be a woman?  The color pink.

They claimed it, owned it and turned it into a visual call to arms.

Yesterday, when I marched with 10,000 other people in my home city of Portland, Maine, pink was once again dominant, on signs, in clothing and the now familiar pink pussy hats.  Photos of marches across the world were also dominated by the color and the hat.

I have seen comments on social media about how pink pussy hats won't change the world.  And they are right, on their own neither the hats nor the color changes anything, but the power behind what these things represent does.

Yesterday that power was out in force around the globe.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

You have no power over me...

"Through dangers untold. And hardships unnumbered. I have fought my way here to the castle; beyond the goblin city, to take back the child that you have stolen. My will is as strong as yours, and my kingdom as great...you have no power over me..."

- Sarah to the Goblin King, Labyrinth

Late last week I experienced what is called a triggering event.  I won't be sharing the event here, but I will share that it led to extremes of anxiety and self loathing.  Human interaction became extremely difficult because everything in me wanted to shut down and go into hiding.  My emotions were very close to the surface and I found myself in that terribly uncomfortable place of crying in public on more than one occasion.  I spent much of the weekend self medicating and binging on Netflix.  Many of my healthier coping mechanisms went right out the window

"Hostess.  Frito-Lay. Hersheys. Red, red wine. Won't you come join me at my little party of self loathing?  Let's sit together and dwell on all of my flaws shall we?"

This of course led to that horrible cycle of self talk in which I berate myself for not dealing with the situation well, which leads to more not so healthy coping mechanisms, and thus more beating myself up over how poorly I am managing this....and...

"Welcome friend, you managed to bypass The Wallow and dive head on into The Pit - here's a cozy black hole of despair to hang out it - you aren't likely leaving anytime soon so let's get you nice and comfortable...."

Monday finally rolled around (thank you three day weekend) and I managed to climb my way out of The Pit.  I got it together enough to go for a walk.  I made sure to hydrate and rest.  I wrote in my journal about the event and my response to it.  It was there that I wrote how I was so tired of the events of my past continuing to have power over me.

I paused in my writing.  It seemed such a simple revelation.  Past events, traumas, hurts, loss - all of these things impact how we relate to the world.  Long after the event has passed it continues to have power over us. They events linger in our minds, waiting for some action, or scent, or sound, or whatever to bring them raging back to the surface with all of their caravans of unresolved emotions, snatching us up to be unwilling passengers.  But they don't have to...

I know it is not just a matter of saying it.  Unlike Sarah, by uttering the words I won't be instantly whisked away to a land of high self-esteem and solidly healthy coping mechanisms.  The next time some monster triggering event comes along it is quite likely my brain will accept its offer of an express ticket to The Pit, but when I come out, as today, I'll still be doing the work.  And so there is hope that maybe one of these times I'll recognize the creature for what it is and maybe, finally, I'll look it in the eye...

"You have no power over me..."

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Musings on Regret

"Make the most of your regrets; never smother your sorrow, but tend and cherish it till it comes to have a separate and integral interest. To regret deeply is to live afresh." -  Henry David Thoreau

Before I go any further, I want to ask folks to please refrain from telling me, or anyone else who might express similar feelings, how useless, pointless or irrelevant regret is.  Regret may indeed be all or some of those things, but saying such to someone who expresses that this is the emotion that they are feeling is at the least inconsiderate and worse, totally invalidating.  And when someone is sharing their pain generally what they need is someone to listen and not give advice - at least not unless it is asked for.

I am sure that there is some evolutionary psychologist out there who has made the attempt to explain why humans feel regret.  They might say it is akin to guilt, that it helps us to figure out those things that take away from our tribe's ability to survive. Regret makes us feel bad because we did something that isn't beneficial or helpful or that furthers the good future of our particular group or family.  When you feel bad about something you are less likely to repeat the action.

Regret, though, can also be about all of the things we never dared, the things we set aside in order to do something that society deemed better or more safe or that we just found made us less afraid. Regret can be so deeply personal, and it is usually fueled by hindsight.  Which  might be why so many say it is a useless feeling because a big reason why we regret certain decisions is because we now know how the choices we made turned out.

And if those choices turned out not so great, well the other choice...it must surely have been better.

We only have a certain number of years allotted to us.  The path we choose can take decades to play out and when we realize that perhaps it was not the best choice to have made, we have fewer decades remaining ahead than we have behind us.  I am quite sure that more than one midlife crisis has been fueled by such realizations.

We should have a national holiday for regret, where everyone is allowed to openly grieve for the roads not taken, the loves not pursued, the joys left behind.  We would line up and process past an open and empty casket; a wake for all of our unspoken poor choices.  Candles would be lit for each forgotten dream and flowers laid at the foot of the statue of an angel who looks over their shoulder weeping with one foot raised ready to step ahead into the future anyway.

Later, over a feast of food and drink, we'd share the stories of how we thought things might have turned out.  We'd admonish all of the children who have been allowed to stay up late to hear the tales to listen to their hearts, to care more, live more, love more.  And later, as we make our way to slumber, we'd wonder how many listened.

I think most of us eventually learn to live with the choices we have made.  We learn to carry, as best we can, whatever regret, sadness and grief come our way and keep walking ahead anyway.  We learn to enjoy the moments of peace or happiness that we find because we know how fleeting they can be.

Perhaps that is the lesson in regret, not to learn to not repeat past mistakes, but instead to appreciate and cherish the times when we, despite all of our human flaws, actually get it right.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

The Doldrums

The Doldrums.  Wikipedia defines it as, "a colloquial expression derived from historical maritime usage, which refers to those parts of the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean affected by the Intertropical Convergence Zone, a low-pressure area around the equator where the prevailing winds are calm. The doldrums are also noted for calm periods when the winds disappear altogether, trapping sail-powered boats for periods of days or weeks."

It is also my happy place.  Well, as happy of a place as I have any way.

I have been working with my therapist on how to deal with those moments when I find myself in an emotional state that has become overwhelming.  Sometimes this is anxiety, but more often than not lately, the past year anyway, it is a deep sadness and profound sense of self loathing.  When the spiral down into this state becomes a direct, uncontrollable plummet to the-world-sucks-I-suck-nothing-is-ever-going-to-improve-because-I-am-rotten-unworthy-and-I-deserve-nothing-good-let's-just-dwell-forever-in-the-land-of-Shitsville.

When, in a recent session, I was asked to close my eyes and imagine a place that made me feel calm. My mind went right to the middle of the Atlantic; specifically the Doldrums (yes, there is some irony here...).  It is a part of the sea where the swells and long and low, and the air can be utterly still.  There is no land in sight.  Just open sky and a massive, infinite expanse of blue water.  There is also a sense of surrender, because when you are in this place, you are thousands of miles from anywhere and if something were to happen, you have only the resources at hand to deal with it.

For someone who has control issues this has the potential to be quite terrifying. But for me, floating along on a ship through the middle of the Atlantic there was also a deep feeling of letting go; a peacefulness that I, one who is ever watchful for the next catastrophe, had not experienced before. I'm not sure I recognized it at the time, but when asked to take my mind to the place that brought me the most peace, something inside of me certainly did.

I've spent a lot of time in the Doldrums this past week.  Taking my mind to that peaceful place on the sea, taking lots of deep breaths, trying, trying, trying to recenter and remind myself that the only thing I have any control over is me.