My wild, messy heart

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I’ve been thinking a lot about connection and belonging, since listening to this TED talk by Brene Brown a few days ago. Belonging is not something I’m particularly good at, proven over and over throughout my life. I almost always feel more comfortable on my own. I was an only child, so entertaining and comforting myself were skills I learned early on.

I also learned early on that when you are connected to people, family especially, their problems are your problems and you can get caught up in the chaos forever. I discovered young, too, that if people think there’s something different about you or if they think you may need help, they will shy away. Having spent much of my life experiencing major depressive episodes 2 or 3 times a year, I found it was best to have fewer connections so that I could slip in and out of my life as necessary without losing too much each time. So, while friendly, I kept most people at arm’s length.

Depression made belonging to a group or club difficult, too, as there were times I couldn’t go to meetings or complete an assigned task on time. I usually ended up quitting fairly quickly, even if I enjoyed the people and the club, and finally I just stopped joining things. Ditto friends and lovers. Hard to maintain a relationship when you can’t be counted on to be the same person everyday.

Now my mother consumes my time, not depression, but the effect is the same. I have very few connections now. The ones I have are solid, but not usually a part of my daily life. They are busy people, too, and it’s hard to keep in touch or get together. That will probably not always be true, especially for me after my mother is gone, so those connections will remain and get stronger, I’m sure, and for that I’m grateful.

But then the question becomes where will I belong? Really the only group I’ve ever felt fully a part of is my family – my mom, dad, and grandma. For better or worse, I belonged to those people. I belong with my mom, now, just the two of us left. I know that’s where I’m supposed to be and that she is my “home.” Our family was not always a refuge for me, but it was always where I knew who and how to be and that I was loved. They took care of me and I took care of them, and continue to take care of my mom, and that’s what connection and belonging is all about.

Commitment. That’s really what it boils down to. Shared commitment to each other. Shared interests, common viewpoints, similar, if not completely shared, goals. I see you, you see me, we are the same. In order to have that kind of connection, you have to be clear about who you are and what you want, and you have to be willing and able to show that to others.

Vulnerability.

For me, and for most people, that’s a very scary word. Without it, though, you can’t really connect with another person, and you can’t really belong. At least, not authentically. If you can’t let people see the real you, then that connection doesn’t really have much meaning and it will break fairly easily. That’s what I’ve experienced most of my life, as I was mostly hiding, not living fully, and not connecting fully – or at all – in most cases.

That’s not me now, though, so the question becomes where do I find “my people?” After the last of my family is gone – my mother – where will I belong?

I think Ms. Brown has the answer in the quote above:

True belonging is not something we achieve, accomplish, or negotiate with others – it’s something we carry in our hearts.

I belong to me, first and foremost. I belong to the universe and the stars, the Earth, and the human race. I belong to my ancestors, and to my family as long as they live in my memory. I belong to my friends – the people I love and the people who love me – and to all the people I don’t know personally who have helped me on my path.

I know and love who I am – messy heart – and all, and I’m not hiding anymore. Here I am, all of me, ready to rejoin the world, life.

I belong.

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How do you mend a broken heart?

This has been a pretty intense week. All about life and death, really, nothing less.

On Monday my mom had an episode of some kind – I’m not sure if it was a stroke or a seizure – and she fainted. She was out cold for 2-3 minutes. She stopped breathing twice, and for several seconds I thought she was dead. She woke up, though, and over the course of that day came fully back to herself, though she felt a little like she had been hit by a truck. By Tuesday evening, though, you would never know it had happened.

On Wednesday I went to have an echocardiogram, cuz when I was at the doc for a physical last week she thought she heard a murmur, and was concerned that maybe I have a partially blocked artery. I had high cholesterol and high blood pressure, and in the past 2 years or so I’ve managed to control both with exercise and diet, and bring those numbers down. So I thought I was in pretty good shape, and honestly, I’m not that worried about something that’s going to kill me in 30 years. Cancer is what concerns me. I’ve had 2 middle-aged friends die in the past 2 weeks from cancer, not heart disease. I don’t know anyone who has died from heart disease, in fact; everyone I know died from cancer.

Laying there listening to the blood whoosh through my heart was sobering, though. I had a psychic tell me a long time ago that I had a broken heart; that’s what I was thinking about while the friendly young women was moving the sensor around my chest. Could there really be something wrong? Is my heart broken? I’m only 56. How could I be having heart trouble? I don’t have the results of the test yet, but I’m hopeful that it was nothing and that I’m as healthy as I think I am.

Then yesterday, I got word via Facebook that a friend who has been battling cancer for a few years had taken a turn for the worse and the doctors had sent her home to die. She was only 50, a recent grandmother, a bright spot in our little community – just a beautiful soul. Last night she died, with her very large family around her, and I just feel so bad about that. I will miss her, even though I didn’t know her very well. She always made me smile.

So near-death, worrying about death, and actual death in the space of 5 days. My head is spinning a little and my heart is breaking (figuratively) for Leslie and her family and friends. Through it all I’ve really been trying to just take it all in, let it be, and then let it go. So much sadness and loss in the last 2 weeks; but life goes on. My mom will die, people I care about will die, and I will die. That’s the reality of this Life, and there’s no getting around it.

Don’t take a minute for granted.

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Leslie Anne Miller Knoop 1967-2018

Rest in peace.

Rest in Peace

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Kate Spade. Anthony Bourdain. Julie Farmer.

The first two you know. The third one you probably don’t. She died this week, too. Unlike the other two, she didn’t choose to die. Cancer stole her life just as thoughtlessly and heartlessly as a thief in the night. She was 47 years old, beautiful and kind, and the mother of three children. She wasn’t rich or famous, but she had lots of friends and family – people who loved her and stood by her until the end, which was brutal. She was brave and loved life, even as she lay dying.

Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain took their own lives. For whatever reason they felt they couldn’t go on. We will probably never really know. To look at them from the outside, they seemed to have everything. We look at them in the media and think how lucky they are, how easy life must be for them. Money, and work they loved and were good at, travel, excitement. Awards and accolades, fame, luxury. They had everything we think we want. In the end, apparently, none of it mattered. It wasn’t enough.

No one understands depression and suicidal ideation better than me. Believe me, I get it. I’ve considered suicide on a regular basis since I was a teenager. I have deep compassion for anyone who makes that very final choice. Depression whispers in your ear – it’s hopeless, it will never get better, there’s only one way out. It convinces you that the problem is not that life is hard, and that it’s hard for everyone, even if it doesn’t look like it from the outside – the problem is you. You suck. You can’t cut it. You’re a loser. What’s the point?

Depression lies.

It’s like cancer, in that it steals your life, your mind, your joy.  Maybe Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain discovered that all the money, fame and success are not what makes life worth living. Those things are nice and they bring us momentary happiness and the buzz of millions of endorphins. None of us would turn any of that down. But it’s not what lasts. It’s not what gives us the strength to keep going when things aren’t so great.

To truly find joy in life and to make it through the hard times, you have to have one thing: LOVE.

Love for yourself, first and foremost. You’re fine. Life is hard for everyone. It’s not just you. You’re not perfect. No one is. We’re all just doing the best we can. Don’t compare yourself to others – you’re only seeing the shiny clean outside wrapper, not what’s going on inside. There is no such thing as a perfect life.

There is only your life and mine and what we make of it. You don’t have to save the world. You only have to save yourself. Don’t worry about what you imagine other people think about you or your choices. The only person you have to answer to is yourself. This is your life. It’s the only one you get and it’s short. Be kind to the part of you that’s broken, that tells you you’re less than or that you’re doing it wrong, or that you’re unloveable. Love that part of you and then let it go.

Love yourself and then you can really love others. In this life love is the only thing that matters. It’s not a cliche. It’s simply true.

Love yourself. You’re here on this planet and you’re doing the best that you can, and you’re awesome. You’ll be gone before you know it, so enjoy the ride. Don’t get off before your stop. You’ll be there soon enough.

Too soon.

RIP Julie.

Julie H. Farmer 1970 – 2018

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Truth be told

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Some of the most difficult things I’ve had to come to terms with over the years are:

  1. Life isn’t fair.
  2. You can still fail, no matter how hard you try.
  3. Not every problem can be solved.

Like most children, I learned the first one pretty early on. I wasn’t happy about it, and I’m still not, but I certainly know it’s true. Over the years and into adulthood, it led directly to a distrust of the idea of the Christian God, or any god worth believing in, cuz in my mind, what would be the purpose of a god if not to make life fair?

I was drawn to Buddhism, and more simply, mindfulness, because it starts out by telling you that life is hard. Period. No illusion. No Santa Claus god. No notions of good and evil, fair or unjust. There is only us, here now, and this life and being kind. Embracing everything and then letting go, cuz none of it matters ultimately. It’s all in the past. There is only what is, not what should be. Not only what’s fair, but what isn’t. All of it. Everything.

The second one hit me square in the gut almost 20 years ago when I lost my business and had to get a job and file for bankruptcy. Like most American kids, I was raised with the idea that if you worked hard enough, you could achieve anything. The American Dream! I was living exactly the life I wanted, the one I had worked for, for a while, and then BAM! It was gone. I was stunned. I had been so determined. I had worked so hard and I wanted it so much, surely that would make it so.

Nope. I fell to earth and landed on my butt with a resounding and painful thud. It took me a long time to come to terms that what I had been told and what I believed to be true all of my life to that point was not true. There it was again: Life is not fair. Add to that: It doesn’t matter how hard you try, you can’t make it so.

Ouch.

Even though I had struggled with depression since I was a teenager, that event and finally realizing that fundamental truth about life was the thing that made me decide I couldn’t go on. Prior to that I believed the I was the problem, Not life. That I was doing something wrong. I had hope that someday I would get it right and then life would be what I hoped it would be, what I thought it could be. What I thought it was supposed to be.

I always knew that people suffered horrible lives, especially in other countries and in other times. I was an avid reader and some of the books I read were about really difficult lives, but I guess I always thought they were just unlucky or they didn’t work hard enough, or something. I don’t know what I thought. Maybe I didn’t really think about it, or maybe I just thought that it would be different for me because…I don’t know.

I was absolutely convinced growing up that despite all evidence to the contrary, I would have a wonderful life once I got to be an adult and could take control of my life. I was raised in the Christian church and I fell for all those stories in Sunday school about right and wrong and God helping good people and punishing bad people. I believed all the stuff in school, too, about the American Dream and Manifest Destiny, George Washington never telling a lie, and Abraham Lincoln walking through the snow for 1000 miles to return a book cuz it was the right thing to do.

I had fought through the depression over and over again because I believed that I could have the life I wanted if I just worked for it. Then, suddenly that was all a lie and I felt betrayed and stupid and that there was just no point in going on with this ridiculous unfair life – in which bad people thrived and good people got screwed. Knowing that there was nothing I could do to change that – no matter how hard I tried – was more than I could take for a long time. It took 10 years of medication and 3 years of therapy to get me past it.

The third thing – that for some problems there are no solutions – was the last bastion of earlier life to fall. Living again with my mother and her health problems finally beat that one down. Not only are some of her medical challenges baffling, even to her doctors, but more simply, the challenge of living with her and caring for her has become less of a problem to be solved, and more of a truth to be accepted.

It just is.

She’s not a problem to be solved. She’s a person. My difficulty at times with this situation can’t be solved, either, it is just part of my life, something I have to embrace and then let go of, just like everything else. It’s another step on the path for both of us. We’re traveling together on this journey.

Life.

Not a problem, not fair or unfair, not good or bad, just what’s happening now and no matter how hard I try, I can’t solve it all for her, or for me, or for anyone. We celebrate the good things and mourn the losses, but ultimately it’s all the same. What is, and what was, and what will be.

Us. In it together. All of us just doing the best we can to accept the truth.

Life is hard. And beautiful. And painful. And amazing. So big sometimes it crushes us, and other times lifts us to great heights. It’s everything and nothing.

And that’s the truth.

Loud and clear

The universe seems determined to show me all the ways in which I don’t measure up this week. There are a lot of them, and I’m painfully aware of them all, but I try to look past them and just do the best I can with what I’ve got. This week, however, I keep running into those walls at every turn and I’m a little bruised.

Those obstacles are people-related, mostly, with a few work failures thrown in. As I said, nothing I’m not aware of, and if you know me, chances are that you’re aware of them, too. The work troubles are new, the people thing, not new at all. I’ve tripped over myself coming and going over that one all the time, all my life.

I don’t know why. I like people, and I’m friendly. It seems to be that like some snakes or toads that have markings to let you know they’re dangerous, I send out some kind of signal that folks pick up sooner or later that lets them know that I’m different in some way. With two notable exceptions, I have trouble keeping friends, and consequently, I’m lonely and feel left out sometimes.

It’s something I’ve come to terms with for the most part, though, and luckily I enjoy my own company. Most of the things I like to do are solitary pursuits, so not a big deal most of the time. Every now and again, though, I hit that wall hard and this week I’ve run into it multiple times.

As for work, I seem to have outlived my skills. I was not wildly talented at what I do to begin with and now 25 years later, the expectations have outpaced my creative ability and my skills in some cases. The young people who run things now have no patience and no respect for experience; they have their own ideas about how things should look and be done, and they’re not interested at all in what I think. I think that’s probably as it should be, but it’s hard to take being treated as if you have no value after working so hard at something for so long.

So that’s really what it comes down to – being treated as if I have no value. I tell myself over and over that I am fine, doing the best I can, and that I’m worthwhile. The message I get over and over from other people in most areas of my life repeatedly, however, is different. This week that message has been particularly loud. And clear. It’s been hard to take.

Ironically, though, when I go home to my mother I’m reminded that I have a lot of value in her eyes. That hasn’t always been true, but it is now, and that’s a good thing. So the hardest part of my life has been the best part this week. Maybe that’s the message I’m supposed to be getting from the universe – that I’m where I’m supposed to be, doing what I’m supposed to be doing, and the rest of it isn’t important.

Maybe.

The beat goes on

Remember those really old Kung Fu movies in which the sound track was a beat or two behind the video, so the actors’ mouths were not in sync with their voices? Or you know those dreams where you forget to set your alarm for the biggest test/appointment/job interview of your life and you wake up in a panic and realize you’re late, but you can only move in slow motion and you get further and further behind?

That’s exactly how I feel today: out of sync, a beat or two behind. I didn’t sleep well last night or the night before and I’m feeling it today. I treated myself to some comfort food for lunch, and a visit to the chiropractor perked me up a bit, but still I’m just not that interested in being a functioning human today. The workday is almost over, though, so after I go grocery shopping, unload and put away the groceries, make dinner, and do the dishes, I’ll be able to slump in a chair, which is really all I’ve wanted to do all day.

I’m tired, and a little cranky, and by the time I get in bed tonight, it will have been a long day. They’re all long days lately. I wish I could say that I’m just sailing through, on top of everything, multi-tasking and having a grand ol’ time, but that’s not the case. I’m making it through, and everything’s getting done – mostly – but I’m not Doris Day and this isn’t a movie. This is just imperfect, exhausting, fabulous life.

I have good days and not-so-good days, and both are okay.

There was a time when I wouldn’t have been able to accept the not-so-good days; I beat myself up mercilessly for the things I didn’t accomplish perfectly, and even worse for things I didn’t accomplish at all. The message I got growing up was that if you’re not perfect, you’re nothing. The definition of “perfect” had everything to do with other people, and nothing to do with me, but I didn’t really get that. I heard their voices in my head, so I thought those expectations were mine.

Turns out – no, not so much. By the time I realized that, however, I was in my 40s and then I had to figure out what I thought of myself, and what I wanted for my life.

I still hear those other voices, but I’ve gotten better at telling them to quiet down, and then telling myself that everything’s okay just as it is. I’m not perfect today. I’ve been a little anti-social, I gave into my desire for comfort food and enjoyed every minute of it, and I’m feeling a little sorry for myself that I have so much to do yet tonight when I’m so tired.

Tomorrow I’ll probably be better, but if I’m not, that’s okay. I don’t like feeling cranky or anti-social, or sorry for myself, but that’s just the way it is today. Good things happened, too, and I’m remembering to try to be aware of those things – I made it  to work, I got some stuff done. My crankiness didn’t get in the way of any of the conversations I had today, lunch was really, really good, and the sun is shining.

Today was everything – all of it. Good and bad. Not really good and not really bad. Just a day. I showed up, and today that was all I could manage. Maybe tomorrow I’ll be fabulous, maybe not. I’m okay with it all. I have learned to treat myself with compassion and that has made all the difference. Life is hard. We all deserve a break. Sometimes you have to give it to yourself, if no one else will.

 

 

Every bloomin’ thing

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Ahhhhh, Spring.

First bike ride of the season on Friday after work. I didn’t go fast or far, but it was wonderful, just the same. Yesterday I liberated the purple bike from the trainer and put it next to its siblings in the garage – no more indoor riding this year. Thank goodness. Nothing I love about bicycling has anything to do with being indoors or stationary.

When I got home, mom and I took a walk around the block and in our neighbor’s yard – the one in which they tore down the house this winter – we saw a little bunny. She was hopping back and forth to a bush on the property, under which, several years ago I had found a bunny nest while raking. So we thought maybe she had been born there last year and was now tending her own nest. Maybe there’s been a bunny nest right under our noses for years and years and we weren’t aware! A metaphor for life. I love thinking of her out there taking care of another generation – the future. New beginnings everywhere.

Too cold and windy for a ride yesterday, so I took a nice long walk and had the most amazing encounter with a deer that stayed with me all day. It was a young deer, a doe, I’m guessing, and while she was wary of me as I approached, she didn’t run and she didn’t seem to be afraid. I spoke to her softly, and she cocked her head so she could get a better view of me. We stood and talked like that for 60 seconds or so, then I said goodbye and thank you and quietly walked off. I didn’t hear her crashing through the brush behind me, so I don’t think she ran away. Very cool.

I have been trying to focus on good things lately – trying to train my brain to be aware of everything, not just the bad, which seems so pervasive lately – and these encounters felt like gifts in return for my attentiveness. At least I choose to see them that way, in order to convince the grey matter that there are rewards for positive thinking that are way better than for negative and fearful thinking.

Cuz I’m always scanning for danger. Always. That’s been the default my whole life – not without reason – but especially lately. Probably most people do that. Life is big and scary. But it’s also big and wonderful and lovely and awesome, and that’s the part I overlook so often cuz my brain is wearing itself out looking for the icky stuff.

Part of living in the moment  – mindfully living life – however, is trying to be aware of everything. All of it. The good and the bad, the scary and the wonderful. So I’m trying to expand my vision. There are sooooo many good things! Nature alone is the source of countless amazing, beautiful, awe-inspiring things, and you can’t beat Michigan in the Spring and Summer for being in nature. And **bonus** walking and biking – outside in nature – are wonderful and good for me! Win, win, win, win, win.

Welcome, Spring. So good to see you again.