This is Our Time: Fast, Fleeting, and Magnificent

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

This is our time. It will be fast and fleeting, yet magical and magnificent. We will always be moving about, passing by one another, while we occupy the greater space that holds us here with gravity. We were thrust here and pushed into the brightness, piercing the new air with the cry of a new born baby. Soon after, the process of imprinting began as the multiple layers of “our time” carved out an identity, giving our form meaning and definition. Unable to escape “our time”, we have moved through it, often embracing it as we stumble through life with discovery and delight.

This is our time. In this time of technology, information is shared instantly and in exponential quantities. Unlike in the past, we have a greater ability to connect with one another, and yet, this saturation and quality of connection is often times eroding relationships, leaving us feeling alienated and alone. Many of us living right now remember life without the use of a computer or cell phone. We reminisce of a life that was not digitized. Polaroid cameras, rotary phones, typewriters, 8 tracks, etc. are all things of the past, but still are very much alive in our collective memory. If were to take a snapshot of those living right now, some still with us can remember a time when they would gather around the radio in the evening for entertainment. Others will share they have never known life without the existence of a smart phone. In this same beautiful space, we have a young child singing “baby shark” while sitting on the lap of her great Grandfather who fought in WWII. And in this slice of life, we have a time that we can call “our own”. You and I are here, together, muddling through this thing called life.

In this time that is ours, we are alive and active, making history while altering the planet as we know it. Some of us will live quiet lives that may seem to go unnoticed. Others of us may influence our communities and impact the lives of those around us. And still yet, there will be the trailblazers whose existence shapes the zeitgeist of “our time”. Even so, as sure as our world turns and the sun rises and sets, it is “our time” to be alive, to breathe, to learn, and to love. And there is no other time for us, but right now, which is pregnant with possibility.

This is truly our time. As we dwell together under the starry skies, we’ll indulge in what the planet has to offer us in the way of natural wonders, culinary endeavors, and cultural practices. Many of us will venture outside of our comfort zones to explore lands that are foreign to us. In our limited time here together, we might sometimes take for granted the extensive and affordable ways in which we can travel. Some of us will travel extensively for work and/or pleasure and our appreciation for diversity among landscapes, culture, and people will grow, leading to a very rich life no matter our monetary worth.

During this time together on earth, we’ll experience heartache and disappointment. We will all start at different places with different experiences as well as different abilities and strengths. We may get swept up in activities or with people that take us away from ourselves, becoming lost. Some who lose their way will resurface after a steady climb into awareness, self forgiveness, and self love. There will be birthdays, marriages, births, and deaths. And during these times we will know joy, elation, contentment, pain, and possibly even suffering. We will, at times, feel alone and overwhelmed. We may fear death and getting older. And yet, in this time that we are here together, there will be times that we feel truly alive. In this space, when you and I are sharing the same air and earth, it will be our energy and endeavors that define “our time”. I’d like to think that in my lifetime people will turn towards one another with acknowledgement that we, “humanity”, are nothing short of amazing, possessing the potential to connect in endless ways. I believe this is already occurring in less organized ways on various social media sites, but feel we are really just now embarking on this journey of increased awareness and connection.

The desire of humanity to connect is what is fueling so much of the development of technology. Interestingly enough, it has opened up a window for many to have a glimpse of the world, exposing people to different cultures and ideas. This can only bring us closer, providing people with the knowledge to break barriers and facilitate not only tolerance, but concern and caring. This level of exposure to one another and to other cultures around our world is defining us. It may be the perfect tool in time to harness the collective energy to care for our planet and the creatures that inhabit it.

This is OUR TIME! It’s going to go fast, I’m afraid. I’m nearly 47 and I’ll soon be sliding into my fifties like a baseball players slides into home base. I’ve been living it hard, making mistakes, and often becoming distracted. I feel like I’ve turned around once and here I am, older, with some back problems and less energetic than I used to be. I’ve lost loved ones, fallen in love a few times and have went through the painful process of letting go. I’ve turned inward, at times, in depression and tried to ignore the brutality of the world, sheltering myself from a few storms in my life. But, I’m still here, along with you and so many others and this is it!!

We have absolutely no choice in how we entered the world and we will not have a choice in how we leave it. Some do take their own lives, but it is my belief that to do so is part of an illness, not a choice. So, while we are here breathing, living, and loving, take time to feel the amazing energy and pulse that is US! It truly is OUR TIME and I hope one day before it is the end, I see you in passing, strolling about, tilting your head back in laughter, at your friend beside you. Maybe you are in that group posing in front of some national monument, trying to get the perfect selfie. Or could that be you, a child jumping in the waves with delight? Or the older couple, holding hands on a park bench? I believe it is all of us. We are more alike than different, and it is OUR TIME. I hope you are enjoying it!

HAMLET

What piece of work is a man, how noble in reason,
how infinite in faculties, in form and moving,
how express and admirable in action, how like an angel in apprehension,
how like a god!

~William Shakespeare

The Stillness and Separation: The Bird is Nearly Ready for Flight!

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The last few years of my life have been messy and difficult. I did not realize it in the beginning, but I was in the process of separating myself and shaping my own identity. I set my intention on healing, but wasn’t able to articulate how that would occur. I only knew that I was in immense pain, both emotionally and physically, and was desperate to find a way to feel good again.

The process of healing lead me to myself. It was a lonely place to be at first and I did everything in the beginning to avoid sitting in the space that surrounded me. Being still was like sitting in a dark and damp dungeon, all alone, unable to stop the constant reverberations of words and labels that had harmed me through the years. More often than not, my thoughts were always spinning on the countless examples that had proved in some way: “I wasn’t good enough”. I wasn’t able to separate myself from the words and actions of others, even when many times I wasn’t to blame for their lack of commitment to me. I wore what people said about me, like layers of clothing in preparation for a cold, Winter’s storm. I was bundled up in other people’s problems, unable to breathe freely, not living a life of my own. It was constraining and suffocating, but I stayed on in many unhealthy relationships from family to work, holding on to the hope that someday someone would lead me to that “sweet spot”: my worth.

Over time and through multiple heartaches, my desperation to receive love from others grew ugly. Even so, my ability to hang on to nothingness was impressive. I lost time and myself to the endless occupation of “fixing” hopeless relationships. I eventually became fed up with feeling invisible and unloved and began to lash out, my shield of armor growing thicker with each passing day. My demands, and oftentimes negative behaviors, were feeble attempts at self love. I knew I needed more, I just did not realize that I needed to “let go” to receive it. All I could see was what I would be losing if did so and that was too devastating, especially after investing so much time and energy. Instead of letting go and moving on, I hunkered down and clung tightly, demanding my presence in the lives of people who were not only lost, but often unavailable in some way. One can see where this is leading.

It was during these types of relationships, that a familiar historical pattern emerged illustrating my learned attraction towards those who were unavailable and inaccessible to me. I had learned to fall in love with the feeling of uncertainty, rejection, and distance. My step-father who raised me created this environment, unknowingly (I now realize as an adult he was doing the best he knew how at the time). He wasn’t available emotionally for me growing up, and so I learned that love was not only having to continually seek approval, but it was also distant and unattainable. And the times I have felt “in love”, were with men who were unattainable and distant. I can even remember telling myself that if I could somehow make the relationship work, it would heal me from what I missed with my father growing up. These relationships, particularly the latter of the two, closely mirrored my life as a child growing up. The latter relationship was stormy and unpredictable and I often felt that I needed to behave perfectly to avoid abandonment. Although my step-father never threatened to leave me, I felt under constant pressure to avoid any commotion as to not upset him in any way. I could see, through the continual conflicts and eventual dissolve of my last relationship, that I was grieving much more than what I had just left. I was grieving what I never had, a father that made me feel safe, protected, and unconditionally loved. This is one of the reasons it became nearly impossible to leave my last significant relationship. Hanging on and waiting for the love I needed nearly destroyed me.

In the backdrop was another storyline that caused heartache and at times, despair. My sister’s struggle with addiction caused a fracture in my very small family. The story is fraught with tension and drama which left me isolated and unsupported by her or any of her now adults kids. It is a true tragedy and one of which I am still grieving over. It’s difficult to let go of romantic relationships, but even more so to let go of familial ones especially when certain members are still in danger and at risk. At this point, because of the drug use, no one is reaching out to me and often my messages of concern go unnoticed. Years of struggle has caused arguments and tension that often erupted into ugliness. Watching one person struggle is extremely difficult and hard enough; I have now seen a whole family walk down the same path. Unfortunately, I only have one sibling and whereas I have longed for her support and friendship during difficult times in life, the addiction has made that reality impossible. I have not entirely let go, but I am in the process because the chaos surrounding her and her children’s addiction is not only stressful, but consuming. And I have learned there is little I can do because my concerns, pleas, and confronting are met with silence, denial, or shift-blaming.

And so, I have been very sick the last couple of years and out of a pure place of necessity and desire, I began to heal, slowly. It has been messy and circuitous, but by getting up each time I fall (and that is many) and trying again, I prevail. I have discovered as of late that I am “separating” and becoming my truest self. This process has required me to not only depend on my own judgment and desires, but to cultivate more space between myself and others. This is difficult to do if you were raised in an environment where you had to question your reality and perform as perfectly as possible to avoid punishment. Let me explain what I mean by this. I grew up in an environment where it was normal to ignore certain obvious problems. Often, I would see the problems, even voice them, and those around me invalidated my experience causing me to question my reality. I often spoke out about how my step-father was treating me and my sister, but my concerns were readily dismissed and even denied. I became so used to questioning my reality that I lacked the confidence to interpret situations later on in life. For example, I continually questioned myself in relationships that were not good for me even if I had sufficient evidence that something was wrong. If I formed an attachment to someone, I gave their actions and words towards me too much influence and lost myself over and over again. All of this made separating difficult as, admittedly, I wasn’t always confident in my decisions. Looking back to my childhood, I can understand why I struggle and this has helped to cultivate self compassion instead of criticism.

The process of separating is painful and liberating at the same time. The old me is fighting with the new me. I have to remind myself that I am enough even while standing alone. No one person has the ability to define me. For far too long I have drank the foolish chatter of those that do not know me. I will always entertain the words of others, but I will no longer bundle up in their words for a Winter’s storm that will never precipitate. I will sit in the stillness and embrace the silence. I see great value in separating where I no longer hear the constant echoes of invalidation. I wish I had learned some of these things long ago, but I can only go forward with gratitude that I have the chance to soon be free. I was meant to soar, we all are. There should be no judgment about how or when we fly. I’m nearly ready to leave this old, rusty cage that actually did serve a purpose at one time in my life. I’m so lucky to have found this love after all these years of searching. It is this love that will lift and sustain me. And to think there were times I wanted to give up! This victory is the sweetest because there is absolutely no abandonment in self love. Love is never lost and what you share returns to you and expands in time.

I’ve decided to end this post by quoting the lyrics too one of my favorite songs by my favorite artist, Suzanne Vega. Hope you enjoyed my insights on separating to become whole! Let’s soar!

St. Clare

Suzanne Vega

Call on that saint
And the candle that burns
Keeping her safe
Until her return

Plaster and paint
Holding the fire
A poor woman’s saint
Holding all man’s desire

Bold little bird
Fly away home
Could I but ride herd
On the wind and the foam

All of the souls
That curl by the fire
They never know
All man’s desire

Watercress clings
To the banks of the stream
In the first grip of spring
When the snow melts to green

Barefoot and cold
And holding a lyre
By the side of the road
Holding all man’s desire

Call on the saint
When the white candle burns
Keeping her safe
Until her return

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Photo by Adrianna Calvo on Pexels.com

 

A Slippery and Stigmatizing Slope: The Use of Recovery in Managing a Mental Illness

Can we please stop using the word, “Recovery” when talking about mental illness? The use of this word for those who struggle their entire life with a mental illness is damaging. This one small, seemingly insignificant word communicates to others that healing from a mental illness is possible if you only “try hard enough”. “Recovery” assumes that the one suffering has the possibility to completely “regain control” of their life if they only take accountability for their illness. It’s a very slippery and stigmatizing slope to place the burden of one’s illness on the individual who suffers to absolutely no fault of their own. While I can agree that the healing process requires an individual to come to terms with their illness and manage it, I do not agree with the sentiment that others who are struggling just haven’t “tried hard enough” to reach recovery. Some of those who struggle alongside of us will not recover, ever. Some will die due to this disease. And there are some, who actually will heal enough to remain in remission. We cannot assume that everyone that suffers is able to reach stability and insisting that they can do so only serves to shame them.

The definition of the word recovery implies that one is virtually cured: 

Recovery: “a return to a normal state of health, mind, or strength”. OR

“The action or process of regaining possession or control of something stolen or lost”.

I understand why people are drawn to this word and use it instead of “coping or managing”. Healing is an individual process and it is something that cultivates pride and mastery. It takes immense time and work to heal oneself. I am engaged in the process as we speak and it has been extremely challenging and difficult, but rewarding. Even on my best days, I do not feel I have recovered: “returning to a normal state of health, mind, or strength”. I have struggled for nearly 30 years and I honestly do not feel I will ever be completely recovered. Some are in the throws of persistent and severe mental illness, with psychotic episodes that are uncontrollable. Although, I do not experience psychosis, I know how it feels to be dropped back down to earth, disoriented and bewildered from an episode of mania that kidnapped me once again. Was I too blame? Did I just not try hard enough?

What I can tell you is that Bipolar illness crept in slowly and stealthily in my late teen years, stealing my laughter, my potential, and my clarity. I was actually on top my game physically, an athlete. I was sociable and friendly, a lead in the school musical. I had been accepted into college and was not involved in drugs or even in a sexual relationship. I was NORMAL and my illness ROBBED me of my care free and happy lifestyle. When you preach “recovery” and the role I must have in it to stay healthy and stable, it communicates on some level that I caused the instability. I was simply living my life and it was hijacked and destroyed by an illness that I did not ask for, nor did I want. I prayed for “recovery’ and complete remission. And in the past 30 years of my struggle there were years where I was more stable and years where the beast of mental illness rose again, rendering me disabled and destitute. The imbalance in my brain is not always controlled by me. Therefore, I choose to embrace the illness and struggle “as is” and “manage and cope” as best as possible.

Here is me the year right before I became very sick on the Summer swim team:

 

I feel recovery in the incidence of mental illness is shaming and stigmatizing. Those who have a choice to remain away from what is causing their illness, such as in substance abuse, perhaps can talk about being in recovery. Their actions and their commitment to their health, has restored it. With mental illness however, a person can be choosing the right behaviors and still experience a damaging episode. And sadly the first thing people will say is: “Were you taking your meds, Were you sleeping, Were you…?” And, guess what? They might not have, but often times they did not choose to alter their behavior. Many times behavior changes as a result of perceptions and memory being altered as a result of the illness and then it spirals from there. I cannot count the amount of times I “skip” a dose of my Lithium because I simply cannot recall if I took it, even if I am marking it down or have a pill box. The first signs of my illness, I have learned over time, is disorganization and memory problems. People have told me I look and sound different when I am manic. So much is altered that telling me I should have done this or that is kinda fruitless when you truly understand what is occurring. And I often don’t know that I am going into an episode until I “fall out of it”, regaining clarity once again. But, somehow when my brain goes awry, I am supposed to stick to certain coping mechanisms and ultimately there is a lot of self-loathing that occurs because I cannot do so. My MS degree means nothing when I can’t even accomplish basic functions because of my mania or depression. And this has been an on-going struggle for years.

And so, I had a choice to make: to accept my faulty-wired brain or beat myself up and “try harder”. I am choosing to embrace myself as I am and do my best to manage and cope. And so, to all of you who feel you may never “make it” and “recover”, it’s OK. My advice is to do your best and if you have a day or week or even a month where you completely fall apart, accept it. Surround yourself around those who accept you the way you are. This moment right now  is what truly matters and you may or may not make it across some made up finish line to “recovery’. No matter where you are at in the process, embrace it and love yourself fiercely and completely, regardless.

I am coping and managing my illness as best as possible. There is NO finish line. There is just myself and my experiences and what I know. And I know my struggle and how hard it is. Embrace you, because you are “that special”, “that amazing”, and “that worthy”.