Shedding the Cocoon: Why Some of Us Take Longer to Leave

silhouette of a man during sunset
Photo by Johannes Plenio on Pexels.com

I have had my share of relationships that were lonely, unfulfilling, and, at times, excruciatingly painful. Instead of facing the pain and moving on, I suffered through years of being tormented by self-doubt and self-loathing. My identity and self-worth was too reliant on the opinions of those I clung to, refusing to “let go”. Over time, the offenses, both big and small, began to stack up becoming obvious, overwhelming, and messy. The spaces in my head and heart were impacted with words, memories, and regrets of which there seemed to be no impasse. I was suffocating, drowning in a lack of love for myself. One could say, that it was in the darkest of times, where I lashed out demanding to be loved, that the seeds of self-love were planted. I knew I deserved more, still yet, I went right back to the places and people who were incapable of giving me what I longed for and needed.

I believe that for many of us, for reasons often not easily articulated and summed up, self-love is an elusive concept. Perhaps trauma in the formative years left us with a larger than normal gaping hole, a deficit of sorts. Sometimes we didn’t get a full cup of self esteem whereby parents, classmates, and friends gave steadily, filling us with a vast reservoir. It can seem instead like a barren wasteland where the sole voice shouting is your own and it reverberates into the valley. And this may be why, when we see a traveler who notices our breath, we give more weight and importance to their presence in our lives. Even if, they are only there to serve the greater purpose of a mirror. I believe that for some of us, in this lifetime, our task is to find ourselves and embrace the light within us. I spent many years searching, making the mistake that someone walking by would mirror back to me what I longed for: love, security, and worthiness.

Because, I made the costly error that someone else would “see me” into existence and worth, I stayed on in desolation and depravity. I was grieving what I had missed and longed for that wasn’t granted in my formative years. I spend years demanding more from others, but not demanding enough from myself. I spent years focused on what others felt about me instead of relying on my own sense of self worth and mastery. Trauma followed me because I chose to stay immersed in it, searching for answers, often bewildered at the lack of love from others.

It took so long to leave my lover and certain members of my family because I had to be resolved that I had not missed in some way the love I was searching for. It was as if I had a very developed and lengthy “tally” sheet where I had to “check off’ every  lost attempt at connection. I went to great lengths to count and examine all my efforts, my failings, my mistakes, and misgivings. I scrutinized myself, always coming back to try in another way. It was easier for me to see my mistakes as the reason for why you did not love me or stay. Fighting often was the last resort to stay engaged and have your attention, like the child throwing a tantrum. I waited, often years, fighting to receive the bare minimum in order to relate to the ones I loved. I kept track of the times I came back and the times I miserably “failed” when I exploded in rage because messages and phone calls were often not returned. It took years of countless rejection and “conditional” love to completely fill the “tally sheet’ to where I said “enough”. I didn’t want to believe that I was not loved. I refused to face that reality. It sucked and it seemed impossible to accept.

I’m still unhappy and even broken, at times, that the love and commitment I felt towards  my sister and her kids and to my ex-fiance, where not adequately reciprocated. I fought for them tirelessly for years and as the tally sheet of abandonment grew, I began to take a harder look at myself. My ineffective coping of gambling and eating, had become too destructive and damaging. Anxiety and depression reigned, and my system of tallying collapsed. I took a long look mentally at the tally sheet and what I had feared had come to fruition: They didn’t care. It was probably more like, they were incapable of caring. Still yet, the evidence was overwhelming that I had been wailing and arguing into the wind. In fact, my love was like sand in the wind, always shifting, having no place to land. I spent a few years being scattered by the wind, feeling devoid of meaning and hope. Those were the darkest days of my life. The years of being left were undeniable. I had to face the reality that there was no concrete evidence that I mattered. I was left alone, often stonewalled for months. I loathed myself further for being the weak one, always pleading for love.

Things have slowly shifted. I found the stillness that I longed for where I simply exist, cocooned in a peaceful silence. I stopped searching desperately for approval and love, and instead accepted the loss of time and relationships and I began looking forward. I still slip, at times, and am carried by the wind, but I quickly return to a new space within me where my reality is embraced. Now, I see myself as stronger. I’m no longer continually distracting myself from the pain. I look around me and I see both pain and love. I see others desperately trying to disappear into the drugs, alcohol, sex, food, and gambling. I see those choosing to suffer instead of embracing pain and sitting through it. I’m in no hurry to heal and have been purposely single for over two years. I see learning self compassion and love as my greatest endeavor and accomplishment. I’m continually getting closer to letting go of the fears that have haunted me my entire life. I am committed to myself and my journey.

I’m uncertain in the end how truly unique my journey is. I smile knowingly at the scores of individuals in my life, from: family, boyfriends, and even therapists, who often were exasperated with me. I recall one person telling me my life “looked like a train wreck”. I’m sure many healthcare professionals felt “She is never going to get past this”. I had therapists get angry and roll their eyes saying “You’ll never leave him” or “You are a mess with men”. My life was a mess and I chuckle at how desperate I used to be. My self esteem was so low, that I’d throw myself desperately at my ex so I wouldn’t have to spent the night alone. I was angry, sad, and lost. What actually helped me was acknowledging that those hurting me were also angry, sad, and lost. Some choose to keep running, I chose to stop. I am immensely proud of myself for that choice. It is not an easy one and it does not require perfection. I choose to share my life and my mess, to prove with time and acceptance, healing does happen, even in the messiest of lives. No one thought I would ever change and here I am in the midst of metamorphosis. It is a long process and I am not even sure if it truly ever ends.

Life has a way of cocooning us in darkness. But, we can discover light if we work hard enough. And like most things, the light wouldn’t be so precious if it were easy to come by.

I encourage anyone who is lost, like the shifting sands, to find the stillness, embrace the pain and learn from it. Thanks for reading!

Sunshine and Palm Trees: Gently Awakened by the Streets of Los Angeles

white vehicle parked on road between trees
Photo by Vincent Gerbouin on Pexels.com

I haven’t written for a long while. I recently moved from Washington to California, an endeavor that was fraught with angst, anxiety, and trepidation. It was a difficult move, one that resulted in a few trips to the ER, an upper endoscopy procedure, and a loss of thirty pounds over several weeks. Although my esophagus was somewhat inflamed, I was relieved to learn that it wasn’t anything serious. I have been struggling with swallowing and there were a few weeks that I was subsisting primarily on a liquid diet. Things are slowly resolving, but I feel the drive down, being cooped up with my dog, and an exacerbation of my GERD, caused a temporary condition where I felt as if something was sticking in my throat. The anxiety of living in a large city, Los Angeles, and the dryer climate here, added to the problem all of which just takes time to acclimate and adjust. Meanwhile, besides taking Zyrtec, Flonase, and Prilosec, a does of patience is in order.

I’m taking this pause, pregnant and full, to share a slice of the reality of my current bewildering existence. I want to remember this time because I feel it holds immense relevance for me. The scenery here is as diverse and complicated as the population around me that appears to always be moving and alive, each individual having their own tempo, history, and space.

I can recall strolling down Venice Beach during the first week of my arrival here, feeling completely satiated. I was taken back by the display of diversity: the young and old, the rich and poor, the refined and the rough. In the span of a few blocks, humanity from every corner of the earth appeared to be represented. There were artists peddling their often unique and fanciful creations while the homeless camped out on the lawn. Hopeful musicians played music that spilled onto the streets while tourists and locals sat in open-air seating, eating food of which the scent permeated the air. The colors, scents, and vibration of life on this street made me full. Of course, there was always the pause to contemplate the juxtaposition of wealth and poverty, but at least here, in this space and in this moment, it was peaceful. And, even, at times, joyful, as what seemed to be “hippies”, were dancing freely on the lawn to the live music playing on the streets. I spent several minutes on the shoreline watching the surfers as the sun began to set. I left that evening, happy.

The first few weeks in Los Angeles was exhausting. My roommate and I were staying at a Homewood Suites that was South of the center of LA were we wanted to move. We spent a week, in harrowing traffic, on foreign streets, searching for a place to live. Every driver really should spend a few days on the streets of LA to understand the true definition of: Defensive Driving. It was grueling work and nothing was truly a “perfect fit”. It was expensive and we were doing our best to find a place as quickly as possible. During this time, I developed the swallowing issue as well as horrific allergies and GERD. Of course, I was experiencing significant anxiety as well. And when we got through with a full day of apartment hunting, we had a dog waiting to be walked. A few times, we had the energy to take her to a “dog beach” or to a Beach Boardwalk nearby. She loved the beach, but ran from the incoming waves of the ocean.

We finally decided on an apartment that was very centrally located. It was a one bedroom for $2400 a month!!  Ouch!! It was clean, had a pool, and allowed pups. The biggest perk is that we are within walking distance to many museums, a grocery store, a pharmacy, the Original Farmer’s Market and The Grove! The Grove is a premier outdoor shopping area where sitings of the stars are common. I’m not too interested in “the stars”, but this area is actually very nice, pet-friendly, and beautifully maintained. It has a little trolly that runs through the middle and fountains that dance to music. Oh, and the music that is played is often jazz and it is perfectly suited for the experience.

Adjusting to a new city takes time. I walk to the grocery store nearly every other day to pick up an ingredient or two that I need. I am still not accustomed to the homeless having to live on the streets. Many times, I have seen them lying on the streets, sometimes with their dog, while mice or roaches traverse nearby. It is very hard to watch. There are those homeless that are obviously struggling with mental health issues, sometimes screaming unintelligible expletives into the air, shouting at unknown entities. I find this unacceptable, but am at a loss of what to do. I keep walking, Gracie will pull in curiosity, while my eyes catch site of the many Mercedes, Volvos, or BMWs parked on the same block. It is a difficult disparity to see all in the space of one city block.

I often don’t drive too much as my roommate, who is currently finishing up in Washington, does all the driving. But, I have been out a few times to take Gracie to the park and to go to a medical appointment. I’ve driven through neighborhoods in Beverly Hills, and was somewhat awestruck by the Beverly Hills “civic center”. WOW. It’s a very impressive center. Again, the have and have nots demonstrated. And the wealth displayed in some of the homes of that area is mind boggling. I don’t feel I would ever be comfortable having that much money. Although, it is nice to see some of the homes, architecturally speaking.

Well, there is a lot to this city of which I may one day call home. I probably will not live here forever, but what I learn here will most certainly stay with me forever. I feel a bit trapped, at times, due to living in a city of such high density. It is entertainment rich, diverse, and full of opportunity. The diversity makes me feel spoiled, like I can taste a bit from other countries by frequenting certain local bakeries and eateries. Here I have access to all different types of people and cultures and that not only excites me, but perplexes me. I have a lot to learn.

I sometimes feel when I’m standing on the busy sidewalks of LA, hearing the horns blast me back to “reality”, that I somehow fell asleep awhile back in the slow town of Bellingham, WA. Los Angeles has gently shaken me awake. The perpetual days of sunshine, the buzz of life on the city streets, the display of immense diversity has awakened me. And this time, I want to stay awake. I have no idea what this city holds in store for me, and maybe that is the best part of this journey.

I remember telling myself before I left for the move: “Wipe away any assumptions you have of living in this large metropolis, and open your sense as wide a humanly possible”. Take it all in and stand unafraid. In some ways, I feel I willed this space here as I was stagnating in Washington state, I was very unhappy. The transition inside of me is now paralleling an actual transition in my life. And this is what was meant to be.

Thanks for reading… we’ll see what Los Angeles has in store for me!!  For today: Another day of sunshine and palm trees!

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”.

 

 

 

The Forest Within: The Gentle Giants will Heal You

bright daylight environment forest
Photo by Skitterphoto on Pexels.com

Today, I found myself walking in the forest. The familiar path I took is well worn as a result of receiving quite a bit of traffic from families, dogs, bikers, and occasionally horses. My dog, Gracie, and I traveled often alone today as the weather was damp and cool. We only passed a few others along our journey. Gracie was free to roam off-leash and was often engrossed in sniffing the forest floor or finding a stick to chew. She was completely occupied and appeared happy and content.

I made a sustained effort to be mindful during my walk by fully attending to the depth of the surrounding forest while at the same time opening my senses to embrace the present moment. What happened pleasantly surprised me. For a time, it was as if the path had actually disappeared. My focus had rested on the looming giants of the forest and the spaces surrounding them. The density of the forest nearly caught me off guard and was a bit disorienting at first. I had always narrowed my attention to the path before me. When I shifted to the tall trees and the spaces in between them, I was able to see so much more of the forest. I noticed the spaces between the branches and how solid and strong the trunk truly must be. The forest floor was covered with pines and debris, often from a fallen branch or two in a distant, past wind storm. There were trees down and hollow trunks that seemed to be old and decaying. My pup would often interrupt my concentration by playfully climbing on a log or finding a stick to chew. A few times, I’d have to call her as she had disappeared, more than likely searching for a rabbit or two.

I got halfway through the walk and it dawned on me how much I had healed here in this forest and continue to do so. I have always felt that the forest can hold my grief and absorb my pain. There is so much space and depth within the forest that any amount of emotion can be released and let go there. A forest is the perfect combination of decay and growth, simultaneously. And, upon further thought and reflection, both are needed to evolve. This reminded me that all of the pain and hardship in my life, from mistakes to disappointments, have their place in my life. The forest is often messy with brush, scattered branches, and even downed trees, but this doesn’t make it any less beautiful or captivating. Each tree, standing tall, is alone and separate from the others, but is frequented with many visitors from squirrels to birds and even insects. Storms come and storms go. It rains heavily and sometimes a light mist hugs the giant firs. And then, there are the days of sun and warmth. In the Winter, the branches become heavy with snow. Out in the elements, the trees are vulnerable, but on most occasions unless there is a tragedy like a fire or a disease, these gentle giants carry on through the seasons reliably. Life moves in and around them and they adapt and change, letting go of the life that inhabits them and remaining grounded by their roots.

I was feeling quite at home there in the forest today. It dawned on me that I had found my stillness again. I knew that this experience was trying to teach me something. Perhaps, I could be like the gentle giant. Life will stop in and pass through, but I was not to cling to it. Maybe I am also to value the messiness of life that contains the parts of myself that are decaying so that new growth can occur. This was a reminder to not devalue the decay, but honor it as it is also part of the beautiful mess that has made me. Looking around this beautiful dense forest, it seemed actually more mesmerizing with both the large looming trees and the downed logs on the ground. How could I view the old and new, together, as less somehow?  Immediately, more compassion came to the surface. How could I devalue the struggle and the “downed logs” of my life that made me? Perhaps, my mess could also be beautiful in ways.

I began to admire the trees for being so rooted and grounded. Their strength and separateness made me feel a lot less lonely and isolated. And at this moment in time, I was part of their reality, a passerby perhaps altering the forest in a tiny way.

There is and always has been immense healing for me in the forest. It has made me realize how we are all interconnected and that nature and life in all forms depend on each other for sustainability. We all are sharing the same oxygen. I feel more tuned in when I walk through the forest and I always gain something from the experience. Sometimes, ironically enough, a walk, all alone through the forest, is what you need to connect to yourself and others. Enjoy the forest, my friends, it will heal you!

This Raw, Beautiful, Wild Forest

As I sit here once again in the stillness, I feel exposed and raw from the continual shedding of layers that define me. I am reminded of the song, Watershed, by the Indigo Girls. The lyrics quickly fill the space surrounding me. So many times I have communed with this song, engrossed in its message. I wanted to share the lyrics below and encourage you to give it a listen on YouTube if you are unfamiliar with the Indigo Girls and their music. So much of their music has served as the backdrop of my youth, planting so many seeds along the way. I’m grateful to them and to other musicians whose music has been a gift and is every bit as relevant now as it was back then. Here are the lyrics to Watershed:
Watershed
Song by Indigo Girls
Lyrics
Thought I knew my mind
Like the back of my hand
The gold and the rainbow
But nothing panned out as I planned
And they say only milk and honey’s
Gonna make your soul satisfied
Well I better learn how to swim
‘Cause the crossing is chilly and wide
Twisted guardrails on the highway
Broken glass on the cement
A ghost of someone’s tragedy
How recklessly my time has been spent
They say that it’s never too late
But you don’t, you don’t get any younger
Well I better learn how to starve the emptiness
And feed the hunger
Up on the watershed
Standing at the fork in the road
You can stand there and agonize
‘Til your agony’s your heaviest load
You’ll never fly as the crow flies
Get used to a country mile
When you’re learning to face
The path at your pace
Every choice is worth your while
And there’s always retrospect (when you’re looking back)
To light a clearer path
Every five years or so I look back on my life
And I have a good laugh
You start at the top (start at the top)
Go full circle round
Catch a breeze
Take a spill
But ending up where I started again
Makes me want to stand still
Up on the watershed
Standing at the fork in the road
You can stand there and agonize
‘Til your agony’s your heaviest load
You’ll never fly as the crow flies
Get used to a country mile
When you’re learning to face
The path at your pace
Every choice is worth your while
Stepping on a crack (stepping on a crack)
Breaking up and looking back
‘Til every tree limb overhead just seems to sit and wait
‘Til every step you take becomes a twist of fate (twist of fate)
Up on the watershed
Standing at the fork in the road
You can stand there and agonize
‘Til your agony’s your heaviest load
You’ll never fly as the crow flies
Get used to a country mile
When you’re learning to face
The path at your pace
Every choice is worth your while
Up on the watershed
Standing at the fork in the road
You can stand there and agonize
‘Til your agony’s your heaviest load
You’ll never fly as the crow flies
Get used to a country mile
When you’re learning to face
The path at your pace
Every choice is worth your while
And when you’re learning to face
The path at your pace
Every choice is worth your while
Songwriters: Emily Ann Saliers
This song sums up perfectly so much of my current mood. There is so much inside of me I lam longing to express. If one could see and hear my spirit growing, I’m certain I’d be a tree in a dense forest at the start of Spring. My branches that once were stark and starved would be starting to show plenty of green, alive and full of color. The air surrounding me would be full of aroma. I’d be standing on my own, arms open and extended, embracing the warmth of the sun. I’d be part of the grandeur of the forest, but full and fruitful on my own. All the loving spaces between my branches, unencumbered by limitless space and my feet rooted firmly to the forest floor, forever grounded. I have nearly arrived and have taken my space among the firs. Together we are majestic and magical, separate we are enough.
I’ve been awake and with myself enough now to know how important it is to like myself, even more so to love myself. I absorbed so much that was not mine in my lifetime. Looking back, I am not ashamed to say that I was a “shell of a person” often searching outside of myself for validation and identity. I was lost. It made sense in ways to search for self-love through others. I reasoned that their opinions carried more weight than mine. I didn’t trust myself and never felt that I was good enough. Placing my trust in people who did not have my best interest at heart and refusing to “let go” nearly “did me in”. I did not want to exist without their love and acceptance. Something inside of me continually told me that I would cease to exist without their love. That I was nothing without them. So I hung on despite the utter hopelessness of the relationship and the reality that my needs were not being met.
Inside a storm was brewing. As certain people painfully discarded me, I began demanding more from them. I stayed too long in broken relationships demanding what I was willingly giving of myself, my time and energy. What I did not realize at the time is that in “rebelling” I was actually learning to trust my inner voice and love myself. That I was worthy of a reciprocal relationship. During this messy and brutal time of demanding more, I often acted in irrational ways and made things worse for me. The self-loathing got a lot worse until I became aware that hanging on for so long was an act of self-destruction and resolved nothing. Everything inside me wanted to remain engaged with those hurting me. It nearly felt like I would not survive if I “let go”. So, this process of holding on went on for a few brutal and dark years. Years of being suicidal and not wanting to press on. Years of losing opportunities and employment. I’m still grieving what I lost in not “letting go”. And yet, the tree in the forest still stands and Spring has come and there is lots of green peaking through!
Learning to love yourself through the layers upon layers of self-doubt is a long and arduous process. Self love can seem elusive and too often I was missing the mark. When you are “in love” and love yourself, it shows in the actions you take in your life. It is demonstrated in the boundaries you have in order to maintain self-care and self- preservation. I did not love myself. I did not know how to love myself. And it’s ok, so many others are also in this struggle, seeking validation of their self worth in people they trust more than themselves. The last decade of my life has been the tug-of-war of “holding on” and “letting go”. And I am feeling more confident now that I actually am beginning to love myself more and more each day. I still make mistakes and have shame. But, I accept myself and do not demand perfection. I do not beat myself up anymore. And ultimately, I know I am worthy. I no longer need others to tell me so.
This journey is a blessing despite the pain and suffering it took to get here. And, it is only the beginning. It is a spiritual change and one of perception. In retrospect, I was learning. I accept that we all start at different places and we all go at our own pace. I am not in any contest. I have taken my place among the firs, in the dense forest, and I feel strong in my separateness and uniqueness. We all make up the forest and it’s raw, beautiful, and wild. Let it be.

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