LIVING LIFE ON THE OTHER SIDE


the other side

“The great courageous act that we must all do, is to have the courage to step out of our history and past so that we can live our dreams.”  ― Oprah Winfrey

It’s been nearly two months since I started my cleanse. And, almost exactly one month since it ended. I have been living in this newly-designed life for a bit now and it is finally feeling like my new normal. Remarkably, so much has changed since before the cleanse when I set this unofficial line of demarcation. It turned out to be a truly distinct moment in time when life as I knew it became altered. Without question, I’ve shifted, as I have so many times before, moving along my own personal continuum to achieve some level of personal success and satisfaction. We all make the journey through life, seeking fulfillment and pleasure and, for some, it comes in big bursts and for others, like me, it sneaks up on your subtly without you really noticing it until, suddenly, it is there and you can’t avoid recognizing the alteration. If you’re like me, that feeling is like crack – you want more and more, constantly seeking out personal growth and enlightenment. And, the further along the continuum I travel, the deeper the chasm that exists between my life now and my life before.

Now, I’m living life on the other side. My life feels oddly new and different and yet I know I am just a more improved version of the same person I have always been. My cleanse – both the emotional and the physical – allowed me to distance myself from the elements in my life that were no longer working. Gone are the inconsequential relationships that sucked up my time but provided no meaning to my life. Thankfully, I am no longer a slave to Facebook, constantly seeking some type of validation or creating an artificial sense of belonging. In fact, I have had countless experiences over the past few months where people commented to me about the goings-on of acquaintances on Facebook and I have felt an incredible sense of satisfaction that I was no longer in the know. I am not privy to all the status updates and, while I miss seeing some of the photos and have definitely missed way too many birthdays, my peace of mind is far more important and I feel liberated from the monotony of scrolling through posts in order to reinforce to myself how much better everyone else’s life is than mine. The other day, I was texting with a girlfriend and commented that I am missing so much by not being on Facebook and she generously retorted by saying that I am missing nothing. Those who I need to be talking to, I am – case in point my friend with whom I was having a lovely text exchange. I can count on two (maybe even one) hand the number of people I regularly communicate with in contrast to the dozens and dozens I would banter endlessly with or force myself to create relationships with “offline” and I am certain my interactions have taken on a much higher quality now. That means everything to me.

The most important element of how I am living my life is how I look at myself, overall. I’ve recently had to confront my challenges with being happy and accepting contentment. Being an eternal seeker, I am endlessly looking at the ways in which I can better my life and, while I am not naturally a negative person, I do tend to focus, personally, on my weaknesses as a tool in which to measure my requirements for growth. Sure, I am hard on myself and tend to have perfectionist tendencies, but I wholeheartedly appreciate my process for raising my own performance standards. And, most significantly, I do not impose any of my standards on anyone else. This drive for improvement is absolutely an internal process. As a result of this, there is always a sense of incompleteness to my life. Just as I can reach above the bar, I raise it, quickly forcing a new goal and setting a new standard. I recognize that this limits my ability to bask in my success and appreciate my accomplishments so it is something I am working hard to improve upon – without, of course, forcing myself into yet another competition with myself to make advancements without acknowledging my progress.

Just this past week, I received some great news about some financial matters I was dealing with and the outcome was relieving a huge burden off my shoulders. Something that I had been struggling with for nearly two years was coming to a resolution and I was able to exhale a gigantic sigh of relief. The elation from the news – the exact solution I was hoping for – was short-lived. Within a few days, I felt a nagging sense of anxiety growing within me but I could not place the source. This has become uncharacteristic for me because, since the cleanse, I have been very in touch with my feelings and emotions and have not allowed myself to run away from my feelings. The removal of food as a distraction from my stress or anxiety has been enormously beneficial as I am constantly present and working through whatever is causing me difficulty. In fact, in complete contrast, lately I have had an unusual sense of calm about me and have made my peace with a lot of the aspects of my life about which I am typically uneasy. It took me by surprise to feel this sense of deflation and to experience this overwhelming stress. What quickly came to mind is that I was manufacturing my own duress. Like many times before in my life, I was a filling a void and keeping myself in what felt like a safe and familiar bunker. Something needed to replace the worry that had been ever-present in my life for the past several years. In contrast, peace and solitude are unfamiliar to me so it is not all that surprising that I would create something to help me comfortably stay in the familiar state of discomfort. When the reality sunk in about what was happening, I felt defeated. All the hard work I had put in – not just in the past few months – but in last decade, seemed worthless. My bad behaviors were rearing their ugly heads once more.

Alas, fret not. This story has a positive outcome. I took my struggle to the place where it belongs – therapy. I dissected the hell out of it and woke up to a new dawn. Simply being able to understand what was happening was a dramatic improvement (admitting you have a problem is the first step…). There was no running away or hiding out from what I was feeling or experiencing. Instead, I had confronted, head-on, my own foibles. I recognized, regrettably, how I had simply replaced one ailment for another and was now able to dig deeper.

Wearing our skills is the hardest part of personal development. We can intellectually absorb what needs to be done differently and study the new behaviors required to live more happily, authentically and successfully. However, when it comes time to demonstrate what we have learned, many, like me, struggle. It is like performing the dance for which you have learned all the different elements but have not put them all together at once. Within me, there is a deep belief in how I need to operate in order to achieve my own personal satisfaction. Plus, I have all the information and knowledge required to accomplish my tasks. I simply have never truly taken my desire, married it with my knowledge and put the pieces together to execute. And I kind of understand why – I have been afraid to fail. I have internalized some kind of idea or expectation that once I arrived at my destination, I would be good to go. I’d fire on all cylinders and there would be no looking back. But, as I have heard more clearly over the past few weeks, life is not about arriving at a destination, it is about the journey. There is no pass or fail – it is a series of trial and error and, hopefully, learning from errors to have fewer as time goes on. I get that. I can do that.

“Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.” ― Lao Tzu

This is what my life looks on this side:

I am living a healthy lifestyle. My eating is not perfect but it is greatly improved from where it was and I feel really comfortable with my choices. I have a different relationship with food and I have a strong sense of willpower to make the right choices. I have not re-introduced sugar or caffeine into my life and wheat is pretty much on the outs as well. Dairy makes a rare appearance and only in the form of the occasional cheese in a salad or a sprinkle of parmesan on a recipe. Plus eggs. I love eggs. I hardboil them and pop those suckers into my mouth for a quick protein fix after the gym. They make me happy. I have learned to enjoy cooking and have found recipes that reinforce that I can eat delicious food while still avoiding those items that cause me difficulty. I survived Easter and the presence of two growing boys who have a nonstop parade of cookies and ice cream with grace and, remarkably, little difficulty. I open my freezer regularly and see those familiar demons – pints of Talenti gelato – and it causes me no dismay. I will eat dessert again, when I choose to. I get to decide when and what. It does not choose me.

Working out has become a regular way of life for me.  Most weeks I am at the gym 4-5 times, if not more. I simply love it. I have found some great new classes, including spinning, that keep me engaged and enthusiastic, and I also enjoy my hour on the elliptical many mornings during the week. It is my time for me and I treasure it. I have learned how to prioritize myself and ensure that I get what I need to feed my soul in the most important ways. And, of course, the results feel wonderful! While I have not lost as much weight as I had hoped to by this point, I am on a steady path of progress. There is no more doing battle with my closet. Everything fits and I get to choose, happily, what to wear each day. What used to be a shaming session in the morning is now a blissful romp through my wardrobe of old favorites. I am re-establishing my relationship with lots of clothes that were tucked in the back of my closet in order for me to avoid remembering how they “used to look.” I feel like a fit person and, even this morning, as I was pumping through my spin class, I kept checking myself out in the mirror, acknowledging that I still have a long way to go. What’s different is now I have a great sense of acceptance for who I am. The reflection that stares back at me is a beautiful one that I am proud to look at. I accept my mission and will do my best to achieve my goals but, even if I stop exactly where I am, as long as I live my life in such a way that makes me feel satisfied with my efforts, I believe I will be ok.

The past is behind me. This was the important lesson I learned in the last week. I have talked so much about wanting to reframe my picture and cut out the elements that no longer fit. I am finally ready to do this authentically and sincerely. I no longer want to look backwards. The past, for me, simply doesn’t resonate any longer. Sure, it informs who I am today but there is less and less to be learned from that and, more importantly, I need to spend my time focusing on who I want to become. I am taking stock in what I have created and there is great pride to be derived from architecting a life all on my own. The survivor moniker doesn’t fit me but I can’t avoid acknowledging that I have managed to get myself to a place – with an awesome amount of hard work – where I am really strong, really confident and really amazing. I am so proud of who I am today and, without question, I am living the life I am supposed to be living. Everything in my life is within my control. There is no longer anyone who can disrupt me in the way my family and others have done so in the past. So, I can leave all that behind me because it served its purpose and I have drawn the last vials of blood left in that body. Now, I am ready to move forward.

My relationships are wonderful. I have always sought to have a large group of friends to compensate for all that was lacking from my family. There has been an insatiable need within me that, no matter how many friends I had around me, was never satisfied. Of course, no one could fill that whole. I had to learn how to do it myself. Now, I am much more content with just a few close friends, a couple of acquaintances and my wee but mighty family. I really need nothing else. Those with whom I want to spend time, I do. I choose how and when I spend my time and I am extremely selective about those with whom I give a part of myself. Partly this is because I don’t have a lot of time or emotion to spare and also because I think it is a gift to give of one’s self. We should all be very discerning about who we let into our lives and how we share pieces of ourselves. I have the most amazing circle of trusted companions, led off by MVP, my best friend. Our relationship has flourished in this new era and I am grateful for all the time and effort he has put in to help chaperone me on this path. Without question, my family is my rock – my husband and kids continually giving me a sense of peace and provide a home base for me. They have shown me that family can be a wonderful thing and I work hard every day to be a better partner and be the best mother I can be to my children, allowing them to realize their potential and their dreams in a loving and nurturing environment.

I am happy. I don’t necessarily feel it every day and I get moody and frustrated but, at the end of it all, I am happy with where I am and what I have accomplished. I am putting out a better version of me into the world and that is undeniably the best feeling ever.

So, now I am signing off for a while. This blog has served me well for many years. It has helped me traverse the jungles of my mind and the valleys of darkness that have scared and challenged me. The purpose was originally to position myself professionally and, as the wind blew me off course, I found a whole new destination of finding myself personally. I am grateful to everyone who has read this and shared their feedback, rooted me on and offered such meaningful and valuable words of encouragement. It is time for a new chapter and I will certainly start anew with a new blog to reflect my life today rather than to focus on yesterday. I am happily walking through this door.

DAY EIGHT


work in progress

I am just three days away from my midway point and I am super proud of how far I have come. I can feel the changes in my body and cannot recall the last time I was so in tune with everything going on inside my body and mind. So, that’s progress!

What I consumed:

  • Cleanse Shake with strawberries and blueberries
  • Orange
  • Baby carrots
  • Grilled eggplant with basil and fresh tomato sauce
  • Sauteed mushrooms and onions with quinoa
  • Sauteed spinach
  • 19 gigantic supplement capsules
  • 64 oz water

How I felt:

Today was a strange day. I woke up feeling great and had huge bursts of energy this morning. I went to the gym, had a great workout and felt even more energized. However, by mid afternoon I was starting to crash both physically and emotionally. At first I thought it was because I had not eaten enough so my blood sugar was low. But, even after eating something and laying down for a while, I still didn’t feel great. After dinner, I felt an overwhelming sense of stress and anxiety and struggled to find a way to manage my feelings. I talked with my husband a bit, in order to get out some of what was on my mind, and then retreated back to my laptop to get some more work done. Once again, the absence of my narcotic of food left me feeling raw and I am striving to find ways to assuage my uneasiness.

Physically, on the other hand, I feel great. I commented to my husband tonight that I cannot imagine going back to eating the way I did before the cleanse. My body feels clean and lighter. My clothes are definitely fitting better, even after a week. I don’t feel weighed down by the food and my taste buds are alive as I try new foods that otherwise might not have been interesting to me. For instance, tonight I ate sautéed eggplant with a simple tomato sauce and some fresh basil. It was delicious and something I would never had eaten before without breading and cheese. I was delighted by how much I enjoyed the food. The rest of my family ate grilled burgers for dinners and, while they smelled and looked delicious, I knew how that meal would have left me feeling. The challenge for me is, once the cleanse is over, to figure out how to re-immerse myself into a broader array of foods without falling into the same bad patterns that previously existed. I want to be able to consume a burger now and again while still enjoying the fresh and clean foods that I have been eating on a more regular basis.

Physical Activity:

52 minutes on the elliptical plus an ab and arms workout. Great day at the gym!

As I mentioned, I do not recall the last time I was this tuned in to what was going on in my head. Usually, I am pushing things away, compartmentalizing and storing them for later examination. As much as I process what is going on around me at all times, I am very discriminate about what I let penetrate the outer seal and typically have a long wall of mental file cabinets in which to store that which I am not ready to tackle. Right now, I feel like everything is begging for attention and my filing system is failing.

Last night, I was having trouble settling my mind down because of some of some of the disruptions from my day. I have a lot on my plate right now and more stressors than usual between personal issues I am dealing with and the continued burdens of work. I have employed a strategy in recent years – and, more frequently, in recent months – of neutralizing the most daunting of challenges. As with yesterday when I received the troubling email while out shopping, I tend to store away the problem for later review so as not to get distracted or sucked into the eye of the storm. While I was trying to get to sleep last night, a dialogue was running in my head, compelling me to acknowledge how stressed and worried I am about various matters in my life. And I resisted. I have chosen to reject fear and embrace whatever is coming my way in order to arm myself in the best possible way to endure whatever rough waters I might encounter. And this has worked, sort of. Yesterday I started to feel overwhelmed. Today, I felt it even more. And I am unsure if my strategy of devaluing the fear and cordoning off the anxiety to keep it contained is as effective as I think. It might be just another tactic to numb or distract myself from what is happening around me. Or, possibly, it is just about the best coping mechanism I can scramble together at this moment in time. I simply don’t know.

Through all of this thinking – and a lot of what has been on my mind this past week – I thought more deeply about the anger I suppress. That pleaser does not like to set the anger free. Yet, when she does, it gets ugly and the anger becomes consuming. I am continuing to pinpoint my anger and try to make sense of it. I did have a small epiphany today as I was driving to the gym. Even after 47 years, I realized, I am still getting to know myself and understanding my behaviors. The awareness today was about my inability to let go of anger once it is has been aroused.  Once I have been stirred up, it is not easy for me to release it and move forward. It sits over me like a lingering storm cloud waiting to erupt. It was not as evident to me how much time I need and the process I need to go through to calm myself down and replace the inflammatory discourse streaming through my mind. When you suppress anger as much as I do, it becomes like a wild animal once it is let out. And is very hard to tame.

I am continuing to peel back layers of this onion at a rapid pace. Perhaps there is more coming at me than I am prepared to endure but I am trying my best to take it all in, work with it and find my way to the other side. I am grateful for this experience because it is rare that I get to snuggle up so close to myself and listen to my every breath. And, while I don’t like everything I am observing, I am respectful that it is all part of who I am and I continue to be, as long as I keep taking those breaths, a work in progress.

THE UNCOMFORTABLE ZONE


comfort zoneIn my dream I am standing inside a large freight elevator.  There are no handles on any of the walls of the car for me to hold on to.  The elevator quickly lifts off and within seconds I can feel the car turning on its side and I realize we are now moving sideways.  Like the elevator at the end of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, we are catapulted into the sky but, unlike Charlie’s magical ride, there is nothing keeping us floating through the air.  It is abundantly clear that the elevator car is going to catapult to the ground imminently.  I crawl into a tight ball in a corner of the car, obscuring my view of what is now a glass wall showcasing my death fall.  I am desperate to hang on.  I scream as I cower in fear.  Every muscle in my body is tensed as I brace myself for the inevitable crash.  I can feel the fear as my heart pounds out of my chest.  And, just like that, it is over.  I am awake.

I have suffered through this same nightmare for many years.  When I awake and hazily readjust to reality, I have the consciousness and understanding to realize that my dream represents anxiety.  It is an embodiment of all of my fears.  However, while still asleep, the terror is so real as I experience the sheer panic that must occur when you realize that you have completely lost control and your life is nearing demise.  I recognize that my dreams quite often serve as a processing tool for me, particularly as it relates to anxiety.  As someone who grew up riddled with fear and terrified to step outside my comfort zone (which was about the size of a pin head), I am acutely aware of how crippling and life-altering anxiety can be.  And, conversely, I also understand how liberating and exhilarating it can be to go beyond your self-imposed limits and attempt to push past your fears.

I shared last month that I had taken some giant steps towards conquering some of my fears by running my first 5K.  it was an extraordinary experience for me because I had journeyed so far beyond my comfort zone that I wasn’t sure I would find my way back.  But, of course I did.  In fact, I located my zone, pulled in the guideposts a bit to tighten up the boundary and locked myself inside.  Despite the tremendous satisfaction of having accomplished something so significant for myself, I quickly retreated back into my cave and sought safe harbor.  Like a dog who jumps the fence and burns through all their energy running through the neighborhood, my venture outside my safe zone left me weak and spent. As I retreated back into my comfort cave, a small voice inside of me was yelling “Let me out!” desperate to taste the deliciousness of the freedom that comes from releasing yourself from the shackles of fear.  But that voice is so quiet compared to the overpowering boom of the loud roar that reminds me of all that scares me and limits me – a voice that has been holding me back and imprisoning me for most of my life.  I don’t recall ever extending an invitation to this voice but, alas, it has made itself at home and, despite my continued requests for its departure, it continues to overstay its welcome, keeping me caged, far too often, inside what has become my anxiety zone.  No comfort comes from being trapped like that.

This past weekend, I challenged that big voice in my head once again and did something truly extraordinary for me. I completed my first mud run.  It was the Dirty Girl run, a women-only event and certainly far less challenging than the Tough Mudder or even its mild stepchild, the Warrior Dash.  However, it was a 5K with some challenging obstacles and a whole lot of mud.  Typically, I’m not such a big fan of mud or any kind of dirt.  I quickly rinse my feet off when I am out in my garden and they become covered in soil.  I scrub my fingernails clean after mulching or digging up plants.  I am not so comfortable with the muddy stuff.  Yet, I agreed to do this race because I knew it would push me.  I had no doubt that I would be hurled so far outside my zone and I knew, in the end, it would feel fantastic.  I was confident that the pride and joy I would feel would be worth all the anxiety and torture I would face leading up to the day.  I was ready to take one giant step way outside my comfort zone.

I handily finished the race alongside a group of awesome girlfriends who cheered me on every step of the way.  A few of them were as apprehensive as me going into it and we each struggled with our discomfort for different reasons.  Sure, we are all in our forties and worry about our bodies not being up to the task of completing some of the more challenging obstacles.  We all had concerns about sustaining injuries and several of us had a few demons that we needed to meet head on in order to get through the event.  Maybe it was concerns about not being able to run the full distance.  Maybe it was the heights on some of the obstacles.  Maybe it was not believing in our own strength to lift ourselves or hurl ourselves or maybe, like me, it was a deep fear of embarrassing myself.  I didn’t want to feel ashamed.  While I was terrified of climbing the rope wall and safely launching myself over the top to get down the other side, that was only the second hardest part of the day for me.  Every rung that I pulled myself up, I tried not to look down and allow myself to succumb to my fear of heights.  I felt so proud when I reached the top and rang the bell, indicating that I was ready to make my descent to firm ground.  It was the three times that I fell backwards when trying to torpedo my not-so-lightweight-self over the increasingly higher horizontal logs that I started to feel the anxiety creep in.  What would everyone think of me?  Would my teammates grow frustrated at my inability to tackle the hurdles and become impatient as they waited and waited and waited for me to finally get over?  What about the women behind me?  The ones that were attempting to push me over the logs in order to free them up for their own attempts.  I suspect, like me, they were focused on their own race and were enjoying the good will and camaraderie that comes in an event like this.  And, all the while I was enjoying the female bonding, I was also so remarkably self-conscious and focused on pushing away the bad feelings that would typically corrupt a powerful experience like this.  For the week leading up to the race, all I could think about was the day in 4th grade when I was walking home from school, proudly toting my legos in a bright yellow lemon-scented garbage bag (I thought this added a little pizzazz to the fact that I was bringing legos to school to play with at lunchtime) and another girl in my class came up behind me and started teasing me about my toys. She shamed me.  She pointed out all the things I already knew was wrong with me. I was fat.  I wore glasses.  I was a full and complete nerd.  And, to cap off my inadequacy, I brought legos to school in a lemon-scented garbage bag.  This was entirely unacceptable to her and, while she was significantly smaller than me, she managed to knock the bag out of my hand, dumping the legos on the ground and then, while i was on my hands and knees picking up all the plastic pieces, she beat me until I was lying on the concrete, just blocks away from my house, bleeding and crying and vowing never to put myself in a position to be shamed ever again.  Of course, my little 10 year-old self had no understanding of why this girl chose to beat me up.  I had no insights into what was going on in her home that caused her to be such an angry bully.  It never dawned on me that, perhaps, my willingness to be a free spirit and not conform to the societal norms was unsettling to her.  My abandonment of the girl code which apparently clearly stated that you are not to bring legos to school in a lemon-scented garbage bag might simply have been just too much for her to handle.  Instead, I looked inward and this, piled on top of all the other messages I was receiving, convinced me that I was a mistake – unqualified to be part of the herd.  I stood out and I was branded.  I couldn’t hack it like the other girls.  I never was ever able to do a forward roll properly. (They always made me want to throw up).  I was always the fattest girl when they weighed you in the gymnasium.  I was the tallest, the ugliest, the shyest, the most awkward.  At least, that is what I believed. And I was ashamed.  I walked around, acutely aware of all the sideways glances in the playground.  I tuned my frequency to the channel that played the voices of all the other children who endlessly teased and taunted me.  And, as I grew older, I built a protective shell around me and escaped to a really, really small comfort zone that hopefully would prevent me from every having to experience such humiliation again.

Fast forward 35 years or so and I still carry around this baggage but the packaging looks very different.  While I still struggle with fitting into the social constructs that exist with many women, I focus far less energy on worrying about that and, instead, my fear now showcases itself in much bigger frames.  However, while  I still often reside safely inside my zone, I take risks and press on the walls a bit seeing if I can push the boundaries just a tad.  I recognize, as I go along on my journey of healing myself, that my comfort zone was created in order to keep me sane.  It was a survival mechanism.  After all, there is only so much one person can tolerate.  Without the love and support I so desperately needed at home, how could I possibly endure the abuse from the outside world?  My foundation was quicksand.  I was sinking faster than I could swim.  The ground was swallowing me up so I had to do whatever I could to grab a life-preserver.  My comfort zone became that mechanism for me.  However, as is often the case with these protective shields we build around ourselves, we sometimes miss the cues that indicate we no longer need them.

When I was in high school, I went with my friends to the Marriott Marquis hotel in New York City.  The hotel is widely known for its amazing glass elevators that swiftly carry passengers dozens of floors in an instant.  My friends were all excited for the thrill of that ride up to the lounge on the 48th floor and I was secretly dreading it.  I was terrified.  My fear of heights coupled with my fear of elevators (and my fear of pretty much everything at the time) was crippling me.  But I was almost equally afraid to stand apart and not fit in with the rest of my friends that I could not admit how terrified I was.  Yes, I acknowledged that I was afraid of heights.  There was no way to keep that secret safe when I avoided going on roller coasters and thrill rides when we went to Six Flags or other theme parks.  I told them I was a bit apprehensive about going in the elevator but I knew I had no choice.  I simply closed my eyes, awash in anxiety and tolerated the ride.  My friends were great about trying to comfort me but I hated every second of it and thought I would never live to see the doors open.  In contrast, last month, I was with a group of friends in Philadelphia and we had to ride up to a restaurant that was on the 35th floor of a hotel.  This time the elevator was enclosed but it was really fast.  And, this time, I was not the one huddled in the corner overwhelmed with fear.  It was one of my friends.  I rubbed her back and talked her through it. She was deeply panicked and I understood her pain.  And then, just a few weeks ago I was with my best friend in Kansas City.  We were riding the glass elevator in my hotel and I shared with him my story about the Marriott in New York City.  I couldn’t help but marvel at how much had changed as I peered out the window watching us swiftly lifted up to the 7th floor (far less intimidating, for sure), enjoying the view down below.  Perhaps it was time for me to shed this cloak of fear that I still wore.  It no longer fit.

Yes, indeed, my comfort zone is getting larger and I no longer have the terrifying dream about the falling elevator car.  I feel much safer and more confident about myself and my abilities.  But, there are still so many deep-rooted anxieties that burden me.  And, I commit myself to continue tackling them.  I am currently a co-founder of a start-up company and we are just beginning our funding process.  I am staring down the barrel of a gun because I have to step so far outside my comfort zone when I sit before potential investors and ask them to take a gamble on me.  It runs up against everything I have always believed about myself.  I now have to convince them that I am worthy of investing in when I have spent most of my life believing the complete opposite.  Of course, they are not just betting on me, they are betting on my partners, our product and our business model and, yet, I still want to throw up when I think about these investor discussions.  Suddenly, all my shame is on display with neon lights highlighting every one of my deep-rooted insecurities.  But, as my friend reminded me this afternoon, once I identify this apprehension – this fear of dipping my toe in the waters of the uncomfortable zone – I hit the gas pedal to try to speed past my discomfort and carve out a new road that feels a bit smoother and, while unfamiliar, much more safe.

Every day, I get more comfortable with being uncomfortable and every day I face these fears.  There are certainly more mud runs in my future and lots more opportunities to jump my personal hurdles.  And, hopefully, I will never be back inside that elevator in my dreams again.  What I know to be true, without a shadow of a doubt, is that everything magical that happens in life is happening far outside your comfort zone.

NEAR MISS


not pregnantI had a near-miss this month.

A possible uh-oh, an almost oops, a potential accident.

Anyone of child-bearing age can probably relate to this. A spontaneous moment that makes you start counting days and wondering if you just changed the course of destiny for yourself. I am 45 years old – far too old, in my life, to be having babies. Well beyond the days of diapers and strollers and pack-n-plays and God knows what other devices they have invented in the near decade since I had my last (and final) child.

I patiently held out the requisite amount of time, waiting for evidence that no such miracle defying my advanced age, broken down eggs and single fallopian tube had actually transpired.

I waited.

And I waited.

And I waited.

My bestie encouraged me from the first possible moment to take a test and end the mystery. I resisted. My husband laughed and refused to even consider such a crazy notion. But, I know my body. Things were not going down the way they were supposed to. Granted, I am a woman of a certain age (45 – yeah, I gave up the ghost on that one already) and am approaching menopause so all kinds of crazy things go on. Frankly, my body is not my own. Right now it feels like it is inhabited by aliens half the time. Someone else is controlling my inner thermostat, cranking it up at very inopportune times (client meetings, store dressing rooms, airplanes) and leaving me shivering with coats and blankets to warm me in July.

For more than 2 weeks I contemplated the potential outcome of my poor decision-making (well, actually it was my husband’s doing but whatevs). I considered all of my options and mapped out strategies. I made jokes to my business partners. I noticed every upset tummy, every ache, all of my exhaustion. I tracked every unusual pattern with my body trying to stitch together a clear answer to my predicament.

But I refused to take a test.

Nowadays, you can take pregnancy tests just about five minutes after you have conceived and you will get a pretty accurate response. I know this. I am an educated consumer. I see that all of the angst I suffered through with my pregnancies, dying to know at the first possible moment if I had achieved success, would have been far easier in the new era of technology that practically has the stick talking to you. However, unlike my younger days when I was desperate to know, this time I really didn’t want to. This time, despite my absolute certainty that I did not want – nor could ever possibly imagine – another child, I was not ready to know my fate. I was not prepared to put a period at the end of the sentence that so comfortably held a question mark. I was not ready to resign my fate as that of a middle-aged woman whose life no longer really held such miraculous surprises.

And yet, I was nervous. I was anxious. I was also a teeny-weeny bit expectant. (Not in that way though.)

I finally broke down today. My bestie laid out his case to me. The suspense was killing him and he needed to know if plane arrangements were necessary to console me as I worked through some tough decisions. After all, just last week I had been out drinking tequila and wine and all sorts of fetus-screwing-up intoxicants. What would be the fate of this unexpected and truly unwanted baby after I had imbibed a few too many cocktails? In my earlier attempts at getting pregnant, I was pristine. I took prenatal vitamins while I was trying. No alcohol passed my lips for months before and afterwards. I was not one of those women who had a drunken date night only to forget to use protection and, yay, nine months later our perfect child entered into the world. I had to work hard for my babies. I had all kinds of intervention. I had blocked tubes, irregular cycles. I used drugs and needles (the good kind). I tracked and monitored and knew, from the first possible moment, when my beautiful, precious little lives were blossoming within my womb. There were no surprises, no unexpected expectations. There were plans, calculations and wonderful anticipations. We were blessed but never surprised.

I finally took the test. At the drugstore I felt something like a teenage boy buying condoms. I was certain the clerk at the store was looking at me funny and I nearly offered up “It’s for my daughter.” But that would have been a lie. On my way home I considered my possible outcomes. Not a whole lot to consider, of course.

Either I am or I am not.

Neither seemed like a very good option. Neither comforted me. Neither gave me a sense of relief. Both made me really uncomfortable.

I went home, did the test. You know how it goes.

Not Pregnant.

Hmmmm. Not feeling awash with gratitude. Not feeling like I dodged a bullet. Not feeling much of anything, in fact.

Was I looking for a plus sign? Did I secretly hope for two matching lines instead of one facing the wrong direction? What was going on?

I made the decision not to tell my husband until I knew my fate. I didn’t want to screw up what was already a pretty crappy day for him. I did not want to give him anything else to stress over unless we really had something to stress over. My ever-faithful bestie was my confidante for this ride. I immediately texted him to let him know that there was no bun in the oven. There would be no baby bump as I laid on the beach in Florida in a few weeks. There would be no shopping trips for maternity clothes or baby gear. There would be no discussions with my doctor to consider my options. There were no options. My fate was sealed. The decision was made.

He hoorayed and hurrahed and cheered and did virtual high fives. I sat pensively at my desk and wondered why I still felt anxious. I should feel relieved. I dodged a bullet. I escaped an impossible situation. I narrowly avoided a massive accident.

I guess it was the finality of it. The knowledge that what could have been – albeit in some other reality – wasn’t. It was the option that never existed. It was the decision I never had. It was the expectation I never expected. It was the anticipation that would not be anticipated. There would be no baby. Hooray! Hooray.

That ship has sailed into the sunset.

MY DIRTY LITTLE SECRET


secretI have a dirty little secret.

I suffer from depression.

Not the blues.  Not feeling down in the dumps.  Full on depression.  The kind that takes me to a very dark place.  And, apparently, I share this disorder with 14,999,999 other Americans – a vast majority of them women.  I don’t necessarily keep this fact a secret but it is not typically my lead-in when I meet people.  Oddly, I don’t actually think of myself as someone who gets depressed but, as part of my efforts to live authentically, I have had to come to terms with what I refer to as my “dark periods.”  These periods do not pop up that frequently.  In fact, I can go years without having any type of serious depressive episode but, like earthquakes, it is not about the frequency, it is about the magnitude.

I suppose it was my birth right.  My mother suffered from depression most of her life.  She attempted to take her own life on two separate occasions when I was a young child.  Both times she downed an excessive amount of pills (likely aspirin because we didn’t have too many medications in our house) and I remember being in the ER at the hospital wondering what was wrong with her.  Despite the fact that she was often going to therapy, she never seemed to be able to treat her depression and, I suspect, it is because she desperately needed to be medicated.  Her depression was only one one of her many mental ailments.  My father struggled with alcoholism his entire life.  My brother is bipolar and my sister, like me, lives with depression and, likely, other forms of mental illness.  Our family legacy is both biological and environmental.  There is severe mental illness in my mother’s family and my parents, fighting with their own demons, inflicted a significant amount of trauma on my siblings and myself which, according to science, likely created a chemical imbalance and a form of PTSD that we each confront in our own unique ways.

Over the years, I have become skilled at dealing with my depression, from looking for the warning signs and fortifying myself, using exercise and diet as a minimizer, as well as treating it with antidepressants.  One of my challenges, however, is that my depression typically creeps up on me when I have either run out of things to distract my attention from it or when crushing stress becomes too much for me to bear.  Sometimes there are specific incidents that bring it on like negative interactions with people that leave me empty, wasted or diminished.  But, in most cases, I don’t see it coming and once it is upon me, I can’t find a way out of it.

I recently researched symptoms of depression to help me understand it a bit further.  I wanted to determine if what I was experiencing was truly depression or just some low periods.  I compared my feelings to the list:

  • persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” mood – check
  • loss of interest or pleasure in activities, including sex – check
  • restlessness, irritability, or excessive crying – check
  • feelings of guilt, worthlessness, helplessness, hopelessness, pessimism – check, check
  • sleeping too much or too little, early-morning awakening – check
  • thoughts of death or suicide, or suicide attempts – check
  • difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions – check

People often think that those of us who suffer from depression are downers who have difficulty functioning in everyday life.  These are just some of the myths that create stigmas and often prevent people from being honest about their own mental illness.  For me, the truth is I function very well and, most often, I am pretty upbeat – typically the life of the party.  And no, I am not bipolar.  I simply am not depressed every single day.  But when I go down, I go down hard.  And once I am down, it is very hard to get back up.

Recently, I went through an extremely dark period.  It felt like it came out of nowhere but, upon reflection and analysis, there were many triggers including work stress, holidays, and some challenging personal relationships.  I realized it was chasing me down and I was running from it like an animal being hunted as prey.  I just didn’t consciously realize I was scurrying from capture until it caught me and pummeled me.  When I saw the face of my demon, I recognized instantly that it had been sneaking up on me for a while.  Unfortunately, once I thought I got rid of the beast, I relaxed a bit and was shocked when it quickly reappeared and lingered  like a stalled-out hurricane.  It blew in, did some destruction and then seemed like it was moving out to sea.  Much to my surprise and severe disappointment, it changed direction and ended up blowing back in, this time much stronger and hanging on for a much longer period of time.  I was absolutely certain I was having a nervous breakdown. The darkness was so severe and so intense that I could not see my way to clarity.  I did not think the clouds would ever pass, that the winds would ever let up or that the rain would stop pouring down.  But, as is always the case with storms, they do pass and the sun shines through the clouds offering the hope for a brighter tomorrow.

Depression is even more complicated in my life because it is magnified by the echoes of the traumas of my childhood – the scars of which layer on top of my depression and validate many of my dark thoughts.  When I sink into worthlessness, my memories of words or experiences that traumatized me as a child, come to the surface and haunt me, giving credence to every distorted feeling I experience during these episodes.  It’s as if I am an alcoholic and, despite my efforts at recovery, there is always an open bar or a  friend standing by with a bottle to prevent me from ever achieving sobriety.  I have enough ammunition to keep me down for decades and, during some of these dark periods, I am rather confident that the sun will never shine again and that all of my worst experiences are my truth and personify who I am and what my life is meant to be.

The scariest part of depression, however, is not the admission of my illness nor is it the actual experience of going through the dark periods.  The scariest piece comes in the aftermath when, with a clear head, you realize just how low you have fallen.  When you realize just how easy it is for your mind to take you to places that seem unfathomable when you are rational and have your senses intact.  You realize that, in a split second, the pain that you are experiencing will take hold and you are captive to its powers and incapable of freeing yourself, left only with futile attempts to defend yourself and preserve some level of sanity so as not to have devastating outcomes.  I recently had a conversation with a close friend who had spent some time with me while I was in the middle of this recent episode and he shared with me his and his wife’s experiences and concerns for me.  It was humbling and, to some extent, overwhelming and humiliating.  He was kind and thoughtful in his comments and shared his fears in a compassionate and loving way.  But, it was in that moment that I realized how far away I go during those periods and how far removed from reality I am.  That is frightening and makes me feel vulnerable in the worst possible way.

Ultimately, my depression does not make me a bad person.  It does not prevent me from engaging in intimate and meaningful relationships.  It does not inhibit my ability to live a productive and successful life.  It does, however, force me to be acutely aware of the triggers and make choices differently than others who might not endure the same struggles.  It is like any other disease.  If I were diabetic, sugar would be my enemy.  If I had a heart condition, cardio would be a danger for me.  My medical ailment, caused by chemical imbalances in my brain (and, possibly, exacerbated by the hormonal disruption caused by the onset of menopause) forces me to think very seriously about how I interact with people, situations I put myself in, and how I deal with stress and anxiety.  I am neither ashamed nor afraid to share my truth but I realize that many will never understand this dimension of my life.  I need not be pitied or treated any differently.  It is just part of my truth.  And, fortunately, severe depression is something that rarely strikes me but, I acknowledge, that even if it happens once every five or ten years, it is real and it is dangerous.

So, I share my dirty little secret for the millions of Americans who are afraid to share their truth for fear that they will be stigmatized or ostracized.  I am not afraid because I am fortunate enough to have a small, intimate group of friends and family to whom I can turn for support during my dark periods and who understand my struggles and provide me with the love and nurturing that I need to get through the haze.  I also have an amazing therapist who works with me during dark days and, more importantly, during the bright ones to keep me focused on tackling the demons that bring me down and keep me down.  But, for many, they don’t have such luxuries and cannot be honest with themselves or anyone else because they feel shameful or afraid of the consequences of revealing their truth.  And, for some, like my own mother, they simply are not capable of seeing the truth in themselves and spend their lives living in denial, inflicting pain on those around them.

If you struggle with depression or know someone who does, take a moment to learn more and create a safe environment for yourself and others to live honestly and authentically.

STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND


I feel like I have been living in someone else’s body for a few days.  It is a very strange feeling but it is something like be a tourist in a city that looks a little bit familiar but you’re still a foreigner trying to find your bearings.  I’m not sure what led me to feeling this way but I suspect it is a multitude of factors.  I tend to be someone who grounds herself by familiar landmarks – my routines, my work, my family and friends.  When any of those markers are out of place, I become out of sorts and feel a little askew.  But I have not felt like this before.  Earlier today someone said to me that I seemed like I was a million miles away.  I am.  I am alone on a trip and not sure where I am.

I’m not particularly unhappy.  I don’t feel sad or depressed.  I just feel disconnected.  I feel isolated from myself and my familiar surroundings.  It is lonely.  It is disturbing.  And, I pray, it is temporary.  As someone who normally spends a lot of time trying to sort things out in my head, I am challenged to catch up with myself and understand my own distance.

I typically try to stitch together the experiences in my life and weave a tapestry that tells my story.  Usually there is connective tissue through it all and, at once, I can figure out the meaning of how I feel, what I need to do, or what is going on around me.  Oddly, I can’t pull those pieces together but I have decided to try to write my way through it in hopes that the elements will come together.  Some of my friends, over the past few days, have been having some fun with me regarding my blog, suggesting that anything noteworthy that happens inspires a blog post.  Well, nothing particularly noteworthy happened unless you consider this foreign travel, right here inside my own head, an adventure worth writing about.  (So take that Patty and Eric!)

Last Friday I landed myself in the emergency room.  It was a silly and uneventful visit resulting from a karate injury that was two weeks old and had not properly healed.  I went to see the doctor (which many of my friends suggested I do right after the injury) because my ankle and foot were swollen and I was growing nervous that perhaps, despite my indignation against it, my ankle was broken.  My husband and others talked about my wearing a boot for weeks to help secure my ankle and, just the thought of it freaked me out.  I could not imagine how I would be able to maintain my lifestyle – not to mention continue my martial arts – with the encumbrance of a boot.  I made jokes about it but I was getting sick to my stomach (in fact, just writing about it now is giving me a stomach ache).  The idea of being incapacitated in any way was so unacceptable to me but, given the fact that my ankle was not healing, I knew I had no other choice but to see the doctor.

There is a really funny story surrounding my visit to the doctor that includes me trying to bribe him into a clean bill of health with an invite to a party at my house but that will just derail my story right now.  Suffice it to say, the doctor had enough concern that my ankle might be broken that he sent me immediately to the ER to have it x-rayed.  He gave me detailed instructions on how to find my way from his office through the underground tunnels that connected the Medical Arts Building to the hospital.  He called down to get me fast tracked and left me with the parting words, “you might end up with a cast and crutches.”  Well, this was far worse than a boot.  Suddenly, a boot that I could take on and off but would look totally unattractive as I prepare to sport my beautiful new spring wedge sandals seemed like a dream compared to a full-on cast and trying to maneuver with crutches.  I panicked.  I called my husband and had an inane discussion about how he would get to me to drive the car home since it was my right foot and I would not be able to drive with a cast on.  This, apparently, was the most important problem I needed to tackle at that moment.

After being registered in the ER, I was sent to a small little curtained area and was told to wait for the technician who would be in shortly to x-ray my ankle.  I sat on the little bed in the room, thankful that I had my iPad and that I had smuggled some cookies out of my favorite deli at lunch (the owner said I could so no calling the cops on me).  My phone was low on battery power but I had managed to alert all my key players to let them know of my predicament and the inquiries were coming in fast and furious to find out the verdict.  There was no news to tell.  The cacophony of ringtones assigned to my various friends and family members kept startling me from my seclusion in the little room where I sat alone waiting and waiting for hours.  I ate my smuggled cookies, bite by bite, over the course of the first two hours.  I wasn’t even sure that I was hungry but the comfort of the chocolate chip treats were helping to calm my nerves in small intervals.  I played solitaire on my iPad to distract myself from the thoughts barreling down on me, as I tried to imagine how I would manage to navigate the two trips I would be taking over the course of the next few weeks, laden with a cast and crutches.  I lamented about how I would have to forego wearing the cute shoes I had picked out for the party we were hosting the next night.  I worried about how I would possibly be able to help my husband get the house ready for said party when I would barely be able to stand.  I had visions of others I knew who had been trapped in casts for broken bones and imagined them slumped over their crutches trying to do their menial tasks.  I got myself very worked up.  I felt very lonely.  I was, brave woman that I am, feeling scared.  And there was absolutely nothing I could do about it.  There was no way for me to control the outcome of my experience.  If my ankle was broken, a cast was going on my foot.  I thought about just walking out of the ER and I imagined hearing the words I so often heard on the medical dramas I had watched over the years “she left Against Medical Advice”.  I just wanted to run away.  I wanted to cry.  I wanted to stop being such a big giant baby.

In hour three, I started thinking about how much weight I would gain from sitting around and no exercise.  I envisioned myself in my bed or trapped on the couch unable to get around.  I would eat to squash the pain and frustration I was feeling.  I anguished over disconnecting with all my friends with whom I kickbox or do karate.  I felt lame.  And I still had no technician to take me in for X-ray.  The dying phone kept dinging with well-wishers’ texts and jokesters asking me if I would be doing tequila shots on crutches at my party.  I smiled, even laughed a little and then went right back to my panic.  I was losing it, for sure.

After 3.5 hours, the lovely blond technician came in to retrieve me.  She asked me if I needed a wheelchair and I told her, as I had told all the others before her, that my foot did not hurt.  I had no pain (so, of course, it could not be broken).  I could walk fine.  I just had this nasty bruise and a big swell on the front of my ankle.  But, otherwise, I was just fine.  “We’ll take it slow, don’t worry,” she responded.  “No, really, it does not hurt.  I’m fine.”  She led me down the hallway, walking slowly and continuing to ask me if I was ok.  I wanted to pummel her.  I just smiled and said I was great.  I wanted this to be over.

My heart was beating out of my chest as I lay on the table contorting my ankle into positions so it could be properly viewed for the fine hairline fracture that undoubtedly would reveal itself.  And I listened to the familiar dings and rings as my phone continued to live on and my friends checked in on my status.  When we were done, the technician slowly walked me back down the short hallway and insisted on showing me back to my curtained space that was at the end of the straight hallway.  I guess she thought I was slow or disoriented.  She meant well.  I felt otherwise but just smiled again and thanked her.  She assured me that the doctor would be in right away to share the results.  And then the panic unleashed itself.  If I was a crier, I would have simply lost it right then and there.  I returned the call of a friend who had left me a message while I was being x-rayed and tried to communicate my fear but, apparently, the brave women emerged again and I could not simply admit that I was scared, lonely and needing some moral support.  “I’m good.  I’ll be fine.” I told him and sent him on his merry way.  And right then, much like the acceptance phase of grieving, I relinquished myself to the reality that I was going home in a cast.  My ankle was hurting and I knew there was no way I was getting out of there without those pesky crutches.  And I would just have to learn to cope with it.  And I took a breath…just as the doctor walked in to tell me that there was no break.  Maybe there had been but it had healed and the swelling was just the result of my not standing still since I was injured and letting the ankle heal properly.

“Thank you.  I love you.”  I kept saying it over and over again to the doctor.  She smiled, told me that I would get an air cast, as my doctor had suggested in the event there was no break, and that I would be discharged momentarily.  Then the funny gay male nurse came in (the gay part is important because I simply love gay men and he was one I was ready to take home and add to my collection) and took my blood pressure.  He told me jokes and made me laugh and then took my blood pressure again.  My pressure was 160/120 and he was not going to discharge me until it settled down.  I had gotten myself so worked up that I was ready to stroke out.  My mind is a powerful instrument and I am fully capable of driving myself crazy without too much effort.  Clearly I had succeeded.  It only took four hours, a little isolation and the fear of completely losing control.

I calmed down, went home, had a blast at my party the next night.  I loved on my friends and told my crazy story.  And, then, days later, I suddenly was lost.  Not sure if my travails in the ER left some scar tissue that hid out until the adrenaline of getting ready and enjoying our annual festivities died down, but it is possible.  Perhaps that loneliness and fear was rooted in some deep feelings that lie dormant inside me waiting for the right opportunity to rear its ugly head.

So, I’m trying to find my way back to myself but, not unlike the brave woman who sat in the ER alone, I will not ask for help.  I will travel around looking for familiar sights, hoping to find some signs that will lead me back to my homeland.  I will brave the elements and trust my instincts and, maybe, if I actually become truly brave, I will ask someone for directions.