HAPPY BIRTHDAY


motheranddaughter“The woman who bore me is no longer alive, but I seem to be her daughter in increasingly profound ways.” – Unknown

Today would have been my mother’s 83rd birthday.  And, Friday marked one year since she passed away.  As I have shared in this blog before, her passing was an event that did not hold much significance to me at the time because I felt I had said goodbye to her many years before.  Despite that, this past year has left me with the need to do a lot of reflection to help me come to terms with my feelings about this complicated relationship in order to begin a healing process resulting in forgiveness and transcendence from decades of trying to love someone who was fundamentally incapable of experiencing or giving authentic love.

This is a journey I did not enter into willingly.  In fact, I had my mind all made up when I learned that her life was nearing its end that I was relieved and ready to move on to the next phase of my life – a life without having to look over my shoulder and wonder when the next onslaught would occur.  I welcomed the freedom that came from knowing that the hurt, the humiliation, the constant anxiety about when she would next strike out would finally come to an end.  When I got the word that she had died, I texted my best friend to let him know and he immediately called me in bewilderment, wondering if he should console me or plan to take me out for a celebratory toast.  He gently prodded, fascinated by this highly unusual circumstance of someone losing their parent and not immediately  kicking into the rituals of mourning, honoring, etc., and asked “How do you feel?”  Of course, he knew that the feelings would be complicated.  He implicitly knew that I would be struggling to find words to make sense of the emotions, even in my own mind.  At the time I was quite laissez faire about the whole situation, resolved that I was ready to start anew.  I had prayed for an escape from the grip she had on me and suddenly my wish was granted and now I had the time and space to react and redirect myself.

In the year since my mother’s passing, I have had a metamorphosis of sorts.  In my own way, I have undergone a process of grieving and realigning myself without the force of my mother’s mental illness driving an undercurrent in my life.  Despite the fact that I had terminated my relationship with her nearly 7 years before her death, I was still struggling on a daily basis, balancing my indignation and my guilt while continuing to fear her wrath, her scorn, her outbursts intended to try to regain a connection with me.  She patented the art of attempting to have bad behavior rewarded with attention.  It took great resolve and discipline to not take the bait.  As an adult child, I still yearned the love of my mother and wanted nothing more than to wake up from a seemingly bad dream and find myself in a fairy tale, basking in the glow of love showered upon me by my mommy.  I never lost the wish, the unwavering desire to curl up and be loved and nurtured in a way that I understood was a gift meant for other little girls, simply not me.

As I worked through the process – one that I intentionally pushed to the background to be a backdrop to everything else that was going on in my life – I began to see answers and understanding emerge around me like giant thought bubbles bursting over my head.  I knew when I began the journey of healing that I would never truly understand my mother.  I acknowledged, albeit reluctantly, that her actions and behavior would never make sense to me.  I did not have all the puzzle pieces.  I was missing huge chunks of her history that informed who she became as an adult.  I did not understand the demons that she confronted as a young child and had no way of understanding the role they played in the destruction of her life.  I never had a clear sense of the roots of her mental illness.  All of that, however, was intellectual masturbation because none of it mattered in how I felt.  And, frankly, for the better part of my adult life, I spent my time trying to understand, trying to solve the equation.  How I felt was always secondary.  I knew I was a victim of her illness and I knew that our relationship was ultimately detrimental to both of us.  I woke up one day and realized with crystal clear certainty that we were better off without each other than with.  And I walked away.  As my therapist has explained to me so many times, I nearly erased myself from existence by abandoning the most primal and pivotal relationship in my life.  I annihilated myself by rejecting my mother.  And, at the same time, I gave myself life.

I have struggled over the past year to find my way with this.  Life has presented me with seemingly unending complications to derail my focus and challenge my own mental stability.  I have struggled with my own purpose, my intentions and my truth.  Losing my mother without ever closing all the loose ends left me with a complicated web of questions and emotions that I knew I had to tackle when I was ready and in my own unique style.  No one – absolutely no one – could help me make sense of it.  I was living an experience that not a single person I know has ever experienced.  I was alone on an island left to sort out a big giant tangle of ropes in hopes that, when untwisted, I would be able to toss them out to pull in my raft and return the land of others.  I had hoped that by whacking through this mess I would suddenly feel differently, look like everyone else and be able to return to life feeling more complete and more connected.

It’s been one year and two days.  367 days of quiet contemplation.  8,808 hours of attempting to locate a lost piece of myself in order to better fit into my world and begin to blend in with everyone else.

Guess what?

I failed.

On the bright side, I am beginning to forgive my mother.  I am finding ways to have compassion for her and understanding that hers was the road less traveled – and not in a good way.  No one would ever sign up for the cruise that she took in her 82 years. No one would willingly leave the earth with a scant few by their side, having more regrets than joy.  Four marriages, three children, four grandchildren and her passing was barely noticed.  I feel sad for her.  I grieve for a life that was lost to an illness left untreated and an unwillingness to relent and accept that perhaps the darkness that she lived with was not simply the way it was meant to be.  I take no comfort in my righteousness that she deserved what she ultimately received.  I wish, I truly wish, I could have made a difference for her.  I wish I could have saved her and brought her to my island.  I tried so many times to heal her with my love, thereby, hopefully, healing myself.  However, it was always short-lived.  She thrived on chaos and manipulation.  She needed to break things down and then attempt to put them back together in order to feel like a savior.  She needed to be a victim and find blame in everyone else.  She did not know what it meant to forgive.  She only knew how to hold a grudge and suffer as she exhausted limitless mental energy feeling anger and resentment, ironically usually targeted towards those she most frequently hurt.

For me, today, I am learning to get beyond all that and am starting to understand the impact of her life and her behavior on me.  I am not a victim of my mother.  I am a product of my life experience and it is my choice to continue down the pathway she led me or to take a detour and find my own lane.  She is not a compass for me – a fact that pains me greatly because I believe so deeply in the power of motherhood and the role we play in guiding our children to their own paths while standing by to guide them to another and another as they need us to.  Nonetheless, my mother is all around me.  She shows up in my life in the form of other people that create struggles for me – the narcissists that invariably make their way to me; the angry, damaged and pained individuals that sniff me out falsely seeing me as a safe harbor.  I am simply not that port and I am learning to accept that about myself.  My job is not to rescue anyone but to provide an atlas built from my own painful journey.  I am not a walking support group and I have come to accept and, in fact, insist, that I am not here to be pitied or protected or, quite frankly, understood by anyone because we can never truly understand the complexities that make each of us unique.  Instead, I am here to give love, receive love and hope to leave a legacy that includes inspiring and empowering others to live a more meaningful life.  And, for that, I thank my mother.  Without her, I am not sure that these lessons would have made their way to me.  I am not sure that I would have the courage to look at life the way I do.  I have no certainty that, without my mother, I would have broken down and been rebuilt in a way that provides me with my own brand of power.  I am not perfect and I struggle to make sense of things every day but I feel grateful to have the opportunity to tackle life and connect the dots in the way that I do. As with many things in my life, I would never go back and change history.  It all informed my place today.  The road could have been easier and my choices could have been better but it is all about the journey.

This morning I talked to my best friend again and shared with him a piece of my truth that has crystalized for me.  I have spent so much of my lifetime trying to adapt myself to fit into the world in a way that would enable people to understand me better.  I have twisted myself up so painfully trying to blend in and make sense in other people’s worlds.  However, today, my own gift to myself on my mother’s birthday, I committed to allowing myself to be me.  367 days after my mother left the earth I am finally becoming the person I am meant to be.  And, after 45 1/2 years of life, I know I am just getting started.

Happy Birthday Mom.  I wish you could have gotten to know me.

KINDNESS


kindnessToday, I simply need to give a shout out to my good friend Claire who has committed herself to spreading kindness in every way possible.  She started a wonderful blog in January, setting her intention for spreading kindness throughout the year.  She’s gaining some traction and I can feel the impact.  I have found myself reflecting on my own actions and behaviors, using her stories and her efforts as a barometer of sorts.  I am inspired by her passion and commitment to create a society of kinder, gentler people.

One of my great pleasures in life comes from helping others as  I am so moved when I can connect with another human being and provide them with something – even if just a nugget – to help them propel themselves forward.  My passion for giving back and supporting causes that resonate with me is part of what brings me joy and satisfaction.  But, kindness is much simpler and far more complicated than that.  Kindness is a core value.  It is a deep-rooted commitment to shifting behavior and focusing on putting good into the world.  It is about the small stuff.  It is about courtesy and consideration.  It is about selflessness.  It is hard to sustain.  Listen, I am a hardcore New Yorker – cynical, snarky, sarcastic and sometimes down right obnoxious.  Most of the people in my life love that about me and, frankly, so do I.  Nonetheless,  my intentions and behavior are all about goodness, kindness, sincerity and integrity.  It is all about balance and sometimes that is not easy to maintain.  But I make the effort every.single.day.  It requires hard work and effort because life is challenging and our daily struggles often disrupt our intentions.

Ultimately, I simply love the concept of paying it forward and this blog post today is intended to do just that.  Yesterday, I wrote a very personal and very honest post about my own struggles with trust and forgiveness.  In response to it, a good friend complimented me and supported me in an extremely kind and generous way which nourished me and propelled me forward.   And that right there is kindness in action as I was inspired to do the same for someone else.  The act of writing and putting your thoughts and feelings out in the world for others to read can be very risky.  People interpret things through their own lenses and they don’t always understand your intended meaning behind the words.  But, I guess, that is often the beauty of writing.  It allows the reader to travel with you but on their own voyage and bring their own perspectives into play.  The connection you can develop through finding commonalities, regardless how remote, can be powerful and extraordinary.  For me, the ability to write and share my history and, often, the pain that has accompanied my journey is an act of kindness for me as I try to share these experiences to reinforce that we are never alone.  There is always someone else on the road with you – sometimes a bit further ahead, sometimes much farther behind.  We are all alike in many ways.  As different as we may look or as varied as our backgrounds might be, we are still a bunch of cells that have formed to create our unique DNA.  There are overlaps in so many ways.

So, today, I hope I can inspire and encourage you to find a way to spread some kindness.  I am going to continue my quest to do so because, in the end, it feels really, really good!

TRUST


trust“All trust involves vulnerability and risk, and nothing would count as trust if there were no possibility of betrayal.” – Robert C. Solomon

I’d be lying if I did not confess that relationships are challenging for me.

There were never any roadmaps or guidebooks to help me navigate relationships growing up. I learned how to connect with people by trial and error. I had no role models because the relationships in my family were transient and conditional. I learned how to love out of pure need to be loved. I was willing to love someone if they showed me love, even at my own peril for many of those who I believe “loved” me had a very shallow definition of love and tossed the word around recklessly. I learned how to trust by…. well, actually, that is where things get really complicated for me. In my life, trust presents a lot of difficulties and is not something that comes easily. Most who know me well will attest that trust is something I place high on a pedestal and, if broken, does not have a good chance of being repaired . I’m not proud of this but it is part of my complexity – I don’t trust easily and I can grow to mistrust without much effort.  I’m not perfect, nor are my relationships yet I work diligently every day to nourish and enhance the trusting bonds I do have.

I recently located an old video from my childhood that was buried away in a closet. It is the last vestige of my youth in my possession and it is a critical touchpoint for me. My parents, like many others in the 60’s and 70’s took lots of Super 8 movies and, after my parents divorced, my mother kept them stored away in a box high on a shelf in one of her closets. By the time I was a teenager, the projector we used to watch the movies was long gone and all we had left were a pile of flat round tin cans that held all the memories of when my family seemed “normal,” when things were happy and when it appeared that my course in life would be dramatically different from the road it actually took. The films lay in those cans for years because we never bothered converting them to VHS and because they represented a time in life my mother simply did not want to return to. To see the demise of her life in full color blasted before her eyes was simply too painful. It wasn’t until I was married and getting ready to start a family of my own that I went back to her house to retrieve whatever I could to piece together a life that now seemed a bit more like a dry erase board that someone leaned on and had carelessly rubbed across the words. Everything was smudged and smeared and you could sort of make out the content but the message was very unclear. I really wanted to chronicle my family’s history and gain a deeper understanding of where I came from. By the time I got to the box in the closet, it was evident that someone else had beat me to it. My older brother, caught up in his own turmoil, had the same idea I had. Unfortunately, he never converted the films and, in his haste to leave an apartment from which he was being evicted, he left the box behind, likely to be retrieved by some future renter who would carelessly toss them in a dumpster. When I went to my mother’s closet, there was one stray canister left behind and I grabbed it, not knowing what I would find. To my relief, it was a splendid 28 minutes of me from the age of about 5 months to one full year later. It included a magical Christmas, my first steps, a decadent vacation to Miami Beach, my brother’s birthday party and an assortment of other sweet moments that gave me insight to a life I never knew existed.

I watched the video countless times over the years but then stored it away, like my mother did, replacing it with converted DVDs of my own children’s highlights over their short lives. I had forgotten about the tape until recently. I started scouring my house looking for it because, for some reason, I knew it included some critical pieces to my puzzle. I knew that, today, with a new lens, a new perspective, a new need, I would find essential messages that would help me unpack more pieces of myself to help me move forward, even if only just by a few steps.

I was cleaning up the guest room and scoured through the closets and drawers. Surprisingly, it was right there out in the open in a drawer, waiting to be retrieved. It practically laughed at me, wondering why I had such a hard time locating it after I had passed over it again and again. It screamed “I’ve been right here all along!” I grabbed it, raced out to a local shop that converts VHS to DVD – yet another iteration in this film’s life journey – and popped it right into the computer the minute I got home. I had recollections of the scenes in my mind since I had seen the film so many times in the past. But this time I studied it. I watched every touch and every kiss my mother placed on me. I looked deep into my father’s eyes to try to understand this mysterious stranger. I looked at myself, trying to find the roots of me, trying to find my soul in that chubby little baby. I watched it and felt loved. I saw a child who was doted upon by family, friends, neighbors.  I saw a family so perfect and so sublime. And I knew it was all bullshit. I knew it was a show for the cameras that reflected just a small portion of what was really going on. Where was my sister who was 14 years older than me and had been exiled to live with my mother’s brother in Brooklyn because of conflicts with my father? Where was the endless flow of Johnny Walker that turned my father into a monster who beat my mother with anything he could find? Where was the vitriol that my mother doled out to my siblings and me to degrade us and demean us in order to get us to follow her every command? None of it was there because this was the highlight reel – truly. This is every Facebook post talking about how wonderful life is when, in fact, people are cringing and crying on the inside. It is a mirage of happiness that, while may hold some reality in those brief moments, do not reflect the real road traveled.

So, what does this all have to do with trust? Well, everything. For me, trust is about absolute authenticity. Trust is about honesty. Trust is about putting your real self on display and being vulnerable and allowing yourself to stand in your space and be who you are. Without that, we are only showing a fragment of ourselves that prevents us from really being honest and really being trustworthy. In all candor, I have not perfected this. In fact, there is a small contingent that I share my ugliest worts with. There are only a select few that I really trust. And the reason why is because, after a lifetime of being duped into believing that the highlight reel is the truth, I need to be certain that there is more. I need to know that we can get down and dirty and show our secret underbelly.

I’ve been thinking about all of this recently because it is a critical part of my journey. As both of my parents died in the past 1 1/2 years, I have been trying to find a way to forgive them for all of the pain and suffering they have caused me and my family. I have been trying to learn the lessons from their lives and my own to, hopefully, make different choices and better decisions to create a life for myself that is authentic and, while not free of mistakes and pain, makes me feel like I am being the best person I can be. I want to make sure I am putting out into the world something of import. I am trying to learn how to forgive those who hurt me in order to maintain trusting relationships and not be so quick to abandon the trust simply because I have been hurt or scorned. I am struggling with it today.  I seek out guideposts that help to send me in the right direction so I can figure out who to forgive and who to forget. I am trying to find a softness – an antidote to all of the callouses that have formed from years of hurt and betrayal.

My husband and I will celebrate the 21st anniversary of our meeting this week. What I did not know that February night in 1992 was that I was meeting the man who would teach me more about love and trust than anyone ever could. And, I had no idea how much I would test it or challenge it over the course of our lives. As I reflect on my life and all the relationships that have flowed in and out, I know without a shred of uncertainty that he is the only person that I trust completely. He is the only person I can forgive without question. He is the only person that I know, without any doubt, will have my back and love me no matter what. And, for that, I am really blessed. He has taught me that there is a life where the highlight reel can be the real reel.

I RESOLVE TO NOT RESOLVE


this is your lifeLife isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass, it is about learning to dance in the rain.”  — anonymous

We’re nearly two weeks into the new year and, by now, I am typically looking back, already filled with regret, seeing how I have slacked off on my new year’s resolutions.  Every year, I resolve to not make resolutions. Nevertheless, loping around in the back of my brain, are the resolutions that I have secretly made with myself, hidden away, because I do not want to admit – even to my own self – that I have fallen into the same trap yet again.  This year, I was very deliberate about not only not making any conscious resolutions but also resisting the overwhelming temptation to tuck some away in my subconscious.  After the challenges of last year, it was easy to imagine a whole slew of declarations of change that might help turn the Titanic away from that iceberg that sits ominously in the dark night.  Despite that, this year, after a whole lot of soul-searching, I committed to not resolve and only focus on intention.  Intention allows us to focus on the outcome rather than the activities that get us there.  We commit to accomplish something and with that purpose in mind, the behaviors required to do it become much easier.  In fact, I believe that if we are deliberate about our bigger intentional outcomes, we can have far greater results than if we put arbitrary expectations on ourselves, even if we have envisioned a game plan to complete them.  What is never part of the plan are the inherent road blocks that will always trip you up.

So, this year I am trying something different and, on day 13, I can report it is going far more smoothly than I’d imagined.

For instance, rather than committing to lose the 15 lbs I gained between the hurricane and the holidays (not to mention the other weight that is still lingering), I simply set my intention to do what I need to do to feel healthy and strong and that immediately resulted in my commitment to get back into my kickboxing routine.  Within days, I found myself feeling better and, instead of focusing on every morsel of food I put in my mouth, I am making sure that I get in a workout at least 3 times a week which is good for my body and mind.  I connect with my friends there, I release tension and I continually acknowledge the benefits I am getting – far beyond what the scale might read.  And, along those lines, I have abandoned the scale for the time being.  It’s simply not a partner in my efforts.  It is an evil little creature that calls out to me and mocks me regardless of the readout because, even if I have lost weight, it taunts me about the need to lose more.  I simply never get the recognition I know I deserve.

Rather than resolving to spend more time with family members and friends, I have been extremely deliberate about the choices I make with my time.  Because my job is so consuming and I can work 24 hours a day if I let myself, I am making sure that I use my free time wisely.  I spend time with those people who energize me and align with my intentions.  My family is my number one priority and where I want to be most of the time because being with them enriches me.  However, I also need and desire the company of friends and colleagues so, if I am going to be away from my family, it better be for meaningful encounters.  I’ve seen tremendous benefits from this already.   I have connected with people who I lost touch with or have neglected over time and found our re-engagement to be so nourishing to my spirit.  I have also been very conscious to make sure that I am responding to my needs to be social or my needs to alone and have quiet instead of my typical behavior of trying to be part of everything at all times and neglecting everyone, especially myself.

Instead of resolving to grow my business, make a certain amount of money or zoning in on certain focal areas, I have acknowledged the fear that normally inhabits me right about now, taunting me with the worry that no new clients or no new business will come along.  I have been able to tame that fear by acknowledging that there is risk in how I run my professional life and there will always be uncertainty about my work.  At the same time, my intention is to have a business where I work with people who are aligned with my thinking and behavior and that we focus on projects rooted in our passion with the ability to be meaningful both personally and financially.  In my estimation, that is a strategic plan that will yield positive outcomes and what will help my business flourish.  On the contrary, if I focus my energies on worrying and reprimanding myself for not doing things better or differently, the end result will be me feeling weak and powerless and disappointed in myself rather than feeling fulfilled and optimistic about the future.  I have not billed one day of work this year yet I have no concerns about the future of my business because I am laying a strong foundation for growth and success.  I have created projects and programs that are extremely meaningful and are yielding strong results because my passion and enthusiasm is coming across to partners and clients.

This past week I had lunch with an old friend and, as we were catching up on our lives, we got to talking about his philosophy about branding his years.  He’s done it for the past few years and it has served to set his intention for the year.  I love this notion but have never actually tried to do this for myself.  I suppose, if I were to reflect back, I would say that 2012 was the Year of Vulnerability.  I did not set that intention but it became very obvious to me one evening at the beginning of March as I sat in my car talking to a friend.  I was having some kind of manic epiphany about the role vulnerability plays in my life and how it has taunted me for my lifetime.  (It became apparent quite quickly, by the way, that lots of people close to me already knew that and forgot to include me in the memo.)  Even with this realization, I did not set forth with the intention to be more vulnerable but I opened myself up to learning more about the struggles I faced with it and made a vow to educate myself and, if nothing else, become incredibly knowledgable on the subject.  It is no surprise that with the learning came some level of implementation.

No brand for 2013 has surfaced but it is looking like this might be the Year of Intention.  It’s a real shift for me because, while I am typically a very strategic thinker in business, I do not employ those same skills when it comes to my own personal life.  In business, I think things through, make decisions after weighing pros and cons and don’t often act impulsively.  Emotionally, it’s a whole other story.  My husband proposed to me after knowing me for 4 months and, while I can still say 21 years later that it was one of the best decisions I have ever made, I have to admit that I certainly did not put a lot of strategic thought into it.  I went with my gut.  I don’t want to abandon that part of myself because I do have strong instincts but I also want to be more thoughtful about things and I commit to thinking about how I am living my life and who I am bringing into my life to help to nourish it and enhance it.  To that end, the other day my friend posted a wonderful quote on Facebook that really summed it up for me when it comes to the people in my life:

people in your life quote

One big intention for me in 2013 is making sure that I am not dragging people along behind me.  I want the people in my life to want to be there.  Growing up in the kind of family that I did, there was always an inclination to accept whatever anyone gave me in terms of friendship or love.  I did not have the self-confidence or the acuity to discern between what I wanted and simply what was in front of me.  I was like a homeless person who is being offered food.  A tuna sandwich is sustenance even if it is a steak you are really craving.  How do you turn down the sandwich when you are starving?  I guess, the good news is that my tummy – and my heart – are full now.  Anything I choose to ingest is for pure enjoyment and enrichment.  I no longer need to make myself whole.  I no longer need to fill gigantic empty chasms within myself in order to get through each day.  I can live a life of intention because I am finally at a place where I get to choose.  I get to intend.  I get to be selective.

It’s a very new feeling for me because, in truth, all I have ever known is how to go with the flow.  I have lived a life of desperation where I am always putting filler into the gaps to ensure that the building wont collapse.  My life has been a house of cards and one strong breeze could end me.  Not so much anymore.  2012 might have been the Year of Vulnerability and learning how to embrace the vulnerability has actually made me stronger and more powerful.  I am no longer afraid of it.  It feels good! Learning how to do this also gave me the power to make my own choices and stand on my own feet.  So, in 2013, I do not need to make resolutions.  I do not have to force change in my life because I am living a life that welcomes change as part of the roadmap.  Course correction will always be a necessity because I do not have the gift of telling the future or a magic crystal ball to see what lies ahead.  Instead, I have fortification to know that, no matter what comes along, as I live with intention, I am doing the best that I can and I am preparing myself for whatever lies ahead. I am always surrounded by people who will catch me if I fall rather than plotting ways to knock me over.  It isn’t always easy and I am certainly not perfect but I am open to giving this a shot and seeing where this year takes me.

Go ahead, come along for the ride.  Throw out those resolutions and commit to living your life with intention!

AULD LANG SYNE


AULD LANG SYNEI’ve noticed over the past few days that lots of my friends on Facebook have been posting their “Year in Review” which consists of a series of photos that appeared on their FB wall, randomly selected to encapsulate their activities over the year.  In the past, Facebook would similarly offer up a compilation of your written posts to take a snapshot of what your year was like.  Looking at the images certainly evokes a sense of nostalgia, especially if they’re of close friends and you can remember the events where the photos were taken and partake in the reminiscence of the shared memories.  Frankly, I think about my year a little bit differently.  The photographs certainly remind me of the happy times with all the smiles and laughter that make me feel joyful but I also have to take a close look at the struggles of my year to gain an understanding of what I have learned and how I have grown.  It is imperative to acknowledge and respect the challenges that I have confronted in order to ensure that the learning is etched in my brain and that I can grow and improve in the coming year.

I am currently sitting in my melancholy room – my first floor guest room with its dim lighting and tranquility that always centers me and is my favorite place to write.  I came in here tonight because I was banished from the living room and surrounding rooms because my son has a bunch of friends over for a sleepover.  My husband escaped to our bedroom upstairs with the dogs and I decided I would move to the guest room to lay down and perhaps read for a while.  The moment I stepped into the room, however, I immediately felt nostalgic and thoughtful.  It was so distracting that it rendered me incapable of concentrating on reading.  I became overwhelmed with emotions and was compelled to try to capture the feelings in a meaningful way.  Curiously, this room has taken on an energy of its own for me.  It’s like sitting at the beach and smelling the salt and hearing the waves crash to the shore.  You can feel the sun baking on your skin and all the tension leaves your body nearly instantly.  It is almost impossible to feel tense at the ocean because of the calming and restorative powers of the sea.  The intense feelings that pour over me when I step into this room are inescapable.  I need not contemplate nor ruminate because the moment I open the door and move inside, I am flooded with warmth and calm and creativity takes over.  I don’t exactly know what it is about this room but I have my suspicions as to its magical qualities.

Tonight, when I sat down in here, I decided to text my friend to share some of what I was feeling.  I knew that a little texting was not going to cut it for me as I had a lot in my head and it was more than I could expect a friend to guide me through.  When I settled down with my thoughts, the first thing that came to mind for me was change.  Change is such a constant.  In my job, when we work with our corporate clients, we always teach employees to be prepared for change because it is the one thing that is, ironically, absolutely predictable.  Change is always going to happen.  As long as you are open and willing to engage with the change, you’ll ultimately be fine.  For me, change is certainly familiar.  I am constantly renewing.  Despite my inner desire for predictability and consistency, I have a very primal need for change.  I get bored.  I need to grow and learn.  I need to have new experiences while constantly battling my resistance to trying new things.  I want fresh faces, fresh ideas, yet I rely upon my old standards, the friends who know me for years and years and can help me reassemble my history when it all comes apart in my head.  At the end of every year, I rarely feel sad for the ending and typically feel energized by the renewal and the anticipation of what another new year can bring.  I am hopeful – eternally hopeful – of a better, more prosperous, more satisfying annum.

So, over the last few days when I was looking at everyone’s photos and smiling at some as I recalled the happy memories, I realized that photos could not encapsulate my year.  They only told one small part of the story.  My year was highlighted by things you can never capture in a photograph.  They were small moments – some quiet and some quite loud – that catalyzed me to change, to advance, to propel forward.  Some of the moments were tear-filled because I was sad or in pain.  Some were tear-filled because my heart was so full it hurt.  Some moments were solitary when I searched deep into my soul to find answers to questions that plagued me for a lifetime and still sat unanswered, patiently tapping its feet waiting for me to solve the riddle.  For me, my year was one that brought continued awareness of who I am, where I am going and what is most important in my life.  I suppose this blog is the best snapshot of my year but, of course, I only shared parts of it.  There were still so many moments in between the photos and in between the posts that pushed me from day to day, urging me to shift into the next form that my life needed me to take.

I fell in love this year.  I fell in love with my husband all over again.  I remembered that I have a partner who, through the darkest of days, stands beside me and provides me with unconditional love.  He makes me feel safe and secure even when there is no safety and no security when the wolf is threatening to huff and puff and blow our non-brick house down.  He envelopes me and ensures that I am loved.

I also fell in love with myself this year.  I found a part of me that either had gone missing or I had overlooked for a very long time.  I was able to do that arm-in-arm with some very intimate and special friends who supported me and showed me what I am capable of.  Not many words passed our lips but the power of friendship – really strong and significant friendship – propelled me to discover parts of me that I simply never felt safe enough to explore.

I revisited trust this year.  As the year comes to a close, this idea continues to wash through my mind.  A long, long time ago I stopped trusting.  Probably it happened when I was very little and realized that I could not count on anyone to take care of me.  I learned then to be tough and strong to make sure that I could survive.  I didn’t believe anyone would protect me and I learned how to build a shield, a strong armor to protect myself from anyone trying to break down the fort that I had built.  No one was going to penetrate my castle.  I built a deep moat with a small bridge that only a carefully chosen set of individuals could cross.  Rarely did I let anyone even approach the bridge but this year, not only did I let down the bridge more frequently, I actually gave a select few the passcode to lower it themselves.  No picture can describe the power of that.  No image can articulate the vulnerability I opened myself up to.  And nothing can express the joy and relief that comes from moving out from the shadows and showing myself in full technicolor.

My mother passed this year and, I suspect, with her went floods of pain.  Many locked doors began to swing open, asking to be entered and explored.  It has been painful and powerful and complicated and sad.  It has relocated me mentally and brought me to a new level of being, a new place of understanding.  I feel things I have not felt for many years because I was so locked away, working tirelessly to protect myself from old demons and monsters that had long ago lost their fright.  But, until my mother’s soul left the earth, I could not be freed from decades of pain and struggle.  I am sad to not have been loved in the way a child should be but I am grateful to have developed a sense of enlightenment that, perhaps, would never have been afforded me without the struggle, without my particular journey.  And, now, I have a clear lens to see what I need to see in order to do what I am meant to do in the world.  My mother had her moments and I loved her so much as a young child but she suffered a lifetime of mental illness. While I try to forgive her for all the pain she caused, I still strive to understand the depths of the damage and am continually amazed by the unexpected eruptions.

Nearly 10 months ago, my very astute friend asked me some questions that catapulted me into a search deep within myself that I knew would lead me down a very windy, very narrow, very treacherous road.  And, as this year comes to a close, I know for certain what I only suspected back then was true – this year’s journey was intentional, despite the pain, despite the problems, and its outcomes abundant.  As I sit in my melancholy room, allowing all of my senses to take over, I can only smile a little internal smile knowing that all of the wonderment and all of the magic of my year can be captured only in my mind.  I cannot post it on facebook nor can I even articulate it using my mad writing skills.  It is preserved inside me, providing me with a bounty to catapult me into the next year, hopeful that even more of my unique riches and rewards will be forthcoming.

And, for that, I am quietly and overwhelmingly grateful.

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.

FAMILY TREES


“You must remember, family is often born of blood, but it doesn’t depend on blood. Nor is it exclusive of friendship. Family members can be your best friends, you know. And best friends, whether or not they are related to you, can be your family.” 
― Trenton Lee Stewart, The Mysterious Benedict Society

Yesterday, a typical Sunday afternoon for me – folding laundry and catching up on television shows on my DVR – I stumbled upon a show where a pair of singer/songwriters were talking about being inspired to write a song for a friend who was struggling to see her own beauty.  I thought it was such a lovely gesture on their part and I could hear the passion as they talked about their process of writing the song.  Naturally, it made me think about what inspires me to write.  Like the pair, I need to be really passionate about something for the words to flow through me and, when that inspiration hits, it is difficult to hold them back.  And, almost as if the Gods heard me, I was trolling around Facebook a short time later and found some inspiration.

Two things caught my attention and they were so oddly related that it felt like a bit of divine intervention.  First, I saw a photo of one of our oldest friends that brought a huge smile to my face.  He recently acquired his first pair of reading glasses (a common plight with my social set these days) and posted a photo of himself wearing them to amuse his mother-in-law on her birthday.  Something about seeing him with the glasses took my breath away as it captured the passage of time since we met when he and I were just starting out right after college.  His endearing smile, the small crinkles around his eyes, and the signs of age that come from years of living life to the fullest was simply joyful.  It reminded of me of how I see my husband every time I catch sight of the grey hair in his beard or around his temples.  I can just as easily imagine him as the young man I met 20 years ago and I adore the history that the aging process signifies.

Immediately I was flooded with memories of the two decades of friendship he and I have shared with our spouses and children and just the look on his face made me happy. Not sad that we hardly get to see each other anymore because he and his family live across the country but, instead, grateful that we have such wonderful memories and that, as we age, we have a familiarity and comfort that never wanes.  He and his wife and my  husband and I have been friends since the beginning of our relationships and our children have known each other since birth.  They are our family – distant, separate but always deeply connected in our hearts.

Almost immediately following that, I saw a posting from a friend of a friend that challenged the very notion that had just warmed my heart.  She wrote:

“My friends, neighbors, students and colleagues it is important that you never take your own family for granted- today “family” is thrown around as a casual term – sometimes describing a group of friends or workmates, nope. What happens when you are no longer “family”? or if you decide to move on? Please consider its origin, It is through blood, through marriage or birth, by genetics, lineage, heritage- marked by tradition, held together through customs and habits for generation after generation…Not perfect, not without flaws but – it is you and I, and it makes up who and what we are..it is the essence of our soul.  To enjoy an experience with those that are like minded is a constant gift, to have friends that you cherish is a rare gem, to exercise with a group of students is a limitless joy and one that I hold steadfast to my heart. But they are not my sisters, nor my brothers- and they are not yours either…we are mere humans sharing space, hopefully being kind to each other, supporting one another and wishing and bringing out the best for– but when the chips fall where they may, who is there to pick up the pieces? remember the difference… because one day, in quick moment, you will know.”

While I have great respect for the bonds she has with her family, her assertion cut through me and saddened me because the suggestion that family is created by lineage and blood and marriage simply does not hold true for me and many I know and love.  I can appreciate that she may be one of the very fortunate who has an intact family that is able to love and support each other but many of us need to find family in different ways.  And, often those family members come from work or our communities and we are more than simply “humans sharing a space.”  That is not to say that every friend and every colleague with whom we share closeness and affection is of the caliber of being considered family but, for many of us, we discover those diamonds who truly become our brothers and sisters and mothers and fathers.  We connect and love and share and assume responsibility for one another in a far deeper way than simply humans sharing a space and being kind to one another.

I try hard to not take offense at other people’s beliefs and ideals because I accept that we all come from different places with markedly different experiences.  In this case, her open commentary to her community disturbed me because it challenged everything that is true for me.  While I understand she met no malice by her words and her sentiment was genuine and heartfelt, the reality is that, according to her commentary, I have no family beyond my husband and children – and the mere thought of that makes me very sad.  Unfortunately, I have not had the good fortune to have blood relatives who could love and support one another.  We are not the ones who are there for each other when the chips are down and we need to be lifted up.  My reality is that, aside from my husband and children – whom I love dearly and would go to the ends of the earth for – there is no one with whom I am connected by blood that has any involvement in my life.  It is painful and sometimes I feel very alone, but it is my truth.  Instead, I have painstakingly, handpicked a select group of people who are my people – my family.  I know, without any uncertainty, that they will be there for me through thick and thin and I for them.  Ironically, the friend that I share in common with the author of those comments is one of those people who is part of my manufactured family.  She is my oldest friend and she and her family are the closest thing to blood relatives I have ever had.  We have no genetic connection.  There is no lineage, no marriage, no heritage.  Just years of caring for one another and building enduring bonds that have surpassed many of our relatives.  There is no doubt in my mind that we are family without a single genetic link.

Families come in many shapes and forms and that proves itself to me every day when I think about the families I see all around my community.  I live in a wonderful environment where families are constructed in many different ways.  We have non-traditional families with two moms or two dads, with children that come through foster care, adoption, or surrogacy and have “aunts” and “uncles” that share no DNA but have love and bonds that are as strong as steel.  Many of us have large circles of friends – extended families – that celebrate holidays and vacations together and support one another through the most difficult and the most wonderful moments of life.  We go far beyond being kind to one another and are invested in each other’s futures and outcomes.

I do not take lightly the notion of family and I do not quickly entitle someone to being part of my family because I am very selective and very protective of those who enter into that arena.  As someone who has seen blood lines severely broken and found water to be thicker, stronger and more enduring than blood, I can say, with complete certainty, that when the chips fall, those with whom you have made significant investments, whether they come from blood lines or elsewhere, will be there to pick up the pieces.  I am walking proof that this is true.