Sunday, June 17, 2018

6/18/18—Building Our Mosiac

When I was a girl, I had a recurring daydream—that I would one day be wealthy enough to have a "mad room" in my house. It would be soundproof and filled with stacks of china. And when I was angry, I could go in there and throw as much china against the wall as it took to get the anger out.

I had kind of forgotten about it, until I saw Iyanla Vanzant dedicating an entire room of a home in Iyanla Fix My Life (a TV show) to one of those heavy bag punching bags and a bunch of bats. It was a series about angry women, many of whom had been victims of abuse—verbal, emotional, sexual, physical—all kinds. And when the overwhelming pain would come up, they'd go in that room and beat the crap out of the heavy bag.

It was the same kind of idea as my room filled with china. And it got me thinking. What was I even mad about back then anyway? As I write this, a million things come flooding in. In essence, though, being a kid didn't come easy for me. I didn't easily fit in—not with other kids and not in my family. And that was made more difficult because we moved every two years. The kid I was just wasn't well equipped for a nomadic life.

And on top of that, I needed more than I got from my parents...from my family. I'm the youngest of six kids and both my parents worked a good part of my life. If I were one of, say, two children, I might not have felt so starved. If I were a different person altogether, I might not have felt so starved. My parents were normal parents and we lived a normal life, so it's not like I was poorly treated. But the person I was felt unheard, unloved, misunderstood and invisible, yet remarkably visible when there was something to criticize. I had way more feelings than I knew how to handle, and I felt like there was nobody to turn to—nobody saw or cared. 

And the truly angering part was that most of this was not in my control. I had no control or input into how often we moved, where we moved to or how available my parents were. I didn't really fit in or have a friendship with any of my siblings. The ones closest in age to me were males, and they would be protective of me, but they weren't confidantes. I felt lonely and alone a lot. I cried a lot. I got pissy. I would act out at school and at home. I would scream into my pillow. And, occasionally, the pain would be too big for a pillow, and I would feel so intensely I thought I was losing my mind.

It's possible that the role of family and the purpose of childhood is to break you into pieces so you can spend the rest of your life putting yourself back together again. And all of it made me want a room where I could get the shattering out of my body and onto the wall and floor. Just like those ladies were getting the abuse out of their bodies and into that heavy bag.

I know the "dream of the angry room" seeped into my adulthood, but I don't know when it stopped being a legitimate goal in my life...haha. Somewhere along the line, I have found other ways to deal with pain and anger. I meditate. I talk to friends about it. I blog about it or journal about it. As I've written about before, I mow. And occasionally, still, the pain is too big for a pillow and I feel like I'm losing my mind.

I wish I could say I've put all my broken pieces back together again, but I haven't. Some of those breaks and cracks have been healed and have made me stronger. And some of them keep me stuck in cycles I now have control over, but choose to remain in in self-sabotaging ways. I both mourn for and celebrate what the shattering has done in my life.

We arrive on this earth intact. And we leave here a mosaic of all the times we've been broken and healed. Each person that hurts you takes a shard and each that loves you leaves a shard to help you heal. We not only get to choose which shards we use to build our mosaic, but we also choose what kind of shards we leave behind for others. How we use those pieces—to create something strong and beautiful or something fragile and inconsistent—is entirely within our own control.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

6/11/18—Forgetting Pain

Earlier this week a neighbor quipped that it was longest I had gone this year without calling 911. 

In that moment, I was mowing my lawn (if you can believe that!) and a million miles away from what I'd been through earlier in the year. But their comment brought me back...back to the many sleepless nights I feared for my life. Back to the frustration I felt trying to find a "cure"—or at least a doctor who took me seriously. Back to the ever-increasing physical limitation I was experiencing. Back to the hours spent in uncomfortable ER beds and days spent in slightly less uncomfortable hospital beds. Back to my time spent in a rehab center creepier than a Stephen King novel. Back to the darkness that surrounded me for so long. 

Once we move past a painful time of our lives, we begin to forget how bad it was. And thank god, right? Can you imagine if women remembered the pain of giving birth? (Or babies the pain of being born, for that matter?) Some other species of ancient man would have survived instead of us, simply because we wouldn't adequately propagate the species. 

Our ability to forget the pain of our struggles is what keeps us moving forward—from breakups, illness, loss, victimization, whatever. We feel the pain, then we love again. We live again. We risk pain again. 

I can see I'm already disassociating from the trauma of the last few years. I think our brains do that for our survival. It puts distance between us and the pain. It puts the trauma in a place where we can recollect it happening, but don't have to relive it in a palpable way. 

I feel really sad for that woman who suffered so long, who sat alone in the dark, scared, so many nights. I'm still close enough to all of that to remember being the woman who experienced it, but there is growing emotional distance between me and her. It's almost like it happened to someone else. 

I've experienced that many times in my life, but none so much as when my father was murdered. The story is so incredible and bizarre that, even as I tell it, it feels like it happened to someone else. It also feels totally made up. And I rarely tell the REALLY strange bits because they're just. so. odd. 

Frankly, my father's murder and my sickness and all of that DID happen to a different person. Things like that change you forever. The fact I lived through those things instantly makes me a different person. 

And I should note that when you're just trying to hold on to your breath, your life or your sanity—when you're in survival mode—you're not able to dream. You're in a different place altogether when you feel vulnerable and threatened. That takes you out of yourself, too. So in that way, it's also as if it didn't happen to you. 

When you consider all this in terms of evolution, it's interesting that we forget pain and move on. If it weren't useful to us, it wouldn't be so deeply rooted in our natures. So since we're programmed to overcome trauma, it's also part of our makeup that we will have traumas to overcome. 

There was a time when I'd had some big traumas for a young person. But now that I'm 55, everyone my age has dealt with heavy crap. If there is a person who ever leaves this life with nary a scrape on their heart, spirit, sanity, etc., I'd have to wonder what they learned or how much they grew. Happy things prompt evolution, too. But, in my life, at least, the heavy stuff has been the most transformative. If it didn't suck so much to have to live through, we might actually welcome it.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

6/4/18—Believing New Reality Into Being

Not actual lizard. Image from VA Herpetological Society.
I chatted with a neighbor through the fence the other day, and then the strangest thing happened. 

While chatting, she mentioned being afraid of seeing snakes. I didn't realize we had snakes. If I didn't have dogs on patrol all the time, I would suspect my yard's "natural" growth would be a snake breeding ground, but I've never seen one hanging out in the neighborhood. 

She said seeing snakes is rare, "but the lizards!" I've never seen a lizard, either. And I sit out back all the time. She said there are little lizards all over her porch each morning. While I had no reason to doubt her, it all sounded a little bit wacky to me because I didn't even know there were lizards in Virginia. 

But then two seconds later, I actually saw one. It was maybe 5" long, head to tail. Maybe it was a salamander. It was crawling up my tree. 

In one minute, tiny lizards my neighbor saw in droves didn't exist in my reality. And in the next minute they did. Opening my mind to the possibility either made me more observant or it manifested a new reality for me. 

This same phenomenon served me well when I quit smoking 15 years ago. I tried to quit for 10 years, but "it was so hard!!" Finally I allowed for rhe possibility that it could be easy. And it was. 

This is the point in this blog entry where I say, "Just open your mind to new possibilities! It works like magic!" And sometimes it does. But I have been working on "I can win the lottery. SOMEBODY has to win it!" for years now and I haven't won yet. And there is probably a part of me that doesn't REALLY believe it could be me, but there was a part of me that didn't believe lizards lived in VA, too. On the other hand, the lottery could just be waiting for the perfect moment to surprise me with a win. 

There is a metaphysical principle that says we create our own realities. The further down the rabbit hole I go with that particular theory—for example, that you only exist because my mind conveniently made you exist—I can't quite get on board. But I have clearly seen evidence that I can manifest situations and things just by thinking of them. And I have had evidence of "changing my reality" just by opening my mind to possibility. Chances are, you have, too.

So if there's something that's got you stuck this week, eludes you, or "just isn't possible", why not try living as if it is possible? Each time your thoughts drift back to "It's too hard" or "I'm not talented enough" or "It just isn't in the cards for me", stop yourself and turn your thoughts around. Carry yourself like you've already gotten your wish. Be grateful for receiving it. See yourself doing or having your wish. What could it hurt?

I have found on more than one occasion that the more rigid I am, the fewer possibilities I have. And I may get what I want, but I haven't given the universe enough room to do something super amazing in my life. Yet when I don't try to control the exact way my wish will be fulfilled, I usually get a nice bonus from the universe. 

Let's face it. Sometimes the universe knows us—and knows what's best for us—better than we do ourselves. So leave some room for possibilities you didn't imagine. And greet what comes with an open mind. Start asking for "XYZ or better" and if "W" shows up, give W a fair chance.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

5/28/18—Letting Go Of Sickness

My brother made a suggestion a couple of weeks ago that made a bigger impression on me than he imagined, I think. 

For years, I've had my medicines sitting on my coffee table, right in front of the sofa. Sometimes there would be many months worth of inhalers piled up. They were convenient there. And as my condition got worse and worse and I spent more time on the sofa, I valued the convenience. 

In one sense, they were so "normal" there for me that I didn't see them. In another sense, I couldn't help but see them as they reminded me many times per day not to forget to take my pills.

So, a couple of weeks ago, my brother suggests I move them someplace where they wouldn't remind me I was sick all the time. It made sense. I found a box to fit them in and now I only see them once a week when I fill my pill box. 

But it got me was time to stop being sick all the time, too. It was time to pick my life back up and stand on my own again. It was time to stop playing the "surgery" card. 

On one hand, it seems silly to say, because I do still have aches and limitations and I have a three-month rehab coming up. It's still early. I could elicit sympathy for at least another few months. And I do have legitimate complaints. 

But on the other hand, I'm not sick anymore. I suppose anything can happen...I could go into afib again or my new valve could somehow fail. Any one of us could face an unforeseen malady. But the fact is, I had a bad body part and it was the culprit that dogged me for years. And now the source of that issue is gone. And, while still recovering (who knew coughing and sneezing could hurt so much?) I'm better than I have been for a long time. I can't walk as far yet, for example, but I can get around a grocery store easier than I have been able to for years, actually...and without sweating profusely and turning red to the point of humiliation while I'm at it. 

I'm not sick anymore. I'm recovering, and well along my path in that regard. It's time to start living like a normal human being again. 

For years, I wore the "mysterious, debilitating illness" label. I really had no choice because it was so prominent in my life. But it gave me many excuses—remaining stagnant and becoming more reclusive among them. And as much as I hate to say it, I got to be a victim, too. Even when life sucks, there are payoffs...excuses, attention, victimhood...glum indulgences. "How can I possibly move forward when my energy is still low and my incision isn't fully healed?" I could hold on to that excuse a bit longer. Its sell-by date isn't yet expired. But what am I waiting for? WHY am I waiting?

It's really no different from someone facing an empty nest, a career change, a child, a marriage, a divorce—there are times in your life when you have to stop being one thing and choose to become another. If you hang on to the old thing, life will eventually start to crumble around you. There's a card in the tarot—The Tower—that depicts the inevitable destruction of some aspect of your life. We can move alongside change or it can come crashing down upon us. But make no mistake: change will always win in the end.

Normally, I'm not beyond hanging on for dear life until I HAVE to change. But I no longer want to wear the cloak of darkness I've been wearing, no matter how it might benefit me and keep me from the discomfort of change. I'm starting to shed it, whether it's ready to shed me or not.  

So that's what happens when you suggest I move my medications...haha. It wasn't just staring at the medications that was keeping me in the "sick mindset". And even though I think I can milk it a little longer, I longed for this day for years. I feared this day would never come. And while I can forgive circumstance and medical oversight for delaying my wellness for so long, I don't think I could forgive myself for stretching it out any further than is necessary. There's a difference between being victimized and being a victim. 

We can choose to re-label ourselves at any time. If we don't like a personality trait, we can change it. If a label is untrue or has outlived its validity, we can re-label ourselves. If a life phased has passed, we can move on to the next adventure. We don't even have to slough the old way entirely. We can just de-emphasize one behavior and emphasize another. 

The timing, however, is key. Do it too early and you risk being ill prepared to greet your best future. Hesitate too long, and you just keep getting more and more miserable as life changes around you and threatens to leave you behind. The best path forward, it seems to me, is to be honest with yourself, accept your new role and greet it fearlessly. Easier said than done, I know. But also not as hard as you'd think.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

5/21/18—Regaining My Life Force

By the time I awoke, most of the tubes and devices were
gone. But it's kind of dramatic to see all the "life support."

I'm preoccupied lately. Obviously. Which is why I haven't blogged lately. 

I'm preoccupied with assimilating the many lessons and changes that have come from finally figuring out what has been wearing on me for years, then having a pretty major surgery to correct it, then recovering physically and emotionally. That recovery, by the way, is nowhere near complete. They say it takes a year to recover physically from having the sternum separated, and also the trauma my body has been through. 

Thankfully, the hard part of that is over. But I am still physically limited, with my boundaries increasing with each week. Right now that just means walking to end of my street and back. In June I will stop working with the hunky home PT guy and I'll go into cardiac rehab and they will push me harder. Right now I'm not allowed to push myself too much physically. But all my other restrictions—no driving, lifting, pushing, pulling, raising my arms up, etc.—are lifted. 

The first month was horrific. I wasn't feeling much better. I was in afib the entire month. I couldn't sleep. My body was swollen. My legs were rashy and scaly. And I ended up in the hospital again, where they shocked me back into rhythm. My body was so inflamed that, in the six weeks since, I've lost 30 lbs of fluid. Most of that happened in the first 10 days. Since then, bluebirds are singing and flowers are smiling at me. 

Since then, I've also realized that it wasn't just breathlessness, weakness and exhaustion that had been plaguing me all those years. It was something that, in some ways, was scarier. My life force was nearly entirely depleted. 

I imagine this is true of anyone with long-term issues. Your body and mind need life to produce life force, and if all you can do just survive, then that life force gets drained. It is different from depression. It's as if the very soul inside of you—the you inside of you—is fading away. 

Of course I never would have thought of it that way back then. I just thought it was breathlessness, exhaustion, etc. And I can't say whether the loss of life force caused the breathlessness...or visa versa...or maybe they just all go hand in hand. 

The reason I can see it now is because my life force is returing. Something behind my eyes and in my core is burning brighter. Its current presence is making me recognize its past absence. It slipped away so slowly that I didn't even notice it going.

Its return is manifesting in many ways. I'm able to meditate again. I'm taking daily showers...haha. (I'm not sure if that's just because I enjoy taking showers sitting in the old-lady shower chair I no longer need, though.) I'm cooking more. I am being more active and adventurous because I'm not as worried if I'll be able to walk from a parking lot into a store or restaurant or park. I'm really enjoying my ready-for-summer back yard. (My brother did about 90% of the work. All I did was pot plants and bark commands to him.) I'm cleaning more things around the house. I'm going to stores again. (I couldn't even manage a 7-11 a few months ago, and now I'm browsing at places like Home Goods.) And I'm also back to visiting the farmer's market, having processed a bunch of fresh garlic three different ways recently—I froze the cloves, made a paste from the membrane around the cloves and also made garlic scape pesto in two different flavors. 

I guess you could say I have more joie de vivre. 

I don't want to overstate, though. I'm really just starting to reawaken. I'm just beginning to trust I'm finally OK. But I can see myself being "normal" again one normal people who can walk a few miles without stopping. Like people who aren't afraid of other shoes dropping. Like people who can take things like stopping by a grocery store—or even a 7-11—for granted. I went months where I couldn't manage anything that didn't have a drive through. Getting out to my car, in the first place, was hard. So this is a welcome change for me, and I believe it's just the beginning. Just to feel hopeful and confident about my future is something "new". 

There are many things still to process. I willed myself into an intentional state of denial prior to my surgery. I felt if I thought too much about the surgery and the outcomes, I'd be a total mess. So I just stopped thinking about it. Then I was in a daze for a month with that horrible afib, the effects of the anesthesia and my sore body. And for the past six weeks I've been digging out of my hole and discovering life anew. But I think I need to allow myself a good cry over my struggle, the misdiagnoses, how bad things got before they scheduled surgery, a house of horrors rehab center I spent a week in (OMG, the stories I have), and spending a month in afib and having to get to the point I couldnt breathe until they did something about it (I do feel let down by the medical community).

Spiritually speaking, I don't know why this had to be so long and difficult a road. Why did it have to get so bad? How did that figure into the grand plan? All I can figure now is that it showed me my will to will to keep things like work and home stuff flowing despite my state. I never gave up. Not even for a minute. 

But I feel like I've lost five years of my life. And while I'm spending most of my time being grateful that it wasn't worse—I didn't have a heart attack or stroke or even a clogged artery—I do think I need to honor the trauma I've survived. And maybe cry for all those times I couldn't cry because it took too much energy. 

I did the same thing when my father died, though...put off emotions until all the drama surrounding his death (he was murdered, so there were investigations and trials) had passed. Then I found that so much time had passed that I no longer needed to cry. And everything seemed surreal, like it never happened to me—my detachment from reality confused reality for me. I'm not sure it was the best approach, but there have been a couple times in my life that have been so big that I felt I had to shut down a little to ensure my survival. If I were a turtle, I would have been deep inside my shell. 

So the long and short of it is that I'm processing. And while I won't guarantee being back weekly, I do think I'll have some lessons to share for a while as I work through this. I've relinquished a lot of control during this process, I've had to trust and count upon others, I've set aside worries about money and my dogs, and I've yielded to my limitations, just to name a few "foreign" concepts I've had to embrace. 

I'm no longer who I was when the year started, nor am I the person I've been for the last five years or so. Constant change is a constant...we're always changing. But I feel like this has been a major shedding of my skin—a line drawn in the sand. Again, that's a lot like the deaths of my parents. In a way, this has been a death of the me I've been for quite some time. I feel like I channel as I write and work through complex things by blogging about them, so the coming weeks should be interesting.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

3/26/18—Checking In

Just a quick post to let everyone know I'm alive after open heart surgery and on the road to recovery. I had a difficult time at first and spent a week in rehab regaining my energy. It was both a good thing for me and a nightmare experience akin to something from a Stephen King horror. I'm sure I'll tell you all about it at some point. But we were able to escape the facility on Friday and I spent my first days at home this weekend and I have all confidence I've got what it takes to get past this recovery stage now.

My brother (who wants to be known to my blog audience as the hunky housekeeper) spent the weekend with me and really helped make my transition back to independence. He also did some cleaning and other chores around here. Having a brother who is ADD and obsessed with cleaning can be a good thing. I will still need help with some things on a daily basis...I get tired quickly and suddenly and need to sleep a lot. But my sister in law is on spring break this week and will visit often, plus I have neighbors and friends volunteering to come by. Plus I will have at home visits from a physical therapist.

Soon I'll be as good as new. It's a different kind of exhaustion than I was feeling before. I have less energy, but also less breathlessness. I'm being kind to myself, one of the many wisdoms I've learned from this experience. Please keep me in your thoughts and send me energy and well wishes!

Sunday, February 18, 2018

2/19/18—Facing The Black Hole

Here's a classic post from my tarot-draw days. I may be doing classic posts for a while. I feel like I have little to contribute these days.

I could depress you by telling you how scared I am about the probability of having open heart surgery, but I don't want to put words to those fears—surgery is what will bring me back to the "normal" I've been missing for so may years and I want to be grateful.

I could tell you about how I was left gasping for air after navigating the rows on the left half of a 7-11 while in search of toilet paper. That's how limited I am—I haven't been to a grocery store or drug store for months because they are too big (thank god for Amazon Fresh)—and that is heartbreaking for someone who has three dogs, used to power walk five miles a day and do the "difficult" hikes at the park.

I could also tell you how frustrating it is to live like this while the doctors slowly lead me through a battery of tests because apparently there's no rush because, I guess (I don't know), I'm not at risk of dying. This bad valve doesn't qualify as heart disease nor is it an imminent threat of heart attack. At least I don't think it is. I'm sure they'd be moving faster if I were at that level of risk.

To go into detail about any of those things would send me into a black hole I may never crawl out of. And I need to stay in the light right now, because some days that's all I feel I have going for me. I wish I could be wiser or a better observer of the spiritual world right now, but I just can't. So here's today's classic post...

Today's Draw: Nine of Swords—The Black Hole—from the Science Tarot. Do you often feel that something's missing in your life? Is there a bad habit or excess you'd like to eliminate from your life? How often do you spend time by yourself with no distractions—no radio, not when you're driving the car, not while you're reading—just you, yourself and thy sitting around being good to each other?

A black hole is when a star collapses in on itself, pulling all its mass into something so small it can't even been seen. Everything in its vicinity is pulled inside, too, never to be seen again. Not even light can escape the prison of a black hole.

Even though all that mass compressed into an invisible black hole is tough for even my favorite astrophysicist, Neil de Grasse Tyson, to wrap his head around, on one level, we kind of understand it, don't we? Because each of us has one inside us...a black hole so vast that no amount of Oreos, no kilos of drugs, no number of children, no posse of pool boys and no storehouse of sparkly things can fill it. Its gravitational field pulls us in. Nothing can escape it, least of all the light of peace.

*mindlessly filing my nails while some of you slit your wrists over this ugly truth*

So today's Nine of Swords comes to us for a couple of reasons on the final day of "how to create peace" week. (See this week to read more about peace.) The first reason is that it's in the suit of swords, which is the suit of the mind. Yesterday's card was a Swords card, too. And both of them are pretty dreaded cards to get in a reading. Not because they predict bad things, but because they point at things we're already doing—the  ways in which we allow our own minds to defeat us. Yesterday's card was about the negativities we dwell upon and today's is about disillusionment and the lies we tell ourselves. 

Really the two cards are very interconnected. Some of the negative stuff we dwell upon is about us and our abilities and potentials, for example. On one end of the scale we tell ourselves that a prince will come in on a white horse and we'll live happily ever after, thereby ruining every relationship we forge under that belief before it even starts. On the other end of the scale we tell ourselves in one way or another that we are somehow limited—not smart, lucky, pretty, creative or deserving enough to reach for the highest star. So these are some ways in which our minds defeat us. And with all that noise up there, with all our limited potential and dashed dreams, how will we ever find peace?

Gratuitous photo of my next-life boyfriend, the phenom known simply as NdGT.
But the other part of this Nine of Swords is this black hole inside us. The one we fill with food, alcohol, social engagements, television and other, more innocent sounding distractions like music, books and gardening. (Oh, yeah. That.) None of those things are bad by any means by themselves and in moderation. But when they build up into a ball of noise and roughage so huge we can't hear ourselves think...when we use them to numb the pain inside...when they keep us from listening to our inner voice...when we expect them to fill the void...that's when they create problems. 

I think this is probably the #1 thing society is in denial of. Somewhere inside us, though, we know. We know "something" is missing. We know something else is excessive. A big part of it comes from looking to something outside of you—romance, children, potato chips, possessions, thrills—to make you happy or rescue you from the burden of your "self." Our fears overtake us and that black hole looks like a source of comfort, but it always ends up leaving you cold.

So what's the answer? Some of the answers have been given this week. Learn how to love and trust yourself, learn how to accept yourself and others and start a healthier relationship with yourself...listen to yourself, give yourself a break. That's the thing that's missing—a healthy, loving, respectful relationship with yourself. Yeah, I know it's hard to do. There's no Cliff Notes version. It takes time. Trust me, I'm still working on it myself. It's a practice, more than an event, meaning it's something you form the habit of doing every day. Just like you formed the habit of second-guessing yourself way back when. 

Still not sure who Neil deGrasse Tyson (NdGT) is?
But the biggest part—and, honestly, the reason I think you come here however often you do—is to stop being afraid of what you'll find when you look within. Have the balls to ask yourself the tough questions and be honest about the answers, which so many of you are already doing. So much is stuff we've been struggling with since childhood. The input we got from back then is deeply rooted and nobody escapes unscathed. Sometimes I swear I think we come here to this earth to heal our childhoods...haha. But another way of looking at it is that our childhoods happened the way they did to give us the cues we need to heal our souls. 

One of the reasons I'm so frank about my own life here at times is to show others they're not alone. Monsters thrive in the dark, and until we shine light on these things and deal with them as they are, we can't defeat them. But we can't do that if we think we're the only ones who feel emptiness or disappointment in our lives and in ourselves. The energy we spend holding on to the shame could be used to escape the black hole. This may not be possible in outer space, but it is possible within.