Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Wedding, not the first time around

I am engaged to be married to a wonderful person. I am divorced from someone who was wonderful, but not to or for me for much too long. I didn’t think I would ever get married again. For many reasons, I am and I am happy with that decision.

However, in 1986, I swore I would never again plan another party for a huge number of people. I do not find it fun to peruse websites looking for good deals. I do not enjoy negotiating prices, knowing that money spent on this event means less money with which to buy a new home. Asking friends for their help is uncomfortable, even when they are happy to do so. But, here I am, planning another big event.

Ah, but this time, I have help. Willing, cooperative and decisive help. What a difference several decades and a different partner make! So while some of the decisions have been mine (color and style of my dress), most of the other decisions have been discussed, laughed at, and made with my lover. WE are planning this event, not me. My first wedding was about 15 months in the planning (about 250 guests). This wedding will be something less than 6 months in the planning. Eeek! But wait, I have help this time. Deep breath, sigh, smile.

Having a much shorter time to plan allows us to focus on the important elements – a meal, venue (must be meaningful to at least one of us, have wheel chair access and adequate parking). All else is gravy on top. Flowers will probably happen; guest gifts may or may not happen. Minister, yes; invites, yes; photographer, yes. Family and friends, yes!

I still don’t like this big event planning stuff, but I love that we are doing one more thing together that means so much to both of us. It feels like we are saying “Yes,” together already. 


Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Change is hard.

Change is hard. Especially change that feels as though it is limiting prior freedoms, whether self-imposed or imposed by others. We often respond to change with anger, but unless we know what causes the anger, we can’t figure out how to respond to the change.

For example, I live with several chronic physical and mental conditions. A diagnosis of Type 2 Diabetes has made me change my eating habits and test my blood sugar levels and indeed, how and what I cook for my family – a mixture of other- and self-imposed. Should I be angry at my doctor for prescribing a glucose monitor for me? No. Should I be angry at the doctor who left me on prednisone for a year to manage my RA, which caused a problem in my pancreas that led to the Diabetes diagnosis? Probably not, because I didn’t ask about possible outcomes of long-term steroid use, and given the amount of pain I was in, probably would have made the decision to take them anyway.

Rheumatoid Arthritis limits my physical abilities, making it difficult to move sometimes and sometimes making me choose between participating in activities or going home to rest. Self-imposed restrictions and certainly a difficult change for others to understand when I “don’t look sick.” Actually, I don’t get angry at the RA, I’m so glad to have a diagnosis finally because that led to a treatment plan that actually has alleviated most of the pain, thus slowing the degenerative aspect of the disease. And if others don’t understand why I don’t sign up for certain events, too bad. My close friends and family honor my decisions that honor my health. Perhaps those that don’t support my healthy decisions shouldn't be my friends anyway?

PTS (recently recognized and diagnosed) makes other-imposed changes feel like attacks, sometimes making my response seem “over the top” to what others may perceive as nominal changes. Ah, here is my main cause for needing “anger management.” For years I had no idea why I would go along my happy way, and then, reaching the tipping point, explode into rage. Masters level studies, and much research and years of counseling allowed me to recognize myself in the stories of child-hood abuse survivors. I had learned to subjugate my emotions to everyone else in order to keep peace. Because when other people have strong emotions, bad things happen! I’m no longer a defenseless child, but my body learned these coping mechanisms so early and so well, all I can do as an adult is recognize, honor and then deal with them.

And then there’s the combination factor: RA and Diabetes are both affected by emotions and physical stress. So when I’m upset, my blood sugar and blood pressure elevate, increasing swelling in my joints which makes me hurt more, increasing the physical and emotional stress. Yep, a very vicious cycle.

So how do I cope with change, especially unwanted or unexpected change? (Because even happy or good changes can cause stress too.)

1.      First, I’m trying to notice my emotions. As a survivor of early childhood trauma, I internalized most of my emotions and it has been a long, hard road to revealing them. I don’t know where this quote came from, but it spoke very powerfully to me. I shared these words with my counselor after she and my psychiatrist both told me I would probably never “get over” PTS. And that in fact, my emotions are here to tell me when something is going right or wrong.:

“Anger means you have been hurt, or that someone has crossed a line; love is a sign that someone is important to you; fear wants to protect you from danger; happiness is telling you that all is going well and your wishes have been granted.

Emotions are intensely personal messages that tell you who you are and what is important to you. And they always have your best interests in mind.”

2.      After noticing my emotional responses to something, I then need to honor them. Look those feelings in the eye and say “I see you emotion.” Only by recognizing our emotions can we un-internalize them. A common phrase in self-help groups is “Depression is anger turned inwards.” We can turn those self-destructive inward-pushed emotions outward and minimize their effects on our bodies and mind just by recognizing that they are real and valid. As a pre-teen I had a poster on my wall that said: “Just because you are paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get you.”

3.      After noticing and recognizing and honoring my emotion, I can reflect upon it and decide if PTS or RA or blood sugar levels are influencing the strength of that emotion. See, now I have control of my emotions, not the other way around. So even if the strength of my emotion is swayed by one of my diseases, it does not invalidate the emotion. One doctor told me “Just because you have PMS doesn’t make your rage unreasonable.”

4.      Make sure you have a strong support group. Whether friends, family of origin, family of choice, or professionals, these people can help you reflect and recognize if indeed you are “over the top” or reacting reasonably in a particular situation. When I was going to be sharing a holiday dinner with one of my former abusers present, I took a friend with me. She was coached to give me a particular signal if I started reacting inappropriately because of the PTS. I found that working with my counselor to develop the plan and having a caring friend supporting me in the application of the plan allowed me to enjoy the dinner and I never even had to use my plan.

Yes, change is hard. But we don’t go through life alone. And we can’t get through life without change (can you imagine having to wear diapers throughout your life, instead of just the beginning and end?). Emotions come to us in the interest of health. Use them to make yourself a happier, healthier person. Recognize how you feel in different situations, and make informed decisions that better your life. And like the Snickers ads, don’t make big decisions when you are hungry. 

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

A Candle in the dark

I always look forward to the winter solstice. Living with chronic depression is harder when I don’t see the sun because it’s dark when I drive to work and dark when I drive home from work. But once again, we have made it through the longest night of the year, which doesn’t necessarily have any connection with the dark night of the soul. Solstice slipped by me with barely a nod to my pagan sisters.

In my home, we celebrated Christmas with gifts, be they thoughtful, silly, useful or desired; and food answering the emotional longings of different people around the table. Roasted turkey for one, pearl onions for another, stuffing (in and out of the bird). (Mea culpa, I forgot the mashed potatoes! But at least I didn’t have to blow the rolls out this year!) We spoke of those not able to be with us in person, lifting up their health and hearts with a promise to bring some Christmas to them when they are ready to receive it. We honored those who will never be with us in person again, with tears and laughter and happy memories.

When no one else was around, I honored Hanukkah. Singing the phrases along with my “Bare Naked for the Holidays” album. Baruch atah, Adonai Eloheinu, Melech haolam, asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav v’tsivanu l’hadlik ner shel Hanukkah. (.ברוך אתה יי, אלוהינו מלך העולם, אשר קידשנו במצוותיו, וציוונו להדליק נר של חנוכה). How lucky are we to be able to celebrate a light in the dark.

This year has seemed to be full of “the dark” more than I remember in past years recently. Probably because of the politics here in the good ol’ US of A and interpersonal politics at my day job. I have spent untold hours listening to people hurting from unkind words, unjust rules and justice repealed. I confessed to friends that I “scroll past” their political posts on social media, because I just can’t look at another ranting meme. The faces of my friends superimposed over the actions of this president wound me more than an insulting joke or picture can heal. (Although sometimes a band of chipmunks playing a snazzy jazz tune or a cute kitten video helps.)

And then there are the floods and fires. And no, they were not caused by g-d’s wrath towards the LBGTQ movement, thank you very much. I was reminded of a fire 24 years ago: I was 8 months pregnant and helped friends shovel debris off of the foundation of their house. Inviting them to share Christmas with us, co-mingling traditions again. And I am reminded again of why we celebrate.

We celebrate the love we share with one another. The little things like a smile passing in the hall, the big things like taking care of someone after surgery. Of unexpected gifts, and heart-full hugs. Our presence in hearing some one’s aching story of betrayal. The joy in a healthy birth or the colorblind man seeing true colors for the first time.

These are our candles in the dark, lighting the way when we might otherwise be overwhelmed by daily noise and strife. If you are with me when we turn the calendar page to 2019, we’ll play some silly games, light some more candles, sing Auld Lang Syne, and share our mitzvos. Because we all need more light and love.

So just as the physical nights are getting shorter now, may your dark nights of the soul be relieved by the love you give and receive. Blessings abound!


Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Checking in with my Stalker 9-14-16

Thirteen months ago I blogged about getting a restraining order against a former boyfriend. He didn’t take the hint (gosh, it was a “appear in court” in-your-face hint) and began driving by my home frequently, leaving packages in and on my vehicles (parked in a “secure” garage), sending me numerous emails daily (again), etc.

I went back to the police, and they picked him up at home on a Friday evening and kept him in jail for the weekend. The following week, I received a criminal protective order, good for three years. Again, a fairly large, in-your-face type of hint.

Six months later, he was back sitting in his vehicle watching my home. The police came (two hours later) and took a report, spoke to him at his home. Promised me (again) that he understood and would no longer bother me. Oops, then he was at my office, trying to talk security into letting him up to my suite, and to intercede with me on his behalf, since the restraining order was almost up! Can we say “clueless?” Another police department called, another report taken.

Because he has not threatened me with physical violence, the police will not go and arrest him. Apparently, emotional abuse is not considered enough, even if it causes physical illness/symptoms in the stalkee (I refuse to see myself as a victim). If he comes within 1000 feet of me (think of a football field), I am not to engage him, but call the police immediately. If he is still there if and when they arrive, then they will arrest him. How am I supposed to keep him there while not “engaging with him?”

Now he is sending Facebook messages to a friend of mine. Long ones, multiple times a day. His wife (oh yes, turns out he was very married) also called my friend accusing me of stalking him. Go figure. I’m getting afraid to go home again. I have changed my Facebook ID. I’m in hiding again. This is no way to live.

I cannot fathom what he thinks his activity will accomplish. I am reminded that to expect logic from an irrational person is not logical.

TO MY STALKER: If you are reading this, please pay close attention to what I am saying:

Go away. Stay away.

Do not call, email, message or mail anything to me or any of my friends, co-workers, acquaintances, or relatives.

Do not drive by my home or place of employment.

Do not try to get information from my doctors or the security people at my office.

Do not have your wife call, email or message me or any of my friends.

All of these activities are considered domestic violence and stalking behavior. I have a CRIMINAL restraining order out against you. I do NOT want to ever see or hear from you again. EVER. By your own admission, I am a stubborn woman. Keep this in mind.


Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Tomorrow’s Doors (revisited)

We talk
seldom listening
We mourn the past
worry about the future

We take baby steps
but we dare not more
Fearing change
more than death

New friends, new ideas
live in the moment
Try one new thing
Fear lost in the being

Tomorrow comes
welcomed or not
Today’s decisions
open tomorrow’s doors.

Beth Cardall Leehy
2016 Mar 1

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Lent 2016: No longer Irish Catholic

Perhaps because I grew up surrounded by Irish Catholics, when I hear “Lent,” it is always preceded in my mind by, “What are you giving up for….” Now, as an adult and hopefully more sophisticated theologian than my 6-year-old self, I realize that Jesus never gave up anything for Lent. I mean, after all, he was Jewish, not Christian (semi-adult theologian giggles here). The Lenten season is to remind us the events of Passion Week, leading up to the crucifixion and subsequent rising of Christ Triumphant.

So why remember Passion Week? Why observe Lent? Many Christians I know attend weekly vegetarian soup dinners and bible study classes. Many literally refrain from eating or doing something pleasurable for the 40 non-Sunday days of Lent. I can only guess that this is to remind them that Jesus suffered while he was “in jail” under Pontius Pilate.

I suggest, instead of giving up chocolate, meat, deserts, Starbucks or some other worldly item, we actually try to be more like Jesus during this church season of Lent. How about if we give up:

• Bigotry and hate-mongering?
• Fear and self-loathing?
• Addictive behavior that harms us or others?
• Old sorrows and injuries that keep us moribund?

Let us, instead of giving up, take on something. Try adding to your daily life:

• Gratitude/Awareness practice: Notice the beauty around you. Keep a gratitude journal. Say “thank you,” more often. Write to the good politicians.
• Give the gift of hope to others: Smile at a stranger. Donate more to charity (anonymously). Reconnect with a loved one. End war.
• Self-care: Actually do the exercise program that you have on your “to do” list. Get your teeth cleaned. Get your blood pressure and glucose monitored. Donate blood or platelets so someone else may live.

I’ve been corresponding with someone recently that made me realize some of the emotional baggage I’ve been carrying around with me for a very long time. I made a promise to keep an open heart and mind and work through my fear. Along with the ideas above, this will be my Lenten practice.

Lent is a church season with the ultimate goal of making us a better person. May Easter find you transformed by your Lenten practice, and thereby find the world a little (or a lot) better. Blessings abound if we can but see them.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Feminism or reality?

“We live in deeds not years In thoughts not breaths In feelings not figures on a dial. We should count time by heart throbs. He most lives who thinks most, feels noblest, acts the best.” [sic] Philip James Bailey

This quote came up in one of my emails as a suggestion for a meditation centering thought. I deleted it, because of the word “He,” having a knee jerk reaction to the exclusionary language. Yes, I know English usage mandates the use of masculine pronouns when mixed gender is addressed. And this was not publicly challenged in Mr. Bailey’s lifetime (1816 – 1902). But really, can’t we move forward yet?

Just as minority populations feel excluded when pictures/movies/television show only the dominant culture, I feel excluded when only male pronouns are used. In this particular case, I was good with the first few phrases, which use the inclusive “we.” Then I got to the troublesome “He,” and the following phrase stuck in my gullet and the whole thing went to the trash bin.

“He most lives who thinks most, feels noblest, acts the best.” So, the thinking person lives most? The noblest feeling person lives most? The person who acts the best lives most? Thoughts of a privileged, white, male, me thinks. Not much shows up on the internet about Mr. Bailey, so I do not know if he was ever a parent. But every parent who ever loved a child lives by their heart throbs. From the first time a baby smiles at you, to their first injury, every time they tell you, “Mom (or Dad), I love you,” until you or they die, they are connected to your heart. Good parents act as the best parent they can. They are noble, as far as acting in the best interest of the family (in whatever shape it may be) to the best of their ability.

I guess it is the first part of the last phrase that most bothers me. “He most lives who thinks most.” Most parents I know don’t have time or brain cells left for thinking during the first few years of a child’s life. One moves by rote, routine, reflex in a fog of sleeplessness (and sometimes worry). And that’s if your child is healthy. G-d help those of us whose babies are ill or otherwise need additional care and resources.

And sorry, just thinking doesn’t make one a good person or noble citizen. One MUST act to be noble. Maybe this quotation was taken out of context and Mr. Bailey expanded on his idea in surrounding text. If the editor who chose this quote for the meditation exercise had included some background and noted the exclusionary language (even by just adding "sic" at the end) I might not have deleted the message immediately. “Ifs” and “maybes,” but something to keep in mind should you have the opportunity to address people in the future.

Be inclusive. Be on the cutting edge of language and mores. Remember women hold up half (actually, more than half) the sky.