Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Unraveling

When someone suffers a tragedy, if it’s something we experienced, we sometimes re-suffer it with them. This is especially true if you are an emotional empath as I am. When my dear friend lost her dad, I relived the experience with her. My dad died five years ago, but around the anniversary—February 28th—I tend to think about him more, ponder his life, remember the good times and the bad, the patches of my life’s quilt I stitched with him.

I do a lot of stitching because my life periodically unravels. Once when I was 16, and my brother died of a drug overdose. Again at 24, when another brother took his own life. Most recently, three weeks after my 38th birthday, when my dad peacefully sauntered into eternal life, with no illness to blame. He simply said he was, “old and tired.” At 94, that was acceptable.

And for four months after, I told myself that it was acceptable. He was old. He was tired. He died very peacefully. No suffering. No sickness. He was ready. My mom was dealing with it. My brothers seemed to be doing fine. My sister seemed okay. It was just how I’d prayed he would go: quietly and peacefully. Everything was fine.

Except I didn’t really feel fine. I spent a half hour sobbing in the shower every morning. I was unable to smile. I felt unraveled.

For the first month, being sad was acceptable. People still called to check on me. My husband didn’t ask why I was crying every night, he simply pulled me close to him.

The second month was a little harder. No one called anymore. I didn’t get any cards in the mail. And my kids wondered why I was crying when we said prayers at night.

The third month I relegated my sobbing to 15 minutes in the shower, and then I tried to smile and take an interest in life again.

The fourth month, I gave up on everything I tried to do in the third month and sought a quick fix. A pharmaceutical intervention.

I never go to the doctor so to go to the doctor solely for some feel-better medication was a stretch. I have mild bi-polar tendencies, which I realized that the assessment would reveal if I answered honestly. But, my manic episodes focus mostly on cleaning and home improvement rather than reckless sex or spending, so I kind of welcome them. The depressive episodes usually last only a day and are bearable.

This particular malaise seemed to really drag on though.

After assuring the doctor that I was not suicidal, but normally a happily functioning person really wanting to function as a normally and happily again, the doctor prescribed a mood-stabilizing anti-depressant to help get me “over the hump.” That was her description of my malaise—the hump.

After a few weeks on the medicine, I felt…even. I was no longer sad, mad or depressed. I also wasn’t happy, excited, or passionate. I gained 20 pounds and didn’t care. In fact, I didn’t really care about anything. Not in a hopeless way …  just in a blissfully apathetic way.

It was in the midst of this blissful apathy that I ran across an article in Prevention that talked about depression being a God-given emotion to help us deal with times of sadness. Since we don’t feel like doing anything during a depression, we can often work through our pain, feelings of loss, or whatever is causing our sadness. Obviously this isn’t true for people whose depression is cued by chemical imbalances rather than sad events, but it was true for me.

I decided, after reading this article that I did not need a quick fix. What I did need was to stop telling myself that everything was okay and just be sad and miss my dad for awhile.

So, I did. And it got pretty dark. My husband, who had gotten used to and rather liked the easygoing-if-numb version of medicated me, didn’t think it was a good idea for me to stop. He thought it was an even worse idea when I started to cry all the time. But in a few months, after I walked through the depths of my sadness and out the other side, he agreed that it had been the right choice.

Years ago in graduate school, I took a group therapy class. Once, when I was reluctant to talk about something, the facilitator questioned my fear: “What do you think will happen if you talk about it?”

“I’ll cry.”

“And?”

“I don’t know. Maybe I’ll never stop crying?”

“And…you will get dehydrated from all the crying and shrivel up like a raisin or what?”

It’s irrational to think you’ll never stop crying, but before that day, I’d never taken a moment to be present in my own fear. I’d never asked, “What am I really afraid of?” I’d spent so much time telling myself all the reasons I had to be happy—and there are so many—that I hadn’t allowed myself to be sad. It’s okay to be sad. Losing someone you love is heartbreaking.


Sometimes, it takes medication. Sometimes, it takes meditation. Sometimes all it takes is a margarita or mojito or Moscow Mule—I’m here all week, friends. But whatever your solution, a good step in the right direction is listening to what your feelings want to tell you. It’s okay to be sad. It’s okay to cry. The only way we can ever fully heal is to feel.  

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Put Your Bat in the Holster

"When the student is ready, the teacher will appear." You've probably heard this numerous times over the years. I have anyway. I googled it this morning to see who actually said it. Wasn't Buddha. Wasn't Ghandi. Wasn't even Obi Wan Kenobi, which was my guess. In fact, I lost interest before I could finish the article that divulged true authorship, but the sentiment is right on.

I've been noticing more and more that when I focus my energy and take steps in a certain direction, interesting people show up on my path. I listen to podcasts, order a book and then run into someone who is reading the same book. Or, I listen to a TedX talk and then one of my favorite podcasters mentions the speaker even though I'd never heard of her before and I'm a Ted junkie. So while I've always believed that coincidences were almost always divine appointments, sometimes synchronicity can be downright spooky.

Life has always brought me the people I needed. Even though sometimes I didn't realize at the time, when I look back at memories, experiences, circumstances, I realize that God--or whatever you want to call the omniscient, omni-benevolent universal energy source--always sent people to help me through. Sometimes those people vanished shortly after; some are still here. You know...reasons, seasons, lifetime.

But recently, it has been a different sort of energy. People seem to bring a specific idea or a very obvious lesson. I meet people who are exploring similar ideas or reading the same books or writing a book...whatever it is, it seems each day someone crosses my path with some nugget of wisdom or truth or love.

So this begs the question, "Has this been happening all along and I was too oblivious to notice?" Perhaps. I might have walked past hundreds of everyday gurus missing them and their lessons. I'm not going to ruminate on that because I want to focus my energy on being awake and aware to the new lessons--even painful ones--that each interaction brings.

I've always believed that my kids are my greatest teachers, and when I am present enough to step back from imposing my will on them and instead follow my current feeling to its origin, it's nearly always transformative. I've been trying to apply that beyond my precious offspring and onto others and to allow myself to be open and vulnerable enough to accept without seeking acceptance.

And I think all of this is possible because I'm no longer giving away my time and energy to people and situations that don't bring me joy. I have more room in my mind, my heart and my life for positive energy, good people and life lessons. Not the same ones you have to keep learning over and over because they don't sink in, but the good kind. The kind that make you get up and take an actual physical step toward your goals.

So, I would encourage you, if you're reading this, stop swatting the proverbial bee's nest because you'll just keep getting stung. Take a step back from situations or people that don't bring you joy and take a big giant leap toward something or someone that makes your heart sing. I'm going to as well. We can do it together. I'll encourage you.