Chasing Inspiration

Monday, October 17, 2016

When Grief is Messy

Nude Woman and Grief

Warning: if you are family, you may want to stop reading. I love you all, but I needed a place to process, and maybe my process will help others. 

In July we visited family in Victoria, British Columbia. Which is one of the most gorgeous spots in all of Canada. I admit I'm biased because I am Canadian, even if I'm living in the USA. The trip was not for pleasure, though there was much to enjoy. No, this trip was because of the death of my last living grandparent. My grandmother. My mother's mother. A woman who is part of my earliest memories. Memories that I now know were the foundation for some of my neuroses.

I want to say I had a good relationship with her, but honestly, we never connected. She was critical and wanted different things from me than I wanted from myself. She was verbally abusive. She had done a number on my mother. How do I know this? My mom would become this pale shadow of herself whenever Grandma was around. I think I hated the woman because of all the times she reduced my mother to tears. I think the child in me lost some respect for my mother for all the times she wasn't strong.

The adult me knows that trauma untreated will not heal true.  When a broken bone isn't set, it doesn't heal properly. Even if set properly, the healed bone will always be different than if it had never been through the trauma of a break. We are like that. If we are emotionally battered down until we stop seeing ourselves and see only the thing our abuser wants us to see, we are like that broken bone. Even if we get out from under the situation, unless we go through the work to release ourselves from the trauma, we will never be reset. We will live as though the trauma is happening to us right now.

I'm writing this at 3:30 in the morning, otherwise I would take the time to find references for the above paragraph. Please let it be enough to know that I was a therapist for a time, and continue to keep updated with the latest in psychology. And trauma is an area I am very familiar with.

My grandmother had good points. She had a dry sense of humor. She took family seriously. She took on the task of taking care of my grandfather, who she loved fiercely. I don't have a memory where Grandpa wasn't in need of some form of care or pain management. She did that because she loved him. She was the primary caregiver for her mother when Alzheimers stole her independence along with her mind. She worked hard.

But that wasn't enough to erase her cruel side. The side that told a four year old me that I was never going to be good enough. The side that made sure that when my brother and I spoke of our dreams for a future, she would shoot them down, telling us we had champagne taste on a beer budget. Translation: we were over reaching our status. We were from working class people and we would always be working class people. Which is partially true. Dad was a blue collar worker. But who tells children to dream small because life is small?

When I was fifteen or sixteen, I spent two weeks with Grandma and Grandpa. I took the bus to Victoria, rode the ferry from Vancouver on my own. It was a fabulous trip! I loved the adventure. And I tried to be a good guest. I kept my room clean. I helped with meals and dishes. I tried to be small enough that Grandma's cruel side wouldn't notice me. It worked until the day I wore shorts. Then I got the lecture on how by the act of wearing shorts I was sending a message to all males that I want to be raped. I shook my head, it was just Grandma, after all. But something in me started to feel ashamed of my body. Scared that maybe I was responsible for what others think and feel about my presence. Add this to the script of "You're not good enough" and we have a recipe for confusion and years of not believing I was worth anything good that came into my life. All good things were suspect.

It was after this that there was an outward change. In all the pictures taken after that visit I am not smiling, knowing the world is one huge adventure waiting to explore. Instead, I'm withdrawn, even frowning. I didn't want to be near Grandma. Deep down I knew she was toxic for me. But I didn't have the vocabulary to explain this to any one. And therapy wasn't on my radar until college.

I cut the ties after my high school graduation. I wore this beautiful dress that my mom's friend made for me. It was strapless and amazing. I felt like a heroine from a novel when I put it on. I never wanted to take it off. When I stepped into our living room to show my grandparents my dress, she sneered and told me I looked like a slut. What should have been an amazing day became one of the most horrible days in my life. And I told Grandma that other than visits with mom and dad I was done. I was eighteen.

These examples aren't meant to vilify. They are only to illustrate my relationship with Grandma. I eventually started therapy. Got my MS in Psychology. Worked with trauma survivors. Had more therapy. I needed to take out the thorns that were festering in my soul and my psyche, then I had to do the hard work of healing. I'm not all the way there yet. Trauma changes a person. Abuse leaves it's mark. Our experiences become a part of our DNA. They leave us changed from who we might have been.

I left Victoria and my family with mixed feelings. Relief. Sadness. Anger. I was relieved that her suffering was over and her spirit had moved on to somewhere that could heal the trauma and pain she could not, or would not, heal in life. Relieved because maybe in death the stranglehold she had on her daughters would end, so they could breathe and live and heal. Sad because all around my family were the fingerprints of her - the good and the bad. Angry because she never extended to me the type of relationship she extended to younger cousins. She never showed that side of herself to me. Even two years ago when I saw her last, she didn't talk to me without the side of her personality that was critical and cruel.

Maybe some of that is on me. I cut her out of my life because I couldn't grow as a person with her still in it. I hated the pieces of her that were sharp and quick to cut. I loved the parts of her that were wry and loyal. I was sad for the parts of her that were damaged and bleeding.

Maybe it hurt so much when her china went to a younger cousin because I was the oldest and she had told me she would pass it down to the oldest. But I had walked away and my cousin had not.

Maybe it hurt so much when at her funeral I was introduced to this caring, tender woman, a woman I didn't recognize because whatever tenderness she may have shown me was buried under the tsunami of judgement.

Maybe being the oldest grandchild is a lot like being the oldest child, and Grandma made her mistakes with me so she could be a better grandmother to others.

Maybe I reminded her too much of the self she lost along the way. Or maybe not.

It's messy, saying goodbye to someone who has hurt you. It's tricky walking the line between utter relief and compassion for those who are grieving more deeply than myself. My grief is less the loss of a person who's love and light embraced me, and more an ability to finally take a breath. How do you explain that to family? I don't know. If you have the answer, please let me know.

  1. The wisdom living brings. 
  2. My husband, who walks with me, even when I drag him through the messiness of life.
  3. The stillness of night. 

Photo by x1klima

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

In Being Flawed

kintsugi closeup

Do you know what I love about movies like Bad Moms? It's about flawed people trying to do the best they can. Sometimes they get it right. Sometimes they get it very wrong. Sometimes they do everything right but still get kicked in gut for trying. And somehow they find the way to get up every morning and try to do their best again.

I'm not a mom, but I know a lot of moms who work hard raising children, hoping they become strong, healthy adults. I'm a woman so I know what it's like to be a woman in today's world. How sometimes as a woman it doesn't matter what you say or what you do, you're either too much or too little. How the rules seem to be different between men and women. Against one group of women to another. I know what it's like to be called overly emotional for being passionate about something. Or overly sexual for wearing something that makes me feel fabulously alive but shows too much skin. Being called a bitch because I call someone on their behavior. Or have a strong opinion. Or just because I breath.

And sometimes I feel like no matter what I do I'm still going to be too little or too much. I'm never going to be just right.

We are all flawed people. In someone's eyes we are going to be too little or too much. Everyone has an opinion and judgements and insecurities. Everyone is trying to find a way to keep getting up every morning. For some, this may be easy. For the person secure in who she is and who has her back, it may be easy to shrug off the naysayers and push forward. For others, it might be very, very difficult.

Sometimes we are our own enemies. Raise your hand if you have ever told yourself you were stupid, inept, or a failure. If you have looked at yourself in the mirror and berated yourself for being in Vogue shape. If you have made a mistake and have not forgiven yourself. If you hate something about yourself. If you do something for yourself and feel guilty after. If you look at the people around you and judge yourself for not being just like them. If you have looked at the lives of other people and hate them just a little for being better than your life.

Maybe if we are trying to live an ethical life, if we try to be kind to people, to be compassionate, to strive to become better versions of ourselves just a little every day (or week, or month. I'm not judging), then maybe we can let up on ourselves. Maybe when we make mistakes, we own them and try to learn from them, then we can stop berating ourselves. Maybe if we allow ourselves to believe we are worthy of kindness and compassion we can stop feeling guilty. Maybe if we acknowledge that there are bad days where our shit falls apart, we can start being kind to ourselves.

Maybe if we stop looking at the lives of other people as the bar we hold ourselves to, we can be kind and compassionate and generous to others. If we want to love our neighbour, maybe we need to learn to love ourselves.

It is Yom Kippur, and though I am not Jewish, I find something compelling with this Jewish high holiday. One of the passages read on Yom Kippur is from Deuteronomy and is about choice. Choose a path of forward momentum and growth and light, or choose to stay mired in mindsets and choices that are slowly destroying us.
Move forward into a space of opportunity and growth or remain trapped within perils of the past and fears of the future? The choice seems obvious enough, but the path to renewal is far from easy. Choosing “life and prosperity” requires us to recognize our previous misgivings, but it also challenges us to accept whatever consequences lie ahead. (Reform Judaism
While this isn't all that is encompassed within Yom Kippur, and I apologize right now to my Jewish friends and family for distilling what is a day of huge import down to a question of choice, I find it important to ask myself, am I willing to choose the more difficult path? The high road is lonely. Change is hard. Being honest with myself means being honest with others. Even if that honesty requires me to go low and apologize and offer reparations for something I have done that has had negative effects on someone.

Yes, we are all flawed people. And we will make mistakes and our shit will come undone. Despite it all are we willing to make a choice toward becoming our better selves?


  1. Movies and books about flawed people. 
  2. Velcro Dog urging me to leave the house every morning. Not for my benefit, for his, but it's all good. 
  3. The gentle love of my friends, even when I don't always love myself. 
Photo by Pomax

Friday, October 07, 2016

Feeling Disconnected

The Lonely Road

One of the most difficult things for me right now is this feeling of disconnection. 

In my post-work life, I spend a lot of time alone. I'm usually great with being alone. I read. I write. I walk the dog. I knit. I watch television or movies. I like me some alone time. The problem is that the majority of my time is alone time right now. 

Chronic health issues can make a person's world shrink. I don't know when I'll have the energy to go out and spend time with people. When I make plans, I'm not able to look into the future to see if I'll actually be able to follow through. It makes me hesitate to step outside myself. 

I'm not worried about people judging me for having to cancel at the last minute. All. The. Time. I do worry about inconveniencing people. In the past I would force my body into compliance and would do everything in my power to keep those plans. Today, it's easier to not make plans to begin with. 

By not making plans, I lose touch with people. And losing touch with people means there are fewer people in my life. And fewer people in my life means my world is shrinking. 

But what about the internet, you ask? Yes, what about the internet. Social media is supposed to expand our world, isn't it? There are more people out there to connect with, albeit virtually. 

Intimacy can be found online, but one has to work at it. And having hundreds of friends on Facebook does not mean a person has people solidly in her corner. Sure, there are billions of people online and sure I can find like minded individuals with whom I can build relationships. But just as in the physical world, this takes time and effort. And there are days that can go by, weeks even, where I don't log into Facebook or Twitter. There are days I don't even check email.

This feeling of disconnection, it's on me. The state of my relationships, that's on all parties involved. But no matter how many people I have in my life supporting me, only I can do something about feeling alone. Disconnected. Lonely. I can reach out when the days feel too long and too disconnected. I can get my ass out of my house and go somewhere with live people and strike up a conversation. I can text someone to see if they want to get together for a last minute coffee date. Or lunch. Or a walk. Or to see a movie together.

I can't expect people to magically know just how alone I feel at times. I need to actually tell people. I need to actually *gasp* ask for help. 

I am thankful for every person in my life who has been willing to live with my current inconsistent brand of friendship.

  1. Brand new days, because they are kind of like do-overs.
  2. Holy basil and rose petal tea. 
  3. The internet.

Thursday, October 06, 2016

Melancholia and Me

  1. Looking at the rain from our newish porch. It's fantastic!
  2. The Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu - they are amazing men with a shared message of joy and compassion.
  3. Rawhides. They are for dogs what the TV is for small children. Don't judge!
autumn leaves

I'm not going to lie, it's been a rough week. As I have stated before on this blog, I have situational depression, which means I have short term depressive episodes that are triggered by circumstance or situation. While this is not clinical depression, it does share symptomology: depressed mood, feelings of hopelessness, crying, changes in sleep, changes in appetite, etc. It can lead to major depression if the situational depression isn't addressed.

I am also naturally more melancholy in mood. Melancholia is not depression, as Eric G. Wilson explores in his book Against Happiness: In Praise of Melancholy:
There is a fine line between what I’m calling melancholia and what society calls depression. In my mind, what separates the two is degree of activity. Both forms are more or less chronic sadness that leads to ongoing unease with how things are — persistent feelings that the world as it is is not quite right, that it is a place of suffering, stupidity, and evil. Depression (as I see it, at least) causes apathy in the face of this unease, lethargy approaching total paralysis, an inability to feel much of anything one way or another. In contrast, melancholia (in my eyes) generates a deep feeling in regard to this same anxiety, a turbulence of heart that results in an active questioning of the status quo, a perpetual longing to create new ways of being and seeing.
Please know that I'm not attempting to minimize clinical depression. This is a very real dark shadow that sucks a person down into their own quiet hell. It is a straight jacket, the darkest night, a twisted tunnel of reality that is loathe to let a person go. Clinical depression requires therapy and medication and a lot of support.

This week's lows stem both from my melancholia and situational depression. What has happened to trigger this depressive state? I couldn't pinpoint one single event. I haven't changed jobs, ended a relationship. The only changes that have taken place in my life is that summer has moved into autumn and the two year mark of not working due to health issues has come and gone. I haven't worked in two years. I'm no closer to being able to work than I was then. In fact, I think things have worsened over the last few months.

That may be why I have sunk beneath the waters of melancholy and lay in the pool of short term depression.

Knowing what's going on within my body - physical, emotional, spiritual - means I'm more likely to be able to do something to help myself. Sometimes it's watching Doctor Who or Star Trek. Other times it's getting outside and being out in nature. Sometimes it's getting together with a good friend who loves me, quirks and all. Sometimes it's therapy.

Today, it was figuring out why I feel so low and then writing about it. I have named it. I can now regulate it (inside joke with Claire, but true nonetheless).

There are things I can do toward my health issues. I know this. I've been lax in doing many of them. I got tired of the supplements and the diet restrictions. I started to slip while on vacation in July and kept right on slipping once I got home. My sleep hygiene could use some tightening of routines. I could move my body more.

And I can let myself feel low, feel sadness, frustration, hopelessness. I can sit in these feelings and let them wash over me, through me. I can seek to answer what triggered this round of depression and increase my distress tolerance and my skills. I can let the emotions wash away a layer of myself that no longer fits.And  I can come out the other side being a bit better version of myself.

It's okay to feel low. To be melancholy. It's normal to be so thrown by a life event that you temporarily feel suffocated by depression. This doesn't make me a freak of nature, unlike what my brain continues to try to tell me. It makes me normal. It makes 

Photo by: Seth Stoll 

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Psych, Fibromyalgia, and Pain Mitigation

  1. Green tea lattes. Nuf said.
  2. Fresh spring flowers in the middle of September. 
  3. Two more days to finish binge watching Psych on US Netflix. 
It's a cool, grey, autumnal day here and Velcro Dog and I enjoyed a brief walk at the dog park. He walked. I read. It's a great system for the two of us. And no, I don't just read. I walk as well. Just not as many laps as Velcro Dog. I can read, and he can't. Don't judge!

What do you mean, Psych is going away? No!!!!!!!!!

We also did some snuggling while watching Psych. The poor dog is distraught at the thought that we won't be able to watch his favorite TV show ever again. He loves Lassiter and secretly has a thing for Shawn's mom. He doesn't think I know this, but it's obvious from the way his eyes get all dewy when he looks at her.  Shhh, don't tell him, but I have plans to purchase said show so we can enjoy it whenever we desire. That's me, a giver. 

Today also marks two weeks into a new medication for my fibromyalgia (FM). It's cutting edge stuff and several people I know who have tried it have great things to say. Some have reported significant results. I was hoping for some of these dramatic results for myself.  Sadly that hasn't been the case. Instead of a near miraculous recovery, little things have been changing. I had to take a breath, reign in my expectations, and instead of looking for the big changes, I needed to look for any changes. 

I am usually tired all the time. While this has not changed, I find the fog that accompanies the fatigue is occasionally better. Especially in the afternoons. While I wish the fatigue would lift, I'll take a positive change in fibro fog. 

Pain has been my constant companion for, oh, around thirty years. Sure, there's and ebb and flow to the pain. Different flavors for different seasons. But it's always been there, watching. Waiting. There was a t-shirt making the rounds on Facebook a few weeks ago. The shirt was black and on the back were these words: This Shirt Turns Black Whenever I Am In Pain. This awesome black t-shirt speaks for me. 

With this new medication, I'm still in a lot of pain, but I'm having moments where the pain doesn't spike as high or stretch out for as long. Moments, mind you. But I'll take them. 

It's only been two weeks and it's only minute changes, but I've lived with this pain for over half my life. And it's gotten worse in the last few years. I'll take minute changes for the better over worse any day. Especially if eventually I can buy a t-shirt like the one above in a color other than black. 

Monday, September 26, 2016

Cabins, Audio Books, And Revelations

  1. With autumn comes cooler weather and less humidity. For this, I am always grateful.
  2. Velcro Dog has come to terms with the fact that I can't be consistent when I walk him. I have thanked him for his understanding. He has deigned to allow me to snuggle with him.
  3. Psych is leaving US Netflix on October 1st. This is less a gratitude then it is a public service announcement. You're welcome.
Our anniversary was the end of last month. We try to go out of town on or near our anniversary. Usually it's to a cabin here in MN that is owned by Husband's family. And we usually only go up for a long weekend. Two years ago, right after I quit my day job, we started coming up for a week. It's amazing to be away from the city for a week and bask in the silky silence of  nature. This year was almost perfect.

Why wasn't it perfect? Basically because it rained more often then not. It felt rather soggy for the first three days of our vacation. Then the sun did shine. And it was glorious.

Oh glorious, sun filled day!
We spent time just staring at the lake. And listening to the sounds of nature around us. Birds. Breeze. Waves. Wind. Not a jet ski or speed boat in sight! I kinda want to go back  even though the temperatures will require a fire at night. Can anyone say S'Mores!

One of the things I really love to do at the cabin is listen to audio books. Husband knows this and has learned that if he doesn't want me to listen to one of my UF or romance novels, he had best not do anything to piss me off. I always have a romance queued up to one of the hotter sex scenes just so I can play it at a very loud volume just to torture him. I also have audio books that I know he might enjoy. I save these for vacations. Cuz I'm good like that.

For this trip I queued up Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson. If you don't know who this amazing woman is, go ahead and take a moment to peruse her website, Twitter, or Facebook page. Go on, I'll wait.

So Jenny Lawson is a journalist who also lives with mental illness. And is brutally honest about what it's like to live her life. I don't have a diagnosed mental illness, though I do have situational depression. I do have chronic health conditions that attempt to turn my brain against me. I can relate to many of Jenny's stories. Sometimes so much I cry because, dammit, someone gets it!

I had read Furiously Happy when it first came out and I loved it. I wanted to fan girl Ms. Lawson and stalk her on Facebook , but I resisted. Instead I threw money at Jenny by purchasing her book for many people and myself. Including the audio book. Jenny has since thanked me in person for buying so many copies of her book and we are now friends. Oh, wait. That was a dream. And it wasn't Jenny Lawson, it was Nora Roberts. I really need to keep my fandoms straight!

Hubs was so thankful he didn't have to listen to sexy time scenes he actually paid attention to Furiously Happy. He thought Jenny lived a very colorful life and thought she and I would be dangerous if we knew each other. Dangerously cool! (Hubs wishes to let you know that no, he didn't think we would be dangerously cool. More like dangerous to his health. I countered that we would be freaky cool. Hubs agrees we would be freaky. He's less sanguine about cool. I love him despite his lack of vision).

We laughed. I cried. Hubs learned.

There were a few times when we were in the car and Jenny was regaling us with her tales of living her life, and I burst into tears. Jenny was talking about spoons and how life often needs to look different because we don't have the unlimited number of spoons able people seem to have. I was crying because every fucking word she said was brilliant. All those words illustrated what I had been attempting to share with my friends and family (and husband) for years. And he got it. Hubs listened with his whole self. And. He. Got. It.

So I cried some more in relief because trying to explain what it is to live in my body has been like attempting to dance the most beautiful and intricate of modern dances and hoping that my non performing arts husband would magically understand what I was saying without the context of meaning and movement. Jenny was able to be herself as she wrote that chapter, and even more herself as she recorded it for the audio book. And Hubs connected.

He's been asking me about my spoons ever since. Sometimes I want to hit him with a spoon, but I far prefer he ask than ignore or not understand the fact that I have limited spoons every day and that means I have to make the hard choices every minute of every day on how I am going to spend those spoons. Because they don't renew until the next day. And sometimes, not even then.

Thank you, Jenny "Dangerously Cool" Lawson. Thank you! And if you ever want to hang out and discuss the merits of taxidermy animal rodeos, I'm here for you! As long as I have the spoons.

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

In Which Self Doubt is Kicked in the Balls

  1. Train. Just because. 
  2. My friend's daughters. They are true joy and I love being a part of their lives. 
  3. Grape chia kombucha. Don't judge.
In addition to fibromyalgia (FM) and a recent diagnosis of chronic migraines, I also have insomnia. It's not chronic, even when it feels like it. My particular brand of insomnia is likely a co-morbid condition linked to the FM. I'm in pain, so I can't sleep. I don't sleep well, so I'm in pain. And so on. Most nights I can sleep. It's not the best sleep on the planet, but it's still sleep. Then there are nights like tonight. 

I went to bed with Hubs at the regular time. Played a little Angry Birds Pop, read a little, then turned on the classical music and turned out the lights. 

Hubs was snoring within five minutes. Me? Tossing. Turning. Closing my eyes. Doing relaxation breathing. Tossing some more. Then finally getting out of bed after ninety minutes of doing everything I could think of to will myself to sleep. 

I wish I was sleeping like the dog. 

We have these lovely reclining Mission style chairs in the great room. It's pretty much the only good furniture we own. When I can't sleep and I don't want to stare at any type of screen (phone, tablet, computer, tv. You get the idea), I go to my reclining chair. I may bring a book. Or my journal. Or I may just converse with, well, whatever it is I figure I need to converse with. God. The characters in my head. Myself. 

Tonight I had no desire to journal and I couldn't locate the fiction novel I just started reading, so I went with door number three and conversed with what felt like every self doubt I have ever had. Or rather, self doubt decided to talk to me.  Loudly. In Surround Sound.

Yesterday, since it's now tomorrow, Twitter served up something very timely. Almost prophetic.  

Jeri Ryan, of Star Trek: Voyager fame, posted the above on Twitter and Facebook as her Monday Mantra. I happened to see, thought, "Hells, yeah! Let's kick self doubt in the balls!" and went about the rest of my day. I didn't really think anything about self doubt, kicking it in said balls, or how to keep going.  Then midnight comes. And goes. And I'm tired yet awake and frustrated because AWAKE! And that background noise that is made up of accusations and self doubt goes through an audio filter and the tracks clean up until I can hear with the clarity of Dolby Surround Sound all the accusations and doubts and fears. And I'm tired and vulnerable and start to argue. Even though my arguments are nonsensical because TIRED! 

And then in frustration and resignation I turn on my phone to check I don't even know what. And there it is. Twitter. Open to Ms. Ryan's tweet. My respite from the crazy making. 

And I kick that self doubt in the balls. Really fucking hard. I stand my ground. I remind myself of all the things I have going for me. All the affirmations anyone has ever shared with me. I open the email thread from 2008 when I was laid off from a job I kinda enjoyed working with people I really loved and admired and reread all the positive things they told me about me. And I drank it in like a fine wine. And I kicked that self doubt where it would hurt the most. 

I am. 

That's it. I. Am. 

As long as I exist, there is the potential of doing better. Of overcoming. Of moving forward instead of backward. I. Am. 

The commentary, it's background noise again. I remain awake, and am now staring at a screen writing this post and then potentially writing more on my WIP. Or I may try for a couple of hours sleep before I head out to breakfast and super fun time shopping with a friend. 

Doesn't matter. I'll take being exhausted over being a puddle of self doubt and misery any day.