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Sunday, June 12, 2011

Many, Many More Starts

 The cursor blinked on the screen in front of me. I read the words that I'd taken from fragments and pieced together into a coherent whole yet again. And still the cursor blinked at me mockingly. I thought about what I should do and yet I had no answers. I read the words again - it was my life that appeared before me on the screen, but even though I'd lived it, the words shocked me a little. I discovered a tear streaking down my cheek, yet more tears in a year that was filled with them.

I couldn't read those words again, so by impulse I pushed the publish button and there it was, my thoughts on a blog that with a little work anyone could find. It would take work though, and if I told no one, no one would know it was me.

So now I stared at a screen that contained my first published entry and somehow I had survived that little impulse. And I read the words again as they appeared in the new format and I cried once more.  I had felt myself regressing for a few weeks. I was no where near the level of the woman that appeared on the post, but I was in more than a funk, I was depressed again. All my work, all my struggle and all I'd really done was walk in a circle back to the starting line. I couldn't be that girl on the page again, I just couldn't. I wouldn't. And surprise, again there were tears.

And as I cried I felt a nagging at the corners of my mind that told me what I needed to do, but I had no idea why it was telling me to do that. I couldn't do what it was telling me, no way, no how. But the mind is a mysterious machine and it kept circling back to the same answer. My stomach was in knots. The tears were endless. And yet the answer to my dilemma seemed to be the same.

And so I stared again at the computer screen and I let my finger hover one last moment over the key. Should I? Could I? And then with a collective "f" it, I hit the share on facebook button. It was done, I could take it back, but not ever be entirely sure that no one would have read it. What was done, was done. I emailed a link to the blog to a few of my friends. I'd done it. I had no idea why, but I had. I'd shared the story of my breakdown and my diagnosis with the people in my world. For better or worse everyone that choose to read it would know that I was a mess. The facade was gone, the acting done - I was now a bulimic with severe depression that had sunk so low that I had at times not gotten out of bed and wondered if life was worth carrying on with any longer. Maybe no one would read it.

But then the responses began and I was overwhelmed again, but not in the way that I had expected. The words were not ones I would have used: "bold," "beautiful," "well-written," "brave," "honest," "wow," "strong," "inspired," "eloquent" ... Was this really words people were using to describe me and what I'd written? I wasn't any of those things. I didn't feel like I was any of them either. My inbox kept receiving messages from people that offered their own personal stories, ones that they weren't usually sharing with the world.  I was overwhelmed. I read every comment and email with tears in my eyes. I had no idea the response would be like this.

And spurred on by the kind, eloquent, bold words from my honest, strong and inspired friends, I began to write about what happened next and after that and on and on it went. Talking about the experience in a coffee shop with a friend one day, I made the connection about why I needed to do what I did that day. I now understood the nagging voice. I now knew why I had to not only write, but share my story with the world. I'd talked, contemplated and preached the gospel of being real, of revealing myself to the world, of finally being me with the people that mattered and this was my way of doing that. And in the process it was the last step of my therapy to get me past this phase in my life. And in discovering that I always knew there would be an end. Eventually I'd catch up with life and a lot of my secrets would be out there for all to see. I was no longer embarrassed to be struggling - I'd learned that there were a lot of people in the world, my world, that were or did or had - I wasn't special, I was one of many.

And now people know the story. They know me. They know my demons. And still after all of that they are my friends. I don't have to hide anymore.

And so I face the next adventure and I get another start. I get to face the beginning ... once again.

Friday, June 10, 2011

The Brain is the Most Fragile Organ

One, two, three, four times and I caught myself .

"What are you doing?," I asked. "Don't let yourself go down this path again," I scolded. And then a small nagging voice in the corner of my mind said "See, you knew that you'd never be better."

But at least this time I noticed the signs and it didn't take me so long to see them. I tried to cling to that small ray of hope - now I know where I don't want to be and the small signs that I might go down that path again. And where did I discover all this? On a gray late January day as I lay in bed still in my pajamas at 3 p.m. And what did I discover? I realized that I was again sleeping all day and evading life. If I had something to do I would dress and get out of bed and happily migrate into the world, but if the day wasn't filled with an adventure I stayed in bed and slept and slept and slept.

The first day that I didn't get out of bed I figured I just wasn't feeling well.  I think I used the same excuse the second instance as well. I wasn't really fooling myself that time. And after a period of insomnia I didn't dwell on the indiscretion too much, until I realized that it didn't change the fact that sleeping all day was no better than never sleeping either.

So, on the fourth day, I gave myself a mental slap - "Wake up!," I said. "Don't slide down this path again."

And so I drug myself from my bed, forced myself to put on some clothes and I sat my weary body on the sofa and I forced myself to write out what was distressing me. There were so many things that streamed out of my mind as my fingers tapped out the words on the keyboard. Seeing them made a difference. They helped me sort out the mess that was stirring around in my mind. The clutter took order as my thoughts crept out of my brain, through my fingertips and onto the screen of my laptop. And as it had so many times in my life, the writing made me feel better. And as I had marveled in the past, the brain really is so complicated and so fragile and so adaptable and so strong all at the same time; and in it is all the answers when we look for them.

So now staring back at me were a mass of words and run-on sentences. Clearly reasoned statements stared back at me from among a rubble fragments. All of it reflective of what was keeping me in bed. All of it the remnants of my overly cluttered mind. And what I knew was that no amount of thinking or talking or musing would ever replace the writing process for me - nothing organized the thoughts that I didn't know I had in the same way as writing them down did. Nowhere else did my brain seem to make the same connections with the past, present and future as it did when it was composing my thoughts.

And simple as that - my reasons for staying in bed and sleeping away my life again - were staring back at me.

So much had happened to me in such a relatively short amount of time, this regression should not have been unexpected really. In six months I had had a major breakdown brought about from the bottom finally falling out of major depressive disorder that I'd suffered for more than a year. I finally faced head-on that I was more than an emotional eater - I had a full-blown eating disorder. I had finally given up all my trepidations and stereotypes about people that went through therapy and visited one myself. I'd met, lost and then restored a friendship with someone that had somehow accepted me for me. I had separated myself from an abusive relationship - my job. I had contemplated life's most difficult questions. I had started a jewelry business. I had decided what I wanted to be when I grew up. I had started to slowly let people in my life see the real me. I had publicly declared a year of me which had pressure all of it's own with which to live up. I was learning how to react productively when people said horrible things to me that in the past I would have internalized. I was looking at the beginning of a new freelancing venture which frightened me. I was financially unstable since I hadn't been working much. I had committed that I would move to a new city by the end of the summer. I had expected that I would have, even in this tough economy, to have found my dream career already. I was even sure that there was more, but looking at all I'd faced and encountered in the recent past, I realized that I had to give myself a break - I was doing the best that I could during a period of great transition in my life.

But from all of that one thing stood out most in all that I had typed. I looked back at it and thought about how the mind is really a miraculous mystery that hides sometimes from us so much and yet reveals it when we are ready to see it.

"I finally like myself enough to care that there was a small sign that I might be slipping back into depression."

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Year of Me

I needed a plan - pure and simple.
Barely hanging on ...

As the weather turned cold I was starting to feel a sort of desperation about life in general again. Holidays were approaching, jobs were not materializing, a few important relationships rested on shaky ground and my mighty demons seemed poised for a resurgence. I refused to live in the sinking world I had for so long. I wasn't going to be drug back into that hole this time without a fight. So I started to devise a strategy - one that took me from where I was, where I wanted to end up and accounted for a lot of variables in between. So as a plan began to form for what I wanted to accomplish in the next year I knew that I only needed to ask and those that were important to me would help me along the path. I had such incredible people in my life, they showed me that time and again, and yet I never asked them for guidance. Help was something I gave, but didn't request. But, the more and more I contemplated what to do next, the more I knew that I needed to face some of the fears I had about leaning on people and asking for assistance.

A new year always seems like a perfect time for renewal, for a chance at a clean slate, for leaving the past behind, for looking forward. The year before I'd made an attempt at the resolution game. I'd even exchanged my short, but lofty list with a few people thinking it would inspire me to stick to the game - and yet I hadn't. So I searched back in my email and found my simple list of five things

  1. Get Healthy;
  2.  Find a job I love;
  3. Find my center (something that makes me happy and fulfilled and also leads to nothing but relaxation);
  4. Practice spontaneity (stop over-analyzing everything, every time);
  5. Don't neglect relationships.

That day I looked back on that list for the first time in many months. I was surprised by how in some strange ways I'd accomplished them, but not in the way or path that I would have imagined. The cliche "what a difference a year makes" was apropos. But, I still didn't know what I was going to do with that information. I started thinking about how I wanted my next year to look - if my resolutions were going to magically come true (even in unexpected or not always welcome ways), then I needed to plan out this year's list very carefully. And one of the items that I knew needed to be on the list was clear - be honest - but how to accomplish that was not as clear.  I made my first small attempt by acknowledging, even before the new year, how difficult my year had been and how much I'd learned that there were some incredible people in it that I didn't recognize enough. So I wrote my own version of a holiday letter. I acknowledged the resolutions and how I arrived at them and then I did what I could with words to let people know their importance:

For every one of you that realized, recognized and remedied my year - I thank you from the bottom of my heart. I wish more than anything that I could give you all a gift that would show you how much you all mean to me. A gift from my heart and soul, because those of you receiving this are truly some of the best, most remarkable people on earth. You all mean the world to me - maybe more than you even know. My Christmas gift to you all this year though has to be a simple one of words:
This holiday my gift to you is a wish for peace, love, happiness and surprises of the best kind in the year to come. May you accomplish your list and find people with which to share in the glory of such accomplishments. I love each and every one of you for the distinct and important role in which you play in my life.
-With all the love and thanks in my heart -me
It was a small start on the path to honesty. I knew I had a lot farther to go, but it felt good to make a move in the right direction.

 With one week until the new year I devised my job hunting plan, I read and researched the best way to find solid, full-time employment in the tough job market of today, I contacted the few networking contacts that I had and I wrote a second letter that this time contained more honesty and my plans for the year:
Happy New Year to the Most Incredible People in the World that every day make my life a little brighter, "funner," more tolerable, enviable and very much worth living.

As you flip the calendar from 2010 to 2011 I have a few simple, but important wishes for you all:
In 2011 may you experience all that you hope for, long for, wish for and want.
May you always look in your mirror and see an incredible person that you want to be.
May others look at you and delight in the fabulous person that they see.
May you learn to love yourself faults and all.
May you find or continue to delight in a person that looks beyond those faults and loves you all their heart anyway.
May you see the beauty of the world and humanity all around you.
May you be blind to the darkness and never experience inhumanity in the world.
And most of all, I hope that you will always be an important person in my life.

Much love & happiness to you for the coming year. - me

P.S. I've declared 2011 my year & I hope you'll come along for the ride as I rock it!

And so as I pressed send on my computer I was petrified to share with everyone that it was the year of me. It was a lofty goal to declare. What if I didn't live up to the mission? What if it didn't turn out to be my year? What if I didn't "rock it." But in the end I realized that it was also liberating to share my thoughts, it was good to have people who would remind me in the days to come that it was my year and most of all it was a joy to know that there were people that really would be along for the ride.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Coming into Focus

A few years ago one of my friends, knowing that she inevitably needed glasses, had asked me to go along with her to her appointment. Since I needed to go as well I scheduled an appointment for both of us and for some reason of misunderstanding on the part of staff they had separated us into different rooms. So I listened from across the hall as the optician asked "which is better 1 or 2, now a or b ..." And then I heard my friend tell her that wow that one is really bad to which the doctor replied "honey, that's your own eyes we are done with the exam." And as many times as that story has been used as a punch line it holds a more profound lesson - in the midst of things sometimes we only realize how bad things are when we are coming out on the other side. Once things begin to come into focus we look back and think "wow, my vision / life really was blurry beyond what I realized." And as I began facing the holiday season and the coming new year that's what I began to discover - I was flipping between the "a's" and "b's" and the "1's" and "2's" and I was finally seeing that my life was coming into focus again. With the new prescription for living the way I wanted to and a new attitude I was coming out on the other side of a great depression.
 
Slowly through coffees and dinners with friends, phone calls, emails and the like I was beginning to tell more and more people where I had been and I how I was pulling myself up from it to become the new, improved me. I wasn't where I needed to be yet and I wasn't selling my story to the world, but as it came up or if people asked the right questions I wasn't hiding the facts anymore. And slowly in that time I was beginning to value the people that were in my life. No matter how many mistakes I had made or how far I'd fallen into depression during the years I had done a pretty good job of surrounding myself with some very incredible people. One of the things that I'd resolved to do was to try to be one of those people that offered the option of a helping hand for anyone that needed to take it. If only once in my life I was the person that was there when someone most needed it without knowing that I had made a difference on a day they needed it I would meet my goal, but hopefully I'd do even better than that.
So as Thanksgiving neared I decided I needed to reflect on the things that I was actually thankful for this year. And when I looked at my life - jobless, moneyless and still a little mindless - what I saw the most was a lot of incredible people that had no idea what things they had done - small and large - to help me through all of which I had been encountering. And as I thought about how special some of the things they had done were, even when they didn't realize that they were even doing what I most needed, I decided in the spirit of the day I needed to thank a lot of them. Sometimes it was as simple as a funny comment someone uttered that made me smile when I no longer realized that I could. Or it was a group rallying to my side when I'd said I had a bad day - not asking for anything in return - but just letting me know that I had a cheering section. Or it was someone sitting across from me at a table at a coffee shop exploring where are lives where going as we communicated our thoughts and fears and admiration  as her kids played around us obviously bored with our longwindedness, but not abandoning me when she knew I needed the confident. Or an out-of-the-blue text that just said someone was thinking about me.  And sometimes it was someone telling me without any thought or reservation that if I needed to I had a home with him, he'd never let me be homeless.
So, as the blurriness was fading and I was reflecting more and more I went through my list of friends and thought about what each and everyone of them meant to me. And I composed a short email to share with them on Thanksgiving since it seemed the natural day to thank people. It was a small start to acknowledging where I was and how close I was to finally "seeing" again.
And so I sent the following Thanksgiving letter to a selection of people that may or may not have known what I was experiencing. For many of them they would have no idea what was really inspiring my thoughts, but I still felt like it was the first step that I needed to take in  acknowledging the gifts that people had given me and  in coming clean about where I was, who I was and where I was going. And so I quickly  pressed the send key before I started to focus too much and chicken out. It wasn't like I was telling the world that I was sick, even though my mind was, but it was a step to telling some people that might not guess that my life had not been easy the past year. 
" It was a struggle this year when facing a day dedicated to giving thanks when there has been so much to be despondent about this year. It inspires more contemplation, more soul-searching and more digging to find something for which you can say - 'for this I am truly happy.' But in all actuality I shouldn't have had to look far, because in this time I've discovered that sometimes there are people that you would never have known could be so wonderful. New people appear in your life when you need them most, old friends decide to pick that time to reconnect and the friends that have been there all along lend more support than they realize.

So, on this day of thanks, I want each of you to know that my list this year may be small, but the gift that is there is far greater than any for which I could hope. For, that inventory, well it's filled with each of you that make my days in ways that you know and may not even fathom.

Thank you all for being the people that you are and for being the people that I need.

I love you all for the strength, hope and support you provide me. I only hope that one day I will be able to repay the favor in even a small way.
...
Happy Thanksgiving Everyone! "
It was only a start to telling the truth - to seeing how out of focus I had been - but it was a start and sometimes just beginning to see the letters and shapes and colors and numbers with only a little blurriness around the edges has to count for something. Some days seeing how bad your vision was and how good it can be is the best gift you can be given and I was thankful that the fuzzy edges were beginning to become clear again. It was like I'd too taken an eye exam and I was just waiting for those new, perfect lenses to arrive.

Friday, April 22, 2011

The Dawn of Friendship

 I've often felt like I wandered through life without friends. I never had a difficult time meeting or talking with people. I was not shy. I could usually find a group in which to fit regardless of the situation. But for most of my life I have felt like I have seldom had friends. Many of the times it was my own doing - I'd shove people away, guilt them in ways that I knew would make them want to escape or I'd ignore them knowing that they would move on and not look back. Several times though I would be in a group of people and I would feel like they were humoring me and I wasn't privy to the joke. I'd often choose not to do things with people just to avoid that very sad feeling. Even the few people that I would identify as my best and closest friends were not exempt from this - I would feel like even they would take short breaks from me to spend time with friends that were less exhausting and more together. And often times these very same people would tell me their deepest darkest secrets and I'd listen and talk with them and rush to their aid, but I never felt like I could do the same. I'd stand surrounded by a group that looked very much like my friends and all I would see was that I was alone. And so I started a habit of holding back a lot of what I thought and felt - always keeping some part of me private from almost everyone.

The first time I recall feeling like this was in the middle of a slumber party in elementary school. Somewhere in the middle of all the fun I remember looking around and thinking that no one liked me. There were no adverse words said, no overt action, but somewhere between the gossip, the 45s playing Karma Chameleon on the record player and the game of truth or dare I felt alone. That moment was so clear to me - one moment I was dancing around singing and the next I was overcome with a profound sadness. Sometimes I would exist for long periods of time where I would feel accepted by those people that I called friends, but suddenly the feelings would drift over me and again I would experience that desolate feeling. Sometimes I would go months and months without feeling this way. Other times I would shift between thinking someone may or may not be a friend from minute to minute.

During the year I was in eighth grade I was acutely aware that no one could stand me. I felt like I had one friend and although I would express a few of these feelings to her I mostly kept them to myself - I feared that exposing the truth that no one liked me would make her question why she might and I'd lose the only person with which I felt comfortable. At lunch I'd sit in a group with my "friends," I'd bring extra staples of the same meal I'd eat day in and day out for one of the members of my group that I though only liked me for that reason. And even though I'd talk with these friends, even though they would call me on the phone or return my calls, even though one might invite me to spend the night or we'd get ready to attend a dance together I still felt friendless. It wasn't logical but to me it was true.

This pretty much continued on throughout high school. If you had asked me a few years ago I would have told you that I didn't have any friends during those four years. I had people that I talked with in class or in the halls, I had a lunch table where I sat with people and laughed about things that I can no longer remember until tears spilled from my eyes, but I was convinced that none of them liked me all that much. And yet if you peruse my photo albums there are pictures there of me smiling in groups of people looking happy as can be. My yearbooks are signed by people that wrote personal memories and left their numbers so that we would never lose touch - they weren't simple names or generic messages scrawled on the pages out of obligation from the person that handed you their yearbook. I had a collection of senior pictures from various people. But I spent almost no time outside of school with any of these people and I'm pretty sure that no one noticed.  And yet as much as I often hurt inside I never turned to any of these people and told them how scared or lonely I was feeling.

And so during the summer between high school and college I worked and meticulously checked items off my list as I packed things to escape to college. There I told myself I would finally have friends, the kind where I wouldn't feel so lonely in their presence. I would finally have people that I wasn't so afraid of losing that I was never myself. I made friends but it took me until the middle of my freshman year to feel like I'd finally found my group. And most of the time I felt like I had friends. I could walk down the hall and hang out in someone's room and have the deep philosophical discussions that you do in college. My freshman year we established traditions - Wednesday nights we'd order pizza and watch Doogie Howser and just laugh and talk on the one night that we reserved for noting else. My sophomore year the group of us that did not study abroad lived through my roommate turning on all of us and declaring how immoral we were. They rallied to my side when I didn't get the job at the newspaper that I wanted so badly as they made me laugh through my tears at Bonnie Doon's. We took road trips and we sat to all hours of the night and talked about everything and nothing. My junior year we were a fixture in the basement smoking lounge as we played countless games of euchre to avoid studying and talked about all manner of topics. We had all countless inside jokes that I still remember to this day. A small group of us were inseparable. When we weren't together it was almost shocking to anyone that knew us. I had a still larger circle of good friends that I could turn to if needed and yet I never did - I was the together one and yet I was always on the brink of not being so even though no one knew it. My room even somehow became the party room. When I entered my senior year I did so knowing that it would be both a continuation of the fun and also bittersweet because in the end we would all part ways - hopefully forever friends but still spread out across the country. And that beginning of the year was everything I had hoped it would be. Football games, nights out at the Linebacker where I wore as many Long Island Iced Teas as I drank and long nights in the offices of the newspaper dominated my days. I suffered along with all my friends through my senior comprehensive. It holds some of my favorite stories of all time - one of mashed potatoes; one that contains Sean Astin, Vince Vaughn, Notre Dame football players and the premiere of Rudy; one with a cute boy in a blue shirt; one of a mouse, a trap and my hammer and one of the Griswold's house come to life. 

And then when I returned to school second semester of my senior year it all came crashing down. One of my roommates dropped out of school, the other was occupied with her fiance and again I was all alone in a very large room. And so the long streak of feeling like I had friends ended abruptly. And I retreated. I went to class, I went to work and I hid out in my room. I largely ignored my other friends unless they actively sought me out. I'd spend the nights when I would normally be with my friends either holed up at the newspaper working or in front of the television. And there were a few days when I wouldn't get out of bed for more than a few minutes a day. And no one noticed. All the people that I thought were my friends had no clue that for the first time in three years I was again dying inside. And I hated myself for believing that I could have friends for so long - I should have known that eventually the bottom would fall out. And I never sought anyone out to tell any of this. I figured it was a good ride and I was back to being the me that I would always be. 

And so I graduated. And again I posed on the lawn with groups of friends and smiled in pictures. And still as difficult as the second semester had been I was still sad to leave. For one of the first times in my life I had made genuine friends. Ones that I had shared some of those dark fears inside of me. Ones that saw the hurt inside of me when I wasn't even admitting it to myself. I had still held back a lot but most of the time I was me and that is why for the first time in my life I felt accepted and loved by people that were not related to me. I was sure that I would keep in touch with these friends even after we all moved away. Graduation night I went out with friends and looked around and realized that I didn't believe I'd ever have this again. College was not the world and it just seemed like it was the only environment where I would get friendship right. And as we toasted graduation and our futures and all the promise that we believed that we held I was happy for my accomplishment and sad all the same. I wasn't sure I was ready to face the real world. I didn't want to leave this group of people that knew me better than anyone ever had. And so the next day as I loaded the last box into the car and took that first ride as an alumna down The Avenue and back to the world that was always so much of a mystery to me I let the tears roll down my eyes and said goodbye to that very good chapter of my life.

And so I entered the long stretch of my life where I isolated myself and just stopped living. I could act with the best of them, but if I let my mind wander I realized that I really didn't have anyone. And the one person that had been a constant in my life for so many years - well I even stopped talking much to her. I'd email sporadically a few friends from college but there was so little on which to catch them up that I just avoided it all together. I carried on and talked to people at work but I'd go home and escape into a book or television and not really do much of anything. It almost just seemed like it was easier to not have to worry about maintaining friendships at all since so much of the time I didn't really feel like the people liked me anyway. And so I moved from day to day to day in the loneliness and isolation with which I protected myself.

And years and years passed. People would invite me places and I'd figure out a reason not to be there. Or I'd feign that I might make it knowing that I would never even try. Life just stretched on in front of me and none of it seemed like it was worth the effort. I would be there for any person that asked for aid from me - I'd listen, I'd rally, I'd help - but I never let them see that I needed the same in return. Life just seemed easier that way.

So when I finally decided that I would make changes reestablishing friendships was high on my list. I wrote long emails to those that I had touched base with from time to time. And I started making an effort. And when people asked me to do things I would show up and I found myself even initiating plans. And it felt good to surround myself with people again. The more and more people that I reconnected with that more I began to realize that either we had all changed a lot or that maybe the contempt and hate that I imagined that all these people had felt for me had been just that - imaginary. I wondered if I had been wrong all along - maybe people didn't think I was as awful of a person as I did. Maybe the loneliness that I felt was more about me and my perceptions than reality. 

When I began the slide into depression I kept that fact and those feelings very private, but I didn't push away or abandon my friends this time. And even though I wasn't leaning on them when I needed them most I found that they still seemed to support me and hold me up in ways that helped me cope for as long as I had. And as much as I now felt that most of these people actually liked me and the person that I was I still was embarrassed of how they might react to my depression so I kept it pretty private from most of those closest to me. But once I began my treatment and had met someone that I was so real with and they didn't run I decided that I would begin to test the waters. And so slowly when the situation warranted it I began to share a little more about me - and no one ran. 

And I began to realize something - I had offered up the advice several times that those that really mattered, those people that were really your friends - they would be there through it all. It wouldn't matter to them that you were politically liberal if they weren't, they wouldn't be offended if your view of spirituality didn't match their own, they wouldn't care if one time you said something that seemed insensitive because they would know you well enough to know that you valued them. Those that were offended and turned away, well they weren't the people that valued you or your friendship to begin with anyway. I hadn't taken my own advice to heart, but I was beginning to do so. I finally was coming face to face with a reality that I should have discovered for myself much earlier - people don't often surround themselves with people that they don't like. They don't seek out the advice of people if they don't respect. They don't spend hours talking to someone that they can't stand. Yes, there are times and places where people pretend, but in most instances they don't carry on the guise if it is not something they don't need to do. And if you aren't really you, if you hold back from those people that you call your friends you are only damaging yourself. If you don't talk out your problems, your fears, your insecurities and your successes then you are the one responsible for not being the type of friend that you should be because friendship is a two-way street. Friends are friends - they are the people that you choose to keep in your life - they say something about the person that you are and the person that you want to be. And for so long I had surrounded myself with the best kinds of people and I had not felt worthy of being in their circle and so I felt lonely. But, as I began to accept myself, as I began to let people know me I finally felt again like I had a circle of friends - the best of the best - and if I never accomplished anything else in my life but this I was still pretty blessed.






Thursday, April 14, 2011

Eyes Wide Open

There is a strange world that lurks during the hours when most people sleep. I had known nothing of this world really. It's filled with people that chat on the computer during the wee hours of the morning or post on facebook about how they can't sleep only to find several friends that respond about how they too are awake. On the television it's filled with programs like ABC's World News Now where you can watch the stories of the goings on in the world peppered with the anchors joking that their demographic is mothers with nursing babies, people that work overnight shifts in hospitals and insomniacs. And now this world had a new member in its posse - me.

Never in my life had I suffered sleepless nights. I was always the person that seemed to suffer more from  hypersomnia if anything. But here I was - night after night - and sleep eluded me. I'd often find myself able to drift off somewhere around 6 a.m., sometimes 7 a.m. and two hours later I'd be up again for the day. I was walking through life in a fairly exhausted state but no matter what time of day I couldn't seem to find sleep for more than a few hours at a time. And so my "nightly" sleep and sometimes a short afternoon nap was pretty much the extent of what I could seem to achieve. So I was functioning each day on anywhere from two to four hours of broken sleep and it went on and on and on, day after day after day.

And so every night I was left alone with only my thoughts - and the less I slept that more self-defeating they seemed to become. I'd even stopped venturing much to the confines of my bedroom. It was much better for me to pass out exhausted on my sofa watching television or staring at my laptop then it was to lie in bed with my eyes wide open as I silently cried. And the tears were numerous as I kept thinking about how hopeless the present and the future currently looked - again.

I wasn't in the dark about at least part of the origin of this phenomenon - my anxiety about possibly losing an important friendship, the cancer scare of another, wondering if I'd find employment and financial apprehensions were all weighing on my mind. Add to that the side effect from my medication, that before this had only been mild sleeplessness that had robbed me of an hour or two of my normal, and I was now a walking poster child for how insomnia develops.

And so here I sat again - wide awake - as the hours ticked away. My thoughts were not the best companion. I was petrified of how quickly my life had seemed to be coming together and how rapidly it now seemed to be falling back apart. Those few hours when my body would become so exhausted that it fell into a slumber were blissful. When I'd look at the clock an hour or two later, weary but awake, I would curse what was happening to me. And then again there would be new tears - this time in frustration.

Eventually I fell into some unhealthy patterns. That is more unhealthy than merely not sleeping -ever. First, I started to eat and never anything healthy. For two months I had never turned to my familiar comfort of food and the results were evident in looser clothes and a smaller number on the scale. Now the allure of things that were bad for me was too great. It was at least something to do to get through the boredom. And deep down I knew that it was really worse than I was admitting. I'd stare at my phone waiting for it to ring and when it didn't I'd find myself mindlessly eating as I cried. I felt my heart breaking in the absence of one of my best friends. I was filling the space with my long-time friend - food - which wasn't as worthy a companion, but it was the one that was there by my side at the time. And then once I'd contemplate what I had just done I'd hate myself and my weakness even more.

I needed something that would occupy me throughout the nights. I had no energy, so it had to be something non-strenuous. And I still had little concentration so it couldn't be complex. Those parameters left very few options.

Eventually I found a friend to chat with that worked overnight monitoring a system server that pretty much had very little work to do other than being there to prevent a disaster and running a report in the early morning. We'd often fill the hours instant messaging until he left at 4 a.m. and I tried to find something to do to pass the rest of the night. He finished work at 6 a.m. and most of the time I'd still be awake to see him log off. We even played a somewhat risky game - where we'd tempt fate by talking about non-work friendly issues using euphemism and descriptions to fool the serve that only scanned for key words in employee correspondence. But he didn't work every night. And so as the rest of the world slept I searched for another insomniac. What I found was a graduate student up one night studying and taking a brief break.  He held my interest enough in my sleep-deprived state and so I started talking to him more and more as the days passed but I wasn't really invested in it. It wasn't kind or fair of me to occupy the time of someone that I knew wouldn't turn into anything. I didn't like the person that wasn't being completely honest with herself in the situation - deep down I knew that he was thinking as more time passed that I was no longer just talking to him because I couldn't sleep and I took advantage of that. The hours that I occupied talking with him were ones that I didn't need to occupy myself.  And so the guilt also began to build to join the exhaustion, the anxiety and everything else that seemed to be swirling around inside my mind.

 And the less I slept the more incomplete I began to feel again. My exhaustion was robbing me of more than my energy. I was trying to fill a void in my life, but anything I found to fill it was fleeting. It would do in the moment, but it didn't last beyond that. And as much as I hated to admit it that just made everything worse. Trying to filling my life with meaninglessness made me feel hollow. Knowing that I could only find things that held little value for me made me feel worse about myself. I was recognizing the pattern.

I was watching myself slide backward but I couldn't stop it.

And the timing of this slide could not have been worse - I had to stop therapy because I no longer had insurance and sadly on the balance sheet it counted more as a luxury than a necessity. And then the one person in my life that had told me he didn't understand why I needed therapy - that he would always be there for me whenever I needed it no matter what time it was or how silly I thought that need might be - well, he wasn't answering my calls. I was lost and I was too tired to figure out where the path was to return to sanity.

Try as I might I didn't know how to solve any of my issues. And if I could figure out how to sleep again I might clear my mind just enough to discover some answers, but sleep would just not come. The only thing that I could seem to do was cry. I had mastered the tears.

Days turned into weeks. Then the weeks turned into a month. And soon enough it was time to turn the page one more month on the calendar. And as time continued to pass I still could not sleep. And now I couldn't even concentrate enough to count sheep if I wanted. I felt like I was heading into the territory of an entirely new type of crazy - one where my eyes were wide open but couldn't see through the fog.

Even though I was exhausted the days were easier. During the daytime hours I could make phone calls to friends, go to lunch with my mom, meet a friend for coffee or just browse through the aisles of a store. I had things to occupy and distract me. At night I was alone. And even after I'd forged the shaky treaty with my friend and learned that my loved one didn't have cancer, sleep still evaded me. I was frustrated, pure and simple, with the fact that I couldn't sleep.

I found new ways to occupy my time - I worked endlessly on jewelry and my etsy site in the wee hours of the morning. I researched and investigated marketing techniques. I read job searching blogs, googled companies that I wanted to target and filled out job applications. And still even though I felt horrible about it I kept talking to the person that I should not have.

And still - I COULD NOT SLEEP. It had now been three months since I'd really had a decent night's slumber. The first time I found myself sleeping more than two hours in a night was when I was hit with a nasty flu bug - the flu or no sleep - if someone had asked me to choose I wasn't sure that I wouldn't have chosen a few more days of the flu. But the bug passed and so did my tentative pattern of sleep. I couldn't keep living like this - I was starting to resemble the walking dead.

And then that day came when I talked again with my friend that I'd almost lost. We talked a lot that night. Words that were exchanged surprised me. There was so much misunderstanding that had taken place. I had been laying across my bed that night when we hung up the phone in the early morning hours late in January and almost immediately I fell asleep. And for the first time since the beginning of October I awoke nine hours later. I didn't believe the numbers that looked out at me from my ipod dock. I picked up my phone and checked the time on it and sure enough it was not a joke - I had slept.

I couldn't be this simple right? After months of not sleeping one phone call could not an insomniac cure - could it?

With the clarity of my non-sleep depraved mind I thought that I might need to wait a few days to make sure that it wasn't just a fluke. But that night I climbed into bed at a decent hour when I felt tired and I drifted off to sleep pretty easily and woke up seven hours. And the next night - sleep. And it carried on into the next week.

And now that I wasn't wading through the days and nights with weary wide open eyes I had time to really stop and examine why I had stopped sleeping. I tried on a few theories and mulled them over for days at a time before I reached my conclusion - that talk had cleared my mind. I'd said the things that I needed to say not only to him, but about me. I'd shared my proud and not so proud moments. I told him how scared I was that I hadn't really found work yet. I worked out for the first time in words the plan I'd been contemplating on the job front. I'd told him how anxious I'd been about the cancer and how worried I still was. I talked and been real and vulnerable. I'd laid everything out there, listened to the responses, discussed the possibilities and heard someone say some really kind words about me. Eventually I would learn something more from this, but for now I knew that not sleeping had been about something more than a few bad things befalling me. And for now that and actually sleeping again would have to be enough.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

How the Mighty Have Fallen

I'd been a master at carefully packaging the person that I presented to the world including the people that I counted as my closest friends and confidants. There was usually surprise when I told someone what had been happening. No one suspected the depth of my unhappiness, despondence and depression and that I had slowly been robbed of my self-esteem and self-worth.

But then something happened and I showed a glimpse of what I had been hiding inside. From that very small lapse two very special, wonderful people noticed and sent messages to check in on me. It was one of the nicest things that anyone had ever done. Two people, that at the time were not my closest friends, saw something and they just wanted to make sure that I was both all right and that I knew they were there if I wasn't.

When I first started my slide I'd  been hyper-aware of putting up the front that all was fine and then once I admitted to myself that I wasn't all right I began improving and saw the value in the power of positive thinking. I'd been very careful what I posted in the world of social media to keep up the act; I didn't want to be one of "those" people that never had anything positive or humorous to say even when inside I felt neither uplifted nor funny. But then two things happened that took me by surprise and all the progress that I made was sidetracked and the cracks began to show and that was what two very astute women noticed.

I was positive that I was on the right path for the first time in a long time. I was feeling good about things, including myself. I was beginning to feel like a person again. And then I had what can best be termed a misunderstanding with a very dear friend and it threw me for a loop. A few days later news was delivered that someone that I loved likely had cancer. So while I was able to disguise things for so long this is what tested my acting skills. This is what their very keen, intuitive selves were noticing in me. And when I read their emails with tears in my eyes, thinking how much it meant to me that they would take the time to offer help, all I could keep thinking was oh, how my mighty self had yet again fallen. I had let these incidents derail me. And there I was lying on the tracks trying to figure out whether or not I had survived and two hands came from out of nowhere when I was sure that I would be left for dead to help lift me up back onto my feet. There is not one part of me that won't always have a special place in my heart for those two angels of sorts that offered aid. Hit from out of nowhere with this possibility that I had destroyed one of my most important relationships, and then with the thought that I might lose yet one more person to cancer, I was right back at rock bottom wondering if it might just not be better to accept my fate that I would never figure it out or get it right or be a good enough person to deserve love and friendship; I would just never be happy. It wasn't that I felt "why me," it was more like "why bother, nothing really matters, I always end up back at start." And yet their gesture of caring was so simple and pure that I had to see that it meant something more. I had to face what was happening and figure out how to either fix it or grieve the loss and let go.


While one of my great skills is that I'm a master debater of sorts -I'd aced my college course in argumentation and  I'd never faced a intellectual match in which I couldn't hold my own - I was not a fighter in anything but the academic sense. When someone chose to exit my life I pretty much let them leave. A lot of the time I pushed people away on purpose seeing if they were committed enough to try to come back. It was my greatest fear in life - to be abandoned - it was why I always held part of myself back in all my relationships so that I would never lose everything, every part of me, every time. It's so much easier to push someone to leave then it is to face the rejection if they choose to do so. I expected that people would grow bored with me. I knew that I was too much of something to really be loved by many, if any, people. I'd experienced it first in my relationship with my dad and from that time forward I'd been guarded, alone and not whole with most everyone.  But this time, whether it was because I'd seen a light or that I had actually let that guard down for once, I couldn't bear to let this person go. Once those angels picked me up I wanted to battle. I couldn't pick a fight with the cancer, so I decided instead to try to win back the relationship that was at best in jeopardy. When out of nowhere they offered to care needed to mean something to me, it needed to mean that I had to care about myself at least as much as they had.

 And so, I wouldn't let this person go this time without making a valiant attempt to recover the relationship. I could take responsibility for any mistake I'd committed, but I wouldn't allow myself to not try. And for the first time I saw something deep within me that I rarely experienced -  I wanted to be a person that was worthy of those that were in my life and for this one particular person I wanted to face all my fears.  For once I could see the value in saving something important to me. I loved what this person represented, but there was also much more. I loved who this person was, faults and all, without question and that was possible because I was for once all me with someone.  I loved myself and the person that I was in his presence and the person that he made me want to be. Without him and the support of those two special women I wouldn't have wanted to or needed to fight - I would just have carried on like I had in the past, finding a way to live that really didn't involve much living at all. I would have just given up on him and in turn on me. And so if I was going to make it past my depression once and for all I had to fight this time - it was more than just keeping someone near and dear to me in my life, it was also a fight for me - the person that I wanted to be. I no longer wanted to be someone that didn't care about herself or her life. I didn't want to be content to just get by any longer. I wanted to be a person that could find those few simple things in life that would fill my heart's desires. I think that deep down I knew these things - I had made progress - but seeing that caring gesture from my two friends helped me arrive at the conclusion when I could still do something about it.

And so I fought - and sadly I admit that because I had never tried before I made some mistakes and landed some punches that I never should have taken. I threw out some guilt- of which I am not proud and wish I could retract even today. I didn't know how to do this and I know that I went about it all wrong, I was embarrassed by the level of desperation that I was feeling and in turn knew I was displaying. When the mighty fall they don't always fight back in the best possible way, but I was hoping that something, anything would work. It was this important to me. I wish that I could be more proud of how I executed my battle plan but I wasn't sorry that I was making an effort. I wasn't sorry for wanting what I knew was the right thing for me and being determined to achieve it if I could.

And each time that I pushed the call button on my contact list next to the name I waited with hopeful anticipation as I listened to the ringing and then felt my heart sink lower again when the phone flipped to voice mail. When I sent a few emails or text messages with no reply I wondered how long I would be able to keep up the plan before I folded. I tried to walk a thin line between acceptable contact and overdoing it but I had no idea if I was accomplishing my goal or not. I just kept hoping that losing a friend was not the price I was going to have to pay to learn a lesson.

Eventually after weeks of no response I finally sent a text where I basically was admitting defeat "So I'm never going to hear from you again am I?" About 45 minutes later when I heard my text message alert I wasn't positive that my ears weren't playing tricks on me. Sitting in a restaurant at a table with a friend, I glanced at the screen and saw a response and I did everything that I could to hold back my tears of relief. I hoped that for once I wasn't reading too much into someone's words. That night I waited anxiously for the phone to ring. I knew that this was not going to be an easy conversation but I was just happy that I would have another chance. A few hours after the phone rang a very tenuous treaty was reached.  It wasn't until three months later, when we stumbled into a conversation again about the incident, with time and distance giving it some clarity, that I finally felt like we were once again friends. That night I silently breathed a large sigh of relief. I finally felt less trepidation.

But even before that I'd learned a great deal about me. I learned that when something mattered, when someone mattered, there was nothing wrong with thinking that just letting it go was not the answer. I might not always win like I had this time, but sometimes I could and that made it worth the effort to save something important. And I learned that I wasn't perfect but I liked this person that was afraid and vulnerable but willing to put herself on the line a whole lot more than the person that just let life pass her by without much thought. And I liked that for the first time in my memory I had let two people help me when I needed it most - I didn't try to say I was fine and rebuke their offer. I learned that even when I was facing the wrath of what could happen when you let someone know you I was still willing to take the chance. And I was learning that I had a tremendous network around me of good people that I failed to appreciate or recognize. And so grabbing onto those hands wasn't easy or comfortable for me but I am so happy that I did.

Now I was moving forward with three people in my life that had at various times all offered me an incredible gift of caring and that was why they were monumental  in my life. They saw value in the person that I was when I was seeing none. For whatever reason it might be, they were willing to take a chance on friendship with a person that couldn't understand why anyone would bother. There simple words "I'd like to talk, I'm looking forward to it actually," "You seemed a little down last week about your goals and not meeting them ... just thought I'd try to get in touch" and "what's getting you down?" were bigger and more important then they will ever understand. When people see you and look past the exterior facade to discover the truth about a person - that realness that you don't always like and rarely love - and still see value in you, well those are the people that you grab hold of and don't let go. You hope that they will never have to endure the depth of suffering that you just had, but you know that that you would jump to their rescue without a thought to make a small repayment for all they had done for you. And yet again that is the important stuff of life - the stuff that matters and these three mattered to me. They will always be important people in my life if I have any say. They are three remarkable people that each came into my life at a time when I needed them most. If the people with which you surround yourself say something about who you are as a person then I knew that no one would ever again question my worth as long as those three were in my life. And so for those special and simple words, that caring hand that they offered and that worth that they saw in me I am forever grateful. The world would be a better place if there were more of these kind of angels in it.

Friday, April 1, 2011

When I Grow Up

 There were very few moments in my life when I questioned what I wanted to be. The list of careers I'd envisioned was very small. At various times I'd wanted to be a mommy, a teacher, a pediatrician and then a journalist. That was it. The first one could go hand-in-hand with any of the other three. I wanted to be a teacher in my very first years of school as I imagine a lot of children do. By about age seven I'd changed to the doctor route of thinking which lasted until my sophomore year in high school when I sat in a journalism class and then I knew within moments of composing my first piece that I wanted to be a writer. And being a journalist fit with my natural curiosity - I could get paid to dig, research and ask people invasive questions and that was perfect.

Throughout college I studied communication and political science in a liberal arts environment while outside of class I worked for four years at my college newspaper. I was always driven with a single-minded purpose of what I wanted to do and how I was going to accomplish that. And then I graduated and entered the very real world of small-town journalism - and for the first time ever I hated what I was doing. Pleasing advertisers was now paramount. Quantity of stories trumped quality. And one day when I stared at the flats and found a glaring error in the content of a headline that didn't match what it said in a story I pointed it out to the editor only to be told that "you are too concerned with accuracy." And that was that. I found myself crying on the phone to my mom that this job was never going to get better. And for the first time in my life I didn't have a plan. I applied for more journalism jobs but eventually I found a fit for myself in the world of public relations and event planning. It was the natural flip side of what I had trained to do in life.

And then fifteen years later I was sitting here facing the same question - now what? Did I just hate my job or did I hate what I did? Was I even a good public relations professional? Could I do this for the rest of my life? And fundamentally I was again staring at the question of What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up? even though I'd given it very little thought in the past. I had been applying furiously during the past month for employment in the same field in which I was working, but somehow now that I no longer had a job I felt the need to examine if it was even what I wanted to do.

In my misery at work I'd often dreamed and talked about doing other things. I'd investigated graduate schools as a means to a career change a few times. But now I was thinking this was my last chance to really get it right. If I wanted to make a major leap this was the time. And because I'd been robbed of so much of myself and my esteem the last few years a lot of my questioning had to do with whether or not I was even capable of finding a career in my field. Was I good with people? Did I communicate well? Could I construct a sentence? Should I be calling myself a public relations professional? Should I be calling myself a writer? Was everyone laughing secretly when I said any of those things? I was petrified of the future all of a sudden and it was because I no longer knew what I was good at doing or what would make me happy. I'd been so wrapped up in hearing my faults and failures that I knew that the image I was seeing was warped, but I didn't know to what extent. What did I want to be when I grew up?

On the first morning that I was jobless I applied for several positions online. I investigated and viewed various stories about finding a career in the "new" world. I applied a lot of the advice I found but I still wondered about the questions that I was asking myself. The one thing that I knew in that moment was that never again could I work in the type of environment from which I had just escaped. Everyone has bad days at work but I had just had three bad years. I knew that since I was finding myself jobless that I just didn't want to settle for anything, I wanted to settle for something that I loved. I wanted to finally be able to tell people what I did with pride. And when someone told me how incredible what I did sounded, as they often had with my previous job, I wanted to nod my head and agree but really mean it.

So I spent time trying to extract my feelings about the tasks I actually performed in my job from how I felt about where I had worked. It was a very carefully executed surgery. I wanted to do this right. I wanted to have a clearly thought-out plan that made sense in light of the person I wanted to be and the talents that I possessed. I wanted to be one of those people that loved what I did for a living. I also wanted to be one of those people that used the talents that I had to excel. Now I just had to figure out what those things were.

The first thing that I discovered when I voiced some of these issues that were troubling me was that I had an incredible cheering section in my corner. There were people that believed in me when my faith in myself was faltering at best. I also knew that I was not a reliable source when it came to determining anything that related to my self-worth, identity or abilities in my current state; I was better but I was still wallowing in the depths of depression to which I had slowly sunk and getting out of that was not something that just happened overnight. I loved and trusted people that were in my life and I needed to lean on them for guidance when it came to determining what I might be able to do with my future and what things I could list as my talents. I had to do what was most uncomfortable to me - that which never came naturally - that which I wasn't sure I wanted to know the answer - I had to ask people about me and their perceptions about the person that I was. Did I want to know how the world viewed me? I knew what I'd been hearing for the past few years and none of it was good or solicited, was I ready to hear what people that I cared about thought? If any one of the people whose advice I sought didn't think that I was good at the things that I would need to start the career path that I wanted to take then what?

 And I hated that I was looking at questions in front of me that most people struggle with when they are much younger but I never had, and now I couldn't even put voice to them. When I grow up what do I want to be? And the one answer that kept appearing was happy - when I grow up I want to be happy. I was pretty sure that it wasn't a category that I could search for on careerbuilder.com or within the pages of What Color is Your Parachute. Happy is not really something that you get paid to be. How did I find that place within a career?  And what profession? How did I once again become that girl that sat in class her sophomore year in high school who just knew in an instant what she wanted to do? That girl was one that trusted her gut-instinct and then investigated the way to make that career path happen. She was the same girl that applied to one college, and one college only, early decision because when she went to her first (and again only) college visit she just knew it was the right place for her to be at that time. She was a girl that was so full of confidence in her academic abilities and what she wanted to be that when she wrote her admission essay she crafted her answer to the topic Tell us about a woman that you admire and why by writing about herself as she envisionied the accomplished person that she was twenty years in the future. And sadly the twenty year mark was a mere three years away and that girl had become none of those things.

I wondered how I'd fallen so far from the path of what I'd always wanted to be. And when I really thought about it - when I admitted it to myself - I'd given up. That girl had faced the world, found it difficult, took an easy route with a job that didn't challenge her and then trapped herself in it for fifteen years. How easy it had been for my employer to steal my self-worth when I'd left it at the door years before for the taking. In all those years when I was struggling with my past and hiding from the world I'd given up on what I wanted to be the first moment things weren't so easy. So I was still nagged by the notion of what I wanted to be when I grew up because at some point I'd stopped growing.  When I had implemented all the changes in my life for those few adult years when I'd been happy there were only two areas where I hadn't gotten it right and one of those was my career path. I'd never really delved into the depths of the question of what I wanted to do when I stopped wanting to be what I decided as my future at age sixteen.

So I was back at the basic questions now - What am I good at? What do I want to do? What do I want to be when I grow up?

And after much thinking and musing and questioning and talking and asking those questions of people that I was frightened to ask I finally discovered that I pretty much wanted to be doing the same kind of things that I had been with a few key differences. I wanted to work somewhere where I would get constructive criticism that would help me improve. I wanted to be good at what I did but never have it be something that was static or boring. I wanted to be challenged. I had the talents to do what I'd been doing but they weren't being fostered - I was going it alone. At the end of the day it wasn't going to matter to me that my check totaled any more than what I needed it to to cover my expenses of living with a little extra here and there to buy clothes I didn't need or go out with friends for some fun times. I was never going to be driven by money as much as passion. I needed to feel like I was making a difference in the world. I needed to leave my place of employment most days feeling good about what I was doing with my life. I needed to be able to tell people where I worked and what I did without feeling embarrassed. I just genuinely wanted to like what I was doing and I wanted to do it well.

So finally I had an idea of what kind of career "happy" was and I just needed to figure out a way and path to make it happen. Never again was I going to settle for just a job. I wasn't going to stunt my growth on the path to what I wanted to be when I grew up.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Not-So-Sad Goodbye

There was no doubt about it, I was getting better. I  thought it, I felt it, I looked it, there was no denying this truth. For the first time in more than a year I didn't always hate my life or myself.  I was twenty pounds lighter and who knows how much that number would be if you added in the emotional weight that I'd shed. People that I had not seen much in the six weeks that I had been on my "improvement retreat" noticed the transformation instantly. And so I knew that as much as I hated to I was going to have to return to my regularly scheduled life.

One of my friends had expressed her concern, because while I had changed it was very clear from the phone calls, emails and text messages that I received while away that where I had to return to had not. I was beyond petrified of being drug back down again. I was armed with my stress-busting and anti-anxiety techniques. I had a sane strategy for how I would deal with difficult encounters. I had anticipated and practiced conversations with my therapist and several times in my head with the person that was my nemesis. I was visualizing how the "changed" me would fit back into the world. But, I was still scared of what could happen. What if I started to slide a little, didn't notice and then slid some more until I was right back in that deep, dark hole?

When I visited the doctor, three weeks after I'd collapsed in the midst of an anxiety attack in her presence, I knew that there would be no breakdown this time. So as I filled out the same form that I had before I looked carefully at the questions that faced me - "How much do you feel like your normal self?" I contemplated the answer for several minutes. I was better, but I wasn't whole. I opted for a number that indicated progress, but not perfection - 70 percent. And faced with the question of what still needed treatment, what was still making it difficult for me to live everyday life the answers were the same as before - lack of concentration, anxiety and inability to face work.

When the doctor appeared at the door to the lobby and called my name I actually smiled genuinely at her. Life was finally starting to feel like less work. We talked about medications, side effects, what I had done during the past three weeks and when she said "I think you are ready to return to work," I told her reluctantly that I did not want to, but I knew it was something which I had to do. I needed to face down my fears and my "enemy." So this time she wrote my prescription, talked about when she wanted to see me again and wrote a note that said I could return to work on a part-time basis. We were going to test the waters and help me acclimate.

I went home, looked around my house and saw physical evidence of all my progress. I had filled countless trash bags with things that I should have thrown away ages before, I'd hauled numerous collected items to goodwill, I had organized a good portion of my life again. The progress wasn't complete, just like I wasn't, but it was evident. I still had a list of things that I knew needed to be done, but now they were smaller tasks, ones that wouldn't be as obvious to anyone, ones that didn't feel so daunting. And my mind had begun to feel less cluttered too. The medications had taken hold, the therapy was working, and I was finally making connections that were helping me heal. Everything was less foggy. But none of that meant that I didn't have trepidation about what I had to face.

The next day, when I walked though that door into my place of employment, on time for the first time in ages,  I did so with my head held high - I could do this I told myself. I smiled and greeted people, I answered questions when asked and in general I heard a lot of "welcome back." In my pocket was a smooth rock - my worry stone. In my purse I carried a piece of cloth scented with lavender oil. And on the outside of the monitor of my computer I placed a small note that I could look at as a reminder to breathe and focus. I was armed with all that had been given to me the past six weeks to face the inevitable. The first thing that I noticed was it seemed that nothing had changed outside of me, this was not going to be easy and if I stayed for any length of time it would be even more difficult. I was a changed woman living in a world that was static.

In the end I made it through the day my half day of work and the next one.  Two half days of work and I was exhausted. The weekend was a welcome friend, two whole days of peace. I wasn't sure that after working only two half days that I should have looked forward to a break as much as I had.

On Friday afternoon I went to lunch with one of my two colleagues that actually knew what was going on with me. I could sense her caution when the conversation turned to work. I told her it was fine, I needed to talk about things, I needed to be able to face reality and start again. But that conversation was so important and telling, when it came to my place of employment - I was right in my snap assessment nothing had changed, people were still feeling miserable and everyone was just waiting for the day when the house of cards would collapse. So, while I didn't suffer an anxiety attack of any sort, I did suffer a reality one - if I stayed I wasn't sure that I would make it for very long without slipping back into old patterns, without feeling the heaviness of all that surrounded me. When everyone around you at work is despondent too it's pretty difficult to rise above and remain the only vestige of positivity. How much of yourself do you compromise before it becomes too much? In the back of my mind as I listened and talked with this very dear friend I knew that I wouldn't last long. I didn't want to go back to where I had been. Coming out of the darkness I'd become fond of the light no matter how faint it was.

And so questions and contemplations riddled my mind throughout the weekend. So much of what you do to make a living defines you as a person, but should it? What if the definition is one that you never want to hear in relation to your name? During our weeks we spend more of our life working and with our coworkers than we do with the people that we love - what does it mean when that place where you reside is making you suffer? We'd never tell a woman to stay with the man that beats her, so why don't we say the same to people that work in a world where the abuse, manipulation and esteem-stealing is just as damaging and degrading? And as a single woman, not a wife or a mother, what else do you have when you don't have those societal norms with which to gauge yourself besides what you do?  No one says she's single, has no kids and is currently working to find herself, until then, well she's a woman - what would that even mean? You're a person with no point of reference.

When you hear stories of people assessing their lives before death I've never heard of anyone saying "I wish I'd worked more." In the end your job doesn't love you back. It's the people that we keep close, they way that we live, how we face adversity, how we support others and so much more that really is the important stuff of life. It's the stuff of truly living. There's no denying that unfortunately you need money to survive, but what are you surviving for if you've sacrificed everything that you are or want to be to earn a check? So that's how I spent my time, trying to figure out what was important, who I wanted to be and how did I chart a path there. I was seriously trying to find the best answers to some of life's greatest questions.

On Monday I returned again ready to face another reality. Before I had left I knew that my work hadn't been my best anymore, and really how could it have been with the depth of depression and anxiety that I was suffering? I had completed what I needed to, but when it came to crossing t's and dotting i's I knew that I had been negligent at times. I knew that at some point there would be a discussion about the past and the future. That day arrived on Thursday.

Behind closed doors I chose to only face what had made me so miserable for so long. The one conclusion that was most clear to me was it wouldn't have mattered in the least the level of my work, I would still be sitting in this same place with these same questions. Work was really that bad. I looked at the abuse, the lack of integrity surrounding me, the manipulation and all the other things that were my reality for too long. I was pretty positive that the goal of most of it was to get me to quietly leave, destroying my self worth and my self-esteem in the process was just an added bonus. And when I opened the door to that office again after very little discussion I had parted ways with the place that I had called my employer for one month shy of fifteen years. That passage of my life, for all the good, the bad and the ugly was complete. And the only emotion that I really felt was relief.

Even facing the fear of poverty and failure and uncertainty and homelessness there was not one part of me that was anxious or regretful about the decision. I was liberated. Free. Dare I say happy? And this time there were no tears. And to this day I have not waivered in that emotion. Do I miss the very meager paycheck? Sure. Do I miss all that I had to endure and all the compromises of myself that I had to make for that small sum? Not in the least.  I had learned a lot in six weeks about the woman that I was and the woman that I still wanted to be and now I could actually see myself being able to get there.

When I sat in my car and took a very deep breath before pulling out of the parking lot I said goodbye to my old life. I had no idea what the future would hold but I only knew that it didn't hold this and for that I was most grateful. I started my car and drove away. And never once did I look back with regret.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Artistic Endeavors

There are things that you begin doing that you never know have meaning or significance. It seems so simple, but later you look back and see how the mind was really several steps ahead of your comprehension. It's the hindsight phenomenon.

It started pretty simply. In January I was in a craft store and I saw a necklace on one of their displays and thought I'd try making one myself. I bought the beads and chain and then a few weeks later I purchased a set of jewelry-making tools. I stared one evening at these components in front of me and tried to make a simple necklace. The result was a disaster. I had no idea what I was doing. I threw the supplies back in the bag and hid them in a closet and didn't really think of them again. This artistic endeavor was pretty similar to the direction my life was taking. Everything was daunting.

Fast forward now several months and while cleaning and purging my space I stumbled upon that bag. Now that I was faced with three more weeks off work I had time and so even though the first attempt had been unsuccessful I purchased more supplies. I actually bought a lot of beads. It was a pretty large outlay of money for something that I really had no confidence in completing. I still had no idea what I was doing. I browsed through some magazines looking at designs but I couldn't focus on the directions.  So on Sunday I hauled out all my supplies, sat on the floor and spread them all out in front of me. I picked up three rose-colored flower beads and two pink butterflies. I stared at them for a while. And then I just sort of saw what I wanted to do with them. And this time I made it happen. I still really didn't know what I was doing, I just made it work. And then I was on a role. In a few hours I had made four necklaces and I was happy with each one of them. I was amazed. The other surprise - I had spent an afternoon creating and not once had I cried, or thought about all that was going on around me or in my head. I was in the moment, not distracted, but really living and creating, I was even concentrating on something. I was elated when I thought about what I had done.  I sat down a few days later and produced four more as I watched television. And again I didn't really know where I was starting, where I was going or what I was doing, but the end result was the same - four new pieces that I loved.

And so making jewelry became the thing I did when my hands and mind would normally have been idle. It was simply a project to do in the evenings when I needed something besides mindlessly watching television or blindly eating to fill a void. Each night I was making something new and none of them looked the same. I'd layout combinations on the bead board and move them again and again until I was happy with the pattern and arrangement and then I'd string the beads on, attach a clasp and voila - another creation. And at the end of night I'd have one more thing to add to my collection. I found myself searching for beads to match every color in my wardrobe. My affinity for cheap, costume jewelry was no longer a shopping experience, now it was a creative one.

And in the background as I shared and showed off my work, scared each time that I did, people began to tell me I should do more than craft pieces for myself. I couldn't do that. This was a hobby and one that I didn't believe I was really all that good at. I still really had no idea what I was doing. I knew nothing about beading or stringing techniques. I just figured out a way to make it work. For me it was easy and mindless. Every time I would wear something that I made and would get a compliment on it I would be taken by surprise and then shyly say "thank you." And then one time someone asked me where I had purchased it and reluctantly I quietly said "I made it myself." And here a stranger - not one of my friends that would encourage me even if the work was poor - thought that this was something that came from a store. I was blown away.

But, beading was not that impressive to me. A lot of people strung beads. I didn't feel like there was any art or talent involved on my part. If I could make something without really knowing what I was doing anyone could.

So finally I tackled a new project that I'd been contemplating for a while. I took some wire and began bending it into a design. I know that the inspiration was coming from a lot of things that I'd looked at in print and in stores, but again, I was really winging it. And when I was done I had a pendant that encircled a tree. Twisted branches with beads covering them. I looked at it for a long time. I couldn't decide what I thought of it. I took a picture on my cell phone and texted it to three people. I wanted some honest opinions. Would they even know what it was? The response was encouraging, but again these were my friends and I knew that the piece wasn't exactly what I was aiming to create. Well, at least they knew it was a tree So looking at my prototype I tried again. I was a little happier with the result this time and bravely wore this one out in public. I solicited more opinions. And every time I shared a picture of something that I made I was scared beyond belief. I was convinced that I was seeing beauty that no one else would see. But each and every time I would get a positive response. And more and more people kept telling me that I needed to do something more with my craft. I wasn't sure that would happen, but it was nice to hear.

And so I started creating more and making pieces for gifts and I was perfecting my tree. I can't even tell you why I was attracted to this design. I'd never loved trees before. I never really even thought about them. Trees were trees and yet I felt so connected to what I was doing. And as the art evolved so did the therapeutic nature of it. I had created my own version of art therapy for myself without even being aware of it. I was gaining confidence again in my abilities to do something - anything - and do it in a way that people recognized. But still even I couldn't figure out why I was drawn to the tree.

It wasn't until much later when hindsight came into play that I figured out that the mind is a mysterious machine. It makes connections that you aren't even aware that you are seeing until one day it finally hits you what you've been missing.

So here I was creating tree pendants - trees of life - and I had no idea why. So when I made the leap that I was pretty sure I would fail at and I started my jewelry site I did some research to add to the description page and looking back now I'm amazed that I still kept asking why trees,  what is it about this design that keeps me coming back again and again?. When I look now at what I wrote in the description it's so clear why the tree was important to me.
"The tree of life is branched tree illustrating the idea of life's interconnectedness. Some have referred to it as a metaphor for the whimsy of the spirit. Depictions and allusions to the tree of life appear throughout science, religion, philosophy, mythology and art. It's also been described as a cosmic tree, mystic tree or the tree of knowledge."

Life's interconnectedness.

 My mind hadn't made the connection then. The tree was really about my transformation. Art imitating life. My life was changing and so was everything connected to it. I was evolving and so was the tree that represented my life. All of life is connected to what surrounds us and I was depicting this realization with wire and beads long before I let myself soak in the reality of what it meant. I was creating a tree of knowledge that would hopefully in the end lead me to a better understanding of myself, the people that I let near me and the world that surrounds me. And so my art and craft was therapy, but I had also created a touchstone for myself and it was one that was full of hope and growth and knowledge - the tree of life, the tree of my life. Maybe there was hope for a beautiful life after all.

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Anger Game

For more than a year I walked a very thin line. I would vacillate from tears to anger back to tears again. The pendulum of my emotions would swing from deep desperation to fury in a manner of seconds. At home I would wallow in the dark sadness, but when I finally garnered enough energy to travel in the world for yet another day the person that walked out of my house tended to be on the verge of needing anger management. And the more and more depressed I became the more and more the anger reared its ugly head in all directions.

Every time I was faced with the option I would choose the anger game instead of the crying game. Somewhere in my psyche that just seemed more acceptable and sane.

It was inevitable that I would begin playing a real game at work that directed some of my rage at the person that I was so angry at for dragging me down so much of the time. And again fury kept me from tears. And so as the abuse escalated and I began to question myself and my abilities and everything else more and more, I also knew deep down that I was by far the more intelligent one in the equation. And since that was my only advantage and no one could really fault you in your work for being smart, a game evolved where for a few seconds I felt some control over my thoughts, emotions and esteem. It started simply one day when I watched the wheels turn and come up empty as I used a seemingly simple word that wasn't comprehended. Oh, this was fun - game on. So I would find ways whenever I could to use my vocabulary and channel my anger into the game. I didn't have to even be a master linguist to win this one. One day I questioned why a qualitative answer was used when it was clear that the analysis we were to provide should be quantitative. Blank stare - score. So, a second attempt was made. "Hmmm," I said. "That's a qualitative statement too. The question says to keep it measurable." It was clear that the person staring back at me had no idea what I was saying but would never admit it - win number one for me. And so the game continued, any time I could work in a word that wouldn't be understood I didn't contain myself. One day I would say that a statement was risible, the next I said that an author was resplendent. I could have won the game using much "smaller" words even, but this just made it more fun for me. So one day near the time of my inevitable point of needing and seeking help I had to write something. The result was brillant if I did say so myself. I handed it over and watched the confusion take hold. So later when a co-worker walked in and saw my competitor with my statement in one hand and a dictionary in the other I had scored the ultimate coupe - game, set, match!

And yet no matter how many rounds I won I never really felt any better. The anger game didn't really accomplish anything in the end. It didn't change anything. Here I thought it was a competition that I was playing in and really it was just one more thing that pointed to how far I had fallen. And the person that was evolving before me was someone that I didn't even really like that much. This wasn't the woman that I had ever imagined being. This wasn't the woman that I was. This wasn't the type of person that I admired. And all of this anger was not in line with the way I would have described myself in the past. It was always there though. I fought it and noticed that more and more I was seeming to lose out to it. I may have played the game well sometimes but when it was me against the game I was losing in a big way. When I let myself in the privacy of my mind think I wished that I wasn't always enraged all the time. Why in the world was I always ready to either fight or cry? Why was there just no longer any middle ground?

But the anger game wasn't contained to only work. It was creeping into and invading every facet of my life. I found myself always irritable and on edge. Always ready to pounce or break. On the phone with a customer service rep I would move through the spectrum of emotions lashing out only to ask for their supervisor that found me sobbing and telling her how being treated so poorly had upset me this much. I found myself using my car horn more than ever. Curse words seemed to always be on the tip of my tongue. Every life encounter was either the most infuriating experience or the most miserable one. I was on a roller coaster of two emotions and I just kept riding and riding thinking that somehow maybe one time the cars would take a different course, but knowing that it was impossible for it to do so. Being furious all the time was no less exhausting than be sorrowful, but the whirling between the two was down right crippling.

For some reason that anger made it feel like I was controlling the sadness, but in the end the misery was still there. It was the most uncomfortable feeling I ever encountered. And the anger fueled depression's fire because the more and more I exploded the worse and worse I felt about the person that I now was and that added to the self-loathing, the sadness, the powerlessness. Freud was right in his description, so much of depression is anger turned inward.

I felt the same way around my family. Any time they mentioned things in a way that I felt slighted me or called into question my life choices or "teased" me I would feel the anger boiling up inside. I would often leave the room and silently scream. Tension would manifest itself into knots in the muscles the ran across my shoulder blades. As I pushed away the tears, I'd ball up my fists tightly and push my nails into the palms of my hands until I felt the slight pinch of pain that I could focus on to tamp down the anger. In situations where I couldn't escape I would say things under my breath or bite down on the inside of my cheeks to control myself. Sometimes I would draw blood from the constant force of my teeth on the tender skin inside mouth. In really bad moments I would also pick under my fingernails where the nail met the skin, clawing and peeling until it bled. But turning the anger into pain at least felt like something. Sadly it was nice to feel anything other than the two emotions that I was constantly living between.  I would vent my frustrations to my mom later asking her why everyone thought so little of me? Why couldn't once something that I did be good enough? Why was my time and the person that I was so invaluable to everyone? All the venom and ire that I had focused into the physical pain would pour out of me and just when the anger would dissipate the tears would begin. What was wrong with me? How did this happen? Who was this girl?

Anger - despair - rage - tears - exasperation - desperation - fury - listlessness  - outraged - inconsolable  - storming - sinking ...

And so it continued on and on, the pendulum swinging faster and faster until it and I broke. I had lost the battle, I hadn't won the game.

It wasn't until weeks after my breakdown as I sat on the sofa in my therapist's office that I noticed that the anger was largely gone even though the sadness was not. This realization was delivered to me as I was giving her an example of something that was said to me. I knew that the intent had not been meant to hurt me, but I had been furious at the time all the same. I had let a few people in my life say awful things to me and yet I didn't know how to stop them and when my life spun out of control those things were just magnified by the anger that I felt and then later added to my feelings of worthlessness. If the people that claimed to love you felt this way then how in the world would anyone else possibly even like you? It didn't matter that intellectually I knew that those that uttered the statement didn't mean to inflict pain, but how do you start to gain control of a situation like that?

And so for the first time I thought to really mention all the anger and rage that I had felt during the previous months. And again I learned how much I didn't understand about depression. Anger was a classic symptom. When I thought of the illness I recognized the sadness, the hopelessness, the exhaustion, the feelings of worthlessness, the hypersomnia, the inability to any longer care about the simplest of things, but the irrational degree of negative thinking and the anger that flowed forth because of it I had never contemplated.  But when I lost control of everything around me, my emotions and feelings and my inability to function in everyday life, the anger was inevitable. No one that crossed my path was really safe from it. It's just another emotion that I could not harness. I was angry at myself for being so angry and depressed, which then made me even angrier. I had been cycling in that pattern for quite some time digging myself in deeper and deeper.

And as I learned more and more about me and my disease I began to feel some small amount of control return. I could finally see the anger game for what it was, just another sign that I had needed help. I closed the lid on that box and hid it away. Hopefully I would never feel the need to play again.