"There's a bit of magic in everything, and some loss to even things out." -Lou Reed

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Tangled Web



I couldn’t put my finger on why I was upset. It was just another phone call to soothe my mother’s nerves. But, my father had answered. His tone was upbeat, and he shared that he was excited about buying a new bicycle. He is 74, and is in better shape and spirit than most people twenty years younger. He tells me he has signed up for a 10-mile bike trek and sightseeing adventure along the Gulf Coast. It’s just his voice—there is something pleading in it. He is trying.

Over a lifetime of calls with him, the effort has been lacking. The calls ranged from the normal quick calls back and forth when I lived at home, apprising him or my mother of my whereabouts, to violent, angry calls, filling me in on all of my flaws, lashing out at the latest disappointment he had been dealt in life, courtesy of me, his youngest daughter. There really was no in between, except perhaps, for the years that he wouldn’t come to the phone if I called, even if I pleaded. Sometimes he would answer, and knowing it was me, he would pick up the phone without a word and slam it on the nearest table our counter. He would call to my mother, saying “It’s her,” in a tone that let me know he couldn’t muster the energy to say my name.

This latest version of our calls is harder to understand. While we don’t talk about anything that happened over the years, there is something there in his voice, asking me to connect. Is this his version of an apology? My emotional response is one I recognize—guilt. I feel guilty for not giving more, for not just coming out and telling him I hear this in his voice, that it’s all ok. I am angry and confused that I somehow still feel guilty, that the repetition of the calls over the years has left me this way. No matter what our calls were about over the years, I ended up hanging up the phone and feeling awful. More often than not, I ended up sobbing. I don’t know how to react or feel any other way. After I talk to my father, my knee- jerk reaction is to examine what I am doing wrong, what is wrong with me

That has never been a challenge.

The voice I hear in my head is his. Second-guessing every single decision I make in life, constantly putting myself down, thinking the worst. I have to battle to hear the faint whisper of my own voice, trying in vain to protect me. Years of therapy finally helped me adjust the volume so that on my best days, I hear my own voice clearly. But try as I might, I can’t mute his completely. It will always be an echo, or a drumbeat, and at times it still thunders so loud that it takes all of my energy to drown it out.

To keep myself from becoming lost yet again in guilt and worry, I make myself remember everything over the years that has gotten me to this point. I cannot connect any deeper with him because of all of those things--very real things--that my mother and father both choose to place in their world of denial. Drudging all of that up is necessary, but it takes its own toll. Being raised in a family that chooses to not only deny the truth, but bury and forget it altogether, can make you feel the need to return again and again to your memories, to ensure that you, too, don’t get lost and buried.

There’s a nagging tug in hearing his voice age and my mother’s become more frail. I watch as friends lose their parents and I debate in my head if I am doing what I should. I stare down a rabbit hole that I have fallen into many times, too deeply—worrying more about my mother’s or father’s happiness than my own. I stare long and hard, and make myself back away. It is not a simple decision, it is a battle. I think it will always be.

Even though it is hard, I have kept communication with them. Most of this I have done for my mother, who needs the connection with me. I love her, and I know that nothing that has happened was intentional on either of their parts. My mother did not set out to marry an alcoholic, unfaithful man. My father did not set out to be a bad husband or father. But they both made choices that impacted my life and theirs. Those choices paved the way for a very painful life for me, and incredibly poor self-esteem. Each time I go through these feelings of guilt, I have to connect to a particular memory to remind me why I have to keep my distance and take care of myself.

The one this week that helped was fairly recent, back in 2009, when I was living in Charlotte and working for a women’s magazine. I had just gotten back on my feet after a really horrible time with deep depression, that had me still shaky at times. My mother and father were driving through town, back to their home in Florida. Charlotte was merely going to be a pit stop, to see me. My father’s birthday was coming up, so I had put together a gift for him, trying hard to do something nice. It took me hours just to pick the wrapping paper. We were to meet for breakfast, near my office, so I could go into work right after.

I got there early, not wanting to disappoint anyone. Soon after I arrived, my father called my cell phone, obviously angry, demanding directions. His anger, as always, panicked me, and I scrambled to think of street names and exits off the interstate. He wasn’t clearly explaining where he was, and was cursing –every other word was “fuck” or “shit”. I was sitting at a table in an Einstein’s Bagel’s restaurant, breathing heavily, trying to calm my father down, and figure out where he was and how to get him to my location. After ten minutes of back and forth, he angrily growled that I “didn’t know fucking anything, and had ruined every fucking thing…just like always”. The line went dead. I hadn’t looked up from my table during the call, and realized that people were staring. I was still breathing hard, and somehow didn’t realize I was crying. A woman next to me reached over from her table and put her hand on my arm. As is my usual response, I apologized. She looked me square in the eyes and said, “Please stop. Stop apologizing.” I just shook my head, for a minute back to being five years old and in my father’s shadow. “I could hear every word he was saying,” she continued, “stop. You aren’t the one in the wrong.”

I managed to thank her and then got into my car and fell to pieces. Somehow, I was able to walk into my office 30 minutes later and no one was the wiser. I have had a lifetime of experience in covering my emotions.

This, in comparison to many other incidents with my father, was minor. This was nothing but words. I remember telling myself that on that morning, over and over. Nothing but words, nothing but words. But words have meaning. I believed he meant it when he said I ruined every fucking thing—always. Hearing things like that your whole life makes an impact. I still have to remind myself—daily—that I am not someone who ruins things. I am someone of worth.

It took me 38 years to begin to speak out loud and really begin to tackle my depression and the reality behind it. I slipped during the process and barely regained my footing. More than anything during all of the therapy, the tears, the hard conversations, and reliving things too painful to endure once--much less countless times in my therapists office--the thing I gained that is most valuable is the realization that I had to save myself. Actions I was taking, that I thought were the choices that made me a good person--a good daughter, were actually weighing me down more and more, and eventually pulling me under. The people around me, who were supposed to love me unconditionally, who I should have been able to rely on no matter what, were actually helping me drown.

I almost did drown. It was a very close call.

There are moments today when I feel the weight, I feel the water rushing over me. After a lifetime of fighting this, of battling constantly to feel better about myself, to hear and trust MY voice, I sometimes feel exhausted. I want to just settle in and let it all go. Just let the water take me.

Then I remember how far I have come, and that once I saved myself not too many years ago, I came out of the water, gasping and barely alive, but I made it. I survived. It was a long, hard fight, but I did it. So many beautiful things came after—that wouldn’t have unless I had freed myself to allow them.

Unfortunately, guilt still lingers and my heart still questions things. I have to go through this process—even after a simple 5 minute phone call-- to remind myself what it takes to be free, and how much I can invest before it’s too much. It’s still a hard long process, but it is worth it.

I am worth it.


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Friday, March 27, 2015

Six Years with Bear


I am terribly behind in writing this post. Months behind. I made excuses, and some were valid. We lost our cat Lucy near Christmastime, and the weeks after that were difficult. There were added stressors, and other things that seemed to get in the way. 

But, every year, I have looked so forward to writing this post and sharing my memories of sweet Bear. I realized finally that my hesitation is rooted a little bit in fear. Time is passing so fast. Bear is six. How can that be? For some reason, this year is hard. Passing the five year mark, he is less of a baby, and at times, I can see it. His once cast iron stomach, which was affected by absolutely nothing he ate—from lipstick to light bulbs—now gets queasy and upset from overdoing it with treats. His boundless energy, which I used to beg for a break from—is now a thing of the past. He has spurts of it—definitely—but prefers napping and sleeping in on lazy Sunday mornings. He’s had a few aches and pains, too, back strains that left him unable to jump on the bed for a few days (which had me sleeping with him on the floor) and a few hurt paws and leg strains that made him limp for a few days.

He is actually healthy and in great shape, the vet assures me, as I worriedly take him in for every little concern. He is just getting older. He is not even “old” at this point. It is just hard to watch the transition.


Bear is more than a dog, more than a companion. He is one of the loves of my life, and I say this without doubt or hesitation. A part of my heart will always be his. He found me (and I believe that in some cosmic way he did find me) at the very lowest point of my life. Even then, I didn’t realize that’s where I was. But he came to me then, and was the only heartbeat strong enough to pull me completely out of that pit I was in. There is a magical connection between us, I can’t fully explain it, and I don’t expect others to accept or comprehend it. I am so grateful to him, for loving me, and teaching me to love and laugh again.


This bond with us was unfortunately formed at a time when I was deeply depressed, and now Bear has a sixth sense with me of when I am drifting towards that abyss. There is a knowing look in his eyes that both comforts and scares me a bit. How can he know? How can he know when no one else does? He pulls a little closer to me in those moments and stares and at me long and lovingly. I am here—he seems to say. I feel it.

The best example of this is a recent moment in my life that I will never, as long as I live, ever forget. My husband was there to see it, and I am so thankful that someone else saw how special it was.

It was Saturday, December 13, 2014. My husband and I had just come home from letting our cat Lucy go, having her put to sleep, after a traumatic ordeal. Just minutes before we walked in the house, I had cradled my cat of 14 years in my arms for the last time and felt all the guilt of the world rush over me. The moment was bigger than that; I felt I had failed in one of the few things I could rely on knowing how to do—taking care of these fur babies. I came into the house and although Bear and Boone were doing their usual wiggly, happy, welcome dance, I couldn’t engage. 

I tried to make it to my bedroom in the back of the house, and couldn’t. I made it as far as the guest bedroom and collapsed on the bed, lying on my side facing the wall, sobbing in a way that I haven’t in years. Boone came in the room, utterly confused, jumped on the bed and back off. At first, Shea didn’t realize where I went and was looking for me. In the meantime, Bear came slowly into the room. He carefully got on the bed just as Shea entered the room and sat behind me on the bed. Bear crept slowly to me, and began licking the tears from my face. He then carefully laid down next to me and slid his two front paws under my head and neck, something he has never done before. Then, he put his head between my head and shoulders and pulled me close. Shea actually gasped. He said Bear had the most human expression, that he shut his eyes tight as he pulled me close. I sobbed into Bear’s chest for a good bit and held him, amazed at this act of comfort. I won’t ever forget that. I can’t do it justice with my words. But in moments of sadness, loss, and despair, Bear has found me, always.

Bear has a really good life. He is spoiled by anyone’s measure. He wants for nothing. We tell him every day, over and over again, how much we love him. He has a big back yard to romp with his little brother. Boone idolizes him, and the two of them love to play and bark at all the threats that dare come too close to our house, real or imagined. The two of them are regular visitors to the local dog park and one of my great joys is looking across the park and seeing Bear’s huge smile as he takes it all in. He still does laps around the huge park in bouts of what we call “crazy dog”, which actually comforts me, letting me know that he still has some puppy energy in there somewhere. 

Bear and Shea have an incredibly close, special bond that was instantaneous when they met, and part of the reason I was able to open my heart to Shea, when I had thought true love was something for the rest of the world, not me.




Bear is an unapologetic bed hog, taking up most of the space in our king-size bed every night. He will playfully growl if I try to move him, and often kicks both of us in annoyance when we interrupt his comfortable sleeping positions. There are times when it would be easier to make him move to the floor, but Shea and I will share a glance, and although we don’t say anything, I know we are both thinking that he won’t always be here and he gets to sleep however he wants.




At his last vet visit, Bear, as usual, charmed everyone and the vet laughed as he himself was tricked into giving Bear another treat in exchange for cooperation during his exam. The vet let me know that Bear really could lose a few pounds, and that we needed to cut back on the treats. We try, but this face is hard to resist.


He makes us laugh, with his stubborn, funny attitude—his sneaky way of tricking his brother out of his bones and toys, and his human-sounding burps and farts, that still, after 6 years, make us belly laugh every time. He is unapologetic about those, too.

As I write this, Bear is lying next to me, snoring a little, snuggled up as close as he can get, with a paw on my knee. I have been having a rough couple of days, and today for some reason, has been tougher. He knows that. Somehow, he knows.

Thank you for a beautiful, love-filled, happy, hilarious, special, flying-by-too-fast six years my sweet boy. We love you. I love you. You are my sunshine.


All of my Bear posts, year by year:

Five Years with Bear

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Saturday, March 14, 2015

Unfinished


Behind.

If I had to describe one word for how I feel right now, that would be it.

Overall, in general—career, personal, just life.

In reality, I am not. Well, in some ways, I guess it is true.

I hate this feeling.

This past November, I started a new job that I am so well suited for. I have felt needed, respected, and know that I am in a place where I can make a difference and do good work. I am old enough now to know that this doesn’t come along every day. I have worked in some places over the past decade that made me so miserable, where I felt so horrible—where almost everyone felt horrible. Toxicity was almost applauded. Those workplaces are more common than you think. It’s scary how accepted that kind of atmosphere is in a lot of offices. Nowhere is perfect, but I finally landed somewhere that feels…right.

So, there’s one check mark for the areas of my life that I worry about. Career/Job—check.

My marriage just passed the four year mark, and we still love and support each other. I honestly worried for so long that I would never have that kind of love in my life. So, there’s another big area I can add to the list—personal/love life—check.

There’s this stupid thing I do all the time—it’s a habit I started so long ago that I can’t remember when it began. I know it was borne out of me making promises to my depressed, worried younger self. I was really struggling with my self-esteem when I was younger, with everything that was going on with my parents, my father in particular, and just the overall cloud of worry that hung over me a good bit of the time. So, I have this bit of an imaginary check-in with my younger self. I ask myself, what would 10-year-old Kim think of where I am now? Have I lived up to the dreams she wanted? Have I lived up to the things I promised myself?

When I was battling really serious depression as an adult, this little game was horrific. I knew I was letting my younger self down. I was barely surviving every day, and knowing I had blown every promise I had made to myself—in such spectacular fashion—was feeding the depression’s flame.

Then, I got the right help, the right therapist, and took on everything, and after a few years, my life turned around. Things started falling into place, and when I did my check-in, I realized the 10-year-old me would be proud—not only for where I landed—but for how much I had endured to get there.

I haven’t had any weak moments again in this check-in scenario, until now. In comparison to where I have been before, it doesn’t make sense. Things have been worse. Things have been catastrophically worse. Am I just peering over some ridiculous fence dreaming of perfect green pastures that don’t exist for anyone? Or do I know that if I don’t push myself, I won’t have a chance at making my dreams come true? 

Or, am I losing my freaking mind?

All I know is, when I had a frustrating moment at work this past week—nothing too crazy—just something that made me sit and take a few beats alone at my desk. I asked myself the check-in question—and I had to head to the restroom in the office for a few minutes. I paced and stared at myself in the mirror and paced a little more.

An important note here, that I am all too aware of: I think too much.

But, anyway, I got outside and walked around the block.

This city, on a clear day, is nothing short of breathtaking. I have to pinch myself—even after riding the cramped, sometimes unpleasant BART train to work each morning—I get off the train and see the tops of the buildings cutting into the clouds and fog and wonder how in the hell I got so lucky to be here, walking  to work in this amazing place.

When I walked outside on this particular day, it was later in the afternoon, the fog long gone, the clouds cleared, the sky was crystal blue. I just walked and wondered what in my head was making me feel this way.

I tried to force myself to think clearly. I remembered one of the tactics I loved that my therapist used to get me to cut to the core of how I was really feeling. She would ask me to be raw and real. I would say something about how I felt, and she would tell me to tell her the truth—what I was really feeling—be raw, be real. To not think about what was appropriate or what sounded good. It wasn’t always pretty. But it kept me from fooling myself. It also helped me heal faster. For instance, in one of my sessions, I was talking about someone in my life that was honestly being toxic. I started off my saying, “she makes me uneasy sometimes”, but when I got to the raw and real moment, I finally said, “She isn’t kind to me--I really don’t want her in my life anymore”. It was hard for me to get to that point, but I needed to learn to put myself first—something I don’t always do.

So, when I was walking around the block, I reminded myself to be raw and real. The first thing that popped into my head was –“I am so tired”. I know this. Anyone looking at me probably knows this. The fact that I have had a migraine for over two weeks means my body probably knows this. As I am writing this now, I am tearing up. I need a break. It’s no one’s fault, but I have had a lot of financial responsibility for myself and then for our family for awhile now, and the weight sometimes seems so huge. Even though we are in a good place now, I haven’t had a real break in between jobs, without stress, to just relax, disconnect, and breathe for literally years. In truth, I don’t know how long that break would need to be though, for me to recharge.

The fatigue goes back further than that, though. I have been working since I was 16, and in college, I worked up to 3 jobs at a time to barely survive. Once out, I have only rarely and in spurts felt financially strong. It wasn’t for lack of working hard or long hours—or having great jobs. It was just timing, being single, life, living in the Bay Area during the last dot com bust, layoffs, etc, etc. It feels like a long, long marathon that is never going to end. I know that my journey is no different than anyone else’s, and in many ways, I am incredibly fortunate. I am making a good salary, and now have a love with a growing company in a strong market. I just ache for a time, a decent span of time, when I feel like things are more solid financially, that I don't feel so pressured, and that I can breathe. I feel like I have been holding my breath now for about 20 some odd years waiting for that to happen, and I need to be able to let go, to get some relief. When I think about worse struggles others have, I feel ridiculous in even thinking these things. But, I can’t help feeling tired. I just can’t.

The other part of this, is, of course, my dream of writing and making that the focus of who I am and what I do. Every day, the writers I follow on Twitter share similar struggles, even though many of them have known success—at least success in my eyes—having published a book or books, and working on the next one. Many of these writers work another day job, as I do. Somehow, they find a way to do both. I haven’t been able to do that. Especially lately, I have felt this huge setback. It has felt more like a loss, a death. I haven’t been able to feel the true inspiration and hope in months now. For a long time, I had this glimmer that might fade now and again, but it was always there. Then, it went dark. It just feels like I am never going to get this dream accomplished, and more than anything, I don’t know if I have the energy anymore to keep trying.

I hate the part of me that is so envious of people, in particular people I don’t know, that have the luxury of a life where they can concentrate on nothing but their writing. I follow these writers on Twitter and catch myself scowling when they complain about anything. How dare you! I think.You are living a dream.

So, back to my walk. I asked myself what I really want. What would make it better? Real and raw.

Winning lottery ticket.

Very funny.

I can't control the financial part any more than I am now. I am doing my best, working sometimes insane hours, always working hard. So, that's all I can do.

The other part, the writing...I have to somehow find a balance in my life, where my writing is the focus, where I am on a set course to making this happen. Otherwise I am not going to feel fulfilled or even at peace. It may be crazy, but that is my truth--real and raw.

It may just mean that I start making myself go to the library one day every weekend and devote that time to writing. I don’t know yet.

I could also be having a stupid mid-life crisis and this could all mean nothing. But, for whatever reason, this keeps gnawing at me. I honestly don’t think you necessarily choose to be a writer. It is tortuous—and not hugely profitable, especially now in the digital age, when a lot of writers are expected to simply be thankful to be published in a popular online forum—even without payment—or for nearly nothing. Only a few writers really make it big, really make a huge splash and can live comfortably. So, to want to write, there has to be this drive, this other thing in you that won’t let go. I certainly don’t have to write a book. It won’t help our bank account. There is just a story in me that needs to told. There is just  a yearning to do that, to feel I am a writer in that sense.

I wish more than anything I had gone after this dream earlier, set out to be an editor and work in the publishing world long ago. Right now, my life feels so much like a zig-zag maze that is being built as I go, and has no clear path and no clear destination. It is well-built, the structure is fine, there just wasn’t any pre-planning or design. Some would say, “that is life”. Right now, it just feels like lost time, confusion, and poor planning.

Who knows? If I had started down that path, maybe I would be unhappy now. I know that 10 years ago, I wouldn’t have been able to write the way I am now, I didn’t have the experiences behind me, I hadn’t gone through the right therapy to resolve things I needed to. It’s pointless to ask all of these questions—it’s probably just as pointless to play the little game I play—asking if my 10-year old self would be happy with where I am now.

I can’t stop though. It’s become part of my life’s pattern. I think it is also what has helped drive me, and even when it’s made things painful, helped me to survive. Even when I believed I was disappointing my former self so deeply, and a part of me felt it might be better to give up—there were times when there was just enough fire to say—I owe it to her, to that little girl in me, to make this right.

When I finally got into therapy and really started digging into things and being honest, one of the very first things my therapist had me do was write a letter to my younger self. I remember bursting into tears as she described the process. At the time, I had truly hit rock bottom, and I was slowly realizing that I had found the right therapist to help pull me out. When she talked about the specific things she wanted me to address in the letter, I realized I had been writing these letters for years, in my head, over and over.

I am waiting to write that one last one. The one where I say, finally, it’s done. I finished. I did this thing I have wanted to do for so long, that I felt I was meant to do. You can be proud of me.

I can be proud of me.

Fulfilled life's dream--check.


The beautiful artwork featured in the post is entitled "October Wind at the Beach" by the artist Fanny Nushka Moreaux. To see more of her work, visit this site.




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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Loss in the Month of December


It is so hard sometimes to find out who people really are. Especially people you admire. Especially people who are mentoring or helping you. Especially if you find out bad things.

The last month of the year 2014 has been particularly painful. Several months of me being unemployed and searching for the right career home had finally ended, and after barely surviving financially—and I do mean barely, we had just let ourselves breathe. Note to self: exhale with caution in the future.

We were behind on everything—bills, Christmas, anniversary pictures that we usually have done in November—all of it. But it all seemed like it was going to be ok, finally.

Then, I was kind. We were kind.

We were kind to someone whom I had already started to doubt, and that gnawing doubt felt awful. I wanted to deny it, but it wouldn't go away. 

For the last year, I had finally made some progress in my writing, particularly for my book, in workshops and through guidance and support-- and the very person who had been a key part of that, who I had thought so much of, turned out to have a different side, and I had seen it. I was pulling back, but one last time, I got pulled in again. And that one last time cost us dearly. Emotionally, financially, and for me, something went dark afterwards.

The first loss is too painful to write about here. It was the worst and most emotional.

The second loss--all the confidence I had felt in my writing-- swirled away in that one day; a mad rush of all the positive words and moments throughout the last year that were tied to those classes and interactions—all of it got sucked into a black hole and poof! it was gone. Almost instantly. I couldn’t associate any of it as good or true if it came from that person who I now knew as not a good person—even a really bad person. And what did it say about me if I had been fooled or charmed by someone who told me things that may or may not have been true? How hungry was I for compliments and positive feedback? Then, what if it was real? What if she meant those things? What did it matter if it came from her? All that I had learned, all that I found valuable—the things I had written, the progress I had made—the notes, the time, the lessons—I wanted nothing to do with it.

It wasn't just drama or emotion. The writing that I have been doing is so personal, and the most important thing to me has always been that I am doing the right thing in the right way. Now, so much of it feels wrong, especially if the inspiration and guidance has come from someone I now feel is just really, at the core, not a good person.

So what of all this good vs. bad? Who am I really? I can tell you that I have done a lot of soul searching in the last month, and that’s saying a lot, because I feel that in my 45 years I have done my damn share of that already. But really. I asked myself over and over if I am truly kind and what motivates me and if I am a good person. What motivates me to be that? Do I want praise for it? Do I want some kind of reward?

I can remember my mom promising me over and over when I was a little girl, that if I was a good person, good things would happen for me. She would lay the whole thing out—in detail. That if I would do well in school, behave, not get into any bad things-- that I would meet a prince charming-type guy, get married, have lots of money, no worries, and lots of babies, and be happy forever. She would get so excited telling me this. I asked her one day if she had always been good, and without a beat, she said “yes”. I remember my little seven-year-old self, standing there on our green linoleum kitchen floor and I looked around and said, “But you don’t have all of those things”.  She didn’t know what to say. She was clearly annoyed and told me to go play or do something else. I was worried even then. I already saw how the world worked-- or didn’t work--and I didn’t like my odds. But I wasn’t playing for the odds. I wasn’t trying to win a game. I couldn’t live with myself if I wasn’t nice or kind, or didn’t do the right thing. I didn’t understand how people just did whatever they wanted with little regard for the consequences. I actually envied those people—and at times— I still do. How did they not worry or fret about things all the time the way I did?

So, the sequence of events that started on December 12 seemed to keep going. We ended up financially wiped out, suffering a huge loss to our family, and then having to further deal with someone who each day just seemed to show me how foolish I had been to trust or believe or be kind to them in the first place. It was both painful and humbling.

Then other little things kept happening, and I honestly felt like I was going to lose it. I was driving home from a work meeting, in a rain storm, and I was stopped at a red light. I was actually sitting in my car thinking perhaps we had gotten through the worst of it. Then – BAM! A car rear-ended me. Seriously. In the second after it happened, I actually laughed and said out loud- “You have to be fucking kidding me.”

It felt like a hard hit. I motioned in my rear-view mirror for the person to pull out of traffic with me into a parking lot. I feared the person would just drive off, but she didn’t. As I waited for her to pull in behind me, I thought- I have had it. I am going to let this woman have it. I am not going to be nice, screw being nice.

I actually got out of my car and slammed my door and almost ran into a woman a little shorter than me, already pleading her case, already in tears. I heard at least one kid crying in her car. She had been Christmas shopping, she was distracted. It was her fault, she was so sorry. Was I alright?—she should have asked that first. She was sorry.

She stood in front of me, defeated…in a Santa hat.

My car was fine. The woman was apologizing, pointing to a small dot on my bumper that I couldn’t see, as we were both getting drenched in the rain. She didn’t do anything on purpose. It was an accident. It was life. And no matter what had happened to me in the last few days, I couldn’t be horrible. I couldn’t be unkind.

I told her to let me drive home and make sure everything was ok, but not to worry, I didn’t think there was a problem. She stood there relieved and we exchanged information. We started to walk away and she asked if she could hug me. She didn’t wait for an answer. As she hugged me, she said, “You are a good person, thank you. Merry Christmas!”

I got back in my car, let her drive away, and started to cry. I don’t know if I am a good person. I don’t. I know that it hurts me if someone mistreats an animal, or a child, or another human being. I know that I lose sleep over these things. I know that I am not perfect. I know that I am not always kind, and that bothers me, especially when I slip and say the wrong thing in the wrong moment—or when I think I have hurt someone.

I know that in December of 2014, I lost a little part of myself and it will take a long time to get it back. That may not be a bad thing, but I think it is a sad thing. I won’t go out of my way to trust or help as easily for a long time, if ever. It was just too costly. But I will hold those dear to me a little closer.

I haven’t revisited my book, and I honestly don't know if I will. I can’t imagine it at the moment. It breaks my heart. I was just so far down that path and in that mindset; it is hard to go another way. I will see what the new year brings.

That’s all I can do for now as the year comes to a close, and as I say goodbye to December…and all that I lost. Wait and see what the new year brings.


Artwork: Head and Heart by Charlotte Salomon



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Sunday, October 5, 2014

One Year with Boone

A year ago today, we brought a twelve-week-old puppy into our home. We named him Boone. I have written about that day before. We already had a bit of a full house of rescue animals—one dog and three cats, but I very much wanted a sibling for our dog Bear, a built in playmate to keep him active. I saw a picture on a rescue website, and sent an email asking about him. One thing led to another, I sent an application, and then, we were off to an adoption event to meet him. I will never forget one of the volunteers picking him up and bringing him to us. He looked so small and scared. Boone had been in a high-kill shelter before the rescue pulled him and saved him. He would have been put down. The thought of him in a shelter alone and scared still bothers me. His foster mom was at the event that day, and she told us he was special. She clearly loved him. Everyone was surprised at how fast he took to Bear, jumping and playing. We all immediately loved him. He fell asleep on Shea’s lap during the long ride home, and never moved.

We came home and Boone found a place on the couch and didn’t move for hours. We petted him and gave him kisses, and Bear snuggled up to him. I finally picked him up to give him a bath, and it was if that was the moment he knew he was home. He came to life and never looked back. He bounded through the house, happy and boisterous. He played with toys, ate a lot of food, played with Bear, ventured outside in the back yard, and made himself at home. Leaving the house was another matter. This is still one of the things that breaks my heart when I think back on his first months here. Since Boone had been transported a lot in his early life, I am sure he never knew where he was being taken. When we had to leave our house for the vet or the dog park, he would stop, and run back to the front door and press against it, wanting to go back in. He would scratch the door, begging to stay. I was in tears the first few times this happened, because there was no way for me to reassure him that we were coming back, that we weren’t taking him away – that he would get to come back home. Shea and I would sit on the sidewalk and tell him this, but he couldn’t understand. He would shake in the car and actually get sick and throw up. It killed me every time. The only thing that made it better was to watch his reaction and relief when we would pull back in the driveway, and he would run in the house and know he was back home. Today, he loves to go to the car, he knows it means something fun, usually a trip to the dog park—his favorite place. His anxieties are behind him now.

It is amazing how different Boone’s personality is, compared to Bear’s. Bear has always been so confident, even as a puppy. He was always fearless, even though his background was similar to Boone’s. Boone is more timid, in some ways, but he is definitely hilarious. He makes us laugh all the time. He is also one of the most perpetually happy creatures I have ever known. He is truly the most grateful rescue dog I have ever seen. When we give him a treat, especially a particularly big one, he will almost always come and give us a thank you kiss. He has this huge Boone smile on his face almost 24/7. His tail is wagging all the time, so much so that somewhere in the house you hear its “thump, thump” throughout the day. However, like Bear, patience is not his strong suit. One of the things that amuses us most is Boone’s ability to stomp when he feels he is being ignored. He has done this since he was a puppy. He loves to go outside, and barks to go out pretty constantly. When we say no, especially when he asks to go out immediately after being let in, he will huff and puff and stomp his front paws. We nicknamed him “wrecking ball” almost from day one for his lack of understanding of personal space boundaries. His idea of asking for a piece of your sandwich is sticking his face in your sandwich. Likewise, his way of waking us up in the morning is jumping on your chest (all 90+ pounds of him—at full force) and swatting your face with his paws. It’s all done with love, he just doesn’t understand how huge he is—AT ALL. During his first vet visits, the vet told me there was no way he would be as big as Bear. How wrong he was. He has surpassed Bear. He his taller, and will weigh more once he fills in.

Boone has a funny, deep, gruff, growly bark that often turns into a howl. He will banter and argue with us at the drop of a hat, which I must admit we enjoy a little too much.
video

Boone watches television more than any other animal I have ever witnessed. He is, however, most interested in animals on tv, in particular, dogs. He will freeze if a dog is on tv, whether it’s on a commercial, or in a movie or program, and remain transfixed by every movement. He sometimes cries out and then looks at us, amazed by the dog –right there in the room with us! He will cock his head and lift his ears and change his facial expressions all while watching his fellow canine friends on television.

He is also a bit of a tattle tale. If anyone in the house hurts his feelings, for instance me, when I catch him in the trash…he will run to Shea to let him know that I was unfairly targeting him for no reason. I can be in the back bedroom and Boone will run to me with his feelings clearly hurt and I know that he has been reprimanded for some reason, just by his demeanor. He will fortunately quickly recover with a treat, especially if cheese is involved.

I have said before that Boone is the biggest love on four legs that I have ever met. I tear up at the dog park, still, when I watch him go up to everyone and get endless attention, because when we first brought him home, other people terrified him. It took him awhile to warm up to people and trust them. Dogs were fine, but people were another matter. He loves us so much. I can’t count the number of Boone kisses I have gotten in the last year. He snuggles up to me at every opportunity, and he adores Shea so much, that he cries out when Shea leaves the room.

And does he ever love Bear. Bear has been the best big brother we could have ever hoped for. He was patient with Boone from day one, and in turn, Boone has helped Bear stay active and has given him a playmate to sniff the back yard and guard the house with. Boone absolutely adores Bear. Bear still struggles with sharing toys, but luckily for everyone, Boone doesn’t care too much, as long as he can hang out with Bear.

In other words, Boone has been the perfect addition to our home in so many ways. This year has flown by. It was all luck and chance that brought him to us. I just happened to see that photo one night, everything just happened to click into place. Today, I am especially thankful for all the little pieces of luck that brought this sweet boy into our lives. It’s hard to remember a time without him.

Thank you for a great first year, buddy, we love you.

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Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Loss of Robin Williams and Why We Must Keep Talking About Depression


Yesterday, along with the rest of the world, I got the horrible news that Robin Williams had died. Even worse, he had taken his own life.

I found out via a breaking news email, tiny text in a few sentences on my cell phone. I gasped, and had to read it twice before I could answer my husband’s cries of “What’s wrong?”

I felt sick. Of course I didn’t know Robin Williams personally. I was just a fan. But anytime I read of anyone losing a battle with depression, committing suicide, I feel this way. It can be a stranger I read about in a newspaper article, a random obituary. It makes my heart hurt, because I know that pain.

After I read the email, my husband and I immediately turned to the 24 hour news channel on the television, and watched as the story unfolded. Already, stars and mourners were sharing their shock and memories of Robin Williams. I watched as social media turned into a place for people to grieve openly, and I was pleasantly surprised to see compassion dominate the postings. People were so shocked that someone who had given them such happy and touching moments in their lives was, in reality, suffering so much. They wished they had known--wished they could have helped somehow. It was hard for people to fathom how someone who had brought so much joy to the world could have possibly not felt that same joy returned to him.

Suddenly, total strangers offered their contact information out to the world—if anyone needed someone to talk to, just call, just write. YOU are important. YOU matter. People began to realize that if this could happen to someone like Robin Williams, it could happen to any one of us. They wanted to help. I found myself tearing up at the outpouring of love in honor of this man’s passing.

All I could think about was his last moments. I cannot claim to know his personal suffering, but like anyone who has battled severe depression, like anyone who has attempted suicide and been in that low, horrible place, I felt I knew something few people know. There is just a darkness that is like nothing else, that you can’t escape, that you can’t see a way out of, that envelopes you and hurts like nothing else. You feel worthless in a way that is bottomless. You feel like such a burden to everyone and everything and that you will be relieving the world of you and your problems if you are gone. There is nothing more painful, more confusing, and more horrible than those moments. You want to die and you don’t. You want to the pain to end, you want so badly to be anything other than this dark, horrible thing that you are.

I hated so badly that someone so gifted, so genuine, who had given so much, felt that way, and was alone like that in his last moments. But everyone who dies like that is alone in those moments, and it always hits me the same way when I hear about it. I hate it.

If we learned anything from Robin Williams’ death, we learned that depression can affect anyone. It doesn’t matter how rich, how talented, how popular, or well thought of you are…depression doesn’t discriminate. It can crawl in on shadowy feet into the minds and souls of any one of us. It isn’t a choice or a mood. It is a disease, and it can be fatal.

I was so, so fortunate to have survived my battle with depression, that lasted most of my adult life. I am one of those people who will always have to be careful, always aware that depression will be just below the surface for me, easier to inhabit my psyche. For me, it feels like a rope around my waist, loosely hanging now, as I am healthy and fine, but with the threat of it always being able to pull tight and drag me down. I have to know and understand my triggers, take care of myself, not let myself get too stressed by work (or life), get enough sleep, take medication, and seek help if I feel myself slipping.

What I think was also apparent as I watched social media erupt with love and grief last night, was so many people shared their own battles with depression. It’s almost absurd that we have the stigma that we do, when almost everyone either has suffered from depression or is close to someone who has. It’s as if we are all keeping this big, stupid secret about something that is painfully obvious and happening all the time to all of us right before our eyes. Because it is. Life is so hard. We all struggle. We all need help sometimes. Keeping quiet is what leads people into lonely rooms to take their lives. We have to keep talking.

If Robin Williams had been just another comedian, he wouldn’t have touched people the way he did. Sure, everyone loves to laugh, and someone who makes you laugh is always welcome. But the reason Robin Williams was so beloved is because he surprised us. He was one of the most gifted funny men out there. He could truly make you belly laugh like no one else. But then, almost out of nowhere, he appeared on screen in serious roles and showed all this heart and made us weep. There was such a true genuineness in his dramatic roles, they were as touching as his comedic roles were funny. There are so few people in the world with that much range, that much depth—to be able to pull off both comedic and dramatic roles the way that he did. I believe he felt things so deeply, he gave so much and we, his audience, felt that too.

To me, he always seemed a little tortured, fighting something—in a beautiful way. You could tell he felt everything, deeply. That’s why his performances rang so true. I have just felt so sad by this loss, all the performances we won’t see, what we will miss out on now that he is gone. But most of all, I can’t quit thinking of his last moments, and I am haunted.

My hope in all of this, in all of the compassion, the sadness, and the realization is that out of this huge loss, a conversation will start and continue. This is the best example of the fact that depression can affect ANYONE. Robin Williams has left an amazing legacy of his work onscreen, but my hope is also that another legacy will be that so many lives will be saved because we all kept talking, and more people came out of the shadows, and stayed out of their lonely rooms and more people reached out for help.

I think he would have loved that. Don’t you?

Please, if you are contemplating suicide, know that you are not alone. YOU ARE IMPORTANT. YOU MATTER. No matter how bad things are right now, they can get better. Reach out for help.
Call this hotline—I have called this number before—they save lives and they can save yours:

1-800-784-2433 (1-800-SUICIDE)


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