Category Archives: Life

“My sister is dying…”

For the last 26 hours, since I was given the news that my sister’s cancer is inoperable, my every thought seems to begin with “My sister is dying…” and then fragments from there. Simple muscle memory activities, the things I would expect to proceed without error, are done incorrectly, in the wrong order, with steps mixed up and/or left out. I find myself rehearsing in my head what needs to be done next to finish an activity. And even then, they all seem to start with “My sister is dying. What do I do next?” Today I put my phone in the fridge. I hit the wrong buttons on the microwave. I immediately forgot the answers to questions I asked and had to ask again. I walked myself through doing the laundry, step-by-step narration in my head.

I think about what I might be wanting to hear if it were me. “My sister is dying. What does she need from me? What can I say that will reassure her? What do I do next?” I think about who she worries about, and what she might need to know. She never married, has no kids, no life partner, but still she will be leaving people she loves behind. People she might worry about. Is she worrying about her mother, my step-mother? I will be there for her. I will reassure my sister that her leaving this world will not leave her mother alone. I will tell her I love her, that I don’t want to lose her. But I also feel the need to reassure her that it will be okay to go, when it’s time. It’s what I would want to know. That my loved ones would have each other, that they would not be alone, that they had companions both in grieving and in living again with this new hole in their lives that is sure to come. “My sister is dying. What do I do next?

I don’t know how much time there will be before she goes, but I don’t think it will be enough, because it could never be enough. I also think it will be too much, because when there is pain and suffering involved, surely there will be too much. I feel helpless, and angry, and unspeakably sad, and afraid, and ill-equipped to cope with what is happening. Over a day later, my thoughts still start, “My sister is dying. What do I do next?” and then fracture into little vignettes of stop-motion animation, stuttering across my brain. I am operating in a fog.

She will be 46 next month. I imagine (I hope) she will be here still. Then the seasonal holidays will be upon us before you know it. Will she be here for all of them? Some of them? Any of them? How will this change my feelings about the holidays? They are already bittersweet, at best. How will she feel? If it were me, I think I would worry about leaving a sad memory, to accompany all future holidays for everyone. I don’t want this for her. I don’t want her to feel responsible for managing the feelings and thoughts of the people surround her. I don’t know if she will dwell on this. “My sister is dying. What do I do next?” I will tell her it’s okay to let any of those guilty feelings go.

I will give her the gift of my imaginary beautiful walled garden, my safe sanctuary, and my imaginary lion, who protects me, and my imaginary mama-bear, who nurtures and cares for me, and my imaginary wise owl, who counsels and teaches me, and I will hope that these bring her comfort in the same way they do for me. “My sister is dying. Here is the love I know how to give. What do I do next?

I am temporarily broken. After all this, when I am put back together, there will hopefully be light shining through the cracks in my surface. My new normal. I have learned that the best way to heal myself emotionally  is to be present for someone else, someone dealing with whatever I’ve already gone through. To give them tools for getting through to the other side. While I would certainly prefer not having the hard times, I know that my experience is redeemed if  I am here for the next broken person the world puts in my path with the same or similar wounds. “My sister is dying. I feel helpless. What do I do next?

Tomorrow’s goals:

  • Be loving.
  • Be present.
  • Show up.
  • Listen.
  • Ask how I can help.
  • Forgive myself for making mistakes as I do these things
  • Keep doing these things.

 


That’s my community too.

The LGBTQ community is not “those people”. The LGBTQ community is part of my community.

I met my husband in a gay bar. (Well, technically we met on AOL, but in person we met in a gay bar.) We spent a lot of time there, over the next couple of years, with a group of good friends. We knew the bartenders, we knew the wait staff, we knew the people that performed in the drag show. Some of our friends were gay, some weren’t, some were a bit fluid on where they stood, and we shared a community based on enjoying each other, not on labels or who we wanted to kiss. Orlando’s mass murder makes me feel sick, that could have been any of us.

I went to college in San Francisco, during the beginning(ish) of the AIDS epidemic in the 80s. I grew up in Berkeley, also a gathering ground for gays and lesbians. I have/had friends, whom I love, who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer…. some of them I no longer know, but the good memories remain. They were part of my community, not anomalies to be singled out. Some are my friends that I interact with regularly, mostly on facebook, but nevertheless part of my life. Some of my closest friends even. Orlando’s mass murder makes me feel horrified, that could have been my community.

And, *most importantly for me*, I have a daughter who is queer. I have a daughter that loves to go out dancing. I have a daughter who loves passionately, with her whole heart, who I think feels exhausted and angry and heartsick and threatened, just for being who she is and loving who she loves. Orlando’s mass murder makes me feel devastated, THAT COULD HAVE BEEN MY DAUGHTER!! That could be my daughter next time. This is terrifying.

I have felt afraid just for being a woman, alone on a dark street.
I have felt afraid just for being a woman, walking alongside a construction site.
I have felt afraid just for being a woman who had maybe one drink too many, among strangers at a bar or a party.
I have been frightened, been molested, been raped, been angry and heartsick.
But, *never* have I felt afraid of being KILLED just for being myself, just for holding hands or kissing a person that someone else completely unconnected to us thought I shouldn’t.
It’s unthinkable, and yet it is unavoidably part of her life, and therefore part of mine.

What can we do, beyond exclaiming “This is terrible! This is unacceptable!”? What can I do, beyond being as loving as I know how to be, beyond sharing my feelings with you, beyond listening to your stories? I don’t know. I’m sure the universe will be telling me. I hope I’ll be listening for it, amidst all the noise out there clamoring for attention, amidst all the noise in my head.

“Imagine all the people, living life in peace … You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. I hope someday you’ll join us, and the world will be as one.” – John Lennon’s “Imagine”

Imagine. Peace. Love. Namaste.


RIP Prince, 4/21/16

Purple Piano

Prince’s empty piano

“I never meant to cause you any sorrow.
I never meant to cause you any pain.
I only wanted one time to see you laughing.
I only want to see you laughing in the purple rain.” – Purple Rain, Prince, 1983

Photo copyright of Aaron Gogerty (as far as I can tell)

Read this!  PRINCE: We all live on borrowed time

Piero, once again putting it out there in a way that we FEEL! I don’t know Piero, but many of my friends do, and he’s always got something very interesting to share. This is transcendent. Beautiful! Thanks Piero!

“…he was the soundtrack for our youthful expression, freedom, and love lives, and rebellion…” – Piero Amadeo Infante

Out of all the notable deaths this year (and it’s been a doozy of a year already, this 2016), this is the first death that REALLY hits me. When I think of my Senior year in High School,  a year that spanned 1983-1984, I think of Prince. I have so many memories that are wrapped up in his music, from that year and many others. Really sad about it. He was only 57!! That hits a little close to home too. Prince is playing on repeat all day today. Listening to the Purple Rain album, the soundtrack from the 1984 movie, and the 1999 album, and they are totally making me cry. All of Prince’s music (and the songs he wrote for others) was a major part of the soundtrack for my high school and college in general, and so in the end, a partial, but important, soundtrack to my life.

A sad day.


Being a Girl: Reflections

My reflections upon reading this blog post: http://bellejar.ca/ writes about Being a Girl: A Personal History of Violence. It’s so important what she wrote, I hope you read it!

This rings so true, that I cried! . . . I cried a lot. I cried for the author, I cried for myself, I cried for my daughters and my friends.

So many of these examples are ones that made me say “Oh! Me too!”… Sometimes “Oh! Me too!” is a cry of joy, in recognition that someone, somewhere, is experiencing what I experience, and I feel a kinship that transcends the fact that I don’t know them, for we “belong” in some way. But not this time.

This time, “Oh! Me too!” feels like a cry of pain and dismay, in recognition that someone, somewhere has experienced what I have experienced, even if the details are different, and I feel a kinship that hurts because we both hurt, and our stories are not unique, they are all too common and this is the world we all live in together.

There are so many ways in which the world says “don’t be assertive, don’t talk back, don’t stand up for yourself, don’t tell, don’t be so sensitive, don’t demand equality, don’t demand justice, don’t think, don’t show yourself, don’t own your sexuality, don’t be a girl, just … don’t be.”

In my life, I’ve been repeatedly molested, I’ve been date-raped, I’ve been assaulted, I’ve been emotionally and physically abused by people that “loved me”, I’ve been shamed, I’ve been abandoned, I’ve been threatened with death threats, I’ve been stalked, I’ve had things taken from me that should have been mine to keep or give by choice, I’ve been humiliated publicly, I’ve been taught to be afraid of being seen, I’ve been ashamed and afraid to tell people my truths about the violence in my life.

I’ve been practicing this, this telling my truths, for a couple of years now, and still it’s terrifying. But this FEAR is not how I want to live my life! This fear tries to tell me I will lose my family, I will lose my friends, I will lose my dignity, I will lose my self. But the reality is that telling my secrets, and re-defining how I will live my life and who will be in it, actually gives me so much strength and confidence and a new sense of dignity and integrity that I wasn’t able to find in myself before, when I was scrambling to hide in the dark.

So, bring on the light! Shine the light into these dark corners! I will redefine what it’s like to be a girl and maybe I will help someone else do the same thing. Because seeing someone else who is willing to tell the truth makes it that much more possible for the next person. So, I’m saying to myself and to you: STOP HIDING!!!

Thank you to my friend for sharing this post on your facebook page. Thank you for noting that it was 99% familiar to you. Thank you for pointing out that most women have experienced similar things. It made me read it, and it prompted me to share it as well. Much love.


Acclimation

Acclimation. It’s what we do.

I was reminded in therapy last week that we usually acclimate to repetitive traumas we cannot control, until we find a way to stop them. It allows us to survive, emotionally and physically.  I am a survivor because I acclimated to the physical and emotional abuse I endured when I was younger, until I found ways to stop them. This made me reconsider my sometimes negative reaction to the word survivor. (Yes, I realize it’s part of my chosen moniker. Doesn’t mean I love the word.) I survived many things and then TRIUMPHED over them. I decided I needed an actual list of the times I have done this, for when I’m feeling like a failure.

  1. I was molested for 6-7 years by my older brother, from the time I was 7 until I was almost 14. I’m not completely sure why I never told anyone, but obviously I felt it was unsafe. I acclimated to these things because I felt that I had no choice, until I had the courage to change it. I made it stop by setting up an obstacle course in my bedroom that would make a lot of noise when he came in to my room at night. My parents woke up and came to rush in, and the story came out. It’s noticeable to me that I didn’t tell anyone, but instead forced a situation where it couldn’t be said I was lying. Unfortunately, it’s also noticeable that nothing happened about it, but at least he stopped. I did that, nobody did it for me.
  2. My stepfather said and did lots of inappropriate things. He was frequently nude in my house and our backyard, from the time he moved in when I was 6. He frequently commented on my looks from the time I was young, and sometimes touched me in ways that didn’t feel good to me. He insisted on kissing me on the lips when he kissed me. He would get drunk and tell me all his problems by the time I was 10. I acclimated to these things because I felt that I had no choice. A complete list of his craziness and inappropriate shit would fill several pages. I really hated him. I moved out at 18, largely to get away from him. When I was in my late 20s and had moved out of state, I came to visit my mother and he tried to kiss me hello, on my lips as usual. I finally had the confidence to say NO. I stopped his kiss from reaching my face, I told him it wasn’t okay to do that, it had never been okay to do that, and it was stopping as of right then. I also told him he’d made me uncomfortable most of my life, and I wasn’t going to let that happen anymore. Our relationship changed at that moment. I held the power after that. I did that, nobody did it for me.
  3. I was in several emotionally abusive relationships when I was young, with older men who held all the power in our relationships. Some were short-lived, some were lengthy (up to 3 years.) I ended every one of those relationships myself, even if it took me some time, even in the face of suicidal threats from one. I did that, nobody did it for me.
  4. I was in one particularly emotionally abusive relationship as a young woman. After I was treated like a queen and placed on a pedestal, I was belittled and yelled at, made to feel my flaws were too much for anyone to want me, that I was lucky to have this man who would put up with me. He would get drunk and scream profanity and vitriol at me, among many other things. I acclimated to these things for 3 years, because I felt that I had no choice, until I finally found the courage to change it. I didn’t do it all on my own, but once the door was opened to leave, I refused to go back, even in the face of threats of physical harm and subsequent stalking. I did that, nobody did it for me.

That’s all I have time for right now. May add more later.


Meeting The Bloggess

This Saturday (two days ago), Jenny Lawnson aka The Bloggess came to my city on a book tour, to give a book reading, answer questions, and sign her books for those in attendance. The event started at 4pm. Due to an appointment prior to the book signing, I couldn’t get there until a little after 4. I knew there would be too many people attending to fit us all in, so it was no surprise when there was a line of people snaking around the outer edge of the floor below the reading. A lovely surprise was that her voice was being played over the speakers near the line, so it was almost like we were in the room with her. She read parts of her new book (Furiously Happy) aloud. I wasn’t the only person in the line laughing and then suddenly crying because so much of it hits home. The tagline of the book is “A funny book about horrible things“, and is largely devoted to essays about mental illness and how it affects her, and the many ways in which that can be funny and endearing and sad and totally inappropriate and wonderful and unique. She makes me laugh so hard that I cry! I have both of her books on Kindle, so I brought my two Kindle covers to be signed. These have less permanence than a book, as they can wear off from handling, I will probably replace those Kindles at some point which may necessitate new covers, etc., but I get to see it every day, so for me that is of far greater value.

I was able to give her a note letting her know that my website is called SilentlySurviving.com, because she named it so well.  (Hopefully she saw it!) I picked this name for my blog because it was such a perfect representation of how I feel. When she blogged about her own depression and anxiety and self-harm issues, she  referred to herself and others with similar issues as Silently Surviving, survivors of a mostly invisible illness, one that we tend to self-limit how much we talk about and therefore it’s both invisible and secret and suffered in shame and silence, and surviving isn’t noticed because the struggle isn’t seen.

I perpetuate this silence in many ways. I don’t blog often and I even more rarely share that I even have a blog. Much of the time I don’t feel I have the energy to blog. It’s not that I don’t have time and/or energy to do things, but it takes something different to do the self-reflection and inner discussion it requires for me to write. My process goes like this: I feel too much, I think too much, I get overwhelmed too much, I self-regulate myself by putting myself down too much, etc., and then I distract/escape too much by playing video games and reading sometimes mindless books, and leave myself without the time and energy to blog. Then when I do blog, I’m afraid to tell people about it. It’s like my dirty little secret that only a few know about.

Even though I only got to meet with her for a few moments, after a couple of hours of waiting to see her, I felt so happy and invigorated afterwards! I was so impressed with her ability to be there for so long, to smile for every single person, have a kind word for everyone, and not run screaming from the room, or hide under the table waiting for people to leave.  She is an idol of mine, and how often do we get to meet our idols if they aren’t people we already know? Not often. I almost didn’t go, but the deciding factor was that I knew I would regret it if I never got the chance to go see her again. I’m so glad I made the effort! I’m glad my husband encouraged me to go, waited patiently with me, and then fed me immediately after, since I didn’t make time to eat beforehand. A good man, I think I’ll keep him. 🙂

Thank you Jenny, for being so open about your struggles and triumphs, and for making a space for so many thousands of people to take a breath and say “Oh, me too!” What freedom there is in that!  Thank you for everything!

 

 


Some Thoughts on Happiness and Unhappiness

Some thoughts on happiness and unhappiness, and the amount of control we have over these feelings:

I agree with author Eckhart Tolle, who says “The primary cause of unhappiness is never the situation but your thoughts about it. Be aware of the thoughts you are thinking. Separate them from the situation, which is always neutral, which always is as it is. There is the situation or the facts, and there are my thoughts about it. Instead of making up stories, stay with the facts. For example, “I am ruined” is a story. It limits you and prevents you from taking effective action. “I have fifty cents left in my bank account” is a fact. Facing facts is always empowering. Be aware that what you think, to a large extent, creates the emotions you feel. See the link between your thinking and your emotions.”

So, generally speaking, your thoughts lead to your feelings. Whatever story you have made up in your head (a fantasy, frequently based on one bright shining picture of a distilled moment of possibility) will probably be let down, because usually we aren’t even aware of the actual distilled moment we are in. When you stay attached to that fantasy about who someone is, or how something should be, reality won’t fit. You can easily spend all of your time thinking about everything that is not how you want it to be, and be constantly frustrated, because reality doesn’t fit into your fantasy.

The fantasy of *how things should be* is interfering with the ability to be happy now. The fantasy of *how things should have been* is interfering with the ability to be happy now. The fantasy of *how things will be* (someday) is interfering with the ability to be happy now and in each successive moment.

I know this to be true, but living it is exceedingly difficult. I think the key is learning to detach from the outcome. Easier said than done.

When people say “It is what it is”, I frequently scoff, thinking that it is a defeatist attitude (someone has given up) or, conversely, a woo-woo new agey everything-is-beautiful attitude that doesn’t live in the real world.

But here is the thing: it really is whatever it is, regardless of what we want it to be.

Let go of the fantasy. Be mindful of the present. Detach from the outcome. Rearrange your thoughts.


You Are A Gift, And So Am I

What if you realized today that YOU are a GIFT, exactly as you are, to the people that love you?? How would that change your day?

You are NOT a burden to shoulder, not a performer to impress or entertain, and not someone that is only partially acceptable. You are a gift, the way you are, including both your talents and self-perceived flaws.

You are not your job, nor your successes, nor your failures. You are not your diagnoses. You are a gift that comes without strings or conditions. You may have been broken on the way; that does not affect your perfection.

You are the perfect YOU. You are still a beautiful gift to the people that love you. Go be the best you, insecurities and all; I’ll be over here, being the best me I can be.


What we see as victory

What I see: on a bad day, getting out of bed, getting dressed, going to work., these are major victorys!
What the rest of the world sees: I’m late, I’m lazy, I’m irresponsible. I think the rules don’t apply to me.

Every minute past the deadline hour that I don’t get out of bed, I am perfectly aware of how much worse my situation is getting. Now I’m anxious on top of depressed. The anxiety increases in some strange algorithm the longer it gets. I start thinking of lies I can tell to excuse my lateness or at least explain it away, without having to say “I couldn’t get out of bed”. Or really, I couldn’t stop getting back into bed. I got up several times… bathroom, take the dogs out, get some water. Each time, my brain says “get in the shower, get dressed!” and each time, my emotional self says no, and crawls back under the covers.

In the end today, I got up 1/2 hour past the time I should have been at work, so I got there 1 hour late. I didn’t tell any inane lies about it, just apologized and said I was having some problems this morning. I didn’t offer details and for once wasn’t asked for any.

I really wish I could just “wish” this stuff away, just decide to be happy, and be motivated. The real world doesn’t work like that though, at least not for me. A quote making the rounds on facebook “Most folks are as happy as they make up their minds to be” by Abraham Lincoln. That sounds really good. Seems profound, seems …. “doable”. Doesn’t seem to take into account chemical depression. I’m not unhappy. I probably have an enviable life in many ways. I’m just depressed in a way that doesn’t take happiness or lack thereof into account. We need another word for this. Maybe there is one. It’s almost closer to inertia really.

Taking it One Day At A Time, even if the rest of the world expects more.


ironic

Ironically, a month after my last post about suicide prevention day, another person in my life tried to commit suicide, without me noticing the signs. Each time, someone who lives in my home with me. These kids are tremendously skilled at covering up their feelings.