Monday, November 12, 2012

Celebrating Christmas

It seems like as I've grown older, the time to start celebrating Christmas has come earlier each year. Santa Claus arrived at our local mall on November 10 so I guess it must be time to start celebrating Christmas, yes? The past couple of days have gifted us with milder weather and temperatures in the low 60s. As I drive across town from my parent's house to my apartment, I have noticed that many people have their Christmas decorations out already. The lights, the wreaths, inflatable Santas and reindeer and snowmen, penguins wearing colorful hats and scarves, and an occasional manger scene adorn the front yards of many homes. Perhaps people were taking advantage of the warmer weather to get their decorations out. It makes sense. It's pretty hard to drive a plastic candy cane into the ground after it has frozen without using a sledgehammer and then you risk shattering the candy cane!

But it's only November 12! As Halloween was preparing to end, the Christmas stock was being rolled out onto the shelves at the stores. Even the Thanksgiving decorations are already on clearance sale! The commercials for the chocolate diamond jewelry from Jared's and the newest Lexus models are on, showing us the "perfect" gifts to give to the ones we love. I hate those ads because I allow them to make me feel inferior for not having the money to buy a new Lexus for my father (even if he doesn't want one). I'm much more comfortable with the Old Navy ads for $5.00 sweaters.  I find that for myself, all of this "preseason commercial push" seems to distract me from what I believe is the true meaning of Christmas, a product  of my lifelong faith, the birth of Christ. The more I allow myself to get swept up in the ribbons and bows, bright lights and sparkles, the greater the chance that I will miss the the meaning of the manger celebrated with the dim glow of a candle being raised above my head during the final verse of Silent Night in church on Christmas Eve.

Now don't get me wrong. I like to give and receive gifts at Christmas. Even though I am 42 years old, I am still the first one to the tree on Christmas morning. (In fact, last year I drove over to my parent's house before the sunrise, let myself in through the garage using my assigned security code, and sat in a chair, next to the tree, for 2 hours waiting for someone else to get up. You should have seen the surprised look on my father's face when he came out of his bedroom to find me already in his house, ready to open presents!)  But in the midst of all of that excitement and celebration, laughter and fun, I will pause to give thanks to God for the greatest gift of all. And however you celebrate and recognize the holiday, I wish you joy and peace and love.

Saturday, October 27, 2012


I just finished reading a book called Tricks written by Ellen Hopkins. The book follows the stories of several teenagers who end up in the sex industry through different pathways in their lives. One sentence that really stuck out to me was "Why reach for a dream when you're at ease within your nightmares?" This thought has come to me many times throughout my lifetime, especially when I am going through some type of change and searching for some sense of direction in my life. Things are better for me now. Better than they have been in several years. But now a change is about to occur - a change I don't want.

I've written before about how I'm an "all-or-none" kind of person. If one thing is going to change, why not change everything else as well? For the good or bad, what the hell, it doesn't matter, just do it. Well I'm finding myself in that position again. Last week I found out that my therapist is retiring. I am used to starting over with new therapists. There is a lot of turn over in that field. And I knew that would be coming soon because she is at a "retirement age". But that doesn't make it any easier. This is especially difficult because she has been the one I have had the strongest connection with and really felt safe and supported by her. She has also been the first therapist that I have had who has asked about and encouraged me to think about my dreams. The problem is that I have been allowing this one little change to throw my whole life into a state of chaos. My mind screams out "CHANGE DOCTORS TOO! STOP TAKING YOUR MEDS! GO BACK OUT AND DRINK! PACK UP THE KITTIES AND RUN AWAY, FAR, FAR, AWAY! LEAVE YOUR FRIENDS AND FAMILY BEHIND! GIVE UP ON TRYING TO FIGURE OUT YOUR PURPOSE IN LIFE! GIVE UP ON YOUR DREAMS!"  That's just a sampling of what is running through my head right now. I am tempted to return to, or maybe more accurately feel pulled towards, returning to my "nightmares" rather than move forward with my dreams. I have been so comfortable being "sick" for so many years that "healthy" is scary for me. Physical health would be nice, but mental health seems out of reach much of the time and I flee when I feel it coming on.

I do not want to continue to go down that path anymore. I do not want to remain comfortable in my nightmares and quash my dreams. I want to go out on the limbs and taste the fruit before it falls to the ground and rots. I was at a support group meeting a week ago and one of the gentleman looked over at me and asked "What is your dream? What gives you a sense of meaning?" and my immediate response was writing. I didn't have to think twice. It is what I am feeling pulled to do. And that is one thing that I owe in part to my therapist. I have always journaled. Lots of therapists like clients to do that because it's "therapeutic". But my therapist has encouraged me to expand my writing and reach beyond what has been holding me back and to go for it. After all, what have I got to lose?

So, there will be some changing going on. I will be meeting a new therapist. And I will not throw the baby out with the bathwater and yell "screw it all" as I run away, flipping the bird behind me as I go. I will stick it out and see what I can learn from these changes. Who knows, maybe that will help me to move forward with my dreams as well. We shall see. I still don't think that I can say that I am fond of change with a straight face but at least I'm willing to try today.


I just finished reading a book Tricks by Ellen Hopkins. The story follows the lives of several teenagers who end up working in the sex industry. One of the lines in that book that really stuck out to me was "Why reach for a dream when you're at ease within your nightmares?" Well, that kind of describes where my mind has been over the past week or so. Or if I am to be truly honest, over most of my life.

I do not like change and yet I seem to throw myself into a whole tornado of change if one little thing is out of order. I take one change and create an environment of chaos where I feel more at  ease. Last week I found out that my therapist is retiring in a month. I was not totally surprised by this but that doesn't make it any easier. After I left her office that afternoon and drove the 3 blocks to my apartment I had decided that I was going to change everything. "I'M GOING TO GET A NEW DOCTOR! I'M GOING TO QUIT TAKING MY MEDS! I'M GOING TO GO BACK TO DRINKING! I'M GOING TO PACK UP MY KITTIES AND RUN FAR, FAR AWAY! I'M GOING TO LEAVE ALL OF MY FRIENDS AND FAMILY BEHIND! I'M GOING TO GIVE UP ON FINDING A PURPOSE IN MY LIFE!" You get the picture. That has always been my immediate response. And for the record, it has never worked out well for me.

I know that I am in a better place this time though. Those thoughts came and went several times but did not linger or send me running off to Utah (that is a whole other story!). I think this shows some progress on my part. I know that my physical health is starting to improve again but perhaps my mental health is as well. I am going to miss seeing my therapist. I felt she was a good "fit" with me and I always felt safe and supported with her. But beyond that, she has given me a little extra "gift" of encouragement to seek out and follow my dreams. I don't remember how it came about, but at one of our sessions I shared some of my writing with her and she has been encouraging me to write ever since. Now I know that a lot of therapists encourage clients to journal as it can be very therapeutic. But she has encouraged me to go a little deeper and explore writing in many new directions. The night after I learned that she was retiring I attended a support group and one of the gentleman asked me what my dream was, what gave me a sense of meaning and purpose. My response was immediate - writing. It felt good to say that out loud and not feel that that was a wasted dream because I didn't major in English in college or haven't published anything. For me, that's not what the writing is about. It is about expressing and sharing some of my thoughts and ideas and experiences with others without fear of being judged. That is what my therapist has encouraged me to do. She has never told me to think of a "better" or "more realistic" dream. She simply has encouraged me to write whatever is on my heart.

So, I will be meeting a new therapist soon. I will do my best to approach this change with an open mind. And I will not throw the baby out with the bathwater and change everything about me. I think that just maybe I'm ready to reach for that dream and step away from the uncomfortable yet familiar nightmares I stroll around in. Perhaps I am changing as well, little by little.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

When Darkness Fills the Heart

Today is a beautiful fall day in Lafayette, Indiana. The sky is blue, the clouds are white and fluffy, the yellow, orange, and red leaves brilliant against the mid-afternoon sky. The air is crisp and there is a breeze blowing through the trees. But right outside my backdoor is a black cloud of sadness and despair.

Yesterday afternoon I returned home after having lunch with several good friends to find my apartment house surrounded by police cars and two large utility vans with "Aftermath" written on the sides. They were from a hazardous materials clean-up service. My neighbor from apartment 1 was standing on the sidewalk and came over to me and asked if I had heard what had happened in apartment 3. She then told me that the 26 year old college student who was living in the apartment above mine had put a shotgun to his head and pulled the trigger, killing himself early Saturday morning. I didn't know what to say. I had just spoken to him earlier that day and now she's telling me he is gone. All that came out of my mouth was "How sad". But thoughts were racing around in my head faster than I could process them.

I wondered why, what had led him to make the decision to end his life. And then I realized that all it really boiled down to was that he had to have been in a pain deeper than he thought he could bear. I know this because I too have been to that place. I have attempted suicide on more than one occasion. One particular attempt landed me in a coma on a ventilator for several days. When I reflect back on those times in my life, all that comes to mind was that I was hurting and wanted the pain to stop. Nothing else mattered. A pain that deep is hard to describe to someone who has not felt it.

I did not know him well but he always spoke to me on the way to the mailbox. He offered to carry my 35 pound tubs of cat litter up the steps and into my apartment. He was kind and considerate, frequently checking with me to make sure that his music was not too loud. He talked about his cats and listened to me talk about mine. He always had a smile on his face. When we spoke on Friday afternoon we wondered whether or not Purdue would beat Michigan on Saturday. I wonder if he was thinking about what he was going to do 12 hours later that night. Was he having second thoughts or was he relieved at having made the decision to end his life? I do not know if he struggled with depression or drugs or alcohol or strained family relationships or financial difficulties. I do believe that he felt alone in his pain and  that he must have felt there was no other option to ease whatever was tormenting his soul. This was true for me and it is what I have heard from many others who have attempted to take their own lives. No one makes this decision lightly and without great despair.

I am grateful that I am not in that place today. It is a very lonely, sad place to be. I am grateful that I have been given another chance at life and that I had friends, family, doctors, and therapists to help me get through those times when I felt I could not go on and when I did not want to go on. I think about all I would have missed out on and what my family has gone through watching me struggle. I don't want to visit that place again. And so I will pray for all those who loved C. and who will miss him greatly. As I am writing this I have a copy of his obituary with his picture next to me and looking at the picture with his big smile would not have guessed his heart was filled with darkness. I'm saddened to think that he was hurting so deeply inside. There is so much joy to be experienced in living. I know that now. I wish he could have seen that too. I'm going to miss him.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

At the Fire Hydrant

From where I am sitting
I can see her.
She has set up camp right on the corner
of 10th and Ferry on the sidewalk
by the fire hydrant.
Her backpack is stuffed so full
it stands on its own
and doesn't tip over
under her weight as she sits down
on the ground and leans back against it,
stretching her legs out in front of her
as if she were sitting in a Lazy Boy recliner.
Her two trash bags of what
I assume to be her other belongings
sit off to her side.
Through the open window
I hear her talking
to no one around
in what sounds like nonsense to me.
Passers by step out into the street
to get around her,
avoiding looking her in the eye.
Although it is 93 degrees outside
she is wearing a long sleeved
green and blue plaid shirt
over a tattered black t-shirt.
Blue running shorts and brown work boots
complete her outfit.
At the end of May she is already sporting
an August tan on her legs and her face.
A blue baseball cap covers up
her dirty blond hair.
As I leave to walk out to my car
I think I understand why no one
is getting close enough
to say hello to her.
She is surrounded by a pungent cloud
of body odor, dirt,
and the smell of stale cigarettes.
It's hard not to acknowledge homelessness
exists in my neighborhood
when the stench hits me in the face.
Stereotypes and my own biases
stop me from offering her a couple of dollars.
She'd probably just buy a
40 ouncer or more cigarettes.
I reassure myself that she can get a hot meal
at the day shelter in just three more hours if she wants it.
And I too walk on by,
not looking her in the eye.
After all, she's not my responsibility, is she?

Friday, January 13, 2012

New Year's Resolutions?

It's been a while since I've posted anything. Guess I've been caught up in a bit of a "dry spell". Oh well, that happens on occasion!

This year I made no new year's resolutions. And so far, I've kept all of them! In the past, I continued to come up with a half dozen or so things that I wanted to improve upon in the upcoming year. So, I'd make these sweeping proclamations on New Year's Eve of all that I was going to do "right" in the new year. Then I'd spend three or four days white-knuckling it through, determined to keep my word and turn my life around before giving up. That always left me angry and frustrated with myself and waiting for new years to come around again so I could start over. Well, not anymore.

I still have things that I'd like to improve upon. Like maybe not cussing out the old lady who cuts me off in traffic or the bus driver who doesn't smile and say "hello" back to me when I board the bus. Like eating two Oreos instead of four. But rather than making these sort of changes all-or-nothing absolutes, I'm looking at them as small stepping stones to living what I hope will be a more contented life. I have decided that my goal will be to try to make each new day a little better than the day before, even if in only a small way. Sometimes all I can muster is a change in my attitude, looking for the positive in a situation rather than focusing on what it is that I don't like about it. So far, that seems to be working much better for me and I don't find myself kicking "me" in the butt at the end of the day. Everything else is gravy! No promises I can't keep. No promises I don't want to keep. No promises I make only to please others. Just asking God to guide my decisions and to help me do my part every day of the year, not just the first three days!