Know Yourself

“Love the world as your self; then you can care for all things.” ― Byron Katie

It is easy to love the world when surrounded by the beautiful parts, and not so easy when we are faced with the darker side of humanity (or ourselves).

When I was in Greece, it struck me how long humans have been searching for the answers to the same questions.

Humankind’s greatest struggles start within each individual and are projected into our outer world.

Some of us seem to be wired to heal the world, and others seem to be wired to destroy the world. Most of us are a mixture of both. Lately I’ve been contemplating our collective movements, like ants, bees, wolves, or termites, all being driven by the goals of the pack. I am starting to think we are not much different than these creatures, other than some of us being ants, others bees, and so on. We may have free will, and I suppose ultimately we can choose to take a  different path, but there is no denying that phantom drive lurking inside of us, leading us to do things we don’t understand or want.

Or is it the insatiable want that drives us to destroy what’s in our paths.

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Singing the Blues

It used to make me unhappy, all that feeling. I just didn’t know what to do with it. But now I’ve learned how to make feeling work for me… I don’t know, I just want to feel as much as I can, it’s what ‘soul’ is all about.”  — Janis Joplin

I watched a documentary about Janis Joplin last evening, called Little Girl Blue.  It ripped my heart out in many ways. Hers is a story of that combination of spirit, guts, insecurity, and an insatiable quest to be loved by everyone that can be so difficult to manage in the face of mental illness. Her voice is recognizable by anyone who ever lived during the 60s and 70s, and the years that followed that era. Who hasn’t heard Take Another Piece of My Heart?

Love or hate Joplin’s music, one can’t help but be saddened by the story of her life. It seems she was picked on a great deal during her school years growing up in Texas, mostly for her appearance, but also because she was different from the other kids. The angst of not fitting in and searching for a place to belong is what ultimately drove her to head to California and propelled her into what would become a brilliant but short-lived career.  She found her voice singing the blues, letting out all of her emotions. Indeed, she was bursting at the seams with a multitude of pent-up emotions. Her music tells the story well.

I could relate to Joplin’s quote about emotions, “It used to make me unhappy, all that feeling. I just didn’t know what to do with it. But now I’ve learned how to make feeling work for me… I don’t know, I just want to feel as much as I can, it’s what ‘soul’ is all about.”  — Janis Joplin

Dealing with intense feelings is a hallmark struggle that many people with mental illness face on a daily basis, and we often fall into the trap of seeking any way possible to express or suppress emotions that can be quite overwhelming. Even when we find a way to channel our feelings through art, music, sports, writing, career, or religion, if we are not careful, positive things in our lives can quickly shift to obsessions that rob us of our ability to feel or notice anything. Drugs, food, alcohol, compulsive behaviors are other ways to cope with what we don’t understand about ourselves, and they can quickly lead our vulnerable psyches down the path of self-destruction.

Janis, like my daughter, left home at an early age and discovered she had wonderful talent. She, like my daughter, lacked the maturity and tools to adequately deal with the stress that came with a life so quickly propelled into success. By 27 Janis had died of a heroin overdose after months of being sober. I can understand how this happened, having struggled with an eating disorder until I was about that age. I watched my daughter struggle with the same thing while she was away from home excelling and failing at the same time.

Both my daughter and I were fortunate to be able to slow down enough to get the help we needed and jump onto the path of recovery sooner rather than too late. I managed to make it through those tough years by pouring all of myself wholeheartedly into activities that would support my recovery. My motivation was becoming a mother and knowing the devastation that untreated mental illness can cause. I witnessed it first-hand as my mother spent decades refusing help for her paranoid schizophrenia. My daughter who is 30 now, also accepted the help she needed and worked at it. She is 30 now, living away from home doing what she loves, and while she has good days and bad days, I know she has the tools and resources to get through the tough times.

How sad that Janis ran out of time before she was able to find the tools and support that could have helped her stay afloat and deal with all those strong emotions that she so desperately tried to embrace and understand. How sad that treatment options were so limited at that time.

Now we have many  more resources at our fingertips, and yet our mental healthcare system cannot adequately deal with the needs of so many who need it. Millions of people have trouble gaining access to mental healthcare because of financial or accessibility barriers. Many others are being placed on long waiting lists and/or going weeks and months before being able to receive treatment and medications that could help. Many others refuse to admit their struggles for fear of the stigma that is still attached to mental illness. Much more research needs to be conducted to find answers that will lead to better treatment options.

Let no life lost to mental illness be in vain. Let’s keep pushing for better and more treatment options!

 

10 tips to Deal with the Walking Wounded

Dealing with the Walking Wounded isn’t easy.

No, I’m not talking about Zombies. I’m talking about people with wounded hearts; the scars that impact our ability to give and receive love wholeheartedly. And when it comes down to it, all of us have been wounded to a certain extent.

So how do we transcend our wounds, and how do we deal with the people in our lives who have not yet been able to transcend their wounds?

True love, we are taught, is unconditional. It is the essence of life. It is the foundation of all connection; some would say it is our sole purpose in life. Love is the invisible force that can mend our wounds and disappointments and soothe our longings. It is innate and yet mysterious. It is infinite.

Love, like the sun, is a powerful force that exists even when covered in the dark, dreary clouds of a winter day; love exists even when we are submerged in the depths of despair.

So why do we put so many conditions on our love? After we are brought into the world, innocently invoking love in the eyes of our observers, when does our ability to express love change?

I’ve been contemplating what causes a shift in one’s ability to love , and I have noticed that some people have an easier time of tapping into their loving side than others.

There are people who seem to exude love and bring out the love in others. They are compassionate, genuine, encouraging, forgiving, accepting, comforting, honest, unpretentious and secure in themselves. They maintain a sense of humor.

There are people who seem to have a harder time expressing their love, often due to  past experiences of rejection, betrayal, or a myriad of other reasons that may be less obvious.

The walking wounded may be guarded, suspicious, pretentious, egotistical, manipulative, dishonest, fearful, destructive, or insecure.  In their most vulnerable state, they may have an insatiable appetite for approval.

Most of us have some combination of these traits which can vary depending on our mood and circumstances.

I have been told I have an extraordinary ability for forgiveness and a tolerance for moving past being slighted or mistreated. I probably developed this trait in childhood, when dealing with the ups and downs of my mom’s mental illness. Even when she lashed out harshly while delusional or paranoid, I still felt compassion and love towards her.

Several years ago when I was in counseling, I was told that I may not always recognize when I am in a harmful or negative relationship, perhaps due to my ability to overlook so much hurt in my childhood.  Now I am learning how to love but let go when I am putting myself in a bad position. Letting go can feel like giving up, and I don’t like that feeling.

Here are 10 tips for dealing with the walking wounded:

  1. Loving myself is as important as expecting someone else to love me. The more I nurture and take care of myself, the more I am able to recognize and maintain healthy relationships. The more I love myself, the less likely I am to seek approval in unhealthy ways.
  2. I can’t help or fix everyone, nor can I know what is best for anyone other than myself. Distancing myself from someone who is being hurtful can be better for both of us. Growth often happens when we stop enabling unhealthy interactions and patterns.
  3. Seeking guidance from someone who knows me and in whom I trust when I am unsure about a situation or relationship. I have learned who I can trust and when to seek the guidance of a friend or counselor. It isn’t easy to navigate the intricacies of relationships, and its okay to ask for help when we are so close to a situation that our perspective has become distorted.
  4. Walking away from a harmful relationship can be better for me in the long run. Taking the difficult first steps away from a bad relationship can often be a bridge to better things. There is no better example in my own life than in my first marriage. For many years we struggled so hard to make our marriage work that we imposed unrealistic and hurtful judgments on each other. When we finally decided to let go of our expectations and see each other for who we were, we experienced the kind of love that allowed us to accept our differences and walk away.  Six years after our divorce, our relationship has healed, and we have become better friends and people than we were in our struggles to be husband and wife. I believe that is what unconditional love looks like.
  5. Seeking and maintaining relationships with loving people can have wonderful benefits to my soul and ability to love.  I want to surround myself with people who can teach me by example. I also want to be open the possibility that love can be found in the most unexpected people and not allow my own biases get in the way of witnessing the beauty of love.
  6. Recognizing that my own wounds may be distorting my perspective. Working on healing my own wounds can lead to a better vantage point with which to determine whether I am allowing my own insecurities to jeopardize a loving relationship.
  7. Living in the present moment rather than dwelling on the past or worrying about the future. I can’t change what happened to me in the past or predict what hurt or danger the future may bring. I can only take it one moment at a time and love right now. 
  8. Striving to be genuine and focusing on giving rather than receiving love. Here is a quote from one of my favorite books on love.
  9. Taking time to meditate, read, and contemplate about love. There is no better way to feed one’s internal garden of love than to provide the best fertilizer possible for the seeds that are planted.
  10. Love can be expressed in different ways. I can achieve the greatest depth of love when I open my eyes and observe all of the ways in which its infinite power manifests itself in this world.

And finally, since I am the eternal optimist, I will leave you with this thought that gives me great hope, taken from the Helping guidelines on Familie’s Anonymous Website:

“All people are always changing. If I try to judge them, I do so only on what I
think I know of them, failing to realize that there is much I do not know. I will give others credit for attempts at progress and for having had many victories that are unknown.”

Creating Inner Peace in a Troubled World

“Ultimately, we have just one moral duty: to reclaim large areas of peace in ourselves, more and more peace, and to reflect it toward others. And the more peace there is in us, the more peace there will also be in our troubled world.”
― Etty Hillesum

Wouldn’t it be amazing if we were all able to work towards inner peace to such a degree that it resulted in global peace? It seems too far-fetched to imagine, yet still we must continue to strive to find that place within ourselves, as Etty Hillesum did in the midst of the holocaust. Etty was determined not to let hatred take over her soul, and to learn to see the beauty that remained.

I am learning to let go of hatred and to instead focus on love. I am learning that love is free, and hate always comes at a price. It takes precious energy to hate, investing in memories from the past in order to keep it going. In order to maintain the darkness of hatred, we must deny the cracks of light that penetrate that darkness. The small acts of love that surround us, even in the midst of this hatred, can sustain us if we allow ourselves to see and experience the true essence of our being. Indeed, I want to be the person who choses to take the path of love in each moment.

As Etty learned after being taken to a concentration camp, love requires a certain amount of discipline and practice when surrounded by hatred and savagery. We can always find a justifiable reason to hate, but don’t forget, we can just as easily look for a reason to love.

“I know and share the many sorrows a human being can experience, but I do not cling to them; they pass through me, like life itself, as a broad eternal stream…and life continues…” 
― Etty Hillesum

Another Year of Adventure

The last big trip I made was ten years ago, when I went to Mamelodi, South Africa, with many other smaller adventures in between.

I am anxiously looking forward to creating new adventures in this, my tenth anniversary of new beginnings. I intend to make 2018 my year of adventures, in my personal life and my professional life, as I explore new career options. I look forward to sharing these adventures with you in the upcoming year. I will be sharing some of my adventures in the weekly travel theme posts.

 

Winter of the Soul

“Never cut a tree down in the wintertime. Never make a negative decision in the low time. Never make your most important decisions when you are in your worst moods. Wait. Be patient. The storm will pass. The spring will come.”  — Robert H. Schuller

Identity: Peeling Away the Layers

“I am a citizen of the world.” 
― Sylvia Beach

Question for my readers: What are your layers of identity?

There has been much debate in the Democratic party regarding whether identity politics is what caused the party to lose the presidential election. I have my own perspective on the topic which I will not go into here, except to say that each of the identity groups have real issues and concerns that need to be heard. I hope that eventually we find a way to unite as one collective voice to support each other’s causes.

My real topic for this post is musing on what happened when I started thinking about my own identity. I discovered during this thought experiment that on any given day I may identify as something entirely different, and sometimes conflicting with other parts of my identity. Here are a few of the identities I discovered:

  • Daughter of parent with schizophrenia
  • Survivor of abuse
  • Female (feminist)
  • Short person
  • left-handed
  • Nurse
  • White person
  • Middle class
  • College educated
  • Previously lower socioeconomic with no college degree
  • Mental Health Advocate
  • Environmental advocate
  • Human rights advocate
  • Research professional
  • Mother
  • Person who has anxiety/depression
  • Person who recovered from eating disorder
  • Aunt
  • Sister
  • divorced
  • Friend
  • Fiance
  • US citizen
  • Blogger
  • Writer (wannabe)
  • Caretaker
  • Griever of brother who passed away
  • Parent of child with mental health issues
  • Spiritual person
  • Runner

Granted, many of these “Identities” are self-made and not what I was born into. Nonetheless, each one represents a part of myself that relates to a larger group of like-minded individuals.

World Trade Center Memorial wall

What would it take for all of us to peel away all of the layers of identity to see each other’s true essence? We are all here right now, on this earth, at the same time. This convergence of time and space that provides us all with this home on earth gives us all at least one thing in common to build upon.

What condition will we leave this world in when our short lives end?

Is there more to life than the quest for happiness?

I have been pondering this question and am interested in hearing from my readers:  If you had to describe what you want from life without using the word happiness, what words would you use to describe a life well-lived?

“Our culture is steeped in a kind of pop psychology whose obsessive question is: Are you happy?” – Rebecca Solnit, from the book, The Mother of All Questions

I started reading Rebecca Solnit’s book, The Mother of All Questions, and came across the above sentence in quotes. It was as if a switch was turned on in my brain and I experienced one brief moment of clarify.

“Happiness is often described as the result of having many ducks lined up in a row — spouse, offspring, private property…”  – R. Solnit

Aside from being out of work, life has been good for me lately, according to this formula of happiness. Yet I know life can change, and I have this tendency to think about what happens if one of the ingredients for this one-dimensional definition of happiness is lost. Especially for women, who have historically been forced into a very narrow existence where their version of happiness is meant to be derived solely from another’s identity.

“The problem may be a literary one: we are given a single story line about what makes life good.”- R. Solnit

We all know that there are plenty of people out there who have all the outward appearances of the “good life”, and yet they seem to be miserable, or spiraling out of control in a vicious cycle of self sabotage. The unraveling of this formula for happiness happens more frequently and easily than one might expect and is rooted in a dissatisfaction with the one-dimensional definition of what makes life good. Deep within oneself is the awareness that this one short life we are given is much more complex than outward symbols of happiness.

“There are entirely different criteria for a good life that might matter more to a person – loving and being loved or having satisfaction, honor, meaning, depth, engagement, hope.” R. Solnit

Living life according to my own set of principles and values, having compassion and concern for future generations, and caring about more than my own small dot on this planet is what I strive for in my short time on earth.

 

Winsome Days

via Daily Prompt: Winsome

img_3652The most winsome I ever felt

was on my wedding day

Thirty years later I awakened

Not knowing where I was but

knowing where I wasn’t

I changed my course and

the winsome smile returned

Adventures in Unemployment

I’ve discovered that so much of my identity was wrapped up in my career and being productive. It has been an adjustment to shift to a more neutral state of being. I am still prone to feeling like I need to be working on something at all times.

Yesterday, after taking care of some chores and looking for jobs on-line, I decided to head out to the museum.

I started out viewing the exhibit from Iris van Herpen, who is known for being the first designer to display a 3D printed garment in 2010. She  has worked with architects like Rem Koolhaas, biologists at MIT, and other scientists and technological experts to create her theme-based creations. I wasn’t sure what to think about her collection at first, the designs are so different, but I was intrigued when I read how she translates a certain concept, such as this one from her radiation invasion collection:

Retrieved fromhttp://www.irisvanherpen.com/_uploaded/RadiationSS10-418B-LRG.jpg

This dress in her Radiation Invasion collection depicts what it might look like if we could see the energy surrounding us from all of the electronic devices we use each day. Her use of fabrics, metals, blown glass, beads, and even motorcycle chains adds to the allure of her designs.

My favorite display at the museum was by William Kentridge, More Sweetly Play the Dance. This one took my breath away, as I stood in the room surrounded by the images moving across the screen, dancing along to the soul sound of the old African-American Spirituals.

I was hoping to spend some time looking at ancient Greek exhibits, but there wasn’t much there to see. We recently booked our honeymoon to Greece (so excited) and I want to learn all I can about the history before we go there this spring.

To top off my day, I finally started on my novel. I decided to set a goal of 30 pages per week, and yesterday I wrote 7, so I am on my way.

I ended my day by going to yoga with one of my best friends, T. Apparently I had her laughing so hard she peed her pants. The yoga instructor didn’t quite understand why I couldn’t bend the way he wanted me to, despite his attempt to add stacks of pillows and various blocks under each of my body parts. T was cracking up, knowing how I am about being touched by strangers. She thought maybe I would end up slugging the guy, when she heard me exclaim, “I’m going to skip that pose and just lie here thank you!” I’m not sure, but I don’t think my back is supposed to be hurting this bad after just one session of yoga.

I’m not sure what today will bring. It is 10:30 and the world is my oyster.