Month: November 2015

A COURAGEOUS OLD WOMAN

A COURAGEOUS OLD WOMAN

Dogwood BlossomsWhen we moved into our home nearly twenty years ago I was delighted to discover that we had a beautiful dogwood tree right outside the living room window.  Healthy, strong and stately — in a delicate dogwood kind of way – our tree has delighted us year after year. Unlike the wild dogwoods one sees along the Carolina back roads, with spindly limbs and small white blossoms, this tree provides a showy display of large white blossoms, and has the distinct feature of a whole branch of pink blossoms!  While this is not altogether uncommon in cultivated dogwoods, I have always felt fortunate to have such a beautiful tree growing and healthy in my front yard.

The tree was probably at least as old as the house was when we bought it, if not a bit older.  That would have made her twenty-five plus years then.  Now, she’s much, much older, and like me, she has gathered a hitch or two in her get-a-long.  Sadly, she’s less and less showy each year and I was heartbroken to discover her pink branch was lost last winter in an ice storm. There were no pink blossoms this year.

She has been battered and bruised over the years; neglected during a long dry spell in our business when we could not afford to give her the extra care she needed. She weathered another dry spell when nature held back necessary sustenance, a drought that brought an end to the life of our beautiful big maple, and it took its toll. I study her weathered bark and broken limbs, the scaly lichens that finds her a delightful host. I bear witness to her crooked starts and stops and feel aches and pains as if they were my own. I often wish we’d treated her better and taken her less for granted.

I sit beside the window and drink my morning coffee each day and still feel blessed to have her here with me. She holds a different sort of delicate beauty and like an old woman who has more inner determination than physical strength to keep on keeping on, her vulnerabilities are overshadowed by her strength to live on.

I can’t help but wonder about her vulnerability to disease and weather extremes. When her leaves fall in recent years one can see her scars more plainly. I wonder if I should fertilize her, prune away the dead bark, or leave her be.  I wonder if there are things that are weakening her that I can’t even see. I fear not doing enough for her, and I fear doing too much. I felt very much the same way when my mother lay close to death. Should I force her to eat? Should I just let her be. No one wants to be responsible for neglecting a loved one; for not doing something one should to sustain them; but I learned then that there is a time for letting go and letting God.

As for the dogwood,  I learned too late that trimming her branches in an effort to help her grow into her fullness actually created openings for insects and disease.

Many days I feel much like this old dogwood tree. Once innocent and resplendent as only the young can be, I have no doubt that an oddity or gift or two escaped my notice.  I believed myself strong and capable of weathering most any storm that might come my way. Like our lady, I was assailed on many sides, but it was the ones that I did not anticipate or perceive that created the most harm. I’ve lost a branch or two along the way. I’m not as physically strong as I would like to be, and yet my will to live and be and continue to become grows stronger with each passing day. I know it will be a race to the finish. I also know which will win!

No matter how things turn out for the dogwood, or for me, we’ve had a hell of a run and put up a hell of a fight to blossom and share what beauty we can. I hope she out lives me. I would hate to see her go.

THE MASKS WE WEAR

WOMEN STYLIN’ AT EVERY AGE

Sandy – A Crack in the Night Sky

Sandy – A Crack in the Night Sky

touch the painLIFE UNDER THE CLOUD (Previous Post)

SANDY – A Crack in the Night Sky

Sometimes it just happens. The black sky cracks open and a beam of light shines in. It’s always when and where we least expect it.

Sandy was that light for me then. She reached inside of me and took hold of the essence of who I am and yanked it out just a bit – enough for me to take several bold and courageous steps forward into myself.

I remember the day I met her like it were yesterday.

The day began when my sister came by Mom & Dad’s house where I was staying and pried me loose from the chair I had been sitting for days, hands holding the fabric covered arms in a death grip, eyes swollen and red, my body slumped and frail. Each day I felt a little more of the life go out of me, so weary of fighting the pain that nothing would stop. I stood for her, not myself. She handed me my coat and I followed her to the car. My oldest sister, she was the only family member who saw a glimpse of hope in me; or cared enough to look for an answer for me, a way out at a time when I could not find it for myself.

The sun was trying to shine through the heavy winter clouds but the cold, damp air cut through me like a knife. The sudden shock of it felt like relief from the heat of emotional pain that held me like a vice. I sucked in the fresh air like a lifeline and climbed into the passenger seat.

When we drove into the parking lot of the County Mental Health Clinic and parked I discovered I could not move. I felt like the disheveled mess that I was. I didn’t belong here. I was educated. I held a degree equal to those who would be treating me. I was riddled with shame and an overwhelming sense of failure. My thoughts sent me right back into the darkness and I shrunk inside the pain. Tears began to flow. My sister persisted.

The walls of the waiting room were institutional blue. The rows of plastic seats around the perimeter were dirty white, bent and scuffed and overused. Light streamed through the film that coated the window, and played across the dust and grime that layered the gray linoleum floor. I fell into one of the plastic chairs as a woman handed Sue a clipboard through a round opening in a window littered with smudges and dust. She handed it to be and then sat down beside me. I willed myself to pick up the pen but remained frozen in place.

“Just write your name,” Sue said. “If they want to know more they can ask you.” I always loved her rebellious spirit. It gave me courage to summon my own. I began to write. She let me off my own hook. When it came to the reason for the visit, I stopped and put down the pen. She took the clipboard and handed back through the hole in the glass. Then, we waited.

A round back man dressed in baggy, worn pants and a moth-eaten sweater shuffled into the waiting room and sat down across the way. He had a face that looked as old as Methuselah but without the wrinkles.   “Hey, Henry,” came the woman’s voice from behind the glass. “How are you this morning.”  Empty eyes stared at her for a moment and then disappeared as his head fell forward. His need frightened me. It was so glaring and intense.

I didn’t belong here. I was not him. Or was I?

The double doors beside him opened up and a slender forty something woman in high heels,  fitted skirt and black sweater appeared holding a clip board. Her chin length black hair was the perfect foil for the golden nuggets that dangled from her ears, matching the gold chain that fell from her neck. Stylish and elegant, she was not at all what I had expected. Loafers and jeans were what I expected. Work clothes for a dirty job.

“Dorothy”, she said looking right at me and smiling. I was both attracted and repelled by the woman. I hated her for her “togetherness”. I revered her for her courage and confidence.  I felt so small by comparison. So broken. So beyond repair.

“Follow me”, she said and I did, because the only thing I knew how to do was what someone told me to do. I followed her down a dark hall, around a corner and into an office with a plaque on the door that read SANDRA KAHN, M.S.W.

We sat face to face. She crossed her legs and leaned in toward me peering right at me through the horned rimmed glasses that only magnified her eyes bearing down on me. It was too much. I looked down. I did not want to be seen. So fallen. So off my game.  Her raspy smoker’s voice lifted me brought be back for a moment. She, like my sister, would not let me off the hook. She, like my sister, saw something in me worth saving.

For the next six weeks, we embarked upon “crisis counseling” as she described it.  The state didn’t allow us anymore time than that so we had to work hard and fast. I don’t recall all that we talked about. I do recall that she saw the real me. She knew that I could not see what she saw. She knew that it was her job to help me find myself.

In addition to our bi-weekly sessions she wanted me to join a group, to speed the process she said.  She and her co-worker Joe moderated them and she assured me she would be right there supporting me.

I did what I was told and showed up for the group. I thought I was willing. Something inside of me was not. I could not speak. Listening to everyone’s pain sent me reeling. I couldn’t help them. All I could do was hurt for them. Hurt for myself. The tears just flowed and no words came. I knew they were supposed to, but they refused. Only tears and suffocating pain. I had failed again.

After the next group session she pulled me back to her office. “I want you to see Dr. Chinigo and she handed me a business card. “Joe agrees. I think you need to go on medication.  I believe you are chemically depressed, that’s why you can’t work in the group.” I was perplexed. Chemically depressed? What did that mean?

IT’S A WHOLE NEW WORLD – Or, is it? – Coming Soon.

Life Under the Cloud

Life Under the Cloud

I have spent a lifetime battling back the cloud of depression. I can’t pin down exactly when it started, I think perhaps it started in the womb, or is carried forward in my DNA from previous generations of familial women who embodied powerlessness. I came from a lineage of women bound by cultural dictates and personal characteristics that turned them into creatures that were doomed to battle for their soul. This cloud moved in and settled over me, it welled up inside of me and worked as hard as it could to smother me, to take my heart and soul away. I did my utmost best to live a “normal” life, but inside I was dying. I believed at the cellular level that I was flawed and I worked diligently, every day to repair this flaw.

cloud of depression
Digital Editing and Painting by Lente Scura

Depression like the other labels we use for illnesses and conditions that plague us, has become nomenclature that lifts it ever so unwittingly out of the painful reality that it really is.  Terms that seemingly quantify such things, water them down to make treatment manageable, and maybe even bearable, but also allowing doctors, pharmaceutical companies and even therapists to throw a pill or a particular therapeutic model at them, and declare an individual on the road to recovery. All that’s needed is a little tweaking.  How many times did I hear, “You don’t have to suffer.” Well, they were wrong. Apparently I do. And, I did.

I believed them at first. I was a guinea pig for our modern view and treatment for depression. I sought help early and often, from parents, siblings, friends, priests, therapists, professors…I sought help for the pain that I longed to be rid of, a perspective of life that kept me fragmented and disconnected from the best parts of me. I received help for the problems in my life that developed as a result of the thing that lived in me. The word “depression” as a medical/psychological condition was not mentioned to me until I was in my mid to late twenties. It was not a thing people quantified. My mother struggled to say the word, like somehow it had cooties.

In addition to living with the pain caused by the depression and the resulting life choices I made from this core of pain that added to it, I came to believe that I was flawed on so many levels. I lacked willpower, character, strength, determination, intelligence, something!  I stretched out my hands, my mind, my heart, my soul and reached with everything I had for happiness, success, love, freedom and the ability to find peace and be me. It eluded me. Again and again, I tried. God how I tried. I did everything in my power to change. I “pulled myself up by the bootstraps” as my mother used to suggest so many, many times, only to “fail” and find myself back in the blackest of pits.

I began reading self-help books early on…and books like Siddhartha, Waiting for Godot. I listened endlessly to Kahlil Gibran and Rod McKuen. Like everyone else of our generation I read “I’m Okay, You’re Okay” and “Your Erroneous Zones”. I delved into Transcendental Meditation and learning to access my alpha level brain waves. I went on to study psychology, philosophy and theology, absorbing the richness of the writings and theories of Jung, Kierkegaard, Tillich, Niebuhr, Erik Erikson, Piaget, Plato, Socrates and so, so many others. My searching for answers became more refined and I was lifted up by teachers who offered a glimpse at the bigger picture.

I remember the day I caught a glimpse into what has become the foundation for the clinical treatment of depression. As fate or the Universe would have it, I picked up a book that caught my eye in a New York Times Book Review one Sunday morning. It was called  Unfinished Business by Maggie Scarf, and it blew me away.  It made perfect sense and offered me a kind of hope that had heretofore not been offered.

I was 28. I had just completed my M.Div. from Princeton Theological, a three-year degree where I broke with the tradition of the program and focused on learning everything I could about the spiritual/psychological connection. After graduation, my business background combined with my theological education led me to a job with the Gallup Poll where I assisted in setting up their Religion Research Center. Politics and greed being what they are it did not get off the ground and I was no longer needed. I moved from there to a job with another non-profit in the area.  I had my own apartment, was in an on again off again relationship with a guy who had graduated with me and in the mid-west working on his PhD Things were supposed to be good. That was the mask I wore. I worked hard to keep up the front. What could not be seen on the surface was my rapidly disintegrating insides.

Prior to picking up Maggie Scarf’s book, I spent two years with the most respected therapist in the area.  He was head of a cutting edge counseling center sponsored by a wealthy Episcopal Church in the area. In addition, I also sought the counsel of an esteemed professor, who taught me everything I knew at the time about Jung. He was also cutting edge in his field at the time. Known for his depth, compassion, sensitivity and profound insight into the human spirit,  he held a Doctorate from Harvard and had written several books. I had access to an individual who was a giant among men in the world-wide community. Steeped in Jungian psychology and a deeply spiritual man,  he offered me little real help, in spite of his (I have to believe) desire to do so.  The word “depression” was never mentioned in any conversations with either professional.

Maggie Scarf handed me a lifeline. She spoke the word “depression” in a way that resonated.  Not only did she address it head on, she offered suggested treatment options and discussed its impact on women. My excitement was followed by anger. I thought, “If she knows this why don’t these two educated, well-respected professionals know it?” (It didn’t occur to me at the time that maybe it had something to do with the fact that they were men, and depression was overwhelmingly viewed as a woman’s issue).

was so charged up that I purchased a copy of the book for each of these men and mailed it to them with a note, “This book has changed my life. Maybe you’d like to read it.” For the first time since I’d started sought professional help, and after spending money that I didn’t really have, not to mention the days, weeks and years of excruciating pain and believing I was a failure, at last someone spoke directly to the issue. Now, I could find relief. Sadly, it was not to be. My euphoria at having found an “answer” hardly gave me the tools to change what really needed changing. Shortly thereafter I crashed and burned.

I lost my job. I quickly disintegrated into a place where I could not make a decision. About anything. I oscillated between frantically and desperately trying to find help and sitting in the middle of my apartment crying. I was in excruciating pain. Debilitating pain. I barely remember the details. I must have called my parents, because somehow my sister and her husband drove the 2 1/2 hours to my apartment, packed my stuff and deposited me and my belongings on my parent’s doorstep.

I could not eat. I could not sleep. I could not stop crying. I cried all day every day. I lost 30 pounds. My mother sat beside me and cried. That only made me angry. My father went about his business as he always did with little to say. The pain was tremendous. Day after day.  The only thing I remember was falling into the routine of  my parent’s life, breakfast at 8, lunch at noon, dinner at 6. A cup of tea at 4. Bed at 10. Their routine contained me as I cried the tears that would not stop. I was lost in time and space. My life was a cavern of despair with no way out.

Going home, a home that embodied the darkness that lived in me, the silence, the fear, the despair, though far from ideal was likely better than an institution where I would otherwise have been. Apart from the emotional baggage that lived there, the simplicity and structure held me and kept me safe until I was able to find a way out.

And then, I met Sandy.

A GIFT IN A BOX – Product Review

A GIFT IN A BOX – Product Review

Every Fall I seem to receive a mailbox full of product review requests. I’m don’t like to spend too much time doing this but when I see something that intrigues me and I think you might be interested, I welcome the opportunity to give the product a try. Here’s the first with more to come over the next week or so.  Be sure to see the savings opportunity for you at the bottom of the post. If you try any of the items I review, let me know what you think!

KONENKII

Founded by two fearless women making the most of life after fifty, KONENKII i Jan Craige Singer’s (right) and Sarah Smith Jan Sarah KonenkiiWhite’s (left) way of supporting women through the aging process. They are on a mission to add some fun and enjoyment back into the lives of women who have spent a lifetime giving it all away, to children, aging parents, spouses, and so many others. To make this happen they have created a quarterly gift subscription box service, offering a way to treat oneself or a friend without any hassle. 

Each gift is carefully chosen to ease, educate and empower women through challenging times.  I received the Fall gift box and it felt like my birthday or Christmas. I had no idea what to expect. What I found was a clever selection of things I’d never buy for myself but would enjoy as a gift.

Contents included: A selection of fall, tailgating gift items including recipe cards, a flask, a package of yummy nuts, scented soap, portable wine glass, a small rubber ducky, and a book. I think I got everything. Plus lots of cute little notes and ideas.

 


 

Konenkii Fall Box
I opened the box and this is what I found! The white thing on the right is an unbreakable wine glass! (If it was un-spillable that would be even better.)
Flask
Cute flask!
Nut mix
Yum! Delicious nut mix! (Gone.)
Pumpkin Spice Soap
Smells good enough to eat!
New York Times Best Seller
Always love a new book!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


So there ya have it! it was great fun. Would I subscribe to this service for myself? Not likely. It would, however, make a great gift for a friend who could use a boost. Everything about the box says “personal touch” with women like us in mind. I plan to keep an eye on the women behind Konenkii. I expect to see great things coming from their site. They also were kind enough to offer my readers a discount on their next purchase. Just use the code below to receive 10% off any order. Let me know what you think.

Please use ABUNDANT10 to receive 10% off any order. 

Konenkii Gift Box
Much prettier picture than mine!

 

The Masks We Wear

The Masks We Wear

Masks We WearMoments come along every minute of the day when we get to choose whether or not we will be real or wear a mask. In fact, much of the time we may think we are being real but we’re really play acting. Putting on a mask, pretending to think and feel something we don’t really think or feel starts at a very early age. It starts so early that we are actually fooled into thinking it’s who we truly are.  We don’t need to blame ourselves for this. It’s human nature and all tied up in our survival instinct and the life and death need to be a part of the tribe. It keeps us alive, especially as children. Encoded deep in our DNA is our desire to love and be loved.  It’s likely what makes the real and honest part of it all so very tricky.

The master scheme would work out very well if we were born into and bonded with individuals who embraced the real us. For just about 99.9% of us it’s not the way it works. We are born into families who mistreat us, work diligently to change us, don’t care about who we are, or in other words are not the soul mothers, fathers, sisters, or brothers – the ones who will provide the support and guidance we need to be ourselves. This kicks off a wild and necessary ride for many of us. Yes, necessary. We are launched into life with one hand tied behind our back and a foot in our back pocket. Then we’re told to go out there and knock ’em dead. Who and what gets knocked dead is us. The walking wounded.

We live lives that aren’t a reflection of who we are. We connect with people who allow us to continue to be the person with the foot in the back pocket and we allow them to be the person with both hands tied behind their backs. It’s a win-win. Well. Not really. No, not at all. Because it hurts the back to be tied up so. It causes us to limp and wobble and fall over without any limbs to catch us. Believe it or not, that’s the silver lining in the cloud. We trip, and wobble and fall down, again and again, until we either kill ourselves or figure out that we’re supposed to reach back and untie the ties; to free our built-in support system. Our feet, legs and arms are there for a reason. We also have a powerful inner guidance system, that is there to help us maintain our balance and navigate the treacherous waters of life.

We must take the first step, however.  It is up to us to make the choice to cut the ties that bind us, to make the effort to learn to use our navigation system, and to take the risk to make true choices when they present themselves. Little by little, choice by choice we learn. Falling down actually sets us free.

In order to take our mask off we have to know we have one, and the way we know we have one is through the pain we feel. Conflict, confusion, collapse. The three C’s.

Conflict – Indecision, anger, depression; “My true self fights with my mask self. I try to make myself be or do something that is not right for me. I work at a job I hate. I dress a certain way to please my husband. I wear my hair the way my mother used to like it. Simple examples. Or, part of me wants to be in this relationship, part of me doesn’t. And so, I stay…and stay…and stay. Why? Identity conflict. I’m part mask, part me trying to be me.”

Confusion – Living life in a constant state of confusion, not-sureness, uncertainty and/or fear. “Afraid or unwilling to look honestly at what’s  making me uncomfortable with my choices in life. I am unable to take responsibility for myself and my choices. I think it’s to follow a path of least resistance. It feels like I will be avoiding more pain by continuing with the status quo.”

Collapse – Giving up or giving in. “I don’t try anymore. I just do whatever I have to do to get by. I don’t feel or I go to bed and sleep away my feelings. I drown my feelings in computer games, alcohol, shopping binges, food. I’m just going along for the ride and no longer try.”

Conflict, confusion and collapse are all gifts. If we receive them in the Spirit in which they were intended, we will open ourselves to the process of transformation.

One of the very first gifts I received was the gift of depression. MORE TO COME