Day 237/365 Who Holds The Spotlight

This blog has felt therapeutic and cathartic to me in my grieving process. I love (and hate) the process of calling out my demons – fear, anxiety, shame, and sadness. By saying,  “I SEE YOU!” and shining light upon them, I feel as though I rob them of some of their power. It doesn’t change the fact that those feelings live within me, but calling them out allows me to take back some control. It feels like calling out a bully.

At the same time I don’t want to keep the spotlight on them – on those bullies.

They are a part of me but they are not me. I am so much more. In fact, looking back at my 44 years, the times I have been ensconced in these weighty emotions is but a blip. These feelings are very much a product of my experiences of late, and not predominantly what lives within me at my core. I know this to be the truth.

I have always had much more joy than angst (believe it or not).

So, my path to healing begins with making peace with the parts of me I do not love.  Calling out the bullies, and perhaps even thanking them for illuminating so many things.  Next, I can show fear, anxiety, shame and sadness that while they may bask in the spotlight now and again, they have never been, nor will they ever be, the stars of the show.

A few cameos, perhaps. That’s all. 

In some ways I don’t get to write my own story. The plot keeps twisting and turning, often without my consent. I don’t always get to choose which characters show up, but…

I can choose who holds the spotlight.

Day 235/365 Do You Remember What The Nothing Was?

You have no idea how desperately I want to write something incredibly hilarious and lighthearted for all of you. I think one of the hardest parts about being depressed is that you become entirely sick of yourself. I can only imagine you are growing weary of my weighty entries as well. Still, if this is to be an authentic way for me to share my life, I have to write from the heart…even when that feels like a dark place.

It is important to me that you know that it isn’t all darkness for me. I have my moments. I smile, I laugh…and I swear to you I am so grateful for my many blessings. Despite knowing this with all of my heart, I still get upset with myself….because how can I possibly be grateful and depressed? It doesn’t compute. This makes me feel weak and selfish. It pulls me in deeper, and I know that is dangerous…because it is simply not true.

I do appreciate what I have, and I do understand things could be so much worse…and still, I struggle sometimes. Let me tell you...

No, let me tell us both...

Gratitude and depression are not mutually exclusive. 

This suddenly seems like an incredibly important point to convey and to emphasize before moving on. Can we let it sink in?

Gratitude and depression are not mutually exclusive. 

Okay then, on to a story…

On Saturday I was at the lowest I have been in a while. I was talking with Monica, and she asked me very sincerely what depression looks like to me when I close my eyes. I described a black hole, one into which I was desperately trying not to be pulled. After a moment I realized it wasn’t a hole at all, not in the sense that it has a bottom and a top, and walls. Instead, it feels like the opposite of something…

A void.

My mind flashed to a movie I watched recently with my girls. It was a favorite from my own childhood, based on the book, “The Never-ending Story” by Michael Ende. In it, a beautiful world full of amazing places and creatures is threatened to be sucked up by “The Nothing”. The Nothing isn’t a who or a what, it is literally nothing, and it is swallowing everything in its path. 

That’s what it feels like.” I said. “It feels like The Nothing“.

“Do you remember what The Nothing actually was?” she asked, pointedly.

Yes! I DO. The Nothing was the absence of imagination.”

And there it was…

I have started to lose sight of what I imagine my future to be. I am not looking hopefully and enthusiastically toward it. I am still standing in the rubble of the life that has tumbled down around me…and I’m afraid to look forward. 

There is no HOPE without imagination.

So, that seems like a good place to start…

Being brave enough to imagine the future. It isn’t just about appreciating what I have, it’s also about believing that there’s beauty and happiness to come. 

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Day 220/365 If Only

Last year at Christmastime I was feeling really low because my children were spending Christmas with their dad, and it was the first year (our third year being divorced) that the four of us did not open presents together on Christmas morning. It seemed like the right direction to go in for us, but it was hard.

I felt sorry for myself.

Two days after Christmas, my dad collapsed.  He never woke up.

As we have begun to adjust to life without him, I’ve thought about the holidays, of course, and how hard it will be to get through them this year, not only because it will be our first Thanksgiving and Christmas without dad, but also because the anniversary of his death will be looming. We will all be thinking about him and missing him, of course.

Again, I have felt sorry for myself. (Sometimes I really need the lessons crammed down my throat).

Then, the Elephant arrived. Though I still haven’t shared what that is, exactly, I will share that the Harvey family won’t be thinking entirely about missing our dad, because we will be managing the Elephant, too.

And the Elephant sucks, but…

I am not going to feel sorry for myself anymore.

Do you know why? Because it is a waste of precious time and energy.

It hurts me to think that maybe I didn’t enjoy (what ended up being) my last Christmas with my dad as much as I should have, because I was so focused on what was wrong. I was so focused on what I was missing that I didn’t fully appreciate what I had.

Life is hard sometimes…but we have to make the best of it. Whatever it is that you are dealing with right now – the thing that seems really big and horrible – maybe it actually isn’t that bad.

Maybe it IS that bad. It might be.

But…

Either way, is it possible you will look back and realize that you wasted some perfectly good parts of your life because you were feeling sorry for yourself? That you missed some really good and important stuff because you were focused on the wrong thing?

It can be really hard sometimes to find, and focus on, the silver linings. It can take practice to sharpen our focus on the beautiful parts of our lives and to pull our attention away from the painful ones.

To retrain our lens.

I am going to do it though. I don’t want to look back on the holiday season – on ANY part of my life – and think…if only I’d known then what I know now.

If only I’d focused on the love and the gratitude, instead of on the loss and the worry.

If only.

Day 214/365 How ARE you?

Yesterday afternoon I ducked into a clothing & housewares store for a bit.  I was looking for a dog bed, actually, but I ended up with an armful of clothes to try on. I approached the fitting room and there was a woman monitoring it, her job of course being to make sure no one tries to steal any clothes. She counts the clothes going in, and counts the clothes coming out.

“Hi,” she said, not making eye contact, but motioning for me to extended my arm so she could count the items I was carrying.

“Hi. How are you?” I asked.

“Tired,”she replied, sighing.

“Oh…it’s toward the end of your shift, I hope?” I said, sympathetically.

This seemed to catch her completely off guard…that I cared enough to continue the conversation about how she was doing.

“No, I have five hours to go,” she said.

“Oh…sorry.”

“That’s okay.  I don’t know why I am so tired.”

“Hang in there,” I said.

“I will, thanks.” She smiled.

How many times a day do we ask, or are we asked, “How are you?”

How often is it conveyed with a sense that the answer is of any significance?

This woman had probably exchanged the words, “How are you?” a hundred times already on her shift. Yet it seemed like a complete anomaly that I would actually listen to her response or ask a follow up question.

I am always polite, but I don’t always feel like chatting up strangers. I have always marveled at people who do this consistently. My friend, Monica, and my Uncle Ed come to mind when I think of this quality. Either of them could talk to anyone, anytime…and they have the ability to make people feel good everywhere they go.

They listen, they smile, they sympathize and crack jokes. They know how to connect, how to make people feel good. I admire them so much  for this quality.

I have been trying more and more to exercise this muscle. Don’t misunderstand – I am not a rude person. I have always been polite and kind (I hope), but lately I have been making more of an effort to be more gregarious as I interact with people whom I don’t know (and may very well never cross paths with again) while out in the world.

It feels good...making eye contact and smiling at strangers as they pass, saying “How are you?” in such a way that the other person feels that I actually care to hear the response.

Why this sudden desire to connect?

There is so much negativity in the world right now.

So much pain.

So much divisiveness.

So much “Us vs Them”.

So much stress.

It seems more important than ever to propagate the feeling that we are all connected – that we all belong to one another.

One warm exchange may lead to another, and another…having a ripple effect of warmth and kindness in the world...just when we seem to need it most.

Anyway…it’s worth a try. Right?

Day 200/365 Salty & Sweet

I am dealing with some challenging things right now…I mean, aren’t we all?

I feel as though I need to reiterate – I am completely aware that we ALL have hard things with which we are dealing. I’m not writing about my “stuff” because I think it is worse or harder than anyone’s else’s. I’m writing about it because it helps me.

As it turns out, it helps some of you as well. I appreciate those of you who have let me know publicly or privately that my words resonate with you, even if your grief, pain, joys and loves are different from mine.

We all feel.

I have some hard days ahead. I’m sorry that I still can’t share what that’s all about, but some day perhaps you’ll know and understand why I didn’t tell you.

Sometimes we don’t see the hard days coming, but in this case I am well aware, and I am trying to be proactive about how deal with it.

I am taking self-care more seriously. Lately, that has meant spending a significant amount of time alone….when my kids are with their dad, that is. Initially, I’ll admit this was a bit wallow-y, but now it’s just…something I enjoy. Something I would even categorize as a necessity.

Breathing space.

Also, I am looking at my own wants and needs in a different way. I am allowing myself to do what is going to make me feel calm, or make me feel happy – without that little voice telling me I should or I shouldn’t.

Look, there are some obligations in life that don’t even fall into a category of should or shouldn’t…you just do them.  Anyone who truly loves someone knows that. You show up. I’m not talking about those instances when I shun the should or shouldn’ts.

I’m talking about the fun stuff…the trips, the desserts, the stolen kisses, the indulging in what feels good…and holding off on what doesn’t.

That being said, I do believe in balance. For example….this was breakfast.


We all would do well to balance the salty and the sweet of life.

Day 192/365 Short & Sweet

Last night Beau and I were laying in her bed together. We shared a pillow, gazing at each other, our foreheads practically touching. I brushed the hair back from her face with my fingers.

“It’s funny about LOVE,” she said, sleepily.

“What do you mean?” I asked, always intrigued by her mind’s inner workings.

“It’s just…it is such a small word for something SO BIG.

It feels like LOVE deserves a bigger word.”


As usual, she’s right.

That one little word is…everything.

Day 191/365 Exposed

She walks into the room, a little-bit-of-a-thing with big blue eyes and red framed glasses. She is the definition of small but mighty. She sits down on her little swiveling stool and looks me in the eye.

“You look tired,” she says.

I burst into tears. (This always happens to me here.)

Perhaps its the extreme vulnerability of laying in a reclined position in a hospital johnny (opening in the front, please!).  Maybe it’s because she was there both times I became a mother.

She’s seen me at my most raw – at my most powerful and most powerless moments.

She hands me a box of tissues, apologizing that they are the worst tissues ever.  It’s true, it feels like I am wiping my eyes with a paper towel. 

I’m annoyed now because I don’t have the energy for crying but I can’t stop, and accepting the tissues feels like an agreement to share what’s happened.

We’re in it together now…

I recount for her the low-lights of the twelve months since my last appointment.

She’s quiet for a minute, then finally she says, “That’s a lot.”

Uh-huh.

“Do you have a good therapist?”

After the appointment I found myself with about a half an hour before I had to pick up my girls. There is a little beach around the corner from the park and ride where the bus lets them off. It’s a private beach, but I know it will be deserted this time of year.

As soon as I get out of my car I can smell that the beach is much more fragrant than usual. Tropical Storm Jose has churned up a lot of sea life and has deposited much more of it than usual onto the beach. What was typically a sandy beach was now covered in a bed of shells, rocks, and seaweed.

As I stood there surveying the beach, it occurred to me that just as coastal storms churn the ocean, exposing things that were once hidden, so too do the emotional storms of life.

Just as we can walk the beach after a storm and discover things previously hidden in the depths, so too can we discover things about ourselves that we never knew until they were unexpectedly (and perhaps unceremoniously) exposed.

This new beach may not be as comfortable to walk on as it once was, but it is still beautiful…even a bit more interesting…with stories to tell to those who will listen.

I close my eyes, feel the sun on my face, and listen to the waves.

 

 

Day 189/365 Impermanence

Most of last week was wet and windy, as a tropical storm sat off of the coast. The sun was elusive for days. Autumn seemed to be making its presence known, as a chill in the air beckoned us to pull out sweaters and jackets.

Then suddenly the weather turned, the sun shone brightly, and we found ourselves with an 80 degree Sunday at the end of September. There wasn’t a single cloud in the sky.

The wind that had howled for days was reduced a mere whisper. The only evidence of the stormy week we’d endured were the crashing waves and the smattering of tree branches strewn across roads and lawns.

It was a perfect reminder that just as things can unpredictably go from beautiful and serene to complete upheaval, the same can be true of the reverse. Storms move on or dissipate, and we are left with calm in their wake.

In nature as in life, nothing is permanent.

There is a rhythm throughout our lives. As a friend wrote to me recently, “the pendulum swings back and forth…”

Stormy to calm, harmony to disharmony…

I suppose the true challenge in life is to appreciate the beautiful moments while they are being presented to us, without being resentful of what we’ve endured to get there, and without being fearful of the next approaching storm.

To stand boldly in the sunshine, because we know it won’t last forever…and to stand bravely in the darkness for the very same reason.

New to this blog? See what it is all about here.

Day 188/365 Karen (aka Goob)

Yesterday I wanted to honor a dear friend on her birthday.  However as I explained in my last entry, something else was occupying my thoughts, and I had a hard time focusing on anything else.  So, today is for Karen (aka Goob).


Karen is one of my oldest and dearest friends. Though we met in middle school, we became devoted friends a few years later, in high school.  This was, of course, quite some time ago, but when I see her smile and hear her laughter, I makes it seem like yesterday.

Neither of us like to talk on the phone, and although we live only a half hour apart, our family and work schedules have made it challenging over the past ten years or so to get together as often as we would like. So, we sometimes go long stretches on time without seeing or even speaking to one another.

We’ve made new friendships with people in our personal life-orbits, other women whose children play often with our own, our to whom we live closer…but our bond remains unchanged.

We never seem to allow the space between us to impact our friendship. Neither of us is ever keeping score about who reached out to whom last, or more often.  We never take an extended silence personally. We always know we are good.

There is always love.

I think I understood she was my friend for life when, as my roommate, she silently endured an endless (and high volume) post-break up loop of Alanis Morrisette’s “You Oughtta Know.”

“Does she know how you told me you’d hold me until you died…but you’re still alive!”

Oh, God bless her.

Bless her many times over, because she knows all of my secrets and has been witness to all of my heartbreaks…from the (now, in hindsight) clearly ridiculous ones to the truly painful.  Never did she tell me I was being ridiculous – she always waited for me to figure that out for myself (but she never pointed out that she knew all along).

Karen is one of the kindest, gentlest, most authentic people you could ever know.  She is so unassuming, and so generous. To know Karen is to love her. She is someone people instinctively know they can trust, and respect. My entire family adores her.

There is something so special about how Karen is able to hold space in a relationship.  She is an incredibly devoted and supportive friend, and she can make that known without ever being overbearing.  She quietly offers her love and support in a way that allows space. I know she will always be there if and when I need to lean on her, but she never takes offense if I choose not to do so. I aspire to be the same kind of friend for her.

Karen lost her mother (an amazing woman) to cancer about a decade ago. I think (I hope) I was a supportive friend through that. When my dad passed away, I finally understood the pain of losing a parent as BIG in her life as her mother had been to her (and my father had been to me). It is just something you can’t know until you know it. Still, I regret not having done more. I regret that deeply.

Goob, I hope you know how much I love you…and that I always will.

Happy (belated) birthday.

 

Day 187/365 Lines

This was my Great Aunt Annette, classically captured by my mother. Annette was my grandfather’s sister.  She was a well regarded art teacher, a painter, a single mother of two sons, and a proud grandmother.

I was so happy to come across this picture tonight. I have thought of her many times over these past few months, as I have been writing this gratitude journal. Here’s why…

One Thanksgiving when Annette was quite old, my family and I sat around the dinner table about to enjoy a beautifully prepared feast. My father had the idea that we should go around the table, each of us sharing something for which we were grateful. As you might expect, everyone kept to a theme of family, of our good fortune to have one another (…a beautiful home, wonderful food…yada, yada). I am quite sure a few of us got sappy and weepy, as Harveys are known to do.

Then we got to Great Aunt Annette…

The table got quiet as we all seemed to collectively lean forward, not wanting to miss a word of what was sure to be a sage bit of wisdom. She thought for a moment, and in her shaky little-old-lady voice she said,

“I am thankful for the yellow lines in the road that help me to stay in the proper lane.”

(Amen.)

With that, she picked up her fork and began to eat.

We all giggled.  I remember my father especially, getting the biggest kick out of that remark.

Aunt Annette loved her family, and I am sure she was feeling just as grateful as the rest of us to be sharing good company, good food and good cheer on that November afternoon. I don’t think her response was the result of her really having to dig deeply to think of something for which she was grateful.

I like to think, instead, that she had gotten to a point in her life when she really did notice and appreciate the little things that made her world feel safe, and comfortable…and that happened to include the yellow lines on the road. 

(Either that, or she was just messing with us.)