Tag Archives: life

Fighting The Battle Against Suicide

The post below may be triggering for some. I blatantly discuss suicide and my own brushes with it as well as the recent news of the loss of Robin Williams. If you are fragile, you’ll want to skip this post. If you need to find some happy, go watch this video. It’s all of the awesome and then some.

The sun floated above the house in a swath of the kind of blue sky I long to see when I wake in the morning. The wind played with the trees, swishing the leaves and branches to and fro as birds and butterflies danced along with the melody Mother Nature played for them.

I stood in my bedroom, staring out at the phenomenal glory just beyond my physical reach and well beyond my comprehension. I stepped closer to the open window, staring down at the retaining wall at the edge of the house, calculating the angle necessary to hit it with my head. As my fingers brushed against the roughness of the screen, I drew back suddenly, as if I had been shocked into reality. I scurried downstairs, to a room well away from the retaining wall, and texted with a friend until the thoughts faded away.

I was not interested in beauty that day.  I was interested, suddenly, as I stood in my bedroom all alone, in leaving this world.

My divorce was final. I was no longer with my children. I could not find a job. Nothing seemed to be going my way. There was no sense in continuing with things. It was not the first time I felt like ending things and it turned out to not be the last. I dance with these thoughts from time to time but thankfully, so far, I have managed to fight them off. Believe me, the battle to fight them off is FAR HARDER than anyone who has never experienced them could possibly imagine. Sometimes, it is a daily battle. Some days, it is an hourly battle. Then finally, sleep, only to wake up and battle all over again. But I fight because my will to live is powerful and I am not done with my work here yet. I fight because my kids deserve a mother they can reach out and touch or talk to on the phone. I fight because I matter, I love, and I am loved.

There has been a lot of discussion this past week about suicide. The causes, the loss, how to cope, how to survive, and most of all, the matter of making the choice to go through with it.

Is suicide a choice?

Yes.

It is an easy choice?

Hell no.

If you wade through research, the average amount of time it takes from initiation of “I’m really going to do this” to completion is 10 minutes. I wish I had the link to this research but unfortunately, I don’t. (But there is this article you can read which references it.)

10 minutes to save someone’s life.

10 minutes to convince them they matter. That they are bigger than whatever demon is swelling inside of them and convincing them they are better off on the other side.

10.fricking.minutes.

In the grand scheme of life, 10 minutes is but a millisecond, but it is a millisecond with a number of chaotic screaming thoughts flooding your brain in an attempt to convince you to stop the life you know because it has toppled over and there is no other way to fix things.

In those 10 minutes:

It is not a matter of joy.

It is not a matter of prayer or faith.

It is not a matter of therapy.

It is not a matter of medication.

It is not a matter of love.

It is not a matter of religion, resources, and whatever the hell else you want to throw out there as a simple answer to the complexity that is suicide which is, frankly, a sandbox full of all the demons you have ever carried at any point in your life fighting each other for ownership of your soul.

In the throes of the “choice of suicide”, it is all about YOU and that huge ass demon screaming at you that yes, you are better off on the other side as it hacks away at any sense of self-respect, faith, or common sense you previously possessed. The bastard wears you down until finally, there is only one way out.

We all know the story of David and Goliath. It’s like that only sometimes, David doesn’t win.

It’s like Frodo vs. Sauron but all on his own.

It’s like Picard vs. the Borg all by himself. (And we saw how that ended – Locutus!)

I wrote an off-the-cuff status update on Facebook about the passing of Robin Williams. At last check, it had been shared over 200 times. Here’s what I said:

“I want to take a minute (or more) of your time to say something important.

Suicide is scary. It frightens us, particularly those of us who are vulnerable and know these thoughts intimately. These thoughts dance with us and sometimes have done so on a daily basis.

For people who know suicide intimately and have contemplated it, news like the passing of Robin Williams can be very triggering. It causes us to wonder how on earth we will survive if he didn’t make it. He had money. Access to care. He had just been in rehab. Dear Lord. If he couldn’t get better, what hope do “we” have?

Here’s the thing. Choose life. Choose to reach out. Choose light. Choose to fight. Every time you reach out for help, you are choosing to survive. It’s about creating opportunities for hope instead of succumbing to the darkness.

Unfortunately, we don’t know why he chose to leave us, but he did. And we’re left wondering what went wrong.

So if you want to honor his life, honor his time here, take from his death what you can and make it okay to discuss suicidal feelings. Because until mental health is a normal part of every day discussions, we will continue to be shocked when something like this happens, claiming we “had no idea.”

Know this.

There is hope. There is help. And if you are struggling, there are hotlines you can call. Things you can do. Start by reaching out to a friend, then a professional, and stay the course, even when the light fades. It will return.”

I have never had anything shared that much on Facebook before. The comments on the shares are tremendous – people are talking about mental health. But most of all, they are scared.

Because if Robin Williams, a man who had access to it all, committed suicide, then what hope do *we* have in surviving when we don’t have the access to care he did?

I questioned whether or not I should write about this here. I am not writing for page views. I am not writing to take advantage of a horrible situation. I am writing because until we make mental health check ins with each other part of normal, everyday conversation, things like this will ALWAYS shock us. Until we make mental health as normal as physical health, it will always be stigmatized, it will always be taboo, and it will always scare the shit out of us.

My heart has been heavy this week, along with millions of others. Not for the loss of Robin, but for HOW we lost him. I know that pain. I know what those moments of absolute desperation feel like as they strike terror into your very soul. Watching your body and hands go through the motions as your brain screams NO and questions your sanity but you are helpless to stop yourself. I’ve blogged about it before – here, here, and here. The second and third posts references the situation I used to open this post. There have been other times too, times in the car where I wondered what would happen if I just let go of the wheel and let myself drift into oncoming traffic – or into a tree. It’s been awhile since I have fought with these thoughts but the shadows of them are always there, lurking, waiting to spring forth and attack when the darkness threatens to swallow me.

That weight, the weight of sheer terror, isolation, and helplessness, is what spurs me to do what I do – to reach out to mothers struggling with Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorders. No mother, hell, no human, should ever surf the tides of mental health alone.

So how do we change things? How do we make suicide less of a threat to ourselves and to those we love?

I wish I had the answer to that question. I have some answers, but not THE answer. No one does. All we have are suggestions.

We talk about our struggles, we don’t cover it up in polite speech or hide it in dark rooms and beneath whispers or under judgmental tones. We stop sensationalizing the horrors and instead write mindfully about the issue at hand. Let’s start there.

Suicide is not something we should dismiss. It is not something we cover up, and it is not solved by choosing joy, reaching out, or praying harder. It goes far deeper than any of that for it is insidious, tenuous, and a gut-sucking leech upon the soul of many of us who have walked this earth. Our lives, all of them, sooner or later, will be touched by suicide – someone we know, a friend’s friend, or our own. Is that acceptable? Hell no. Can we change it? Hell yes.

Baby steps.

Start here, with how to talk to a friend or a loved one about suicide. Carry resources and hotline numbers in your wallet or program them into your phone. Know the signs. Run toward the chaos and the danger instead of huddling away from it. Bring suicide into the light. Make it okay to not be okay. Not cool, but okay. Let them know you hear their pain, you acknowledge their hurt, and do what you can to encourage them to seek help. Don’t judge them. Don’t act shocked. Be compassionate. Be patient. Be understanding. Don’t justify their desire to end it but instead, talk to them about their reasons to live. Be their speck of light, as my good friend and amazing blogger John states in his own post about depression and cancer. Be the warm blanket they need to survive. Be the hope for them until they can be their own hope.

Will we still lose people?

Yes.

But those we save through our own daring to speak up may just be the ones to ultimately change the world. And in the process, we are already changing the world because we’re breaking the stigma of silence around suicide.

And that, my friends, makes the hell worth fighting through.

A Different Kind of Snow Angel

A good snow meant one thing as a kid – FUN. We didn’t care about roads, power outages, or having to rush to the grocery store for OMG MILK, EGGS, BREAD…no, all we cared about was playing in the white stuff. Staying home didn’t make us roll our eyes, no siree.. staying home made us yelp with joy and dance with insanity. It made us….

DOWNRIGHT GIDDY.

We would willingly spend nearly 30 minutes putting on enough gear to go outside and dive into the winter wonderland. I don’t know about you, but one of my favourite things to do as soon as I stepped outside was to fall down and make a snow angel. I particularly loved doing this if we got to go outside while it was still snowing. There was always something so intensely magical about laying there, supported by inches of snow, slowly waving my hands and feet as flakes drifted down from above and melted on the few inches of my face exposed to the elements. Sometimes I stuck my tongue out to catch the flakes.

It’s funny how snow doesn’t mean the same thing now that I’m all grown up.

I don’t remember the last time I made a snow angel. Or went sledding, for that matter. I could have this past winter but I didn’t have the appropriate gear so I passed. I will have the proper gear this next year, however, and I can’t wait. (Disclaimer – I lived for nearly 20 years in the deep south where they don’t get snow often but they do get ice occasionally. Nasty, yucky ice.)

The snow this year was intense. I have tried to be humourous about it, but honestly, the past few storms have nearly made me weep. This year, I discovered my limit. Apparently when enough snow falls where the “removal” piles get so high it makes me claustrophobic is my limit. A lot of other people also hit their limits, I suspect. (Including a few folks I know who are expecting blizzard conditions tomorrow… my heart goes out to you, it does. Spring isn’t far away, you guys!)

Over the past week, the temps have soared, snow has melted, and more grass is visible than is covered by snow in most places local to me. The greenish brown landscape is almost alien at this point, given how accustomed we were to everything covered in white.

We hit another milestone today as well – for the first time in a couple of months, we can see our deck. Not just a few inches around the outer edges – the entire thing. At the peak of our snowy season, we had nearly 20 inches of snow covering our deck. Not anymore. It’s all gone.

Something of note here – turns out that snow angels aren’t just made by humans throwing themselves down on top of the snow.

They’re also made by melting snow – as a happy reminder that there is always someone watching over us:

snow angel

And that, people, is sometimes all the sign you need that spring is on the way. Well, that and a fleeting rainbow in the sky as the sun sets and clouds drift lazily on by.

Permission

What’s the one thing we don’t give ourselves enough of?

Permission.

We don’t give ourselves permission to grieve, to hurt, to cry, to take the day off from things we need to – to take time for ourselves. So when we do try to unwind, this lack of “permission” to relax interferes with our ability to fully unwind.

Instead of unwinding, our minds race with what we should be doing or how we will get everything we need to get accomplished once we’re done unwinding.

We don’t give ourselves permission to grieve how WE need to grieve. It’s a process, an impossibly intimate and personal one at that. No grief is like the next. So instead, we “buck up” and move on, judged by those who think we haven’t done so quickly enough.

Then there are expectations, levels of impossible perfection. Yes, we should strive to be the best we can be at all times but you know what? Sometimes the best you can be is just that – the best YOU can be. Not the best she can be, or the best he can be, but the best YOU can be. It may not measure up to what you see in your head as the best you, but at the end of the day, as long as you’ve given it your all, that’s what matters.

The other thing we don’t do often enough is give ourselves permission to love ourselves or love those around us with wild abandon. We hold back a little piece of ourselves too often because we fear vulnerability. The act of blooming fully scares many of us because we have known pain and refuse to let ourselves get wounded again.

But here’s the thing about that – we don’t live if we hold ourselves back or if we let others change our sense of selves. Permission for truly being yourself is something only you can give. Realizing this is a huge leap forward toward healing any pain which may have frozen you in the past. As a popular Disney song commands us – let it go.

I’ve been growing into permission to be me. There have been days where I’ve been a wonderfully glorious blossom and others where I’ve been a wilted flower. But it’s okay because each day, I’ve been the best damn blossom and wilted flower I can be, which is what matters when the sun sets.

Then, in the evening sky, the moon rises. It waxes, it wanes, form changing with the twilight of every evening until it grows full then fades away completely.

My favourite is when the moon hangs low and grins down at us, like Lewis Carroll’s Cheshire cat. Sometimes, I imagine there is a devious cat just behind the inky darkness, waiting to pounce on us.

Moments like these are what help me hold onto whimsy in the face of the craziness of daily living.

Focus on the little things.

Give yourself permission to be the best YOU that you can be.

Love with wild abandon. Laugh with your belly. Sing with joy.

Above all else, grin back at the Cheshire cat and never forget to hold onto the whimsical.

A Few Thoughts On Rejection

For those of you who had the balls to go audition for Listen To Your Mother, you rock. To those of you who made it, congratulations.

To those of you who didn’t – hello, my sisters.

I have seen friends celebrate and I have seen friends react to not being chosen. Of course it’s natural to be upset. In addition to pouring our souls out through words, we then got up in front of others and *gasp* read those words aloud.

The challenge in being rejected is to not take it personally. But.. but… those are my words, you’re thinking! I READ THEM. HOW IS THIS NOT PERSONAL???

Think of it this way – you plan to sew a gorgeous quilt. You need fabric first, right? So you go to a local fabric store with hundreds of choices. You spend hours sorting through the fabric, comparing them to each other and analyzing the appearance of each scrap in the final design. You can’t possibly use every single scrap of fabric in the quilt and end up with the appearance you want, right?

That’s what the people in charge of LTYM are doing – they are creating a quilt of words and they can’t possibly use all the words they hear or read during the audition phase. So they are forced to make a final selection after browsing the most amazing “fabrics” they have to choose from. In doing so, they work to find pieces which fall into a specific pattern, pieces which will work together for the show they envision. So, you see, it isn’t about you at all. It’s all about their job to select the best pieces for the design they see before them.

I went into auditioning this year with the mindset that I wouldn’t be chosen. But if I did that, then why bother auditioning?

Because standing in front of people, reading words I wrote, scares the ever-loving crap out of me. It is beyond my comfort zone. I don’t even read my blog posts to myself after I write them if that gives you any indication of how much I dislike reading my words. I struggle to accept the compliment of “hey, you’re a really great writer!” to be completely honest.

I am genuinely happy for those who made it into LTYM shows this year. It is an honor to be chosen and it takes courage to get up in front of such large audiences and read personal stories. To those who with me in not being chosen – you are still just as awesome as you were the moment before you took a shaky deep breath and stepped inside that audition room (or connected via G+ Hangout or Skype). No one gets to tell you any different. It takes guts to do that and even more guts to cope with rejection.

Below is the piece I read on Sunday morning for my audition. I like it, they laughed, everyone who has read it has told me it rocks. But it just didn’t fit into the show for whatever reason. I’m okay with that because you know what? I’m writing way more this year than I was last year and with each audition, I’m getting better at it. Sure, it’s nice to have acknowledgements and acceptance from others but in reality the only opinion which matters of yourself is your own.

Enjoy reading my audition piece!

____________________________________

It’s a strange balance, this juxtaposition of womanhood and motherhood.

If we falter even the slightest, it’s as if someone yanked the worst possible Jenga block out of our intricately formed tower and we’re left hoping we’re as brilliant as Raymond Babbit, able to immediately calculate what’s fallen down as well as how to fix it.

As mothers, we are expected to heal everything, know everything, cook everything, be everything. I don’t know everything, I can’t heal everything, I am not everything, but I am able to cook almost everything. Except insects because that’s just gross.

When I was a little girl, I shoved stuffed animals under my shirt in the sunroom of our family cottage over on the Jersey Shore. I’d unceremoniously yank them out after a few minutes (which back then, felt like an eternity), giving birth to my “children.”

Stuffed animals made the best children in the world. They didn’t cry, they didn’t poop, they didn’t throw up….seriously. They were awesome. Plus, how on earth could you be sad whilst cuddling an adorable fuzzy teddy bear?

Fast forward about 20 years or so and there I was, in a hospital in rural South Carolina, about to give birth. It was a bit more complicated than yanking a stuffed animal from under my Mickey Mouse shirt – this time, I was screaming, pushing, and praying the epidural would magically start working on the side of my body engulfed in enough pain to convince me it was on fire.

Then, after 14 or so hours of labor, she arrived. In true Jersey Girl fashion, my oldest slid from the womb giving the doctor the finger on my behalf. I didn’t know what to do with her. She wasn’t soft and fuzzy. She was wet, naked, kicking, and screaming. The advice from the nurse about breastfeeding? Make sure you get the entire areola in her mouth – you know, the brown part. (Gee, thanks!)

I sought help at 12 weeks postpartum for depression only to be told “Hey! You don’t have PPD because at four weeks postpartum, your hormones slid magically back into place! But wait, there’s more…you’ve won a visit with our in-house therapist who will keep rescheduling!”

Swell.

We moved back to be closer to his family and I toughed it out without professional help. Then we got pregnant with our second.

Second time around saw me through over forty hours of labor. Delivery was fast once I pushed. But then, she was diagnosed with a cleft palate and I lost my mind. Medication at 10 days, hospitalization at 56 days, enlightenment shortly thereafter.

I didn’t have to suffer. I didn’t have to struggle. I had forgotten to mother the most important person in my life…me.

Self-care is not selfish, it is selfless. If you attempt to pour a glass of water from an empty pitcher, it is impossible. The same goes for self-care. If you attempt to care for others while not filling yourself, you will give nothing.

My third child was born after a quick and relatively simple labor. I didn’t have any issues after his birth as I did what I needed to in order to take care of myself first. I took care of my little guy and his sisters, but I managed my own well-being at the same time instead of just theirs.

I mothered all of us.

That, my friends, that is the key to mothering. It isn’t in balancing. It isn’t in being the Martha Stewart at the bake sale. It isn’t in knowing how to solve every single issue that may or may not crop up. It isn’t in being the Joneses on the street or even in being the Mom who lets her kid do whatever he or she wants.

The key to mothering is mothering EVERYONE in your family the best you can, yourself included. You are the nucleus of the family, the center of their worlds, and they are yours. Embrace this. Cherish this. Nourish this. In the process, however, remember to take impeccable care of yourself for without this important step, all of this may suddenly disappear into a dark vortex and suddenly, you won’t be in Kansas any more.

Remember Dorothy’s mantra? There’s no place like home. Only in real life, a mother’s ruby slippers are self-care and you absolutely must remember  to click them together….often.

Choosing Happy

Happiness is not a goal; it is a by-product. 

~Eleanor Roosevelt~

Happiness is a direction, not a place.

~Sydney J. Harris~

Think about those quotes for a few minutes, letting their truth sink deep into your psyche. Sip your coffee, tea, juice, or water, and let it wash over you.

What do they say to you? How do they feel in your heart?

It is difficult to remember, in the depth of depression, that happiness is not a goal nor is it a place. It is instead, a by-product of life and more in the journey than in the destination. All too often, we focus on reaching a final ‘state’ and forget that our ‘states’ are instead fluid and are pulled with the ebb and flow of life.

I’ve written before about whether happiness is a choice. I did not believe happiness was a choice until I finally chose it. You see, happiness does not equal a constant cheerful demeanor. Happiness doesn’t mean everything is giggles and confetti.

Happiness, to me, is flowing with what life throws at you. It is knowing what to do when things turn negative, it is taking care of yourself in the midst of the whirlwind. Happiness is realizing that life happens and the majority of it is how you choose to react to it.

Let’s take, for example, a young woman in a grocery store. She’s in a rush to grab a few last minute items to cook dinner for her boyfriend. She runs around the store, grabbing the items, and goes to the front. All the self-checkout lanes are taken and she is left with choosing between two open registers with cashiers. One has a young mother with three children and a very full cart while the other one has an elderly woman with not much in her cart. The young woman chooses the aisle with the elderly woman. But the elderly woman is very chatty with the cashier and very slow with her wallet. She also decides she doesn’t want to purchase a few of the limited items in her cart so the young woman has to wait for a manager to come over and do a return. By this time, there’s someone in line behind her so she’s stuck and can’t go anywhere.

This young woman would have every right to be frustrated and angry. Instead, she takes a deep breath and enjoys the few moments of peace this has granted her in between her very busy job and the busy rush of cooking ahead of her. She looks around the store and notices the colours of balloons floating above displays for an upcoming holiday, she listens to the children in the aisle next to her giggle and play with each other as their mother manages getting all the groceries on the conveyer belt.

We have a choice in the way we respond to external stimuli. One of the most popular things I hear people with disabilities or mental health challenges say is that they may have x,y, or z, but x,y, or z doesn’t have them. It truly is the best way to view things because when x,y, or z doesn’t have you, it doesn’t have power over your mind which means you know how to handle it.

And as we children of the 80′s remember, knowing is half the battle.

Spring Forward

March.

Such a tumultuous month, isn’t it?

So many sayings, so filled with change and rebirth.

Spring. The Ides of March. St. Patrick’s Day. In like a lion, out like a lamb.

Our first weekend of March is definitely the roar of a lion. As of right now, there’s a giant snow storm on the way, predicted to drop up to 14 inches on us. It’s frigidly cold outside.

We had a tease of warmer spring weather last weekend when it hit the upper 40′s and low 50′s. Growing up, I begged to wear shorts if it was forecast to hit 50. Years in the south jaded me and 50′s became the temp at which you bundled up. Last weekend? I wasn’t quite in shorts but I wasn’t wearing a coat either.

Last weekend was filled with hope. Birds flitted here and there. Snow melted. Grass appeared. Icicles disappeared. For the first time since early December, my heart danced with the mesmerizing rebirth that is spring.

And then.

Talk of this weekend’s storm.

Just.NO.

The birds are quiet. The icicles are re-appearing. The grass will be a distant memory after this storm, yet again. I saw large uncovered spots of grass today. Snow piles will expand, filling even more space we do not have to give to the frozen white stuff. For instance, there are parking lots with limited access and piles of snow claiming several parking spots – yesterday, at the gym, for example, I backed into a space next to a giant snow pile, with my car halfway on the pile and nearly backed into the snow pile behind it because it was one of the only spots left within proper walking space.

I’m fighting to find the silver lining at this point.

I’ve done a lot of baking. A lot. I conquered sourdough. I made sourdough bread and now make sourdough english muffins. Sourdough pancakes are above and beyond buttermilk pancakes….seriously. You want a fantastic melt in your mouth AMAZING pancake? Make a sourdough one. Dear.Sweet.FOOD.HEAVEN.

I made split pea & ham soup in the crockpot the other day. I have Borscht planned for this next week.

I am a comfort food expert at this point. Not that I wasn’t before but I have definitely expanded my horizons.

Things I’m looking forward to once warmer temperatures (finally) arrive:

  1. NO MORE SNOW.
  2. Sunshine.
  3. Birds singing.
  4. Trees with leaves.
  5. Grass, lots of it.
  6. Sitting outside in a warm breeze, drinking coffee.
  7. Warm rain.
  8. NO MORE SNOW.
  9. Summer food – lighter fare.
  10. Rabbits. Squirrels. LIFE.
  11. WARMTH.
  12. No more air that hurts my face.

I want to drive down the highway with my windows down, music blasting. I want to open the windows at home and not run the heat. I want to only see the colour white in the sky, not on the ground. I want to relish in the colour green being the prominent colour on the ground. I want to swoon over wildflowers and daffodils. I want to breathe in life and watch the Earth exhale poetry.

That’s what I want.

 

Owning My Pain

I had goals for today. They were sidetracked by housework which left me in a tremendous amount of pain. Then I discovered our ISP has some speed issues so instead of sitting down and resting or going to the gym to soak in the hot tub, I pushed myself to get things done and be ready for a tech to show up at any moment.

Of course, the tech did not show up until nearly 5pm.

I stood the entire time he was here, nearly 10 minutes, holding back tears the entire time. And then, I forced myself upstairs where I collapsed on the bed and proceeded to fold laundry. Why? Because folding laundry made me forget about the pain – it distracted me from the intense fire in my lower back. That’s how J found me when he arrived home not much after I sat down. He walked through our bedroom door, asked me how I was and all I could do was look at him with absolute pain and tears in my eyes.

He sprang into motion, put a SalonPas patch on my lower back and fixed me a drink. Then he helped me finish laundry, chiding me for twisting and lifting the laundry basket. He tucked me into bed, nudging pillows behind me and making sure I was properly supported. After awhile, (and after some Aleve finally), I fell asleep.

I’m sitting on the couch downstairs now and as long as I don’t move, I’m okay. Tomorrow is a new day and even if I have to crawl into the gym, I’m going to go sit in the hot tub.

I struggle with my emotions on days like today. I am stubborn and tend to push through pain. I do not accept “failure” well. This, this not being able to function as I should, is failure. Intellectually I know it is not but it feels like it. I live with a standard level of pain every day so when that pain level surges and affects me like this, it is incredibly difficult to deal with. I handle depression or mental health issues far better than this sort of thing. I know how to deal with those. I can still move around. But when this happens and I am relegated to bed? Just ugh.

Earlier this evening, as we were folding laundry together, I focused on the fact that we were together. I also focused on the sunset outside. It was gorgeous – a phenomenal combination of oranges, yellows, greys, and pinks which slid into vibrant purples, dark blues, and specks of magenta. Certainly one of the most beautiful sunsets I had seen in awhile and because of this intense pain, I had a front row seat.

It is a fight to focus on the positive instead of the pain so when I manage to do so, it is quite a victory. I talk myself into holding on until the next day, convincing myself I will feel better then which is usually the case…or at least has been thus far. I may need to take it easier than usual but I make it through.

The same holds true today. I just need to make it to bedtime. In the morning, a brand new (and better) day begins. Tomorrow, I will own the pain instead of the pain owning me.

A Journey Toward Personal Intimacy

The paved road curves toward the forest as trees start to bend over the edges, giving the sense of entering a tunnel. The new green leaves flutter in the light breeze as the tires squeal ever so slightly at the apex of the curve as it slants downhill. The paved road fades into a gravel road. Dust kicks up behind the car, drifting up through the trees to a bright blue sky seared with sunshine.

Once again, the road curves, a brick wall looming in the distance. A gate crosses the road. The car slows, coming to a stop just inches away from this mysterious gate in the middle of nowhere. There is a house on the hill just a mile beyond the gate.

The driver swings the door wide and steps out of the vehicle. She walks up to the gate, grabs it, and gives it a little shake. Walking down the gate, it appears there is a chain with a lock, preventing the gate from opening. The driver shrugs and begins to climb the gate despite the clear lock and desire of the resident in the house to keep visitors out. The driver leaps to the ground on the other side, and begins walking toward the house.

Imagine, for a moment, that this road is a part of yourself you have decided to let a friend journey down. Part of your brain, part of you which you are comfortable sharing. Eventually, a wall will crop up whether you want it to or not. Even the most open of those among us have a wall somewhere.

Walls, while meant to be broken down, are also meant to be respected. It is not for us to decide to suddenly leap over them despite the clear warnings to do the exact opposite. Boundaries are healthy for both parties in a relationship. That said, it is important to not have too many walls in an intimate relationship. Too many walls lead to issues with communication and understanding. If a partner is left standing on the other side of a gate for far too long, he or she will start to feel as if they are being held at arm’s length.

Love is about trusting people enough to let them into the places you often keep locked behind a gate. It’s about letting yourself behind the walls in your own head and accepting them as wide open fields instead of gripping the key tightly and refusing to open the gate, afraid to let anyone, including yourself, through.

Intimacy with others must first start with yourself. Not THAT kind of intimacy. The intellectual kind of intimacy. The kind of intimacy we share with a close friend over a cup of coffee – the kind of intimacy we experience when we are at our absolute worst and someone offers to be there for us, even if it’s just to sit in silence. The deep intimacy which speaks volumes over any kind of physical intimacy.

It is this mental intimacy which we often deny because it means our soul is naked which, frankly, is far more intimidating than any sort of physical nudity. A mental intimacy is what keeps us together, it’s what endears others to us, and what endears us to others.

Keep that in mind as you relate to those around you and consider whether or not you are allowing yourself to be as intimate as possible with those closest to you, including yourself. The greatest damage we could ever do to ourselves is to lose touch with our own heart and souls – to not be intimate with our own minds. For when we fail in this area of intimacy, we fail at living the life we are meant to live and instead live the life others want us to live.

Ask yourself which life you’d rather be living and make the changes you need to bring a more personal intimacy into your life.

You won’t regret it.

A Few Ramblings About Love

When I was younger I foolishly believed in fairy tales, in the happy every after. Boy meets girl, they fall in love, animals sing, dwarfs get all ga ga, and well, happily ever after, right? Wrong.

In between, there’s housework, there is the daily mundane, the impossibly difficult discussions, the little things, the actual WORK required to make the happily ever after happen. You know, stuff which doesn’t fit neatly into a Disney movie and is over-dramatized in their sitcoms accented with a cheesy laugh reel.

Life isn’t some sitcom. It’s not a Disney fairy tale either. It is somewhere in between, it is not easy, and it requires work. Most of all, it requires intimacy, patience, trust, and the willingness to talk the hard stuff through without jumping to conclusions. It means listening instead of deciding what you’re going to say next. A partnership, a marriage.. it’s not about the day you say “I do”…it’s about all the days after.

The next time you see a couple who appears to have it all together, remind yourself you are only seeing a slice of their life. Do not compare yourself or your relationship to what they have. I used this example a few weeks ago – the story of the ugly duckling – he started out completely different from his siblings but ended up being the most beautiful and graceful creature of them all. It is also a perfect analogy for relationships. In my experience, people who have been through a lot together (and survived) have the strongest relationships.

Over the past few years through my work as a peer support advocate for women and families struggling with Perinatal Mood Disorders, I have had the deep honor of getting to peek behind the curtain of some of the most amazing people I have ever “met”. I say “met” with quotations because most of them I have only had the pleasure of talking to on through a digital medium.

This work, this advocacy, has not only allowed me to enable others to move forward with their lives through the boulder of Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorders but it has also taught me quite a bit about love and relationships. You see, when you are supporting a family through a PMAD episode, you have to be aware of everything going on in their life because every little thing matters. Is she getting enough support at home? Is he sleeping okay? Does he have support too? How’s work going? Are the in-laws a source of stress? Are they communicating? Are they sharing the care responsibilities? Are they taking time for each other as a couple? There are a lot of little nuances which can add up to an explanation of why she’s had a bad week or why he seems a little snippy. These are the things which must be teased out to empower a couple to communicate and move past the potholes before they become sinkholes.

In no particular order, the following are things I believe empower a strong and successful relationship. They are things I strive to do in my current relationship and don’t ever intend to stop doing:

1) Listen. I don’t mean nod your head and “uh huh” at every little thing your partner says. No. I mean actually listen. Follow the conversation, ask questions, repeat things back. Validate their feelings, their concerns, make them heard. You would expect the same from them, yes? Everyone wants to be heard, deserves to be heard and this is particularly true with your partner.

2) Check in with your partner on a daily basis. Sure, ask them how their day went but dive deeper and ask pertinent questions beyond the surface. Get them talking abut their interests or offer to listen as they vent a problem they’re having at work.

3) Hold hands just because. Holding hands has got to be one of the most intimate things you can do with a person. I’m serious! It’s a quiet yet sweet way to let them know you care and you want to be near them. I adore holding hands and it means the world to me to be able to just sit and hold hands as we watch TV.

4) Discuss serious issues like adults. I don’t mean rage at each other, yelling and screaming. I mean sit down, and in a calm, rational voice, state your side of the situation, and then listen to your partner state his side of the decision. Sometimes you may need to wait until you both calm down. Work together instead of against each other to solve problems. You are both on the same team, here. I realize this is easier said than done but when both of you are capable of this it truly is a beautiful thing, trust me. (this is where checking in with each other comes in handy because there are less likely to be blow ups if you are actually communicating to begin with!)

5) Go on a date with each other. It doesn’t have to be ritzy, heck, it doesn’t even have to qualify as a “date”. Just spending time alone, the two of you, is great. You may have kids now but that doesn’t mean you are *just* a mom & dad. You are still the people you were when you fell in love. Nurture that, celebrate it, and don’t ever lose sight of yourselves as a happy, giddy couple madly in love with each other.

6) Surprise each other with little romantic gestures. These things are cheesy but they work. Texts, notes in work bags, mailed cards. I had to travel last summer and I left a well-planned scavenger hunt for my boyfriend at our condo while I was gone. All the clues were in a coupon holder with the dates written on the outside of the envelope. I had a blast planning it and he enjoyed all the little mementos. It really is the little things which matter in the long run.

7) Laugh together, often. Laughter really is the best medicine and if you can’t be utterly ridiculous with the one you’re with? Then you’re in trouble. It’s good for the heart, the soul, the abs, and your relationship.

8) Try new things together. Chances are you’ll both be nervous but it’ll be a bonding experience and hopefully one you’ll never forget. Just make sure you wear all the proper safety gear if you decide to leap out of a plane.

9) Give each other your own space. Know who you are and respect the person your partner is by allowing him/her to indulge in his/her interests without guilt. There is the potential for abuse of this (ie, someone hogging all the alone time and not allowing their partner to have their fair share). Love should never demand someone change their interests or who they really are just to be accepted. Love is about finding someone who is amazing and accepting them for WHO THEY ARE right then and there, not the person you plan on molding them to be.

10) Love with wild abandon. There’s no other way to love the person you are with than deeply. Love so hard your heart hurts and aches and you can’t wait to jump into their arms when they get home from work. Fall in love with them all over again every day for no reason at all than the fact that they love you right back.

Am I saying that if you do all of these things you’ll have the perfect relationship? No. Because not all of us are built the same and some of us need different things from a relationship. But for me? This is it. This is my list. Some of it may work for you, the whole thing possibly.

Underlying all of this, however, is the definitive need to communicate because without communicating, you may as well build a house without a foundation in the Everglades and just wait for the whole thing to sink beneath the swamp. And that’s not getting you anywhere but in a gator’s belly.

Sunday Reflections

The dryer hums upstairs as it spins clothes in a vortex of heat, drying them after they have spun through water and soap. Such a simple thing and yet, part of the rhythm of daily living these days. I shudder to think of the arduous task of schlepping the laundry to a river or lake and scrubbing it down with a rock or other accoutrements. Yet at the same time, I cannot help but think of how much more social the act of taking the laundry outside one’s home was back then. I assume it is much like going to the laundromat today although with the advent of technology, it is infinitely easier to lose oneself in a game of Candy Crush or on Twitter and Facebook. If you’re scrubbing clothes with a rock, however, it is a bit more difficult to ignore someone attempting to strike up a conversation.

Pondering this, the movement of society away from an integrated close-knit community to an online integrated close-knit community has me wondering why this has happened and what a profound effect it may have on some of us. For those of us who prefer not to be out and about (or are not able to be out and about), it is a wonderful thing. But it can also be a double-edged sword as it enables us to stay home and not interact with society at large, providing an excuse to continue our hermitesque lifestyles without seeming odd.

We are bombarded with negative headlines, danger lurking in every corner, things cropping up here and there. Our anxiety rises, we grow fearful of attending large events so we stay home and watch it from the comfort of our living rooms, interacting instead with others doing the same via the Internet through hashtags, status updates, and check-ins to whatever program we may be watching at the moment.

When I was younger, my father once told me to avoid growing cynical. I try very hard to keep an open mind and a child-like wonder at the world but at the same time, balance it with a strong street smart common sense awareness of what might be lurking around the bend. It is a constant battle inside, wanting to desperately to believe in the fairytale yet seeing the shadow of Gepetto just behind the satin curtain. Isolation from the world at hand will do that to a person.

I am realizing, with a resounding crash this morning, while I don’t think I am terribly cynical, I have succumbed to my fear of the world out there. I am happier browsing Amazon than in a store. I am happier in my car than in the parking lot of the chosen destination where I usually have to talk myself into getting out and walking inside. I am happier lost inside the melody and words of my favourite songs through headphones than I would ever be at a loud, raucous concert.

Perhaps this is simply how one ages, growing to appreciate the silence and solitude of a simple life as if it were a fine wine or an aged brandy. Maybe this is the old age “get offa my lawn” version of growing weary of the ridiculousness of the life out there. Or perhaps this is a knee-jerk reaction to the horrible situation at our previous residence and I simply have not pushed myself hard enough to overcome it. Whatever it is, I am caught in between wanting to fix it or wanting to embrace it.

My entire life, I have always been shy. I do not long to be the center of the party or live a public life. (Yet, here I am, blogging – go figure!) I have always preferred the quiet to the loud. Preferred activities? Curling up with a good book, writing, listening to music, watching movies, chatting and laughing with a few close friends. Part of me often yearns for a larger group of friends but the rest of me quietly whispers “we can’t handle that.”

Blogging is one of the few places I feel comforted. For awhile, this did not feel like my safe space because I did not know what to say. I felt as if I were the prodigal daughter, unable to return home because I had changed. But I realized those changes fit this blog and to not share them, to not offer a glimpse into how drastically my life changed and how I now fought to deal with these changes would be hypocritical. And thus, I returned. There was no celebration, no sacrifice of the fatted calf, just words filling the little white box every day.

A new voice has been found and this morning, this morning that voice called to me as I sat in our living room, alone, watching children run back and forth outside in the snow, laughing and playing. Starting to type, I exhaled, and the negativity ensnared in my soul fled. For the first time in a long time, I realized, there was nothing wrong with me this morning other than needing to turn a valve to let the words flow freely from my brain.

I may not be the most social person in this concrete world, but I am valuable, I matter, and I am a fighter. Some days will be harder than others. Some days will leave me knocked out flat on the ground while others have me floating in the heavens. It’s the days in between that matter. The days when I put my nose to the grind and do the dirty work to earn the awesome days – and the days when I pick myself up off the ground to try again.

And so, life moves forward, filled with rhythmic sounds of every day necessities, like the humming of the dryer upstairs spinning clothes in a super heated vortex.