What a Difference a Person Can Make

Last year, I went with a friend to the Great Figgy Pudding Caroling Competition here in Seattle, and I blogged about it. I had a wonderful time. But beneath the surface, I was feeling this great, yawning, howling, aching chasm of loneliness.

While I spent most of the holidays bravely stuffing that down and trying not to let it overwhelm me, it was a very near thing. Sometimes I could feel it surging upward, and I knew that if I let it take over, I’d probably lose my battle with depression and start howling or something.

Even so, Figgy Pudding is a wonderful event, and I decided to make it part of my Christmas tradition. I went again this year with my husband. As we stood there, listening to the carolers beneath the glow of the huge Christmas tree, what I felt was joy. No physically painful ache in the pit of my stomach. No feeling of being on the verge of hysteria. Just contentment. What a gift this man is in my life. He’s all I need for Christmas.

And then I looked around at the crowd, and I realized that no one who looked at me this year or last would have known my state of mind. I’m sure there was a lot of joy in the crowd, but also a lot of longing for companionship. A lot of pervasive emotional pain. The fact that it often looks one and the same is a bit troubling.

I’m not saying that everyone in the whole world must walk about two by two in order to be happy. Some people are perfectly satisfied being alone. I know I felt that way for quite some time. Some people who are in relationships are even more lonely than their single friends, and that’s got to be even more emotionally excruciating.

I just find it kind of enlightening to realize that there’s really no way to know what’s going on beneath the surface unless you talk to someone. We need to communicate more. We need to put down our devices and actually connect.

And to those of you who are swirling in that deep dark pit of loneliness that I used to know all too well, I just want to say that it may feel like that’s your forever, but keep reaching out. You never know when someone will take your outstretched hand, and that changes everything. I’m living proof of that.

Carolers

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An Atmospheric Shift

I grew up always having cats. So imagine my surprise when I went away to college, and my eyes stopped itching and my nose stopped running. Holy crap. I’d been allergic to cats that whole time and didn’t even realize it. It was just status quo for me.

Similarly, people have been telling me my whole life that I’d feel different when I got married. I didn’t believe them. I mean, I’m an adult. I know myself really well. And I’ve been in two long term relationships. So why would this be any different?

And yet, it is. It’s completely and utterly different. Why is that?

It had been confounding me for a few days. So, one day while sitting on my drawbridge, I decided to do some inner dialogue with myself to try to get to the bottom of this feeling. What’s changed?

After meditating on it for a bit, I figured it out. And It brought tears to my eyes. Because here it is in a nutshell: For the first time in 53 years, I’m not afraid.

And I’m not just talking about feeling more financially secure because of our combined incomes. (Although, yes, that’s a part of it. We are saving a fortune in insurance and utilities and in so many ways it’s insane. You don’t realize how much the capitalist system is stacked in favor of married couples until you join that elite group.)

But that’s only a small part of it. Here’s what’s huge: I had been living in fear for so long that I didn’t even realize that free-floating anxiety had always been in the very air I was breathing.

Fear of spending the rest of my life alone. Fear of dying on the weekend and it being days before anyone found my body. Fear of getting so sick that I couldn’t call for help. Fear that this painful loneliness would eventually kill me. Never feeling completely safe.

For the first time in my life, I feel like someone has my back. Always. Unfalteringly. There’s someone I can count on, and someone who can count on me. That’s incredibly new. Before, if I screwed up, I was on my own.

And if I triumphed, I was on my own, too. You don’t realize how freakin’ lonely that feeling is until you actually have someone to share the triumphs with. And that makes me really excited about the future!

The fact is, I’m part of a team now. A mutual admiration society of two. We are each other’s roofs and foundations. While past relationships have dragged me down, this one lifts me up, and if we go down, we’ll go down together, and climb back up together, too.

It seemed as though in past relationships I had to do the bulk of the heavy lifting. In this one, we are more equally balanced. We work toward the future together, and we want to go in the same direction.

So yes, this realization brought tears to my eyes, and they were complex tears, indeed. Tears of joy for the amazing place I find myself in now, and tears of sadness for the person I was a month ago, who had absolutely no idea how afraid she always had been.

If you’re lucky enough to be on a winning team for life, go and hug that person right now. Right this minute. And never let go. Because that connection is every bit as precious as the air that you breathe.

Breathe

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The Sacred and Mundane in Relationships

A friend of mine used that phrase in one of her recent Facebook posts, and I immediately thought it would make a great title for one of my blog posts. I’m very relationship-focused at the moment, having just started a new one. I really, really want to get this right, so I’m putting a great deal of thought into it.

I believe it’s very important to respect that every healthy relationship will be multi-layered. Not everything is going to be deeply intimate and highly significant. It’s not all inside jokes and passion and the stuff of love songs. No. Some of it is driving to the post office and making chicken soup when your partner has a cold and cleaning his or her pet’s poop off your carpet. It’s delighting in each other’s company, but it’s also deciding what’s irritating enough to speak up about and what is better to simply adjust to.

I don’t know whether it’s the fact that I’m in my 50’s and I never expected to have this opportunity again, or the fact that I’ve lost someone quite abruptly in the past so I know how fragile it all can be, but one unique feature of this relationship, for me, is that the mundane seems to be every bit as sacred to me as the sacred is. I like shopping with him. I like doing yard work with him. I like cooking with him. I’m just as happy holding his hand while watching TV as I am going to a major event.

I’m hardly an expert, but I think the trick is to not take anything for granted. Even the basic stuff. Because the bulk of life is the basic stuff. Just the fact that it’s life and you have someone special to live it with makes it worth cherishing.

boy-girl-holding-hands-on-the-sidewalk

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The Ingredients of Happiness

It always comes as quite a shock when someone famous commits suicide. Hearing on the radio that Anthony Bourdain chose to take his own life nearly caused me to swerve off the road. This is someone I’ve envied. He got to travel. He had crazy experiences and met fascinating people. He won countless awards. No doubt he also made a boatload of money.

This was someone who was successful, rich, and had an exciting life. Three things many of us strive for, and yet, now he’s gone. On the surface, you’d think that his was a life worth living. But to make this permanent choice, he must have been in a great deal of emotional pain. He must have been suffering. Surrounded by all of us, who admired him, he must have been all alone. Of course, this is pure speculation on my part. I doubt any of us will ever know the full story.

The only thing I can know for sure is that I am happier than Anthony Bourdain was. I would never have guessed this a week ago. But there’s incontrovertible evidence of this now. I’m still here.

So, what constitutes happiness? One thing is for sure: it isn’t money. I know that’s a cliché, but clichés become clichés for a reason.

I know someone who is a millionaire, but he’s also a divorced, estranged father and a raging alcoholic. He’s one of the most miserable people I have ever met. Money does nothing to solve your problems when all is said and done. Most of us know this, and yet so many of us still seem obsessed with filthy lucre. It’s such a waste of time.

As far as I can tell, the two things you need to be happy are connections and purpose. Humans are social animals. They need community. The more you surround yourself with people you love who love you back, the happier you will be. And having a purpose, such as a job you love, or a goal to strive for, or even a hobby, makes life worthwhile. If you have none of those things, I encourage you to become a volunteer. Helping others is the noblest of purposes.

Don’t get me wrong. None of us can be happy all the time. People who are happy all the time are mentally ill. It’s how we cope with the rough patches that truly defines us. But there’s a lot that you can do to make your life satisfying overall.

If you are contemplating suicide or know someone who is, I strongly encourage you to seek help. Here in the US, a great resource is the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Their number is 1-800-273-8255. Please, just do that one last thing before taking any steps that, once done, can never be undone. Surely you owe yourself that much.

Anthony Bourdain, I hope you have found the peace you apparently could not find in this life. I wish you had made a different choice.

Anthony Bourdain

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A Plethora of Routines

Most of us have routines that allow us to go on autopilot from the moment the alarm goes off in the morning. (Some people even wake up seconds before the alarm. I can’t decide if I envy them or not.)

We all have our ways of getting ready to face the day. The thing is, no two people’s ways are exactly alike. Which means that routines aren’t really that routine after all, when you think about it.

One of the hardest things to get used to when you’re in a new relationship (if I am remembering correctly from what seems like an eternity ago) is your partner’s way of doing things. It takes some adjustment. (Don’t believe me? How many people have either said or heard, “Would you please put the toilet seat down!” at least once in their lives?)

I used to live with someone who would cover the kitchen counter with washcloths, to keep it from being scratched. It used to drive me absolutely nuts. When he was out of town, those stupid washcloths would disappear, believe you me. But when he got back, out they’d come again. Sigh. I suppose if that’s the worst thing I had to complain about, I was doing rather well. But still. You know?

I also know someone who pulls out about a foot and a half of dental floss every time she flosses. Why? I don’t know. She probably doesn’t even know at this juncture.

The point is, there are billions of different ways to live life. I find that equally amazing and daunting. We have so many choices. The world is full of possibilities.

I’m starting to wonder if I could adjust to someone else’s routine after 53 years of doing my thing. I’m not sure I have the energy. As my memory gets worse, I even find that I sometimes surprise and/or irritate myself. So, yeah, there’s that.

icebreaking-routine

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Tall Tale Tellers

I’ve worked with several pathological liars in my lifetime. It’s a mental disorder that I struggle to understand, because there seems to be no emotional payoff. Do these people not realize that for the most part, everyone can see right through them? They’re certainly confronted enough. This causes them not to be trusted, and their social relationships are therefore not particularly stable. Telling whoppers is a self-destructive habit.

The thing I find most interesting about these people is that even when you catch them in their lies, when you hit them with the cold, hard facts, just as with Trump’s political base, they still will not change their stance. For example, one coworker claimed to have several masters degrees from a variety of Ivy League institutions. I looked up a few of the degrees in question, and these particular degree types were not offered by those schools. Ever. Showing him this irrefutable evidence did not even make him blink.

Their lies always seem to fit into several general categories.

  • One-upmanship. If you happen to mention that you’ve been to Spain, the pathological liar will have lived there. For years. During the civil war. And wrote a best-selling novel about his friendship with Franco.

  • Physical Prowess. Pathological liars can beat up every man in the bar and walk away without a scratch. They can also lift cars off of crushed orphans. Don’t even get me started about their sexual conquests.

  • Amazing Possessions. One coworker, who lived in a trailer with his mother, said he had an original Van Gogh hanging in his living room. He could never produce a photograph of it, though. And when in financial dire straits, he couldn’t ever seem to find a buyer for it.

  • Related to Fame. If you admire Barbra Streisand, the pathological liar will be her second cousin. Or he’ll have had dinner at Jacques Cousteau’s house. Or he’ll be in regular e-mail contact with Matthew Broderick.

  • Amazing Survival Skills. A coworker once told me that a tractor once rolled down a hill and crushed him beneath its wheels. He was able to extricate himself, though, and crawl 5 miles to civilization to get help. He then spent 6 months in a coma.

  • Success. It seems that these liars are always recognized by one and all for their superior intelligence, and often receive the highest awards. They also are promoted at young ages, and only make the best investments. And yet they aren’t any further ahead in life than the rest of us.

  • Generosity. “For Valentine’s Day last year, I gave my wife 60 dozen roses.” Yeah. Sure you did. And you support a thousand famine victims, too.

  • Victimhood. Perhaps the most insidious category for the pathological liar is that of placing themselves in the roll of victim. This is when these liars cross over to becoming con artists, because people who don’t know them well are naturally trusting and tempted to help. One coworker said he was living in a trailer in Florida without air conditioning and had no food. A friend drove 25 miles to his house with 6 bags of groceries, only to find that his cupboards were full to overflowing, and his air conditioning was on so high she could practically see her own breath. Another friend gave this same man a car. He was also the healthiest lung cancer sufferer I’ve ever seen. He never went to a doctor. He’s still out there somewhere, conning more people.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m sure Barbra Streisand has second cousins. There have to be a few truths mixed in with all those lies. But what are the odds? How many of us can consistently boast of both quality and quantity? Not me. That’s for sure.

The only theory I have is that these people don’t think they’re special enough without all these outlandish embellishments. They think they will only be liked if they improve upon their boring little lives, when in fact this isolates them even more. It makes them the victim of ridicule and the butt of jokes.

That, or they believe all their own fantasies and are too far gone to get back to the real world.

Either way, how very sad. Sad for them, and even sadder for those who get caught in their web of lies.

liar

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Psst. Over Here. In the Unpainted Corner.

I tend to think of relationships as solid, especially the long-lasting ones. But here lately I’ve been working on my boundaries quite a bit, and that has tested quite a few friendships. It’s scary and it’s lonely and I keep doubting myself. Just in time for the holidays. Woo hoo.

I have always had boundary issues, probably because none were ever established for me as a child. I tend to be a wide open, laissez-faire kind of person, which is fine when things are going well, but not so hot when things go pear-shaped. While I’m quick to stand up for others, I’m not one to stand up for myself.

Saying, “What you are doing is not okay with me” is something that doesn’t come naturally to me. It takes effort. It causes me a great deal of stress. That probably stems from the fact that I constantly second-guess myself. Am I doing the right thing? Am I being rational? Is it okay that I’m not okay with what you’re doing? Bleh. It’s all so exhausting.

So here I am, practicing boundaries. Here’s what’s been going on in just the past few weeks:

  • I’ve had to tell one distant friend from high school that I’m not comfortable with him popping up out of the blue after 35 years and sending me about a dozen (ignored) hug gifs and expecting me to do so in return. We never even hugged in high school. He didn’t get the message, and I had to un-friend him on Facebook.
  • Another friend used my blog to try to right a wrong, but when the post got the attention of “real” reporters, he refused to follow through. This undermines my integrity as a writer. It also gives me the impression that he doesn’t take my blog very seriously, and was just hoping to clear his conscience and not actually get results. I had to explain why, and just how much, I didn’t appreciate this behavior. I haven’t heard from him since.
  • And even as we speak, a contractor (not a friend, but still…) is about to receive a letter from me, outlining the fact that he ripped me off to the tune of $1700.00, which is money I can’t afford to lose. We’ll probably wind up in small claims court over this. But he’s an intimidating guy. I really don’t know how he’s going to react to my letter. I’m sitting here, feeling sick to my stomach about this, waiting for things to hit the fan.
  • But probably the most distressing situation of all is that some very beloved friends shocked me recently, to the point where I felt the need to distance myself and write them a letter about how I felt, in which I asked them to please help me to understand why they reacted the way they did. Boy, did I ever paint myself into a corner with that one. I’ve had no response from them. Crickets. So now I’m left wondering if I’ve misinterpreted things and they’re furious, or if they’re just too embarrassed to respond. It also makes me wonder if they care about me as much as I care about them, and not knowing that makes it extremely awkward to envision walking back into their lives again. I don’t know if I’d be welcomed or not. I don’t want to force them into anything, but on the other hand, I can’t just pretend nothing happened. It’s too important to me.  I miss them, but I’m so confused.

Boundaries, man. They suck. As my therapist says, though, once you start making changes and move toward a healthier you, not everyone in your life will want to tag along.

So if you’re looking for me, I’m the one standing over here in the lonely, unpainted corner. (I guess if you’re wanting to establish boundaries, that’s one way to do it.) All I can say is that I’m a work in progress, and it will be really interesting to see who is still with me when the dust settles.

Meanwhile, I sure miss the days when it was easy to get a Xanax prescription.

boundaries

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My Run-In with the Random Word Generator

Sometimes I can’t think of a thing to blog about. Today was one of those days. I was getting rather desperate, so I consulted the Random Word Generator. Perhaps it would inspire me to break through this blockage.

The first word it gave me was “lip”. No. I’m sorry. Maybe this was a bad idea. What on earth could I do with the word lip? Nothing. That’s what.

I kind of got irritated. Curse you, Random Word Generator! You were supposed to save me! But I’m not one to give up. (Especially when I can’t think of anything else to do.)

I noticed that the generator allows one to choose the number of words that get generated at a time. What would be good? Three, I decided. And this was what I got:

unfortunate memory cancer

Okay, granted, that’s a bit bleak, but really, when you think about it, it ought to be a thing. Because who among us doesn’t have memories that they wish they could forget? The sound of Trump’s voice springs to mind.

I, for one, wouldn’t mind erasing some of my past relationships, from beginning to end. I’d also like to apply chemotherapy to some of the idiotic choices I’ve made in the past. And those bell bottoms that I wore in the 70’s? Blot them out of existence. Please. I’m begging you.

True confession: I’ve been getting more forgetful lately, and it’s scaring me half to death. But on second thought, it might have its advantages. Who knows what unfortunate memory cancers I’ve already been cured of?

Brain_memory

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Contaminated Connections

I remember sitting on my couch with an old friend in Florida. We were having a pleasant chat, just as we had done dozens of times before. Then he looked out the screen door toward the park across the street and said something disgusting and hateful and racist about the guys who were playing basketball therein. I refuse to taint my blog by repeating it.

I could tell he meant what he said to the very marrow of his bones, and I was horrified. In that instant, reality shifted for me. I had never heard this man talk like that before. It wasn’t part of my truth about him. And yet, I could tell that in that instant his mask had fallen away, and I was seeing the real ugliness inside him.

And the weird thing was, he knew I’d seen it. As I sat there with my jaw hanging open, he got up, walked out of my house, and I never saw or heard from him again. I was relieved.

Normally, if I think someone is acting out of character, I don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. I try to get at the root of the aberrant behavior. I try to explain why I am feeling the way I feel about it. I try to salvage the relationship. But some things are just a bit too revealing about a person’s basic values. Some things cannot be undone.

It’s not as if we were expressing opposing views about Brussels sprouts. This was major. Some things you can’t simply agree to disagree about. Not if you value your own integrity.

It’s hard to maintain a friendship with someone when you lose respect for that person. It alters the context of every interaction you’ve ever had or ever will have. The foundation crumbles, and the whole structure collapses like a house of cards.

I had a similar reaction when a female coworker, upon discovering that an 11 year old girl had been sexually abused, said, “Well, she must have wanted it.”

After my head exploded, we did our best to avoid each other from then on. There’s no recovering from that. It just says too much about the person that you are, deep, deep down, where it matters most. It says too much about the way you view the world and the people in it.

It’s sad to lose a friend. But it’s heartbreaking to discover that the friend you thought you had never really existed in the first place. Fortunately, these situations are rare. I’m glad to say that I haven’t had an experience like this in years. Maybe I’m becoming a better judge of character with time. But unfortunately, to have a healthy home, sometimes you have to take out the garbage.

101014-F-FW247-456

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Feng Shui Lite

Recently, a friend pointed out to me that, according to the feng shui bagua, my “marriage, relationships, and partnerships” region is located in my guest room. My guest room isn’t particularly welcoming. It has become the dumping ground for all the stuff I have yet to unpack. It kind of looks like the front yard in Sanford and Son, if I’m honest. This can’t be good. That is, if you go for all that feng shui stuff.

I do and I don’t. I’m not a feng shui extremist. I don’t believe, for example, that if I leave my toilet lid up and my bathroom door open, then I’ll lose all my money and energy. But I know, based on experience, that some spaces feel comfortable and welcoming, and some set me on edge.

I also agree, in theory if not in practice, that clutter is a bad thing. Neat and orderly rooms allow one to relax and breathe. They’re also a lot easier to keep clean and dust-free, and makes it actually possible to find stuff. That can only positively impact you.

Feng shui also teaches you to focus on your goals in life. It has you examine your existence in minute detail, and encourages you to make changes therein. I’m all for that.

So, if I organize my guestroom, do I believe that I’ll find love again? Not directly. I don’t believe in magical thinking. But while I’m doing all that organizing (if I ever do), somewhere in the back of my head I’ll be thinking about improving my love life, and setting that intention may cause me to make changes in the way I present myself to the world. Who knows what might happen as a result. At the very least, I’d have an uncluttered room.

Feng_Shui_Bagua

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