Moonlit Inspiration

I saved this meme to my phone a while back, and it popped up in one of my memories for this date. This message is one I think many of us need to hear. When we’re going through difficult times, when we’re questioning our lives, our loves, our hopes, our plans, our history, or our choices, it’s easy to decide we’re lost and to feel we have nothing to offer. But that simply is not true. It never is. We don’t stop exuding the positives we have just because the negatives are raging in our heads.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. Looking back on my life, I see the disconnect between the person I thought other people must see and the person I actually was showing the world by being myself. I spent decades feeling broken and unlovable and not actually even likable. That was my sad, internal view of myself. It was all I knew of me. That was not, however, what other people saw of me. I’ve always had friends; some of them have stuck around since my childhood. In my dating years before I met my husband, I nearly always had a boyfriend. No one else saw me as the worthless potato I saw when I looked in the mirror, but I was so indoctrinated by the voices I had heard growing up that I was not able to see the reality of my life. If I had truly been unlovable, I wouldn’t have had friends. People, god bless them, continued to see in me what I could not see in myself. Maybe I wasn’t whole, but others still saw my shine even though I could not. This revelation has been amazing to me. And I am grateful to every single person who has been able to recognize my value even as I continued to assert that there was none there.

We all have a shine that others witness. We all light someone up, a spouse, a friend, a sibling, a parent, or even a pet. When we’re feeling at our worst, others often fail to see the same dreadful image. If the people in your life aren’t holding up a mirror to show you how special and loved and worthy you are, maybe it’s time to find new people. And if people are holding up that mirror to share the reflection of the beautiful light bursting forth from within you, I hope you are able to see it, own it, and revel in it. If you aren’t ready to acknowledge that eternal light in you just yet, hang in there. Someday, somehow that light will get through and force you to reckon with your imperfectly perfect, shining, beautiful, kick ass self.

If you get a chance today, take a few seconds to hold up a mirror to someone who looks like they could use a little encouragement. You just sparkle their radiance right back at them. Tell them they are luminous. Remind them to shine on.

“Who on earth d’you think you are? A super star? Well, right you are. Well, we all shine on, like the moon and the stars and the sun.” ~John Lennon, Instant Karma

Diffusing The Power Of Shenpa

Indeed

Yesterday I wrote about learning to deflect when something or someone triggers me to act in ways that run counter to what is healthy for me. And then, in a wonderful act of serendipity as I was doing homework for the Midlife Mindfulness class I attend, I discovered that our topic completely ties in with the work I did yesterday in therapy and then in my blog post from last night. Talk about the Universe wanting me to succeed! Everything is lining right up.

This meeting’s focus was on the concept of shenpa, which Pema Chodron, world-renowned Buddhist nun, describes as “the hook.” The hook is what I would call a trigger; it’s the sound, the person, the scent, the comment, the situation, the whatever, that sets you off into a negative pattern of self-censure, jealousy, blame, anger, or frustration, which leads you to actions or words that may seem to comfort you in the moment but that ultimately lead you away from peace rather than towards it. I feel this is my life in a nutshell. I grew up in a highly reactive household, so I learned to be reactive to everything. Because of this, I have long admired people who seem to roll with things, who accept the reality of the situation without an emotional meltdown. I have not known many people like this, though, so I am certain that reacting to shenpa is common for most of us.

The experience of shenpa immediately removes us from the present moment and sends us into a spiral of destructive thoughts and behaviors. The way I most often experience shenpa in my life is through my verbal outbursts or my desire to escape a situation that troubles me. Both are an overreaction, usually as a result of a comment or action taken by another person. Instead of quietly sitting for a moment with the thing that has hooked me and deciding how or even if it requires reaction from me, I am off and running and the hook sets. So, this is my next big challenge: I need to recognize the hook before taking the bait. Pema Chodron says the best way to stop this cycle is through meditation because it is only by observing our thoughts that we are able to change them and our actions around them. Through meditation, we slowly gain control of the monkey mind that will make off with us if we don’t see its little game.

I am setting my alarm for 6:20 tomorrow morning so I can get in ten minutes of meditation before I begin my day. Ten minutes doesn’t sound like much until you have to make sitting still with yourself and chasing away distractions a priority. It’s more difficult than you might imagine. I was thinking I can still use the Wonder Woman golden wrist cuffs, which I wrote about yesterday, to deflect what triggers me. I can still cross my arms in defiance of the shenpa that appear. And then I can use my meditation skills to stay present, experience my discomfort, and then either let it go or react calmly from a place of peace in the present moment. I am already better at putting distance between myself and many of the people and stimuli that trigger me. I am also better at seeing where things are going, even if I can’t always find the brakes. I’m heading in the right direction.

I’m grateful for the small things in life that line up for me when I am on the right path. I suspect, though, that it is less about messages lining up than about my openness to seeing them as they fall in my lap.

I Don’t Want A Stuffed Tiger Cub Or Another Stupid Canvas Bag*

Tuskless elephant

Dear ASPCA and World Wildlife Fund,

Stop. Just stop. My worldview is dismal enough without your ads about starving puppies and elephants hunted for ivory and motherless tiger cubs haunting my television set, the place I go to escape. I get that it is difficult to get a share of people’s donation cash when Covid has decimated household incomes and some people are sending whatever spare money they have to Donald Trump so he can attempt to prove he unfairly lost an election he fairly lost. But, damn. The whole heartstring thing on top of a global pandemic, a country on the precipice of democratic collapse, and the non-stop drum beat of climate catastrophes? It’s too much. You’re killing me, Smalls. We’re all fighting to keep ourselves afloat right now. Alcohol consumption, drug use, and gun deaths are already trending up. I don’t mean to imply that you are driving people to alcoholism or drug abuse or murder, but you probably aren’t helping. What if we all promise to send you $10 a month in perpetuity? If we do that, will you promise not to run even one more misery-inducing ad? Please. I’m begging you. Getting to the remote in time to change channels is becoming increasingly difficult. I’m old and not as fast as I used to be, but apparently my distance eyesight is still good.

Sincerely,

Just kidding

*This piece is tongue-in-cheek and meant to be over-the-top and satirical in nature so before you attack me, please suck some helium and lighten up**

**I don’t literally mean you should suck helium because that is not good for you. It kills brain cells when you lose oxygen, like when you put a bag over your head***

***Speaking of bags, I will take another canvas bag…as long as it doesn’t have starving puppies, tuskless elephants, or orphaned tiger cubs on it

How You Become One Of Those Dog Owners

We don’t even have the puppy yet. We are picking him up this weekend, but I have been on Etsy looking at dog paraphernalia. I have become that person. I did not plan for this to happen. I turned on the news earlier, which was an epic mistake that sent me into a negative spiral. To claw my way out of the crevasse I slipped into, I started looking at clothing items for dogs because nothing says “I need to get out more, but we’re in a global pandemic and not everyone is willing to get vaccinated” more than a puppy in a knock-off Burberry bandana. So apparently I have stopped myself from focusing on the miasmal political nightmare our country finds herself in by losing my mind in a treasure trove of puppy merchandise.

I suppose, however, if you’re going to lose your mind, indulging in puppy Burberry is preferable to going on a murderous rampage or drowning yourself in a river, right? At this point, bandanas, Halloween costumes, and personalized toys for our new family member seem like a healthy mental escape given the alternatives. At least that is what I keep telling myself while simultaneously shaking my head at the notion that this is where I am in my life.

So when you see me walking down the street with my dog dressed to the nines and cute as a button, be nice. Just remember I haven’t lost my mind. This is how I saved it.

Photo borrowed from @hughcollinsdavis on Insta with full credit to Brian Davis

The Red Shirt Nation

“The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it.” ~Albert Einstein

Another mass shooting in the news today, this one in Florida. There are no words to describe my sadness, disgust, anger, and frustration over this never-ending story. One stupid man killed four people before giving himself up to authorities. Why do we as a country put up with this? Is it really because we believe the right to own a gun supercedes the right to feel safe moving about in our society, to go grocery shopping, to attend school, to see a film or concert without worrying it might be the last thing we do? Is it really because we think this is a “mental health” issue and not a gun issue at all? I think it’s fair also to say that anyone who would arm up and go kill other people has some mental trouble. But I don’t think you can claim this person was insane when he was sane enough to put on body armor before cowardly murdering unarmed people, including a mother and her infant child who was found dead in her arms. An eleven year old girl was shot multiple times and is expected to survive, but you can only imagine what this will do to her mental well being. The Florida guy claimed he was on methamphetamines. Being hopped up on drugs might be another explanation for his murderous shooting spree. But the bottom line is this keeps happening because as a nation we don’t seem to care about it. Mass shootings and gun deaths are just part of what we get as part of our Freedom Package in this country. You’re free to own as many guns and as much ammunition as you want. You’re also free to be gunned down at any point by a fellow citizen. Brilliant.

I scrolled past fourteen news stories on the CNN app, including one about how Tom Brady had Covid at one point (yawn), before finding the report about this shooting. We are so used to this shit that it’s hardly news anymore. It’s simply what is. We see the story and there is no surprise, shock, or outrage. We just shrug. And half the population says, “Well, it’s just a mental health issue,” while the other half of the populations says, “I’d like there to be some change around this, but we can’t get by the gun lobby so I guess we’re stuck.” Stuck, indeed.

2021 is on track to be the deadliest year for gun violence yet. I’m sure the reasons for this are myriad and complicated. Can we do better? I’d like to say yes, but so far we can’t get our spineless leaders in Congress to work together to make any changes (including something like putting more money towards mental health care) that might start to put a dent in these endless tragedies.

So, I’m left with this conclusion. As a nation, we are sick. Only a sick population would believe that there is not one good goddamned thing we can do to ameliorate this preponderance of gun violence. Only a sick population would accept that we or someone we love might be next. Only a sick population would decide putting kindergarteners through active shooter drills makes more sense than trying to reduce gun deaths. We are seriously ill. We are the only ones who can make us better. We are simply too fucked up to do it.

An Apology from a Gen X Mom to her Gen Z Kids Regarding Gun Violence

Wouldn’t the world be a better place if all guns shot only marshmallows?

So accustomed are we in the United States to gun violence that yesterday’s shooting at a King Soopers grocery store initially only registered in me slightly more disgust than the shootings last week in Atlanta. When my mother-in-law casually mentioned the developing news story before dinner, I decided not to investigate immediately. The story would likely be the same as we have seen myriad times before. Innocent citizens going about the business of their daily lives, murdered by some disgruntled, disturbed male in possession of a deadly weapon. It was just another day in America, a place where the right to procure military-grade weaponry trumps the right of every day citizens to shop, worship, view movies, attend school, or enjoy a concert or social event without marking out an explicit exit strategy just in case. We accept metal detectors at sporting events and music venues as part of normal life. We sigh when we learn of another shooting, and then we move on and wait for the next one. It’s inevitable as the phases of the moon.

As a graduate of the University of Colorado at Boulder and a former 8-year resident of the Boulder area, I naively imagined my favorite college town was immune to such tragedies. Boulder, set against the backdrop of the Flatirons and the Rocky Mountains, is a highly educated, liberal-minded town, the kind of place where the hippy vibe and omnipresent Subaru Outbacks belie a laid back, outdoorsy spirit and not the inner-city mean streets where you might imagine a shooting spree would occur. Boulder, with its protected open spaces, fine dining, and university ties, seemed insulated to me somehow. But nowhere in this country are you safe, and I should have known better than to imagine Boulder was an exception.

I have written about gun violence before. A long-time Colorado resident, I’m no stranger to the spectacle of mass shootings. I was 30 when two teenagers shocked the nation by shooting up Columbine High School in my hometown of Littleton. In 2012, I was 44 when we were returning from a trip to the mountains and I had to inform my sons about a mass casualty event in an Aurora movie theater, 20-some miles from our home. The following year we witnessed another school shooting down the street from our home at Arapahoe High School. Now, in 2021, we once again had to discuss a horrific shooting in a place they have visited many times. They were not exactly surprised.

As a parent, the most difficult part about the proliferation of random gun violence is not the fear of losing my sons in a mass casualty event (although they never get dropped at school — or anywhere else — without that thought crossing my mind), but is instead the tough conversations I have with them after more innocents have been murdered. Our oldest was born two years after Columbine. He and his brother have grown up in a world I could not have imagined as a teenager hanging out in malls and skating rinks and concert halls without a thought in my mind about guns. Their youth was defined by fear of gun-related violence. The toll that school lockdowns and shooting safety drills have taken on their psyches is measurable in their anger, frustration, and anxiety. After I informed my oldest about the shooting yesterday evening, his response was predictable. He immediately became angry, swearing that he would never raise his own children in this country. He then pivoted to fear, asking me if I had given any thought to expatriating to a less gun-happy country. Finally he settled upon bitterness, saying only that he was “done” with it. If in the past 21 years since the violence at Columbine we adults haven’t been able to find a solution to this situation, he knows there is a little hope for change going forward. Our divided political landscape suggests he is correct in this assumption.

Our sons are disillusioned. Their reality is that adults have failed them on sensible gun legislation, among other things. They are frustrated and scared and angry, and you can’t blame them. They are right. The ever-present threat of death at someone else’s gun-toting hands has gifted their generation with legitimate mental duress. When you’ve been doing lockdown drills since elementary school, barricading yourself in a classroom and hiding under your desk in preparation for becoming a human target, you might feel unimportant and unheard. On January 6th when the US Capitol building was attacked by a violent mob, both our sons said that maybe now the lawmakers would be able to understand what it’s like to be a student in today’s schools, to be hiding and fearful. Gen Z is filled with depressed, anxious, and lost individuals. Youth suicide rates climbed 56% between 2007 and 2017. Today’s kids are struggling for many reasons, and the adults in the room seem okay with it. Or at least we don’t seem to care enough about the mental and emotional health of our own children and grandchildren to make substantive changes for them.

I’m sorry, boys. I’m sorry adults in my generation and others haven’t done more to protect you and your peers. I’m sorry I’ve had to tell you too, too many times about lives lost in pointless shootings in schools and theaters and churches and shopping centers. I’m sorry that my donations to organizations fighting for commonsense gun legislation, my letters and calls to our congressional representatives in DC, and my attendance at various protest marches against gun violence weren’t even close to enough to help effectuate meaningful change. I’m sorry that our government hasn’t made headway on this issue and that we’ve accepted that your loss of innocence and sense of personal safety are the price for protecting the Second Amendment and the freedoms of those who choose to own guns. You deserve better. I see that. I see your fears and I know how these preventable tragedies vex you and affect your mental health. Your elders have no legitimate excuses. And I’m sorry.

A Little Help From My Friends

IMG_0631I am in a weird place. I don’t mean I’m at a bat mitzvah for a bearded lady or a Buddhist retreat for biker gangs. It’s not that kind of weird but, for me, in the spectrum of my life it’s unusual. For a while now, I’ve been parading around masked as a functioning adult while I am mentally checked out. I don’t have GPS coordinates for where my brain is currently located, but I am acutely aware that it is not with me. I suspect it followed through on a thought I had for a fleeting moment years ago when the boys were young and I was overwhelmed. Perhaps it got in a car, started driving, and kept on going until it was in the Yukon and then stopped somewhere silent amidst towering pines that sway in the wind, where it could rest and breathe and stare straight up into the emptiness of the sky to swallow the current moment and be peaceful in the present. It must be happy there because it hasn’t returned my texts or sent a postcard.

Meanwhile, my life has been proceeding without it, my body carrying out the day-to-day routines that comprise my life (grocery shopping, laundry, cooking, appointments, etc.) while my mind is on hiatus. Outside the house and in front of others, I function on autopilot appearing totally unchanged. Inside the house, away from the judgment of others, I disappear. Incapable of dealing with the heaviness in my heart, I check out. I binge watch television or flip mindlessly through my social media feeds. I spend hours playing games on my phone. I look at real estate I will not be purchasing. I load up and abandon myriad online shopping carts full of items meant to fill the void I feel. Sometimes I even doze at midday. I am not myself. I would like to coax my brain into returning, although I’m not sure I have the energy to manage its re-entry.

Depression is a place many people live and understand. I have never been one of those people, though, fortunate enough to barrel through life with imagined purpose. I love to create and move and learn and grow, but I am not doing any of those things. I miss them, but I haven’t been able to bring myself to do them. This is how I know depression snuck in a back door when my best self was distracted by life changes I didn’t want to allow, like my children growing up and my family members suffering from illness and my own body betraying me with its aging. And, me being me, afraid to ask for help or admit weakness, I went missing.

I’ve been gone for a while now and, dammit, I miss me. It’s time to find my way back from the endless forest. I know it’s going to be a long, desolate road home. It starts with a lot of walking and a little hitchhiking help from a therapist or two. As I get closer, it will include a lot of fake-it-until-you-make-it bravado. The journey out of depression can’t begin until you recognize there is depression. Well, I’ve finally got that part figured out, and that is progress. As comfortable and safe as it has been sitting in bed, taking up space, and remaining checked out to protect myself from the pain of all the things I cannot control and don’t want to accept, it’s time to come back. The Yukon is a lovely place to visit when you need to catch your breath, but it’s isolated and lonely long term. It’s no place to spend the rest of my life, however long that may be. I need to stop wasting my ephemeral time.

I’m heading downstairs to bang on my drums, to beat out a rhythm I hope my brain will hear and follow home to a long overdue reunification with my body. If you catch me glued to Netflix or on my phone playing video slots, give me an encouraging, two-handed nudge forward. I understand now that I can’t do this alone, and this is why I am calling out my depression here. Hold me accountable. Send up a signal flare. Put me back on course. Let me ride on your handlebars when I don’t think I can walk anymore. I could use a little support, loathe though I am to admit it. I promise to do the same in return if you ever need it.