Thursday, May 11, 2017

Lessons the hard way

Yesterday I shot myself in the foot.  Not literally, of course, but the self-sabotage was absolutely real.

You see, for years, I've driven the same route to work in the mornings. Then, last week, because of construction, I was forced to take a different way altogether.  And this new route turned out to be three minutes faster!  So, naturally, I decided the new way would be my new usual.

That brings us to yesterday.  I had first period prep (no students - preparation time), so I decided to sleep a little longer and go in a little later.  Well, as I finally got on the freeway, I looked out to see how full it was, and I panicked.  All the cars were moving, just slowly.  No reason to panic at all.  But my head said "Yikes!  You'll be stuck!  You'll be late!"  So I immediately got right off again.  

But, of course, getting off took me in a whole new direction.  I had to take a rather round-about way just to get back to my old route, and in doing so, I added a good ten minutes to my journey.  During those extra minutes I had a good think, and I realized that the slow down was likely cause by a major exit to another freeway (just a couple miles down the road) and that traffic almost certainly sped up once it passed that crucial point.  So my panic was for nothing!

And here's the really sad part.  If I had just had a little courage, just an eensie bit, I could have BEEN THERE in the same time it took me to get back on that safe, familiar road.

Life lessons?  Probably a million.  But here's the three I take away from the whole debacle.

1. Don't panic.  The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy knew what it was talking about. Panic gets you nowhere.  Of course, this is easier said than done.  I panic easily.  I'm like Scaredy Smurf, only less confident.  

2. Don't second guess yourself.  First instincts are often correct, and doubt usually just makes things fall apart.  If you put thought into making the original decision, trust your judgment.  


3. Sometimes your comfort zone is the worst place you can be.  Going back to what used to work can't always save you from new troubles.  In fact, sometimes it just makes things worse.  Holding still might save a rabbit from being discovered by a predator, but in the middle of the highway it just leads to roadkill.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Epihany or not

Almost a two month blogging dry spell.  Not the most auspicious start to my grand re-do... I think that's because I put too much pressure on the whole idea.  I wanted this blog to be an awaking or maybe an expression of some deep personal revelation. But of course that was an entirely unrealistic expectation.  A person can't plan intimate moments of clarity any more than they can plan a poker hand or a roll of the dice.

I think I've watched Sabrina and Julia and Julia too many times.  I've read Walden and watched all the PBS reality shows about immersing yourself in another time or culture.  I love to watch and  experience other people have defining moments and life-changing experiences, and I guess that, foolishly, I was just hoping for one of my own.  

But that isn't the way life works.  You can't mark on your calendar "today I will have an epiphany that will change my whole outlook on life, the universe, and everything".  

I tried that once before, and it was a disaster!  

Six and a half years ago I had the opportunity to go to New York and work as a nanny.  New York is almost synonymous with such dramatic realizations, and I was certain that I would find myself there.  I would spend time in the "Metropolitan Mecca", going to museums, theatres, central park, and all the famous restaurants I had seen on the Food Network.  I would meet interesting people and discover courage and humanity in myself that I never knew existed.  I wanted to transform from a fat ugly caterpillar into a magnificent butterfly.

Well, I went to the museums.  And I went to central park.  I went to F.A.O Schwarz and Dylan's Candy Bar, and China Town.  I went to the Bronx Zoo, and I rode the subway.  I even got asked for directions by a tourist!  But not only did I NOT have that wonderful "a-ha moment" I was hoping for, I had entirely different kind of metamorphosis!

I won't go into the details, because they aren't really necessary to my point, but when I had finally had enough and boarded a plane to come home, I was a shell of my former self.  I had lost all hope in humanity as a whole and had developed an almost PTSD reaction to any kind of conflict.  Seven years later I still have panic attacks any time I hear even the most mild disagreements.  I can't watch the news, because all the "talking heads" with their loud opinions and bad manners send me running for cover.  And all my years of watching Law and Order and CSI have filled me with nightmare scenarios that are burned into my brain and make me look over my shoulder when I'm out and pray for my family's safety any time they run to Walmart for milk.

So, long story short, I am very broken.  Working on it... but still broken.  And somehow I was blinded to the irony that I was once again seeking for grand transformation in a place outside myself.  

A blog can certainly have that effect.  It can be a place for self-reflection and meditation just as easily as it can be for entertainment and enjoyment.  What it can't be, however, is deliberate.  And by that I mean, it cannot be a forced cure.  

Modern media makes such epiphanies seem common and guaranteed.  We grow up waiting for our moment in the mental sunshine, when all of life's confusions come into glorious focus.  Even the most cheesy and humble of Hallmark's holiday films has that telling scene where the hero or heroine looks up at the stars and realizes how wrong they have been about everything and know that, if they will just open themselves up to love, the universe will make everything all right.  

But of course, fiction is fiction.  It's lovely, but it's not real.  Such moments of realization can happen, of course.  And seeking for them is a lofty goal.  That is why the self-help section at Barnes and Noble is so huge.  And that is why there are so many communes and retreats, gurus and life-coaches.  But achieving that goal is not a guarantee.  

There are any number of people who live their whole lives and never figure out why on earth they do what they do or even why they should keep on doing it.  

And no, what I've been mulling over in this post is NOT some sort of religious awakening.  A person can be deeply faithful, rock solid in their beliefs about God (or not God), and still be entirely lost when it comes to themselves.  Yes, some people do find that sense of self through spiritual awakening, but for others, that is not the road to personal enlightenment.

And so far, I am not one of those people.  

Does that mean it will never happen for me?  Of course not!  But this brings me right back to the point I started out with.  "A person can't plan intimate moments of clarity."

If and when I have an awakening of my own, it will be unexpected and wonderful.  That's the nature (and the definition) of an epiphany!  They are sudden and intuitive and triggered by simple, commonplace experiences.  There is no trumpet or fanfare, no soundtrack or fireworks, and certainly no rainbows or shooting stars.  They are quiet moments of reflection that tiptoe softly and whisper wonderful truths in your ear.


So I will keep searching and hoping to hear that quiet voice of understanding, but in the meantime... it's time to stop organizing the gala receptions for its arrival. 

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Progress(?)

I'd like to start by saying up front that I had a terrible day. Work issues, family drama, killer headache, etc.

And yet somehow, as I sit here in the living room at midnight, with my cat looking down at me from the top of her cat tree - clearly hoping for a game of "shiny thing on a stick"- I am actually contented.

Anyone who knows me or who has read my previous posts will know what an unusual state this is for me, and I am totally baffled by its presence. Days like today usually reduce me to a quivering mess. True, I had a bit of a meltdown earlier, but it passed! And even though I am thinking back over the rottenness of the day, it is with an objective eye!

What a wonderful feeling, to know that somehow I have emerged from today on a good note! My life is still far from perfect (whose is!) but if I were keeping score, I think I finally feel like I can add one to the win column! Yay ME!!!


Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Ghosts...

Today I got to hold my brand new niece for the very first time. She wasn't even 24 hours old yet and her little nose is cute as cute as a button. She has a head full of hair which the nurses have styled to look (in my opinion) like an adorable Who from Whoville, and even though I didn't get to see them, her mother says she has the sweetest little dimples.  She is going to fit in perfectly with my sister and her husband's "pack", and even as I write, I'm surrounded by the little lady's older brothers (two loving pooches and a snuggly cat).

I am super excited for my little sis as she begins the wonderful adventure of parenthood, but there is also a part of me that is very envious of her happiness.  Now don't get me wrong.  I'm not pining for a baby (or even a husband) of my own.  In fact, being a teacher for 15 years has pretty much sucked out and pulverized most of my maternal desires.  I am continually surrounded by enough of other people's children to remind me about all the positive aspects of being childless.  And I have had enough chats with married friends to appreciate the benefits of being single!

BUT... there is still a deep dark corner of my heart that is haunted by the dreams of yesteryear.

When I was young I expected to find my Prince Charming and live happily ever after in our "house of dreams" with 3 or 4 kids, a dog, a cat, and maybe even a pony.  As I got older, the house changed shape and the pony faded away, but I still always expected the rest of it.  I planned on it.  I waited for it.  But of course that wasn't what life had in store for me.  And as the years passed, the rest of the dream began to fade too.

I have mourned for its loss and (mostly) made peace with reality, but the echos of that dream will never truly go away. Not when I am surrounded by family and friends who somehow found the magic gate into my girlhood fairytale.  My job has been invaluable in this process (see above), but on days like this one, I can feel the absence (or is it presence?) of my "dream family" in much the same way I imagine an amputee can sometimes still feel their missing limb(s).

So tonight, as I am sitting with the boys, I have fought back the same lonely tears I have cried so many times before as I contemplate the way my life deviated from my plans.

Why do I bring this up? Because it explains why I then spent two hours online reading posts on Al Carraway's blog.  She is an amazing woman who has faced much more opposition and disappointment than I have, but somehow she always seems to find the upside to things.  She is as optimistic as I am pessimistic, and I wish that somehow I could be a little more like her.  But most all, reading her words of encouragement and hope have given me enough strength to stand up and walk a little further down my metaphorical path... at least for tonight... And in the end, that's all a person can really hope for.


Friday, February 24, 2017

Good Thing Today:

Pretty much for as long as I can remember, my mother has been telling me to "Focus on the good things." Being a chronic pessimist, this is rather difficult, but I suppose it makes sense.  I can't expect to achieve happiness if all I ever do is dwell on the crappy parts of my life.

All day my frame of mind has been very similar to last night, (plus a little extra depression because I made a credit card payment and saw the size - such as it is - of my bank account).  But in the vein of following Mom's advice, I am going to start trying to post good things that happen to me.  Then, even if no one else ever reads them, when I'm having a "depths of despair" day, I can go back and remind myself that at some point, something positive happened.

So what is the good thing that happened today?  Well I just got a hug and a big slobbery hello from this adorable guy:



Don't Let The Fear Win

Such a strange phrase, and yet so completely applicable to my life.  It comes from an episode of Midsomer Murders where Faith Alexander, an empty-nester from America, flies to England to meet her uncle, who was estranged from her late mother for more than forty years. Unfortunately, she's too late.  Her uncle was murdered just hours before she arrived, but over the course of the investigation she discovers that she had, in fact, met him once before, when she was a girl.  Though he hadn't introduced himself, he had shared the above advice, and years later, that simple phrase finally means something to her.  Faith realizes that she has spent a lifetime letting Fear dictate her choices.  It had led her to marry a pathetic jerk who made up stories about her to manipulate and steal from her relatives.  It had kept her from pursuing a meaningful career.  It had even kept her from wearing the clothes that she wanted.  And once she realizes that it is only her Fear holding her back, Faith is able to chuck her useless husband and her boring wardrobe and start all over again with a new outlook and a new spring in her step.

So why do I bring all this up?  Because, like Faith, I have spent a lifetime "letting the Fear win"  I am afraid of everyone and everything.  Fear keeps me from doing big things and little things and everyday in-between things.  I am a Fear Minion.  Whatever it tells me, I follow without question.  Not because I want to, but because I feel powerless to resist.  My Fear is all consuming and all encompassing.  Not fun.  

When Faith finally realized that she had allowed Fear to overtake her agency, she was able to snap her fingers (metaphorically) and begin righting the wrongs.  By the end of the episode she had left her husband, gotten a makeover/better wardrobe, and had arranged to travel across Europe with her new best friend.  Life, however, is never as clean and efficient as fiction.  A lifetime of submission to anxiety is not overcome over the course of a weekend, any more than you can click your heels three times and wish yourself back to Kansas.  It takes work.  Hard work.  Painful work.  And this is the work I know that I have to begin.  Somehow.

So where do I start?  How do I build defenses?  How do I keep the Fear from winning? 

Or maybe, it isn't about building defenses at all.  Maybe I need to change my point of view.  Fear is the opposite of Faith (Anyone else see what the Midsomer writers did there?), so perhaps what I really need is to bolster my Faith.  Once again, easy enough said, right? Strengthening Faith is just as difficult as overcoming Fear.  Prayer, scripture study, all the Sunday School answers, is that what I mean?  I don't really know.  Maybe just sitting here at my desk, pondering the abstract concepts, is the so-necessary first step.  

 Don't let the Fear win.  I have often repeated the phrase, almost like a mantra, as I watch myself do the exact opposite.  I wish I could be like Faith Alexander and say to myself, "It stops today", but of course that would be a foolish invitation to failure. Simply saying the words doesn't make it so.  If it did, I would be five inches taller, a LOT thinner, much wealthier, and I would live in a medieval styled castle (but with all the mod-cons) along with my cat, a few beagles, and a pony (which would obviously clean up its own poop).  

Simply wishing for something isn't enough.  As Dr. Kelso said on Scrubs, "Life is scary. Get used to it . . . There are no magical fixes. It's all up to you. So get up off your keister, get out of here, and go start doing the work . . . Nothing in this world that's worth having comes easy."  Life is scary.  Fear.  And it's all up to me.  I need to stop waiting for a magical fix and start doing the work.  It's the only way to keep the Fear from winning. 

What a terrifying thought!


Thursday, February 23, 2017

Difficult night...

So today during lunch I wrote something to post when I got home, but my laptop is still safely strapped in its case and is likely to stay that way until some time tomorrow. Tonight I'm stuck in one of my cyclical, OCD, hypochondriac episodes, and I'm pretty much falling apart. I talked to my sister about it because she has demons of her own, and she told me that when I get this stuck I need to find a way to break the cycle, because stress and fear can be like an addiction.

 I don't really know WHAT will break the cycle, so I've been reading some quotes from Lucille Ball. Cause Lucy is just awesome, and I wish I had A HUNDRETH of her confidence and self-esteem.

Here are a few that seem to apply tonight:


 "One of the things I learned the hard way was that it doesn't pay to get discouraged. Keeping busy and making optimisim a way of life can restore your faith in yourself."


 "It's a helluva start, being able to recognize what makes you happy."


 "Love yourself first and everything else falls into line. Your really have to love yourself to get anything done in this world.”


 “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”


Saturday, February 18, 2017

Be Happy -> Do Happy -> Get Happy

Welcome to Bananalicious...

I recently read a quote which, while steeped in long words and borderline manger speak, essentially pointed out that in our society we live our lives backwards: we get things, so we can do things, so we can be things. While what we should be doing is being things, so we can do things, so we can get things.  We should be who we are, so we can do what we need, to get what we truly want.

This quote struck a nerve.  I am a person who has been fighting depression, chronic stress, chronic anxiety, and chronic fear for most of my adult life.  For much of that time I was content to stew in my own psychological filth and feel sorry for myself, but for a long time now, I have wanted to change.  I have wanted something more.  What I really want is to be HAPPY.

So will the above formula work?  Can I achieve happiness simply by turning around my thinking process?  If I act like I'm happy, will this encourage me to do things that happy people do? And will that in turn actually bring me real happiness?  It's an intriguing idea, and one I'm willing to try.

So first things first, I decided to revamp my blog.  Again.  I deleted all my old posts so that I can start from scratch with a new "happy centered" frame of mind.  I removed all negativity from the other pages, and I'm going to start posting happy thoughts.  If no one but myself ever reads them, that's ok, because it's the exercise of DOING that is supposed to be beneficial.  Maybe if I start focusing on the good things in my life, I will be able to let go of some of the terrible negativity that's been weighing me down for so long.

And maybe (fingers crossed), a few months down the line, I will be able to look back and see that it's not all just an act anymore...