Monday, June 25, 2018

Adapting to Life Changes and Embracing Living in the Moment


After over a month of depression, I am feeling much better. Every time I go through one of these cycles, some insight comes out of it; usually in the form of a poem. This time, there is no poem. Instead …

Yesterday I got up realizing my lesson for the day was “As much as I try to live in the moment, I get annoyed when my daily routines are interrupted.” Hmmm, what’s that say about routines and spontaneity? Me, who for many years claimed to practice spontaneity! Where did that go? What happened to living in the moment and enjoying the gift of life?

A few months back I had written: I don’t want to be so rigid in my routine that I can’t be flexible. But I continued to be frustrated when distractions interrupted my routines. I was mostly doing what I wanted to do, but the order in which I was doing my regular routine and the timing was off and that was driving me crazy. The big question is: Why let it upset me? What does it matter? And, who cares?

Today, in continuing the climb out of the black hole I let myself fall into the past couple month, I reach the rim and pull myself onto solid ground. I am determined to practice living in the moment and not be frustrated that my routine isn't exactly on schedule. Yes, I am older; my body aches and my brain too easily feels overwhelmed. I cannot do what I used to do in a timely manner (or some things not at all, ha ha).

That’s not an excuse to give up or not care. That means I have to figure out a way to do things MY way and in my own time; a way that works for me mentally and physically.

Others talk about doing things in “baby steps.” Maybe I could find different words or phrases to describe how I'm doing the work. I really don't want to say "baby steps" because I'm not a baby and I don't want to feel I'm babying myself. I'm just taking better care of myself physically and mentally. (That's important – care of the physical and the mental!) But I don't know what to call it yet.

Work the past couple of years has been done in shorter intervals over a longer time-period. I use the gardening time as a break from the “thinking” work of editing and writing. And a break doesn't necessarily mean doing nothing. It could be working on a different project to exercise other aspects of my being. For instance, after doing so much writing/editing work, get up from the chair and go outside to do a little physical gardening, or go in the studio and paint.

At first, I set specific time limits, but that added a pressure to either sticking to the time or feeling guilty if I cut it short or go over. (Going over meaning I short on the next project.) So, if I really want to practice being in the moment, that means listening to my body and mind. The key is doing so much and knowing when to back off and do something different. It means working until mind and body says rest, then taking a break and not feeling guilty. I do a little here, a little there, and eventually things get done. At this point in my life, it doesn’t matter if garden work isn’t fully done all in one day or if the painting gets finished today.

Maybe today I am only physically able to do 20 minutes in the garden, but tomorrow I might be out there an hour. When I'm standing at the easel and my legs and back start to ache, I can go sit at the computer and do some writing. It doesn't matter how much time I was there. And it’s not just the physical aspect, but if my mind starts getting frustrated, as when a tough piece of writing when the words won’t come or on a painting and I’m just not liking the results, that’s an indicator to do something else. 

Yes, listening to the self. After all, I live and work from home. Yes, there is a weekly deadline for the newspaper and I have an occasional deadline for an art show or an appointment, but the in-between times are very flexible. I can still do my morning routine, but it doesn't have to be exactly 1, 2, 3. Maybe today I did 1 and 3, then 2. Instead of having kitty play when Leo comes in for second breakfast, both kitties want catnip play after first breakfast.


Monday, June 11, 2018


A Beginning Discussion on Suicide

I’ve been having some conversations about suicide lately. There are lots of opinions and beliefs out there, but I see no real discussion. It’s a touchy subject and one most people don’t understand. And, of course, in the past, it wasn’t mentioned hardly at all. It wasn’t talked about because people believed it brought shame to families. It was whispered, rumored, but no one actually talked about it out loud. People even feared the word suicide.

Could it be the subject is too uncomfortable for people to talk about it? Unless it’s some celebrity, then it’s news. Some just brush it off by saying, “Why didn’t he seek help?” Others remark, “There are medications that would have helped her.” There’s the latest excuse, “It’s a mental health issue,” as if by blaming it on mental health makes those with “mental health issues” some kind of freak. Others will mention the misery it causes the family, especially if a note was not left leaving them wondering what went wrong and not knowing.

Whenever I hear of a suicide, my first thoughts are on the person. What made her feel there was no other way? What made him so unhappy he couldn’t deal with his life anymore? I want to know the story. I want to know why. Is suicide really more prevalent now or is it just we hear about it more. (I tend to think it’s the latter.)

What could have been done to help? Did she just need someone to talk to? Did he need someone to understand and accept him for who he was? Was she tired of being ridiculed and abused? Did he feel no one loved him?

As a person who has sometimes been on that edge, I understand. I understand how one can be so discouraged with life he can feel there’s no way out. I understand how someone can feel there is nothing left for her; there’s no reason for her to live. There is no purpose any more. Everything seems to go wrong. The frustration and grief with life is so overwhelming they can’t take it anymore. And the worst: Feeling no one understands, that no one will EVER understand what you are going through! That you are all alone in the world.

Sometimes I feel I’m walking a tightrope and one wrong comment or negative remark will throw me into the abyss from which I may never get out. We all go through hardships and challenges in life. When does it get to be too much? And all those well-meaning people willing to offer advice in those old clich├ęs that can come off as sounding mean and uncaring to someone who’s depressed. Keep your chin up. Grow some spine. Get over it. Stop being so negative. You’re such an idiot. Oh, I have a whole list of those types of things. I bet you do, too.

Many of us grew up in a time where tough love was the way to encourage children to be strong. That works for some, but not all. Emotions aren’t always a comfortable subject. What parent wants to know their child is unhappy. What child wants to see mommy in tears or daddy in a rage. And what about peer pressure (which can happen at any age?) If you’re called a name often enough, how long before you believe you are what they call you? How many go through life trying to be what they feel others want them to be or expect of them instead of being the person they truly want to be?

Another point to consider is that people who are on that tightrope have to realize themselves how fragile they are and be willing to seek help. However, getting help isn’t easy. The cost of healthcare is out of control. What the medical profession puts people through does not help a person’s mental state of mind. Then there are those who might think they are not really “sick,” so why spend the money.

One of my big questions is: Is suicide really a mental health issue? And usually, when people make those comments they’re kind of saying it in a derogatory way, the way kids used to say years ago, “He’s a retard,” almost insinuating that people like that should be locked away and forgotten – let some “professional” deal with it. (I put professional in quotation marks as a sign of sarcasm.)

And, are medications the answer? I’ve heard many say, “Oh, I feel so much better since taking …,” and I’ve also heard the same comments from people who take other drugs. “It makes me happy.” I’ve always questioned why anyone needs to take drugs to be happy – and that could only be because I’ve never wanted to do that. As I’ve never wanted tobacco or alcohol in my system. (OK, I do have an occasional beer, glass of wine, or a rum drink.)

I’m not saying the medications are wrong, but with the number of people on the drugs … I can’t help but wonder what purpose (or whose) it’s really serving. Granted the people who are depressed are benefiting, but …

But then, there are people who really do have serious mental health problems. There are people who need serious medications, and again, sometimes getting help is near impossible. I once worked with a woman who was diagnosed as bi-polar. She struggled horribly because the medical profession could never get her drugs right. About a year later, she committed suicide because she couldn’t take it anymore.

I don’t know. I don’t have the answers, of course. Instead of medicating the problem, could we solve the issue or some of the issues? I just can’t help thinking that with dialogue, listening to people non-judgmentally and compassionately, and taking the time to talk before someone reaches that desperation point that it would help. I feel the same about this opioid epidemic. Instead of spending money on all these rehab places and trying to save people who might not want to be saved, how do we stop the problem before it begins?

This all said, I’m sure there has been all kinds of medical research. But that’s on a medical point of view. What about the every-day person? Those of us who dealing with every day life between self, family, and friends.

In my quest to live whole-heartedly, there are times when I struggle to balance disappointment and frustration with the beauty of life. I believe that kind conversation is a key.





Tuesday, June 5, 2018


Attempting to Change History

A news report this morning talked about some people wanting to change the name of Faneuil Hall in Boston because the original builder, Peter Faneuil, was a slave trader in the 1700s. Faneuil Hall was built with money earned in that trade.

This announcement set off a stampede of thoughts in my brain. This, along with recent years’ attempts at taking down statues and changing other names that have been part of American history since the country’s beginning is not right in my book. History cannot and should not be changed!

I certainly don’t condone slavery or oppression of any kind, but I do have a problem with people trying to change history. Slavery is a terrible thing and still goes on in some parts of the world. As long as there are people who have the money and believe they are better than and want control of others, there will be some kind of slavery/oppression.

The only thing about history that should be changed is that more truth should come out. Most history books were written by those … I suppose you could say … more in control at the time. American heroes were made out to be heroes, and most of us grew up believing those men to be heroes. However, as time goes on, we are learning they were just men (mostly men), and as humans, they had their flaws, were not perfect, and often were not very nice.

Our founding fathers, because they owned slaves, are they bad men? They believed they were right and they helped build America on those beliefs. We can’t change that, and the changing of building and place names and destroying statues is not going to change that! What’ll be next? Changing the names of cities and states if they were named after slave holders?

What is the cost of making changes to be “politically correct?” It’s expensive to change names. Think about it: legal fees, signs, advertising, etc. What about the cost of destroying statues? Will that solve the issues of the past? Will that really make people feel better? Is that where money needs to be spent? If not, how can we better tell stories to learn by them?

Side note: When I was in school, I remember very little about discussion of slavery. It was all about the white-man heroes and slaves were needed on the plantations. Yes, there were some books and movies, but none of those showed the human reality.

Along a dyke at Magnolia Plantation, S.C. One either side, the
duck week filled swamps were once rice fields. 
It wasn’t until I was later in my years, and visited plantations in South Carolina, that I got a view of what slavery really meant and was like. Seeing the land, the tiny slave quarters that an entire family might live in, the land/fields/swamps, bugs, disease, etc. really affected me. The diverse difference between the plantation owners’ home compared to the slaves’ shacks and physically being on the properties and feeling the heat and hearing tour guides discuss the reality of life in the south brought it home to me. This was something more than just reading words in a book.  And why isn’t this side taught in history books?

It’s a part of U.S. history! It’s an important part of history and should be told, not erased. Oppressing parts of history is one way of condoning and hiding what happened and that’s not right, either.

So, what can be done? One way could be in the teaching of history itself; rewrite the old history books that told a one-sided history and make it feel more real. Use the past, “this is what happened …” and then discuss why slavery was wrong and perhaps discuss what might have been done instead. (And it’s not just about slavery, but about Native Americans, too!) Change plaques on statues to give more truth to the actual history and the person. This was then, now we know … Stop the propaganda!

One of my favorite things in traveling is reading storyboards. Start adding more to the storyboards. Tell both sides of a hero’s story. He accomplished such and such, but he also … and admit what he did to accomplish some of his feats that might not really be so heroic. Offer more stories in some of the wonderful things slaves did for this country; what they brought here, their knowledge, songs, crafts, their perseverance, etc.

Personalize some of them. They were not just slaves! They were individual men, women, and children. Put names to them. So and so was a good woman, raised her family as best she could, took care of her mistress. She learned to and brought her expertise in … He was a hard-working man who brought his knowledge of crop growing to this country. They don’t have to be elaborate stories, just a simple acknowledgement of a person.

It’s history, and we should be learning from history, telling its truth, and not destroying it! Maybe, too, instead of trying to change the past, we should be taking the lessons and putting energy into making a better future for America. Use the past to make a better America!