What’s Inside My Hula Hoop?

I learned some things over Christmas this year. or I should probably say I re-learned some things.

  1. Be careful what you ask for. You might get it. My goal as a parent was to raise independent, self-sufficient women who could take care of themselves and also love well. I’ve succeeded.
  2. I control only what’s inside my hula hoop. (Think about the image…) I don’t like not being in control of stuff. I’m not proud of this–I’ve worked hard on this issue.
  3. I’m not needed like I used to be. I’m probably needed differently, but I haven’t figured that part out yet.
  4. Hurt lurks behind anger and manipulation.

Here’s the story.

Christmas vacation, for our family, for too many years, involved many hours on highways to get to my parents in Ohio and the mother of the retired man I live with (and his large extended family) in Pittsburgh. We’d be gone from whenever the kids finished school until the day before New Year’s Eve.

It was grueling, for different reasons at each place, and often involved driving in bad weather. We didn’t have Nabis or iPads or iPods or in-car DVD players. We played 20 questions, looked for license plates from different states and sang lots of Christmas carols. It got some easier when they became readers. (They didn’t get carsick reading in the backseat like I used to.)

We ended that craziness after my parents moved to NC and we drove over the WV mountains on ice coming home from Pittsburgh. We just flew his mom and sister to us after that. By then our girls were in high school and not so concerned about Santa finding us.

We were never at our own house during those traveling years for Christmas Eve and Christmas morning. (Santa knew to come to our house early. He’s flexible like that.) So, at some point as marriage and grandchildren came into our kids’ lives, we (well, more that retired guy I live with than I) started suggesting the importance of Christmas morning in their own homes.

This year, sometime in December, our strong, independent daughters who have apparently learned to take care of themselves and their families told us they would be having Christmas Eve and morning in their own homes and then we would all gather for lunch and to give our gifts to the grandchildren at one of their homes.

I was the loving, supportive, mature, “good” mom I can sometimes be and said, “Well, okay, sure. That’s probably a good idea.”

I was not prepared.

I was alone.

On Christmas Eve.

The retired man I live with has a part-time retail job, so he worked until late-afternoon that day. We’d made no plans so we had a regular dinner, watched the news and some tv and then went to bed like any other evening. And had a quiet, boring Christmas morning. It all felt empty.

I woke up Christmas morning with a complete scheme to manipulate everyone next year back to the way I wanted things to be. It was a brilliant plan (I do have health issues, you know) and it would probably work. I shared it with that retired guy I live with. The shocked look on his face did make me a little self-conscious.

I still shared it over the next couple of days with a few friends who had the sense to listen, smile, and say nothing. Eventually I could hear the anger rumbling inside. I shared about it at a women’s AA meeting. I realized and admitted I was refusing to accept my powerlessness over other people. I was trying to fix things outside my hula hoop. And manipulation wouldn’t give me power. It made me wicked.

I’ve given up on my plan, even though I know it would work.

A new word came to me on Christmas Day. I have become “peripheral” (see below) to my children’s lives. I believe that is right and good and as it should be. It gives me hope that they will be okay when someday I’m not around.

I don’t have to like it.

I do have to accept it.

And now I will focus on my own life and what to do with this new year of 2016. I have more to do, within my hula hoop, I’m sure!

Maybe I’ll write a book.

(Scanners, printers, and speakers are peripheral devices for a computer because they aren’t central to the working of the computer itself.)

 

Published in: on January 4, 2016 at 4:33 pm  Comments (3)  
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Continual Partial Attention :)

I multi-tasked for the last few hours. And now I believe the research that says Continual Partial Attention is inefficient and makes tasks take longer to complete.

I have a bag full of Christmas CD’s that I decided this morning should be downloaded to my iTunes library. My Macbook Air laptop is thin and very light. We bought it because I dropped the heavier, older laptop I had before one too many times. This one’s sleekness requires a CD thing to be attached with a USB cord for playing or downloading a CD.

So first I had to find the CD thingy. It was in the basement with the laptop belonging to the retired man I live with (we don’t share well). I put a load of laundry in the washer while I was down there. Which I just realized I never put in the dryer. That’s how well I multi-task these days.

After downloading a couple of CD’s, it dawned on me I could do something else on the same computer at the same time.

Weeks ago, I told my 93-year-old aunt that I’d print some of my blog posts for her because a while back her computer died and she hasn’t replaced it. (Hint to my cousin, Mike–she’s hoping for some sort of tablet for Christmas from you all.) She says my blog is the only thing she’s missed. I love her!

I couldn’t remember when her computer died so I printed all the posts from this year. I read and relived all of them as I pulled them up, of course.

It’s been a challenging year, with bouts of depression followed by spells of slowly recovering and coming back out of the darkness. That’s obvious from my posts. And I remembered and relived all the ups and downs.

Then I’d realize a CD was done. I’d eject that one and put in another one and go back to the blog posts. After I made a cup of tea.

This quote taped to the turtle tea cup holder on my desk reminds me my life has purpose and meaning:

When our wounds cease to be a source of shame and become a source of healing, we have become wounded healers…Our own experience with loneliness, depression, and fear can become a gift…Our own bandaged wounds will allow us to listen to others with our whole beings.

Henri J. M. Nouwen

Now, if I sync my computer iTunes and my iPhone iTunes, I can try out my Christmas music on the new Bluetooth speaker in the living room that the retired man I live with bought for himself the other day. Seems easier to just play the CD’s, doesn’t it?

And I still need to dry that load of clothes.

And find a big envelope and then figure out postage to mail the blog posts to my aunt. I  really don’t want to go to the post office in the middle of December. Maybe I can just send them from the UPS store.

And the tasks continue…

I’m ready for a nap.

 

Published in: on December 14, 2015 at 3:23 pm  Comments (4)  
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Today Is World AIDS Day

Did you know that?

There is a giant red ribbon hanging on the front porch of the White House today.

December 1 is still World AIDS Day.  There still is no cure.  People still get sick and die because of AIDS.

People are also living much longer and are taking medicines that really do help slow the progress of the disease.

The drugs that work are very expensive and state and federal programs that help pay for them are in danger of being cut.

Sometimes the side effects and the dosing schedule are so difficult and intolerable that folks stop taking the drugs.

I spend a lot of time helping out at Higher Ground, a day center for people who are HIV positive.   It is a free-standing program of Triad Health Project, the local AIDS service organization.  Three days a week, every week, local churches and other groups provide lunch for 25-40 hungry clients and volunteers and the one paid staff person who tends the souls and cleans the toilets for all who come through the doors.

Higher Ground is a place of acceptance for many who have been turned away by family, churches, and friends.  Believe me when I say, God is in this place and miracles do happen here.  Like crack addicts who are able to stay clean and have their own apartments for the first time in their adult lives thanks to case managers at Triad Health Project and the support and love of peers at Higher Ground.  Or men like my friend Bill who has been HIV positive since the 1980’s.  He had a leg amputated above the knee a while back because of HIV complications and was back at “The House” a few weeks later, smiling.  Many volunteers over the years, from high school students to those of us with gray hair, have been profoundly touched by the courage and faith of the men and women who pass through Higher Ground.

Did you know all this was still happening?

Today, there is much more hope.  But AIDS is not gone.  If you can, please donate your time and/or money to a local AIDS service organization.  They still need you.

Triad Health Project’s vision statement:

We will stand together for as long as it takes until HIV/AIDS is no more, promoting enlightenment, dignity, acceptance, understanding, and love; demonstrating that we are not only enduring this epidemic, but also prevailing over it.

Still.

 

Originally published December 1, 2010

 

 

Published in: on December 1, 2015 at 3:50 pm  Leave a Comment  

I’ll Be Okay

A month ago, I wrote about learning the difference between depression and grief in “Finding Hope Under the Blanket.”

My description of grieving the loss of my young, functional body left out an event that triggered anger and envy. I got an announcement that a woman I know at church, a long-time hospital chaplain, was to be ordained as a Minister of Spiritual Direction.

My immediate reaction was intense. I looked back over 28 years with rheumatoid arthritis and saw how it limited my choices and opportunities.

I cried. I rarely cry, so that alone got the attention of the retired man I live with.

And me.

My whole being, body and soul, was sad and angry.

I wrote in my journal. I carried those intense feelings around for a couple of weeks before I talked to a trusted friend and my spiritual director. All that helped and the intensity of my feelings lessened slowly.

Last Sunday, I sat in church lost in a spectacular piece of music performed by our choir and organist. Out of nowhere, the thought popped into my head–without the arthritis, would you have the faith that your spiritual journey has led you to? Would you ever have considered any form of ministry?

No.

I started in AA a few months before my arthritis was diagnosed. Both are chronic illnesses and they have intertwined in my faith journey for the last 28 years. The 12 steps (12 Steps), particularly 1-3, 10, and 11, were my introduction to a template for a personal relationship with a Higher Power.

I am grateful for the many gifts of my spiritual journey. Sometimes I tell God I think I’ve learned enough and he can ease up on my challenges now. Then I have a special moment like last Sunday and I know God still has much to teach me.

Would I prefer a less painful way to learn? Hell, yes. But I don’t think it works that way.

I learned over these years how to do hard stuff. And deep inside me, in my soul, I believe that whatever comes, I can be okay if I remember to ask God for help.

In “Finding Hope Under the Blanket,” I wrote

Without words, my spirit reached out to God and grace made the difference…

Many times lately, my prayer is simply, “Help me.” And that is enough.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Published in: on November 17, 2015 at 11:42 am  Comments (6)  
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Bah (Halloween) Humbug!

(I wrote this originally in October 2012.)

Amma Ponders

I trick-or-treated alone the year I was 11.  I knew it would be my last year.  I was supposed meet up with some other girls, but I never found them.

Did they ditch me on purpose?  Did I misunderstand the plan?  Or did they not even think of me at all?

I tried to go to people’s doors with other kids so I didn’t look like some weird kid who was too old to be trick-or-treating.  I don’t remember what costume I wore–something homemade, I’m sure.  I remember holding back tears.  I don’t remember if I told my parents what happened.

I’ve never liked Halloween.  My kids’ elementary school let students come in costume on October 31.  I painted one girl’s face green for a witch outfit and made a punk-rocker (pink hair, lots of eye makeup, and lots of necklaces) out of the other girl.  All by 7:30 am. …

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Published in: on October 28, 2015 at 5:11 pm  Comments (2)  

Then and Now?

THEN

I chose not to go back to work as a special ed teacher after my first daughter was born in November, 1977.

At the height of the women’s lib movement, that choice felt sort of radical. Also, old-fashioned and embarrassing. No young woman (I was 25) wanted to turn into her mother.

I was breastfeeding and co-sleeping. A hippie mom, my kids say now. A good and trusted friend offered to keep my baby (for pay) while I worked. My husband was running a delivery route for Dolley Madison cakes (remember Zingers?), so we were far from rich.

In the end, we made the right choice for us, with the understanding we could change our minds if necessary. We didn’t.

My daughters went to school with and were friends with kids who were the first generation to grow up in daycare. I remember thinking, “It will be interesting to watch these kids grow up.”

NOW

This summer an article appeared in our local newspaper titled, “Need a Hug? It’ll Cost You” about a young woman who opened a busness called NC Cuddles (nccuddles.com). She offers platonic cuddling services–

Hugs, Cuddles, Snuggles and Handholding. We want you to feel loved, accepted, and that you matter to someone without feeling guilty, obligated or ashamed. (quote from their website)

The frequently asked questions section describes services for children–

We offer fully clothed, mothering cuddle sessions. We will hold, nurture, work with your child or children to give the physical contact that they need to become well rounded, happy adults. We will gladly work with children with disabilities to include autism. If you are not a touchy, feely, parent but want your child to feel that warmth, we will gladly love, cuddle, snuggle and hold them till their hearts content! (quote from website)

A connection between then and now? Maybe.

My knee-jerk reaction to NC Cuddles was “You’ve got to be kidding.” Then compassion kicked in. I thought about how appealing this might be to a lonely man or woman.

The walls around my physical space are too high to consider a stranger hugging me or even holding my hands. A woman I know says some of us were raised by and turned into “The Frozen People.” I learned to hug non-family people in my 30’s in 12-step rooms.

The kid services at NC Cuddles feel especially icky to me. We worked so hard to teach our kids about not letting strangers touch them. We talked about good touch and bad touch and the uh-oh feeling in your tummy that lets you know something is wrong. How do you explain to kids that these strangers are ok, but others are not?

New on the NC Cuddles website–

Sadly, NCCUDDLES, LLC will be closed indefinitely. Effective 10-14-15

It is unfortunate and we recommend that if you have family that need someone to visit with them, please consider http://www.visitingangels.com

If you are single, alone, or lonely seek out others!

There are local events placed on meetup.com regularly.

I guess I wasn’t the only one to get the uh-oh feeling.

Published in: on October 16, 2015 at 9:09 am  Comments (7)  
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Finding Hope Under the Blanket

The retired man I live with walked into the den recently and said, “Ten years ago you had cancer. Now you have 3 grandchildren. It’s all going to be okay.”

I was in a dark place that day, a place I called depression. A few weeks later, my therapist called it grief.

In the last 2 years, my brother (the last of my family of origin) died, and I had 6 surgeries, most complicated by very slow healing due to immune-suppressant drugs for rheumatoid arthritis. I had reason to be in a dark place. But I didn’t label it grief until my therapist did.

There’s a difference, for me, between depression and grief. Depression feels endless and hopeless. Grief, on the other hand, is a recognition of loss, a process that I can move through. There is hope in that.

My friend, Kim, a former Hospice grief counselor, said that grief and depression can feel the same. For me, both involve emotional and physical fatigue that makes any kind of movement challenging. Inertia settles over me like a blanket and I become comfortable there.

I don’t drink anymore and depression kills my appetite so I don’t stress-eat. I use reading as my numbing-agent, my drug of choice.  I can tune out any feelings or circumstances if I have something to read. Inertia looks okay if I’m reading, right?

My family valued good grades and achievement and emotional control. I need to feel competent. So, in my head, my physical limitations become defects, which makes me defective, not competent. And so I am grieving the loss of my competent self.

My therapist helped me see that maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I don’t tell myself the truth.

I’ve been dealt a hand of cards that includes physical limitations, but I can find competence within those limitations. I tell myself I have strengths and talents that are still available to me, no matter how well I walk or balance on one foot. Sometimes I believe that.

I’m not sure just when the window opened on my dark place and started letting some light in. I became willing to change, to move out of the comfortable, dark place under that warm blanket of inertia into a new place of acceptance and hope. I became willing to do the hard work of growth.

Without words, my spirit reached out to God and grace made the difference.

It’s rained here for a week and a half with a couple more days of showers to come. The temperature has dropped into the 50’s. A week ago, I had to stop one of my arthritis medications because of possible side effects. Between the no-medication and the weather, my whole body feels stiff and achy.

But I’m okay in that. A bit whiny at times, but not rooted in a chair with a book. In a bit, I’ll go to a recovery group at Higher Ground, the drop-in house for people who are HIV positive. This afternoon I’ll go sit with a Hospice patient for a couple of hours to give the caregiver a break. Tomorrow morning I’ll go to an AA meeting and then out to lunch with a woman I sponsor.

I’m grateful today for the energy to push through the remnants of grief and the physical challenges of the day. It helps to focus on the needs of others.

I look for balance between denial and being overwhelmed. Denial sends me back to my chair with a book. Overwhelmed takes all my energy and I care about nothing. Balance says, “Okay, today I hurt, but I can go sit in a chair and listen to others just as easily as I can take root in my lonely chair at home”.

Balance requires mindfulness, acceptance, gratitude and hard work paired with surrender to what is.

Many times lately, my prayer is simply, “Help me.” And that is enough.

Published in: on October 4, 2015 at 3:48 pm  Comments (15)  
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It’s A New, Gadget-Filled, App-Designed World

The world keeps reminding me that I am not young. It’s not just having grey hair and 3 grandchildren. That’s about chronological age.

No, it’s realizing there are all sorts of things I don’t know about and/or don’t understand.

TIME magazine had a long article about Reddit. I read the article and I’m still not exactly sure what it does. Or is. The article said it’s mostly used by young men, teenagers or 20 somethings. I’ve never fit in those demographics. So now the question is do I care enough to investigate the website? No, not really.

I already spend an embarrassing amount of time on Facebook reading posts from HuffPost50 and HuffPostParents. The ones I agree with I share with my daughters who are actually parents of young children. Makes my advice and opinions more authoritative, I think. I wonder if they read them. I’m not going to ask.

The last time I applied for a job, the application was on paper and there were no personality tests involved. Another TIME article (yes, that’s one of my main sources of what’s new and improved in the world) described the kinds of tests people often take these days during the job application process. (here’s the link)

Examples of questions:

Would you like to be an art collector? (What does a yes OR a no mean?)

Do you find yourself getting angry easily? (How stupid or self-destructive would you have to be to answer yes?)

Do you often fantasize about being famous? (Is once a month “often”?)

Do people say you are eccentric? (At my age, I consider that a compliment.)

I took the little sample test. For spontaneity I scored a 2 (out of 8). On independence I scored 7 (out of 8). For competitiveness I scored 0 (out of 8). So would you hire me?

I think too many computer nerds have reduced too many things to algorithms. Quirks and talents matter.

On a lighter note–

Did you know that the Denver Post has a designated Pot Critic? I read about that on the front page of the NY Times Style section a while back. Back in the day (or so I hear), there was pot or no pot. Now, I guess it’s like wine or craft beer. So many varieties, so little time. Are some people weed snobs like wine snobs?

I enjoy reading about what’s going on this new, gadget-filled and app-designed world. I’m glad I can pick and choose if and when I participate.

But I still like reading books. From the library. Printed on paper and bound by a cover with a title and a picture.

Published in: on September 8, 2015 at 1:36 pm  Comments (8)  
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Snapshot

I forget sometimes that other people read what I write on this blog. Or maybe I underestimate the impact of my words.

My cousin lives in Minneapolis. We’re not particularly close, although we care about each other. We talk a few times a year. I talk to his mother, my aunt, more often and she keeps us up-to-date on each other.

He texted my husband recently to find out if I was okay. He and my aunt saw my last blog post about being depressed and isolated (see it here) and were worried about me.

I called him back the next day and assured him I was okay, though still somewhat depressed. I think I sounded kind of perky. I tried to. Was that dishonest? I don’t think so. I am okay and also depressed.

Or maybe my therapist is right–I’m grieving. My brother died July 12, 2013. Since he died two years ago, I’ve had one medical issue after another, barely healing from one surgery before needing the next. I told my therapist it feels like emotional PTSD. My friend, Kim, a grief counselor, tells me the symptoms of grief are the same as depression symptoms. Oh. How do I know the difference? Does it matter?

My grief is bigger than my brother dying. I miss having a body that I don’t have to think about. I miss being able to chase after my grandchildren. Adaline asked me to jump with her the other day. I told her I couldn’t really jump. “Oh, you can’t do that anymore, Amma?” she said. I wanted to cry. I was angry because I had to add jumping to my list of things I can’t do. I felt old.

I started this blog when I had one grandchild, Adaline. I wanted her to know me as a person with feelings and fears and hopes and problems. Now I have 2 more grandchildren–Maggie and Atticus. And I still write so they will have a way to know me when I’m not around anymore. I’m getting to know me better, too.

I’m sorry that I worried my aunt and my cousin. I write these posts as the spirit moves me and they reflect the moment that I’m in. Two hours after I finish, I might be far beyond those particular concerns and feelings. But my written words stay in that moment.

Each blog post is just a snapshot, a captured moment in my life.

I think I should write more on days I feel good!

Published in: on July 9, 2015 at 3:56 pm  Comments (9)  
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Innie (introvert) or Outie (extrovert)?

I watched my grandchildren playing outside the other day. We were midway through a 2-week stretch of 90-something-degree days, so their mother and I went to Toys R Us and bought 2 little plastic pools (one pink, one blue, of course) because sharing is to be avoided if possible, and a cute turtle sprinkler. We took them to my house and set them up in the backyard, the pools in the shade and the sprinkler in the middle of the yard.

Adaline is 5, an extrovert, and kind of a bossy older sister. Atticus is 3, an introvert, and a sweetie who loves his sister, but is slightly afraid of her, I think. They played together for a while, then Atticus wanted to play in his pool, alone. Adaline wanted him to play with her. This wasn’t going to end well.

She provoked him until he reacted. By that time, the pools were full of twigs and dirt that had stuck to their wet feet when they ran around the yard, so I suggested a bath and we went inside. Afterward, Atticus went in the living room and played with blocks and Adaline settled in on the den couch to talk with her mom and me.

I identify with Atticus. I’ve written before about being an introvert. I refill my spirit in solitude. I like to spend time with friends, one on one. Crowds overwhelm me. One of my daughters is an extrovert, as is her husband. Their spirits are refilled with others. They invite neighbors over for dinner and they have parties for no reason except to be with friends.

My problem, sometimes, is distinguishing between solitude (healthy) and isolation (not-so-healthy).

From a blog post by Carey Niewhof:

Solitude is good.  It recharges the soul.  It offers time for reflection, for prayer.  And even when you’re alone, if you’re experiencing solitude, you are still connected. Solitude connects you to God, to yourself, and prepares you to be connected to others.

Isolation, on the other hand, is never replenishing.  It can feel like solitude in the sense that you are alone, but isolation doesn’t connect you to anyone.  Isolation does what the word suggests – it cuts you off, from God, from others, and sometimes even from yourself.

I’ve been isolating for the last month or so. My depression has flared up due to some ongoing medical issues. I’ve had no energy and no desire to do much of anything. I put away a basket of clean clothes yesterday that sat in my bedroom for days. And that was an accomplishment. I read a lot and I watch episodes of The Good Wife from the beginning on Hulu. I’m up to where Will got shot. Depression zaps my brain of creativity and imagination. I can’t write.

I’m trying this week to push through the inertia. I met with my doctor and talked about my anti-depressant. I have a therapy appointment next week. I did some volunteer work this week. And I’m having dinner with a friend this evening.

And I finally am writing again.  While I write, I don’t feel isolated. I am connected to all of you in some spiritual way that is healing. My hope is that by continuing to share my ups and downs, I can help someone else feel less alone and isolated.

Published in: on June 26, 2015 at 4:44 pm  Comments (12)  
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