Therapy

ronni and me

 

No one tells the whole truth in therapy. We omit. Not lie. And while, we, the patients, are footing the bill, we  leave out bits of pieces of our narratives as not to raise any suspicions about what exactly we do not want to discuss.

I had a therapist that moaned every time I said something depressing. I hated his guts. But I went back week after week to have but another session about “why he sucks as a therapist.” He finally accused me of flirting with him and I stormed out in disgust. But that was in my glory days.

One young man, fresh out of residency, truly made me believe I was something very special. Such a compliment goes far with me as it is my utmost need to be something very special.

But last year, when my world began to crumble beyond my ability to comprehend, be hopeful or find solutions, I visited one therapist who seemed truly exceptional in her job.

Her name was Ronni, although she was a PhD, she decided to forego the doctor title as to make herself more approachable to her patients.

Every week I would go see her and cry about my life. I was facing bankruptcy, in excruciating chronic pain and suicidal. She would listen. I would tell her what I felt comfortable admitting and as each week passed my comfortability morphed into the truth. My truth. And with every worry or concern I stated, she validated my concern. She did not try to fix it or provide solutions and she even agreed it seemed very hopeless on many occasions.

I don’t know if she saw through the crux of my problem. I secretly felt that I was unable to live up to how the world presents itself as “normal” that  I witnessed on a daily basis.

She welcomed my quirkiness and seemed very excited to see me. However, soon my problems just became  subjects to talk about. And then my subjects actually became funny as I was able to look at them from different angles.

By the time I left her, my anxiety disorder was at bay, my depression was lifted and I began to realize I could either kill myself over my chronic pain or learn to live with it by accepting wholeheartedly. Clearly,  chose the latter.

In as little as nine months, I began to be present when I felt scared. I suited and showed up when I wanted to fall apart. And I truly began to like myself, demons and all.

Strangely enough, all Ronni did was listen to me and validate what I had to say. She never questioned my judgment and she did not lecture. And It occurred to me that the connection of two people learning to listen to each other without judgment keeps us alive.

People want to be warriors, independent, self-starters who tackle life’s woes on their own. That is ego run amuck. It takes a team of people in your life to keep your spirits afloat and increase your capacity for joy. Because let’s make this clear, the essential issue for all mental illness is a decreased capacity for feeling joy. No man is an island. No man can increase his or her capacity for joy without connections to other humans.

So, when I watch world events in horror, I have learned that the human spirit can survive anything as long as we stick together. It happens every day when the media is pushing it a-one-man-show to happiness agenda.. They got it wrong. We are each other’s happiness and we are each other’s resolve. And it only took one awesome therapist to allow me talk about my daily concerns to change my world. And you can do it, too. It is worth the journey.

The Streets

inner city

If you live on the streets, you know to watch your every move. Do not make eye contact if you don’t want trouble and stay away from unlit alleys and streets. That is all common knowledge. What is not obvious is the unity and love of the people behind the barred windows and double-locked doors. There are people behind there, but you would not know, you don’t know the streets.

But on Sunday morning, when the sun peaks its head, the people, they come in droves. To pray, to love, to socialize and to be apart of each others life in a safe environment, if only for a brief time.

My favorite Sunday morning fell on a beautiful sunny day. Doughnuts aligned the stairway up to the galley where people would sit. People hung out at the stairs to greet their neighbors, to check them out.  There was no doubt I did not fit in. But that did not matter on Sundays. They had seen me walking around. The word was out that I was a down and out alcoholic who lived in a halfway house. They understood and they would pray for anyone.

The man at the podium sang a few gospel verses and continued to speak his mind about the Lord and his people. We listened intently. God hears people who listen, I am told.

“Praise the Lord. Praise the Lord. We lost one of our own Friday night in a drug deal that went bad. Tommy lost his son. We lost him, too.”

The crowd begins to stand and sit and stand and sit, grumbling, while the faint cries of some of the women can be heard as clearly as the day was still.

“We need to help the Garcia family and give them what we got. The Lord will help them through us. But Tommy…we know you got a family. We know you be feeling real bad. We want to offer you our time and our kitchens so your family can eat in this horrible time. Can I get an Amen?” Tommy’s two year old daughter popped out behind his leg understanding that the pain was immense and releasing little girl tears without knowing what may come next for her family.

“AMEN sweet Tommy, Amen my brother. Amen to you little girl. We need you grow up and get your family out of here someday. You got that?” Declared rounds of people from the street in and out of the makeshift church. The girl nodded. And she knew that they meant it when they said Amen. Tommy knew that the people would sacrifice what little they had to help their brother in need.

No one spoke about finding out who done it. They knew. There were rumors. And you could be sure that killer would see his. That much was clear.

Because no one is safe on the streets. It is just a way of life. Women on causal strolls are hit on as hookers. Kids meet their drug dealers behind the 7/11 or in a newly renovated park from the city. No one was immune to what the streets had to say or what the streets would take that day.

However, on that Sunday, as the sun rose gently into the sky, the people rejoiced in the Lord and thanked him for having mercy on their souls for just another day. Isn’t that what we all got? Just today. Somewhere in those streets this day became a day of love and giving. That is what the streets do on Sunday.

Not Today

the sun is coming for you

 

When the Jehovah’s Witness’s came to my door, I did not mind. The only problem was that I was going to be late for work. I apologized and let them know that I could not talk at that moment. The older gentlemen said he understood.

“Well you have to go to work!” He exclaimed

“No, I don’t.” I answered and he returned with a puzzled look.

“Well, you have to work. You have to make money!!”

“No, I don’t have to do anything. I choose to everything I do in life.”

I stumped him. How was it I didn’t have to work? How could I think I could choose everything (within reason) if I did not have anyone else supplying my income?

So…he argued some more. “You need to make money. You need to eat.”

“No, I choose to make money and I choose to eat.” I declared.

“Well, what do you mean?” He asked politely.

I do not think he was ready for my honest and rare outlook on life.  Therefore, I should not have been so stunned to see the look on his face when I answered.

“I can always kill myself.” I stated without hesitation. I do not remember what happened next but I do know he came to visit more often.

Now, I know this seems like a strange way to view one’s life. Every species on this planet is making diligent attempts to stay alive. I get that. But for some reason, I needed to know that if it ever got to be too much, I could end it all.

There are others like me. They are sitting right next to you. We just don’t talk about it. People with suicide ideation are far more common than people realize. It would come to me in waves, throughout most of my life. I just did not want to live. It hurt too much.

Although, I seemed like the most happy person in the room and I really was not faking that, it is just, a person with suicidal tendencies’ brain will switch involuntary at the most inconvenient times.

For instance, I produced and hosted my own cable access show. Six months of rigorous planning matched with an incredible team allowed me to fulfill this crazy dream. I worked so hard. Day and night. I spent thousands of dollars to train the team, buy furniture, take potential guests to lunch or coffee and anything else it would take to create a wonderful show.

The show went well. We had a lot of fun and although, it was less David Lettermanish than I planned, it was a good solid attempt at modeling what the superpowers of media do everyday.

The next day, I wanted to die. I sat in my backyard in a lawn chair, chain smoking, trying to convince myself to stay alive.

I always thought pills were a great way out but I found out hanging is the surest bet. But that day, I made it through by sobbing, thinking and praying that if I could just get some sleep that tomorrow would be better. Luckily, tomorrow was better and this, indeed, did pass.

But this has happened to me so many times. However, my outlook has changed.

My dad replied when I told him of my great suicide epiphany, that it made sense, but it changes when you have children. I did not believe him. I am quite sure now that he agreed with my epiphany. Usually these things are genetic.

Unfortunately, having a child was not enough but it sure helped. What I found was that I had to know in my deepest part of my being that I could survive anything and that required a great amount of maturity on my part to begin to actually take the actions to assure my survival. Actions such as making money again. Or taking back my health.  I began to accept that I will always have to tolerate and endure some merciless anxiety and I started to live “in” love instead of trying to be loved by everyone with whom I came into contact.

Now..note…I still struggled. I married a psychiatrist for goodnesss sake!! There are no coincidences when it comes to life and death. And with a loving, accepting partner, I felt safe to explore my vulnerability. I did not need the comfort of knowing I could end it all at any time, on my terms, anymore.

Life is truly about relationships. They matter. The relationship with yourself matters. Self-care is paramount but not readily taught. We are an ego-driven, I-need-the-next-fix society. But it does not have to be that way.

I am a better person because I had to try to love myself more. The very act that I thought was the ultimate sin was what carries me through my days. That… and God.

If only, I could find that nice Jehovah’s Witness and let him know I did have to go to work now and eat and make money. I could tell him to not worry that I know I am not free to choose anything except to choose how to live and react to whatever comes my way.

 

Africa

eagles

 

Africa is not a place for the weak. It is dangerous and unruly and poverty- stricken. The people make an average of $1.50 a day. It is a place where instinct defies logic. It must. It is survival.  A tall white blonde woman from California has no business trying to fit into this way of life. But I was going to try to do just that.

I should have trusted my gut feeling immediately. The State Department, with all its rules, and protocol, was especially adept at making its diplomats feel a sense of loyalty toward its cause: by removing the individual from its environment and into a foreign place to serve as a liaison for information.

We looked rich compared to the native people. We were rich compared to native people. How was it that we lived in a compound larger than a village? The precedent that was set drooled of power. But, to me, it felt like it placed us in harm’s way. When I asked about the danger, the others scoffed. We were safe, they said. We were American.

However, I became apprehensive as I stepped into my new home. No one told me that there would be a panic room in my bedroom. I did not realize we would have a guard, glass shears pointing up from a barb-wired electric fence above our compound wall or three locks on the door. I felt I could trust no one; not the doctor at the embassy, not the other diplomatic wives and especially not the villagers working in my home. Trapped and powerless, I grew angry quickly. As always, anger turned into depression as depression usually does.

Diplomacy knows nothing about holding grudges. Yet, I was angry with my country for placing my family in a volatile environment. I felt a million miles away from those I loved and the truthfully, I was just that: a million miles away both physically and mentally.

It would have gone better if the neighborhood pharmacy did not sell valium over the counter. I honestly thought that I needed them to cope. After the shell shock of living abroad subsided, I became apprehensive that my husband would be traveling the majority of the time and that I would have to take random broken-down taxis to go everywhere with my two-year-old in tow. This was not going to work for me. But I did not know how to get out.

The most exciting upcoming event happened to be that my husband was turning fifty. However, he was scheduled to be in Nigeria. I insisted that we come because I did not want him to be alone on his birthday. While still living in the honeymoon phase of diplomacy, I was still a wee-bit trusting of the State Department to protect me.

When we landed in Nigeria, I learned quickly that the rule of thumb was to “duck and cover” inside the bullet proof Marine vehicle because Nigerians shoot white people. And we were rushed into the American hotel and being told clearly not to leave. I questioned why I came. But I was there and that was that.

After a nice meal for my husband’s birthday and several nights of good sleep we traveled with another doctor to Lagos. My family and I were to return to Accra. I did not feel relieved. I felt homesick. The Valium stopped working immediately and I was left to fend with myself against my anxiety. When I do not feel safe, my thinking changes. Everyone around me acted as if there was not a worry in the world. But I could sense trouble. Inwardly, I panicked and then it happened.

Boko Haram tried to blow up the UN in Nigeria. Eighteen people were dead. My husband was assigned to the situation as a crisis manager. We were escorted to the safety of the other doctor’s home while they both evaluated the destruction and if the other diplomatic families could go home.

My son and I were placed safely in a diplomat’s home where all the doors were barred shut and two large dogs could protect us. I slept mostly. Corey played with two boys that lived in the home. Finally, Steve arrived and we were going to be allowed to leave that night.

When I returned to Accra, I could not get the terrorist attack to leave my mind. I kept feeling the government did not have our backs. They would let us die. I did not care what anyone told me. I needed to get out of Africa and I needed to take my son with me.

My panic turned into a full-blown attack of anxiety that left me paralyzed. I continued to take the Valium but my anxiety did not lessen. When faced with the truth, the brain will go into fight or flight. I could no longer function. There was so much at stake. We had moved everything we owned to Africa. We had given up our cars and our friends and our life to serve this nation. But would this nation serve us? I knew it would not.

I convinced the State Department to send me home. By doing so, I had relinquished my medical clearance which would cause my husband to resign. I did not care. My safety and the safety of my child was all I could think about. I could tell that other diplomats felt I was weak as if a Scarlett “A” of sorts were tattooed on my soul. It hurt. But I could not stay. I lost control of my sanity and I needed to bear down into a cocoon of protection and security.

A year later Benghazi happened. And now more and more attacks occurred. My hunch was correct. The “War on Terror” was not over and they could not hide it forever. But in my opinion, they certainly tried.

In the end, I knew my gut feeling had been right all along. I was not safe in my travels abroad. But this mattered not, now. I was home. I was safe and I would always trust my sense of knowing where I was safe and where I was not, for the rest of my life. It was a valuable lesson to learn. My dignity was sacrificed to ensure my sense of well-being. My life was saved in return. I believe it was a fair trade. However, my world view darkened through that experience and it is only through my appreciation of the beautiful human spirit that I am persuaded to find pleasure on this earth.

Some may believe I was weak, but my character rescued me. Sometimes instinct is not pretty but such is life. And I am here to tell the tale so others may awaken their sense of self and know the world is not what it seems.

Instability

chelsea-cat

I have heard people will decide to make changes when they are finally sick of being in pain.  Long-term  suffering can come in any form. Strife within a relationship, jobs, or  health issues throughout  time will cause a person to walk close to the edge without even knowing it. Throughout those days, I secretly promise myself that I will be happy, once again, when my problems go away.

There are also times of rejoice, in the middle of suffering, through an ordeal, that creates a sort of denial that the problem ceases to exist. Alcohol can give you that for 4 or 5 hours. Sex: a good 25 minutes. Dating a man who doesn’t love you can be a great escape from the problems that lay low in your head for many years.  But for me, just getting involved with someone else’s problems allows me to vicariously believe that I am solving my own.

No one would say I am a quitter either. I will do everything I can to not deal with a problem that is too painful to comprehend. The year of 2016 was a problem of money for me.

Due to being totally f*cked over by a private contract company working with the Department of Defense, my family and I went from having money to not having money in less than three months. We did have savings. We did have investments. We did have credit. We were not stupid or reckless or living outside of our means. We just got screwed on a job deal and no money was coming in to pay the bills.

Without a job, home, or stuff, we carried on. My familiarity with being broke played into a false sense of confidence that I would be really good at finding creative ways to stay afloat. But we were just not ready for what smacked us over the head: a symphony of bats playing the most hardcore drums, pounding, slamming and drowning all other thoughts out of my head. We were in trouble.

I have many traits suited for survival but not enough traits to actually thrive. I am friendly, charismatic, intelligent and persuasive. I am well-liked among my peers and grocery clerks and doctor offices or anywhere I do business. But there is one trait within me that weighed so heavily into my life that it crept into all my relationships and  lessened any chance of me being consistent. That flaw is called instability.

In general, people have a sixth sense about those of us who are not stable. It makes them uneasy. It creates a shadow of mistrust among the closest of allies. People want to give you the benefit of the doubt but an unstable person brings much more stress to a situation than not.

Plus, I never knew I was not stable because I never knew how to be stable. My solution was to freak out, stop eating all together, give up daily bathing, call everyone in my support system and tell them everything that I feared pertaining to the crisis at hand. Eventually, I would muster some strength to eat again and slowly I resurrect back into an able-bodied person willing to look problems head on.

Yet on that day in May, when I had a writing assignment due, my child became sick. I felt a great amount of pressure to do it all despite my frailty in that moment. My blood sugar was low and my blood pressure was high. And in the middle of Hobby Lobby, I began to have a panic attack.

First, my lawyer called to say that Mercedes Benz had backed out of the deal to get caught up in payments and wanted their money now. I was already in the hole several grand for the month and the month was nearing a close. I simply told him we would deal with it or we would give up the car.

I was beginning to become accustomed to giving back my stuff at that moment. Earlier that year, I pawned my beautiful chocolate and diamond wedding ring to pay the rent as well as my diamond earrings and a semi-chipped Fire Opal ring that I added in as token. If we were going to lose our cars than so be it.

Then the second call came in. It was my husband explaining we needed to buy a large business related item that day or there would be trouble. My internal hole began to expand. And if I could have, I would have jumped in, let them cover me with dirt, and then all the hell would be over.

But my son was there, as was the case, and he began his normal series of demands as we become closer to checkout. I told him no. He asked why. I said because and the conversation remained in this circular argument throughout check out.

Without being able to stop, I began to cry frantically in the car on the way home. I knew I was upsetting my son. I just could not stop. And in my mind I thought “I cannot do this another day. Not one more single fucking day. This is too unstable for me. I can’t get my writing done. I can’t care for my son. I can’t even make myself food because I am such a wreck.”

So I explained to my son exactly what I did not want to tell him. The solution. We were going to have to leave our perfect little mountain retreat in Montana to seek new opportunities. And by doing so, pain would ensue.

Why would I avoid the solution? Because it required literally moving mountains. And I was…I was tired. But this would be the last day. I was tired of the instability more than I was tired of the pain.

The key to being stable is not anywhere near as hard as I thought it would be. It is simple. Be stable. Just do it. No matter what. No matter what stay stable. Life keeps going and so would I. I would fake it until I owned it. But I was going to be stable. Not for my son or my family, but because I needed to be stable to thrive.

Such clarity opened my eyes significantly to other areas of my life. I worried a lot. I looked too deep into every situation and found a reason to be afraid. I thought people did not like me or that my opinion meant very little. In actuality, people were always saying how much they liked me and asking me for advice in their own lives. The disconnect between my inside and my outside freed the hot mess inside of me for many years. But reconnecting would beckon me to strive to align with my highest self and empower me in ways I knew existed somewhere within myself.

The missing piece for my life was that I needed to be stable no matter what happened. I could not speak rudely to people just because I was in a panic. I could not justify erratic behavior because I was afraid any longer. I had to get it together.

Some of the simplest solutions for our lives biggest problems are not living in some divine matrix. The truth  is the most profound answers can be found straight in front of our nose. It is up for us to open our eyes to see them.

 

MY LIPS ARE SEALED

learning

The truth is never objective unless it is a fact. It comes from our point of view which is almost always an opinion. Telling your “truth’ comes with a heavy price. It is not worth it to me unless I am asked. However, I did not always feel this way and trouble found me everywhere I spoke.

Probably, the biggest mistake I ever made was blurting out my “truth” at a dinner party with my in-laws. It was January of 1999 and my life was about to take a great turn. I was cocky, grandiose, sarcastic, with an outlook of a dreamer who believed my way was the only way.

My in-laws treated me kindly, always. But they had a sarcastic way of talking about each other that made me uncomfortable. Clearly, my sensitivity stemmed from my fear of them possibly talking behind my back. Clearly, I was insecure. I could not see that at the time. My impulsive nature coupled with some serious rash thinking and lack of life experience reared its ugly head that evening.

Please know a lot of wine was on board for everyone. The night appeared to be hopeful as we dined on wonderful food and delicious Oregon Pinot Noir. My mother-in-law stated how glad she was to be back with the family. She had been away for several weeks with her mom.

“She is so positive all the time!” She complained jokingly.

This rubbed me wrong. What was wrong with being positive?

So when “it is better than being negative all the time” rolled out of my mouth, I had no idea what would transpire.

Needless to say, it did not go well. An entire family with extended relatives joining in began to question my response. I prayed someone would defend me. However, I was in deep when my husband showed up from another wine run.

I tried to explain that I did not feel the family could be honest with each other. Individually, I would often hear about each person’s life candidly but as a group nothing was said. Or at least that was my perspective.

The night ended quickly with every person at the table crying, including me. I tried to apologize. I really did. But no one was having it. Maybe I hit a sore spot or maybe my flip remark was so offensive that I would no longer be able to be part of the family anymore. It seemed the future held the latter.

The next morning, I woke up and write the most apologetic letter I could muster. I meant it, too! I do not remember what I wrote but I do know I was kissing major butt and then some.

The truth is a funny thing. Everyone believes their truth is correct. People do not mince words with the truth or consider information contrary to their own beliefs with ease. We are steadfast, stubborn and closeminded about anything that feels intense. I now know that by feeling that intense about anything mirrors utter subjectivity. It becomes dangerous ground when people cannot listen without hearing their own thoughts and we are all guilty of it.

When I opened the response letter from my mother-in-law I actually thought that it would work out. I thought I was persuasive enough to end this nightmare. But no. She wrote me about my addiction to drama, my unhappy childhood, how typical families behave and why what I said was wrong. She did not write me to mend fences.

And I could accept that until…I realized she had cc’d a copy of her letter to me to all the people in the family.  Then I was livid. For me that was the ultimate betrayal. And betrayal to me felt like dying. I did not know how to even approach the subject and I basically gave up.

The facts are my relationship suffered greatly due to my choice to say my truth. In retrospect, I loved these people. I just wanted to be accepted. They were great people. Yet, I screwed up because I had to tell the truth (as I saw it).

We ended up divorced. I never saw the family again for over a decade. Now we are all friends and the relationship is mended.

From this I learned that I will only speak my truth if asked. I also realize that my truth is just a perspective. I do not like opinions anymore. I listen to people who speak from experience. This is a restrained version of me but a healthier way to live. No longer do I have confrontations and I no longer embark into conflicts with certainty that I am right. In fact, I do not even care if I am right anymore, I would rather learn something new.

I write about it in a period of time where people are dividing into their groups of truth. I will not participate. But I am concerned because I do not want my son to grow up in a world where what people favor masquerades as fact. All I can say is that I think twice before I believe my thoughts. I see they are responses from unfinished business in my head. And the most wonderful part is I have more friends than ever because I let it all go and listen. All I ask is that the reader keep an open mind to my truth about my truth. I cannot ask for anything more.