I Know What You Did Last Summer; We’ll Speak No Evil

No, I don’t really know what you did last summer nor the summer before. Not even the summer I originally wrote this, but although circumstances changed for some of us, I know it still speaks to what someone is enduring today. We all cope with painful events, but is it also necessary for them to be hidden, secreted away for whatever sake?

I live in an average nice community of nice families. We’re privileged to send our children to wonderful schools and numerous extracurricular activities.  We live in a flurry of motion around those needs, our work, and the occasional indulgences for grown-ups.  We live a life of wonderful.  At least, from all appearances that’s what it seems like.

The truth behind this peaceful picture is that life is really not unlike the quiet drama worthy of Wisteria Lane, the street belonging to the now defunct TV show Desperate Housewives.

see-no-evil-speak-no-evil-hear-no-evil

Of our group of housewives, two have just got diagnoses for severe diseases. One is being supported ideally, the other enduring the painful lesson of learning who her real friends are and terribly embarrassed about it. One of us is managing stage 4 cancer. That’s dismal enough, but what’s not so well-known is that she is also enduring painful loneliness caused by friends too afraid to visit anymore. One of us left a husband who drank too much and another got away from her abusive husband. Of course, nobody would ever have guessed that about either of those husbands.

Still more, there are a few of us living in quiet desperation while trying to find ways to re-kindle the strength of our relationships, and there are at least five of us in serious financial jeopardy. Another, utterly crushed by the tragic news that her father, who was out on a stroll, was killed by a stranger for no apparent reason.  Another average year in the neighbourhood except that, unless you’re one of us directly involved, you wouldn’t know it.

We talk easily about certain subjects, other people who are fighting illnesses, etc., but there are other aspects even within that topic that aren’t talked about. These are the subjects that are too awful or too personal.  But what does too personal really mean?  Is ‘too personal’ a masked phrase for ‘must be kept quiet in order to preserve a comfortable, but false, image’?  What is the image? What is the reward for preserving it?

Over the years, life has progressively got just a little more real for many of us.  We all know that happens on an intellectual level, but when it happens to us, we aren’t comfortable talking about it. We may very selectively choose whomever to unburden ourselves to a point. The trials of something breaking down are uncomfortable, often thought to be some kind of failing.

We don’t talk about these ‘failings’ beyond a certain level because?  You fill in the blank, but I’d bet all the answers will boil down to the fear of being judged.  If it’s about inability to cope with discussion, that’s another story, but maybe that’s a walk down the same road too anyway.

All of the events I noted are supposedly out of the ordinary, but I’ve been reconsidering this idea because they are all circumstances that happen every day somewhere near and far. What isn’t obvious, because of pretenses, is that there is virtually no household that hasn’t, or isn’t dealing with something they don’t want the neighbours to know about.

That’s a whole lot of judgment to put to bed. That’s a whole lot of excellent support potential, and think of the amazing advice waiting to be shared. That’s a lot of unrealized hope.

I’m open about my own issues because I’ve been shown that my stories are not unique. My problems are not special, not even the very worst of them. My friends have heard loads about the divorce that never ends, and myriad woes before & since. Whatever feelings I may have had in fear of judgment were, and are, wasted heartache. Secrets degrade every level of our being. The shame and fear I once had, claimed far too much of the precious time I could have had learning and moving on.

I’m not the circumstances that I’m in at the moment.  I am an entire lifetime of experiences that contain many highs in the light with the lows in the dark and murky.  Which ones do you think I’ve learned the most from?

Maybe we need to take it to heart that, when life is getting real with us, we need to start getting real with it.  Let’s stop pretending that we are only as good as our image.  It’s a terribly weak foundation to learn from, or teach how to overcome struggles. We really are all in the same boat, and once in a while we have to share the rowing.

When we share our perceived weaknesses, we learn so much more than we can ever imagine in fear. As we become genuine, we end up twice as strong, and eventually life does become genuinely lighter for us, and in all the places that secrets diminish.

We shall overcome.  Together.

Incidentally, if I ever look like I’m in need of a soothing hot beverage, would you make it the kind over ice, with a twist? Then, let’s talk.

RL

With a Little Help From My Friends; Karen Kelt, “In Pursuit Of Normal & Stirrup Pants”

While I’m off restoring my inner warrior, some friends have stepped up to bat to help me out by sharing some pretty amazing stories of growing triumphs of their own. 

This guest story is from a dear friend of mine who has been, and continues to be, on a remarkable and sometimes unrecognizable, journey of  transformation …

I went on my first diet in grade 5, at about 10 yrs old.  I wasn’t huge; I just needed to lose 10 lbs or so – ‘to be normal’.  My mom bribed me with a pair of the then popular stirrup pants because, “you can’t wear those if you’re heavy”.  Of course I did it.  Starved myself and lost the weight, but it only creeped back over the next few months plus another 10 lbs.

Karenpic 1 BeforeI only ever wanted to be normal.  It’s been my goal for as long as I can remember.  I didn’t need to be thin or beautiful, just normal.  What I wanted now was for people not to stare at me as I walked through the mall.  To avoid having children at the grocery store or hair salon ask their mothers, “Why is that lady so fat?”   To be able to go on a bike ride or run around on the soccer field with my kids.  Things that “normal” people do.

Of course, that was then and my idea of ‘normal’ has changed drastically since I started this journey…

There was never any reason for it, the constant weight gain.  I came from an amazing, loving family who had high expectations of me, but nothing crazy.  The truth is, I just love food and hate exercise.  Always have, always will.  Unfortunately, I eat when I’m happy, sad, or stressed.

quotation mark 1When I’d go on a diet , it wasn’t just my stomach aching for food, but my heart tooquotation mark 2.

I’ve gained and lost hundreds of pounds and had asked for help so many times, it was embarrassing.  The answer was always, “Why don’t you try weight watchers and cut out the fried food.”  Um, thanks for that…why didn’t I think of that?  In fact, I was always an extremely healthy eater.  I just ate too much, too often.

After 28 years of yo-yo dieting, using every program, supplement, clinic and cabbage soup recipe, someone gave me the courage to do something different.  My two sisters-in-law, to whom I will always be grateful, finally stopped tiptoeing around the problem by stating outright that I needed medical help.  I’d already known this, but I was always just too scared of what people would think to make the call.

From the time I finally did make that call, I spent over 18 months on a wait list before I was contacted again for an orientation about my options. It took another 6 months of several follow-up appointments, journaling, exercise, counselling and more before I was approved for the surgery I’d chosen.

On February 5th 2015, I had gastric sleeve surgery.  I weighed 280 lbs after already losing 20 lbs by then.  They cut out most of my stomach and left a pouch about the size of a banana.  Yes, it was painful, but I had a goal and normal finally felt like it was within my reach.

quotation mark 1One of the most interesting things I found after surgery was that I learned I had never truly felt full before.  The feeling in my chest, even after swallowing only small amounts of liquids now, was a completely unknown sensation.  I’d honestly never felt full in all my 39 yearsquotation mark 2

The results since have been amazing physically, emotionally and in general growth.  From my orientation of August 2014 to September 2015, I lost a total of 135 lbs, most since February 5th.

The transformation was apparently equally startling. I was surprised by the number of people who didn’t recognize me and the looks of shock on their faces was comical.  Quite a few people literally did not recognize me; they thought I was my own sister.

Karenpic 2

From August 2014 to September 2015, I lost a total of 135 lbs

Shock aside, I’ve seen something beautiful happen too.  When I show my before and after pictures to the people who really know me and love me, they are always surprised that I was ever that big.  The one thing I’ve learned is that those people never saw the outward person that I was always embarrassed about.  They just saw me.

The extended pluses:  I can now do any exercise I want.  My debilitating back pain is gone.  I don’t need an afternoon nap.  I walk in public and don’t constantly wonder what all those staring people are thinking of me.  I really don’t care anymore, which is weird for me.  I’ve always cared.  Always worried about what everyone else thinks.  I’m also more comfortable around my husband in our more intimate situations.  That’s a huge step for me.  I even gained the courage to apply for and get a new job.

Reality check – it’s not about perfection…

Karenpic 1 AfterYou’d think with all this joyous news I‘d be happy, complete, & unconcerned about the future.  Well, the reality is that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Despite the overall success, I have one unusual drawback. I am still constantly bombarded with hunger and cravings – gnawing, painful hunger.  Like my stomach is trying to eat itself, and while I am now more able, exercise is a daily mental struggle.  I wish I was one of those people who started loving it, but I’m not.

Worse than all of that, is the fear.  I am terrified of gaining the weight back and having everyone know I failed.  After all the amazing people who helped and supported me, is it possible that I could allow my brain to derail me?

But, in a way, isn’t this what normal is?  Aren’t we all afraid of failing…no matter what our goal or accomplishment? If only we could learn and truly believe success isn’t about a number on the scale, the level of education we’ve achieved, or the amount of money we have in the bank.

And so, this is the next goal for me.  Learning to be happy with Karen, regardless of how much I weigh, or more importantly, what other people think of me.  This is what should be ‘normal’.

-Karen Kelt

The Love You Make is Equal To…Frickin’ Awesome If You Can Match the Joy This Inspires

Steven tyler 2

When life knocks you onto your buttocks and it feels like you may never catch your breath or a break again, sometimes something really, really wonderful shows up.

Maybe it’s not the lotto win or the love of your life, but it gives you at least a few minutes of awesome respite. Real awe.  Awe, as in the original intention of the term, reverential respect, astonishment, extra special wonder…

I know inspirations can be anything for anyone, but for me, a little gem I came across  a couple of years ago was positively heavenly in its level of power and I have returned to bow at it’s rainbow-hued unicorn hooves as much as needed since.

It is the  2010 Kennedy Center’s honoring of Sir Paul McCartney. It is a masterpiece of musical powerhouses, but within that group of exceptional talent, Steven Tyler, heartbeat of Aerosmith, brought me to my feet especially.

Steven’s initial magnificent mix is in this first link:  Steven Tyler 2010 Kennedy Center Honoring Paul McCartney

But…

But…

If you really, really want to treat yourself to a show that brought the President of the United States, the First Lady, Oprah,  the Sir Paul McCartney and even Sir Stoic, Colin Powell to their feet in joyous glee, watch the whole portion of that tribute: 13 Minutes and 50 Seconds of Sublime 

If this doesn’t have you up in mind, body or spirit, somebody better call the coroner. You have to be dead.

RL

On another note: My 2016 posts were mostly written weeks ago and pre-scheduled for publishing while I’ve been taking care of some things. (see Weird Normal – February 19). I’d hoped by now I’d be back in the saddle fully, but that hasn’t quite worked out. So until I get there, maybe you’ll bear with me & some sporadic posts, maybe you’ll scan some of my older stuff and enjoy the occasional guest post from fabulous people. 
 Cheers for now.   ❤

Weird Normal & Cancer Envy; Part One of Bear With Me

Friends, Ed & E called. They were concerned, curious mostly about the intensity and/or emotional topics on my recent posts, and because I’ve been missing in action.

Bear With Me 4I have been quieter in general, but to address some of their concern, I explained that I usually write about my or other’s experiences in the way they felt at the time of the occurrences. It gives the impression they all happened recently, but really they could have happened yesterday or thirty years ago.

I do mix them up because while they make the point that I want, it also protects people who may need shielding.  I also just like to indulge in a little mystery for fun.

Admittedly, the events of late are not all related to that fun; they have been more unusually taxing. So yes, I’ve been more reserved in my activities and have expressed more personal poignancy in my posts.

I manage a rare disease within my daily routine. For the most part everything about me seems pretty normal, except for when this disease bounces my world into chaos.

To explain the beast in 10 words or less – it’s an inflammation-based disease of all kinds of irritation, but mainly it unpredictably interferes with organ function and defies prognosis.  It’s a pick an organ, any organ to screw with when it’s bored or cranky, kind of bastard. I call these visits by it, the ‘big ones’.

Friends may observe it has pounced by my newly inhibited movement, or noticeable weight loss, or I might be hospitalized for months engaged in hand to hand combat with the Grim Reaper. Sometimes he’s content to just gnaw on a limb for a few weeks.

The moments in between these time-outs are the same as most – work, growing kids, growing me, up days, down days, and once in a while even surviving catastrophic days unrelated to my health.

This fall, previously written about on the loss of someone I loved, and the pain of a betrayal, played into that old myth that these sort of events come in threes.

So, in the midst of the hell, number three showed up, in the form of another scary, frustrating flare-up. It would take another post to detail it and I’d rather leave it at saying I acquired a painful syndrome that they say will take a couple of years to unwind. It also triggered a former crisis. Let the good times roll.

Of course, I’m scared. Yes it troubles me, and yes, I’ve cried. Navigating pain is tricky business & each of these events makes me feel just a little bit or a lot bit, lost at times. There is a real aura of alone because I am in some ways, the least of which is that I have never met anyone who has my disease.

Not that I wish for someone else to have it for company.  It can stir up a weird head space though.  I’ve actually envied cancer patients.  They have so much support, myriad services and immediate sympathy.  And ready understanding.

Once I walked out of a private ‘washroom for disabled’ and a woman waved her cane and loudly castigated me, “You should know this room is for the disabled!”

I’d used the privacy to deal with a temporary drainage bag attached into my belly. I only stared at her, feeling indignant embarrassment as I brushed past her. I wish I would have said something to puncture her presumptions and I still can’t believe I didn’t…

That experience was too new for me to think fast enough.  Maybe.  Probably, I was drugged. I’d later considered wearing a scarf to cover my hair – chemo hair-loss style – whenever I was struck by the big ones. I eventually got over that and earned another level of psyche strength; I definitely don’t feel obligated to always explain myself anymore.

Which leads me toward the point of this post. Well, it will somewhere down the line.

Hindsight is 20/20 when measuring growth through adversity, but when awesome reader/friends, Rebekah Ingram & Randall Willis, zinged me with some gorgeous insight, there was an intriguing moment of ‘aha’!

Their views pointed me to observing the growth & changes in me as they are occurring. Maybe we call it 10/10 forevision. This means I’m paying attention to what’s going on in my feelings, body & spirit now, during these trials, rather than surviving and processing later.

Along with mom & dad flying across the country to hug & assist me, I believe applying this new aspect could, in some ways, help me heal a little faster.

It’s another work in progress, but I look forward to seeing what’s being brought to me and through me with this new process. I’ll start in gratitude to these friends for sharing their caring hearts at just the right time.

 

Pick a Hero, Any Hero, Even if it Turns Out To Be You

I thought I’d speak to another level of resolutions, as the idea of new beginnings for a new year gels for many. I’d originally posted this last spring, but I can’t help thinking the winds of change in progress means looking at the world and our place in it a little more – and that maybe helping people is in itself a full enough belief system…

It would be crushing to write another Dejah story.  Despite the privilege of being able to write about it, I wish there’d never been a Dejah Milne story in the first place.  At least not the way it had to be written because otherwise the right story would say that his mother, father, and sister are still able to hold him and hug him whenever they want.

They’d be able to laugh with him, instead of at videos of his silly fun from days not so long gone by.  They would be able to hear his ‘I love you too’s with his voice.  They’d get to be angry with him for messing up the house, or coming home too late, or maybe denting the car’s bumper.   I know they’d rather that kind of everyday eye-rolling frustration instead of coping with the anguish of his absence now, because at age 13 years, he wasn’t able to overcome the tumour that he’d carried for 10 years.

I don’t want to write those stories if it can be helped at all. I don’t know anyone who does. The problem is, that the problems that end with those stories aren’t finished yet.  There are so many issues that need someone to stand up for them and in support of the cavalcade of teams who work tirelessly to end them once, and honestly for all.

These are the teams of people who have been called, or sometimes brutally and harshly forced, at a spirit level, to take charge in the parts of life that are painful, agonizing, hideous, and terrifying.  That’s heroics.

They are thrown toward the front lines to take on the darkness for us.  They stand and push as far as they can to get answers to the challenges that debilitate or outright steal loved ones from us.  They strive to make our world better, easier, more livable.

They need little from anyone else when it’s all put into perspective.  They’ve already taken on the heavy end of the fight.  They’re slogging, sweating, bleeding, and crying so that the rest of us get to hang back and throw out what we are able, when we can even as, just like us, they still have to navigate the trials of everyday life.

They ask for our help, but not for things like go earn a science degree or a doctorate, or to put our lives on the line, or to organize any kind of effort beyond our ability.

Those calls are usually only pleas to be heard, for us to see what is happening, and they ask us to spend the least of what we wish to.  Then they call us ‘their heroes’ for giving that bit.

Let’s get real please; they aren’t really asking for our heroics.  They are asking us to share only a little of our resources to sustain their herculean efforts for our sake.

Charity Capture distorted 3It doesn’t matter how we acknowledge that they’ve been heard.  Spend your hour of time.  Send your $2, $20, or your $20,000,000 if you can. Send your willingness to walk, run, dance, fast, drive, stand, or create, but whatever you do, please do not ignore these direct calls to your own soul. This is the least we can do, literally.

Look, whatever we choose to support today is directly connected to whatever is to be resolved tomorrow and in the issues in the days after that.  Start by choosing one, any one cause that made you turn your face toward it for even a minute.   We can all help another mother, father, son, brother, daughter and sister not have to spend another day in fear and grief.  That’s kind of heroic, right?

RL

Because I Can…

people heart redSometimes, maybe a lot of times, we need to remember, or at least ponder, what this whole experience of life is supposed to be about.  We hear it all the time; it’s about love. It’s about helping one another.  It’s about lifting each other up when we’ve been pushed down by experiences too heavy to carry on our own.

Living this mindset to any great degree didn’t happen overnight for me nor did it come easy. My middle name is Macadamia, (look it up). It took a number of jarring incidents to make me stop and assess where I was heading and how. We call those incidents philosophical bricks.

Philosophical, schmilosophical – the solid OUCH of those bricks served to open my abilities to care beyond my immediate family needs and the occasional charity event. One clunker that demanded attention is a chronic health condition. When I’ve had to deal with acute phases of it or any other life crises, (I’m really good at getting those), I’ve had the honor of being taught time and time again how living up to life is actually demonstrated. As it turned out, it’s really not as hard as I once might have resentfully imagined.

Those who know me would likely say I’m a strong person.  I know I am.  If you haven’t been defeated by life’s bricks and kicks, you likely are, but there have been times when I’d been so far down, I’d have sworn I was at the end and I was good with that. Relieved even.

I wish I could say I pulled myself out of those periods of desolation by the straps of self-determination, but the truth is, the ball to real self-help really couldn’t have started rolling if I hadn’t first been shown the path via the hearts of my near and dear.

They weren’t the surgeons or psychologists or ministers.  They were the friends who came to me to talk, listen, and hold my hand while I cried. They shared their wisdom and their resources to nurse and support the basics of life.

At the worst of times, they managed to break through despair that was blocking my will to fight any more. They showed me how to breathe once again through those debilitating trials. They worked with great and gentle care to help me feel seen and heard.

Those acts of simple and generous kindnesses were teaching me how to be a better human being, even as I felt incapable of even existing. In the most exquisite and genuine ways, I learned how to act when life grabs a tight hold and demands immediate action for survival.

Compassion changes so many levels of pain. It infuses you with honest empathy. It changed me in ways that I hope never gets unchanged. They showed me how to get up and say, yes I can.

Yes, I can get through this day, pain, event. Yes, I can take time to tell someone I’m thinking of them. Yes, I can listen, yes I can cook a (barely edible) casserole for someone who can’t.  Yes, I can give a few dollars, even if it feels like I can’t afford to, yes I can help.  I can do all the things done for me and more. Yes, I can.

My ‘Yes, I Can’ mantra graduated to ‘Because I Can’.  For me ‘Yes, I can’ and ‘because I can’ means I am alive. I may be limited in talent or immediate resources, but I’m not limited in possibilities to demonstrate care.

It’s my sincere desire, maybe even an obligation, to live up to the promise, the truest meaning of life as so ably demonstrated by those loved ones I call heroes. ‘Yes, I can’ is more than a trite statement or a campaign slogan, it’s a way of life.

It’s not about becoming a saint or a world leader to do something that changes the world. You don’t even have to be a ‘good person’; if someone needs a hand, help them.  I’ll bet you’ll end up pretty happy too, and if not, then please be reasonable enough to settle for content. There are plenty of days in a life well-lived when that is more than enough.

RL

Originally Posted on

Someone to Watch Over Me…

It wasn’t a typical love story then and I suppose it’s not so much now either, at least not the kind we think about in this season of Valentine wishes and dreams.

broken flower 3jpgYou have to be this young to believe that you are this much in charge of life; that destiny has already been completely met.  To know that the only education you need to make your dreams come true is your own thoughts and a chat with your friends –  to be so heartbreakingly unaware of the precariousness  that will haunt even the babies to come.

She was a naive, pretty, eighteen year old small town girl who had no idea that so many of her dreams were going to turn into a lifetime of regrets.  She picked out her dream man, 20 years old, so very handsome and tall, and who held out to her a bouquet of the loveliest promises.

Not long after meeting, she became pregnant and it probably wasn’t much longer after that, that the first flower from that fragile bouquet fell.   The images her thoughts weaved for her future were simple, but meant everything – little home wrapped in the white picket fence of love, and lovely family dinners, family picnics and parties, and Christmas trees loaded with gifts.

She had intended so many occasions of wonderful for herself, and for me.  We were supposed to be that family that she envied in the movies, the love stories that she placed herself into in her favorite books, and in those images in Norman Rockwell paintings that confirmed how life was supposed to be. Sweet dreams sweet intentions.

They were slapped away brutally.  Literally.  He wasn’t ready for that dream.  Not at that time, not completely, maybe never.   He was more drawn to the calls of a wild party.  He had many more bottles to hoist up, and while he ‘owned’ her, he was nowhere near finished with his explorations of women.   Her resistance to ‘his way’ led to her learning that promises were only his dreams in the moment and they were nowhere near as real as those first black eyes.

I don’t know when I first heard or saw him hit her; I can remember that only from about age four.  I know that when it happened, I became very still as my heartbeat filled my ears.  I must have learned by then to make myself invisible.  The only way she could make herself invisible was to run away.   Some might say she didn’t learn how to do that right soon enough.

She did leave, many times, but somehow he would find her.  Us.  Sometimes her friends would tell him where we were; sometimes even her own brothers would sell her out during drunken party conversation or under threat.  Sometimes the loneliness and fear conquered her and she would call him herself.  She finally left for good when I was thirteen.

She didn’t leave her dreams though.  Not all of them anyway.  She still thought she could find that one good man. That’s how life was supposed to be.  Wasn’t that ever reinforced on every song on the radio, TV shows and magazine headlines?  So that’s what she pursued, even while the rest of her life was floating in a jumbled mess around her.

She had her share of boyfriends for some years, but no one could last for long.   They either owned their share of chaos and/or they couldn’t bear to deal with hers.  It would take years for the stars to align for her.  Maybe it was all the prayers she cried through to be delivered from that loneliness and to fill the need for someone to watch over her, because he came for her, finally.

It was not the typical script for a ‘let me rescue you’ love story.  He was just as messed up as she was, but somehow, eventually, this one wanted to get it together, with her, at the same time that she had reached her breaking point.

Somehow, armed only with whatever bit of guidance that was to come their way, they pushed through all the debris of their lives and rebuilt everything.  They did as best as they could, which turned out to be very well.  Their turned-around lives are far richer, and have lasted three times longer, so far, than their early trek over those fiery, alcohol-fueled coals.

Now she prays, hard and often, that her lessons of recovery from hell have been seen by her children, and their children, who learned all too well the modeled example of her youth.

Dreams do come true, but not from behind the wall of recriminations, isolated introspection, and avoidance.  The answers could be easy, but it’s still  work to carve out the road to them.  This can’t be any harder than it is to stay in pretension that all is well, to stay in hell.

I will pray that her prayers are answered for her. Again.

RL