Tag Archives: personal struggle

A Non-Moms View of Mother’s Day

My mother is fantastic!  I owe so many of the fabulous things that I am and have to her!  It has always been a blessing to call her mom and I’m so happy to celebrate her – today and every day. The truth, however, is that Mother’s Day is difficult and painful for me… because I am not a mom and never will be.

My beautiful mother!
My purty mother!

 

Mother’s Day is beautiful, and I always enjoy hearing the wonderful things friends and family share about the special women in their lives.  None of us would be here without a mom of our own – whether biological, extended family, adopted, chosen or unknown.  There are so many types of mothers in the world and a woman who has raised or nurtured a child in any way is an amazing sight to behold.  They multitask; practice phenomenal amounts of grace; act as caretaker, doctor, cook, maid, teacher, moral compass, friend, disciplinarian, cheerleader, counselor… The list, frankly, is too long to fit in a single post.  Suffice it to say – it’s an incredible job and undertaking!

Mothering has got to be the most difficult job!
Mothering has to be the most difficult job – mine excels at it!

 

However, every year when we celebrate and recognize that fantastic group of women – deservedly – there is a different group of women that suffer in silence.  These are the women that, for one reason or another,  should be mothers but are not.  These are the women that never found a mate to start a family with, endured miscarriages, experienced the pain of infertility, were dealt a life of poor health, are estranged from their children, were unable to adopt, or have given up their child into adoption.  These are women that had a family and lost their children through a divorce… Women that lost a child who ran away, was in an accident, was a victim of crime. These women *should* be mothers, but for myriad reasons are not.

I am one of these women.

“Mother”…  At one point, I couldn’t even say the word without a pang of desperation.  Each time I logged on to social media and looked at my friend’s adorable offspring, I had to quickly scroll past their pictures or run the risk of bursting into tears.  I wrote blog posts about the struggle.  Commercials, TV shows, movies, or families spending time together at the park or a festival I was attending, could send my emotions into a tailspin, and still sometimes do.  I recall painful Mother’s Day church services, hearing the pastor ask mothers to stand and be recognized, only to feel humiliated and empty, like less of a female, surrounded by all of the standing women in the motherhood club…  At times, I’ve held an infant or child in my motherless arms simultaneously being pulled in two directions – half of me honored and rejoicing with the parent letting me hold their precious baby… the other half ripping apart inside knowing that cuddly moment was fleeting and would end with me walking away as barren and childless as I was walking into the situation.  Just writing about it now brings tears to my eyes.

I know parenting isn’t easy and that there are probably times at least some wonder what in the hell they were getting themselves into.  I know individuals and couples that actively choose not to parent, for various reasons.  Still other men and women aren’t meant to parent or are not capable, and knowing that, give their child into adoption so that someone else may provide a life for it…  All people, at some point in their lives, question whether they should or should not have a family and I respect whatever decision they come to in their circumstances.  Please, just understand that it’s difficult for some of us because the decision may not have fully been in our control…

If I don’t come out on a play date with you and your children, it’s not because I don’t love you guys or want you to include me in your lives… If you’re talking about your kids and my eyes look a little red or my smile seems forced, it’s not because I’m not interested in hearing the stories you have to tell.  If you post a picture on social media and I don’t leave a comment or click “like”, it’s not that your family isn’t cute and worthy of a minute of my time.  No matter how I know you – I’m happily your friend, neighbor, family member, or colleague, and long to share in your life and the lives of the youngsters you adore… Just know that some days it’s more difficult to accept my situation, but despite that,  I don’t want you to stop sharing with me!  There are moments that the sting is a little sharper, but it has nothing to do with you – I promise!  Sometimes, my mommy instinct flag is just flying higher than usual.  On those days, there is a lump in my throat, an ache in my chest, and a noticeable emptiness to my arms merely because on Mother’s Day, and every other day, I simply long to be a part of your ranks.

me & mom vols game
I owe so much to this lovely woman!

 

Please be kind to one another, and please love all women in your life today!

Until next time – thanks for coming along on my journey…
~h

shaken – not stirred

light is gone
nimble fingers of darkness
chase its rushed retreat
leaving me

     no will
     no hope
     no breath
     no life

drenched in tears
and i am
stripped to the bone
peeled back
the layers of

     my mask
     my childhood
     my insecurities

     my love….

and all of the other waste
rises to the surface
waiting to be sloughed off
detritus of my soul

shaken – not stirred

~h

© 2016 findfocus.wordpress.com, Heather M. Tolley, All Rights Reserved

Words of the Past This Wednesday — Poetry From Years Ago

I’ve been working on new posts but have neglected to finish any recently. With that in mind, I went back to some old poems and pulled a few out that caught my eye for one reason or another.  I’m rather undecided about whether or not I think they’re “good”, but still, there is something about most of them that appeals to me.  Here is an untitled piece that is at least 15 years old… Hope you enjoy!

full moon

Closing sunset’s door
night creeps in without offering a candle.
Imprisoning me with the stench of desperation…
it wraps its charred fingers around my throat
and chokes out any hint of light
remaining in my dismal room.

Lulling me with its siren song
the twilight offers a flicker – a flame.
Through the warped and greasy lens of age
I glimpse one last vestige of an ambient dawn
exultant and guileless –
like cartwheels in the sun…

The mirage falters and fades
burning my retinas for the briefest moment
in its glorious jubilation.
And then night returns –
creeping into each far corner
and extinguishing the beacon of my memory
leaving cold oppression
in this claustrophobic room.

 

~h

 

 

© 2016 findfocus.wordpress.com, Heather M. Tolley, All Rights Reserved

No Solicitation

This incessant noise, thoughtless chatter
is so abysmally abrasive…
It peels the soft insulation off this
pasteurized conversation.
It’s probably ‘a drop in the bucket’,
just a whisper in the void…
If you change your angle, change your tune
evasive action is deployed.

Lower your standard, raise your octave
– stutter “once upon a time” –
When you close your eyes to the greed of need
it’s bound to feel sublime.
Why trouble yourself with a quiet plea
from a desperate, vagrant voice?
Your memoirs are much too important, you know,
and your ignorance more so a choice.

So you stuff your face with the vestiges of
compassion you claim to purport.
Consumer lives are flashy – the rage –
buy the t-shirt to show your support.
Never notice my pain or my silent tears
is this how meaningful I should be?
My words packed away – they’ve no power here…
That voice that you stifled was me.

No solicitation

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

~h

This is My Body on Exercise… Or, Risks of Exertion as an ME/CFS Patient

When there are days you have to sit down to rest after taking a shower, exercise can prove next to impossible. It can really be a pain in the… well, it’s painful. We’ll just leave it at that for now.

ffacd0264c073d8bc7c4ce5a70f46cd3
Exercise is important to a healthy lifestyle and a healthy body.  It can lift spirits, provide immunity support, strengthen and tone, and keep everything in good working order… But what happens if exertion is the very thing that makes your body sicker?  The thing that is capable of completely incapacitating you?  Welcome to living in a body run by ME/CFS (myalgic encephalomyelitis / chronic fatigue syndrome).  This is my nightmare.

Before I got sick, I belonged to a local gym and enjoyed going 4-5 times a week.  There was a yoga class I loved, a spin class I was finally getting good at, weights that were toning muscles I had forgotten were there, and a cardio room that I used to meet my sister-in-law in so we could use the elliptical machines together.  It wasn’t always easy to go and sometimes I skipped, but I tried to make make it a priority on my schedule.

Fast forward to the present.  My body has undergone quite a few changes in the passing years.  Harboring several different health issues and a humdinger of a coupla chronic illnesses, the gym has become a thing of the past.  Almost like a fairy tale I made up to amuse myself.  It’s been almost seven years since my ME/CFS diagnosis, and a couple of those have felt like the longest years of my life.

What most people don’t understand is how I can usually look fine on the outside while saying I’m so sick on the inside.  Typically, I look pretty healthy.  A little tired, perhaps.  Certainly carrying more weight than I should and than I used to… In general, however, I look like your neighbor or your sister or someone you would pass at your gym.  Meanwhile, the inside of my body is a wreck.  And one of the main things unseen is how it can take every bit of energy I have to make you believe I feel as well as I look.  *sigh*  It’s something of a curse, at times, because people with ME/CFS have to spend a great deal of time trying to convince people that they really are illEven though some are extremely ill.

A bad day with my puppy protector. I could not handle any outside noise that day so I had to wear ear plugs, my head was pounding so I was using an ice pack, but my body temperature was lower than normal and wouldn't regulate, so I was covered with two blankets. *sigh*
A bad day with my puppy protector. I couldn’t handle much noise that day so I was wearing earplugs, my head was pounding, hence the ice pack, but my body temperature was lower than normal and wouldn’t regulate, so I also had two blankets covering me. *sigh*

 

Please believe that I am not lazy!  I wish my body was cooperative.  I wish I could exercise like people tell me I should.  The truth is, everything goes haywire if I push too hard.  If you have to sit and rest after washing a sink of dishes, you’re probably not at your healthiest… And while I am MUCH healthier than severe ME/CFS patients, it’s nowhere near the person I was.  (For an absolutely heartbreaking look at what severe ME/CFS can look like, please read this recent article from The Washington Post about Whitney Dafoe.)  Some patients can’t leave their homes – others are confined to their beds.  It’s a blessing not to be stuck in bed, and a continuous source of gratitude to know I am not housebound.  I walk as often as possible, manage to work 20 hours a week, and still have enough energy at times to go out with friends and family to a movie or restaurant.  Heck, when all the stars are perfectly aligned, I might even manage a short hike!

hiking boots

 

What I would ask you to know, however, is that it comes at a price.  When a reasonably fit, healthy person hits the trails or goes for a run they might have sore muscles after an intense workout, but they can get back out and do it again within a day or two.  For someone living with ME/CFS, exertion of any kind (physical, mental, emotional) can lead to days, weeks or even months of recovery time.  In some cases, overexertion is the reason a mild or moderately ill patient ends up permanently bedridden.  It’s a terrifying tightrope to walk.  Never knowing what a few extra minutes of walking might do.  Never knowing if too much housework in a day will put you in bed for weeks.  Living under that black cloud of uncertainty is its own form of mental exhaustion.  My body doesn’t react to activity like it should.  Sometimes walking from the bedroom to the kitchen causes such oxygen deprivation that I have to lean against the counter until my breath comes normally again.  There are days I may manage to get to a hiking trail, only to discover a quarter-mile in that my heartbeat has become increasingly erratic, that I’m staggering because my equilibrium is way off, or that my body temperature won’t regulate and I’m sweating profusely despite the cold or shivering despite the heat.  I’ll confess – there are times I’ve had to sit down in the aisle of a store or abandon a cart full of groceries simply because my legs became so weak that I couldn’t stand anymore.  It has come down to making the decision to finish a task or have enough strength to drive home.  It’s frightening to be okay one moment and find yourself helpless the next… Every system of my body revolts, sometimes at a moment’s notice, and there is nothing I can do but ride it out.  So many random symptoms might attack – chest pains, missed heartbeats, brain fog – just to name a few…  There are so many severe potential risks to being active that, if I’m not having a good day to begin with, it really isn’t worth taking a chance.

Other times, however, I do risk it.  To enjoy the outdoors, to feel like I have a life, to maintain some independence… I tell you all these things so you know the effort and energy it takes, and so you can be a bit gentle with me, or anyone else you know with ME/CFS.  I would also ask, however, that you remember sometimes we dare to dream… we dare to take the chance.  There are some things in life that are worth it.  By asking you to understand, I’m saying you’re probably one of them..  🙂

 

One of my favorite things to do when there *is* leftover energy is to get outside and hit the trails.
One of my favorite things to do when there *is* leftover energy is to get outside and hit the trails.

 

 

As always, thank you for reading!
~h

 

Choose Kindness & Compassion This Season

Don't Confuse Bad Days for Weakness

Pain has a language all its own.  Pain and suffering mark time differently. Pain is voracious and consuming.  Pain comes in many shapes and forms.

Do you ever struggle with pain?  Not just the physical kind – although that can definitely stop you in your tracks!  I mean “pain” in general. Physical, mental, emotional… Each type is equally draining in a way.  Equally clarifying to an extent.  And each takes a toll on the person wearing it around day after day.

I’ve been thinking about suffering quite a bit today.  Marveling at the way it is able to barge in and command the attention of the most seasoned warrior.  Considering the capability it has to lay waste to all things bright and shining in a person’s life.  In any of its forms and afflictions, pain can potentially devour the stoutest heart…

The past few days have been an arduous test of inner strength and coping for me.  My pain scale is out of whack compared to the norm, I think, so I won’t try to assign it a number.  Let’s just say it has been ‘up there’.  It’s nothing new and certainly something I’m usually adept at dealing with, but now and then it manages to make me want to stop in my tracks and curl up on the floor.  That is typically the case when I’m in pain AND my empathy meter is in the red as I watch someone I care about suffering in their own private misery.

Having what is considered an “invisible illness“, I’m used to looking one way on the outside and feeling the complete opposite within.  It’s actually a challenge I accept daily to put on a brave face and downplay my pain or symptom flares.  Wearing that mask may not always be the best choice as it makes it more difficult for people to understand when the cracks start showing… They thought everything was fine – I seemed like I felt okay!  It also increases the ‘invisibility’ sometimes.

 

don't look sick

 

People are fearlessly and tirelessly inconsiderate when lacking in proper information and understanding.  There are a lot things that chronically ill people don’t want to hear – believe me, I’ve heard them all – but when you mask pain all the time, I guess it goes without saying that sometimes others won’t know anything at all about the private war being waged inside.

I’ve been in a lot of pain lately… although most people probably haven’t noticed anything amiss.  I prefer to keep it that way, for the most part, but I can’t help but want to reach out healing hands to all the other people I know in similar situations even when I know they’re trying to hide behind a carefully constructed façade of “FINE”.  I have loved ones struggling daily with physical ailments, psychological anguish, mental illness… They each go through bouts of misery and torment and I would offer them all a restorative potion if I could.  This post isn’t about that, however. It’s about something much smaller in the grand scheme of things.

This post is about the responsibility we each have to offer support and healing to those around us.

There is so much negativity and hate in the world.  Everyone you see is dealing with some sort of struggle that has probably taken root in the center of their lives – consuming, ravaging them from the inside out.  Just because you can’t see someone’s anguish does not mean that it is not there.  Just because you have struggles and trials of your own does not absolve you from being considerate of others marching along in their own grief and pain.

I’m not here to judge.  But please remember that not all disabilities are visible to the naked eye.  Not all pain is readily ascertained on a scale of 1 to 10…. And, unfortunately, not all hurts are healed with a kiss and a Band-Aid.  Although that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.

My challenge to you, during this most festive and generous season of the year, is to reach out to someone who might need a friend.  Someone that might need a shoulder to cry on, a companion to sit with, a confidante to vent to, or a caring hand to carry their groceries to the car.  Take time to assess your own needs and care for yourself, absolutely!  But bless yourself further by taking a moment to be the light in someone else’s day, as well.  What may seem a small gift to you could be the greatest present of all in their eyes, and just because you are not aware of the impact of your actions doesn’t mean you shouldn’t choose them with care and compassion each day.

And if *you* are the one that has been beaten down to the point of lying curled up on the floor, please remember that people love you.  People care.  There are those that would give whatever they have to bring you joy and relief.  But most of all, remember that YOU are stronger than you give yourself credit for.  I don’t have to know you to say that I believe in you… and I hope you won’t give up the fight.

i can do it

 

~h

kept in hand

It’s easy to say I won’t cry
but I will.
And you knew that – you must know me too well, but still…
In denial, I thought it was all kept in hand.
My perception was off –
you must understand…

So I’m here in that place where
I swore not to be.
Waiting for you … seems you’ve left without me.
And my suitcase is full
with my baggage so heavy
thought I’d built up a dam – it was only a levee.

The water is deeper than my skills were prepared…
All this weight counterbalanced
is making me scared.
But this flood will recede
and you’ll do what you must…
Then I’ll quietly blow on away with the dust.

After serving my purpose, after serving my time.
I’m a figment of passion –
I’m the victim, the crime.
And your gaze moves past me
in this silence of space…
With no words I’m effectively
back in my place.

~h

Know What I Meme?

Do you enjoy seeing a funny meme pop up on your social media thread?  Reading a meaningful one, perhaps, that inspires or challenges you?  On the off-chance that you’re not familiar with what a “meme” is (Don, I’m looking at you!), let me give you a quick introduction.  A meme (rhymes with team) is “an idea, behavior, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture”.  The most common modern example is in the form of internet memes – usually funny, cute images with a witty saying or quote.  They’re engaging and entertaining, and occasionally they offer a more in-depth observation about life and the human condition.

A close friend of mine posted a meme on social media yesterday and it has been on my mind ever since.  It expresses the fear that people don’t actually like you and just tolerate you hoping you’ll leave them alone.  (Notice I said a close friend posted this.  If they find their way here and read this, I have to urge them — please know you have no reason to fear.  You are genuinely cared about – not merely tolerated – and an asset and joy to many!)

"I havea a massive fear that no one actually likes me, rather everyone is just politely tolerating me hoping I will leave them alone."

What was instantly ironic for me, upon seeing this meme, is that I had recently expressed a very similar fear in more traditional communication.  It’s something many people might think but don’t necessarily say.   Either way, the words with this image portray a deeply guarded secret I’ve carried in my heart for a long time.

Most of my acquaintances would probably agree I’m fairly positive and try to keep an upbeat attitude.  Those that know me more substantially, however, are aware that sometimes that face is an act.  I am embarrassingly sensitive, and that sensitivity, in fact, can breed and amplify negative things…  There are days I struggle with depression and crippling insecurities that necessitate wearing a public persona so no one knows the things I keep inside.   Days when my faith wavers and bends like grass in the wind.  Try as I might, I can’t always keep the fears at bay… One of the greatest of which, is that I am not only unloved but that I am, in fact, unlovable.

Positivity has not always been easy for me.  When younger, I was actually quite abusive to myself.  Self-deprecation was a foreign language I studied and mastered (and still speak to this day), and I would continually compare myself to unrealistic beauty standards (which I still manage to do).  I was also physically cruel to myself in this pattern of self-destructive.  My eating habits were not normal and I would briefly deny myself food as a form of self-control and discipline… and perhaps the worst – I went through a period of time when I self-harmed.  I was a “cutter”.

There’s still enough shame in admitting that fact that I almost want to delete most of the last paragraph.  Part of my mind whispers, however, that perhaps the admission will help someone else one day so I should leave it out there for people to see.

amazing how much long sleeves and a fake smile can hide

“Cutting” typically involves making scratches or cuts on your body with some sort of sharp object until you bleed…  I’m sure several people close to me know I went through a couple of difficult times and still bear a few scars as witness.  To the great majority this will be a surprise, though, as I took great pains to hide the fact and my smile stayed fairly constant on my “public” face.  Those who have never had this sort of tendency may not ever understand.  To people who have self-harmed, self-medicated or engaged in any other self-destructive behavior, I probably don’t need to explain any further.  For me, it was a way to deal with all of the things I had no control over – such as feeling unworthy and unlovable.  The pain I created for myself, however briefly, overshadowed the pain inflicted by life, and the endorphins released offered a false sense of peace for a short time after.  In the end, it was more damaging than helpful and I wish I could go back in time and tell myself that now…  (*Please see notes at the end of this post!*)

Seeing people post images or quotes on social media that echo the turmoil and heartache I felt during those chaotic years bring back a lot of memories.  The majority are not good, but there are lessons learned from the mess those years left.  One of the most important, for me, is the idea that I will always be flawed, I will always be “broken” in a multitude of ways… Yet, those facts do not make me unlovable.  They merely make me human and make up the sum of who I am.  I’ve spent a large part of my life believing people don’t actually like me, and that they could not – would not – love me if they could see all the damage and darkness in my soul.  The truth is much kinder, thank goodness, than my vicious inner voice… The truth is that we all have struggles and dark times. We all have concerns and inescapable fears buried deep within the shadows of our hearts.  Despite the flawed, imperfect parts of us, we are all deserving and capable of being loved.  The flavor and depth of fear is different for each of us, but I doubt I’m alone when I think people merely tolerate my presence until they can escape.  That does not mean that it’s true… However, if I continue to fall back on a lifetime of self-destructive patterns, it makes it seem plausible.

amy bloom

So what to do?  I wish I knew the answer and could share it freely with you.  The best I can offer, I think, is a glimpse into what helps *me* with this struggle.  Try to find positive things to be grateful for every day.  Joy breeds joy and whatever you fill yourself with is going to multiply, so do try to treat yourself with kindness!  More importantly, however is being present in life… One of the most empowering things I do is take risks and learn from possible rejection.  It makes it sound easier than it is, to be sure, but nothing wonderful is gained without first taking a bit of a risk.  John A. Shedd wrote, “A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.”  There is something beautiful and true in that simple sentiment.  As humans, love, I believe, is the very essence of who we are – our very nature.  It would be easy to avoid rejection and pain by staying safe at port, but it is not truly how we’re built… And while we may not always be fully loved in return, those that do love and value us usually make that sentiment known in their words and actions.  The trick, reader, is to teach your heart to trust that it is true.

let-someone-love-you-as-flawed-as-you-are

Love one another, dear friends, and be kind…

 

~h

 

 

 

*** PLEASE NOTE:  Regardless of my past, I DO NOT endorse self-injury or harm and highly recommend that anyone considering it or doing  anything of the sort, please find someone you trust and reach out to them!  Please don’t use this pretend therapy of creating new wounds in an effort to heal old – it WILL. NOT. WORK.  If you can’t talk to someone you know, check out any number of available websites such as this one, this one, or this one.

 

Being Brave & Other Seemingly Impossible Pursuits

Last week I wrote a post about an issue that, throughout most of my life, has hurt and plagued me.  Weight. More specifically, my weight and how society, in general, views those that don’t conform to certain standards of beauty. On the surface it was an open letter to a gentleman that gawked at the size of my posterior (in a mean, prejudicial way), but underneath it was a message about acceptance.

After the post went up I received several lovely comments and messages from people who were moved or impacted by what I wrote… There are quite a few marvelous people in my life, so it shouldn’t surprise me that any number of them took the time to read my words and reach out to me in support.  You never know, though.  Sometimes is feels I fling these messages out into the ether and no one is aware of their existence. My voice is infinitesimal in the grand scheme of things, after all, so even a couple of views feels like a home run!

Of the many kind comments extended, one, in particular, was especially meaningful to me. It came from someone I deeply admire and respect, someone who knows me well enough to read all the nuances of that blog post while not being close enough to lose objectivity. He reached out to me in an intelligent and witty rejoinder and wrote something that meant more than most any comment I’ve received on this blog.  (You know who you are, and if you are reading this please accept my apology for not being able to properly convey how much gratitude I feel for your generous words!)  Not only did he think my writing was beautiful (words *any* writer, no matter how amateur or seasoned loves to hear), but he told me I was brave.

Brave.

Courageous. Valiant. Bold. Gutsy.

Fearless.

One of my mantras this year has been to try to approach life with less fear. I have even toyed with the idea of a tattoo to forever remind me of this philosophy. It’s not that I have lacked courage or conviction in the past. It’s not that I haven’t gone out of my comfort zone to accomplish something that was merely a hope or a dream. My nature, however, is to seek perfection and fear anything less. Often, in the past, that fear has paralyzed me. Kept me from goals I could have accomplished. Prevented me from fully pursuing passions or aspirations. I have been frozen in place by fear and allowed self-doubt and negativity to keep me from doing things I might otherwise do. Because I was not brave…

"You must do the thing you think you cannot do."

Bravery is difficult. It’s painful at times. Going out into the world determined to valiantly confront whatever comes your way does not automatically mean success. It is not a given. There is a Latin Proverb (perhaps originating from Virgil?) that states, “Fortune favors the brave.” (Or, one more literal translation, “Fortune helps the daring.”) According to myth, Fortuna, the Goddess of luck, is more likely to help those that take risks. My experience in the real world proves that this is sometimes false. Fortune does not necessarily favor the brave or help the daring. In spite of that, I believe it is true that success is *not* merely a matter of luck. Going out into the world bravely does seem to tilt the odds more in one’s favor…

 

"Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts."

So, this year was about chances. Taking greater risks. Trying to stare fear in the face and simply, be brave. Remembering, even in the midst of my fear, that failure is not fatal…  In some respects, I feel I’ve made tremendous strides and dared more than I normally would. In other respects, it appears there is still a long way to go. As I try to redefine who I am and how I face the world, it is amazing and humbling to discover that someone out there actually noticed and took the time to tell me they thought that I was brave.

The Most(ly) Wonderful Time of the Year

The end of a year marks a period of reflection and planning for some. A pause to evaluate all that has occurred, a time for introspection to take stock of how the year has changed you, an inventory of the blessings and struggles faced over the past 365 days, usually capped off by ideas and promises made in secret or aloud about the ways that the next 52 weeks will be an improvement.

2014 sucked. I’ve spent the last week or so trying to come up with a message full of hope and positivity with only good things to say about 2014, but each time I sat down to write it the words wouldn’t come. That sort of fa-la-la-la-la wasn’t true, from my perspective, and it felt forced and inauthentic to extol the virtues of a year that brought joy, yes, but served next to a huge steaming pile of crap. So. How to write in such a way that it was honest and raw about the pain while still conveying the gratitude I felt each time I was presented with blessings that are still abundant…? The answer is in the question. Just. Write. Honestly.

When here for my last post I was at a low place and thought, incorrectly, that the fates would have pity and the tide would turn bringing joyful balance to the year. In the 8+ months prior I had lost two jobs; tried to come to terms with letting go of the dream of children; said goodbye, from many states away, to a grandfather I had not been able to spend any significant and meaningful time with in over a decade; attended several funerals within a couple of months, one of which was for one of my oldest and dearest friends (only 41 years old!) and the loss of which still reduces me to tears; watched helplessly as some family and loved ones endured heartbreaking circumstances and illness; and struggled to be supportive of my husband through exceedingly long hours and pain… all while dealing with my own physical limitations. The past couple of blog entries have even touched upon most of these issues, whether briefly or in much more intimate detail. The world is full of sorrow and strife, however, and untold numbers of people deal with pain and adversity much greater than mine, so I tried to quit my whining and march forward with new resolve. By the middle of October I was beginning to think that life, while certainly not without lows, had at least stabilized to a baseline average. I was so wrong…

At the beginning of November my husband was rear ended in a collision on his way to work one morning. The 8 weeks since have been some of the toughest we’ve ever faced. He has physically been unable to work, reducing our income to $0 (I’m two jobs down, remember?) and his pain has been quite fierce. We dumped everything from savings into our checking account, praying it would see us through until the doctors gave him consent to return to his job, and began to face our mailbox with trepidation rather than indifference. Each bill that came in was another hit to our finances and each week we incurred new debt with trips to doctors and specialists. The physical and emotional toll has been wearisome, but the psychological has exacted its own form of torture. In the midst of all of that, we discovered that I have a cardiac arrhythmia that likes to make itself felt throughout my chest, and that brought a new level of anxiety… Particularly since the friend lost in January might have passed away due to complications with an arrhythmia. *sigh* The holiday season was in full swing, but seemingly overnight we became Ebenezer Scrooge and the Grinch all rolled into one!

Christmas is usually, for me, one of the most wonderful times of the year. I love wandering around stores while Christmas music is playing, giving gifts that I’ve found or created, spending time with family, decorating and wrapping presents, finding ways to bless others as I’ve been blessed… This year had none of those things. Being surrounded by consumerism when I had no money to spend pushed me to tears more than once, neither of us felt the least bit “Christmas-y” at all, and dear hubby and I were afraid of wasting gas on unnecessary trips out making us hermits. It was the least holly jolly holiday we had spent together since we met, and that’s saying a lot considering some of the hardships we’ve faced… It is incredibly humbling and heartbreaking to find out my spirit is capable of shattering that easily!

When friends posted pictures on social media with their lovely trees, happy smiles and brightly colored packages, my chest would ache and a lump would form in my throat. The selfish creature inside would scream, “This isn’t fair!” Like life ever is… So, rather than be pessimistic party poopers throughout the season of joy, we hung around like a sequestered jury of two – separate from the world, in a tiny depressed bubble with a separate reality.  Our world shrunk considerably and a fun night out consisted of visiting the local discount grocery store to find a side dish for something fished out of our deep freezer. When you’re using powdered milk because you can’t justify buying fresh, you know money has gotten tight. It’s true that Christmas is not about any of the things I was missing – my heart knew that all along – but it was a constant struggle with my nature to adjust to the changes we faced. It took a little convincing, but my head finally got with the program realizing, as Dr. Seuss so cleverly pointed out, “Maybe Christmas … doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.”

So began the transformation of my thinking.
monkey bars

Had I not spent much of this year pushing back against negativity and darkness? Where was my positive attitude now? Did it disappear under the onslaught of circumstances we seemed destined to endure? No! Burdens might have followed us throughout 2014 – that side of crap I was referring to earlier – but I didn’t have to let them bury me alive. Even in the midst of a storm there is beauty to behold and gratefulness to be had. If anything, I was the one burying things. Burying my joy when the two of us had a good day with less pain, denying the small pleasures of the sun on my face and the abundance of time I had been given with my husband who had been working 60-70 hours each week. I was offered a job, that may not offer any real hours for several months, but will ultimately be wonderful and fulfilling… We still had heat, light and food, love enough to warm up the grinchiness that tried to overtake us, and riches that money never could’ve purchased anyway. It is only in darkness that we can fully see the light… and I didn’t have to close my eyes to the light.  It’s inevitable that each of us will fall, be knocked down and know strife, but how we choose to handle it is really what sets us each apart from the other. My life is already full to the brim with physical problems I have no way to control – that will never have to mean that I should choose to play the victim. This year has scarred and beaten me down, but isn’t the only real question whether or not to rise again?  How to do that when all of the past year had such a hold??  “Let it go, let it go!”  Maybe that movie Frozen had it right all along…

maya angelou quoteIf you had some tough times in 2014, let it go and move forward…  Face all of the hard times that come your way with grace. Be safe and start the year with joy and hope. Begin anew with love. Don’t lose sight of all the things you have, even when something is lost, and give thanks. Being grateful is a choice we make each day, and sometimes only by changing our grumbles into gratitude do we remember that the troubles we face are as transient as everything else. It sounds sappy and sweet like a Pinterest picture, but it’s true. Find the joy in every day, distance yourself from negativity – make the choice of gratitude. Time is not unlimited and there may never be another chance or do-over, so make 2015 the best you can!

So. Here we are at the end of one and the beginning of another.  My choice is to end AND begin the same as I wrapped up my last post – the same way Uncle Stevie (Stephen King) wrapped up the story story Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption… With hope.

“Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.”

beach rainbow

xoxo & best wishes for the new year~
h