Things change: Welcoming 2016

A couple of weeks ago I was feeling like I might never recover from the after-effects of a large abscess I had removed from the nape of my neck at the beginning of September. The reminder kept repeating: All things change.

Sure enough, things have changed. Yesterday I was able to visit the beach with my husband and daughter. Ōkahu Bay in central Auckland, to be exact. Before we made it down to the bay, we stopped and ate dinner (I enjoyed super-crunchy hot chips) at the back of the Michael Joseph Savage Memorial park, overlooking a wide sweep of ocean.

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That’s my daughter in the photo, hop-skip-jumping. Her enthusiasm made me consider that this is how I wish to greet 2016; with joy and fearlessness. Or, at least less fear.

There are things I’m working on, things I wish to change about myself. What I’ve learned this year is that often the process of successfully changing something isn’t at all what I originally expected it to be. A lot of the change process relies on me ceding control; which feels seriously counter-intuitive (and often petrifying).

I’ve also learned that the main block to me showing more kindness is a deep-seated fear that if I do I’ll be taken advantage of, or trodden over (in all honesty – ‘annihilated’). The tough, in-control, no-nonsense persona is armour that protects me from strangers, acquaintances, friends, loved ones, and my own sense of vulnerability.

During 2016 I wish to reach out more. I’ll take chances with my heart, and trust that I’m building the skills to deal with any uncomfortable or painful consequences. This contracted heart is tired and wants to let go.

2015 is the first year I can recall that I’m not just glad to see the back of. It seems strange now, but I used to reach the end of every year and mentally trash-can the whole thing before wearily eyeing up the new one; dreading all the cruel and unusual punishment it was likely to bring me.

Wow. Quite a statement – but that was my life. No wonder I was struggling to continue living it.

I was more here during 2015, and a lot of beauty emerged. It felt safer, fecund, and I can look back and say (with a smile and a nod) ‘I’ll take it’; the whole bang lot.

Thank you 2015. You have been a great teacher.

Greetings New Year. I open my heart to you.

 

May we all greet the New Year with openness. 

 

Best wishes everybody.

 

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An intention

 

For a while now I’ve had something playing on my mind.

I live with a lot of fear – so I  analyse… categorise… red flag… in an attempt to mitigate the deep rooted sense that people are going to harm me and/my loved ones.

The thing is, this anxiety didn’t come from nowhere. Some people are out to get others. I’ve known a few such people – and others create serious harm by way of unconscious action (I could be included in this).

I don’t want to live with this fear any more, and I especially don’t want to transmit it to my daughter.

So here I set a new intention:

I intend to release my delusion of control, and will cease unnecessarily analysing the motives of others; instead living my life in a way that fosters joy.

 

That’s a big shaky step of intent right there; but it’s time.

When I find myself analysing, judging, labelling – I will gently ask myself “What are you afraid of, Ro?”, and attend to my fears instead.

 

May we be free of fearfully judging others.

 

 

 

 

Loved

 

It’s just after 7pm in New Zealand, Christmas Day 2015. A short while ago I woke from a blissful nap here on my bed in the lounge. The house was silent. For some time I laid back, enjoying the play of light on the walls.

You know what is different about this Christmas Day?

I feel loved.

I’m entirely without any family of origin – and finally I feel loved.

Inside, outside, all around.

 

Best wishes for all xx

 

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Abandonment and self compassion

 

In the past week or so, I’ve received a couple of Christmas cards from extended family (none of whom I’ve heard from in at least 14 months).

I guessed these cards where possibly sent at the behest of my mother. No ill feelings towards my relatives; in fact I hold love for them – but in order to keep myself safe I will not respond.

These days, I try to look at the facts of things instead of imagining they are how I’d ideally like them to be. The relationships with my family of origin caused me so much pain that I nearly ended my own life. This current situation is potentially one of life or death for me; which is why I hold the responsibility of acting cautiously. Ideally, I would like to be so healed and so wise that nothing could touch me – but I’m not; and stuff can.

Family of origin wounds seem to fall into a category all of their own. I wonder how they’d be described in a medical journal, if the intangible were made physical?

Today upon checking my bank balance I noticed it was not as I expected it to be. A quick scan of the recent deposits, and I realised that my mother had put $200 in the account. I sent it straight back to her, making sure there was nothing written in any of the reference/code boxes. A simple, clean, transaction.

I became anxious. Eventually I decided to close my eyes and check out what my thoughts and emotions were up to. Conscious of my suffering in the moment, I started by stroking one hand with the other and expressing that I understood how anxious I felt and how I felt knocked off kilter. After a time of silent contemplation, I wrote down my findings:

 

My mother sending through $200 the way she did, feels like a tangible abdication of her responsibility.

It feels like the act is all about her; her feeling good for giving money to her granddaughter, her feeling as though she’s ‘done something’ for us at Christmas, her being able to tell people how kind she was to us and securing sympathy off them (whilst gaining validation and further undermining me by expressing concern about my mental state).

Possibly. Possibly that stuff is true. My mother is aware that I do not accept money from people who have abused me, and I’ve previously returned money she sent through. My mental state has also been a topic of hushed, martyrly discussions between her and other family members. 

If my mother wanted to perform an act truly for my husband, daughter, and me, she would start by looking inward – at how to heal herself and by extension her relationship with me (initially).

Then she might send me a letter. Not pitifully debasing herself, no; a letter in which she’d state with confidence and strength that she’s facing the truth of her past actions and inactions. She’d describe how she’s healing herself, and that she hopes one day she might be able to apologise to me in person… we could take things slow and see how our relationship might develop from there.

My mother would express true comprehension of my pain and how she contributed to it. She would state that she endeavours to change things around, and never hurt me like that again.

All this requires true effort, intent, and commitment though. All this requires understanding that other human beings also have feelings. All this requires knowing about love.

Instead, my mother ‘flicked’ (as she used to say) $200 through to my bank account – bypassing anything of meaning, anything with sincerity. 

The $200 feels like an abandonment.

I’ve been emotionally abandoned by her my entire life, truth be told. This is the mother of my childhood who I can only describe as a ‘ghost’; seeing but not seeing, hearing but not hearing, knowing but not knowing.

It’s painful to see the truth with clarity, and accept it. My mother was never capable of giving me what I deeply needed from her. She possibly never will be.

 

As I find my way back to centre, I’m conscious that all those things I needed (and still need) from my mother; I must give to myself. This is one of my primary endeavours now, for life. I will not abandon myself.

 

May my mother find peace.

May I find peace.

May we all find peace.

 

 

 

 

My limitations – Your limitations

Just recently, I’ve chosen to employ people to carry out bi-weekly home cleaning and lawnmowing services.

This was a ‘make-it-work’ scenario. Debt will be paying for the services for 12 months until our financial situation is set to change. At some point I chose to go ahead with this plan for the sake of our (increasingly stressed out) family.

My husband would have denied the need for such services, because he thinks he ‘should’ be able to do the jobs himself. The fact is, he can’t. He works full time, is the only driver and cook in the family, and is a person who needs plenty of downtime. 

My mother was someone who seemed constantly on the move. Work work work. She didn’t let herself rest and unwind – and heaven forbid anybody else should ‘indulge’ themselves in such a way.

Self-indulgent and lazy; that is what I was taught a person is if they do not busy themselves from dawn until after dusk. So I foisted unreasonable expectations upon myself as well as others. Sadly, my husband has borne the brunt of it over the years. My mother used to regularly roll her eyes about his ‘idleness’ – I mindlessly took up the same attitude towards him.

Now I am starting to set things right.

My husband has limitations, as all of us do. He has his own needs. I won’t shame him for it anymore. Regardless of how difficult our situation is, how limited my physical capabilities are, and how much I might ‘need’ the house clean and the lawns mown… my husband’s needs remain. My needs do not trump his. 

Yesterday he returned home to a clean house and freshly mown lawns. At first he was shocked and worried; perhaps even a little insulted. I explained that I’ve decided to engage these services around the home, for the sake of everybody in the family. We could all do with a little less weight on our shoulders.

I sensed my mother sitting here in the room with me, rolling her eyes: “We all know that the true reason you need the help is because he’s lazy, though. Lazy, lazy, lazy. Look at me! You don’t see me stopping work when there’s still a job to be done.”

The sensation of my mother’s presence was almost palpable in that moment. But instead of smirking to myself, thinking I’d ‘got one over’ my lazy husband by having him agree to the assistance – my heart softened. I looked at this man who works so hard for the family, is reliable, and always steps up in the most tricky situations; and I felt a deep sincerity in my words… along with a deep love and compassion for him.

My husband does deserve some of the weight to be lifted from his shoulders. After I explained my reasoning, he seemed relieved and happy about the help we’ll be receiving from now on.

I’ve taken another small step towards setting things right; towards becoming the kind of life partner my husband needs and deserves.

The more I reflect, the more I see that I’ve created a lot of pain in our relationship over the years. My mother lives with an inherent distrust/hatred of men – and I let her dictate the kind of wife I would be. On some level, I believe my mother used my marriage as a simulation of her own – in a psychic sense, she was seeking revenge on my father by having me hurt my own husband.

I’ve previously explained a little about the dynamic I experienced with my mother… how nothing was real until she made it so. I was a puppet waiting for her to animate me in whichever way she chose. Back then, I was totally in the dark. I was acquisitioned by my mother so early on, that I had no concept of what it would mean to live my own life.

I am the one who harmed my marriage though. Whether through ignorance or not, I did it – and so it is my responsibility to look deeply into the ways I have harmed my husband, and then prove via my actions that I truly love, respect and value him; as an individual with his own limitations, needs, and all.

It seems the only reason I’m starting to notice my intolerance towards my husband’s limitations is because I first began attending to my intolerance of my own limitations. I started with kindness towards myself, and from there it naturally fanned outwards. This is a pattern I recognise again and again. It feels a little bit as though I’ve uncovered a key to life – a key that I understand many others have also discovered, via their own lived experience.

 

Overexcitabilities — Can’t Live With Them, Can’t Live Without Them

Beautiful words from Paula Prober. We don’t need to crush our sensitivity. There are self-compassionate ways to relate with it (that will likely help us better relate with the sensitivity of others, too).

Your Rainforest Mind

photo-1429080590828-d775fa4a893c photo from Azrul Aziz, Unsplash

Overexcitabilities. Those pesky little traits that make your friends roll their eyes, relatives recommend medication and neighbors head home early. Maybe you talk fast and often about your passion for stackable brain specimen coasters. Maybe you cry over the Facebook video of the adorable four year old telling his mother why he must become a vegetarian. Maybe you can imagine 100s of ways your child could be abducted by aliens on a Sunday afternoon. Maybe you can’t sleep because the room is too hot, the sheets are too rough and the gentle breeze is too loud.

Life in the rainforest mind is intense. You may feel like too much on so many levels. Too emotional. Too sensitive. Too analytical. Too verbal. Too enthusiastic. Too idealistic. Too curious. Too smart.

And if you’re a male, well, this too muchness can be particularly humiliating if you’re trying to “man up”…

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Lessons gleaned from 6 years of illness

 

November 2015 marked 6 years since I became disabled with a medical condition that on a good day, makes it difficult for me to stand up or sit with my legs down (I’m going to omit detailing the ‘bad day’ side of the coin right now).

The 6th anniversary got me thinking; what has my experience of illness and disability taught me?

I do not claim to speak for all those living with chronic illness and disability. I’m also aware of the fact I am privileged in ways that others might not be. That said, here are some things I’ve learned over the past 6 years – in no particular order:

There are a lot of errands I can complete from bed, with the help of the Internet

Online grocery shopping rocks. Grocery shopping was something I truly missed when I initially became bed-bound. Oh the joy of selecting my groceries here at home – in bed – even lying down!

Flexibility of having ‘nowhere to go’ means I can sometimes relieve a load off somebody else’s shoulders 

People often let out a sigh of relief when I say they can turn up for an appointment at my home whenever it suits them. They’ve expressed that it has made their day easier – which is a good feeling for me, too.

A garden is a wonderful thing

Our garden is very small, and often a total mess – but spending time out there helps ground me. Nature is nature is nature. I can’t climb giant hills anymore, go bush walking (or visit the beach with any regularity); but when I spend time appreciating the garden, I see that it is as alive and vibrant as any part of the natural world.

Sharing the same medical condition or level of disability as someone is not automatically a basis for friendship

I kind of thought it would be/could be, but no. It’s not fair on anybody to try forcing things either. We all have varied value systems and life experiences.

I can stop pining over my onset-of-illness anniversary, and missed events

At some point equanimity seems to take over. Sure, I still have feelings about missing out on events etc – but I don’t latch onto the pain any more. I remember when this began, I’d write woeful tales on Facebook of all my ‘missing out’. It really hurt. These days I’ve gotten to the point where I can accept (with lightness) the fact that I’m not up to attending particular events. Previously, there were events I would stubbornly attend with great difficulty. Not so much anymore. Looking back, I see how denial of my own needs can lead to unnecessary suffering.

Pets can be magic

Distraction. Fur. Animal-smiles. Joy. Great company for caregivers too.

There are people out there who will love you just as you are, even broken down

Many times I’ve been told how lucky I am that my husband stayed with me. He balks at the notion (something I love him for).

It is possible to maintain a sense of dignity; especially if you don’t take cringe-y situations personally

Understand that all humans are vulnerable and could end up in the same kind of position. Humour can help diffuse uncomfortable situations, too.

The state of my health is not static

Even when living with discomfort and illness all waking hours (and sometimes during sleep), there are still ups and downs, health-wise.

Learning doesn’t have to stop 

I am loving learning about whatever takes my fancy. This is a privilege afforded me due to my situation and because I don’t work. I’ve trained my concentration so I can read books again, and am half way through my second year of a (free, home based) course learning about Māori culture. Even watching documentaries can be a great way to learn about topics. Another skill I’ve taken up is playing the ukulele. My first love is the piano, but I cannot easily get up to play it anymore – so I did some research, asked people’s opinions and settled on learning the uke. It’s a really pleasurable pursuit and nourishes the musical side of me that cannot be neglected – without consequences (Dun dun dunnnnnnn).

Self discovery awaits

This can be a fertile time. Ill health does not = stagnation (though it can sometimes feel that way). With mindfulness practice and learning about the dynamics of dysfunctional family systems, I’m experiencing a lot of healing and growth.

Jack Kornfield tells the following story in his book ‘A Lamp in the Darkness – Illuminating the Path Through Difficult Times’:

“In the Jewish mystical tradition, one great Rabbi taught his disciples to memorize and contemplate the teachings and place the prayers and holy words on their heart. One day a student asked the Rabbi why he always used the phrase “on your heart” and not “in your heart,” and the master replied, “Only time and grace can put the essence of these stories in your heart. Here we recite and learn them and put them on our hearts hoping that some day when our heart breaks they will fall in.”

Illness, suffering, loss and grief can break our hearts a little or a lot – and perhaps the time is ripe for certain lessons to reach home. I consider this a blessing.

Virtually anything can happen to anyone at any time 

…but don’t expect others to pay much heed to this nugget of information. It possibly takes certain life experiences for each of us to reach the realization on our own.

I don’t need to use so much hyperbole 

I used to use a  ~~**ginormous**~! amount of hyperbole when describing my suffering. Possibly because I wanted to feel understood – in a way that nobody else can really understand anyhow, because they don’t live my life, in my body. These days I try to be conscious of my use of negative hyperbole. It doesn’t make anyone feel great and is usually unnecessary.

It’s OK to not live up to my prior potential

It just is. Stuff happens. The great thing is that since I got through most of the carping, wailing and denial about my situation, I’ve opened my eyes and taken a look around – to see that new avenues have opened up. This life can be exciting and interesting too.

It’s ok to be ‘invisible’

Becoming ill the way I have can sometimes feel like falling off the edge of the earth. However;

We all have an inherent worth that is independent of others noticing or validating us.

Little children often stare right at people who are in wheelchairs.

(I usually choose to grin in return)

The wheelchair user // pusher dynamic is a strangely delicate thing

Years ago I decided that there are generally two types of people in the world (ha!): bulldozers, and dodgers. You know when you’re in a crowded area and some people (bulldozers) barrel right through, parting the sea of humanity before them – whilst others (dodgers) engage in an uncomfortable dance around the bulldozers and each other? It was most interesting when I, a dodger, was first pushed in the wheelchair by my bulldozer husband! Well… petrifying might be a better word.

There are many aspects to this dynamic that I never would have realised before. Some people think they are being helpful by stopping at every item in a store, for example. Others whizz by and ignore as I indicate that I’d like to stop and check something out. Some position me the opposite way from looking at what I’d like to look at. Some apologise to others around us constantly – as though my very existence requires remorse. Some expect special treatment because I’m in a wheelchair (something I disagree with). It’s really interesting. Thankfully the wheelchair user/pusher relationship with my husband has improved a lot over time. I’m probably becoming less controlling, too. There’s nothing like needing to be pushed around in a wheelchair to smack down the ego.

Things are not always going to go my way – even important things

Sometimes care will be substandard. The house might not be cleaned the way I want or even need it to be. It’s often possible to let these things go and accept situations as they are. Other people have lives and needs of their own (including the need for downtime). I’m pleased to report that the sky hasn’t fallen in.

Some days it might feel like the whole situation sucks – and it is ok to sob your heart out and/wish for death

It does not necessarily mean you’re giving up or falling into a black hole of depression (though the people around you may worry it does. Just explain that this is a ‘moment’ and ask for what you need from them).

It’s ok to blob out and distract

Try to make sure you have consciously come to the decision to do so. Permanently running away from one’s discomfort in an unconscious fashion means you can miss out on your own life. If things have reached this point it may be time to seek help.

At times the most comforting thing is somebody sitting nearby

The sweet gift of presence

Sometimes we have no choice but to surrender

It’s true, but – Gnnnnnnhhhhhh!

Sometimes we lose

Inevitable – and sometimes, strangely, it can be just what we need.

Occasionally other people’s expectations are too high – but I’ve noticed the biggest issues arise when my own expectations are too high

Mostly, my family prefer me to be as well as possible instead of ‘getting things done’ that might not be necessary for me to do anyway.

Even a really unwell body is trying it’s best 

For a long while I said that my body had betrayed me – but I’ve since learned that the opposite is true. Symptoms are a sign that my body is trying really hard to keep functioning, despite internal dysfunction. We should all give our bodies some recognition, thanks, and some love!

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So there it is. I’d love to hear what others have learned via their difficult times.

 

May our difficult experiences bear fruit