Blame Game

Life is filled with questions.  One of the most pressing questions is why do bad things happen to good people?  Why is it that seemingly good people at times cannot catch a break?  Why do hurricanes, flooding and wild fires cause so much damage?  Why do children die?  Why do car wrecks, cancer, murder, famine and a million other unexplainable and horrific things happen?

Humans have a deep desire to want to blame unfortunate situations on someone or something.    I think in part, because if something can be explained in some way there is hope it can be prevented from happening to them. Blame often gives a false sense of control over situations.

People, both religious and not, tend to throw a lot of blame at God.  God caused this to happen.  God allowed this to happen.  God could have stopped this from happening.  God could fix this if He just would.  God this.  God that.  Truthfully, from time to time I have found myself searching for answers in difficult times and yes at times, I have tried throwing God under the bus.

My family and I have had more than our share of bumpy roads and curve balls over the past six years.  We have had 2 cancer diagnosis; 16 surgeries, with number 17 right around the corner; radiation; chemotherapy; 4 family members die; 3 friends die; 2 pets die; 1 pet killed; 1 chronically ill pet; we have been significantly betrayed on two different occasions by people we deeply trusted; totaled a vehicle; moved twice; been unemployed; experienced family estrangement, had two different family members move in and live with us; had a vehicle broken into; had $8,000 stolen; been falsely accused and had our character attacked; and battled suicide.  During this time period, we have had some people come right out and ask, and I am sure even more think, what my family is doing wrong that would put us in a place to experience all these stressors and losses.

I think consideration should be given to re-writing the narrative of the question.  As humans we often ask “why me” … when difficult, heartbreaking things happen in our lives.  When the question should be what is so extraordinary about me that I should be exempt from these things?  Or in essence, “why not me”.

The truth is bad things, sad things, hurtful things, happen to people because life is messy, life is hard and life is often unfair.  Generally speaking, bad things do not befall people because they are doing something wrong.  Nor is God sitting in heaven zapping people with tragedy because He is disappointed in them or trying to get their attention.

It has been my experience, tragedies rarely have any explanation, much less a reasonable one.   Why does one person survive cancer while another does not; why does one child die while another thrives; why does one marriage survive while another couple divorces; why can one couple readily get pregnant and another struggles with infertility; why are some families estranged and others are not?  The questions are infinite and the answers are elusive.

One of the hardest things in life is desperately wanting answers when there are none.  Sometimes, I believe the best we can do is try to find meaning in or lessons through the heartache.




Living Through Suicide

A 1978 study by Dr. Richard Seiden from the University of California, Berkeley showed that people who were stopped from jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge rarely went on to die by suicide.  He studied what happened to 515 people who went to the Golden Gate Bridge to die, but who were stopped by California Highway Patrol Officers.  Of the 515 people whose attempt was interrupted, only 35 later died by suicide in future years.

A year after my brush with suicide, which you can read about here, I have found Dr. Seiden’s evidence suggesting a suicidal crisis is very often temporary, is spot on.  As I look back over the last 12-months, I cannot say life has always worked out as I hoped.  But I can say I have worked hard and am still working to develop healthy coping skills.

Living through suicide looks different for everyone.  For me, looking back over the past year I am grateful for life, even the bad days.  In retrospect, it is sobering to me what I would have missed had I died this time last year.  Small things like beautiful sunsets, delicious cups of coffee, watching my favorite teams win sporting events, feeling a cool breeze on my skin, hearing a baby laugh, experiencing my dogs being sweet, hugs from loved ones, long walks, bike rides, Sunday afternoon naps, garden fresh vegetables, and rainbows after a thunderstorm.

I would have missed laughing with friends, conversations with my wife, connections with other humans, music, movies, art, theater, Thanksgiving, Christmas, birthdays, anniversaries, butterflies, birds, flowers blooming, the smell of cut grass, ice cream, Mexican food, soaking in a tub, candles, puppies, sunshine on my face, Spring rains, and good books.

I would have given up the chance to give and receive love, comfort grieving family and friends, encourage those whom are struggling, pray for those in need, or support those being challenged.  I would have lost the ability to be a loving wife, friend, or family member.

Most significant to me, I would have not been here to walk with my wife through her rectal cancer diagnosis and treatment.  I would not have been here to go with her to doctor appointments, radiation, surgery and all the other million things that go with cancer.  I would not have been here to try to make her laugh when she is afraid, sad or in pain or assure her she will make it through this battle and come out the other side.  I would have not been here to tell her how proud I am of her, how much I believe in her, or how much I love her.  I would have missed the chance to support her, love her and to make this arduous journey less grueling.  In essence, I would have missed the greatest honor of my life.

At this time last year, suicide seemed like not only a rational option, but the only option, for ending a period of tremendous pain.  With dozens of small acts, important people in my life helped me make it through that pain and directed me to resources to aid me in learning new, more effective, life-giving coping skills.  I am so grateful to every one of them.

It does get better and life now in some ways is sweeter than it has ever been.



The Thinnest Thread

Humans have told stories since the beginning of time.  History, family and culture, have been passed down from generation to generation through storytelling.  Stories affirm who we are, and allow us to experience the similarities and differences between ourselves and others.  Stories help us find meaning in our lives.  Stories help us learn from the experiences of others and if we are wise we will learn from both the mistakes and the triumphs of others.

In that vein, I want to share part of a very personal and intimate story.  It is a topic few are comfortable discussing, which is why I am sharing it.  It is a story of my struggle with suicidal ideation and hanging on by the thinnest of threads.

The first question most people will ask is “what happened”?  The strange but true answer is, it does not matter what happened.  The circumstances surrounding this 10 months of emotional hell is nothing but window dressing.  It matters not who betrayed me or why.  Who lied to me or about me and why. Or the numbers of friendships that have been damaged beyond repair.  None of that matters.  What matters is how I arrived at such a dark place and how I climbed out of that pit and began wanting to live this adventure called life again.

While I have struggled with depression my entire life, when the darkness descended I was happily married, gainfully employed, a member of a wonderful community of faith, was financially sound and had a small group of intimate and loyal friends.  I was coming off a period of 5 or so years of unimaginable stress, filled with a personal cancer diagnosis, eleven surgeries, several deaths of family and friends, moving twice, building a home, planning a wedding, getting married, totaling a vehicle, a pet being killed, two other pets dying, having my niece move in with us, then my mother-in-law moving in with us, etc.  But by August 2017, life had finally started to settle down and was looking brighter.   Then the phone rang.

The information I received during that phone call was unbelievable and an extreme distortion of facts.  I was shocked.  My character was being assassinated.  The professional reputation I had spent 31 years building without a single complaint, and dozens of commendations, was being drug through the mud.  I sobbed as I have rarely sobbed before.

This transpired on a Friday.  By Monday I had convinced myself it would blow over and those whom personally knew me would see through the untruths and half-truths.  But by the following Monday, after no movement had been made in my situation, I determined I could not take the pain, the sting of betrayal and could not possibly be strong enough to defend myself against the evil lies and exaggerations.  Subsequently, I made phone calls to confirm the death payout of my life insurance policy.  I wanted to confirm how much my wife would receive upon my death.  Sadly, with a brand new home, the death benefit was not enough to leave my wife financially secure.

Let me be clear, before I go any further … I never wanted to die. I wanted … no I needed … the pain to stop.  Suicide is rarely about wanting to die, rather it is about a deep commitment to stopping pain by any possible means.

One morning the following week, I found myself in our bedroom closet with a 9mm gun in my hand, inserting the magazine.  As I stood there, it was as if I was watching myself in slow motion from outside of my body.  My thoughts were interrupted when I heard the garage door open and realized my wife who had previously left for work, was returning to the house for some unknown reason.  I quickly returned the gun and the magazine to the case and sat down on a stool in the closet.  That was the first time I realized I loved my wife more than I hated myself.  The next morning I told my wife she should remove the gun from the house.  Which she did … and the first knot was tied in the thinnest of threads to which I was clinging.

Early the following week, I had the thought it might be easier for my wife if I died on a day the housekeeper was coming, so she would not find me or have to deal with the EMT’s, police, etc.  The housekeeper was scheduled for Tuesday of the following week.  I decided that would be the day.  I would have my wife take our dogs to day care and once she left I would close the master bedroom door, take a cocktail of sedatives and go back to bed.  I had the pills ready and set aside in old prescription bottle and I had purchased juice at the grocery store to hopefully help the pills not upset my stomach.  However, as I have often heard, the devil is in the details.  Monday before the “day” the housekeeper texted and cancelled saying she was going out-of-town to help a family member and did not know exactly when she would return.

As one day turned into another, then into another week, I found myself riding around town searching for places to die.  I located a park that seemed private.  I could park in the back, be found by a stranger and the police would be called.  This would be the easiest for my wife.

Looking back it is insane how much my suicidal ideation was seen through the lens of how it would affect my wife.  I was attempting to be protective of her, even as I was planning to carry out an act that would devastate her.  Which supports the fact it is impossible to make rational sense out of something irrational.

One day, as I was riding around town, I stopped at a local grocery store to buy a few items.  From the parking lot of the store I called a friend.  I am not sure why I made that call, but I did.  I began to tell her how I was feeling and that I could not take the pain any longer, but I was struggling with leaving my wife with a new mortgage debt.  She stopped what she was doing.  She talked to me about an hour and then prayed for me.  It was one of the sweetest prayers I ever heard.  That one small act on her part, took the edge off and I got through another day … and another knot was tied.

One morning shortly afterwards, a neighbor called and asked me to join her on her morning walk.   I did not want to go on a walk, but for some reason I said sure.  We walked an hour, talked a little, but mostly just walked.  For that one hour I was convinced I mattered to her, which gave me a glimmer of hope. At the end of the walk, she asked if I wanted to walk the next morning.  I said I did.  We have walked every morning, weather and schedule permitting, since that first walk.  That one small act of kindness, started many dark days on a brighter note.  There were, and still are, many days that morning walk makes a huge difference and sets the tone for my entire day … and another knot was tied.

After roughly two weeks of walking, I called and made an appointment with my pastor.  I am not sure what I looked like when I walked into her office that day, but I do remember asking her if it was a safe place.  She affirmed it was and gave me her undivided attention.  During the course of our meeting she offered to go with me to the hospital if I needed/wanted in-patient help.  That one small act of kindness made a huge difference.  We met routinely after that first meeting.  To know she would walk beside me in the valley, without condemning me, profoundly moved me.  In the days to come, she treated me in the same loving way as always, without any condemnation.  She did not treat me as a broken person who needed fixing, but rather a wounded person who needed healing.  She helped me feel worthy of love … and subsequently worthy of life … and another knot was tied.

My pastor gave me the name of two therapists.  One name was the same therapist my friend with whom I walk gave me.  I called and made an appointment with her.  The compassion and empathy of the therapist touched my heart deeply and made me feel safe.  I began seeing her multiple times a week.  As time progressed I moved to seeing her weekly. Now, some 10-months later, I am still seeing her monthly and participating in group therapy … and another knot was tied.

As time went by and the suicidal ideation began to subside, I no longer fixated on ways to kill myself, but on a bad day I would purposely do something risky, hoping I would get “lucky” and accidentally die.    Most of this revolved around taking increasing amounts of medication before bed and hoping I would not wake up the next morning.  Other days I contemplated stopping my cancer treatment and let nature take its course.

On one of my more clear thinking days, I created a safety plan.  This plan consisted of what I could do if suicidal ideation began to creep back into my mind.  The plan listed things to do and people to call until the ideation passed.  I shared this plan with my intimate, inner circle and it served me well.  It was helpful to me to have a plan of what to do before it was needed, so I did not have to rely on clear thinking in the midst of pain.  This was also an extra step in me taking personal responsibility for my mental health … and another knot was tied.

As far as that distant incident goes, looking back 10 months later, it was one of the top 5 best things that has ever happened to me.  It helped cleanse the palet of my life, unlike anything else could.  Now my life is much more free and peaceful.

I learned several lessons from this experience.  First, there is no shame in suicidal ideation.  There is no shame in depression or any mental health condition.  There is no shame in taking medication for mental health conditions.  The only way the stigma surrounding mental health issues can be overcome is through honest communication, transparency and vulnerability.  Most people are not comfortable talking about suicide.  It is my hope that by sharing part of my story, I will encourage someone else to feel safe telling his/her story.  To reach out, to stop the downward spiral by shining light on the darkness.

Secondly, I did not become suicidal because of one incident.  Generally, no one becomes suicidal after one event.  I now know it was a lifetime of holding things in and stuffing emotions.  It was a lifetime of refusing to be vulnerable with others.  It was a lifetime of trying to control my emotions and wanting to seem to be ok, when in fact there were (and are) times I am not okay.  It was a lifetime of not comprehending it is okay to not be okay.  It was a lifetime of consistently putting the needs of others before my own.  I now understand completely why we are told on airplanes to put our oxygen masks on first, before helping others.  Without proper care, we are unable to help ourselves or others.

Because of my neglect of my emotional and mental health, my tool box of emotional resources and coping skills was completely empty when this incident happened.  When this straw, fell on the back of the camel, the only resources remaining were instinctual and primitive.  With emotional pain building at an increasing rate, and with my resources depleted, the only option to stop the pain was to stop breathing, stop waking up, and stop participating in life.

Thirdly, I am a giver by nature and unfortunately never cultivated the skill of comfortably receiving from others.  That combined with having developed a pattern of surrounding myself with acquaintances whom are takers, set up the perfect storm of emotional collapse. I am now learning, through therapy, how to receive things from other people.  How to allow people to love me, support me, and care for me.  I am also learning how to stop running to the rescue of others, but rather help them help themselves.

Fourthly, it was necessary for me to cut dead weight from my life.  It is impossible to champion every cause.  It is impossible to meet every need I encounter.  It is impossible to live a life as a giver and never receive.  It is impossible to be all things to all people.  I must decide what are my priorities and values and live a life which reflects those.  I must learn to say no when appropriate.  I must learn to be motivated from within, and not pressured from without.

Lastly, I am learning it is of the utmost importance to stay in-tune with my feelings and to insist on authentic, transparent conversation with those whom are in my inner, intimate circle.  I have to be honest with myself to be honest with those around me.  While I was responsible for doing the work of getting to a better place; small, consistent acts of kindness by others made all the difference.  With every knot that was tied in my thin thread, the thread became stronger.

Mental health conditions and emotional pain should not be taboo subjects.  By keeping them in the dark, we give them a sinister power over our lives.  It is time to be open and honest, speaking truth to the fear of vulnerability.

If someone you love is suffering from a mental health condition and/or is in emotional pain, know you do not need to “fix” anything.  You simply need to do consistent acts of kindness to let them know they are not alone.  In essence, unless you are a mental health professional, all you need to do is be a genuine friend.  Please do not be afraid to reach out to them.  Love them well through human contact, but remember they must do the work to change or manage their situation.

If you are suffering from a mental health condition and/or are in emotional pain, reach out for help.  Reach out with the same confidence you would if you were in physical pain.  Please do not let the darkness overtake you.  Your pain matters.  It does get better.  You are loved.  You are enough.  You story is of infinite importance.

If you find yourself alone and in need of someone to talk with, the information below can be helpful:

National Suicide Hotline: 1-800-273-8255

Suicide Text: Text HOME to 741741

Suicide Support for Hearing Impaired:  1-800-799-4889

Learn to love yourself well … you are worth it

F*** Cancer

The cancer demon has visited our home on more than one occasion, each time bringing a different and new type of cancer.  I have been the lucky recipient each time, the last being a breast cancer diagnosis for which I remain in treatment.  With each cancer diagnosis comes a multitude of challenges, complications, victories and setbacks.  It seems the treatment required to stay alive, in many cases ravages the body in ways that are unexpected, causing other medical issues.  To say the least, battling cancer is a full-time job.

My wife and I are in a comfortable rhythm of me fighting the physical battle and her being the constant, attentive caregiver.  She has ordered the chaos of a barrage of doctor appointments, medications, side effects, opportunistic infections, vaccinations, and a CaringBridge page.  She has stripped drains, changed bandages and completed wound care to perfection.  All the while reminding me, that to her, I am still beautiful, still loved, still her imperfectly perfect choice.  Needless to say my wife is my hero, my love, my best friend, and my reason for getting up many, many mornings.  Simply by knowing her, I long to be a better person.  She challenges me, she teaches me, she encourages me, she has helped me feel comfortable in my skin and has provided a stability in my life I had not known before.   Through her I have come to know the power of unconditional love.

My wife has always been the picture of health.  A few things here and there, but nothing of major concern.  But the past 10 months she had been having gastric issues and finally after months of trying to get a medical professional to take her seriously, she was referred to a doctor who listened.  The doctor said she suspected it was nothing, but wanted to do a diagnostic colonoscopy to be safe.  The colonoscopy was scheduled for the next week.

Fast forward two weeks and we were told my 48 year old wife has Stage II rectal cancer.  This cancer will require chemo/radiation; rectal resection with temporary ileostomy; followed by 16 doses of a fairly brutal chemotherapy cocktail.  All of which is estimated to consume the next year of her life.

Bam!  In a two-week span of time life changed forever.  My wife is now a member of a club to which she never wanted to belong.  My wife is resilient and the master of many things.  Ask anyone who knows her and they will tell you there is nothing she cannot do.  She can even make balloon animals and juggle for gosh sakes.  But life will be forever different.  Now there is life before cancer and life after cancer.

Our roles are shifting.  I am becoming the caregiver and she is becoming the patient.  The road ahead will be very bumpy.  My wife is the strongest person I know.  She can do this and we will make it through.  But I will not lie, I am pissed as hell she is having to do this.   My heart is broken that she will have to endure the next year of breaking her body down, poisoning her body, almost killing her body, so she can live.  She will not take one step of this journey alone.  She will not want for anything within my power.  But the pain, the sickness, the fatigue, the sheer misery cannot be taken away.  And that breaks my heart.

I am heartbroken our prayers for the cancer to be Stage 1 were not answered the way we wanted them to be.  I am heartbroken the person who means the most to me in this world is having to walk through something so barbaric.  I am heartbroken I cannot take this away from her and take it on myself.  I am utterly heartbroken.

Having said that, we are going to put our big girl panties on and we are declaring war on cancer.  We are going to suit up and kick cancers ass to the curb.  Cancer beware, we are coming for you and we will not stop until every mutant cell is dead.

Fuck you cancer.  You will not win.  Not. This. Time.

When Truth Speaks

The truth is, summer has always been the most difficult time of year for me because of Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, followed later by my mother’s birthday.  The cards, the commercials, the sales, not having anyone to call, everything about it has always been like a dagger in my heart. But this year I began thinking about it and realized I am a 50 something year old and as some would say a grown ass woman.  I have always believed truth triumphs over lies and light will disperse the deepest darkness.  So, that is exactly what I am going to do and stop generations of lies, deceit and manipulation in its tracks.

The truth is, I do not have a relationship with my parents.  Most people assume my relationship with my parents is non-existent because I am lesbian.  It is true, I am a lesbian, but that is not the reason for estrangement.  In fact, my sexual orientation was never discussed.  It is not that I was afraid or ashamed to discuss it, it was that our family was so dysfunctional there was never a sane opportunity to have an honest conversation.

The truth is, I have not had a peaceable relationship with my parents since I began living with them full-time at 5 years of age and started kindergarten. Prior to that I spent most of my time “visiting” my maternal grandparents.  My parents would say this is because they both worked and my grandparents had more time to spend with me.  I was born 9 months and 7 days after my parents nuptials and they were ill-prepared for a child.  My mother was not ready to give up being the center of the universe and my father was not ready for his wife to be a mother.

The truth is, as hard as it is to admit this, I grew up in an abusive household.  There I said the word … abusive.  I have spent my entire life minimizing the abuse of my childhood.  Making excuses for both of my parents and accepting blame, as well as feeling guilt and shame for their behavior.  That stops today.

The truth is, the home in which I grew up was violent, controlling, demeaning, manipulative and as a result incredibly sad.  No one intended for it to be that way, but it is the result of one adult with a personality disorder and the other being extremely self-centric.

The truth is, my parents provided exceptionally well for me materially.  But there was little warmth, love, kindness or compassion.  My parents are not bad or horrible people, they are simply incapable of deep connections and unwilling to put in the work to change a lifetime of behaviors.

The truth is, I am uncertain if my parents love each other.  I would like to think they do … but honestly it is so dysfunctional it is hard to tell.  Behind closed doors there was a plethora of yelling, throwing things, breaking things, choking, hitting, biting, withholding of sex and many other unhealthy, vile things.  After over a half century of marriage, I think they are simply tired of the battle and are more comfortable together than apart.

The truth is, as long as I can remember, my parents told me I was their greatest disappointment.  They further told me that my friends did not love me and were using me.  I never really understood why, and I have heard they told others outside the family a very different story.  Try as I might, I never figured out what I could do to make things different.  What I could do to be better.  What I could do to be loveable.

The truth is, I have made many, many mistakes in my life.  I have not always done my best.  I have not always been honest.  I have not always acted or reacted in an honorable way.  I am a deeply flawed human.  I will own every bit of that and more, as long as it is the truth.

The truth is, regardless of my past, my mistakes or any other multitude of circumstances, I am finally content where I am.  I am happily married.  My wife is not only my best friend, she is an equal partner.   I have a church home that welcomes my wife and I and allows us to worship freely.  I have a safe and peaceful home.  I have a small group of intimate friends who support me and love me unconditionally.  My life is sweeter and more fulfilling than I ever thought possible.

The truth is, I am making peace with the past.  I am learning to accept what is … well … just is.  So, this summer and all the ones yet to come will no longer be spent grieving what never was.  I will no longer accept feelings of unworthiness for having biological parents who rejected me.

The truth is, I have so many wonderful people in my life who genuinely and deeply love me.  As such, I choose not to waste any more precious time grieving two people who chose not to love me or want me in their life.  They decided not share life with me and I am respecting their decision.

The truth is, life is full of twists, turns, up and downs.  It is full of unexplained events.  Life is entirely too short to live in the past and let others affect my perception of myself.

The truth is, detoxifying your life is hard as hell, yet infinitely freeing. Furthermore, free people are dangerous people.  Free people are not easily manipulated.  Free people are not victims.  Free people do not play the blame game.  Free people are accountable for what is theirs, and reject what is not.  Free people are able to live with an open heart.  Free people are capable of forgiveness.  Free people allow others to be true to themselves without judgement.  Free people love compassionately, live authentically, and welcome those whom are different.  Free people know who they are, who they are not and take equal responsibility for both.

The truth is, if no one has told you lately, you deserve freedom.  You are worthy of love, consideration and kindness.  Any person, regardless of relationship, who is a toxic influence in your life needs your permission to stay in your life.  Your sacred worth is one thing that need not be on the table for negotiation.  Ever.