2017 Was A Bipolar Year

“The worst type of crying wasn’t the kind everyone could see–the wailing on street corners, the tearing at clothes. No, the worst kind happened when your soul wept and no matter what you did, there was no way to comfort it.”
― Katie McGarry

It’s early morning on New Years Eve and the house is quiet. I am finished with all of the things that feel like responsibilities, finished with my to-do lists that seemed a mile-long last week, and sitting with my coffee reflecting on the past year. Part of me thinks that I should be contemplating on the year in front of me but my heart keeps pulling me back through this one that is passing.

As I opened my Word document I see that I haven’t written since June – my post about Father’s Day. No wonder… shortly after that, life went into bipolar mode. The brief synopsis for those of you who don’t know me personally is that H went into the hospital for pain management on Father’s Day and didn’t come out until a month later. While he was there, I followed through on plans to travel to France to see my first grandchild just weeks after his birth. When I came home, we were told that H’s cancer had advanced beyond the point of treatment and so with heavy hearts we signed up for Hospice care and he passed away on September 11th. The weeks in between were gut wrenching as I watched his body and his life evaporate.

I went into control mode and planned his care – calling in all the people who had offered along the way to help. I am deeply humbled by the love and care that was administered to H those last weeks. Not only from the Hospice people but by the friends and family that loved him so. There was barely a moment of alone time in our home as many who came, came for days on end to provide care while I worked. They took care of me too; and I am eternally grateful for the support. I still have meals in the freezer and I’ve come to depend on them. It will be hard (but necessary for more reasons than one) to go back to Lean Cuisines!

It was difficult to carry out H’s last wishes. Not physically difficult of course but because he was insistent on no service of any kind, closure was difficult for many. I am somewhat like minded, so I have been able to honor his life in other ways. #HarlansCampaign was established in his memory on Facebook as a reminder to live life in kindness. It’s a strange and perhaps unconventional thing but … so was H.

I don’t miss life with cancer. I don’t miss watching him struggle with pain. I don’t miss the conflict of eating well or the constant doctor visits but I desperately miss my friend.

People have fallen back now – it’s normal and it’s ok. Maybe it’s necessary so that I can begin my personal grief journey. I’m not one to publicly emote. I have control issues and if I am emoting – I am not in control. (I am able to explain this clearly to clients as I have much, much practice.)  I find that I must pull inward more tightly at times because some have disenfranchised my grief. It seems that our ten (almost) year relationship was less than because we didn’t officiate it with a ceremony or legal document. Funny – Rocky and I were only married two and a half years but because he was my ‘husband’ – I was entitled to be a ‘widow’. I am not receiving the same respect from some this time around. Oh well… perhaps those people don’t matter.

What does matter is remembering and honoring the life and love that H and I shared. Ten years ago, this weekend we spent most hours on the floor in front of the fireplace getting to know the deepest parts of our hearts. It shattered all perceptions I had about middle age. I’ll save you from TMI but suffice it to say the memory is vivid and happy. Even in this last year while he struggled to live, there were moments that brought those old memories alive again. Just holding his hand and running my thumb across his palm created the same electricity we had shared when he was healthy. Sigh… next thought.

I am reflecting today on the things that H taught me. He taught me about true kindness. I am a kind person (I think) but H reinforced that in me. He reminded me always that people were “just angels from God”. He taught me about acceptance. He was quirky and fun – just owning it. I admired that so. Many of us are challenged to get over what people think of us and I realized in the last ten years that it doesn’t matter… if quirky and fun is authentic then love is the result. It was more than just accepting myself – it was about accepting others. H tolerated – peacefully – all of my faults. “It’s just who your mom is” … he would say to my kids. And he loved me anyway. Those things… those lessons… are stamped on my heart and I work from them every day, or at least, I try to.

The truth is, life goes on. I am a realist and I’ve done this before… yet I find there is a strange dichotomy between acknowledging that life continues and keeping those memories alive and close. Some days I want to erase everything that generates sadness and yet the thought of erasing anything of H is unbearable. Some days I want to look forward and make plans and simultaneously I am sad and lonely because he won’t be doing them with me. As I watch other couples and realize that I am only one now, a gaping hole opens in my heart. Sometimes I sit in our home, running through all the things we talked about doing and I can’t breathe for the ‘aloneness’ it instigates. Those are the moments that I must “push on” – “go forward” but they instill a sense of erasing, of letting go… and that doesn’t feel good either.

Ahh… grief. There it is again. I am an expert. I was running a widows/widowers group a few years ago (I am also an academic expert) and someone asked me to just let him know “how long this will last” so he could know what to expect… it’s the not knowing that catches you. Those moments you think you are just fine and moving along and then, BAM… something dumb catches you – stops you – and takes your breath.

My life changed dramatically this year. My day-to-day life is now different than it was. There are good things though. I am a grandma now and those moments when I am holding my son’s son… they are magical. Rocky would be so very proud. (Wait… another grief moment – see how convoluted it really is). My grandson’s presence in my life is a vivid reminder of life itself – the circle; the cycle; the rhythm; the normalcy.

H and I talked a lot about life and death… I’ve been reflecting on those conversations and the lessons. Perhaps as this new year unfolds I will be compelled to write about them. In the meantime, I continue my grief journey, remember H, stay present, and enjoy the moments as they materialize.

May all the blessing of the universe be available to you in 2018. Happy New Year.


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The Struggle

Not one of us if free from the distortion that occurs after birth. We only experience varying degrees and intensities.

“The capacity to learn is a gift; The ability to learn is a skill; The
willingness to learn is a choice.”  ― Brian Herbert

We are born into this world in perfect form. We are innately able to express ourselves, we smile, eat, sleep, burp, and fart at will. And then we learn not to.

For the first two years of our lives we are taught to walk and talk and then someone – perhaps many – tell us to sit down and shut up; and we struggle to make sense of it.

We are told to eat everything on our plate and then not to be fat; and we struggle to make sense of it.

We are told that our parents love us and then they leave or don’t pay attention; and we struggle to make sense of it.

We are told that love is wonderful and then it hurts like hell; and we struggle to make sense of it.

We are told that sex / sexual touching might be bad but it feels physically good; and we struggle to make sense of it.

We are told we can by one segment of society and that we can’t by another; and we struggle to make sense out of it.

We are told that Santa is real and then find out that he is not; and we struggle to make sense of it.

We are told that white lies are acceptable but dishonesty is not; and we struggle to make sense of it.

We are told there are laws and then we break them without consequence; and we struggle to make sense of it.

We are told that marriage is forever and then we divorce in anger; and we struggle to make sense of it.

And along the way we just do the best that we can.

Most of us.

We are born pure of heart, perhaps believing in unending possibilities and then we are told, we learn… something else.

It’s not anyone’s fault specifically as each of us has faced the same fate. We are all born into a mold of prior teachings that bends and shapes the beginning of our personal story until we have sculpted a cast of our own with the addition of social and cultural contradictions.

Essentially, we are all … each and every one of us … bent out of shape from our original, perfect form. Designed individually by the things we struggled to make sense of; the things that we observed and interpreted.

This is the foundation, the cornerstone of personal growth.

Learning how you came to think and understand the things that you do.

Why was it that you disagreed with your parents but your sibling acquiesced? Why did you learn to feed your feelings while your mother was a beauty queen? How did you learn to motivate yourself even though your father never held a full-time job?

We are products of our family life, social environment, town culture, and national philosophies. We come to believe that what makes one of us ‘right’ makes another of us ‘wrong’ when in fact it only makes us DIFFERENT.

Not one of us if free from the distortion that occurs after birth. We only experience varying degrees and intensities. We only differ in the shape, color, and size of those variants.

Not one of us is exempt.

The secret here is an absence of judgment. An understanding that we are all the same in that we are bent – broken – and twisted by our backgrounds, our heritage, and our experiences. We cannot possibly acknowledge that our extent of understanding is “the” best, “the” right, “the” optimal interpretation of life.

Once we allow for our differences and truly honor the fact that what makes me different from you is the way we were bent… we can begin the process of compassion and acceptance. We suddenly see one another as perfect human babies that are composed of the same material but shaped by different forms.

Like spoons.

The same molten metal is forged into any variety of individual and unique pieces. Each one of them intended for a slightly different use generating almost endless possibilities. And yet they all seem to serve a distinctive purpose and are enjoyed by a variety of populations.

We seem to accept that there are so many types of spoons without question; without judgement.

What would your life be like if you stopped to consider that the person you are angry with is bent? What about the person with whom you are disappointed? Have you considered that they may be formed into a shape that may be painful to exist within?

Have you thought about your own bends? Are they working in your life? Do you need to hammer out a few kinks? Can you accept that the forces at work as you were originally being shaped may have been bent and broken; making it impossible for you to exist without needing a few repairs?

Can you take responsibility now for those corrections?

You are where you are. Your shape is your shape. Anything that happens now must happen because you are aware and deliberate about making change.

Be what you want to be. Take the time to know your shape and learn how to bend in the way that makes life work for you.


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A Letter to Myself Series – Age 20

The next few years are going to be some of the best and some of the worst that you can imagine.

Second in the series A Letter to Myself

Sit back for just a moment and think of the growth that happens in the time that spans the second decade of life. The change between a ten and a twenty-year-old is amazing. It is in this decade that we learn independence and crave autonomy. As we leave our childhood behind, we experience puberty and explore sexuality. We physically turn into adults and obtain the privileges to drive, vote, and fight for our country. We may learn about love and loss for the first time. It’s a time for exploration and challenge.

In my life, everything changed during that decade. My parents split, I moved across the country and went to five different high schools. I took on a ton of responsibility as my parents lost and then found themselves again in different partners. I became the one everyone could depend on and didn’t buck the system until very late in the decade and then I made up for lost time. I experimented with everything that was on the naughty list. I started school but didn’t take it seriously.

By the age of twenty I was living on my own and self-supportive. My family had moved out of the area and so I surrounded myself with friends who became what I called my family of choice. Not all of my decisions were good and there were some f***ed up days coming, so if there is ever a time I can do it over again – this is what I want that girl to know.

Hey you,

Wow. Look at you. You did it. You made it through all those changes and faced the challenges of being a teenager all at once! I know you didn’t want to, I know it was hard, I know you struggled but you did it. You could have let a few more people help… you didn’t have to do so much of it by yourself. In the future – being stubborn isn’t going to offer you the easiest option. Life is better when you let people in, when you let them help.

So, your family looks a little different huh? Yeah, it gets bigger and a little more convoluted but you end up depending on each other a lot. You’ve got a great foundation to build on and the family values that you have gathered will be reinforced over and over again by most everyone. You are going to need those people! Good job on noticing how much they mean to you.

I want to encourage you to get better about finishing things. It would be great if you could finish college now even though everything turns out ok, it’s harder – much harder when you do it later. Most importantly… without that degree, you end up thinking that you don’t have as many choices and ‘that’ moves you in directions that end in pain. You work it out but… if you finish school now it will make things easier for you. And that stone sculpture that you never completed… you will shake your head over that for years! It will make a great door stop – just do it!

I know you’ve struggled in the boy arena. It’s not them… it’s YOU. You are OK, just like you are and when you finally figure that out – it will be everything you think it should be. I know adults tell you this all the time… they say it because it’s true – when you are happy with yourself, the ‘beautiful’ in you is visible to everyone. You are not fat! Your body is fine and the best thing you can do is to learn acceptance of it.

Adults are not saying these things to make you feel better (well, maybe a little) … they say them because they are TRUE!

You fall in love. Yup! There is a man out there who will love you as much as any Prince Charming. I’ll keep the suspense up and not go into many details but just know that he is on your horizon.

You will have a baby and he will grow your heart so much that you think it is going to burst. Yes, sorry to spoil the surprise – your first child will be a boy, just like you’ve always wanted. Just watching him sleep will bring you more joy than you knew was possible and when his little hand reaches for yours… well, your heart is just never the same.

The next few years are going to be some of the best and some of the worst that you can imagine. I’m not trying to scare you – it’s all going to be OK but you need to know that everything that has happened before now… it is preparing you. It has taught you to persevere, to keep going. You’ll need that but know that I am here too… your older self. You make it through – really… I am here on the other side as evidence. Just keep remembering that everything fits together at some point. Life is worth it, so don’t give up!

Believe it or not… the best is yet to come.

With love and support,



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Before Xanax

First, let’s be clear that expressing ‘happy’ emotions isn’t the part we need help with…

Never let your emotions rule, but always let them testify. ~Robert Brault

I believe I’ve written about emotions in the past yet the idea of describing how necessary it is to allow one’s self the opportunity to express emotions keeps playing over in my mind. Often, the reality is that I need to hear the message and so in that – writing is helpful, healing. It’s probably no surprise to any writer that in reflection, one can identify content specifically situated to deliver a deeply personal note. Perhaps that is always the Universe’s intent.

In any regard, I am in the business of teaching people the importance of emoting. One of the first things I teach is that we are born knowing how to laugh and cry – expressing emotions are innate to the human experience. Our bodies are designed to experience emotions and yet after birth, many of us are taught NOT to express them instead of how to express them effectively.

I cringe at all of the times as a parent that I told one of my children to “hush up”, “stop crying”, “suck it up”, or the worst… “I’ll give you something to cry about”. Continue reading “Before Xanax”

Who You Are

When I can see my imperfections and LOVE MYSELF ANYWAY, my ability to be in the world authentically is greatly enhanced.

The most common form of despair is not being who you are… ~  Søren Kierkegaard

One of the most common conversations I have in my office is the one that focuses on personal authenticity. It seems like a ‘no-brainer’ – “just be yourself” and some of us believe that we are – yet depression and anxiety live in the space between how we behave out in the world and how our hearts wish we would.

There are a couple of obvious examples that are stereotypical, commonly known – the Doctor’s child who is guided toward medical school but internally, yearns to be an artist or an accountant. Or the person who yearns for same-sex intimacy yet believes he or she is only ‘acceptable’ as a heterosexual.

I see problems with authenticity with people who believe that no matter what they do – it’s not ‘good enough’… perhaps what they are doing IS the best and authentic to them yet they are unable to recognize it as so.

We are so driven to meet standards from outside of ourselves. First – our family or teachers and then from our society or culture and then again, our partner/spouse and social circles. The struggle I faced as a kid to ‘fit in’ in terms of body shape and physical fitness was real. I grew up in the era of ‘Twiggy’ where pencil thin was in and my Victorian physic had been out for hundreds of years. Standards of education, socioeconomic class, sexuality, language skills… they exist in every realm of our lives and so we strive to meet them with little regard for the ‘truth’ or the sincerity with which we present those standards to the world.

Earlier this week a client was expressing frustration that interacting with a relative often produced a gross reaction, sending the client into throws of ugly and spiteful thoughts while she spewed derogatory remarks that came from an unknown place inside of her. “That’s not who I am”, she says. She emphasized that she didn’t like that kind of reaction and she really hated herself when it happened. “How do I make it stop?” she was pleading for relief of the ‘despair’ she experienced when she found herself tackling sarcasm and malicious sentiment, tit for tat.

While some may argue that her behavior in that moment was indeed ‘part of her’, it was notably not part of who she ‘wanted’ to be. She saw herself as a kind person, warm and considerate most all of the time. She never wanted to represent herself as someone who could be enticed into a verbal warfare of inflammatory and debasing commentary. And so, when she gravitated there – for whatever reason – she experienced a sense of ‘inauthenticity’… that particular behavior was NOT part of the person she genuinely wanted to present to the world.

I remember taking family photographs the fall before Hubby and I were first separated. We met with a photographer, wore similar outfits, and snapped photos all over a local Civil War battlefield on a cool Fall day. By the time we got the proofs back, our relationship was feeling more strain and the pretending I was actively engaged in was becoming tiring. I looked at those photos and thought about how disingenuous I was in almost every one of them. There was a smile on my face and we posed well together, but Hubby and I were definitely NOT authentic. I didn’t feel the happiness that was represented in the picture – I knew it was a lie.

Sometimes we don’t notice or understand – there is no conscious awareness that we are living inauthentically. Several years ago, my family deserted me for a weekend, doing their own things – scouts, golf, etc… I found myself in the house alone for a whole weekend. It was just before Thanksgiving and so I began my Christmas crafting – making a disastrous mess out of the kitchen and dining area but loving the fact that I could leave my stuff out – and all over – without impacting anyone else. I never even noticed that time was passing. I was content, satisfied, at peace.

By the end of that weekend, I realized that I was ‘fed’ by utilizing my creative energy. I knew that about myself and yet, over time, I had allowed the opportunities for artistic expression to become unimportant, or at least very low on my list of priorities. I noticed how charged and full of enthusiasm I felt by Sunday evening; I was glad to see everyone when they came home. I had utilized my energy in one of the most AUTHENTIC ways possible and my psyche understood. I’ve never allowed myself to forget that experience and I always have something in the works. In reality, I had to open an Etsy shop in order to have an outlet from where to part with all of the ‘creations’ that I had generated. They are simple, imperfect things but they are made from a Zen place… at least that’s where my mind is when I am in creative mode.

Today, I am using that energy to write (and maybe fitting in a craft or two).

I believe that the most important part of being authentic is accepting ALL of you – the parts you don’t like, the parts you want to change, the parts that will never change, and the parts that you think the world will reject along with all the wonderful, amazing, and talented aspects of yourself. My life completely turned around when I understood that the whole of my person wasn’t all great – and accepted it. When I can see my imperfections and LOVE MYSELF ANYWAY, my ability to be in the world authentically is greatly enhanced.

I can’t tell you how many times in a session when I ask a client to say “I love you” to themselves – there is an emotional block or a strong emotional reaction. When we accept ourselves AS WE ARE and strive to present ourselves to the world bearing the values and qualities that WE aspire, we are living authentically and then… despair cannot exist. Learn to love everything about yourself – even the things you want to change. You don’t have to like them – only accept that they are there. Then – change begins and you can be WHO you are.


We danced the night away taking great pleasure in our ‘little secret’ which was nothing more than a promise to one another but held tremendous regard in both of our hearts.

Continued from Fitting IN

“We must accept what comes to us at a given time, and not ask for more. But life is endless, so we never die; we were never really born. We just pass through different phases. There is no end. Humans have many dimensions. But time is not as we see time, but rather in lessons that are learned.” ― Brian L. Weiss

I hadn’t been skinny dipping in decades and my mind was reminding me of the extremely limited appreciation I had for my body image. I had four children and the evidence was everywhere. I stayed neck deep in water as I turned and looked back toward the beach to see Harlan’s reaction. I noticed he was just completing the removal of his own clothing and walked, a little more self-confident, into the water toward me.

The sensation of being naked, in the sun is not sexual. It is exhilarating – primal almost – there is a transcendent element perhaps in the way that sun and water come together on the totality of your body. We were there together, experiencing the cardinal thrill of just being two people entangled solely in nature at its finest. We dove under the water, splashed it at one another, and swam a bit. The intensity of the beauty of the beach and the water paled compared to the intensity of how we were looking at one another. I felt as if I could see into the innermost corner of his soul and I believed he could see mine. We moved toward one another and I wrapped my arms around him with an immediate desire to never let go.

When I stripped off my clothing, I apparently also abandoned the reserve that had allowed me to keep myself from going this deep – from acknowledging feelings this vivid and intense. I was back there – in that place of vulnerability where there is an unlocked door to the cavern of fear and to the one of hope. I had been inching my way there, noticing how our relationship was growing in respect and acceptance, noticing how great he was with the girls, how open he was to tolerating my ‘stuff’. I was instantly joyful and terrified that I might be blasted out of this position and yet I wasn’t moving away – I was present and intentional.

“I love you”, I said.

“I love you” he replied.

“I want to be with you always”, I say softly and lovingly. Previously, we had briefly talked about marriage and yet we both knew that it didn’t make sense financially and so we had taken it off the table. I didn’t need a piece of paper or a group of people to validate how I felt right then, about this man or how he felt about me. We knew what we had. We knew our intentions. We spoke them then.

“I promise to always be there for you, to respect you, and to listen.” He was watching me. “I promise to be authentic with you and to share myself completely as I am able.” The words had not been premeditated and were pouring from my heart. I continued. “I promise to support you and to learn from you”.

Each of us smiled patiently. He begins “And I promise to be there for you. To support you and help you whenever I can.” I see an intensity in his face that tells me he is speaking from his soul. “I promise to hold you and comfort you, to keep you safe.” My heart flutters. “I promise, to be honest at all times.”

I must admit that I am right now – writing the words that I believe we said to one another. We’ve often talked about the preciseness of what we remember hearing and saying that afternoon but I believe that we were both so caught up in the moment that all we specifically recall is the ‘essence’ of what was actually spoken. We acknowledge that we dedicated ourselves to one another in the water, in the buff, on the beach, with no one in attendance and it was probably the most romantic thing that has ever happened to either of us. We walked out of the water different than we had walked in.

We weren’t married, we weren’t legal, our union would never be officially acknowledged but we knew… we felt the strength of the emotional coupling that had taken place and we knew it to be a soulful bond. Perhaps – we would later comment – it was as natural as it was because it had happened before… perhaps in another lifetime and we were simply reuniting with one another. It was intimate, organic, and spontaneous. It was perfect.

Later that day we held hands and looked sheepishly at one another as my brother and his new wife committed themselves to one another on a cliff overlooking the Caribbean at sunset. Their union was beautiful and traditional and legal but no more intrinsic than the one we had self-officiated earlier in the day. We danced the night away taking great pleasure in our ‘little secret’ which was nothing more than a promise to one another but held tremendous regard in both of our hearts.

Leaving Puerto Rico was bittersweet. We knew we had a ton of obligations as soon as we returned home, Harlan would be opening his print shop and I would be starting my last year of classwork before I began an internship. We were full of hope and optimism for what our lives together would bring. It wasn’t perfect… we still couldn’t ‘live’ together but knew that there as a timer on that restriction. We knew that we still had much to learn about one another and more emotional bags to unpack. We realized that daily stressors would continue to challenge our coping skills. All we could do was find comfort in the idea that going forward – we would be doing it all together.

Harlan wasn’t setting quite the sail that he had anticipated. Instead of setting out down the Chesapeake Bay, he was setting up in a small Pennsylvania town. I was allowing myself one more shot at love in spite of all the resistance I had professed; swearing to give up on men. I had no idea what life had in store for me but I knew that in every experience I had to date – there was purpose and value. I was beginning to see myself in a new light – one where strength and love poured over me and into my spirit; where that energy drove me.

I found myself trusting that the Universe, God, was indeed on the same page as me although I realized that its demonstration of time was something that I still needed to reconcile. We used different clocks apparently. There was still so much to learn and I discovered an urgency and an affinity to seek it all.