Archives for posts with tag: Friendship

I am more comfortable giving than receiving emotional support. Nonetheless, I have found my self being “a friend in need” more than not recently. I have also been working a lot, trying to keep my head down, and keeping myself busy. It worked to a certain extent then it didn’t.

I had also planned a busy summer with lots of fun activities, spending time with friends, spending time with family, and spending time in nature. I was very much looking forward to spending three days with friends from out of town. I knew that it would be fun, they would have fun, and there would be some light and easy times.

And then it happened. I lost track of myself, my fatigue, and my anxiety. The beginning of the visit was marked by my anxiety and the bags under my eyes. I wasn’t fooling anyone. I was tired. I have slept solidly through the night once in the last two months and sometimes I am awake for a number of hours. Not sleeping well takes a major toll on me. I took on more than I could handle comfortably and then life gave me much much more. And I didn’t ask for enough help and when I didn’t do it in the way that solicits a whole lot of empathy.

Lo and behold, after a brief but intense temper tantrum, I got my shit together and focused on having a break from my daily grind, spending time with dear friends and with my husband. I had a wonderful three days. I went to mountains and islands. We talked and laughed. The tight worry in my chest and the cotton in my brain eased. I remembered what it is like to have relaxed joy.

Then I came back to my regularly scheduled program of life. I immediately picked up on the stress and anxiety in my household. Initially, I felt disappointment that I was getting wound up again so quickly. Then I remembered that I have skills. I have things to try. I started using paced breathing, a technique to strong emotions quickly. It worked. Today, I am feeling the anxiety again. And now I am writing, another strategy that helps. My heart is slowing and I am finding myself more and more in the present moment as I type these words.

I am a friend in need and I got the support I needed from both other people and from my own internal resources.

Today, I am grateful for my family.

Today, I am grateful for my friends.

Today, I am grateful for nature.

Today, I am grateful for my tenacity.

 

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I remember the beginning of my face to face relationship with my daughter. The nurse put her in my arms. “Welcome to the world,” I said as I placed a tender kiss on her forehead. She was an utterly perfect clean slate full of infinite possibility.

As she grew, she changed and so did our relationship. By the time she was a four year old, she was lively, happy, brilliant, confident, independent but connected, and as sweet as could be. “This little girl is going to change the world someday,” I found myself thinking. She was a slate full of infinite happy and healthy positives.

Many parents of challenging teens rhapsodize about their children when they were younger and perhaps even exaggerate. But I can tell you, I was not alone in being in awe of this child and no, I’m not just talking about her loving father, my husband, John.

A major parenting challenge is when the slate of possibilities changes, for some children earlier than others but for most it certainly changes in adolescence. Teens create consequences, short and long-term than they can’t really fully appreciate as they are putting actions in motion. In other words, a common part of growing up is making foolish decisions that could make adulthood much different.

The slate gets dirty. There are still good possibilities but some scary painful possibilities join them. When we love our children and hold their happiness and dreams in our hearts, it can be all too easy to focus on the dirty parts of the slate. Plus, since adolescence is even harder for the teen than the parent, we get the punched in the gut feeling as we watch them struggle through tumultuous times.

I love my girl. She is still brilliant and lively. She is not always happy. She has highs and lows of confidence. She is still super sweet deep down and it is not rare for it to bubble back up to the surface. But to be honest, it is sometimes anxiety-provoking to introduce her to my friends. There is that worry that she will be obnoxious, provocative, anxious, or lacking in manners. She doesn’t really adjust her behavior much based on whether she is with adults or peers. You could be the Queen of England and there would be a chance that she would greet you with a brain rattling belch.

But the truth is that as unpredictable as she can be, adults actually tend to like her. I know that part of the embarrassment on my part, is the common sense that one’s child is the product of parenting. But that’s not all of it. I think that another piece is that she is different than she used to be and as she moves forward, her fate is less and less subject to my influence and protection.

The slate I see when I view my daughter is no longer clean. It is full of known positives, known negatives, and much gray that has not yet been elucidated by time. I look at her and I just don’t know. She is not like the joyful curious 4 year-old for whom my husband and I were the center of the universe. Time can take her away from her wishes and dreams. It can take her away from her own compass of right and wrong. It can take her away from us. It is very scary.

As a breast cancer patient, I have often felt like an adolescent. I have oft written about how the integration of cancer into my identity calls back to the original phase of my identity development during adolescence and early adulthood.

I have been reflecting a lot about my long time relationships and how breast cancer, and how I have changed in response to it, has impacted them. I am not the same person as I was before. And the slate of possibilities for my life has been dirtied by breast cancer. I realize that some have responded to me like a changeable teen. It is not a constant, but there is strain on some of my relationships and it is palpable. With some people I can feel it in my gut, even over two years past diagnosis. I am engendering fear through my association with cancer.

I have made a number of new friends through my breast cancer blogging. Sometimes these friendships seem like a vacation away. There is ease to them at times that is rare in most of my close relationships. I have been very grateful for this but at the same time, it’s seemed a little odd. And I think given how much writing there is in the breast cancer community about the perceived realness of cyber friendships, I believe I am not alone.

One of the reasons that it feels odd is that I feel small but perceptible twinges of disloyalty to my long time friends. Whee! Cyber-friends all the way!! Mostly, I have tried to appreciate and nurture friendships regardless of their origin and focus my efforts on those that are mutually supportive.

It occurred to me today that one of the reasons that new friendships have been so important to me is that none of them knew me before cancer. None of them have had to incorporate this into a pre-existing concept of me. So even though cancer is on my slate, I started with a dirty slate.

During most of my adult life, I have introduced myself to others with a smile and a handshake. I may talk about the weather or about casual pleasantries. As a blogger, I introduce myself to others with my illness. “Hi, I am a cancer patient. I write about personal and painful things. To relieve my anxiety about this, I sometimes make boob jokes.” Despite the the fact that I lead with my disease in this way, I have become part of an amazing community of people, which has led to other connections outside of the community. What a wonderful gift indeed.

As you know, I arrived in North Carolina last Wednesday for some much appreciated vacation as well as to attend the first ever reunion of all classes from my clinical psychology Ph.D. program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. This is the first time I’ve traveled to NC on my own since my dissertation defense in 1997, which was a very short trip since I was still a psychology intern and needed to get back to work.

A five night trip with near total freedom in deciding my itinerary. A trip to a place I love. You know how James Taylor sings, “In my mind I’m going to Carolina”? He’s singing about Chapel Hill. His father was on faculty with the medical school. Chapel Hill is beautiful and song worthy. It is a relatively small city, dominated by a university, which is the oldest public institution of higher learning in the United States.

The first thing I noticed as I was driving from the airport to my friends’ house in Raleigh, was the countryside. The beautiful trees along the highway in their early stages of autumn color change. I noticed a glorious blue sky.

And then I saw them, the telltale V shape birds that pitch and rock when they glide. The turkey vultures were flying over the tree canopy. They are really interesting birds. They don’t live an elegant life. They are not smooth fliers and they scavenge for food instead of heroically gliding and catching fish that glint silver in the sun over the water.. I am not an ecologist but my guess is that despite their bad reputation, they are good for the ecosystem. In any event, with the exception of that apple tree attack in the Wizard of Oz, we don’t fear trees because they grow on decaying matter, some of it from animals, do we?

So one of my goals for this trip was to be mindful of places, people, and experiences. When I do this, I can find myself driving on one of the countless highways in the Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill area and waxing romantically about an ugly bird that eats dead animals. This is the power of mindfulness. I say this half-jokingly but it is true. Mindfulness can transform something ugly into something else.

Throughout my mindful trip, I noticed that mindfulness is on the mind of a good number of my North Carolina friends. Doris Ann Price, a lively, artsy, bright and fun woman was the first person I met with on my first full day in NC. Doris Ann and I met in 3-D for the first time last Thursday. She was diagnosed with breast cancer some time ago and made the awful transition to metastatic cancer several years ago. Doris Ann is famous in social media for wearing a button that says, “Cancer Sucks”, a pair of artsy/intellectual glass, her smart black and red wardrobe, and her bright red “Lady Danger” lipstick. (I learned that this is her nickname, something that a friend told M.A.C. Cosmetics about, which resulted in Doris Ann receiving a lifetime supply of their “Lady Danger” lipstick.)

I enjoyed interacting with Doris Ann on Facebook but I didn’t really know her. Contrary to somewhat popular opinion, extroversion is not a super power (nor is introversion an illness, for that matter.). I typically feel at least slightly awkward when meeting new people even when I am very much looking forward to it. Doris Ann and I hit it off right away and had a lovely time together filled with fun and meaningful conversation.

Doris Ann’s cancer has spread to her brain. This is something I knew about her. What I didn’t know it that her voice right now, is a few notches above a whisper because a tumor is pressing against her vocal cords. Her throat is also narrowed, making eating a lot process with very small bites.

Doris Ann was very genuine with me about the challenges that cancer has brought to her life. Despite this, she is a very lively woman who has found a way to keep joy in her life. She told me that she “moves forward” in life until she sees a stop sign. And then at that point, she stops, reflects, problem solves, and regroups. Doris Ann’s health is monitored quite closely by her oncologists and other healthcare providers. She is an upbeat person but certainly not a Pollyanna. Doris Ann is mindful of the seriousness of her health as well as the positives in her life. I admire her emotional strength very much. Plus she was fun and brought me very delicious gluten-free pastries as a gift!

A couple of days later, I found myself at my reunion. I immediately saw someone I knew, Don Baucom, a faculty member who had been the director of clinical training when I was a student. He was greeting people as they arrived. Don is a gracious and kind man with keen intellect and a wonderful sense of humor. He greeted me with a big hug and I felt a little less awkward about going to a party with people I had not seen for a very long time.

I loved graduate school but there was part of it that was like the longest adolescence a person can have that is actually healthy and not just living in your parents’ basement playing videogames, until age 30. The program was supportive but very rigorous and difficult. These were very smart and successful students. We had never had to work so hard to do well in school. So there was insecurity and competition on top of the competition that is part of any academic environment at a major university.

There were only two other people at the reunion from my class and very few from other classes whom I knew all that well. And only two of my professors were there. At one point, I thought, “maybe I’ll leave early.” Then I got my mind out of the past and into the present and proceeded to have a very good time reconnecting with and meeting people.

A couple of particularly lovely things happened. I heard a voice behind me say excitedly, “Elizabeth!” It was April Harris-Britt, who had worked in my dissertation lab, while she was an undergraduate student (I did not work on a professor’s project. I did an independent project, developing and evaluating a parent education program.) April was a wonderful student and I encouraged her to continue in psychology at the graduate level. She did and she entered the Clinical Psychology Ph.D. program after I left. She now has a private practice in Durham, NC.

“I was so excited to see your name on the guest list,” she said as she held my hand. “When I think about why I became a psychologist, I always think of you.” I gave her a hug, a kiss on the cheek, got a little teary and told her how awesome she was and is. Then we caught up on our lives. I saw a photo of her beautiful 4 year old grand-daughter.

This was a very moving encounter. I have found that since I started practicing mindfulness, I don’t feel as awkward showing affection that I genuinely feel. Now, I’m not going around kissing everyone’s cheek. Another part of my mindfulness is trusting that my own guesses as to whether someone would be comfortable with this, are pretty good. After all, knowing people pretty well is part of my job.

There was live bluegrass music at the reunion. They were very good. There was space for dancing but no one was out there dancing. I was sitting next to Sandra Zinn, a lively, brilliant, free spirited woman who graduated a couple of years after me. She said, “No one is dancing!” You know that I love to dance and I’m learning to get past my fears of being bad at partner dancing and just not care that I am bad at it. So I put out my hand and said, “Let’s go!” As I anticipated, Sandra accepted. We made up for lack of skill with enthusiasm, smiles, and giggling. About two minutes into the song, I started feeling self-conscious and told her, “I’m running out of moves.” She said, “It doesn’t matter as long as you keep moving.”

I have done a lot of things this month that would have been hard for me to do in the past. I have had 3 D encounters with three friends whom I met on the internet, one of whom is one of my very closest friends. (The third is the lovely, talented, and interesting Frieda Rosenburg, a retired UNC librarian. We had a marvelous time at the NC Botanical Garden and shopping at A Southern Season.) I have partner danced with two different people on two different occasions.

I am still not good at partner dancing. But it’s much more important to know how to live well than how to dance well. I still get nervous meeting new people or feel awkward in a crowd. But I am learning the difference between real stop signs and fabricated ones like the ones caused by social anxiety, perfectionism, and borrowing trouble from a future I can’t know until it gets here.

The fabricated stop signs are exhausting and when I make them, I miss out on a lot in my life. I don’t know how long my life will be or how many stop signs are coming up. In the meantime, I will live a life as mindful, meaningful, and as genuine as I can.

Doris Ann at Weaver Street Market in Carrboro, NC.

Doris Ann at Weaver Street Market in Carrboro, NC.

With Frieda Rosenberg at the NC Botanical Garden. Photo by Frieda Rosenberg, 2014.

With Frieda Rosenberg at the NC Botanical Garden. Photo by Frieda Rosenberg, 2014.

My dissertation adviser, Joe Lowman with alumna Sandra Zinn. This photo captures each of them perfectly! And do you blame me for asking Sandra to dance?

My dissertation adviser, Joe Lowman with alumna Sandra Zinn. This photo captures each of them perfectly! And do you blame me for asking Sandra to dance?

April and me. Did I mention that I am so very proud of April?

April and me. Did I mention that I am so very proud of April?

“He’s a boy. He’s my friend. But he’s not my boyfriend!”

Since I was a girl, I have heard other girls say this time and time again. First they were my peers, then my patients, then a variation of this said by my own daughter. The last time I read the research literature on the subject (ahem, awhile ago), I learned that children will play and interact with both sexes equally until about age 3, at which time same sex preferences become the norm.

I have had close male friends since I was a teen. And since I was an adult, men have been among my very closest friends. My husband is my best friend and has been for 28 years. I’m not talking about him. I’m talking about my platonic male friends.

I suppose this is somewhat unusual. At least, most of my women friends do not have non-related close male friends. At my core, it’s felt natural to me. I grew up with five brothers and my mom has had male friends through choir for many years. I am interested in people and men are people.

I have to admit, though, that making and keeping male friends requires hard work. The easiest way to have a male friend, or any friend, really, is to work together. I don’t have any male colleagues at my office. Most of my close male friends don’t even live near by. Most of them live on the east coast.

I had a sad epiphany last week. I was talking to a close male friend and asked him a question. I don’t remember what the question was but I realized after asking it that I already knew the answer and I had been asking out of irrational anxiety and seeking reassurance about the stability of our friendship. I commented on this to him and noted that I needed to think about why I had asked the question in the first place.  Then the answer came to me. “I’ve lost every close male friend I’ve ever had.”

I didn’t mean that I’d fought with them or that I no longer considered them to be friends at all. People move. I’ve lived around the country. So have a good number of my friends. Men get married and get busy with family. They tend to work longer hours. On top of that, men are less likely to be taught how to maintain friendships across distance, how to make phone calls, emails, send Christmas cards, etc. Whenever I happen to see these friends, however, they are thrilled to see me.

Are you surprised that the reasons were not because of the man/woman thing? There is research showing that men tend to sexualize friendliness from women whereas women just think they are being friendly. And I also recall many hours as a research assistant reading essays by men and women who were asked to pretend that they had met God and to describe the encounter. As part of the research, men were told that God was female and the women were told that God was male. The women tended to describe God as an ideal friend, a great listener, kind, and someone who understood them. The men’s essays included a lot of sexual fantasies. But these studies were conducted long ago and the men and women studied were college students. People have a way of growing up.

It is true that I have had a couple of close friends try to cross friendship boundaries. But they were not crazy and I was clear about the relationship. They got an earful from me, I let my husband know what had transpired, and the relationships survived. And yes, sometimes I flirt with men to whom I am not married. It happens. I never found myself in hot water over it but maybe in luke warm water.

The main impediments I have found are logistical. And yes, I can reach out. I have, many times. There are only so many times I will call, email, or write with no reply. I don’t take this personally but I find it very sad.

Later this week, I will be in North Carolina for my graduate program reunion. I am spending a good part of the day with one of my male friends, who was one of my very closest friends for 3-4 years. We have not spoken to each other since I last visited NC eight years ago. We have texted 2-3 times since then. I know that we will have a marvelous time together. He will be thrilled to see me. But I also know him and he will feel guilty for not keeping in touch. He’s that way, plus when he disclosed recently that he missed me a lot, I did not let him off the hook. “If only there were some communication tools we could use to solve that problem”, I asked. (Yes, I know. I can be an ass kicker. But sometimes people need a light ass kicking from their good natured friend. This was one of those times.)

Friends are so very important. There are a source of love, joy, silliness, and solace. They are only a phone call, a Skype, or a text away.

It was mid-August, 1990. I had just returned from a trip to Egypt and still had Saharan sands in the treads of my shoes.

The first thing I noticed was the air. It was so heavy it seemed wrong not to give it a name of it’s own. Humidity so high that if it were in a film, it would not only get a credit, but a stunt double.

People say, “It’s not the heat. It’s the humidity.” Having encountered North Carolina heat in August for the very first time only days after being in the African desert, I can tell you that there is a lot of wisdom in that saying.

“Welcome to the South” it said. “I will not go unnoticed!” Air is so thick that it blurs the crisp outlines around objects. Even the simplest sights become layered in mist that just hangs in place. The addition of a breeze would make it lose its power.

That is the hazy, lazy look of the South for many months of the year. And despite the haze, it is visually saturated with pigments, like vivid watercolor paints.

There is also the smell. At its best, it is a sultry blend of jasmine, magnolia, and nicotiana blossoms. The famous chef, Mario Batali, says that the best fruit for gelati is the fruit that is right on the edge of turning rotten. That is the way the South smells at it’s best. The maximum saturation of heady scent right before it passes the point of Heavenly to just rotten.

The South can be loud even in the quiet of nature. Mockingbirds sing an endless repertoire of captivating songs. I have heard cicadas singing at dusk, so loudly that they drowned out the actors during an outdoor performance of the strangest play I ever saw.

Last Saturday, John and I visited our 28th state together, Louisiana to hear our daughter sing in New Orleans. We’ve long wanted to visit this city for it’s history, music, food, and culture. As I walked around the city for the first time, I was struck by how familiar it was to me, a native north westerner.

I lived in the South for seven years at a very important time in my life. I have a number of dear friends in the South, some of them as close as family.

It was lovely to to visit my home away from home after all of these years.DSC00432 DSC00387 DSC00388 DSC00390

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My brothers and I used to play with tops as children. There were the big metal ones with stripes and the little wooden ones. They never spun in one place and the fastest spins would send the top traveling far across the unfinished concrete basement of our house. (We did not feel deprived. We used to roller skate, shoot pool, and play table tennis down there. It was a kids’ paradise.)

I have written over 550 posts since beginning this blog in May of 2012. There are recurrent themes. Recently, I actually used the same title for a post that I’d used near the beginning of my writing. The other day I thought to myself, “I am really writing about the same things over and over.” But because I try to practice mindfulness, I tried to let that observation set for a bit before coming to quick conclusions like, “Wow, people must be getting bored.” Or, “I am in a creative rut.”

Eventually, I realized something that I’ve realized before, which is that our lives are full of re-experiences and re-examinations. I spin on these themes and as I travel through my life, instead of losing momentum like a top, I find myself finding deeper meanings. I also find myself able to better integrate the aspects of my life, which leads to a greater sense of integrity and connection.

I have long known that I am a naturally anxious person and that most of my anxiety in the past has been around fearing not being “good enough” as well as social anxiety. And I have also had anxiety about my physical safety, which led to years of avoiding real or simulated danger (ex., roller coasters). As I’ve just scratched the surface of mindfulness, I find myself still aware of my natural inclination to be stressed by unknowns, to worry about my friends and family, and to sometimes act like a less than entirely confident person.

The difference now is that I have gotten to the point in accepting my anxiety, when I am actually started to stop myself from apologizing to other people for the fact that I can fret a bit. Because really, I cope pretty well. I am a pretty resilient. Plus, apologizing for a little bit of excess anxiety just makes other people anxious, I have found. Yesterday, instead of thinking to myself that I was a somewhat high maintenance friend for requesting reassurance, I thought to myself, “I could tell myself not to get worried about people but that solution hasn’t worked. I think I can reveal the fact that I am a bit of a worrier and is not going to be a deal breaker for this friend.”

I concluded my post “mess” with, “I may be a mess, but I am a mess with potential.” Similarly, I may spin and whirl and come back to the same lessons over and over in my life. I may be a dervish, but I’m a dervish with a purpose. I am getting somewhere.

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Today I thought I’d revisit the words of Rumi with a horrible pun! Sorry, I couldn’t resist. But seriously, I’ve been thinking back to a Rumi quote that I encountered at the beginning of my mindfulness practice, also near the beginning of my cancer treatment in 2012.

Don’t turn away.
Keep your gaze on
the bandaged place.
That is where the light enters you.

At the beginning, the bandaged places were literal. Dr. Beatty did my first three of surgeries. He left a single 2 inch wide strip of Arglaes film dressing over each surgery site. This was even true of my mastectomy. One piece of adhesive film. I know that it was called, “Arglaes” because he was so excited about using it. And having had subsequent surgeries with more traditional dressings, I could see why. It was comfortable, flexible, didn’t bind, and it was waterproof. I could shower immediately.

I did look at my bandaged places. I know a lot of women don’t like to deal with their surgical drains or to see their mastectomy incisions, especially prior to reconstruction, if reconstruction is chosen. And I know that some women don’t even like to look at themselves after reconstruction. But as a naturally curious person who is trained both as a scientist and as a healthcare provider, I wanted to look. I was calmly fascinated with how surgery is done, about how my body was changed, and about how healing took place. This helped me a great deal in coping with the physical losses and to keep myself from being overwhelmed by the enormity of it all.

I realize now that my training in observation and data gathering helped set a perfect stage for me to start mindfulness practice. I am very good at noticing things in the present as well as noticing patterns across time. The adjustment that I had to make was in minimizing the interpretation and even harder, to let myself have my experiences without trying to immediately change them. I am a very good problem solver. I will continue to solve problems in my life. But sometimes I do it out to avoid feeling anxious, guilty, or sad. And some problems can’t be solved through problem-solving. Some problems just need to breathe. They don’t even need a bandage.

I am a mother, a wife, a psychologist, and a friend. I deal not just with my own hurts but the hurts of my loved ones as well as those of my patients and their families. I am paid to help solve people’s problems and to not only look at their bandaged places but find the sources of the bleeding. And even as early as middle school, boys and girls solicited my advice about relationships and other typical teen issues.

In my professional life, it is a challenging process to adopt an appropriate role with my patients and their families. I can’t solve all problems and ultimately, I can’t solve their problems for them even if I am fairly certain that my recommendations will improve matters considerably. I teach people strategies for coping with life, I offer ways of thinking about things that may be helpful. But I don’t carry out the strategies or do the thinking. And I can’t control every aspect of a child’s internal or external environment. Wow, when I put it that way, I am kind of amazed that I can be effective at my job at all!

What is even more challenging, though is seeing wounds on family members and friends. Even when I am right about it, they may not see these wounds themselves. Or they may be desperately trying to cover them to avoid appearing incompetent or weak to the rest of the world. I remember when I started graduate school, I was pretty open about my anxiety. I flailed openly! A number of my classmates looked incredibly nonplussed. How could they be so confident? When I found out that one of these folks was keeping a running score for how all of us had done on exams and assignments so that he could gauge his place in the pack, the fact that I was always seeing him taking aspirin started making a different sort of sense to me. Those people don’t tend to ask for help even if they need it. They do not want to be exposed for the failures that they fear they are.

Other people in my life have been very open in their distress and instead of having trouble asking for help, they ask for too much. Help to solve problems that don’t really exist. Help to solve problems that are best solved by oneself. Help to avoid solving problems altogether and other types of reassurance seeking.

I am learning more and more with my loved ones when to speak up and when to listen. The hardest for me, however, is to say and to do nothing. To watch someone suffer and want to do something active to help. To turn down requests to bail someone out when I know it would be better for him or her to solve the problem independently.

I am growing a lot as a person. I have so much more to learn and thank Heavens for that as it makes life rich and interesting.

 

Yesterday, I was reading through my posts for 2013 as a review. I’d had a good and productive day. I was happy all day. And then I came to my post from August when I was hit with grief over the anniversaries of my mastectomy as well as the death of my friend, Gina. I remember that day in August. I cried for hours, which is something I have done less than a handful of times in my life outside of the two times I had clinical depression.

Yesterday I cried for about 20 minutes and then I actually felt good again. I’m not one of those people who usually feels better after crying. I mean I know that it is necessary to express grief but I still usually feel exhausted and cotton headed after I cry. The grief startled me because I found instantly found myself loudly and sloppily crying. The intensity of my grief felt like the day Gina died. And my worries about my own mortality, especially the prospect of dying before my daughter is grown, only intensified it.

I’m of the opinion that life is complex and there’s usually not one reason why something happens. But I will say that viewing a series of black and white photos of a husband and wife over the course of the wife’s treatment and later death from breast cancer, likely was a catalyst for this latest crying jag. One of the photos is a head shot of the pair in bed, holding each other, each with a look of utter bliss. It’s a beautiful and happy image. And it reminds me of my husband and I. John is a very affectionate man. He hugs me in his sleep and if I awaken in the middle of the night and put my arm around him, he makes a sigh of contentment and holds my hand. And I don’t mean that he sometimes does this. He always reaches for my hand, every time over the past 23 years. So I looked at that photo and immediately inserted myself into the image. And this woman who was born in the 70’s died. And you can see the progression of her illness in the photos with each photo showing loves and losses in the most poignant way. I found myself thinking, “That could have been me. That still could be me.” I didn’t dwell on the thoughts but I had them nonetheless.

I had nightmares that night. (People, when you wonder why I am careful about watching intense, violent, and/or scary films. This is why. They have given me nightmares since I was about 6 years old.) In one, I was at a parade that included some past beauty queens, women who were now middle-aged. They were beautifully dressed but instead of being on a parade float, they were lying in open caskets on wheels! Even in the dream I thought, “What on Earth? What is this supposed to symbolize about women, beauty, and aging?” And then later in the dream, I was at the funeral of a relative. I don’t remember anything except she was a woman in my family. I remember having grief during the dream about missing my grandmother who died in 1993. In the final part of the dream, my daughter was acting completely and utterly out of control. As rebellious and angry as she could be. It was terrifying.

I am a genuinely happy person. One who has been through a lot. And lots of people have been through a lot in their lives with different impacts and different ways of coping. I am a person who feels things deeply but I am also a deep thinker. And I feel both positive and negative emotions as well as having positive and negative thoughts. I feel happy and calm most of the time. I think part of these intense moments I have of sadness and fear come from the enormity of what I have to lose, my family, my friends, my independence, my capacity to help others as a psychologist.

Today’s New Year’s Eve resolution is to remind myself of the strength of my connections, my connections to myself through my own self-awareness and the purposeful way in which I try to lead my life. My connection to my daughter who is doing so well and so happy right now. My connection to my husband who loves me so dearly that he reaches out to me even when he is fast asleep. Who trusts me so deeply that he allows me to be very open about the ups and downs of our relationship as well as our own personal shortcomings. My connection to my parents; I can’t imagine how hard it must be as older people, to worry about your child’s health and mortality. When my friend, Preben got cancer over five years ago, while still in his 30’s, I noticed that his parents started visiting him much more frequently. I told him half jokingly, “That’s what you get for getting cancer and scaring your parents.” My connections with my extended family have also strengthened. I have some wonderful cousins and sister-in-laws and my brothers have actually nudged themselves out of their comfort zone a little to be a bit more affectionate with their sister.

My friendship connections over the past year and a half have seen the most change. I have made a number of new friends who have startled me with their intense and generous kindness. I know that some of them will come and go but I think that a good number of them will be lifelong friends. I have had old friendships that have evolved into something much deeper than they were in the past. But I have also experienced some lost friendships and some that have been made weaker by my cancer. This mixture of bitter and sweet, of gains and losses, is somewhat dizzying to a person like me who craves consistency and solidity. But I have learned to cope with chaos in my life. I want to be happy and I know chaos happens no matter what I do. So what is my choice other than to try to make peace with it, live along side of it, and accept that I sometimes lose my footing.

Finally, today I remind myself of my reconnection with nature. I spend time outside every day. I have been able to travel to the mountains and to the sea. I am outdoors during good weather and in bad. Even in the most exposed and vulnerable parts of nature, there is beauty. I feel a strong spiritual connection to everything when I walk. It is both intensely personal and beautifully communal.

That is today’s resolution. Tomorrow is a new day and a new year. I wish all of you good things in 2014: moments of joy, moments of peace, and fortitude among the suffering and chaos. Thank you for your connection and support. Xoxoxoxo.

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I’ve had a couple of difficult days. We all have them. It’s just part of life. Something throws you on your butt, you rally, you still feel kind of bad, maybe another thing knocks you back on your butt, you rally again, and keep inching your way along until you re-right yourself.

Today, I had paperwork to do but did not have to go to the office to see patients. I had been knocked on my butt a couple of days ago and still felt knocked down this morning. I meditated for a long time and thought about my life. My past, my present, and my future. I gained some clarity. I had some really wonderful thoughts about perfectionism, which I had planned to share on my blog, but promptly forgot as soon as I got out of bed. (Darn!)

The sky was blue today. I went out for my walk. The sky was not only blue but the mountains were visible. I walked to Bird on a Wire, my neighborhood coffee shop, which is quite excellent. It was as if the universe knew that I needed to be cheered up. Maddie said, “Oh, Elizabeth I’m glad you came at this time. (It was a slower part of the day.) We hate it when people we like come at busy times and we don’t get to talk to them.” Then Adrian noticed that a gluten-filled biscuit was being prepared for me instead of a gluten-free one. She saved me from some major eczema. Adrian keeps an extra eye on this, I’ve noticed and I very much appreciate it. And finally, Angel told me that I was one of his favorite people. The people who work at the coffee shop are always friendly but this was much more than usual. I told them that they were awesome but I did not let on that I was having a hard day and they have no idea how much their kindness meant to me. I also experienced the incredible kindness of a friend in the past couple of days who knew that I was having a hard time, who has checked in on me periodically over the past couple of days.

I continued, with coffee and gluten-free biscuit in hand on my walk. It was WAY too nice not to go to the beach. I didn’t have enough time to walk there so I walked a half mile back to my house, jumped into my car, and drove to Lincoln Park, which is on the Puget Sound. There was new snow on the Olympic Mountains. The sun was bright and the sky was a brilliant blue. The wind was strong and it was cold. But it was amazing! The water, the islands, the Olympic Peninsula, and the mountains were glorious. I saw osprey flying over the water and then suddenly drop to the water to fish. I saw cormorants and a few species of duck. At one point, I saw black figures as the waves broke. They were two harbor seals about 20 yards off of the coast. They were swimming along and coming up every several yards. I was able to walk along the beach fast enough to continue to observe them for several minutes. I have seen seals at this beach, but only 2 or 3 times in the past 10 years. The Pacific Madrone, one of my favorite trees, which only grow near salt water, were beautiful. The orange trunks with their peeling bark were beautiful against the blue sky. The towering Douglas fir were majestic.

I’ve had a stressful life for the past many years. The reasons for this are many, most of which I have written about here. One of the ways I deal with the stress as well as to help prevent recurrence of depression is to get a full body massage every three weeks. I have gotten them from the same lovely person, Jann Coons, for the past 13 years. The first massage from Jann was a gift from my husband for my 35th birthday. I got the first one and have never stopped going. I’ve had massages from three or four other people and no one holds a candle to Jann!

Jann surprised me today. She told me that she had a Christmas present for me in her car and noted that she couldn’t keep it in her office. She walked me out to her car and I could see that she was getting ready to open the trunk of her car. I said, “Oh, well I am guessing that you are not giving me a puppy!” She pulled an amazing variety of home grown vegetables, artfully arranged in a basket, from the cool depths of her trunk. The basket contained red chard, two kinds of kale, delicata and other squashes, red and yellow onions, mizuna (a type of green), and beautiful red beets. I’m sure Jann could tell that I was moved by her generosity. I gave her a big hug and a kiss on the cheek. I still can’t believe it. I almost cried.

I am not a traditionally religious person but I believe my faith in the spiritual beliefs I do have is very deep. Today, I experienced an overwhelmingly beautiful display of nature’s bounty. The bounty from the sky, the water, the mountains, dirt, and from other human beings, who are also part of the natural world. And I know this is only a fraction of the bounty that I enjoy. I have so many wonderful people in my life, friends and family. There are so many wonders of the Earth.

I know that Thanksgiving is not for another eight days but today I feel very thankful, very blessed, and so loved. My heart is bursting.20131120_121619

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Jann's Christmas present to me. A basket of health that she grew with her own hands.

Jann’s Christmas present to me. A basket of health that she grew with her own hands.

It is one of the blessings of old friends that you can afford to be stupid with them.
-Ralph Waldo Emerson

I had a very good friend, Mike, when I was high school. We did not go to the same school. We knew each other from summer music camp and we also played in a woodwind quintet together for a couple of years through a high school program at Cornish Institute for the Arts in Seattle. Mike played French horn. I played flute. In addition to being an amazing musician, Mike was smart, funny, and kind. His mother and grandmother had been interned as Japanese Americans during WWII. In high school, he was already involved in activism against racism. Mike and I graduated the same year, after which I stayed in Seattle to attend the University of Washington. He moved to Ohio and completed a bachelor’s in French horn at the Oberlin Conservatory. Mike visited me at college a couple of times when he was home for winter and summer break. I was thrilled that he would take time out to visit me, because he is such a great guy and all. Also, he told me that I should come to Oberlin because they needed good flutists. And also, because he missed me. (Swoon.) Oh wait, I forgot to mention something. I had a couple of big, multi-year crushes in my adolescence. Mike was one of them. And my crush on him was the only one that carried over from high school to college.

We wrote a few times and then we lost touch. After he graduated, he moved to New York and got a master’s degree in French horn from the Julliard School. Actually, if truth be told, I kept writing him and he either didn’t get the letters or stopped answering them. I was pretty steamed at him at one point but not because I still had a crush on him. I was dating John by then. It was because he had been a really good friend. And I HATE it when friends disappear.

In the years following high school, I came to suspect that Mike was gay. I worried that he’d cut off contact with me because he was afraid that I would disapprove. We were both raised in devout Catholic families. Our mothers had coincidentally both attended the same tiny all girls’, Immaculate Conception High School. We were both raised in pretty liberal households but Mike and I had never discussed our views on homosexuality. And times were a lot different 20+ years ago. I thought about writing him but that’s kind of an awkward letter to write. There’s no Hallmark card for, “I think you are gay and if you are that’s just fine with me and if you are not, that’s just fine with me, too. Have a great day!”

Once I learned how to Google, I periodically checked for Mike. He came up in searches frequently due to his activism (fairness for all despite race, sexuality, mental health status, or income) and also the 25 years he spent playing in the orchestra for Broadway shows in New York. But it wasn’t until five years ago that I actually found a way to contact him. Mike’s Facebook account came up on one of my searches. I didn’t belong to Facebook but I joined it in order to reconnect. And he didn’t remember me at first! And although as I suspected, Mike is gay, I don’t think our losing touch had anything to do with that. I think he just got swept away in his busy life.

I have seen Mike twice this year and although I have been so happy to see him more regularly, I have been very sad about the circumstances. His father died last spring. His mother died from ALS a number of years ago, not too long before I visited him in New York. Mike and his siblings all took turns taking care of their father, a month at a time. Mike now has a private acupuncture and herbal medicine practice in New York. He was leaving his business for a month at a time to care for his dad. Mike was also impacted by Hurricane Sandy during the same time period. He has had a really tough couple of years. And Mike is one of the most resilient people I know, which prompted me to write a post about him last March, when he visited me at the time of his father’s funeral, a couple of weeks after my TRAM surgery. (Mike has his own blog and wrote a beautiful post about his father life’s and transition to death. I highly encourage you to read it. You can find it here.)

Mike was in town again last week and I got to spend the afternoon with him on Friday. And although we had some deep conversation we also had fun. He looked less ashen than the last two times I’ve seen him. Mike’s spirit was lighter. We were silly. We were stupid with each other, like old friends are. I told him about the recording I made of my singing for my mom’s birthday. Mike told me that he didn’t remember the hymn by name. (I am suspicious about that.) He asked me to sing it. I sang most of the first verse and then he teasingly commanded, “now the chorus.” People, Mike is a professional musician who went to Oberlin and Julliard and he was sitting right across from me at a restaurant. I did not even have sheet music for that song, only the lyrics. I wasn’t even sure I sang the right notes at the right time or whether all of the measures I sang had the same number of beats in them! So I did what any three year-old would do and hid behind my napkin. Then we giggled like seven year-olds. We asked the waitress to take our photo. She took one photo and then asked us to be goofy. I have a really funny photo of Mike crossing one eye and keeping the other focused straight ahead. Knowing my Facebook posting habits, he immediately made me promise not to post it. (I looked cute in that photo. Sigh.)

Then we went to Lincoln Park, which is on the beach. While there, we fake fought about who the cute man who passed us was really smiling at. It was so fun to hear Mike joke again, just like when we were young. And since we are both in a lighter place in our lives than during our past visit, I told Mike the big piece of historical information I had been holding onto for the years since we reconnected. Now Mike knew that I had a crush on his for a few years. We have discussed that in the past. But what he didn’t remember was that when we were 16, he actually took me on a date! He did not remember but was so excited to hear about it and pumped me for the few details that I remembered. I remembered the super cool purple cotton jumpsuit that I wore. (Oh I loved that jumpsuit. Totally Sheena Easton! Or was it Olivia Newton John? I don’t know but it was totally 80’s!)  I told him that I think we went to a party hosted by one of the clarinet players from youth symphony. The only other thing I could remember was that she was blonde. I remembered that he showed me how to combine Jelly Belly’s into “recipes” (for example, pineapple + coconut + pina colada.)

“Mike, you were frustratingly gentlemanly. You didn’t even give me a hug good night!” He laughingly but sincerely empathized with my high school tendency to love the boys who I would later learn were gay. I know that a lot of it was that those boys seemed a lot safer than the straight boys. I think I would have had a crush on Mike, anyway. As I told him, “Okay, we were not compatible THAT way. But Mike, you had all of the other qualities. You were a wonderful boy and you are a wonderful man.”

It is wonderful indeed to have amazing friends. I am so glad to have Mike back in my life.

9/20/13, Photo by Michael Ishii, Seattle, WA

9/20/13, Photo taken with my camera by Michael Ishii because we disliked the waitress’ photos and he further disliked my photos. Artists…

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