A good whining day

img_2768I usually don’t whine on my blog but today is a good whining day. Have a terrible cold this week which isn’t fun to begin with. Then last night, there was a sudden drip, drip, drip from the ceiling in the living room of my new condo. Out went the buckets which held me until this morning when a crew of construction workers came, packed up the living room and proceeded to rip out one third of the ceiling. Don’t have a definitive diagnosis yet but they think it’s coming from the roof two floors up. Someone had the bright idea that a roof replacement on my condo building was a good idea in the rainy season!

Here’s the whiny part. My daughter and son-in-law are off at the Aulani in Oahu this week. Having just turned 73 and being alone doesn’t help. A bit of envy for those women who have life partners for just this kind of household emergency. All right, I know, I know. Some of those guys wouldn’t lift a finger to help even if they are around.

indexNow for the gratitudes. The cold is improving. My son and daughter and friends all texted their condolences. I can still watch the Cubbies in the den this evening. I have enough food in the house to last a couple of days. And I certainly am not in the position of those in this world who are really suffering from hunger, illness, and other deprivations. Thank you, God.

The nature of GOODBYE – a poem

good-byeGOODBYE starts as a word
shot from the lip
penetrating reluctant ears
ripping through soft tissues
creating internal wounds
more felt than seen
leaving a bloody splatter of rejection
upon the soul

GOODBYE registers in the brain
as an alien thought
a foreign invasion
a disruptor of dreams

GOODBYE leaves a residue of grief which
pollutes the present
sullies the past and
relegates the future to a
rubbish heap of
broken promises

GOODBYE repels all attempts to
breach its impregnable walls
with reason or
understanding or
new beginnings

GOODBYE remains dormant
a chronic infection
that lurks in every cell
waiting to break out into
tears and wailing

GOODBYE has no antidote
nor immunization
to protect humanity
from its sting
but fade it can
and fade it will
as seconds tick away to
minutes
hours
days
weeks
years
until a new hello
seems possible

An invitation to share your thoughts

writing meditationI do a daily writing meditation each morning. First I chose a passage or two from one of my daily readers or other 12-step literature and re-type the passages so that they sink in. Then I write my own responses. I have done this over many years and sometimes I like to go back and read what I wrote about the passages in prior years.

This year I’ve decided to start afresh and just write in the present without plowing through the past, thinking of it only as the compost that allows me to grow and bloom in the present and not feeling it necessary to stick my hands back into the muck.

In the tradition of anonymity I will not cite which 12-step program the following passages are drawn from, yet fully acknowledge that they are the published words of others and not mine.

I share them today because they have special meaning to me and so encapsulate the struggles I have had since childhood adjusting to this imperfect world we all live in. I’ve highlighted the thought in each that most struck a chord with me.

share thoughtsPerhaps you would care to share your thoughts if one of these passages has special meaning for you.

Passage One
choicesLive and Let Live reminds us that we cannot control the actions or decisions of other people. If someone chooses to end a relationship with us, that is their right. If we’ve ascribed to the belief that the success or failure of our relationships is solely our responsibility, we may blame ourselves when a relationship ends. We can remind ourselves that each person played a part in the relationship. If a relationship ends, that doesn’t mean we’re necessarily at fault. Whether or not someone wants to be around us, we are still worthy of love and respect. Just because we don’t choose to end a relationship doesn’t mean we don’t have any choices. We still have the power to choose how we will respond. In the past, we have punished ourselves or assumed our role as victims. We don’t have to see ourselves as victims anymore. Today we can choose to be around healthy people who want to be around us.

Passage Two
pain teachesDo not consider painful what is good for you. My reaction to things that were “good for me” was one of pain. Today I know that pain puts me in touch with what I need—something from which I have cut myself off in blind obedience to habit. What pain tells me today is that I have to change. I am willing to examine old ways of thinking.

Passage Three
maturity-is-the-ability-to-joyfully-live-in-an-imperfect-world-quote-1People have disappointed you, hurt you, and let you down by being imperfect. Can you let go of the idea of perfection and accept reality, loving people just the way they are? Love the imperfect people around you. Love your imperfect self and your imperfect world. For if you cannot love life the way it is, you will suffer from eternal loneliness. We all live in an imperfect world, surrounded by imperfect people. The ability to love yourself and those around you is a gift from God that enables you to live fully, bravely, and meaningfully in an imperfect world.

Practice patience

Patience-allows-life-time-to-fall-in-place.8x10unexpected pain
a moment of inattention
the fall that only “old” people have
forcing me to face my age
my vulnerability

thrust instantly into
helplessness
incapacity
realizing I can’t just
pick up a fork
wash that other arm
reach for the remote
open the fridge
searing pain stops me short

cracked eggforcing my brain to remember
I will heal
others won’t
I can use the other arm
others can’t
I can work from home
others have lost their jobs to illness
I can count my successes
others will cave to failure
I can ask for help
others feel too defeated
I have family who have stepped up graciously
others are truly alone

I can see the benefits—
mindfulness in abundance
a window into aging
full evidence of being loved
acceptance of life as it is

attitudes and habits to carry
into wellness
when it comes
and it will come

just for today
practice patience

My Achy-Breaky Revelations

#10 – That broken bones bleed…a lot!

#9 – That all that blood slides down inside your arm leaving behind a gruesome kaleidoscope of black and blue and green and yellow bruises.

#8 – That independent, competent, know-it-all women with PhD’s don’t fare well when they suddenly become completely incapacitated and helpless. They turn whiny and weepy.

#7 – That I’m glad I didn’t do in my son those first weeks of his life when he was so colicky and I was up all night because at 43 he is a Godsend who scraped me up off the floor of the gym with his firefighter friends, stood by me in the ED, kept me from getting kicked off a flight by the TSA (“Look at me, Mom, don’t say one more word.”), and helped me move from pillar to post.

#6 – That my daughter is a whiz at multi-tasking: keeping us all afloat, packing, parenting, teaching, and organizing our big move two weeks after my injury.

#5 – That my son and daughter both picked amazing mates that have been equally helpful and caring through all of this, going way above and beyond the call of duty.

#4 – That my grandchildren remained their remarkable selves through this entire ordeal, Ryan winning his second scholarship to WWDC, Sam getting his Brown Belt and starring in the Middle School musical (after which I had my fatal fall), Aveline rehearsing for her starring role in Rapunzel, and Estelle being her best three-year-old self.

#3 – That Facebook messages and prayers of support can mean everything along with phone calls and visits.

#2 – That the above advice on FB is probably more important than I thought it was.

#1 – That God is good and is enabling me to heal, to laugh more, to wince less, and to begin to love sleeping nearly upright on the couch.

 

Conversations with people who are not there

imaginary friend on benchmy life has been spent having
endless conversations with people
who are not there

redoing real conversations that
went wrong
rehearsing future conversations that
won’t happen
at least not with those particular words
futilely expecting others to say words
I have put on their lips

making up both sides
as I do when writing fiction
where outcomes are almost always
in favor of the protagonist
that fascinating character who is
some better version of me

Imaginary friendfearful of real conversations
the shy five-year-old inside
still trembling in fear
in a corner of my PhD mind

trying to make life
turn out my way
believing I can control others by
my thoughts
just as nuts as those meth addicts I saw
who thought the FBI was talking to them on
their television
and I’m the helper
the sane one?

what if I refuse to have these
conversations with people
who are not there

I feel as though a big sink hole will
open at my feet
making life even more
treacherous
tentative
troubled

some of these conversations are filled with
dread or desperation
some are flights of fantasy
those even worse because
my “reel” life
will never measure up to
my “real” life

Illlustration of two children talking

stop bingeing on junk thoughts
build courage to have
real conversations with
real people
keep the “reel” conversations
in the can

just for today
no conversations with people
who are not there

Does rejection really hurt?

broken heartWe talk about having a “broken” heart or “wounded” spirit or “hurt” feelings when we experience a significant rejection in love. Why do we use words that are the same as those that describe physical pain or injury? Is looking at Facebook photos of your ex with his new love equivalent to spilling a scalding hot cup of coffee on your lap?

My inquiring psychologist side decided to research this question, and I came across a study published in 2011 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science. A group of investigators compared brain activity generated by intense personal rejection with brain activity caused by intense physical pain.

First they explained that pain is registered in two different areas of the brain. The affective quality of pain (“That’s unpleasant!) is registered in the dorsal anterior cingulate (dACC) and the anterior insula (AI). This area also is activated by a feeling of social rejection. But the real bodily or somatic perception of pain (“Ouch!”—the brain part that makes you wince and reach for the vicodin when you are physically injured) is registered in the secondary somatosensory cortex (S2) and the dorsal posterior insula (dpINS), which we wouldn’t expect to be affected by purely emotional experiences.

Their research method was simple. Take 40 people who felt intensely rejected as a result of recently experiencing an unwanted romantic relationship break-up and give them two tasks. The Social Rejection task was to look at either a head-shot of the ex-lover and think about their specific rejection experience or a head-shot of a friend of the same sex as the lover and think of a recent positive experience with him or her. The Physical Pain task was a Hot trial with a noxious thermal stimulation delivered to their arm or a Warm trial with a non-noxious thermal stimulation on their arm. The subjects rated their “feeling” experience on each task on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being the most painful. Their brains responses were studied with a functional MRI to see what brain areas were activated during each of these four trials.

So here is the surprising outcome. The ratings for both the Social Rejection and the Physical Pain tasks were equivalent with severe physical pain and intense rejection rated exactly the same. And, as expected, both the head shot of the ex-lover and the Hot trial produced activity in the affective or “That’s unpleasant!” part of the brain. But, both also produced activity in the “Ouch!” part of the brain. Conclusion: intense rejection is actually perceived as physical pain by our brains.

It is interesting that the “Ouch!” part of the brain is also activated if we observe another person experiencing physical pain. The researchers thought it would be interesting to explore if, for example, a parent watches their child experience rejection if this would also register in the “Ouch!” part of the brain.

So, what does this mean in terms of recovery from a “broken heart”? First, we need to be kind to ourselves and know that our experience is real and, in fact, is equivalent in terms of our brain’s response to a very severe physical injury. And, as the study showed, we can re-experience that level of pain by simply looking at a photo of the ex-lover or thinking about the rejection experience. Intense ongoing physical pain can interrupt sleep, create or worsen depression, and even lead to suicidal thoughts and plans. It can disrupt our relations with our family and co-workers. Chronic pain sufferers tend to reach for the alcoholic drink, the vicodin bottle, illicit drugs, or gallons of ice cream to take the edge off their pain. So do those experiencing intense rejection.

What are the solutions? We can look to how we help chronic pain patients. Part of my current job as the Mental Health Clinical Director for a large health plan is to develop strategies to help our members manage pain safely. We recommend therapists who can teach them how to look at their pain differently. How to think about “managing” their pain instead of getting rid of it. We offer them relaxation and meditation skills to lessen the pain without turning to addictive drugs, even the prescribed ones. Did you know that there is a opioid epidemic in our country—that the death rate from opioid overdoses is skyrocketing even when people are taking correctly prescribed doses? I recently put two and two together and figured out why I headed for the codeine bottle (prescribed to me as a teen for menstrual pain) when I didn’t get asked to a school dance. It actually worked to soften the pain of rejection.

A recent WordPress blog that I follow at thefallingthoughts.com entitled BREAKUP 2 MAKE-UP included many other helpful reframes for those suffering the pain of rejection. I particularly liked the bit about crying your eyes out but the next day don’t repeat the same thing—after all, we don’t laugh at the same joke twice. I also enjoyed the advice that everything has an expiration date—even relationships. I wouldn’t eat a can of spoiled tuna. I look at the expiration date and throw it into the garbage. When life reminds me of a long-expired relationship, why in the world would I want to dig in, thinking it will taste okay? It’s actually going to turn out about the same as holding on to resentments. It’s like taking poison and hoping the other person will die.

Ethan Kross, March G. Berman, Walter Mischel, Edward E. Smith, and Tor D. Wager. Social rejection shares somatosensory representations with physical pain. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2011, April 12, Volume 108(15), pps. 6270-6275

The garden path

garden pathshe tippy toes down garden path
mid fragrant hedge of self-deceit
his idle words writ on the net
form stepping stones beneath her feet

she stops to browse a wall not hers
photos of his other life
a stunning bit of azure silk
the glint of diamonds on a ring
shout wedding day
in deafened ears

a look content upon his face
at family table fed with smiles
slows her merry made-up pace
turns hopeful moments into miles
of unfulfilled and foolish chase

she grabs the dagger by the hilt
and draws it from her broken heart
her wound will heal if given time
and a willingness to part
with journeys down that garden path
that leads to nowhere from the start

My life as a novel

An entry from my daily meditation writing from four years ago and still something to consider each day:

pulitzer prizeI feel better when I think about my life being like a great Pulitzer Prize winning novel—each chapter a new adventure or misadventure, each turn in plot clever and unexpected, and no cliched happy forever after endings. A novel that is an epic journey, chock full of interesting characters, whose lives unfold in mysterious ways. Plot lines that are wild and crazy, dramatic and suspenseful.

This is exactly how I should view my life. A future that will surprise me. A journey that will not turn out as I assumed, expected, or perhaps even wanted. I need to live and pray my way through this epic journey of mine. I hate novels that have predictable endings. So why would I want to live a life that turns out that way? I don’t even want to write a novel like that! And I haven’t. Watching my homemade trailers for Degrees of Obsession and Mother Tongue reminds me of how much effort I put into having story lines that both surprise and satisfy.

In my own fiction writing, I seek to create stories with a gritty realism and surprising plot twists. Ones with real meaning at the end, not just pat “happy endings”. I want my characters to learn something from the difficult experiences they go through, especially those of their own making. As an author, I know that what they learn is more important than what they originally wanted.

Every time I start boo-hooing over the fact that I don’t have that formula romance in my life, I need to remind myself that my life is indeed a great novel, one worth reading. As a reader of that life story, I don’t want the ending to be predictable, and I especially don’t want to read ahead and see what the final outcome will be. I just want to read each page each day and be filled with neither anticipation nor dread about what the next page will bring.

If I consider each day another page and not get ahead of myself or keep re-reading the past pages, I think that I will find that my life is interesting, unpredictable, and worthwhile. If there was a particularly sad or disappointing page in the past, re-reading it a thousand times won’t make it less so and, in the meantime, I won’t be focused on the new page for the day which might very well bring happiness beyond my wildest imagination. And if I miss the new page by dwelling on the past, hoping those past chapters will change their shape or character, I will never catch up—by then the new page will have become history and I will have missed experiencing what it offered.

Nor do I want to read ahead and skip pages because my story won’t make sense and again I will have missed the page for today. My life has been a great novel—pathos, excitement, romance in small doses, challenges, overcoming abuse, helping others, changing lives. The author of my life, whom I chose to call God, has drawn me as a main character with intelligence, humor, creativity, wisdom, the ability to figure things out and to adjust. He has provided juicy subplots and fascinating minor characters who have swept in and provided plot tension and then disappeared—but the protagonist (me!) has always survived and lived on.

As a reader I need to be interested in HER! She’s still here waging the war, having new adventures, being herself. Sometimes she’s sad and I can cry with her. I can hope that in the next few pages she’ll put it all into perspective, that she’ll realize that the author of her story has something much better in mind for her. She has been up against worthy antagonists—ones that added particular tension and suspense to her story. Will Dad come ever care? Will Mom be able to protect her? Will brother turn out to be sorry? Will so-and-so ever come back?

one pate at a timeThe author of my life story hands me just one page at a time. There is no other better version available at the next bookstore. After all, He wrote the Greatest Story Ever Told. Hey…I’m living in a best seller. And, to boot, He’s given me the talent to write myself. Do I want some sappy ending with a minor character that was written out of my story pages and pages ago? No, I want to see who comes into my life in the future. And I have to keep doing the footwork in the meantime. I can’t sink into inertia. I can’t stop looking for the opportunities for growth and happiness that are at hand. So, keep reading, Karen, and live out this day God has written especially for you.

Mimi’s morning

IMG_0896pitch black
door squeaks open
four little feet at the
bottom of sturdy legs
wrapped in Frozen flannel
pad over to my bedside
turn off my c-pap
can’t breathe
can’t sleep
peal covers off my
reluctant body

clock says 6:36
“get up, Mimi”
down two flights
bananas in hand
turn on Sophia the First

up two flights
gather outfits
pink stripe
polka dot princess
down two flights
distribute same
stern warning to get dressed or
TV off
clamber into shower
try not to slip on
treacherous tile

everyone dressed
up one flight
breakfast
cheerios for one
toast for the other
orange juice
sipped through snout of
dog…bear…whatever

assemble lunches
daddy fixed the night before
line up
backpacks
water
jackets
shoes
water down hair
slick back into
ponytails

clock ticking
mommy says 7:45
ready or not
everything on
down four flights of
red brick steps
van seat still blocked by
boxes of whatever
beyond my brain to
figure it out
mommy helps
off they go
chattering in French

up four flights of
same dangerous brick
gather garbage
theirs…mine
down four flights
stuff in cans
up four flights
count as exercise
dishes in dishwasher
down one flight to my
Provençal pink lime
hideaway
strangely quiet
writing time
8:01

gratitudes
children here and afar
productive
loving
grandchildren
smart
healthy

prayers for women
who have not my
blessings
whose exhaustion comes
not from hectic mornings
but from mourning
lives without
little ones to
pry open their eyelids at
6:36