The Power of Story

What a series. We lit some dynamite this week, didn’t we? I had looked forward to introducing the all-star band of storytellers who had so much to teach us but they were the ones to be astonished by the level and depth of your response. Watching the relationships unfold was wonderful.

The success of the series Outsider, Looking In made me think again about the power of storytelling. Why would most of us – even a nerd like me – rather read a story than a textbook? Even to the point of spending years making them up for the hours it takes to read something called fiction? It’s as simple as that we are less lonely when we open ourselves to the world of another human being. Information alone doesn’t give us a sense of attachment or community. Which is why you have the social misfit geniuses, their mind plenty enlarged. Stories engage and expand our spirit. We don’t just get smarter. We can become more compassionate. There is a kind of osmosis that takes place between storyteller and listener. Attending one another’s burdens opens windows of insight in our heart. Textbooks offer answers but stories take us into the mystery we call life and lend us courage to live the uncertainties.

Something I admired about our guest writers this week is the way they came to be able to reject self-pity and take ownership of the ball waiting in their court. Self-pity is lonesome. When you’re unbalanced, the loudest voice you hear is your own. Not rocket science that The World vs. Poor Me dirge leaves us in a pretty sad minority.

I thought it’s time to spell out something I’ve wanted to for a long time now. Those who’ve been with me a while can finish my mantra, that I hate to take up anyone’s time. I’ve been busy writing on the questions we all ask, turning over rocks we might use for stepping stones, the songs we all have laughed or cried. But I never expected such deep healing joy and comfort from my readers, times the holistic journey became rough going this side of the blog. It is a wonder. The fragments in my head that struggle for light make themselves out to readers around the world who let me know in my bones that they get me, are in my corner. With my pen and notebook, and here, right here on this screen is one place I have found I belong. And I have felt such love and affection for you.

They will reveal the poetry and the pain of our humanity, sting your eyes with watery memories you wish were less clear, kill, steel your resolve, breathe life, take your breath away with their holy offering of beauty. They will, just words.

Insider Looking Out?

I got in a reader request today. She wanted to hear from the insiders. My questions for them:

So who of you grew up feeling you were an insider? Where or what group did you feel a part of? Was it by race or class? If not, was it tiring to maintain your status, stay “cool”? How deeply did this sense of belonging define you? Did you notice those who were outside or on the fringe? Did the easy belonging feed or diminish insecurity? Have you found yourself working harder to fit in anywhere over the years?

Having trouble disabling the likes. Be glad I don’t come to fix your computer or fridge.

My Misfit Brain

One sunny afternoon I went to a family and friends’ celebration, and I wanted the earth to swallow me whole. I’d that very week been diagnosed with clinical depression and anxiety; nobody there knew. Those at the gathering were celebrating religious and political beliefs that were virtually opposite to my markedly less conservative views. I was invited as a relative, and never knew if they really thought I shared their views or if it just didn’t matter. There was a lot of Bible reading, text interpreted to support favorite right-wing politicians. Many emotional speeches on the rightness and beauty of the group’s beliefs also implied that divergent views were stupid, evil or both. I wished I could disappear.

Mental health problems are inconvenient, messy, embarrassing. Incompatible philosophies and tastes, maybe even political or religious views, are sometimes socially acceptable as matters of personal leanings. But being exceedingly depressed or anxious? Lots of people would rather avoid or deny such things, and wish that mental-health patients, even functional ones like me, would keep quiet about it and get over ourselves.

Instead, I got help. I’m very lucky. I have terrific supporters, good doctors and meds. I’ve also recognized that I was already on the fringe before feeling so excluded at that long-ago party; that week’s personal crisis merely magnified it.

Feeling like such a misfit at the party simply exaggerated the real reasons I was miserable: severe depression and anxiety. Apparently I don’t have the balanced body chemistry that lets most people cope rather casually with everyday life. I think that every car on the road is about to crash into me; I have panic attacks in utterly benign situations; I believe everyone around me will reject me if they find out I’m so broken. My logic argues with my anxiety that this is all absolutely ridiculous, yet doesn’t always win.

The support and treatment have been great. I’m not ‘cured’ of being different this way, but for the most part I manage fine. Still, there will always be another odd-one-out party, another trial that seems gigantic though logic reminds me that being odd or upset is inconsequential.

What saved the day for me was to join the children. I discovered a wonderful kind of grace there: the littlest kids don’t care who believes what or who seems left out. While the adults bonded over joys I could never share, I wanted to escape to the car to nurse the emotional paralysis of my terrors in private. Instead, I slipped out to the front porch and sat on the swing in the safer company of kids, and we chattered aimlessly about how much cake and ice cream we all planned to eat. They didn’t care whether I seemed normal or grown-up, or not. Next party, I’ll be heading straight for the porch.

Kathryn at Art-Colored Glasses

 

Rockabye Hope

Sugar and spice
And everything nice,
That’s what little girls are made of!

Snips and snails
And puppy-dogs’ tails,
That’s what little boys are made of!

What the heck are “snips”? Sounds like what’s leftover after the barber cuts hair.  Snails?  Ew!  And the dog’s tails?  As a child, this poem made me squirm.  When I grew older, I heard another one:

A son is a son until he takes a wife.  But a daughter is your daughter for the rest of her life.

Really?  Sons equal desertion?  And there’s the famous “Boys will be boys.”  Often said to justify inappropriate or violent behavior.

All these unfortunate rhymes (prophecies?) disturbed and saddened me.  You see, I was already blessed with a son, whom I adored.  But back in my twenties, I watched my mother lament that I was the only sibling who ever kept in touch with her.  My brothers gave her the equivalent of an over-the-shoulder nonchalant wave, “See ya! It’s been fun!” after college and poof…..were gone.  I vowed to maintain a close relationship with my own little guy so history would not repeat itself.

Three years later I was pregnant again and (not admitting to anyone how much I was hoping for a girl this time) was ecstatic to be told that I was carrying twins.  A boy and a girl!  The doctors were certain. How wonderful!  Another boy so my son would have a brother (and a playmate!) and now a daughter so I could experience motherhood from the other side of the coin.  Like any mother, I began to fantasize and make preparations.

Fast-forward to delivery day.  “Congratulations!  It’s a boy!”  Long pause.  And finally one brave nurse ventured,  “And…it’s another boy.”  The silence was as sterile as the droning of the metal hospital equipment.  Nobody understood the loss I felt.  She had been real in my head and heart.  Her name was Cassandra.  And now she was gone. It felt like a death. The death of a long-time dream.  What was wrong with me?  Why couldn’t I be happy with what I had?

“We are done having children,” my husband said adamantly.  That was that.  No more chances. His words sucked oxygen from air.  And then to seal his decision, he promptly made an appointment for a vasectomy the day of the twin births.  I heard a door slowly close with a creak, then slam itself shut, and finally deadbolt, echoing the finality of the verdict.

After that I was deemed “severely postpartum” and promptly drugged out of my mind with Prozac.

My mother came over to our home while I was still in the maternity ward to systematically dismantle the pink parts of the decorated nursery.  She returned all the delicate, lacy dresses and hair bows to the boutiques and discreetly replaced them with yet more overalls and Lil’ Slugger pants.  Welcome Home! Friends preached that I should just be happy that my sons were healthy.  “You ungrateful bitch,” I thought I heard them whisper when I turned around.  “Some people cannot have any children at all.”  This was true.

I did everything a new mother does (nursed, sang lullabies, cuddled them) but still I couldn’t shake it.  I was judged and condemned for not loving my little boys. Which was not it, not at all.  Nobody got it.  Nobody got me.  I was alone with my thoughts and the pictures in my head of how things were supposed to be.  Expectations.  Expectations kill reality.  I would rid myself of them all.  Never look forward to the future, lest I be disappointed.  Stay in the present moment.  That’s the only thing they say we have, right?

Five years passed.  And then it came to me.  I had a little girl.  I really did!  She was already here, just waiting for me.  All I had to do was locate her. I would adopt.  International adoption gave me back my hope.  Adoption held the tiny silver key that just might open a window of opportunity where that door had been shut.  A door that I thought had come completely off its hinges, along with my sanity, a long time ago.

And finally there could be some acceptance, compassion and understanding. But it had to come from me as I bestowed it on all four of my little blessings – three sons and a daughter.

Little Miss Menopause at Once Upon Your Prime

Single at Sixty

Most of the time, my relationship with my God and His grace are sufficient for me. I know I am loved eternally by Him. He hears my prayers and has opened my ears to hear His voice. Yet because I am human, there are times I feel like an outsider because I am a single woman in a culture that values couples and family. I suppose I have felt like an outsider my whole life.

Upon completing fourth grade, I was advanced two years. The unwanted achievement placed me two years younger than my classmates through the remainder of elementary, junior high and high school. I graduated high school at sixteen. I was also short (4’7”) and timid, which made the experience difficult at best, horrific at worst. Social awkwardness, teasing, bullying, puberty, an abusive father, and coming of age in the 1960s all contributed to my never knowing who I was or was meant to be. They placed me teetering precariously on the edge of friendships, social and emotional maturity, political awareness and sometimes, sanity.

The discovery of the vast hole in my heart at some point in my 30s led to over a decade of exploring ways to fill that hole in the attempt not to feel like an outsider. I experimented with Eastern religions, self-help seminars, drugs, clothes, men (lots of men) and only found temporary relief. The feeling that I belonged somewhere, to somebody, faded as soon as the fog on the mirror cleared.

Years later, when I found the One Man who filled me – who loves me unconditionally, whose vocabulary doesn’t include the words abandon or unworthy or unforgivable – the mirror cleared for good. Most of the time, I feel His arms around me, and I know I am an adopted daughter, friend, bride.

Then there are those other times.

My social circle is centered within my church. I’m part of a weekly women’s Bible study group. Eight of us have been meeting together for nearly three years. These women are married with children. I love that we are an intergenerational group. We are close – we pray for each other. We get together outside of study. As the conversation naturally turns toward marriage or motherhood, I feel on the periphery.

Church functions are organized around families, so I often retreat. When I attend Sunday service, I sit alone, aching for those I know to ask me to sit with them. I suppose if I were bolder or more outgoing, I might ask if I could join them, but Sundays seem sacrosanct. It is the Sabbath; it is time for families.

There is a singles group that caters to those 20-50. The object is to encourage and help them to form families. I am sixty-three. While I occasionally miss the nighttime snuggling of a marital companion, for the most part I enjoy the solitude of my own space. I am comfortable in my own skin and content with my own company.

So I pray to remember that I am not of this world, I am of it only for a time. Someday, I will not be an outsider. I will be face to face with my Redeemer. His very own. An insider for eternity.

Susan Irene Fox at www.susanirenefox.com

Terminally Unique

I always had a secret mission. In it, I took notes on the Earthlings and reported all findings to the mothership. The assignment seemed simple enough, but it was a long, lonely ordeal. You see, living as an imposter wasn’t for the weak-minded. To do what I needed to do – survive – my goal was to stay as separate from the hominids that populated this planet. This sort of science-fiction mentality saved my life…until I found the one true thing that would skyrocket me to my own private Krypton. Alcohol.

Whether it was the bullying or the apathy in the aftermath of the shoving and name-calling, I never felt quite at home in my own skin. Even as a child, I felt that everyone except me had gotten a manual for living – a set of volumes outlining what one needed to do to thrive in life. How to talk to others, how to smile and mean it, how to feel emotions without wanting to hide or wail uncontrollably. How to give and feel love. I felt a large chunk of something was missing in my life, but couldn’t put my finger on it.

If you were to ask me how I was after the bullies went home, I would have said, “fine”. And that was the veneer I put on for the next thirty years. I was fine. But deep down, I was a sensitive, empathetic, gentle boy who didn’t know how to navigate life’s rough waters. I was rudderless, adrift at sea. Whenever I was myself – doing well in school, playing the flute, being a general nerd – I was beaten down literally and figuratively. Grown-ups were either unwilling or unable to help me deal with these situations so they left me to fend for myself. The prevailing attitude of “boys will be boys” carried the day. So I hid my talents, lived my life under cloak and dagger. To be me meant pain. The only way I could feel safe was to picture myself as an alien who had landed here on Earth and stay a dispassionate observer. I played the role well. I shut down emotionally and cast judgements on everyone who darkened my space.

And then came the alcohol.

Alcohol allowed me to play both sides of this spiritual subterfuge. I could find that liquid courage to play the role of human. I could laugh, talk to others, sing, feel good about myself. At the same time, I could continue to isolate, craft resentments and feel victimized. My alcoholism blossomed and the good times ceased. All I could manage was to pretend to play at life while I crumbled within.

There is a term used in recovery, terminally unique, to describe how you’re the only one to feel how you feel and hence resign yourself to a slow death. I was textbook terminally unique. Playing the victim card stamped by memory of those bullies kept me in the maelstrom of self-pity and isolation. Even my role of observer no longer worked. I knew I had life within me, but couldn’t live it or feel it. I was suicidal. Being apart from, and not a part of, was destroying me.

There is no loneliness, isolation, or sense of being different as there is with the alcoholic or addict. We trod about as if we invented those things. Or at least we try and perfect it. It wasn’t until my bottom tossed me about like a rogue wave was I able to break that idea of being different. I found a connection to the Creator which in turn has allowed me to be open to His children. And in doing so, I found that missing piece which had always had me searching for – me. My authentic self, grounded in the love of others and guided by His hand.

I no longer need to observe from afar. I quit my alien job and finally joined the human race, love and spirit intact.

Paul at Message in a Bottle

My Own Mind Alienated Me

Change is the only constant in life.” ~ Heraclitus

Change.  It happens every day to each and every one of us.  People we know change, situations change, life changes.  But what happens when, without warning, you are the one who changes?

In the fall of 2008, I was diagnosed with a chronic medical condition called Meniere’s Disease.  I could no longer perform at the job I loved, drive a vehicle, or make plans without planning to cancel them.  The diagnosis not only changed my life, it changed who I was.  It took a long time before I could accept the changes I needed to make in my life.  But it took longer to accept the changes that were happening inside of me.

My memory was something I had always prided myself in.  I could remember dates, phone numbers, names, places.  Imagine my horror in returning to work after several months, walking into the office and struggling to place a co-worker’s name.  It was humiliating.  I could no longer concentrate for longer than a few minutes and became easily distracted.  Where I once felt able to handle any conversation, I now struggled to keep it flowing.  I missed important appointments I’d noted by memory only to have it fail time and time again.  For the first time in my life, I had to use a scheduler.  I also needed to use reminder alarms to check the scheduler on a daily basis.

I looked in the mirror and recognised the face, but no longer knew that person.  The person who had been there was gone.  It felt like I had been shut out from my own self.  Why was this happening?  Why was my own mind alienating me?  The feelings of intense frustration, anger and helplessness were overwhelming.  It was difficult enough to live with other people looking at me differently, but to have my own consciousness do this to me?  It was the worst form of betrayal I had ever felt.

It wasn’t easy to get to know the new me.  In fact, I didn’t like her at all.  Mentally, I felt dumb and slow.  Emotionally, I was angry and bitter.  The new me was a very unhappy person.  I was miserable much of the time despite the brave face I put on.  I was also in denial that this was even happening.  I spent a good deal of time angry with myself.  Why couldn’t I remember like I used to?  Why did I need someone to explain things to me?  I asked myself again and again why I was making myself feel different.

It took me several years to realize the answer.  I was making myself feel different because I was different.  I had to accept that.  For my own sanity, I needed to accept that.  I was no longer the person I was before my illness.  It wasn’t my fault.  Why was I blaming myself for something I’d had no control over?

I needed to learn to love myself again, and I began to do just that.  Taking it moment by moment, I became mindful of my thoughts.  I ensured that my thoughts remained on a positive track and I would no longer do any mental or emotional self-harm.

I can now say I am in love with myself again.  There are still tough moments.   But it is, and always will be, a process.

I invite you to read more of my struggle with Meniere’s Disease in the post How Living With A Chronic Illness Improved My Life.

Carrie~Anne