Category Archives: perspective

An Unexpected Treasure – A Story of Crisis, Perspective, and Grace

I don’t want to die today.

That was the thought that was repeating in my head. Coupled with I might die today.

In the past, I have had thoughts of dying. Throughout my life (mostly the angst-ridden teenage years and the codependent marriage years) I had, on more than one occasion, considered dying… thought about my death… about leaving. But I had never thought about not dying. Until two weeks ago.

Two weeks ago, I very much thought about not dying… as I lay on a gurney in the ER, clutching my head, squinting my eyes through darkened glasses, and trying to absorb everything that was going on around me, and failing.

There was so much noise from the other cases that were being brought in, a chaotic symphony of movement of the medical staff attending to sprains, falls, and bleeds. And then I heard two people die. One over the phone, and one in a room nearby. I didn’t want to be the third. Everything happens in threes.

I don’t want to die today.

Interestingly, I wasn’t pleading: praying to God to spare me for just another day. Bartering about how much “better” I’d be if I were allowed to live. None of that entered my mind. My only thought was:

I have so much still to do… I can’t die!

With 10 manuscripts in varying forms of completion sitting on a shelf in my office, and another cluster of projects scattered throughout journals and drawers, and no contingency plan for their release – my prevailing thought was: I have too much to do to die.

But the doctors’ eyes told a different story. The nurses were doubling up to work on me to expedite the process (it didn’t work, as they still missed the first IV attempt), and get me to the CT scan. All the while, my mom sat patiently and quietly in a chair watching and listening between texts to family and friends. I suspect a prayer chain was enacted on some level. I know she was sending me Reiki continually, and calling in the angels. I could feel them standing by. Watching.

Then my personal doctor came in. He had been the voice that morning that said, “Get to the ER immediately. I’ll fast track you through. I’m here.”

It was his voice and those words that prompted my first thought of not dying. Up until that point, I hadn’t focused on the severity of the situation. In fact, I had simply thought that if I lay down, everything would be alright. I now know why the statistics for women are what they are. I don’t think we’re “dismissive” of symptoms, but rather, we are hopeful that a nice rest will solve any problem. So, we lie down, or have a cup of tea, instead of asking for help.

Thankfully, on that morning, after about 4+ hours of trying to “lie down” and use ice and heat to relieve my head pain, it was my mom who suggested I call my doctor. So I did.

His office paged him, and when he called me back, he asked what was going on.

“I’m sorry to bug you – it’s probably allergies,” I said.

“Well, there was a pollen bloom yesterday, so maybe, but what are the rest of the details?”

“I don’t know. I woke up at about 4am with a really bad headache-“

He interrupted, “Wait, did the headache wake you up?”

“Yes.”

“That’s not good. What else?”

“I tried to go back to sleep. I assumed maybe I’m dehydrated or it’s allergies. So, I lay down again, but I couldn’t sleep, so, finally around 5:30, I got up and let the dogs out, drank two glasses of water, and put ice on my head.”

“Did it help?”

“No. Not really. Plus it hurts more if I yawn, move, stretch, or cough. So I went back to bed around 7:30, after telling my mom that I needed to lie down and asking her to feed the dogs. I put a heating pad on my neck and head, and that helped a little. I slept for about half an hour. But then it hurt more, and I had to go to the bathroom, and then it really hurt.”

“The pressure makes it worse?”

“Yes, like a sharp throbbing in my head. All over my head. From one ear to the other, wrapped around my head… like a halo. It feels like a halo. The only part that doesn’t hurt is the very back top.”

“Get to the ER immediately. I’ll fast track you through. I’m here.”

What? Why?

“No, I think If I can just rest, I’m sure-“

“Martina, get in the car now and get here. You might have a brain bleed. I’m calling them now. Ok?”

“Ok.” What?!?

So, I called my mom repeatedly (she had gone out to get her hair cut), to no avail. I knew I shouldn’t drive, so I started looking if an Uber was in the vicinity. Not likely in suburbia. So, I called my friend, but she didn’t answer. And then I felt a thought plop into my brain from above: Call the salon.

Thankfully, I heard it and listened. It’s not the first time they’ve helped me. And won’t be the last.

I called the salon, and they passed the phone to my mom. I explained what my doctor said, and she dropped everything and rushed home. Within minutes, I was in the car heading to the ER. Sunglasses on my face, eyes closed, and two hands clutching my head. The drive was horrible.

What’s wrong with me? A brain bleed?!? No, just no.

I had no answers. What I did have was mounting fear. My doctor is conservative and rarely prescribes any medication for me, as he knows I’m conservative too. So, if he says “get to the ER,” something’s wrong. Very wrong.

~~~

I shuffled out of the car into the ER, and leaned against a wall by check-in. I’m asked if I can move out of the way for a wheelchair to pass, and I reply, “Sure, if I can have another wall to lean on.” With that, the attendant grabs a wheelchair for me. In hindsight, I can see just how ill I was. At the time, I just didn’t want to inconvenience anyone.

The nurse takes my name, and I mention that my doctor called ahead. They move me into triage immediately. All my vitals are taken and the first of a series of doctors comes in and asks me to tell the story.

“I was woken up around 4am with a headache-“

They always stop my right there with: “Wait, the headache woke you up? Out of sleep?”

“Yes.”

And with that their face changes and the look of worry/fear/concern grows rapidly.

Apparently, that’s a bad thing, a very bad thing, to be woken up by a headache. But, coupled with the pressure changes from practically any activity, the nausea, and the light sensitivity, suddenly I was the most interesting case in the ER. Or, at least in the top three.

My ex-husband always used to say, “You don’t want to be the most interesting case in the ER. It means something bad is happening.”

I was reminded of that as I was wheeled to a room and a flurry of activity began around me. I couldn’t see straight, and I knew enough to know I was fuzzy, or foggy-brained. I still had my speech (that must be a good sign), but I was slow. Slower than normal. And the pain!!

In all my life I have never experienced pain like this, and it was growing. With each hour that passed, it had gotten worse. It’s the first time in my life when I answered the question: “on a scale of 1 to 10, how bad is it?” with a “10.”

I wanted to take my head off my body and let it drain somewhere. The pressure, the heaviness, the pain were intolerable. And the worst part was that I really wanted to throw up – but I wouldn’t let myself, because I knew that would make the pain worse.

As I lay in the bed having as much conversation as possible with the two nurses working on me, the phrase kept playing over and over again like background music in my mind.

I don’t want to die today.

Always followed by: I have too much I haven’t done yet.

In front of me one nurse was trying to poke my forearm for the IV (“Not there, please, it never works there”), before failing miserably and leaving me with a bruise that resembles Gorbachev’s head. While the other nurse was trying to get a medical history.

“So, you have blood pressure issues.”

“No. I don’t. I never have. My family has a history of them, but I don’t.”

“Ok. So, then you have high blood pressure now.”

“Yes. I do… it seems.” Wouldn’t you, if you thought you might die? Geesh!

And then she comes around to the other arm and finally gets an IV in the top of my hand (the place I told them to go to originally.)

I know my body. I know it very well, and over the years, I have had ample opportunities to know it better. Plus I have a doctor who encourages me to be an advocate for my own health. He has taught me so much since our meeting in 1998. So, I know how to direct people who have never met me. What I haven’t figured out yet is how to get them to listen. Sigh.

During this time, my doctor came in and checked me out. Before saying anything, I reached for his hand. And he simply took mine and held it as he continued in conversation with me and mom. He knew I was scared, and that simple gesture gave me breath.

He reviewed the plan with me, and said we would take it one step at a time. The issue was, of course, fear of a brain bleed. A subarachnoid hemorrhage, to be exact. (Interestingly, Emilia Clarke from Game of Thrones had just talked about her SAH in last week’s People magazine, which I read only recently. I had never heard of it before.)

A brain bleed.

A… Brain… Bleed.

Sigh…. Breathe.

That’s another term for a stroke. And in my family, we’re all too familiar with strokes. But how? A stroke? At 47? I mean, I know I’m 47 in calendar years, but I definitely still feel likeI’m in my 30s. A brain bleed.

A BRAIN BLEED!

“I don’t want to die,” I told him.

“Well, that’s why you’re here. So that doesn’t happen.” He has always been very matter-of-fact.

With the IV finally in place, I am rushed to the CT scan through all the very well-lit hallways of the hospital. Thankfully, I kept my sunglasses on. The light sensitivity had worsened along with the pain, and by this point, I started to think that death would be a relief… if only it could be temporary.

The CT scan was quick, but I was still fidgety and agitated, even though I had saline and medicine flowing through my veins. Lying still is not my forté at the best of times. Lying still in pain was virtually impossible. But I practiced my breath and got through it.

Breathe in… 1… 2… 3… 4…

Breathe out… 1… 2… 3… 4…

In… and out… In… and out… Four counts every time. And it helped. Before I knew it, I was done and wheeled back to the hallway to await transport.

As I lay on my mobile bed in a sterile hallway, another patient was resting a few feet away. She was elderly and had two nurses with her. While their conversation centered on their respective work schedules and vacations, one of them never let go of this woman’s hand.

Her old, wrinkly, spotted hand, worn thin from age, held fast to the plump and soft one connected to her nurse, just like my own had done a few minutes ago with my doctor. In every other respect, she seemed all but dead – except for this single gesture. Her raised hand, clutching tightly to another human being.

I imagined she was scared, even though she couldn’t speak it. I felt that she was lonely, even though she was surrounded by people caring for her. And then I asked the angels to come be with her, to make her less lonely and afraid. And for the briefest of moments, I forgot that I might be dying. I forgot that I was in pain.

When they wheeled her away, I sent my blessings with her. And as I write this, I wonder about her and hope she is well. May she be blessed. As I have been blessed and am always blessed. Even in pain. Even in fear.

While my fear was only about to get worse, for a brief moment I had been gifted a respite. And I was grateful.

And with that I was wheeled through the same bright hallways back to my “room” where my mother was waiting. They gave me more IV medicines, and turned down the lights. When combined with what I had just experienced with the other patient in the hallway, I started to feel a sense of peace, and I closed my eyes and allowed my body to breathe itself.

I might die today, and … ok.

I’m not sure how long I was resting before my ER doctor came in to give me the CT results.

“There’s good news and bad news. The good news is, the CT scan was clear,” he said, as I sighed audibly. “The bad news is…. You were outside the window for the CT scan to be definitive.”

“What?” I caught my breath, “What does that mean?”

“There is a 6-hour window in which we can use the CT scan as a definitive diagnostic tool. You were just outside that window at about 7.5 hours.”

“And…?”

“It means…. We need to do a lumbar puncture to be sure.”

Great! So, not only might I die today, I could end up paralyzed too. Or instead. Or wait… What?!

My head was swirling in a a thousand directions. All the meds they had given me suddenly stopped working, and I was alert and in pain and unable to take in what he had just said. I had been resting, hopeful, quiet, and now the noise and cacophony of the ER were like uninvited visitors at my bedside.

“A lumbar puncture?,” I stared him in the eye. “I don’t want to.”

“Yes, a spinal tap – to rule out any blood in the brain. With your family history-“

I cut him off. “I know. I know the history…. But, a spinal tap? Here? When? How? Why?” I had so many questions, none of which would have the answer that I wanted.

“Because we have to be able to rule this out.” His look betrayed his calm voice. The fear that I was still bleeding somewhere in my brain was clearly a possibility.

I’m a trained therapist, I know about ruling things out. I know how this works, and I know they were doing their best for me. I also knew they were scared. For all their training, the doctors’ eyes betrayed them. Every time I looked them in the eye, the worry and fear was palpable. They were scared, and they needed answers themselves to know what to do next. And the clock was literally ticking on the wall.

“I guess, if I have to – but I have questions. I’m not one of those patients that doesn’t want to know. I want to know. Everything. A to Z, every step, every reason, what to expect. I do better that way.”

He proceeded to explain it all to me, step by step, as I had requested, and at the end, I had two final questions. “You’re going to do this highly sensitive procedure here, in this room, with all this noise and commotion all around us in the ER?”

“I’m trained to tune that all out. It will be fine.”

“Ok, but what about me tuning it out? I could barely lay still for the CT scan, and that was only a few minutes, this is longer and I have to be more still, especially with more severe consequences…”

“I will give you something for that. You will be relaxed, and we will guide you through everything. There will be a few of us in the room helping you.”

I took a deep breath, and asked one more thing, “And you’re sure you have to do this?”

“We have to rule out a brain bleed, and this is the only way,” he paused. (For effect? I don’t know, but it worked.) “Martina, this is serious.”

As if I didn’t already know that.

“Ok.”

“Ok.” He got up and quickly left the room to prepare for the next step. He was a man on a mission. Thankfully, he was true to his word and he filled my IV with a very relaxing cocktail. It was the best I had felt in eight hours. At least for a little while. Once I had to start participating in the procedure, I was anything but comfortable.

As I sat there hunched over a table, trying to extend my back into a deep curve, I prayed. Again, there were no pleading prayers, begging for mercy. Instead, there were commanding words, as if I were directing a roster of volunteers… or, perhaps, commanding an army.

“I call on the angels of wisdom, of healing, of stability, of medicine, of guidance, and of peace to be here now. I call on God to be here now. I call on Jesus and Mary Magdalene to be here now. Let your hands guide the doctor’s hands. Be his eyes and his guidance. Make the path clear and easy. Make this process effortless and clean. Make it peaceful and quick. Be here now.”

I repeated words like that over and over in my head for 20 minutes, as they prepped everything. And then the time came, and I was asked to remain still and simply breathe. With my back as curved as I could get it, I called on the angels of stillness and invited them into the room. Then I closed my eyes and breathed.

Breathe in… 1… 2… 3… 4…

Breathe out… 1… 2… 3… 4…

I did nothing but breathe as the doctor behind me explained every step, while the doctor in front of me encouraged and supported me through the process. As a team, they were exactly what I needed. And they got the tap they needed.

With the “priceless sample” sitting on a table in my room, I was told to lie on my back for the next hour, as you’re supposed to do after a spinal tap. With all the meds coursing through my veins, and the after-effects of the intensity of the moment, it was the best rest I had had the entire time. Everything combined had given my body some space to simply relax. The headache wasn’t as bad, though it was still above a 5 on the scale, and somehow I had decided I wasn’t going to die. Even if the spinal tap came back with blood – I decided I wasn’t going to die. And that was that.

In the end, it was a successful tap. In fact, I found out a day later that it was considered a “champagne tap” – which means it was as clean as it could possibly be, without even hitting a blood vessel on the way in. My doctor said it was as if everything was moved out of the way. Thank you, God, angels, Jesus and MM. I love you.

So, the tap was clean, which meant everyone could breathe a sigh of relief. Sort of. They knew I wasn’t having a bleed, but they didn’t know why I was having the pain and symptoms.

To make matters worse, there is something called a rebound headache from the spinal tap, which started to kick in about an hour and a half after. So, my level 5 headache began climbing again. I was not out of the woods, I was simply no longer stuck in quicksand surrounded by man-eating beasts. This all meant I wasn’t going to die. At least not from a stroke or brain bleed. Not that day. But I still needed help.

With the head pain now reclassified, I was given new prescriptions to fill, and eventually discharged from the ER. I went home to lie down, have something to eat (which I hadn’t done since the evening before), and rest. Ice was my new best friend, along with a trio of medicines.

I saw my doctor the next day, and we reviewed everything. It turns out the CT scan showed a problem. There was gray matter around my highest cervical vertebrae that possibly represented a muscle spasm or other issue in my neck. So, the decision was made to treat me based on that data.

It’s been two weeks, and I still have a headache every day. The lowest it gets is a 1-2 on the scale, but it still spikes to a 6 or 7. Over the weekend it climbed back to an 8, and was the worst it’s been since the initial event. Consistently, it’s probably a 3 or 4. Given what I went through, a 3 is tolerable. While I’m foggy-brained and slower than I’d like, it will be a while before I reclaim “normal.” Movement is difficult at times, and I still have anxiety about a recurrence, but all in all – I’m ok. And I will be ok. And that’s ok.

Why?

Because this event has given me the greatest gift possible: perspective. I am seeing things differently now. I am making different decisions. My priorities have shifted. Almost dying (or thinking you’re going to die) has a tendency to do that to a person, I think.

While I can’t say that I was a workaholic, or had misaligned priorities, I can say that I hadn’t been tending to my life the best that I can. I haven’t been as deliberate as I would like to be, or can be. And that is changing now.

While I was familiar with thinking about dying in the past, I had never actually faced the possibility of death, and subsequently thought about not dying. Shifting perspective in this way has created an opportunity inside of me to create differently, and I’m not going to squander it. I’m not willing to squander it.

There is nothing more important to me than living this life that I’ve been given, in the best way I know how, living out my dharma – or purpose – with integrity of intent, authenticity, joy, and hope. I think many people who have witnessed my journey would say that’s what I’ve been doing, and they wouldn’t be wrong.

But from where I sit now, I can see that it feels more like I’ve been dabbling in it, not actually embracing, doing, and running with it. Almost dying, or thinking I might die, has been an unexpected treasure on the journey.

The next step – other than healing – is to resolve to find the courage to live that purpose out loud, as I’m meant to. I have a feeling I will. I just need a little time to bring all the pieces of me along. A little time to heal and restore. And that’s exactly what I’m doing.

Shifting Perspective

A bit of inspiration on a Friday morning. “It’s just up to how you see things.”

100% true. About practically everything. This isn’t some trite platitude about the glass being half empty or half full. This is about perspective, and ultimately about the things anyone can do to shift their perspective, for the better (or for worse).

This is why not everybody with a camera is a professional photographer. This is why not everybody with a pen is an author. This is why not everybody with a kitchen and some pans is a chef.

It’s all about how you see things. And, perhaps more importantly, how you choose to see things and whether you’re open to changing that. 🙏🏻

Happy Accidents

Accidents happen, and rarely do we call them “happy.” Then something comes along to change that and suddenly they become ‘Happy Accidents.’ But we never know they’re actually “happy” until after the fact. 

This is a simple truth about a lot of life. Hindsight is the tool that allows us to take perspective and choose new adjectives, right?

Earlier today I tried to trim my own (long, overgrown and frustrating) bangs. But I ended up taking off a lot more than I had planned (because I’m not a hairstylist – duh). I thought it would be simple, and it wasn’t. My “trim” resulted in weird blunt wonky pieces of hair draped in front of my eyes. 

Somewhat laughing, I called my hairdresser, but she was too busy. However, she referred me to someone else she works with who had some time available today, and… voila! My blunder became a ‘happy accident’ in the form of a totally new hairstyle that I love.
I love when something unplanned (and potentially frustrating) turns into something unexpectedly awesome, don’t you? It happens more than we realize or acknowledge though. Unfortunately, we are a bit too programmed to focus on the “bad” or frustrating bit, rather than enjoying the positive change. I see it daily… people seem to be more and more hard-wired to complain, than they are to celebrate or enjoy. It’s almost as if we’re not allowed to truly be happy with our lives. 

Hindsight gives us a choice, though. It allows us to look back and change the adjective, and thereby change the experience. People say we can’t change the past, but that’s not entirely true. Because we can change how we feel about the past, which, in essence, changes it in our memories. It’s a superpower too few people are exercising. 

Now, to be clear, this is not about denying an event or creating revisionist history. Facts are facts. But how we feel about the facts can be updated. It can be modified through a shift in perspective, turning something frustrating or difficult into something neutral, or even positive. 

It’s not always easy, mind you. Sometimes it takes a fair amount of work, but the guarantee is that it’s always worth it. Why? Because low vibration emotions take a lot more energy than high-vibration, or even neutral, memories. Shifting perspective and attributing new feelings to something that has already happened frees up the emotional, mental, and energetic space inside you that had been given over to maintaining the complaint. And that, is a very happy accident, indeed. 

Christmas Cards in October?

Christmas Cards in October?

Yes, I’m one of those people. I start working on Christmas cards in October. Typically, I’m ordering something around now, though there have been times in the past when I would have already received my order and begun hand-addressing the envelopes. (My list is about 125 people so it takes some time.)

This year, though, I am not sure what I’m doing. Yesterday I browsed through some online card templates; and today, while at Costco, I saw some very pretty boxed card sets. But somehow, it all fell a bit flat.

It’s entirely possible that the dullness is the result of this lull I’m experiencing. A lot of things are falling flat lately, so it’s not just the cards. But the cards truly gave me pause, because it is one of my favorite things about the holidays: giving and receiving cards. It’s a symbolic gesture that says: I’m thinking of you. I love it.

I think that’s why it feels flat. Nothing I’ve seen has sparked that moment of “I’m thinking of you” within me. It actually feels more like an obligation than a joy. And that’s exactly what gave me pause.

When something that has previously carried the spark of creativity, love, and imagination loses its sparkle, it becomes obligation or duty… and there’s no joy in that.

I know that there are times in our lives when both obligation and duty are required, but they truly are limited to the smallest minority – like, maybe 5% or less. The rest of the time, most of our daily lives are ruled by either routine or joy, with routine often in a significant majority. It’s the joy component that most interests me.

How do we make joy out of routine? How do we protect our joy in light of the requirements of routine? Is it truly all about attitude? Choice? Perspective?

You’re probably expecting an answer here – but the truth is: I don’t know. I watch people all around me, every day, going through the motions of life, their heads buried in their phones or computers, or projects, barely looking up to recognize what’s going on around them. It saddens me. I’ve been party to it – still am, sometimes – so I know it’s a difficult pattern to break, especially when we don’t have a motivation to do so. There’s no reward, it seems, to breaking the habit of daily living.

I think that’s the biggest issue facing our society today: this idea of an immediate tangible reward. We’ve gotten to where we can’t tolerate failure, so instead we accept habitual mediocrity. It’s not just coloring within the lines, but allowing someone else to choose all the colors and their placement for us. It’s life without risk… and also without reward.

Which means it’s also a loss of joy. Pure true unabated joy.

When was the last time you laughed so hard your abs hurt? 
Or your heart filled with pure unconditional love and gratitude? 
Or you smiled so deeply that you began to cry? 

These are all expressions of joy. Pure joy.

For me, I will probably send out Christmas cards this year, though I am giving myself wiggle room and might send New Year’s cards instead. Because, if I don’t feel joy in creating and addressing them, I don’t want to send out a message of “obligation” instead of a message of “thinking of you.” As we know, everything carries energy. Even our correspondence. I’d rather wait or skip a year, instead of sending out something just to have done it.

And I think that’s a healthy question we can ask of most everything in our daily lives, don’t you?

xoxo,
Martina

The Slippery Slope of Mockery

This week, I’m dipping my toe in politics (Gasp! I know, right?) based on a FB post I wrote last week in response to the Donald Trump statues. It’s actually not really a political post though, as I identify as an Independent (so don’t worry, and please read on, because I think it’s important, and I think you’ll like what you read.)

It’s perhaps from that non-partisan perspective that I can better see things that show up as red flags. In response to my post, I heard from friends on both sides of the fence (fiercely loyal Republicans and Democrats alike), and both agreed wholeheartedly with what I wrote, which caused me to pause and reflect on what’s truly going on, if two opposing sides can agree.

Here’s the original post.

So…can I just chime in for a second… Because this is funny and all, and it’s always a good joke to poke fun at someone we find insufferable, right? But… if it were the other way around, if naked Hillary statues were placed around the country, would it be as funny? Or would we be outraged? Because if it wouldn’t be funny to you, then maybe this is not actually funny.

I just want to make a tiny reminder that double standards are the breeding ground for things like racism and privilege. Just something to think about from the social worker in me. Thank you.

Followed by this, in the comments during an ongoing discussion:

The downfall of this election will not be (I fear) who wins or loses, it will be the American people more divided than ever. No matter which candidate wins, we all lose. Spreading division is a sure fire way to create the lowest morale and systemic emotional illness, from which it will take years to recover – which then means that neither candidate will win, because they will inherit an emotionally diseased country, of their own making. PS: It’s called the UNITED states, and they/we are making it the DIVIDED states.

Discussion ensued, and I started to see the pattern that initially gave me pause. Basically, the act of publicly degrading another human being feels like a violation of our core for the majority of people, regardless of party politics. Why? Because it is.

It’s a simple truth actually. If we witness someone acting out negatively toward another human being, we either a) become enraged, or b) become sensitized to it, and ultimately accept more “bad” behavior. How we then choose to act is dependent upon our initial reaction.

I had a real-life “example” in grad school with a friend when we were sitting in a coffee shop watching a mother disciplining her child, rather cruelly but without physical abuse. It was that very fine line of what is acceptable and what is not as a society. It lasted less than a minute, and neither of us wanted to step in, but both of us were angered and upset as we sat dumbfounded trying to figure out what to do. What was “right?”

Of course, we couldn’t come up with an acceptable answer, but our awareness had been heightened by the experience and ensuing discussion, which, for me, resulted in a greater sensitivity to seeing the forest from the trees. That basically means that when I see something go from individual to systemic a HUGE red flag rises in my mind’s eye, and that’s exactly what happened last week.

Back to the Trump statues. Let me be clear that I don’t agree with the divisiveness and hatred that Donald Trump has espoused this past year, so this article isn’t about defending Trump. Nor is this article about condoning Hillary, as the Democrats have historically also been responsible for divisiveness and mud-slinging. Neither party is innocent of this type of debasing behavior.

This article is about defending humanity and our civilization.

In one comment on the statues, it was suggested that it was “okay” to mock Trump with the statues because satire has always been a part of politics, and it’s our right. In another the mockery was justified as “deserving” because of Trump’s words over the past year.

This is where I took issue.

At what point does mockery become a threat to society? At what point do we stop and say, “no.” to that sort of behavior? This is where we have to guard against the slipper slope of mockery. Where I suggested the statues went too far for myriad reasons.

The responding comment suggested that this was not a time to take the “high road,” to which I wrote:

…for me it’s not about “the high road” – it’s about focusing on the bigger picture, which is that this type of behavior fuels more of this type of behavior, and if I condone it in one, I must condone it in all. No reason justifies it. That would be like saying, a person who was abused is ok to then abuse others. It’s not. It never is. It might explain why someone has abused someone else (as it often does), but it doesn’t make it ok on any level. Not for me, at least.

….And into that very dangerous ground we tread. The minute we can start rationalizing and justifying demoralizing behavior, we are losing. As a society and as humanity.

…If we start segregating people based on this thinking (they deserved it) we have reverted as a collective. Who is to be judge and jury? It’s all subjective. And the loser is always society.

The discussion ended there. Though a few days later, a friend had shared similar thoughts to my original post on her own timeline, and she received backlash. Again, those who would justify or rationalize (two major red flags, as I described in my book What if..?) the demoralizing statues as “deserving” voiced their opinions. My friend, courageously suggested that kindness should begin to rule our words – especially politically – to which one of her friends suggested civility, at least. I chimed in again:

…it’s more than kindness – it’s civility. But for me, it’s more than that – it’s humanity and civilization. As we lose our sensitivity to unacceptable behavior – that behavior becomes the “norm” and the threshold is moved. It’s one of the most slippery slopes we have actually, and if we don’t stem the tide, it will become a tsunami. And then all of humanity, civilization, loses. We ALL lose, regardless of party allegiance. I’m in the camp that we are already losing, but not in the camp of “beyond hope” for systemic change. But it has to start somewhere, and ideally it has to be bookended – from both above and below. Those in power, and those that elected them, both have to change how it’s done. Both have to have a fierce no-tolerance policy for degradation.

You see, historically (and even currently) I have always aligned with the policy of laissez-faire, or “let it do” (aka: let go). I don’t believe any one person has a right to impose their beliefs on any other person, myself included. I wish to be free to explore my beliefs, my thinking, my studying and change my mind/actions/presence accordingly. And I want the same for everyone else. Where beliefs overlap, I want those individuals to be able to form community and fellowship, celebrating the overlap and the joy in connection. This is my ideal society.

Overall, I think we have been living this way in America for a long time. It’s not perfect, but it has functioned, mostly well. The reason it functioned, I think, is because the majority had adopted a civil and moral code of conduct that was unwritten, but understood. Therefore, when I see the system sliding away from that invisible moral code and crossing a threshold into transforming unacceptable behavior into the “norm,” I get concerned. Red flags rise everywhere, and it becomes time to speak up and speak out against this type of behavior.

I think if you asked most citizens of this country if they believed in basic human rights, and the desire to be free to think as they choose without having their beliefs imposed upon, they would agree. Nobody wants to be scorned. Nobody wants to be shamed. Nobody wants to be mocked, ridiculed, or degraded. I doubt you would find one person willing to subject themselves to such behavior. Why then, do we do it to others?

Why is it ok to mock, shame, scorn and degrade another human being, when we don’t want it for ourselves?

The simple truth is: it’s not.

It’s not okay, and it never will be okay – but the more we do it, see it, witness it without speaking up, the more acceptable and “okay” it becomes through progressive rationalization, or desensitization. And that’s what we witnessed last week with the statues.

Yes, politics and satire have always been bedfellows to an extent, but at what point have we crossed the line from satire into degradation? At what point do we draw the line and choose to reverse the problems this type of behavior has created?

I would argue that that point is now, and it’s up to all of us to simply say “no, I don’t accept that behavior,” when we see it, and then offer a different way. The important distinction is to comment on the behavior, not the person. Behavior is something that can be changed. It’s not a statement about a person (ie: “I don’t accept that person,” which is problematic for myriad reasons), it’s a statement about something a person has done. That can then lead to discussion, relation, and connection – which ultimately leads to positive change for all.

Perspective, Fat-Shaming, and Truth

Well, this week I’m getting more personal. It’s a blog, though, isn’t it – so, in many ways it’s about being personal. For over seven years I have shared my thoughts and perspective on myriad things, usually from a place of having vetted the topic through many many filters of experience, knowledge, and teachings. This week, I’m getting a bit more personal, and you’ll see why when you read what I have to say.

Many of you know me and/or know much of my story. Many of you don’t. Either way, you’ll get a glimpse into how I became who I am today from this week’s piece. I hope you enjoy it, and if you’ve experienced anything similar for any reason – know you are not alone. (For those of you who follow me on Facebook, you may have already seen this as a post earlier this week.)

I just made the mistake of reading the comments on a beautiful story of a discriminated segment of the population standing proud and doing something that goes against stigma… And the majority of comments were horrible. I had hoped that they wouldn’t be on such a lovely piece. I was wrong.

It made me pause and think. I haven’t mentioned what “segment” this is. Did you have an idea in your head when reading my above paragraph? What if I’m referring to disabled individuals? Or African-Americans? Or LGBT? What if I’m referring to the elderly, or the poor? To immigrants?

I’ve seen many posts in recent times about all of these groups doing something against the stigma, and the majority of comments have been “you go girl!” or “well done,” or even “about time!” But because I’m NOT speaking about any of these or similar groups, I see a different trend in the commentary.

Would it surprise you to know I’m speaking about plus-sized women? More specifically, Plus-sized women dancers who have more flexibility and strength in their bodies than many other people on the planet? And still…they are demeaned as nothing more than a number on a scale, or a size on a label.

These strong women are dancing beautifully, breaking a stereotype and a stigma, and attacked for doing so. They are called “fat” and “obese” and told that they shouldn’t be dancing because it “glorifies” being fat, when they should be hiding it away and working harder to be thin. (Because “thin” = “healthy” apparently.)

This makes me mad. Nobody – NOBODY – has a right to judge another. Unless you can walk in the other person’s shoes, you simply don’t know (and you can’t, and even if you could, there’s still no place to judge). If these comments were directed at any other discriminated population, the perpetrators would be called “racist” and “bigots.” But for some reason it’s still ok to fat-shame. An entire segment of the population is routinely put down (negated, attacked, dismissed, shamed) because of their appearance and the social stigma attached to it, and it’s simply wrong.

I speak from experience on this. I’ve been thin(ner), and I’ve been fat. I currently carry an extra 60lbs of ’emotional scar tissue’ from my marriage. But I’m alive. It’s increasingly harder for me to shift the weight, but I’m working on it with a team of experts. And I’m alive. Unless you’ve walked in my shoes, you have no right to judge me and how I look – and yet…I’ve been judged. I’ve received comments, and stares, and messages (unsolicited offerings of advice and help), because people “care” for me or (in actuality) are uncomfortable with my weight. Well, luckily, they don’t have to be the one carrying it.

And I smile and nod in “appreciation” because it’s easier that way. It’s easier to seem grateful for the thoughtful/less suggestions than it is to say, “f**k off!” And I build a story around it: “…but I’m alive,” to justify others’ discomfort at my appearance.

Well, no more. I’m tired. I’m tired of being looked at as ‘lesser-than’ because I have a ‘bit-more’ than others. Because here’s the truth of the matter:

I’m fat. I gained 60lbs during a (mostly) dysfunctional marriage, and I’m having a hard time getting it off, because of an injury. But…I’m alive. In the last year of my marriage I was certain I wouldn’t be for long, either at my own hand, or his. So, I’m alive, and I’m fat. And I have some health concerns that I am working on with professionals – (mostly the result of my silly toe that stopped bending – the rest of me is healthy by the numbers). And I’ve had relationships since my divorce with (attractive/slim) men – should I not have, because I’m fat? Because I’ve been told that, too. Yes.

And…

And I’m SO MUCH MORE than all of that. It’s just one ~ one ~ piece of my story. A story that is always evolving and growing, and includes:

I’m alive. I survived. I’m beautiful, smart, funny, creative, and strong. I’m fat and flexible, happy and whole. I’m intuitive and blessed, grateful and living my life with purpose and passion – I’m living, because I’m alive, and I survived. And I’m everything I ever was and will yet be, because of that.

People are more than their bodies. #Stopfatshaming

Post-Note: Unless we learn to regularly take perspective, how can we invite compassion into our lives, or expect it from others? The key to creating change in humanity includes this very crucial first step: taking perspective.

Something Old – Something New

June is wedding season, so I thought I’d borrow an old adage in keeping with the times: Something Old – Something New.

“Something OLD” refers to a theme or message that I have shared for many years with my readers and my clients. It’s about belief systems and the various forms they can take in our lives. Often, we don’t realize that we are operating under unchecked belief systems as we make decisions or plans, but we are. It’s when we begin to raise our awareness to these ingrained patterns that we start to set ourselves free of the ones that are holding us back, and we align more deliberately with the ones that support who we are authentically.

Belief systems are not inherently bad. However, it’s the unexamined belief system that can be creating obstacles in your path without you realizing it. Last week, I explored one such belief system in a little bit more detail, which brings me to the “something new.”

“Something NEW” refers to a new format I am starting to embrace to help get my work more broadly into the world: video. Some of us learn better from reading, while others learn better from hearing or seeing, and I needed to honor this truth. I recently completed a marketing course, which I have referred to a couple times in recent weeks, in which I practiced the art of making video to share a message, idea, or topic. Trust me, this wasn’t easy for me – even though I was a drama major in college and spent most of my high school years on the stage. There’s something so immediate about video that makes it more intimate. So, it took some work for me to get to where I felt I was ready to show up and be seen in this manner. And I’m glad I did.

The feedback has already been overwhelmingly positive. Most importantly, I heard exactly what I knew to be true: for many people it was “so much easier” to grasp the concept from watching a 3- or 5-minute video, than it was to read a blog or a chapter in my book. Furthermore, several people told me that the teaching sunk in without them realizing it, as they suddenly discovered that they were more aware of their thought and belief patterns over the days following watching my video. This is the best result I could hope for.

So, with that, I share both of these first videos with you now. I will most definitely be making more, so stay tuned. And if you want to remain in the loop, you can catch all my videos on Facebook, with little snippets being posted on Instagram. And, if you click the “see first” option on my Facebook page you’ll know every time something new appears. Soon enough, I suspect I will set up a YouTube channel to manage all of this content. For now, however, I am keeping it simple.

As for the videos themselves, they’re all about the stories we tell ourselves, and how that can either be a cause for positive change, or a source of self-detrimental behavior. You can watch them here:

Stories: Part 1 (What Happens When We Make Up Stories – and we all do)

Stories: Part 2 (The Genesis of Story)

Perspective Is A Choice (and how it can improve your life)

Lately I’ve been using the hashtag #perspectiveisachoice when posting some updates on social media. It was a phrase that sort of appeared in my lexicon as I shared some challenges I had experienced that resulted in my choosing to think differently.

In other words, through these frustrating situations, I consciously chose to remember grace and gratitude, which made the events less frustrating. My awareness was raised to the point of acceptance and understanding, which then allowed me to remove myself from the situation emotionally, and regain my power from a position of neutrality. As you know, I believe neutrality is the most powerful tool in your toolbox.

That being said, as I wrote about and shared my anecdotes of frustration from a place of perspective, I found myself immersed in peace. It was as if I could empathize with the circumstances, but my emotions weren’t held hostage by them. It was from that space that the hashtag was born.

Once I wrote the words, however, it cemented home the truth and reality of the statement:

Perspective is a choice.

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It is always within our control to shift our perspective. In fact, we do it often without much consciousness at all. Which prompts me to wonder what would happen if we consciously chose to shift our perspective, especially when we’re feeling frustrated or overwhelmed. The small act of consciously choosing our perspective could make quite a difference in the overall quality of our lives. I know it is for me.

Are you Intense?

Are you Intense?

This is a question I’ve asked myself, mainly because I already know the answer: I can be.

It all began after a series of different meetings I had with my doc over a couple of months. During one of the earlier sessions he had said to me, “You’re intense, and you need to be with someone who not only understands, but appreciates that in you.” I listened.

Am I intense? I can be.

Fast forward a few months and at another session he said in passing, “I couldn’t live with you.”

Ouch.

It wasn’t meant to hurt, or to be a barb, but it did. (And don’t worry, there’s no discussion of anything remotely unethical going on.) It hurt, because I found myself not measuring up to some random externalized standard that had absolutely nothing to do with me.

Of course, that’s the truth of what happened, but in the moment I didn’t have access to that absolute truth, I just knew that it stung a little. Subsequently, I found myself asking, “What’s wrong with me?” and “Am I not livable?” Which ultimately evolved to “Am I not lovable?” And finally, the mac daddy of them all: “Am I destined to be alone?”

I suspect it took only about 5 seconds to go from his statement to the fear of being alone. It’s a well-worn path that is very easily navigated. Almost effortlessly, in fact. But here’s the beautiful thing: because I have done my work, because I have spent years forging through the dark tunnel and excavating the debris that was forming obstacles to my life, and because I have raised my awareness to the habit of negative self-talk, it took about another 5 seconds for me to access the truth behind his statement.

Just because HE couldn’t live with me does not mean that NOBODY can.

And there it was. Truth. Absolute truth. And it allowed me to go even further, which was like flipping through the most wonderful album of memories and joy you’ve ever created. Once I acknowledged that his external measurement had nothing to do with my self-worth, I was able to explore why he might feel that way, and that’s when it occurred to me: He only knows 30% of me. Perhaps more, maybe less, but 30% feels like a good number.

The fact is that he only knows that which I present to him, and since he’s my doc, I present my problems. He’s my “expert” for helping me sort through that which I cannot do alone. Therefore, it stands to reason that he couldn’t live with me (and finds me intense), because he only knows that side of me. He knows the percentage that is seeking assistance or a safe place to vent. While I suspect he might have inklings of the other 70%, it has been a rare occasion when I have presented it to him.

This got me thinking: What IS the other 70%? Here’s where that lovely virtual photo album of memories came into play. I suddenly found myself immersed in the joy of being me. It was decadent, blissful, and loving. It looked a bit like this:

  • He doesn’t see me dancing in the rain, or laughing so hard that I fall off the bed.
  • He doesn’t see me when I’m the image of bliss immersed up to my neck in a hot bubble bath, or how I get teary eyed during a commercial for animal rescue.
  • He doesn’t see the me that giggles at sexual innuendos like a school girl, secretly hiding my wry smile because I actually know what’s being talked about and the sheer pleasure it can bring.
  • He doesn’t see me singing like a dork while I dance in my car to my favorite song.
  • He doesn’t see me baking something for a friend that’s hurt, or taking pictures of butterflies on my daily walk.
  • He doesn’t see me when I’m so immersed in writing that hours can go by without my noticing it, and the smile on my face becomes semi-permanent.
  • He doesn’t see me talk to strangers and offer them a smile, or as I hug my dog during one of his seizures late at night.
  • He doesn’t see… me.

He doesn’t see the me that I know. Which means: he doesn’t know me. Well, not all of me.

He doesn’t know all this, because he’s not meant to. This is the breadth and depth of me, and it’s still only a glimpse. He knows the me that needs his expertise and his help. The me that comes to him feeling broken or worn down by life, in search of a tincture of assistance and support. And that’s the me he should be seeing, because it’s the me that he knows in relation to himself.

I was then reminded of an old saying that I often share about how we go through life comparing our insides to other people’s outsides. It will never match up. And this is true for almost everybody we come across in life. There are very few (if any) people that we share 100% of ourselves with. Every interaction falls somewhere on the spectrum from 1-99%, and I’d argue that most daily interactions fall somewhere between 1-35%.

People show us, and share with us, what they’re comfortable with, and we receive and share in return what we’re comfortable with. I would suspect that we are sharing about 30% of ourselves with the outside world at any given moment. And how we receive that is directly affected by our relationship to that person. That means that if I am your sibling, I will be receiving what you are showing very differently than if I were your boss, or your employee. We see and know people in relation to who we are to each other, and people only know what we choose to show them.

Which brings me back to the idea of being intense. I can be.

Actually, I think we all can be. And just as I can be intense, I can be light-hearted and soft. It’s part of the full spectrum of who I am, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Then, just a few days ago, I read this piece by Kate Rose on Elephant Journal, and it summed up my notion of intensity so perfectly I wanted to share. Intensity is not something to be ashamed of or dialed down – it’s something to be celebrated. And when it’s admired and supported it can fuel almost anything, including (and especially) Love.