I've heard people say the veil is thin in places like hospitals since so many souls are straddling two worlds. It's one of the reasons they can be uncomfortable to visit. 

There's nothing to distract you from your own mortality and potential loss. There's no filter between you and the greatest love that exists - the perfect kind of love that we came from, and where we'll return. 

In our daily lives, the pettiness and the "stuff" we build around ourselves shield us from having to face these universal truths. The saying "the devil's in the details" is correct. Details are the easiest way for us to forget our true selves.

To stay as close to the truth as possible, to pursue worthy goals and keep what's essential at heart, I'm choosing a word for 2017.

My word for 2017 is Ignite. 

The best way to clear away distractions is to light them on fire. 

Need courage to begin? 
Switch on the ignition. 

Worried about what others think? 
Burn up your desire to please everyone. 

Forgotten who you are? 
You are the flame.

Psychiatric Interviews

Filling out new psych patient forms is like looking at the scariest parts of yourself - all at once, in nervous handwriting, crammed onto a few sheets of paper.

Whenever I have to fill these out, I couch it in hours of self-care. I ground myself, build myself up a little, and bake something yummy. Then I gingerly slide the packet out from underneath a stack of heavy books. I wipe my brow and click the pen.

It's as if a complete stranger sits you down and says, "Now tell me all the things you hide about yourself."

That stranger makes a permanent record of all your shadow aspects and matter-of-factly says, "Mm-hmm, and how broken is your body?" You're asked to list your ugly medical history, your family's medical history. Not all the years you were fine and healthy, just all the times the poo hit the fan.

You realize that you're holding your breath. You're still alive, but only because there is a tiny amount of air escaping in and out of your lungs.

Without pausing, that stranger levels you by asking, "Tell me about the mental health of your blood relatives. How messed up is your family?"

You're beginning to shake and wobble. You think, Good Lord, I'm only 3 questions into this packet. You tap the pen on your lips and also think, How many extra pages stapled on is too many?

Finally, the stranger gathers some benign details and statistics. Just when you think you're nearing the end, you flip the page.

You must run down a checklist of "behaviors." These aren't pretty happy shiny behaviors because that wouldn't tell them anything useful. They don't ask, "Are you helpful and kind?" or "What do you excel at the most?" or "Are you good at baking cookies?"

Instead, that stranger leans in close to you and whispers, "How do you cope with all this pain and uncertainty? Do you spend too much money, join cults, bites your nails, eat only purple foods? . . ."

In the end, I check the boxes, feeling a little piece of myself chipped off with each mark. I tuck the packet under the heavy stack of books, so it won't accidentally end up on fire in the backyard.

Then I watch the Food Network and wait for my family to get home and help me remember that I'm really okay. All the things I have to do to stay healthy are difficult, but at least I'm doing them.

There are a lot scarier things than these psych forms. Not ever doing the psych forms, for instance, would mean that I was living in denial or in fear and not getting treated. My battered brain chemistry would be dictating my decisions.

I consciously choose to look at my darkness, so I can be the light, as well.

How I Set Boundaries

If you're a highly empathetic person, it's almost impossible to get through a day without feeling trampled - - unless you create and maintain proper boundaries for yourself. 

Boundaries are essential now when distant family is reunited and holiday parties are common.

We pick up the ability to read people in childhood. It keeps us safe. When that trait is overdeveloped and if we never learn how to have healthy separation from others, we can quickly sink into anyone else's misery, fear, or angst.

We might mistakenly believe that it's our job to make other people happy. It sounds silly, but it's automatic for a lot of us. We feel a heavy failure when we don't succeed. We tell jokes, make grand gestures, and give of our oil instead of our light.

We're left drained and devoid of the desire to be around any other humans for a while. (Cue the furry pet snuggling, a novel, and pajamas.)

As a mother, a grocery shopper, a friend, or a neighbor, I can pick up on the slightest anxiety. I can take it on as my own, believing that suffering with them is somehow helping them. Except when I do that, I have to help myself out of it, as well.

I finally understood a few years ago that I needed to remain outside the problem to most effectively guide another person. So as a woman who tends to blindly step into the abyss with a pained soul, I need constant reminding that I'm not that other person. I'm not responsible for their problems or their feelings. 

I might help them as a listener, and maybe even a guide, if they're willing. But I should not embody their situation and fix it for them. (See my many references to the need for control in other posts.)
When there is no distinct line between another person and me, it clouds my judgment, drains me, and enables other people's negative behaviors.

How do I remind myself 
that I'm a separate person?

1. I have to be constantly and highly self-aware. Since I have a lot of practice juggling mania and depression, I have a plan in place when I feel like I'm not fully present in my body.

2. I identify the signs that tell me a person is anxious, sad, empty, angry, etc. Sometimes that means being able to deconstruct feelings and look beyond someone's words. Even if the words are aimed at me and meant to hurt, I remember:

  This is about them, not about me.

3. I change the topic of conversation gracefully.

  I'm not responsible for their happiness.

4. If there's no way to change the topic, I try to remain grounded in my own skin. Therapists teach panic attack sufferers to feel deep into the ground. I turn into a processor of sorts. I shut off the "feeling" energies in their presence. 

5.  Later, I'm grateful that I handled the situation without crumbling if that's true. I translate any new data into opportunities for my own personal growth.

6. I'm aware of the topics that are nearly impossible for me to discuss objectively. They're the subjects that cause me to wave my hands around in the air wildly and talk in a shrill voice. 

That might change, but there's still some healing to be done. 

Why 40 is Fun and Scary: Part 2

Subtitle: Planking, Dabbing, and Bottle-Flipping vs. Ripped Jeans, Super Mario, and “the Bangs.”

My youngest son ran to me yesterday and told me to hurry downstairs because my other son was planking in the kitchen. I walked down to find my nine-year-old with his nose pressed into the granite on the island, his body stretched across the gap, and his man-feet millimeters from my fresh fruit on the counter. An image of me wheeling him into the ER explaining that he cracked his skull while planking flashed into my mind.

And that is one of the least annoying trends in my house right now. Dabbing has replaced the Whip and Nae Nae. Bottle-flipping can be heard at all times of the night and day. In a weak and strained moment, my mind began forming the words, What is wrong with kids today? So these things are now prohibited in our home.

I recovered quickly from the bottle-flipping fury, however, because a couple of years ago I armed my children with an old picture of me. In it, I’m wearing shredded jeans. I have braces, a banana clip, and, of course, bangs that nearly touched heaven.

If I’d been holding a Nintendo controller, it would have been the perfect snapshot of my generation at that time. It’s a great reminder that strange trends cross our path as young people and define us  - good, bad, or silly.

My kids could rightly ask, “Mommy, why did you destroy the ozone layer with Aqua Net?” 

I would have to hang my head and say, “Bangs were a status symbol, my children, like tiny waists in Victorian England, or foot-binding in China, but the opposite. The taller the wall of stiffened hair, the more glory and mystique that surrounded you.”

Of course, we 40 year-olds can take some satisfaction in knowing that when kids today have their own kids they'll have to explain not just planking, but poop emojis, too.

Why 40 is Fun and Scary: Part 1

I feel grateful to have lived in a non-computerized world for a time, and then to have watched the digital beast unfurl itself as a young woman. Every new tool is both a wonder and an annoyance to me.

I appreciate the beauty and the possibilities of the tech but also had no problem to be solved by the new tools available.

For example, if I were 25 I might think a Fitbit was kinda fun.

Since I’m 40 and I have kids, I don’t need anything to tell me how long I slept. Anyone who has taken care of an infant has the uncanny ability to tell you when they woke up, got out of bed, almost fell asleep on the couch, went back to bed, only to shut their eyes 42 minutes later and finally fall back asleep. A gadget documenting that would get punched in the face.

As a writer, this dilemma appears quite often. I could be streaming music from YouTube with wireless headphones while I’m on the elliptical machine dictating the first draft of a novel into Evernote, which will automatically appear on all my linked platforms. I could even purchase a Moleskine Smart Writing Set that digitizes notes and drawings that I write on smart paper with a smart pen.

OR, I could dig a stubby pencil and a grimy little notebook out of my bag and write notes while I’m sitting on the bleachers watching my kids practice. Then I can rip the tiny pages out of the notebook later and tape them together into a patchwork of ideas.  I can pin that crazy word quilt on the cork board above my desk and visualize the story that way.

I have one foot in the world of a gritty life where everyone smoked cigarettes and jeans felt like cardboard. The other foot is in a Swiss-engineered high-performance compression sock for athletes. The set cost $40. They’re like butter.

And I love it.


This was inspired by a sweet little post over at Sea Blue Lens.

The writer is a sister-blogger who lives in southern Maine. I love her photography and her sincere, soothing reflections. I secretly hope that by hanging out on her blog I, too, will be able to take inspiring photos one day. I also feel like I'm getting a peek into the future. Since she's north of me and in a time zone to the east, her autumn and winter arrive earlier than mine. 

Her latest post about November helped me realize that it's my favorite month. She described the once colorful leaves turning brown and beginning to decay in the cold drizzle. I realize that to some this transition is sad, even mournful.

For my perennially depressed people and me, I think, Finally! The skies match my inner gray. The crisp air bites and snaps like my sharp moods. Everyone around me starts to retreat indoors, rushing from a heated car to a warm house. As an introvert who could happily never leave her little office library, I do that year round.

My love for November also represents acceptance. When the child-like illusion that we'll all live in eternal sunshine in this life is pierced, you can fight it or embrace reality. The coming bleak white and gray of winter allows me to sink down into my inner world just a little deeper.

By spring, the first joyful tufts of green make my heart skip a beat. I smile at my kids' celebration of warmth, and I accept that my insulated dark days are coming to an end. I'll be expected to step out of the flow of writing and join "activities." 

It's the sacrifice I make to have my fall again next November.

A Bleeding Heart's Guide to Positive Change

Bleeding Heart is my default setting. 

Combined definitions of bleeding heart: dangerously soft-hearted; showing extravagant sympathy for an object of alleged persecution; giving in to emotions quickly

I'm not putting myself down. I love my heart as-is. It is my greatest strength and also my biggest vulnerability. It doesn't always serve me well. Sometimes I work to override it and break things down logically, calculating risks and studying facts. Ideally, I balance out the two naturally and act from that place. 

Right now that balance is helping me shape an action plan for life. It's helping me reconcile the stark differences between my philosophy and others. My job is to honor that part of myself and still be a responsible citizen.

Instead of crying uncontrollably or kicking down the Trump signs that people put in their yards (after the election no less), I retreated to the land of cold hard facts. Reasoning is my only tool.

I read a fantastic article that helped me understand people who voted for Trump. I enjoyed it because the social psychologist interviewed did not use derogatory labels. He studied facts and communicated the statistics. (A win for math and science and a helpful article.)

Jonathan Haidt says this:

Exactly, that’s right. I’m a fan of the political scientist Karen Stenner, who divides the groups on the right into three: The laissez-faire conservatives or libertarians who believe in maximum freedom, including economic freedom and small governance; the Burkean conservatives, who fear chaos, disruption, and disorder — these are many of the conservative intellectuals who have largely opposed Trump.

And then there are the authoritarians, who are people who are not necessarily racist but have a strong sense of moral order, and when they perceive that things are coming apart and that there’s a decrease in moral order, they become racist — hostile to alien groups including blacks, gay people, Mexicans, etc. This is the core audience that Trump has spoken to.

That’s not to say that most people who voted for him are authoritarians, but I think this is the core group that provides the passion that got him through the primaries.

Since this was the second mention of authoritarians supporting Trump in my world in the same week, I had a visceral reaction. I felt the adrenaline surge and wash over my extremities. My mind said, "Whoa, we don't need to flee or fight." My body said, "Really!? Because authoritarian is a super scary word."

When I reread the words, I noticed a HUGE commonality. Most of those people feared the world was falling apart, just as I feel now. Who has the right to keep their world? 

The answer is none of us. The liberals were slapped down. We are tripping over our own bleeding hearts trying to figure out why there's so much hate. 

If I've learned anything in my life, it's this: When people act out of fear, they're making decisions from a compressed, dark, and limiting headspace. Their actions scream, "Protect me and my own. Dehumanize the other. Might makes right. Force."

Two ways we can combat that mentality in ourselves and others:

1.     Education 

I don't just mean math and science. Those are essential, but I'm talking about the case for a liberal arts education available to everyone because it makes GOOD HUMAN BEINGS. Liberal Arts students have a broad knowledge of history and the inevitable cycles in societies. They can make thoughtful decisions.

One cannot, of course, force people to learn, but if it's financially out of reach for the demographic that is leaning toward authoritarianism, we're done. You can't argue with authoritarian. That's kinda the point.

We can offer people a different kind of power. Education is power. It greases the social wheels. It removes barriers to jobs, mental healthcare, and everything a person needs to be whole.

Power over Force.

2.     Belief in the Growth Mindset

Holding the belief that our brains can heal themselves and learn how to do better will protect our hearts from bleeding out. 

This is me being the change I want to see:

Good Things About Trump Being 
President-Elect So Far

  • It's a chance for any citizen to dig into how our election process works and question whether it's still viable.

  • Those who felt there was no longer a need for feminism or the Civil Rights Act may be jolted into a new awareness.

  • President-Elect Trump is clearly being educated. With new information he has changed his rhetoric when it comes to the Affordable Care Act, prosecuting Hillary Clinton, climate change, and other issues.