Thursday, September 28, 2017

Choosing Hope

September is a month known for new beginnings and change.  It is also the month in which my family mourns the loss of both of my brothers.  Bryan, who is always remembered on September 7th and Scot who is now remembered on September 19th. 

One year after losing my second brother and I am just beginning to realize that he is actually gone forever.  I am struggling to recall the sound of his laughter, the warmth of his smile.  One year after losing Scot I am trying to keep the memory of him alive.  One year has gone on without him and I am still here.  It's difficult, but that is the part that I must remember.  I am still here.

That is what any of those who have lost someone close to them must remember.  While each day will be different without them, we must continue to live on.  We are still here and we have to strive to be present in our own lives. As another soul whom, sadly we also mourn this month would say "Carpe Diem."  

This past year has taught me a great deal about myself.  It has been one of tremendous personal growth.  I have gone through some difficult times, yet I just recently realized that still I rise.  What allows me to carry on is simple, but it took me a while to let it surface.  It is hope. 

I came to realize that when it feels like everything in life is out of our control worry does nothing.  It is hope that gives us light.  Hope is a cognitive choice.  Some, like me, have to train their minds to choose hope over worry. Sometimes it is not easy.

I view hope as an exercise.   I have to work at it, train to seek it.  Sometimes it can be as hard as a running a marathon, but still I choose it.  I have come to see it as a brave choice.  One that I can make regardless of the circumstances. Hope is a verb.  It is an action.  It is not a chair to sit on while we passively wait for things to get better.  It is something I can do. Something I can choose in spite of my circumstances.   I think that especially when things look the most bleak it is the most important time to choose hope.

I cannot make sense of what has happened, nor can I worry about what is to come. Instead I choose to hope. I hope for peace, for love and for strength. I hope to live on in a way that would make siblings proud.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Growing through it...

In this journaling adventure I have  come to learn a few things about myself.  As I delve into this journey of self discovery I am realizing more and more that I am guilty of hiding my true self. 

I wear a mask, albeit a figurative one, and I wear it every day.   It makes me appear to be strong and capable, cheerful and outgoing.  This mask continues to smile in spite of what is going on with the person behind it.  I use it to hide my vulnerable self, the one that sometimes cannot get out from under the sadness.  This mask allows me to control what people see. It gives me courage to go out into the world and face the public.

My mask has been worn many times, and it used to fit me like a glove.  Lately, though, it has begun to feel cumbersome and I struggle to hold it in place.  I am becoming increasingly more exhausted each time I have to readjust it.  So much so, that I no longer wish to wear it.

I'd love to remove it and hang it up in the closet with the cloak of grief I described in my last post.  I don't want to put it on, yet I don't wish to burden people with my real feelings. This is the thing I've learned about depression.  It creates a sense of loneliness because I cannot show my vulnerabilities. In turn, this makes me feel trapped.  I have a sense that I can never truly express how I'm feeling for fear of bringing other people down.  I also fear that people won't understand.  They won't see my sadness as something that I just can't "snap out of."  These feelings breed anxiety.  I start to worry what people will think of me.  I over analyze so many of my insecurities.

I have terrible social anxiety.  I would much rather stay home, with my husband and children, where I know it is safe.  Here I do not have to keep up pretenses.  I trust my family and allow them to see my vulnerabilities.  In social settings however, I am worried that people will see the broken person who hides behind her perfected smile.  Because of this it has become safer, and easier, to stay at home.  Leaving the sanctuary of our home often frightens me.  I am increasingly terrified of being judged or pitied.  I am scared of being "seen."

I've read enough to know that avoidance is not a healthy coping mechanism, but I still prefer to be alone.  I am never lonely when I am by myself.  Just the opposite in fact. I find that this is when I am most comfortable.  

What I hope to find in this journey is a balance.  I want the option of  wearing the mask when I most need to, but I also want to be able to remove it when I am with those that understand and make me feel safe. Finding this balance is a constant struggle, mainly because I do not know how to ask for help. I only wish to be a giver not a taker.  I do not feel worthy of accepting help. 

Perhaps the most important thing I have learned so far is that I am a work in progress and that I am trying to grow through what I am going through.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Reading, Writing and Baking...

As I mentioned in my last post, I've been doing a lot of reading lately. Not the dark and twisty psychological thrillers that are my usual cup of tea, but books that I hope will help me regain my focus and help me to once again find my footing. I've also been trying to rediscover the joy I have previously found in baking.

I recently read an article I found online that discusses the benefits of baking.   In it the author, Gabriele Fantelli, talks about how mental health and culinary experts alike give credit to the idea that baking could be very helpful in relieving the symptoms of anxiety and depression.  It is noted that baking combines the physical and projection aspects of the traditional occupational therapies. Not only does baking help to relieve symptoms, but it also produces something that we get to indulge in. Baked goods are notorious for generating smiles, especially when our creations are shared with others.  The end result is not only a tasty treat, it also fosters positive feelings and happiness.
This comes as no surprise to me. I've been an emotional baker for years.  It's the reason I began this blog in fact. It was therapy for me when I lost my job in 2011. I loved to bake and write and this blog allowed me to combine those two passions.  In light of all that has happened this past year, I've lost my direction and my baking and writing has gone by the wayside.  

My husband, who has remained by my side through these trying times and has shown me so much love and support, even bought me a state of the art Kitchen Aid mixer in an attempt to renew my desire to bake. 

 It's beautiful and I love it, but I will admit that it sat dormant for longer it should have. My therapist encouraged me to use it. She also encouraged me to write. Journaling she called it ( I looked it up, it's a thing). So I did, and here I am, back in the kitchen and at the keyboard.

I decided to return to the book that started it all six years ago, The Happy Baker; a dater's guide to emotional baking by Erin Bolger.  While I'm not in the dating pool (and thankfully haven't been for decades!) I am emotional so this book fits the bill.  

This is the author's go to cookie so I thought it was an appropriate recipe to get me back in the saddle.  If the fact that there were no cookies left to photograph is any indication, I'd say they were pretty good.  As for me? I'm getting there.
You Will Need:

1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup (one stick) butter, softened

1/2 cup smooth peanut butter

1 tsp vanilla
1 egg

3/4 cup all purpose flour

3/4 cup quick cooking oats
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt

1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

1/2 cup shredded coconut

  • preheat oven to 375'
  • in a large bowl, combine both sugars and butter and beat until smooth and fluffy
  • add peanut butter, vanilla and egg; mix well
  • stir in flour, oatmeal, baking soda and salt being careful not to over mix
  • fold in chocolate chips and coconut
  • using a cookie scoop, or two spoons, drop onto a parchment lined cookie sheet ensuring that they are at least two inches apart
  • press down lightly with your fingers or a fork dipped in sugar
  • bake for 10 to 12 minutes until the edges are golden brown
  • allow cookies to cool on sheets for two minutes before transferring them to wire racks to cool completely

If you'd like to read the full article that discusses the benefits of baking and mental health click the following link:

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

We can't go over it, we can't go under it...

Once again, here I sit, trying to write what I feel.  It is not easy.  Nor is it something I wish to do.  It is, however, something that I must do.  

I am a known introvert.  When the going gets tough, I  hibernate.  That is my defense mechanism.  Being that I am an avid book lover, I also read (thankfully this pairs well with hibernation).  Lately I've been turning to self help books.  This is the way that I try to make sense of it all without having to openly admit that I am struggling. 

Currently I am reading Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience and Finding Joy by Sheryl Sandberg. This book offers great insight into building resilience and moving forward after life's setbacks. The premise of the book is that even after the most devastating events, it is possible to grow by finding deeper meaning and gaining greater appreciation in our lives. The title is meant to imply that we are all living some form of Option B. 

Feeling the way that I do, it's hard to go out into the world and have to answer the same question over and over.  "How are you?" ~ "Fine" I lie.  

Last night while reading Option B,  the words of psychologist David Caruso resonated with me.  He observes, “culture demands that the answer to the question ‘How are you?’ is not just ‘Good.’ … We need to be ‘Awesome.’ ” Caruso adds, “There’s this relentless drive to mask the expression of our true underlying feelings.” Admitting that you’re having a rough time is “almost inappropriate.” 

I could not agree more.  Often times I notice that people who ask me how I am are moving on to something else before I even have a chance to answer the question.  It's almost a given that we are to answer with a rote fine, good, or even awesome.  

As I move through my struggles with grief and depression, I am learning more and more who it is that I can be honest with. I know who will accept "fine" and move on and I know who will call my bluff.  

I am also beginning to understand that grief is chronic.  It never truly goes away. It is not something that you get over.  Rather, it is more about remission and relapse from which there is no cure.  What that means is, you cannot simply wait for it to pass, for it to be over.  You instead have to move through it, like a swimmer caught in an undertow.  

This is not saying that joy will never be found again.  It does come, often surprising me when it does.  But it is in those times that my grief sneaks up on me and drags me down again. Guilt plays a major role in that.  Happy moments are sometimes the worst because that is when the ache is the strongest.

I have come to think of my grief and depression as if it were a heavy cloak.  It is something that I wear for awhile and then suddenly I realize that it is heavy and I am exhausted from the weight of it.  At these times I work very hard to take it off and hang it in my closet. This does not mean that I am able to let go of it, but it does mean that I am desperate to free myself from it, close the door on it for a bit.  

I hope that this cloak is something that I will someday outgrow.  Perhaps I will then be able to stop wearing it and leave it in my closet, only coming back to visit it every once in a while. It will then be something I will no longer carry with me.  Not in the sense that it is a burden.  I will always carry it in my heart, but I cannot carry it on my back forever.   

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Hello from the other side...

It's been awhile, I know.  Much has happened since my last post.  I'm not sure that I am there yet, but I am trying to find my way back.

2016 was not a good year. 

It is said that writing is cathartic.  This I know.  The reason I started this blog was to create an outlet for my emotions after losing my beloved school librarian job back in 2011.  I thought that was a bad year. I was mistaken. It was merely a fork in the road.  

It is with a heavy heart that I return to writing.  Something I once found joy in.  It is time. 

If you are a follower of this blog, you know that I took that fork in the road six years ago and it led me, by way of a jewelry store, a bakery and a trip back to university, to a job that started my career as a librarian.  

I began my adult working life in 1993 as a fresh out of university 23 year old.  I had every intention of becoming a teacher back then, but as fate would have it, I began working in a library and found my true calling.  I stayed on through marriage and the birth of our three children.  It was a job that I planned on retiring from.  However, in 2004 I was offered a job that suited my family to a tee, so after much thought, I left my wonderful job in the hopes that I was moving on to something better.

It was. For seven whole years.  Until someone higher up decided that school libraries were a thing of the past. As archaic as the dinosaur.  Myself, and many other wonderfully talented librarians were let go.  There was no warning. We didn't see it coming.  I was 42 at the time, and for the first time in my adult life I was unemployed.  It was not a good time for me.

I began this blog as a way of not only coping, but finding something to do with all of the new found time I had on my hands.  It worked then, and for that reason, I am returning to it with hopes that it will do the same once again.

I've walked circles around this computer for days.  I knew that I wanted to write, but feared what would happen once I started.  Do I want to express all of my feelings to "the world?"  No.  Do I need to let them out? Yes.  I finally sat down today and committed myself to writing at least a paragraph.  I am writing with the notion that no one is going to read this.  I have neglected my blog for so long now that I'm sure I have not a single follower.  And that is okay. This post isn't for anyone but me. The thought that my words will go unread allows me to write with clarity and freedom.  

The year 2016 started out fine.  Great in fact. It was the year of the dream vacation that my husband and I had been planning since February of 2015. A Mediterranean cruise that would last two full weeks.  We had so much to look forward to.  I was once again working at a public library (ironically, the same one that I left in 2004).  I loved my job, my kids were healthy and prospering teenagers,  and my husband of 23 years and I  had a trip of a lifetime coming up in the fall.

On June 25th, things began to unravel.  

Our library management and board could not come to an agreement with our Union during contract negotiations and we were forced to go on strike.  It was such a foreign concept to me. I had never done such a thing, nor was I prepared for what it would entail.  I will not go into detail about the strike, other than to say that it was one of the most brutally difficult things I've had to endure in my lifetime to date.  Picketing is not fun. Walking for 4 hours each day in all kinds of inclement weather; heat, cold, rain and wind, was not something I looked forward to.  Being sworn at, almost run down by people that had places to go that were more important than what we were standing up for, also not fun.  It lasted for 7 1/2 months. 229 days.  Long enough for me to lose some of my faith in the decency of people.  Sadly, that is not the worst thing that happened in 2016.

In March, a healthy, robust and wise man that we loved was diagnosed with an acute form of cancer at the age of 54.  A relative on my husband's side, Rick was the one of the wittiest and most genuinely kind person I had ever met. His battle with this cruel disease led him down a path that would cause much heartache within our family.  

In yet another cruel twist of fate, my brother, my only surviving sibling (the youngest of 4, I have already lost a brother and a sister), went into the hospital with a headache in August and never returned home.  Scot was also 54.  The same age as our cousin Rick. 

 The two men died a day apart in September of 2016.  

This was the month that my husband and I were to travel on our much anticipated dream cruise.  We sailed for 4 days before having to return home.  It was a difficult journey to say the least.  I cannot, nor will I try, to put it into words.  I also cannot express in words the great hole the loss of these wonderful men have left in the hearts of many.  They are missed each and every single day.  

It is now April.  Almost 7 months to the day that my  brother died, followed by our cousin. In those months I have struggled to find my way.  I have extreme anxiety and what is called "survivor's guilt."  As well, I have been diagnosed with depression.  It's ironic this diagnosis, since I am not depressed in the sense that I am unhappy.

I have a great life.  I am forever grateful to my wonderful and loving husband who has always remained by my side.  My supporter, my advocate and my voice of reason.  I have three wonderful, healthy and understanding children.  They have made me smile even when I didn't want to.  My circle of friends are always there for me to lean on and I am once again able to do a job that I love.  I am truly not unhappy. I am just struggling to make sense of it all.  The questions surmount the answers.  

In writing this blog, I hope to dispel some of my dejection.  I've started seeing a therapist, something I do not admit lightly, and she suggested that I start a journal as an outlet for my emotions.  My goal is to return to blogging and perhaps even baking (something I have lost interest in amid the chaos).  As I have previously mentioned, this worked for me once before, I am hopeful that it will again.

 In the words of Ernest Hemingway, I hope to "write hard and clear about what hurts" and perhaps somewhere along the way I will rediscover myself and my love of baking. Perhaps my next post might even contain a recipe. Until then...