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Pippi Longstocking in a GI Joe World

Thursday, 2 August 2018

I think sometimes that people think I am this Pollyana who always sees the bright side and doesn’t struggle. That can’t be further from the truth. Lately I struggle daily to keep my ass moving and out of the bed because it’s the easy and depressing thing to do. I am trying to rest when my body really tells me to but otherwise I have to move, interact, reach out and DO. It’s a conscious choice that I struggle with but ultimately I don’t want to give up so I don’t most days.

Is it easy? It is not. No, it is fricking hard and I want to give up many days but the battle wages on. Life has to be lived, chores need to be done and I have to keep going forward. There are a few key concepts that help me get through most days.

First, I consider life to be like school; I am here to learn things. I also consider, at times, that I am GI Joe and life is like a battlefield where I have to decide if hiding in the fox hole or charging forward helps my growth. That’s the key though in both instances; what will help me grow? I don’t hide in the hole because it’s the easy thing to do when those times happen, I stay there because there is a growth opportunity in that hole. The rest of the time I get up that damned hill whether I feel like it or not because I have to take the hill to win the fight and learn the lesson. Sometimes I charge up the hill and other times I trudge up that road. Either way, if I need to surmount that hill I will eventually take the first step and get up it.

So Mags, you may be asking, isn’t that a heavy lens to view life through? Sometimes, sure it is and that can really suck. Other times it’s light as a feather and I don’t feel the weight at all because I am in the zone, learning and growing on track. Another key to all of this is choosing how I see things that happen. Yes, it is can be a choice and one that we each control.

As humans we are so used to living life in a reactionary state where we are just reacting to what happens without forethought to how we might handle situations when they DO happen. And happen they will, you can trust me on that. My dad taught me a valuable skill in thinking about situations before they happen and how I might handle them when they do. He was a police officer for many years so much of his teaching in this area was around safety. I took that teaching and altered it to other things I was learning about as a young adult and still today.

Are the situations always fun to think about? No. Do I need to think about what will happen if my partner dies before me and how I may handle that? Yes. Now, thinking about those things won’t prepare me for the full on reality but it will help me prepare what I can ahead of time (wills, power of attorney, documentation and so forth) and it will also give my mind a chance to taste what the sadness and loss might feel like. I know that just that little bit won’t fully prepare me for the eventuality but it is a way to start handling that type of situation on some levels in my mind.

Another example of using this technique is to spend some time thinking about how I might handle myself at a company gathering where there may be a person present whom I have issues with. I spend time thinking about how I want to treat this person, how I want to act around this person and the boundaries I will set. This won’t prepare me for every eventuality but I will be more prepared for interacting with this person than I would be if I go in blind. If I have a plan in place, it may not go completely according to my own plan because people are people but I get to choose how I act regardless of the other person. Think about that for a minute; you get to choose how you act. That is true in every single situation in life to some degree.

So Mags, do you take time to think of fun scenarios and not just heavy crap like this? You betcha I do! You have to balance out the bad with the good. This is a skill set that crosses all boundaries! There are so many examples I can give you of how to use this skill in your daily life to learn how to choose to handle things that happen rather than simply reacting to them.

Then there’s the component of you just have to DO the thing. This can be tough and relies on will power to some degree. It also is a major part of learning and growing. I always say that the anticipation of doing something is almost always worse than the actual doing of the thing. We agonize and worry about things often for far longer than it takes to actually do the thing. I guess that makes me more of a rip the bandage off kind of person rather than trying to take it off easily and slow. Here’s the best part about this one though, you can get help. Well, truthfully you can get help in each aspect of this but you don’t have to rely solely on will power here is my point.

Ask for accountability help from your friends, family, therapist, etc. One of the biggest challenges many people face with this part is that they feel alone in what they are doing. Guess what? Most of us feel that way at some point or other. Think about how you feel if a friend reaches out to you for you to help them be accountable for some task and to succeed at whatever it is they are shooting for. Most of us want to help each other so don’t hold back reaching out and asking for help. It’s what we do for each other; help, care, love, support & sometimes push.

So, really I am more like Pippi Longstocking I like to say. I even have this wonderful bracelet a dear friend made for me that says “What would Pippi do?” Pippi was kind of a hero to me as a kid and that never fully went away. She would see a problem and dive into trying to work out what she needed to do to solve it. Now sometimes, ok a lot of the time, this led to hilarious results because they were kids books. The thing I took away from Pippi was that desire to help, to solve problems, to be kind, to be loving and to choose to be who you wanted to be. Pippi was very sure about herself and who she wanted to be and that really appeals to me even today. To know wholeheartedly who or what you want to be and to go after that with your whole being is something to behold and to be a part of.

I want to leave you with a quote that I keep by my desk that I adore from George Bernard Shaw the playwright, which is a huge part of my life’s mantra. “I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no “brief candle” to me. It is sort of a splendid torch which I have got hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.”

Go forth with your whole heart and be who you want to be in this life. Burn bright and fierce and never stop loving, caring and helping where you can.

Are You Listening?

Friday, 27 July 2018

I was not always a good listener. In fact I was often an avid non-listener and didn’t realize how terrible at it I was. With ADHD and not growing up in a family that was big on healthy communication I didn’t know how to be an active listener. I would hear you up to the point where I had something I wanted to interject. Then I would jump in with both feet, never mind that you weren’t done talking yet. It took me a long time as an adult to learn to listen fully to what someone was saying and not dive in and interrupt them. It also took me a long time to then not keep thinking about what I wanted to say when they were done. Because then I still wasn’t really listening to them.

Active listening is an important skill set to learn I believe. It took me into my early 30’s with a lot of practice to start getting some accuracy and focus into my listening skills. I still practice them and work at them on a regular basis because I value healthy communication.

One of the things that I started to do in the early learning stages of trying to be a better listener was a technique called mirroring. I still use this skill today. Someone shares something with me and I say back to them “What I hear you saying is…” and then share what I heard them say followed by “Is that right?” Or some variation of those two sentences. This gives me the opportunity to cement what I heard and gives them a chance to tweak it if I misheard something. It means I have to be actively listening to be able to mirror back what I hear. I don’t use it all the time but it is a great tool to use in work conversations to make sure you have the details correct. It is also a wonderful thing to use in interpersonal conversations when you want to make sure that you are on point with what your partner or friend is sharing with you.

So I say all of that to now say I may have become too good of a listener. I listen so much that I have begun to rarely talk, interject and share. I began to realize this recently when while I was really struggling through some stuff in my own life. I found that I was listening to everyone around me and what was going on with them but no one was asking about me and I wasn’t introducing what was going on with me into the conversation. I think that being a good listener is a valuable skill set but it can’t be all I do. I have to still be a part of the conversation and share what’s going on with me as well. If I am not doing that am I still being genuine in my part of the conversation? It’s a question I have been asking myself lately and will likely continue to for a while.

I know some people would say that if the people I am talking to aren’t asking about me too then they don’t care. I will agree up to a point on that. The people I am very close to do ask how I am doing and take time to listen to me. It’s more of the next couple of rings out from friend and family central that I was getting this behavior from. So I am asking myself what is it in me that is encouraging this behavior and is it something I want to tweak or change? I think it will be something I want to tweak and I will have to figure out how I want to go about that.

There are many people in my life who are going through some heavy stuff lately so I am not alone in that. Much of this is about finding a balance I believe. Even more so when the lot of you are all going through things at the same time. In an ideal world you would experience tough times in staggered stages so you could help one another while not mired down in your own crap. Rarely does it work out that way though in my experience.

So, I am back to balance. I need to find the equilibrium of listening to those who are in need but also taking time for me to be heard as well. I can’t pour from an empty vessel. If I am always giving and not receiving, even in the outer circles of friendship it creates imbalance. And while temporary asymmetry is fine, a friendship cannot maintain, nor thrive in it. I will be looking at the circles where this behavior seems to flourish the most and be working on ways to feel more heard as well as hearing others out.

If you aren’t familiar with the circles of relations, friendship or connection below is a diagram.

 

Disconnection in a Connectivity World

Thursday, 12 July 2018

Here in the Western world, we live a life where most people are connected electronically somehow. We have multiple social media sites, work connection sites, shopping, school reunion sites and more. We are seemingly never alone. Or are we? A phone or computer isn’t the same as a human to human interface. It begins to beg the question about whether all of our technology is really connecting us or keeping us more and more disconnected from one another. These are questions that I ask myself often these days. I have begun seeking out answers and others who are asking the same questions. I have sat down to write this post so many times but the words have simply eluded me much like regular contact with others has in recent months.

The theory put forth by Johann Hari in his book Lost Connections, which I have been reading, as well as renowned scientists is that we are more disconnected now from each other than we ever have been before. Those connections are a needed quantity for most of us to be a healthy and whole person. Johann Hari talks about the fact that we don’t have tribe anymore and we don’t connect on a personal face to face level regularly with tribe like we have in the past. (For the purpose of this discussion tribe will be used to mean a group or groups of people that we interact with whom we can depend on for help and to help in return.) Humans are social animals and the more disconnected we become the more anxious and depressed we are becoming. Our society has the highest rates of depression and anxiety ever in our history. I believe that we need more quality human interaction with one another on a much more regular basis than many of us are getting.

I have seen this happen in my own life as a result of chronic illness, OCD and depression. Then you add in some environmental factors and it’s a recipe for disconnection disaster in my world. About 7 months ago my car died on me and since I am not working we really can’t afford to fix or replace it. (We are working on it and it will hopefully be resolved soon.) So this has meant that I am in effect trapped at home, a lot. When my partner is home in the evenings & on weekends I can use his car but there’s a limited window of when I have access to the car, when I feel well enough to go do something and when others are available to do things with me. Throw in that we live about 45 minutes to an hour from most of our tribe the window gets even smaller. Needless to say the optimal window when all three main factors are available is relatively small and hard to fit through.  I am someone who loves my solitude and alone time but apparently I can have way too much of a good thing.

I have tribe, I have family of choice with whom I am close and I have some bio family that I am still tangentially connected to. However, even with all that I still often feel cut loose in this overly connected world. It’s ironic that the more I am connected, the less connected I feel. I am very fortunate to have a smart phone, a tablet, a laptop and a PC. I am about as connected as you can get electronically. I have social media profiles and lots of friends to keep up with there. But there is something inherently missing in this electronic communication for me. Maybe it’s body language, maybe it’s tone of voice, or the glint of an eye as someone laughs about something or maybe it’s just simple human touch and contact, sharing that energy of just being in each other’s aura for a while. Whatever it is I know I need more of the human connections and far less of the electronic connectivity of our modern world. We are all so busy and on the go all the time that we don’t always have or make time to connect with each other more deeply.

Don’t worry, I am not throwing out all my gadgets and going to live in a yurt in the woods somewhere. Ok, maybe the yurt one day but I will still have my electronic gadgetry.

So what’s the solution you ask? What I am going to do is reach out more even when it is tough and the depression is telling me no one wants to hear from me. I am going to make more phone calls to reach out rather than texts because there’s something to be said for that connection of hearing another person’s voice. I am going to put down the electronics more often and interact in good old fashioned ways. I am going to  send more cards & letters because I know how much I love receiving them so why not start the ball rolling and send them? I used to be a very prolific letter writer and then just got out of the habit with email and such. And last but certainly not least of all, I am going to get together face to face whenever I can with those I care about, make time even if it’s just an hour here or there.

I don’t know that this is a perfect solution to all the disconnection I have been experiencing and that I see all around me but I know it’s a start. A journey can’t begin until I take the first step out and begin. So, here I go beginning.

 

Mother’s Day Hermitage

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

I wasn’t sure I was going to post this but I really feel moved to do so as this is a tough topic for me and therefore means I need to examine it and share it. I love my mom but we have a weird relationship and always have kind of. But she’s not what this post is about. I love that we have a days to celebrate parents (though I think that should be every day really as most moms and dads are pretty awesome).

Mother’s Day is a really tough day for me every year. I tend to hermit up on Mother’s Day and stay away from social media as it’s just too overwhelming for me. Something a lot of folks don’t know about me is that I really wanted to be a mom and think I would have been a pretty great mom on a lot of levels. Due to severe PCOS and other health conditions it just never happened and now it can’t due to a needed hysterectomy. I know that my life is just not meant to contain motherhood to a child of my body this go around and most of the time I am ok with it. But, there are certain times that I still struggle with never having the chance. I struggle with not getting to help raise a small human and hope they go on to make the world a better place. I struggle with knowing that I won’t have the comfort of them in my life as I grow older. I struggle with not seeing my family line go on for a lot of reasons. So when I see all the ads about Mother’s Day I start to shut down and tune out. My mom has suffered for that over the years on Mother’s Day and for that I am sorry. I keep working on this every year and it does get better but I do wonder if it will ever really go away.

I have a dear friend who told me some years back that every person I have sponsored, mentored, been a deep friend to and helped are all sort of like my kids in a way. That thought has helped me a lot over the years thinking that hopefully a piece of me will live on in all the teaching, mentoring and sponsoring that I do. At the root of all I am is the desire to help make the world just a little bit better place. While I didn’t get to do that having a child, perhaps in just a lot of little ways I still managed to do so.

To all of the others out there like myself, I see you, I feel your pain and I love you. We don’t have to be defined by whether we had kids or not and I know how hard it is in a society that values parenthood so highly as a status marker. Be your awesome self and keep kicking ass!

To all of you awesome parents out there rocking it each day, I see you and I appreciate having you in my life. You teach me and help me help others through what you do with your kids. Keep being awesome and make time for yourself too!

Now I am going to go get some tissues, dry my eyes and get back to kicking butt!

Let’s Rhapsodize

Thursday, 19 April 2018

I am a huge fan of the group Queen and have been for many years. I am a notorious grump when it comes to covers of their songs because no one else is Freddy Mercury. The worst song anyone tries to cover in my opinion is Bohemian Rhapsody because no one can hit those high notes the way Freddy did. They are always either too low or too high and can’t get that niche he had. So, I say all of that to say that I stumbled across the first cover of Bohemian Rhapsody that not only did I make it all the way through watching but actually LIKED. I think that instrumentally the band nails the song and vocally I would give them a 90/100 which is the most I have ever given any Queen cover. So, here it is. Enjoy.

Loss and the Doubt Monster

Friday, 13 April 2018

The last several weeks have been a lot about loss and gain. Some of you may have noticed that I didn’t post last week. Honestly it was because I was just so far down in the dumps I didn’t have anything good to say. Sometimes for me there comes a point where it’s just a good policy to step away from the keyboard for a while and last week was one of those times.

I generally spend a lot of time thinking about loss, death and the whole process around grieving; probably more than most people. That’s not to say that I am maudlin because I’m definitely not. Overall, I tend to be a pretty upbeat person. I experienced a lot of death, loss and grief at an early age because many of the people in my family were much older. Being the thinker that I am I started very early trying to make more sense out of death and the grief process than just the misery of it all. Which was a good thing because death, loss and grief have been no strangers in my life.

I studied many different spiritual practices over the years from the one that I was brought up with, Southern Baptist, to Eastern practices, Christianity in general, and many indigenous tribal customs from America and other countries. I have also studied many modern techniques around dealing with grief and death. I want to make a point here that not all grief comes from death we can grieve many things though death often is chief among them.

Currently I’m grieving the loss of some friends and acquaintances to death. I find that I am also grieving my independence and honestly a little bit of my misspent youth. There’s nothing like some major health challenges to make you take a look at how you spent your youth and how you are spending your time now. It will also make you look at your independence, how much you value it, how much of it you can retain and regain, if any at all.

This is the first time in my life I’ve ever grieved that misspent youth even a little bit and wondered if I hadn’t done some things differently if I wouldn’t be where I am now with my health. I have tried to live my life without having a great deal of regret and I am sure that once I get past this stuck point in my life I’ll go back to that. But just for this little space in time I feel tiny stabs of regret and I wonder “what if”.

The truth is that none of that has anything to do with my health challenges and I know it. But this insidious monster of doubt creeps in through the cracks and crevices my illnesses leave behind. What if I hadn’t been an addict young? What if I had been kinder to my body and not done all those full contact sports, etc.? What if? What if? What if? Some people say the road to hell is paved with good intentions. I say it’s paved with those two little words.

I’ve always laughed on some level about my misspent youth while at the same time being grateful for it. All of the misadventures, just downright bad decisions and convictions of being indestructible led me to a lot of great truths in my life. Those truths have allowed me to be of service to others whether individually or whole communities at a time. I honestly would not trade that for anything. I never had kids and I had a dear friend tell me once that all of the people I have mentored or helped are my kids in a way. That moment made it all worth it and still does; every single day. I wouldn’t go back and undo any of it to be in a different place today because overall, I really love who I am and how I move through the world. So, go take a hike you doubt monster because I have things to do besides babysit you!

Patreon Launch is NOW!

Monday, 2 April 2018

Hey gang!

As many of you have noticed I’ve been counting down to my #Patreon launch today. In case you aren’t familiar with it, @Patreon is a simple way for you to contribute to my artistic endeavors each month, primarily my writing, and get super cool exclusive patron rewards in return! I think you are going to love the perks I have set up for you to receive! Go to https://www.patreon.com/freerangebrain and become a patron working in concert with me to create and share with the world.