Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Afterthoughts on Personal Organizing

A few weeks ago a blogged about my wonderful experience with a pair of personal organizers who did a complete makeover on my home office. I was so inspired by the transformation in my office that I used the techniques that I learned to organize the rest of my home and the results have been profound.

I'm guessing that many of the same benefits would apply even if I weren't bipolar, but because I am, their significance is probably heightened:
  1. Much less stress and guilt. I moved here during my last depression, and although I experienced a slight hypomanic lift from the move, the high was short-lived. In retrospect, I'm not sure that I ever completely unpacked. For months I knew that I needed to get organized, but I just couldn't bring myself to do it. I lacked both the physical and the emotional energy to do it. Yet, I spent immeasurable energy feeling stressed and/or guilty because my office was so disorganized. I remember refusing to plan any activities for the weekends because I needed to organize my office. I convinced myself that I didn't have any business "playing" on the weekends when my office was such a mess. So, I didn't got out much. But then, I didn't organize my office either. So this pattern repeated itself week after week, with the levels of attending stress and guilt growing exponentially. Now that my entire apartment is "clear", those feelings of stress and guilt are gone, and I now find myself looking forward to planning activities for the weekends with all my new-found time.
  2. I'm able to find things now. I'm also saving a lot of time, and eliminating a lot of stress and frustration, by not having to spend time searching for things. Now, everything has a place and when I take something out, I put it back. It keeps the place neat AND gives me peace of mind.
  3. I'm more focused and aware of the moment. My commitment to keeping things organized forces me to slow down on an on-going basis. I can't do ten things at a time, I can't work up until the moment that I can't keep my eyes open any longer, I can't rush to finish dinner and leave dishes in the sink. Now I try to do one thing at a time. When possible, I "complete the circle", meaning that I try to finish one task, activity or project before starting another. I'm aware of what I'm doing because I understand that living on autopilot has its consequences, and few of them are positive.
  4. I'm prepared for spur-of-the-moment guests. I haven't invited friends over in the year that I've lived here. I hadn't really thought about it until now, perhaps because I was so depressed that socializing wasn't a priority. I'm still not sure that I'm up to doing a lot of entertaining, but that'll change. And when it does, I'll be ready.
  5. My mental space is more aligned with my physical space. I think there's some truth to the old saying that a cluttered desk is sign of a cluttered mind. The disconnect between my mind's demand for order and organization and the state of chaos in my office was a constant source of distress for me. It was the classic example of my mind writing checks that my body couldn't cash. After a while, I noticed that because the state of my office couldn't catch up with the state of my mind, that my mind slowed down to keep pace with my office. I started forgetting things, letting important activities fall through the cracks, finding myself unable to get focused and just feelings as disorganized in my head as my office looked. Now that my office is "clear", I've been delighted to discover that my mind is too. I've started using a daily planner again, I've completed several previously unfinished projects, and I'm setting goals and plans for the future once again.

This project has not been "cheap", but it's been well worth every cent I spent.

Monday, October 29, 2007

16 rules to live by

Thanks to one of my favorite bloggers, LaShawn Barber, for sharing a post that I probably never would have seen otherwise by Bob Parsons, CEO of godaddy.com at his blog, Hot Points, and for challenging her readers to ponder this list. When I originally posted this a little over a year ago at another blog, I was dealing with an entirely different set of issues. But in re-reading the list, I realized that it's so universal that even though my circumstances have changed, the advice still stands.

Bob offers the following 16 "rules of survival". My humble thoughts are added in italics after Bob's:

1. Get and stay out of your comfort zone. I believe that not much happens of any significance when we're in our comfort zone. I hear people say, "But I'm concerned about security." My response to that is simple: "Security is for cadavers."

I can say without a doubt that going "public" with my own struggles in an effort to help others is definitely outside of my comfort zone. It's been difficult to write and speak publicly about bipolar disorder/depression, about being a sexual assault survivor, and about the many mistakes I've made over the last 30 years prior to finally accepting the challenge to get well. But sharing my pain, and the lessons I've learned from it, is the only way I know of to make sense out of it all and to turn my experiences into something worthwhile. Otherwise, what was it all for?

2. Never give up. Almost nothing works the first time it's attempted. Just because what you're doing does not seem to be working, doesn't mean it won't work. It just means that it might not work the way you're doing it. If it was easy, everyone would be doing it, and you wouldn't have an opportunity.

There are days when I ask God why on Earth He asked me to do this [to bear such pain, and then to talk and write about it]. But just when I don't think I can cry another tear or write another word, I get an e-mail, or a note, from a woman who has been victimized or someone who is living with depression and those simple, heartfelt thank you;s are like a "you go girl!" from God. How can I quit now?

3. When you're ready to quit, you're closer than you think. There's an old Chinese saying that I just love, and I believe it is so true. It goes like this: "The temptation to quit will be greatest just before you are about to succeed."

If this is true, my breakthrough should be coming any minute now! LOL

4. With regard to whatever worries you, not only accept the worst thing that could happen, but make it a point to quantify what the worst thing could be. Very seldom will the worst consequence be anywhere near as bad as a cloud of "undefined consequences." My father would tell me early on, when I was struggling and losing my shirt trying to get Parsons Technology going, "Well, Robert, if it doesn't work, they can't eat you."

I've decided that the 2 worst things that could happen because of me going public would be for (1) for my rapist to find me again and (2) to lose a prospective partner because he's either afraid or uninterested in dealing with me because I'm bipolar. Considering that my rapist is serving a life sentence in a maximum security prison and I've moved at least a dozen times since the attack, that's highly unlikely. And as for a guy not wanting to have a relationship with me because I was raped years ago or because I sometimes get depressed, well, let's just say that I've been dumped for much less relevant reasons than that. And besides, those things wouldn't matter to Cooper Freedman anyway. :)

5. Focus on what you want to have happen. Remember that old saying, "As you think, so shall you be."

Enough said.

6. Take things a day at a time. No matter how difficult your situation is, you can get through it if you don't look too far into the future, and focus on the present moment. You can get through anything one day at a time.

This is probably the hardest one for me, but I'm working on it.

7. Always be moving forward. Never stop investing. Never stop improving. Never stop doing something new. The moment you stop improving your organization, it starts to die. Make it your goal to be better each and every day, in some small way. Remember the Japanese concept of Kaizen. Small daily improvements eventually result in huge advantages.


8. Be quick to decide. Remember what General George S. Patton said: "A good plan violently executed today is far and away better than a perfect plan tomorrow."

This may be the only one I disagree with. Sometimes it takes a while for me to hear back from God. Some of the biggest mistakes I've ever made were made because I didn't wait for Him.

9. Measure everything of significance. I swear this is true. Anything that is measured and watched, improves.

I agree.

10. Anything that is not managed will deteriorate. If you want to uncover problems you don't know about, take a few moments and look closely at the areas you haven't examined for a while. I guarantee you problems will be there.

I'm sure this is true. I just need to remember it!

11. Pay attention to your competitors, but pay more attention to what you're doing. When you look at your competitors, remember that everything looks perfect at a distance. Even the planet Earth, if you get far enough into space, looks like a peaceful place.

I'm finding this to be true, but not just with competitors. The same thing applies to friends, co-workers, celebrities, family members... "the grass always looks greener..."

12. Never let anybody push you around. In our society, with our laws and even playing field, you have just as much right to what you're doing as anyone else, provided that what you're doing is legal.

To this I'd add... "and moral". I think this is true not only in business, but in personal relationships as well. Sometimes we have to set boundaries, even where family and friends are concerned. Just because someone is a relative or a long-time friend, that doesn't mean that your relationship with them can't be toxic. As we grow and mature, so do our values and our priorities, but not always in the same direction or at the same pace. Relationships that may have worked (or that we tolerated) in the past, may not necessarily be good for the person we have become. It takes courage to break free of toxic relationships, but it beats the alternative.

13. Never expect life to be fair. Life isn't fair. You make your own breaks. You'll be doing good if the only meaning fair has to you, is something that you pay when you get on a bus (i.e., fare).

There probably isn't a survivor alive that doesn't know this to be true.

14. Solve your own problems. You'll find that by coming up with your own solutions, you'll develop a competitive edge. Masura Ibuka, the co-founder of SONY, said it best: "You never succeed in technology, business, or anything by following the others." There's also an old Asian saying that I remind myself of frequently. It goes like this: "A wise man keeps his own counsel."

Agreed, but having a trusted confidant to bounce ideas off of sure does help.

15. Don't take yourself too seriously. Lighten up. Often, at least half of what we accomplish is due to luck. None of us are in control as much as we like to think we are.

Another hard one for me, but one I'm working on. While I agree that a large part of what happens in our lives is outside of our direct control, I disagree that it's due to "luck".

16. There's always a reason to smile. Find it.
After all, you're really lucky just to be alive. Life is short. More and more, I agree with my little brother. He always reminds me: "We're not here for a long time; we're here for a good time."

I couldn't have said it better.

Thanks Bob for some great advice!

The above article is included with the permission of Bob Parsons (http://www.bobparsons.com) and is Copyright © 2004-2006 by Bob Parsons. All rights reserved.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Calling Cooper Freedman

Other than 24 and Grey's Anatomy, I'm not much of a network TV viewer. However, this season has brought two unexpected surprises: Cane and Private Practice.

Cane is a modern-day Dallas, with sugar cane (and rum, of course) being the new oil. The riveting story of the Duque family of Cuban descent has just the right mix of love, passion, loyalty, and betrayal, with heavy doses of scandal, murder and other naughty secrets thrown in to make things even more interesting. It airs on Tuesday nights on CBS at 10 pm EST.

Then there's Private Practice, the Grey's Anatomy spin-off. I must admit that I was a bit skeptical after the first episode. It takes a great leap of imagination to get beyond the obvious inconsistencies between the pre- and post-spinoff personalities of the show's main character, Dr. Addison Montgomery. It's hard to believe that someone who is now so niave, so vulnerable, so emotional, was a world-renowned neonatal surgeon in a former life. It's even harder to believe that she gave all that up to move to LA to work with and live near her best friend Naomi, who owns a wellness clinic, without realizing that she would have no office, no surgical suite, no surgical staff, and an average of only one patient a day.

But once I decided to suspend belief and give the show some time, it's really grown on me. I love the new Addison (as long as I don't think about the old Addison). I think Naomi and Sam are great and I'm hoping that they'll realize that they still love each other and get back together. Pete is OK, but he clearly has issues which will begin to reveal themselves soon, I'm sure. Violet is a wonderful therapist and offers terrific advice to everyone else, yet her own personal life is a hot mess.

But the character I love the most is Cooper, the strong but soft-spoken pediatrician who's the emotional glue that holds the practice together. He's funny, kind, responsible, consistent, caring, loyal, great with kids and good-looking to boot. But what resonates with me the most about Cooper is that he is hopelessly, adoringly in love with Violet, yet because she is hopelessly, maddingly in love with her ex-boyfriend who has married another woman, Cooper hasn't found the courage to reveal his true feelings to her.

His love for Violet compels him to pick up the pieces of her mangled psyche, each and every time Alan rips her heart to shreds. Of course he'd love for her to love him back, but the thing is that he loves her completely and unconditionally, even though she doesn't love him "that way" (yet).

I know it's asking a lot, but that's what I want... a Cooper Freedman who will love me completely and unconditionally. A man who wants to be my friend, in the truest sense of the word. A man who falls in love with me because he knows me, likes me, trusts me and respects me. A man who loves me with the head on his shoulders first and foremost.

Cooper understands that love isn't always easy, or simple, but he loves anyway. He understands that the object of his affection doesn't always act or react in the way that he'd like, but he loves anyway. He knows that Violet is far from perfect, but he loves anyway. He knows that his future with her is not certain, but he loves anyway.

If art imitates life, and in this case I hope it does, there have to be some real Cooper Freedmans out there somewhere. If that's true, will a real Cooper Freedman please send me an e-mail?

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Long-distance friendship

My heart is heavy tonight. The mother of one of my dearest friends is dying. While there is nothing I can do for her mother, there are so many things I want to do to comfort my friend.

I want to sit with her in her mother's room as she holds her mother's hand or plays her autoharp and sings her mother's favorite folk songs. I want to bring her matzo ball soup, and wonton soup, and 7-Up and Fritos, and Hostess Twinkies, and all her favorite comfort foods.

I want to listen when she wants to talk. I want to talk when she wants to listen. I want to sit quietly with her when there simply are no words. I want to cry with her so she'll know she's not going through this pain alone.

I want to do all these things and more, but there's one reason why I can't. Actually, there are 2,628 reasons that I can't. That's the number of miles between her house and mine.

Any other time, the distance is manageable. In fact, we rarely even notice it. Thanks to e-mail and unlimited long distance telephone service, we communicate several times daily. We know what's going on in each other's lives on an on-going basis. I don't keep a diary, I simply write about my day, about my thoughts, dreams and goals in an e-mail. And, much better than a diary, she writes back. We support each other, we encourage each other, we lift each other up, and we reign each other in. She is the sister I never had, only better, because we chose each other.

But tonight, the distance matters, and I'm sure it will for a long time. I know that Susan knows how much she means to me, but I'd still like to share some quotes I found that say it better than I can:

"What is a friend? A single soul in two bodies." - Aristotle

"A friend is someone who knows the song in your heart, and can sing it back to you when you have forgotten the words." - Author unknown

"My best friend is the one who brings out the best in me." - Henry Ford

"This communicating of a man's self to his friend works two contrary effects; for it redoubleth joy, and cutteth griefs in half." - Francis Bacon

"Life is partly what we make it, and partly what is made by the friends whom we choose." - Tehyi Hsieh

Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: "What! You, too? Thought I was the only one." - C. S. Lewis

I always felt that the great high privilege, relief and comfort of friendship was that one had to explain nothing. - Katherine Mansfield

When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives means the most us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving much advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a gentle and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares. - Henri Nouwen

I love you, my friend.

Your sis,


Bipolar Fibromyalgia?

According to psychiatrist, Dr. Jim Phelps of PsychEducation.com, there may be an important but unexplored connection between bipolar disorder and fibromyalgia. Having been diagnosed with both, I'm aware of the overlapping symptoms, so a possible connection doesn't come as a big surprise. Nor should I be surprised that more research hasn't been done on this, particularly given that for years, fibromyalgia wasn't even recognized as a "real" disorder. Since fibromyalgia affects women to a much higher degree, it's one of many ailments that has long been considered a figment of our weak and easily excitable minds.

In his recent article, Fibromyalgia and Bipolar Disorder, Dr. Phelps, patients with fibromyalgia are twice as likely to have major depression as are patients with rheumatoid arthritis. Even more startling is the finding that patients with fibromyalgia are 153 times more likely than those with rheumatoid arthritis to have bipolar disorder!

In response to a post at BipolarWorld.net asking about the connection, Dr. Phelps replied that:

I've never seen a word in the literature about this, but I've sure seen it in practice -- over and over. So, to answer their question: yes, I see the two show up together. In fact, in virtually all the "fibromyalgia" patients I've seen, there is mood stuff too. Of course, I wouldn't be likely to see FM patients who had no mood symptoms at all! But my rheumatologist friend says he sees the overlap too. But the important point to me is that the mood symptoms are much more likely, in my view, to have "bipolar" characteristics (as opposed to unipolar): profound sleep disturbance, cyclic recurrence, irritability and decreased concentration even when little "depression" is present. Perhaps most salient: the FM symptoms seem to directly cycle with sleep, almost as though in these women -- as they are nearly all women -- the pain symptoms are just another "bipolar" symptom. i.e. the pain *cycles* along with the rest of what we might typically regard as mood symptoms. Think about it: what if "chronic fatigue syndrome", which also co-occurs with FM and bipolar, was in some people just the depressed phase of "bipolar", with it's characteristic profound lethargy and fatigue, without obvious depression? As most patients know, the "mood dial" and the "energy dial" don't always turn the same way at the same time; they're relatively independent, at least in some people. Finally, why is that there is such a predominance of women with FM? This is an obvious and crucial question. I used to think it was because sexual abuse is so unfortunately common in women. But I've seen women with no such history, nor any clear reason to suspect some "repressed memory" either. I'm working on a "hormones and mood" website where I'll try to present current research that relates to this topic.

This is fascinating. Any thoughts on this?

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Things you can do to support someone who is depressed

One of my most frequently visited posts so far was about things NOT to say to someone who is depressed. Since there seem to be a lot of people who want to help, I've come up with a brief list of some simple ways well-meaning friends and family can help. I know there are lots of other ideas, but I'm drawing a blank at the moment. If you can think of others, please post a comment!

  1. Come over to visit - bring lunch or dinner. Many times going grocery shopping is a real chore, and even if there's food in the house, on some days it just requires too much energy to cook, especially if you're not hungry. When you're making a pot of spaghetti, or soup, or a delicious casserole, double the recipe and share.

  2. Invite them to a movie - offer to drive. Sometimes people who are depressed find it hard to make choices. If you know them well enough, make it easy. Pick a movie and a time. All they have to do is get dressed and be ready to go.

  3. Offer to keep the children for a few hours. If there are children, particularly young children, offer to take them out for a few hours, to the park, to a movie, to Chunk E. Cheese, or over to your house for pizza. Even a few hours of quiet time alone, having to be responsible for no one else, can be a welcome relief. And many parents are just too embarrassed or ashamed to ask for a break from their children.

  4. Call to check in on a regular basis. Sometimes it helps just to hear a friendly voice. Even if the person doesn't feel like talking for long, just knowing that someone cared enough to call to see how they're doing can make a world of difference.

  5. Bring a movie and popcorn. Sometimes people who are depressed don't want to talk, but they do crave company. Avoid the awkwardness of feeling the need to have a conversation by just sitting together and watching a movie.

  6. Offer to attend to their errands while attending to yours. If you live nearby, and it's convenient for you, tell your friend that you're going to the grocery store, the drug store, Wal-Mart or the dry cleaners and ask if you can take care of anything for you while you're out. If they think you're going anyway, it may not be as difficult for them to accept your offer.

Friday, October 19, 2007

A new outlook on work

I am so far off the fast lane of corporate America that I don't think I could find the on-ramp again if I wanted to. I'm in the process of ending one business and starting a new one (more to come on this soon), but I know that I'm still going to have to *work* for a while until the new business is established. After all, a girl's gotta eat and have a roof over her head, right?

The process of job-hunting is so different now than it was years ago. I still hate it, but in some ways it's a bit less stressful. Not because jobs are more plentiful, because they aren't. The employment market has changed, and not entirely for the better. Age and experience isn't valued as much as it once was, and I'm often interviewing with people who are much younger and much less experienced than I am.

The biggest change is me. I'm at the point in my life where I no longer define myself by my career. I am not what I do from 8 to 5 each week day. I prefer to define myself by my interests, my passions, my relationshisp, my volunteer work. I am no longer a corporate professional. I'm a writer, a knitter, a teacher/trainer, a mentor, a budding photographer, a mother-best friend to my daughter, a daughter, a niece and a friend.

Today I saw a beautiful poem that says it much better than I can. I hope I'm not violating any copyright laws by posting this in it's entirety. It was written by Beverly Rollwagon, from "She Just Wants" by Nodin Press and I found it in the October 2007 issue of Skirt magazine, published by the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
Beverly Rollwagon

She just wants to be employed
for eight hours a day. She is not
interested in a career; she wants a job
with a paycheck and free parking. She
does not want to carry a briefcase filled
with important papers to read after
dinner; she does not want to return
phone calls. When she gets home, she
wants to kick off her shoes and waltz
around her kitchen singing, "I am a piece
of work."

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Organizing: Leaving it to the pros (Part 2)

Having professional organizers reorganizing my office last weekend was somewhat like a marathon therapy session. I had no idea that in addition to analyzing the space, we'd also be analyzing my work habits, work style, decorating preferences and a host of other issues. Thankfully, the women I hired were both as skilled at handling me as they were in handling my office clutter. They asked very probing questions, but always in a gentle and non-judgmental way.

At first I thought their goal was not to make any decisions, but to ask the right questions for me to think through the options and make clear decisions that were right for me. But the more I think about this, I'm beginning to believe that they were the organizer's equivalent of "a good wife" - someone who can get her husband to do exactly what she wants him to do, while making him think it was his idea! Here's an example of how our day went:

ORG: Syd, I notice that you put this big burned-up candle back in the stack of things to go back into your office. Did you mean to do that?

ME: Yes.

ORG: Do you mind if I ask why? Does it have some sort of sentimental value?

ME: Not really. A guy I used to work with when I was temping at a salvage yard found it in a wrecked car and gave it to me because it had a really strong scent, which I needed because the guy I shared an office with had REALLY bad breath!

ORG: That's nice... not that you had to share an office with a guy with bad breath. I mean the fact that a co-worker was kind enough to help you out with that... And it appears that you've certainly gotten a lot of use out of it. But why are you keeping it?

ME: Because I'm planning to melt it down, put a new wick in it, and recycle it because I really like the smell.

ORG: Oh! That's wonderful. I didn't realize that in addition to writing, knitting, photography, and playing the piano that you're also into candlemaking. How long have you been doing that?

ME: Well... I haven't started yet.

ORG: Really? Hmmm..... So don't you need special supplies for the wax?

ME: Yes.

ORG: Where are they? I didn't notice them in your office when we took everything out.

ME: Oh, I haven't bought them yet, but I was looking at them in Michael's Crafts just this morning, in fact.

ORG: Are they expensive?

ME: Well... kind of.

ORG: Wow. Sounds like you're really serious about this.

ME: I think it would be fun.

ORG: So, which of your existing craft projects are you planning to give up in order to pursue candlemaking?

ME: I beg your pardon?

ORG: You just finished saying that you love how streamlined your crafts storage area is. So, in order for us to keep it that way, we're going to have to take some things out in order to make room for your new candlemaking supplies. Don't worry, it's not a problem at all. We told you that this was a work in progress and that we'd probably have to do some tweaking... So, what's your pleasure?

ME: (silence)

ORG: Syd, where are you going?

ME: To throw my candle in the trash.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Organizing: Leaving it to the pros (Part 1)

This past weekend I hired a pair of personal organizers to completely overhaul my home office. This is something I've attempted to do myself many times (with limited success) and up until last week, I considered it an extravagance that I couldn't really afford. In retrospect, it was a vital business expense that I couldn't afford NOT to invest in.

I've been self-employed for the past 6 years in a small primary data collection business which has been slowly fading away. I'm in the process of starting an exciting new business (more on this soon) and my office was, quite frankly, a mess! I could bore you with all of the psychological reasons why that was, but since it isn't any more, I won't focus on the past.

I think I watch too much HGTV, because I went into this project thinking that with 2 people working, it was probably a 5-6 hour project and it would be comparable to having a housekeeper come and do a thorough clean of the place. I couldn't have been more wrong. It was about a lot more than cleaning and moving things around and it was also about a lot more than just my physical office space.

It was a process that explored my work space, my temperament, my creativity, my professional and personal goals, my work habits, my buying habits, my sensory perception, and my stress management techniques.

Thirteen hours later (over Saturday and Sunday), I found myself not only with a beautiful new home office, but a lifestyle change too. It's become extremely important to me to keep my space looking the way it does now and the process showed me exactly how to do that through a serious of conscious choices, literally on a day-to-day basis. It takes a long time to create bad habits and they don't go away over night. But now that I have positive habits to replace them with, and I can see and feel the benefits, I'm committed to this change. In fact, I'm so motivated by the changes in my work space that I've cleared all of my work off my plate in the evenings this week and through the weekend, if necessary, so I can devote that time to applying the same approach to the rest of my home.

I'm making extensive notes about the entire experience while it's still fresh in my mind. When I'm done, I'll post more about what we did and what I learned.

(to be continued...)

Friday, October 12, 2007

It's never too late

I just read an incredibly honest and moving post at a great bipolar blog that I found recently, called The Bipolar CEO. This particular post is an open letter to the blogger's ex-girlfriend (from many, many years ago). I am truly impressed by the honesty and courage this letter exemplifies and I hope that the woman to whom it was written will see it. I couldn't begin to do the letter justice, so if you're interested, you can read it in it's entirety here.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Making the mood

I tried an experiment this week and I've decided that it's worked even better than I could have hoped. I've been writing lately about trying to be more conscious of my moods, or more specifically, what I'm thinking about, which in turn has a direct correlation with my mood.

I've noticed that while I enjoy silence sometimes, living alone with long periods of silence can be troublesome, particularly when I'm struggling with insomnia in the late hours of the night or the early hours of the morning. I don't particularly care for the radio stations in my area and I hate the commercials. I am, however, a political news junkie, so I'd resorted to using cable news as a radio of sorts.

Until my experiment this week, I didn't realize how much that was NOT helping my mood. Because I really care about this stuff (national politics), I'd find myself getting frustrated, and sometimes angry... with the coverage, with interviews, with the sad state of national and international affairs. I was well-informed on the issues, but no less stressed or tired.

So this week, I decided to take advantage of my expensive digital cable subscription. I found a smooth jazz channel that I love. So other than about an hour of cable news a night, the rest of the time (including most of last weekend), I had the tv on, listening to the most incredible jazz music. Not only has my mood increased substantially, but I find that I'm more energetic and more productive. I've discovered that it's impossible for me to feel sad, angry or stressed when I'm listening to music I truly enjoy. In fact, there have been times that I've even found myself dancing - yes, dancing around my home, by myself and having a great time doing it!

Susan wrote a great post earlier this week about a book she's reading called "BrainSwitch out of Depression: Breaking the Cycle of Despair" by A.B. Curtis who is a licensed cognitive behavioral therapist. I was so intrigued by Susan's brief overview of the thesis of the book that I ordered it yesterday. Reading her post about this book was validation that I'm on the right track with my music experiment because if I understand it correctly, Dr. Curtis believes that through hard work and practice, we can train our brains to respond differently to stressful situations. For me this is great news because it means that I don't have to be a prisoner to my moods and that my mother may have been right when she used to lecture me about dressing for success. She used to say that if you look successful, you'll start to act like you're successful, and if you act like you're successful, eventually you will be! I think the same theory applies to winning the battle against depression.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Endings are beginnings

It's easy to get caught up in the sadness of endings. There's just something about the word "ending" that seems so... final. But by it's very nature, when something ends, it signals the beginning of something else. Whether it's a relationship, a job, or any other significant change in our lives, we can choose to focus on what we're losing, or we can choose instead to focus on the new opportunities that this change represents.

When I change jobs, I like to focus on the fact that I have a clean and hopefully clutter-free workspace that I can organize the way that works best for me. I reflect on the things that weren't working for me at the last job and develop a strategy to avoid falling into the same traps this time. And, I look forward to learning new things, meeting new people and creatively identifying ways to add value in my new work setting.

When a relationship ends, I like to remind myself of all of the things I stopped doing because my partner didn't enjoy them, or I just didn't have the time. For example, I'm looking forward now to dancing more, exploring new places to shoot pictures, re-energizing my knitting ministry, and jump-starting my writing career. I am not saying that endings don't hurt. As I wrote in Cry Me A River, it's going to hurt until it doesn't hurt any more. It still hurts, but a lot less than it did.

The world is round and the place which may seem like the end may also be the beginning. -- Ivy Baker Priest (former U.S. Treasurer)

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

More on finding closure

I've spent weeks feeling sad, depressed and angry because the man that I'd been involved with disappeared without a trace. I've been upset because in choosing to walk away from the relationship without an explanation (a very cowardly choice, if I may say so), he was not giving me what I needed most - closure. Then at some point over the weekend it suddenly hit me... why on earth am I looking to someone else to give ME closure. At this point, what could he possibly say that would make the way he handled our break-up any more decent or thoughtful? Absolutely nothing. In fact, by not acting in a mature and respectful way, he said much more than words ever could. The emotional closure I needed was there all the time, it just wasn't coming from him. It came from me.

Once I finally stopped to ask myself exactly who I was crying over, I realized that I wasn't crying for the loss of a relationship that was, I was crying over a relationship that I wanted. I wasn't crying over the man I was dating, I was crying over the potential I saw in him. The man I was grieving over does not exist, he would never have ended a relationship this way. A man that could walk away without the decency of a good-bye is not the man for me anyway. So as much as it hurt, he did me a favor... and once I realized that, a sense of closure wasn't far behind.

Despite the fact that the relationship didn't turn out the way I'd hoped it would, I am still thankful for the time we had together. Because he was unlike any man I've ever dated before, and because he was the first man I've dated since coming to terms with my depression/bipolar disorder/whatever it is that I have, I had the opportunity to put into practice a lot of what I've been thinking about and working on for quite some time now. Realizing how I often sabatoged my personal relationships in the past, I worked hard to be consciously aware so that I could make better choices this time. And I did. I'm not perfect, but I did it right this time. That proved to me that I've finally learned the lessons that I needed to learn from my prior failed relationships and that I'm emotionally ready to move on.

I believe that he came into my life to make me stronger emotionally and he has. He's also raised the bar in terms of the kind of man that I'll date moving forward and the firmness with which I'll set boundaries. And I am so thankful for that.

He has helped me learned more than he could have imagined, and perhaps more than he'd planned. To sum it all up:

  1. I can only own my own issues. I can't be responsible for anybody elses issues but my own. No matter how much I want to help, just as I need to learn my own lessons, the other person has to learn theirs too. And when it comes to issues, we all have them and there are more than enough to go around. It's critical that when issues arise, I clearly identify those that are mine, deal with them as best I can, and leave the others to their rightful owner(s).

  2. Accept things as they are, not as I'd like them to be. I've always had a tendency to fall in love with a person's (or a job's) potential. I dream big dreams and pride myself on being able to look beyond the current state of affairs and see the possibilities. That may be sound advice for young couples right out of school, but when we're talking about grown men in their 40's or 50's, chances are pretty good that they've already become the men that they're going to be. Of course people can and do change at all ages, but they have to really want to, and not everybody does. So, "what you see is what you get" needs to be my new dating mantra and I need to assume that he's already being all he can be.

  3. Find clarity through contrast. This exercise from The Law of Attraction is an important part of learning the lesson. What better way to figure out what I really want than identifying what I don't want? Rather than thinking of the time spent in this relationship as time wasted, I think of it as a learning experience on a lot of different levels. In this case, thinking about what worked this time, and what didn't, can only help me become clearer about what I'm ultimately looking for in a relationship. And the clearer I am about my desires, the more likely I am to manifest them in my life.

  4. Always take the high road. There have been so many times during the last several weeks when it would have been easy to lash out in anger or pain for the way we broke up. But, I'm proud of the way I conducted myself throughout the course of our relationship and there's no reason to change now. Obviously he can't see, or does not appreciate, all that I had to offer... if he did, he wouldn't have walked away from our relationship or from our friendship the way he did. But I don't believe it will always be that way. At some point, it could be weeks, months or years from now, he will look back on the time we spent together. And when he does, I want him to remember that I handled the end of our relationship with as much class and grace as I handled every other aspect of it. That, to me, will be my greatest "revenge".

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Finding closure

I've been grieving over the loss of a relationship for the past 6 weeks or so. I could have chosen to fight the constantly fluctuating, complicated and confusing mix of emotions, denying that once again I opened the door to my heart, only to have it slammed shut. I could have chosen to be embarrassed by my tears, my loss of appetite or my inability to do much more than curl up on the sofa and watch movies for hours on end. I could have chosen to deny how much I've been hurt by the situation. But I didn't choose any of those things. This time I chose to face the pain, to struggle through it, to ride the wave.

I've been through the first 4 stages of grief: shock, denial, anger, depression - several times. I wrote a while ago that I was going to hurt until I don't hurt anymore. Well, it still hurts, but not as much as it did at first. So even though I'm not completely over it yet, at least I'm heading in the right direction.

In thinking about this break-up, it hurts for many reasons, but the thing that hurts the most is that there was no closure. We just hit a wall... no explanation, no discussion, no nothing. To this day, we have yet to have a conversation about what happened or why. I've let him know that the door is open when he's ready to talk, but I draw the line at begging him to talk to me, even if it is only to explain why he walked away. I have some pretty good ideas, but I may never know for certain.

What I do know is that as much as I believe that our "relationship" I deserved a graceful ending, for now, the key word is "ending." Rather than continuing to focus on what hasn't been said, I need to accept that his silence has spoken volumes. I've run out of psycho-babble excuses for why he hasn't been able to verbalize his feelings (or lack thereof). I think I may buy a t-shirt that says "If something goes without saying... let it!"

The bottom line is that I've worked so hard to grow - emotionally and spiritually. I've done the hard work, and it hasn't been easy. And now that I have, I know that I deserve better than what I've gotten. I'm not perfect, but I'm a kind, thoughtful and loving person, and even if I haven't earned his love and trust, I deserve his respect. Apparently he doesn't agree, and that's his right. Just as it's my right to say that it's time for me to let go.

If you've been reading this blog for a while, you know that I'm not one for passing up an opportunity for personal growth, and this break-up has certainly provided that. I'll post about some of the things I've learned next time.

(to be continued...)

Friday, October 5, 2007

What is?

According to Irish philosopher Bishop George Berkeley, "to be is to be perceived." In other words, something exists only if someone perceives it. If asked the infamous question "if a tree fell in the woods and no one was there to hear it, would it make a sound?", Berkeley would probably have said "No."

So, here's my question: If a relationship between two people ends, but there's only one person there to grieve the loss, was it really a relationship?