Tag Archives: loss

what if

“How are you?”

“How’s it going?”

“What’s new?”

While I’ve often had full-blown, soul-bearing conversations result from my posing these simple prompts, the typical range of expected replies remains fairly limited:

“Good, and you?”

“Eh, you know…”

“Not much. You?”

I suppose these exchanges serve some purpose in social settings, though I tend to be aware of the ironic distance evident in these greetings. That is, I find it odd that we ask how someone is if we don’t actually want to know. Most often, unfortunately, my observation is that these exchanges are an obligatory nicety we feel compelled to offer as a prelude before getting someone to do what we want them to do (e.g., ring out my order, buy this car, stop talking to me, etc.).

But that’s all a discussion for another time (and, in fact, one I’ve talked about often in previous posts as well as in The Best Advice So Far).

That said, of all such programmed responses to “How are you?” my least favorite is the seemingly ubiquitous reply of “SSDD.” It’s not that it offends me. It’s that it makes me sad. Sad to think that people choose to keep living unfulfilling, uninteresting, monotonous—unhappy—lives, day after day, ad infinitum.

Yet recently, someone asked how I was, and I found myself thinking and responding in just about this way—not in exact choice of words, but certainly in sentiment. It surprised me. And yet it felt like the most honest expression of where I was in that moment.

Back in 2011, my first year of blogging, I wrote a post following a period of “sleep walking” which had lasted about a month. It was weird. I didn’t feel like myself. But I at least felt like I was a semblance of that self. Then I woke up.

Halfway through 2015, life upended again with a systemic mystery ailment that came with a wildly spreading rash, incessant itching night and day, extreme fatigue, loss of sleep, digestive issues and more. It lasted over a year-and-a-half before I finally self-diagnosed the issue and returned to normal living.

Six months later, by June of 2017, the rash was gone but I still couldn’t shake the fatigue. Willing to try almost anything, I took a black pill that touted promises of natural energy from rare and exotic sounding herbs—but which instead quite literally nearly ended my life.

Still, I pulled through. Got life back on track, feeling positive and focused.

In September of last year, however, I got whacked again. I alluded to this in my last post. But at that time, I couldn’t bring myself to write about the issue, since I was still very much in its thrall. I’m ready now.

In 2018, I began writing my next book in earnest; and by the end of my August vacation to Florida, I was about 70% finished. I returned refreshed, ready not only to finish the book within another 30 days, but to expand into some new ventures that had me feeling excited for the fall.

However, the very next day, all of that momentum ended.

I woke up with red, itchy, stinging eyes. At first, I thought it might have been from all the travel the day before. Or from my last dip in the hot tub or pool in Florida. Or maybe the beginning of seasonal allergies.

By the next day, I awoke to find both eyes sealed shut with goop. The itching and stinging had turned to burning and pain. My vision was blurred. This was more than allergies.

Still, I figured it was probably just conjunctivitis, maybe something I’d picked up on the plane ride home. No fun, but not the end of the world. In fact, I still had some Ofloxacin in the medicine cabinet from a short bout I’d had the year before. I started the drops, sure I’d be fine in a few days.

Three days later, however, my eyes were a painful mess. I could no longer see normally.

I went to the local pharmacy’s walk-in clinic, hoping for something stronger. Maybe I’d developed a tolerance to the Ofloxacin. I was started on a new eye drop.

Things got worse.

Within a few more days, the whole shape of my eyes had changed from the swelling.

I saw my primary doctor. He immediately referred me to an ophthalmologist. New meds, both oral and drop, were prescribed.

Within a week, the pain was so bad that I was balling up wash cloths, pressing them to both eyes and tying them in place with a belt. I have a very high pain tolerance, but it brought even me to pitiful tears and whimpering. Sometime in the night, I fell asleep. I woke with the right side of my face completely sealed to the pillow case, as if I’d lain in glue. I couldn’t open the other eye, even with help from my fingers. I felt my way to the bathroom blind, still clutching the pillow to my face, where I had to use warm water, little by little, to peel myself from the pillow and my eyelids apart. Even with that, my vision was reduced to a blur through narrow slits. And twenty four hours a day, as best I can describe, it now felt like someone had taken a handful of fiberglass filaments and blown them directly into my eyes.

I used ice packs. I lay on the bathroom floor, dousing my eyes with eye wash like you’d do for a chemical splash in a lab. Nothing made it better.

Four medications later, the ophthalmologist noticed ulcers in my eyes.

He transferred me to a corneal specialist who poked and dug and scraped. Another month, and four or five new medications later, and nothing had gotten better.

I did my best to put my own “best advice” into action:

“You always have a choice.”

“Being miserable is a choice.”

“Practice positivity.”

But even little choices were becoming increasingly more difficult to make. I could no longer read—computer or books. I couldn’t see to write. I couldn’t do graphic design projects. Driving was difficult at best and largely reserved for getting to and from the doctors. Still, from within these limitations and through the pain, I kept re-centering, looking for the ways I could still choose happiness over misery or complaining.

But then two months passed with no solution in sight.

Three months.

Four…

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déjà vu 2

déjà vu 2 merry-go-round horse

This month marks the one-year anniversary of a loss for me. I would like to share it with you.

If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you know that I often include links in reference to past posts or to sites outside of my own that illustrate a point. But never, to my knowledge, have I link to another post that is “required reading” before the current post will be fully understood. Today, I’ll need to do exactly that. Please allow me this diversion from the norm for the sake of telling my story today; I believe that it will be worth the small amount of extra time invested.

That said, you’ll notice that this post is called “déjà vu 2.” As you may have guessed (or remembered), that is because nearly three years ago I wrote a post called “déjà vu.” Please click on the link to read (or re-read) that post before continuing. I’ve added another link to the bottom of the original post, so that you can get right back here in a jiffy when you’re done.

_________________________________

Welcome back!

Now let me tell you about this not-so-fun anniversary I mentioned at the start of this post.

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déjà vu

Hello, friends.  It’s been a while. Rather than spend an undue amount of time explaining my absence, I’ll just enjoy the moment of presence and do what I came to do – write.

First, a brief commercial break. I will have you know that I passed the first lemonade stand of the post-Memorial-Day season this weekend and practiced exactly what I preach.  Two boys, who I’m guessing were five and seven, were standing street side, holding a torn, brown, cardboard sign with thin, white writing on it – which of course no one could read from their cars.  The younger of the pair was calling out passionately to the drivers as they whizzed by (I know this not because I heard him, but only due to the fact that I saw his little mouth working exaggeratedly to form words).  He and his sign twisted at the waist with every passing car, as if forced to do so by their sheer velocity. No one was stopping.  It was a pitiful sight. Well, in addition to stopping and buying two cups of lemonade, I offered some sound marketing advice, as well: using white poster board instead of the brown cardboard, writing with thick black marker instead of white crayon, and exchanging the screaming for smiling REAL BIG and with teeth (which, as it turned out, were not so many at the moment). They were very grateful, and before running indoors to hunt for the suggested supplies, the older boy offered me a quarter of my money back “for the good advice” (which, of course, I let him keep after complimenting his outstanding manners). For Pete’s sake, don’t be a whiz-by-er.  Make a kid’s day.  Stop and buy the lemonade!

We now return to our regularly-scheduled programming.

Let me tell you about my new friend Dave. I met Dave about six months ago.  We have a lot in common.  Graphics and computer skills.  Musical abilities.  Core beliefs.  Youth mentoring.

Dave looks like a younger version of Hugh Jackman.  I just thought I’d throw that in there.   We do not have this in common.  I do not look very much like Hugh Jackman.

But Dave also has quite a bit in common with some other people I have known.  People who haven’t been very nice to me, I’m afraid.  People who, if truth be told, have been downright mean to me.

Dave has the same hair color as someone who recently betrayed me. The rise and fall of his voice is uncannily similar to the same former friend.

Dave has the same career as someone who recently gossiped and spread lies about me.

Dave uses certain obscure phrases that I’ve only ever heard used by a couple of people in my life – people who have hurt me. Dave goes places those people go, and reads books those people have touted as good reads.

On the flip side, one of the first times Dave and I talked, he told me that I rather reminded him of someone, as well. Dave had heard me singing.  He figured out pretty quickly that I was outgoing and talked easily with people.  And these things reminded him of someone else who was outgoing and could sing well, someone he’d invested a lot of time into in recent years.  In the end, this person had broken Dave’s trust in irreparable ways and hurt people that Dave cared about.  In short, this person had made Dave’s life quite hard for quite a long time.

We both acknowledged, from the very first time we talked, that it was a temptation to avoid getting to know one another altogether. “This guy is too much like the last one who caused me so much pain.”  Engaging again with someone so similar in so many ways would just be asking for trouble — opening the door for the painful past to repeat itself. Wouldn’t it?

The truth is that Dave is a great guy and a welcome new friend.  I enjoy talking with him.  I feel excited about possibilities after we hang out.  He values my input and I value his.  We’ve started into writing a little music together, and he wasn’t afraid to sing in “girl voice” in front of me.  I like his sense of humor, and he gets mine.  We laugh a lot. I like Dave. I trust Dave.

Brace yourself for this next bit. Trust is a choice.

It’s hard to trust new people who are a lot (or even a little) like people who have betrayed our trust in the past.  So, yes, it’s a potentially difficult choice – but a choice nonetheless.

What’s more, basing all new relationships on bad past relationships is irrational, if we really stop and think about it.

Every chair does not give us splinters – even if that one did when we were nine.  Will we never sit again?

And that lobster red burn two summers later – the one that had us unable to sleep for days and cleaning skin peelings from our sheets for weeks – is hardly grounds to lock ourselves away in the cellar every time the sun comes up.

There’s a line in Anne of Green Gables, where Anne’s trusted mentor and friend, Ms. Stacy, has this to say: “Tomorrow is always fresh, with no mistakes in it.”  And that is true of new relationships, as well.   Each one is fresh, with no mistakes in it.

So, if you are afraid, then go ahead and say so.  Decide together to do things differently.  Be different, if there are things in you that could use changing this time around.  But by all means, do choose to trust again.  For to choose otherwise – to live within a self-made fortress of skepticism and fear – is to rob ourselves of  the potential for future joy, as well.

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I want this to be a place where we can share our thoughts, our stories, the strategies each of us are finding work – or don’t work – when it comes to living like it matters. Not only will you encourage others by doing so, you will encourage yourself to remember what you already know and to live it out in practical ways.  So please comment below!


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broken

One of the best pieces of advice I’ve encountered comes by way of a Zen master.  Ajahn Chah holds up a glass of water before his young student:

Do you see this glass?  I love this glass.  It holds the water admirably.  When I tap it, it has a lovely ring.  When the sun shines on it, it reflects the light beautifully.  But when the wind blows and the glass falls off the shelf and breaks, or if my elbow hits it and it falls to the ground, I simply say, “Of course!”  When I know that the glass is already broken, every minute with it is precious.

Some of you may close yourself off from this, simply because I told you that it comes from Zen teachings.  You may believe it to be contrary to your own faith somehow, or perhaps you will think that you are hardly the type of person capable of grasping and practicing anything so deep or philosophical.  As I point out in the preface to my forthcoming book, if something is truth, then it existed before anyone put it to words.  Likewise, truth inherently works when put into practice.  This being the case, it matters very little then whether truth comes by way of Mother Teresa or Mickey Mouse.  So I encourage you to stay open and to try.  Give it some thought, perhaps during a little time spent in stillness, and see what comes of it.

For me, this truth has resulted in a profound level of peace.  I do not expect anything to come my way.  And I do not expect anything to last.  If I expect anything at all, it is that the unexpected happens all the time.  I try to see every glass in my life as “already broken.”  Imperfect.  Temporary.

This does not lead to negative, Eeyore-like thinking nor to a sense of resignation, as some might speculate.  Rather, it keeps everything in perspective, as gifts that are mine only for a short while.  And this really does make every minute with something — or someone — precious.  Rather than feeling entitled, becoming complacent or taking things for granted, I feel rather lucky on account of all of these “unexpected extras” around me at any given time.

In practical terms, here are some other “broken glasses” the acceptance of which may bring you an increased level of peace:

Expect your kids to blow it.  When they do — and they will — don’t be so surprised, irritated or angry over it.  Say to yourself, “Of course!  They’re kids!”  We all went through the learning process.  In fact, if we are truly living, we are still going through it.

Expect that the house will not stay neat and tidy at all times, whether you just cleaned it or not.

Expect your spouse, lover or friend to be less than perfect.

Expect “the best laid plans” to go awry.  Tell yourself before a big event, “There will be snags.  I know this, and that’s OK.”

Expect people to flake out, drop the ball, or leave you in a lurch sometimes.  Consider that if someone does come through on what they promised, it is a bonus.  Appreciate everything.  Hang your stars on nothing.

Expect your new gadget to fall, crack, get lost or stolen, or slip into the pool.  It won’t last forever.

Expect the glass to break.  Accept it when it does: “Ah, so today is that day I’ve known was coming all along!”

You cannot change what will be.  Getting angry, worried or stressed will not fix what goes wrong in life.  Rather, these things only prolong the loss, distracting you from present moments spent enjoying the many wonderful things and people that still exist all around you.

Instead, learn to think at every turn, “Oh well, I knew from the start that this would not be perfect or last forever.  This glass was already broken before it came my way.  I enjoyed it while I had it.”  This mindset has worked wonders in my own life.  Change does not throw me for long.  I easily accept, adapt and move on.  And if I can, so can you.

In so doing, you can hold the pieces fondly on the day your glass finally breaks, not in bitterness but remembering the joy you were so fortunate to have had for a time.

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Are you ready for some real change in your life right now?

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