Monday, February 20, 2017

On Honouring You

“Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.”  Dr Suess.

The way you think, rest, reset, get energized, or get tired- those are all unique to you.  Sometimes that's not so hard to deal with when you think of others needs, but way confusing when you think about your own.

2015 was a difficult year.  My dad went into hospital in January and lived there for nine hard months, mostly in bed, steadily losing his ability to control his mind and body.  We sat there beside him and watched the decomposition of our strong, stoic, proud father.

It felt a bit like my brain and body were on fire and crawling with ants, while simultaneously numb and catatonic.  Depression and anxiety moved in.  My mind was made hostage with thoughts of self deprecation and feelings of inadequacy, while my body went through the motions of work, family, and getting back in the car to go sit with dad.  I spent a lot of time on my phone, cycling through three apps, then back through again.  It was like being engaged with something that felt manageable, but curled up like a hurt puppy at the same time, blocking out the moving parts of actual life around me.

And I was mad at myself for spending so much time on my phone.
It's not very inspired.
Or proactive.
Or even cute. 

But if you were going through watching your dad die the most agonizing death, and you wanted my advice I might say-  is it helpful to spend way too much time on your phone right now?  Just to zone out and stop feeling so intensely?  Then-  that's okay.  You're forgiven.  You're just trying not to burst into flames and take the whole house down with you.  You're trying to create a tiny world to escape into, just to take breaks from the real world you live in.  It's okay

  But in the middle of it all, nothing felt okay. 
I envied my sisters for their boundless energy and compassion.  Their ability to interact with the hospital staff- to be an encouragement, to spread joy.   I envied their patience with our dad when he asked for the millionth time to be taken to the bathroom after we had just explained to him five million times that he was catheterized.  I wanted to yell at him.  Sometimes I did.

I often felt like my skin was being scraped off with a dull butter knife, but that I was being asked to walk around and function as usual.  No- to over function.  I don't mean that my family was asking more of me than what I was willing to give.  My family was incredibly sensitive, and we offered each other time off and time away frequently- guarding one another's sanity and well being, needing one another to stay as well as possible.  I mean life itself was demanding more than what I had to give, and so I had to go into deficit.  Overdraft.  High interest FastCash-style loan from the Bank of Emotion.

And so one of the things that I did was to not write much.  I was on fire.  I didn't know what might unintentionally burn someone else, and I could in no way afford any more conflict in my life.  I recognized that this wasn't just my dad dying, but also the dad of seven other people-  people who have their own experiences and perceptions; their own need for privacy, their own realities surrounding the loss of their father.  I recognized that the man I knew as my dad would not be the same as my siblings.  And I didn't have the emotional strength to tell my own truths at the time.

From January to August 2015, my sisters, brother and I took turns sitting by my dad's side.  My mom meanwhile amazed us further by continuing to stay in the house, actually living alone for the first time in her life.  At the age of eighty-eight she learned to cut the grass.  She learned to sleep alone.  And she went and sat with my dad pretty well every day for close to eight months.

In August, my mama got a flu that wouldn't go away.
We took her to the emergency that we'd so often taken our dad to. 
It didn't go away because it wasn't the flu, and my sweet mom never went home again.

Impossibly, we had two parents dying in hospital.  Mom's room smelled of death, and we could hear dad yelling and fighting from seven doors down.    I think that my brain started on fire around this time. 

Even now, I can't really talk about it.  And that's okay.
There is no limit on how long it might take to process.

I felt sad about not writing.  I thought about what good therapy it could be.  But I knew that my hands were on fire, and that I needed to sit on them.  Besides.  My hands were busy switching between three apps on my phone, and steering the car between Niverville and Steinbach.  It was not the time to open the doors of my heart any wider.  Not the time to risk that kind of vulnerability.

I noticed that my sisters needed to talk.  They would spend time together talking about mom and dad and I could feel the tiny callouses on my skin get ripped off and all the skin reignited.  I had to curl up.  Hide.  Run away.  I noticed that my brother needed to plan.  I couldn't stand to think of the moment after the one I was already inhabiting.

Because we're not the same humans.  One is not better than the other.
We all needed to honour who we were at the time, and what we needed both as a unit and as individuals.

I needed to drive alone through the McDonald's drive through for my eighty-ninth cup of coffee of the day.  My sister needed to watch a lot of Netflix and eat supper with her husband in the hospital parking lot.  She needed to plan the weekly hospital family schedule.  My other sister needed to work less.  To be closer in proximity to my parents, to live in their house, harvest mom's tomatoes, cook her recipes.

At the time, I knew intellectually that we all needed to process differently from one another.  But I could not believe it in my heart.  I could not keep the wolves away and their screams in my head got louder and uglier.  Even now, I have no advice for that me.  She did her best.  She showed up even though she had no skin left.  Sometimes she was crazy.  Who can help her?

It's been almost a year and a half since I lost my parents.  My  mom died in September, five weeks after her cancer diagnosis.  Three weeks later my dad died after an agonizingly long nine month hospital stay.  I believe he finally, finally gave up after mom went- it was heartbreaking to witness.  

I don't regret the mania of those nine months.  I don't regret all the evenings and weekends that I gave to my parents.  There will be no do over, and I will never again have parents to visit or care for.

A year and a half later, I'm still learning about honouring one self, and about honouring others.  I'm learning about the importance of one's own voice, whether it be audible or silent.    I'm learning about honouring one's instinct and authenticity.  I'm learning about honouring space- guarding what we let in, setting limits on it when its overwhelming, leaving room for staring into space and simply thinking.  I'm still learning about the concept of Enough, and how it applies here.  For example-  there's enough words, and enough time to find them again.  To capture those words a year and a half later when some of my skin has grown back on and I'm ready to be vulnerable again.

And my way will not be your way, we are not the same.
“Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.”

Honour it.

Monday, February 06, 2017

On Not Screaming

It's been a long and difficult couple of weeks-  almost like there's a line in my life  between "then" and "now"; "before" and "after".  In ways, things feel even harder than they did when the Giant Cheeto first came into power.  I won't try to reiterate all the facts and events of these past few weeks, because we all know I'm more about the aura of things than the blacks and whites.  Besides, we've all been busy (read obsessed) with consuming every variety of newscast reporting on the minute by minute mutiny by executive order and alternative facts, so you're likely at least as informed as I am.  Probably more, since my brain is similar to a colander.

I feel like I was younger and more optimistic two weeks ago when it felt proactive and almost entirely doable to attempt 100 days of kindness.  I still believe in it, I do.  But I feel more tired, more vulnerable somehow.  It sure didn't help to get hit with the worst flu that I can remember since being a little girl in my mother's arms.  It rendered me confined to bed for days on end, basically unable to do anything for myself, never mind others.

I'm scared.  I'm scared because these politics which are so obviously evil and divisive to my eyes and ears are for others somehow connected to their spiritual lives- intimately connected to people believing themselves to be committed Christians.  As in-  followers of Jesus who believe that defending Cheeto is standing up for their faith.  I've had my own long and lonely walk, working through thoughts and questions and confusions, hopes and desires around the faith I was raised in, and I still identify with Jesus.  The old testament stuff about genocide and violence and cruelty is terribly troubling to me, and I honestly don't get it.  But I'm not here to present my statement of faith because quite frankly, I don't have one and it doesn't matter much to me any more. 

I'm scared that people are identifying with the violence in the Bible.  I'm scared that they are metaphorically marching around the city of Jericho, hoping to bring down the walls- mamas and babies be damned.  I can't defend the Bible that way, and I can't ignore the thoughts of all the people languishing in detention centers and refugee camps.  And my own impotence makes me ashamed.

When my mind is clear, and I remember where my heart was at, I know what I meant by 100 days of kindness.  I meant that we all are responsible to be and do right in our own microcosms.  In our own life systems.  The way we raise our kids, the way we treat the cashier at Wal-Mart, the way we do our jobs-  all these things have a ripple effect.  When we raise kids who aren't (too) angry and frustrated, we make the world a little less ugly.  When we make eye contact at the store, ask frazzle haired cashier person "How is your day?" and mean it, we've at least not made their day harder than it had to be.  When we make an effort to stop complaining and start making a point of saying aloud the good we see in each other, we shine light into hearts and make the world a little less harsh.

It's a vulnerable feeling to suggest being kinder than necessary.  Vulnerable because one might think I'm setting myself up as some sort of standard.  One might read these blundery ramblings as "Look at me!  I'm so kind!  Be like Joyce!", and that's so not it at all.  I know what I intend, and yet my brain and body are pretty darned prickly and often downright spiteful.  So sometimes when people tell me they expect more of me (based in part of what I've chosen to be honest about here), I feel like maybe I painted myself into a corner.  It's important then to remind myself that I make myself vulnerable on purpose- its the way I've chosen to live my life.  Not everyone will understand or be particularly gracious.

When I wrote about kindness two weeks ago, I mentioned that sometimes being kind is going to mean not screaming out loud.  I had hoped that would be an occasional feeling and not sort of the predominant elephant in the room.  More accurately- the elephant sitting on my lap and stepping on my toes, its trunk wrapped around my neck and chest, threatening to shut off my air supply.

And I have managed not to scream.  I've managed to not call anyone an idiot in my out loud voice.  I've managed to do some intentional, kind things- to be deliberate in giving things away.  Giving to someone who will put what I can live without to good use.

In order to not scream, I've stopped following some people's posts on facebook.  They're people pretty far removed from my current, relevant life so its not like it'll fracture relationships or have any real consequences, outside of promoting less negativity and bullshit on my newsfeed.  But even this bothers me.  Why do good, upstanding citizens who I would call "friend" actually believe that Muslims want to remove our heads?  Why?  It breaks my heart and makes me furious.  These people are committed about their faith.  This is confusing for me.  Didn't Jesus have the audacity to say that we should LOVE our enemies?  not shun them?  I've asked myself very specific questions before cutting myself out of their newsfeed.  "Am I just unwilling to hear other points of view?  Am I being hypocritical when I promote kindness but want to pinch a "friend" from a million years ago?" So, before unfollowing, I've been honest with myself that I'm doing so to protect my grey matter, and my soul.

I don't think hating people is easier than loving people.  I think they both require a lot of personal energy.  I sure have been wondering though.  I've been extending a lot of energy reminding myself that we're all different and that I have to extend grace when people voice things that I think are ignorant, uninformed, annoying, or downright dangerous.  It's tricky and exhausting to decide when to use my voice, and when to keep my mouth shut.  And honestly, sometimes its shockingly easy to identify with the hatred route.  It's easy to think violent thoughts that require no grace, no "looking at things from another perspective".  Just- "People are awful and should go die in a hole".

Isn't that shocking and sad?  How many degrees separated are we from being cold blooded killers?  I'm sitting here in my lovely, warm little house with plenty to eat, and good people all around, and I wonder how many degrees of frustration separate me from murderous hatred.

It doesn't feel kind at all.

One of the things that makes me want to scream is when people suggest that we all calm down and just enjoy our lives.  That all this insanity is outside of our circle of influence and that we're just making ourselves miserable by staying informed and concerned.  I hear "Ignorance is bliss!  Be blissful!" and I want to scream.

Another thing that makes me almost scream out loud is when people suggest that the women's march on Washington was actually about being a loudmouthed, crass, skanky, nasty, baby killing bully who just doesn't know her rightful place as a submissive wife and mother.  Crazy.  Maker.  Way too simple.  Not in any way nuanced enough for all the complicated emotions, experiences, realities, struggles, victories, and desires of not only women, but humanity.  I'm even more annoyed now that the roads were bad that day and I could not attend.  Those marches hold historic significance, and it's disappointing that I was there only in spirit.

I feel existentially tired.

So what have I done to be kind and not scream?  I've helped feed some people.  I've sewn some things that help my mind to ruminate in productive ways.  I've refrained from swearing at people.  I've refrained from being mean online.

I'd like to hear what you have and haven't done.
I'd like to hear how your keeping your soul intact.
I'd like to know if you're having any trouble not screaming.
just like me.