Love isn’t a state of perfect caring. It is an active noun like struggle. To love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right here and now.
As my mentor, Lynn, often likes to remind me, the moment I set an intention towards achieving something, what comes up first are all the obstacles in between me and the full manifestation of that intention.
Speaking of which, one ongoing intention I’ve been working towards for the last few years is learning to love unconditionally – myself and others.
So far, I am finding this very, very difficult.
There are several challenges (and here, I also have to mention that these challenges are just the ones I know of thus far!):
In my last post, I shared that so far, 2015 is a year of big changes in my life.
This time last year, I was still at the helm of MentorCONNECT, the nonprofit I founded in 2009.
This year, as of January 1, the reins are in the hands of a new group of leaders – people I know and trust, but they are still not me.
This time last year, I was broken up with my boyfriend, miserable yet resigned, stoic yet heartbroken.
This year, we enter a new year together and we are – remarkably – stronger than we’ve ever been.
And these are just two of the really big changes accompanying me in 2015.
A few days ago, a friend and I watched a movie called “Birdman,” starring Michael Keaton and Edward Norton.
Aside from an instant fondness for the title (feathers are always a win-win for me), I found the movie itself somewhat hard to digest.
For instance, there were quite a lot of scenes with dudes running around in their tidy white undies.
Also, actors were portrayed as (yawn) self-centered, a theme I find both overdone and unfair (i.e., are actors truly more self-involved, or does their profession simply cause them to be unable to so easily hide that aspect of our shared human condition?)
Plus, frankly, I really thought the “Birdman” costume could have been better.
All that aside, the most beautiful part of the film for me was a scene where Norton agrees to play “Truth or Dare” with Keaton’s daughter, Sam (played by Emma Stone).
In the scene, she asks him – flirtatiously – what he would do to her if he was not afraid.
His answer was both violent and beautiful, and has kept me thinking for days.
A few days ago two things happened.
I finished reading “Tracks” by Robyn Davidson, and I posted my first attempt to make some sense of her beyond-the-sensible and amazing journey.
While the book caused me more than a few sleepless nights, I now feel it was a good kind of sleeplessness – the kind that occurs only with the most profound and unstoppable of wake up calls.
Unlike so very many in our culture today (and even me for a time earlier in my life), Davidson did not wish to be famous. She wasn’t interested in being anyone’s inspiration or role model or icon or heroine.
She was searching for something – something private and personal.
She was searching for some kind of continuity within herself, her path, her past, her future – and at that point in her life, the search seemed to require a dog, camels, and a trek across 1,700 miles of desert.
So be it.
In the Postscript to “Tracks” (written in 2012), Davidson states she can hardly relate to the girl in the book she herself wrote, much less the character in the movie by the same name.
I totally understand.
Looking back now, I hardly recognize the girl who flew alone to India, and then to Israel, in search of ….. something. I admire her sometimes – her courage, her innocence, her hope – but I don’t really know her as “me.”
So why did she do it? Why did Davidson spend nearly two years learning to train camels, raising cash, assembling gear, even giving part of herself away to National Geographic in exchange for a cash sponsorship to buy what she lacked?
I can’t remember how I heard about Robyn Davidson or her extraordinary journey.
I just remember, the moment I heard about it, I was online hunting down her book.
Titled simply “Tracks: a Woman’s Solo Journey Across 1,700 Miles of Australian Outback,” the story she has to tell is simply mind-bending.
Davidson embarked upon her solo adventure in her mid-20’s.
When I was in my mid-20’s, I, too, was embarking upon a solo adventure. Mine was to India and Israel, hers through the Australian desert.
But I will confess it took me many more years since then to unpack even a portion of the wisdom she unearthed within herself during her 1,700 mile journey.
For the record, it also seems pertinent here to mention I have never once in my life had even the merest inkling of desire to walk across any large, hot, dangerous body of sand accompanied only by camels and a dog.
Clearly, my life is the poorer for it.
During the early stages of her journey, Davidson frequently gave in to bouts of panic, which, to hear her tell it, were largely initiated by intense inner battles between the order/regime/structure she had previously relied on and the freedom to live in the moment that desert life demanded.
As the desert’s ever-changing environment did its work on her and she slowly learned the wisdom of opting for the latter, her panic eased and inner wisdom arose in its place.
That inner wisdom was – is – as timeless and profound as the desert itself (click here for amazing vintage photos from her journey).
Davidson on her love of animals:
I am quite sure Diggity [her canine companion through the desert] was more than dog, or rather other than dog….She combined all the best qualities of dog and human and was a great listener…..The trip, of necessity, had brought me much closer to all the animals, but my relationship with Diggity was something special. There are very few humans with whom I could associate the word …
Several years ago a friend called and asked me if I wanted to go with him to see a film called, simply, “Milk.”
I like movies in general, and this one sounded innocuous enough. So I said, “Sure!”
I left the theater sobbing.
I was furious with my friend – for inviting me, for not warning me, for reminding me of how deadly stigma and fear can be.
I was furious with the whole world – how could such a bright light be permitted to burn out just when we need bright lights the most?
I was furious, period.
I have never forgotten the movie, and I will never forget what Harvey Milk posthumously taught me.
In his San Francisco mayoral election campaign, Milk exhorted voters, saying:
Every gay person must come out. As difficult as it is, you must tell your immediate family. You must tell your relatives. You must tell your friends if indeed they are your friends. You must tell the people you work with. You must tell the people in the stores you shop in. Once they realize that we are indeed their children, that we are indeed everywhere, every myth, every lie, every innuendo will be destroyed once and for all. And once you do, you will feel so much better. [emphasis added]
In the film, he explains his strategy by saying that when someone close to you knows that you struggle with a particular type of issue, they are more inclined to vote favorably on that issue at the polls.
Their inclination has nothing to do with the issue itself, and everything to do with how much they care about you – one single person who struggles with that issue and will be helped by their vote.
In other words, when given a choice, people don’t vote for issues. People vote for people – people they know, people they care about, people they love, people they don’t want to lose.
As you may know, I suffered with anorexia and bulimia for 15 years before I started my recovery work. I suffered with severe, crippling depression and anxiety for another decade beyond that. So approximately three-quarters of my life to date has been spent battling one type of issue or another – and battling the stigma and fear surrounding it.
This has formed my belief that the specific type of issue I have, versus the specific type of issue you may have, versus the type of issue a loved one of yours may have, doesn’t really much matter.
We basically need the same building blocks to begin healing – love, empathy, an open door to share and be heard, laughter, friendship, a way to serve, a willingness to be served, and the awareness we are not – are NEVER – alone in our struggles (even if the names of those struggles may change from one person to the next).
Harvey Milk taught me this.
On that note, I have a very dear friend who struggles with bipolar illness. She is one of my oldest, closest friends, and I care for her very much.
You see, I work from home, so I don’t go out every day.
Last month we were shocked – flattened – to discover our beloved Robin Williams had taken his own life.
I blogged about it the day I found out….and I’m still very sad. I miss him.
Knowing more about the possible “whys” – he had been diagnosed with early stage Parkinson’s Disease; he may have been struggling with bipolar illness as well as depression; he found aging to be a ponderous and difficult process – makes his choice perhaps less mystifying.
But it doesn’t make it one bit easier to accept.
I will admit sometimes I feel like I should have been asked. “Is it okay with you if I just go now?” I would have answered him: “No. No, it is not okay with me. No one else makes me laugh quite like you. I feel like you know me – even though I know you don’t. Please stay. Promise me you will.”
Watching someone we love lose their battle with depression kindles a bit of that same capitulation in each of us.
I am definitely no exception.
In times like these, I can’t help but remember my first big suicide scare. It was in college. One night the bottom just dropped out of me. I ended up in a local ER. The nurse diagnosed me with a “runaway eating disorder” and recommended counseling.
That night was the first time I’d ever considered there was an “it” ruining my life – that it wasn’t just me screwing things up all by myself.
I felt hopeful, but also very scared. Suicide seemed, well, easier, and certainly quicker, than fixing what was wrong with me.
In fact, the “terrible twins” of cyclical anxiety and depression have stalked me nearly all my life, but I was in my early 30’s (and newly in strong recovery from the eating disorder) before I had enough energy to notice.
Many, many times in the in-between years, I continued to toy with vague notions of suicide. Usually these were couched in the form of remote philosophical queries: “I wonder – just hypothetically speaking of course – if I drove off this cliff, how long would it take before anyone noticed?”
As a traveling marketer living out of state and away from her family and friends at that time, I had many weeks and months on the road to ponder all possible answers.
Later on, as the anxious and depressive cycles widened and deepened, thoughts of suicide became more functional. Recognizing my addictive personality by this point, I was terrified to take drugs (prescription or otherwise), and yet I couldn’t make heads or tails of how to end the unbearable cycling any other way, other than the obvious.
After a long course of neurotherapy treatment, I began to experience some relief from the anxiety.
Then all of a sudden the depression worsened again. Neurotherapy didn’t help this time.
Finally, through a truly strange series of twists and turns, I began to take anti-depressants at last. This was three years ago.
I can’t help but find it oh-so interesting that, just a few days after posting my thoughts on the relative value of online quizzes, I encounter another quiz I really want to take.
Although here I feel that perhaps the deck is unfairly stacked against me.
You see, Jane Goodall, one of my heroes and mentors, happens to be the latest in a long line of luminaries to answer this particular quiz.
And Marcel Proust is the quiz’s long-passed yet still celebrated author.
I loved Goodall’s responses. For many of the questions, a simple switch of “parrots” for “chimps” and her answers could be my own.
Not that that means I could resist taking the quiz for myself.
In fact, I have decided I will take the quiz right here…..for reasons including these:
It is awfully hard to believe he is gone.
I am so very sad!!
In a recent Facebook post about his death, Williams’ friend, writer Anne Lamott, shared how sad she is, and also shared how she has always viewed laughter as “carbonated holiness.”
As a fellow depression sufferer, I too have found much-needed upliftment and release through laughter….and often through laughter at Williams’ antics.
He had that rarest of gifts – the vision to perceive exactly where the fine line lies when addressing serious subjects from a lighthearted perspective.
Two of my favorite Robin Williams movies are “Good Morning, Vietnam” and “Good Will Hunting.”
But my current reigning favorite is this six-minute interview clip from 2011.
In the clip, Williams speaks about his work, his life, his kids, his childhood and young adult years, his fame, his addiction, his recovery…..and his fear.
This month has been a month of interesting contemplations …. specifically, about the costumes we wear and how we relate to ourselves and others when those costumes look different.
For instance, my brother and his wife recently added a new little one to our all-Caucasian family – a sweet, brave, chubby Chinese infant who just set foot on American soil for the first time last month.
In the same month, one of my dearest friends has returned home to Houston to build a counseling practice supporting LGBT kids, teens, and young adults.
And my personal dreams lately have been full of memories of my long journey away from anorexia and bulimia and towards fully recovered life….a journey I consider to be still “in progress.”
So when I happened across a recent article in Time that focused on the plight of transgendered persons in America, it hit me right in the heart.
As I read about how transgender, transvestite, and transsexual individuals have been mis-addressed and mis-labeled through the DSM (the Diagnostic Standards Manual – a worldwide “bible” of sorts for diagnosing and treating mental illness) it reminded me of my own struggles with how eating disorders in the DSM have been repeatedly re-labeled and often mis-labeled, and how that has affected my experience of seeking support, treatment, and recovery over the years.
One line in the Time article especially caught my attention – a comment by women’s and gender studies professor Elizabeth Reis (University of Oregon):
Most people are happy in the gender that they’re raised. They don’t wake up every day questioning if they are male or female.
The article continues with author Katy Steinmetz commenting:
For many trans people, the body they were born in is a suffocating costume they are unable to take off.”
Over the years I have talked with and met so many folks who can relate – but not because they are “trans” in some way that is specific to body parts or gender.
Some of the people I’ve met who feel trapped in a costume they didn’t order and so they want a smaller costume. Others want a larger costume. Some people want a costume that is shaped differently. Still others want a younger or older costume, or a costume that comes with a different story, life, partner, or family attached to it.
In some way, we all feel “different” – oh so very different – inside our “costumes.”
Right now I only get two magazine subscriptions.
Birds and Blooms was a gift to my avian from his doting grandma (aka my mom).
Time was yet another attempt to use up those expiring airline miles.
While you can probably already guess which one I find easier to read all the way through, Time does have the occasional newsworthy highlight.
For instance, this week’s edition shared the passing of an Austrian painter named Maria Lassnig.
Lassnig was an artist who spent much of her career exploring the felt experience of existing within a body (a style she termed “body awareness.”)
I found this quite intriguing!
In fact, I’ve been pondering Time’s little blurb about her for the last week or so. The question on my mind is this:
What DOES it feel like to be in a body?