Posted by Deborah Huso on Feb 16, 2017 in Musings
, Success Guide
“If you’re really a mean person, you’re going to come back as a fly and eat poop.” –Kurt Cobain
You don’t have to be a Buddhist to respect and appreciate the law of karma. It’s kind of like confronting an armed man in a dark alley and saying, “No, I’m not going to give you my wallet in exchange for my life.” Reasonable people just don’t mess with that shit.
Unfortunately, it appears there are more than a few less than reasonable sorts out there who are willing to sacrifice their lives (or at least the quality of their lives) for the sake of hanging onto that wallet.
History and popular culture are filled with folks who didn’t believe the karma bus would ever come calling—think Kenneth Lay or Jeffrey Skilling. Or larger karmic outcomes like the rise of ISIS in the wake of Western powers abandoning wars they initiated and leaving shaky and corrupt “democratic” governments to handle the fallout.
Karma is basically the philosophical cousin to Newton’s third law of physics, which states that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.
Be a distant, critical, and unloving parent–be prepared for your children to hate you and abandon you in old age. Treat your co-workers with repeated disdain and backstabbing–don’t expect anyone to come to your defense when lay-offs start.
But here’s the thing about karma: It can be slow, and it’s not always obvious. Which might just be why so many people think they can escape its clutches and why so many of the rest of us rail against the karma bus’s failure to arrive at what we feel is its designated stop.
The Dalai Lama advises, “When you have made a mistake, take immediate steps to correct it.” The idea here is that you can fend off bad karma from a bad action by making things right again. But don’t suppose you can make things right by working in a soup kitchen after cheating on your spouse or donating money to a charitable cause after blindsiding your business partner. “Non sequitur,” as we journalists like to say.
In other words, you’re still going to hell…or at least purgatory.
You’re still going to die alone of terminal cancer with no friends or family who really care all that much because you’ve alienated them all, failed to nurture your relationships, or maybe never chose real relationships to begin with.
And maybe all the people you hurt, abandoned, or took advantage of are dead or senile by then, and maybe you’re senile, too, but who wants his legacy to be heart attack after indictment for a massive Ponzi scheme or slow death among indifferent strangers who have to be paid to change your diapers?
I had a great aunt who died in her mid-90s after many years as a widow. While some of her age and generation wailed about grandchildren who didn’t visit them, she was taking pictures with a digital camera at her great-granddaughter’s volleyball games, chatting via email with her children, and reserving vacations with other adventurous strangers on long bus trips to national parks.
“Happiness is not something ready-made,” the Dalai Lama tells us. “It comes from your own actions.” My great aunt probably didn’t think much about karma, but she lived as if she did….
So how do you ensure you’re not sitting on a stinky cow eating poop in your next life? Or maybe even in this one?
Here are some tips….
- Stop fulfilling your own negative prophecies. Let go of the past. It’s only an informer of the future if you let it be.
- Do something different. So you think life is meaningless and sad? It’s probably because your existence is like the movie Groundhog Day. Go for a hike. Take a class. Ask someone in the grocery store line out for coffee.
- Build real relationships, and then nurture them. Love people for who they are, not what they can do for you.
- Dump toxic hangers-on. If your friends only come calling when they need something and frequently fail to show up for you unless you’re buying the drinks, shed them. No friends left after that? Refer to no. 3….
- Practice gratitude. Be thankful for the good things in your life. And remember to thank the good people who look out for you.
- Be vulnerable. Smile at strangers. Tell a friend your most secret fear. Admit it when you’re in error.
- Stop taking offense. Try not honking and cursing at the driver who cut you off in traffic for starters. And if you feel criticized by a friend, look for the loving intention before you lose your temper.
- Say I’m sorry, and then prove it. Not by working in a soup kitchen but by working on yourself.
- Be honorable. Speak the truth, especially about yourself. And do the right thing, especially for others.
- Say “I love you” daily, even if it’s to your cat, even if it’s to yourself.
And as for all those folks who are angry, bitter, and mean…well, walk away, trust the karma bus, and let them eat poop….
Posted by Deborah Huso on Jan 23, 2017 in Girlfriends
“An acquaintance merely enjoys your company, a fair-weather companion flatters when all is well, a true friend has your best interests at heart and the pluck to tell you what you need to hear.”
Sometimes we think by the time we reach our 30s and 40s, we have this friendship business all figured out. Gone are the high school cliques, the drama queens, the users and manipulators…or so we think.
Alas, not all of us who grow into physical adults become emotional adults. And rest assured, emotional maturity is not easily come by, particularly if one is raised, as I was, by adults who had not themselves achieved it.
Who has not faced the raging school mother who faults us for bringing store-bought cookies to the bake sale? Or the friend who cannot be inconvenienced with visiting us but is happy to have us visit her? Or perhaps the eternal borrower of all our things who never seems to get around to bringing them back?
A few weeks ago, when an acquaintance of mine was commenting half bitterly on such a friend, I advised him such friends might be better off dismissed. “She doesn’t seem like a true friend to me,” I remarked.
My acquaintance looked at my quizzically and said, “True friend? I’m not even sure what that means….”
Well, I’m here to set the record straight with wisdom borne out of that painful teacher–experience. How do you recognize true friendship? Here are 15 rock solid clues:
- You can speak your mind to her without fear. In other words, you can be exactly who you are and say exactly what you think, and she’s neither going to cut and run nor judge you, even if you happen to have voted for Donald Trump.
- She will tell you the truth, even when she knows it won’t be easy and it might not feel good…for either of you. She’s not going to lead you down a rosy path that isn’t real. If everyone who loves you thinks you need to stop treating the symptoms of your marriage with martinis, she will speak up and pour the vodka down the drain.
- He loves you through everything. Did you get fired from your job? Did you cheat on your spouse? Did you lie to your wife? It’s okay. He knows you’re human, and he’s going to stand by you even when you’re stupid and wrong. Plenty of convicted murderers have mothers who love them. You deserve to be loved through your faults, too.
- He does not exploit your weaknesses; he protects them. One of the greatest downfalls of marriages and other emotionally intimate relationships is exploitation—when the very people you believe love you most repeatedly throw your vulnerabilities and your faults in your face. They use their intimate knowledge of who you are to win arguments, save face, and break you down. Trust me, if he’s persistently bringing up the fact that you’ve been married four times or that even your mother doesn’t like you, he’s not your friend…. He’s using your trauma to make himself feel better.
- She experiences pride and joy in your accomplishments and happiness and is generous with her praise. If your emotional intimates aren’t your biggest cheerleaders in life, then you need to do some housecleaning. A true friend takes you out to dinner when you get that promotion, cries tears of joy at your wedding when you marry the man of your dreams, and reminds you on a regular basis just how amazing and beautiful you are. After you’ve spent an afternoon in her company, your sense of self-worth should be soaring, not limping.
- She does not compete with you. Instead of advising you, you have one boob that’s higher than the other or deliberately ignoring you at the bar while trying to command the attention of every remotely eligible man in the room while you decide to go back to your room and read a book, she acknowledges your own unique human beauty and longs to bask in its sunshine. Is she proud to be your friend and admires rather than feels threatened by you? If the answer is “no,” ditch her.
- He supports your dreams. No naysayers allowed. If he doesn’t think your mobile Cajun kitchen idea is grand and isn’t sending you advertisements for food trucks, he’s not invested in you the way he should be. True friends want to see you live your dreams and will push you to realize them.
- He encourages you to be your best self. If your main form of entertainment with him is drinking and smoking, reconsider the alliance. We all have our moments when a shot of whiskey seems like a viable treatment for a bad day, but if he is concocting more Manhattans for you than loving encouragement, it may be time to find a new compatriot. A real friend wants to help you on your journey of being the best person you can be.
- She actively works on being her own best self. Stop pitying and enabling the naysayers and do-nothings. Your intimates should be people who not only build you up but who are investing in their own lives. Surround yourself with those who are actively and hopefully working on themselves and not burying their sorrows (and their lives) in self-pity and rage.
- She is unabashedly herself before you as you are before her. She does not pretend to have her shit together with you, even if the rest of the world thinks she’s rock solid. She dares to be vulnerable, fallible, and real. And in so doing, she gives you the space to do the same.
- He forgives. So you criticized his wife. You judged his parenting style. You lost your temper and screamed at him for no valid reason. He decides you’ve had a rough day, a rough week, maybe even a rough year, and lets it go. Because he loves you. And knows you’re grand…even when you don’t know it.
- He says “I’m sorry.” And not the kind of “I’m sorry you feel bad” but the “I’m sorry I did what I did.” He is strong enough to own his error and apologize for it rather than putting the blame on you. A true friend knows when he needs to eat crow and is brave enough to dive in with knife and fork.
- She will go out of her way for you. I once had a “friend” who told me if I moved outside of town, she would never visit me because it was too far. Beware those who will expend no sacrifice on your behalf. The friend who hasn’t the time to drive to your country home is the friend who also hasn’t the time to visit you in the hospital when you have cancer.
- She endeavors to speak your love language even if it is not her own. So she speaks and receives love best through touch—hugs, a hand grasped in times of sorrow, a kiss on the cheek for greeting. But you speak and receive love through service. She recognizes it and dares to venture out of her comfort zone to give to you in the way you best receive….
- He loves with his whole heart and nurtures you in times of suffering. A true friend loves fearlessly and gives relentlessly when you need it most. He will cradle you in care when you are at your worst. Instead of asking, “What can I do to help,” he will determine what needs doing and do it. He will take charge when you cannot. He will give when you need receiving.
Posted by Deborah Huso on Dec 31, 2016 in Musings
, Travel Archives
Christmas 2012 at the so-called Magic Kingdom.
Desperation is a curious thing. It makes you act out of character, leap the bounds of reason, and throw yourself, sometimes, into downright painful situations—like Disney World at Christmas, for example.
I make no secret of my abhorrence of all things Disney, from its theme parks to its silly princess movies (though I give some exception to its more recent princesses of Frozen and Brave fame because the heroines had the chutzpah–thank God, finally–to rescue themselves instead of waiting for aid from men and mice).
In fact, I loathe Disney so much that when I watched Saving Mr. Banks, I was probably the only viewer of the film who wished P.L. Travers had NOT succumbed to the Disney spell and given the world Mary Poppins on the big screen.
But I digress…sort of….
Four years ago, I took my then five-year-old daughter to Orlando over the holiday for the sole purpose of escaping Christmas. Or rather, escaping the sadly “un-Rockwellian” and dysfunctional sort of Christmas that has become the norm in my familial experience.
Don’t get me wrong. I am no Mr. Scrooge.
Okay, maybe I am….
There was a time when I, like the young Scrooge, loved Christmas. I could not get enough of it. I wanted to go to every light show, ride around in the backseat of my parents’ car and watch gaudy, neon yard displays, and wrap gifts with the kind of gusto that inspired me to create custom bows for every package and plow through double-stick tape as if it was the elixir of the Gods.
That was when I was too young to fully appreciate the steely silences at grown-up dinner tables where half the adults didn’t speak to one another. That was before I understood that marriage and children did not constitute happily ever after, and also before I realized you don’t have to give misery your company.
But enlightenment comes to most of us eventually. And when it came to me, I started to find I didn’t like Christmas anymore. I didn’t like the guilt trips that accompanied it, the expectations, the busyness of it all, the obligations, the proximity to unhappy and disappointed relatives, the spending time with people I really didn’t want to spend time with….
The best Thanksgiving ever…in Venice, Italy.
And so I went to Disney World, and, over the years and over many other family-oriented holidays, to many other places ranging from Venice to Budapest. And if I can’t find a way to get out of the state or the country for whatever pesky family holiday is trying to turn me bipolar, I will lock myself in my house with a bowl of homemade Swedish meatballs, binge-watch Netflix, and refuse to answer the phone.
In fact, I’ve made quite a habit of running away from Christmas, and Thanksgiving, and Easter, and Independence Day, and New Year’s…. You name the holiday, and I’ll tell you where I’ve gone to get away from it.
Because it’s pretty hard to feel “Christmassy” when it’s 80 degrees and you’re sitting poolside sipping a cocktail.
This most recent Christmas, I had dinner with people I’d met only days earlier, drank far too much wine, laughed till my sides ached, and happily forgot it was the 25th of December at all. And when polled, everyone at this table in Vienna, Austria, had similar stories–they were running away from home, too–from 20 years of cooking holiday dinners for ungrateful relatives, from houses empty of children or grandchildren, from piles of wrapping paper discarded from toys and gadgets forgotten within days….
Spending Christmas with these strangers was bliss, and it made me realize something–I have a problem, and, even worse, it’s not really one I want to eliminate.
I’m addicted to escapism. And not the kind of escapism that comes in a glass bottle and is topped off with a maraschino cherry.
I’m a literal escape addict.
And I don’t limit it to holidays. It’s even infiltrated my professional life. If there’s an assignment with an opportunity to get me out of Dodge, I’m always game, even if it means sitting on the ocean floor in a wetsuit with an electric eel circling me or sticking my camera lens up against the nose of a brown bear.
I realize there are those among my friends and acquaintances who just presume I love to travel, that I’m a classic Type T with a scary bit of A mixed in, and that I’m brave, lucky, a go-getter, and all that shit.
Christmas night with my daughter at an opera house in Vienna, Austria.
But I’m increasingly suspicious that all my running around the planet, hopping into kayaks and climbing Medieval towers is more about getting out of my life than into it.
It’s a coping strategy, not so terribly far removed from alcoholism, drug addiction, sex addiction, gambling…you name it.
Once I started to realize this, I wondered if maybe I shouldn’t just take up smoking or some similarly less expensive survival mechanism.
But then comes the self-justifying—all of you addicts out there know how this works, right?
Life is hard. (And believe me when I read those words on the first page of Scott Peck’s The Road Less Travelled, I almost didn’t want to read any more of it because I didn’t want to know that I already knew the answer—that life was hard and that I was just going to have to learn how to “keep on keeping on,” as my dad always says.)
I decided that if life was going to be hard and was going to keep throwing me curve balls, the least I could do was come up with a coping strategy (i.e. addiction) that might have some useful side effects.
Rather than suffer the hangovers and increasing tendency to do nothing that comes of addictions like sipping whiskey every night in front of the TV or endlessly trawling Facebook for some distraction from my personal reality, I thought perhaps an addiction to adventure, to travel might teach me a few things, that I might increase my knowledge, grow my curiosity, step up my courage…at the very least, become a more interesting person.
Because the only thing worse than an addict is a boring addict, right?
In the interest of continued self-justification, I’m going to say RIGHT.
Because there are a lot of ways to “keep on keeping on.” You can stop by that little country store every day after work and get a pack of cigarettes and six-pack of beer to stem your frustration and unwind from a reality that doesn’t fit that vision of life you maybe had long ago. That is indeed one way of coping, and it will likely get you through till your appointed end. As will chasing the jackpot, chasing women, chasing some pills with a shot of tequila….
But heck, wouldn’t you like to escape with a little more bang, a little more pizazz, a little more life?
I would…and I’m hoping that somewhere along this journey of running away to everywhere I may find an answer that will keep me home for Christmas one day. And if I don’t find that, I will at least find, I think, more understanding, more tolerance, and more reason to keep on keeping on….
Posted by Deborah Huso on Jun 6, 2016 in Musings
“Grief can destroy you—or focus you.” –Dean Koontz
I was never a Girl Scout.
Portrait of “Daisy” at her home in Savannah
So I don’t know what the average Girl Scout learns about the founder of this more than century-old organization that evolved alongside women’s suffrage.
I just know I found myself standing in a little bit of awe when I learned on a trip to Savannah not so many years ago that “Daisy,” as Juliette Gordon Lowe was fondly known, had founded this organization that today has nearly 3 million members, out of a broken heart.
Betrayed by the man she believed to be her one true love, plagued ironically by deafness due to an accident on her wedding, and then broken by her husband’s early death and a last will and testament that endeavored to leave his estate to his lover rather than his wife, Daisy traveled the world for a time, something of an early 20th century Elizabeth Gilbert, had a chance meeting with the founder of the Boy Scouts of America, and set out to found a similar organization for young women to promote self-reliance and self-esteem.
Out of her mourning, she built a movement, using her deafness to “pretend not to hear” the voices of naysayers.
Lowe is hardly an anomaly. The world is rich with stories of mothers, fathers, husbands, and wives who have had hearts broken by tragedy, death, deceit, terminal illness, conflict, and plague and have risen to become activists for change—to give purpose to their pain.
Frankly, however, the vast majority of us run from it, letting it, as Dean Koontz suggests, “destroy” rather than “focus” us. We numb, we block out, we shut down, and often we resolve to never give access to vulnerability again.
Doing so, frankly, goes against nature. When children lose something they love, they wail, they pound their fists, they feel, and then, strangely at times, they are fine again, all the pain released, equanimity returned.
With Grandpa the summer before he died
I remember when, at just under six years of age, I experienced the death of my maternal grandfather—a skinny, relentless smoker who moved as lithely and quickly as a fox, talked fast, lived large, and pulled me into his lap when he had his afternoon coffee, sending curls of smoke before my eyes as he fed me cookies and termed me his “little cocklebur.” I adored him with the fullness of my soul.
And then he died of a heart attack, and I never got to say good-by.
In the stiff Scandinavian way of my family, there was not much in the way of tears the night of his wake. I had been taught from a young age to eschew any displays of emotion. But as the evening of convening around his casket wore on and the night grew long, my great aunt and uncle gathered me and my three cousins into their car to take us home while the rest of the adults stayed behind.
Sitting like sad little sardines in the back seat of Great Uncle Ross’ car, the four of us girls were quiet until my youngest cousin, Chrissy, began to wail. As clearly as if it was yesterday, I hear my own little voice rising into the darkness: “Why is Chrissy crying?”
And then soon, the whole backseat was a flood of tears, all four of us girls weeping for the man who had hiked us onto his shoulders, given us rides in the combine, and settled onto the floor with us to put together doll carriages and Lincoln logs. The release….
By the time we arrived back at my grandparents’ house, we had settled into a state of tentative calm, playing Barbies on the living room floor.
That night was not the last time I cried for my grandfather. Sometimes I will cry for him to this day.
What I learned that night so many long years ago, however, yet forgot in young adulthood, and had to learn all over again, was that grief is not a thing to fight.
Fighting it only pushes it forward another day, and then another, until soon, you’ll find yourself years after the fact still a mess of only subtly covered bones, and fear, and regret, prone to stupid decisions, denial, and sometimes…resistance…to ever being in a place where grief could possibly take hold.
Trust me. I have done it. And lived to tell the tale of what it is like to be so cut off from feeling that not only did I feel no pain but felt no joy, cared not if the house fell apart all around me or if laundry was piled to the ceiling. That coveted nothingness…that is really nothing to covet.
My grandfather has been gone more than 35 years. Since then, I’ve experienced loss, abandonment, rejection on a far grander scale. I’ve buried dreams, given up the love of my life, and known alienation from those who perhaps should have held me closest to their hearts. I have lived through feelings I never imagined I could live through. And when I dug in, faced it all head on, “embracing the suck,” as they say, instead of burrowing into blankness, life acquired a kind of richness that I think Juliette Gordon Lowe must have seen.
The world looked kind of like the glistening mirror of green and blue you’ll see after rising out of a dark cave or the sharpness of putting on a pair of glasses in the morning light. And there it was–gratitude for what remained–old friends, new love, the innocent laughter of children.
Most of us will never turn our pain into culture- or world-changing movements, but we can use it to change ourselves—to love and nurture what is before us for as long as we may enjoy it, to give space to our passions, and kindness to our vulnerabilities–to take the knife of suffering and part the sea to find dry land.
Posted by Deborah Huso on May 17, 2016 in Musings
, Success Guide
“No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path.”
― Gautama Buddha
It’s a primal fear—being alone.
There are good reasons for this. Belonging means survival. Not just in nature. Even in civilized life. It’s such a deep, primal fear that many of us choose being miserable in a group, in a relationship, in a family, merely to avoid that dark chasm known as being alone.
But is it really so bad?
Some might argue I come to this “alone” business from a decidedly prejudiced angle. After all, I grew up an only child in a rural community 30 miles away from my closest friend. It wasn’t like I could run down the street to find someone with whom to play. My parents both worked, often long hours. I learned, from very young, to be comfortable spending time unto myself. As I grew older, there were plenty of times I preferred it even. After all, a 24-year-old single woman does not move to the least populated and most isolated county in Virginia because she is fond of lots of regular company.
But here’s the thing: I actually didn’t learn to be alone until quite recently.
Because learning to be alone isn’t about being able to pay the bills all by yourself, taking care of a household, a farm, a child, whatever it is one has to do in life…all by yourself. No….
It’s about being enough, as you are, where you are, whether you’re with someone or not.
And frankly, most of us are not very good at this.
Sometimes we say it’s because we just don’t have time to be alone with ourselves. That requires some self-knowledge and some self-nurturing, you know. And I get it. There have been times in my life where the most self-nurturing I could muster was locking the bathroom door, so a toddler and a dog wouldn’t stand there staring at me as I sat on the commode. And the most self-knowledge I had was doing something stupid, like walking down the aisle, with the knowledge it was stupid…but doing it anyway.
And when you fail to know yourself and nurture yourself, strangely, you have a tendency to want others to fill the gap, the void, the big empty room in your mind.
The result of that you have likely witnessed if not experienced yourself:
The couple that marries, well, because everyone else is doing it, and they don’t want to be left out.
The guy that tries to start a relationship with a new girlfriend before he ends the one with the girlfriend he’s got because he’s scared of that empty space of “having no one.”
The woman who stays in a miserable marriage because she’s scared she can’t handle life “alone.”
The person who hangs out with people she’s really not all that fond of or doesn’t relate to just because it’s less scary than sitting at home by herself on a Saturday night.
The man who spends every evening glued to the television or maybe the iPad because he doesn’t really feel connected to his wife but can’t bear sitting alone with his “loneliness.”
The woman who hops from one relationship to the next, failure after failure, because the idea of being alone terrifies her, even though she knows (perhaps) that being alone might just stop the painful cycle….
I exercise no judgment on the above. Who has not done these things or things very like them?
Heck, it wasn’t so long ago that I was dating, ultimately (when I really decided to think about it), because it seemed like a divorced, relatively young, intelligent, not terribly bad-looking woman should be dating, not sitting home alone.
And then one day it just kind of hit me that dating was mentally exhausting me, not enriching me. I’d cringe when I’d hear the bleep of a text or the ringing of my cell phone. I’d respond out of obligation, not desire. I’d sit across a dinner table smiling brightly because I was polite and gracious, not because I was actually happy to be there. I’d wince at the thought of another kiss from a middle-aged man who ought to be better at this stuff after three or four supposed decades of practice….
I found myself longing for my girl and guy friends, my daughter, a quiet night alone with a book and a glass of wine or cup of tea. I craved the nurturance of the people who already knew and loved me, not strangers. And sometimes, I just craved taking a nap alone in the sunshine.
I discovered I was enough, that my life was enough, that those I already loved were enough, and that everything was full, and rich, and good, whether I was sitting home alone in front of the fire, cloud watching with my daughter on a picnic blanket, or pulled up to a dinner table with my most intimate friends.
Likely, at some point in your life, you have heard a friend or acquaintance say something like “It was only once I became comfortable with being alone that I met the love of my life.” This is not some hokey adage that says love will only come to you when you stop looking. No. It’s really about being comfortable in your own skin and, by extension, enabling others to feel comfortable in theirs.
That is the careful art of being alone. When you relish your own company and generate your own joy, others will not only be drawn to your seemingly easy bliss, they may even begin to emulate it.
Posted by Deborah Huso on Oct 22, 2015 in Men
Perhaps this will seem an odd subject matter for a divorced woman who has failed to turn at least three non-married, long-term relationships into marriage; nevermind all the two- and three-month dating scenarios that ultimately went nowhere…or the first dates that made me want to run into the restroom and try and crawl out of a window…(and yeah, I actually know a man who did this on a first date with a woman; he is now happily married to a dear friend of mine).
But given my experience with “endings,” I’d say there is no one more qualified to comment on what makes the “honeymoon” phase of a romantic relationship die. I am an expert in relationship death. In fact, more often than not, I’ve been the one calling for the coffin lid to close. (There is, after all, nothing more grotesque than an open coffin following death by train wreck.)
After 24 years of romantic interaction with the opposite sex (yes, folks, I have thus far bucked the current trend of changing my gender and/or sexual orientation for the sake of publicity), I actually do know a few things about what inspires romantic attachment in the first place and why even the best of relationships frequently die.
It’s all about expectation.
A friend of mine said his latest divorce occurred when his wife proclaimed their marriage “wasn’t fun anymore.”
News flash: love isn’t fun.
In fact, it can be downright painful at times. What’s the best way to avoid pain? Avoid vulnerability, of course. But if you avoid vulnerability, you will also avoid love…the kind of love that lasts anyway.
So plenty of us try to avoid vulnerability (and the potential for pain) altogether by settling into the traditional American marriage stalemate: Okay, so we’re married, and damn it, we’re going to stay married, even if it means we have sex only twice a year and relish every waking moment we don’t have to be anywhere near each other. Let’s suck it up and survive…for the kids.
Trust me, I’ve been there.
I’ve also been in the fuck this relationship crap—I’m done with men (or women) phase where I feel like life would be a whole lot easier without romance. And yes, it would be. But easy gets, well, boring. I’ve never been able to successfully replace a good-looking, intelligent man with a Manhattan or a gin and tonic.
So what’s the secret? How do you get love to last past the proverbial “honeymoon phase?”
You’re probably not going to like the answer. Because it’s be yourself. Be yourself in all your annoying, beautiful, vulnerable, terrifying, hopeless, wonderful, imperfect way.
Sure, authenticity has become the buzz word of content marketers everywhere, but there’s a reason for that. Nothing beats it. If you want your marriage to last past the honeymoon in Aruba or you want your romance to transcend those first few months of furious sex and exhilarating uncertainty, then you’ve got to be real.
Women tend to be a lot better at this authenticity thing than guys. Most of us grow up sharing secrets with one another, crying in each other’s arms, calling on one another for help in times of need. But plenty of us will lock all that stuff up when it comes to the guys in our lives. We’ve heard all the horror stories—men run from women who cry, share their problems, or show interest in anything other than sex. So, more often than not, we’ll be just as locked up and cut off as the man we’re trying to woo or who is trying to woo us.
The excitement of new love will carry a relationship like that for awhile…but eventually you’ve got nothing. There’s nothing more to talk about without getting into why you hate your mother or why he finds it hard to say “I love you.” So you’re bored, frustrated, and empty…. You break up. Or…if you foolishly got married before you hit that phase, you enter into a grumpy truce to stick it out as long as you can stand it.
Once upon a time, I got uber brave with a man, decided I had nothing to lose and determined to be my authentic self. I cried in front of him when I was sad. I told him my core fears. I admitted I suffered from anxiety. I told him I loved him, and I said it first. And then something started to happen. He started doing the same. He admitted all the guilt he suffered in his life, the way his mother had unintentionally shut down his soul, the fact that he had never really believed in love and thought the sonnets of Shakespeare and Neruda were BS…until he met me.
And let me tell you. The sparks in that relationship kept on flying…for years. There was no end to what we could talk about, no end to the learning we acquired from one another. In fact, had circumstances beyond my control not tragically intervened, we might easily have kept that honeymoon phase going till death.
That’s how I know there is love beyond the butterflies. And if you feel some of your truest bliss when your arms are wrapped around the woman you married, then you may be one of the fortunate few who learned the secret to making “in love” last.
And if you’ve never felt that kind of deep safety and joy with another human being…and you want it, then you might have to consider unbuttoning your soul a little bit and setting the example for the one you love to do the same. The glue that binds two people together isn’t love per se; it’s emotional intimacy. And the only way to have it is to be brave…before the honeymoon is over.
Last school year, as my daughter navigated first grade in a new elementary school at least six to seven times the size of the one she had attended since preschool, she encountered, for the first time, a bully. This angry little boy, whom I’ll call Robert, was a pestilence to her happiness on a regular basis, pushing her in the schoolyard, calling her names, all the usual stuff.
And while I frequently encouraged Heidi to clock the kid (noting I would stand fully behind her when she’d undoubtedly go to the principal’s office for defending her right to exist without persistent harassment), she declined to settle the drama in this way after being inculcated at school with the idea that hitting someone else, no matter what, is always wrong.
Those among you who are my age or older know this is false wisdom.
One day my daughter got off the bus and mentioned she’d had a session with the school guidance counselor that afternoon. I paused on our daily trek up the driveway and asked, “Whatever for?”
“I’ve been going every week to learn how to cope with Robert’s bullying,” Heidi replied.
Rage is not a normal feature of my character, but I must admit feeling it at that moment. How was it that a little boy who pushed and hit his fellow classmates, teased and insulted them relentlessly, and proclaimed almost daily that he hated his parents had somehow become “the victim,” while my daughter was being advised to assume the role of caterer to his victimization and adjust her behavior to accommodate his youthful rage against the world?
The tale gets better, however. A few days after this revelation from within the walls of modern public education came a phone call from Heidi’s teacher, advising me my seven-year-old had used the “F word” in the school lunch line that day. My minor relief that my daughter had admitted to picking up this new addition to her vocabulary from her father quickly dissipated when she came home and explained the circumstances in response to my questions about why she was cursing at school.
“Robert told me I was stupid and ugly,” Heidi remarked.
Now with things in context, I could not help but concede that her apparent response of “fuck you” was entirely appropriate. But again, it was my daughter who bore all the punishment while the bully received no reprimand because apparently it is far worse to curse at someone who is trying to make your life miserable than it is to shake the foundations of another human being’s self-worth.
Robert, you see, was not to blame for his awful behavior toward his fellow humans. Rather, he was to be pitied—no doubt the victim of bad parents, degraded socioeconomic status, a poor gene pool, mental illness, or some other and perhaps multiple maladies.
Needless to say, for this and other reasons, I have pulled my daughter out of the public education system.
But the situation with Robert is reflective of a larger social ill—the idea that abnormal, malfunctioning, or just downright wrong behavior in our culture now comes with a litany of “excuses” ranging from borderline personality disorder to sexual addiction (though I recognize the latter has not yet been coded in the DSM-5; Tiger Woods found it useful nevertheless).
Don’t get me wrong. You will find few people as respectful of the wisdom of modern psychology as myself. Apart from having had a number of friends educated in and working in the field, one cannot help but see and exercise its usefulness in the art of journalism.
But let popular culture get a hold of a good thing…and watch it promptly twisted into something it wasn’t meant to be….
Remember the days when it was wrong to hurt the feelings of others, whether done deliberately or unintentionally? Remember when it was okay to say to another human being: You make me sad or you make me angry?
Not so anymore. Today the individual committing the wrong is actually not responsible for the pain of others. Rather, the one suffering is.
How deeply has this idea permeated our culture? Well, apart from the very obvious sense of entitlement that a not insignificant portion of the American population now feels, get a load of what I heard the other day…from a friend I never would have dreamed would say such a thing….
I’d had my feelings hurt, and I said so, expecting, at the very least, some kind of apology. Nope. In response to “you make me sad,” I received, “I don’t make you sad; you choose your reaction to what I say.”
Um, yeah, okay, I get it. I did indeed choose to feel sadness. Had I a different personality, I might have chosen to say, as Heidi did in the lunch line, “fuck you.” The bottom line, however, is that whatever my feeling or reaction to a hurtful statement by my friend, the fact remains he made a hurtful statement. Since when did it become okay to say or do anything with the full protection of “it’s not my fault; it’s your reaction” backing it all up?
Once upon a time, we didn’t have all these layers of excuses. If you stole, it was wrong; if you cheated, it was wrong; if you treated others poorly, it was wrong.
Now, however, the victims of pain, theft, lies, whatever are frequently asked to consider the degraded socioeconomic status of the thief before rushing to judgment or charges. If your partner cheats, then you may be encouraged to understanding and forgiveness because there are just way too many outlets in the modern world for him to possibly resist stepping out, nevermind his need to feel admired universally because of some developmental lack in his childhood. If someone fails to show empathy to those who suffer, then it’s because she has an avoidant attachment style from having had a bad mother.
And yes, all these things may be true to some degree…but there’s another truth called self-responsibility.
But perhaps in this age of Facebook and selfie sticks, we are all far too narcissistic to notice our own failings much less take responsibility for them. It is far easier, I suppose, to say, “It’s my mother’s fault,” and end the sentence there. We follow pop psychology instead of the fully Monty, which requires you to not only see the root of what has set you on the wrong path but to right the wrong, transcend the destiny of your genes, your upbringing, your circumstances or life experiences…to stand in your own two shoes and take ownership of your actions and how they may impact others.
Because, as William Shakespeare, wrote, “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.”
Yet how far we have strayed from that recognition….
Posted by Deborah Huso on Oct 2, 2015 in Fathers and Daughters
Last winter I started dating a gentleman who had been in his chosen profession about two decades, was quite successful, financially solid, well-educated and well-spoken, courteous to a fault. He refused to permit me to pay for a single dinner out, not even once we’d gone on a few dates. Perfect, right?
I guess the first thing that struck me was when he gave me a tour of the new home he had purchased. When I inquired as to the residence’s heating and cooling system, he presented a blank look. “Is it a heat pump?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” he replied.
“How efficient? This is a pretty big house,” I continued.
He smiled a little nervously. “I’m not sure.”
Before I embarrassed him further, I declined to ask about SEER ratings. I mean, what was the point? He wouldn’t know the answer.
Granted, I’m a builder’s daughter and a sometime home and commercial construction writer as well as being an only child raised with all the practical skills one might typically think of a father bestowing on a son. And yes, I grew up outside a small southern mountain town where…you know…men were men. There was no such thing as a man who didn’t know how to drive a stick shift or a tractor (and plenty of women, myself included, counted these among our skills as well).
I could dismiss the above as a case of encountering a city-bred gentlemen of means who had grown up in a family of means where men’s hands remained soft and delicate as a painter’s or a pianist’s.
Only…my dad was a bank president’s son who grew up in town. And I honestly can’t think of anyone on the planet with a more practical set of skills and problem-solving ability than my father. He can repair a backhoe, build a house, and split firewood with gusto in the company of men less than half his age. He can also do trigonometry with a pencil on a block of wood and multiply fractions in his head.
I knew a lot of men like this growing up—my maternal grandfather, my great uncles, neighbors, friends’ fathers. You wouldn’t catch any of them not knowing how to change a flat tire or fix a broken fence…or apologizing for their outlook on the world. So I grew up with the idea that men should be strong, brave, practical, and smart… because I came of age surrounded by men who were teachers, mentors, fixers, and servants to others.
I know I’m going to get serious flak for saying this, but heck, I’m going to say it anyway—the emasculation of men is becoming the norm in our culture (and not just because there are a fair number now who not only wouldn’t deign to change a tire but don’t really know how anyway). And, well-educated, tolerant, capable feminist that I am, I don’t like it, not one bit.
Forgive me, but I think men should behave like men—they should know how to handle life’s basic troubles without blinking or blushing, have a sense of duty toward those they love, be capable of rationally defending themselves and their views, exhibit some emotional courage, and avoid being wishy-washy in the face of conflict or discomfort.
My mother calls my taste in men “fussy.” Fine, whatever. She’s married to my dad after all. She has it pretty good.
What I don’t like is a fussy man. Yeah, so I also recently dated a guy who spent more time styling his hair in the morning than I did, and along with that perfect coif came the most finely pressed and expensive clothes—clothes you’d never dream of wearing while changing a flat tire or having a spontaneous picnic on the grass. And while we regularly received compliments while about town on what a handsome pair we made, I couldn’t help but find something problematic in dating a man I could not possibly imagine ever setting foot in the woods or starting a campfire.
I’ll take the “post-kegger” look any day over activity-inhibiting wardrobe drama.
Perhaps even worse are the men who are so polite and agreeable, fearful of ruffling anyone’s feathers, that they’ll smile and nod at anything, no matter how inane, just to prevent anything remotely looking like conflict…or remotely looking like lively repartee either. And so I order a Manhattan in hopes that doing so will enliven the far too pleasant conversation and then get a look like I’ve just fallen off the moon.
Did I mention a man also ought to know how to drink a frigging cocktail that doesn’t contain pomegranate?
But if I am to be completely frank, these complaints only scratch the surface because modern life seems, if not to favor, at least to tolerate men who fail to support the children they helped bring into the world (does anyone remember the days when such a man would have been shamed into doing his duty?), who feel no particular obligation to do the things they said they were going to do (hence, why I don’t follow politics), and who don’t mean, or regularly deny, the words they speak (though this becomes increasingly harder to do in the age of instant-recording smartphones).
I’m not sure when parental responsibility, keeping one’s word, and telling the truth became optional, but it must have been sometime about 20 or so years ago. Either that or I grew up in a time warp where a kid wouldn’t be able to sit comfortably for a week if he was caught lying. Or maybe, as was the case with me, he or she would just hide in the woods for hours until Dad hopefully “forgot” the lie or the lack of follow-through on a commitment.
There was no shirking responsibility, hard work, or honesty in the world where I was raised, and men were expected to toe that line particularly hard. And to know how to fix shit (by which I mean tangible shit, not the tears of women). And to stand up for themselves. And to sacrifice when the need arose for family, for friends, and for principles.
These days “sacrifice” is no longer part of the language of love, and we fling the word “hero” around so much, it has become virtually meaningless.
Before you suggest I was raised on a steady diet of fairytales, let me point out a few things: Winston Churchill was known to walk the streets of London during the Blitz; the Little Rock Nine endured confrontation by National Guardsmen, taunts and spitting by angry whites, and death threats in their commitment to attend Arkansas’ all-white Central High School in 1957; over 400 emergency services personnel sacrificed their lives trying to rescue victims of the World Trade Center collapse on Sept. 11, 2001.
These people were heroes who also knew a thing or two about sacrifice. People who undergo a sex change are not heroes; they are just people undergoing a sex change. NFL players are not heroes; they are just guys who play ball really well and make a lot of money.
But as a culture, we are so quick to make everyone feel good that we toss the word “hero” and “winner” around into a million situations where it’s unwarranted.
And then we demand apologies from anyone who says anything another person or segment of society might find offensive, as if we as a culture no longer honor diversity of viewpoint or freedom of speech. Our insistence that everyone is a hero and that we all pretend to get along by at least talking the same talk not only emasculates men (who tend to be the ones doing most of the apologizing); it emasculates American culture; it castrates the ideals of individuality and freedom of expression upon which our country was founded.
Is it any wonder so many boys today never grow into men? They are coming of age in a culture of low expectations, of minimal hardship. In this context, it should be no surprise young combat soldiers come back from Iraq and Afghanistan with PTSD. What’s it like to watch your friends blown to bits by IEDs and then return home to a place where young men are so glued to their smartphones they can’t even make sure their kids are safe and sound on the playground much less have any concept of what it’s like to save someone’s life or watch someone die.
Courage, conviction, and commitment are in short supply because we lack the outlets to exercise them. This is particularly the case for men, many of whom are no longer raised to see themselves as future providers and protectors. (And I’m not saying women can’t be providers and protectors, too, but mainstream American culture isn’t interfering with the social imperatives that encourage female valor.)
A few years ago, when a friend of mine was considering marriage to her then boyfriend, a second friend of mine asked her pointedly, “Do you feel womanly in his arms?” And in case you’re a man reading this and wondering what that means, it basically translates into, “Do you trust him? Do you feel safe and cared for? Do you feel like he’d protect you?”
It’s a valid question for women to ask before they tie themselves to a man in this brave new world. Because who wants an untrustworthy, unmotivated coward for a mate? A solid bank account and soft hands don’t cut it in the grand scheme of things. Life is hard, and one shouldn’t make it harder by dragging someone into it who requires a lot of take and has very little give other than cash.
And in this country, we’re supposed to give. We have historically been the nation that steps in when no one else will. Our men (and women, beginning in World War II) have repeatedly answered the call to arms on behalf of beleaguered republics and social democracies as well as on behalf of the disenfranchised and tormented.
But it’s easy to let the disenfranchised here at home carry the burden of sacrifice. Service is no longer a rite of passage in this country; it is less and less a value passed from parent to child, teacher to student. Fewer and fewer of us will know men who keep old uniforms tucked in the backs of closets, who will carry the groceries of old women, or give up the materialism of American holidays to work in a soup kitchen.
In our uber prosperous American culture, too many young men come of age without any awareness that everything could change in an instant…and zero practical preparation for it, much less any preparation for being good fathers, husbands, and citizens.
Posted by Ben Weaver on Sep 27, 2015 in Men
I’ve never been a person who valued conventional beauty. I never had a crush on a cheerleader or anyone who was a candidate for homecoming queen. In my dating history, I’ve demonstrated tolerance for poochy bellies and big asses; it’s true. I’ve been much more keen on ladies with good taste in music and bad taste in jokes than ones with the “right” dress size or perfect hair and nails.
This proclivity has not escaped the attention of my friends; by the time I hit my mid-twenties, I had earned the nickname “Buffalo Soldier” among certain circles. As one of my (female) friends said, “The girls Ben dates are nice and have pretty faces, but they do tend to have, well, uh, you know…” (as she makes the universal gesture for “big in the ass”). Guilty as charged. I guess it’s just never mattered that much to me. Hell, maybe I even like it that way.
Speaking only for myself, though, I have a pretty high self-monitor when it comes to my body, borne from a childhood of shopping in the husky section and having a father who weighed around 400 pounds at his biggest.
When one summer I was turned down for participation in not one but TWO games of spin-the-bottle, I vowed to shape up and keep myself in check, an endeavor I’ve honored with varying degrees of success (not always easy when your two favorite digestible items in the world are fried chicken and beer). Like many people, I have some neurotic thinking about food and body image, but I don’t generally let that stop me from eating what I want and still mowing the lawn without a shirt on.
I propose to you a couple of admittedly leading questions: Ladies, have you ever dated someone who was shorter than you? Conversely, gentlemen, have you ever gone out with someone taller?
I can personally speak to the latter. As a guy who hits 5’8” in shoes and has dated plenty of ladies bigger than myself in most regards, I can tell you, people will give you looks. Your “friends” will comment. My former wife had standard retorts for the number of times she was asked, “Isn’t it weird being with a guy who’s shorter than you? Can you not wear heels when you go out?” (A: “Short guys are better in the sack” & “He likes it when I wear heels. He calls me his Amazon bride!”)
How about a man dating a woman who is taller and weighs more ? Lord knows that I’ve taken my fair share of ribbing . When I was younger, my friends made up names for my girlfriends like Brawny, ‘Squatch, and The Original Tatonka. Not cool, guys.
Here’s my point of contention: there exists an odd duality in society’s rules concerning size, weight, and relationships.
On one hand, love is supposed to be blind; it is considered shallow to be preoccupied with external characteristics of others, and we romanticize sapiosexual relationships in books and film. On the other hand, these epic love interests are portrayed in the modern media by people with bodies so sculpted that one has to wonder how they salvage time for a relationship in the first place, given their gym and protein smoothie schedules.
We all know reality rarely looks like a glistening Fabio on the cover of a novel with a title like The Gentle Rogue or an airbrushed Amy Adams in some role requiring her to don a princess get-up. Reality, more often, resembles a film about the infiltration of a bondage and domination resort starring Rosie O’Donnell and Dan Aykroyd.
Each and every one of us is destined for a future of saggy asses and arm flaps if we’re lucky enough to live that long. Have you seen a picture of Keith Richards lately? He’s not even doing that bad for a chain smoking 71-year-old. Might as well get over it already: you’re heading for the realm of people nobody wants to see naked.
(If you’re reading this, Amy Adams, I don’t think you need the airbrush. I was just trying to be funny. You are beautiful just the way you are. Call me.)
Age really is the great equalizer. The older I get, the less physical characteristics matter compared to, say, the way they treat people who work in the service industry or their propensity to laugh at a fart. I see these attitudes more in the friends I keep, too, as life rolls on. What good is it spending time with someone who’s “model hot” if you can’t stand her half the time or she treats you like shit?
Even worse, what if her taste in music sucks? The absurdity of imposing those kinds of concessions on one’s intimate personal life confounds me. People who want to make them can have their spoils. As for myself, as I enter the back half of my lifespan, it seems as important as ever that I round it out with people whose beauty I may still be able to recognize as I squint upward through my bifocals at their wrinkled, bejowled faces.
Posted by Deborah Huso on Sep 1, 2015 in Motherhood
The very first time I had an anxiety attack, I didn’t know what was happening. It was early morning, my newborn daughter had just woken up crying, I knew I had deadlines demanding attention in the office, I’d had no sleep (having lain awake all night waiting for her cry), and all of the sudden my heart was pounding as if it would burst right out of my chest, and I felt cold sweats racing up and down my spine, my arms, my hands.
“Am I having a heart attack?” I wondered.
And no small part of me almost hoped I was: visions of a hospital bed where I could lie and do nothing all day while people brought me bland food I would not want to eat. Relaxation and weight loss coming right up!
And then I wondered, is this really what my life has come to? Having a heart attack is now a vacation plan?
But it wasn’t a heart attack, though in the years since that first incident, I have more than once wished I was experiencing some real physical calamity as opposed to anxiety. As a friend of mine, also a sufferer from anxiety, told me recently, “Physical pain is so much easier to bear.”
I agree. Doctors can fix a heart attack, or you die…either way, the trauma ends.
Anxiety has no endpoint, no pacemaker, no magic bullet to knock it out, so you can go home a new and improved person who can breathe again without hyperventilating.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 40 million American adults suffer from anxiety. That’s about 18 percent of the population. Most of them are women.
I’d wager the degree of suffering is much greater. Way more than half of my female friends and acquaintances suffer from it, and those are just the ones who admit it. Or maybe I just hang out with really high-strung, Type A folks who don’t know how to tramp down stress and trauma with a shot of bourbon and Netflix.
I sure as hell don’t.
I prefer to lie awake in bed, not wanting to get out, while my heart races at the speed of light and I’m encompassed by a pressing sense of dread. Eek, is that a laundry basket over there filled with dirty clothes? Damn it. Cold sweats. iPhone bleeps at me. I hunker down a little lower.
The anxiety in this house is so pervasive, even the dog has it. Though I acknowledge, he’s a pound puppy, so I have to forgive him for howling every time I leave the house and then hiding under the dining room table whenever I lose my shit with my daughter, which is more frequent than I’d like to admit. Pooping in my walk-in closet? Um no, not excused.
They make anxiety meds for dogs, you know.
I remain skeptical. I am not giving my dog Xanax.
But the fact that I could is a little alarming. The fact that nearly 30 percent of Americans will suffer anxiety at some point in their lives is also alarming, especially given that is the highest rate of anxiety disorder in the developed world. Again, I expect it’s more.
From where I’m sitting, it looks like an epidemic. And I have to wonder why….
I once believed anxiety was the body’s physical response to a situation that isn’t right. Do you get anxiety every time your husband walks in the door? Time to get a divorce. Do you have panic attacks in the bathroom at work? Time to get a new job.
But it’s really not that simple. As the mother of one of my best friends (who was a practicing psychologist for 30+ years told me once), “anxiety is fear that you cannot handle what life throws at you.”
Or rather what we throw at ourselves….
I admit I am a culprit in my own suffering. In the course of the last year alone, I moved my entire household from a community where I had spent the vast majority of my adult life, put my daughter in a new school, then put her in another new school this fall, fell in love and got serious about a man who couldn’t commit, attempted to paint an entire house all by myself in the wee hours of the morning for weeks on end, expanded my business times three, garnered nearly 20 new clients as a result, and then decided it would be a good idea to bring an anxiety-ridden dog into my life because, you know, a single working mother could always use another dependent to look after….
Did I mention I’m about to give up on having a clean house, folded laundry, and weed-free flowerbeds?
I cannot do it.
And that is the hardest thing for us anxiety sufferers to admit.
A few years ago, one of my best friends and I were riding a trolley in a historic southern city when a young woman seated across from us leaned over and said to me, “I’m having an anxiety attack. Can you help me? I need to get off this thing.”
Well, heck yeah. I’m old hat at this shit. My girlfriend got the trolley driver to stop, and the three of us got off and walked at least a couple dozen blocks back to our inn, where we poured our new friend lots of complimentary sherry while talking about this phenomenon called anxiety. Our new friend was in her late 20s, newly married, a successful writer, and well, should she not be in seventh heaven?
And there it is—the dreaded “should” word with which anxiety sufferers pelt themselves daily as if in penance for not having sharp, ironed curtains and cats that religiously use the litterbox.
Almost all my anxiety attacks, which I regret to report have worsened with age (or perhaps with the additional “I should do” duties that come with age), are the result of “I shoulds”:
- I should not be “overdue” on so many projects at work
- I should empty my inbox and be more on top of things
- I should delete the 40 “unheard” voice mail messages on my cell phone
- I should be a more involved and present mom
- I should play with my daughter more
- I should help my parents more
- I should be in an emotionally mature relationship with a man who has his shit together
- I should exercise more
- I should actually eat breakfast
- I should have a cleaner house
- I should not let laundry sit in the basket for so long
- I should weed my flowerbeds more frequently
- I should get new tires on the car
- I should clean out the garage
- I should call my friends more
And the “shoulds” wear on me until I can do no more than hit “snooze” on the alarm, crawl deeper under the covers, and avoid this thing called life for 10 minutes more. “Snooze” again. So 20 minutes more.
What’s even worse? Sometimes I will try to stay up all night just so I don’t have to wake up and feel anxious as soon as I open my eyes in the morning. I’m sure you can imagine how much sleep deprivation helps with the anxiety business.
I long ago gave up on thinking I will ever outrun anxiety. I really have tried everything—even had a couple of doctors try to kill me (unintentionally, of course) with drugs that made me want to climb the walls. The result is I’m now terrified to take any medication short of aspirin.
And try deep breathing and meditating right after someone has given you what feels like, at that moment, the most devastating news of your life. Sorry, panic coaches, my brain is far too sophisticated for your tricks. It can and will have an anxiety attack anywhere anytime just from hearing “that song” on the radio in the grocery store.
Yet supposedly anxiety sufferers are truly awesome people—hard workers with higher than average IQs, deeply analytical minds; they are more empathic, good team players. In fact, if you want a high-achieving employee who will go the extra mile, break the EOE rules and ask that interviewee if she suffers from anxiety. If the answer is “yes,” you can be sure she’ll do a bang-up job!
That’s just how we roll.
And maybe that’s the problem.
Why do we care so much?
You have no idea how we stand like dejected animals in a cage looking out at all those people who don’t have anxiety, have never known it in their lives. You know the ones. They’re totally okay with a sink full of dirty dishes. Fuck it. I’m going to have a beer and go watch TV, they say without a moment’s guilt. Meanwhile I can’t sit still in a chair unless I know everything is done, and how often do you suppose everything is done in the life of a writer always on deadline?
I get tired of being told that I should embrace my anxiety, that I should be grateful I feel deeply, that I’m capable of the great depths of love, joy, pain…all those things that make us human and make life rich…if far from easy. Heck, if you read my blog posts with any regularity, you know I spout out all these things myself. In my heart, I know their truth. In the here and now, heart racing, I just want to feel like I’m not losing my mind. And I understand how addictions start, why people run from risk, why the emotionally wounded will often close the door on human connection, why people lose themselves in TV, on social media, in emotional eating.
I get it.
But that’s just my extra special compassion because I have anxiety, right?
What I don’t have, however, is an answer, a way to tie this all up neatly with a bow, and say something pithy you can carry with you to call upon the next time anxiety hits you in your gut. It’s epidemic, and I am among the walking survivors.