Help for Healing

Bitter & Sweet, living daily with grief


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At 50?

I can’t believe at age 50 I feel like I’m back to square one. I know I’m not alone in this. Who would have ever believed that the big questions like career and partners would still be up in the air and a struggle when your life is more than half over?

I did a presentation this week about two hours away. A whole group of us participated in a death/dying conference like the ones we had done in Buffalo. It went great. Almost every speaker was dynamite and the audience seemed receptive and even enthusiastic.

I was the last speaker of the day which was tough because I knew everyone was tired. It went over extremely well though and I knew I had reached people by the feedback. The problem was, I didn’t make a penny.

So frustrating. I know I possess a good skill set. I can speak and I can write. I can do them both very well. The other panelists all came from companies or hospitals they represent. They are getting “paid” because it is part of their salary. I’m the only lone ranger in that sense so if there isn’t a speaking stipend (which 90% of the time there is not) then I can only hope I sell books.

I didn’t sell one book. I watched the woman next to me sell about 10 books. Same topic, different angle. Both of us good speakers. WTF?

This is not new. This is the scenario 99% of the time. I am well past the point of being able to write/speak simply because it is helpful to others. My heart is there, but my pocketbook is not. I am the sole breadwinner in my house. I have a family to provide for. And my social security is being cut in half in less than a year. Holy crap that is scary.

I’m going to have to reinvent my career and I have no idea what to do. Well, actually I have tons of ideas, but knowing which path to follow is confusing at best. Add coping with severe depression on almost a daily basis now, and it is beyond overwhelming.

What do I want to be when I grow up?

I thought that was settled years ago. I even had a brave moment this week and attempted to go on a date. I got stood up. I know it isn’t personal because we hadn’t even met yet, but cripes. Stick your toe back in and find out the water is frigid.

That’s was scary about being so depressed. You have to take risks in life and be proactive if you want to meet your goals. But if you are already down and out, you can’t afford to fail. At anything. What a freaking catch-22.

For the moment then, I will just stay stuck. Not sure what the heck to do with myself. I know I can’t stay this way, but I’m terrified to do anything else, with any of these areas of my life.

Maybe 80 is the new 50. Maybe I just have to wait another 30 years and things will fall into place. One can only hope :).

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Same Old

Hate to be negative, but I write best when I write about what is genuine inside of me. Unfortunately, for those of you that prefer the glass half full, I have struggled with depression for years.

I woke up twice last night with hot flashes. It made me wonder if menopause is adding to my decline. I know that the older I get, the less I seem able to cope. You would think that with age comes wisdom and experience. For me, it seems like I just carry the accumulation of blows without ever fully healing. Nothing has changed drastically in my life, I just don’t cope as well anymore.

The last couple of days have been bad again. Yesterday I couldn’t force myself out of bed until 11, and then by 1 I had a full on crying spell. I panicked. I was so scared that I was having another breakdown like I did in August. And I promised myself I would never go there again. What happened?

Unlike lots of depressed people, I don’t isolate when I tank, I reach out. I followed my gut and turned to an interesting trio of people. One was my doctor. The upshot of that, is that we are going to mess with my meds a bit. I am waiting to hear from her today to figure out which option we are taking. I only want to try one strategy at a time so you can know what and if it works.

The second person I called was my former pastor. I don’t have contact with him anymore and I have no idea what made me reach out to him. He called me back relatively quickly. The upshot of that is that he is going to meet with me sometime in the near future. Quite honestly, there really isn’t anything to say that is going to make things better. Yet the alternative is to do nothing but live in the hopelessness. So I am waiting to hear back on his schedule.

The third person I called was my former spiritual director. I haven’t seen her in years. I expected to leave a message but she answered. I found myself unable to spit much out verbally. She told me to come right over.

In the end, she said what I suspected. There really aren’t any words of inspiration to offer. But she was willing to try to help me on an energy level which she did. The conversation did yield one shift in my articulation of how I feel. I have no idea if it is an important shift or not, but it is all I have.

The bottom line is this. I don’t want to exist. Suicide is not an option. Now what?

The trigger has been the same for almost four decades now. I keep describing it the same way. I hate being alone. I am very capable of being alone, just don’t like it. Can’t seem to accept it. But after talking with her, I wondered if it is more accurate to say this: I hate knowing there is no one out there in the world that loves me in the way a healthy significant other loves. Then I realize I sound like a child having a temper tantrum. So I can’t have what I want. That is everybody’s story. Why does it crush me in a way that seems to be so different from everyone else?

I have no idea.

The other thought we touched on, was that maybe fleeting moments is all there is to experience. I had two months with Jay. I had six weeks with the salesperson I dated a few years ago, and I had five months with Tim during the time when he was dying. The most powerful connection was definitely with Jay. That doesn’t seem like much time in a life of 50 years, but maybe that is more than most people get?

I’ve been pondering on that, but the end result doesn’t really change much. I’m still left with where I am at. Which is where I am usually at. Where I have been at most of my adult life. This thing I am missing in my life seems to be larger than the big picture of my life. I see it happening but I don’t know how to change it. I have pockets of good times and experiences, but the rabbit holes are just a matter of time. And the older I get, the less time I have in between the episodes. The episodes result in going to sleep and praying that I don’t wake up the next day.

It’s no way to live, but what choice do I have?


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Frustrating “Treatments”

It is well-known that sometimes when you treat a condition, you create another problem. All you have to do is listen to the medication commercials and hear all the possible side effects. My dad went through this recently. He had a hernia operation. That was successful, but for no known reason, it threw his bladder into chaos. He got a foley to relieve that, then got a UTI (most likely from the foley) and developed severe sepsis. The only way to treat that is with antibiotics, but they also had to drain the urine with the bacteria. Foley back in.  If that’s not a vicious circle…

I was recently talking to a close friend about depression. I probably have known this for a long time, but I had never consciously articulated it. I don’t know any official statistics, but I think the majority of people who suffer from more severe bouts of depression tend to isolate themselves. Sometimes you don’t know for days or even weeks because you don’t see them or talk to them. For whatever reason, I am the opposite. I am like, “Hey! I’m depressed. I need you to get over here ASAP.” I have no idea why, it’s just the way it is.

After recently falling into record lows for myself, as well as interacting with people I love who also struggle, I am reminded of what I have been telling clients for years. Medication is definitely helpful and probably even required. There are a whole lot of other “interventions” that have been deemed useful as well. Most of them are common sense things that relate to health in general. Eat healthy (avoid sugar!). Exercise. Do activities that you love and/or fill you with pleasure. Interact with support people.

Here’s the frustrating part. How the heck do you do any of those things when you are depressed? They are helpful in preventing depression. They might even be helpful if you struggle a bit with the blues but don’t really cross over into actual depression. But if you are really depressed? Forget it.

Eat healthy? Lots of people eat nothing. How can you when you don’t get out of bed? Lots of people eat crummy foods. I go back and forth between the two. Eating healthy requires more prep and work. If I am lucky enough to move around the house, I’m going to grab what is easy. AND… I’m going to eat what I like instead of what I should. There’s another vicious cycle. Carbs taste great on the way down, sometimes briefly lifting my mood. Then you crash even harder after the sugar high goes away. Plus you feel bad about yourself because you  know you are going to gain weight and not feel so great about your attractiveness level.

When I crashed a few weeks ago, I had gone out to the pool. I was out of earshot of Frankie that way. Plus, I didn’t feel as bad about the friends who were staying with me if they were sitting in the sun. The problem was, I knew I was starting to get sunburned. It was also contributing to my light-headed feeling which then was adding to my panic symptoms. I knew it was happening, but I couldn’t move. Eventually, my peeps took a beach towel or two and soaked them in the pool water. They laid them over my body so I would at least stop getting burned.

If you’ve never experienced this kind of debilitating depression, that probably sounds crazy to you. How could you not just get up and walk back to the house? I remember a brief conversation about moving to the gazebo but that would have required moving furniture around. The mere thought paralyzed me. Way, way too hard.

Simple solutions. Impossible to do at certain moments in your life. Sure, do these things to get out of depression. Just know you probably can’t do them if you are depressed. Frustrating, to say the least.

If you love someone who struggles, please just be patient. Listen and listen some more. It will be tempting to offer a host of suggestions that would seem simple and possible to the average person. But trust me when I say, there are times when you just can’t.

Thanks again to my many friends and loved ones who sat and sat with me, and knew to put cool coverings on me. If you are loved by someone who can accept you at your lowest points, you are truly lucky. (Of course, when in the middle of your struggle, you might know it intellectually, but it won’t make a difference in the quality of your life in that moment.) That’s ok, because those kind of people stick by you anyway.


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Self-Reflection

Recently, someone told me that I don’t seem to do as much reflecting on myself as I do criticizing others.  For those of you that have known me for several years, I’m guessing you are as surprised to hear that as I am.  I suppose I know a few individuals who interrogate themselves as much as I do, but I honestly don’t think I have ever met anyone who is harder on themselves than I am.

So how would an intelligent person make that observation?

You will find this shocking, but of course this has sent me on a deep dive into the inner recesses of myself in all of its glory and ugliness. It has caused a wide divide in my heart. Part of me wants to lash out angrily and say, “Stop it! You have spent years learning how to be confident in your intuitions. Your therapist (Scott) has literally spent over 16 years getting you to believe your judgements. And he has met many of my peeps personally. Dear Darren has spent the last couple of years convincing you that you are full of love and light, more than you had allowed yourself to believe. You are not perfect, but you do some things extremely well.”

The other side of the divide, is frankly the side that I have spent most of my life on. It’s much more familiar to me, and therefore much more comfortable. It is the part of me that I understand and yet is completely an unknown to me at the same time. It is the part that I mostly loathe. It is the part that makes me second guess every thought that comes into my head. It is a torturous part. And it is fully awakened now.

Even if it is true that I can be accurate often in my assessment of my self and others, what right does that give me to say any of it out loud? Just because I am capable of judging fairly, should I not be trying to curb the human urge to judge at all?

More troubling still, are the times that I find (always in hindsight) that I have overwhelmed someone or scared them with my intensity. I have no idea how I do it, which makes it almost impossible to control. I remember back in graduate school when a classmate sought me out to get me know me better and then I had to listen to her in group therapy talking about how I swallowed her up. All I had done was respond back to her letters she sent me. I don’t really understand it anymore now 20+ years later than I did back then. Seemed unfair to me, but nevertheless, that is how she felt.

There really isn’t any particular point to this blog. Just blabbing about what is going on in my cluttered, troubled head and heart. It’s not so pretty right now. I’m trying to fairly self-reflect without falling down the bitter rabbit hole of depression. It’s good for me to examine myself because I’m far from perfect. But cross your fingers and say some prayers that something positive and productive comes from it, rather than just useless self-loathing.


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Undercover Depression

I recently met a man at a party. He was very funny and outgoing. It was obvious that the people around him interacted often with him and were very fond of him. He certainly added to the level of fun that was happening. We spent a little one on one time together after that, and he ended up telling me that I would probably be surprised to know that he struggles with depression. I told him I was indeed surprised, but after some thought I wasn’t surprised at all. My response was also that he would probably be surprised to know that I struggle with depression as well. See, I was also pretty fun at that party. I have a decent sense of humor and can usually crack people up in a crowd.

Today I had lunch with one of my oldest friends. Ok, she is not old, but I have been friends with her for a long, long time. If you had to describe her, the word that pops into most people’s minds first is bubbly. She has an infectious laugh and usually has a crowd in stitches. I don’t get to see her very often, but over the years I have gathered some stories that have let me know that under the beautiful smile are also years of struggle and tears. Today, she talked about her struggle with depression.

At first glance, my thought was that people like the three of us can use our humor and outgoing personalities to mask our depression. I guess that is possible. But I decided I am rejecting that idea. Something about that sounds like our antics are not genuine somehow. It seems like a negative. I prefer to think we are “AND” people. We are fun-loving and witty AND we also struggle with depression. It isn’t necessarily some kind of cover-up. And I would also say, “thank God!” Can you imagine being depressed and not having the other side of you that can laugh and bring joy to others? That would really stink.

I’m about to start publishing a new book and I already told the author I would take the book on, but wanted him to know I disagreed with him philosophically. He is one of those extremely positive people who thinks that every person needs to choose how they view life. Period. I asked him if he had ever personally dealt with depression. He said no as I expected him to. I told him that anyone that truly has struggled with it, would never suggest that they could simply choose not to be. Trust me, if there was a way to choose it away, we would.

There isn’t a soul alive that knows anything about me that could say I haven’t tried to eliminate the depression. I have tried dozens of medications over the years. I have seen psychiatrists and therapists. I have gone to spiritual directors. I have done acupuncture treatment. I have tried doing nothing. I have recited positive affirmations til I’m blue in the face. I have kept gratitude journals. I have depression. It is what it is. AND I also can be a barrel of laughs. That is what it is too.

Those of you that wrestle with depression will know exactly what I’m talking about. Those of you that love people who struggle with depression, need to know that depression isn’t a result of you not caring enough or loving enough. And those of you that just judge others, well, shame on you. Just thank your lucky stars that you don’t have it. And for those of you that look at others with envy because they seem so happy and free, just know that perhaps that person may also have very, very dark moments that make them wither.

Ok, off my soap box now.


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Medical Favorites: The Mammogram

It’s that time of year for me. The yearly ob/gyn appointment, which leads to the yearly mammogram. It’s a favorite day for women everywhere. A few years ago there was all this hype because they were recommending only getting them every two years. The biggest reason is that they just cause so much damn stress for women.

I went Monday and it started off the usual way. Pink top, open in front. Arms up. Smooshed breasts, etc. Nothing attractive. When you get a good tech it is not terribly painful. Very uncomfortable, but not actually painful. Then you go in the special waiting room with the other women in the pink tops. They bring you a carnation when they clear you to leave.

“Do you want the new 3D mammogram? It is $60 if your insurance won’t cover it.”

“No thanks. My insurance won’t cover it. I already know that.” That was my first mistake.

I watch several women get their flowers and leave. I always take a long time. I start the usual mental gymnastics of talking in my head. Don’t get nervous, that’s bad for you. You always wait and worry and you are always ok. It actually got explained to me this time, partly by the poster on the wall and partly by the tech. There are four levels of breast density, A through D. I am a level C. Dense breasts make for difficult readings.

That’s what the tech tells me when she pulls me out of the room to talk to me without bringing me a flower.

“Because you are a level C, your doctor now has a standing order for you for a follow-up ultrasound after your mammogram.”

“Ok. I know I’ve had them before.”

“You should know it costs $200 if your insurance won’t cover it.” Crap, they should’ve told me I was getting a bargain earlier with the 60 bucks.

“Ok. So will you call insurance before?”

“No. You have to call them. You can use this room.”

This is when I start to get infuriated. I go through this with my orthotics too. Since when is it the patient’s job to make medical calls? I happen to lecture in the medical field and know how to be a patient advocate, but the average person does not have that experience. And even with that under my belt, I still am lost with this one. My niece works in a medical office and she explained that there are thousands of insurance companies that all have different rules. I get it, but isn’t that why docs hire office staff?

So you know how this goes. On hold. On hold. Verify who you are a thousand times.

“I’m sorry, what is the technical term for the procedure?”

I ask the tech.

“Breast ultrasound.” She seems a little shocked by the question because it wasn’t a tricky answer.

On hold. On hold.

“I’m sorry, but we need to speak to a medical professional about this.”

“Gee, that’s what I suggested.”

I walk over to the tech and have to practically force her to take the phone. She gives the woman the medical code and hands me back the phone.

I feel like pickle in the middle and I think this entire scenario is ridiculous. I’m now on hold again and this time there are two confused techs standing in the doorway because they can’t believe I can’t get a straight answer from my insurance company. I can’t believe I’m the one trying to get the straight answer.

“Good news. Your insurance will cover the ultrasound, but only if your doctor has pre-authorized it.”

I repeat it to the two techs in the doorway like a parrot who look at each other and shrug their shoulders. They have never heard of such a thing. Is that the same thing as a standing order? Back and forth, back and forth.

Finally I have enough.

“I WANT TO GO HOME. CAN I PLEASE JUST GO HOME? I’VE HAD ENOUGH.” I am now crying at this point. The techs feel terrible and say of course I can go home. I hang up the phone and I go take off the hated pink shirt.

On my way out, the techs try to nicely tell me the test can be done anytime. I just need to straighten out the insurance thing and reschedule. I ask her if anything in the regular mammogram came back questionable. She said no. I told her I wasn’t straightening anything out through my tears. I tell her I’m not coming back. And because my depression level has been super bad for 24 hours before I ever walked in the door, I tell her I don’t even care if I have cancer.

(Now right now, I apologize deeply to my dear, dear brave friends who have survived breast cancer. Several of you amazing powerhouses read my blog, so please know I mean no disrespect. All I can say is that depression makes you think terrible thoughts. That day I was sure that a mistake had been made and I was the one who was supposed to have cancer and die instead of Tim. Frankie desperately needs his father. At the time, I meant it, but I know it’s depressed thinking. Forgive me?)

Sometimes I just shake my head and wonder what has happened to the world. When did it get all mixed up? Why the hell was I even on the phone trying to get medical codes? Aren’t I the patient? I got the flower because they didn’t find cancer, but I admit I came home and threw it out. I was just angry. And I spent almost two hours in that office.

The next day my doctor’s office called. I assumed they were going to talk to me about the debacle of the day before. Nope. Just wanted me to know my pap came back positive for HPV virus. She explained it’s something you can get the first time you ever have sex, it just doesn’t show up. Nothing to worry much about though, just make sure you come every year to your check ups so we can keep on eye on you.

I always go to my appointments but I ask her what they are keeping an eye on? Oh. Higher risk of cervical cancer.

Perfect. I figured that’s just the universe being pissed off at me for saying the day before that I didn’t care if I got cancer.

I love being a woman.


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Ally McBeal

I absolutely love Netflix. Since the summer, I have really been working at being more comfortable being alone. Truth be told, the magic answer was in putting Netflix on my phone. I can lay in my bed for hours and hours and watch stuff on my phone. I watch series that start with the very first season and watch until I’ve completed it.

First, I watched Breaking Bad. I loved and hated it. I was so disturbed by it, I can’t even watch that actor in another movie now. No amount of reality talking in my head about how he was a real human just playing a fictional character will do it. I hate that Walter dude, no matter where I see him.

I decided in order to avoid a psychotic break, I needed to switch gears. I watched Friends. Ten freaking sessions. And you remember the old days. A season was actually 26 episodes, not seven like they do now.

Currently, I am switching back and forth between two series – Criminal Minds and Ally McBeal. I am convinced now that I am in season eight of Criminal Minds, that I am an excellent profiler. Put me on a serial killer case and I could figure it out. Of course, I’m no Spencer Reid, but he is one of a kind.

Then there is Ally McBeal. I used to watch her after I was divorced and had moved back to the Buffalo area. I loved her. Now that I am re-watching her, I know why. I swear, I AM Ally McBeal. The description of her show describes her as “unlucky in love.” I can certainly wear that label proudly.

She is incredibly quirky, which makes me giggle out loud when I watch. She is also terribly klutzy, which I unfortunately am also quite good at.  I asked a friend today what I should blog about, and he said thankfulness. It reminded me of an episode that I watched recently.

It was Thanksgiving, and Ally’s roommate walked into the living room to find her kicking their expensive couch cushions across the room. Ally was on a roll, being “thankful” for all the blessings in her life. It is hard to explain, but she was clearly being sarcastic. And yet she wasn’t. Overall, she is grateful and positive, but when you are “supposed” to be thankful, and then thankfulness is supposed to be the secret key to finding happiness, you can get pretty sarcastic.

So she went on with her list of items she was grateful for, and concluded with how especially grateful she was that Christmas was around the corner. She said the word Christmas with such disdain, it sounded like a curse word.

Only people who have experienced loneliness – I mean true, gut-wrenching loneliness – will understand that disdain. Holidays completely suck when you are lonely. Christmas is one of the worst.

Don’t get me wrong. I believe in being thankful. I believe thankfulness is a powerful, powerful force in our lives. But I also know that there should never been an assumption that if you are sad, lonely, or in a depression, that the anecdote is necessarily learning to be grateful for your blessings. I believe with all my heart that I have recognized many, many blessings and amazing human beings that I am heartily grateful for (pun intended) and yet still experience profound sadness, loneliness, or depression. In fact, when you know all these things, you just add guilt to your list of negative affects because you know there are plenty of people out there who have less than you do. What right do I have to feel depressed?

Anyhow, even though it’s not Thanksgiving, try to revisit Ally McBeal. You will laugh your buns off, and you will probably also understand me on a different level. By the way, I’m currently NOT experiencing a lot of loneliness or depression, which I am VERY grateful for! 🙂