The Gender Of Love

I have determined the gender of love.
The world gathers round.
Some pray tearfully,
Some joyfully,
Some don't pray at all.
 
Watching sun descend,
I set the heavy book on altar.
It's two hands are weak
Against sensations held within.

She's there! 

Rising out of written words
On decaying paper she dances. 
Converting ancient language to newborn song,
Telling of her longing.
Her gently luscious voice 
Is the vibrations of the world.
Waves of us
Fall to our knees,
But right before we propose ourselves and the world 

She stills and shifts to He.

A stone who grows in height. 
And in his flight
Turns his head.
Left and pausing 
Right and pausing.
Then looks down, and bends to page
And with a pen
Records her song again.
Adding in how all will be achieved
Loyalty to life.
His instructive words
Are the math of the world. 
Waves of us
Fall to our knees,
But right before we propose ourselves and the world 

He stills and shifts to She. 
 
Some pray tearfully,
Some joyfully.

(September 2021)

This Christmas I reflect with Gratitude on:

This Christmas I reflect with gratitude on:

(In no particular order…)

My Grandma

My Grandma has a comforting presence to me, her energy is a Mother’s love. She’s never ceased being amazed by the blessings and wonders each day brings – whether it’s snapping green beans on the back porch for dinner, catching fireflies in summer, gathering in her den enjoying conversation, feeding the ducks at the pond, the red roses in her garden, a tea party, or a “big adventure” to an amusement park or historical spot. In her presence, my heart has always felt safe and engaged in the wonder of the present moment. I and the world – are wonderful just as we are.

My Grandma has a deep love of Christ. I’ve always noticed the rosaries, bibles, crosses, and images of Jesus and Mary when I visit her. She shared her faith in a gentle and natural way with me, bringing me to church with her when I was a little girl, and speaking openly about how God is her strength and comfort and has carried her through life.

However it was never any words or images of Christ or the cross alone that ever meant all that much to me as a child or as I grew. It was always her, her loving presence and how it made me feel, that stood out as a Heaven on Earth. When I saw a cross, an image of Mary, or Jesus – it was always her I thought of. Therefore, despite growing up in the passionately atheist home of my parents (think Christopher Hitchens) and considering myself an atheist since birth, the cross, Jesus, Mary – Christianity has always radiated to me with the beautiful sacredness of love.

Taken at Grandma’s

Dostoevsky

I was 19 or 20 when I first read Dostoevsky’s novel The Brothers Karamazov. The novel highlighted the clear split between my thinking mind and my feeling heart. My heart connected deeply with the character Alyosha, an aspiring monk, and his mentor, an elder monk named Zosima. I was inspired by the beauty of their wise words, steadfast kindness, and the compassionate stance they tried to take towards every person they met. They quickly became my heart’s favorite fictional characters of all time.

However my mind sided with a different character – Alyosha’s logic focused and atheist brother, Ivan. My mind stood in awe and approval of Ivan’s arguments against the goodness of God, his courageous dedication to brutal truths and logic, and his sharp intelligence. My mind viewed Ivan as having the wisdom and the strength to find the harsh path of reality/the truth and to take it. My mind understood Ivan’s philosophy, words, and actions weren’t very beautiful, but the truth is the truth was the philosophy Ivan and my mind endorsed.

However it seems Alyosha’s and Zosima’s philosophy of love struck something deeper inside of me. A decade later when my inner world went pitch black, the memory of the beauty of their faithful love and compassion was one of the few lights I could find in me. The memory was a blinking arrow directing me to the goodness, the beauty, and the power of Christ like love. That light inspired me to pick up Brothers Karamazov again and then pick up the Bible. It was one the the earliest steps I took on this journey back to self.

Love all God’s creation, the whole and every grain of sand in it. Love every leaf, every ray of God’s light. Love the animals, love the plants, love everything. If you love everything, you will perceive the divine mystery in things. Once you perceive it, you will begin to comprehend it better every day. And you will come at last to love the whole world with an all-embracing love.

Father Zosima (Brothers Karamazov)

“What is hell? I maintain that it is the suffering of being unable to love.” 

Father Zosima (Brothers Karamazov)

My Children

I decided in high school, if not middle school, that I wanted to be a stay at home mom. Being a mother, and being with my children full time their first years, has always felt like a calling to me. So when I had my first child, my son, and I was able to stay at home with him full time I was delighted. It all felt like a dream come true!

And it was a dream, but it was also real life. My first year of motherhood was a colossal adjustment. My son needed a lot of attention, and he knew how to make that need known. The family encouragement and support I had assumed I’d received never showed up. It was just me and my husband and a very fussy baby. That lack of support cut me deeply, and was the start of the painful opening of my eyes to my own childhood. I took great care of my son, but horrible care of myself. I feel shame admitting this, but the truth is resentment towards him started to grow in me. And then a dread I felt in my very soul hit me – as I realized though he could not actually hurt me I could, and likely would, hurt him (I do not mean physically, just emotionally or damaging his understanding of love ,himself, or trust, etc.) And I did not want that to happen! My heart saw the innocence of his little soul and it was a rare time where my mind and heart agreed – there was no doubt that this little baby was more pure and innocent than me.

Thankfully my son, and daughter who was born 2 years later, are the best teachers of love I have ever met. Their authenticity, wonder, innocence, and the endless grace they show me reminded my heart and mind of something I had unknowing lost long ago – the belief in unconditional love. Suddenly unconditional love which was the most good, and beautiful thing, was also a TRUTH. If it was possible, then that meant it was a goal I could strive for. And I wanted to give that so badly to my children. I started learning about and practicing loving unconditionally – and found that is is NOT easy work. Being their mother and growing in this role has been the most terrifying, challenging, and meaningful work I have ever done. It was the very start of this journey back to self.

“I love everything best”

My Son

Fred Rogers

Until I became a parent, I knew almost nothing about Fred Rogers, his philosophy, and his TV show, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. I discovered Fred Rogers though my son’s favorite PBS show Daniel Tiger. I loved how in Daniel Tiger emotions and relationships were the focus. I loved the shows continual emphasis on all emotions being natural and okay – emotions are not hurtful or bad it is how we express them that can be troublesome. The show focused on teaching kids how to appropriately express their emotions.

This mindset about emotions made perfect sense to me, though I knew that wasn’t the mindset I lived by. My instinct was to label much of the inner emotional world as “silly” or “wrong”. My instinct was invalidating emotions. And because of that I struggled to figure out what my own emotions were deep down and had never learned the skill of appropriately expressing them. So I sat right next to my son learning about emotions through Daniel Tiger.

At some point I learned that Daniel Tiger was based off of Fred Rogers’ philosophy and his show Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. So I started watching Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood too. I found his gentle presence and childlike curiosity and joy for life very moving. He seemed to radiate love and safety to me. He would often look at the camera and say some version of “I like you just the way you are”. This stirred up a great deal of internal resistance in my mind. I would feel frustrated, and I observed my mind instinctually retorting “But then how will they/or I improve?”. Sometimes my frustration would boil over and I would even tell my husband “I don’t really agree with that sort of….unconditional praise” and fumble around as to why that was saying something like “this world and the people in it need serious improvement, sorry but we most definitely are NOT okay as we are, and people need to hear and accept that truth and get to work being better.”

But alongside my inner resistance, I couldn’t help but notice part of me was actually very receptive to his message and felt touched by it. A soft and vulnerable part of me, I wasn’t used to seeing, was being brought to the surface by the very words that frustrated the thinking side of me. Sometimes even tears would well up in my eyes at his words of unconditional love and acceptance. I believed him! I believed that he, this stranger, would love me exactly as I was right then, despite everything I’ve done or will do. He would see me, he would listen to me, and he would LOVE me. That belief in the possibility of unconditional love was a powerful and stabilizing force to me. I aspired to be more like him myself, I wanted others (especially my children) to believe in and feel that beautiful love from me. Which sounds a lot life his message that I was likable just the way I was – inspired me to……”improve”. (I’m teasing my mind here, but I have come to learn the somewhat non instinctual truth that – Love not criticism leads to improvement.)

Fred Rogers singing “It’s You I Like” and saying this after “And that’s true. And you’ll find that the people who love you best, are the one’s you learn the most from. And the more they teach you and the more you learn the better feeling you’ll have about yourself and the world we live in”
Fred Rogers singing “There Are Many Ways To Say I Love You”…Followed by these words “As you grow I trust that you are finding many more ways to show and tell people that you love them. Those are the most important things that you’ll ever ever learn to do. Because loving people and animals and the world we all live in is the most important part of being alive.”

My Husband

This year has been a tough one for our marriage – lots of life changes and inner realizations and very little quality alone time together. At points it has felt like our marriage was a chapter in our lives, and it was quickly coming to a close. So it might be surprising for my husband to see himself on this list, but on reflection he shouldn’t be surprised.

In the second half of this year my inner struggles came more clearly to the surface than they ever have in my life. Waves of every emotion I’ve ever felt came out and it changed on a weekly basis. It was messy. Yet, somehow, he never judged me. He’s tried to be there for me even when I pulled away from him and expressed doubt about our marriage surviving this inner change in me. His focused seemed always on getting me back on solid footing. He reassured me he loved me and wanted to see me happy and healthy no matter what that meant for us. His focus wasn’t on what he had to gain or lose – it was my wellbeing. That is unconditional love, and it’s been a beautiful and inspiring thing to see.

He may not be artful in day to day expressions of love, but when times were tough (which is when love is truly tested) he’s displayed his unconditional love clearly. While others, who I thought loved me and would always be there to catch me, fled or at best stood by with criticism, doubts, frustration, invalidation, and wordy advice he reached out with the strongest arms of love he has to try to catch me. And his effort, simply seeing his effort, did steady me in my fall and guided me to softer spot to land. Unconditional love came from an expected source unexpectedly – I clearly have some reflecting to do.

WordPress Friends

At the beginning of my journey back to self I assumed the major changes happening in me were a uniquely “me” experience. It wasn’t until many months into my journey, maybe closer to a year, that I began to suspect I wasn’t alone in this journey. That what I was experiencing was a human experience – like the experience of falling in love, or the experience of missing someone, or the experience of tasting good food.

That’s when I started this blog. I wanted to document my evolving journey ( a human journey) in my sometimes beautiful, sometimes good, but always true inner world. And in this blog I have done that, but this blog has gifted me so much more than I ever expected. It connected me to you! So many people have reached out to share their own experiences and perspectives and what they’ve learned on their journeys in healing, motherhood, faith, creativity, love, and life. I am overwhelmed with gratitude to everyone who has taken time out of their lives to show kindness to me – an internet stranger. My WordPress friends have given me the beautiful gift of feeling seen, encouraged, relatable, understood, deserving of compassion and loved. This blog created to document my journey back to self has become an essential element in my journey back to self.

I will be forever thankful to each of these people who reminded my heart and mind of the truth and power that is Love. That is God.

I Find Love

I find love to be a complex thing 
Yes, even the love Christ brings 
He says he loves me 
But how could that be  
For most of me is faithfully unkind 
I guess he's simply paid me no mind
He replies what is me is past what is seen
I lie in unmanifestable dream - eternally clean
I've paused more, mined silences, surveyed what's within
I've never seen anything other than darkness and Him 

(December 2021)

Sophomore Year Of High School – Me, Anxiety, and Medicine Meet Face to Face

Dinner At Boyfriend’s House

Sophomore year of high school my struggles with anxiety rose clearly to the surface. I was invited to stay for dinner with my first boyfriend’s family. When I sat down for dinner, I saw his father had made hamburgers. I didn’t eat beef because I was terrified of mad cow disease. (*which of course was probably anxiety related though I didn’t think of it that way at the time*). But I didn’t want to be difficult – so I said nothing.

As I sat there trying to eat as little as possible of the burger as politely as possible. My mind and body started to feel incredibly tense and the feeling kept building. My stomach hurt, my mind was racing, I felt nauseous. I started imagining how terrible and awkward it would be to throw up right there at the family dinner or at his house.

And as the minutes passed it was feeling more and more likely. My mind was screaming “get out of here” and I had the urge to be alone. However, I made it through the dinner. And shortly after standing up from the table, I was feeling better. Though still worried I was coming down with something.

When I got home, I told my Dad about the strangely intense feelings and illness at the dinner table. He wasn’t confused. He instead shared with me how both my Aunt and Grandmother have gone to the ER for “heart issues”, to find out that instead what they were experiencing were panic attacks. He said, though his had never led him to the ER, he had felt his body go into a similar mode. My Dad suspected I had just experienced something similar. He reassured me, that though it felt like something horrible was going on in my body, it was actually my body going into fight-or-flight mode. I wasn’t in real danger.

Understanding what had happened reassured me, but didn’t stop it from happening again. This time it occurred at a restaurant with my boyfriend and his family. I retreated to the bathroom and felt an almost instant wave of relief. However, I knew I had to return to the table and going to the bathroom multiple times at dinner felt both socially embarrassing and incredibly awkward. But less embarrassing than throwing up in a restaurant full of people, though I tried to reassure myself that wouldn’t happen. I wasn’t actually sick, there was no reason for me to throw up. I was merely fearing throwing up in a socially embarrassing setting so intensely that my body was freaking out and making my stomach feel very uneasy. (So goes the frustrating logic of anxiety…)

I never told my boyfriend that I was struggling with anxiety or panic issues. I didn’t understand it all well enough myself, and didn’t feel comfortable talking to others about it. I hoped to get it under control soon anyway as I knew it was my mind causing all the chaos. For unrelated reasons my boyfriend and I broke up soon after this all started happening anyway.

Cue Anxiety Showing Me It’s Power

At the very end of my Sophomore Year I started dating someone else. Our very first date/ hang out was outside of school at a very casual restaurant, just me and him. I don’t remember feeling intensely worried about having panic issues there, though I’m sure I must have been nervous.

It was probably about half way through the date that I started feeling nauseous. I went to the restroom, and the sick feeling didn’t subside as quickly as it normally did. I ended up dry heaving, which terrified me. It was the first time, my body was clearly physically trying to throw up due to panic. I stayed in the bathroom taking deep breathes to try to calm down. It took me a while, but I did end up feeling well enough to return. I went back to our table and told him I didn’t feel well.

As we sat on the bench out front waiting for my Mom to pick me up, I still felt pretty unwell. It started building again, and I rushed to an outside trashcan. Where to my surprise and embarrassment, I leaned over and threw up. My boyfriend was kind to me, he appeared to feel nothing but concern for me. Still what a first date, I was mortified!

This experience took my anxiety into overdrive. As I now knew my irrational fear of eating and throwing up around others made the fear not irrational. My fear alone was able to make my body so turned up, I would throw up. This time I did explain to my boyfriend that I was struggling with anxiety around eating, and that is why I threw up on our first date. He was understanding, and we didn’t go on dates to restaurants anymore and I didn’t eat with his family. I had a best friend in high school, we’d been friends for years, who I also opened up to about what I was experiencing.

At this point the anxiety and panic was starting to expand though. Situations where a bathroom or trashcan wasn’t easily available, the car being the main one, also were difficult for me to be in with people who weren’t “safe” (basically anyone besides family, my boyfriend alone, or best friend alone). I avoided these situations the best I could.

First Experience With Medicine

At some point during the summer after my Sophomore year I went to my family doctor. While I was there, I told him about my struggles with anxiety and panic. I shared with him my opposition to taking medicine targeting my brain. He told me about a drug called hydroxyzine. I could take it as needed if I was worried about encountering a situation that may trigger a panic attack. It would help keep my body calm, and simply having it as an option may help ease my fear. He said it was not strong and non addictive. (According to WebMd “Hydroxyzine is an antihistamine. It works by preventing the effects of a substance called histamine, which is produced by the body”. After reading this, it makes sense to me, why he said this medicine is like “Benadryl”. Hydroxyzine can be prescribed for allergies or anxiety. )

The idea of taking it only as needed was very appealing to me. It left me feeling like it would be easy to try and stop at any point, and I would be able to take it as infrequently as possible. He wrote me a prescription, and I took one pill the next time I was entering a situation I feared a panic attack may occur. The drug worked to calm me, however it also made me incredibly drowsy. I used it out of necessity (if there was an anxiety provoking situation coming up I couldn’t avoid) but I struggled to stay awake at all after taking one. So it wasn’t a very practical solution.

Thankfully though, simply knowing I had the option of the pills did help me. I had a way to decrease the chances of having a panic attack before I entered a situation (though on reflection I was still heavily using the unhealthy technique of avoidance of situations that may trigger panic). I regained a better sense of control over my anxiety. I took a pill maybe only once every couple months in high school, and continued having hydroxyzine tablets on hand through my freshman year of college. Though the last time I took them was move in day of college. I had gained a good set of calming and distracting techniques by that point to keep full scale panic issues at bay. By the start of my sophomore year at college, I wasn’t carrying hydroxyzine tables anymore.

Where I Was (November) – An Unexpected Step

Being Me?

I’d assume being me would be the easiest thing to be. Trees, birds, everything in nature appears so gracefully itself. Couldn’t I just decide to be me in a moment, and to remain me for the rest of my life. Sure life would still send challenges, but they’d be sent to me. I’d be someone. I could pause and reflect at any time and know how I felt and what actions I want to take. Yet years have passed in this journey back to “me”, and what I’ve learned is I have no idea who I am. Or maybe, I am a mix of contradictory parts. And many of those parts are passionate. So I am chaotic. Maybe too chaotic for the stability inner peace or daily life requires.

I have lost the (likely unhealthy and false) grounding of self I had before I started this journey. And though I have faith, I’m journeying down a truer path now, I have come to fear this path. Where will it take me? What will it reveal to me about myself? About others? About life? Am I strong enough? Am I going too fast? Will it hurt others? Will it hurt myself? Should I put it on pause while my kids are little? Is this selfish?

Me and Antidepressant

At the beginning of November, my therapist suggested I try antidepressants. She felt I was going through a very difficult point in my journey, and antidepressants may help take the edge off my emotional lows.The plan would be to take them for a couple of months, not long term.

This may sound like a simple and logical step. However, I have always been passionately opposed to taking medicine to alter my brain. If I tried to articulate why I feel this way – I’d say my brain is me. Sacred space. The complex and delicate systems of the brain and body are not well understood, and therefore the many effects of the medicine are not well understood. To release such a powerful but uncertain chemical influence into my brain feels very dangerous and unloving towards me. (When I was growing up my father strongly expressed his negative feelings about these sorts of medicines too. I am unsure how much that influenced my own feelings.) I was actually prescribed antidepressants in college. I picked the bottle of pills up from the pharmacy, but I never took them.

But this time when my current therapist suggested antidepressants, it felt slightly different. Fleeting ideas of maybe trying some sort of medication had been passing through my mind for weeks, though I had never mentioned this to my therapist. I had done no research into the options, until she brought the topic up. That night, after our session, I researched the options online, watched videos of people sharing their experiences, and read about how antidepressants work in the brain. The next morning I scheduled an appointment with my family doctor to get his opinion and the prescription. He assured me they were safe and agreed I should try them (which is no surprise considering he is the doctor who first prescribed them to me almost 10 years ago). He wrote me a prescription for the generic form of Lexapro. That night, feeling a mix of verbally loud and verbally quiet emotions, I took the first pill.

That was during the first week of November. So I am about 5 weeks into taking antidepressants now. I would like to and will try to share the experiences and feelings which led me to this step, and how I feel now that I am on antidepressants. It has been a lot to process, and has led me to reflect on my past.

You Have Forgotten Who You Are

You have forgotten who you are.
But I haven’t. 
Some part of God
Lost to love.

But your heart beats,
Listen!
It will guide you back, 
You say to “death!” 
And I agree
As all paths lead
Certainly to destiny.

But if we hold to love,
Through the darkest paths of fear.
We may find a death
With breathe

Our immortality

(August 2021)

Today I Found Those Beautiful Words (Poem)

Today I found those beautiful words
I scan fast 
And ignore
An ode to a mother 

The praise, the tenderness, 
The love 
Expressed with feeling I am sure 
But serves as whiteout to my soul

What pain it must be 
That transforms love to enemy

It steals my heart 
It steals my words 
It steals my mind 

A weight so heavy 
I drift off
Into that world that saved me 
When you were my mother