Where’s the Value in Me?

It suddenly dawned on me the other day when I was talking with the makeup artist and salesman at Nordstrom. He told me that I needed to take better care of my skin or else no amount of makeup of any kind would look good on me.

But, I argued, it’s all too time-consuming and besides, I have a difficult time starting any new habit, especially if such a change would make me healthier or more attractive.

Well, he said, I think that’s really more of a self-esteem issue than anything else.

That was it. I was dumbstruck and the uninvited tears resurfaced. It wasn’t really a dramatic moment, of course. My voice remained calm and my breathing steady. In fact, I could easily dismiss such tears as allergies even though I knew full well that wasn’t true. No, what he said had actually triggered an involuntary emotional reaction. I could feel it in my chest and in my spine.

I smiled and requested a tissue, apologizing profusely. I’m sorry for this pitiful display of weakness I can’t seem to control. I’m sorry you had to witness it. I’m sorry it exists. I’m sorry I exist.

Then I blamed it on the bipolar disorder, although I knew that was kind of a lie. But it just felt easier to be dishonest at the moment than to take a stranger into the labyrinth of all my abnormal psychologies. He played along and started telling me about someone else he knew with bipolar disorder and my tears let up.

If a mental health professional were to sit down with me and ask me right now if I have suicidal thoughts, I would have to say no simply because I don’t have any sort of plan. I’ve not been collecting sharp objects or hoarding medication. I’m not romanticizing about death in my private fantasies or anything. No, I can assure you beyond a shadow of a doubt that if death takes me before I grow old, it won’t be by my own hand.

Then she’d breathe a sigh of relief and write somewhere in her notes like: this patient is not suicidal. She can keep her shoe laces, her drawstrings, and all the under wires in her bras. She is free to go where she pleases, no need to be monitored 24/7.

But she wouldn’t be completely right. I don’t meant to say I’m in immanent danger. But I’ve also not fully bought into the idea of growing old, especially when I perceive that phase of life as being incredibly lonely. I mean I’m 37 years old, my peers all seem to have spouses or kids or nieces or nephews or some combination thereof. They don’t seem afraid of entering their senior years completely alone because they have a plan for coping with old age. They seem confident in knowing their life will always be of value to someone. But I’m not confident, at least not for me. Furthermore I’m the youngest of my own family making the odds favorable that I’ll be the last in my family to go so what’s the point in prolonging such misery?

My diagnosis of bipolar disorder many years ago seemed to solidify this morbid take on life. After grieving my old life and spending most of that grief in denial, depression, and anger, I finally decided to take care of my chemical imbalance. I also spent years in and out of therapy because, let’s face it, I suck at dying and I figured if didn’t learn how to at least “pass for normal”, I’d lose the few friends I had (who were the people I longed to spend most my time with) and never make new friends.

It was hard but I did what I could and it kind of worked except for that nagging feeling I carried with me that I’d never be good enough. You see, back then I was woefully behind all of my peers in this race called life and, since then, I’ve felt that it’s too late to catch up. I’ve fallen too far, perpetually left in the dust.

On the other hand, it’s not like I perceive anyone else to be as doomed as I am. Even those who have greater struggles than me I tend to hold in greater esteem than I hold myself and I know I’m a hypocrite for thinking it. But give me every intellectual argument in the world for esteeming myself and believe me, I’ve heard it before. Telling me again and again that I’m valuable and loved will never be enough because internally I will be telling myself this: You’re only saying this because you’re my friend (family member, mentor, pastor, counselor, etc.) and you have to say this. You don’t really mean it. I’ll say thank you because that’s what you want me to say but I never have and never will believe you if you so say anything kind about me.

I’ve been wondering a lot lately why I can’t follow my doctor’s orders when it comes to taking care of my diet. I’ve been wondering why I can’t stick to a regular exercise routine or remember to follow the dentist’s instructions each night and wear my night guard. But now I think I know . The reason I can’t get on board (and stay on board) with any new habit that’s good for me physically is because I just don’t see the point anymore. I’ve almost stopped believing I have the ability to impress anyone let alone me. Yet I still write. I still photograph. I still hope in a way, but it’s not enough.

To be sure, my struggle with how I see myself predates any mental illness diagnosis, but it had a fighting chance when I was in college, at least in the three years leading up to my first hospitalization. In my late teens and early twenties, I began opening my mind more and allowing myself to change. I even went in search of change (as many young people do) by going out-of-state to school and, ultimately, across the ocean. With each new city, state, or country I stepped into, I knew I had another chance to be a new and improved version of me. But the illness reset much of that progress and it became harder to move forward when so few of my peers stood with me anymore.

I guess the question, then, is, how do I fix this? After all the emotional damage, how do I truly learn to love myself?

Dear Old Friend….

My Dear Old Friend,

Do you remember me? We’re still friends, right? Although, I guess that all depends on how you define “friend.”

(above: A mix of mostly my voice from childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood followed by a clip from Matt Marvane’s single “Un coin de paradis”– “I wish you happiness…The perfume of life is so good this day when you’ve found a reason to exist…I wish you happiness….” Matt Marvane (translated by me))

Anyway, I’ve always considered you a friend. Even when I barely knew you I knew I’d do anything for you. I don’t know if you felt the same about me. But who cares? I was happy when you were near and I think I’d still be happy if I could only see you again, even if just for a moment.

Of course, as time went on, our paths diverged. I mean, we started out as equals. We were both in the same year of college after all. But somewhere along the way you managed to harness your gifts and earned respectability while I squandered mine. You boldly chased your dreams while I self-sabotaged. And now here we are, still running the race only you’re so far ahead of me I can’t even see you anymore. Once more, you’ve taken the crowds with you. There’s no one left to cheer me on aside from a few retirees who are really only there because they’re related to me (or maybe they just pity me).

Signing-Something

You know, one of the reasons I decided to live was because I sucked at dying and each failed suicide attempt pushed you further away. The more I relied on you to bandage my wounds, the less you wanted to see me. And even though I really needed a friend, I forgot how to be a friend. I can see that very clearly now. But at the time, my emotions blinded me.

It was when dying consumed my waking thoughts that friends like you began dropping from my life at an unprecedented rate.

Most of you chose simply to stop answering my calls, texts, and emails, hoping I’d take the hint and leave you alone. And after all these years, I’ve actually had the chance to experience being on the other side. I know it’s the easy way out and I’ve done it too, but that doesn’t mean it’s the right way to handle things.

Slack-Lining

I may have thought of us as friends, but I could tell in your eyes, I ceased being a friend when the world began to revolve around me and I no longer asked about you. It was before I learned to offer hugs, asking for them instead (can I have a hug?). I needed constant validation. I can’t do this. I’ll never be able to do that. I suck at this. There’s no point in trying anymore. I was so needy that if now-me would’ve met then-me, I’d probably have abandoned me too.

But there was one friend, and only one friend, who ended it right; who cared enough to formally “break-up” with me. She broke up over the phone because she was too far away to do it in person, but we talked for at least an hour. In that time, she told me this was only temporary, a year at most. She loved me, she said. But she was not emotionally capable of handling my self-harm and suicide attempts at the moment. I mean, for God’s sake, I’d been hospitalized twice in one week for drug overdoses! The first of which she’d been there for and she’d witnessed me telling the nurses I wasn’t going to do this again. I’d lied right in front of her – although I’d lied to myself too. I really did believe what I said.

So she said goodbye and of course I cried. Of course I was miserable. I was miserable for a long time but at least I understood. At least she told me how she felt instead of leaving me in the dark as everyone else, including you, had done.

IMG_4408

Fast-forward many years until now and guess what? Many years of talk-therapy and psychiatric medicine have actually helped a lot. Furthermore, it turns out the friend who “broke-up” with me had inadvertently done me a huge favor. She became the voice for all of you and in so doing, she guided me to where I needed to go if I wanted to have any friends at all.

Wasn’t the advent of social media amazing? During the MySpace vs. Facebook wars the word “friend” became a verb and lost much of its original meaning. I kind of wish we had more than one word for “friend” like the French do. When I was in France, I always referred to my “friends” as “amis.” But the French frequently use the word “copin” for “friend” as well. The difference between “amis” and “copins” was simply a matter of how important that person was to you. “Amis” is the stronger term although the French Facebook uses that as well so maybe it too has lost a bit of its meaning in recent years.

Peeking

I have over 200 “friends” on Facebook which isn’t a lot compared to some of those friends’ friends. Some have an upward range of a thousand or more. For the most part, my criteria for “friending” people on Facebook is simple (with a few exceptions). If I’ve met you face to face at least once and I like you, I’ll add you as a friend.

Internationals-at-the-Wineloft

I remember the early days when I’d receive friend requests from former high school and college mates who I hadn’t seen in years. We’d message one another and catch up a little bit and I’d naively try and arrange miniature reunions with those who lived nearby. But even with my own car and lots of flexibility when it came to time, few people took me up on the offer. Of the two or three people who did, only one still hangs out with me at all. Everyone else just piled on the excuses. Their passiveness sent me one clear message: We’ve moved on. We don’t want you in our lives.

Pixilated-PartyAt least you and many others could use the excuse of distance. We can’t travel across oceans at a moment’s notice. Although it wouldn’t kill us to Skype now and then but I won’t pressure you, lest you prove my fears to be true. (It’s not that you can’t talk with me – it’s that you won’t talk with me)

I almost feel like it’s easier to find someone to date than it is to find a friend in this day and age. I prefer guy-friends most of the time. They’re much less dramatic than us women and they don’t want to waste their time shopping for clothes or doing makeovers. Gay guys are the best because they don’t pose a threat to me and, even if I do develop a little crush on one of them, it’s already quite clear that our relationship will never go beyond the platonic level and I can easily get over such a crush. Straight guys can stay in the friend-zone as long as they’re single, but if they are looking (and not looking for me), it becomes kind of sketchy once they do begin a relationship with someone else. But, if I’m a true friend, I’ll do my best to befriend his significant other too. Usually that’s not hard if he finds a good match to begin with. I’m not referring to a guy who’s at the “best friend” level, mind you. If I met a guy who I considered my best friend and he saw me as his best friend too, I’d definitely want to marry him. But that just hasn’t happened yet, at least not for me.

IMG_1030

Anyway, the point is, I need a friend, a true friend, and they’re so hard to come by these days! You’re as great a friend as you can be from far away but I need to find someone here.

Here’s what I expect in a friend and the kind of friend I aspire to be:

  • First and foremost, a true friend must be honest at all times, even when the truth hurts. Not even a “little white lie” will be tolerated.
  • Someone who lives within a reasonable driving distance and owns a car (this is Phoenix, after all).
  • Someone I can see often and who I look forwarded to seeing.
  • Someone who doesn’t share all the same the same interests as me, but with whom I have enough in common that we can genuinely enjoy our time together.
  • Someone with whom I can laugh uncontrollably but I also feel comfortable enough to cry with.
  • Someone who is secure enough to admit being wrong once in awhile.
  • Someone who may not share the same faith as me but who let’s me talk about my faith sometimes because it’s important to me.
  • Someone who loves me just as am and doesn’t expect me to change but always encourages me to grow.
  • Someone who loves books.
  • Someone who knows how to actively listen.
  • Someone to just be silly with.

Dear World

 

The-WorldDear world,

Well, I gave it my best shot. I tried doing things the way you wanted me to. I put God on the back-burner because you said only people without a backbone still believe in him and I sought comfort elsewhere.

Honestly, I really just wanted to be accepted so it’s not like you had to work hard to persuade me. You basically left me with two options: be like my parents and have the people I want to be friends with most hate me, or be like my friends, laughing with them when they poked fun of my conservative, right-wing, religious upbringing.

What a waste of time! Every bit of it turned out to be nothing more than a horrible game and I had no choice. All the odds were stacked against me from the start. I had no chance. No chance at all.

How do they do it, those people I so admire, the underdogs who bootstrap their way out of poverty and shame and rise to wealth and admiration? I’ve been trying to figure it out by reading business and self-help books, biographies and autobiographies. I’ve watched TED talks and gone to classes and workshops meant to help you navigate the road to success. But for some reason I keep screwing up. I keep saying the wrong things and buckling under pressure. I forfeit my chances before anyone can even give me a chance. When I walk into a room full of strangers, I’m convinced the word “loser” can be seen visibly spelled out across my forehead.

– What have you done in life, idiot? Why are you mingling with us “normal” folk? Go back to the funny farm. No one’s going to take you seriously here. You’re un-dateable, un-employable, and un-loveable. Stop pretending you’re anything more.

I hear those words over and over again. They torment me every time I try and say something of substance and no one shows me they’re listening. I’m the only one who hears what I have to say. It’s my own voice echoing off the walls.

World, you are my biggest adversary. God knows you’ve been trying to strike me down almost my entire life. Yet here I am. My heart’s still beating and even though I’m tired and don’t always feel like getting out of bed to face you, I keep going.

I’m alive and I’ll stay alive because I don’t believe the things you tell me anymore. That room full of strangers is still painful for me but then I step outside for a breath of fresh air and meet someone else who’s been just as hurt as me. We talk. Our stories aren’t exactly the same but we somehow understand one another. We become friends and suddenly comprehend how tragic it would be to see the other person’s life end too soon. My new friend is a kind of reflection of me, not a clone, but a unique work of art. Someone the world cannot do without.

That friend who is as broken as me knows how to change the world. She began with one person. When I see the light in her eyes, I know that God still exists and there’s no point in trying to be like the world any longer. Now I have the courage to be the change I want to see in the world.

Stan

Note: This wasn’t supposed to be a story about Stan. But I think my mind went in that direction because Stan was a writer and I used to ask him about writing when we worked together. He didn’t have a lot of material wealth but he was rich in charm. He had a fine sense of humor and genuinely enjoyed being around people and swapping stories. I’m so privileged to have had a friend and teacher like him in my life. If only I had just a fragment of his self-confidence….

I’m done with Wednesday blogs, at least for now. That doesn’t mean I’m going to throw in the towel on blogging altogether. I’m simply not convinced there’s a need for me to post more than once a week. Besides, I have other projects to consider, like that pending novel, you know, the one that’s been living in my head forever trying desperately to convince me to give it life.

I keep silencing it. Year after year I tell myself I’m just not worthy of the task. I don’t have what it takes to call myself an author. Why should I anyway? It’s not like it was a childhood dream or anything. After all, Stan knew he wanted to be a writer when he was 14. Stan never wrote a bestseller but some of his stories were published in magazines. He was a student of human nature before I ever claimed to be and probably before I was even born. He’d ride the bus to work and arrive at the bookstore early, at least an hour before his shift began, with a simple, spiral-bound notebook in tow, scribbling away. He told me once that he’d written a horror story about an ex-girlfriend. And his coworkers said he was the best at dealing with the occasional celebrity. When Robin Williams purchased a book from him, Stan said, “I loved you in What Dreams May Come” which apparently was very flattering to the actor because it wasn’t the first movie most people remembered him for.

As far as I know, Stan didn’t have a formal education and he lived in one of the rougher neighborhoods in Phoenix. He might very well have been Ray Bradbury’s greatest fan though. I never saw his apartment but they say there were stacks of books everywhere.

Stan moonlighted at Arbey’s. It seemed strange to me that a man of his age with such talent and ambition would choose to work in the fast food industry. I’m ashamed to say I’d thought it beneath me and assumed it was beneath him too. But he didn’t see it that way. When I asked him about it, he just casually told me he and the manager at Arbey’s had become friends and one day he offered Stan a job and Stan said yes. It was as simple as that.

For the first part of my year at the bookstore, I spent most of my time as a barista in the café. I had multitudes of complaints about my position, but there were a few perks. The best part was the people. Not only did I get to know our regulars, but the staff, who were entitled to free tea and coffee, would often come in several times a day for refills, Stan included. Sometimes he’d mutter something about the Illuminati, other times he’d say something about “bringing sexy back.” It was a time when my heart was often heavy with sadness yet Stan could easily bring a smile to my face. I’ll never forget the time he told me about each guy at the bookstore who had a crush on me. A fellow bookseller did finally win me over for a bit, but, ironically, it wasn’t one of the guys Stan told me about. My bookseller boyfriend had snuck in under Stan’s radar. But, that turned out to be more of a fling anyway.

In 2007, our reliable Stan failed to show up for work one day. He didn’t call in, and after more inquiries were made, it was discovered he didn’t make it to his shift at Arbey’s either. As it turned out, our friend had suffered a stroke while he was alone in his apartment. In the hospital, when he regained consciousness, they tested his cognitive ability by asking him who his favorite author was. When he said, “Ray Bradbury,” we knew not all was lost.

Stan was never the same man after that. He moved slower and he looked much older. I no longer worked at the bookstore but I visited often and he never seemed to remember me. He had personal troubles behind the scenes too. It’s hard for a person to suddenly lose his independence, his livelihood, and his dignity. I don’t know what was going through Stan’s mind throughout all this, but it must have been a terrible struggle, especially for him.

The bookstore closed in 2011. Stan had worked there for well over a decade, happy to be a bookseller and a writer, nothing more.

After the bookstore went out of business, I never saw Stan again. I wanted to but it’s not like I was a close friend. I mean, we didn’t exchange birthday cards or anything (although we do share the same birthday: February 26). I wasn’t close to any of our other coworkers either, but I doubt he’d have known who I was anyway. I just know how he impacted my life in a wonderful way, without even realizing it.

In 2014 I was in the midst of my own emotional crises (caused mainly by a change in psychiatric medications), I went to the hospital for a medication adjustment and when I came home, I saw the news of Stan’s passing and my heart broke again.

No one said anything about a funeral. To be honest, I was afraid to ask. I thought people might be offended if I asked because I didn’t know him as long as my other former coworkers had. What right have I to intrude uninvited? At the same time, I would’ve loved to have someone to grieve with. It’s hard to bear that kind of sorrow alone.

 

 

Jubilation, Part 1

Dear Reader,

I’ve decided to take a break for the holidays.  I will be back with new posts on January 4th, 2016.  In the meantime, here are some collages I made to illustrate the meaning of “jubilation.”  The first 2 are made with old photos and the last two are made with photos I took this year. Let me know if you have any suggestions for new posts!  I have lots of ideas but I’m always open to new ones.  Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Jubilation-1

Jubilation-2

Jubilation-3

Jubilation-4

 

 

 

Losing Time


There’s not enough time. There’s never enough time! There’s just too much I need to do – too much I want to do! A lifetime isn’t enough! I just need a little more time…

But I’ve wasted so much time already. I moved home near the beginning of 2009 and now we’re almost 2016! That means in another two months, I’ll have lived here 7 full years… What’s happened? Where has all the time gone and why do I feel like such a failure?

Time always gets the better of me. There’s no such thing as “saving time.” You can’t really “make up for lost time.” What’s past has passed and there’s nothing left for me but now. After all, tomorrow is no guarantee for anyone. We can’t cheat death. Even the healthiest people will die. Diet and exercise is no preventer of old age nor is a healthy person immune to violence, natural disasters, accidents, and viruses we’ve yet to discover. No one can add a single day to his or her life because we don’t know what tomorrow will bring. In the end, what more is time to us than the days we have yet to live?

I’m getting old. I began aging the moment I was conceived. But let’s face it, the only way not to grow old is to die young. I did try to die when I was young and failed. When I was 25 I couldn’t see my life beyond the age of 30 so I didn’t set any real goals. I thought, what’s the use if I’m just going remove myself from the story?

Reminds me of something a friend once told me when he saw the scars on my wrists for the first time. You can’t kill yourself, Clara. Don’t you want to see how your story ends? If you kill yourself, you’ll never know how the story ends.

Old friend, the kind of story you’re referring to requires a special kind of Storyteller because, if what you say is true, then I don’t have total control over my life. Tell me, does this Storyteller ever reverse time or are we only given one shot? What are your thoughts on immortality?

I look back at my scars. Sometimes, even after all these years, I can still feel a dull ache where the cuts used to be. Time heals all wounds, they say. And yet the scars remain.

Some wounds don’t heal with time. Emotional wounds are hidden from view and it’s harder to mend what we cannot see. A person who was abused as a child often carries those wounds into adulthood before the pain is ever fully understood. Psychotherapists will help a patient expose those wounds. In the beginning it’s painful. At times it does hurt to be healed. But given time and professional guidance, the pain eases until all that remains are emotional scars.

Causing-Trouble-at-Home

I searched the works of great poets hoping they could teach me about time. Poets look at the world much more closely, I think, than other wordsmiths. The art of poetry is about more than storylines and descriptions. Just one line can carry the history and the tone of an age.   Through the written words of old poems the ancients whisper to me and sometimes I feel as though we understand one another.

I thought the great poets would show me the beauty in time, the joy in time freely shared, or the love that grows with time. But that wasn’t the case. You see, time for the poets, was a villain. Time had but one ambition: to bring us closer to death and, in the meantime, rob us of the beauty and vitality of youth.

William Shakespeare (1564 (baptized) – 1616):

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,

Creeps in this petty pace from day to day

To the last syllable of recorded time,

And all our yesterdays have lighted fools

The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player

That struts and frets his hour upon the stage

And then is heard no more; it is a tale

Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,

Signifying nothing.

From Macbeth

W.B. Yeats (1865-1939):

Though leaves are many, the root is one;

Through all the lying days of my youth

I swayed my leaves and flowers in the sun;

Now I may wither into the truth.

John Masefield (1878-1967)

Be with me, Beauty, for the fire is dying,

My dog and I are old, too old for roving.

Man, whose young passion sets the spindrift flying,

Is soon too lame to march, too cold for loving.

From “On Growing Old”

Woman-with-flowerTime may be the ultimate demise of all things but time is also what it takes to learn and grow. When I was a kid sometimes I’d plant a flower or a bean from seed just to watch it grow. I’d see the tiny green sprouts peeping out of the dirt in the flower pot and shout with glee. Each day I’d go to the window ledge and touch the soil to see if it needed more water. The green stems would stretch and lean toward the sun. Each new growth was its own tiny miracle.

As a kid or teenager, I couldn’t quite understand what my parents meant when they looked at me and said: It seems like it was just yesterday that I was bouncing you on my knee. Now I understand. I don’t have kids of my own but I see my friends’ kids growing up and I just can’t believe how little they used to be. Not only that, but it doesn’t feel like it’s been that long. What year is it now? 2015? 2016? In 1996 I was a mere sixteen years old.

To-Be-a-MermaidSeven years earlier I’d watched Disney’s The Little Mermaid in the theatre. That year I became obsessed with the movie! When the film came out on VHS, I watched it almost every day. The next year, as a 10-year-old in fourth grade, I wrote as story called “The Girl Who Wanted to Be a Mermaid.” Ariel (the mermaid) was supposed to be sixteen in the story so I’d sit in front of the mirror, play with my bangs so my red hair would look more like hers, and wonder what I would look like when I was sixteen.To a ten-year-old, sixteen seems a long time away. When I turned sixteen, university seemed a long way away. By my early twenties, thirty seemed incredibly old. Forty was ancient. Let’s not even talk about my parents’ generation. But when I crossed that “thirty” threshold, I decided to celebrate. I decided I wasn’t going be one of those people who remained stuck at age “twenty-nine” forever. If I could make it to age thirty then that meant that the worst part of my life was over and the next chapters in my life were full of new adventures just waiting to be lived.

Pyramid-2We may not be able to make up for lost time but we can share our time with others. In fact, I think time is sometimes the greatest gift you can give. We don’t have an endless supply of it and, since we can’t know how much we’ll have in the end to give, we should give it as a freely and as generously as we can. Who knows when the window of opportunity will close for us to show a friend we care? And if you find yourself intentionally avoiding spending time with someone, try and understand why. If it’s something within you, acknowledge it and seek counsel.

It is frustrating to hear a friend say she’s too busy to talk with me. I’m always suspicious of such statements. I’m even more concerned when the friend is too busy to check her calendar and arrange a date for us to talk. How I wish we could all be more like Bob Goff! Seriously, how does he do it?

I think maybe the best way to view time is as a gift. Not just a gift to give but a gift given to us. I like what the Bible has to say about time, particularly in the Hebrew portion.

In the book of Esther, Esther’s uncle, Mordecai, tells Esther to use her privileged position to talk to King Xerxes and help the Jewish people. She’s hesitant so he says:

 And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this

Esther 4: 14b

This bit from wisdom book of Ecclesiastes is also the source material for a famous song by 60’s band The Byrds called Turn Turn Turn.

There is a time for everything,

and a season for every activity under the heavens:

a time to be born and a time to die,

a time to plant and a time to uproot,

a time to kill and a time to heal,

a time to tear down and a time to build,

a time to weep and a time to laugh,

a time to mourn and a time to dance,

a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,

a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,

a time to search and a time to give up,

a time to keep and a time to throw away,

a time to tear and a time to mend,

a time to be silent and a time to speak,

a time to love and a time to hate,

a time for war and a time for peace.

Ecclesiastes 3: 1-8

Perspective

A couple of years ago, when I was suffering another bout of depression, I turned to my Facebook friends with my troubles. It wasn’t the first time. I tend to wear my heart on my sleeve and one of my well-meaning “friends” suggested I seek perspective, to look around and see the people in this world who are worse off than me. Her comment received a few likes, some from people who I thought knew me better. What they didn’t seem to realize is that I’ve been trying to see the world from different perspectives for most of my life.

Perspective begins with vision – the lens through which we see the world.

My eye sight began to deteriorate when I was in sixth grade. I hadn’t really noticed at first. My grades were fine and even when I sat at the back of the classroom it didn’t occur to me that I was sometimes squinting at the chalkboard. Reality hit when I went to the nurse’s office for the annual school wellness exam and I failed the vision portion.

It was a serious shock. Sure, both my parents wore glasses but I didn’t want to be stuck with those things! My first night with the new lenses I shut myself alone in my room, stared at my face in the mirror while I was wearing the new glasses, and then angrily flung them off my face and cried. I refused to wear them at school that year. I brought my glasses to class with me but I didn’t want anyone to see me wearing them.

 

New-Glasses

As time wore on I got used to my extra pair of eyes and, later on, I even progressed to contacts. Just over ten years later my eyes became worse and it was impossible to justify going about my daily routine without some sort of corrective lens. I told people that without my glasses, the world looked like a Monet painting. In fact, one day I decided to go for a walk without my glasses or contacts just to be a part of the impressionist world. When I came close to a leaf or a flower, it became clearer and I could see the veins and textures, the beauty in the imperfection.

In the intro to photography class I took as a sophomore in high school, one of our assignments was all about point of view. So I chose my best friend (at the time) as my model and took pictures of her from different perspectives. I’d lay down on the ground and shoot her sitting on the branch of a tree or I’d ask her to kneel down on the ground while I shot her from above. Then of course I’d shoot close-up and at a distance.

 

Contact-SheetAlthough visual perspective is important, especially for an artist, it is how our hearts see the world that ultimately matters.

I don’t think I truly opened my heart to new perspectives until I left the safety and familiarity of home. Leaving home was not a difficult decision for me to make. I was itching for adventure and I knew I had to be on my own and reinventing myself if I was ever to find it. The first university I studied at was located in the neighboring state of California. It was a Christian school (Azusa Pacific University) and I lived on campus. We had mandatory chapel three times a week and most of the students saw the world from a Christian point of view so there wasn’t much diversity of thought. Nonetheless, I managed to join a short-term mission team to Romania the following summer. It was my first time crossing the Atlantic and the experiences I had during that short stay forever changed the way I viewed faith, poverty, and relationships.

My second year as a student I transferred to a secular school up in Flagstaff called Northern Arizona University where there was quite a lot of diversity of thought, much of which challenged my own way of thinking, causing me to question my beliefs; causing me to question everything.

I began intentionally befriending people who were different than me and I was particularly fond of the international students. They brought the world to me: Egypt, Lebanon, Uzbekistan, India, Japan, China, The Netherlands, Germany, Sweden, Switzerland, Sri Lanka, Haiti, Mexico, Quebec, England, Swaziland, Niger, Kenya, Belarus, Russia, Ukraine, France, and more…. Every person from every country had a story to tell and one of my favorite ice-breaker questions was: What was the biggest culture shock for you when you arrived in the United States? That question alone helped me become more critical of myself and my own culture.

In my dorm room, I taped to the wall an upside-down world map I’d purchased at Wide World of Maps. This was quite the conversation starter and whenever anyone would ask me why I chose to display that particular map, I’d simply say: To remind myself to look at the world differently.

 

 

Upsidedown-World

IMG_0084Ultimately I became the foreigner by going overseas and trying desperately to forget who I was in the United States. I didn’t bother to ask myself why I was so hell-bent on becoming someone else. I just knew I had to change. Moving from one local to another had always meant a new beginning for me, a chance to start all over and become someone I actually liked. It never occurred to me that I could never truly run from myself.

To the best of my abilities, my efforts to gain new insight and new perspectives about the world were successful. A book or a news article can only take you so far but actually spending time with and caring about an individual from half a world away is, in my opinion, the best way to love a people that is not your own without actually having to pack up and move half a world away yourself.

Depression is another story. If you come from a war-torn and/or poverty-stricken nation there’s a reason for your pain. But if I’m sad for no other reason than some chemical maladjustment in my brain, you hesitate to show compassion. Perhaps, then, you should try and see it from my perspective.

Have you ever suffered the loss of someone you love? Do you remember the (sometimes) unbearable grief? No kind person would deny you the right to be self-absorbed at such a time. You can be sad because you have a reason to be sad and the only thing that can lighten your load is time. If we have any empathy at all, we all know and understand the grief, the emotion, must run its course before you can be productive in the world again.

The emotion of someone who’s clinically depressed is much like grief only the reason is not so obvious. If you see me at my worst, I’ll have constant tears, a chronic heaviness in the chest, and the fear that it may never go away. I am already consumed with self-hatred when I’m depressed so how does it help to think of the tragedies others in this world are facing? It doesn’t. The comparison can actually make my problem worse because I hate myself more for not caring enough. All at once the world’s problems become my problems also. The powerlessness in not being able to save the world triggers such an overwhelming sense of worthlessness that I might actually believe the world would be better off without me.

Seeing the world from different perspectives is important and I highly recommend it, especially if you want to make the world a better place. But the culmination of various world views should not make you so arrogant as to tell someone that “perspective” is enough to heal her pain. Collecting perspectives should, ideally, humble us and challenge us. An openness to new perspectives gives us the freedom to admit we don’t know everything.

An Imaginary Conversation

or “Une conversation imaginaire”

I’m lost.  I thought I had things figured out a little while ago but then something happened and now I feel like I have to start over – again.  I need a little advice and a bit of encouragement from someone I know, love, respect, and admire.  I need to talk with my best friend, but she lives far away and doesn’t seem to have time for me anymore.  Yet I know from experience that we can go for ages without a word and then, when we finally meet in person again, it’s like no time has passed at all.  We’re young and carefree again.  We act silly and perplex the people around us as we regress into our adolescence.  She is one of the most amazing people you will ever meet, but also very private.  So, I decided that since I couldn’t have a real conversation with her, I’d see what kind of help she’d offer in an imaginary conversation.  I’ll also conceal her identity so she can maintain her secret identity and continue being the superhero that she is.

 

life-saversMe: So I’m trying to write a memoir or something and I’m stuck. I wrote my first draft. I gave you my first draft – and don’t worry, I don’t expect you to have had time to read it yet – I just hit a roadblock recently. A creative block maybe? Whatever. The point is, I’m not moving forward with anything and I need a little help.

 

IMG_1522Deirdre: [prompting me] Deirdre, how are you? How’s life? How’s your family?

Me: Sorry, I forgot. I’m not trying to be selfish and you know I listen to you when you need me to. Remember when we were going for a walk in Flagstaff after my last hospitalization up there and I repeated something back to you that you told me a few weeks before – a personal thing? You turned back to me in shock and said you didn’t think I listened to you. But I did and I still do. I always listen to you. I still think of you as my best friend even when we’re far apart.

So yes, of course. My bad. What’s up?

Deirdre: Life here is pretty good right now. [smiling] And don’t worry, I’ll let you be selfish this once, but just this once.

 

SedonaMe: [sigh] Thanks so much! I’m so sorry. I’ll totally make it up to you. The next conversation – all about you. I promise.

Deirdre: Go on then.

Me: Okay. So when I wrote my memoir the first time – well, not the very first time but, you know, last spring – I was full of confidence. I thought my story was intriguing, compelling, and could potentially change lives. But now I think I may have gone in with the wrong motivations. I wouldn’t have admitted to it back then, but I think I actually did believe the memoir would pull me out of this rut I’m in and open doors to travel and speaking engagements and movie deals and so on. But now I realize I was wrong. I’ve done a lot of introspection since then, but if I give up on the memoir, what else is left for me? 

Deirdre: I’m sorry, Clara, but that’s a tough one. I’m not sure I’m qualified to give you the answers. I know you’ve tried many creative things since you’ve moved in with your parents but you haven’t made money off any of them. Have you even tried? I mean, even something as simple as entering a writing contest or submitting an essay or article to a local newspaper won’t garner much money, but at least it’s a start. Also, and don’t take this the wrong way, but you tend to stay fixated on the past. I don’t think it’s healthy for you. From what I see, the longer you linger in your old photographs and writings, the harder it is for you to push forward. You have so much potential! But it just seems to be wasting away.

Me: [wiping away a tear] Woe! Was that a tear? Weird. But yeah, I know I don’t show it by my actions but I totally see what you’re saying. And we’ve already talked about my work dilemma. It’s possible I can gain some help from the state mental health program. There’s also my parents. Dad said he’d pay for me to return to school, I just need to figure out what I’m going to study. And, to solve that problem, I need to kind of figure out what the end-game will be. So let’s be realistic. What am I capable of and what’s beyond my reach?

Deirdre: I still believe that almost anyone has the ability to achieve what they want to achieve in life. It just takes hard work and perseverance. Just look around. Remember the books I’ve given you over the years?

Me: Let me think – the one about writing by Anne Lamott, the Writer’s Notebook by someone else, the Idiot’s Guide to Music Theory to help me with my songwriting attempts, um, Coaching the Artist Within, and the Robert McKee one about screenwriting. Though I’ve probably missed something somewhere in there.

 

IMG_0127Deirdre: The point is, the tools you need to do what you want to do in life are within your reach. And you know that, even though we don’t talk much anymore, I’m still routing for you. The one thing you can’t do is just sit around and wait for inspiration to strike. I spend my entire day working whether I feel like it or not. If you can’t do the same, you will never succeed. Plain and simple.

Me: I wish I had a boss. You know I’m not much of a self-starter. I’d never have run that marathon years ago had you not pushed me and encouraged me even when I whined and complained. How could you not have been annoyed with me? Never mind. I will figure this out. I’m so glad I talked with you. Have I told you lately how much I love your story? Because you’ve had your share of trials and tribulations too and you’ve emerged victorious! I know you can inspire others. You inspire me.Finished