Roads

Last night reminded me of how much I love roads. Driving in my car, listening to Reuben and the Dark, watching the lights of the city pass by. There’s something intriguing about roads, especially at night. In high school I worked at this sandwich shop. On my break I would always sit at a table facing Main Street so I could watch the cars passing by. Part of what interested or intrigued me was thinking of the people in those cars. I’m a writer and I’ve always had a pretty active—or overactive—imagination. I’d wonder who was in each car, where they were going and why.

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I used to dream about the road leading to the Grand Canyon. I went there for the first time when I was fifteen. It was a journey of self-discovery, when I began to realize and understand who I really was and just how much music and nature meant to me, were a part of me and my soul. Sometime my sophomore year of high school I started planning an escape. I was going to run away—to the Grand Canyon. I had all sorts of things planned out—what I’d take with me, how I’d get there, how I’d get money. Looking back now, it seems pretty ridiculous! I’m sure I wouldn’t have lasted more than a week, maybe less. But I was so depressed, so alone, so ready to leave a life that felt like a prison. I couldn’t wait to get on the road—a road I thought would lead to something better. Of course now I know that it really wouldn’t have solved anything—running away.

Is that all roads are, though? A tool to take us away? Roads aren’t just physical, though. I think of Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken. Using roads to represent decisions in life. I suppose a road is really just a thing that takes us from one place to another—both physical and metaphorical. And sometimes they take us nowhere. I’ve always loved driving, especially before I was married or had kids. When I was at college, I’d often get in my car, crank my music and just drive. Sometimes I’d have a destination, but most of the time it was just about the freedom the road represented.

I feel the road calling to me again. Reuben and the Dark’s song, The River, talks about a road and a light leading home. Now that I’m older, hopefully smarter and more mature, responsible—I’m a mother now—I can see the difference between running away and moving on. Choosing a road—a road that doesn’t take me from home, but leads me to it. Physical, metaphorical, both—I may be on the road again. Lights, life passing by, along with all the other people choosing where the road will take them.

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Inspiration

Life has been busy and crazy lately. I guess life is always busy and crazy. My mind has been swarmed with so many other things I’ve been neglecting my writing. Sometimes that’s just life, too, I suppose. But here is a poem I wrote last spring, then recently revised with the help of a good friend.

Inspiration Along the River

I seek inspiration along the river,
a place I’ve never been before.

The cold bites into my skin with its
razor sharp fangs . . .

But I stay.

Two slate-gray water ouzels bob
on rocks and logs near river’s edge
—up, down, up, down—

then dip their heads, bodies,
fluttering wings,
bathing in the frigid river.

Their dance weaves a lesson
I know I must learn right here,
right now.

The pricks, the stings,
the icy blasts of life
can cleanse and strengthen.

And so I reach to embrace the cold—

seeping in to renew my soul.

Why Are We So Hard on Ourselves?

I’ve been thinking about how strange it is that we beat ourselves up so easily for mistakes that we make. It’s so easy to be hard on ourselves about things we would never be hard on anyone else for. I’ve seen others who have made similar mistakes I have, and I never think it makes them a bad person. I see a good person who simply made a mistake. I would never condemn, abandon, make fun of or gossip about someone like that. I would never expect or want them to be hard on themselves or think they were beyond forgiveness. Yes, I do believe there are consequences to our actions, but I would never presume that someone who has made a mistake—even a really big one—deserves what they have coming. I would still love them and care about and want the best for them. It wouldn’t change how I saw them or felt about them. Yet, for some reason, I just can’t do the same for myself. When I do something wrong I obsess about it, beat myself up over it, condemn myself for it, hate myself for what I’ve done. I tend to pull away from people because I assume they won’t want anything to do with such a failure, and it doesn’t hurt as much if I’m the one to back off than to have them abandon me. I wouldn’t abandon someone just because they did something wrong, but I assume that’s what others will do to me. I wonder why it is—that we’re so damn hard on ourselves, why we treat ourselves so much worse than we would treat others. One of the hardest parts is that mental illness only seems to exacerbate this problem, making that hole deeper and the darkness even darker. But there can’t be darkness without light. So, as always, I continue to hope—that the light will come back.

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Hurt

A friend recently shared Johnny Cash’s song, Hurt, with me. I couldn’t believe I’d never heard it before. It was me. It’s the theme song of my life. It seems that no matter how hard I try, hurting myself, whether physically, mentally, emotionally or spiritually, is the only thing I really know how to do. Any time I start making progress I do something stupid that puts me back at square one. Maybe even before square one. And then I have to work my way up, only to slide back again. It’s a constant game of Chutes and Ladders, only I never make it to the finish. And that’s all on me.

Where Quirks End And OCD Begins

Lately I’ve been wondering where quirks end and OCD begins. You often hear people say something about their OCD when they straighten a picture or make their kids wash their hands. For those who suffer from real Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, we know it is so much worse. OCD for me, at least, can create a prison I can’t get out of. It’s like running around in the same circle over and over and over again with no end in sight. I struggle with intrusive obsessive thoughts. But I also have some quirks. Are they quirks or is it my OCD? What do you think?

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I have an obsession with balance—or perhaps evenness would be a better word. I don’t have a problem stepping on cracks in the sidewalk, but if I step on a crack with my right foot I absolutely have to step on one with my left foot and vice versa. If I don’t I get this incredible sense of feeling unbalanced—as if I’m walking around with heavy weights attached to one side of my body. As long as I keep the amount of times I step on a crack with each foot even, I’m good! I’m balanced! Sound crazy? Maybe it is crazy. Or maybe it’s just some weird quirk I have. Or maybe it’s OCD.

I really like things to be even. My kids often ask me what my favorite number is, and I always tell them I don’t have one. Honestly, I don’t get the favorite number thing. Having a favorite number seems strange to me. But if I were forced to choose one—like gun to the head, tell me what your favorite number is—it would be an even number—no matter what!

I am not the kind of mom who makes lavish breakfasts for my kids. Mornings are crazy enough trying to get them ready for school and myself ready for work, so it’s usually frozen waffles or frozen mini pancakes. Those are my six-year-old’s favorites. I always ask him how many he wants, and usually the answer is seven. Long ago, I used to get him eight anyway, because I needed him to have an even number. But after throwing away too many pancakes I decided I had to conquer my quirk or OCD or whatever it is and just give him seven pancakes. Again, it sounds crazy, right? It’s just my obsession with even things.

So, is it really OCD? Is it a quirk? Or am I just really, really weird? Maybe I’ll never know.

What Helps and Hurts

I found this on a fellow blogger’s site, Bipolar, Uninvited, and she told me I could share it here. I get this one hundred percent! Of course, no one wants to feel like they’re walking on eggshells around anyone, but words are real, as are their effects. It would really help for people to know some basics of what not to say around those of us who are struggling with mental illness and things that are okay and could help. I doubt anyone would tell someone with multiple sclerosis to just “snap out of it” and get up and run a mile. It would be completely insensitive and inappropriate. Well the same is true of depression, OCD, anxiety, bipolar disorder, etc. Hopefully some of you out there can relate and hopefully, for some, this helps and makes a difference.

Taking a Closer Look

The first time I heard the song Come a Little Closer by Cage the Elephant (LOVE them!) it spoke to me—mostly because it reminded me of an experience I had many years ago. It was an incredibly painful experience, but one that also taught me an incredibly valuable lesson.

The chorus of the song speaks of how things aren’t always what they seem to be when you take a closer look. Snowflakes are a perfect example of this.

From a distance, it’s just a uniform sheet of white, but when you put one under a microscope you see its true intricate beauty. Life is the same way. From a distance it may seem to be one way, but upon closer inspection, you may find something completely different.

I had a friend in college. Yes, that’s saying something! I will be the first to admit that I was a really hard person to get along with back then, and I’ve often wondered if most of the people who called themselves my friends were just saying it. If I could go back in time and meet my past self, I probably wouldn’t be able to stand myself! There were, however, a couple of people who saw past the cocky, loudly opinionated person that I was and somehow liked me anyway.

This one particular friend and I stayed in touch even after college, and our friendship grew despite our lives going in different directions. I got married, had a baby and became a stay-at-home mom while she continued her education and had a career. It seemed as though she was always off on some grand adventure while I had my own mini-adventures close to home. The differences didn’t matter to me. She was my friend, someone I cared about and was happy for, someone I knew cared about me. So imagine my shock when one day she told me that she could no longer be my friend because seeing me with my perfect life as a wife and mother, with the perfect husband made her too jealous because it was the life she had always wanted and dreamed of since she was a young girl. And that was it. That was the end. She wouldn’t talk to me again.

Part of the reason this hurt me so much was because my life was so far from that perfect world she had so falsely dreamed up. My marriage was in shambles. It was so bad I knew I had three options—get a divorce, get some serious help to save my marriage or take my own life. Yes, that’s how bad it was. It was the worst hell I’d been through up to that point in my life. All I could see was darkness, and there were times I didn’t know if I could make it through. The ironic part is that I had actually been thinking of telling my friend about what was going on. I felt like I could trust her because I knew she cared about me and would be there for me no matter what—because that’s what friends do, right?

Besides my shattering marriage, I had also gone through severe postpartum depression after having my daughter and it never really went away. While I loved being a mom and was grateful I could be one, I had quickly learned that motherhood doesn’t equal a state of constant happiness and bliss like she apparently thought it did.

It hurt. I hurt. I thought about telling her what was going on, but I knew it wouldn’t get through. She was too closed off to anything other than what she wanted to believe, and I didn’t want to make her feel bad—because I valued her as a person and someone who had been one of my closest friends. Despite the hurt, as I looked at and analyzed what had happened, I learned a very important lesson which I’m still grateful for. It taught me never to make assumptions. It’s so easy to look at someone else and think they have it made, think they have the perfect spouse, the perfect kids, the perfect house, the perfect job. The perfect life. But it’s not true! Everyone has problems, everyone struggles, and when you make an assumption like that it takes away opportunities for you to serve. If you can just take the time to truly get to know someone and get a glimpse into their life, you often find that you’re more alike that you think and that perhaps you can help or strengthen them in their times of difficulty.

Now, it would have been nice if I had learned this lesson without the painful experience to go along with it. But pain and hurt are a part of life, and one of the greatest things I’ve found is the ability to look back and see what you have learned and can learn from those times—just like I did with this experience.

*As a side note, this experience was several years ago. My ex-husband and I did get help that did save our marriage. But life goes on, things change, people change, and we did end up divorced anyway. The fact that we didn’t go through a completely bitter and hate-filled divorce, the fact that we remain friends and still care about each other doesn’t mean it was some picture-perfect divorce. It was an incredibly difficult experience for both of us and the most alone I have ever felt in my life. I am grateful for the friends I had, who stuck with me through it and allowed me to cry and vent and shared in my pain with me. I’m also grateful for the friends and neighbors I have now who have shown so much love and support to both me and my ex-husband.