Struggling Through Winter

I have struggled, emotionally, this winter. I am not whining, I am not maudlin, I am not anything other than appearing normal on the outside. Inside my brain, my heart and my being has been in overdrive.

From the outside, everything looks fine. I exercise, I eat (well some), I talk nice to others and I feel compassionate and kind. Inside, I am confused, alone and worried that there might really be something wrong with me.

Three months before Jim died, my counselor strongly urged me to try antidepressants. After three and half years of the whirlwind of cancer for both Jim and myself, she and the psychiatrist who recommended the medicine felt that I was emotionally overloaded and depressed. Well, you think? I agreed to try an antidepressant to help get me through a difficult time. The dose started low but we had to adjust it upwards until I reached a dose that was acceptable for me. I come from a buck it up,  grin and bear it kind of family. Weakness is not in our thought process. It took a bit of encouragement to try the medicine.

Five years later I began to talk to the psychiatrist about coming off of the medicine. I mean how do I know that I really need it now that five years has gone by and I am much more together than right after Jim died? How do I know? Last June I began a slow weaning protocol. I did well until September and then I had to go back up on the dose a little. I remained there until I arrived back in San Diego.

Fall and winter are not my best times. I don’t like the shorter sunlit days, and I fight against coming inward and looking around in those quiet and sometimes shadow sides of myself. Winter is a classic time of being inward. I am glad I am at the beach because that has helped with this unguided annual review. Unguided means that I don’t actively seek out the coming within, it just seems to occur.

Did you know that depression is cyclical? I learned this from the psychiatrist. When people come off antidepressants, if a person is in an upswing they usually do well initially until depression once again raises it’s cyclical self. When I tried to take the final plunge to remove the medicine from my body I was in a more depressive cycle so I knew right away that this wasn’t good. My acupuncturist, Gayle, also relayed to me that she does not recommend for a person to come off these types of medicine as we roll into fall and winter.

So here I am, somewhat disappointed in myself that I could not take the final step to stop this medicine. I know it is not a sign of failure but it kind of feels that way, just a little bit.

Depression is nothing to take lightly. I have known others in my life who battle it in a way more severe form than what I am dealing with. It is easy to tell someone to get over it or deal with it or be positive, yet for those dealing with depression, these kinds of statements are painful and unsupportive. What would be a much better response, I think, is to say I am sorry you are going through this, what can I do to help? Or even better call them once in a while just to talk. Or even better, invite them to dinner, go to a movie, guide them gently in a different direction. No one wants to be sad or lonely or depressed.

Day at the tidepools-4

My therapist has given me some assignments. So I am trying these while I wait for spring and the longer happier days of that time of the year.

  • Set up a phone date once a week with someone I love and know loves and supports me.
  • Read up on the “Stages of Life”. I guess when you reach my age it is not unusual to review all of your life thus far and try to figure out what comes next.
  • Take my passion and do something with it. I have already been working on this with my photography and creating my web site.
  • Each month pick one thing that brings happiness or contentment into my life. Last month I started a photo a day project. It not only fuels my artistic side but it also gets me outside. this month, I am attempting to finally sit in meditation for five minutes a day.
  • Look for groups that have common interest and join in.
  • The worse thing I can do is to hole up. Each day I try to get out to walk, bike-be in nature. I do it alone and with others.
  • I have also decided to start a journal and write one thing I am grateful for every day.

This is just a sample yet I believe you get the idea.

As I write this Miss Elsie the Cat and I are in Idyllwild, CA visiting a good friend, Mary. This has been the best thing I could have done. I have been able to casually visit with Mary over the past few days. I am out and away and in the mountains. Each day I have been here I have felt better, emotionally. Mary and I are embracing each other’s company, sharing our woes and all our good and interesting times since we last saw each other. It is a marvelous catharsis for us both.

It is hard to admit this type of stuff to yourself. It is hard to admit it to the broader world. I have sat on this post for over a week, wondering if I should reveal this much of myself to the rest of the unknown world. I reviewed some of my other posts and some of them have been just as raw and revealing. Why hesitate here. I believe that depression has a stigma that surrounds it. What if I admit that I am not strong. Well everyone is suppose to be strong all the time, right? Well guess what?  That is not true.

I see this as a continuing part of who I am and dealing with grief. This too shall pass. Maybe, just maybe by sharing this someone else may not feel alone or the odd person out. Well here is a fact so no one has to feel alone, over 350 million people in the world suffer from some form of depression.

I continue to embrace each day with as much fervor as I can muster. Some days that is easy and some days my embrace is just on a tinier scale.  And…I keep telling myself, spring is coming, it is just around the corner.

 

 

Another Year-Reflections

Tomorrow is my birthday.

The day after tomorrow will mark the sixth anniversary of Jim’s death. Time stands still. Time flies. It is amazing that it is six years since I last saw him. It is amazing that it has been six years since I last heard his voice. Well this whole process is pretty amazing and not always much fun.

I grieved when my mom died. I grieved when my dad died. I have grieved over the loss of friends and over the loss of others in tragedy, which we have seen so much of this year. The loss of Jim was different. I lost my life partner, my friend and my companion in mischief and dance. I describe the three and a half years leading to his departure, like a deck of cards thrown in the air. Just as they started to come down and I was picking them up, something else happened and the cards were thrown back up in the air again.

I am still picking up cards from six years ago. I didn’t know there were so many cards. Yet I have accomplished a bit along the way and each day I attempt to live life to its fullest. Some days it is a wee, tiny bit and other days are big a luscious and overflowing with awe and beauty.

I am beginning to realize that I may never have an answer to the question “What’s Next?” At my best I look for the large and small around me and find some marvel in it all. At my worst, I still find I can treasure my current surroundings and who I am.

  • I am not homeless.
  • I have this lovely little Roadtrek to call home.
  • My home is heated, which feels good on these chilly fall nights.
  • Elsie is always my faithful companion, in adventure and silence.
  • I know, oh how I know, I have many out there that support me daily, mostly in thought and prayer. Yet I know you are out there.
  • There are many books to read. On days where I don’t have much energy, I sit and read.
  • When I was younger I went through a short, period where everything was gray. I appreciate that I have never gone back to that place. I still can see and marvel at the loveliness of the places I visit and the people I meet. Color is a wonderful medium.
  • I have a family, sisters and nieces, that though not often heard from love me and support me.
  • And there is always my camera-I love taking pics even at my lowest.

There is always hope. In this coming year I am going to attempt to not be so hard on myself. I really don’t need to make far reaching decisions about anything. I want to focus on what is best for me at this moment in time, in this day and in this year. I want to experience a little more joy, wherever I can find it. And, although I am not sure I may want to settle down. I shall see on that statement.

I now understand a bit more of the statement from others that “you can move forward, while treasuring the moments Jim and you had”. I know that I can do both. And, ever since Jim’s passing he has been very good at helping me find my car keys. I have called on him more than once. This is one of the important reasons to keep him nearby as I adventure forth into life.

If you look on this site you will see a Go Fund Me tag. I have been raising money for the Jim Fenningham Memorial Scholarship for 6 years. I am close to my goal of $25,ooo to make this a perpetual scholarship. I have about $8,000 more to go. I have been constant and steady in trying to raise this amount. If you would like to donate, small or large, some student out there at Grossmont Community College will thank you for your efforts.  I treasure each donation because I know about the thought and caring behind it. If you would prefer to donate directly to the college, here is their information.

Mail your donation to:

Scholarship Specialist
Financial Aid Office
8800 Grossmont College Dr
El Cajon, CA 92020-1799
Contributions are tax deductible

On to another year of discovery. Who knows what it will bring. I will continue to follow my own path, carrying the memories of my time with Jim forward. This year I pray that it will be just a wee bit easier. Each year seems to be getting that way. I am thankful for this.

I am thankful for 21 years of love, caring and relationship. I am thankful for being able to have those memories to help me move forward with my life, no matter what direction it takes.

Today I am thankful.

 

 

 

What to do Next

Have you ever read a seemingly light fiction book, only to discover it is exactly what you needed to read? I have just finished “The Undomestic Goddess”. It is a delightful little read, a great summer book.

“Sometimes you don’t need a goal in life. I reply, lifting my chin. You don’t need to know the big picture. You just need to know what you are going to do next.”                                                                  The Undomestic Goddess, Sophie Kinsella

For close to five years I have been trying to figure “it” out. When I was finished with the treatment for breast cancer, I tried to figure out how this changed my life and what I should do next. When Jim was diagnosed with cancer, I wondered why this happened. What do I do with this information? After he was diagnosed with metastasis from the original cancer, I started to plan what my life would look like without him. What if the worse happened? What do I do then?

After Jim’s death over five and a half years ago, I once again asked myself “What do I do next?”. What is the plan? How do I figure this out? Grief took over for a while, then I realized hard grief is not a place to stay for very long. It is overwhelming and all consuming and not much fun. There is no reward in grief.

Once the first couple of years was done I began to ask myself, what is next. What do I do now? I have been waiting for someone or something to come along and say this is it. This is next. I have been waiting for the great “Aha Moment”. So far that has not happened. My goal of “figuring it out” is still an illusion or a distant desire, yet to be fulfilled.

When I read the quote above, on some level, I got it. I don’t have to figure everything out. I just need to know what I am going to do next. That is it, no more-no less. I know, many of my friends and some strangers, as well, have been saying things like this to me for quite some time. Until I read that quote, I didn’t get it. I kept waiting for my life to fall into order, like magic.

Why I feel like my life should fall into order now, is beyond me. My life has never fallen into order. I have made my life happen. We all make our lives happen. Sometimes I trip and stumble and that is where friends and family come into play. They listen and sometimes advise and continue to support me, no matter what. Then I pick myself up and go off to explore the next adventure. The next edition of my life.

So for now I am going to work on what I am going to do next. And I know, that the big picture will fall into place. I don’t know when or where and that is OK. It will fall into place. In the meanwhile I hope I can catch the magic of the small moments and not be just waiting for the “Aha Moment”

My Adventure Two Weeks Ago. Rafting in Montanna

to happen.

Bearing Witness

For twelve years I was an attendee of the local San Diego Society of Friends, more commonly referred to as the Quakers. Bearing Witness is an important part of their belief and practice.

“Bearing witness is largely nonverbal. It is being a compassionate observer to the unfolding of another person’s life or a particular moment or event.” The Power of Bearing Witness”-Judith Johnson

We, all of us, at some point or another in our lives come upon crisis, large or small, good or not so good, it really makes no difference. When crisis or trauma unfolds I believe that it is helpful to have those around us who can bear witness for each other. Sometimes we help each other sort through our feelings. More often we become someone who listens and observes while the other person speaks freely from their heart. Some times it is a quiet role of helping to hold the space so the other person can take care of the business at hand.

Guests at a wedding are bearing witness. Any time any of us gather in small or large groups we bear witness to that event in time. 

“When we bear witness, we lovingly give our attention to the other without judgment. We comfort without smothering. We play a supporting role — powerfully upholding the other starring in his or her life. It is not about us. It is about them. Yet, we make a profound decision when we do not try to fix their pain and suffering or share in their experience by telling how we had a similar experience. Bearing witness says, “You are not alone. I see you. I witness what you are experiencing. What you are experiencing matters to me. I surround you with my love.” The Power of Bearing Witness-Judith Johnson

Recently I was reminded again of the importance of bearing witness. A good and dear friend of mine received some painful news. Most of the day was spent on the phone and speaking with others. I began during this process to become aware of my role, bearing witness. Being in the immediate environment, as a witness to this time, I held the space so that she could make the phone calls she needed to. It felt important to let her know she was in a kind and loving space and she could take care of business. When and if she was ready, I was there for her to talk with. I was bearing witness.

One of my favorite quotes is “We are just walking each other home”. I believe we bear witness or honor the other person and know we are each on the same path, even though we may have different directions to get there. There is nothing more honorable and special in my heart than to help each other through all the different times in our lives.

 

Many have born witness for me over the past four and half years since my husband, Jim’s death. My community of friends has grown stronger. I am only now, beginning to recognize the importance that their role was for me in those first few years after he died. Most of these friends began to bear witness for me and Jim together when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I appreciate now, how much each person has offered to me. Some gave me space to talk and cry. Others kept me distracted, playing games, going to the movies, seeing an art exhibit. All of this support offered me space to grieve and begin to heal. We do this for each other. Sometimes it is all any of us can do.

There are many sides to bearing witness. I have become more conscious of this roll as I have matured. Although Jim’s death was hard, I still see that time as something I am so grateful for. We were all right there in the moment. It was special, unique, sad, loving and every other emotion the world. All of us that were with him until the moment of his death were bearing witness to a very special moment in time.  I may not always be happy with the outcome yet I am so thankful for the moment.

Lately I have been having these flashes of the events of the day he died.  They arrive, quite unexpectedly and then within seconds they are gone. I am left sitting at a stoplight in wonder. I feel that I am finally able to sift through that day, those events, without pain. The fact that these moments come quickly and leave quickly is important. I feel that these moments have been creating space for me to consider such topics as “Bearing Witness”.

Today I am thankful for those who have actively and not so actively held the space for me. I am thankful for the times I have held the space for others. I am thankful for Bearing Witness.

Into the Desert

img_7051Last Wednesday, Miss Elsie the Cat, the Roadtrek and I left San Diego for points southeast. The desert was calling my name. The dentist gave me a reprieve and so we departed into the vast Sonoran Desert.

It is winter here. It is chilly at night, if not down right cold. It is wonderful hiking weather during the day and after the rains the desert is alive and the color green is showing up everywhere. The Octotillo are already blooming here at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.

Why the desert? The desert is the place I go to seek solitude, solace, to think and sort and grow. There is something about the wind and the animals and the vastness of the desert that is wonderfully healing for me. I slow down and really observe my surroundings.

Roadtreking Together

Roadtreking Together

I am not alone. I met up with Mary, a friend of mine. She has a Roadtrek too. We are exploring the desert together. We get along well. One of the nice things about having our own vehicles is that when we need time to ourselves we can retreat to our tiny home on wheels. I appreciate the fact that we both are respectful of our need for our own space.

I enjoy sharing my life with others. Mary asked me if I felt that things were getting easier for me, regarding Jim’s death. This is a very interesting question to ponder. I don’t always take the time to gauge where I have been, what I have achieved, and where I am going regarding Jim. Now the question has been asked I will take some time to bring this into my awareness.

Before I left my friend Nancy mentioned she was having a hard time remembering what I was like before Jim. And there it is. I will never return to who I was before Jim. Who I was before him, during our relationship and who I am now is a cumulative effect of all that has preceded this day, this moment in time.

Years ago Jim and I rafted the Grand Canyon. It was a life altering event. After the trip was over, we often would mention before Grand Canyon and after Grand Canyon. I notice there are times where I regard my life as “before Jim’s death and after Jim’s death”. How have the past four plus years affected who I am today? Well that could be a loaded question. I mean over six years ago I was entangled in the the whole breast cancer issue, that led right into Jim’s diagnosis and his death a year and a half later.

Most of the time I see those times as a hard exercise in growing. I had always heard of others who went through periods of trauma (all kinds-you pick it) and then life smoothed out again. I am hoping that my time of trauma is smoothing out. There are issues still to address but for the most part I would like the smoothing to start.

I miss Jim. It is not often that I feel that overwhelming raw grief that carried me through the first few years. I am thankful for that. I was reminded of it, once again, after the National election results this year, and although the grief was strong I knew to step beyond it quickly. Raw grief is not somewhere I want to stay. I find I like to carry him with me, in the stories I tell and the photos I look at. I guess I feel he is here and I can still advance forward in my life.

Janet, Hiking Alamo Canyon

Janet, Hiking Alamo Canyon

Most days I feel I am doing much better and am working towards sorting out my own life. Grief has no timeline. I am not even sure it ever truly goes away, it softens over time. I would like to consider the possibility that grief is softening for me. I am doing better at meeting people I don’t know well and enjoying their company. I have needed to re-teach myself how to reach out to others and know I will be accepted. Being alone most of the time is not good for me. I am enjoying the moments of meeting others and feeling valued as a person. One positive experience leads to the next.

While this all goes on within, I find I am enjoying each day, sometimes a little and sometimes much more. I am enjoying the desert. It was time to leave San Diego. I did not know that when I left and yet it only took one look at the Anza Borrego Desert, as I was coming down the mountain, that I knew I was where I needed to be.

Gila Woodpecker

Gila Woodpecker

Even in an organized campground, with people around the quietness of the desert is everywhere. I wake each morning to a Gila Woodpecker on the cactus next to my campsite. It is good to get up early to greet the dawn and enjoy the wildlife before they disappear in the warmer part of the day.

Elsie is slowly adapting to life on the road again. Thanks to the calming flower essences my friend Beth gave me, she is quietly and shyly coming out to explore. I appreciate my steady little companion on this journey of mine. At night she curls up on the bed with me. Like I said, a good companion.

I will be returning to San Diego, late in March-one more dental surgery to go. I know some of you have been waiting for an update. It is because of all of you out there in the world, known and unknown to me, that I can continue forward with the adventure of life.

Each day, I am getting ready to hike and explore this marvelous country.

My Inner Child, The Dentist & Jim

images-1I have been in San Diego for a little over a month. All scans, x-rays, and doctors appointments have been completed and the news is good. Well, almost all of the appointments have been completed. The only outstanding appointments at this time is the dentist. Yep, I arrived in San Diego with pain in my jaw (which of course I was sure was head & neck cancer). Day one was an appointment with my dentist, day two was an appointment with the periodontist, and day three was surgery to remove one of my back teeth and have a bone graft completed. Since then I have been through another gum surgery. I have one more to complete after I return from Christmas.

Have I told you that I really, really dread going to the dentist? All these dentists are very nice people but I have had very few good experiences with the dentist. It started when I was in fifth grade and continues to this day. Just in case you are not aware yet, dentists make me very uncomfortable.

No matter how hard I try to be adult and rational about all this, my little girl pops to the foreground and once again I am a mass of little girl feelings. I try to be an adult but often when I get to the dentist office and the news is not the best, I have found myself crying in the dental chair. I know I am not alone in these feelings. All I have to do is bring up the subject of the dentist and the person I am speaking with shares their own feelings of fear and dental dread.

13285233_143979346015699_1388150816_nAll of us have an inner child. I have read books about this. I have gone to workshops about this. I have, through meditation had conversations with my inner child. I think I acknowledge her existence but then, well, just mention the dentist and here she is again, taking over my present day existence.

It is bad enough I become a small girl at the mention of the dentist. This time, when I arrived for my first appointment with the periodontist, I discovered the office was in the same medical building that I took Jim to, three times a week for the last four months of his life. He received IV nutritional therapy to help him better tolerate his chemotherapy. People with head and neck cancer often receive feeding tubes because they cannot tolerate eating. This therapy also helped him live without the feeding tube.

Not only did I have to deal with all my dental fears, I also had to confront some issues around grief. Boy does that subject continue to pop up at interesting times. Once again I sat down in the dental chair, the tech came in and I started crying. Was this fear, was this grief, was this everything all mixed together? I will never know completely. It was hard to walk to elevator and return, once again to this building.

As I review these last several weeks and my visit to this dentist and building, in some ways I find this has been a bit healing for me. I have had time to reflect the moments Jim and I shared in our visits to the doctor who treated him. Jim and I always functioned well as a team. We shared everything. Some of those visits were fraught with anxiousness but we always were very good at supporting each other through our lives together. Sometimes he would sleep and I would go for a walk. Other times we sat and read. Yet other times we shared our thoughts and feelings with each other. It has made me miss him more. It has made me recognize how important those moments were in our relationship. It has made me realize how important all moments are in my relationship to all others.

images-3

It is OK to acknowledge and accept my inner child. That little girl gives me the opportunity to laugh and play and look at the world with excitement and wonder. It is a little harder to acknowledge her when I am sobbing in the dental chair. I guess that is the time to acknowledge her most of all. At times like this I need to tell all of my selves “it’s OK”. If I need to cry, then cry. Usually after my sob session is over I can handle my time at the dentist better and I feel more adult.

Later this morning all of me is off to the dentist for a follow-up.

My Inner Child, The Dentist & Jim

images-1I have been in San Diego for a little over a month. All scans, x-rays, and doctors appointments have been completed and the news is good. Well, almost all of the appointments have been completed. The only outstanding appointments at this time is the dentist. Yep, I arrived in San Diego with pain in my jaw (which of course I was sure was head & neck cancer). Day one was an appointment with my dentist, day two was an appointment with the periodontist, and day three was surgery to remove one of my back teeth and have a bone graft completed. Since then I have been through another gum surgery. I have one more to complete after I return from Christmas.

Have I told you that I really, really dread going to the dentist? All these dentists are very nice people but I have had very few good experiences with the dentist. It started when I was in fifth grade and continues to this day. Just in case you are not aware yet, dentists make me very uncomfortable.

No matter how hard I try to be adult and rational about all this, my little girl pops to the foreground and once again I am a mass of little girl feelings. I try to be an adult but often when I get to the dentist office and the news is not the best, I have found myself crying in the dental chair. I know I am not alone in these feelings. All I have to do is bring up the subject of the dentist and the person I am speaking with shares their own feelings of fear and dental dread.

13285233_143979346015699_1388150816_nAll of us have an inner child. I have read books about this. I have gone to workshops about this. I have, through meditation had conversations with my inner child. I think I acknowledge her existence but then, well, just mention the dentist and here she is again, taking over my present day existence.

It is bad enough I become a small girl at the mention of the dentist. This time, when I arrived for my first appointment with the periodontist, I discovered the office was in the same medical building that I took Jim to, three times a week for the last four months of his life. He received IV nutritional therapy to help him better tolerate his chemotherapy. People with head and neck cancer often receive feeding tubes because they cannot tolerate eating. This therapy also helped him live without the feeding tube.

Not only did I have to deal with all my dental fears, I also had to confront some issues around grief. Boy does that subject continue to pop up at interesting times. Once again I sat down in the dental chair, the tech came in and I started crying. Was this fear, was this grief, was this everything all mixed together? I will never know completely. It was hard to walk to elevator and return, once again to this building.

As I review these last several weeks and my visit to this dentist and building, in some ways I find this has been a bit healing for me. I have had time to reflect the moments Jim and I shared in our visits to the doctor who treated him. Jim and I always functioned well as a team. We shared everything. Some of those visits were fraught with anxiousness but we always were very good at supporting each other through our lives together. Sometimes he would sleep and I would go for a walk. Other times we sat and read. Yet other times we shared our thoughts and feelings with each other. It has made me miss him more. It has made me recognize how important those moments were in our relationship. It has made me realize how important all moments are in my relationship to all others.

images-3

It is OK to acknowledge and accept my inner child. That little girl gives me the opportunity to laugh and play and look at the world with excitement and wonder. It is a little harder to acknowledge her when I am sobbing in the dental chair. I guess that is the time to acknowledge her most of all. At times like this I need to tell all of my selves “it’s OK”. If I need to cry, then cry. Usually after my sob session is over I can handle my time at the dentist better and I feel more adult.

Later this morning all of me is off to the dentist for a follow-up.