Girl School for Grownups

Like having a big sister, but better because I can't boss you around!

Transforming hate into something better

I have a whole post in mind about laundry and you’re gonna see it soon. But yesterday a friend asked this question on Facebook, “What do you do when you really hate something? Can you learn to like it, even a little bit?”

A pet peeve.

A pet peeve.

What a great question. I thought about throwing out some tips, but the more I thought I realized more information was needed. So I asked for, and got, the details of her situation. And I passed on some thoughts that were specific to her situation. Now that got me to thinking (start of rabbit trail)

What if I change the tagline of my blog from “Like having a big sister, but better because I can’t boss you around.” to “Heloise meets Carrie Bradshaw” (because on “Sex and the City” Carrie was always starting her work with, “and that got me to thinking.” But wait. I’m like Carrie Bradshaw minus everything that makes her Carrie Bradshaw, except that question.

Aaaaand we’re back. Then I realized that although there are specifics to each situation, there are a few general principle that apply to anything we don’t like. It won’t work on pet peeves. (I will NEVER fail to be riled up about women leaving the toilet seat cover on the toilet for the next person to deal with. C’mon girls. That’s not nice. And it’s gross.) But a change in perspective is definitely called for because when you don’t like something, it controls you. And you can call it whatever you like: hate, irritation, resentment, negativity. Those things only hurt you. I’ve heard, “Having a resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for the enemy to die”

For your consideration I offer some ways to deal with (let’s call it what it is) the stuff that irritates the shit out of you.

  • Beware the roving eye of discontent. I grew up at a time when military shows were on TV a lot. I was fascinated by radar screens, where they would be scanning an area and little blips would show when they found something. That’s what the roving eye of discontent feels like to me. Like I’m scanning, constantly scanning, for whatever is not right in the world. In other drivers. In my house. In my circumstances. In me. For years my strategy for dealing with this was running and while that doesn’t work for everybody, physical movement truly can interrupt a mind gone bad.
  • Find the good. This one’s tricky, because there are some circumstances that are empirically bad, to my way of thinking. I’m not talking Pollyanna thinking, but rather taking your brain and finding something good in whatever you don’t like. For example, “thank God I’m not as giant of an asshole as that guy.” At first glance that may seem inflammatory, but if you really consider the statement, it can go from an exclamation of anger to a prayer.
  • Teachers all around. For years I have loved Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild (a wonderful book) and Tiny Beautiful Things (an even better book). Now she has a podcast called “Dear Sugar” which is based on an online advice column she wrote some years back, under the pseudonym “Sugar.” In the inaugural episode, she talks about “dark teachers.” I won’t reveal the context of this term, but suffice to say that it has to do with an evil act. What blew my mind was the idea that something could be learned, even from something horrendous.
  • What we seek gets bigger. Here’s an experiment to try. Choose a color. Any color. Now scan your environment for things of that color. (If you’re outside in nature, don’t choose green. That’s too easy.) I’ll bet you are able to find matches for the color you chose. So if we’re looking for what’s bad, you’d better believe we’ll find it. But if we’re actively seek the good, we’ll find that too.
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Codependency hurts

For a very long time I hated the word “codependent.” To me it sounded like therapy speak and ranked right up there with other words I don’t like such as “inner child” and “issues.” The words made it seem like you weren’t taking responsibility for yourself somehow. But in the last year or so I’ve been working on my codependency issues (I can’t believe I typed those words!), and I’m finding a lot of emotional freedom as a result.

So what is codependency? Here’s an excellent essay from Mental Health America (MHA) that discusses it. According to this essay, codependency develops in families where any of the following are present:

  • An addiction by a family member to drugs, alcohol, relationships, work, food, sex, or gambling.
  • The existence of physical, emotional, or sexual abuse.
  • The presence of a family member suffering from a chronic mental or physical illness.

Ding ding ding! Growing up with a mother who was bipolar and had OCD definitely came with some issues. Again, from MHA:

Dysfunctional families do not acknowledge that problems exist. They don’t talk about them or confront them. As a result, family members learn to repress emotions and disregard their own needs. They become “survivors.” They develop behaviors that help them deny, ignore, or avoid difficult emotions. They detach themselves. They don’t talk. They don’t confront. They don’t trust. The identity and emotional development of the members of a dysfunctional family are often inhibited.

Attention and energy focus on the family member who is ill or addicted. The co-dependent person typically sacrifices his or her needs to take care of a person who is sick. When co-dependents place other people’s health, welfare and safety before their own, they can lose contact with their own needs, desires, and sense of self.

I’m not sure what else to say, because it’s all fairly new to me. But I can say this: I’m finding a level of freedom and happiness that feels fantastic. And this: if you need more information about codependency and what to do about it, send me an email at gandy.leslie@gmail.com. I can point you in the direction of resources that are working for me.

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Thoughts about death

In January 2013, Tim’s dad died. In August my mom died. And in January 2014 my dad died. In the last week, two of my much loved friends have lost parents. In honor of my friends, and for anyone who has lost someone they love, here’s something I wrote shortly after Troy died.

For most of my life I’ve known virtually nothing about death. I took a course in college titled “Death and Dying” and I learned about the five stages of grief. I knew what I learned in Sunday School and what the Bible taught about death and heaven and hell. But I’ve rarely experienced death in a way that touched my everyday life.

My father-in-law died 3 weeks ago.

Troy was a vital part of our lives. He and Margaret lived 10 minutes away from us.  He worked until a month before his death. He celebrated his 60th anniversary last June. He loved his family and friends and wanted to live. He was one of my favorite people ever and I know he loved me. I miss him like crazy. And I hate that he’s dead and that awful people are still alive.

I don’t know much about death and grief, but here are the things I’ve learned so far:

  • Every time someone says “I’m so sorry about Troy” it eases a teeny tiny bit of the pain. So I will always acknowledge, in person or by sending a card, the loss of a loved one. 
  • Sending food is one of the best ways to help people who are grieving. The people who are alive still need to eat. I will always bring food when I can. It’s a tangible way to express love.
  • Talking about the person who died is good. One day shortly after he died, I had a wave of sadness that came out of nowhere. I was driving home from Trader Joe’s and crying, and I thought “I’m going to call Margaret.” Then I was scared because I didn’t want to make her sad. Decided to call anyway. She answered and asked me how I was doing. I said “I miss Troy so much.” She said, “Oh I miss him too” and we talked and it helped.
  • If you pay attention, you can find a way to help. In January we practically lived at Troy and Margaret’s house. And we used our house as a pit stop. One of my friends, unbeknownst to me, snuck into our house while we were helping Margaret and cleaned our kitchen. (I still get tears in my eyes when I think of this.)

As far as my beliefs about the afterlife, again I don’t know much. I used to think I knew some stuff. But in the last 4 years it’s like everything I thought I knew was stripped away (which is not a bad thing, but it’s a hard thing) and every belief has been challenged. Here’s a little list of what I think I know for sure:

  • There is a God.
  • I am not God (if I was, things would be a LOT different around here!).
  • God knows and cares beyond what I can possibly imagine.
  • Troy has a new body that works perfectly.
  • There is a balcony. I read a Joyce Meyers book years ago where she said that people who die can be in our balcony. And we can choose who’s in our balcony. I like to think of the upper deck seats at a Giants game, with people leaning forward and cheering, “You can do it!” I think Troy is in a lot of people’s balconies.

I loved Troy. You would have loved him too.

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My depression story, part 2

images-2More of the rest of the story.

So I started taking an antidepressant and I started feeling better. Not maniacally-happy-all-the-time better, but better enough that I could function without feeling like it took every ounce of strength inside of me to do normal life stuff. As Tim saw the improvements, he realized that while antidepressants might not be the magic cure-all for everyone, they were making a difference for his wife.

I, however, was conflicted. Yes, I felt better, but I felt like I was cheating somehow by taking a pill instead of just muddling through. Because I’m me, I read a lot of books about the subject. People wrote that you wouldn’t be judgmental of a diabetic who takes insulin, so why would you feel judgement about taking something to restore your missing serotonin. Yeah, that sounded like bullshit for weak people to me. My other issue was financial. Maybe it was my internal cheapskate. Or lack of self-worth. Whatever. The medicine that worked wasn’t covered by my insurance and it was expensive. Tim didn’t care. He just was happy to have his wife back. But I cared because taking medicine daily made me feel broken, and then when it cost more than a nickel a day (I joke, but I seriously do have issues with spending money on taking care of myself), it was agonizing to take. So I played medication games. I took half of what I was prescribed — it was like finding a sale on medicine! Sometimes I quit altogether to show how strong I was. Neither of these games worked and I strongly do not recommend them to anyone who is taking an anti-depressant.

There are some things that I did “right” that helped ease my feelings of gloom:

  • I continued to run almost daily (staying physically active for decades because I can’t do life without exercise is one of the silver linings that’s come from depression)
  • Watching the news? Not for this girl. I couldn’t even watch the news as a kid, and as it continues to show graphic images of doom and hell, I continue to get the little news I do get from print media or the radio.
  • I read lots of books about being positive and mindful.

I continued to eat crappy foods (yeah, I’d read that a balanced diet with an emphasis on protein and fresh whole foods could enhance the effectiveness of medication, but I remained unwilling to take action) and stayed away from counseling, not wanting to spend the money on that, or to feel even more broken than I already did (because if I needed meds AND counseling, well … that just wasn’t going to happen!).

As I think back on this time, an image comes to mind of a flower trying to grow through a crack in the sidewalk. If everyone else got to be flowers in a greenhouse, somehow my biochemistry, when combined with my choices, meant that I still got to be a flower, but I was dealing with shitty dirt and whatever conditions sidewalks have to deal with. That’s not an easy way to live.

Thank you to everyone who has read what I’ve written, and who has taken the time to comment here on the blog or on Facebook.

To be continued…

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Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and aging, part 1

Before I get started let me say that men have it so much easier when it comes to getting older. Wrinkles? Sign of character. Beer belly? Easily disguised in a loose fitting golf shirt and some khaki pants. Here’s the thing. (Start of a rant that some of you may have heard. Sorry.) As a society, I believe we value men for the power/status/money and women for their looks. So men “peak” when? Maybe late 50s? Early 60s? Maybe even beyond. But women reach their physical apex at maybe 22 or 23, and nearly every girl of that age only sees her flaws, so she’s past the peak before she even knows it. Fuck! This is why men in their 40s and beyond can be leading men in movies, romantically paired with women who are a decade or more younger, and nobody thinks a thing about it.

Writing about aging is a pull of opposite forces for me. I believe with all my heart that you can’t judge a book by its cover and who you are on the inside is what really matters, and our bodies are just containers for our souls, nothing more. But I’m still going to share my thoughts on how to age gracefully, which will include tips that have everything to do with the outsides. Because the reality is that we can’t help but see what people look like, and while you could not pay me enough money to go back to who I was in my early 20s (I was a mess inside!), I’m trying to be the best 53-year-old me I can be on the outside.

If you took Psychology in school, you were probably introduced to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. This theory, as I remember it from many decades ago, is depicted by a pyramid. The bottom of the pyramid represents your basic needs (oxygen, food, shelter) and according to Maslow, if your basic needs are not fulfilled  then you will not be able to strive for the higher needs (in his pyramid, self-actualization is at the top).

How does this relate to aging? Well, I believe that there are basic things we can do to age gracefully, and once the basics are covered we can look to the next level of taking care of ourselves. If I knew how to do cool diagrams then there would be a very cool, probably multi-colored pyramid here with pop outs describing what each layer consists of. For today, words will have to do. And for today I’m just going to talk about the foundation of the pyramid, from which everything else flows.

BASE OF PYRAMID: a positive optimistic attitude and curiosity about life. Without this, no matter how young or cute you are, you’re eventually sunk.

I’m sure you’ve met people who got more attractive as you got to know them, right? I think that phenomenon is based on having a sunny outlook. I’m not talking Pollyanna here, but to find the good in life is a very good thing. There’s a saying “Life can make you bitter or it can make you better.” This, my friends, is true.

Let’s talk about my mother-in-law, Margaret. If you met her you would be charmed by her smile and how interested she is in life. She is wonderful to be around. But her life has been far from charmed. If she chose to, she could tell you about her physical issues. Or the hardships and losses she’s seen and endured in her 80+ years of life. Or about how her husband of 60 years died. But I promise you if you met her today, she would be talking about her visit to see her brother and how much fun it was, and maybe about the new lamp and table she’s considering for her dining room, and how her bridge game is going. And she would want to know about YOU!

Let’s talk about my mother, Sandy. (I am lucky to be surrounded with such wonderful examples.) Sandy joined Toastmasters about 8 or 9 years ago because she wanted a place where she could wear all her pretty high-heeled shoes. I think she took up ballroom dancing around the same time. Why? Because it seemed fun. And then she started working out with a trainer at her gym, because she wanted to be stronger for dancing. She’s competed several times, and been asked to compete in a younger age group because it will level the playing field for the others. Sandy lives in a very exclusive part of Orange County, and from the outside it looks like she has it all. And she thinks she does. But she’s been through a LOT to get where she is. Hers is not my story to tell, nor will I tell you her age, but I will tell you that you wouldn’t believe her story or her age if I did.

I know that health issues and circumstances can completely suck and are often out of our control. But what’s the “Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% what you make of it” speech? It’s just true.

I’ll write soon about the next level of the hierarchy. In the meantime for those of you motivated by assignments and homework and such, go watch the movie Shallow Hal. It came out in 2001 so it’s probably free on Netflicks or being sold for a nickle on Amazon, and it’s one of the best “what you are on the inside is what matters” movies I’ve ever seen. And it’s wickedly funny.

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