I do collections. What I’m doing for the company I work at is pretty much collecting payment for what most of the world sees as a luxury. For the most part, I’m not harassing people that are trying to decide if paying me is going to cost them groceries for the next week. But there was a call yesterday and it reminded me that I haven’t asked myself, “what’s my contribution?” in a while.
I’m here to encourage you today. My inspired moment yesterday looked like a poorly planned Facebook Live. I had the sun glaring behind me and forgot to turn off my Waze app that was taking me home. There were lots of giggles but this is my follow up. Fewer giggles. Same insane amounts of love for people I may never see.
I get it. Life can be overwhelming and difficult. Bills pile up and it can be overwhelming. Relationships can feel one sided or draining. Or they can end before you want them to. Things we hope for or expect can fail us and fall through. It’s easy to get caught up in what we hoped for not being our reality and it can wear us down. I can tell you to shift your perspective, but it’s not an easy thing to do and sometimes you have to shift it every couple of minutes.
Who are you?
I want to remind you that you are not your debt. You are not your job. You are not your relationship. When you are gone, no one will remember the details of what you did for a living, or how extravagantly you lived. They’ll remember who you are. So, who are you?
I’m a brave, courageous, heart-led leader.
I’m a mom who will do whatever it takes for my kids.
I am a woman capable of giving love and one day I will comfortably say I can receive it too. (Battle scars.)
My identity is not tied up in my circumstances.
I am not the jobs that come and go.
I am no longer an abandoned wife. I’m here for me and I will not leave my side.
When we make regrettable choices in life, it’s so easy to take that moment and wear it as a punishing cloak of identity. This is a choice you don’t have to make.
I loved being a student, so I’m asking you to take a moment to think of finishing school. Once you graduate and are no longer a student that education is still able to serve you in knowledge as well as the habits that got you through it. But you are no longer a student.
It’s like looking at that miniskirt I used to wear in high school. I have the same legs, but my belly has held enough life to stretch it in ways that leave designers stumped (there really should be a market for c-section belly overhangs that just need a comfy belly bra). It might look like it could fit, but it really doesn’t and I see it every time I try. While it’s in my hands and not on my body, I’m imagining what could be, unable to release what doesn’t fit for the yoga pants that do. Let it go.
You are not alone.
I understand depression. I understand the inability to see beyond an immediate circumstance that has made me feel worthless.
My first real suicide attempt was when I was 14. I had to have my stomach pumped and stayed in the hospital for about a week with most of that time in Intensive Care. This was followed up in therapy. There were several other serious attempts, but I couldn’t give you a number. I got help though. I’ve had a therapist through the first event, the baby blues in 2001 and when my husband left me in 2015. I wasn’t counting the lows because it was a series of days that were too dark to see through. The most recent was probably around 2014. My depression was intense but I got help in the form of a prescription that time. The point is, I couldn’t handle things on my own and I got help. Repeatedly.
All I can say is I’m here today because I searched for help and didn’t stop searching until I felt I was safe.
I was never the type to tell people I wanted to kill myself. Not in anger or as a threat. My personality is much too implosive for that.
I’m very self-aware and have always been great at torturing myself with that pain in silence. But it has also forced me to advocate for myself in getting help.
When I started visualizing self-harm, I asked for help.
When I tried to imagine what death would do to my body, I asked for help.
When I sat alone in the dark, unable to get out of bed, I asked for help.
When insomnia was controlling my life, I asked for help.
When I couldn’t eat anything, or couldn’t’ stop myself from eating everything, I asked for help.
When I started cancelling plans with friends because I didn’t plan to be around, I asked for help.
When I held pills or something sharp in my hand, and couldn’t see myself getting past the next hour, I asked for help.
When my smile was painfully fake but no one could tell, I asked for help.
When I see that same smile on someone else’s face, I now offer help.
You will get through the next minute, hour, day.
You will learn to help yourself through hard days.
I sing out loud. I dance or walk (endorphins are amazing). I get lots of sunshine for Vitamin D. I write, and when I feel the people I reach out to are making things worse, I step back and know that self-care is not selfish. And I catch a sunset. Something about nature reminds me that I am tiny and as small as I am, my problems are smaller and just as the world does its thing without me, I don’t need to feel responsible for the world.
You’re not a tree. You don’t need to stay where you are. If you hate your job, get another. If a relationship isn’t working, end it. You don’t need to put a time goal on your life. There’s no need for “I’ll give it another couple of months.” Go get your life. Decide what you want to change or keep and work for it. Don’t settle for the same circumstances and hope time will fix things. If it’s meant to be done, you must get it done. No one can live this life for you. No one is to blame but you if you choose to settle in misery.
Again, get help.
Ask for help from your doctor. They have pills and facilities that are made to help you when it’s too much.
Ask for help from your pastor or church. There are religions built around helping others. Good stuff, really.
Ask for help from a therapist. They won’t fix you. They’ll help you learn to shift your perspective, address what is holding you back and break through to the next phase of your healing.
Ask for help from family and friends. I can’t remember a time I tried to kill myself with an audience. Don’t be alone if you don’t feel safe.
Know that saving your life is an inside job that no one can do but yourself.
Know that there is no shame in what you feel.
I won’t say you’re wrong in what you feel.
I won’t say you need to help me feel better about what you are going through.
I won’t guilt you for feeling bad.
It’s okay to feel what you do.
If you’re hurting enough to want to hurt yourself or others, you are hurting enough to need support.
Ask for the support you need. Know you are worthy of a happy and fulfilling life. Know that depression isn’t a life sentence and there are always options and answers to questions we don’t always know to ask. Wait and the question will present itself. Help comes when you look for it because it never looks the way we expect it to.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800) 273-8255
A couple of weeks ago I was getting a haircut. I loved the way his work made me feel. I wanted a trim and a dye job. I have a bit of hair at the nape of my neck bleached, then dyed purple. I wanted it near work in Santa Monica to help me take my time getting home so I could avoid traffic. I found a hairdresser who uses gentle products and was very social. I loved my time in his chair.
While he worked and the shop began to close, his cleaning man came in to scrub floors and make the place smell chemically clean and sanitized. We chatted about his birthday weekend plans apart from his twin sister. We chatted about the twins I carried long enough to love. Just as my hair was washed out, a woman came into the shop.
The hairdresser was supporting her with a hug and the benefits of friendship. She wore a cute black dress that was perfect for work and made me jealous of it until I remembered I rarely sit like a lady in a dress. She seemed to be holding back with so much pain and emotion. I asked if she had just endured a long day and my moment of compassion opened her up just enough to be authentic in the pain she felt.
This woman was going through a divorce with a man still intent on making her suffer even though they were no longer together, and she was faced with starting over. New city, new job, new lower credit score (divorce will do that) and no idea how she was going to get through it. I’ve been there and I’m certain several of my readers have as well.
I gave her encouragement like I got so many times from people who had been divorced. I told her she was stronger than she knew. I was told the same thing repeatedly and it was only in the months after I found a new normal that I could see it was true. I told her there were good times and bad times. Remember the bad, but cling to the good. I told her that I acknowledged her for not giving up and getting this job for herself. She insisted the job was for others and their expectations of her, but I pointed out she was doing it for herself. I knew because she wasn’t in bed, hiding and quitting life.
The cleaning man stopped to encourage her as well. He was a man that got to start over after nearly 40 years and and it wasn’t his first choice either. He also eventually found freedom in starting life over.
What are the odds that I would be in the right time at the right place with another stranger sharing a similar story of getting through the end of a marriage with a woman who needed to borrow our strength? We were exactly where we needed to be when we needed to be there.
There was another hair appointment that was supposed to be worked in tandem with mine. She had cancelled and had she been there, we might not have had that same cradle of connection and care that we were able to offer her. Had I decided to go straight home or wait for the weekend to go to a salon near my home, I would have missed her. We are right where we need to be, when we need to be there, but sometimes we’re meant to be present for someone else. It’s not always about me, and I get to see how I might help others. That is a gift. It is a special honor.
I told her to hold onto that moment. It was one of the good ones where she openly cried with two strangers and she was met with love and compassion. One day what we gave her will be needed by someone else. I’m certain she will give and also receive in the act of giving the way I did.
There is a right time and place for everything. There’s a whole song and bible verse on it if you don’t believe me. The thing is you get to look at the moment you are in and see what the purpose is. Maybe you’re there and the reason is you’re meant to support someone else.
I don’t often write about my surrogate pregnancies. Part of its was a non-disclosure that was signed to ensure I would give my couples their privacy. They’re amazing people and always close to my heart. In a perfect world they wouldn’t have needed me. Part of me wants to keep them closely protected in my memories.
I could still share about doing seven IVF cycles as a surrogate. I could tell you about the many needles and syringes. I could write about prepping my needles and shooting myself in the butt because help from the ex didn’t look like him helping me with the awkward position of where I needed to shoot myself. I could share the horrible feeling from hormones. Feeling pregnant and bloated and emotional and knowing I was doing it all to myself… There’s also the way it felt to be cared for and pampered by these parents or what it feels like to part with the children that spent so much time just under my heart. Maybe one day I will share.
What I am sharing is the greatest takeaway I have from it. It’s the people and the relationships and the perspective shift.
My second couple was culturally Jewish, though they weren’t religious. I wanted to get a Mezuzah for the baby’s room but learned how inappropriate that is for a family that didn’t plan to raise their child in the practices of a faith they weren’t passing on.
I won’t get into all of it, but I will share just enough about my last couple. They were an Arab couple from a muslim country and they were practicing muslims. I had studied geography to know where they came from but beyond that, my understanding came from the news. I don’t watch the news anymore. It’s all about creating a perspective and selling viewers to companies that want to show us their really expensive ad campaigns. I read and skim for important details through news outlets that don’t try to make me throw things.
When I met my intended mom for the first time, I was told to meet this Arab woman I had never seen before in a store on Rodeo Drive. I thought that maybe she would have dark skin but that she would be covered up in a Burqa or hijab. I wasn’t prepared for who she was and it threw me off center just enough. A couple of hours with her changed who I am as I look at the world outside of myself.
She was so beautiful with fair skin and beautiful black hair that fell in soft waves around her shoulders. She wore a long flowing top with dress pants. Her outfits were always high fashion, but conservative. It was a hot day, but she looked comfortable even though she was covered up by her clothes, I would have never known she was muslim by her clothes. She was confident. She had an A type personality and could easily take command of a room. I would have never known she was the meek and oppressed woman I thought every Muslim woman was. Everything I had been told to believe about Muslim women was ridiculous compared to who she showed up as. She wasn’t dominated by her husband. She made decisions and she was empowered through his support.
Months later I was hospitalized so the twins I carried for them wouldn’t come early. The intended father refused to enter my room without my ex there. When it occurred to me that he treated me with the respect he would show the women in his country . . . his mom, and wife and sisters . . . I was floored. It was no longer an oppressive practice as I had once thought it was that a woman couldn’t be alone in a room with a man that wasn’t her family or husband. I saw it as the highest respect he could offer me and the feeling of being cared for through this act still moves me so much five years later.
Before I met them, I had this idea of who they should be. Before I met them, I was convinced I knew what Muslims thought and believed because my news anchor was supposed to be reliable. After meeting them I researched enough of the Quran (a really tiny amount) to see that there’s an overlap. The books in the bible I studied as a child are also in the Quran. We’re in the middle of Ramadan. People all over the world are fasting as I did along with prayer in my Christian church. They are looking out for others that don’t have enough. In the name of religion and through faith so strong as to wear it outwardly through the oppression of a fearful country, they are living practices I would hope to internalize myself and teach my children.
My couple through being the good people they are . . . Through proudly practicing their faith . . . Through caring for me as they did, were able to let me see how much of a bigot I was.
My lesson was that I cannot judge anyone for anything but how they show up, and even then without having the knowledge of their motivation I really can’t say what makes them do what they do. I just know I’m here on this earth to love others and support them to do better and be more and live life epicly.
And that was the greatest gift I took away from my 3 surrogate pregnancies. That and all of the love and support a pregnant lady could want.
The phrase “working mom” is complex in itself. Moms work. Nonstop. From sons up to sons down and later still because some things can only get done after they are down.
For most of my marriage I stayed home or went to work or school a few hours a week. For the most part I was home with the kids doing chores, finding hobbies, baking, crafting and carrying babies as a surrogate when I wasn’t earning scholarships as a student. Most of this was concurrent multi-tasking.
Life for my 10 year old hasn’t been okay since the separation started two years ago. All three still haven’t smiled like they used to. I can see it in their eyes and the way it feels forced and fake. It’s not obvious unless you have known what it is to fake happiness for someone else. I just had another talk about depression the other night and Kid2 admitted he still struggles.
For Kid3, his identity was the youngest in a family of five. When the family of five shifted to four, who he is became a fluid identity in a sea without a stable anchor. Add Mom and Dad living differently and having new relationships and he hasn’t felt safely attached for a while. Not safely enough. He’s been struggling since then with what is normal. He’s seen a therapist. I try to do things with him around the house. Actually, projects and catching up on housework on weekends because I spend most of my week at work or driving are my new normal. I leave at 7:30 in the morning and don’t get home until around 8 at night.
My latest project was to update my pond. Pictured is Kid3 several years ago. As for the pond, it’s still evolving.
Yesterday morning was a hard one for Kid3. Honestly, it was a rough continuation of my day before. I left for work at 7:30 a.m.. I left work early at 3:30 that afternoon, then drove through traffic so bad over about 20 miles that I didn’t get home until 5:45 where I picked kids up for an Awards night at my older kid’s school, not arriving there until 6:15.
We sat through the ceremony, took a few pictures, dropped the boyfriend off at home where he could decompress, then drove around a little more before landing at a new family favorite ramen restaurant. We got home and the meltdown started.
There’s a pattern. On days when school starts or they’re going back to their Dad, my little one’s separation anxiety ramps up and he refuses to go to school, begging instead to stay home with me. Yesterday morning I was trying to rush out the door and take a phone interview on my way to work (yay me! I’m over qualified for this entry level position and he’ll keep me in mind if any senior positions open up that will pay more).
Kid3’s tantrum was so bad that I was now 40 minutes late for work, but I had him sit in the car as I finished the interview and hung up. Tearfully, he told me he didn’t want me to work. He wanted to get me fired. He was willing to leave because calling his Dad for support resulted in a threat to go back to court for custody. As tight as money is when I’m not working, he wants me to stay home with him. It feels good to be that wanted. At the same time, this tells me I’m neglecting his emotional needs and his separation anxiety is a symptom of him not feeling safe enough attachment to me to want to be independent.
That’s heavy. That last sentence is full of density and I’ll unpack it.
When my kids were little, their needs were simple. Help them rest when tired. Feed them when hungry. Keep them clean enough to be comfortable but dirty enough to have fun. As they’re getting older and more physically independent, their emotional needs are shifting and they need more support. I need to help them feel so surrounded by my love that they feel it even when I’m not around. My youngest doesn’t feel that right now.
A couple of years ago I read the 5 Love Languages by Dr. Gary Chapman. It explored the five ways we can express or feel love.
- Gift giving – He often asks me to buy him things.
- Quality time – He likes playing board games or being with me to watch movies or throw a ball around.
- Words of affirmation – He needs to hear that I love him and that I value what he says when he’s telling me about his day.
- Acts of service – He often asks me to brush his hair or help him with personal hygiene. When he’s happy, he’s willing to do things for me.
- Physical touch – He likes belly massages and bear hugs.
He actively asks me to do or engage in these things on a regular basis. So basically my son has shown and told me that he needs all of his emotional love needs met and he’s starved for love.
The greatest lesson about the book is that it taught that the way you show love isn’t necessarily the way others need to receive that love from you and love means finding out how to fulfill the needs of someone else, rather than assume what works for you is good enough in the way most of us selfishly do.
In doing projects I choose and having him join me, I assumed he was getting enough love in the time together, but over the last few days he was showing me that he was not.
At the end of the day, my relationship with my son is a relationship. I can’t assume what I’ve always done will always be enough because as he grows and walks in independence, his needs change and evolve. I want to be the parent he is willing to talk to. It’s a relationship that needs time and attention to detail . . . Just like any other relationship.