Things I Didn’t Know 30 Years Ago

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It’s National Suicide Awareness Month. In honor of that, I’ve shared an extremely personal story from my own life in a post entitled, Here’s What I Can Do, published on September 22, 2020. I hope that in doing so, someone contemplating ending their own life may be inspired to consider that things won’t always be the way they are in the desperate time they are currently experiencing.

Looking over the years between then and now, I see my rich life unfolding, filled with experiences I’d never have imagined. I’ve changed and grown and forged relationships with amazing people. I’ve found real love, a sense of serenity, security and personal sovereignty. I’m a person who cherishes my life and is thankful that I got to live past the age of 28.

As an exercise in perspective, I’m compiling a list of things I didn’t know about life, about myself and about the world back then. Because one of the things I didn’t know at that time is how to put things in perspective. I’ll update the list daily.

Things I Didn’t Know 30 Years Ago

  1. That I would be loved by my Sweetie and that we’d build a wonderful life together, based on respect, kindness and silliness that fills my heart with unending joy.
  2. That, contrary to my own (and others’) beliefs I was not shy. Disregarded and underestimated, yes, but not shy. Once I associated with those who respected me, my insecurity lessened and I learned that my voice and opinions were valid and mattered. Over time I became able to express them more freely and with greater confidence.
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Here’s What I Can Do

This post is part of a series. Click to read all posts in Things I Didn’t Know 30 Years Ago.

Too often, in recent years especially, I’ve felt helpless, impotent, unable to make an impact while I witness the world fall apart. Politics, society, Earth herself, people’s personal lives… they’re all on fire in one way or another. It breaks my heart that my small voice can’t tackle the huge problems that plague humanity – no matter how urgently or desperately I want it to. BUT, I wonder if maybe my small voice can make a difference in someone’s life…

I learned only today that September is Suicide Prevention Awareness month. I’m going to use that fact as the impetus to finally step up and address a topic on which I have firsthand experience – and maybe make an impact after all.

You see, almost 30 years ago, on the morning of December 22, 1990, I swallowed a handful of pills hoping they would put an end (temporarily or permanently – I didn’t care) to the emotional pain I was in. I’d reached the end of my tolerance for living with an abusive husband, crushing debt and estrangement from my family of origin. 

It seemed on that day that there was no hope for me to ever escape those conditions. I could see no exit strategy, no means to affect change on any of the toxic circumstances in which I was drowning. I felt insignificant, powerless, isolated, unloved and unlovable. And I wanted – no – NEEDED those feelings to stop. I had no more psychic energy (or will) to fight through that miasma another minute. My tank was empty. My spirit was broken. My life was meaningless, it seemed, to myself and to others.

That’s all I want to say about that particular day. It’s well in my rear view by now. I’m not that person any more. And THAT is really the point I want to make: That situations change. Conditions change. YOU change.

Even when yesterday was total shit.

Even when today is total shit.

Even when every indication is that tomorrow and every day after it will be shit.

Things change. I didn’t know that then. The person I was couldn’t know that then because, well, no crystal balls, right?

But the person I am today does know that – with all my heart.

I’m not saying it was easy. It took a helluva lot of therapy and introspection and courage and support and love (from others and myself). But every day since then has proved another step out of that desperate mindset. I’ve become the me who does know and can acknowledge that things change.

In celebration of the fact that yes, change WILL happen – even when no part of you can believe that to be true – I’m making a list of things I didn’t know 30 years ago to demonstrate the amazing twists and surprising detours a life can take. So even in the depths of what feels like hopeless, never-ending despair, believe in your heart that you can’t know for certain what the future will hold for you. You could have an amazing life waiting for you, just out of view. I did.

Here goes – I’ll add one daily.

Things I Didn’t Know 30 Years Ago

  1. That I would be loved by my Sweetie and that we’d build a wonderful life together, based on respect, kindness and silliness that fills my heart with unending joy.
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Caregivers Need Care Too

Last week marked the one year “anniversary” of my husband Scott’s last chemotherapy treatment. Since then, blood tests and CT scans indicate he is now CANCER FREE! Whew! It was, to put it mildly, an ordeal getting through that span of time between being diagnosed with colon cancer, which was discovered during a routine colonoscopy on October 18, 2018, and now. He underwent surgery that removed the tumor on November 16, 2018 and began a regimen of 12 bi-weekly chemotherapy treatments in February 12, 2019. There were a few hiccups affecting his treatment schedule along the way I won’t go into here but by the end of August, his course of treatment was complete.

Scott was such a trooper throughout the whole awful experience. As unpleasant as it was, he, without fail, complied with whatever he was told to do, when he was told to do it. He dealt, heroically, I think, with the overwhelming sense of surrender of his fate into the hands of others. It’s a truly humbling experience, being in so little control of your life, your health, your body… But he let himself be cared for and trusted the process. Truly admirable, he.

Scott in the chemo chair for Treatment #4. Feels like last week – and forever ago.

Seeing my Sweetie go through the rigors of chemotherapy was heartbreaking for me. As his care/support giver, I felt an obligation – and strong desire, of course – to be his rock through this time. No matter our existing relationship’s strength and depth, rising to the role of caregiver is above and beyond what I’d ever thought I would – or could do. I was willing to do anything at all for him, yet I wasn’t sure I’d be able to meet the challenge. I felt overwhelmed, lost and alone from the outset. Scott, my rock, was currently unavailable, just as I felt the most vulnerable and needy.

Throughout the course of his treatment, I experienced times of deep despair in which I obsessed about the present and the future; I felt unmoored, drifting toward an unknown destination; without personal control. All I could see some days was CANCER; it blocked every other bit of input, consumed every moment, every thought, every ounce of my concentration and energy. The journey back to “normal” felt endless and harrowing.

As I limped forward, I became aware that I feared I’d break under the weight of these burdens. If that happened, I realized I’d be no good to either of us. I needed to stay strong and resilient to be the same sort of brave warrior as Scott while rising to my own unique challenges as his caregiver. Once I realized that my wellbeing was every bit as important as Scott’s, I took steps to safeguard my mental and physical health. Once I shored myself up, the days became more manageable, and my confidence and sense of optimism increased.

Now that Scott is better and that terrifying chapter of life is behind us, I’ve taken the opportunity to think deeply about how we got through it all. I realized that something important was lacking in the overall care plan… support for me, the caregiver. It’s not that there aren’t services and support groups out there; it’s that they aren’t as accessible and personalized as I needed them to be. There was no one holding out a hand to me, saying, “I know the way through this wilderness. I have a map and I’ll guide you to the other side.”

Boy, I would have jumped at that kind of help! It would have been such a relief not to have to navigate things all by myself and blindly search for the direct help I needed when I needed it.

Knowing how much of a lifeline help like that would have been, I decided to create that support system for caregivers who are traveling the path behind me. I’ve developed a program just for cancer patient caregivers called, The Caregiver’s Path: The Roadmap to Guide You From Overwhelmed to Empowered While Navigating Cancer With a Loved One to fill that gap in a patient’s treatment plan.

Caregivers: You shouldn’t have to look far and wide for the help you need. My program meets you where you are, teaches techniques and provides resources so you don’t have to feel helpless, scared and alone in your crucial role as caregiver. You don’t have to feel like your own life is slipping away as you give your all to your loved one. You don’t have to fall into the depths of anger, sadness and anxiety. Take my hand and let me guide you through. You don’t have to go it alone.

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When We Are Wise

(This post is part of a series chronicling my Women on the Verge journey. Read all updates in the series.)

I’m in a phase of my life when I’m recognizing and appreciating wisdom – in others and (surprisingly) in myself as well. Wisdom looks and feels so much different than I thought it would. It’s not simply an accumulation of experience; it’s a melding of one’s mind and heart. So it’s not just that I’m thinking I’ve been around the block enough times to be able to claim that wisdom has automatically “descended” upon me. It’s something that’s cultivated over years of considered, engaged living. The most poignant characteristic of wisdom is that it’s an ever-evolving state of being, not a destination. To be wise is to continuously be open to being affected by the circumstances around you.

I observe wisdom in those who continuously challenge their minds to take in and understand new ideas; to accept that there is always more to know about situations, people and the world at large. The wise understand that life’s path is winding, not linear; that there’s no “right” way to live but only a need to find a way that’s authentic for the individual. Wisdom is an awareness that, as humans, we have the ability – and the responsibility – to not only discover our own truths, but to respect the truths of others. Being a certain age doesn’t bring wisdom; wisdom is a state of being, not something bestowed upon elders as a matter of course.

Wisdom allows us to apply a deep sense of humanity to the way we view our lives and those of others. I’ve discovered, the more I stretch out of my emotional and intellectual comfort zone, the more I understand the myriad of viewpoints that others hold – each as valid as my own. There’s a lot of acceptance and empathy in a wise person.

“We are made wise not by the recollection of our past, but by the responsibility for our future.” George Bernard Shaw

The key to unlocking wisdom, I believe, is what you do with your observations; how you allow them to inform your beliefs and your overall mindset throughout your entire lifetime. For wisdom to take root, you must maintain an agile heart and mind. Be convinced that, although you always believe you’re doing your best, that new (and even challenging) intel can (and should) occasionally inspire you to change your mind or rethink your attitudes. I experience my wisdom as a deep knowledge that I will never know everything I need to or want to know. I will never be done becoming me.

“I didn’t realize…” 

“I never knew…”

“I hadn’t thought of it that way…”

These are the hallmark statements that a wise person considers when they come upon new information that may contradict what they thought or believed. They are open to the notion that what they previously thought is, at this point in time:

  • no longer true
  • never was true in the first place
  • can now viewed in a different light
  • was decided upon at a very different, or less-informed time in their life

Unwise people drag bags of unnecessary, unwieldy, outdated mental and emotional baggage along with them for decades, without ever taking time to examine whether it’s still valid. As a result, they rarely, if ever, change their beliefs, even when presented with irrefutable fact. That’s because, at some point, they allowed their identity to become forged in stone, no longer able to be molded by nuance, new information or changing societal norms. A lot of “back in my day” mindsets illustrate how individuals become incapable of accepting opinions and attitudes that differ from their own. They have stopped growing in wisdom.

The truth is that to be wise is to be willing to entertain ideas that are foreign to your way of thinking and being in the world; to embrace your own emotional evolution. Once you stop being open to the other, your journey toward wisdom stops in its tracks. 

A profound gift of life is wisdom; guiding us forward to deeper connection with our world and our fellow humans.

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A Key to Me

(This post is part of a series chronicling my Women on the Verge journey. Read all updates in the series.)

When my ex (before we were officially split) moved out of state to take a job (at long last, he would be employed!), I remained in our home where I operated a successful child daycare facility. It was to be a time of figuring a lot of things out for us both.

One of the most telling documentations of his attitude toward my overall capability was a particularly condescending note he left for me upon his departure. I actually came across it recently in a box of memorabilia. I know exactly why I saved it all these years – to remind myself exactly how he thought of me: as a helpless twit. I was 29 years old and had run a bustling daycare for eight years. Yet he was convinced that paying a few bills, scooping out the litter box and feeding the fish was going to put me over the edge in his absence. In it, he suggests that I wear my keys around my neck so I didn’t lock myself out. The phrase “no excuses, now” infuriates me to this day. How dare he assume that I needed a “list of the things to do” to keep the household running! He genuinely thought this list was a helpful, not dickish, thing for him to provide to me. I was incensed because of the whole “paternal” tone of it – an attitude he held in our relationship from Day One. I was quickly outgrowing it.

Ramblings of an insecure jerk

How did my time living, working and running the household alone pan out? Every bill got paid on time. The cats were regularly fed. And most importantly, I never once locked myself out of the house (or felt the need to wear my keys around my neck). I had my shit together far more than he gave me credit for. I got stuff done without him, despite his complete lack of confidence.

That note was written in 1991 – half my life ago. In the intervening years between then and now, in fact, I have made it my mission to NEVER do ANY of the things he was so concerned I’d do. I’ve made a point of defying his image of me; to become a person who doesn’t lose things, forget things, lock my keys in the car…

Well, until today when I did lock my keys in the car. Yep, for the first time in my life.

(In my defense, under normal circumstances, I’d have had my everyday purse with me and I’d have a spare key in there. Since COVID-19, however, I’ve been carrying an abbreviated purse with the bare essentials, and the spare didn’t make the cut.)

I feel like I’ve joined a club. I mean, everyone’s locked their keys in the car except me, right? So now I’m like everybody else. I don’t need to try to be any better than that to be worthy of acceptance and unconditional love.

So now I find myself looking at a different image in the mirror: The Gina who does lock her keys in the car. And I don’t think of her the way I’ve worried I’d think of her for almost 30 years. I’ve been terrified I’d think “Gina who locks her keys in the car” was exactly who he thought I was (stupid, careless, shiftless…) and prove him right. That’s a big ol’ chip I’ve been shouldering for a long, long, long time. In a way, I’ve allowed his skewed outlook to remain in my psyche for decades, continuing to exercise a measure of control over how I’ve lived my life. 

But no more; that fear of becoming that version of me is officially shattered. I feel like part of me has finally allowed herself to join the human race. I don’t have to be perfect to be a responsible, worthwhile, good person. I’m fallible and that’s okay. I’m unburdened with his bullshit at long last. Those were his conditions for loving me; not mine.

I am, and always have been, more and better than he could see. And now I can see that too.

It can take such a long time to recognize that which keeps us small and in fear but when we challenge those misconceptions (even by accident) they can fade away in an instant.

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