If You Want to Conquer Fear …

If you want to conquer fear, do not sit at home and think about it. Go out and get busy. ~ Dale Carnegie

I’ve had some interesting conversations over the past few months about how my life has changed. Most people seem to be impressed and / or inspired by what I’ve done. Which is funny, because in the doing of it I’ve felt none of what they seem to see. What I’ve mostly felt is nearly debilitating fear and overwhelming anxiety.

I’ve always thought I was unusual, and somehow lacking, for never going anywhere on my own up until now. I even went away to college with my best friend from high school. I’ve thought so much about this, and can’t find a time in my life where I went somewhere alone, and stayed there alone (driving somewhere alone to meet up with friends doesn’t count). I had a conversation with a woman recently who said she’s never been alone – she went from her parents’ house at 19 to her new husband’s, and has been with him ever since, and she’s not the only one who’s told me a life story like this. So, perhaps I’m not all that unusual in this, not flawed by lacking some important personality trait of adventure and risk.

I took a Dale Carnegie course way back in the late 1980’s, when I first started working and had to give presentations. I was incredibly shy and so nervous when I got up to speak in meetings, and my boss thought it would help me get more comfortable leading business meetings. It was excruciating, because I had to get up in front of the entire group and speak about different topics, some very personal and emotional. The group was much larger than any meeting I would ever have to run (over 100 people), and the entire experience was basically awful. I dreaded those classes all week, and couldn’t wait to get to the end of them. It made my smaller meetings slightly less stressful, but I never did (and still am not) comfortable speaking in front of groups. I did get better at it, and came to realize that it was only getting slightly easier with practice. With going out and doing it.

My boss also had all of us take the Myers-Briggs test, to see where our strengths and talents were. Everyone else (basically all the men; I was the only woman in the office who wasn’t an assistant) tested into personality types that were extroverted, rational – good for business professions. Me? I tested INFJ, and so far over on the “I” that it was kind of ridiculous. My suggested professions? Chef, florist, artist, writer. Luckily my boss was quite a creative and open-minded man, and didn’t hold this against me too much.

All this is to emphasize something about me and fear: I am afraid of so many things: going places where I know no one; traveling by myself; going to restaurants, movies, concerts by myself; talking to people I don’t know (I always feel stupid, and like I’m either interminably blathering or coming off as a snob because I don’t talk enough); an unknown future; instability of any kind in my life; financial instability; anything outside my comfort level (which has been incredibly narrow); change. Good grief, have I hated change – to the point that I’ve stayed in jobs, and relationships for far longer than I should have because they were known and comfortable.

This past year and a half has been nothing but change on a massive scale, in just about every aspect of my life, and learning to be completely on my own. Moving from the east coast to the southwest, and not only doing it alone, but quite literally knowing not one soul here. Living in a completely new and foreign place, alone. Joining the local art association, alone. Joining the local continuing education association and going to their potluck dinner meeting, alone (and gosh, was that hard!!). Joining a local hiking group, alone.

And now I’ve made plans to face my fear of traveling alone head on: I’m going to Taos, alone, for a weekend. I have grand dreams of traveling more – of going back to Scotland, England, Ireland, and more. Of sitting on some exotic beach, with myself for company and all the time in the world to do whatever I want, or not. I love to travel. Now, if I want to go, I will more than likely go alone. If I do go with a friend or friends, that will be a lucky happenstance, but not something I can depend on (and surely not something I can base my travel plans on, if I hope to go anywhere). So Taos is the first baby step on this journey; as Carnegie said – go out and get busy.

I don’t mind driving alone. I’m all about road trips, and have never minded being in the car by myself, even when driving all day. But on all my previous road trips, there have been friends waiting at the other end. This time, there’s no one waiting. I’ll be going to restaurants, alone. I’m heading up for the Taos Wool Festival, so I’m going to that, alone (unless I happen to find out someone I know is going, which is possible but not what I’m basing my plans around).

I know now the fear will never go away, at least not for me. But I also know now that it’s up to me whether I let it stop me. I’m learning to embrace this part of me, but not let it control me, who I am, or what my life becomes. I think going out and getting busy doesn’t mean conquering fear, at least not for me. It means no longer allowing it to be any sort of controlling emotion in my life. It means saying, “Yeah, I’m scared. But I’m going to do it anyway” – to whatever causes me to feel afraid, or uncomfortable, or insecure.

Embrace it, and move on.

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To know what life is worth…

To know what life is worth you have to risk it once in a while. ~ Jean-Paul Baptiste

Wow, what an intense two weeks it’s been. I left my home, family, and friends on February 10, and headed West. Three and a half days of driving later, I arrived at my new home. I lived in the country before, but this makes where I used to live look like the suburbs.

I am OUT THERE. And I am alone. Except for my adorable puppy, but she doesn’t really talk back all that much. I was so lucky that my best friend was able to take off work to make the drive with me, and stay a few more days to help me start unpacking and get used to my new surroundings.

The day I took her to the airport and hugged her goodbye was one of the hardest in my memory. The only memories that exceed it are the moments when I hugged my college-bound children for the last time before I left. That just about wrecked me.

After dropping off my friend, I ran some errands and picked up groceries for me and pup. Realizing that there was no one waiting for me, wondering where I was, why I was taking so long, was strange and sad. It definitely didn’t feel liberating. I arrived back from the airport after dropping my friend off to a silent , empty house. Alone. Gut wrenching. Truly.

I sat here wondering WTF HAVE I DONE?! Holy shit, I’ve made a collossal mistake and now I’m stuck here all alone. I had a good cry. I turned on Grace and Frankie to watch again, because the silence was just about killing me and I needed some noise, and something funny to get my mind off this terrible plight I’d put myself in. And then I got a text from my friend, and another from another friend. And then yet another friend facetimed me. I texted both my kids, and talked to my parents. Thank goodness for technology.

That first night was hard. I was scared. Every noise alarmed me. Luckily my room has a deadbolt, so I could lock myself in. Which didn’t help when pup had to get up in the middle of the night to pee, of course.

The next morning, things didn’t feel so bad. I miss my kids like crazy, but the truth is, they’re gone already. They’re off to college, on to their own lives. Of course, I used to be a drive away from both of them, and now I’m not. Knowing that is hard, and it sucks. But I guess we’ll manage.

I will have been on my own for one week tomorrow. It’s been a week spent unpacking, organizing, getting settled. Wearing myself out each day so I’ll sleep well each night, and not lie in bed fretting that I’ve made a mistake.

Things are looking up. I’m proud of myself – I did the scary thing I’ve never done before. I took – am taking – a huge risk. I would say my life up until now has been Risk Averse to the Max. I realized, Sunday evening, that I don’t think I’ve ever actually been completely alone anywhere, ever. I even went off to college with my best friend (who made the drive out here with me). I’ve never been further away from my parents and family than a relatively quick car ride.

Now that I’m in my mid-50’s I guess it’s about time I grow up and learn to depend on myself, by myself. Time to take the risk, dammit. The bottom line for me was that I knew I would regret not giving this move a try, and I knew I would always wonder “what if I had?” The answers to both of those questions are what drove me to step way, way out of my comfort zone. Time will tell how it works out, but at least I won’t regret not trying, and for once, not taking the risk.

So far, this week, I’ve learned how to work a pellet stove (yeah, I feel like a total city-chick). I’ve taken myself to the dump, the local coffee / breakfast place (but didn’t have the courage to actually stay and eat by myself … baby steps), made the trip into town for supplies, and hunkered down for snow that didn’t end up coming (I’m okay with that, this time). I’ve moved all my stuff here, ferrying it up the driveway when the moving truck couldn’t make it up the steep incline. And learned, when the local guys who were helping me unload didn’t run for the hills and instead stayed and dragged all my shit up in two pick up trucks, that there are truly kind and lovely people here in this remote neck of the woods.

I think I’ll be okay. But I need to get a shotgun. There are also mountain lions out there.

 

I Was Happy Enough …

There’s this line in one of the early episodes of Grace & Frankie, where Robert (Martin Sheen) says to Grace (Jane Fonda), as he’s telling her that he’s leaving her for his partner, Sol (Sam Waterston), “Admit it, you weren’t happy.” And Grace says, “I was happy enough.” Is “happy enough” good enough?

There’s this line in one of the early episodes of Grace & Frankie, where Robert (Martin Sheen) says to Grace (Jane Fonda), as he’s telling her that he’s leaving her for his partner, Sol (Sam Waterston), “Admit it, you weren’t happy.” And Grace says, “I was happy enough.”

Is “happy enough” good enough? For some people it probably is. For others, it’s just not. Is it selfish to say, “No, happy enough is not enough” ? That’s the question of the hour for me.

Some days I was happy enough in my relationship with my soon-to-be ex-husband. Many days I was entirely too far from happy enough. I was upset, sad, miserable, angry, deflated, exhausted, disgusted. Not happy – not anywhere close to it.

I realized a while back that I just couldn’t live the rest of my life “happy enough.” I couldn’t live knowing there would be another heated disagreement, more accusations and criticisms. That’s how my relationship worked – some days were just fine. And it could be like that for days, or weeks, or months – everything peaceful and fine. And then, all of a sudden, everything would suck. My ex would pick fights, either with me or one of the kids. He’d criticize, and berate, and accuse, and need to have these long, drawn-out discussions for hours about everything that was wrong, all the issues I had (they were always my issues), all the ways I wasn’t proving that I loved him enough. Discussions that always left me exhausted, drained, and in tears. Until, all of a sudden, instead of being in tears, I was just enraged.

I think that was the end for me. I’d reached the tipping point, and all that was left was admitting it wasn’t going to work. I wasn’t ready to do that for a long time.

Two years ago, I realized my kids were leaving. Both would be heading off to college and we’d be empty nesters. And while many couples look forward to getting to this point in life, I dreaded it. I didn’t want to be home without my kids. It was then that I really knew “happy enough” would never be good enough for me, and I’d have to be the one to pull the plug and call it The End. And I did that earlier this year.

I’m the selfish one. I’m the one who only cares about myself. I’m the quitter.

These are the words used to taunt me. I don’t think he realizes that I just don’t care; that I’ll own all of those without issue or guilt.

Because there’s a time when being selfish, caring about yourself, and quitting are the things you just have to do. When you realize happy enough isn’t good enough, and there’s no other choice to make but the one for yourself. The one for more. The one that takes you away from happy enough, and gives you the chance for completely, unequivocally, unapologetically happy.

Yes, that’s what I choose.

Tell me, what it is you plan to do …

Tell me what it is you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? ~ Mary Oliver

I’ve been in a holding pattern for the last two weeks, since I found out I needed a biopsy to rule out breast cancer. All future plans were quite suddenly circling the drain, waiting for word on whether I’d be moving forward as I thought I would be, or taking a completely unexpected path down the road of literally fighting for my life.

Thankfully, I got the results back Monday afternoon, and all is well. No cancer; not even a sign of any pre-cancer potential. I didn’t realize how much I’d been holding my breath until I heard those words from my doctor. What a relief.

The Summer Day

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

— Mary Oliver

What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? This line from Mary Oliver’s poem struck me the first time I read it, and has stuck with me for years. WHAT. IS. IT. YOU PLAN TO DO WITH YOUR ONE WILD AND PRECIOUS LIFE?

Geez. It’s a simple question, but for me it comes with all sorts of pressure attached to it. Probably because I’ve felt like I was wasting my one wild and precious life. Not living it to the fullest. Not taking risks. Staying in a relationship that wasn’t healthy, wasn’t what either of us wanted or needed, and had no way of being what we wanted or needed. And then, two weeks ago, a significant smack upside the head.

DO SOMETHING with this wild and precious life, because who knows how long it will last.

My radiologist’s office made a mistake on my biopsy results, and included results for another patient in my report. Luckily I didn’t clue into it, but man was my doctor angry (that’s putting it mildly). There was one paragraph in my report stating that carcinoma was found, and surgery was recommended. I thought it was a reference to what *could* happen, and the reason for the biopsy. But, no. It was another woman’s results. Another woman who got the bad news I did not. Another woman who is now headed down that unexpected path of fighting to take her life back from cancer.

Last night, I got together with three very dear friends. One of them has a niece, B, who is 34 years old, and in the final stages of advanced lymphoma. None of the chemotherapy treatments have worked, so at this point they are just trying to make B as comfortable as possible, and hopefully strong enough that she can go home for a while. There is no hope for her; the cancer will take her. I’m so sad for her and her family; she is so young and it’s just not fair.

Thinking of both the woman whose results made it into my biopsy results in error, and B, makes me feel I must absolutely live my precious life as fully as I can. I need to care for this physical body of mine; keep it strong and healthy. I need to care for my spirit as well; I need to love myself. And I need to take responsibility for my life. No more coasting, no more excuses, no more rationalizing, no more wasting precious time.

I’m still not sure of what I’m doing. I have doubts, and questions, and reservations. I’m not clear about how I’ll support myself. I’m not sure where I’ll be living. I’m afraid of the unknown; afraid of making a mistake; afraid things will be worse than they are right now.

But I’m moving forward anyway. Because I really do want to make something of this wild and precious life that is mine. I am moving forward with clear biopsy results. Already, I’ve lived more life than my friend’s niece B ever will and have yet more time.

Every day is a gift. I have a responsibility not to squander it. Too many people don’t get tomorrow.

 

 

When it rains it pours …

Seriously.

As if enough of my life wasn’t already changing (exploding? transforming? imploding?  evolving? falling apart? Pick a day and a different verb will surface to describe how I’m feeling about everything. Every day it’s different, that’s for sure).

Last week I went in for my annual mammogram screening. As has been the case for the last five years or so, I was called back in for a diagnostic screening. I have calcification in my breast tissue in a few areas, and my tissue is also too dense for the standard mammogram to see through (lucky me). Yet another thing for many women over 50 to enjoy: calcification of tissue.

One quick aside: my health insurance (I think this is the case for all of them) will not cover a diagnostic mammogram without first having a screening one. How asinine is this?! They end up paying for two procedures, because I always have to have the diagnostic. But, nope. No coverage if I don’t have the screening one first, no matter what my history is. It is so very stupid, and another (albeit simple) example of how f*cked up the health insurance industry is in the U.S.

Anyway. Back to yesterday. I went in for the diagnostic, which is usually fine and I get the green light. No changes, nothing of concern.

Yesterday was different.

Some of the calcifications “seem to” have changed, and so they want to do a biopsy. I looked this up online (I know, I know) and yeah. WebMD and a few other sites seem to recommend a biopsy if the calcifications have changed. I don’t know if I have “microcalcificaitons” or not; the micro ones seem to be of more concern in their potential to be pre-cancerous.

Seriously, I’m afraid to even ask what else could possibly happen in my life right now. Nope, not gonna even go there. Let’s just throw everything up in the air and let it rain down like confetti; see where it lands. But I’m telling the Universe, enough already.

Divorce. All the financial insecurity of having been a stay-at-home mom for 20 years (yeah, I had my own small business, but that doesn’t count. It’s never supported me in full, or had to. Until now.). Losing my current health insurance and having to get my own policy (which is even more nerve-wracking now that this has popped up, and might be considered a pre-existing condition. Which might no longer be covered if the current political administration has its way … or has it already been dropped? I swear I can’t keep track anymore). Moving out of my house, not sure where yet. Kids both heading off to college. Perhaps moving really far away from the area I’ve lived my whole life. Which would also mean moving very far away from family and friends (though many have said they can’t wait to visit). And, if I move, extricating myself from one of my businesses, and running the other one in a way very different than I have before. Wondering if I should close up both businesses, if they really can’t support me, and do something else entirely (and if I do, what?!). Plus, if I move … the overwhelming physical MOVE.

And now, the cherry on top of this colossal pile of overwhelm: the possibility of breast cancer looms over me like an ominous cloud. I’m thinking positive, of course (well, I’m trying to … some days, like today, it’s hard and what I really want to do is stay in bed all day with tea and my books and f*ck the adulting).

I’ve had an annual mammogram (or twice-yearly for a couple of years when the calcifications first appeared), at the same radiology office, since since I was 40. I have no family history of breast cancer. I still have this rock sitting in the pit of my stomach.

I was scheduled for first thing Monday morning. I decided to reschedule so I could talk to my doctor, which I was actually able to do this afternoon. He had already spoken with the radiologist, who said that it looks like I have NEW calcifications since my last check. And so, yes, my doctor wants to do a biopsy to rule out cancer. He said not to worry; it’s probably fine. I’ll worry anyway, of course. Because there’s always the chance it won’t be fine. Now it’s scheduled for next Friday, but I may try to reschedule it for sooner so I don’t have to agonize for an entire week. We’ll see. Worst case, next Friday, and then I’ll get the results the week after.

I’ll get through it, either way. I know I will. I just never imagined I’d have something like this pop up NOW, when everything is already a crazy bag of monkeys I barely feel like I’m holding onto.

Yeah, truly. When it rains it pours. Ok, universe. This is more than enough, thanks.