Choosing life – observations and takeaways from funeral services

Recently there were two deaths in client families: one lost his mom, the other lost his sister. I attended both services this week. How very different the contrasts in families and how life is celebrated and death is mourned.

First the sister, it was a life needlessly cut short. Her services were religious and somber, and while no one openly spoke about it, I have to believe her obesity had a hand in her death. For such a young woman (late 30s), a heart attack and then a stroke are not particularly normal circumstances or a natural cause of death. The very vague “she has health problems” explanation was essentially politically correct speak for preventable death. In my experience, when a person dies of cancer or waiting for replacement organ or genetic conditions, people are open that it was cancer or liver/heart/kidney disease/failure or something else for which there is only treatment, no cure. It saddens me, because it did not need to happen. And it’s difficult for me to equalize my sadness with my discomfort of my anger that what has happened happened. It hits far too close to home for me and my attitudes to be okay with passing my own sense of harsh judgment on this poor woman, even if it is 99% in my own mind. I have a pretty expressive face; I’m sure my thoughts were written plainly if anyone bothered to look closely.

The reception afterward was full of wonderful comfort foods and an entire table of homemade sugary goodness. I had a glass of water and escaped as quickly as I possibly could. That was Monday. I was back at work with them Wednesday and Thursday for a few hours each day, and their break room sweets are back in action. Ugh. The mom’s need to continue comfort herself by non-stop baking continues. I understand the poor woman’s grief – I am a mother who had to bury a child who died unexpectedly and way too young – but I foresee more preventable tragedy and health conditions in their future.

I find the whole experience disturbing, and I have reaffirmed my commitment that such a demise is not going to happen to me. Which chronologically impossible, as I  am already 20 years older than this young woman at her death, I still feel like I am too young to die of preventable causes right now at 56. If I have to do massive overdoses of sets of sit-ups, planks, push-ups, walking lunges, Bulgarian split squats, dead tread pushes – essentially everything in my nemesis stable that I  have dislike-but-good-for-me relationship with – to remind myself what fitness costs and how sugar derails my efforts, that is what I am prepared to do. The dissonance in my own world from this event and the ongoing sugary fat foods being presented and softly pushed my way is at this moment far too much for me. My mind is so overwhelmed by the disconnect that I will fulfill my contracted commitments for this year (hopefully only another week) and then notify them by mail at the end of the year that they should plan on hiring another consultant next year.

If I am going to have my negative judgment gene engaged continuously, I am going to do my best to voluntarily separate myself from circumstances where I have no hope of influencing changes in behaviors.

Contrast that with Tuesday’s almost 3-ring circus memorial for another client’s hard-partying mother – it was stark. First, no religious ceremony or overtones. The celebration of her life included good food, better booze, music, laughter, funny and sad stories, and people being themselves and acting naturally. There was a buffet meal-like food line with a many healthier options. There was a pretty amazing caesar salad and skinless, boneless teriyaki that was quite good. While In life the departed was a foodie as well as other vices like alcohol, recreational drugs, lots of sexual partners and treatments for the associated afflictions that can come from unprotected sex before the onset of AIDS, her son is a pretty upstanding citizen with many positive lifestyle habits.

Despite her being a terrible, terrible mother (a standard by which I unabashedly judge other parents as indicators of them as people), I liked her almost in spite of myself. She happily signed over custody and care of her only child after cheating on and being divorced by his father, and only stayed in touch with him as an adult because of what he was willing to do for her. She was uniquely self-possessed and owned her many shortcomings while somehow charmingly explaining them away as character defects. In the years we were acquainted I do not believe I ever saw her completely sober, and she angered, frustrated, aggravated me on numerous occasions in my own right in addition to my anger, frustration, and aggravation from her behaviors and attitudes toward her son.

Still, at the end of it all, I can almost admire the way she lived her life on her own reckless, destructive, hurtful ways. Her son – my client as well as my friend – is well-respected and powerful in his own rights. He chose to accept care and responsibility for her as part of his lot in life, and he did so in ways that were compassionate, yet at arms length and very expensive. He told me once caring for her was less about his mother as much as about his own self-respect and the type of man he is and aspires to be, which is someone who does what he can to protect his family, even if it is mostly from themselves. I still do not agree with him on that completely, but as people we are all different about what is minimum standard requirements for being a good and decent human being. At the end of her life, he had no reason for regret or guilt. He did not exactly love her, but she was his mom, and his respect for that biological role in his life caused him to protect himself in the ways he chose while she lived.

The services were very nice, with so many of her friends present who were quite charming characters in their own right. The remembrances were touching, many quite funny, too many heartbreakingly sad due to her own choices and personality disorder. I choose to think of the flawed woman in the best light possible. I know there is evil in this world; I have been exposed to and experienced it firsthand. She was not evil as I define it, but she was self-centered, selfish, and horrible in ways that absolutely disgust me. I won’t really miss her. I won’t miss our interactions. But I won’t say I’m glad she’s gone either. I mostly wish for peace of mind for those closest to her throughout her life.

We met again today, one of our regular face-to-face meetings at his home. His obvious relief at not having to think about or worry about what his mom is doing, what havoc she is wreaking or tantrums she may be throwing looks good on him. And I don’t judge him at all for feeling that way. In life he went above and beyond for her, far more than I would have ever been capable of emotionally or financially with my own parents. He has earned the right to be happy that burden has been lifted.

I identify with the people in both events, because it seems the circumstances of the deaths have touched my own life in real ways. My life and lifestyle choices through the years have not always worked out in the ways I intended, and in painful times I have lashed out and been destructive. Whether I was lucky, smart, just due a better break, or some combination of all the forces of positivity in the world, I survived and came out okay.

But life is changing. Mostly good and great changes.

For most of my life I have bent over backwards not to be judgmental about the choices other people make. It is an impossible standard I have pursued, though, and I know the closer I get to balance and ongoing overall better health, the harder it is to watch in silence while others around me continue to make less desirable choices. I am not one to offer unsolicited advice or opinions, but I am always honest about topics under discussion. I believe exercising my own value systems and evolving positive lifestyle mindset may extend the limits of interactions with others in my social circle. Those who are not so restrained in expressing their (usually negative) opinions are being squeezed out by others who share my enthusiasm for different and more positive and uplifting aging experiences.

I am choosing life. Our individual choices are going to be different, and I completely understand that. But I vastly prefer being around people who are making positive choices and staying active in the journey to graceful aging. It did not take a week of back-to-back funeral services to get me to that realization, but it is helpful to reaffirm that I am making much better lifestyle choices these days.  

Better choices today

Immediately after bleeding my angry rage post yesterday, I was off for a visit with TM (my therapist, for newer readers unaware of my tribe of experts). Even in the midst of my own crazy, I understand when the walls have closed and boxed me in and how I need help getting out of a funk. It was a hard conversation, especially through the blur of angry, raging tears and having to continually blow my nose. As is typically the case of talking stuff over with TM, it was also productive.

The downside is there is still more work to be done in this area. No matter how “done” I feel with the whole series of chapters in my life, it seems there is always an unread page or 10 to go back and thoroughly read, review, digest, turn. Perhaps this is life for everyone. Happily there are huge swathes of the population who have more normal and mentally/emotionally healthy families of origin and cannot comprehend the legacy of my type of crazed and complicated coping mechanisms. I seem to have to tug and unravel something else every, another thread every few years these days.

I am choosing to believe that it says a lot about my evolving maturity that I can report  such things without feeling the old humiliation that my issues are somehow my fault, that I am not handling it more successfully without having to publicly admit my shortcomings and air my dirty laundry. If anything, I am more motivated to sort this shit out and put it away in a neat and orderly manner, kind of Kon Marie tidying of my horrific childhood events. And no matter how much I try to woman up and tell myself it was not as bad as many others endured and survived, it was pretty bad. There is no competition or comparison on who suffered the most when it comes to childhood sexual abuse and assault. To be healthy and the best me I can be means I have to dial direct and deal with it; no avoidance, no raging against the unfairness, no tantrums about not wanting to do it. My choices of action or inaction have their own types of consequences, both are painful and difficult in their own way. From long experience, though, action is more like the sting of ripping off the supersticky bandaid versus delaying the inevitable and peeling it slowly while the wounds fester underneath.

Ewww – so gross to think about.

Today is a better day already. I went to bed early and slept a deep, mostly dreamless sleep and woke up refreshed. The only “nightmare” I had was that it was actually Monday and I had overslept and was going to be late for meeting trainer J at the gym. Except it’s Saturday, not Monday. If that’s the biggest problem I have in my sleeping hours, I am going to be okay.

I was completely on fire and in-focus in my gym practice today. Had some time to chat with J and other members, and while others might have found the extended rest distracting, for me it just made my focus feel sharper and more on-point. TM had an interesting observation yesterday. When I phoned for the appointment on Thursday, my voice mail stated that I really hoped to get in this week because I was having an issue that was disrupting my focus and distracting me in the gym, making me feel like poser member, and thoughts of giving up were starting to creep in while I was already struggling to get through a List. All true. It was not just the recurring rage and anger and pain that dragged me back to his office; it was the fact that it was interfering with my exercise routine. I have worked too hard and come too far in my better health pursuits to be derailed now by old wounds, and I am determined to stay on track with the training no matter what. TM just found is ironic that all the years he encouraged me to get more exercise and I could would not do it, only now to be calling for an urgent care appointment because my head is trying to disrupt my gym time.

Progress has never been described more accurately.

TM and I agreed that a couple more “tune up” appointments are in order. Life is in a state of flux this month with the job changes and recruiting new clients, settling back in with former clients returning, plus accepting more work from existing clients. As far as life issues go, these are good problems to have and I feel very, very fortunate. However, I would be lying if I said there is not some struggle with adjusting to self-regulating my work schedule and mostly being on my own every day. M is around, of course, but with regard to coworkers and that interpersonal interaction, it’s an adjustment. I miss my crew. I miss my role within the firm and working together toward a common goal. While I still feel like a vital component in my clients’ business goals and objectives, it is very different from being a hands-on part of each day after day.

Again, I am very appreciative to have work that continues to support us and keep us moving forward on our financial goals. There is no shame in admitting it is takes some effort to get used to this new normal.

I’m also grateful for this space, where I can download and offload my ugly insides without fear or anxiety of harsh judgment. My intense craving and need to feel safe is a ruling impulse in my life, and if there were a hierarchy of vices and poor choices (thanks trainer J for putting that image in my head), blogging as an exercise in reclaiming power over my own thoughts and emotions is a lot better than self-harm in so many other ways.  Food remains a trigger for me in this state, and thankfully we have purged most of the junky choices I might select and it is far easier to resist the allure of the nearest convenience store. Dill pickles (my latest food obsession) are mild on that harmful scale, as is a peanut butter sandwich I had for dinner last night. At least there were roasted veggies on the plate as well.

Choice

I am in a very dark and dreary sort of headspace and it makes focusing on anything other than the immediate more challenging than not. I wonder if this is a character weakness in that I feel incapable of simply sucking it up or if there are some areas of life where we have extremely limited choices in our behaviors and reactions?

Earlier this week I was going through the last boxes of documents, photographs, and albums that came from my mom’s house. It’s mostly depressing, soul-crushing sort of work, because not only do I have no idea who a lot of these people are/were, I have been forced to relive dozens (yes, plural) of albums from my sister’s life and times. If we had been closer and I did not feel that old stab of resentment that comes from being the younger, less favored daughter, the process would not be so dreadful. Making it worse – I have no relationship with my nephews and no idea how to reach either to see if they desire this stuff. I am decent enough to feel some guilt about tossing out these boxes of photos and books, but not quite generous enough to continue to store crap I will be happy never having to think about again.

But in the midst of all these my sister’s life and times memorialized in pictures, I found an envelope where I am actually in some of the photographs at various ages. Unfortunately, and this is where my wondering about “choice” comes into play, of the 17 photos, the man who molested and sexually abused me as a child is pictured with me in all of them. At birthday parties. At backyard bar-b-ques. At holiday dinners.

I remember the events and the occasions and it makes me want to barf.

It not only made me feel ill when I looked at them the first time, it also started me on the nightmare treadmill once again. But since finding them, I obsessively looked at and examined them frontward, backward, sideways at every available opportunity, always in search of clues to the why of it all, the endless, inexplicable question – why me? Was I such a naive, stupid, fearful, dumb, ignorant, or worse child that made victimization easy? Years passed – 8 years – and I never said a word, my parents never thought anything amiss. I had choices, even then.

I can spin this in a bazillion different ways and never come to a satisfactory conclusion. I live with the choices made for me and forgive my childhood self for being young and scared.

Finally last night I put those pictures through the shredder to force myself to stop. Then I burned the shredded photographs and drowned the ashes in water before dumping the whole mess – baking pan and all – into the trash. Then this morning I fished it out of the trash and threw it into a gym trash can at the far edge of the parking lot. And all day long I have been wondering if the gym trash can has been emptied and when the garbage collector comes and takes it away.

I feel unclean. I feel as if I have now tainted the club’s parking lot and I need to find somewhere else to leave my car. I feel ridiculous in my overreaction. While I know these feelings are all transitory, temporary, and a method to distract me from my crazy, it sure as Hell feels real to me to be this level of crazy.

The worst part is it has made me feel so much less. In my head I have become the incredible shrinking woman, minimized and marginalized as victim of circumstance. For all my foundational believe in free will being a guiding principle in how to live my life, I am helpless and hopeless when it comes to this shit. I don’t really want to talk about it even this much, yet I cannot stop the endless loop now projecting in my head no matter what I happen to be doing as a productive human being.

So I am pondering choice. Am I really this helpless, this hopeless? Knowing it will pass, eventually, makes little difference in hurrying it along. I have spent so much of my life battling back and fighting to be all I can be, only to be brought down and left writhing in mental and emotional agony over a small envelope of photographs.

I like to think my mom forgot about them, that they have been sitting in this box of stuff in a storage closet for the last 25 years. But it takes me back to being in my therapist’s office, stating my truth about the childhood horror show, and having her flat out deny it ever happened. Had she shot me dead that day I doubt it would have hurt so much. But it is what it is, and I’m left with my bewilderment over her own childhood that brought forth such a coldly cruel person to her own child.

That’s another unpleasant thing to ponder, another unanswered question to speculate about or to set aside and choose to not let it matter to me any longer.

I do not seem to be making good choices right now. But I tell myself it’s okay, that tomorrow will be better, that the powerlessness will fade and my ability to be the decider or at least a better decider within my own life will return. I know this, and I will strive to be kind to and patient with myself until my strength returns.

At which time, I will choose to put the past away with hopeful resolve that it will not return and catch me unarmed and off-guard again.

I will choose me, the woman I became despite poor circumstances. And I’ll believe it when I remind myself it’s good to be me.

When I have the strength to exercise my choices once more.

Death and financial train wrecks – different types of devastation

While the post title sounds like related issues, in fact they are two separate soundtracks running through my thoughts the past few days. Nothing pretty to see here, so if you are looking for my usual glitter-bombing unicorn outlook, this may be the post to skip.

Yesterday I spent a couple of hours with my client who lost his 13-year-old son last week; the young man took his own life. While he is a client, most of my self-employment clients are people I consider friends as well, the business just another anecdotal box of experiences we happen to share. Understandably, he is completely broken, destroyed by what has happened. That little boy was the sun and moon and stars in his world, and now he’s gone. Interlaced with grief, though, is this intense, white-hot anger from the circumstances that may time will cool and bring peace. I am not an especially religious person; I offer no platitudes about better places and safe from harm. As a mother who has been through the grief that comes with the death of a beloved child, such statements tend to piss me off even as I know that my children are only on loan, they are meant to grow up and become independent beings well outside my scope of control and direction. But 12, 13 – it is way too soon. Please do not ever suggest to me it’s God’s will, or it’s part of a bigger plan, or they are happier in their place in Heaven. Fuck that shit. Our children – we are good parents; our children should be her on earth with us, getting awkward and hormonal, getting angry and screaming at us, assured in how little we know and growing up into people who again like and respect us for the mere mortals we are as they mature into adulthood and realized that their parents are imperfect, do not have all the answers, but try their best.

In a lot of real and direct experience ways, I am someone who understands. I listened and pretended not to notice when he cried. There are no words of comfort in these situations, and sometimes it is only human warmth that makes us feel less alone and lonely with our tragic losses. As I still think to this day, when there are no words, hugs speak volumes.

Into this profoundly emotional and poignant time with one slice of my life, comes all the bullshit and pettiness of small-ball problems. Comparatively speaking, anyway. There are no universal bandaids that remove physic pain and perceived injustice, and sometimes my patience with those who want to escalate petty grievances into something bigger, badder, much more complicated and time-consuming – let’s just say I’m short and dismissive. Every person I know who works or has any type of relationship with expectation of performance and results has similar stories of such disagreements and less motivated, less first-choice options for bosses, coworkers, worked hired out. So I know I am not the only manager at any level in the world having to deal with people and their problems. And I also know what is a Very Big Deal to them is smaller than small-ball to me. Most of the time, I try to deal with them professionally and compassionately, even while telling them to grow up and get real.

In other words, more drama in the office. And it is not that I don’t care – I care very much, particularly as it impacts perceptions about me and my performance of my job functions – but when you are dealing with a slice of pirated information (salaries) and without complete context, the leg you’re standing on is kind of weak and shaking. When it comes up, I will deal with it. Right now, my head is filled with thoughts of death.

And I hate it.

I hate that my client and friend is suffering so miserably. I hate that another dear friend is thousands of miles away and alone and facing a procedure on his brain. I don’t think it’s just me that gets nervous when people speak of brain surgery, and to not be able to be present and there at this time – it’s really, really hard. While telling myself thousands of times daily that it will be fine, he will be fine, I cannot get my mind to buy the reassurances. Sometimes being a “hope for the best, imagine the worst” version of Pollyanna does not work out all that well for me.

Truthfully, I cannot imagine my life without him somewhere in it. M is far more stoic than I am, thankfully, but even he has his reservations and concerns. It’s BRAIN surgery, and no matter how normal and routine it might be for the surgeon and the specialized team of doctors and nurses, this is someone we love and it is a world-class BIG DEAL to the rest of us sitting on the sidelines and metaphorically wringing our hands and trying not to be consumed with worry.

So yeah, head is kind of stuffed to overflowing out my ears with thoughts of death and what life is like imagining and trying to shut off the imaginings of life after the worst.

Ugh.

Another of my clients asked begged (his term, not mine) me to work with his niece on her finances. I thought it would be relatively straight-forward; after all, my client is very intelligent and sensible, his sister (the referral’s mother) seems the same in the times we have met. I figured at worse she would have student loan debt and need some help with her budgeting.

Oh my, I was so very wrong.

We met yesterday, and after 30 minutes of discussing the state of her life, I put away the green tea I was drinking and order the fully caffeinated, full-sugar version of a coffee-flavored milk drink to fortify myself. It is quite ugly.

She is a college graduate with degrees in chemistry and literature. Her parents paid for college so no student loan debt. Her home was gifted to her from her grandmother along with just over 6 figures in cash. She is employed in the local hospital system, which brings to mind decent wage and benefits. The car she drove up in a later model Camray – nothing fancy or flashy. While she is telling me all this, I am listening and nodding and thinking she needs a financial planner more than she needs a budget coach.

Then she pulls out the sheaf of check stubs, bank statements, credit card bills. I am still thinking, okay, everyone gets into trouble with credit cards; it’s almost a right of passage. I can help her, I’m sure.

It is with the documents that the real story comes out and why her mother and uncle asked me to talk with her and see if I can help her out.

This girl is 29, working at a job that pays about $42K per year, because she only works part-time (20 hours per week) by choice. There is a maxed out line of credit on her paid-off home, she has less than $500 in the bank, and an astonishing amount of credit card debt racked up in just a few years. On top of which – before inheriting her home and money, she had declared bankruptcy because of other credit card debt accrued in college.

I asked her how all this debt came about and got some pretty vague answers about shopping and paying for a couple of fender benders to keep them off her insurance and travel and charitable giving. I asked what happened to her inheritance, and got similar responses, with the addition of … plastic surgery. Did I mention she is turning 30 in a couple of months?

Ugh. Financial train wreck? More like mushroom cloud of financial devastation.

While I suspected this was going to be a huge challenge, I valiantly tried to help her.

Does she have a budget? Yes, but she routinely runs out of money and has to use her credit cards. Okay, can she show me her budget. Well no, because she keeps it in her head. She does pay all her bills when she gets paid and lives on what’s leftover. Except with this much credit card debt, there is a whole lot more living going on than a single person should be doing.

Or so goes the judgmental budget coach in me.

I did not have time to crunch the numbers to even get a sense of where she was, so we set up another appointment for this weekend after I had a better chance to look through her stuff and figure out how truly bad things are for her. And after looking through all her stuff last night, it’s really bad.

Since I know quite a few people in her age bracket, I know it is not just an issue of financial literacy. Yet I cannot fathom how someone could go blow through a just over $100K in inheritance, take out (and then max out) a line of credit on a paid-off home, and run up enough credit card debt to owe just over $150K on a $42K per year salary. And yet, I have seen so much worse through the years.

I know and have heard all the arguments and sob stories about the evil banks and credit card companies taking advantage of the consumer. Bullshit. No one makes us take on debt, although I do know sometimes it’s an uncomfortable only option we have. My sympathy in this is primarily with her family, who – rightly – refuse to bail her out of this mess and merely try to find her resources to help resolve it.

The discord in this is that she is in such a deep, dark place of denial. The typical millennial mindset is stronger than average in this one (and I do apologize to all my very level-headed millennial friends who may be reading this vent).

Either way, she’s in a huge financial bind and it will get worse long before it gets better. I want nothing but success for her, but from conversations with her uncle and her mother, she is not listening to them and is unlikely to listen to me. However, I will do my best.

I think she sees herself as living a life of freedom, whereas I see a young woman anchored by debt and being smother by the increasing interest and monthly payments. She could sell her home – the only assets I see that she has – which would likely clear her debt. But I know already the idea will float like a lead balloon.

At a very minimum, she needs to request a full-time schedule and accept every single hour of overtime that is offered to make more cash. With some negotiation with her creditors we might be able to get her squeaking through each month and with a very strict beans-and-rice type budget.

Buuuuttttt – one of the first comments out of her mouth is that she is unwilling to work more hours. Her debt is a combination of shopping, world travel, philanthropy, and just plain deranged, out-of-control spending. Seriously, I cannot think of another way to describe it.

I cannot save anyone, except perhaps myself. For the sake of my client, I will do my best to create a realistic plan … that she’s unlikely to agree to much less follow through with. When I met her, before we began discussing her finances in detail, I thought she was smart, funny, interesting, and quite physically beautiful. We chatted briefly about fitness – she works with a trainer 3 times per week and does yoga religiously 4 or 5 times per week – and I briefly, VERY briefly, thought she should meet trainer J. Or one of the associates I work with.

No, oh no. I love and adore my trainer, I really NEED my trainer, and I simply cannot do such a horrible thing. And my associates, it’s important to me to maintain my professional relationships. My goodness – what if someone I happened to introduce her to actually likes her? No, just no.

I was actually relieved to find out she likes girls.

The bottom line, at the end of a difficult day on a multitude of levels, what I find almost sadder than the real life agony is this silly, silly girl with the great big entitlement boulder resting on her shoulder.

Some things, some choices, some events are so far beyond my understanding. Where I can help, I try my best to do the right thing and provide what assistance I can. Sometimes it’s out of my realm of expertise, and the eventual outcome is in the hands of others far more skilled and more knowledgeable than me.

I have my hopes for the people in my life – I want what I want for them, whether it peace of mind or recovering their health. When someone new wanders into my midst, if I can help I will try. If they refuse help, I can and will step aside and let nature take its course.

Doesn’t mean I have to like it much, any of it. Sometimes I just wish people did not have to endure so much hardship, and sometimes I just wish people would be realistic and make better choices about their lives.

Life changes and choices

My son got married yesterday. And my daughter and I had a rare coffee date on our way to getting our hair styled. Wedding hair is kind of overrated, but it was fun to have the amazing curls for a little while and kinda/sorta keep them glued in place for the better part of the day.

C got married in April, a simple courthouse affair followed by dinner that evening with immediate family members. It was what she wanted and perfectly suited them. Since, then, though, she and A have been asked numerous times by lots of different people about when they plan to start a family. Truth is they have already decided against having children, although the reasons why are no one else’s business. I am not a pushy or prying parental unit. There are some limits – I like to know when my kids have to go to the ER for something wrong, even if there is nothing I can do, or no need for me to rush down there, I just like to know – but as a mother I want my wonderful children to be happy. What path that takes is their choice, not mine.

With G’s wedding yesterday and other conversations woven into the fabric of my life, the conversations about life’s bigger decisions come up fairly regularly. And I welcome that. I am glad to be someone people talk to about what they think, how they feel.

G and K have no plans to have children either. K’s mother asked me yesterday how I feel about their choice, because her other daughter is also leaning toward childless by choice, about perhaps never being a grandmother. I did not have an immediate answer that satisfied her, because honestly, I do not think being a grandmother is a role I aspire for in this life. Truth is, it’s not about me or about her; we have had children and are mothers. Becoming a grandmother is a decision well outside our realm of control.

My sister-in-mother-in-law-hood then said something kind of jarring to my ears: that not planning to have children felt a bit “selfish” on the part of her daughters.

I hate when the word “selfish” is used to describe choices that are different or disagree with what we might desire for those we love.

K’s mother was not part of her life for majority of her upbringing and most of her life to date. They began the slow process of building a relationship several years ago, but obviously K does not enjoy the same level of depth and shared memories that I have with G. My theory is that K’s mother would like a do-over for being a mom via being a grandmother.

And it’s okay to have that kind of regret and desire. And it’s probably okay to voice it to your very intelligent daughters who think for themselves and have their own futures mapped out to suit their own, personal visions of pursuit of happiness. But please, do not ever label these very bright and promising souls as selfish for having different dreams and ideas about what their lives should or should not include.

K’s mother was a single mother, and the girls have different fathers. She did not raise either, because of addiction issues that have only been addressed and handled in the last half dozen years. Life choices made as a young woman have a lot of far-reaching consequences, and her life now is not and easy road. I am not someone who judges; I know we all make mistakes. She takes responsibility for those choices now, even though it has cost her dearly in terms of the life she lives now and the relationships with her daughters.

I was a single mom as well. My kids’ dad and I divorced when G was 2 and C was 3, and while I tell myself now that it was the only way, in truth it was a terribly selfish decision and a consequence of very stupid, very immature thinking and choices. We were only 20 and 21 when we married, flipping the calendar into 21 and 22 later that year. I was 23 when my oldest child was born, and I was 29 when our divorce was finalized after almost 9 years of marriage and 3 children.

I was insanely young and stupid. My xH was not a terrible person, but we married too young and for the wrong reasons. As parents we were not terrible parents, and we had a lot of local support from our parents and families. However, when our marital problems became so overwhelming I had to do something. I wanted to separate and seek counseling; he got angry and hit me repeatedly in the face and chest. In front of our children, the oldest of whom was just 5. Marriage was over with the first blow. While I did not call the police or report it – he was my kids’ father and I was still young and very naive – I served him with divorce papers 2 weeks later. It was probably among the more humiliating things in is life to have his family and our friends see me with blackened eyes and split lip.

Thing is – it was a choice I made, one I do not regret but now understand had many far-reaching implications and consequences for my children. Those 2 years after the divorce were hard, particularly the first 8 months when my xH refused to pay child support until wage garnishment orders were issued. I ate a lot of peanut butter sandwiches during those lean months so my kids could have nutritious food, and I very gratefully accepted my parents’ “care packages” of groceries with fresh fruit and things the kids loved. For about 6 months I shared my 2 bedroom apartment with another single mother and her 2 children, just to ease the burden of rent and food and for mutual help with childcare. I did a lot of growing up in that time.

By the time I met M, things had stabilized at home. I was making more money. My xH was paying child support and for his half of day care regularly and actually seeing the kids on Sunday afternoon to Monday morning. Looking back, if it were not for my parents and xH’s parents willingness to host the kids for an evening each week or pick them up from daycare so I could work overtime I’m not sure how we would have survived. But we did. We lived in an apartment, went the park on Saturday with a packed lunch, never ate out, rarely bought clothes or shoes (my mom loved getting the kids stuff from the store where she worked), and essentially budgeted and was very careful with my earnings.

During the bad times I wondered if I had made a mistake, if my kids were going to grow up and into Very Bad People because I was a single mother. I was exhausted all the time, and craved alone time to just sit and relax and do what I wanted. The stability of a 2-parent home sounded like nirvana compared to being a single parent supporting 3 children on my own, day after day after day. I had many nights of second guessing myself and wondering if I had been supremely selfish breaking up the family unit for my own happiness. And really, how happy was I barely making enough to money to share an apartment with another woman and 5 children? Not very happy, but continually tired and run down and wishing for a different life than the hamster wheel I boarded when I left my xH.

Know that, knowing what I know now about how hard it is to be a parent of good and normal kids under the best of circumstances, I have to wonder why anyone would choose to become a single parent on their own. Or why anyone who does not wish to be responsible for a child of their own would allow themselves to be guilted or forced into that lifestyle.

This is not me being judgmental, but having an adequate, stable income to support a child seems like a minimum standard requirement to be a parent. Yet I just today was reading a blog written by a grandmother about her minimum wage employed daughter and her unemployed boyfriend and their 4 week old daughter. Mom is deeply in debt herself yet has been helping keep this little family afloat. Yet say anything other than “oh, how cute!” about her granddaughter and you’re crucified and labeled a horrible, insensitive, judgmental person. Yet be responsible, choose the childless path, and you are labeled as selfish or not really ready to make that decision. I mean, what if the man/woman of your dreams wants children? In my very logical mind I imagine the man/woman of the a childless-by-choice type person’s dreams is someone with similar values and desires for the long-term lifestyle.

My kids – all 4 of them now – all enjoy children. Their priorities rule that out for themselves, though. G and K have bigger financial goals they wish to pursue that include careers and travel and perhaps an earlier retirement. For C and A, there is the issue of hereditary health conditions for a child of their own, and right now, they are very selfish with enjoying their jobs and having the time, energy, and resources to pursue their own projects and dreams. Whatever their choices and their reasons, they are deeply personal and no one else’s business, yet there are countless insensitive relatives and friends inquiring as to what their plans are for expanding their family.

I guess I just don’t get it.

Even M and I have been labeled “hedonistic” in our tendencies to pursue our own interests as empty nesters. Are we only valid citizens if we are parents and eventually grandparents? Is procreating the only measure of our worth? How awful, small, and narrow that point of view. Honestly, there are times when I think some people would prefer us to be even more boring in our habits and pursuits than we are right now. Or at least until we have grandchildren or incurable health problems. Managing my chronic condition and trying hard to pursue a health lifestyle is hedonistic and selfish according to the judgment of some we know. Not people we respect. Not people we even consider friends. More like family or friend of friends or acquaintances.

Hedonistic? Us? Makes me laugh.

Honestly, I am terribly boring. I work. I exercise. I hang out with M, my friends, chat with my family and my friends, write my blog. Probably my life looks pretty much like millions of other lives. Blogging about it adds a facet where I get to download my thoughts and catalog the adventures in my life.

I have very few regrets about decisions and choices in my life. But, I have suffered and endured the consequences of those choices, and hopefully I have learned a lot from the experiences. What I now know, personal choices are just that, personal. What else I know, being a single parent is very hard, so choose your partner in such an important endeavor wisely and make the decision consciously. Having children, or not, is a concept that anymore seems to be hard for people to accept as not something up for majority vote.

I’m a big fan of personal responsibility and personal choices about the direction of our individual lives. I (eventually) learn from my mistakes, and I am grateful for that. Gratitude is a good. Being thankful feels natural for me. For so long I had so little; I learned to be thankful for the smallest things I earned that made me happy.

Blogging still makes me happy. It’s good to have a safe space to sort my head and its loose-leaf thoughts out.

My growing sense of entitlement

A dirty little secret has been brewing, and I have not yet discussed it openly on this blog. Well, until now, of course.

I have a growing sense of entitlement. Yep, me, glitter-bombing unicorn in the lives of a few harbors feelings of deserving things.

Nope, not talking about material stuff or a tiara and princess accoutrements. Nor am I speaking of adoration and worship for my exceptional unicorn-isms.

My sense of deserving is basic human dignity and respect. I deserve my ability to hold and voice my own opinions and to disagree without rancor or condemnation. I am entitled to the opportunity to finish a sentence without being interrupted and an expectation of politeness when socially appropriate. The basic respect and consideration afforded friends.

It is no secret I have struggled in the last year with a particular long-term friendship, and it is truly unfortunate it seems to have spread to a couple of others. My best efforts to have an honest, mostly unemotional conversation about the issues have come to unsatisfactory conclusions. When I have asked with specific examples (Why do you feel I am hyper-focused and critical of others not on the same page with regard to diet and exercise? Can you give me a specific example of putting someone down for not following my example to improve my overall health?), I have been met with defensive “you have changed” and “it’s all you talk about” and “you think you’re better than the rest of us” type responses. Frequently those comments are very hurtful; these are women who have known me the majority of my life. Most of the time I understand where the defensiveness and the hurtful words come from, because again, these ladies have been friends for many, many years. However, my direct attempts to understand what it is I may be doing that offends them so much are then distorted, taken out of context, and repeated to others in ways that are exceedingly painful to me.

I just don’t get it.

I know I have changed. In my mind, pursuing my better health goals makes as much sense as pursuit of happiness. I certainly have no desire to be miserable all the time until my final days, and the drugs, the weight, the slow and inevitable decline in my health until I died was not something I have always been prepared or ready to face. Before getting started last summer, I had my head firmly buried in the sand and was frantically trying to pull more sand over to keep it firmly planted.

Not everyone accepts change well, even in other friends. Even when the friend is happier, healthier, better self-esteem, burgeoning confidence. Friend and commenter SAK has been with me on this journey and we have had numerous discussions about the negative feedback and sabotage we receive from people we consider friends.

Through the years I have adopted a standard where most anything negative said to me about me is sort of absorbed and/or deflected. I had my role in relationships – to be the stable, dependable, non-controversial, non-competitive friend and supporter. Say anything negative or bad about my family, about my friends, I will never promise to be responsible in my backlash. Nearly everyone I interact with understood this unspoken rule and all was well in my little world.

When I began with trainer J and my quest to improve my health, it seems to have created a ripple in the status quo. Everything from questions about J’s competence (shut down super quickly with that overprotective and unpredictable backlash) to my potential overtraining to subtle efforts to sabotage my eating efforts suddenly abounded. Questions about how much weight I have lost, critiques about my figure, and of course the infamous comments about the size of my arms came from all sorts of unexpected sources. Mostly I have weathered it well, and I specifically returned to therapy to find better, healthier ways to improve my self-esteem, confidence, and ability to cope with the well-meaning who have a hard time with change.

If anyone deserves “blame” for my evolving deflection, stronger spine, and standing up for myself it is probably TM, for reminding me, teaching me to value myself and my efforts for self-improvement. I do not give him enough credit for coaching me to a stronger, healthier heart and mind. He told me, warned me about the dynamic that others in my midst that are less emotionally and mentally healthy will manifest as time passes. He coached me on how to react, how to maintain my composure, how to respond to not compromise my own forward progress.

And I cannot ever thank him enough.

With the few friends I have had to step back and away from, it is far from easy or uncomplicated. I am now 55 years old, these are women I have known since high school or college. But I will not be bullied, pushed around, or abused, and I take full responsibility for allowing them to treat me poorly or take advantage of my general nature for too many years. I have done nothing to deserve it, and their own messy emotions and shortcomings are not my problem or responsibility. For too many years I enabled and allowed them to periodically use me as their whipping girl to vent their pain, anger, frustration, or dissatisfaction with their lives or the disappointments that befall them.

I want to be a supportive friend, but I have a good understanding of my limitations. Those limitations do not include being unhappy, staying unhealthy, or listening to endless details and the same rants and raves about their own issues. My efforts at improving my health, both physically and emotionally, are threatening in some real ways. Suddenly I am competition for attention and praise? Because I blog about my life here – and the better health quest is a huge part of my life – does it make them feel worse about themselves? This blog is my place for sharing my own stuff, not an attempt on my part to be a prophet inspiring others to discover their own miracles of diet and exercise. Ask anyone – I am the most ordinary of ordinary people. I struggle to eat healthy, eat well, and I have had to engage my own OCD tendencies to ensure I stay focused and consistent on my exercise. The persistence to break through my own desire to maintain my comfort zone does not come easily or naturally to me; modifying my behaviors has been an uphill battle that I am winning. I have thought about that as well. Perhaps my desire to lock up negative girl and protect myself from her sphere of influence is the problem; maybe they dislike the calmer, happier, positive version of me.

Honestly, I think it’s okay to not like the evolving person, and people do change and add or subtract friends as life continues. However, I need to be clear about my intentions with regard to friends going forward. I deeply regret the need to exorcise you from my life, but from my perspective, continuing a dysfunctional relationship that makes me feel terrible about myself is unhealthy. I am all about better health these days.

In some ways this is among the most painful, and personal, posts I have written to date. The friends I speak of – they meant so much to me once, more like sisters than my actual biological sister through the years. And now it is time to let go, say goodbye, and hope someday we will reconcile and meet again under better, healthier circumstances.

Your brand of mental and emotional pain is not my problem, and no matter how compassionate and sympathetic I am toward you, it is never enough. I will no longer be the toxic waste dump for your shit-worthless feelings from insecurity, disappointment, or unrealized dreams.

You need not like my choices for life or the lifestyle changes I am pursuing, and by extension you need not support or encourage those changes. However, I will no longer accept your attempts to sabotage, minimize, mock, or dismiss my efforts. I never wanted or needed your praise or applause; I merely wanted you to like and accept me, warts and all. I deeply regret that has proved so impossible.

The blog is for me. The only goal I have here is to be truthful and honest about my thoughts and emotions and life. It is not something I do to shame you or make you feel insignificant or inferior or bad about yourself and your choices.

If you hate my blog so much, please stop reading. Now. Into the future. Here’s a thought – there are literally hundreds of thousands of other blogs, websites, and forums for you to pursue content that interests you.

I am a good person, and my battle to make peace and accept myself is ongoing. I have been a good friend to you for many years and through many mutual good times and bad. I certainly do not deserve your derision of and contempt for my efforts. The struggle is real and so are my feelings, emotions, and history.

Letting go is really hard. And turning away from the Baskin Robbins when I feel this level of sad is almost as challenging.

There is no universe where I am happy or optimistic or upbeat about this turn of events. Healthy choices are not always rarely easy decisions for me. I feel gutted and yet relieved, the uncertainty of doing the right thing for me and making what feels right for me have weighed on my mind and conscience.

I feel lighter. And sad. And really wishing my resolve against Baskin Robbins was currently not this powerful.

Kitchen sink post – Energy

This started out as a simple post about energy and morphed into a lot of other things that impact that for me. Rather than trying to come up with a flashy, descriptive title that covers everything, it is just a kitchen sink post of thoughts from various events of the day.

So having lunch today with my associates and the topic of energy came up. I get it. They are all younger and fitter and hipper and generally cooler than I am, and it is as it should be. They are also more fatigued and haggard looking at times, which is also to be expected to some degree. Hard-working, workaholic young lawyers, hungry to make names for themselves, putting in the hours, living on less sleep, crap food, and the single and dating (or trying to date) lifestyle. Whereas I am not an attorney, have considerably more experience managing my workaholism, and I have nothing to prove to anyone in this firm or outside it regarding my professionalism, expertise, or work ethic. My lifestyle is also a lot tamer, and I prioritize exercise, adequate sleep, and healthier eating over getting out and socializing with my peers, etc. Between my own business and what I do for the firm, I bill at least as many hours as they do every month and possibly work slightly more overall. None of us are digging ditches or pounding nails to make a buck, either, so the physical demands of our occupations is comparable.

When it comes to lifestyles, mine is not better or theirs worse; priorities and choices are simply different.

But apparently I seem to have consistently more energy than they do, per opinions around the table. And since I am the oldest person in the firm, it does seem a bit unusual. Not really, though, and for the reasons delineated above.

Stress makes a difference as well. Stress for me is pretty minimal anymore, and I like this unstressed version of me so much I am actively trying to reduce any stressors even further. The exercise helps more than I would have ever thought, but so does feeling in control of my own job and ability to make a living wage. Sleep, glorious sleep, is a great equalizer that should not be underestimated. Since going to bed earlier to allow me to get up and get to the gym early, I have found a new sense of balance. I might want to stay up later and read or write or chat with my friends, but I make sure I shut down and am in bed by a decent hour. Certain nights of the week I can cheat a bit, because the alarm is set for later than 3:45, but most of the time I go to bed on time and wake feeling refreshed.

And happy, so happy. Since M is the same M as a year ago and our marriage remains healthy and happy, I chalk the increase happy factor to the lifestyle changes. Feeling satisfied, feeling challenged and successful with managing and overwhelming those challenges goes a long, long way to elevating my happy factor. Because it makes sense that when I am not stressed, tired, or worried, I am a lot happier, more energetic person. And maybe that’s the vibe my associates get from me – that my overall aura is more relaxed and peaceful, the energy more positive. They are very quick to reassure me that I am always pleasant, helpful, and easy to work with, but the productivity and efficiency of things happening within the office is ratcheting up. I am not sure about that, but perhaps they are right and I was a lazier slug at points prior to now. Maybe someday I will look back on this period and feel as if I were moving in slow motion now versus this mythical future point.

I have no concrete, precise answers – apparently this is my new fallback position when it comes to complicated questions. I do know I’d recommend the protein shake concoction for them in the afternoons, versus slamming more coffee or energy drinks. My protein shakes are the new favorite food and food group so my bias may be influencing my promotion of them.

My current level of energy and motivation to exercise? I like the way it makes me feel, and ultimately I like the challenges of learning and conquering. I think once past the terrible, dreadful, painful aspects of actually going and doing it simply became part of the daily routine. Burnout happens – I see it, I hear about it, and I understand it – but right now mind is locked on in a trance-like haze that causes anxiety and panic when I do not exercise. The images mind presents – weighing in a 300 lbs., not fitting into The Dress for G and K’s wedding in just over 2 months, the insulin needles and bottles of medications – trust me mind knows how to push those buttons, pull those levers that get me off my ass and back into the gym and working on a List.

What boosts our energy and motivates are going to be unique to us as individuals. But I suspect I am not unique in what kept me out of the gym and rooted to the couch for so long, and I hope I am not unique in my level of regret for the years I was sedentary. It was what it was, my choices and my headspace were different, and feeling regretful or angry about lost time is truly pointless. I cannot get those years back for a do-over, so I learned to let it go, accept it for what it was, and leaving it where it lay. Keeping my eye on the prize right in front of me is far better and healthier for me.

Speaking of the past, friend J related to me a funny tale from an old friend of his I have met a few times. Seems friend J was skyping with this pal and going on and on about my progress in the gym, etc. I guess his pal asked how he could have never been romantically involved with me since it’s obvious he is still crazy about me after all these years. Friend J simply said he has never been attracted to me like that, and I was a better friend to him than I ever would have been a girlfriend. After they hung up, I guess friend J got worried that this tale would find its way back to me from somewhere in our wide net of mutual friends and acquaintances, so he hastened to email me about it in advance lest my feelings be hurt by his frank assessment of his lack of attraction and my ability to be a decent girlfriend.

It has been at least a few days since I have laughed so hard. I mean, I had just started dating M when I met friend J, so it’s not like I ever sized him up or thought about him as romantic boy-toy material (despite what he likes to think every woman in the whole entire world dreams of when they cross paths with him). But for him to think my feelings might possibly be a teensy bit bruised by his frank admission all these years later? Too funny. I am still chuckling writing this post.

But this is what I mean about past being past and trying to recover prior events for a do-over. Believe me, despite the many times other friends express disbelief that friend J and I have always been just that – friends – I do not spend any part of any days wondering what might have been and if I missed my chance with him (OMG – ROFLMAO).

There are a few past events I wish I could revisit, all related to a desire for just another couple of minutes with beloved family members and close friends who died too soon, another opportunity to tell them again how much I love them and will miss them long into the future. Not taking better care of my health, or dating the younger brother I never wanted and am now stuck with for the rest of my life do not even come close to my occasional wishful thoughts for opportunities to change past events.

I believe my lack of excessive concern or worry about events and things I cannot change or impact or influence has done a lot for freeing more of my energy and ability to wring as much as I can from the moments I do have right here, right now. I cannot change my sedentary past, but I can build a more active, healthy future. Negative girl is locked away, and if mind has its way and stays as strongly convicted as it presently is, body will continue to get up off the couch, to move with purpose, and to get shit done.

And that is more than enough to keep me fueling my energy reserves in positive, healthy ways. Speaking of which, time for that protein shake before Friday night’s yoga class. Mind is still lobbying hard for a gym workout; body may rebel after an hour of yoga in 105 degree temperatures. Energy will be the deciding factor.