Get Real

One criticism I hear about Facebook is that some people seem to scream on their newsfeed:  “Look at my perfect life! My perfect children/grandchildren!  Look at me–I am so blessed! etc.” To that I usually respond…well, hide those obnoxious people! You do know that is an option, right?

That said, I do think of Facebook as a form of entertainment, so I consider my potential posts in terms of

Will it be interesting to anyone besides me?

Will it provide worthwhile information?

Will it be educational?

Is it funny? Will it bring a smile or laugh?

Is it just too stinkin’ cute to pass up? 

Like that. Get it?

So, it can appear that I have a perfect life, because I don’t post everything! If my musings cannot pass the test above, it doesn’t go up.  Believe me, I have crappy days, sad days, downright shitty days…and sometimes those days that I really, really just don’t want to go on.  Still.

You just won’t know about it from reading my Facebook page. Which is the reason I am writing this blog post. Something happened this week that has brought me up short and I can’t quit thinking about it. It was a suicide attempt by a friend of mine.

So I HAVE to talk about this. See, I get it. That was me five years ago. My life had become too much of struggle to bear anymore. I was convinced that my family would be better off without me. I was too much of burden. I was so sad. I was just too much. Because, you know, I’ve been told that all my life. I believed it.

If you’ve never had feelings or thoughts of suicide, this line of reasoning makes no sense to you. In fact, you may think about suicide as selfish and sinful. Your judgmental attitude does nothing to help those in desperate need of your help. So, just stop it–educate yourself.

I am writing this for those of you who are considering harming yourself.

Please, please reach out.

Depression tells you to stuff your feelings, isolate so that you won’t be a downer, and handle your own sad feelings because you “have so much to be grateful for.” It simply doesn’t work to beat yourself up for not being happy even when it looks like you “have it all.”

I am so sad about my friend. And I know there are others who feel the way she feels. Maybe you are reading this right now. Hear this: You are loved, You are worthy. Please, reach out. A friend, a pastor, a help-line. Send me a note. Something. Don’t do this alone. You just can’t.

Love,

Sherry

 

 

 

Manifesto of the Brave and Brokenhearted

There is no greater threat to the critics and cynics and fearmongers

Than those of us who are willing to fall

Because we have learned how to rise

With skinned knees and bruised hearts;

We choose owning our stories of struggle,

Over hiding, over hustling, over pretending.

When we deny our stories, they define us.

When we run from struggle, we are never free.

So we turn toward truth and look it in the eye.

We will not be characters in our stories.

Not villains, not victims, not even heroes.

We are the authors of our lives.

We write our own daring ending.

We craft love from heartbreak,

Compassion from shame,

Grace from disappointment,

Courage from failure.

Showing up is our power.

Story is our way home.

Truth is our song.

We are the brave and brokenhearted.

We are rising strong.

This is from Brene´Brown’s new book “Rising Strong.”

She writes: “Story is our way home.” This comes closest to describing why I write, and I just realized it this morning. This is how I heal.  Knowing that I have failed and not only stood back up, but am thriving, gives me hope (the absence of which causes depression), and strength of mind and spirit.  I can survive when I inevitably fail again.

I need not be afraid of life; “We are the authors of our lives, we write our own daring endings.”

Singing in This Rain

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This picture sums up where I have been mentally the last few days. I kept looking up, but rain and clouds were overhead. It doesn’t help that we are in the middle of an unprecedented rainy season. The rain has gone on and on and on…everything is so green and lush. It’s the middle of May and the temperatures are so mild. The lakes and streams are full again after several years of drought. Can you see how I am attempting to be positive? It’s a “Good Thing,” as Martha would say. But, really…

I have struggled, wanting to write, knowing I needed to get out of my head, but the words wouldn’t come. I’ve scribbled thoughts on scraps of paper, in the margins of my lovely Melody Beattie book,  and in this funny little diary my friend Julie gave me:

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I have cried some, talked to my dog, and “reached out” by calling and visiting a few choice friends and family.  I fretted and paced, found myself wanting to: a) eat, b) sleep, c) drink, d) smoke many cigarettes, e) do a lot of laundry/ironing. The last choice being the most healthy of the bunch. I am all caught up. Want to bring  some things over?

I followed some best practices that I learned when I was in “rehab,” as I affectionately call it. I listened to music, I read, stayed with my exercise routine, I meditated–all good protocol.

So, guess what? Today I felt like an airplane that just popped out of the low hanging cloud cover that obstructed the view of the glorious sky above it all. It came about as a feeling of lightness where heaviness was; a slight shift in perspective, an understanding that my life will work out. I was able to let the anxiety go. And, then a strange warming of my heart occurred, a feeling of being thankful; a renewed love for this beautiful gift of a life. This is no small miracle.

Thank goodness–God, friends, perseverance, good therapy, modern meds;  a combination of it all.

My God, though, it’s still raining.

But on the inside I am content. In fact, I think I am going to put on my rain gear and go walking. You may catch me singing, too.

And I’ll for sure do a little jump for joy:)

Love,

Sherry

Storms Come

Before we get started, you must watch this performance.

Did you?

Back it up right here if you did not. Watch this. I am serious.

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I grew up singing in church choirs. One of my very earliest memories was singing in “Beginner Choir” with Mrs. Reddick at First Baptist Church, Richardson, Texas. I must have been 4 or 5 years old. I graduated to “Junior Choir” and Wilma Dowell was the director. The fact that I can recall these two names in an instant points to the signifigance of choir singing in my life.

By the time I graduated from high school, I had been a member of so many groups that I lost count. The last group was called “The Solid Rock,” a Christian Rock Group (circa 1970s) at the First Baptist Church in Sherman, Texas. Our claim to fame is that when we performed on the same bill as Sandy Patti, WE got a standing ovation. Yea us.

In between there were many other choirs, including Kate Wakefield Elementary, Piner Junior High, and Sherman High School. Duane Gohlke was my teacher at the latter two schools– a taskmaster if there ever was one. Whew. We learned how to sight-read, let me tell you.

I also sang in an a cappella group in high school–and if we had a name, I do not recall it. A shout out to my colleagues–Susie Brandon, Linda Maret, Claudia Stoltz, and Vickie Cooper. Susie and I sang second alto, the lowest voices in the group (Did you hear that low voice in the video I know you watched? That was what Susie and I did. Beautiful, huh?) We also cut up a lot and drove our director a little nutty, I am quite sure. Sorry, John Ward. ♥

As an adult I have sung in my choir at First Methodist Church in McKinney, Texas, and when I lived in London I sang with an a cappella group called The Treblemakers. We had a lot of fun singing at events all over London.

This is what I got for being in the group. Other than a good time, of course.
This is what I got for being in the group. Other than the memories  good time, of course.

I taught Jazzercise for fifteen years, and if you were ever in my class you heard me sing–I could not help myself. I had the microphone and a captive audience. What did you expect? Oh, I just love to sing–in the shower, in the car, in church, while I write, while cleaning house…whenever, almost wherever.

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But I am especially mad about a cappella. Which brings me to the video I know you watched before reading this post; “Storm Comin'” by The Wailin’ Jennys. Many years ago I heard them on “A Prairie Home Companion.” I almost couldn’t believe what I was hearing–their harmonies were so close as to be perfect. I quickly bought a CD and listened to Firecracker over and over. How did they do that? Their talent stunned me then, and I remain a devoted fan years later.

This song, “Storm Comin,” gets to me on several levels. The pure perfection and beauty of the voices makes me want to fall to my knees in awe because I know first-hand how difficult it is to blend so perfectly. But then, when I listen to the lyrics, well…my heart breaks and soars all at the same time.

When that storm comes, don’t run for cover…Don’t run from the coming storm, no there ain’t no use in running.

When that rain falls, let it wash away…Let it wash away, that falling rain, the tears and the troubles.

When those lights flash, and you hear that thunder roar…Will you listen to that thunder roar and let your spirits soar.

When that love calls, open up your door…You gotta stand on up and let it in, you gotta let love through your door.

Well, well. Here I am writing about love again.

Choir singing taught me about working as part of a team. Sometimes I got to sing a lead part, but most of the time I had to learn to listen and respond with what was best for the performance of the group. I learned discipline, voice technique (as an aside: I can bellow like you wouldn’t believe–ask my kids),  how to read music, how to interpret and express music, and that sometimes, when all the hard work and practice came together, the experience would transcend anything I could have ever imagined. It is sublime…heaven on earth, really.

I was out of touch with music for a period of time in my life. As I reflect on why that may have been I think it has something to do with not wanting to access a place so deep in my heart. Music softens me, makes me feel vulnerable; it can make me weep. And, for so long I functioned on “numb” a lot. It was how I got through some very difficult times. This was a brilliant technique, and it worked well for a long time. But, of course, it wasn’t really all that brilliant, and I paid a price for cutting myself off from this lifeline. Refusing to listen to and honor my heart’s desire almost killed me.

So, this is what I know:  It is important to stay connected to those things in your life that keep your little heart open and vulnerable. This is when the most precious, profound, and exquisite things occur. Though being in this place is quite scary, I am going with it.  Writing about it helps, so thank you for being my witnesses.

Above all:

“When that love calls, open up your door…You gotta stand on up and let it in, you gotta let love through your door.”

Love,

Sherry

Silver Linings

When I started graduate school at UT Dallas five years ago, the very first class I took was called something like “Music and its Effect on the Brain.” It was team taught: one professor was a Harvard trained Memory and Cognition psychologist, the other was the Chair of the Department of Art and Aesthetic Studies, and his expertise was in Musical Composition and Conducting. Unbeknownst to me, this was a doctoral level class.  Good God, it was difficult and complex. Read: I was in way over my head. But, as they say, ignorance is bliss. It was my first class. I plunged in with gusto and brio.

Each week our assignment was to locate a piece of music that exemplified that week’s topic, analyze the score (not the lyric), and present to the class. To illustrate my point, here is an example:  “Musical Representations of Sexual Experience.”  My (pop-culture, limited-capacity) brain went to any Barry White song (swoon!), or the classic Marvin Gaye “Sexual Healing.” But, as is turns out, that is not what the profs were looking for. I had to find a classical music score that represented the sexual experience. Ravel’s “Bolero?”

I had NO IDEA what I was doing, but thanks to my dear friend Dr. Deborah Perkins (music pedagogue extraordinaire) I was able to muddle through. But, I spent the entire semester with my stomach in a twist anyway.

Here is a picture of one of my professors.

dowling

Yeah, this was serious business.

Now, had the assignment been to locate a set of lyrics that was an example of the topic, I would have aced that class. When I listen to music I tend to hear the lyric first, then the musical score. This is apparent if you have read any of my blogs.

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This song has been speaking to me lately. It was written and recorded by Kacey Musgraves. She is so talented and w-a-a-y cute, to boot.

Here are the words that I like so much:

If you’re ever gonna find a silver lining
It’s gotta be a cloudy day,
It’s gotta be a cloudy day
If you wanna fill your bottle up with lightning,
You’re gonna have to stand in the rain,
Gonna have to stand in the rain

Lemonade keeps turning into lemons and
You wear your heart on a ripped unraveled sleeve
Been rung through the ringer and pushed up to your limit
You say you’re just unlucky, but luck ain’t what you need

Cause if you’re ever gonna find a four leaf clover
You gotta get a little dirt on your hands
Gotta get a little dirt on your hands
If you wanna find a head to fit your shoulder
You’re gonna have to go to the dance
Gonna have to go to the dance

If you wanna find the honey,
You can’t be scared of the bees
And if you wanna see the forest,
You’re gonna have to look past the trees, baby

Her point is that in order to get to the best bits out of life, you have to be willing to jump in and risk getting hurt, risk failure. Your hands will get dirty, you probably will get stung by some bees, and may come dangerously close to some lightening. There is just no other way around it, damn it.

But, you just might find a head to fit your shoulder, too. Not bad, I say.

She makes it seem so easy and maybe a little fun. What does she know? She’s young, she’s got it all in front of her. She has no idea of the hurt and pain of what is ahead. How do I know this? I don’t. I project. Sigh–it’s one of my flaws.

Recently I went skydiving with my youngest child. All of my life I have been terrified of heights.  I do not like the feeling of free-fall. Just the thought of standing at the end of a high-diving board takes my breath away.  So, needless to say, I agreed to skydive with more than a little bit of trepidation (a huge understatement). I confess, I wanted Nancy-Jane to be proud of me.

It turned out to be one of the most freeing experiences I have ever had.  Rather than free-falling, you let go and the wind catches you. YOU FLY. I felt like Super Girl or Sister Bertrille (look that one up, kids). I cannot wait to do it again, and this time I will jump out of an airplane. The real thing.

All of this is about being open with vulnerability. The person who writes about this best is Brené Brown:

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I wish that I could say something original about this topic, but I am at a loss. So my story is more a testimonial to the effect of living this way of life. I now understand better what this means: “I was lost but now I’m found. Was blind, but now I see.” There I go with that lyric thing I have going.

I suppose that living my life as a story that needed to crafted and controlled served me well, until it just didn’t anymore. My life cracked wide open and seemed to fall apart. With a little distance between that time and now I can see that where those cracks happened something akin to lava flowed into those spaces. The feeling is warm, it is alive. It is the feeling of a sense of wonder and love that I feel for my life, the people in it, and a curiosity about amazing things I still have before me.

But in order to experience this I had to be willing to let go and jump, much like the skydiving experience. Much to my surprise (in both cases) I didn’t experience free-falling, but a force greater than mine that picked me up and allowed me to SOAR.

As I write this today I am filled with emotion and a sense of fullness that spills over into a few tears. How does a change so great happen?

I was lost, but now I’m found. I was blind but now I see.

I am standing out in the rain, filling my bottle up with lightening.

I am not going to analyze the lyrics, much less the feeling. All I can say is that is a beautiful place to be.

Love,

Sherry

Joy. Hang on to it.

Have you been guilty of letting something or somebody take away your joy?

Lucinda Williams has something to say about that:

Don’t you ever do that again, ok? Grab on to joy and hang on to it for dear life. Don’t be giving that shit away.

Last fall I went to the mother of all flea markets around these parts of Texas–Canton. I bought some Christmas decorations, one of which was a metal sign that simply says “Joy.” IMG_0084 I also bought this door mat at Target: IMG_0086 After the holidays, as I gathered up my decorations to store for next year,  I hesitated as I begin taking down the sign on my fence and thought that joy was probably a good thing to be reminded of all year long, not just at Christmas.  So I left it, and the doormat.  It pleases me to look at them.  They are my own personal shrines.

I like the word “Joy”  because, unlike “Happiness,” joy seems point to something a little different. Maybe something more profound?   Joy springs from within, and the feeling refuses to be contained.  Like you have to jump up and down you can’t stand still–jumping for joy, or bubbles that rise to the top of a ice cold coke, or a big bear hug from someone you love, and oh, have missed so!   I tend to burst out in song when I cannot contain myself. It’s a joyful noise. Another favorite is to dance, which is why I love my Jazzercise classes so.  Pure joy…You could argue the same thing about happiness, I guess, but you go and ahead and knock yourself out if you’d like to do that. I’m sticking with joy.

These days I have a lot of joy down deep in my heart. When I look at that sign on the back fence, or I step across the doormat in my garage,  I am reminded how very grateful I am for the source of that joy: A beautiful, rich life filled with people whom I love and that love me. Because, you see, not so very long ago I didn’t want to go on with this beautiful life.  I had lost the ability to see my life for what it is; a gift, a miracle. I was so depressed, and had been for so long, that I had run out of steam. Hope was gone. I had given away my joy.

Prolonged clinical depression will do that to a soul. It wears you out, beats you down, exhausts any emotional reserves. You have nothing left to give, no fuel to keep your motor running. I do not even like writing about depression because it causes me to go places in my head to which I prefer not to travel. It makes my heart heavy. So, when I am not dealing with a bout of depression I prefer to ignore that this disease/disorder is my experience. It’s shameful, I hate myself for it.

I realize I risk judgement by those who read my admission, but it no longer matters so much to me. I want to be of help to someone who  may suffer as I do. To borrow the phrase from my gay brothers and sisters, I am here to tell you that it does get better. You just have to hang on until it does.

If you have ever experienced deep clinical depression or love someone who has, you may have been guilty of saying one of the things listed below. Or you may have said these things to yourself. It is out of your love and concern for your depressed loved one that this stuff comes out of your mouth, I know. You want them to feel better, be better.

So, here is a short list of what people would say to me to “cheer me up,” as well as internal responses to their “encouragement.”

  1. Count your blessings; name them one-by-one.
  2. You have so much to be grateful for! (I have so much to be grateful for. What is wrong with me?)
  3. What did you think life was going to be like? You are so spoiled. * (I am so spoiled. Look how lucky I am.)
  4. Grow up, deal with it.*
  5. Snap out of it!* (Snap out of it! Get over yourself!)
  6. You are no fun when you get like this. * (I am not coming out of my room/apartment/house until I feel better because I am no fun when I am depressed.)
  7. Everyone gets the blues. You’ll be ok.
  8. If you had enough faith you would… (I am the worst Christian ever.)

(I am the piece of shit the world revolves around.**)

I would like to offer a word of advice to you loved ones of the depressed person: Just be there and witness the pain. Hold his hand, look at her in the face and nod your head. Hand him tissues. Keep listening, and practice loving her. Be present. It’s incredibly powerful for the one who is suffering to be heard and loved in the midst of a most unloveable time in his or her life. When a loved one says she doesn’t think she can keep going because it’s so painful,  hold her close and say, “I know, I know. That is how you’re feeling right now. I love you. I am here. I am not going away.” Resist the urge to say any of the above listed things.

And then stay there.

There has been much written lately about clinical depression and the brain. Neuroscience is a growing, exciting niche in the medical field. New technologies allow for brain scans and for scientists to be able to study the brain in a way that’s never been possible before. We can see what happens in the brain of a depressed person. We can scientifically prove what had previously been theoretical.  This is great news for us depression-prone folks. “See, I am not making this up–here’s proof!” I can tell you that this has taken some of the guilt out of suffering from depression (see #8).

Over the years I have read everything I could get my hands on about depression.  An entire shelf in my library is full of books on the subject. Thomas Moore wrote some beautiful words on the subject. Kay Redfield Jamison wrote eloquently and bravely about living with bi-polar disorder. I have learned about anger and rage and hate and all that rot, and how they relate to depression. I’ve been in therapy for 20 odd years on and off. I exercise daily, I maintain a reasonably healthy diet, I limit my wine intake (ouch), and keep a regular sleeping pattern. I reach out instead of withdrawing. I take my meds even though I hate that I need them. I “think positive.”

And still, still…sometimes no matter what I do, the depression creeps up on me, and, bam! I find myself in the midst of a depressive episode. Oh, it is just so awful and dreadfully familiar. It  seems to get harder and harder to climb out of the deep, dark well the older I get. Luckily, so far I have managed to scratch and claw my way up. Thank you, God. It gets better.

Over the last several years my therapist has told me many times that I “give away my power.”  What the hell does she mean? I would ask myself. I struggled to understand.  But when I heard this song, the truth of what Lucinda Williams was trying to say began to dawn on me.

“You took away my joy and I want it back,” Lucinda growls. She, like me, realizes that it belongs to her. She defiantly reclaims it.

I am not looking for my joy/power in West Memphis or Slidell, and, I suspect, neither is Lucinda. It is inside and it is mine. I am hanging on to that shit for dear life.

Love, Sherry

*Not everyone was so nice about it. She shall remain nameless.

**Anne Lamott,  Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year

Believe in Love, Much?

Damn those Dixie Chicks. Why did they ever break up?

I have been listening to The Chicks a lot lately. I find them quite empowering, and I need some empowering.  “Not Ready to Make Nice,” “Goodbye Earl,” “Wide Open Spaces,” and my new favorite: “Sin Wagon.” Talk about some Girrrl Power! How fun is that song?

But the song that has stuck with me, very close to my heart is “I Believe in Love.” These lyrics specifically:

I believe in love, I believe in love
Love that’s real, love that’s strong
Love that lives on and on
Yes, I believe in love

I woke up early the other morning with this song on my mind. I had been listening to it the day before so it was in repeat mode in my brain. I begin humming it and then reached for my iPhone to listen to it…yet again. I stuck my earbuds in and cranked it way up. To my surprise, as I begin belting it out my throat began aching. Now in the past I would have given myself a talk along the lines of “Buck up, Sherry. Deal with this. Pull yourself together.” Maybe because it was so early in the morning, or the fact that no one was there to hear me,  I told that voice to STFU, and I let it rip. Oh, it was quite dramatic. My poor little dog jumped in bed with me and began snuggling up against me. He is the best. I cried like a drama queen…and then, miraculously, the tears turned to laughter.

A sense of peace and happiness washed all over me. I finally gave up trying to control my feelings and just let go. Letting go is scary for someone like me who has “made her living,” so to speak, by being the glue that holds all the shit together.

I am done with that. Really, truly done. This re-decision has caused more than a few aftershocks.  So be it.

My amazing long-suffering therapist (shout out to BG) has told me for a long time that it was a good idea to sit back and just observe my feelings. Not involve myself in them, but just watch myself go through the process. She would tell me “You are not your feelings. They are only feelings, Sherry.  They come and they go. They ebb and flow.” Wha…wha…WHAT? If I am not my feelings, then who am I?

I’ll tell you who I am. I am the person inside watching my life happen. I am the spirit in there. 

This is a very important distinction to make. Why? Because here is how it goes otherwise: If I feel it, it must be true. And, if it is true, then this has to be who I  really am. Then I am obligated to act on my feelings, you know, to be “true to who I am.” What a trap! Trust me, this way thinking has caused all kinds of problems for me over the years.

So, why in the name of God has it taken me so long to grasp this fundamental truth?

  • Because I am stubborn.
  • Because I know what I need (see: “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”).
  • Because I am a survivor.
  • Because I must like to do things the hard way?

I dunno.

If I let the feelings pass through me, observe them, and watch them go away then I am left with what is…and who that is, is the person noticing all this drama–me. But I ain’t the drama!

Several years ago my good friend John told me of a practice he was learning. It went something like this–In his mind’s eye he practiced watching an elephant enter a room, walk through it, and then exit. He was just the observer, he didn’t have to do anything, make any comment, nothing. All he had to do was watch and stay out of the middle of it. He practiced this over and over. He explained to me that it was an ancient Buddhist practice, and he believed it would be helpful for me if I tried it.

It appears there was a teacher, but the student wasn’t ready.

Now I hear it. I get it.

Back to me weeping and wailing as I sang this song. Oh, my, it was good. Loud, primal, tearful.  But as my tears turned into laughter, I felt my heart soften, and begin to feel very full.  Then I became aware that I was connected to something much bigger–this was no longer about me crying over my broken heart. This was about experiencing love, feeling love, being loved, and knowing that love does go on and on. It really does.

Know this truth: Love is real, love is strong, love lives on and on.

Yes, I believe in love.

Nancy-Jane jumping for joy~
Nancy-Jane jumping for joy~