On the Cusp of an Epiphany

A few days ago I discovered an encrypted folder on the server known as My Brain, and I’ve been trying to figure out the password ever since. I know it has something to do with being driven and The Hokey Pokey, but that’s all I’ve got. If you can put those two concepts together without reading any further, then I want to talk with you. I’ll buy you a cup of coffee and we’ll chat, because you might know me better than I do and you might be able to help me decode this encryption.

It all started several days ago when I reconnected with Karen, a high school classmate, on Facebook. We knew each other in school, had classes together, but we never “hung out.” We weren’t in any groups or clubs together, so we didn’t have all that great of a connection. So Karen completely surprised me last week when she offered a lengthy discussion with some very kind words about what she thought of me when we were in high school. She knew I had gone through a lot in life by the time I got to high school, and she had thought I was strong and confident. She had thought I had “things together”, so to speak. And she said she had looked up to me as a role model. I was quite surprised because I remember not at all feeling confident or “together” in high school and had no idea I could have been a positive role model for anyone. But Karen’s recent words reminded me of other classmates who have said similar things in the last few years. One went so far as to call me his hero. (I’m still cogitating that concept.) People obviously saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself. (Save this thought for a moment.)

All of these wonderings came at the same time as I’ve been pondering the fact that the last of my four daughters doesn’t seem to have the same determination as the other three. I’ve been trying to figure out what makes a person determined, what gives a person the desire to move forward in life, and what turns on that drive if it’s not engaged. Brianna is intelligent and capable of accomplishing so much, and yet she struggles every day with every task. I can see her potential, but she can’t. (Insert saved thought from above.) The way I see it, Brianna makes everything much more complicated by the poor choices she makes. Her journey has been filled with dead-end roads and U-turns. Why can’t she find her way to the interstate?

The combination of Karen’s comments, the reminder of comments from other high school classmates, and my thoughts about Brianna led me to this encrypted file in my brain. I truly feel I am on the cusp of some kind of enlightenment, but I haven’t been able to put it all together.

Many wise people know, awareness is the first step to understanding something.

But how can I understand if I don’t know what I’m searching for? In an effort to find some answers, I went back to another recent comment Karen made to me. She said she didn’t know if she would have been able to survive had both her parents died like mine had by the time I was sixteen. Well, I know she would have survived. I did. If I can, anyone can.

Some people have a strong survival instinct. When my parents died, my life was not any fun. It was horrible and scary. I didn’t want to think about it. And I didn’t want to think about the months prior with all that illness and sadness and fear. So I moved forward. I was not going to relive that awful past, so I took a step forward. And then I took another. And then another. There wasn’t really any thinking about it. It was instinctual. One step in front of the other. Breathe in, breathe out. That was what life was all about.

By the time I got to high school, I had overcome a lot of change in my life. Change didn’t frighten me like it did other people, so I was able to flex and bend and move with the flow. Oh, don’t get me wrong. I hate change! But it’s not the fear of the unknown that I hate about change. It’s the fact that things change and it takes a while to put the chaos of change back into some kind of order or structure. I tend toward OCD and I need structure. I thrive with order and structure and I knew that instinctively. I didn’t think about it, I just did it. I kept a clean bedroom. I had a clean and organized locker at school. It’s just who I was (and still am). When something changed in life, I saw it as a jigsaw puzzle. If I could find the four corners, and then all the pieces with the flat edges, I could begin to form an image. Then slowly, one by one, I could figure out where each of the other pieces fit. And eventually, the “big picture” was right in front of me. I made order out of chaos. And life was good.

As I became an adult, got married, became a mom, and experienced even greater challenges in life, I still had that trait of being driven to move forward but sometimes I didn’t move as fast as I wanted. I began to think in terms of taking small steps or baby steps. But I was absolutely driven to move forward. Was I still trying to get away from the horrors of both of my parents dying? Or was I just instinctively doing what I was meant to do? One foot in front of the other. Breathe in, breathe out. That’s what it’s all about.

“Progress is our most important product.” That was General Electric’s marketing slogan in the 1960s. I can’t count how many times in a week that thought runs through my head. Forward movement. Progress. Driven. Baby steps. That’s what life is all about.

So now you’ve caught up to my train of thought and how I’ve connected driving (or being driven) with The Hokey Pokey (that’s what it’s all about!). But what does it all mean? What am I on the cusp of discovering? And if I was a role model for Karen and others, including three of my daughters, why haven’t I modeled for Brianna this character trait of moving forward? And how can I help Brianna get out of neutral and into drive?

I’ve tried everything I can think of but I haven’t done The Hokey Pokey with her since she was about three or four. I wonder if I can get her to do it. Maybe, with my granddaughter’s help, I can.


Mental Illness, an Hour at a Time

I love to read! To me, reading is knowledge. It is the world at your fingertips. Unlike the Internet, you don’t need electricity or battery power to read. You just open the book and begin. Theodor Geisel (aka Dr. Suess) said it all when he wrote Oh, the Places You Will Go!

When each of my daughters learned to read, I shed tears of joy. I knew I had limits to what I could teach them and I understood that they could learn anything they wanted from a book. In my view, they actively stepped into the world when they began to read.

For thirty years I have worked for a publisher that sells books to the trade market and some niche markets. At first I worked full-time for this publisher, but then the call to be an at-home mother was too great and I began freelancing. When my children were older and I returned to full-time work with a different publisher, I continued to freelance for the other.

Sometimes I copyedit a manuscript, while other times I proofread the first set of typeset pages. Like many editors, I have an ability to connect with authors in such a way that I step into their minds, so to speak, through their manuscript. I “become” the author and adapt my editing to each individual style. Obviously I enjoy it or I wouldn’t have done it all these years.

Over the course of my career I’ve read books that are interesting, philosophical, educational, enlightening, entertaining, sad and depressing, and even a few that are frightening. Some were excellent, many were so-so. This week I am working on a memoir about schizophrenia. And I must admit, this one is a challenge.

It’s a powerful story and well written. The author uses a lot of prose—metaphors, analogies, alliterations—easily teasing and cajoling the reader into the story being told. Generally I am a fast reader, sometimes speeding through a 300-plus page book between lunch and bedtime on a Saturday. But not this story. I quickly discovered that I can only read it an hour at a time, then I must put it down so I can ground myself back in reality. And what a blessed life I have that I can step into the world of mental illness for an hour at a time, learn about it, experience it, then walk away from it.

I have fifty pages left of my first read through and I’m hoping the second reading will go a little faster. And when I turn in my work next week, I will be a little wiser for having read this memoir. And for many weeks, maybe months, this story will stay with me as a reminder to count my blessings.

The April Fool

I had just finished my lunch hour at work on Monday when my cell phone rang. It was my daughter, Rose. She sounded upset and asked if I was still on my lunch break. I told her I had a couple of minutes left and asked her what was going on. She proceeded to tell me about her awful morning. Unknown to me, Rose and Al, her husband of eight months, had been arguing all weekend. They had called a truce when they sat at our table to celebrate Easter, so I had no idea the argument had gone on. It was all centered around a party they had gone to on Friday night with some friends. Rose ran into an old (male) friend at the party and sat and talked to him and got caught up on what was happening in his life. Al didn’t like that Rose was talking to this guy so much and got jealous. When he confronted Rose about it, she just blew it off. That infuriated Al more, and the argument grew. So on Monday morning as Al was getting ready to go to work (Rose had the day off), they argued some more. When he left, he threw $200 on the kitchen table and told her to go to the courthouse and file for divorce. Rose was shocked! She had cried most of the morning and debated what she should do. By noon she had resolved to wait for Al to get home and they could talk, but then Al sent her a text message on his lunch break asking if she had gone to the courthouse yet. Rose was devastated. “What should I do, Mom?” she cried to me.

In that moment, my heart ached for Rose. She said she knew the first year of marriage can be really tough, but she felt Al had taken his jealousy too far this time and she wasn’t sure if she wanted to keep working so hard at making this young marriage work. I struggled to find the correct words to say, being careful to not say something I would later regret. We ended up talking for close to an hour, making the decision that Rose should pack a bag and spend the night at our house and that she should give Al a couple of days to think things through before anyone made any rash decisions or took action on filing for divorce. I went back to my desk and tried to focus on my work but it was pointless. All I could think about was the tears my daughter had cried, the pain she was feeling in her heart, how she felt a failure because she couldn’t make her marriage last one year. Unable to concentrate, I checked in with Rose a couple of hours later. She said Al had called and she told him she was packing a bag and would be at our house for the night. Al had asked her to wait for him to come home so they could talk first. She agreed. A bunch of red flags went up for me and I did my best to counsel her about personal safety in a “domestic.” I told her I would keep her in my thoughts and prayers, and asked her to check in with me later.

My phone never rang. I was worried, but I didn’t know what to do. I could call, but I thought that might escalate the situation with Al. I thought about driving the twenty minutes to their town to check on them, but they live in a third floor apartment. What would I be able to see? I sure wasn’t going to knock on their door and say I happened to be in the neighborhood, what’s up? Besides, my daughter is a married woman and she is twenty-five years old! She’s arguing with her husband. Does that give me a right to barge into their lives? Oh, there was a disgustingly loud symphony of voices going back and forth in my head.

As fate would have it, my daughter Kate called me to check in. “Have you talked with Rose today?” I asked her. “Funny you should ask that,” Kate said. “Dad asked me the same thing.” Whoa! In my mind, there was no way in the world Rose would have said anything to her dad about Al’s behavior. Given the violent past we had all lived with when I was married to him, there was no way Rose would tell her dad about Al’s jealousy. I pressed Kate some more as to what her dad was asking about and she didn’t have a clue. I debated about thirty seconds and confessed to Kate that Rose was having a very bad day. I didn’t give a lot of details, but enough that Kate was willing to call Rose and check in. A few minutes later, Kate called me back. “Everything’s fine with Rose and Al. They’re having a quiet night, watching a movie.”

Take a deep breath, let it out slowly. I told myself that the rest of the night until I fell asleep. How powerless I felt. We bring our children into the world, we do our best at teaching them all they need to know, and then we let go. If I knew then what I know now, I probably wouldn’t have had any children.

The next morning, I hurried through my routine and called Rose on my way to work. I knew she should be on her way to work as well. She answered right away. Thank God! And then she gave me the worst news possible. The whole thing had been a very cruel and hurtful prank. Al had thought it would be a funny April Fool’s joke. Rose was devastated, again. “How do I erase those feelings, Mom?” she asked. “I was ready to walk away from our marriage. I had had enough of his jealousy and the arguments. How do I put those feelings away?”

Ask anyone who knows me and you will discover that I am the Queen of Giving Second Chances. Someone once told me I am the most optimistic person he knew and I laughed out loud. Some days I am so devoid of hope and full of depression that I cannot stand myself. But this friend said that he will always want me as a friend because I forgive everyone, that I always give people the benefit of the doubt, always allow a second chance or third or fourth….

While some may think this is a fine character trait to have, I believe it is a defect. It makes me vulnerable. And it makes me anxious every year when the first day of April rolls around because I am a gullible person and easily fall for pranks. I hate the day so much in fact, that when my children were growing up and learning about April Fool’s Day, I told them I didn’t care for the day and that there would be consequences for anything mean spirited or hurtful. I must have made my point very clear. They were wise to keep such nonsense out of the house. If they played pranks on friends, I never knew about it. I realize now, my children never had any April Fool’s pranks played on them. Until now.

I’ve been trying my whole life to change my character defect without success. At this point, I’m ready to just give up and accept that vulnerability and gullibility are a part of me. And if someone wants to take advantage of that, then I don’t need to keep that person in my life. Does that sound reasonable?