Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Shame vs Privacy

"I did not want you to know because it makes you see me in a manner I do not want to be seen."(Austin, Lisa M., Privacy, Shame and the Anxieties of Identity (January 1, 2012). http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2061748)

I am writing my memoir. I am a person who over shares. I say I have no secrets. I am not ashamed of past behaviors, although I have some regrets, because those behaviors contributed to who I am today. I believe that if I share my experiences, I will help others to overcome their fears and shed the need for privacy to avoid feeling ashamed. I do not view privacy as a healthy thing. I do understand people use the need for privacy as a shield against the criticism they may receive from others as a result of sharing themselves openly and without shame. Others, who feel ashamed, desire to make those who share feel the same in order to make themselves feel better and more powerful.

I have experienced these attacks on my character, and have succumbed to feeling the shame they insist I must feel. Now that I have "found myself", I feel more grounded and clear. The past is the past. My past behaviors remain there. I do not behave in the same way I did when I was twenty or thirty or even forty. Of course, that depends on the behavior: I still dance alone in public, for example. I just love to dance, and the lack of a partner will not prevent me from breaking out my "moves".

My memoir is about growing up the oldest of twelve children in an Irish Catholic family with an alcoholic father. It is about becoming an unwed mother in 1970. And, it is about my very personal journey to self-discovery. That journey includes discovering, accepting and enjoying my sexuality. My story is also about shedding the "good girl", embracing the "wild woman" and becoming "the matriarch". I never consulted my son about anything along the way. I just dragged him along with me as I created and discovered my journey.

Now that he is a successful professional adult, do I have the right to share my story publicly knowing that the image he projects may not be seen in the way he wants once the public learns about the upbringing he survived as a bastard child? He is more of a private person than I. How then, do I solve this conflict? Can it be solved?

Certainly, I can write my story and not publish it. I can make it available for him if he wants to know who I was as a person. I always wanted him to know me as such, and not just as an authority figure. I regretted never knowing my parents as people once I reached a mature age. I am assuming he will feel the same way twenty years from now. But, will he? He is a man. Do men feel differently about these things than women? I think they do. Men do not like sharing their feelings or expressing them.

My son was raised by a woman around mostly women. He is sensitive and a great communicator. But, he is still a guy. I think genetics dominate behavior, thought and feelings. I believe as human beings, we can overcome anything, including our own physical limitations. Mind over matter is real. But, one has to have the desire to overcome adversity or the sense of it. If there is no desire, there is no will. If there is no will, no change will happen. Change is possible, but desire must be present. Desire allows one to choose. One must choose to change if certain behaviors, thoughts and opinions no longer contribute to happiness and a fulfilled life. Choices must be consciously made.

If I write my story and do not publish it, how will that make me feel? I always said I did not want to die with regrets. Well, I have a few. But, my one goal for just me that I promised my Self was to publish one book in my lifetime. My story keeps coming back to haunt me. The need to tell the world my story keeps coming up. When I share certain stories with others, I receive positive feedback that says, "You should write those stories down and publish a book." I know! I am! But, What about my son's feelings? I don't want him to hate me or resent me forever. I know he loves me, but he's not a kid anymore. I can't disregard his feelings any longer. So, where does this leave the sharing of my story?

I never found a book about a woman raising a son alone when I was doing it. I needed that book. It didn't exist. At least, I couldn't find it. My story is that book! At least, that's my opinion. I can't be the only person to experience life in the way I have. Nobody is truly alone. Isn't that what therapy teaches us? We are not alone. I am not alone. Is there a woman out there, young or old, who would be affirmed by the sharing of my story? I hope so. That is what drives my need to publish. But what about my son's feelings? Should they prevent me from publishing? How do I talk with him about it?

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Hopelessness, Isolation and Fear

 In the late 1970's, I felt hopeless. I understood in that moment over a period of months what people who live in hopelessness could be experiencing. Feelings of hopelessness are painful. They make you feel "less than" and take away your power. Feeling powerless instills fear, and fear begins to create a need for isolating oneself from the world. Isolation begins a cycle of living in the dark recesses of your mind. Those dark places are not healthy. Giant monsters live in that darkness. Those monsters begin to eat away at your healthy core. Once your psychological and spiritual core has been depleted, the damaging effects manifest in your physical core causing illness and dis-ease.

Isolating oneself from the world includes your family and closest friends. If you do not let anyone know you are hurting, nobody can help you. How do we as people who love you, and would be devastated by your loss, try to help if we have no idea what's behind your smile? Please speak your pain. Please reach out to whoever feels safest to you. Please don't leave.

My prayer for all those who are hiding their pain and are thinking of taking themselves from our midst is this: May the Light of Divine Love illuminate all the dark places in every heart and mind. May you open your heart and mind to Divine Love's healing power. In receiving Divine Love, you are lifted out of the mire of despair and placed gently on the path of Happiness once more. May you be open to receiving Love and Happiness. Amen.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Love will win.

Some friends of mine are attending the Revolutionary Love 2018: Complete The Dream (interfaith) conference (based on the pillars of violence Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. talked about in 1967) in New York City this weekend. The pillars referred to are what Dr. King believed would be the forms of violence that would destroy the world: racism, materialism and militarism. Conference organizers are adding a forth pillar for today's relevance: sexism. I read the schedule, and it is a very heavy weekend. It not a fluff weekend of feel good talks and pats on the back. But, I just listened to a live-stream talk by the Rev. Jacqui Lewis, and I feel good! It was a powerful message about her vision of the Love Revolution.

I believe in Love. I believe in the power of Love. I believe Love will win the war over fear. Fear is the source of anger and hate. Hate causes pain that fuels discrimination in all its forms. In an effort to eliminate the pain of heartache, those afflicted sometimes lash out. In the course of lashing out to ease pain, much more pain is inflicted. Therein lies a vicious circle; a cycle that must be broken. Only Love can break that cycle. Sometimes the solution to relief is merely imagination and visualization. After a world is imagined or envisioned where freedom for all truly reigns, then believers in Love must speak out and rise up.

Rev. Lewis talked about the Love Prophets. These modern prophets are the ones with their Love vision in mind who will raise their hands to try to calm the waters of fear (my words, not hers). The waters of fear are rushing like Level 5 rapids over the minds and hearts of us all. Those who would keep us afraid think they are safe riding above the torrents of those rapids. But, they must realize that their rafts are vulnerable, and their paddles are undependable. The power of those rapids can flip their rafts over and toss them into the torrent at any moment. The prophets of Love, however, can band together as a team to navigate the waters of fear. Together they, We, can slow the rushing waters that scare us and create peaceful, lapping waves that soothe our hearts and calm our minds.

Those of us who hear the call of Love, will speak out. Here I am. Speaking from my heart in Love. I am a Carrier of the Light of Divine Love in this world. My mission in Life is to keep Joy alive. I am a Love Prophet. I heard the Call long ago. The Mission supporting Love over fear is a difficult one, but not an impossible one. Everything in Love is possible. I truly believe this. I look for "the signs". Rev. Lewis talked about looking for the signs that present themselves in Life to help us find our way. She talked about losing her mother two days ago, and instead of going for a walk during which she usually called her mother who is no longer available to receive that call, she went and got a mani/pedi. The name of the woman doing her nails was Emma, her mother's name. She saw this as a sign of the presence of her mother in that moment. That sign soothed her aching heart. Signs may come in this way, or on a billboard or in the words of a song on the radio. Signs are everywhere. But, we must be receptive to them. Our eyes and hearts must be open to see the signs when they present themselves.

I may not feel confident to participate in the discussions of the New York City weekend my friends felt called to attend, but in sharing the live streams, my good friend brought me with her. I can attend at my leisure and from the safety of my home. I am not saying this because I would have been afraid to attend the conference, but that I do not have the energy required to be in that venue. I am happy to attend remotely as I can, and take what jewels I glean. I found one jewel this morning, and using it, I wrote this blog post.

I believe in what is possible. What is possible is a World where every person is free. I believe in a World where each person can grow to be whatever (s)he wants, and do whatever (s)he desires, receiving the exact same pay. I believe our World can be as healthy and happy as we want our children to be. All adults are just grown children. The little child within us all guides us. Treat that child within with respect and kindness. Love that child, and guide it towards laughter and playfulness. Teach it about personal responsibility and healthy community. There is no "I" in "Team"!

But, a healthy, happy "I" is essential, and must not be taken for granted or disregarded or pushed aside. Healthy "I's" will be the movers and shakers of this World, and will/are the ones who create positively effective Teams. Be well, my Friends. Sending Love and Visualizing Peace in the Revolution of 2018.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Break The Silence

As women, we are taught to be silent. We were not encouraged to discuss our bodies, our traumas or ask questions in years past. I was not. My mother was not. I remember when I was about eight or nine years old and thought my mother was dying because she hemorrhaged from her bed to the bathroom after having yet another baby. My grandmother laughed at me and told me she was not dying when I called her in a panic. My mother sat me down and tried to patiently explain what was happening but did not have the tools to describe her experience adequately. I waited for "health class" in seventh grade to explain the "birds and bees" to me. The balance of my sexual and sexuality education came from my friends.

There is so much about our bodies that nobody told us, especially about post-menopausal experiences. I am once again learning on my own about what is happening to my body after menopause. I use "Ourselves Growing Older" to learn about some things and get visuals to assist with my understanding. But, I learned recently that there is just nothing like being able to talk openly about experiences previously held secret.

I have been accused many times of TMI (Too Much Information). I share. I share about everything! I believe in speaking openly. I realize not everyone or every woman is capable of sharing to the same extent I do. I respect that. But, I disagree. If women are to become knowledgeable about phases of personal health, and if we as people are encouraged to be our own healthcare advocates, how can we adequately care for ourselves without basic knowledge of our own bodies? So, let me share something with you now.

Don't let others' inability to hear personal information discourage you from sharing your experiences or information you have gleaned on your road to self-discovery and about personal healthcare knowledge. If you feel comfortable doing so. I sometimes give a "heads up" at my exercise class before I share something new I learned. I ask if anyone else in the women-only class has experienced something similar. I ask my girlfriends and my sisters. I talk openly with whoever seems receptive. I do this because I believe we all must know. Let me give a recent example.

I am in the final throws of recovering from a hysterectomy with a bladder and rectum lift. After menopause when estrogen wanes, many women like me experience a prolapsed bladder, uterus and rectum. My bladder was literally protruding out of my vagina. I was so shocked when I felt this bulge for the first time, even though my primary care doctor, also female, warned me it was coming. We had in fact been watching its drop for about five years.

After the surgery that left three sets of stitches inside my vagina (the surgery was done vaginally), I went to my five-week post-op checkup last week. For the first time, I experienced the extreme pain of internal vaginal dryness. How many times had I read or heard about this? But, I had never experienced it's extreme discomfort until now. Discomfort is too mild a word. It really hurts! I have experienced external dryness, and over-the-counter lubrication works fine to relieve this type. My gynecologist gave me samples of estrogen cream. She said the estrogen would not cause me problems, because I was not taking it orally. And, the percentage of estrogen in the unliquefying cream was too small to be of concern. I have a history of breast and cervical cancer in my family. A friend chose not to use this type and declared that non-estrogen lubrication applied internally works for her.

When I tried inserting the tampon-shaped plastic applicator to use the cream this past week, I found the applicator difficult to insert. I had to go up and over a wall inside my vaginal opening. I didn't know what to think of this, but I found the canal, so I let it go. Increasingly, I found it difficult to insert the applicator, and last Sunday, insertion was almost impossible without digital exploration and much prodding. It was a very uncomfortable process. I began to get nervous that something had dropped in the week since my last and supposedly final checkup. I thought my bladder had let loose and I was poking it and irritating everything trying to use this cream.

I called my doctor, and asked her to examine me again. I returned from that visit a little while ago. She was so understanding, and I expressed gratitude that she made time for me. I was embarrassed to be asking such pointed, and seemingly ignorant, questions. She assured me that this visit was just fine, and "That's what I'm here for!" I was very grateful. I asked for a hand mirror so she could explain my anatomy to me.

Before this final step, though, she brought in a book with very good pictures and explained what my reproductive system looked like before and what it looked like now. Then, she just took a look on her own to make sure everything was all right. She assured me I am healing very well, and everything is as it should be in there. Then, I took the hand mirror and watched as she explained what everything was, and showed me I really do still have a vaginal canal and a cavity where my uterus used to be. She inserted her two fingers far into my vaginal canal to show me I could indeed have intercourse.

We decided that the difficulty I was experiencing inserting the applicator was that I was probably hitting the flap of skin that was once my hymen. It was red and raw looking, so we decided I had irritated it trying to insert the applicator with the rough edge (probably designed by a man, we decided). I had just never known that flap existed. I certainly never felt it, and it has never gotten in the way before. She encouraged me to wait a month before using the cream again until the irritation calms down. She also encouraged me to use a mirror to help direct the applicator. The flap had never been an issue before because insertion of anything usually came from the top (clitoris on down), not the bottom. This conclusion is what I am inferring from my experience.

I felt so grateful and empowered when I left her office. I felt more knowledgeable about my body, and more confident that I am indeed healthy. I highly encourage all the women reading this post, if you have not already done so, to be curious about your own body. Ask questions. Talk with your doctor. Discuss issues with your friends. Be informed because information is power. It's your body and your life. Take control of that because there's not much else in the world you can control. It is just amazing how great you will feel when you know yourself, and have a better handle on your own healthcare. Think about it.

Sending Love and Peace.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Ode To My Reproductive System

I was a late bloomer. All my friends got their periods before I did. My best friend at age twelve got hers when she was ten years old. I was the last one at age fourteen. So, when it finally came, I knew exactly what to do. My mother didn't need to tell me, thank goodness, because she absolutely couldn't. I remember when I was about eight or nine years old, and after having another baby, my mother was hemorrhaging at home. She had been in bed and I was her helper. But, when she left a trail of blood from her bedroom to the bathroom, I thought she was dying. I panicked and called Gummy (our maternal grandmother). We were living in Norwood, Massachusetts and Gummy lived in Newton Upper Falls, about thirty minutes' drive away.

"Gummy, Mummy is dying!" I screamed and cried into the telephone. "There's blood everywhere. She's dying!" I heard a loud and hearty laugh at the other end of the line. Gummy was laughing! I did not know what to think, but I felt really stupid and mad. "She's not dying, Kathleen, she'll be fine. Don't worry." That's it. That's all I got. How could I not worry! My mother was bleeding all over the house! I went into my mother's bedroom after she got back into bed and told her what Gummy said. She asked me to sit on the bed and she tried her best to explain what was happening. Women didn't talk about this stuff in the 1950's, and I left that conversation feeling better that I believed her when she told me she wasn't dying, but I was still in the dark about the whole experience, and about women's bleeding in general.

In seventh grade, we moved back to The Falls and I attended Meadowbrook Junior High School after spending the first six years of my academic life in St. Catherine's Parochial Elementary School in Norwood. I was a complete innocent then, and very holy. I never even started my birthday without going to Mass and receiving Communion first. Not only was I the last to get my period, but I was also the last of my young girlfriends to wear a bra. I'll never forget how proud I was when my mother bought me my first training bra. Now, I will be like my friends and wear white blouses, so everyone will see my bra straps through my shirt, and see how grown up I am. I was probably ten or eleven years old.

Seventh grade gym class was divided into half years: half was gym, the other half was "health". Our health class is where I learned about the reproductive systems. Once I learned the technicalities of my body, I understood jokes I heard friends laughing at that I didn't. I laughed along with them to make them think I understood, but secretly I did not.

Lucky for me, I had very regular and easy periods most of my life. I remember a couple of years in my late twenties, I experienced very severe cramping. But I never had debilitating pain like some of my friends described. I even got pregnant the first time I had sex with my son's father. It was the textbook time frame of two weeks after my period ended.  I had just turned twenty years old. The only problem was, we were not married. I knew in that moment I was pregnant, and told my best friend as much the next day. She thought I was crazy. I said, "Wait a month, and I'll prove it to you." I did, and I was.

My pregnancy was easy (also lucky for me). I was living at home and working as a clerk/typist in a local office. Everyone was very supportive as my pregnancy progressed, and over time I figured out how to deal with my family and society as a result of my deviance. My family and my friends were very supportive and helpful. I was so blessed. Alas, I got toxemia, and had to leave work a month early. I had planned to work until my baby was born, but you know what they say about the best laid plans.

A friend from work gave me a plain, gold wedding band to wear. I was grateful because it was just easier to lie about my marital status. When I took birthing classes alone, I told everyone my name was "Mrs. Paul Crowley". Paul was my father's name. "My husband is in Vietnam," I lied. My twenty-year-old body was healthy and worked like a charm. Labor pains lasted three hours total. Natural childbirth was not an option for me then, so I got a saddle block to numb my body from just below my breasts. The doctor pulled my beautiful six-pound boy out of my body with forceps while a nurse pushed on my stomach to move him down the canal. The first thing my baby did when I saw him was to stick his tongue out at me. I laughed and cried, then called my parents to tell them the news.

My body has always been pretty healthy. I am very grateful for it. I even had a relatively easy time with menopause. I never took hormone therapy, but some black cohosh, evening primrose oil, and estrogen from clover pills that I bought from the drug store. Eventually, I got acupuncture treatments. I never had a really bad time with hot flashes or severe discomfort from night sweats. I believe acupuncture helped with those. I just noticed my core body temperature rose at about age forty-eight, and it never went down. The most disconcerting thing I had to deal with was my out-of-control emotions that flared up when I was professionally stating my case to my supervisor to get another raise. Sucking those tears back to finish a sentence was so much harder than any physical discomfort I experienced. I completed menopause at about age fifty-four.

I make it a point to be informed. I do research about everything I need to know. But in all my menopausal research, I don't remember reading anything that told me what is happening right now. In many women, when estrogen is gone, gravity takes over. When gravity takes over, it begins pushing on our reproductive system and the other organs surrounding it until they actually fall out of your vagina! I have a prolapsed bladder and uterus. I get PAP smears every year, and my primary care doctor and I have been watching my bladder drop for about five years now. "Where is it now?" I would ask. This year, she advised me to go see a gynecologist as my answer.

My Valentine's Day gift from God this year is bladder repair surgery and a total hysterectomy. I will keep my ovaries, but everything else is coming out through my vagina next Tuesday. I am really looking forward to the bladder repair. I cannot tell you how much it freaks me out to push that bulb back up there multiple times a day. The bladder they repair. The prolapsed uterus just gets taken out. I wonder about this lack of respect for a system that serves women so well all their lives. Mine has served me well all of mine. It gave me relatively easy periods and a beautiful son. It dried up with grace. But now, instead of getting repaired like my more necessary bladder, it just gets cut out and discarded. It pains my heart to think of this total disrespect and disregard for an anatomical system that provides so much joy.

I love my cervix and my uterus. I am going to miss them. I am grateful for the healthy life they lived inside me. I am grateful for my healthy body and all the joy it continues to provide me. I am beginning a mourning process for my reproductive system. I found myself shedding tears in bed for them this morning, so I got up and wrote this blog post.

I am not worried about my surgery next week, but I am nervous. My doctor explained that I will have three sets of stitches inside me that will dissolve over four to six weeks after surgery. I researched images of the surgery. Just as I suspected, they will pry my vagina open with tools to get inside and do what they feel has to be done. After all, my beautiful vagina spread open on its own to push a person out of my body. It is adaptable and flexible. I just don't like thinking about it being forced open like that.

I am not looking forward to the pain I am imagining I will be experiencing. "The pre-op nurse joked with me when she explained what would happen, "This is why we have an opioid epidemic." Then she suggested I bring walking shoes I like to use because they will get me up right away to walk around. I don't like pain. I can suck up some level of pain, but I have a problem with what I imagine is the rest. I will take the drugs they give me, but I will be mindful of them as well.

Please pray for me. I am nervous, but I am not worried. I am sure I will be fine, and the women doctors who will perform my surgery will do a great job. Please think of me and send me healing energy, that my body will snap back just like it did after I had my baby. I know I'm older now, but I am healthy, and I respect my body's ability to respond and heal. I love my body, and I am happy to be reading these words back to myself. I love my body. I love my Self.

Thank you, God, for my beautiful body, my good health and for the reproductive system that provided me so much joy throughout my younger lifetime. Going forward, God, please give me the strength and the courage to respect my body and my whole Self with Love and Grace. Thank you, God. Amen.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

You are Loved.

The sweetest thing happened to me yesterday at the end of Logan and my Little Gym class. Logan was sitting between my outstretched legs on the "big red mat" at the end of class. We were waiting for our finale song where we clap hands and slap our feet on the mat while waving good by to our friends around the circle. As we waited, an adorable little boy we met before class started while playing with toys in the lobby stood in front of us just staring at me.

He stood staring at me and soon I said, "Hi, Sweetie." He kept standing and staring. "Do you want to sit with us?" I heard his mother to my right say to the mother between us, "I am invisible right now." I patted the mat to the right of my left leg, and then invited him to sit on my leg while patting it. This adorable little (I'm guessing) nineteen-month-old boy toddled over and sat on my leg for the finale song. I bounced him up and down as we sang and clapped to end our session. Then I encouraged both boys to get up and go get stamps. Having the teacher put a festive little (and washable) stamp mark with some creature or character on feet, hands and nose before leaving the gym is an important ritual. Logan got up and went over to get his stamp.

But, the little boy stood in front of me again. Then, he leaned in and lay against my chest. I said, "Aw!" and hugged him tenderly. Then I let him back up, only to have him lay against me again with his head to the side below my neck. I was wearing a v-neck shirt, so his head was against my skin. I hugged him again, and this went on for a couple more times. I was so moved by his loving behavior towards me. His young mother was in awe. "His real grandmother lives far away. I'm so sorry!"

"Don't be sorry," I said to her, "I'm loving this! What's his name?" I asked her as I stared into his sweet little face. "John James", she told me. "Hi, John James," I said to his loving face staring back at me, "thank you so much for the hugs. I have to get up now." So, I encouraged his mother to take him while I got up off the mat. I looked towards the exit door, and saw Logan patiently watching us. Then John James hung away from his mother with arms outstretched towards me, and I said, "Aw!" and took him in my arms once more for a big hug and I kissed his cheek and the top of his head. I looked at his mother, who was dumbfounded and kept saying, "I've never seen him act this way towards anyone!" I expressed my gratitude to her and to John James for the hugs, but told her I had to go get my grandson. I said goodbye and took Logan out.

I have not been able to forget this event. I have recently been feeling vulnerable and a little unloved by my greater family. I have been missing them, and when I suggested a way to get us all together for my seventieth birthday next year, I got a luke-warm response. So, I decided not to do it. I have also been feeling un-valued and a little lonely. Other than a couple hours at Christmas at a local neighborhood restaurant, I haven't seen much of my family at all. I haven't seen one sibling and the majority of my nieces and nephews for a year or more! I live over an hour from them, and proximity really does make all the difference. This proximity fact was affirmed once again during our recent visit with Larry's family in South Carolina. We then spent Christmas with my daughter-in-law's family, who all show up and love being together. All the generations attend. My family doesn't do that anymore, and I so miss it.

With our parents long gone, the family moves farther and farther apart. In-fighting has caused riffs between some siblings, and there's nothing I can do about any of it. I have been given the title of Matriarch, and I have never known what to do with the title. A part of me feels like it means I am responsible for keeping our family together. But, I know this is not possible or really true. I feel a little helpless and sad, but I resign myself to accept this reality. I have never been good about the word acceptance.

But yesterday morning, when John James wanted my love, I automatically gave it. I believe there was a lesson for me in this sweet moment. He was telling me that I am loved. I am valuable. My love is desired and appreciated. I am worthy. I am loved. I know my wonderful husband loves me, but somehow, love from siblings is just different. We all need to feel loved and worthy. We need to give these important values and feelings to our Selves as much, and even more, than we desire them from others.

Thank you, John James, for your love, and thank you for the lesson you taught me yesterday. I hope we see you next week!