My latest consideration in search of a new life purpose is spurred by a memory.
My family has lived in the same home for 20 years. Living on a cul-de-sac, even a long one, for a couple decades, you get to know your neighbors, especially our little slice of heaven. We’ve had progressive dinners, street barbecues, and celebrations of graduations, benchmark birthdays, and wedding receptions for the little kids who are all grown up somehow.
Several years ago, following a bout of major depression, I ran into one of my neighbors at the public library. I smiled and waved, walking over to where he sat reading newspapers. We exchanged pleasantries very quietly for a bit, remarking how good it was to see each other. He smiled and said, “You’ve got your sparkle back!” I hadn’t thought of my recovery from depression in those terms, but it certainly fit well.
Any sparkle I had in November of 2019 was certainly doused by the suicidal depression that befell me. Despite subsequent optimism that this course would work itself out as two prior episodes had done, the general anxiety and depression are not concluding. This blog was begun to document my journey out of the darkness, but I was expecting to travel by car or maybe train, not on foot. This trip back to the light is taking waaay longer than in the past.
This go-round I’m older and slower, the severity of depression at onset much worse, and current circumstances complicated by my protracted struggle to accept being chronically ill. I’ve supposed that identifying a new purpose would assist in recovering from depression. Remembering, now, that encounter with my neighbor, I’m thinking I may need to find my sparkle before I can share it.
When I crossed the stage to receive my high school diploma, I stood 5’9″ and weighed about 110 pounds. I was able to eat as much as I wanted and not gain weight. I expected to be effortlessly thin all my life.
Freshman year in college, my metabolism slowed down some. If I paid any attention, though, I could drop pounds quickly. My weight fluctuated over the next decade, but when I got married at 27 the scale showed 130. Thought to myself, “It’s only 20 pounds more than when I graduated high school.”
In my 30’s, I gave birth to two sons 19 months apart. Pregnancy weight didn’t get out of control. Afterwards, I took my babies for walks everyday and watched portion sizes. When it was all said and done, the scale showed a plateau at 150. I was shocked, shocked! because the thought of ever weighing this much had never occurred to me. Once I was desensitized, I thought, “It’s all right. It’s just 20 more than I weighed on my wedding day.”
Then there I was in my 50’s with my metabolism slowed waaaaay down. Just 20 more.
Most recently, with the pandemic and seriously increased pain limiting activity, I’ve gained more, but just 20 pounds.
If you’d told my skinny self in high school that I would someday weigh <gulp> 190 lbs. I probably would’ve said, “No way! Fuck off!” because I was a mouthy little shit.
Accepting chronic illness and pain is more difficult than I would’ve expected, but I must stop consoling myself with doughnuts and ice cream. <sigh>
I’m posting this even though, or perhaps because, it makes me so uncomfortable. For over a year, I’ve laid bare my emotions and thoughts regarding fibromyalgia, depression, anxiety, and insecurities. After all that, why would it make me so nervous to post this? Certainly societal pressure for women to be thin contributes but, besides being unexpected, it erases more of who I was. I find my reluctance to be honest in this particular area fascinating.
An epiphany just hit me upside the head. Being strong in my pain and limitations does not require I never speak of my circumstances or shed tears, only that my joy for the experiences and enthusiasm of others is not diminished.
This. ☝️ The dental aesthetician who placed my filling displayed a complete inability to concretely empathize with the patient in her chair; today it was me. Water, a lot of it, comes pouring down my neck twice, and she doesn’t apologize or wipe it up. She laughed, “Oh, ya get a little water?” She leaned her forearm on my face, tinted dental glasses pushing down. Instruments hit on or near my nose a few times, and she moved my jaw/face around as though there was not a person connected to them.
The simple building blocks I chose to focus on, as I search for meaning in my changed circumstances, included wearing makeup a few times a week. In the past year, I can probably count on one hand the number of times I’ve applied cosmetics. I realized that seeing myself always with a bare face made me feel like a fibromyalgia patient. In the past, when I’ve been out and about, I’ve worn makeup. My thought was that I would feel less like a chronically ill person, and more like myself, if I put on some blush, eyeliner, and mascara more frequently. The photo above shows what I looked like upon exiting the dentist’s office today after wiping with tissues..
The other activity I identified as a good basic block towards rebuilding my life purpose was walking a few times a week. I walked once, and now I have a crack in the heel skin which is quite painful when walking. Healing requires time without pressure.
Searching for a life purpose continues and it occurs to me that perhaps I’m not going to be able to jump from one complete and satisfying purpose to another. I certainly didn’t arrive at my first signpost without major destruction. If I could conjure one without all the fuss, that would be so much more convenient and a lot less painful. Besides, it seems to me that my previous life has been completely torn down – no work, little contact with people, and minimal expectations around household chores. How on earth could I require more demo?
Perhaps the tearing down has neared completion. Clearing the rubble precedes preparing the site for future development. Taking down one building doesn’t necessarily mean it will be replaced with another. The beautiful Incarnate Word Academy in downtown Houston was razed about five years ago despite protests. It was demolished, despite its beauty, to make way for a “central” park through the Energy Corridor.
In the abstract, I would certainly be all for green space to replace an old building. Appreciating the edifice of Incarnate Word Academy gave me pause. Even though it stood in stark relief to its surroundings, or because it did, the old red brick facade looked so beautiful.
Tear down commenced. Once the rubble was carted away, the foundation was transformed into a parkway. It wasn’t a process completed overnight. First, there was quite a mess and, I imagine, some tears. Demolition was followed by construction of the new park.
Moving from one home to another would be easier and a whole lot cleaner than tearing down the one in which I currently reside and constructing a completely new one. There’s no temporary housing; I’m in the midst of the rubble. Apparently, dropping a prefab building on the site is not an option; that’s definitely what I’ve been attempting. From here, new materials must be placed before an alternate purpose can be constructed, and it may be a completely different design than the previous structure.
Although basic building blocks sound simple, they’re vital for safety and longevity. If I choose not to be bothered with the little things, a new purpose may crack and crumble. Therefore, after months with rare use of cosmetics, I will put on makeup two or three times a week. No one else cares or sees, but I know my plain reflection reinforces my negative mindset. “Putting my face on” helps me feel more like myself. Another basic is walking. I nearly made it to my goal, two blocks, a day ago, but now the skin on one heel is split open. (I officially recognize myself as an old person.) When it heals, walking regularly will commence. That’s plenty for now. If I can establish a routine of applying makeup and going for short walks every other day or so, I’ll evaluate what’s next in this project of building a new purpose.
For the past week, I was. Today, I am. When anxious, I remind myself that my purpose, for now, is just to be. Be.
When pain visited, enduring or distraction were my choices. I didn’t try to figure out how it originated, wasn’t surprised, and didn’t keep track of the usual problems.
Some new symptoms have occurred that concern me, not typical of fibromyalgia. New signs point to direct nerve involvement. I have an appointment soon to evaluate these and have been keeping track of them.
An interesting aspect of being is going out on errands and generally interacting with friends or strangers. Fully vaccinated, I remind myself I’m covered but there is a natural reticence to close proximity, shaking hands and even hugging. It feels surreal, as though it’s happening in front of me and I’m watching. A past coworker gave me a hug and at least two people have initiated a handshake. Strange new world.
And so, my goal for the meantime is to exist. I’ll resist suicidal thinking and rest in the knowledge that I’ve set aside any expectations. I’ll be breathing, eating, and sleeping. I’m not responsible for the wellness of others, and I won’t should on myself! I will resist the urge to surge, trying to do the best job at being as I can. Being without qualifiers. Just being right now.
What is my passion? In reading articles regarding developing a personal purpose, some recommend having a purpose that involves an individual’s passion. Maybe my passion is wanting to figure out a life purpose that doesn’t require much change on my part. 😉
Things I’m pondering in relation to identifying passion and purpose:
Do I need to see/know the result or consequence for my purpose to be achieved?
I used to feel so passionate about gardening. Now, it’s quite an effort. Painting? I’ve done three and have enjoyed. Paint for painting’s sake? My purpose is to paint? Doesn’t sound right.
I want to see things in a new way, looking at purpose from different angles. I’ve been thinking of purpose as something I do for others that serves love. A different perspective might mean purpose for purpose sake? Not involving others at all? Love for love’s sake? Can my purpose not involve serving people, directly or indirectly. Love is my passion. Does that assume an interaction between people?
What if I just need to BE and not try to construct a purpose that looks and sounds like service. What if I’m just telling myself this to get out of further reflection, not to mention the easiest task possible, just be. As I write this, I think to myself, “Being isn’t easy for me.” I’ve contemplated not being and all the ripples that would emanate from me making the definitive choice not to be. Depending on how low I am, I may sort through the life events I would miss with my sons, convincing myself they’d do just fine or, alternatively, how sad that they wouldn’t have their mom celebrating and loving them.
If I establish purpose and meaning as existing, it could be so much more than sitting on my arse, need for achievements erased; although, I have told my husband I’m fine as long as no one expects anything of me. 🤭
In conversation with the massage therapist I see every three weeks, he discussed how important it is for me to stretch and get regular exercise. I answered, “Well, this is my full time job,” referring to improving my sense of well-being. (I won’t mention here his comparison of being tired at the end of the work day with the disabling fatigue I feel many days.) I will, however, confess that hearing people urge me to exercise is tiresome. Don’t get me wrong; they are right and I know it. Most of them, though, can’t imagine the wide ranging fibromyalgia symptoms that vary in frequency and intensity, influencing daily activities, every day.
Since November of 2019, merely living through some days has been quite a challenge, an achievement. I am proud of my efforts when I manage eating three small, nutritious meals a day consistently, breathe using my diaphragm periodically, and steer my mind away when I start to wonder how I could bring an end to mental and physical battles.
Definitely going to give this some thought. Simply being sounds too easy, bringing my search to a fairly quick conclusion as well as allowing myself a purpose that requires only that I stay alive. That’s on the surface. What would it mean as an ongoing, important, singular goal? Contributing love is my passion. How does daily survival relate to my passion?
As I type ‘survival’ my blog name pops up for a word choice – Survivingsara.net. I chose this title in December 2019 when I first decided to record my experiences with depression, anxiety, and fibromyalgia, addressing my effort to survive as well as appreciating that my loved ones are surviving my struggle, supporting me. Feels like confirmation. We’ll see. Gonna live this day.
In the name of documenting my journey, the good and the bad, as I struggle to identify a purpose for this next chapter of life, this is another day hoping for progress towards a new purpose, renewed meaning. Two steps forward, 5 or 10 back. Very much on my mind that what’s on my mind is of no import.
(Double checking usage of the last phrase, I saw that “of no import” is used currently by people who want to make their writing sound more sophisticated or in fiction to make a character seem pompous. Yikes! Note to self: don’t use the phrase “of no import” ever again.)
But seriously, what I want is not important and what I’m able to do is minimal. My opinions won’t influence and as I attempt to contribute love and encouragement to our world, does it still count when there aren’t any recipients? Is this blog just shouting in the wind?
Reminding myself that purpose gives me a reason to keep going, I need to not stop the search. It would be easier to slide, but better for my mental health to persist. Terrible brain fog and fatigue today along with crying, but maybe tomorrow I’ll feel more optimistic.
Purpose (def): the reason for which something is done or created or for which something exists.
Purpose creates meaning, offers a sense of direction and helps guide our paths, behavior, and goals.
Purpose according to Google: Live and let live. (I think it’s hilarious that one can ask google what the purpose of life is, and even more so that Google provides an answer!😆)
A couple more random ideas about having a purpose:
National Widowers’ Organization: Purpose provides men the means to see value in their existence. Perhaps that’s why men become fixers and hate asking for directions. (A generalization indeed, but one with which I cannot argue. 🤭)
The Feminine Woman: A women’s true life purpose in general is to create and not destroy. Live your passion to be an example to others, to find fulfillment, and to seek growth and contribution. (This article specifically refers to blogging as a way to address and express one’s purpose. End of search for me! Not really.)
The Guardian: We live because there are people who love us and people we love back. We live because we want to find out things and learn and become able to do things that we would like to do. We live because others want us to, and we want them to live along with us. We live because we have hope and want to see what happens next. (I don’t feel like this addresses specific or individual purpose, but it would help get me through a bout of suicidal thinking. It would help my best friend when I’m crying, asking why I have to continue living, for sure. Her answer, though, is a good one; she said we live for the special moments we get with family and friends.)
While not finding my purpose online, reading through these perspectives provides a jump off point and gets me thinking critically about what my own might be, or not. The quest continues…
My earliest desperate search for a life purpose or meaning, for which I could do great things, repeatedly and resoundingly hit a brick wall. The graffiti on that wall said, “breathe.” It took me a few years to understand that I actually had received my answer. All I needed to do was breathe. No big ideas, no recognition or accolades. Breathing. As the mother of two young boys, I accepted that my attention needed to be directed towards them instead of outward, making my mark. No way can I say I transformed into a patient, calmly breathing mother in the face of their antics, but it gave me a touch point to which I could return.
For the past 15+ years, I had a well defined purpose, which served me well until about 18 months ago. My purpose in life was to weave love and compassion into the fabric of life, whatever I was doing, whomever I was with, and wherever I found myself.
When I felt unprepared going into a day of substitute teaching, I remembered all I had to do was weave. In the position of retail cashier, I was weaving by having an interaction with each customer, genuinely listening and responding. I’m not sure which of those positions made best use of my degree in counseling! Whatever people saw me doing, however they defined me, I was actually weaving.
When stress, anxiety, or depression cast a shadow, I would breathe using my diaphragm and remember my only responsibility was to weave. This purpose was portable, adjustable, and required only that I be present. Being fully present is a great antidote to mental health challenges.
Here I am, not going places and not interacting with people, due to chronic illness and pain. I used to be skeptical about fibromyalgia, even as I was, unknowingly, living with it. No denying it now. Though my circumstances have changed, I want to be purposeful because it stops me wondering why I’m here and what’s the point.
I won’t artificially cling to someone else’s idea of what purpose is, because in the past my purpose wasn’t shy or subtle. Instead, I’ve been hit over the head with it, unfortunately requiring several attempts to get my attention. I’m open to whatever comes next. I was going to say I’ll be patient and wait for my purpose to be revealed but it’s probably right in front of me, ready to serve.
That phrase bugs the shit out of me. Yeah, please do. Be honest. Was everything before just bullshit? Are you letting me know that you’re not always telling me the truth? In the best light possible, it can mean you keep some things to yourself but, since someone asked, now you’ll say what you really think.
So, here’s what I’m really thinking today. Watching a show earlier brought my dad to mind. I cried a little and thought how sad it is to lose loved ones. That was it! The people who love me will be sad whenever I die, whether it’s from suicide or old age. My last best reason is gone. This does not mean I’m planning my exit. It does feel like freedom.
I’m also thinking about my blog. I started it to document my journey up out of suicidal depression. I’m disappointed that I haven’t made it very far. In the big scheme of things, it’s nothing. What I have on my mind or how I’m feeling, like this very post, don’t matter. I might quit, and no one will miss it, except my sister who reads to gauge my mental health.
If I’m honest, these are subjects on my mind. IF this gets them out of my head, that will be one vote for continuing. I’m so tired.
If I speak, will you hear me? Will you listen? Are you able to consider what I say before you react or are you already forming your response before I finish sharing my opinion? Is this a conversation, going both ways, or are you just sharing your news and conclusions, glossing over what I might think? In which circumstances might my reasoning impact decision making? If you’re really not interested in what I think or have to say by way of answering your question or reacting to what you’ve told me, don’t tell me shit or, at least, preface it by letting me know my opinion isn’t necessary or maybe say what I think, because you appear to have worked that out before I open my mouth.
It is the heighth of disregard or disinterest when you repeat something I already mentioned, denying hearing it at all. That’s right. You weren’t listening to what I just said.
Today has been a terrible pain day. I have chronic inflammation of the soft tissues of the ribcage and sternum, which is where you find the nerves. It hurts to breathe. I can’t find the right way to describe the pain along the bottom of the ribs but the first time I had it I was sure it was a gallbladder attack or some other organ. It was actually musculoskeletal. It’s called costochondritis and bothers me most days, though not this severely. Y usually wear a compression bra, which relieves the problem if you wear it 24/7 for days, but my new one squeezed so tightly that it caused the opposite reaction. I scrambled to get it off like it was on fire, which is what it felt like! My mid back and hip flexors are lit up in response. Just noting a day in the life of fibromyalgia. It’s with me wherever I go.
In any given circumstance, the only thing we can actually control is our perspective. Any person can view a rainy day as gloomy, considering it bad weather, or embrace the chance to curl up and binge watch a new series. Mostly stuck in bed with chronic pain, fatigue, and illness, I’m experiencing great difficulty changing my outlook.
Am I sick in bed or am I a lady of leisure, blessed to be able to “retire” because I can no longer work?
Has my life come to this, fading out mostly alone over the next couple of decades? Or is this an opportunity to explore new ways to live a satisfying life despite vertigo, muscle weakness and cramping, aching ribcage, nausea, headache, and random zaps and zings throughout; symptoms come and go randomly or as the result of an activity.
Has my gardening hobby become more than I can manage, even with my husband doing nearly all the work? Or can I plan my pots and beds with an eye towards low maintenance?
Am I to continue in the doldrums, sinking into hopelessness? Can I be so grateful for this stage of life as to distract from or outweigh the physical and mental challenges that come and go daily?
I want to turn the lens and choose a positive attitude. I just can’t seem to focus on even the threshold of meaningfulness, purpose, direction, and contentment. Most recently, I’m struggling to even see a reason to keep going, save keeping loved ones from being sad. How do I choose to change my vision of the future? If only it was as easy as opting for this over that.
p.s. I bought some new sleepwear online. When I put a pair of boxers in the wash just now, I tore off the the tag & noticed a separate cardboard, a long, skinny rectangle. Curious what would be printed there, I turned it over and it said, “Enjoy your life.” Yes. I need not worry about this perspective or that. I need to get out of my head!
After watching nearly all of the trial and with the jurors working toward the verdict, I felt certain the only decision possible was guilty. Been there before, though. More than once. Waiting on pins and needles with millions, I was afraid to hope for justice.
I joined in the collective sigh across the nation, maybe the world, when the judge read the jurors’ findings. What a relief that the person who murdered George Floyd was found guilty. I watched people react and listened as individuals shared what this outcome meant for them.
The next day, I continued to feel unsettled. Given my struggles with depression and anxiety, this isn’t a rare occurrence. This felt different. Images of the end of George Floyd’s life, the protests last summer, the trial, the verdict, and George Floyd Square in front of Cup Foods rolled over in my mind.
Disappointment and sorrow were the result. Yes, there was relief. How has our country come to this though, where we’re afraid to get our hopes up for a guilty verdict after the amazing prosecution case was followed by a weak defense and the star witness of the trial was the video? If we were confident that our justice system is functioning properly, there would have been no question. Mulling this over, the weight became heavier when news of another shooting of a black teenager by a white cop occurred almost immediately while people were still engaging in the absurd proclamation that this one case going the right way meant there’s been a change. This is just the beginning of the beginning.
More than once I’ve followed my thoughts down rabbit holes recently and landed on the idea that I should probably see a counselor to help me adjust to having a chronic illness. I should do yoga and meditate. I should spend less time on my tablet and do something more productive with that time.
But about that counseling thing. Ugh. As far as treatment goes, finding a new therapist is surpassed only by changing medications as a major pain in the ass. That’s so hard. I end up getting in trouble, because when things start to slide I talk myself out of needing to change antidepressants. No matter how well they work, eventually they become less effective. When you’ve been plagued by depression for 30 years, you go through a few. The transition takes months because one med has to be gradually reduced while another increases. No way to know if it works for you until you’ve been on the full dose for three months. If it’s not working, Lord help me, seems like it just goes on and on.
Finding a counselor who is a good fit isn’t as big of a deal because you just don’t make another appointment if it’s not working. Once the challenge of meeting a match is cleared, the actual work digs up all the anxieties, fears, and emotions I’m currently attempting to exterminate and bury. Reversing course to go below ground where the bugs live seems counterproductive. I also rationalize that I have a Master’s in counseling and I saw a counselor for a year, though nearly two decades ago; I can predict how it’d go so why put myself through it?
Objectively, I tell myself I should participate in talk therapy, but a psychologist friend of mine used to say, “Don’t should on yourself.”
p.s. The blog is my therapy so you’re my counselors, and we just had a session! Don’t send me a bill though.
Two years ago today, I lost my dad. In the aftermath of the ICU, medical noise, and decisionmaking, we had a small gathering to honor him. I put together several of the multi photo displays, one each for his childhood, young family and work life, and the rest of his years. Many 8 x 10 photos that hadn’t been seen in ages were placed in my frames, resting over pictures of my sons mostly. This process gave me wonderful moments, several of them, where I just looked closely and thought about his life.
Memories frequently trip through my mind, things he said or how circumstances were for him near the end. His last Father’s Day, I gave him a card fairly gushing with praise about all the ways he was a wonderful father through the years. After he read it, he said, “Well, thank you, darlin’, but I didnt do all that.”
There was a time in my younger years I might have agreed, but instead I told him, ” You paid for me to get my degree. When I got my first job, you rented a U-Haul and packed all my stuff while I sat around crying. You drove me to my new place and helped me get settled. When I was on bedrest while pregnant, you and mom came to our aid. In my most desperate days of depression you got me help and did projects around my house. You and mom have been such an important part of my sons’ lives. You are all that. You did all that, and that was just for me.” I have two siblings and there are many grandchildren and great grands. “You and mom have built a family of love.” He gestured toward my mom in the kitchen to say, “It was her. She did that.” His larynx had been removed more than 20 years earlier to treat esophageal cancer, and I was very familiar with his meaning now; it was his response every time the topic of our familial love and appreciation for it arose.
My father’s legacy is far more than his financial success as an entrepreneur allowing him to retire at 50, which impresses me so much now that I’m in my 50’s. Invictus was his favorite poem, and he was the determined master of his fate. His legacy can be found in the loved ones left behind. It’s generations of our family imbued with his positive attitude, honesty, friendliness, and love for each other, and him, above all.
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.
William Ernest Henley
I will find a new way to weave love and compassion into the tapestry of life that works in my current circumstances.
I will go outside for at least a few minutes every day, no excuses. Even if it’s just out my slider onto the deck, breathing fresh air is good for so many things.
I will finally stop fretting about what strangers or any of my loved ones think of me. The former aren’t thinking of me at all, full stop. The latter have clearly and repeatedly demonstrated that they really love me and only want what’s best for me.
I will choose to live this day, not looking back with longing at how I used to be; considering decades ahead wrecks me. Here I am, so here I’ll be.