Fort Collins versus life outside of two small Colorado towns

Yesterday, while waiting for Mike in the car at the Big R store in La Veta, I started thinking about how our lives would be different if we still lived in Fort Collins. We only go into Walsenburg or La Veta Colorado every few days when we need to do something or buy something. We generally go to Walsenburg for groceries and La Veta for the library, the great bakery, yoga or to see my one friend there.

It seems funny that after over five years I still compare in my mind how my life has changed by moving to rural Colorado. If we were still in Fort Collins we would be spending a lot more time standing in line in traffic. That’s for sure! And that is what I so wanted to leave behind. Of course I rarely had trouble breathing in Fort Collins, but I was breathing in lots more toxins everyday there.

Mainly I remember standing in line for just about everything in cities. Sure there are lots more choices of placing to go to buy things, but there were almost always lines at the grocery store or anywhere else. I have had to get used to NOT HAVING crowds and lines here. I still sometimes think, “We better hurry. There might be trouble parking or lines…” But then I remind myself that there never are lines, even at the two stoplights in Walsenburg, which we can generally avoid by going a different way.

Mike and I talked about it on the way home from La Veta yesterday. We agreed that the only time this rural area gets “busy” is in the summer. That is when the city people come down to escape the city. Then things do change a bit. The summer busyness sometimes reminds me of cities, because city people are so pushy and anxious all the time. Their life back home does that to them. How do I know this? Because I used to feel this way myself.

Especially with the difficult changes in my health in the past few years, I feel I belong in a place where things move much slower and the people I meet are more likely to help me when I need it. It is definitely less of a ‘dog eat dog’ world down here. It’s like when we still lived in Fort Collins and we would drive down here for a few days. I always noticed when the traffic on I-25 switched from “Get the f*** out of my way!” to a more relaxed, non-judgmental style of traffic. I still notice that now when I need to go up north. I truly dread the traffic up there now.

That is one of the many reasons I LOVE coming back home.

Speaking of adversity….my Dad

Dad in better times…

My family had a close call this past week. My Dad fell down and afterward could not walk or feel his legs. He has had back problems for as long as I can remember, but this was much worse. My Dad was a field botanist who loved getting outside in nature whenever he could. In fact he fell in his native plants garden last week. Those who know my Dad, a strong and active 91 year old, know he would not want to live without full mobility, and Carter means STUBBORN! Ask anyone who has had anything to do with any of us; not an attractive trait, but alive and well within our family.

At first it looked like they would not risk surgery on one as old as my Dad, but then we found a wonderful young surgeon who knew we should risk it. And sure enough, he found a blood clot pressing on the spine and removed it. Now Dad can stand up with assistance and is headed for some serious rehab in the next few weeks.

YES! Just what we all needed to keep Dad moving!

How do YOU respond to adversity?

Again and again I am surprised at how slowly I learn some of life’s best lessons. None of us enjoy misfortune and sadness in our lives, and yet it seems these are our best times to learn important lessons. Now I’m sure that the greatest moments in my life have been the most difficult ones. These have been my best opportunity to see exactly what I am made of.

How we respond to great challenges defines who we will become in the future. These are the moments when we finally begin to grow and change.

I can remember a few particularly difficult times in my 64 years on this earth. Of course we remember those times best. At the time I felt completely unprepared to face the challenges put before me. In fact, I can remember asking a much older and wiser woman back when I was 24 for some reassurance that my life would get better. She said it would, but it would probably take quite a few years. She was so right! There are no shortcuts to self-knowledge and wisdom.

When our life is going along in a safe but routine way, with few ups and downs, we generally don’t change anything. We accept our rut and hope for better in the future.

The sunroom in Loveland I built myself, where I sat in quiet contemplation, after losing my marriage, my job and my career at age 49

For me, it has only been when I was taken by surprise by others’ betrayal and rejection of me, that I knew I had to begin living a different kind of life. The greatest challenge then was to figure out what that new life might look and feel like.

These days my challenges all come from new health issues popping up after living a life full of mostly good health, but lots of stress. Yes, stress can be a great motivator for change too, but for me it was something I just had to live with because of the choices I had made. When you are as stubborn as I have been, it may take major drama to shake up your life!

“Have a sense of gratitude to everything, even difficult emotions, because of their potential to wake you up….” Pema

With a traumatic head injury and now brain hypoxia, I have been forced to change my ways. I can no longer go anywhere or decide to do two or three things at once. I must learn to be more focused, slow down and be much more careful with my brain and my body. I still fight against the need to slow down, but I simply must. When you cannot breathe, nothing else matters!

I also try to feel some gratitude, or at least humility, when my body tells me what we’re doing next. My body knows my limits much better than I do now…

Being alone: how much is enough?

I can highly recommend an article in the December/January issue of AARP magazine entitled: “Is there a cure for LONELINESS?” Positive human connections are a part of being human. I have been studying this topic up-close-and-personal for most of my life. The main theme of this excellent AARP article is that social isolation can have measurable medical causes and remedies.

Did you know that genome researchers can now see signs of social isolation in your white blood cells? The blood cells of very lonely people “appear to be in high alert, responding the way they would to a bacterial infection.”

Another social connectedness researcher recognized our “human need to be embedded, connected and integrated in a social network…When that network is missing the consequences are very real in terms of mental and physical health.”

These researchers were not studying those who are natural introverts who love to be alone. They are studying those do not wish to feel so alone in the world and may go days without talking to anybody who knows or cares about them.

Did you know there is a 32% increased risk of early death for those living alone, according to a study of 3.4 million people? Social isolation can be a killer, and not just figuratively. Loneliness may actually cause premature death by damaging the heart. Research suggests that feeling loneliness may double a person’s risk of dying of cardiovascular disease. Older Americans are at the greatest risk for social isolation, which can lead to physical illness, depression and even dementia.

My place of meditation & serious contemplation at age 49

This was foremost on my mind when I did a major life review in my late 40s. After I got divorced and then lost my job/career at age 49, I sat for a few months in my self-created sunroom and thought about my highest priorities for the years I had left before me. What did I need most to survive my future? I had been an introvert and a loner my whole life and dealt with this issue a number of times in counseling. Did I want to be alone forever?

That is when I decided that I would put all of my energy into finding the best partner for me. I didn’t want to face forever alone. I figured I couldn’t be alone in my loneliness. There must be at least one person I can truly enjoy spending lots of time with. Once I became totally focused on this goal, I met Mike. He lived ten miles away, but I never would have met him without Match.com We spoke for over ten hours the first time we met!

Now, fifteen years later, I cannot imagine where or even who I would be without Mike. So loyal, loving and like me. We are both introverted and loners to some extent, but we also actively choose not to live alone. We love each others’ company and also know when we need to spend some time alone. We give each other LOTS OF SPACE. We have become the guardians of each others’ solitude. This works well for us.

I have decided now, at almost 65, that we all need a witness to our lives; people to look after and those who look after us. Our survival and well-being depend on not only ourselves, but also loving, supportive others. Yes, I could have lived alone forever, but did I really want to?

My book “How to Believe in Love Again” explains the process I went through to change my attitudes about living without love…

Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) is NOT just "a few headaches"

OK. Now I’m mad. We all know how often our President lies about just about anything, and mostly we just ignore him in his ignorance, but when he minimized the head injuries of our soldiers after the al Asad airbase attack on Jan. 8, I knew I had to attack myself! Remember, this missile attack was in reprisal for a U.S. drone strike Jan. 3 that killed top Iranian general Qassed Soleimani.

A total of 34 American service members were diagnosed with TBI after the al Asad airbase attack. At first Trump said it was just a few concussions. I’ve had “a few concussions” myself and that is no small thing. But then we realized that some soldiers were instead experiencing traumatic head injuries.

DefinitionTraumatic brain injury (TBI) is a non-degenerative, non-congenital insult to the brain from an external mechanical force, possibly leading to permanent or temporary impairment of cognitive, physical, and psychosocial functions, with an associated diminished or altered state of consciousness.

I fell head-first off my bicycle in 2008 and I have NEVER BEEN THE SAME. I fell onto dirt. If it had been concrete I probably would have died. With a serious internal brain bleed, I slipped in and out of consciousness for 24 hours afterwards. I couldn’t think clearly, spell, or write for months after my fall. So much to re-learn! But even then, and even now, 12 years later, I cannot remember words or focus my thoughts anything like I did before my TBI. Some days it is very hard for me to function at all with a constant fear of losing consciousness and balance limitations.

So no, Mr. Trump, a TBI is not about “a few headaches.” Head injuries can and do cause lifelong brain changes that limit full functioning, including balance, consciousness and full cognition!

To learn more about results from trauma head injuries, check out this excellent NBC News article: ‘A different person’: Personality change often brain injury’s hidden toll

In 2018, 1.5 million Americans attempted suicide

U.S. suicide rates have risen in recent years, while rates in other nations continue to fall. Our suicide rate increased 33 percent from 1999 through 2017, and this rate has increased more sharply since 2006. Suicide ranks are now the fourth leading cause of death for people ages 35 to 54, and the second for 10- to 34-year-olds. It remains the 10th leading cause of American deaths overall. Suicides have increased most sharply in rural communities (like mine), where loss of farming and manufacturing jobs has led to economic declines over the past quarter century.

What can we learn about why our suicide rate continues to climb? According to the American Psychological Association (APA) The reasons for why suicide rates rise or fall is challenging, in part because the causes of suicide are complex:

“Suicide risk factors include health factors such as depression, substance use problems, serious mental illness and serious physical health conditions including pain, environmental factors such as access to lethal means and stressful life events including divorce, unemployment, relationship problems or financial crisis and historical factors including previous suicide attempts, a family history of suicide and a history of childhood abuse or trauma.”

“At the individual level, there is never a single cause of suicide. There are always multiple risk factors,” says Christine Moutier, MD, chief medical officer of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. “That confluence of multiple risk factors makes it a trickier business to explain a population-level rise.”

What can you do about this?

Those who have attempted suicide say,

“All I wanted was for one person to see my pain and say something kind.”

Any intervention can prevent suicide. I remember back in 2004, when I was divorcing (loss of 75% of my income!), I lost my job and then career, and I could find not one more job in any area at age 49. I set up an appointment with our Unitarian minister just to talk and I told her, “I just need one thing to go right!” Because it felt like everything was going to shit.

I learned two important lessons from this breakdown to breakthrough moment in my life. Action is the greatest antidote to despair and suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary predicament. The action I took, although it seemed a bit crazy at the time, was to start my own offline dating service. This led to meeting lots of others who were feeling lost and confused in the middle of their lives. Eventually it led to meeting Mike, my midlife best friend and lover. He then helped me begin a new career as a writer, which led to my blog “Midlife Crisis Queen” and my books.

If you are feeling lost and depressed start anywhere. Make your mess your message and spread the word, all is not lost just because you feel unhappy right now!

And remember, You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take!

None of us get out of this alive…

“America is the only country in the world that looks upon death as some kind of personal failure.”

As we age, it is natural to contemplate more often the inevitable consequence of life, our own death. I know that since I experienced a serious brain injury at age 53, with hours of spontaneously moving in and out of consciousness, death has become a fascinating topic for me. I often wonder if unconsciousness is what death feels like. If so, it may not be so bad.

Then as I entered my 60s and personally experienced too many new ailments and disabilities, I wondered again when and of what I would die. I also learned something important about our culture: Even if we Americans don’t see death as a personal failure, we most certainly see illness as one. Ever since I moved from the healthy column to the older, not so healthy column, I have noticed many treat me quite differently. But aren’t I the same person with equal potential?

This all reminds me of a patient I treated in my counseling internship in a rehab hospital. When this elderly woman became ill and ended up in the hospital, the only question on her lips was,

“What did I do to deserve this?”

Do we all “deserve” illness and death? Of course not. We are no better or worse than all the others organisms in our world. We are born by no choice of our own. We live the best we can, and then we die. Then, regardless of the “death industry’s” best efforts, we all become dust in the wind eventually. Big surprise. No secrets here, and yet most of us walk around thinking this simply CANNOT be true!

How can this all mean nothing in the long run?

That has been the realm of religious leaders and philosophers forever. How do we make sense of this thing called life and death? That must be where our judgment of those “failures” who have the indecency to die comes from. When we are still among the living and healthy, it rarely seems likely that we will die someday.

I am reminded of a very cynical MD I met once in Boulder decades ago. I remember him telling a story about one of his healthy patients. The doc was given the unenviable task of telling this person that they had cancer. The patient’s response?

“I can’t have cancer! I run ten miles a day!”

If you like to play the odds game, here are our nation’s death stats:

Top 10 causes of death in the US.: https://www.mdlinx.com/internal-medicine/article/3848

Please note number ten on this list, the rate of suicides among Americans. This rate has risen since these statistics came out in 2017. And speaking of suicide, let’s give Camus the final word on this topic:

“There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy…These are facts the heart can feel; yet they call for careful study before they become clear to the intellect.” -Albert Camus