Denial: The most human of flaws

As a lifelong student of human behavior, I now find denial to be the most ubiquitous and powerful trait known to us all. The best therapist I ever met told me,

“People can get used to anything, if they can get used to schizophrenia.”

I would only add, we do seem to specialize in getting used to emotional problems instead of doing what we can to change them. It surprises me when I see someone suffering from deep emotional challenges and yet making no effort to do anything about it. To some it must seem natural to live with emotional discomfort, feel self-critical of ourselves and yet never seek out professional help to change. Speaking from experience, this tendency literally ruins lives, because unresolved emotions lead to self criticism, unhappiness in relationships, destructive addictive habits, and reduced productivity.

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Most don’t seek help for debilitating denial issues and feelings because we are also in denial that these parts of our emotional makeup can change. Our main concern may be the fear that we aren’t up to the challenge of breaking addictive cycles, ending self-abuse and the habit of choosing toxic relationships, or the simple certainty that these things can never change. So what do we do? We get comfortable with the familiar and yet frustrating habits we were raised with.

For many (including myself) our lives will continue to go gradually downhill until that final crisis that says with absolute certainty: “Things must change NOW!” Confronting that moment with self-honesty and self-responsibility is the end of denial. And once the walls of denial start to tumble, the denials underneath those denials all must go.

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Admitting exactly how miserable you are is always the first step. Finding the best solutions unique to your own needs comes next.

Yes, I know how disturbing it can be to see your lovely set of life rules and plans based on absolutely nothing but denial fall to ashes before your eyes. Then you know it’s time to start from scratch, but not really. If this happens in midlife, as it did for me, you will find that you have amazing amounts of resilience,  life experience, intuition and deep inner wisdom to fall back on.

Letting go of that old, worn out crap your entire life was based on and hitching your future dreams to the power of the new you, following your heart for perhaps the first time ever, now that is powerful and exhilarating! Don’t miss out on this once in a lifetime opportunity to have it all.

Hang on, it all changes!

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Childhood Stars, Crazy Ideals and who did you want to be when you grew up?

We just recently got access to a new channel on DirectTV, MeTV. They show old programs from the 1950s and 60s including classic TV characters from my youth. Watching these old shows reminded me that the only TV character that I ever idealized and wanted to be just like was Miss Kitty on Gunsmoke. It ran for 20 seasons from 1955 to 1975! In retrospect I find it down right crazy that I wanted to be a saloon proprietress. Come to think of it, she was probably also the Madam of the Long Branch brothel upstairs, but nobody talked about things like that back then.

Amanda_Blake Miss Kitty on GunsmokeWhen we were kids it was not uncommon to join “fan clubs” for the stars on TV. The only one I ever joined was for Amanda Blake. I even sent away for a signed photo of her, dressed up like Miss Kitty. I still have it! It says: “Best Wishes Laura” on it. So much food for thought for the feminist I turned out to be. But, then, on second thought, I did choose a professional woman to romanticize. She seemed to own her own shop and not depend on any man for her income. Sure she seemed to be sweet on Matt Dillon, but there was no hanky panky going on there. I guess he had to pay like any other customer… See how confusing childhood dreams can be? Still she was a beautiful woman working in a man’s world, and she championed the cause of animals her whole life. It couldn’t have been easy.

The first career I ever considered was acting, something my college professor Dad would have never approved of. How I got from there to academic librarian is a mystery to me! But I still enjoy watching Miss Kitty and remembering the simple, innocent dreams of a ten year old so many years ago.

Who did you want to be when you grew up and how did that work out?

Anthony asked us: “Are you hopeful?”

I watched a marvelous one hour special last night called: “Remembering Anthony Bourdain” on CNN. Even if you have never watched any of his TV shows like “Parts Unknown,” you should at least find a way to watch this one hour video.

Anthony BourdainAnthony was a brilliant and amazingly creative man. He took journalism to a whole new level by caring about the people he chose to interview. And by doing that he attracted a whole new audience to “the news.”

During this video his friends and colleagues at CNN explain how younger Americans, who would never watch the news, watched Anthony because he took us to so many unusual places and introduced us to those who live there. Within that process he also included all sorts of philosophical tidbits, like his line,

“I looked in the mirror and I saw someone worth saving.”   —  Anthony Bourdain

His honesty about his own struggles with drugs and suicide are all a part of the tour with Anthony. He admits at one point, “I am certain of nothing.” as we all are if we are honest with ourselves.

But the question he loved to ask his interviewee was: “Are you hopeful?”

I was stunned when I heard his last loaded question…

Why are there so many midlife suicides?

As an well-informed boomer and specialist in midlife psychology, I have been trying to draw attention by writing about and publishing pieces on the ALARMING increase in depression and suicide among Boomers, especially among women going through menopause,  since 2008.

DEATH NEED NOT BE AN OUTCOME OF MENTAL ILLNESS IN OUR WORLD TODAY! WE CAN DO SO MUCH BETTER THAN THIS…

In 2013,  when my cousin killed himself and my brother John disappeared after descending into a profound, private despair, I dedicated my book: Find Your Reason To Be Here: The Search for Meaning in Midlife, to themas I continued to seek a deeper understanding of the reasons why midlife suicides keep rising. Here’s an excerpt from one of those pieces from the Huffington Post, April 2013:

Why is Boomer Suicide on the Rise?

There have been a number of studies on boomer suicide that seek to explain why we continue to kill ourselves at an ever-increasing rate. Some say it is the period effect,” blaming the historical and cultural experiences we share as a generation. The “cohort effect“ theorizes that being born into the largest age cohort in American history created unbearable competition for limited resources, including jobs.

Then there are the facts: Boomers share higher depression and substance abuse rates than any previous American generation. Could it be that we did not face the kind of adversity growing up that creates successful coping skills? Were we raised to be too optimistic, and now find we cannot deal with how it all turned out?

Beyond all of the mythology around boomers, the fact is we now face extreme wage inequality, and the highest level of poverty since the generation born before World War I. We also face ever-increasing personal debt. In 1965, the ratio of household debt to income was 60%. In 2012, that ratio had risen to 163%.

We may have been born at the high point of American optimism, but that has vanished…

Some say Boomers have been witnesses to the death of the American dream. Most of us grew up with high expectations for our lives, but now, as we reassess where we’ve been and where we hope to go, we must admit, this is as good as it gets. We will never be richer or younger than we are right now.

I only know that I tire of so much misinformation about boomers and their lives. I have had enough personal experience with midlife depression to now feel determined to do what I can to alleviate some of the suffering, and this terrible waste of human potential.

Globally, about a million people kill themselves each year, the single largest cause of violent death. It remains mysterious and debilitating for those who surround every suicide and ask the question: What made him/her do it?

Laura small for blogThrough my research, I have learned just how normal and natural it is to feel depressed and disillusioned in our 40s and 50s as we discover that our lives may not turn out as previously planned. What is the best way to cope with these feelings of hopelessness? I share what I have learned in my ten years of research, and what has worked for me, in my books about boomer psychology, midlife despair and how to change your midlife for the better.

Please follow me on Twitter: https://twitter.com/midlifequeen
Laura Lee Carter, Midlife researcher, author, psychotherapist

Retirement in rural southern Colorado: If you don’t take the risk, how will you ever know?

Four years ago, on June 17th, Mike and I sold our nice home in suburbia and left behind everything familiar to us. After living up in the Fort Collins area for the past few decades, this move felt like a gigantic leap of faith.

906 Deer Creek Lane front view

Here’s a photo of our past home in south Fort Collins. In the past four years it has increased in value more than $100,000! Wow, the prices of homes up in metroland are growing by leaps and bounds!

morning sun on comanche drive

After over a year of emotional and financial struggle, we triumphed over a million difficult challenges to create this passive solar home west of Walsenburg Colorado. We have been quite happy living here for the past few years. Retirement agrees with us, and especially in such a quiet, natural part of the West. BTW, passive solar works great down here!

Most of my worries about moving here never came to pass, and other completely unexpected problems replaced those. The biggest challenges for me have been health-related. My body made a quick decision to start falling apart soon after age 60, creating new opportunities for compassion towards others who suffer. And the truth is, I have met so many here who have been forced to retire early because of health concerns and disabilities.

great Mike photo of snow and Spanish Peaks

Huerfano, meaning orphan, is a poor, rural county down near the New Mexico border, with a total population of around 6,500 and an average age of 54 years. With few good jobs and an abundance of natural beauty, the Huerfano attracts those with less money and more appreciation of rugged country and rural life. We live on three acres in the Pinon-Juniper ecosystem right around 7,000 feet elevation.

Judging by the rapid increase in traffic in Walsenburg, the many homes sold here in the past few years, and how crazy Highway 160 has become in the summer, it looks like this area has been “discovered” by those living up north in metroland.

AMAZING sunrise over the Spanish Peaks January 2018

We have found this area to be slow and quiet, especially in the winter, and windy as hell. If you hate the wind, don’t move here! The slow country ways are what now attract me. I can go into La Veta and always see people I know. I like that.

Laura and Rasta on insulation 2014 (2)

Laura Lee Carter is a professional photographer, writer and psychotherapist. Her midlife crisis included a divorce and the loss of her career as an academic librarian, misfortunes she now finds supremely fortuitous, as everything wonderful flowed from these challenges. Laura now sees midlife difficulties as once-in-a-lifetime opportunities for personal liberation. She has produced four books and one workbook on personal change, midlife psychology and how country living changes you.

Don’t miss her new one: A Memoir of Retirement: From Suburbia to Solar in Southern Colorado

My New Xeric Garden in Southern Colorado

nice garden scene at comanche drive

Now on to my favorite pastime, where you can find me every morning bright and early, my rock garden outside my door! I know, it isn’t much to look at this time of year, but my new plants are just getting established, some last spring and some this year.

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Some plants came back with enthusiasm! I have found that Rocky Mountain Penstemon (Penstemon Strictus) never bloom the first year they are planted, but all three of them are blooming this year!

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And this one I forgot all about, but it is sure happy in my garden this year! Knautia macedonica

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Look at my pussy toes! They will be blooming very soon I’m sure!

I haven’t had many problems this year with rabbits or other animals chowing down on my plants. I try to choose the ones the animals don’t like, but I just learned how much they like Yarrow!

Portulaca Mix

I learned the hard way my first summer out here that they LOVE tender, well-watered Portulacas! Perfect rabbit salad! These are the only “annuals” I buy every year. Sometimes they do re-seed themselves in their own pot. Now I keep them up on a shelf away from all hungry critters.

garden scene outside my bedroom door

THE VIEW OUT OF MY BEDROOM LAST SUMMER…

I’ve also had great success with Blue Mist Spirea bushes, Jupiter’s Beard, Lavender, most sedums, Gallardia, and I’m working on establishing a few Walker’s Low Nepeta (Catmint) for their lovely purple color in the spring.  Nice to see a few native plant volunteers too! We plan to add hardscaping this summer. It should look wonderful in just a couple more years… That’s the way with new gardens, patience is key! The main problem we have here is the drying wind. I like what Merrilee over at Perennial Favorites said about that: “We hate the wind, but the plants really don’t mind.”

Please keep writing, but with fewer words…

writing penI seem to be cursed with an undeniable need to edit and critique the writing of others. Everywhere I look I see misuses of our marvelous language. When I worked as an editor for a few years I finally got in touch with my inner English teacher. Red pen in hand, I labored over the writing of others to make them and me look better. But lately I can’t help but notice how most writers, even professionals, use TOO MANY WORDS. After over twelve years of writing professionally, I see in my old writing and that of just about everyone else, a tendency to be over-wordy. Let’s call that verbose or “expresses thoughts with more words than are needed.”

verboseYes I can just hear a few editors who critiqued my freelance pieces ten years ago saying, “Too many words!” Of course, back then I was getting paid by the word. Why not throw in a few extras? I’ve always been more a fan of the “get to your point and then stop” type of writing. Some have even critiqued my chapters or books by saying they’re so short. Well, I said what I came to say and then I shut up. I could never be the fiction writer who runs on for hundreds of pages.

“I am a minimalist. I like saying the most with the least.” ~Bob Newhart

So, here’s what I recommend. After you write a piece for public consumption, re-read it and see how many words you can remove and still get your exact same point across. Writing for others is not the same as keeping a journal. What do you want your audience to take away from reading your piece? The fewer the words, the more likely they will read the whole thing, get to your point, and then absorb it.

write until it becomes naturalBut, most important of all, please keep writing! It frees the soul, it lifts the spirits, it gives you a secret friend to talk to anytime you need to. Reading and writing have always been two of my best friends. I honestly have no idea where I would be without them. I have learned literally volumes of information and experienced so many new parts of the world and great adventures by reading about them. I have learned who I am by writing a journal for many decades. And finally, I hate to brag, but I’m very good at Jeopardy! I love it when none of the contestants know the answer but I do…

We read (and write!) to know we are not alone.