How Careful Observation, Writing, and Gardening Create New Meaning

One week ends another begins, but both seem the same. It’s that sameness that wears on us. The near term is the same, and the future seems clearly uncertain. It’s impossible to make travel plans, not just for now but for the fall and winter. Some people have started referring to 2020 as the “Lost Year.” Imagine how those in my family feel, having lost my Dad right before “the virus” took over our lives.

I am saddened to learn that COVID-19 may be taking a toll on Americans’ heart health even if we’re not infected with the virus. According to new research, cases of ‘broken heart syndrome’ are on the rise among those without any specific illness. This occurs when part of the heart becomes enlarged and is unable to pump blood effectively, preceded by intense emotional or physical stress.

Everybody deals with this kind of stress differently. I think it’s easier for us gardeners. We have something in our lives that brings us daily joy. We can go outside each morning and enjoy the summer blooms! The fact that our plants need us, even marginally, also helps. Let’s face it, we all need to feel needed. This is why we all need to find positive distractions from this sad time in all of our lives.

I relate to these issues more than most. I sometimes pass out from lack of oxygen and am not certain if I will take my next breathe. I struggle daily to find the good in everything, like the 4th of July celebrations on TV last week. I want to feel good about my country again and positive about our future, but it isn’t easy if I watch the news too much.

So I go outside and walk around my garden. I hang out with the birds and bees, literally! I watch the birds taking a carousel ride on Mike’s great purple wind sculpture.

I sit quietly and observe the end to another glorious day, as the sun sets over Mount Mestas to our West.

Sometimes I take photos of the sunny still life developing on my bedroom wall as the sun comes up each morning. My appreciation of my eye sight is increased one hundred-fold as it diminishes with worsening cataracts.

These are the moments that sustain me… What are yours?

My Salute to Caregivers Everywhere!

One thing I have learned from first caring for my husband when we first met, is that providing care for those who need extra help almost always involves guilt of some kind.

So many of us understand the importance of this work…

Back when Mike and I first met, he suffered from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) regularly. This meant trying to find doctors who understood this generally misunderstood and mistreated illness. The worst of the docs always blamed the victim by saying that CFS was caused my mental illness and had no biological basis. Thankfully the CDC eventually showed these MDs to be quite wrong. (Description of CFS at the CDC)

But in the meantime Mike had to go on regular short-term disability from his jobs. I had no previous experience with caring for others. I found that he generally felt guilty of having this terrible illness, and I felt guilty that I was not a more patient and compassionate caregiver.

Since moving down south six years ago, Mike’s health has improved dramatically. He rarely suffers days of CFS. And it’s a good thing because my health has gone downhill quickly. My main problems now are extreme hypoxia, defined as: “deprivation of adequate oxygen supply at the tissue level,” difficulties with consciousness and balance from a previous traumatic brain injury, and quickly failing eyesight (cataracts). And, I would like to add, DEPRESSION:

because I never had any major health problems before age 60. My how quickly things can and DO change! Luckily Mike is a marvelous caregiver! No guilt involved.

In addition to all of this, my Dad recently died from a short illness right before the announcement of the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown in mid-March. This meant that my Mom, who had never lived alone in her 86 years of life, was suddenly quite alone and grieving terribly. Thankfully, my sister and her husband live nearby and provide every kind of loving care for her everyday. But with my health tenuous at best, (we have 3 known cases of Covid-19 in our county and over 20,000 in the Denver metro area where my Mom lives), I haven’t been able to go help out with my Mom’s care.

This means my sister is absolutely EXHAUSTED both physically and emotionally from helping Mom out day-to-day while I sit down south feeling breathless and guilty. I’m sure you can imagine how all this feels for both of us…

She does not blame me or anyone else, she and her husband are just completely worn out! There must be so many of you who are living through similar circumstances right now, with no easy answers, but lots of difficult circumstances to deal with everyday.

That is why I feel the need to salute all of you who have put your own life on hold while you care for the millions of friends and family members who desperately need your help. I love every single one of you for your bravery and dedication!

The Coronavirus Marriage Test: Who the hell am I living with here?

With all the conversations about how sheltering in place has led to binge-eating, binge-drinking, and increasing mental health challenges, one topic I have latched onto is divorce in the time of Coronavirus. Of course, forced proximity for long periods of time can breed contempt, but crises like these also cause us to suddenly come to terms with our pending mortality.

Do I really want to spend the rest of my life with this person?” Just like a big fat midlife crisis, the fear of sudden death can lead to positive life changes.

From my perspective, this sudden forced increase in intimacy is like instant retirement. As I think back, one of the most important reasons for my divorce at age 45 was the realization that this marriage would not survive either a sudden, serious illness in myself or long periods of unrelenting time together. Our love was not that strong and my “wasband” at that time was a total blamer and shamer. These days he reminds me of our esteemed President Donny dumb dumb. The man never heard of the concept of taking responsibility for his choices or actions, EVER!

I eventually came to call my first marriage ‘criticism central.’ That is when I knew I had to get out!

But then on the other hand, it is good to know that our recent enforced togetherness has in some cases led to resolution rather than dissolution. Some couples in the process of getting a divorce now say that being stuck together caused them to resolve their differences and decide to stay together. They dismissed their case.

Like I said, sudden intimacy, much like retirement, either improves your opinion of your partner or makes you want to yell, “Get me out of here!”

I am happy to report Mike and I still don’t hate each other….

Our Parents’ Spirit Lives Inside Of Us!

I just watched a marvelous story on CBS Saturday Morning, where a young woman lost both of her parents at age 18. The thought floored me. I do not know how I would have survived such an overwhelming blow to my own spirit. And then she said,

“Their spirit is in me.”

I lost my father one month ago, right before this terrible virus started ravishing the entire human race. But thankfully, I see everyday how his spirit is in me. My Dad was a born teacher. He taught others his whole life. We are now learning how many of his past students saw him as a powerful life mentor. The part of his spirit that only spoke to me in the second part of my life was his love of native plants. I have kept a native plants garden since my 40s, learning more each summer about why certain plants thrive in Colorado’s higher, drier elevations. Since moving to a semi-arid Pinon Juniper woodland in 2014, I continue to learn how to plant and nurture the plants that my Dad loved and the ones that love this arid climate. Now that spring has arrived…

I go out to tend my “sky garden” everyday, with its unobstructed view of the Sangre de Cristo mountains, knowing full well that I never would have chosen to live in such a quiet, natural place if my Dad hadn’t taken us out camping as children and taught us to appreciate everything about nature. Mike has developed a love of the local birds, which he feeds and provides water for everyday. We have learned to recycle our inedible leftovers by leaving them down the hill for every variety of animals, including ravens and vultures.

We feed the earth as it feeds us...

And speaking of eating, my Mom taught me to produce healthy, nutritious meals for my family by her excellent example. She was not taught to cook by her mother and only began learning when she married my Dad in 1951. Then she turned that skill into an amazing art. By junior high school, when my Mom started working full-time, I began making our family dinners, great training for life!

Mom also followed her grandmother and mother’s tradition by taking up sewing and turning herself into a top-notch seamstress. She first made really pretty dresses for us as kids, and then graduated to beautiful quilts and other meaningful gifts for her friends and family:

Mom-made from Grandma Carter’s bedspread

All of these wonderful pastimes and useful skills dim beside the myriad of intangible lessons learned from my parents like respect for others, intelligence, science, solid research, good communications and a lifelong desire to learn more everyday.

I saw a very powerful program on PBS this week about the Windermere children. This is the story of some Jewish kids who lost every member of their families in the German death camps in World War II. They were generously given a new lease on life at the Windermere Estates in England after the war. This is a story of AMAZING strength and resilience, and fascinating in terms of early child psychology research and the use of art therapy. Please check it out sometime. This story strongly reinforces my gratitude that I was able to know my parents and grandparents for as long as I did.

Their spirit lives inside of me!

Consciousness is overrated

I’ve been thinking a lot about this idea lately. My Dad’s recent death reminded me of how rational and intellectual my upbringing was. My therapist in my thirties, who only worked with women, noted early in our work together that she had never seen a woman who lived so exclusively “in her head.” It’s called over intellectualizing in psychology, defined as:

“ignoring the emotional or psychological significance of (an action, feeling, dream, etc.) by an excessively intellectual or abstract explanation.”

This creates great distance from feeling a person or situation. It’s a lot safer that way 🙂 but I didn’t even know I was doing it until I began therapy in my thirties. I felt like I was somehow personally responsible for everything that happened around me, and even partially for what was happening in the world, but I also kept it at a distance by seeing it only intellectually.

My counseling training in my forties reinforced this awareness and yet distancing behavior. I could be highly aware of my client’s pain, and yet see myself as above them, understanding everything only on an intellectual level. This was my upbringing and training at work. I remember one time when this method completely back fired on me. I was working with an leg amputee at a rehab hospital. I found I could intellectually distance myself from the patient, but still feel his pain in my own leg.

Only recently I realized I did the same with my father as he was dying. I felt emotionally distant from the situation, just as my Dad had taught me to be. He always said, “We are only protoplasm floating through time and space.” And “It is biologically required that we die so others may live.” Pretty good distancing concepts, huh? But when I looked at his recent photo I burst into tears. This was my Dad and he is no more.

Being so aware and conscious all the time is not good for us! It has taken me quite a while to see this. We all need to relax sometimes and NOT FEEL THE BURDEN OF THE ENTIRE WORLD ON OUR SHOULDERS!!! My Dad and Mom used alcohol for that task, but I found that was not my drug of choice. Mike and our friend Rad have helped me stop being so conscious of everything all the time with a little bit of THC chocolate.

Being too aware or feeling responsible for everything all the time can be dangerous or at least very unhealthy!

So turn off the TV sometimes, stop monitoring the death count on this incredibly terrible pandemic, and find a way to relax and enjoy life! Remember, none of us gets out of this alive, but if you give up everything you like, you don’t live longer, it just seems like it!

The Power of Music

“I get knocked down, but I get up again, cause you’re never going to keep me down!” – Tubthumper by Chumbawamba

Do you need a great cheer leader right about now to pick up the old spirits? Go listen to this song….NOW! This is one of my personal favorites, the album TubThumper by Chumbawamba. I first heard about this album via our old friend Tarryne who told Mike about it ages ago. Then he played it for me when we first met, and it soon became one our favorite rebellion records. I find it perfect for the Baby Boomer generation. Of course it came out in the USA in 1997.

Chumbawamba was a British rock band that formed in 1982 and ended in 2012. The band constantly shifted in musical style, drawing on genres such as punk rock, pop, and folk. They even shift musical style in the middle of songs, but their lyrics are the BEST! Very catchy to me.

Words like these from the song Amnesia:

Do you suffer from long-term memory loss? I don’t remember…

See what I mean? I can relate! And the words in the song “One by One” seem especially appropriate to what we are facing today:

If any ask us why we died, tell them that our leaders lied. Sold us out down the riverside. Whose side are you on?

Did I mention this album is about revolution? Even more appropriate in these times when we witness supreme idiocy at the top, tell me, who do these lyrics make you think of?

Believe every half-whispered half-remembered lie, where truth is a luxury they can’t afford to buy. Scapegoat. Looking for a Scapegoat.

There’s always someone else for you to blame…

Reminds me of my ex, and especially Donny dumb dumb, you know who I mean!

Does solitude ever feel like a gift?

In these trying times, it is possible to begin to perceive so much extra time alone as a gift, like when I lost my job back in 2004. That is when I started writing my book Midlife Magic: Becoming the Person YOU are Inside!

Here is a brief chapter from that book entitled simply “Solitude”

“And you, when will you begin that
long journey into yourself?” — Rumi

Loneliness scares most of us quite a bit; in fact, it may be our greatest fear. But I believe there’s a lot of power in knowing that you can live alone successfully.

Living alone for a few years, especially during or after a major life transition, allows us the time to process change. We finally have some time to breathe and search within for what’s missing or what definitely needs to change. As luck would have it, midlife often offers this time to rest up from relating to others constantly. Divorce, a loved one’s death, unemployment, an empty nest, or some combination of these common midlife circumstances can offer a natural breather to sit back and take a hard look at ourselves and where we are.

If you’re anything like me, you’ve been constantly distracted by the needs of others. As natural caretakers, we just can’t stop tending to the needs of those around us, even when we aren’t being asked for help. That is why it’s so important now to find a way to spend some time completely alone.

Your tendency may be to immediately find new distractions, new people to care for. Fight that impulse. After a lifetime of chaos and caring for others constantly, this is a very important time for you to be alone, as scary as it may feel at times. How else will you have the time and fortitude to face yourself squarely and ask some tough questions about your previous choices and your future?

Introspection demands solitude and time. This may be why many of us never truly get to know ourselves until midlife, if ever. It takes a lifetime to know ourselves well. The only way to your true self is through contemplation. No shortcuts are available on this one. You may find that a good therapist is a great guide at this time, but the heavy lifting must be done by you. This is the beginning of self-responsibility. Up to now, life has just happened, and in the chaos of it all you’ve done the best you could. Now, if you choose, you can take full responsibility for your life, for your own process, for all future choices, and for your own solitude.

Why is solitude so important? We cannot learn and grow without personally processing what we alone have experienced within the context of our own lives. No one else understands our own internal experiences of loss and alienation quite like we do, and no one else processes these experiences into wisdom like we can.

Without personal processing at a deep level, we will continue to make the same mistakes over and over again. We all go through periods of crisis—major changes, intense difficulties—as we age. It’s best if we can intersperse these episodes with periods of solitude and deep learning, to integrate and consolidate what we have experienced in preparation for a new learning cycle.

If we learn with each cycle, we become wiser and more able to cope with the next difficulty. If we never stop and spend time alone to integrate lessons learned, we cannot accumulate wisdom or the ability to live a more comfortable life with more supple and adaptive coping skills.

Please contact me at MidlifeCrisisQueen@gmail.com to purchase copies of any of my books.

E-book and some paperback versions are available through Amazon

A Celebration of 65!

Somehow, I never saw myself looking forward to turning 65, but I feel great about it. I am now happier with my life than I’ve ever been. I find aging liberating! One important lesson I have learned through my past 64 years, is how great challenges can lead to great awakenings.

My first major lesson in this was when my life fell apart around age 49. A few years after my divorce I lost my job, which then led to to the end of my 25-year career as an academic librarian. Depression and devastation soon followed. Then I got creative and started my own version of a dating service as a distraction from my sadness. That turned out to be lots of fun and then, through those efforts, I met my new husband Mike.

Having time to think, seek career counseling, and experiment opened my mind up to everything new I had ignored up until then, like the career I had always desired. I became a writer, with books and a killer blog called “Midlife Crisis Queen!”

Five years after that Mike’s job got sent to China, so what did we do? We sold our beautiful home in the Fort Collins suburbs and moved down south to rural Colorado to build a passive solar home with a killer view!

Even in the past few years I have worked hard to change a few difficult bad diagnoses into a total appreciation of health. Yes, I struggle to breathe at times, but I’m still here enjoying our new home with its fantastic sunrises and sunsets everyday.

This week my father died. My Dad, Dr. Jack L. Carter, led a truly amazing and powerful life. He believed fiercely in SCIENCE and came to be known as a proselytizer for scientific and rational thought. He taught biology and botany classes at Colorado College for decades, wrote BSCS high school biology textbooks, and then started writing his own books like “Trees and Shrubs of Colorado.” Yes, his death is very sad for my family and others who knew him, but it helps me to appreciate my own life even more.

Daily I appreciate the fact that I have lived long enough to see how life works. Yes, life includes periods of great pain and suffering. That’s the challenge that makes the successes even more joyful!

That’s what makes me want to go on…

Medicare in my near future!

Mike and I have been limping along, getting health insurance subsidies through the Affordable Care Act, for the past few years. There’s no way we could have afforded the four or five thousand bucks a month our health insurance would have cost without Obamacare. Soon I will qualify for Medicare and I’m so glad!

Last year was an amazingly EXPENSIVE year for me health-wise. Between a number of cat scans, a pet scan and a lung biopsy, along with so many medical tests I can’t count them all, I cost my insurance company a pretty penny. Now my health has stabilized a bit, but with lung nodules you never know. That is why I don’t understand those who hate Obamacare. Have they ever tried it?

Without the Affordable Care Act we might be bankrupt by now. We never choose to become seriously ill, and it almost always takes us by surprise. That is why I support health care for all, without the irritation of working through a health insurance company that does not have my interests at heart. How can that be a bad thing when the insurance company are making so much money on our illnesses and misfortunes?

I say take the health insurance companies out of the equation and provide access to health care for every American. If every other developed country in the world can figure this one out, why can’t we?