An amazing combination of evening light and clouds last night!
I had the best time yesterday staring out at our incredible view here in southern Colorado. I was also looking at Mike’s chair, which was empty because he was in town visiting friends. Having quite a bit of experience with Gestalt and “empty chair” therapy, I suddenly thought,
“If you could have anybody from your present or past sitting there right now, who would you choose?”
Charlie Cat relaxing in Mike’s chair
This of course requires a good imagination and sense of pretend, but it can also be quite revealing. I ran through the list in my mind quickly, people from my past who I miss and would love to talk to now. Sad to say, none of them made the grade.
You will never believe who came up for me! I would LOVE to sit down with Barack Obama and discuss our world today. What it must look like to him, after trying so hard to correct injustices from our past and improve the lives of average Americans. How does that feel to him? How does he see Trump?
The topic of the lead story on today’s CBS Sunday Morning, “Going It Alone”, is one of my favorite life-long lines of research: loneliness. There we meet a man who, at age 27, chose to not speak to a single human being for 17 years! He eventually concluded, at age 72, that if you have four really good friends, who understand and appreciate your authentic self, you are truly lucky.
Their 2018 survey of more than 20,000 U.S. adults revealed some alarming findings:
Nearly halfof Americans report sometimes or always feeling alone (46 percent) or left out (47 percent).
One in fourAmericans (27 percent) rarely or never feel as though there are people who really understand them.
Two in fiveAmericans sometimes or always feel that their relationships are not meaningful (43 percent) and that they are isolated from others (43 percent).
One in five people report they rarely or never feel close to people (20 percent) or feel like there are people they can talk to (18 percent).
Americans who live with others are less likely to be lonely(average loneliness score of 43.5) compared to those who live alone (46.4). However, this does not apply to single parents/guardians (average loneliness score of 48.2) –even though they live with children, they are more likely to be lonely.
Only around half of Americans(53 percent) have meaningful in-person social interactions, such as having an extended conversation with a friend or spending quality time with family, on a daily basis.
Generation Z (adults ages 18-22) is the loneliest generationand claims to be in worse health than older generations.
How much do YOU need quality connections?
This all brings back my own gradual transition in my 30s and 40s from a true loner, who didn’t trust anyone completely, to a happily married woman in my 60s. After a traumatic betrayal in my 20s I also gave up on people. I did allow a few acquaintances in after counseling in my early 30s, but trust was not my best quality.
My first marriage was a lonely tangle of struggle, criticism and disempowerment. I gradually realized that I would probably be spending the rest of my life alone unless something changed. What changed was a divorce in 2001 and then job/career loss in 2004. Living on severance with only two good friends I saw maybe once a month plus my dogs, I faced loneliness most of the time, providing ample opportunity to consider my options for my future.
At age 49 I decided loneliness was my worst problem and I did not want to live the rest of my life if it was going to be this lonely indefinitely.
My solution? Since I could not find another job in libraries, I started my own offline dating service where I interviewed local midlifers who were also looking for love after widowhood or divorce. In that way I studied our group problem and decided it wasn’t just me. Then when I found many more cool single women looking for partners, I joined Match.com to attract more cool men for my women. Yep, the first man I met this way was my future husband and partner in crime, Mike. We have been joyfully married fourteen years now.
Since then I am rarely lonely, but moving to this rural area in 2014 has been a challenge in that department. I so rarely meet someone here I can truly relate to, partially because of differences in upbringing and education levels. In the past I made friends at work and in my exercise classes. I still miss a few good friends I made at the Senior Center in Fort Collins.
I’m now retired so I have tried to make friends in my La Veta yoga class, which I attended for a few years, but to no avail. I have also tried a few other groups like writing groups, support groups, etc. No friendships have emerged. Quality connections are hard for me to find in this environment, but I will continue my efforts. Afterall, I just need one or two more friends to have “four really good friends!”
“These days she spends much of her time reading. “I can’t do a lot of things that are active,” she said. “I can’t spend very much time on my feet, or even very much time sitting up. I have to kind of lounge around. But I’m lazy, so it’s a good thing that I lounge! So, I’m glad to have the leisure time. I have a huge stack of books that I need to read.”
Does she think much about singing now?
“Oh, I can sing in my brain; I sing in my brain all the time. But it’s not quite the same as doing it physically. You know, there’s a physical feeling in singing that’s just like skiing down a hill, except better, ’cause I’m not a very good skier!”
This is how I feel about so many activities I did in my previous life as a long-distance walker and high elevation hiker. Not to mention the many things I loved like yoga before my arm and shoulder began hurting constantly.
This is one part of aging that is very hard to take, and yet it reminds me how fortunate I was to have at least experienced these things at some point in my life. And for all of you who feel what I call ‘pathologically optimistic’ about my limitations, between a traumatic brain injury, fractured ribs and COPD which barely allows me to live at 7000 feet, these disabilities will not be changing in this lifetime.
What I find particularly difficult to deal with are the doubters and blamers I sometimes run into. They have no compassion for my losses, but instead blame me for my injuries. They judge me instead of supporting my difficulties, perhaps because they have not experienced any serious limitations yet themselves.
I felt quite strong through most of my 50s. I injured my brain and my ribs on a bike ride through Fort Collins in 2008. My 60s have been extremely challenging so far, and it doesn’t help when I feel criticized and judged for my limited ability to be active. Now I must carefully pick and choose which activities I can complete and enjoy. Everything takes more breathe and effort than in the past.
We will all experience disabilities as we age. We will all die. Please don’t blame others for reminding you of that.
To quote the beginning of her talk on Women and Power:
“We don’t really embrace female rage, which is why bestselling books for women about work are usually called things like “Lean In” and “Not Screw You, Kevin, for Taking Credit for My Work After You Interrupted Me 12 Times in That Meeting,” which is a book I would buy.
There’s a very well-known phenomenon that most women have experienced and social scientists have studied whereby men enjoy interrupting women, often without realizing they’re doing it. Even female Supreme Court justices are interrupted three times as often as their male peers.
I mean, that’s RBG. Women apologize more than men. Hillary Clinton, by the way, is the only presidential candidate ever to use the phrase “I’m sorry” in her concession speech.”
Does any of this ring true for you?
SometimesI feel like I spent my entire life apologizing for my very existence! It became a natural part of my speech pattern. I only truly found my own rage at this situation during my midlife crisis when I realized how many cards were stacked against me as a young girl trying to make a difference in the world. It became perfectly clear when a sad and inadequate boss of mine fired me for being too certain of myself at age 49. Yes, he was canned soon after that, and yes, I have been embracing my rage ever since…
“If we tell women, don’t be enraged about the fact that you have been denied a promotion, don’t be enraged at the rates of sexual assault in this country, we’re never going to get anywhere.
We have to say, yes, we’re angry, and now we’re going to fix it.”
I had to spend a few years in counseling and at anger workshops in my 30s before I realized exactly how angry I was. I had spent a lifetime fearing the expression of anger towards anyone. When I finally started having anxiety attacks where I couldn’t breathe or speak when my full anger arose, I learned how to take charge of my rage, instead of it taking charge of me. I owned it and let it out finally!
Interestingly, starting my own blog “Midlife Crisis Queen” in 2007 (now deleted) helped me to begin expressing my full range of emotions, but that wasn’t enough either. So I started the “Midlife Queen Blows Off Steam.”My byline was:
These days I am certainly in charge of all of my emotions including my anger. My “ouch time” has shortened dramatically! Unfortunately Mike sometimes bears the brunt of this new discovery, but I always explain and apologize if I feel I am being unfair to him. I must learn to direct my rage towards those who actually cause it!
I like to think we are all making progress in this department, both men and women. Women historically have only been allowed their pain and depression, and not their anger. Men have been delegated only anger as an expression of frustration. I still find my unhappy moments begin as a deep sadness, but eventually may develop into outrage at the many unfair situations I face.
Observe yourself and you will discover how you deal with life’s frustrations!
My Dad came from strong but simple folks outside of Kansas City, Kansas. His Dad was a railroad engineer on the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe and a barber. No one in his family went to college before him. Most barely finished high school. Dad also considered the railroad life at one time, but changed his mind and began to study biology and specifically botany in college. There he met some great people who encouraged him to follow his intelligence and dreams to a better life. My Dad was nothing if not smart and disciplined.
He married at 23 and three kids soon followed, but Dad was determined to finish his PhD in botany and become a professor. My parents struggled greatly to find the way to a better life for them and their children. Along the way they saw that intelligence is always the better path to a more productive and happy life.
My Dad ended up at Colorado College at the end of an amazing career in teaching and research. They even named the Colorado College herbarium after him! Then my parents moved down to New Mexico to “retire”but instead produced a number of new books on Colorado and New Mexico botany. They have always been smart, creative and productive.
This week I have been giving some thought to my Dad’s greatest gift to me, especially in light of that memoir I’ve been talking about for the past week or so: Educated: A Memoirby Tara Westover. Thank you Dad for teaching me to use my innate intelligence to improve my life. Thanks for making certain that I had so many opportunities to attend the best colleges with top faculty, exposing me to a different kind of life than our ancestors had the chance to live.
Learning about anything we might be going through from those who have lived it before us and then studied it, that is the BEST WAY to put our own experiences in perspective. Reading and intelligence is the best way to understanding. Thanks for teaching me that Dad.
Sometimes finding support can be so simple, you wonder afterwards why you waited so long to seek it…
I started attending the Walsenburg Women’s Growing Circle a couple weeks ago. This is a warm and friendly sharing group with emotional support and some guided meditation. That then opened up a great new opportunity in Helen’s tough but wonderful yoga class at the Washington Underground. I find the women in this group and my new class so much more warm and welcoming than those I have spent the past few years with in a La Veta class. I find that I often made some of my best friends in exercise classes, and it looks like this class will be no exception. So I feel so much more optimistic about solving my two main problems here: a great environment for balance and strengthening exercises, and making new friends.
This brought up again a problem I have always had, asking for help from others. This issue is magnified five hundred percent in the new memoir: Educated. She also suffered from an extreme fear of asking for help, to the point of not even asking for medical assistance with a broken ankle. I would say I spent the first few years of counseling in my thirties working on my fear of asking for assistance from anyone.
So, you might ask, what’s the big deal about just asking. When we ask for help we make ourselves vulnerable. When I was a young woman, there was no feeling I hated more than feeling vulnerable. The times I had made myself vulnerable had been so painful and disappointing. I certainly wasn’t willing to trust enough to ask again. Just the act of going to a counselor for help took me until my early thirties, even though I liked the idea of it and desperately needed it. Note the paragraph or so in Educated: A Memoir, where Tara finally tells her story to a woman at the university counseling center:
“I didn’t understand it then, and I don’t understand it now, but there was something nourishing in setting aside that time each week, in the act of admitting that I needed something I could not provide for myself.” — pg. 316
I see now how lucky I was in my early thirties to find the best therapist for me, one who I could finally trust and in that way learn how trust works in human relationships. Re-parenting therapy is powerful stuff if you find the right therapist and then take the necessary time and energy to experience it fully.
And now I know I would have never been able to trust enough to fall in love again at age 49 if I hadn’t worked so hard at accepting my need for the healthy help of others, and allowing some vulnerability into my life back then. Going it alone is always an option. Just make certain you are doing it as an empowering choice, and not out of anger and future fear of betrayal.
One of my many roles in my 25 year career as an academic librarian, was being chosen as the United Nations Librarian at both the University of Utah and University of Colorado at Boulder at the beginning of my career. I enjoyed this role because I was raised by parents who wholeheartedly believed that girls need a good education to impact the world in any meaningful way, and the United Nations has always supported that goal financially. As a UN librarian I learned that education was the best predictor of whether women could advance in less developed countries.
Ask the famous freedom fighter Malala Yousafzai. As a young girl, Ms.Yousafzai defied the Taliban in Pakistan and demanded that girls be allowed to receive an education. She was shot in the head by a Taliban gunman in 2012 for her non-traditional behavior, but survived and went on to receive the Nobel Peace Prize:
“One child, one teacher, one book, one pen can change the world.”
Little did I know then that I was also talking about some rural pockets of poverty and ignorance in our own country.
This week I read a POWERFUL memoir of a woman who advanced from no early schooling until age 17, to a PhD from Cambridge University in the UK. By writing EDUCATED: A Memoir, about her extreme battle to educate herself and in that way find her true Self, Tara Westover is educating the rest of us in how hard some girls and women must fight to simply NOT follow in their mother’s footsteps.
Tara learned from a very early age that she would have to fight for everything she would ever have, first with her father and then with her older brother. Growing up in a violent and severe fundamentalist Mormon family in rural Idaho she eventually discovered:
“Not knowing for certain, but refusing to give way to those who claim certainty, was a privilege. My life was narrated for me by others. Their voices were forceful, emphatic, absolute. It had never occurred to me that my voice might be as strong as theirs.” pg. 197
The battles Ms. Westover fought for her own education, freedom and independence nearly killed her a number of times, yes in this very country of ours. The extreme courage and intelligence she expresses so well in this memoir is an inspiration to all worldwide who strive everyday to simply be themselves and breathe free.
There are so many brilliant ideas and lines in this memoir! To paraphrase just one:
Guilt is never about them. It is fear of your own wretchedness…