Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Everybody hurts. But hold on.

"Abuse is abuse." That's what my shrink said 20 years ago when I was getting panic attacks so bad that I was afraid go to work or leave my house.

I was in my mid-30s. Everything was going great. My life was amazingly wonderful. Great marriage, great job, great friends, travelling and enjoying life. Why did this hit me now? What could possibly make me so afraid that I was unable to function?

Things got so bad that I had no choice but to go to a psychologist. I dreaded telling my story. I had pushed it down into my gut for so long. I feared telling someone about it for fear it would consume me.

And it did for a while. I remember getting into my car and playing REM's Everybody Hurts on the way home from the shrink. Sobbing into my steering wheel, barely able to see through the tears as I drove in rush hour traffic. But when I got to the end of the song where Michael Stipe sings, "Everybody hurts sometimes/So, hold on, hold on...", I felt better. I would hold on and get through this. 

Verbal and emotional abuse, though it doesn't leave a scar that you can point to as proof of your pain, is no less real or painful. That's the first thing I learned from Peggy, my psychologist who listened to my story and held my pain and fear with me for 50 minutes each week. 

I got through this emotionally exhausting three years of my life feeling stronger every day. I was worth more than the words that were spit out at me by the abuser in my life. I deserved to be treated with the respect I earned. 

I learned that love doesn't come with a jagged edge if it truly is love. 

Every year in the high school youth group I facilitate at my church, I spend a Sunday morning exploring the topic of bullying. It usually centers around school-related bullying but I think this year we'll talk about bullying by people who say they care about you.

It happens in families and with those who call themselves friends. People can tell you they love you while still treating you like you are the reason for their own vile souls. 

Abuse is abuse. All it takes to remove its power is for someone to name it.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Mirror, mirror on the wall

Ever since search engines were invented, I've searched (now "googled") every question I've ever had. "What does a poison ivy rash look like?" "Why did The Ohio Players break up?" "Who invented meringue?" 

If there's one thing I can't stand, it's not knowing the answer to a question. That kind of stuff used to keep me up at night as I searched the memory banks of my brain. And once I thought I had the answer, there was no way to verify it quickly. 

I used to go to libraries and search books there so I could get a missing factoid out of my head once and for all. Searching a library in the old days meant sifting through little cards, writing down questionable cross-referenced book titles and locations, then searching the stacks for what you hoped was the book that held the magic answer. Oftentimes, it did not. Or it was checked out. Or it was only a step in a long feather-strewn goose chase.

One of the reasons I turned into a decent business systems analyst years ago was this constant quest for answers. And not just the answers, but the quest for relevant, probing questions as well. Search engines, then, became my best cyber friends.

But there are some things that Google cannot answer. 

I'm at the point in my life where things are getting more complicated. Family members' health issues, uncertainty about retirement and my own aging, and complicated relationships are just a few of those things. I thought life would get simpler as I became solidly entrenched in mid-life but that doesn't seem to be happening. The wisdom I gained in the past 50ish years did not prepare me for some of life's current challenges.

There are nights when I can't get myself off the couch and into bed because I want a little space in my head to think things through. Oftentimes, I find myself reaching for the MacBook and turning my gaze to the empty Google search box.

My cursor goes there and blinks at me as if to taunt me. "Go ahead. Try to google that one!" And I try. Entering words and phrases that yield some information. Yet information is not the same as answers.

I want to put my hands and head around a solid, proven approach to whatever personal mess I'm tangled up in. I sometimes get frustrated with my lack of answers on the web, trying even more to find the right words that will yield breadcrumbs leading my way out of the mid-life woods. I found myself getting angry that Google couldn't tell me when the pancreatic cancer would finally take my mother from me.

One of the Kathyisms I've got stored in my repertoire is, "You can't know everything." I've said that to others who have searched in vain for answers to life's elusive spiritual questions. But I have a hard time following my own words of wisdom.

In a world that has turned answers into a billion-dollar product, the priceless answers are nowhere to be found.