Tuesday, February 28, 2006

3,000 Mile Check-Up

I recently took my car in for its 3,000 mile check-up. As I sat in the customer's lounge, I was struck by the whole process of a 3,000 mile check up. If your vehicle is low on any of the fluids, that are vital for optimal performance, then the mechanic dutifully replenishes them. The tires are rotated and checked for pressure to ensure that they are balanced and in good working order. The oil filter is replaced, the electrical system is given a once over, and the brakes are tested to ensure that the car will stop on a dime the next time I pass a sign that says "shoe sale".

How incredibly convenient it would be if life had a 3,000 mile check-up. We could bring ourselves in to the "Life Station" for servicing. Whatever virtues we were low on; our life mechanic would fill up our empty reservoir, elevating us once again to a higher standard of operation. If our compassion filter was clogged and in need of a replacement, we could easily pick up a new one. If we were low on love, sincerity, honesty, hope, good judgment, and faith, our life mechanic would replenish us, allowing us to operate at our most advantageous level. If our priorities were out of order and in need of rotating, then our life mechanic would again, come to the rescue, realigning our priorities allowing us to stay balanced and focused. It there happens to be negativity inhibiting our system, prohibiting us from running our lives smoothly and effectively, then our life mechanic would simply flush out the unconstructive thoughts and feelings allowing only positive energy to flow though.

We would leave the Life Station renewed and energized, virtues and priorities at full throttle. We would feel well equipped to drive off to the next exciting phase of our life journey.

I’d like to believe that we truly do have Life Stations that we can pull into when we become exhausted and depleted in our journey. We find these Life Stations in our mates, parents, churches, co-workers, family, therapists or friends. Depending on the intensity of your relationship with each, depends on what purpose they fulfill. For some, it could be the encouraging words of a parent that gives you the hope to continue onward. Perhaps it’s the loving embrace of your partner that renews you, body and soul. For others, it could be the kind, constructive words of a friend, that helps you see where certain deficiency lie and where you need to make some adjustments in your life in order to operate effectively. Whatever your Life Station is, don’t take it for granted and be sure to make frequent appointments for maintenance. In return, we will find ourselves operating our lives at our most optimal levels, energized, and in full working order. If we choose not to be diligent in our maintenance, then like a car that has been neglected, we will break down, become useless and end up in the junk yard. The choice is yours. I encourage you to do a quick system check and if necessary, be sure to get yourself to your nearest Life Station for whatever maintenance may be overdue. You’ll be thankful you did.

Friday, February 17, 2006

What Would You Do With A Billion Dollars?

I attend this amazing church located in West Covina, CA, Faith Community Church, www.go2faith.com. I learned about Faith Community through a friend of mine. Interestingly enough, I wasn't even aware he attended church, only to find he was a member of what I consider a church that totally "ROCKS". This past Sunday, our pastor, Pastor Jim Reeves, posed an appealing question; "What would you do with a billion dollars?" Instantly, all kinds of thoughts raced through my mind. After making the usual investments, paying off all of my bills, and of course, donating to my church, I came up with the follow ten things I'd most like to do:

1) Pay off all of my family members' bills and mortgages, as well as put a little money in each person's savings account as a nest egg.

2) I've always had a dream of running a camp program that catered to under-privileged children, wholly supported through the generosity of local churches and corporations. The goal of the camp would be to provide an amazing camp experience for children who wouldn't normally have the opportunity to attend camp, as well as the chance to have a few of weeks of sheer fun. Additonally, they would foster new friendships, and learn valuable life skills to better equip them for the future.

3) Relocate the remainder of my immediate family to Southern CA. I adore my family, but unfortunately, half are on the East Coast and the other half are here on the West Coast. It would be great to have us all geographically closer.

4) Start an organization that enables homeless people to get off of the streets, into a vocation and provides special housing, for those genuinely working hard to get back on their feet.

5) To fund programs in children's orphanages that helps each child realize that they indeed have a special place in this world, that they are precious beings, and add value to humankind. To instill the hope that no matter what obstacles they may be facing, they can still achieve their greatest dreams.

6) Take all of the teachers that my son has had the good fortune of learning under their tutelage, and treat them to a weekend spa retreat, as a heartfelt thank you for all of the love and training they've poured into my child.

7) Give my gardener a nice, fat bonus, just because!

8) Drive down Colorado Boulevard to find that woman who's walking (because she has no car) with a stroller and three additional children in tow. I'd take her and the kids shopping as well as pay off her bills. You know the woman I'm talking about. She's the one who's exhausted from the kids, housework, giving of herself to everyone but herself and lays awake at night wondering how she's going to make ends meet.

9) Take my son on that tropical vacation we've been talking about the past three years; however, it wouldn't be complete w/out having all of my family with us.

10) I wouldn't be true to myself if I didn't say I'd probably buy a really cool pair of shoes, but only if they're on sale. My mother would kill me if I paid full price, even with a billion dollars in the bank.

It's an interesting question to pose to oneself. Think about it. Write down a list of what you'd do. You may be surprised by your answers. Pose the question to your friends. I have, and it has garnered some very interesting, in some cases, inspiring, answers. The common thread, I noticed, in everyone's list of what they they'd do, was an innate desire to help others in need. I was touched by the genuine, heartfelt nature my circle of friends possesses. My admiration of their generosity and selflessness was once again elevated.

It's interesting to note that even without a billion dollars, how truly rich I am. I am rich in family, rich in friends and utterly rich in love, faith and joy. Happily, these are elements of my life that I consider to be truly priceless.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Eight Year Anniversary

It’s hard to believe that it was eight years ago today that I woke up in what many would consider a rather obscure place. After several days of the most severe anxiety, exhaustion, and all out fear, I found myself being woken up by a charge nurse, taking my blood pressure, and informing me that the doctor would be in shortly to conduct a physical. “Part of procedure,” she gently explained; a procedure that followed my apparent self-admittance the night before to the psychiatric ward of my healthcare provider’s (who shall remain nameless) mental health facility. It wasn’t until later that day that I found out I was on the maximum security floor, allegedly for my own protection. This explained why the nurses took my shoe laces, purse, and clothing and provided me with surgical scrubs to wear when I was admitted. When the doctor arrived, he examined me and I was questioned extensively regarding my medical history, medications I might be taking (which, ironically, were none) and what I believed were the circumstances that led me to this Alice in Wonderland adventure I was now on. It would take months, and in some cases years, before I could honestly answer why I was now a patient among some of Los Angeles’s most severely mentally ill. Despite the disconcerting journey I was now embarking upon, my life was about to radically change course; but thankfully and fortunately, for the better.

Because this was my first day at Prozac Central, I was allowed to stay in bed for a few extra hours. Given I hadn’t checked in until four in the morning, I was thankful for the opportunity to cacoon in my bed. I slept on and off, but with one eye open, because I was scared beyond belief about my new environment. There were patients roaming about, moaning, crying and some were talking to themselves. My roommate spent the morning pacing up and down the hallway, screaming obscenities at the nurses. She clearly had some anger issues. At one point, when I had awoken, I found her standing over me, staring deeply and quizically at me. God help me, I thought. During lunch, I met some of the other patients who, like me, felt as if we were suddenly re-enacting One Who Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest. The first question everyone asks you is "what are you in for". The reasons for each person I encountered ranged from people like myself who had just taken on way more than we could handle, to those who were in such immense pain that they felt suicide was the only answer. I noticed that several members of my new community of friends were wearing what I thought were wrist bands. When I inquired what the wrist bands were for, I was informed that they were bandages due to those particular patients having slashed their wrists wide open. One woman who had befriended me had been admitted for overdosing on Lithium and Xanax. During group discussion a frail African American woman, in her 50’s, and walking with a cane, came up to me and introduced herself as Myra. She bent slightly toward me, looked me straight in the eye, and announced, in a thick southern dialect, that she was both homicidal and suicidal. I immediately fled to my room and hid in my bed, crying and wondering how someone like me, who had everything life had to offer, had ended up here.

In short, I had hit the wall. I was exhausted beyond belief and had been going through my days like a zombie from Dawn of the Living Dead. I was the mother of a beautiful, healthy 18 month old baby boy. I had a large, three bedroom home in a nice neighborhood, on a cul-de-sac. My health was great and for all intends and purposes, my marriage, at the time, was doing well. I was a successful recruiting manager at a major Big 5 firm. The hours were long and the expectations high, but I met each challenge with my usual energy and enthusiasm for a job well done. My husband and I had money in the bank and we were experiencing one exciting achievement after another. However, the need to do all and be all, for everyone, to the utmost of my abilities, truly got the best of me. It knocked me flat on my back in a mental health facility; giving me nothing but time to reflect on my life and the choices I had made. From all outward appearances I was living the American dream; yet here I was living a terrible nightmare.

I was released after three days of group therapy, graduating to minimum security (where I got my clothes and shoe laces back), spent countless hours with a therapist trying to convince him that I was not a child of sexual abuse (I truly wasn't and it annoyed me that they tried to convince me that maybe that was why I was there) and attended an art class where I made a to-die-for beaded bracelet (apparently, my parting gift). I felt as if the time I spent in the hospital caused me more anxiety than what I originally had checked myself in for. I’m of the firm belief that people who completely hit the wall from being overworked, overextended and overtired should be sent to a retreat facility rather than locked up in a high security mental health ward. The retreat facility would provide a comfortable, tranquil environment with yoga and meditation classes, and counselors trained to teach you how to keep your life in balance. Being locked up in mental health facility just doesn’t seem to be the right antidote.

My mother was living on the East Coast at the time of my “breakdown” of sorts. She flew out to California to help my husband take care of me. I was so riddled with anxiety and pumped full of antidepressants and medication that I was incapable of taking care of my son. My mother-in-law flew out to California to take my son back to the East Coast for a few weeks, until I got back on my feet. Here I was, a fiercely independent woman, now needing to be completely dependent on everyone around me. My anxiety attacks were so frequent that I had to take life one hour at a time. My mother, who is one of the strongest women I know, kept me busy with exercise, gardening, shopping, talking, reading and re-engineering my life and responsibilities to a more achievable level, sans the exhaustion and anxiety. As the weeks passed, I found myself becoming stronger and more capable of enjoying life again. The dark, haunting thoughts were no longer plaguing my mind, and my zest for life was slowly returning. My heart ached because I missed my son immensely; however, I knew I was doing what was best for him by concentrating on getting myself well. After four weeks I felt strong enough to take care of my son again. My husband and I flew to the East Coast to bring him back home. We arrived around midnight, so he was soundly asleep when we got to my mother-in-law’s. He looked so angelic and beautiful. I wept uncontrollably looking at him asleep. I felt a twinge of guilt for not having been with him during the past four weeks. I had to combat these thoughts with the comfort in knowing that I was emerging from my ordeal a stronger, healthier mother who now knew all too well the importance of striking a proper balance in my life. My reunion with my son was the highpoint of my healing. He brought, and continues to bring, immense joy to my life. In some ways, he was the elixir my soul needed to take the next important steps in taking back my life.

When my husband and I took count of how many people stepped in to take care of my responsibilities during my “down time”, we were astounded to find the number was 14. Clearly I was doing way too much. It’s now been eight years since that dark, painful, frightening night. For years I questioned why I had to go through such a tumultuous trial; however, it wasn’t until I stopped questioning my ordeal that I finally found my answers.

My life is completely different now. I left my big corporate job with the big corporate pay check. I live in a smaller house with less upkeep. I work from a home office (and on many days in my pajamas – major business casual attire) and I’m one hundred percent meshed in my son’s life. For reasons that are private, my husband and I divorced two years ago. We’ve remained the best of friends, but the pain I had endured during the end of my marriage is completely gone from my life. I’ve downsized my life in so many ways, yet I feel as if I have more than I ever have. Since my ordeal, my mother, father and one of my brothers moved to southern California. I have family time with my son, EVERY day. I have occasional ME time. I have time to nurture my friendships versus catching up with each other every six months. I have more time to write and even started this blog. I have a strong sense of peace that is unshakable. I have the strength that only comes from enduring such a circumstance, and I have the unending joy of knowing I emerged from my battle victorious. I’ve developed a tremendous empathy for anyone who goes through what I did. No one understands the anguish unless you’ve been through it yourself. I’ve learned to be less of a perfectionist and more of a realist on what I’m capable of effectively accomplishing without jeopardizing my health or time with my son. And, yes, I do take time to stop and smell the roses. I hesitated sharing such a deep, personal part of my life, however, I strongly believe that the lessons I’ve learned and the messages imbedded here are priceless. I wake up every day and say to myself “Today, I’m making a choice to live an extraordinary life”. By doing so, my life takes care of itself, and my life truly is extraordinary.