Friday, April 22, 2016

SEEKING TRUTH

Due to my ongoing health challenges, I have only been able to attend church a handful of times in the last few years. This has been a strange experience for me, since I’ve always been a church-going person, and it’s always meant something to me. These days I hear a lot of dispute over spirituality vs. religion, and many people speak out against the need to be part of a religious body in order to be spiritual, and religion sometimes gets a bad rap. I’ve certainly heard of many examples of how the structure and dictates of religion (many different religions referred to here) have caused damage in a person’s life, and these cases are valid. Of course, a person’s experiences and perspective are all relative. Some people use religion as a tyrannical tool in the lives of their family members; some religious leaders have certainly abused their power and have lost sight of their place in the big picture, hence causing damage when instead they should be about the business of saving souls. I could expound a great deal, but suffice to say that you can be a spiritual person without being religious, and you can certainly be religious without being spiritual. It’s my personal belief that a balance of both is the greatest key to happiness in this life, as long as you have the good sense to listen to your own conscience and instincts in regard to both, and achieve the correct balance. For me, the very fact of not being able to attend church meetings has not made me less religious, and I have certainly grown spiritually through this season of life. Both are still very important to me, and I continue to seek out truth and apply it to myself for the purpose of becoming closer to God in my own personal relationship with Him. I see spirituality as a oneness with God, and religion as being part of a community and belief system that helps achieve that goal. Unable to actively be a part of that community has not been easy, but it has not lessened my convictions. Sometimes the way that certain people distort religious beliefs can make being part of the community challenging. But we are all imperfect, and we are all on this journey together, and the most important thing is our own personal devotion to God.

In the absence of being able to leave my bedroom on Sundays, I have sought for ways to bring some form of inspiring messages and personal worship into my life—especially on the Sabbath. I’m often not very good at it due to the ongoing depression, which makes it difficult to engage in anything, but I still try to make Sunday different from other days. I don’t do anything related to business or finances, for one thing. I watch a lot of television in order to cope with my life stuck in this bed, but there are certain things I just don’t watch on Sundays, wanting to create a different atmosphere in my life as much as possible. What I’m really working up to is that I’ve been guided to some really amazing and inspiring things as a result of my search for something uplifting on my long, lonely Sundays. 

At this point I have to bring up the thirteenth article of faith. If you’re a Mormon like me, you have to be terribly familiar with it, but like many of our teachings, sometimes we only see the surface of it and we benefit greatly by looking deeper. Unfortunately, I know of many Mormons who choose not to embrace much of anything if it isn’t produced, created, or written by Mormons. This implies somehow that Mormons have the corner on all things good and inspiring, which is absolutely absurd. Of course there are many amazing and uplifting things I can find on lds.org at any time. But that is far from the only source of such things. To quote the profound article number thirteen, “...If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.” Note the word ANYTHING. The world is full of truth and goodness and wonderfully inspired people who have great things to say. My life has been changed for the better more times than I can count by the words—whether written or spoken—of people who do not share my religious beliefs. And I would like to start sharing here on my blog some of the great things I’ve learned.

For starters, I have come to really enjoy the television program “Super Soul Sunday” on the OWN network. On this Sunday morning program, Oprah Winfrey interviews people who have written inspiring or spiritual books, or who have had life experiences that offer an uplifting message. There are some people she’s interviewed who hold no interest for me. I can watch five minutes and delete the recording because I don’t feel like they’re coming from a place of genuine humility in their experiences, or I simply can’t relate. But more often I’ve heard discussions with people who have great insight into the human experience and our connection to God—even if their definition of God and/or their beliefs vary greatly from my own. Truth is truth, and even if people don’t agree on the whole definition of truth, that doesn’t mean they don’t have truth to offer. And many of these truths have offered me great morsels of wisdom and light that have helped me put together the puzzle pieces of my scattered life. 

I once read an analogy (sorry I can’t recall a reference to the person responsible; it was decades ago) that we live in a mortal world where many different tools are needed to fix problems. For instance, the Atonement of Jesus Christ can’t fix a broken car; you need a trained professional and the right tools. And even in regard to our dysfunctional lives and emotional problems, sometimes we need the same: trained professionals and the right tools. And then the Atonement can be more accessible to us as we sift through all of our personal garbage and find a way to bring ourselves closer to the light of Christ. Point being in my case, that I’ve read many books, heard many interviews on televisions, listened to many TED talks, etc. etc. that have had a profound influence on me and have helped me put the pieces together so that I can be more emotionally healthy and spiritually strong, and I have felt God’s hand in leading me to these things. I have enough common sense to be able to discern the line where other people’s beliefs are not the same as mine, but still be able to respect and accept where their wisdom and insight is exactly what I need at any particular time in my life. 

In the future I may be sharing some particular quotes or insights that I’ve found inspiring. For now, I would like to mention a few people who have altered my life for good through the sharing of their stories and experiences. Because I’ve gotten comments here on the blog and on Facebook that there are at least a few people out there reading this who are going through similar struggles, perhaps something in my suggestions might resonate with you and make a positive difference.

The book “Hungry” by Dr. Robin L. Smith is one of the best books I have ever read. It’s strongly Christian and deeply powerful in coming to understand the purpose of trials in life. This is one of THE best self-help books I’ve ever read! I feel like Dr. Robin is one of my best friends.


I also recommend the authors Brene Brown, Wayne W. Dyer, and Iyanla Vanzant. These are powerful and amazing people who have changed my life. All of them have multiple books. I would suggest that if you’re interested, go to amazon, look through book descriptions, and see what calls to you.

Now, I will leave you with a quote from the book “Hungry” which awakened something deeply aching in me, and it describes in essence a huge part of the journey I’m on.

“It’s a real challenge to find people in our lives who are willing to speak the truth. Not to overstep their bounds, but also not to collude by going along with situations that are destructive without compassionately reflecting what they see. Are you willing to speak the truth in that way—to yourself and those you love? Speaking truth with tenderness and compassion is the only real way to create genuine and intimate connections with ourselves and others. Unfortunately, most of us are not taught to responsibly or respectfully speak the truth. In fact, we are taught exact opposite. Most of us learn to nurse our lies the way you would an evening cocktail you’ve craved all day long. . . . 

“‘You shall know the truth and it shall set you free.’ I remind people that the promise of those words isn’t that the truth will make us happy (although sometimes it does). The promise is that truth will make us free. Truth is freedom. Truth is love. Truth allows us to grow and heal. Light and darkness are needed for growth. We need both day and night, waking and sleep, work and play, speaking and silence, giving and receiving. Truth abides in all.

“When we know ourselves, trust ourselves, and surround ourselves with loving, healthy, and honest support, we are able to create the life we are worthy of living. There is something almost intoxicating about being in the presence of compassionate truth-seeking and -speaking people. It’s an incubator for growth, healing, and wholeness.” 

As I copy down this little tidbit from Dr. Robin’s book, I feel renewed by it once again as it reminds me of something that has always been greatly lacking in my life, and the importance of working toward making it better. May we all keep moving closer to our own personal truth, and may it set us free.

God bless you all, Anita

Friday, April 8, 2016

SPRING IS SPRINGING

But I’m not! Since my last entry, I’ve had it in the back of my head that I need to do some serious blog writing, and time has passed and I’m overdue to post something. Then it begins to feel like a pressure or a duty, when it shouldn’t because I really love this kind of writing, and I’ve felt such gratitude for those of you who have left gracious and compassionate comments, either here on the blog or on one of my Facebook pages, or Instagram (horstbergwriter). So, why is it that it can be so difficult to do the very thing that will help us feel better? I think that is the ten-million dollar question associated with depression. If depression had rational answers to the difficult questions, those of us struggling with it probably wouldn’t be depressed.

I recognize that there are different types of depression, and I know very well that mine is a complex combination, however it is mostly situational. If my physical health were not such a dominating factor in how I live my life, I know I would feel better. That’s not unrealistic or any form of denial. I’ve been working on this problem for years, and I know that the two are definitely integrated. Although, there are days when I can feel lousy physically and still feel lighter emotionally and more motivated to accomplish something productive, so again, it’s difficult to find a rational answer. The obvious lack of logic is difficult for the human brain to process.

Another source of my hesitation has been in not wanting to make this blog depressing for those who read it. I’ve brought this up before, but alas, it feels like a concern to me. How can I write something uplifting and inspired when I don’t feel it? I’ve been managing to do some sorting and organizing in my bedroom in little bursts, attempting to make my surroundings more pleasant, and I came across a journal I had written in for a short time a few years ago. That’s typical for me. I have many journals that were written in for short periods of time. And my reason for stopping is usually the same. And that is all the sameness. It all just starts to sound like I’m writing the same thing over and over. I mention events with my family here and there, and other odds and ends, but mostly it’s just hand-written evidence of a daily struggle to feel well, and what feels like a losing battle to conquer this beast of poor health in spite of my every best effort. In this three-year-old journal (and I have similar ones that are much older) there’s mention of planning my son’s wedding and some details of life that I’m glad I recorded. But the overall tone of my writing there could be the same now. On some days I could only write a sentence or two to indicate that it was just another one of those days. 

The only real answer I can find is simply to keep putting one foot in front of the other. Keep getting out of bed. Keep taking care of my home and family, even if that means a lot of delegating and calling on others for help. Keep writing—both blogs and novels—little by little as I can. And right now I’m determined to make my surroundings more orderly and pleasant, because as someone dear to me pointed out recently, I spend most of my life in my bedroom (I also write in the same room) and it should have an atmosphere that will help me feel better. So, now that I’ve actually written a blog entry, I am going to force myself to sort through some accumulating junk, and I will at least feel like I’ve accomplished SOMETHING today. 

Thanks for “listening!” I wish we were all just gathered together in one room and could talk about this stuff face to face. But technology is great. It’s the next best thing to being there.

And as for spring, I’m really trying to enjoy its beauties, and as always I take time for a big dose of gratitude every day. I suppose the remedies to fighting this battle are in the little daily things that gradually add up, or at least they establish habits of being able to cope—as opposed to having a breakdown, or something. And I just don’t have the energy to recover from a breakdown. So I’ll just keep going, and try to be kind to myself, and I hope you’re all doing the same.

Love and God bless, Anita

Saturday, March 26, 2016

HIGHS AND LOWS

The last few weeks (or more) have proven to be especially rough. For reasons I’ve never been able to fully understand or put any particular pattern to, I sometimes drop into a phase of not being able to sleep well, migraines are worse, and occasional stomach aches pop up in the middle of the night. When daylight arrives and I already feel like I’ve been engaged in battle with pain and an inability to rest, I generally start out the day feeling depressed and incapable of accomplishing anything productive at all. That leads to often hiding myself in mindless television, which has an oxymoron effect in my mind; part of me is absolutely certain that it’s ridiculous to be sitting there watching reruns of reruns of one of my favorite shows, when I’m not even enjoying it or getting anything out of it, and another part of me simply can’t find the strength or the will power to even write a text or an email or make a phone call, let alone do a load of laundry, cook a meal, or actually write something worth reading. It seems that only the absolutely urgent things get done, and even that takes some serious self-talk to make it happen. 

I’ve grown to love writing these blog entries since I embarked on this project earlier this year, but even that has felt difficult to approach. My distorted thinking takes me to thoughts of how people can’t really be finding anything valuable in my senseless babbling. And now that I’ve been doing it for a while, I have begun to wonder if I’m going to start repeating myself and write about things I’ve already written about. That’s certainly taboo in a novel; except for careful evolution of dealing with an ongoing issue, a writer isn’t supposed to repeat the same information to the reader. But I don’t have it in me to go back and read my previous blog entries, so if I’m going to be able to keep doing this, I can only ask your forgiveness in advance if I start repeating myself. I repeat myself a great deal when I have conversations. I think it’s my own insecurities coming out, that something in me fears not being heard, so I have to say it again. People who share conversation with me must surely be very patient on that count. 

Anyway, I was ahead on blog posts for a while and it felt good, and then I ran out and I couldn’t bring myself to write anything. But early this morning I actually felt a glimmer of motivation and I dragged myself out of bed in the dark with the determination to write SOMETHING, hoping that it might connect with those of you devoted enough to keep reading these thoughts and feelings from my deepest self. I have a list of ideas I could write about that might actually have some kind of valuable message embedded in them, but I looked over that list and couldn’t adhere my brain to any of them. Therefore, suffice to say, that I just needed to write, I need to connect with those of you out in the great void of social media, and to feel heard.

If nothing else, I want to counter the expression of my struggles with a recounting of what’s good. I deeply believe that we need to be mindful of the checks and balances in life. If we have something negative that we have to vent about, it should be followed by something positive. If we have difficulties that weigh us down, we should seek to find gratitude for blessings in our lives that might not even think about otherwise. So, in an effort to give myself perspective in regard to how much I have NOT accomplished, let me say that I did finish a novel and got it submitted, and I wrote a short true Christmas thing for Covenant’s annual Christmas collection; I submitted that as well and with any luck they’ll like it. I started a new novel, even if that actually means I only created a computer file for it and wrote about two and a half pages. I’ve managed some minimal personal hygiene. And I did actually get out of the house with my dear friend, Amanda. Her visit last Saturday was a highlight in the midst of a difficult stretch of life, and she drove me to take care of a couple of errands and then we had lunch together to celebrate her birthday, since I don’t know if I’ll see her again before then. Her love and generosity, which is so completely sincere, always lifts my spirits. I am grateful for you, Amanda. (I know you’re reading this.) And if the rest of you reading this haven’t yet seen the one-minute video we made, you can find it on my Facebook pages. 

I also got my daughter off on her choir tour, managed to not worry about her, and have helped her adjust back to her crazy life of being on the track team, tons of homework, two church callings, and other general teenaged insanity. But I’m so grateful for her and her siblings and my grandchildren. I’m grateful for my home and my comfortable bedroom where I live most of my life, and for all the electronics and appliances that make life so easy. I’m grateful for all the parts of my body that are free of pain and functioning properly. I’m grateful that my other daughter’s very elderly cat didn’t have to be put down a few weeks ago, and that she’s holding on and doing tolerably well for a fussy old lady feline. I pray she can be with us a good while longer. (She’s nineteen now; the cat and my daughter grew up together.) I’m grateful for our other cat who is fat and hairy and kind of a snot. (Just put a picture of her on Instagram yesterday; horstbergwriter is where you’ll find me there.) I’m grateful for good food when I’m able to find/make/enjoy it. Given my food issues, I consider having food that tastes good and fills me up to be a huge blessing. I’m also grateful for my sweet visiting teachers, who are truly two of the most loving and charitable women I’ve ever known. The vase of daffodils one of them left on my porch is brightening my room and reminding me that I’m not alone. 

If I have anything of value to pass on today, it’s that it really is possible to keep putting one foot in front of the other, even if that means simply chalking a day up to vegging in front of the TV. And gratitude truly is a powerful remedy, even if it takes some serious self-talking to be reminded of the perspective of how much we are truly blessed, and how much worse things could be. 

I send my love to all of you who are reading this, and I wish for you a very happy Easter weekend. I’m grateful above all else for a Savior, and for my absolute knowledge that He is real, and so is what He did for us. Whatever this world might do to drag us down, there is always hope to be found in that. God bless! Anita

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

MY BOOK CAVE

Dearest Friends & Fans,

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Thanks for your love and support! Anita

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Friday, March 11, 2016

THE BATTLE OF HEALTH CHALLENGES — PART TWO

Part Two: Being a sick person in a world of relatively healthy ones.

When strange health issues started showing up in my life in my late thirties, it was random and occasional and I just kept going, with the naive assumption that it would get better with time. It started out with an occasional migraine in my middle thirties, but I attributed that to the fact that I was consumed with writing novels while managing a household, four children, and some pretty intense church callings. (I had another baby when I was nearly thirty-eight.) My priorities had always been living the gospel of Jesus Christ in the best way I knew how, caring for my family, and writing—because I knew it was a gift inside of me that I needed to honor. (I need to talk about that at another time; if time passes and I don’t, then someone should comment or email and remind me.) Looking back, I think I believed—as most people do when their body is exhibiting signs of protest—that it was nothing serious, and nothing to worry about. With all I had on all the plates I was juggling, who had time to worry about health?

Little known fact: I love to dance. I realize this was not a good transition from the last paragraph to this one. (I write with a little tiny editor on my shoulder, but I try to ignore that voice for the most part while blog writing.) When my oldest son was a baby and I lived in a small town where no dance studio existed at all, I decided to give teaching dance a try. I’d always wanted to do it. What I learned in the long run was that I love to dance; I didn’t necessarily love teaching or running a business. I only did it for a couple of years, but I continued to use dance as my private means of exercising. The aerobic dance craze was right up my alley and I could turn on music and give myself a great workout. I went through phases of doing it with a friend. The point I’m trying to get at is that in spite of my occasional migraine, I felt like I was in pretty good health. Little did I know that disease was brewing inside of me and had been for a long time. The migraines were my body’s first cry for help, and twenty years later, those cries are still loud and strong. My health journey has been long and complicated and there has been much progress made, but undoing years of undetected problems is no small thing and it doesn’t happen quickly or easily. The migraines seem to be my body’s way of saying, “I’m sick.” My doctor believes—and I agree with him—that when I get healthier, the migraines will calm down. But in the meantime, they are an ongoing plague with a lack of predictability or apparent triggers. They just happen. And sometimes they happen for weeks—or literally months—at a time. I’ve had a headache to some degree for many, many years now. Referring to my last entry, if someone asks, “How is your head?” my mind goes through a quick, common assessment. It’s not a matter of whether or not I have a headache; it’s more a matter of how bad does my head hurt on a scale of one to ten. Is it JUST an Excedrin headache, or does it require prescription medication? Is it head pain through which I can keep functioning, or will it confine me to bed? 

But headaches are a symptom, a tip of the iceberg, and it took me years to figure that out. For YEARS I thought I was trying to fix my headaches, now I know it’s just an insidious, cruel, debilitating symptom of much deeper, bigger problems. 

If this tell-all experience of blogging is going to accomplish what I’m hoping for, I must eventually go into the actual details of my health issues—which could be boring and will require a great deal of explanation. But before I do that, I want to point out the emotional impact of not having good health while the world keeps moving around you with mostly healthy people. Now, if I walk down the halls of a hospital or a care center, the percentage of people with poor health rises dramatically. But I’m talking about the people who live in my neighborhood and my ward, the people I associate with in the publishing industry, the people I encounter in business or social situations. I’m not simple-minded enough to think that people have struggles they don’t show outwardly in those situations. But I still see and feel the distinct differences.

For instance, going to church every Sunday has always been a part of my life, and it sincerely means something to me. But I’ve only been to church a handful of times in three years. Three years! I try to find ways of compensating at home with certain uplifting television programs, or reading spiritual text. But “brain fog” is a symptom of more than one of my health conditions, therefore, being able to focus enough to read something deep enough to inspire me often just leaves me frustrated, and what’s available to watch on TV or online quickly loses its charm. I’ve either seen it before or it’s the same concepts over and over. I do a lot of praying and meditating, which you might think isn’t terribly difficult when you hardly ever get out of bed. But pain can be a huge block to mentally and emotionally connecting with God and your inner self. This has been one of my greatest personal battles. (I hear another potential blog post in that statement.) 

Anyway, the fact that I’m a religious (and spiritual) person and I’m in too much pain to go to church is just one indicator of how my life differs from the majority of people who live around me. I’ve seen people (including my own husband) go through cancer. I went through it too. Typically there is the horrible shock, sometimes surgery, sometimes radiation and/or chemo. I’ve seen people fall apart physically and emotionally. They lose control of their otherwise controlled and orderly lives. They grieve, they’re scared, they’re sad—and so are their loved ones. And then it’s over. Sometimes, of course, cancer kills people. Forgive me for sounding insensitive, but that still means it’s over. The suffering ends. Loved ones grieve and try to move on. The sick person is free from their pain and illness and in a better place. More often than not these days, cancer patients get better; it takes time and they’re never quite the same, but they get better. Life goes on. They start gradually putting their lives back in order. They garden, they shop, they organize their homes, they go back to work and hobbies. But me? It goes on, year after year after year. I am unable to exert even a little physical energy without paying for it later. The last time I went to Costco just to get toilet paper and two other things, every muscle in my body hurt by the time I got home, and they kept hurting for a couple of days. Equation: exertion equals suffering. I don’t go to Costco anymore. Thankfully there are people in my life who help with the things I can’t do. I’m so grateful for them! Otherwise I’d starve. And be without toilet paper. 

Of course, I can look around and see other people with diseases and illnesses and disabilities. I’m not so self-absorbed that I believe I’m the only one struggling in this world, and many people have it far worse than I do. My heart goes out to them. I have a friend with Parkinson’s and I’ve seen his life impacted so greatly. I grieve for him, although his faith is strong and he inspires me. I know a number of people with M.S. They too inspire me. I could keep listing ailments. But I just have to say these things because this is MY blog and I’m venting here. Celiac Disease is not that well known, and therefore when I offer the blanket statement, “I’m struggling with the long-term complications of Celiac Disease,” most people do not have a clue what I’m talking about. Hence that feeling—again—of needing to offer a lengthy and boring explanation. Or I just feel crazy. When diseases are common or have a label that people generally understand, they kick into immediate compassion. They already have some degree of knowledge—even if they can’t begin to fully grasp the impact. But with CD, it’s still in discovery stages (which I will explain another time) and therefore I even have to educate many medical care professionals about it. 

Emergency Room . . .
Nurse: Do you have any allergies?
Me: I can’t have gluten in any medication prescribed to me.
Nurse: Why?
Me: I have Celiac Disease.
Nurse: Oh, gluten in medications won’t be a problem with that.
Me: Gluten in medications can make me very ill. (Silently: I’m glad you’re well-trained on a variety of problems you might face in an ER, but I know a heckuva lot more about Celiac Disease than you do—obviously!)
Nurse: Hmmm (and on to the next question with a facial expression and tone of voice that implies I’m being ridiculous)
And after waiting an hour . . . .
Doctor: Do you have any existing medical conditions?
Me: I have Celiac Disease.
Doctor: That’s just an allergy.
Me: (trying to sound respectful) Actually, it’s an autoimmune disease that’s very serious.
Doctor: Hmmm (and on to the next question with a facial expression and tone of voice that implies I’m being ridiculous)

So . . . point being . . . after years of just trying to get medical professionals to take me seriously and find out what was wrong, I’m still trying to get medical professionals to take me seriously. 

But even among the general population, people have a difficult time grasping what’s wrong with me and why. I’ve had friends disappear from my life for the reason (I have to assume; they never told me) that my health problems make them uncomfortable and it’s too much to deal with. I’ve had people ask me how I’m doing, and after I say something like, “Oh, my health is challenging, but I’m pressing forward,” they’ll say something like, “Yeah, the aches and pains of getting older are awful, aren’t they?” And I want to scream: “This isn’t that! You have no idea.” But I just change the subject. This is not a person I want to discuss health issues with. 

Ironically, when I had surgeries, and/or when I had breast cancer, people were more open with their kindness toward me, more willing to help. Less awkward. But what’s going on now—and has gone on for years—just seems to make most people uncomfortable. It’s like Anita’s Health is on some unspoken list with Sewer Systems, Third-world Poverty, and Where Babies Come From.

HOWEVER, there are exceptions to every rule. There are people in my life who REALLY hear me, offer compassion, and help me get through. There are people who ask me how I’m doing and they REALLY want to know; they make that evident by the kindness in their eyes and the followup questions that are asked with sincerity. I know people are busy and they have their own challenges, many that aren’t visible, and I have compassion for that. Looking at the silver linings, I’ve gained a great deal of compassion and empathy through these experiences, and I certainly do not want to be a hypocrite over this or any other matter. I try to remember to reach out more to others, and to do so with sincerity and genuine concern. Human life is a tough gig. My journey is my own, and not to be compared to anyone else’s, because each is unique. If I had any advice to offer, don’t offer advice. (If one more person greets me and then tells me about a new remedy they heard about I could really, truly scream.) Just listen. Really listen. And express how much you care. Some of my most healing moments with a friend have been with the words, “I’m so sorry you have to go through this, and I wish I could fix it, but I’m here for you.” Some tears and a hug usually follow. That’s the best medicine. 

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

THE BATTLE OF HEALTH CHALLENGES — PART ONE

To clarify the title, this is something I’ve known inside myself I need to write about publicly for a long time, but it feels very overwhelming and self-exposing. I’ve worked up the courage to do it, with the hope that SOMEONE out there might actually find something valuable in what I have to share. Make a comment if you’re listening. But it’s complicated for me, hence must be divided into parts . . . 

Part One: Human Interaction

I’ve never been one of those people who lies in response to the question, “How are you?” If someone asks the question in greeting, and they are merely acquaintances—or even strangers—I usually answer with something simple like, “I’m okay.” It’s truthful, even if mentally I’m adding clarifications like: “I’m okay even though my head feels like it weighs three hundred pounds.” Or I’m okay in spite of the sensation that I have a spike poking out of my brain.” Or: “I’m okay even though my body would desperately prefer to be in bed.” If I say “I’m okay,” I really am okay. Okay is relative, but I’m not socially naive enough to think that every person I encounter who politely asks the question should know—or even want to know—the whole truth. I consider my answer to be in keeping with social discretion.

When someone asks how I’m doing, and that person is within certain social circles where I know they’re aware of my health challenges, I tend to give a more open answer while still attempting to keep it simple. “It’s a struggle but I’m managing.” “I’m very blessed in spite of the challenges.” “I’m just taking it one day at a time.” These are a few of many typical answers I might give in response to the question. I don’t want to really get into an oratory about my health in a brief encounter with another person. It’s very complicated, and I’ve found from vast experience—and much regret—that trying to explain an iceberg in the time available to barely expose the tiniest tip of ice, ends up giving people the wrong impression, or thinking they know the whole story from that small piece of information, which often follows with people giving well-intended advice that is something my medical journey crossed off the list years ago. So, I try to keep it brief and as positive as I can manage, and quickly try to turn it around with, “How are you?” I often hear myself saying in conversations: “Enough about my health; it’s boring.” And to me it is. If someone is genuinely interested in the details of my medical issues, they’d better be prepared for a lengthy oration that could likely benefit from a Powerpoint demonstration. So, we’d better be sitting someplace comfortable, because I can’t stand up very long. 

I’ve had a few well-meaning people come right out and tell me that I should just tell people I’m fine, I’m great, I’m wonderful. Even if I’m not. And if I say it and believe it then I will be. This never felt comfortable to me. I’ve observed those people as I know they’re in pain or suffering—whether emotionally or physically—and they smile and pretend it’s okay and lie to even the people who sincerely want to know and would like to help. What kind of humanity are we if we’re not here to help each other, to offer compassion and kindness even if we can’t solve the problems? Ironically, I had a conversation with one of my sons about this, since I was wondering at one time if there was something wrong with me in wanting to be honest in answering the “How are you?” greeting in our culture. He was working on a psychology degree at the time, and we had many fascinating conversations about psychological principles. He told me that this very thing had been a recent topic of one of his class lectures. This attitude of being dishonest with yourself and others about your own physical or emotional state had actually proven to be a common precursor to suicide. Whoa! Okay, I’m just going to try to keep being honest. My opinion is that if you don’t want to know how someone is doing, don’t ask. Say “It’s good to see you,” or “I hope you’re doing well” or “That color looks good on you.” But don’t ask someone how they’re doing if you don’t want an honest answer. That’s life according to Anita.

While I’m still up on my soapbox, I must admit that I’ve given an enormous amount of thought about how physical and emotional ailments are treated within our culture. Even though I’m well aware that people have their own issues, most of which they would also keep to themselves, I’m also aware that my challenges are extreme in contrast to the average person, and it takes more than a sentence or two to give someone even a glimpse into the reality of what I deal with day-to-day. Casual greetings don’t offer opportunities to delve into the realities of true human drama—but that doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. One of my points being that we can’t express—or get insight into—the real struggles of people through Twitter, Instagram, and texts. And Facebook was never intended to be “Dear Diary.” Now, I love all of these technological marvels of social media. I love to share little things and I love to get glimpses into the lives of others. But when it comes to facing and dealing with the BIG things, I believe we truly need more face time with people who really care about us, and people we really care about. If miles or situations prevent face time, then get on the phone and talk. It’s the next best thing to being there. Something happens in actual conversation that doesn’t happen through social media. When I’m able to talk and cry to someone about how it REALLY is, I feel validated and comforted (depending of course on how they respond, but then I usually have discernment enough to not delve deeply into conversation with someone I don’t trust). The wonderful thing is that I can do the same for others. When I hear about the real-life struggles of another person, I want to be able to offer encouragement and perspective, I want to be a listening ear and a shoulder to cry on—whether figuratively or literally. This interaction of human compassion is at the heart of true love and pure charity. Coming from someone who has become extremely isolated and downhearted due to excessive health issues and depression, I cannot express the value of such interaction. And yet life is crazy and full of busyness, and it’s so easy to just send a text or ask in passing, “How are you?” without really listening to the answer. I’m as guilty of it as anyone else. But I don’t want to be. I want to listen more, care more, and be heard more. I believe it could be a huge step in the quest to help alleviate human suffering. 

Thursday, February 25, 2016

SOME SHAMEFUL THOUGHTS ON SHAME

I just watched a rerun of an Oprah interview with the author BrenĂ© Brown on the show Super Soul Sunday, which airs Sunday mornings on the OWN Network. I’ve set my DVR to record this show because I have many times been inspired and uplifted by the people that appear there. And BrenĂ© has become one of my great inspirations as I have spent the last few years striving to become more emotionally healthy and spiritually strong. Just google her name. She’s written some amazing books, done some TED talks that wow me, and there are many things on her website and on Oprah’s website related to her that are worth the search. It’s my belief that each person will be led to what helps them at a particular time if they are willing to seek it out. In the case of this remarkable woman, and things I’ve learned from many other people, I’ve become aware of whose books and/or interviews have inspired me, I refer to the 13th article of faith: “If there is ANYTHING virtuous, lovely, or of good report, or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.” 

After first becoming aware of Ms. Brown and her vibrant, glowing spirit and how it comes through in her work, I read a book she had written on shame and its impact on women in our culture. I was drawn to this because I became aware years ago that I was raised in a home where the environment was very much about shaming. I hold no ill will or judgment toward my parents; they were both wonderful people with great strengths and they did the best they could with what they knew. But I also learned long ago that in order to become a mature, emotionally healthy adult, we must all come to a point where we can look at the weaknesses of our parents, and the mistakes they made, in order to understand how such things impacted who we became and why. You can’t overcome something or change it if you don’t understand it. It’s about gathering information in order to understand; not about blaming or holding grudges. When you can comprehend how you were raised and why, forgive with your whole heart the mistakes made, and move forward, it’s a huge step in the progress of this life, and I believe way too many people get stuck in this very thing and can’t—or don’t—move beyond it. Many of them don’t even realize they’re stuck.

So, back to shame. Because I grew up with shaming attitudes, and those attitudes were perpetuated by people around me, I then subconsciously gravitated toward them in my adult life. At this stage of my life I’m stunned to realize how much I’ve been drawn to people and situations where I allowed others to talk down to me, make me a willing scapegoat for their own issues and mistakes, and leave me wondering what was wrong with me. It’s one thing to make a mistake and acknowledge it and learn from it; shame is an entirely different beast—and it IS a beast. Ms. Brown defines the difference like this: (paraphrasing) Guilt is being able to say, “I did something bad,” and therefore work to correct the behavior, fix the problem etc. Shame is believing “I am bad.” And that’s it. What a huge epiphany for me. I’ve spent my whole life feeling like there’s something wrong with me, and the proof was in the way other people treated me, and all the challenges that continued to come up in my life. While I’ve learned certain principles throughout my life journey that should have helped me overcome this, I’ve realized in the last few years—while glued to my bed and detached from much of my life—that the problem persisted because I couldn’t put all the pieces together correctly. I’m making progress on that, and Ms. Brown’s research on shame and its impact on women helped me immensely. 

I learned years ago from attending a class for displaced and abused women (as part of research on writing about domestic violence; amazing what I learned that helped myself) that “We teach people how to treat us by what we will allow.” The principle struck me deeply and I integrated it into my writing a great deal. I applied the principle in my life—or I thought I did. Now I can see that I applied it to some things, but other things were too insidiously integrated into my life for me to be able to see. The silver lining in being taken down and out of your life as dramatically as I have been, is that you are able to see life more clearly if you’re willing to look. I would recommend just looking, as opposed to being forced into such humble submission before doing so. Now, what I can see—and I’m still working to try and correct decades worth of handling many things wrong—is that I certainly DID teach people how to treat me by what I would allow, and what I allowed is appalling. As I earnestly prayed and pondered for many weeks and months to be shown the beams and motes in my eyes (New Testament reference; look it up) so that I could see myself and my life clearly—without rationalization or justification for me or anyone else—I was astonished at what began to come clearly to my mind in answer to those prayers. I saw a woman who had to fight to stand up for myself, and then when I did I would stew over it endlessly, wondering if I’d done something wrong because someone with a stronger personality disagreed with me or had said things that were confusing or hurtful. My efforts to stand up for myself ended friendships, created strain with certain family members, and encouraged me to take advantage of my poor health in order to remain distanced from a world I didn’t know how to handle. 

I could go on and on about this, and it will probably come up again in my blogging journey, but let me just try to make a valuable point out of what I’ve written so far. Ms. Brown taught me that shame grows in the dark; the more we hide it, the more ashamed we feel, and it eats at us. When we can talk to someone we can TRULY trust with our personal stories of being human, making mistakes, and being hurt or betrayed, and we feel genuine empathy and compassion—not patronization and pity—then the shame is brought into the healing light of day and it has no power over us. I’ve been blessed with some people in my life who give me that kind of true trust and empathy, but the list is very short. I’ve learned that some people, for all of their good intentions, don’t really hear what I’m saying, and their response only makes me feel worse. They don’t intend to be that way, and I don’t judge or harbor ill feelings for that. The whole human race is caught up in varying degrees of denial and dysfunction, and most people are just trying to figure it out and do the best they can do. I simply propose that we prayerfully and carefully seek out the people in our lives we can truly trust, so that we can speak truth—real truth—and feel heard and understood, so that the shame we feel—whether it’s due to our own mistakes, or the way we’ve been mistreated by others—will be able to come into the light with real perspective and understanding, not distortion and judgment. 

As for me now, I am working to create a new network of people in my life with whom I can exchange real truth and share the journey of healing. I worry sometimes that people who have known the old me will not necessarily be comfortable with the new me. But as long as I’m striving to be charitable and kind, I can live with that. I’ve come to see that it’s a tricky balancing act to stand up for who you are and what you believe, and also to be completely kind and respectful to others for doing the same. But the absence of anger and judgment is key to making it work in many, many facets of life. So, here’s to standing in a place of real truth and not being ashamed of it. 

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

WHO AM I?

So, I’ve survived Valentine’s Day, and I’ve managed to get some writing in here and there through the last week in spite of some very difficult days with pain and difficulty sleeping. This morning I woke up just after 3:30 with a migraine, took some meds, and felt so restless that by 4:30, following the usual time spent in prayer, I got up, put on my “Dickens” hoodie, and settled into the computer chair with some blankets, since the furnace wouldn’t kick up for hours. Ironically, on the rare day that the morning plays out this way, I can get a lot of writing done. So, I had over 4,000 words written before my daughter got up to get ready for school. The rest of the day will be mostly a wash; it will require my attention to some banking and bill-paying. (Yuck!) And I will definitely need a nap, and I will probably get another headache this afternoon. But at least I’ll have the satisfaction of knowing I made some progress on my day job—the writing of another novel. With that done, I’m taking a break to pull out something I wrote for the blog a couple of weeks ago during an inspired moment. Hope it sounds as inspiring now as it felt when I wrote it . . .

As a child I sang in church, “I am a child of God.” I’m now in my fifties and still feel like I’m trying to figure out exactly what that means. I’ve always been an instinctively spiritual person, and through the course of my life I have actively strived to grow in that regard. Even now, in the abyss of long-term, overwhelming challenges; even now in the moments when it feels as if depression will swallow me, I know that God is there, and I know I am connected to Him. This knowledge—which began as belief, and faith, and hope—has taken a great deal of effort and nurturing, but the rewards are incomprehensible. In my darkest hours, sometimes it doesn’t FEEL like God is there, but I know that He is. Eventually He always makes Himself known, and I am strengthened and able to press forward.

So, when I ask the question: Who am I?, it’s not about the eternal nature of mankind, or the overall purpose of life on this planet, it’s about the tiny details of incremental growth that is at the core of my own personal journey. 

Many years ago during one of the many counseling sessions I’ve endured with many different counselors, I was challenged to do an exercise to help me learn more about myself. It went like this . . .

Step one: Make a list of all the roles in your life. Easier said than done. As the counselor began to expound, I became overwhelmed simply by the prospect of making this list. There were obvious things like wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend, and of course being a writer was big for me. But the counselor opened my mind to all of the things we don’t commonly think about. He challenged me to put a name to my personal relationship with God, to include details in regard to my church callings, to put sub-categories under the obvious aspects of myself. After days of working on it between other things and pondering it carefully, the list I ended up with included dozens of roles in my life; a daunting description of all the pieces of my mortal and eternal existence that only made me feel more overwhelmed and confused. But this was just the beginning of the exercise.

Step Two: Put a mark next to the five most important roles in your life. The counselor defined this as considering what would really matter if your life was over. It was surprisingly easy to pick out the five most important roles in my life, the things that I would want to have peace with when I met my Maker.

Step Three: Now put a mark next to the five roles in your life that take up the majority of your time. Whoa! This was also easy, but it led to the shocker, and the point of the exercise . . .

Step Four: Why are the marks in steps two and three not next to the same things? Wait! Hold the phone! Regroup and rethink!

One answer is obvious. We live in a world where we have to make a living, keep houses clean, laundry washed, people fed. We have to do certain things to just survive and exist in our society. If you were facing death, those things would no longer be relevant. But most of us are not imminently in that place at this moment. So, if you look past the practicality of what consumes your time because it’s absolutely necessary, what else do you see? 

Who are you? What roles in your life really matter? What effort do you put into your daily life that feeds and fills you? What are you doing to live what is often called an authentic life? What are you doing to nurture the relationships that really matter? 

One thing this exercise taught me is that the priority of the roles in my life can shift, and I need to be in tune enough to my instincts (or as I believe more accurately, the guidance of the Spirit) to be able to know what’s important, because things can change very quickly. For instance, I may have had a day set aside to just write as much as possible. Kids are taken care of, mandatory chores and responsibilities are under control, and I sit down to get some serious words written. Then . . . wait for it . . . phone rings. Someone I care about has a crisis. My role shifts from writer to friend, with no regret or guilt because I know that being there for other people (in a way that’s not codependent) is far more important to me than getting those words written right now; the words will come back to me later if they’re important. So, you get the gist.

This exercise ended up helping me immensely as one of the stepping stones of my life in the discovery of who I am. It didn’t make life any less complicated or stressful, but it helped me learn how to prioritize appropriately and to know what was most important. I highly recommend it.

HOWEVER, it is now literally decades later, and I’m still struggling with the question: Who am I? All of the roles on that original list (probably stuffed in a box somewhere) are likely still valid. My kids are older and motherhood is different, but I’m still their mother, and needs still come up in different but often more dramatic ways. I was a writer before I was born and I’ll be a writer after I die, so that’s not going to change. But at the core, I am not the same person who did that exercise all those years ago. I’m evolving, growing, becoming stronger in ways that I didn’t know existed in the naivete of my early adult years. My tastes in many things have changed. My shock over how much I’ve allowed people to hurt me and take advantage of me has altered my vision dramatically. It’s more accurate to say that I now know more accurately who I WANT to be, but I am more keenly aware of how difficult it is to overcome false beliefs, distorted perceptions, and dysfunction in order to get there. But while I take this journey, in my tiny baby steps, one fact still remains the same: I am a child of God!

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

THE UNPREDICTABILITY OF DAYS

I had a blog entry written days ago with the intention of posting it today, but as I’m finally dragging myself to the computer, that one just doesn’t feel right for this moment. Perhaps I’ll put it up next week. Today I just feel inclined to write from the part of my heart that just wants to curl up in bed and cry like a small, emotionally disturbed child. If this blogging journey I’ve embarked upon—and committed to—is about being honest with myself while being honest with my readers, then I simply have to admit that I’m not in the mood to proofread the analytical and hopefully uplifting entry I wrote days ago. Today I just feel sad, frustrated, overwhelmed, maybe even angry. But I also have to admit that I’ve been contemplating the question: How do I write openly about depression and life’s difficulties without making what I write so depressing that no one will want to read it? How do I achieve the balance of being able to see the silver linings in these struggles and still be completely honest about having days that are so difficult that seeing silver linings feels utterly impossible? 

Okay, I’ll get to the point of my griping and get it over with as briefly as possible. Over the course of years I have tried very hard to come to terms with the limitations and unpredictability of my health. I strive each day to consider all I have to be grateful for, and to offer my gratitude to God for those blessings. I strive to be kind to my family members and anyone else I encounter, knowing that no amount of my own misery gives me the right to pass it on to others. But I have days—sometimes that stretch into many weeks—where there is no glimmer of light in spite of all my efforts to manage the difficulties appropriately. And I just have to accept that I am subject to the will of my physical body, over which I have no control. I have run the medical gamut, and I know more than the average fifty people about how you need to think positive in order to feel better, etc. etc. I could go on and on. The reality is that there are just times when pain dominates me and I have no choice but to submit. 

Today was the third time in a week I had to cancel something due to “not feeling up to it.” A friend was going to come visit last week on her day off. I was feeling so awful I had to cancel because I couldn’t even sit on my own couch for a visit and manage to be tolerable company. I didn’t go to my granddaughter’s birthday dinner at my son’s home. I knew that if I went I would just end up hiding in one of the bedrooms with the door closed, and I’d miss everything anyway, so what would be the point? And today a friend who shares my disease and diet issues was going to pick me up and take me to get a simple lunch out. But no! I woke up at 1:45 with a migraine. Took meds, managed to go back to sleep for a while eventually, woke up at 4:00 with a super migraine which required a double dose of meds and a different med added. Eventually went back to sleep for a little while until my daughter and husband were off to school and work and I said my good-byes. Dozed off for a while longer and woke up feeling an all-too-familiar sense of barely being able to move from the flu-like ache of my body, and the extreme fatigue. Ironically, the symptoms of my extremely low cortisol levels, and my post-migraine symptoms are much the same, so it’s just adding on more of the same. Basically, I feel like I have the flu but without a fever. And it’s a feeling that comes and goes in varying degrees, with ridiculous unpredictability, and it’s been happening for years. I just can’t seem to get past it, no matter how hard I try and what direction I take. (I must note here that I would love to get comments, but I ask you not to send advice. I promise that I’ve tried whatever you might think I haven’t tried. Sometimes we just need to speak and be heard, and that’s all.) 

So, here I sit while I could be doing something wildly exotic like eating French fries with a friend at In-n-Out Burger. How extravagant of me! I could be writing a novel, but my brain is foggy and tired. I could be balancing my checkbook, but . . . my brain is foggy and tired. Therefore, hence, I am once again just sitting around doing nothing, but too restless to actually rest, which is also a symptom of my cortisol issues. 

Okay, whining and griping complete. I absolutely believe that we should always counter a negative with a positive, so . . . now that I’ve shared the “how I really feel” with all of you in cyberspace, I am stating for the record that I absolutely believe that counting blessings truly is a grand remedy. And I have too many to count. I absolutely believe that giving myself credit for what I DO instead of looking at what I DIDN’T DO is important. So . . . world . . . I brushed my teeth and ordered some gluten-free baked goods online. Oh, and, I just wrote a blog entry. That’ll have to do for today. I also believe in the power of hope, so even against the odds, I’m going to hope for better sleep tonight, and less pain tomorrow. God bless us, every one! 

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

SNOW

When Amanda gave me the pep talk recently about blogging more regularly, she told me that many things I’ve written to her in emails could make a blog entry. Way back when our friendship was first blossoming, we wrote many emails back and forth, because our schedules were too conflicting to talk on the phone, and we live just far enough away from each other to see each other very often. These emails helped forge our friendship and gave us great insights into each other’s real life and struggles. And then we both just got out of the habit, or perhaps we moved out of that season of our relationship. Now, when one or the other of us gets the urge to write a lengthy letter and send it electronically, it feels like a soothing balm. It feels good to be able to write openly and without fear of judgment, and it feels good to be heard and validated. And it feels good to just hear from a friend. So, with Amanda’s permission, I will occasionally be posting edited pieces from past letters I sent to her. I wrote this one not many weeks ago, with the subject heading SNOW . . . 

I would like to be sleeping but all the caffeine I took to calm down my headache has made me wide awake. So I'm thinking about you and hoping you're okay. I'm also thinking about my own pathetic-ness and what to do about it. 

I've had yet another week that feels mostly wasted. Beyond attending to my personal hygiene, doing a very little bit of cooking, and being there for my kids, I have done practically nothing, when I was determined to be writing and productive. I'm amazed and alarmed at how the depression controls me. The thing is that it's this chronic fatigue and pain at the root of it. I've literally spent years trying to solve the problems through combining emotional, physical, and spiritual healing methods. And I feel the same if not worse. No matter how motivated I might feel, my body quickly reminds me I can do very little. And my history of many years has contradicted all of my efforts and convictions about working hard to solve problems while striving to heal emotions and follow the guidance of God in my life. On one hand I feel very blessed. I can see the Lord's hand in my life. On the other hand I feel stuck and stagnant and baffled. The point I'm getting to is that I know I need to discipline myself to accomplish some things while at the same time recognizing my limitations. I'm hoping and praying for creative inspiration and motivation that will help me get lost in historical fiction where I can be productive and not think about the things that depress me. 

I am finding that the older I get the more I love snow. I love its beauty, and the way it kind of muffles noise and the way it covers up the ugliness of my yard that seems to represent the state of my life and my inability to do anything about it. I dread spring. The last few springs have really depressed me with the sense that life is starting over....again....but my life is still stuck. Last year I tried really hard to let go of that and be positive. But it was still a rough spring, summer, fall, and now winter again. And life goes forward with pain and illness and depression. I'm praying to feel some positive change inside of me with the coming of spring that can help me feel hope and joy. And I'm going to enjoy the beauty of winter while it lasts. I love it when the huge pine trees I can see from my bed are covered with snow, or when I can see snow falling. 

So, those are my thoughts for now. I'm hoping for a pleasant and restful day, and a better week ahead. 

Post Script: Back to the current blog entry . . . This was written prior to what I’ve written about in my last two blog entries. Since then I’ve been able to write a significant number of words in my current novel, and I’ve found that my blog posts and the feedback from those of you reading has already helped me feel some degree of emotional improvement, for which I am very grateful. I’ve also found that since I started using instagram (find me there under horstbergwriter) I’ve really enjoyed the social interaction there. So, I’m pressing forward, and I already have more blog posts in the making that will be showing up here soon. Feels good to be writing. Loves and God bless!

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Anita Stansfield aka Elizabeth D. Michaels (All of Anita Stansfield's books, and The Horstberg Saga by Elizabeth D. Michaels, are available at amazon.com)