Monday, November 30, 2009

Jaden has needed a toy box for awhile, but they are expensive. So, the next best thing is to use what I already have and make do with it. Along those lines, I went to my sister's house today and retrieved a plastic tote I had left there, which happened to be full of my old journals. After Jaden went to bed, I got to work emptying the box for Jaden to use.

As I emptied the box,I read bits of my old journals. The earliest journal I have dates back to 1997. The most recent in that particular box was from early 2008. Of course, I did not have the time or the desire to read every page of every journal, but what I did read was very telling.

Much of the content of my journals has to do with love. Dreaming of it, falling into it, embracing it, losing it, regretting it. Pages upon pages of the stuff. As I read these pages, remembering vividly the exhileration and the heartache I experienced in each snippet I read, I realized something: I have been dating the same man for over a decade.

His name changes from time to time. Sometimes he is Kevin. Rich. Harold. Nate. Brian. Sometimes he has a better job, nicer clothes, and a more attractive haircut than he's had at other times. He can be very sweet, or very mean. He is often funny, though his humor has been understated from time to time. He is generally very intelligent. Without fail, he is always kind to me, with the equally predictable bitter aftertaste. He is often needy. He is rarely pleased with me by the time things are over, though he was very pleased with me in the beginning. Inevitably, without exception, he despises me just as much as he once liked me.

Perhaps the most graphic example of that happened with my ex-husband, who went from adoring me to telling me, in no uncertain terms, about the many, many things about me that he hated. "There are a lot of things about you that piss me off, and I want to change them."

Of course, that is not the first time something of that sort has happened. A guy I dated in 2007 claimed to love me enough that he wanted to marry me. Bought me a ring and everything. I was thrilled! Until I found out that his coworkers had a favorite pastime, which was to tell him all the things they perceived as being wrong with me (though they had never met me), all the reasons he should run away from me, and all the times he should have defended me...but didn't. The clincher came when he told me that he liked many things about me, but had a big problem with the fact that I struggled financially. He told me that he was attracted to women who were financially stable and able to meet all their financial obligations. The real kick in the teeth came when he told me that if things didn't work out between us, his world wouldn't fall apart.

I didn't want his world to fall apart. I just wanted him to care a little bit, considering the ring and all.

Then came the guy I was with when I was diagnosed with cancer. As I contemplated what was happening to my life, watching it fall apart piece by piece, his only concern was what would happen with "us", as I seemed preoccupied.

I could go on and on, but I haven't the energy. Looking through the journals was emotionally exhausting. Writing about it in yet another journal afterward was further draining. Now, I am at a point where the only thing I am certain of is that I am certain I have nothing left to give to another relationship. Not now, maybe not ever. I am by no means willing to take another chance like that.

I don't think everyone is meant to know that abiding, lifelong love that we all dream of finding someday. I think I am one of those people who has always longed for that kind of love, thought I'd found it, and been burned by disappointment far too many times. I can't do it again.

For Jaden's sake, I wish this were not so. I wish my heart could be open to at least the possibility of meeting someone and, perhaps, finally finding that love I've longed for all these years. I wish I could be open to that, as it would be lovely if he could have someone in his life to be his dad. I can't do it, though. Not for the foreseeable future. I think I've endured enough pain to last a couple of lifetimes, and I won't be anyone's fool again.

When I was in my early twenties, after enduring those very difficult teen years, I wore a hard shell around my heart. Very few people were allowed in, and I had no interest whatsoever in dating. At this point in my life, I believe that is a good option for me. Perhaps not the most healthy, but it seems the safest.

I don't want to fill anymore journals with tales of heartache.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Thanksgiving 2009

I have so much to be thankful for this year, I am not sure I can really put it into words. I have been blessed beyond measure, in ways I never could have foreseen a year or two ago. My life took a completely different direction than I anticipated, and while it may have seemed devastating at first, it has become a life that I would not trade for any of the dreams I used to have for myself.

At the risk of stating the obvious, I am most thankful for the gift of my son, Jaden. Before Jaden was born, I thought I knew what love was. I had loved before, and I thought I had loved deeply. When I had Jaden, though, I realized that I had never really known love until he came into my life. From the moment I saw him on the ultrasound, I was captivated. Then, when I gave birth and our eyes finally met for the first time, I loved him completely. I love him so much, I feel like my heart could burst. If it's possible, I love him a little more every day.

I am thankful that Jaden feels safe and secure in his home, and that his sense of security shows in the way he gets a little more independent with each passing day. He is nearly a year old, and while I find myself wishing he could stay a baby just a little bit longer, I realize that his increasing independence means that I am doing things right and my son is becoming a confident little boy.

I am thankful that we are safe. A year ago at this time, I was terrified of what may come. I was very pregnant, anticipating giving birth in exactly one month from today. I had no idea what may come after that, given the situation with my son's father. I was so afraid of what my sweet baby may be subjected to, and I prayed, meditated, planned, and prepared to do whatever I needed to do to keep my baby safe.

A year later, I still see the fruit of those spiritual, legal, and physical investments. We are safe. My son is enjoying a peaceful and happy life, surrounded by people who love him. He is a gift, and everyone in his life sees him as that. My prayer is that he will always know this kind of love, and that those who may harm him would be kept at a distance.

I am thankful for the things I have learned about God's grace and provision, which I have experienced through the grace and provision of other people in my life. While Jaden and I live a very simple life, we lack for nothing. Jaden has been given things and opportunities that I could never afford to give him on my own, yet the generosity of others allows for it. I don't know what we would do if it weren't for the love and support of our friends and spiritual family.

I am thankful for the opportunities we have to help others out. We happily do what we are able to do, and I am thankful that Jaden will grow up with a sense of empathy for others. I am thankful that he will have the understanding that we are all connected, we are all in this together, and when one of us hurts, all of us hurt in some way. I am thankful that he will understand that one of the greatest things we can do is be of service to others in whatever capacity we are able.

I am thankful for the life that I have. It is not the life I dreamed of or hoped for, but it infinitely better than any of those things. I am so very grateful for the things that have happened in my life in the last few years that have derailed everything that I thought I knew, challenging me to rethink and rebuild my life from the very foundation. My days are filled with the laughter of a beautiful baby, the joy of motherhood, the challenge of making a better life for us through educating myself with an eye toward the future, and the grace to embrace it all and whisper the simple prayer, "Thank You."

I have much to be thankful for. Perhaps the greatest things I have to be thankful for are the dreams that didn't come true, the relationships that didn't work out, the paths I had to abandon as life flooded in.

I never imagined myself in this place. I had never dared to dream so big.

Friday, November 13, 2009

The First Year

As I write this, it is hard for me to wrap my mind around the idea that my baby boy is going to be a year old next month. It seems like I gave birth him to just yesterday! I can still very easily recall the discomforts of pregnancy, the eagerness and anxiety as his due date approached, the exhileration of realizing that I was in labor and I would meet my son very soon, and the pure joy of holding him or the first time. I can easily conjure the feeling of walking around on feet that were severely swollen, post-partum, and the feeling of coming home with my sweet babe and literally asking the air, "What do I do with him now?"

I still remember the hours of prayer and meditation that went into preparing myself for motherhood. There were so many uncertainties during my pregnancy, regarding what would happen with my ex once my son was born. Would he try to take him from me? Would my son be subjected to the same abuse his half-siblings were? Though my ex and I had not seen each other in several months, would he suddenly resurface once I gave birth to the miracle I had safely carried in my womb?

There were so many questions, so many fears for the safety of my son, the only things I could do were read God's word, meditate on its truth, and pray--with firm belief in the affirmative answer--that God would continue to keep my son and me safe after my son was born.

We have been kept very safe and well taken care of, and it has been a pure delight to watch my son grow from a tiny, helpless babe, into a strong, healthy, inquisitive child who wants to taste, touch, feel, and explore everything around him. He has a sweet disposition that is easily recognized by friends and strangers alike, and there is hardly a day that goes by when someone we don't even know comments to me about how cute he is, and how sweet he is. Needless to say, I am proud.

We've come a long way from those fear-laden first days, and we now understand each other pretty well. While he cannot communicate to me with words yet, I read his cues and usually know exactly what he needs or wants. We are working on sign language so we will be able to communicate even better,until he is able to speak words.

This brilliant child makes me laugh with his developing sense of humor, and I am already astounded by his comedic timing. He knows when I am playing around with him just by the way I am looking at him, and he knows how to play little jokes on me, too. I'll never forget his first "joke". It was during dinner, and as I fed him he made himself sit up very tall in his high chair, legs straightened and his bottom off of the seat, and then took a bite of food. After his bite, he sat back down and giggled. So clever!

I watch videos I took of him laying in his crib, watching his mobile, captivated by its motion. He was beginning to discover the world around him, but still confined by a body that was not yet strong enough to move its weight around. Now, he crawls like a champ, he is working on freestanding, he is able to manipulate his environment so his things are where he wants them, and he is capable of exploring his world. When I think of all that has transpired in just the last 10 1/2 months, it is astounding.

He has given me the greatest joy I have ever known. As a single mother, things are difficult at times. Financially, things are very tight, though we get by. There are times when I wish I had someone here to give me a break once in awhile, especially if I'm not feeling particularly well. There are times when I just need a little quiet, and there is no one to play with Jaden so I can go into my bedroom and have that quiet.

Still, there is no way I would trade it for anything. I love my sunny, funny, sweet little man, and it's both astounding and heartbreaking that our first year together is quickly drawing to a close. It's gone by so fast!

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Are You Normal?

I read a very interesting article in Psychology Today, entitled, "What is Normal?" The premise of the article is that psychiatric diagnoses have become so prevelant, it is as though nearly everyone has a disorder of one kind or another. Whenever someone is having a difficult time, happy and acting a little eccentric, wanting some "alone" time, and so on, it seems that the professionals are quick to put a label on them and medicate them.

As I read the article, I thought about all the labels I've worn over the years. It started in high school, where I was given the labels of "withdrawn" and "depressed". Perhaps it was not that I was withdrawn, but that I just didn't know where I fit in and I was intimidated by the task of finding out. I was also painfully shy back then, which was interpreted by the professonals as being withdrawn and depressed. Perhaps I wasn't depressed, so much as I just needed a mentor of some kind to help me navigate the experience of adolesence and all the mixed up emotions thereof. In any case, I was given labels.

As an adult, I was given more labels. I was diagnosed with a few different disorders, not the least of which being bipolar disorder. In my mid-twenties, I was told that my long list of diagnoses were probably enough for me to get disability, and I should try. I chose not to, but that did not erase the labels.

As life went on after being labeled, I began to live my life according to those labels, subconsciously telling myself to live within the confines of the labels. I felt incapable of doing much of anything, so I rarely tried. According to my diagnoses, I was severely depressed and withdrawn most of the time, had trouble understanding relationships, and had difficulty focusing on the tasks at hand.

Perhaps there is some truth in all of those things, but I didn't adopt just "some" of the truth. I bought the whole thing, and lived my life accordingly. I took few risks, accomplished very little, had only a few friends, and lived very safely, lest my many disorders should overtake me.

In the article, the author suggests that there is a new trend occuring in which people who have "disorders" are not living as though there is something wrong with them. Rather, they are living as though their "disorders" are not disorders at all, but are simply a characteristic of who they are. In adopting such an attitude, they have freed themselves from the constraints of their diagnosis. It seems that, more and more, this is becoming a widely accepted way of embracing the imperfections of being human.

We are so quick to label, perhaps forgetting that putting a label on someone automatically puts shackles on their soul, whether we intend to or not. To this day, I feel those constraints. To this day, I feel like the freak show, and it impacts much of what I do. I didn't give much thought to it until I read this article, but I see it now. I still live with minimal risks, and I still keep my distance from people because I want to feel safe, because I still don't know where I fit in. I struggle with depression, and I often wonder if those struggles would be as difficult if I had not been given permission...via my constantly struggle with depression.

What labels do you wear? How have those labels impacted your life?

One of the women featured in the article says, "I think people confuse normal with average. Who wants to be average?" She is a very successful business woman and author, despite the labels of "dyslexic" and "retarded" being put on her when she was very young. She says she refuses to operate from a platform of inadequacy.

We can embrace the label and all that comes with it, or accept that some of us aren't "average", but that does not mean there is something wrong with us. We are imperfect and do not fit into the place society may have carved out for us, but we do fit into the bigger picure, somewhere. What is normal, anyway? Who fits into the mold of "normal"? Nobody that I know, I'm sure. So, where does that leave us?

Why do we need to label, diagnose, and treat people? Why do the ups and downs that are simply part of life have to become something that needs therapy and medication? Surely, there are conditions that need treatment, but the normal sad and happy and everything in between does not merit the labels that are so freely given out.

I'm not normal. Then again, neither are so many others. I wonder how many others struggle because they were labeled. I also wonder if I will ever live down those labels, or if they are going to follow me for the rest of my life. Living in a small town where everyone knows...and remembers...your entire history, it is difficult to believe that they day will come when these labels will no longer haunt me.

What say you?

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