~ notes from an uncommon journey ~

At Least I Know This Much

So the other day a woman I follow on Twitter said this, about her boyfriend: He "kisses girls in my presence, as well as ogles and requests phone numbers." This was not the first time she mentioned things like this about him. In fact she and I had already exchanged messages where I asked her why she stays with him. After claiming he's a good guy (to which I replied, "Hon, good guys don't hit on other women when they're dating one"), she said he's her best option right now and she just hates being alone.

Well. I don't exactly love being alone, but at least I know this much: It would be entirely reasonable to expect a boyfriend to hit on only one person: ME.

All of the above occurred days ago. In a tweet just tonight, she intimated that he's "nailing" (her word) another woman while in a different state. Our exchange after that follows:
Me: FOR REAL??? Please tell me that he is no longer your bf! Please tell me you care about yourself that much. #youdeservebetter

Her: He is. :-(

Me: What I'm concerned about is YOU. You are *accepting* his *cheating on you*--behavior that is UNaccpetable. And you are mistreating yourself by accepting his mistreatment of you.

Her: I'm not certain that he is "nailing" anyone but I do know he looks when he's away on business. Which he is now. It was the deal

Me: And that is a bad deal for you.

Her: Yeah. I know. But it's the only deal I have right now.

Me: Yes, but you are doing yourself NO favors. I get the feeling I can't say anything to convince you to care for yourself better. I can only hope and pray that someday soon you'll begin to know your worth. xo

Her: Thank you, Connie. I hope you're right. Hugs.
So...if he ogles other women in her presence, do you think he "just" looks while she's not around?  Yeah right. You know he's looking for someone to be with, maybe even someone to take her place, such as it is.

And--I mean, seriously?!? How difficult is it to say, "Look, if you're going to seek out/be with other women, get out of my life"? Ohhh, because then she'd be alone. But--she'd be alone and have her self. respect.

Why, why WHY do women accept this kind of treatment from men? (And now I'm thinking...Perhaps it happens the other way? If so, why do men accept blatant mistreatment from women?) In her case she says it's because she hates being alone. And can being alone suck? YES, it absolutely can. 'Cause we're all built for relationship, there's no doubt about it. And if you tend to the lonely on top of being alone...the suck factor goes up by about a million. Take it from one who knows: loneliness is something I've struggled with almost my entire life, so I get where it comes from.

I just don't like where it goes. The whole point of dating is, generally, to find someone to spend the rest of your life with...oh, unless you want to have your cake and eat it too, also known in this case as being a selfish jerk.

I got to thinking about what her life must be like, and I wonder: What must the dynamic be like between them? How can she look at herself in the mirror? Does she let him run roughshod over her in every other way too? I mean, if he doesn't respect her enough to commit only to her in the big things, how can she expect him to honor her wishes in the small things?

And in a big way it all reminds me of my parents. Not that my dad mistreated my mom in this way...Suffice it to say he was controlling; she was enabling. And it ruined my childhood. She put up with so much--including abuse (of us kids). If she had figured out how to appropriately stand up to him, indeed realized that it was OK to--it could have saved me and my family a LOT of pain.

So to my fellow women: I beg you: Know your worth. Have enough self respect to set some standards for the kinds of behavior you will and won't accept. For the sake of any children you may have, for the sake of YOU--know your worth.

Not that I have completely arrived in this area. But at least I know this much: I have the right to expect the best treatment from the man who will someday be in my life. And so do you.

Camp Widow 2011: Connection, Inspiration, & Personal Growth

A few weekends ago I attended my first Camp Widow. (If you read "Camp Widow" and think, "Wow, that's gotta be depressing," think again. Read on.)

As described on its website, "Camp Widow™ is a weekend long gathering of widowed people from across the country, and around the world. We come together to create a community that understands the life altering experience of widowhood. Camp Widow™ provides practical tools, valuable resources, and peer-based encouragement for rebuilding your life in the aftermath of the death of a spouse…all in a fun, uplifting, laughter filled atmosphere." CW is put on by the amazing Soaring Spirits Loss Foundation. (When I first became aware of the SSLF, I remember thinking, "Soaring spirits...what??" I couldn't fathom how anything related to loss could be called "Soaring Spirits." I didn't get it for a long time. But now I do. I think you'll see why, too.)

Anyway, it's been almost seven years since Ron passed away, but I must somehow have known that something like CW would still be helpful to me. (But that's the thing about grief; it really does stay with you. So it's not like the passing of almost 7 years should mean I'd need it any less.) I'm trying to remember how I thought about exactly why I'd wanted to attend--before it happened, I mean...and I can't, really. I think it so surpassed whatever vision I'd had of it, that I can't even see that vision anymore. (How amazing is that?) Someone at the conference asked me how I'd first heard about it, and I couldn't remember that either, but it must have been through the internet somehow. Thank God for modern technology!

At the last event of the conference, we were given evaluation forms to fill out, and one of the questions was: What was your favorite part? I wrote: "Connecting with other widows, inspiration, future personal growth prompted by session content--it's hard to choose just 1!" And as the time since has passed, those three aspects have continued to stand out as Camp Widow's meaning to me: connection, inspiration, and personal growth.

The connection began almost immediately after I registered at the conference, when I finally met in person the first of many widows I'd meet that I'd only interacted with online until then. I also made many new friends while I was there, including one who lives in Ohio. We've already talked about meeting halfway between us for dinner sometime soon.

Being with 274 others "get it" is an amazing experience. I knew about each of them what they all knew about me: We'd all been through our own hell (with some of us still in the worst of it). Even if we didn't really connect...often, knowing glances were exchanged. And when we did connect, we knew we could ask about the other's loved one--and talk about our own--and it wouldn't be weird. It wouldn't create the same social discomfort we tend to experience around others. We didn't have to explain, we didn't have to change the subject, we didn't have to fear that others "probably don't wanna hear this." If the tears came, that was OK too...we heard several times, "It's OK to not be OK." And hugs...hugs were given freely and fervently to friends old and new alike. Awesome.

The inspiration for me began on the first day, too. One of the first sessions I attended was "Meet the Founders," led by Michele Neff Hernandez, Founding President and Executive Director of the SSLF; Carole Brody Fleet, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Widows Wear Stilettos; and Matt Logelin, Founder and President of the Liz Logelin Foundation. Each of these people used their widowhood as impetus to start organizations that help widow(er)s around the world in various ways. And they stayed at it, even when everything seemed like "This is never going to work." I am pretty much in awe of all three. They serve as shining examples of what can happen when one determines to bring good out of the pain.

The inspiration continued the next morning, when Michele gave the keynote address. What an amazing woman! She told the story of how her husband Phil died (he was killed when a car hit him while he was out on a bike ride...which incidentally is how a former pastor of mine, Todd Scoles, died). And she told the story of how she started Camp Widow...and committed to a second year, even when it seemed that the first would end in financial disaster for her. I remember her saying about the first-year attendees, "I couldn't say No to those people."

But proving the most valuable to me from Michele's address are a couple of analogies she used. One of them she said in a few sentences at most and never really referred to again. But it was so powerful that it has stayed with me. She said a widow is like the one glowing ember that's left when the entire house has burned to the ground. What I love about that is: It's an ember--it's ashes; but it's also glowing--there's still some light in there somewhere. At first and for a long time (unique to the individual), all a widow sees herself as is ashes...and all she sees around her are ashes. But with healing, that glow begins to emerge...she can see it in herself again, she can see her world as 'lit' again, and she can use it to create a new healing kind of fire....

Speaking of "using it," that leads me to the other analogy Michele used: that of a voice. As in, at every stage of life we have (or are looking for) our voice: what is special about me; what do I offer the world? Well, the death of the one we love more than life itself...takes away that voice. We are silent in the face of such profound loss. But just like with the ember, eventually...our voice will return. (Again, when and how that happens is unique to the individual.) Michele's challenge to us was: when it does...use it. Use your voice. Whatever that means for you...use your voice.

I couldn't agree more. I don't have it all worked out as to why this happened or what it all means (who does?!?). But one thing I know for sure: I will use what I have been through to help others. 'Cause if I don't? Then it's like...all that pain for nothing. And to that all I can say is: Not on your life.

As for personal growth, that will come out of many of the sessions I attended...and there's so much material there, I'll have to save it for future posts.

I think it's safe to say: For me, Camp Widow 2011 was a resounding success. To the donors who made my campership possible this year: You have my undying gratitude; thank you SO much!

Thyroid and Me Part 2

Again, first...the big, obligatory disclaimer: I'm gonna be talking about medical stuff here, so...keep in mind: I'm not a medical professional, and everything I'm saying is from my own experience. What has happened to me has no bearing on what did or will happen to you; Always check with your medical professional; your mileage may vary....You get the idea.

In Part 1 I talked about beginning to suspect I was hypothyroid, researching it, and telling my doctor about it--and about his response. Here I'll talk about what happened after I started taking Armour Thyroid.

When I first started taking thyroid, it was actually about 4 years ago. I took it for a few months, and almost immediately I noticed that the skin on my hands and feet started getting softer. (In fact, I remember the bottoms of my feet being completely soft--no rough spots at all...amazing!)  That skin hadn't been soft since...well, I couldn't even remember when! Of course, the relative softness of skin isn't the only barometer of thyroid levels, but it's long been one of my key indicators. But as I continued taking thyroid, my hands and feet started to get rough again. So I did a little more research, and I came across the web site of a doctor who talked a lot about thyroid and related issues. He said that if you start on thyroid, get better for a while, and then get worse again...you may have "adrenal fatigue" in addition to hypothyroidism. He said that it's like the thyroid gland has to put out enough thyroid and the adrenal gland has to be able to handle what the thyroid gland's putting out...implying that if either side of that equation remains broken, you're still gonna have problems. So I started thinking I might be adrenal fatigued...or that in any case the thyroid replacement therapy wasn't working, since some of my symptoms had returned while I was still on it. Aaaand, after only a few months, I stopped taking thyroid. Big mistake.

Since then I've read what Dr. Andrew Weil (an integrative medicine expert whose work I trust) has to say about "adrenal fatigue," and he sees it as suspect at best.

Anyway, when I went back to my doctor again this past January to see if I could get back on thyroid, he tested me again, and lo and behold, this time there was nothing subclinical about it: I had full-blown hypothyroidism. I've heard recently from a well-respected thyroid author that delaying getting treatment can make one's hypothyroidism worse (duh) and/or eventually lead to other (serious) health problems. Thankfully I caught before I contracted some other horrible condition!

My lesson learned: Research is fine, but run it by your doctor first!

So my doctor put me back on Armour, and I've been on it consistently ever since. And here is where it gets really good: Thyroid replacement therapy is making a huge difference in my life! Let me count the ways:
  • The skin on my hands, feet, and elbows is better by leaps and bounds. The bottoms of my feet are actually--still--soft! And my elbows? Holy cow, have they changed! They used to be visibly dry, rough, even hard. I could exfoliate and/or lotion those babies and the next day...it was like I hadn't even done anything. Now, the dry/rough/dead skin patches are GONE and my elbows are soft!
  • MY HAIR IS BETTER! It seems like every time I look in the mirror I can tell that my hair is just a little bit better. As in: it looks more filled in. YAY!!!
  •  My depression is noticeably less. I don't have near as many uncontrollable sobbing episodes as I used to. (Yes, I have these--and have for years.) In fact! I don't feel like I need my antidepressant anymore and stopped taking it months ago. Note: I should not have stopped taking it suddenly. This is not recommended. Having said that, my doctor is cool with my not taking it from here on out.
  • Ever since I can remember I've had what my doctor just told me is foliculitis on my arms. (Now, the only thing I don't understand about that is "foliculitis" is defined as an infection of the hair follicles, and what I have has never behaved like an infection. But maybe it is and has been low grade all along, who knows.) Anyway it looked like small red spots. Well: they are getting smaller and less noticeable. In fact one time recently when I looked at my arms closely in the mirror, it looked like the pores on them were getting smaller and closing in on themselves--probably because they're finally getting what they need!
  • A few months ago I had an upper respiratory infection. Now, I get these usually once or twice a year and for ages I've had to get an antibiotic to finally get over it. But this time, I could tell that I was progressing through the symptoms more quickly, so I didn't even go to my doc. for it. And eventually, it went away on its own.
Everything's not perfect, as the skin  on my hands, while much better than before, can still get visibly dry and rough in places--just not nearly as bad as it was before. But I'll definitely take the improvement!

I am SO thrilled with the way thyroid replacement therapy has improved my body and my life...Yay!!!

    Thyroid and Me Part 1

    OK first, the big, obligatory disclaimer: I'm gonna be talking about medical stuff here, so...keep in mind: I'm not a medical professional, and everything I'm saying is from my own experience. What has happened to me has no bearing on what did or will happen to you; Always check with your medical professional; Your mileage may vary....You get the idea.

    Now that we've got that out of the way...my story.

    Several years ago, I began to suspect that I'm hypothyroid. I don't even remember what first caused me to suspect that; it must have been something I read that really resonated with me. Anyway, at some point I started to research the topic. And the more I read, the more I suspected I had it.

    Among others, I read the book Hypothyroidism: The Unsuspected Illness by the late Dr. Broda O. Barnes. (By the way, the book is old enough that if you're thinking of reading it, just realize that it's a good backgrounder but that there's a lot of more-current information out there.) Anyway, it really helped me understand hypothyroidism and a lot of things I'd experienced for years. Later I learned that the work of Dr. Barnes is now carried on by the foundation bearing his name, and I ordered an educational packet they produce. It had a lot of very pertinent and helpful info. (More on that later.)

    The things I'd experienced for years...that also happened to show up on lists of hypothyroidism symptoms, were, in part: thinning hair--noticeable since my mid 20s (huge!); chronically, sometimes severely, dry skin (especially on my hands and feet); weak nails; a general lack of energy and chronic fatigue (especially in the morning/daytime with more energy at night); insomnia and other sleep issues; low body temperature (often feeling cold easily); chronically dry eyes; sometimes an over-sensitivity to bright light; and recurrent sinus infections. Those are the physical symptoms. I also suffered (haha, past tense?!?) from depression; feelings of worthlessness, sadness, and loss of interest in life (by which I mean: loss of interest in thriving, not a loss of interest in surviving!); forgetfulness; and the like...though obviously I have plenty of reasons for all of those!

    So one day a few years back I went to my doctor and told him that, while I knew I was just a layperson, I suspected I had hypothyroidism and some of the reasons why. I had with me a list of the symptoms and some of the sheets from the Barnes foundation packet. I told him which symptoms I thought or knew I had and about some of the research I'd done.

    Now, I'd feared my doctor might discount my speculation or my research. I don't say this because my doctor's an ass; he's not. In fact, he's a total dear. But--he's a Western doctor, trained in a Western medical school. I think it's fair to say: Not always known for its openness, that. But--he really blew me away by how he responded. He listened to everything I said without judging any of it. And--as soon as I pulled out my Barnes foundation packet, he scooted his chair over next to mine so he could see it; he even had a staff member copy most of it so he could read it between then and my next appointment. SO awesome!

    So he decided he'd take my blood and have it tested and we'd review the results in a week. It turns out I wasn't in the critical zone, so if I did have hypothyroidism, it'd be considered subclinical (which basically means your not in the middle of the normal range, but you're not on the extreme end of the spectrum either).

    This brings me to an important point: There's disagreement even among endocrinologists (the specialists in this stuff) as to what "normal" thyroid numbers are. Which means: A person could have subclinical hypothyroidism but still be told by their doctor that you're perfectly fine. (More on that in my next post.)

    Anyway, even though I was only subclinical, given my symptoms and what he'd read from my packet (yay!), he put me on Armour Thyroid, which is a "natural, porcine-derived thyroid hormone replacement containing both T4 and T3." T3 and T4 are two of the major thyroid hormones. "Porcine," in case you don't know, means it's taken from pigs. (Armour also includes two of the other thyroid hormones, T1 and T2, but they're not considered "active" ingredients.)

    What I like the most about Armour is that it's natural, actual thyroid, not one of the many synthetic T3 or T4 drugs that are out there. And plus I get both hormones in one. From what I've gathered, many people still have problems being on just one or the other.

    In my next post I'll talk about what happened after I started taking Armour and about how it has affected me. (Hint: It's good. :)

    Update: Here's Part 2.

    Positive Thinking Me-Style Part 2

    I don't usually post again so soon after another one, and I wasn't originally going to post this stuff--I no longer know why--but for some reason, now I feel compelled to.

    In what is now Part 1 to this post, I talked about how I'd realized that one way I can start to "do" positive thinking in my life (historically a struggle for me) was to start with positive things that I already believe, including: things I like about myself.

    So last month, I grabbed a blank book my sister had put in my stocking one year at Christmas but that I'd never used (sorry, Deb.). Pretty, isn't it? And I christened it My I Love Me book. Many nights before I go to sleep, I grab it and write in it one thing I like about myself.

    Originally I wasn't going to share any of those tidbits either, but again--now I feel compelled to. So: I'm gonna start tweeting some of them! (If you're not already, you can follow me on twitter.) With each I Love Me tweet, I'll include the hashtag #ConniesProjectReclaim. (So, you know, if you wanna find all of 'em, it'll be that much easier. Side note: Don't think I'm not having an "Am I lame?" moment.)

    I guess all of this is for the hardcore Connie's Project Reclaim follower...you know who you are. (And seriously, thank you for being who are. ;)

    Why a Health Food Store Worker Told Me to Love Myself—and Why I Won't Shop There Again

    On a recent Friday night I ended up driving around in an area that I don't usually, just looking for somewhere different to eat. I found a little Greek food place, and while I was waiting at the drive-through for my gyro and fries, I saw that across the street was a health food store I've been intrigued by, so I figured I'd stop over there after I got my food. (Don't think I haven't noticed that I just wrote "gyro and fries" and "health food store" in the same sentence....)

    So I drove over there, parked and went inside. I figured I'd look around a little bit but make it quick so my food wouldn't get cold before I had a chance to eat it. I browsed for a few minutes, picked up one item, then got an idea. I walked to the counter, where one of the employees was helping someone; another was apparently just having a casual conversation, because she turned to me and asked how she could help. I asked her what the number one, "top of the list" thing was for acid reflux (I suffer...daily). Well, this woman launched into a laundry list of every single thing that I simply MUST start doing—or stop doing as the case may be (ya gotta eliminate a lot stuff too, apparently). This was simultaneous with a tour of the store, each stop being the next thing I needed to start taking.

    Now, believe it or not, I don't think she was trying to sell me—at one point she mentioned that they don't work on commission—as much as trying to convince me of the necessity of doing ALL of the things she was throwing at me.

    When she got done, I said, "Wow, that's a lot to take in." I was thinking, "I don't know that I'm ready for that much change." She didn't hesitate when she responded, "You need to start loving yourself."  Uh, wha...?!? ...is what I would have been thinking if—it didn't make so much sense to me. I said, "It's interesting you should say that...that's been a real theme for me lately. And I'm determined that 2011's going to be a different year for me in that regard." She expounded by saying that a lot of people come in, the staff tells 'em what they need, and they walk right back out the door because they're not ready for change. Whoooa...sound familiar??

    I can see how if you don't truly love yourself, you're less open to change—because even though you don't "love what you've got," it's all you've got...and you cling to it desperately, just so you have something.

    Our conversation was done at that point, and she went back to whatever conversation she'd been having before, while I thought more about what to do. Well, I didn't have a lot of time (my food, relatively unhealthy though it may've been, I was still going to eat—and it was getting colder as we spoke). And as usual I didn't have a lot of money, so I said "Well, I hate to be a stereotype, but I'm just going to get this one thing" (unrelated to acid reflux, by the by). I stepped back to the counter, and while she continued her previous conversation, she began pulling together bunch of brochures for me (fine, no problem). So her coworker rang me up.

    This guy must be a peach in real life. As part of ringing me up, he asked me for my contact info. so the could add me to their system (which I totally understand as we do that in my store). So I gave it to him...which, naturally, involved giving my street name. Now, my street name happens to be Tuckahoe Lane. (Oh yes I did just tell you that.) Soon as I said it, he goes, "Really?? I wanna live there...I'm gonna come live by you." (giggle) Yeahhhh, I let that one just hang out there. Didn't say a word. ("Sorry"; more giggling.) *gag*

    At some point in the next day or two I realized: While that lady is probably right, not just about loving myself, but maybe also about every single health thing she told me to do, I won't be shopping there again. (In fact I plan to return the one product I did buy; I'm certain I can easily obtain it elsewhere.) And do you want to know why? It's because she didn't meet my stated need. At my company, we've been trained (and rightly so) to first meet the need that the client tells you she has. It's why she came into the store in the first place. Once you've done that, you can engage her to see what else she needs and make additional recommendations. But you meet that stated need—first.

    Let's review: I'd asked for what was the one thing at the top of the list for my condition. Implied is: I don't want a laundry list. What I got was a laundry list. And—it's not that I am completely un-open to change. If I were, I wouldn't have even walked into the store! I just am not ready for that much change...all at once. For better or worse, gradual is the way for me. Drastic equals stressful in my book, and Lord knows, I don't need any more stress. If she had said "The first thing I would recommend is _______" and then asked me questions to determine other solutions to focus on, that would've been one thing (and I would've been more open to her suggestions). But she didn't. Well guess what: I don't want to shop where they steamroll over what I asked for.

    And—her coworker's crudeness...well, that's just the kicker. Being in retail, I take an additional lesson: Keep it classy. I don't want to shop where the creepy cashier's gonna be crude.

    I'll keep on working on loving myself...and take my health food business elsewhere, thank you very much.

    I'm Meant for Bigger Things

    Last night I tuned in to a free tele-seminar offered by dating coach Bobbi Palmer. Bobbi specializes in helping women over 40 find love. (Hm...how apropos.) I don't know Bobbi super well yet, but from my interactions with her and what I've seen from her, she seems nothing short of fabulous. Bobbi's guest was a woman named Deborah Kagan, who is many things; one of the things she calls herself is a sensual life specialist. Basically she helps women tap into their true selves and live with more energy and passion. The seminar was called Finding Your ME Spot: 3 Steps to Your Sexy, Sensual Self!. What I'm taking away from it are subjects for whole other blog posts.

    But one thing resulted that I truly didn't expect. I realized it in the car on the way to work this morning: I am meant for "better" work than this. I'm talking about my full-time job here (this certainly does not relate to Bare Escentuals)...and what has been my full-time work for most of my career. Not to denigrate my that job or my company--both are perfectly respectable. But as I was thinking about it in the car today, I realized: I long for something much...deeper. Something more...immediate. Something where I, like Bobbi and Deborah, can help others live better lives. I mean, how gratifying must that be...to improve the lives of others because you did your thing! I want that.

    This isn't a brand-new thought; it just clicked this morning in a new way. (Isn't it funny how you can think about something for what is collectively a pretty large amount of time...before you really realize it?)

    I don't know yet exactly what my "life's work" will look like. I have some ideas, ones that actually formed prior to last night, but I'm letting 'em incubate for now. As you know if you've read my other posts, I still have a lot of work to do on me before I'll have the energy to fully throw myself into some brand-new venture. (Not that I can't give of myself now...it's all a matter of degrees.)

    In any case, I will of course...keep you posted.

    P.S. It feels great to write a post with a tag of "Inspiration" instead of one with tags like "Discouragement," "Rant"....Yay!

    Why It's Hard to Post Sometimes

    Sometimes it's hard to post because: I'm busy, forgetful, tired...you name it. (Don't even start with the "those are just excuses" stuff--it's not like this is required. And really, I often do well to just get through the day.) But sometimes it's just about...not wanting to go public with, say, some new thing I'm gonna try as part of this project. I'm not so great with the follow-through, I'm afraid. So if I post about it and then I don't end up doing it much, or--it just doesn't "work," well, I don't relish the thought of explaining either scenario to people.

    Speaking of which, another reason it's hard to post sometimes is that often, it doesn't feel like Project: Reclaim at all. It feels like Project: Regress. This isn't straight-line growth here, people. And--"deciding you're gonna commit to it" isn't enough. It's not like after making that commitment, my pain has really lessened all that much. *sigh* This shit is hard.
    © A Road Less Traveled

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