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Saturday, December 31, 2011

It's Just Another New Year's Eve

I'm not sorry to say goodbye to 2011. And I don't really care if that labels me as having a bad attitude. It's been a very difficult year physically, mentally, financially, and emotionally. I'm a bit offended at my body. Being injured to the point of needed surgery in the same year as deciding it no longer needs an appendix seems excessive. And when my body isn't functioning normally, everything else seems to go a little crazy.

So I'm looking forward to 2012. I intend to celebrate the heck out of this day as I usher in the new year and hasten the old one away. I started by going to the gym, riding the bike for 30 minutes, then walking in the "Lazy River" for another 20 minutes. When I came home, I put a batch of bread into my bread maker. I don't really care if that seems celebratory to anyone except me, and I don't really eat a lot of bread...well...I don't really eat a lot of anything, really...but still, I love the smell of it baking and that smell can make a whole lot of stress disappear.

I folded all the laundry and vacuumed my house from top to bottom (hearing in the back of my head my elder sister's nurse-voice as it reminded me I'm only four weeks post-op, and two weeks off crutches, and I need to take it easy still--I told the voice to shut up), swept the kitchen and cleaned my bathroom.

I followed this up with playing turns in my 32 games of Scrabble. I'm uncertain how I came to be playing that many games, but they were there waiting for me so I took my turns. Then I looked in on Kingdom of Loathing. I'm a lamentable player at best, but I love the game's sense of humor and occasionally I play a trick on my KOL friend, Morcai. I thought about doing that today, but I don't remember how, and I currently lack his cleverness when it comes to follow-up, but someday...he should watch his back...

It's horribly ugly outside. The wind continues to blow from all directions and tiny blizzards pop in occasionally to remind us it can always be worse. When I went to the gym this morning, the sun was shining. Not anymore. One could not ask for a more gloomy, stormy day. I've been drowning out the wind by practicing Prokofiev's Toccata in D Minor. Darrin is home now, though, and he is not a fan of the Toccata.

I believe I will call one of the friends who asked us to celebrate with them tonight and ask what we can bring--and tonight I will actually go. I'm not excited about this, but Darrin is and part of my celebration is that we'll do something Darrin wants to do.

For now, I believe I'll get back to playing on Facebook for a minute, and then I'm going to read something while my bread bakes, and my only resolution for 2012 is that this is going to be a better year than 2011. And it's going to be. I promise.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

I will be released from my calling in the Young Women's organization on Sunday. The bishopric member who called to notify me is an older man whom I deeply respect. He thanked me for my service, then added, "I'm going to miss you. I've loved hearing you teach--learned so much. Our young women have been very blessed to have you as a teacher, and so have I." That was unexpected.

I called my stake president after I ended the phone call. I'd spoken with him in September, letting him know I had done an interview with FAIR on the topic of same-gender attraction. I told him then that I was concerned about the reaction of some of the stake members, should they listen to the interview. They would have no difficulty identifying me. Stake President said he didn't care--in fact, he would welcome the opportunity to discuss the topic with anyone who was uncomfortable with me (homosexual woman) teaching the youth of our church.

I thought about this a lot after the interview aired. I realized that while my stake president was willing to take on the members who might find me objectionable, I was not emotionally strong enough to do so, myself. I've struggled with self-esteem in the past year, especially in my closest relationships. I've questioned my worth, my place in life, and wondered if there was really any need or desire for me--or if I was a convenient distraction who happened to work online and was therefore readily available to others. While I don't object to that, I do like to understand how I'm perceived by others, regardless of what that might say about me.

The result of the wondering was that I found myself more insecure in relationships, less likely to bond with people, and avoiding interactions that might be meaningful to me but not to the person I was with. I recognized that I've become emotionally drained and very tired, and that almost none of my perceptions regarding my relationships and the feelings of others toward me are accurate.

The thought of having to go on the defensive about a topic which, in my mind, has nothing to do with anyone except me, and having to "prove" that I was not any kind of threat to our young women, especially after spending the majority of my life teaching and serving them, was not something I felt I could manage. I waited a few weeks, spoke with a couple of people, talked with Darrin, and then went to the Bishop to ask for a release.

My stake president was unhappy with me. He started with his, "If anyone says anything about you, I'll gladly tell them to stick it up their stupid butts." I proposed that was probably not a fitting remark from a stake president. He let me know he was completely disinterested in propriety and I needed to be working with the youth. I said (using his first name because I'm fairly disinterested in propriety, as well, and besides, we went to high school together and have been friends for most of our lives), "K, this is not a battle I can fight right now."

The phone was quiet for a few seconds, then he said, "You're not doing very well, are you, Sam?"

I'm doing better, actually, than I've been for about a year. But no, I'm still not at my best. I said, "I've had a few things that have been difficult to deal with recently, yes." His tone changed immediately. He thanked me for letting him know about the release and told me he was available if I need to talk about anything.

I don't. I've talked enough.

Darrin reminded me tonight that I have problems with Vitamin D deficiency this time of year because I'm out in the sunlight less--and with my inability to run, it would be a good idea to start supplementing again. He also suggested I visit with Therapist in the next few weeks rather than waiting the five months I had hoped for. Darrin believes it would be a good idea to take some time to discuss much of what I've been processing in reference to my cousins, and there are a few other things that have cropped up unexpectedly that I might need help with. I'll probably take his advice.

I'm feeling well, actually. But again, as Darrin pointed out, it might be a good change to visit with Therapist and implement the advice he gives when I'm not feeling anxiety. I might experience a greater amount of relief and learn to manage things more successfully in a moment when I feel relaxed and calm. This is something I need to lend serious consideration.

I spent many months in the past couple of years, analyzing and brooding over the relationships in my life. I made breakthroughs and experienced setbacks and wondered if I would ever figure anything out. Eventually, I did. I found that the reason I struggle with relationships of all types is because I don't really believe expressions of love and appreciation aimed at me. I try to believe. I do all sorts of mental gymnastics to make myself understand the words and trust the person speaking.

The problem, as I finally came to understand it, is that while I believe people love me, I believe they appreciate the things I do, I believe they enjoy spending time with and getting to know me, I simultaneously have no understanding of how that can last beyond a moment. I simply cannot conceive of anyone wanting me to remain in their lives, nor can I fathom a place being reserved for me in someone's heart. I have always felt that if something were to happen to me, Darrin would simply find someone else, my children would grieve and move on, and no one else would find my absence remarkable.

I asked Tolkien Boy to work on this with me (not exactly like that--instead I asked lots of uncomfortable questions and he graciously agreed to answer them). He responded clearly and compassionately. I have read and reread what he wrote to me. There is a part of me which rejoices at the answers he has given, and another part that utterly rejects them. It has nothing to do with trust or belief--the social condition outlined by him in which he feels things for or about me, simply does not compute in my head. I cannot make sense of it. I am overwhelmed and confused as I try to apply what I'm reading to myself. My brain sends me a continuous message that none of this can possibly be connected with Samantha--she is an irrelevant part of the equation and must be factored out.

Yet every answer is about me in some way. If I'm factored out, the answers become irrelevant and everything written is nullified. I need to discuss this with Therapist. Soon.

In the meantime, I watch the changes taking place in all my relationships and wonder how to manage the confusion and stress caused by those changes. Maybe it doesn't matter. Maybe that's part of what makes vital relationships work.

At least I understand now what I do not understand. I know. That makes no sense to anyone except me.

Tomorrow I'll start that Vitamin D thing, and I'll walk in the pool and do my therapy exercises, and I'll play with my kids and do my work. Probably I'll practice for a couple of hours and when no one is around, I'm going to sing. Right now, however, I'm going to bed. I keep having odd dreams involving people in my life doing things completely out of character and also things that are very inappropriate. This is better than nightmares, I think. It makes me giggle in my sleep.

P.S. Eva--thank you for your email. Sometimes I forget that people read what I write here. And actually--that quote you sent me was exactly what I needed to hear tonight. I had forgotten those things. Thank you for reminding me.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

I have heard a story retold at Christmas which I wish to record here. At times the protagonist is female, other times, male. For my purpose, gender is irrelevant. The story is about a young student and a beloved teacher. The student wishes to present to the teacher a wonderful gift and so is absent for a couple of days. Returning, the student presents the teacher with a perfectly formed, beautiful shell. The teacher is delighted with the gift, but upon learning where the student found it, expresses dismay at the great length the student traveled to obtain the gift, to which the student replies, "The long journey is part of the gift."

This story is a Christian allegory referencing that our lives are a symbolic gift to the Lord--that the journey to present to him something perfect and beautiful must be long and sometimes arduous, but in the end He accepts not just the result, but all the twists, turns, disappointments, challenges, successes, and growth encountered as we become who we are. In general, I shy away from such allegories, finding them trite, overused, and obvious. I also despise stories designed to elicit an particular emotional response in the guise of spiritual revelation or communication.

A man whom I have always admired retold this story in church today. He is older, in his late 80s, a recent survivor of leukemia. In the many years during which we have been friends, he has said things which have spoken to my heart as I recognize both the truth of his words and the application in my life. Today was no exception.

The journey of my life is not one I wish to repeat. There are many moments I would wish away. People have acted toward me in ways I would like to forget, and I have had my share of acting in shameful ways when I wish I had chosen otherwise. I own experiences I would like to delete; I have said words I would take back; made choices which hurt people I love. In addition, I have endured hurt innocently, been damaged by the violent and senseless acts of others, and lived in the aftermath of those experiences. As I think of this, I wonder how my life can ever be considered a gift. There is so much overwhelming sadness, tragedy, disappointment. I still suffer from childhood deficits in love and nurturing, from abuse, from being forced to grow old before I was twelve. Who would accept such a gift? Perhaps it would be best to discard it and move on...

Today as my elderly friend spoke, I realized my journey is not over, and that part on which I am focused was a tiny moment in the lifespan that will be mine. I have taken those moments and I have moved forward. For many years I refused to own them, to even acknowledge them. Today, regardless of the the pain it costs, I call them mine. While I do not believe they have made me a better person, they have definitely shaped my views, my beliefs, my choices. Sometimes that's a good thing, sometimes it's not.

I have processed a great deal of anger and bitterness for the past three months--things I believed I had laid to rest. The result of this was an increased phobia to touch, a loss of logical thought process, and emotional separation from people I love. But during that time, I learned to ask difficult questions, I found out which people I can rely on and trust, and when I felt completely lost I found out that I never quite give up--even when I desperately wish to.

I received communication from people I love during those months. Some of those people are close and current and interact with me daily. Others are people I've not heard from in years, but somehow encountered them again. Those communications let me know I have importance, there have been moments when my life has touched or influenced another, when I have shared strength, lent courage, or given love.

The parts of my journey which have left me drained of strength, filled me with fear, and damaged my soul will always be a part of the gift I offer to the Savior. As much as I would like to, I cannot make them disappear. But when weighed against the person I have become and the person I will become, the person I am determined to become, those parts seem important but incidental. They were boulders which have continually impeded my progress, but which have never stopped me.

There are days when I ask to be reminded that I'll be okay, that I'm loved and needed, and that I'm very strong. This, too, is a measure of the person I'm becoming as I ask for and accept help from others. My deepest fears remain intact; my insecurities rage constantly; my self-doubt never wavers--but through all this I continue my quest to find peace.

Perhaps the real beauty lies in the word "journey." It symbolizes forward movement toward a destination or goal. Sometimes my journey is nomadic--I have no idea where I'm going, I just know I need to continue. I cannot stop in one place for very long. Other times I know exactly where I'm going and move purposefully toward that goal. But as long as my journey continues, as long as I'm not stopping permanently, I'm making progress, I'm learning new things, I'm becoming Samantha.

And one thing I learned a long time ago is that I am loved and wanted by the One who created me.

Tonight I am grateful for the opportunity to live. I'm grateful for the capacity to love and learn and grow and become. I'm endlessly thankful for a Savior who heals my heart and encourages me to find out who I am. And I believe, in the end, when presented with my journey--with all its flaws and misery and ungainly messiness--He will choose, instead, to remember I never stopped trying, that I loved when I could have chosen to hate, that I built when I wished to destroy, that I sought help from those I loved when I was discouraged, and that I learned to see and love Samantha as only He can see me.

That was the purpose of Jesus Christ. Not to be lauded for miracles or revered because he had great power--but to show us the strength of love and the joy of being. His life provided a way for us to be healed from all that hurts us. During his lifetime He treated those who were despised and condemned with gentleness and dignity; He had deep, meaningful relationships with the men and women who spent time with him; He knew and cherished the worth of a soul.

I suppose it doesn't really matter if one believes in Christ or not--those basic concepts of humanity espoused by him would improve the quality of any person's life if they choose to follow them. I have never regretted treating people with kindness and respect regardless of the response to that treatment--but I do believe in him, and tonight I celebrate Christ's birth and his life. Mostly, though, I celebrate the fact that through Him I am alive today and I have become more than I ever believed possible.

Once more, as always, I dedicate my journey to my Savior. No matter the twists and turns, I am always grateful for his presence at my side.

Merry Christmas.

Friday, December 16, 2011

I'm not sure why I want to write here again, but I do.

Physically, I have always been incredibly blessed. I get a cold/virus/flu/whatever every two or three years. Usually it's very mild, lasting only 2-3 days. Occasionally I get something that knocks me off my feet and keeps me down for a week or longer. That has happened twice in my life:

1. I was teaching 44 private students (six days weekly), running a bookkeeping/tax prep business, and trying to raise three small children while Darrin was traveling most days and weekends from 2 p.m. till after midnight. It was grueling. And given my exposure to the variety of germs from students, I contracted something which impeded my ability to inhale, gave me an incredibly sore throat, kept me from sleeping at night, and made me miserable; naturally, my doctor said, "Virus--get some rest. It will go away." A month later it was still hanging around. Two months later there was no change and I was exhausted. Three months later, in the same condition, I went to the doctor again. I sat on his exam table and listened to him tell me it was a virus--then I interrupted him: "I don't care if it's a virus. I don't care if there is nothing you can do for me. I don't care if you don't like prescribing antibiotics that aren't helpful. I've had this crap for three months. I haven't taken antibiotics for more than four years. I'm not getting better. At this point, I believe we should try the placebo effect. I'm not leaving without a prescription for something." So the doctor prescribed an antibiotic and a decongestant. I was better in a week. No doubt, the virus just ran its course.

2. Being quite busy, I did not get a shot for the H1N1 virus when I should have. One of the schools in which I accompany the choir ended up with 60% of the student body contracting the virus. Two of those students were also part of my piano studio. I, of course, ended up with H1N1. I seriously considered dying as a possibility. It was awful. Because I have asthma, my chances of that dying thing were greatly augmented. Because I'm ridiculously healthy, I survived--but it took many months before I could breathe normally once again, which interfered with my running. It was during this time that I took that miserable fall which messed up my hip. I blame H1N1.

Prior to my surgery, the doctor's assistant was going through a list of questions with me: Do you have high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer, high cholesterol...those types of things. I said no to every question. When asked which medications I take regularly, I said, "None." The nurse checked my blood work report, my medical history, and said, "You might be the healthiest person I know." This was repeated to me by several other medical workers as I was prepped for surgery, as they took care of me post-surgery, and in all my follow-ups with doctors, nurses, and physical therapists.

It's true. I'm the healthiest person I know, too. No allergies. I don't have problems with blood pressure, cholesterol, bone density, diabetes. My asthma is managed with an inhaler which I use as needed. I've needed it about five times in the past 10 years. Sometimes I forget completely that I have asthma at all. My cardiovascular fitness is amazing...

My surgery was painless. I took no pain medication and I had very little swelling. The only times I had discomfort were when they missed the first IV placement prior to surgery (and when they flushed the IV), and when my stitches were removed (I heal quickly, so the skin was already trying to grow over the sutures). Yesterday, 15 days post-op, I was cleared to walk in water and ride a stationary bicycle daily for 20 minutes at a time. The scope sites look like three small pink stars on my thigh. They get smaller each day.

In the midst of this, it feels that my emotional healing is taking forever. I suppose one can't have everything, though.

I've had a number of very difficult days in the past couple of years. I believe this is, in part, because I've not been able to run as I'm used to, I've had physical injury and pain, and I've had a number of outside events which have caused me stress.

I spoke with my physical therapist about this yesterday. I told her of the PTSD symptoms I find most daunting:
1. Inability to connect with people.
2. Inability to interpret body language, implied meanings, and humor.
3. Confusion about my role in the lives of people I love.
4. Lack of self-worth.
5. Depression.
6. Phobias that exhibit themselves in elevators, crowds, and any type of touch.

Her response, "I wish you had told me. I've been touching you for months with deep tissue massage and muscle manipulation. I've probably talked about things that have triggered memories or phobias. If I had known, I would have been more careful."

But I don't want "careful."

I want to be treated like everyone else. It's why, when I ask for help in an email or chat box or phone conversation, I always say, "This is something I'd appreciate, but I completely understand if you can't do it. And it's okay. I'll figure something else out and we can just pretend I didn't ask." And then I do my best to honor that statement.

Sometimes I can't. I try, though. Sometimes the answers I seek can only come through particular people. So I might, occasionally, ask again. It sucks. I hate asking for help. I hate even more, asking twice. I go through this cycle:
I asked for help--I'm an idiot to do so in the first place--no one has the time or inclination to help and that's completely valid; why would they want to help me in the first place?--but I'm unable to work through this on my own and it's hurting beyond my ability to ignore it--I need help--I hate this, but I'll ask again--but it's stupid because if they couldn't help the first time, they won't be able to help now--but I don't know what else to do--

Wow. The ridiculousness of that cycle is enough to keep me from asking for help again usually for more than a year. And maybe that's all part of why I take such a long time to heal, emotionally.

Emotional healing requires people. It requires challenging persistent beliefs which keep us trapped and isolated. It requires positive feedback and responses. It requires a model of trust and love which can be emulated by me.

Quite honestly, there are times when I believe the emotional healing I need is not possible--which doesn't mean I won't keep trying. This is something I want more than anything else. I want to reach a point where Samantha feels entitled to love and support; a point where I can love with abandon and know that love is returned because I'm me--not because of anything I do or say. I want to become able to shake hands with warmth and enjoyment. I want to stop feeling that I'm irrelevant, used up, unimportant--because I'm none of those things. I have a voice--it's quiet, but filled with intensity, conviction, and honesty. I contribute in many ways. Most are small and unremarkable and will probably be quickly forgotten; but perhaps they'll have a lasting effect in the future. I believe I bring happiness to a number of people and sometimes I provide a place of rest and relief. That's important. I am important.

I can say those things, and there are days when I believe them, but not every day. I think, however, that this is part of the human condition. Everyone has days when they feel less that the sum of their great worth. Everyone has times when asking for help is difficult and when dealing with lack of response feels personal. Everyone has moments when life feels impossible and frustrating and sad and lonely.

I know this. I've encountered many who just needed a smile or a hug or a moment to talk. So perhaps, while the depth of what I feel is more extreme than most, I'm just experiencing life.

This is my life. Right now it's difficult, but it isn't always this way.

Today is incredibly sunny and windless. The sky is a million shades of blue and in the moments when I'm not working, I'm making a list of books I want to read, music I wish to play, and people I would love to see.

And just so you know: my pansies are still blooming. They're orange this year.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

No Apologies

For a long time now I've felt that what I had to say, what I feel about life, my philosophy about people and love and beliefs, were all irrelevant. I visit sites where lively arguments take place about homosexuality and religion and who is right or wrong and things that happen that shouldn't (primarily mentioned in that category: mixed-orientation marriage). I listen as people talk scathingly about things I believe or hold sacred. I say nothing, knowing people do not understand why I choose that which I do, believing those things are not really important in the larger landscape and pertain only to me.

Years ago that bothered me. It doesn't anymore.

There are many things going on in my life right now that cause me anguish. Things beyond my ability to manage at present that hurt not only me, but also people I love. For a few weeks I believed I would be crippled by them--that everything I've fought for and all the healing I've been blessed with were for nothing. I've spoken with Therapist and a number of other people recently and while nothing has changed, necessarily, I'm willing to keep trying awhile longer. Giving up--giving in--acceptance--all these have their place in certain aspects of our lives. I had decided this was one of those times; perhaps, though, I was wrong. I'm willing to wait a few more weeks before I decide.

In the midst of all this, a new development has taken place. Months ago I was approached about being interviewed for an online blog. I thought about it for awhile. Feeling as I do, that my life, opinions, and voice are irrelevant, I hesitated. Eventually, though, I decided it would do no harm to answer questions in that arena, and so I did.

The podcast was posted earlier this week. My belief was (and still is) that a few people would listen. Some would be bored, others would find it mildly interesting, a few comments would be made, and the event would be forgotten. What I did not expect was that AtP would text me, wondering why I had not told him about the interview. I didn't expect that he would listen to it (the topic was religious, something that causes AtP aggravation and stress), nor that it would be something he would appreciate.

AtP was not excluded from the information. I mentioned the interview to no one. Again--it seemed such a tiny thing. But in discussing it with him, I was reminded once more of who I am--and I am grateful for the person I have become, I am convinced that what I believe is right for me, and I appreciate my personal convictions. So tonight, in my closed blog, I am listing a few of the things that make me Samantha. It no longer matters if those things are irrelevant to the rest of the world, or if I am a lone, quiet voice in the midst of all the shouting. It doesn't matter if no one ever believes as I do, or if I am always uniquely wrong. This is who I am:

I believe one of the most sacred rights all people share is the right to choose what we believe. I will never tell you I am right and you are wrong, and I will defend with all my strength your right to disagree with me. I am grateful for differing opinions. I learn from them, or am strengthened by them. I am always glad when people think for themselves, ask questions, and search for answers.

I understand that my life and beliefs do not make sense to many people. I know some would tell me to make different choices and counsel me that I would be happier and less anxious if I would follow the natural inclinations of my body and attractions. I also understand those who advise me in this way do so because they care about me and are not trying to undermine anything I have built into my life or belief system. I respect their right to tell me their thoughts, and I am grateful they are mindful of me.

I believe there is a time when resentment, hurt, shame, anger, and pain must be felt, explored, and expressed in some way. I also believe that at some point those things must be allowed to dissipate. They might never leave, but they must not be allowed to govern our lives and interfere with out ability to find peace, joy, and satisfaction each day. There is a necessity for forgiveness--not necessarily to ease the lives of those who have caused us harm (although there is value in that), but because we cannot thrive until we have reached a point of resolution and acceptance. We do not have to accept that everything we have experienced is all right, but rather that WE are going to be all right, that we look forward to abundance in our future lives, and that we understand the past will continue to touch us (which might cause occasional pain), but will not rule us. Life is meant to be filled with joy, passion, and wonder.

I believe in loving people. I believe in looking for and finding the beautiful things often missed by others. I believe in remembering what foods people like/dislike, their favorite colors, music they enjoy, favorite authors or stories, where they like to spend their free time. I believe in spending quiet time with people--not saying anything--just feeling who they are. And I believe in laughing, always. Shared laughter is best, but it's not unheard of to find me giggling at something hilarious I've just seen or thought or said to myself. I laugh often--mostly because really, life is pretty funny.

And if you want to know more--if you wish to know how I answer certain questions--or even if you're the tiniest bit curious about what my voice sounds like, you can find me right here: