Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Power of Sharing Our Stories

This week I attended the last program of our women’s series on healing at my church. This one was a recap of the four previous programs and ended up with a segment on sharing. We were invited to share our journey over the past five weeks, what we’ve learned, how our life has changed because of what we’ve experienced through attending the sessions.

The second week each participant chose a word from a basket of little pieces of paper with one word each on them. The idea was to meditate on that word and find out what special meaning it had in your life. I missed that week, so I got my word later. It wasn’t until this week, and people began sharing, that I realized everyone got a different word. For some reason, I had thought they just put five or six standard words in the basket and recycled them. But no. They had prepared 120 words, and each participant received the word that was especially meant for her at this point in her life.

As each woman who chose to speak stood and explained what her word was, and the meaning she found in it, the stories that unfolded were both heartwarming and tragic. There’s so much pain in the world, and women, who are relational, and who have awesome powers of endurance, seem to be the ones chosen to carry that pain. We care about the people we love, the people we serve, and in doing so, take their pain as our own.

Our church also has a special ministry, called the prayer shawl ministry. It was started by a woman whose sister was dying and while in her hospital bed, she received a prayer shawl to comfort her. A prayer shawl is one that has been knitted for the specific purpose of providing comfort to someone in need, and has been blessed and prayed over by the prayer shawl group after one member creates it. The person who creates it and the person who receives it most often will never meet, but you can also receive a prayer shawl from a friend, as I have.

This woman lost her sister, but brought the prayer shawl idea home, and started a new ministry within the church. Now they meet twice a week to knit shawls and bless them for others. Since the program was started, they have given out nearly 300 prayer shawls.

Since the evening’s topic was sharing, a few women had come prepared with stories to tell, to get the ball rolling. Each was visibly shaken by the telling, and broke down in tears. The women who listened, or received these stories into our hearts, were also visibly affected. Sniffles and hugs and hand holding and comforting rubs on the back abounded.

Then other women stood and voluntarily offered their stories, mostly about the word they had chosen and how they had tied it into their lives. Some of the words mentioned were trust, choices, focus, faith, healing, and solitude. One woman said when she read her word, she thought, “What a stupid word.” After the laughter died down, nods and murmurs of agreement ensued.

But in each case, the woman agreed that God knew what He was doing, when He presented her with that word, and reflecting on it had changed her way of thinking.

At the end, the prayer shawl ministry leader rose and asked if the group could present shawls to the women among us most in need of comfort. No one turned one down. Would you? Six shawls were brought out and prayed over by all of us, then lovingly draped across the shoulders of the women who had shared, and smiles and hugs ensued all around.

It was a powerful, moving experience. And the comment was made that we are all sisters in our pain and suffering, and that most times women are so busy being strong for others and trying to hold our families or situations together, that there’s no one there to comfort us. Mainly because women tend to suffer in silence. We don’t share our burdens, because we don’t want to burden anyone. We all know already how it feels to be the one who carries the burdens of others, and don’t want to intrude.

But women need to share. Not just our sorrows, but our joys and celebrations as well. There is a delicate balance to life, and within each tragedy arises hope if we will let it, and within each celebration comes the promise of sorrow. It’s simply the way things are. Life is not an endless series of highs, or an endless series of lows, but rather a blending of the two that move in a never-ending cycle. Have you ever seen someone crying for joy? A perfect example of the balance as it should be.

I have long believed that what brings you great joy will bring you an equal amount of pain. Therefore I go into any situation that brings me joy accepting that, and when the pain comes, I know it’s all part of the process. I’d much rather live that way than go through life feeling numb with a closed heart. It’s the pain that allows me to appreciate the joy, and to make the most of those precious moments when they come.

Out of these women’s pain came, if not joy, then great caring and kindness and love. That wouldn’t have happened if they hadn’t been willing to stand up and share what they were going through. We wouldn’t have been able to reach out to them if they had stayed silent.

Therefore I honor them, and salute them for having the courage to speak up, and I feel blessed to have been a part of their comfort and healing. And now when I see them, I will remember that we are all going through something at any given moment in time, and will--as another woman suggested we all do when we see each other in the future--be happy to reach out in sisterhood with compassion and kindness.

Oh, and my word? It was peace.

Peace be with you, now and always.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

What Kind of Water Are You Drinking?

I completely forgot to post yesterday, for some reason thinking it was Tuesday instead of Wednesday. Just too busy to think these days :)

Since Wednesday's posts are supposed to be about wellness, the story below applies. Wellness for us, and wellness for the planet. For more information, go here.

The Story of Bottled Water, released on March 22, 2010 (World Water Day) employs the Story of Stuff style to tell the story of manufactured demand—how you get Americans to buy more than half a billion bottles of water every week when it already flows from the tap. Over five minutes, the film explores the bottled water industry's attacks on tap water and its use of seductive, environmental-themed advertising to cover up the mountains of plastic waste it produces. The film concludes with a call to take back the tap, not only by making a personal commitment to avoid bottled water, but by supporting investments in clean, available tap water for all.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

In Celebration of Women's History Month

The hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world. ~William Ross Wallace, 1819-1881

On Thursday night I attended a program at my church celebrating the remarkable healing power of women. It was just what I needed with The Alien doing her best to drag me down. I was able to stave her off with healthy eating and exercise the first two days, but on the third day she totally kicked my butt. I managed to stay awake until my son came home from school, then crashed for a nap. The phone rang, and I opened my eyes, saw it was light outside and thought it was already the next day and I must have slept in. Nope. It was dinner time. So I pulled myself together, got something to eat, and went to church.

First we had a wonderful slide presentation made up of women and girls from all over the world. Mothers, grandmothers, daughters, siblings, and friends, showing them working, helping, healing, praying, celebrating, caring for others in a hundred different ways, and expressing every emotion under the sun from unbridled joy to shock to tenderness to grief. Women are such beautiful, complex creatures, and it breaks my heart sometimes to know how often we are mistreated, misunderstood, discounted, and demeaned the world over.

But it also makes me proud to see how we persevere, especially in cultures and institutions that believe we have nothing of value to offer, other than backbreaking work or child-rearing. What those who would devalue us fail to see is that raising our future generations is the most important job there is. Unfortunately, those of us who are busy rocking the cradles are often either too conditioned or exhausted to see that as well.

Since this is women’s history month, I urge you to check out this site and see for yourself some of the inspiring contributions women have made over the years despite having to fight for those accomplishments every step of the way. In honor of this, last night I tried to watch Iron Jawed Angels, about the women’s suffrage movement and their determination to attain the right to vote. Unfortunately, the CD was cracked, so I didn’t get too far. But I got far enough to hear that a vote is a voice.

To think that women died for the right to vote is mind-boggling. Please check out the reviews here, and make the time to watch it yourself. It will make you think twice about staying home on Election day.

After the slide show, the speakers shared stories about remarkable women they had known, and we were reminded of how each of us has many things to offer, in the areas of—just to name a few--health, education, business, politics, community service, spirituality, justice, compassion, caretaking, and healing. How each of us has special gifts and talents, and the use of those gifts and talents in service to others causes ripples through the lives of those we serve, like dropping a pebble into a pond of water.

We were then each given a pebble to carry, to remind us to make ripples.

Make some ripples today. Let your voice be heard. Offer a helping hand or a word of encouragement to someone who needs it. Speak out against injustice. Stand up for something you believe in. Stand up for yourself. (Sometimes serving yourself is the best way to serve others--otherwise you’re just enabling them.) Offer the gift of healing touch to someone in pain. Offer the gift of forgiveness to someone who can’t forgive themself.

There are so many ways you can make a difference. Even the smallest act of courage or kindness can ripple on to infinity.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?

For several weeks now, I've been wanting to write another post about PMDD. Well, wanting isn’t really the word, but it’s been on my mind. The problem is, when you’re having an episode of PMDD, almost every thought you have is negative, so you don’t want to do it then, you'll just depress everyone with your negativity, and when you’re not having an episode of PMDD, PMDD is the last thing you want to think about. It’s like a bad dream you just want to forget.

But I had an episode yesterday, which reminded me of my intention to write about it. I’ve been lucky lately. This time last year, the episodes were coming regularly and lasting for what felt like forever. Weeks at a time. I spent the summer and fall changing my diet and seeing doctors and reading anything I could on the subject. I learned enough to make the episodes not last so long, and for a few months, they stopped altogether. What a blessing that was. But I also learned that each case is individual and what works for me might or might not work for someone else, so there’s no way I can sit here and tell you what you can do to ease your symptoms.

That’s the problem with PMDD. It affects every woman who has it differently, and even if you have two women with the exact same symptoms, the treatment for them won’t be the same. Mine, I found, was a fundamental nutritional issue. I had been trying to lose my pre-menopausal weight, and almost every diet plan out there says to cut down on carbs. Well, that won’t work for me. PMDD is caused by a drop in your serotonin level in the brain, and what do you need to keep that serotonin level up? Carbs!

So just about every diet out there is impossible for me. This used to frustrate me. Now I simply enjoy my carbs, knowing they are keeping me from experiencing a dip in my serotonin levels and therefore a day (or week) devoid of productivity. I do everything I can to make sure they’re whole-grain, healthy carbs, and that makes a huge difference in how I feel, but I can’t do without carbs altogether, and I can’t stick to the 15g of carbs per meal or whatever it is they recommend for losing weight.

The only way I’ll be able to lose weight is to exercise it off. So I’ve signed up for something at my Y called Walk 100 Miles in 100 Days. I don’t get there every day, but when I do, I walk two miles to keep on track. No weight loss yet, but I’ve walked 25 miles in three weeks, and my jeans are feeling a whole lot looser.

Anyway, yesterday I was in the throes of an episode of PMDD. It blew in like a bad storm around ten in the morning, and I struggled with it for the rest of the day. Wanting to weep for no reason, yawning and sighing constantly, craving carbs like crazy. I wasn’t hungry, I just wanted to EAT. The last thing I felt like doing was walking my two miles, but I made myself get out of the house and do it—and felt a whole lot better for it afterward. Prior to the walk, all I wanted to do was eat and sleep. Afterward, I felt more awake and alert, and was satisfied with just a salad. I did spend a great deal of time yesterday reading, but that was okay. Everyone deserves a break now and then.

Today I’m feeling much better, more optimistic and hopeful. Not that I wasn’t feeling optimistic and hopeful before. I’m naturally optimistic and hopeful. But yesterday, thanks to my PMDD, my natural optimism totally tanked. That’s what PMDD does to me. So you can imagine how, for years before I discovered what was happening—that my brain was experiencing a dip in my serotonin level due to my naturally fluctuating hormones—I simply thought I was going crazy. I mean, one day all is well in my world and I’m sailing along, as happy as can be, and the next—while nothing has changed in my situation or circumstances—suddenly everything is hopeless and pointless and I have no motivation or direction. It’s like some other being has come in and taken over my body. My body that just wants to eat and sleep all day. I call her The Alien.

So yesterday I didn’t give in. I knew what was happening and I wasn’t going to let her get the best of me. I would alter my activities, take it a little easier than usual, but continue to eat normally and get my exercise in, even though both were the last thing I felt like doing.

And today, because I didn’t give in to that Eeyore cloud of hopelessness and despair, I’m back on track again. Because once you give in, the hopelessness feeds upon itself, and the bad food choices you make (going for the sugar or caffeine) only mess with your body chemistry more, sending you on a roller coaster ride of insulin surges and emotions that leave you exhausted, mind, body, and soul.

Today, thanks to the moderation I practiced yesterday, life looks good again.

But it’s not easy to separate yourself from whatever unhealthy messages your serotonin-deprived brain is sending you. It takes a lot of energy and willpower. I’ve been saying willpower doesn’t work with PMDD, but to some extent it does. Sure, your body craves carbs—so give it some good ones. Sure, your body craves sleep—so take it easy and rest. But you don’t have to give in altogether and keep the cycle going. You can nip it in the bud by taking time out to take care of yourself, so that you’re better able to take care of all the other people and things in your life that need taking care of.

And now, I’m off to take care of those things. Got people coming over for dinner tonight and I need to get the house ready :). Fortunately, they are people who are well acquainted with my PMDD, so if by evening my energy is flagging, they will understand and we’ll have a great time anyway. They'll know it's not personal. All I have to do is open the door and say, “She’s back,” and they will know what/who I’m talking about. My PMDD. Aka The Alien.

I thank God for bringing such good friends into my life.

For those of you who have never heard of PMDD, the core symptoms are:

Markedly depressed mood, feelings of hopelessness, or self-deprecating thoughts
Marked anxiety, tension feelings of being “keyed up” or “on edge”
Marked affective lability, e.g., feeling suddenly sad or tearful, or increased sensitivity to rejection Persistent and marked anger or irritability or increased interpersonal conflicts

Other symptoms of PMDD

Decreased interest in usual activities, e.g., work, school, friends, hobbies
Difficulty concentrating
Marked fatigue
Marked change in appetite, overeating or cravings for specific foods
Hypersomnia or insomnia
Feeling overwhelmed or out of control
Physical symptoms, including headaches, breast tenderness and/or swelling, joint and/or muscle pain, a sensation of “bloating,” and weight gain

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Taking Time Out To Read, Rest, Relax, and Laugh

Today I want to write about the importance of getting away and treating yourself as a break to your overstressed life. Over the weekend I attended Deanna Adams' annual Women’s Writers Retreat at a lovely Victorian bed and breakfast in Willoughby, Ohio, The Homestead House, where each room was decorated with comfort and serenity in mind. They came with names…the Sanctuary, the Fine Arts Room, The Victorian Rose, the Speakeasy, the Railroad. Mine was the Railroad room, and boasted a train motif and a genuine pot-bellied stove. Others had canopied beds, gas fireplaces, claw-footed tubs, and heart-shaped Jacuzzis.

About twenty women attended the retreat, some driving in for the speaker sessions, and others staying in the B&B. The sessions included tips on public speaking, inspiration for your writing, including on-the-spot creativity exercises, and how to fill your writing with suspense, as in how to keep your reader wondering what’s going to happen next.

The atmosphere was casual and relaxed, with an assortment of wine available each evening. Oh, and chocolate. Plenty of chocolate. Some of us staying in the B&B attended the sessions wearing slippers, while the cold wind and snow blew endlessly outside. But inside we were having pizza and salad, and sharing stories and offering tips to each other on how to craft and market a better story, article, or essay. One woman had also taken up beading, and invited us to her room to show us what she'd been working on over the past three years. More than a few of us, I suspect, returned downstairs in awe of her creativity, and wearing a sparkly little souvenir of the weekend.

When the evening ended, we retreated to our rooms to relax and refresh our minds and bodies after the stressful drive to get there during one of the worst snowstorms of the season. In the morning we were treated to a four-course gourmet breakfast before launching into the day’s program, which included a roundtable discussion of our work and feedback on any problems we might be having in our writing.

I didn’t know any of the women at the retreat. Had never met any of them before, including my roommate, who generously offered to share her room with me so I wouldn’t have to stay at a hotel down the road. But conversation flowed. At tables and in artfully arranged sitting areas and in our various rooms—being the curious lot that we are, everyone had to go and check out everyone else’s room--we talked writing and editing and marketing and promotion and exchanged tidbits about our families and the endless amount of balance it takes to juggle all the roles we fulfill: wife, mother, daughter, sister, aunt, family caretaker and often breadwinner, in addition to being a writer.

What impressed me most about the group was the enormous amount of creativity and determination that existed in that one room alone. At the end of the second evening, we had an open mic session, which is best described as karaoke for writers. Whoever wanted to could step up to the podium and share something they had written with the others. We heard humor, irony, drama, history, angst, and pain. So much pain. I’d say most writers are drawn to writing as a means to express their innermost emotions. It’s a gift we have, that allows us to share our joys and our sorrows, our triumphs and tragedies, and in doing so inspire others to have hope, carry on, or even take up the pen themselves.

As I looked around the room at this marvelous pool of talent, I found it sad that women in our society are still treated as second class citizens with little to offer outside of our sexuality. In that room I witnessed kindness, compassion, creativity, courage, inspiration, intelligence, wit, and grace, and a kind of enduring strength that made me feel blessed beyond belief for the opportunity to meet and get to know these amazing women, most of whom I will probably never see again.

But for that brief moment in time we all came together, united in one goal, to improve our craft and share our love of writing with someone outside of our families, who quite often don’t understand the need to write and resent the time it takes away from our roles as listed above.

I think every woman, whether you’re a writer or not, needs a getaway weekend like that now and then, to help you to appreciate who you are and what you have to offer the world, and to help the people in your life who depend on you appreciate you a little more in your absence. I know when I get back my family is always happy to see me, and they wouldn’t have that eye-opening opportunity to miss me if I didn’t disappear every now and then for a few days of mental and emotional recharging.

Also, just to have a little fun. At the end of the second evening, those of us staying in the B&B decided to trundle through the snow-filled night into town and visit one of four drinking establishments available—including a wine shop, an Irish pub, and a martini bar. We chose the martini bar, where we each ordered a generous-sized martini from a menu of almost 40 varieties of martinis and, being responsible drinkers, a sampling of appetizers to go with it. Amid toasts and laughter, we shared pumpkin ravioli, fruit and cheese and crackers, bruschetta, and toasted pita bread with blue cheese buffalo chicken dip. For my martini, I settled on something called a Campfiretini, which was made up of Bailey’s Irish Cream, vodka, Godiva chocolate and toasted marshmallow syrup.

It was supposed to taste like S’mores. Instead it tasted like Bailey’s, which was no hardship :).

I didn’t even feel the effects, but knew better than to order a second one. All I know is I laughed and laughed, and at the seemingly dumbest things, just because it felt so good to be out and in the company of so many women I admired. Strong, independent women, with wit and intelligence and the ability to turn any story into one that had us hooting. Then we walked back to the B&B, still laughing and joking, and retired to our special rooms again, where my roommate and I stayed up a while longer, talking and getting to know one another.

The following morning breakfast was light—only three courses—but enough to keep me from getting hungry again until well past dinner time. More invaluable advice on how to make our writing shine followed, and then it was time to load up our bags, dig our cars out of the snow, hug everyone goodbye and head home, filled with renewed energy and inspiration and a determination to see our writing goals achieved.

I made a lot of professional contacts over the weekend, but also made some new friends. Friends I hope to see again and again as we return each year to be renewed and refreshed by good food, good wine, good conversation, good speakers, good writing, the soft glow of a gas fireplace and the warm hum of a Jacuzzi.

And maybe another one of those Campfiretinis :).