The silence I live in since I found my child dead isn’t silent at all but is made up of voices from my childhood, talking incessantly and laughing as they clink their wine glasses together and scrape their forks across china plates. Noise I can’t explain is now accompanied by the shrill voice of tinnitus.
I stare blankly and wait for the moment to pass. It always has. I pray it always does, but let’s face it. The odds aren’t good.
My life is no different than countless others who hide behind a façade of normalcy.
We are what we’ve become, or maybe were destined to be or always were. I’ve lost sight of my reasoning on this. It doesn’t matter anymore. Too much has happened. I can’t contain it in a neat little box that I can present to the world with a bow and say, “See! This is who I am!” It’s not so cut and dry.
But I play the game with reasonable success, although I can’t say I have everyone fooled.
I don’t ever pass a metal, rusty swing without my mind immediately throwing me back to the familiar creaking of the up and down motion accompanied by haunted laughter from the children I birthed and buried before they were ever old enough to swing.
This is my world, and I accepted it a long time ago.
I live in a state of semi-madness, but it’s a concealable offense, and no one knows but me. It’s safer that way.
How can you explain to a world seeking to avoid ugly of any kind that you have flashbacks of your son’s dead face, taking turns in rapid-fire succession with a bloody pig head hanging from a limb? You can’t. How do you explain the visions of a hammer coming down hard to stop just short of its goal and the buttons of your dress hitting the wall like bullets as it was ripped from your body? You don’t.
Memory could be the death of all that’s sane in me if not for the foundation I’m rooted in.
Still, at times I feel a shift and reach out helplessly, blindly grasping at anything that might pull me to a safe place. And there is no safe place. Not on this earth, although I’ve been assured time and again that this is temporary, and eternity will hold none of the evil that haunts me now.
We shall see. I may have traded eternity in a desperate bargain with God to save Heaven for my child instead of me. He never said if He took the deal.
Even in my crazy, messed-up world, life continues to go on as it will do. Relationships fail, cheaters cheat, betrayers betray, and sometimes they don’t. The world I’m unfamiliar with is the one with truth and honesty. I’m too acquainted with the other to be fair to the one-percenters.
So I watch the words form on your lips and hear them trickle past the noise in my head and in my sanity I pretend to believe you, while my mind screams out, “Motherfucker, I’ve always been old! I SAW what you did!”
But I know you would neither understand nor receive my words, and besides, I don’t curse. Not aloud anyway. So, I remain quiet, and live inside your lie with you, because it’s what I’ve learned to do.
It’s how I exist on earth, and how I allow you to exist as well.
Could the foundation hold if I revealed the truth? Could YOU survive if you were confronted with not only the evil of the world but the evil of your own soul?
Every day we die. We live in a state of perpetual decay, yet we think that by not acknowledging it we’re more alive.
We have the audacity to mock the ones who show the crazy.
We laugh at the souls brave enough to acknowledge the voices, and then try to drown them out as if we don’t all hear the same thing. The line between sanity and insanity is as thin as a hair and so easily broken that I don’t dare breathe in its direction, for fear it will snap and the hell inside will become the hell outside.
And oh, how we pretend! Our entire world is make-believe. We’ve created money systems, and cars, houses, and hosts of other things and imagine they actually MEAN something. We’ve manufactured societies with rules and laws, and jobs to go to—and it’s all nonsense. Constructs that we’ve created to get through a world we don’t understand. An evil world where free will has led to the absolute destruction of mankind, except for the foundation.
On some level, you must know it, but you play the game anyway, because hell, everyone else is playing and that’s all there is to do anyway. To go against the construct is to be—insane. No one wants to get caught in that trap.
It’s all meaningless.
In fact, to learn what has actual value in this world, to learn what LIFE really is, you must experience the end of it. Death. Loss. Love.
You must find yourself loving another person with every single fiber of your being, love them so much that you’d rip your own heart out of your chest and give it to them, pour your lifeblood into their veins, breathe your last breath into their nostrils—and you must be helpless to do any of these things.
Instead, you must lose them before you understand that although breathing surely is a symptom of life, life is nothing more than a symptom of death.
Sanity is just a mask we wear to keep from facing both.
Mama said she was in the grocery store the other day when she felt it—the sensation that she was fading out. Out of the world, out of existence.
You don’t want to hear things like that from your parents.
It’s almost as if you think by not acknowledging death, you can keep it from coming.
But today, it happened to me.
All week, I’ve been at my house like a good citizen. I’ve worked at home in the daytime. Then at night, I sit on my bed, playing games on my phone—caught in a strange cycle of depression.
Even depression won’t allow me to starve my animals, and strangely, not even myself. Instead, I try to feed it like a hungry tiger, peanut butter mostly, something I never eat any other time of my life.
I had to get out of the house or go crazy. Dog food was a reason and an excuse.
Shopping was an odd experience. I’m not a fan on a good day, but this seemed surreal.
A sign at the entrance told me to push a cart no matter how much I was buying. Social distancing is vitally important during this health crisis, and apparently can only be achieved when there’s a physical object between two people. Space alone is insufficient.
Humans seem incapable of merely standing a significant distance apart.
Telling us to stay away is like drawing a moth to a flame.
Half the shoppers wore masks, some wore gloves, and all of us were awkward. We didn’t know how to pass each other on the aisles. The seventies music wasn’t even playing.
The empty shelves of the toilet paper and paper towel aisle had me shaking my head in frustration and relief. I have some at home. I’m okay for now. I can’t understand why toilet paper would sell out before beer. I don’t get this at all.
Standing back from the hamburger meat, I watched as two women tried to make decisions about what to buy.
I hoped they weren’t from the same family. Two adult members of the same household aren’t allowed in the store at the same time. Logic doesn’t lend itself to the rules.
No one understands this COVID 19 world.
In the checkout line, I studied the new transparent barrier separating me from the cashier. I had room to use my debit card and to grab my receipt. My air couldn’t accidentally become entangled with hers.
The girl bagging my groceries wasn’t quite as lucky. She wasn’t behind a glass. The germ barrier didn’t extend that far. Apparently, she was expendable.
Walking out, the first thing I noticed was a royal blue truck cruising through the parking lot. It seemed to be the most beautiful and amazing color ever made. I realized what being locked up in the house can do to a person.
Isolation can make you appreciate freedom.
The world feels like you’re experiencing it for the first time when you finally break free.
It was in the rush of freedom that it started for me.
It’s like you just sink inside yourself while the world keeps going. You’re looking out of your eyes like looking out the window, and it’s a much clearer view.
The first thing I grasped is: Life is finite.
I’m not going to be here forever. At that moment, I could feel it happening. The fading.
The second thing that dawned on me is: Activity isn’t proof of life.
We think it is, but it never was. All the moving around in the world doesn’t mean we exist, or that we’ll keep existing. Even if we do, life is MORE than that.
But we don’t get it.
We’re too busy, with too many distractions. Even though we were forced to stop, we never learned what to do in the quiet, in the STILLNESS.
God laid it out for us a long time ago in Psalms 46:10.
He told us, “Be still, and KNOW that I AM GOD.”
Life would be pretty simple if we knew how to do that. Instead, we pile more and more on, to the point where it’s no longer in our power to be still and stay alive.
We spend all our time trying to do, trying to achieve, trying to become, and we spend zero time just being still and letting God be God.
We didn’t listen, and now there’s too much noise for us to hear.
But if you stop to watch the world for a moment, you’ll feel it too. We’re fading out.
This is where the world stops.
Or maybe, just MAYBE, this is where we start over.
How I balance my weight loss with Girl Scout cookies
At the doctor’s office today, I was congratulated for a three-and-a-half-pound weight loss. Apparently, two pounds were fat, one pound was water weight. Naturally, when I got back home, I ate an entire box of Girl Scout cookies.
Life’s all about balance
I blame the Girl Scouts for my failure to maintain victory over my jiggly butt. Whoever oversees their marketing department is amazing! Cute kids holding boxes of the best cookies in the universe are impossible to resist.
Of course, I bought them from a co-worker, but that’s neither here nor there. Same cookies.
At my age, it’s even harder to maintain the “off again” side of that romance.
And hail damage.
Speaking of butts, a man told me recently that women my age suffer from “hail damage” more often than not on their backsides. I find myself trying to look in the mirror to see how bad the storm was, and if I should be declared totaled or not. Maybe there’s compensation.
I used to be consumed with the fat game, and the more I thought about losing weight, the fatter I got.
It’s hard not to eat when all you can think about is being deprived of food.
Some people get bent out of shape when you call an unhealthily overweight person “fat,” but since I’m referring to myself, there’s no cause for offense. I know who I am and who I’ve been, and none of it was determined by my body size.
For the sake of vanity, I will go ahead and say I’m not fat now. I would like to lose a few pounds, but it’s not vital to my self-esteem. Sadly, it has been before, and for some people it still is. Both women and men tend to confuse body size with self-worth. They hate themselves because of their weight. I’ve been that person.
Social stigma, fat jokes, and well-meaning comments from others can also lead to feelings of helplessness and self-hate. The inside of a person is not determined by what you see on the outside, but it’s an easy mistake to make.
We all have things about us that aren’t perfect, whether we admit it or not. Maybe it’s hail damage, or maybe one foot is longer than the other. Maybe your mouth is a little too wide or your nose too long.
Maybe the gravity that comes with age is taking its toll and you aren’t being as graceful about it as you’d like to be.
I know there are things about me that I consider less than ideal. Maybe I don’t have the hail-damage (and maybe I do, I’m not telling), but I’m pretty sure my boobs used to be at least a little bit higher up than they are now.
A few other body parts aren’t doing their jobs like they should either. Things pop and crack like bubble wrap.
It’s possible I enjoy a little too much ice cream and the occasional entire box of Girl Scout cookies (at least once a year).
But what would life be if you couldn’t indulge every now and then?
Tomorrow, I’ll get back on the low carb lifestyle, and I’ll keep working out so I can try to develop a Jennifer Lopez butt and lift my decades old boobs.
Maybe next time I have a reason to go back to the doctor, she’ll tell me I lost a few more pounds so I can balance my life with a few more cookies.
The stress of divorce and not knowing how I’ll pay my bills has taken away my voice. Or in this case, my words. My mind draws a blank when usually I can’t get to the laptop fast enough to get it all down before my thoughts are replaced by new ones.
All I can think about now is what I don’t have.
The first thing I don’t have is security.
Honestly, security is just an illusion we buy into anyway. We’re never as safe as we think we are. I was married to the one man on earth who I thought would never cheat on me. I felt completely safe in that knowledge. Then I found irrefutable proof he was seeing someone else.
He works away so I’m sure there have been countless others. He’s obviously very good at hiding things. The proof was gone a couple of seconds after I discovered it.
Unfortunately for him, I’m pretty quick with my screenshot abilities, so his denial of the truth meant nothing to me.
The security I thought I had was a joke. My castle was built of sand and could’ve crumbled at any time. I just didn’t know it.
2. The next thing I don’t have is money.
Not enough, anyway. When I booted him, I booted the one who has made most of the money in our household. I have a good job, but my earning potential is about a quarter of his. I have benefits he doesn’t have, like good insurance, retirement, holiday pay, and weekends off. I just don’t have a paycheck that meets the needs of the household.
3. I don’t have the luxury of knowing what to call my husband.
We’re at the awkward stage between married and not married. What is that? I don’t know. So, when I talk about him (and I do, a lot), I have to say his name when I’d rather not. He’s not a real person to me anymore. He’s the guy who betrayed my trust and broke my heart. Since I won’t call him the things he deserves to be called, and I can’t call him my ex, I find myself stumbling over any mention of…him.
4. I don’t have protection.
Apparently, it doesn’t matter how old you are. When you become single, you become prey. My social media has blown up with friend requests from men who immediately jump in my inbox trying to “get to know me.” Please. Dude. I’m not even divorced yet, and, oh yeah. I don’t care. Go away.
5. I don’t have basic respect.
He’s dating her in our small town in front of everyone and it’s like a huge slap in my face. I have the choice of pretending not to be aware of it or to not care that he’s flaunting it. I’m not sure I do care for caring’s sake. It’s embarrassing for me the way his narcissism drives him to do something that lowdown and dirty. He obviously wants me and everyone else to know he traded me for her. And he traded way down, God forgive me for saying so.
The least he could have done is picked someone BETTER than me.
6. I don’t have my family—not all of it.
My step kids aren’t going to keep coming to see me, and I love them like my own. It’s going to be awkward for them, and I hate that. It’s not fair that they should bear the brunt of their father’s bad decisions.
I do wish I could be a fly on the wall when they find out who he’s with now. That’s not going to go well. As a matter of fact, it’s going to go extremely badly.
Out of all the things I don’t have now, I’ll miss my stepchildren the most.
Divorce is cruel. I never would’ve chosen to go this route if I could’ve done anything else. Cheating is a deal breaker. I didn’t sign up for that.
I’m sure a lot more things will occur to me as I get my thoughts back. A break-up leaves you stunned and disbelieving, grappling for a way to build a new life out of the fragments of the old one.
The betrayal hurt, but I’ve survived much worse. Now it’s time to regroup and get on my feet again. My life isn’t going to be what I thought it was. My plan is to make it better, despite what he did. His moral failure didn’t destroy me. I’ll pray it doesn’t destroy him either.
Even though divorce is taking some things from me, it is also proving to be a blessing in some ways.
I have the chance to start over.
All those dreams he kept trying to crush can be pursued even more now! I don’t have to be anything but who I am. I can reach as high as I want to and not worry about threatening someone else’s identity in any way.
I have freedom.
If I want to stay up all night writing, I can do it without making any explanations to another person. I can go wherever I want to go for however long I want to be there and not be worried someone is going to question my every movement (irony, given the fact he was the one cheating). I answer to myself, which is great because I’m fully capable and have always been a responsible person. I didn’t get married to have a parent or be under anyone’s control.
I have self-respect.
Not staying in a relationship where I was not being respected and where he was being unfaithful was the best decision I could’ve made for my life. I can look at myself in the mirror and know I’ve done the right thing. I can be an example to other people who may be watching to see how I’ll react.
Knowing I didn’t choose the pseudo-security a more financially beneficial position afforded me makes me hold my head a little higher even while I hunt for change in the bottom of my purse. It is way better to be broke and have self-respect than to be financially well off without it.
I have “me” back.
Out of all the things this break-up has given me, this one is the best. He didn’t break me. The parts of me that were hidden for a long time came bursting forth in a single moment of clarity, when I realized I didn’t need another person to validate me.
God has always taken care of me. I struggled for years thinking I had to take care of myself or grasp the security I found in a bad relationship.
All I really had to do was surrender the outcome.
I can’t control the universe. I didn’t make him cheat and couldn’t have prevented it. It was his fault, not mine. It’s true I don’t have some things because of it, and I’m struggling for words right now. They’ll come back. They always do.
In the meantime, I’m going to kick back and rest, thinking of all the things I’ve gained.
The pressure is on. I know you can feel it! It’s hard to keep up with the demand for information when the competition to snag readers is so hot and heavy. This kind of stress can take the wind out of your sails and leave you struggling for words.
Another thing slowing you down is the apparent success of others. Some established writers make it seems so easy! It’s no stretch to imagine them sitting at a keyboard with a glass of wine or a latte, furiously typing and smiling with satisfaction as they hit “publish” over and over to the tune of cash register dings and applause.
But that’s not you. Not if you’re anything like me.
Maybe it’s because you know you’re different. The things that are inside you and the experiences you’ve had aren’t really like anybody else’s. Guess what? Good.
It doesn’t matter how many podcasts you listen to, books you read, articles you research, or influencers you follow.
No one can teach you how to be you.
And that’s good news, right? You’re free to do your own thing. The world is saturated with people who are all trying to be just alike. Stand out the way YOU were intended to stand out. You were created to be an individual with your own thoughts, ideas, creativities, and gifts. When you get stuck, you need to tap into that.
You can find plenty to write about when you stop looking.
Here are a few things that I know will help when you run out of things to write about—or think you have. Some are no-brainers and some are a little less conventional.
Put your phone down! I can’t stress this enough, and I know it’s unthinkable. Most of us forget that our phones are not actual body parts. It is possible to put a phone down and walk away from it.
Phones are addictive, and like any addiction, we feel kind of lost without them. Once the shock wears off, you’ll notice things like traffic passing, birds singing, the smell of food cooking (or raw sewage, depending on where you happen to be). Your senses will come alive again when your attention is not directed at the little box in your hand. You may even have some thoughts spring to mind immediately that are worthy of pen and paper!
Stop doing research. This falls in line with putting your phone down, but not exclusively. I’m saying take a break from studying what others have discovered for a while and start discovering things for yourself. Close your laptop.
Take a break from the podcasts, the furious article scrolling, the video watching, and the advice taking. Stop the habitual learning. You’ve soaked up enough to quit for awhile.
Get outside. Once you close your laptop, what else are you going to do? Go breathe some fresh air! Take a walk. Clear your mind. Play frisbee, golf, or football. Walk your dog. All kinds of activities have been waiting for you to join life again. So go LIVE!
“Live all you can; it’s a mistake not to. It doesn’t so much matter what you do in particular, so long as you have had your life. If you haven’t had that what have you had?. . . What one loses one loses; make no mistake about that. . . The right time is any time that one is still so lucky to have. . . .Live!” Henry James (1903, The Ambassadors)
Go fishing. Speaking of outside, this is one of the most calming and restful things I know to do. When you’re waiting on the fish to take your bait, your thoughts can freely flow. It’s such a peaceful way to spend a few hours of thought, and you might even bring home some supper if you’re lucky!
Play with the kids in your life. Don’t be creepy. If you don’t have kids in your life, don’t go find some to play with. Get a puppy or something. But if you do have kids or grandkids, playing with them can release the kid in you. Even if you don’t think of one thing to write about, that’s time well spent.
Plus, you can revisit your own childhood by telling the kids stories. This is a great way to entertain the kiddos and come up with great new material.
Talk to your Mama. Mothers usually have loads of wisdom to share. It doesn’t have to be your Mama though. Plenty of older people, men and women have stories to tell from days gone by. I love listening to people talk about the way things used to be. It gives me all kinds of new perspectives about life when I look at it from someone else’s viewpoint.
Speaking of the past, check out an antique store or flea market. Touch things. Pick them up! Think about who they might’ve belonged to, and what their story may’ve been. Imagine what your life would’ve been like if you’d have been them.
Relax at the water. A lake, pond, stream, or ocean will work. Sitting by water is very calming in most cases and can inspire the best creative thoughts.
The ocean is a little different than other bodies of water in the attitude it creates in you. Its ferocity and strength are a fantastic source of powerful feelings which can lead to profound words and maximum impact. At least that’s how it works for me. I’ve fought many battles with God, pushing back against the waves of His mighty ocean, always coming to acceptance at the end.
Visit the Grand Canyon. I know, that’s kind of out of left field, but that’s where I always played.
The Canyon is like the ocean. You can stand and stare in awe at its vastness all day long. My eyes feel completely full, as if there’s no more they can possible see! And in moments like those, you can think. You can really THINK!
A place so enormous, so much bigger than you, sets you free to just be yourself. It’s the acceptance that you’re not the whole of existence. You’re a part of a magnificent creation. Isn’t it amazing how God chose you to be exactly who you are?
Each part of you including the parts you don’t appreciate, the parts that don’t work well, the parts that get stuck when you’re trying to write, and all the parts you find less than perfect were created by God just for you. Every part of you is beautiful, just like the ocean and the Grand Canyon, because you’re part of an amazing and intention design. Learn to live in that space.
Stop seeking validation. Look at yourself today and know that you’re exactly who you were created to be. You can always improve your writing. That’s not what I’m saying. I mean you don’t need applause from everyone else to be doing what you’re meant to be doing. If writing brings you joy, keep writing. Find your own style—your own voice. Don’t try to be like everyone else. You’re not supposed to be someone else. Your dreams were given to you for a reason. No one else needs to understand them or believe in them. That’s not what it takes for them to come true.
Believe in your dreams, and believe in yourself.
You may find some of these ideas odd but inspiring. All it takes is a reset sometimes. Try these ideas or try something else to unplug from the stress of trying to write when the words aren’t coming.
One more thing, and it’s not as fun as the rest of this. Sometimes to find things to write about, you need to revisit your sorrow. I don’t even know if that’s the correct order of things, so it didn’t make my list. Grief is the well from which most of my words are drawn.
Hard things happen in this world and we all go through them. Other people need to know they aren’t alone. Tell your story. Tell it like it really is, not the way you wish it was. Dump all the hard words out on the table. It’s healing for you and may save a life. You never know.
When I was a kid, I had a pet cricket named Elvis.
Mama said you can’t really have a cricket for a pet. The truth is, I never saw him once, but Elvis sang to me every night, so I reckon he decided to keep me instead of the other way around.
On a normal summer, a cricket chirping in your bedroom would be downright annoying and might even make you want to jump off a bridge if you couldn’t figure out where he was, so you could step on his head. I’m sorry to say I’ve stomped on quite a few crickets in my life, plus a whole lot of other bugs I won’t name here, for fear of offending some bug-loving, revenge-taking, article-reading slight acquaintance of mine.
I tend to hang with a different kind of crowd, but I know you need to watch what you say and do sometimes.
The deep end is a whole lot closer for some people than it is for others, if you know what I mean.
The summer Elvis sang to me was a different kind of summer than most. Mama’d run that old ceiling fan, swearing the whole time that she hated it. It was how we kept cool though. Never bothered me. I liked the noise of it.
When the fan was on, the curtains in my room would billow inward and create a little tent on my bed. I liked to sit in it, and it was from there that I ran a library for the neighborhood kids. I had plenty of books, and I figured it might do some of them at least a little bit of good if they’d read one or two of them. It sure couldn’t do them any harm.
If I didn’t have my little library, I doubt I’d have talked to another kid all summer long. I rarely stepped out of my room.
Most of my waking moments were consumed with writing poems about killing myself and trying to build a new nose out of orthodontic wax. I hated my nose.
I was never sure where the jokes started, but they started in my own family. My nose got made fun of a lot. Mama said I had “Daddy’s nose,” and the boys would all snicker because I guess Daddy’s nose was supposed to be obnoxiously big or something. It looked like a regular nose to me, but I fell in with the jokes because I knew I was supposed to. I compared my nose to one of my brother’s and we always argued about whose was the biggest.
It’s all I could see when I looked in the mirror.
A nose without a face, just sort of floating there. The one time I experimented with acid, I looked in the mirror and my green bulbous nose was pulsating and growing. I never touched the stuff again.
My nose isn’t the reason I was preoccupied with planning my own death though. I’m not sure why I was sad. I just was. I think I was born that way. It’s taken me a lifetime and unimaginable grief to find joy. Nothing in this world makes any sense. I don’t expect it’s supposed to.
After Samuel died, I was caught up in fantasies about dying again.
Samuel was my baby boy. He died when an intrauterine blood transfusion failed due to doctor error. The grief was unbearable. I stopped writing poetry after that. Occasionally, one comes to me, but not often. Some spaces can’t be filled with words.
I remember sitting on the tractor with Johnny while he baled hay and wondering what it would be like to fall under its wheels. Other times I’d be driving down the road and press the accelerator hard, ready to ram the car into something, but then I’d ease off and live instead.
Later, after I found Mikey dead, there didn’t seem to be a reason to stay on this earth. I was just done. He was only 16 years old. A mother should never have to bury her baby. Mikey made three for me. It was too much grief for my heart to process.
For months, hiding in a coat pocket in my closet was a bottle of pills, ready for me to take myself out of this world.
Mama knew the state of mind I was in, so she went tearing through my house, emptying bottles. She didn’t realize she got rid of my depression medicine. She never found the ones in the closet.
My other kids made it impossible for me to leave, but I carried those pills around with me for a long time before I got enough courage to pour them out.
When I finally got around to cutting myself, I don’t think I had intentions to die.
I think I just needed to hurt myself. I needed to be punished for not being perfect, for failing, for everything. It’s a twisted way of thinking, but everything I was doing at the time was a direct attack against my own life. Too much drink and too many bad choices led to a meltdown.
Recovery for me started on my knees.
I have a lot of things I wish I could say to the young girl back in that room letting Elvis sing to her–things about her nose and how precious life is. I’d tell her to enjoy every single moment and to dance and sing every day like it’s her last one on earth.
You never know when death will come around.
But I know she’s figured it all out for herself. I also know she’s alive and well, and finally made her way out of the darkness.
I don’t know exactly when it was that I started planning my life instead of my death. My nose is the same as it’s always been—just a nose, not too bad. It’s certainly not noteworthy. I’m proud I have Daddy’s nose, but I hardly ever notice it. If a cricket were to come sing to me in my bedroom now, I’d smile as I remembered my little friend, Elvis, from days gone by. For a minute, I’m sure I’d enjoy the song. Then I’d search him out and stomp his little head, because you can’t really have a cricket for a pet.
They’re annoying and might make you want to jump off a bridge or something, and I’ve got a life to live.
A conversation about feeling like crap and what to do about it.
Feeling like crap can come on suddenly and leave just as suddenly, or it can be a nagging feeling that hangs around for years on end, reminding you that you’re just not living up to your own expectations. Believing you’re destined for a life of mediocrity and all the negativity that comes with it is a hell of a way to live. My recommendation is: don’t do it.
Of course, just saying, “Don’t feel like crap,” is not the way to keep you from feeling like crap. If you’re like me, you’ve had a lot of big dreams in your life, and there aren’t too many of them you’ve ever seen come true. Maybe the reason they don’t come true is your fault and maybe not. Life has a funny way of kicking us around and knocking us as far away from our goals as it’s possible to get. Contrary to what you’re probably thinking though, that’s not always a bad thing.
First let’s explore some reasons your dreams might not have come true in the first place.
One of the things I tend to do is change my mind (and my dreams) A LOT! I start off in one direction but don’t get too far before I veer off the path to head somewhere else.
It’s hard to reach your destination if the finish line keeps moving. Changing your mind often indicates that you don’t really know what it is that you want.
Not knowing what you want means that you can’t aim at anything. Without a clear direction in mind, we tend to just wander aimlessly, hoping that one of our random dreams will become reality and not knowing if we really want it to or not. That’s no way to live.
That’s not the only way to miss the boat.
Another way we mess our dreams up is to aim at things that aren’t meant for us. If you decide you want to be a famous singer, but you can’t carry a tune in a bucket, it’s not going to work out very well. The goals we set in life need to be within our reach and fall in line with the gifts and talents that are unique to us.
Sometimes hardships and tragedies prevent us from reaching the goals we set in life. When that happens, it can seem like your life has no purpose or that you aren’t ever going to become what you thought you were meant to be. Believe me, I know what that feels like. I’ve had many setbacks for reasons like this. Life can be a real struggle sometimes and can leave you drowning in a sea of mediocrity.
Don’t let mediocrity overwhelm you to the point where you feel like it’s choking you out. I’m going to give you a few tools to get you out of that deep hole, but first I want to tell you why reaching the goals you set for yourself isn’t always a bad thing.
It’s the journey.
What I’ve found on my trek through life is that it isn’t the result that’s most important, but everything you experience on the way to it. There’s so much beauty in the journey. I think about all I would’ve missed if everything would’ve gone right from day one, and I can’t help but realize how blessed I am that my life has been completely jacked up.
Having a jacked-up life doesn’t seem like a good thing if you take it out of context.
It doesn’t hurt to look at things from a different angle.
An old daily devotional called “Streams in the Desert” by Mrs. Chas E Cowman, makes the point (January 8 devotion) that the possibility exists that there wouldn’t be any appreciation of the sunshine if there was never any rain.
So much clarity can be found in the sunshine and rain analogy.
Ask yourself these questions:
Would I appreciate the good things in my life if I didn’t have hardships?
Would I be able to experience joy if I couldn’t experience pain?
I don’t know all the answers, but my suspicion is that we could never appreciate our successes if we didn’t know what it was like to fail.
We do fail, though, and failing (or failing to achieve) can leave us feeling “less than” or mediocre. It feels like the whole world knows something we don’t and like we just don’t measure up. I’ve been there. I know how it feels, and I’ve thought of a few ways to get back on track.
Here are some things you can do to get out of the pits of mediocrity and back on the pathway to success!
Get your priorities straight. Reevaluate where you’re headed. Make sure it’s where you want to go. It’s easy to get drawn into doing things because other people are doing them or because a particular lifestyle looks attractive but be sure what you choose matches both your values and your gifts and abilities. Choose to put your energy into things meant for you, not someone else.
Take stock. Look back at what you’ve accomplished. Not reaching a certain goal doesn’t mean you haven’t done something wonderful and worthy. Did you raise a family? That’s worth more than any other goal you could ever possible achieve! Have you kept the same job for over 10 years? That’s one heck of an accomplishment! Do you paint, build, volunteer, grow food, lead, clean, or serve well? All these things, plus tons of others, are amazing accomplishments and keep our world turning.
Step away for a while. Everybody needs to take a break. Maybe if you step back a bit you will have a new perspective when you go at it again!
Set achievable goals. It’s possible that the reason you’re stuck is because you’re aiming too high! If your goal is a little closer to you, more likely you are more likely to achieve it. You can set another goal once you meet the first one.
Never quit trying. Don’t give up no matter what. You’re not a quitter. No matter how discouraged you get, don’t settle for less of a life than you deserve. You don’t want to get to the end of it and wish you’d have tried one more time!
Believe in your dream. You might be the only one who can see the possibilities. You know what? That’s okay. That’s why it’s YOUR dream! It was given to YOU to accomplish, and you’re really the only one who has to believe in it. You’ve got this!
Acknowledge your mountain. Recognize the fact that you’ve got things to get over, through, and around. Ignoring the mountain doesn’t mean it’s not there. Tackle the hardest thing first so you have it out of the way. Then you can move on to everything else.
Ask for help. You don’t have to do everything by yourself. We aren’t meant to trudge through this world on our own. Other people may know things that you don’t know. Go ahead and find out. Ask for advice. Ask for prayer. Ask for help.
Pray and seek Spiritual guidance. This should come first, before any other step you take. Getting in touch with God is a whole lot more important than getting in touch with yourself. He has all the answers anyway, and let’s be for real. Nothing you’ve ever done without Him has worked anyway.
Rest. Don’t get so caught up in the pursuit of success that you forget to rest daily. Exhaustion will take over and you’ll never make it if you do.
Go do something fun! All work and no play is boring. You can’t be mediocre playing paintball or wrestling with the kids.
Pivot. Change directions if you need to. I don’t mean be wishy-washy. I mean when you decide that you’re headed the wrong way, don’t waste your time by continuing to go the same way. Find you a new way to go and take off.
Don’t compare yourself to others. This is the most limiting thing you can do. You don’t have to be as good as they are. You can be a whole lot better!
Be different. If you do things like everyone else does, you’ll never get the results intended for you. Do things like YOU do them. Don’t be afraid to be yourself. You are good enough. If the rest of the world doesn’t see how cool you are, it’s their loss.
Go back to square one. Sometimes retracing your steps can let you know where you got off track and where you can get back on.
Check out how other people make it. Successful people all have strategies in place, and most of them don’t mind sharing them with you. Just don’t get trapped in a pattern of information overload and continuously soak in knowledge just to never do anything with it. Act on the wisdom they share. Don’t do it to be like them, just benefit from their superior knowledge.
Change your attitude. Is negativity what’s keeping you down? Switch your attitude for one of gratitude and watch your world turn around!!
Get up earlier. It’s been said that successful people start their days much earlier than those who aren’t successful. It matters how much you want something.
On that note, decide if you really do want it or not. After all you’ve learned, you may just need to redefine success. It’s very possible you’ve already achieved it in your life. Look at what’s most important to you and what position that thing (or person) holds in your life.
Believe you can. You can do anything you set your mind to do. No matter how many times you’ve tried and failed before, don’t quit. You can still make it! You don’t know how close to success you are—it might be just around the corner. If you don’t believe in yourself, no one else will believe in you either!
Show the world and show yourself you have what it takes to swim right out of mediocrity into the life you’ve always dreamed of having!
When you’ve done everything on this list, start back at the top and do them again if you need to. Repeat as often as needed. This is how to stop feeling mediocre in a jacked-up life where nothing seems to be working. If you keep trying hard enough, you’ll wake up one day and be so far past your goal that you’ll have to walk backwards to get to it!
I’m not known for the popularity of my views. I’m also not one to keep quiet when I have something significant to say. The difference is, I’m writing this strictly for myself.
I understand that my words may not be well received by a certain group of people, particularly a subculture of society who identifies strongly with the rural southern USA. So be it. I’m working all these thoughts onto paper because somebody has to say it. It might as well be me.
I’m not against the Good Ole Boys, generally speaking. I love them. It’s simple to navigate. They’re part of my own culture–where I’m from. I also identify with this way of life. It’s all I’ve ever known.
There’s an abundance of good things about men who grow up in the South, particularly in the area where I live. Here are a couple of quick ones:
They’re raised to be strong providers. At least, that’s the tradition. A strong work ethic, rough, working-man hands, backs that don’t break with the weight of their families’ needs. Baby boys are born strong; Daddy and Grandpa smiling down upon them, ready to impart the wisdom of generations.
Like I said, that’s the tradition. In many cases generational strengths have been replaced by the new generational curse of addiction. A boy who would have once turned his hand to the plow may find himself battling to keep his life from becoming meaningless in the trail of destruction left by methamphetamines or alcohol dependence.
Many of them can live off the land. This area is known for hunting and fishing and raising crops.
If an apocalypse happens, you’d want to be with one of these guys. You might live through it. Not every kill is taken legally, not every rule is followed, but the survival skills prevail.
Here’s what I’m not doing in this article:
I’m not writing to address the “Good Ole Boy Network” as it does or doesn’t exist today. That’s not my goal or intention.
There’s no question that racism and misogyny exist in the South.
There are plenty of people who are more qualified to speak on those subjects and who are doing so eloquently. I’m glad of it. Things need to be said. Things need to change.
What I do want to talk about hurts me on a deeply personal level.
As a mother and grandmother, I have the responsibility to speak up. To call it like I see it, whether it begs to be heard or not. I’m doing this for me, to get it off my chest. Maybe I can move on once it’s said. Maybe I never will.
That’s because I’m a mother who has buried a teenager in the South. In my mind, this gives me the authority to shout from a rooftop if I feel like it. You don’t have to agree with me. That’s what you get to deal with. It’s not my problem.
I’m not insensitive to your feelings.
I just don’t care. Unless you’ve walked a mile in my shoes, this is not about you.
If you hold fiercely to your way of life as the be-all and end-all of a perfect existence, the truths I point out may cause you to want to stone me. I don’t blame you. It’s going to be hard to look at. Look anyway.
You may see something that makes you think a little harder about it yourself. Ideally, if you have the opportunity, maybe you’ll choose to do better than what’s been done in the past.
Perhaps a life might be saved.
If so, this would serve to be my greatest work ever, even if I never get the first clap or “good job” on it. I’m stepping up to say it, no matter what the outcome may be, because the truth is ugly.
Around here, teenage boys drop like flies.
And by that, I mean they die. Disproportionately.
Check out the statistics for yourself. There are plenty of ways to do that. The internet is amazing. I did some research based on my personal knowledge, which was enough to convince me. Then I checked some sources and found out how right I am.
At first, my major question was whether this was really a culture thing or not.
Kids die all over, for lots of different reasons. Data suggests that I’m onto something.
There’s no question that young men in urban areas die at an alarming rate from gun violence. It’s an awful reality, and we need answers on how to stop it. However, death from firearms is not limited to violence inflicted from one individual onto another.
Sadly, the suicide rates for young men, adolescents and young adults, has increased dramatically in the last ten years. Check out this report and this article. What it boils down to is that boys are far more likely to take themselves out by suicide than girls (although girls are trying to catch up), and that when they use firearms (which is most of the time), they are most likely getting them from their parents.
According to worldlifeexpectancy.com, Louisiana ranked 2nd in teen deaths for 2017, surpassed only by Alaska. They die by guns and car crashes the most, no matter what area they’re in.
There’s also no question at all that substance abuse plays a huge part in these results. Opiates, alcohol, and meth.
Add a kid, a car, and a gun and you have a recipe for disaster. You have a tragedy that some mother will never recover from.
I have the experience to call out the truth and the guts to dare anyone to contradict me. My child’s decomposing body is all the proof that I will ever need. You can say that I am misplacing the blame for his death on whatever external factor I can find that might explain the tragedy away. I know that there is NOTHING that can explain it away. He died because a good ole boy didn’t want to acknowledge that his illegal drugs were accessible to a teenaged boy with emotional problems.
He died because “boys are gonna be boys.”
If you took the town I live in and mapped off 100 miles in any direction, you’d see a pattern. There’s a way of life here that is as deadly as it is beautiful.
It’s a way of life that encourages young men to live recklessly; to risk their lives in pursuit of one-upmanship.
What I find most astonishing is the apparent denial of this phenomenon! Surely I can’t be the only person who notices?
Teenagers. Young men with their entire lives ahead of them are trading everything for the chance to beat a train, make a faster curve, smoke another pipe, kill the biggest buck, drink one more beer…you get what I’m saying here. It’s not always because of drugs. Sometimes drugs aren’t even involved. They’re just “being kids.”
They live to show off. Impress the crowd.
And they die for it too.
This is what I find most disturbing about this: their parents encourage them.
Who buys the fast cars, big trucks, and the guns? This is what we reward kids with around here. This is how the adults show off. Impress the crowd.
There’s nothing wrong with the competitive nature of boys.
It’s when they’re encouraged to live with reckless abandon and without consequences that you manufacture the disaster that’s inevitably going to show up for some poor mother. Death is going to eventually come calling. Is it going to be your son this time? Your grandson?
I’m not saying you don’t love your kids. I know you do. This way of life was handed down from your own parents. These things we give our children to kill themselves with are STATUS SYMBOLS. They’re also how we survive.
How is it that life and death are delivered in the same package?
We hunt for food, so we buy guns. We teach our kids gun safety, but somewhere along the way the recklessness with which our own lives are lived trickles down to our children. A good hunting story around the campfire with a 12 pack of beer is a regular weekend event, and it’s GLORIFIED here in the South! Sometimes a pipe is even passed around.
Bottles of pills get bought and sold like any other commodity. Pain management is big business. Our kids see all this. It’s how they grow up.
We love the way we live.
Sometimes we fail to recognize the danger.
Suicides, accidents, and homicide are not events that we would regularly associate with children, and yet they are reality.
As parents, you tend to want to look the other way when your boys get in trouble. Remember? Boys are gonna be boys. I’ve heard it too many times. I’ve also heard this one, “I’d much rather he drinks at home where I know he’s safe than out running the roads with his buddies.” So, the idea is to just allow the unhealthy behavior, because after all, you do it too. Right?
That’s how we live! No one has the right to take our way of life away! We’ll die to protect our rights.
Sacrifices to the cause. Is that what our children have become?
Here are some tragedies I’ve had to witness in my neck of the woods. Keep in mind that I’m not saying these happened because their parents weren’t responsible or didn’t love them. I’m calling out our way of life, because it needs to be called out. I’m calling out our mentality. I’m saying we need to wake up, because our children never will.
I lost my son to a morphine overdose in 2006 when he was 16 years old.
In 2001, teenage cousins were killed when the oldest one lost control of the vehicle he was driving.
I know of more than one train accident in recent years that has taken the lives of kids within 30 miles from my house.
Another young man hung himself, in 2005 I believe.
One boy was driving way too fast late one night and somehow ended up missing a road, which ended in his death.
A boy from the school my kids attended was being bullied and took his own life with what I believe was a handgun a couple of years ago.
A 15-year-old young man lost his life a couple of months ago to a gun in the neighboring town. I believe that was an accident.
Someone I worked with had to try to help her son put his life back together after he accidentally shot his best friend.
These are just a few of the ones I know about and just the young men. I didn’t bring up the tons of them who died in their early twenties. If we lived in a large city, this wouldn’t be as unusual. This is small town America. A lot of boys are born here; not as many grow up.
What is our responsibility?
We need to stop the madness. I know accidents happen. Bad things happen to good people. It’s not about blame.
I’m not advocating for gun control. I’m not suggesting that we end a way of life.
It’s about RESPONSIBILITY. It’s about our little boys. Surely, we can at least entertain the idea that maybe something needs to change.
This hasn’t been as cohesive a piece as I would like. It’s one thing to know something, another to be able to prove it.
But if you’ll just think about it–if it changes one thing–if it causes you to think twice about the glorification of things that kill our children…that’s enough for me.
This probably isn’t even a surprise to anyone who knows me. If you look at my track record, you can tell I’m not getting anywhere fast. Not really.
I’ll tell you something else.
I’m directionally challenged.
Let me explain.
I can walk into a place (for example, a store at the mall), and when I walk out, I choose to go the exact opposite direction of the way I meant to go. Why? I have no idea what direction I was originally heading.
I’m not observant.
I don’t notice things like landmarks or stores I may have passed already. I’m too caught up in my own thoughts—too wrapped up in my world to notice that there’s another one apart from me, unless it includes flowers or other brightly colored objects that grab my attention.
It’s like I just wander around aimlessly, hoping I end up where I thought I wanted to go. And that pretty much sums up my entire life.
It even sums up my writing. This was penned sitting in the dollar store parking lot. I stopped to get cheese and dog food when I realized I didn’t have my life together and knew I needed to get that on paper, instead of doing what I meant to do.
I’d love to say that my insight and self-awareness were leading me to a new path of intentionality, but I’d be lying. How would I know?
I always think I’m going in the right direction, even though I seldom see a thing that indicates the truth of that.
It’s usually only after I end up in some strange place where I never intended to be that I realize I should’ve taken a different road altogether.
“So,” I think, “I should plan better,” and I make a 60 page to-do list. About two items in on the doing side, I get overwhelmed with the sheer enormity of tasks I’ve created for myself and quit the whole thing. This is further complicated by the fact that I’m a compulsive notebook buyer, and each one is filled with similar lists of things I will never accomplish.
The great thing about having the notebooks with me is I get to write random nonsense and interesting ideas in them, and they’re always handy if inspiration strikes.
Otherwise, I find it hard to justify the fact that I’ll never measure up to those spiral dictators. I don’t give up, though.
One of my favorite blundering-through-life techniques is a little thing I like to call INFORMATION OVERLOAD.
This is where I begin to watch videos, listen to podcasts, voraciously read books, blogs, and everything else I can get my hands on. These help me plan a million and one no-fail ways to get my life back on track based on what everyone else says works.
Guess what? This doesn’t help. I get so much stuff in my head that I couldn’t make a rational decision to save my own life!
Besides, who’s trying to make decisions? I have all this wonderful INFORMATION to sort through.
Sometimes it crosses my mind to wonder if I’m the only one. Do other people plan out their lives and work those plans, or do they just let life happen to them and hope and pray for the best?
I mean, being perpetually lost is NOT the worst thing. I’ve stumbled into places and people I would’ve never encountered had I had a legitimate goal in mind, or at least a goal that came with a plan.
There’s been a bountiful amount of beauty on my spontaneous and confusing journey.
I’ve learned so many things I would have been cheated out of in an ordinary goal-driven, plan-based life.
I’m extraordinarily grateful for my experiences and the savage joy accompanying them, even as I daily attempt to narrow my focus and thereby create some kind of directional path I can follow.
In fact, I’m going to work on that right now. Well, almost right now.
First, I’m going to go find a flower to pick.
I noticed daffodils are blooming, and they’re my favorite. Nothing smells sweeter, and one will look pretty in my hair.
I talk a lot about grief and recovery. I probably always will. My son was 16 when I found him dead on the couch one October morning. You can’t go through that unscathed. You don’t ever get to a place where you stop talking about it.
Love always comes with the risk of loss.
Death happens just like life does. It’s inescapable. I’m not the only one who grieves. I’m constantly learning things that I want to share, hoping it may help someone else.
Here are six simple truths I’ve picked up along the way.
1. It’s deeply personal.
People get caught up in thinking that because I’ve lost a child, I should be an expert on grief—especially since I seem to have survived it. I can’t count the number of times someone has minimized their own grief in a conversation to me, as if acknowledging the extent of their own pain somehow makes it seem as if they aren’t aware of mine.
They use phrases like, “But it’s nothing like losing a child…”
You’re right. It’s not.
Your grief is your grief, just like mine is mine. It’s not “lesser than,” it’s just different.
We all go through things in our own way.
Sorrow is personal and indescribable. The bereavement you feel is unique to you. You don’t have to throw me a bone in the midst of your crippling loss. I already know how I feel. I don’t need your reminder that you know too. I’d like for you to give me the chance to be there for you.
2. Sometimes being there is all you can do.
I don’t have a collection of magic words to say because I’ve been through hell and back. The truth is, I’ve been through hell, and I’m not back. I’m never coming back. I carry hell with me every day.
Let me explain the loss of a child to you:
“When someone asks me when my son died—it was yesterday, it was a thousand years ago, it’s right this minute, it’s tomorrow.
He will never stop dying.
When a person who experiences such profound sorrow says, ‘You never get over it, you just learn to live with it,’ think about this.
They never stop dying. We have to live every second of every day with that.”
It’s an every day for the rest of my life kind of thing. I can’t always summon up the courage to tell you that grief never really ends.
All I can really do is be with you in your sorrow, hold your hand, wash your dishes, and take out your trash. I can listen when you tell me the same story over and over again, because I know there won’t be any new stories to tell. I can hold you when you realize you will never have another opportunity to take a picture or say, “I love you.”
3. There’s just no answer for some things.
God laid it all out in the Bible for us, so it shouldn’t come as any big surprise. Ecclesiastes says that there’s a time to be born and a time to die. Hebrews tells us that we are appointed once to die. Psalms 139:16 says that “all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”
God knows when our time to die is. We don’t.
It hurts like hell to look at the world and realize some people live to be 100 but you have to bury your 16 year old.
Or your husband. Or your best friend. Or your sister. It doesn’t seem fair or natural. That’s because it isn’t.
4. Death isn’t natural.
That’s why if feels so off when you grieve for someone. How many times have you thought, “This can’t be real?”
Sure, God knew how it would all play out from the beginning, because He made us and He gave us the free will we would use to self-destruct. He knew, but man made the choices. I don’t have to remind you of what happened in the Garden. It’s LITERALLY the oldest story in the world.
You know it by heart. If you don’t, you can find it at the beginning of the Bible, in Genesis 3.
We’re still making those choices every day.
I remember the second I realized that Adam and Eve didn’t pay the ultimate penalty for bringing death upon all mankind. You can disagree if you want to.
Picture this: they threw immortality away for the frailty of humanity. They were looking to be gods and the consequences were dire. Immediately, they knew they messed up. They realized they were naked—out in the open where they were vulnerable to attack from every kind of enemy, targets for pain, fear, and death. All of these were new to them. They had no protection other than their Creator.
What did God do? Immediately He covered them in animal skins, so they weren’t naked anymore.
He covered their sin and their shame. There were consequences to their actions, but He covered them, physically and symbolically. It was a picture and a promise of the Lamb that would be slain to cover the sins that created death.
5. All hope lies in Jesus Christ.
What I know about grief—what I REALLY know about grief—is that I couldn’t face one moment of it if not for the fact that God sent Jesus to redeem our lives.
I put my hope in this because it’s all I CAN do.
If I didn’t know there was something beyond this life, I couldn’t go on.
I remember in the early days of horror when I was still very crazy. I went running down the dirt road, screaming at God, “Where were You? I did EVERYTHING I thought You wanted me to do and You still took my son!”
I’d wrestled with my faith since Mikey died. How could a loving God allow death at all? How could God even exist? I said I didn’t believe. I was looking toward the sky and screaming when it hit me.
“I’m screaming at God. I’m screaming at God because I know He’s there.”
I learned that grief is not enough to take away the love of God. God has been with me from the beginning. He has been the constant of my life ALL my life. I didn’t lose faith in Him. I was just mad at Him because I didn’t understand.
I still don’t understand.
What I know is that I don’t have to know WHY anymore. God always provides everything I need to get me through, even when I can’t see it. He’s there, even when I think I don’t believe.
6. The death of someone you love feels like the worse thing you’ll ever go through because it is.
It can leave you confused, lonely, cold, and empty. The light at the end of the tunnel is an eternity where there is no fear of loss or death. It doesn’t exist. There will be no more tears. It’s a promise from God to those who believe in Him.
I won’t have to visit a cold stone to talk to my child. God has prepared a place.