Thursday, March 17, 2016

Bonus-- H is for Happy Birthday

14 years ago I started a new tradition of picking a "SONG OF THE YEAR" for my birthday. The song is a vision of where I have been and a glimpse into where I am heading ... the past years have been:

Precious Illusions - Alanis Morissette (2002

) Good Enough - Darren Hayes (2003)

Kinda Hard - Eric Himan (2004)

Farewell to the Old Me - Dar Williams (2005)

Whole- Casey Stratton (2006)

Phoenix Rising - Dan Paul (2007)

Lessons Learned - Carrie Underwood (2008)

32 Flavors - Ani DiFranco (2009)

Coming around - Christopher Dallman (2010)

Let the Rain - Sara Bareilles (2011)

Stronger - Kelly Clarkson (2012)

I'm Not Your Hero - Tegan & Sara (2013)

Fall Asleep – Jars of Clay (2014)

Elastic Heart – Sia (2015)

So this year I debated stopping the tradition and then realized that is part of the growth process is to continue traditions. So in true Michael fashion I have chosen a song that truly encompasses me in general this year. This year I chose Madonna - Rebel Heart (2016) Upon listening to this song I felt I could relate. I have always done my own thing and it has led me down some unique twists and turns. In the past I have written about feeling like I do not fit in and I think that I have tried and failed and I have just moved forward. It has been a bumpy and often confusing world for me to navigate but I am very happy to know that I have taken a road less traveled on and I survived through the darkness.... So here is to another year and another track... "Rebel Heart"

I lived my life like a masochist/ Hearing my father say: "Told you so, told you so./ Why can't you be like the other girls?"/ I said: "Oh no, that's not me and I don't think that it'll ever be."

Thought I belong to a different tribe/ Walking alone never satisfied, satisfied/ Tried to fit in but it wasn't me,/ I said: "Oh no, I want more. That's not what I'm looking for."

So I took the road less travelled by/ And I barely made it out alive/ Through the darkness somehow I survived/ Tough love - I knew it from the start/ Deep down in the depth of my rebel heart

I've spent some time as a narcissist/ Hearing the other say: "Look at you, look at you/ Trying to be so provocative."/ I said: "Oh yeah, that was me./ All the things I did just to be seen."

Outgrown my past and I've shed my skin/ Letting it go and I'll start again, start again/ Never look back, it's a waste of time/ I said: "Oh yeah, this is me/ And I'm right here where I wanna be."

I said: "Hell yeah! This is me/ Right where I'm supposed to be"

So I took the road less travelled by/ And I barely made it out alive/ Through the darkness somehow I survived/ Tough love - I knew it from the start/ Deep down in my rebel heart

In my rebel heart

Thursday, March 10, 2016

H is for Healing

When I was 15 I wrote a song called “The Damaged One”. In the lyrics I stated that I would always be a damaged one to the unknown person that the song was directed towards. I am no long 15 but that song still swims in the recesses of my memory.

“here I am standing beside before/ and I wonder how you’re doing now/and I think of you when I think of loving/and I wonder what you’re doing now

I will always be remembered as the damaged one/If you think I am going to sit here and take the pain your wrong/ because I remember every moment that we shared

I will always be your damaged one”

In less than two weeks I will be another year older and it will have been 27 years since I wrote those lyrics. That does not seem possible but time is a cruel animal. I never see New Year’s as a new start but instead I do that with my birthday. The reoccurring theme this year does seem to be revolving around healing. In the past year I have made conscience effort to heal my body, mind, and soul. I have opened up my inner self and found a beauty that I was not expecting. A few examples:

*I ran my first half-marathon. My sister-in-law asked me to do the huckleberry run and I at first laughed and then decided “yeah why not”. It was one the most amazing runs I have ever been on and I loved it. I am also running at least three miles every couple of days a week on my lunch. It feels good to be goal setting and reaching towards those goals.

*I found a job that is more than just a job. I feel I am part of an amazing community and working to be in the environment that lines up with my own personal standards and desires as a career. I assist people with things that I never thought I would. I also have many roles and every day I feel challenged and ready to go in; even when I feel less then mentally.

*I have gotten closer to my Mom. This has been a lifelong goal; to be larger part of my mom’s life and not just seen as a long distance son. As a lifelong Mommas boy I have looked up and admired my mom for so many reasons. It was hard that we could go months and not talk. I had enough and stood up for myself and now we talk, even if just a text, at least once a week. It has brought me a lot of joy and to have that connection is priceless. I feel like I am getting to know my mom as an adult and it is so awesome to be able to have someone to talk so openly with.

*I have made the decision to return to school after a lengthy hiatus and I am ready to pursue my Nursing degree. This was something I have debated about, for what feels like, a lifetime. I am not sure the exact quarter I am starting but recently applied to the Clackamas Community College and was accepted and found out even some of my credits will be transferable. It is so exciting and I feel that it is a niche I can fit into very well.

*The biggest change has been the discovery of family I didn’t know that existed. In September I was found by my biological younger sister (We share a birth mother). It was a surprise and shock. Since then I have connected with my two sisters and multitude of nieces and nephews. In a shocking twist as well I have actually semi re connected with my birth mother. I do not know all where all this reconnection will lead but I do know that one of my sisters and I talk almost daily. I have reached out to parts of all my family and let myself be very open and transparent. This has brought down a few walls and has left me vulnerable and yet stronger.

All these have had the same effect on my psyche. I have been healing and cracks are getting smaller that and less fragmented (see earlier post). Reaching out and setting limits and knowing that you are worthy of more than your internal critic gives you credit for is an amazing discovery.

I think this next birthday year will be a stellar year and I will see myself doing some new and exciting things. I have some of the most amazing support in this world. People who let me be me and don’t care if I am too anything. That is the way it should be…My story is far from over and in some regards I feel it is just beginning.

I can still be YOUR damaged one but I know now that I am not Damaged …. I am healing and phoenixing…

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

G is for Gratitude

I have a gratitude jar. I started it almost a year ago when feeling very lost and not sure what positives that I had going on in my life. In truth, the life of someone who deals with depression is not very blissful. From the moments of sheer social terror with the desire to hermit with my DVR, to the outbursts of sheer joy where I am bouncing around like a kid who ate too much candy, mood swings have been a part of my life.

The challenge I face is sometimes seeing the blessing I have in front of me. I started to research what ways I could show ways I am grateful. Funny enough there is a surprisingly a lot of information on this topic.

I came up with a few new things to try and increase my gratitude awareness.

My Gratitude Jar: I read about this online. It was suggested that you find a jar, can, box, anything that can hold stuff basically. I then took colored construction paper (because it is pretty) and cut up little squares to write things that bring me gratitude. Some of the things are simple things such as coffee or being able to wake up. Others things are being able to speak with someone about an important topic, job change, or any of the like. I fill my jar and hope to just fill it up and watch my gratitudes fill up.

My Gratitude List: This part of my gratitude is less tangible. I use this as a tool when I meditate or have insomnia. I have always been prone to bad sleeping habits. Insomnia had been a friend of mine for years and I feel like I have tried all the techniques; tea, counting sheep, meditating, baths, exercise, no exercise… basically tried it all. The newest habit that I am finding works very well is to first read a bit before sleep and then to lay down and count gratitude’s. I start to list off the things that I am thankful for on a daily basis. Once again this can be, for me at least, anything from sweet potato chips to family, health, my furry kids, or just being able to breathe.

Gratitude Journal: This is one I have not spent a great deal of time on but I do know that some people do prefer to have a journal they keep where they write daily about what they are grateful for in their lives. I have not found this worked for myself simply because I am not that focused honestly.

The one common thing in this day of digital media, instant online fights and negativity we all forget is to find what we could be grateful for around us. I would be remiss to say that even I have my moments that I forget to be grateful. I complain about mundane things and then catch myself.

I think what I enjoy about the exercise of gratitude is the daily reminder to find good around the world and to have a documentation that I can pull out when it feels like so much is caving in around me.

Surprise someone with a card, smile, sing a song, go outside and see what is going on and try and view the world differently. You may be surprised how much joy is around in the middle of the chaos and rough times. Life is not perfect but by being grateful I feel I get to see how blessed I am to have the life that I do.

Monday, January 11, 2016

F is for Fragmentation

“Where do think this anxiety is coming from?” My most recent experience with my therapist consisted of me talking at length of the past few months until I paused and this one simple question popped out of her from the chair across from me. I recognized that look of “dig deep Michael”. I hate that look.

I was always intrigued with people who had multiple personality disorder growing up. It actually made a lot of sense to me even at a young age. The idea that someone could actually suffer so many traumas that they actually split parts of their psyche into separate entities in order to survive the pain makes complete sense to me.

I have found over the years I learned to fragmentize myself. Not as extreme as someone with personality syndrome. I found that when things got to be too much, I just put it in a little mental box and shut the lid. I think this manifested in my teens. It was my survival technique my brain chose to separate reality from perceived reality in order to make it through the trauma I endured on a daily basis.

I never had the “luck” to be able to forget about moments or events. I know of people who remember trauma years or sometimes never after the fact. My brain has never worked that way. Instead I would fragment pieces and put them into that box. For years this practice worked. I would be able to speak about past traumas in a disassociated way. It was always like looking at someone’s life story. The details were there but the emotional connection was light years away. That worked well until I started therapy. The first round was pretty challenging. It broke down some of the walls and helped me let go of some of the pain in a healthy way but then I stopped for a while.

This past year (2015) was one of the most challenging for me on a very personal level. Between family of origin boxes being ripped open, past abusers popping up in my life and dealing with relationship challenges in my marriage I have learned to let go of some of those boxes and approach the steps to healing. As each of these fragments slowly started to merge into parts of the whole me, I was left very raw and felt very naked and frightened. It was the first time in my adult life that dealt with or was exposed to the trauma I lived with so many years. I could no longer share as much for fear of my own reactions to this vulnerability.

The last year has been like a plane crash of UPS boxes… everything just became so scattered and it I was left walking around the wreckage and slowing adding a piece here and a piece there. Putting it back like a puzzle that is just slightly off mark. I know that it is still being pieced together and I think that is causing a sort of mental arrest in my brain.

The best part is the parts of me that have closed off for so long are forming back and less and less is buried. My mom said recently I was the Secret Breaker in my family. At first I was at a loss of what to say because all our secrets are not only mine to share. But I know that I am willing to peel back the closed boxes on me and let them release a bit one by one. I do not want a Pandora’s box of emotions running rampant.

But then it all clicks and makes sense. “Where do think this anxiety is coming from?”.

I will tell you where it comes from …. It comes from holding way to much in for way to long. It is from never sharing my true hearts thoughts and content. It is from the fear that I will not be loved unconditionally when sharing my soul. It is the notion that I will be treated different for being so open. It is the fear that when I am healed who will I become? Finally, it is from all this merging of all the fragmenting that has existed in my brain for years. But in the end instead of pieces I will be more whole and the picture will be brighter. I know that I still a journey but slowly pieces one by one are fitting together and the fragments are less.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

E is for Excommunication

ExCommunication: to exclude or expel from membership or participation in any group, association, etc.: When one hears the term “excommunication”, the first reference that comes to mind is the idea of church and being expelled from ones church of choice. That is a topic I will definitely hit upon at a later date. The last few weeks have been a challenging one to say the least. Speaking with my therapist I have started realize the loneliness I have recently been feeling was deeper engrained than I had originally thought. A lot of it started last fall. Truthfully when my friend, Steve, decided to take his life he left me with a giant hole. Steve was that friend you can message anytime and get the support you needed even if you felt like everyone else around you did not get you. I think that it is so important to have friends outside of your relationship that you can vent and get your frustration out. The problem as I see it is society has twisted and turned on itself. Today’s forms of communication involve very little human contact along with minimal empathy. It is so much easier to send a FB message or text instead of a phone call to reach out. The trend though that I have noticed though is an utter lack of courtesy. The idea that you can “unfriend” someone and they are removed from your life seems too simple. Recently I had an experience with a friend that was proof positive that communication in today’s world is broken. This friend and I reconnected after a few years of distance as well very little contact of any kind. After reconnecting we picked up right where we left off and he even started setting in motion plans to move back to the NW. After offering a place to stay as well as a possible timeline, everything halted. A cryptic message on Facebook was posted and I messaged him to find out what was happening and since then nothing. After attempting contact every form I could think of still no answer. I would love to say that this was an isolated incident but unfortunately it is not. This has happened with former coworkers, friends, and even relatives. The part that I am still baffled by is what happened to us, as a society, that “unfriending” comes so easily. Like a click of a button and then …BOOM…no communication. So few people actually will talk about the issues surrounding them and work through the rough times. Instead we live in a world that just cuts off and never hearing from the other person again. Someone like me is not built to withstand being cut off. My solution is slowly disconnecting and playing dangerous games of “I will not send a message or call until they call me”. I find then that I become the problem. My fear of communication has actually developed into an anxiety. Mostly the anxiety has become so huge because now I have no clue how to communicate when outside of a work environment. The result = a lot of silence.

Friday, March 20, 2015

D is for Date of Birth

Lucky # 13: 13 years ago I started a new tradition of picking a "SONG OF THE YEAR" for my birthday. The song is a vision of where I have been and a glimpse into where I am heading ... the past years have been: Precious Illusions - Alanis Morissette (2002) Good Enough - Darren Hayes (2003) Kinda Hard - Eric Himan (2004) Farewell to The Old Me - Dar Williams (2005) Whole- Casey Stratton (2006) Phoenix Rising - Dan Paul (2007) Lessons Learned - Carrie Underwood (2008) 32 Flavors - Ani DiFranco (2009) Coming Around - Christopher Dallman (2010) Let The Rain - Sara Bareilles (2011) Stronger - Kelly Clarkson (2012) I'm Not Your Hero - Tegan & Sara (2013) Fall Asleep – Jars Of Clay (2014) This year I chose a song that speaks to the person I have become. I DO have thick skin and an elastic heart. I bend and stretch and continue to grow. I have spent the last year letting some things (including people) go. It is not an easy task and I hope that I am reaching the end of this phase of my development. It is time to sit back and reflect. I enjoy the idea of taking stock in life and looking forward to the next stage of my journey. I will continue to fight for peace internally. q Elastic Heart – Sia (2015) And another one bites the dust But why can I not conquer love? And I might've thought that we were one Why not to fight this war without weapons And I wanted it and I wanted it bad But there were so many red flags Now another one bites the dust And let's be clear, I trust no one You did not break me/I'm still fighting for peace I've got a thick skin and an elastic heart But your blade it might be too sharp I'm like a rubber band until you pull too hard But I may snap and I move fast But you won't see me fall apart Cause I've got an elastic heart I've got an elastic heart Yeah, I've got an elastic heart And I will stay up through the night Let's be clear, I won't close my eyes And I know that I can survive I walked through fire to save my life And I want it, I want my life so bad And I'm doing everything I can Then another one bites the dust It's hard to lose a chosen one You did not break me /I'm still fighting for peace I've got a thick skin and an elastic heart But your blade it might be too sharp I'm like a rubber band until you pull too hard But I may snap and I move fast But you won't see me fall apart Cause I've got an elastic heart I've got an elastic heart

Friday, March 13, 2015

C is for Change

I grew up in constant change…. As a family, we went from home to home and took years to find our roots. The sad part is that as soon as we found our roots the tree tipped over and the roots were exposed and so weather worn we lost ourselves. I think it made me into a sort of nomad. I learned to adapt and make myself live through fires that burned so bright. In fact I moved 9 times between 2004 - 2006. My poor pup Dutchess was along for the ride and I think that she took on my nomadic mindset. It became such a way of life for me that I carried my hobo-esque lifestyle into my relationships. Staying in one place and creating a settlement for my heart, soul, life and security was never an option in my pre-therapeutic mind. In fact it all hit a point that I realized how ridiculous it was to always have to send updated addresses. Visiting with my mom in my 30's she opened her address book and under my name was my name Michael Howard so many times my name had been replaced by post it notes. That was the wake call I needed. After (what I now refer to) The Therapy Years, I worked on what I really needed and found that I was running away all these years from trauma and pain but mostly myself. That was when I decided to strive for some stability. Then I met Jacob and he had the same dream of safety and stability. Flash forward to six years and I now have what I never had before,.... Stability, security, a foundation. It is something that Jacob and I talk about a lot. We are careful with what energies we invite to our home. In fact home is so safe for me now that I was having a rough time a couple weeks ago and felt like I was going to just fall apart. I could not wait to get home to be able to breakdown, much to the dismay of my husband. We of course, recovered by going and having drinks at our fave watering hole. In February we went to visit my best friend in Seattle. Having been away from Seattle proper for 5 years, I was excited to see the area that I developed much of my own adult Independence. The visit hit me harder than I expected. Broadway district that used to be lined with life, vitality, happiness and the ultimate times of randomly running into people you know left and right was gone. In it's place was a gentrified landscape with half closed down blocks. The streets were empty. The bars and restaurants were no longer the picture in my head. We went to a bar that I used to go with my friend Steve and I felt a if his soul was saying that the time for reminiscing was done. We left Seattle on a Monday and I drove as my husband slept. Pandora was playing songs that were from the past few years. My brain started to wander and the seeds of this blog post popped in my head. Change.... they (whoever "they" are) say it is the only constant. For most of my life it was the more than that it was a way of life. My only existence was to live in change... to never stay still long enough to reach inside me and see who I truly am and create the transparency that I have now. I am thankful for change, as challenging as it is. I have learned that what I was craving all along was security and stability. Change brought it into my life and maybe this is the universes way of telling me not all changes are bad.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

B is for Blues

Yes good friends are the best. I know cause I have ones like you" - Steve Nov. 17th. This was the end of a long text conversation that I had on a late Monday night. It was just like the normal messages that Steve and I shared on a regular basis... usually a couple times a week or so. Two days later I was on Facebook and saw very random words about missing Steve on his Facebook and after some investigation, I was in shock to find that Steve had passed away Nov 19th. Even more saddened that it was by his own doing. I do not know how long the process is to grieve someone that you were friends with for the better part of a decade and saw each other through many rough times. I am also not sure how you get over the idea that someone so bright and seemingly happy would take their own life. I flash backed 8 years ago for myself. It had been a bit over a year after my diagnosis. I remember sitting in my very dull house above a church in a rough part of Seattle. Everything I owned in a large room. I had recently ended a physically and emotionally abusive relationship. I had a job I was hating and even fewer friends I felt I could count on. I was depressed and felt hopeless. It was in all honestly the lowest point in my entire life. I thought I had a great idea... or so something in my head told me so. I meticulously gathered all the pills in my cupboard grabbed a large glass of water. Closed and locked my bedroom door. I dumped all the pills onto the floor and took a deep. I was ready to end it all. That is when I heard the whining (a familiar sound to me) from my little pup. Dutchess was only 4 months old but she just looked at me in a way that gave me the sense that she knew my darkness inside. That is when the thought hit me.... Who would take care of my little pup that I have been nurturing up to this point. I could not think of any one person who would care for and understand her like I had in those few months. How could I leave her all alone? All she had was me. As the tears fell I grabbed Dutchess and just laid on that tan carpet for what felt like days. I had lost hope and I was about to do the unthinkable. I somehow felt deep in my core I could never be loved and in return never love anyone again. The next day I went to my doctors office and officially started on anti-depressants and the beginning of three years of intensive cognitive therapy. I was blue for years and gave myself to anyone that would show me love and then was rejected time and time again. Why? Well the answer was because I hid that I was suffering for years with depression. I was also seen as the upbeat guy who was the life of the party. Inside I felt in secure and scared that anyone could find out my "nasty secret"... DEPRESSION. If I ever showed the darker side of me people would ask me to stop being down and perk up. Like that ever worked. It is still relatively new to speak so openly about such topics; Depression is a devastating thing that can eat you from the inside out. It is like this spinning ball of disease that will twist your core and when it is done you can be left a shell of who you are meant to be. your light will burn out and you will find out that you have no hope left. Steve lost his hope. He hid it well from the world and the he touched the people that surrounded him and yet somehow never saw that if he had dropped hiss guard we would have all been here to support him. If I had not had the support of of the few people including, ironically, Steve to see me into my after therapy life, I would not be here today. I like the guy I am now. I live my truth. I am married to an amazing man who gets me and understands how I am built, for the most part. I have 4 furry kids and yes Dutchess is still sitting by my side these years later to whine and cuddle. I have an extended family and nieces that brighten my world. I am the closest to my family I have ever been. I have chosen to chase blues and to embrace that I am a person that suffers and lives with depression. But also choose to laugh. I love to laugh at least once a day and every night I count my blessings. Thank you Dutchess of saving me. Thank you Steve for letting my life be touched by you. I miss our conversations and I miss your laugh and the way you brought joy to any space you were. You inspired me to learn about wine and cruises. You will not be forgotten....

Friday, October 24, 2014

A is for Adventure

Throughout my life I have said “stick with me and adventures will happen”. I find much like that car that you purchase that is the one year that the part was unique, I get the same karmic energy. I realized early on that I had two choices: embrace the adventures or let it eat my alive. I chose the former due to the fun that it would create on a regular basis. My last adventure involved a trip with my husband. Arizona was a place that he has enjoyed for many years. After living in the damp and humidity outlet that is Portland, he found a peace that existed in the warm sunny Phoenix area. Good fortune shined when friends of our told us they had a place and car to stay, all we would have to do is provide the plane tickets. We hopped on this chance within days. Fast forward to October 15th. We were more than ready to escape our jobs for sunnier land. We arrived to the airport in time and ready to jet away. [Cell phone text] “Flight CONF# has been cancelled due to mechanical issues.” The next hour or so was filled watching panic ensue at gate A17. Everyone was scrambling to get new tickets, yelling at agents, cursing and all around frustration. Yet, in the corner Jacob and I were calling and getting ourselves prepared for leaving the next day. “Ladies and gentlemen, we have just gotten news that the flight to phoenix has been reassigned and we will begin boarding in a short while” More chaos ensued as we all had to have our tickets once again change out from our changed flights to the new reassigned flight. These types of situations have become the norm for me. My favorite part was that both of us were calm and took it with joy and no stress. Once in AZ our adventures continued. We got lost in Sedona, pulled more U-turns than I thought possible, ended up in a redneck sports bar, eating really yummy roadside food, a late night casino run, and had fun people watching bar in Phoenix. What I have learned to embrace and love about these slight karmic accidents is that they all lead me to some type of adventure. Very few, if any, of these adventures have found me without wanting to belly laugh. I truly enjoy that I have stories due to my adventures. I have ones about being lost (happens more often than not), Family adventures, being arrested, and pet adventures. I figure that life is short so why not enjoy a good adventures. Hopefully as I write more I will get to share more adventures. Here’s to forever…. #Plane #A-Z #Adventures

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Constipation (The Writing Kind)

I love learning anything and everything that I can. It is an exciting thing to be able to take in your surroundings and to ingest the idea, thoughts or general practices of those in this world we all live.  There is a downside to being a human sponge though, all these news concepts get inside of my being and get “cramped up” (for lack of a better term).

I feel as if my head is bursting with so many ideas and I do not know how to contain it. As a result I find that I cannot write it all down. The overwhelmingness (Yes I know it is not a real word) definitely keeps me weighted down mentally and makes me just want to throw my hands up sometimes.

My husband has to spend a lot of time saying to slow down and focus on one thing at a time. I tend to do well with all my day to day activities but when it comes to my creative endeavors I fall pretty short. The ideas that I get flow, get fractured, warped and skewed by the time I sit down to write. Then I cannot figure out the way to make any of it all make sense.

 The bad habit is I also strive way too hard for perfection. I find myself analyzing not only my creative endeavors but also my audience. I decide exactly what thoughts I share with people as I write and thereby edit before I get the thoughts out. 

As a response, all the vowels, consonants, hypothesis, and allegories fall into the mental funnel inside my head  and block up somewhere in my cortex. Imagine it like blocks that are trying to push through a round hole the size of a straw.  Not pretty and truly not assistive in any way.

The irony of course is that I am always looking for the best way to utilize time.  Efficiency is key and I work very hard to be efficient and stay positive and relaxed.  Then I sit down to write and the mush hits followed by my brain shutting off. The Pressure valve is not easy to turn off.

I am going to start working on better ways to organize my head space. The exhaustion created from the collected chaos surprisingly affects my energy level, not to mention my ability to communicate properly most of the time. I need to find some type of mental ex-lax.

I am built to create. I know this in my core.