Thursday, July 31, 2014

Zucchinis and Tomatoes

I've noticed a general dichotomy among people. It is the zucchini verses tomato dichotomy.

The first summer I planted my own garden, I did fairly well. I had three four foot long rows of corn, sweet peas, chives, tomatoes, and squash. I also tried cucumbers and some banana peppers but those didn't take. I had each veggie in its own section and used those water lines with pinholes - super easy and efficient. As the summer progressed the tomatoes were sluggish in growing so I dug trenches along the tomato plants so the water would soak the roots longer. The squash had little islands and the water generally fell around. Both did well, though I had some odd mixed-breeds of squash.

Last summer I planted another garden. Less space and no access to drip lines. All hand watered by hose and sprayer. I'd already learned that the tomatoes liked lots of water so I made sure all my plants got plenty. I learned another lesson. Due to the less space, the zucchinis did not have the same runoff area as in the first garden. As I had watered the first garden all on the same water levels for the same length of time, I did the same on the second. Lesson learned: zucchinis need less water. I got a handful of decent vegetables but nothing near the expected harvest. The tomatoes were on overload, however.

Tomatoes need lots of water to produce their fruits and then a slacking of water for them to begin to ripen. By drowning the zucchinis in the same manner, they did not thrive as they had the first time around. Both are staples in my gardening and cooking. But by considering them to live and grow under the same conditions I actually impeded the growth of both. They needed different things.

People are the same way. I had one roommate who lived (probably still does) by planning and formatting everything she did down to the littlest detail of scheduling when she'd take a sip from her water bottle every day at work. And she kept it. That's how she functioned and she functioned well that way.

I, on the other hand, provided a number of moments for anxiety for her because I can't function that way. It often happened when one of us asked the other if they wanted to watch a movie. I'd decide what genre I wanted to watch by what I was in the mood for. She'd decide by the movies she'd purchased but not yet watched - in chronological order.

I need space to breathe. She wanted/needed to structure to guide and enable.

A couple days ago I had a nearly non-functional day due to the efforts of the day before. I actually watched TV again (it's been months - I prefer DVDs). I came across the Extreme Weight Loss show which I have seen once before. I had enjoyed it, so I watched it again. The woman on the show's journey got highly frustrated when she came home from her first three months away in the 'boot camp' to find that her husband had maintained all the problematic life-habits that enabled her trouble in the first place. The tension continued on for months.

Finally, the show's host and weight loss/exercise guru guy decided to put them both on a challenge in a manner to show the microcosm of the relationship. The husband was to golf (his hobby/passion) and the wife was to wear a vest with all the weight she had lost up to that point - 115 lbs. And caddy for him. So long as he golfed well, the wight would be removed piece by piece.

For the first nine holes, you wouldn't know he had any skill at golf and she grew more and more upset that he only made excuses. She reached breaking point and he knew it. The viewer and the wife was shown, through the host's guiding, how upset the husband was. She finally realized that he really did care and it distressed him as much as it did her.

The host guided her to the core question of, 'Recognizing that he will fall short, even when you need him, will you still stand by him?' The husband was quite anxious about the answer. (I felt bad for him having such a vulnerable moment being filmed for national TV.) She said yes.

Here's the kicker - as soon as the pressure was off, he golfed well, including what both he and his wife called his best shot ever.

The world, and many of the red personalities who seem to idolize the Stephen Covey goal-fixations, tends to think people will only achieve if they are pushed to it. That they need the coach screaming in the ears, berating every failure, demanding effort and success or they will degenerate into lazy, worthless bums. Some people respond to that by bringing forth great efforts. Some people are drowned, like the zucchinis, when too much pressure is applied.

I've seen this pattern in my life so many times. I am often amused that when I'm at my most non-functioning, I'll tell myself 'this is all I will worry about today' and then, inevitably, I manage to do a little bit more. (Of course, some days I'm doing good just to make it to the kitchen to eat.) This is not reverse-psychology. It is accepting that demanding the world is not fair and not even necessary. It is rejoicing in what I do accomplish and especially in any extras I manage. Having a chronic-illness often teaches this pattern to people. I was lucky enough to catch glimpses of it even before the dysautonomia kicked high-gear.

If you need the structure of the tomato cages and the steady, solid waterings, use what you need. But don't think or demand that others need the same. Give us zucchinis the basics and then leave us to our own ways. Gardeners are often overwhelmed by just how much the zucchini plants produce.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Delusion or the Devil

(I state in my bio that I tend to challenge assumptions. Fair warning that this will likely challenge many.)

Wow. I never imagined I'd actually post about this. My heart's racing just thinking about it.
Long but necessary set-up required to set the stage. Long in general, but I've found myself wanting to refer others in troubling circumstances to this story so that perhaps they might find insight and encouragement. And so I share one of the two most tightly held stories of my life.

I've indicated before that I came from a problematic home. A mother from an abusive home (guessing from breadcrumbs of random details gleaned since she hated the topic of before) who was therefore not perceptive of her own fiance-then-husband's abusive nature. Her dedication to her belief that marriages entered into should not be dissolved and then her own terrible cascade of illnesses that limited her resources to self-sufficiency. But none of this was understood while I lived at home, before she died.

What was understood was that he somehow had power to make me forget. Who I was, my motivations, my thoughts. I was a horrible nothing that had inflicted myself upon him. And since twisted people will twist whatever ideology at their command, it was religion and scripture used against me.

I always thought it dumb when people would say, during church, that if it weren't for the gospel they wouldn't be where they were. Duh? If you didn't believe in God, why would you be at church? Kind of a no-brainer. But then one day I paused to think about it. I realized that if I hadn't had a bolstering by the concept that 'God loves His children' and that it's not right to suicide, his compulsion, manipulation, and only ever demeaning of me would have resulted in me suiciding to try to atone for the sin of existing. Since nothing I did was ever enough. Never good enough. Never.

But these were all things beyond my comprehension in high school. Mom was sick. Everything would go out of kilter for months until she, the doctors, we finally got a handle on the new circumstances and things would even keel for a few weeks. Until a new symptom appeared and threw everything back out of balance. This started my Sophomore year in high school. That was also the year he was out of a job. It was a pattern that continued for six years until she died (though he did finally get a job after that first year).

I am rather unique in nature. I understood this as early as 7th grade. I did not expect life to go as it did for others or for me to have a traditional form of the teenage years. I think this, combined with a brutal and overwhelming home situation, meant that I did not interact with kids my age in a 'normal' fashion. Also, that I did not always recognize the disparities. I was usually preoccupied with my rather consuming own little world.

The teens I had contact with in high school did notice. For all I knew, I had friends. There was very little interaction outside of school, choir, and the play, but as all my time away from school was occupied by home or work, I did not not think anything of it. I was, however, troubled my senior year and the year after with dismissals from those I had thought of as friends because, "You just don't want to be happy." And, "You just bring everyone down."

I went on a handful of dates in high school and to one dance - girl's choice. The kid had such charisma and an energy that somehow made it feel as though I could actually breathe again. I confess a substantial crush. I also re-confess to a general awkwardness due to my opposite spectrum of life-experience. It didn't help that the parental units tried to make the dance their vicarious own and easily doubled whatever awkwardness of mine. The kid got skittish. Then apologized months later when he 'realized he hadn't been a good friend and he promised to be a better one.' He graduated. I had a year left. Whatever.

University. Except for summer choir, there was very little crossing of paths since our subjects differed. A couple months before my mom's death, I saw him in the parking lot as I headed in. I felt a sorrow that people who knew each other become strangers and accepted that he was to be added to the list. He stopped me to talk as I passed. Invited him to a show I was in the next month (he didn't come).

Mom died. My prior reality shattered. My identity shattered (mom's caregiver). For two years I'd been overwhelmed with her care, my schooling, my work, siblings' care, house and chores and shopping, insane expectations (like the demand to paint the house professional grade for moving purposes without even the knowledge that painting tape to enable straight lines existed)... I'd also begun realizing that the (Heavenly) Father I was coming to know in the scriptures was opposite in nature to the he I will only call him.

The shock lasted for months. I'd had no one to talk to for years. But the kid had renewed the lease on the friendship. I clung to it as the lifeline I so desperately needed. For all of my hating to write, I started writing him a random one-paper letter once a week and leaving it in his President's cubbyhole since I knew he was far too busy to have time to talk to nobody me. They weren't anything ground shaking. Maybe a little about mom, but mostly just an outlet for all things random (a talent of mine) which run through my head. All I needed was to know that someone was hearing me. I didn't have anyone else.

In my gratefulness, I wished I could somehow return the favor which helped me survive. But I was no one. The crush matured. I couldn't imagine he'd look my way that way. He had a girlfriend, then another. I don't, I won't, compete. I clung to the best friendship I had available, unable to be aware of how empty it was.

Enter "Delusion or the Devil"

Being religious, I will address that element/angle first. If you are not, continue reading anyway. The delusion thread explanation will unfold and follow at the end.

Still wishing I could return the gift I so valued, I prayed to God that He would show me how. I already saw myself as unequal. How could I make any difference to him? How could I make a difference like he did?

Sometimes God uses our asking for one thing to teach and guide us in another. In my mind I saw two paths. To the left was my future symbolized by a man of no specific nature. To the right I saw it represented in the kid I so respected. I knew they represented choices. Would I take the easy - whatever happens to come my way path? Or would I choose the harder one that would lead me to that state higher, more capable, than where I happened to stand?

I am stubborn. Both parentals blamed it on the other. I think I came with a dose of my own, as well. I don't back away from hard. I may be terrified inside, but that just makes me more determined  to overcome. I was going to settle for the 'whatever comes' path.

Having admitted my level of feeling for the kid, I spent weeks pondering this, wondering if it could possible mean that I had a chance with him. God did not tell me no. I concluded that I would continue as though that conclusion were assumed. (It was, after all, the only way that the answer could truly be known.)

I made the fatal mistake, however, of relating this to the him. I thought I had to as he demanded knowledge of everything I did, thought, felt, with full editing rights. I was terrified to tell him, but I did not comprehend I had a right to privacy and I don't back down just because something could go wrong. His assessment? It is delusion or the devil.

As the year came and went and I moved away, this was a constant friction between myself, the him, and the step-her. I cannot say I fully believed my hopes would happen, but I did not dare to let them go for I found they provided me, for the first time in my life, with something more powerful than the him. I was starting to keep my identity and will as my own where he demanded submission. I consciously used the hopes, stated as fact (for his disdain would make him give up on arguing whereas he would have battered had I confessed any amount of being unsure), to shield me when a certain decision was expected that my real reason would have been dismissed. This reinforced his idea but it was the safer course for me.

Off and on contact with the kid, not a lot but more than I was used to. I'd finally confessed my feelings months before, but by way of getting it out there rather than expecting any response. He knew that. I did seek him out as I passed his work twice as I still valued the inter-personal contact. And with the new territory of living away from home, the stability the letters provided appeared again possible when his email was listed in a mutual friend's mass mailing. I still have the copies. They are of the same nature as the first with additional reports of my efforts in my church music to encourage others to attend the area's workshop later that summer. It was my calling in church. It also happened to be organized by his mother.

I went to the special choir rehearsals prior. The first had me nervous as I hadn't seen him for months. Nothing so no biggie. The next week I had a premonition that there would be trouble. I couldn't conceive of why and I don't run and hide so I went anyway. I was a little late so I ended on the front row. He came in later, saw me and walked straight back out, conversed with his mother, and left. Whatever. I was there to sing.

At the end of rehearsal I noticed that only one woman was putting all the hymnals back from the stand. This seemed a shame since we'd all brought one up so I decided to stay and help. The mother was talking to some lady. Aware of her, but nothing to do with me. Most of the books are returned but there is one slot left by where the mother stands. I could try to find another empty slot. The premonition stirs again. "This is stupid," I thought. I'm just putting a hymnal away. So I did and I left.

I go home. Ten minutes later I get a call from the him. The mother had called to complain that I had tried to talk to her. This was way too easy for him to manipulate. He told her his less than accurate version of my story which merged into her own mis-assessment of my actions. Together they cooked up the notion that if I dared to attend the workshop I'd be slapped with a restraining order.

A couple days later the he and the step-her finally deigned to visit my humble abode in the guise of loving parental concern. I was then notified that he and step-her had talked on the phone with her psychiatric friends and was diagnosed third-person with classic delusion and suicidal tendencies, and it might be a good idea to institutionalize me. This he graciously offered to pay for.

Though shaken and highly upset by the turn of events (the kid couldn't talk to me about the problem he had to go run to mummy and threaten the police?!) I collected myself to tell the him and step-her that I would somehow survive just fine left to myself. He didn't like this answer. He then said that as the father-parental he held the priesthood authority over me and it was therefore to admit that I had sinned and submit. In a rare capacity to speak counter to his demands I told him that if that's how he thought to 'use the priesthood' then he'd lost any authority he claimed to have. They left shortly thereafter...

Lives diverged and I can't say I was sad to not see the kid. I still had (and present tense - have) years of recovery from the trauma and abuses of home. I didn't understand what the path that I thought meant him was if it was not him so I still didn't dare let go of the possibility, though I can't say it brought me the same level of comfort it did when first conceived.

I moved hundreds of miles away and somehow managed to land in the same little college town as him. I hadn't known he'd moved away. I was terrified when I realized he was there and avoided him like the plague. I mourned what when I saw he'd married simply because I'd been so invested in the idea that life could be better, that it could be different from what I'd been raised with.

It took years further to realize that that was what the path symbolized - that hope - not the kid. The kid was just the closest I could comprehend to that new abstract possibility. A possibility so foreign that the abstract concept would have been insufficient to hold onto and enable the separating of my will from the his'.

I do believe in God. I believe He guided my imaginings to enable a critical choice for my future well being. I believe He knew I would not understand it as He meant it but that my not understanding would in fact provide the strength of power to follow it through. I believe He helped me through years of confusion an turmoil and healing of trauma. And when that healing had progressed far enough, He helped me understand what He'd meant. I believe that my doing the best I understood was perfectly acceptable to Him and I have no need to feel ashamed at how events played out.

If you do not believe in God, then consider that delusion is not always a bad thing. Consider that our minds can provide protections to enable us onward and upward out of dangerous circumstances. And consider the source of the circumstances that led me to need such a delusion to be able to escape.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Madness of Denethor

"The Madness of Denethor" has been a phrase that has come to mind numerous times over the past six months or more. It is not a happy observation.

In The Lord of the Rings, Denethor is steward, or acting leader, of the land of Gondor. Should the heir ever come to claim the throne, Denethor would then step aside as his stewardship would then be complete. At least he would if he did not resent the heir for making claim on authority Denethor did not wish to give up. If that was all there was to it, the story would simply be one of political rivalries.

But it is not.

Aragorn, the heir, was raised in obscurity because his lineage was hunted by the real antagonist. This antagonist, Sauron, was so beyond the powers and skill of the world's inhabitants that even the strongest man (wizard) had switched sides as Sauron's victory was considered 'inevitable'. Few stood up the wicked forces and some of those were of the weakest of beings. How could anyone expect anything other than being overrun by evil?

That is exactly how Denethor saw things. 'His' kingdom being taken away, his favored son dead, his despised son dismissed to death, and a force incomprehensible outside the city walls.

What was there for him to do? He chose death for himself and for all around him for he had decided that life was no more worth living.

Many are choosing the same things. It is no longer a horror story every few years. No longer once a year. Now it is multiple times a week.
D&C 45:26  And in that day shall be heard of wars and rumors of wars, and the whole earth shall be in commotion, and men's hearts shall fail them, and they shall say that Christ delayeth his coming until the end of the earth.
The saddest part is that it did not need to be. He hated life because it was not what he decided it must be. But it was a decision. He chose to deny the truth of his position. His unwillingness to accept his part made the loss of the part not his own that much harder. It was his demands for power that led his favored son to be so desperate and therefore vulnerable. It was his own bitterness and hatred of difference that led him to misvalue his remaining son until he was left with 'nothing' and no one. It was his refusal to admit to hope, even from the source that denied him the glory he demanded that meant he could not imagine hope.

It did not have to be.

And so many are following the same pattern. So many are succumbing to the madness of Denethor and taking others with them. But, as in The Lord of the Rings, we too must wait and place our hope in the return of the King, for He will come. It's gonna get ugly. In so many ways it already is. The world is polarizing and the differences expanding. But the scriptures (of many denominations and religions, mind you) promise that this end, of sorts, is also a beginning of a far better story.