Lessons learned

Not just an “old lady” problem: 1 in 4 women over 18 experience episodes of bladder leakage

“Laugh at yourself and at life. Not in the spirit of derision or whining self-pity, but as a remedy, a miracle drug, that will ease your pain, cure your depression, and help you to put in perspective that seemingly terrible defeat and worry with laughter at your predicaments, thus freeing your mind to think clearly toward the solution that is certain to come. Never take yourself too seriously.” ― Og Mandino

In my early teens, two of my best friends gave me the nickname PB2.

It was an inside joke, one we laughed off, but it also carried a lot of shame and embarrassment.

Yes, back before cell phones, home computers and the Internet, we found enjoyment playing in a box in my friend’s garage one weekend. I remember it was a dryer or washer box. Sure, we were around 13, but we had a ball trying to fit three people in it.

So much so I got to laughing and peed my pants. Not just once – but TWICE! Hence the name PB2, short for pee in the box twice.

I remember another incident around the same age. I was playing hide and seek at another friend’s house. Sure enough, once again I started laughing and lost control of my bladder outside in the dark.

I’m not sure why these two incidents stand out in my mind, other than I was at that awkward age of puberty, trying
to fit in and make new friends after experiencing relentless bullying in grade school. Luckily, my friends didn’t make fun of me beyond some innocent teasing.

I don’t remember if I had other “accidents” growing up. Maybe I blocked them from memory. I don’t recall wetting the bed in elementary or at some unusual age. Looking back, I do feel like my bladder has always had control of my life. I’ve always worried about laughing too hard and losing control, about how long I could hold it on a car trip or being stuck without access to a bathroom.

Even on a study abroad trip to London a few years ago, I was the oldest student – in my mid-30s – and the one always asking if we should go to the bathroom, going “just in case” even when I really didn’t need to (a bad habit for your bladder), or worrying I would be caught on a field trip and have to hold it until it hurt.

My mom said the doctor pushed and pushed on her stomach during labor, pretty much forcing me to come out. She doesn’t know if that trauma maybe injured my pelvic organs and bladder. I also had two hernias as a toddler – and two operations. One was repaired with mesh, and I have to wonder if maybe my internal organs didn’t get properly put back into place (and why I believe I’ve never had a flat stomach), which puts pressure on my bladder.

There are a several organs that sit in a tiny space in the pelvis – bladder, uterus and rectum – and the pelvic floor supports them. There also are three openings in the pelvic floor – the urethra, vagina and anus. I’ll discuss the pelvic floor and organs more in-depth in the future.

I’m not writing this to embarrass myself further, but to say that I’ve been there. I understand the worry and insecurity that comes with urge incontinence, that “gotta go, gotta go” feeling, and stress incontinence, leakage when you laugh, cough or sneeze. I’ve experienced both.

And it’s a relief to know I’m not the only one. As a Mercy Health Bladder Clinic Total Control instructor, I now realize this is a major health issue for women.

Much more than an “old lady” problem, loss of bladder control is an embarrassing, depressing and isolating condition that affects women of all ages. Yes, I’m talking to you with teenage daughters who play high-impact sports, new moms, women going through menopause, hardcore athletes and running fanatics.

Many factors can weaken a woman’s pelvic muscles, including childbirth, menopause, pelvic surgery or prolapse, diabetes, obesity, neurological conditions, race, voiding habits and nutrition. Repetitive pounding and pressure on the pelvic floor, say from running or “bearing down” while trying to poo, isn’t good. Gravity isn’t our friend, either.

More than 65 million Americans experience bladder leakage. And nearly half are under 50. And those stats come from a Depend ad.

Here are a few other staggering facts from Women’s Health Foundation (and these are from nearly a decade ago):

• 1 in 4 women over age 18 experience episodes of urinary incontinence
• 1 in 3 new moms experience chronic loss of bladder control sixth months after childbirth
• 30-50% of childbearing women over age 40 develop a chronic, out-of-control bladder
• 1 in 4 childbearing women report symptoms of fecal incontinence by age 40
• 1 in 5 women who participate in recreational sports like running and soccer change or drop their sport
due to urinary incontinence or leaking
• Nearly 20 percent of women over age 75 experience daily incontinence
• 50 percent of nursing home residents have urinary incontinence and/or fecal incontinence
• Urinary incontinence ranks second and fecal incontinence third for nursing home admission
• $26.3 billion in total healthcare costs, greater than uterine, ovarian, cervical and breast cancers combined
• $1.3 billion spent in the US for adult absorbent products

And that’s why I love the Total Control program. It empowers women through exercises and education to improve their bladder health rather than accept a life of wearing pads. It’s a great preventative program for women of all ages and offers a natural alternative to try before medication and surgery, or as a companion program to medical treatments and recovery following vaginal delivery and pelvic surgery.

Loss of bladder control is NOT a natural part of aging. And the good news is 80 percent of women with urinary incontinence can reduce or totally alleviate their symptoms to regain a sense of independence and improve quality of life.

Plight with pelvic pain leads to journey of self-discovery, teaching Total Control

“When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.”

While life has dealt me my fair share of trials and tribulations the last few years, and I no longer believe everything happens for a reason, I suppose there is a bright side. The last three years involved a series of events that led me down a path of learning more about myself, my body, my femininity, and my own bladder woes.

I’ve become much more knowledgeable about nutrition and a passionate proponent for natural health alternatives and women’s health issues. As a pelvic health educator and holistic health advocate, I believe in the body’s ability to heal itself under the right conditions and the importance of diet and exercise to maintain optimal health, promote total-body balance and honor the mind-body-spirit connection.

This journey of self-discovery has given me so much insight and awareness of my own body, and I truly enjoy sharing what I’ve learned with others. I’ve become a faithful follower of the fertility awareness method, a sponge for knowledge on natural health remedies, and much more conscious of what I eat and drink.

I also believe in the Law of Attraction – that like energy attracts – and the Universe does open the right doors when you are ready.

One bright spot over the last three years has been learning about Total Control and becoming an instructor for Mercy Health’s Bladder Clinic. I never imagined I would be teaching women to do coochie exercises and much more, but it’s turned out to be a perfect fit and something I genuinely enjoy.

I believe in the program as a preventative strategy for lifelong bladder and pelvic health. It’s also been proven in research and clinical studies to reduce incontinence symptoms. It can improve your bladder control, prevent symptoms from getting worse and reduce or totally alleviate leaking and full-blown accidents if you keep the exercises up.

As someone who has personally struggled with an overactive bladder for most of my life, I can testify to the benefits and can tell when I haven’t been teaching – the urge to urinate becomes stronger, trips to the bathroom increase, and I feel that sinking feeling that my bladder is once again taking the driver’s seat.
A lot of the women in class ask me how I became a Total Control instructor. It’s a national program developed by Women’s Health Foundation in Chicago and West Michigan women are lucky to have access to this unique, medically based fitness and education class.

You have to be pretty frank when talking about how to properly do a pelvic floor muscle contraction, or Kegel, and the various issues around incontinence, and I’ve always had a tendency to tell it like it is.

So here goes. Mind you, this is only part of the story; I’ll have to cover what has been a lifelong battle with my bladder in another post. It’s not a pleasant tale, but I do feel grateful my own health problems led me down a path to listen to my body and seek out help.

After more than a decade of being on oral birth control, I decided to go off the pill around age 30 to make sure I had a regular menstrual cycle. A female relative had many reproductive issues and problems – cysts, infertility, endometriosis and a hysterectomy in her 30s – and I wanted to make sure my period was normal, on time, and without pain or irregular bleeding.

I didn’t know about the nasty side effects of birth control pills at that time, which is now why I personally cannot take the pill (more on that in another post as well). Birth control actually proved to be very effective with minimal side effects throughout my late teens and 20s. But I took for granted I never really ovulated or experienced a true period. In essence, the pill puts your female organs on autopilot.

Finally, after several years of being single, I found myself in a relationship at age 35 and decided it was wise to go back on the pill. But this time I experienced a host of side effects. I’m not sure if it was my age, changing hormones or changing formularies for generic versions of the pill. I tried several over the course of a year or more, but let’s focus on the first one and what landed me at Mercy’s Bladder Clinic.

I started back on the pill in October 2011 and I remember going out on Halloween. I also remember laughing and having a minor leak. Thankfully, I was wearing a miniskirt and it wasn’t anything major, but I had an internal momentary freak out. It was enough to make me think, “Oh no, something is up.”

Before long, I started to experience excruciating pain with sex. So much pain it made me want to cry. Needless to say, that wasn’t the best way to start off a relatively new relationship. They always recommend giving a birth control pill a try for three months, so I stuck it out and dealt with the pain.

When I went for my annual exam in early 2012, I told the male gynecologist my issue. He thought I had Interstitial Cystitis, a chronic inflammatory condition of the bladder wall with recurring pelvic pain, pressure and discomfort in the bladder and pelvic region, and recommended a special diet and to lay off sex for a while. Great!

I went to a different doctor and asked to try a different birth control pill. Through talking about my health woes, my counselor recommended making an appointment at Mercy’s Bladder Clinic. She said the clinic offered an IC support group and it might help.

So I made an appointment in February 2012 and met with Nurse Practitioner Jennifer Mosher. I have to say, the women who work at the clinic are very understanding, empathetic, thorough and really do all they can to help address your issue. But after an initial appointment, Jen didn’t think I had IC. She thought I had a tight pelvic floor and my muscles were constantly spasming.

That began weekly visits to the Bladder Clinic for biofeedback and eventually E-stim (electrical stimulation) treatments. Biofeedback involves an electric probe in your vagina; it is hooked up to a computer monitor and you do Kegels, or pelvic floor muscle isolation exercises, so you can see how well you are doing them. Sensors relay readings of your muscle contractions to the biofeedback equipment as you watch on the screen. The biofeedback shows you and the clinician if you are exercising correctly, how strong your contraction is and how long the contraction lasts. I highly recommend it if you aren’t sure you’re correctly doing a Kegel.

When we started, my resting level was at a 10. It should have been around a two. Jen also prescribed special Valium suppositories to help ease the internal pain during sex and estrogen cream to help relieve the redness and pain on the outside.

I then had weekly E-stim treatments, which involved the same electric probe, only this time electrical currents signaled the pelvic floor muscles to contract or relax. This device exercises the muscles electronically. The clinician can adjust the level of electrical stimulation based on comfort level. It’s not painful, but you definitely feel it. In my case, I needed to work on relaxing my pelvic floor muscles.

I ended up being a regular, weekly visitor to the Bladder Clinic for nearly sixth months. All this without health insurance and before the Affordable Care Act or Michigan’s Healthy Michigan expansion! I will be eternally grateful for Mercy’s Financial Assistance Program, which was based on your income at the time. I didn’t have any income because I was finishing my master’s degree, so I also carried a lot of guilt about being an uninsured charity case.

My symptoms improved and my pelvic floor did start to relax. As summer approached, I was tired of feeling bloated from the birth control pill and I decided to go off it. I also decided to listen to my body and put two and two together. Sex was a pleasurable experience prior to going on the pill. That was the one thing that changed. Could it be causing my problems?

Sure enough, my delicate vaginal tissue – and sex – returned to normal soon after stopping the pill. It took some investigating and Googling, but I learned the pill can cause a whole host of side effects, including painful intercourse!

About the time I decided I no longer needed treatments, Jen said the Bladder Clinic was seeking new Total Control instructors and recommended I take part in training to become certified. At least it’s good to know I’m a good Kegeler. And I’m so grateful for the opportunity to teach other women how to Kegel correctly!

But Total Control is much more than a Kegel class. Stay tuned for more information about the program, or visit Mercy Health Bladder Clinic Total Control.

When you escape the bucket, be prepared for crabs

“Whatever you want in life, other people are going to want it too. Believe in yourself enough to accept the idea that you have an equal right to it.”Diane Sawyer

“Don’t compromise yourself. You are all you’ve got.”Janis Joplin

It’s funny. I’ve known several young, hip, unmarried, child-free people who have left West Michigan recently in pursuit of new adventures, new opportunities, a real arts, culture and music scene – even just a change of pace or because they could not find a decent job to support themselves and wanted to pursue their dreams. Trust me, I had planned to follow suit two and a half years ago … But, as John Lennon said, “Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.”

Oddly, they have been bashed and “hated on” for having the guts to pack up and start a new life in a new place, which, anyone who has done it knows is no small feat, and speaking the truth about Michigan’s economy, Muskegon’s crime and a pervasive mindset of accepting the status quo. Could these people be jealous? Insecure? Have an inferiority complex or feeling a little regretful they have spent their entire life in the same place? Perhaps they have struck a nerve, or, to recite a cliché saying: “Sometimes, the truth hurts.” Plus, why do they care so much about what some other person chooses to do with their life? As an outsider, but someone who has lived in West Michigan for more than eight years, I feel qualified to offer my “outsider’s perspective” on this area. But that is for another post.

This is for all the people who seem to be struggling with change, or feeling push back from friends and family for charting their own course, or for those who want to live with more purpose and passion. People get tired of all my “deep thoughts,” but I feel one of my purposes in life is to serve as a messenger and use writing to help people live more deliberately and consciously. Whether it’s with money, relationships or career choices, it seems far too many people live on autopilot and just go through the motions – or make rash decisions – without carefully considering the ramifications or long-term consequences. The other half are frozen with fear and choose complacency over stepping out into the unknown.

There is this theory called Crabs in a Bucket that really changed my view of “haters” and how to handle them. In short, if crabs are put in a bucket and one tries to escape, the other crabs will pull it back down. Applied to life, it means that most of the people you know, including family and friends, will be supportive to an extent, but they don’t want you to get too far ahead or find too much success or happiness. Perhaps it’s envy, or their own fear, or their own unhappiness.

Here are a couple of good blogs about it:
Rita Perea
Crab Mentality

The rest of this post goes back to a prior post I wrote last spring. To read it, Click here

Dr. Phil explains his process and passion for writing “Life Code” in the introduction. He started by creating a sheet for every single jerk he had encountered in his own life – people who had sought to hurt, betray and take advantage of him and his family – and identified commonalities and patterns. Lying, “grooming” behaviors and manipulation made the short list. He also did the same thing for people who he admires. They have succeeded, overcome, conquered, and contributed to this world despite coming under attack by people who wanted to destroy them. Just like the formula for spotting the “bad guys” is knowable, the formula for success for the “good guys” is knowable. Success is created, and once obtained, must be managed and protected, he says.

Dr. Phil realized that to “win in the real world, these people I studied became ‘street smart’ and didn’t take any ‘wooden nickels.’ They didn’t sell out their integrity, they didn’t settle for what they didn’t want, and they played to win.” Here’s his Sweet 16 Success Tips for turning your life around:

1. Have a defined image of your character.
2. Create a perception of uniqueness.
3. Play big, not just long.
4. Learn to claim and accept praise, and acknowledge it in a gracious way.
5. Become “essential.”
6. Know your real currency.
7. Always have a plan.
8. Keep things “close to the vest.”
9. Always be investigative.
10. Stretch your way to success, even if it feels like you’re “faking it until you make it.”
11. Always keep your options open.
12. Master the system and figure out a way to make it work for you.
13. Create a passionate nucleus of supporters.
14. Deal only with the truth.
15. Recognize and use the ego and greed of others to create a path to success.
16. Pick your battles and never let your opponent have control.

“The difference between winners and losers is winners do things losers don’t want to do,” Dr. Phil says. “You’ve got to stop whining and start doing.”

In this economy and job market – not to mention this Facebook-infused world where people tag themselves at the airport and brag about their new job, their great relationship, their awesome vacation plans – it’s easy to be competitive, jealous or feel like you are somehow losing at the game of life. In many cases, it’s an attempt to present a phony façade to the world and make their life look better than it really is.

People will always want what you have, and vice versa. Perhaps they are living in a big lake house while you are eating Ramen noodles in a studio apartment. But maybe you have managed to maintain your weight through a lot of hard work, exercise, self-discipline, and eating healthy, while they cannot seem to find the will or the way. You might think they have the perfect job, while they are envious that you have freedom, flexibility and are brave enough to go after your dreams rather than be stuck working for the man. They might broadcast their great vacations, while leaving out it’s on credit. And they might be jealous that you get to go boating every weekend in the summer. It might appear someone else has a great relationship when they brag about the lavish gifts they receive from their spouse or partner, but it might be to make up for an affair or because they hang out at the bar or travel a lot, while you have the things that really matter – a partner who makes you laugh, accepts you for who you are, and comes home to you every night.

Rather than feel threatened by someone’s success, remember there is enough to go around. Count your blessings. Open your heart to abundance. Ask for like-minded souls to come into your life. Stop assuming the worst. Don’t take things so personally. Think positive. Smile and say hello to strangers. If you hear of a friend landing a good job, getting married, or otherwise accomplishing or doing something you want, feel the envy, let it pass, and then wish them well. Because we all know they will need it.

There will always be naysayers and haters. Sometimes you just have to put blinders on. Stand tall. Be proud. Trust yourself and keep doing your thing. Stay focused on your dreams, desires and goals. And give people the boot who try to deter you from reaching for the stars.

Go With Your Gut – It’s Your Inner GPS Guiding You

“I know that because God loves me I can do wonderful things. I can try great things, learn anything, achieve anything.”Maya Angelou

The above quote comes from a card I bought years ago and keep front and center on my refrigerator door. Maybe the picture of a woman and a dog walking along a beach spoke to me as much as the message. I think I bought it for someone else, but ended up signing the inside to myself while grappling with a major life decision: “I love you Marla! Stay true to yourself. Love, Me! 6-21-08. P.S. Had this card since February.”

There is another article I keep on my frig, a “What I Know for Sure” piece on intuition by Oprah. I’ve long been an Oprah follower (could it be because she’s an unmarried, child-free, Aquarian journalist like me?) and really believe in her message of raising one’s spiritual awareness rather than blindly believing religious dogma. You can recite Bible verses, find Jesus and faithfully attend church and still be disconnected from God and yourself. Just look at the epidemic of debt, obesity, workaholism, divorce and addiction in our country. For me, learning to connect with Self and Soul and Source is the path to living an authentic, joyful, deeply spiritual life.

A few excerpts from the article:
“What I know for sure is that if you were going to buy only one issue, ever, of O, this would be the one. Learning to trust your instincts, using your intuitive sense of what’s best for you, is paramount for any lasting success. I’ve trusted the still, small voice of intuition my entire life. And the only time I’ve made mistakes is when I didn’t listen.”

“How many times have you gone against your gut, only to find yourself at odds with the natural flow of things? We all get caught up in the business of doing, and sometimes lose our place in the flow. But the more we can tune into our intuition, the better off we are. I believe it’s how God speaks to us.”

“And I often tell friends: When you don’t know what to do, do nothing. Get quiet so you can hear the still, small voice – your inner GPS guiding you to true North.”

So this card I keep on my frig goes back to a time I had planned to move to another state and temporarily stay with a friend and her husband until I found a job and an apartment. The date has significance; it was about a month before I was supposed to be moving. And I wasn’t planning to go anywhere. In her mind, I know she thought she was doing me a favor. But the troubling reality is this person kept telling me she was unhappy.

Out of respect for her, I won’t go into the details. Let’s just say it didn’t sound like a good situation to get myself into the middle of, and deep in my gut, I kept getting a bad feeling. Her husband liked to put me down, as well as where we grew up – “Rebels” on the south side of town. And, besides the fact she had introduced me to a couple of bad habits as a teenager, she was already making plans to play matchmaker with one of his friends, walk and train my dog, and start me on a fitness regime. I was just beginning to learn to set healthy boundaries with people and worried my needs and wants would get washed away by the tide of her overbearing personality.

Still trying to heal from a mentally and verbally abusive romantic relationship that had ended, I became frozen with fear at the thought of being around another domineering person who had long tried to run the show and tell me what to do. I’m sure some of it also stems from being a person who doesn’t like to be dependent on others. And a person who grew up feeling controlled, criticized and never able to express my feelings or what I wanted. I just couldn’t sell myself on giving up my stable job, even though it was making me unhappy, and life for something unknown and potentially ending up in the middle of a tumultuous situation.

Unfortunately, I handled the situation poorly when it came to telling her I wasn’t going to come. It got pretty far in the process and I started dodging her calls and never really told her. I told a mutual friend who was going to help me move out there. I can admit it was rude, and I acted like a jerk, but I had my own reasons. I didn’t want to be pressured into doing something I didn’t want to do.

There were four of us who used to run around together, and a couple of years earlier, they all came for a girls’ trip to visit me in Michigan. These two “friends,” the one who was going to help me move and the one who was going to take me in, stood in my apartment and yelled at me and the other friend – I mean in our faces yelling at us – until we took off and left them there and went dancing. Needless to say, the fabulous foursome we were in our 20s slowly started to deteriorate and actually became dysfunctional and toxic. And I had reason to fear how the confrontation would go down. A few months later, when I tried to explain myself, a huge fight ensued over the phone. We haven’t spoken since.

In my defense, I also spent the next year or more trying to ask for her forgiveness. I apologized in letters and cards, but never got a response. Calls were never answered or returned. A Facebook friend request got ignored. So, I stopped groveling and decided to move on with my life. And it’s okay. I don’t wish her any ill will, and wish her well, because for many years of my life she was a very dear friend.

There are several morals to this story:
• Female friendships can get pretty precarious as you get older, especially if each person changes in different ways and the friendship doesn’t evolve or you cannot find some common ground to connect you.
• Go with your gut. Trust yourself and the still small voice within. If the thought of doing something makes you nauseous or your heart race, that is probably a good indicator not to do it.
• Be a big enough person to own your role in the problem, act like an adult and have a discussion. Sometimes, minor conflicts left to fester can snowball into huge meltdowns and arguments.
• Not all friendships need to end; some just need to change and can change if both people are mature enough to talk it out and not force their position or agenda on the other. Others do simply run their course. Mourn the loss of the relationship like any other. Be grateful for the good times.
• Realize you are better than acting pathetic and begging someone to be your friend. Go find yourself a new one or learn to be happy doing things alone.
• If a person does not want to accept your apology, that is their right and also their issue. They may have their reasons, and there are always two sides to every story. I have forgiven a few people and never spoken to them again.
• Don’t take it personally or beat yourself up over what happened. Stand in your truth and know who you are. Remember the fun you had and cherish the memories. Learn to go on and have a fabulous life.

One thing I know for sure: Take good care of you – do what is best for you – even if it means someone will be mad at you or hurt. You may lose a relationship, but it beats losing yourself. There are times I have missed the friendship, but I have never regretted not moving.

And remember this advice from the inside of the card: “As you journey on the path the Creator has made for you, may you continue to walk in goodness, in gratitude … in joy.”

Learn To Be Your Own Best Friend

“This life is what you make it. No matter what, you’re going to mess up sometimes, it’s a universal truth. But the good part is you get to decide how you’re going to mess it up. Girls will be your friends – they’ll act like it anyway. But just remember, some come, some go. The ones that stay with you through everything – they’re your true best friends. Don’t let go of them. Also remember, sisters make the best friends in the world. As for lovers, well, they’ll come and go, too. And baby, I hate to say it, most of them – actually pretty much all of them are going to break your heart, but you can’t give up because if you give up, you’ll never find your soul mate. You’ll never find that half who makes you whole and that goes for everything. Just because you fail once, doesn’t mean you’re gonna fail at everything. Keep trying, hold on, and always, always, always believe in yourself, because if you don’t, then who will, sweetie? So keep your head high, keep your chin up, and most importantly, keep smiling, because life’s a beautiful thing and there’s so much to smile about.”Marilyn Monroe

The older I get, the more I have realized you have to learn to be your own best friend. You have to learn not to be blown about by every wind, every loss, every person that may not like you or what you have to say. It takes knowing yourself, coming into your own, and developing a strong sense of self. A sure sign you have arrived: Being called a bitch. No, it’s not always a bad thing to be. It means you have a backbone.

I don’t take decisions lightly, especially since I turned 30, and especially major ones that involve uprooting my life or permanently altering it in some way. Maybe it’s because I made too many dumb ones in my 20s, mainly regarding men, but I also think many women in their 20s simply don’t know who they are and bounce around trying to make everyone else happy or fretting that they are somehow losing at the game of life.

The 20-something decade is fraught with bad boundaries, shaky self-esteem, body image issues, career insecurity and, of course, doing senseless things for the sake of having a man in our life. We try to impress bosses, job hop or move around in hopes of getting a promotion, or at least a raise and some semblance of job security. We invest way too much energy in trying to find a man, or revolving our life around one, hoping we will get that ring and start a family before other friends do.

Although I have been fortunate to have good female friends at different stages of my life, and hopefully they know who they are, sometimes you just need to let friendships go. The 20s seem to be the decade where you learn who your true friends are or you simply outgrow friendships and find yourself with maybe one or two real ones – if you’re lucky. I mean the kind you know you can reveal your darkest secrets to and they won’t judge you, and they really have your best interest at heart and want to see you happy and successful. I guess that is why I am a fan of finding a good therapist, and keeping them on standby, so you can vent and ask for advice and it’s confidential. It’s also why I used to hang with the guys, and my boyfriend is now my best friend. They are simple, usually drama free, and there isn’t the undercurrent of phoniness and jealousy.

Some childhood friends end up being lifelong friends. Great! But just because someone slept over at your house every weekend in elementary school, or you were inseparable in high school, doesn’t mean you still have the same values or interests at 25 – or 35. For some reason, maybe because women tend to suffer from people-pleasing and second-guessing-themselves syndrome, you find yourself holding on to friendships that aren’t all that healthy or fulfilling because they seem safe, comfortable, and you know each other’s history.

Maybe you rarely see the person, they live in another state and are settling down, while you might be doing the career and dating thing. You get tired of hearing them rag on their husbands, and they get tired of you recalling dating horror stories. They offer unsolicited advice and pass judgment, and you believe somehow they know more about relationships than you do just because they managed to get a ring on their finger. Yet, you know they are miserable, or at least they sound like it based on what they tell you. In all reality, you may not even really like each other all that much, but “breaking up” seems too daunting.

Or friendships become an unspoken competition filled with jealousy, envy and passive-aggressive digs, especially among two single women out on the prowl together. But you grin and bear it because you surely cannot show up alone at bars or parties. The worst: Catty, backstabbing copycats, also known as frenemies. Comparable on the spectrum of toxicity: The fake work friend who buddies up to you and invites you to happy hour, only to steal your ideas or pump you for personal information, then run and tell bosses and coworkers in an effort to undermine you or make you look bad. They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Guess I prefer originality and authenticity. If you have “friends” in these categories, trust me, it’s better to cut your losses and roll solo.

I love the above Marilyn Monroe quote. The one line I might dispute is that sisters can make the best of friends. Some sisters truly do grow up BFFs, sharing everything and supporting each other. But, in many families, same-sex sibling rivalry and competition can be unspoken and ugly. One of my sister’s unfriended me on Facebook several years ago. No, we’re still not friends.

One of the trickiest friend dynamics: When you have been friends for so long, the person feels they can boss you around and tell you what to do, because that is what they have always done. And, for whatever reason, you have let them, because they were always the leader of the pack and that is what kept you friends. It really doesn’t help if you grew up being bullied and yelled at and struggle with low self-esteem and not trusting yourself. It actually leads to the perfect bully dynamic, but with someone who is supposed to have your back and be a solace from your dysfunctional family. Again, this is where a therapist can come in handy. There’s no shame in consulting with a trained professional for an unbiased opinion on whether it’s really healthy.

The trouble is: No one gives you a friendship breakup manual. In the best case, some superficial relationships just fizzle without a big blow up. And if you lack communication and conflict resolution skills, a confrontation can become as heated and end as badly as any romantic relationship on the rocks. Just watch “The Bachelor.” Cat fights can get nasty.

Since everyone’s attention span is miniscule on the Internet, and since I’ve already written twice the standard blog post word count, stay tuned for the sequel …

Dark Days Do Lead To Brighter Ones

“The only thing standing between you and your goal is the bullshit story you keep telling yourself as to why you can’t achieve it.”Jordan Belfort

This time of year always puts me in a reflective mood. I’m not sure if it’s the change of the seasons, leafless trees, cloudy skies and, every time I look out my window, mentally preparing for at least four months of snow, cold and days hunkered indoors. Perhaps it’s the lack of daylight, and even sparser sunlight – the joys of the lake effect in winter. Or maybe it has something to do with the fact my late ex-husband died right before Christmas at far too young of an age, and every year when the anniversary of his death rolls around, I have a twinge of regret. We hadn’t been together for years, or in touch, but one always wonders if reaching out to a person in emotional distress might have made a difference. It also doesn’t help that the day of his funeral, which I couldn’t attend due to living out of state and no vacation time, I found out the dog we had together and I took care of for 10 years was dying and had two weeks to live.

Make no mistake: The Universe connects us in mysterious ways. It also sends us signals about what is working and not working in our life.

Four years ago at this time, the only career I had ever known – one that many would perceive as prestigious, one that had landed me in West Michigan, one that provided a steady paycheck doing something I loved – also was coming to an end. I never entered or stayed in the newspaper profession to feed my ego. It was more out of a sense of passion and purpose and the opportunity to make a difference. But, after 11 years, it had taken its emotional toll.

Super unhappy at the time, I indulged in self-destructive behaviors as a way to cope for several months leading up to being laid off. Due to a series of circumstances that had been building for a few years, work had started to suck the life out of me. Literally. I was sick, stressed, negative, and generally not myself. I struggled to drag myself out of bed in the mornings to go to work. I started doing things that weren’t in my character because I felt hopeless and helpless to change my circumstances. When you are a single woman who has to support yourself, when you live four hours away from your family, when you feel like you don’t have many options, life can become very overwhelming and exhausting.

It got so bad I took leave for two weeks so I could regroup and figure out my next move. I knew layoffs were coming, and I willingly volunteered to be the first in the newsroom to get pink slipped. People thought I was crazy at the time. Luckily, I didn’t have kids, a mortgage or other big bills to worry about. I also knew it was that or quit, swallow my pride and move back with one of my parents before I lost my mind.

I also remember praying. Really praying. It’s one of the few times in my life I’ve gotten down on my knees and pleaded, asking God or some Higher Power to deliver me from my job and change the course of my life. I remember crying and hibernating and trying my damnedst to trust that the Universe had a plan – that it would all work in due time. And I did have a plan post-layoff. Take some time to rest and heal. Qualify for unemployment and the No Worker Left Behind program and go to graduate school. It worked out for the most part, in many regards better than I could have expected – other than I have yet to land that amazing full-time job I thought would be so easy with a master’s degree. I never expected the economy would be this slow to recover; it would come down to who you know, not what you know; that there would be age discrimination at age 37; or so many people afraid to hire someone because they perceive them as a threat to their job.

But, just like I did four years ago, I have to trust that it all unfolds in divine order. I am grateful I have learned to make hard decisions, listen to my inner wisdom and stay true to myself. Maybe another corporate, high-stress job is not in the cards for me – at least not right now. I talked to a woman recently who retold a similar experience. She was a successful divorce attorney, but she was miserable and found herself $50,000 in debt even with a good income. She started taking trips to Sedona, Arizona, to work with spiritual guides and practitioners.

During those sessions, the answer kept coming back that she needed to quit her law practice or she was going to die of cancer like her mother. She didn’t know how her life was going to unfold, but she trusted the Universe to make it happen. Now, a decade later, she runs a successful business in Sedona that plans customized spiritual retreats for people. She told me that we will never be shown everything, just bits and pieces. But if you honor what you are being shown and pay attention to what the Universe is trying to tell you – and act on it – the right path will continue to be revealed.

Although that period four years ago – I was off work this very week if we go by calendar date – was dark and painful, I consider it one of the defining times of my life. It’s not been a cake walk in the four years since. My life is definitely not perfect and not entirely what I thought it would be. Now $20,000 in debt with student loans, currently being deferred, I also qualify for financial assistance through the local hospital because my income is so low and I have no health insurance. I am still living in West Michigan – a place I planned to escape as soon as I graduated.

But I am so grateful I am facing my fear of failure and fear of the unknown. Maybe they were life lessons I needed to learn. Sure, there is some comfort in a steady paycheck and health insurance, even when the job is making you sick. Yet, I can attest there is a sense of calm and peace that comes from carving out your own career path, too. I cherish having freedom and flexibility, along with feeling passion and purpose. I am improving my organizational and time-management skills by planning ahead and meeting deadlines of my own accord. I can sleep late, work when I want, say yes or no to assignments. Even better, I don’t have a boss or office politics to deal with, no commute on snowy winter days, and am back to meeting interesting people, telling their stories and learning something new every day.

I also have a renewed sense of self-confidence because, yes, I am doing what I feel is my true calling. I don’t live in a big house or have a new car in the driveway, but I don’t live on credit, either. And I finally feel happy. Along with writing, another job I didn’t get led to becoming a certified Total Control Wellness instructor. Teaching women how to improve bladder control with exercise and lifestyle changes energizes and excites me every time I teach a new session. I have become passionate about researching and writing about women’s health issues around hormones, birth control and other taboo topics.

Simple abundance means you realize your blessings don’t come from material things and you learn to be content with what you have – knowing it is more than enough. Whether you want to call it God, the Law of Attraction in action or connecting with your higher self, life is pretty good when you operate from a place of authenticity and honesty and trust the voice within.

Karma, Kool-Aid and the Guy Who Grounds Me

“Keep your heart open and love will always find its way in.” – Jane Seymour

Hopefully, when you run into your ex, you can hold your head up high and know you weren’t the one with the problems – and it makes you grateful for your current relationship. Such was the case for me on Saturday when I saw mine at a distance. I actually ran into him in late summer, doing community service. Talk about feeling a little karma, but I’ll spare the blog bashing.

This is about the man he could never be.

I don’t normally brag on my boyfriend because we live in reality rather than FB/internet land, and he thinks Facebook is stupid, but I truly believe he is the love of my life. I am not sure why it took 35 years to find the right guy; all I know is I am grateful I finally did. It’s not all been peaches and roses. What relationship is? But he doesn’t like drama and taught me a lot about sticking it out. He’s loyal, faithful, caring and kind. He makes me laugh, feel safe, and accepts me for me. He’s a pretty simple, humble guy. He’s not a “look at me,” let’s brag about everything we’re doing type.

He’s actually quite private … kind of funny he fell for a writer who has a tell-it-like-it-is nature and might be guilty of TMI at times. He rarely yells or complains, gets up and goes to work every day, and works hard – so hard he doesn’t really take a vacation or have time to sit on Facebook – and has paid most of our household bills and all of our entertainment for the last year and a half. And people wonder why we aren’t drinking the Kool-Aid when it comes to having kids? Money is one of many reasons.

I think women who grow up spoiled expect to be spoiled by a man. I am used to the guys who don’t want to work and use and take from me. Heck, in my 20s, I bought boyfriends cars, let them move in with me and use my credit because they didn’t have any. Cheap Muskegon douchebags wouldn’t pay for a date. I have never been one to “need” a guy. I’ve gone long periods without one, including four years before I met my current beau. I’m usually with one because I truly love them – douchebag, drug addict or loser, or not.

I actually ran off at 19 and married my high school boyfriend and first love. We only lasted a couple of years, but as someone who tattooed my name on their chest, he always held a special place in my heart. He unfortunately passed away at far too young of an age and the upcoming anniversary of his death also has been on my mind. It may sound odd, but during my recent single years, I started carry his Navy picture in my wallet … maybe he is one of my Angel Guides. I always figured he would want me to find a nice guy, someone who would take care of me, not yell at me, and make me laugh.

Reflecting on defining moments in my life these last few days, I believe there was a reason I met my current boyfriend. I had prayed to God/Universe/Creator, whatever you want to call it, and was so tired of dating jerks and being alone. If I would have moved in 2010 after I was laid off, or even in 2008 when I planned to pack up for Colorado (another instance of listening to my intuition that will be discussed in another post), my life would be totally different. It makes me sad to think of life without him. He truly has changed my life for the better.

This Thanksgiving was filled with a few of my favorite things – and another example of being true to me. After sleeping late with my boyfriend and Sugar Bear, who initially woke us up at 8 a.m. to watch birds and squirrels out the window, we drank coffee and watched the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. There was no traveling, visiting, drama, cooking or cleanup. We ate so much at The Lake House’s Thanksgiving Buffet we left with stomach aches and spent the afternoon in a carbohydrate-induced food coma. We drove by the Big Lake and enjoyed four inches of fresh snow. Then we napped and read the Black Friday ads with no intentions of shopping.

We may never get married. I don’t mind. It fits with my independent Aquarian spirit; and he’s a Pisces. I would rather us be free to be in a relationship because we want to be rather than because some contract forces us to be. We may not last forever, but I will always be eternally grateful he has financially helped me through this self-employment transition, chose to love me during a low point of my life, and stayed strong when, due to my insecurities, childhood issues, and depression over not being able to find a job, I tried to push him away and even threatened to run away a few times.

His love and friendship doesn’t have a price tag. And I feel so blessed, proud and grateful to call him mine.

Build character, love yourself first – Part 2

“You cannot simultaneously set a boundary and take care of the other person’s feelings.”
– Melody Beattie

While I love her quotes, Marilyn Monroe is another beautiful, brilliant, misunderstood soul who often presented a tough exterior to the world. I give her credit for her renegade attitude and living life on her terms. But one has to wonder. Did the media scrutiny, rumors about her personal life, and pressure of being in the public eye push her over the edge? She died far too young – at age 36 – and the circumstances of her death remain unclear. Was it an accidental overdose, suicide or homicide?

In today’s social media society, it’s even easier to spout off mean Tweets or try to smear someone through Facebook status updates. People seem obsessed with gossip and clueless as to the impact of their actions. It makes me think of the recent rape scandal in Ohio and teenagers showing a total lack of empathy. We also have witnessed it with the NCAA tournament. Several former colleagues and sports writers I know seemed appalled at the harsh and critical nature of comments about Indiana University players after their loss. They are all just kids playing a game, trying to win and represent their university well.

The truth is – we are all just human beings, or rather, souls having a human experience – and I believe we are all connected (another thing confirmed in the StrengthsFinder Signature Themes report). If we are all part of a bigger life force, then we must not harm others because we will be harming ourselves. We must not exploit or try to oppress others, because ultimately it means we are exploiting and oppressing ourselves. What you put out comes back. And we can only take so much. Some of us cope better than others, but every person has a breaking point.

And so we get to the heart of the matter. Are these bullies and mean-spirited people consciously aware of the emotional pain they create for others? Do they care? Yes, maybe they did suffer their own form of abuse or abandonment, or maybe they have a personality disorder. But what good can really come from tearing others down, invading boundaries and trying to sabotage other’s success? What causes someone to lie and backstab, and how do you refute someone who has tried to ruin your reputation? It’s hard to wrap my mind around it.

From my experience, if you confront a bully, it simply escalates the situation. They blow smoke, deflect, manipulate, get defensive and do whatever they can in their power to convince you that you are the problem. It’s your fault and you are the bad person, even when you are the one trying to do the right thing, compromise and apologize, forgive and forget, or stand firm in your convictions. They will take advantage of your kindness, naivety, and sensitivity and seek to destroy your self-esteem, your character, and your sense of sanity. Indeed, crazy people make you feel crazy.

In an effort not to single people out in my blogs, let’s just say I once dated a guy who liked to stare down, flirt with and hang on other women in front of me – among other things. When I told him I thought it was disrespectful and it hurt my feelings, he told me I was the one with the problem. I was jealous and insecure. While I am definitely not perfect, and sometimes struggle with insecurities, his behavior was over the top. I could never really catch him doing something wrong, but I always had this uneasy gut feeling that he was untrustworthy. Not to mention, he yelled at me and told me I needed to dress more provocative, grow out my hair and that I better not get bigger than a size 8. He broke up with me once, then came back and said he would change, and then broke up with me again. A case of a classic narcissist.

I know many of you are probably thinking: “Why didn’t you kick that jerk to the curb and never look back?” At the time, I was devastated. I do believe he loved me in his own weird way and thought he was being “helpful,” but he chipped away at my already shaky self-esteem until I really started to believe there was something wrong with me. My hair, my clothes, my weight – nothing was good enough. To this day, I cannot say he is an entirely bad guy, just someone you shouldn’t date. He came on strong and charming. He was so good at manipulation and turning it around on me, I internalized everything. I couldn’t think straight. I read books in hopes of helping myself and changing him. I lost myself, my dignity and my identity. It was like I became addicted to the drama and tried desperately to cling to a relationship that was never meant to be. For some reason, I thought having this person in my life – and his approval – was more important than loving and respecting me. I spent four years after our breakup being single, and it’s when I set my standards and stuck to this mantra: “Better single than sorry.” And as life would have it, when I made the decision to finish my master’s degree and move, I finally met a great guy who accepts me for who I am.

I wish I had some profound answer on how to interact and rationalize with bullies, narcissists, liars, frenemies and other saboteurs. My neighbor got so fed up he works from home, has semi-retired in his mid-40s and intends to be hiking in Colorado in two years and generally drop out of society. My plans don’t include anything that extreme. I’m too social to ever hibernate permanently, though I did enjoy my two years “checked out” as a full-time grad student. It seems I did pretty well at hiding out. Many people thought I had left town. It’s why starting a second Facebook account (in an attempt to keep my personal and private life separate) gave me so much anxiety. I like being low-key and under the radar.

Maybe it’s not the healthiest, but my tactic is avoidance. No, you cannot avoid every uncomfortable situation or mean person, especially in a small town, but I have gotten pretty good at avoiding people I do not want to see. If you live with a mean person, like a parent, sibling, spouse or romantic partner, I am truly sorry. My advice is to invest in some good therapy, set healthy boundaries and practice regular self-care and detachment. Move a state or two away, or across the country, if necessary. I’m a fan of fresh starts and believe they can be good for the soul. If you work with mean people, well, I am truly sorry. But at least there is hope! Beyond good therapy, figure out an exit strategy as soon as you can. One thing I know for sure: You should not have to expose yourself to mental anguish or people who think it is fun to lie, shoot down your ideas, undermine your skills, and try to make you look bad on a daily basis just to earn a paycheck. You shouldn’t have to pop antidepressants or antianxiety pills, either. That is just masking a problem that will lead to some form of addiction or illness.

And rest assured, Dr. Phil, being a psychologist, would say there is no shame in seeking a well-educated, well-trained, unbiased third-party professional to run things by or solicit advice. They don’t know your family or friends, they are emotionally detached from your dramas, and they know baloney when they hear it. They will tell you if you are being bamboozled or if you are way off base. If nothing else, they allow you to vent about whatever you want and cannot tell anyone else as long as you aren’t threatening to hurt yourself or others. Go for a couple of months, a couple of years, indefinitely if necessary. A few good books that have also gotten me through some dark days and given me the confidence to stand up for myself, or at least renegotiate some personal relationships and rid my life of bad people not worthy of my time: “Help, I’m in Love with a Narcissist (seriously),” “Codependent No More,” “Toxic Parents: Overcoming Their Hurtful Legacy and Reclaiming Your Life (even the most well-meaning parents can leave scars),” and a daily book of meditations by codependent author and guru Melody Beattie, “The Language of Letting Go.”

No relationship is perfect, whether it’s between family members, friends, colleagues or romantic partners. They constantly have to be negotiated, as Dr. Phil would say. Relationships are managed, not cured. Each of us has a bottom line for how much addiction, arguments, pain, betrayal, drama, disrespect and toxicity we will tolerate. We all have non-negotiables and deal breakers. We all have feelings and normally those feelings will guide you if you stop and take the time to listen and feel them. Many of us have been stuffing our feelings for so long – with food, booze, working too much, and other avoidance tactics – we are too scared to get still and listen to our intuition. If you feel you invest more into a relationship, then it may need rebalanced rather than ended. If you think it’s unhealthy, it probably is. If people yell and deflect responsibility when confronted, it may be time to disengage and stop letting them yank your chain. If you have friends who roll their eyes and make snarky comments, but overall are decent people, maybe a civilized discussion is all that is necessary. We can determine what feels good and what hurts, and we can choose whether it’s in our best interest to try to maintain a relationship or cut our losses and go on.

Not to end with another Dr. Phil-ism, but “peace at any price is no peace at all.” Once you find healthy self-esteem, your life will change. Healthy self-esteem does not mean you are narcissistic, selfish or in-to-yourself. It means you love and respect yourself enough to make YOU the priority. You will stop being a doormat. You will stop dating jerks, hanging around fake friends, and interacting with people who make you feel bad. It doesn’t mean you still won’t attract bad people, but you definitely learn to spot them more quickly. There is something liberating in liking your own company and learning to roll solo.

Build character, ignore mean people – Part 1

“You teach people how to treat you.”
– Dr. Phil

Since Dr. Phil devoted Tuesday’s show to the topic of toxic people who bully and try to bring you down, I took it as a sign to blog about it. This piece has been brewing for a while – long before I had an outlet to share it. One thing he said on the show that I wrote down: “Winners deal with the truth.” Another noteworthy statement: “If he is criticizing you, there is something wrong with him.”

Mean people have been on my mind lately. Well, maybe I should expand that to bullies, liars, frenemies, fakers, naysayers and generally disingenuous, jealous, envious types who make covert and overt digs in an attempt to make them feel better and you feel bad. Dr. Phil has devoted his latest book “Life Code: The New Rules for Winning in the Real World” to dealing with the users, abusers and exploiters in the world. I haven’t read it, but I’m sure it’s an insightful read and hope to soon.

According to Dr. Phil, these are the types of people who will suck your energy and life dry:

The Evil 8:
1. See the world through a lens of entitlement.
2. Lack of empathy.
3. Incapable of feeling remorse or guilt.
4. Self-destructive behavior.
5. Feed off drama and crises.
6. Try to brag and outsmart you.
7. Have short-lived relationships.
8. Have delusions.

These are ways to spot them:

The Nefarious 15:
1. They infiltrate your life with promises and flattery.
2. Define you as a conspiratorial confidant.
3. Are focused on getting your approval.
4. They gather data to build a file on you.
5. Misdirect and maintain a mystery about who they really are.
6. Constantly blame others when confronted.
7. They will lie to the point of destruction.
8. Tendency to cheat and steal.
9. Isolate their victims to foster dependency.
10. Abuse positions of power.
11. Know your hot buttons to gain leverage.
12. Selective memory.
13. Two-faced: Spread lies and gossip.
14. Paranoid.
15. Passive aggressive.

I know I shouldn’t give the above types any thought or attention. They obviously have serious issues or live miserable lives. But it seems for most of my life I have been a magnet for these energy vampires and toxic people who either want to push me around, put me down, or manipulate me to do what they want. I have dealt with them since age 9 or 10, starting with a relentless grade school bully who turned other girls I thought were my friends against me to further isolate and humiliate me. It happened just a couple of years ago on my study abroad trip to London, when I had to hang out with people 15 years younger. They thought it was fun to leave me places, spread rumors, and generally mock me behind my back. That made for fun group dynamics. So I just went off on my own.

Attempts at oppression and control have come on the familial, friend, romantic and workplace fronts, too. Honestly, other than in elementary school, I’ve never had such a hard time trying to make friends and not feeling like I fit in as I have the last eight years in West Michigan. It’s sad to say there are only a handful of people I would ever care to see again if I left. It’s also sad, but not surprising that people loved to call me and ask for a favor when I worked at the paper, but now that I need one, besides a few nice folks, they are nowhere to be found. But such is life.

Dr. Phil would probably tell me to buck up, toughen up and face life with a fierce determination to succeed, regardless of what other people say or think.

Still, the reflective, introspective side of me wonders what that says about me – why I attract users, abusers and narcissistic types and tolerate their bad behavior for far too long.

A former coworker, a person I consider a great friend, dearly admire and miss, and sat beside for more than three years at my last newspaper in Indiana, recently called me a “cool, heart-oriented soul.” Another lady I asked to be my mentor said: “You stand out in a crowd, Marla. I believe God gave you that gift for a reason. God/Universal Mother/Father God, also gave you the talent for writing along with a compassionate heart for others.”

Her encouragement has helped me feel brave enough to write from the heart and stand in my truth. I knew she was a kindred spirit when she sent me a career affirmation that has become my new mantra: “Just put it out there in the Universe and make it your intention to find the best place to work for your highest good, where you will love the people, money and environment and most importantly – love what you are doing! I believe we all have the ability to live our abundant life and accomplish so much more than we even know.”

Their kind words make me feel a little better, but it still sucks standing up to the meanies in the world. Maybe I too easily absorb other people’s energy and let their opinions knock me off center. I’ve been told I wear my heart on my sleeve, but I’m starting to wonder if that translates into wearing “come screw me over” on my forehead.

They say bullies target people they perceive as weak. I’m definitely not weak and, since turning 30 and learning to set better boundaries, I’m proud to say I have removed a long line of toxic men, friends and acquaintances from my life in the last seven years. I don’t have the energy to be phony, play the head games or dish it back. I have learned to cut ties and go on. Sensitive, emotional and intuitively oriented, a person who strives for harmony and wants to be liked, I try to live by the Golden Rule and treat others how I want to be treated. I’ve failed at times in my life, but in general, I try to think about other people and their feelings and don’t set out to deliberately hurt them. The fact a recent report determined my top strength to be empathy – the ability to sense the feelings of other people by imagining themselves in others’ lives or others’ situations – further confirms I tend to think about others and their feelings, often at the expense of my own.

So let’s get to the real point of this post. As I embark on this journey to forge a freelance writing career, it’s stirred up a lot of feelings of fear and failure. I’m pretty sure they stem from childhood, magnified by the many jerks (male and female) I have had to deal with in my life. In hopes of finding comfort in the uncertain life of starving artists and free spirits, I dug out and actually read a book that somehow landed on my desk a dozen years ago and survived the move to Michigan. In a weird side note, I recently wrote the above mentioned coworker to tell him, and he said he had been looking for the very same book!

There is sage and quirky advice in this tiny little book, an easy and uplifting read filled with heartfelt honesty. Some of the opening chapters are a little heavy and depressing as the author, Susan Brackney, covers a long line of creative geniuses who have struggled with depression, procrastination and suicidal tendencies – including her. She is brave enough to admit that without antidepressants, she would have very likely joined the ranks of the intelligent, artistic misfits who gave up and chose to end their lives in some tragic way.

Later on in the book, she tackles “living in the world of meanies.” The night I read these pages I had been stewing and fretting about things beyond my control, concocting conspiracy theories in my head (or ones I will never be able to prove) and simply wasting energy on people who don’t deserve it. Her wisdom made the light bulb go on: “No matter what, remember this: you can only have enemies if you allow yourself to have them. If someone tries to engage you in some miserable, bilious conflict, don’t give such nonsense your time or energy. I realized that my life is too short to waste on my former coworker. You only have so long to offer your wonderful gifts to the people who deserve them, so don’t waste your time on bad people.”

She continues: “That sounds simple enough, but it’s very difficult to ignore those who want to hurt you. Still, you must. Here’s why: They need your attention in order to thrive. Don’t give it to them. Ignoring the meanies of the world gets easier with practice. It’s difficult but not impossible. And it builds character like nothing else I know.”

Profound words from someone who has contemplated suicide, but having walked in similar shoes, it’s easy to understand why. She rationalizes that they must be really miserable inside. My take is they must hate something about themselves that they want to project onto another.

Plain and simple: There are some really mean-spirited, vindictive people in the world. People who long to see you fail, may even attempt to sabotage you then call you paranoid and crazy, and will take great pleasure in any misgivings or misfortune that come your way. It’s a waste of energy to try and figure out why. Maybe they were abused or grew up in a competitive home. Maybe they are indeed jealous of your accomplishments. Maybe they really are just that miserable and want you to be, too.