Life in general

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.

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.

Being in-between

“Spring passes and one remembers one’s innocence.
Summer passes and one remembers one’s exuberance.
Autumn passes and one remembers one’s reverence.
Winter passes and one remembers one’s perseverance.”

― Yoko Ono

One of the few things I knew as I started designing my website is that I wanted pictures of nature and the four seasons to reflect my belief in the healing power of nature. The scenic beauty is what sold me on moving to West Michigan. Whenever I feel sad, lonely, depressed or disconnected from myself, I try to head for a hike or escape to the beach. I always feel better, more centered, and grateful for the many blessings in my life. If the birds and animals survive, so will I.

With that being said, this time of year always makes me antsy. It also makes my dog antsy. She woke me up last Thursday morning jumping on and off the bed and running between the bedroom and living room because she saw the sun and wanted to go out and bark at squirrels and birds. It seems the sun has an energizing effect on more than just people.

The sun did lift my spirit and put a smile on my face. It was nice to hear the birds chirping and see the ground, albeit brown and barren, when I opened the door to let out the dog. But it’s also been very deceiving – still cold when you step outside and a reminder that spring hasn’t arrived yet. That is why this in-between season makes me antsy. Agitated. Restless. Impatient.

I’m a quote person and some favorite ones do come from the Bible: “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven.” Ecclesiastes 3:1

It’s that time of year when we have persevered and survived the worst of winter and know better days are ahead. Yet the temperature and precipitation is in constant flux. The calendar may say Wednesday is the first day of spring, but Mother Earth can be fickle and fierce. Not to mention, the TV meteorologists keep forecasting cold, snow and wind. So we patiently wait – for the snow to go away for good, for warm air, for the trees to bud and flowers to bloom. We wait for that first glorious day we can roll down the car windows, walk the dog with no coat, and wear flip flops, skirts and shorts. That is when we remember Mother Earth also radiates love and life.

This photo, posted by a friend on Facebook, gave me a chuckle and drove this idea home: “Every flower must grow through dirt.” Isn’t that the truth! It reminds me of the flower bed of annuals I put in when I first moved to my current residence. For me, downsizing to a small house accompanied job loss because I knew I could not afford the nice downtown apartment I had rented since first moving to West Michigan. In many ways, I also looked forward to this change. Moving to a house finally meant a yard – even if I had to mow it! That first spring, I committed to planting a garden and putting in a flower bed of annuals.

Four years later, that flower bed is still there. It definitely needs some attention. The plants, currently covered with snow, look dead, but I know that with just the right conditions of water, sun and temperature those plants will bloom and flower once again.

I cannot help but view it as a metaphor for life, especially the state of my life at the moment. Sometimes we are simply covered in dirt and waiting to sprout. A space best described as in-between – scary, yet filled with possibility. We can be in-between jobs, homes, relationships, behaviors, feelings and goals. This state of being can spur all sorts of back-and-forth, push-pull dynamics and create a lot of internal conflict: Fear, anxiety, depression, second guessing and worry over what the future holds. But those are all self-defeating, time-wasting, energy-draining habits. Negative energy sabotages, destroys and empowers the problem, whereas positive energy heals, transforms and expands all that is good.

Just like winter is necessary to prepare the ground for a new planting season, being in-between is necessary to get from where we are to where we want to go. Sometimes, where we are is right where we need to be. We must trust we are making progress even if it may not seem like it, just as we look at the calendar and trust summer is in reach. We must trust people want to help and have our best interest at heart. We must trust there is a plan and a purpose.

The flowers will bloom again. So will you. So will I. If any of us need a reminder, the Universe provides plenty of resources to connect us to the rhythm and beauty of life: Water, a walk in the woods, a sunset, a pet to love, a hand to hold, a friend to confide in, and time to just sit and think in solitude.

We must remember there is reason for every season. We must embrace the fluidity of life, accept the uncertainty of today and find comfort in the rebirth that is coming.