Coming off the bench and ready for love

I just posted this on Facebook, then thought “If you’re serious about this, post it on the blog too.” So here it is.

Friends –

After many years of clearly not being ready for a romantic relationship, then a couple of years of melting – and also getting more solid – I’m declaring myself ready and open for love.  My heart has been softening and opening in so many ways – including grief at the deaths of so many friends.  I have also been very touched by feelings of fondness for women friends who for one reason or another are not appropriate or available for romance.  Exploring what is and is not possible with them has been like aerobics for my heart.

What would it be like to be two fingers of the same hand?

What would it be like to be two fingers of the same hand?

You, my Facebook friends, know me to one extent or another.  (And you who have been reading my blog know me in some ways very well.)  I’m asking you for support and cheerleading, visualizing and holding the intention for success for me in this area. affirmation of how you see me as ready and as a good prospect for romance – and matchmaking!  I trust your judgment more than Match or e-Harmony.  Such a pool of cool people have got to know lots of really great single women. I can’t promise to keep you posted about the whole process on Facebook, (or on the blog) but I may message you about how it’s going with matches you send me – hell, when things get tricky I may look to you for coaching – and I may actually post here about some of the changes I go through.  Ready though I think I am, this may put me through some changes.

Thanks for your support.  (And thanks to Mark Medlin for suggesting this bold strategy.)

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What would Monty do?

My best buddy Monty, who died ten weeks ago, was expert at tuning into himself – at not doing things that “don’t serve me”.  I’m not so good at this, do lots of things that don’t serve me – that if I took the time to ask myself, and had a better sensor for what is good for me, I wouldn’t do.  I did three of them last weekend.

I was on a roadtrip.  Me and three other guys were headed to Louisville, KY – them to attend the Humana Theater Festival, me to visit my son, daughter-in-law and grandbaby.  When all four of us had rendezvoused and gotten in the car, John produced a treat he had gotten for us – four beautiful truffles from the Well Bred Bakery in Weaverville.  Had I taken a moment to ask myself what served me in this situation, I would have accessed the fact that I was several days into staying off of sugar.  Eating the truffle didn’t serve me at all!  Life made this really clear when the cocoa powder that my truffle was drenched in just exploded onto my lap, leaving several splotches of chocolate on my tan pants.  There was going to be no way for me to ignore or forget that I had betrayed myself.

If the first instance of my not doing what Monty would do involved letting myself down by indulging in something I had committed not to have, the second instance had to do with denying myself something that I had been trying not to have.   We stopped for lunch at a diner that was so proud of their chili that they served each customer a little taste of it before they ordered.  I liked it a lot, but did not let myself order it because the beef was probably not “ethical meat” – the cows were probably not humanely treated.  Now there are all sorts of snags here: the assumption that the meat served in this restaurant was not ethically treated, the assumption that fish (my usual alternative) suffer less from factory farming than do cows or chickens, the whole concept of “humane slaughter” of animals.

What would Monty have done in this situation?  Unless his choice would not have served him – like eating sugar when I have clear reasons to not have it, he would have eaten what he wanted.  I ended up very dissatisfied with the fried fish I ordered – and jealous of Patrick’s chili.  Could I have known in advance that it would turn out this way?  I think so – if I had tuned into myself and asked myself “What do you really want?”

Monty's choices frequently leaned towards no, but his commitment to do what served him had a very positive thrust.

Monty’s choices frequently leaned towards no, but his commitment to do what served him had a very positive thrust.

The third situation involved my son and granddaughter – and me letting go of decision-making.  My son and daughter-in-law cooked up a plan for her and her mom to take the toddler to the zoo while my son and I would go to a movie – or, actually as it turned out, rent a movie.  There was something to be said for this plan – movies are a rich part of our history together.  But it was a beautiful spring afternoon, I had a short visit and not too much time to be with the baby – and would have preferred going to the zoo.

Monty would very likely not have allowed this situation to happen.  He had a policy of not acting until he got a clear “yes” about proceeding. He said that he sometimes paid a price for this non-action, but that overall it was worth the price.  He would have been much more sensitive to plans being made for him that he had not been part of.  Monty’s whole orientation towards action was based on himself, listening to himself, and not much based on others.  It erred at times towards self-involvement and insensitivity to others.  But there’s no question to me that I could use more of it.

“What would Monty do?” will not always lead to the right choice.  But not taking care of myself in my decision-making may increase depression – and in these three instances I think that asking “What would serve me?” would have been very helpful.

That’s why we’re here…

I had just had a brief exchange with a coworker who recently experienced a terrible loss.  The exchange itself had not been particularly deep – she was showing me a meditation passage on loss that was meaning a lot to her.  But then every exchange with her on this topic is feeling very deep – and this little conversation gave me goosebumps.

Then I had to pull away to wait on  a customer.  I initiated my usual exchange with “What’s been a highlight of your day?”  I honestly don’t remember Jill’s reply, but when she asked the question back of me, I related what had just gone on with “a coworker”.  I ended by saying “It gave me goosebumps…and now, telling you about it, I’ve got goosebumps again.  I’m really feeling it – and feeling so deeply is a highlight for me.”

Jill said “That’s what we’re here for, is to feel things.  We’re not here to be up in the clouds.”  This felt right on the money, and I felt very seen.

When I googled for photos of feelings, I kept getting things about love.  A Course in Miracles says there are two basic feelings, love and fear.  When we are in fear, we may get so frozen that it's hard to keep feeling and hard to communicate, but maybe there is the chance for big healing if we open our heart to our fear.

When I googled for photos of feelings, I kept getting things about love. A Course in Miracles says there are two basic feelings, love and fear. When we are in fear, we may get so frozen that it’s hard to keep feeling and hard to communicate, but maybe there is the chance for big healing if we open our heart to our fear.

Bipolar disorder can facilitate the feeling of feelings – and can impede it.  When I’m a little bit speedy, I tend to feel things intensely, I am touched by the feelings and situations of others and am moved easily to tears.  I can also be deeply touched by joy or beauty or love.  Similarly, when I am just a little bit depressed, I can feel things strongly – especially sadness or loss or pain.

When I get too speedy, I get way up in my head and don’t feel my feelings – except for anger, which comes more easily.  When I am too depressed, I also get into my head – ruminating over what I have done wrong or how screwed up everything is.  I get frozen as a defense against the pain.

Moving towards other people can be an antidote to the isolation of mania or depression – or of human life in general.  This includes really showing up when a coworker is sharing her pain, even when the content is a little heady,  It includes  being grateful for feeling feelings, even feelings that include a sense of vulnerability.  It includes opening up to  the comments of customers – to let them be teachers to me.

Back at it – and where I’ve been

I worked at the grocery store today.  I work there again tomorrow.  Tomorrow night I’m committed to Tae Kwon Do.  Friday morning I leave for Louisville, KY for the weekend to see my son, daughter-in-law and grandbaby.  Tonight I skipped my beloved depression and bipolar support group in order to write.  This is my one window in the next several days where I can get some writing done and by God I’m going to write.  I’ve not written on this blog for 11 days and I’m half-desperate to get something written.

I’ve got about five topics queued up, some of which would be short and sweet – but it feels required that I first write about what has been going on while I’ve been offline.  People may be assuming – or at least concerned – that I am super-super depressed, which I’ve not been.  My not writing, however, does involve my mental illness, and I feel a little vulnerable writing about it.  It also has to do with medication, which really makes it sound like mental illness – which it is.

I have been depressed for the last two weeks, but not as depressed as I have frequently been during my depressed cycles over the last many years – and this may well have to do with my new medication.  I changed medication around eight weeks ago, weaning myself off of two drugs (Saphris and Seroquel) and adding in Zyprexa.  My shrink – whom after about two years I like and respect – said he felt optimistic that this might ground me better than the meds I am coming off of.

It was a kind of a funny business, getting started on this drug.  At my regular 3-month meeting with him, I said “My friend Toni says she is taking Zyprexa and Prozac for her bipolar disorder and this combination is really helping her.  I parroted to her”, I told him, “what you and previous shrinks have taught me – that anti-depressants are dangerous to bipolar people, can spike dangerous manias.  But she reported that her shrink says that this particular combination really works well for people, and that he’s having a lot of success with people who didn’t respond so well to previous meds.”

My shrink did not surprise me when he said, “No way I’m going to put you on Prozac when you are cycling as much as you have been.  But Zyprexa – hmm. That’s actually a pretty good idea.  Let’s try that.  If we reach a point when you are level – not cycling up and down – and depressed, we could talk about Prozac, but not when you are going up and down this much.”

This 2014 movie was tanked by the critics.  I have not been impressed by the impact of meds on my bipolar disorder.  Is Zyprexa a hopeful addition?  Maybe if I add Prozac?  Should I rather be aiming to get off of meds altogether?  I don't know.

This 2014 movie was tanked by the critics. I have not been impressed by the impact of meds on my bipolar disorder. Is Zyprexa a hopeful addition? Maybe if I add Prozac? Should I rather be aiming to get off of meds altogether? I don’t know.

So Zyprexa maybe is helping. My last round of ups was not as up, and this round of downs is not as down.  But it’s been messing with my writing even more.  Every time I sit down to write, I doze off.  This has been happening for a week and a half now.  Drowsiness is a common side-effect with psych meds – including this one – but not one that I have ever experienced with meds before.

So if drowsiness has kept me from writing for almost about 11 days, how is it that I am writing tonight?  Am I starting to cycle up again?  Maybe – time will tell.  Maybe my desperation to get back to writing – and to offer stuff to you my readers – is bigger than the drowsiness.

This has been a long down – longer than the two weeks that has for many months been my typical cycle.  It has now been maybe 2 1/2 weeks.  If it goes on a long time, it might not seem like such a good deal.  If it continues to mess with my writing, it might not be such a good deal.  At work – on my feet with a rapid pace of transactions – it doesn’t make me drowsy, but I think it makes me stupid.  Depression makes me stupid – actually about as much – but when I’m up I’m pretty sharp.  If I start being low-level depressed – and drowsy and stupid – more of the time than the half-time that has been typical, it might not feel like such a good deal.

We’ll see.

“Have you checked your eggs today?”

That’s the most stupid, useless, beat-off question I ask customers – and I do it many times in the course of an 8-hour shift.  It’s stupid and useless because most of our customers check their eggs – and if they haven’t, there is seldom a bad egg in the carton.  And doubly stupid and useless because it often interrupts a meaningful conversation.  So we go from a useful conversation to “Have you checked your eggs today?”

i did get one funny reply to the question, from a 40ish guy who said, “Not since my shower this morning.”  That pretty much cracked me up – and I think it was a highlight to my comedian customer to make me laugh so hard.

So, even though it’s mostly a useless exercise, I still do it because once in a blue moon there actually is a bad egg, but even more because it shows the customers that we care about the quality of their food.  They frequently will thank me for asking.

They may be answering my stock question, "What's been a highlight of your day?" and then I interrupt them to ask if they checked their eggs - it sucks.

They may be answering my stock question, “What’s been a highlight of your day?” and then I interrupt them to ask if they checked their eggs – it sucks.

For me cashiering is in part about making human connection with the customers – but it is just as much about the details of selling groceries.  Asking people about their eggs is very grounding – it remind me that what we are about is selling groceries, including helping people get those groceries home intact.

When I started writing this post about a month ago, I remembered that Alex, when he was breaking me in, suggested that I ask the question only if the customer has more than one dozen eggs – and for just one dozen to just go ahead and do it myself.  Somewhere along the way I got lazy and started to ask the customer all the time.  That’s part of why the asking of the question got so repetitious. Since realizing that a month ago, I have gone back to doing the egg inspection myself if there is only one dozen.  Occasionally a customer will fuzz at me, “I did that already”, but I’m projecting that mostly they feel good about me doing it.

I still am bored with asking the question, still amuse myself about the one wise-ass customer’s funny joke – and reassure myself that this is just good quality control.

A missed opportunity

Bertha at Charter Communications – the cable company – missed a chance today to give me a good feeling about their company.  I was returning Monty’s computer router.  Whe she asked why I was returning it, I said that he had died.  That was the moment where she could have reached out for some genuine human contact – just a sincere “I’m sorry.”  I like to think that I do that consistently, even if someone is referring to their loved one passing a long time ago.  It pretty much always seems to create that human touch. But Bertha stayed buried in her computer screen, typing away.

It could have been a customer service slam dunk - anything like a human response has me leaving their office feeling better about the company.

It could have been a customer service slam dunk – anything like a human response has me leaving their office feeling better about the company.

I have heard a lot of criticisms of Charter.  This was a chance for Bertha, in this one instance, to soften that impression. Now why did Bertha not respond with human touch, in a situation where that would be so natural and appropriate – and where there was no apparent time pressure (no one behind me)?

  • She may actually be under some time pressure – lots of these computers can time a call – or, I’m sure, a face-to-face encounter.  I had a job as a call center operator where my supervisor consistently said, “You’re great with the customers – tops – but you’ve got to speed up your calls.”
  • She may have recently been told by a supervisor that she’s too chatty with customers, that she should keep it more to business.  This also happened to me on another job.
  • She may be having a migraine that is making it hard for her to even stand up.
  • She may have lost a loved one lately – or is on the verge of losing one – and my mention of a deceased loved one really triggered her.

I could go on and on – there are so many reasons that a customer server could be unresponsive to us.  And so many ways this could be helped.  It’s a truism that customer support people tend to treat customers as they themselves are treated. Give them respect and compassion and they tend to give it to their customers.  That’s not the whole story – there are some bad apples out there – but it’s a good place to start.  Helping your managers and supervisors treat others with more respect and compassion has got to be a win all around.

At the movies…

Michelle, a manager at Carolina Cinemas, is my new customer service star.  (They’re everywhere!)

Me and three of my seven roommates from Lotus Lodge, along with one of their boyfriends, were in a very good mood, headed to the movies.

Lotus Lodge is halfway between an intentional community and a boarding house: 8 people trying to discover what community means to them.  For me, one thing it means is outings like this one.

Lotus Lodge is halfway between an intentional community and a boarding house: 8 people trying to discover what community means to them. For me, one thing it means is outings like this one.

None of us do this very often, so it was a big treat.  And we like each other and don’t get together as often as we would like, so we were very animated in the car riding there.  None of us knew much about Birdman – just that it had won several Oscars exactly one week ago and that it stars Michael Keaton, whom several us like quite a lot. (“How about Beetlejuice?!”  Several of us raved about that movie – agreeing that it was wacko in all the right ways.  “Yeah, and The Dream Team!?”  I stumped them with that one – nobody else had seen it.  I informed them that it’s a very good, very funny movie.)

Things quickly went south when we arrived at the theater.  The kid selling tickets had two pieces of bad news for us.  We had arrived right on time, 1:50, and he said that the show was actually scheduled for 2:30.  How could that be? Three of us had seen the time in two different online places, including the Carolina Cinemas website.  He had no answer, except to add that in addition the 2:30 showing was already sold out.

We indulged in several varieties of being bummed out.  For whatever reason, I was mostly able to quickly refocus on what else we might see.  I asked the kid, where are your movies and times listed?  “Usually on that TV screen over there by the concessions, but it’s turned off because the movie times were wrong.”  By that time, two of our members had pulled up the list of films on their phones.  The only one that any of us had any enthusiasm about was a Kevin Costner film, McFarland USA – and only me, because I had seen and liked the trailer two weeks before.

McFarland USA is kind of a classic Kevin Costner feel-good movie - and we all agreed that he had done a good job.

McFarland USA is kind of a classic Kevin Costner feel-good movie – and we all agreed that he had done a good job.

Movies like this are a good answer to my "I can't do it" voice (2/24).  You come out of there thinking. "If I want it bad enough, I can do it."

Movies like this are a good answer to my “I can’t do it” voice (2/24). You come out of there thinking. “If I want it bad enough, I can do it.”

The kid was able to tell us when the movie came on – also around 2:30.  I asked to speak with a manager.  He called one and said she would be right up.  My friends all look quizzical: “Why a manager?”  “They’ve jerked us all around – I want a discount on our tickets.”  This seemed a novel notion to all four of them, but to me when a business jerks you around, they are usually very ready to somehow make it right to keep you as a loyal customer.  I routinely send food back when I don’t like it – or have even complained about it after eating it, especially if they ask if everything was OK.  I’ll say, “No, actually….” I almost always get the food replaced, taken off the bill, etc.  And i find that if you make your complaint assertive but friendly – not defensive, just like you know in advance that they will want to make things right with you – the vibe almost never gets bad.  (OK, there have been exceptions – and those are mostly places that i never then do go back.)

Michelle showed up pretty quickly.  Watching her brisk step and air of authority as she walked across the lobby, a couple of us said simultaneously, “Looks like a manager”.  Tall, olive-complexioned, attractive, maybe 30, she picked us out right away as the customers with a beef and came up to us very graciously – giving no indication of any defensiveness or that she thought this might be a difficult encounter.  If I were to read her body language, which I do pretty instinctively, she planned for this to be a good conversation with a positive outcome.

“Hi, what’s going on?”  I took the lead, explaining how we had been jerked around.  One little bit of logic had not occurred to me (or any of us, I think) and which Michelle, if she had thought of it, had the graciousness not to point out.  As we had gotten caught up in our bummed-outedness, we never thought: “If the movie started at the time we planned, we still were too late – it was sold out.  Bad planning on our part, with a movie that won a bunch of Oscars one week before.”  So we had not thought that and Michelle showed no sign of having thought that.

I wrapped up my presentation by saying, “So we’re wishing that we could get discounted tickets for McFarland USA”.  Michelle said, “I have no way to give you discounted tickets.  What I can do is to give you free passes for a movie now or in the future.”  She was so friendly about it all that you would swear she enjoyed giving away free passes – and maybe she does.  I had said that several of us were devoted customers – though in fact it was only me, and not so much lately.

Michelle also explained to us why the times had gotten screwed-up.  On Sunday mornings they rent out one of their theaters to a church group and that group had been very late getting out of there today.  She got all kind of inclusive in telling us about it: “It’s the second time it’s happened – we have to figure out what to do about it.”  She was making us part of the team.

She even parlayed a little joke by me into a much funnier line.  I said, with a poker face, “So do we need to be prepared for some serious spiritual energy in there?”  “You always need to be prepared to encounter some serious spiritual energy, everywhere.”  Whether she really believes that (which would be very cool) or was just playing with me, either way it was a wonderful comeback and totally cracked me up.

She also went on to say that everyone she has talked to about McFarland has really liked it – including several of their staff.

Here we are (minus the camera man) - happy campers.  Well, relatively happy cuz we just got in the movies for free.  Our happiness is tempered by the fact that everyone but me is a little skeptical about a Disney movie.    Michelle, while she seemed positive about a blog post and fine with me using her name, did not warm up to a photograph.  I'm struck by how many very attractive women are hesitant to be photographed.  I think we do a number on them about what it means to look good.

Here we are (minus the camera man) – happy campers. Well, relatively happy cuz we just got in the movies for free. Our happiness is tempered by the fact that everyone but me is a little skeptical about a Disney movie.
Michelle, while she seemed positive about a blog post and fine with me using her name, did not warm up to a photograph. I’m struck by how many very attractive women are hesitant to be photographed. I think we do a number on them about what it means to look good.

 

Well, we loved the movie.  Oh, several of us loved it – I don’t know about all.  But we mostly all agreed that for the genre – go-for-it, feel good movies – they pretty much got it right.  Only one of the five of us did not volunteer that they got teary-eyed in places (and she didn’t deny it, just didn’t comment beyond saying she liked the movie).  For myself, I actually shed tears at several points.  My emotions are way near the surface when I’m manic, as I am today.

I got big points from my cohort about my negotiating with Michelle and we all went home happy – and beginning to make our plans to see Birdman.  (I talked with my friend Lynn later in the afternoon and she said that life had spared us by bumping us to this other movie and that I’d be better off skipping Birdman altogether.  I trust Lynn’s judgment, though it doesn’t always mesh with mine.  We’ll see.)