Sunday, May 31, 2015

Courage: The Bridge From Fear to Love

In February of 2012, two months after graduating with a psychology bachelor’s degree, I started a job working in a nursing home. I was told repeatedly that I should be applying to graduate schools being that there is not much one can do nowadays with just a bachelor’s degree in psychology, but something in my heart kept telling me that I needed to find a job working in a nursing home. As a kid I always told my parents that I love “old people.” I think this idea initially stemmed from my great grandma and her wondrous cookie jar, but it was also because I loved her stories, her wisdom, and her genuine desire to be around me. When she died, I was more confused than I was sad. I had never really thought about death before, and I just didn’t understand it.  I wasn’t able to intellectualize it, but I knew that whatever was living inside of her body, could never actually die. Since I couldn’t intellectualize this deep knowingness, my mind battled with questions that lead me to a lot of confusion. What is the point in life if it ends?

Throughout the next 13 years of my life, (she died when I was 10) I experienced my own life challenges in which deep questions about life came up and faded and came up and faded again. These questions are what guided me to working in a nursing home, at age 23, where I knew I would be closer to finding answers to my questions about the meaning of life and death.

I was a recreation assistant, and my job was to lead activities for the residents that lived in the nursing home. I started off working on A wing and B wing, where the residents illness were due to physical disabilities or illnesses, or minimal mental disabilities or illnesses. After a year of working in the nursing home, I was promoted to being the supervisor where I ended up spending half of my day in the office, documenting the residents participation in activities, their improvements, and their individual needs. The other half of the day was spent on C wing, which is the dementia unit. It was during this time when I was introduced to Mazy, a 96-year-old woman who sat alone in the corner of the room due to a contagious infection in her left eye called MRSA.  She had a Betty White type of look to her, with an even smaller body, and wore an eye patch over her infected eye. Although it was required of her to sit in her own corner due to her infection, it was definitely where she would prefer to sit due to her introverted personality, one that I was drawn to from day one due to my own introversion.

Dementia is different for every person, and everyday is different, as anyone as a dementia caregiver or with a dementia loved one knows very well. Most residents could not remember my name, and Mazy included could not remember most names of the nursing home employees. She remembered the name of her niece who visited once a month, and mine. She told me one day that she taught herself to think of a “nickel” every time she heard my voice. Sometimes she would remember that my name is actually Nicole, and not Nickel, other times she would just call me Nickel, which I found quite adorable. What interested me the most about Mazy, was that although she was struggling with an impaired memory, to the point that she thought she was 40 years old and would forget that she ate breakfast 5 minutes after she ate it, she was able to remember poems that she wrote many years ago, word for word. I would tell her that they were amazing and asked if she shared any of her work with anyone, in which she answered, “No, at the time, I didn’t have the courage.”

Mazy and I became close, every time she heard my voice, she would say “I’ve been waiting for you Nickel,” or “Thank God you’re here, I have no idea where I am.” She was always distraught and somehow my voice brought her a sense of safety, and her response to my presence taught me my true reason for being there, or for being on this planet in general, which is that I just want to help people. Although my hours on C wing were from 4-8, I made it a point to visit her the minute I got into work everyday at 11:30. When I would leave our morning conversation, it became a thing for us to say, “I’ll see ya later.”

When she was dying, she was transferred from the nursing home to the hospital, where I sat with her everyday until she passed.  Every time I visited her she was asleep, but I still felt a need to be in her presence. The day after her passing, I was driving to work, and a car pulled in front of me and the license plate read “CYL M96.” I instantly felt chills all over my body, as I interpreted that it meant C Ya Later- Mazy 96. From that moment on I started believing in Angels, my belief in eternal life was confirmed, and a weight off of my back was lifted. The soul can never die. I always knew this in my heart, but I didn’t have evidence until this moment. Even though, some people will tell me the sign was just a coincidence, I know, without a spark of a doubt, that it was Mazy sending me a sign from wherever she now exist beyond this physical planet.  

My questions about life deepened as days went on, I was surrounded by people that were dying and in pain, people that couldn’t remember their family members anymore. I was so overwhelmed with questions that I became anxious and depressed, something I experienced throughout my life due to other triggers.

My anxiety and depression started very early, I was always a very shy kid. It is often viewed that being shy is part of a person’s personality, but personally, I don’t believe it is possible to be shy, and to be whole at the same time. I had something in me that wanted to speak, and then something else in me that was afraid to, so afraid that it felt painful. Throughout middle school and high school, classmates would ask if I was mute, and even some of my closest friends knew me to be very shy. I was only my complete self around family and very few of my close friends, or at least I thought I was.

At age 13, I realized that I was in love with a girl, and immediately went into denial thinking that being gay could not possibly be my life. I was shy, why would God make being shy even harder for me? I convinced myself that eventually a guy would come along, I would fall in love, and then the feelings I have had for girls would fade away and be forgotten about. But this wasn’t the story. The story was that I was breaking guys hearts because again and again I would realize it was impossible to reciprocate their feelings for me. Eventually, eight years after realizing my attraction for the same sex, I “came out of the closet,” at age 21. I came out because I felt like the secret was going to kill me, although I still did not accept myself for who I was. It was as if I was choking, and I needed to either throw up the truth or let it kill me. I know it sounds kind of morbid and dramatic, but this is truly my experience.

After coming out, I was fortunately surprised and blessed with support from my family and friends, which in turn helped me to accept myself. I had no idea that after coming out, my shyness would dissipate to some degree. By coming out, without knowing it or paying much attention to it, I had chosen a life to stand out from others, to be different, a life very hard for a typical painfully shy person to live. With this choice, came no other option than for me to find ways to accept and love myself, and to live a life of authenticity. A life of courage.

I was angry with God for giving me a difficult life; to the point where I stopped believing such a thing like God or a higher power exist. It didn’t seem fair, that God would give me the challenge of being gay, on top of already being painfully shy. This led me to a lot of self-pity and anger. It was not until I came out that I realized all of my “curses” have always been blessings. My challenges gave me opportunities to grow and to set myself free from the pain of shyness. Don’t get me wrong, I am still shy, when a friend introduces me to one of their friends, for example, I will often hear “Mandy loved meeting you, but she said that you were so shy!” A person that knows me from my teen years compared to who I am now knows that I have grown from my past shyness. However, when I meet new people, I am reminded that I still have more growing to do.

Throughout the past two years, I have been meditating everyday, which has helped me a lot with my anxiety and depression, in a more truthful way then medication, which was my coping method in the past. For me, it was a courageous decision to choose meditation over medication, because rather than numbing the parts of me that were hard to see, hard to understand and cope with, I had to stare straight at them and sit with them. Through every dark day, I came out to find a new bright dawn. I came to know myself more and more, in which I made courageous decisions which I never would in the past, such as public speaking, leading activity classes for kids ages 2-6 where I had no option other than to act completely silly in front of other adults. I was embarrassed and scared but I did it anyway. I drove across country to study at Maharishi University in Iowa for 4 months, where I lived in the middle of nowhere and met new people from all over the world. Everyday I met someone new, which was intensely scary for me in the past.

The thing about courage is that it has not been a consistent way of living for me. There are many days, many situations, within the past two years where I have chose the path of fear over courage. Over the past week or so, I have not meditated, practiced yoga, or committed to any of my spiritual practices that I promised myself I would stay committed to. Yesterday, I took a full day to shut my phone off, and to tune into my spirit, into my truth. I meditated and practiced yoga all day, and let go of all of my questions and trusted that the answers would come. 

This morning when I woke up, the number 96 popped in my head. My eyes were still shut, and it was as if everything was dark besides the number 96, which was drawn with glowing light in the center of my mind. I had not thought about Mazy in a while, I had fallen off track in my commitment to my spiritual practices. With Mazy on my mind, I went to the bathroom and realized we were almost out of toilet paper. I walked over to the store, and bought two packs of toilet paper, in which the price came to $4.04. Darn it, I said to myself, wishing I had a Nickel, which reminded me of Mazy, but also I realized, after being handed change from my 5-dollar bill, that I was holding 96 cents in my hand. I am connected again, I thought, but at this point I have realized that I have had enough. I am being guided again to be courageous, but this will no longer be a one-time thing. It is time for me to take complete control over my life, and to live a life of courage. How? I asked Mazy for guidance, in which the thought came to me “96 days of courage.” I then had the thought, how cool it would be to start my 96 days of courage tomorrow, being that tomorrow is my moms 50th birthday, June 1st. Then, I also realized, that on day 96, will be my birthday, September 4th.

The synchronicities are endless, and I will always believe in them no matter who thinks I am crazy or tries to convince me they are just coincidences. The guidance from my angels and my communication with them is too strong to be ignored or disregarded, and I am not embarrassed to believe in it or talk about it (or at least if I get embarrassed, I will talk about it anyway, because I am committing to being courageous)

First I should explain, what courage means to me, because I believe it is much more than public speaking or having a conversation with someone who seems intimidating. Sometimes courage is as simple as getting up in the morning. Sometimes it is saying the words I love you. Sometimes it is saying thank you. It is being vulnerable, loving, and grateful. I met Mazy a year after my choice to come out, my own personal most courageous action to this day, and her words about not having enough courage rang in my ears everyday until today, which is about two years later. Every time I am faced with a situation that requires courage, I see the number 96, which I interpret as a sign from Mazy, to choose the courageous road, and not to let fear take the wheel. Something that maybe only one can truly understand when free from the mind, from fear. When Mazy said that she did not have the courage to express her poetry, she was saying much more than just that. She was also saying that she didn’t love herself enough to be true to herself, to be authentic. She was also saying that she was afraid of rejection. She was also saying that she was choosing fear over love. 

The thing about fear is that it is always a blessing in disguise, it shows us where we can grow, what challenges we need to overcome. If we choose courage, then we walk the bridge from fear to love. Choosing courage is choosing to be authentic, choosing courage is choosing to love yourself, to be true to yourself, to free yourself. And for the next 96 days, I will be committed to making this choice. 

Day by day I will write about my thoughts, feelings, experiences, and discoveries, from June 1st-September 4th.  I hope you will join me along this journey; my only hope is that I can help someone or guide someone else along the way. Enjoy :)