Finding Your People

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As a self-professed Camp Geek, I’ve grown to embrace my title. There were years in my 20’s where I would try to explain the Wonder of Camp People to non-camp folk. But it is hard to explain what it is like to feel so connected to someone that you can meet them on a Friday and leave on Monday with a sneaking suspicion that you just met your best friend. In fact, I’m aware that even writing that sounds crazy, but there it is, so what can you do? It is daunting to explain what it is like to push yourself out of your comfort zone and share your fears and struggles with total strangers. You’d be surprised that it is almost easier with strangers than when your friends are in the group.

Like I said, I’ve tried to explain it to people, but I’ve mostly given up.

I turned 43 yesterday. The 40’s have been weird for me. I think that’s primarily because I got sick when I was 36 so the latter half of my 30’s was spent seeing doctors, taking drugs, gaining weight from those drugs and carting around an oxygen tank. My friends were hiking, dating and most definitely NOT going to the doctors enough to know their dogs’ names.   Now I’m in the 40’s and sans oxygen tank, way less doctor drama and I feel like I fell asleep for a few years and suddenly now I’m 43.

This afternoon I read Pamela Druckerman’s article in the New York Times What You Learn in Your 40’s (link below.) The line that resonated with me was, “By your 40s, you don’t want to be with the cool people; you want to be with your people.”

I think I might have to worship at the alter of Ms. Druckerman for a moment. You see, Friday I had 3 friends over—three Camp People—to be specific. They came over for about 20 hours. We are Camp People after all, there needed to be sleeping bags. And after the pleasantries of “How was your day?” and “How’s work?” we shifted gears and got down to business. We’d planned a number of activities, fun, sharing and deep to be Camp People together.

Just as a joke and for the sake of tradition we started with a name game.

Me: Ok, we all know them, who has a name game? (keep in mind, we all know each other’s names)

K: I’ve got one. Ok…we’re all on a ship together. My name is K and I’m going to bring a……

It went on from there. I lit up a little. Where else could I say, “Who has a name game?” and have the group effortlessly flow into the activity?

We shared the last photo we’d taken on our phones and the story behind it. We shared the song on our phone we are currently most obsessed with. We shared the photo we are currently obsessed with. We were easing into this—light and breezy—every good cabin session needs to start like this. Low risk.

We went on from there, answering questions, laughing and accumulating inside jokes on the carpet and couch. Just like camp, suddenly the phrase Schmidt Fingers made us all giggle like kids and sent K into a mock-band intro, “Let’s give it up for Schmidt Fingers!” Or when asked why farts smell (it was one of the questions in the box) somehow the phrase Poop Toxins—also an excellent name for a band—came into the conversation and we referenced it repeatedly.

And in the accumulated stories and sharings, there was the activity of sharing a memory, not as the way it occurred but as how you WISH it happened. Memories were shared but tweaked. Other memories of things that never happened were shared as if they had happened. The energy of the room shifted into serious and quiet.

It was an excellent way to start a birthday weekend.

And when I think of these people, ages 24, 32. 39 and 43. I think of how we are a varied group of women. Various levels of education, varying life experience, various families etc. We are still Camp People. It is our common language.

Druckerman is right. “By your 40s, you don’t want to be with the cool people; you want to be with your people.”

Here’s to finding your people.

Link to Druckerman’s article

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/01/opinion/sunday/what-you-learn-in-your-40s.html?WT.mc_id=2015-Q1-KWP-AUD_DEV-0101-0331&WT.mc_ev=click&bicmp=AD&bicmlukp=WT.mc_id&bicmst=1420088400&bicmet=1451624400&ad-keywords=AUDDEVMAR&kwp_0=10646

Yes, I quoted Oprah. So sue me. A tree lover’s guide to cancer and the woods.

What I know for sure regarding grief and nature.

Yes, I did it. I quoted Oprah. I’m not proud of it but the line came to me and I’m going to own it.

This weekend I was reminded of a few things I know for sure.   I escaped this weekend. Broke the chains of laundry. Tore off the shackles of dishes and vacuuming. Late on Friday night—in a moment of spontaneous decision-making—I hopped online, booked a hotel room and packed a bag. Then, like a kid who’s just gotten away with something, I smiled, crawled into bed and set my alarm to make an early ferry.

I had to.

Maybe it was the residue of the previous weekend.   I’d spent the evening with a 25-year old friend who is knee-deep in the trenches of pancreatic cancer. Not good.

Not just not good. Bad.

I am so tired of cancer. I am tired of its systematic and relentless pursuit of people I love. I resent the way it takes who it wants regardless of circumstance, character or age. So you can appreciate why I didn’t give a damn about my dishes or the fact that there are three Amazon Prime boxes sitting in my living room with their contents strewn about. All of this warranted ACTION on my part.

Get the hell out of town. Run for the woods. Head to the Hoh Rain Forest.

It needed to be a little inconvenient. The ferry ride, the 3+ hour drive. You see, the inconvenience underlined the significance of leaving. I needed to be away, tucked beneath Sitka Spruce and Douglas Firs well over 200 feet. Moss blankets everything from boulders to every inch of branches that reach out like fuzzy fingers. I needed the serenade of the Hoh River, its conversation, a loud party full of light chitchat. I longed for the solitude of a trail where I go at my pace and stop when I want to take pictures (even if I already stopped a minute ago.) I want the freedom to jump when thunder booms above me and to leave my hood down when the downpour comes. I want to take the untouched side trail—the soggy ferns soaking my shorts as my thighs pushed them back with each step—up to the waterfall to get a better photo and to stand there and close my eyes.

Normally, whenever I return to the trailhead, to the comfort of my car and whatever snacks I’ve left behind, there is a sense of pride. An I did it. This time I felt that, but it was different. Something about the forest opens me.

I text a video of the waterfall to my 25 year old friend.

Me: I sent you a waterfall. Early birthday present.

My friend: Thank you!!!!!!!

Me: I mentally took you on the hike. I hope you aren’t sore.

My friend: It was like I was physically there!! My legs are killing me! How many miles was that again?

Me: Just shy of 6. I have to tell you, you weren’t very helpful when we found ourselves on the trail with a big elk about 30 ft. ahead and another one about 30 ft. behind (with their family peering in from the bushes.) Otherwise, you were a trooper.

My friend: Oh my gosh!!! I bet I was useless. “Oh look, large and dangerous mammals. LET’S PLAY WITH THEM!!!”

Me: I thought when I had to tell you to stop trying to pet them was the real low point.

My friend: That was the low point. Even their antlers are furry!

Somewhere during the texting conversation the tears started. Tears of loss, of pent up energy, of fatigue. These were tears of relief. Relief that we could still play. Relief that we could pretend we had hiked and faced down some elk together. Tears that sometimes the best way to connect is to talk about what you wish you did rather than what you have to do.

Hoh waterfall Hoh River

Who do you hate (and love?)

This New York Times’ article caught my attention this evening.  A good question indeed and I read on.  I love a deep question and I was already knee-deep in a pit of pondering about this one.

Who do I hate (and love?)

Then, ½ a second later, I realized it was an article about March Madness—which lost me and my oh-so-attentive interest—but not before I’d read the opening, which asked…

Which teams do you delight in their losses and which team’s wins fill you with happiness?

But I needed my version of that idea.  When I think of the people I love, who do I love and whom do I hate? not love?

Who did I delight in their joys and who failures did I enjoy not mind as much?

This is tough to be honest about.  Imagehttp://www.findyourtattoo.net/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/Love-and-Hate-Tattoo.jpg

I don’t think I have people I hate, not love—and we’re talking about people I actually know here, not just historical people or people in the news.  I mean we can all get behind hating say, Hitler, right?—there are people  who I don’t always love when they have everything go their way.  The group is small, but it is there.

How does one get into such an esteemed club, you may wonder?

a)    take take take and never or rarely return energy given by others

b)   make everything always about them

c)    treat people I love badly

d)   treat people I love—including me—badly.

e)    Any combination of the above choices.

Now to be clear, it isn’t that I want anything bad to happen—most of the time—but sometimes, it is nice to watch them struggle a little or a lot.  Usually I don’t mind this because it feels like a karma is coming back to bite them in the butt a little.  A little karmic retribution.  Buddhists sometimes refer to this as paying your karmic debt.

For example, I often hope that they will have someone do to them what they did to me—whatever that is—so that they can find out how much it sucks.  So they can have that moment—the moment of enlightenment when they think, “MY GOSH I CAN’T BELIEVE I WAS RESPONSIBLE FOR CAUSING THIS AMOUNT OF PAIN.”

Then there might be groveling on their part.  Humble, gracious benevolence on my part.  Aren’t you lucky I’m nice enough to allow you to be forgiven on my part?

Weirdly it never really works out like this.

Usually, the person who has to deal, is me.  The person who needs to move on is me.  No karmic thunder bolts.  No Ah-ha! moments.   No retribution.  In fact, often my vice-like grip on the reality of being hurt or wronged is the cause of even more suffering on my part.

This is suffering that comes from wanting something to be something other than what it actually is.

Which is why I’m so grateful for the other part of this article?  Who do you love?

That group is bigger.  Robust.  Entertaining.  Compassionate.  Intelligent.  Talented.  Thoughtful.  Intuitive.  Insightful.  Warm.  This group is the “A  game” of the people I love group.  If they were in March Madness, these people would be “top seeds”—whatever that means—it would mean they knew what they were doing.  It would mean if you fill in brackets to win the pool at work, your money should be on these people.

So who exactly do I love?

Here’s a basic checklist.  You might find it helpful.

  • People who show up—really show up—when things are ugly or hard.
  • People who, when they tease me, I feel loved and known.
  • People who will share their dinner and—dare I say it?—dessert with me.
  • People with passion.  I don’t even know if I care what your passion is anymore.  But have some passion.  Star Trek, geology, photography, writing, working with people, music, whatever.  Please geek out about something.
  • People who answer questions I ask because they know that—no matter how scary it is—it is better to have people know who you really are.
  • People who like Coke Slurpees.

This list isn’t exhaustive, but it—like a good house—has good bones.  It is a good place to start.  It makes me grateful that my who do you love list is pages and pages longer than the hate list.  That gives me hope.

What is on your checklist?

6 Things Every Extrovert Secretly Has To Deal With

Great blog post about the emotional energy involved in being an extrovert. I would also add that people ask, “What’s wrong?” if you are quiet and that people assume that extroverts have an endless supply of energy for any situation (support, humor etc.) This is a great piece with a lot of truth. Most of the time I love being an extrovert, being able to draw people out, reach out to others in lots of situations, to make them laugh and to encourage conversation, but every time I do it, it takes emotional energy and bravery to step up to the plate so to speak.

As an extrovert, just because I can reach out, doesn’t mean it is effortless.
It takes courage to reach out beyond ourselves.

Thought Catalog

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[tc-related post=297300 align=left]

Over the past few years I’ve noticed a growing number of articles exclaiming, “How To Take Care of An Introvert” or “10 Things Everyone Should Understand About Introverts” and while I have no real problem with introverts and introversion, my issue is with the fact that people of the internet seem to have romanticized introversion in a way that turns any possible social impediments a person might have into desirable quirky traits. Not only this, but extroverts are suddenly the bad guys for not understanding introverts or mistreating introverts, etc, etc.

As a self-proclaimed extrovert, I’m pretty sick and tired of people assuming that introverts are the only people who have got it hard. Really, seriously? Are we really going to play this game? Now you look here, mister. Extroverts may not seem as delicate or may not seem as complex and diverse, but extroverts have…

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I’m Right Where I Left Me

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Coming Back

Being back on the rugged Washington Coast at the ocean after 6 years, disease, an oxygen tank and a life overhaul was like wrapping up in a comfortable warm blanket.  Walking the beach, a grin glued to my face, I looked up at the trees on the ocean. These trees are badass.  They lean recklessly into the wind.  Their branches sparse and thick.  Not a place for spindly branches with the protection of the forest. Trees on the ocean need to be able to stomach the wind and the salt water and be the first line of whatever came off the Pacific.  These were Don’t screw with me trees.  These trees were tested.  They weren’t as full or even as the ones further back in the rainforest.  But they had seen worse.

Me and those trees.  Worn and beaten. A little worse for wear.  Still standing.

What would’ve helped

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No one will ever tell you how to cope with getting a serious illness, not even your doctors.  You think they will know, but they won’t.  It is unrealistic to think they would.  Remember, they went to medical school, not social work school.  But the poor souls are saddled with you and me and whatever illness we bring to the exam table.  When they ask how you are feeling, you may be tempted to answer, “Isolated and wallowing in an identity crisis.”  Resist this urge.  This is not their area of expertise.   For all you know, they’re wallowing too.

They do want to help though.  They want to give you the drug or the surgery or whatever and figure out the problem so that you won’t have to visit so often or maybe never again.  They want to figure it out.  But it isn’t always that easy because sometimes you are both trying to figure out two totally different things.

They will give you medication to try to solve or treat certain problems.  Those drugs will have stickers on the bottles to stop you from “taking with milk” or “don’t operate heavy machinery.”  These are helpful tips.  They are the “how to’s” of drugs.

I wish everything else was that simple.

I wish illness came with warning stickers.  Do’s and don’ts.  The kind of things that go beyond the physical symptom to the day-to-day experience of living with a disease.  I wish I knew what to do when life flips upside down.  In all of my appointments, tests, emails with doctors, exams, bloodwork, I wish I could have had a guide.

Yes, a guide.

A truth teller.

A sage.

Someone who could roll their eyes at you, smack on some gum and put their arm around you while calling you “Hon” on the rough days.  I think my sage would be older than me and a cross between a Flo from the tv show Alice (sassy waitress) and Tyne Daily when she played the insightful, seen it  and been there mom on Judging Amy.   My guide would be part Wise Woman and part Salty Broad.

I longed for someone to tell me how to handle all of this, to make sense of things when everything was out of my control.  A guide could have helped me to know how to ingest everything from less than satisfying doctor’s appointments to the waves of emotion that hit when I was exhausted from, well, everything.  A guide could have helped me to see what friends were helpful and what friends were not—rather than having me run it over and over again in my brain trying to make sense of it.  A guide could have helped me navigate the waters of identity that get so muddied up when suddenly your old life is inaccessible and you have this new, unpleasant and unwanted life.  A guide wouldn’t have been threatened by my tantrums or by my tears.  They would have known It’s all a part of the process hun.

I imagine my guide’s name would have been Pearl  Something practical and real.  Pearl won’t bullshit you.  Pearl will know how it is and won’t be afraid to tell you when to pull your head out of your ass and deal.  Pearl also would know that Sometimes honey, you just need to mourn the life you left.  She would tell me when my brain was spinning in appointments or after—which is usually when it spins—when I am finally wrapping my head around whatever new thing the doctors want to do.  New equals scary.  Even if it is not.  New is uncharted territory.  New requires adjustment.  Pearl would remind my brain when New freaked me out that we have been here before.  New fades and then it is ok.

And even if it isn’ t ok, then it is familiar.

What I know…

If you have never had a serious or chronic illness you think you know what it will be like.  You visualize someone—frail and emaciated with thinning hair—nervously checking their watch to see if they need to take medication.  These are the people you feel bad for.  People whose whole lives have been reduced to repetitive trips to the doctor and a litany of side effects.   And you think to yourself—with some guilt—I’m so glad I don’t have that.  Someone who has a serious illness—you think—must face the fact that their life is broken.

Pyoderma Gangrenosum.  8 glorious syllables that sound like a Harry Potter spell. Say it slowly with me with a flourish of the wand as each syllable pulls through the air.  Pyo….derma….Gang—-ren…..o…sum!  It casts an incantation that causes the target—36 year old me—to break out in painful, blood-filled boils.  Yes.  BOILS.  It’s an auto-immune disease that affects 1 in 100,000 people—it’s rare.  I also have it in my lungs.  Uber-rare. Freakishly rare.  The doctor who called it “exotic” made me like her immediately. I am many things. Exotic is not one of them.

In all of this insanity, as you embrace what it is like to have your body be totally out of your control, you might think it will suck.

And it will.  Oh boy, will it suck.  Like a big o’l Dyson vacuum it will suck.  There will be tears and exhaustion, anger and embarrassment, isolation and fear, surgeries, drugs, awkwardness, and the feeling that things will never go back to the way things were before.  There will be a mourning of the loss of you.

But here is the thing no one tells you.  The secret is that it will not suck all of the time.

You think it will.  But it won’t.

Some of the time it will be incredible.