I think it is normal to have regrets in your life. I don’t know one person who has not wanted to go back in time and correct some of the more glaring “mistakes” of their lives. Yet, if you ever saw Back to the Future, hurtling back in a DeLorean, to a time where we feel our life went off track (and actually take that job, or ask out that girl, or go out with that boy) is very tempting. The problem is if we altered our past, everything else would shift and the entire course of our life would be different. In Back to The Future, Marty attempts to change the course of his father’s life and discovers that people existing in the present, disappear. This of course is fantasy, but the truth is that you just cannot press the UNDO button and edit your life. Your past is your past and is, after-all, what makes you who you are. The trick is taking those regrets and using them as a learning experience rather than continually berating yourself. I was not exactly mother-of-the-year, and I have to admit it. I don’t think I ever really learned how to be a nurturing human being, coming from a very dysfunctional family. Although my Mom was affectionate, there was a real disconnect in my family and I literally could not wait to “get the hell out” of my house. To escape, I began carousing, using drugs and alcohol to give me the “happiness” and wholeness that I did not feel at home—trying to fill that hole in my gut. While working in Korvettes in Manhattan, I met my first husband, my hero, whom I looked upon as my rescuer. When I got pregnant, I was not ready to be a wife and mother, and consequently I was a dismal failure at both. However, I have learned that, presented with choices, it is virtually impossible to navigate those waters without choosing something we later consider a mistake. As the saying goes, “Acceptance is the key to everything” and I truly believe it; acceptance of both past and present situations we have no control over. In the past 18 years, I have tried to make amends to family members, both living and deceased (in the case of my parents). It does not totally absolve me from my actions, but it allows me to dig myself out of the regret graveyard. All I can do now is accept that not all my decisions were the best but they seemed right at the time. Growing and learning from bad decisions are how I try (and I say “try”) to handle my life’s choices rather than with regret, which is just a form of self-flagellation. Staying in regret will keep you mired in the past, and prevent you from moving forward in life.
Jealousy for me is defined as an irrational FEAR that somehow I am missing out on something or that someone is getting recognition for something that I deserve (at least in my mind). I never thought of jealousy as a FEAR, but upon introspection, I realize it really is. Although almost everyone is jealous at some time in their lives, it seems more extreme in my case. It comes in many forms and can attack when I am feeling spiritually fit, emotional, depressed, happy—in short, it sneaks up on me when I least expect it, regardless of my state of mind and can be triggered by even the most mundane comment. A perfect example happened today when the instructor in my Spinning class was extolling the virtues of a “masseur” she went to in Naples, Fla. She went on to say the it was “a whole hour” of bliss, and even though I have elected to walk away from that profession, I still found myself feeling annoyed and jealous and actually wanted to say that I was indeed a massage therapist too. Luckily reason prevailed and I reminded myself that this was my choice because I wanted to pursue my creative self that I had put on the back burner for so long. I simply did not want to continue as a therapist. But, jealousy, or the green-eyed monster as some people call it, is an emotion that is found in almost every species. A few years ago I discovered that my 18-year old parrot was extremely jealous of the new Macaw. Every time I paid attention to the new “baby”, Merlin would come running over, get on top of the cage, get in-between us, and try to engage me. I found it very funny and cute, but it is not so endearing when it involves myself because it often leads to other emotions such as depression and resentment. In searching for the roots of my jealously it is easy to find it when analyzing my childhood. I grew up in a middle class apartment complex called Stuyvesant Town on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. At that time, neighbors actually knew each other and it was a sort of a Peyton Place type of atmosphere (for those of you who remember that show), where we all knew each other’s business. Although Stuyvesant Town’s buildings spanned 14th through 20th Street, having at least 13 floors in each building, it didn’t seem like Manhattan. In fact it was quite bucolic—a little oasis surrounded by a not so savory neighborhood—with playgrounds, grass, trees, an oval, and a flagpole. By the surrounding neighborhood’s standards, we were looked upon as “rich” but looks can be deceiving. My Mom had a group of friends that lived in Stuyvesant Town—some in our building— who played Mahjong every week at each other’s apartment. I would always overhear their banter about their vacations, or their summer homes and wonder why we didn’t have that. Their family life always seemed to contain an element of happiness, which was missing in mine. Years later I realized that it is all about “perceptions”, but didn’t recognize that when I was a child. All I knew was what was in front of my eyes so I compared “my insides to their outsides”, or in this case, “my family’s insides to other family’s outsides.” Although I certainly never went hungry or without decent clothing, I was acutely aware of the difference in my family compared to the other families in my neighborhood. We lived in a two-bedroom apartment, which necessitated me sharing a bedroom with my older brother, creating more and more resentment as time went on. Our Main floor apartment overlooked a main walkway and allowed my brother and I to see the comings and goings of our neighbors. It always seemed that we got the short-end of the stick and I was filled with envy when, looking out our window, we would see my Mom’s friends loading up their car, getting ready to go on a family vacation. I remember thinking that why was it that WE (our family) weren’t able to load up OUR car and take off for a fun vacation. Well, for one, my parents didn’t drive so we had no car, but the other reason was that we struggled financially due to my Dad’s compulsive gambling. Luckily my Mom had a good job but those extras that we noticed other families indulging in were not ours to have. I believe that is where the seeds of jealousy began and to this day, I still find myself “looking over the fence at other people’s yards” and finding my situation or life wanting. As an adult, wherever I worked, the green-eyed monster plagued me. Someone got a better review, better job, better assignments, better, better, you name it—whatever it was it was better. As a massage therapist, I would constantly see other therapists getting more clients, more bookings, more money, more of whatever it was and, again I would be left wondering, “Why not me?” Whenever I think I have conquered it, it pops up again. Recently during a photo class, I found out that a few people were taking a class I didn’t even know about and that they had been to the instructor’s studio several times. Immediately, I asked, “When did you find out about that?” or “Really, when was that?” And there I was, feeling “left out” as if I was a child again—as if I was looking out the window at my friend’s family, happily laughing, loading up their car, getting ready for a fun time—one that I couldn’t partake in.
When I was a child I remember thinking that in the far-off futuristic year of 2000 I would be “old” at the age of 48. How funny it is that one’s idea of what is OLD changes so drastically as we rapidly (and it happens so damn fast) approach the age that we thought was OLD before; we keep on re-setting the bar. I was really depressed when I was about to turn 26 because in my mind, once you passed 25 you were close to 30–that dreaded age. In the movie Planet of the Apes (which came out when I was 14) one of the characters famously said, “Don’t trust anyone over 30”, which was the young people’s anthem during that time period. And how about that movie, “Logan’s Run” where nobody in that society was over 29 because you were “put out to pasture” at the ripe old age of 30. You know you’re getting older when you begin to think of 45 as “young” where you used to think of it as OLD. Each time I hit a milestone I want to believe that I am still young, and in my mind I am. In many cultures, an older person is respected, but not in the U.S. When was it decided that once you turn 50 or (God forbid) 60, you became less valuable than you were when you were younger? As I approached that dreaded age of 60, I felt less and less desirable, valuable, and worthwhile. I literally spent an entire year of my life dreading that number. I admit that part of that was my own prejudice derived from my impression of what an “older” woman was. But the media also perpetrates that age prejudice (except for celebrities—where age doesn’t seem to apply) where they lump everyone into the “senior” category once you turn 60. It’s strange that you could be 59 one day and then the next day when you turn 60, you are automatically deemed “elderly.” That word automatically conjures up people in rocking chairs, whiling away their “golden” years, waiting to die. Elderly implies that a person has no goals or dreams or aspirations. It implies that these people don’t know how to use a computer, or text, or use an iPad, or an IPhone, or other gadgets deemed too complex for their rapidly deteriorating brains. The image that one gets is of dumpy bodies, unable to run, spin, workout much (except the Silver Sneakers class). That whole picture could not be more wrong because just like anybody of any age, there are a great many variations of how each of us age. I for one was very debilitated before my spinal tumor was discovered, but before that I had been a vital and athletic woman of a certain age, and prided myself on it. When I was ambling along with my cane, I felt truly OLD, but anyone with a tumor compressing their spinal cord would have the same symptoms and probably felt the same way. Once the tumor was removed, my recovery was rapid and I returned to my workout regimen, gradually increasing it and one year later, I am almost back to pre-tumor form. But what I know for sure and I wish the younger set would understand, is that no matter what your age, you are an individual and if you were so inclined to be very goal oriented, and vital, you will not stop being so. I wish I could change society’s attitude about aging, but what is most important is changing my own attitude. Until I can look at myself (and the hell with other’s opinions) and feel beautiful (inside and out) nothing will change. I still have a long way to go, but the more I recognize my attributes and stop focusing on my physical flaws, the more I will learn to value and love myself. Like anything, that is a process and hopefully someday I will achieve this goal.
Letting go of old letters or in my case, old journals is not always easy. I’ve been trying to decide what direction I want to take with my Blog. I met with someone from my writer’s group last week and I mentioned that I make no money on my Blog, probably because it is about what I WANT to write and not what everyone wants to read. He said (and I’m sure he didn’t mean to upset me) that if I were going to just write for myself, I might as well just write in a diary (or journal). While I was out running/walking the other day a light bulb went off in my head—write what you know. OK, I know a lot, and I DO write about it, but I’m not “successful” in the way I want to be. Then I thought, “OK, why not take those gut-wrenching, insane, journals you used to keep (just to keep me sane) when I was out there”. That sounded like the answer—yes, people could relate to that and this will keep their interest. All my recent writing and journaling is done on my computer, but years ago, everything was hand-written in notebooks. So, I pulled them out from the top of my closet and started reading. Wow, what a revelation—some of it is so crazy and ridiculous that I literally want to just chuck it. I found myself saying, “Oh, pleeeeeese!” There is something to be said for looking back fondly at old times, but my old times were horrible and I do not even recognize the person I was then. They say “youth is wasted on the young” and I believe it. What a waste my life was and thank God I matured. It is almost as if these heart-felt words penned by me (when I was 18 through about 30) were from a different person, and they were in a way. There is no resemblance from that pathetic, lost soul that I was then to the woman that I have become. Yes, lots of those feelings are still the same, but the way I handle life has changed. It is called maturity and wisdom; and I’d like to believe that I have acquired some amount of both throughout the years. In some ways it is helpful to re-read these journals because it shows the transformation that has taken place, and it keeps my “memory green” as they say. I had to ask myself if I really wanted to revisit those years and the answer is a resounding NO. The question is if I want to throw the books away or keep them for my grandchildren to discover. I’m leaning toward the former. I could not have even considered that a few years ago and that is evidence of personal growth. I have had lots of hard times in recent years from extreme physical debilitation to unbelievable heartache with my child, but I could never imagine myself using the same coping mechanisms that I employed back then. Life is life and I still “journal” for my own sanity, but I have changed and I now know I am ready to let the past go.