What IS Happiness?

I have struggled with this question for most of my adult life. What does it really mean to be happy? Is anyone truly happy? Or are we just content? Is happiness a permanent state of mind or is it something that happens in little spurts?

I am not unhappy but I am also not happy. I know that makes zero sense. I am happy right now with my life; however, I am always looking for that “something more.” Maybe it’s just my personality– but I find that things and places get old for me fast.

 I am always looking for the next big adventure, meeting new people, stardownloadting a new hobby and of course, being a life long learner. And all while I am chasing this idea of happiness- I am also craving stability and normalcy. I am seeking happiness in just being content with myself and my life. 

I often find myself jealous of people who seem content in their lives. Married, with a family in a little home and jobs they love. What is that like? But then I have to question– are they really happy?

What defines happiness?

Money? Love? A home? A job? Marriage? or is happiness something much more? Do we trick ourselves into believing that happiness are all the things we are supposed to have and want in life? Or is happiness just something we occasionally experience? Is true happiness deeper or spiritual? 

And is anyone really happy?

Grief

Back in September, I lost a very close friend, teacher, and mentor. I had known him for over 17 years. It was a hard loss. I allowed myself time to grieve. I was able to obtain copies of his writings in hopes to s3e11eea45850e506a164770fcad895cf--cemetery-angels-cemetery-statuesomeday carry on his memory and teachings. And thankfully, I was fortunate enough to let him know how important he was to me before he passed away.

It was not easy for me to lose someone so close to me, and I understood the importance of grief. Making sure that not only I honored his memory, but also making sure I was taking care of myself.

The other night I attended a Witches Ball which held an ancestor ceremony to honor those who have passed. As a death positive advocate, anything that honors and recognizes not only death but the death of those closest to us. This was my first ancestor ritual since the passing of my friend. I was fine up until the point where I had to light a candle on the altar. Then it was like the wound opened up wide.

My tears would not stop flowing. In our circle, we yelled the names of our loved ones. I never thought that it would be my friend’s name coming out of my mouth. Especially since in 2005, when I lost a dear friend to domestic violence, he did a special ritual just for her. He knew how much pain I was in and gathered everyone together to hold a ceremony for a person he didn’t even know. And there I was, lighting a candle and shouting his name.

It broke the flood gates for me. It all came rushing it. Grief is weird like that. Even for someone who acknowledges and appreciates death in all aspects. I understand the nature of grief. It ebbs and flows– but never makes it easier.

I recently had a patient whose grandmother passed away. She was in the office inconsolable. I hugged her and said how sorry I was, but I also told her how important it was that she grieves. A week later she showed up looking cheerful and happy. I asked her how she was feeling. She said that she was doing great. She had taken a second job the day after her grandmother died and had been to busy to grieve. She hadn’t allowed herself to feel the pain of loss. She covered it up by intentionally making herself busy. I reminded her that she needed to take the time to remember and honor her grandmother. That it is unhealthy not grieve.

Why are we so afraid to allow ourselves to feel the pain of loss? The death of one we love is a pain that will never go away. And that pain creeps up out of nowhere. And it sucks. But its what we need to do to honor our loved ones and turn our pain into something so much more.

 

Death Denial

bc7df36ec1efdcedd1bae56db709ecf8One major flaw with humans is our ability to deny just about anything. Even when it’s right in front of our faces. Especially death.

After the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic– no one ever discussed it. If it was discussed, it was in a passing comment or a three-sentence paragraph.

Same thing for the 1831 cholera pandemic in England and beyond. After more than 52,000 lives were claimed to cholera- it was never discussed or mentioned.

Oh yes, and the Black Death? The bubonic plague that decimated Europe for three years; again, rarely discussed.

The 1918 flu is never mentioned in textbooks when World War I is discussed; even though it killed more than the actual war itself.

Is it our fear of death that prevents us from actually acknowledging its existence? Even when its everywhere? Are we so afraid to acknowledge our own mortality?

I understand the trauma of seeing people dying every day. Seeing coffins stacked up. Mass graves being dug. But after it’s over…..

I recently had a patient who lost her grandmother. She was a wreck when she came into the office.  I offered my condolences and some advice on keeping healthy during a time of intense grief (I have experienced it way too many times). The following week she came back in, and while she looked tired, she didn’t seem like someone who just lost someone. I asked her the obvious question: How are you doing?

Her response was basically, “I am working two jobs and going to meetings so I can’t think about it.”

I jumped right away into healer mode. I explained to her how bad it was not to acknowledge the death of her grandmother, but also her own grief. Keeping in grief will only cause more damage in the future than actually dealing with it when its there. When I worked in hospice I saw it all the time. Family members not dealing with the reality that their loved one is dying. When death came they would just brush it off. The “we knew it was coming,” quote I heard a thousand times.

What about death is so frightening that when it’s right there we ignore it? Never discuss it. Never want to deal with it. Even those with strong religious and spiritual lives deny the obvious.

We are all dying.

Accepting our own mortality, even in the face of death itself, can not only empower us with the ability to live our lives to the fullest but also give us the strength we need when our loved ones pass away. We are not as fragile as we think we are. Pretending that death will not happen–or, that death happened on a large scale– is only denying our ability to recognize our own mortality.

And as for those who passed away- how horrible is it to just forget them? Forget what happened? Forget how they died? Never discussing it again. Don’t they deserve respect? I was so happy when I hear that the Mutter Museum in Philadelphia was holding a mournful march to honor those who died in the 1918 flu epidemic.  Finally acknowledging not only the victims but also death itself.

Until we can stop denying the obvious- we are never going to truly live.

 

Life. Death. Love.

“Nothing can happen more beautiful than death.” – Walt Whitman

It is always hard for me to wrap my mind around why people are so afraid of getting old and afraid of death. After all, it’s going to happen to all of us. I can appreciate the wanting to live a good long life- free of disease. But why try to slow down the aging processimages? Why not accept the inevitable— and actually use it to create a well-lived life?

We started to die the day we were born.

When people first meet me, their initial thoughts are usually that I am a dark and mysterious girl with a morbid fascination. After all,  I make jewelry with vertebrae (human and animal). I paint animal skulls. I post images of death in all its forms. My home is decorated with all things death-related– skulls, skeletons, bones. My life is dedicated to the dead.

I have been fascinated with death since childhood. Being born on November 1st, it’s hard not to fall in love with images of death! My birthdays were always filled with bits and pieces of Halloween and All Souls Day. My work with dead goes back as far as I can remember-even within the realm of imaginary friends in childhood.

As I grew older, I began to realize that my life was destined to be entwined between the realms of the living and the dead.

Am I obsessed with death? No.

Do I venerate death? Yes.

I have never been afraid of the concept of death. I understand why most people are. It’s frightening to think about the unknown


I find death comforting. We are all going to end up there. Death is also the one thing in life that does not discriminate; Death does not care if you are rich, poor, what race you are, where you are from, who your family is, what religion you practice, who you pray to. Death is a bit of coming home after a long journey. For me, death is like a waiting lover. Open arms and ready to dance. Morbid? Not really.

My relationship with death has made me love life because Death is humbling. 

When I work with bones–I find it an honor. To hold something so sacred that ones supported the weight of a living thing is a blessing. When I work on a piece, whether painting on a skull or entwining vertebrae into jewelry, I think of what animal once owned those bones. What type of energy that animal had. Where it lived, what it did. I reflect on the essence of the being.

When I work on human bones- its an even greater honor. I think of the person, who they may have been, what they may have done. When I hold a human bone in my hand, I think of my ancestors– of all our ancestors– those who have walked this earth thousands of years before now. Its a sacred honor to me to hold those human bones in my hand.

Imagine if someone told you you had three days to live. Would you really live? Would you break the rules? Would you take risks? Would you be a kinder person?

This is why I love death. It made me learn to live my life with no regrets. I always reflect on the choices

I made, chances I took…things I have said– and I regret nothing.  I am getting older, I am learning that time goes by fast. Age is inevitable. But I have every intention of living my life my way.

In honoring and understanding death- I have learned to appreciate life. Death has humbled me beyond words. Working with and having human bones in my life is one of the greatest honors I could ever have. The dead remind me to live. REALLY live.


So yes, maybe in some strange way- I am obsessed with Death. But its an obsession of absolution. I know that someday I will be like those bones….that will be all that is left of me on this earthly realm. I have no fear of that.

 

Breaking The Silent Darkness

As most of you know, I am very open about my anxiety and depression. I don’t feel a need to hide the fact that I am on medication nor that I have days when the darkness is so thick I feel like I am going to suffocate. Yet, with all that said, I still struggle to tell certain people. Especially employers and co-workers.

I have major anxiety. Sometimes its so crippling I cant even leave the house. Yes, its much better controlled now. I have been in regular therapy since 2009 to teach myself new ways to think and break recycled thoughts; and medication have made it much easier to deal…but it doesn’t completely take it away. The thing that is hard for people to understand is that I do not always have a trigger. Sometimes, I just wake up feeling anxious—like the floor is going to fall out from underneath me. But I do have triggers.

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And one of those triggers is driving. I hate driving. I didn’t get my license until I was 21 because I hate the idea of getting in a car and driving. To this day I still struggle to drive on highways. I avoid it as much as I can. That coupled with social anxiety makes it worse. My dog helps with that…he is a good icebreaker. But I cant take my dog everywhere. So the idea of driving to a place I do not know AND seeing people I do not know…causes a panic attacks like an erupting volcano!

Hearing myself think these thoughts I often think I must sound like the most pathetic creature on the face of the earth. I am 34 and afraid to drive? I am 34 and cant even leave the town I live in? I had to, tell my boss this after she asked me to drive two and half hours to a town in a state that I just moved in. I was panicked. I told her I couldn’t because, truthfully, we have one car and I pick up my partner from work…..so a 5 hour drive plus time at the other office would make it impossible to circumnavigate schedules. But, I really wanted to  tell her the immediate truth….I have anxiety—and driving alone for 5 hours to a place I don’t even know—that triggered anxiety which triggered panic attacks. That weekend I tried really hard to tell myself how irrational I was being…But my brain didn’t care what I thought–it was on a loop of fight or flight. I even tried to get up enough courage to drive 45 minutes to a neighboring town that I have been before—and I started to go but then I got a wave of panic and had to turn around. Its paralyzing. Anxiety is paralyzing. Naturally this triggered even more “oh my Gods what if’s….” and my brain got my body so worked up I couldn’t leave the house the rest of the day.

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Finally I decided I needed to be truthful with my boss. She knew about my depression…and some of my anxiety…but not all of it. So I wrote her an email and explained what I feel, what my anxiety is like…and how I feel stupid I felt even having to admit these things. I was horrified of what the response maybe. I thought for sure, I was going to get in trouble–that she would think it was just an excuse or a cop out.

But no. It was the complete opposite. She completely understood. And even admitted that she has anxiety issues! I felt a huge weight come off me! It felt good! And I wasn’t judged….(so take that brain!). I had a new found respect for my boss after that to. She understood what I was going through….and that made a huge difference!

Sometimes, with depression, anxiety, or anything other mental illness…..you are so afraid that you will be judged by others–or that they will think you are just making up excuses. But in truth, despite how scary or nerve wracking–its best to lay out the cards. Tell it like it is and regardless, always hold your head up. Sometimes when you think you are alone—you really are not!

Conceptual Failure

I recently read an article online that stated marriages in the 21st century have been set up for failure. This is mostly because of the cost of living, distractions from technology and the lack of communication. While I agreed with most of the article, the one thing that kept coming up was the word “failure.”

I don’t believe in the word. No one fails at anything. Its better to try something and realize its not for you rather than wondering “what if”–and furthermore, just because something doesn’t work out, it doeskin mean  a)  it failed or b) you are a failure.

Back in the Medieval times people were hand fasted–bound together for a year and a day. If after a year a day, they felt things wouldn’timages work-they went their separate ways. If they felt that their idea or creation of happiness worked for both–they stayed together.

My marriage ended because we both had different concepts of marriage. Yes. Marriage is an idea after all. Marriage, husband, wife–they are terms-titles we use to classify an idea we have. Our concept of marriage failed–we ourselves were not failures. My ex wanted the title of husband but not  the responsibility. I wanted the concept of white picket fence and I believe marriage would solve all my problems. In essence, I created an  illusion of what I believed or thought marriage was. For us, our marriage ended because we both had different ideas of what it meant….and that doesn’t keep it together.

Did it fail? No. We just realized it was not the best thing for us to be together if what are concepts of marriage were different. For me, I learned the idea of a white picket fence and husband to save me was not really who I was. I am not “wife” type. I wouldn’t have learned that had I not gotten married.

I think its great that couples can be together for 10, 20, 30 or even 50 years. For them, the concept of marriage works. But that concept is not for everyone–and some of us don’t realize that until we get married and it ends.

Furthermore, when something ends, it doesn’t necessarily mean the people involved were failures. It just means that where they were together at that particular point in time was not where they were supposed to be. Things end. Even things were believe—we conceptualize–to last forever.

Year of the Dog

Another year has gone by. For those who do not know, I always consider my birthday my new year; I had my new year on Sunday. Every year I make list of “resolutions” to accomplish in the next year.

This year, I decided to use my dog as a source of inspiration. As humans, we forget so much of our natural essence. We worry about trivial things, forget to breathe. We work tirelessly. And that leads to blockages within our energy fields. It causes us to be exhausted-drained of our energy and life force.

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My chihuahua Fox Mulder

I am guilty of that. Very much so.  So this year, I am going to live more like my dog and follow these simple, yet difficult, resolutions:

  1. Live in the moment: I will try my best to be in the moment—even if the moment is uncomfortable or new to me. I am going to learn that whatever moment I happen to be in, is a moment that I am meant to learn from.
  2. Love unconditionally: Probably the hardest lesson of them all. Learning to love unconditionally: even if the person has low vibrations, hurt you, etc. Learning to love and accept that person for who they are….regardless. My dog loves me even when I am in a fierce mood. He loves me even when I am sad. He loves me even if I scold him for doing something he wasn’t supposed to. He loves unconditionally.
  3. Don’t worry. Be happy: My dog is ALWAYS happy. Always. I need to stop worrying over things that I cant control. I will stop worrying over things that I can change. I will just be happy.
  4. Let go: When my dog does something bad, I scold him. He is upset for a few moments and then he is back to being happy. Lesson to be learned: let go. Bad stuff happens. You cant make everyone happy all the time. You will disappoint yourself and others periodically. But……it happens….Let it go and go back to being happy!

Will I be able to do all of these successfully–no, but I can try! I know I will have my “human” moments—but if I keep my dog and his virtues in check, then I think these lessons will be another stepping stone in my growth to be the best person humanly possible. And if I mess up….well….my dog will be there to love me!