Tag Archives: Memoir

Self-Help Memoir Miniature: “I Tried Mindfulness for Depression”

So, I have a confession to make: I’ve always hated the idea of mindfulness. Here I am, all spiritual and New Agey and stuff, and I’ve never even initiated a conversation about it. Ridiculous, right? Here’s my excuse.

Until very recently, I knew nothing about this spiritual practice. It was just a vague term, and not an especially pleasing one at that. Whereas for some, the idea of mindfulness inspires a sort of beatific glow, for me, it was just another entry on the never-ending to do list of life. Just learning more about it seemed exhausting. Then I actually did learn more–and abruptly changed my perspective.

Right now, as research for this site, I’m reading Full Catastrophe Living by Jon Kabat-Zin for the first time. Now a modern classic, this gives one of the more detailed, systematic (even medical) approaches to mindfulness meditation. It’s based on the successful hospital classes led by Kabat-Zin many years ago, with more recent additions in the revised version I’m reading. I’m also reading several books by Thich Nhat Hanh right now, and listening to an Eckhart Tolle audiobook. I didn’t think of Tolle as a mindfulness meditation teacher, but I’m seeing now that he is (though he might not appreciate the label).

Previously, I viewed mindfulness as a sort of bland, unoriginal approach to spirituality. I mean, it’s just so popular, right? Even non-spiritual people are doing it. After doing the above reading, though, I changed my mind.

Mindfulness, it turns out, isn’t what I thought it was.

I thought mindfulness was: Enjoying life.

Mindfulness is: Being aware of and accepting whatever thoughts come, whether or not they’re thoughts of enjoyment and appreciation.

I thought mindfulness was: Thinking pleasant thoughts about the ordinary things you see around you as you go throughout your day.

Mindfulness is: Feeling your “inner body,” as Tolle calls it–bringing your attention to the energy within you throughout the day.

I thought mindfulness was: Eating more slowly. Listening more carefully.

Mindfulness is: Being who you are. Doing what comes naturally to you when you’re acting from your highest self.

I thought mindfulness was: Not future-thinking. Not past-thinking.

Mindfulness is: Using your mind in the ways that it serves you. That includes some future- and past-thinking.

I thought mindfulness was: Being in a state of deep acceptance of what is.

Mindfulness is: Being in the state of meditation. Even when you’re not totally able to accept what is.

I thought mindfulness was: A politically correct alternative to more advanced ways of meditating.

Mindfulness is: As advanced as I ever need to be.

In other words: Before, mindfulness seemed to me both overly simplistic as well as impossible to achieve. Now, it seems to be exactly what I already do every day: meditating, appreciating, loving. Rinse, repeat.

I still don’t love the word mindfulness for some reason. At this point, the
guilt-producing mental associations still sully it. But I do like mindfulness itself.

Here, a self-interview about using this practice for depression.

Does this spiritual practice work against depression?

Yes. For sure. Probably for everyone.

Have you tried it? For how long?

Possibly the main takeaway I got from my recent reading is that I’ve actually been practicing mindfulness meditation for at least four years now. I don’t do many long sitting meditations these days, but my main spiritual practice is to enter into a state of meditation–just a behind-the-scenes sort of sensing of the Divine–in the morning and to hold that place throughout the day. I certainly don’t always succeed in this (read You’re Getting Closer to see what I mean). But when I fail, I return. It’s my most consistent spiritual habit, and as it turns out, it’s nothing special–just what everyone is talking about: mindfulness.

What were your results when using mindfulness for depression?

At times, total transformation of my mood, immediately. Other times, frustration due to just not feeling it.

Is it easy?

For me, yes and no. It does take work, especially for the first several years of practice. It’s a tough habit to create and keep.

How long does the effect last? Does it keep working or does the effect taper off after a few weeks or months?

The mood effect does not taper off at all for me if I practice consistently throughout the day, week or month. And after a break–even a long one–I can pick up right where I left off.

How does it work? What do you do, exactly?

The answer to this question is different for everyone; there are so very many ways to be mindful.

For some, mindfulness is simply noticing what is and thinking thoughts of appreciation. For others, it is noticing unhelpful thoughts and letting them pass, turning their attention to their present surroundings instead. Right now, for me, my main mindfulness practice is to say a mantra many times throughout the day, as follows: I am sensing my inner body. I’m doing what feels deeply right. This reminds me to come back to myself, then check in with my intuition when making any kind of decision. It works wonderfully for me.

I also say, Thank you, God, and There is time for that, too. (This last because of my Type A accomplishment obsession.) And since I’m not so great at just thinking about trees or children’s smiles or whatever, I think thoughts of appreciation about these things. In other words, instead of saying to myself, Here are the trees. They are green and beautiful, I might say something like, I so appreciate these trees. I am so lucky to live here.

Does that make sense? For me, this subtle difference is huge.

Is this practice scientifically backed?

Yes. There are many books on the benefits of meditation in general, but mindfulness meditation is particularly well-researched. It is used outside spiritual circles–in hospitals, therapy practices and much more.

What’s the downside?

None that I can think of, except that it may take years and years of practice for it to feel natural and easy. At least, it did for me. And I definitely still struggle.

Self-Help Memoir Miniature: “Byron Katie’s ‘The Work’ Works For Me”

In the very famous book by Robert Cialdini called Influence, he tells a story that has been co-opted many times since, and now, I think I’ll do it again.

Beginning in the year 1961, Yale University conducted a set of frightening psychological experiments on a mix of average people. Bear with me a few moments—this is a little complicated. (But worth it.)

In each iteration of this study, three roles were played: the subject, the button pusher, and the director. The idea was simple: the button pusher would attempt to teach the subject, who was sitting in a different room, a set of word pairs. Then the button pusher would test the subject’s learning ability. When the subject responded incorrectly, the director (wearing a white lab coat) would tell the button pusher (the actual subject of the experiment) to deliver electric shocks of increasing intensity to the subject by—you guessed it—pressing a button.

Of course, the set up was a bit of a sham. No actual electrical current was delivered, but the subject made a convincing show of suffering, anyway.

The results of the study and subsequent studies shocked the researchers and the public alike: 65 percent of the button pushers complied with the researcher’s demands and pushed the torture button until the highest level of pain (an excruciating 450 volts) was delivered repeatedly—despite the fierce cries and protests of the subjects.

When the results of this study were announced to the public, they apparently caused quite a media frenzy. Respected analysts and psychologists made pessimistic observations about the evil inherent in human nature and society. What the journalists apparently did not reveal, however, was this:

The button pushers were in absolute anguish a great deal of the time.

They paced. They protested. They cried—even grown men cried. They begged not to be required to go on.

They didn’t want to do it at all.

In Influence and other analyses of this fascinating study, a clear conclusion is drawn: People in general put a great undue trust in authority. We listen to our leaders—or the people we perceive to be our leaders—and do almost anything they ask, whatever the consequences may be.

And I agree with this idea. In fact, I could not possibly agree more. However, there is a second conclusion to be made, and personally, I think it’s even more important than the first: People are almost totally unaware that the source of their greatest anguish is not other people.

It is themselves.

At any point in time during this experiment, any of the button pushers could have ended the torture of both the subject and themselves by doing one simple thing.

They could’ve stopped pushing the button.

Here’s the thing: We are powerful. Our minds–our beliefs–are the source of our greatest pain, as well as our only true joy. And yet, as many times as we New Agey-types say this, repeat this, remind ourselves of this, we often seem to forget it.

Which is where Byron Katie’s The Work comes in.

When I first came across Byron Katie’s website, there was a prominently displayed quote that went something like this: “The Work has one purpose: To end suffering.”

And I thought, Yeah, right, you guys. Everything I need to end suffering is right here, on this website.

A reasonable reaction, maybe. But that was long before I ever put The Work to the test.

What is The Work?

For those of you who are not familiar with The Work, here is a brief description from thework.com: “The Work is a simple yet powerful process of inquiry that teaches you to identify and question the thoughts that cause all the suffering in the world. It’s a way to understand what’s hurting you, and to address the cause of your problems with clarity. In its most basic form, The Work consists of four questions and the turnarounds.”

The questions are:

  1. Is it true? (Yes or no. If no, move to 3.)
  2. Can you absolutely know that it’s true? (Yes or no.)
  3. How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought?
  4. Who would you be without the thought?

Pretty simple, right? And yet, The Work is one of the most powerful spiritual techniques I’ve ever tried. It combines well-known cognitive psychology principles (CBT is similar, and similarly amazing), neuroscience (brain rewiring theory, and all that), and–you guessed it–spirituality to address anything and everything that ails you.

And it delivers.

Can you be more specific?

Here are some of the negative thoughts I’ve freed (or partially freed) myself from through this method, just during the first two months of practicing it:

  • I’m not thin enough.
  • I’m not accomplishing enough.
  • I’m annoyed by [insert person’s name].
  • I’m angry at [insert person’s name].
  • I want to work more.
  • I don’t want to breastfeed anymore.

Another thought that I’m not totally rid of yet, but that I’ve already made inroads against: “I am depressed.”

Really? That doesn’t seem possible.

It’s true.

What do you mean, you’ve freed yourself from these thoughts?

I mean that when they come, they don’t feel as strong to me anymore. They are there, then I recall The Work that I did on the thought and how I turned it around, and it sort of makes its way through me to somewhere else. They’re not quite real anymore. I don’t take them so seriously.

And for depression, a condition that may be physically-based? Does it work for this, too?

Absolutely. I can honestly say that before The Work and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, which is very similar but not quite as powerful as The Work, I was never entirely convinced I could one day be completely free from depression. Now, I am.

But it will take time. This is not an overnight miracle cure. It takes, as the name suggests, work. Depression has made such deep inroads–superhighways, really–in my mind. All that needs to be slowly undone.

If it’s this amazing, why doesn’t everyone know about it?

People find The Work when the time is right. Also, Byron Katie’s ideas are pretty darn controversial. In her world, the problem is never the other person; it’s always you. “No exceptions.” Change your perspective, and you won’t suffer anymore, she says–no matter what anyone else does to you. A lot of people are stuck in victimhood.

Anything else we should know?

I cannot do The Work justice in this blog post. Rather than attempt the impossible, then, I direct you to one of my favorite Byron Katie YouTube videos ever (and that’s saying a lot, since I’ve been binge-watching them every chance I get). In it, Katie helps a distraught woman plagued with guilt over a relationship mistake see the truth of the situation.

(By the way, everything you need to do The Work is available for free on Byron Katie’s website.)

Self-Help Memoir Miniature: “I Tried Mantra Meditation for Depression”

new thought and prayer

For several months, I had a mantra. A long one, one that I made up that said everything I wanted to remember each day. Since I haven’t had a whole lot of luck with many other types of meditation (I’ve pretty much always used mantras as a focal point during sitting practice rather than focusing on the breath or just clearing my mind), I figured I might as well make it a good, complete one. Each stanza is, for me, a consolidation of a great spiritual principle that upon contemplation can allow us to feel the feeling of feeling good (my definition of the state of meditation).

Here is the mantra that I used:

Angels, guides, God and all there is,  

Please. Please.  
Help. Help.

Notice. Notice.  
Accept. Accept.

Surrender. Surrender.  
Flow. Flow.   

Love. Love.
Give. Give.

Body. Body.
Energy. Energy.

Thank you. Thank you.
Life. Life.

I love this mantra. I love mantras in general, actually. And yet, I don’t use this one anymore. In fact, for the past year or so, I’ve used mantras only sporadically. Why is this? The reason is simple: other spiritual practices took precedent.

I just don’t have time for them all.

Here, a self-interview about using this practice for depression.

So do you recommend mantra meditation for depression, or not?

Absolutely. I have a strong feeling that I will circle back to it–maybe even to using it daily–after my Byron Katie obsession is no longer in the critical learning period.

And mantras in general? Do they help, too? Or is it best to combine them with meditation?

Mantras are just mantras. Unless they’re used in a certain way, in a meditative frame of mind, they’re just not all that effective.

I remember a time several years back when I thought I wanted to buy a particular house. So one day I said this mantra over and over for, like, a solid hour while doing yoga: “This is my house.” And I didn’t feel at peace about it at all–and I did not end up buying that house (thank God).

So what was the difference?

First, the mantra should be something that feels deeply right to you. Something that really increases your peace. And second, the mantra should be something you use as a means to an end–achieving a state of meditation–not as an end in itself.

So does that mean you shouldn’t use mantras while doing the laundry or at work?

Not at all. Sit-down meditation is awesome, but you can meditate anytime. I call this “walking meditation.”

How effective is mantra meditation for depression, really?

The thing about being depressed is that it’s really, really hard to boost yourself up out of it using the usual methods. I can remember so many times that I tried to force myself out of a bad mood using some kind of sitting or walking meditation, usually with a mantra, and just ended up more pissed off and frustrated. Maybe I’m just really bad at it (actually, I’m pretty sure this is the case). But I have a feeling I’m not the only one with this problem.

Sometimes it works really well. Other times, it’s just not enough. Personally, I’ve found that meditation is best when I’m already feeling either emotionally neutral (it then kicks me into a bit of a high) or already positive (it then kicks me into an awesome high). When I’m actually depressed, I need something … stronger.

Self-Help Memoir Miniature: “I Tried Positive Thinking for Depression”

Is positive thinking effective for increasing wellness and inner peace? I mean, really. It’s so corny. So Pollyanna. And yet, we spiritual people swear by it. Non-spiritual people, too. We give it credit for so many of our life achievements.

What gives?

I love this question. Really, really love it, partly because the answer isn’t straightforward. So the other week when I ran across an interview with Eckhart Tolle and Dr. Wayne Dyer in which it was asked, my ears perked up.

Strangely, positivity is a very polarizing subject. You have the extreme believers and the extreme haters. The believers think it’s the reason for everything good that ever happens (I’m looking at you, Rhonda Byrne). The haters view these people as not only misled, but downright ridiculous. Barbara Ehrenreich, for example, has become well known for books like Bright-sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America. Not the book idea I’d want to commit to for several years of my working life.

But there are a few less skeptical, more balanced approaches to the anti-positivity argument as well. And I was pleased that in the Dyer-Tolle interview, both shared interesting, balanced perspectives. They agreed that if a person really wants to achieve greater inner peace, positivity isn’t the goal, or even necessarily a great starting point. Instead, they say, work on being true to yourself, being honest–even if there’s some difficult emotions that come up.

Then Dyer mentioned Anita Moorjani, who wrote a book (Dying to Be Me) about her near death experience and what she learned from it. In it, she says that it’s not about positive thinking. It’s not about manufacturing good feelings where there are none. It’s not about mantras, and the law of attraction, and The Secret, and Norman Vincent Peale.

Positive thinking is a mere substitute for the real thing. Real enlightenment. Real joy. Real love.

It’ll only get you part of the way.

Pema Chodron would likely agree. Her (awesome) books are full of insights about the importance of honesty and authenticity–even suffering. She has a ton–really, just a ton–of amazing quotes on this topic. Here’s one, from When Things Fall Apart: “To stay with that shakiness—to stay with a broken heart, with a rumbling stomach, with the feeling of hopelessness and wanting to get revenge—that is the path of true awakening. Sticking with that uncertainty, getting the knack of relaxing in the midst of chaos, learning not to panic—this is the spiritual path.”

So, okay. Maybe positive thinking isn’t all it’s touted to be. But, well–what is, right? Any idea that has entered the popular consciousness with as much force and repetition (not to mention anecdotal and even scientific evidence, a la the placebo effect) suffers from oversimplification syndrome. Maybe positivity isn’t the cure-all, or even one of the truly great spiritual practices out there. That doesn’t mean I’m giving it up anytime soon.

Briefly, here’s my take: As many of you know, I’ve experienced chronic dysthemia (low-level depression) for most of my life. Spirituality and prayer have always been a source of help for me, as have many other practices. But the very first true breakthrough I ever experienced regarding my depression resulted from reading a book on changing one’s thoughts. It was called Telling Yourself the Truth: Find Your Way Out of Depression, Anxiety, Fear, Anger, and Other Common Problems by Applying the Principles of Misbelief Therapy, and I still recommend it to this day (though there are other, similar books on the subject I prefer now). The basic message: your negative thoughts are responsible for your negative feelings. To change the feeling, change the thought. Oh, and by the way, those negative thoughts aren’t true, anyway–not nearly as true as the more objective–and yes, more positive–alternative perspectives.

The message was simple, and in some ways quite obvious, and yet, as a Christian who had always relied on prayer alone for healing, it was radical to me. When I began “taking my thoughts captive,” as the Bible teaches, I was finally able to cap off some of the depression.

These days, I use positive thinking as a tool every day of my life, both in a knee-jerk sort of way and as a dedicated journaling practice. Don’t get me wrong–I’d love to be more like Eckhart Tolle, who is able to “just be.” And Moorjani, who tells us that rather than try to drum up better-feeling thoughts, we should simply live a life that celebrates who we really, authentically are–whatever that may be.

I’m working on it.

Self-Help Memoir Miniature: “What’s Happening to Me Is What’s Happening In My Own Mind–Nothing Else”

In the world of alternative spirituality, it’s become a bit of a cliche: Everything we see, everything we experience, is merely ourselves, reflected back at us. We are here to discover who we really are, say our Buddhist teachers (like the great Pema Chodron) and our channels (like Esther Hicks, Jane Roberts and many others). This is supposed to make us feel better when things go wrong, I suppose; it’s not really happening, right?

But that isn’t the only reason we appreciate this teaching. We also like it because it gives us a sense of control. In his awesome pop psychology bestseller, What Makes Your Brain Happy and Why You Should Do the Opposite, David DiSalvo tells us about the human mind’s neurotic need for certainty and understanding–even in the face of very few facts.

Knowing what’s really going on at all times–with ourselves and everyone around us–is a major driving force of our actions and thoughts, he writes. There is a distinct physical and chemical pleasure response from coming up with a reason or explanation–no matter how accurate that explanation may be.

Enter all kinds of false conclusions. We even assign meaning to pure coincidence, making causal inferences from scant information.

And in Predictably Irrational, Revised and Expanded Edition: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions, Professor of Behavioral Economics Dan Ariely agrees.

So in a sense, believing the world is a projection of our own minds is a pretty attractive scenario. If I can change my mind, I can change my life, we conclude. Who doesn’t want that kind of power?

However, there’s a flip side to this perceived super power, a quandary to consider: What about when something goes wrong? Who do we blame when someone is truly mean, truly heinous, truly inconsiderate, truly . . . well, wrong?

Hmmmm . . . . That’s a hard one, isn’t it?

Clearly, your partner was not being nice when he told you he’d rather spend a night out with the guys than with you. Obviously, your mother should never suggest you go on a diet, and your sister is unfair to expect you to babysit her kids every week.

I mean, let’s face it: It’s one thing to believe in theory that everything that happens is a just projection of ourselves. It’s another thing entirely to act like we believe it, to truly believe that we’re the only ones responsible for our reality.

Some spiritual-but-not-religious folks have a code word for what happens when things go wrong. They call it “co-creation.” They think that even enlightened people experience bad stuff on occasion (in other words, even Esther Hicks gets sick). This is because, well, we’re not really the only ones out here on this plane of reality. And some, but not all, of the out-there stuff affects us.

We’re all in this thing together.

Another explanation, which I like even better, comes from a lesser-known but equally awesome teacher named Matt Kahn. (Get a free long excerpt of his book, Whatever Arises, Love That, here.) Kahn says that when bad stuff happens, it’s not because you didn’t create or visualize right; it’s because there’s some serious work going on inside you. The idea is similar to the Buddhist idea of working out one’s karma. (See Kahn’s video, “The Karmic Return,” for more.)

For quite a while, I accepted these explanations, and in fact I still do–partly. I do believe (for now, anyway) that there really are other people out there, and that those other people are actually doing things. If reality is a projection, I think it’s a collective one.

However, there’s another layer to this idea that I only recently truly discovered. And the teacher that led me to it was Byron Katie.

Here is Katie’s take on the topic in a nutshell. She says that it’s not that so-called “bad” stuff never happens to enlightened or “advanced” people. (She probably gets her disproportionate share of hate mail, for example, due to her nobody-is-a-victim philosophy.) But when you know that a comment just isn’t true, that comment doesn’t feel truly mean to you anymore. Instead, it just feels like pain. It feels like an angry child is speaking to you, someone who doesn’t understand you–someone who’s hurt and afraid.

Recently, I started using Byron Katie’s method of questioning my negative beliefs, and it has really changed things for me. I didn’t realize how negative I was until I started writing down the automatic thoughts in my mind. From the first time I did The Work (Byron Katie’s name for her process, which is similar to cognitive behavioral therapy), I was able to step back significantly from my experiences and realize that what happens to me isn’t really what’s happening to me. What’s happening to me is what’s happening in my own mind.

Needless to say, this was an incredibly freeing revelation.

I would really, really love for you to go down the Byron Katie rabbit hole with me. For a very short video introduction to her view on this topic, watch “Byron Katie explains a post: ‘Your partner’s flaws are your own, because you’re projecting them” on YouTube

Self-Help Memoir Miniature: Think Deeply and Be Alive (Alone and Together, Part Thirty-Five)

Tonight, I stood outside on my balcony and looked at the trees. The air smelled good. It was nice. Every time I do something like this—every time I stop and just stare at the sky or trees or at the moon, for no other reason than the pleasure—I remember the time I spent alone. I remember how much I used to appreciate the sky and the trees and all the beautiful things in the world.

And how I felt, every day, like they were mine.

Being lonely inspired me. It made me think and feel everything more strongly. It made me believe that the world was full of possibilities.

It made me deep.

In his book Bluebeard, Kurt Vonnegut described one of his characters who had just arrived in New York City for the first time. He said it was like he had just been born. It was like it was his first day out of the womb and into the world.

And that is how I used to feel every day.

Tonight, I didn’t feel like I’d just been born. But, after a couple of years of trying to live more the way I really want to live, of being open to new things and new people and all of the different emotions, even the bad ones, I am feeling more of what I used to feel again.

I am feeling inspired.

Even though I live in the suburbs. Even though, someday, I will probably get a car.

Because, after all, I can still take walks. And I can still not buy things I don’t need and not be materialistic. I can still be romantic. I can still write poetry.

I can still refuse to get old.

Anyway, in many ways, what I feel now when I’m by myself is better than what I felt before. I don’t just have hopes anymore; now, I have goals. The things I want to do are the things I will, someday, actually do.

I’m a real adult now, after all. Not just a person in college.

I have power.

I am not only thinking about all the things I want to do in life.

I am living.

Self-Help Memoir Miniature: You Can Be Whatever You Want To Be (Alone and Together, Part Thirty-Four)

One day, soon after Thanksgiving, I decided to put on some Christmas music—and I enjoyed it. Before that time, I didn’t really like music and I never really had, and, until that time, I thought I probably never would. Anyway, even if I did, I figured, I would never really be good at it; catching up on everything I missed would take way too long.

I have my limitations, after all.

So, instead of trying to pretend to like something just to sound cool, I decided to do the opposite, but with the same result: I’d be proud of not liking music. I’d tell everyone as soon as I got a chance. I’d admit I was a dork, which, to me, was a different kind of cool.

And so, I did. And after a while, it became part of who I was, and part of who I wanted to continue to be.

That day, though, as I listened to the Christmas music, I realized that I could like it. I could be a person who likes music—even sappy music—if only I wanted to be.

I could be something new. I could change my idea of myself.

I can be anything I want.

Now, I like Christmas music and all kinds of unlikely things, and I’m glad I like them, even if at first I didn’t want to. And it’s little realizations like this that make life new every day.

I’m just a baby, really.

And that is the way I like to think of it. I like to think of myself as if I am one year old, and my life is just beginning, and I can be anything I want.

If I want to love someone, I can love them. If I want to be with someone, I can be with them. If I want to go to church, I can—and will—go to church. There is nothing in the way except tradition.

And tradition, we know, is negotiable.

David and I never got married. We call each other husband and wife, but really, that is not what we are. One day, after getting pregnant and deciding I didn’t want to have a different last name from my baby, and I didn’t want David to, either—we are a family, after all—I went to the courthouse and changed it.

I don’t know when we will get married and I don’t really care.

My ending is just as happy either way.

Self-Help Memoir Miniature: Know–Really Know–You’re Good Enough (Alone and Together, Part Thirty-Three)

There was another thing I learned in my second and third years with David that went along with that, and it was: how to be more secure.

When David and I first got together, I obsessed about my looks. I wondered if I was pretty enough for him and whether he would stay attracted to me after our initial infatuation wore off. Then one day a couple of years after we got together, I looked in the mirror and realized something: I liked the way I look.

It surprised me.

Before that, when I would see myself in the mirror, I wouldn’t think I was very pretty. I have a big nose and a round face and that isn’t very feminine at all. (I look like my dad.) But that time when I looked, I thought, My face is intelligent. It is serious.

It is a great face and I would not change it at all.

Anyway, if I were prettier, I may have married earlier, I realized. That would have been bad. Also, I may have had an easier childhood. That would have been tragic. I would not be here right now.

I’m good enough.

Thinking this way was a definite improvement.

Self-Help Memoir Miniature: Beware of Middle Age (Alone and Together, Part Thirty-Two)

Sometime during the second year of my relationship with David, I went out of town. I was gone for about a week.

It was the longest we’d ever been apart.

The people that were renting my house had just moved away, so I had to go home to do some repairs. I didn’t mind leaving, though, and I didn’t mind the work. I wanted to remember what it was like to be there again, living in the house that I was so proud of for so long, and to remember what it was like to be alone.

I took the train into town, then took a bus the rest of the way. When I got there, it was about five in the morning and I was tired, so the first thing I did was to put some blankets on the floor. Then, I fell asleep. A few hours later, I woke up and there I was in my house again, just like old times.

I was alone, and yet, it wasn’t like it used to be.

As I worked on the house that week, I kept trying to figure out what had changed. I tried to remember what it was like when I lived there before, when I was still lonely, and writing a lot of poetry, and feeling strong and independent for living in my own house that I bought all by myself and that I loved. I remembered how I used to tell myself to never get married because if I did, it would change me forever and I’d become like everybody else.
Was I right? I wondered as I painted and hammered and cleaned. Maybe I was. I have a wonderful boyfriend, and I am rarely lonely and I love being this way so much. But I’m not the person I used to be.

These days, I’m almost like everyone else.

Then, the realization: This is the very beginning of middle age.

I never believed it would happen to me.

But I don’t want it to, I thought. I want to keep growing.

I need to find a way to keep growing.

The repairs went well and I worked hard. After the week was over, on the way back to Seattle, I made a decision: I would not live only for David anymore. Instead, I would do what I wanted to do, too.

I would be more of me.

And so, that is what I did. I started working harder than before. I started doing more of the things I loved. On my next trip to my hometown, I visited my mother and slept alone again for the first time in a long time and, that time, I enjoyed it more than I had before. I enjoyed having the bed to myself, and staying with someone other than David, and waking up to them instead of him, too.

For the first time in a long time, I was glad to be alone.

It felt like a betrayal.

It reminded me of a story by Albert Camus called The Adulterous Woman. She was married, but she didn’t cheat on her husband.

She just took a walk alone at night.

When I came back from that trip, David and I lay in bed for a while talking. He said he really missed me when I was gone, and I said I really missed him, too.

“But you don’t normally miss people,” he said. “You never missed your husband after he was gone.”

“That’s true,” I said. “But it was different. With him, if I ever did want him back, I could just remember the bad things and change my mind. With you, though, there wouldn’t be any bad things to remember.”

But the truth is, I am sure I would think of something.

Of course, I wouldn’t be as happy without him as I am now. And I’d probably start looking for another man again eventually. But not right away. I’d need time—probably a lot of time—to get over it.

And that’s something, after all.

Self-Help Memoir Miniature: Expect Change (Alone and Together, Part Thirty-One)

The last thing that David and I have learned while being together I want to tell you about is this: let the other person change you—and let them change, too.

Ever since I have known David, he has wanted to have kids. When we first met, though, I did not. He is the one that made me change my mind.

That happens, I guess, when circumstances change along with it.

As I told you before, I was married for nine months. With my ex-husband, I never considered having a baby. I went to the doctor and asked to have my tubes tied, but he said no.

Even then I could tell that he was a kind and good man.

At that time, I was still depressed. I didn’t think I’d ever be able to handle having children, though I didn’t realize it was because I was depressed. I just thought I didn’t want them because it wasn’t my style, and I wanted to do other, more important things instead.

I told the doctor this, but he didn’t believe me. He gave me an IUD instead.

I will be grateful to him forever for that.

Later, after my divorce, when David and I talked on the phone for the first time, he asked me why I didn’t want to have kids. I had told him this in an email already, and he had told me that he definitely wanted kids and we agreed that our relationship was probably doomed.

On the phone that day, though, I explained my thoughts on the matter. I told him that I didn’t want kids because I wanted to do other things and I didn’t think I could do both. He asked me what things I wanted to do.

It was a good question.

In the moment before replying, which lasted under one second, I made a decision. I decided that someday, I might want to have kids after all.

That is how things change.

Of course, I didn’t tell David that. Not right then. I just told him I didn’t know. Then later, a few weeks into our relationship, we talked about it again.

We were in bed. It was during one of the many all-night conversations that we had when we first started dating when he didn’t have a job and I was only working part-time, and when we would go over all of the things you would want your soul mate to know about you forever, and a lot of inconsequential things as well.

At one point, late that night, he put his hand on my stomach.

“Why are you doing that?” I asked.

“I like it,” he said.

“Why do you like it?” I said.

“Because that is where the babies come from.”

“Aw,” I said. “That’s sweet.”

We lay in silence for a few minutes. Then I said, “I might like to have babies someday.”

“Really?” he said, looking at my face.

“Yes,” I said. “Baby kitties.”

I laughed. He hit me playfully, saying not to joke about such things. But I told him I was just kidding.

I wanted human babies after all.

On Christmas morning—the second one that David and I spent together—we woke up at my mother’s house. No one was home, and since we had celebrated at my sister’s the night before, there was nothing to do, and no presents to open.

There was just me and David.

And that was okay. Presents are nothing to me anymore, I thought as I looked at my husband in his pajamas and made him an egg. Everything I have the right to ask for in this life is already here.

Self-Help Memoir Miniature: Develop a System That Works (Alone and Together, Part Thirty)

The other secret that David and I have had for the whole time we’ve been together is this: We don’t nag.

And we don’t nag not because we don’t want to, but because of something much more effective: We don’t need to.

My mother—an otherwise very sweet, very competent, very beautiful woman—used to nag my father, and I was always scared I would, too. So, from the first day David and I lived together, we had an agreement: I would do all of the cooking and all of the housework, and wait on him hand and foot, and David would work more than me and pay more than his share of the bills.

So revolutionary, I know. So original.

And so, every morning, I make the bed and pick the clothes up off the floor. During the week, I clean the bathrooms, do the laundry, wash the dishes and vacuum the floors. I make all of our meals.

And I love it.

I don’t love cooking, but I like cleaning and I love living in a clean house, and—more than all that—I like taking care of my husband. And David, of course, likes it, too.

Originality is so overrated.

Self-Help Memoir Miniature: When You’re Struggling, Admit It (Alone and Together, Part Twenty-Nine)

The second year David and I were together we learned even more about fighting.

One day, we were both feeling a little annoyed with each other though neither of us really knew why. Then, suddenly, while we were in our office sitting next to each other and reading or working or something, I realized, I don’t want to be annoyed with him anymore.

And I don’t have to, either.

Later, when he said something to me that seemed a little short, I said, “Honey, please me nice to me, because I am tired.” I said it in a little girl’s voice and he hugged me really hard and said, “Okay.”

And after that, whatever it was that had been bothering us was gone.

Later, we discovered a similar technique that we have used ever since. One evening after work, David was acting kind of grumpy and I said, “Honey, are you okay?”

He said, “I am grumpy.”

I said, “What can I do for you?”

He said, “Just a hug.”

I said, “Okay.” Then we hugged.

I didn’t get mad. And because I didn’t, it meant that I would get my turn to be grumpy later.

It’s a system that works pretty well, and I am proud of us for having it.

We are happy. We don’t wake up in the morning wondering if we are going to have a fight that day.

We are sane.

It is a good life indeed.

Self-Help Memoir Miniature: Apologies Are Amazing (Alone and Together, Part Twenty-Eight)

A few days after our one-year anniversary, it finally happened: David and I had our first real fight. It happened because we were moving to another place and we didn’t have everything done in time and I was hurrying and I was packing things wrong and he got mad.

He said, “You’re doing it wrong, Mollie. You’re not being careful enough.”

I said, “I told you to pack your things last week but you didn’t, so now I’m doing it my way.”

I didn’t say it nicely, either; I yelled. Then I left the apartment, slamming the door. I walked down the pathway across the street from our house and thought about how angry I was and how unfairly he had treated me. I fumed and walked really fast and cried. Then, about half a mile down the road, I saw David’s car stop in front of me and as soon as I saw it I knew he was sorry and, suddenly, one second later, all of my anger was gone. David got out of the car and hugged me for a long time on the pathway and apologized over and over and I didn’t say anything.

I just cried.

And that was the next very important thing I learned about relationships: I learned what an apology can do.

Self-Help Memoir Miniature: Don’t Be Like Other People (Alone and Together, Part Twenty-Seven)

On our first Valentine’s Day together, David bought me two bouquets and surprised me with them at work. One was roses and the other one was daisies. It was more than I expected him to do.

It was sweet.

After my shift was over, we had a picnic on the beach where we went on our first date. Then we went home and talked very late into the night. I told him that when we got engaged, I didn’t want a diamond ring; I wanted a plain gold band instead.

I think this was a good decision.

“I don’t want to be like other people,” I said to him as I wrapped my legs around his, my head resting on his chest. “And not just in the wedding rings, or in the wedding, or in other things like that. But in just the way we are.”

“What do you mean?” David asked.

“I mean, we can’t ever start fighting in a way we can’t stop, like other couples do. We can’t stop treating each other well, not just well but supremely well—just as well as we do right now. We can’t start being like the couples we know, after they’ve gotten used to all the good things, and now it’s only the bad things they see.”

“Whatever happens, we cannot turn into them.”

“I promise,” David said.

I said it, too.

Of course, I know that every couple says this, or something like it. But at the time of that conversation, David and I had been together for almost a year, and we hadn’t had a real fight yet.

And so, our confidence was understandably high.

Self-Help Memoir Miniature: If He’s Not Your Best Friend, You Have No Chance (Alone and Together, Part Twenty-Six)

Shortly after David and I moved in together, we visited my parents in my hometown. It went better than I thought it would. We went to see my mom first. The first thing she said was, “You even look alike!” This was a nice compliment. She made us dinner, then let us sleep in the same room even though she had made a separate bed for David somewhere else.

The next day, we visited my dad. We took him to a barbeque restaurant. On the way there, he asked David a lot of questions about completely irrelevant things, and David knew the answers.

He passed the test.

It was a nice conversation, and a nice meal—one of the best I’ve ever had. David and I were affectionate and supportive like we usually are, but to my dad, it was a surprise.

It was the first time he’d ever seen me in love.

A few days later when we were back in Seattle I called him and asked what he thought of David. He said that before he met David, when I just described him on the phone, he didn’t know why I’d want to date him, but when he saw us together, he understood. He could tell that we were good friends, he said.

He approved.

And he was right: we are good friends. We are best friends. And there is nothing in a relationship that can substitute for that—nothing.

And please, esteemed reader, please, if you are reading this now and you aren’t absolutely sure that the person you are in love with is truly your best friend, someone you can tell almost anything to without getting teased and with knowing they will still love you as much as ever after you tell them, please:

Do not get married.

If you do, of course, I don’t blame you. We all want our happy ending to happen soon. I did, too. But as soon as you can, as soon as you have the strength to be without it again, do what I did: Say goodbye.

Self-Help Memoir Miniature: It’s Wrong to Get Annoyed (Alone and Together, Part Twenty-Five)

In marriage, some days are of course better than others. Sometimes, like anyone, we are annoying to each other, and sometimes, we get annoyed.

One time, we were in the kitchen and I was making dinner and he told me I was cutting the carrots wrong. Then he showed me his way of doing it and to me, it didn’t seem any better.

I was a little bothered by his thinking I needed help but I knew that I shouldn’t be, so I didn’t say anything.

That is my first strategy for dealing with annoyace, and most of the time, it works pretty well.

But not always.

A little later, when we were eating, he said, “So, have you been remembering to fill the ice cube trays? It seemed like they were empty when I checked.”

“I always fill the ice cube trays.” I said. I didn’t say it in a nice way.

“They are not filled now,” he said.

I got up and looked and he was right. They were not filled.

But they were mostly filled.

Later that night, lying in bed, I thought, I was wrong to get annoyed. If he wants more ice, I will give him more ice. What’s the big deal?

We’re in love.

Self-Help Memoir Miniature: Love Is a Form of Worship (Alone and Together, Part Twenty-Four)

And so, ever since I have known David, I have loved him, and adored him, and thought about him as much as I could. I’d even say: I worshipped him. On purpose.

One day, while we were on a trip to South America, he and I had a fight. We were riding a crowded bus into Bogota looking for our hostel after a long night traveling from Peru, and David asked me to try to communicate with someone in my tenuous Spanish, asking them where we were.

“I’m too tired,” I said. “I can’t do it.”

I was sick of everything. I was sick of traveling.

I was mad.

Fortunately, a boy sitting near us on the bus spoke English. He overheard us talking and offered to help.

I looked at his kind face and started to cry.

David explained to him that I was really tired and the boy just smiled and said that he understood.

When we got off the bus, David and I didn’t look for our hostel right away. Instead, we sat in a park for a while and took a break. David held me and said that he knows that he pushed me too hard and that he would take care of everything else we needed for the rest of the day.

That was exactly what I needed to hear.

I have cried in his arms before and he said the right thing that time, too.

This is an important quality in a boyfriend.

After this experience, I trusted David more than ever. I realized that he was more mature than anyone else I knew. I wanted to give him everything of me.

It’s like how, when I was a Christian, I used to feel about Jesus. He became everything to me.

He became my religion. Not literally, of course. But I lived for him then, and I still do.

He was at least part of my religion.

One time, during the first year of my relationship with David, we went to a movie. The movie was only okay, but we enjoyed being there together.

Romance is really not that hard.

At one point, when we were at the theater, I watched David from across the room. There were a lot of other people standing around and he was trying to get back to his seat.

He looked perfect.

Somehow, for some reason, seeing him from far away like that made me remember how much I love him. Somehow, it made him more precious.

I was proud of him.

I decided to try to remember to make him happy every day—not to think only about myself, but to do something to make him happy every day. And, I think, I have.


Self-Help Memoir Miniature: Always Remember How Lucky You Are (Alone and Together, Part Twenty-Three)

The very next thing I learned about happiness in relationships is almost the most important piece of advice I can give to anyone who is already with their life partner, and that is this: Try, try, try, try try. Try to never start taking each other for granted.

Because once you start, it is very difficult to stop.

When I first moved in with David, we were both afraid of taking each other for granted. Actually, I was afraid of being taken for granted—like I had been with my ex-husband—and he was afraid of taking me for granted.

We are still afraid of this sometimes.

One night during the second year of our relationship, I dreamt that I was still married to my ex-husband. I was unhappy, but he wanted to stay together even though he had been gone for the entire summer and I had started seeing David while he was gone. He knew there was someone else, but he never asked me about it. I didn’t know whether I should leave him because he was not mean to me and I figured that if I stayed with David, things would become just the same with him after a few years or so and I wouldn’t be happy then, anyway.

When I woke up, I realized that part of me was surprised that after nearly two years with David, we were still so happy and content.

Why am I so surprised? I thought. Other people wouldn’t feel so surprised.

Then I realized: It’s my way of making sure I remember how fortunate I am. It’s my way of remembering not to take him for granted.

And that is what makes it work out so well.

Self-Help Memoir Miniature: Say Out Loud What You Need (Alone and Together, Part Twenty-Two)

Several days after I met my husband David, when we were on our cruise in Alaska, I told him that I needed him to be the leader in our relationship.

“That is what I want, too,” he told me, and I was so happy to hear it.

It was the second to last day of our cruise, a Wednesday. It was late at night and we were sitting by the buffet. I started crying.

The day before, he had told me that he loved me and I told him I did, too.

That night, we had a romantic dinner like I told you before and all the waiters smiled at us knowingly and we ignored them even when they came to our table and we just stared and stared at each other and talked about our feelings.

Then, the next day, he didn’t tell me he loved me again, even after I did, and that scared me.

It scared me so much.

I thought that we had moved too fast. I thought that he was going to change his mind aout me, and that maybe I should’ve pretended not to care so much.

So, late that night, in the dining room, I told him this, and started crying. Then I said,

“David, I want to ask you something.” He said that I could.

I said, “I want to ask you if it’s okay that I don’t hide my feelings from you and play games like people do. Because I can’t do it. I can’t pretend you are just another person I’m dating, because that’s not the way I feel.

“But I won’t say that I love you again until you say it again. I don’t want to be the leader in our relationship. I want you to be the leader, always. I want you to decide on the timing of whatever happens between us. Is that okay?”

I said this between deep breaths, very slowly. It was something of a scene, I’m sure, but I didn’t really care.

It was the last thing I was worried about.

David felt badly that I was crying. He held me while I talked. Then he said, “You don’t have to play games. I didn’t tell you I loved you today because it is all just so fast for me and so unexpected. I need some time alone to think about everything. But I don’t want you to play games with me. And I want to be the leader in our relationship, too, and I will be.
“I promise.”

I was glad to hear him say this, but I wasn’t entirely convinced.

The next morning, I went to the library and did a crossword puzzle by myself while he was at the pool. The rest of the day, things were a little strained between us.

Then, before we left the ship, we had one more serious conversation. I said, “Are you feeling afraid of this relationship because it happened so fast or because you’re not sure you know me well enough yet?” I already knew what the right answer was.

He said, “It’s just so fast. I just need to take a few days to think about things.”

That was the right answer.

I knew right after he said that that everything would be okay.

And it was. And it was better than that because David actually did what he promised and he has been the leader in our relationship ever since.

It works for us.

Self-Help Memoir Miniature: Even Atheists Are Kind (Alone and Together, Part Twenty-One)

David is an agnostic who is practically an atheist. Before I met him, I didn’t know atheists could be so kind.

I didn’t think he was at first, actually. I thought he was shallow. But that was just the first date, because he talked about clothes and seemed a little too happy. Too optimistic.

To me, that seemed pretty suspicious.

Also, when we were talking on the phone before we met in person, he said, “I think friendships are the most important thing in life. Don’t you?”

I said I didn’t know.

On our second date, though, we went sailing and to a seafood restaurant and we talked a lot more. I could see that he was intelligent and we always had more things to say and it was never boring. He wore sailing clothes and he didn’t look as stylish as before and I could see that he was a little shyer than I realized and I liked that a lot.

After we were done eating, we got onto the subject of the differences between men and women.

It was an eye-opening conversation.

“I don’t think gender roles are a bad thing,” he said, and, looking back, I think that is really the moment I fell in love.

Of course, I didn’t say that. I said, “I agree.” And then we talked some more about that and later I said, “I don’t think I’ve ever met a man who was as traditional as you are that is not religious.”

And, I thought, as honest.

After that, we talked about all of the places we’d traveled to and all of the other places we wanted to travel and later, when we were driving in his car together, he drove very fast but I didn’t care and I thought, “He can drive any way he wants because I trust him completely and he is perfect.”

By the time that date was over, I think we were both in love.