I didn’t realize what a daunting task it would be when I decided to write my very first blog in October on the topic of breast cancer. The original idea came from a celebratory place—on Friday, September 28, I had my yearly diagnostic mammogram and was declared cancer free. I am now a 10 year survivor—which puts me in the 82nd percentile of women who make it this long.
Yesterday I drove past a sign that said “Senior Crossing.” My second impulse was to take a “selfie” in front of it. But my first impulse was to riddle it with buckshot. Back in my Texas wild-west days, I would have pulled out my rifle and done just that. (Not that I ever drove around with a rifle. But I was damn good at the shooting range!) That bright yellow sign would make for excellent target practice.
God, I hate the term “senior.” I’ve learned to let it trip off my tongue when buying movie tickets, but find myself only able to ask for senior rates when booking hotel rooms online or over the phone. To ask in person feels like only calling attention to the obvious. It feels redundant seeing that most people behind counters are so young they would automatically assume I was ancient enough to qualify for senior rates.
Last week I wrote about the importance of women in my life—especially as supporters of my book, East of Mecca, and of me in my relatively new career as a writer. This week I want to acknowledge the critical role men have played in my life as a writer—and to express my gratitude.
It was a man who first suggested that my story be told as a movie, after hearing my experiences in Saudi Arabia. The idea appealed to me as a way of accomplishing my mission to enlighten a large audience about the appalling circumstances of women living within the Kingdom. I decided to tell the story in a way that would create a sense of empathy for those who live their lives hidden beneath veils and behind walls.
I am so grateful for the women in my life. On Facebook last week, I saw this post: “There is no better friend than a sister. And there is no better sister than you. Happy Sister’s Day.” I reposted, and since I don’t have biological sisters, I dedicated it to my “soul” sisters. At that point I was thinking of my closest friends, the women I consider to be the sisters I never had. Since that moment, I have given it much more thought—and I realize that I have more than a family of sisters. I have an army of sisters—a sisterhood.
Throughout my life, I’ve had strong female role models. Both my grandmothers were intelligent, hard workers. My mother was a bookkeeper, working to support her family and then herself until she was eighty. During my education and training to become a psychologist, my professors, mentors, and supporters were mostly female. And the same has been true in my relatively new career as a writer.
“The instinct to survive is human nature itself,
and every aspect of our personalities derives from it.”
~Robert A. Heinlein
Because my last blog post was the hardest and most personal I’ve written, I had to step back and take some breathing room before following up. I’d struggled with opening up—being so vulnerable and disclosing. As a shrink, I walk a fine line. Over the years, I’ve selectively shared my stories with patients when they’ve felt relevant to healing. But I’m still new to sharing my most personal experiences with others, especially in a public forum.
I attempted suicide when I was sixteen. Over the almost fifty years since, I have told very few people. I’ve only shared when the importance of disclosure felt greater than my desire for privacy. I have shared with others who have survived suicide attempts. I’ve also shared with those in danger of succumbing to their suicidal urges—when the sharing of my personal experience would have more impact than my professional experience—when it might save a life.
Suicide is not a conversation-friendly topic. Like most provocative subjects, it makes people uncomfortable and can generate rigid opinions. But, there has never been a greater need for education on the complexities of suicide. One thing shrinks know for sure about suicide is that it is contagious. Hotlines and ERs have been on high alert since Robin Williams committed suicide. If someone who has so much going on for him cannot go on living, why should I? Maybe opening the discussion is Robin’s last gift to us—not through laughter, but through tears.
On July 25th my purse was stolen, and I’ve been locked in a tangle of emotions ever since. The only things that help are all the lessons I’m learning, and sharing my story with everyone I can so maybe it won’t happen to them.
I’ve never considered myself the victim of a crime before. Two years ago, my Rav4 was vandalized—a window smashed in a grab and run. All I lost were a bright pink coin purse holding a few dollars in change, and the hundred dollars and time required to replace the window. I wasn’t happy, but it felt like such a random, spontaneous act that it was easy to move past. And my favorite tooled-leather coin purse remained buried deep in the console, so I didn’t feel any sentimental loss. The only losses were time and money. The lesson learned was never leave anything valuable in plain sight.
The theft of my purse was neither random nor spontaneous. It was a deliberate act perpetrated by a team of professional thieves. It has cost me time and money, peace of mind, and great sentimental loss. Suddenly I understand the experience so many robbery victims relate—that of feeling violated. And I also realize that the process of recovery is much like the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.
“Don’t you sit upon the shoreline and say you’re satisfied.
Choose to chance the rapids and dare to dance the tides.”
A post is going around Facebook—a Venn diagram of two circles—one small and one large. The small tight circle is labeled “Your comfort zone.” Written inside the large expansive circle is “Where the magic happens.” Most Venn diagrams have intersections where the circles overlap, but this one does not. The two circles float independently in space. The lesson being—you have to get out of your comfort zone to find life’s magic.
We all understand the concept, right? As a shrink, I totally embrace (and preach) the value and necessity of doing things differently to achieve longed-for results. Fight your imprisoning fear! Break free of complacency! Embrace change! Get out of your comfort zone! How many times I’ve counseled others to “sit with the discomfort” of doing things differently!
However… as an inveterate introvert, I’m immensely satisfied staying safely within my own comfort zone. I’ve lived in the same house for thirty-one years, practiced psychology for thirty-two, and my longest friendships span forty-eight years. A creature of habit, I cling to my rituals. And I LOVE my life! I love my home, my career, and my friends. My personal comfort zone has been a rewarding place to reside. And, yet… there is the matter of the book I’ve written.
“I feel Yasmeen’s energy surrounding me
and I smell the sweet and bitter scent of Clementines.” –
East of Mecca
Lately, I’m reminded why I write—why I write my blog and why I wrote my novel East of Mecca. One reminder came April 17. I was at a concert at SPACE, a local venue, when a woman asked if I was “Sheila.” When I said, “Yes,” she said she’d read my book and recognized me from my picture. This was the first time anything like this has happened to me, and I was surprised and pleased. She said lovely things about East of Mecca, but also told me how much she liked my blog posts—how they spoke to her on a personal level—that she recommended my blog to friends. Then she said, “You haven’t written much in a while.” I agreed, “It has been a while.” When I asked her name, I realized she had written a wonderful review on Amazon back in January, giving East of Mecca 5 stars. I thanked her, hugged her, and walked away feeling elated. Sherry Swaggart made my day!
“Profound joy of the heart is like a magnet that indicates the path of life.”
I am weary of winter—and I’m not alone! Thanks to polar vortexes, joy has been in short supply this season! Even those of us who normally enjoy the unique gifts of winter have had enough of snow and ice and wind and way below zero temperatures. How naïve, I think now, looking back to December 9, 2013—when I rewarded myself for shoveling with a snow angel!
Like most people in Chicago, I’ve spent the worst winter on record hunkered down indoors as much as possible. To venture out is to first spend an inordinate amount of time layering up to protect against the very real danger of frostbite! No long walks by the lake for me! My cross-country skis languish on the back porch because I’m far too thin-blooded to brave frigid temperatures for the joy of skiing. I’m locked in polar misery.
Saturday morning, it was a balmy 19 degrees when I drove to my Zumba class and joined a gathering of other die-hard Zumba-fanatics. In the midst of this crazy winter, those of us showing up for Suzy’s class enjoy an immediate sense of camaraderie. And Saturday, one of the women was celebrating her birthday, so Suzy had created a special playlist of her favorite songs. It felt like a party. And, moving my body to the music in the company of thirty other laughing, dancing, sweaty women—I felt joy.