It’s on the Cards

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Mailing out Christmas cards to family and friends is along held tradition for many people. Even in the age of social media, I still receive cards in the mail. I’ve never been much of a card sender (I’ve given cards out in person at family gatherings), but I still enjoy receiving cards.

This Christmas season, however, things are different. My divorce became final on November 29, 2018. Every card I received is addressed to me only, another subtle reminder of “the new normal.”I’m not saddened by it or anything, it’s just feels weird. My ex-wife and I lived in this same house for sixteen of our eighteen years of marriage and the Christmas cards come with both of our names on them. Now it’s just me.

I know getting over a divorce or any other life changing event is a process- spiritually, mentally, physically, emotionally, and financially. I am making adjustments day by day to be a better person and to find my way on my own. I have taken this time to count my blessings- my family has been very supportive, friends have reached out, I’ve joined a men’s group at church, I am more open and social at work, my ex-wife and I are on friendly terms, and my dogs are still crazy about me.

The holidays are often a depressing time for so many people and I’m trying to avoid that fate. I might be lonely, but I know I’m not alone. I will survive this Christmas and I know I will thrive in the new year.

 

 

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In the Father’s Arms

What a terrible week!

The Friday after Thanksgiving (11/23), my grandmother passed away after a long illness. We as a family celebrated her life the following Tuesday. My grandmother was a kind, loving, and generous soul whom I will miss dearly. My grandmother’s funeral also marked the first time my wife and family have seen each other since our divorce announcement. Everybody was civil and welcoming  toward each other as we shared in our common grief.

I was informed on Friday that my divorce is final. I’m divorced. I have an ex-wife. I never thought I would utter those phrases. It all sounds so strange to say and hear. Eighteen years of marriage was dissolved sixty-two days after the paperwork was filed. A judge’s signature and a court stamp was all it took. It’s officially over. The time has come to begin the rebuilding process.

I went to church on Sunday and the pastor preached the first in a series on dreams. I  listened intently to the words as they ministered to my spirit. I don’t know where all of this fits into a plan, but it has to be leading to something. Of all things, God used a guinea pig to illustrate His point.

After church, I came home to clean out the cage of  my guinea pig, Bugsy. If you ever had a guinea pig or other rodent for a pet, you know they can sometimes be anxious and jittery animals. As I took Bugsy out of his cage and was transferring him to a box while I cleaned, he came to rest in the bend of my elbow. I stroked the top of Bugsy’s head and told him, “It’s okay, Bugsy, you’re in Daddy’s arms.” Just a simple phrase to comfort a nervous animal brought me a spiritual revelation.

All of us who have a relationship with God are in our Father’s arms. God is holding us tight and comforting us through the trials we face. I don’t understand the reason for some of the trials I’ve faced these last three years, but I know I am not alone. As the Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 8:39, there’s nothing that can separate us from God’s love- not death, not divorce, not sickness, not job loss, nothing. As I go forward with my life and this unexpected journey, I will take comfort in the arms of my Heavenly Father and traveling companion.

 

Self-Imposed Chains

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By Michael W. Raley

I failed to recognize my chains

Until I was set free,

Empowered by the knowledge

That I held the key.

At any time,

I could’ve walked away

And not resided in that prison

For another wasted day.

Ignorance is not bliss

When you think about your life,

The opportunities and joys missed

When we are embittered and in bondage

To things present, things future, and things past.

We fill ourselves with complaint and outrage

And wonder why the good times didn’t last.

We fume about things out of our control

And bicker about the politics and melodrama

Never realizing the toll

This takes on our energy and our spirits.

My brother, my sister, my friend,

It is not too late to change the story,

You are the writer who can change the end

And begin to enjoy this one live you’ve been given.

Hitting Life’s Reset Button

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Electronic devices have changed the way we live, work, communicate, entertain and inform ourselves. However, a tiny glitch, freeze, crash, or virus in our laptop, TV, phone, tablet, or gaming console can temporarily disrupt our lives and cause us frustration. When these issues arise, we can always reboot the device and hope that takes care of the  problem. The manufacturer, knowing the fragility of the devices, provide us a way to reset when problems come up.

Wouldn’t be great if life had a reset button?

No matter what you are facing in life- the death of a love one, a divorce, a chronic sickness, job loss, depression, anxiety, or anything else life throws at us, we have a chance everyday to reset. Though we can’t change what has happened, we are able to change our perspective and response to the problem.

Instead of asking, “Why is this happening to me?” we ask, “What can I learn from this?” What if we were able to look at our difficulties as opportunities for growth? I’ve spent a lot of time in my life bemoaning “woe is me,” and wondering why events happened the way they did. If you are going through that, let me save you some time- that thinking is a dead end street. We always want to look for reasons or try to figure out where our situation fits in with a divine plan, but we are better off moving forward.

Changing our perspective and growing though life’s difficulties involves a lot of work- dirty, sweaty, grimy, yucky work. When we come to that point, we have to examine ourselves and work towards making today better than yesterday. You will have to face some truths about yourself, but you will also discover an inner strength and resolve to face the world.

The work doesn’t have to take years. If you are willing to work at it, you can get through it in a matter of months. You set the pace. In the months since my wife filed for divorce, I have spoken to a therapist, began the process of dealing with my depression and anxiety, I find time to meditate, and I have gone back to church.  I don’t say that to brag, I know I have a long way to go. I am also dealing with chronic health problems as well, which affect my energy and mindset on a daily basis. Every morning I hear the alarm or the dogs whining to go out, I attempt to see the day as a chance to improve upon yesterday.

Thanks and God bless.

Making Midlife Adjustments

“Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”-Mike Tyson

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The greatest coaches and managers across all sports are able to make adjustments. These coaches and managers will study hours of film and spend additional hours putting in a game plan. It’s game day and all hell has broken loose. The plan isn’t working. The opponent has found a hole in your defense and is exploiting it. The offense can’t score, let alone gain any ground. What does the coaching staff do?

Make adjustments, that’s what the coaching staff does. The team gets together at halftime and tweaks the plan. The ability to adapt to an unplanned situation could mean the difference between a coach hoisting a championship trophy or being unemployed at season’s end.

Adaptability is a necessary skill in life. Adaptability is the difference between moving forward or staying stuck in an unfavorable situation. How do you adapt when a once solid relationship falls apart? What do you do when your financial bottom line changes? How do you handle a life-altering diagnosis? A crisis of faith?

Adaptation.

I have chronicled many of my life’s changes and struggles from my mental and physical health to my current situation, which is my impending divorce. It is still early in the divorce process, and I know the process has to play out. However, I never thought I would be making this particular “midlife adjustment.” This 1275 square foot home looks empty and sounds very cavernous, especially  when the dogs bark. However, I am making the best of the situation, and adjusting my financial lifestyle. I have never been a man of means, but I have found some fat that needs to be trimmed.

Adapting to life’s changes doesn’t mean you have to stop enjoying your life. This lesson I learned after my Celiac disease diagnosis. I had to be diligent in reading food labels and look out for the words”wheat,” “barley,” and “rye.” I have since learned there are derivatives of these products as well. I would often lament over the food I couldn’t have, but I learned to enjoy a bevy of new foods. Truth be told, many of the gluten-filled foods weren’t that good for me in the first place. If I can change my eating habits at thirty-nine, I can make adjustments from a divorce at forty-one.

I know it sounds cliche, but I am getting through this process one day at a time. It’s just me, the two dogs, the guinea pig, and the turtle. I must continue to take care of my physical and mental health in this situation, as the stress of all this has affected my body. My wife and I have told our immediate families, but there has not been a widespread announcement, which will come shortly. Part of me wants to get it out there and into the open, but another part of me doesn’t want the barrage of questions and the looks of judgments from others.

This looming divorce was never in the game plan. In the back of your mind, you always ask the “What if” questions of life, but you never see it coming. This was the punch in the mouth I did not expect, but I am clearing out the cobwebs. I have had my good days and the bad days that make you want to dig a hole and stay there, but I know I must persist. I will be fine. A long period of adjustment is coming, but I am willing to do the work and improve myself.

 

My Struggles with Anxiety and Depression

 

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According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States, affecting 40 million people over the age of 18.1

I am one of those 40 million people. As far back as I can remember, anxiety has dominated my life. Being anxious is part of the human condition- it’s the nerves before a presentation or a big game, a first date, or a job interview. However, anxiety becomes an issue when it hinders decision making and holds you back from living the life you want to live. I can’t tell you the number of times my anxiety has talked me out of potential opportunities because deep down, I didn’t feel worthy of said opportunities or the imagined potential disaster. As the saying goes, “You miss one hundred percent of the shots you don’t take.”

Anxiety is a bully, taunting and mocking you constantly. If anxiety brings along his buddy, depression, then you’re in for a really bad, no good, awful day. In my experience with anxiety, I for many years did not label it as anxiety. I and others thought of me as “quiet,” or “shy,” or my personal favorite, “socially awkward.” Though great strides have been made in the medical and psychiatric fields concerning the awareness, diagnosis, and treatment of mental health issues, there is still a stigma associated with mental illness. For those with anxiety, depression, or any other illness, having to fight our inner battle with the outside perceptions of others can delay our healing process as it did with mine. Mental illness is a serious issue, it should never be joked about or dismissed. Just because someone doesn’t “look sick” doesn’t mean their issues should be swept aside with flippant comments such as “What do you have to be depressed about?” “It’s all in your head.” “You need to do more of this (pray, give it to God, etc),or “Get over it.” If a friend or family member had cancer would you tell them, “Turn that frown upside down and suck it up”? I would hope not. People with mental illness are not weak or lazy, as they are some of the strongest people out there because they fight every day to get up and try to live a “normal” and highly functional life. Compound a mental illness with any number of autoimmune diseases, and life becomes even more difficult.

Since I have done my own research into my anxiety, I can truly see how much it has controlled my life. When my anxiety was triggered, physical symptoms would follow: deep breathing, shaking hands, a racing heartbeat, the “fight or flight” response, becoming agitated, stuttering and stammering over my words, all of which made want to dig a hole and hide. These attacks would come on during social situations such as job interviews, leaving the house to go to work, or simply going to family gatherings. However, people often comment about how calm I am and never appear to be rattled, which in all honesty is my learned ability not to show the outside world what’s going on inside of my mind. The next time you watch ducks swimming on a lake or pond, just remember those calm, peaceful birds are peddling their legs in the water as fast as they can; I believe that is a fitting analogy for how I have managed to hide my anxiety.

I tried different techniques over the years to deal with my anxiety and depression. The first is that sheer will power “put your nose to the grindstone” mentality. That only wore me out and wore down my nose. I came to faith in Jesus Christ back in 1999, which I hoped my faith, studying the Bible, praying, and “Let go and let God” would free me from this darkness. After all, Jesus said not to worry (Matthew 6:25) and the Apostle Paul said, “Be anxious for nothing,”(Philippians 4:6), plus there are 365 verses in the entire Bible that tell us to “fear not,” so why be anxious? However, I began to learn that my depression and anxiety were not going to go away by saying prayers or shouting out Scripture. I came to the rational, logical, conclusion that my battle was not with demons or doubt, nor was it because a talking snake convinced two people in a garden to eat a piece of fruit,but there was something wrong with me mentally, biologically, and chemically, which could be treated.

I tried to deal first with the depression and made the decision in 2008 to talk to my family doctor and he prescribed my Prozac, which I took until 2010, when I felt good enough to try to conquer depression on my own. Things were good for a couple of years, then life began to pile up on me: my health declined, my wife had problems with her health, grief and loss, family issues, infertility, a crisis of faith, and being laid off from my middle management job and starting over at the bottom, to changing careers at mid-life. I could not cope and went back on the Prozac from 2016 until mid-2018, when the Prozac stopped being effective. My doctor then prescribed me Celexa, which is also used to treat anxiety. I do feel better mentally, though I am not completely free from depression and anxiety, I do have more good days than bad ones.

Though my faith is not what it used to be, I have found comfort in relaxation techniques such as breathing exercises, listening to classical/instrumental music, and trying to implement Stoic philosophy into my life. Stoicism is a practical philosophy, which in a nutshell is managing your responses to what happens to you and determining if the event is within or without of your control. Stoicism is incidentally one of the principles of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). Though I know that my war with anxiety and depression are far from over, I have won many recent battles and that gives me hope. My hope for you is that if you are struggling with your mental health, please seek treatment and determine what is best for you. You don’t have to live life as a prisoner of your mind. The keys are within reach, grab them and work on freeing yourself. Stay encouraged, there is hope, there is healing. You can’t erase what has been written,but you can change the narrative. Be the hero of your own story.

The Soul Rain

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By Michael W. Raley

Into each soul rain must fall

To cleanse us from the everyday toxins,

To wash away our impurities.

Just as the sky and clouds become

Brighter shades of blue and white,

So too are we renewed

When the storm front passes.

The soul rain brings us relief

And helps us to grow.

As we gain another experience,

Whether storm or shower,

We become more aware

Of what we need,

Focusing and refining our desires.

Although there are times

When the rain seems to linger

For far too long,

Just reflect back on the hot and dry days

When no relief was in sight.

Let the rain cleanse you,

O my soul,

For the new day is coming.