Broken People

   (By Corey Rotella, CNA Extraordinaire) 

      I put it on paper. I paint it on canvas. I reach in and drag up the very essence of who I am, my light and dark and discuss it with rooms full of strangers. 

      I feel the sharp edges of my fear prick the back of my mind, quietly nagging me with slivers of self-doubt. The relentless second guessing of my every thought and emotion whispers to me beneath the louder and more vibrant ideas that color my mind; the hamster wheel of chaos that churns up the dust clouds in my head, blurring my vision and skewing my perspective. I am so very broken sometimes.

       There is a peace that comes from owning that and admitting it, a hope that is unique to the broken people, the outcasts, those of us who are “different”. A broken person is given cracks through which to see the deeper essential truths of reality. A broken person is given the opportunity to put their pieces back together in a way that make the world make sense to them again. A broken person has more of an ability to help other broken people. Broken people who have put the pieces back together will do anything in their power to prevent breaking other people because they know how it feels. 

        Humor, hope, resiliency, trust, faith, courage, compassion and empathy and emotional intelligence are the happy byproducts of putting yourself together time and time again as you walk through life. Fear, self-doubt, resentment, dishonesty, boredom, jealousy, loneliness; those are the unintended consequences derived from viewing life through a window full of cracks instead of breaking through, cleaning up the shards of glass and starting anew.

         We have a choice. We always have a choice. Sometimes I forget that and stay in that grey area in my mind, futilely battling with myself in a stubborn refusal to just let go of the pieces that don’t fit as I try to force the reality into what I think it should be. I become the master of my own misery until I throw up my arms in frustrated surrender. Ok life. You win. I’m broken again. What’s next?… And then I put it on paper. I paint it on canvas. I reach in and drag up the very essence of who I am, my light and dark and discuss it with rooms full of strangers. And in doing so, my pieces fall back in place.

Corey Anne Rotella co-authored the book CNA Edge: Reflections from year one along with Bob Goddard and Hannah Hedges. It’s collection of essays from their blog CNA Edge: A Voice from the trenches of Long Term Care

Enough

(By Corey Rotella, CNA Extraordinaire)

    Enough. I have been hurting. That is okay. I’ve been taking on the emotions from other people’s decisions. That is not okay. I’ve been angry. That’s okay. I’ve been isolating. That is not okay. And how dare no one see through my forced optimism and shaky gratitude into the aching pain and fear that sits right beneath. How dare no one push through my thin claim that I’m hanging in there and see that my walls are crashing around me. How DARE he?! How DARE they?! How DARE…I.

     Enough. Because the truth is I am in a storm right now. Raging and crying and railing on the inside and I don’t like people to see me this way; this uncertain and vulnerable. I don’t like this feeling of not knowing the true from the false. Not having any answers. My most unbendable anchors from within have been shaken and my heart, which fuels every part of my life has been broken and yet the world keeps spinning. Business as usual. And here I am searching for myself among the wreckage. Who is this woman in the mirror with haunted eyes and an inability to smile? Who is this woman who once swore she would never again allow such pain into her heart? Who is this woman who just doesn’t want to care about anything anymore. This can’t be me. I will not allow this to be me.

     Enough. I let myself be on autopilot for a little while. Wash your face. Brush your teeth. Go to a meeting. Go to work. Wash. rinse. Repeat. The world feels grey. That doesn’t matter. I feel weighted down. That doesn’t matter either. It will pass and the future can bring what it will. For the moment, I force myself to stay in the present. 

     Enough. I am a writer. I am an artist. I am a caregiver. I am an advocate. I am a woman in recovery and I am a survivor. My life has been threaded with magic and whimsy, even if I can’t exactly feel it right now. I am capable of great love, humor and passion, even if I feel consumed by it at times. I am a worthy human being. Nothing can rob me of that. I am bigger than my problems. I am more than the sum total of my character defects and laying this all out there to the world for anyone else who may be struggling reminds me that I can be brave. It is the best way I know to rebel against despair. Because to hell with you, defeatism. To hell with you, self pity. You can’t have me. Not today.

Corey Anne Rotella co-authored the book CNA Edge: Reflections from year one along with Bob Goddard and Hannah Hedges. It’s collection of essays from their blog CNA Edge: A Voice from the trenches of Long Term Care

Changing the Things I Can

(By Corey Rotella, CNA Extraordinaire)

     I think the greatest lesson, the one that has served me the most is that life will never adapt to me. Life does not bend and twist itself to fit into my whims and desires and little plans. It’s just never worked that way. Years of futilely pounding my head against the wall and then resenting the headache has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that my life does not belong in a box; not even one of my own design.

      It is not the sort of lesson that I get to learn once and move on either. No, it seems I have to learn and re-learn it all the time. ALL. THE. TIME. I can be willful and stubborn, obstinately refusing to move. I bury my head in the sand like a good little ostrich and pretend everything is okay. I try to force pieces into the puzzle because I think I know how the big picture is supposed to look or in an honest attempt to help another I manufacture all sorts of misplaced “solutions”, as if I have all the answers to all the questions because I am so very smart. Good intentions are sometimes ego driven.

      My level of pain is directly related to my level of willingness to just let go and truth be told, there are times when I am not so willing. It is then that I become the master of my own misery. Misery is a funny thing. Despair, resentments, fear…all awful ways to feel and yet the familiarity of it brings the warped sense of comfort derived from not having to make decisions; not having to make healthy changes; not having to be accountable. The hell I know is better than the hell I don’t sort of thinking that keeps one sick, psychically crippled, emotionally stunted and easily manipulated by the inner demons we all carry within. Sometimes I chase those ghosts but never for any length of time. Today, I have far too much to lose.

      It took me a long time to learn that “the hell we don’t know” is rarely a hell at all. It can be uncomfortable. It involves me doing things I don’t want to do, feeling emotions that I don’t want to feel and facing fears I don’t want to face but I have found that 100% of the time if I walk through it, my life becomes enriched, I become empowered and I learn and grow as a person. 

       Life does not adapt to me. In order to live authentically and happily, I must adapt to life. I must let go of what I think it should look like. I must let go of my expectations of what things should be which in hindsight always fall so short of what actually manifests. I have to consciously make the decision on a day by day basis to get out of my own way. 

      Here’s the interesting thing: when I climb down out of my head and realize that the only, the ONLY events over which I have any control are my own behaviors and choices, it frees me from the prison I created with its bars of self-doubt, self-destruction and over-thinking and allows me to make the choices necessary to become an active participant in my own life. In giving up my fight to control my circumstances, I gain my freedom. In giving up the fears and thoughts of the worst of me, I begin to get to know the best of me. In letting go of the reins that control life, I gain the ability to control myself.

Corey Anne Rotella co-authored the book CNA Edge: Reflections from year one along with Bob Goddard and Hannah Hedges. It’s collection of essays from their blog CNA Edge: A Voice from the trenches of Long Term Care

A Case of the Shouldas

(By Corey Rotella, CNA Extraordinaire)

       I think I can’t. I think I can’t. I think I can’t…I’m not sure at what point this week I began to feel like the little engine that couldn’t. Maybe it was after a difficult conversation with my Grandma whose mental state is less than I had hoped. Maybe it was after arguing for an entire day with a variety of mechanics over car trouble. Maybe it was half way through a tough shift where my client was in a massive amount of pain and her husband’s mood was foul. Maybe it was having to have one too many adult conversations. At some point, my mind just shut down and my body went on auto pilot. I had checked out for a little while.

      Little did I know that I was suffering from a bad case of the “shouldas”…. I should have handled that better. I should have prepared for that possibility. I should have been able to articulate that idea more effectively. More often, the shouldas are accompanied with a horrible rash of “if only’s”…if only I was more organized. If only I finished college. If only I hadn’t eaten that entire box of hostess cupcakes. There isn’t much that causes more useless anxiety and stagnation than a bad case of the shouldas and if only’s.

       We all have those stretches where everything seems to fall apart at the same time. There is no wrong way to feel when those times hit. It’s important to recognize them for what they are though. I know that if I don’t pause and breathe, I start to think those moments will never pass and before I know it my attitude and behavior begins to mirror my feelings and thinking.

     It’s ok to have a bad day. It’s ok to have a bad week. It is an unreasonable expectation of myself to handle all difficulties with optimism as they are happening. Despite what my Wonder Woman coffee cup and matching underwear would have you believe, I am human. First world problems rarely feel that way when I am going through them and I have to learn to accept that and be patient.      

        So, I felt like the little engine that couldn’t this week. The first step on the path to feeling better was to accept it. Then I shared it with a friend (GASP! Expressing vulnerability in an open and honest way! That is top shelf adulting, right there!), and now I’m sharing it with you, readers, because maybe you are having a rough week too. And you know what? I feel much better. For me, the solution to negative emotions is positive action. It may not solve my problems instantly, but it always helps.

Corey Anne Rotella co-authored the book CNA Edge: Reflections from year one along with Bob Goddard and Hannah Hedges. It’s collection of essays from their blog CNA Edge: A Voice from the trenches of Long Term Care

 

Changing the Things I Can

(By Corey Rotella, CNA Extraordinaire)

I think the greatest lesson, the one that has served me the most is that life will never adapt to me. Life does not bend and twist itself to fit into my whims and desires and little plans. It’s just never worked that way. Years of futilely pounding my head against the wall and then resenting the headache has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that my life does not belong in a box; not even one of my own design.

      It is not the sort of lesson that I get to learn once and move on either. No, it seems I have to learn and re-learn it all the time. ALL. THE. TIME. I can be willful and stubborn, obstinately refusing to move. I bury my head in the sand like a good little ostrich and pretend everything is okay. I try to force pieces into the puzzle because I think I know how the big picture is supposed to look or in an honest attempt to help another I manufacture all sorts of misplaced “solutions”, as if I have all the answers to all the questions because I am so very smart. Good intentions are sometimes ego driven.

      My level of pain is directly related to my level of willingness to just let go and truth be told, there are times when I am not so willing. It is then that I become the master of my own misery. Misery is a funny thing. Despair, resentments, fear…all awful ways to feel and yet the familiarity of it brings the warped sense of comfort derived from not having to make decisions; not having to make healthy changes; not having to be accountable. The hell I know is better than the hell I don’t sort of thinking that keeps one sick, psychically crippled, emotionally stunted and easily manipulated by the inner demons we all carry within. Sometimes I chase those ghosts but never for any length of time. Today, I have far too much to lose.

      It took me a long time to learn that “the hell we don’t know” is rarely a hell at all. It can be uncomfortable. It involves me doing things I don’t want to do, feeling emotions that I don’t want to feel and facing fears I don’t want to face but I have found that 100% of the time if I walk through it, my life becomes enriched, I become empowered and I learn and grow as a person. 

       Life does not adapt to me. In order to live authentically and happily, I must adapt to life. I must let go of what I think it should look like. I must let go of my expectations of what things should be which in hindsight always fall so short of what manifests. I must consciously make the decision on a day by day basis to get out of my own way. 

      Here’s the interesting thing: when I climb down out of my head and realize that the only, the ONLY events over which I have any control are my own behaviors and choices, it frees me from the prison I created with its bars of self-doubt, self-destruction and over-thinking and allows me to make the choices necessary to become an active participant in my own life. In giving up my fight to control my circumstances, I gain my freedom. In giving up the fears and thoughts of the worst of me, I begin to get to know the best of me. In letting go of the reins that control life, I gain the ability to control myself.

Corey Anne Rotella co-authored the book CNA Edge: Reflections from year one along with Bob Goddard and Hannah Hedges. It’s collection of essays from their blog CNA Edge: A Voice from the trenches of Long Term Care

 

Create!

(By Corey Rotella, CNA Extraordinaire)  

   I looked up at the clock, surprised to see that four hours had passed. I had paint in my hair, under my nails and on my favorite jeans…and I felt much, much better. I looked at the explosion of colors and patterns on the canvas before me and as always I was surprised that it came from me; that I created it and with that awareness came the deep sense of peace and satisfaction.

     I didn’t know how to paint two years ago. I didn’t take a class and the best I can do at painting actual objects is easily outdone by a kindergartener. None of that stops me from hitting the canvas when the shit hits the fan. For me, creating something, ANYTHING, is a life affirming act that rejuvenates my spirit and reconnects me to my present. Maybe it’s because for so long I was an active participant in my own destruction. Maybe it’s because right now all the collective anger in society seems so toxic that I feel powerless over it. Whatever the cause, the very attempt to bring an idea or emotion to life through a creative outlet does more for my mental and spiritual well-being than a store of self-help books. I blast my music and lose myself in the process as my mind and emotions feel free from the cage of everyday worries and anxieties for just a little while.

       I’ll tell you something else! My best paintings, my most insightful writings occur when I am feeling my most uncomfortable, when I’m fleeing into that land in my mind full of abstract thoughts and colors. It really gives meaning to those awkward moments when I feel uncomfortable in my own skin. It puts it to good use.

        Creating is a cleansing, cathartic experience that enhances my life in a way I didn’t think possible. I keep trying new things! Some work and some don’t. I’ll spare you the details of my in the shower solitary naked dance. Suffice to say, it ended with a bruise on my head and water all over the floor. Even so! It was a new experience! 

       I implore you to give it a shot. Write sad poetry, sing off key, paint, collage, dance naked (or clothed)! Don’t let that little voice inside convince you that you’re not good enough to do it. The point is trying new things. The very attempt to do so is, in and of itself, the creation of a new experience. Shine on my friends!

Corey Anne Rotella co-authored the book CNA Edge: Reflections from year one along with Bob Goddard and Hannah Hedges. It’s collection of essays from their blog CNA Edge: A Voice from the trenches of Long Term Care

Awareness and Action

(By Corey Rotella, CNA Extraordinaire)   

I can’t breathe. It’s too much. EVERYTHING is too much…it wasn’t until those words floated desperately through my mind that I realized that I have been on emotional auto pilot for at least a month. The system can only take so many big, dramatic changes before it becomes the new normal.  I start to rely on muscle memory and before I know it, I’m living in fear of the imagined wreckage of the future and preparing for the next shoe to drop.

         Anxiety, uncertainty, feelings of inadequacy…that three headed beast from within pops up from time to time in an attempt to block me from progress when life gets difficult. The first step to battling that monster is to become aware of it; to recognize that those feelings are not based in truth. Knowing that does not make the feelings go away immediately but it’s always good start.

     Ok, Corey. So now you’re aware of what’s going on within. What’s next? ACTION. I don’t feel like writing. Write anyway. I don’t feel like painting. Paint anyway. I don’t want to face work. Go anyway. I don’t want to talk about this. Pick up that phone. See, in the tough times what I WANT to do is isolate. What I WANT is immediate gratification of a quick solution. What I WANT to do is feed that beast of self pity or resentment or fear. What I NEED to do is get out of myself. What I NEED to do is go and help another human being. What I NEED to do is create.

       Often, I find that the only solution to walking through life’s challenges is to consistently work against my own instincts. When I am stuck in fear or pain, my instincts are awry and are not to be trusted. Those are the moments I act on what I know rather than what I feel. By doing this consistently, I have found 100% of the time my life improved, the tough times passed and sooner rather than later, my feelings caught up to my reality.

      I don’t mean to imply that any of this is easy. It’s work! It’s cultivating awareness and developing tools. It’s the slow and consistent growth that is derived for facing what I don’t want to face and occasionally doing what I don’t want to do. It’s accepting that there are times that I am going to be uncomfortable and being okay with that. It’s recognizing that it ok to need help on occasion and that there will never be a time when I have all the answers. 

     Adapting to life is a skill and like any skill it requires practice and it will be tested. If I am honest with myself, underneath all the emotional chaos that occasionally rears its ugly head, I would not want it any other way. I don’t want a life that doesn’t challenge me from time to time. When all else fails, I go back to the wise words of that great sage, Yoda. Do or do not. There is no try.

Corey Anne Rotella co-authored the book CNA Edge: Reflections from year one along with Bob Goddard and Hannah Hedges. It’s collection of essays from their blog CNA Edge: A Voice from the trenches of Long Term Care

 

Life!

  (By Corey Rotella, CNA Extraordinaire)   

 Life is complex. Dynamic. Messy.  Filled with the depth that comes only from human experience.  It cannot be defined in bumper stickers or Facebook memes.  Our scars bear witness to our struggles. Our pain can inform our choices without defining them. Our joy can heal our wounds without erasing them.  Our failures are our greatest teachers if we keep moving forward despite them.  Spare me a paint by numbers life, designed to be safe, easy, the best possible outcome with the least effort. Spare me a life designed for the delicate.  I’d much rather have the depth and experience and freedom from a life that requires effort. Sweat. And sometimes tears.  A life that is vast, filled with humor and pathos and human connections and real moments of clarity, in which I see glimpses of the truth. 

        This. THIS is life, with all its bumps and uncertainty and days with teeth. With its joys and connections and hope and love and depth. This is what lies beneath the facade of the daily “normal” and the drumbeat of imagined fear. 

       For a long time, I didn’t think I was worthy or capable of embracing life. I thought my difficulties and pain were the sum and substance of who I was as a person and I hid. In my head. In books. In self-loathing. In the bottle. I squeezed my eyes closed and pretended not to see as the world kept spinning around the sun. 

    I had to come to a crossroads. I had to make a choice to try something different. I had to take that leap of faith, open my eyes and trust that by taking small steps forward in my dark, I would eventually find the light. 

     Nothing, and I mean NOTHING about my journey has played out the way I once thought it would. Where I once believed I’d suddenly have all the answers I need to be who I should be, I now accept that I learn as I go and there is no one way that I “should be”. Where I once believed it was important for me to have my eyes fixed on a destination, I now know that it’s more important to keep putting one foot in front of the other and to do my best in each moment. Where I once wished for normalcy, I now value authenticity. Where I once wanted the pain to end, I now value its ability to strengthen, teach, and motivate me provided I face my troubles head on. My life challenges me every day, but it also enriches me. It was by learning to accept life on its own terms that I began to find my place in this world and become an active participant in my own existence. 

Corey Anne Rotella co-authored the book CNA Edge: Reflections from year one along with Bob Goddard and Hannah Hedges. It’s collection of essays from their blog CNA Edge: A Voice from the trenches of Long Term Care

Sometimes the World has Teeth

(By Corey Rotella, CNA Extraordinaire) 

 I’m out of stuff to clean. Dishes done. Bathroom’s done. I even scrubbed the tub. I hate cleaning. There is little scope for imagination in it. Still, in times of great stress, I find the lack of whimsy in cleaning a toilet to be oddly calming.

        Chair a meeting, lunch with friends, paint a picture, volunteer at the behavioral health center, discuss politics in depth and clean. All things I know how to do. All roles with which I am comfortable, despite my afore mentioned dislike towards housework. I need today to be filled with familiar, safe tasks that I feel confident I could accomplish, because today, the world has teeth.

      Everything seems uncertain. My fears come out to dance, twisting and dipping as they whisper and taunt me with all the ways I fall short, all the ways I don’t fit and my broken pieces have sharp edges that cut and poke and nag at my inner wellbeing as I struggle to break free from self-absorbed fear.

      The world has teeth today. My humor is darker than normal and my wit unintentionally cuts another as I grapple with my own insecurities by holding onto my favorite defense mechanism. Great. Now I can add guilt to the mix.

      The world has teeth today.

I’m feeling all the feelings and am not comfortable in my own skin. My life feels unfamiliar and I don’t know where I fit. Doubt is driving the train and I feel open and afraid. I feel vulnerable and lacking and question everything.

       The world has teeth today, but I have learned to handle such moments. I take a deep breath, accept that my feelings aren’t facts. They pass, as do all things. So, I clean and say a little prayer to whoever runs this gig to guide my feet and heal my heart and direct me where to go. Now, I’m not a particularly religious woman but prayer centers my mind and I keep taking the simple actions and in doing so I find peace.

       The world had teeth today, but once again I made it through. And as I lay my head down and review it in my mind, I realize that it was filled with friends and love and productivity. It was my fear and perception that made it into an avalanche of overwhelming emotion. 

     Some days, the world has teeth. Some days, I am my own worst enemy and allow fear to snowball. That’s ok. I’m not a perfect person. As long as I know that those days pass. When I acknowledge my feelings on the tough days, and allow them to teach and guide me rather than rule my behavior and reactions, I grow as a person. I did every task I set out to do, despite my feelings. It is by surviving and learning from the days when the world has teeth that I’ve become who I am and today I don’t flinch from my reflection.

Corey Anne Rotella co-authored the book CNA Edge: Reflections from year one along with Bob Goddard and Hannah Hedges. It’s collection of essays from their blog CNA Edge: A Voice from the trenches of Long Term Care

”Tis the Season!”

(By Corey Rotella, CNA Extraordinaire!)

    So far, this holiday season has brought a whirlwind road trip to see my family over Thanksgiving weekend, an emergency surgery for my Dad, a root canal for my boyfriend, and an announcement from my eighty-nine-year-old Grandma that my Grandfather was a wonderful lover. And it is not even Christmas week yet. 

     I took a road trip to my hometown over Thanksgiving weekend and had the chance to visit with my parents, brother and sister-in-law, aunts and uncles and all their dogs. They met and, much to my relief, adored my boyfriend. We talked politics and stress, and shared funny stories; our conversations intertwining as we tried to cram a year of catching up into a day and a half. 

    The trip was over almost as soon as it began, but I left knowing that I would be back for Christmas with my Grandma. It is a rare treat for me to be so surrounded by my family during the holiday season. 

     This year, my holidays are full of love and chaos and frenzied activity, but I haven’t always been so lucky. Often enough, this was the hardest and loneliest season for me. Years ago, when I was in the grips of my addiction, I was incapable of being present. Even when I was there physically, my shame, self-loathing and copious amounts of cheap vodka kept me from appreciating any part of it. I was in no way truly engaged and felt completely alone in a room filled with people. I have fared much better these years in recovery. My life is every bit as rich with friendship as my pockets are poor with money. That being said, my career is in a field that requires us to work on holidays. People don’t stop needing care just because it is Christmas. I have had my share of years pining for the days when I could wake up knowing that the day would be filled with visiting loved ones instead of punching the clock…but then I would look at those in my care. Many of them had out lived their family. One Christmas, I spent half the shift looking for an invisible dog to calm a ninety-eight-year-old woman living with dementia. Others had been abandoned for all intents and purposes. I cared for one gentleman who spent every afternoon staring out the window wistfully, certain that that was the day his family would finally be picking him up. The holidays were especially difficult for him. Having the opportunity to spend the holidays with them gave me a deeper appreciation and greater insight into what the season truly meant for me. 

     The holiday season has many faces, despite what the made for TV movies would have you believe. Some years, they are joyous. Some years, they can be heart breaking. On my lonelier years, the idea that I was “supposed” to be cheerful made me feel guilty because I couldn’t quite muster it. So, if you’re reading this and having a tough year, that is okay. It is okay to feel sad or lonely or frustrated. There is no “right” way to feel. It will pass and there will be good years ahead. For those of us lucky enough to be around loved ones this year, let’s remember the times we had our own struggles during the holidays, reach out to those who may not be feeling loved and surround them in the spirit that this season is all about. And if, like me, you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed, just think! In less than two months, it will be Groundhog’s day. 

Corey Anne Rotella co-authored the book CNA Edge: Reflections from year one along with Bob Goddard and Hannah Hedges. It’s collection of essays from their blog CNA Edge: A Voice from the trenches of Long Term Care.