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.

A Message

(By Corey Rotella, CNA Extraordinaire)

Everyone has a story. It’s such a truth. I don’t understand how people can be so cruel to someone that they don’t even know. Those were my thoughts as I read the comments with a growing sense of horror and despair on an online news article.

     It wasn’t the subject of the article. Truth be told, I don’t even remember the topic of the piece. It was of little consequence. What WAS concerning was the rhetoric and bullying with which everyday people were unabashedly engaging. The level of rage combined with the freedom of anonymity turned seemingly normal adults into rabid, raving lunatics with no conscience or restraint.

       “You’re going to HELL!”, one poster wrote to another, the words leaping off the page and screaming their fury. Fat bitch. Illiterate redneck. Rot in hell. She had it coming…each comment from both sides of whatever pointless argument in which they were engaged attempting to one up the other. It was awful. I don’t like to be around this sort of bullying. It brings up all sorts of ghosts and tears at old scars and yet I couldn’t look away.

        It surprises me; the level of anger and lengths people are willing to go to express it. These commentators were ripping away the dignity of others without stopping to consider that there is a HUMAN BEING on the other side of that computer screen. They either don’t know or don’t care. That is a problem.  This sort of callous, apathetic acceptance of such behavior is also a problem.

       I got in my head about this. It affected my mood, robbed me of my peace of mind and kicked up my anxiety for a quite a while. After a few days of pondering the potential implications of an apparently global lack of empathy, it hit me; I may be powerless over all those people but I’m not powerless over me! I’m a writer. If I have a message I’d like to get out to people, I should write it. So here it goes:

       To those who feel lonely and lost: Don’t be afraid. I’ve been there and believe me when I say that no matter how it feels right now, you are not alone. There isn’t a person on this earth that isn’t loved by at least one person and this includes you. 

      To those who feel hopeless:

   I know many people, myself included, who despaired of ever getting their feet on the ground and we’ve all beaten the odds. So, will you. Have more faith in yourself? There is either hope for everybody or hope for nobody. The fact that you’re reading this means there must be hope for everybody because if ever there was a hopeless case it was me.

       To those who grieve: I know there is nothing I can say to ease your pain. But I can walk with you from a distance through it. In my experience, time doesn’t heal all wounds. What it does is teach you how to create a new normal and in doing so, you heal and develop an empathy that will enable you to help and connect with others.

      To all the “weirdos”,”outcasts”, “freaks”, “misfits”, “broken” and the gloriously flawed individuals who have the courage to be themselves in a world that attempts to dictate how they should be to be “normal”. To all who struggle with depression or anxiety or addiction or just life: YOU are my people. You have all the gifts and abilities within you to thrive. You will learn more from facing adversity than the average person and your journey will be anything but ordinary if you keep putting one foot in front of the other. You are so much bigger than your challenges. Never give up. An interesting and worthwhile life is so much better than a “normal” one.

      Finally, to those who feel the need to cruelly belittle others who have the audacity to look, think, believe, feel, pray, hold an opposing opinion or express themselves differently than you do:  Just because today’s climate may appear to validate your ugly and judgmental rhetoric does not make it any less ugly. Ganging up anonymously with like-minded people and ripping apart those who are different is not righteous. It’s cowardice. Name calling, bullying and kicking people who are down in the name of God is not a trait in which one should take pride. And I would not be so certain of everything. The very people you are so eager to condemn online are very real in your outside life. We are your sons, daughters, co-workers, and friends. We come in all shapes, sizes, genders and belief systems. We will meet your anger and hatred with compassion and truth. We will not be bullied or shamed into silence. We will remember that everyone has a story…even you.

 

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

The Value of Vulnerability

    (By Corey Rotella, CNA Extraordinaire)

     Vulnerability: being open or susceptible to being wounded or hurt…the textbook definition alone is enough to make me wince. SUCH an uncomfortable feeling. 

    beach I am not a shrinking violet. No one would describe me as delicate, dainty or fragile. I never dreamed of the day my knight in shining armor would appear to save me, never planned out my dream wedding surrounded by a gaggle of girlfriends. I don’t cringe in the face of adversity. I prefer belly laughs to giggles, substance to wealth and I don’t
trust it when life goes smoothly. When difficulties arise, my answer is to panic on the inside and then plow on through whatever is in my path. I rally! I overcome! I fight the good fight! I keep it moving! I am woman! Hear me roar!
 

     I’ve got a confession to make. None of that changes the fact that I am scared in varying degrees all the time. I mean, ALL the time and that fear sometimes drives me to distraction. I worry about hurting the cashier’s feelings at the gas stations, I worry about pissing off my boss, I fear selling out, or ruining my relationship. Sometimes I look in the mirror and think, “why does my face look weird?” And then I’ll worry about THAT for an hour. Oh and that’s just scratching the surface. I fear failure and success. Most of all I fear doubt because in my experience it is a killer. I fear that I will be an awful parent to my imaginary squishy face dog that is part of my two-year plan. I fear that I’m not doing enough with my life. And oh! That age old fear that everyone is going to leave me. Corey is unworthy. Corey is weird. She is a screw up and will let you down…those awful whispering inner demons and fears…they pop up and manifest in a variety of ways that drive me temporarily insane and cause me to put on sweats and bury my head in a gallon of chocolate ice cream as if the solution is at the bottom of the carton. Usually, after gaining ten pounds or so, I revisit my coping strategies and begin to use healthier tools. Still, in a pinch, chocolate ice cream can be a life saver.

        I noticed that my anxiety tended to kick into high gear when I was feeling particularly vulnerable, so for years I did what I could to deny any vulnerability. Keep one foot on the ground. Never let em’ see you sweat. It’s hard to hit a moving target. None of that actually did anything to relieve my fears but it helped me ignore them for short periods of time. What I didn’t realize at the time was that in order to avoid the uncomfortableness of my anxiety, I was shutting myself off from some of the most basic necessities for genuine human relationships.

      Vulnerability and fear are not the same thing.  My fears, usually unreasonable and for the most part dismissible, are not emotions over which I have much control. Feelings are just feelings. Now, how I cope with them and how much focus I give them is up to me. I have power over that part of the equation. Allowing myself to be vulnerable is often a choice and that makes it an entirely different ball game.

        Why would anyone CHOOSE to be vulnerable? Why would I open myself up to the possibility of being hurt? Judged? Misunderstood? For many years, I refused. I mean, I let everyone in, but only so far and always with one foot on the ground. Always with an escape plan…and then I started writing again. Suddenly, I was fully putting myself out there; my fears, eccentricities, hopes, doubts, awkward moments, and biggest flaws. People responded! They RELATED. Through my writing process, I realized that my avoidance of vulnerability robbed me of the ability to be truly open. In allowing myself to be vulnerable, I have learned to trust myself and others. I’ve been able to reach people and remind them that they are not alone and I have opened my heart enough to love deeply and be loved in return. It is completely amazing, absolutely terrifying and so very worth it, because it is by embracing our vulnerability and owning those fears that true freedom can be achieved. 

To Thine Own Self Be True

(Written by guest blogger Corey Anne Rottella)


“We are who we pretend to be, so we must be careful who we pretend to be”. One of my favorite quotes by my favorite author, Kurt Vonnegut. It is a truth worth bearing in mind. We live in a society that thrives on comparing ourselves to others. We must keep up with the Joneses! We must achieve the “American dream”! Be skinny! Confident! thine-selfHave a career and 2.5 kids! Be…perfect! If you aren’t “successful” according to societal norms, then you must be doing adulthood wrong. Not only does that path lead to madness but it also robs us of all authenticity. There is no truth to it.
 

        How many masks does one have to wear? Work persona? Church persona? Family persona? A lifetime spent trying to live up to others perceived expectations is no life at all. It’s a self-imposed cage forged from comparing our insides with other people’s outsides. The truth is always deeper than the quick judgements we make based on our daily interactions with others. It’s impossible to know a person’s story based upon Facebook statuses or chit chat around the water cooler.

      Most of us feel an intrinsic need to present our best face to the world; that false self which we hope will meet or exceed other people’s expectations. In and of itself that seems pretty harmless, but is it really? I spent the majority of my life hiding behind a smile and convincing myself that everything is fine. I did it so long and so well that I never dealt with any negative truths going on around me or inside myself. I smiled as my inner and outer world crumbled down, slowly eroding all that I held of value. I smiled as I compared my inner self with all the fabulously “normal” people. I smiled and said I was fine as I was slowly and painfully killing myself…the lies you tell others hurt, but the lies you tell yourself can kill you.

       That was then and this is now. Today, through some effort and support, I am delightfully free. The key to my self-imposed cage was buried deep within me, but it was always there. I have learned to be honest with myself about who I am, how I feel and who I want to be. I no longer have time to worry about other people’s expectations. I am too busy defining my own. I am not skinny or rich. I don’t have a 401K and sometimes I pay my bills late. Sometimes I’m scared. Sometimes I’m angry or lonely or sad. I’m ok with all of that today. Those feelings pass. They don’t own me because I’m honest about them. Mostly, I’m happy and so very grateful to have the ability to be my imperfect, scattered, easily overwhelmed, passionate authentic self every day in every interaction. That is true freedom.

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

 http://www.cnaedge.com/