A Garden of Roses at 60

Wow, I am 60. It is hard to conceive that I have made it to this age. At 15 and 20, I thought I did not want to live; at 60 I cannot get enough. Life has not been a rose garden but neither has it been the pits of hell, which I once perceived it to be.

How do you get to 60 when you are now 20 and suffering greatly, despairing, searching, faltering and struggling to get up each day? How do you get to 60 when you do not see the future as anything but what it is today? You have no clear path and you are walking in darkness... There are no right answers to the above questions, yet I can say that along the way I have found my answer.

I can tell you stories of trauma and loss, but I think that the darkness in my life was more than those stories; the darkness was hereditary, genetic and my way of coping with the trauma and loss. Yes, I can blame others for doing too much or not enough, but today these commissions or omissions do not matter. Everyone in my life did their best with the abilities they had. As a youngster, I shut down, held on tight, and did not let anyone know I despaired. I was 10, 15 and 20. I traveled to run away from myself, my life. I drank and overused prescription medication to shut down the pain, to replace it with numbness.

Until, at 22, I walked into a Montreal hospital and told them to keep me or expect another number on their suicide statistical charts. I chose my cage, self-made, self-imposed. The cage of my mind and the physical space of the hospital. Gratefully, they kept me and provided 10 months of in-patient care. I spent long winter months of therapy shared with peers, both young and old, equally in pain. While there, I saw the revolving door of psychiatric units, patients in-and-out, never quite making it on the ‘outside.’ The intense therapy was nothing compared to the fear that I too would find myself revolving – never quite in, never quite out, never well! I could not and did not want to live my life in this eternal darkness and numbness. That was unacceptable to me; it made me fearful and angry.

The longer my stay, the clearer my path became. I had to choose to fight and the first angry action I took on my own behalf was to ‘refuse’! I refused to hide my pain, I refused to allow others' emotions to affect my well-being, I refused to be a statistic, and I refused to give in. If others could survive (trauma, wars, rapes, illness, abuse....) – so could I! I was not less capable, I was just afraid. Fear is just a strong emotion that can paralyze you in despair or help you run ...I ran (slowly at first) towards healing.

I understood, or maybe it was instinctual, that before I could truly run, I had to walk, and that sometimes I would stumble and I did, often. There is a Jewish philosophical idea that says, ‘naase ve nishma’ (we will do and then we will understand). It is a bit similar to the concept of practice makes perfect, or if you stumble try, try again!

How did I get to 60 married, with two kids and great job? A bit of luck, lots of perseverance, many dark days, many choices along the way to find my path. I found wonderful friends who loved me, who reached out when I sought them out. Mostly, I continue to seek out therapy when I am struggling, drink tea with a friend or take a brisk walk to clear my head. Even though there may be thorns in my garden, it is still worth being here. I refuse to give up on life.

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