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From the Outside, Looking In

Memoirs of an Observer

As long as can remember, I have been an observer. There are two kinds of kids, the ones doing and the ones watching. I was the watcher: extremely shy, awkward and skinny, too afraid to talk. I could watch for hours and never utter a word recording everything around me, taking it all in – every detail –  watching lizards, spiders, birds, and exploring the rich paradise that was Santo Domingo. And reveled in the stories around me carried forward by the women in my life: my mother, aunts, maids, etc.

I have started this site in order to share stories of my family and my life. I have led the most exciting, complex, chaotic life full of ups and downs, adventures, lots of fun, lots of pain, but at the end, full of peace and happiness. I wish I could go back and tell that scared little girl that it is going to be alright. To relax and enjoy the ride.

I would like to dedicate these stories to my daughter, Avaryl, and my nieces and nephews — a generation free of political repression, anxieties, and fear, full of hope and open to every possibility.  I am aware that your generation has no reference to relate to the world I grew up in. Even I, at this age, and in this reality, feel like this was just a movie I saw a long time ago, but, sadly, I know it was all very real.

I am adding entries in the Blog when I can. Short stories of memories, events, or just observations throughout my life. Browse through and comment if you like. I welcome any information you might be able to add to the stories. 

coat-of-arms arvelo-dalmau

Family Crest designed by my father in the late 1940s.


Very depressed. 1968.

"I cried, I cried, I cried..."

I write this in the hope that it can help anyone young or old going through the same situation that I found myself in as a teenager and later as an adult.

FACT: No, you are not weird. No, you are not alone. You are beautiful. You are you and that is special. We are who we are and must celebrate our idiosyncrasies–the peculiar things that we do that make us who we are.

Have you thought of how unique humans are? You hear a you favorite singer on the radio. You recognize that voice from among 8 billion other people on earth.  And yet, we actually idolize pop stars' uniqueness. They are so unique that you recognize them as soon as their song starts playing on the radio.

One of the most important facts that I realized, as I got older, is that all the other kids in high school were no better off than I was. They were just as confused, scared, and totally overwhelmed as I was. The only difference was that they were much better at acting like everything was fine. What is normality anyways? An illusion? An act? Years later I found out that the people I had wished I could be like, were actually going through their own hell, some much worse than mine: physical abuse, neglect, alcoholic parents, etc. My life was just chaotic, at best and yet, I wanted to be them.

I am sure my parents loved my siblings and I. But neither had a normal childhood and thus didn't have the tools to be good parents. Neither had the nurturing and care that a child needs to grow up balanced and secure. To feel secure enough that they can do anything and be anybody they want to be. I was terrified of both my father and mother. My father because he was always distant. My mother because she wasn't. Both were unpredictable.

It took me a while to figure out that us kids, whether because of genetics or because of growing up with the crazies, had also inherited some of the traits.  At the time, I didn't know that there was a name for it and that there is a way to get out of it: DEPRESSION! People associate this with adults, not with children or teenagers. They think they are too young to be feeling so much pain. But, you don't have to be older to feel pain. In fact, I believe that the pain you feel when you are older is based on all the pain and despair you had when you were younger. You are disconnected somehow and spend the rest of your life trying to get back to the connection. Specially, if you, like me, had a family that did not understand it or accepted that there was a problem at all. To do so would have meant that my parents would have had to face things that they could not face, thus leaving us all in a state of suspended animation and no resolve. It wasn't until my parents separated in the 70's that my father was diagnosed as manic depressive (bi-polar) and, my mother with regular depression (although I truly believe that she is also bi-polar). I saw my mother go into absolute rages over the stupidest of things. My father was more subtle. One morning you would say: "good morning", and he would reply: "what is so good about it?". The next day you wouldn't say "good morning" and he would ask why you weren't polite. CLICK HERE FOR MORE ABOUT THIS.

I spent years of my life crying and hating myself.  I was anorexic although I never went to the extremes to kill myself and I had never heard about anyone else doing this. In fact, the first time I knew that there was a name for it was when Karen Carpenter died from it. I weighed 98 pounds at my high school graduation and was 5' 6" tall, constantly on a diet and exercised daily. I played tennis, jogged, rode my bicycle, and anything else I could do to assure that I would lose weight. I had braces all through my teen years and was flat chested, all leaving me feeling less than desirable. I constantly looked at myself in the mirror and saw someone ugly and stupid and fat. I was extremely shy and awkward and trembled when spoken to. I was totally disconnected. And, I was an artist, something else that made me different from everyone I knew, but, ultimately, one of the things that saved my life.

High School was a nightmare. I was a very intelligent, read a lot and loved Philosophy, science, English and history, and yet, I got bad grades because I couldn't imagine participating in class. I made myself invisible. If the teachers finally saw me and called on me to read out loud, everyone thought I was weird because I couldn't read since the tears in my eyes wouldn't let me see the type on the book. Plus I was trembling so hard that sometimes I would drop the book, thus making it into a worse scene. Above and beyond the depression, I believe I suffered from clinical shyness, which, in turn, would make me hate myself even more. I questioned and analyzed everything I said or did and then beat myself up about it. I got home from school and started the self-hate nightmare. I thought about a conversation in school and thought about how stupid I was, or what a stupid answer, or what I should have said, or done, and started crying again. A few times my mother walked in on me while I was crying and asked me why I cried. My answer: I didn't know. There was no way I could explain my pain with words. And, my mother, who felt entitled and wouldn't think of being anywhere but in the front of the line, would have no way of understanding someone who preferred to be at the end of the line so no one would notice her.

It is specially hard for teenagers because they don't have the freedom to just go out the door if they need to. Or just say: I am not going to school today because I feel threatened there. Given a choice, I would have never gone to high school. I would start trembling before we even left the house on the way to school. There are parents, teachers, rules, and well, teens can't make decisions for themselves. This is specially difficult. This is also an age of peer, society, parental and cultural pressure demanding that you go to school and make good grades, go home and be a perfect kid, do homework, go to sleep at a reasonable hour, etc. All of this, while you feel awkward, unfit, and disconnected. Not a good combination. You are also in an age where you are separating from the parental units but you haven't found yourself. So, you don't go to your parents, but the people around you that you might trust to talk to, your friends, have no answers because they are all going through the same things. This is, ironically, also the time when you are supposed to be thinking about your future and what college you are going to go to, SAT exams, etc. in the middle of this vortex. Totally unfair, if you ask me.

I know that there are all these programs out there to reach out to teens and adults suffering with depression. But, unfortunately, while you are in the darkness, it is practically impossible for someone to get through to you. Unfortunately,  you have two choices: Survive or not. As long as you are alive there is hope. Healing doesn't happen overnight. I was one of the lucky ones. I had art. Painting made me go into a space that I couldn't reach in any other way. A space where I didn't feel pain, fear or sadness. I would go away into my head and come back hours later. Without creativity I wouldn't have survived. My passion for art saved me.

"Without Creativity, I wouldn't have survived. My passion for art saved me."


One of my "lucky breaks" was  finding, or being found by the two people who gave me unconditional love, loved me for myself and helped me be me— my father in law, Hubert H. Buzbee II (Buz) and my husband Tom Buzbee (Buz). If I had not met them when I did, I am sure I would have ended my life before I got to my 20s. I had contemplated suicide by then. The pain had to stop! Buz was very well read, gave unconditional love to everyone around him, helped many people in the DR, was a great consular officer, and gave the the opportunity to have an education. All of which made it possible for me to leave the DR at a critical time in my life, get married and move to Philadelphia where I went to one of the best art schools in the US. I believe this change gave me a new perspective in life and some of the tools I needed to make the changes in my life needed to survive.


My depression had a name. My husband and I call it the "YOU SUCK MONSTER". Sometimes I would wake up with it staring me in the eye. Other times something might trigger it to surface. Either way, I would start a downward spiral of self pity and mental self-flagellation. In my younger years, I would dive right into the abyss and stay for days or months at a time. I was a functioning depressed person. I have always said I am a great actress because I have been acting normal for years. I could go to work and function in my job. Then come home and fall apart again and cry for hours. No one knew because I never let anyone in.


Recreational drugs make it much worse and give you additional problems. I never did drugs while I was a teenager, mainly, because I had no access to them. So, that was a good thing. My experimentation did not start until I was around 20. I played around with pot, coke and LSD years ago, although I must say that I don't have an addictive personality and never did much of any. I loved LSD so I never did it again, but it helped open my consciousness to new possibilities. Coke was a really bad idea and left me nervous and shaking. Most of the people I ever saw on this drug were full of themselves and arrogant. It destroys your sinuses too. It takes years to regenerate them, if ever. Pot relaxes me and is my drug of choice, but it is illegal in the state of Florida, so I stay away from it. It can have an adverse reaction in some people and make them paranoid, so it might not be a good idea for someone who is already unstable. I never cared for alcohol. I may have a glass of beer or wine occasionally but I don't like the way it makes you feel and have never been able to hold my liquor. Two glasses and I am flying to the moon.

Anything that you put in your body will affect your brain and mood. You might feel great while you are high, but, when you come down, you are even more disconnected and are left feeling emptier than before. People who feel disconnected are far from the power source. The closer you are to it, the more peaceful you feel. Even Tylenol can keep you from deep meditation. Even food affects your mind and body. Some foods are great, some are very bad. Junkfood no only makes you obese and unhealthy, but also makes you disconnect. The mind gets excited and it weakens your will power. Google Rajasic, Tamasic and Sattvic foods to find out how these foods alter your moods. A vegetarian diet is probably the place to start with dealing with depression.


The other drugs, the ones prescribed by "doctors" numb you so you aren't feeling pain, but you also don't feel anything else. That is a description of my mother the last 50+ years. Drugs keep you from connecting to the power source: the energy shared by living things.Each drug you take has side effects that affect your body in unusual ways.  People, like my mother, end up in an endless cycle of cause and effect. You take a pill for one thing. It causes side effects so you take another pill for the side effects. Now you have two pills causing side effects and you take a third to ease the side effects, and on and on. Before you know it you are in a pharmacy merry go round.


Being raised in a logical and scientific environment, I didn't have much use for religion. I needed tools that I could explain. Blind faith has never worked for me since I am not a follower and I have never belonged anywhere.–loner. However, I am very spiritual. I just don't need a religion to connect to the spirits, power source, mother nature... makes no difference to me. I don't need an interpreter. I don't want anything to be lost in translation. Thank you. HOWEVER, if this works for you, by all means, follow your own path. Just make sure you go in with your eyes open and don't expect instant salvation. There is no magic pill and finding peace doesn't happen overnight. Don't make the mistake of replacing one problem for another though.


If you read my other posts, you will find that my family went through some horrific times trying to survive through a dictatorship and were under unthinkable stress for around 10 years. Both of my parents suffered from depression, probably brought on by Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). My father was manic depressive, while my mother had classic depression and was prone to very frightening rages. Her eyes would get big and scary and everyone in the house was in trouble. I would always hide when I saw it coming on. My husband calls it "woogie eyes". Our family life was totally dysfunctional, and all I longed for was peace and quiet, and some semblance of security.

Each one of us, in my family, has had to figure out how to find their own inner peace. We all share a common thread: we have all had a hard time with self worth, love and acceptance. Some are closer to peace, some further. But we have all struggled in our own way.

My father constantly berated us, called us terrible names, and told us we were useless and would never amount to anything. My mother was a perfectionist. They never had any encouraging words or any support for anything we did. If I had become president, he would have said I didn't do it right because I didn't do it his way... while my mother would have taken credit for my achievement saying it happened because I was their daughter. When people treat their children like that, it is almost impossible for their children to find self worth of any kind. I spent my time trying to prove that I was not who they thought I was. In the process, I beat myself up some more, and in turn, became a perfectionist myself, thus perpetuating the problems and passing some of it to my daughter before I recognized the problem.

My parents took us to school every day where I sat all day terrified, counting the hours until I could go home. Once in my room I would cry for hours, beating myself up for being so stupid, and ugly, and why did I say this or that, until I got it out of my system. I cried, I cried, I cried... At that point I would start painting or drawing, diving into that space where I didn't feel pain. Art was my escape and my salvation. Music helped too. I taught myself to play the guitar and spent hours playing. I also had playlists that I had made on a reel to reel tape player that set the mood for me to paint. I turned on the music and started painting and I would go away. I would come back to earth when someone interrupted me. It wasn't until years later, when I studied meditation, that I realized the similarity between the space you go to in meditation and the space you go to painting– one and the same: the power source.

I chose to go the direction of no pills, seeking peace through self-examination, exercise, Yoga and meditation. I wish I had gotten to the mediation and Yoga part earlier. Ironically, I started doing Yoga at 19 from a book, but, unfortunately, I was doing it all wrong, doing the asanas for the exercise benefits and not for mental health benefits. (ironically, you get the health benefits as a side effect to the mental benefits.) I never had access to a Yoga or meditation teacher until I was in my 50s when my sister signed me up to Women's Health workshop at the Sivananda Yoga Farm in Green Valley, California. This was a pivotal moment in my life and the beginning of my path to peace and happiness. I was there for 11 days doing Yoga  and meditating twice a day, eating organic-vegetarian meals, doing karma yoga (an act of kindness you do for someone else without expecting anything in return) and just absorbing an 80-acre nature preserve where deer come up to you and stare. That is when it hit me: I had never felt better! I just needed to know that this peace could be achieved so that I could set a reachable goal. My life before was very different than my life after. This was the true beginning of my healing process.

Later, in 2007, I got a meditation teaching certification at the Sivananda Ashram in Paradise Island, Bahamas. This was another very important life-changing experience. The meditation training made me realize the I had suffered with depression for a very long time. It taught me how to identify the triggers for my depression; to realize when the "you suck monster" was starting to creep in, and hen gave me the tools to stop and send it away. I also learned more about Yoga. I learned that depression comes from being disconnected from the power source–the energy that exist within all living organisms. Pure mother nature energy. The more disconnected you are to the source, the more depressed and lost you feel. Once you start getting closer, you start finding peace. This is key. Every time you have a negative thought, counteract it with a positive thought. Pretty soon the positive thought starts outweighing the negative. Make an oath to yourself to do this. Be thankful for the things you have. For your life. For the air you breathe. Do selfless acts of kindness for others and yourself. Find a charity. Find a reason to get out of bed and out the door every day. Go for a walk. Get a pet that you are responsible for. Plant and care for a garden.

I can only write about what worked for me. But, regardless of your path, be patient. It doesn't happen overnight. It takes time, courage, determination and love. Lots of love. This worked for me. It may not be the answer for everyone else. Each person has to find their way to connect to the power source. But, unless you focus on your disconnect and figure out a way to reconnect, you will be going around in circles. This is the problem with rehab. People go there to clean up, but come out just as empty and disconnected as when they went in. Only finding a connection will let them succeed in staying sober. If they find religion, most of the time, that becomes their new drug... you know those people... Bible thumpers... yep, they were drug addicts... I have known quite a few of them.


My big realization that I had a big problem was in 1987 while I was living in Ana Maria Island, Florida.  From the outside everything looked peachy: I had my dream job as the chief designer for the Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota. My daughter Avaryl lived with me most of the time. I lived two blocks from the beach in a very cute house. We went to the beach every day. It was a great life. And yet, I cried and cried. I had an epiphany during one of my fights with the "You Suck Monster". After crying for hours I had this thought that something had to change. I had to try to find a way to change things. Things couldn't stay the way they were. I thought I couldn't go any lower, but I was wrong.–I started my journey but there was a way to go.

1980 osceola art fest

It would be a few years before I started to see some progress. But, I started working on my self. I started to see the patterns. I went out with cute guys that had nothing going for them, therefore, making impossible to have any kind of relationship. I worked and lived in a place that was very far away from everyone I knew and loved, therefore feeling empty and lonely most of the time. I worked in a very high stress job doing the work of two people and paid for one, and allowing them to abuse me on a regular basis perpetuating the high stress levels. I got bored with jobs in about 2 years and it was just about that time that I caught up with myself. I ran away from myself, moved to a new town where I could start over, then, I caught up with me again. This was a vicious cycle, until 1995 when I moved back to Mount Dora. I decided I was done moving and wanted to give my daughter some stability, at least until she graduated from High School. We stayed in the same house for 5 years. That was a major achievement. I worked in several jobs and had a few ups and downs. In 1996 I lost my oldest brother, started menopause, lost my job, got hives, my daughter dropped out of high school and I found out I had AIDS, and a client ripped me off of $2000. 00, all in the same month! This is what my sister-in-law calls the cosmic 2 by 4. It smacks you right on the head.

After that, I knew it was up to me to change it. I found a better job, we convinced my daughter to go back to school, I got meds for my sickness and menopause and started my climb back out of the abyss. I had a steady job as an art director for a publishing company for about 6 years. It had its ups and downs but, for the most part, I really enjoyed it.


In 2006 I lost that steady job. I was 55 and found out I was no longer employable. I could not get another job in the industry. I had about 30 interviews and no one was hiring me. I had to reinvent myself. I started freelancing and trying to make a living in any way I could. It was a very stressful time! I had to re-evaluate my career. Who I wanted to be and what I wanted to do when I grew up! I started learning the craft of freelancing. There is a lot to learn, specially, when you have received a steady paycheck for 20+. You have to learn to listen to your inner voice. It is seldom wrong. And you have to learn the business. How to protect yourself from bad clients. How to handle yourself in interviews and how to detect the bad apples. Every day has brought me closer to a more peaceful existence. Working very hard to simplify my life, and put everything in perspective. What is important in the scheme of things. If I was in a desert what would be important. If I was in a war, what would be important? The answers are all the same... family. Nothing material is going to make you happy.

Perspective is what we are missing when we bitch about things while things around us are peachy. Letting go, detaching from material things, forgiving, learning tolerance are the most important things. Forgiving yourself, loving yourself, and feeling that your are OK is the goal. There is always room for improvement. If you start feeling cocky about your "enlightenment" you have not understood the lesson. The whole point is to look at everything around you and accept it all. Look at them, enjoy them, experience them, and then let them go. Guilt is the same. Don't own it. It isn't yours. If you are worried about everyone around you, you are owning their guilt. You can try to help people, but you can't live their lives for them. It is in our experiences that we learn the lessons. They have to go through their own journey, or not. It isn't your responsibility. Let them go. You can be supportive, and loving, but, unless someone is ready to change, they won't.


Yoga, not the kind you do at a gym which is done for exercise in Lulu Lemons, but the kind you do at a spiritual or Yoga center, will help you change your life. Along with meditation, they should be the tools you seek out. Ironically, when you do Yoga, your body will get all the exercise anyway. But you will be getting the spiritual connection as well. Two for the buck. You might feel that it is flaky at first, because, unfortunately, most of these centers seem to attract a lot of flaky people. Don't worry...they are nice people just seeking the same things as you. They are on their own journey. You need to be on yours.


I have not had the opportunity to learn more about this. I will be exploring this in the near future. I understand it works great for a lot of people. Just another tool to try.


It will probably take a few days before you start feeling the best you have ever felt and you will be doing it yourself, with your body, food, and without drugs.

Presently, it is very seldom that I get depressed. And if I start feeling it, I get out of the house! I go for a walk, work on the garden, touch the earth, meditate, do Yoga – anything to focus my mind on something else that is positive, not negative. I don't dive into the vortex anymore.

Whatever you do, change your environment. If you stay in the house you will succumb. DON'T!


If you are lucky enough to be close to a Sivananda Yoga center, great. If not, try to get to one. They are very reasonably priced, and worth every penny. You can stay in tents for very cheap, or in cabins for a little more. You will eat organic, Sattvic meals prepared fresh everyday, do Yoga twice a day, meditate, and participate in the daily lectures and chanting. Or, look for a Yoga teacher in your area that is Sivananda certified. You will get the same teachings. It is not a religion and if you are a religious person, this will help you closer to your God. But do something. Don't just sit at home feeling sorry for yourself.

If you feel the monster creeping up, get out of the house. Go to a movie. Go to a mall. Remove yourself from the house.