Monday, December 14, 2015

On a Boat

In the National Gallery in DC - by Thomas Cole - the Voyage of Life
Processing unwanted change is such a surreal experience.  It is all so disconcerting and bizarre.  We all recognize that life can be brutal but when everything collides it knocks the wind out of you.  Lemony Snicket is a children's author that my daughter loved and he puts things so well:
It is a curious thing, the death of a loved one. We all know that our time in this world is limited, and that eventually all of us will end up underneath some sheet, never to wake up. And yet it is always a surprise when it happens to someone we know. It is like walking up the stairs to your bedroom in the dark, and thinking there is one more stair than there is. Your foot falls down, through the air, and there is a sickly moment of dark surprise as you try and readjust the way you thought of things.
Regaining one's sea-legs during and after a storm isn't all that easy.  Especially when the storm is unrelenting and from all different angles and you have no idea where to start bailing the water first.  I guess you could spend the time green and hanging your head over the side of the boat or you could run around all over, trying to steady the boat or you could plop yourself down cross-legged in the middle of the wood floor... or I guess you could try to pretend you are Life of Pi...  I tried them all in wild succession (except the Life of Pi) but eventually settled into quarantining myself, reading copious amounts of books, upping my red wine intake, planing lots of travel, and I doing every house project possible.  

So, I've read from Diamant & Larsson to Brene & Glennon and then to Fey & Pohler.  I've organized closets & the garage, repainted, updated bedrooms & bathrooms, and when those were done, my husband started pulling everything out of the basement and tearing out paneling from 1962.  I asked him to stop.  I told him that it was too much and that I just needed to sit in a corner, I needed order not chaos... but he kept going.  And he was right.  For the next months, we cleaned and built and dry-walled a little guest room, storage room, and revised play area.  We would just turn on the music and sort, organize, run electrical, prep walls.

It was all even more therapeutic because we were doing good.  We were using the skills that my dad had taught us and we were building a room where we could give anyone who needed rest a bed.  His beloved wife could stay at anytime.  It took us all summer because we hired out for almost none of the work.  We took our time and worked at it until we were done.  Each step was a clear path:  After everything was out, we needed to frame the new walls, and then run electrical, and then put up drywall... there were no real decisions to make (except how many outlets, and let me tell you, 10 in a room that is not quite 10 x 10, might be too many).

The rough waters raged on, but we huddled and nested away.  That made sense to me, but then a couple more storms hit and I found that I couldn't always just stay in my corner.  I needed to go out and survey the damage, and maybe check on a couple of the other people on the boat... and at this point, I'm not sure why I started with a boat analogy because I'm from the midwest and I've never actually been on a boat in much of a storm and even when I was, I could always see safety and land... and admittedly, I haven't read Life of Pi and I fell asleep during the movie.... but it is too late now.  I've started with the boat... and I'll see it through.

This getting out with the storm not yet over, checking the damage, and patching some areas until I am ready to fix them is a new part of processing.  I'm not even sure what direction we are headed or if we even want to go in the same direction we were heading before all of the storms of unwanted change.  Like some of our route was initially because the wind and currents were taking us that direction and there was very little need to fight it.  We need to head for new land and even if our geography doesn't change-- our life and world-view will.  Because unwanted change does that to a person and a family.  It isn't just about me... it needs to be about us...

Things that took our time and energy and attention seem like they may need to be refocused, not just in the wake of our own heart-break but when surveying the pervasive brokenness all around.  So we are slowly peeking out to check the damage and regrouping and trying to find where we are, what needs to be fixed, and what needs to be thrown over-board... and eventually maybe where we should go from here... because it is okay for now, but in the big picture, one thing I do know is that I'm not real thrilled with just bobbing around... so we will move on... just beyond that cliff... and those rapids...  where a couple of rays of sun are breaking through...  So while another plan develops... I'll just try to head there... 

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Breaking Through


You know what happens when I am brave and transparent?!  I feel 1000 times better.  That isn't entirely true... At first I feel a huge wave of regret, and then a little sick and my head starts spinning like I just got off a roller coaster.  I go through panic and wonder if I said too much or if people are still going to like me when I'm vulnerable and weak (and not my normal fun or organized or social self).  What if people start throwing cliches at me or trying to fix me or eye contact!?  But after that rush of crazy subsides, I FEEL SO MUCH BETTER.  I slept without vivid nightmares for the first time in months.  There were a couple of times when I didn't even need to remind myself to breathe.

It makes me wonder why I waited so long.  I am not all better, our family still isn't okay, but the pressure subsided just a tiny bit.  When the honest, real, and raw truth is released, it is like a sacred memorial.  The people who love and support you, and you love and support, gather around.  People share in your story and then they share their love.  It is hard and painful but it is real and it is beautiful and there is connection.  It allows for a tiny tinge of healing or adapting... the glimmer of that first star on a moonless night.

Just so I am clear...  It isn't all raindrops on roses and sunrises and cosmos.  I've discovered over this year that lots and lots of people are not thrilled with transparency.  Some people choose to hop-scotch their own grief / depression / unwanted change / impossibly hard stuff and have no desire to witness anyone wallow in theirs (totally understandable!  I'm tired watching myself wallowing too!).  Lots and lots of people are uncomfortable and few know how to respond (especially in person or as time goes on).  It is a lot easier when we all pretend to be happy and fun, and it is a real buzz-kill when broken things are laying all over the place with little hope of being cleaned-up let alone fixed.

I was raised in "the church", and I find that grief and depression are some of those areas that the church is really not very good at.  Jesus is supposed to be the answer, "This is not our final home" is supposed to be enough, and when people are still broken, it is like God was not enough.  I know many many broken people who are afraid to take medication or be transparent because of perceived judgement and poor responses.  The church often throws a lot of prayers and cliches and casseroles and worship songs and Bible verses (and sometimes whole Bibles) but then doesn't really know where to go beyond there.

There is never going to be a perfect way to come along side someone in grief or depression or unwanted change.  What works for me, won't work for everyone (and often I have no idea what works for me or it changes or nothing works).  The church, people, friends, and family mean well.  I am confident that most people are not intentionally trying to be hurtful, but it happens, especially in the hard parts of life.  Please don't be nervous if you've said these things, I'm sure that I've said them before! I know you meant well, you did the best you could, and I'm in such a haze that I would never remember who has said them anyway.  There are no magic words or perfect responses but firstly, I highly recommend avoiding empty cliches and shallow platitudes.  To most people, lines like these are not helpful:
  • Everything happens for a reason.  God is in control.
  • God only gives you what you can handle
  • At least his suffering wasn't long.  He is in a better place.  God needed another angel.
  • Time heals all wounds.  This too will pass.  Something good will come from this.
  • What doesn't kill you makes you stronger
  • It was his time to go; he had done the work he was meant to do on this earth.
  • Don't you think it is time to move on?  ______ would want you to be happy.
  • You just need to... (pray, exercise, get fresh air, eat clean, get pregnant again, etc.)
  • I couldn't handle this, you are so much stronger than I am.
  • How are you doing? really? (especially with a tilted head-- and on the sidelines of a loud soccer game)
I love much of Jewish culture on mourning but my absolute favorite part is that it is in very poor taste to get in the way of someone's processing of grief. Not only are platitudes taboo, but it isn't even polite to divert the conversation from talking about the deceased*.  Upon leaving, in Jewish custom they say, "May the Lord comfort you with all the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem"  I LOVE THAT!  I bet the church lost that somewhere because of  Paul's line about "Do not grieve like those with no hope."  I'm not sure what the modern equivalent is, but what if instead of shallow cliches, people were like, "May you feel comfort as all of  the heavens and FaceBook mourn with you."

Some stories have brought me unspeakable comfort... others, not so much.  It is a fine line, but it lies somewhere in the depth and sincerity and the purpose of the story.  If someone says, "I know exactly how you feel!  When my aunt had cancer... like 15 years ago..."  and then goes on and on and on... Pretty quickly, the voice starts to sound like a Charlie Brown teacher down a very long tunnel and I go into a self preservation shell so that I don't accidentally melt-down in public.

Amidst depression (or grief or unwanted change or impossibly hard stuff) small talk, filibustering, or feigned empathy are nearly unbearable.  It is usually much more appropriate to say, "I recognize that you are going through some really hard and painful stuff.  I am here with you and for you.  My heart breaks with yours.  I know nothing can fix this, but if there is anything tangible, even if you just want me to sit beside you in silence..." or if words aren't your thing... just a hug...  Or a hand squeeze...  Or a plant...  Or a cleaning lady... Or yoga certificates...  Or a text with only a heart... but basically, if you are still talking and the person is wordless with glazed eyes... the story might not be effective comfort.  

The stories that have softened my soul are often when someone puts their arm around me and says, "My dear girl. All this $#!+ so impossibly hard, and you are right, it effing sucks, life will never be the same..."  and then we share back and forth on how our lives are forever altered by unwanted change and impossibly hard stuff (as well as some stuff that should be easy but isn't)...  I feel my soul breathe.  It isn't the time to get advice or take on another burden, but it is the time to walk beside each other and carry our burdens together for a few minutes... especially if your burden isn't as raw as mine and you somehow survived, even in a forever altered state.

So with all that said, my Dear Friends... thank you.  I am surrounded by so many of the right kinds of people.  Thank you for your space and your silence and listening to my story and for being vulnerable with your own.  Please know that your love is felt in very real and meaningful ways... <3



*There isn't really a win/win with bringing up the hard stuff or not.  Sometimes (but not always), I'd rather hear some awkward recognition than avoiding with empty small talk.  If nothing at all is acknowledged, the elephant just starts to grow larger and larger and it feels like there is no room for me at all and I could collapse under it's belly and no one would notice... but I'm sure that isn't normal or even healthy -- probably best to use the Jewish custom and follow the lead of the person grieving... lots of people are much better (and healthier) at compartmentalizing and just want to take a true break--  to appreciate where they are at that moment, to enjoy a genuine and deep laugh.  Gosh life would be so much easier if I personally got better at that! Putting "Learn to Compartmentalize while Processing" as #1 on my New Years Resolution list... although, it would probably be more helpful for the Christmas Spirit if I started practicing right now...  I'll count writing it down on this blog as step one.

So maybe my revised mantra, still allowing me to be true to myself but process in a more healthy direction:

I AM NOT FINE!!  But I am trying really hard to compartmentalize and enjoy this moment.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

A Changing Mantra

Quote from  Lemony Snickett
This one is all about me, but sometimes that is the way it needs to be, not to mention that this is a profitless self run blog, so I can kind of do whatever:

The normal me loves adventure.  I am warm and confident and frugal and not afraid to fail...  I act like it is my job to find silver-linings and shimmers of light and beauty in the mundane.  I embrace the quirkiness of the world, accept people as they are, and love a crazy story.  But I haven't really seen even a glimpse of that me in awhile.  It seems like a whole different person... The commonalities between the normal me and who I am right now are few and far between but both highly value honesty and transparency and being genuine. 

Hence, I have this near pathological need to tell everyone in the world that I am not okay.  In the rare moments that I leave the house without xanax, and anyone innocently greets me with a cursory, "How are you?" it takes every ounce of my will-power to avoid unloading that I am so near breaking that it hurts to breathe and every single solitary moment I am exhausted from just trying to survive.  My house may be clean, the kids may appear presentable, we may be traveling, or I may be at a party with a glass of wine and a smile but it is taking every bit of my limited will-power, not to scream my currently internal mantra aloud,
"I AM NOT FINE!  OUR FAMILY IS NOT OKAY!  I CAN'T DO THIS!  NONE OF IT!

It is impossible to articulate exactly what it is that I can't do. I'm sure it has something to do with the pervasive heartbreak all around and the over-whelming responsibility of being entrusted to raise teenagers, and watching my dad die at barely 61 from a painful cancer, and then watching his mother die with a broken heart and my mom trying to figure out a new normal.  It has to do with mass shootings and orphans and widows and abuse and brokenness and refugees and a world that doesn't choose love.  It has to do with homework and small talk and a squirrel in the attic and bills and winter and accidentally gaining 15 pounds and a yard that nature has reclaimed and a torn ACL and fund-raisers for soul-wrenching causes.

But I don't scream my anxiety ridden mantra aloud, because I am a planner (a blessing and a curse for both this me and normal me).  And planners naturally think of life like a big chess game and as soon as I make that move to unload, in my next move, I will most likely be forced to actually talk, to real people and with real eye-contact... but I can't talk about this.  People get super awkward  and uncomfortable (especially me) but mostly, there is very little productive to say, just some shallow grief cliches.  These feelings are real and raw and scary but talking about them doesn't help, and there is nothing that anyone can do. 

The lyrics of Paul Simon (but in my dad's voice), are working their way into my new mantra... 

Breakdowns come and breakdowns go.
So what are you you going to do about it?
That's what I'd like to know.

I've gone through bouts like this before (although not this severe) and I have a vague idea of what I need to do:
  • I need to shower but then actually get out of the shower before the lack of hotwater makes me.  
  • I need to get outside.  I need exercise.  I need yoga.
  • I need sleep and rest and to be still.
  • I need to keep moving.  I need to travel.  I need to organize.  I need to be creative.  
  • I need twinkling lights and 8 Sarah McLachlan albums repeating on random.  
  • I need to read and think and process and I need to write.  
  • I can't forget to deliberately breathe and faithfully give and occasionally open my eyes.
  • And I MUST patiently, consistently, and repeatedly change my internal mantra.
But these often complicated and conflicting things are a challenge to balance for the normal me!  Right now, they are really insanely hard.  Adding to the stress is that I am a full fledged mom.  The world won't let me just hide while I take a break to collect myself.  I need to show up at parent teacher conferences.  I need to go to my job.  I need to have clean laundry and for whatever reason, it turns out that even if a family lives on cereal, trips to the grocery store are still required.  The kids are teenagers and will remember this break-down.  It is  part of their history and their story, which makes me feel guilty.  Moms are supposed to play the role of solid safety net and consistent care-giver.  But the heart of our family is broken and broken things don't heal as quickly as we would like or on our schedule or in the ways we expect, and often rather than heal, we can only adapt... regardless, it will certainly never be as it was before.

Life is messy and raw and painful but I keep trying to remind us that we may not like it, but those things are okay.  They can facilitate character and strength and beauty and connection. Life isn't always (or even often) balanced and organized and happy, but what is important is that it is real... And that we repeatedly and patiently and bravely continue to Choose Love, ALWAYS.  

And so I bravely wrote it down.  I wrote it down because Brene and Glennon and my heart told me that I should.  I wrote it down because it helps me process and it lets me scream that I am not okay!  Our family is not fine! (without needing to make eye contact).  I write because every bit of life isn't always fine; and when it isn't fine, it needs space to be processed and changed and healed or adapted but, it doesn't need to be rushed or fixed or masked or faked.

And I wrote because of this... somebody I don't know, wrote this truth down and it made me say... ME TOO!!!  EXACTLY... THIS...








And as a surprising side benefit... after hitting "publish post", it feels like those pre-disclosed accidental 15 pounds that are sitting squarely on my chest --are not pushing down quite so hard, at least at this second...  


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Making Waves

It is all so exciting and nerve wracking and monumental! For whatever reason, this year feels like such a big one for our family and the kids and me.  My kids are at this middle-school stage where learning to foster independence is as natural as it is important and necessary.  If I ever want them to grow up to be released into the great wild someday, I really need to make sure that I am not accidentally over-nurturing them.  It is time to shift my focus away from just them to what the heck I am going to do.  It is scary and fun and exciting.  

Summer is over.  We had this fantastic southwest camping adventure (we road-tripped for a month out of a Prius, but that is a story for another day).  I feel like a fog has lifted and I am ready to move forward; for the first time in awhile, it isn't panic inducing or filled with dread, it is exciting. I turn 40.  It was right around 40 that my very young parents moved away from the place that they were born and raised.  My sister and I were both old enough to be on our own.  They sold the house, simplified their lives, drove 2117.5 miles, bought a new place with an extra room that we always knew could be ours, and started over.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Down With AT&T


My title might be a little heavy-handed, but hear me out.  I've been with AT&T for my cell service since before I had a rhyming name.  Before kids.  Back when it was Cell One and then Cingular and now AT&T.  Last Monday we changed carriers.  It felt a little like I was making the decision to leave an unhealthy relationship.  There was some guilt and nostalgia but mostly relief.

Our lives have changed.  We are about to embark on a new era with 4 mobile phones all requiring unlimited voice / text and some data.  We all need smart phones.  Before judging us for being spoiling suburbanites, let me clarify our reasoning:

Our kids have a walk to the middle school that is about 3/4 of a mile each way.  I believe that it helps clear their head, build relationships, foster independence, and instill healthy habits to walk everyday.  I only drive them when the windchill is below zero, every once in awhile when we are running a bit late in the morning, or if I need to leave the house at the same time as them.  With that said, I feel more comfortable if my kids have a phone with them for the walk.  It allows them to check in and see if they can go to a friend's house rather than straight home.  It gives them an option if there is an emergency or if they are feeling unsafe/sick. 

When my son graduated 5th grade, we got him a $10 a month non-smart flip phone.  The kid never had it with him.  He would forget or it would be lost in a couch cushion or uncharged. Finally, at the end of 6th grade, my husband and I reassessed the situation.  We decided to buy him his first smart phone and pay the monthly fee under these conditions: