The Voice in My Head Might Be Misguided

One good thing that’s come out of this quarantine/isolation/emotional social distancing of the last several months is that I’ve really stuck to the habit of regular exercise. Almost every day, the hubs and I set out on a 3.5 mile walk. We’ve managed to keep it up for over a year now. I daresay it’s been great for helping us connect at the end of each day, and I’m sure it’s good for our mental health, too.

Kate. I call bull$#it. You do it to burn calories.

Yeah, OK, whatever.

Anyway, despite living in what meteorologically appears to be Canada’s basement, we’ve been really good about keeping the habit going. I only call an audible if the temperature is below 15 or so (that’s about -9 for all y’all not in the US.) I’m well-equipped with a kick@$$ coat supposedly rated to -20, monster boots with enough traction to hold me to the side of a building, and a bulk box of instant hand warmers at the ready. (Despite all this, and bulking up in enough layers to rival the appearance of the Michelin Tire Man, it is still cold. Hella cold. But we persevere.)

Me, on a winter walk. Or after downing a large pizza.

We also opt out of the great outdoors when it’s pouring rain. Because that’s just…miserable. Plus, while my cell phone brags about being somewhat water-resistant, I kind of want to save testing that theory for a more emergent situation, like a random boat capsizing.

When we can’t don’t walk outside, I’m reassigned to the basement, where I can complete 45 minutes of mind-numbing repetition on the dreadmill or the elliptical. (Side note – I have a GREAT elliptical. It gives me the same calorie burn as running did, sans the joint murder. Also, because our basement is only about 7′ deep, I’m the sole person in the house who can use it without awarding myself a concussion. The hubs and his boys are 6’4″, 6’5″, and 6’7″ (!!!) respectively. The youngest is the tallest. He wears a size 17 sneaker. It’s fun to see the pile of shoes by the door – mine are super cute, theirs resemble a pile of kayaks.)

In an attempt to circumvent the boredom, I’ve subscribed to a few podcasts. It’s hard to find ones that are entertaining enough to keep me engaged – my mind insists on wandering while I’m staring at the tacky knotted-pine wood paneling in front of me – but I have found one I’ve enjoyed that actually isn’t centered around diet, exercise, and food. It’s called Endless Thread, produced by WBUR (public radio out of Boston). Each podcast takes a deeper dive into a Reddit thread and explores the story behind the postings. (And if you haven’t explored Reddit, you should do so – it’s a glorious time-sucker with appealing mindless entertainment for everyone.) It’s curious and interesting, and exposes me to Things to Ponder that aren’t about how bored I am or how much weight/fat I need to lose.

Last week, I learned about something that I didn’t know was a “thing” regarding heights. I don’t know how YOU feel about heights, but I am…not entirely fond of them. It’s not the height that freaks me out – it’s that sudden stop at the end of the descent that gives me pause. And I’m not alone. I can recall vividly taking my kids to a four-story indoor ropes course when they were preteens – all the children there were practically RUNNING in the sky, completely fearless, trying the thinnest balance beams without a lick of worry. And most of the parents were watching proudly while clinging tightly to the support poles for dear life.

It’s likely that those obnoxious brave little moppets just had insufficient life experience to understand real fear. (Lucky ducks.) But surprisingly, when faced with looking off a precipice, there are some folks whose brains react to potential death with an unanticipated message:

“Jump.”

Upon hearing this, I immediately Googled the transcript, certain my mind had autocorrected “curl into a ball and cry.” But no, it’s totally a thing. It’s called The Call of the Void, and about half of us humans have experienced it.

There’s some cool scientific theories behind this – primarily, that your brain has to quickly translate the feeling of panic/impending doom with the rational logic that you’re NOT in immediate danger:

“It could be the case that when you’re up somewhere high, your brain is basically sending an alarm signal — you know, be careful. And that could actually lead you to take a step back, or notice your surroundings,” she says. “Then that more deliberative process kind of kicks in and you start to think, why did I just take a step back? I’m totally fine. There’s no reason for me to be afraid. Oh, I must have wanted to jump.”

– April Smith, associate professor of psychology, Miami University in Ohio

Super interesting, and it means half of y’all are freaks. But freaks in good company, at least. The podcast goes on to reference other intrusive – and potentially disturbing – thoughts that you might have, such as What would it feel like if I drove into oncoming traffic right now? or What if I threw this stapler at my boss’s head during this meeting? My recurring intrusive thought: what would it feel like to peel my eyeball with a vegetable peeler? <shudder>

It’s somewhat reassuring to know that this is actually pretty normal. The bulk of us are able to dismiss those thoughts as fleeting and (of course) don’t act on them. It’s largely just static – mental white noise – for most people. And, contrary to what you might expect, there’s a study that suggests thoughts like these – even the ones that would result in your demise – aren’t an indicator of potential suicidal ideation, but might actually affirm your will to live.

But this got me to thinking a bit. While I don’t have any desire to leap off tall buildings in a single bound, the logical part of my brain suspects that my inner voice might sometimes lead me off-course. There certainly have been times in my life that I’ve had some intrusive thoughts, and perhaps not always selected the most rational answer.

For example – 2005. I was fresh out of an emotionally abusive marriage and rapidly approaching burnout from my job (75% travel will do that to you.) I was presented with a job opportunity 1000 miles away from pretty much everyone and everything I knew.

Jump, Kate. Jump.

And a few short weeks later, my cat and I were packed tightly into my little Dodge Stratus, headed across the country to new adventures. Shortly after I moved here, I did meet the hubs, and it’s mostly been a decent ride – even though every January when the lows are about 25 below (Celsius conversion: f^&k!ng cold) I do question my sanity. While I didn’t land anywhere near where I expected to, I landed safely.

Later, in 2018, I was working at a very steady gig that I mostly enjoyed could tolerate. We got a new CEO who brought in management techniques from circa 1986 (ugh) and I sensed that it was time to move on. I landed a decent offer at an energetic startup in an industry struggling for funding. On paper, it was a huge risk. And yet….

If not now, when?

Jump, Kate.

And it was…WILD. (One day, I will need to write about my adventures in the cannabis industry. Suffice it to say…well…it was cannabis.) I lasted about a year and a half, but they tell me your measure your tenure in this space as one measures dog years, so it wasn’t that short of a stint. The landing was a little rough, but I dusted myself off, and while it was tumbling and bumpy, I seem to be doing OK career-wise.

So why, then, can’t I leap into fixing this stupid preoccupation with food and weight?

Wait. You mean…eat? Like…without….logging my food? Skip weighing out my chips?

Why is the prospect of letting this go no easier to do than flying across the ropes course? What’s the worst that can happen?

I could…fall?

Into what?

Fat? I guess?

I don’t know where my harness is, what it looks like, or if it’s attached to anything at all. If I let go of this…where do I land?

Maybe this tracking – this (likely false) sense of control – IS my safety net. Perhaps it is preserving my sanity. Or I have convinced myself that it is.

Yeah. Like you “believe” your daily exercise is for zen reasons.

You do, in fact, log every walk into your fitness tracker. Which feeds your calorie tracker. And do you eat those calories back, Kate? Hmm?

Hey, man, I’m trying.

Kind of.

I mean…I eat SOME of them now. Sometimes half of them.

Your BMI is 16.6 today. Why can’t you eat more? Even just eating back what you burn would help. Didn’t you promise the hubs that you’d try to gain weight?

The hubs is really trying not to be too overbearing about this. His Asperger’s brain makes it hard not to laser-focus on whatever the spotlight hits on a particular day, and I can physically SEE when he’s thinking about this and trying not to bring it up. But yesterday, he couldn’t resist checking in with me:

Him (attempting to be super-casual): So how is the weight gain project going?

Me: Stable. How is YOURS going?

Hey, it’s only fair that I get to ask, too. To his credit, he laughed and changed the subject.

A bit later in the walk, he asked when my next physical is scheduled, because I had also promised I’d “ask the doctor about my weight” next time I went in.

And of course, I have that all planned out:

  1. Wear my heaviest shoes
  2. Drink a liter or two of water beforehand
  3. If pressed, insist I’m super healthy and ask the doctor what specifically is worrisome. Cholesterol is excellent. Fasting glucose is A+. Hair and nails are growing. Am I not the picture of health here?

Wouldn’t it make sense to do more listening than talking?

Could you ask for help, in whatever form she feels is best?

Can you start packing your parachute so when that plane door opens, you can step through the door and enjoy the dive?

I…don’t know.

For now, I am remaining firmly belted into my seat on Food Issues Flight 1313 to Nowhere, uncertain of where it might land. I’m fully prepared for emotional turbulence, but even though I’m aware that the pilot is completely unqualified to navigate this airspace, but if I’m being completely honest with myself, I have zero desire to get off this plane.

No thanks on the 70-calorie packet of peanuts, and I’ll buckle up for unexpected rough air, I guess.

Do you hear the Call of the Void? Does your mind tell you to jump? What other disruptive thoughts have YOU had? Share in the comments – I might be the only person who thought to peel her cornea with the veggie peeler, but I’m sure y’all got some good ones.

A Position of Influence, Back in the Day

I was going to write about something completely different today, but the subject got me thinking about biology, which I haven’t studied intentionally since high school…and that took me down this overgrown path on Memory Lane. Enjoy this little flashback from the era of neon, hairspray, and the original Mom jeans.

In high school, I was basically a “good kid.” Band geek. Got good grades, never caused trouble. You wouldn’t catch me in detention unless I was tutoring a fellow classmate in algebra. But the truth was that I was a bit of an instigator. While I never did anything directly inappropriate that you can prove, like mouth off to teachers or hide sandwiches in the music room piano, I did find an efficient method to carry out chaos: friend the troublemakers and seed their thoughts. I found that if I merely verbalized terrible ideas creative concepts within earshot of the students who would actually do them….fun stuff happened.

Take Dan, for example. (Dan is, in fact, his real name, but he’s completely fallen off the grid since high school, so here you go.) Dan had a sense of adventure and zero…well, actual sense. We were in biology class, with its long tables suitable for dissections, Petri dishes, and microscope slides. For some reason, though, each table was equipped with what appeared to be electrical outlets. (None of us had phones to charge back then, and we weren’t using any cool power tools, so we had no idea why they were there.)

To get things started, all I’d had to do was ponder aloud to Dan one day earlier, “All the science tables have outlets on them. I wonder why? I mean, they’re not, like, connected to anything, right?”

And the next day, in the middle of class:

BANG

We all turned and a somewhat stunned Dan was sitting WAY back in his seat, looking VERY surprised and maybe a little windblown. Dan was immediately sent to detention, but we got the deets later: Dan had been considering the outlets, and in the interest of science, decided to run an impromptu experiment. Hypothesis: these outlets are trash. He grabbed a set of keys, put them in the outlet, and “I pushed them in with my pen.” The resulting boom disproved his hypothesis. Quickly and loudly. Also, the keys belonged to Sandy, who he had a crush on despite having a long-term girlfriend…and said girlfriend was also a Good Kid with a low tolerance for nonsense, so the tea was spilling EVERYWHERE after this.

Epilogue: Dan never actually WENT to detention. He went to the band room and hid for the rest of the day instead. And apparently the teacher forgot to send the detention slip to the office, so the sentence was never served, and this incident remains undocumented in the official high school chronicles. Oh, and I guess Sandy’s keys were fine. Sandy was dating the quarterback, who didn’t kill Dan, who remained with his girlfriend until she went to college and dumped him and married a really good-looking guy and became a pharmacist. The End. And yes, we are ALL wondering why Dan vanished after high school, and have multiple theories ranging from Witness Protection to top-secret government work to federal and/or predator-style crimes. I’ll report back if we ever find out.

Oh, and then there was James from chemistry class. Full disclosure – in middle school I had a HUGE crush on James, but he only had eyes for…well, pretty much Other Girls Who Were Not Me. So while I’d moved on and was dating a drummer (bonus cool points?), there was certainly some residual fondness for his cheeky attitude towards life, school, and general authority. So when the teacher introduced the concept of Bunsen burners to us, with the boring af standard safety training: “…and the tip of the flame reaches 5 bazillion degrees Fahrenheit, which is hot enough to melt copper….”

…all I had to say to James, under my breath, was “Hmm. Aren’t pennies made of copper?”

And it began. (And no, I have no idea (clearly) how hot Bunsen burners get, or what the melting point of copper is. Suffice it to say I’m better suited as a contestant on The Price is Right than Jeopardy. RIP Alex Trebek – I have mad respect for you, dude.)

Anyway. From that point on, in James’s world, chemistry class was an opportunity to prove whether or not the tip of the flame was, in fact, hot enough to melt copper. Or pencils. Or quarters or notebook spirals or anything else readily accessible to a high school student in the days prior to internet access and Amazon. And once he’d melted metal, it was time for art class. Pennies were morphed into….well, honestly? Useless globs. But they didn’t look like standard pennies anymore, so that was cool. I mean, back in the dark ages, until this point the coolest thing you could do with a penny was leave it on a train track for the trains to flatten.

Credit: Scott Barrow

So this went on for MONTHS, and as you’d expect, James got bolder and bolder with his creative exercises. It all came to a head in February, though. On that fateful day, James had brought in a unique specimen for the flame treatment: the Reader’s Digest Commemorative Coin.

<sniff> Isn’t it beautiful?

Of course, being dumb teenagers, we had no idea what kind of metal this was, and didn’t think about whether it might be sort of toxic to inhale the fumes from heating this bad boy up – but James was ready to melt it down into Something Really Awesome. He got his tongs, turned up the flame, and waited.

And waited.

And waited some more.

And…nothing happened. No smoke, and not the slightest bit of shape-shifting. It absolutely refused to melt.

Undaunted, James persevered, holding fast, convinced that Something Cool was about to happen. He held that stance for over twenty minutes (see, he can’t have ADD, look at this concentration!) unwavering, not moving. Until Thom (who insisted on spelling his name “Thom”, because he was That Weird Guy) caught wind of the fact that James was not, in fact, carrying out the day’s prescribed assignment, but was instead having unsanctioned fun.

Not wanting to miss out on the action, Thom yelled “HEY!”

James, startled, turned and dropped the Commemorative Coin. It bounced off the marble table…

<ping>

…and tumbled to the linoleum floor.

<ping> <pingpingpingedypingping> <brrrrrrr>

As the coin was making its descent, another student who I’ll call Amy (because again, it’s her real name, come at me) walked by. Wanting to be helpful, she stopped and called out “Oh hey! You dropped this!”

And she bent to pick up the coin.

Which had been ROASTING for twenty minutes.

(Imagine this scene playing out in slow motion for effect.)

Amy stooped to pick up the coin. Triumphantly, she raised the coin over her head, “Here you go!”

And it was at this point that she realized that the coin was SCREAMING HOT.

The resulting shrieks shattered the classroom blackboards and the screen of the tube TV collecting dust on the AV rack in the corner. The coin flew out of her hands as the activity of the entire classroom came to a screeching halt of silence. The only sound in the room was that of the coin on its final descent:

<ping>

<ping> <pingpingpingedypingping> <brrrrrrr>

We all stared as James, wide-eyed, watched the coin roll to what was likely its final resting place under a rolled-up, outdated poster of the Periodic Table wedged in the corner.

As you probably concluded, James was banned from Bunsen Burner use for the year, and was restricted to nothing more dangerous than a pencil and paper for the rest of 10th grade. Amy recovered from her injuries, at least as far as I can tell from Facebook, although she was branded with a Statue of Liberty tattoo on her palm for a while. (I mean, nowadays you’d pay cash money for that sort of body mod, so I guess she was kind of accidentally hipster that way. Cooler than Thom with an H, for sure.)

While I normally stayed in the background for these shenanigans, there was that one time I almost got busted. Let’s time-travel back to 11th grade Driver’s Ed, taught by Mr. C.

Now Mr. C was the chillest teacher we knew, which made him the perfect fit for instructing clueless, inexperienced teenagers on the art of automobile operation. Hard braking and wrong turns were met with an impressive amount of calm – you could be absolutely flooring it towards a literal brick wall, and his reaction would be “…uh…Ralph…you might want to think about easing off the gas a bit….and maybe head left here….” (What’s mildly interesting about this is that Mr. C used to be the football coach, but was asked to step down because he got too worked up and angry and was scaring the players. I suspect the magic of medication was participatory in his transformation, but no one knows for sure. Also, Ralph once ate a fly. Thought it was important to mention.)

Anyway, on this particular day, we were watching a movie about not driving school buses into a ravine or something, which meant that no one was paying attention. I had zero interest in driving (isn’t that what boyfriends are for?) so I was capitalizing on the opportunity to complete my Spanish homework, which was due next period.

I was sitting in the back of the classroom, conjugating some verbs, when James started being…well…James. James was clearly bored (I mean, how much fun is school when you can no longer light things on fire?) and was flicking paper footballs across the room to his other malefactors. Mr. C was in the front row, transfixed by the riveting content of the cinematic genius unfolding in front of him. (I guess we all have a favorite film?)

Here’s a quick visual of the setup:

Eventually, one of the Hail Marys overshot the goalpost and landed on my desk. I decided it was time to play along, because no me gusta this movie or actual homework. I pulled out a clean sheet of paper, hastily folded a paper airplane, and set it aflight in James’s general direction.

And here is where we had a literal plot twist.

I do not perpetuate any notion that I am even moderately skilled in the architecture of paper aircraft. Normally, my planes are doomed to meet similar fates as the Hindenburg or Titanic; they get hefty assistance from gravity and beeline to Earth like cats hearing a can opener from the kitchen.

So imagine my surprise when the plane cleared several desks and careened directly towards James.

And then, to my amazement, the plane TURNED. It took a hard right and banked north, sailing towards the front of the room.

I held my breath and watched. Certainly, a paper airplane interjecting itself into the school blockbuster Prom Night Carnage would attract Mr. C’s attention, no?

No. Because the plane turned again.

I watched, horrified, as the plane cleared the front row of desks, unpredictably pitched 90 degrees to the right, and sailed catastrophically into Mr. C’s left ear.

Basically:

my “oh $#!t” moment

Startled, Mr. C jumped to his feet, and turned to face the class.

And pointed DIRECTLY AT JAMES. Who was so outraged at the injustice of the allegation that he began to sputter:

“What? No!! It wasn’t me!! It was KATE! KATE THREW THAT!!! I SWEAR!!”

Mr. C sent James a withering look of complete disbelief – while this wasn’t physics class, it was pretty obvious that it would have been impossible for me, sitting directly behind Mr. C, to manage to throw a paper airplane to hit the left side of his head. Besides, I was a Good Kid and never in trouble. James, on the other hand, had a reputation for being a miscreant. (I’m sure there was some teacher-lounge talk about the whole Bunsen Burner fiasco.)

Crisis averted. At least for me, which is all that’s important here. James probably would have had detention eventually anyway. Right? Mad props to the entire class of 1989 for not ratting me out.

I don’t know what ever happened to James, but…James, if you’re out there, struggling with the lifelong consequences of being falsely accused, I want you to know:

The Communication Conundrum

Most of us have that one movie that we can always watch again and again. If you’re flipping through channels, and it’s on, you’ll leave it to play while you finish your online shoe shopping and bill-paying, laughing at all the familiar quips and quoting the best lines along with the cast.

One of the movies that holds this spot for me is Hitch. (I’ll pause here while you go watch it. It’s GOLD.) Short synopsis: a professional “love coach” works to help men navigate dating. He’s slick, but his own best practices fail when applied to his love interest. It’s quirky, funny, and a great testament to the fact that even when we speak the same language, communication isn’t easy at all.

Here’s a snippet (admittedly, not a humorous part of the movie. Also, not terribly safe for work or for little ears):

“This right here?” <gesturing to generally effed-up situation> “This is exactly why falling in love is so g*ddamned hard.”

Why IS communicating so hard? We use generally recognized words; why is it so easy to misunderstand what we mean? I know language is nuanced, but honestly, it shouldn’t have to be so difficult.

Last weekend, the hubs and I were able to take a long hike in the woods (and no, that’s not a euphemism for anything, so keep reading.) It’s a pretty scenic area, considering it’s embedded in the middle of a very urban setting (You can still hear airplanes and the occasional Jake brake, but it’s nice nonetheless. Also, full disclosure – these were taken last fall. But it pretty much looks the same):

While we were crossing part of the river, we passed a couple who were holding hands and talking. While I wasn’t eavesdropping (much) I did hear that they were speaking in heavily accented English – which led me down the following thought path:

If English is a second language to both of them…why aren’t they conversing in their native tongue? Wouldn’t that make this intimate, romantic moment easier?

Uh, maybe they don’t speak the same primary language, you ding dong.

Yeah, shame on me for assuming, I guess. But still, the challenge of successful communication when you aren’t speaking the same language wasn’t lost on me. I mean, heck – isn’t the breakdown of communication one of the primary drivers behind marital strife and relationship conflict?

How can we get it wrong so often when we think we’re speaking the same language?

Sometimes it’s obvious that you shouldn’t take words at face value, right?

i didn’t block the number it came from, so go ahead and send them cat pictures Also, even in my currently messed-up head I recognize that if I lose 25 pounds, I’ll be dead.

But as I worked my way through the week towards Friday, I noted a few examples of messy messaging and words that took a wrong turn. First up: my coworker. She works hard and has a great sense of humor (read: she laughs at my dumb Dad jokes). But listening to her just exhausts me. She talks extremely fast and doesn’t enunciate – and listening to her is like reading a run-on sentence. A short excerpt of a recent bucket of words she spilled at me:

so then I got a call from my mom and she got that job at where she was interviewing and I had to tell her to CALL HIM BACK because she’s gotta take that drug test or she won’t get the job and she didn’t call him today we were gonna look at cars oh they totaled mine and they said hey well this is gonna be a lil lower than you think he said three thousand and 500 is low like to me I was like ok well talk to my mom has the title and 3000 is pretty good it’s like a 2001 I think and maybe they need to call my dad because it’s the title I think his and the Kia was nice I guess like when Jenny blew her engine I sent her to Struther’s they’re a family and WILL NOT rip you off the other guy said like $800 to fix it but he looked at it and told her to go back to the dealer because it’s under warranty and I liked it

(Now imagine this behind a face mask with no spaces between the words. Whew.)

Did you follow that? She totaled her car (she’s fine, she actually talked like this before the accident) and she’s getting $3k for her old car, which she may use to buy a Kia. I think I got a recommendation on a mechanic and should congratulate her mother. I feel like there was more in that convo, but this is the best I could do. I just nod and smile and try to interject noises that indicate I have some idea what she’s trying to say. (So far, it’s working. Don’t blow my cover.) I mean, I guess I can’t argue that communication is happening, since I walked away with the salient points. I’d just like to leave a conversation without feeling like I’m at an auction afraid I’ll sneeze and accidentally buy the $15,000 vase.

So lemme jump to Coworker #2 now. A bit of backstory: this particular clown is one who has been with the company for a number of years; subsequently he’s overpaid and underworked, and while everyone on the leadership team seems to understand this, no one has summoned the intestinal fortitude to manage him out.

Lucky me, though – two weeks ago, I got pulled in to save his bacon work with him on a project he’s been ignoring for six months tasked to manage. The project is to launch a new learning software, and supposedly, the go-live date is May 1 – which (HOLY HATS) is next week. And as of yesterday, barely anything’s been done – we have no classes, no data items (like employee email, supervisor name, job title) created, and NO EMPLOYEES in the system. I’m thinking I can upload the bulk of this from our HR software….but I need those data items so I know what to upload. His task was to identify the data items and find out what format the vendor needed. (For example – which fields are alphanumeric? Is there a specific upload template that needs to be in a certain format? Etc.)

That information was due last week. On Wednesday, I pinged him and asked if he’d received any information on this format. He forwards me an email FROM A FULL WEEK AGO where he thinks he has the answer. Aside from the fact that he sat on this for A FULL WEEK (#stillbitter), the information was completely irrelevant. I quickly forwarded the message to the software vendor (and copied him, since he’s, yanno, the freaking PROJECT MANAGER) clarifying what I needed.

And this douchecanoe quickly wrote back with – and I quote –

Well, bless your heart.

Excuse you?!?

We all know what “bless your heart” really means, right? That’s it’s not a well-wisher’s phrase meant to bestow gratitude? And that it passive-aggressively means “F you”?

It’s on, sir. Please see me in my office.

By the time he swung up to my office later (which, not coincidentally, was when he needed more help, insert eyeroll emoji) I was ready to Call. Him. Out. When he approached, I cocked my head to the side and said, “Look – we need to clear the air here. I got your ‘bless your heart’ email – dude – we all know what means. What’s your deal?”

He blinked, and then proceeded to furiously backpedal like a newborn baby giraffe on a unicycle. (It was mildly glorious to watch. LOL) Perhaps in the future he’ll only attempt to insult me where I can’t see or hear him do so. Good enough. I’m not the captain of your project Titanic, and I may be your last lifeboat, so watch me float away while you sink this sucker. Bless YOUR f*cking heart, a$$clown.

Anyway.

While you certainly expect the occasional misunderstanding <cough> with coworkers, it’s odd to me how communication breaks down so often with the people we love and live with. Shouldn’t these be the people who know us best – those who can anticipate intent and interpret nuance and understand what you mean even when you don’t directly say it?

Sometimes, sure. Earlier this week, the hubs and and I were researching natural alternatives to the traditional grass-covered lawn. (Largely because he hates to mow, and also because the grubs ate about a third of my grass, so it’s a great time to plant something different.) I was trying to look at some of the examples, like creeping thyme, clover, and wild violets online, and I couldn’t recall the names of the other plants he mentioned.

Me: Hon? What were those other things called again? Pachyderm something? And butt thistle?

Him: Japanese spurge. I think the Latin name is Pachy-something. And dead nettle.

Him: ….Butt thistle?

“Butt Thistle” is now our future band name, even though the hubs is 100% tone-deaf. But the point here is that he very clearly understood what I meant, even though it’s a bit of a stretch from what I actually said, which was some version of elephants and a painful homeopathic enema.

As you probably guessed, though, communication isn’t always quite that smooth. Just now, as I was writing this, the hubs was nearby working on his flowers (he has a pretty elaborate hobby going, so watering and feeding is a full hour-long process. And that’s just the indoor stuff.) He pulled out this Crown of Thorns, which is currently in bloom:

I commented how much I liked the color – that it was the shade of summer that just pops on a manicure or pedicure, and looks SO GOOD with a tan.

Him: <blink> So…you like it?

So yeah, sometimes communication isn’t as clear as we’ve intended, even when we use extra words to clarify. And other times, we feel we’ve made the message crystal clear, so we stop saying anything at all. It certainly doesn’t help matters when communication shuts down, but on occasion you don’t have any extra energy available to spare on the SAME THING you have said a bazillion times already…and you quit trying.

Case in point: The hubs and his boys order food delivery a lot. 90% of the time, I don’t want to add anything to their order. (Because, you know, I don’t really eat.) And yet…when they’re all putting together an order of Chinese food or Chipotle, and they don’t ask me if I want to participate, I feel very left out. It’s so weird – my inner eating disorder should be glad that I become conveniently inconspicuous when they’re selecting their favorites from the online menu (no pressure to select, and then eat, the foods that will make me hella fat). But I’m not. I feel…well, invisible. Excluded. Like I’m not acknowledged as part of the family.

Yesterday, my younger stepson found a “deal” – 99 cent delivery from Dairy Queen. Yay, low-quality soft-serve and questionable-origin hot dogs for everyone! Both boys and my spouse talked about cheese curds, chicken fingers, and sundaes, adding items and discussing who was getting what.

I sat there on the sofa and didn’t say a word while they confirmed among the three of them that the order was complete.

And not a single person asked me if I wanted anything.

I WAS RIGHT THERE. Literally in front of them, but as relevant as a tossed-aside throw pillow. Not important enough to pick up off the floor and put back on the couch.

Now yes, I do realize that I am kind of being a big baby about this. Since I was, in fact, RIGHT THERE, there is zero reason that I couldn’t have spoken up and said “hey, throw in a Reese’s Blizzard for me.”

But I didn’t. Instead, I communicated with myself:

They didn’t invite you for a reason.

No one thinks you NEED fast food.

If you were REALLY too thin, they’d be pressuring you to order.

So, in other words, they deliberately exclude me from family food orders because they think I’m fat.

Because THAT is how communication tends to work. We color outside the lines with the crayons we’ve had for years, and no matter how much focus is placed on the image we’re supposed to produce, the waxy scribbles smear over the intended picture.

I think back to that couple we passed by the river, who despite approaching communication from different languages, found a way to meet in the middle with something they mutually understood. And I wish there was a way I could borrow their verbal crayons – or tap into that magical Babel fish that helps me say what I mean.

Instead, I continue to keep my head down and focus on the picture I’m trying to draw, letting the lines blur and permitting only my silence to scream that I’m hurting.

Rage Against the…Um…Something!

During some of my down time at work, I like to catch up with my HR peers online. Through sites like LinkedIn and other professional message boards, we network and connect about hot topics in HR.

Well, that’s what we SAY we are doing. Honestly? We’re largely socializing. We might affectionately refer to it as “notworking”. And that’s OK – when you’re in HR, it’s generally frowned upon to hang out at the water cooler and spill the tea about whether the VP of sales is perhaps a little too chummy with his admin assistant Ashley, or why Tom in Marketing REALLY got canned and why the FBI took his PC away without a word to anyone. Personnel issues are stressful, pals, especially when you’re generally sworn to secrecy. (And it doesn’t help that y’all literally follow me into the bathroom to ask me riveting questions like whether or not your dental insurance includes coverage for adult orthodontic work. Read the freaking room, people.)

Since we can’t vent openly to our coworkers, HR people talk to each other. It’s a much-needed emotional outlet. So in case you were wondering, yes, we DO talk about you behind your backs, but we change the names to protect the (obviously) very guilty.

One of the conversation questions that came up the other day:

Is it ever OK to cry at work?

After some discussion, ultimately, the answer was (as you’d expect from anyone working in HR) “it depends.” For example, if someone is having a personal crisis, we’re the ones helping them coordinate short-term disability, FMLA, and life insurance, and advising them to contact the EAP. So we see our fair share of tragedy, and tears in those instances make sense. Or if someone has finally worked up the courage to report harassment – that can be super stressful, and often the reaction is emotional release of the embarrassment, frustration, and (hopefully) relief that someone hears you and is going to help.

(Side note – yes, you should report harassment. No one wants to work somewhere that allows this behavior, and we can’t stop it if we don’t know about it. And if you DID report it, and the harassment keeps coming, report it again. There is NO WAY WE WILL KNOW it is still happening if you don’t tell us! Sometimes, I’ll hear “I reported this to HR and nothing was done” when the truth is that we DID address the behavior…and, hearing nothing further, assumed our remedy was effective and thought that was the end of it. I mean, it’s not like the person who’s harassing you is going to swing by my office and say, “…yup, I’m still a complete douchecanoe…..” SPEAK UP so we can help you. Thanks.)

In other cases, though, it was more of a debate. If someone is getting reprimanded by their manager, crying may or may not be an appropriate reaction. It’s understandable, sure – who likes to be told they’re doing a crappy job? Having an emotional response to criticism is pretty darn human – but it’s not going to change the trajectory of the conversation. Sure, if you’re completely inconsolable – or start spewing expletives – we may call a time-out until you’ve managed to compose yourself. But the message will still stand, even if you’re the human equivalent of Kilauea Volcano. So take a deep breath, put on that professional mask for a minute as best you can, and get the message so you can figure out what to do next so you can put this moment of unpleasantness behind you.

But…what about if you work in HR? Is crying ever OK?

As drivers of all the stuff above, are we allowed to have actual feelings about it?

One of the things I was coached on early in my career – when I was talking to my manager about a stressful workplace issue and the tears were threatening to spill – was “don’t get sad. GET MAD.” This is not terrible advice – many times, people cry when they’re frustrated or angry. And when I say “people”, that mostly seems to apply to women – thanks so much, gender-specific social conditioning.

So…why? Why have we trained women NOT to get angry? Isn’t being mad just part of being human? Anyone who was educated by Sesame Street in the 70s might remember learning about this:

This plays in my head when I’m trying NOT to mentally murder someone for being a complete idiot. Also, I’m convinced this goat was named Gary. #mandela

Full disclosure: When I was a child, I had NO PROBLEM being angry. I had legendary anger grenades that I haphazardly chucked at my poor family, seemingly at random.

There was absolutely zero rhyme or reason to my rage. My brother, whose only offense was being a Morning Person, would cheerily greet me with “Good morning, sis!” to which I’d SCREAM at the TOP OF MY LUNGS “SHUUUUUUUUUUUT UUUUUUUUP!!!!!”

Source

And my sister got the same – or worse – just for existing. (Well, it was probably for being too pretty, not having to struggle with her weight, and being too young to know any differently – serious injustices when you’re thirteen and “the smart one.”)

As my mother put it not long ago, “There’s probably medication nowadays for whatever was wrong with you.” Which, while painful (I mean…ouch) to hear, is likely true – we’ve come a long way with identifying and addressing mental health issues. (Admittedly, the journey isn’t over – we have a long way to go yet. But it’s markedly further along than it was in 1986.)

But what I’ve never been able to figure out is why I was so angry in the first place.

And, somewhere along the way, I lost the ability to effectively express myself. When, exactly? I’m not certain. But I do recall very clearly one morning getting ready for school, after yet another explosive bout of rage where I very rudely kicked my sister out of the bathroom. My mother, hearing the commotion, approached me at the bathroom vanity, looked me dead in the eyes and said, very coldly, “I don’t know how you can live with yourself.”

Well, funny you should put it that way.

Because…I can’t.

I’m sure you’ve heard it said that “hurt people hurt people.” And I think it’s quite obvious that I was hurting, and badly. The timing’s a little fuzzy, but I believe it was several months earlier when my mother found in my room a list I had made of ways I could potentially kill myself. (I don’t remember what all was on that list, except that I had decided dousing myself with gasoline and lighting myself on fire was probably too painful. Good Lord. I was twelve.) And it was maybe a year later when I was able to move from mostly-normal calorie counting and dieting to what would result in the lowest weight (until now) of my adult-height life.

Somewhere in between those two milestones, I stopped screaming so much. And as I got smaller and smaller, I was able to quit feeling much of anything at all, really. I took all that rage and directed it with laser-beam focus on my very own soul, and began to starve it to death. When you’re full of emotions, you have too much mental heartburn to even think about real food. Storing all those bottled-up feelings equipped me like a camel for a long journey through an emotional desert.

And since that time, one of the things I’ve noticed about myself is that I have some difficulty expressing feelings. Well, at least in an appropriate manner.

I did survive what I now recognize to be an emotionally abusive marriage, but much of my survival came through silent compliance and tiptoeing across time bombs and other eggshells. As long as I was quiet, I could keep going. (For thirteen years. Wow.)

Even now, I can’t fight with people I love very effectively; it takes some time and self-reflection to identify why I’m even upset in the first place. Initially, I find myself in an uncomfortable state of anxiety, completely unaware of why I feel that way or what is actually stressing me so badly. Eventually, I might manage to unpack some of what I’m actually feeling – and much of the time, it’s frustration, or disappointment. Or at least I think it is. But as I ultimately begin to attempt to talk it out, it dawns on me that maybe, just maybe, I might be…a little angry. And then I wind up apologizing for their wrongdoings when my only crime has been to be upset by what they’ve done.

I know these emotions are still in there, somewhere. Once in a while, a real feeling bubbles to the surface, and since I am at least partially human, I can’t always control it. As my kids got older, occasionally they’d call me out on becoming “inappropriately angry.” Larger-scale crises (cancelled flights, surprise appendicitis) would find me calm and rational, but smaller things (delayed elevators, a remote control not working) would turn me into this guy:

My daughter made me watch this movie just because she thought I’d relate to this character. Har har. source

And yeah, there was that one time at work years ago where I was SO FRUSTRATED that I actually threw a stapler at my boss. Well, technically, at the wall behind my boss’s head. Talk about inappropriate expression of emotion at work. And no, I didn’t get fired. They were sort of desperate, or at the very least, used to chaos. I worked there just over three years and reported to 15 different people during that time. I was also on a first-name basis with the local parole officer, and I wrote a procedure to document “what to do when the sheriff shows up to arrest an employee” because it happened so frequently. And I broke up a fight where someone threw a cafeteria table. So shot-putting a stapler didn’t even blip their radar as a problem.

So I CAN feel some things, apparently. And while I think I’m getting better at this “handling emotions” thing (being in a relationship with another adult instead of a man-child helps), apparently I still have some work to do. Otherwise, why would I be right here with my weight? I had to buy new underwear this week because all of my old ones literally won’t stay up, and my formerly skintight workout tights are baggy in the butt and thighs. (I didn’t even know either of these things was even possible. LOL) Yet here I sit, barely able to eat what MyFitnessPal indicates is a sufficient intake to maintain my weight.

(I did get within 50 calories of that number TWICE this week. Progress?)

So what’s upsetting you NOW, Kate? Why are you starving?

Great question. I had hoped by writing this post, I’d figure it out, but I don’t think I’m any closer to this mysterious root cause that flares out in food issues every so often. Maybe the first step is just giving myself latitude to HAVE emotions, even if they’re not pretty ones.

I need to let my soul breathe. To allow myself to be human.

Maybe then, I will be granted permission to eat.

Strange Dreams are Happenin’ to Me

Well, it’s been another week. The sun is (not) shining, and everyone in the house is sleeping soundly. Out on the front lawn, two crows are tearing up my dead lawn, chucking tufts of dusty sod left and right, looking for the nice, juicy grubs.

Not my video, but it’ll give you an idea of the beautiful snippet of nature I’m viewing in my own front yard:

POV: you’re an all-you-can-eat buffet hosting the high school football team

(Side note: my “lawn” looks like we buried old leaking batteries, and at some point I Really Need to Do Something About It, but I can’t be arsed to care. Eventually, the creeping Charlie and dandelions will fill in the brown spaces, and we’ll call it a native landscape. It all mows the same. Until then – eat up, lil’ birdies.)

Anyway – it’s time to write. It’s funny – often, when I start these posts, I don’t feel like I have much to say. Fast forward three hours and 1500 words and well, there I am mopping up all the mental tea I’ve spewed about. I had taken a significant hiatus from writing for a while, mostly because it just started to feel like So. Much. Work. And it’s easy to find other things to do. <shooting side-eye at Netflix, Reddit, and the internet in general> Yesterday, for example, I got sucked in to HOURS of Dog the Bounty Hunter. It was utterly fascinating. Yeah, I know he can be somewhat controversial. But reality TV putting very human conditions on display for all of us to analyze? I’m here for it. (See also: 90-day Fiance and Married at First Sight.)

Excuses aside, I know writing is good for me. I remember being commanded by my last therapist, who I was seeing when I wasn’t actively blogging, to WRITE. Not because she knew I “used to” do it. But because it seems to be the only way I manage to be honest with myself. Stuff comes out that I don’t always expect…but it’s usually something my soul needed to express.

Another way humans do this (in my unprofessional, reads-a-lot-of-articles-on-the-internet opinion), is through dreaming. In dreams, the brain is free to wander unleashed – there are no parameters, no fence posts, no rules at all. And the mind reacts sometimes to this state like a toddler with free reign to gummy bears, appearing to be hyperactive and irrational, yet if you can peel back the layers of chaos to the emotions surrounding what’s happening, you can often get to the root of the real issue and understand why some of it actually might make sense.

In other words, the key to dream interpretation is often not what is actually happening, but how you feel about it. Figure out what those feelings represent, and then you can tie in some of the random juxtapositions of potentially symbolic items.

I had two fairly specific (and unusually clear) dreams on Friday night. It’s probably not coincidental that I had my second COVID-19 vaccine on Friday, too, and the chemical cocktail firing up my immune system (and a dress-rehearsal fever) likely contributed. So let’s take a deeper dive into the abyss:

Dream #1: The hubs and I were standing outside my younger stepson’s bedroom. The door was closed, but we could hear that there was another person in the room with him. When we opened the door, we saw an older teenager halfway out the window, the soles of his white sneakers flashing as he tumbled to the ground. He quickly got up and sprinted away across the yard. He was wearing a Hawaiian-style black and white shirt, baggy white shorts, and sported a spiky, light-blond, Guy Fieri-style haircut. Which OBVIOUSLY meant he was the neighborhood drug dealer. (Right? )

So I promptly began searching the room for weed. I looked EVERYWHERE, certain it was here SOMEWHERE, while my stepson protested the search and the hubs stood around seemingly very lukewarm about the whole dealio.

Finally – JACKPOT! In a small earbuds case, I found a single bud. Triumphantly, I showed the bounty to my spouse, who was suddenly interested in what I was doing. My stepson looked very confused. I thrust the offending plant in his face, eagerly awaiting his creative excuse.

“Um….isn’t this a cactus?”

Sure enough – upon closer inspection, it was a tiny, tiny cactus.

<facepalm>

What this means: OK, first of all, I should point out that even though I’m a nearly 50 40-ish mom, I DO in fact know what marijuana looks like. Because – fun fact – I worked for a cannabis company for a while during my writing break. So I’m actually, like, a professional or something. At the very least, I’m pretty hip. (Fly? On fleek? What’s the word for with-it and cool now? Sick? Whatever it is, I am It.)

But I think the big clue here is that in my dream, I was certain Something Was Amiss. And in the end, it actually wasn’t. Could this be my mind sorting out the differences between my spouse’s parenting style and mine? Do I often think I’d set different rules surrounding acceptable grades and video game time?

Absolutely. But the frustrating disconnect about being a step-parent is that while you will always have an opinion, you don’t really get to have a say.

And the reality that perhaps my brain is trying to communicate to me is that these boys are seeming to turn out largely okay anyway.

Are they perfect? HAHAHAHA <coughcough> no. But neither am I (hello, food issues, and I see you, irrational anger.) So perhaps my thinker is telling me to slow my roll and back off a little – while I fancy myself a parenting travel agent, I need to let them plan their own trips, and while their journey is far different from what I’d choose, I have to have some faith that they’ll get there in their own way. Sure, that might mean failing classes and attending summer school (AGAIN) – but a diploma is a diploma, and if they get it, we’ll have to call it “good enough.” <sigh> See? I’m trying.

Dream #2: I’m half-awake, and feel myself being dragged (gently) out of bed. My spouse has pulled the scale over to where I’m sleeping; he helps me stand upright on the scale. Bleary-eyed, I look at the numbers, and see it registers a good seven pounds more than I’ve been lately. In my mind, I’m protesting – I’m wearing a heavy sweatshirt! I haven’t been to the bathroom yet! (Because no one weighs in with clothes on AND a full bladder. That’s…psychotic.)

And I hear him whisper, “…disgusting.”

I fall back asleep, then, and when I “wake up” (I’m still dreaming here) I look at the scale again. The dial is all…cattywampus. It’s an analog scale, and usually the 0 is at the bottom, but the dial’s been rotated to where the 0 has migrated to about the four o’clock point. Tentatively, I step on it anyway….and the reading with the twisted scale requires me to do more math than I’m mentally prepared for, so I walk away confused about whether I’ve gained or lost.

What this means:

Well….

Captain Obvious did a fly-over and mentioned that we didn’t really need to spell this one out in too much detail. But to add some context: on Friday night, as I was falling asleep, the hubs brought up my weight…again. (While often he can be oblivious to a lot of details – like whether I’ve eaten today or not – he can be a bit of a bear with laser-like focus once something does blip his radar. I suppose that’s why he’s so good at programming, or website building, or coding or whatever exactly he does that I clearly do not understand in the slightest. LOL Either way, I’m the bee in his bonnet right now, and I’m not entirely sure I like it all that much.)

He’s just worried about you. And besides…didn’t you start this whole mess by seeing how long you could go before he noticed you’d lost weight?

He’s noticed now; what more do you want here, Kate?

He’s commented that my chest has “wasted away” in the past. And I guess that’s kind of true; you can see my ribs from the front of me. (They’re usually covered up with a few thick sweaters, because I live in the Midwest where it is freaking COLD.)

And on Friday, he was kind of…feeling around for bones (in the eating disorder world, we’d call this body-checking, although we usually just do it to ourselves) and whispered to me that he was still “concerned about your weight.” And on Saturday morning, he confirmed it. “Your spine shouldn’t stick out further than your butt.”

(Says who?)

And then, “You lost all this weight right under my nose. I feel like I failed you.”

And a little piece of my heart cracked in two.

I told him that he isn’t responsible for my physical health; as an adult, that job is mine and mine alone.

Yet….

I still want him to find me attractive, though, don’t I? Or do I? Because I can kind of tell he doesn’t. And wouldn’t I do something…different…if i did?

Why can’t you at least compromise here, Kate? Can you meet him in the middle with a couple of pounds?

I’m trying. Somewhat. I did increase my calories…sort of. I’m eating what My Fitness Pal believes I need to maintain my weight. I’m also attempting to eat back my exercise calories.

I believe one would argue that it still isn’t enough. Because the tracking app thinks I’m 4’11”, not 5’5″ (this way, it doesn’t yell at me for weighing too little.) And I don’t fully trust that the app is accurately tracking calories burned, so I eat…some of them. Sometimes half of them.

Well, once I ate half of them. Yesterday, I was too full.

But at least I’m not losing any more weight, right?

At least, not today?

source

<big sigh>

P.S. I’m still muddling over what a teen Guy Fieri means in my first dream. It’s occurred to me that he could certainly be a representation of how I wish I could feel about food. His relaxed, gregarious enjoyment of pizza, ribs, French fries….I might be just a tad jealous of that level of ease. I mean, I just recently realized that I don’t actually know if I prefer creamy peanut butter over crunchy – I just always choose it because two tablespoons spreads further on the bread, resulting in fewer calories per sandwich. But do I enjoy it more? I have no idea.

Do you have meaningful dreams? Share in the comments! You might get a free interpretation that will be well worth the price of admission….

Canceling the Caustic Contingency

(Hey y’all….Before I get too far into this…I understand that nowadays these posts are supposed to come with trigger warnings.  So, if you’re not in a space to read about suicide, maybe skip this one.) 

Let’s take a quick trip back in time together.  You won’t need snacks, because we’re not going far.  We’ll rewind just about a year or so, to March 2020, when the nation was just beginning to shut down.  With COVID spreading faster than glitter in a preschool craft room, we all found ourselves rapidly removed from our daily hustles.  Sports practices and music rehearsals came to a screeching halt, concerts and games were cancelled, and restaurants and bingo halls shuttered for the immediate and undetermined future. 

As a result, we were all unceremoniously stuck at home surrounded by nothing but our families – and all our “stuff” – for the very first time in a long time.  (And we were all apparently out of toilet paper.  But being a resilient species, we got that sorted.  Somehow.  I’m not gonna ask; I will assume you did what you had to do and we will not speak further of it.) 

Anyway.  Given virtually no other options, and few exciting new releases on Netflix to distract us, we all started taking a hard look at all of the tchotchkes, objects, collectibles, and other material things we’d chosen to surround ourselves with.  And most of us decided we had Too Much Stuff.  (I recognize that in the thick of quarantine, many of us determined that we had Too Much Family, too, but that’s fodder for a different post.)  Since all the cool hangouts were closed, several of us rolled up our sleeves, channeled our inner Marie Kondos, and cleaned out closets, garages, and attics.  Outgrown baby toys?  Donated.  Clothes that no longer fit (courtesy of boredom and food delivery)?  Bag ’em up!   We repurposed furniture and packed unused dishes and emptied garages of clutter, clearing out the chaos we could control while weathering out the storms of the chaos we couldn’t. 

And we stood back and admired our new, clean, organized spaces, and felt a little bit better.

But sometimes, as we were deciding what to include in our newly organized lives, we hesitated.  We might have elected to discard a small box of baby teeth (because now that the “babies” are old enough to drive, vote, and buy lottery tickets, it occurs to us that dislodged human teeth are kind of gross), yet preserved the tiny hospital bracelet and the small blue onesie worn home from the hospital.  We could easily part with our kids’ old math worksheets and broken macaroni jewelry, but may have not been able to condemn a first-grader’s family portrait to the recycle bin.

For example:

I’ve aged remarkably well since this rendering. I think. I may be the one between the two panda bears that are supposed to be the children.

And while we may have finally accepted that we’ll never be a <insert dream size> again, we might store our favorite pair of jeans in the back of the closet for just a little while longer.  You know.  For the…um…memories??  And because while we’ve relinquished most of the hope that one day, they WILL button, we might be tottering on that fine line between denial and acceptance.

I’ve gone through this reorganization/decluttering exercise a few times here and there – even before COVID made it cool to be minimalist.  I find clutter to be stressful – this is probably because my ex-spouse and his family were hoarders collectors, and after years of being neck-deep in clothes and books, and having a four-car garage too full to park in, I prided myself somewhat on frequently donating items I didn’t immediately need or want. 

But after over a year of being at home (and some not-insignificant changes in size), I found it was time to yet again comb through my wardrobe and donate the excess.  I reorganized my closets (wardrobe AND linen, thankyouverymuch) and my dresser drawers.  And in the middle of sorting my socks, I stumbled upon something I’d forgotten I’d kept.

I pulled out the orange bottle, still sealed with red tape, a bit quizzically at first.  Is this medicine?  What is this doing in my sock drawer?  I read the label and quickly remembered:  Back in November of 2017 (shortly after I stopped writing here), I had an outpatient surgical procedure, and as is custom in the US, I was given a parting gift of a few days’ worth of a fairly powerful painkiller.  (Specifically, hydrocodone.)  After the surgery, and a day-long power nap (aren’t post-procedural naps the best?  You can’t work and you can’t clean the house; your job is literally to rest, and with zero immediate stress, you can just melt into your couch and relax. Ahhhhh.), I wasn’t feeling the need for anything stronger than ibuprofen. But I filled the prescription anyway, just in case. I mean, I’m feeling okay now, but things might get worse. I might wake up in a ton of pain.  What if I want to take one, and I don’t have it?  Better to be prepared and not need it versus wanting it and not having it there.  Right? 

As it turns out, I recovered quickly and didn’t need the high-powered pain relief.  I never cracked the tamper-resistant packaging. 

But long after the scars healed, I hung on to that medication.  While physically, there was no need to have a controlled substance in my possession, I wasn’t quite ready to go through the motions of disposing of it, because while I didn’t realize it at the time, I wasn’t doing so hot mentally.  And while my food issues weren’t quite so prominent at that point, the stacks of anxiety and boxes of unexpressed emotion were accumulating higher and higher.  And like any hoarder in denial, I refused to believe that they could topple and fall, crushing me underneath them. 

And I’d think, on occasion, things like sometimes the energy it takes to just exist is exhausting.  And no, I’m not, like, depressed or anything.  I’m just…tired, I guess?  And yeah, maybe once in a while, I think that it might be an incredible relief if I just, I dunno, went to sleep and didn’t wake up.  Like a post-surgical power nap. 

And while these thoughts buzzed around my head from time to time, I could largely swat them away, knowing that I had a contingency plan tucked away between my patterned tights.  If things DID get to be too much, that bottle was there.  I’d never ACTUALLY take the whole bottle at once, of course.  It was just there as…an option.  A packed parachute.  Break in case of emergency.

The trouble with mental clutter is that it’s really difficult to remove.  It’s like trying to refinish a room and preparing to take down the wallpaper only to discover that the dingdong who lived there before you plastered the paper three layers deep, painted over layer two, and super-glued the first layer directly to the drywall.  (It’s a universal real estate fact that every handyman who owned your house before you bought it was CLEARLY an A-class idiot.)  Fixing the mess is a ton of thankless work, followed by hours and hours of spackling and sanding, and most of us bail out of the project and opt instead for the minimally cosmetically-acceptable solution of textured wallpaper or yet another layer of paint.  Sure, it hides the problem instead of fixes it, but it’s sometimes enough where if you hang pictures over the lumpier sections, it’s passable. Until you have a water leak and the whole wall peels and bends, exposing sins straight down to the slats.

Eh, that isn’t going to happen.  I only have these thoughts once in a while, and they always pass. 

And at first, that was true.  It was really only about once a month or so, during the occasional night where sleep was elusive and the hours of darkness spun out in front of me.  And then sometimes it’d be during the day as I was driving home from work:  I’m tired. If I had a car accident today, I wouldn’t have to go to work tomorrow.  And maybe here and there in the middle of the day, perhaps while mowing the lawn.  If I mow over a bee nest, I might get stung and die.  I’d hate to not be able to breathe, but four minutes isn’t that long….it’d be over soon.  And I’d sleep.

And I still have that bottle.  If I’m still hurting when I wake up.  If things get worse.

If the light never comes. 

Just in case. 

And then I found myself on an out-of-town trip during the summer of 2018 contemplating the ocean in front of me and wondering if I should wade out until I could no longer see, hear, or feel anything at all.  No one would see me go.  The roar of the ocean was louder than the screaming inside my head and the lull of the waves could silence it all.

I walked out to the beach and, staring into the endless blackness of the horizon, called the suicide hotline.  I’d had it programmed into my phone (which in hindsight I recognize was maybe a bit of a hint that something wasn’t quite right inside my head.)  I talked to an absolute sweetheart of a young man who just listened.

And after about a half hour, I hung up and went back to bed. 

And while my mental storms didn’t magically blow over right away, I kept living.  And some days were pretty good.  On other days, I focused on keeping myself moving forward, reminding myself that every sunrise brought a chance to start over.  And for the days that proved more challenging, each sunset was a promise that the day was over, for good. 

But I kept going.  It was the best I could do, but it was more than good enough. 

And eventually, I forgot all about that bottle…until last weekend, when it presented as a bit of a surprise.  I’ll be honest – I considered stuffing it back into the drawer for a moment.  But you don’t need a stockpile of parachutes when you’re no longer flying on airplanes.  And this little bottle wasn’t a parachute – it was an anvil.  If I pulled the rip cord mid-air, there was nothing to slow my descent. 

It was time to kill the contingency plan. 

So I opened the bottle, crushed the pills, and mixed them with the used cat litter.  I peeled off all the warning labels and dropped the empty container in the recycling. 

I didn’t need it anymore.

Well, that’s good.  But, if you’re “better”….what the heck is going on with your weight?

Why have you lost so much?  Why can’t you eat more?

Aren’t you just leaping slowly? 

I suppose I’ve traded in my secret stash for an empty lunch bag, hoping that gliding slowly to earth will soften the blow of the eventual landing.   

Pizza isn’t much of a parachute, I guess.  But it’s all I have packed on this plane.  I don’t know where the oxygen mask is, nor if we’re really crashing anytime soon…or at all. 

Right now, I guess I keep gliding through space and time.  One foot in front of the other.  Checking off the sunsets and trying again with each new day. 

It’s the best I can do, and for now, it’ll have to be good enough.

Fast Forward to…

<turns on lights>

<ignores cobwebs and slides Risky-Business style into center of room>

Well, hi there.

It’s been so long, I don’t even know where to begin…So I guess I’ll just throw in some updates and see where that takes me.

I mean, the last couple of years have been a wild ride for everybody, so there’s a lot I don’t need to say. But lemme see if I can condense the last two three (?!?) years into Kate’s Cliff’s Notes (do kids even use these things anymore?)

First – the kids are doing pretty well. My two graduated last May – sadly, without the usual pomp and circumstance (y’all know why, of course.) But they’ve accepted their lot and stepped boldly into adulting, and I’m so proud of those two wonderful creatures that I could just bust open thinking about it. I also miss them terribly, but it’s nice to have people you care about enough to miss, right?

The stepsons have, remarkably, stabilized. Pre-COVID, they struggled with their mental health issues, and depression (and honestly, wedged in some hard-core manipulation, because they’re teenagers, after all) resulting in barely-passing grades and an impressive truancy record. (I think the older one had a 34% attendance rate for one school year. 34%. HOW?!)

Anyway, I’d been (somewhat) silently screaming “REMOTE LEARNING” for months – and now, given no choice in the matter, they’re almost…thriving. The older of the two is actually getting straight As and Bs now. (What’s the best warm-up for the “I Told You So” dance? There are a lot of kicks to the face and I don’t want to pull a hamstring.)

There have been some losses, too. Last November, I lost my father-in-law to prostate cancer. My in-laws are fabulous people…it’s been an adjustment, for sure. My mother-in-law powered through the final months in hospice, and has been filling the long, cold, lonely winter by sorting and cleaning all of the “collections” he had. (He was a jack-of-all-trades, not unlike my dad was. While the piles of stuff, parts, and wood and metal things were impressive, having a major sorting/cleaning/scrapping project while you’re trapped at home isn’t the worst fate, I guess. It’s a project with a goal and something to cast your focus on while you adjust to that new normal.)

I also lost my 3-legged cat, Eileen (get it?!) to what was likely old age. She was over 16 and died from kitty anorexia (ironic, yes?) in December. (And yes, because I’m insane, I promptly adopted a new one, and I have four now. Since you clearly did not ask, I’m including pics of three of them.)

Last February, I almost lost Carrot, the nearly-19-year old orange tabby. He too had anorexia (yeah, I know, man…I’m surrounded) and kidney failure. However, after a short kitty hospital stay (and half of my joke of a retirement account), he’s doing really well. I know he’s of an age where every day is essentially borrowed time…and I am thankful for each one.

Carrot, my old man

We adopted Dave and Stella shortly after Ollie passed a couple of years ago. Stella only likes the hubs, so I don’t have many pics of her. But here’s Dave – he’s a total character and usually steals the show.

Dave, the best cat ever. Yes, I have a favorite.

And here’s Will. Will is an a$$hole. But he’s cute.

Will, purring while plotting your demise

Work-wise, there were losses, too. I’ve actually had <mentally counts> three jobs since I last posted. I left the company I’d been at for five years (because I hated the new CEO, who thought his management skills from 1982 were still pretty valid. No, Steve, they are not) to go work for a startup in a somewhat controversial industry (I’ll let you guess which one. Hint: it wasn’t porn.) After 18 months of 60-ish hour work weeks and a significant toll on my mental health and my marriage (startups be crazy, y’all) I quit to take a role at a quiet, stable consulting company…which was promptly sold nine months later to a Very Big Company. Those of you working in “corporate functions” know exactly what that means – the writing was on the wall that my role would be “centralized.” UGH MAN. Job searching is EXHAUSTING. Fortunately, I landed a new gig and started just two weeks after my prior job ended. (Got to collect a full week of unemployment, too…which is surprisingly lucrative nowadays. I mean, yeah, I could make more money working, but then I have to put on shoes. And pants. And I’d miss watching The Price is Right every day. Boo. Adulting blows.)

So – I think that’s about it. Bye!

Um. Kate. What’s going on with you and…you know, food?

Well. Hmm. <big sigh>

I guess if you’ve read this in the past, you’d be asking about that.

I think part of why I’ve been away for so long was because for a while, food wasn’t the center of my life. Would the experts call that “recovery”? I honestly do not know. I know having a super-stressful job packed some weight on me. (Did it, though?) Okay, maybe it’s more fair to say that while I was working at the startup, I was not spending a lot of time thinking about weight and food. I was kind of…normal. Or at least what I perceive “normal” to be.

But sometime during quarantine/lockdown, I looked at my overly-squishy body and decided it was Time to Do Something. I quietly got back on the 1200-calorie-a-day train, and settled in for the ride.

But I got derailed somewhere between healthy habits and my hometown of decidedly disordered. It was a slow drift, and I couldn’t tell you where things went wrong, or why.

And I’m not sure where that leaves me now.

Early on in this mess (around July-ish) I decided that I wouldn’t be chained to the scale this time. Because, you know, it’s not healthy to weigh yourself multiple times a day! I instead avoided stepping on the scale…at all.

And somewhere along the way, after avoiding the scale for about two months successfully, it started to become a weird kind of…game?

How long can I go without weighing myself?

Won’t it be SUPER COOL to see a big loss all at once, rather than fighting for every half-pound and going through those oh-so-frustrating ups-and-downs of water weight?

Yes, but…when does that mean I can check my weight?

Well…how about you wait until your spouse says something about it? When he actually notices, THEN you MUST have actually made successful progress, and THEN you can step up to the stage!

And this is how it begins. Again.

See, eating disorders are sneaky that way. My food issues know that the hubs doesn’t comment on my weight very often, because 1) he loves me no matter what, and 2) he doesn’t want to trigger disordered behavior. (And also, 3) he knew I was stressed about finding a new job, and didn’t want to pile on stress, because despite our prior issues, he is generally not a d!ck of a person.)

So, hindsight being what it is…this is where the beach turned into quicksand, and by the time anyone noticed I was stuck, I was in deep.

The hubs finally commented about 6 weeks ago. It wasn’t a compliment. He was worried. Very worried.

And while my brain thinks he’s overreacting, and perhaps feeling guilty about not noticing sooner, I do have to confess that I am at the lowest weight I’ve ever been in my entire adult life. I’ve even beat my high-school weight (which was supposedly concerning at that time; back then no one talked about this stuff, so who really knows?)

OK, Kate. Maybe you can work on maintaining your weight. Just for now.

Erm….

So, the thing about that is….well. OK. Let me put it this way. I can see, fairly objectively, that I’m not fat. And I had to buy new pants for work (because my entire wardrobe is ridiculously big now; I spent nearly a year wearing nothing but leggings and yoga pants and was largely oblivious to the fact that my closet was outgrowing me. Moving from a BMI of maybe 22ish almost 23 to one a paper clip and Kleenex above 17 will apparently do that.)

So at this point, do I really want to lose more weight?

No, not really….but….I don’t want to gain weight, either.

And losing weight, even v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y (as happens at this age, coughcoughalmost50andshouldknowbettercough) means you have legit PROOF you’re not gaining weight.

So my current course of action is…do nothing. Wait and see.

The hubs is still checking in on occasion. Cautiously. Tentatively. As if he’s approaching a pot full of boiling water that’s been filled to the brim. He doesn’t want to upset me and make me spill over and sputter and scald and burn, and withdraw and hide things and spiral further.

Which is silly. I am fine. I am OK.

Right?

I mean, I am a productive member of society. My cholesterol is good. I can walk several miles. I can create. I cook and clean. I dress myself. I work full-time, I exercise, and yes, I do eat.

So….

source: KC Green

I’m doing fine. How have you been?

Hello, Violence

<blows off dust>

I haven’t written anything in a long, long time.

I will.  One day.  Promise.

I don’t know if this counts as writing, really.  I suppose it is in the same way Weird Al writes songs.  But this isn’t a parody.  Maybe more of a tribute, but “tribute” feels like I’m giving honor to something, and that isn’t quite right.

I was just compelled to write.  For the first time in months.  Hopefully, I’ll be driven to do something else – something that will truly make a difference in quashing the violent landscape in which we raise our children.

But for now – I write.  And today, it’s a revision of some classic lyrics.  While Simon and Garfunkel penned the original in 1964 (yeah, before most of your PARENTS were born, shaddup) I was inspired by the 2015 cover performed by Disturbed.

So, for this installation, please follow along to the music with the lyrics below:


(click here for audio)

Hello darkness, my old friend
I see it’s time we meet again
Witnessed yet one more ruthless shooting
Left its victims brutally bleeding
And the vision that unfolded on our screens
Haunted me
Tragic refrains of violence

It hit us in a storm of shame
That things could not remain the same
But ‘neath the halo of our grieving
We formed new enemies with shrill screaming
As our hearts were re-broken with the shots from the left and right
That fueled the fight
And smeared the stains of violence

And in the arguments I saw
No one did anything at all
Debating over all the same old things
Vested in being right, but not changing
Sanctimoniously strong, refusing any compromise
As children died
And once more came the violence

Fools! I cried. How don’t you know
Violence like a cancer grows
When you refuse to bend, we all will break
Remaining obstinate is our mistake
But my pleas fell silent through the roar

of the hurricane of violence

And the people cowed and brayed
Of the metal gods they’d made
And the world flashed out its warning
Of the monster it was forming
And the creature scribed the tears of its prophets on tombstones and on graves
Yet we remain
Prisoners of the chains of violence


I will never give up on prayers.  Prayers work, and they’re hella powerful.  But in addition to praying for peace, let’s pray for change.  And then let’s use the abilities our Maker blessed us with and BE that change.

 

951fc036e589f9c9ac5146a5ffd99d4a

Can I get an Amen?

Flashback Father’s Day: The Lessons of a Legacy

It’s my first Father’s Day without my dad.

In the days leading up to today, I’ve been stunned at the impact the absence of HAVING a dad would have on me.

I don’t have special plans. No picnics, no barbecues.  I’m not frantically scanning the greeting card racks, looking for ANY card that doesn’t reference beer, golf, or bodily functions.

I wonder if this is how singles feel on Valentine’s Day. Or perhaps this is just one or two pointed stickers from the cactus that also pokes and pierces women on Mother’s Day when the Fates haven’t granted them a baby.  At the very least, I suppose this Hallmark holiday has broadened my understanding of empathy.

I was blessed with a terrific dad.  I know how precious this is.  It’s a gift I will always treasure.

I love you, Daddy. Thank you for all you’ve given me.

Carrots in My Carryon

What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others. ~Pericles

One week ago, I received the message I’d been anticipating and dreading for months.  Dad passed away, peacefully and quietly, on August 3.

funeralbig

As you’d expect, we’ve spent the last several days with family and friends, making preparations and reminiscing over old photos.  While there were certainly tears, it truly was a time of remembering and honoring the man my Dad was.

I am what survives of me. ~Erik Erikson

“Legacy” is a pretty hefty word, isn’t it?

It outlines your responsibility to pass on something of value to the next generation.

My dad was a hard-working, down-to-earth guy.  Stable and solid.  He led by example, not by force.

As a child – and later as a rebellious, moody teenager – I certainly didn’t appreciate much…

View original post 1,736 more words

The Indelible Ninja Scars

Warning: Dark post ahead. I should probably label this with “trigger warning” for the delicate flowers, but this isn’t a designated safe space, so enter at your own risk. I’m gonna talk about stuff that I shouldn’t be doing. You were warned.

<sigh> This post has been difficult to write. I’ve been knitting it and unraveling it in my head for a couple of weeks, debating whether I’m brave enough to put it out there or if I should continue to pretend it didn’t happen.  At this point, though, the latter isn’t working.

I don’t think I can truly pick myself up until I admit to myself how hard I fell down.

I know HOW it happened. Honestly, I should have expected it. It’s been happening for years, off and on, in unpredictable cycles. Like a well-trained ninja, it lurks in the shadows of my being, camouflaging itself behind my arrogant confidence that I’ve really got a handle on things this time, waiting to pounce in the blink of a vulnerable moment.

I’d been coasting along for weeks in a false sense of security: I’ve been having phenomenal success on a new medication that’s quelled my omnipresent anxiety and quieted it to an occasional flare of “wait…I should be, like, worrying about something right now, right?” that I’ve been able to squash like a bothersome gnat. In other words, it’s been quite manageable.

And I’d been rocking my personal fitness. I was running four miles 3 days a week, and mixing in yoga, too. I was cooking – actual food – with vegetables and quinoa and organically-raised tofu harvested by free-range leprechauns. (Close enough.)  I was nourishing myself.

Everything else was…calm.  Peaceful. The hubs had been treating me like a queen. The kids are doing wonderfully. My daughter had just finished her first year of college with <shameless Mom brag> a 4.0.  My son, a junior this year, has a darling new girlfriend. The situation with my stepsons, while not resolved, has stabilized. I don’t have any significant job stress. Mom was doing great – she was preparing to close out her and Dad’s business, and she has a…um…gentleman caller (?) who spoils her.

Side note: What exactly DO you call it when your 70ish-year-old mother is dating? “Boyfriend” sounds kinda juvenile, while “significant other” implies some sort of long-term commitment. And “friend”….yeah, no. You can just HEAR the air quotes when people say it. “…and this is Mom’s ‘friend’ Bob. Try it. See?!?

Side note #2: Should I feel weird about Mom dating? Because I totally don’t. Well, except that the guy she’s seeing is actually the father of my first ever real boyfriend. (Hurrah for small towns.) So, even though that was thirty (!!!) years ago, I sort of feel like I accidentally kissed my brother. But on the flip side, that means that I know this guy, and somehow, that’s comforting – he’s not a complete stranger. His wife passed several months ago, and as I recall, she wasn’t exactly a fan of me being in her son’s life because apparently, I had evil spirits floating around me. Anyway, I like the man and I love that she’s happy.

In summary, things were going smoothly.

The calm before the storm.

Then Mother’s Day weekend arrived. I wasn’t expecting any grand gestures, but the kids were aware, at least. We had a decent weekend planned – my son was getting ready to go to Prom on Saturday, and we’d have a quick lunch on Sunday before they went to their father’s and I got back on a plane.

Prom day was lovely. The weather had promised rain but surprised us with sunshine. The plan for the day was to head over to the girlfriend’s house mid-day, where my son (read: “we”) would cook dinner for the two of them. Then they’d put on their fancy duds and tolerate a few pictures before heading to the festivities.

And it went so well. My son and I worked together to prepare General Tso’s Chicken; I chopped the meat while he found pans and serving bowls. We opened sparkling juice and toasted the day.

Prom1

prom2

That’s my boy. LOL

After we Googled how to tie a necktie, we were ready for pictures. We skipped the usual local haunts (a quick drive-by indicated an intolerable crowd) and headed to his father’s house, where I knew the azaleas would be in full bloom. (I offered to take them to the local funeral home, or the cemetery, because OF COURSE there’d be fresh flowers there. But they declined. Sheesh, where is the sense of adventure? Kids today….) I snapped away, capturing the smiles. I even got some terrific shots of my son with his father that I know they’ll both treasure.  (I am SUCH a big person, ain’t I??)

prom3prom4

Shortly, the lovebirds were off to the dance. I met up with my daughter and her boyfriend and settled in to some serious Netflix. My daughter is really digging conspiracy theories lately, and yeah, there’s a series for that, believe it or not. Even though we’d ordered pizzas, her boyfriend, being a young man with an age-appropriate metabolism, brought “snacks” so we wouldn’t starve to death for the three hours we’d be sitting on our butts. His stash included two family-size bags of chips, a batch of beef stew, a kitchen-sink sized bowl of buttered popcorn, and two six-packs of soda.

Eventually, the two of them headed off to host an after-prom party.

Leaving me alone.

With the food. (Except the stew. I convinced him to take that home with him.)

So that’s HOW it happened. I just don’t know WHY.

But it happened.

Down went the family-sized bag of salt and vinegar chips and the rest of the popcorn. Even though I’d finished my gluten-free pizza earlier, I added a few slices of their leftovers to the frenzy. Then I headed off to Wal-Mart to top off the mess with a pint of Ben & Jerry’s finest.

Why not?  It didn’t matter. It’d be gone shortly.

I hadn’t done this in years. Decades, maybe. Sure, I’ve binged, but I’ve avoided sticking my toe back into the purging pool. Overeating is somewhat socially acceptable; we can half-ashamedly confess eating a doughnut we didn’t need or an extra slice of cake. Barfing, though, is still done behind closed doors.

Now, it was time.

I’d forgotten how hard this was. How violent. The body was not meant to do this. Yet, like riding the proverbial bicycle, mine eventually remembers.

Panting, gagging, my stomach rolls and heaves. I’m undressed from the waist down and perched atop a pile of lightly-used towels, as the bladder of a middle-aged woman can no longer bear the seismic onslaught forced upon it by making yourself vomit.

This is not an affliction for the proud.

get it out get it out get it out

Eventually, it’s over. I feel like a dishrag that’s been left at the bottom of the sink, sodden and heavy and unable to take any shape or form.

I clean up and try to sleep.

The next day, I carry the weight of my sins. My tongue feels as though I’ve burned it; my jaw aches like I’ve been chewing bowling balls.  Belches bring an acidic, burning reminder to the back of my throat. And to my heart.

It’s Mother’s Day. The sun’s out again. And the kids actually remember, bringing me cards and presents for the first time in maybe ever. The hubs surprises me with flowers, which showcase my favorite colors.

I am reminded that I am loved. And that today, I can start over. Reset the timer. 1 day since my last purge.

I can’t say this will never happen again. I’ve learned that swearing “never” is a cue for the fates to set up an elaborate exercise in irony.

But I don’t honestly have any idea why this happened. Why now, when things were going (relatively) fine? Why not when my dad died, or when the hubs and I were having more serious issues, or when my stepson was in the hospital? Why did this cap off a beautiful day bookended by my awesome kids?

And if I don’t know what caused this, how do I keep it from happening again? Was this a momentary lapse, or the beginning of a final descent? Was this random or a result? Fluke or fault line?

It’s unnerving. But I suppose that’s the crux of mental illness. If we could always control it, it wouldn’t be an illness, right?

Things have been…well…not great since then. I’ve done some exercise and a ton of eating. Zero days since my last binge. I’m blaming a canceled flight and an unplanned night in beautiful downtown Detroilet for the pizza and two candy bars I ate alone in my hotel room while watching (ironically) My 600-Pound Life for the most recent one.

I’ve kept it all down, though, and I suppose I have to remember to count that as a victory. Because the ninja still calls to me, whispering from the sink, the refrigerator, the checkout aisle. I’d learned to tune her out, and I need to ensure I have sufficient white noise in my life to block her song. Her voice is the mental mermaid that always tempts toward a tumultuous sea.

Sometimes, my footing slips on the rocks as the surf tugs at my toes.

Today, I hang on.