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.

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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…

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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.

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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??)

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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.

Facebook Fights Are No Walk in the Park

OK…there wasn’t really a fight, per se.

But it’s been a week and it’s bugging the crap outta me, so instead of actually sitting the hubs down and TALKING about it, I’m gonna chuck it out to the interwebz for everyone to look at.  Because I’m a mature grownup and all that shiz.

So anyway.  I was trapped on a hella boring conference call and “multi-tasking” (read:  paying ZERO attention, because social media is WAY more entertaining than the nuances of OSHA’s Final Rule on accident reporting) when I saw this post from a cousin-in-law on Facebook:

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OK.  I know this relative pretty well.  She’s an absolute sweetheart.  I like her a lot.  And for the record, she hosts barbecues, swears, and drinks beer, and she’s never shoved anything down anyone’s throat regarding what they should or should not believe.   In other words – she’s pretty cool.

I’m not put off by this post, even though I generally don’t do the whole “like if you agree” or “copy and paste or a unicorn dies” thing on social media.  Of course, on occasion I’ll make a sarcastic play on a Facebook fad just for funsies.  Like the recent wave of “post ten concerts you’ve seen but one is a lie” – I really wanted to play, but the list of artists I’ve seen live is woefully underpopulated, save some middle-school band performances and cantatas we do at church.  So:

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Anyway.  The point is, post whatever you want on YOUR page.  In my cousin-in-law’s case, she was sharing her views and NOT HURTING ANYONE.  Social construct dictates that the appropriate response is to either click “Like”, or shrug/roll your eyes and keep scrolling for videos of baby goats having a pajama party.

Right?

Well.  Maybe not, as I saw this reply from the hubs….

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Ugh.  Ugh???

Really?  Was that…necessary?

Some background:  the hubs kind of grew up with this cousin and her brother.  The hubs is about ten years older, but he was firmly locked in the “kid” role at family gatherings, so they spent a lot of time together at holidays and reunions and stuff.  Essentially, he was the cousin she always looked up to – which probably means she took these three little letters to heart.  Incidentally, she also has bouts of anxiety, and comments like this surely don’t help.

As you probably recall, the hubs is militantly anti-religion, and likes to be absolutely certain everyone knows it by expressing these thoughts on his bumper stickers, his T-shirts, to strangers at the grocery store wearing religious garb…at which point I walk away and hide behind the produce, praying I don’t knock it over.

To his credit, he’s toned down significantly…at least around me.  But now we have this not-so-subtle Facebook jab.  I felt compelled to respond – partially because his Facebook profile pic is a photo of the TWO of us, and I don’t want people to assume I’m on Team Teardown.

So.

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<mic drop>

OK, immature or not, that right there is freakin’ hilarious, amiright?  I was a little hesitant to come home from work that day <nervous chuckle> but sometimes, a good stinger is sooooooooooo worth it.

And what happened when I did arrive home?

Nothing.

Nada. Zip.

He didn’t even mention it.

Which got me totally overthinking (because I’m female, and this is what we do, yo.)  Is he waiting for me to bring it up?  Is he plotting his revenge?  Did he even SEE it yet?  (Side note:  The hubs has the impressive superpower of NOT being obsessed with social media; he doesn’t automatically jump at the <ping> of a new notification.  This makes texting him urgent messages a frustrating exercise in futility – if you need something at the store, for example, you have to reach out caveman-style and actually call him.  He doesn’t even read all his emails the same day he gets them.  So it’s entirely feasible that he hadn’t even READ Facebook since he posted.  Weird, huh?)

So I dutifully play the role of a socially-stunted preteen and also say nothing.

But, the next day, I noticed a response:

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Okay, some thoughts.

First – I read too much into “Ugh”?  Well, then, what the hell was it SUPPOSED to mean??!  (As one of my dear friends put it: “It means exactly what you think it means.”)  Nice backpedal, honey. 

Second – I suppose it’s progress that he admits we have to put some work into loving him around his <cough> outspokenness.  It’s somewhat encouraging.  Maybe some of our conversations have actually…gotten through to him?

Third – Aw, he loves me, even though I’m apparently misguided.  (I must be really hot. HAHAHAHAHA)

Fourth – I’ve read some of that book, and…no.  The reviews site helpful feedback such as “use of crude street language” and “meant to be a sarcastic rant” – tell me if this is something you’d hand to a conservative person to convince them of the error of their ways.  I figured there HAD to be a more balanced tome out there, plus I find it amusing to throw kerosene on a blazing dumpster fire, so I responded one more time:

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So how did the hubs react?

He didn’t.

But this probably isn’t because the hubs is as emotionally immature as I am, passively-aggressively ignoring the mental hippo poo in the middle of the living room.  More likely, it could be because when I saw that he had written himself a reminder on a hot-pink Post-it note, which said “check FB post”, I may or may not have given it the equivalent of cement shoes and a dirt nap in the recycling bin.  YOU CAN PROVE NOTHING.

In the spirit of self-education, I did ask a pastor friend for some recommendations for books that might appeal better to all sides of this complex equation.  Here were his suggestions:

There Is a God:  How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind Might be an interesting read, but I can tell the title will be off-putting.  And honestly, I’m not interested in converting anyone – heck, I’m still traipsing along my spiritual journey and believe a lot of things both inside and out of the bounds of traditional Christianity.

Fool’s Talk:  Recovering the Art of Christian Persuasion.  This might be OK for me to review, but again, not a label that the hubs will find compelling.  So…maybe later.

The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief.   Ooh, it mentions science.  This has potential.  The reviews make it sound like it kind of morphs away from a literal Bible interpretation…but that might make it palatable for someone who wants to reconcile science with faith.

Anyway.  The subject seems to be forgotten at the moment, so perhaps letting sleeping rabid wolfhounds lie is the best course of action at the moment.  Still, one day I’m certain it will resurface, so I’ll at least have some suggestions for ways he and I can learn together.

And, honestly, there’s no rush.  We’ve been getting along swimmingly as of late.  Yes, we’re avoiding some of the more tender spots, but we’ve had the opportunity to reconnect in areas where we DO fit together.  Today we enjoyed a long hike (six miles, thankyouverymuch) through a local wildlife refuge, and the spring rains got all the flowers to yawn and stretch while the trees and mosses turned green.

There were violets in every shade of purple, alongside white and yellow:

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And in celebration of diversity, some other flowers joined the festival:

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It was a gathering of all things, great…

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(It just barged in… <snort>)

…and small.

There was nothing about today that wasn’t beautiful.  It was a gift wrapped in sunshine and adorned with a violet bow, delivering a message directly on the path in front of us:

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UNDERSTAND.

Not a bad goal.

I’m trying.  And I hope he’ll continue to try, too.

Paving a Positive Path

One of the many, many <sigh> many things I oversee in my HR gig is the company’s wellness program.  Now, traditionally, “wellness” has focused primarily on physical health – you know, BMI, blood pressure, glucose, and cholesterol.  And while we do include components of these things, we’ve recognized the need to take a more holistic approach to wellness – so, in addition to talking about heart health and nutrition, we also incorporate activities surrounding financial well-being and mental health.

Mental health is hard to talk about in the workplace.  But it needs to be addressed – if not for the greater good of society, then because it’s costing companies productivity (read: money.)  Take a look at this Harvard article:

Researchers…found that workers with depression reported the equivalent of 27 lost work days per year — nine of them because of sick days or other time taken out of work, and another 18 reflecting lost productivity.

And it’s not just depression….Anxiety, bipolar disorder, and ADHD can wreak havoc on one’s personal life AND career:

Studies estimate that people with ADHD may lose 22 days per year (a combination of sick days and lost productivity)….people with ADHD are 18 times as likely to be disciplined for behavior or other work problems, and likely to earn 20% to 40% less money than others. They are also two to four times as likely as other employees to be terminated from a job.

So many of us are silently struggling – but we’re not getting any actual help:

In one study, only 57% of employees with symptoms of major depression said they had received mental health treatment in the previous 12 months. Of those in treatment, fewer than half — about 42% — were receiving treatment considered adequate….

Anxiety disorders affect about 6% of the population at some point in life, but typically go undiagnosed for 5 to 10 years. And only about one in three individuals with a diagnosed disorder receives treatment for it.

In the United States…only 13% of workers with ADHD reported being treated for this condition in the previous 12 months.

So yeah.  Big problem, here.   And mental illness comes with the challenge of overcoming the not-insignificant stigma associated with it.  Here’s an illustration I’m blatantly stealing from a recent seminar I attended:

First, think about some of the slang terms that you’ve heard to describe mental illness.

Nuts.  Loopy.  Crazy.  Unbalanced.  Psycho. 

Yeah.  You probably have a few more.

Now, let’s list the slang terms you know that describe people with cancer:

Um.  <cough>  <furrows brow> Uh…

 Okay, so what words do we typically use?

Patient.  Survivor.

Ayup.  Exactly.

When we roll this out at the workplace, then, we want to incorporate mental wellness slowly.  With baby steps.  Because while we really want everyone to be all enlightened and shiz, the truth is that blasting them with in-your-face messages that scream DEPRESSION!  ANXIETY! might have them hearing something that mentally sounds more like ZOMG SPIDERS AND CREEPY CLOWNS!!! resulting in everyone scrambling like insects exposed to the light from an overturned rock.  :/  Which helps nobody.

So in order to gently introduce the idea of focusing on mental health to our organization, a few weeks ago we rolled out the Paths to Positivity Program. (Materials here.) During this five-week program, participants choose one of three areas of focus:

  1. Connect with Others
  2. Mind Your Mood
  3. Find Your Purpose

Very non-threatening.

Since 99% of my friends are imaginary people I met on the internet, I decided to focus on Connect with Others.  I took my team to lunch, and we volunteered with our families (well, OK, THEIR families.  Because my kids were at their dad’s, and the hubs and my stepsons won’t do anything with Jesus, even if it’s a good thing) at Feed My Starving Children.  And I thought it wouldn’t hurt to incorporate some of the other suggestions, like reaching out to people in need, helping others….Essentially, I tried to subdue my snark and exercise my empathy a little.


First up:  My college-aged daughter needed some help with her resume.

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Look at me being all servant-hearted.

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She had an actual JOB for two summers, and volunteered at the local hospital for YEARS.  You’d think we could start there….

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Kid can play virtual poker (she won, btw) but listing things you’ve actually DONE is a stretch?  LOL  I’m such a patient mom.  But it paid off:

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Well…it was momentary gratitude, anyway.  🙂  But if you speak teenager, you know what high praise this is.  Further, she asked me to help her roommate, too.  How many college freshmen have YOU met who are happy to get their mothers involved?

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#parentingwin


Of course, I wanted to extend happy vibes beyond just family – I planned to reach out to strangers, too.  I’ve mentioned before that I get a decent volume of misdirected email, so I thought this recent note in my inbox might provide a good opportunity to spread quasi-random kindness:

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While I DO frequent Chipotle (because OMNOMNOM) I didn’t recall sending this.  <headscratch> Certainly not from Illinois, where I haven’t been in over 10 years, save a few unfortunate layovers in O’Hare.  Puzzled, I scroll down:

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Ah, OK.  Someone filed a complaint and inadvertently used my email address.  Shrugging, I typed a reply, figuring I could use this as a chance to say something kind:

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I thought that’d be the end of it, but she wrote back:

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OH HELL YEAH.

And once I got my burrito, I made sure to thank her.

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One more….

A few weeks ago, I attended my annual Safety Conference – the one time a year where oppressed party animals HR and safety professionals get together to share body shots of Fireball best practices and strategies surrounding their respective Safety programs.  This year, the drunkfest conference was held in Las Vegas.  I’d never BEEN to Vegas, and honestly, wasn’t looking forward to it – other than purchasing a Powerball ticket whenever I gas up my car, I don’t really gamble, and I knew we wouldn’t have time for any cool shows due to the “strongly encouraged” networking sessions held after-hours.

So I arrived at Caesar’s Palace on a Wednesday night.

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I was tired, hungry, and largely confused, and the mechanical BLING!! BONGBONGBONG BRRRRRRRRRRRRRRING of pending financial ruin combined with the light haze of cigarette smoke made me hella cranky.  After meandering aimlessly for a bit, I found the check-in area.  It was staffed by several kiosks and one very frazzled-looking clerk, who was hopping from screen to screen attempting to keep the guest-grumblings to a minimum.

Sighing, I approached one of the portals and started my check-in.  After a few clicks and pokes at the monitor, I got a status update:

YOUR ROOM IS NOT YET AVAILABLE.  PLEASE ENTER A PHONE NUMBER WHERE YOU CAN BE REACHED WHEN IT IS READY.

“Really?!  It’s 9:00 at night!” I whined.  The clerk rushed over, assuring me that it would just take a few minutes for the system to process my arrival.  With a weary smile, she apologized for what she was sure would only be a short wait, and promised I’d have my keys soon.

I realized that this woman had been politely defusing irate customers for the bulk of her day.  Her eyes were tired, but kind.  Breathing, I thanked her, adding, “You know…I’ll bet people don’t realize how difficult your job is.  You’re here all day dealing with grumpy, entitled, clueless tourists who have absolutely no idea what they are doing, and they probably take out all that angst on you.  Thanks so much for helping me.”

The woman blinked, surprised.  Her head titled to the side as she stared at me for a moment.  Then, she responded, “You…you GET it. You really understand.  Thank you.” 

I wondered if I’d been the first person that day to remember that she was not an extension of the automated check-in bots, but a real, live person with emotions and feelings and a soul.

She winked at me then.  “I’ll be right back.”  She went behind the main desk and assisted another customer before returning to me.  “Your room should be ready now.  I got you a good one.”  I took the keys that popped out from the dispenser and wandered off to follow the complicated series of directions to find whatever tower my room was hidden in….

I exited the elevator and followed signs down a long hallway, passing several rooms.

928…930….

Oh. Here we are. 

But…why are there TWO doors…? 

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I double-check the number.  932.  Yep.  I open the door, and….

THIS.  ROOM.  IS.  MASSIVE.

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The foyer.

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More foyer

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A freakin’ kitchen and bar

Two giant closets – and a fax machine (really!)

One small bathroom and two larger bathrooms (each with a phone, just in case you run out of TP or need to order a pizza):

A hot tub:

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Room for at least four.

…a scale…

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The batteries were dead.  Vegas does vacation right.

…a butt washer thingy (no, I didn’t use it):

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A shower built for two:

…and finally, a mini-suite to sleep in (if one does that in Vegas.)

Oh, and just in case you wanted to have a few friends over?  We got you, fam.  Check out what was behind the kitchen:

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Yeah.  She got me a good room, alright.  The view didn’t suck, either:

hotel12ahotel12bSo, for a safety conference, it wasn’t all bad.  Between the room and the party bus networking session, it was almost…fun.

At least, I think it was.  What I recall, anyway.  Once the notworking networking got underway, things got a little blurry.  A bunch of us piled into this very corporate-looking van.

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You can feel the bass throbbing from there, can’t ya.

 

The driver took us on a free driving tour (which included a stop at the liquor store) and said he could get us into the VIP section of some swanky gentleman’s club.  “Ask for Marcus. Tell him you’re a friend of Pete.  He’ll take good care of ya.”  We declined, as we had pretty much all the party we needed.

Maaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaybe a liiiiiiiittle too much party.

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Whiskey and ginger ale.

Fortunately, they also feed us really well at these things….

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Hangover breakfast.  I ate 3 pieces of bacon before I took the pic.

And, in the spirit of sharing affirmations, I apparently texted this picture to my entire team AND TO MY TEENAGE CHILDREN.  The caption was profound:  HAHAH HEE NEKKKED WHAO

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Hmm.  I may have gone a tad overboard with the well-being messages.  Or the libations.  Or both.

But I think I cemented a few blocks down on my path to positivity.  They may even be part of my permanent record now.  😀

Your turn!  How do you spread random happiness?  Share in the comments!

April Fools: Jokers on the Job

WARNING:  The acts described in this post were performed by trained professionals who had zero f*cks to give about their careers.  So unless you prefer a life of couch-surfing and Ramen, DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME, KIDS.  Leave it to the experts and the independently wealthy.

So how was YOUR April Fools’ Day?

In all honesty, I pretty much forgot about it.  I wasn’t at work, so I simply didn’t have a ton of people around to mess with.  Plus, yesterday I was in the biggest funk I’ve been in since I started my new medication, so I spent the day firmly planted on the sofa watching April the Giraffe NOT give birth yet.  (Seriously…I have probably lost 48 hours of my life watching a giraffe that’s probably just sporting an impressive food baby.)

But, in browsing my Facebook memories, I found this:

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Yes, I had a Blackberry.  It was six years ago.  Cut me some slack.

The woman in green was one of my direct reports.  Never let it be said I’m one of those stuffy bosses steeped in formality.  🙂

Since I had just given notice, and absolutely DESPISED my manager, I may have gotten just a little carried away with the festivities.  (Side note:  My boss was one of those outdated stains on humanity who truly believed that women belonged only at home, barefoot and pregnant, supporting their husbands.  And, when someone stole over $800 from our United Way fundraiser, he told me – and I quote – “that’s what you get when you start hiring ‘diversity.'”  :/ And yeah, I reported him to our ethics committee and yadda yadda, but somehow he was still my boss after that.  So I quit.  And then had some fun.  Because what were they gonna do, fire me?)

So I heartily embraced April Fool’s Day in 2011.  By the end of the day, my poor coworker was pretty much ready to KILL ME.  See, she wasn’t too fastidious about locking her PC before she left her desk.  This enabled me to “correct” her email signature to indicate that she was the Goddess of Paper Cuts.  I also set her email to auto-reply that she had run away to pursue her lifelong dream of raising and training crickets so that she could open a mini-circus (because fleas are so overdone, ya know.)  And, of course, I flipped her screen upside-down so she had to read all of this while standing on her head.

I wish for the life of me I could remember what I put in the printer.

I didn’t neglect the rest of the office, though.  I recall attaching a sign to the coffee machine indicating that it was now voice-activated…so just speak your selection!  Our Senior Controller – second in command at that office, after my boss – came over, red-faced and caffeine-deprived, asking my co-worker, who was in charge of vending management, for assistance on the new feature.

“KAAAAAAAAATIEEEEEEEEEEEE!  WHAT. DID. YOU. DO??!?!”

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

<wipes tears>  Ah, memories.

So, a couple of years ago (and two jobs later), my new team returned the favor.

We’d had an absolutely brutal winter in this part of the country, and the snow was piled up a good nine feet (!!!) outside my office window.

snow1

Hard to see, but that’s a pink flamingo pen on my desk., next to the boxing horse pen and the giraffe pen.

snow2

My window is the 2nd window from the right.

snow3

Like a scene from Dr. Zhivago.

Since I couldn’t really see outside, one of my team members donned his snowmobile suit, grabbed a spare coal shovel he found in the closet, and went to the sidewalk and started to dig….

tunnel2

Never underestimate the power of motivation.

…and eventually, he found my office window.  He left me a couple souvenirs to improve my view.

Tunnel1

The face is a mask made from a picture of one of our VPs.  They dressed up like him for Halloween that year.

Impressive, huh?  Even more fun was when he surprised me by crawling BACK in there right before lunch.  I turned and the resulting scream brought the CFO running downstairs to see who was being murdered.

I love my company.  LOL

So it’s generally been quiet since then…until recently, when one of our VPs (not the guy who inspired the mask) thought it would be hilarious to plant a plastic bug under the earpiece of one of our phones.

He’s only been there two years, and CLEARLY didn’t realize that doing this means it is ON LIKE DONKEY KONG.

He likes candy, so we left him a little gift.

diaper

Diaper + melted candy = YOUR MOVE, b!tch.

Yes…we are woefully immature.  And fortunately, we know our audience well enough to pull this off.  The VP came over IN TEARS.  “I wanted to poke it.  I KNEW it was candy but I just COULD NOT TOUCH IT.”  Then he paid it forward by leaving it in the desk of his Director of Operations.

I can’t wait to see what he bunts back.

Sometimes, something turns into a gag accidentally.  For example, there is a national  HRIS software company with an overly-ambitious marketing department who occasionally sends us creative little bribes to get us to look at their product.  Last spring, they sent this:

VendorFail1

Hint:  It’s an ineffective sales “pitch”

Any guesses?

Anyone?

Apparently, it was a baseball bat and baseball.  (No, really.  Look again.)

We didn’t buy it.  The software OR the presentation.

But it could have been much worse, as a friend of mine discovered earlier this week.

It was an otherwise-normal Thursday when my beautiful friend S received a fairly nondescript package from the afore(un)mentioned software company:

“Do your Payroll/HRIS systems need a Spring Cleaning?” 

She opened the box to find a reasonably cute tchotchke:

MarkFail1

Aww.  I guess.

A mini-trash can.  That’s new.

Hmm.  There’s something inside….

It was…

…wait for it….

This.

MarkFail2

Her nails, though.  Gorgeous like she is.

I.  AM.  CRYING.

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

It was SUPPOSED to be chocolate-covered caramels:

markFail3

A surviving set.  And again, those nails.  LOVE

But they sort of forgot that the southern part of the US can get a little warm by the end of March, and ended up shipping what looked like a giant blob of fibrous seeded poo.

Not that it matters, because who’s lining up to eat candy from a garbage can???

The ultimate <coughcough> marketing fail.

I have no good way to wrap up this post, so here’s a random screencap from Snapchat where I face-swapped the hubs and my cat.

creepycat

I honestly don’t know how to feel about this.  I’m totally creeped out yet CANNOT. STOP. LAUGHING.

Did you pull any wool on April Fools’?  Share your wins and fails in the comments!

Save

One Man’s Spam is Another Man’s Shenanigans

Can you believe Gmail has only been around since 2004?

Okay, “only” might be somewhat misleading, as 2004 was actually THIRTEEN YEARS AGO.  Basically, if Gmail was a child, she hit puberty last year and is eyeing high school and her first school dance.  But, if you’re old mature well-seasoned like me, 2004 seems like pretty much last Tuesday.

I am normally horrible with dates, but I remember this time period because, due to my mad networking skills, I had the opportunity to be one of the beta testers for Gmail.

Side note:  “Mad networking skills” means I was at a job where I was BORED OUT OF MY MIND, so I spent much of the day on online message boards with other HR pros who also either had a bit too much free time or just needed a break from all the freaking DRAMA <sigh> that disgruntled employees can bring.  That practice continues to this day – we affectionately call it “notworking.”  And yes, if you visit HR with something juicy, we probably ARE talking about you in these notworking venues.  But don’t worry – we generally are a compassionate bunch, and all names are changed to protect your privacy.  We’re a conscientious bunch that way. Often, we’re just reviewing the best and fairest way to handle a situation.

Rest assured, however, that there are plenty of conversations around “stupid employee tricks.”

Like when someone barfs on your desk.  (Yep.  That’s happened.)

Or when you get an unemployment claim from someone you fired for tardiness – she couldn’t get to work on time because she NEEDED TO STOP FOR CIGARETTES on her way to work.  And we LOST the claim because, even though we had a clear attendance policy where employees accrued “points” for tardiness and being absent, and they’d be terminated if they accumulated a certain number of points, AND we had exercised progressive discipline AS OUTLINED in the policy, our handbook wasn’t super-precise about you losing your job for being late pretty much every single day.  It said you could be fired for absenteeism…not tardiness SPECIFICALLY.  Because common sense and reading at a fourth-grade level wouldn’t lead you to that obvious conclusion.

Or that one time a forklift operator was drinking a brown liquid that smelled like furniture polish, so we called him up to my office for questioning:

Me:  Ted, we had some concerns voiced about what you’re drinking in your travel mug today.  What was in there?

Ted:  <blinks>  I don’t know. (GREAT ANSWER.  If you’re, like, four.)

Me:  You don’t…know?  Let’s try again.  What was in there this morning?

Ted:  <Long pause.  Shifts uncomfortably in chair.>  I can’t remember.

Me:  <reaching over to grab my HUGE Bubba keg, where a tea bag is conspicuously steeping – HINT HINT>  Well, think harder.

Ted:  <blinks.  Looks at floor.  Looks out window.  Blinks again.  Swallows.>  Uh…Orange juice?

BRILLIANT.

Anyway.  Back in 2004, on one of these gossip professional discussion boards, someone who had just started working for Google was looking for some testers for this new email program Google was planning to launch.  At the time, I was planning the escape from my first marriage, so I quickly volunteered to get a personal, private email – one the spouse couldn’t access.  And, since I had one of the earliest accounts, I was able to get a very simple Gmail address – without extra numbers, characters, or underscores.  But because it’s so basic, occasionally someone will “accidentally” use this email instead of their own, and I wind up receiving emails that weren’t meant for me.  Often, I think people intentionally provide the wrong email address to avoid drowning in spam and special offers, but I’ve received some legit stuff, too, including student grade reports, overdue electric bills, travel itineraries, and random baby pictures.

Now, typically, I just politely respond that they have the wrong email, and ask to be removed from their mailing lists and address books.

email0

But, once in a while, I can’t help but respond.  Like this time:

email1

Um.  What?  I feed EVERY DAY, YO.  He must be talking about….

email2

He seemed really confused after that.  HAHAHAHAHAHA

I suggested that he might have the wrong email; we had a good chuckle and he went away.

But it isn’t always that easy.  Like this exchange the other day:

email3

E-cigs?  Oh HELL no.  Smoking gives you wicked lip wrinkles.  Plus I’m too poor to smoke.  Because shoes.

Now, to be fair, this was the second or third email I’d received from them. I’d ignored the previous two, quickly clicking them through to the virtual trashcan, but since this was becoming a habit (see what I did there? <snort>) I thought it best to cut it off.

email4

The end, right?

Nope.

cigemail5

Hoo boy.  Well, I’ll try to explain….

cigemail6

Super basic…but….

cigemail7

<headscratch>

Is this really THAT hard?! Because I’m totally losing patience here.

cigemail8

Spoiler alert:  Nope.  It clearly did not.

email9

Attached is a copy of an order containing $113.50 in Mandarin and Passion (!!!) e-cigs.

email10

I can’t get any more black and white than that.

Yet….

email11

OK, folks.  I think this game is over.  Besides, I had just left my mammogram (public service reminder:  get one, ladies!) and I was feeling a bit bruised – certainly not in the mood for battling with the cognitive equivalent of a cement block.

email12

And now the fun begins.  I go to the account, reset the password, and make up a new, random, completely fake email so I never, ever hear from them again.

Wait.  I spoke too soon.

email13

No.  NO YOU MAY NOT.  (And why do you need to talk to me?  Does your system only work on voice command?  Because I gotta tell ya, automated voice prompts usually fail me, too, but that’s fodder for an entirely different post.  JUST DELETE THE BLASTED THING.)

Besides…it’s too late.  I exercised some virtual street justice already. You won’t be bothering me anymore.

email14

Oh, and P.S. – your customer, now known as Boogerface McShitterpants, might be a bit peeved when you talk to her next.

You’ve been warned.

Peace out. <offers cocky salute and exits, stage right>

#MyFirstPostRevisted

So my “friend” (haha.  Love you) Fatty McCupcakes tagged me to play along with #MyFirstPostRevisted.

It’s a pretty simple game.  You repost your FIRST post.

Even I can’t mess THAT up.  Right? 

DA RULZ:

Obvious rules:

  • No cheating. (It must be your first post. Not your second post, not one you love…first post only.)
  • Link back to the person who tagged you (thank them if you feel like it or, if not, curse them with a plague of ladybugs).

Other rules:

  • Copy and paste your old post into a new post or reblog your own bad self. (Either way is fine but NO editing.) 
  • Put the hashtag #MyFirstPostRevisited in your title. 
  • Tag five other bloggers to take up this challenge. 
  • Notify your tags in the comment section of their blog
  • Feel free to cut and paste the badge to use in your post.
  • Include the rules in your post.

Pretty basic.  Easy peasy.

But then I looked back on my first post, and it’s kind of…sad.  Not funny at all.

And I’ve been through a helluva lot since then, with the whole Ashley Madison dealio, my dad passing away, and, more recently, my stepson’s mental illness.

But despite all that, I never quit laughing.

It’s what keeps me going.

So here’s where it all started….


So why am I here?

Big question with a long answer….

I’m Kate.  I’m in my 40s.  (EARLY forties, thankyouverymuch)

I have happy, smart, well-adjusted kids.  I have a devoted husband. We both have stable, steady jobs that we don’t hate.   No one has a troublesome illness, police record, or embarrassing YouTube videos.  So everything is wonderful…everything should be fine.

But it’s not.  And it’s a shame, because this should be a wonderful life.

Don’t get me wrong – I do appreciate what I have.   How could I not?  But I’d like to enjoy life more.  And I think I COULD, if I could just get rid of all the noise in my head.

So what exactly is the problem here?  I hate to spell it out, because it feels so trivial in black and white.  But I need a safe place to talk some things out and unload the weight of the thoughts that keep me from seeing the sun in all the places it shines.

I want to find my joy, but I struggle.

I struggle with my relationship with food and my weight.   That began when I was ten.  Until that time I had no idea I was fat, or really any sense of how I looked at all.  Until one day, during a school assembly as I sauntered to the front of the gymnasium to accept some geeky award for math or spelling or some such, my brother’s friend told him that I was getting as fat as he was.  And of course my brother told me, and POOF, I was suddenly fat, and have been ever since.  My weight’s gone up and down a number of times since then – I’ve been 65 pounds heavier and 15 pounds lighter – but I’ve always been too fat.

The trouble with food issues is that it really isn’t about the food.  It’s about a convenient thing to be upset about so you don’t have to think about whatever it is that you’re REALLY upset about.  In other words, the size of your thighs can be easier to fret over than the stability of your marriage, or whether your kids love you, or why your mom doesn’t really like you all that much, or when your boss will find out that you’re really a poseur and have NO idea what you are doing, or why the heck you’re on this planet in the first place and is there really any point to life?  (Side note – I’m not in the market to off myself.  Just don’t feel like I’m doing much more than existing sometimes.)

To add to this, my husband has been stretching through some sort of spiritual mid-life crisis.  Spiritually, this has been a challenge.  To be fair, when we met, I knew we approached religion from different angles – I identify with Christianity, while he is agnostic.   This has mostly worked just fine for us, and we’ve explored some ideas together and kept it respectful.

However, as of late, he’s been on a mission – he wants to be the Voice of the People for atheists everywhere.  This has involved ripping apart the Bible and buying in-your-face blasphemous T-shirts.   I’m all for freedom of religious expression, but it’s hard not to find his behavior hurtful.  It’s hard not to take it personally.  Yes, I know a lot of wars have started over religion.  Frankly, I think God hates that.  I just can’t wrap my mind around the idea that everything associated with Christianity is automatically bad.  People can be very bad, religion can be very political, but that’s not its intent.

I could write a lot about that, and I might later.   But that’s one of the things that brought me here – my husband says he loves me, but when he goes on these anti-religion rants, I feel like he’s wrenching my heart out.  I feel like every harsh, angry, derogatory thing he says reflects how he really feels about me.

So it all came to a head last December, when my husband was at his peak vitriol and my dad suddenly had a heart attack and life just got really dark really fast and I no longer wanted to eat anything at all…and I decided that enough was enough and I’d better learn to handle this better.  I decided I needed to attack this thing and address the noises in my head.

I need to cope better and not be so darn hard on myself.  So this year, I’m working on getting well.

I started therapy.  (I’ve only gone once so far.  But making the appointment and actually showing up is a big step.)  I’m trying to learn to meditate.  I’m trying to get regular exercise.  And I’m trying to be gentler with myself.

I’m hoping that getting my thoughts out here will help me better deal with them.  I’m hoping this can be somewhat of an online journal to assist me with the process of therapy.

And maybe if I post things out loud, maybe it’ll help someone else who wrestles with this mess to walk just a little bit closer to wellness.


So there ya go.  The first day Kate spilled her intestines on the interwebs.

And now it’s YOUR turn!  Let’s hear from

Have at it, kids.  It’s all fun and games until the IRS sends you a past-due notice.  🙂

Wearing the Stigma Scarf

I love scarves.

I have an entire drawer full of them, in all textures and colors. They’ve been inherited from relatives who’ve passed on, unearthed in thrift stores, discovered on clearance racks, and joyfully received in wrapped boxes at Christmas.

My favorites, though, are the ones that were hand-knit for me. I’m blessed to have people in my life who want to make me pretty things, and I wear these gifts with pride. I have two scarves in particular where I know the crafter saw the yarn and thought of me – primarily because the colors were…um…rather bold. They were materials that you really wouldn’t buy unless you distinctly had someone in mind who would actually WEAR something that obnoxious bright and colorful.

scarf1

And that someone is, apparently, moi.

scarf2

I’ve wondered on occasion if these scarves were perhaps a backhanded compliment of sorts.  Did they pick up the skeins and think, “Wow. Who on earth would wear THAT?” Did they twist the strands in their fingers, mildly horrified, and realize, “I bet Kate would. Yep. She would TOTALLY wear this”?  Did they giddily race home to half-jokingly create a monstrosity just to see if I’d dare sport it in public?

Maybe.  But it’s totally OK if they did. Because I love these scarves. They’re cheery, soft, warm, and they bring me joy. And someone created them just for me. Who cares if they don’t meet someone else’s taste? That’s fine. They can wear whatever makes THEM feel beautiful, and I won’t be offended if they don’t want to borrow anything from my closet.

We’re all unique, right? And the things that make us individuals don’t make us better or worse than anyone else.  They just make us…us.

But….

In my last post, I mentioned that things were going much better with the hubs, and that I was taking a more active role in my recovery.

But I didn’t tell the whole story.

Yes, the hubs has mellowed considerably on the subjects of religion and politics. Not, unfortunately, due to any spiritual shift, but because he’s got a new focal point: his sons. My stepsons, 12 and 14, are just starting the challenging transition from boy to man, with voices deepening and pants shrinking and sneakers no longer fitting on suddenly-larger feet. And with this hormonal tsunami, they’re pushing for other changes – primarily, to spend more time with their father, in the form of 50/50 custody.

Those of you with exes can probably guess how THAT’S been going.  Lead balloon?  Fart at a funeral?  (The latter of which may or may not <cough> have happened at my dad’s wake, and I might be acquainted with two stubborn, thoughtless children who will never let me forget it.  Kids can be jerks that way.  They must get that from their mother.)

Anyway.  For most of my stepsons’ lives, their mother has held primary physical custody, and with it has maintained tight reigns of control. Admittedly, while the hubs has been absolutely reliable in seeing the boys and paying support, he hasn’t been as involved in some of the “mom minutiae” that sucks so much mental energy, like scheduling immunizations or staying on top of what homework is due tomorrow. But he’s trying to take on his share, and while he’s made a huge effort in getting to know teachers, packing lunches, and slogging through the mental labyrinth of 8th grade algebra and Spanish, he’s getting shut out of what should be joint decisions, such as medical care and high school selection.

And the two of them have a long-standing inability to communicate effectively (read: without fighting.)  It’s epically horrific, to the point where I have absolutely ZERO idea how they stayed together in a room for long enough to make ONE baby, never mind TWO.  (Like how the praying mantis literally gets his head bitten off if he spends too much time thinking about baseball or didn’t feed her first.  Really.  Click here.  You’re welcome.)

As you’d expect, the custody battle barely tapped the border of negotiating “what’s best for the boys.” Since the parents despise each other, they were completely unable to focus on working out when the boys would live where. Instead, they hung verbal clotheslines and pinned up years and years of dirty laundry, finding faults and flaws in everything from nutrition to hygiene to spirituality to what cars they each drove and how long their emails and texts were.

The judge, of course, didn’t have time to be bothered with the parental equivalent of an alley cat fight, so he hosed them down by ordering them to attend…wait for it…marital counseling.  Yeah.  MARITAL COUNSELING.  They’ve been divorced for eleven years, and NOW they’re in marital counseling. Part of me wants to find this hilarious, but since the kids are the tragic punch line, I can barely manage a smirk.

So start with that constantly-roaring fire, and douse it with the kerosene of “Mom, I want to live with Dad half the time from now on” and “Why are you putting ideas in the boys’ heads/turning them against me/NOT LISTENING to me/diminishing my contributions/STILL EXISTING? Sprinkle on some grain dust in the form of autism spectrum disorder (both boys are officially diagnosed; Dad isn’t, but it doesn’t take much to see where they got it) and depression and anxiety (both boys; just depression for Mom and Dad, with medication all around) and you can probably see the pending mushroom cloud from the demoted non-planet Pluto.

The detonation occurred two Saturdays ago, when we received a 4 AM text that my older stepson was being taken to the local university hospital because he said that once everyone was asleep, he was fairly certain he was going to kill himself.

Boom.

It’s eerily quiet after an explosion. The silence is unnerving. Haunting.

The next day, the treating doctor ordered counseling for the “family unit.” The hubs texted his ex to clarify: biological parents only, or should the step-parents attend? She replied: “this is for guardians only.” So off the hubs went, while I waited at home for a report. After he arrived, it was clarified that he was expected to arrive alone, but she and the stepdad would both be in attendance since she had primary physical custody.

I was the odd man out. Not considered significant enough to participate in this very critical healing process.

Well, you can imagine how THAT felt.  But this isn’t about me.  (And, on the bright side, I suppose my exclusion proves that no one thinks I contributed to the “problem.”)

After a week of comprehensive inpatient therapy, my stepson was released, complete with tools, reminders, and a “safety plan” that included his wellness strategy.

This included a very specific note to his parents: “Quit fighting about custody.”

Gut-punches ya right in the feels, don’t it?

And you are the only people I’ve shared this with, except for my siblings and my mother.  Even then, I danced around what really took place, using words like “he’s safe now” and “getting the help he needs.”

No one else in my life knows that we had this crisis.

Why not?

Why did I hesitate to say that my stepson is struggling with a mental health issue, and it’d reached a critical point where he needed more intensive treatment for awhile?

When my dad had his pulmonary issues, I had no problem telling people the full medical situation in full detail.  See, heart issues aren’t loaded with connotations and bias.  They just happen, to good people and bad people and people who are…normal.

If heart issues were a scarf, they’d be a neutral color, like navy or black, which goes with many things and can be tossed atop nearly any outfit.

This was different.

For some reason, I didn’t want anyone to see the mental health scarf we had stuffed in the back of the closet.  After looking at it, I decided that it simply doesn’t match my outfit.

Suffice it to say it’s been a stressful time in our household.  Thank goodness I started that medication when I did!

Oh, yeah.  About that….

I haven’t quite gotten around to telling the hubs this little detail.

I didn’t intend to keep it a secret.  But when I went to the doctor, I was pretty convinced that nothing would work, and I didn’t want to get his hopes up that there might be something that could “fix” me.  I didn’t want my moods and actions analyzed, and I didn’t want a layman’s opinion of whether it was working or not.  I didn’t want a magnifying glass aimed at my cracks and fissures.

What the hubs does know is that he’s starting to get his wife back.

Isn’t that enough?

It’s not that he wouldn’t be supportive – heck, he takes meds himself.  If it had a chance of helping, he’d be heartily in favor of it. He wouldn’t criticize or judge.  He understands mental health issues as well as any non-medical person possibly could.

But the bottle is hidden.

It isn’t a scarf I’m ready to show him just yet.

Hmm…now that I think about it….maybe it’s NOT a scarf.  Maybe it’s Spanx. Or a Wonderbra.  YES!  That’s EXACTLY it.  It pushes everything around so that I can present my very best self to society.  It tucks and sucks the floppy bits that pollute my put-together look.

And no one has to know.  All they’ll see is fabulous.

I’m aware that mental health issues aren’t within my control. I know without a shadow of a doubt that hormones shoot holes in my stability.  I understand that I’m managing what is largely a chemical imbalance.

Yet often the scarf of anxiety is itchy and uncomfortable, and I don’t want to wear it at all.  I don’t want people to start judging my job performance through the lens of mental illness.  I don’t want my weight to be scrutinized by coworkers and friends:  Is she thinner today? Is she in trouble?  She seems so scattered…do we need to intervene?  Or worse:  She’s put on weight; she can’t be THAT broken if she’s able to eat all that food.  She must be exaggerating her so-called anxiety since she completed the 1095c forms on time. 

I know I shouldn’t feel this way.  I mean, okay, YES.  I’ll say it:  I have mental health issues. 

But they’re part of what makes me…ME.  They’re powerful spices in the Kate stew.  My anxiety and my food issues are colorful threads woven in the tapestry of the personality that is exclusively MINE.

No one else has a scarf quite like this one.

Perhaps I should embrace my individuality and be proud of the quirks I have.  They add some glitter to an otherwise flat surface.  Like any hand-crafted creation, they should be worn proudly.  Right?

“Normal” is kind of dull, anyway.

With a little elbow grease and a dash of confidence, maybe I can sparkle and shine.

The Effects of Effexor

I know I haven’t been writing as much lately.

I’d like to say there’s a good reason for that…but actually, there’s been NO reason. Life has been tooling along steadily and uneventfully. After the last eighteen months, the calmer pace of “normal” is a blessing. (Although I’m writing this from 30,000 feet and I literally JUST saw another plane hurtling through the sky in the opposite direction uncomfortably close to the right wing. So maybe chaos hasn’t left, but is lurking around the corner, waiting to pull the ultimate “Gotcha!”)

So…some updates:

The hubs and I were going through what one might say is a “rough patch.” (These are probably the same people who say that childbirth is “uncomfortable.”)

By some miracle, things are actually better. MUCH better.

What’s changed? He’s toned down the hate speech. He’s told me every day how much he loves me, that he sincerely appreciates me, that he’s thankful to be married to me. He gives me the space I need.

And we talk. Truly COMMUNICATE. Where he says a thing, and I respond, and there’s a sharing of ideas and thoughts and opinions that’s respectful and intelligent. When we disagree, we do it with love. We seek to understand. And we hold hands.

I’ve been working on myself, as well.  Because I firmly believe that when a marriage fractures, you have to cast both bones. You cannot dance as a couple and only blame one person for the fall. If you want long-term healing, you absolutely have to be able to step back and understand your role in ending up where you landed, or you’re doomed to repeat the injury when you tango with someone else.

To be fair, the blame split isn’t usually 50/50:  My ex was abusive. Or she cheated.  In no way am I saying that people who have affairs or personality disorders can shift the blame…but it’s worth analyzing the events that lead up to falling in the pit.

I mean, most spouses don’t go seeking an affair because the relationship at home is amazeballs, right?

NOT THAT THIS MAKES IT EVEN REMOTELY OK OR IN ANY WAY EXCUSES THE BEHAVIOR.

But we can learn from pain, even if all we gain is a better awareness of how to spot the beginnings of cracks in the dam.

An example:  In my first marriage, my ex was mentally abusive. Clearly NOT my fault.  But it did me quite a bit of good to study the vulnerabilities in myself that drew me to this person.  It enabled me to shore myself up so I’d better identify the warning signs and avoid falling back down the rabbit hole. I practiced standing up for myself a little more often. Slowly, tentatively at first, I found my voice and a spare backbone.

In other words:  you need to master the difference between a surprise treat and a baited trap.  Or you’re doomed to wonder how you YET AGAIN got stuck in this cold, metal cage.

I’d been trying to do some healing through this blog, and occasionally I’d take a swing at therapy.  But in the spirit of really fixing myself and my marriage, I thought perhaps it was time to get more aggressive with the Care and Feeding of Kate.

So I went to the doctor and asked to try medication again.

Now, I’ve tried prescriptions in the past. Zoloft. Wellbutrin. Great antidepressants for many people.  However, my issue really is more anxiety.  Depression meds may or may not work when it comes to treating anxiety, and finding the right cocktail can feel as randomly impossible as picking the winning Powerball numbers.

And then there was the Lorazapam Incident. Yes…”incident.”  Which SHOULD be a great story, but unfortunately, I cannot remember ANY of it. What I do know is that sometime within the first week of taking this drug, I suddenly found myself home completely confused about how I had gotten there at 1 PM on a work day. The next morning, when I went to the office, I got a ton of concerned looks and questions: “Are you OK? No, really…are you?” No one would tell me what I did or what I said, other than, “you just didn’t look…right.” I also have NO CLUE HOW I DROVE HOME. Yikes. (And thanks, everyone, for letting me operate heavy machinery. Love you all.) Suffice it to say I got rid of that Rx in a hurry, and it’s notated in my medical chart as an “allergy”, right next to penicillin. (I’m also allergic to cockroaches. But they won’t add that in there, for some reason, even though I think it’s super interesting and a GREAT icebreaker for those awkward silences at parties. I guess it’s a good indicator that they won’t be using cockroaches in medicine in the foreseeable future, right? Because yuck.)

I’ve also tried sleeping aids, thinking that if I could get quality rest, it’d help. On some nights, plain old melatonin helped a little, but melatonin is like a Band-aid – fine for minor cuts, not so good for gaping sleep wounds.

So, a few years ago, I tried to find something stronger. Ambien, anyone? All of my friends* swore by it: “It’s a miracle drug. Best shuteye I’ve had in years. You might eat the entire contents of your fridge at 3 AM, but you’ll sleep right through it.”

*Yes, all. Why does it seem like most people I know are on some type of medication? Is this true in your circle, too? Maybe we all send off invisible signals to one another, an unlisted side effect attracting us together like magnets.

What did Ambien – the miracle siesta drug – do for me?

NOTHING.

Nada, zip, zero.

No drowsiness, no restorative REMs, no sleepdriving across town at 2AM to buy donuts at the 7-11. It was like all my buddies were ripping open presents while Sandman Santa had missed my house completely.

I switched over to Trazodone, which actually unwound me enough to help me sleep. Problem was, I wanted to KEEP sleeping.  Since my job expected me to show up before the socially accepted lunch hour, I had to give it up. Plus, when you sleep until noon, it’s impossible to fall BACK asleep anytime before 2 AM. It’s like getting jet lag without the tropical vacation and enviable tan.

So I gave up.

It had been about ten years since I attempted medication.  Honestly, I wasn’t terribly optimistic that there was an appropriate cocktail* out there that would help.    But in the spirit of shoring up myself so I could better focus on my marriage, about six weeks ago I put on my adulting shoes and headed to the doctor and asked for help.

*Yeah…wine helps too.  But that’s not a crutch I want to depend on.  Because addiction.  And calories. 

I wasn’t sure there was much left that I hadn’t tried. But there was. “It shows here that we  prescribed you Effexor a few years ago, but you never filled the script because it was too expensive.” (They wrote THAT in my chart, but not the part about cockroaches?) “There’s a generic available now. Let’s give that a whirl.”

So off to the pharmacy I went.

I got my caplets, took them as instructed, and waited.

The good news? They worked. THEY ACTUALLY WORKED. I started to sleep. The racing thoughts subsided.

The biggest change?

I no longer felt compelled to weigh and measure my food.

Lemme let that sink in for a sec.

After spending years of my life counting olives and weighing salsa, I put my food scale away.

This. Was. Huge. Miraculous. Life-changing.  I stole bites of whatever treat the hubs was enjoying.  If I wanted ketchup and mustard on my burger, I just slopped it on willy-nilly without really caring whether I had 1.5 tablespoons or two.

I was more relaxed everywhere, including the dinner table.

But….now the bad news:  the side effects.

First, there were the headaches.  Constant, nagging, aching.  Half my daily caloric intake was analgesics.  I rapidly depleted my Costco-sized bottle of ibuprofen, which didn’t do anything positive for the other problematic issue:  nausea.

Have you ever dealt with chronic nausea?  It’s debilitating.  Exhausting.  You feel awful all the time.  You’d think this would be an absolute dream for someone with an eating disorder, wouldn’t you?  But it’s not.  It’s the kind of nausea that can only be relieved (ironically) by eating.  It was a cruel need for constant calories, and I was too ill to care.  From the couch, I kept up with a steady stream of carbs (mostly tortilla chips and pizza*) and focused on trying to function.

*No matter how sick I am, I can pretty much always eat pizza.  This was also the case when I was pregnancy-puking.  Most people gravitate towards ginger ale and saltines.  Me?  If I’m refusing pizza, take me to the hospital STAT.

It was maddening.  I’d found something that relieved the constant barrage of negativity in my head – yet made me as sick as my bulimic cat.  I debated toughing it out, but after missing two days of work, I decided it was far too high a price to pay for relative mental stability.  Reluctantly, I messaged my doctor.  Thankfully, there was a different formulation I could try – a fast-acting, smaller dose, taken twice a day.

One more. 

Just try.

What did I have to lose?

I picked up my prescription and I held my breath.

And, in a few days, I was able to step outside of myself and enjoy the view.

sunset1

The view from my vet’s office.

Am I 100% cured?  Of course not.  But someone’s come and cleaned the film from my internal windows.  The voices in my head are quieter.  More subtle.  Suggestions, not commands.  I can diagnose irrational thoughts and tamp them down with reassurances that my brain is attempting to mislead me.

And there are still some side effects – namely, REALLY detailed and vivid dreams. (Which I should totally write about.  Except for the one that starred Will Smith.  Hubba hubba.)

Will Smith completes his gray #Tuxedo with a tailored black #TuxedoVest.:

I love Pinterest.

The queasiness is minor and fleeting.  I’m getting some headaches, but they’re manageable and treatable.  And I’m a bit tired, so it’s not exactly easy to get out of bed.  (Not that it ever was.  Mornings and I aren’t exactly BFFs.)

So I have a slightly longer climb most days.  But so far, it’s been worth it to enjoy the view.

sunset2

The sights as I left the office.  Working in BFE has some advantages.

What’s worked for you?  What didn’t help at all?  Medication?  Therapy?  A combination?  Share your triumphs and tribulations in the comments!

 

Furnishing an (Im)Perfect Holiday

Hey!

Long time no see!  Come in, have a seat. <pours coffee>

And how was your holiday?

Yeah, I know the holidays were more than a few days weeks ago.  But since my tree is still up, it can’t possibly be too late to talk about them.  Right?

OK, OK.  I confess that I don’t exactly take a traditional approach to holidays.  I did absolutely nothing for Turkey Day, and didn’t get around to decorating my Halloween pumpkin until early December.

But there are some reasons for that.

I wasn’t always like this.  When I was a kid, we celebrated holidays in the expected fashion.  The extended family would get together for the Big Three – Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas, where we’d gather ’round a seasonally-appropriate roasted animal and stuff our faces.  Pretty normal.

After dinner, the family would split into two groups:  One set would schlep the dirty dishes and the decimated carcass off to the kitchen, where they’d begin the seemingly endless work of cleaning and putting away.  The others would lazily saunter off to the living room and either watch football or play video games.

Don’t look so surprised.  Yes, we had video games in the 80s, when most families were either Team Atari or Team Intellivision.  Atari’s user interface was a little simpler, consisting of a joystick and one FIRE button, but it was Intellivision that possessed CLEARLY superior graphics and more complex game play.

Have a look.  Atari:

Atari console.  Simple, right?

The “smash” hit Asteroids.  Meh.  You can still buy this one, kids.

And the highly sophisticated Intellivision:

Not impressed?  Rest assured that this was top-of-the-line gaming back in the day.  Plus it got me out of doing the dishes.  So I got really good at Burger Time (a food game…the irony is not lost on me) while my brother whipped my butt at Football.  Mom was KILLER at any and all space games – she’d routinely score a million points or more on the one above.  (I should also mention that your parents’ generation didn’t have any of this overcoddled candy-a$$ “beating” of a game.  It just kept repeating the action faster and faster until you perished.  You never, EVER won.  Nowadays kids get a freaking parade for managing to wear shoes on the right feet for three days in a row.  Gaaaaaah.)

Anyway.  It wasn’t until I was quite a few years older that I realized that it was the WOMEN who did the dishes and the MEN who retreated to the sofa.  I was the sole female exception.  I remember commenting to my mother that this seemed like kind of a raw deal – to which my mother said, “but we women had such great conversations and bonding time.”  That’s…nice, but I have ESPN and a dishwasher, and I’m quite certain I’d bond just fine with Tom Brady and Donovan McNabb if you left me alone in a room with them.  Hubba hubba.

Plus, after the kitchen was clean, the ladies would sit down to play “cards.”  This game consisted of about eight decks of cards, and looked like a group game of solitaire, but the object appeared to be to fling cards in the middle of the table while yelling, jumping out of your seat, and slapping everyone blocking your path to victory.  (Good thing they started this AFTER the knives were put away.  If that’s “bonding,” then you have no right to mock my dad’s love of WWE.  I mean, they play with chairs, too, right?)

So holidays were pretty nice for me.

Until I got married.

I wed into a family with “traditional values” – and the unspoken expectation was that if you needed anything, you as the wife would be obligated to make it yourself.  The paradigm shift surrounding the holidays was absolutely jarring.  If I reminded my spouse of an upcoming birthday, I’d sometimes get a card, usually late and not particularly heartfelt.  Bake your own cake if you feel like you need one; but you’ve been putting on weight since we got married, so….

Valentine’s Day?  Well, the candy’s half-price the next day, so here’s something grabbed from what was left in the clearance aisle at Wal-Mart on the 15th.

Christmas?  You, the wife, plan the getting of the tree, and while the MAN would set it up, it’s up to you to decorate and water it, and it’s STAYING there until YOU figure out how to get it to the curb.  You, as the house matriarch, buy all the presents for the kids and BOTH sets of parents, and do all the prepping, cooking, and wrapping.  If you’re lucky, you might get a present.  My favorite “surprise” gift:

We already HAD a waffle iron, of course.  His logic was that now “we” could make waffles TWICE AS FAST.  The saddest part about this gift was that it didn’t contain the letters I needed to spell out my true feelings.  (Well played, Black & Decker.)

The tipping point on my anti-holiday stance came on my second official Mother’s Day.

It was a sunny, beautiful Sunday.  We had just come home from church, and my two-month-old son was down for his post-drive nap.  I was exhausted, and desperately wanted to join him.  But my daughter, nearly two, wanted to go outside and play.  I happened to glance out the back window, and saw something that turned my stomach:  a wild rabbit had apparently been chased by a neighborhood cat or dog, and had horrifically and painfully lost the battle.  The poor bunny was completely destroyed in our backyard.  It was a gruesome scene that I absolutely did not want my daughter to see.

Tearfully, I asked my husband to please go outside and take care of it so our little girl could play.

He sighed heavily.  “Maybe after my nap.”

He went to bed, and broke my heart.

Resolutely, I plopped my baby in front of Elmo and told her we’d go outside in just a few minutes.  She happily waited while I found a large coal shovel and marched to the backyard.  I did my best to heave the rabbit innards over the embankment, and raked the soiled leaves into the runoff creek so she wouldn’t see them.

Happy Mother’s Day to me.

It was the finishing touch on a valuable life lesson:  If you have no expectations, you don’t get disappointed. 

When I periodically forget this, and experience minor disappointment at, say, a forgotten birthday, all I have to do is conjure up the mental image of the gutted rabbit, and the day looks a little bit brighter.  How could it not?

Fortunately (?) I married someone who’s perfectly fine with not making a big fuss over the holidays.  We’ve established minimal expectations – a card on your birthday, and one for the anniversary.  If we remember, that is.  Witness our fifth wedding anniversary:

Me:  <arrives at work, quickly logs into Facebook.  Sees message from brother>

Brother <via text>:  Happy Anniversary, Sis! 

Me:  <thinking> Oh $#!t.  Is that today?  <grabs phone, texts the hubs>  Happy anniversary, babe!  I love you!

The Hubs:  <via text>:  Oh $#!t.  Is that today? 

We’re clearly well-matched in that department.  HAHAHAHAHA

For Christmas, we’ve never actually exchanged gifts.  We instead use the opportunity to buy stuff for the home.  This year, we were on a mission to replace our mattress – last year we invested in a really nice bed frame and comforter, and our mattress was as old as our marriage.  So we trekked out to the local furniture warehouse to see what we could find.

While we spent WAY too much money that day, there were several things we didn’t buy.  These end tables, for example:

furn_catcage

The LAST thing I need is an excuse to hoard more clutter.  But I sort of want to trap my cats under them and play zoo.  (And now you do, too, don’t you.)

Sensing danger, the hubs “steered” me in another direction:

furn_steer

Not entirely sure what they’re going for here.  Is Cowboy Bling a thing?  I guess I just do not understand art.  Especially when it looks like something you’re forced to hang on the fridge when little Kate Junior brings it home:

furn_art1

$120.  I’m in the wrong line of work.

Or this disturbing piece….

furn_art2

For $300 you’d think it’d come with thighs.

A little modern for my taste.  And by “modern,” I mean “WTF is this crap?”

So on to something more useful.  A sofa!  For…a hobbit? A spoiled dog?

furn_tinycouch

Serving suggestion only.  Spouse not for sale.

$500? !?  I’m not sure I love my cats enough to spend $500 on their medical care.  Forget frou-frou furniture.  (Besides, they’d just sleep in the box anyway.  Or on my bladder.)

Later, from across the store:

The Hubs:  Hon!  Come QUICK!  I just found chairs with HUGE KNOCKERS!!!!

I scamper across the store, where he proudly shows me:

furn_knockers

<rim shot>

I got even, though, when we encountered this display:

furn_pears

Me:  Look, hon!  Candles!

The Hubs:  Cool.  Are they scented?  <sniffs, looks puzzled>

Me:  Yes…but just PEAR-ly.

<snort>

We did, eventually, find a great mattress.  And, because it was the holidays, we gave our wallets a workout and splurged on a new kitchen table and chairs, to replace the set we bought for $80 from craigslist ten years ago:

tablechairs

Picture taken of the five minutes it was not buried in clutter <sigh>

And a new sofa and loveseat, since our old one’s “genuine leather” was flaking in a weird psofariasis kind of way and I was getting tired of sweeping up cow skin.

sofas

And one more thing, just because it looked cool:

furn_owl1

I figured if I (meaning “the hubs”, of course) sawed off the base, it’d look amazeballs on my kitchen wall.  What do you think?

wallowls

Only $20, and it makes me smile.  Well worth it for the blast of color and joy it brings.

It’s the bow on my gift.  Merry Christmas to me!

I’m so worth it.  Aren’t we all?

We’re not traditional, but I’m (usually) OK with that.  At least I get exactly what I want.  Now bring on Valentine’s Day – Momma needs some new jewelry.  😉