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?

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.

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.

megres1a

Look at me being all servant-hearted.

megres1b

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

megres2amegres3

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:

megres4

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?

megres4b

#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:

Chipotle1

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:

Chipotle2

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:

chipotle3

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

chipotle4

OH HELL YEAH.

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

chipotle5


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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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…? 

Hotel1

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

THIS.  ROOM.  IS.  MASSIVE.

hotel2

The foyer.

hotel3a

More foyer

hotel10

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:

hotel6g

Room for at least four.

…a scale…

hotel6h

The batteries were dead.  Vegas does vacation right.

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

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

hotel15

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.

hotel15a

Whiskey and ginger ale.

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

hotel15b

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

hotel13

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!

#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!

 

Holiday Craft-up Mash-up

After my rather non-eventful Thanksgiving, I found myself facing the cavernous space of a largely open weekend.  My two little darlings were at their dads, and the hubs was taking my stepsons to see their grandparents.  Except for a brief rehearsal Sunday morning, I had nothing in front of me.

Aaaaaaaahhhhhhhhh.

OK.  Don’t get me wrong.  I do love my family.  Most of the time.  Usually.  But when you’re a parent, you really come to appreciate having the house all to yourself on the rare occasions it actually happens.

So I grabbed the TV remote and prepped for a long-overdue recliner sesh complete with hot coffee and trashy TV.  But when I headed to the kitchen to score an accompanying nosh, I spotted this:

pump1

Note the coffee mug dwarfed by this monstrosity.

Oh, yeah….the pumpkin.

Maaaayyyyyybe I should be getting around to…doing something with this thing.

I should explain – I never intended to HAVE a pumpkin.  But for years I’ve participated in a crop-share, and sometimes you get some rather unexpected items.  As a result of my weekly veggie boxes, I can use the word kohlrabi in a sentence, I’ve learned how to make pickles, and I’ve discovered several delicious ways to cook turnips. (Really.  Cube them and roast them, then mash with either winter squash, sweet potatoes, or russets.  You’re welcome.)

So I hadn’t gone out and bought this thing on purpose. (Can you imagine lugging that sucker home in a plastic grocery bag?  It’d cut off the circulation in your pinkies faster than a haul of 2-liter sodas and cat litter.)  It just appeared next to my CSA delivery in mid-October.  I rolled it home and shoved it into my pantry, and let Halloween AND Thanksgiving roll by while I largely ignored it.

Pumpkins don’t last forever, though, and I knew that the clock was ticking on this one.  Plus, I hate, hate, HATE throwing food away.  The thought of “wasting” something totally sets off my anxiety (I even addressed it in therapy.  Once.  I can DO it, but I still don’t like it very much.)

So, with an entire day (and no witnesses) in front of me , I decided to tackle my propensity for procrastination AND my deficient crafting gene and get my carve on.

I wash the pumpkin (logical next step, right? I mean, if you’re going to face a project like this, and you’re me, you have good odds of embedding a blade somewhere in a hand, foot, or left buttcheek.  I’m up-to-date on my tetanus shots, but best to scrub off any residual fertilizer just in case.)

I stare at it.  I’ve carved pumpkins, before, of course.  Like, a million years ago when the kids were little.

pastpumpkins

Circa 2003.  Some of you weren’t even born yet, were you.

Literally the last time I attempted a pumpkinectomy was 2005.  ELEVEN YEARS AGO.

pumpkinbabies

They would kill me dead if they knew I posted this…but they’re so damn LITTLE.  (sniff)

What I remember about this process:  pumpkin-carving sounds like a really engaging family activity at the onset…but after about five minutes of wrist-cramping, digit-threatening knife moves, the whole thing deteriorates into a clumsy, slippery, why-on-earth-did-I-think-this-was-fun chore that you just.want.to.be.DONE.with.  (And how exactly did pumpkin entrails get stuck on the ceiling??)

<sigh>  Sounds like a party.

So whatever I decided to do was gonna have to be pretty dang simple.  And it wouldn’t hurt to have something at least quasi-seasonally appropriate.  I did have my tree up, after all:

15135899_1261529543914309_6371334200203993686_n

This “angel” never gets old….

Hey, if my tree topper can sport an MG08/15, then Christmas pumpkin it is.  Why not? 

I called out to the hubs, who was running around packing up the car with all the electronics the boys would need to stay entertained at Grandma’s house.  (They’d be there a full day and a half, ya know, so best to pack up the Xbox AND the Playstation AND a couple of laptops.  Being the stepmom, I don’t get much of a say in that, so whatever.  Not my circus, not my monkeys.)

Anyway, I need some paint.

Me:  “Hey hon…do we have any Christmas-appropriate paint?”  He had to have something – in addition to collecting cardboard boxes, he also keeps a variety of paints around, just in case he gets a hankering to play with his airbrushing tools or his 3D printer.  (Aaaaand now we see where his boys get it.)  I’d complain, but I have to admit it does come in handy when you suddenly have to do a project like RIGHT NOW.

Hubs:  “I’m sure I do.  What kind of paint?”

Me (confused.  Kind?  The colored kind. ???):  “Um…the kind that…goes on, like, walls and crafts and stuff.”

Hubs:  (gamely trying again):  “Well, what are you using it for?”

Me:  “To carve this pumpkin.” (Obviously.)

Fortunately, the hubs is used to me pretty much not making sense, so he rummages around in the basement and unearths two cans of spray paint – one red and one green.  That’ll do! 

I hop on the interwebs to find a simple Christmas design.  I know I can’t draw, but I can trace.  Maybe a stencil?

HAHAHAHAHAHAHA no.  Pretty, but no.  This is more my speed:

And then I found this:

It’s pretty much one long line.  And not even a straight line, which I can’t cut anyway.  PERFECT.

But I wasn’t happy with the star, so I found this one to use instead:

I printed these out, and traced them onto coffee filters.  (Which are perfect for not only tracing crap, but ALSO for making snowflakes, because in addition to being really thin paper that’s easy to cut, they’re also ALREADY ROUND.  Try it.)

I dig some double-sided tape out of the junk drawer.  Pro tip:  double-sided tape + coffee filters = not very forgiving.  But, after some colorful language, I got there:

pump2

You can see on the left where I ran out of filter before I ran out of stencil.  Whoops

Okay.  Looks doable.

<deep breath> Knife time!

pump3

Eeeeewwwww

In case you’ve forgotten how slimy pumpkin guts are….let me remind you.  Each of the eleventy-kajillion seeds are attached to what looks like internal pumpkin hair.  <shudder> I grab an ice-cream scoop, and, after some vigorous scooping, use a razor blade to “shave” the insides a bit.  It helps:

pump4

Still gross.  But better.

Now for the fun part.  I trace the entire stencil with a razor blade, and follow it with a marker so I can see where to hack.  This leaves me feeling like some sort of odd-duck vegetation tattoo artist.  Empowering, in a basement-creeper sort of way.

I begin work on the star, which because of the intricate, teeny tiny points, takes me approximately fifteen @#$(@#$@ years to complete.  (Give or take.)  I find, in the hubs’ stash, a surgical scalpel (because doesn’t every hoarder have one?) and channel my inner Dexter as I scrape and pick out every fussy little corner.

Whose idea was this again?

Thankfully, once I start on the tree part, it goes much faster.

pump5

Progress!

I keep plugging away.  After the tree is cut, I grab a screw hook and drive several holes into the gourd to make stars:

pump6

Hey.  That’s not half bad. 

Now for spray paint.  I take the whole mess outside and, after a few tentative squirts, go to town:

pump7

Look Ma, more cardboard!

YAY!  Let’s light it!!!

Oh…wait.  I read the label on the can (because it would have been really amateurish to do that BEFORE I started shooting paint everywhere):

Dries to touch in 15-30 minutes; 60 minutes to handle

SIXTY MINUTES?!?!  I have to wait AN HOUR???  @#($@#$#@$

Reluctantly, I go inside and clean my kitchen.  Most of the squash innards are confined to the kitchen table and floor (and yeah, the walls, but just two and just a little.)

Oh, and I’d better deal with these, I guess.

pump9

One pumpkin = one metric f*%&ton of seeds.

I read somewhere that pumpkin seeds float, so I filled the bowl with water and just sort of mushed the sludge to the bottom, which made fairly short work of the mess.  Make no mistake – it was still work.  But after an hour, I had a clean(ish) kitchen and a lifetime supply of pumpkin seeds for roasting later:

pump10

Seeds for DAYS, yo.

<BEEP BEEP BEEP> That’s the timer.  We’re ready to light this shiz UP!

pump8

Still decidedly not terrible.

I can’t wait to see it at night.  But dark is TWO LONG HOURS AWAY.

What to do…what to do….

I go shopping.  (Of course.  Because Christmas.  Ha, who am I kidding.  ‘Tis the season ME ME ME.)

Three hours and two new sweaters later:

pump12

Wait. Shut off the porch light, dummy.pump13

Well, whaddya know.  I CAN CRAFT!!!! 

Sometimes, procrastination pays.

Martha Stewart, eat your heart out. 

On Thursday

My eyes slowly open.  It’s brighter out than usual.  I must have slept in.

The blinds are closed, but a foggy, soft light peeks into the room through the small slits.  I roll over and squint at the clock.  A red 7:37 confirms for me that today is not a normal work day.

It is Thursday.  It is unusual to have a day off in the middle of the week.  My brain works to reconcile this.  I am still in bed after the sun woke up.  Today is Thursday, but it is different. 

I turn over and blink at the ceiling.  I could get up.  Or I could close my eyes and doze for a bit longer.  Knowing that tomorrow I will have to get myself up, dressed, and presented to the world in time to support my coworkers in the Black Friday madness, I decide that I best roll out of bed and face the day.  Otherwise, sleep won’t come until the wee hours.

I go to the window and part the blinds with two fingers.  It’s overcast, but most of the snow that fell earlier in the week has retreated to the grassy areas.  The roads are clear, damp in spots and dry in others.

It is Thursday, and on Thursdays, I run.  I don my shoes and my fleece running tights and head out the door.

It’s cold and damp, but not offensively so.  I ask my phone to shuffle my music, and start my run-tracking appThe scale knows only that today is Thursday.  My thighs don’t know today is different. 

My spouse chose to sleep in, so today’s workout is a solo effort.  The hubs prefers a specific route, but today, I can choose my path.  I pause for a moment, overwhelmed by options and unsure of my direction.  On Thursdays, we go right.  But today is different.  I turn left at the end of the driveway.

Siri‘s in a Broadway kind of mood today.  My phone blasts excerpts from Aspects of Love and Hairspray. I don’t wear headphones when I run; I want to be able to hear approaching cars and unleashed dogs.  This morning, the air is largely still.  It’s unusually quiet for a Thursday.  The normal hum of rush-hour traffic is missing, and I can’t decide if the incongruous silence is comforting or unsettling.   My eyes and ears note the contrast.  Today is Thursday, but it is different. 

The lack of activity makes me hyper-aware of my surroundings.  I note the lone passenger at the bus stop, bundled in a thick parka.  I start as a squirrel darts a few feet in front of me.  A partially rusted car, painted with gray primer, makes a U-turn in the middle of the street and parks a half block ahead of me.  It’s a safe neighborhood, but I confirm my grip on my pepper spray, moving the nozzle to “fire.”  I watch as a wiry, bearded man exits the vehicle, hoisting his bag of newspapers over his shoulder.  I nod in his direction and smile as I call out, “Good morning!”  He looks up, surprised, but returns the greeting.  Perhaps on Thursdays, no one says hello to the junk paper delivery guy.  But today is different.

My phone announces the start of Mile Two.  Halfway there.  I cover a few more squares of sidewalk before carefully turning around to reverse my route.  I leap over small snow piles, avoiding the bumpy metallic curb slopes.  (Those suckers are slippery. ) Occasionally, I land in a pile of slush.  It clogs the treads of my running shoes and I lose a bit of traction.  I press on.  I shouldn’t fall.

I shake the snow loose and let my mind wander as I pass the ranch-styles and split-levels.  Is the neighborhood awake?  Are they in their kitchens, slicing potatoes?  Are they at their laptops, frantically Googling “fastest way to thaw a frozen turkey”?  Perhaps they’re eagerly anticipating the arrival of family – or maybe everyone arrived last night, leaving them wondering if it’s too early to uncork a bottle of red.  I wonder if any of them are looking out their windows.  Do they see me?  Do they think “look at her dedication, running even today!”  Because although it is Thursday, and there is no reason not to run on normal Thursdays, today is different.

Mile Three.   I run across a normally busy street without looking.  On Thursday, this is dangerous.  But it’s so peaceful, the possibility of traffic doesn’t even occur to me until I’ve crossed two lanes.  Today is different.  Even Siri attempts to remind me of the date, as she offers up When October Goes (yes, Barry Manilow is in my collection, don’t judge) and November Rain as subtle hints.

It’s unnecessary.  I know what today is.

Today, families across the country are gathering around tables piled high with turkey, stuffing, gravy and cranberries.  They’ll cheer their favorite teams as they lift forks and spoons filled with spiced pumpkin and ice cream.  And after the game, they might sit around the table, sharing old stories and sandwiches and card games and coffee, reminiscing and laughing by a crackling fire.

This is not my today.  Today is different.

I arrive home, clapping bark and leaves off my shoes.  My kids are celebrating the holiday with their father.  My siblings are with my mother as she navigates both her first wedding anniversary and first major holiday without her husband in over fifty years.  Sure, I could have boarded a plane to be with them. I could have joined the millions of Americans who just yesterday jammed the airports and highways, shelling out dollars and tempers and myriad frustrations in order to chase their expectations.

Out loud, to coworkers, I pride myself on refusing to travel during what I have deemed “amateur hour,” fighting to get to my gate among beginners who don’t understand which line to wait in and never remember that a full water bottle is a weapon which must be discarded before you hit Security.

I opt out of the madness.  I claim to prefer a relaxed, subdued holiday.  Sometimes I manage to convince myself this is true.

The house is quiet.  Warm and dark after the damp, oddly bright cloudiness outside.  My stepsons are awake and plugged into their respective computers, oblivious to my entrance.

I retreat to the basement to stretch.  The cats join me, craning their necks for an ear-scratch while I release the tension in my quads and hamstrings.  I clean up a small pile of regurgitated cat food.  I scoop the litterbox.  I dole out hairball treats.

The scale is there, waiting for me.  It’s Thursday.  Hop on.  I sigh, exhale, and ask the judge for mercy.  She grants it, haltingly.  I’m still on probation.  Five more pounds, maybe seven.  I can do this.  Even today. 

After my shower, I switch on the coffee pot.  I assemble a green smoothie.  It is Thursday, after all.  No reason to switch to pancakes or cookies.  No occasion warrants a sidestep from the calorie-counting regimen.  Not even today.

Sipping slowly, I plot out my day.  There’s a sale starting at 6 PM; I get $10 off my purchase.  That might be worth waiting in line for.  Football will be on most of the day; I can toast some pumpkin seeds and relax in my new recliner until then.  I pick out an afghan that my husband’s grandmother made.  I turn on the Christmas tree, letting the lights illuminate the room.

Today, it is Thursday.  And my life will not be a Norman Rockwell painting.  Nor will it be an episode of Keeping Up with the Kardashians.  I suppose one might be thankful for that.

My life isn’t what I planned.  I envisioned hectic holidays, crammed to the gills with family laughter and delicious food and epic card games and stolen naps.  As a child, I never thought through the what-ifs of divorce and geography.  Yet I live it today, the quiet being a product of the choices I’ve made.

I did what I thought was best at the time.

Isn’t that all any of us can do?

Make no mistake, I’m aware that I’ve been richly blessed.  My life is, overall, quite good.

It’s just different.  Especially today.

Later, I’ll bake some fish and roast some of the veggies from my weekly crop share delivery. I’ll get my Christmas lists ready. Maybe a new pair of booties will wend their way into my Amazon basket. I’ll work to shove the should-haves and don’t-eats out of the way as I focus on nurturing my soul.

I should probably do that every Thursday.

But today is different.  Every part of my body and all of my senses are telling me so.

I hear it most clearly from my heart.

I settle into the couch and flip on the game.  One of my cats is curled up next to me.

To him, it’s just Thursday.  And he seems perfectly content with that.

catnap

I’ll try to be, too.