The Communication Conundrum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well, bless your heart.

Excuse you?!?

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

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

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

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

Anyway.

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

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

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

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

Him: ….Butt thistle?

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

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

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

Him: <blink> So…you like it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They didn’t invite you for a reason.

No one thinks you NEED fast food.

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

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

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

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

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

Rage Against the…Um…Something!

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

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

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

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

Is it ever OK to cry at work?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Source

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

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

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

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

Well, funny you should put it that way.

Because…I can’t.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe then, I will be granted permission to eat.

Strange Dreams are Happenin’ to Me

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Um….isn’t this a cactus?”

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

<facepalm>

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

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

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

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

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

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

And I hear him whisper, “…disgusting.”

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

What this means:

Well….

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

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

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

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

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

(Says who?)

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

And a little piece of my heart cracked in two.

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

Yet….

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

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

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

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

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

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

At least, not today?

source

<big sigh>

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

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

Hello, Violence

<blows off dust>

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

I will.  One day.  Promise.

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

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

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

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


(click here for audio)

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

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

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

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

of the hurricane of violence

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


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

 

951fc036e589f9c9ac5146a5ffd99d4a

Can I get an Amen?

Flashback Father’s Day: The Lessons of a Legacy

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

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

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

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

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

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

Carrots in My Carryon

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

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

funeralbig

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

I am what survives of me. ~Erik Erikson

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

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

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

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

View original post 1,736 more words

The Indelible Ninja Scars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In summary, things were going smoothly.

The calm before the storm.

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

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

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

Prom1

prom2

That’s my boy. LOL

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

prom3prom4

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

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

Leaving me alone.

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

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

But it happened.

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

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

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

Now, it was time.

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

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

This is not an affliction for the proud.

get it out get it out get it out

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

I clean up and try to sleep.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today, I hang on.

Facebook Fights Are No Walk in the Park

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

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

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

facebook1

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

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

facebook5

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

Right?

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

FAcebook1b

Ugh.  Ugh???

Really?  Was that…necessary?

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

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

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

So.

facebook1c

<mic drop>

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

And what happened when I did arrive home?

Nothing.

Nada. Zip.

He didn’t even mention it.

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

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

But, the next day, I noticed a response:

facebook3

Okay, some thoughts.

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

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

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

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

facebook4

So how did the hubs react?

He didn’t.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

It was a gathering of all things, great…

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

(It just barged in… <snort>)

…and small.

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

IMG_6547

UNDERSTAND.

Not a bad goal.

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

Paving a Positive Path

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nuts.  Loopy.  Crazy.  Unbalanced.  Psycho. 

Yeah.  You probably have a few more.

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

Um.  <cough>  <furrows brow> Uh…

 Okay, so what words do we typically use?

Patient.  Survivor.

Ayup.  Exactly.

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

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

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

Very non-threatening.

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


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

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!

April Fools: Jokers on the Job

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

So how was YOUR April Fools’ Day?

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

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

AprilFool

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

<wipes tears>  Ah, memories.

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

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

snow1

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

snow2

My window is the 2nd window from the right.

snow3

Like a scene from Dr. Zhivago.

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

tunnel2

Never underestimate the power of motivation.

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

Tunnel1

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

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

I love my company.  LOL

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

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

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

diaper

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

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

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

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

VendorFail1

Hint:  It’s an ineffective sales “pitch”

Any guesses?

Anyone?

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

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

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

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

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

She opened the box to find a reasonably cute tchotchke:

MarkFail1

Aww.  I guess.

A mini-trash can.  That’s new.

Hmm.  There’s something inside….

It was…

…wait for it….

This.

MarkFail2

Her nails, though.  Gorgeous like she is.

I.  AM.  CRYING.

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

It was SUPPOSED to be chocolate-covered caramels:

markFail3

A surviving set.  And again, those nails.  LOVE

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

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

The ultimate <coughcough> marketing fail.

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

creepycat

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

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

Save

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.