Thankfulness

I have not been a very thankful person in a while. Perhaps, and by perhaps I mean most definitely, not for years. I’ve been more of a take things for granted and bemoan why bad things happen to me sort of person. I would like to say it began when Colin was laid off back in 2014 and we moved in with my mom. But if I am truly honest with myself, it started way before that.

Instead of being thankful for a job, I would bemoan why someone got promoted faster than me or made more than me. When I had kids, instead enjoying them for the individual wonders that they are, I would compare them to other people’s kids and wonder why mine weren’t politer, quieter, nicer, etc. When we had to rent a townhouse when we first moved here, I was attacked by the green-eyed monster Envy when looking at the houses of my friends. And worst of all, when my mom died, I became jealous of those that still had their moms. Talk about the worst.

This has all led to a very deep soul-sucking spiral of self pity. And I want out. I have found my inspiration from my old frenemy Facebook. Friends are using Facebook to post what they are thankful for in November. I won’t lie, it was hard to see people come up with these deep, meaningful posts of what they were thankful for. But I am learning you don’t have to be grateful for just the big things. Be grateful for the small things and before you know it, they are snowballing into a big life full of gratitude.

So, dear friends, if you have been stuck like me, behold the things that I have been thankful for in November so far. As you can see, most are small, but honestly, just 15 days in, I am feeling so much more hopeful and grateful.

Nov. 1- I am thankful for April (my 18 year old cat)
Nov. 2- I am thankful for health insurance
Nov. 3- I am thankful for a calm and enjoyable evening with the boys
Nov. 4- I am thankful for a nice evening with Colin
Nov. 5- I am thankful for the time I had with my mom
Nov. 6- I am thankful to be employed
Nov. 7- Today I am thankful that I did not lose my cool, even when the kids were in meltdown mode
Nov. 8- I am thankful for Facebook memories
Nov. 9- I am thankful for friends that don’t write me off
Nov. 10- I am thankful for money to buy groceries
Nov. 11- I am thankful for the people who serve in the armed forces that keep us safe
Nov. 12- I am thankful for the play area at IKEA
Nov. 13- I am thankful for my hair stylist Alyson
Nov. 14- I am thankful for Colin cleaning the bathrooms
What are you feeling thankful for this today?
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Remembering Tom Petty

Last night I prayed out loud. It’s been awhile since I’ve prayed. I think that I’ve been mad at God because of my mom, even though my brain knows that how she died was much more merciful than the fate that awaited her. But last night, I was compelled to voice out loud what I needed from God.

I laughed out loud when I prayed. What I was asking for was ludicrous in light of the tragedy that had occurred in Las Vegas Sunday night. In light of what is happening in Puerto Rico, and the Northwest, and all over the world. I prayed for God to spare Tom Petty.

I can see the incredulous looks on all of your faces. But I needed it. And I think a lot of us needed it. The carnage and loss of life in Las Vegas was and is unfathomable. It’s incomprehensible. And to get the news that Tom Petty was on life support seemed like a kick to the nuts after a blow to the head. It felt like if Petty could pull through, maybe the world wouldn’t be such a cruel place.

Even before I prayed, I knew that his chances had to be slim. “No brain activity” read one report, while another claimed that he had “been removed from life support”. I should have known better. People don’t just die because the plug is pulled. Their body has a plan and ultimately, I believe God has a plan. Maybe Petty was waiting for a loved one to make it to the hospital. Maybe he was waiting for someone to leave. Maybe there was a line at St. Peter’s gate from all of the lost souls in Las Vegas. Yet I still held out hope that there would be good news this morning. Hope springs eternal I guess.

I remember buying “Full Moon Fever” at a used cd shop when I was a young teenager. His sound was unlike anything I had ever heard before. I know I came to the party late, but I was hooked. His most famous hit from that cd would probably be “Free Fallin'”, but the track that called to me the most was “Yer So Bad.” The words didn’t mean much to me, but oh, could I feel that song in my bones.

And his music videos! They are works of art. “Don’t Come Around Here No More”. I had never known that music could narrate books in such a captivating way.  I could not change the channel whenever I came across that video playing on MTV. And “Last Dance With Mary Jane”. I won’t lie, as a teen I loved that song because of its illicit reference to weed, but that music video was so ethereal and haunting, and honestly, heart string tweaking.

I read a statement from Pat McAfee yesterday in which he wrote that Tom Petty was the third member of road trips that he took with his dad. This was the same for my mom and me. She had a love of just driving the back roads, especially in Virginia through some of the scenic byways, and Tom Petty was always a favorite to rock out to with the windows down and the sunroof open. To this day, I find it impossible to not crank the radio up, open the windows and belt along whenever a Tom Petty song comes on the radio. One of the stations yesterday was playing non-stop Petty once the original, erroneous news broke and I drove from Carmel to Fishers, windows down, singing my heart out.

I still feel sad today. I am listening to Tom Petty on Amazon as I type this. I will regret not seeing him when I had the chance this summer. But heaven just got a little bit cooler and perhaps Tom will ride shotgun with my mom and serenade her as they drive through the mountains.

Normal

I interrupt the barrage of happy looking photos on Facebook to bring you this story.

Normal. What does it feel like as a normal person? This may seem like a weird question to ask, but it is one that I have been grappling with for a significant part of my life.

The last time I think that I felt normal was the 5th grade. So that would be what, 28 years ago? Wow! What do I define as normal? Feeling comfortable in my skin, not judgemental of others (beyond what most 5th graders were judgey of back in the pre-internet days), loved and loving. What makes 5th grade the cut off; what changed?

First, I changed schools my 6th grade year. Knowing no one, I realized that there were already cliques and that I with my “unique” sense of style (Bart Simpson t-shirts, anyone?) and the fact that I towered over everyone, was not going to fit in, no matter how much I wanted to.

Summer before 7th grade: my two best friends in the world (from all throughout elementary school) tell me that I am no longer cool enough to be their friends. Cool enough to be their friends? There are no harsher words that can be uttered to totally destroy a 12 year old’s self esteem.

I could go year by year, but it all starts to sound like a scratchy record on repeat. By high school, I was trying to figure out was I a good girl, a bad girl, a theater girl, or invisible. Cue college.

College was when I came to the realization that perhaps not everything that I was feeling was normal. That I felt more than the average person. So, going to a psychiatrist, I was introduced to Prozac and Paxil. Later, as life through college became bumpier due to a highly dysfunctional college relationship, I would become acquainted with Wellbutrin and Seroquel. I definitely felt more on an even keel, but was told that the medicines made me seem “less” like myself, so taking them became a choice: feel less anxious and more in control, or stay the version that people were used to me being. I made the choice to stay the version that people were used to.

After college, I made some very poor choices. Lots of guys, lots of drugs. Too much drinking and definitely not enough time taking care of myself or loving myself. Fast forward to 2004 and I had a breakdown. I asked to be committed to a local hospital because I literally did not feel like I could function anymore. I was sleeping an average of 4-5 hours a night, working long hours, and drinking too much. Back to the Paxil and Wellbutrin and I decided to make a life changing decision. I moved to Australia for 3 months to be with my brother and his family.

After being in Australia and feeling like I was finally in control of my life, I did what most people on medication do and decided I didn’t need it any more. And to be clear, I’ve never been diagnosed bi-polar or schizophrenic or any of those disorders, so I believed (not being a psychiatrist myself) that perhaps I didn’t need those drugs anymore to function.

So, from 2005 to 2012, I lived a pretty normal life. I spent a lot of time with family, made some new friends, and met my husband. We dated and after a year, he proposed. We were married in 2007. I may have had fleeting moments of not feeling good enough for him, or jealousy over women he worked with, but I figured that was normal. Not anything that might require counseling or medication again.

Then, in 2012, I became pregnant with our second son. At this point, we had relocated to Indiana and I knew no one except for my brother, his family, and my sister and mom. I found out I was pregnant in April when Ciaran turned 10 months old (oh, so that’s how babies are made!). It was the hottest summer on record and I was reeling from 24 hour morning sickness. I finally reached my third trimester and told my OB that I needed help. I was crying all of the time, felt helpless to do anything with Ciaran because I felt so sick all of the time. She prescribed Zoloft for me. And the fog started to lift and I felt better equipped to handle my life.

Since then, I have switched from Zoloft to Paxil and have added Buspirone and Xanax for anxiety. A week ago, I met with my nurse practitioner and told her that I was feeling more anxious and that I had been feeling unable to cry for my mom. She suggested changing from Paxil to Viibryd to see if that helped. And now I am in hell. I hope to God that this is not how normal feels. I thought that doing the change over my break to Florida would be a good idea in case this were side effects and I am glad that I did. I am having horrendous nightmares that I wake up from with a heart beating so fiercely that I am afraid it is going to burst out of my chest. If I thought that I was being haunted by ghosts in my dreams before, that was a walk in the park compared to what comes through my dreams now. I feel like I have a huge weight that takes up my chest cavity and that I could literally crawl out of my skin at any moment. The only peaceful moment that I have had so far has been kayaking on the Indian River and watching the manatees frolic.

So, when I return next week, I will follow up with my NP and will start therapy with a new therapist and hope that the new medication kicks in. But that still leaves me with the question, what does feeling like a normal person feel like? I hope it feels like having energy and wanting to exercise and cook and do fun things with my boys. I hope it feels like living a full and meaningful life and not doing things because I feel obligated or because they are the path of least resistance. And I hope that it means that I can finally mourn for my mom in a way that feels right to me.

If you read this and feel compelled, can you tell me what normal feels like for you?

The Bible, Mental Health, and Justice

Probably not three things that would immediately connect in your head if you were asked to name a few similar items or ideas. But stick with me; I promise to try to fit it all together in the end.

So, I recently read a book called “What is the Bible” by Rob Bell. I feel like I can’t do this book justice in trying to explain how it made the bible a more tangible, relatable, real-life book for me. Bell’s basic premise is that the bible is a library of books, written thousands of years ago, and that the words need to be taken in the context of the time that they were written, yet in doing so, we do not make them impertinent to today.

One great example is Hell. I believe that he wrote that the word Hell itself is not actually in the bible. The word that is attributed to being translated as Hell was a literal place in Jerusalem; a valley where the trash was dumped, lit on fire, and burned continually. So back when the stories were written of people being sent to “Hell”, the narrator or protagonist of the story was telling them that they would end up in the valley of the garbage inferno. Thousands of years later, we have taken that translation and turned it into Hell being a place where a person burns for eternity.

Another interesting example is Heaven. As a Christian society, we have been raised to believe that there is a Holy Kingdom where we will sit with God and Jesus and be reunited with all of our loved ones. As children, we believed Heaven to be located just on the other side of the fluffy white clouds in the sky. As adults, we know better. I for one am not sure where Heaven is, but Bell has a theory.

In the Bible, God and Jesus implore humans to love one another and care for one another, and to be good to the earth and all of her creatures. Bell hypothesizes through different scriptures that it is only when we all put down our weapons and hate, and there is peace on earth, that heaven and earth will be the same place. Earth will be heaven. Now, I have to tell you, that blew my mind when I read that. Heaven will be on earth? How will that work?

But here is where mental illness comes in and why I think we will never find the answer to that question. There are three types of people with mental illnesses. The first type are the people that do not believe that anything is wrong with them and that the problem is with everyone else. There is nothing that is going to be able to convince these people that they have a chemical imbalance that can be helped. The second type are the people that  recognize that they have a mental illness and then either can’t find help or are inconsistent in the treatment that they receive. Then, and I like to believe I fall into this last group, there is the group that recognizes that they have a mental illness and do whatever they can to treat it. Even when times are hard and curling up in bed or jumping off a bridge feels like the easier course of action. These people persevere despite their illness.

So, if you constantly have a group of people that do not believe that they are ill and don’t get help, and unfortunately manage to gain positions of power, peace can never be found on earth. I don’t know if it’s delusions or the stigma attached, but there is no way to get through to this group. And so centuries will continue, man will continue to do barbaric things to the earth and each other, and peace and heaven will remain elusive.

Wow, that last paragraph is grim. Yet that is how things feel right now. We have old white men wanting women, especially non-white women, to not ask hard questions that deserved to be asked and answered. We have a leader that is mocked by others for his behaviors. The same leader that is now being investigated for obstruction of justice. And it feels like the leaders that we have elected are doing nothing to bring justice about. No one came to Kamala Harris’s side when she was shushed in not one but two Senate hearings. I don’t see Democrats, with the exceptions of Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, and Chris Murphy, stepping up and decrying what is becoming of our beautiful democracy. There seems to be a lot of hand-wringing and a lot of talk about mid-term elections, but what about now? Where are the strong speeches denouncing hate and three mass shootings in one day? Where are the people flocking to the Capital to demand of Senators what they are trying to hide by banning recording devices in public spaces? Where is Dan Rather and can he come back to television to give us the reality check that we all so richly need?

We need love. We need justice. We need peace. We need involvement. If you are a type two or three person, keep getting the help you need. And then spread the love. Stamp out the hate. Hate only can grow when it is acknowledged and allowed to spread. Get justice where possible and ignore the rest. Love one another as neighbors because we are all neighbors. I stand for Kamala, Elizabeth, the Pulse nightclub victims, the Congressional baseball victims, the victims of the fire in London. I see them, and I see you.

My Mom’s Passing (A Rememberance)

I had a dream about my  mom two nights ago. In it, she was helping me pick up the boys. My sister was there as well. We got the boys buckled in and than Lauren asked me if I was going to ride with mom in the van. I shook my head no and indicated that I would ride with her in the Subaru, following my mom. Even in my dreams, I turn away from her and to someone else. Guilty and ashamed, I present you with the Rememberance I read at mom’s memorial service, detailing her last day on earth.

“Mom. Three little letters that can’t even begin to encompass everything that she was to us. I wish that I had forever to talk about her to you, but I was given a suggested time of three minutes and I’m afraid that the music will start playing to get me to wrap it up, like at the Oscars. So I won’t be talking about her contagious smile, or her infectious laugh, or joie de vivre, or her love of flowers, cute baby animals, and butterflies. Instead, I would like to tell you about the remarkable moment of her death.

We had removed the vent Saturday evening and having no better way of saying it, we were waiting for her to pass. Lauren had vowed that she was not leaving the room unless absolutely necessary and by no means was she leaving the hospital. Consequently, she was not getting any more that 1-2 hours of sleep a day (She would get on me for tracking her sleep, but hey, someone had to make sure she was getting some.) Saturday night crept along and mom’s resilient spirit and powerful heart were determined to keep her with us. Then, sometime Sunday afternoon, it came down to Lauren, myself, Colin, and Kim Olson in the room. Lauren was napping at mom’s side, cocooned in a blanket that I swear is made from the fur of baby animals, it is so soft and fluffy. Colin was reading his phone and Kim and I were chit-chatting about various church things. The nurse, a huge 6’8” ex-Marine teddy bear of a man came in to check on her vitals and that was when we saw that her heart beat had dropped into the 30’s. Her heart rate had been holding steady between the 50’s and 80’s, so we thought that this was a sign that she would be passing within the next few hours. Kim asked if we would like to pray, so we gathered around mom’s bed and Kim began. I do not remember most of the specifics of the prayer, but I do recall that Kim let mom know that it was okay to go and that Jesus was there to welcome her with open arms. At “Amen”, we all looked up and she was gone. Peacefully and silently, she slipped away as we prayed to her. The nurse said that he had never witnessed such a beautiful passing in prayer before. Later, we decided that she waited for Lauren to wake up from her nap to go to God, having finally realized that Lauren indeed was never going to leave her side.

I would like to leave you with a poem that I found, written by Joanne Bailey Baxter. It is titled “Mother on Mother’s Day”.

You were the center of our universe
The mother of us all
You gave to us your everything
We only need to call

And soon your strength was tested
Though you put up such a fight
For from a distant spiritual land
The angels called you in the night

For someone up in heaven
Looked down upon the land
And chose mom for her strength
To come and give a hand

He knew that her legacy
That she had left behind
Would withstand the pain and grief
Over a period of time

For she had fulfilled his prophesy
Spreading love, honor, and hope
She instilled in those she left behind
The ability to understand and cope”

Be good to one another. Be good to your mommas. I love you all.

Ghosts

I am being haunted by my past.

The main manifestation of this come in dreams. I have recurring dreams of my ex from college. We were together 3 1/2 tumultuous years. I would like to be able to say that all of our problems stemmed from him, but I have to accept some blame too. We ended our relationship on horrendous terms, but managed to see each other the last semester of school without me completely clawing his eyes out.

But back to the dreams. In them, I am always trying to break up with him (knowing what a train wreck we are together), but he is never willing to let me go. So then there is either infidelity on his or my side, an enormous amount of screaming and fighting, or one of us just walking away. There was one dream where he took my boys with him. Let me tell you, that woke me up in an instant, heart pounding, sweat running down my back, my mouth parched.

Another dream involves my step-dad. I haven’t had one since my mom died, but in the ones I’ve had, he is always back from the dead. We affirm that he has been dead for a long time (it will be 15 years this December), and there is always some crazy reason why he’s back. Once, he claimed to have been buried alive. Another time, it was that he hadn’t died, he had been working on an assignment. Maybe it’s my mind trying to hold on to him, keep him from slipping away into the deep recesses of my memory.

I had a doozy of a dream the other night. In it, I had a one night stand with someone I worked with. (I don’t think that I was married in this dream). I overheard this man talking to a friend and he said, “I just did it to make my wife jealous and that I was over her. She (meaning me) didn’t mean anything to me.” I awoke from that dream shattered.

I think that I have always spent my life feeling like I was never enough for anyone. That has been the ghost haunting me. The fear of never measuring up. The fear of being unmemorable. I think it is natural for everyone to want to feel as if they’ve made an imprint on people’s lives. I’m just scared that when my time is up, there will not be anyone who looks back and says “She mattered to me; she had a positive effect on my life”.

Take this as a reminder to let people know that they do matter to you. I’m sure that I’m not the only one who feels this way. I think that if we all could just take the time to let people know how much they mean to us, it might just make this world a kinder and more peaceful place.

No Woman No Cry

We are now approaching the 5th week since my mom died. I feel like this is the morbid opposite of a couple in love. It’s our first month together, our first three months together, a week since we said “I love you”. Except I am marking time as “one week since I lost my mom”, “six weeks since I last heard her voice”, and “I can’t remember the last time I heard her say “I love you”. And we are at 4 weeks and 3 days since the last time I cried.

At first, I thought that I was in shock. One week she was healthy-ish, going through her cancer treatment, and a week later, she was gone. I chalked it up to being too busy planning her memorial, too busy trying to be the rock that my sister could cleave to, too busy trying to remain a mom to my two littles at home.

At the memorial, everyone cried…..except me. Even the sky cried, with the thunder and the lightening doing a funereal tango across the sky. Oh, how mom loved dancing. Tango, salsa, country. So You Think You Can Dance and Dancing With the Stars. The lightening and the thunder were her grand finale that day. Three tens mom.

So, I found a grief group. I have experienced the most recent passing. There are parents who lost their kids to suicide and overdoses over the past six months. A woman who lost the love of her life after 60+ years of marriage 4 months ago. All of them sobbing in anguish while I sit by myself on a leather couch, wondering what the hell is wrong with me.

I’ve now turned to movies. They have always been a go-to when it comes to get the waterworks flowing. I started with “Beauty and the Beast”. In the theater by myself with a handful of strangers. It was and is my most favorite Disney movie and my sister was telling me how much mom loved the costumes and the imagery, and Emma Watson. Maybe it was because I am so familiar with the story, but no dice. No tears.

Next came “The Age of Adaline”. Beautiful movie staring Blake Lively with a great bit part by Harrison Ford. It’s about love lost and love found, wrapped in a sort of Benjamin Button-ish type story. First, anything with Harrison Ford, swoon. Second, anything with love lost and found, if you can’t cry at that, what kind of cruel animal are you? It turns out, I am Ursula, an evil fictional octopus.

Tonight’s choice should have been a guaranteed home run. I chose “Gravity”. Story of handsome men dying in space while a strong female overcomes ALL. OF. THE. ODDS to survive. It should have been the space version of “Titanic” for me. I wanted to cry. I really did. But what I wanted more was for George Clooney to pull me close and tell me that everything was going to be okay.

People tell me that I’m forcing it. That I need to let it come naturally. There are times that I can feel it rising inside of me, literally filling my insides. I think that this is it, I am finally going to find relief. And then I swallow, and the moment passes, but the weight is still there and I still cannot cry.