Monday, February 29, 2016

Where Were You 4 Years Ago? Where Will You Be 4 Years From Now?

Ah, leap year.

It comes along only every four years. Well, not exactly...it skips every 100, except every 500...and by the way, do you ever wonder how the hell people figured stuff like that out? I do.

I'm constantly fascinated by how intelligent humans can be.

Can.

Not always are.

Those are two different things, but I digress.

We're here to talk about leap year. This morning, I reflected on just how much has changed in my life in these past four years, how different I was back then as compared to now.

Vastly is an understatement. 

I was very much in the thick of things as far as my personal crises go. I hadn't yet started to develop full blown PTSD though, because I was absolutely in the place where I was still actively surviving the traumas.

God, I was in such a bad place.

Shudder.

I look back now, re-read some of the things I wrote in the blogs that you all don't get to see, and my words haunt the very wellness of my being. I see them as both a celebration of how far I've traveled and a cautionary tale of how awful life can become in a short time.

I didn't think I'd ever have another child four years ago. I wasn't sure where I would be on any given day. I wasn't sure that my marriage would last. I wasn't sure that my sanity would remain intact.

I was juggling everything. Trying to work on me, trying to fix my marriage, trying to help my mother, trying to parent my kids, trying to write, trying trying trying trying.

Failing abundantly at almost everything.

If you'd have sat me down back then and asked me where I'd be in four years, I can promise you that if I'd conjured up some reasonably accurate version of today, it would have been an outlier. A fantasy. Perhaps, even a bit delusional.

Things really were that bad.

And here I am.

Now.

My mother is gone now. Though I did the best I could to help her, it was never enough because it could never be enough. She left even though I didn't want her to. She shut me out. And then she died. I have long since given up trying to imagine ways that things might have gone differently for her, for us, because there's no point in torturing myself. I miss her. I missed her long before she died. My heart ached for a long time, wishing for a world where I could be the child and she could be the parent, but it doesn't anymore. Perhaps that is because time both hardens us and opens our eyes to what reality was, as opposed to the romanticized versions we wish had existed. When I made all those videos two weeks ago now, I heard her laugh in mine and I knew that in her own way, she was still here.

My emotional well-being, my mental health, my stability is light years better than it was the last time we visited February 29th. I was clinging to my last threads of sanity, ones that had been stretched to their maximums so many times and then stretched more back then. I was an emotional disaster. Perhaps the PTSD had finally started to settle in, to make itself at home. I was a loose cannon. I lashed out. I cried. I broke down in my car on almost a daily basis. I hated my reality and almost everything in it and about it. I questioned why all this had to be happening to me. I never got those answers. Now, I've come out on the other side. I've let go of the burdens that were never mine. I forgave those who hurt me. I went through tons of therapy, after first admitting I needed it. I'm taking better care of me, in large part because I have no other choice. My health suffered greatly.  I've said before that this version of me might flinch a bit now, might be covered in scars, but she's a lot stronger than she's ever been.

My marriage is better than it has ever been, and I can say that without hesitation or reservation. Four years ago, we were two lost people who knew almost nothing about what we wanted in this world. Fortunately, the only thing we did both know is that we wanted to try and figure that out together. I say nothing about marriage flippantly. It is hard. It is work. It hurts like hell sometimes. We are better people individually now, and only because of that truth are we better together now.

My kids. They're different too. We slayed some dragons in these four years. We confronted some ugly things, realized some great mistakes we'd made as parents. We learned. They've grown, and we've grown with them. We don't pretend to have any of this figured out. We communicate better than we ever did before, and we teach them to do the same with us and with one another. They'd go to the ends of the earth for one another, I think. There is, of course, the matter of the baby. The one that I didn't ever think I'd have the chance to meet. He's here, and I know now that he was always a part of us. He was always here.

My writing. Hmm. I write less often these days, but when I do write, it's always deliberate. It wasn't like that before. Writing kept my head just above water on too many days to count, and for that I will forever be grateful. I've grown to embrace this as a part of who I am. Though I often say that I won't let anything define me, if there is anything that does in fact define me, it's this. I am a writer. I crave it. I need it. I require it to sustain my very existence.

Four years ago, I was a mess. A complete and utter mess. No need to sugarcoat that truth. I've come so far, more than I would have imagined possible.

Four years from now, I have no idea where I'll be. I stopped trying to control the future long ago. I have been taught, repeatedly, that plans mean little in the eyes of time. Goals are wonderful, but flexibility is necessary. I have no idea even who I'll be in four years. I think she'll look a bit like me today. She'll be older, wiser, grayer. She'll have a few more lines, a few more stories to tell. I can't wait to meet her.

What about you all? Where were you four years ago? Where do you see yourself four years from now?

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Homemade Laundry Detergent DIY Instructions

A few years ago now, I started to make my own laundry detergent. Several people in my household have eczema, which is aggravated by most commercially available detergents. It is much cheaper to make it yourself at home and doesn't take long at all.

I do laundry for 7 people, one of which is a baby in cloth diapers.I am quite literally always doing laundry. Every day. I usually make a batch of detergent once a month.

I've been using the homemade detergent for the diapers as well since the brand I used to use switched to a liquid formula - instant rashes as a result. I had to strip all the diapers and start over.

I phased out fabric softener quite a long time ago, and would recommend that you all do the same thing right now if you haven't already. I know it makes the clothes smell nice and all that, but it's not the best thing in the world for you and can actually make your towels less absorbent and make stains and dinginess worse in clothes. I use dryer balls instead.



Anyhow, the recipe for the laundry detergent is pretty straightforward and simple. I make a powdered detergent, though I know many people who prefer to make it in a liquid form.

Homemade Laundry Detergent
- 2 cups Borax
- 2 cups Washing Soda 
- 1 bar of laundry soap, grated
- 1-2 scoops of Oxiclean if desired

I grate the soap bar first, then add 1 cup each of the borax and washing soda to a large glass jar. I mix in half of the Oxiclean and half of the grated soap, then repeat until all ingredients are in the jar and fully combined. I have a tablespoon scoop that I use for the detergent and generally use 1-2 tbsp per load.

The washing soda and borax make 2-3 batches of detergent each. I usually use Fels Naptha or Ivory soap, but have used Zote on occasion. Fels Naptha and Ivory are harder and make smaller pieces, Zote has a softer consistency and will make your resulting detergent batch bigger. I've noticed no difference in the cleaning efficiency of either, and neither of them irritates the eczema sufferers in the house.

If you are having a hard time locating the ingredients, check the whole length of the laundry aisle. Look on the top shelf and the very bottom.

Using the Oxiclean is totally optional. I add it because I use the same detergent for the diapers now as the rest of the clothes. When washing diapers, I wash the load twice. First in a cold water rinse, no soap. The second wash in hot, add an extra scoop of detergent and use two rinse cycles. This is the part where I have to tell you that you should check with the diaper manufacturer to see what they recommend using. And this is the part where I tell you that the homemade stuff works better for us and doesn't cause rashes.

When washing delicates, I throw in a little baking soda. A bit of vinegar can help remove odors and help soften fabrics when added to the final rinse cycle.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

What Do You Tell a 13 Year Old Girl Who Knows Everything?

Dear Freckles,

You've been asking me for a few weeks now if I wrote your birthday letter yet. Mom. Mom. Mom. Mom.

Not yet.

I try to write these as close to your actual birthdays as possible, so I'm doing it now as I sit here on the eve of your day. Just before you asked, again today, if I'd written your letter yet, you asked another question. One that I couldn't answer off the top of my head.

You wanted to know what time you were born.

I knew that it was in the afternoon, I knew that it was a Sunday. I knew that we'd been to the hospital the night before having left a wedding in which your brother was the ring bearer. We walked in to triage, him still in his tuxedo.

They'd told me then that I could walk laps around the hospital, or I could go home and try to get some rest. I knew I wasn't sleeping either way, so it didn't matter much to me. I knew you'd be here soon. Late the next morning, after your uncle had driven down to take care of your brother, we left for the hospital again, knowing that when we came back home we'd live in a world with not just one child but two.

You came into the world that day at 4:10p.m. I dug out your baby book to check. I know you how you are with needing specifics.

You're thirteen now. Officially a teenager.

It doesn't even seem possible.

Some days I look at you and I still see the little girl with the long golden ponytails running around in circles.

Some days I look at you and see glimpses of the woman you are becoming.


Most of the time, I see both versions of you, simultaneously, all tied up in the same person.

13.

I guess this means that you get to order from the adult menu now. I guess. Gosh.

You are still perfectly content to be trapped between childhood and adolescence in every way that doesn't involve menus, though, and I'm perfectly okay with that.


You aren't in a hurry to grow up, but then you never have been. You have always been my cautious one, though that probably comes as a surprise to most of the people who know you. Who you show to the world is often such a different person than who you are on the inside.

You come by that honestly, but I know that you know that.

I know you know.

I know.

You're almost as tall as I am anymore. I'm waiting for the morning when you wake up just beyond my height. I know it's coming, and sooner rather than later. I know that you'll remind me of it daily for a while once it happens.


So many changes are coming, whether you want them to or not. I know that even though there are days you urge that clock to run faster, most of the time you want it to slow down a bit.

At some point this year, you started emailing me. There are days that the only real interaction we have, you and I, aside from grunting and sighing, are those emails. Please never stop sending them, emojis and all. I'll be busy doing whatever else it is that I am doing, and know that when there's a message sitting in my inbox from you, it's a glance into your life in one of the most genuine forms. You make me laugh. God, do you make me laugh.

You've taken some steps, done some things that were scary this year, taken some chances, put yourself out there into an unfamiliar world. I can't even begin to tell you how proud I am of you in those moments, because I know more than anyone else just how hard it is for you.

You do it anyway.

And whenever you take those risks, know that I'll be over here, far enough away to give you space but close enough that you'll always be able to find me, cheering you on.

I'll be doing jazz hands and making crazy faces at you...but you knew that already.

I love you, baby girl.

Stay funny, stay weird, stay you.

Happy birthday.

Love,
Mom

p.s. math homework is still the worst.


Monday, February 22, 2016

Eating Disorders: what they are, what they are like, what helps, what doesn't help

What Eating Disorders Are Like For Me
I want to preface what I am about to write with the following disclaimer: the only experience I can attest to in this department is the one I've lived personally. I will be sharing information about other disorders as well, but anything I write about my experience pertains only to me. There is a large variety in the type and severity of eating disorders, as well as the underlying root causes of them.

There is a misconception that eating disorders only affect women and young girls, but the reality is that men and young boys can suffer as well. Men are less likely to seek treatment. It is estimated that 24 million people in this country suffer from eating disorders.

I've written in the past about how when the anxiety rises up in my world, when things start to spin out of control and I feel like I can't manage anything, my default is to stop eating.

I just stop.

The only way that I can explain it is that when I can't control anything else in my life, at least I can control what I put into my body and what I do with my body. It's deeply rooted in anxiety for me personally, connected to a lifetime of being overweight, of always feeling like I was the one that didn't fit in.


It's something that I've done since I was a teenager, something that peaked when I was around 14. When I was in the worst place with it, I was exercising obsessively as well, usually three times a day, writing down every single thing I did and for how long. I weighed myself multiple times a day. There were days that all I ate was a few pieces of lettuce.

It didn't take too long for me to start doing damage to myself physically. I'd lost weight, sure, but since I was starting from a place of being overweight, no one was ever concerned. In fact, I was often congratulated about it. Boys paid more attention to me. Family and friends told me how good I was looking, which just reinforced the negative self talk in my head about how disgusting I was to begin with.

I started having chronic headaches, so frequently that my doctor ran all kinds of tests on me. He was concerned it was a brain tumor. He also congratulated me on the weight loss, never putting the two together.

I fainted in church one Sunday morning after the whole world starting spinning, and only when that happened did I realize just how much I was hurting myself.

I was still fat, by the way.

I joke, in my self deprecating way, that I suck at being anorexic. It's a commonly held belief that the only people who are anorexic are thin. I'm proof that you can be fat and still be anorexic. Breaking the mold, I am.

It's something that has reared its ugly head more than a few times since those days. As soon as I start to lose control of anything else, I find myself spacing meals out further and further, strangely comforted by the grumbling in my stomach.

As an adult, I confronted my issues head on many years ago, and I know that the first thing I need to do when I start leaning towards this path again is to talk about it. I need to say, out loud, that I'm doing it again. I hold myself accountable because I have to.

Types of Eating Disorders
Eating disorders are one of the most misunderstood areas of mental health. While the issues and symptoms presented and perceived from the outside are physical in nature, the causes are not. The root of disordered eating is mental, and not always clearly understood. For some people the root may be in depression, for others in anxiety, for others in OCD. The treatment of eating disorders requires a solid understanding of the situation of each individual.

Anorexia is characterized by restriction of food intake, obsession with weight loss and may include habitual weighing of one's self as well as prolonged periods of exercise. Those suffering may go to severe extremes to lose weight, seem perpetually concerned with losing more. The conventional wisdom says that anorexics are always thin, but I take issue with that part of the definition.

Bulimia is characterized by periods of binge eating followed by purging the stomach contents through forced vomiting. People dealing with bulimia have negative self images heavily tied to weight, and are more likely to be at or above what is considered a healthy weight.

Binge Eating Disorder is characterized by recurring periods of binge eating, often very quickly and in very large quantities, followed by immediate feelings of shame. Those suffering feel like they can't control themselves and regulate food intake.

Night Eating Disorders are when a person who eats a normal amount, or perhaps even less than ideal amounts of food during the day, then binge eats at night. They often wake at night, unable to go back to sleep until they eat again. There is also a subtype where the person is actually sleepwalking and not consciously aware of the eating.

Body Dysmorphic Disorder is not in itself an eating disorder, but a subtype of anxiety that is frequently associated with eating disorders. Those suffering obsess about their physical appearance in an unhealthy manner, often with a distorted view of how they actually appear. For example, a very slender woman might look in the mirror and feel as though she is looking at a morbidly obese woman.

There are other eating disorders having to do with compulsions to eat things that are not food such as pica, but I am not very familiar with them personally. Thankfully, they are quite rare.

Things That Can Help With Eating Disorders
Ideally, the treatment of eating disorders is interdisciplinary in nature, with a cohesive team of providers that may include psychiatrists, psychologists, therapist, nutritionists and doctors. 

Medical Care - Eating disorders are widely considered the most deadly mental health condition. As many as 5% of those suffering will die as a result, whether through malnutrition, organ failure, or substance abuse. Those suffering are also at an increased risk for suicide. How treatable these conditions will be correlates pretty directly with how early in the development they are caught and diagnosed. There are medications that can treat the underlying issues leading to the eating disorder itself (such as anxiety or depression). Depending on the severity of the disorder, a medical doctor may order blood tests to check for organ function and other indicators of damage. Inpatient care may be necessary in some cases.

Therapy - In individual or group settings, therapy to address the underlying issues leading to disordered eating is often the most important component of treatment.

Family/Home Centered Care - The constant nature of eating disorders means that the person suffering truly needs to be surrounded by people who understand the condition and are vigilant about looking for indicators that the disorder may be worsening. This is especially important for parents dealing with eating disorders in children.  For reasons that aren't yet fully understood, eating disorders often run in families as well.

Support of Friends and Family - As simple as it sounds, telling the person suffering that you are concerned for their health and safety and that you love them makes a huge difference. Having people who understand the roots of the disorder and do not blame the person suffering are a tremendous asset in the fight.

Things That Do Not Help With Eating Disorders
Hell, most of these are just good tips in general. We should all do this stuff, regardless of whether we are dealing with an eating disorder personally or with someone we love...because the reality is that someone might be suffering in silence, and you might be planting seeds of body image issues in children.

  • Focusing on their weight. They're already totally focused on that, and don't need other people obsessing about it too.
  • Micromanaging their food intake. It's tempting to want to know exactly what they are eating and when, but that can actually make things worse, not better.
  • Mocking them for being thin or fat. Just don't. How about as a society, we just stop judging people based on appearances in general?
  • Taunting them, saying "just eat something". Also not helpful.
  • Blaming them. Saying they just need to get over it. 
  • Shaming them about their condition. Shaming anyone for anything doesn't make a situation better, and can often make things worse.
  • Don't talk about how you tried this great diet and lost weight or know about someone who lost a bunch of weight. 
  • Don't tell them they need supplements or oils or whatever you're selling. 
  • Don't try to minimize their condition or act like it's normal. For example, routinely skipping breakfast because you are busy doesn't mean you "get" what anorexia is like.
  • Don't comment on weight loss or gain, even in regards to celebrities. It's all putting subconscious issues in their head.
  • Don't tell them they are too thin or too fat to wear certain clothing. 
  • Watch how you speak about yourself as well, particularly around children.
Recovery is possible. Healing is possible. 
For me, I know that anorexia will always be a part of who I am. It will probably always be something lurking in the shadows, waiting for an opportune time to show up again. I have to be vigilant. 

If you or someone you love is suffering, there is help out there. Here are some resources for more information.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Anxiety: what it is, what it's like, what helps, what doesn't help

What Anxiety Is Like For Me
Some of my earliest childhood memories are of worrying about things; big things, little things, important things, irrational things. All the things. It's something that has always been a part of who I am, as ingrained in my identity as my eye color.

It's something that has caused more than its fair share of problems in my life, something that other people have often misunderstood, and something that I've wished away more times that I could possibly even begin to explain.

It's never gone away.


I worry about literally everything. I go through every situation and over-analyze it, and I have to take each catastrophic possibility and run them out to completion in my head so that I feel like I'm prepared to deal with what might happen, even if the actual likelihood of ever dealing with that is minuscule.

I worry about worrying.

I worry about talking to people, I worry that I'm going to make an ass out of myself. I worry about whether they will like me or hate me or be intimidated by me or think I'm insane. I worry about the things I might say and what people will think of me for saying them. I worry about what I'm wearing and how I look and how I feel. I worry about doing things and I worry about not doing things. I. Worry. About. Everything.

I run a dialogue in my head constantly about everything. I rehearse any anticipated conversation in my head, then I replay the conversation after it happens on a loop, judging myself for every aspect of whatever I said or didn't say or wish I'd said or regret saying.

I worry about knowing where the bathroom is everywhere I go. I worry about being too far away from whatever. I worry about running out of gas. I worry about my phone ringing. I worry about having to actually talk to people. I worry about needing to actually listen to voicemail because it means that I might have to talk to a person.

Totally not even kidding, but I disconnected my land line four years ago because I was having panic attacks every time the phone rang.

This isn't normal. None of this is normal.

A certain degree of anxiety is normal, necessary and actually healthy. Episodic worry and fear is a good thing. Apprehension about things that might be dangerous to us is an excellent survival tactic. When it becomes more than that, though, is where we run into problems.

The dictionary definition of anxiety is a straightforward one: a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome.

The medical definition takes the ordinary definition and runs with it, much like those of us with anxiety disorders do: a nervous disorder characterized by a state of excessive uneasiness and apprehension, typically with compulsive behavior or panic attacks.

Types of Anxiety Disorders
Anxiety can show up in many different forms, in varying degrees of severity. I live with most forms of anxiety personally.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is when you are worried frequently, often when there is little reason to be legitimately concerned. You expect the worst to happen in every possible situation, even anticipate it. It can be short term or life long.

Panic Disorder is when you have sudden feelings of terror, manifesting in physical symptoms that can feel like you can't breathe or are having a heart attack. Racing heartbeat is common. Attacks are also referred to as anxiety attacks.

Phobias are specific fears that you may have to situations, items or things. The level of your fear is not considered equivalent to the actual threat posed, and can interfere with daily functions.

Social Anxiety Disorder is when you have fears or worry about social situations, fears of being laughed at or ridiculed or that you will embarrass yourself. It can actually result in behaviors leading to that.

There are other related conditions as well.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is when a you have uncontrollable recurring thoughts and/or behaviors that you feel compelled to complete. It tends to be chronic. Women who suffer post partum depression with intrusive thoughts have a form of OCD. 

Post Traumatic Distress Syndrome (PTSD) is when exposure to a trauma leaves you with long lasting consequences. I will be discussing PTSD separately in its own post. 

Things That Can Help With Anxiety
In dealing with anxiety, it is important to understand that every person is different. What works for one might not work for another. As long as it works for you, that is all that matters. 

Medical Treatments - Medications can definitely help treat many forms of anxiety. Some physicians will opt to try short-acting medications to alleviate symptoms when they occur while others will recommend a daily medication designed to help constantly. Sometimes a combination of the two will be used. Some medications may only need to be taken for a short period, others may be a life long proposition. What works best for you will depend entirely on your individual situation, as well as the other medications you may be taking and other conditions you may be dealing with. It may not be necessary to use medication. It may be necessary. Please do not think that either using or not using medication means anything about your individual ability to cope with your conditions. We don't routinely tell people with diabetes that they should try not to use insulin because it's a sign of weakness, do we? Same applies here. I promise.

Therapy - Many people with anxiety disorders can benefit greatly from therapy. Some sub-types of anxiety are more treatable than others in terms of the management of symptoms. Often just knowing that you aren't alone in dealing with your issues helps tremendously. Treatment of phobias is frequently done with leveled exposure to the item or situation feared, to increase the individual's tolerance, especially in situations when the phobia is interfering with daily functioning. Cognitive therapy has to do with how you think about the anxiety, behavioral therapy addressed your responses in situations where the anxiety is triggered. Specific types of therapies may be used for specific types of anxiety. I highly recommend seeking out professionals with experience in your sub-type. 

Hypnosis - Hypnosis can be used to address the subconscious fears and worries that lead to anxiety in some people.

Exercise and Relaxation - Both exercise and relaxation techniques can help deal with anxiety. Exercise because of the release of endorphins and physical motion, relaxation because of the deep breathing techniques and centering. Both activities help to make you more mindful of yourself, of your surroundings and can help to dispel the anxieties you might be feeling. For me personally, yoga makes a huge difference.

Go Outside - One of the easiest things I can do to help myself is to make sure that I get outside frequently enough. Traveling to and from the car in day to day activities probably isn't enough - I know it isn't enough for me. My anxiety is always worse when I've spent too much time indoors. Vitamin D exposure is beneficial in many ways. If you live in an area with limited sunlight, especially in the winter, Vitamin D supplements might be a good idea. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) can absolutely make anxiety worse. 

Eating Well - This always seems to be the solution that people share on social media for all the ails the world. I'm not going to tell you even for one second that eating a kale smoothie will fix you, but I can promise you that eating a poor diet will definitely make you feel worse. If you're consuming a lot of empty calories, nutrient poor carbs, refined grains and sugar, you're going to feel worse. If you're not hydrated, you're going to feel worse. Taking care of your body is a part of taking care of your mind. 

Working Through the Fears - For me personally, my anxiety always gets worse when I try to ignore it. Instead, what does actually work is to let the worst case scenarios in my head run to their conclusions in the most expedient manner so that I can come up with a game plan and get on with whatever it is I'm supposed to be doing. 

Things That DO NOT Help with Anxiety
This isn't going to be an all-inclusive list because it would be impossible to mention everything that people do and say that make things worse, but here is my best effort...

  • Saying there is nothing to worry about. Just because you aren't worried or just because my worry is irrational doesn't mean it isn't real.
  • Saying that I need to get over it. I can't. I literally can't. If I could, don't you think I would?
  • Saying that my fears are silly. To me, they aren't. Actually, they're pretty disabling.
  • Saying that I should calm down. Duh. I want to.
  • Saying that I should only worry about the big things. To me, they're all big things.
  • Saying that everything will be okay. It might not. Maybe I thought that before and things weren't okay. 
  • Saying that everyone stresses out sometimes. This isn't the same type of thing. I'm not worried about something specific episodically. I worry about everything all the time.
  • Saying that my feelings hurt you somehow. I promise my issues aren't about you. Please don't put guilt on top of it all, because then I'm just going to worry about that too. Plus, I'll know that I can't rely on you for help when I need it.
  • Saying that I need to take my meds. Or have a drink. Or whatever. Maybe I'm taking meds. Maybe I'm not. Maybe I'm not drinking for a reason. Maybe drinking won't help and will only make things worse.
  • Saying that I should really be worried about ______. Insert literally anything in the world that people say I should be worrying about here. Humans can multitask and be concerned about more than one thing in the world at a time anyway, and minimizing my concerns won't help. 
  • Saying I just need to suck it up. Nah. Just don't do that.
  • Saying that I need to use this oil or supplement or whatever you are selling. Please don't try to profit from my issues. Kthanksbye.
How to Help Someone with Anxiety
I know that I can be difficult to deal with sometimes. There are ways that people can help, though. I thank those who stand by me. THANK YOU.
  • We don't let it define us, please don't define us by it.
  • Be patient. Sometimes it takes us a bit longer to work up the nerve to do something.
  • We're usually overprepared for catastrophe. That comes in handy sometimes, I promise.
  • If we get overwhelmed, let us have a break. Yes, we're hiding in the bathroom or in the hallway. It's okay.
  • Please don't point out that our fears are irrational. We know.
  • Celebrate when we conquer a fear. It's a huge deal.
  • Sometimes we just need to know you're there.
  • Sometimes we need someone who understands.
  • Sometimes we need reassurance.
  • We don't do change well. Change scares us more than it scares you.
  • We don't do what we do on purpose to hurt other people, and we hate when that happens.
  • We are used to people bailing on us. When they stick by us, we value them so much. SO MUCH.
There are some specific tips I'd like to talk about for dealing with kids who have anxiety. Often, though not always, anxiety can be passed down from parent to child. In those cases (as is the case in my house), I'm pretty well conditioned to recognize and help deal with it in my kids. If you aren't used to it, but have a child dealing with it, here are some points to consider.
  • Get down to their level. Literally. Breathe with them. I've often had to model my patterned breathing with them when the anxiety gets bad. 
  • Do not minimize their fears. To them, everything is big and scary.
  • They look to you for guidance and help, don't ignore their fears.
  • Talk through the fears. What are they afraid of? Why? Is there some way to address it? Break it down into manageable portions. Slay the dragons one at a time.
  • Talk about how often worrying is a good thing. It keeps us safe.
  • Don't tell them their fears are silly. They'll stop telling you what they're afraid of.
  • Allow more time for transitions.
  • Realize that even small changes take a huge adjustment.
  • Celebrate overcoming fears. HUGE celebration. 
  • Exercise and relaxation are just as important for kids as adults. Yoga is a wonderful mindfulness activity for kids with anxiety. 
  • Have set times daily or weekly to talk about worries, what went well, what didn't.
  • Make sure you don't overreact to their anxieties. You don't want to feed the fears or punish them for things they can't control.
  • If necessary, seek out a therapist who treats children with anxiety. It may be necessary to consider medication as well. 
If you have specific questions or would like more information about something I didn't cover, please let me know. Deep breaths, everyone. We got this.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Thank You, Harper Lee

When I was a little girl, my Uncle used to take me for extended visits. Back then, I idolized him with great wonder and impression. He was a public defender in those days, one who fought vigorously for the rights of the accused. I'd sit on the benches behind the tables designated for the attorneys and just watch him, fully immersed in every word that he said.

The people in the courtroom always hung on his words, urged to the edges of their seats.

He never asked if his clients were guilty. He preferred not to know, I think.

As I got older, worked in the field myself, knew more and more attorneys, I realized that his general rule of not inquiring about guilt or innocence was far more common than most people might understand.

Sometimes it's better not to know the truth, though. Instead, resolve ourselves to do all that we can to ensure that the trial process itself was fair and just; that each person was given the full protection of the law.

My Uncle is precisely one third of the reason that I went to law school myself. I've never told him that before. I probably should.

The second reason had to do with my personal frustrations with the legal system, having seen how it could be manipulated, how it didn't favor those who needed the most help.

The third reason had to do with a character in a book.

Atticus Finch.


I've written before of my relationship with the story and with the character of Atticus Finch. I haven't ever written about just how much he reminded me of my Uncle, nor of how much my Uncle reminded me of him.

I've written of how that relationship changed and evolved as my worldview changed and evolved. I've written about how I wasn't particularly surprised when the second book that wasn't actually the second book, but a prior draft that was never intended to be released publicly, revealed Atticus to be different than the idealized individual we'd so wanted him to be. 

He'd done his duty in defending his client, not by choice, but by obligation.

He wasn't some crusader for equality, he wasn't even interested much in the life of the man he was arguing to save. He was himself deeply flawed and biased.

Aren't we all, though?

Perhaps our flaws come in other shapes and sizes than his did, perhaps we won't be revealed to have been racists decades from now in a manuscript never intended to be made public. Perhaps.

But, I promise you one thing: we are all deeply flawed individuals.

That doesn't, by the way, mean that we can't also do good in this world. It doesn't mean that we can't inspire others. It doesn't mean that we are rendered incapable of fighting for that which we believe in. It doesn't even mean that we are less able to advocate for others, regardless of our personal opinions of them.

It means that we can be all those things and more, wrapped in the deeply flawed souls we occupy.

Atticus wasn't perfect, but there is one person who knew that all along.

Harper Lee.

She knew that he was human. She knew that he was biased. She knew that he did his job anyway. She knew, and she wrote the second draft, the one so many have clung to as the only acceptable version of him. She morphed him into the person we came to be familiar with, not knowing that we'd ever get to meet the real him someday.

She refused to write a sequel.

I can't say that I blame her.

She didn't want To Set A Watchman released, and I can't say that I blame her for that either.

What she did, for me and for countless others in this world, was inspire us to look at the legal system as a place where even the most flawed people can still seek justice.

We all just weren't privy to that truth until recently.

Thank you, Ms. Lee.

Thank you.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Donna Day 2016 ~ Never Underestimate The Power of a Cancer Mom

One of the most amazing things about this blogging universe that I belong to is the connection to other writers, most of whom I have never met, and the unbelievable things that we can do together.

Today, an annual celebration of that relationship we share.


Today is Donna Day.

Donna Day is a fundraising event for St. Baldrick's in the honor of Donna, a little girl that I was never given the opportunity to meet, but one that has changed my life in so many ways. She has touched millions of people around the world with her story, with her laughter, with her singing and dancing, with her joy.



Donna's brave mother, Mary Tyler Mom, began Donna Day several years ago now in defiance of cancer, as her way of saying that she wasn't going to tolerate living in a world where children like her little girl were taken.

Funding for childhood cancer research is pathetic in this country. Pathetic. There is really no good way to spin it.



All money raised during Donna Day goes directly to St. Baldrick's.

This year's goal is $45,000!

To date, this single annual event has raised $373,424 for research. Never underestimate the power of a cancer mom. Never.

Please, give what you can.
Please, share this link and the others that you will see floating across your newsfeeds today.

Please, don't look away.

And please, always, always, always choose hope.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

This isn't a diary. It never was.

When my husband was recovering from cancer a long, long time ago, we were told that if he made it to five years out without any signs of recurrence, he was "good". They don't use the word cured in cancerland, because once you've been there, you know that you never actually get to go back to the way things were before. It, irretrievably, becomes a part of you forevermore.

That, and it could always come back.

It's not just cancer that does has this effect on us, though.

It's other things too.

There are other things that stick with us forever, that change who we are, that will never allow us to go back to who we were before.

Things that could rear their ugly heads at any time in the future again.

Things like I lived through five years ago. The things that I'm hitting the five year anniversaries of.

This whole damn year is going to be a milestone, one after another.

2011 was, easily, the hardest year of my entire life. From the very first seconds just after midnight until December 31st, it was a year that kicked my ass up and down the street. It kicked me when I was down. It kicked me from every different angle at once. It kicked me when I begged it to stop.

It was hell.

I've written about some of it, though almost none of it has ever been put into words here.

I know with certainty that there are portions of it so deeply hidden in my memories that I might never confront them. I know that the suppression likely will not be a permanent solution and that there will probably come a day when it bubbles to the surface.

I spent years in therapy since then dealing with the aftermath of it all.

I developed PTSD because of the things that happened that year.

I ended up in the emergency room with panic attacks twice that year.

I learned, the hard way, that we are most certainly not always in control of either the things that happen in our lives, or our reactions and responses to them.

Sometimes we are truly at the mercy of it all.

Those inspirational little memes that everyone shares these days about how you control your destiny and your responses and all that....yeah....no. Not always.

I thought, incorrectly, that I'd wake up this morning somewhat relieved. The 10th had come and gone; for me that's generally one of the harder days on the calendar. The days and weeks leading up to it, full of the journey towards my father's death.

I didn't wake up relieved.

Instead, unlike the last handful of years past, the unsettled feeling is lingering.

It might be here to stay a while.

My even mentioning it here, aloud for the world to see, a half-hearted attempt to exert some authority over it all.

I know that it isn't just this day now, because it wasn't just this day then. It was all the other days that would come that year. All the revelations and the personal crises and the losses.

I know that it has to have been so long now because I don't even remember who I was back then. I've changed so much in some ways, remain exactly the same in others, but I wouldn't even recognize myself if I saw her.

There are times, like yesterday, that it all seems so much more recent, when the pain is palpable and real and present. When the triggers surface, rearing their ugly head at me, reminding me of the damage done.

I know it isn't so fresh, and there are times that the only reason I can believe that to be true is that I'm not spiraling downward into the abyss at the reminders now. I'm not physically ill over it anymore.

I thank therapy for that.
I thank the handful of people who knew and stood by me for that.
I thank my stubborn resilience for that.

For keeping me alive and moving and here.

There were days I wasn't sure I would be.

I've written before, more than once, about how some people misconstrue my writing. The names I've been called, the assumptions made about me. Far too many people have said that I've shared too much.

What they don't realize is that I've shared almost nothing.

This isn't a diary.

It never was.

What it was and still is: a lifeline. The rope that I threw out to myself and used to drag myself ashore.

I survived.

Though there are times that the entirety of this writing life urges me to give it all up, I know that I can't.

Writing saved me.

It got me through hell five years ago.

And it will get me through this year of milestones too.

At the end, I'll be five years out.

So, then I'll be "good", right?

I sure hope so.

Regrowing Food from Scraps in Water in Your Own Kitchen

Who hates spending money on produce???

Me.

Well, everyone, I assume.

Food is expensive, but there are ways to cut your grocery budget. Regrowing produce in water is one of the easiest ways to do it.

Really, all you need are some clean glass jars, maybe some glass marbles for the bottom of the jar, water, and a nice spot in your kitchen that gets at least partial sunlight. That's it!

Leeks, Green Onions & Celery

Here is a list of easy to regrow produce:


  • Celery - Cut off the tops and rest the bottom of the celery bundle in shallow water at room temperature. Some varieties of lettuce can also be regrown this way. Romaine works the best. Regrowth can take a few weeks.
  • Green Onions/Scallions/Leeks - Put the bottoms in water at room temperature, cut off what you need as you use it. This technique is my personal favorite and lasts quite a long time. Green onions and scallions can grow quite fast this way. Leeks take a bit longer. 
  • Lemongrass - Use the tops, place the bottoms of the root in water at room temperature. It grows just as fast this way as ordinary grass would outdoors.
  • Many herbs can be regrown in water from cuttings as well. Place the cut herbs in a jar with water. As roots develop, you can plant them in soil, or just ride it out as long as they grow in the water. I've had the best luck with basil, rosemary, cilantro and sage this way. 

If the water starts to look murky, rinse the jar and change it. Green onions, scallions and leeks may have some dead outer layer shed off as time passes. Just peel them off and put it back in the water. 

It is also possible to grow produce from cuttings in soil as well, or to harvest seeds from what you buy and plant them. I will try and get some of those posts done in the near future.

Happy growing!

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The Occasionally Random Quote Series of 2016 - Tolkien

My brain is all over the place today, largely because it is the 10th of February. The anniversary of the day my father died.

I'm having a hard time focusing, so bear with me.


I have a list of quotes that I have every intention of talking about eventually, but none of them jumped out and spoke to me today.

So here we are, with a quote that I wasn't planning to write about, but that makes sense to me today. Well, most days this one makes sense.

"Not all those who wander are lost."
~ J.R.R. Tolkien

I'm sure that for most of you out there, you'll get the reference immediately. If not, it's a line of a poem found in the novel The Lord of the Rings.

Go read it. I'll wait. (okay, not really wait because it's pretty long...but go read it if you haven't already)

I'll save you a long description of the LOTR books, about the relevance of this particular quote from this particular poem from this particular book, and just talk about my interpretation of it instead, mostly because any discussion of LOTR is destined to be long and winded, much like the books themselves.

This quote in particular fits for me today.

Literally.

If I could just run away from my house and my responsibilities and my kids today, I know exactly where I would go and what I would do.

I'd end up by the river, walking, wandering. I'd probably do a decent amount of talking to myself. I'd avoid all human interaction. I'd commune with nature and sit with it and just soak it in. I'd find some quiet bench in the sunshine somewhere and just be. Then, when I'd done that for long enough, however long that would be, I'd get up and wander some more.

It's one of the only things that truly helps me when I'm in this place that I'm in.

It saved my life a few times in the past years.

It's odd, I know, but the water calls me. It tells me to come and stare at it, to watch it move and change, to witness its power and its tranquility.

I am not a religious person in any capacity, but I am a spiritual being. My church is outside, under the bright blue sky and beside the water. My worries and wishes are whispered not to a God, but to the trees as the breeze blows.

My center is out there.

Out there.

The further I get away from people, the better sometimes.

It helps me clear things up in my head. It helps me work through grief. It helps me understand the enormity of my presence in this world and the insignificance of my life all at the same time.

It gives me perspective, the wandering.

I haven't been able to do it for a long, long time, and I know that I need to.

No, not all those who wander are lost.

Some of us wander, instead, to find ourselves.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Five Years Without You

I've been sitting here for a while now, staring at this blank screen. That blinking cursor is taunting me. Write something, it screams.

I'm doing what I do when I start to miss you...anything I can to distract myself. Right now, that looks like 73 tabs open at once, juggling teaching the kids and telling the dog to lay down, making a list. All at the same time, still in my pajamas of course.

You'd tell me to scrap the post and go read the handbook for my new job that I'm expected to have memorized in a couple of days. You'd tell me not to worry about writing this because you already know everything I'm going to say. You would. Then you'd tell me take a shower and go do all the other stuff I need to do.

But you're not here to say any of those things.


And it's been a long time.

A really long time.

Five years ago, right about now, you were restless. Agitated. You had wanted to go into work that morning, and I had told you that it probably wasn't the best idea. You were exhausted. You wrestled with your own thoughts for a while, saying after a while that it was fine because you'd gotten everything done the day before anyway, so it was probably okay to take one day off.

One day off.

Still busting your ass until the end, you were.

If only we'd known how little time was left. You'd be gone the next morning.

The weird thing is that you really had taken care of everything the day before, even leaving notes for everyone about what to do with the things in the office, which bills needed to be paid when. Hell, you even cleaned out your car.

Said you didn't want to leave a mess.

Dammit, Dad.

Hang on. I'm crying....

.......

Okay.

I'm back.

I was going through the posts I've written about you, noticing that over the years, I write about you less and less often. It's not because I think about you less and less. Not at all.

I still think about you all the time, like yesterday when a teenager driving an old Firebird tried to spin his tires pulling away from an intersection here in town. You'd have laughed.

The real reason I don't write about you as much these days is a stupid one, and it has a lot less to do with me (or you for that matter) than it has to do with people. The ones out there reading these words. Most of the time, they get it...well, at least the ones who've lost a parent get it. Sometimes they don't, though. Sometimes people attack me for what I write about you. Sometimes whatever I say doesn't jive with their experiences and they question me. Every once in a while, I'll get someone who tells me I'm doing this grief thing wrong. A little while back, I even had someone tell me they envied me. You should have seen my face when I read that comment. I'm sure it was terribly unattractive.

Most of the last five years have been so awful I wouldn't wish them on my worst enemy, let alone ever think for one second that someone should be envious of me. That's just ridiculous.

I mean, I get it. Sort of. I have never written about most of the things that happened after you died, so I can't expect people to understand, and I don't. I just wonder why people always feel so compelled to make comparisons.

That was one of your pet peeves. Comparisons. You always told me not to make them.

"Life's not fair, and then you die." 

Or something like that.

And...you were right.

You usually were.

So, I don't write about you that often anymore. You hated it when I wrote about you anyway.

It's okay though.

I still hear your voice sometimes when I talk to your son.

I still hear your words when my husband mutters under his breath because someone left the lights on.

I still see your writing sometimes when that left handed son of mine writes just like you did.

I still see the sparkle in your eye when my daughter is mischievously messing with her siblings.

I still see your smile on the face of the grandson you never met.

You're still here.

You're here every day.

I don't need to write about it.

I miss you, Dad.

Love you more.
xo

Thursday, February 4, 2016

On edging toward 40...

I'll be 39 in a couple of days. Birthdays don't bother me the way they seem to bother so many people. Age hasn't really ever been something I've been afraid of, though I would make an argument that it probably has at least a little bit to do with the fact that I've almost always been the youngest person in my circle.

I skipped a grade in elementary school, which meant that for a few years I was picked on a bit for being younger. I didn't get to drive the same time that most people did, I couldn't sign my own paperwork when I went to college for a while, was by far the last one to reach legal drinking age.


Those things were annoying, sure, but they were transient. Once I'd passed all the ages that we actually looked forward to turning, being young suddenly turned from a disadvantage into a distinct advantage. On top of that, we had kids way earlier than most of our friends did, so the new people we met because of the kids were all just a bit older.

We won't bother mentioning the fact that I lost any claim to being the young mom now that I have a small herd of children spanning a decade and a half, that I've now converted myself from the young inexperienced mom with a baby to the old veteran mom with a baby.

Heh.

Anyhow, I was thinking about turning 40 a few days ago and I was thinking about it not so much in terms of myself as much as I was thinking about it in terms of my parents and my children. Where they were at that point in their lives. Where I am. How very different, and yet how similar those places are.

When my Dad turned 40, I was 15 years old.

My oldest child will be 15 when I turn 40.

On my father's 40th birthday, I'd already met the teenage boy who would eventually become my husband.

My son is happily single for the moment, though a lot could change in a year. (breathes into paper bag)

At 15, I'd been in and out of therapy already. I'd started and quit smoking, drank myself into oblivion more times than I could count, partied enough to compare to any college student and then some.

Unless something dramatic happens between now and then, I highly doubt my son will have done any of those things. He watched his grandfather die because of smoking. Watched his grandmother die in part because of smoking. Watched the front yard go up in flames (literally) because of smoking. I don't see him ever considering it.

By that point, my parents' marriage had survived more than a few major conflicts...but those conflicts and the way my parents dealt with them left me hanging out on a limb most of the time...hence the partying and the drinking and the general bad choice making at 14. I need to forgive myself more than I've been able for what happened in that phase of my life. I needed parents and rules and structure and boundaries and I didn't get any of that. Left to my own devices, I did some really stupid shit.

My marriage....let's just say, yeah. Major conflicts. Been there, done that, but (and this is a big but), I swore to myself that I was never going to let whatever was going on between us affect that kids the way I was affected. I haven't checked out on anyone, haven't left my kids hanging, haven't turned a blind eye because I had my own shit to deal with, haven't just dropped them off wherever because it was easier. I'm in it, with my eyes wide open, vigilant. On purpose.

By the time my parents turned 40, there had been a few midlife crises.

We've already been down that road a few times here too, went to the gift shop, got the t-shirt.

It's weird, because I knew back when I was 15 that my parents hadn't figured it out yet, but they wanted me desperately to believe that they had. At the same time, they seemed so old and weathered, so authoritative, so experienced with the world.

From this side now, I know that I haven't figured it all out, but I've learned a lot along the way. I never pretend to have mastered any of this life stuff, least of all with my children. When I screw up, I say I'm sorry. I admit when I am wrong, I own it.

I talk more to them. Tune in more. I don't push them away because of the demons I wrestle in my head. I don't because I know what it did to me when I was in their shoes and my parents were in mine.

I've been honest with them about what life was like for me when I was their age.

And I've learned.

We aren't destined to make the same mistakes our parents made. Our kids aren't destined to make the same mistakes we did, either.

My kids are way more stable, more grounded than I could have imagined being at 15.

Maybe I've figured out this life stuff more than I give myself credit for. Maybe.

Maybe I'm over analyzing it all.

I probably am.

It is, after all, what I do.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Things That Piss Me Off Tuesday - the if we policed boys the same way edition

Welcome to Things That Piss Me Off Tuesday.

Though there are certainly other things in the world going on at the moment worthy of my attention, I wanted to do this. I've been meaning to do this for a while now, because it needs to be done.

It needs to be done because we are living in a time when people still seem not to understand that treating boys and girls differently is not just annoying, but wrong....and potentially dangerous.

We live in a time when girls are sent to the office, sent home, made to kneel before male principals and raise their arms to demonstrate whether their skirts are too short, where girls are kept out of proms and winter formals because they have large breasts, where schools have no issue mandating what girls may and may not wear, using the excuse that they might somehow be distracting.

Adults, disturbingly enough, almost always the ones deciding what is and isn't objectionable, which begs the question of whether they should be evaluating students about this at all. Adults, judging if children are too sexually appealing. Gross when you think about it that way, huh?

So, here we are. Let's talk about just how ridiculous these dress codes might be if we were policing the boys instead, if we were making assumptions about the ability of girls to control themselves, if the education of the girls was deemed more important than anything else.


Imaginary School District #173 Dress Code, Section 2.1.
This code section pertains to all students in the district, effective immediately. It has come to our attention that many of the male students have been dressing in ways that could be considered distracting to the female students. In order to remedy this situation, we won't be focusing on teaching the female students to avert their eyes and to focus on their own school work. We understand that the girls simply can't help themselves but stare, and that girls will be girls. We also understand that girls, once they become aroused based on the clothing their male peers are wearing, may not be able to control their impulses to talk, touch and harass the boys. The education of the female students is more important than any male student's desire to wear comfortable clothing. Teachers and all school staff will be on the constant lookout to determine if a violation occurs, even if it might seem a bit inappropriate that they are evaluating the clothing of male students excessively.
Any and all violations of the dress code will result in the offending student being sent to the office. Parents will be contacted immediately and given the opportunity to bring suitable clothing to school for the child. If the parent is unwilling or unable to bring appropriate clothing to school, the student will be given an option; either they will be forced to remain in the office for the rest of the day or they may choose to wear an exceptionally oversized neon yellow sweat shirt that has been labeled "dress code violation" on it. We don't really care if the punishment related clothing is actually more of a distraction or if the student sits in the office all day, because we're trying to make a point here.

a. Any type of compression gear or tight fitted shirts or tops are forbidden. Shirts, such as the Under Armor type are quite revealing, leaving little to the imagination. As boys approach puberty and begin to develop muscle tone, it can become quite obvious how much muscle tone they have. This is quite distracting to the girls in class. We know that in reality, some of the thinner boys or late bloomers won't have this problem, and so we'll probably let them wear whatever they want, and focus our energies on the boys who've developed more.

b. All athletic jerseys are forbidden, particularly those that might be sleeveless. All tank tops are prohibited. Upper arms and collarbones really are the gateway to sex, and we need to protect the girls here. They can't help themselves if they catch a glimpse of upper arms or collarbones.

c. All athletic shorts and sweat pants are forbidden. The way the material drapes on the body can accent the developing genital area and behind of the boys, which is clearly a distraction for our female students. Clothing doesn't have to show skin to be revealing, and the tightness and draping of these pants are a constant source of interruption in the classroom. The outline of the body can clearly be seen, which is vastly inappropriate. If a boy, for sensory reasons or otherwise, needs to wear these pants, they will be required to wear a shirt that hangs down below their crotch area. We will be measuring the length of the shirts and requiring them to raise their arms to determine appropriateness. Again, it's possible (and indeed likely) that those boys who are more curvy and/or developed may be targeted for dress code violations more frequently, but that's just because they are more of a distraction. The fact that people come in different shapes is irrelevant. The education of the students is our first concern, especially the vulnerable females. Showing too much leg is undermining our work here.

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