Author Archives: jen

About jen

Arizona

Quiet

Partying it up on New Years Eve.

My life is noisy.

Inside my own head is noisy.  With four kids and one husband and two dogs, my house is noisy.  A brief note to my neighbors:  Yes, sorry.  I have a barker.  Django is a barker.  I feel it’s important to note however that I do call him in when he barks, and that he is most definitely NOT the dog that is allowed to bark for hours in the middle of the night.  That’s the house behind us, and I am just as highly frustrated by it as you are.

Even when people are happily doing their own thing, there’s one person talking to a friend on Skype.  Another talking to himself.  Another watching TV.  Another playing a video game.  There’s the click click click of computer keys.  There’s singing.  There’s music.  There’s laughing.  There’s general merriment.

There are people across the street whose car alarm is constantly going off.

And have I mentioned we have a barker?

This past month has been insanely busy for us with these final conference preparations, and the 12 year old’s football starting, and the 8 year old’s theater starting, and dentist appointments, and car appointments, and my own personal… stuff… and all of the comings and goings from all of the above.

I have not been sleeping much – because that’s how my body tends to deal with stress – and when you’re not sleeping, noises are so very magnified.  You know how people talk about the horrifying sound of nails on a chalkboard?  When I’m not sleeping, everything sounds like nails on a chalkboard.  Except, if I’m being honest, I can think of much more objectionable sounds than nails on a chalkboard.  Like someone flossing their teeth.  Or eating a banana.

This is my life right now.  A million people flossing all their teeth and eating all the bananas.  Right in front of me.

And please don’t misunderstand.  A lot of the above are happy noises, and I’m grateful for them.  It’s just… I’m tired.  And when I’m tired, the noises make me more tired.

But right now, in this very moment, it is quiet.  I am alone in the living room.  Three of the four kids are sleeping, and the other is quietly watching something with headphones on his computer.  The dogs are sleeping.  There is no barking.  No car alarms.  No TVs.  No music.  There’s just… silence.  Silence so acute that I can hear my own breathing.

And I’m sitting here and I’m thinking, Has it really been this long since I’ve had a silent moment?  or Have I just been too busy and stressed out to take notice of them?  My heart tells me that it’s the latter, and I struggle against the feeling that I’ve somehow failed, again.

But I know I didn’t fail.  I’m just learning.  And for whatever reason, this lesson of being still in the moment is one I need to learn over and over.  And over and over and over until I really get it.

My brain wants to go to the next thing, to get ready to deal with the next noise.  The dog will start barking.  My phone will chirp at me.  UPS will show up at the door.  One of the kids will need me.  I fight with myself to stop anticipating everything that will come next, and instead appreciate the here and now… as I simultaneously realize that fighting is exactly the wrong thing to do, and that it’s a matter of leaning in, and surrendering, and allowing myself if even for a moment to just BE.

Right now, it’s quiet.

And I will breathe.


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Broken: How Therapy’s Destroying Me

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I recently whined to a good friend about having to go to therapy.  It was the morning of my appointment, and I wanted – with every little fiber of my being – to stay home.  “I know it’s hard,” she said.  “But don’t you feel better afterwards?”

“No,”  I told her.  “Most of the time, I feel worse.”

Having no basis for comparison, I have no idea if it’s it normal or not, but I dread it.  I do.  I sort of leave one appointment, and immediately start stressing out about the following one.

And I mean, there are positives.  I like my therapist… he is warm and good at what he does.  There are those rare times I leave feeling good, having made some big breakthrough or something.   Sometimes I gain a deeper appreciation of the absurdity of it all.   Sometimes we laugh.  Sometimes I leave with a helpful new tool for dealing with worry or anxiety or any of the other perks that come with being me.  Sometimes I go home having learned something really huge about myself, or about life, or about how the mind works.

But… yeah, it’s still pretty much breaking me.  And even on the good days, it’s all just so MUCH.  So exhausting.  So emotionally and mentally draining.

The other day, I realized something (In the shower, because that’s where I do my best thinking.  I also tend to do a lot of thinking in my car, but there are so many things to distract me when I’m driving.  There’s not much to distract me in the shower, unless I’m running out of conditioner, and have to keep reminding myself for the rest of my shower – conditioner, conditioner, conditioner – so I won’t forget to write it on the shopping list when I get out.)  I realized that my brokenness, my feeling raw and ripped open and vulnerable, no matter how unpleasant it is, serves a real purpose.  It’s a precursor – a necessary precursor – to healing.  Sort of like how doctors sometimes have to re-break a bone in order to set it so that it can heal correctly.  I’m the broken bone.

And I hate it.  I hate everything about it.  I hate uncovering more broken bits that need attention.  I hate talking about myself.  I hate worrying that I’m being too ______  (fill in the blank).  Too annoying, too crazy, too whiny, too narcissistic.  I console myself with the fact that maybe to a therapist it’s like I was when I was teaching yoga.  All the new people worry that they’re not flexible enough, or that they’re doing the poses wrong, or that they’re being judged.  And I – and every other teacher I’ve ever known – think they’re rock stars just for showing up.  Every single one.  Every single time.  It would make me feel a lot better if I could think of myself as a rock star, just for showing up.

But I’m not a rock star.  I’m a human.  A human who’s working and fighting but raw and bruised and bloody from the battle.  A human who’s broken.  And sweet baby Jesus, I didn’t think I could get more broken than I was when I first walked into his office three months ago.  I was wrong.

It’s a weird thing, therapy.  Did you ever think about it?  It’s just an odd, odd thing.  Baring the most shameful, embarrassing, painful parts of your psyche to … a stranger?  And there’s a professional rapport there I guess, and a certain amount of trust, but … you know NOTHING about this person.  And for all the sharing you do, for all the emotional gut-wrenching stripping, you might as well be completely naked.  Now that I think about it, because I’ve really never looked at it in that way before, I’m pretty sure that I’d find being physically naked preferable.  I’m not even kidding.

So this is me, naked.  Barenaked (anyone remember that song by Jennifer Love Hewitt in the early 2000’s??).  I’ll be okay.  I will.  I WILL.  But right now, I’m not too okay.  I’m naked and afraid and vulnerable and would legitimately be contemplating drinking right now – at nine in the morning – if I hadn’t given up drinking, one of my favorite things, in my quest to face my issues and finally be well.

This is hard you guys.

A dear friend recently, and aptly, described it like this:

It’s like cleaning my damn house

Every time I think “surely I’m almost there”

Some new closet of junk appears

The closets are killing me.  So very many closets.

I know my online presence has been a little scarce lately, but I’m still here.  Still plugging.  Still learning.  Still broken. And naked and…. in a closet, apparently?  (Sorry, way too many metaphors for one blog post.)  But I’m here.  And after all the hard work and time and tears I’ve invested in myself over the last three months, I feel confident in saying that I’ve no plans to go anywhere.


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Filed under about me, anxiety, bipolar, depression, mania, mental health

Teens, Privacy, And Why The Only Text Messages I Read Are My Own

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I’m a pretty private person.  Maybe that sounds weird coming from someone who has shared many intimate details about her life over the past several years, but I am.  Not just when it comes to my personal relationships (though certainly, I’m private about those too) but also regarding some of the things I have on my laptop, and in my phone, and in my desk.  And it’s not that I’m hiding anything or ashamed of anything, or feel I’m doing anything “bad”.  It’s just that some things are… well, private.  I keep journals, I’m constantly writing little notes and reminders to myself, I often write emails and potential blog posts that don’t ever make it out for public consumption.  Over the past three months, I’ve also been keeping a notebook for therapy.  I’ll carry it back and forth every week and jot down notes of things I want to remember, homework he’s given me, issues that come up for me during the week, and things I want to talk about next time.  Sometimes it’s in my purse or in the car, but most often it’s sitting right out on my desk, so it’s easily accessible throughout the week.  As personal as it is, I never worry that anyone’s going to open it.  Why?  Because we all respect each other’s privacy.  On those rare occasions that Mike needs something out of my purse, or from my desk, or to access something in my email, he’ll ask.  I trust and expect and appreciate that within the four walls of my own home, I have a modicum of privacy.

Why wouldn’t I give my teens the same consideration?   (I’ll get back to that later).

I remember being a teenager.  Quite well in fact.  It’s been 26 years since I was 16, but for as fresh as the memories are, it may as well have been two.  It was fun and exciting.  Difficult and hurtful.  Confusing and overwhelming.  I remember feeling like life was an emergency… like it was all just SO MUCH.  Such blindingly beautiful high highs, and such agonizingly painful low lows (In hindsight, I don’t know how much of that was normal teenage angst, and how much was the fact that I had an untreated mental illness.  But I digress.)

I don’t agree with all the decisions my parents made when it came to raising me – not because they weren’t good parents, but just because evaluating and re-evaluating and learning ways to improve on what was done before us is what evolved humans do.  But one area where I feel they absolutely got it right was how they parented me as a teen.  They gave me space.  They respected my privacy.  They respected my friendships.  They allowed me the room to have my own relationships, and my own conversations, and my own whispered late-night phone calls.  They trusted that they’d raised me with a good head on my shoulders.  They gave me the freedom I needed to learn what it meant to be independent, to make my own decisions, and yes, to make mistakes and ultimately grow from them.  They did all of that while still letting me know that they were there for me, that they loved me, and that when I had a problem… they’d have my back.

Now that I think about it, that’s the way most of my friends were raised as well.  And I can’t but wonder:  When did we stop trusting our teens?

I see article after article warning parents to keep stricter tabs.  Know all their social media passwords (if you even let them have social media), read through their texts, monitor their photos.  In short:  Don’t let them have a private life at all.

And I get it (kind of.)  We all want to keep our kids – of all ages – safe.  We want them to be happy and healthy.  We want them to make good decisions.  But did you ever stop to think about the fact that in order to learn to make good decisions, they at some point have to be given the trust and the freedom to actually practice making those decisions in the first place?  Monitoring their every move actually robs them of the chance to grow, to mature, and to make healthy decisions in the absence of someone looking over their shoulder.

But it’s more than that.

Teens are human beings who are deserving of their own space, their own privacy, and their own right to have personal conversations and exchanges with their friends.  Full stop.  And when it comes to things like reading their text messages, you’re not just inserting yourself into your OWN teen’s private life, but into the private lives of their friends as well.  Even if you fully believe it’s your right as your teen’s parent (something I strongly disagree with, to be clear), is it right to read the private words of someone else’s teen?  Words that he or she believed would be for one person, and one person only?  Where does it stop?

Right before I started writing this post, I went for a run with my 12 year old.  As we were cooling down, we talked about the pros and cons of the different ways of keeping in touch online.  (He’s a Skype fan, and I pretty much avoid it at all costs) He told me about some new games he’s been playing, and which friends he’s been chatting with.  I told him about what I was about to go home and write about, and he was initially aghast at the idea of parents reading their kids’ private things.  He thought about it for a few seconds, and eventually asked me why anyone would do that.  I answered that they just want to keep their kids safe.  As usual, he responded more succinctly and with much fewer words than I could ever muster: “Or they could just raise them right so that they know how to keep themselves safe.”  Indeed.

You know what else helps keep your teens safe?  An open line of communication with their parents, one that’s born of trust, mutual respect, and genuine relationship.  Breaching that trust and snooping through private correspondence is pretty antithetical towards that end.

And listen, I know people are going to disagree.  That’s okay.  But for me and my teens:  I’m going to keep talking to them.   Keep being involved.   Keep listening.  Keep being a safe sounding board.  Keep loving them unconditionally.  But ultimately giving them the trust and the space and the freedom to have their own private lives;  lives I’ll occasionally be invited to visit, but that will otherwise grow and flourish and exist without me.


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Meat Sweats and 4,000 Miles

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I just got back from a two-week road trip.  We went from Phoenix to Texas to Michigan to Wisconsin to Colorado to back to Phoenix.  We stayed with some dear friends who feel like family, we saw some new sights and new cities, we spent some time on the beaches in Michigan, and we bonded – Griswold style.

Most people I know seem to have very strong feelings about road trips.  They either hate them or love them.  I love them.  I find them completely and utterly and bone-crushingly exhausting… but I love them.  Watching the changing scenery, eating all the road trip junk food, collapsing gratefully in the hotel bed in some humid, obscure little town in the middle of Kentucky…

But the best part about road trips are the conversations in the car.  We talk about everything, from TV shows to music to religion to politics to a whole bunch of stuff I can’t mention in polite society.  And also?  My kids make me laugh.  A lot.  I got in the habit of making a list of some of their most memorable quotes several years ago, and road trips (and their resulting dozens of captive hours in the car) prove to be a veritable treasure trove of new ones.  This trip was no exception.

Here are some of their greatest hits from the past two weeks, with no attribution, no commentary, and no context.  I hope you enjoy.  :)

Here come the meat sweats.

Don’t eat the baby!

Who farted?  (I said there would be no commentary, but I feel compelled to clarify that this question is asked not once, but many many many times any time our family is in the car for any extended period of time)

They’re like little pockets of love.

Meat farts!!!

I have great balls.

So if you chewed it really hard and aggressively, it would have negative calories.

So a tsunami could hit us any second?

The meat sweats come and go.

Screaming is somewhat hot.

You drink one, and you twist the other.

It’s like not hot, but I’m… wet.

There are sixteen ways to kill someone with tweezers.

I have a weird shaped face.

She’d look pretty funny if she didn’t have a mouth.

I feel a baby. GIVE ME THE BABY. But the babies taste better.

My pickle’s stuck.

Was that a joke, or was it just a happy coincidence?

They were talking about the size of their junk when they were in the morph suits.

This tastes like the smell of a urinal cake.

We started from the virgin.

I haven’t pooped since Illinois.

Please don’t peel my onion!

He has to have some alone time with his waffle maker.

It’s all part of the experience.


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Bipolar Is A Football Game

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It’s been nearly three months since I began treatment for Bipolar Disorder.  Three months.  Which is …. a long time and also no time at all.  Most people, even those who were remarkably supportive in the beginning, have pretty much gone silent in my life by now.   And it’s not that I blame them.  I don’t.  I think that a general lack of understanding just makes them believe that I’d be “better” by now.  That I’d take a couple pills, go to a few therapy sessions, and voila.  All cured.  Or maybe it’s not that at all, and it’s the fact that life just goes on.  We’re all busy, we’re all involved in our own stuff.   We all have our own problems.  Truth be told, I think I’m a little jealous of those who’ve essentially stopped talking to me.  I wish that I could live in the oblivion, if even temporarily, of not having to think about it.  But I don’t get to take a break.  Bipolar is a cheap polyester Christmas sweater, permanently woven into every fiber of my being.

But I’m still here, still working this all out, still finding my way through a mysterious world that is revealing more and more to me as I go.

About a week ago, I started getting sick.  And then I got really sick… with something I’m pretty sure is the plague.  Or at the very least, dysentery.  So, so sick.  Sickness of any sort, of any duration, tends to throw me completely off my game.  My mind immediately bends toward what my therapist calls, “Catastrophic thinking.”  I’ll never feel well again.  I’ll never catch up on the housework.  I’ll never be able to do anything fun again.  I’ll lose all the momentum I’ve gained with exercise.

This time though, the thing that most plagued me was the fact that I missed a concert (and meet & greet) that I was, so, SO looking forward.  The concert was A Great Big World and Matt Nathanson, two of my absolute all time favorites, but the part that I was looking forward to the  most was meeting Chad and Ian from GBW, so that I could see them in person, and put a face with my “won’t stop running” story.  (If you’re wondering what the heck that means, skim this post) I was looking forward to it so, so much.  So much.  The day of the concert, I woke up nauseous and light-headed, as I had for the last week.  I prayed I’d rally though, and for a little while I did.  I took a shower, got dressed, put on some makeup, started doing my hair…. and just the act of being up and about made me feel sicker and sicker as I went.  In hindsight, I could have made it through the concert – probably – and just felt 0ff while I was there.  But in the end, I couldn’t in good conscience risk having to leave early and ruining it for Tegan, (who’s eight at the time of this writing, rivals me as their biggest fan, and was looking forward to it every bit as much as I was)  So I stayed home, sent her off on a Daddy/daughter date, and nursed both my sickness and my bitter disappointment, curled up in a ball on the couch.

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Do you see how freaking HAPPY she is?? I couldn’t forgive myself if I was the cause of her missing this. I’m so thrilled she got to meet them. And hearing her and Mike’s story of what they were like in person…. I just love them. I’ve never met them, but I love them.

The next day, Sunday, saw me sliding, or SLAMMING as the case may be, into a deep depression.  The combination of being sick for a week; the forced and abrupt halt of the momentum I’d gathered with exercise, sleeping right, and faithfully taking my supplements; the house arrest; me being me; and the final nail of missing the concert just smashed me right into a Very Bad Place.    I knew I was feeling better physically – not good by any stretch, but better – while mentally I was withering.  Seeing this, Mike (mostly gently) made me get up, get out and go to the store with him.  After that he (again, mostly gently) convinced me to go the arena football game with him and the kids.   He would tell me later that what he was seeing in me scared him, and he didn’t want me to be alone.  Which scared me too.   Ordinarily I love Rattlers games, and look forward to going every week…. but yesterday, I didn’t want to be there.  Didn’t want to be here.  Didn’t want to be anywhere.  But I made myself do it, and I put on my blinged-out Rattlers shirt and my Mardi Gras beads, took a bunch of ibuprofen for my headache, and steeled myself for the trip.

Now, a lot of people compare bipolar to a roller coaster.  And I mean, sure, it’s an apt enough (if grossly overused) description.  Ups, downs, twists, turns.  Blah, blah, blah, blah.

Last night I realized that what it really is is a football game, one that starts before you even get there.

We usually take the light rail when we’re going to any sort of sporting event downtown.  I hate the light rail.  It’s crowded, it smells funny, and it always makes me nauseous.  Which is apropos in its own right, but it’s not the way we traveled last night.  Last night we drove in and parked in the parking garage.

And that’s where I first realized it, the moment I stepped out of the car.

The parking garage is the depression.  It’s dark and spooky.  It’s the depths of hell, or at the very least, it’s Satan’s armpit.  It’s hot.  It’s steamy.  Like the light rail, it too smells funny.   But not ha-ha funny.  More like car exhaust and Mexican food farts and death.  It’s dirty, but not regular dirty.  There are stains on the floors (and the walls and in the corners and on all of civilization that managed to survive) that make you wonder if someone was recently murdered.  The stairwell seemingly takes you up and up and up, but its oppression is so heavy, so stifling, that it makes you doubt if you’re ever going to see the light of day again.

Then suddenly you’re out, and there’s the burst of sun, so strong it takes your eyes a minute to adjust. You’re in the real world.  Those are the days in between the mania and depression, the days when you get a feeling for what it must be like to be a “normal” person.  They’re not particularly exciting, but they’re not particularly depressing either.  You exist in a state of sort of homeostasis.  A state of just being for a few minutes.  It’s a nice place to visit, but it’s a very short walk to the stadium.  Those days of normal are short lived.  Soon you’re at your destination.

The stadium is the mania.  There is just So. Much. Going. On.  Your senses are all heightened, by sixty jillion percent.  There are the people, and the sounds, and the smells, and the relentlessly constantly whirling, swirling energy.  It’s exciting.  It’s exhilarating.  Unfortunately, what starts off as exciting and exhilarating eventually descends into overwhelming and scary.  You look for a corner to hide in, but no such corner exists.  The only option – if you can really call it that, since you have no other options – is to keep walking, right through the fray.

The food is the mania and the depression. Sometimes, those over priced, fast food, ball park chicken tenders are the most juicy, succulent morsels of food you could ever put in your mouth, better than any meal you’d choose to order at a 5 star restaurant.  Other times, those very same chicken tenders taste like fried moist cardboard, sit like a rock in your stomach, and make you spend the rest of the game praying you’re not going to suddenly and violently have to vomit and have diarrhea.

I never know which one I’m going to get.

Your family and friends sitting beside you, they’re (and I kind of hesitate to say this, because I feel like it minimizes the huge role they actually play), but they’re the mood stabilizers.  They’re the right diet.  They’re regular exercise.  They’re 8 hours of sleep.  In other words, they don’t cure you.  They don’t make the ups and downs go away.  But they soften them.  They make them less intense.  They smooth out the edges.  They remind you to breathe when you’re anxious.  They hold your hand when you’re scared.  They give you light on the journey, and they make you laugh along the way.  Your friends and your family are the safe spot in the middle of the chaos around you.

The game itself is the actual work of reaching, and maintaining, wellness.  It’s the therapy.  It’s the day-to-day changes you make to control your illness instead of letting it control you.  Of course you’re not actually watching the game… you’re playing, in every position.  Sometimes you’re the quarter back, calling the plays.  Sometimes you’re a receiver.  Sometimes you’re on defense.   And you’ve got a whole team of people ready to back you up.  There’s a defined set of plays, but you have to be able to read what’s going on, and adjust and tweak as you go.  You have to stay flexible, and think on your feet.  (And just as a football game often – usually, always – veers off from its best laid plans, so do medication, therapy, and all other aspects related to treatment.  You have to roll with it)  Sometimes the game is exciting.  It’s not just the touchdowns, but it’s the little moments – that are really big moments – along the way.  The thrill of an interception.  A sacked quarterback.  A recovered fumble.

Sometimes it’s frustrating.  The missed PAT.   The tackles and fumbles and penalties…  sometimes a lot of penalties.    Sometimes there are fist fights (although if you’ve got good, classy teammates, they gently pull you away from the fight, use their bodies to block you from the heat, and make sure everyone stays safe).  Sometimes there are injuries.   Sometimes you need to call a time out.   Sometimes the game makes you sublimely happy, but half the time it just pisses you right the heck off.   Sometimes you’re down by 4 touchdowns, and you’re really discouraged and demoralized.  You can hear the taunts from the crowd.

But wait.

Sometimes there are cheers from the crowd too.  Sometimes the stadium is just FILLED with cheers.  Sometimes there’s an opening, and you manage to perfectly execute a really long pass, resulting in an epically beautiful touchdown.  It’s those kind of plays that make the entire game worth it.

Win or lose, it is all So.  Much. Work.  At the end of the game you are spent, you are sweaty, and you are exhausted.  But no matter the final score, you learned something.  You gained something.  You got better, and stronger, and more experienced. You took another step toward the Arena Bowl.

As for me, personally?  I’m still in the first quarter.  I have a lot of work ahead of me.  I’m continually trying to find that balance of giving 100% without burning myself out before I even get to half-time.

And then, it’s over.  That brief visit to the land of normalcy, then you’re once again in the pits of hell.  AKA the parking garage.  AKA depression.

Lather.

Rinse.

Repeat.

On an endless loop, every day, forever.

And the thing is, just like me on Sunday night, you don’t necessarily choose to go the football game.  But since you have to be there, you learn not to just make the most of it, but to embrace it.   You learn to squeeze every bit of enjoyment out of every little moment that you can.  You learn to appreciate the color and the joy and beauty that exist both in the middle of the game, and in the stillness between the plays.

You learn to grab that football game by its balls (see what I did there?), you hold on for all you’re worth, and you tell your teammates, and you tell the crowd, and you tell the WORLD:

“My game.  My rules.  And dammit, I’m gonna play to win.”


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Learning From That Health Club Shower Picture

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I’m sitting propped up in bed as I write this, my eight-year-old daughter sound asleep beside me.  As always, she’s a charming mix of rough & tumble and feminine grace, even when she sleeps.  She’s sleeping in the same running shorts and black t-shirt she had on yesterday.  Her arms and legs are golden brown, thanks to the Arizona sun and hours in her cousin’s pool.  The pixie cut she’s been growing out since January is now long enough to be flopping across her face, completely obscuring one of her eyes.  Her breathing is deep and even, her mind no doubt dreaming up adventures that she’ll likely recount to me when she wakes up.

She’s perfect.

Like her three brothers before her, her very existence has made me grow, made me question, and made me think – about so very many things – in a whole new light.  One issue that’s become increasingly important to me since I’ve had a daughter is that of positive body image.   I feel like it’s one of my jobs as her mother to make sure she feels good about her own body, so that she can then go out into the world and accept other people’s bodies, exactly as they are, and truly recognize that beauty really isn’t one-size-fits-all.  And it’s not that it’s not important for boys too, because of course, it is.  It’s just that there’s such a disturbingly high amount of girl-on-girl judgment and shame and ridicule out there when it comes to our bodies.  Everything from fat shaming, to “feed that girl a sandwich” thin shaming, to taking covert pictures of unsuspecting naked women in a health club shower, for the sole purpose of making fun of them and posting them on social media.  

Dani Mathers, a model whose name I’d never heard of until a few days ago, was in an LA Fitness locker room recently, when she decided to take a picture of a naked woman in the shower, paired it side-by-side with a selfie with her hand over her mouth, captioned it “If I can’t unsee this, you can’t either,” and then posted it to all of her followers on Snapchat.  Her defense was that she didn’t understand how Snapchat worked, and that she thought she was sharing the picture in a private conversation, as if that somehow made it better.

What she did was horrific.  I don’t think that’s even up for debate.  She took a naked picture of an unsuspecting stranger who was just trying to use the locker room, and she publicly shared it to ridicule her.   I don’t know anyone who doesn’t find what she did completely deplorable.  She’s been (rightly) banned for life from all of LA Fitness’s locations.  The situation is (rightly) being investigated by authorities.    I hope there are pressed charges.  I hope she genuinely feels remorse.

But here’s the thing.

I think it’s far too easy to hear things like this and get too comfortable in our moral high ground.  We get self-righteous, and sort of… smug. “That’s horrible!  I’d never do something like that!”  And absolutely, I can tell you with confidence and certainty that I’d never take a naked picture of a stranger and post it on my Snapchat.  But am I any better than she is because of it?  Of course not.  We’re all humans here, making our human mistakes.

And when it comes to body shaming, am I completely blameless?  I wish I could tell you that I was.  I wish I could tell you that I’ve never ever disparaged my own body,  or that I’ve never ever made a catty comment about someone else to a friend, or that I’ve never ever made a judgmental double-take at someone’s choice of clothing (or lack thereof), or that I’ve never ever laughed at a photo on People of Walmart.  But I can’t.   I’m guilty too.

I think that most of us know the right thing to do, and the right things not to do, but that there’s sometimes a disconnect between the knowing and the actually putting it into practice…. for all kinds of reasons, but often just because we’re fallible and we make bad decisions.

The fact is, I’m still learning too.  And things like this never fail to remind me that I could do better.  That I have to do better.   For myself, for the people around me,

and most especially for the innocent 8 year old by my side.


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Pokemon Go: Saving The World One Charmander At A Time

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I was coming home from downtown yesterday, and I was ahead of schedule.  The kids weren’t expecting me for another 20 minutes, and I knew they were all involved in their own projects and wouldn’t miss me regardless.  So it was an easy decision to swing into the park (I had to pass it to get to my street anyway).  I was running low on Poke balls, and this particular park has five different Poke Stops.  A quick little 10 minute loop and I’d hit them all.

I hadn’t even parked my car yet when I saw them:  Pairs and groups and people on their own, walking around, chatting, staring at their phones, and occasionally stopping to flick their fingers to capture whatever imaginary Pokemon they’d stumbled upon.  All of this in the 110 degree heat mind you.  The first guy I passed – a man I’m guessing to be in his 50’s – gave me a friendly greeting.  “Out hunting?”  he asked me.  When I answered in the affirmative, he said,  “Can you believe there wasn’t anything on the top of the mountain?   I thought for sure there’d be something good up there.”  We chatted for a couple more minutes until his daughter, a teenager, yelled at him to come join her where she was standing, several yards away.  “Oh what’d you find?” he asked as he trotted over.  “A Poke Stop!”

I visited all the Poke stops, gathered some balls, and captured some more Pokemon.  As I walked to my car, I heard the spirited conversations behind me.

Stranger #1 – “Oh I just got a Zubat!”

Stranger #2 – “Hey I hatched one of those.”

Stranger #3 – “My son and I just found one in the Walgreens on the corner!”

And on and on the discussions swirled… happy, friendly, upbeat dialogue between total strangers of all ages, united in playing a simple and free game on their smart phones.

In case you somehow missed all the hoopla over the past week or so, here’s a quick little Pokemon Go primer:

It’s sort of like geocaching, but instead of looking for physical caches, you hunt virtual Pokemon.  It uses something similar to Google maps to plot your location, but when you spot a Pokemon, it switches to camera view, so you literally see the Pokemon on the sidewalk, in the trees, on your friend’s head, on your counter, on the edge of the bathtub.

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When you find one, you use your finger to flick a Poke ball at them to capture them.  You can stop at Poke Stops (at malls, stores, churches, parks, etc) to gather items like more balls.  There are also eggs that you can hatch by walking a certain distance, and Poke Gyms where you can battle with other Pokemons … but I haven’t gotten into all of that yet.  My 12 year is a little bit ahead of the curve, so he’s giving me pointers as we go.

It’s just a really fun, addicting, happy little game.  But that’s not why like it.  Or it’s not the only reason anyway.  This game, as silly as it may seem to some people, is getting kids and parents and teens and strangers uniting in a way that I haven’t seen in a long time.  It is helping people with social anxieties come out of their shells.  It is lifting the spirits of people with depression.  It is providing a conduit for a new way for parents to bond with their kids, and siblings to bond with each other.  It’s getting people out and exercising, running around their parks, and their neighborhoods and their city streets.  It’s getting people excited about something.

It’s not for everyone, and that’s cool.  Truly.  We don’t all enjoy the same things.  But in this internet day and age of the “I must find something negative to say about everything” crowd,  I’m seeing a large number of naysayers.  And why?  Because it makes people happy in a way you don’t understand or approve of?  With all that’s going on in the world around us, is a little bit of happiness such a terrible thing?

Anything that’s good harmless fun that gives people joy, that gives them a connection with others – heck, that gives them a connection with themselves – is always going to have my vote

pokemononmike

So do I really think a game is going to save the world?  Well, no, not exactly.  But I do believe that people can change the world.  And who better equipped for the job than the people who are happy, passionate, and engaged… no matter what it happens to be that makes them that way.


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Finding Common Ground

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This won’t come as a shock to anyone who’s read my blog for any length of time, but in case you’re new (or haven’t been paying very close attention):  I’m the designated non-Republican in my marriage.  I’m actually the designated non-Republican in my entire extended family, but it’s never felt quite as acutely as it is with my husband.

As you’d imagine, this disparity has caused a great many spirited discussions, ranging in intensity from “I’m going to pick my words carefully so this doesn’t escalate from ‘discussion’ to ‘argument” to “I need to get out of this house and go for a walk immediately, because I’m so mad I can’t even look at you right now.”

After all the horrific and polarizing events of this past week – the highly publicized deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, followed so closely by the murders of the five police officers in Dallas – I knew from past experience that 1) we’d have very, very different takes on the situation, and 2) that any conversation we’d might have about it would be emotionally charged.

That conversation happened a couple of days ago, and I was right, on both counts.

But then, afterwards, I was able to take a step back, and I finally realized something.  An epiphany, if that word works for you.  (I’ve been having a lot of those lately.  A steady dose of mood stabilizers and weekly therapy appointments will do that to you):

If we can’t find a point of commonality within our own home, how on earth could we expect to do it in our country?

Here then are four (important!) things on which this liberal Democrat and conservative Republican can agree, even as the rest of the country argues on.

1   Everyone should be treated with dignity and respect, especially those who are mistreated or maligned or oppressed by much of society.  When our eight year old heard our slowly rising voices the other day, and came into the room to make sure all was okay (she’s our little peace-maker), she asked what side each of us was on.  I explained that we weren’t really taking sides, and she pressed a little harder, asking me what it was that I wanted to happen.  “I just want people to be nice to each other, baby,” I told her.  And as I heard the words come out of my mouth, I knew.  My husband wants the same thing.  We may differ on the path that will take us there, and we might not even agree on what it ultimately looks like,  but kindness, respect, and love are always the ultimate goal.  For both of us.

2  A little bit of empathy goes a long way.   I pretty much walk through the world as one big, open, bleeding, ball of exposed feelings, and Mike is led more by logic and practicality.  But when it comes down to it?  He has one of the biggest hearts of anyone I know.  He knows how to put himself in someone else’s shoes, and he knows how to put others’ needs ahead of his own.  We are both painfully familiar with the feeling of being alone and of being the outcast, for various reasons.  At the same time, we both recognize that there are others that feel more alone, and for much deeper reasons.

3  We have to keep having the conversation.  Open communication is key here.  The only way we can grow, and better ourselves, and learn, is to keep having the uncomfortable discussions.  Asking the hard questions.  Genuinely trying to hear the other side.  Shutting up periodically in order to just listen.   Over the past week, I’ve observed a couple of mature, respectful discussions between people with opposing views; people who were honestly hearing each other.  Unfortunately I saw far more of this:  people stubbornly shouting their beliefs with a bullhorn, and straight-up refusing to hear anything else…. some with figurative fingers in their ears, while they chanted, “Lalalalalala I can’t hear you!” and others with full-on internet tantrums, complete with yelling, stomping, and “Leave me alone!”s   Having the conversations and being open to hearing the other side (even if you continue to disagree!) is so, so important.  And shutting down a conversation with name calling and insults and being a general jerk about it is never the answer.  Mike and I both know this, which is why we keep talking about it, and keep revisiting the same issues – discomfort be damned.  We miss the mark most of the time sometimes, but we keep on trying.

4  The best place to start making changes is in our home, with our own children.    There is a bumper sticker that says something like, “World peace begins at home.  Be nicer to your kids.”  Wiser words were never spoken.  We are sending our four kids out into a world that is confused and broken and – in times like this past week – downright scary.  But we have hope (both for our kids and for the world they’re going to inhabit) because we can see with our own eyes how powerful it is to raise kids with kindness instead of control.  Respect instead of coercion.  Compassion instead of punishment.  We can’t fix all the ills of society.  We often don’t even know where to start.  But being nicer to our kids?  That we can do.  That’s something that all of us can do.  We can raise kids that care about other people.  Kids that are compassionate and strong and who stand up for the needs of others.  Kids that do the right thing, not because it’s what we’ve told them to do, or because they might get punished if they don’t do it, but because it’s the right thing.   And more than anything, kids who know how to love… deeply, fully, and without condition.

As L.R. Knost so beautifully states:

“It’s not our job to toughen our children up to face a cruel and heartless world. It’s our job to raise children who will make the world a little less cruel and heartless.”

And I honestly believe – indeed, I have to believe – that my kids (and your kids too!) will help make that a reality.

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There are some pretty big things that we’re never going to see eye-to-eye on, to be sure, but if we can continue to agree on the above, I think my husband and I will be okay.

And maybe, eventually, the rest of us will be okay, too.


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Raising My Orchid Child

Today’s post is a guest post from someone who could relate to my recent stories about my own mental health issues (and the decision to use medication as part of my treatment).  I thought it segued nicely from my most recent post about my complicated relationship with natural health.   I think a lot of parents out there will be able to see themselves/their child in this story.

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Here I am, where I never thought I would be. I have a child who is not receptive to my magical way with children. This was one of the hardest things I have ever had to deal with as an adult. This child is not just some child off the street who didn’t connect with me, as a teacher or mentor, whose family decided I wasn’t a good fit for them. This is a child born of my womb. He is beautiful. He is creative. He steals the hearts of anyone who gets to know him. But he was not connecting. There was no amount of cuddles and love that happened between us that helped change him into a well-mannered, calm, sociable child. He was not receptive to my parenting.

Before you start telling yourself , “She is obviously a self-centered, egocentric know it all”, I need you to understand that I love to be challenged and questioned. I am always looking to be better. I altered my parenting as much as I possibly could, but no amount of parenting was going to take the Sensory Processing Disorder out of my child. I tried love. I tried diet change. I tried firm (read gentle, but firm) discipline. I tried therapy. I even attempted school. I tried isolation (for his and his friends’ safety). I tried simplification of everything from his schedule to his lifestyle. Minimalism is a way of life for us.  I was willing to try anything a pro thought would help. There was just NO WAY I was going to medicate him for anxiety.

The fact is, Sensory Processing Disorder is not something that has a quick fix. It is not something we can change about a child. Imagine walking into a room and feeling every ounce of energy in the room; all the sadness, excitement, anger. You name it, you feel it. Imagine there are 10 people in the room and half of them you do not know, but you feel their energy. You feel it fully, as if it were your own. Imagine seeing every color in the room. The slight hue of blue that is different on one wall than another and the orange that makes a friend’s red hat slightly brighter than his friend’s red hat. You hear every thought, as if they are sounds coming from the company’s mouth. Imagine trying to organize those thoughts and do so before you forget what you wanted to say.

How do you feel? Are you feeling anxious? Not sure what to do? Imagine that the adults in your life don’t understand this about you. Oh, your mom does. Your dad does. Imagine feeling so much love for them, but hearing them have to explain you to other people. Imagine feeling their anxiety about how people will take you. Imagine hearing a grandparent who barely knows you tell your mother that she had better get control of you before you run the house. Imagine being asked why you cry so easily. Imagine a child of the same age hitting you as a game or teasing you for fun and the adults doing nothing. Imagine that everything you know in your heart is wrong or sad or unhealthy is ignored by the masses.

How would you feel?

I am guessing you would feel anxious. Well, you know what? I can protect him from all of these things. I can keep him safe and only with people who understand him and offer him grace and see his beauty. I will keep him near people who see that he can take 3 combined Thomas the train puzzles with slightly different hues of blue in the sky and put them together faster than I could put one together, by seeing the difference in the back ground. I can manage his people to be only those who offer him calm. Guess who that would eliminate from our life though? Probably you. You might not realize that you make him anxious, but just wearing the wrong pair of shoes can make his senses go haywire. Bringing his favorite snack can make his senses explode.

So, you know what? I am going to ask you NOT to give an opinion on my parenting around him. I am going to ask you not to offer an opinion about him. I’m going to ask you to not bring his favorite snack. All you will do is build his anxiety. All you will do will make him feel those huge emotions even bigger than he normally does. You know what happens then? He does what we call cycling. He tolerates nothing. His senses go haywire and he becomes someone watching his body from the outside. After his body takes on a mind of its own, he feels anxious about his actions and he goes more haywire. He becomes completely out of control and he HATES it. The more out of control he becomes the more anxious he becomes. It is a spiral. It comes on quickly and no one can stop it. Trust me: I. Have. Tried. He. Has. Tried.

So, let me go back. I can eliminate all people and activities and things that make him anxious. I can. It is what I have done in the past. I can eliminate his life of anything but where this Orchid child is protected and safe from people who can not offer him grace. It is so tempting to go for the long haul and protect him and guide him and hope that once he is an adult, he will be able to filter the information flooding his brain. Or, I can help him now. I can help him learn a new norm. I can let the doctors medicate him. I can let him live in society and still feel his emotions and never punish him for them; because that is the stupidest thing I have EVER heard. Whether you believe in punishment or not, punishments are NEVER for emotions.  Punishing a child for feeling is asinine. That is all I have to say about it. I will not punish my child for feeling beautiful, healthy emotions; but if I can help him feel safe NOW and feel those emotions a little less NOW… if I can turn down the volume just a hair; why wouldn’t I? And, you know what? It took me three years to accept it, but my child is happy and in control of his feelings. I have medicated him and I am proud of myself for coming to this decision. I am proud of myself for taking this long and trying anything and everything to help him. I am proud of myself for saying “my child needs help that I can’t give him”. I am proud of myself for parenting my Orchid child the way he needs to be parented. I am proud of myself for knowing that my child is more than his SPD and his anxiety.

It turns out that my child has heard everything we have been teaching him. He heard it. He felt it. He saw it. Now, he can express it. It won’t be linear. It won’t be consistent and it won’t be forever. We will still need to make and cancel plans at the spur of the moment. I know that probably bothers you.  But guess what? Now, he enjoys jokes, family barbecues, athletics, friends coming over and, selfishly; me…

and maybe even you.

~ Anonymous


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Why I’m A Natural Health Dropout

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I used to be very adamantly against pharmaceuticals.  I remember after the birth of my first son – 19 years ago – they offered me Tylenol with codeine and I declined.   Then they wanted me to take a stool softener, and I declined that too.   I was kind of obnoxious about it too, now that I think about it.  I didn’t need that stuff.  I had my supplements and my herbs (and if essential oils were as big a thing back then as they are now, I’m sure I would have used those too). I had my ideals.  I had my self-righteous resolve.

Over the next several years, I would spend a lot of time studying, reading about, and learning about natural health and nutrition.  I took several courses, and I earned a handful of certificates.  I was passionate and motivated and… have I mentioned obnoxious yet?

And then I got gall stones… in a gall bladder that eventually got inflamed and infected.  Then I got gall stones lodged in my bile duct.  Then I got pancreatitis.  Then I needed surgery.  Next was kidney stones, followed by hydronephrosis and a stent.  A couple of years later, it was two rather painful shoulder surgeries in as many years, one involving detaching my bicep and reattaching it on a different spot on my bone, held in place with a permanent metal screw.

Suffice it to say, I made my peace with allopathic medicine.

Over that tricky six year period, there were narcotics, there were muscle relaxants, there were antibiotics, there were anti-emetics, there were sleep aids.  Last year I tried, and eventually rejected, a medication prescribed for suspected fibromyalgia.  It’s not that I’m proud to say I took all of that… but I’m not ashamed of it either.  I made informed decisions, I took what I needed, and I took it all responsibly. At the time of this writing, I’m taking a mood stabilizer (which is making a world of difference for me) and am in the process of carefully weaning myself off of a benzodiazepine, prescribed during an acute time of crisis when I began treatment for bipolar disorder.  I’m not ashamed of that either.

And the thing is, I never abandoned anything I learned when I studied natural health.  In fact, having bipolar and wanting to get well has necessitated my paying more attention to it than ever before.  I absolutely understand the importance of nutrition.  I know how inextricably our stress levels are tied to our health.  I’m exercising, six days a week.  I’m taking a careful supplement regimen, designed with the help of my doctor.  I’m meditating daily.  I’m not drinking any alcohol.  I’m using essential oils, for all kinds of things.   I’m working hard to develop better sleep patterns (even giving up watching TV in bed, one of my favorite things, in an effort to create healthier habits).  Self-care and natural health are wonderful things indeed.

But there’s a balance.

I don’t think I truly understood that balance until I went through my own health crises, and to an even greater extent until I was met with my former self, again and again, in the form of people whose version of “help” included chastising me for my choices.  There was the one who messaged me after my second shoulder surgery, not to offer up a “get well soon” but to lecture me about the dangers of prescription painkillers.   There was the one who, after I’d already had my gall bladder removed, told me why I should never have done it, and how I should have just healed it naturally instead.  There were the countless others, who no matter what the issue, were convinced that I just needed to take more supplements/get better sleep/eat more whole foods/take more walks in the sunshine.  I saw in real time the black and white thinking to which I myself had once subscribed.   I saw the danger of, and felt the sting of, polarity.  I saw how many people tried to shame me (and who continue to try to shame me) for not taking a solely natural approach.

I saw judgment – So. Much. Judgment. – from family members to friends to strangers alike.

That’s the natural health movement that leaves me with a bitter taste in my mouth.  That’s the natural health movement that I no longer want to be a part of.

I can’t help but wonder what would happen if we just trusted one another to make informed decisions.  To learn not just about treating disease but about maintaining health.  To weigh the pros and cons of all our options.  To educate ourselves about natural remedies and pharmaceuticals both.  To learn about risks of side effects versus possible benefits.  To respect that my path to health is different from your path is different to your best friend’s neighbor’s path.  To completely remove shame from the equation. 

And if you ever have to have your bicep drilled back into your humerus, I hope that your recovery goes as smoothly as possible.  I hope that you’re given all your options to control the pain, and that you make the choice that best works for you…. whether it’s a steady regimen of Vicodin or a thrice-daily walking meditation session in a sunny meadow.

I promise not to judge you either way.


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