Category Archives: about me

Making Peace With Self-Care (Again)

Last night, someone was mean to me on the internet.

And when I say someone was mean to me, what I really mean is:  I got my feelings hurt.  In a big way.  Because they were not “mean.”  Incredibly condescending, but not mean.    I’ve (mostly) learned to deal with it when people actually are mean.  When they swear at me, I can laugh it off.   Tell me I should I die?  Cool.  Tell me that my kids are going to grow up to be ax murderers and drunk drivers and rapists because I don’t spank them?  Whatever.

But admonish me, however politely, for not being a good enough human?  To use patronizing language to call my character into question?  To tell me, as a stranger, that I need to do better, to be better, no matter how well intentioned… holy hell.  HOLY HELL, does that cut deep.  I’m pretty sure that I have the years of damage from my fundamental Christian upbringing to thank for that.  The great irony (because my life is one big example of irony) is that I was being chastised for not having enough grace for people.  That I never knew what someone else was going through – which, of course, is absolutely 100% true – so I shouldn’t judge them based on one unkind and nasty snippet on the internet.  What I wonder is if this person would have shown me more grace if they knew more of my story?  Because yeah, I overreacted.  But there was a reason.  It doesn’t excuse it … but there was a reason.

I haven’t been sleeping lately.

It’s only been 3, 4 weeks now I think.  Usually it takes a couple of months before it causes a complete mental break, which means if I can get on top of things, there’s still time to catch it before I end up where I was in July: suicidal and threatened with involuntary hospitalization.

Anyway, I haven’t been sleeping.  First because of mania, then because of anxiety, then … I don’t know.  And I’ve learned that nothing, nothing, unravels me faster than lack of sleep.  I could eat nothing but junk food for months on end, sit on my couch like a sloth, ignore everyone and everything and still manage to function (relatively) normally.  But take away my sleep?  I start to slip.  Like rapidly, rapidly, down-the-rabbit-hole free-fall.  If I’ve learned nothing in this past year and half, it’s that I need to watch my sleep.  You’d think that I would have learned that sooner, having been a chronic insomniac on and off since my early twenties, but… sometimes I’m a slow learner.

So I haven’t been sleeping, and I got my feelings hurt on the internet, and last night I found myself rather violently cleaning the kitchen at 9:00 PM, just to give myself something to do with my angst.  It was the second night in a row that I’d gotten swept up (Swept up.  Ha.  See what I did there?) swept up in the act of rage-cleaning before bed.   Second night in a row that I’d gotten into bed depressed, and anxious, and jumping out of my skin.  I’d deleted the offending post and all its comments on my Facebook page, but I still felt gross about it.  And I realized as I was slamming the sixth plate into the dishwasher that it was at least the fourth time this week that I’d deleted something because I’d gotten my feelings hurt.  Or felt shamed, or embarrassed, or angry.  Which made major alarm bells go off, because I only start doing that when I Am Not Okay.  Or at a very minimum, on the verge of Not Okay.

And rather than trying to push through – which never works.  Which never, ever works – today I’m sitting with my not-okay-ness.  I’m admitting it; I’m saying it out loud.  And I’m breathing, and I’m being gentle with myself, and I’m working out what has to change in order for me to start sleeping again, in order for me to start interacting like a reasonable human again.  Letting go of my own self-care, letting myself get swallowed by the Big Black Hole, and then couching it in, “It’s not my fault; it’s the bipolar!” helps no one, least of all myself.  Or my kids.  Or my husband.  Or anyone who has the (mis)fortune of being within a 50 foot radius when I am as jacked-up as I am right now.   Whenever I feel myself starting to slip, self-care is the very first thing to go…. and the very first thing that I should turn to.  I know this.  I know this.  And yet, here I am, once again.

It’s time to make peace with self-care.  If I can’t do it for myself, I can at least do it for my kids.

And so, to the person who (rightly) reminded me of the importance of giving people grace last night:  Thank you.  You were right.  I absolutely do need to give people more grace.

But today I have to start with myself.


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Conference R & R

It’s been almost a month since our fourth Free to Be Conference.  I would say fourth “annual” conference, but I don’t like the word annual.  Too much commitment.  🙂  It’s always been a new decision every year.

Last year, the conference was… well, it was honestly painful in a lot of ways.  The program itself went well, I think.  All the talks, workshops, etc pretty much went off without a hitch.  But the hotel hated us and threatened to kick out our group on the very first day, there were behavior issues, and there was personal … ickiness.  (Ickiness, by the way, is the technical term.)  We were very certain that we weren’t going to do it again.  Except:

We had to.  We needed a do-over. We needed a Hail Mary.  We chose a new hotel, looked at it as a fresh start, and hoped for the best.

Still, I didn’t know what to expect.  I really didn’t.  After 2016, I almost didn’t want to have any expectations. Registration was highly stressful this year because so many people waited till the last minute.  (Was it a mistake to do it again?  Was no one going to register? Were we going to end up in the poor house because of this?) And then, one month before the conference the bottom fell out of my own life, so it was all I could do to keep afloat, let alone think about anything conference related.

But then it came – funny thing about planning things like that.  They come whether you’re ready or not – and it was… well, it was magic.  I honestly could not have asked for a better conference.  Or attendees.  Or experience.  Were there tiny wrinkles?  Sure.  Were there little issues, complaints, comparisons to other conferences?  Of course.  That’s all part and parcel of hosting an event for 400 people.  But overall it was largely, and overwhelmingly… OVERWHELMINGLY… positive.  And the amount of healing it brought?  Ridiculous.  It was truly a redemptive year for us.

And the thing is, we don’t do it for us.  We do it for the money (KIDDING!  We don’t make any money to speak of.)  We do it for the attendees.  We create the vision and the framework; the speakers, the funshop hosts, and the volunteers bring it to life; and then the whole thing is gifted to the attendees, to do with what they wish.  This year though… this year, it was gifted back to us.  And it was beautiful and it was healing, and it was honestly one of the most positive and empowering feelings I’ve ever experienced.

People keep asking if we’re all recovered.  People have actually been asking since a few days after it ended.  And by all means, I feel good, and I feel peaceful.  But recovered?  Well, no, I’m not.  Mike, being the more logical, business-minded of the two of us, says that he’s back to normal.  A couple weeks back to work and he was good to go.  But me… I invest way too much emotionally to be recovered in a couple of weeks.  Plus, it was a year’s worth of blood, sweat, and tears.  You don’t just get over that in a couple of weeks.  Especially when life doesn’t stop in order for you to do so… when you have to get right back to school, and life, and appointments, and running kids around.

I know that just attending the conference is exhausting and requires its own recovery.  For real. We’ve been on that end of it, too.  A four day event is no joke, no matter how smooth it is.  You’re running around like crazy, you’re sleep deprived, you’re not eating right. But it’s still not quite the same thing as planning, executing, and running said event.  (Um, on that note, my apologies to those I may or may not have grumbled to – I hope good natured-ly – when they complained to me about how tired they were.  Do you know about the ring theory of venting?  Ever since I learned about it, my venting mantra is “Never vent IN”.  I miss the mark sometimes I’m sure.  But I try.  Really really hard.)

And now it’s been a month, and I’m still working on re-entry.  A weekend at my cabin would be lovely, but … real life beckons.  And so, rest and recovery is happening in the pauses.  In the quiet mornings on the days when I don’t have anyplace to be.  With my happy playlist, and a venti cup of coffee in the car.  With a good book and a long bath.  In the stolen meditative moments of chopping vegetables for dinner, or washing my hands longer than necessary in the bathroom.  In the smiles brought by a rapid text exchange with a trusted friend.  In the hibernating.

In the breathing.  Always in the breathing.

I will rest, and I will breathe, and then I’ll be ready to do it again for 2018.  In the meantime, I will watch this.  And I’ll remember.  xo


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What 24 Years Of Marriage Are REALLY Like

 

Last week, Mike and I celebrated 24 years of marriage.

We’ve never been ones to really jump on the train of public declarations that start with things like, “24 years ago, I married my best friend”… in equal parts because it’s just not us;  because it seems somewhat strange and.. insecure, maybe?… to paint a public, rosy, perfect picture about something that is private (and also, if anyone’s been honest, not at all rosy or perfect); and because we find it all sort of nauseating.  Nauseating too strong?  Annoying.  We find it a little annoying.

Still, it’s been 24 years – which is twice as long as 12, and just one shy of 25 – so I thought it deserved a little more than a passing mention.  Not of the, “I married my best friend” ilk, but the real-life variety: where people fart and pets die and you live through a wheel flying off your car at 75 mph on the highway.

Here’s just a small, uncensored sample of what 24 years of marriage has really looked liked (one for each year of wedded bliss, plus one more for good measure):

1. Working a combined 3, 4 and at times even 5 jobs to put food on the table and keep the lights on

2. Spending a summer living in a camper (with a toddler) at a long-term campground so you could save up enough money to buy a house.  Living with no running water for 9 long months at said house, because your well runs dry and you can’t afford to have a new one drilled.

3.  A dog that got into so many non-edible “foods”, and caused so much trouble, that you could fill a book with her vomit stories alone.  And… crying together in the vet’s parking lot after you had to have said dog put to sleep.

4.  And speaking of pets:  gently and compassionately and respectfully dealing with your wife’s cat’s body (a cat you hated with a passion) after it died in her arms

5. Staying up all night with crying kids and puking kids and middle-of-the-night sheet changes

6. Dealing with cancer scares, and shoulder surgeries, and kidney stents and 5 day hospital stays (when you have a newborn baby, no less.)

7.  Sometimes going to bed angry, because despite the oft-touted rule of marriage that says, “Never go to bed angry”, sometimes in the real world… you just go to bed angry.

8.   Occasionally justified and often ridiculous fighting about pets, and about politics, and about asparagus.  Getting to practice, again and again, the art of “I’m sorry.”

9.  Wading through four pregnancies…. two fairly text book, one with hyperemesis gravidarum (and its accompanying 9 months of vomiting and weight loss), and one with a self-destructive gall bladder and too many ER visits to count.

10.  Camping trips and upscale vacations to beautiful places like Bryce Canyon and Pagosa Springs, Colorado… that are mostly spent indoors because all four of your kids come down with stomach bugs.  Can I just stop right here and note the fact that 4 of the first nine points had to do with vomit?? 

11.  Hurting when your kids hurt, and wishing you could do anything – anything – to take away their pain

12.  Navigating the tricky path, and the highs and the lows and the really really low lows, that comes with a spouse with mental illness.

13.  Broken appliances, broken cars, and leaky roofs… sometimes all in the same week.

14.  Middle-of-the-work-day phone calls to tell you that your spouse has heroically saved a stray dog from certain danger, and that he’d stay just long enough to find his owner, and that, oh, by-the-by, his owner still wouldn’t be found three years later.

15.  Getting talked into getting a cat (and while you hate most pets, you particularly hate cats), and dogs and chickens and rats and snakes and fish and mice and hedgehogs…..

16.  Not realizing until after you’re married that you’re pretty much polar opposites… in politics, in personality (a very strong thinker, and a very strong feeler), in strengths and weaknesses (numbers and words, puzzles and ideas, practicality and creativity).  And yeah, have I mentioned the pet thing?

17.  Dealing with an extended family who thinks you’re utterly crazy for making the decision to homeschool, at which point you realize that your differences, those strengths and weaknesses, actually work very well together, and fit together like pieces of a puzzle … a sensible, creative, beautiful mess of a puzzle.

18.  Making the even crazier decision to uproot your family and move across the country, only to find that despite the ups and downs, hard days and really hard days, that Phoenix makes you happier than any other place you’ve ever lived, by a factor of a hundred.

19.  Making yet another crazy decision to start a homeschooling conference together, and again being pleasantly surprised at the ease of which you collaborate together, even four years in.

20.  The red wine and Fireball incident.

21.   Living through car accidents, rip tides, getting straight-up-lost in the middle of a mountain hiking trip, and the aforementioned red wine and Fireball incident.

22. Spending your anniversary at home, eating take-out, because one spouse just wasn’t up to going out… and being okay with it.

23.  24 Christmases, and 24 Thanksgivings (there was some vomit involved there, too), and 24 years of birthdays … 24 years of regular days and quiet days and boring days … 24 years of vacations and road trips and sporting events and rock concerts and movies …  20 years of celebrating and enjoying and rooting for your kids … 20 years of scouts and football and t-ball and basketball and gymnastics and dance and theater….

24.  20 years of collectively raising and watching and loving four gorgeous humans so much that it actually physically hurts.

25.  Knowing, in your heart of hearts, in the deepest part of your soul… that you wouldn’t change a thing.

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The Dark Cloud: A Day In The Life

It always sneaks up on me.  Always.

I’ll be doing fine – better than fine even – and then one day, I’m not.  And it’s not that it happens in one day, because it doesn’t.  It’s sneaky, and insidious, and oh so patient as it wraps its tentacles around me, little by little, day after day.  I don’t notice, until I do.

I wake up in tears, and suddenly realize I’ve been waking up in tears for the last 6 mornings in a row.  And wait, it’s been what, 3, 4 weeks since I’ve actually gotten a good night’s sleep, or any sleep at all?  And when was the last time I took a shower?  And why did I stop listening to music, one of my very favorite things?  Why did I stop doing all of my favorite things? And how long have I been messing with my diet… vacillating between eating everything I can get my hands on, or eating nothing at all?  When did my body start hurting again?  When did the bone-crushing exhaustion set in? When did it all – ALL of it: living, breathing, decision-making, interacting with people and places and noises, dear Lord the noises– get so, so difficult?  So difficult that the mere act of existing feels like it takes a Herculean effort?

The weight gets too heavy and the shackles too tight, and I see nothing but blackness. Deep, suffocating, oily blackness.  And finally I have to admit it, because it’s just too damn hard to deny anymore.

F*ck, I’m depressed again.

The world doesn’t stop for me either.  Doesn’t give a damn about me and my depression.  There’s still a whole house to take care of, and kids who need me, and a husband who tries really hard but doesn’t quite know what to do with me when I’m depressed. There are still errands to run, and plumbers to come, and appointments to keep.  There are still kids’ activities and places to be and people to see… and it hurts.  It physically hurts dragging around the cloud that threatens to drown me, threatens to swallow me whole.  I can’t see.  I can’t breathe. The breaths I dare inhale yield nothing but more blackness.  Blackness and desperation.  Fear and numbness, both existing at the same time.  Do people see it?  Do they know?  Part of me feels like they can’t miss it.  How can you miss a darkness this dark?   A weight this heavy?  But part of me knows they don’t see it at all, because they don’t see me.  I never feel as invisible as I feel when I’m depressed.  I’m wearing an invisibility cloak, completely encased in my own private hell.

I had to go to Walgreens today.  And when I say “had to” it was because my choice was either that or sit in on a drum lesson.  And drum lessons mean sounds.  And people talking, and jokes, and TOO MUCH WORK trying to act normal.

So I put on some clothes (with no makeup, and a messy bun in my hair… when was the last time I combed my hair?), drop off my kid, and go to Walgreens.  Walgreens carries Caramel M&Ms, my favorite, but they’re out.  And I stand there, in the candy aisle, trying to decide if I want to get another candy instead.  Some Milk Duds maybe, or Hershey Kisses, or a bag of miniatures.  But the CALORIES.  And do I want to gain weight or lose weight, because it’s always one or the other, and only one of them ever makes me feel better.  And I stand there and I stand there, and I agonize as if my life depends on this very decision.  It’s too hard.  Too much.  And then the tears are in my eyes before I can stop them.  Tears in the candy aisle.  But no one can see me beneath my cloak.

I slowly walk through the other aisles (sans candy), avoiding eye contact, looking but not seeing…. the makeup, the bandaids, the outdoor toys… until I get to the office supply aisle.  I pick up a new pen and a cute little leather-like journal, tiny enough to tuck in a purse.  I put them down.  I pick them up again. I don’t need a new journal or a new pen, and I know they won’t fix anything.  But they stand for … hope.  Hope for when I’ll enjoy them.  Hope for when I feel better.  I take them with me.

Before I leave, I decide to get a soda.  I’m not drinking coffee anymore, gave it up a week ago, and think a small jolt of caffeine will help somehow.  Some sort of elixir to my hurting soul.  I get a Diet Coke.  I haven’t drank Diet Coke in about 20 years.  The chemicals.  Today, I don’t care about chemicals.  Today I care about a memory of a different time, a time when Diet Coke was my drink, the thing that would get my newlywedded self through my late shifts at the mall.  I see they have a caffeine free Diet Coke, and I take that instead.  Maybe caffeine is a bad idea.  But I put it back.  And I take it again.  And then I put it back again.  And then I finally get the regular Diet Coke before I can repeat my candy aisle tears.  It says Stephanie on the bottle.

My total comes to $17 even, and on another day, in another time, in another place, I would have enjoyed that.  That almost never happens.  But today it’s just a number, taunting me on the little screen.  $17.00.  $17 isn’t enough to cure depression.  I pay the nice man at the register.  Might have even smiled.  Normal, normal.   See, I can do normal. 

“How we doing today?”  the friendly, if somewhat overly aggressive, voice greets me as I leave the store.  There’s a table, and some sort of donation jar, and flyers, and a multitude of other things I can’t deal with.

I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry.  But I don’t say it out loud.  I don’t look at her.  Can’t look at her.  Stare straight ahead through my tear-stained sunglasses.  I’m rude and I’m never rude.  But I can’t make myself do it.  Can’t make myself interact with another person.  I’m not invisible, and she sees me.  Sees me try to look at her and instantly turn away.  Sees me walk past her and walk to my car.  She says something to my back, but I can’t hear what it is.  Can’t hear it over the thumping of my own heart.

I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry.

I’m ready to fall apart, need to fall apart, but I’m not done yet.   I need to drop something off at UPS, and I need to get my kid at drum lessons.  The clock tells me that the rest of the lesson only takes a half an hour, but my head tells me it takes about five.  I sit in the little room, waiting, listening. I read a book, not seeing the words.  I look at my phone, scroll through Facebook, respond when spoken to.   I can do normal.

Home.  I just need to be home.  The thought beats a steady staccato in my frantic chest.  I can do this.  I just need to get home.

And then I’m home, as exhausted as if I’d just run a marathon.  Reality tells me I just dropped off a kid and ran a couple errands.  12 whole miles from home.

But I can’t breathe.

And everything hurts.

I know that alcohol will temporarily numb it (and seriously, WHAT THE HELL with all the Facebook memes that outright encourage moms to self-medicate with alcohol?), but I stopped drinking alcohol 13 months ago.

I know that Klonopin will temporarily numb it, and I have it – too much of it – in the cabinet with the rest of my meds.  But I don’t take that either.  Take it twice a day if needed, my prescriber tells me.  But if I take it more than every other day, I lose somehow.  Just like I lose if I buy the candy and the regular, non-diet Coke.  Today I choose to be a winner.  I choose to be a stubborn, miserable, winner, and I’m not sure I like what I’ve won.

I know that if I stopped to think about it, stopped to remember, that tools from my therapist would help too.  My therapist that I’ve seen for 13 whole months now – not that I’m counting – who’s simultaneously helped me and angered me more than anyone else in my whole life, ever.   I literally can’t even think about how much he’s helped me without tearing up.

But today, screw his tools.  Screw the sunshine and fresh air and exercise adages too.  Screw the “just think positively!” tripe.  Screw the “Have you tried this essential oil?” panaceas.

And you know what else?  Screw depression.

So I sit here, and I do the one thing, the only thing I can make myself do.  I write.  And I write and I write and I write until my heartbeat slows, and my breaths come more easily.

My soda is gone… I drank it too fast and it gave me a stomachache.  I find the stomachache oddly comforting.  It tells me I’m here.  Reminds me that I’m still alive.

My mind is fighting to answer the question of “why?”  Why depression after having done so well, for so long.  But I know the question is unhelpful and invalid. (That’s my therapist talking).

The “why” doesn’t matter.  It just …. It just IS.  And knowing that, truly accepting that, makes it just a tiny bit easier to carry.  It doesn’t make it better; doesn’t make it go away.  But it softens it, smooths out the edges, makes it more manageable to live with for one more day.  And that’s important, because tomorrow?  Tomorrow I’m going to get up – even if I’m crying while I do it – and I’m going to put one foot in front of the other, and I’m going to breathe in and out.  And as counter intuitive as it sounds, I’m going to try not to try so hard.  I mean yes, I’ll continue to try to get rest and exercise and all that good stuff.  And I’ll continue to do the personal work I need to do to get well.  And I’ll continue to take my meds.  And so help me, the next time I’m in a Walgreens I AM buying some candy.  But the mental gymnastics I do to try to figure it all out, the unrealistic pressure I put on myself to just hurry up and FIX IT ALREADY?

Never helped me.  Never will.

So instead I’ll focus on self care (That’s also my therapist.  Seriously, how my mind can simultaneously carry so much gratitude and so much annoyance at the same person at the same time is beyond me.)

I’ll trust that it won’t be forever.  I’ll trust that I’ll feel better.

I’ll trust that when I feel this bad again, I’ll find a way to stay home, and have the good sense to avoid drug stores completely.


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Lost (And Found) In The Forest

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. ~ Henry David Thoreau

Up until a couple of weeks ago, I’ve never been alone.  Is that weird?  I mean, yes, I’ve been alone in my house of course, and my car, and a million and one other little ways, but it was always within the context of my other responsibilities.  I went from my parents’ house, to having a roommate in college, to getting married at 19, to being a stay-at-home parent for 20 years (20 YEARS.  Is that right?)

 

Which brings us to now.  I’m 43 years old, and I’d never been alone.

 

Earlier this year, I decided that it was really important that I get away.  Just for a couple of days, all by myself.  It was almost painfully difficult to describe why I needed to do it, but I just knew it was something that had to be done.  And it specifically had to be done around April or May, as the pièce de ré·sis·tance to my year of self-care and self-discovery.

I had to be alone.

I had to give myself total space… to think, to feel, to grieve, to celebrate.  I had to know, beneath the mom and the wife and the homemaker and the blogger, I WAS ALSO STILL ME.

I went into it with no expectations, other than to let it teach me what I needed to learn.  I brought books (but it was okay if I didn’t read).  I brought my laptop (but it was okay if I didn’t write).  I brought journals and crafty things and sketch books (but it was okay if it all remained untouched.)  I brought hiking shoes (but it was okay if they never made it out of my suitcase.)  If I needed to cry, that was okay.  If I needed to sit outside and drink coffee and watch the squirrels, that was okay.

As it turned out, I needed all of the above.  I had no phone, no internet, and no outward distractions.  It was just me… alone with nature and alone with myself.  It was intense, and it was scary, and it was important.


From my journal, on the first night:

I’m sitting alone, in my little cabin.  I feel… I don’t even know what I feel.  I feel overwhelmed, and yet relieved at the same time.  Broken, but so strong.  Lonely, but empowered.  I am crying, and don’t remember when I started.  Crying for the girl that so badly needed this, crying for the girl that was so, so broken for so long.  Crying for the woman, who needs to know, perhaps more than she’s ever known anything, that she is enough.  Not enough as a mom, or a wife, or a daughter, or a sister, or a friend, but just ENOUGH.  As a person.  Stripped of all those other labels.  I’m enough and I’m crying and uncomfortable and I needed this.

I’m not sure what made me think to do it, but I decided that first night (in the midst of a rather severe mental health crisis) to make a little video diary to chronicle the experience.

The rest of my story will be told through those short videos.   They’re self-explanatory, but a couple of notes on the first one:  It’s real and raw and not especially pretty.  Also, notice how I have trouble catching my breath?  That’s what the end of a panic attack sounds like.  Or the beginning.  I don’t even remember.  To be honest, most of the first evening was one long panic attack.

So..

Did I learn something new?  Am I a new person because of my little 48 hour excursion?  Well, no.  The thing with life is that it keeps going, no matter how much we’d like to stop it sometimes.   No sooner had I arrived back home, I was thrust back into responsibility and errands and obligations.  Real life called.  But I lost myself in those woods, and then I found myself again.  And what I did realize is that that momentary peace I felt, that brief grasp of ataraxia (look it up) is something that I can work on feeling in the midst of the busy.  In the midst of the chaos.  In the midst of LIFE.  And if I’ve learned anything in the past year – anything at all – it’s that life and relationships, even (or especially) relationships with yourself are not something that you can just anoint with a 48 hour balm and expect to be successful.  They need constant, mindful, attentive care if you expect them to thrive, and expect them to be healthy and rich and fulfilling and worthwhile.

And as for myself?  My little trip reminded me, more than I’ve ever been reminded before, that no matter how much I fight it, no matter how many times and how many ways I keep having to tell myself…  no matter what society says or anyone says:

I am me.

And that’s enough.


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