2016 Top Ten

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In a perfect world this was supposed to have been posted last week… you know, when it was actually still 2016.  But it wasn’t, because I was trapped under something heavy and couldn’t get to my laptop was busy eating and watching movies and marathoning It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.

I feel like my limited vocabulary doesn’t contain the necessary words to describe 2016 in all of its… all of its… see, I don’t even know the word.  It’s been a painful year.  Not just for me, but for lots of people.  And sure, there has been progress and personal growth and all that touchy feely stuff that makes me so uncomfortable, but still.  IT’S BEEN A YEAR.

So I’m thrilled, and happy, and hopeful to put to 2016 behind me, and to move onto bigger and better things in 2017.  Before I do though, one last look at 2016, blog-wise.

Here are my top ten most read posts last year, from least to most amount of views.

10.  The One About The Boobies  – I’m happy that this one made the list, and I’m glad that Kaitlyn Juvik so openly protested when she was treated unfairly.  This is a conversation that needs to be happening.

9.  Yes, I’m Upset, and No, I Won’t Shut Up – I’m not super excited that Donald Trump is going to be sworn in soon (especially when he is still tweeting stuff like this), but this is reality. And at the moment, this is just what had to be said.

8.  When You Can’t Walk Into Their Room Without Tripping – Some kinder alternatives to the viral photo that was going around at the time, encouraging parents to bag up your children’s things and then make them pay you $25 a bag to get them back.

7.  My Summer To-Do List For My Kids (And Myself) – This was just an antidote to all the rigid, hyper-scheduled, micromanaged to-do lists I was starting to see crop up as kids headed into summer (which is supposed to be a break.)

6.  I Could Have Been The Disney Mom – Every time a family’s tragedy becomes public, my heart breaks for the parents… first because of what happened, and second because of the public lynching they inevitably receive. I try to remind myself that no one is immune, and we are ALL those parents.

5.  In a World Where Rapists Only Get Six Months – I wrote this over six months ago, and I still don’t even know what to say.

4.  My Dear Daughter, Your Value Doesn’t Change With What You’re Wearing – Misogyny is alive and well, and I’m going to call it out every time I see it.

3.  Humiliation Isn’t Funny – So, it’s something I talk about a lot on my blog, but it’s truly difficult not to, when SO MUCH of what we see, hear, and are bombarded with as parents is the message that kids need more punishment. That they need to be treated as lesser than.  That they are somehow less deserving of kindness.  Well, I believe that kids need more compassion, and more respect, and that is a hill I will stand on all day long.

2.  I’m Not The Meanest Mom – Something that I noticed several years ago – and am noticing again as I get to these top two posts – is that you guys always respond in a big way when I write rebuttals (except I don’t really like the word rebuttal.  Alternatives.  When I write about alternatives).  I always have mixed feelings about writing them, mainly because I have trouble with the negative attention, but I still think they need to be written.  So I’ll still continue writing them.  There is ALWAYS a kinder, gentler alternative

1.  5 Phrases To Use When Your Child Is Having A Hard Time – Always a kinder, gentler alternative.

Happy New Year my friends.  Thanks as always for reading my words, and sharing my words, and for being overall awesome.  I appreciate you all more than I can say.  xo

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The Human Condition

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*Fair warning:  The end of the year always makes me crazy introspective, even under the best of circumstances.*

I went to an open mic night a couple weeks ago.  We’ve been checking them out for Paxton (16 at the time of this writing), because he’s looking for local places to play his music.  This one place we went, at an old church-turned-theater downtown, was really interesting.  And I don’t mean “interesting” as a polite yet sarcastic way of saying it blew.  I mean it really was interesting.  All ages.  All walks of life.  All kinds of talents.  There were poems and music, originals and covers.  There was a little boy who sang a Bruno Mars song.  There was a young woman who performed a rap that she’d written for a friend who’d died by suicide.  There was a 75 year old comedian who I didn’t find particularly funny but respected like crazy for getting up there and doing his thing.  There was a young girl who forgot the lyrics to her song, got swept up in her nerves, and stood there frozen and crying until two of her friends jumped onstage to help her finish.  There was a room full of people giving nothing but massive amounts of love and support and encouragement for their fellow artists.

And the whole thing made my fragile little creative heart break and swell at the same exact time.

It was just like …. life.  This being-a-human thing is so complex.  The heartbreaking and the beautiful.  The deepest of sorrow and the sweetest of elation.  All captured and bottled and either tentatively eked out bit by bit, or forced out through a cataclysmic explosion.  While friends stand by offering hugs, and encouragement, and “If you’re having trouble finishing your song, then dammit, I’m coming onto that stage and holding you up and singing for you until you’ve regained your own voice.”

Too. Many. Feelings.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who regularly reads my blog, but I’ve had a hard year.  I’ve actually had one of the hardest years of my life.  And it was one of those years where just when I thought I had some forward momentum going, something or someone else would completely kick out my footing, and I’d be once again scrambling for air.  Hope.  Despair.  Serenity. Anguish.  I don’t think I’ve left a single emotion untouched in 2016.

And now there are 10 days left in the year, and I’m reviewing, and I’m reflecting, and… I wanna say breathing, but really I’m gulping… and remembering.  My heart wants to make a list of the big lessons I’ve learned this year (and I still just might) but my brain tells me there may be bandwidth issues if I even try.  I’ve learned a lifetime’s worth of painful, messy truths about myself and my life and why I work the way I work.  But no one wants to hear that.  Besides, while personal growth sounds all nice and everything, my final takeaway from 2016 is much more simple yet more profound:

I’m still here.

Still running.  Still trying.  Still fighting. Still loving.

I was here to see the 12 year old score his first touchdown.  I was here to see the 8 year old play Alice in Alice in Wonderland.  I was here to see the 16 year old sing his first solo song on stage.  I was here.   And more than that, I am glad I was here. 

I’m glad I’m here… right here, right now.  (And if you are reading this, wherever and whoever you are, I’m glad you’re here too.)

2016 didn’t take us down.  We’re still here.  And given the alternative, that’s a whole hell of a lot to be thankful for as we round out the year.

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Relinquishing The Fear of Self Care

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A cake pop I brought home to surprise Tegan. It’s so easy to care for someone else.

Did you ever notice how you have to learn the same damn lessons over and over before they stick?  (Unless that’s just me?)  You know in your heart that something is true, and right, and sensible… but there’s a disconnect somewhere in between your heart and your brain, and you can’t seem to make yourself do or practice or even believe that which you know is true.  Then, when things start to go haywire – and they will go haywire, when you’re ignoring a vital piece of your well-being – you remember.  And you go, “Oh yeah, I learned this once before.  Maybe this time it’ll last.”  But no.  You’re stubborn.  And busy.  And stubborn some more.  And before you know it you’re once again off the rails and the lesson comes screeching back to remind you.

Repeat 12,000 times.  It’s exhausting.

For me, the area in which this most applies, BY FAR, is the idea of self-care.  In fact I get a little cringey at the thought of self-care, particularly the idea of self-love.  It just sounds so touchy feely and woo-woo and kind of makes me think of naked people hugging around some sort of goddess-worshiping sun circle.  (*Disclaimer:  I am not judging.  More power to you if that’s your sort of thing.  It just doesn’t happen to be mine*)  It makes me feel uncomfortable and icky.  Plus, as a mom, there’s the whole issue of balance.  And guilt.  And “Do I really want/deserve/have time for self-care, when I could be doing something for my kids?  Or my house…  Or my husband…”  Really paying attention to self-care, and self-compassion (seriously, I even have trouble using the word, “love” in there) means prioritizing.  It means deliberately choosing to take time away from something or someone else, in order to invest it in yourself.  It’s hard.  And it’s conflicting.

And it is so. freaking. important. 

I hear moms all the time saying that they’d love to take up this hobby, or read this book, or pursue this craft, but that they don’t have time.  That their KIDS are their hobby.  Their kids are their passion.  Their kids are their life.   They don’t have time for anything else.  I know because it’s what I’ve done.  It’s what I do, even when I swear that I’m going to be better about it.

But you know what?  I really am a better person – a healthier person, a stronger person, a more contented person – when I take time for myself.   By extension, I’m a better mother too.  A better wife.  A better friend.  I know this.  I know this.

So why do I keep having to learn the same lesson over and over?

I’ve been depressed lately, and the approaching holidays (and all the trappings they bring) don’t help with that.  Self-care – or any kind of care, if I’m being honest – has once again slid by the wayside.  And I’m beating myself up because the laundry is piled up, the house needs cleaning, there are presents to wrap, there are cookies to make.  So much to do and so little time, and I’m going to add more to my plate by doing something for myself??  I find myself constantly conflicted between giving myself the rest I so desperately need, and tackling the next Very Important Thing on my to-do list.  The dissonance makes me immobilized, and the immobilization makes me sit there, hovering, right in the middle…. not doing anything to take care of myself, and not getting anything productive done either.  I’m stuck.  And guilty.  And burnt out.

And again, I find myself having to confront the icky love stuff.  The thing I can dole out in spades to my children … but not so much to myself.

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I’m working on it.  I have to work on it.  It’s not optional.  I’ve seen firsthand what it does – not just to me, but to everything around me – when I make it an afterthought.  It isn’t pretty; it’s really not.  My mental health suffers.  My physical health suffers.  My relationships suffer.

So I’ll deal with the discomfort of whatever it is that makes me balk so much at the very words, “self-love”.  I’ll face all the yuck of my past that makes me think I’m not worthy.  I’ll work through my issues of perfectionism and guilt and black-and-white thinking that make me think things have to be done to a certain standard or the whole world order will collapse.  I’ll give myself the care that I deserve – and good grief, that I NEED – and not feel guilty about what I have to say no to in order to make it happen.

(Well, maybe just a little guilty.  I’m a messy work in progress.)

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My too-often ignored reminders on my dusty mirror with my unmade bed in the background.

It is now four o’clock in the afternoon.  I’ve been home for about an hour.  There’s unfolded laundry beside me.  There are stains to be scrubbed out of the carpet.   I need to vacuum.  There are emails to answer, and bills to be paid.  I need to make a list of cookie ingredients so I can go to the store.  I still have to plan a menu for Christmas day.  I need to finish shopping for stocking stuffers.  There are packages to go in the mail.  The bathrooms haven’t been cleaned in…. too long.  And have I mentioned the laundry??  Holy hell, the laundry.

But it’s okay.  IT’S OKAY.  It really is.  And I’ll sit.  And I’ll write, and I’ll drink my tea and eat my candy cane, and I’ll breathe, and I’ll know that I’m not doing nothing, but rather doing something… for me.  And once I’ve done something for me, and filled up my own cup (another phrase that gives me the absolute heebie-jeebies but I’m going to use anyway), I’ll know that it’ll be easier to commit myself fully to whatever task I decide to tackle next.  Full attention on me.  Full attention on the next thing.  And so on.  Non-negotiable from here on out.  And I’ll resist and I’ll whine and I’ll grumble… and I’ll lean into it all and trust that eventually I’ll get it.  Eventually it won’t be so hard.

Because I really am worth it.  I really do kick ass.

And sooner or later I want to be able to say the words, “Yes, I DO practice self-love”, and no longer wince when I say it.

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I’m Loving My Kids And Calling It Kindness

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Every year at Christmas time, there’s a sudden rush to share articles warning us about “spoiling” our kids.

Don’t get them everything they’re asking for!

Don’t give into their whims!

Don’t SPOIL them!

This one particular piece (titled We’re Killing Our Kids and Calling It Love) that recently came through my news feed brought a dire and overwrought prediction of killing our children through our generosity.    We’re too concerned with our children being happy, she tells us.  So we’re spoiling them, and in turn we’re harming their character.  But wait, is it really so wrong to want to our children to be happy?

According to this author it is.

Isn’t that what we’re after? Happy children?

I hope not.

The measuring stick of successful parenting is definitely not happy children. Well-adjusted, responsible, kind, and selfless? Absolutely. Happy and spoiled? No way.

Later on, she says:

The truth is that giving them everything they want and ask for is the opposite of showing them love. It’s showing them that they’re the center of the universe, and it’s teaching them that the purpose of their lives is fulfillment of their material desires.

Here’s the thing.  The article is making two rather large and erroneous assumptions.  The first is that parents who are generous with their children believe that “things” will buy their child’s happiness, and the second is that spoiling occurs when children are given too much.

Neither of these are true.

To start, happy and spoiled are oxymorons.  A child who is genuinely happy cannot be spoiled, and a child who is genuinely spoiled cannot be happy.  True spoiling occurs not when a child is given too much, but when a child is given too little … No, not too little material things, but too little love, too little attention, and too little connection.  The problem isn’t “stuff”:  the problem is an unhealthy base relationship.  The problem is that the child is not being shown and modeled generosity, or kindness, or respect.  The problem is a lack of a human connection, or an emphasis of stuff in place of relationship.

Giving of ourselves, sharing abundance, and showing our children generosity is not synonymous with “spoiling”.  In fact, you know what happens when you show your kids kindness?  They become adults who are kind.  You know what happens when you show your kids generosity?  They become adults who are generous.

Giving of ourselves as parents is what we should be doing.  We’re hard-wired to selflessly give to those we love.  I see it as my job as a parent (and for that matter, as a conscientious human being) to give more.  Not less.

More generosity.  Not less.

More time.  More attention.  More kindness.

And yes, when we can, more of those material things that make their life more comfortable, or colorful, or enjoyable.   I do want to raise children that are happy.  I want to raise children that are “well-adjusted, responsible, kind, and selfless.”  Of course.  I also want to raise children that know how good it feels to give to the people we love.  I want to raise children that understand that when we give to others it creates more abundance, not less.  I want to raise children that understand that while yes, material things aren’t what make the world go round, that they don’t have to carry any sort of guilt for enjoying them.  (She says as she sips on her overpriced coffee and types away on her laptop on her high speed wifi)  We all have and appreciate certain material things, and to justify our own baubles but purposely deny our children – in an effort to teach some sort of lesson – is inconsistent, hypocritical, and counterproductive.

Giving to our children… truly giving, from the heart… does not spoil them.

Truly “spoiling” a child requires a relationship that is insincere, shallow, and detached.

A relationship in which a child is treated with kindness and generosity is very much the opposite.

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10 Things I Wish People Knew About Bipolar

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It’s been nearly seven months since I first walked into the behavioral health clinic and basically said, “I need help.”  I wasn’t surprised to hear the words, bipolar disorder, that day (I knew.  You can read my story from the beginning here), but I was surprised by much of what followed.  Treatment has been both harder – so, so much harder – and more rewarding than I thought.  I’ve found unexpected encouragement from some people in my life, and unexpected absence from others.    I’ve found a lot of support and information… and even more misunderstanding and judgment.

Ever since that day, I’ve been devouring every related article, website, and social media account that I could get my hands on.  The relief of knowing that someone else gets it, and the feeling of validation and comfort that comes with, “Oh my gosh, this is describing ME!” is immeasurable.  At the same time, there is so much information out there, much of it repetitive and/or of dubious quality, that it’s hard to know where to begin if you’re a loved one wanting to understand.

Here then are ten of the top things I want people to know, and misconceptions I’d like to dispel.  It’s by no means an exhaustive list, but merely a place to start.

1. It doesn’t look the way it looks in the movies.

A quick Google search will yield you a nice little list of a handful of movies with characters with bipolar (or characters with unnamed mental health issues that present a lot like bipolar.)  I think I’ve watched them all.  And while some are of course better and more accurate than others, in general they’re full of stereotypes, and/or appear as if someone was just going down a checklist of symptoms, trying to hit them all.  Also, what movies tend to portray the most is unmanaged bipolar, not the day-in, day-out, un-sexy business of taking meds, going to therapy, and making a concerted effort to get enough sleep.  Movies are meant to entertain and shock and awe, so it only stands that they’re going to emphasize the wildest and the craziest extremes.  It’s important to remember though that the face of bipolar may also be the guy minding his own business next to you on the train.  Your doctor.  Your neighbor. Your mild-mannered mail man.   It won’t sell movie tickets, but it’s also me… cross-legged on my couch in my furry pajama pants, drinking tea, and watching the Cardinals lose (again.)

2. It is different for every person.

Like any illness, mental or otherwise, bipolar is not one-size-fits-all, and can manifest itself in many different ways.  Just because your brother is prone to violent and angry outbursts when manic, it doesn’t mean that that same symptom applies to every other person with bipolar.  Yes, there are common symptoms used for diagnosis (more on that in later points), but the intricacies and variations are infinite.  It is both unfair and inaccurate to presume to know exactly how bipolar presents for any one individual, unless you are intimately involved in the day-to-day life of said individual.  Even then, so much of bipolar is intrinsically wrapped up in a person’s inner psyche, and not something you can see anyway.  Don’t assume.

3. Depression doesn’t necessarily mean not leaving your bed all day.

Depression, the first half of a bipolar diagnosis, is often portrayed (again, think of the movies) as a person who is nearly catatonic.  Unable to leave bed, unable to eat, unable to really do anything but exist in a haze of sleep and crying jags.  And yes, absolutely, this version of depression is very real.  But equally concerning, and equally real, is something called “functional depression.”  I am intimately familiar with this form of depression, as it’s the type of depression in which I most often find myself.  With functional depression, the person is able to go through the motions, albeit in a fashion that is greatly hindered.   Depending on how brave of a face this person can muster, you may not even know anything is wrong.  People who are functionally depressed may still go to work, take their kids to dance class, and show up at church every Sunday.  Outwardly, they may be doing everything they need to do, while inwardly they are completely withdrawn, immobilized, disconnected, despondent.  They might have lost all pleasure, and all interest, in life.  Last spring, just before I’d bottomed out and finally decided to seek help, I was in the middle of taking my daughter to lengthy dress rehearsals several times a week for a theater production she was a part of.  I was contemplating suicide, and no one had any idea.  Even now, seven months later, seeing that sentence terrifies me.

4. Mania doesn’t necessarily mean wild flights of out-of-control fancy.

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There’s a scene in the movie Mr Jones where Richard Gere’s character dances on a 2×4 (sans harness), high above the ground, in the midst of an manic episode.  I think this is the sort of thing that people think of most often when they think of mania (the second major piece of a bipolar diagnosis):  extreme, dangerous, and devil-may care.  And it happens, to be sure.  People experience euphoria.  They may have hallucinations.  They may become sexually promiscuous.  They may engage in any number of risky behaviors.  A lot of times someone’s manic episode will be the thing that lands them in the ER for the first time, leading to a proper diagnosis.  But mania doesn’t always equal danger.  It doesn’t have to mean amazing and exciting.  It doesn’t have to mean wild and out of control.  For me (and for a lot of people) it’s somewhere in between all of the above.  It’s staying up all night to write, or create, or plan, because sleep suddenly isn’t really needed.  It’s feeling like you can be anything, or do anything, or experience anything.  It’s feeling that the world is at your fingertips.  It’s bursting with great ideas and big plans, and spending lots – and lots – of money to make them happen.  It’s talking too fast, because you’re just too excited, and your mouth won’t keep up.  It’s motivation; motivation to do more projects than most people do in a decade.  It’s a whirling and swirling and unending rush of adrenaline.  It’s crying every time you go for a walk because the trees and the sky and the cracks in the sidewalk are just so. damn. beautiful.  So is it a good feeling then, some might ask?  I’ll be honest:  it does sometimes feel like a positive in that it does bring euphoria.  It does bring such a rush of ideas.  It does bring so much creative energy.  The problem is that along with that creative energy comes restlessness, and racing thoughts, and a feeling of wanting to crawl out of your own skin.  And through it all, no matter how good it may feel in the moment, it’s all happening with the knowledge that the crash is coming.  Like a tidal wave it’s coming, and there’s nothing you can do to stop it.

5. It’s not just about depression and mania.

Depression and mania of course get the most air time, but the symptoms don’t end there.  There are actually a lot of different symptoms, many often occurring at the same time.  There is something called a “mixed episode”, which as the name implies means that elation and depression are present at the same time.  There’s the propensity for addiction.  All or nothing thinking.  Irritability.  Impulsiveness.  Sleep disturbances. Memory issues. Racing thoughts.  Agitation.  Sexual symptoms.  Anxiety (this is currently the most debilitating piece for me, particularly in the “bridge” phase between depression and mania).  There is lack of – or too much – energy.  There’s fatigue, both mental and physical.  There’s physical pain.    Symptoms can last for weeks or months at a time, or they can be rapid cycling, meaning that you’re never quite sure what may be coming when.

6. It is more than just “ups and downs.”

“We all have ups and downs.  Why would you feel the need to label it as bipolar?”  Well first, I didn’t label it bipolar, medical professionals labeled it bipolar.  Second, yes, absolutely… we all have ups and downs.  When I’m doing really really well, I have ups and downs.  Bipolar is a very different thing than “ups and downs” though.  It is completely, 100% normal to have ups and downs.   It is NOT normal to have “downs” so low that you no longer see the point in living, and to have “ups” so high that you no longer feel the need to sleep, or to make prudent decisions.  When I first heard this comment, several months ago, I felt frustrated and insulted.  Today I recognize that it just comes from genuine ignorance, and I feel happy (really) for this woman who does not have to experience the actual and extreme “ups and downs” that bipolar brings.

7. In order to be managed, it first requires treatment.

Bipolar treatment may include any combination of:  medication, natural therapies, lifestyle changes, psychotherapy, etc.  I carry no shame in saying that my treatment currently includes medication (a cocktail of three different meds at the time of this writing), though many people certainly try to shame me.  Some comments are overt, and others are more subtle about it, but the judgment is still there.  I won’t defend or excuse my own choices, but I will simply say that for me, I have absolutely zero doubts about the path that I’m on.  I tried all the supplements, the herbs, the oils, changing my diet, getting enough exercise… and for me, it wasn’t enough.   Taking the right medications at the right time quite literally saved my life.  As did therapy – which I fought tooth and freaking nail at the beginning, but that ended up becoming one of the most important things I’ve ever done.  Without appropriate treatment – no matter what that treatment ends up looking like –  people tend to either self-medicate (with things like alcohol, drugs, compulsive behaviors) OR they continue to cycle through the elation and the depression, going through lengthy periods of dysfunction.  I have done both, and I recommend neither.  Bipolar doesn’t go away on its own.  It doesn’t go away by force of sheer will power.  It doesn’t go away by talking about it with a friend, no matter how understanding that friend might be.  One of the most insensitive things someone said to me in the early days of diagnosis came in response to my confiding in her that I’d had to admit to the psych doctor that I’d been suicidal.  “But didn’t the feeling go away once you said it out loud?”, she asked me.  It doesn’t really work like that.  Saying things out loud was what served as my impetus for getting help,  but it for sure didn’t help in and of itself.  Admitting you need help is hard.  Doing the actual work needed to help yourself is even harder.  If your friend/family member/loved one is seeking professional help, support them.  Support them like crazy.

8. Managing bipolar is a full-time job.

There’s no “cure” for bipolar.  It can be managed, but it doesn’t go away.  Dealing with bipolar is a lifelong, 24 hours-a-day job.   There are good days and bad days, good weeks and bad weeks.  At the time of this writing, I’ve been in a dip for the past couple of weeks, and am trying to give myself lots of gentleness and grace as I work my way through it.  Medication helps.  Therapy helps.  But they’re just the beginning.  The day-to-day management, the will-I or won’t-I make the commitment to stay as well as possible is all on me.  And it’s hard.  And it’s tiring.  And it would be SO EASY to let myself slide back into the safety of the darkness of depression, or into the numbness of a strong Captain and Coke (or five).  I know I can’t skimp on sleep.  I know I need to regularly take my meds and my supplements.  I know I can’t skip appointments. I know I need to keep up with exercise and eating right and doing all the effing hard inner work that I complain to my therapist about every week.  And sometimes  a lot of the time, it pisses me off that it’s all so much work right now, but I do it.  Because I owe it to my kids.  I owe it to my husband.  I owe it to MYSELF.

9. You don’t understand it… unless you do.

I think a lot of the time we so badly want to be supportive that we say things with the best of intentions that just aren’t truthful.  Or helpful.  Or kind.  At the top of this list is “I understand.”  Please, please don’t say this if you don’t in fact have personal experience.  Having a bad fight with your husband or going through a funk because you can’t lose those last 10 pounds sucks, and I’m really sorry you’re experiencing that.  Truly.  But it’s not the same thing as living with a mental illness.  It’s just not.  Like so many other things, you can’t understand it unless you live it.  I’m living it myself, and I’m still figuring it all out.  Being supportive doesn’t need to (and shouldn’t) include words like, “I know how you feel.”  To this day, the best thing anyone’s said to me about it all was this:  “That sounds really hard.  I’ll be thinking of you and sending you love while you work through this.”

10. It doesn’t define who a person is.

It always makes me cringe a little every time I hear the word bipolar used as a major descriptor.  Especially since it’s so often used in a negative way.  Ie:  “My bipolar brother just went to jail again.”  “My stepfather is such a jerk.  He’s bipolar.”  People with bipolar can go to jail, sure.  And yup, they can also be jerks.  But so can anyone else.  Having bipolar doesn’t need to be a negative, nor does it excuse negative behavior.  It is one piece of a very big, very complicated, very intricate whole.  I’m not a “bipolar person.”  I’m still ME.  I’m creative and dorky and love my pets more than I love most people.  I like coffee and movies and office supplies.  I love the smell of the desert when it rains, and laughing till I cry around the dinner table, and getting new tattoos.  I get excited when there’s a new episode of my favorite TV show.  I’m me.  I’m you.  I’m all of us.  A unique, imperfect, multi-faceted human.  Not a diagnosis.

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Bipolar (and mental illness in general) still very much comes with a stigma, largely due to misunderstanding and/or fear.  It’s why I continue to talk about it, and write about it, despite the people who tell me not to, or are uncomfortable with hearing about it.    I’m here to ask you to get comfortable with your discomfort.  It’s not just that I think it’s okay to talk about it… I think that we need to talk about it.  So many people are afraid to mention it, afraid to ask questions.  But I’ll tell you what: when I know that you know, and the topic is deliberately avoided?  It is so much more awkward than even the most awkward of questions.  It’s an illness, not an elephant.

I have learned so much in the past seven months.  So, so much.  Bipolar has forced me to learn, and to grow, and to do all those hard and adult things that productive people are supposed to do.  Calling it a blessing doesn’t seem quite right, but there is a greater good to be found, and I think that’s okay.

But some days?  Some days it just really, really sucks.  And I think that’s okay too.

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Co-Sleeping: The Things That No One Tells You

teganteddybear

We never planned to co-sleep with our kids.  Like unschooling, and baby-wearing, and regular-length (what the world likes to call “extended”) breastfeeding, the idea all came later… once we were face to face with this first little human we were lucky enough to get to call our son.  Spencer – who, though it surely defies all rules of time and space, is 19 at the time of this writing – had a beautiful crib in his beautifully decorated nursery.  It was great for holding stuffed animals, and I think he might have taken a nap or two in there, but yeah, it was otherwise never used.

In hindsight, there were many reasons that we brought him to bed with us, but the biggest one was that it simply didn’t make sense for him to be anywhere else.  He spent nine months in my womb, completely connected, warm, safe, feeling my heart beat… only to be born to sleep in a dark room all by himself?  It was illogical.  Plus, in those early days when I was still breastfeeding multiple times a night, what could possibly be an easier and gentler way (on the both of us) than just turning over on my side, and quietly nursing him back to sleep?

Three more kids, and nearly twenty years later, and we have shared our bed more often than not… sometimes with one kid, sometimes with two.  It was one of the best parenting decisions we never knew we’d choose to make.

These are just a few of the things we learned in the trenches:

1. They’re bed hogs.  No, really.  A tiny, 8 pound baby can position itself in such a way that it takes up the space of a thousand Great Danes.  And a toddler?  Forget it.  You get half an inch of mattress space, if you’re lucky.  I don’t know how it happens.  Nighttime falls and they turn into little Houdinis.

2. If you get up to use the bathroom, all bets are off and you’ll lose your spot.  And since you never want to wake a sleeping baby… you cram yourself into a teeny tiny ball and hope for the best.

3.  You’ll get peed on.  And pooped on.  And occasionally, unfortunately, puked on.  Everyone who’s ever co-slept knows the feeling of waking up to something… wet… followed by that moment of confusion and apprehension as you wake up enough to determine what variety of wetness you’re dealing with.  Is it going to be a “get everyone up and strip the kid and strip the whole bed catastrophe” or a “change a quick diaper and PJ bottoms, throw down a towel, and wait till daylight to deal with it little leak?”

4.  You’ll get physically injured.  Squirmy sleeping babies and toddlers are quite adept at throwing elbows in your eyes, and feet in your groin, and fists at your boobs.  Sometimes you get throat punched.  It’s a fun way to wake up.

5.  You won’t just share the bed with your child.  You’ll share your bed with your child plus their whole entourage, which may include:  stuffed animals, matchbox cars, baby dolls, Cheerios, and the pine cone that they picked up on your last nature walk.

6. They’ll come back.  None of my kids made an abrupt transition to their own beds.  They’d choose to try their own beds for awhile, then came back to ours.  Then they’d try their own again, maybe for a longer time period this time … and then come back to ours.  All our boys (12, 16, 19), have of course been sleeping on their own for a very long time now, but a period of boomerang behavior is expected and commonplace when you’re letting them move at their own pace.

7. You’ll get criticism if you share.  And QUESTIONS.  Oh dear Lord, so very many questions.  Aren’t you afraid you’ll roll over onto them?**  How do you keep them from falling out of the bed?  Don’t you worry they’ll never leave?   How will they learn to fall asleep without you?  And my personal favorite:  When/where do you ever have sex if you’re sharing a bed with your child??

And finally,

8. When it’s actually over, when they’ve officially chosen their own bed over yours… you’ll remember the sweetness of their little bodies snuggled up against you; the smell of their hair in the middle of the night; their warm hand wrapped around your back; the deep, even, and contented sound of their breathing; the feeling of genuine connection and peace and love;  the joy of holding them close to your heart;  the pure bliss of letting them be your babies, for just a little while longer.

And you’ll deeply, and genuinely, and profoundly miss it… black eyes and mystery wet spots and all.

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**Interested in co-sleeping?  Always make sure you do it safely!**

  • Don’t try sleeping with a young infant in something like a recliner.
  • Always use  a bed with a firm mattress, one that’s plenty big enough for the both of you.
  • Avoid pillows, fluffy comforters, stuffed animals, etc around young babies
  • Never, ever sleep beside your baby when you are under the influence of any drugs or alcohol.
  • Put your baby on the side of a bed pushed up against the wall.  Or, use a bed rail.  OR, invest in a sidecar sleeper that abuts to your bed.  Fill in any gaps with a rolled up blanket.
  • In our house, we always did either wall, bed rail, or co-sleeper (at different points in our journey), then baby, then mom, then dad.  As they got older they graduated to sleeping in between us… usually positioned like a starfish, in order to take up the maximum amount of space as possible. 🙂

Happy snuggling!

 


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Feeling Their Joy And Their Pain

I was recently talking to a fellow mom friend about how, once you become a parent, everything you feel is heightened.  Seen and felt through your children’s eyes and hearts, excitement is greater, joy is more palpable, and pain is more acute.  When my kids are happy, the happiness I share with and for them is far greater than any happiness I can ever feel for myself.  When my kids are hurt, the hurt that I share with and for them is far greater than any affliction I could ever experience for myself.  It’s all deeper.  More primal.

As someone who’s already hard wired to feel the outer extreme of every emotion that passes through my heart, this isn’t necessarily a good thing.  I mean, is manic elation or total despair – even when it comes from a place of pure love – ever really a positive thing?  I’m working on it.  But for better or worse, it’s there.  Whatever my kids feel, I feel it too.  And I feel it hard.

These past several weeks have seen some ridiculously high highs and painfully low lows when it comes to the kids, and my capacity to feel both (just as acutely) at the same exact time always amazes me.

Tegan – who’s 8 at the time of this writing – has had a series of events over the past couple of months that have in her own words “made her life complete.”

I am so, so thankful and ecstatic that we’ve been able to make it all happen for her.

First, we took her to Fan Fest to meet her favorite actress of all time, Millie Bobby Brown.  (If you don’t know who this is, grab a cup of your favorite beverage, silence your cell phone, and go watch Stranger Things in its entirety.  Stat.)

teganandmillie

Then, the night before last, we took her to see Adele in concert, making good on a hypothetical promise I made her when she was probably three years old.  (“If she ever does a North American tour again, and comes to Phoenix, we’ll go.”)  We bought the tickets almost a year ago, her first concert was postponed due to illness, and as we finally sat in that stadium on Monday night I couldn’t believe that 1) we’d actually gotten tickets, and 2) we were really there.  Most surreal concert ever.

adele

And in between meeting celebrities and watching concerts, she was hard at work rehearsing the part of Alice in a local homeschool production of Alice and Wonderland (which wrapped this weekend, and went very well)

alicebyposter

It was an embarrassment of riches in a very short amount of time, and to see her face, and to feel her joy… it made my life feel complete as a parent too.  Pure and total happiness.

And at the same time all of this happiness was going on, one of my boys was experiencing one of the most painful transitions (if not the most painful transition) of his life.  My heart has hurt for him… the kind of hurt that keeps you up at night.  And there’s nothing I can do to fix it.  Nothing I can do to make it better.  All I can do is be there, and be a sounding board, and be a cheerleader, and be a mom who tries to absorb some of the hurt so that he doesn’t have to carry it alone.

Two diametrically opposed feelings, intersecting at that most tender and sensitive part of the heart… the part that I fear may break at the mere exposure of its existence.

I’ve written a lot about thinking too much (and indeed, I do that too), but it’s the overwrought feeling that’s going to be the death of me.  Feeling so deeply hurts.  But the opposite?  Not feeling at all?  The mere thought of a life devoid of emotion pains me even more.  I kind of feel like unbridled empathy is what I’m here for.  I need to learn to harness it, to be sure.  To learn to protect myself, even as I absorb the feelings of everyone else.

But in the meantime, I’ll be over here in my little ball of emotions, swimming in the primal joy and deep ache that threaten to swallow me whole.  Knowing that there’s a balance somewhere, just beyond my grasp, and that eventually, somehow, someday, I’ll learn to embrace it… without taking myself down in the process.

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Yes, I’m Upset, and No, I Won’t Shut Up

buffaloridge

I climbed my mountain yesterday (I don’t actually own a mountain, but I like to think of it as mine).  I climbed my mountain in an attempt to get climb away – or perhaps climb towards – the heavy shadow that’s been hanging over my mind and my heart since November 8th.  Like an itch I couldn’t reach, it sat there.  Heavy, suffocating, distracting, and if I’m being honest, as annoying as all hell.

I didn’t want to write about it, and really, what could I say that hadn’t already been far more eloquently said by better writers than myself?

Except…

Yesterday I was pissed off.  Pissed off because people keep wanting to tell me – and others like me – to shut up and sit down.

Oh you crybaby liberals.  Get over it already.  Quit your whining and complaining.  So your candidate lost.  Trump is the president now.  Show some respect, grow up, and move on. (*language cleaned up to keep this family friendly)

Well since I’m not going to shut up:  Let me start by saying I am NOT upset that my candidate lost.  To be honest, I didn’t feel like I really had a candidate.  I’m upset by what won, and there’s a big difference.

I’m upset by what this could mean for minorities, and women, and members of the LGBT community, and lower income families.

I’m upset because you elected a person who’s shown himself, time and time again, to spew hatred, and bigotry, and disregard for anyone who is not a straight, white, middle-class, Christian male.

I’m upset because you elected a person who bragged about sexual assault.

I’m upset because America just took a giant step backwards.

I’m upset because the very same people who are calling for unity, and working together, just voted for one of the most divisive leaders America has ever known.

And listen.  Emotions are high, and I get that.  Republicans are feeling defensive, and I get that too.  People feel that they are getting called racist and homophobic and misogynistic because of their vote.  For the record, I’ve never called a voter any of the above.  I don’t know you.  I don’t think you’re racist.  I don’t think you’re homophobic.  As someone who very acutely feels the frustration of being negatively piled into one ugly yet neatly labeled box, it’d be highly hypocritical of me.   You’re entitled to how you feel though.  We’re all entitled to how we feel.

But here’s the thing.  And I mean this with the highest amount of respect I can muster:  This is not about you.  It’s not about me either.  Rather, it’s about all of us.

Because Trump?  Trump IS all those things that his voters don’t want to be called.  And no, it’s not because that’s what the media told me to think.  And no, it’s not because I’ve been wooed by negative buzz words.  (Seriously, this is insulting.)  It’s because of actual words that have come out of his own mouth.  Say what you want about him, but the man has never been shy about showing us who he truly is.

I saw a meme the other day blasting people for being afraid.  What are you afraid of?, it asked.  What can he possibly do to you?

People are afraid because they’ve been the one in four women who’s been assaulted (and/or they’ve been every women who’s ever been catcalled, or sexually harassed, or intimidated, or spoken to in an unwanted sexual way – which is every woman)  They’re afraid because America has just decided that that behavior is something that can be excused.  That that behavior is not a deal-breaker.

People are afraid that they’ll no longer be able to get their needed medication, and needed medical care.

People are afraid that they’ll start to lose their rights.  People are afraid that they’ll see a rise in mistreatment, and slurs, and outright attacks because of the color of their skin, or because of who they love, or because of who they worship.

People are afraid because Trump’s voters are so busy defending themselves that they’re not standing up against everything that is wrong with his candidacy.  That they’re not standing up against his running mate, who’s a big proponent of the cruel and dangerous and damaging conversion therapy.  That they’re not standing up against his newly appointed chief policy advisor, Stephen Bannon, a known white supremacist.

People are afraid because bigotry won.

And this man that America has elected as president is now the example.  Let’s make fun of someone’s disability!  Let’s call Mexicans rapists!  Let’s brag about grabbing women by the p*ssy!  Hey kids, this is fun!

In Trump’s world, bigotry is the norm.

Do I think that otherwise good and decent citizens are suddenly going to become horrible people under his reign?  Of course not.  But I do think that there are absolutely people that are going to feel emboldened by his precedent.  I do think that there will be people who will now act on their previously private biases.  I do think that he has – inadvertently or not – made them feel as though they now have a license to do so.

He has told us it’s acceptable.  He has told us it’s okay.

And that’s what scares me.  That should scare you too.  That should scare all of us.

Because all the unity talk in the world isn’t going to change the fact that this man, this man who harbors such outward contempt for… well, for pretty much everyone… is now going to hold the highest elected office in the United States.

Yes, that scares me.  And no, I won’t be shushed into compliance.  Not this time.  Not about this.

Finally, to the people who are saying, “You should stick to writing about parenting,”:  I’m pretty sure I’ve already invoked my, “It’s my blog and I can write about what I want” once this year, so I’ll just say this:

This is VERY MUCH a parenting issue.  I want, more than anything else, for my kids to grow up in a world that is gentle and kind.  Where people are respectful and loving to one another… no matter who they are, no matter the color of their skin, no matter how much money they have, no matter who they love, no matter who they worship.

And absolutely, that starts with me.  That starts with us.  In my own home, within these four walls, their life will be peaceful.  It will be gentle.  It will be loving, and it will be kind.

But outside our own closed doors?  There’s a different reality.  There’s a reality in which the new President elect is making a mockery of all of the above.  The highest position in the country just went to someone who bragged about sexually assaulting women, and is vehemently defended by people who want to point fingers at the crybaby liberals who Just. Won’t. Let. It. Go.

I’ve dated the teenage version of Donald Trump, and the idea that he now runs the country is … unreal.  I keep trying to wrap my head around it, keep trying to make sense of it, but there is no sense to be made.  This is reality.  A reality I never imagined would come to fruition, but reality nonetheless.

I will get over it of course, in my own time, and my own way.  But for the time being:

Yes, it does scare me.  It does anger me.  More than anything though, right now, at this moment, it mostly makes me profoundly sad.

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My Daughter Doesn’t Dress For You

teganaseleven

Halloween 2016

My daughter is eight at the time of this writing.  Her wardrobe, besides being fabulous, can best be described as eclectic.  It’s a dress one day, followed by running shorts and a tank top the next, followed by an ever changing mix of leggings and long tops,  and swishy shorts and boots,  and skirts with knee-high socks, and other various combinations that I haven’t even imagined until I’ve seen her put them together.  Last week she wore one of her dad’s t-shirts as a big boxy dress, and believe you me, she rocked it.

One thing she does not do is dress for me.  Or for her father.  Or for her peers.  Or for boys.  She dresses for herself, in whatever way makes her feel comfortable and confident and best able to take on the world as her own wonderfully weird and perfectly imperfect self.  My wish for her is that that always continues, whether she’s eight or twenty eight.

To insist otherwise is to give in to rape culture, and to an increasingly misogynistic society that tells us that 1) girls are nothing more than sexual objects, and 2) boys are nothing more than walking penises, slaves to their animalistic urges.  It is always amazes me each time that I again realize how equally disparaging this view is to both genders.   Can we give ourselves a little more credit?

Women are more than the clothes they wear.

Men are more than hormonally-driven hunters, always on the lookout for the next thing they might want to have sex with.

Which is why articles like this one, by Shelly Wildman, are so concerning.  Titled How Your Daughter Dresses Matters, she explains why as parents we need to be vigilant in ensuring that our daughters are dressed modestly (which sounds pretty difficult, since she estimates that 80% of what we see in stores is inappropriate.)

From the article, in response to a WSJ online article with a quote that said, “We wouldn’t dream of dropping our daughters off at college and saying: ‘Study hard and floss every night, honey—and for heaven’s sake, get laid!’ But that’s essentially what we’re saying by allowing them to dress the way they do while they’re still living under our own roofs.”:

Think about that. If, as mothers (or fathers!), we’re encouraging our daughters to dress inappropriately, that’s basically what we’re saying. At the very least we’re saying, “Here’s my daughter. She’s on display. Take a good, long, hard look at her.”

And a few lines later, in describing what the author says to the junior high girls she works with:

Dressing a certain way attracts a certain kind of guy. I doubt very seriously that the kind of guy you want to attract is the kind of guy you’re dressing for when you dress like that. Besides, you are above that. You are better than that. You deserve better than that.  So dress for the guy you deserve.

Oof.

First of all, thinking of your daughter in terms of her hypothetical sex life is gross and inappropriate, to say the least.  I don’t care what she’s wearing or not wearing.  Second, if a parent is equating a specifically dressed daughter with an object on display… the problem lies within the parent.   This is going to sound harsh, but that excerpt literally filled me with revulsion.

Our children are not our possessions to display, nor are they puppets with which to act out our own ideals about  what is and is not “appropriate” when it comes to attire.  They’re humans.

As for the “encouraging our daughters to dress inappropriately”, there is a very big difference between respecting autonomy and encouraging inappropriateness.  And who decides what’s “inappropriate” anyway?  You?  Me?  The church elders?  “Appropriate” attire is completely subjective, and it’s both unrealistic and arrogant to think that we can define it for someone else.  I would never encourage my daughter to dress in a way that feels inappropriate to her, or uncomfortable to her, or inauthentic to her. 

What I will encourage?  Self-respect.  Self-love.  Self-confidence.  An intrinsic need to think, and act, and dress out of a deep respect for herself... not for me, not for you, and certainly not – as the second quote advises – to land the man of her dreams.  Sorry (#notsorry) current eight year old boys who might one day want to date my daughter: She’s not going to dress for you.

She’s going to dress for herself.

And I can’t speak for the rest of the moms or daughters out there, but if my daughter does in fact choose to be in a relationship with a man:  The man she deserves is one who doesn’t give a single wit about the clothes she’s wearing, and instead sees the person underneath.

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On Being My Own Best Friend

girlinfield

I’ve never cried in therapy.

In fact, I sort of pride myself on not crying… which in itself shows how far I have to go. Why on earth would a person attach any positive significance to not showing an emotion??  Right or wrong, it makes me feel as though I’m winning somehow, because I think my early stereotype of therapy included someone cross-legged on a couch, weeping into a bottomless box of Kleenex.

But I’ve never cried.  And I don’t even have a couch as an option.  (I feel a little cheated. I’m not gonna lie.)

The problem with my self-imposed no-crying policy is that I spend an inordinate amount of time actively focusing my attention on trying not to cry… ranging in intensity from “You’re cool, just take a breath.  You’ll be fine” to “Good God, big emotions.  Don’t make eye contact.  Concentrate on fiddling with your ring.  Or examining your fingernails.  Or inspecting the seam in the arm of the chair.  Emotions!  Big, big emotions.  Whatever you do, keep looking at the seam.”   None of this goes unnoticed of course.  Once when I was directing all my I-refuse-to-cry angst into wrapping my ear buds into a tight little ball, he asked me,  “You’re waiting to cry until you leave here, aren’t you?” It was both embarrassing and for some reason oddly touching.   And yes, yes I was waiting to leave before I cried.   My poor Land Cruiser has seen more tears than a confessional.  (Disclaimer:  I’m not Catholic, and I’ve never actually been in a confessional.  But I imagine it lends itself to crying.)

So why the big bias against witnessed tears?  I guess I find it embarrassing, and I have …. issues.  But I also fear that once I start crying that the floodgates will open and I’ll never stop.  You know that scene in Good Will Hunting where Robin Williams’s character keeps telling Will, over and over and over, “it’s not your fault,” until he finally breaks down and starts uncontrollably bawling onto his shoulder?  That would be me.  Except I’m pretty sure that in real life therapists aren’t actually supposed to hug their clients.  Nor put them in a throat hold like he did during their first session.

But I digress.

This past week, we were near the end of the hour when my therapist said, “Be your own best friend.”  I laughed, because it sounded like a bumper sticker, and he tends to say a lot of bumper-sticker-esque things.  But I was glad there were only a few minutes left in the session, because even as I laughed it was there, in the back of my throat.  “Dammit, I’m about to cry again.”

By the time I got to Starbucks – It’s part of my weekly therapy routine.  I circle the city until I can quell my tears enough so that I don’t look like I just witnessed my dog being shot, then I treat myself to a Trenta iced coffee for the rest of my ride home – By the time I got to Starbucks, I’d connected a dot I’d never connected before.   I realized that the times that I get so choked up in therapy, the only times, are those times we talk about me.  Not peripheral things related to me… not relationships or goals or past experiences, but ME.  My darkness.  My light.  My self worth.  And I finally realized why that is.

  • Why, like Will Hunting, I find it so difficult to believe that it isn’t my fault (What is “it”?  It’s everything.  It’s nothing.  It doesn’t matter;  it’s still my fault)
  • Why even the thought of asserting myself is met with such abject terror.
  • Why a silly little cliche like “Be your own best friend” would make me want to cry.

It’s because my whole life, I’ve been told the opposite… by the people around me, by my church, by myself.  Be compliant, Jennifer.  Be nice.  Be quiet.  Be small.

I was conditioned with a phrase that I heard so many times, in so many ways: “What would God have to say about that?”

The inference being that it’s the *world* that wants you to think about yourself, and care for yourself, and make yourself a priority.  It’s the *world* that wants you to be best friends with yourself.  God wants your sole focus, and your sole friendship, to be with Him.

I’ve decided I think that’s bullshit.

And I mean that with no disrespect and no levity.  I have a relationship with God that spans forty two years.  It’s important.  But it’s not the end of the story.

Because day to day, in the middle of the fray, you – we, I – need to take some ownership.  It’s ME who has to decide to put two feet on the floor every morning.  To get up when I fall.  To make decisions for self-care.  To get in my car and drive to therapy even when that voice that says, “Screw you, this is unpleasant and hard and I’m not going to do it anymore” threatens to take over.   To hold on, for just one more day.

To learn to finally, finally stand up for myself, and accept wherever the chips may fall.

To own my warts, and shortcomings, and mistakes, of course.  And my TEARS!  For heaven’s sake, a person shouldn’t be afraid to cry!!  But also the good stuff.  And the beautiful parts.  And the things I’m proud of.

To be my own best friend.

To simply be me.  Every time.  Every single time. With no disclaimers and no apologies.

And so, I think I finally have an answer to the question I asked up above.  What would God say to the “wordly” admonition to love myself?  I think God would say:

ryangoslinggoon

And then He’d ask me what the hell took me so long.

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