Flexible Thinking

I have run only once or twice a month for the past three months. I don’t have it in me right now to run on the treadmill and the cold weather forces me inside. So I march in my living room or jog in place to get my 10,000 steps daily. It doesn’t always happen, but I do give it some effort.

Today was grey outside and a bit breezier than I expected, but at 36 degrees I had to give the outdoors a chance. I had planned on walking for a mile or so and see what happened. After just a tenth of a mile, I threw a little jogging in and decided I’d give this a shot. I listened to a variety of TED talks while I walked/jogged/ran 3.5 miles. And somewhere in the middle of all of that, I cried.

One reason I stopped running this fall had nothing to do with the weather. It was because I’d end up crying in the middle of every run. When I listen to music, my brain will wander to wherever it wants or maybe even needs to be, and that would eventually lead to thoughts or memories about my brother, and I would cry. But after a few of these “grief runs”, I started to dread running. My conscious mind was not ready to face more memories I didn’t want to remember, and since running seemed to bring those out, I just stopped doing it.

So today I went for some TED talks instead of music. My body has craved the movement of running and I felt like I could handle whatever my crazy brain had in store. Of course I didn’t look in depth at all the TED talks first.

I ran to a few talks and I can’t tell you what any of them were about except the artificial intelligence one that I skipped over and the one that made me cry that stayed with me this whole day. It was about money shaming, and how some people are taught that their self-worth is tied to what their bank account says. And the woman giving the talk is a financial advisor and near the very beginning she says that her brother died. And she started to cry.

For fuck’s sake, how do I get these?!? Of course I started to cry because I am that person who will cry if anyone else in the room is crying and plus we had this one shitty thing in common. And like nearly every other time I’ve run these last few months, the grief started to overwhelm me. But today I let a brief thought of my lovely brother enter my mind, then let it go out. I concentrated on the speaker’s voice instead and listened to her story. This was about her, not me.

Once I got home, I walked around a bit outside, stretched on the front steps then went into my house where the wonderful aroma of bread baking greeted me, along with the sounds of my husband and son playing RISK. I stretched some more with a smile on my face as I let those endorphins do their job as they made my world seem like such a nice place to be.

Running used to calm me and put me in a better place mentally and physically. Today it definitely helped with that tightness in my chest I mentioned last time, and it typically helps me with my “flexible thinking.” When something doesn’t go my way, I can take a deep breath, assess the situation, accept it and come up with something just as good or better. I’ve said many times that having a positive outlook does not come naturally to me (my brother was the same way). But how I feel after I run certainly helps that.

Does this mean I’ll run every day or nearly ever day liked I used to, looking for that runner’s high once more? I doubt it. I’m not being negative here, just realistic. If I can change the time I wake up, then maybe I can, but I’m not sure I’m ready to do that. I currently enjoy my mornings with my family and I need to really map the morning out if I’m going to do this. It’s something to work on I guess, right?

I hope you’re finding your calm and happy place this winter, wherever you are. Take care of you. ❤


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How do YOU relax?

Change can be a good thing, but it can also bring about so much stress. For the past two weeks, the stress at work AND at home has increased. The work stress is due to a variety of reasons, one being the extra work due to lack of staff. I needed to learn to not internalize everyone else’s opinions, let some things go, and just do what I thought was the right thing. Once I made up my mind to do just that, my tension eased a bit.

I didn’t think I was that stressed about home. Having my husband unemployed is indeed stressful, but I thought I was handling it well. Until I realized that driving home every night, my chest would feel tight. Of course driving to work my chest also felt tight, so maybe it was driving? But then during the weekends, driving anywhere I felt fine. Ok. Home and work are stressing me out. Maybe so much that they’re affecting my health? Hopefully not, but let’s fix this now before it becomes a real problem, shall we?

I’ve started doing a few things that make me happy. I’m not running at the moment, but I’m marching and jogging in my living room while watching Netflix. In particular, I’ve been watching “Tidying Up” with Marie Kondo. You know, the Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up book? Marie goes around to a bunch of homes in California and helps couples or families tidy their homes. Oh my gosh, it made me so happy!! I hate clutter and love tidiness so watching these people find what sparked joy for them sparked joy for me!

I’ve also started to drink more herbal tea. Preferably in large mugs with Wonder Woman or funny sayings on them. Something that makes me smile.

But the tightness in my chest has continued. I’ve even noticed it as I’m starting my walk/march/jog. This morning I could barely breathe as I started to exercise, so I ramped it up and ran in place, hoping the sweat and exertion would help my body fix itself. It didn’t really work. But then I started to watch a comedy special on Netflix.

Ali Wong, Hilarious and Crude Comedian

I don’t know if you’ve ever seen Ali Wong, but this woman is a riot. I think many women like her more than men because of what she talks about. She can be totally nasty and crude but completely honest in her portrayal of women’s bodies. She talks about how our bodies are used up by the babies we have or how we love our children more than anything but can’t wait to get away from them for a day (particularly when they’re babies or toddlers). So I’m watching her special and am laughing while jogging. I have to walk for a bit because I just can’t laugh that much while jogging. When my 30 minutes are up, I stretch in another room and my husband and I chat. I have no idea what we talk about, but we’re totally razzing each other and I’m laughing so hard my laughs become silent while my whole body shakes. You know what I mean? It’s absolutely fantastic! I realized I hadn’t laughed that much for a really long time.

So when it’s time to go for work, my chest isn’t tight. I’m comfortable in my body and my breath and I feel like me again. All because I laughed until I nearly peed myself.

Admittedly as I’m writing this, it’s nearly bedtime and my chest is a bit tight again and I have to keep taking deep breaths to feel ok, but I suppose this is a process, right?

Now I’m asking you, my friends, what do you do to relax? How do you keep the stress from hurting you? Or do you sometimes just eat, drink or smoke too much to ease the tension and THEN find a way of not hurting your body? Or do you throw your hands up and say “Fuck it all!” and dive into that pint of ice cream?

Looking forward to hearing from you all and your fabulous suggestions! (Or your stress stories because misery totally loves company and I’d love to hear those, too.) ❤

Thank YOU

Let me first say that the reasons I blog are because I love to write what I want and I typically use this as a no-cost therapy tool. I vent my anger and frustration with the world. I grieve my brother’s death and my parents’ memory loss. I discuss my love (and hatred) of running and my continuous battle over my weight and my eternal body issues. BUT, I also like to use my blog to express my love and gratitude for particular people or things or situations.

My post last week brought a HUGE amount of love and support from my friends and family and I cannot begin to thank you enough. I had co-workers and friends and family members all bring us food we could freeze and put in our pantry, several friends gave me money to finish Christmas shopping for my son, and the amount of hugs and good thoughts and prayers were nearly innumerable.

I have been fortunate enough to surround myself and my family with so many wonderful, big-hearted people like yourselves. If you’re reading this, than more than likely we actually know each other–have met in person–and probably think highly of one another. Or I do you, at least. But if you’re reading this and have enjoyed what I’ve had to say and we don’t know each other, I certainly hope we meet someday. We need more love and friendship in our lives, don’t we? (Cue “All You Need is Love” by the Beatles.)

My husband is still looking for a job–it’s only been about 2 weeks–but we do have hope. We’re hopeful that this is just a bump in the road and we’ll be able to stay in our home, pay our bills and feed ourselves. We know we can’t live on love alone (that would be nice, wouldn’t it?), but with a little luck, we’ll be ok.

Thank you again, friends, for caring about me and my family. Your love, support and friendship is something I hope to never live without.


a baby giraffe sitting down and says "Thank You" at the top of the image
I borrowed this photo from the South Australia Zoos. (Thank YOU!) If you don’t know this about me, I have a thing for giraffes. My brother wanted to be one when he was 4 years old (he ended up being 6’6″ so he kind of succeeded), and I’ve always loved them, too. And since I’m 6’2″ and baby giraffes are typically 6′ when they’re born, then I’m like a toddler giraffe! ❤

Here I Come A-Wallowing

I was feeling really happy this week. Really hopeful. I had many good conversations with library patrons, friends and family over the past few days. I reached my goal weight on Thursday. Someone asked about my mom’s house and is interested in buying it. I applied for a new job at my library and felt good about it. And I’ve been looking forward to a few holiday activities I planned with my family–our annual gathering with my extended family, an upcoming viewing of Elf the Musical with my boy, and ushering for Santaland Diaries with my dear friend, Tiffany.  So many cool things coming up. Life was good.

And then Friday evening happened. Once I got home from work, I made clam dip for my family’s get-together the next day. I went to the bedroom to get comfy and my husband came in and closed the door. He said to me, “Remember what it says in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy?” He then handed me a towel. “You always need a towel…and don’t panic.” Then he told me he got laid off from his job that afternoon. A permanent layoff. I stood there for a minute until he made me sit down before I fell down.

You need to understand something. We’ve been through this…many times. When we were first married, my husband found it difficult to find work and then he was laid off quite a few times in the first 12 years of our marriage. But we’ve been lucky for the past 8 years and felt somewhat job secure. But the last time my husband was laid off, he didn’t find work for 18 months. That’s a year and a half, people. I nearly divorced him by the end. He was withdrawn and depressed and I couldn’t take it anymore.  The only reason we didn’t lose our house was because my mom helped us. But there is no one to help us anymore. We are it.

After I sat on the bed, my husband sat beside me and we stayed in the bedroom for a few minutes, trying to wrap our heads around the mess, hashing things out. Husband told me about another guy laid off the same day who had a little baby at home. There were a few layoffs the week before and a few more to go next week apparently.  It’s crappy no matter how you look at it.

Then we came out of the bedroom to tell our son. I kept my shit together until then. But once we told him, he wanted a hug and then we all cried. I explained that there would still be a few Christmas presents because I had already purchased some and he immediately said he didn’t care about that.  I told him that his allowance he received that day would have to be the last one until Papa got a job, but his chores would need to continue. And that we’d need to cancel a few subscription services immediately.  He was ok with all of that, but was worried about food and our home. So was I, but tried not to show it.

The next day, I went to Mom’s to visit her for a bit, but I never mentioned the layoff. I knew Mom would probably forget it anyway, but there’s no reason to worry her even for a moment. When I returned home, the three of us went to our family gathering. (I just couldn’t take Mom to this one. It’s very difficult to get inside my dad’s house and I think the amount of people would have been too much.) Some people already knew about the layoff, and we told the others that didn’t. We tried to just enjoy ourselves and perhaps eat our feelings for the afternoon. Which we did.

Then last night, as we got ready for bed, I asked the boy if he’d like to have his new light on, a Christmas gift he just received from his cousins.

darthlightHe said yes but then, “Well, how  much energy does this use?” He asked about other lights in the house, too, and what could we shut off while we were home.  You know, I’ve been trying to get the kid to turn off lights for a few years now, but I really didn’t want him to finally learn this way!

He was definitely concerned with how much everything costs. Everything. Apparently I wasn’t hiding my panic about the bills very well. (I was calculating all of our expenses in my head over and over until I finally just threw my hands up. If only I had a money tree!) Both my husband and I are trying to reassure our son that we’ll be ok, but we’re also not lying about what could happen if Papa doesn’t find a job soon.

There is no doubt that my husband is grieving over this job. He really thought he would be there until he retired in another 15 or 16 years. He liked his work and the people he worked with. This is a real blow to him, to his confidence. He’s really trying to be positive and already has a few places he plans on applying to, but I also know how sad he is.

Today, he spent much of the daylight hours cleaning out his work van (essentially his office), washing his uniforms to give back to the company, working on his resume, packing away his phone and laptop to give back. All of the stuff you have to do when you have to leave a job. So at this point of the day, after watching my husband and helping him when I could, I think I am at the anger stage of our grief. I am royally pissed off.

Really, Universe? Really? *shaking my fist*

This was the first year in quite some time when I could purchase little gifts for my family members and send holiday cards out without feeling like we’re hemorrhaging money. We even adopted a local family through Christmas Is For Kids. I’m so grateful I had already purchased their gifts because I knew I couldn’t say, “Sorry unnamed family! There is no magic of Christmas. Just disappointments and despair!” And although I haven’t purchased stamps for my cards yet, I’m still going to. I won’t send as many as I used to and I still can’t write a holiday letter yet because the world isn’t as bright without my brother, but I will send a few cards. It gives me little heps of happiness. (Thanks for the term “hep”, Paula Poundstone!) As do the lights on my tree and my beautiful Christmas unicorn, Fred. (Tacky? I don’t give a shit.)

fredunicornSo this holiday season, I will first attend a pity party I’m having. It will feature me, lots of cookies and a glass or two of wine. Then I’m going to pull up these damn big girl panties, give the finger to the universe, and attempt to spread a pile of kindness and good karma out into the world once again.

But first, another cookie, a good rest and hopefully some kick-ass dreams.

Happy holidays, my friends. ❤

Looking for No Regrets

I wish I was that person that had no regrets. They exist, don’t they? I have regretted things that I have said and chances I did not take both personally and professionally. But if there’s anything this past few years has taught me, it’s to try and have fewer and fewer regrets in life. I am striving to have more integrity, to do what I say, to do what I think is right. I don’t always succeed, but it’s a goal.

Most of my weekends are filled with familial obligations. I visit my mom each Saturday, hang out with my dad for half a day on Sundays every few weeks, take my boy to various sports activities, attempt to clean my house, and cram in a few precious hours of family time with my husband and my son. I used to get pretty stressed about all of this. It’s not a lot of down time, and I am a person that needs that time away from people, even my own family, just to decompress and unplug from the world. But a few months ago, I had a brief conversation with a colleague about our weekends, and she told me that she understood the stress I was feeling, but since she lost both of her parents she’d rather have those stressful times with them than not have them at all. And just this week, my dear friend lost her mom after a few stressful years of rehab and nursing homes…and her heart is broken.

I don’t want to have any regrets when it comes to my parents’ final years. I’ve been to hell and back with my mom this past year and have felt every emotion there is about her and her situation, but right now I know she’s safe and ok and I’ve mostly stopped beating myself over the fact that she has to be in a home. When I went to visit her today, she was so sweet, not just with me, but her fellow residents. There’s one woman I know Mom doesn’t like, but Mom was so kind to her today. It’s something I haven’t seen in a long time. Later, we went to Mom’s room to chat, eat cookies and drink coffee (three of Mom’s favorite things to do) and after we sat on her bed, Mom dug out her brush and started to brush my hair. I’m not sure why, but she had the urge to do so and I let her. It was really quite lovely. I’m not sure Mom has done that since I was a kid. My sister brushed my hair or helped me with my hair more times than Mom did, so this was a bit of a treat for us both.

Then I thought of my dear friend and her mom. So I closed my eyes and just tried to live in the moment.

And I did.

So no regrets today. I hope you had a “No Regrets” day today, too. ❤

no1

16 Months

This is my favorite time of year. My tree is already up, the interior of my house is decorated with a mixture of fall leaves and turkeys and snowmen, and tomorrow I’ll put a few lights up outside. I listened to Christmas carols this evening and have already started watching holiday films. Typically, this is how I am from November 1st through January 1st. I love all of this stuff. But this year, I may be forcing it just a bit. I’m trying like hell to get into the spirit of the season.

This is Holiday Season number two without my brother. On Black Friday it will be 16 months since Phil died.  As I decorated my home last week, I didn’t cry as much as I did last year. This year I laughed as I put up the X-rated Christmas ornament he gave me years ago (two reindeer getting down and dirty) and just sighed as I put his picture on the front of the tree. But today as I shopped a bit for the holiday, I kept finding things I would buy my brother. I would pick something up then just shake my head and put it down again. But I held it together and all was ok.

Then I went to the grocery store. I was feeling good,  humming the new Panic! At the Disco song (High Hopes–a very fun, jump up and down song). I had my cart nearly full with food for Thanksgiving dinner, when I passed by the snack aisle. I wish I knew what I saw or heard or thought, but the realization that my brother was no longer on this planet immediately overwhelmed me. I lost my breath, hunched over my cart, and pulled to the side of the canned vegetable aisle.  I refused to sob in the middle of the store, so I left my cart for a moment and started to wander down the aisle, taking in deep breaths.

And then I saw it.

FREE WINE TASTING.

I am not a person who believes in signs or religion or the afterlife. BUT, if any of that shit is real, then I was confident my brother sent me a sign to go and drink whatever free wine I could. “Drink up, you lush,” I can imagine him saying. Especially when I saw the label:

freakshow

That’s right, people. Freakshow wine! If you knew my brother, you knew how much he loved a good freak show. Weird? Yes. But that was Phil. He was so fucking weird and funny and loveable. And I still wish like hell he was here.

The wine was not fabulous, although the one with elephants on it was pretty good, but I didn’t buy any. It was enough to get a little buzz (especially since I had an empty stomach). I finished the rest of my shopping feeling a bit more relaxed and no tears were shed. I thought about Phil off and on for the rest of the day–as I visited with Mom at the home where she has photos of all of our family around her room, and when I went to the Feztival of Trees where I saw someone dressed as Super Grover. (He was one of Phil’s favorite Sesame Street characters.)

supergrover

I’ve come to realize that everything I do for the rest of my life will always have this little twinge of sadness in it. And sometimes I’ll be able to handle it just fine. Like today. And other times I know the grief will be too much and I’ll need to shut down for a bit, even for just a minute. Also like today. Time does NOT heal all wounds, but maybe time will allow me to know when to put a bandage on that bleeding festering gash in my heart and keep going, and when to let the blood (and tears) run dry.

Let your freak flag fly high, my friends. Cheers to you. ❤

 

Missing Pieces

This week I joined Weight Watchers. I have 10 pounds of sadness, sweet creamy coffee and gluten-free baked goods to get rid of. My occasional running and eating everything I want when the mood hits me is certainly not working. Do I need a therapist more than the WW app? Probably. But trying to lose the weight gives me a sense of control that I may or may not really have. For now I’ll take the illusion.

I happened to start my weight loss program on the same day I got a message from the facility where my mom currently lives. For reasons unknown, Mom has started to pull her hair out…by the fistfuls (trichotillomania). And when I went to visit Mom yesterday, I realized they were not exaggerating. Much of her hair on the left side of her head is gone.

Mom’s hair has been thinning over the past few years due to medication, so honestly, it didn’t look as bad as I had feared. I was so worried, though, that I brought both my son and husband with me to visit. I knew I couldn’t do this on my own. I’m really good at faking happiness and cheer, but sometimes I need back-up, you know? It turned out to be a great visit. We all laughed, they ate donuts and drank coffee, and I just kept my smile on. I didn’t even cry when we got back to the car, or even that night. I was ok.

But then when I told my sister about Mom, she said one little thing that just broke me. She said how sad it was that Mom had to end up this way. And she’s right. It IS fucking sad and horribly depressing to see a bright, energetic woman end up with half of her hair, scratches on her face from her own making, and only a handful of memories left.  I couldn’t sleep last night. I kept thinking about Mom and when I finally did sleep, I was restless and I kept hearing things that really weren’t there.

Today I hung out with my dad so my stepmom could go to church. Dad is on oxygen 24/7 now and can get confused easily, so he needs to have someone with him all the time.  I always have a good time with my dad, and he hasn’t lost so much memory yet that we can’t have a decent conversation. He typically asks how my mom is doing, but today I told him before he could even ask. I started to cry when I told him about her hair. He cried, too, and we both agreed that Alzheimer’s was a horrible fucking disease. Later, when my stepmom arrived, she asked about Mom and I cried again.  Maybe I’m really not ok.

puzzle

What I finally realized is that the missing hair is like a physical manifestation of Mom’s absent mind. Each week when I visit her, something else is missing–another memory or something is no longer understood. Last week it was my brother’s height. He was always the tallest in the family but Mom kept asking if I was the tallest. I guess I am now, but I won’t admit to that. I kept saying, “No, Phil was the tallest.” And this week she had stories to tell me about who colored pictures in her book or on her wall, and she said both of her grandchildren colored them. I know they didn’t, but in her mind they’ve been there to visit and that made her happy. If Mom can remain in these happy places in her mind, maybe she won’t keep scratching her face or pulling her hair? I really don’t know.  But I have to have hope that this trichotillomania will come to an end, either through medication or good thoughts or a bit of both. I have to hope because there is nothing else.

I’m watching my mother disappear, and I have to wonder, which of us will disappear first? Will I no longer recognize the woman I’ve known to be my mom first, or will she no longer recognize me?