Caregiving vs. Self-Care

When you’re taking care of someone, it feels much like being their parent. You worry about them more often than not. If they don’t feel well or are having a rough day, you feel like they do. And when they admit their fear about what’s happening to their body and their life, you feel just as frightened.

This weekend has been another rollercoaster ride for my household. Our son had his wisdom teeth out on Friday and yesterday he was just ok, but this morning he was in pain and had been up most of the night. Wal had gained 2 pounds overnight, which is not a good thing when you’re a heart patient. He also didn’t feel very well much of the day. I didn’t feel good when I got up, but I kicked into crisis mode after realizing my son was hurting and my husband wasn’t well. Got the kid on a pain med schedule and my husband already took the medicine he needed to work on the extra fluid in his body. So although I didn’t feel great, I went for a run in the heat and humidity anyway. I needed to physically put one foot in front of the other so I could do it figuratively when back at home.

At one point this afternoon, both my husband and son were napping. It reminded me of the times when my boy was a baby and although they always said to nap when your baby naps, I would always clean. Which is exactly what I did today. I listened to an audiobook and swept and mopped and cleaned bathrooms and did laundry. I get like this. It’s like I’m preparing for the next crisis, so maybe my house will be clean when it arrives and I won’t feel as much stress.

Folks talk about self-care and have really been driving that home to me over the past two weeks. And maybe I should have rested when my family did. But in my own quirky way, cleaning the house was taking care of myself. I love that when I walk on my kitchen floor now, my socks don’t stick to it. 😉

Once my son was awake, he felt a bit better. I gave him some yogurt and he planted himself at his computer desk to play a video game. I checked on my husband, who was still napping, then made myself a margarita at 4 o’clock in the afternoon. Might not be the best choice of things to do, but I curled on the couch with a book and my drink and relaxed for 15 minutes. It was pretty fantastic.

But then I got up and checked on my husband again. He had been sleeping for nearly 2 hours at this point. I watched his chest to make sure he was still breathing—-just like I used to do with my son when he was an infant. Wal started to stir and caught me staring at him. I asked if he was ok and he said yes and wanted to know the time. I told him and he said “ok” and rolled over. I figured he’d get up in a few minutes, so I went to the kitchen and started making a salad. An hour later I went to our bedroom again. I was trying not to freak out. He woke up this time and we both wondered aloud, “Is this ok?” Is taking a long nap alright? Does it mean something besides being tired?

We are stumbling along this path, not fully understanding where to go or what to do. Everything keeps changing. His blood thinner meds have changed every few days because his blood wants to clot and right now that’s not a good thing. We weren’t really sure how much sodium he’s allowed to have until a friend whose husband went through this last year gave me an idea of what the amount should be. And just today I found the answer in his pile of paperwork he came home with. (I thought I had read it all but obviously didn’t take it all in.)

This all still feels…surreal. Exhausting for sure, and unfamiliar yet a bit familiar at the same time, but not enough to actually know what we’re doing.

For now, we’re doing our best to take things one day at a time and one issue at a time. We’re also still trying to enjoy the little things that bring us joy. Whatever they are. I hope you do the same, friends. Live in the moment if you can. ❤

Anger Management

This past week has been filled with nearly every emotion that exists. Fear, surprise, sadness, guilt, frustration, grief, joy, and anger. These were all felt by everyone in my home and they continue to ping pong from one to another in each of us every day.

On Saturday, I spent the morning with my husband at the hospital. I crawled into his hospital bed, we held each other, and I cried for the first time since he had his heart attack. They were tears of relief but also fear of what the future will bring, and even grief for what he has lost. His life, our lives, have begun to change, and the changes can be difficult. But necessary.

The husband came home on Sunday afternoon. As we waited for someone to bring us a wheelchair, I scrounged the hospital floor, found a chair with no owner, and snagged it. I was done waiting and this guy needed to be home! It was kind of fun–like we were breaking out of prison. We laughed and waved to the nurses and enjoyed the moment. But on the way home, I could feel little bits of anger escaping. I snapped at him for telling me where to go then again when he said I didn’t pick up one of his meds when, in fact, I did. “You wouldn’t know because you were in the hospital!”

Oh.

Then I went to the pharmacy to pick up his new medications…10 of them. TEN. The pharmacist wanted to speak with me since these were all new. We had gone over all of them with the nurse so I basically knew what to expect and what he had to stop taking at home, but as the pharmacist started to tell me how Wal can no longer take ibuprofren for aches and pains and if he does need to take a nitroglycerin that the package is only good for 3 months after you open it and he (or I) would need to put it under his tongue…I started to cry. Could this be any more overwhelming? The pharmacist looked at me and said, “I know. It’s a lot. I had to do this with my father, too.” I just nodded but inside I was scoffing and yelling, “But it’s my husband, damn it!!” She went on to say I should probably keep a list of his meds and I said that yeah, I had done this with my mom so I was good.

I was so not good.

Once we got home, Wal went directly to a rocking chair we have in our library where our son has his computer. They sat together and we all talked. It was ok. We were ok. But as the evening went on, both my son and I were harboring feelings of anger, maybe resentment that Wal had put us through this again? I’m just speculating because I really don’t know what I’m feeling sometimes. I know that our son was being kind of a dick and I was flying off the handle at the most foolish things. And yet I was also trying so hard not to yell or upset my husband at all. But I could not be calm. I think I had kept my cool throughout this entire event (thanks to the support of my friends) but now that he was home, I could truly lose it…for a little bit.

But I felt so incredibly stressed and overwhelmed that night. What was he going to eat? What could I cook for meals? I put together a few snacks and salads for all of us, then realized he can’t eat leafy greens or broccoli because of his blood thinner. He can only have 8 cups of liquid a day, so let’s make a little chart for that. He’s diabetic so needs to eat as few carbs as possible.

Oh. My. God.

I spent the rest of that night cooking meals ahead for mostly my son and I and making snacks for my husband. I tried not to hover, but any kind of noise he made I asked him what was wrong. I didn’t sleep well that night because I was afraid he wouldn’t wake up again.

I needed to work all day on Monday, so after running my husband to the lab to have bloodwork done, I went to work but called home 4 times just to check on him. He is sad and scared and frustrated, too. Facing your own mortality must be some scary shit to deal with. He wasn’t awake or very aware of that fact last year, but this event is completely different. He felt himself dying this time.

Yet when I took Wal to our doctor on Tuesday, one week since his heart attack, I found myself getting angry again. He doesn’t think he needs to have a biPAP machine (he was not able to get one before he left the hospital). Since he’s slept well for a few nights, he thinks it’s ok. I did tell him that, in fact, he stopped breathing the night before, which why I had been awake since 4am. This has been a near daily occurrence for the past umpteen years, but since he nearly died the week before, I’m hyper aware of every little sound or movement his body makes…or doesn’t make. Once our doctor insisted that he seriously think about getting a biPAP did Wal concede that it might be a good idea.

*insert silent scream here*

Each day this week and part of next, I’ll take Wal to various appointments, work when I can, and will take our boy to have his wisdom teeth out. Most of our meals will be made by various friends, restaurants and an online premade meal service. It’s one thing we’re hoping to stop stressing about, at least for a few weeks. We’re all trying to find little things that bring us joy or peace. Our son had a friend over and they played video games and talked to other friends and just enjoyed themselves. My husband has been watching YouTube videos about camping…he has no desire to camp anymore but loves watching others do it, and playing Space Engineers where he gets to build his own space stations. That brings him a sense of accomplishment and happiness. I have been taking walks when I can while listening to fun podcasts and started running again after taking a few weeks off. Typically reading calms me and lets me escape, but I haven’t been able to concentrate on much. Today was the first day I’ve been able to get at least a few pages in and actually enjoyed it.

As we go about our day, none of us seem to be at the point where we forget Wally nearly died. Our groceries look different, the calendar is covered with appointments, and our phone rings more often with check ins and reminders of said appointments. And even the mail. Today’s mail was a lovely mixture of kindness–an encouraging card for both Wally and I from a dear friend–then a letter from the hospital with a different type of encouragement–to make an Advance Directive. That little piece of mail was such a kick in the ass. First because…holy shit. If anything can remind you of your mortality it’s someone telling you to get your shit together before you have another heart attack. And second, because the man already has one and they should have had it on file!! (I had to bring it to the hospital last year when he was in a coma.)

Thanks to all for your incredibly kind and uplifting words and thoughtful gifts. We have a long road ahead of us– physically, mentally and emotionally. I will need to work harder on trying to support my husband and to understand what he must be feeling. I am also aware that I need to take care of myself. I haven’t been great at it before, but I think I’m getting better. I am finding little moments that I take as mini vacations for my mind. Like these photos:

As I waited for my husband at an eye appointment today (yup, he can’t see well out of one of them due to diabetes), I found this little garden hidden behind the office. Pretty sure it was meant for the staff, but no one was there so I took the opportunity to sit in the sun, read a bit, take a few photos and just breathe.

That’s the key, right? Find those moments you like and suck every bit of life and love and joy from them.

So go hug, kiss, touch someone you care about, then find a few of those mini vacations for your mind.

We have to keep living one day (or moment) at a time. We just have to.

Trauma not Drama

Now that I know my husband is going to live, I can write about our week.

My birthday was Monday. It began with me rushing my husband to the doctor because he was feeling so awful. After I broke down in the office and made sure we were leaving with some kind of plan to get him better, the rest of the day went well. My husband stayed home and rested, I went for a lovely hike, shopped for a bit and brought home sushi for dinner. The next day began like any other work day. But like the saying goes, our lives changed in an instant. I received a call at work from the hospital, with a doctor on the other line saying my husband had a heart attack and they were in the process of putting a stent into his blocked artery. I’m not sure I understood everything he said because I was so confused.

Wait. What just happened? I remember asking, “Where do I go when I get there? How do I see him?” I called my sister on the way to the hospital so I could freak out to her and she’d calm me down. She told me, “Remember, you’re a Williams Woman. We’re tough and strong and you’ve got this.” But…EVERYONE has a breaking point.

Once I got to the hospital, they couldn’t find him. I was sent to the ER even though I told the front desk that he wasn’t there because I just received a voice mail from the surgeon and he already put a stent in my husband’s heart. But nope. They sent me to the ER anyway. And, of course, he wasn’t there. They sent me BACK to the main entrance but thankfully found my husband because I was already giving the guy at the desk my mean librarian look (staring down over my glasses). When I got to Wal’ss room, he was talking and he was happy to see me and he told me everything that happened.

He was working on a printer at a local university. Once he left the building, he didn’t feel well but got in his car and started to head home. But the pain in his stomach was coming up his chest and it just didn’t feel right, he said. Thankfully he knew where the health clinic was, so he drove there. His legs weren’t working well, but he made it into the building and told them he was in trouble and thought he might be having a heart attack. They rallied around him, got the ambulance there in minutes and he was off to the hospital.

They saved him.

As soon as he got to the ER, they just wheeled him through and went directly to the cath lab. We now know that he had a 95% blockage. But the surgeon put the stent in and truly saved him. But what we also found out is that he has two other arteries that are 100% blocked.

Every few hours since Tuesday afternoon, we get a little more information or another scare.

Tuesday night my husband experienced flash pulmonary edema–his lungs immediately filled with fluid and he was drowning in his bed. This happened just one hour after I left his bedside and his first thought was, “I won’t get to say goodbye to Holly and Bri one more time.” A nurse rushed down the hall and retrieved a biPAP machine and slapped the mask on Wal’s face. The machine uses pressure to push air into your lungs and Wal said as soon as the mask was on he felt relief and knew that they had saved his life again.

When I walked into his room on Wednesday morning, I found my husband with the mask on his face and he was miserable….but alive. I met the surgeon who put his stent in, and he expressed how serious the heart attack was. I met a cardiologist and while the mask was on Wal’s face, I explained what happened to him last year and the lung damage he now has from the infection and ventilator he was on in February of 2020 due to pneumonia and the flu and possibly COVID-19. But also mentioned his incredibly high cholesterol he’s had for years that medicines have never been able to touch. The rest of the day, Wal tried to nap and I rubbed his legs, texted his friends to keep them informed, talked to his family and we both called our son to check in. He was better before I left that night, but we just didn’t know what would happen next.

Thursday I worked all day. When I called in the morning, Wal was not great. Couldn’t breathe well. I felt weighed down that morning. I hadn’t cried since this happened, just choked up a few times, but I felt like I was going to completely lose it. What was going to happen to my husband? Will he live and if so, what will his life be like? Will he work? Have to be on disability?

I called Wal again a few hours later and he was ok. He called me in the afternoon and he felt quite a bit better. A cardiologist talked to him and told him he had a “widow maker” heart attack. He was so damn lucky to be at the university when this happened, because more than likely if he was home, he wouldn’t have gotten to the hospital in time.

But he did.

Today, Friday, talk began about my husband coming home. His eating habits, exercise habits, his life–will need to change. No more salt, fast food, fried food, fatty food. More vegetables and fruit and whole grains and exercise. He will need to go to cardiac rehab for at least a month where he’ll have access to physical therapy and dieticians and therapists. The latter is the one I hope he uses more than anything. But he will need a biPAP machine before he can come home. So it may be a few days yet. For the first time in any of his hospital stays, he’s ok with staying there. Having a near death experience (or two in one day) can change a person.

At some point, bypass surgery will have to take place to work on the other arteries, but his heart needs to get stronger for that to happen. Right now, the cardiologists don’t even want to talk about that because we have to get through this event first.

My husband’s spirits are good right now. Like mine and our son’s, his mood changes from moment to moment. We’ve all been through so many traumatic events in the past few years, that this one is making us all feel…almost numb. At least that’s how I’ve felt this week. This morning I was almost in a horrendous car accident because my mind was not on my driving…at all. I didn’t even feel like I was in the car. Nearly being t-boned got my focus back and I was pretty much ok the rest of the day.

I know we need to live one day at a time, which I’m absolutely horrible at, but I know I need to find that patience somewhere inside of me. I am feeling overwhelmed and sad and angry, but maybe if I can slow down and try to live day by day, then I can find some kind of control over my emotions.

Or I could take a vacation and sleep for a few days.

But right now, I am just grateful for the many medical professionals who saved my husband’s life this week. I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to thank many of them in person. But a big THANK YOU also goes out to my dear friends who listened to me this week, drove me to the university to get my husband’s car, and made meals for my son and I. I have the greatest support network in the world. I love you and I am grateful for all of YOU.

Hug someone you love today, friends, and live in that moment.

Hold on tight.

Losses and Gains

Today should have been Dad’s 80th birthday. I say “should have”, although he would probably disagree. He was shocked to make it past 70 and he was 2 months shy of his 78th birthday when he died. I also should have run my first marathon today, in honor of Dad. But neither of those things happened.

Yesterday, just like with Mom on Mother’s Day, I visited Dad’s grave. Since it was a Saturday close to Memorial Day, there were a bunch of people in the cemetery, which I hated. Dad would have waved to most folks that were nearby and say “How are ya?” (although it would sound like “Whyya”), but I just kept my head down and set up our picnic.

Dad used to make whirligigs, some were funny, some obscene, and some were just cute. I didn’t plan well enough but for the moment I placed a few small pinwheels, just to have something moving in the breeze. I brought my dad Cheez-Its, which were one of his favorite snacks. There’s an inside joke between my husband and my dad and they used to exchange a box of these crackers nearly every Christmas. It all stemmed from the time my then fiancé drove my dad to Pennsylvania for my graduate school graduation, and my father ate a whole box of Cheez-Its…and proceeded to have horrible gas…and they were trapped inside this little Ford Escort with hours left to drive. It was something they both used to laugh about and bonded over as only men can.

Once I set out snacks and my water bottle, I just sat in front of Dad’s stone and plucked the grass around it and ran my hands over the smooth stone. I could hear people around me, including a man about 20 feet from me laughing into his phone. I tried to block him and the others out, when I started to cry. I was angry and overcome with that loss again–that emptiness I feel when I realize I can never have another conversation with my father. But also the absurdity of the situation. I was bringing my father treats he would never eat again. His body was far beneath the ground I was sitting on and I know this because my sister and I helped put his body in that fucking hole. And all around me people are planting bushes and flowers to sit around these stones with our loved ones names carved into them. But…why?

I wiped my eyes and started to talk to Dad. I told him I loved and missed him. Told him we were all surviving, how tall my son is, how work is going. The usual things we discussed when he was alive. But Dad also liked to have deeper conversations. For a man that never liked to read, he did like to deconstruct thoughts or ideas. And I know some of what he’d say about his grave and stone. He never wanted to be cremated because he said, “I’ll be close enough to hell as it is.” He was traditional in some ways, hence the funeral home visiting hours, the church funeral, the burial. All the stuff that I hate, but the stuff that he and his wife knew and understood. But as I sat there, I also got it, I understood. In a way, I do like being able to “visit” my father. I like being able to still give him things, even if that’s just a plant or a plaque or mints (my father always had mints of some kind and I leave at least one wintergreen lifesaver every time). I do talk to him occasionally when I’m home or somewhere else, so I don’t save that for the cemetery. Honestly I usually get upset when I go to Dad’s grave in particular because I can’t feel him. I’ve visited his grave on days that I just really wanted to talk with him, and I’ve always left even more bereft then when I arrived because he’s not there. I always think that I’ll feel something, like his spirit is somehow there, but it isn’t. It really isn’t. But…I also don’t even believe in spirits anyway! See how confused I am?

I just want to believe in something because it’s too devastating to think my parents and brother are just…gone.

No longer exist.

Dead. Forever.

So…I continued to talk to Dad. Why the hell not? The cemetery cleared out, the breeze died down and the black flies started to swarm. “Dad, I’m going to go, ok? As you would say, the black flies are about to pick me up and slam me to the ground!” I kissed his grave stone and told him I’d be back next month.

When I drove home, I saw the sign for the Robyville Bridge–a historic covered bridge in Corinth. I had been there before but I felt the need to go there again. I just took a few photos, avoided the couple that was there as much as possible, walked then ran across the bridge. That need I felt to go to the bridge was like a need to feel alive, to experience something new. Even something as simple as looking at, admiring and running across a covered bridge fulfilled that need.

As I woke up this morning, the day I should have been running for hours and hours and had trained for for many months, I figured I might as well try to start training again. So far my leg is better (although I am now aware that could change at any time). My heart isn’t in it as much as before, but hopefully that will change. The run I took was just 4 miles this morning, but it was already 73 degrees and humid at 9am. It wasn’t a pleasant run for the first half. At the 2.75 mile mark, I had to walk (or shuffle) and drink more water. The sun was frying my brain and destroying my will to go on, until I heard the lovely tune of two geese squawking and flying in the sky just behind me. I have this thing for geese, and often wonder if it’s my family hanging out near my house. And today, after the geese flew over, the clouds rolled in and cooled things down just a tad and I immediately felt better. I laughed out loud and decided that my parents were giving me some support and urging me to keep going. So I did.

This afternoon, I took my son to an international food festival at the high school near where I work, and we ate SO MUCH. One or both of us tried a food from every single country they had (except for Japan because they weren’t ready). We couldn’t pronounce some of the foods, a few were things we had eaten before, and others seemed strange but were typically delicious. It was a fun experience and one that I know the rest of my family would have enjoyed. If food was involved, my father would have been happy. He might have been a meat and potatoes man, but he was willing to try just about anything. It was a great way for us to honor Dad today.

Then on the way home from the festival, I saw a turtle in the road. Over the years, my mother picked up many, many turtles and sometimes brought them home. I distinctly remember finding a turtle in our bathtub on at least two occasions. I always stop for turtles and try to shoo them to the other side of the road. Typically my son hates it, but today he helped me and we just walked behind the turtle, moving it along so cars wouldn’t kill it. Seeing the turtle felt like a little “hello” from Mom…if I believed in that sort of thing.

And now as I sit here, thinking about the days ahead, I am a bit relieved that there are a few weeks until Father’s Day and my brother’s birthday–they happen to fall on the same day this year. A double whammy. Maybe I’ll have a few more gains and pluses and good moments before then. Maybe I’ll have more bad days than good. No matter what though, I will keep remembering, keep running if physically possible, and keep my eyes to the sky. Because you just never know, right? You just never know.

All the Days I Hate

In chronological order:

St. Patrick’s Day–I watched my father die that day.

Mother’s Day

May 23–Dad’s birthday

Father’s Day

June 20–My brother’s birthday

July 23–I said goodbye to my brother that day.

September 20–Mom’s birthday

October 4–I held my mother’s hand for the last time.

Someday, I hope I won’t dread some of these days. I hope that I won’t feel sick the entire week before or have the powerful urge to somehow escape my surroundings and my feelings and my brain on the day of. With Mother’s Day here, I am horribly conflicted. I have felt all those things this entire week and I had planned to do exactly what I did today–visit my mother’s grave so “we” could talk and eat and drink coffee. Just like we did every Saturday for the last two years of her life. And this morning after a meeting for work, I found myself antsy. I vacuumed and made blueberry muffins to take to Mom and just…puttered around the house, like Mom would say. I felt the overwhelming need to leave and go to her, but I kept pushing it off because it wouldn’t be the visit I wanted.

I finally did go. I packed up a bag with goodies and a blanket to sit on and I drove the back way to the cemetery in the town I grew up in. I passed houses that friends used to live in, including my own childhood home that is now abandoned. I saw new houses and roads that never existed before and wondered what my parents would have to say about them. Just like anytime I drive through my hometown, the memories came back–many good, many awful–and I grew angry at myself for driving this route. But once I got to the cemetery, my tension started to ease. I poured Mom a cup of coffee, gave her a muffin, and settled myself on a blanket in front of her. I talked about the pandemic, masks, our family, my friends. I asked her if she’s with Phil or my stepfather or my dad or Grammy. I prefaced that question with “So…if there IS an afterlife…” (What can I tell ya? I’m an agnostic which means I have no idea what the heck anything is or will be.) As I asked about our family, I started to cry and told her I missed her. Then I couldn’t stop crying. I rocked myself and said, “See Mom? THIS is why I try not to cry!” And as I’m writing this, I can hear Mom say, “Oh, I know, I know!” and almost feel her hug and hear her sniffle and wipe her nose.

But because it IS Mother’s Day, I want to celebrate my own motherhood. Sort of. I honestly just want to hide in a room for a day and drink cocktails and watch sad movies. But my son told me just this morning that he wants to make me dinner. My 14-year-old gentle giant of a boy, whom my mother adored more than any other person on the planet, has decided that he does indeed want to do something kind for his mother on Mother’s Day. (Last month he told me just to buy what I wanted for a gift and he’d pay for it—which is really me paying for it since he gets an allowance from me.)

A friend told me yesterday to try and do something for myself this weekend, like go for a run or have a drink or just do something to make me feel good. And I will. I hope to run on Sunday morning, eat brunch with my family, have a drink with a friend via Zoom, and eat dinner made by my child. All the while I will be thinking of Mom and her laugh and her raisin-filled cookies and her eerily strong grip. Seriously. This woman could break your bones with her hands if she wanted to.

Mom and I on my wedding day, 1997.

I miss you, Mom. Every day.

Love you forever, love you for always.

Strength

Since my doctor gave me the go ahead to gently start walking and running again after my likely stress fracture, I’ve only been out a handful of times. Two weeks ago I ran and although it was tough and slow and my lungs hurt, it still felt glorious to have the freedom to run again. Then I took a few days off, rode my bike and lifted weights…and my leg started to hurt. No swelling, but a similar type of pain. So, once again, I took a few weeks off.

After a week of occasional walks, I just had to try again this morning. Sunday mornings have been my typical long run days since I started running a decade ago. I’ve done all of my half marathons on Sundays, and had hoped to run my marathon on a Sunday. I tend to feel antsy on Sunday mornings if I’m not getting ready to head out for a run. My body starts to zing a little, like I have this bit of nervous energy and I often get butterflies in my stomach.

But Sundays are also extremely complicated for me. My brother and father both died on Sundays, so emotionally I am not at my best. The Sunday my brother died, I woke up early that morning, knowing that it would be the last day I saw him and the last day he would be on this planet. The day my dad died, I was woken at 2am by a phone call from my stepsister to say that Dad was in the hospital and I might want to get there. That Sunday was filled with the phone call to my sister telling her she should come to the hospital, talking with doctors and nurses, and watching my stepmother having to make that decision no one wants to. So…yeah. Sundays still fill me with a bit of dread.

But this morning, after reading a book and eating a light breakfast, I geared up for a walk. Not a run. I just needed that fresh air and what little sunshine there was peeking through the clouds. But after a half mile, I needed to pick it up. Just a little. So I jogged for a bit, then walked. I did this for about a mile and a half, then realized our friend, Bam Bam was following me.

After chatting with him for a minute, I headed back home. I ran the mile and a half back with my hamstrings aching, my hips feeling tight, and feeling extraordinarily heavy. You know, I’ve been riding my stationary bike and lifting weights and walking when I can, but there’s nothing like a run to make you feel weaker and more out of shape than you ever thought possible!

But I finished the 5K, walked a bit, stretched, and felt…alive. And tired. Crikey, I was tired! But that good tired when you know you’ve exhausted your body to a point that muscles ache and your brain goes quiet.

I wish that running was not so intrinsically tied to my mental health. I wish there was something inside of me that could make me feel good about myself like running does. It’s something I hope to work on in the near future. But for now, I’m just happy I got to run. ❤

My Baby Boy

“Happiness makes up in height for what it lacks in length.”~Robert Frost

I never wanted children. When my husband and I started dating seriously, I told him I had no desire to have children. I wasn’t even sure I wanted to be married, but I could see that easier than having a kid. I thought the world was pretty fucked up and I certainly had no idea what to do with a baby or a child. He, on the other hand, did want kids, but was willing to sacrifice that to be with me. Five years after we got married, my stepfather died suddenly. His death made me re-examine my life and my family and what made me happy. To this day, I still remember where my husband and I were when I told him I wanted to have a baby. We were eating at a Wendy’s 20 minutes from where we live. I was about to be 30 and I remember saying to him, “My family is so weird and wacky. Why wouldn’t I want that to continue?” Of course it still took another year for me to finally say, “Ok, let’s do this!” But after three years of trying we knew something wasn’t right. Was I too fat? Were my husband’s “boys” not good swimmers? We both had a bunch of tests and I thought for sure it was my husband. He’s 6 years older and has never been particularly healthy so I put all the blame on him. But nope! It was all me.

After a little exploratory surgery, my doctor told me my endometriosis was pretty bad and it had trapped one of my fallopian tubes. They freed it, and told us to start trying the next month. Three months later I was pregnant with our beautiful son.

There were complications along the way, and if we were living in an earlier time, my son and I would have died in childbirth or before. Placenta previa prevented me from having a natural childbirth, but once the idea of a cesarean settled into my brain, I was happy as hell about it. I was really ok not screaming and pushing and shitting and pissing. Some women feel bereft by having that experience taken away from them but I’m just not one of them. Instead, I knew the date my son would be born, I had an epidural (which is super fucking weird and unpleasant) and the doc pulled my son from my body at 2pm on April 20, 2007. He was an 8 pound beauty and just 1/2 inch shy of 2 feet long.

Jump ahead to today, fourteen years later. I am extremely fortunate to have a child who just yesterday, the day before he turned 14, asked to snuggle with me. We sat on our couch, he slouched down to put his head on my shoulder, and I smoothed out his hair while we just chatted about our weekend. To say my son brings me joy is the biggest understatement of the century. When I look at him, I see my baby, my child who is incredibly tall and clumsy and gentle and inquisitive and smart and who has to have the last word and must question why, why, why about everything! But…I can’t deny that I also see my brother. Phil was 6’6″, was also incredibly intelligent and inquisitive and morbid and made me laugh like no other.

And yet now, my son does that. My boy will tell me a story or a joke and I will laugh in a way I never have before. Literally. It’s like this wheezing laugh that I never used to have. I’m not sure what to make of it, except they say that you can laugh like you never have after living through or with pain. At this moment, that’s where I’m at. When I do laugh, especially with my son, it’s like my body and spirit are lit up with joy.

Don’t get me wrong, my boy and I argue like there’s no tomorrow. We are both stubborn and get hangry and frustrated easily. His lack of motivation drives me up the wall and I wish he’d comb his hair and brush his teeth without me asking. But all of that is absolutely nothing and I know it. I’m so grateful and damn lucky to be this boy’s mother.

When Robert Frost talked about happiness in height, I realize he wasn’t talking about people, but in this case, it fits. ❤

I love you, my son. I’m so happy you’re here.

Talk to Someone

Five months after my brother died and just weeks after I moved my mother in with my family, I decided to talk to a counselor–the first time in over 12 years. But just trying to work out the logistics to get to that appointment stressed me out so much that I remember screaming in my car on the way there. I kept saying “I am never going to fucking do this again!” I only went to the counselor twice because she was absolutely horrible when it came to grief. At one point I was crying in her office, telling her how much I missed Phil, and what does she say? “He’s still with you, Holly.”

Really?!? Can I sit and talk to him and he talks back? Is he going to tell me a joke and give me advice on raising my son? Will he still be at my son’s high school graduation that he tried so fucking hard to live for? No, you goddamned bitch, HE’S. NOT. HERE.

Of course, me being the person I was (not sure I’m still that person), I just nodded and whispered, “I know.” Inside, though, I immediately deflated. (The anger came later.) I knew she would not be able to help me. On a side note, she was extremely helpful in helping with some issues with my mom and her jackass boyfriend. So the counselor was not useless at least.

Since those counseling sessions, I’ve only pondered finding someone else to talk to. After Dad’s death and especially after Mom’s, I thought, “Ok. You might want to talk with someone, Holly. This is a lot of shit to deal with.” I was so exhausted by fucking everything that I passed out momentarily in my kitchen after my mother’s celebration of life, with my poor son freaking out and calling his father who was out of state at the time. But I still didn’t ask for help. I barely even took time off of work. Then my husband nearly died, and once he came home I encouraged HIM to go to counseling. (When you’re in a coma for a while, there are many gaps in memory and events and it’s difficult for your brain to fill that time in.) Instead, I became HIS counselor and tried to help him sort out what happened to him and what was happening in my world at that time. But I didn’t go and talk to anyone then either. I started drinking most nights–just one drink–but I felt like I *needed* it, along with my anti-depressant. Hell, I often swallowed my pill with a swig of wine! (And no, this is not advisable.) Then, of course, the pandemic hit and didn’t everyone need a therapist at that point? I looked into Betterhelp.org, but they wanted to match me with a male counselor who, in my mind looked like either a serial killer or a child molester.

Yup. He looked like Kevin Spacey.

So, no. I decided to not go that route. Instead I read books like “Group: How One Therapist and a Circle of Strangers Saved My Life” by Christie Tate and listened to Mayim Bialik’s Breakdown, a podcast about mental health. And, of course, I kept running.

But we all know how that last thing turned out, right? Yeah. So then I started to worry about what I was eating and without running would I start binging or restricting food? I mentioned in my last post that I reached out to a dietician, but after thinking about it, I knew I needed more help than that. So I did a little search on counselors in the area that specialized in eating disorders. Then lo and behold, one of my dear friends from my past was a counselor for this very thing. When I saw her name, I immediately called and left a message. I knew she couldn’t be my counselor, but I trust her and knew she’d have someone in mind.

Then St. Patrick’s Day came–the anniversary of Dad’s death. And then I read a book that reminded me of my brother and I sobbed while eating lunch at work. Then I found one of my mother’s tote bags and it still smelled like her. And then…and then…and then…

You, readers, have been my sounding board for years now and although it certainly helps me to hear advice and anecdotes and to feel the love you’ve shared and showed me, I know I need to do something else, too. So when I talked to my friend, I asked her to help me find someone that could help me with MANY problems/issues/dilemmas, or in other words, life. I’ve only corresponded with this new counselor once, just so she has an idea of what I want to work on, but I won’t get to actually talk or meet with her until May. But, you know, once I had a name and heard her voice and read her email, it gave me this little high. Kind of like when you’re about to go on a first date and you have butterflies and possibly high expectations (I am trying to squash those) but more than anything, you’re filled with hope. This person you’re about to meet could possibly change your life for the better. And in this case, maybe help ME change MY life for the better.

We’ll see. Until then, I will carry on. Because that’s what I do. Because that’s what we all do, right? I can’t say I “keep calm and carry on” because my bursts of anger refute that phrase, but maybe you do? Whether you’re calm and serene, or pissy like me, let’s just keep going, ok?

LET’S. KEEP. GOING.

314 Days

I had a really nice run 10 days ago, and I wish I had blogged about it. Everything just felt good–the movement of my body, the weather, my outlook on life–it was a good day.

Today sucked.

A week ago I thought I might have shin splints. I wore a pair of older shoes for my recovery run, so when my right leg was aching the next day, I thought I had fucked up. So I rested a few days and tried a slow jog. Nope. Worse. So I rested a few more days and finally two days ago, my leg felt much better. I went grocery shopping, walked around a bit, stayed on my feet at home cooking and cleaning, then in the late afternoon my right leg ached horribly.

I knew what it was but I kept denying it. It can’t be. After 9 weeks of training for a marathon, after running much of last year, four times a week including two half marathons, this can’t be happening.

A god damned, shitty ass fucking stress fracture.

Although we’re waiting for the x-ray to confirm our suspicions, my doctor and I are quite certain that is what has happened. I suspected it, told him so, but also told him I was really hoping I just had shin splints. As soon as I took off my compression stockings, he said, “Oh dear.” He explained a lot, showed me various things on my leg, I bit back my sob until I just couldn’t.

We went over a plan, talked about other exercising I can do, what the x-ray might say and what we do if it’s not conclusive (get another one in a few weeks), and he sat with me as I cried and mourned my marathon dreams.

Does it mean I won’t run again? No. Does it mean my dream of running a marathon are off forever? I don’t know. Maybe. You know, tall women are not the best runners. Our bodies are not made to run this much. And 47-year-old tall women really aren’t made for it.

I’m pissed.

I’m incredibly sad.

I’m scared.

Much of my identity in the past decade has been linked to being a runner. And I thought I was doing everything right. I followed my running plan religiously. I started lifting weights and doing ab work. I’ve tried to eat much better and had just contacted a nutritionist LAST WEEK and my appointment was supposed to be today. I had just ordered new running shoes for Pete’s sake!!! And, of course, they came today.

I have so many feelings swirling in my body and brain right now, that it’s hard to say everything I want to. I know part of my fear is that I’ll start binge eating or will obsessively count calories more than I do now because I don’t want that weight to creep up again. I haven’t lost much since my training began, but I’ve been so happy with the muscles in my legs and the small changes of the rest of my body. It’s made me feel strong and confident, and I don’t want that to end. Running is intrinsically tied to my mental health. Walking outside has also been very beneficial to my mental wellness, too, and I can’t even do that now.

I know this must sound like such a whiny bitch post and there are so many other horrendous problems out there that many of my friends are dealing with. And you know I love you and I’m here for you. That hasn’t changed. But right now, I need to bitch and moan and feel sorry for myself. So that’s what I’m doing.

Fortunately, I have incredible people in my life. The few I told today made me feel loved and cared for and heard. They also made me laugh and feel a smidge better. And if I didn’t mention this to you? Please don’t be offended. You have enough shit to deal with in your life and you didn’t need to hear about mine. (Of course, if you’re reading this then now you are hearing about it. You’re welcome.) 😉

So…what happens now?

Well, more than likely running and long walks are out for 3-6 months. Yup. Just when weather in Maine is finally fucking gorgeous, I won’t be able to enjoy it as much as I want to. So I’ll have to find other ways to do that. I have a manual elliptical (no electronics) that I plan to place on my porch. I might even start that garden I keep talking about but never create. I ordered a pricey (but not Pelaton pricey) stationary recumbent bike and hope to have it next week. I moved my nutritionist appointment to later this week. After I left a sobby message, the dietician suggested that maybe we can still work on my food issues as well as finding the right fuel for my future running. She’s not giving up on me yet, so I shouldn’t either, right?

Can I just bitch about one more thing? I know for some, 10,000 steps is a stupid goal to have for each day. And my kid likes to say I’m a slave to technology since I’m always trying to get my steps in according to what my fitness tracker says. And for 314 days straight, I had over 10,000 steps every.damn.day. And now I don’t. I had hoped to make it a full year, and I came fucking close. But I need to let that go, too, right?

*BIG SIGH*

Right.

Losing It

How are you doing? Ok? Hanging in there? Are you friggin’ sick of people asking you? Yeah, me too, and yet I’m still glad they ask. I think I’m sick of saying “hanging in there” or “ok.” Although generally, I reply with “ok” and have since 2017. If I have a good moment, I let you know but so often people are not asking me during my good moments.

Speaking of good moments, did you have many this week? I hope so. I had a few, but most of my week was filled with bad news, rage and vitriol from others–not just others but other librarians. Wanna hear about it?

My version of the “incident” is that I voiced my opinion on a library listserv about some of the protocols libraries have been following and backed it up with science. But it was still my opinion and said as much. The shit that came at me and another librarian who backed me up was absolutely ridiculous. I was completely discounted by someone because I think they thought I was politically conservative–which is far from the truth but it did make my conservative husband howl with laughter. But another librarian accused myself and my colleague of not caring about our patrons–I am sure if we were in person she would have jabbed her index finger into my chest. If I hadn’t been in a rage before then, I was full fledged into it then. My patrons are why I’m a librarian. I long for the day I can hug many of them. I send cards to them when they’re hurting, I cry and attend funerals when they die, I help them as much as I can while they’re in my library–and even when they’re not. I love them. To say that I don’t care about them was a lie. Period. I responded to the nastiness with civility (mostly) and that was that. I felt betrayed and disillusioned. It’s like when you realize that your parents are not super human, just human. The library community is not entirely filled with kind people. Or if they are typically kind, they’re lashing out because they’re afraid…yet they didn’t have to hit send on that email. They chose to be an asshole.

But at the end of the day–by the way this was Monday (!)–I helped 2 local folks get appointments for their COVID-19 vaccinations. We had been trying to help them for 3 weeks to no avail, but on Monday the system finally worked. This couple was so happy and wanted to send the library a check. I told them no, but if they could come visit after their 2nd vaccination, then that would be the thanks we needed.

Each day for the rest of the week, something shitty happened. Difficult phone calls, tense meetings, sick friends or parents of friends. Most events were not extraordinary, but I cried or lost my cool nearly every time. I feel like I’m only “hanging in there” by an invisible thread and wonder if it’s really hanging ME.

Throughout this week, I have wished for nothing more than to talk with my brother. I do have a sister and great friends and a husband, but Phil was the one I wanted to talk with. He would understand my rage and would agree with me but then make light of it all to make me laugh and to show me that it doesn’t really matter. In the grand scheme of things, it didn’t matter that the eye doctor said you weren’t covered by insurance when you were (yeah, I blew up a bit at that office, too) or that your house is an absolute mess, or that some librarians really are dicks. You just keep going and you don’t worry about that stuff or those people. Just try to laugh at what you can and forget the rest. He would also say something nasty or snarky about the librarians because sometimes it feels good to do that. 🙂

I’m drinking tea at my kitchen counter as I type this, which is where my brother should be. We sat right here for the last meal we ate together. He often sat here drinking tea while I baked and we talked with my boy and would just shoot the shit. I miss those days.

I miss Phil. I miss him so damn much.

This was Phil’s favorite shirt of mine. He laughed out loud the first time he saw it. There are photos of him on my fridge near my ear. I like to see his face every day.