Sometimes sitting in the mud is the right thing to do…


Watercolor, art therapy, by my daughter, Lindsey, 16. Used with her permission. Her personal take on living with bipolar disorder, anxiety, OCD and depression.

 

I’ve been rendered completely wordless the last few weeks. I’ve been in a dark place; one with a lot of ugliness and not a lot of sunshine. Some of it is legitimate and understandable. I’ve got some real crap and sometimes crap just stinks. No use calling it by some flowery name. Just like a rose is a rose by any other name and still smells sweet, crap by any other name is still crap and it’s gonna really stink when you go to wash it off, especially if you really dig in and do the dirty work of cleaning it up.

Some of it is me throwing a pity party, I may as well own that. Some of it is weariness, exhaustion, and fractures in my life where I wasn’t quite broken; places that used to be held together by sheer will, but the the bonds of my “will” wore off.

I fell apart.

It is what it is, and justified or not, I’ve dug myself in and wallowed.

It occurred to me I feel a lot like a little girl who fell in a mud puddle in her new pretty dress. I first was in utter shock and horror. Oh NOOOOOO!

…Then tears of not just sadness rose up, but anger; intense, hot, all consuming… of which a person could be either torched to ash or refined by the fire. This was NOT happening!

…Next? I was so angry I refused to get up. What was the point? The dress is ruined! Nothing can ever make it white and new again.

…Furious, I splashed the damned puddle, as if beating the crap of life was somehow gonna get back at it. Laughing at me, it got even by leaving me feeling more livid as the splashes got me mucky where I had actually still been clean.

…Eventually, anger spent and rational thinking returning, still a bit drippy, a whole lot dirty, sheepishly getting up from the mucky pool around me, this girl will go about figuring out how to do what’s next. It wont come easy. “She” will be still mad and muddy, she will still be dealing with the stink for a while, but moving in the right direction, a good cleansing cry and maybe a little rain will right some of it. Later a good long hot shower will wash away the remaining ick and a fresh perspective and dry clothes will allow “her” to carry forward, maybe even better than she began.

Right now? Right now I am still sitting and I’ve just finished a good splashing fit.

There are many word pictures people use when they are in this space. I am using the mud puddle because I am at a full stop, and I feel really mucky and angry and I am in a place where I don’t even WANT to get up. I’ll get there. I know me. I just need to sit here long enough to really hate the mud. Once I really hate it enough I will get up, wipe off the bruises and clean off the mud, I’ll look for scratches on me and tears in my dress and begin to not just wash up, but mend the wounds and fix the rips.

I already know it’s gonna be okay. It really will be. Wanna know something? I don’t want to hear it. So, don’t explain it. I just need to sit here a while. I need to do this.

Here is the thing about mucky places, once in a while they need to be sat in.

Don’t tell me why I am wrong. I’m not. Sometimes you need to sit in the muck, really look around, take it in, acknowledge that it is exactly what it is, mucky, dirty, crap; then intentionally say, “Yeah, so, now what?”

The feelings are real. They are valid. They show up, as they always do, for a reason, and at some point the reason will refuse to be ignored or stuffed back into the closet or under the rock it came out from. So feel it. let yourself live in the now, in the moment, in the mucky place and say, “Wow, it really sucks I fell in this mud and I am really damned angry I got mucky and tore my favorite dress.”  Forcing a smile and saying a fake, “No biggie, It’ll wash,” only works for so long.

Sometimes sitting in the mud is the right thing to do. Sometimes getting right back up, brushing yourself off, and bouncing back right away is the right thing to do. How do you know the difference? Eh, you’ll know. Just remember, ultimately, it really will be okay, and you can get to that end game in many different ways. No path is wrong nor right.

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Sometimes it takes a hug to make life play nice


IMG_2243We’ve had a rough week around here. It’s not really abnormal, in fact it’s pretty standard, but it’s rough nevertheless.

Each kid has their own hard spot. They’ve each had their own struggles and worries. I’ve found myself floating from one kid, one thing, to the next, trying to be flexible and able to meet them where they are. I’m not always sure what I’m doing.

What am I sure of? Hugs. Never underestimate the power of a hug.

There are many different ways to give and get a hug. The standard one is pretty great. My oldest and I were having a conversation. She was upset, in tears, overwhelmed, and ready to just give up. I said, “No way! We don’t do that in our family.”

Giving up is the easy way out, but it’s also much harder than knuckling down and setting your chin. Truly. It’s easy in the moment to just say, “I can’t do this” and allow yourself to stop trying. The only problem with that is you get further and further buried in your mucky pit and find it harder and harder to climb out. It’s not worth that. Just when you think you can’t do another minute, with a little love, you can.

I had no words, no way to change the reality she was dealing with. I did have arms, though, so I just stopped her, put out my arms and invited her to lie with me on her bed, cuddled up, and we squished our cute pup between us. Our furry baby then slathered on kisses and made us giggle. Nothing in the world changed, but cuddling up in a hug made a world of difference.

From the bus, my middle kid texted me this morning. She was stressing out over a presentation she has to give. She has to have it ready by Monday and has tons of stuff to get done beforehand. She has a science fair project due and then the regular stuff. It’s tough being a kid these days.

While it’s easy to say kid stress is nothing like we have as grownups, it’s simply not true. Every single thing they have to do is just as hard as our deadlines, our financial stress, our worries. Helping them deal with theirs in a healthy way, however, will give them the confidence to handle the adult version later.

So I texted her back and first said I was sorry she was stressed. I asked what was up.  I asked about the deadlines and began to break things down into bites. I found that some deadlines were not today, so we will work on stuff together at home.

I’ll drop all I can to help my kids. I regularly will drop my stuff and work on theirs with them, then pick my to-do’s back up after they are in bed. A little less sleep is worth the fact that they CAN sleep. She sent me silly stickers and we back and forth sent ridiculous selfie pics. She was laughing by the time she got off the bus and I knew she’d carry those smiles with her all day.

My youngest has been making some poor choices lately. He doesn’t like the book he has to read for his Lit Circle group. The girls keep picking the books and he is far from impressed in now reading the whole series versus just one book he has zero interest in or tolerance for. In frustration, he began just NOT reading the book. Mad. What resulted is being behind by 170 pages versus being right  on time.

He is a fast reader, and so when he was so behind, he knew his teacher would call him out on it. He began fretting and worrying, teary, trying to fib his way into a sick day. The rule at our house is if you’re sick you have no electronics, you just sleep and get well. Or read a book.  Hmmmmmm. Yeah, he wanted to be sick so he could score a read-all-day-on-the-book day and catch up.

My “hug” to him was to say “no.” I pulled him into an embrace and we talked about it. I asked what was going on, we got it down to the bare bones and figured out where all the fiasco started. I had already been in contact with the teacher before this over some issues similar and so I knew more than he knew I did. My extra hug to him was to lay down some new rules. He needed to read 25 pages a day, before he touched any electronic device, and then he would be ready for the next Lit Circle group, all caught up, and no more stress over it.

His big take away? The fact that regardless if you like something or not, you have to do it and be prepared. I told him there were lots of things I didn’t want to do, every day, but choosing NOT to do them was not on the list of OK ways to deal with it. This is gonna come up over and over in life, and if I really want to love on my kids, I’ll help them through it, learn to do things anyway and support them while they learn the lesson.

Hugs can be literal arms around you. Hugs can be notes of encouragement, silly selfies and the promise of help and support. Hugs can be consequences, new rules and life lessons that will stick with them forever. Hugs are love, given however needed, at just the right moment, tailored to fit.

Want to know the best part? My kids are learning all about how to give hugs, not just get them. The other day I was stressed out and worried, sure I was gonna fail, and then I found an “I Love YOU!” note scribbled on the papers I was working on. I find random sticky notes that send me hugs when I least expect them. I find silly drawings in places when I’m trying to get things done. I always smile and feel so much better, stronger, able to push on and through whatever it is I am doing.

Hugs. Need one, give one, take one, receive one.  Hugs make life livable.

This post is reposted from my parenting blog over at Will Settle for Chocolate 

The perks of raising a techno kid


IMG_2244My daughter Alli came home the other day and said she had won some art award and that she was to go to an award ceremony at the Grand Wayne Center and get a certificate. She was all shoulder shrugging “whatevs” about it. I was tickled pink and signed us all up to attend right then and there. What I failed to understand, however, was the scope of the award and the fact it was not just a citywide contest, but a national award. We are a bit new to the whole thing, I guess.

We arrived on Sunday and a guy was yelling, “Students to the right, family to the left.”

In a split second, as we were shuffling along like cattle in a squished line of parents and award winners, a prick of panic welled up in Alli as she realized she would not be waiting to cross that stage sitting beside us, but by herself. “I don’t wanna sit alone,” she hissed at me under her breath as we got closer to the doors. I wanted to change it for her, but I couldn’t. So I did what any mom would do, I said what I knew ultimately would be true, but would not feel true for a very long time… “hon, you’re gonna do fine, it will be OK.”

With that, we went out separate ways.

We found our seats and then noticed Alli was not finding hers. It was by schools. So I went up to her and together we tried to figure it out. She was the only one from her school getting an award and so with only one chair to find it was a bit harder to do. While other kids were sitting with friends, Alli was sitting by strangers. My heart sank. I really hated that for her. I wanted to scoop her up or sit right down in the aisle beside her, but instead I slowly walked away, back to my seat a bazillion rows behind her.

My pocket buzzed. My phone was on silent. It was Alli. She was texting me. “I’m scared,” it said with sad faces beside it. With that we began a conversation and though I was a bazillion rows away, I was also only a second away via text. Technology was now this mama’s best friend. I tried to build her up, to get her to believe she could do this, that she wouldn’t trip crossing that huge stage that loomed in front of her, and I may have almost succeeded until the program began and the over-excited emcee hadn’t just declared the headcount for the afternoon at around 2,000 or so attendees, with 750 awards from 52 surrounding counties. The winners were for Scholastic Art and Writing Achievement awards, all of which were currently being displayed over in the Fort Wayne Museum of Art.

Immediately, Alli began freaking out via text at that info tirade. “2,000???” she texted. I told her the truth. It was gonna feel AWESOME when it was over, she’d get a rush, she’d be filled and over flowing with adrenaline and she’d be on cloud nine. She just had to get up there and cross that stage first. And I KNEW she could do it. (What I didn’t say was what she already knew, that it was gonna stink waiting until her school was called, and since it was alphabetical, “Towles New Tech” was gonna be a while down the line.)

I know there was no way for my mom or dad to virtually hold my  hand when I wished they could, back when I was a kid. I know it had to be hard for them to have to simply let go. I can honestly say, letting my kids go, grow up, to do hard things and to go be amazing is far easier when they can check in with me a bit here and there when the going gets tough. Yeah, it’s easier on me and them both.

For that little bit of time, when we were a bazillion rows away, she and I were only a few fingertip pushes away from each other. A few goofy faces sent from me to her and she was laughing in spite of herself. As much as growing up techno kids is scary, it also has its perks. Sometimes I don’t hate it at all.

And I have to say, “way to go Alli — you make me busting-my-buttons proud, girl!”

 

This post is reposted from my parenting blog over at Will Settle for Chocolate 

I’m still kick-ass (if you don’t look close)


photo 9

Me… The kick-ass version from years back

When I stay far away from a mirror, I can pretend that I am a bad ass. Oh stop it. Mom’s CAN be bad ass too, ya know. Think of the quietly aware Angelina Jolie as Laura Croft, ‘Tomb Raider’ mode, only with this mom, sporting somewhat untamed red curls, decked out in an old tank-style Tee, ripped jeans, and an old pair of black combat boots, my favorite uniform of choice.  Well that, or maybe swap in a pair of red converse. photo 13 Yeah, I know, way less kick ass, but I adore these beat up old red kicks, so bear with me here. I can kick the world’s ass in any pair of footwear I choose, trust me.

Lately, however, I have been sporting far less of my kick-ass self and far more of my withdrawn and pathetic sister-self.  I really loathe this in ways I can’t even begin to put into words.

I’ve been faking it, playing a role, stepping into and out of it like an actress on a movie set.  I am so all about “ditching the masks” but I never want to admit the final truth that lay behind this one mask I often refuse to admit I wear… The “health” mask. I hide behind this one. I hate anyone knowing my truths here and the reality on this one.

I feel so “less than” when I am forced to reveal this and abide by the restrictions that come with it. I know my family loves good ole, “Chiari Christi,” but I loathe her. I don’t like anything about her. She annoys me and sounds whiny in my head. Who would want to be around me if I was always being truthful about the question, “How are you?”

There are very few people in my life I will look in the eye and tell them the truth. THAT is the real truth right there. Why? Because I fear letting anyone know this side of me. Because I am sure they will turn and run the other way. Because I am sure they will say to themselves, “I just walked into a hot mess.”

My reality IS a hot mess. Chiari Malformation is a hot mess.  Period. What is Chiari Malformation you ask?  If you are new to it, the layman’s terms (very non technical) is that my brain is simply too large to fit into my skull.  My skull is too small.

What happens when your brain is too big for the container provided to keep it in?  Bad stuff, that’s what.

It then herniates (or squishes down into) the brain stem where all the nerves run from your brain into your spine; so that you can do lots of messaging work in the rest of your body.  Squishing brain matter into a space specifically designated to do some demanding networking  work, things get mucked up.

It can cause many different things for many different people, and no two Chiari patients are the same. Why? Because we are talking about squishing a brain and it’s networking system of nerves and signal translators. No two brains squish the same two nerves the same way. It makes it hard for anyone to really understand, and why it goes undiagnosed for so long for most of us.  (More info read over @ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arnold–Chiari_malformation )

I wasn’t diagnosed until 4 years ago now.  The fact is that I was born with it and had constant issues with it much of my life. We never had a clue and for me, it wasn’t life threatening, so it was okay that it wasn’t diagnosed. Right now I am waking up each morning on at a 7 on a 10 pt scale.  My pain is so high I am beside myself most days. It makes me irritable and grumpy.  If I didn’t wear a mask, even my family would disown me. I had so much I wanted to do this summer and I am now just mad, constantly, about the damper this puts on my plans. Last trip for 4th grade

My goal, recently, was to just make it through the rest of the school year, to go on that one last school field trip and make it appear I somehow was loving every second of the day with my son,. I wanted to laugh with him, to help him shake the stoic seriousness he seems to wear as his mask at school, and to have him cut loose and have fun. Only then I would gratefully return home to collapse.

(When no one was watching, I did exactly that.)

Still, I had one last goal.  I HAD to make it to my writer’s conference.  It was scheduled for the last day of school and that weekend.  If I could hold my act together for just one more round… one last performance, then I could come home and just let it all go.  I didn’t really know what I’d do then, exactly, but at least I would get to go and then I’d figure it all out.

When the Chiari calms down, and it doesn’t decide to add extra stress to my life, I feel so normal. It’s easy to forget this even exists.  It feels like a bad dream.  When it flares up, I am hit with 2 tons of bricks swinging directly at me.  There is no way to duck. I just have to face the full brunt of it head on.

It’s been harder this time around to really dig in my heels and do what my Dad taught me. Yesterday was Father’s Day and I really thought of him a lot.  My dad has known pain, a LOT of pain, and most of it is chronic and can’t be “fixed,” meaning no cure.  He’s been though numerous surgeries to combat pain and to try to make it better, but he will never, EVER, be without pain.  I have a whole family, honestly, who had chronic pain issues stemming from an assortment of this and that, none of which are Chiari, but who all have shown me that pain is not something that stops you, but that is an obstacle to simply be overcome.

My dad talked me down off a hypothetical cliff one day in the midst of one of the biggest pain days, and one in which I was scared out of my mind as they discussed brain surgery with me.  The surgery would “relieve” some pressure and symptoms, maybe some pain, but it would not cure this.  Not ever.  So at that point I had to decide to keep running from the pain and loathing it, or turn and embrace it.

10473184_10204434408446724_1070815805391277483_nMy dad told me that sometimes we are not meant to live pain free lives.  You have to turn and face the pain head on and not even tackle it… not overcome it.  Instead look at it and hold out your arms and embrace it.  Each time you feel the pain getting stronger, squeeze tighter, know it as a sign you are alive, and own it as your own.

Like it or not, Chiari makes me who I am.  I would not be the woman I am without it. I am forced to do hard things every day of my life.  Getting out of bed today, for instance, took a hell of a lot of doing, will, determination, and drive.  I can guarantee you I would prefer to still be back there in  bed, pretending I was not awake.  Sleep never claims me easily and when I wake I am sad.  The pain is right there saying, HI!!  REMEMBER ME??  and I want to punch it in the face.  But I am gonna kill it with kindness and instead just hug the thing to my chest and claim it.

There isn’t much I fear in life, except failure.  Once you live with chronic pain your brain says, “seriously? If you can do THAT everyday, then this is a cake walk.” I’ve found that the only way to fail is to never have tried at all. I can’t succeed if I don’t step out the door and try the day. I’ve failed if I don’t get out of bed and I don’t try to meet the day and all it throws my way.

So watch out world, Chiari Christi or not – I still intend to kick some ass out there.  I got dreams ya know.  I still got things I wanna do.  I don’t care how hard you try to knock me flat, I am still gonna stand back up and try twice as hard as I did before. That’s just how I roll.  You’ve been warned.

When THEY are watching every move…


Every now and then I get a glimpse that I am not alone in our fight here behind our front door, and it selfishly feels good and is freeing.  Then I get a little sad, because I realize someone else has a life that is hard, frustrating, heartbreaking, and more than a little overwhelming. I don’t wish that on anyone. I had a Momma break-down-without-anyone-noticing moment recently when my mask was called upon to really do a a hell of a job protecting my dignity.  I wanted to break down in tears and instead had to continue to sit and be not just mom, but a smart, intelligent parent who appeared to have a clue what was going on in my daughter’s life.  I am supposed to know those things after all. I am ashamed to say, I realized that I have misunderstood some of what my daughter has told me for 15 years of her life. I got what she said, but I never understood the severity of it.  It was during a standard question and answer portion of her medication review with her psychiatrist, and it hit me like being slammed into a brick wall at 100 miles per hour. It’s a normal monthly appointment where we check to make sure the meds she’s taking both works for her still and that there are no questions, health changes, and that all the “understoods” are actually understood.  So when the doctor said, “Do you ever feel like you are being watched,” the answer is always yes.  My daughter feels on display constantly.  Anywhere we go she feels like it’s a red carpet moment. She feels unable to blend in, instead feeling intensely that all eyes are fixed on her at all times. It can be overwhelming just running in the store to grab a gallon of milk.  Running errands is fear-facing therapy sessions for us.

By artist DLouise found at http://dlouiseart.deviantart.com

By artist DLouise found at http://dlouiseart.deviantart.com

But when she said, “yes” this time, she added an explanation that changed everything. She said that it was hard for her to simply change the wallpaper on her iPad because she was afraid what “they” would think, so she always chooses something that she thinks won’t be “judged” when seen.  I asked if she meant seen by her dad and I, or her brother and sister.  She said no… she meant by “them.”  Reality began to dawn on me, because she has no contact with anyone except us on a daily basis, and after a long question and answer session, we arrived at an understanding that she felt, though never having seen the movie, “The Truman Show,” she was Truman, and every camera possible was hidden somewhere unseen, and somehow it was even possible to look through her own eyes and see what she sees and watch her every move. It was as if she were a personal reality show that could be watched, “The life of Lindsey” show, and all of THEM were watching it all the time, day and night.  THEY were not nice either, but harsh and judgmental. THEY were always looking to pick her apart. There was never a time someone was NOT watching her. being_watched_by_entangled_minds-d5fa1qrMy brilliant daughter has to sit just so in her room where she does school tucked away, so that who ever is watching will see her working away diligently and not judge her lazy or stupid.  She has trouble just relaxing and not performing for “them” constantly. She feels their eyes like you do when you get a sense of someone staring at you and the hairs on your neck stand up. She is overwhelmed and taxed to the max somedays and she doesn’t even know why, all she knows is that the feeling of someone peeking around the corner or watching from the corner of the room, just out of sight, is so intense she is almost unable to function.  I can not imagine living under that stress. She didn’t realize everyone didn’t feel that way.  She assumed everyone did. Now many things suddenly make sense. It makes sense and I am intensely sad. you-are-being-watched-sign-k-9828I knew that once she had great trouble with worry about being watched and we put a special lock on the bathroom door, thinking this would fix it. It fixed the fear of someone coming in, but never the fear of someone watching. I thought if she knew no one could come in, then she would not feel someone was watching anymore. The fact I never truly understood the extent of her personal hell just brought me to my parenting knees. Honestly?  It brought me to my human knees. I would have been broken if it were not my own child.  The fact it is my own girl just breaks me in ways I can’t put words to. Then I came across a book I have to go find.  I want to go get it for my daughter and for me to read this summer.  Not an easy read, but one I really want to dive into.  It’s called “Remnants of a life on Paper” and is written by a mother with her daughter’s diary as they traveled through the difficult roads of growing and struggling together with Borderline Personality Disorder. Found over at http://remnantsofalife.com As is so often the case, ours overlaps with eating disorders and BiPolar Disorder, and OCD.  For whatever reason, these disorders all often come on the heels of each other.  Maybe because they all play off anxiety and fears.

Regardless, it is hard for my kid. It is hard for me, my husband, and her siblings.  It is tough for our extended families to understand our life at home. It’s hard to explain because we have all gotten good at masking up the reality, going to visit and enjoy the outing, then coming home to reality and dealing with the vast array of fears and anxieties that come with trying to live every day life.

1534301_1477731715775942_8768059514068455149_nThe hardest thing however is the complete stupidity that exists outside these walls of ours.  The lack of understanding of what mental illness is.  It’s not just a few kids who decide to go on a killing rampage.  It’s a beautiful girl with long red hair, with a mass of freckles, strikingly gorgeous green eyes, and the only thing killer about her is her smile.  She can knock you flat with her grin.  She can take your breath away with her giggle and her laugh will flat out make you wish you could do anything, instantly, to gain it one more time, to hear her laugh with abandon.  This girl is amazing, brilliant, artistic, and I’m not just being a mom here, she is precious and needed by this world.  She struggles to even put her toe out into it, because she knows how harsh it is. Mental illness is just chemistry of the brain that makes if function differently than the majority of the population.  It makes it harder to do “normal” things and harder to think clearly.  It does not mean less intelligent nor stupid. Just gonna keep plugging away at loving my girl, and you have a friend here if you need one. Know I understand how hard life can get behind that pretty exterior door you shut when life gets rough.  But being there for your kid matters.  And that is the most important thing you can do.  Just love them and be there. Day after day. We will get through this thing called life, together.

A secret confession of an obsessive addiction


I have a confession to make.  Actually it’s a confession on an obsessive addiction.  You know you want to know more.  I KNOW you do.  You are wondering even now what the heck I could mean!  Jump over with me to my “chocolate” blog and read more about it.  Maybe you can find a vice as colorful as mine!

It beats the heck out of dealing with stress the usual way!  That’s for sure!

http://moms.fortwayne.com/?q=blogs%2Fpost%2Fnostalgia-nose-how-beat-stress 

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http://moms.fortwayne.com/?q=blogs%2Fpost%2Fnostalgia-nose-how-beat-stress        <——————click here!