Bits and Whatnots, Everything else

What Matters Most

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There is so much wrong in this world right now. So much pain and heartache. We can’t fix it all, and trying to do so would be a burden too heavy to bear. What we can do is show more kindness, more empathy, more compassion to others. It’s a burden of another kind, but far lighter to carry.

Everywhere we go, there are people hurting. We might not see it, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t there. I get dressed. Put on makeup. Do… well, something with my hair. I smile and laugh. Very often, on the inside, my heart is hammering. My nerves feel pulled taut. My muscles are so tense they ache. My thoughts are bouncing around in my brain, finding things to worry about. Tears sit in the back of my eyes; I blink a lot so they don’t fall.

A while back, I was at an appointment at a doctor’s office, and at the end of the appointment, she sent me to their office lab for bloodwork. The phlebotomist was one I’d had before on several occasions. This particular day, she looked and acted just like herself. There was no blazing, “Inside I’m crushed by the weight of this pain” sign on her forehead. But in the course of her taking my blood, she paused and apologized. “I’m sorry if I don’t seem like myself today. My daughter died two weeks ago, and this is my first day back.” Her daughter was twenty-two. Cystic fibrosis.

We have no idea where people are at in life. Where they’ve been. What struggles they are fighting, even as they go about their daily lives, as they laugh, as they do their best to act just like themselves.

I’ve often heard the phrase, “Hurt people, hurt people.” That’s true. Sometimes people who are in pain lash out because they don’t know what else to do. But there are those who take this notion to an extreme, deliberately causing hurt to others while using their own pain as an excuse.

People go out of their way to be mean. Two of my kids work at a local grocery store. My daughter is a cashier. Daily, people wad up their receipts and throw them back at her. She’s had objects thrown at her face. Last summer, an angry old man spit cherry pits on her. My son is a service clerk. People yell at him constantly. There have been times the pop bottle return machines aren’t working right; customers launch their empty two-liters at his head in their anger. Pay attention in a restaurant sometime: customers shouting at their waitress because their toast isn’t just right; refusing to tip because they didn’t like their meal after all; making nasty comments about their server’s appearance, as if that has anything to do with their dinner. Social media… man. That’s it’s own level of awful. Mean things I’ve witnessed there recently include grown women attacking an indie cover artist online, to the point they demanded she kill herself because she was worthless – and then she attempted to take her own life by overdosing on pills. People attack crowd funding at alarming rates, and they don’t care if you’re raising money for your mother’s funeral or to pay your rent or for a dream trip – the things people say. Wow. Instead of just scrolling past, they have to take their life minutes to spew complete and utter hatred at human beings they don’t even know.

There’s another truth that’s maybe not quite so catchy of a phrase: Hurt people see the hurt in others.

We see it. We recognize it. That slight slump in the shoulders. The sadness in the eyes.

We know. And we have a choice what we do about it.

We can go out of our way to be kind.

Hold that door open. Smile at people. Offer to help without expectation of recompense. Listen. Not half-heartedly. Really listen. Let them talk without interrupting. Even about topics that are difficult to discuss. Make time. Reach out. Be the person you wish you’d had when you were in the crux of your own pain. What did you need the most? Do that for someone else.

It takes so little to ease the suffering of another. Maybe kindness is a burden, but it’s a load light enough carry everywhere. Reaching out to others in love is what we need more of in the world today. It’s what matters most.

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Bits and Whatnots, Everything else

End the Stigma. Or Don’t.

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There are lots of trending hashtags about mental illness lately. #endthestigma. #thisiswhatanxietyfeelslike. #mentalhealthawareness. #mentalhealthmatters.

Talking about mental illness is trendy. Self-care is a hot topic.

People are tweeting about their experiences with mental illness. The medications they’ve taken. The therapies they’ve sought.

We’re told now is the time to be open about our struggles. To reach out for help and support. People are more accepting now than they were in the past. Admitting you have a mental illness isn’t as taboo as it once was.

Except.

Except when you talk about your struggles with mental health openly, and people automatically assume it means you’re violent.

Except when an admission of mental health treatment makes others so uncomfortable they leave the room.

Except when the first thing said about every school shooter is that they were mentally ill. When ten seconds after the news of another shooting breaks, there are claims the shooter was taking SSRIs. Or has taken them in the past.

And someone looks at you and asks, “Isn’t that the medicine you take?”

Except when friends ask if you aren’t afraid of “getting addicted to that medicine.”

Really, Susan, I’m no more afraid of being addicted to  Zoloft than I am of being addicted to my asthma inhaler. If I need it, I need it.

In sum, it’s a new era. People no longer need to be ashamed about struggling with their mental health.

Be proud! (wait no not that proud)

Be open. It’s the only way to start the conversation. Just… you know. Not that open.

It’s kind of hip now to talk about depression. But mostly the depression that hits you after your dog dies and you cry and eat six gallons of ice cream and you feel sad for a while and then you remember all the good times and you get outside and get some sun and then you’re fine.

That’s the comfortable kind of depression people want to hear about.

Nobody wants to hear about lacking the energy to shower. Or get dressed. Or roll out of bed for three days straight. Nobody wants to hear you need a combination of four medications to make your brain work well enough to function at a minimal level. Nobody wants to hear you can’t make basic decisions or remember how to get started washing a stack of dirty dishes.

When I’m open enough with someone to flat out state that my brain went to shit for about six months of the last year, people avert their eyes. Tell me I’m exaggerating and I’m fine. Ask how much longer I’m going to keep taking these medications (probably forever tbh). Can’t I just take a vitamin that would do the same thing? Or talk loudly over me about a completely different topic (all righty then, point taken). Sometimes they get up and walk out of the room.

Last fall, when I abruptly realized I was definitely not okay, I was honest. I told the people around me, “I am not okay. My brain is not okay.”

Mostly the response was, “Of course you’re okay. You’re fine.”

But I wasn’t. I really, really wasn’t.

When I say I’m in therapy and seeing a psychiatrist I feel like I automatically need to follow that statement up with an assurance that I don’t own a gun, actually wouldn’t know how to operate one, am pretty much a pacifist, and feel guilty if I inadvertently step on a worm and hurt it. I am whatever you want to call the opposite of violent. Listen, all I want to do is make sure everyone is warm and safe and has enough Reese’s peanut butter cups to last the weekend.

Mentally ill is not a synonym for evil or violent.

Until we stop using it as such, all the hashtags in the world aren’t going to make mental health an easier topic to discuss.

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Bits and Whatnots, Everything else, Grief

One Step Forward. Three Hundred Sixty Four Steps Back.

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People who know me keep asking if I’m feeling better.

I’m never sure how to answer that question.

What exactly is “better?”

Better from grief? From depression? Anxiety? I don’t know. It’s all tangled up in me and I can’t always pull the different emotions apart.

If the question is, Have you gotten over the deaths of your siblings? Then the answer is no, and I never will, so you might as well stop asking.

If the question is, Are you making any progress at all? Then the answer is, Yeah, I think so.

It feels like I am. In really, really, miniscule ways, I’ve made some progress. For a long time, I felt so raw I could barely stand most of my clothes, so it’s been leggings and soft shirts  most of the winter. But the last few weeks, I’ve been able to wear jeans.

Last Thanksgiving, I hosted the family dinner. My niece brought a turkey. It was too heavy to pull out of the oven, so I transferred much of the juice to a big Mason jar. I set it on the windowsill above the kitchen sink. I’ve been looking at that jar for months, disgusted with myself for not taking care of it, but too exhausted and overwhelmed to deal with it. Two weeks ago, I dumped it out and washed it.

Three weeks ago, as I was walking out the front door to take my boys to school, my youngest son said something funny and I heard myself laughing. Like, really laughing out loud. Hard. And I thought to myself, Oh my God, I’m laughing. How long has it been since I laughed last?

My therapist says she’s proud of me. I wonder how I got to a place in my life where it means so much for a therapist to tell me she’s proud of me for doing simple things like leaving my house or washing the dishes.

I’ve gone to dinner at a couple of smallish restaurants without having an anxiety attack. I told the psychiatrist I’ve been seeing about the anxiety attacks that hit when I’m in crowds and she told me to breathe into a paper sack. So that was just phenomenally unhelpful. Glad I’m getting charged nearly $200 for that bit of advice.

Still can’t watch television or read much. I’ve found a few more musicians I can tolerate the sound of, so my playlist has gotten slightly more diverse, but I still listen to the same songs every day. I have no idea what it is about these artists that makes their music tolerable, but for the moment, I’m just glad I can listen to any music at all.

But it feels like in more ways than I’m moving forward in, I’m stumbling back. Anxiety makes me more awkward than usual, and the usual is pretty damn awkward already. I work in a very small office, usually with three other people that I know pretty well. I have my own desk in a room with two other desks, but there’s usually nobody else there when I’m working. So I walked in last Thursday to find a new person had been hired. She seems entirely pleasant, but I was caught off-guard. I couldn’t think of what to do, anxiety had my brain all jumbled up, and even in the best of times, I’m not huge on hugging, especially with people I don’t know. But the new chick is a hugger, so she jumped up to hug me hello and introduce herself. Entirely inadvertently, I jumped backward and flung my hand out like “stop.” Immediately, I attempted to apologize and shook her hand, babbling incoherently about my own inadequacies and anxieties, and generally making the situation even more awkward. Anxiety ballooned this incident in my mind until it was nearly all I could think about. At the end of my shift, as I was walking out, I thought, I need to make this right so it’s not super awkward next week. So I stopped to shake her hand again as I left, and said the most inane thing I probably could have. “Sorry I’m so awkward, but I’m seeing a psychiatrist about it.”

I’m sure that helped matters. First impressions and all that.

My husband surprised me with a night away at a hotel and planned a night at a casino. He said I seemed overwhelmed and needed a break, which was true. The hotel part was awesome but the casino was crowded and smoky and I had to take frequent breaks from the people. I wrote part of my new book out on my phone while my husband played games, so I didn’t have to interact with anyone. The next day was release day for When Knowing Comes, and as I’d decided to go low-key and stress-free as possible, I’d planned a live video in my FB readers group for the event. We came home twenty minutes before the video was to start. My laptop decided to do updates at the last second, which left me in a panic. The FB app on my phone wouldn’t work for no apparent reason. Finally I grabbed my husband’s phone, downloaded FB, and started my live video twenty minutes late, which left me out of breath, anxious, and shaky.

I find I just really need a lot of preparation before I do anything. Time to work up courage. I hate feeling this way. It isn’t what I’m used to and I get frustrated with myself for not being able to get back to “normal.” Which, okay, with me is still pretty weird but even so. I used to be able to roll with the punches when plans changed. I want that part of me back.

Some days, I am anxious all day for no apparent reason. It feels like that sensation when you tip over the top of a rollercoaster hill, all day. All night. And I can’t link it to anything in particular, so I can’t fix the problem and by the time evening comes, all I can think about is going to bed so I can escape that feeling. Going to bed because you’re tired is a very different thing than going to bed because you can’t stand being awake anymore. Either way, though, I wake up over and over and over. I can’t remember what a solid night of sleep feels like.

But on the upside, I’m having less nightmares about my family and pets dying in front of me. So I’ve got that going for me, which is nice.

I’ve pulled back more on social media. I’ve unfollowed or left all the groups I was in except my own readers group. Weekly, I cull more “friends.” I’ll continue paring down until I get to what I feel is a manageable number. I understand it hurts people’s feelings, but right now all I can do is try to take care of my brain the best I can. My focus has narrowed to my household, my mom, my job, and writing.

And speaking of writing.

I’m writing. A lot. For so many months, I couldn’t write anything, and that was painful for me. Now, I can’t seem to stop. I’m nearly finished writing the third Windy Springs book, and my mind races with ideas for the fourth.

A lot of the time I feel like all I’m doing is treading water. But hey, at least I’m not drowning anymore.

One step forward. Three-hundred-sixty-four steps back.

But still, a step forward is a step forward. And even one step is better than none.

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Bits and Whatnots, Everything else, Writing

The Books that Grew Me

 

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I can’t recall I time I wasn’t a voracious reader. As far back as my memory allows me to go, I had a book (or two) in my hand. And a spare one in the car. And probably another one hidden somewhere for just in case.

I read all the books that were popular in that time frame, of course. Sweet Valley High. R.L. Stine. Babysitter’s Club (always envisioned myself as Claudia). There was an author by the name of Zilpha Keatley Snyder (isn’t that a fantastic name?) whose books I loved. But the ones that caught my attention and held it for years and years were the books by L.M. Montgomery.

I think I started reading the Anne of Green Gables series around sixth or seventh grade. I had a group of girlfriends who read along with me, and we would discuss the stories at length in the school cafeteria. I’ve thought about what it was about these books in particular that captured my adoration so swiftly, and it took me a long while before I came to the conclusion it was Anne herself. Even at a young age, I identified with her inner struggle – she wanted to conform, do what was expected of her, make everyone happy. But she simply couldn’t be anyone other than Anne. She saw the world in a different way than everyone else, and I felt that right through to my marrow, even before I had the ability to articulate it.

My copy of the first book in the series has been read so many times the spine is cracked, the cover gave up the ghost decades ago, and the top corners of all the pages curl in. It’s beautiful. I kept them all – all the Anne books, all the Emily of New Moon books, all the off shoot books – in the hopes that one day my children would fall in love with them the way I did. That didn’t happen, though. Still, I keep them. I like knowing right where they are. Those books were such a huge part of my growing up years. I haven’t read them in probably close to two decades. Maybe longer. Yet I remember sentences from the books.

“Well now,” said Matthew. “Well now.”

“I wouldn’t give a dog I liked to that Blewett woman,” Matthew said.

“People laugh at me because I use big words. But if you have big ideas, you have to use big words to express them, haven’t you?” (oh, how I identified with poor Anne in this regard.)

“The world calls them its singers and poets and artists and storytellers; but they are just people who have never forgotten the way to fairyland.”

“Kindred spirits are not so scarce as I used to think. It’s splendid to find out there are so many of them in the world.”

I’ve never watched the shows that sprung from this series. I couldn’t. In general, I can keep the two mediums separate. And I realize it would be unfair to expect a show to exactly reflect the scenes that I’ve held in my mind all these years like personal little treasures. So I avoided them altogether.

The years I first fell in love with the Anne books were the same years I first started messing around with writing, so the two experiences are forever tangled together in my mind. I had always loved words, but those books showed me how the perfect phrase could conjure a clear picture in the imagination of the reader. How a fictional character could stay with a person for years after they’d read about them. They taught me about the impact words could have on a life. To have known and loved these books so long ago – and still – is a gift. I cannot imagine being a writer now if I had never stumbled on those books back then.

It’s mind blowing to think the words of a woman who died more than thirty years before I was born had such a powerful influence on my life. But isn’t that what good art does? Its reach surpasses things like time. It connects us, generation after generation.

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Bits and Whatnots, Everything else, Grief

Can’t Go Over It. Can’t Go Under It.

 

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It seems simplistic to say that life is often like the children’s song, “Going on a Bear Hunt.” But like many things, I guess, we learned as children, it’s become a solid truth in adulthood.

With life comes much joy. We drink it up. We hold it tight.

With life comes much pain. We want to avoid it. We shrink away from it. We try to numb it in any number of ways. But the reality is, we have to go through it. Even when we know what we have to do, we run from the pain. It doesn’t work, though.

There’s no way over it. There’s no way under it. No way around it. I’ve watched people numb the pain. Avoid dealing with it. What happens is, they get stuck. No matter how you numb yourself, at some point, you’ll start to feel again. Then you have to decide whether you’re going to numb yourself again, or deal with the pain. Those that keep it numb are just spinning their wheels. They never fully go through it, so they can never get to the other side. Years can pass. A lifetime can pass. And still, there they are, trapped in a bubble of agony while the world goes on without them.

It’s scary to face it. I know it is. Standing in the void, peering into a dark, empty place. Unsure if there  might be sun on the other side. Unsure if it’s worth it to try to find out.

The ground is tilted. Your soul is crooked. It seems like pushing through the darkness will be too much. It might be safer to remain in the void, with your crooked soul and tilted earth. You know how to exist there. It might be cold and lonely, but you’ve gotten used to it. Reaching for a light you aren’t sure will be there is a gamble.

What if you get all the way through and find it isn’t there? Then what?

Facing the darkness, facing the pain, will be worth it. It will hurt, and it’s normal to want to run from that. But refusing to deal with it keeps the wound open. It can’t heal until it’s dealt with head on.

You can do this. Brace up. Stare into the inky blackness. Know you are worth finding the sun again.

Can’t go over it. Can’t go under it. Can’t go around it.

Just dive in.

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Bits and Whatnots, Everything else, Grief

The Gift of a Song

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On occasion, I’ve experienced things that defy any simple explanation. I don’t understand how they happened, but I’m positive that they did. Cosmic mysteries, I guess, or whatever you want to call them.

My sister loved the song Wagon Wheel by Darius Rucker. If it came on the radio, she’d immediately start  smiling and singing along. When she was on Hospice, her son would sing it to her often. The night she passed, that same son sang Wagon Wheel as she took her final breaths.

We made a CD to play during the funeral viewings and service. Of course, Wagon Wheel was included.

She’d been gone just a little over four years when we learned my brother had cancer. He asked me to help him take his son on a promised trip to Nashville. Within weeks, we’d thrown a fundraiser, gotten time off work, and packed up our Yukon, Nashville bound. My nephew loves country music, and my brother had promised to take him to see the Grand Ole Opry. It took us two days to drive from Michigan to Nashville. My brother was quite ill at that point, and we had to stop often for him to get a drink or to rest. We had purchased tickets ahead of time for the Opry, for the same night we rolled into town. After dropping off our luggage at the hotel, we headed out. We had a wheelchair we’d intended to bring with us, but we couldn’t fit it in the vehicle, not with five adults and all the suitcases and bags. After literally hours of trying to get the chair into the Yukon, we left without it, as time was unfortunately of the essence. When we arrived at the Opry, we realized we had a problem: the parking lot was enormous and crowded. There was no way my brother could walk that distance, so my husband let the four of us out at the gates, and went to find a parking spot. If you’ve ever been to the Opry, you know how beautiful it is. The giant guitars, the plants and flowers, the lights. It’s utterly enchanting. And there is always country music blaring outside to welcome visitors.

It took quite some time for my husband to make it back up to where we were. Tickets in hand, our group entered the gates.

That’s when I heard it. Darius Rucker singing Wagon Wheel. It started playing just as we walked through. I nudged my sister-in-law. “Do you hear that?” I asked her. “It’s Charlotte’s song.” We all kind of stood still for a second, listening. A weird little shiver went up my spine and my eyes watered. How I’d wished she could have been there with us, and out of nowhere came her favorite song.

Which could always be a coincidence. But it meant something to me. It really struck my heart.

The show was fantastic. It felt good to know we had accomplished the biggest goal for the trip. We’d gotten my brother and nephew to the Opry. Anything over and above that was gravy. We hit a lot of touristy spots while we were in town. The wax museum, where my brother posed with his favorite singer, Reba McIntyre. We bought cowboy boots at a western shop. We laughed a lot. One day we drove right into the heart of the city, intent on taking my nephew to the Country Music Hall of Fame. Here in Michigan, I live in a town so small we don’t even get mailboxes. My brother and his family lived a couple of hours north of us, in another small town. You ever see the Uncle Kracker video for Smile? That was filmed in their town. Suffice to say, downtown Nashville was a bit of a shock to our systems. The noise, the crowds, the hella busy streets. First we had to find a rental place to get a wheelchair, which took time. Then we had to locate a parking lot, which was confusing. And by the time we had the wheelchair and had gotten parked, we weren’t sure which direction we were even walking. We went down one sidewalk, backtracked, tried another one. Finally, my husband told us to stop and he took out his iPhone.

“Siri, I need directions to the Country Music Hall of Fame,” he said, loud and clear.

Instead, his phone pulled up YouTube. And without him touching a button, Darius Rucker’s Wagon Wheel came blaring out of his phone.

That time, I did cry. In fact, my insides shook. The five of us stilled on the sidewalk, stunned. Staring at the phone in my husband’s upturned palm.

When the song ended and we looked up to try to figure out where we were, there it was: the Country Music Hall of Fame. Right across the street.

Another coincidence?

It feels like more than that to me. It feels like it was a gift, just for us. Two weeks later, my brother was gone. But the memory of that moment the five of us – or maybe the six of us – stood together on that sidewalk, listening to Wagon Wheel, has been a balm to my soul ever since.

I will treasure that fraction of time forever. Because I was given a precious gift.

The gift of a song.

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Bits and Whatnots, Everything else, Grief

Life in Color

Sometimes forward steps seem so small. It’s imperative to remember that any step forward is still a step forward. It doesn’t matter if that one tiny step has taken you years to make.

Forward is forward.

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Yesterday, I did something I haven’t done in many years. Longer than that, actually. Something I haven’t done since I was about fifteen or sixteen. And I’m a long way past that now – forty-two.

It seems like a tiny thing. A normal thing. Something I imagine most humans do on a regular basis. Let me back up a minute.

When I was a young teen, my sister went to cosmetology school. I went in often to let her practice on my hair and nails. Eventually, she graduated, and after that, anything that was done to my hair took place either in her kitchen or mine. I haven’t been to a salon since then. Not once. Those times when she was cutting or coloring my hair were catch-up moments for us. What’s been going on, what the kids are up to, who she was dating.

Now, my hair isn’t something I spend a whole of time on. I wash it, blow dry it, and just leave the Medusa curls as they are. It’s thick, heavy, and generally uncooperative, and it just takes too long to do anything else with it. I’m also not good with keeping up on coloring it, so by the time I get around to it, I’ve got a couple inches of roots grown out. By the time my sister started having pain in her shoulder, it had been months since I’d cut or colored it. Then she wasn’t able to move her arm well enough to hold her scissors. And very shortly after that, we knew it was stage 4 cancer.

After she died, the thought of anyone else touching my hair was so repulsive I couldn’t stand it. For a long time, I did nothing with it. By the year after her death, my hair was such a mess, even I couldn’t stand it any more. The ends were dead and splitting inches up from the bottom, and it was making the curls look more like I’d just stuck my car key in a light socket.

I looked up how to cut my hair in layers on YouTube, and found a tutorial for doing it by putting my hair up in a ponytail and cutting. I did it myself in my bathroom, and when my hair hit the floor I cried because she wasn’t the one cutting it. That first time was rough, but once I figured out how to do it, it wasn’t so bad. Two, maybe three times a year, I’d just pull my wet hair up in a ponytail and lop off a couple of inches. It took me four years before I could let anyone else touch my hair, and even then, it was my daughter.

She’s a cosmetology student at the local community college. Last summer, I sat in my kitchen chair and let her even up the mess I’d made of my hair and then color it. It was funny how similar her hands felt to my sister’s. Quick and confident.

About a month ago, I woke up one morning and decided to cut myself bangs. They turned out all right. I just used regular household scissors. But after that, I felt like I needed a big change. I decided to color my hair purple.

So my daughter made me an appointment, and yesterday I drove to her cosmetology school and spent six hours getting the red out of my hair and the purple and brown put in. It was crowded and noisy, and at times, that was difficult for me to handle. Since my brother’s death, I haven’t been out in public much. Crowds trigger my anxiety attacks. But I made myself sit through it. Even though my daughter is the one who did my hair, it seemed so strange to be in a salon. The experience took me right back to when I was fifteen, sitting in a twirly black chair at my sister’s school.

When it was finally all done, I left the school and drove straight to my church. A friend of ours had passed away and I went to his memorial service. After I parked my car, I checked myself in the rearview and realized I had purple dye smeared on my cheek.

I went in anyway.

Funerals have gotten hard for me. I know most people don’t actually like funerals, but for me, having lost so many family members in a short span of time, it’s difficult for me to fight through flashbacks, and sometimes I have trouble catching my breath. This was the second funeral for me this week. The church was crammed full of people, so for the second time yesterday, I had to force myself to handle being in a crowd without having a panic attack. I made it through the entire service but didn’t stay for the dinner because my personal limits had been reached. Sometimes I just have to say no and either people will understand or they won’t. I can’t control their reactions.

It seems like a small thing – going to get my hair done. But for me, it was a huge, huge step forward. Yesterday was the longest consecutive amount of time I think I’ve spent in a crowd since my brain went to shit about six months ago.

That tells me two things:

  1. This combination of medication is working for me.
  2. Hope is out there. Somewhere.

Grief and its aftermath are such hard things to live through. But I’m doing it.

I’ve said before that intense grief is like suddenly having an enormous hole in your leg. At first, it seems like your life is over – how can you function with a gaping hole in your leg? You can’t walk. You can’t do anything. It’s awful. You need help with everything and it’s unimaginable that you will ever have any semblance of a normal life again.  At some point, though, you realize you can do some of the things you used to do, you just need to do them in a different way. And later, you don’t need as much help. You can go on with your life, though you might need a cane and you’ll always have a limp.

My purple hair is me walking with a limp.

But at least I’m walking.

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Bits and Whatnots, Grief

A Different Sort of Love

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Tomorrow is Valentine’s day, and in the spirit of celebration, I’m going to share a love story with you.

Not that kind of love story.

This one is about the love of a community.

My brother’s wishes were to be cremated. As a family, we decided to use some of his ashes to have jewelry made for each of us as a keepsake. Most of them came in back before Christmas, but my two daughters had ordered blown glass pendants, which took longer to create. They were ordered in early November, and just came in February 3rd. I drove out to the funeral home in our old hometown to pick them up. It was a Friday, and my daughters were ecstatic that they had finally come in.

Last Tuesday, February 6th, I was at work when my cell phone rang. It was my youngest daughter’s number. When I answered the phone, she was wailing, a terrible, strangled cry that broke my heart.

She had lost her necklace. She had come home from school, changed, picked up her pendant – which was still in the box it came in from Crescent Memorial – put it in her pocket and stopped at a local store on her way to her boyfriend’s house to show it off. During the drive, she realized the box was no longer in her pocket, and immediately retraced her steps. She searched the store and the lot, to no avail.

The beautiful blown glass pendant – ordered in blue and green, because my brother loved nature – the last link she had to her beloved uncle, was gone. Her heart was shattered.

I made a public post on my Facebook page with a picture of the pendant and a plea to help us find it. We live in a very small town, and I hoped local friends might have spotted it. My husband went to the store and looked again, and the employees felt so bad for my daughter, they got out dust mops and checked under all the shelving units, just in case it had somehow fallen beneath them.

By the time I came home from work that night, my post had been shared over 500 times. Considering I only have about 370 Facebook friends, that was pretty good. The next morning, it had been shared over 1,000 times, and I had glass blowers messaging me with offers to make my daughter a new pendant, free of charge, if we had more ashes. Around ten a.m., a local news station saw the story and asked to interview us. Neither of us were excited to do that, but we hoped it might get the attention of more locals. After all, the pendant had to be somewhere, right? Someone had to have seen it. So we went and we did it. The story aired on the 6 o’clock news, and my Facebook post continued to be shared, with comments by complete strangers who said they were looking, or were sharing in local buy/sell groups. I received notifications from people who had shared in Kentucky. Oregon. Florida. Literally across the United States. And it hadn’t even been 24 hours since the necklace had been lost.

Thursday, a local radio station reached out to my daughter for permission to share the story on their Facebook page. She agreed, and soon that story was being shared as well. So many people left kind comments, stating they were praying for us, that they understood our grief and what this necklace represented to my daughter. A glass blower in Oregon messaged me and offered to make my daughter a new bead, if we sent some ashes to her. She said she’d do it even if we found the necklace. This sort of generous spirit amazed us. So many strangers reaching out with love, with hope. It made a difference.

In the beginning, we offered a $50 reward for the safe return of the necklace, no questions asked. On Friday, I edited my post to raise the reward to $100. Later that day, my daughter received a call from a number she didn’t recognize.

“Are you Savannah, the one who lost the necklace?”

She barely dared to hope. “Yes, I am.”

“I saw the story on the radio station page and on the news and recognized it. I can bring it to you right now.”

They met in a grocery store parking lot. My daughter offered her the reward money, and the woman refused. She wished to remain anonymous.

We have this cherished necklace back, and there are hardly words to describe what that means to us.

The news  station ran a follow up story about it, and the comments from people who said they had been praying for us all week, that we had been on their minds, were simply amazing. I updated my Facebook post to thank everyone and let them know the necklace had come home, and total strangers contacted us to share their joy that we had it back.

That is love in action. That is community. That is family.

It’s a different sort of love story, but no less important.

 

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Bits and Whatnots, Writing

A Daring, Hopeful Diagnosis

 

typewriterI’ve always thought everyone else was simply better at being a person than I was.
In every aspect of my life, including writing, I have struggled to maintain my focus. Not in the way most people do – where they get distracted by a noise or a conversation for a second and then bounce back to what they were doing. I zone out, come back, and realize I’ve been signed up for a committee I didn’t want to be on or some other unwanted responsibility. I can’t remember most things I need to do through the day if I don’t write them down and pin them someplace where I know I’ll see them – so my house and desk at work are full of post it notes and scraps of paper with notes to myself scribbled on them.
I want to remember. I just can’t.
I get very frustrated with myself when I can’t make myself remember, or when I can’t sit still and feel actual pain if I don’t move some part of my body. I feel frustrated when I’m in public and snapping my fingers or tapping my fingers together or bouncing my knees to the point I annoy the people around me. I try to stop. But then it feels like bees are swarming around inside me instead and I’m going to lose my mind if I don’t start moving again. I wonder how other people manage to control that feeling. I marvel at writers who consistently sit and write for hours every day.
Most of my dedicated writing or creativity time looks like this: write for five minutes, get up, walk around, read a paragraph of a book, crochet for five minutes, walk around, remind myself to write, try to relax so I can, start bouncing my knees because I need to move, remember I was supposed to call someone today, try to find the piece of paper I wrote the number on, chastise myself for not washing the dishes, start clean water to do it, sit back down to write, forget I turned the water on, remember ten minutes later when the sink is overflowing, clean that up, berate myself for being stupid, sit back down to write, remember I still had to call someone, try to find the paper I wrote the number on again…
My brain has always been this way. I’ve put it down to being an extremely creative person. High school was a struggle. College was a struggle. Anything that has more than three lines of instructions on it is a struggle for me. I didn’t know everyone’s brain doesn’t work like this.
I’ve only ever had the one brain, so I couldn’t compare.
Turns out, not everyone thinks this way. They aren’t just better at controlling it than I am. They aren’t just better people. They aren’t just smarter than I am.
I’m not lazy or stupid or less of a person.
I just have ADHD.
I’m 42, and when I was in school, ADHD was just getting to be more widely known. At that time, it seemed to mostly be a label stuck to little boys who couldn’t hold still or listen to directions in school. I was well-behaved and did my work and sat still – with great effort.
But as I’ve gotten older, it seems to be getting worse. And since my brother’s death, it has worsened exponentially. I’m used to being scatterbrained, but this is a whole new level. It feels like I’m trying to think with a brain made of Swiss cheese. I know grief can do a number on our brains, but I was beginning to feel like I couldn’t trust myself to function on a daily basis. The anxiety is worse, as well, and I’m in treatment and trying to learn ways to cope with that. It’s hard.
Now that I know what the problem is, I can get help for it. I’m thankful for science and medication, and having a prescription to try and coping mechanisms to learn makes me feel like there might be a light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. I know there are other writers and creatives who have ADHD and have managed to produce beautiful art. It gives me hope.
I’ve finished When Knowing Comes and it has gone out to the editor. I’ll soon have a pretty website (courtesy of my talented and intelligent daughter) with a newsletter – something I’ve tried and failed to do multiple times in the last few years. I have an assistant now who is helping me streamline and keep up with the social media end of writing. I feel much less overwhelmed. And I’ve been on medication for just over a week. I can actually feel my brain becoming less scrambled. It’s weird.
I will likely always be scattered and impulsive and struggle with focus to some extent. But for the first time in a long, long while, I’m excited to see what the future holds.

I’ve got a long ways to go, but I’m confident I’m going to get there.

 

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Bits and Whatnots, Everything else, Grief

Keep Yourself Busy & Other Secrets about Grief

grief blog pic

Grieving makes others uncomfortable.
That’s the truth of it. That’s why we hide it, we crack jokes, we eat extra mashed potatoes instead of sharing our pain with others. The constant refrain from those who mean to help is always, “keep yourself busy.”
I’ve been keeping myself busy. The first month after my brother’s death, I found tasks to occupy myself for five minutes. Then another five minutes. I never let my mind rest. When I started to think of my grief, I started another project. I put together a short story collection and published it. I crocheted gigantic shawls to give away (seven of them, I think). I tried to finish my current manuscript. I read book after book. Anything to keep my heart and mind too busy to think about this catastrophic loss.
I made myself smile for others. I heard myself cracking jokes and getting others to laugh.
I struggled to stand beneath the crushing weight of the things I couldn’t say. The things I couldn’t let myself think or feel.
I hoped if I kept pushing myself, I would get back to “normal” faster. I berated myself for bad days, for being slow, for hurting, for not being able to keep up with everything I needed and wanted to do.
While I’ve never been the type of person to care overmuch what people think of me, for some reason I worry they will think I’m not getting over grief fast enough. As if it’s some kind of marathon and I’m the one two miles behind everyone else, sweating and gasping for air. But don’t bring me my inhaler guys, I’m fine, I can do it, don’t worry about me. It’s just a little asthma.
Just a little death.
Just a little grief.
I don’t want to burden anyone else. I don’t want them to have to feel this constant heaviness, the lethargy, the foggy mind. So I try to keep up the appearance of healing while inside my soul feels like it’s been scraped raw and God is dumping salt on me.
It’s like covering a half-baked cake with frosting and sprinkles.
Speaking of sprinkles. Here’s a story.
My therapist had me make a sand art mandala in memory of my brother. I made a big, colorful flower. At the end of my session, we dumped the sand into a clear plastic dish. She told me to hold on to it until the spring, then let the sand go in a nearby body of water. I brought it home, set it on the table in the kitchen, halfway forgot about it. Until my 15-year-old son mentioned he had gotten up in the middle of the night to fix himself a snack and by the way, Mom, those sprinkles you left in the dish on the table tasted terrible.
People ask me how I’m doing. I say I’m fine.
After all, it’s been over two months since he died. Two years since my mother-in-law died. Four and a half years since I lost my sister. Nearly nine years since I lost my dad.
Of course I’m fine.
I’ve pulled myself up by my bootstraps, like we are supposed to do. I carry on. I keep myself busy.
I don’t cry in front of others. My burden isn’t theirs to bear. They’ve got their own.
I’m not certain what they are, because they’re keeping frosting and sprinkles all over their own half-baked cakes, too.
We don’t discuss grief because people get uncomfortable. To examine grief out loud is to accept a loved one is actually gone. It means we accept others we love will one day leave us.
It means one day we will leave those we love.
Instead, we talk about anything else. The weather, the roads, the holidays, the kids, what we’re putting in our Insta Pots tonight.
I’ll tell you about my dog’s recent surgery and her recovery in minute detail. (cruciate repair, she’s doing great) I’ll tell you about the puppy we got our daughter for Christmas. (a Jack Russell and Havanese mix, he’s ridiculously cute, he apparently has a bra fetish, he’s white with one brown ear). I’ll tell you about the next book I’ve got coming out, what I’ve recently read, what my personality type is according to the test I took (INFP, which totally makes sense).
What I won’t say is that every day my body hurts as if I have the flu. I can’t concentrate on anything. I am unable to follow the plot of anything on television. Nor can I follow a book plot – I’ve been reading mostly non-fiction books about dogs lately. I won’t say that my sleep patterns are so jacked up that I fall asleep, wake up at two in the morning, my mind races until five, I fall back asleep just before the alarm goes off. I push myself through the day by promising myself I can take a nap later. I think about sleep constantly. I won’t say anything about the nightmares I have, that I dream of finding dead bodies in my closet, or piled on my basement floor, or in the backseat of my car. I dream about my family members dying, one by one. Or that my dogs are all diagnosed with a terminal disease. I won’t say I eat ice cream to stop myself from thinking about being sad, or that I’ve gained ten pounds this month, or that my attention span is so short, I type for five minutes, crochet five minutes, pick up a book for three minutes, then rotate them all again. I won’t say how many days it’s been since I washed my hair, or that when I do wash it, I often forget to rinse the conditioner out before I turn the water off. I won’t say how many days the shirt I’m wearing has been laying on the bedroom floor. I won’t say how often I have anxiety attacks when I’m around people – but I haven’t gone to my writer’s group in months. I dread the thought of picking up milk at the grocery store. And I would do nearly anything else in life if I never had to enter a Walmart store again.
I won’t say how long it’s been since I’ve been able to write anything of substance. I’m 5k from finishing my next book, and am afraid I never will.
I won’t say how hard it is to fathom life without so many of my family members around.
But that’s okay.
I won’t tell you I’m grieving. You won’t tell me you’re grieving.
Grief makes people uncomfortable, and we wouldn’t want to do that.
How’s the weather over there, anyway? Read any good books lately? Many potholes in your neck of the woods this winter? And hey, what flavor of sprinkles did you put on this cake?

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