Gathering the Pieces

Wow…2018!  I’m so happy to be here!  There are times I thought I may not, but this isn’t what I want to write and get out of my head.

For many, many years I have lived by the personal motto, “Rise and Shine”.  No mystery here considering this is the name of this blog.  I still live with this motto.  How could I not when it is tattooed on my wrist?  This will always be a part of my fabric. These three words have been my life preserver!

2017 had almost one hundred percent “ups” in my mental health.  I have gone the longest period of time without a major depression episode. This battle began seven years ago, well the bouts did, but my work and effort to limit the bouts only began in August 2016.  The first four months are nothing I would wish on my worst enemy.  At the same time I don’t know if I have ever, ever worked so hard at something in my life. This counterbalances all the strife I’ve had as I have learned just how resilient I am. My kids witnessed this as well.  The work didn’t stop after I climbed out of the valley.  It’s everyday work and attention I must give to my mental health. As a result I have gained some awesome people in my life while at the same time I’ve seen the true colors of others, who are no longer on my life train.  This is a gift as I despise the fake and the freeloaders.  With that said it doesn’t mean I’m not sad about these losses.

I do feel, and I hate to use this metaphor, like the Phoenix who rose from the ashes.  Let’s see, I’ll make up my own…how about the beautiful piece of greenery that pushes through the crack in a concrete wall or sidewalk?

I’ve learned to accept a new diagnosis. Out with the old, major clinical depression, and in with the new, Bipolar II.  What is Bipolar II? To quickly break it down in terms of my experience; I have a greater risk of depressive episodes and if I have a run in with hypomania I feel like Wonder Woman. I have a sense I can do it all along with an increased level of creative juices.  I don’t go off and spend all my money, take exotic trips or go on a sexcapde (this would be an example of Bipolar I behaviors).  I’m tethered to the ground. I simply have energy that carries me a long way compared to when I live along my baseline. As a result I’ve made changes in my daily living. I also know who I am more fully. I’m almost crystal clear on what needs to be part of each day I’m living.

  1. Sleep…I need a consistent sleep schedule. I’m a super early riser making me no longer the girl shutting down the dance floor. But…not to say I don’t make exceptions from time to time.  A girl’s gotta get her groove on and cut a rug.  This is good for the soul!
  2. Exercise…needs to be part of my routine regardless of how I may be needed by someone or something.  Vacations can no longer be a vacation from sweating!
  3. Eating…I try my best to eat healthy, but still drink too much coffee and battle with the sugar monster.  I’ve never been a big alcohol drinker. I only have a drink when I want one, not when I’m with others and feel like I should join in to make them or myself feel more comfortable.
  4. I take my medicine!  Big one as I’ve never been good at taking any pills on a consistent basis.
  5. I limit my social time.  I have learned I’m an introvert.  I love people!  I especially love meeting new people, but I now realize it zaps a lot of my energy.  I can no longer say yes to every social gathering or fundraiser. In fact, I can no longer tolerate the small talk at big events. I’d rather be home as a nerd reading in my Archie Bunker Chair.
  6. I can’t take on other’s issues. I can’t be there for everyone.  I need to prioritize and delegate.
  7. I need to limit the number of times I drop everything when my kids “need me”.  They don’t need me every single moment something goes wrong.  After all I want them to learn to problem solve and become more resilient. After all this supports a greater sense of self esteem.
  8. I’m not Johnny-on-the-Spot in returning phone calls or texts. I need to prioritize based on time sensitive issues and content.  If I do too much I get drained.
  9. MUSIC…is one of my saviors.  Oh as well as yoga and meditation.
  10. GUILT needs to move on.  I can still feel it when it presents itself, but then I need to go tell it to take a hike!
  11. I’m a creative. I don’t fit in a box…I never have.  Whether it’s the various friendships I have in my life, music, books and art selections, interests, and career choices.  I need to be fluid.
  12. When I wake in the morning I now have a list of questions I ask myself to gauge where I am on the spectrum of my mental health.
  13. I need time alone..more than I would have ever thought or believed to feel comfortable with.
  14. I have been touched by so many people in discussions of their place in life..their battles.  People who I don’t know who have reached out as a result of my writing. People from my past who I haven’t seen in twenty years and may not have known well. Community members or local friends who have shared with me their struggles.The beauty of it…I see REAL and AUTHENTIC people more and more. This is the biggest BLESSING! This is healthy for me!  This allows the stigma to dissolve each time I share and show I can live a life full of successes.

I’m sure other things will come to mind that can be placed on the list above. But for now,  I gather the pieces, the bits and use them to keep me grounded.  Not only in my health and thinking, but grounded to being here…here at this moment!

 

Rise & Shine

The Heart

 

fullsizeoutput_cb5My heart has been chipping, cracking, and breaking at speeds I have never experienced.  I have cracks which have been spackled over.  It may be time for the curator of my heart to call in a handy-woman to trowel, sand, and paint. The parts which have broken off are gone and traveled with whom or what they are attached to.  The chips gather in my body and will make an appearance at a later time.  Does this scare me?  Fill me with sadness? Make me want to run, run faraway?  It does not.

My heart for so many years, more than I’d like to admit, had been locked away. Fingerprints were allowed to hover above it, but nothing more.

I thought I was keeping it safe, protecting it, saving it for when I knew it would be cared for as it should.  Fear had roosted in my body from such a young age.  It was never a visitor it was a permanent intruder with a loud voice.  Fear took the wheel without me knowing it.  When it rained, fear refused to turn on the windshield wipers. With fear being the determined driver it became a protector.  A protector of my heart.  Fear meant well, but it did not serve well.

My heart smells fear as it ripples across water, as it drifts across the sky, when it rolls in during times of darkness.

My eyes see fear when it radiates from another beating, suffocating heart.

My ears hear it in words put out for those to hear.  In steadfast words chiseled in stone as if they will protect the heart.

My embrace senses it, wants to squash it, tell it to leave so the heart can be felt.

My tongue tastes it as words leave my mouth.  When the air is saturated with fear I can taste it as I breathe in.

When I look out into the world I see what fear serves.  I know how it served me for so many, many years.  I want to advocate, educate, alleviate, dissipate, evaporate fear away. It authentically serves in very few situations.

With fear pushed out and told to vacate the heart beats stronger, truer, clearer and yes the heart will get chipped, it will crack, and can break.  But, we are human and the heart is to feel, open, extend, share, radiate, motivate and be vulnerable.

Rise & Shine

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Today, I Feel Like I Lost Someone I Know

***Warning…raw thoughts, no proofreading, subject of suicide, I probably hit post too soon.

Did I lose a person I know?  A 16 year old died of suicide who I don’t personally know, but I feel like I do as I know so many teenagers who sound similar to Alex, Alex who is no longer here.  This 16 year old in a sense lives a hop, skip, and a jump from me. It hurts even more at this time as it is National Suicide Prevention Month and this is the main week of education. Alex died of suicide two days ago, September 13th.  I say “died of” compared to “committed” as suicide is no longer viewed to be a crime as is was many years ago.  When a person dies of suicide their mind, their brain, isn’t functioning properly.  I can say this.  I can say this because I know.

It is no mystery to those who know me, have read this blog or to my kiddos who some day will read this, I battle with depression. I have also had a couple times suicidal thoughts have taken a room in my brain during the deep in the valley times and I didn’t even advertise I had space as an AirBnB!.  When I felt I wanted to not be here any longer it wasn’t because I wanted to die.  It was because I wanted my present moments and previous ones that were so wretched to end.  There are several things that have prevented me from stepping over the line.  The greatest one of all is my family, my children.  During my last bought I was tired, yes tired as I usually am in those times, but tired of being here or I should say there as now I’m in a very healthy space.  I couldn’t function well, communicate, eat, feel joy nor even cry.  I could look down at my legs and they were almost the size of my arms…skin and bones, the muscles eaten away by this horrible disease that likes to roost in my head.  Here is what saved me and will continue to do so.

If I left, if I died, if depression won what would that have looked like?  There are many pictures to envision, but this is what played through in my head. First off I must say I’m not a religious person.  Despite this I questioned “What if there is a heaven and those who commit (I say commit as it’s viewed as a sin in this hypothetical situation) suicide don’t make it in?  What if they float in purgatory or some other scary place? So for me, what if I were to be “floating” somewhere beyond this Earth and all I did was watch my kiddos,  see their reaction when they heard I was gone, that I took my life?  What if I continued to watch them for eternity?  See their pain.  Feel their pain.  These thoughts and questions are what keep me on the living side. I would much rather endure the pain and suffering in my brain then to witness their pain and suffering as well as them feeling the pain.  *I need to add a note here. If you’re reading this and believe I need to be “saved” I appreciate your concern.  I respect your thoughts and religion, so I ask you to respect mine. I live my life to the best that I can and this is what matters to me.  If this is enough when my time comes, great!  If it isn’t, then I’m not so sure I would want to walk through “those gates”.

Now back to Alex.  Sixteen years of age! She, all teenagers, live in the now. Heck even as adults we live in the now, but we do have life experience to help us move along. But with teenagers, this very moment can feel like the end all be all.  Their sixteen year old minds don’t have the perspective to look beyond the current moments especially in the dark and dreary moments.  I know so many, so many kids who are battling with anxiety or depression or low self-esteem or too many daily pressures or loneliness or all of the above and more.  For me, at 44, I have worked my butt off trying to get better or I should say be better at managing my disease. But for teens, how do they know what to do to manage their emotions, fears, pressures, sense of disconnection?  I don’t remember taking a class on this nor have I seen one when my kiddos registered for school.  This…this needs to HAPPEN!  

See I recognize if I say “yes” to killing myself I say “no” to: my kiddos hugging me, my dog following me around the house, sitting on the sidelines watching my kids’ sports, being available for those who need me, breathing in air when it is the change of season, catching a butterfly in my sight as it flitters by, stopping a conversation because I point out a cool cloud, etc.  These type of thoughts don’t even get into what my kids would be missing if I said “yes”…I can’t go there in my mind. When we choose to go one way we then give up all the other ways.  For teenagers do they have the ability to recognize that this too shall pass?  Do they understand nothing is permanent, life is in constant flux?  Do they stop to think all that they are giving up when they make that move to take their last breath?  My answer is no.  When they are so down in the muck of the moments, don’t have extensive time under their belts to give perspective, haven’t been given mental health tools and resources early in childhood (I mean seriously, we are all given dental health tools when we are young), and don’t have examples of all shapes and sizes of people walking around with similar battles, then how in these desperate times can they hold on to whatever hope they may have?  How can they know hope exists?

It is way past time to end the stigma, de-clothe the body from shame and for us adults to lean into this arena and say ENOUGH!  We need to dedicate resources to build our kids up early on, teach them positive mental health skills, give examples of adults walking around who manage their personal mental health disease(s).  We need to be willing to dedicate resources to this.  If you build strong and resilient kiddos, you then have less kiddos turning to drugs and alcohol as a form of coping.  Yesterday I went to the pet store to get food for my dogs.  A store that is almost the size of a grocery store.  In 2016 we, Americans, spent 66.75 billion dollars on our pets!  Yes I meant to type a “b”.  I find it easier to raise funds for cute looking puppies then funds towards mental health and prevention services for youth.  Why is this?  Before I get called out…I do love my dogs, but if I had to make a choice between my children and dogs, the kiddos would win.  The children and children of the future have to be made a priority in giving them the resources and tools they need.

I’m tired of hearing about kids like Alex.  Kids who have so much going for them, but are stuck at looking just at the tip of their nose and not beyond.  To be continued…my kiddos call!

Rise & Shine

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Rise and Shine from Solid Ground

IMG_3514I need to get back to my time spent at Wesley Woods as in many ways it was very comical, but  sometimes things come to mind I may forget and they take over.

Rise & Shine has had several manifestations over the years, but it had a a life changing one a few weeks back.  First off I’m amazed by the various Rise & Shine gifts I have received over the years.  Mugs, a pillow cover, a plate, pictures, a ring, bracelets, clay art, cards and a multitude of pictures on FaceBook.  Back in Texas I was a ten year volunteer with my local children’s advocacy center.  Towards the end of my time there I sometimes felt I was tattooed with the words “child sexual abuse”.  If something regarding abuse was occurring within my circle of friends or community members I typically received a call asking questions, expressing concerns and oftentimes venting about something happening in the community.  There were times it was draining, times where I harbored frustration as I felt limited as to what I could do.  After many years this took a toll on me.  I know people who have worked in the field for years and years.  People who wake up in the morning knowing the day ahead hosts numerous interviews of children who have been abused to then be followed by writing reports. I wouldn’t be able to do this day in and day out.

I have found something I can wake up to and feel motivated without being drained, and with minimal feelings of being overwhelmed.  My new tattoo I have been branded with is “mental health”.  Not only is this personal, something I have to manage daily, but it now falls into my professional bucket.  My focus in the last couple of years has been towards the youth, as in the past, but with a focus on mental health.  Mental health from a prevention standpoint as well as mental health disease when it has taken hold. 

When I draw a circle and write mental health in the middle I see offshoots going to addiction, suicide, bullying, physical/sexual abuse, educational issues, eating disorders, etc.  If we can begin to tackle mental health issues from a proactive standpoint we may be able to affect the various offshoots.  I say “can” as we need dedicated resources specifically directed towards mental health resources, quality resources. We need to do away with the stigma.  We need to talk and share our experiences. The youth of today need to know there are adults walking around with diagnoses, who take medicine, who alter their lives, who seek therapy, who monitor themselves and their thinking, and have no issue raising their hand to ask for help.

When I see someone with cancer living their life and thriving I say so could I.  When I see someone missing a limb and competing in sports I say so could I. When I see someone confined to a wheelchair I say so could I. When I see someone going through physical therapy I say so could I.  Do I see someone walking with mental illness?  I don’t unless they take the time to tell me.  So how will our youth be able to say “so could I”?

I had a revelation as mentioned above.  While sitting in class for my yoga certification discussing being grounded it hit me.  We can’t Rise & Shine if we aren’t grounded or rooted.  In order to rise we need to start from somewhere. We need to have a sense of foundation and solid ground.  We do this by taking care of our mental health.  We do this by advocating and backing mental health services.  We do this by saying screw the stigma and shame, we shed these.  We do this by talking and sharing when appropriate.  We do this by asking for help.  We do this by not feeling guilty for self-care.  We do this by valuing the brain just as we do other organs in our body.

It took me years to get to this point.  To know the potion I need to keep myself healthy and limit the impact to myself as well as others. I Rise & Shine taller and brighter and work my a$$ off to go further!  I do this for myself, my kids, my family, my friends, my community and the youth of today.  I can be a role model and so can you!

Rise & Shine

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Ten Months and April is Coming!

Sitting there counting it out on my hands I looked up at her and said, “ten months”. Then counting out ten months from the beginning of the last time, I landed on April. APRIL and there it was the beginning of March!  Why was I counting?  From the beginning of a depressive episode until the beginning of another is usually a ten month period.

My body then became a bit warm, a pit developed in my stomach and I wanted to scream, “No! This is the worst timing!”  Seriously though, has there ever been good timing?  I think not.

I started to focus on my breathing as I have learned over the many, many years of this that my breath will calm me down and assist me to focus, rather than going down that nasty and twisted anxious road.  My self-talk then entered the arena. “You have more tools in your toolbox this time.  Look at all you have learned since then.  What if…what if nothing happens in April?  You have your Friday peeps to help you.  Can the kids handle another round of this?  Crap, it is lacrosse season! I need to prepare!  I need to get all the tax crap to the accountant. If this lasts its usual length I will be in the hole for the entire house’s birthdays. Cole will be 16!  One day..One moment at a time. In a way you have been waiting for this moment to test out this med and know if it is working.  Um, hello, you should have known this would be coming again.  Well, if it comes again maybe it won’t be so bad.  My jeans have been a bit tight…well on the bright side they will become loose again.  What if…what if it is too much this time?”

I walked out of her office, my therapist’s office, in a daze wishing she hadn’t asked me, “So do you know the length of time from the beginning of one episode until the beginning of another?”

Within ten minutes I was in the car driving, listening to music, as listening to my usual news outlets only provided more doom and gloom. Then on to my next event of the day I went.  As the days continued on I tried my best to not focus on this particular therapy session.  I did my best to stay present and truly take it moment by moment.  During this time I became officially employed which I was grateful for, but also fearful.  What if I wasn’t capable in the coming weeks?  Back to the breathing I went.

Consistently when an opportunity arises I ask my self, “What if I say yes? What if it is too much and I need to pull back, step down…quit?”.  I hate this!  I just hate having to think this!  So, the way I combat it is to be fully transparent of the potential downfall that could happen.  I share my battle, not in full detail, but share that a period could occur where I may not be capable of the full follow through I typically give and there may be a time that the follow through just doesn’t exist.  The later statement is the most difficult thing to leave me lips.  Way more than sharing my story of depression.

So April begins.  Again, I’m focusing on my breath, meditation, reading books, watching Shameless on Netflix, yoga and most importantly focusing on every word that leaves my family’s lips as I know there could be a point soon where I may be checked out. I did my best not to have a “self-fulfilling prophecy” occur.  Then one day I noticed my thinking become a bit negative, my energy a bit lower, thoughts of looking forward to sleeping.  A bit of fear set in as I thought,”Your ten months are up!”

Over the next few weeks I had mornings struggling to get out of bed.  There were a few days once the house was quiet, after the morning rush, I laid on the sofa. I set my alarm to go off in an hour with plans to get up and be productive.  When the alarm sounded I turned it off and repeated the process every hour until the house became full with moving bodies again.  Then suddenly, relatively speaking, this all subsided.  I say relatively as in previous episodes the process lasted for a several months.  I questioned if this was “my episode” squashed by all the tools I had recently acquired including a new medication.  In a twisted sense I was waiting for my next episode as I wanted to see if the medicine would work.  The new medicine was given to me as the helping professionals in my life where questioning if I had been misdiagnosed.  Yes, that’s right, I may not have clinical depression after all!  Once the several weeks passed I knew “they” were correct and I knew I had been prescribed the right medicine.  It was during those moments I needed to start changing my thinking as to what the battle was I would face and continue to face for the days I am here.  As I type this I can see how I may come across as melodramatic.  But for me, it was dramatic, my thoughts and reality of my past were reviewed and scrutinized in my head.  Taking on a new diagnosis, perspective and planning strategies to help me manage became my next task as April rolled along.

But for this all to make sense I need to go back to my days at Wesley Woods.  Yes, where was I?  Oh, in that drab room with the forest wallpaper scene on the wall…

Rise & Shine

On Stand By

fullsizeoutput_66My next post was planned to be a continuation of the previous (my adventures in Wesley Woods).  I feel pressed to write instead about something else, but plan to get back to my story.

For the last week or so I have been watching a dear friend slide into the depths of depression.  I’m tasting what it’s like to be on the other side.  From the outside I see what a great path he has been on: creating and starting a new career, resolving a relationship, connecting with his kiddos in better ways,  taking care of his health, etc.  But as I know none of this matters when the brain chemistry changes and takes over.  So what do I do?

I know from my own experiences what has been helpful and how I handle the challenges of the funk, but I can’t assume it’s the same for him as each of us who faces this battle has our unique manifestation and ways of coping.  So rather than assume and come from my perspective and experiences I flip it back to him.  My new daily question via text is “What would be helpful for you today?”

Some days I don’t receive a response and others I might read, “Thanks for checking in.  I’m just really tired and need to be by myself.”  Other days it may be “I could use some company to help get me out of my mind.” 

To sit next to someone you know and see their personality completely transform is such a heartbreaking and odd thing to witness. His face is starting to dramatically look different to me.  I have witnessed this when I have looked in the mirror in the throes of it, but to look at someone else is something difficult to put into words.

As I type this I have even more compassion for the ones who witness those they love sink and live in the hole.  I now see how difficult it is. My stomach bubbles with worry, my eyes get wet with tears, and my mind has a myriad of thoughts and emotions.

To you, those who stand beside mental illness, I would give each of you a hug as I know you need it.  I would say, “You are appreciated even if the words don’t come across to you.”  Like many things in life this isn’t a sprint it is a marathon.  And, TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF!  Don’t give up the things that are helpful to you.  Take deep breaths, go out in nature, listen to music, talk to a compassionate person, remember the saying, “This to shall pass.”  There is no specific plan for the “caretakers”.  One must do what works for them.

A squeeze, a hug and kiss on the cheek to those who are the witnesses.

May we all Rise & Shine!

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Into the Woods…This Ain’t No Musical

He sat across from me and said, ”I’m not sure.  I’m on the fence.  Let me ask you a question.  Do you ever feel like you’re on top of the world?”

Taking a brief moment to respond. “No.”  About a minute later, “There are times I feel like I can take it all on.  Like I’m Wonder Woman and can solve any problem that comes my way.  At those times anything is possible and surmountable.”

Looking at me while raising an eyebrow, “Would you be open to adding an additional medication?”

Thought in my mind, “Oh so you are offering me a new cocktail.”

Screech…Rewind….Back in Time…Four Months Earlier…

I’m not sure how I mustered the strength to get in the car, put my foot to the pedal and grasp the steering wheel, but I did.  It must have been due to the small amount of hope left in me and the thought of my family.  I was either going to sit and watch the world go by or attempt to join the living by entering the door of “The Woods”.

Those who know me well may have heard something to this effect on numerous occasions, “Wow, look at that tree!” or “Yeah, that’s the corner with the big Water Oak.” or  “I would love to go live up in that Magnolia.”  I’m one of the biggest tree lovers you can find and I can admit a bit obsessive.  But these trees, this patch of woods surrounding where I would be spending three days a week for 3 months were trees that felt like big monsters waiting to gulp me up!

I entered the building and reported in to my family I had made it to my destination.  As usual I was met with drab, blah painted walls.  I’ve been told oftentimes mental health facilities are designed to be vanilla in order to not irritate or set one off with too much stimuli.  Well, what about us depressed in the funk people trying to climb out of the hole!?!?

I took the elevator down to my destination and was given a name tag before meeting with an intake worker.  I have no idea what he told me, but it is safe to assume he gave me more details regarding the program than I had known before walking through the doors.  Next stop, I entered another set of doors which was now my home away from home on a M,W,F schedule.  I took a seat and the counselor welcomed me and asked the group members to introduce themselves. There were about eight other people, more women than men and let’s just say most of them had way more grey hair than me.

The counselor announced we would be watching the documentary, “Happy” from filmmaker Roko Belic.  Now, in full disclosure I had watched this at some point when I was in a good mental health state and probably enjoyed it with the exception of the given title, “Happy”.  Happy is a word that is a bit empty and artificial to me. I believe we are put here not to be happy, but to thrive.  Thrive implies action whereas happy implies a state of being.  This is my opinion, not Webster’s stated meaning.

In my head, “You have got to be fucking kidding me.  I have to sit here and hear about happiness when it is something that has been so foreign as of late.  A slap in the face reminder of how broken my brain is.”  I just wanted to run out of the room.  I zoned out, watched the clock and calculated all of the hours I would be spending in this windowless room for the next coming months.  In place of the lack of windows there was a lovely 1980s wallpaper scene of the woods. Oy vey!

As a break from the torture we headed to lunch.  A small cafeteria with food, probably not the best food options for brain or body health, was laid out in front of me.  One of the group members came and quietly whispered in my ear, “We all sit together over at that table.”  Her intentions were sweet, but my thoughts were not!  “You mean I have to spend more time with you guys?”  I needed to get out.  I needed fresh air. I needed the natural world environment. But, in Marnie style I didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings so I found a chair to join the table.  I sat in silence, played with a container of open yogurt and again watched the clock.

My next ruminating thoughts “Why did I agree to come here?  These people are nothing like me.  Maybe I can tackle this on my own.  Maybe there will be some entertainment value here like “Girl, Interrupted”.

Day one came to a close and as I walked to my car I told myself I would find a way to not come back to this place, but deep down I knew I needed to.  This was what felt like a last chance for me.  I was running out of options.

Still I Rise & Shine

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Yes, I’ve been a bit MIA

BeachWell where does one begin when it has been well over a year since writing or I suppose the correct term, blogging. I can say I’ve traveled to great places, experienced celebrations and disappointments, learned new skills, taken on new hobbies, met some amazing people and more recently have one child soon moving on to middle school and another to his junior year in high school. And yes, if you are wondering do we have a new driver in the house, we will next Tuesday by noon EST. Oh and how dare I forget, I have joined the new generation of computer users. I have a MacBook Air. My dinosaur pooped out on me which was probably perfect timing, as a week before I was sitting in a hip part of Atlanta in a coffee house when what to my wondering eyes appeared, but twenty bright glowing Apples. Yes, I felt old and outdated.

Speaking of old, I am now 44. Honestly that number doesn’t mean much to me. I’m more concerned with how my body can move, do I have aches and pains, do my insides function as best as they can, should I embrace the gray, are there more wrinkles on my forehead and the most dreaded…Am I showing signs of old-people chin hairs. Those who may see me in person have full permission, in fact, I plead to you to tell me when you notice one, two or a forest, please! In fact my medical power of attorney is charged with plucking any facial hair should I be bed bound and unconscious. Yeah I know, sounds a bit vain, but I own it.

There is a big part of my health that I have changed or I should say I have become more aware of.

Last summer in July the funk began to take hold. I felt it coming on and anxiety came along for a ride as well. Knowing where I was heading and how it has progressively been worse each time, deeper into the pit, I wanted to SCREAM! It all seemed unfair, not just to me, but to all I know and those who depend on me.

Fast forward by a month, the kids started school on August 1st while I went deep inside and couldn’t find a way out. Buddha made some calls to those who are in the know and put them on standby should they be needed. I’m not sure how many days Buddha came home during lunchtime, sat next to me on the sofa and then walked me to the car to go get some lunch. He even took my phone, opened the notes, asked me what I was thinking and then typed a list. Here are some of the entries:

I’m not a failure no matter how I feel or what thought comes to mind.

I’m not worthless no matter how I feel or what thought comes to my mind.

This bad feeling will end no matter how I feel or what thought comes to mind.

My body will not blow up no matter how I feel or what thought comes to mind.

No matter how I feel or what I think my body functions are fine.

We then set a timer so I would remember to look at these from time to time. Sounds silly to you? When I get caught up in ruminating hours and hours can go by. Having the ding of the phone reminded me to switch tracks. It didn’t necessarily work all the time.

On one of our lunch outings Buddha presented me with some papers. In a very gentle way he told me I needed to get help. He investigated with colleagues what the options could be for me. He learned Emory has an outpatient program and urged me to apply. Was I applying to join the insane? I recited the answers and he was my scribe. Next, we would hear later that afternoon if I was accepted and when I could start. Later that afternoon Buddha sat down and told me I wasn’t accepted. The tears flowed and I felt like I was stuck in a corner. If there were indents on the wall I could climb out, but there was nothing. We found out I was rejected as I didn’t have a thorough and recent evaluation from a psychiatrist. Just like most situations in life there are ways to work a system and Buddha found them.

Hours later I was sitting in Emory’s ER in a hallway crying to a hospital psychiatrist. Someone walked by and I heard them say, “Is she the family member of #4?” I wanted to shout, “No, I’m the one who has lost her mind and is fucking crazy!” The doc who worked with me was great. I don’t remember specific details, but I do remember her ability to give me a taste of some calmness in my mind.

Next, came the conversation of my options. I could be hospitalized or attend the outpatient program. If I didn’t have family depending on me, the kids only in their second week of school and the fear of what I had seen in movies, I was wanting to head towards hospitalization. The doctor stepped out and called Buddha. Yes, he wasn’t there as he had to drop me off at the ER in order to get Mia from school as a big storm was coming in. I guess there could have been some comfort in knowing that mother nature and I were in sync together. I wasn’t alone.

When Buddha arrived he and the doc sat down and asked me what I wanted to do. Buddha reassured me he could handle any decision made and not to worry about the kids. He would cover it all. Funny thing, the doc on a few occasions tended to push me away from inpatient, she was subtle, but I felt it. She made it clear I was a candidate for either of them. Do you know what it’s like to make a decision when your brain is somewhere else, deep in the throws, MIA? It is like starring at a sentence on a piece of paper written in a foreign language.

Eventually the decision was made. Outpatient it would be and I would be reporting to work my ”shit” the next day. Upon returning home we needed to address the kids as they knew I was in the ER, but didn’t know why. We simply said my brain was in the funk and I needed help, as usual they were great. We reminded them I, we, have been through this before and we will get through it again, but this time with some ammunition to get through the battle.

Next up…Wesley Woods became my go to, 3 days a week for 3 months. What a ride! Next time my fingers touch these keys “The Wesley Woods Experience”.

I still Rise & Shine

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How I found human love with cough drops!

Who would have thought a trip to the store to get cough drops would give me the opportunity to fill my love bucket and right some wrongs in my life!

Mia has been battling with seasonal allergies here in the ATL as the green snow mounts up around town. This is not an over exaggeration! The weather has been beautiful, but all the living oxygen giving members of our society are busy getting all prettied up for a new blooming season, so the thought of having open windows during this time is one that goes right out the window.

Mia has been waking up feeling like crap and frankly looking like it too, although this mom would NEVER say that to her. Well maybe this mom did once as a motivational tactic to get her out of bed and gussy up otherwise the mom taxi would be taking her looking like child who met tornado with markers in a mud pit. Yes, she did look that bad so the word crap was fitting!

It was a usual day, if there is such a thing, and I sent Mia to school not looking like crap, but she was feeling it. If there is no fever, this child is going as she will milk me! I did ease the shove out of the car by shouting out the window, “I’ll come check on you in a couple of hours.”

Hours later I checked in with her and as usual she wanted to stay at school, but needed cough drops. I tell you, this child will fight her way into trying to stay home, but once she has left the nest she is happy to be soaring on her own. Being the good and compassionate mother I am or was that day, with exception of the “crap” part, I told Mia I’d go get cough drops and bring them by the school.

My local CVS sits in the heart of town where I live. I find it often a local gathering place where I bump into people I know and we take a few minutes to catch-up. When I lived in Texas that place was the local Target. In fact, there was a particular friend who I would run into about twice a year in the aisles of Target and we would drop it all right there and chew the fat. Yes, an hour in the aisle. We once had an employee offer to bring us some chairs. I couldn’t tell if he was serious so we just chuckled and got back to business.
Back to CVS, as I was checking out, a family pushing a stroller with a four year old in tow walked towards the cashier and asked if he knew where a certain food pantry was located. I was so impressed with the cashier. He said he didn’t, but offered to call in the back, I think the pharmacy area, and ask if anyone back there knew where the pantry was located. As he picked up the phone I pulled out mine and walked over towards this family. I asked them the name of the pantry and said I would look it up for them. We stood there for a couple of minutes and then I suggested we all step outside.

Once outside I found the pantry and saw the operating hours were 9am to 11:30am and my clock said 11:48am. I then called them thinking I could help, weaseling my way into getting the pantry to help this family out, but all I heard on the other line was a recording. I broke the news to the family.

The dad explained this is the first time he has been in this situation. Both mom and dad went on to tell me they recently moved to ATL from New Jersey to escape some bad influences and make a better life for their four year old and 4 month old peanut sleeping in the stroller. I asked them if it would be okay for me to give them a little money to allow them to feed themselves and their family seeing as the pantry was closed. Why did I ask? Well, I could see the pride in this dad’s eyes and I wanted to give them the message that I didn’t believe they were fishing for money or a handout, or what I refer to as a hand-up.

I went back into CVS to get some cash out of the ATM and then headed back to the family. They were grateful and we spent a few minutes chewing the fat. Then the cute little four year old asked me if I like to play Transformers. Wow! This guy had no idea! When I told him I saw parts of the movie being filmed in Chicago, I became instant rock star status!

As I talked more with this family and heard their story I explained I wasn’t too familiar with the social services in the area, but offered if their was anything else I could help them with. Then it dawned on me. One of the organziations I’m involved with could be an asset to this family. I gave the dad my business card and took down the information of where they were staying, basically a weekly motel type of place, and told them I would get back to them by the end of the day with some ideas.

After making some phone calls, oh and dropping the cough drops off for Mia, I called the family back. After talking with the dad I found myself booked for the next morning to pick him up and take him out to his job worksite, so he could explain to his foreman why he wasn’t at work. See this guy is on probation and is being told if he doesn’t have a permanent address within the next 24 hours the state of Georgia will send his case back to Jersey, meaning he and his entire family would have to move right back into the situation they were escaping from. Apparently a motel isn’t considered a permanent address. In theory I get it, but in the real world of a person having a criminal record, it’s not like there are people lined up to rent to those on probation.

We had about a 30 minute drive to this guy’s, which I will now call Marlon, worksite. Marlon secured himself a construction job in a large project here in ATL. He is currently being paid $11 an hour with potential for more. He just needs to prove himself to his boss which is hard to do when one is trying to get their basic Maslow Hierarchy of needs met. We made it to the site, Marlon spoke with the foreman and was told he still had his job. Whew! Mission accomplished.

But then I remembered there was another mission and one that wouldn’t pose to be an easy one. Marlon explained he had three meetings with his probation officer and how she didn’t seem to take Marlon seriously. By the end of the day if Marlon didn’t have an address that was acceptable, his paperwork would be in the email inbox of the state of New Jersey. We brainstormed on the way back to Marlon’s motel and decided to have him call his former parole officer in Jersey. She was frustrated to hear how tough and inflexible the parole officer in Georgia was being.

In my years of social work I have never had interactions with parole departments, so I must say this was a bit interesting to me and posed a challenge I was willing to take on. After brainstorming with Marlon and the Jersey probation officer, we decided the next logical step was to get in front of the probation officer here in ATL.

As we pulled up to the building, which ironically I probably pass several times a week, I told Marlon the first stop was going to be the ladies room. He looked at me and stated I might want to reconsider that thought. This man has no idea of the places I’ve been!

We entered the waiting area filled with stereotypical looking parolees as well as people you would assume to be on the up and up. Marlon was a gentleman. He held the doors for me and stood by me as a protector. It is easy to feel protected when you have 6’2” giant next to you. Somehow, magically we got in to see the officer within minutes. I believe one of two things happened. Either some angels were standing along-side of us paving our way, or the words, “I brought my social worker with me”, put this officer on notice.

After watching Marlon get frisked, patted down and basically felt up we were sitting across from the officer. She came across as a bit of a hard-ass, but within in a minute of us being there I think she knew we weren’t leaving until some flexibility hit the table. We went from having under 12 hours left to find permanent housing to a month to get this together. We kept our cool and once we left the office and walked down the stairs I looked at Marlon, our eyes sparkled and I squeezed him!

Next, this girl had to eat , but also use the ladies room! We stopped at Chick Fil A to accomplish both. I bought lunch, headed to the ladies room and upon my return Marlon had the table set for us. We chatted for almost an hour. We were on level with each other. I wasn’t a social worker and he wasn’t a guy in a rough life spot. We were two beating hearts, sharing a meal and our stories.
I learned Marlon’s mom battled with HIV for years and just recently was taken by pancreatic cancer. Marlon was her caretaker in hospice and was with her until the end. His mama was his rock and when she left this earth, Marlon took a turn down a road that led him to his current situation. He became a user and a dealer as he shoved away his emotions. Eventually his house was raided and fortunately for him most of what he had was hidden outside on his property, for if it was found in his home, I’m pretty sure he would be behind bars.

I learned Marlon has lived in several parts of the country and has also spent time in Costa Rica. He fought to get his son out of the child protective system, when the mom of his son abandoned motherhood. I learned Marlon wants to be a civil engineer and already has 2.5 years of studying under his belt. I learned this man has so many dimensions to him. More than what people would take time to think about if seeing him and his family on the street.

But what did I learn the most? I learned that when you put two beating hearts together all differences can melt away. When you look into someone’s eyes and see the light, that is all that is needed. I learned that people can come from all walks of life, but when they share stories of each losing their moms to cancer all the differences wash away. As I type, I realize there are endless learning opportunities from that day.

The one I choose to focus on while moving forward…I will remember that a few hours of my life shared with another can be the tipping point…the life changer for both involved.

Rise & Shine

Scratch and Itch the Nip!

Its time I put the itchy nipple to rest!  I realize it has been close to a year since my fingers hit the keys to purge my thoughts in my blog.  Apparently others have noticed too as I have been questioned many times. In particular there are some people who want to know about the itchy nipple.  So to pull people from hanging on the edge of the cliff and to ease those who lay in bed at night wondering, “Hmmm, what happened to her itchy nipple?”  You’re welcome!

Almost a year ago to this day I was hanging with the girls I grew up with, some starting in the middle school years and some high school.  Just like in any group there are those who stay connected more consistently and those who catch up and fall into place when we gather.  Regardless, I think we crave our gatherings and look forward to them every two years.  It should be less than every two years, but that thing called “life” gets in the way as well as the miles between us.  I think it is fair to say we cover all of the time zones, well minus one, that goofy Mountain Time area.

On this trip we gathered in an unbelievable house on a lake.  When we have our gatherings we tend to nest and not leave where we are staying, so the digs need to be the bomb!  So far we have never been disappointed.

Shortly upon our arrival I announced to the group that I had an itchy nipple and I would be grabby my left one throughout the trip, so apologizes in advance.  This led me to keeping my hands as busy as possible doing other things in order to prevent milking my left boob!  At one point, I arranged plates of food on the island, splayed the napkins beautifully into a fan shape, organized the silverware and then I heard, “Look at Martha Stewart!” No mam, I was not Martha, I was trying to allow my left nipple to survive before I pulled it off!

Eventually one of the gals mentioned this could be a sign of a certain type of breast cancer.  Yes, my mind went briefly to the people I care about and love who I have lost as well as those who were currently at battle.  Was I on my way to be in one of those groups?  Honestly, this was a brief thought as I tend to bury those kinds of thoughts, which I have learned I shouldn’t do as they haunt me later and end up biting me in the butt!

Needless to say by the end of the weekend I was hooked up with a local doc to go see within a day of my return home, thanks to one of the girls using her hubby’s connections.

The appointment was like any other.  Meet the nurse, step on the scale, wear the blood pressure cuff and then sit and wait.  Once the doctor stepped in we chatted, talked about my history and then it was time to get on the table.  So arms overhead, bifocals on the doc and hands feeling away, there I was.  For a brief moment I felt one with a piece of meat getting tenderized.  Then the doc looked at my nipple with such scrutiny.  I wondered if it was starting to morph into something else.  Similar to when I repeat a word over and over again and then the sound of the word and the sensation of it leaving my lips feels like an entirely new experience.

Then the questions came.  “Are you using a new soap, lotion, or laundry detergent?”  Uh, nope, I’m a creature of habit and likes.    I don’t deviate too much there.  “Any major changes in your life?”  Um, at that point for the past year I had accumulated a bucket load of change!  Then it hit me!  Minutes earlier when I stepped onto the scale with the nurse, I weighed more than I had in several years.  As I lay there I felt how uncomfortable my pants were as they pressed tightly in the new baggage around my waist.  Yes, even with arms reaching out and my torso stretching…my jeans were still acting as a girdle!  The “ah ha” moment then happened!

Going moments back into the discussion occurring between the four walls, I referenced the recent depression episode I shared with the doc.  I had described to her how my entire body tends to shut down during those episodes including my desire and thought to eat.  So here is what happened…I somewhat quickly lost about 15 pounds in a short period of time, but then once I was back to the “best me” and my body told me to eat I gained a total of 25 pounds in a short period of time.  So with my report and my doc’s knowledge, we discovered I shrunk and then stretched out my nipple so rapidly it had no choice to scream in agony as it was forced to move in a pace it wasn’t accustomed to.

Yes, I know what one may say, ‘”Don’t you have two nipples?”

Why yes I do, but in the words of Ani DiFranco:

“Buildings and bridges are made to bend in the wind to withstand the world that’s what it takes. All that steel and stone are no match for the air, my friend.  What doesn’t bend breaks, what doesn’t bend breaks.”

My right nipple may have already learned the importance of flexibility and adaptation!

Rise & Shine

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