There are those days…

There are those days like yesterday, when my husband left to do laundry at his mom’s house and I had to convince myself it was not a reason to cry. When I got dressed and got in the car and headed to the store to go grocery shopping only to turn around halfway there and come back home because I was afraid I would break down crying in the middle of the store. When I’m usually early with emailing a weekly file for my second job but decided yesterday that I just didn’t want to put the effort into finishing it at my normal time. When my nap on the couch turned into something I had to force myself to get up from. When my Saturday routine and joy at being alone turned to torment until my husband came home again.

There are those days like today, when I had enough energy to do everything I wanted to get done yesterday and still had motivation left over to clean the apartment from top to bottom with my husband. When he and I cracked jokes while putting away the laundry and I remembered why I was labeled somebody’s “loudest friend” one time, all because of my laugh. When we went out for dinner and had a nice conversation while we ate. When I marvel at the difference a day makes to someone battling mental illness.

There are those days like all of the ones in between when I am constantly grateful for medical science and all that it has done to help me find a life I can live without the intensity of an untreated mental illness. When I can look forward to going to my regular therapy appointment because I have found someone who can help me understand so many things about myself that I never could before. When I am in awe of the man I married whose patience and willingness to see me through every single day that I am here.

Yes, there are those days.

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Strange Days

It’s a strange time of the year. Every year, the beginning of May brings the promise of summer break. My school year ends right around Memorial Day…every year. And yet, this year, I feel anxious about school ending. Things don’t feel right. I’m not excited as much as I usually am. I feel the same exhausting ‘teacher tired’ that I’ve seen expressed in countless memes online. There’s more to it this time though. It’s entirely possible that the events in my  life over the past several weeks have contributed to this sense of strangeness.

To take stock of what has happened lately, here’s a quick list:

-My 13 year old ginger kitty, Joey, died while I was at work one day. Though it was a blessing that he died at home. He hated the vet and I worried about having to put him to sleep at a place that caused him so much anguish.

-Work has been difficult, demanding, and defeating, for my husband–and since marriage makes us a team, I have felt his stress. It has made me feel closer to him than ever. A strong need to comfort him and be physically near him has consumed me.

-My grandmother died in hospice this week–I drove 10 hours last weekend to see her before she passed, and 10 hours back home in a brutal drive that I do not want to make alone again for a long time. She was not the easiest person to love. Being set in her ways made it difficult to communicate with her around the time that I got married. I hadn’t talked to her since before my wedding. But she did give me so many wonderful memories from things we did together when I was a kid. Her passing has made me very curious about where she is now. Did her devotion to the Catholic faith bring her to the place she yearned for? How did that transition work? What is she experiencing right now?

-My physical health has reverted back to how it was before I returned a 2nd time to exercising. Terrible food choices and lack of physical activity have led my blood pressure and weight to balloon up again.

At my annual women’s exam, the doctor questioned my mental health after reviewing my answers to several questions about how I have felt in the past seven days. After assuring the doctor that I do have mental health professionals that I see regularly, I simply explained that there has been a lot going on.

The feelings linger though. Good days happen. I was happy this afternoon–it’s Friday–I got a lot of work done at school, meaning not much work to do this weekend so I can have plenty of free time. However good of an afternoon it was, here I sit with tears brimming in the corners of my eyes. I know why. It’s not the specifics of everything that has happened lately. They are a part of life. But for a person like me, who relies heavily on structure and routine–this is hard! It’s funny because usually anxiety is my biggest nemesis, but through all of this, it hasn’t been anxiety, it has been just plain sadness and concern.

I’m happy that it will officially be summer break when I get home from work on May 31st. But what happens next? I don’t know. Something has to happen though, I have to create a routine for myself for the summer. Not just a list of goals or things that I would like to do over the summer, but a daily schedule. I have to. If I don’t, the daily laziness will begin to erode my mental health faster than it normally does each summer. I usually get a little depressed and stir crazy by the time summer break is almost over. It will happen instantaneously this year if I don’t prepare. I haven’t gotten very far with ideas, but I know one of them will be exercise. I live in the south, so running outdoors won’t be easy in the blazing summer months, but I have an elliptical. As much as I hate using it, I will need to force myself. It’s not much, but it’s a start.

I don’t know when things will improve, but I know they will. There is possibility and good things to come in the future, but getting there, through this transition time, it sucks. And that’s okay, for now anyway.

 

To a fresh start

To a fresh start-

the beginning of a new chapter, a needed change.

To a fresh start-

pressing the restart button to engage a new life.

There is fear, uncertainty, and doubt,

but there is also hope, possibility, and a second chance.

To a fresh start-

making the right decision, leaving behind the bad.

To a fresh start-

stepping into the light, out of the darkness, refreshing your soul.

The past can’t defeat you, strength and wisdom replace the inner weakness.

To a fresh start-

that we make together.

 

Hold on!

Tonight, my husband and I were watching a documentary on HBO that told of Martin Luther King Jr.’s life just a few years before his assassination. His life was narrated by the people who worked alongside him. One of the major events that Dr. King had gotten involved with was the Vietnam War. He was opposed to the war and there was footage of speeches he had given at that time, as well as a clip of people yelling hateful things at him as he walked by because of his opposition to the war.

It made me think of my father. He fought in the Vietnam War. And as I watched the footage of what was happening in the United States during the war, I imagined my father on the other side of the world at that exact moment in time, experiencing the horrors of war. As I thought of him, and pictured him in the same war situations he has described to me in previous conversations, I marveled at the fact that I know how his life turned out when he got home from Vietnam. While I don’t know every detail of his life, I know what he has told me, and I know that I am here, a living testament to the life he went on to live. He was only just 18 when he joined the army. He would have had no idea about his future wives and children at the time, as none of us do. We don’t know our futures.

And yet, I am amazed every day when I teach the pre-teens in my English classes that I have been a teacher longer than these children have been alive. Right now, my future students are learning to crawl, saying their first words, and experiencing a host of other firsts–first time walking, first time trying certain foods, etc.

On that same thread, somewhere, there are other children being born. These children will be abandoned by their biological parents. Perhaps it will because their mother is a teenager and cannot take care of them. It could be because some disturbance in the family has caused child services to take them away from their parents. There are so many reasons that children end up without their parents. These children will be placed in foster care, or they’ll be put up for adoption. They might be placed in a group home or some other home where there will be other children like them. They might be scared, or lonely, or simply angry at their surroundings. Their physical needs will be met by those tasked with their care, but they may not have the kind of childhood that would produce happy memories for them. They won’t know what the future holds for them. None of us do.

These children are not my students, they could be in the future, I don’t know. But these children, the ones without a home, without a family, these children need to just hang on, because I’m coming. WE are coming.

My husband and I are working hard to make sure that in a year, we don’t have a need to sign another lease on this tiny apartment. We are working hard to make sure we have a home for these children.

Easter just passed us by, and God willing, there will come an Easter when my husband and I will sit around our kitchen table and dye eggs with our children. I’ll show them the neat way my grandpa used to color eggs using a damp cloth and egg dye tablets. We’ll take them to Mass with us and teach them about Jesus and what Easter really means.

There are so many things I want to do for our children. I want to teach them to knit, and introduce them to my favorite movies, and torture them with music from my generation like my mom did when I was a kid. I know that my husband wants to take them to Jones Lake like his dad did. He’ll want to take them to Bear Island for the day, again, like his dad did. Most importantly though, I just want to be there for them. I want to give them a stable home with two people who may not be their biological parents, but are people who love them as if they were.

Somewhere, right now, our children are waiting for us. Several years from now, I’ll look back on this moment–I’ll think back to this cramped apartment–and I’ll marvel at just how different our lives were before our children entered the picture. Until then, we’re waiting too. But the time is coming soon, we love you already, but please, just hold on, we’re coming.

I want to attend the Oscars

One of my earliest posts on this blog is similar to the thoughts I’m having tonight. The Academy Awards are on tonight and while I have absolutely no desire to be a famous celebrity–I don’t like being the center of attention, even at my own wedding–I still wish I was one, at least just for tonight. I want to be dressed up in a fancy gown and sitting in a plush seat in the audience enjoying the show. This is my desire tonight for the simple reason that I’ll bet none of those people in attendance have to get up early tomorrow and go to work.

When I’m envious of celebrities only because they don’t have to go to work tomorrow, I know I’m starting the downhill descent to summer vacation. I am starting to become “teacher tired”. It’s a real thing. I slept for 12 hours Friday night into late Saturday morning this weekend, and yet, I’m exhausted. I know it’s because I’m the yearbook editor and the deadline is coming up soon for it. My Battle of the Books team is preparing for their annual competition which is going to be a week from Wednesday. We’ve won the past four years and since we’re hosting the other teams this year at my school, there is even more pressure for us to not break the winning streak at home. It makes me nervous every time I think about it. It’s also the week of our monthly faculty  meeting and my principal has already promised us that it will not be a short one. I’m ready for next weekend already and the work week hasn’t even begun!

What I’m dreading about the upcoming week is not the same as what I’m looking forward to. I have not exercised with my whole heart being put into it for a few weeks. I have one excuse after another for why I haven’t exercised consistently and why I have drank more soda in the past two weeks than I have in the past four months. Despite all that, I am looking forward to Monday afternoon because I am determined to stop the excuses and come home to the elliptical and make an honest attempt at getting back into my fitness routine. There are too many gains that I have made that I do not want to lose. Too many signs and reminders pointing me back into the direction of my elliptical and weights. Those A-listers in California can have their night of leisure and grace and not have to worry about tomorrow. But as for me, teacher tired or not, I’m doing this.

Homebody

I like being at home. I yearn for the time that I have each night sitting on the couch with my feet up. I enjoy my Saturdays when I have the time during the day to sit. Being that it’s March, which means the school year hasn’t ended yet, most of that time on the couch is spent on the computer working on something for school. And yet, despite that fact, I absolutely detest staying after school. Many of my coworkers will stay to get work done. Bravo to them for not wanting to take work home. I really don’t want to either, but it’s inevitable, and given the choice, I much prefer to do the work while being at home. Perhaps my  attitude will change when my  husband and I welcome children into our home, but for now, I have found that I truly just want to put off my school responsibilities until I have the opportunity to do it in front of the t.v., usually with a cat laying across my arm in need of attention.

Is it laziness that drives this desire? A routine, perhaps, that has come from being a teacher for the past 13 years and living in this same apartment for 11 of those years? While I am indeed lazy at the end of the day, as we all are, and I am very much a slave to my routine, I think it’s not quite for those reasons that I am happiest here. The physical space is quaint, the rental office uses the term “cottage” to describe this phase of apartments on the property. We’ve lived here long enough to see our space go from an out-dated habitat of the 70s to a newly renovated modern space (still without a washer and dryer hook-up though). My husband and I are looking forward to the near future when we will get a lease renewal notice on our door. We are planning to finally take the next step and NOT renew our lease in favor of moving into a house of our own. Our space here being what it is, one-bedroom and all, is not conducive for starting a family. And yet, I still feel a strong sense of contentment when I’m here. I feel that nesting urge that I understand pregnant women often get.

living room

Our living room this afternoon as soon as I came home. 

I’m almost certain that it’s because this space belongs to us. Maybe not financially, but over the course of our time here, we have certainly made this a home that we can be happy in, if only temporarily. For my birthday last year, my husband bought me an entire new living room set–8 pieces in all! Certainly it’s a long cry from the worn out old couch that had once belonged to my grandmother and the coffee table my husband and his roommates saved from the curb when he was in college.

Much like bringing a pet home and giving it time to acclimate to its surroundings, I too have had time to get used to my living space and I now consider it my safe haven. I truly feel comfortable here and I’m grateful for the seemingly dull evenings spent on the couch. I do enjoy going out with my husband, but I always look more forward to coming back home. There is peace here. No drama. Security. A man that loves me on the couch next to me. Possessions that make me happy. Cats that snuggle with me, even when I’m trying to work. I have everything that I need, right here at home.

Positively “lucky”

The thing about a typical Monday when you’re a teacher, or at least a teacher at my school, I have to submit lesson plans to my principal. She checks over them and then gives us some quick feedback when she returns them. The feedback is usually a hand scrawled note on the paper copies that are turned in, or a response to the e-mail that I send mine in. I’ve been a teacher for 13 years and a teacher under her for 10. It has taken a great deal of time and effort to rise to her expectations and I can honestly say that at this point, I think I have risen high enough to exceed them.

Despite this tooting of my own horn, I know too, that I’m not perfect. She and I had a difficult relationship in the beginning. And it is because of fear of her blunt nature that I often have anxiety before a faculty meeting or before I am to receive feedback from her because I fear her criticism. Certainly nobody likes to be criticized, but I especially want to please her. When she brings prospective parents around to meet the teachers, she always tells them our names and a little bit about our role at the school. I’m always introduced as the person who edits the yearbook, manages the website, mentors beginning teachers, and the list goes on. It’s made me wonder lately if I am only as good as the things I do around the school. Is my way of pleasing her simply the fact that I am in charge of more things than most teachers at my school? Or does she genuinely think I’m a good teacher? After all, she taught the same subject that I do before she became an administrator, am I as effective of a teacher as she was?

Her feedback to me this morning was reassuring to my mind. In part, her feedback said of the students, “They are lucky to have you”. I read this e-mail before the first period of the day was over and it is a good part of the reason that the rest of my day was good. It was a very validating remark and it made me realize too, just how powerful a positive comment can be. It certainly made my day and yet I have such a hard time giving that same positivity to the people I encounter on a daily basis. Why is it so difficult to smile and engage the few people that just get on my nerves? What makes me want to engage in gossip about these same people?

It’s the 2nd week of Lent and I am determined to make my “sacrifice” about being more positive in my relationship with the people I am challenged by. As our priest said on Ash Wednesday, Lent is about “growing up”. For me, growing up will mean being nicer to everybody, while I’m in their presence and when I’m not. To speak kindly of those not favored by all and let them know that they are valued, just as I felt this morning, the positive effect of knowing that I too, am valued.

Mental Health Set Backs

At the deepest point of my depression, when the dark red razor cuts lined my forearms and I wasn’t sure if there would ever be a time when cutting myself didn’t make me feel temporary relief from the emotional distress I felt on a daily basis, I turned to my psychiatrist. A man who saved my life. Who was the person who knew that I had to take a semester off of school and have ECT treatments (shock therapy) in order to get better. To say that I got better is an understatement. Those treatments changed my life. Four of them altogether plus a combination of three medications, and 15 years later, I am still as stable as I have ever been. That is, until last week.

Since recovering from the two foggiest years of my life, I have looked back only long enough to know that I don’t ever want to go back to how I was then. So when there were three days last week when I could not control my urge to cry, I worried. The anxiety that I felt was of a familiar intensity. There was a feeling of confusion because while I have been stressed at work, it hasn’t been out of the ordinary in the amount of work I had to get done. My husband and I tried to analyze everything in my life that could be causing these crying spells. While we tried to rationalize my depressed and anxious feelings, I attempted some of the mindfulness techniques that my therapist had been teaching me in each session. These meditative strategies only made me cry harder when I tried them now. Fear gripped me. What was happening? How could it be that all of a sudden my medication wasn’t working? It had worked for the past 15 years, despite a minor setback when my psychiatrist, for the 2nd time, tried to take me off of a particular one. With that setback being three weeks prior, what could be going on? This came out of nowhere and with it came the paranoia that the past was going to repeat itself. These were similar distressing feelings that I felt before having my life-changing ECT treatments.

It finally became clear that I couldn’t go on. I had a previously scheduled appointment with my therapist on a Tuesday, so I added an appointment with my psychiatrist for earlier that same day. I left early from work and met with my psychiatrist. It wasn’t a change in medicine that caused this, and he assured me that the fact that I could verbalize my feelings to him was a good sign. He prescribed me an anti-anxiety medication that I took immediately after getting it filled that afternoon. What I discovered in my appointment with my therapist was what truly turned it around for me. The medication calmed me to the point where I could talk to my counselor without emotional hysterics. And while I know without a doubt that no professional will ever compare to Dr. Simpson–the man who knew what was best for me even when I couldn’t comprehend it myself at the time–my current therapist is someone that I now hold in high regard. I have been seeing her for a little more than half of a year and after this last meeting with her, I know that I need her. There was a moment when I thought the 50 dollar co-pay ever three weeks might be an unnecessary expense, but after last week, I won’t ever mind paying that co-pay again.

After my appointment with her, I felt immediately better and haven’t needed the anti-anxiety medication since. She assured me of 3 things during that time: I don’t need to worry about going back to the way I was because I have a much better support system in place now; It is o.k. to feel anxiety–in fact, I should acknowledge the feeling instead of trying to explain it and worry that it’s there; also, while my husband and I tried to dismiss the fact that my parents had gotten re-married only days earlier as a trigger, it was in fact, the thing that set it off.

My parents getting re-married after being divorced for the past 18 years is a story for another post, in fact, it’s a story that I’m pretty sure is still not finished, but what is finished, is my fear of returning to the past. I know that I will never intentionally cut myself again, but now I also know that the same feelings that made me want to do that all those years ago are o.k. to feel now. They are not dangerous, they are real and as long as I turn to my support system, I will survive them. I don’t have to give in to them. In fact, I can’t give in to them, I’m too busy. I’m busy with my job as a teacher, and I’d like to get busy again being a fitness fanatic. Intense anxiety does not make it easy to work up the motivation to get on the elliptical or pull out the weight bench to strength train (which I’ve added to my work out routine). Anxiety is not forever, life goes on and I feel confident in saying that I will go on too.

Random thoughts on fitness

I’m a little scared to step on the scale. I’ve gained back a few pounds over the holidays and I’m not sure I really want to know if I’ve been successful in working them off. But what I am sure of is that my doctor is proud of me. He said this to me, along with a pat on the back, at my appointment the week after Christmas. My cholesterol levels had come down to within nearly normal range and my blood pressure was significantly lower. He listened to my heart, told me to keep up the good work, and then I was back in my car headed home. And that’s what it’s all about really. Seeing lower numbers on the scale is awesome, but checking my heart rate with my watch while I’m sitting on the couch and seeing my resting heart rate in the upper 60s/lower 70s range is what makes me feel good. Before I started back on this fitness journey, my resting heart rate was often around the high 90s. I’m eagerly awaiting the results of my blood work from another doctor to see what my A1C and other numbers are like now. I’ve always told myself that I am not so concerned about losing weight so I will look good in skinnier clothes, to quote Queen Latifah from an old Weight Watchers/Nutri System/Jenny Craig commercial, I want to be a “size healthy” and that’s exactly where I’m headed.

*****

I started this diet and exercise routine on Saturday, November 4th (thank you Apple Watch activity app). The day before that was the last day I drank a soda. I’m terrified of even taking a sip of one now because of what a friend of mine said about the first time she drank one after going without for two years. She had told herself she was only going to drink one, but wasn’t successful in going back to not drinking it. It’s funny now, because since I quit smoking about 13 years ago, I started to have occasional dreams at night where I am smoking a cigarette and am so mad at myself because in my dream I acknowledge that I’m smoking after having successfully quit. Then I wake up and am relieved and renewed in my desire to never smoke again. Since November, I haven’t had a dream about smoking, but I have had dreams where I am drinking a soda. The relief in waking up and realizing it was just a dream is the same as the smoking dreams.

*****

My husband got me a new pair of running shoes for Christmas. I really needed them too. The hot pink ones he got me two years ago have served their purpose and it was time to retire them from active duty. So with a new pair, and a gradually increasing collection of athletic clothing, I started running again. I had gone back and forth in my mind about where to run because my neighborhood has had some dangerous incidents happen with shady people. That, and I always feel a little self-conscious walking up the side of a very busy road to get to the neighborhood I like to run in. I walk facing traffic and I don’t like that all the oncoming cars can look right at me as they drive by. Despite this, I restarted the Couch to 5K app on my phone and have completed week 1. Sort of. I ran this past Tuesday and with a little over one minute left before the workout was complete, my phone battery succumbed to the frigid air and died. When I got back home and plugged it in, it did not register that I had completed a workout in the app. Oh well. I’m happy to do Week 1 Day 3 again, given that I have spaced out the workouts a little too far. Running outdoors is harder when the temperature is just at or slightly below the freezing mark.

*****

Inspiration can be found anywhere. At a Christmas party, I was talking to an older couple from my church who are marathon runners. They were big supporters in my last running endeavor. I told them that I had started running again, and we spent nearly the rest of the party talking about running. I started to tell them that I was going to pick up running again after the weather warmed up, somewhat expecting them to agree with me. But instead, Martha offered to give me a wrap to wear over my face so that I could run with a little bit more warmth. True to her word, she brought it to me at church the next Sunday.

*****

I’ve been a little leery about signing up for a 5K again. The first and last time I ran one, I didn’t go much farther after that. In fact it was very quickly after that race that I stopped exercising. I had achieved my goal and that was it for me. So how do I stop that from happening again? I wondered about that for a while, but then I remembered a friend of mine running a 5K every month for a year. That was her goal and she did it. So I decided that I would sign up for a 5K, probably for one that will be in March, and then I’ll sign up for one in April. If I have two that I’m scheduled for, I’ll be less likely to stop afterwards. That, and paying for a membership to the local running club is hopefully going to be what I need to keep me going. For now though, I’m on a roll, I have no intention of stopping anytime soon, and the bottom line is, I’m loving every minute of it.

 

Not as long as I thought

The past two months have not only seen my physical health improve, but also the relationship with my sisters. The improvement in my relationship with them came about through a mutual anger at our mother. I spent this time not talking to her, and talking about her to my sisters. And while we are related through her, we are all different in the reasons we are mad at her. The texts with them and numerous phone calls all came to a head when our mother found out that they knew she and my father would be on a cruise to the Bahamas over Christmas, rather than at home. I was the only one who knew and as I was sworn to secrecy, it was apparent that I had told them. When this “betrayal of trust” was revealed, I braced myself for a major argument with my mother. She texted me and when I told her I didn’t want to get into an argument with her, she simply said that she argues with the middle sister, not me.

It was then that I immediately let go of my remaining anger toward her. I realized, in that moment, that while I had been caught up in all the negative feelings toward her, I failed to realize that she and I have a much different relationship than she does with my older sisters. I also realized that my own anger toward her had faded and I was holding onto it simply because my sisters were.

I began talking to her on the phone again and we soon made arrangements for she and my dad to stop at my apartment on their journey to Florida to hop on their Christmas cruise. The day of their one night stop has come and gone. And in its wake is a text that she sent the morning after.

moms text

The three of us had gone out to dinner during their visit, the service and food were terrible, but we enjoyed each other’s company. Afterwards, we exchanged gifts and chatted for a while at the apartment before they headed to their hotel to rest after a long drive during the day.

They’re on a cruise ship right now, somewhere in the Bahamas, and when they dock next week, they will be stopping here again on their way home. I’m looking forward to it. Because no matter how angry I was at them two months ago, I’m not anymore. It is very obvious to me that they are happy. One look at the engagement ring my dad gave her shows me just how happy they are.

I will forever be touched by the text that she sent me. My mother was never one for sentimental, affectionate words when I was growing up. She didn’t have them, herself, when she was young. It wasn’t until much later in my life that she began to say “I love you”. I never doubted that there was love there. I never needed to hear the words. But despite that, I’m happy to hear them now. I’m happy that the anger didn’t take as long as I thought to get over. I’m happy to talk to her again…but really, we’re all happy, and that’s fine with me.