Christmas Nostalgia

Johnny Mathis is Christmas, to me anyway. Apparently he has albums that aren’t full of Christmas music, but I wouldn’t know anything about them. My parents had every single one of his Christmas albums on cassette tape and they played on repeat in the background of every Christmas throughout my childhood. It was the soundtrack of baking cookies in the kitchen, decorating the tree, and opening presents on Christmas morning.

It has been many years since I have spent any time with my family around Christmas, but it only takes the playing of any of his holiday songs for me to instantly feel the memories of family. The Christmases of my youth were truly something special. As it is now only two days from the big day, I couldn’t help but go back to what it was like for me as my husband and I were driving home from a day trip. After giving up on scanning the radio for a good station, I insisted he listen to some of the Johnny Mathis songs I have on my itunes Christmas playlist.

My mind focused clearly on the excitement of Christmas Eve. My two older (teenage at the time) sisters and I would be “sentenced” to one bedroom for the night. It was mostly to keep me from getting up and peeking in the middle of the night, as I had vowed each year to set an alarm and get up in time to see Santa. Of course, I never slept on Christmas Eve, and because of that, neither did my sisters. My grandpa, from what I understand, always had a similar sleepless night on Christmas Eve. His excitement rivaled mine, which easily explained his annual 5:00 am arrival at our house with my grandma so that he could put on his Santa hat and pass out gifts to all of us. And of course, when I would hear Grandpa and Grandma Jean arriving, I nearly burst as I waited for my parents to give us the o.k. to come out of the bedroom. When the all clear was given, I always led my sisters into a living room with all our lights and decorations plugged in and shining brightly, and Johnny Mathis singing in the background.

Despite the many years between my last Christmas at home and the Christmas I will have with my husband and his mother next week, I can remember everything so vividly. Some of the excitement still lingers too. I still have a difficult time sleeping on Christmas Eve. With the exception of last year when we slept until 7:00, I still insist on getting up extra early on Christmas morning so that my husband and I can exchange gifts. I’m thinking that perhaps this year, I’ll be sure to turn on the music when we get up. My husband and I don’t have children yet, and though I very much wish that we did already, I know that it will happen for us at some point. When it does, I will absolutely relish the opportunity to introduce my children to the significance of Johnny Mathis to Christmas. I’ll tell them, like I told my husband tonight on the drive home that “Hallelujah Chorus” was my grandpa’s favorite Christmas song. I’ll play it for them as we decorate cookies or as we drive to the mall to shop for gifts, and I will take comfort in knowing that the tradition is kept alive.

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A Breezy Prelude

I drove home from my mother-in-law’s house with frustration in my heart. I had spent much of the day at her house doing laundry, since our small apartment doesn’t have a washer/dryer hook-up. We’ve been doing laundry at her house for the past 11 years…the exact duration of our life in this apartment. My frustration intensified as I thought of the day when I will not have to leave my home to do laundry. How much longer do I have to wait?So much of the future is not certain. So much is not decided yet. My impatient heart so badly desires a firm plan…a timeline of when our lives will change. Driving home I could feel the sting in my nose and throat that always arrive before the tears start to well in my eyes.

It wasn’t a long drive home, and before the tears could actually begin to pool, I had gotten home with the clean laundry. I initially thought about taking a walk. Today is a very mild winter solstice day. The temperature is in the mid 60s and there is such a strong breeze outside that I decided instead to open every window in the apartment. A quick look at the weather app on my phone showed that there is a line of rain headed towards my dot on the map. The skies have turned from intensely bright and sunny to heavily overcast. So rather than go walking and risk the rain, I have put on one of my favorite movies, “Julie & Julia”, and am preparing to put away the clean clothes.

Perfect weather for sitting in a window.

The frustration I felt on the drive home has dissolved. There’s something about being at home that truly calms my soul. This is only a temporary home. We pay rent, not a mortgage, and there’s only one bedroom, not room for another smaller person, but this is home…if only just for now. Christmas is in four days, and while there is still so much up in the air about the future, I am going to focus on the joy of the season and the time I will get to spend with my husband over the next several days. In the meantime, the impending rain has arrived, accompanied by thunder and lightning and there is still laundry to be put away. Although the weather is not, my heart is calm, and I am at peace once again.

Birthday Eve

Technically it’s my birthday. But it’s almost 3 am, so my birthday hasn’t really started. It’s sort of like Christmas when you’re a kid. You may be awake most of the night on Christmas Eve out of excitement, and even though it’s technically Christmas after midnight, it doesn’t officially start until your parents wake up and you’re allowed to come out of your room to see the magic under the tree. Except this time, I’m not awake out of excitement, in fact, quite the opposite. I randomly woke up and just can’t go back to sleep. I’m pretty good at falling asleep when first going to bed, thank you pharmaceutical companies for that. I can usually tame my random thoughts long enough for the handful of prescription medications to kick in. That’s probably not going to work this time since it’s been about 4 or 5 hours since I took them. Which means a whole flood of randomness has invaded my brain. As a teacher on summer break, who also has a mid-summer birthday, this is the 2nd year that I have sworn off anything school related until after my birthday. Since technically it is my birthday, thoughts of school have come to this impromptu thought party. Though I’m pretty sure it’s not necessary now to think about how I’m going to prepare my presentation at the professional development day in September. Also not necessary to wonder what it will be like having a new principal when my current one retires in a couple of years. Funnily enough, pushing those thoughts out of my head and focusing on what I want to do today while my husband is at work also did not help me go back to sleep. I planned out a crafty day for myself, starting with a trip to Joann’s Craft Store to use my birthday discount coupon. I even came up with a little shopping list. That only made me a bit too excited about what I am planning on making today. The store is not open this early, so that’s a moot thought process too.

I wonder if this is what insomniacs experience every night. It kind of sucks. But thankfully, this doesn’t happen often for me. So on this birthday eve, I think I’m going to find one of my cats to bring back to bed with me and be very grateful that there’s only a few hours left before the sun comes up and I won’t have to feel weird about being awake when I’m usually asleep.

I ran the race.

And it was tough. The first mile consisted of a really steep hill that I walked up, as did many other people who were in the rear of the pack. Once the route descended the hill, I was able to run. Not for the whole 4 miles, but as much as I could possibly run in intervals of varying lengths.

I had done a great job of getting out of bed every other morning at 6:30–of course it helps that 6:30 is when my husband leaves for work. I would get into my running gear and tackle the couch to 5k app, slowly building myself up to run in longer intervals. I was ecstatic when I got to week 5 day 3, which is running for 20 minutes straight. I had told myself that once I got to that point, I would stop using the app and just focus on distance. Time had run out by then and I was only able to do one run without the app before the race. For that run, I was able to go for about 2 miles without stopping to walk. Granted, my pace is that of a turtle, but my shuffle run is still faster than my walking pace. And really, just the fact that I was getting out there in the morning, like I had said I was going to, was enough for me. The temperature every morning was in the high 70s with pretty high humidity. But it never bothered me. I expected to come home sweaty each time, that’s what happens when you run during the summer months. Even on days when we were under a heat advisory, I still ran, because in the morning before the sun gets high, the temperature isn’t in heat advisory territory. So when several people talked of braving the heat and the humidity being the worst part on race day, I just kind of laughed because it really didn’t affect me. I had long since gotten used to it.

There were 1,016 people registered for the Firecracker 4 Miler this 4th of July, and according to the results website, there were 860 or so actual runners. I placed somewhere in the 740 range. I had no aspirations of doing anything spectacular for pace, I just didn’t want to come in last. I was very close to the bottom of my age group, but I wasn’t last and that’s o.k. with me.

What was spectacular about the race was the people. The event was hosted by the local running club that I’m a member of. I don’t go to their meetups out of self-consciousness, but I’m a paid member. It was many of the members that served as volunteers for the race. There were people at every turn in the route clapping and cheering for every person that rounded the corners. They didn’t know my name, but they could see my number and having someone call out “Come on 64, you’re doing great!” when I was huffing along was amazing. The people handing out water at every mile with big smiles as I approached were encouraging. Seeing my husband randomly on the side of the route taking pictures when I didn’t expect to see him and hearing him cheer me on, was a great motivation. Even the ladies running behind me commented on how sweet it was for him to do that.

But the moment I will carry with me came as I rounded the last turn that would lead me to the finish line. There was a lady waiting for me. Judy is the wife of the man I teach with. I teach English and he teaches math. He doesn’t have a Facebook page, but she does, and we have been friends on there for several months. She’s of retirement age, but is in great shape and running races like this are the norm for her. She had called out to me earlier in the race. She was about a mile ahead going in the opposite direction I was. We quickly passed by each other and I didn’t think much of it until I saw her on the corner of that last turn. Obviously she had already finished the race and gotten her medal, in fact, she placed 2nd in her age group. But there she was, back on the course, waiting for me. She hopped off the curb and started jogging beside me. Words of encouragement poured out and though I was very much out of breath, I thanked her as best as I could. She kept pace with me for that last quarter of a mile, continuously assuring me that I was very close to the finish line. When we reached the very last few feet, she stepped off the course and across I went. From extended arms I took hold of my finisher’s medal (which is all I really wanted), a banana, and a bottle of water. People were clapping and cheering and my name was being called over the loud speaker as I crossed, as though I was the first. It felt great. I didn’t see Judy after that, I had wanted to thank her again after regaining my ability to speak without my breathing getting in the way. I did get to thank her on Facebook later. It is very true what they say about runners being the best people.

the last leg
My fantastic hubby captured the moment. I’m the one in bright pink on the right, and Judy is on the left in the tank top and white hat.

This race was Judy’s last for a while. She told me this when we bumped into each other the day before at the packet pick-up location. Her knees have really been hurting her lately. I told her, this is just the beginning for me. And I meant it. I’m determined now to lose weight. My diet prior to the race wasn’t the best. But now I’d like to get rid of the weight so that I can be a better runner. So that in a future race, I can be an early finisher so that I can step in and jog with someone who needs an extra boost to the finish. It may take me a while to get to that point, but I’ll get there. I’m not going to give up, this truly is just the beginning.

Whatever, I did it.

I am absolutely serious that I’m going to run a 4 mile race on the 4th of July. The wife of my co-worker who is an avid runner and who is also running in this race, told me to prepare for the humidity. We’ve had a tropical storm bringing us a ton of rain and storms for the past few days and today was off and on rain while I was at work. I had worked out on the elliptical for the past two days, but today, I really wanted to get outside and run. I waited until the rain stopped and the radar showed that there wasn’t anything coming behind it. I originally planned to only walk a mile up the road just to start getting acclimated to being active in the heat and humidity. So I got out there and went up the hill and decided I was going to go ahead and complete another workout in the Couch to 5k app. I’ll admit that I skipped the last section of jogging because the hills I was going up and down really made me breathe hard and I didn’t want to overdo it.

Walking back down the road in the direction of home, I thought about all the cars flying past me. I always feel a little self conscious walking on the side of that road to get between where I live and the neighborhood that I like to run in. There is a lot of traffic on that road, but I’m only on it for a little more than a quarter mile. So what were they thinking of the overweight woman walking on the sidewalk in clothes that looked like she had been walking in the rain for how wet with sweat they were? I don’t know what they were thinking and I don’t care, because I did it. I went out in the humidity and ran. There was steam coming off the road, it was very sticky out there. I felt slimy and gross, but man did it feel good to know that I had accomplished my goal for the day. Doing that today proved to me that I don’t need to wimp out in the air conditioning and use the heat and humidity as an excuse to not go out and run. Whatever, I can do it.

IMG_2162

A screenshot of the weather from my exercise log that I took when I got back from running today. 

 

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.

 

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.

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.