There’s a little bit of magic in all 0f us, and it’s called the mind

Savoring-ChocolatesWhat would happen if you were to eat something unhealthy but believe it was good for you … or something healthy but believe it was bad for you?

I doesn’t matter, right? If it’s healthy, it’s healthy. That’s simply a fact.

78653217_2And no matter how often you tell yourself that pan of brownies is actually good for you, it doesn’t make it so, right? I mean, that’s common sense.

Or not.

Wait a minute…what?

I can’t possibly be telling you that you can just think the calories out of your brownies?! What kind of quack am I?! I mean that’s ridiculous! You’re just going to stop reading now. Obviously, I don’t know what I’m talking about.

But wait, just for a minute. Hear me out.

Okay, so you can’t make those brownies into a carrot stick no matter how hard you try, BUT it seems that what we believe matters more than we think. Our body responds to how we view something. How our body reacts and interacts changes based on what we tell our brain is true.

This shouldn’t be as shocking as it sounds. We do things like this all of the time.

Seriously. No joke.

Take phantom limb pain. One of the ways we handle it is through something called mirror therapy. We quite literally trick the brain into thinking that the missing limb is still there–even though it’s not.

By using a mirror, we envision a leg where there is no leg, and the brain responds sort of like this:

“Oh! Dear me! My mistake! So sorry! There is a leg there. I see it now. Well, let me just get rid of this pain for you. My mistake. Won’t happen again!”

And poof! The pain goes away.

Are we still missing the leg?

Absolutely!

Are our nerves still sending a static message to the brain?

Yep.

But we’ve tricked the brain into believing there isn’t a problem.

How about another example: stress.

Are you stressed?

stress-300x266I’m stressed.

I’m not sure you can live in this modern world and not be stressed.

For years we have been told that stress is bad for us. It makes us sick. It can even kill us.

Many have mistakenly believed that stress can cause cancer. Research has never supported this. Though there is a correlation between stress and cancer, there is nothing that backs up the idea that stress causes the cancer. A basic research principle there: correlation does not equal causation.

We are now finding out that we have been demonizing stress to our own detriment. Stress itself is not bad. It is only the belief that stress is bad that gives stress the power to harm us.

Huh? What kind of psychological mumbojumbo is this? I’m losing you again, aren’t I? Hold tight. It sounds like mumbojumbo, but it’s not.

It’s backed up with research, and it’s pretty amazing. Check out this TedTalk and let the experts say it better than I can myself: Kelly Mcgonigal TedTalk Trust me, it’s worth the watch.

163808-Good-Morning-Let-The-Stress-BeginStress itself is not bad for us. In fact, we need to take our stress response and make it work for us.

I decided to take this concept and consciously practice it recently when confronted with a crisis in my own life.

As a professor of Psychology, I am very aware of the cycle of the stress response and exactly what is happening in my body when the fight/flight response is triggered. I felt the acceleration of my hearbeat. I felt the blood pumping in my veins. I was aware that my lack of appetite was due to my body focusing its energy on more important needs. I was aware of the the cortisol flooding my system to ensure that I had energy despite my lack of nutrition. I was consciously aware of my body’s response to the crisis at hand, and I told myself just what I was told to tell myself: this is a good thing. This is my body helping me to rise to the challenge and to overcome.

Phase two, I called my friends and family. Remembering the second part of Kelly Mcgonigal’s TedTalk, I got the people who love and care about me involved. I didn’t try to do it on my own. I didn’t let pride or embarrassment keep me silent. I knew I needed friends, and I called them. And they came, because my friends and family are awesome that way!

This was the second worst crisis of my life, only topped by the diagnosis and subsequent death of my first child.

It was bad. Really, really bad.

in-times-of-great-stress-or-adversity-its-always-best-to-keep-busy-to-plow-your-anger-and-your-energy-into-something-positiveAnd yet, I handled this crisis better than any crisis in my life. My body empowered me to deal with it, and my very belief that it would, ensured that it did. It didn’t make the situation any less terrible, but I handled it so very much better!

And I am continuing to handle it so much better, because, though the initial crisis is over, the stress and the aftermath are going to take a long, long time to deal with, and the continued stress I feel can sap my energy and will, or it can feed me.

I choose the latter.

I know my body is designed to help me withstand and overcome just such situations, and I’m going to let it do just that.

The Huffington Post puts it this way:

This isn’t exactly new material. Think of Shakespeare’s wisdom that “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” Or this affirmation by 19th century Christian religious thought leader, Mary Baker Eddy: “Hold thought steadfastly to the enduring, the good, and the true, and you will bring these into your experience proportionably to their occupancy of your thoughts.” (See #9 on: “10 Positive Thinking Books That Might Change Your Life.”) 

In other words, the more research we do, the more the link between our spirit/soul/consciousness and our physical selves becomes evident. What we think matters. Negativity hurts us physically. Whether it is our inner dialogue telling us how we don’t measure up and how we can’t ever achieve what we want to achieve (for more on this concept see my earlier blog: Queen of Schmucks ) or whether it is telling ourselves that our biological stress response is bad for us, negative thoughts take a toll on our physical bodies.

We need to change how we think.

How do we go about it? Well “Forbes” magazine breaks it down and gives us some practical steps in how we can begin to change our mindset about stress and make it work for us:

Tembracestresshen, follow this three-step process for cultivating a new stress mindset over the next month:

Step 1.

Acknowledge stress when you feel it, notice stress in your body.

If you have a difficult time noticing what you feel in your body, try meditating for just five minutes a day.

Step 2.

Welcome stress by knowing that it’s a response to something you care about. Can you connect with the positive motivation behind the stress?

What is at stake here? Why does it matter to you?

Step 3.

Make use of the energy that stress gives you, instead of wasting time trying to manage stress. Think of something you can do now and take action aligned with your values and goals.

If you believe the research, this short intervention can change your life.

Changing how we think is hard. It takes conscious effort and time. We can’t change our thinking over night.

For the optimists out there, we have a built in buoy system that makes it a whole lot easier.

For the pessimists, it might well be an uphill battle–but it’s a battle worth fighting.

It just might save your life.

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When life is speeding by too quickly, what should you do? Why shop, of course!

Unlike most people who take stock of their year at the end of the calendar year, I tend to take mine at the end of the school year, being that I’m a teacher and all. I’ve found myself spending a lot of time thinking about this year, and I have to admit, my thoughts have been very bitter sweet. It has been a year of firsts, and a year of feeling myself on the brink of a new chapter and new beginnings.

During the school year, I am too busy to really think about things, but in the summer, I am able to give free rein to my reflective nature and I have felt the movement of time like a train headed straight for me, and I feel that most when I look at my nine year old daughter Arabelle.

gavinGavin is older; he turned eleven in May, so maybe he should be the one who makes me feel the movement toward change most, but somehow the changes with him seem more subtle. Yes, he’s up to my chin, and yes, he had his first real crush this year, but other than height, there have been no physical changes. He’s matured (thank God), and I know there’s more coming, but, well, somehow either the changes aren’t big enough, or maybe because I’ve been anticipating them, it hasn’t had the emotional impact that the changes in Arabelle have had on me.

strawberry shortcakeArabelle is nine. Did you catch that? Only nine. She has always been my sweetest child, honestly, the sweetest child I have ever met. She always makes me think of Beth in “Little Women.” I have also called her my Strawberry Shortcake. That was just the kind of kid she has always been. She will give her little sister the last cookie. She will look out for the outcast. When she was about three and I had two cookies, with one significantly bigger than the other, Gavin quickly grabbed the large one, and not only did Belle not make a big deal about getting the smaller cookie, she looked at her cookie and said, “Oh, look at my cookie, the cutie, cutie little cookie.” That’s my Arabelle.

adolescentThis year Arabelle has started rolling her eyes at me…and slamming doors…and shooting me this look that says, “Mom, how can you be so stupid?!” She’s happy one minute, and bursting into tears the next. She ignores me, and outright disobeys (not a lot, but that she’s doing it at all…). My sweet girl is changing.

Not all the change is bad. She’s a lot of fun to hang around with. She always has a book or a notebook with her because her brain is always thinking about things, whether it be God, life, philosophy or her next story idea. She’s funny. And she still is sweet, just more of a grown up sort of sweet.

These things have been going on all year, but I still looked at my daughter and saw a little girl–at least for a while longer–but I heard the clock ticking, almost physically sometimes. Tick, tock. Tick, tock. It’s just a matter of time.

Excited Shopping Woman isolated on white

To deal with the advancement of time and this whirlwind of change, I have done what every mother would do (well, at least that’s what I tell myself), I shop.

Shopping, much to my husband’s dismay, has always been one of my coping mechanisms, and since I love fashion, there’s always so much shopping potential.

Though I love women’s fashion, the 30+ pounds that my children left me (thanks so much kiddos) and my own lack of willpower have kept me from vanquishing (thank you all you cupcake specialty stores and the new Krispy Kreme that is less than 10 minutes away!) the poundage and thus keep me from dabbling too much in that industry. My layers of pudge and my big kahunas often make the trends look quite ridiculous on me. So what is a girl to do?

paper-doll-costumeWhy, but what are children but big dollies that I can play with and dress up! 😉 Problem solved!

I never went through a doll stage or a Barbie stage as a kid. I was more into painting and drawing, reading and writing, so my children have brought out the latent urges that I bypassed in my youth. My husband says I’m making up for lost time. I personally call it therapy. I can’t shop the trends for myself, but I have these two skinny, beautiful daughters who look good in everything (even those full body rompers–they may be two of the only people anywhere to pull those off), so, when I need shopping therapy, it tends to benefit their wardrobes, not my own.

When they were younger, I went through a Gymboree stage (doesn’t everyone?), but as they got older, I shifted to a Gap stage–less cutsie. But then I started to explore boutique brands, and there is just some of the cutest stuff ever out there! I crossed over into dangerous territory!

So, as Arabelle enters the last stage of her childhood (as signified by the necessity to go training bra shopping a few weeks ago! Yikes! Again, remember, she’s nine!!!!!), I have found myself wanting to dress her in as many of my favorite brands as I possibly can before her will and taste (which leans toward Justice) makes her unwilling to wear the things I love. Perish the thought!

CAM00914-1So I have bought more Matilda Jane, Giggle Moon, Mustard Pie, Jelly the Pug,  and, my favorite of favorites, Persnickety, in the last few months than in the nine years proceeding this one. Call me silly, but it is my way of saying goodbye to the child she is before embracing the young woman she is becoming…and it is reminding me to appreciate the last couple of years I have with Lilian before she too begins to leave childhood behind.

I have loved the elementary years with my children. I have loved them little. I will miss all the cuddles. I will miss being their favorite person in the world (and the smartest one too!). They have been wonderful years.

But, when I look at Arabelle, I see the beautiful, smart, thoughtful young lady she is becoming, and I am just so belleproud.

I look at Gavin and I see this handsome young man, and I just think wow! This young man is mine, and I am so proud of who he is becoming.

And I know, that in saying goodbye to the childhood years, I am saying hello, to many new firsts. New beginnings. A whole new adventure all its own.

And I always have loved an adventure!

Confessions of a glassy eyed, frazzled, (sometimes crappy) Mother

I live in a state of overwhelmedness.

I am not alone. Though I am a newly evolved creature, only evolved in our modern times, there are many of us.

You see us everywhere, though you don’t know it.

Racing from our homes early in the mornings (earlier than many of you even have to be up)…

Dropping our children at day care (preschool, elementary school, etc….insert any of a number of locations, or several different ones as the case may be)…

Rushing to soccer practice (ballet, baseball, gymnastics, football…pick your poison, or more likely poisons)…

Racing around the aisles of the local grocery store as if we were at the roller derby (glancing at our watch and then making a crazed beeline for the checkout while biting back a naughty word we never would have said in public a decade ago)…

We’re everywhere, (doing an endless list of duties) though you don’t recognize us.

We look like everyone else (well except for the slightly glazed look to our eyes that sets us apart if you  pay attention).

Perhaps there is a bit of a frantic, harried air to us, if you know what you’re looking for (Who am I kidding? We probably look frantic or completely dazed depending when our last cup of Starbucks was consumed–easily identifiable, well at least as half cocked!) .

Who are we?

We are working mothers–a new breed of mother. An exhausted, overwhelmed, and often discouraged group of women.

Synonym for working mother?

insainityInsane.

in·sane
inˈsān/
adjective
1. in a state of mind that prevents normal perception, behavior, or social interaction; seriously mentally ill.
     synonyms: mentally ill, mentally disordered, of unsound mind, certifiable
2. characterized or caused by madness
     synonyms: maniacal, psychotic, crazed, hysterical
3. in a state of extreme annoyance or distraction
     synonyms: mad, crazy
That sounds pretty much accurate. Insanity–caused not by the chemistry of the brain, but rather the chemistry of the circumstance, or more accurately, “Life-stance.”
working momCircumstances imply that it can be changed or altered, but, unless I somehow miraculously end up single without children in the morning, I don’t see that a change of “circumstance” would really alter the state of existence which keeps me certifiably insane (or at least I feel like I could be) half the time.
I am, by varying degrees, alternately crazed, hysterical, mentally disordered, affected by moments of extreme annoyance and/or distraction–all on a daily basis.
To be a working mother means that I am being pulled in a million different directions, by a varying number of sources, at any one given moment, in other words, simultaneously.
Mad_HatterI am wearing so many different hats, that you might call me the “Mad Hatter.” (wink, wink, so very punny!)

What this means in reality is that I am tired all. of. the. time.

I never feel like I am giving enough to anyone (and that is usually, sadly, true), and so most days I feel like I suck.

I suck at everything.

I suck as a mother. I suck as a wife. I suck as a person. I suck as a contributing member of society.

I have an invisible F plastered to my forehead. F for failure. F for fool–for I am a fool to think I can do so much and somehow do it all well.

failureThere are simply too many irons in the fire, and that means that something is going to burn–or so often, lots of somethings.

juggling_momWhen you’re juggling so many balls, they begin hitting the floor, and then, I, the juggler, feel like I suck.

It’s not that there are more balls in the air than anyone could possibly handle.

The problem is me, the juggler. The finger does not get pointed at the ball, it is pointed at me. When that ball hits the ground, I hold the blame. Me. No one else.

I’m not the mother I want to be, the wife I want to be, the teacher I want to be–and I am certainly not the “me” that I want to be.

I can’t be, and I know that in my head, but the heart… well that is something else entirely.

And as if living under that perpetual shadow of guilt isn’t enough, then there are emails like this one from my 6 year old’s teacher:

Dear Heather and Aaron,

Lily has left her backpack in the car today.  It seems that she has a habit of misplacing things.  Please help her to become better organized and  ready to go.

Thanks,

Ms. ———-

It’s the end of May and my 6 year-old forgot her backpack for the second time this year, and I get a “you’re a crappy Mommy” note from her teacher.

parents-to-blameAnd this isn’t the first time.

I get one when I don’t have the opportunity to read with Lily because of one of my son’s late night baseball games.

I get one because I forgot to sign her folder on a night we really did read.

I get one because Lily, wanting to read on her own, misplaced her “book baggie book,” and, for a couple of days went to school without it because things were too busy at home to search the house from top to bottom and find said book that somehow ended up at the bottom of the toy bin.

I get one to encourage me to come have lunch with my daughter, because the stay-at-home Mommies do that and the children of us sucky working mothers are feeling left out.

I get one that encourages me to volunteer in the classroom like the stay-at-home mommies do, after all, it’s not fair that only some mommies do it all.

I seem to get one for ever real and imagined shortcoming this teacher believes I have.

Every time I get one of these notes, I feel the judgment being passed on my parenting. I feel the pointed finger and the scowling face. I feel the recriminations.

Working-Mom-Ecard-e1353971518875But the thing is, I already feel guilty most of the time. I don’t need her help in that. I feel guilty for the things I miss, the things that I am too busy–or too tired–to do, or to do as well as I wish I could–when my kids tell me about a last minute project at 7:00 at night and we have to scrounge around the house to try to make something work, when my daughter is a living painting and I can’t get off of work to see her, when my son has his “graduating from 5th grade Awards Breakfast” in the middle of my fourth period final and, instead of going, I have to settle for pictures.

I don’t need a disparaging note to make me feel like a crap mother–too often I already feel that way.

I am not alone in this. I think all working mother’s exist in this state, though to varying degrees I’m sure. It doesn’t matter that we are doing what is necessary to keep our families afloat.

working mom 2It doesn’t matter that we struggled with low level depression through the “stay at home” years, and this is a necessary component to our emotional well being.

It doesn’t matter that by working, I’m able to provide my children with the big house with the pool. Or that I’m able to pay for football and gymnastics and camps and lessons and all the things that they otherwise wouldn’t be able to do.

When my children turn sad eyes to me because I can’t go to their presentation, all the reasons for doing what I do, don’t seem enough. When a teacher (who has never had children herself by the way), points out my failings, all the benefits in the world fall short.

All I can do is do the best I can, and pray that it is enough. That my best will be good enough. That the good I am able to do, imperfect though it is, will outweigh the dropped balls and the metaphorical “scorched dinners.”

I may not be able to be the room Mommy, but no one loves their children more than I do.

I might see my husband like a ship passing in the night (much less having an actual date with the man who started me on this whole path to insanity!), but he knows (I think) that everything I do is because I love him and our children.

And it might take me a decade to write my book (hopefully not–I’m shooting for July), but it will get done.

At the end of the day, all I can do is the best I can do–and hopefully love makes up the difference.

Bring it on Boogeyboy! I can totally take you!

new-beginnings21I have often heard it spoken that it is easy to see the miracle in the open doors, but not in the closed doors. It sounds profound, but, when you really stop to think about it, it’s not.

Open doors imply beginnings. New things. Possibility. Adventure.

Closing doors too often imply endings (often not desired ones). Trepidation. Uncertainty. Fear.

I can get excited about the opening of a door. I love adventure and a journey ripe with possibility.

But a closed door?

hall of doorsWhen I see a closed, or a closing door, I’m focused on the ending, the closing. I’ve yet to see the new door that will open, and, so often, I have no idea what that new door will entail. Cognitively, I know there will be another door, but what if it isn’t as good as this door was? What if it leads to conflict, heart ache, or even pain? What if I can’t find that new door at all, but am instead left wandering the halls of life looking for the door I am meant to open? Stumbling along, lost and clueless, missing what should have been, could have been, or what was supposed to be? Instead, what if I find some other door I was never meant to open at all and find myself somewhere I never wanted to be?

In these moments of my life, I am reminded that I am to live by faith, not by sight. I am supposed to trust, to believe that God is in control–that all will be well.

It sounds so easy, but then why is it so darn hard?

It’s so darn hard because I’ve grown up. I’ve been confronted opening doorby the reality that God, though in control, is not averse (actually quite the opposite) to leading us to and through difficulty. So, yes there will be a door, but just as when I was a child and I was scared to open my closet door lest there be a Boogeyman on the other side, so I am scared to see what might be lurking on the other side of this door. I really can’t know what will be on the other side.

Will it be good things? Exciting things? Will I find myself in the mountain top experiences of my life?

boogeyman-1Or will I find myself in another desert, confronted with difficulty and a season of struggle?

No matter how often I read my Bible and see how trial is not only a part of life, but a necessary and formative part of it, my humanity can’t help but cringe away from it. Yes, it might be good for me, character building, turning the dross of my selfish existence to something more refined and infinitely better, but, gosh darn it! It hurts! And I don’t want to open the door if it’s going to hurt!

Perhaps that’s why, as I get older, I tend to get stuck in ruts. I get lethargic. I resist the ideas of change, taking risks, or stepping away from what I know (even if it’s not everything I want) and daring to step into the vague halls, the indistinct surroundings of possibility.

Maybe it is the curse of age, or perhaps the weight of the responsibility of being a parent. I know that change was something I embraced when I was young. It excited me, invigorated me. The sense of slamming doorpossibility was intoxicating. Perhaps not age, but disappointment sours that particular wine and when there is so much more at stake than just my own well-being, well, I’m hesitant to rock the boat.

Either way, the reality is sometimes we don’t choose to close those doors, they smack us in the butt as they slam closed behind us.

Sometimes maybe that’s what it takes for God to get us moving. Maybe the ugliness, the betrayals, the injustices that led to that door closing really are the hand of God–even though it seems like the unfairness of chance, a boss, or a loved one . . .

Regardless, of why and how this particular door has closed, I have determined that I am going to channel closetmonstermyself of old. I am going to look past the closing of this particular door and I am going to choose to imagine the doors that could be opening, not with a sense of trepidation, but with a sense of adventure. I am going to believe that it will not be a monster on the other side of this door, but rather something even better than what I’m leaving behind. And I know, even if it is the Boogeyman . . . well, all things work together for my good, not for my comfort, but for my good.

And, if it is a monster, well, I’m not going to take it sitting down. I’m going to take it head on and kick that monster’s a**! 😉

fighting back

Well, hello there! Long time no see!

comfy chairThe other day I had a rare day off with an empty house. My children were at school, my husband was at work, and for the moment, it was just me and my own thoughts, a turn of events I have become unaccustomed to in recent years.

I smiled in bliss at the solitude, appreciating the absence of sound. I settled into my comfy leather chair, snuggled beneath my favorite afghan with a steaming cup of Joe in hand, ready for a nice long chat with myself, a veritable wandering into the hallways of my own soul, reconnecting with an old familiar friend.

But this time, I greeted my solitude, and myself, as a stranger. When I tried to connect with my thoughts, I was overcome with silence–like friends too long apart I had become awkward in the presence of my own mind. My thoughts tumbled around my children, my husband and my job. They skittered amongst the practical, the responsible, the mundane. The thoughts of reflection, of self-knowledge were gone, their whisperings lost in the clanging of necessity. All I heard was the noise of the practical, the thoughts of others, ideas borrowed from books or the radio, my voice, the voice so uniquely me, was silent.

It is a very uncomfortable thing to come face to face with one’s self and to see a stranger. It is a feeling a do not like at all.

I used to be intimately acquainted with my own thoughts. I started a journal at the tender age of ten when I was too young to put much beyond the literal happenings of my day onto the paper. But, the practice led to introspection, which led to reflection. I grew in my knowledge of myself. I discovered who I wanted to be. I reflected on my place in the world and how I interacted in it. I knew who I was, who I had been and I had a clear picture of who I wanted to become. I don’t know this any longer.

It is not an altogether new thought, this reality that I am no longer intimately acquainted with myself. It has risen to the surface, a bubble appearing on the surface of a pond to disquiet the surface by its presence, but the ripple caused by the bubble spreads and fades, and that knowledge is ultimately forgotten in the noise of adulthood, of motherhood and marriage, and the clamor of needs.

disappearNow, I know who I was, but not who I am, nor who I want to be. In this moment of quiet, I confronted the stark reality that I as an individual have gone “Poof” up in smoke, no more substantive than the roles I fill. Me, the individual, this woman named Heather, exists only in relation to others, take them away and there would be nothing to ground me, I would drift away like a bit of fluff in the wind.

From the comfort of my chair, I stared unseeingly out my windows to the gray day before me and wrestled with the questions. How do I, when there is so little time and not enough of me to go around as it is, become re-acquainted with myself? How do I delve passed the responsibilities and the grinding of daily necessity to find the me that I am, not the me that I was?

I am a wife. I am a mother. I am a teacher. All these are things I am.

But these are all roles I fill, parts I play. I am more than the sum of these roles I play for others.

Who is Heather, the woman? Who am I apart from necessity and responsibility?

I was stumped.

Freight-11-728x400This year the reality of this freight train called life has come crashing into my consciousness. My son and my eldest daughter are transitioning from childhood to tween-ness and all the craziness that entails. My baby is not a baby but instead an increasingly tall, long-limbed girl as if she were a piece of taffy that God pulled from both ends, stretching her out. My husband and I have been married for fifteen swift, fleeting years (dear God! How did that happen! Surely I am not old enough to have been married for so long!). And this summer marks my twenty year class reunion. Excuse me as I swallow passed the lump in my throat . . .

I remember going to my ten year reunion and there was another class who was having their 25th reunion. I remember thinking how old they were, and how far removed from high school. I remember feeling so incredibly far from them, as if they were at a place I could not quite conceive of myself as ever reaching . . .

But here I am, a breath away, nearly there–and the breath within me stops, and I feel a suspicious knot in the vicinity of my heart. I am so busy with living, that I am not living, and my life is speeding past and soon I will be old.

CAM00708-1The High School I teach at is putting on a play of “High School Musical” and the director sent a campus wide call for high school pictures from all the teachers so last night I went digging through my old albums to see what I could find. It took a while. Apparently I left almost all of my childhood behind when I left my little rural town for the big city, and I didn’t really look back. I left almost everything at my parents’ house. I uncovered one year book and just a handful of pictures. One of the pictures was of my mom and I on graduation day. I recognized myself. That’s the me I know, the me I remember. That’s still how I look, isn’t it?

The more I looked at the picture, the more I realized that that girl is not me and I am not her. I looked at my mother in the picture and realized that I am the age my mother was when I graduated (actually, I’m a couple of years older!). I likely have more in common with her than I do the girl brimming with youth and hope.

I looked on that girl as a stranger and wondered what she would think of me if she were to meet me today, as I am now. How would she view who I have become? Would she think I’ve accomplished anything worth accomplishing or would she think that I had settled, defaulted to the original setting of life, the treadmill, that factory setting?

Would she recognize me as once being the her she is or would I look so entirely different that I would be nothing more than a stranger she just happened to be meeting?

Perhaps it’s a mid-life crisis, or perhaps it’s an epiphany brought on as I sense the ever-widening distance between myself and the students I teach, but I find myself realizing that we can never allow ourselves to become too busy to know ourselves. That is simply not okay. We cannot be a stranger to our own minds, our own dreams and aspirations. And we cannot rest on old dreams, the aspirations of our youth.

Marriages flounder and struggle and die. Fingers are pointed, blame is passed around. We declare, “I am not happy” as if our spouse is to blame for the lack of happiness we feel. “I don’t love him anymore” we say, not realizing it is hard for someone to love us, when we ourselves are lost even to ourselves.

mom self careHow can someone really love me if I don’t know who I am? And how can I love myself if I don’t even know myself? And how can I be happy if I don’t even know what I want?

I value my role as a wife and mother too much to give them a pale copy, a shadow of the woman I was meant to be. And I can’t become that woman if I don’t know myself.

Knowing who I am, who I want to be, is a responsibility too–and it is one that we, as women, too often neglect. We need to move it up our priority list. We need to give it time.

Do your husband a favor. Do your children a favor. But most importantly of all, do yourself a favor. Don’t become a stranger to the person you are. Take the time to reaquaint yourself with the you you have become, and take the time to figure out who you want to be in the future. You owe it to yourself, and you owe it to your family.

A Letter to my Students

child hospitalAs a teacher, I am continually exposed to the suffering of others. This year has been particularly bad. I hear of these kids struggling with real-life, grown up suffering well before they should be. I hear of their fights with cancer and cystic fibrosis and diabetes. I hear of broken families and death. I hear of rape. I hear of abuse. I hear of suicide. I hear the pain in the words they write, the things they share, and I see it in their eyes. They are too young for such pain. Childhood should not be shadowed by its presence. I wish I could take it away, make it better, do something. But I cannot take it away, and I can’t really make it better, though maybe by simply listening I do make it just a little bit better, because in listening, they know that they are not alone.

Dedicated-to-the-rape-victim--28502This morning as I was driving into work I was thinking of one of my students and what she has gone through. I see the effects of the trauma she experienced playing out on a daily basis. She is a sweet girl. A good girl. She did not deserve what happened to her, but we seldom do, do we?

I was thinking of what I would say to her if I could. What wisdom have I gained on my own road of suffering? What pearls of wisdom could I pass on?

I thought of my journey, my own pain. I remembered the heartache. I remembered my idealism shattering. I felt the echoes of the soul crushing agony and how my journey of childhood, naivity, came to a bone crushing halt as I found myself thrust in to the heartbreaking world of realism.

I reflected on the story we’re currently reading in my classes, Annie Dillard’s “The Deer at Providencia.” Most of my fellow teachers hate teaching this story. It’s not an enjoyable story, but I find that I love teaching it. I love it for its realism, for the lessons it has to share. And I know those lessons to be true, and I am glad that I get the chance to share that wisdom with my students. Those are the messages I would pass on.

suffering1We all, when suffering comes our way, ask why. Why me? Why God do you hate me? What have I done that you turn your face from me?

We feel alone in our suffering. But we are not alone.

There is very little that is guaranteed in this life, but one thing that is is the reality that you will suffer. Life itself cannot exist without suffering. For our continued existence, something must die. Even if you are a vegetarian or even a vegan, your life is sustained by the ending of something else. It is the cycle of life.

When that suffering comes, we must remember that, though we feel alone in our suffering, though we feel like no one has suffered like we suffer, we are not, in actuality, alone. The person sitting next to us on the bus has suffered. The woman in the car next to you at the stop light has suffered. That friend from high school who seems to have the perfect life on Facebook has suffered. We might not look like we have suffered to an unknowing eye, but don’t doubt it, not for a moment, we have suffered.

It’s not like we wear a badge that says “Yes, I have had my fill of suffering.” We don’t have bumper stickers to announce it to the world, and most of us don’t splash it all over social media. But we have suffered. We all have. You are not alone.

angryThe next thing that I think I would want to tell my student is to allow herself to feel the raw emotions. Feel the anger, the rage, the bitterness. Allow yourself to acknowledge the feelings of wrongness. It was not fair. It should not have happened. It was wrong. Life shouldn’t be this way. Those feelings are there, and they need to be acknowledged. We cannot ignore them, push them down, and pretend that they are not there. It’s only in acknowledging them, embracing them, that we can begin to let them go.

I remember after Serena died I had a hard time seeing couples with a little baby. I felt a surge of anger and bitterness. Why was their child allowed to live when my darling girl had to die? Why were they allowed their blissful parenthood when mine was shadowed with pain? Why, in this world of healthy babies, was mine marked to die?

It did not make me less of a person to feel this way. It did not make me a bad person or less of a Christian. I wrestled with my feelings. I howled at the sky. I cursed God.

stormBut the thunder storm quieted to a downpour, and the downpour dimished to a rain, and the rain faded to an intermittent shower which gave way to gray skies . . . and finally . . . I found myself in a place of acceptance.

Eventually I stopped asking “Why me” and I began asking, “Why not me?” In this world of suffering, why should I have been given a free pass?

Let yourself feel what you feel so that you can come to a place of acceptance. Those demons need to be acknowledged, confronted and wrestled with. They won’t go away just because you ignore them; they will just keep rearing their heads and poisoning your life until they are dealt with.

Acceptance. That sounds sort of trite. Optimistic. As if I am giving my approval to what has happened, saying it was somehow right or good.

Let me be clear. I will never give my approval to these horrendous moments of suffering. I will never say it’s okay. I will not try to say that the pain is outweighed by the “goodness” or the growth that comes after.

heartI will never accept the “rightness” of what happened, because it will never be right. What happened to you was not right;what happened to me wasn’t right either.

You don’t accept that you deserved it, because you didn’t. She didn’t. I didn’t.

But you accept that it happened–you accept its presence in your life–and you embrace it.

The only choice we have in suffering, the only power we have, is in how we allow it to change us.

Suffering sucks, there is no way around it. It it not okay. It hurts us and it breaks us. It tears and it rends. It’s agony. But if we embrace it, acknowledge it’s inevitabilty, and it is inevitable, we can become stronger, better versions of ourselves.

innocenceIn Dillard’s story, “The Deer at Providencia” she begins the story with the description of a deer that is caught and suffering, awaiting its death. She describes this full grown deer in terms that would resemble a fawn in the area where I grew up. It was delicate and frail. Small and “thin skinned.” Fragile. Breakable. Childlike.

I think that her description of the deer is symbolic of what we are like before we suffer. Though we may or may not be full grown, we are still as children. Fragile in our ideals. Breakable in our naivity.

It is in the very process of suffering that we grow, that we understand. It is a part of our coming of age, though we don’t really define it as such.

It makes me think of the process of weight training. To grow our muscles, we must break them. We stretch our muscles beyond their endurance causing little tears. These tears, when mended by our bodies, cause our muscles to increase in size and strength.

Suffering is like weight training for our souls–if we embrace it and let it do what it is meant to do. The little tears mend, and we become stronger, better, wiser versions of our selves.

Unfortunately, many never accept it, much less embrace it. These individuals become lost in the past, in the world of “could haves” and “should haves.” They continue to feel alone, singled out, picked on. These inidividuals become angry and bitter. Instead of their souls growing stronger and into something more intricate and wise, the wrinkle and shrivel like raisins in the reality of their suffering. They become the worst versions of who they could be.

Some tears, some breaking, is beyond what we can easily endure. Just as with muscles, sometimes we are pushed beyond what can  easily heal. We rip the muscle. It pulls from the bone. We injure it beyond the normal process.

In weight training it can take months for the body to heal these kinds of wounds.

It can take the soul even longer to heal. But it can heal from the greatest and most horrific of suffering.

WieselI think of Elie Wiesel. I think of what he suffered, what he endured, living through the Holocaust. As awful as losing my daughter was, his suffering was so much more. It is hard to believe that the human psyche can survive what he survived, much less become anything but a bitter husk in the aftermath, but he, and so many like him, are living proof that even the grossest of injustices, the most debilitating of suffering, can not only be overcome, but can also be transformative.

The power we have in our suffering is to embrace its transformative nature, to allow light to be shed on our misconceptions, to send its searching eyes into the darkness and imperfections of our own souls, and to see our inclusion in this mad story called the human existence.

We are all part of the story, and we all contribute to the song of suffering. It is unavoidable.

So my dear students, I so wish that I could take away your pain. I wish I could ease your suffering. I wish I could tell you that this world was different, gentler and kinder, than it is.

But I can’t. I can’t tell you that all your dreams will come true. I can’t tell you that you won’t know loss and betrayal. I can’t tell you that you will never be touched by injustice or the wild spin of chance. I can’t tell you that suffering will not come to your door. I can’t even tell you that it will come once, but never again.

rainbow-after-a-stormWhat I can tell you is that you are not alone. I journey with you. We all journey with you. We might not know what it means. We might not know why we suffer, why God allows it, but I can assure you, that it doesn’t have to cripple you. You can be transformed by even the ugliest this world can give you. You can become beautiful in a way that is intricate and real, not despite of your suffering, but because of it.

And I can tell you that though the world is ugly, it is also beautiful. The very ugliness brings the beauty into such sharp detail because of the very contrast. Don’t allow suffering to overshadow the beauty that exists, but instead to throw it in sharp relief. Allow it to make you, and your world, beautiful in a way that is more real, and more true, than it was before you suffered.

 

 

I think I’m an endangered species . . . I’m an introvert

New-Years-Eve-Party_1I’ve been radio silent for a while. Have I been exceedinly busy with tons of holiday activities? Have I been dashing from one social event to another?  Maybe I’ve been out of town with a party every night and an activity every day . . . ?

No, no, and no.

I’ve been in my cave. Yes, my cave. And yes, I’m a girl. It’s not only guys who need and have a cave. I have one too.

You see, I am an introvert living in an extroverted world. That’s no easy thing! And sometimes, sometimes, I need to retreat, recharge, and frankly pretend the rest of the world doesn’t exist for a while (not easy to do when you’re mother to three little people!).

multitasking-mobile-devices-660x429We introverts tend to be very misunderstood by our extroverted sisters and brothers. You see, for us, parties take work. We don’t thrive when surrounded by great crowds of people. We don’t look forward to the weekend for all of the clubs, parties and events that await. We don’t feel the need to share every waking moment via text or instagram. We don’t keep our phone in hand waiting for any incoming texts so that we can respond to with some funny quip or snarky comment and feel continually connected to the world at large.

Nope. Our phones are on silent most of the time. Heck, they might still be in our bag. We might even forget to check them, for a day, or maybe even two. We might even misplace them and forget about them until there is someone we have to talk to or if we need a timer or something.

When you seeing us sitting in the lunchroom alone, or out for coffee at a table by ourselves with a book or maybe a computer, it’s not that we can’t have company. It’s that we don’t want company. Don’t pity us for our solitude. It’s what we want, what we crave, and something that is so very difficult to find in this crazy busy, over sharing, nauseatingly social world of ours.

My friends know this about me, because they really, really know me. Why? Because I’d much rather have one or two really awesome friends, than be the most popular mom on the block. And because they know me, they give me space to quite simply be me.

They don’t get angry when it takes me a day or two to text them back. They don’t get all pissy if I don’t feel like going out. They get me, and I get them. And it works.

So, why was I radio silent? Because I was hiding from you, all of you. It’s not that I don’t like you. It’s just that it all takes so much darn WORK!

I am a teacher. A very social job. I’m bombarded with questions, required to make snap judgment calls on a regular basis. Sometimes I am required to talk almost every single minute of my working day.

grinchAnd then I go home. I go home to three little kids with their endless questions and needs. I go home to a husband who I haven’t connected with all day and there are more words. I feel a bit like the Dr. Seuss’ Grinch: “Oh, the noise, noise, NOISE!”

It’s not that I don’t love my students. Most of them are pretty great. And I certainly love my children. And Aaron and I never get enough time to talk as it is, BUT it becomes sensory overload to the introvert. It fries my circuits. I start to short circuit, and eventually, I just shut down.

woman-curled-up-in-chair1This time I shut down and escaped to the world of Kim Harrison and her Hollows series. I read and read and read. And for once, instead of impatiently having to wait for the author to finish the series, I have the luxury of having the WHOLE thing from start to finish at my anxious fingertips.

Yes, I reluctantly emerged from my cave periodically and spent time with my family and kids (and had some great times and memories as a result), but I anxiously anticpated the return to the fictious world. It’s not just that I love to read, it’s that I NEED it.

And then, one day, battery is full. My mind beeps, and I can go back into this crazy social, fast paced existence called the modern world. I have the energy to expend.

So, all of you extroverts out there, be patient with the introverts in your life. It’s not that your husband doesn’t want to talk to you when he comes home, it’s that he has nothing left. It’s not that your friend doesn’t want to hang out with you on Friday night, it’s that she has nothing left. It’s not that your dad doesn’t want to spend time with you, it’s that his very existentence is spent providing you with all the cool gadgets and wants that you desire and he’s fried.

We all don’t want to party ’til the sun comes up. Some of us would much rather curl up in a chair with a good book or zone out on the couch watching whatever professional sports team happens to be in season. Some of us find this modern world draining and solitude, not socialization, is what charges our batteries and keeps us going.

He’ll go the party with you, if you give him the space he needs in return. It’s how we work. How we’re wired. And society doesn’t give us much space to be what we really are.

We live in a Photoshopped Perfect, Plastic World

emotional vomitI have a cousin who is prone to emotional vomit.

Yes, she spews her emotions (typically rapidly changing from one extreme to the next) all over social media. I know every problem she has. I know when she’s not feeling well, when she’s angry at her boyfriend, when she decides that she HATES somebody–everybody (And boy! She holds no punches, dropping f-bombs and oozing hatred with every syllable), when she’s depressed, when she’s filled with self-loathing, and when she’s ready to give up on it all.

It’s all right there–in black and white–for the whole world to see.

Many times I have thought about saying something, but I know too well how she would respond, so I keep my peace. It’s simply not worth it. She will not hear. She’ll just point her anger and hatred in my direction, and frankly, who needs that?!

Apparently I’m not the only one who feels this way, because last week, when she posted something especially venomous, people started weighing-in. They told her (and there were many of them) in gentle, and not so gentle terms, that facebook was not the place to air all of her problems.

As I expected, she pointed her canon at them and started unloading. Most of what she said, does not bear repeating. But one thing was telling. “You guys don’t know the half of my f&^%$#@* life, So, until you walk a day in my d*$# shoes. . . Yeah sorry I don’t have 3beautiful kids an awesome husband and a family who supports me.”

Why was this telling?

photoshoppedBecause her assumption is based on a fundamental misconception: that who we are on facebook is an honest reflection of our lives. She honestly thought that the view she was getting of peoples’ lives on facebook was their reality, and when she compared that to her own life, she became angry and bitter.

I’ve blogged about this before (check out The Grass is Always Greener . . . ). Most of us do not do what my cousin does. We do not spew our worst days, our failings, and our heartbreaks all over facebook. We post our special moments, our successes and our good times. We post our best selves. We want the world to believe that we are doing it, that we are living the dream–that we’ve arrived.

This is a cultural failing that we have–this impossible grasping for perfection. Even our models, the most beautiful among us, are photoshopped, because even they are not perfect in their beauty. We, especially the women, live under a continual pall of insecurity because we cannot attain the unattainable–we cannot look like the     photoshopped images we see on a daily basis.

I absolutely love Meghan Trainor’s song “All About that Base,” because it addresses this head on. We are making generations of women feel as if they are inferior because they cannot be, what no one can be.

Facebook can have the same affect. We post only the pictures that make us feel beautiful, the moments that show that we are special, the events that paint us as successful. Our facebook selves are photshopped selves. They are the selves we wish we were, not the selves that we really are.

We are a disingenuous culture. We are rarely honest with anyone, even ourselves.

perfect familyTo the casual observer on my facebook page, I might look like I have it all together (with the exception of the loss of Serena which I am fairly open about). I have a handsome, intelligent husband, three beautiful children, a great house, and a great job. I get to have vacations every now again and do fun things. I look happy.

And sometimes I am.

But there is another picture. Another side.

Facebook knows nothing of my struggle with insecurity. It shows nothing of the days when I hate my body and feel too keenly my fading beauty.

Facebook knows nothing of the years of struggle with depression after losing Serena.

Facebook knows nothing of the shame I walked when Aaron lost his job and for six months we struggled to even pay rent–when, despite the humiliation, we found ourselves walking into the human services office to see about our options with public assistance. It knows nothing of the shame I felt every single time I had to scan that EBT card.

Facebook knows nothing of the resurgence of my temper in the wake of grief and stress. It does not see the ugliness I show when I am pushed beyond what I feel as if I can bare. The times I yell, the times I snap at my husband and children, the times when I end up sobbing from the weight of it all.

Fmom-chaosacebook does not see when my house is a wreck, and the dishes pile up in my sink, and the laundry starts to pile to the rafters. It does not see the relentless and endless drudgery of cooking and cleaning for a family of five. It does not see the times when I feel reduced to a cook and maid, a faceless, powerless drudge.

Facebook does not see the ways Aaron and I have wounded each other by both word and deed.

Facebook does not see the many times he and I have wanted to give up, to walk away, to say, “We’re done! We can’t do this anymore!”

Facebook does not know, cannot know, because I refuse to show it.

Facebook does not see–so you do not see.

barbieYou see the window dressing. You see the outer shell I choose to show.

Every once in a while, we give a window in, but it is only a window. It is a snapshot. Not the reality.

Do not compare yourself to these Facebook Selves, these shadow selves. They are allusions, projections, phantasms. They are not substantial, attainable or replicable.

Do not compare yourself to me or to anyone else.

Do not compare your life to someone else’s life.

Because, I promise you, you will be comparing yourself to something that does not exist.

How can I know this? How can I promise such a thing?

perfect lifeBecause no one is perfect, no matter what you think. And no one has a perfect life, though to an outward eye it might appear as if they do.

No life is without pain.

We all hurt. We all bleed. We all have moments when we feel as if we can’t possibly keep breathing, keep walking, keep standing.

Not one of us is untouched.

For some, the pain starts when we’re children, and we never know life without pain. For others, childhood leaves us untouched, and we enter adulthood with shining eyes and expectations of a perfect world, but at some point, somewhere on our journey, pain will find its way in.

People die. They get sick. They leave.

Sometimes, the ones we trust the most betray us. Sometimes the ones who should have our back, are the ones who slide the knife in. Sometimes our heart bleeds, it breaks, it shatters.

And everyone, every single person on this planet, will have these moments–because these moments are life.

The amazing thing, the wonderful thing, is our capacity to endure.

I've learned that you can keep going long after you think you can'tWhen we feel like we can’t keep going, we can and we do. When we feel like we can’t possibly take one more thing–when it comes–which it inevitably seems to–we find ourselves somehow battening down the hatches and fighting our way through. Sometimes we cannot run, or even walk. Sometimes all we can do is put one foot in front of the other, and that’s all we have. That all we’ve got to give. But we do it. One. Foot. At. A. Time.

How do I know we can do this, when life pummels us, and people fail us, when we fail ourselves, how do I know we can push through?

Because we exist. The human race is still here.

We live in the height of human existence. We live a life of plenty: plenty of food, plenty of the basic necessities (clothing, house, healthcare) and plenty of leisure/extravagances (entertainment, hobbies, options, etc.).

Historically, people lived in want. They went to bed hungry. They had limited, or no, healthcare. Death was a frequent visitor.

If anyone had a reason to give up, they did–but they didn’t. They kept living. They kept loving. They kept walking. They kept fighting. They gave us a future.

I am an anomaly having lost a child. Most people, at least in the developed world, do not have to bury their children.

In the past, they didn’t just bury one, but instead, usually several.

Men very commonly lost their wives in childbirth. Women lost their husbands, and, when they did, what options did they have to provide for their families? They either married again or were forced to walk paths that they never would have chosen.

keep goingLife was hard. It was ugly. It was survival–but they did just that–they survived. And because they did, we are still here today.

We need to end this delusion that perfection is possible. We need to stop hurting ourselves and each other with this endless striving for what does not exist–the perfect life and the perfect person. We need to stop pretending that it does exist.

We need to give others grace to be imperfect.

We need to give ourselves grace to be imperfect too.

My husband cannot be the prefect man that some writer has created in a book, or that some actor plays on tv. Those men don’t exist outside of words that were created by a clever person and put on a page. My husband can’t be that man. Neither can your husband.

Neither can I live the photoshopped lives that I catch on the pages of social media, the images I see in magazines, or the brief glimpses into others’ lives that I am allowed, when they choose to show me, what they choose to show me.

I can’t live those lives, and neither can you.

They don’t exist. They’re not real.

perfectPeople are not perfect. Our lives are not perfect. . .

And that’s okay.

Let it be okay.

Give yourself a break.

And give the people around you a break too.

 

 

 

The Sharp Jagged Edges of Reality

“It is strange that absence can feel like a presence. A missing so complete that, if it were to go away, I would turn . . . stunned . . . empty, when before . . . at least [there was] something.” Adapted quote from Crossed by Ally Condie.

I’ve been radio silent for a while. Bad blogging policy, I know. The thing is, August is hard. August is full of memory—the greatest of joys and the sharpest of agonies. August is always a journey of what was, what I wish had been, and a bitter contending with what is. August is the sharp reality that part of myself has died, and the overwhelming acknowledgement of the presence of loss caused by what should have been, but what isn’t.

I’ve been toying with ideas of what I could write for weeks. I’ve had several good ideas, but my heart wasn’t in it. I didn’t want to wear a brave face or find the silver lining. I wanted to feel the sharp, jagged edges of my pain and remember. I didn’t want to sugar coat, when I was tasting nothing of sugar, but instead the sharp, acridness of bitterness.

The truth is, I have lived for so long with my loss, that I can’t imagine life without its presence. It really is strange that absence can feel more tangible and more real than things I can hold in my hand. That pain can feel more like living than happiness.

One of my favorite songs, even before the loss of Serena, is the Goo Goo Dolls song “Iris.” “You bleed just to know you’re alive.” Pain, sadly, is what makes us feel the most agonizingly alive—it’s not just me, it’s the human condition.

When our heart is breaking, when our soul seems to be splintering into shards of brittle glass, the very agony of it seems to leave us wide awake. We are pulled from the monotony, the apathetic, the mundane drudgery of daily living, and we feel mind crushingly alive.

pain

When I was young, the concept of this intrigued me. I recognized the reality that our capacity for joy seemed to be in direct proportion with the extent of our pain . . . aka Great Sorrow=Great Joy.

What I, in my naivety and idealism failed to understand was the great chasm, that black void of numbness that separated those two places. I had no inkling of the “zombie” years that follow intense grief. How could I, never having experienced any real loss? I was blissfully ignorant and so could love the theory, the philosophy of it, without being touched by the reality. The philosophy seemed deep and wise, almost compelling. It had the allure of the bad boy to it–you knew he wasn’t good for you, but there was something so darn seductive about that very darkness . . .

Cathleen Schine puts it so well through the thoughts of one of her characters in her book, The Three Weissmanns of Westport.

As a girl, she had affected despair and emotional pain in an attempt at depth. Now she had no need of affectations. The despair was real, the pain was real. And depth? It no longer beckoned, that rich, worldly dimension of sophistication, of adulthood. Depth spread itself out before her instead, a hole, a pit, a place of infinite loss.

I’m a fan of “Vampire Diaries” and in one of the first seasons Caroline Forbes, one of the main characters, makes a comment of how she wants to be deep, but she’s coming to the realization that she is anything but deep. She makes the comment: “I’m worse than shallow. I’m a kiddie pool.”

That quote has always resonated with me. When I was young, I desperately wanted to be deep. I thought I was, but the reality is, until you’ve lived a little, lost a little, and hurt a lot, you don’t have much capacity for depth.

Now . . . now, however . . . it’s a different story. Now that I am old, my depth spreads out before me like the pit that Schine alludes to and a part of me would give anything to go back to the ignorance that was my kiddie pool self, but that wouldn’t be real. It wouldn’t be authentic. It wouldn’t be living. It would be pretending, acting, going through the motions without allowing LIFE to touch me, impact me, change me . . . transform me.

We hide our pain because others are uncomfortable with it. We don’t want to be reminded that life has a dark side. We close our eyes to it, until it is undeniable—until it sinks its teeth into us and won’t let us go. Only then do we acknowledge its presence, the very real fact that life is as much pain as it is happiness, as much ugliness as it is beauty.

We want to believe that this is not so—that if we do the right things, we can have all of the happy with none of the sad, but life isn’t a simple mathematic equation where A +B=C (A being-if I work hard, B being, if I treat others kindly, then C, life will be fair and give me good things). Sometimes A plus B is going to equal X or maybe Z. In the words of Dan Allender in his book The Healing Path

        Most of us presume that if we work hard, play fair, and keep on doing what is required, life will work out well. And if it doesn’t, then we simply need to find out what we’re doing wrong, correct it, and presto—life works. But that formula doesn’t always get the predicted results.

I often think of the line in “Princess Bride” where Wesley tells Buttercup, “Life is pain, Highness! Anyone who says differently is selling something.”

Pain is a part of life. It is the reality. Why do we try to pretend otherwise?

So for today, this is my nod to my own pain, and a nod to your pain. This is me not pretending that I am okay. This is me acknowledging that, though I heal, I will never be complete, for a piece of my heart and soul went with my darling girl when she left me. I will not pretend that that can happen and that I will not be forever changed.

I wish we didn’t have to break. I wish we didn’t have to face betrayal, illness, and death. I wish life could be lived in the happy moments, without the sadness. I wish that the horrors of ISIS, the child sex trade, and abuse were not a reality in our world. I wish that there was no such thing as cancer or SMA.

But that is life. And life, despite the pain, is worth living. And I am glad to be alive—to FEEL alive—and to know, when I hug my son and my daughters, how lucky I am to have them here and healthy, and how incredibly grateful I am that I get to watch them grow.alive

I’ll have a pan of brownies, a Bud light and a book on the side please–I’m a little bit stressed

Everybody has heard of the “Stress Eater.” Lots of people fall into this category. When they get stressed, they go buy a chocolate bar or, better yet, they eat a whole pan of brownies. Pretty typical. Pretty normal.

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Or the stress drinker. When you’ve hit that stress point where you feel like you’re going to break, do you grab a Bud Light from the fridge? Or maybe you’re more a merlot kind of gal. Again. Normal.

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Normal was never an adjective used to describe me. When I get stressed, I tend to lose my appetite. Well, except for the sweet tooth. I mean, let’s be honest, when does cheesecake NOT sound good, right? And though an occasional glass of wine at the end of a bad day is not something that I’m opposed to, it’s just not something that I’m ever going to make a habit out of–it’s just not me. No, when my world becomes too big for me to handle, when the daily grind feels like it is going to grind me into flour dust, I don’t reach for a Kit Kat or a Sam Adams–I reach for a book.

A book you ask? Okay, well that’s weird. Like I said, I never claimed to be normal.

I fall into a very small group known as “Stress Readers.” What, you’ve never heard of that before? Well, fine. I confess, I just made the term up. Still, it totally fits–so looky there, I made a new word (or term, whatever)!

Ever since I was a girl, when stress hit, I would escape. I would run from my reality and live someone else’s for a while. I would live their problems and get through them all from the comfort of my bed, leather recliner, sunroom, etc. (Depending on the year, my reading spot of choice differed). I would feel what they felt, and thus, separate myself from what I personally was feeling. I would read until, finally, one day, the stress would feel manageable and I would re-enter my own reality. Of course I couldn’t just take a hiatus from my life until that moment happened, but somehow the hours reading gave me an emotional buffer from its impact in the meantime.

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Through the years, this has morphed and changed. As a kid, Terry Brooks and his “Sword of Shannara” series gave me my first taste of escapism. I then quickly moved on to Robert Jordan and George R.R. Martin (yes, I have been a fan from the beginning folks! Not a bandwagon groupie like most of you! 😉 ). I re-read those books more times than I can count. When my problems loomed large and I felt like I would be swallowed whole, I  would become Daenerys for a while and conquer the world, Image

or fight and scrape with Arya, proving my spunk and courage to all who knew me. Image

The books were so much more than books–they were worlds where I was able to be a different version of myself–they became alternate realities where I was tougher, spunkier, wittier, and prettier than I was in my normal life. And somehow, when it was time to re-enter my own skin and get back to being myself, I did so with confidence and a knowledge from all of those whom I had walked with and so my life seemed more doable, more achievable, and I felt more like its heroine–not just a girl struggling through.

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When I was a stressed out mom with three little ones all at home, I have to admit, my crutch, coping mechanism, whatever you want to call it, failed me. How do you escape when you are the go-to person for needy little ones? You don’t. And so for the first time in my life, I rarely read or had any opportunity to escape. I can honestly say that those were the most stress filled years of my life. I wept often. The weight of my stress felt like it would crush me into a formless mass of goo. I think in a lot of ways I survived those years, I didn’t really live them–and I certainly wasn’t able to escape them.

But now, I am in a different phase of my life. My kids are a little older and so they are a little more independent. Guess who’s back? My handy little crutch. And with age and wisdom, I have mastered the art of stress reading. It is not a “one size fits all” kind of crutch anymore. Oh, no! There are different types of escapism for the different levels and types of stress. For your average, run of the mill stress, I still run to fantasy or dystopian worlds. Though my authors of choice have changed because, as we all know, George Martin seems more interested in doing anything BUT writing and if I waited for his next book, I might die (or he might) before it arrived! So, I have branched out.

I have found a lot of fodder among YA authors: Alison Goodman, Libba Bray, Sherry Thomas, Cassandra Clare and Veronica Roth among others. Oddly, in the adult section, there seems to be fewer choices. Charlaine Harris was my favorite until she tanked the Sookie Stackhouse series with very possibly the WORST finale in the history of writing. I stumbled on Gillian Philip who is quite good, as well as Jim Butcher and a few others.

But when the stress gets really rough, I find even fantasy takes more brainpower than I am capable of and so I retreat to light, fluffy chick lit or romance. Kristan Higgins and Susan Elizabeth Phillips are my preferred choices, but unfortunately, I’ve read all of their books and so I’ve been forced to wander further afield. I’ve found that Susan Wiggs’ and some of Nora Roberts’ (sometimes–some are way TOO fluffy) books can do in a pinch.

When the stress reaches epic proportions, and remember, I am a teacher, and there are most certainly times during the school year that I simply cannot bear to speak or even listen to one more syllable or when I cannot read another word (imagine grading 200 Freshmen essays in the course of a few days)–days when my brain is complete and utter mush, on those days I succumb to a TV series marathon for my escapism stress relief. I feed my family dinner, help kids with baths and homework, and then I retreat into my bedroom with my computer and my friend Netflix and begin to burn through every single episode of a series.

For instance, “Walking Dead.” Life had hit the high intensity level when I turned to the zombie apocalypse for my alternate reality. I mean, what eases stress more than the end of the world as we know it and unthinking, gory, once humans trying to make a tasty snack out of you? Not to mention that, should the zombie apocalypse ever become a reality, I now know everything to do (find a remote farm in the middle of no where) and what not to do (ever trust anyone ever again). Escapism and educational!

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So, what’s your “vice” of choice? We all have one–something that helps us get by when life has us in a death grip. Any tips? Have you found the fail safe stress relief strategy that will make the mountain into an ant hill? Any good escapism must reads or sees? Share my friends! I’m running out of stuff to read! 😉