Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The Price of Steel

One day in church, my mom turned to my dad and completely out of the blue asked, "What's the price of steel at right now?" 

She had a random stream of consciousness that had started with something that the speaker had said at church and had ended with the current price of steel. 

This is my "price of steel" tonight. 


I just realized that shivering or being too cold is a trigger. Which usually isn't a problem in Arizona. But the problem is, I can't sleep unless my face is cool. It's a hard balance to have just your face cool enough to be able to sleep, but your body warm enough to be comfortable. Plus, if anything touches my neck, I feel like I'm being choked, but if my shoulders or arms get too cold, they start to hurt. It's a very delicate balance. It's also about a 2 degree window for me and changes as the A/C switches off and on. It makes for sleepless nights of me tossing and turning and pulling blankets on and off for hours. 

Which makes me think it's probably a good thing I'm single. No bedmate would enjoy this level of craziness. 

But what if a partner to hold me and comfort me - someone who is there, that I love and trust, unquestionably - is the exact thing that would render that trigger powerless?

Then I wonder why I need someone? Or why I think I do? Why does that adolescent fantasy of a soulmate still hold so much weight? And look where it got me back then.


I talked to a friend tonight about running away. About the dream of driving and not stopping until you reach a place where no one knows who are and no one from your past can ever find you. Those fantasies are so real. And they feel so possible sometimes. 

I had forgotten about that fantasy. I used to have that fantasy a lot when I was married. I had a plan even. I had a friend that no one knew I was in contact with. No one would have any idea about her or how to get a hold of her or anything. I was fairly certain she would help me. This was before the days of Facebook and other social media. 

I haven't had that fantasy in many, many years. And when I realized that, I was proud. And I was really fucking proud of that woman who survived. She survived everyday that she had that fantasy. Every single time she thought about that possibility, she found something to keep her around. And she was eventually happy. She was so much stronger than she thought she was. 

And her life isn't so bad now. She's got rad kids. She just made it through her first week of stats and got a perfect score on the quiz (something that was so beyond possible, it never even occurred to the younger woman as something to consider). And she's got really amazing family and friends. Like, she knows (and is related to) some of the most phenomenal people. 

It does get better. I forget that this is true even for me. I forget that I've seen things get better for me. But luckily, I surround myself with really smart people who remind me. 
❤️❤️❤️

Saturday, October 14, 2017

On Fevers and Being Sick

I haven't felt the need to write very much lately. I take that as I sign that I'm progressing - getting better and all that. But today has been a bad day. 

It started last night with an anonymous message - a nice one, but anonymous - that I started wondering about. I began reading between the lines and wondering about the sender and the possible meanings behind the message. I should have just put it out of my mind, but you can't always do that. But some texts with my sister and my closest friends helped to stave off that panic attack.

Then, this morning at 5:30am, my nine-year-old woke up with a fever. I am pretty sure that sick kids in early hours of the morning will forever be a trigger for me. So after I got Elijah settled with some water and some medicine, I laid in bed and began to feel the room close in on me. 

"Is he still breathing?" 

"Is the fever coming down?"

"I wonder if I should have checked his temperature to know for sure before I gave him the ibuprofen."

"Wait, aren't you supposed to take ibuprofen with food? Maybe I should go wake him up and make him eat something."

And on and on and on. 

I got another message recently from a friend who practiced a little bit of Radical Honesty with me. "You've been single for a half a second. Get over it," was a long the lines of what was said. And they're right and I love them for their honesty. And I should get over it. I'm trying to get over it every day. Every. Single. Day. I am trying to get over it. But this morning was another reminder of my loneliness. I don't have a partner, which sucks, but I can handle that most of the time. I take my kids on vacations and do fun things and take care of a house and try and provide for them mostly on my own (with a lot of invaluable help from my family and friends), but being a single parent is a whole different story. There is no one else in the world that cares for my children as much as I do. There is no one else in the world to worry about them at 5:30am on a Saturday. There is no one else in the world that takes as much joy in their joy and as much pain in their pain. The weight of that is sometimes unbearable. And when there is no one in the world to hold me when the weight becomes unbearable, I reminded again of my utter aloneness. And it sucks.

And then, when I develop a sore throat late in the afternoon, all that is left to do is to take a long hot shower to hide your sobs amidst the running water and then get out and get back to work and laugh at the ridiculousness of being a human.

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

The Final

When Randal shot himself I was studying for a math final. It was 12:30 in the morning and it was the last thing I needed to do for that first half of that semester. Needless to say, I never took that final. I ended up failing that class and dropping out of the second half of that semester. Those decisions necessitated a year long break from school. It sucked. I had put off any serious attempts at my education for a decade because of Randal and here I was in the final stretch of my undergraduate degree and needing to put it off again because of his selfish ass. Plus, I would have to take that class over again.

Monday I started studying. I also got a call Monday that one of my coworkers was in the hospital in a medically induced coma. I also got a message that a friend was experiencing some major health issues. I spent all day Monday fighting off the anxiety and impending panic attack induced by too many triggers.

Yesterday I took the practice final and only cried twice.

This morning I studied and tried to memorize the last few things. Twenty minutes ago I finished that final. All I needed was a C on the final and I was golden. The final would be done and the class would be done and I wouldn't ever have to take it again. I did way better than I expected on the final and in the class. And it's done. Did I mention that already? The class is over and I feel the kind of relief that comes with seeing the mountain range and blizzard behind me in the rearview mirror. I failed once, but I did it again, and I did it better this time. 

I'm a badass.

Now, onto the next mountain. 

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

The one in which I drop the F-bomb. A lot. You've been warned.

Last week I had a moment of happiness. I was driving down the street and the window was down and the sun was shining and it was the perfect temperature. I didn't have any reason to be happy, but there it was. It was pretty great.

Yesterday I was driving down the street under similar conditions, but I didn't feel it. Instead I felt sadness for no reason. I was on my way to meet one of my favorite people for coffee, but I was sad. And then I told myself that I shouldn't be sad, to which my therapist would probably say, "Don't 'should' on yourself." So then I wondered why I needed to be anything other than exactly as I was in that moment. When my friends come to me with their thoughts and feelings - whatever they are - I love and accept them exactly as they come to me, with whatever thoughts and feelings and moods they have that day. We sit together and I listen to them and sometimes cry with them but mostly I want them to know that I love them exactly as they are. 

Why don't I give that to myself? Why don't I love myself exactly as I am in the moment that I am? So then I started crying because of that realization. It was a whole thing that kept going around and around in my head. It was the demon that is always there in the back of my mind telling me I'm not enough. I was a teenager/young adult/new wife/young mother/me six months ago again and being told all the reasons why people didn't want me or like me. It's some variation of not enough or too much: I'm too passionate. I'm too confident. I'm too fat. I'm too depressed. I'm not smart enough. I'm not a good enough homemaker. I'm too independent. I care too much. I don't care enough. I'm not a strict enough mother. 

I'm special, just not special enough.

Well fuck that demon. Fuck that voice that tells me I'm being me incorrectly. 

And that, folks, that fuck right there is my last fuck to give. 

The demon will be back. It always comes back. At some point, I'll make friends with it. Or I'll learn to effectively ignore it. But right now that demon sits on my shoulder and I feel sad... until I start to feel angry. Mostly, I hang out between those two emotions - sad and angry. My poor friends and family. Luckily, I have pretty rad friends and family. Plus, sometimes they benefit from the righteous indignation. Sometimes they are at the receiving end of it. And there is a certain amount of freedom that you get from truly having no more fucks to give. Silver linings, I guess. 

For tonight though, I held my cool through a meltdown from one of the kids, I took the dog for a walk, and I got some adulting done. 

Small victories. Silver linings. And no fucks. That's not such a bad place to plant my flag.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Herstory

At 6 am on the morning of June 23rd I called my mom and dad and asked them to come over so that one of them could stay with my boys and the other could take me to the hospital. I had just spent the last 8 hours on the verge of, or in the middle of a panic attack. For the first time in life I could not control my thoughts or my feelings. I had not made a plan to hurt myself, but I was afraid that I was heading in that direction. This is the story of what lead up to that.

Disclaimer: There are three sides to every story: my version, your version, and the truth. As I've spoken to Adrian and others, I've realized that there are some things in my story that are not accurate. I know that, but my perception of how it happened and what was said is important to my journey and my healing. There is one thing in particular that I will asterisk when I get there, but if you want a bigger picture, please ask Adrian for his version and realize that the truth probably lies somewhere in between.

About a week and a half before I went to hospital I told Adrian that I wanted him back. I wanted to give us the effort and time that I didn't before. I wasn't ready to just throw out our four years and I still loved him. He didn't give me an answer then. He told me he needed to think about it.

On June 15, Randal's best friend, and one of closest friends and most favorite neighbor, Erin, took her 6 year old daughter to the hospital. What had looked like a cold or a mild flu earlier in the week had gotten worse. They were afraid she had meningitis. I went over there that night to take Erin some things and the check in on her and Taylor. The next day about 11am, Erin's friend came to my house and told me things were bad. He and I rushed to the hospital where we learned they had taken Taylor in for emergency surgery to try and relieve the swelling in her brain - which wasn't from meningitis. The doctors had no clue what was causing Taylor's illness. They were clueless and doubtful that the surgery would be enough. I stayed at the hospital the rest of the day with Erin and her closest friends and family. My dad picked up the boys from home so I could stay with Erin. Adrian came to hospital to bring me a blanket and some other supplies. It was while he was there that Erin got the news that Taylor was brain dead. Sometime that evening I went to my parent's house to fill the boys in on what was happening to Taylor and then I went home to get my camera so I could do something to hopefully help Taylor's family heal - to capture the last few hours of her life. I slept for a few hours at my parent's house that night and was back at the hospital the next morning. 

June 17 is sacred. That is the best way to describe it. It was so incredibly painful to watch my dear friend lose her only child - just a year after losing her best friend - to have to make the decision to remove life support. That day I was inducted into Erin's tribe. She knows some of the most amazing women I have ever met. Amidst the unbearable pain of losing a child I saw powerful women love and support Erin and each other. Most of them I had only just met, but I was immediately a part of their family - something powerful and sacred. I spent some of the day taking pictures of Taylor with all of the people who love her most in the whole world. To say it was emotional is an understatement. And I wouldn't trade that experience for anything. It absolutely was sacred.

On Monday, June 19, Israel woke up with a fever. I freaked out. I took him to the pediatrician and explained everything - how I had spent two days at the hospital where my sweet little friend had died and they still didn't know why, but that it started out looking like this - a mild fever and feeling yucky. My pediatrician was amazing and talked me through my anxiety and assured me that the chances of Israel having what Taylor had were so slim. So I took him home and they called and checked up on us for the next two days. Until Wednesday, Israel was still sick and now Elijah had woken up with a fever too. I didn't know what to do. I had just watched the impossible happen - a mother had lost a child and no one had any answers and my kids were sick now also.

And during all this, Adrian still hadn't given me an answer about us. I wanted - needed - someone to hold me and reassure me that everything was going to be ok. That my kids were going to be ok. That my being at the hospital to support my friend wasn't going to cost me the lives of my children. I needed Adrian. So at ten o'clock at night on Thursday, June 22nd, I started to lose my mind. My kids were asleep, but I could not fall asleep. My heart raced and my mind went to all the most terrible places it could go and I just wanted Adrian to come and hold me and tell me it was going to be ok. Around midnight, I finally called him. I'm sure I was hysterical. I needed him and I needed him to give me an answer, was there any hope for us at all? He still wasn't giving me an answer so I begged him to just tell me - if he needed to be cruel, then so be it, but tell me! The hope was killing me. I actually felt like I might lose it all. And that's when I heard him say, "There is no hope for us. I love her more than I ever loved you."* And my whole world shattered. 

On one hand, it all made sense. Of course he didn't love me like I loved him. That's why it was so easy for him to move on so quickly. That's why the last several months of our relationship were so hard. Of course.... I wasn't lovable. It made sense and it still broke me. I thought Adrian was the one the person who was going to love me for the rest of my life. I thought he loved me more than anyone else. And now all I could think - all I could see - was that it had all been a lie. I figured it out - I don't actually know what real love is like. I'm an idiot. Obviously my marriage wasn't real love, I still hadn't learned, I guess. All of this happened in just a few moments. I begged Adrian to block me in all the ways he could - on his phone, on Facebook, everything. I wasn't making good decisions lately and it was causing me some serious harm, so could he just do me this one last thing and take away my ability to see him and his new love and happiness? And could he ask the new girl to do that too? And then I hung up and went to bed. And for the next several hours I laid awake dealing with a very, very long panic attack. Finally, at 6am, I called my parents. 

The following is what I wrote on Facebook later that day:
I have always been a big proponent of normalizing mental health issues. Talking about them is so important to help others feel safe to seek the help they need. I've just never been in the place where I've had to admit my mental health was no longer in my control. I've had some amazing examples of that kind of openness and honesty throughout my whole life though.
Last night was really bad. I felt completely out of control of my emotions. I have never felt that kind of fear and despair. Even with all the things that have happened, last night was worse than anything. I called my parents around 6am and asked if they would come over so one could hang out with the boys and one could take me to the hospital. I hadn't made any plans to hurt myself but I was afraid that it was the next step. The staff at Tempe St. Luke's was amazing. I told them I was having chest pains and stomach pain and some major anxiety and that for at least the last eight hours I was on the verge of or smack in the middle of a panic attack. The doctors and nurses and technicians checked me all out, and of course had me talk to a social worker. Everyone was amazing when I told them all of the things that led up to last night (which is quite the shit storm). They gave me some Xanax and the crisis response social worker, my dad, and I made a plan for at home care. They made appointments with my PCP (which happens to be right across the parking lot) for that day and a therapist next week. I was then released to the care of my parents.
When I went and saw my primary doc, he was amazing and understanding and listened to me while I cried my story to him. He gave me a 30 day scrip for Xanax.
Swallowing my fear and talking to my parents, then to the doctors and social workers saved me this morning. It was also incredibly scary to do. I'm not sure if I was at the point where my life was in jeopardy, but that was certainly the direction I felt I was headed.
Since that night, I have been working so hard to try and get myself better. I remember a time when my thoughts and feelings didn't betray me. I remember being a generally happy and optimistic person. Even through an abusive marriage and the stresses of parenthood post-divorce, and post-suicide, being a full-time student, trying to work and provide for us, and more, I would have always said I was happy. Life was good in so many small and beautiful ways. But since June 23rd, something in my brain has snapped and it scares me. I have depression and anxiety and I can't control it. I go to therapy, I read books, I meditate, I exercise, I spend time with people who love me, and yet I can't say that I am happy. I told my therapist a couple of sessions ago that I was so afraid that the damage was permanent. He assured it wasn't, but I'm not sure I believe him. He's amazing and I love him, but I'm scared. I'm scared of everything.

When I made that post on Facebook, one of my friends commented and said that depression and anxiety are like being stranded on a alien planet full of giant spiders - a cry for help is like begging for a stick to fight them off. It was the perfect analogy. Someone just give me a stick! I'm dubious that it will be enough, but at least it's something. Maybe someday I'll make friends with my spiders. Maybe someday they'll shrivel up and die on their own. I don't know. Right now though, those spiders are a threat and I'm barely surviving. But I am surviving. And for that, right this second, I feel like a badass.



*Adrian has told me that this is not what he said, and I believe him, absolutely. It's important that that's what I heard though and adds understanding to my mental illness. But again, please ask him for his story, don't take my word for it. It's only a small part of a much bigger picture.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Camping

My younger son's birthday is coming up. All he wants for his birthday is to go camping. I love camping. But the anticipation of the all the work and doing it all by myself is doing a number on me. 

Today the boys had the day off school. So I spent the first few hours of the day trying to get my school work done while trying to get the kids to do some cleaning around here, and trying to encourage them not to fight, and then threatening them that if I ended up doing all of the chores all by myself we will never ever go camping. I spent the rest of the day grocery shopping (4 trips, because I kept forgetting things) and cooking food for the weekend, so I can relax when it's actually time to relax. 

And so I sit here stressed and anxiety ridden because I anticipate all the things are involved in camping: loading the car up at home, driving all the way to a decent camping spot, unloading the car, setting up camp, building a fire, hoping that I brought enough sleeping bags and blankets so we don't freeze, camp cooking and cleaning, and don't forget to have fun and relax! It's a whole weekend of working so that we can enjoy camping. I am not looking forward to it. In fact, I am sitting here crying just thinking about it. And I'm so sad that I'm doing this on my own. I'm trying to remember the good things about being single - like I'm the only one in charge. We get to go wherever the wind blows me. We get to do whatever sounds good to me to do. But come end of the camping trip, I'm going to be the one taking down camp and packing everything up by myself too. 

I've sat the boys down and told them how important it is that they help me - that I can't do it all on my own - and not just about camping, about everything. My older son is a saint. He helps when I ask him and seems genuine in his desire to help. He's just kind of a space cadet sometimes. He gets lost in his imagination. And then, when he does come out, he wants to tell you all about it. Which I really love. Sometimes it's inconvenient, though. My younger son is very sweet - he's always telling me I'm the best mom ever and telling me how much he loves me... but to get him to do any work or any chores is like pulling teeth. You would think I'm asking to sacrifice his pets to a volcano god.

And in addition to all of this, it's just been a lonely week. Some days or weeks are like that. I've tried to stay busy and go out and see my friends and be social, but sometimes that just makes my single-dom all the more glaring. Sometimes I feel even more alone and unloved and unworthy. It's an ugly thing what your mind can do to you. I have amazing friends and family and kids and awesome pets and beautiful home and good neighbors, but all I can see is what's missing. All I can see are holes. And all I can feel is pain and sorrow and loneliness. And all I can think about is all the stuff I didn't get done or that I'm not doing as well as I think I should or that I wish was happening. It's awful. I hate it. I just want to crawl into my bed and make a cave of pillows and blankets and not come out for a week.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Sacrifice (This is a long one.)

Up until the last year and a half of my marriage, my blog name and address was "Randal's Wife." I've analyzed myself and my reasons for doing that over the years and I've narrowed the reasons down to one: Sacrifice. 

For those that are religious, you may not agree with what I'm going to say about this, but I've got the research and education to back it up. Religion teaches women to be self-sacrificial. It could be argued that religions teach people to be self-sacrificial and not just women, but I promise you, there are many, many more examples of and teachings directed toward women on the necessity of the their sacrifice. I certainly don't blame my parents or any of my truly wonderful leaders and teachers through the years. I am sure that I took the teachings more literally and personally than was absolutely necessary. But my marriage was an exercise in all that feminine sacrifice that I had been internalizing for decades. 

Randal had three graduate degrees from two of the best schools in the country for his fields. Two of the three graduate schools he attended were private schools. We moved to three different states for his education. I dropped out of college to follow him around. I took classes here and there, but his education was the priority. I supported him through each of those degrees. I did homework for him. I stayed up with him so he wouldn't be jealous or upset that I was getting sleep when he couldn't. He even asked that I read or do some "self-improvement" during the time he was studying so that he didn't get too much smarter than me. Seriously. He was worried that after he finished his education he wouldn't be able to relate to me anymore and he would fall out of love with me.

When I was pregnant with our kids, I was incredibly sick, but was still responsible for all of the household upkeep. He wouldn't even change the kitty litter for me - for a cat he gave me for our anniversary. I had to get rid of that cat. I still miss him. After I gave birth, Randal never got up with the kids. He changed a small handful of dirty diapers. He rarely fed them or did anything to help take care of babies. 

Randal did dishes less than ten times in our entire marriage. I can't ever remember him doing laundry, grocery shopping, vacuuming, or pretty much any household chore. That was my job as wife.

There was a point early on in our marriage when I realized that this was wrong. In the first few months, I realized that it was abusive and tried to talk to him about it, but nothing changed. 

I just kept sacrificing myself over and over and over again. All of this to say that when I was done with my marriage, I was also done with being self-sacrificial to a partner. 

Enter Adrian. Adrian. Wonderful, beautiful, scared Adrian. 

More than once I heard of people who wondered why Adrian and I were together. Adrian is a self-admitted liar, he's loud, and irreverent, and always "on stage." The whole world is his audience. He also attends meditation retreats, practices yoga when he finds his motivation, loves riding a bicycle, writes poetry, listens to jazz music like it's a religion, and would do my dishes, just because. Adrian is wonderful. Our first one-on-one conversation started with, "So you practice yoga?" and ended hours later with me wondering what had just happened. He never asked me to change or sacrifice any part of me for him. He just loved me exactly as I was and we had an amazing relationship. 

So why did it end? Because I was done sacrificing myself for anyone. 

Just to be clear, Adrian never asked me to sacrifice anything. 

After Randal shot himself, everything changed. Adrian and I had started a relationship that occurred on weekends with no kids around. For three years we existed in a honeymoon phase. He saw my kids, and I spent lots of weekends with his kids, but we would have whole weekends (sometimes more) just to ourselves to live in our bubble where we could take spontaneous day trips to Tucson or lay in bed all day and listen to jazz music. It was amazing. We had our hiccups, but our love felt like what all the music was about. 

And then everything changed. That bullet didn't just kill Randal, it killed our relationship. At least how it was. I was stressed out and depressed and I thought I had it all under control. Spoiler: I didn't. We both began to pull away. For me, it was so hard to see Adrian disappointed and frustrated. I assumed what I had been programmed to assume: It was my fault. I was making Adrian miserable and he was never going to break up with me. I still loved him so much. I still wanted to be with him, but I was making him miserable and so rather than sacrifice who I was and look at the things I needed to change, I would set him free. It's a load of shit. There are very few people who understand what severe trauma does to a person and to a relationship. Adrian wasn't asking me to change, but that's all I could see. It wasn't immediate regret, but almost. A little more than a month after we split, I told Adrian I wanted to try again, but he had already moved on.

Adrian moving on has been the biggest heartbreak of my adult life. After all the awful things I've been through, getting my heartbroken has sent me into a tailspin I don't understand. I feel kind of silly that this is the case - like I should be stronger - like I'm not a good feminist because a boy broke me. It's something that I actually am very afraid to admit and share publicly, but it's a part of this depression journey and it plays into and adds another dimension to the underlying lies that I believe about myself. Lies that I'm trying to uncover and deprogram.

And now that I've written it all out, I can see the role that self-sacrifice has played in teaching me these lies and perpetuating them. I don't have to sacrifice myself to be loved.

I don't have to sacrifice myself to be loved.

But I can sacrifice ego to improvement and love. Fuck, that's hard to write. It scares me so much. I broke the heart of someone I loved so much because I wasn't willing to sacrifice my ego and look at myself more closely. I had been neglecting Adrian and our relationship and sacrificed him to my ego. I've said that breaking up with Adrian was a mistake. It absolutely was, but it was, also, probably a necessary mistake. I never would have hit rock bottom and seen all the ugly baggage I was weighed down by.

Healing is hard work and sometimes you have to re-break a bone to set it correctly, I've been told the analogy works for mental health also. So here's to visiting old wounds and binding them to the new ones in hopes that they all heal together and make us stronger, kinder, more empathetic human beings.


Post script:
A note about Adrian: Our stories over the last four years are so intertwined, but we still had personal narratives - they matched pretty closely though. Starting with the night Randal shot himself though, our stories became different in deeply personal ways. His story is important too in all this. I hope he'll write it down and share it someday. Until then, ask him about it. He's been hurt and has been trying to process all of this also. Mostly me and my kids got the spotlight because of our relationship to Randal, but Adrian was right there for most of it. He was helping Randal in a lot of ways too, and he heard the gunshot that night also. He did not escape unscathed. Ask him about sometime.