Misery Does NOT Love Company

Hi. I want to start first with some Cheese in the News… the title of this article is the best: Cheese Protects You from All Causes of Death, Says Science. So there’s some good news.

I am enjoying going to therapy in that it’s helping me to think about things differently and I like my therapist’s approach. I don’t dread going! Which, you know, happens to people in therapy sometimes. J is teaching me the first steps of CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) and I’ve already had some success at realizing my own irrational thoughts, so I feel good about this.

HOWEVER, I’ve been having a rough go of it. I have had several weeks of feeling really “off” and sad, unmotivated and just plain yucky. I’ve had a bunch of crummy old friends show up, like insomnia, bad body image, self-hate, and desire to isolate. Some days, speaking feels like a monumental effort that I might not be able to achieve. I am struggling daily with what feels like a serious existential crisis.

I seem to have two modes of functioning:

  1. I am a badass and I’ve got this.
  2. Everything is hopeless and I should give up as I’m a loser.

Neither of these is true all the time, but I am pretty sure I’m NOT a loser. Like, right now, I can say that with certainty. I’m far from perfect, but I’m not a loser. Why does my brain tell me that I am? My therapist said that I am having cognitive distortions. Cognitive distortions are irrational thoughts that can influence your emotions. Everyone experiences cognitive distortions to some degree, but in their more extreme forms they can be harmful. She gave me a handout and asked that I think this week about if I am doing any of the following to the extreme:

Magnification and Minimization: Exaggerating or minimizing the importance of events. One might believe their own achievements are unimportant, or that their mistakes are excessively important.

Catastrophizing: Seeing only the worst possible outcomes of a situation.

Overgeneralization: Making broad interpretations from a single or few events. “I felt awkward during my job interview. I am always so awkward.”

Magical Thinking: The belief that acts will influence unrelated situations. “I am a good person—bad things shouldn’t happen to me.”

Personalization: The belief that one is responsible for events outside of their own control. “My mom is always upset. She would be fine if I did more to help her.”

Jumping to Conclusions: Interpreting the meaning of a situation with little or no evidence.

Mind Reading: Interpreting the thoughts and beliefs of others without adequate evidence. “She would not go on a date with me. She probably thinks I’m ugly.”

Fortune Telling: The expectation that a situation will turn out badly without adequate evidence.

Emotional Reasoning: The assumption that emotions reflect the way things really are. “I feel like a bad friend, therefore I must be a bad friend.”

Disqualifying the Positive: Recognizing only the negative aspects of a situation while ignoring the positive. One might receive many compliments on an evaluation, but focus on the single piece of negative feedback.

“Should” Statements: The belief that things should be a certain way. “I should always be friendly.”

All-or-Nothing Thinking: Thinking in absolutes such as “always”, “never”, or “every.” “I never do a good job on anything.”

I’m definitely guilty of the extreme forms of some of these, especially All-or-Nothing Thinking and Disqualifying the Positive. Do you do any of these things to the extreme? Do you have ways of righting yourself when your thinking gets out of control in these ways?

I was bitching about my not-great day yesterday to my sisters via text yesterday, when Stacey asked if I wanted to wallow or if I wanted to be lifted up. She was volunteering to do either (or both). And while sometimes I do like to wallow with the help of others, I mostly like to find ways to get myself out of my rut. I’m grateful for patient friends and sisters who listen to me bitch and moan, and who always have a kind word or funny meme to help get me back on track.

Please share in comments (if you wish) some thoughts of what works for you when you are trying to redirect your self-destructive thoughts.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

So, I got a therapist this week. I’ve been in and out of therapy my whole life, on and off psychiatric meds for about 20 years now. I just want to say that up front and loudly because I am neither proud nor ashamed of those things. They just are part of my story. I guess I’m proud that I try to help myself. That part I am proud of.

It’s been hard to find a therapist because my insurance company/plan which starts with a “K” does not really do talk therapy for adults. When I went to try and schedule this, I was told that I could attend a “class” for 12 weeks, after which time I could “process” with a therapist. I declined. After that I was on a waiting list for a local therapy collective for 5 months. They called me and apologized and gave me some other ideas, and that is how I found a therapist with a sliding scale as I have to pay out-of-pocket. On some level I was feeling like I didn’t merit this expense, and I almost cancelled at the last minute. But then I thought, if one of my kids needed this, I would pay without a thought, so I decided maybe I deserved the same.

I’m excited about my new therapist because she specializes in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. According to the Mayo Clinic:

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a common type of talk therapy (psychotherapy). You work with a mental health counselor (psychotherapist or therapist) in a structured way, attending a limited number of sessions. CBT helps you become aware of inaccurate or negative thinking so you can view challenging situations more clearly and respond to them in a more effective way.

CBT can be a very helpful tool ― either alone or in combination with other therapies ― in treating mental health disorders, such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or an eating disorder. But not everyone who benefits from CBT has a mental health condition. CBT can be an effective tool to help anyone learn how to better manage stressful life situations.

I’m really ready for this. My therapist, whom I shall call J (she has a really unique name, and I live in a small town, so I don’t want to out her, it feels wrong) asked me what I have liked about previous therapists and I told her I liked when I was asked to do “homework.” She was glad to hear this because CBT is going to have me doing a lot of writing in between appointments (yay!) I like to feel I’m taking a very active role here.

I know this process is not going to be easy, but I liked my first appointment with J in that she controlled the flow of information from me, unlike many intakes I’ve experienced. It was not a huge, emotional, “these are all the things wrong with me” session. She seemed to have a clear plan, even with regards to fact-collecting, and it made me feel like I was in safe, competent hands.

My main goal is to feel more joy. I can see that, like most people, my life has some challenging areas but it is also filled with a lot of great, wonderful things. I want to be more aware of those things, and not just constantly be looking forward to sleeping. I cry a lot. I have these panic attacks where I feel this overwhelming sense of doom, and this comes from out of nowhere. I have a hard time managing “coming down” after an emotional moment. I have some intimacy issues after being divorced which impact all of my relationships.

I also have a really amazing friend/family group and it’s obvious that people love me because they tell me! Often! This reminds me that I don’t suck and I do deserve healing and to focus some energy on myself. I want to make sense of my mental illnesses — I want to move beyond “my life would be great if I wasn’t anxious/depressed all the damn time” to “this is how I am, how can I cope with it better and thrive?”

Have you tried CBT? Tell me what you think!

International Night

I’m calling it a Cheese Holiday but it’s technically NOT because the Cheese Ladies were not present…However, we did eat cheese and I got to share it with a bunch of other friends and it was awesome.

Miles and his friends have their own club – Sound Circus – where they meet and have a music playing party. It’s themed and last night it was International Night. It was at our house and to match the music theme, people also brought international foods. Mark brought the BEST Chicken Tikka Masala ever (serious, it was AMAZING), Jon brought delicious Italian wine and homemade cupcakes crafted by Nicole (<– she couldn’t make it to the party), and Stu brought saffron rice which he thought wasn’t good but he was wrong.

I thought this would be a good opportunity to serve the cheeses I got at The Cheese School last weekend and I added in a couple other wedges from Safeway to round out my cheese platter.

Red Hawk (from Cowgirl Creamery), Tomme de Fayette, Cabriolet all from The Cheese School. Aged Gouda and Bleu from San Ramon Safeway

I asked my guests to take a few notes about their reactions to the cheeses so I could include them here. Mark enthusiastically sampled each cheese and was kind enough to write notes as I’d asked on a post-it note. He found the Red Hawk to be the “most satisfying and delicious,” the Cabriolet “very good,” and the Aged Gouda “really good.” Yes, we teased him about his descriptors but any lack of adjectives he may have displayed was completely forgiven by his Tikka Masala chicken which was the bomb. 🙂

Jon, who admits he does not enjoy super strong cheeses, did have a favorable note regarding the Aged Gouda. He said it had a great flavor and a nice crunch. He is referring to the crystals that form in aged cheeses such as this amazing wedge that I found at Safeway. It cost $19.99 a lb (as opposed to The Cheese School ones that were $40/lb) and I think everyone who sampled it would highly recommend, including my son, Luca, who liked it atop a bit of proscuitto.

Blair made up for everyone’s lack of adjectives with her thoughtful response to the cheese tasting. She described the Gouda as “yummy, smooth mouth-feel” for example. Blair thought the Bleu was milder than she’d anticipated (I agree; it was really pungent smelling) and she also enjoyed the aftertaste of this French offering. The goat Cabriolet was noted as being mild and delicate while the Tomme de Fayette “crumbles in your mouth and holds up to meat” pairings. Lastly, Blair found the Red Hawk to be smooth, and almost dissolves in your mouth.

Stu was the final reviewer, and as a wine-maker and purveyor of the finer things in the culinary world, we all looked forward to what his delicate palate’s response to the tasting would bring. Stu also enjoyed the Gouda like the rest of us, describing it as “extremely tasty, solid, good Gouda.” Stu had sampled the Red Hawk before, but found this iteration of it a bit too strong for his taste. He then schooled us a bit on how different bacteria that forms in the cheese-making process can cause taste differences in the batch of cheese using the same recipe. Choosing the Cabrilot as his favorite, Stu found it “reserved but also delicious and strong.” This was a cheese that the woman at The Cheese School suggested we sample and I liked it so much that I bought some.

I also made some other foods which I photographed that I thought I’d share:

Serving home made foods that my friends enjoy make me so happy. It was a fun night and really cool to hear what some new people had to say about cheese.

To close, here is the playlist from the music portion of the night, thanks to Mark!

Cheese Holiday Outing

We took Cheese Holiday on the road and headed to the heart of San Francisco — Fisherman’s Wharf — for a brunch at The Buena Vista. This places oozes with old-school San Francisco charm, delicious food, and the very famous Irish coffee:

YUM

I am not generally a whisky drinker, but this beverage is top-notch even for me. I had Crab Cake Benedict, which is not photographed because I was too busy eating it. Our waitress was super old-school-cool too, and we thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience.

After this delicious meal, we headed out in search of the School of Cheese. It was just a short walk away, located at Ghiradelli Square. We loved the welcoming signs:

Once inside, we found ourselves in the center of a small cheese and wine shop. The cheese offerings were few but worthy. The cheese expert pointed us toward a cheese to sample:

I bought a wedge for later.

I also found the washed rind cheese we all adored from many months ago, Cowgirl Creamery Red Hawk. I bought a bit of that as well, and another that smart cheese lady recommended and allowed us to sample. More on those when we eat them in the near future.

We got ourselves a small cheese board and some wine (Nicole got a cider). We were NOT HUNGRY at all. But it was impossible to resist this indulgence. We sat ourselves down, and then nice cheese lady suggested a location with a better view:

This place is pretty amazing, as you can see. There were also cheese books available for reading:

I was too intoxicated to read.

Here are two views of our cheese board:

The cheese with the knife stabbed inside of it was a washed rind, creamy and not too strong. The one in the middle literally had hay on the rind and smelled like cow poop. It was very grassy tasting! The one on the left in the second picture was a salty cheese which reminded me a little of Asiago. It was a pleasure to sit here with my friends, nibbling and drinking and talking about our children and the beauty of the setting and life in general.

We could see people out in the Bay on floaties, and even a line of them with different ones including a giant flamingo. The weather was cool and breezy which felt great after the heat snap we’ve been having. Krista and I noticed so many fun places we’d like to visit on a subsequent trip to this area; it’s really a touristy place that we don’t often go but we should! We saw a shop with nothing but hot sauce, one of those places with bins of candy (love), and a restaurant called Cucina Siciliana which obvs we need to hit. We fantasized about staying at a hotel called the Argonaut (I just looked at it for fun and it’s $325 per night even in the off-season! yikes) and then just eating our way through the neighborhood one day.

Then we Lyfted home and all took a nap 🙂

Killing in the Name

Nothing transports me back in time so well as music does. I remember song lyrics I haven’t heard in decades, and can recall a memory attached to a long-ago loved song. I mostly listen to 80’s music, in particular 80’s new wave — it’s my favorite. I remember when I first learned about this kind of music, on a station called The Quake when I was about 13. I could only get this station if I put my radio in a certain place in my bedroom and angled the antenna just so. After all, I was in San Jose and this station was from the much more exciting and cosmopolitan San Francisco. When I first heard Depeche Mode and Tears for Fears, I felt like it was MY music — it was like those songs were written for teenage ME.

The 80’s saw me through my teenage years, but the 90’s were when I became an adult. The 90’s were also when I started dating Paul, moved in with Paul, married Paul. No part of that decade was without him, and I generally avoid memories that force me to think of Paul, therefore 90’s music is kind of off-limits.

I realize that avoiding an entire decades’ worth of memories is sort of untenable. I’m trying so hard to live in the present, be fully present, be grateful. So I try to keep my feet firmly planted in 2019 for the most part. Since Paul’s death just over a year ago, I’ve learned that there are a lot of aspects of my relationship with him that I have not dealt with at all, and that those issues and memories live inside of me. They show up sometimes. I usually don’t want them to. It’s complicated.

I actually have been avoiding my yin yoga class for a few months now because the memories were coming to me HARD every class, to the point where I’d cry each time and be really unable to enjoy the yoga. I’d feel really anxious before the class even started, knowing that I was gonna have some sort of memory flood and have to deal with that when I was just there to stretch, work on meditation (which I am not great at), and “be in the moment.” I was not in the moment. I was always somewhere around 1996.

I went to yin this past Tuesday because my lower back’s been killing me and I thought the gentle stretching might help. I kept the memories at bay until the very end, when I had the thought: “How is it that Pete, Luca, and I loved him so much and still he didn’t want us?” This is a real fucked up thing to have to think about. My rational brain knows this is a bunch of bull, but a quiet corner of my heart still wants answers. Also, the class just made my back hurt more.

By Thursday evening, I was in excruciating pain. It was Back to School Night for Luca, though, and I really wanted to meet his teachers so I soldiered on. I also think I had a virus, because my stomach was not right for a couple days. I felt “off” mentally and physically. (Luca’s teachers are great, by the way). Events at the boys’ schools always make me think of Paul, too… make me think of all the millions of events and things he’s missed and how many I have attended alone. I am still sad about this, even though I’ve been parenting and in charge of everything for close to 20 years.

The next morning, I woke up feeling awful and decided I’d work from home to get crucial things done and take a sick day for the rest of the time. I don’t know if anybody else gets like this, but the convergence of the physical and emotional anguish make me feel very angry and rebellious. I have read many times that anger is depression turned in on itself, and I mostly display that side of the coin. Every now and again, though, I feel really angry, sort of in the abstract. I am not even angry at a person or a thing, I’m just angry. I feel like listening to loud music (I tell Miles to watch it when I’m listening to the Pixies) and painting my nails black and getting a tattoo. It sounds funny, I know, but these are true feelings I have from time to time.

I decided, in this state, that I needed to get new sheets for the boys’ beds. I don’t know why, but it felt urgent so I threw on clothes without showering and went out. My 80’s radio station had commercials, so I switched around and found that another local station was playing all 90’s for the whole weekend. The next song: Rage Against the Machine’s Killing in the Name.* I cranked it so loud and raged with them, then cried my eyes out in the parking lot of Ross. Cause you know, the years when you’re in your 20’s are important, and blocking them out for 15 years is maybe not the best idea.

I can’t rewrite my past. Paul is in it, he’s in 16 years of it as an active participant and then 12 more as my ex-husband and now a year as a memory. I don’t know how to make peace with it. All that music from the 80’s is safe because it’s just mine, but the 90’s, that was ours. His memory is in every song. How do people do this, I often wonder. How do people move on? I want to. My life is good. How do I let go of the parts that hurt me while also hanging on to my own story? I don’t know yet.

I dreamed last night about Paul’s family: I dreamed I was at Roseanne and Rachel’s house. Those are Paul’s two aunts whom I loved and who loved me. They were mad when our marriage broke up, mad at Paul. They called me crying, they said they still loved me. But as that conversation continued, one of them told me they loved me because of Pete and Luca, because I was their mom and my boys were Ditos. That’s why they loved me, not because I was me, but because I had birthed Ditos. My heart fell. I only saw them one more time after that. In my dream, Grandpa Pete was there, too, and Christy. I hugged Grandpa Pete. He is dead now, too, and I loved him as well. In the dream, I was crying because they did not love me anymore. Christy was comforting me.

I cried late this morning thinking about it again, and then I felt the restlessness and anger and needed to just get out of the house alone. I got a pedicure, it helped! I listened to more 90’s music on that station, and then on a Spotify playlist I found. I had a fruit smoothie and came home and made a nice dinner for my family. My back hurts less thanks to ice packs and rest, and Miles turned 54 and I am going to be okay one day at a time.

*The memory of this song is a traveling dance club called The Terminator that we used to go to when it came to San Francisco. We’d go with Mike and Krista, sometimes Christy, sometimes Sergio. It was near the SF Center downtown. Two floors, one with a DJ playing music like Rage Against the Machine and The Offspring and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Downstairs they had live music, like super loud death metal. The bathrooms were horrible. I would wear spandex shorts and a babydoll dress and combat boots. At like 1:30 or 2:00 AM, we’d hit Jack in the Box, eat that, and then go home and go to sleep.

Separation Anxiety

So Pete’s at special needs camp. I dropped him off yesterday, to an amazing place called Camp Arroyo where I am sure he is safe and happy. I made a vow to myself that I would not cry in front of him when I dropped him off, and I am delighted to inform you that I kept this promise. I must add that I “ugly cried” for about 10 minutes after leaving the campgrounds, and I can’t even tell you exactly why I was crying. Parenting is weird.

When we arrived, we checked in at a table with smiling women. It was clear how completely organized everything was, because there simply was almost nothing for me to do. Pete was introduced to his counselor, an 18 year old named Dominic (from Walnut Creek, birthday in December, as Pete asked immediately for this information) and we were shown to the infirmary where we dropped off Pete’s meds and then to Pete’s sleeping quarters where we dropped off his duffel and sleeping bag.

Dominic then brought us down a path leading back to the dining area, where tables were set up for some sort of opening ceremony. The boys (men!) walked in front of me, and if I’m honest I will tell you I could barely keep up. We got near the dining hall and Pete said, “When do we get to ditch my mom?” which sounds mean but I know my son and he was not trying to slight me, he really wanted to know when his camp experience was going to start. I asked Dominic if there was anything left for me to do and he said “no” so Pete hugged me and I left. No pictures were taken, no long goodbye; I just turned and walked to my car and left.

Cue ugly cry… I think I am just scared on some level to have Pete out in the world without me, without special ed staff that I know well, without anybody specifically looking out for him or explaining to people who he is and how he is. Please know that Pete has already accomplished a LOT without me, and I really should lean on that knowledge for comfort. Pete worked in the school office for several years, Pete took a bus to the ROP campus for two years, Pete walked to and from high school for 4 years, Pete goes out in our community on his own or with friends. So I do know this issue is with ME and not with Pete. Pete’s doing exactly what he should and can do. It’s me who’s scared.

Many of my friends with children Pete’s age are gearing up to send them off to college right now. This is generally the time for a big separation, I know this. But because of several factors: single mom, autism, no grandparents to look after my kids — the times I’ve been away from my children are few and far between. Pete has only been away from me overnight a handful of times, besides the few years he had visitation with his dad. The longest was 4 nights in 6th grade when he went to science camp with school. He wasn’t nervous then, either. (I was, and Luca cried over missing him).

I woke up at 5:00am this morning, acutely aware that Pete was not under my roof. How can I extract myself from him in a way that is healthy and right? I don’t know how to do this. I actively try not to be helicopter-ish or overbearing with either of my kids, and I often make vows as described above so as to not deposit my anxiety on to them. I feel like I need to work on this, but I don’t know how. I have acted as a human shield for Pete for so long … protecting him from the world and people he should have been able to trust and people who are just mean, too. I have to learn to trust that Pete will be okay. How do I get there?

I mean, look at him! This is not a kid who needs to be with me 24/7.

Queer Eye Viewing Cheese Holiday

We decided to bring together some topics we all love — cheese and Queer Eye.  Last Friday was the premier of Season 4, and we all gathered at Nicole’s for a viewing party and cheese tasting and a general “treat yo’self” evening.  I decided to purchase a cheese assortment from my friend Nicole Schwing, who has started a business called Danville Cheese Gal.  NicoleS makes cheese boards and boards with fruits and sweet treats and they are just gorgeous!  Here is a picture the cheese box I ordered before opening:

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and here’s a picture with labels! of what was inside:

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You guys, this was so delicious.  I admit we didn’t do our regular, excessive chatting about the cheeses because we were watching Queer Eye at the same time.  But we LOVED these cheeses and cheese-adjacent accessories.  I especially loved the Stilton, and I think Nicole and Carrie preferred the Truffle Tremor best.  Everything in this box was scrumptious, and it all tasted so good together.  We toasted NicoleS more than once and will definitely be ordering from her again very soon.  So should you, if you live in the East Bay.

I might add that NicoleS, who is a long-time friend of mine, referred to me to her children when I picked up the box as “my choreographer” and this was just about the sweetest thing ever.  NicoleS and I go way back, to when she was Nicole Santos (also NicoleS, though) and Krista and I chose her to be in one of my very first pieces of choreography.  Krista and I used to say we discovered NicoleS, but in truth she needed no discovery because she was already an incredibly talented dancer when we met her.  We will definitely be inviting NicoleS to one of our upcoming cheese outings or another Holiday because she’s awesome and knows cheese!

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Here is Nicole before we devoured the box of cheeses and treats.

Sidenote: Krista couldn’t come to this party because she had important plans elsewhere, but we did enjoy the addition of Delia’s friend, Mickenzie, and also Adam.  Eventually we got Miles and Jon as well, so we had plenty of help with all the snacks.

In our homage to Queer Eye, we discussed our own style icons, and I wish I could remember them all!  Perhaps the ladies will chime in to help me, but I can say that Nina from Offspring was a choice of both Carrie and me, Delia chose Millie Bobbi Brown, and Mickenzie chose the brothers from My Chemical Romance.  Miles chose a super old dude named Le Corbusier (a very cool designer) and we kinda got Jon to say Keanu Reeves but this was under pressure, truthfully.  I know I’m missing some cool ones (Nicole?).  Sorry.

We watched the first two episodes of the current season of Queer Eye and the Fab Five did not disappoint.  I will give no spoilers here.  I was actually listening to Jonathan Van Ness on his “Getting Curious” podcast this morning.  It was an episode where he had his own mother on, and they were talking about how precocious and opinionated he was as a child.  It brought to mind how un-opinionated I was as not only a child but a young person, and an older person as well.  I believe I was socialized to keep my pretty little mouth shut, mostly, and then married a guy who wanted me to quietly agree with him.  So I was taught to squelch my opinions and questions constantly, until it became part of me that I didn’t even know I was doing.

Actually, being BFFs with Carrie, who was socialized differently than I was, helped me to identify this flaw (I do see it as a flaw).  Carrie has opinions about everything, as she should, and when I first knew her I found myself thinking, “wow, this chick has something to say about everything, she needs to pipe down!” but in fact I needed to pipe UP!  I realized I didn’t know how I felt about lots of things because I never allowed myself to consider my own feelings, let alone articulate them.  This is a good reminder that you should befriend people from different upbringings and age groups as we can learn a lot from each other!  I like the idea of “getting curious” and I try now to ask questions directly when I either don’t understand something or just feel that the person I’m speaking to is leaving something out; I used to think there must be something wrong with ME because I wasn’t getting it, and now I know I can simply ASK.  And that I’m allowed to have feelings that differ from others (especially men, which used to scare me) and I am working toward speaking with confidence AND respect (because I used to think that disagreeing = disrespect) to those I interact with. 🙂

WATCH QUEER EYE and listen to the gorgeous JVN’s podcast.  You will definitely be better for it.