How’d Your Summer Go?

Hello. Back-to-school is here and for the first time in forever I do not have any children attending a K-12 school! Pete continues in his district-run transition program, but this is his last year there. Luca is enrolled in a local community college and begins her courses in less than a week. Unfortunately, most of the classes at the community college are online, but she’s going to give it a go and see how she likes it. She does have one art class that meets in person one time per week.

We were unable to spend time in Lake Tahoe this summer because our house flooded earlier this year. A pipe broke and basically destroyed the entire first floor of our house. The good news is we’re insured and will be able to get it fixed up, but due to the wildfires last summer, the insurance companies are very busy so it’s taking some time to get everything sorted. It feels funny to not go there as we go every year! And now that I’m working 100% remotely, I could go there and work! But I’m still really grateful for insurance and the fact that we had our amazing trip to Hawaii this summer so I’ve got no real complaints.

My new job is going really well. My “new-old” job, hahaha. It’s much different than it was before — good leadership and much more organized now. Working from home is really great for me and was just what I needed. I am more productive and am able to do a few things around the house when I need to take a break, thus making the evening go more smoothly. I’ve been exercising regularly because I have the time to do that now and still have time to relax a little. When I was WFH before, during the height of the pandemic, I was lonely because I never got to see any people in person besides the people I live with. But now I can see friends after work or on the weekends and actually leave my house! So this is a really good fit for me.

I am continuing to deal with my old frienemies, anxiety and depression. I tried to get a psychiatry appointment at Kaiser in June, but they could not schedule me for over 2 months. I have been fighting with Kaiser for years. I am always deemed too healthy for them to help me because I am “high functioning.” I have thought about lying through the screening process but I just can’t. I always think of people who are really much more desperate than I am not getting services because of me. I know it’s not technically my problem that Kaiser has failed us, but still. So I decided to take matters into my own hands.

Five years ago or so, I read Ayelet Waldman’s book, A Really Good Day, wherein she describes her journey with microdosing LSD to treat her debilitating symptoms of depression. I have thought about this ever since, and wished I had access to this kind of treatment. I have read articles about alternative drug therapies ever since reading her book. Then I noticed a series on Netflix, How to Change Your Mind,* by Michael Pollan. I have read his books about food and I like him (he and Ayelet are both local Berkeley people!) so I watched and became even more convinced that I needed to try something other than the non-responsive Kaiser network and then another series of anti-depressants that they would surely prescribe, along with a bunch of unwanted side-effects that always make me stop using them.

Did you know that psilocybin is now legal to purchase in some places? Oakland is one such place. Psilocybin is the chemical compound found in mushrooms — “magic mushrooms.” I am super sensitive to these kinds of drugs (anybody who has witnessed me trying thc edibles recreationally can back me up, it is not pretty) so I decided to try this with great caution and a lot of research. The doses come in a capsule, so it’s all measured out. I decided to try a dosing protocol where you dose one day, skip two days, and then dose again. It is also recommended that you take time off after a couple months before resuming, or a that point, just dosing when you feel off. I have been doing this almost a month now and my anxiety has reduced. It is not gone. But I had been having “mild panic” every day (I would be just sitting at my desk working and get this overwhelming sense of dread, no idea what the trigger is), now it is more like a couple times a week. I have had one nighttime panic attack since starting the protocol, but it resolved in a matter of minutes rather than in hours. Actually, I just remembered I had another nighttime panic attack or the beginnings of one when Miles was out of town. I actually was able to talk myself out of that one! So that is progress.

Also, if you are wondering, I feel absolutely no “high” from the psilocybin. I just feel nothing at all, and that is what I wanted. 🙂

*I really recommend this documentary series. Even if you have no interest or need in trying these naturally occurring substances yourself, the doc is really eye-opening regarding our own government restricting the American people’s (and by extension, the world’s) access to these drugs.

I am still crocheting for fun and relief. I have started sending out small scrunchie care packages to anybody who wants one, so if you would like some scrunchies, just let me know. I make them with scrap yarn and I enjoy making them and sharing them a lot. I am working on a poncho for myself – it’s almost done, just need to finish stitching the pieces together.

Well, that’s all I’ve got for now. Wishing everyone a good start to the school year! xoxo

Two Diagnoses

Well, it’s been a crazy month, filled with so many unexpected circumstances. I left my job and went back to my previous company, with a start date of May 31. No sooner did I begin my new gig that I started feeling out of sorts. I had abdominal pain and some digestive issues, and something told me this was not a run of the mill virus. I finally went to the ER on the Friday of that week and was diagnosed with diverticulitis. This is a condition when your large intestine sort of develops a pouch on the side and food gets stuck in there, causing an infection. My dad had this condition as well. So I was not super excited about this diagnosis (who would be?) but was relieved to know what was going on. The ER doc prescribed me two antibiotics and said YES, I could still go to Hawaii the following week.

Travel day I was still not feeling 100%, but better. I was careful with what I ate in Hawaii but overall I felt pretty good and my health did not hold me back from having a wonderful time. I am so grateful for this reprieve, I feel like it was a small miracle now.

On the day we were to return to California, my digestive issues returned. I figured it was anxiety about the long travel day ahead and actually felt okay on the flight. We arrived home after midnight and I went to bed and slept about 6 hours and then woke up to get back to work. Digestive issues continued, and it was becoming clear that I could honestly not keep any food or liquids inside my body. I called for advice and was told to contact my primary doctor. She was on vacation and her office did not return my calls for a couple days. When they finally did, it was to tell me no one could see me. By this time, I’d been suffering for 4 days and it was only getting worse. Eventually, I called the advice nurse again and was given a video appointment with a different doctor on Father’s Day. That doctor said it sounded like c diff, and that he would order a stool sample (argh) but that the lab was closed and I could not go do this until the following day.

I continued to suffer at home, and by the following afternoon, I couldn’t take it anymore. I went back to the ER, but it was super busy and I was relegated to a chair in the hallway. They took blood and I gave them the sample and I waited. The doctor said I needed fluids via IV but there was no room and they would not give it to me there. I waited 4 hours and then went home. I was super upset and felt very defeated, like I could not get anyone’s attention and no one was helping me. My condition declined that night and I went back to the ER the following morning. It was not so busy and they listened to me. The doctor called the lab and my sample had not even been processed yet! So she got them to do that and we confirmed that I had c diff. I was then admitted to the hospital.

I learned that you can get c diff, which is seriously the absolute worst intestinal infection available, if you have done a course of antibiotics. Basically, because all your “good” bacteria in your digestive tract is killed by the antibiotics, the c diff, which lives in you but is usually pretty quiet, gets its chance to proliferate. It is brutal. It makes it so anything you eat or drink goes right through you and you absorb zero nutrients from food. Dehydration is a definite. I think I have never been this sick. The treatment is more antibiotics and IV fluids. I am thankful my case was straightforward and I am responding really well to the antibiotics. I spent 4 days in the hospital and came home this past Friday and continue to recover at home.

You can see why I think not being ill in Hawaii is a miracle.

Miles did an amazing job of keeping our household going in my absence and providing support to my kids and me. My friends visited me and texted me and boosted my spirits. So did my stepdad! My wonderful sister, Stacey, drove all the way here and took such good care of me on Friday and brought me home. She also made delicious food for us. I am so grateful and know that I am loved.

Need a bit of a redo on my birthday, but I will take care of that once I’m fully recovered.

Moving On, Taking Risks

How long do you think a person should stay at a job when they know it’s not the right fit? This is a question I think about a lot, especially in my role as a recruiter. We call people with lots of short stints on their resumes “job hoppers,” but I admit that I admire people who go after what they want. It can sometimes be pretty obvious that a job isn’t going to be the right fit shortly after you begin. We can’t always up and go, though, cause we have bills to pay and insurance benefits to hold on to. It is rare to find a person who spends their career in one place, or even two or three. I think the younger generation are spot on in declaring that they won’t settle for something that doesn’t work for them and I think COVID has only put a spotlight on this thought. It is hard to find good employees these days, and that is because people got a taste of remote and hybrid work during the pandemic. We now know what is possible.

When I took my current role, I was excited to work in what I perceived to be an artistic industry. I was also just plain grateful that I landed a job after being unemployed for 7 weeks. But if I’m honest, I knew pretty early on that something didn’t sit right with me about this company and the overall culture. I also didn’t feel like I was getting what I needed from my boss, but I also know I am super sensitive so I kept telling myself I was overreacting. On paper, it seemed like a really good role for me. For a while, nothing obviously bad was happening, just a vague sense that this was somehow not the right fit. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. Then, slowly, issues revealed themselves. I noticed that my time wasn’t valued in the way I need it to be. I noticed I was expected to cancel appointments on my calendar with prospective vendors, for example, at the drop of a hat if certain people in my organization wanted to meet with me at the last minute. Perhaps this is common for some, but not for me. I felt my integrity was at risk, and that felt really wrong to me.

Eventually I noticed that we had zero “employee engagement.” As an hourly employee, I have a 30 minute lunch. This is barely enough time to do much of anything. There was no socializing at all. My superiors ate lunch at their desks. Some days, I did not speak to anyone at all, all day long, except for on the phone. I asked if I could work from home and my request was denied. I expressed disappointment about this and eventually a company policy was drafted which allowed me and my co-workers to work from home up to 40% of the time. But it was very reluctantly, and I imagine it was enacted for fear of me (and others) leaving. While I’m thankful they changed the policy, I felt like I had to beg for what most companies do as a matter of course. I felt that if no one was going to talk to me anyway, I might as well save the 2 hours it was taking me to commute round-trip, you know?

Around Christmas, a co-worker and I decided we would organize a holiday potluck and all sit in our lunch room (which no one was using, ever) together one day and share foods from our kitchens. I did not realize I had to have approval from upper management to plan such an event; in my last HR job, I did stuff like this all the time. When my boss caught wind of this, I was chastised several times. Even after I said sorry, she needed to make sure I understood what an error this was and make sure I didn’t try to do such a thing again. I was told that our Events Planner would be mad that I hadn’t “stayed in my own lane.” I had actually run my idea by the Events Planner for input, and she thought it was a great idea. My sharing this did not help my cause. I was told that the company did not want to sponsor such an event, and that we could go forward with it as long as it was clear that it was a personal event, not endorsed by the company, and that it did not cut into anyone’s working hours. I had no idea how to make this designation for an event that was to happen in the middle of our work day on company property, with our entire guest list being employees of said company, and invitations coming from my company email. My boss acted very surprised when I told her we were not going to hold the event.

This is just not the kind of company I want to work for. I understand that this might not matter to some, and that some people have thrived here, and that’s all good. It is just not for me. I also realized recently, thanks to talking with Miles about all this, that I just do not feel successful when I have no agency. I was a teacher for 12 years and had so much independence. In my other HR job, although it was not always ideal, I was able to own things and make some decisions. I was salaried and could manage my own time, for example. In this role, I am told what to do and then I execute that task. There is no “team” feeling here. I have felt really siloed and alone here, except for my interactions with the managers at other locations, whom I have been helping with recruiting. Those have been my best moments in this role.

After a “straw that broke the camel’s back” moment when my boss blamed me for her not proofing some very important work of mine due to the way I worded the email asking her to proof the work, I sent out a few resumes, fueled by rage. Unlike a year ago when I was looking for work, this time people replied right away (it is truly an employee’s market right now). I took a phone screen for a job I knew right away was not the right fit, and then a second phone screen at a company I admire. I was then scheduled for a 2nd call at the good one. I started daydreaming about leaving my current role and finding something that afforded me more freedom. I knew that I needed to be salaried and not tied to an exact, daily schedule. I also needed more than 7 days of vacation time per year and some flexibility.

To my utter surprise, on the day of my 2nd interview at the good company, I also got a call from a representative of my old company. The company that laid me off in April of 2021. They wanted me back. I talked to this person about how the company had changed — and it has changed a LOT since my departure. Many of the prior issues I had when I worked there before had been resolved, including major changes in leadership. And the amount of compensation they were offering me was a pretty huge increase compared to my current job. Also: possibility of international travel. 100% remote. A few days later, I spoke to my former boss — a boss I really enjoyed working with previously. I confirmed what I needed to know. She offered a few more perks. A day later we met on Zoom and I signed the offer letter after our call. Then I had to resign my current job, which I did on the same day. My current boss looked at me with disbelief. Mostly disbelief that they would pay me that much. She asked me some other questions that were none of her business but I answered. Friday is my last day here.

My old boss, who will soon just be my boss again, made me feel wanted. We talked about the changes in the company and how we could function as a team again, how we could support one another best. I know it won’t be perfect, but I think it will be better. And at least it has the CHANCE to be better, you know? I’ve been here less than a year by about 2 weeks. But I am so relieved that this chapter is almost over.

Our Mothers and Our Grandmothers

I am quickly approaching age 53, which is the age my mom was when she died. This is so weird. So weird. As we get older, I think we gain more compassion and understanding for our parents and their shortcomings. Maybe we see ourselves in them as we grapple with the challenges of aging and parenting our older children. For me, I wonder how my mom felt about certain things. I know she used to wait up for me when I was out, for example. I did just that for Luca last night, and thought of how many times my mom must have fought sleep (or fallen asleep on the couch) waiting up for me, needing to know I was home safe before she could call it a night. How did my mom feel about her nest getting empty? I wish I knew how she truly survived her divorce and the death of her father – she was about as old as I was when I lost her.

This got me thinking about my grandmothers, too. Grandma Marie always said being 40 years old was the best time, and my sisters and I have always said that she’s 40 in heaven. Why did she choose 40? My dad was a kid then as my grandma suffered pregnancy loss before his birth, a birth that was considered a “miracle” at the time. That’s my dad: the miracle boy. Did she love 40 because she was finally a mom and doing the things she had hoped and dreamed of? This was the 1940s when there were not a whole lot of options for women. Which got me thinking in a new direction… what would she have done if she’d not been able to have my dad? What would her life have looked like in that scenario? Was that a thing she worried about? So many questions I wish I had asked.

We don’t think of our parents and grandparents as people exactly, especially when we’re young. I was really close to my grandma and she did tell me some of her stories. Like I know that she was engaged to somebody else when she met my grandpa and called off that engagement. I know from things my dad told me that her two older sisters were “a little nuts.” What does that mean? Cause we clearly have some mental illness in our family, illness that I have inherited and passed on to my children. But that wasn’t something we really talked about in depth.

Over the years I have struggled with believing in an after life. What comes next? Krista says it’s either heaven or nothing, and either way it will be fine. When my mom died, I liked to imagine her in heaven with my Grandma Marie. This is my dad’s mom, but despite the divorce and all that, my mom and grandma loved each other a lot. My grandma watched my mom grow up and adored her. I remember at my grandma’s funeral, my mom was part of the mass (doing a reading, I think) and her voice broke. My mom wasn’t a super emotional person, and it was at this moment I realized that my mom was in a lot of pain too, and that getting up there to speak aloud during this funeral mass was an act of courage. I had no idea that 5 years later we’d be in that same church saying goodbye to my mother.

Loss like this does not weaken over time. We do get to be pretty good at handling it, but it’s always there and some of us can be easily triggered by events in the world that make us remember the acute part of the pain. Losing my mom at age 53 changed me forever, but in some ways, it was for the better. I am very grateful to be approaching that age. I know it’s not a given that I continue living. I can think of a few people in my generation that have died in the past 5 years. There are no guarantees, and I try not to allow myself to swirl downward in a spiral of negativity over aging and all that it entails. I celebrate birthdays (mine, yours, everyone’s) with gusto. I’m working on being in the moment and doing things instead of staying home in my comfort zone.

The Mother’s Day ads are already running, and this is a fraught time of year for me. My mom’s death anniversary is April 1 (22 years this year). I kind of ignored the day this time around, but I felt a lot of sadness leading up to it as I always do. My dad is also gone now, which is just crazy and still sort of unbelievable to me. Are they all in heaven together? Did my parents forgive each other? Or is this just a fiction I created so I can cope? I don’t know. What I do know, now that I am in middle age, is that everything is not as black-and-white as I thought when I was younger. And truthfully, I don’t know everything — not from my mom’s or dad’s perspective. There are secrets and feelings they did not share which I will never know. That’s another part of getting older. Just getting comfortable with the things we do not know and learning to let go of them.

I wanted to mention that I binged a show called Life After Death with Tyler Henry, and I admit I am a sucker for psychic mediums like him. Amazing stories on that show if you’re into that stuff! What I noticed most of all is that all people want to hear from their dearly departed is that they are okay and that they are PROUD of and have ACCEPTANCE for those who are still living. That is it. I know I feel this way about my parents, but I was surprised at how universal that is. So I wanted to tell you, and remind myself, to make sure that people in your life know you accept them as they are and are proud of them. Especially your kids, if you have them! I never want my kids to wonder that about me, someday when I’m gone.

Sending love. xo

What If?

You know that quote by Maya Angelou? When somebody shows you who they are, believe them? I think I used to think instead that it was my job to change people or to make them see things the way I did. I don’t know where I came up with this, but I think it was equal parts desperation and and over-inflated sense that what I thought had to be true. I have not always been really on track with the growth-mindset mentality. I used to think that the things I thought had to be true because my own brain told me so. Makes sense, right?

Paul showed me who he was right away. I did not believe him; I took it as a challenge, I think. I thought I was a unique individual and that the power of me could overcome whatever barriers might be in the way of us being together forever. This coupled with how deeply unlovable I thought I was proved to be a really bad combo. I would simply prove to him with my awesomeness that he did want to marry me and be the father to my children and all that. I refused to give up. Cause a part of me thought it was also my only chance, and if he didn’t acquiesce, I would be alone forever. I’m super sad for the person I was who thought these things. Why didn’t anybody ever tell me I was lovable, though? My older sister did, but I can’t think of anyone else who did.

Do you ever What If? What if I didn’t think that? What if I knew I was lovable? What if I wasn’t afraid of being alone? I feel pains in my heart when I think of these things now. I try not to be filled with regret (and I got my kids, I know I know) but sometimes I do think, AT WHAT COST? Cause I have come to really believe that it’s almost impossible to actually thrive when you’re always trying to get your basic needs met. I say this not even to blame Paul. Because I can now see my part in it, even if it wasn’t technically my fault. I wanted what I wanted and he loved me so he was it. I used to think life was like a TV show and you were destined to be with somebody, soul mates or whatever. I saw me and Paul like that, without considering how miserable he actually made me a lot of the time. It was just my lot in life, not something I thought could be changed. I did not expect to be happy.

And it’s not just Paul. It’s also just that I could find no value in myself, and I was therefore untethered from any true purpose in my life. I was just trying to make the pain go away and get through the day for so, so long. I still feel like that sometimes. But I know now that I am lovable and that I could also be alone and survive.

My kids don’t seem to be afflicted with the same sense of self-doubt that I had when I was a younger person. Pete knows he’s an amazing person (he will remind you if you forget, lol) and Luca is so brave and strong and willing to just be herself even if that doesn’t match the mainstream. Luca is not obsessed with being lovable or finding a partner like I was at her age. She has a great friend group and feels that right now, that is plenty. She has actual DREAMS of what she wants her future to look like. When I was her age, I had none. I couldn’t envision myself as an adult with a job. I never imagined I could support myself. I don’t know what I thought. I try to remember what I felt like, but there is just a blank spot there. I have read that people with trauma have this strange void in their memories sometimes. Or the inability to plan for the future because you are always just trying to make it to another day. I really relate to that.

I’m really sad for the years I wasted, unable to dream or put myself in places and situations that would have been good for me. I think it’s a miracle that my kids are so well-adjusted, and I am so grateful that I think I have broken what could have been a really bad legacy in our family. I’m not saying they won’t struggle — life is hard, I know that. But they don’t hate themselves like I did and I will celebrate that.

I don’t hate myself anymore. I will always have some struggles, I think, due to depression and being such a sensitive person. But I no longer allow myself to be mistreated and I have dreams now. I know the difference from a bad day and a bad life, and I am grateful for my life every day. I don’t know that adults can actually love one another unconditionally (please feel free to convince me otherwise) but Miles totally loves me when I’m a grouchy, difficult person and I never feel like I’m a burden to him. So things can get better. Learn to love yourself. The rewards are great.

Suicide is Murder

Do you know that song by Aimee Mann? She was tasked with writing music for a stage production based on the novel Girl, Interrupted. The show never came to fruition, but Aimee made a whole album of melancholy and wonderful music about it called Queens of the Summer Hotel.

In the song, she says, “falling where no one can catch.” This speaks to me when I consider people I know who have succumbed to addiction. Because it makes no sense to those of us who are not in the head of the person who has self-medicated so much that they are in essence ending their own life. But it happens, even when they are surrounded by people who are begging them to stop, begging them to keep living.

Somebody I know, the father of a 14 year-old girl that I adore, is in the late stages of organ failure due to alcoholism. He’s 39 and his life is ending, today, I think. This is horrible in so many ways, and also so familiar to me. Three years ago we did this with Paul. He lived to be 51, which is still way too young to die.

In the three years since Paul’s death, I have spent a lot of time, sometimes against my will, thinking about him and why it all ended for him this way. It is not something I have an easy time with, and I am pretty resigned to the fact that I will never understand the pain he was in that caused him to behave the way he did. He did not tell me, which is both heartbreaking and infuriating somehow. I have learned that studies have been done regarding the developing brain and substances like drugs and alcohol. It is now thought that excessive drug or alcohol use in those formative years can cause permanent issues in the brain which lead to much higher rates of addiction. Both my friend’s dad and Paul would fall into this category of use in their teenage years. But it still begs the question WHY. Why does one use or abuse substances so excessively when they come from decent families who love them, have the material items that a person requires to not be living a life of struggle. Just two regular guys, you know?

Although I felt I knew my in-laws pretty well, and I was certainly privy to lots of stories about Paul when he was a child and teen, I have often wondered what parts of his story were missing. Did something happen to harm him and cause him to turn to alcohol at such a young age? His siblings did not take this path. There is just this void that can’t be filled. No one can give me the answers I want. I know that my own children, at least up to this point, have not followed in their dad’s footsteps. I’m grateful for that. I know there is a genetic component. I have always spoken openly about addiction to my kids because I need them to know they may be prone to it and they have to be thoughtful about what substances they use.

When Paul first died, I was so mad at him for doing this to us, to his mom, and for wasting his life. He was super smart and talented in ways that made others envious. So much potential. But now, as the years have passed, I have come to believe that his underlying, non-understandable-to-others pain was the driving force in his destruction; not so much a turning away from those who loved him, but a turning toward numbing himself until he no longer occupied a body that could go on living. This doesn’t answer my WHY question, but it does allow me to feel compassion instead of anger, and lets me forgive myself for not knowing how to help him.

Aimee says in her song that the person must have “motive, means, and opportunity” and that it’s “pre-meditated rehearsed tragedy.” I’m attracted to her dark humor, and feel held in these words. I will never stop being sad about Paul’s death, nor the death of my young friend’s dad, who passed in the time I began this post until now. May they both find freedom from pain and may the rest of us find some kind of peace.

Perspective

I remember right after Pete was born how fragile I was. After enduring the scare of pre-eclampsia followed by my two-day old baby having a major abdominal surgery and 12 days in the NICU, my start to parenthood felt very rocky. I have these memories of being alone in a hospital room, waiting for the time I was allowed to visit Pete. I would watch TV (this was before smart phones, I had nothing else to occupy my time) and they would show this Pampers commercial over and over. It made me cry. The baby in the ad was chubby and happy. I was literally lying in that bed praying that my baby would poop, signifying that his surgery was a success. I had no mom, my sisters had their hands full with their own kids. My in-laws were not the nurturing type and my husband went back to work and made it clear that I should not need any support. Please know — lots of people loved me and Pete. But I was largely alone during this time and the weeks that followed, when I was finally able to bring him home.

I was supposed to be happy because we had skirted death, both Pete and I. But at home, I was an anxious bundle of nerves. Pete’s cry caused me misery, and I held him all day long. I felt I couldn’t even use the bathroom without bringing him with me. I was struggling with breastfeeding, and this was the era of “breast is best” and I felt a lot of societal pressure to accomplish this “natural” task. Pete’s little jaw was askew, and he was tiny and weak and never developed a proper latch. My sister, Chris, who had lots of experience with breast feeding, came over one day to help. Even she threw up her hands and was unsure of what to do. I kept pumping, and then finally, about 6 weeks in, gave up and decided to formula feed. I felt like a failure already, so early in my parenting experience.

I tried to do the things new moms were supposed to do. We went on walks in our foggy, Sunset district neighborhood. I joined the San Francisco Mom’s Club, astonished to learn that other people’s husbands were really nice to them and took an active approach to parenting and helped around the house, too. I became obsessed with Pete’s formula intake because he was slight in weight, and this made it hard for me to plan anything outside the house. I wanted to keep his feeding schedule perfectly, so grocery shopping felt hard. Going anywhere felt hard. My husband would be mad at me when he got home, demanding to know why I had failed to pick up something he needed at the drug store since I was home all day doing nothing.

My in-laws would visit from time to time, or we would go visit them. They wanted Pete, though, not me. There was no nurturing toward me. Anytime my friends would visit felt like a magical respite from my loneliness and depression. But most of them did not have children of their own yet and had full-time jobs. They would babysit when I had an appointment, which I really appreciated. But I needed a babysitter for ME. I needed someone to take care of me while I was slowly unraveling.

The world was different in 2001. Today, I see and read articles all the time about what new moms need, about self-care, supporting others. In 2001, the message I got was that I should be able to do this. It was natural, and women for hundreds, THOUSANDS of years had managed to take care of one baby on their own. What was wrong with me? Why was I so miserable?

When I look back on 31 year old Karen, now that I am 52, I have a lot of compassion for her. Because I can clearly see that what I needed back then was my mother, or someone like a mother, to nurture me and guide me and help me learn how to be a mother myself. I am sad that I did not have that, and that I had the added bonus of having a husband who would not or could not understand how hard this was. He was simply mad that I was the one staying home and he “had” to work, although he would tell anyone who would listen that his wife got to stay home because of him. It is also hard to enter parenthood one year after you mom died. I was still deeply grieving when I had Pete. Pete brought me so much joy, but I was not in the best headspace anyway when he was born, and the anxiety of keeping him alive pushed my shaky mental health to its limits.

I think this start to my motherhood experience has had a profound impact on me and both of my kids. Because I never really felt that I had a partner in Paul, when we split up, things for us on a day-to-day basis did not change all that much. I had been responsible for everything with regards to my kids, and that continued. The main change was that I had to also work outside the home, but I had friends nearby who helped me immeasurably. In that way, it was an improvement to our previous state. I was no longer lonely. I’m not saying we weren’t hurt by the divorce. But I have never questioned that it was the right thing to do.

I have been thinking of my identity as a mother a lot lately, as I unpack the new knowledge that Luca is a girl. Because we have these children, and we love them “more than life itself” (my dad used to say that), but they are their own people. We can only cling to them so long — they are no longer crying babies — we have to let go and allow them to become the people they are meant to be. Even better, we can encourage and support them in being those people. It is hard. It’s not that I still see Luca as a baby, but she is my child, and it’s sometimes hard to know where I end and she begins. The old anxiety pops up. This work is not for the feeble. I have found, when I’m doing it right, parenting brings me face to face with parts of myself I’d rather not revisit. When I do feel that fear and forge ahead, I am able to know myself better, parent better, and release some of those old feelings and hopefully put them to rest, finally.

When I ruminate (I do not recommend ruminating), I have this sad story of early parenting that I wish I could rewrite. I wish I could tell a story about being pregnant with a partner who cherished me and took care of me. In that story, I also have a living mother who helps me through the whole process and comforts me when I’m afraid. I have an actual community who is helping me raise my kids from the start, and I get the benefits of being nurtured by them as they are also loving Pete and later, Luca. In this story, all parts of my children’s babyhoods and childhoods are happy and filled with enough of everything that a person could need.

When I can stop living in fantasies of the past, I feel so proud of me and Pete and Luca. When my gaze is set forward, I am filled with hope. In this place, I can shed the “mom to two boys” which has felt like such an integral part of my identity and grab on to “I have a 17 year old daughter and a 20 year old son.” That is who I am now.

Rise Up

So I had like THE best weekend. I want to tell you about it, but before I do, I need to tell you something else. Despite the great weekend, I am still filled with anxiety and feelings of doom. It’s awful. I’m frustrated. I am in the process of finding a new therapist and I try every day to take good care of myself in general. I had one therapy appointment a few weeks ago but the woman was not a match for a few reasons, so I decided not to see her again. I am going to try again, but that is also exhausting. I’m also not sleeping well. I am telling you this because if you are like me and you have anxiety sometimes for no reason you can even pinpoint, you are not alone. I am going to just keep on trying, and I hope you will too.

Here is why my weekend was great. First, I volunteered at Forestr, the organization where Luca has been working for 8 months or so. Luca is involved with picking up trash and replenishing the green spaces in our town with indigenous plants so that the trees can talk to each other. It’s amazing, important work, and they asked for volunteers for a seed giveaway, to encourage local people to grow our own food. The best part of it for me was hearing one of the orgs’ founders talking about my Luca — about her dedication and insights and contributions. I could tell he was proud of her, and to have someone outside of my immediate circle to see what I see in Luca was amazing. Luca is spearheading a project, and she is also using her graphic design skills to help the organization. A year ago, Luca was afraid (and not because of COVID) to apply for any jobs or really do anything that would push her outside of herself in this way. I am beyond proud and excited for this wonderful, talented child of mine.

(As a sidenote, I also happened to have an email exchange with Luca’s art teacher this past week that I might as well put here too. We had to communicate about school business, and I had also thanked her for being so awesome and supportive, especially these last two years. Her reply brought tears to my eyes: “It’s such a special joy to have a student like Luca — bright, creative, bold, unapologetically herself. I am trying to treasure every moment because I will miss her dearly next year.” It took a few days to sink in, but Luca is literally who I wish I could have been at that age. I was too concerned with people liking me and fitting in so I sort of shunned my own natural instincts. Not Luca. She’s the real deal.)

Okay. After volunteering, Miles and I jumped in the car and drove to downtown San Jose where we met up with Gary (my stepdad), my brother, Robbie and his girlfriend, Sara to see HAMILTON. This was my second time, but everyone else’s first time and I loved being with them as they experienced the magic. I cried at the sheer beauty of it and also Act 2 is so sad! After that, we went to dinner at The Old Spaghetti Factory and just had the best time. I told Rob that our mom would have loved that show, and he told me he had never seen a professional musical before. This blew my mind because I have seen so many, and many with our mom. Later when I thought of it, I realized all Rob missed out on, and it crushed me. I mean, I was only 30 when our mom died, but Rob was 19. He was just a kid, and he did not get to have any kind of adult relationship with our mom. I am so lucky that I did. He did have our grandma as a surrogate, and I know he did okay, but I am still so very sad for him. I often focus on how my kids didn’t know her and my own loss, you know? This was a new facet that I guess I had pushed aside. I’ve decided that we’re going to go to more musicals now, though. That I am going to be the one who makes sure Rob (and Gary and Sara and anybody else who wants to join us) gets to know what I know about the wonder of live theater. We were already eyeing the schedule for next season.

On Sunday, I got to see one of my besties, Christy, to celebrate her birthday. We went to see the new Wes Anderson movie, The French Dispatch. The trailer is here if you wanna check it out. It is 100% my kind of movie. Then we ate a burger with mushrooms and grilled onions and talked about life and death as she approaches her 53rd birthday. Christy doesn’t seem 53. I met her when she was almost 19. I don’t know what 53 should seem like, I only know my mom died when she was 53 and that seems younger and younger with each passing year.

So I guess you can see that with the joy, there is also pain, and maybe that’s really how life just is if you’re paying attention.

After the movie we went back to my house where Christy and Luca spoke extensively about manga (Christy works for Viz Media) and then she had to go. I finished watching a documentary on Netflix about 3 girls who were adopted from China and ended up learning they are cousins — its called Found if you enjoy that sort of thing. It made me cry, as most things do. Pete also had a fun day with an impromptu trip to the pumpkin patch with Vero and Tia, complete with shaved ice and a giant slide. I am happy when my kids are happy.

Now it’s Monday and I’m back to the grind. But in reality, my job is a good one, the people I work with are nice and nice to me, and tonight is dance night with Krista. I have little to complain of, and yet. I still suffer with this sense of things not being right somehow, and it bubbles up from deep inside of me, from a place that I cannot access or understand. It’s raining, which is good, I have enough money to buy Christmas gifts for people I love, and I’m making tacos for dinner later. But you see, anxiety and depression sometimes are organic and not situational. It’s like, this is just how I AM. Yeah, of course sometimes events cause me to panic or feel hopeless (see 45s presidency for example). But more often, it’s just a feeling with no known cause. It’s frustrating and exhausting.

I still get up every day and try again. I am amazed at this, but I honestly credit it to knowing people count on me and that I love them so much and I don’t want to let them down. I am grateful for this. I know it’s not proper to say, but I feel like my kids have saved my life (I wouldn’t say that to them because I would hate them to feel like they are responsible in any way for my happiness). The one thing the therapist who is not a fit said to me that I took with me is this… she asked me what I think of when I wake up in the morning and I said, “I can’t believe I have to get up and do this again.” I know that kind of sucks, but that’s the truth. She suggested I spin that and I say, “I can’t believe I GET TO get up and do this again.” And I do see where she’s going, and I do agree that words matter. So I hope I get to get up and do this again, not just tomorrow but for a lot of tomorrows that take me well beyond my 53rd birthday.

What Makes You Happy

I am not outdoorsy but I am so happy when I’m right here! Pete agrees.

All of my podcast listening has made me understand that being happy is a thing that is never complete. We are in a constant state of flux, and “finding happiness” is a moving target. What we can strive for, though, is finding those moments of joy or calm or even that amazing sense of time sort of standing still because you are so in the moment and nothing else matters. That last one doesn’t happen that much, but I strongly advise you to notice what you’re doing when it does happen because that’s a thing you will want to try and replicate if you can. For me, it happens when I’m in a deep conversation with someone (usually someone I’m very close to) or when I’m dancing and really using my brain and body together. When I used to choreograph a lot, it would happen then — when I was in the studio with like-minded people and we were working really hard. It is a wonderful feeling. I have learned that that feeling can last for a bit after the event itself, but it then dissipates and you go back to whatever your baseline is. This is good to know for a few reasons. First, we might think that somebody who we perceive to be wildly successful (an inventor or a CEO or an Academy Award winning actor) is happy all the time. They are not. They come down after a win just like we do. You don’t need to win an award to have these moments of happiness, but I do believe to have ongoing moments like this, you have to actively seek out the experiences and people that make you feel that way.

Conversely, we need to shake things up and even go against our erroneous perceptions of comfort in order to make some happiness gains. Case in point: last weekend, I was super blue. It was Sunday when I’m known to feel miserable. I wanted nothing more than to slip back into my bed and ignore everyone and be sad all alone. I know I’m no fun when I’m like this, and my brain tells me it’s best to isolate myself and disappear. Miles urged me to get up and go out with him, to do something. I dragged my sorry butt into the shower and put on clothing with zippers and such. We were driving to a street fair (really small, more like a neighborhood street closure with a few tables and some music) in Oakland. About 1/2 way there, I started to feel better. I was still anxious at the street fair, but I was outside, I ate a delicious lunch of Burmese food, and I got to hang out with Miles. This experience did not fix all my problems, but it did give me some moments of joy that I would not have achieved with my comforter over my head. I’m going to try to remember this the next time I feel like isolation is the answer (it is usually not the answer).

Can you determine what generally puts you in a positive headspace? It’s been really empowering for me to realize that I have more control of this than I thought. Because I have anxiety and depression, I have found myself feeling self-pity for my plight or angry that I’m like this. That line of thinking causes me to feel frustrated and helpless. But if I shift to trying to do something to alleviate whatever negative feelings I am having, I feel more in control of my own destiny. Please know I am not suggesting you ignore trauma that needs working through or abandoning other mental health practices that work for you such as taking medication or seeking therapy. I am leaning on what I’ve learned in cognitive behavior therapy here – sort of using logic and reason to help myself out of a anxious or depressive state that don’t always have particular triggers. I’m also not saying this always works. I can feel anxious, go for a walk, and come home and still feel miserable. But I do have a chance if I change things up. Sometimes it works! And trying makes me feel better about myself, so there’s that.

Back to my first question — what makes you happy? Do you ever really give that question some serious thought? It’s not always what you think on the surface. Like staying in bed all day does not generally contribute to feelings of happiness, but I imagine I’d want to do that. Here is what I know about me, after thinking on this and trying to track it since the pandemic started:

What Makes Me Happy:

  1. Spending time with people I love in general (Miles, my kids, my extended family, my friends)
  2. Going out with people (what comes to mind is lunch out with Christy)
  3. Cooking for other people when I have the time to enjoy it
  4. Planning and preparing food with Luca or Miles
  5. Writing
  6. Crocheting, especially when I’m making something for somebody
  7. Dancing with Krista in my living room (we WILL go back and take ballet or modern someday)
  8. Being near the ocean
  9. Trying some new food
  10. Watching documentaries, especially about people I admire or musicians

When I reread this list, what comes to mind is that every one of these items, aside from #10, in some way involves other people (and I’d prefer to watch the doc with somebody who will enjoy it with me). Same with the ocean or the food — more fun if someone is there to share it. Even the writing is usually to be shared, so while I undertake the writing of it on my own, I’m hoping that sharing it might start a conversation or help someone. SO — as my sister Chris has noticed, I am a lover of humanity but not so much of people in the personal sense, but I do enjoy being with a select group of people! Introverts unite!

Do you have a list? I urge you to think about this and write something down or at the very least notice when you feel like you’re grooving with the universe.

Ruminating is a Bad Idea

It’s been a while. I am working through all kinds of things, and that keeps me busy and also rather emotionally exhausted. A lesson that keeps presenting itself to me is that the only path toward joy is living in the present. This thought was confirmed on a podcast I listened to the other day which was about the difference between ruminating and working through something. Working through implies that there is progress made — to understand, to move on, to let go. Ruminating is just when you whoosh around in your head a thought or a worry or a memory and you feel deep feelings over it, but you are not working toward any resolution or discovery. I learned that bringing up a bad or sad memory actually causes your body to feel those feelings again, and that our physical bodies can suffer trauma over again. Ruminating is a bad idea, and it is a thing I am now actively trying to avoid.

Case in point: yoga last night. Sad, quiet piano music. This music ALWAYS makes me flash to a specific memory – I blogged about it right here. So I was going down that path again and I just said in my own head NO. No no no I will not go there. I do not need to go there, going there does not help me at all. The past is done and I cannot change it. I have overcome a lot, and I don’t need to ruminate over what was as if I can erase and re-do. I can’t have my brain in 2003 and expect to also be present for what’s happening in this present moment.

The fact that I turned off that memory last night is great progress for me. I feel like my excellent memory and propensity toward being overly sentimental can work against me in this struggle. I listen to Chelsea Handler’s podcast, and she has shared several times about how unsentimental she is and I do believe this gives her an easier ability to move on from things that don’t work for her. She said she rarely misses people she’s not with because she is so grounded in the present, for example. I am so easily triggered, and it’s like there is this scaffolding of memories inside of me and they all light up when I hear a song or smell a scent. It’s a little crazy-making sometimes. I am no longer ashamed of being a very sensitive person, but it does come with some drawbacks.

Luca, on the other hand, has a pretty weak memory. She does not remember half of what Pete and I remember (Pete’s memory is insanely acute), and I think in some ways, this protects her. It also allows her to have what I think is a very healthy outlook on life most of the time. One day, I was hugging the dogs and of course because I am me, I started to imagine how terrible it will be when one of them dies. Luca is like, “I don’t do that. I just enjoy them right now. I know they will die, and that makes right now even more special.” I don’t know where she got that (not from me) but I love it.

Moral of the story: we cannot change the past or control the pain that we are sure to experience in the future. We only have right now, and we should try to appreciate it as well as we are able. So I’m going to keep trying not to ruminate, trying to take Luca’s advice, and also take this advice: