Saturday, September 22, 2018

My First Momcation (Ugh, I Don't Even Like That Word)

Believe it or not, our kid just turned eight. EIGHT. I know everyone says this, but seriously... how and when did this all happen? Didn't we just bring him home from the hospital a week ago? So bizarre.

Parenthood does weird things to your brain. And your heart. And your body. But that's a whole other post. Long one.

It's been almost five years now since The Great Mistake, which is what I now call our move from our hometown to the bigger city. Five long and (for me) largely uncomfortable years. One of the things that's hard for me about living here is that we aren't surrounded by family. I do have relatives here, but they (unfortunately) aren't people we spend a lot of time with and they definitely aren't people that Aidan knows well.

So, when Dave and I want a date night or something, well, too bad. It's our fault, really. We don't readily pawn our kid off on people. But it just kind of is what it is. We have had probably four "date nights" since moving here (yes, I said five years). All of them have taken place when my parents come to visit, so we can be comfortable leaving Aidan with them at home for a couple hours. We usually grab some kind of fast dinner and see a movie. Don't get me wrong, these little date nights are great. But they're too short and way too infrequent.

Life here is rushed and hectic and busy and I feel like a fish in a barrel. Lost in the crowd. Sure, there are things I like, but my overall experience here is not a happy one. My happy place, without a doubt, is back home. I love the slower pace, the smaller number of people, the friendly spirit and the feeling everybody knows everybody. It's funny how that used to irritate me. It used to bother me that I could not set foot in the grocery store without running into someone (usually several someones) that I knew. So annoying, just let me be anonymous already!

Except... it turns out 100% anonymity isn't really that great after all. Some lessons apparently have to be learned the hard way.

For a couple of years, I have been threatening to take a trip back home by myself. There are lots of reasons I've been thinking about this, not the least of which is to remind myself I can still survive on my own. I've become entirely too dependent on Dave here and I hate that. I've always been really independent. Now I feel like a little kid, nervous to leave the house half the time. I don't go out at night here unless it's absolutely necessary. I don't go downtown alone. Actually, I don't go much of anywhere alone. I'm just not comfortable.

I was starting to think that I was becoming such a lemming that I wouldn't even survive a few days alone. What better time to face my fear head-on?

Sometime around January, I told Dave I was thinking of making good on my threats to take a trip alone. I've never taken a trip alone, not more than an hour or two drive anyway. I'm not sure he really understood my reasons, but he was supportive of my idea anyway. He was a little nervous about me taking a road trip that long alone, but he knew it was important to me, so he encouraged me to do it.

I don't think I was convinced it was actually going to happen. I just expected something to fall through. A crisis at work, Dave deciding he wasn't comfortable with it, me chickening out... something. As it got closer, I just kind of cruised along like it wasn't really happening. Fast forward to two or three days prior, and it hit me. I was a little nervous and a LOT excited.

For the first time ever, I made my own lists of things to pack. Just for me! I didn't need to try to remember everything three people would need! Only one. That sounds weird, I'm sure, but it was kind of a big thing. I was so much more relaxed getting ready for the trip, without the worries about leaving the house empty, or forgetting something for someone else.

I was so anxious that morning before I left! Thankfully Dave understands my anxiety like no one else ever could, so although I knew he was a little nervous too, he reassured me and told me it was going to be great. I left a little later than I had planned, just because I was busy talking myself out of backing out of the trip. I knew I would be VERY angry with myself if I did.

Finally I put my big girl underpants on, hooked up my new dash cam (I should write a whole post about that thing sometime, it is wonderful!), and off I went. I did all the things we do when we all go together - stopped at the same places for gas and food, and before I left civilization I did one more once-over on the car to make sure all was packed and good.

My stomach was still in knots for about the first hour of the trip. Oddly, once I got away from the populated area, I actually relaxed a lot. It was a GORGEOUS day - blue skies and sunshine all the way up.




I think my favorite part about my drive north was that I had so much time to just THINK. It's so unusual that I get time to myself, uninterrupted, without worries like dishes and kid duty and all that stuff, to just think and remember who I am.

I thought about this independence that I felt like I'd lost lately, and how I could feel it returning with every passing mile. I remember being proud of myself for tackling this alone and not being afraid of breaking down. (It wouldn't be outlandish for me to be scared of that. I've been stranded on this very highway three times before and it's not the best feeling!)

I thought a lot about my marriage. I thought about how lucky I am, how although I disliked feeling so dependent on my spouse, at the same time, I wouldn't want to ever be without him. I thought about parenthood and how it has changed me. I thought about how I struggle to show my kid the real me. I try so hard to be the best parent I can be (cough perfect cough) that sometimes I think I put on a facade for him. He deserves to know the real me!

I thought about other relationships in my life and which ones needed to go. I reminded myself that I'm not obligated to stay connected to people who don't treat me the way I should be treated. It's hard to cut those ties sometimes, but life is too short to continue to tolerate being abused. I made some plans in my mind to tidy up my connections.

Don't get me wrong, there was also a lot of non-serious thought on this drive! I turned the radio way up. I rolled the windows down and I sang as loud as I wanted to. I danced in my seat. I celebrated that I was embarking on four full days of complete freedom. I could do anything I wanted, whenever I wanted, with whoever I wanted, wherever I wanted! I hadn't had this feeling since I was 19! I decided I wasn't going to say "no" to anything this trip (within reason of course). It was my chance to reconnect with friends and family, see people I hadn't seen in years, and just be my unfiltered self for a few days.

I also learned that when I make this drive alone, it takes about six hours. When the three of us make this drive every summer, it takes between eight and nine. This is amusing to me. True, with a little one on the trip, you do have to make more stops for restrooms and leg-stretching... but also, I tend to drive a little faster than Dave does, and I had no one with me to distract me from my mission of getting back home as fast as I could (but safely!).

The last hour of the drive north is my least favorite. It's hilly, full of places for moose to hide and jump out in front of you, there's no radio reception or cell signal, and it's just kind of annoying. But this time, it went by so fast! Actually, the whole drive did. It really didn't feel nearly so long as when I am a passenger. That was both enjoyable and a little unsettling. I felt like I was losing chunks of time. My anxiety tried to run off with this, but I told that little devil to stuff it, that I was just tired. I was right, by the way.

I may or may not have cried as I rolled into town. I was excited, relieved, proud of myself, and just so happy. I felt like a little kid on Christmas morning. I headed straight for my hotel. Not only do I just generally love hotels, but this would be first time I'd ever occupied a hotel room by myself. So strange and so magnificent!

I checked in, unpacked, and it hit me all over again.

Holy cow. I am completely on my own. I can do anything I want to do, anytime I want to do it!


I'm laughing at myself as I write this. It's not as if I live like a prisoner. It's not as if anyone is controlling me or holding me down. It's not as if I don't normally have freedom. But anyone who has a spouse and/or children knows that part of that life is checking in with people about everything! From what's for dinner to whether you're running errands after work, your actions affect other people, so it's courteous to (at least) let them know what's up. I've never had an issue with this at all, but it is exactly why this felt so strange.

Not so for the next four days!

I plopped down in a gloriously comfortable recliner in this hotel room and I just relaxed. I turned on the TV and I just unwound completely. I couldn't remember the last time I'd felt so unencumbered. When I was darn good and ready, and not a minute before, I got up from that recliner and headed back to the car to go have dinner with my parents.

I spent the next four days doing everything I had wanted to do, and more. I'm not going to go into any further detail here, for various reasons. As I write this, I realize I haven't really told anyone many details about this trip. That sounds much more scandalous than it is. I obviously did not break any laws nor any vows. But I did enjoy a few days of carefree living, the details of which I'm realizing I love to keep to myself. I visited people I hadn't been able to see in a long time. I got lots of powerful hugs. I didn't say "NO" to anything, which is a victory in itself, because my introversion tends to cause me to duck out of a lot of things. I had incredible conversations with some people that really needed to be had. I got some pictures that I will treasure forever. Here are a few of my favorites, which each have a story (which, yes, I will keep to myself!).


Don't judge, I was on vacation! 


As is the case with most great vacations, these few days flew by entirely too fast, and before I knew it, it was time to head back. I'd had such a great time that I couldn't even be sad. I usually have a really hard time leaving there - but I'd been so recharged by all my adventures there that I was just absolutely high on life as I left.

I had a safe and beautiful drive back south. I spent more time thinking, singing, daydreaming, and just taking in the beautiful scenery. I really do live in one of the most beautiful places in the world.



When I walked in the door back at home, I was greeted by a little boy who was absolutely ecstatic to see me, and that felt great. To be honest, sometimes I feel a bit unnecessary around here, so to be missed is a great feeling.

He had even made me a sweet sign to welcome me home! He was very proud of it... and somehow I managed not to laugh out loud.


And that right there is what keeps me going day in and day out.

I left here feeling like I wasn't sure what my purpose was anymore. Like I wasn't sure I was even capable of functioning on my own anymore. Like my anxiety might chew me up and spit me out at any moment. (To be clear, this is not a reflection on my husband or my family, not at all. They love me like crazy. This is all just my own baggage causing these issues.)

I came back feeling so very refreshed. Needed. Important. Valued. Supported. And so much more. I felt empowered knowing that I survived just fine on my own. As a matter of fact, my anxiety was almost nonexistent on this trip, and when it did start to well up, I was able to stave it off quickly and easily. That's a big deal.

This trip was worth every dollar I had to spend, every worry about the long road trip alone, every minute that I sorely missed my husband and my kid. It was everything I had no idea I needed.

As I've written this post, I've decided I think I need to do this once a year. Maybe not quite so far away every time. Maybe next year I'll go somewhere a little closer - but still far enough away to feel like I'm away. Maybe I'll go somewhere I've never been before. Quite honestly, I don't think the "where" matters nearly as much as just getting up and going. Remembering that I deserve to do this for myself once in a while. That maybe I need to go away now and then to be reminded exactly how great my life is with my little family and how I'd never want anything else.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Current TV Obsession

So, here's a little-known fact about me, because I know you people live for those...

(That was sarcasm, for those slow on the uptake.)

I fall in love with TV shows, on average, 5-10 years after they are popular.

(Speaking of slow on the uptake! Who am I to talk?!)

I never watched The Office until the very last season. I have watched the entire Friends series dozens of times, but rarely saw it when it was originally on the air. 

It should come as no surprise, then, that I didn't discover my current obsession until it had been on the air for 14 years.


Yep. I'm hooked.

Confession: I've been binge watching this on my lunch hours. In my car. In the parking lot outside my office. Leeching the company wifi like some sort of creeper in a windowless van. I'm not proud of it.

I love well-executed medical shows. The kind with just enough drama, but not too much. The kind that have SOME thread of realism. Even a tiny one. Characters you care about, even if you hate the fact that you do. This show's got all of that. And, you know, it doesn't hurt that it also has McDreamy. (Spoiler alert, yes, I know, he dies later. Shut it, I'm only on season 6.)


I'll be honest, Patrick Dempsey never really caught my eye before this show. I think it's actually more his character than his appearance that hooked me from the beginning. Derek is just so darn lovable. I find myself rooting for him at every turn, even when he's being a doofus.

This guy doesn't exactly hurt my eyeballs either... cough...


Oh, Mark Sloan. You make me forget to go back to work on time.

What was I talking about? (For you ladies who haven't hit 40 yet, you just wait. Just. Wait.)

Without going into any incriminating details, I will also say that I was going through some stuff while watching seasons three and four that made this show feel so completely relatable, almost to the point of creepy. Almost. During a time when I was feeling really alone, I could fire up Netflix and this guilty pleasure of mine would make me feel like I was in good company. It sounds weird, I know, and I don't usually rely on TV for companionship... at all... but that was a good thing at the time.

I'm glad that I have 9 more seasons of this deliciousness to look forward to. I've inadvertently seen enough commercials for the newer seasons that I know some of what happens in the future, but I still can't wait to watch it play out.

So, what other shows should I check out? Bonus points if they ended a half dozen years ago, apparently...

Sunday, September 16, 2018

That Time I Reappeared After Two Years Away


Man, I miss this place.

I need to write more.

I know, I've said this a LOT of times. That's because it's true. I think it's actually more true now than it has ever been.

I have a therapist. She's phenomenal. (Pretty sure her kid is going to go to a great college... thanks to me.) The aforementioned phenomenal therapist says I need to write more. Doesn't even matter what it is. I just need to write. My anxiety has been giving me a run for my money lately - for several years now actually - and she believes writing would help. I know she's right. No question.

Here's the tricky part. What do I write, and where?

I've thought about starting a series here consisting of letters to my child. I'd love to tell him how I met his daddy, how we got our start, how he came to be a part of our family, all kinds of stories from the past and the present. Then, my paranoid side kicks in, and I remember that this blog is all sorts of public, and the details that might be in those stories could put me at risk of undesired contact from people. I have been through some... things... lately that have reminded me that the internet is just chock full of jerks and weirdos.

I'll admit it, though. Writing on a private blog (I have several) is just not as gratifying for me as writing for an audience, no matter how small or large.

So... what now? What do you want to read about?

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Amber vs. Money

In an effort to return to blogging more regularly, I'm trying really hard to get away from the whole idea that every post I write has to be a meaningful, prolonged story. Don't get me wrong, I have some pretty amazing stories to tell. And I want to. And I plan to. But right now, I really just need to focus on resurrecting my habit of writing regularly. It's so good for me. So, I'm going to start this and work on it when I can and see where it goes.

I'm currently on my lunch hour at work. I had two options today: venture out in chilly weather to drive around aimlessly for an hour, wasting gas and potentially spending money I don't need to spend, or staying here at work, hiding in the conference room in hopes no one will need it (read: interrupt me), and writing. If I'm being honest, I really prefer joyriding to sitting at work. The mental break I get from leaving the building and getting out in the sun (or rain, or snow, doesn't matter really) is so good for me. I'm pretty sure I'm more productive in the afternoon when I get outside at lunch.
In the end though, I made what is probably the more grownup decision and stayed in. Dang adulthood getting in the way of my fun! On the upside, work wifi does allow me to watch Netflix while I blog. Currently I'm watching an episode of Friends, which might be why I've been at this for 30 minutes so far and haven't said much? Oops!

The main reason for staying in is that we are working diligently on getting our finances under control. Ever since we moved from our small hometown to the bigger city, it just seems like we have been dealt a lot of crappy financial hands. We lost about $4500 to a slum lord immediately when we moved, which I have never forgiven that guy, or myself, for. After seeing an apartment via pictures, video and FaceTime, and having our friends do a walk-through for us, we signed a lease from 350 miles away.

Three weeks later when we arrived with all our worldly possessions, a two-year-old, and two chihuahuas, we found that the condition of the place had changed. Significantly. It was as if they'd allowed a band of traveling meth heads to live there for 3 weeks. We didn't even feel safe enough to stay one night. We ended up crashing in our new boss's guest room for 3 days until we could find a suitable place to live.

At any rate, I guess we should have known that was a sign of things to come. Not to channel Eeyore here or anything, but seriously, it's felt like one kick in the teeth after another since then, financially that is. A few months later, we found out that one of our two vehicles needed $1500 in unexpected repairs. It was completely reasonable since the truck was 11 years old at the time and has needed virtually no repairs in its life, but still just really inconvenient timing. Not too much later, the kid needed to change schools, and the new one is more expensive.

Two years after we moved, we finally bought a house. It's a beautiful house in a wonderful neighborhood, but what we thought would be a pretty straightforward and easy transaction turned into a bit of a nightmare and in addition to normal expenses like movers, we also ended up spending an extra several thousand dollars making the place livable. (Related note, I will never EVER own a cat.)

At any rate, a big part of the reason we moved was to get ourselves into a better financial situation, but it feels like we've gone backwards despite the fact that our income is much higher. It's not fair, dangit! But we are working on it. A friend introduced me to a popular financial guru, who I won't name here because I don't want a bunch of people finding my blog from searching for that guy, and I did a bunch of research and then started following his program. It's pretty brilliant and I can see that it works. If not for the several big setbacks, we would be much further ahead in getting rid of our debt and building giant savings and retirement accounts.

I am so hard on myself about this! I know how to make it happen and I'm really trying - we both are - but it's so hard to get traction. We've cut expenses way back, cut out almost all eating out and entertainment budgets, we only make one trip back home per year to visit, we don't go on other trips, haven't replaced the now-14-year-old truck... on and on. I think there's an expression for this - something like "I make too much money to be so broke!" I've looked in to getting another job, but hubby doesn't want me taking on extra stress and he already puts in extra hours at work.

But in those rare moments when I'm able to show myself grace, I step back and remember that truly, it's only been three years since the move and we have had enough unexpected things pop up to easily offset the extra income that we gained by moving here. Maybe more. Of course, there are times when this makes me feel like the move was a mistake, but that's a whole other post.

Sooner or later we have to catch a break, right? All I want is to be out of debt so I can start sleeping better again and be free of these heavy rocks on my shoulders!

Anyone have Ed McMahon's number?

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Amber vs. Anxiety

The other day, a cousin called me kind of out of the blue. (I love it when this happens, at least if it's a relative I adore, and I especially adore this one! She might even be my favorite. Don't tell the others!) She said, "I was just driving to work, and all of a sudden I felt like I was freaking out, just super nervous for no reason at all. I mean, I know enough to know this is anxiety and kinda how it works, but that doesn't help when it's happening."

My heart sank. My poor sweet cousin. She apparently has the disease I've been battling. The evil a-word. Mine started with no warning when I was 32, right after our third failed adoption. (I haven't a clue if those things are connected or not, but my mother's anxiety also began in her early 30s.)  My cousin's seems to have started right now, at 28. At the risk of sounding over dramatic, I have to say I wouldn't wish this on anyone, but especially not on someone like her. She's kind and sweet and super positive and funny and smart, and she got way more pretty genes than me, and she's pretty much a rockstar in every possible way.  She also lost a parent a few months ago.

I did my best to talk her through it. I assured her it would go away soon, and we talked about finding distractions. She actually has a degree in psychology, so she understands the mechanics of it, but I can vouch for the fact that that doesn't make it any more pleasant to deal with in the moment. It can be an evil, nasty monster sometimes. I told her to think about sitting on a beach and watching the waves. I told her to take a few slow, deep breaths. I made a couple of stupid jokes. I told her about the technique I just learned recently in therapy - a 'body scan' exercise which helps relax the entire body. "When the body is relaxed, the mind will follow," says my therapist, who is magnificent. And, sometimes to my chagrin, is also always right. Actually, I could write an entire post about what a perfect match she is for me, but I'll save that for later.

After a few minutes, my cousin started to feel better. She had been able to distract and calm herself through an anxiety attack, which is not an easy or enjoyable feat. I was really proud of her. Somewhere in the course of all that, she'd said "I know you have anxiety, because you've posted a couple articles on Facebook about it, so I called you because I thought you would understand how I am feeling."

I should probably say here that as I get into writing about my struggles with anxiety, which is a daunting thing all by itself, that I am writing from only my own experience. Everyone experiences this differently and I obviously can't speak for anyone but myself. So when I generalize here, please know I'm really only speaking my own truth, not anyone else's, and that I absolutely understand that other perspectives are every bit as valid as my own.

It was at this point in my conversation with my cousin that I realized that for the seven years I've been battling anxiety, I really have not told many people at all about it. The husband knows, of course, but even he doesn't know the full extent of it. I do occasionally share articles and posts on social media about it, because somehow that's less scary than telling people about it directly. To actually TELL people about it? Unheard of. Terrifying.

See, that's part of what makes anxiety such a jerk. (And trust me, it is a JERK.) It tells you constantly that you're broken, that you're messed up, that you're a freak, that you're not worthy of (fill in the blank), that you're sick and that you need to hide your condition at all costs, or everyone will hate you and leave you and you'll be all alone with the awful things circling around in your head. And you don't even realize it's saying that. It just feels like a given, like a universal truth. Like something you'd never think to question or challenge. I wish I were exaggerating.

I've been in therapy for anxiety for about a year and a half now. Shortly after it first came on, I sought treatment from my family doctor, who prescribed a medication for me that was initially extremely helpful. I remember telling him that for the first time there were no storms happening inside my mind. I never even knew they were there until they were gone. That medication helped me, virtually free of side effects, for almost three years, until my pharmacy changed generic brands and the new generic made me really sick. I talked to every single pharmacy in town and none of them could get the old generic anymore, so I took myself off of it.

As one would expect, the anxiety returned with a vengeance after I went off the meds. The storm raged on in my head. I white-knuckled it for a very long time. During that time, in an unrelated sort of way, I learned a lot about food and chemicals in food and pharmaceuticals and all sorts of things about what outside influences do to our bodies. I developed a very strong desire to learn to deal with my anxiety without medication. I believed then, and I believe now, that I have the ability to do this, with help. It is a long process and sometimes it's uncomfortable or even painful, but I'm learning, slowly.

One of the pretty significant recurring themes in my therapy is self-acceptance. I've always had a hard time with this. I'm so accepting of other people and their flaws, but when it comes to mine, I'm so unforgiving and unwilling to give any grace. I'm beginning to learn to accept things about myself. My anxiety is one of those things. The harder I fight it and push against anxiety, the harder it pushes back and the worse it gets. For me, the medication-free 'cure' (which is really just a set of coping tools I can use for the rest of my life, not a cure at all) lies in accepting what IS, not fighting it, and perhaps most importantly, not hiding it anymore. Did I mention this is scary? My palms are sweaty just typing this. And I've now been working on this post daily for more than a week.

So, I have fairly severe anxiety. There it is. So what? Lots of people have it. My therapist and my husband insist it doesn't make me any less worthy, or lovable, or smart or awesome than anyone else. They're trying to help me pound that into my own head. Some days I truly believe it, but most days it's still a battle. I'm getting better. Slowly.

What does my anxiety actually look like?

During the several days I spent pondering writing this post and whether I was really ready to 'put it out there,' I tried to really pay attention to how I was feeling, when, and why. I stumbled upon a very good example of what happens when my anxiety flares. Somehow I convinced myself to actually put it on paper, even though it is scary and embarrassing and the anxiety demons in my head are constantly telling me I have to hide this because if I expose it, no one will like me anymore, and because I should be able to control it. After all, it's my own brain, right? I should be able to control it... right? This is probably why my therapist doesn't like me even using the word SHOULD.

Back to my example. It was my lunch hour, and I needed to go to the grocery store to grab a couple of things. Little known fact about me: I usually avoid going to grocery stores alone. I don't just not enjoy the grocery store experience - it makes my anxiety flare like crazy. But I do go when it's necessary. I put on my big girl undies and I white-knuckle it. On this particular day, I was already a bit stressed due to work. I knew before I went in that I'd be much more anxious coming out than I was going in, so I sat in the car for a moment to prepare myself. My Fitbit said my pulse was 82 - up from my normal resting rate of the high 60s. I assume that's because I was anticipating the anxiety.

This all happens very fast - it always does - but I'm going to break it down into the tiniest minutia in order for you to actually walk through it with me, and for me to fully acknowledge all that's going on so I can learn to deal with it.

As soon as I hit the entrance of the store, it starts. I feel my chest tighten. I feel my breathing get a bit shallower. I grab a basket and hold on tight. As I walk across the front of the store toward the items I need, the tight chest and shallow breathing get slightly more severe. I'm about halfway there when I notice how tight my shoulders are. It feels like there is a giant rubber band around my shoulders and upper arms, squishing them together and compressing everything in between. A mild knot has formed in my stomach.

I focus really hard on my destination - the freezer aisle this time - and try to just forget all of my surroundings. I don't typically make eye contact with people in these situations, especially if the store is crowded. Crowds of people make me extremely anxious, so I guess I subconsciously pretend they aren't even there. The lights seem oppressively bright. I find minor comfort in the fact that the store's signs and fixtures are mostly earth toned. Generally speaking, earth tones seem to soothe me.

By the time I get to the freezer aisle, my Fitbit says my pulse is 116. I double check it with my fingers and it's probably right. I'm short of breath, my stomach feels like a boulder, and it feels like every muscle in my body is as tight as it can get. It's the same feeling you might experience in a haunted house when you know something is about to jump out and scare you half to death. But instead of lasting an instant like in the haunted house, this usually lasts through my whole shopping trip, and often beyond.

Out of nowhere, a flush washes over me. I become very warm from the inside out. It feels like my heart may have stopped. I quickly, but as discreetly as possible, check for a pulse. It's still there. I'm oddly surprised. I try to breathe. Deep breaths are impossible, so I try to slow down the shallow ones. I think I might throw up. (Nevermind the fact I have never thrown up in a grocery store or due to this type of anxiety. To find comfort in that fact would mean being logical, and I am anything but logical in this scenario. For the most part, logic is... unavailable... to me until it passes, unless someone coaches me in the moment.) My legs feel like Jello. I wonder if they will carry me back to my car.

It is at this point that the anxiety really takes over my mind. Once I start having these physical sensations, the little anxiety monster in my head gets much louder and is virtually impossible to ignore. He is short, furry and ugly, and he has big angry eyes and oversized, pointy, gross, yellow, nasty teeth. And he's so very vicious. He's probably a kid who was always picked last in PE class. Maybe this is why we can relate to each other.

He screams in my head.

"YOU'RE GOING TO FAINT! WHAT IF YOU PASS OUT RIGHT HERE IN THE FREEZER AISLE AND MAKE A TOTAL FOOL OF YOURSELF AND THE PARAMEDICS HAVE TO COME AND YOU LOOK STUPID AND EVERYONE IN THE STORE SEES YOU AND THINKS YOU'RE CRAZY AND STUPID?! IT'S HAPPENING RIGHT NOW! AND WHAT IF YOUR CLOTHES AREN'T COVERING YOU WHEN YOU FALL DOWN AND EVERYONE SEES HOW GROSS YOU ARE? HERE WE GO, GET READY!"

I should clarify - I do not 'hear voices.' This is not something I can hear. Again, it's like a given. It just comes to me, like when you look up in the sky and notice the sky is blue. "Oh, the sky is blue today." Same kind of thing. It's just there all of a sudden and it feels undeniable.

I do my best to shove the monster away. I repeat to myself that nothing like that has ever happened to me. Being a person who generally appreciates critical thinking, I try to focus on the evidence, or lack thereof, that any of that is actually happening. I try to focus on what I need to buy. I squint my eyes, which feel funny thanks to the anxiety, in order to focus through the very loud distractions.

I find what I need. I buy a little more than I need, because when you have paralyzing anxiety about grocery shopping, you stock up when you go so that you don't have to go more often than necessary. I often find myself buying (non-perishable) things in twos at the grocery store.

At this point I start to feel the slightest twinge of relief. At the moment I head for the cash register, it means I'm almost done with my shopping trip. I get there quickly if possible, preferably the self checkout so I don't have to worry that another person will notice I am breathless and panicky and think I'm crazy. I go through the motions, and head for the exit. I feel a tiny bit better as soon as I step outside. Thankfully it's light outside - this means I have the added bonus of feeling safer in the parking lot. I don't feel truly safe - in the sense that I can actually let my guard down - in many places or situations at all.

I beeline to my car - my safe haven on wheels. I get in quickly, set my stuff down, and lock the doors. Since the anxiety has been particularly bad, I put the sun visors down in hopes no one will see me trying to recover. I lay my head back on the headrest and close my eyes. I take deeper breaths - but at this point I still can't take belly breaths. I focus on relaxing. I talk to myself (silently) like a little kid. "You're fine, it's all fine, it's okay. Nothing bad happened. No one noticed you were freaking out."

When it feels like my heart is beating properly again and my breathing is calmed down and the "OH NO I'M GOING TO FAINT" passes, I drive back to work to continue my day. Unfortunately, my work environment is somewhat anxiety-inducing as well, so full relief doesn't come for many hours yet. But it's definitely better than the grocery store. My energy is drained. I yawn a lot for the next few hours and wish for a nap. I struggle to focus at work at times for the rest of the day.

Finally, after work and after-work commitments and getting a youngster into bed, I collapse into my own bed. I notice my heart rate finally coming the rest of the way down. I stare out at the dark sky and feel grateful to finally be in my sanctuary. I'd like to say I peacefully drift off to sleep, but let's be realistic, I fiddle with my phone and tablet for far too long and don't get as much sleep as I could have.

Hey, I'm working on one issue at a time here!

So, that's what a typical anxiety attack type scenario looks like for me. I don't always feel this way in grocery stores, not at all. But it is not that unusual either. Other circumstances that seem to be common settings for this to play out are parties, social gatherings of pretty much any kind, business lunches/dinners, carnivals/fairs, airplanes (oh my gosh airplanes, that's also a whole other post), pretty much any place where I feel out of control or where there are large amounts of people, especially in a confined area.

I have had to stop writing so many times since I started this post. It is so scary to me to admit all of this. I feel like I'm pretty good at putting up a decent front and hiding my anxiety monster. However, my therapist insists that shining a light on him takes away his power. And with the previous exercises we have done, she has proven that she is right about that. So, here's a new phase we are working on called 'stop hiding it.'  I definitely don't plan to scream it from the rooftops or announce it when I answer the phone at work, but this post represents a HUGE HUGE step for me in learning to combat my anxiety without drugs.

There, I did it. Whew. This is hard. Did I already say that?

I'm hoping that at least one person who reads this will feel less alone in their own anxiety because of what I wrote. I hope that people who know me personally will understand me better after reading this and won't run away from me screaming (literally or metaphorically!). I hope that quirks that I have will make more sense to others now and they will understand that I don't ever mean to be rude or malicious to people I care about. Ever.

One thing that has occurred to me a few times since starting this (novella of a) post is that there have been times that people have accused me of thinking I'm better than them, or better than other people in general. I'm guessing whatever they are seeing in terms of my behavior that makes them think this, is rooted in my anxiety. I've only heard this a few times, but it's been from friends and relatives, not strangers. It's both extremely insulting to me and totally laughable because it could not possibly be further from the truth.

Remember that stuff up above about not wanting people to know about my anxiety because they'll think I'm crazy or unlovable? Yes. That. I can't recall ever thinking I was better than another person in my entire life. Well, maybe Dallas Cowboy fans... KIDDING.

If I bump into you in public and I seem like I don't want to talk to you, it's not you. Actually, it's not me either. It's probably just that I'm already engaged in a bitter battle with the anxiety monster and I can't let go of half my attention in order to handle a social interaction on top of that. I promise I'm not trying to be rude. And I certainly am not being sanctimonious. I promise. I don't feel superior to anyone on the planet. I mean that.

Please forgive me for my faults and try to understand that I'm doing my best. I'm working hard - really hard - on learning how to deal with this so it doesn't have such a grip on me. This process is pretty darn difficult and uncomfortable, but I'm determined to keep going, so I can be a better friend, a better wife and mom, and a happier person.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

...And Then There Was a New House, Part 4

If you haven't read the previous installments in this little series about our new house, you can start here!

So once we had the wood dry - after a lot of work and irritation - we were finally ready to move forward! At this point it had been about 8 weeks since we moved in, and we were still existing in the cat pee smell 24/7. It was getting quite old!

We knew the next step was primer. The only way we would be able to seal in that smell and restore the living room to a livable condition would be to either tear it all out (including sub-flooring) and re-do it, or primer the snot out of it. We obviously chose option number two.

Poor Dave had already spent the better part of a day putting multiple coats of primer (Kilz MAX, which was advertised as very effective on such things) on the living room floor, back when we first started fighting with the pee-soaked wood in the wall.




You can see the wet wood area along that one wall, which at the time he could not apply primer to, because we were concerned the wood would then rot. No good!

The smell was still so strong in this room that poor Dave put something like 14 coats of primer on this floor, of course having to wait between each one for it to dry, and still working full time and doing all the normal day to day stuff. We were shocked and not pleased to find that the cat pee was still soaking through - both visibly and smell-wise.


So gross!! We were starting to wonder if primer was actually going to do the trick, or if we were still going to have to rip all the sub flooring (and maybe all the sheetrock?!?) out and start over. If it were to come to that, we would need to talk about filing an insurance claim, because the money just did not exist to pull this off. This was not a good feeling at all. We were really fighting the feeling that we had just made the biggest mistake of our lives by buying a true money pit. We really did all our research and all our due diligence in this purchase, or we felt we did anyway. As it turns out, those popular candle warmers and wax blocks can hide amazing amounts of stench.

The seller, who you probably remember was a coworker and a 'friend,' or so we thought, had long since stopped responding to any communication from us, so that wasn't really an option for help or recourse. We had people tell us to sue her, but that was most definitely a very last resort. Not only because we're not really sue-happy people, not only because we didn't want to turn this into a big legal fight, but also because wouldn't have been able to pay a lawyer! Even if we had, the legal route was never really the right answer to either of us. Though in some moments it sure seemed tempting...

By this time, Dave felt it would be okay to go ahead and patch the pee-soaked wall and - FINALLY - call in the flooring guys and the painters. We hadn't anticipated nor budgeted for the painters, however the walls were so dirty, dingy and covered in candle remnants and cat damage that we didn't have a whole lot of choice. Plus, as pretty as these blue walls were, the lower ones were cat-damaged, and the walls were so dark that they really made the room seem smaller, which we didn't love:



The other main justification for painting was that we felt like the smell might be living in the paint as well as in the floor, so we were really looking to stack the deck in our favor by having the whole living room re-painted. We actually planned to paint the whole house, but the living room was the one room we could not easily do ourselves, since it has a 17-foot ceiling, and a support beam that runs across. We don't have the equipment to handle all that and, let's face it, we are not in our 20s anymore. Ha!

We definitely still plan to repaint the rest of the house, not only to freshen it up and make it ours, but also because of things like this:


Yes, that is a burnt orange wall in the dining room. It extends into the kitchen. The color is - well, whatever - but my issue with it is that it looks like it was painted by a seven year old after two Mountain Dews. If you look around that window, it's... bad. There are also places where the second coat was missed completely, and all the edges of this color are just sloppy. But, these were low priorities compared to the cat pee issue, so it would have to wait.

Anyway, a-patching Dave went on the previously soaked wall, and I squealed in delight...


After that pink dried to white, he sanded it all smooth and then applied a bunch of Kilz to that area also. Sadly, it then became obvious that the Kilz was not cutting it. In desperation we began googling once again. We found out about this product (but in gallons), which is apparently completely amazing at sealing in cat pee smells, according to what we read online.

Unfortunately, we had already spent a lot of money on primer in order to seal that whole floor 14+ times, but we were about to spend a lot more on new flooring, and we just could not take the risk that we might be laying new flooring down on top of pee smell which would then leech out and we'd be right back at square one. So, back to the store we went, and bought two much-more-expensive gallons of this nifty new primer.

EUREKA!

After just a couple more coats of this new one, the pee stains and the smell stopped seeping through. Yay! A couple of days after the final coat of the magical primer, we were able to proclaim that after over two months, the cat pee smell was banished from the house! The joy and relief that came with this was huge!

About this time, the new flooring we'd ordered came in. The flooring company delivered it to the house to acclimate for a few days.

We finally gave the painters the green light to come work their magic on the living room walls. We had agonized a fair amount about what color to use. We had samples taped up around the room and spent a lot of time using apps and websites that help you determine what will look best. I mut say that until this experience, I thought that "white" was, well, just white. No. Turns out there are eleven bazillion shades of white. Oh, dear!

Ultimately, we settled on this color, called Snowbound. Appropriate for an Alaskan house, no?

Dave stayed home with them while I took the kid out-and-about for most of that day, so that we would not be underfoot. Dave sent me pictures as they worked, which made me just so darn happy! I love fresh paint! It's a much better smell for our new house than urine! Ha!




Look at that difference! The paint that was there before, in addition to being dirty and past its prime (see what I did there?), was a cream color that we really didn't care for. This room is north-facing, which means it doesn't get a lot of sun. We wanted it bright! The difference was (is!) stunning. So, so pretty.


These two pictures (before and after the new paint) were taken under conditions that were as similar as possible. It's the same time of day (as far as darkness outside), the same lights are on and I am standing in exactly the same spot. Look at the difference in light! Just amazing. It already felt like a brand new house. Finally all our misery, stress and expense was beginning to pay off! It had only taken over two months!

A few days after the painters worked their magic, the it was finally time for flooring. What this room had before was that cream/tan colored semi-shaggy carpet which, had it been clean, would have been nice to keep. However, it was stinky and 'crunchy' as the kid called it, in the areas where cat pee had soaked it for years on end. (Gag.) We chose a nice wood laminate to replace it. The challenge with that was the new flooring would border three other types/colors of flooring: the gray stone in the hallway, the dark red wood laminate in the dining room, and the cream stone around the fireplace. It is not easy to find a color that compliments all of those! But I feel like we found one that looks darn good.



If you're an observant type like my husband (and not like me...) you may also notice that that far corner of this room, by the fireplace, used to have a weird little glass shelving unit attached to the wall. Those shelves held the monitor for the security cameras outside the front door. It was an old style monitor, a foot deep and 20 pounds, and it just had to go. That has been replaced with something much better, and Dave removed the ugly shelving, so that's now a nice clean corner. Love it!

And with that, the cat pee saga was finally OVER!!!! To say we learned a lot in this experience would be the understatement of the century. It was unpleasant enough that I don't know if I could honestly say I'd do it all again. But at the end of it all, we ended up with a beautiful living room that's basically new, the kid has room to play, the dogs don't feel compelled to try to cover up the old cat pee smell, and we just really love the space now.

Four months later, we are looking at painting the kitchen and dining room next, followed by bedrooms, and a bit of touch-up on the outside of the house, and I think we'll be done with paint for a while. Next up, whenever the budget allows, should be things like re-grouting both showers, and replacing the carpet on the stairs which has a lovely spot about the size of a softball that the stupid cats chewed and/or clawed through. We're also thinking of making some changes to the outdoor space and the driveway.

It's exciting to finally make a house our own!

Friday, February 26, 2016

...And Then There Was a New House, Part 3

(Reminder - you can click these pictures to make them larger!)

When we last visited this topic in my previous post, I was describing the horror of the refrigerator in the new house, and having to totally scrub it out and sanitize it as the movers were underfoot, unloading everything we owned. The whole process of having movers touching everything we own is enough to put my introverted self into overload anyway; add this little discovery, and I think I went into survival mode.

Eventually, we got the kitchen to a point that it was usable. The movers left once everything was unloaded and we were left there alone to reflect. The smell was so bad. So very bad. We weren't even sure where to start on making it better. We left windows open a lot and hoped that with every day the cats were gone, the smell would diminish. To a point, it did. But not nearly enough. Meanwhile, fall was in full swing, complete with chilly nights, so we were just wasting heat. Which kind of added insult to injury.

We didn't know it at the time, but this was the start of a two-month period of smelling cat pee. ALL. THE. TIME. First thought when your eyes open in the morning? Ew, cat pee. Walk in from work after a long day? Bam, cat pee. Step out of the shower? Ugh, cat pee. Flop into bed at the end of the aforementioned long day? Cat pee. It was awful. 

As I type this, it occurs to me that it might sound a little diva-ish. Let me assure you, I am no diva. My standards of cleanliness are not all that high, really. I grew up playing in the woods in Alaska. I'm okay with things being a little dirty or even a little smelly. But this? This was like nothing else I had ever experienced. Everything just felt dirty and gross. 

And quite frankly, moving into this house was supposed to cap off the whole experience of buying the house, which was not extremely easy or pleasant. I had to do a lot of footwork on things that were other people's jobs. There were a lot of things that fell through the cracks, that I ended up having to work double time to take care of, to make sure we could close before the seller left the state. The lender overpromised and underdelivered throughout the whole process. The title company completely miscalculated all the closing costs, which if I hadn't caught, would have cost us $8,000 we just didn't have. It was just kind of a stressful process, and what kept me going through all of that was that at the end of August, we should be moving into our beautiful new house and living happily ever after. 

Years ago, I had a therapist tell me that one of the most dangerous words in the English language is "should." She was right.

So, fast forward a few days from move-in day. We were in a place of deep regret, severe irritation and just generally helpless feelings. We were tired from the move and everything that goes with that, and unlike other moves, we didn't have the immediate payoff of basking in the glory of a new home right from moving day. Instead, we got irritated sinuses and burning eyes from the smell. We felt like we had just made the biggest mistake ever - which is not a good feeling alongside a new mortgage payment. We turned away family and friends that we had promised to invite over right away to see the house, even before we really unpacked. It was embarrassing even though we knew we didn't cause the problem.

We had exhausted most of our on-hand savings to pull off this house purchase and the move. We did not have the time, money, or desire to deal with trying to eliminate the cat pee smell. However, we were faced with a choice: figure out how to fix it, or smell it. Intensely. ALL. THE. TIME. Obviously, this was no choice. We had to figure out how to fix it.

We had used most of the vacation time we had left for the move itself, so for the next two months we spent evenings and weekends... dealing with this. Not ideal at all, but you do what you have to do, right?

Despite having just been professionally cleaned twice in a week, including being 'flooded' with cleaner and enzyme, it was obvious that the biggest portion of this problem was coming from the carpet in the living room. The appearance and smell of this carpet was pretty bad.


This is that stretch of four or five feet along the wall by the fireplace. Because it's so well-lit, it's not quite as obvious in the picture as it was in person. But you can see it's well-anointed... and this was after those cleanings.

The cleaning expert had told us to give it a few days for the enzyme to work fully, and that it should improve over that time. So we waited.

It did not improve.

Some days were better than others. If we kept it cool in the house, it wasn't quite as bad. If the sun happened to hit the floor in that room for a couple hours in the afternoon, it was like an oven effect. The smell became so intense that it was worth wasting all the heat to flush out the air in the house when we came home from work.

We tolerated this for close to a month while trying to develop a routine, mostly for the kid. He had changed preschools in June and then changed houses in August, so we wanted to quickly get his routine re-established. It was tough since we really couldn't put much in the living room due to the fact the carpet was destroyed. The dining room and kitchen were full of boxes and we ate our meals at a card table wedged into a walkway, but we survived. I had contacted the seller and told her the carpet was much worse than we originally thought. She processed that for an hour or two and then told me that when she reached her new home, she would be mailing us a check to cover new flooring. We were very grateful for that.

Hubby spent his birthday, which was a paid day off work that year only, ripping up all that carpet in the living room. He's the one who is allergic to cats, so this was an especially pleasant way to spend a birthday...


You can see all the cat pee stains on the backside of this carpet. It was a bit gag-inducing. We knew it was bad, but we didn't know it was quite this bad.


And you can see below the dirt that was under the carpet - and cat pee crystals mixed in. (Shudder.)




This next one shows the section that was along the wall (in the 'before' picture above). The holes from the tack strip are even stretched and distorted from being soaked so often, or for so long, or both. We're not sure.


Soon, he had all the carpet up.

Next he had to remove the trim around the base of the walls (which I have heard people call baseboard, but to my Alaskan brain, baseboard means a baseboard heater...), but remember that saturated stretch along the one wall? When he pulled the trim off, guess what he found behind it?

Soft sheetrock.

That's never good.

He pulled that off, and guess what he found?


Oh, yes. That is wood. WET wood. Wet to the touch. Saturated. With CAT PEE. The cat had been gone for over a month by this point. We were shocked and horrified. No wonder we hadn't been able to get rid of the smell. But the bigger issue was, how far did this go? If you've ever dealt with cat messes, you know it is very difficult to get this smell out. It takes replacing whatever is soaked, usually. This wood is at the bottom of a 17-foot-tall wall. How on earth do we replace that?!?

And so began five more weeks of a new kind of frustration. Dave covered the entire rest of the floor with primer to try to lock in the smell in the rest of the floor. It helped, but not much. Most of the stench was coming from this one problem wall.

We tried everything to dry this out. We ruled out the idea that it was rainwater or something leaking in from somewhere. It looked orange/brown like cat pee, it smelled like cat pee, and you could see the crystals on the surface of the wood. I contacted the seller again and told her what we had found. She replied, "sorry it's so bad, didn't know that" and then immediately and completely stopped answering any of my correspondence.

I wasn't kidding about five weeks. First we tried just letting it air out for about a week. No luck. Over the next month we tried heaters, fans, and everything else we could think of. We'd leave heaters and fans on it while we were home, then turn them off when we left for work (because we're both a little paranoid of fire). It would be dry to the touch in the morning, but by the time we got home, more of it would have seeped out and it was wet again.


This cycle was completely maddening. We'd been in the house two months by this time and we were still smelling cat pee, day and night. We don't have a dang cat!! Just really frustrating. The worst part was we were starting to wonder if we were ever going to get rid of it. If not, then what?!? We definitely did not have the option to rip walls out and rebuild them. The stress of the 'what-ifs' at this point was pretty intense.

In sheer desperation, after having been silent about this publicly for this entire time so as to not cause drama with the seller, who we used to work with and considered a friend, and who remained friends with people we still worked with... I finally turned to social media for help. I spent literally an entire evening composing a post that would be a request for help and suggestions without mentioning her at all, without it sounding like some kind of attack or insult, without any nastiness at all. I even ran this post past Dave, who is the world's greatest diplomat and protector of feelings. He approved.

I posted it. At first, I hid it from the seller, who was still on my friends list. I really didn't want to hurt her feelings, but I had to do something.  I was desperate for help and I have 300 Facebook friends, many of whom are connected to the construction industry. We were down to either calling a contractor, and possibly selling our truck to pay for whatever the fix would be, or asking publicly for help. A couple of hours later, I decided it was worse to hide it from her, not to mention that one of our mutual friends would more than likely mention it to her and she'd be even more hurt. So I changed the settings so that the post was visible to her.

The outpouring of support on that post felt really good and validated my feeling that we were not being unreasonable. More importantly, we got a lot of great suggestions and input. One of those suggestions was to invest in a dehumidifier. The very last thing I wanted to do was spend another $200 out of savings on this disaster, but I was also desperate to smell anything but cat pee and get my living room put back together. (At this point, the flooring was still absent obviously, and the living room was a construction zone. The whole area was cordoned off for safety, so anytime we were home, the three of us and the two Chihuahuas were coexisting in a space about 8 feet wide by about 15 feet long, with a couch, an entertainment center, a dining room table and a kitchen in it. It was cramped, unpleasant, and STILL smelled like cat pee.)

Dehumidifiers are expensive to buy, expensive to run, and noisy. Also, they are apparently magical. It took about a week of alternating the dehumidifier, fans and heaters, we were able to declare the wood in the wall DRY!! This was nothing short of a miracle. I cried. After two months of this ordeal, I just couldn't believe it.

Now what?!  To be continued...

(Next part of the story HERE.)