Thursday, November 8, 2018

Awkwardness

This post will probably be aaaaaallllll over the place. Very representative of how my brain is functioning this week.


I want to get all of this out... but I can't. There are big things happening. And they all have to be kept quiet.

Just to avoid any misunderstandings - hubby and kiddo and I are absolutely fine. No problems at home or between any of us. In fact, hubby and I are doing better than we have in a long time. And I know I'm biased, but our kid is phenomenal. I'm so thankful for all of that.

I'm in a weird situation. This weird situation is having a ripple effect and all of a sudden life in general feels very... up in the air. I don't like being up in the air. Literally or figuratively. People with anxiety tend to not do very well with limbo. That definitely includes me. I don't like the unknown very much. I like to have a rough idea what is going to happen. Obviously that's not always possible. Sometimes that's just fine. Other times it's extremely distressing. This is one of those times.

I'm not sleeping enough, and the sleep I am getting is not good sleep. I'm tired and stressed. My anxiety is making itself known in physical ways. It stinks.

I had a session with the magnificent therapist yesterday and she reminded me to be mindful of the things I can and cannot control, and the things I did and did not cause. And the fact that I can't hold myself responsible for the things I did not cause, nor torture myself over the things I cannot control. I'm no longer allowed to.

But... I'm so good at those things!

I just picked up my phone for the fourth time since I started writing this. I'm desperate for distraction. Mindless brain drivel.

I'm home alone for a couple hours which is a rare treat. Normally, I would be catching up on my neglected TV shows or playing video games. Or writing a much more eloquent blog post. I can't make any of it happen.

I honestly feel like I'm wandering aimlessly a lot of the time this week.

Lost.

Like for a long time I've been standing on bedrock, and now someone yanked the bedrock out from under me and I'm suspended in midair.


Writing was helping me a lot, but now I feel blocked again. I hope it gets better.

Well, I know it will get better. This can't last long. One way or another, this will pass. And then I know we will be fine and everything will be fine. We have ideas and tentative plans and backup plans and lots of support. We will put one foot in front of the other, like we always do, and we'll find our way.

Until then, we are decorating early for the holidays, because it makes us happy. This is not at all about the commercialism of it. It's about colorful lights and happy things and getting through the dark part of the year. Our neighbors will just have to understand.

One foot in front of the other.

For as long as it takes.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Two Years Ago Today

Two years ago today, I was a witness to something so powerful, I will never forget it.

I've never told this story. I have never felt like it was my story to tell. It's a story of absolutely life-altering, catastrophic pain. But not my pain. Someone else's.

Still, two years later, this experience stays with me. I am realizing it always will. I think some good could come from telling it - as long as I'm extremely clear that I'm under no impression this is in any way about ME. I was merely an empathetic bystander.

A few years ago, I got a call from my dad while I was at work. It was (is) unusual for him to call me during work hours, so I know it's important if he's calling. I answered the phone and he explained that his co-worker's new grandbaby had just been born! I know, this seems pretty random. Let me step back for a minute and give some background.

My dad worked with this guy for quite a few years. They were friends. This guy's son worked for a company that I dealt with through work. And, that son was married to a young lady who happened to be a friend of my cousin. (Gotta love small town life.) We had met them a couple of times in passing, but didn't really know them at all.

I remembered, a few months prior to this phone call, my dad mentioning that his co-worker's son and daughter-in-law were expecting their first baby after trying to start a family for a while. I think he knew that I would relate to them on some level since we also struggled to have a family. He wasn't wrong. I would ask every so often how they were doing. I saw the expectant mom's interactions with my cousin on Facebook and every time I saw her growing belly, my heart would tingle a little. I was so happy for them.

Infertility is one of those things you simply can't understand if you haven't been through it. It's hard and it's uncomfortable and a lot of people don't talk about it because they think it's shameful or awkward. They aren't really wrong either. So I guess I always felt some kind of connection to these people, but I doubt they even knew that. We didn't really even know each other.

So, when my dad called that day to tell me the baby had been born, I wanted to be excited... but I detected something in his voice. Something wasn't quite right. He explained that when the baby was born, the doctors quickly discovered she had Spina Bifida. (This is basically a birth defect wherein the spine and spinal cord don't develop correctly.) Their baby was born with a hole in her spinal cord that was actually open to the outside of her body. I knew very little about Spina Bifida before this phone call, but I quickly did some research. I realized that they were going to need help dealing with this.

Baby A went almost immediately into surgery to place a shunt to help keep pressure from building up around her brain due to the spinal cord defect. My heart was breaking for these people and I just wanted so badly to do something - anything - to help somehow and make them feel less alone.

Not knowing what else to do, I messaged A's dad on Facebook and I asked if they would approve of me starting a GoFundMe to raise some money to help with their medical bills and time they'd undoubtedly miss from work dealing with this unexpected issue. (Babies are expensive even when they don't have any problems, so I couldn't even imagine what this was going to cost.) He was a little taken aback, but agreed to allow me to do this for them.

Over the next couple of months, that GoFundMe made something like $5000 to help them take their minds off bills and work so they could focus on their beautiful baby girl. Baby A stole many people's hearts right from the day she was born! Her parents expressed gratitude for my help many times over (which I assured them was unnecessary!), the three of us became Facebook friends and got to know each other better. We still never really hung out, but I felt like we had a bond going forward.

Thanks to Facebook, I got to watch that baby, despite the odds being firmly against her, learn to roll over, sit, crawl and even walk! Her loving parents made sure she had everything she needed to beat those odds. She had little braces for her feet and a special walker to help her get around and be independent. Most importantly, she was enveloped in love and support from many sides. I suspect this is why she also had a grin that could light up an entire room. Her future was so bright. I couldn't wait to see what she would accomplish and what other obstacles she would knock down.

When A was two, I got a random Facebook notification. I will never forget that I was standing in line at Target on my lunch hour. It said something about A needing prayers. I opened the app and saw the post from A's mom - something about her baby girl fighting for her life. My heart sank and it felt like all the blood rushed out the bottoms of my feet right there in the checkout line. Tears filled my eyes and my heart seized. I didn't know what was going on, but it was not good at all.

I'm still not entirely sure what the series of events was that led up to this day two years ago that I talked about at the beginning of this post. All I know is that Baby A ended up being medevac'd from their small town to the larger one (where I live now) and that she was in the pediatric ICU of the local hospital. She was in a coma. I reached out to her parents to offer my support and see if there was anything I could do. They were, I'm sure, completely overwhelmed and bombarded, and I didn't hear too much back, understandably. I just wanted them to know I was here if they needed me.

I prayed so hard for A and so many other people did, too. Facebook blew up with messages of love and support for A and her parents. I wanted so badly to do something, to show support somehow, but I had no idea how. I didn't want to just show up at the hospital and make them feel as if they needed to let me into their private crisis or entertain me. I felt that I would be intruding or imposing.

So, like most others who knew them, I waited. And I compulsively checked Facebook, hoping for a post about a miraculous recovery. That post never came.

A couple of days later, on October 29th, a mutual friend of mine and A's parents' was coming to the big city and asked me if I wanted to go with her to the hospital to visit Baby A and her parents. I was so relieved and glad she reached out! We met at the hospital that morning and made our way to the pediatric unit. We weren't sure exactly what we were walking into, but we wanted to offer some love and support.

What followed plays in my mind like a movie I wish never needed to be made. It turned out we were arriving something like five minutes after the doctors informed A's parents that she was about to be declared brain dead. They were running one more set of tests first, but that was to be finished within the hour.

We walked into the middle of her parents trying to come to grips with the fact their daughter was, though still breathing, already gone. Both of their mothers were there, along with my two friends and I, in a small family waiting room just down the hall from the room where A lay, still in a coma, being kept alive only by machines.

I don't know how long we were there. Maybe an hour or two. All I can remember is sitting with, crying with, and holding these two beautiful, strong, amazing people as they processed this. The first time I ever hugged A's dad was on this day. He crumbled in my arms, as anyone would. I held this young mother in my arms - all of us did - and tried to comfort her through heart-wrenching, body-wracking sobs that can only come from this kind of pain. The kind of pain no person should ever have to experience, ever.

I am a very emotional person. Emotions and expressions of emotion are well within my comfort zone. But I have never had a front seat to emotion this raw and powerful. The best way I can think of to describe it was almost primal. My heart was absolutely breaking.

We all cried. We told stories about A and what an amazing little girl she was. We tried to assure her parents that they had given her a better life than anyone could have imagined for her, and that she knew she was loved beyond measure. There were moments we all sat in silence, just at a total loss for words. We laughed a little bit about funny things A had said or done.

I was there when two hospital social workers came to inquire about organ donation. I sat with Baby A's mother as she began to fill out paperwork to donate her two-year-old's organs. She was so incredibly brave and strong - they both were. That's who they are. In their moment of completely devastating loss, they chose to endure even further discomfort to help others. They said that is what A would have wanted. We told them she got that kind and giving spirit from the two of them. We meant it.

Eventually, the time came for Baby A's parents to return to her bedside to be with her as those machines were unplugged. We said some very tearful goodbyes and tried our hardest to make sure they knew we would be thinking of them and praying for them constantly. I remember her mother, during our last hug that morning, whispering in my ear, "please just pray we survive this." I didn't think that my heart could break any further, but it did.

As we all left that waiting room, A's mom told my friend and I to go home and hug our little boys tightly. We promised we would.

Dave and Aidan had dropped me off at the hospital and left to run an errand while I was visiting. When I got back to the lobby, I summoned Dave via text. He headed back toward the hospital to pick me up. It was chilly and raining that morning. I sat down on a bench outside, beneath a canopy, near the front door of the entrance. I wanted to be outside in the rain, where I could feel nature near me.

I could not make the tears stop. Even with strangers walking by. I couldn't stop. I became restless. I couldn't stop thinking about what was happening upstairs and how badly I wanted to do something to fix all of this. Sitting still was no longer an option, so I began to pace in front of that hospital entrance. All I could think about was that baby, and her family, and how completely unfair all of this was. And how I would feel if I were in their shoes. I felt like my heart was in a million pieces, so I could not even fathom how they must feel. I hoped to never feel that myself, then felt selfish and guilty for even thinking that.

And I cried harder. I wanted to pick up my baby boy, who was then six, and put him in a bubble where nothing could ever harm him.

At some point I noticed an elderly woman approaching me. I tried not to make eye contact. I kept thinking what a mess I must look like. I figured she must think I was crazy, or a crackhead or something. (Hey, I wasn't so rational at this point.) She walked right up to me, looked me right in the face like your grandmother does when she really wants you to hear what she is saying.

She said to me, "sweetheart, I don't know what has happened, but can I hug you and say a prayer for you?"

I accepted that hug from a stranger. I needed it. I asked her instead to pray for my friends who were saying goodbye to their baby daughter upstairs. She wiped away her own tears and she said a beautiful prayer. She hugged me again and she went on her way into the hospital. My heart relaxed just a tiny bit.

When Dave and Aidan showed up minutes later, I flung Aidan's door open and I stood there in the rain, hugging my baby and crying, for a long time. He didn't understand what was wrong. I don't remember what I told him. I just remember I didn't want to let go. Of course I eventually did, but I remember I was extra protective of him for some time after that.

I will never forget this day. I will never forget Baby A. I will never forget her parents - both their intense love and support for her, and their utter devastation at losing her. My feeling of helplessness and sadness in trying to comfort them, and feeling totally inadequate at it.

None of us knows when something unexpected could happen. All we can do is to try to appreciate every day, every moment, especially with our children. They might drive us crazy sometimes, but there are people in this world who would do anything to have those hassles again. I try to honor Baby A's memory as much as I can. I think of her so often. Her life was important and meaningful and worthwhile. And I won't let her be forgotten.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

[Long One] Pilgrimage Back to Paleo... Again...


My house smells like apples, cinnamon, and butter. It is divine. Thought you should know.

The rest of that story though? It's long. I could start by telling you my back, legs and feet hurt from spending literally half my Sunday in the kitchen.

Why, praytell, did I spend half my Sunday in the kitchen?

Well, I'm going to tell you. I know, you were worried there for a minute that I wasn't going to share with you. HA... I crack me up.

The beginning of this story actually takes place almost 18 months ago. I don't think I ever told it here, because, you know, five years of writer's block. (Insert heavy sigh.) In a nutshell though, after always having normal bloodwork, I had a routine checkup done and the numbers came back, well, not great. They weren't terrible either, but the sudden change scared me.

Going back a bit further, I was diagnosed with PCOS when I was 28. (If you don't know about PCOS, please read up on it. There's a link there for you. It's the leading cause of infertility among American women, but it's not just a 'fertility disorder.' It is a whole-body problem and it can be serious. An estimated 10-20% of American women have it and many don't even know.)

One of the things you hear about PCOS if you're paying attention to it is that over half of women with this condition will have diabetes by age 40. I had no intentions of being one of those, though. I never had a bad A1C test, nor elevated insulin when I had bloodwork done. True, I have always carried extra weight in my belly, which is classic in insulin resistance (a huge precursor to type 2 diabetes), but I guess I just chalked that up to the way I'm built.

Then I had bloodwork two months before my 40th birthday.

Crash and burn!

I was stunned and horrified to learn that my A1C value was 7.6.

WHAT?!

If you are fortunate enough to have no idea what an A1C is, it's a blood test that basically reveals what your average blood sugar has been over the past three months. This is pretty important because high blood sugar causes a whole bunch of problems which can make life unpleasant and shorten it at the same time. We're talking about heart attack, stroke, blindness, and those are just the big ones.

Obviously, this is not something I want to have. So when I learned my A1C result put me well into diabetes territory, I fully freaked out. Somewhere in my brain, a spark happened that quickly turned into an inferno. Noooooo way. Diabetes is not going to be part of my life. Nope. Not like this. I'm not going to let this run me over.

I had a long conversation with my doctor. I informed her I didn't want meds (which of course was her first go-to solution to this problem) and I intended to fix this myself. I asked her not to diagnose me yet. I told her I don't even want that word in my chart. She agreed to give me 3 months to make changes and then re-check to see how I was doing. She encouraged me and said she believed I could. That helped a lot.

Fueled by indescribable determination, the next day, I put myself on a paleo diet. I had actually been reading The 21-Day Sugar Detox before this even happened, after a friend went through that program and told everyone who would listen how much better she felt. I wanted to try it, but it was a bit daunting and frankly, I was procrastinating because I wasn't sure I could do it.

Enter the 7.6 A1C. I took that to heart and I started a sugar detox the very next day. Truth is, I knew what I needed to do. I just hadn't wanted to do it. But this new fire in my belly (see what I did there?) was impossible to ignore.

The first day of my detox was May 7, 2017. I did not cheat even one tiny bit. No sugar (aside from traces in no-sugar-added sauces, and a few green apples), no grains of any kind, no dairy. No exceptions. In my 21-day detox, I lost 11 pounds, but I felt like I lost 25. I felt so much better! I was a lot less bloated (though I had no idea I even WAS bloated before that), my moods and energy had leveled out a lot, and I was sleeping better. My pants were baggy. My doctor had asked me to start monitoring my blood sugar a few times a week. Even those readings had improved in just three weeks.

At this point, I was on a roll! I was feeling so much better that I actually didn't want to stop. I shifted from my sugar detox program right over toward paleo. My lovely and brilliant cousin, Sonja, told me to look up Chris Kresser and read his book, The Paleo Cure. Mr. Kresser's story is fascinating, and this book? Well, let me just say...

LIFE. CHANGER.

This book explains, with just enough science to be credible yet in terms simple enough for even laymen to understand, why grains and sugar are dietary enemy #1 for so many of us. I'll give you a hint: a lot of this has to do with inflammation. I know, I know, especially the older folks among us insist they grew up on grains like wheat, oats and corn and they are FINE! Well, sure. But here's the thing: the grains we are eating now (as a society) are not the same grains we were eating 50 years ago. They are, in many cases, an entirely different organism. It's literally not the same food. The two can't even be compared.

The determination from my horror at my bloodwork results carrying me through the detox, but then the fact I was feeling so much better picked up where that left off. This book definitely held me up during this transition, which could have been really difficult otherwise. Suddenly I really understood WHY eating this way was best for my body, not just to keep the doctor off my case. Who wouldn't want to do what is best for their body, especially when the payoff is tangible within days or weeks and lasts as long as you behave yourself?!

By July, I had added a little bit of dairy back into my diet to see how I did with it. I can't help it, I love cheese. I didn't notice any negative effects, so I slowly incorporated it back in. By August, I was down about 22 pounds (not bad in 3 months with no crazy weight loss gimmicks).

I also had my follow-up bloodwork done in August. I was stunned at the results in just 3.5 months. Changing nothing but my diet and without supplements or crazy crash diets, my A1C dropped from 7.6 to 5.9!! Even my doctor was shocked. She congratulated me, genuinely overjoyed that I had not only taken the initiative, but been successful, with no meds.

Around this same time, our family went through something fairly traumatic, and I can see now that is where I started very gradually losing my grip on my eating habits. I didn't see it at the time. In October, we suffered another personal loss, this one even worse. It was actually a pretty terrible year in some ways.

At my lowest point last fall, I had lost 30 pounds. But by Thanksgiving, I had fallen at least halfway off the wagon and gained a few pounds back. But only a few, and you know, those suckers sneak up on you when you aren't looking. Sugar is a very addictive substance - some studies indicate it is harder to quit than heroin - so once I let it back in, all progress stopped and I started moving backwards. I just couldn't really tell. Or maybe I was just choosing not to pay attention because that would mean getting back on the wagon, and I was too busy comforting myself with crappy food. (That's not easy to admit, by the way.) It is such an addiction, in every sense of the word.

Unfortunately, I'm the kind of person who takes a long time to climb back on when I've fallen off, at least with some things. By this past spring, I had gained back over 20 of the 30 pounds I had lost. I felt defeated, frustrated, and hopeless. Much like the way the pounds creep back on when you aren't looking, other things creep back, too. Like bloating, and joint pain, and mood swings, and energy peaks and valleys.

In August of this year, I was at the doctor for a cold or something, and she noticed my annual bloodwork was due. My stomach sank. I knew that A1C was going to be back up. I hoped it wasn't higher than the one that started all of this. Actually, I didn't even want to know what it was. But I had no choice.

By this time, I had gained all of that weight back as well as all the issues that go with it. And I had started having some depression alongside my already irritating anxiety. I didn't even realize that's what it was until recently. It actually got pretty bad. But when you're in it, you can't always see out of it, and that's what happened. Between feeling physically cruddy and all the difficult stuff we've been through in the last year, I just started losing hope and ambition.

When the results of that blood test popped up in the app on my phone, I cringed. I opened the report with one eye closed, I guess hoping whatever I saw would only be half as bad that way?

Yep. Back up to 6.9.

I cried (again). Instead of immediately feeling determined and motivated, I felt angry. Angry that my body, thanks to PCOS, is extra sensitive to these things and doesn't work right. Angry that I had made such amazing progress and then just let go of all of it. Angry that it's so much harder for me to manage my weight and my health than for others. I had a hard time forcing myself to get back on the program. I was having trouble seeing the point. (I know that sounds ridiculous, there are so many good reasons, but... anxiety and depression are jerks and sometimes they stand in front of you so that you can't see what should be clear and obvious.)

I had the same conversation with the doctor again. Actually, this is a different doctor in the same clinic. I explained what happened and why, and I asked her for three months to get back on track. She agreed and wished me luck.

It took me close to two months after that appointment to actually take the necessary steps to get better again. I just could not find the strength to put one foot in front of the other and let go of a source of comfort. Again, I know this makes no sense, but that's the point. That's the head game I'm up against with all of this. It's not as if I lack determination as a human being. This is just really dang hard.

I made one run at paleo again about a month ago and quickly backtracked the first time I had a tough day. Last weekend, I decided I was done with feeling like crap again, and I put myself back on the program, jumping in with both feet and hoping for the best.

And that brings us to the night I started this post. Last Sunday night. Waaayyyy up there, with the comment about the house smelling like apples and cinnamon. The house smelled so good because after eating sliced turkey rolled up with cream cheese for breakfast every morning for the last six months, I finally went back to my old standby breakfast from when I did paleo before: Apple Streusel Egg Muffins from the book Practical Paleo. (That's my food Bible, by the way. That book is a MUST if you want to attempt this. It's about half knowledge about the why/how, and half recipes. I also highly recommend Michelle Tam's books, starting with Nom Nom Paleo: Food For Humans.)

I spent half of last Sunday in the kitchen preparing those egg muffins for my breakfasts at work during the week. I cooked three lovely ribeye steaks and Mustard-Glazed Chicken Thighs (except I use skin-on chicken breasts instead) to alternate for lunches along with veggies. For my mid-morning snack, I decided to leave that alone for the first week. For months, I have been eating organic apple slices with peanut butter for my snack. (What can I say? I'm a creature of routine.) That snack is not exactly unhealthy, but it is carb-heavy, and peanuts are a no-no on paleo due to the fact they are legumes and that they have high carb content and high aflatoxins, which by the way are a known carcinogen.

I got rid of the few treats we still had in the house last Sunday. I was really feeling ready to tackle this and feel better again. Starting Monday morning, I went back to strict paleo (except that dang peanut butter). For the most part, I found it pretty darn easy. I did notice some mood swings and agitation on Tuesday and Wednesday, but then those mostly diminished.

Here's what surprised me this time, though. In just a few days back on paleo, I started feeling the benefits. It didn't take over a week this time. I've already lost at least an inch in my waist (judging by how my pants feel). I lost 5 pounds in the first 4 days, and already I noticed a LOT less overall puffiness and bloating. My stomach is noticeably smaller already. My joints don't hurt anymore and my intermittent lower back pain is totally gone! Again, I didn't even really notice these things creeping up on me, I guess I figured being fat and old comes with achy joints and back. But how about that? Remove grains, sugar, and dairy, and my body starts acting like it wants to be a fine tuned machine. Who knew?

Oh, yeah. I did. (Facepalm here.)

Friday night, because of a time crunch, I found myself in need of food and without any pre-made "safe" food from home. Kiddo and I ended up in a drive thru. I ordered a chicken sandwich, planning to just not eat the bread. Well, I forgot that the chicken breast was breaded, and I was surprised to find it was also covered in American "cheese." (Don't even get me started on that junk.) I took the bun off, picked the cheese off and ate the chicken, hoping for the best.

Within an hour, I started feeling the brain fog setting in. My stomach started to rebel. I just generally felt yucky. As I write this, it's 24 hours later, and today has been up and down. I think I am STILL feeling the aftereffects of one misstep. I really should have known better. Going from a 'normal' diet to paleo is already upsetting, initially, to the digestive system and I wasn't all the way through that. Then I dumped gasoline on top of that and lit a match.

But you know, that's the thing that helps keep me going even in weak moments. Sure, I could eat this (whatever), but I am going to feel gross for hours to days. Worth it? Not usually. I guess I needed to be reminded of that, too. Message received, loud and clear.

My body really likes clean food that's free of grains and sugar. And, I think, dairy.

Did I mention I really love cheese? I'm starting to think it doesn't really love me back. So I think I'll stay off of it for a while and see how things go. Hopefully I can get to a place where I can have cheese once in a blue moon without it causing problems. But I've read quite a few times that women with PCOS may be extra sensitive to inflammation caused by dairy. So it may just be best to take it off the table entirely.

Because this time I plan to make it. Long-term. I really have to put myself first in this and I really have to finally accept that my body is different than most and requires different treatment. Period. I want to eventually get past all the resentment about that and take care of it the way it deserves. If I don't, my life will be shorter than it should be, not to mention miserable. And my kid deserves better than that.

Please wish me luck. I really, really need it.


Saturday, September 29, 2018

Disney Dreams


During the 6 years we spent attempting to become parents, we developed a whole lot of dreams and wishes about things we wanted to do with our future child(ren). Of course, our clueless childless brains had no idea what parenthood was actually like, so in our minds, this was merely a to-do list that would be easy and fun to check off!

Uhh... enter reality.

True, we've taken him to the Space Needle and to visit family in two states. He's done all sorts of Alaskan things, obviously. I've repeatedly vowed to take him to a Seahawks game someday (which will be my first game too, which I'm so excited for!).

But... by far, the biggest kid-involved vacation/travel goal we've always had is to go to Disney World.

This is a HUGE dream for all of us. Dave and I have gone twice with other relatives. Both times, we had such a blast. We talked about how fun it would be to come back with kids. We both love the feeling of returning to childhood that seems to be unique to that place. It's almost impossible to put into words. Even for me, the overly wordy one!

I had always imagined making this happen when kiddo was 5-6 years old. I figured he'd have enough endurance to be able to survive long-ish days, and also be old enough to remember the trip. But not old enough that he didn't believe in magic anymore.

Oh yeah, remember that reality thing? Dangit.

He just turned 8, he has changed a tremendous amount in the last year as maturity goes, and we still don't have this trip on the books. Why, you ask? Because, well, it is expensive as all heck. We have been saving air miles for over a decade to cover the plane tickets, so that is helpful, but... it turns out you still have to worry about eating, sleeping, local transportation, attraction tickets, and heaven forbid some souvenirs or extra stuff?! We have always said that if we are going to go all the way from Alaska to Florida, we are going for a full two weeks to see and do everything we want to do.

Our finances have been tough since we moved here. We both work our tails off, we operate on a budget, and we don't spend frivolously on any sort of huge scale. Housing is more expensive here than back home, which we knew going into it, but we ended up spending even more than we anticipated when we bought the house. We bought in a really nice neighborhood in an effort to have quiet and safety, but of course that never comes cheap.

Upon moving here, we also quickly determined that our public school options for Aidan were less than ideal for him. There's a whole list of reasons for that, which I won't go into at the moment, but suffice it to say we make significant financial sacrifices in order to keep him in a small private school that is outstanding and fits him like a glove. We wouldn't trade our house or his school for anything, but...

This is why our two vehicles are 6 and 16 years old. This is why we don't have the newest gadgets. This is why there are a bunch of (totally optional but desired) projects around the house that we just haven't gotten into. Things are tight. Things are going to be tight as long as we live here.

So, how do we drum up - by my estimation - $6000 to $8000 to swing this trip?!

I have no idea, and this makes me sad.

I was 11 the first time I went to Disney. (That was Disneyland in California.) I was immediately hooked. It was like nothing I'd ever experienced before and I still have vivid memories of a LOT of it. Not to mention the pictures are mortifying such treasures.

Do not judge 11-year-old me! 
Oh, go ahead. I do. This picture cracks me up.

I can't believe I just posted that.

Anyway... I was 20 when I first went to Disney World in Florida with Dave and his parents. We went for spring break. I couldn't believe the way I felt like a little kid again. We were in Florida for two weeks. We spent half of that at Disney, then also hit Universal, Busch Gardens, Kennedy Space Center, Gatorland, Sea World, and even spent a day visiting my grandpa in Lake Okeechobee. That trip is something I will never ever forget!

We went again when I was 27. This time it was in June. This Alaskan girl was so totally miserable in the heat, and ended up getting carted out of Disney World in a wheelchair one day due to heat exhaustion. But we still had so much fun on that trip! We were only able to go for a week that time, and we both swore that if we were ever able to go back, it would be for at least two weeks. A week just isn't enough time to do everything. Getting out of Alaska is expensive and time consuming; may as well make the most of it when you get to do it.

I literally have dreams about taking Aidan to these places. I've shown him YouTube videos of the roller coasters and other attractions (cough, because I'm a glutton for punishment, cough). I've told him about the "Harry Potter park" and the "Star Wars park" opening next year. I've told him that I don't know if we will get to go, but that we would really like to, and that we are saving money.

Truth be told, I think a small part of the reason I told him about all of this was to give me an incentive to find new ways to save. It's one thing to disappoint myself, but to disappoint him is just not something I want to do if I can avoid it!

A few months ago, I told Dave that I wanted to try just planning this trip - setting the dates (or close) and taking all the steps as if we are just going, and then figuring it out as we go. It has to just work out, right? That sounds really good, but I'm not sure whether it will work. We have chosen some dates for late 2019. The air miles will be there whenever we are ready to buy tickets.

We are making arrangements to try to save ALL of our vacation time at work. Aside from drumming up the cash, this might be the trickiest part of this whole process. We both use most of our vacation time trying to cover days that Aidan's school is closed. Since we have no backup child care here, one of us has to take all that time off. This includes inservice days, spring break, Christmas break, the non-major holidays, all those things. For some of these days, we do have the option of child care at his regular school... to the tune of something like $70 a day. Not exactly helpful for the saving process.

I have the first week of January (the end of Christmas break) covered thanks to some amazing relatives. Now I have to figure out spring break, a week in May, several days in August, and all the one-off school closures in the next year.

Oh, and find $8,000. Piece of cake, no?

Anyone have a magic wand? (Aidan tells me he would have one, if only we could get to "Harry Potter World." Oh, the irony.)



Friday, September 28, 2018

Anxiety, Guided Meditation, and the Calm App!


Wow, what is this, three blog posts inside a couple of weeks? I'm about to set a new personal best (since Aidan was born anyway).

At some point, I plan to tell you all what prompted my random return. That is, once I have the courage. It is something really out of left field that I never expected. I confessed it to my therapist the other day and she, in between both of our fits of laughter, said "that might be just a tad disordered... but certainly nothing to worry about." What can I say? I'm an odd duck. I'm okay with it most of the time.


Speaking of my therapist, I know I've mentioned here before that she is amazing. I sort of can't say that enough. She's kind of like an old friend (that I pay to listen to all my "stuff.") Actually, that's not even a sliver of what she does for me. She's a sounding board, a neutral party, a highly educated and brilliant advice giver, a validator (yes I like to invent words) of feelings, and so much more.

This is actually my second therapist. The one I saw back in my hometown was great, but this one is a whole other level and fits me like a glove. Maybe best of all, she completely understands - and doesn't judge - my desire to treat the anxiety I have developed in the last few years without medication. 

Let me be clear, here. I'm not vilifying medication or judging anyone who uses it. I have used it before and for a while it worked beautifully. And then it didn't. So I stopped it - and become very sick in the process. I vowed at that time never to use it again unless I had no other options.

In the last five or six years, my anxiety has escalated from an occasional nuisance to a daily battle. I would estimate I have about four days per year that I experience no anxiety at all. Four days. That's not many out of 365. A year or two ago, I started having panic attacks. Super enjoyable. This year, I have also experienced my first nocturnal panic attacks. This consists of literally waking up out of a dead sleep mid-panic-attack. I have had three or four of these so far. I wake up with a racing, pounding heart, feeling like I'm gasping for air. (And no, it's not sleep apnea. I do have that but I use a CPAP.)

Still, I don't want meds. I am determined to continue to fight this with other tools unless or until they don't work anymore. Enter the amazing therapist, who has taught me so many coping strategies for my anxiety and panic. Grounding exercises, positive self-talk, breathing techniques, therapeutic writing, and bilateral stimulation are all tools that she has taught me to use on a regular basis to help me cope with this beast called anxiety. We have even done some EMDR which, for me, was nothing short of miraculous. We are working on getting back to that.

The most recent tool she recommended to me was guided meditation. I hope she didn't see me actually roll my eyes. Ugh, what kind of psychobabble thing is this? Sounds so hokey. 

She explained to me that guided meditation is just someone walking you through short periods of mindfulness. Learning how to be in the moment. (This is one of my major goals in the big picture of life anyway.) I flat-out told her that I was skeptical. I didn't understand how this could help me. She told me to trust her.

Dangit. I can't NOT trust her. She's never been wrong. I've been on her couch at least 100 times and she has never been wrong.

She told me to go home and download an app called Calm. (No, I'm not getting paid to write about this.) 

I didn't. A million other things felt more important and what in the world was some silly app going to do to help me anyway? Sheesh. By the time I went back for my next session, I still hadn't downloaded it. She gave me the look. You know, the look. The one that seems to say, "hey idiot, I told you this would work, but it can't work if you won't do it." She explained that resisting this is very common, not only because of general skepticism but just the fact that anxiety tends to fight you when you challenge it to try to make it go away. It fights hard. It convinces you something like guided meditation won't work at all. She patiently informed me that, like anything else, it would take practice and that over time it would get easier, less awkward and more effective. Blah, whatever!

Not long after that, I was actually visiting my parents' house back home, which is about the only time I ever actually see TV commercials. My dad had just had surgery and I was there to keep an eye on things and help with anything he might need. I was snuggled up with one of their dogs on the couch, just relaxing. Suddenly, a rain scene came on the TV, accompanied by the heavenly sound of nothing but a rainstorm. 

Within just a few seconds, I commented that it made me feel so calm!

Imagine my surprise, and maybe spiteful displeasure, when the commercial was actually for that Calm app.

DANGIT.

She is never wrong.

When I got back to my hotel room, I downloaded this app, still rolling my eyes a little. Maybe a lot, I don't remember.

I had promised the therapist (I really should make up a name to use here for her) that I would try this guided meditation every day for two weeks and report back. Granted, by this time that was a two-month-old promise, but I figured I should still do it.

The first few times, I felt nothing. No difference. True, it helped me take some deep breaths, which is always helpful. But nothing more. But as the days went on and I started making a habit of meditating right after I came home from work, I could feel it starting to sink in. I was starting to actually crave that ten minutes of being completely in the moment, and I was getting better at it.

The more I practiced, the better it worked, the better it felt, and the more I craved it. I even paid for a subscription to the app, which is something I don't normally do. This gives me new meditations every day and a lot more. I also love the Sleep Stories section of this app. I rarely make it past about three minutes in to a sleep story before I'm snoring. Some of the sleep stories are actually just audio of Bob Ross's Joy of Painting shows! It sounds ridiculous, I know, but that guy's gentle voice just knocks me right out.

(Side note, did you know that Bob Ross lived in Alaska for several years and got the ideas for many of his paintings from things he saw here?)


I haven't been perfect about meditating every day. Actually, the last couple of weeks, I kind of fell out of the habit and I can tell a difference. It's harder for me to manage the anxiety. I have a harder time staying in the moment and my baseline anxiety seems to be a bit higher. I think I would say that the meditation has given me a sense of empowerment. I feel like, overall, I can better tame the anxiety beast instead of it taking control of my world completely at random.

It's not easy for me to reveal so much about where I'm at with my anxiety these days. It makes me feel weak and lame. But I know I'm not the only one dealing with it. If you're in this terrible club with me, do yourself a favor and check out guided meditation. And then stick with it. It's just like exercise - if you stop, the benefits stop too.

Oh, and one more thing about the Calm app. It has content for kids! Sleep stories and simple meditations too. It's something the kiddo and I can do together that helps our whole family. With any luck, he will learn at an early age how to cope with his own "big emotions" (like mine) in a healthy way.

Whether you have anxiety or not, do yourself a favor and go check it out!

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...