Sunday, April 19, 2020

A Long Story and a Turning Point

It's funny that my last post was exactly a year ago, as of the date I start writing this post anyway. And here I am itching to write something. There must be something about February 10th that wakes up my writing bug. My desk calendar for today might have helped.


I read back over that last post now and everything rushes back. I can feel it. My entire body feels that post. When I started it, I stopped myself and considered if I wanted to feel it all again. I eventually decided that I did. Not only because I feel like there's value in reliving a learning experience even if it's painful, but also because I felt like it would make writing my next post about it just that much sweeter. But I'll get to that later. Maybe much later.

I’ve been working on this post for weeks now, because sometimes that’s how life is. But what’s interesting is that even outside of this little project, I’ve started writing almost daily! And without having to force myself! I’ve just been doing little journal entries. Here’s what I did today, that kind of thing. Getting back to basics. My writing juices are beginning to flow again for the first time since before we moved away from home. That was over six years ago! I missed writing so much. I was never relaxed enough to write in the other city. Which brings me to the big thing I wanted to write about here…

If you’ve somehow stuck with me since the beginning, you might remember that six years ago, we moved away from our hometown to a larger city (Anchorage). Having both been raised in the same small town, hubby and I both felt the urge to try something new. To spread our wings. To have an adventure and see what happened. What we expected to happen was to have a bunch of new experiences, to get spoiled living in a larger city full of larger-city conveniences, to enjoy warmer winters, to make lots of new friends, to both advance in our careers, and then 4-6 years later, make the leap to the Pacific Northwest. Warmer weather, easier living. Better opportunities for travel and varied experiences. That was the plan.

For my part, I also assumed that if I left our small town, moving my parents’ only grandbaby a few hundred miles away (which, in hindsight, I’ll never forgive myself for, by the way), it might be the kick in the pants they needed to get out of the aforementioned small town. They’re very entrenched, though, and as much as they are sick and tired of the winters, they just can’t bring themselves to leave. I didn’t really understand that before we left. You only live once, right? Get up and get out! We’ve talked repeatedly about wanting to live within driving distance of each other somewhere in the Pacific Northwest, but putting that plan into action when you’ve lived in your house in the woods for 40+ years is something entirely different, I suppose.

What actually happened in Anchorage was, for the most part, completely different than the expectation or the plan. The warmer winters were nice, the extra daylight was nice, and the conveniences were… eh, convenient. But it turns out my anxiety, which I’ve had for as long as I can remember, went completely bananas. My level of anxiety, at idle so to speak, was so high and got worse every year I lived there. With a significant amount of effort, I was able to fake it and hide it for about the first three years.

As time marched on, the anxiety seemed to both climb higher and seep in deeper, if that makes sense. Into every pore and every crevice and every internal organ. I could FEEL it in my body at almost all times. It felt like inflammation. It became harder and harder to hide, and completely impossible to ignore. My resting heart rate was high a lot of the time. I felt short of breath and had tightness in my chest a LOT of the time. Some days it was all day long. A simple trip to the grocery store put my heart rate in the 110-120 range for the duration. I would struggle to breathe, feel like I was going to pass out any moment, and break out into nervous sweats. I was in a constant state of extremely heightened awareness of any potential (even highly unlikely) danger. The head game of it was the absolute worst.

I started having panic attacks in 2017. These terrified and frustrated me to no end. The loss of control during a panic attack is scary and completely unnerving. They could strike at any time. It wasn’t just in times of acute stress; they’d come out of nowhere. In the middle of a store, or at work, or while I was driving, or even sitting on my couch watching my favorite show. Sometimes they left me unnerved for hours, as well as physically, mentally and emotionally exhausted.

My work situation went from pretty great to extremely unpleasant around this time also, which did not help matters. I went from feeling supported, encouraged, cared about and challenged, to a rather toxic environment. Under the new ‘management,’ the dead weight ran amok, a number of people began stabbing others in the back at every opportunity (including ‘managers’), and those of us not in the practice of shamelessly kissing management posterior were ignored at best and openly mocked by coworkers at worst – with no consequences.

We were constantly asked to do much more with much less, and in a depressing and frustrating atmosphere. Worst of all, there was no accountability for anyone whatsoever. This was easily the most frustrating professional situation I’d ever been in – which is saying something, considering I once spent an entire summer delivering auto parts in a car with no music and no air conditioning and having to hear people cursed at over the two-way radio. I tried to make those above me understand what was happening, but they were more fond of the Ostrich method of management. That is, stick your head in the ground and pretend everything is fine and the business will direct itself and succeed with no leadership whatsoever.

I was also sitting in the middle of a big room along with 15-20 other people. I had no ‘physical anchor,’ which is something I’ve learned I need in order to feel comfortable and to relax. Turns out this is why I gravitate toward walls. I feel grounded and safe next to something. Out in the middle of everything, I feel very anxious. It was manageable when the other things about work were okay, like good management. Once that was gone, it became so much more difficult to go to work each day.

I found myself the phenomenal therapist (who I’ve written about here before) during that time. I refuse to even think about the condition I would be in today without her. She became my lifeline, along with hubby of course, who is always and without fail, supportive, patient and loving. But no matter how amazing he is, and no matter how hard he tries to understand the anxious mind (and he has put significant effort into this!), he can’t possibly know how it feels, because he doesn’t have the condition.

In mid-2017, I started to withdraw. I stopped wanting to do anything. The anxiety was so bad. The only place I felt safe from it was inside my house. It happened there, too, but at least there I felt more in control. I wouldn’t feel embarrassed about it happening in front of other people and I wouldn’t have to exhaust myself trying to hide it. My friends and coworkers playfully blamed this on my being an introvert and I played along. They weren’t wrong; I do consider myself introverted, but that had almost nothing to do with my hiding at home and wanting to be alone. I even withdrew from my family a little bit at times. I hated the idea of letting them see me like that. I felt like I was crazy, that I was losing it, that I was a terrible wife and mother and that they would be better off without me.

And here are the parts I have been most terrified to share. That feeling/belief that my husband and child would be better off without me came on strong and fast, and it was absolutely horrific. As I spiraled downward in my anxiety and then, I believe, into a bit of depression, that little thought grew louder and louder. Some days I was able to argue it with logic. Some days, not so much. I felt like I was on a runaway train going 90mph and at any minute I was going to crash and burn.

Other things happened in 2017 and 2018 that exacerbated all of this. In late 2017, hubby and I were absolutely stunned (and thrilled!) to find out I was pregnant. We’d never been able to conceive before, in many years of trying, including several years of medical intervention. We’d long since accepted that we would not have biological children and it was really okay. After kiddo came along, we both felt strongly that it suddenly made sense. We were meant to be his parents.

I did all the right things; due to my PCOS, I lobbied for an immediate doctor’s appointment instead of waiting until 10-12 weeks as they suggested. I ate well, I drank water, I rested, I took the good prenatal vitamins. For the first time in several years I was completely beside myself with joy. A surprise baby!!! Maybe later in life than we would have planned for, but it didn’t matter. That baby was so very loved and wanted.

By the time they could squeeze me in for an appointment, I was 7 weeks and 3 days. We both took time off work to go to the appointment together, and I was so excited to see the little dark spot on the ultrasound screen and to hopefully hear a heartbeat. For so many years, these were all things that had always been privileges reserved for OTHER people. Not me. I had been rudely excluded from the club for 20 years. Surely this couldn’t be real? I felt like an imposter, but I went with it anyway.

Ultrasound time finally came. With an uncomfortably full bladder, I climbed up on the table, waited, and hoped so hard to see what I wanted to see. The doctor did easily find the egg sac… but no heartbeat. The doctor issued a dozen disclaimers and possibilities other than a miscarriage. Maybe it’s too early, maybe it’s just in a weird position, maybe maybe maybe. But in my heart, I knew immediately and without question. My baby was gone. My bloodwork confirmed it had been there, but it left this world before we even got to see it on a screen. I was in tears while still on the table and I didn’t quit crying for… I don’t even remember how long. As we checked out, the receptionist asked me if I was okay. I said no, and nothing else. I just stared at the wall behind her. My body felt numb, but my heart and my brain were in complete and utter devastation. Hubby physically held me to be sure I wouldn’t collapse with grief right there in the lobby. I’m surprised I didn’t.

I remember the horrible ugly-cry-meltdown that happened in the parking lot. Blubbering, sobbing, snot running everywhere, barely able to speak, yet still able to (sort of) utter, “WHY AM I NOT GOOD ENOUGH TO HAVE A BABY?!” and “WHY DON’T I GET TO BE IN THE CLUB?!?” while hubby sat helplessly next to me rubbing my back. I remember the blue Subaru that parked right in front of us as I was in the middle of this fit, and the woman who climbed out of the passenger’s seat sporting a giant pregnant belly as her husband scurried to her to make sure she didn’t slip and fall. Despite having my whole world right there next to me doing everything a person could possibly do to comfort me, I’d never felt more alone.

The brutal thing about miscarriage is it’s not something that just happens in a moment and it’s over. It’s a process. The worst process I think I’ve ever endured. Multiple blood tests to ensure HCG was returning to zero. Two follow-ups at the doctor’s office. All of that in addition to the physical stuff, which was unlike anything I’d ever been through and lasted almost a week.

As a dreadful side note that I have unfortunately never forgotten, that doctor never even said, “I’m sorry this happened,” or “You’re going to be okay.” It was all so clinical for him. At the last appointment, he talked to us about whether we should be using birth control “at our age” and scared us with a bunch of statistics about birth defects as I sat there and cried, still grieving the baby I’d only lost days before. There’s no way I was in a place to consider whether I’d want to try for another one. I felt like a teenager being scolded and warned about unplanned pregnancy.

There were other complications around that time that made this spiral I was in plunge much, much lower. It was a very dark time for me. Desperate for any distraction from the mental health hell I was living in and the fact I had just lost the only pregnancy I’d ever had, I let someone into my life that I shouldn’t have. I thought I could trust them to be my friend and to be a support to me, as I was to them. Somehow, they got through all the walls I normally have up to protect myself. They knew exactly what to say, and when, and how.

And then, they hurt me. They betrayed my trust and they hurt me so badly. They even involved other people in this little scheme to hurt me, and they said things that were not true and tried to humiliate me and harm my family life. They went WAY over the line. I felt like my entire world was being turned upside down. I didn’t know if I was going to be okay. I blamed myself for ALL of it. I couldn’t see at the time that I had been exploited, manipulated, and frankly, abused. It took MANY months of therapy and my endlessly patient husband beating into my head that I was a victim, and not to blame. For a very long time I refused to let myself off the hook for that, believing that if I considered myself a victim, that it would be a copout and I’d be one of those people who doesn’t take responsibility for their actions.

Except they weren’t my actions, they were someone else’s. That person saw me in a vulnerable spot and exploited that for their own amusement/entertainment/ego/gratification/whatever. It’s disgusting and talking to that person in the first place is on my top 5 list of all-time regrets.

When all of that happened, the dark stuff got worse. For the first time in my entire life, I had fleeting thoughts of hurting myself. That is not an easy thing to share. I had never experienced anything in that realm before. Ever. That belief that the world would be better off without me was so intense at this point. It played on repeat inside my head without my consent. It was so difficult and exhausting to argue with it. I would come home from work completely wiped out just from battling with my own brain all day. I’d have nothing left for going and doing fun things with my family during the week.

I stopped taking good care of myself. I stopped being as active and my diet went straight downhill. Off a cliff, really. I felt like I couldn’t trust anyone (outside my own family of course), that no one genuinely wanted me around, and that anyone who did seem to want me around was just lying to me and wanted to hurt me. My walls grew taller and stronger. I vowed not to let anyone into my life anymore, ever. My therapist argued. Hubby argued. The logical part of my brain argued. It didn’t matter; it was the only foolproof way I could protect myself. If you never let anyone in, then no one can be close enough to hurt you.

Isolation and loneliness – obviously – intensified during that time. They became their own spiral, parallel to the anxiety spiral. Hubby and I were doing better than we had been in a long time. This was primarily because of his willingness to try to help me through all of this, to hold me up when I just wanted to curl up in a ball and fade away, to teach my hard-headed self how to communicate, to teach me to trust him more completely with my feelings and thoughts during a time when my tendency was to shut everyone out. Without his support, and that of the phenomenal therapist, I’m not sure I would be here today to write this.

Amid all this internal turmoil, for some unknown reason, I never felt safe in Anchorage except in my own house. It sounds silly and it’s very frustrating to me that I couldn’t ever identify a reason, nor fix it, but it’s the truth. The phenomenal therapist says sometimes there is no tangible reason. She said her best theory was that I wasn’t living in a place that allowed me to exist in line with my values (family, sense of community, etc), and that this causes anxiety even in people who are normally not anxious. She also said she had multiple other clients who described living in Anchorage exactly the same way I did. It wasn’t just me. That helped a lot.

Though I’d wanted to move back home since about 2016, I tried to white knuckle it. I fake smiled a lot. I hoped so hard that things would get better. That I would find a way to handle it better. Kiddo was in a great private school (because the public schools there just… weren’t the experience we wanted for him…), and he and hubby were in a wonderful martial arts program together that was so good for both of them. We loved our house there and our neighborhood and our neighbors.

But for me, that’s where the positives ended. It was nice having lots of different restaurants and stores around, but I was uncomfortable. EVERYWHERE. I couldn’t enjoy the things I DID want to do there. I was always too busy struggling to breathe, feeling like my heart was going to pound out of my chest, and watching over my shoulder like some kind of paranoid crackhead. These things were all new and foreign to me, and highly irritating.

I finally started to feel like I was coming to a crossroads in early 2018. I knew I needed to get out of there, but I was so conflicted. I didn’t want to take hubby and kiddo out of this environment they liked. But I also knew that they deserved a happy wife/mom, not an uptight/anxious/grumpy/miserable one. Thanks to the head game of anxiety, it took me over a year to convince myself that I was worth forcing the issue.

Hubby and I had so many uncomfortable discussions about this. He was so hesitant for so many reasons, all of which I understood. But as I got more honest and more blunt with him about the dark place I had been living in, he was very clear that he knew we needed to do whatever was going to make me okay again. He may not have loved the idea of moving back, but he was clear that if that’s what would help things, it was a no brainer.

It is a testament to the type of human being hubby is, and what kind of husband too, that I questioned this and flip-flopped dozens, if not hundreds, of times, and every single time, he reminded me it was what we needed to do. He argued for something he didn’t even want. He insisted we needed to do this so I would be okay. Nothing else mattered. He was not about to let me slide further into the abyss, and I think he knew this was the one thing he could do to help me. He would do anything to make sure I am okay. He definitely proved that to me all over again in this process. He had tried everything else; this is all that was left.

I started looking for jobs back home last spring. I had a few close calls, but nothing felt just right. My plan was to continue looking until mid-summer, and then suspend my search until the following spring, because I always swore I wouldn’t move kiddo in the middle of the school year. I was feeling guilty for moving him at all; I couldn’t bear to make him change mid-year.

I found myself flaking a little on the job hunting. I would look when I had hard days, and when I had not-so-bad days, I would cling to the idea of trying to wait another year. For them. I had to find a way. I had to find more strength, or a new way to deal with things, or something. It was gut-wrenching to think of making them leave a place they liked, regardless of anything.

I had a particularly horrendous day at work last fall. It was bad enough that I remember the date. October 17th. A Thursday. I won’t get into what happened because it no longer matters, but it was bad. I took hubby (who worked in the same place I did) back into a private area and cried about being treated like garbage… again. The floodgates broke that day. I wasn’t just sad and frustrated this time though, I was extremely angry. It takes a lot to get me to the point of truly angry, but I was pushed well past it that day.

I remember looking hubby in the eye in that moment and saying, “I have already talked myself out of applying for that job back home several times but tonight I am going home and submitting my application because I deserve BETTER THAN THIS. I’m sorry that that means we have to leave.”

He hugged me quietly. He didn’t argue. He knew there was no point. But on the other hand, I knew that getting that job was a long shot. It was a sweet gig that is well-known to have a great work environment and excellent pay and benefits. I knew there would be dozens of applicants for this job. But I had to apply, because if I didn’t, and a week or a month later I had an equally horrific day, I’d be so mad at myself for letting the opportunity pass me by.

I stuck to my plan. I went home that night and I spent three hours tweaking my resume and completing the online application. I gave it my absolute best, hit the submit button, and I immediately felt better. I felt like I had DONE something to move toward my goal. I wasn’t just sitting idle and complaining, I was doing the only thing I could do to get the ball rolling. That felt good. Then, I had to find some patience and brace myself for disappointment, because I knew it would be two or three weeks before I got a call… if ever.

That was Thursday night that I applied. The job posting closed on Monday evening. Imagine my utter shock when my phone rang the very next morning and it was the hiring manager asking me for an interview ASAP. I was stunned! We scheduled a phone interview for the next day. Cue the panic – I hadn’t had to do a real interview (with people I didn’t already know) in a decade! But interview time came, and I was a little grateful that they couldn’t see me, so hopefully they couldn’t tell how nervous I was.

Oh, as a side note, I found it really interesting that my interview, scheduled last-minute, happened to occur on the very same day that kiddo’s bio-siblings, some of whom we fostered for a short time, were having their adoption finalized in court. These particular siblings are very special to us and we love them like our own. We were nothing short of ecstatic that they were finally escaping the horrors of foster care after many years.

And also, my desk calendar from that day, I discovered that morning, said:


Suddenly things started to feel just a little bit… dare I say… meant to be?

The interview was with the hiring manager and one other person from the same department. It seemed to be a canned list of questions relevant to this position. I think there were 23 questions? As soon as they asked the first one, I just knew I had this interview. I HAD it. I knew all the answers; I said all the right things. I remember being so encouraged because after a few of my answers they said “wow!” or “that’s amazing.” I felt like I was on a cloud when I hung up the phone.

Can you keep a secret? I didn’t tell anyone this at the time, and I haven’t told anyone else except hubby since. But when I hung up, I knew I had that job. I knew it. In my heart there was no question. I immediately felt calm and peaceful, even excited, albeit a bit nervous about the move itself. I don’t know how I was so sure, and I’ve never experienced that before. I’m never very confident about these things and almost always convince myself of the opposite and focus on things I should have done or said differently. Not this time. It was mine. Done deal. I just had to wait for the call.

In light of such certainty, I knew I should probably start liquidating/cleaning/organizing/packing for the move that I KNEW was coming, but I couldn’t make myself do it. It was such a strange head game. I think I was afraid to bank on it and be wrong (and therefore heartbroken AND having wasted time and energy and effort on it). I also think it was just too scary to move the conversation with hubby to the next level – from ‘maybe someday’ to ‘definitely, and right now.’ I felt a bit paralyzed. Though my usual tendency is to obsess about these kinds of things and drive myself crazy needing to DO something to feel like I’m in control, this time, I decided to just sit back and wait. I knew I’d see an offer, and I knew I didn’t want to take any action until then. For lots of reasons.

TO BE CONTINUED...

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Pain, and More Pain...

I haven't written in three months. I've been having writer's block again. I hate it. I think I know why, and I'm trying to change those circumstances, but it takes time.

I apologize in advance for some vagueness in this post. I need to write, but there are details to some of these situations that I really cannot divulge for privacy and safety reasons.

Back on November 30th we endured a pretty massive earthquake. Actually, it's not the biggest one I have experienced, however it was only 7 miles from our house. When they are that close, they feel so much bigger than their magnitude would suggest. I had called in sick that morning and was home, alone, dead-asleep. I survived it obviously, but it represented one of my very worst fears come true.

We were very fortunate to not have much damage at all. In fact, our only casualty was a single champagne glass that the hospital gave us when the kiddo was born. Thankfully we have one more. We are so very lucky. Many others had major damage, some were out of power and/or heat for days, and a few people even had some minor injuries. It's a miracle no one was hurt badly or died, even of a heart attack. This event was just awful.

We have had over 8,000 aftershocks, I would guess at least 100 of which we have felt - some over 5.0 even. They are no joke.

The psychological effects, for me, linger. Anxiety latches on to things like this and it does not like to let go. This past week I stayed home by myself for two hours - a first since the quake. I still think that if I had been anywhere else when that big one hit, I would not have been affected nearly so badly. But being completely alone, upstairs, and asleep so that I was caught totally off guard, was absolutely terrifying.

People joke about having PTSD afterwards, but it actually wouldn't surprise me if a lot of us do. I still sleep in sufficient clothing to be able to run out the door. I know where my car keys are at all times. We've stocked up on water and canned food. My car has not dropped beneath a half-tank of gas since the quake. Every time I go somewhere, I am scanning for the nearest exit. The nearest safe structure to get next to or under. I don't like going anywhere without hubby anymore. (This was already a problem before the quake but has definitely gotten worse.) Thankfully he is totally understanding.

The holidays were a welcome distraction from earthquake stress. But, due to some medical issues, my parents were unable to come stay with us for Christmas this year. It's the first time I have spent Christmas without any family (besides hubby and kid, of course). We made the best of it, and it was good. But the truth is I really did not like not having any relatives to spend the day with. Even hubby, who is not nearly as close to extended family as I am, said he didn't like it either.

In January, my father-in-law took a sharp turn health-wise. He had been diagnosed with cancer a few months prior, but it was being treated successfully. The tumor had shrunk as the doctors had hoped, and the plan was to let him build up some strength post-chemo and then do surgery to remove it. Unfortunately, some other things happened instead, and on a Friday night he was given two weeks to live. Hubby was there by Tuesday afternoon to spend some quality time. Much to everyone's shock, my father-in-law passed away the very next day with his kids and grandkids (except me and kiddo) at his bedside.

This was an extraordinarily difficult situation for hubby, for reasons I won't go into here. Let's say the whole event did not happen like it does in the movies. This is also the first parent either of us has lost. That is a lot harder than we thought it would be. We were not able to be there for his service, which was tough too. I feel like I never got to say goodbye and that breaks my heart. I just have to hope he knew what was in my heart despite some really unfortunate and unnecessary drama in the last couple of years.

I kind of thought that was more than enough difficulty for the new year, but...

Here comes the part that has to be vague. And it's going to be long and it's going to be a bit soul-baring. And maybe depressing. But I have to get it out.

This week, I lost someone who was incredibly important to me. He was one of those one-in-a-million friends. The kind who understands you like almost no one else. The kind who still supports you even in those rare situations when they actually don't understand. The kind who loves you unconditionally in a way that is not threatening to your relationship. (I know many people don't understand this. I just have to ask you to trust me.) The kind who is willing to give you tough love when you need it, and who you know so well that when they do, you accept it and you listen and you know they're right. The kind you can't even get mad at.

The kind you know, without question, will always have your back. The kind who knocks down your walls with no effort at all, comes in, and even rebuilds the walls behind them just because they know you feel safer that way. The kind who always - always - has your best interest at heart and actively protects you, even going well out of their way to do so. The kind who poses no threat to your emotional well-being in any way. The kind you can truly, genuinely, deeply trust without reservation.

I do not let many people in. I mean, really in. There are very few people in this world who truly know me. Who I allow to see the real me. For lots of reasons. That kind of vulnerability is very scary for me and I usually just don't really risk it. So when it comes to the very few people I let in, they are truly treasures to me and I protect those relationships very carefully and defend them fiercely. Aside from my parents and my husband, this was the person I was closer to than anyone else. Ever. It's safe to say he nearly saved my life at least once. If not for him, I would not be where I am right now, in several different ways.

Our relationship was just... beautiful. I know, I know. Cheesy, sappy, trite. But completely true. He knows things about me that no one but my husband knows. I could say anything to him without censoring, without worrying he would judge, without concern than he would take something personally or react badly. I could always count on him for the truth. Whereas other people might tell me what I want to hear or what would make me feel better, he told me the truth. Always.

This was not a flash in the pan relationship, either. It was over two decades of mutual support and just unconditional, deep, genuine caring. When we met, we were both single. We clicked instantly. We supported each other through crappy relationships, good relationships, marriage, kids, careers, struggles, all of it. All of life's ups and downs - we always held each other up. And there were a LOT of ups and downs in that many years.

And now it's all gone. And it's an insult-to-injury situation that I can't blog about. There's no death involved here or anything. Just... complicated stuff. Neither of us wanted this, but here we are. This is the equivalent of falling down on the ice and blowing your knee out (been there done that) and then someone coming along and taking a bat to the back of your head to punish you for accidentally falling down... while you're still trying to get up.

Seriously, that's how this feels. I'm a bit heartbroken. I'll miss him so much. I'll miss his steady presence in my life. I'll miss his unwavering support. I'll miss his sense of humor. I'll miss his advice. I'll miss having someone with which to discuss nearly identical specific interests. I'll miss having someone who gets me like that. I literally can't envision ever having someone like that in my life again. My brain can't figure out how to even picture it. That was a once-in-a-lifetime thing.

And just like that, it's gone.  And there's nothing at all I can do except just move on like none of it ever happened.

This hurts.

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.

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.