Rainy days and Mondays

Today is both rainy (sleety?) and a Monday, so…I suppose it was already doomed. March has come in like a lion!

I’m not writing this in the desperate hope of finding someone who can offer solutions or help – this is a blog, not 911. I’m in a quiet moment between sessions, snd my knee and calf are screaming in pain due to having to take an innocuous but painful third trip today down stairs to let the dogs out. So, I’m allowing myself to feel my feelings and process my thoughts in writing. I’m putting it here to avoid it being seen as a dramatic cry for help on FB, which tends to annoy me.

My husband is on vacation this week, I have an injured leg with severe arthritis in the knee; i need a joint replacement, but I’m too young. We live in a two floor house; I’m usually upstairs and my husband brings stuff up to me. So I knew it was gonna be a rough week! And I wasn’t wrong, it has been.

I am realizing after three short days without my husband that without him and his generous compassion, I couldn’t live without help long term; I couldn’t live in this house going up and down these stairs. I couldn’t care for all of these animals, who bring me so much love and joy. Without a ranch style house, I don’t think I could even take care of myself properly. I can’t walk far, stairs hurt so badly, and the smallest activities take so much more energy than I have.

I think I’d be ok, or at least able to find some level of acceptance with this state of events if it was a temporary, “Oh, you’re injured. Here’s how we’ll fix it and the timeline to expect!”. Or, if this was “Oh sweetie, no…you’re disabled now. Here’s what you’ll need from here on out.” But thus far, nothing has been that clear cut; no one has said I’ll get true mobility back, and no one has validated my pain or inability to walk despite seeing me drag myself around, panting and wincing. No one has offered any easement in the expectations on me; there’s no allowance to do anything other than fruitlessly try to pretend I’m living a normal life, and that I’m not walking like a ogre in pain while everyone looks on, embarrassed. The lack of certainty and answers leaves me feeling frozen and alone.

I think understandably – as I’m only 45 – this realization and these feelings are a pretty bitter pill to swallow. I’m struggling right now. I’m “in my feelings” as my kids might have said, a hundred years ago. I’ve made my goal as a counselor to be there for people, so that they don’t have to feel alone without support as they go through life’s trials…because I felt alone, and I was scared going through mine. I wish there was someone like me for me, because I’m still feeling terribly alone.

A hard moment.

Six short years

Today I was looking at my Facebook memories, like I do every morning. I saw one from when I had very first rejoined the workforce; I’d spent a good solid couple of years fighting my chronic pain and PTSD…I honestly didn’t think I was capable of working again. In fact, I only went back to prove to a friend who’d made what felt like very attacking statements that I was, indeed, broken beyond repair. I fully expected to fail miserably and to fall flat on my face.

I didn’t.

She won; but we were no longer speaking so I couldn’t tell her that. Thus is life.

So the memory I saw this morning said, “I was in a lot of pain today, but I didn’t leave work. I stayed and worked. I’m counting this as a victory.” That’s literally all that I expected of myself. That was it! Not to be perfect at work, not to be cheerful and friendly; literally just to fight through the pain and stay there. And I was not at all confident that I’d be able to do that. To me, just staying for the whole shift felt like an unattainable goal. I had zero confidence in myself. Compared to what I expect of myself today, that’s a pretty easy goal with a lot of room for error!! How long ago was this?! I checked the date.

Six years. SIX years. It was only six short years ago!! I wasn’t a counselor, I hadn’t even enrolled in grad school yet. We hadn’t bought our house. I hadn’t joined the honors society, become President. I hadn’t worked with any of the hundreds of clients I’ve worked with, or been in any of the hundreds of incredibly stressful situations I’ve now experienced, or held myself accountable for my empathy skills and tone even ONCE yet…and that was only SIX years ago?! I’m in private practice now. I’m about to have my independent counseling license – but six short years ago, I was afraid I’d be too weak to push through pain for an eight hour shift?! I’ve done and become all of this in only SIX years?!!!!

I flag out thought FB’s timeline was wrong; I checked with my husband. He said, “I know. That’s why I’m proud of you.” Six years is right!! I made all this transformation in only six years!! I was so busy powering through that pain, the fear, the uncertainty – so determined not to let anything stop me or tell me I couldn’t – I didn’t pay attention to the passage of time. It felt like it took easily 20 years, but it was actually only SIX. I am stunned.

I’m honestly amazed by the strength I’ve displayed; I don’t mean that to be cocky, if it sounds that way I apologize. But if one of my clients told me that in six years, while their children faced countless rather uncertain and traumatic situations, while their mother faced stage 3 uterus cancer and then fought legionnaires, E. coli and staph infections all at one time and very nearly died, while their husband struggled with concussions and traumatic brain injuries, through losing deeply cherished and beloved in-laws to Heaven and fighting both diagnosed but misunderstood physical illnesses as well as mystery illnesses that STILL have no resolution, they were able to change literally their entire lives and had become an honors student and built a successful business for themselves in an entirely new field in just six years, I’d be tempted to give that client a standing ovation. My first question would be, “That’s INCREDIBLE! What resources did you have, how did you accomplish this…where did you find the strength?!”

So I need to ask myself that, too.

I tend to come here to write when I have a thought too complex or weird or dark to share in the “mainstream”. I’ll be honest, before I got married ten years ago, I’d spent a lot of my life screwing around and creating chaos; many people I’ve known all my life had lost faith in my ability to figure myself out. I don’t want to prove them right, so when I’m having a hard or shadowy time, I hide. I come here. If you’re following me here, it probably feels like I live my life in darkness; and realistically there is a lot of darkness in my thoughts. But I am not darkness. I am not paralyzed. I come here to keep from being paralyzed by trauma and – I guess it’s working!

But for today, I’m having an encouraging thought. Chronic pain and complex PTSD and a genetic predisposition to major depressive disorder have not stopped me from reinventing myself into the person I wanted to be, and it has only taken six short years to get here.

Who do I become from here? I don’t know. But I can’t wait to find out.

We need a little…

Sometimes, when I look at pictures from 8+ months ago, it feels like 8+ YEARS ago. I remember everyone in my circle being generally less stressed and dissatisfied, I remember feeling confident in our connectedness. I remember everyone feeling less in their heads and over anxious about every word and movement they made. Maybe it’s just me, but it makes me sad.

We need another lock down, in Ohio; our Covid numbers are outrageous. But I don’t know how anyone – businesses, individuals – anyone will survive it without financial support from the government…and that isn’t coming. How do we feel good and grateful and full of love and laughter when half of us can’t afford groceries, half are worried about the roof over their head, and everyone has enormous medical bills and missing family members? It’s a big ask.

We need a happy Thanksgiving and intimate winter holidays, but I don’t know how that will happen without guilt and stress about Covid.

If I feel this way on the heels of a big win (getting Trump out of the White House), how are the people who supported him feeling? How are people who lost family to Covid or fires or brutality feeling? How are any of us really doing?

No, I mean really…how are YOU doing?

Memories

Today, I shared a memory on Facebook. It was a picture of my middle daughter and my youngest stepdaughter with my beloved Boston Terrier at the pumpkin patch; it made me smile.

That’s not why I shared it. I shared it because it was one of the few times I left my house during what I like to refer to as my “dark period”. I had PTSD and deep depression. I had pulled into myself. I rarely left my room. I rarely looked away from my computer to talk to my kids and husband. I was hurting and it sucked. I sucked.

But on that day in autumn, I let my husband talk me out of leaving my house. He kept telling me how happy he was, and I felt so ugly and uncomfortable. I was ashamed for people to look at me and excited to be preparing to celebrate one of my favorite holidays at the same time. Everyone else looked so cute in their autumn finery; bright sweaters and scarves, nice coats, skinny jeans and messy bun hats and big floppy boots. I was in the same thing I always wore and felt grumpy and embarrassed…but I was still happy. Because I was out in autumn with my husband and my girls.

I guess some part of me is proud of me for going out and claiming that one day, and glad that the several years I spent in the darkness wasn’t completely misery. Sometimes, I put my family first and we made memories.

My other girls immediately started razzing the two in the picture. To be fair, they weren’t ready for pictures that day and my stepdaughter was making a face. She was also in an awkward phase; somewhere between childhood and adolescence. So maybe when they look at it, they see her baby cheeks and it makes them giggle. I don’t know. To me, they’ve all always been beautiful…it’s hard to imagine laughing at the look of any of them. But it’s different for them. I took the picture down and will just hold it in my heart, to protect the youngest from ridicule.

It is what it is I guess. That was just another day for them, back then and today. It’s very different for me.

“Who can handle stairs”

I don’t know if anyone else has noticed or been bothered by this, but it’s really starting to get to me.

I wish that we could stop making fun of celebrities and political figures when they struggle with ramps or stairs. I’ve been guilty of it, too, calling out the stumbles and near-falls with disbelieving laughter…I was wrong, too. Here’s why.

I have a disorder known as Chiari Malformation. It causes chronic pain issues, and other symptoms such as poor depth perception, poor balance especially when the light is low, dizziness, etc. I also have an ongoing issue with my breathing, so I often have to stop and catch my breath or rest after I move. I’m only 45 years old

When I hear – or make – these comments, what I’m saying is that someone who loses their balance on the stairs isn’t strong or vital enough to lead. They’ll be distracted by their infirmities, they’ll be forgetful and slow, they’re unhealthy. “Not Good Enough”. Then I see the video, see them stumble, remember that I did the same thing the other day…and I start to feel the same things about myself.

“I can’t be a good counselor, I’m always focused on my own pain and what my body is doing.” “I can’t let my clients see me struggle to stand up, I’ll lose credibility.” “Why did I wait so long to start a career? It’s so hard for me. I bet I didn’t learn even half of what my younger peers learned. They have so much energy.” “I’ll never be good enough to x,y,z.”

The truth is, people with handicaps and unnoticed illness can be every bit as healthy, strong and intelligent as everyone around them; maybe more so, because they have to fight against a body that’s battling them to be here with you and they can truly appreciate their space. We don’t suddenly lose intelligence when we add a few years, or can’t tell how deep or far away something is. And you shouldn’t be basing your opinion of me on whether or not I’m more likely to catch a cold.

There are so many things we can look at to decide if we agree with someone or not; foreign policy, domestic policy, humanitarian efforts, tact and diplomacy, past track record are just a few. It doesn’t need to be about a missed step or their age.

Weight Stigma Awareness Week

This week is #WeightStigmaAwarenessWeek. I have thoughts about this. (Shock…I have thoughts on everything. I know.)

1) When I went to be tested for Covid at the hospital, I cried because I was afraid they would leave me to die because I’m fat and disposable. During grad school, I lost 100+ pounds. I have the knowledge, awareness and desire to be healthy. However, in the past year, I have gained over 100lbs. Since last summer, I’ve had repeated issues with chest pain, breathing issues, all over pain and muscle weakness. Every time I see a doctor, for any health issue, they feel the need to inform me that I’m obese with the inference that I’m unhealthy because I am fat. This is RIDICULOUS. I didn’t go to them to talk about my weight; they’ve made no connection between my weight and any medical disorder. I’m unable to get the healthcare that I need, or even to get healthcare to notice the sudden and drastic weight gain as a SYMPTOM of something. I’m treated as whiney, lazy and diagnosis-searching because of my weight.

2) People are sometimes intimidated by my weight. They struggle to discuss being fat with me, or their own struggles with food, because they’re afraid that they’ll trigger me – assuming that my weight is a constant thought in my head that my life circles around, possibly because they think so much about it? Possibly because they feel like I should be ashamed of it? They struggle to make eye contact, and suddenly get uncomfortable when we talk about favorite foods or restaurants and find out we like the same things. And listen, I am the first to admit that I can be intimidating and annoying; but be intimidated by how direct I am, or how much I know about my profession, or how it helps me see right through you. Be annoyed with my inability to let things go, or that I always wanna “talk it out.” My body ain’t shit compared to the human being who is living inside of it.

3) I am often intimidated by other’s weight; when people are heavy, I notice it. I wonder if they’re like me, or have more medical issues, or if they’ve always been overweight. When people are thin, i worry about their health; I wonder if their lives are happier than mine. I wonder if they ever get hungry, if they enjoy exercise, if they live pain free, what it feels like to shop, if they ever get to have ice cream or red meat. I stop myself from making judgements on anyone that are based on their physical size, but I feel shame for having to stop myself.

4) An entire wardrobe of clothing for a “normal weighted” person would cost approximately as much as it does to buy three pairs of jeans for myself. ($275 on sale and with a coupon. True story.). There’s exactly one company that designs plus size clothing that fits my body, style and profession. How many clothing stores are there, of all different styles and price ranges, for people of “normal” weights? But when I discuss this with people, my most common response is some variation of “well, it’s more expensive to make your clothes with all that fabric. Plus, you’re doing it to yourself, really…maybe if you just cut out soda and walk three times a week?” It’s presumptuous, dismissive and arrogant. Also, I’m a crafter…it’s not an extra $50 worth of fabric or a labor. They charge more because we don’t have choices and they know it.

5) With somewhere between 32 and 68% of Americans struggling with being overweight or obese, we should have choices, representation on TV and in movies (that’s not the clumsy, food obsessed or endearingly quirky “fat person” who is usually depicted), representation in medical care and consideration from our representatives.

I’d welcome open discussion on your experiences with weight and weight stigma. How do you experience people who are heavier in your society?

Birthdays

My kids say I have always been “so extra” about birthdays. It’s true that over the years, whenever the financial means were there, I always made a huge deal about their birthdays. Birthdays were always really-good-but-not-a-HUGE-deal-like-Christmas when I was young, and I’ve often wondered why I was so about them.

I think what I’m realizing is that I make a big deal out of them because I am genuinely SO happy I got to be their mother for another year that I NEED to celebrate it. I feel so profoundly lucky to have gotten to share life with these three souls. They are each so uniquely and fully delightful that I can’t imagine what I did to be lucky enough to have earned the honor of knowing them. It’s breathtaking to me, sometimes. I’d take any excuse to revel and celebrate that feeling of meeting them!! It’s just so…wow.

I’m sure that just like every human ever, they probably all think that they don’t do enough to make me proud, or that I’m somehow disappointed in them. Literally nothing could be further from the truth. I will always love and be so honored to have raised them; it’s not something they have to earn or are capable of losing. It will always be there. I’m so proud of them.

Which leads me to wonder if all of us who feel like we disappointed or weren’t enough for our parents are actually way off base. Maybe we should go easy on ourselves. We are, truly, remarkable souls.

Perfectionism

I’m not sure I ever saw my mom fail, at anything.

I’m going to ask her that later, and she’s going to half snort and say, “What did I ever succeed at, Elizabeth??” But to me, it all looked like succeeding. We went to the apple orchard, and everything got turned into something. We got tomatoes from neighbors and huge pots of amazing sauce turned up. She made clothes, I’m not even sure she followed patterns for. She crocheted and I never heard her utter “damn” and throw the project aside. She made the most intricate cross stitch patterns; I can barely pay attention long enough to thread the needle.

I don’t remember anything that she ever tried to do that she didn’t succeed at. I don’t ever remember her throwing something aside and saying “I quit.” I must have 4,000 project bags sitting around this house, projects I’ve started and not followed through with. I don’t remember her doing that.

Not to say she was always prolific; she had a friend who sewed voraciously when I was young, expert level. There were always multiple projects and a catalog of them all somewhere, huge stashes of fabric all actually intended for things, and more of it than she would need for any project. My mom wasn’t like that; probably because we couldn’t afford it and she had to work so many jobs. But she was really good, and disciplined, and I don’t think I ever saw her quit.

Sometimes I wonder why I didn’t get more of that. Or any of it, at all.

Hazy days

Yesterday, I woke up and social justice warrior’ed my Facebook. I had breakfast with my husband. I wandered in and out onto the back porch, utilizing my medical marijuana, but never settled outside to enjoy nature or inside to putter around; I got lost in my Sims game on the PS4. I played all day. I don’t remember dinner, ordering groceries (though I remember we’re broke now!). I played long after my husband fell asleep, till it finally got so late my body shut me down.

I love being outside on my porch, and had been looking forward to letting my chickens free roam while I mucked out their coop all week; why didn’t I do that? Why did I lose myself and my time with my husband to a video game that I have played for so many years that it’s difficult to remember life before the Sims? I don’t know. What am I avoiding?

Today, I wake up. Social justice my FB. Feel physically gross from being up so late, mentally gross from the mix of game story and my dreams. I have a choice on what to do today, and how to live it. What direction will I go, and in the end does it matter? Are all my jumbled stories and inner questioning much ado about nothing…does it literally not matter in the long run whether I’m out living my life or inside running a computer simulation so they can live theirs? Do ants put this much thought into life? Am I an ant?

Their lives matter, but they didn’t matter to anyone until someone killed them for no reason; before that moment, very few people in the world cared. They were surrounded by people who didn’t give a fuck, every day. Nothing I do in my social justicing will bring them back or give them the lives they should have had. That’s what makes the protesting so hard; they will never come back. It still feels wrong that they be forgotten, that people of color live in fear all the time. Can’t we find stories of people abused, discriminated against and still living? Can we tell their stories? Maybe we could actually see things change? Would anyone alive even be willing to talk about it when the threat of violence is ever present?

Would my life be different if I lived in fear all the time, or would I still be sitting here contemplating being lost in pixels or being lost in sunshine and feathers? Seems safer to be in here playing games with chickens and a PS4 than to be out there. Does my life matter? Am I doing anything?

Maybe I can take a shower and stop thinking.