All I Want for Christmas….

I promise this will be the best holiday yet.

Here’s why:

The house will be a mess. Dog fur will be everywhere. Dishes will be in the sink. Laundry will be left in the dryer, on top of the washer, in the hamper or in a jumble on the floor. Please wear slippers so your socks or feet don’t get dirty because the floors didn’t get the proper attention.

Gifts will be under the tree, wrapped with crinkled edges. They might be the wrong size/color/item. The name tag might be on the wrong gift. Please hand it to the sibling next to you.

A menu will be planned but possibly altered because the proper ingredients weren’t bought. The food might be over-done, under cooked and every dietary need may not be met. Please feel free to cook something more to your liking or specific to your diet of choice.

At the end of the day, all I ask is that any food harmful to the pets (chocolate and the like) be placed out of reach. If wine is spilled, Shout gets it out. If a glass/plate/mug breaks, just make sure all the shards are off the floor to protect paws. If there are piles of stuff all over the counter, leave them. That’s why I have no plans on Thursday.

It’s not about how the house looks, the food, the gifts or what gets done or not.

Our family will be together.

That makes it perfect.

Aware

There are causes in which I believe, live by and wish other would know about, but the word “awareness” has been tagged on to so many things that it’s lost its effectiveness.  We have dedicated ribbons, dedicated months, international days and it’s all superficial at best. Wearing pink doesn’t help anyone with breast cancer. Funding education and research helps. Outreach programs for women to get mammograms help. “Awareness” needs to go beyond a ribbon but, for some people, wearing a color is all they can do. Money is tight so donations aren’t feasible. Personal obligations are overwhelming so volunteering might send you over the edge.

Education is the weapon we need.

Ask anyone about eating disorders and they’ll tell you all about anorexia and bulimia.  The NIMH recognizes binge-eating as a disorder but I wonder how many people take it seriously?  It’s been my experience to hear dismissive statements such as “we all over eat sometimes” or “you just need to control yourself more”.  Apparently it’s just that simple.

I don’t know which of my diagnoses most affects my bouts of binge-eating. There are days when I’m afraid to eat.  My fear is once I start, I won’t be able to stop. My husband is of the “we all over eat sometimes” camp. He doesn’t understand that it’s more than the amount of food I’ll eat in a short period of time; it’s the feeling of being out of control that scares me the most. I can explain it to him and he’s loving and open-minded so I know he does what he can to avoid invalidating my feelings.  All this being said, my binges aren’t horribly bad. I think people afflicted with severe binge-eating would be offended by the classification of my episodes as a binge. And although I’m afraid to eat at times, I do. I know fasting isn’t the answer. 

I want a healthy relationship with food. I want to enjoy a piece of Italian bread with butter during my meal and be satisfied with one piece– or even two, depending on what else I’m eating. Moderation isn’t my strong suit.

Back to my original rant now. People need to be educated that some or most of us who are overweight or obese are not like this because we’re lazy or over indulgent in a conscious way. Eating disorders go beyond starvation and purging. One of the very definitions of disorder is “a disturbance in physical or mental health or functions; malady or dysfunction”.  If stopping this type of behavior was truly as simple as “don’t keep bread in the house” or “try eating just a small amount of your favorite treat”, then the weight-loss industry— or the self-help industry as a whole– wouldn’t be the morbidly obese money making monster it is.

How do we foster more recognition and less judgment?  How can we be brave enough to initiate a conversation?  When I’m at a restaurant, instead of politely declining the bread, should I say, “I have an eating disorder and would prefer not to have the bread on the table, thank you.”?  It won’t make much of a difference to the server probably, but isn’t that how awareness begins? By making something a part of life and conversation, without shame, without inhibition, we start to create a new normalcy. A new acceptance. A new perspective. With acceptance, both internally with ourselves as well as the random person on the street, maybe the fear of food, the fear of lost control,  the fear of (insert your demon here) will diminish.

It sounds easy.  It sounds optimistic.

Are there enough soapboxes in existence for all our society needs to conquer?

The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe… and the witch….

Ah, Fall.  I  love that my view of the lake looks like the picture above.

My previous attempt at Book Riot’s Zero to Well Read list had me exploring The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.  I read it during the Zimmerman Trial debacle and I found myself too annoyed with the book’s racism to continue.  It mirrored current issues with the trial too closely for me and I abandoned it for that and other reasons.  If you haven’t read my clumsy previous post, I also mentioned that Huck wasn’t part of my school’s curriculum and had never read it.  This time I decided to reread a book that was assigned and check in with my adult self’s understanding of it.

There are several titles listed from which to choose in this category,  but since I’m still in a state of recovery from my experiment in September, I decided on C.S. Lewis’s The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe; I figured a children’s book I was assigned to read in the second grade would be about my intellectual speed this month. Being that second grade was over 30-something years ago, I must have donated my copy to a library.  (I’m guessing it got lugged a full half mile here some time before high school with all of my other “children’s books” I probably wouldn’t read again.)  Being October (I’m assuming), there wasn’t a copy available in my current library (ironically also about a half mile away) so I borrowed it from my (much) younger cousin.  She handed me a copy of The Complete Chronicles of Narnia that was massive and didn’t fit in my purse. (Explanation: at one time she was with me while I was handbag shopping and mentioned my requirement for a perfect purse is small enough to control the amount I carry but big enough to accommodate a trade paperback. As a result, she labels a bag or a book as appropriate for me according to this conversation.)  I hadn’t realized how many books made up the collection until I flipped through to see how long Book 2 would be.

I was shocked to find out there was a story before The Wardrobe and that the darn thing was only 92 pages long.  I swore it was much much much longer than that.  (Perhaps to a 7 year old, it was.)  My confession for this post is I wasn’t a fan of this book when I was a child.  I found it confusing and a little boring.  As an adult, I’ve come to understand why I had such a difficult time liking many of the books assigned in school.  My love of reading is directly related to being immersed in the story. By the second grade, I was rarely struggling with the phonics of the words and was fairly good at inferring meaning of unfamiliar ones through context (yay me, yay teachers).  However, picking apart symbolism and stressing over what I would need to remember from the week’s assigned pages for the Friday quiz really didn’t allow me to get lost in Narnia.  I always read beyond the assignment and found myself so far ahead I had to reread the test material the Thursday night before– which more than likely attributed to the confusion and boredom.  As I reread my way through this list (and, yes, I know at this rate it’ll be about 10 years before I’m done), I’ll probably have a much greater respect for the books I had to analyze in school.

This time, I was able to play around a bit in Narnia– as well as finally pronouncing the land correctly instead of a blurred Nar-ree-ah.  The story itself is wonderful and appealing.  I found the narrator suddenly directing comments to the reader to shake me a bit.  I went from trudging through the snow or slowly appearing Spring, staying  a few steps behind my new friends, to being aware of holding a book in my lap, reclined and cuddled in my comfy chair in front of the fire.  I tried to keep in mind I was indeed reading something intended for an audience well below my age-bracket.  I could see why I should have enjoyed this story in the second grade. What’s not to love?  There’s a mystical land that not only offers an escape from a stuffy old house but has talking animals and adventure!  They get to be Kings and Queens known for their fairness, valiancy and wisdom!  Sign me up!

My adult persona also allowed for a new understanding of my confusion and lack of interest in the Narnia series as a child. When my husband found I had finished the book, he asked me what I thought.  To paraphrase the conversation, I explained how I didn’t realize the first time around how much of it was based in Christian mythology and he said he had never really gotten that.  I was surprised and brought up the very apparently retelling of the Crucifixion–  to which he conceded, “Yeah I knew that. But the rest of it. There are a lot of Pagan elements too.”

And, yes, he’s right. There are a lot of Pagan elements.  And the moral of the story is that the Lion will prevail over the Witch.

I have a problem with that. Why is the witch almost always the villain?   Why does this have to be religious rather than a simple good versus evil story?  I’m not certain the C.S. Lewis was alluding to Pagans specifically but the inference of witches being all things bad is getting tiresome. We have far too few Glindas compared to the number of Wicked Witches.

I will make it clear here that the problem is mine and I do not think the book should be condemned as discriminatory against Pagans. I mean, let’s face it: Paganism hasn’t been respected for centuries.  Nothing I’ll say here will change that.  I’m not sure it’s worth it, either.

Of course my sensitivity to the corruption of magick* for entertainment purposes is heightened around now because of the secularization of Halloween.  Sue McCaskill  wrote a great op-ed piece about Halloween and the depiction of witches. (If you read her piece, and I suggest you do, please note that Pagans can claim the title of Witch without being Wiccan. Wicca is a specific and still rather new tradition but still an earth-based faith.) For years I boycotted the traditional Halloween Witch: a green-faced, warty old hag. Trust me. Witches never had a green complexion unless we have food poisoning or are having a facial. But I’m resigned to the battle for respect among the population at large being lost and now focus on getting a little personal respect. Why?  Harry Potter and the Narnia stories get children to read.  I’m willing to give up magickal accuracy for literacy.  The Halliwell sisters at least faced consequences for their actions.  The Dresden Files has fun characters and a little truth to the theory behind where magick comes from and how it works.  For me, the jury is still out on Witches of East End (though I have to admit I like Mädchen Amick’s character, the idea of consequences and I’ve never read the books).  I’ve even stopped plotting to write a book or television series where the main character is a misunderstood man who has supernatural powers to raise the dead, heal the sick, feed the hungry and come back from the dead himself after he’s killed by the government in the cliffhanger.   Because that would be disrespectful. Two wrongs don’t make a right.

The truth is five of eight traditional Pagan holidays have either been secularized or taken over by Christianity. Seriously.  Even Groundhog Day has Pagan roots. The exceptions seem to be the Summer Solstice, Autumnal Equinox and Lammas (though the Catholic Church coincides the latter with the assumption of Mary).   Every time I see a bumper sticker asking us to Keep Christ in Christmas, I snicker a little and want one that says Keep Hallowed All Hallow’s Eve. (I have to admit I snicker also because Jesus was probably born in the Spring, yet Christians celebrate the birth of the Son of God when Pagans are celebrating the birth of the Sun God.)  But honestly, to my Christian readers, fight for it.  Fight to keep Christ in Christmas…. because I understand how it feels to have your holy days become holidays that only resemble the sacredness of the day with research, if at all.

But secularization is here. Do me a solid: if you know any Pagans, be sure to wish them a happy Samhain.  It’s pronounced SOW-in and is primarily the Gaelic name for the holiday.  If you know what tradition your friend follows, be sure to use the appropriate name or be bold and ask!   As for me, I celebrate on the actual cross-quarter day which is November 7th this year. On the 31st, I’ll give out candy to children and I’ll genuinely compliment their costumes.  Between doorbells ringing and holding the dog back from wanting to play with the trick or treaters, I’ll quietly remember this is the beginning of a new year for me and others who are smiling and making sure the children get to have their fun.

And maybe next year I’ll hit all the used book stores, sites and library sales, buy up all the copies of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe and give it out along with chocolate.

Because, why not?

* I’m not sure who started trying to differentiate stage magic from spellwork by adding a k to the latter. I started following that tread years ago but think it’s pretty stupid now.  Yet I still find myself doing it.

Que Sera Sera, Coursera

In mid-August, I was feeling fairly well.

I had begun experimenting with driving locally.  Sticking to a strict 5 mile radius, I headed out for short grocery runs, the library, the gym, my stepson’s job and the modest “downtown area” of the neighboring town.  I kept with the rules of not driving when it was raining, dark, during rush hour or when there was no one home to rescue me if I couldn’t completely my journey.

The new freedom and independence went right to my head.  I began feeling like I could take on the world and get right back into it.  I swore that before I knew it I’d be able to drive all over the place, whenever I wanted, where ever I wanted.  I’d be able to keep my house clean again consistently, hold dinner parties, be with friends and actually get back to work.  Life was looking great and I was ready to conquer!

All great plans need a test run.  There are inevitable holes in any design that need discovering before being set into motion, lest it become a sinkhole of death.  In my previous life, I worked a mandatory 55 hour work week that usually became 60-70.  I did this while I had a social life and a clean house.  Before that, I had worked a normal 40 hour job while I took a full time course load in college.  In both slices of my past, I managed to read 2-3 novels a month as well.  In other words, my schedule was pretty busy. I decided my test run would be relatively small but address some major components of recovery for me.

I joined the gym.  This would prompt me to have to drive more as well as be out and about with others.  The gym is challenging for a few reasons: 1) I’m spending money on it and I have a guilt complex about this since I’m not working; 2) it is very difficult to be overweight in a facility full of fit and trim people.  However, I’m determined to be healthier in body as well as mind so why not the gym?  I learned the gym may be filled with fit and trim folks, but they really don’t notice anything but their own form in the mirrors.  I did feel one set of judgmental glances, but…. c’mon… I’ve dropped 4 sizes this year.  I’m proud of that.  Let’em judge.  (Woo hoo! See? Healthier!)  The only thing with the gym is that although I’m around others, I’m not really interacting with them.  That’s ok.  There were other things I could do.  Keep in mind my disorder isn’t a form of social anxiety but it is a general, wide-spread anxiety. Without working, my interactions with others is limited and I feel I need to be with other people in order to feel more “normal” (and no, we’re not going to try to define normal….)

While at the library, I saw a flyer for a fiction writing workshop.  This workshop had been offered earlier in the year but when I tried to sign up then it was full and could only add my name far, far down on the waiting list.  As my books were being checked out, I asked if there were any openings left for this session.  There was!  I signed up!  I got home and said, “I must be out of my mind!”   What?  Why, you ask?  Surely there’s no pressure in a writing class.  Simply complete random assignments of creativity given to you by a professional author and read it in front of perfect strangers.  NO PROBLEM.  I rationalized: I love writing; I need a push to get myself back into fiction writing; this gave me a little more interaction with people, with the added pressure of deadlines.  After all, if I expect to go back to work, I need to learn to deal with deadlines again.

So far my test run had the following challenges:  social situations, deadlines, driving, and commitment.

This should have been enough.

In hindsight, I probably should have stuck with just the gym or workshop.

Did I mention I was feeling like I could take on the world?

In a previous post I had mentioned I’m a fan of Book Riot.  One of their features mentioned an MOOC called Coursera.  (MOOC means massive open online course.  Don’t worry. I had to look it up too.)  They have a bunch of free web-based courses and I promptly signed up for Social Psychology.   Great!  Now I had another set of deadlines with the added challenge of seeing if I can retain information.  My memory was once like a party trick.  I would be able to see a name in our appointment book and tell you who they were, what kind of job they want, where they worked and to which companies I would or wouldn’t send him or her. Now I have trouble recognizing my neighbor at the grocery store.

I was excited.  I had a plan and it didn’t seem too overwhelming.  The only financial commitment was the gym and I had my incredible DH’s approval.  Everything else was a personal commitment and I really wouldn’t be letting anyone down if I cancelled anything.

Except for myself.

Isn’t that just dandy.

I started full steam.  I went to the gym and I started the social psychology course as soon as the lectures were posted (which was a week early).  I read through some of my old writing to remind myself I was once good at fiction and short stories.

So what happened?

Wellll……..  The gym has been side tracked for a few reasons.  One, I pulled something in my leg— not at the gym, mind you.  I’m not sure how I did it, but I could barely walk for a bit.  After not doing a heck of a lot for the past month, I went for a short walk today and it felt it twinge.  I need to get back into it slowly.    The other is I encountered some problems driving.  Early in September I set out to the store while I was a little stressed out.  That was a bit of a mistake.   I had a hard time getting back. Then I went out feeling ok but too close to dusk.  The angle of the sun and the shadows had me guessing where the road was and I had to stop.  (Not to mention the number of suicidal deer that decided they didn’t need to wait for me to pass before crossing the road…)  I’ve been incredibly hesitant to get behind the wheel since then.  (Side note: I learned in the Social Psychology course this is called the availability heuristic—a cognitive rule that judges the likelihood of things in terms of their available memory.  Be impressed. Please.)

The writing workshop was fun.  I expected the group to be comprised of older residents who knew each other. I was partially correct.  Just about everyone in the group has been taking this workshop every single session for years.  The age group was mixed.  I think we ranged from 30-60s.  One lady I learned in the last class was going through chemo treatments.  She looked to be our most senior classmate.  I’m wondering if she probably wasn’t as senior as I think.  The assignments were difficult.  I wanted structure to jumpstart my writing but I felt this was too much.  It may have felt that way because I haven’t written anything with an assigned subject or specific guidelines in at least 20 years.  I feel like I did well.  I accomplished what I was hoping for:  I wrote every week and I met some fun people.  In fact, I may have actually started to forge some local friendships.

And finally the Social Psychology course… I think this was the most challenging for me even though it did not require driving, socializing or even consequences for missed deadlines.   My scholastic career was exemplary. I never worked very hard in school but I had excellent grades and was accepted into prestigious colleges (I didn’t attend any… long story… not ready to write about it yet).  My success in school is very much a part of my identity.  It justifies my claims of intelligence and diligence even though once a person is out of school and gets past the first two years of working, a GPA isn’t discussed or acknowledged.  (Hint—if you’ve been out of college for more than 2 years, HR people do not really care what your GPA was. Keep it on there for a year after you graduate and only if it’s a 3.0 or higher, please….).  Retaining information has been difficult since the anxiety became disabling.  I wasn’t sure if I was ready for my sense of intellectual pride to be shaken.  The deadlines were very difficult and keeping up with the readings felt impossible.  There were a few unexpected stress triggers as well.  The first was the expectation to grade others’ assignments.  In order to get full credit for my own assignment, I needed to grade 5 others.  If I didn’t, I’d lose 20% of my own score.  I was not expecting to have my actions impact someone else’s grade.  I know this was a free course and completion of it did not attribute to a degree program.  However, after going through the forum discussions, a good number of people were taking their grade incredibly seriously.    Two of the assignments had emotional triggers for me.  I worked through one, and the subsequent peer assessments.  I decided it was healthier for me to skip the other one altogether.  I weighed the impact of the trigger and decided it wasn’t worth it.  It felt good to make a conscious decision about it.  I knew I wasn’t running away from it.  My decision was based on the idea I was testing the boundaries of what I could handle and I knew I wasn’t ready to confront this particular trigger.

What did I learn?

This post is long enough as it is so I’ll spare you the actual learning discoveries of the proper form of squats, the definition of magical realism (HA HA ha ha ahem) and spontaneous trait inferences.

I learned while I have come incredibly far since this disorder knocked me on my ass just about 2 years ago, I still have a long way to go.  I joke on Twitter that I have difficulty doing too many things at once and that by “too” I really mean “two”, but it’s not a joke.  My capacity to focus is still very limited and incorporating multiple things into my life at once is not the best way to proceed for now.  Expectations, either from others or myself, need to be simple.  I was much more symptomatic throughout September and I attribute it to putting more on my plate than I can handle.  My recovery took a step back—as in I need to work on reining in the symptoms that have been running amuck this month….but I moved forward too.  I worked hard this past month and I have clearly redefined the boundaries of this disorder.  I’m going to work on one thing at a time now… once it becomes comfortable and fluid, I’ll add in something else.

When I was awarded disability, I was told I would be reevaluated in August 2014. My goal is to be able to inform them I don’t need to be reevaluated and am ready to try to get back to work.

And if I’m not ready by then, so be it.  I’ll be reevaluated and then set another goal.

To my family and friends, thank you for dealing so well with me this past month.  I know my symptoms are challenging and I feel guilty for your frustration.  Your support means everything to me.  I appreciate you more than I can ever express.

Standing in Place, Past and Present

In November of 1997, a 6 month old pup was placed in my arms. She was tiny, soft and warm. She nuzzled under my chin and sighed.  She looked up at me, licked my chin and settled back into place.

In the early morning hours last Tuesday, my 16 year old pup was still tiny, soft and warm.  She nuzzled under my chin and sighed. She looked up at me, licked my chin and settled back into place.

A few hours later we stood together in her vet’s office.  The news was incomplete yet completely definitive: we could run a battery of tests to find out what has happened in over the past 38 hours but the prognosis was she would not get better.  She had stopped eating and drinking. One side of her tiny, soft, warm body did not respond. She would not be coming home with me.

She and I had come full circle.  Together we started a life that wouldn’t last.  We bought a house and moved. We married and divorced. We started and stopped 3 jobs.  We welcomed and sadly said goodbye to a cat.  We fell in love again. We married and moved again.

Our journey together began and ended with a nuzzle and a kiss.

Someone once said a person is in your life for a reason, a season or a lifetime. Pets span all 3.  That little dog gave me a reason to get up in the morning when I felt life wasn’t worth trying.  She celebrated every time I walked in the room. She made friends with countless people who claimed they didn’t like dogs.  She offered comfort and love to a group of struggling divorcees.

Her reason:

to teach me

naps are restorative

nothing beats eggs for breakfast

roll in the grass

the sun there is bask in

greet each person like a VIP

examine every blade of grass

every petal

every scent

 unconditional love

Her season:

16 years, 2 months

3 homes, 2 marriages, 1 cat

enough life lessons  for a graduate degree

She’ll be with me for a lifetime.

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Image1997-2013

Thoughts on a fall-like Monday in August

I remember hating Monday.  The dread would start midday on Sunday. In the evening, I’d hear the 60 Minutes clock tick away my life, my weekend, my sanity.

That was when I was in a constant struggle between loving my job and hating my company.

The consensus of my friends and family is that this job “drove me crazy”.  My long time struggle with anxiety and panic came to a head and broke me into pieces. This is where my current state of disability started.  But was it?

No. I think it was just the proverbial last straw.

Throughout my life, I felt the pressure of unattainable expectations and reminders every which way that my best wasn’t good enough.  Some people see this as motivation and thrive on the challenge while others retreat a little to figure out why xyz wasn’t good enough only to become discouraged when the belief of “that was the best I could do but it still wasn’t right” sinks in to taint the next whatever.  I’m in the latter camp.  It’s a conditioned response. I know it’s in the past, but I still allow it to sabotage current life decisions.

Some people call it emotional abuse.  I have no clinical training but I’ll disagree with that label in my case. There was no malicious intent.  It goes with the philosophy of adapting the tools you learn as a child.  A person will employ the same tactics used by their own parents— unless said person had the advantage of therapy or some other path to enlightenment.

The shaming technique is bad.  I’m enlightened. I still stumble and find myself using it. I hope I’ve caught it each time and corrected its effects.

It’s the beginning of August, but I awoke to a morning more standard issue for mid-September. Mid-60s, breezy, sunny, blue skies, light dancing on the lake…  not a flicker of the dreaded Monday.

I did what any other sane person would do:  I sat outside with my morning coffee. I brought my book, a pad of paper and my phone. Mother Nature blew at my pages.  The wind carried a fresh scent and I stopped my usual morning bustle of catching up on the latest atrocities of the news and creating the day’s to-do list.

The only thing I wanted to do was experience this perfect moment.  I closed my eyes and listened. I heard birds and the water lapping on the dock. The air smelled like fall after a light rain. Sunshine warmed my face.

It all felt good enough.

How to harness this serenity didn’t feel like a mystery anymore.

Close your eyes and experience what is around you.

I’m going to practice this every day.

Untitled Poem

Write write write.
Right.

Stop the madness
Stop the transference

Worry keeps you busy but
gets you nowhere

know where

Exorcise the ghosts by
inviting them in

make them comfortable
a bit of tea
sweet treats

Sugar’s the weapon
That’s it

Sugar free, worry free, demon free

Nothing’s free

Little joys…

Soak in the sun but
block it out

Benefits with a price of life

That’s everything

exchange a little life for living each day

Clock is ticking
fast
and slow

Too fast for ghosts
but they keep up anyway

Mind over matter?
Does an apparition have mass?
Matter?

It doesn’t matter anymore

Except to me

What you think is irrelevant
Don’t should all over me

My battle.