You lose a loved one, then they die.

When I was a sophomore in high school we were expected to do a certain amount of volunteer hours for the year. So I reached out to a local nursing home and offered to help. They said just stopping by and spending time with the dementia patients would be wonderful. Upon getting there I was so impressed. The place was clean, friendly, and filled with safe activities. The staff were all wonderful. The place was clearly well run and didn’t need me, but hey I came to spend time with the patients so why not? So I sat down and started talking with a women. I introduced myself about 5 times, repeated the same answers to the same questions in small circles of dialog, and was surprised by just how comfortable I was talking to her despite my introverted tendencies. I came back the next day and started spending time with the people in the activity room when a nurse pointed out one gentleman who used to be a musician for a living. So he and I sat at the piano and I tried to remember tunes from childhood piano lessons and then muscle memory took over from his dementia eaten brain and he played something lovely for me. As another women began to sing I saw a few more swaying or dancing to the music. This became a regular thing. Bringing music, playing music, singing and dancing. It seemed to brighten their day, and I know it did mine. Staff always joined in when possible which was lovely to see. When my volunteer hours were up I kept going. For about two years I would go about once a month to put on a little “swing dance” night with the help of a couple nurses. It always seemed to go over well.

I remember the first time I sat near a family while they were visiting a loved one. As they answered the same circle of questions I did. As they had to explain who they were to someone they’ve known all their life. I could hear two things in their voices, love and grief. The person they knew was gone, she was different. They loved her and visited her and spent time with her, but it wasn’t her anymore and it broke their hearts. I saw this more times than I care to remember. See dementia doesn’t just steal short term memory, it eats away at the whole brain. The personality of the person is affected as much as anything else. The person you knew is gone almost entirely, but still there. That’s a hard way to lose someone, and a difficult way to grieve.

Twelve years ago I went to visit my grandmother. To anyone on the outside she would have seemed perfectly normal, but I saw something else. There were slight snags in short term memory that weren’t there the last time I saw her, but no more than the average person her age (or the average me at any age without coffee). Except she had always had a better memory than the average person. And what she forgot would be unusual, like how to change a basic setting on a tv she’d owned for 5 years. But it was more than that. She cooked differently. The women who has had the same cooking habits since before my dad was born had suddenly shifted them. Her intense focus on her daily hobbies wasn’t there, and she struggle to fill her day. She’d never had that problem before. I knew within an hour she was in the early stages of dementia. I called my father that night and told him what I noticed and to please take grandma to her doctor. Go with her. And then I curled up in bed and cried. I knew what would happen, I would lose her slowly, bit by bit. I would grieve for her for years while she still lived and I still saw her.

A few days ago my grandmother died. Twelve years of watching her slip away. She is now at peace. I have grieved for the last 3 years when she hit a stage of dementia that made her unrecognizable. But still I loved her, still do. So instead of the continued sorrow, it is time to celebrate her life.

She lived a long life filled with a great deal of joy. She helped keep her parents and siblings healthy through the Great Depression while still knowing how to enjoy life despite how little she had. She raised two children, a son and daughter, and had a wonderful and loving husband for many years. She had a great career that she worked hard at and loved, but somehow always knew how to balance work and life despite the tough hours. When she retired she was never bored. She spent time with her kids and grandkids, her and her husband took in foster children for a while, she kept her hobbies up. When her husband passed she spent her free time teaching sewing and knitting classes at the local community center.

She practiced what she preached more than anyone I’ve ever known. In fact I think she practiced far more than ever preached, simply living the example without the need to say a word. She lived a life of balance and stability, she took care of her health, she had fun, she practiced things she wanted to learn and taught things she already knew. I learned a lot from my grandmother, probably more than I ever realized. The things I struggle with I still try to pull from her example, and I always will. I haven’t lost her completely despite the disease that stole her mind and then body. I will pass what I can to my kids so they at least will get some of the blessings I got from her. I hope that will be enough to honor the amazing women that she was.

Counting down

As others have been counting down the days, hours, minutes until New Years, I have been counting down to my next therapy appointment. I’ve spent the last 2 years working my ass off to be stable, or at least to pretend I am with some amount of calm under the surface. A few months ago everything took a nose dive. Life said “fuck you!” and everything went nuts. It’s enough to add great deals of stress to the normally stable people, so you can only imagine what it’s doing to me. The biggest problem right now is that the issues are as time consuming as they are stressful. Which means that during this time of my needing the safe space of my therapists office more than anything, I haven’t been able to keep a single appointment. Every time I have scheduled one something has gone crazy that required my time and I had to reschedule.

I go on Tuesday. So far nothing has come up that can’t be handled without me or wait another day. I only need to make it until Tuesday. People have been asking me what my New Years resolution is. As I smile and make some non committal answer to move the conversation off of me, my brain screams in response “survive!” I want to survive. I want to survive this time both mentally and physically. I want to come out of this with a limited amount of new scars, no trips to the hospital, and nights with sleep. Even if that sleep is restless and filled with nightmares, at least it is a night safely asleep and not awake and lost in dangerous thoughts of “my family is better off without me” as I sit alone in the dark.

Two years ago I don’t know that I would have made it through. I have come a long way, and my ability to see that reminds me why I fight. Why I force myself to get treatment for my illness. Why I can keep getting up, even when I fall. So I will cling to this hope that snuck its way into my depression and follow it to my therapy appointment. Almost there. Just a couple more days. My countdown continues and with each day marked off brings more hope.

Happy New Year Y’All… cheers to us, and to therapy. May we all be blessed with many good and non-canceled therapy sessions this year.

Broken Heart

I was 13 and you cancelled our plans again, and it broke my heart.

I was 14 and you took me to dinner because my brother told you you didn’t spend enough time with me. You promised to do better. You didn’t. And it broke my heart.

I was 15 and hadn’t seen you in months and you heard from a family member I was in therapy. You called to find out why, saying you feared that you had “screwed me up.” You didn’t understand my depression or how to even try to speak to me about it and it broke my heart.

I was 16 and you tried to make decisions for me on driving, school, and work. You felt being right was more important than acknowledging your x-wife might have better ideas. It broke my heart.

I was 17 and angry with you. Speaking less, doing less, avoiding you more. And you didn’t notice. Didn’t try to bring back the communication. And it broke my heart.

I was 26 and hadn’t seen you in 2 years. I decided not to be angry, just to accept. The decision broke my heart.

I was 30 and trying to give you time to spend with your grandkids. We were pushed away by your new wife who told me to leave. I saw the look on your face as you felt hopeless to stop her. That look broke my heart.

Last week I cancelled our plans, as infrequent as they are. You had been drinking and I was exhausted. I choose to stay away. You say it broke your heart, that I would cancel on you. But why should it take you this long to feel our distance? Why have you not seen the countless ways you have not been my father these many years? And why, upon hearing your pain, is it again my heart that breaks?

Failed them again

It was supposed to be family movie night. I would come home from work, we’d snuggle on the couch, drink some hot cocoa, and watch Cars 3. But I got to work and all plans left my mind. While I focused on the mountains of paperwork and hours of analysis and data entry, my husband went to the Thanksgiving event at the kids school. While I struggled to help my team balance work and make realistic goals to avoid unnecessary stress, my husband helped the kids with their homework, encouraging them as they continue to learn. And as the work day came to a close, I stayed. Forgetting movie night, I sat at work to try to get stuff done. I felt so far behind and wanted a chance to catch up. Until an hour before bedtime when my husband called and asked “aren’t you coming home?” “Yeah, just finishing up a couple more items.” “What about the movie? The kids have been watching for you to come home so we can start.”

I failed my family. I prioritized wrong and missed a chance to snuggle my kids. I got home and they were so sad because it was too late to watch the movie. I apologized, they wandered off to play a little before bed but still with these sad faces. A couple minutes later I heard giggles. Went to see what cheered them up so fast. They were playing with Daddy. My husband to the rescue, again.

I love that they are so close to their Daddy, and that my husband is always there for them. But I feel like such a failure as a mother. Tonight I felt that terribly. I still do. How can my work become so important that I lose sight of spending time with the kids? Will I ever have a chance to prove I can be there for them? Or will Daddy always be the one they need?

I will not

I will not rage quit my job today.

I will not allow a single email to determine my career.

I will not allow this bitch to get to me, even after nearly three years of her hacking away at my mental state at work.

I will not rage quit my job today.

I will not stay up all night.

I will not be up all night afraid of the dreams that will haunt my sleep.

I will not allow my stress from the day to determine whether or not I will sleep that night.

I will not stay up all night.

I will not spend the day in tears.

I will not hide and cry all day over the devastation in this world.

I will not dwell on my personal experiences of loved once trapped in past shootings and replay the fear in my head while others face this new terror in their own lives.

I will not spend the day in tears.

I will not give up.

I will not forget that this day is temporary.

I will not allow the insanity of my current life and stress levels to destroy the future I am always fighting towards.

I will not give up.

By a robber in the woods

A very dear friend of mine attempted suicide this weekend. She survived and is safe in a psychiatric hospital right now. But I spoke with her today and she still seems overcome by the depression and the sorrow she faces. I looked briefly through photos of us over the past few months and can see, now with clarity, the smile on her face and the sorrow in her eyes.

I am in hermit mode while I safely heal my own broken heart as she exhaustedly fights for hers. I await to see the success of her fight because I cannot bear it to think she may lose. She is strong, though she doesn't see it. She is brave, though she sees only her fear. I will see the truth of her on her behalf while she navigates the dark woods of her depression.

I do not claim to be religious but have studied numerous scholars of numerous religions. One of the things that has always stuck with me was the idea by Martin Luther in the 16th Century that suicide did not mean that the soul was damned. That having your life taken by the despair the devil attacks you with is no different than being murdered by a robber in the woods. I believe that to be true.

My friend was attacked by a robber in the woods. She survived but continues to fight through these horrifying woods of her mind. I hope she receives the guidance she needs to make it out. Whether through a god, a therapist, a friend, or a family member. I want her to come safely out, back into the sunshine that will heal her.

He’s still processing

I could see that my son was stressed, but unsure why exactly. He's 6 years old so doesn't know the words for what is happening in his mind. We talked and I gave him time to process the words while I listened. And I gave him some new words that might help explain his feelings, and make him feel less alone in his thoughts.

He started out by saying he wishes this was a dream.
"Why do you wish it were a dream?"
"I think maybe it should be a nightmare."
"What makes it a nightmare?"
"Um, because I want to wake up from it."
"Why do you want to wake up from this?"
Long pause….
"I just do."
"If you woke up, what would be different?"
"Well, I wouldn't have to eat all the healthy food" pause…
"Anything else?"
"Yeah, my room would be clean."
"Well, you can make that happen."
"But there's SO MUCH. All the toys all around, it makes me like I'm dizzy."
"Ok. Well we can find ways to make that easier."
Long pause….
"Is there anything else that would be different?"
"Well…"
Another pause…
"You can tell me sweetie."
"Well…. my fish would be back."

And that's when it clicked. He's been more irritable since his fish died. I can't believe I didn't connect the two before. So we snuggled for a bit, he began to cry. I just hugged him. I can see he's still processing the loss of his fish and it breaks my heart. We talked a bit more. I told him that maybe he was stressed, and he asked what that means. I described it as when things make us upset in a way that our feelings make us feel dizzy. But not like spinning around in circles dizzy, just an emotions dizzy.

I could see his understanding. I knew that was what he had been trying to put into words. I explained that when our stress feels really big, it makes us feel overwhelmed. I think he understood.

Today my son learned that his emotions have names, and he is not alone in them. Today I was reminded that he does have strong emotions, and I need to help him learn to process them. I never learned that as a child. I have the emotional (and physical) scars to prove it. I will do all that I can to help my kids learn to process their emotions.

Watching him grow up before my eyes

My son lost his fish today. It’s his first experience with loss, and heartbreaking to watch the journey. When we told him his fish was gone he asked if he could have another. He seemed focused on that, on having a new fish. Then his focus shifted to the now dead fish in an attempt to help Daddy get it out of the tank. He didn’t seem too emotional until it came time to flush. He plopped the  fish in the toilet, slowly walked towards it, said “bye bye fish” and in that moment I saw him grow up, just a bit. He gained new knowledge of the world in that split second and it broke my heart. With this new found knowledge of grief he hesitantly flushed the toilet and burst into tears. Lots of tears, snuggles, and ice cream with sprinkles, and he is now feeling more calm and falling asleep. I hope he has good dreams tonight, and that tomorrow he can be a little carefree child again. But I know that to some degree he can’t, that I saw him grow up today and feel a touch of the sorrow that this world has to offer.

Bye bye fishy. Thank you for bringing my son joy through your life. 

I should probably do that

So if I take my mood stabilizer even a couple hours later than usual it makes my tongue feel like I ate really hot soup too fast. You know, that burned numb weird feeling? Yeah, quickest way to know I forgot.

So this was my morning….

“Honey bunch! Let’s go shopping together!”

“Ooo, lets look in this section! No that way! Can we go through the craft section? I NEEEEEED more fake plants.”

*calmly and quietly* “thank you for taking me to lunch. This is so nice. Oh, the waitress gave me extra pickles cause I said I like them. So sweet.”

“Yes music machine, he is very cute. Yeah, totally adorable. Yes honey, I’m talking to a machine!”

“The car radio volume HAS to be on a number ending in 0,3,5 or 7. How can you still not do that for me?!”

*loudly and in a parking lot* “I AM HOLDING THE BOX OF CUPCAKES PERFECTLY FINE SO SHUT UP!”

*as I burst into tears* “I’m a failure as a wife! I ruined everything! I can’t do anything right!”

“My tongue feels weird. Why does my tongue feel weird? The soup wasn’t that hot last night… OHHHH!”

“Honey, I didn’t take my meds on time. I’m taking them now. The morning has been explained”

To my employees – what I wish I could explain

I’m sorry. I should be a better leader. I need to always be there to serve you, train you, help you. I should be able to make decisions, and help you make decisions so you can grow and learn. I should be patient, and answer your questions, and listen quietly when you speak. I should be more for you. You deserve more.

But I’m human. And a broken one at that. Most days I can push my broken brain aside long enough to be who you need. But some days, like today, I just don’t have the strength. Some days I’m barely keeping it together. Some days we’re lucky I even got out of bed.

I’m sorry for those days. The days where I snap, I cut off your question, and fail to make any decision. I’m so sorry. You deserve better, and I want to serve you and lead you better. But today I can’t. Today I’m exhausted, emotional, and broken. Please don’t hate me, just remember that I have my bad days. Those days that the brokenness shows through.