Thursday, November 28, 2013

Need... More... Elastic... Pants...

Thanksgiving is upon is. At this festive time of year we celebrate all of our blessings by indulging in a national day of gluttony. And why shouldn't we? Have you seen the sales that Safeway's been running on Thanksgiving food this week? It would be a waste NOT to take advantage of the savings!

You might expect to see an "I'm so thankful" post right about now. And to let you know that I'm not all piss and vinegar, I'll throw you a bone: I am thankful for my children, my husband, my family, my friends, my job, my home, and a real whole lot more than I can rattle off in a list. Don't get me wrong - I have much to be thankful for, and I do thank God every day for many counted blessings.

Now that that's out of the way, can I vent now? Once upon a time, not very long ago, I was a gym-dwelling zealot who took great pride in practicing healthy behaviors to make my body healthy and strong. Awash in the teachings of the Fat Acceptance movement, I was adamant that my body was amazing at any size and that as long as I practiced healthy behaviors, I was on the right track. I felt amazing and confident. It. Was. Awesome.

Then I turned 39. I had a friend at work who warned me that my body would start falling apart at 40. My body responded by saying, "Why wait? Let get this party started NOW!" For many years I had written off my intermittent back pain as a side effect of being too big for designer britches. When I embraced the lifestyle of a badass gym rat - working with a trainer and taking spin classes for Pete's sake! - the pain in my back got steadily worse. Did I take that as a hint that I needed to slow down? Or maybe ask the experts for some modified exercises? Hell no!! I was a badass gym rat. Pain was just part of the package. Pain was a sign of weakness leaving my body. Pain was my friend. (Shout-out to my Paris Island trained brother for that one.)

As it turns out, pain was my body's way of letting me know that my spine was screwed up in a multitude of ways, and I needed medical attention. When it reached the point that I couldn't stand upright without using my arms to pull myself up, I conceded to medical intervention. I ultimately learned that I have stenosis, degenerative disc disease, arthritis, and at least one disc that sticks so far from its assigned vertebrae that it is bent upward and pressing on a very pissed off nerve.

Why you gotta do me like that, L5?
Enter Dr. Smartypants, the very doctor who had saved Miracle Man's life. He gave me what medical type people call a facet block - which is fancy talk for slamming a needle into your spine and injecting a cocktail of fairy dust and dragon blood (or something) in there to make the affected nerve shut the hell up. The first time I had this procedure done, way back in June, I was amazed at how well it worked it. I could walk like a normal person, I could exercise (gently, mind you) without needing to take heavy pain medication, and I was so happy to finally be cured.

Then my damned gallbladder went south, which took me away from the gym even more. By the time my gallbladder was out of my life, the benefits of the facet block had worn off. I decided the pain of having a needle slammed in to my spine was worth another three months of relief, so I called up Dr. Smartypants and scheduled another injection. I was all excited to be on my way to relative normalcy again, and to resume my lifestyle as a badass gym rat. But this time, the injection only worked for a few weeks. Yes, weeks. About three weeks after that second procedure, I was back to experiencing excruciating pain every day.

You want to know the funny thing about excruciating pain? And by funny I mean seriously fucked up. Excruciating pain makes you want to find a comfortable position and stay there. It makes you want to cry a lot, and it makes you want to give up on ever being normal again. I don't know about you, but when I get all weepy about life in general, I start to need stuff like chocolate almost like I need oxygen.

So let's do some math. Sitting on my ass + Consuming therapeutic doses of chocolate = My clothes are getting tighter. As much as I would love to blame the tight clothes on my dryer, I've been down this road enough times before to know that the clothes are not the problem.

But Sassyfats, you say. What happened to all that talk about self-acceptance and loving your body just the way it is, no matter what?

Meh. It's easy to preach self-acceptance when you're taking positive steps toward improved health. It's not so easy to believe all that preachin' when you're sidelined and counting down the hours until you can take your next dose of Tylenol, which is barely worth taking because it doesn't work as well as Motrin but you can't take NSAIDs because your kidney doctor said so, and really the only thing that does work is Percocet and you can't go through life in a zombie-like state forever. And then you realize that the source of your pain is not an injury that will heal - it's a progressive condition that will never be better than it is today. And it makes you want to turn around, take out your spine, bitch-slap it a time or two for knocking you out of commission, then krazy-glue it back into place with the hopes that it has learned its lesson and will stop being such an asshole.

Ya gotta do what ya gotta do.
What was I talking about again? Oh yeah. Thanksgiving. Tomorrow I will partake in the usual Thanksgiving tradition of eating until I hate myself. But hopefully I will not fall victim to the month-long stuff-your-face-athon between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Two years ago I was convinced that intentional weight loss was a bad idea because of the high failure rate. I'm still convinced that "going on a diet" will only lead to heartache and extra stretch marks. But here's the thing: Someday I will probably need spinal surgery. I need to start getting my body ready for the recovery period. The less of me I have to carry around, the less hellacious the recovery will be.

After Thanksgiving I am going to ask my physical therapist about going back to the gym. I'm not going to be able to hit it as hard as I used to, but maybe I can find a way to get my heart rate up without killing my back. And I'm seriously considering going to a nutritionist to help me get my head back into the game of eating natural, healthy foods in appropriate portions. I'm still not trying to reach a certain number on the scale - been there, done that, have the gravy-stained, stretched out T-shirt. But as long as I can shrink fat cells and build muscle tissue, I think I'll be on the right track to a stronger, healthier, able-to-stand-upright-and-live-an-active-life me. 

Till then, Happy Thanksgiving!





Saturday, November 23, 2013

In Loving Memory: Terra Francella

It only takes a moment. One minute you're going through the motions of your normal life, and the next minute your entire world is unrecognizable.

That moment came on Christmas morning in 2010 for Terra Francella. She was out driving on that chilly morning, and she took a bend in the road a little too fast. Terra's life-changing moment came when she lost control of her car and a mailbox crashed through the windshield, crushing her skull. In the blink of an eye, this vivacious wife (of Miracle Man's cousin) and loving mother of two little girls became a Traumatc Brain Injury (TBI) patient fighting for her life. And her husband was thrust into the position nobody wants to be in: Do I remove life support and watch my life partner slip away, or do I hold out hope that she will beat the odds?  

It was Christmas day. They had two little girls at home wondering why in the heck they weren't opening presents and enjoying a normal Christmas morning. If there was any chance that Terra would pull through, D was not willing to pull the plug that day. As long as the EEG showed brain activity, D insisted she be kept alive no matter what the doctors said. Against all odds and prognoses, Terra continued to show signs of life.

For the next three months, Terra remained in a coma. Most of the doctors who examined her said she was unresponsive. They said she would never wake up. They said she would never breathe on her own. They said she would live in a persistent vegetative state until she finally expired. Why not let her go?

But D saw something that the doctors did not. When he spoke to her, her heart rate would go up. Her eyelids would flutter. In fact, one time when he played a recording of their daughters' voices for her, a tear slid down her cheek. He knew that Terra heard him, and that she was still "in there." As long as Terra showed these signs of life, D refused to give up hope.

As so many people do these days, D turned to Facebook to keep family and friends apprised of Terra's progress. In the social media arena, Terra's story spread like wildfire. Hundreds of people began following Terra's story. Many more than that prayed for her by name as she was added to prayer lists all over the world. Soon, the rallying cry of Team Terra was "I Believe" - in God's greatness, in God's glory, and in God's ability to heal even the most hopeless of cases.

Little by little, Terra began to come out of her coma. And then she did all the things the doctors had said she would never do. She woke up. She came off life support. She walked. She talked. Granted, she never popped out of bed to give her characteristic, "How y'all doin'!" in her Tennessee twang. But every baby step toward normalcy was a miracle all its own.

After a few weeks of "Wow, you won't believe this" kind of progress, Terra went home to live with her family. But she was not without deficits. She had lost her sight in the accident. Her memory was hit-or-miss; although she seemed to recall random facts from her pre-TBI life, she rarely remembered what her life was actually like. She needed 24-hour care. And yet she did not seem to miss being able to live the life she'd had before - her amnesia gave her the unique gift of being able to live in the moment without longing for the past or worrying about the future. The major progress slowed until it had leveled out. She would have some baby steps forward here and there, but it eventually became clear that her condition was the new normal. Her family adjusted to the new Terra and life moved on.

As much as the miracle of her survival was celebrated, there were people who would shake their heads and say how sad her existance had become. Before the accident she had been a breathtaking beauty full of spunk. After the accident she was a perpetual patient who seemed capable of little more than merely existing. Why had she been kept alive for such a sad, dismal life?

I have a theory. (Listen up, this is the important part.) Her body was broken. Her mind was broken. But her spirit - the essence within her that was sent to this life by God to learn whatever lessons and play whatever role in the master plan - remained intact. I believe that her soul continued to learn and grow through her ordeal on a level that we couldn't see on the outside. I don't claim to know God's motives, but the fact that she was still here is enough explanation for me that her mission in this life was not yet complete. I believe that as long as there is breath in our bodies, our souls continue their journey along God's path on a level that no human can see or understand. And just because we don't understand someone's circumstances doesn't mean there is no value there.

Shortly after Christmas last year, Terra began having unrelenting seizures that were severe enough for her local ER to have her airlifted to a top-notch facility more than 50 miles away. Even with the advanced care she received, her condition deteriorated. Having been through so much already, her body and spirit were battle weary. For the first time since her accident, D sensed no fight in her to survive. After three agonizing days of waiting, watching, and ceaseless praying, her family said their goodbyes and removed life support.

But Terra wasn't done here. After the ventilator was removed, Soldier Girl kept on breathing - much to everyone's surprise. Later that day, she woke up. When D asked Terra if there was anything she wanted or needed, her response was, "I want you to take me shopping and then to the spa." Which, by the way, was a totally pre-TBI Terra thing to say. Outwardly, she did not seem to realize what she had been through. Just that she was very tired, and she didn't want to fight any more. 

Thus began the trasition from hope for total restoration to a long goodbye. Over the months she kinda chugged along, but grew increasingly weak. D engaged hospice, who visited their home a few times a week to help care for Terra. Last weekend, Terra lost the ability to hold down the formula she got through her feeding tube. She told D how tired she was, and that her grandmother - who had died when Terra was 6 years old - had told her it was time to get ready to go home. A hospice doctor came to visit, and he confirmed what we'd already suspected: It was time to let Terra go. Out came the feeding tube and the IV hydration. Then began the vigil - D held her hand and watched her draw one breath at a time while her body completed the process of shutting down. She remained comfortable and peaceful, clutching the stuffed animal she'd had all her 38 years. After four long days, Terra drew her last breath and crossed from this life to the next.   

With hundreds of Team Terra prayer warriors lifting her family to God for comfort, peace, and healing, those who loved Terra the most dearly have stepped into yet another new normal. Among those left behind are her parents, siblings, husband, and two little girls who will grow up without their Mommy. As I sit her writing this, tears streaming down my face for the vibrant life that was lost and the broken hearts of those who loved her, I pray that those of us who shared in the journey will always remember the hope and the faith we invoked in the dark times. We may be sad to have lost her in this world, but she is fully restored in God's unfiltered glory on the other side. No more blindness. No more weakness. No more struggle. Terra is finally whole again.  

I Believe.

Ascend, may you find no resistance.
Know that you made such a difference.
All you leave behind will live to the end.
 - Alter Bridge, Blackbird   

UPDATE: Many people are grieving in the wake of Terra's passing, and much to my surprise my humble post has drawn a lot of attention. I wrote this post as a way to honor Terra's memory and to make sense of an incomprehensible tragedy. To keep the focus on honoring Terra's memory, please feel free to use the comments section to share your fond memories or Terra, to express condolences to her family, or lean on each other in this time of profound grief. Just bear in mind that people closest to Terra are reading these comments, including her children. Any comments that are negative or especially upsetting to them will be removed. May God touch all our hearts with peace and healing.      

Friday, October 11, 2013

Damn! You Fat as Fuh!

Today has been a day that will live in infamy. For me, anyway. Might have just been a normal Thursday for you. But if you're reading this you'll get to hear (read) all about my crappy day. Yay for you! And apologies in advance.

Sleep deprivation, intense back pain, cold and rainy weather, and the inability to get anything meaningful accomplished today all contributed to my Day-O-Meter being stuck on SUCK all day. The level and intensity of suck just grew throughout the day. I started at Dust Buster and ended on Dyson-on-Crack. So by the time I got off work I was just ready to go home and fall into the warm embrace of my loving family.

Like this. Only with less smiling and more yelling.
Seriously, why don't kids just do what they're told?
Jeezy Peezy!!! Wait. Where was I? Oh yeah, read on.
As I trudged to the bus stop - umbrella in one hand, bag in the other - my body language probably made it easy for the average person to guess I was not a happy camper. My shoulders were slumped, I was walking slowly to avoid slipping on wet pavement, and I had engaged the Urkel Stance (knees slightly bent, pelvis thrust forward) to mitigate the stabbing pain in my spine.

I'm sexy and I know it!
I started to shuffle across G Street in this manner when I looked up and saw a man crossing from the other direction. He was about 40ish, light-skinned Indian, balding, wearing glasses, and dressed in business casual attire. He could have easily blended in with most of the IT engineers I've worked with in the span of my 16-year career of correcting the spelling and grammar of certified geniuses who make a hell of a lot more money than I do. I made a mental note to avoid walking into him as he was on my side of the crosswalk, but other than that didn't form any strong opinions about him one way or the other.

Then he spoke. As we met in the middle of the crosswalk, he looked me in the eye and said, "Damn. You're fat as fuh..." Neither of us stopped or slowed down, so I'm not sure if he finished that last word or not. I imagine he did.

Did that fool seriously just say what I think he just said?
My initital reaction was, "Wait, what?" His facial expression had seemed cordial, like he was going to extend a casual "Hello" or something. It took me a few seconds to process the insult, so I didn't deliver a snappy comeback or anything. And to be honest, I'm not really sure how fat a "fuh" is, but It's not like he was giving me new information by calling me fat. I've lived in this body for 40 years now, and I've been a multitude of sizes and weights. Trust me, I know I'm fat. I've seen me naked.

It's not like I've never been insulted by a stranger before. Hell, I've come to expect it from certain demographic groups. Usually the insults come from teenagers who want to prove to their friends how cool they are by observing a known fact. Dorks.

When I was younger, I'd go hide and cry and wish that I'd said something to put them in their place. After all, back then they were my peers and had just reaffirmed that I was not in the least bit cool. I mean, it's hard to feel cool when you're publicly humiliated by your peers. But as I've been through enough life experience to grow a thick skin and become comfortable in it, I've been able to brush off encounters like this for several years. Some witty young man wants yell "FAAAAAT BIIIIITCH!!!!" from his car window? Whatever, dude. I may be fat, but at least I don't have to lead your miserable life.  

But today, I couldn't brush it off. I'ma tell you the truth - my feelings were hurt. I had to blink back tears as the encounter played over and over in my head. My reserves were already just about depleted from my craptastic day and his insult stung. And that pissed me off. 

I had about 15 minutes to think about it while I waited for my bus. Then I realized why I was so offended by the whole thing (besides the obvious): I was raised to be a nice person. To be kind and considerate, and to treat other people with a certain default level of courtesy and respect. In fact, there are days I have to put a lot of thought and energy into not offending people with my words or actions because, quite frankly, my inner voice sounds more like Lewis Black than my usual easygoing self. Am I perfect? No. But at least I try to be kind to people.

So why does this asshole get a free pass? Given his age and appearance, he really should know better than to insult strangers just for funzies. Had I encountered him in a meeting room to discuss network diagrams, his feelings about my appearance would have been the furthest thing from my mind. Hell, even on the street it was the furthest thing from my mind, until he said something. Frankly, I don't give a "fuh" whether he found me attractive. It was irrelevant information - he was some random guy on the street, not Prince Charming. But I do care that he expended the effort to be intentionally cruel. I guess I kinda feel like if I have to hold my tongue when I observe something I think is unpleasant about a stranger, then so does everyone else. That's how civilized societies work. 

By the time my bus arrived, I was casually hoping this guy would kinda sorta get stabbed in the face on his way home. I was also kicking myself for not having pushed him down in the wet street and then sitting on him so he could experience "fat as fuh" in its entirety. Oh well. If there's a next time, I'll know what to do. 

Did you say something, Sir? Would you care to repeat it?
I'm sorry. I don't understand what "mmmfff mmmfff" means.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Eviction Notice: Stabby McStoneful

Bright and early tomorrow morning, I will be liberated from the wretched gallbladder that has held me hostage under its reign of terror - and indigestion - for the last month or so: Stabby McStoneful. I've named her (yes, her) Stabby McStoneful for two reasons:

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Disjointed Thoughts. Brought to You by Percocet

This is not a real post. I just have some thoughts rattling around my brain that I needed to get out before I could sleep. Tonight I had some realizations: 

I cannot be trusted with anything from Papa Johns. 
Since my gallbladder attack a few weeks ago, I have been really good about avoiding fatty and spicy foods. (They are triggers for an attack, which feels like a demon is fighting its way out of your ribcage.) It's amazing how the threat of unbearable, searing pain will motivate you to change your diet. But tonight we got some pizza for the kids. Which means we also got breadsticks and a cinnapie. I was totally fine with my gallbladder friendly meal - until it was time to clean up. Instead of just discarding the kids' leftovers, I found myself pulling a Cookie Monster over the sink, only with pizza & cinnapie instead of cookies. I was all OM NOM NOM NOM, crumbs flying everywhere, garlic butter dripping on my shirt. It was...pure bliss. Then 5 minutes later the nausea hit and that hot poker feeling in my upper right quadrant started to rev up. So I took an anti nausea pill and a Percocet to head off a full blown attack. Thankfully, it worked. Unfortunately, the side effects drove the rest of my evening. 

Narcotics and caulking guns do not mix.
I started the tub caulking project last weekend. I was down to the last seam - along the back of the tub. It's a short seam, so I figured I'd knock it out real quick while the kids were getting ready for bed tonight. Turns out I was experiencing a Percocet-driven bout of overconfidence and bravado. Not only did the caulk ooze out all over the side of the tub (and on my foot, and on the wall tiles, and on the floor), I could not for the life of me figure out how to make it stop. It's not that the caulking gun is hard to use, it's that my problem-solving skills had already clocked out for the night because Percocet. I finally thought to release the trigger (duh), and the tube-shaped Vesuvius finally stopped erupting. There was caulk pretty much everywhere - except the seam. So I used my finger to spread it over the places the caulk was supposed to be. It ain't pretty, but hopefully it's sealed. I'll have to check it tomorrow in the light of day and without the influence of strong painkillers. 

The more people tell me what a breeze gallbladder surgery is, the more freaked out I get about it. 
Please don't reassure me. All you're doing is increasing the probability that something will go horribly wrong. Ever hear of Murphy's Law? Stop invoking it with all your proclamations that I'll be "just fine." Tangentially related, I may need to have my anxiety meds adjusted.

Some of my favorite pictures in my camera roll are selfies of Em.
She swipes my phone, downloads new games, and takes pictures if herself, her Barbies, and the TV. Since this isn't a real post, and since I'm too loopy to think of a concluding paragraph that neatly ties everything together, I'll just leave you with her latest selfie. Because it makes me smile. Good night, Dear Reader. 


Saturday, July 27, 2013

The Accidental Food Drive

One of the many routine emails I get every day is the daily digest of my local freecycle listserv. I’ve never given anything away or received anything through the listserv, but I like to keep an eye out for stuff like free TVs and furniture. (Don’t laugh – it happens.) The other day I opened the digest email and saw the usual offerings of baby toys and requests for computer tables. Just as I was about to close the email and hit "Delete," one message stood right up and punched me straight in the heart:

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Sassyfats vs The Cheesesteak

Hello, world. Have to warn you up front: I'm writing this post on my phone and I had heavy narcotics last night. There will be typos & misspellings & run-on sentences. Grammar nazis: You have been warned.

Yesterday I had a very delicious Philly cheesesteak from a food truck in DC. Since it was a payday and I was hungry, I also sprung for the seasoned fries & Diet Coke. Yes, I'm one of those weirdos that drinks diet soda with their thousand-calorie meals. Not saying it makes logical sense, just that it makes sense to me. Don't be hatin'. 

Anywho, shortly after lunch I started to feel discomfort in my midsection. Believe it or not, I don't usually eat heavy meals like that. No really, I don't. I used to, I won't lie. But it's been a long time since my last steak & cheese & seasoned fries meal. So indigestion made sense to me. I figured I'd eventually burp & feel better. 

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

In Loving Memory: Carl Martin III

This is gonna be a long one. Grab a snack – and hanky – before you settle in.

Carl arrived on my radar screen about 20 years ago. Originally he was part of the rag-tag bunch that made up Sweet Little Sister’s posse. You know those years of your life when your friends mean EVERYTHING to you? Sweet Little Sister had A LOT of friends during those years, and Carl started out as a face in the crowd.

But it wasn't long before Carl went from “face in the crowd” to "that punk dating my sister." To be fair, all boys who wanted to date my sister were instantly granted “punk” status. I had just recently escaped my teens, I knew what boys were like, and I have been fiercely protective of my little sister since the day she was born. (Yes, even when I was beating up on her when we were kids. That’s all normal sister stuff, right?)

And also to be fair, Sweet Little Sister was already a third degree black-belt in rebellion and shocking behavior before Carl came along. But still, it was easier to blame the boyfriend than the sister. They skipped school a lot together, they got caught drankin' a lot together, and there was at least one occasion when my dad caught him in my sister's room, threw him out of the house by the scruff of his neck, then chased him around the front yard while Carl cussed my dad out and ran for his life.

Carl was what you'd call a troubled teen. He acted out a lot. And he got in trouble a lot. He had an arrest record. He’d been to jail at least once. And it seemed to me that he was dragging Sweet Little Sister (the third degree black-belt in rebellion and shocking behavior) along for a seriously bumpy ride.

Then something miraculous happened: The birth of my awesome nephew almost 17 years ago. (We shall call him Awesome Nephew #1, as I have two other awesome nephews who are younger. Where was I? Oh yeah...)

The grudging respect I had for Carl did not begin to take root until Awesome Nephew #1 was actually born. For the nine(ish) months leading up to that hot July day, Carl was the punk-ass kid who knocked up my teenage sister and therefore deserved wrath and scorn. But the day Sweet Little Sister went into labor, I saw a side of Carl I had never given him a chance to show me before: loving, tender, and responsible. Not only was he a dedicated partner to my sister, he was fiercely determined to be a good dad.

My grudging respect for Carl grew into acceptance as I saw how much time he spent with the baby, and how involved he wanted to be as a father. The day he broke my sister’s heart when Awesome Nephew #1 was about six months old, I not only wanted to hulk-smash the motherfucker (seriously, don’t mess with my sister), but I was sad that he wasn’t going to be part of the family any more.

But he didn’t exactly go away. He wasn’t Sister’s Boyfriend any more, but he was still very much Awesome Nephew #1’s Dad. Like so many other teen fathers, he could have walked away without a backward glance. But he didn’t. Not only did he remain a consistent presence in Awesome Nephew #1’s life, but he dated a girl who embraced Awesome Nephew #1 as part of the Carl package. When they eventually married, she was a devoted stepmom who treated Awesome Nephew #1 as one of her own. When Devoted Stepmom and Carl had two children of their own, Carl and Devoted Stepmom went out of their way to nurture the bonds between Awesome Nephew #1 and his half siblings. They didn’t all live in the same house together, but they got some good quality time together.

As time marched on, Carl outgrew his troubled-teen persona and grew into the responsible adult he wanted so badly to become. It was at that point I realized that even though he wasn’t my sister’s boyfriend anymore,  I still saw Carl – and now Devoted Stepmom and the half siblings – as part of the extended family.

But then life, as it so often does, brought Carl and those who loved him to his knees. He was in his early 20s, and had started to have some odd behavior. I didn’t realize how serious things had gotten for him until the day he climbed to the top of the highest roller coaster at Six Flags, where he was a ride mechanic, and stared at the ground for two solid hours. I don’t remember if he was talked down or someone went up there and got him. But he spent 3 days in the hospital after that (72-hour hold, for those of you familiar with the world of mental illness) and emerged with some medication that was supposed to make him all better.

To give you the reader’s digest version of the diagnostic process, it took awhile for the doctors to nail down the right diagnosis. But ultimately we learned that it was not depression, not anxiety, not even bipolar disorder. What he had was schizophrenia, and it would rule the remaining years of his life.

If you have never had to navigate the world of mental health care, count your blessings. Finding the right diagnosis and treatment is a process of trial and error, not to mention knock-down drag-out fights with the insurance company. It took awhile, but the doctors finally found the right medications at the right doses to allow Carl to be lucid enough to live a normal life. But as with so many other mental patients, he would stop taking the meds when he felt normal again. And each time he went off the meds, he ended up in a darker place than he was when he had started taking them. His behavior became dangerous. And as with so many other mental patients, his marriage to Devoted Stepmom ended in divorce as she sought a safe environment for herself and her children.

As Sweet Little Sister and Devoted Stepmom set up house together so the children could live together as siblings, Carl fell off my radar screen again. I knew he was living out of state somewhere. I knew that his treatment was on-again, off-again. And I knew that his relationship with his kids was on-again, off-again. He was absolutely forbidden to see the children when he was off his meds – he had become too unstable. But even when he was on his meds, his version of reality made him fairly unreliable. I don’t think he ever stopped wanting to see his kids – there was just this roadblock called schizophrenia in the way.

He loved those kids. No doubt.
In the interest of helping them understand what was going on with their dad, the children were counseled on his illness and how they could cope with their feelings in a healthy way. The underlying message, which was true even when Carl was in the grips of his greatest delusions, was that their daddy loved them with his whole heart, and they didn’t do anything wrong to make him go away.

I hadn’t heard Carl’s name in awhile when I learned that he’d gotten remarried. My first reaction was shock. Was she nuts?? Did she have any idea what she was in for??? But then I learned that yes – she knew about his illness, she had learned how to best support him, and she loved him enough to take on the challenge. When they first got married, he seemed to be doing really well. Beloved Wife was a positive influence on him, and stayed involved in his treatment enough to help him be OK. They moved to a far-off state because they had been offered a combination job/living arrangement that was too good to pass up. They were there for a couple of years, and one Thanksgiving Sweet Little Sister took Awesome Nephew #1 out to visit. From what I understand, a lot of much-needed bonding took place because Carl was present. His treatment was working. And Awesome Nephew #1 got to know the version of his Dad that I saw all those years before.   

But then. And isn’t there always a “but then”??

Carl and Beloved Wife had to move back to his home state for reasons I’m still not really clear on. When they lived in the far-off state, he was in the social services system. They helped him pay for his meds and therapy, and he was in their job-training program as an auto mechanic. I know there are people in our society who go on about tax-payer dollars, grumble-grumble, why don’t they just get a job, grumble-grumble. But when someone is rendered incapable of working because of their illness, they need a little help getting the intervention they need to become a productive member of society again. He met that criteria in a huge way. But when he moved back to his home state, his meds ran out before he could get established in that state's system. He had no way to renew his prescriptions. Before anyone knew it, he descended once again into the abyss.

One day I got a phone call. “Carl tried to kill himself again.” In previous attempts he had used pills. But this time he had climbed to the top of a streetlight with a noose. Luckily he had made enough noise to draw a crowd, and had made the rope long enough for them to catch his legs after he jumped from the light pole. But they did not catch him before the rope snapped. They lifted him up enough to keep the noose from suffocating him. But by then a great deal of damage had already been done. His windpipe was crushed. He suffered a stroke. He had a severe neck injury. He was in a top-rated hospital for three months as he recovered. And he was released the minute Medicare said they were done paying for his treatment - on Christmas Eve.

He was never the same after that day. Instead of putting him on the meds that had worked so well for him in the far-off state, the hospital doctors had given him something that didn’t work so well. No matter how passionately Beloved Wife advocated for him, the doctors did not listen. “We know what we’re doing,” they said. “Trust us,” they said. When Beloved Wife first took Carl to his old psychiatrist when he got out of the hospital, hoping to finally get the right mix of meds for him, the doctor told her he honestly wasn’t sure he could bring Carl all the way back. There had been too much trauma. Too much damage. Too much time.

Carl limped along for several months after that. He and Beloved Wife moved in with Sweet Little Sister and Awesome Nephew #1. (Devoted Stepmom had since remarried and moved out with Half Siblings) Beloved Wife fought like hell to get Carl the care he needed. We all held out hope that he would keep recovering, and get back to the stability he enjoyed when he lived in the far-off state.

But it was not meant to be.

Last weekend, Carl went to a nearby hospital to receive treatment. But as soon as nobody was looking, he snuck away from the hospital with a bottle of pills in his hand. He wandered around for God knows how long, and ended up behind the apartment building where he and Beloved Wife had once lived. He sat down in the shade of a dumpster, swallowed that bottle of pills, and went to sleep. The police found him later that afternoon, far too late for intervention.

I was standing in the soda isle at Safeway when I got the call. I cry-shopped through the rest of my list and then howl-cried on the drive home. I knew he was on thin ice, but dammit, he was supposed to get better. He had so much promise before the schizophrenia took hold. His life never should have ended this way.

Knowing what I know about suicidal mental illness, and knowing how much love he held in his heart, I think Carl honestly believed he was doing the right thing. I don’t think it was a selfish act, either – I think he believed his family was better off without him. If only he were capable of believing otherwise.

I spent a few hours at Sweet Little Sister’s house the next day, along with many other friends and family members, hugging, crying, and remembering. As the three most influential women in Carl’s life – Sweet Little Sister, Devoted Stepmom, and Beloved Wife – pooled their resources to make the funeral arrangements, old pictures began to surface. Pictures of a younger, happier Carl. Some with his kids. Some with his friends. And then the picture that almost stopped my heart: Carl was Awesome Nephew #1’s age. He looked so much like Awesome Nephew #1 that I had to ask which one of them it was. Carl had long hair and a big, genuine smile on his face. This was about the time he showed up as part of my sister’s posse. Had I seen this picture 20 years ago, I’d have thought, “Stay away from my sister. Punk.” But not now. The Carl in this picture is so young – his whole life stretches out before him. I see the light in his eyes – and so much potential for a rewarding life. And it makes my tears all the more bitter to know how his life will play out – and how the light in his eyes will come to be extinguished forever.

And so I pray. I pray for healing, comfort, and peace for those who loved him the most. As much as my heart hurts from how Carl's battle with schizophrenia ended, theirs have shattered a thousand times over. His three children. His three wives (official or not). His sister. His parents. Aunts, uncles, cousins. May they feel God’s loving arms around them as He carries them through their grief.  

My most fervent prayer is that Carl has finally been released from his nightmare. May his weary soul be troubled no more, finally resting in the peace that so eluded him in life. And may his finer moments live on in our memories.

Carl Martin III
February 17, 1977 - June 22, 2013
May your light shine on forever

Friday, June 14, 2013

Unclogging the Idea Hose

Writer's block sucks!!! My brain is so full it's practically oozing blog post topics (eww) but every time I start to write all my gears grind to a halt. I'll tap out a paragraph, realize I can't figure out what my point is, then stare out the window some more. Or play Candy Crush. All the while wondering why my single best outlet doesn't want to be a viable option any more.

So what is a viable option? I can't think of anything healthy. Chocolate makes me happy, but if I were to eat enough chocolate to quiet the demons in my head I'd be eligible for my own reality show. Cigarettes used to make me happy, but after being smoke-free for six months now I'm not ready to give up on healthier living. Writing makes me happy, but see Paragraph 1 as to why that's not working out lately. 

I am coming to the realization that I'm in a funk. And I'm not the kind of funky that lends itself to disco balls and platform shoes. I'm the kind of funky that makes me want to curl into the fetal position until I feel normal again. Experience tells me that curling into the fetal position has the polar opposite effect of my desired outcome, so I'm determined to resist the temptation. But the demon who whispers lies into my ear won't stop telling me it's ok to pull the covers over my head and wish the world away.

Experience also tells me that even with the best medication, bouts of depression will seep through an otherwise healthy outlook on life. It's like if you're taking a decongestant for a cold: you feel mostly better, but you still have a cough or sneeze here and there. Experience also tells me this will pass. I just have to keep going through the motions of a normal life until it doesn't hurt to think any more. 

No really, everything's just fine.
And motherbleeping dandy.

The more I think about it, the more I realize I need to see a good doctor about reevaluating my treatment. These little melancholy outbreaks are happening more frequently and with lessening certainty there is any purpose to life. Deep down I believe we are sent here by a loving God to learn lessons and help each other. As long as I'm still breathing I am still working my part of the Divine Plan. But am I doing it right? On days like this it would be awesome to get a text message from God telling me what exactly I'm here for and how I'm doing on my part of the Divine Plan. You know, a little performance review so I know how to tweak my journey.

Really, how cool would that be! 
Do you know what's funny? What started out as a Facebook post about writers block sucking has turned into an actual blog post about depression. So why must it be a public blog post instead of a private journal entry? Why air so much of my dirty laundry? Because mental illness needs to be destigmatized. Depression can be a fatal disease, and more people than your realize are struggling against the darkness. The more people come forward and talk about it, the more our society will except the fact that depression happens, and ain't no shame in seeking treatment. Two generations ago people whispered the word "cancer" as though it were a shameful diagnosis. My hope is that we will soon see the day when people can stop whispering and say "depression" out loud.

Hmm. Venting works. I feel a million billion kajillion times better. Lighter. Hopefuller. On that note, I'll get back to the funny just as soon as I finish clawing my way out of this pit. 


Friday, May 31, 2013

So This Is What Freedom Is Like

For the second night in one week, I am childless. No, no, I didn't sell them to gypsies, buy them back, then sell them again. That sounds time consuming and complicated. Let's face it, I just don't have that much energy. But what did happen was Memorial Day Weekend. Something about the unofficial start of summer kicks sleepover season into high gear. 

Last week, El and Em were each invited to spend the night with a friend. El is an old pro at staying over at her BFF's house. She seems put off that she even needs to come back here between sleepovers. Em, on the other hand, had never had a sleepover at a friend's house. She spent a night or two with her Grammy - with Lilly there - when she was 3 years old. Now that she's the ripe old age of 7, she's ready to spend the night at a friend's house. Kinda sorta.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Parenting is Hard: Mother's Day Edition

I have a confession to make: I don’t understand children. I used to – back when I was a young college student studying early childhood education (half a semester), I was a damn-near expert. I could spout off the facts I’d learned in books and pass judgment on any harried mother screaming at her kids in line at Walmart. I knew everything there was to know about kids and how to raise them. I knew exactly what I would and wouldn’t do with my own children when the time came, and seriously didn’t understand why everyone didn’t know The Proper Way to raise children. 
Should I pause a moment to give all you other parents a chance to roll your eyes?

One single, shining moment shattered all that parental confidence I’d had for years: the birth of my first child. During my pregnancy I was filled with a sense of security that I would be the perfect mother of the perfect child. After all, my head was filled with so much book knowledge on the subject that it was all I could talk about. But the minute El was born, I realized I had no idea what to do with this sqalling, slimy, wrinkled up creature the doctor had just handed me. I knew I loved her, and I knew I wanted to do right by her. But in that moment, all I could think was, “OMG A BABY JUST CAME OUT OF ME!!! HOW THE HELL DID THAT HAPPEN???”

And then it hit me: The very survival of this brand new little person depended on me. My actions and inactions affected her entire world. My life was no longer my own – it belonged to her just as much as it belonged to me. And that scared the crap out of me.
Even though I realized just how clueless I was right away, the full impact did not hit me until the next day. The first day of El’s life I was all excited and happy to finally have my little baby, after three long years of disappointment. I was on a new mommy high that may or may not have been enhanced by the Percocet. But the next morning, the doctor came into the room and said, “Good news! You’re going home this afternoon!” My initial response was brilliant: “Nuh uh. Not unless I get to take the nurses home with me.” The doctor started to chuckle. I started to cry. His assertion that I really did have to take the baby home without bringing half the hospital staff with me made me realize that this was it, the real deal. Miracle Man and I really were parents, and we really were totally responsible for nurturing our fragile little alien into a responsible adult human.
That first night home was a doozy. Poor little thing screamed her head off for most of the night. Miracle Man and I went down the checklist: feed her, burp her, change her little diaper, take her temperature, gently rock her, put her in the baby swing, take her out of the baby swing, hold her close and sing to her, hold her at arm’s length and look at her, turn on the baby-calming CD, turn off the baby-calming CD, and then finally make an emergency call to the on-call pediatrician at 4:00 in the morning because we could not for the life of us figure out how to make the crying stop. The doctor’s advice? “She’s only been crying nonstop for two hours? Ok, call me back when she hits the fourth hour.” Thanks, doc.
At some point the next day Miracle Man figured out what El had been trying to tell us – she wanted to be swaddled. Unswaddled, we had a screaming bundle of rage who was probably cussing us out in baby language. Swaddled, we had a sleepy little burrito who was relieved to finally be all tucked in.

A day or two later we found out that swaddling was only a piece of the puzzle. Our little burrito was also quite hungry. A militant breastfeeder who had taken a class and everything, I could not get the baby to latch on to save my life. Or hers, for that matter. Every time I tried, she staunchly refused. She even stuck her tiny little fists out and pushed herself away from my, um, milk delivery system. Of course it was a weekend, which means I could not get a milk nazi lactation nurse on the phone to help me figure out how to feed my baby. (I guess the folks at the hospital figured babies don’t need to eat on weekends.) After El had not gotten anything into her tummy for at least 8 hours despite my best efforts, we rushed her to the nearest pediatric urgent care facility so they could tell us what was horribly wrong with our daughter. During the doctor’s examination, she latched on to everything that came within sucking distance of her mouth. The doctor was affiliated with the hospital where I delivered, so he knew the pro-nursing ideology that had been beaten into me training I had gotten. He cautiously looked me up and down and asked as respectfully as he could, “Will she take a bottle?”

A bottle!! OH-EM-GEE, why hadn’t I thought of that? I mean, besides the fact that the nurses at the hospital had convinced me that pacifiers and bottles were evil and that anyone who tells you otherwise was sent straight from the Devil Hisself to test your faith in human milk. The doctor stated that as a father of four nearly grown children and an experienced pediatrician, he didn’t think trying the bottle would kill the baby. His exact words were, “Your baby is healthy. And she seems very hungry to me. If she won’t take the breast, you might just want to give her a little bit out of a bottle to get her over the hump. Don’t give up on nursing – you’ll both get the hang of it. But all three of you will be a lot happier in the mean time if you supplement.”
(Yes. He spoke very eloquently and with punctuation. In retrospect, I’m pretty sure he also had a halo and a chorus of angels humming softly behind him.)
On the doctor’s advice we mixed up a batch of the formula we’d gotten in the swag bag from the hospital. El happily sucked down an ounce and then burped like a big, burly man. And with that, our cranky little newborn was a content ragdoll in my hands who went on to sleep peacefully for four hours straight.
                           Out. Cold
Thus began my first case of Mommy Guilt. Or as I like to call it, The Strongest Emotion Known to Womankind. Not only had I been unable to figure out something as primal as feeding my young with the tools God gave me, but my sleep-deprived and hormone-riddled brain had not even considered troubleshooting the issue with a bottle or an eyedropper. Seems like a no-brainer now. But at the time it was an ingenious revelation that made me feel like I’d already failed motherhood because following textbook instructions (yes, I really did have a textbook) did not yield a full and happy baby.
Mommy Lesson #1: The baby didn’t read the same books you did. She might not respond to you the way the book said she would.
Mommy Lesson #2: Get over yourself. Adaptation is a beautiful thing.
It has been almost 11 years since El came into being. I still haven’t really figured out how she works. Every time I think I’ve got the parenting gig all figured out, she hits a new developmental stage and changes all the rules on me. Em seems a little easier by comparison because I recognize the developmental phases she’s going through from when El was there. But still, they both throw me curve balls like it’s their job or something.
But with every curve ball, they offer me a glimpse of the women they will be one day. Each moment of defiance is a step toward their own selfhood. (I try to keep that in perspective to keep from wringing their precious little necks when they’re being especially willful.) They are only beginning to spread their wings, and I’ll be honest: I don’t know if I’ll ever be ready for them to fly. At the same time, I look forward to the day I can watch them soar. Only then will I start to believe that I did something right. Until then, I’ll continue to worry and second guess myself day by day. Like all good moms do.
And on that note, I'd like to give a little shout-out to all the rest of you who are muddling through the motherhood experience like me: confused, bleary-eyed, and one spilled glass of grape juice away from the loony bin. May your Mother's Day weekend be full of tight hugs, slobbery kisses, handmade whatevers, and all the joy your kids can give you.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Making Peace With the Past: Current Events Edition

NOTE: I wrote the majority of this blog post before the details about the bombing suspects began to emerge last night. Today I have been riveted by the unfolding manhunt, and I pray that law enforcement can get the second suspect with no further harm to their force or bystanders. 

The national news this week has been absolutely horrifying, and I just want to acknowledge the widespread hurt and confusion before delving into my self-centered blogity-blog about life in Boston. In other words, I know it's not all about me. Much love and respect going out to those who died, to those whose lives are changed forever, and to those who ran toward the fireballs (and handled the suspicious powder) to save whomever they could.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

An Open Letter to the Mother of the Little Punk Who Busted My Kid’s Head Open at Recess

Dear Ms. LittlePunksMom:
I don’t know how to tell you this. I’m not sure if I even need to tell you, because you have probably heard this before: your son, your precious baby boy, the apple of your eye, has some behavior issues is an asshole. (Why sugar coat?) I don’t usually assign such harsh labels to children, so it almost feels wrong doing it here. Almost. But your boy is special. He has risen above my “but he’s just a kid” reasoning. So you can rest easy in knowing he’s capable of excelling at something 

Friday, March 8, 2013

Around the World in Four Hours. Twice.

As a mom with two young daughters, I am neck-deep into Girl Scouts. And it’s just about as pleasant as it sounds. Don’t get me wrong – I love spending quality time doing good stuff with my kids and their friends. And I really do end up enjoying all of the meetings and events I have attended with their troops.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

For the Love of a Stranger's Child

If you are tech savvy enough to read this blog, then you have been around the Internet enough to know that there is no shortage of appeals out there to help sick children. Unfortunately, you have to sift through a lot of appeals for kids who don’t even exist to get to the real ones. For some reason that will forever elude me, weirdoes who have nothing better to do with their time create fake children with fake illnesses, then see how far and wide their rumor can spread through the Internet.
But today I’m not going to talk about the weirdoes. Today I’m here to talk about a real-live child with a real-live situation. His name is Tripp Halstead, and he has stolen my heart.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

"Affordable" Health Care

I try my best to stay out of large-scale political discussions. I kick ideas around with my family and read commentary from both sides of issues and form my opinions, but I like to stay away from the free-for-all mudslinging that is all too common these days. I can usually see the basic points of either side, and screaming matches based on partisan rhetoric aren’t usually good for more than raising your blood pressure and making you wonder why it’s illegal to smack people across the face. The fray might be entertaining, but it’s not the place to reach actual resolution on anything.

Saturday, February 2, 2013