Crafting Words Over the Years

I just remembered, a day late, that yesterday was my blogiversary.

That’s right, folks! I’ve been blogging with WordPress for 9 whole years. Whew, that seems like a lifetime ago now.

I started my first diary when I was 8 years old. It was in one of those Lisa Frank diaries with the scented pages and the metal lock on the side. My first entry was about the trip my family took to drive through the devastation of the Oakland Hills fire. I had never seen anything like this before. I remember seeing ash and debris and a bunch of brick fireplaces where houses should be. Like a budding journalist (or at the very least, a person who enjoys properly documenting everything), I drew pictures of what I saw next to my words. Clearly, it made an impact on me, even if I didn’t completely understand what I was seeing at the time.

Over the years, I continued to keep various diaries, albeit sporadically. I also wrote poetry and songs, and I tried my hand at fiction a few times. No joke- around 4th or 5th grade, my friend and I got together and wrote a full album’s worth of songs about pollution and how bad it was for the earth (spoiler alert- it’s really bad). We even recorded a few that we sang at her house with her family’s fancy equipment. I want to say that we even designed a t-shirt to be sold to help raise money for our cause. We were environmentally conscious and we were going places, you guys.

I kept handwritten diaries through my college and grad school years that were for my eyes only. In looking back through them, I noted that I usually only felt the need to write when I was either angry and frustrated or very, very sad. They made for a very lopsided view of my life, if considered all on their own.

I started my first public blog around 2003, as a way of coping after my cancer surgery. It was with LiveJournal – anyone remember that platform?! I’m pretty sure only my college roommates and a smattering of friends and creepy strangers actually read it, but that wasn’t really the point. While I wanted to get my feet wet writing for an audience that wasn’t an English teacher, the entries were mostly for me. After a year and a half of being independent in college, I was home again and briefly unable to do much at all for myself and I needed an outlet. I needed a way to process what had happened to me, how I felt about it, and how I was gonna deal with it. I made that happen from the comfort of my parents’ ginormous communal desktop computer.

At some point, my LiveJournal career peetered out (I’m guessing college and life got back to being normal and busy) and I didn’t do any online journaling for quite some time.

Fast forward to Fall 2011. I had been out of school for a few years, working as a therapist at my first Big Girl Job. My boyfriend (now husband) had just started his master’s degree while working full time. He was either at work, at class, in the car, or studying, which meant he had zero time to hang out with me. I desperately needed a hobby and didn’t have to think too long or too hard to know what I needed to do.

Fun fact: when I first signed up with WordPress, I named my blog Things My Cat Made Me Say. I suppose I decided that my cat didn’t deserve all that unearned attention. Either that, or the theme was a little too nebulous. Ideally, I wanted an overarching theme for this blog that wasn’t just look-at-me-look-at-me, but still reflected who I was and gave me a sense of direction. At the time, I was living and breathing therapy. I worked two jobs seeing clients, consulting with my colleagues, and working with supervisors. I spent my free time researching weird diagnoses and reading disturbing memoirs of fucked up people. I was in it to win it, and so my blog might as well reflect that.

I searched for the right name, crowdsourcing my Facebook friends and keeping a witty list of Freudian-inspired puns. During one supervision meeting at work, a coworker mentioned the term psychobabble in passing, and I quickly scribbled it down in my notes. That’s it! I thought. It was perfect- psychology themed with just the right amount of crazy.

And I’ve been blogging, more or less, ever since. It’s still, as it will always be, mostly for me. Will it ever lead to a more serious writing gig? We’ll see. For right now, I’m super proud of my growing body of work. I enjoy the community this blog assembles around me and I enjoy using my tiny corner of the internet to express myself, process my feelings, and maybe make people laugh along the way.

Thank you, thank you, to everyone who takes the time to read my posts!


Day 12

Holding My Breath

Like many Americans, I’m having some feelings this week. Lots of flashbacks to the last election.

Four years ago, I was pregnant with my daughter and I was excited. I was so sure my daughter would be born into a world where she’d be able to take a female American president for granted. To me, it seemed like a no-brainer: our country’s most qualified candidate in history was running against our country’s most unqualified, outwardly racist and misogynistic candidate. It should have been a slam dunk.

I believed the polls. I had faith that an overwhelming majority of Americans would not choose fear and ignorance and hate. Needless to say, the outcome was shocking and traumatic. The experience was definitely a loss of innocence.

That election day I attended a goodbye party for another mom-friend of mine. This was a sad occasion for my whole family since her husband was friends with my husband and they were basically the first friends we made after moving to Oregon. This party was also the last time I planned to leave the house for a while, as my goal was to potty train my 2 year old son as best I could before the new baby came.

We had election coverage on in the background while we ate dinner. We had to turn it off while my husband put my son to bed, and I remember sitting in my room on my phone, scrolling. My first indication that something was wrong was when Florida went to He Who Must Not Be Named. After that, we watched with growing fear and went to bed in shock and disbelief.

I woke up the next day in a daze and proceeded with the potty training plan. It was horrible, stressful. I spent a good portion of the day in tears, not knowing what exactly I was crying about. All of the day was spent elbow deep in piss and shit, one way or another.

I remember thinking that my daughter would be ALMOST FOUR before we’d have the chance to vote him out. Four years is a hell of a long time to do a lot of damage. And so much damage has indeed been done.

As I write this, it feels akin to how one might tell a story of where they were and what they were doing when the twin towers fell or when Kennedy was shot. It was a dark day; one I’ll never forget. Looking back, it spun me (us) into a crazy-ass couple of years. My daughter was born. My post-partum anxiety took off like a brush fire. I went back to therapy. I spent a good few years just trying to get ahold of myself and figure out who I was and how to leave the house with pants on. All this with a background of news reports on hate, ignorance, fear, anger, violence. Rolling back progress and denying human rights.

Fall of 2019, I finally started feeling better, consistently better. I, like many others, declared that 2020 was going to be my year. And it was…until the pandemic. And now the election.

So you can see (I hope) how I am holding my breath. I’m white knuckling this. I’m so angry and scared. I want to believe the polls. I want to have faith in people to do the right thing. But frankly, this country is not what I thought it was, and we’ve all been here before, on this abusive rollercoaster from which we can’t seem to get off. I’m honestly not sure how I’ll get through the next few days…or weeks…or longer, depending.

To those in power who are using that power for personal gain and to manipulate and spread fear: we see right through you. You might be fooling some, but you sure as hell aren’t fooling me.

Abusive people use anything at their disposal to have power and control over others. If they can’t control others, their power is gone. Abusive people try to stop others from voting. Abusive people try to sue for votes to not be counted. Abusive people lie and manipulate the system. Abusive people threaten violence. Abusive people intimidate (in this case, by bringing guns to the polls, or by blocking traffic, etc.). Abusive people gaslight others and deny any wrongdoing. All of these behaviors are coming from a place of insecurity, NOT love, NOT protection, because if these people knew they could be fairly reelected in a just, democratic system, then there would be no need for such devious theatrics.

Abuse is not strength. Make no mistake, we are in an abusive relationship and that is an incredibly powerless feeling.

I voted as soon as I possibly could. I even made sure my ballot was received. And now, I wait. Full of dread, fear…and some cautious hope.


Day 2

Short story: Together in the Muck

 

Two times this pandemic, I did something I’ve never done before.

I entered two short story writing contests. And – you guys – I came in second in both. I’m super proud of myself, especially because writing fiction is not usually my jam.

To be fair, the first story I submitted was about 90% fact with some embellishing thrown in. I had originally written it here, on this blog, about being pregnant with my first. The second story I wrote from scratch and it’s based on my experience working as a therapist in a nonprofit. I’m very proud of how it turned out. Here it is, dear readers.


“I know what you’re doing,” she interrupted me, “and I want you to stop it.”

“What am I doing?” I asked, genuinely perplexed.

“You’re trying to make me feel better, and it won’t work.”

I sucked in some air, immediately defensive.

Of course I’m trying to make you feel better! I’m your therapist, for Christ’s sake.

“Look, Madison, I’d like to be able to help you, but I can’t do that if you’re unwilling to answer my questions. I’m curious to know more about the positive things in your life.”

“My life is shit! That’s why I’m here.” Fresh tears made Madison’s heavy black eyeliner streak down her cheeks and disappear into her oversized black t-shirt.

“Your life is not shit. You just told me about your dog who loves you more than anything. Your artistic talent is incredible! That’s not nothing.”

“He’s just a dog! These are stupid doodles! And what do you know about my life?! You’re just a shrink that my mom pays so she doesn’t have to look at me.” Madison started shoving her sketchpad and pencil into her backpack.

I’m losing her, don’t lose her.

“I’d love to know more about your life if you’d let me. I think you downplay what could be sources of real happiness, like your mom. I’m sure she loves y-”

Madison was already standing. Tears had been replaced with fire in her blue eyes.

“I told you to stop it.”

She strode to the door, yanked it open, and stomped down the hall. I slumped down in my chair, defeated. We still had fifteen minutes left.

Session 3. Client presents in a depressed, irritable mood. Exhibits poor eye contact, sluggish movements, intermittent crying. Affect is blunted at times but mood congruent. Resistant and uncooperative in working towards treatment goals – client left 15 minutes early. Next session in 1 week.


The chunky, rough rope cut into her hands, but she gripped it tighter, resolve flowing through her. Feet planted, arm muscles tensed as she held the rope steady. She wasn’t able to pull it toward her, but for now, that was okay.

Just don’t let go.


“So, how have you been?” I gingerly chose my words as Madison settled in across the room. The more sessions we had, the more she seemed to move-in each time. Today I watched as she unpacked her sketchbook, a few pencils, a sweatshirt, and a half-eaten granola bar that she unwrapped and shoved into her mouth.

“Mmruph.

“I’m sorry, what was that?”

She took her time chewing and swallowing. “Hungry. I dunno.”

Sigh. What do I do with that?

“What would you like to talk about today?”

Madison shrugged, then busied herself with sharpening a pencil and turning over a fresh page in her book. Wordlessly, she began to draw.

Not knowing what else to say, and worried I’d say the wrong thing, I asked, “What kinds of things do you like to draw?”

After several beats, “A bit of everything. You know. Animals. Landscapes. People.” She answered me from under a curtain of long, blonde hair dyed purple that had fallen in front of her face.

Rather than respond, I decided to try riding out the silence. Often it felt like I was doing too much work to try and keep the conversation, any semblance of a conversation, afloat. Clearly, she prefers doing things at her own pace. I should try letting her.

Minutes went by, where all we heard was the soft scratching of Madison’s pencil on the paper. Every once in a while, her eyes darted up and back down again as she hunched over her lap, focused. I watched her and waited.

“So do you have kids?” Madison asked without pausing her drawing.

Caught off guard, I robotically gave the classic therapist response they coach you on in training: “What makes you curious to know?”

She bristled while meeting my gaze. “You can just answer the question.”

I made a conscious effort to soften my tone. “I honestly don’t mind answering the question, I just want to know why you’re curious first.”

She paused, evaluating me. “I don’t know. You seem like you’d be good at it. And you’re always trying to get me to talk to my mom more.”

“Well, thanks.” Did not expect that answer.

“…so do you? Have kids?”

“Ha. I don’t, although I would like to someday.”

There’s something here, something she’s mulling over. What is it?

Our eyes met for a moment longer than was comfortable, and Madison hunched over her sketchpad once more. Silence fell for another minute. Wait for it.

“I got into art school. My mom wants me to go.” Her voice was a fraction above a whisper.

“What?! That’s incredible! Congratulations!” My surprise and excitement came bursting out. She deserves this! She’s suffered way too much trauma; it’s about time she had some good news in her life.

“It’s not a big deal. I probably won’t go.”

“What? Of course it’s a big deal! Why wouldn’t you go?”

Madison looked me dead in the eyes. “Why do you even care?”

She’s testing me. What’s the right answer here?

“I-I care about you, and you deserve good things, Madison. It’s okay to allow yourself to feel happy.”

Madison’s eyes narrowed. “…Did my mom talk to you?”

“What? No. Why?”

“Whatever.”

I felt all her remaining energy drain from the room. Mine went with it.

I glanced at the clock on the wall behind Madison’s shoulder.

“We’re out of time for today,” I sighed, “But I would like to continue talking about this next session.”

As she got up to leave, she tore the top page from her sketchbook. She crossed the room and before she turned for the door, she let the paper fall facedown on my desk.

I watched her disappear around the corner and then went back to my desk and turned the paper over. It was the most exquisite portrait of me, down to the mole on my left cheek. I was drawn seated in my cheap office chair, hands clasped smartly in my lap and my eyes gazed straight at the viewer, as if I were desperately trying to win a staring contest.

Session 6. Client presents in an irritable mood, reports feeling “hungry.” Exhibits intermittent eye contact, hunched body presentation. Affect is blunted at times but mood congruent; speech often quiet, slow, halted. Presents as resistant and defensive. Next session in 1 week.


She was being dragged forward, in the wrong direction. Her feet dug into the ground, but it wasn’t enough to keep her from sliding. She wasn’t sure how much longer she could keep this up.


“I need to get outta here.”

Madison was visibly upset, about what she wouldn’t say. She was rocking back and forth in her seat, tugging on her hair (now dyed blue), and if I didn’t intervene soon, she was going to start hyperventilating.

“Of course. Do you want to take a walk?” I motioned towards the door.

She nodded and grabbed her backpack.

As soon as we got outside, her breathing slowed. She seemed less agitated.

“I want to sit down.”

“Sure, let’s go over here.” I pointed to a park bench in the shade.

We sat at opposite ends of the bench and Madison bent over and put her head in her hands. I angled my body towards her.

“Do you want to talk about it?” I asked. What is going on?! I wonder if her dad tried to contact her again.

“No. I don’t.” Her voice was muffled.

I just want to comfort you! Tell me how!

“Okay.”

We sat in silence for several minutes. I wondered if Madison could hear the birds or feel the breeze. She seemed a million miles away, unreachable.

“My life sucks.” I could barely hear her.

What happened?

You have so many positive things in your life!

You’re the strongest, most resilient person I know.

Your life can’t suck. I won’t let it.

I took a deep breath. “Everything is going to be oka-”

Madison let out a sound somewhere between a groan and a wail.

Stop.

Stop pulling and go to meet her.

Meet her where she’s at.

I sighed and turned my body to face forward, mirroring hers. “You’re right. Life sucks, especially yours. You got dealt a shit hand and it’s not fair. I’m sorry.”

Madison looked up and held my gaze for a moment before looking away.

“Yeah,” she said, “it sucks.”

Each of us dropped our section of rope. I waded into the mud pit to meet Madison, who was already there. I let myself sink down in and the sludge encircled us both.

We sat in silence, together in the muck, for the remainder of the session.

Session 8. Client presents in an anxious, depressed mood, reports “life sucks,” because it does. Exhibits normal behavior considering the circumstances. She’s doing the best she can. We both are. Next session in 1 week.

Quiet, Sluggish Chaos

I’m feeling pretty drained. That’s an understatement.

I’m trying to think of a good metaphor for how I feel that won’t make me sound suicidal – because I’m not. But I have no energy left, you guys. I’m just trying to make it through the days and sometimes I dare to hope and then other days my state gets set on fire or RBG dies and I find myself at a new low that I didn’t know was possible.

Three things happened all at once: summer [weather] ended, fire and smoke made it impossible for me to breathe or leave my house for ten days, and distance learning began for my 1st grader. It sent the precarious balance we had achieved in our household over the summer into a quiet, sluggish chaos.

In 2007 the fire alarm woke me up and my boyfriend (now husband) and I grabbed whatever was in front of us and ran out of our burning apartment building. For months after I would go to sleep and hallucinate the smell of smoke. That thick, putrid, choking scent that makes one’s pulse jump. My heart would race, I’d get a rush of adrenaline, and then I’d have to get up and check to make sure there wasn’t any actual danger. After that, it was pretty hard to calm down and get any rest. It was bad.

I was in my master’s program for counseling psychology at the time and I had started therapy for the first time as a client that previous year. When the fire happened I was on a break from therapy in an attempt to stretch my mental health benefits to last until the end of the year. American healthcare – you suck. At any rate, when I returned to therapy I mentioned the fire and the difficulty sleeping I was having. PTSD, you say? Oooh, crap. So this is what it’s like. It’s always so much easier to diagnose other people. Well, shit.

And, while definitely not as bad, it came back recently. Our sense of smell is so powerful, so tied to our emotions. And the smell of smoke is a warning to everyone – it’s supposed to be. But put that together with absolute terror and it’s a horrible combination.

Plus, the chest pains I was getting from the smoke signaled anxiety to my brain aaand cue positive feedback loop. Sore throat, headaches. I felt physically ill on top of everything else.

With my bucket being pretty freaking empty, I’m struggling to be a good parent, teacher, wife, and friend.

As far as the friend thing goes, I struggle to be social. Being social in person really sucks because I’m worried about Covid the whole time. Being social, while I still enjoy it, often requires energy I’m not sure I have. It’s hard to pay attention and remember details. I find myself so worried about my and my family’s health and safety that it’s hard to be concerned with anyone else’s enough to ask. It’s not that I don’t care- I do. Stress just seems to push everything else out of focus. I’m really sorry if I forget about that thing going on in your life. I’m sorry that I totally forgot to ask how your new job is going. Sorry If my texts come across the wrong way. I feel like my stress and survival mode make everything come out wrong, even more so than my socially-awkward normal. I still love and respect my friends, and I still want to be friends.

I worry that writing about my mental health issues sounds…wallowy, self-centered, whiny. Repetitive. Fishing for pity.

While it might be repetitive (and none of the rest), I decided that talking/writing about it helps me. It’s honest, it’s real. If it helps normalize mental health struggles – great. But this is mainly for me. It’s a journal, it’s documentation, it’s creative expression, it’s cathartic.

In closing, I’ll remind myself that I’m surviving. I’m coping. I’m doing the best I can. I’m just happy to be here.

I’m the One with the Pool

So I haven’t been inside a grocery store in weeks. Not since March 19, to be exact. Until today.

The two main reasons I wanted to go were for items that couldn’t be picked up curbside- for me that meant a giant plastic pool and garden items like flowers and tomato plants. You know, lovely things that make life feel worth living. I was determined to get another kiddie pool because our city announced they wouldn’t be turning on joy the water features this summer (at least for now), and that’s a devastating blow to the well being of my kids and thus my family. My son didn’t cry when school was canceled (and he likes school!) but you bet your ass he cried when I told him the splash pads weren’t going to be turned on. Sigh.

So I had this all planned out. I was gonna go an hour before closing so that it’d be as empty as possible (and freaking hell there were still way too many people in there for comfort!), because I drive by that parking lot every single Tuesday at 2pm for curbside pickup and the parking lot is chockfull like there’s an end of the world party and everyone’s invited.

My anxiety started spiking before I even got ready to go. Uuuuggghhh having chronic anxiety centered around health issues REALLY SUCKS during a pandemic. And trying to control my breathing so I don’t start hyperventilating in an N95 mask is difficult to say the least. Basically, I was using my cart as a battering ram and trying to strong-arm my way through the grocery store to get what I needed and get the hell out.

They keep the giant plastic pools outside of the store, and I grabbed one and brought it inside, only to realize…this is big. and awkward. How the hell am I supposed to shop with this? So the greeter man by the door was super helpful and had me just take a picture of the bar code and he held it at the door so I didn’t have to cart it around everywhere with me.

I did my shopping. I ran into someone I knew! How quaint! Just like the before-times. The staff were soooo nice. Like, not paid nearly enough for how nice they were during a pandemic. And what the nice employee lady told me was that THE GARDEN CENTER CLOSED OVER AN HOUR AGO. Fuuuuuuuuuuck. So much for planning ahead. This will mean that I’ll have to come back at some point and endure this drawn out panic attack again. Covid-19: keeping therapists and big pharma in business!

I wove around non-mask wearing teenagers (WTF) and paid for my stuff and retrieved my pool and got out to my car. My husband’s car, actually. Because while my car is bigger, it has the car seats and the backseat can’t be put down. So I brought his so I could put the seats down and have plllllllenty of room for the pool (I’m so smart!) right?

Yeah no.

My 5 foot diameter pool was clearly not going to fit in this Prius. Even though I tried like an idiot. Several times. Maybe this way? Nope. I hope no one’s watching me. FUCK. I had to take off my mask at this point because I needed to breathe. I was gonna have a panic attack right there in the parking lot.

I called my husband.

Uuuuuh, you’re gonna have to tie it to the car or drive home holding it out of the window.

Thanks. Who do we know with a huge car? OH WAIT! I saw husband-of-a-friend in the store just now! THEY HAVE A SUBURBAN!

I hung up and madly texted my friend. My phone autocorrected “fucking” to “tucking.” I hate that.

Her husband was still in the store, and he graciously responded that he’d be right there. I almost texted back with I’m the one with the pool but thought better of it.

We caravaned home, I got the pool into the yard, said a bunch of thank yous, and then bathed in disinfectant along with everything on my person and set my clothes on fire. I got over the hump with some Xanax-infused ice cream and didn’t end up needing a Xanax, but oh man the panic was real.

I think tonight took about two years off my life, but at least I got the goddamn pool.

 

Period. Full Stop.

I’m here to tell everyone – all parents really – that you have permission to set boundaries for yourself and your kids in reaction to everyone, anyone, for any reason and at any time. Period. Full stop.

And unless you’re being abusive to your kids, then nobody gets to tell you that your boundaries aren’t valid. Like, ever. I mean, they can try, but they will fail.

Because guess what?

BEING THE PARENT MEANS YOU GET TO DECIDE WHAT IS BEST FOR YOUR KID.

Not a stranger on the street. Not a neighbor or a friend. Not your cousin or sibling or parent or the babysitter. None of them are the parent or legal guardian, so it simply ain’t their job.

This is such a simple concept that it blows my mind when people don’t understand it.

And then, because I’m a therapist, I take a step back and try really, really hard to understand why someone may not understand such a simple boundary of how the world works. From my experience, people who either don’t understand boundaries or perceive them as unkind are people who did not grow up with firm boundaries and/or were not taught how to set healthy ones.

To be specific, boundaries are some form of communication or action that communicate a limit or expectation for how that person wants to be treated. Boundaries have two parts: the first part described above, and then the second part is the consequence – what the boundary-setter plans to do if that expectation is not met.

(I just wrote the above off the cuff, but I’d like to add the Wikipedia definition I just looked up because it’s much more succinct: “Personal boundaries are guidelines, rules or limits that a person creates to identify reasonable, safe and permissible ways for other people to behave towards them and how they will respond when someone passes those limits.“)

Imagine someone grew up without these. Imagine that person could do whatever they wanted growing up and had no consequences. For a kid, that sounds like a pretty scary, lonely, and unsafe place to be. Not being taught how to act with respect and integrity must land a person in some confusing and frustrating situations growing up. A common reaction is to blame everyone else for these problems, because the alternative is often too painful to entertain.

Now imagine that that same person has grown up and is being told how to act or what to do by another person, and is being given consequences to boot. Especially if this new boundary-setter is not perceived to be an authority figure, the reaction probably wouldn’t be positive.

There’s often backlash, or an attempt at manipulation, or accusations that the boundary-setter is being mean and controlling, or simply ignoring the boundaries and blowing right through them.

[Side note: my above growing-up-without-boundaries scenario was the kindest, most benefit-of-the-doubt explanation I could think of. Worst case scenario when a person blows through your boundaries is that they are being abusive. The simplest red flag for abuse is when the perpetrator does not hear you say ‘no.’ When a person ignores your ‘no,’ it means they are trying to control you or the situation. And gaining power and control over another person is what abuse is all about.]

Even though I get it on a conceptual level, these people are so fucking hard to deal with.

How do you explain to someone that boundaries aren’t mean?

And yup, they are about control, because I have control over myself and my life and my kids – AND YOU DON’T.

It’s one thing having to set a boundary one time with someone who is a reasonable human being: “Oh crap, you don’t like when I do that? I’m so sorry, I won’t do it again.” Best case scenario, right? Because it’s quite another thing to have to set the same boundary with someone who is boundaryless again and again and fucking over again.

Setting boundaries, like raising children, is exhausting. It’s having to stay firm and respectful and consistent in following through with consequences. Again and again and again until forever. It’s teaching little people how to behave in the world and it’s teaching big people how you, as an adult, wish to be treated (or how you wish your children be treated).

And when I’m setting boundaries on behalf of my kids – that’s where the stakes are high. My bitch mama bear comes out and I take no prisoners. No, dude on the street, my kid does not have to smile for you. No, lady at the park, you cannot touch my baby without asking me first.

My kids are depending on me to protect them until they can protect themselves. And they are learning from my example. They learn bodily autonomy and the value of consent when I say, Do you want to give _____ a hug? Because you don’t have to if you don’t want to. And if someone gets mad about not getting a hug, then that is their problem (and also a huge red flag!). Not mine, and sure as hell not my kid’s.

I’m setting the boundaries for them now so that they can do the same for themselves (and their kids) in the future. Because I don’t want my kids to grow up without boundaries. It’s dangerous and scary!

And for those adults who might recognize that they have negative reactions to boundaries being set – instead of writing off the boundary-setter as mean, you might want to take a look at exactly what is being asked of you. Is it truly unkind, or are you just not used to hearing “no”?

At the risk of rage-filled rambling on forever, I will wrap this up. While this may read as a tutorial for an audience, it’s actually directed at myself. It’s my way of reminding myself that I’m doing right by myself and my kids; no amount of negative and manipulative reactions to my boundaries will steer me off course because they [the reactions] aren’t mine to carry, deal with, or worry about. Period. Full stop.

_________________________________________________________________________________

Do any of you out there have trouble setting boundaries with boundaryless people?

What are your coping strategies?

 

 

 

 

 

Meat, Vests, and Keanu Reeves

The past two days, my fellow hero in anxiety, The Bloggess, has encouraged her readers to first post things they hate that everyone else loves, and then the inverse – things they love that others don’t get.

This exercise was her way of reminding us that us, each of us, either who we are or what we write/produce/put out into the world (or all of the above) is not for everyone. Not everyone is going to like us or understand us, and that’s okay. Nay, it’s normal and expected.

As for me, I despise:

  • whiskey (I involuntarily shudder each time it touches my tongue. That’s what she said.)
  • David Sedaris (Okay, so despise is way too strong of a word for Mr. Sedaris. I just don’t get him, really. I’ve read several of his books and I keep really trying to find him funny, and I only find him mildly amusing some of the time.)
  • licorice (bitter and gross)
  • vests (your arms are still cold)
  • pot roast (dry and tough and I don’t want my meat tasting like carrots and my carrots tasting like meat)
  • potatoes that aren’t highly processed…like the kind in pot roast
  • turkey (like, the Thanksgiving kind. It’s dry and tasteless. I eat at Thanksgiving for the sides. And the pie. Mmmmm, pie.)
  • sausages (I’m a horrible mostly-German person)
  • I guess I just don’t prefer most meat, really…except bacon
  • IPAs (I don’t like drinking Pine Sol)
  • The Smashing Pumpkins (whiny voices)
  • Keanu Reeves (never cared for his acting)
  • Oregon.

And I love:

  • therapy!
  • the smell of gasoline
  • writing resumes
  • Hanson
  • Almond Joys (sometimes you feel like a nut)
  • really depressing and/or traumatic reading material

People who know me – was there anything I missed? I’m sure it’s easier for my friends to remember just how much of a weirdo I am. Much thanks.

Now you! You go; it’s your turn. What things do you love/hate that most others don’t?


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Ways I Combat Seasonal Depression

Hello, dear Psychos, and welcome to Day 8.

Seasonal Depression, or Seasonal Affective Disorder (appropriately SAD) is a real thing. Oregon is cold, it’s dark, and it’s freakin gray. It’s hard to get out of bed some mornings, and I often can’t get warm, even in my own house. It’s no mistake that Jo Rowling (we’re on a first name basis, people) gave the dementors, a metaphor for depression, the power to create an icy chill in their midst while sucking the soul out of their victims. When I’m cold, like that chilled-to-the-bone feeling, I’m irritable. Moody. Unable to feel contentment. I feel like crawling back into bed.

I have several tricks up my sleeve to try and keep the soul-sucking dementors at bay. I wish I had a magic wand, but I guess my Hogwarts letter got lost in the post.

Until that ruddy post owl is found, here are the things I try:

Note: This post is not a replacement for real, amazing therapy. These are simply things that work for me personally. Psychology Today is a great place to start looking for a therapist if you’re in the market, as it were.

  • My light therapy lamp

Last year, I finally went out and got myself a happy lamp! Getting up in the morning is hard for me, especially in the winter time when it’s pitch black outside. Somehow, that just seems wrong for a person to have to function in those conditions. I just got my lamp back out for the season, and I put it on my bathroom counter and flick it on as soon as I get out of bed. It’s on and shining into my eyes for about 10-15 minutes as I get ready in front of the mirror. It helps to perk me up in the mornings and makes me feel less dead inside. I wish I could get the effects for longer, but I have active kids who need to be places and I no longer sit in one place for very long. At this point I’ll take whatever I can get.

  • My slippers and hats and sweatshirts and blankets. And sometimes my cat.

Did I mention that I get cold in the winter? I’m actually always cold, but in the winter I’m knocking-on-death’s-door cold. I still can’t believe that I survived living in Boston for two years. I attempt to stay warm by wearing fuzzy slippers. I have ones with down feathers in them. And memory foam. I also have those buttery-soft slipper-socks. When I’m feeling saucy, I’ll wear slipper-socks and slippers at the same time. It’s also not unheard of for me to wear a jacket indoors, or one of my many knit hats. The couch is covered with blankets. And when I don’t hate my cat (and when she doesn’t hate me), I will allow her to sit on my lap to keep my nether regions from frosting over. When animals aren’t total assholes, they can be kind of comforting.

  • Those microwavable ricey/beany heat pad thingies

They are warm when I am not. The end.

  • Hot drinks, sometimes with sugar and caffeine

In the winter, I’ll often make hot decaf tea in the afternoons and evenings (in addition to my normal caffeinated morning beverage) to take the chill off, but also because they provide this psychological cozy boost. I enjoy feeling the warm, solid mug between my palms and breathing in the sweet, warm vapors. The Dutch call this feeling gezellig, which roughly translates to “cozy,” and I find myself often chasing it.

  • FIRE. (Candles and the fireplace)

First off, let me just say that Oregonians have a weird obsession with scented things and lighting shit on fire. Haven’t any of you heard of a spare the air day?! Having said that, I do enjoy the occasional scented candle or switching on our gas fireplace because Oregon creeps up on you after a while. It’s the warmth, but it’s also the psychological boost from the bright, flickering lights and the yummy, spicy, earthy, comforting scents that can fill up the house and my soul.

  • Music

Music is the perfect drug; there is a piece of music to induce any mood you’re after, with little to no side effects. Spooky Halloween music, cozy Christmas music, after dinner dance party music (pants optional). Music shoos them dementors straight back to Azkaban. Also, if you don’t get these Harry Potter references, consider yourself on notice.

  • People

I tend to isolate when I’m anxious and depressed, so I schedule events on my calendar to get me out of the house and interacting with humans over the age of 5, even if it’s cold and rainy and gross and disgusting outside. We might get wet or cold or muddy or all three, but at least we have a fun time hanging out with others, and then we’ll get warm and gezellig once we’re back home again.

  • HUMOR!!!!!! DEAR GOD, THE HUMOR!

Humor is my EXPECTO PATRONUM!!!!!! Laughter boosts the mood and the immune system. It brings people together, and holy crap it makes me feel less alone. The best cross-section of humor and mental health I can think of can be found at The Bloggess. Jenny suffers from anxiety and depression, but she doesn’t let that get in the way of being fucking hilarious. She’s the reason I started blogging, and I love her and I met her once and she signed my DSM because that’s how deep her commitment to hilarity runs. She normalizes and humanizes mental illness, makes me feel less alone, and makes me laugh – which makes me feel better. Boom. If you’re at all interested, read her blog, check out her books – geez, I wonder if she’ll pay me for this? Shout out, Jen! Call me.

As an example to show how much Jenny Lawson just gets me, here are her calendar pages for October and November:

 

She gets me.

 

The timing is no mistake

 

Ok, I’ll stop here. I hope this is helpful for some people. TELL ME – What do you do to combat the cold, dark, gray, damp winter months of torture?!

nanopoblano2019

 

 

 

Arm pump!

Brian and I were having a conversation, as longtime partners sometimes do. He had just explained something brilliant about which I had previously been ignorant.

Brian: …well now you know.

Me: (without missing a beat) And knowing is half the battle! (Arm pump!)

Brian: (laughs heartily)

Me: That’s like an automatic response for me. I didn’t even have to think about it! You know, those 30 second segments at the end of G.I. Joe were my favorite part of the whole show!

Brian: (incredulous): What? Really?!

Me: Dude, you’re talking to someone who grew up to become a therapist! I lived for those segments! I was just hanging on through all the violence and sexism to see what patriotic American moral we’d be taught at the conclusion.

Brian: I bet Saturday morning cartoons shaped our whole generation, just 30 seconds of propaganda at a time.

Me: (clapping) Yes! I was like, Ooh! What cartoon wisdom will they teach us today?!

Brian: What was even better was when they dubbed over them with hilarity years later. **pause** Porkchop sandwiches!

Me: Agreed. What an American treasure.

_______________________________

nanopoblano2019

Motherhood has ruined me; I’m now comparing myself to butter.

I’m going to take this time and do some complaining.

I’ve been in a funk the past two days and maybe this will help. Maybe it won’t. But let’s try anyway, shall we?

Before I get started, I’d like to remind the internet that it’s possible, even normal, to possess two or more emotions at once. Yes, I’m complaining. I’m frustrated, I’m sad, I’m mad, I’m exhausted. That doesn’t also mean that I’m not (hashtag) grateful, full of joy, happy, fulfilled, etc. Moms get to complain sometimes and that doesn’t mean that I hate my kids. Not all the time, anyway.

I feel like motherhood hath turned me into a monster. I’m constantly cranky. I’m irritable. I’m so tired. Even when I get enough sleep, I’m tired. I’m drained. I’m so burned out. (burnt?) If this were a normal paying job, I’d be preparing my resume, putting in my two weeks.

I feel so used up.

You know how I (along with every other good therapist you’ll meet) preach about filling one’s bucket? It’s really hard when your bucket has a hole in it. Dear Liza.

I yell at everyone. All the time. I yell at my kids. I yell at my cat. When he gets home, I yell at my husband. I yell at myself. In my head. All day long.

I no longer have patience, or strength, to argue with a 4 year old about why he needs to PUT ON HIS FUCKING SHOES or EAT HIS GODDAMN DINNER. Instead of doing what I ask, he slumps to the floor in a pile of snot, tears, and belligerent evil. And then I have a hard time comforting him because IT’S TIME TO GO AND HE NEEDS HIS SHOES ON YESTERDAY.

I’m not myself. Anyone who has met me after having kids doesn’t really know me. I’m fun. I’m funny. I used to be a heck of a lot more carefree. Sure, I’m Type A, but now my borderline OCD has jumped the shark and I’m batshit cray. Case in point, I’ve Marie Kondoed my entire house and now I don’t know what to do with myself. Is she hiring? Moving to Japan sounds great right now.

I’m done being tied down by my kids. By this, I mean I want to schedule a yoga class whenever the fuck I want, without having to check with my husband to make sure someone is home keeping the kids alive. Oh yeah, I’m also done being a mom with no family around for hundreds of miles, who could theoretically swoop in and help me when I had a yoga-conflicting schedule. I’m thirdly done with not having piles of money to hire babysitters any time I’d like a break, which is all the time.

None of my clothes fit. Sure, my body isn’t quite where I want it to be, but that’s not the point. I don’t have clothes that fit the body I have at this moment. I pull and tug and complain and feel self-conscious. Like I have the money or the time to shop and own the clothes that would make me feel good about myself.

My body is falling apart. Pregnancy has mashed my internal organs around so much that I’m left with these odd GI symptoms that my doctor and I are trying to figure out what species of demon is lodged in there. My abdominal muscles have separated. I may or may not have some kind of food intolerance that never existed before. My eyesight is swirling down the toilet. I’m still having skin breakouts like I’m either pregnant or 13 years old (or both) and I’m so over this shit.

On one hand, I’m super motivated to get all this junk in check. Notice my anxiety wasn’t on the list of gripes above? Holy crap, for the time being it hasn’t been bothering me. Let’s all knock on some motherfucking wood together please. I went to therapy, I see my doctor, I make time for yoga, I try to run sometimes, I get out and see my friends. I shower, I read. I nap. Heck, I nap almost half the days just to get myself through them. I don’t have a choice, really. I’ve been Marie Kondoing because the act of organizing and the state of my house once it’s in order make me feel at peace. I get so much satisfaction from being able to control my surroundings and make them pretty. Ordered. Predictable. Accessible. Mine. In my world where so much is out of my control (especially two out-of-control toddlers), highlighting what I can control is super important to me.

But I digress. The point is that I’ve been working very hard on self care, especially these last two years.

I see progress in bits and pieces. I see how my job description is changing, little by little. Often, I don’t have to wipe the floor after breakfast anymore. My 4 year old goes to the bathroom completely on his own at the library. Like, I don’t even go in there with him anymore. Weeeird. My 2 year old puts on her own clothes. Really?! All these tiny reminders that as they claim more independence for themselves, I get more of my life back.

But man, it’s not enough. It’s never enough.

Irritability is always there for me when I get back from whatever little break I just had. Also, whatever motivation I get in little spurts gets quickly doused by the antics of my adorable children. I’d love to run and do yoga every day and get super fit (I just read that back and laughed. never would I “love to run,” like ever. but you know what I mean), but I can’t because my kids make getting out of the house feel like climbing a mountain. I’d love to open an Etsy store and paint one canvas every day, build some inventory. But there’s no way, at least not right now. I don’t have the energy, or I don’t have it consistently. I survive on a day-to-day and sometimes hour-to-hour basis. I do what I can, when I can. (like right now, writing this blog post. zing.)

I’m not sure how to end this. Should I try to end this on a positive note? I don’t really feel like it. This is where I’m at.

A quote from Lord of the Rings comes to mind:

“I feel thin. Stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.”