Is It Better To Have Lost Your Mind, Or Never To Have Had A Mind At All?

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Over the years on this blog I have tried hard to walk the line between being honest about my own life while still trying to respect the privacy of my family members. Once in a while I get out of balance with that, mostly when I’m overly stressed or just plain maxed out- and I’m afraid this is going to be one of those times…

Over the past few months *h and I have been going through an especially hard time. One of the medications I am on leaves me with the emotional sensitivity of a stapler- probably a broken stapler at that- and although *h has tried to be a trooper, it’s a real struggle to be married to someone with no emotional depth. The problem is that this is the one medicine that gives me decent relief from the skull-crushing headaches that I used to have every single day. And it is the only medicine I’ve been on that has been able to help at all. Trust me, I’ve tried tons (yes, alternative treatments too). I’ve been on this medicine before and had to go off of it for this very same reason, but this time I thought I could dodge the bullet. This time I was so enamored of life without migraines that I wanted to pretend I could cheat my fate. This time I was so numbed out and dumbed down by the medication that I didn’t care quite enough to pay attention that my personal life was circling the drain.

Last night I had a wake up call.

It doesn’t really matter what happened. What matters is this: I need to go down on my medicine. I need to take a dive back into the deep end of the pain pool. Knowing how frigid the water is makes it all that more hideous to jump back in, but I really have no other choice. The fact that I need to make this choice makes me want to scream. It makes me want to tear out my hair, rip up my face, rend my garments, and run barefoot over shards of glass through a forest until I lose the demon that is chasing me and I lose myself too. It makes me want to punch out the sky, strangle the oceans, and vomit all of my internal organs until they turn to dust.

The feeling that I can never get far enough away from my own self to have any peace is one that- to risk sounding redundant- I just haven’t made peace with. To be betrayed by myself, by my biology, by my physiology, by my chemistry, by my nature- it’s almost too much. It’s almost too many. That may not be grammatically correct, but it’s much more factually accurate.

We don’t often get the chance to show how much we are willing to sacrifice for our families. Here’s my opportunity to step up walk the walk that most people only wax poetic about when they first get married. *h puts up with a tremendous amount every day to keep our family afloat and it isn’t fair for him to suffer in silence.

I guess there isn’t too much more to say after that.

Comparing Apples And Oranges

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People always say things are like comparing apples and oranges, but I have never actually seen someone go ahead and really compare those two things directly to each other. So here, in the spirit of not shortchanging fruit, I present you my head-to-head tally.

I may be a bit biased, since I am a Michigan girl (apple state) living in Washington (apple state), but I have eaten my fair share of citrus fruit too over the years.

In no particular order:

Access to the fruit- Apples have to win. You just pick one up, shine it off, and bite right in. Not so with the more fussy orange. First you need something to get the skin started peeling, so unless you carry a pocket machete, or mini-cleaver, oranges are best eaten at home or pre-scored so they can be peeled. That’s just a hassle. Then you have the whole tangle of white stuff, and the membranes themselves which can be too tough to eat without doing the cow-chew. And oranges are seedy. Not that I blame a fruit for doing its best to procreate, but whereas the tidy apple keeps its private business all tucked away neatly in the core, the orange has its seeds all spread around in each of the sections- it’s like a football team sewing its wild oats. That’s just TMI from something I am about to eat. So for a low-maintainence snack that you can quickly throw in your gullet, apples are the clear winner.

Potential pitfalls- Sometimes you will get an apple that’s a bit mealy. This is especially heartbreaking when it looks like it will be nice and crunchy and then you take that first big bite and it’s like sinking your teeth into 5-hour-old oatmeal. Awful. But that’s about it. An orange, on the other hand, is like a minefield of possible failures. They can be dried out, even if they look fine (don’t you hate when inside of the individual sections the pieces are hard and white? What’s up with that?). They can be rotty and overly squishy, but not in that ripe delicious way that peaches are- just in a gross decomposing way that makes you feel like you have just eaten from the compost pile. The can be overly sour (yet not yummy tart like an apple would be under similar circumstances) or completely tasteless, and there doesn’t seem to be any reliable way to tell. Don’t get me wrong- when you get a good orange, it’s a thing of rapture. I’m not an orange-hater. On the contrary, I love oranges, which is why I’m so sad that so many of them are so yucky. Oh, and one more thing in this category- have you ever thought you swallowed a piece of orange, only to realize that because the membrane situation was so complex you only partially swallowed it and the other part was still caught somewhere in your mouth? Well I have and it has never happened to me with an apple. So guess who wins this one?

Color- Let me just put it out there that I am not artsy. When we moved into our house and it came to decorating it, I let each of the kids pick out a paint color for their rooms. Tada! That’s how fancy I am and how much I notice decoration. But the fact that apples come in such a wide variety of sizes and colors and shades and variations is kind of cool. The fact that oranges are, well, orange is just a bit boring. Even the name is kind of underwhelming. A bowl of apples on a table looks inviting, and since you can just grab one and eat it (see the first item above), it actually IS inviting. A bowl of oranges might match your decor if your kitchen is retro 1950s (or really hideous), but unless you are looking for an afternoon project, the bowl of oranges will just sit there being orange. How blah. Sorry oranges, but you’ve got no game. Gotta give the pop prop to the mad funky apple.

Price- Here’s where my Michigan roots (read: total bias) are really going to come into play. In Michigan you could get apples for 69 cents a pound. Yes! Take I-96 to Gratiot and go about 1 block North and you will find Randazzo’s, the best fruit market around, where not only do they have fabulous apples, but a wide selection and of really good quality produce and the best prices I ever found. When I moved to Seattle, I got kind of excited that since I would be so much closer to California, I would probably be able to get really good prices on fresh produce straight from Cali. Like, for example, oranges. But not so, friends. Not only can you not find a pepper in this part of the state for any reasonable price (I would tell you how much they charge here, but you may have an undesirable physical reaction…), but the California produce here is actually MORE EXPENSIVE in Washington than it was in Michigan! I have no explanation for why that is, but it’s the reality on the ground. So not only can I not get nice fresh oranges from a state that’s practically my neighbor, I am still paying way too much for them. And even though I am overpaying for apples as well (a bargain here is more like $1.69/pound, and that hurts…) they are STILL cheaper than oranges. Even though I should call this a draw just for gentlemanly reasons, I have to give this one to the team apple…

Johnny Rotten- Can we talk about that powdery mildew that grows on oranges, seemingly out of nowhere, and then spreads like the plague? The stuff that’s white and then gets greenish blue and makes the orange collapse in on itself like a supernova? That’s just wrong. An apple at least has the decency to get a bruise that you can cut out and salvage the rest of the apple. But the poor orange gets that stuff and anything in its path is just a goner.

I think you can see where this is heading. I feel like the poor orange is just getting pulverized, and that shouldn’t be the case. Oranges have lots of redeeming qualities: they make way better juice than apples (apple juice is one thing I have always found disgusting). They are fantastic in the whole Julius thing, and adorable as mandarins. They are easier to share than apples, and they don’t brown if you leave them open on the table. I’m sure there are other good qualities, and maybe some of you coastal folks can share them with me. Until then, though, I’m gonna have to call this contest in favor of the apples. So for all future discussions, let’s find something else to compare…

Why Hard Conversations Never Come At Easy Times

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I wish I had an answer to this question, but I don’t. For those of you who want to stop reading now, you should definitely consider yourself to be warned. I’m not feeling especially insightful, and I don’t have any profound knowledge of human nature that you don’t. In fact, I’m probably about as perplexed about it as most of you are, at least most of the time.

This week was for sure one of those weeks. With two kids out of town in new places for school, I have spent a mathematically impossible number of hours on the phone with each of them. Any of you who have been reading this blog for any length of time know that I am a super nest-y mommy. I am the type who, in an ideal world would own land so all of my married kids could build their own homes within walking distance of mine. I would have a diningroom table (or better yet, one in the kitchen, because that’s even cozier) that seats about 50 and we could all eat our meals together. I would have enough bedrooms in my house so that grandkids could sleep over all the time, and my children’s spouses would feel like my own kids. I would homeschool everyone, not because we are glommy, but because we just enjoy being together, and life would be all good.

But, in reality things don’t always turn out how we plan, and I currently have several kids in several places. I’m excited for the opportunities they have, but I miss them like crazy, and judging by the number of phone calls we get each day, the feelings are mutual.

However, that’s not even the hardest part of the past week.

This past week, because apparently I have really bad judgment when it comes to deciding when to open up a vile can of worms, I thought I should have a conversation with my siblings about my Grandma. My Grandma is getting older, and has moved out of her house. This may or may not be permanent. As she nears her hundredth birthday (give or take a few years), some decisions are going to have to be made. And rather than wait until those decisions are right upon us and emotions are crazy, I thought I would open a dialogue with my sisters now about some things we might want to think about addressing. I tried really hard to be delicate about how I brought those things up, but there really is no good way to say certain things, and the fact that I brought it up at all kind of makes me look like a creep. Maybe.

The problem is, if the past is any guide to the future, I can kind of predict how things will play out if we don’t talk about anything now. Nobody wants to rock the boat when things are calm, so everyone has assumptions, whether they are aware of them or not. Time marches on, and since it is forbidden to speak about anything, people just assume that when ultimately something terrible happens, we will all figure out amicable solutions then. But when tensions are high because everyone is in their own grief, and awash with emotions, it isn’t the ideal time to problem-solve. Normal people act irrationally and do stupid selfish things, and feelings are irrevocably hurt. I have an aunt, uncle, and 3 cousins who I have seriously not spoken to in a decade and a half over just such a situation- and the irony is that it didn’t even involve me directly. Yet the situation I am trying to avoid just looks like it will get here sooner if I press the issue.

So perhaps the answer is that it is the hard conversation in itself that makes the time bad, and not vice versa. Maybe the ostrich is right to put its head in the sand and then the bad thing will just pass it on by. Or at least the other ostriches will never blame it for starting trouble.

It’s funny that at one point this week I told my daughter that she should treat herself the way she treats kids she babysits for. I said, “You know how sometimes you will just watch the kids melting down and you know you’ve tried everything you can do for them? You know that what they are falling apart over is so irrational that there is only one solution left? Sometimes you just look at their sweet little faces and say, ‘Okay kids- naptime!’?” My daughter was totally at this point herself. She was completely exhausted and at her wit’s end. I could tell she was past the point of making any sense, and I really felt like it was fruitless to even try to talk her through anything else until she had a chance to rest.

Yet here I was this past week- *h was away on business, two of my kids had just left home, my kids at home were a wreck that their siblings had gone away, and I thought that would be an opportune time to have one of the touchiest conversations possible with my sisters. Over email. Yeah, I didn’t even tell you that part.

So maybe I need a reset. Maybe I need a nap- or 20. Maybe I need one of those magic 8-balls that you shake up and it gives you the right advice when you are about to make a really dumb decision.

Or maybe I should just ask you guys what you think before I make any other life decisions…

Saving Myself

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Over the past several weeks, events in my personal life have reached a crescendo of sorts. Something that I have had building within me for a long time- years maybe- has broken, and now the lid can’t be put back on Pandora’s box. I’ve decided to write a book.

Ironically this isn’t a book about these recent events. It isn’t even a book about the whole garden debacle. Over the years I have been approached to write about the Garden Thing, to write about The Blog, to write about this and that, but the timing has never felt right and writing about those topics more than what I’ve done here just hasn’t felt genuine. I even tried once to sit down and produce a book, but it was a dozen drafts of an utter flop, which I stopped with no true investment of myself.

This is different.

When I was about 12 I entered a writing contest with a poem that began, “When I look into the evening sky, I hope and wish and pray I’ll die.” Not very cheery stuff, because my life was kind of a wreck at the time, but I still remember what happened when I sat down to write. I hadn’t been a write-y type. But it seemed the teenage girl thing to do when your heart was breaking and you had nowhere to go with your emotions. So I grabbed a notebook and started writing. And 4 single-spaced pages later, I was in a blissed-out state of calm unlike any I had known. I still had nobody to talk to and I was still just as alone in the world, but I didn’t FEEL alone any more. I felt full. I felt in control of my destiny. I felt BETTER. That was new for me. Julie the writer was born.

Not that this means I flatter myself a Writer, by any means. This is only to say that the way that some teens get their identity as a Punk or Goth or gang-banger, I became a closet writing-fiend. I knew I could solve anything by writing about it, and even now when I am in knots over what to do, I will often write it down (often here on the blog!) so I can get more clarity.

The way some people are visual thinkers, I am a verbal thinker. I will literally write in my brain. I will compose letters to people that I never type. I will write to-do lists that never appear in ink. I write when I’m in the shower and when I’m washing dishes. I write when I’m alone and when I’m zoning out of a conversation. If I really wrote all that I wrote, the protectors of the trees would have to hunt me down and kill me.

So now that I am a person of a certain age, I have taken a certain plunge. I have gotten a used laptop, and as soon as I get a word program, I can start typing away (but since I chomp at the bit, I’ve already started writing in a notebook). I have a computer drive thing (who knows what they are called?) shaped like a chicken (of course) just waiting to store pages and pages of endless, well, pages… I have committed that this laptop will be just for me- no kids’ games, no, “Can I just do ______________ on your laptop?” I have no idea how long this project will take, since I have obviously never written a book before. I have no idea if any publishers will talk to me, or if I will self-publish, and frankly I am not even worried about that right now. Right now it is all about the drug of the writing.

Should I spoiler-alert and tell you what it’s about? I won’t- but I will tell you that it’s a novel. I will tell you that it’s unlike anything I ever thought I would undertake. And I will tell you that so far the process of writing continues to be absolutely magical for me. I hope you will all wish me the best of luck!

Feeling Sorry For Yourself?

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Oak Park is Rotting- Do You Think Anyone Will Plant Gardens?

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A few weeks ago Oak Park experienced biblical-level flooding. People’s basements had such deluges of water that it literally sprayed up from floor drains and knocked ceiling tiles loose. My mother went into my grandma’s basement because she thought the washing machine was malfunctioning, only to find a gusher coming out of the toilet and soaking the entire bathroom. Apparently it was like a scene from a horror movie.

I suppose to fully appreciate the scope of what basement flooding is in Oak Park, I should back up and tell you a bit about who lives in the part of town that I am talking about. Families have an average of 6-10 children, and there are many people who either grew up during the Depression or lived through the Holocaust. What that means is that either people have multiple bedrooms in their basements where multiple children sleep (as a matter of necessity, since all of the homes in the area are modest three-bedroom ranches), OR the basements are packed to the rafters with any scrap of anything that maybe possibly might one day become useful because that is the mentality of that generation. These circumstances combine to mean that, when an Oak Park basement, in certain neighborhoods, fills with sewage-tainted water- it is nothing short of an epic disaster.

About 10 days ago I spoke to a close friend who told me that everyone had taken things out from their basements and put them on the front lawns for trash pick-up. The only problem was that the trash pick-up never came. And it’s summer in Michigan. That means that everyone’s sewage-soaked possessions are baking in the humid sun. Basements full of everything from furniture to bedding, and bags and bags of papers are sitting and rotting in the August heat. So Oak Park smells like a sewer gone wrong. And that was 10 days ago.

This past weekend *h was in Oak Park with one of my kids. Everyone’s former treasures are still on display, along with their sad sagging trash bags and their ripe pungent stench. Although a neighboring city has managed to pick up people’s junk, poor sad Oak Park has still not gotten their act together (I don’t know why, because I’m not there, but I would guess it has to do with the magnitude of what’s been going on. At a certain point even the most well run cities get overwhelmed, right?) *h told me that driving down our old block was like being on the set of a post-apocalyptic film. He said it seems almost deserted. Everyone’s blinds were closed (does that work to keep out smells?), the houses looked like they had been looted (but no- that was just stuff that had been dragged out of the basements), and people were nowhere to be seen (can you blame them?). He said the smell was almost unbearable, and he had no idea how people were coping with being there. Apparently unscrupulous companies have now come into the area offering to clean up in basements, but they aren’t licensed, don’t know how to treat the sewage issue, don’t deal with potential mold, and overcharge people who can’t afford it. But all of the real companies are booked solid. What a mess.

I feel awful for the city of Oak Park. I, of all people, know how terrible it is to have sewage back up in your basement! (Hello, reason for the front yard garden in the first place!) So it’s no idle coincidence that left me wondering if, after everyone’s lawns are ruined from having all of this nasty gunk on it for weeks and weeks, perhaps some brave souls might take the initiative to plant a garden instead of re-planting a lawn???

Maybe some fantastic urban ag type of organization will step in and offer residents starter gardens on their former lawn space when things have cleared up? I know the new mayor of Oak Park (shout out to Marian McClellan!!!) is an awesome fan of community gardens, and she was a great supporter and friend back when I lived in OP… So maybe this could be a garden phoenix rising from the ashes… Maybe out of the destruction of Oak Park could rise a whole new city leading the way in families taking responsibility for some of their own fresh food- wouldn’t that be fantastic?!?!??!?!?!?!?!? It would be such an inspirational story if Oak Park, who was in the news a few years back for being so draconian could now be in the news for showing the country how to turn something awful into something wonderful! For all of its ups and downs, and all of our checkered history, I have to say that I still love Oak Park and I really miss it. I wish it all the best, and I hope it can bounce back from this latest setback even better than it ever was. I think putting in a bunch of front yard gardens might be just the sort of thing Oak Park needs.

What do you think?

Gauntlet tossed, Oak Park!

Jekyll and Julie

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About a week ago a friend came over to drop off her daughter for a play-date with my daughter. She remarked that the me in real life doesn’t seem like the me she reads about on the blog, and that she always kind of expects to see a haggard sickly person looking super sick, but instead I just seem like regular me. I told her that was interesting based on some recent conversations I had been having with my kids (who see things behind the scenes) about how devastated they are about how sickly I actually am on a regular basis. It was also worth noting that, when this friend sees me, I am obviously up and around, rather than laying in bed having a bad day. But it was somewhat encouraging too, that at least when I am up and around I am doing maybe better than I think I am.

So, it was good to have this in my mind when, a few days ago, I woke up yet again, to such crippling nausea I could barely stand it. I literally just laid in bed and begged God, “Please, don’t give me another one of these days. I really can’t manage. I know you think I can, but I can’t. I just can’t do this again. You have to take this away. I can’t stand this for another day. I’m at the end of my rope with feeling like this. I’m out of coping strategies. I really can’t feel this way any more…” And on and on it went…

I had just had a long conversation with one of my children about how we don’t get to choose our challenges, but that there is always wisdom in them, even if we can’t see it at the time. I told her that even when I feel awful (a majority of the time), I know intellectually that this is my lot in life for now, so there is no purpose in fighting it. I told her the following:

Let’s say you are supposed to go on a skiing trip with your friends and you break your leg the day before. You have to lay on the couch in a huge cast with your leg propped up, while they all go on the trip that you were so much looking forward to. You could spend the weekend imagining them having so much fun on the slopes without you. You could picture them in your mind drinking hot cocoa around the fire, and wonder every minute what they are doing that you are missing out on. Or you can realize that the ski trip isn’t your life right now. You can try to make the best plan you can for what is your life. So you can have your parents get you yummy snacks and rent you your favorite movies and get you some great books from the library. Maybe you even invite over some friends who didn’t go on the ski trip to hang out with you. Those 48 hours pass either way- the only question is whether they pass in mourning what you don’t have or enjoying what you have left.

But. Here I was in bed hating my lot in life. I was just so done with feeling ill. Pain I find mostly manageable, even when it’s debilitating, but nausea and/or dizziness are so much harder for me. they are so much harder to distract from. As a consequence, I spend lots of time in bed. My house suffers, *h suffers, and my kids suffer.

And yet. I have times where I can get dressed and apparently seem pretty normal to the outside world. *h and I went to an appointment last week and I was so nauseated by the time we arrived (the place is about 5 minutes away from our house, but I wasn’t feeling great when we left) that I went straight to the bathroom to throw up. When I walked into the actual office (next door to the bathroom. Of course.), the man asked with concern, “Um, do you need to reschedule?” And *h just kind of laughed and said, “No, it’s fine. She does this all the time…”  The guy was a little incredulous and we had to remember that it isn’t a normal thing for people to just go around throwing up all the time. But I really did feel better enough to have the appointment…

So, this is my life, Charlie Brown.

In order to eke out a life, I need to push past feeling cruddy to get things done, but I also need to spend most of my time in bed. In order to have the energy to do the bare minimum for my family, I need to say no to most extra things, and that’s not easy when I look okay to people on the outside. In other words, in order to do anything, I mostly do nothing- or at least I feel like that’s how it looks a lot of the time.

One of my daughters was very very sad the other night. “What if you NEVER get better?” she wanted to know. So I said, “You’re right, that’s hard. But what if this is as good as it gets? Let’s say I’m as well as I will ever be right this minute. There is still a lot I can do: I can talk to you, cook for you, interact with you, love you, support you, give you direction, and be here for you from my bed unless I am super super sick. There are lots of ways it could be worse than it is. So if you only have 50% of the mother you would wish for, can you enjoy the 50%? I may not be a ski trip, but maybe I can be your favorite movie and an awesome candy bar…”

I told her what I believe to be absolutely true: that God always answers our prayers, but sometimes the answer is “Not yet.”

And for right now, that’s the best I can do.

 

 

 

 

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