R U OK?

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To Write Love On Her Arms

Yesterday was National Suicide Awareness Day.  A friend’s post on Facebook last night made me aware of the day, but more importantly it reminded me of the lies that depression can tell a person.

 “Life is not worth living.”

“I am not loved.”

“I am not good enough.” Continue Reading »

My Roller Coaster Life

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T and I went to Chicago last weekend for an open house/parent’s day at Andrew’s school. We both took Friday off work. I was excited because we were taking the train for this trip, and it would be T’s first time riding the train. I had hoped that he would love the experience, but he wasn’t too impressed. I suppose I understand that. He didn’t like the lack of control he felt without a car. He did like not having to pay an arm and a leg for parking, though.

We had a great time. Our visit with Andrew was really, really wonderful. After checking into our super-fabulous room, we met Andrew at a Starbucks near the “L” station by our hotel. We talked. We hung out. We went for an early dinner at one of our favorite spots and gorged on BBQ sandwiches. Then we headed over to the Hancock Center to have a drink at the Signature Room on the 95th floor. The view was spectacular, made even more fantastic with the addition of the twinkling Christmas lights. We each had a martini. The bill was over $50 for three drinks! After we left the Hancock, we shopped a little and wandered our way over to another favorite spot where we feasted on crab cakes and filet sliders. The weather cooperated, and it was wonderfully warm for December. I did stop to buy some ear muffs, though, and T and Andrew laughed when they made me talk too loud and say, “what” each time they spoke to me.

The visit, demonstrations, and tour of Andrew’s school were impressive to say the least. While the changes in our son have been evident, we began to realize that his newfound focus and drive can be credited in part to an intense curriculum. The students are immersed in their discipline from day one. I can’t begin to express how very proud I am that Andrew has taken hold of his new life in Chicago and appears to be thriving and loving every minute. Our visit was over all too soon. They were golden moments that I am certain each of us will always cherish. It’s a rare gift to be able to have such happy, fun, content moments with our grown son. As we made our way back home, both T and I were quiet. We had taken a day and night to forget about everything that weighs down our lives. Now we were speeding right back to all of the things that made things not so perfect.

It didn’t take long once we got home to lose the relaxed, peaceful feeling we had in Chicago. All of our regular weekend chores were waiting for us. The girls had stayed home by themselves, and we had allowed Em to have a couple of girlfriends spend the night. They had a fantastic time, and I’m glad….but oh, what a mess was waiting for us. They had done A LOT of cooking. The made cupcakes, pancakes, bacon and eggs. While they had “cleaned up” the kitchen, it wasn’t exactly up to Mama Martha Stewart’s standards. You could have practically skated on the bacon grease that covered the hardwood floors in front on the stove.

When we got home, the girls were hungry. They wanted dinner. They wondered if I was going to go to the grocery store to do the weekly shopping. “There’s nothing good in the house!” Uh, no…not that evening! There was laundry to do, cat fur to vacuum, and I was feeling guilty knowing that I wouldn’t be able to fit in a visit to my mother that weekend.

While I enjoyed having a Friday without work, I should have been in the office. It’s budget approval time, and I had two really horrible meetings to prepare for on Monday. I should have been working on Friday, but being a Mom had to come first in this instance. It is such a balancing act at times. Panic was beginning to creep in while I was attempting to do a weekend’s worth of work in one day at home.

By Sunday evening, I was not feeling well. My batteries were running low. As I pulled into the driveway way after dark from my trip to the city with a load of Christmas gifts and groceries, T informed me that he had brought home a Christmas tree. Ugh! I put away the groceries and made dinner while he put the lights on the tree and Lola bounced around excitedly asking me when I was going to get the boxes of ornaments out of the basement. UGH! All I wanted to do was sit down, but what I really needed to do was a week’s worth of ironing. Decorating a Christmas tree had not factored into my plans for the evening. I could feel myself slipping. I was near tears. I didn’t want to be grouchy. I wanted to go back to that happy, relaxed feeling I had less than 24 hours earlier.

As I ironed, a friend sent me a text asking about getting together sometime with mutual friends to have a holiday drink. These are friends from “back in the day.” We are all past PTA presidents, and spent many mornings sipping coffee while our now-grown kids played. I loved the idea of getting together again to catch up on each other’s lives. We’re all working now. The kids (almost all of them) are all grown, and we don’t get together as often as we once did. My friend sent a text. “How about Sunday, December 11?” and I lost it.

December 11. I hate that day. It is the most horrible, despicable day. December 11 is the day my daughter Grace died. December 11 is the day my dad died. Two people I loved. It was on December 11 that I held my daughter in my arms as she looked into my eyes and took her last breath. On a December 11, I wandered through the pitch dark house, room to room, flicking on lights and calling my dad’s name. On December 11, I found my father dead on the living room floor. December 11 is full of horrible moments frozen in time.

I told my friend, “I’m sorry. I can’t on December 11.” I sent no more texts. I couldn’t. How could I explain that I am crazy on that day each year? How can I explain that I live in fear of that day? On December 11, I want to gather everyone I love all in the same room. I want to make them sit within my view. I want to hold a vigil over them. I want to lock the doors and stay in the house.

That one little text, with the words “December 11” threw me for a loop, and I still haven’t been able to recover. I sat in the bathroom and cried. I couldn’t help with the Christmas tree. I sat down later that evening and talked to T about it. He knew, or at least understood, my reaction. He’s seen it for years…The December 11th Syndrome. It’s real, and it sucks.

Things have been hazy since then. The cloud of depression has descended. I tried to explain that to T, too. The clogged-up, cottony feeling of depression. I told T about times in the past when I had wished for a semi to cross the center line while I was driving. I had wished for a patch of ice to spin my car around, out of control, and throw me off the road. I explained to T about the times when the depression became almost unbearable. I told him about times when I truly had not wanted to go on, but could not figure a way out of each day…the endless string of days filled with pain. I told him that sometimes, and now was one of those times, dealing with depression is an exhausting struggle. It felt better to talk and to say it all out loud.

Through the haze of this depression, I have been functioning as well as I possibly can. I’ve been working and taking care of my responsibilities. Life goes on. People are nice, or people are rude and mean. What I am going through is unnoticed and unimportant to most people around me. Most people don’t even know. I created the budgets. I attended the meetings. I answered questions and phone calls. Like an automaton, I continue to function day after day.

Strange moments have pushed themselves forward, to the front of the haze. Last night, I fell asleep on the couch and dreamed a happy dream. I had a puppy, a bloodhound (strange!) and I was happy. Something happened, though, and woke up. I was was awake for hours alone in the middle of the night. Near dawn, I fell asleep once again. This time my dream was full of fear and sadness. I don’t remember exactly what happened in the dream, but I was surrounded by grieving people. The room was full of despair. A door opened, and in walked a dear friend. I was up and wrapped in a comforting embrace. This morning, I sent my friend a thank you text for being such a reliable, comforting part of my real life. That steady friendship had made its way into my dreams just when I needed a friend.

And the strangeness continues.

This afternoon, I received a text from another friend. “Sorry I won’t be able to meet for dinner. Problems at work. Had to fly to CA.” I had no idea that I had even made dinner plans. So I rescheduled a dinner that I apparently would have missed.

Tonight, when all I wanted and needed was to completely relax and regenerate at the end of a bad day, I received a phone call from the hospital. My mom had fallen, and they thought her leg was broken. There was no need for me to come right away. Mom was being taken in for an x-rays, and I wouldn’t even be able to see her. They told me to wait for a call. I didn’t change my clothes. I didn’t throw on my comfy yoga pants and giant sweatshirt. I stayed in my office clothes in anticipation of a trip to the hospital. I waited. I did laundry. I vacuumed. I helped Lola with her homework. I made dinner. I carried my phone around waiting and waiting. Thankfully, my mom called at 8:30. Her leg isn’t broken. She can’t walk, though, and has been admitted to the hospital. No, there was no need come to the hospital tonight, but I need to go first thing in the morning. Arrangements will need to be made. The hospital will only keep her overnight. The assisted living facility won’t allow her back if she isn’t able to walk. It’s up to me, once again, to figure out where my mother will be going. Again. Again, and by myself. I have meetings scheduled for the morning. How am I supposed to fit this in, too?

After talking to my mother on the phone for a while, I felt reassured that she would be OK for the evening. I hung up and headed into the living room to let T know what was going on. There he sat on the couch with a 12-gauge shotgun on his lap. A man with a gun. It was shocking, and instinctively, I took a step back. It was my dad’s gun. We had brought it to our house, because it didn’t seem safe to leave guns in a vacant house. Of course, the gun wasn’t loaded. T doesn’t even like guns. He wants them out of the house, and was looking online for a fair selling price. Still…it’s a strange thing to walk into the living room and see your husband sitting there with a gun across his lap.

All evening, I thought of the Serenity Prayer. “God grant me the serenity…” Tonight I was praying, not for serenity, but a break from what seems like an endless series of crises. In closing this post, I ask you all to please be kind. None of us can know the internal struggles of those around us. A kind word, a smile, an act of friendship just might make someone’s day a little better at a time when they need it the most.

Chicago, The City That Haunts

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Cloud Gate ~ The Bean ~ Chicago

I am taking a rather unexpected trip to Chicago tomorrow.  My oldest son is checking out a school, and we have an admissions appointment.   I’m really excited for him to have finally found something, some course of action for his future, that excites him.  I haven’t seen this level of enthusiasm in him in a very long time.

This will be our first mother/son trip.  I realized that today.  Isn’t that strange?  The girls and I have often taken trips, both long and short, near and far.  Our “Chick Trips” have become commonplace.  We often discuss where and when our next trip will be.  Likewise, T has taken the boys places, mostly camping and hiking.  Tomorrow will be a first for Andrew and I.  We are taking an official trip together – mother and son.

I have a love/hate relationship with Chicago.  As a “downstater,” we often feel short-changed by the amount of tax dollars that are shifted to the city.  On the other hand, I do appreciate the economic benefits we all reap from Chicago.  Then there is the perception that if you tell anyone that you’re from Illinois, they assume you mean Chicago.  That’s a far cry from my rural community of 1800 people.  I’m proud to live in the country.  I’m proud of my heritage and where I come from – farm country.  I don’t want anybody to mistake me for a city slicker!

I have my own personal history with the city of Chicago.  I had a fear of the “big city” not so very long ago.  My travels brought me to the city often enough, and I made memories that were at among the very best in my life.  That changed, though.  Life has a way of peeling away the layers.  Truths are revealed, and often (sadly) you come to realize that all the glitter and glitz, fun times, and excitement have an edge of ugliness.  All is not as it once seemed.  Those good memories became tainted.

The past is the past, though.  Chicago has not been a place that I have been able to avoid.  Several times each year, I must travel to the city for work.  (I will be there again next month for four days.)  Other times, I have traveled there with the girls.  My innocence is gone.   I once opened my heart to Chicago and loved her, but she proved to be a fickle friend.  My trust of the city is no longer intact.  Chicago has become something else to me now.  I think of her as a beautiful, yet cold place.  Part of her is callous, indifferent, and artificial, but there is another part of Chicago, too.  There is history, beauty, art, and music.  There are sights, smells, and tastes.  There is dancing and romance.  All of this is Chicago.  It is all swirled together.  Maybe some people can pick it out.  They are able to take the good parts and discard the rest.  I can’t.  It all swirls around and around me when I am in the city.  Layers of memory as fine as mist cling to me in Chicago.   I can’t breathe deeply until I am on the train and heading back out into the open land.  I trust the fields and the sky.  Chicago,  I can’t trust.  Chicago is quicksand, and I must step quickly and carefully to avoid being sucked under.

Tomorrow, I will explore the places where old memories were once a reality.  I will see sights that were once seen through different, more innocent and trusting eyes.  This time, my grown up, yet young and tender son, will be by my side.  Chicago, please be kind to my son.  Treat him with respect.  Keep on your good face.  Educate him, enlighten him, but please don’t let him see what hides behind your shadows.

Dreamers, Realists, and Fantasizers

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I have been thinking about this post for days.  A recent conversation gave me food for thought.  I’m no philosopher, and I will hopelessly simplify a subject that could be studied for many lifetimes.  After a great deal of thought, I now believe that there are three basic types of people:  people who are realists, people who dream, and people who live a life in a world created by their own fantasy.

I’m a dreamer.

No doubt about it.  Sometimes I have to literally force myself back to reality.  I imagine and suppose.  I strive.  I push.  I am never satisfied.  When something is good, I hope for more.  That doesn’t mean that I am never happy.  What it means is that I am never done learning, and trying, and hoping.  I want to make more successes and more happiness.  If something is fun, I want to do it again and again.  While this dreamy side of me sometimes works to my advantage, it often means that I leave the more boring, mundane duties of life until the last possible moment.  I will go on great business trip, learn a lot at a conference, make great connections while networking, but then I leave the travel expense reports and required paperwork until the last moment.  (That usually means a couple of friendly reminders from the department secretary.)  Logically, I know that the this paperwork is important and must be done, but it seems so worthless and non-productive to me.  Paperwork is just one example.  I could cite hundreds of examples of times when I have left the less than fun aspects of a project, or just daily life, until the last possible moment.

It is my birthright to be a dreamer.  My dad was the same way.  It was one of the reasons I loved him so dearly and why we were so close.  He “got” me.  I understood him, too.  He felt emotions so deeply.  He was touched inside by words, poetry, music, a beautiful scene in nature.  I can still see the goose bumps rise on his arms as we spoke deeply, late at night in the darkened kitchen or when a song on the radio touched him.  Oh yes, I understood all of that.  Even now, with Dad gone, I feel the things that would have moved him.

The realists.

T is a realist.  He believes in nothing….literally.  He does not believe in heaven or hell.  He doesn’t believe in God.  He does not believe in the spirits I see and feel all around us.  He believes in life, and he believes in death.  He believes in what he can see and touch and taste and smell.  All other things, he leaves for people like me, the gullible dreamers.

T is a good, kind, dependable man.  He is a law-abiding citizen.  He pays his bills.  He eats three square meals each day, exercises, and gets plenty of rest.  He works hard, and he works well.  He is satisfied doing the same job he has had for over thirty years.  He has never wanted more, or maybe he has, but he has not tried for more.  His job provides all that he requires in his life.  He is familiar with it.  He’s good at his job.  He has freedom to make his own schedule, spends time outdoors, enjoys his co-workers.

Sometimes I feel sorry that T has been saddled for life to a woman like me.  Often, I know I am a curiosity to him.  For a couple who has been married almost 27 years, I often feel we are mismatched.  I feel inadequate.  T deserves a better, calmer, more down to earth kind of woman.  He deserves someone practical and calm.  He would appreciate a woman like that.  Not that he doesn’t appreciate me, but he would admire such a woman.

He liked it best during the years when I stayed home with the kids.  I cleaned, baked, and parented.  Those were things he understood.  It’s more difficult for him now.  While he is interested in my work, I know he doesn’t understand why it is so important to me.  Why do I thrive on the stress at times?  Why do I like having so many irons in the fire?  Why don’t I want something that takes less of my energy?  Why wouldn’t I be happy just to BE HOME?  (Big, huge UGGGHHH!)

We’re working through all of these career-related changes.  I have been proud at the progress he has made in seeing me in this different role, a role that has changed all of our roles.  It has been a bumpy road, but the changes have been good for T, too.  He has been forced a bit outside of his comfort zone.  It’s not all black and white around here anymore, and T has had to spend quite a bit of time in the gray areas, too.

Fantasy.

While I am a dreamer and chase that feather floating in the air above my head, and T is carefully placing one foot in front of the other and staying right on track, there is a third type of person I have encountered at times  in my life.  This is a more rare type of person, indeed.  A person whose life is based on fantasy can even be dangerous.  They may consider themselves to be realists when in fact they are living their own (maybe even twisted) version of reality.  People who live a life of fantasy are capable of causing great harm or simply never amounting to much at all.  They are lazy.  Fantasizers are simply too lazy to be real AND too lazy to chase their dreams.  Both of those things are too much work.   They are too egocentric to care about anything beyond what feels right and good to themselves at that particular moment in time.  They don’t connect the dots.  Heck, they don’t even SEE the dots!  They want immediate, instant gratification, and they will do whatever it takes to feel good from one moment to the next.  They are looking for the quick fix, the easy way out.  They live for the moment.

I’ve known a few Fantasy-driven people in my lifetime.  One of them is a colleague from a different city.  I see her several times each year.  Her life is a mess.  She has had two failed marriages, and is living now unhappily as a  single mother.  Each time I see her, she is deeply in love with the man of the moment.  He’s always “the one.”  Sad things is, it’s a different “one” each time we meet.  I have sat listening as this woman tells me for hours about Mr. Right and then watched her head off to her room with Mr. Guy-Who-Happened-To-Be Sitting-At-The-Bar.

Another Fantasizer I know was a former board member.  He was an extremely intelligent man with a vast knowledge of historic preservation.  With some effort, he could have had a wonderful career.  Instead, he was always looking for the goose with the golden egg.  He was always trying to “make a deal” with some developer with deep pockets who would finance a project for him.  So many times, he got his hopes up, but they were dashed to the ground when his true colors showed through,
and for whatever reasons, the projects failed.  No, he failed.  He failed to produce.  He may have been knowledgeable, but he was not capable of the hard work involved to see a project through to the end.

Thoughts.

I have often berated myself for not being more like T, more grounded, or more detail oriented.  Certainly, he would not be sitting up at 1:00 A.M. blogging on a workday!  The older I get, though, the more I am comfortable with who I am and how I am.  My quest to know and learn and dream has, at times, led me down paths I would have preferred not to travel.  Along the way, though, I have learned, and I have grown as a human being.

I come from a long line of dreamers.  As I begin to see that quality emerge in my own children, I feel sense of wonder and awe.  There it is….a part of me, a part of my dad, a part of my grandma.  All of us dreamers.  I hope my children are led in beautiful directions as they follow their own dreams.