Chasing the Light of the Eclipse

mom and me

My mom passed away 3 days ago. So my thoughts may seem a bit jumbled. I am free flow writing and just capturing some raw emotions. I tried to edit briefly, but it is what it is.

The social norm would suggest that I should be very sad. But instead…a flood of other emotions are the reality. Like Relief. Confusion. Guilt. Mystery. And a yes sadness in recognizing her life has officially ended. Her anchor uprooted. And I have received so many beautiful sentiments and condolences which a greatly appreciate.

But this sadness is an unconventional and confusing sadness. I’ve already lived the sadness of a thousand little deaths all along the way. Sadness that she was not able to be what she wanted to be, what I and my brother needed her to be, what her grandchildren would have hoped her to be, what friends thought she should be.

My mother had schizophrenia, and honestly like 5 other labels that I didn’t bother remembering because in the end it didn’t matter. None of the doctors that used the fancy words were able to help her with any fancy methods on a long term basis anyway. She just had to endure it. A torturous life really in many ways. So many years lived in the shadows of darkness with momentarily lapses of reason and light here and there.

I have often said that living with someone with a severe mental illness is very much like living in the shadow of an eclipse. The person with the greatest need gets all the resources, efforts, support. Everyone else around them live in the dark and their needs are completely overshadowed.

Ironically…she died 1 day before the Super Blood Wolf Moon Eclipse. Upon further investigation – turns out she was born 2 days after a lunar eclipse. There are so many astounding analogies here – when I think about it.

Only those closest to us will even understand those analogies – and honestly – they are so shocking and horrifying I could not in good taste write about them here and now. But all the words in that title – Super. Blood. Wolf. Moon. Eclipse. Actually mean something and represent different, very hard memories in her life timeline. We’ll leave that right there. I have been working on a book that I may one day publish and finish and all those hard details may show up in there. Or they may not. Some things are better left forgotten.

One of the saddest memories was when she realized no one liked her “as is”…that she had to take all kinds of medication for people to even like her. We had the best talk in that moment. In fact, the rarity and authenticity of that moment caught me so off guard all I could do was acknowledge her sentiment and we cried together. What hell it must be to know the world does not accept you as is. It is strange that THAT is one my fondest memories of her. I realize now – it was because I was chasing the light. In that moment, the clouds and darkness opened up and I had a real, honest, brief moment with the authentic her. Something I craved my whole entire life. And it was gone in a flash.

If you are into photography at all, you know what I mean. When I am doing a nature photo shoot and needing direct light to make the subject really pop – it is like a waiting game of chasing the light, waiting for the light. You have to be extremely patient and be ready for that moment when the sun does appear. It especially true when trying to get a great macro shot of a dew drop or icicle. And on those cloudy days…you wait and wait…and wait. And you may only get a few moments of bright light and just when you start shooting like mad – the clouds cover over again. That is a lot like what life was like with mom. A long string of moments in the clouds and a brief glimpse of light. And if you are not ready for that light you may squander it.

This may be the very reason I was drawn to macro photography – the very symbolism of it is pretty amazing. For me – macro photography is all about finding the beauty in the ordinarily overlooked moments. Finding beauty in the chaos. The ordinary. Even the most unsuspecting places of all. People say I have a unique perspective and see the world in a different way. You bet I do. I’ve had to learn that as a survival technique and apparently it found it’s way out through actual photography.

So what I wish I could have said in that moment – I wish I could have been better prepared for that moment of light – was that the medication gave her a chance to be who she really was – not the other way around. She was witty and sometimes downright hysterical. She was very smart. And what some of the meds did was give her a chance to let the real her come out. What I wish I could have said was that the disease is NOT the real her. The darkness that takes over and used her like a puppet was not the real her. Just like any other disease…the failing kidney or heart is not the person…the medication gives the patient a chance to be somewhat normal. Not the other way around. I wish I had been ready for that moment and been able to say that to her.

And this is the take away for anyone reading this – and its huge. This is a hard concept, though it should not be. The actions of someone with mental illness is NOT who that person is. Those are symptoms of the disease! The person is literally being hijacked behind the foreign actions their chemically imbalanced brain is carrying out.

When a person has a seizure or a blood clot or any other terrible thing – we don’t just judge the person on that moment. We don’t just say “What a weirdo – look at them flopping around like a maniac”. I can’t even have a conversation with them. NO WAY, right!! Not in a million years! So don’t judge the mentally ill for moments they are not acting right.

The hard difference is that with mental illness it can come and go so sneakily and without warning that it is easy to confuse the illness with the person. When they are somewhat normal one moment and then hurl debilitating insults at you the very next – it is very hard to understand. And witnessing that as a child – it completely warped my sense of love and trust without me even knowing.
Often time you just don’t know where they end and where the disease begins. And the person can live years being mentally ill and not even know it. And by then they probably burned SO many bridges by being so destructive, belligerent, needy, confusing, infuriating and downright exhausting that you really don’t even care anymore.

I had a 10 year period of life where I had to distance myself from her – in order to survive and get my own head right – so I get it. During that time I had to sort out my own mental illness that I did not even know I was carrying around – this is what I mean by being eclipsed – living in the shadows. I suffered severe depression from years of living in those shadows and not addressing my own needs. Living in complete denial. Knowing something was off, but in comparison to her – I was pretty normal. Living in the darkness of that eclipse almost killed me. So I needed to create some boundaries and distance to even start to heal and be anything positive in the world and for my own kids.
Again – I liken this to an analogy to photography. It is about 9 degrees outside right now and we had an ice storm so I was out there trying to get some shots of the beauty of it. With the windchill it is about 11 below zero and my hands confirmed that. I could only handle having my hands exposed for about 2 minutes or less at time before they started freezing up to the point they couldn’t move. I was so caught up in what I was doing that the at I didn’t even notice my hands freezing up. They were nearly completely locked up by the time I recognized they were on the verge of frostbite.

This is also what it was like with mom. And take note of this as well – when dealing with the severely mentally ill – especially a close family member – you need to be careful of how much you expose yourself to the situation. You need to take cover sometimes. And there is no shame in it. You have to get them the help they need, and you need to get YOU the help you need.

You cannot change the situation. No more than I can change the weather. You cannot fix the person. All you can do is manage how you deal with it, handle it, and how much you expose yourself to it. How you take care of yourself through it as well. If I neglected my freezing hands long enough – there would have been long lasting consequences. Know when to put your hands in your pockets and take shelter.

And when that wind kicked it – it was much like those moments when the disease would take control of her and she would hurl the most debilitating of insults at me. Her words like icy negative 11 degree weather freezing up my heart and soul. Twisting things into something they should not be. Throwing icy daggers into my formative insecure psyche that left enormous holes and scars. I had to take cover. Shelter myself from the situation or I would have surely not survived it.

And then there is the guilt that you experience because you DID take shelter and set up boundaries. You feel guilty for not being there more…not doing more. The could haves, should haves. The beating yourself up. This is a game where there is no winning.

Honestly, it’s is very confusing and very hard to navigate, and if any of you out there have a relative with a serious mental illness (not just mild – I am talking serious) you know exactly what I am talking about. You are probably not on great terms with them yourself. Because they make it hard to love them. And even the moments they are acceptable – it is tempered with caution – as if handling a wild tiger that is giving you a hug. You may enjoy that brief moment immensely, but know that at any moment they could reach out and rip your heart out. And 9 out of 10 times they do.

She had windows of reason, windows of joy and laughter. They were great moments. Belly laughs. Those glimpses of light let you know she was still there. But at any given moment her mood and thoughts would be hijacked without notice. Literally the person you were just laughing with can give you a cold hard look and start yelling at you and belittling you with every fiber she had. Unsettling is an understatement. As a child it was completely life altering. Those were the times when it was hard to separate the disease from the person. Those were the times when, as a younger person, I mistakenly labeled her as a monster. I didn’t know any better.

I remember thinking sometimes that I wished those glimpses of light were not even there. Because it made it even harder to process and separate out. It made it harder to understand what healthy love looks like. What love even is. In fact, I went on and entered into many unhealthy relationships as a young adult as I tried to navigate through that and sort it out – which only added to more heart break. Those very glimpses of her kind and loveable character are what kept me coming back and setting myself up for more abuse. It set a terrible precedent.

My childhood was just a very different childhood. And all the while I was trying to pretend like everything was normal as school. Put on my mask to hide what – at the time I couldn’t even accurately describe or make sense of.
Life with mom – there were the episodes where she would slowly start getting sicker and sicker – which I would come to find out later was when she stopped taking her medications. And at these times she would be completely out of her mind. No rational thoughts. Incoherent ramblings, pacing floors, heavy breathing, erratic movements and nothing she said during these times made sense. These would end in long or short stays in the hospital.

Then there were the extreme times when She would have hallucinations about aliens coming in through electrical sockets, or Russians doing xrays through the floors upstairs – just complete nonsense, but as a child when you are forced to stay in the closet in the dark for hours to be kept safe from the aliens. As a child I kind of new her imagined things were not real, but it was still scary as hell.

And of course there were the very dramatic moments of attempted suicides. Some were overdoses. Others were graphic and too horrific to talk about here. But those are the moments that threw my brother and I – him probably even more so – into complete darkness. Total and complete eclipse.

But the majority of the times were like a death by a thousand tiny papercuts. Like she was there, but not really there. Life behind the clouds…in the fog. Partial eclipse. It was like she couldn’t filter or sort out important events from the mundane. She wasn’t aware or even capable to acknowledge and truly enjoy the special moments happening right in front of her that every mom should have the privilege of enjoying. Specifically I remember putting my wedding dress on for her for the first time – you know that moment you are hoping for – a gasp, an accolade of how beautiful you look. Unfortunately I never got that moment. She never got that moment. She just kept talking about something completely insignificant and barely even looked up. There was never even a break in the clouds. She missed it.

My older brother suffered the worst of it. For reasons I’ll never understand she had it out for him from day one. There was a lack of a bond…a noticeable tension, missed connection, more than an inconvenience, more like a nuisance or toleration. Contempt. What an awful burden to live under. To this day, he is the hardest working person I have ever known. Was it because he was a male? Did she have such contempt for men that it skewed her ability to love her own son? I’ll never know this answer. Those are scars he will bear for a lifetime. That is the dark side.

On the light side – and in lieu of it, or in spite of it – or maybe just because of who he is – he went on to become a great physicist. He overcame such odds and studied like a relentless madman to become one of the best in his field! Developing some of the most sought after lasers on the face of the planet. He tackles issues in an unconventional way. Approaches problems and finds solutions by seeing the problem in a different way than most scientists. In other words…sometimes he goes rogue. He finds a way. Even in the dark. He’s a bad ass.

As for me – she loved me in ways she couldn’t love him. It’s not something I was fully aware of as a child, but it is the clarity of adulthood. But because she did love me, she also couldn’t let go of me – even when she should have. Just because she loved me as best as she could in her own limited way – doesn’t mean she could nurture, provide, protect and guide me. Sadly, she ended up putting me in harm’s way with good but warped intentions. I suffered some unimaginable consequences just from the lack of awareness or ability to assess and protect. I was also the brunt of her episodic anger and sometimes hallucinations. Those are my scars to bear for a lifetime. That is the dark.

But on the flip side – the light side. I see things in unconventional ways as well. Where my brother has used it in science – I use it in art, music and photography. I am just now fully letting myself discover this.

So – light out of the darkness. And light in the light. I am not saying my mom was darkness. To be clear. Her disease was the darkness. And it held her captive for so many years. But now she is free of that! We are free of it!
Her struggle was real. It was a life long one. She endured incredible tragedy as a child herself – and to this day we wonder – did those event trigger her own disease? Or did the disease cause the tragedy and it simply carried on through the genetic bloodline? She witnessed brutal violence against her own mother that ended up taking her mothers life. I won’t go into more detail here either because that is a whole different story.

I am simply writing this mostly for me. Yes. To get it out. To tell a little about the very extreme childhood my brother and I endured. To open the curtains and let in the light on a situation that most everyone would like to keep hidden in the dark. And that doesn’t help anything! To pretend it never happened is actually more damaging than just acknowledging it. My mom’s life was a huge struggle bus! She fought her way through the entire time! She was a true wounded warrior.

So I am writing it for her too! To give some small insight to what hell she lived. The disease was relentless and pursued her always. It was like she was standing at the edge of a wild ocean getting pummeled with wave after wave. She kept getting back up only to get hit again, and again. And anyone standing with her at the time got hit with it again and again too.

I write this out of love. And pain. And the confusing space of where those two emotions meet. It is a very cloudy and dark place.

And I am writing this lastly for anyone else that may have experienced anything like this. With a relative of some kind. You are not alone. And there are more of you than you will believe. Because we all hide it. Pull those curtains, put on that mask. Pretend all is normal. Carry the weight of the world. Smile. “Oh I’m great, how are you?” we reply in hall ways and at water coolers.

I loved my mom. I hated the disease. And I will not be afraid to talk about it, fund it, support it and be the voice for it any longer.

There will be no service for my mother. She moved so frequently, and lived the last years of her life in somewhat seclusion – there is no need for it. So there is nowhere to send flowers or cards or anything. But if anyone reading this is moved and want to do something – you can make donations to one of several places in her memory.

Good Samaritan Behavioral Health in Dayton Ohio
Stoneridge at Woodbury Nursing home, Hampstead NC

And most importantly – if any of you reading this recognize your own need to get some support or help – please do not ever hesitate to do so. Mental illness is on the rise in both adults and children for multiple reasons. And open communication around the topic is increasingly important.

Nationwide Children’s of Columbus Ohio is building the largest behavioral health facility in the nation currently and launched the On Our Sleeves campaign. It is a much needed and bold move which I commend and am very thankful for and also an initiative very worthy of funding.

Start the conversation.

Address it head on.

Open the curtains.

Sweep the dirt from under the carpet.

Step into the light.

Change starts now.

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Season of Silence

I used to have so much to say. And now when I sit down to blog it’s like I’m trying to force time with a long forgotten best friend, turned acquaintance – awkward, blank silence and all.

That is why I have blogged so infrequently lately. Sometimes it is self doubt – like I have something to write about, but then I’m like…ah – who really cares? Partly because the people that I think should be most supportive are the least supportive – in fact – sometimes the very opposite of supportive. Which breeds self doubt. Then I lean into that self doubt. And I talk myself right out of saying anything.

Sometimes I hesitate to write because I have offended in the past, so I am apprehensive to write for fear of pissing someone off. Because sometimes it’s not worth that drama. But yet – those same people that have been offended, don’t really support much of anything I do anyway, so why should I care? They sure as hell have not been there for me when I needed them the most.

But mostly – it’s just survival mode of moving in a billion different directions at once. Just not having the frame of mind to write. And when I do – it’s been dedicated to making feeble progress on a book I am trying to get published.

But the problem is I have like 5 books I want to publish and I sit down to write one and the other 4 start gnawing at my brain for attention too. Which one to feed?! Ugh. My writing support group calls that self sabotage. Indeed.

So – in circles I run. Most of my circles are ran around my kiddos. And there’s work. And there is the art business I am trying to build. THAT takes up a lot of time and effort.

So – I have just accepted this season of silence. I know one day I will pick this blog back up, dust it off…perhaps update the name to whatever is appropriate at the time.

Everything serves a purpose. And this blog had a huge importance years ago. It documented my journey from depression (unbeknownst to me at the time), to break down – which I now call break through, on to dealing and healing.

I basically threw up my entire soul throughout the years of this blog. The good, the bad, the ugly, the funny, the heartbreaking. The hard things some people needed to hear, and some people cringed over. Which in the end is fine. I’m not writing for everyone. I write for me. I can’t please everyone. I lived too much of my life trying to do that and damaged myself big time. So just like art – I will create what I like. What I want. If that resonates with anyone else – great. If it offends anyone else – move on.

So, I know I will return to this blog because I miss it. I miss writing for no other reason than to write. And letting the right people find at the right time when they need it. I believe the universe moves like that.

So thanks for being patient with my season of silence. I would much rather be silent and authentic then write for the sake of pleasing someone else or manufacturing forced content.

I’ll be back after my season of silence. I promise.

Force Fields

Force field leaf

So much noise.

That is how I feel about current society and government. So much noise and drama. Sometimes I just need to shut it out. I need a break, or like…I could use a force field to help deflect or absorb some of the chaos.

In the creek today I saw this leaf and the way the water flowed around it because of the rock below it – hit me hard. Whether you are a believe in a Christian God who is often referred to as a the Rock, or cornerstone, or foundation – or if you believe in other Gods – or none at all…there is always a common theme. A grounding point. A rock. A foundation. An Anchor.

Here in this photo, the rock is, well…literally a rock. The rock is causing the water to separate around it causing this beautiful and interesting halo effect. Just so happens this fantastic leaf is pinned to the rock. In this analogy – I am the leaf…or you are the leaf.

What I am trying to say is that if we are grounded, have a fulfilling foundational belief system beneath us – it is easier to let the noise flow right around us and yet not be directly involved or impacted.

Sometimes this may mean creating our own barriers of protection. This could be as simple as not reading EVERY news article on a particularly upsetting topic, turning your phone off for awhile…Or, it could be as hard as creating boundaries for toxic people in your life.

Either way – it is easier to do when you have some “rock”, guiding principles or foundational truths for doing so. Saying you are going to cut toxic people out of your life just because it sounds like a good idea doesn’t last long. It’s about as effective as saying you are going to lose 10 pounds next week. Words and even ideas don’t go far in and of themselves. They need a foundational rock. Without it – you are just a leaf in a creek getting tossed all about any direction in all the noise and turbulence. In fact – you yourself become the noise and turbulence.

However, saying you are going to create boundaries for the toxic people in your life BECAUSE you have a goal in mind, and you don’t have the time or energy to waste on the distractions and the negative effects that toxic people can have in order to reach your goals…THEN you have a chance at being successful. You can create a force field to the chaos because you have a foundational principle – a rock, that helps deflect the chaos so it flows around – not directly onto you.

And you don’t have to be rude about it. In fact, you should not be. You don’t have to destroy relationships…just create protective boundaries. Instead of letting toxic people, or toxic news and media penetrate your psyche and emotional well being – setting boundaries or force fields of protection can help limit the direct impact.

So find a good rock, attach yourself to it, and let physics do it’s work. Let the insanity flow all around you. It’s a beautiful thing. We need more of it. So chins up super heroes. Time to turn on your force fields.

Have yourself a beautiful little rainy gray day

Conservatory 013_edited_edited 2

Kids have the ability to see what most adults have lost somewhere along the way…The ability to see joy – even in the rain.

I used to be the person that would get mad when it rained. Especially when it was a string of rainy days on end where it feels as if the world will always be a gray muddy mess.

I needed the sun! No, I deserved it! And if my expectations weren’t met I’d get all bent out of shape and let it ruin the day. Especially if was a Saturday or Sunday. I would spend so much energy being angry and focusing on what I didn’t get, that it would rob all the beauty that was waiting to be found right in front of me.

A different kind of beauty. The kind of beauty I couldn’t see. I couldn’t adjust my controlled plan on how things were “supposed to be” to allow myself to see what “is”.

My mind couldn’t process joy because it was focused on the injustice of having to work all sunny week and then be paid back with soggy gray weekends. Unfair!!

A whole world of awesomeness was awaiting me…all I needed to do was adjust my perspective. I wasted days and…really years to anger.

Life is different now.

At least in some ways. I am now 6 years removed from a messy divorce. Time has healed (and in some cases still healing) many of those battle scars and trust issues.

I also had to face that fact that I had carried a lot of unaddressed anger from an unconventional childhood with a mom that suffered from severe mental handicaps which had left me a prisoner of fear, anger and confusion in general.

That meant taking time to mourn, deal and move past these things instead of bury them or hide behind some mask. I had to learn to say I am NOT ok, get help, and give myself room to heal. I was letting all these negative factors dictate how I viewed the world.

But in many ways my life is very much same. Many of the same factors are at play. I am still me. Same city. Same job. Same general struggles and constraints (time, finances, health, etc.).

So what IS different? And why?

A few main things:

First, I stopped trying to control everything!!

I surrendered the inclination to have a plan for everything and insisting everything go according to that plan. OMG…do you know how exhausting it was to be responsible for everything? And how much potential fun was sucked out of the room (and my life) by being so rigid?

I had to, sorry, but true…”Let it Go” like Elsa, or “Shake it off” like Taylor.

And guess what – letting go of that control was very freeing! Even spontaneous and fun!

The problem I have now is being TOO spontaneous and lacking a plan for things that really do need some forethought (Maybe I’m making up for lost time).

Secondly, I accepted things as they are.

Me as me (flawed). Others as they are (flawed). Weather for what it is (unpredictable). Life for what it is (hard, unfair…yet wonderful).

No more comparing what “could” be or what “should” be. No more wishing for something different. Just plain and simple accepting what I have right in front of me and making the most of it!

That includes getting to the place of acceptance with even tough breaks like divorce or moms with schizophrenia and a host of other tragic things that can happen in ones life. Accept (on your own time line) and then move on.

And again…guess what? Sweet freedom. No more false expectations to live up to. Acceptance has paved the way towards transparency…vulnerability…realness. I have more genuine friendships and people in my life than ever before because of this.

So when this past spring break week was mixed with freezing temperatures, snow, and rain nearly every single day…It was ultimate test. Had I really changed? Or was I just blowing hot air?

I was beyond thankful and extra pleasantly surprised to find that somehow those lessons have sunk below the skin into the deep corners of my soul that so desperately needed it. Ironically – like a good hearty rain sinking deep into a thirsty garden patch.

I had the whole week off to spend one-on-one time with only my youngest, which I rarely get to do. And while my friends were on sunny fabulous beaches…it didn’t even make me frustrated or jealous that we were bundled in 5 layers and prepared for a monsoon, or snow storm, or a polar vortex, or…

I was genuinely happy for my friends because it was not about comparisons. It was about celebrating what I have right here right now. So all that mattered is that me and lil tid bit had 5 days to spend together however we wanted!

Though we had envisioned going hiking and having picnics at play grounds, we easily changed our plans for indoor things like the Conservatory, bowling and movies. And had a blast doing it.

Shopping for the cutest rain gear from head to toe was also a key strategic move so she could play and dance in the rain (and look extra ridiculously cute doing it)!. I mean what kid doesn’t love splashing in puddles? Well guess what? We did a LOT of that! I gave her free reign. Get to jumpin’ kid!

So – I can’t take all the credit. A little brown eyed girl had a lot to do with my joy. But had I still been in control freak angry mode…I might have not seen or even allowed all those wonderful things to just be.

Last point – These past few years I have made it a quest to seek out beauty right where I am. And let me tell you – when it rains, that is prime time to find some serious beauty right in your own yard. I honestly think that has also helped my perspective.

I get excited when it rains because I know I can head out when it stops and find all kinds of beautiful dew drops.

Just some dew drops on a blad of grass. #findbeautywhereyouare

Just some ordinary dew drops chilling on a blade of grass. #findbeautywhereyouare

Plus the creek will flow extra high and I can hear it if I open a window. And of course, there’s the potential for rainbows and may flowers and maybe faeries and unicorns if you look hard enough.

I guess what I am saying is: Perspective really is everything. Overcoming the past. Replacing anger/bitterness with childlike curiosity. Trading expectations for the serendipity. Basically, exchanging your grumpy pants for some cute galoshes.

I can’t say I have completely mastered this. At any given moment I am still on a sliding scale of humanness. All I can say is that I strive towards it. I surround myself with like minded people that ground me and pull me back to this direction if I start steering off course.

But, I highly recommend buying some rain boots and to throw out your narrow minded, limited script for heaven’s sake and have yourself a beautiful little rainy gray day!!

Conservatory 008

unscripted joy

Big Fat Eternal February

It’s mid-February. In these here parts (Ohio), we have endured true cold for three months and are facing at least one or two more months of the same and possibly even worse. February is synonymous with the hardest…the bleakest…the most cruel of all months. We can start to forget that it was ever warm, and worse…we can even start imagining or believing that the entire world is one frozen, eternal, tundra.

Our cars are caked with salt. Heck – the trees, are even caked with it. From the splattering of soggy, wet, slushy, muddy, salty sludge…that spews everywhere. It’s on our coats from brushing up against our cars as we hack at the ice on our windshields. It’s in our houses, workplaces…tracked in from our boots.

This is 50 shades of gray that is anything but hot and spicy. No, in fact, the shades of gray you see everywhere from the Midwest to the New England Coast is about as appealing as the ashy grey that ET was turning when he was slowly dying…

…A cold, sickly, gray, slow death.

And that is pretty much how February feels.

Don’t EVEN get me started on the layers. Layers upon layers of clothing. A Midwesterner in winter has more layers than a Vidalia onion. Getting dressed in the morning and undressed at night is like an event. It takes time!

And if you have a dog that needs out in the middle of the night…you get to do it twice as much…while the poor pooch stands at attention, head cocked and cross legged at the wonder of your ridiculous rituals as you huff and puff and fiddle with your zippers and boots in a half asleep stupor.

The honeymoon of winter is officially over at this point. Even die hard nature lovers like myself that once squealed in excitement at the glittering snow, sighed in peaceful happiness at perfectly outlined branches, and marveled at beautifully formed snowflakes, find ourselves questioning our sanity at actually living in a God forsaken place such as this.

Yes…you definitely start to question your sanity.

This is the time of year when friends that have escaped and now live in sunny tropical places post pictures of their beautiful sunny surroundings just to show you the contrast of your terrible living choices. And while one part of you is indeed encouraged that the entire world is not actually a dead, arctic desert, the other part of you wants to cry out or wince in agony like a slug that just had salt poured on it.

And the worst thing a well-meaning person can say to a Midwesterner in mid-February is something like, “Well at least you don’t live somewhere worse”, or “March is right around the corner”, or “Quit your bitching, you chose to live here”, or “Just deal with it”.

On a less silly side, anyone that has ever battled depression knows it can feel like a harsh cold…well, February. Deep depression doesn’t happen overnight. It takes a while to take hold. It comes on slowly, gradually, so you don’t even notice it sneaking up on you. And then one day you wake up and you’re like, “What the hell”!? And by then, you are right smack in the middle of it with no end in sight, and you can’t see far enough ahead to feel like there is any real hope.

Just like a harsh winter storm, when depression takes hold, you have limited visibility, limited mobility, it’s hard to even focus sometimes because you can feel numb, like your body is shutting down. And depending on your circumstances and what brought you into the depression, you may even feel physical pain in your chest or limbs.

It can be debilitating. And well-meaning people can say the stupidest things just out of ignorance. Things like, “Things could always be a lot worse”, “Why can’t you just get over it”? or “Suck it up”, or my all-time favorite… “Pray about it”.

Sometimes what you really need is someone to just be there with you. Acknowledge that this moment in time SUCKS big time, and just be. Don’t try to fix it. Don’t minimize it. Don’t make them a charity case. Just treat them like a human…Like you would want to be treated. Ask if there is anything tangible that they actually do need and don’t expect any kind of thanks for it.

But trust me…they will remember random acts of kindness later. I still remember a compassionate person dropping off groceries for me at time when I didn’t have much. That was action. My daughters still refer to that moment as the time an angel helped us.

Cause just like in the dead of winter, sometimes you just need another person to acknowledge that it is damn cold out, huddle together, vent a minute, and then go shovel the drive together or something and maybe have a hot cocoa afterwards.

If you find yourself in a mid-February doldrums, literally or figuratively – know that you are not alone. And know that it truly does not last forever.  Life is just a collection of all these moments. Sometimes we do great. Sometimes we blow it. Sometimes we are the helpers, sometimes we need the help.

I write this as a clinically depressed person in remission. Maybe even completely healed. Time will tell.

I also write this as a Midwesterner in mid-February that was just given the recent diagnosis, I mean forecast, that says it’s going to be colder than ever, for longer than I can comprehend.

I’m still trying to see the beauty, but have resigned myself to the fact that the worst may be yet to come.

In either case the advice is the same:

Accept your reality. Give yourself a break now and then…(give others a break too). Set boundaries. Be careful and choosy about how you spend your energy and who you spend your energy on. And as cheesy as it sounds…Find beauty where you are and humor whenever you can . And lastly remember…

Even February doesn’t last forever. Think about it…why else would our forefathers chosen February of all months to be the shortest month? Because it SUCKS BIG FAT MONKEY BALLS my friends!!

Kicking the Dysfunction Addiction

Getting a lot of hits on this blog….reposting in case anyone else needs to read it.

Finding Beauty - The Perspective of Joy - Lee Ann Lander

If you stand under a bird’s nest, you increase your chances of getting pooped on.

I don’t think this is a real ancient Chinese proverb…but it could be…

This insightful analogy came to me on a walk around the block tonight with my adorable, stubborn, sweet and spicy 2 year old lovie hobbit. We came to a place on the sidewalk with quite a bit of bird droppings. Of course – directly above was the source…a nest. I’ll save you the suspense…we did not get pooped on.

But if we had hesitated – we probably would have gotten it – the chances were definitely high. It made me start thinking about choices…the obvious or not so obvious choices that we make in life.

Specifically – about how it seems like I had been standing under the birds’ nest of life for so many years.

Perhaps I was thinking I was…

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Confessions of a Recovering Helicopter Parent

In my early years of parenting I heard many times from older mothers, “You are one of the best, most engaged parents I have ever seen”. Some even went as far as to admit they felt a since of guilt that they were nowhere near the hands on parent that I was. Insert Sigh of relief and maybe even a moment of gloating that perhaps I was doing this parenting thing right!

But was I? Since that time, I have made some parenting adjustments. Partly because 1. no one can keep up that pace and stay sane and 2. I had another child and went through a divorce at roughly the same time and simply couldn’t be there like I had in the past.

It was the end to craft marathons, baking and cooking from scratch together for hours on end (while pretending to narrate our own mother daughter cooking show), and trying to fill every waking moment with a kid filled activity from library story times, to mommy play groups, to the zoo to…you name it. If it was published in a local paper, or posted on the internet – you can assure it was marked in my calendar and it was a ragged, grueling schedule to keep up with.

Both me and my husband (I remarried) are products of the generation of parenting that was fairly hands off. I was left alone at very early ages to navigate some pretty scary situations and paid the price now and then. I had the added handicap of having a mom that was afflicted with mental illness and simply couldn’t look after, or advocate for me consistently. She herself actually put me in harms way sometimes. The result left me with a strong desire and urge to over parent and over protect my children – in attempt to keep anything bad from ever happening.

My husband was doing man chores – like serious hard labor chores at the age of 8 and continued to do so for years. To this day he is the hardest worker I know – and I sometimes have to get on him to just chill out and take a break and have fun, and I am guilty of quoting corny cliches things like, “Rome wasn’t built in a day”. But the nice unexpected result is that since he has entered our lives he has helped instill a since of work ethic into our girls by doling out age appropriate chores – that I otherwise might not have done – or at least on a consistent basis.

With him in our lives thankfully our girls are learning the feeling of earning a true “Atta girl”, and a sense of accomplishment, not to mention just a sense of worth. Just this weekend my little one age almost 6 decided to take upon herself the chore of cleaning the kitty litter box. This has been my 11 year olds job for a few years now. I think tid bit volunteered partly because she wants to be like big sis, partly because it is a novelty (I’m a romantic…not an idiot), and partly and maybe without her even realizing it – it gives her a sense of purpose and accomplishment.

So while our generation is getting a bad rap for the helicopter parenting style (as my earlier years), our previous generation sometimes gets pegged with under parenting (examples – I had to cross a 4 lane highway to get to school unattended at age 7 and tripped one day to nearly be smashed by a semi). But where is that healthy middle ground? It’s kind of hard to navigate sometimes.

But I have to set one thing straight for the records. Since I have intentionally backed off a bit I have to say this, “The less hands on parenting style is NOT for the lack of parenting or love or what is sometimes perceived as”. It does NOT give me more “Me” time. It does NOT make my life easier. In fact…what I am finding is as I force myself to back off, let them be “alone” sometimes, let them do chores and fail at them many times over is WAY WAY harder than just doing it all myself in the disguised name of “helping them out”.

Because let’s be honest here. It would so much faster for me to always vacuum, do my oldest daughters laundry when she has nothing clean to wear, for me to always do the dishes, etc. Why? Because I know it would be done right! Yes, it kind of drives me a little nuts when I go to get a plate out of the cupboard that has some mystery dried gunk on it. Not a fan of that.

But that is also a teaching moment. That is when I need to call for my oldest and either give her the option to eat off that plate tonight or let her have a re-do. It takes extra time…and it takes multiple times because believe me – you would think that after you did that once or twice…or 36 times that they would incorporate quality into the initial process the first time! But then I remember that she IS a kid… and that this IS a slow developmental process. And that in the end it is for her benefit – not just mine. And it is ANYTHING but hands off and easy.

I gain more respect for my parent’s generation style of parenting all the time. Especially when I know some 13 year old kids that literally don’t know how to make a sandwich for themselves. I absolutely cringe – and part of me feels really sorry for the spouse to be – if they ever get that far.

So let’s be clear here and say that those parents that are filling out college applications for their kids or worse yet – taking tests for them or intervening into their battles of “he said/she said” staying up all night to finish a project that the kid had 4 weeks to complete…are not these great hands-on parents that we should feel guilty that we don’t measure up to. They are doing clean up duty!! Because it is easier to swoop in and be the rescuer to avoid an emotional let down than stand back and let the kid build some character – which WILL require some heartbreaks, broken friendships, and a failed test or assignment here and there.

Not only are we giving them a false sense of security, a warped view of reality, but we are robbing them of the building blocks to life. If I didn’t like my boss…I can’t have my parent call HR and get me moved to a different department people! And if I get lazy and don’t do my best, mommy is not going to call my boss to fight for another chance for me or worse yet – blame my boss for some unrealistic standards!

Now I am not saying to NOT advocate for our children when they are actual harm, being bullied or something like that. In that case you smack it down like starving lioness and instill the fear of what is good and Holy where you need to. But even then – there are tactical, ways to do that. And discussing it with your child is a good start, making them part of the solution if and when appropriate, etc.

It is much harder to let your kids get scraped now and then, than to never let them fall down on the play ground. I have had to literally turn the other way a few times or pry my knuckles from a bench to refrain from catching a near fall (of 1 foot or less). It requires a sense of patience, a very selfless kind of love. Because when our kids hurt WE hurt. And maybe that is it too! We don’t want to experience that pain of rejection or failure either. And at some twisted core of it all – maybe we are protecting OURSELVES just as much or even more than we are protecting our kids. Ouch!

It took me about 8 years of parenting to realize that my child’s failures are not exactly a reflection on me. If they fail to turn in an assignment – it should not mean that child services will be at my house shortly to investigate what the hell is going on in my obviously chaotic and unorganized household. Is THAT part of it too? Paranoia? I mean – honestly – by today’s standards – I would absolutely have been removed from my mother’s care by the court. Now do not mistake me – I am thankful for the many gains we have made as a society in protecting and advocating for children and think we still have a long way to go.

All I am saying is that we sometimes over parent out of fear of what other parents might say, teachers might say – or what we “think” they might say. We over coddle not just out of love for our children to save them from pain and rejection, sometimes we may do it out of selfish fear! Our parent’s generation didn’t quite have that level of paranoia going on. They had that Clint Eastwood tough-as-nails-deal-with-it mentality.

And yes – over the years I have detected some guilt on my father’s part. Sad and grateful eyes and admission that he has no clue how we turned out normal. But I will totally be saying that about my girls too. As a parent – there will always be guilt – one way or another. I think that is in the unwritten by laws of parenting. I learned to accept that awhile ago. I know I am not perfect. I am going to mess up. But that’s part of learning too.

Honestly – I don’t know how right I am on this – I am only relaying some of my own fears and experiences and things or epiphanies I have learned along the way. And no doubt have so much more to learn along the way. I have always said, “My best teachers are my kids”.

All I do know is that I am intentionally trying to back off a little hopefully in the right places, because I don’t want to go to the other extreme so my girls feel like I don’t care or are not there for them. But honestly – that is perception too. There will be a time when they yell at me that I don’t care. And that may mean that they didn’t get the Ipad that they wanted at age 8. So we take these things with a grain of salt.

But at the end of the day I am just incredibly thankful. They are fed, laughing (and sometimes bickering at each other), safe, healthy, and doing some daily chore here and there (and yes sometimes rolling their eyes at having to do them) we are always interacting in some way or another, tickle fights spontaneously erupt, there is a light and sparkle in their eye. There is real effort…sometimes balanced, sometimes over or under done. And when effort isn’t enough – because it never is – there is always forgiveness and most of all…love.