This is Six

These days, life is a crazy mess of counseling my sensitive Bowie through his tweens, preparing him for middle school. And chasing around a toddler. You know how you forget all that labor stuff and that’s how we keep having babies? Well I’m pretty sure we forget the toddler years too. They are insane. They get into everything. Life is busy.

And somewhere in the middle is my Ferris. My sweet rainbow baby. Definitely the biggest personality in the family. He has big feelings, strong feelings, and he knows how to “use his words” to let us know. He’s hilarious. He’s brave. He’s creative. He’s fierce. And he’s finally six. He’s waited so patiently.

And he’s finally in Kindergarten! What a relief for all of us. He missed the birthday cutoff last year (September 1st) and had to wait a whole year longer than his friends at preschool, which he found extremely frustrating. I pulled him out of that school and did some minor homeschooling, which was stressful and tiring. Two years before, I had imagined myself having all this time to myself. I could write a book! Get a job! Volunteer! But, I ended up not only having another baby, but also having my preschooler at home full time. But, we managed.

Sometimes Ferris is the typical middle child, getting lost in the shuffle. But most of the time, his very big personality is there and you can’t forget him. Everything about him is unique. From the way he talks to the way he thinks. He has a certain logical belief about everything. Food, the universe, animals, sports, weather. He pontificates on the origin, mechanics, reasoning and conclusion about all of it. He has to think it out, and he tends to do his thinking out loud. Seeing the world through his eyes is amazing.

And the questions. Oh my, the questions. He’s so interested in every subject. He is always asking me to show him a picture of something on my phone. A whale. A stegosaurus. A baby in a mommy’s belly. Argentina. Freddie Mercury. He has to see what it is we are talking about or referring to. So he can fully understand.

Ferris prefers his room messy. “That way, I can see all of the things I have to play with and I can choose.” “But, if everything is organized, you can find exactly what you need.” “But then I’d have to clean up the other thing I was playing with and I can’t just sit and clean all day.”

He is boldly and blatantly honest and open. Ferris is the one who will tell strangers, “The doctor shot me.” When someone notices our fish aquarium, “We used to keep the rats in that spot. They’re dead now. We buried them outside.”

Swear words and insults are all “F words,” so if he tells you someone said the F word, just double check what word that might have been. Because it more than likely was, “stupid.”

School provides each kid a folder for papers. Every single paper that he brings home has been folded and shoved to the bottom of his backpack.

Ferris’ teacher told us he really thinks differently about things than most kids. And she encouraged us to have him tested for Gifted and Talented. And the morning I turned in the paper for it (all wrinkled and creased, because it was in his backpack), we woke up to realize he had cut a chunk out of his hair at some point during the night. Ferris has pretty strict scissor rules, because Ferris, and one of them is not having them in his room. Our old preschool director did say sneaking and lying, while not good behavior, are a sign of intelligence in kids. So, yeah. Gifted and talented. 

Current favorite things: cats, Jeeps, camping, warm fuzzy blankets, bedtime stories, Minecraft, Legos, We Will Rock You by Queen, pizza, changing into his pajamas after school, picking from the prize box at school, tape, hearing what he was like as a baby.

He will not hesitate to tell you what he really thinks. Sometimes inappropriately and way too loud in public. This honesty will serve him well later in life. Right now, he really doesn’t need to comment on how old someone looks, or tell the party helpers at the Children’s Museum that the volcanoes at his old school were way better, or let his piano teacher know how very boring his lesson was this week.

It will be exciting to watch him soar. He is fearless. He will be a force to be reckoned with. I can’t imagine what he’ll want to be or do when he’s an adult, he’s interested in so many things. But I know he will have a million friends and he will succeed in any path he chooses. Because he is so open and honest and kind and determined.

I hope all the funny and adorable stuff he blurts out sometimes won’t stop as he gets older. It’s too amazing. And even though he said, “Your belly’s big. Are you having another baby,” I still love him to bits.

ferris six

Coco the Wonder Cat

Some of you might remember that last year right around this time, our kitty Coco ran away. It was completely unexpected and left us heartbroken. And it’s especially hard to say goodbye without having any closure. I’m not sure that I really want to know what happened to her, the possibilities are pretty grisly. But, maybe it would help me heal a little to know and be able to move on. A year later, and I still check the animal shelters and neighborhood boards. When someone posts “found cat” to Nextdoor, my heart still skips a beat. Could it be her? It never is, obviously, but I hold out hope.

Since she’s been gone a year, I just wanted to write a little piece about her. Her eulogy, if you will. I wrote one for our kitty Nashua when he passed away, and it was very healing for me.

Coco came into our lives as quickly and bizarrely as she left. Our friend had found her in a tree near his house. She was tiny and scared, but sweet. She needed a home. I had mentioned wanting to get another kitty. Brien and I had just gotten married a few weeks before, and he said we could take her in, as a gift to me.

She wasn’t sick, and aside from her umbilical hernia, which they fixed when we had her spayed, she was a perfect little orange and white ball of fluff. It took us a while to name her, but we settled on Velcro (the nickname Coco came later), because she literally stuck to everything she touched with her claws. She was always, up until she left us, a very timid and high-strung girl. So when she landed on something, or someone tried to pick her up, or someone was holding her, or she was trying to jump up or down, always with the claws. She got stuck a lot, and it was fun to tell people, “well, that’s how she got her name.”

She and Nashua didn’t hit it off right away. She was scared, and he was pissed. He’d been my only fur kid for 10 years. What is this nonsense, he seemed to be saying. But they began to tolerate each other, and lived in peace. Well, more like a cease fire. A year or so later is when we got Newton (our beagle). After that the cats were absolute best friends. Thick as thieves. Inseparable. United in their hatred for the dog.

The cats rode in the car with me and my stepdad on the long drive from Wisconsin to California. She immediately hid, and didn’t make so much as a peep. Somewhere in Nevada, we had stopped for the night and upon pulling into the hotel parking lot, discovered that the car could no longer go in reverse, only in drive. I’d find out later that a simple bolt fell out, but at the time we were like WTF, and had no idea what to do. My stepdad opened the door, got out to look, and left the door open. Velcro made a break for it. She hopped out, ran ten feet or so, and then stopped and I scooped her up and tossed her back in. So, ok, it’s not like she hasn’t tried to escape before.

When we pulled up to the apartment in California, we couldn’t find her anywhere. I had that thing packed floor to ceiling and I started getting scared she’d been crushed by a shifting box somewhere along the line. But, when we were down to just a few boxes, I saw her. Terrified, as always. But seemingly grateful to be found.

When we moved from that apartment in Mountain View to our first flat in San Francisco, the first thing she did was find the smallest opening in the wall under the stairs and climb in, refusing to budge. But, it was dark in there and I didn’t know how big that space was, or where it went, and I asked our landlord if they knew. They turned out to be some of the nicest people we have ever met, but I didn’t know that yet. Anyway, one of them, a big burly guy, came down and started ripping out the wall. I’m not even kidding. He’s just pulling drywall and boards away, and then he said exasperated and teary-eyed, “I found her.” It was a tiny space. Maybe 4 square feet. Just a little nook under the stairs. And she still sat there, staring at us with her glowing eyes, until that evening.

When we moved to our second home in San Francisco, it had a big yard (well, relative to San Francisco it was big). And we were in the middle of the block, so back there she could not get to the street. I think she probably found a way at some point, but I liked to tell myself she couldn’t to feel better. We let her be an outdoor cat for the four years we lived there. THIS is why I was so confused when she full-on left last year. Back then, she always came meowing at the door at night, came in and ate and slept. She often showed up with an injury.

The vet told us, “She’s one of the tough ones. The scared ones get injured in the back, when they run. She gets injured in the front, fighting back.” Good for her. Not for our bank account. This girl had multiple bladder infections (where she peed blood, it was SO great for my anxiety), a huge infected abscess on her face that ruptured, a twig stuck right into her gut that I ended up pulling out myself (barf), another abscess or possible fracture on her arm, intestinal blockage. The list goes on. I showed up at the vet one time and the tech told me, “Her file is really thick!” That’s Coco, nothing done halfway.

We moved from that house into another, with a much less protected backyard. We also kept her there illegally. Well, against the lease. I tried to find someone to take her, even just temporarily, but I couldn’t. And the thought of giving her away to strangers was just too much for me. But, anyway, we kept her inside there. It was a tumultuous couple of years of life for us there, but she was my constant calm. She was always ready to snuggle, and I was always relieved to have her. Two years we lived there. Two years of hiding her in the car when the landlord came by. She stuck it out through heavy construction noise, while they re-stuccoed the whole house and replaced some of the windows.

She was ok on the drive from San Francisco to Tucson. It was a long haul, and she spent most of the time under the passenger seat, but not a peep. She’d come out occasionally to look out the window and meow at my face about how long we had been in the car and where the heck are we going anyway.

And once we arrived, she did fine. She adjusted well to the new house. She was used to not going outside and she was very grateful for the extra space. She found a zillion places to hide and curl up for a nap. She was the only pet at that time, and loving it.

A few months later we adopted Wrigley. And she definitely didn’t like having him around, but she wasn’t mean to him. He was a tiny kitten when we got him and I guess she figured he was harmless, but she had to hiss every once in a while so he wouldn’t forget who was boss. My lap was definitely off limits. Especially after I got pregnant with Finley. It was Coco’s job, according to her, to curl up to the growing baby bump and make sure things were ok. She was always very tender and attentive when I was pregnant. I feel like she knew on some kind of biological level, being a girl herself and all. It was very sweet.

Then the baby arrived. And soon after that was when we took Newton back in. And I knew it was a lot of stress for her. But she still snuggled with me. She still loved me. I could tell that.

Our house already had two doggie doors built in when we bought it, so we opened one and the rest is history. Newton came in and out according to his needs, Wrigley went out and stayed very close, he’s what I call a “backyard cat.” But Coco. She went out that day, and never came back. I expected I’d see her back that night, the way she did in San Francisco. Then I expected her back sometime the next day. Then I posted on Nextdoor and was reassured that lots of kitties go on weeks-long adventures and come home. So I waited. And waited. And waited.

And after a month, I was at the shelter several times a week. Peering at all those kitties’ faces, hoping to see her sweet heart-shaped nose. I left in tears every single time. One time it was so bad I had to sit in the lobby of the shelter on my way out and let the sobs out before I could drive home.

It’s not the prospect that she has died that hurts. And it’s not even that she ran away, because I know she was stressed out. And she’s a very independent kitty. And it’s not that she might have gotten taken in by another family, because at least I know she’s being taken care of. I’m ok with all of those prospects. What I’m not ok with is never knowing. I’ll never know what ever became of my sweet girl. I’ll never have closure. That’s what bugs me. Like, if I stop looking for her on neighborhood boards and animal shelters, then what if she suddenly shows up, and I wasn’t looking for her anymore. These are the thoughts that keep me up at night.

So, I write this for you today under the assumption that she is gone forever. Wherever she is, or was, she’s not coming back. I miss her like hell. And I thank you all for listening to all my Coco stories over the years and for listening to this one too. She was my princess. My love. My sweet wild girl. And I will miss her forever.

coco collage

The Road to Now

A few weeks ago, I snuck off with zero children to a coffee shop (ok, the Starbucks cafe at Target) and wrote. It’s a thing I do every once in a while, when the stars align and the boys are being good, and the baby naps early in the day, and I’m actually feeling like writing, and Brien has the time. He jokingly asked if I was going to write him a love letter. And I thought well, since the end of July marked our FIFTEENTH anniversary, I could try to pull something together.

I’m currently filling out this book for him, which was supposed to be a birthday present (February) and then an anniversary present (a month ago) and I just finished it because that’s a heck of a lot of things to come up with, no matter how much you love someone. But the questions in the book have really got me digging into my memories of us as a young couple, unmarried, in college. Then married. Then moving to California. Then having babies. Then buying a house and moving to Arizona. Then having another baby. And all the small things in between. It’s been quite a journey.

We have been through a hell of a lot together. Some really low times. And I mean LOW. Like, losing a baby to miscarriage low. Like me being in rehab low. Like me living a life that warranted a stay in rehab low. Like me getting a cancer diagnosis low. Like losing friends and family to horrible accidents and diseases low. Like weathering the storm of a special needs kid low. And we always, somehow, seem to come back together afterward, as strong as before, if not stronger.

Our first apartment was the size of our current dining room. I’m not even exaggerating. I dug up an old photo.

the old place

The only thing you can’t see here is the tiny kitchen to the right, with tiny, miniature appliances along the wall and no counter space. We spent our first year as a couple in this comically small apartment. We moved in together after only 5 months of dating. It was an insane decision, honestly, looking back. But, he had been subletting my apartment for me for the summer while I worked and lived at an amusement park a few hours away. At the end of the summer, I asked if he’d just like to stay. We felt really comfortable together and things were going well, so we moved in together. In a studio apartment. A tiny one.

We fought sometimes. All couples fight. But when we fought, it was either sit and deal with it and don’t go to bed until things are resolved, or truck your butt into the dark and the cold and the snow, and hope your car starts, and go who even knows where because we were both flat broke. So, sit and deal with it we did. I mean, I guess one could have holed oneself up in the 6 square foot bathroom if one wanted to, but not without looking ridiculous and getting a little claustrophobic.

I think that tiny apartment taught us a lot about relationships. About compromise. About resolving issues before they cause huge rifts. We have watched a lot of couples around us go their separate ways. And I know full well that sometimes a divorce really is what’s best for everyone involved. The statistics are pretty depressing, though, and I often wonder if we’ll be able to escape what feels inevitable. After 15 years, and a lot of bumps along the way, things still feel strong. Steadfast.

My love letter to him is just this: thank you for staying.

There have been plenty of opportunities for us to call it quits. I think neither of us could imagine getting by without the other. We have a very symbiotic relationship. But, things have been thrown in between us that were definitely difficult to move past.

He has seen me at my absolute worst. My lowest moments. I said and did a lot of horrible things when I was stuck in a slimy web of anxiety, depression, addiction and emotional baggage. But, he did not give up on me, and he did not leave me behind. He stayed. It was touch and go for a while, but he stayed. And for that I am forever grateful.

He has also been a great father to the three amazing children we created together. He’s always there to step in when I need help, or when I just need a break. There’s been zero reference to “babysitting” when he’s with them. He is their father. My co-parent. My partner in all things.

We are not perfect people. We have disagreements, petty and otherwise. We make mistakes. We still face problems and struggles. But I feel truly like we face them together. It has always been like that. Our relationship faced a lot of opposition in the beginning, but we stood there tall and proud and united, and now it’s been 15 years and I can’t imagine handling life any other way.

For everything you are, and everything you are not, I love you Brien. Here’s to the next 15.

wedding

One

The thing that every mom says when any one of her children turns one year old, but I’m going to say it anyway because what’s a birthday without a good cliche:

I can’t believe she’s already one.

This year went by so fast, I’m nearly out of breath. I was bound! and! determined! to “enjoy every moment” since she’s the last baby. And I didn’t even expect another baby. Ferris was the last baby, so I got this bonus baby and by golly I’m going to stop and smell the roses with her.

And I tried, I super duper tried, to make time slow down, make things a little slower. Except there’s elementary school, and teaching the middle kid his alphabet, and camping trips, and holidays, and visitors from out of town, and the sleepless nights that bleed into zombie days, and summer vacation, and piano lessons, and you get the idea. You don’t really have the luxury of slowing down and enjoying all the tiny moments with your third kid. It doesn’t really work that way. But I tried.

She’s still tiny for her age, 17%th percentile for weight and 43rd for height. Also she still has no teeth. So most passersby think she’s about 6 months old. I think she’ll catch up in height. When she outgrows her clothes, they’re always too short before they’re too tight. And the teeth will come when they come. I have alternated about being panicked and being flippant about it. The pediatrician doesn’t care, and I’ve heard a zillion anecdotal things about other kids, so I won’t worry. For now. And I will continue to enjoy watching people think I’m raising a prodigy as she stands and talks and uses her fine motor skills.

She is friendly, but shy. She’s fine with people saying hi and smiling and waving at her, so long as I am holding her. Otherwise it’s a no-go. And if she’s tired or otherwise in a bad mood, you can absolutely forget it. When calm, she will stare into your soul. She just takes people in, she really studies them. But they may not touch her.

She’s very sweet and loving. She loves to cuddle and give hugs. She pats my back when pick her up. She squeezes all of her stuffies and says, “Awww,” while she does it. Cuddling is her absolute favorite thing to do in the world, which is just fine with this mama. As long as she realized at some point that you don’t have to drink milk while cuddling with your mama. She nurses a lot. Like, a lot. By her age, Ferris was already totally on whole milk, and Bowie was down to one nursing session before bedtime.

She’s very adventurous and will crawl into any room. She is a pro at cruising on the furniture, and has quickly learned to use smaller things to boost her up onto the furniture. Which is brilliant and cute and everything, except she still needs to learn to get back down without hurting herself. She will be walking anytime now. She’s a pro at standing unassisted and will take a few steps here and there if she’s holding someone’s hand. She took two small steps on her own one night, but I think it was a fluke and she didn’t even realize she’d done it.

She is saying hi and bye, and uh-oh. I think she’s attempting to say Bowie. She says keeeee for kitty (and gives him unsolicited squeezes, of course). And she says dada all the time but I’m not 100% sure she knows that dada is dada.

She still is not sleeping through the night. This is unusual for our kids, but again, normal for the most part. She will nurse and fall back asleep. Sometimes she doesn’t even need to nurse, just cuddle. She loves to cuddle. Cuddling is her favorite. Sometimes I think the sleep issue is tied to a temperature issue, because her bed is in the direct path of the air duct, and the air coming out of it right now is pretty cold. Perhaps in the winter when it’s no air, or warm air, she’ll do better. She definitely prefers to be very warm.

I am going to continue to nurse her as long as she wants to. Like I said, she’s still very enthusiastic about it. It’s easy for us, most importantly for me. No matter what, I always have something to feed her. But I do need to step up the food game. She’s very excited about food and she loves to try new things. She’s got a great appetite. Her favorite food is bananas and she’ll eat 2-3 of them a day. She can also handle a half pound of tofu a day. When she’s decided she’s done eating, she has taken to throwing the remainder on the floor. I’m not sure how I’m going to keep up with the mess when the dog dies.

I think we are going to have a very exciting second year together. Both boys will be in school, so she’ll have me all to herself for most of the day. I’m looking for things to do with toddlers in Tucson, which has not been a fruitful search, but there must be something. There’s always the zoo.

I thought after two kids, I knew everything there was to know about babies. Then came Finley. So different from her brothers, so unique in her likes and dislikes, so very attached to me. It just goes to show, none of us knows it all, and all parents are doing the best they can every single day.

Thanks to everyone far and wide who wished her a happy birthday yesterday!

One! Impossible!

finley smash cake

Bethie Go Shoppy

Target is my Tiffany’s.

Which is a weird thing to read, I’m sure, if you’re not familiar with the inner workings of the cinematic classic I have referred to on the blog regularly, Breakfast at Tiffany’s. At some point in the film, Holly GoLightly lets us know she heads to Tiffany’s when she’s anxious. It calms her down right away. And “nothing very bad could happen to you there.”

And this is what Target does for me. It’s silly, I know. But I’ve come to view my inexplicably frequent trips there as therapy. Self care.

You could even get yourself coffee in a paper cup, and a pastry of some kind in a paper bag, and eat it while you look at the goods.

bfastattiffs

You could sport her getup too, you might get a few side eyes, but oh well. I might just do that one of these days. Maybe skip the gloves though, because, desert.

It’s not a shopping addiction, though I know it must seem that way. Sometimes I go there just to look. (Granted I do end up getting something, but it’s often small and not even for me.) I will take pictures of things I want to remember later. Or I will find them on Amazon and add them to my cart to buy later. Or I will just admire them.

I live five minutes from a Target now. But even in San Francisco, where I had to drive 20 minutes to the suburbs to go (or go to City Target which is adorable and all, but not a replacement), I was still there a few times a week.

How can I explain it? It just makes the world seem right. It feels like I’m in a box of happiness and nothing bad can penetrate. Even though this is America, and this is 2018 after all, and of course bad things could happen there. But it feels like they won’t. And that’s the key. When I am walking around in this world thinking something bad will happen at any moment, take me by surprise and change my life forever, it’s nice to have a place to go where it feels like all of that gets checked at the door. Time moves a little slower, ergo so does my brain.

And because I cashiered for so many years (even a stint as a Target cashier no less) I feel confident using the self-checkout. I don’t even have to deal with people if I don’t want to.

I know the employees know me now. And I see some of them smirk when they don’t think I notice. But that’s ok. I am making myself feel better which is a huge accomplishment most days, so they can think I’m a nut. At least I’m not the lady who has loud, violent fights about “that girl you was with last night” with who she claims is Invisible Jesus (true story). (See, if you hang out there enough you get some good stories.)

Do you find yourself retreating somewhere when you’re in a funk? Somewhere outside your house I mean?

Ten

My firstborn is ten today. I’ve been a mom for ten years! Which doesn’t seem possible! Ten years!

He’s growing into an amazing person. At ten, he’s sometimes more grown up than I know, and other times still very much a kid.

Strikingly independent, choosing a few months ago to start walking to and from school on his own.

Very opinionated, on most subjects. And as his teacher this past year told us, even though sometimes he’s a little raw with his words, “He’s not wrong!”

He’s so effortlessly talented as an artist. Even his simple doodles far surpass any drawing I could ever do. And he’s equally talented with paint, clay, chalk and just crafting for fun. He’s also a bonafide musician. He tricked his piano teacher into letting him play songs by ear. Which is super great that he can do that, but no, you’re going to learn the notes kiddo.

He’s incredibly smart. I know all moms say that, but really, so smart. He did a project for the school science fair, and ended up winning city-wide and headed to SARSEF, the Southern Arizona regional fair. And he earned a trophy there! He often does not give himself very much credit, and has very little confidence, but when he puts his mind to it, he can do amazing things.

He’s sensitive to his core. It will be an asset as an adult, but as a kid he often just ends up sad or angry. It’s been a challenge helping him harness all that emotion, while still letting him be himself.

He’s as sweet and tender as his is rough around the edges. Watching him play with his baby sister is like watching a whole other child. It’s been amazing watching those two bond.

He’s a lover of animals. He loves our pets, of course, but loves to see new animals and learn all about them. When we go to the zoo, he rattles of a half dozen facts that he learned in zoo camp about every animal he sees.

Living in Arizona has made a real explorer and cowboy out of him. He loves everything about the outdoors, and camping, and is always up for an adventure. It’s the one setting where I get to see him fearless and brave.

It’s like my husband said, it would be nice to just freeze time and enjoy him just as he is. But it’s also been amazing watching him grow and become the man he will be someday. The great paradox of parenting.

We love you, Bowie. And we can’t wait to see what the next decade of your life will bring.

bowie is ten

 

A Mental Health Primer

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. And though I don’t have a Ph.D. or anything, after several years of mental health recovery and several diagnoses under my belt, I feel like I can pass on a pearl of wisdom or two. Here’s what I think are the most important things that you need to remember if a) you have a mental illness, b) you think you might have a mental illness, or c) if you love someone who has a mental illness. Living with mental illness is no small feat. And I need to be reminded of most of these things daily. So, consider this your reminder. And refer back as needed.

First of all, mental health is a spectrum. This, to me, is THE MOST IMPORTANT THING to remember about mental illness. People seem to think that mental illness is all or nothing. Black or white. Yes or no. Healthy or sick. It’s just not like that. You can have a touch of this, a smidge of that, and a dusting of the other. And just because you’re not a complete spaz, that doesn’t mean you don’t deserve the treatment options available to you, that work for you.

You don’t have to fit someone’s mold of what “anxious” or “depressed” is in order to get sympathy and understanding. You deserve to have your mental health be taken seriously, no matter what state it is in. Just because a certain treatment worked for your great aunt’s cousin doesn’t mean it will work for you. You have to know that’s ok. You and your doctor or therapist can decide what will help you.

It’s important to know that mental illness has a significant impact on your daily life. A lot of people say that “we all have our stuff.” As in, we all have mental issues, to a certain degree. And that’s very valid. The majority of people have a bit of social anxiety. Very few people feel comfortable talking to large groups of people. We all have some bit of introversion in us, using time alone to “recharge.” People get depressed. People get anxious. People eat too much, drink too much. But real mental illness, the type you should take seriously and seek help for, will impact your ability to live a normal life.

Maybe you have trouble getting out of bed. Maybe you don’t feel like showering. Maybe you don’t feel like eating. Maybe you eat too much. Maybe you don’t feel worthy to hang out with a certain group of people (though they have invited you to several times). Maybe you just plain don’t feel worthy. You don’t feel like you will be missed if you were to be gone (this is suicidal, you don’t have to be actively trying to kill yourself, or have attempted to kill yourself, in order to be considered suicidal).

If you are sleeping all day and not taking care of yourself and avoiding situations you are likely to enjoy because of the slight possibility that you won’t enjoy it and you’re doubting your own worth, then your mental health issues are having a direct and dire impact on your life. You cannot function normally under these circumstances. This is how it is different than just being “shy” or “sad.” This is not how a normal mind works. And you know that it is not how a normal mind works, you just don’t know how to change it. That is where treatment comes in.

If or when you need it, medication is a valid treatment for mental illness. Taking medication is not “taking the easy way out.” Taking medication is not weak or wrong, or a crutch, and it doesn’t take away from your authenticity. People who use medication for their mental illness are not drug addicts or “pill poppers.” And no, a walk in the woods is in no way a replacement for antidepressants. Stop this. I began taking medication as a last resort. Truly a last resort. I had turned it down for years. And finally, after my second stint in rehab, I finally caved and said sure, why not. And you know what? It worked. It was amazing. I felt better and my life got better. And I won’t be made to feel ashamed for that. Are there people taking Xanax who don’t really need it? Sure. But don’t let that stop you from taking medication, recommended by a medical doctor, that will help you get better.

Something that my current doctor says to me a lot is that recovery happens in a sawtooth pattern. Meaning, there are times of great success, upward movement, good thoughts and feelings, productivity. And then there are times where you feel less successful, not happy, very anxious, in a slump, not interested in doing things. And it’s normal. You are not failing, you are not going backwards, you are trying perfectly hard enough, and you needn’t give up. There will be ups and downs, just as there are for everyone. The idea is to learn to ride out the low times without letting them break you down.

A lot of the time, if I have a bad day, someone will ask me, “well, are you doing the work that you’re supposed to be doing?!” And, of course I am. Of course I am taking medication, journaling, going to therapy, going to meetings if I need them, doing something creative, getting out of the house. I’m walking the walk in addition to talking the talk, and just because you are having a bad day doesn’t mean you are not trying hard enough.

If you’re reading this because someone you love is suffering from a mental illness, something to consider is to stop making mental illness a punchline. You know how it has become passe to use the words “retarded” and “gay” to mean derogatory things? Consider how it would make someone feel if you organized your spice rack and told everyone how you’re “soooo OCD.” Or if you watch the last episode of your favorite show and then you’re “so depressed!” Or if you change your mind a thousand times about the couch you want to buy because you’re “so schizo.” Or my personal favorite, if you eat avocados every morning because you’re “totally addicted” to them. I mean really consider the message you’re sending when you say these things. It’s not fair to people who truly suffer to diminish their reality and their struggle in this way.

If you have a confirmed mental illness: Remember to take your medication. Remember to get out of the house for a little while each day. Remember your personal hygiene. Remember to visit your doctor and/or therapist. You are worthy and you matter.

If you suspect you may have a mental illness: Seek help. Find a therapist. Be completely honest with them. Know that it is possible for you to feel better. Don’t let anyone tell you that you don’t need help. Listen to your instincts.

If you know someone with a mental illness: Be as patient with them as you can. Know that they want to get better. Listen. Even if you don’t understand, just listen.

Mental health is just as important as physical health. And you would not tell someone with a physical ailment to “just go for a walk.” So, why do we do this? Why do we, as a society, downplay mental illness and mental health? Why do we stigmatize the perfectly legitimate treatments for mental illness? A healthy mind makes for a healthy person and a productive life. Mental illness is much more common than people think. One of my favorite quotes:

barrie

Hey, Girl

hey girl

I ran across this picture when I was going through some old things the other day. It’s a picture of Bowie, but I caught a glimpse of myself in the background, and just stared in awe. And got a little weepy.

I know that we are at the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival in this picture, held each October in San Francisco. And judging by Bowie’s age, I’d say it was 2009. I want to jump into that picture, and pull younger me aside and tell her so many things.

I want to tell her to cherish each day. Things are good for her now, and that could change at the drop of a hat. And it will. I will tell her to be patient with Bowie. He’s going through something they haven’t figured out quite yet. School will be difficult for him. But lay the foundation for a good relationship with him, and it will soften the blow.

I want to tell her to get help for her anxiety. It is not all in her head. It is not “normal.” It is something that can be overcome. And it would be best to get in tip top mental shape before things changed. Because they do.

And I will tell her to go easy on the wine. Just a few glasses a week. And don’t dive in head first after a hard day. That’s what the emotional help is for. Things can spiral out of control before you even realize it. And they will.

I want to tell her she will soon be hit with more sorrow than she’s ever known. Her second baby will die after just two months inside her, and her life will be flipped completely upside down. She will not know who to turn to. What to say. How she is “supposed” to feel. It’s ok to want to scream when someone tells her it was “meant to be.” It’s ok to feel like nothing is right anymore. It’s ok to not be ok. She will go on to have two more happy, healthy babies. And no, she won’t ever forget the one she lost.

And I will hand her a bottle of sunscreen. Like that old Baz Luhrmann song from the 90s. (Which I just listened to again and all of that. I’d tell her all of that.) “Wear sunscreen.” Most of the damage that would cause the melanoma will likely have occurred by then, but it can’t hurt to put on some extra protection. And I’ll give her the number of a great dermatologist in San Francisco.

I will also tell her to snuggle her cat Nashua very close. He’s senile and loud and losing teeth and is overall kind of annoying, now that she’s a mother. But her time with him is limited. (She knows this, it’s often on her mind. But she doesn’t know just how soon he will pass.) She will regret those nights she let him howl instead of picking him up and holding him close. Don’t let that happen.

And I will tell her to hold on to San Francisco very tightly. The city is in the early stages of an economic upheaval that will force even her, relatively well-off at that time, to leave. Go to the beach every single day. Do not complain about the fog. Do not complain about the “heat.” Catch a glimpse of the Golden Gate Bridge every day. And just know that what you have there is special. You will leave, and it will be sad, but if you squeeze what you can from the city, you will be ok. Take pictures of your houses, because the boys will ask what they looked like. And though the pictures are vivid in your mind, the kids will forget.

And I will tell her how freaking beautiful she is. Yes, she is overweight and yes, it bothers her very much. But look at that genuine smile. It will be one of the last full smiles she will be able to muster ever again. And that lovely hair. No wiry black and white hair peeking through. Look at that plump face. No crows feet yet. No sun spots. You don’t feel beautiful, I will tell her, but you are. And in 9 years, you will look back and wish you still looked like that. That your son was still so small. Your life still so very happy and simple.

I will tell her to brace for the change. Because I wish I had been ready.

Life just keeps marching forward and you’re just along for the ride, kind of like tubing down a river. And by the time you stand up and look behind you, you’ve passed so many things. Hit your ass on so many rocks. Missed so many sights along the way. But all you can do is sit back down and keep riding along.

I will tell her that she will survive. Because she did.

Nine Months

Baby Finley is nine months old now! She has been on the outside as long as she was on the inside! (Well I guess since she came two weeks early, I suppose she has been on the outside as long as she was on the inside two weeks ago. Semantics.) It’s amazing to think about, considering how baby’s first nine months go so much faster than the previous nine months. You feel like you were pregnant for at least 87 years, but no, it was only nine months. Just like the nine months that just sped past you so fast your head is spinning.

She finally learned to crawl the day before her nine month birthday. She had all the mechanics and strength down, she just had to put all the pieces together. And once she did, she was off like a crazy race horse. And now she is fearless. And I was like, gurl just CTFD on the bruises until after we see the pediatrician. She’s pulling herself up to stand, but has no balance and gets way too excited and falls. Usually on her head. Usually on the tile floor. She’s going to be walking in like, two seconds (see previous paragraph for parental timing units).

Speaking of which, we visited on Friday. She is weighing in at 17 pounds, and measures 27 inches. She is in the 30th percentile for both. She is still my Dinky Doo. She is wearing some 9 month old clothes, but is still in some 6 month stuff too. (Kids’ clothing sizes are so bizarre. Like some brands have 6-9 month, some 6-12 month, some straight up 6 or 9 month. And they all fit differently. Anyway.)

It was a funny appointment too. You’d think given the number of times the doctor reassured me with, “That’s normal,” that I was a first time mom. But I’m a THIRD time mom. She just so different from her brothers. I mean, they are all different and individual but as far as first year baby stuff, she’s crazy different.

Her favorite things right now are crawling (obvs.), playing with her brothers, grabbing the kitty’s ears, riding in a shopping cart, finding new things and putting them directly into her mouth, bath time, yogurt melties, smiling at people, peek-a-boo, sitting upright in the stroller, and teething but getting no teeth.

Her very least favorite things are baby food with broccoli in it, being constipated, being cold, the end of bath time, not yet being able to stand, taking a tile floor to the head, having her face wiped after meal time, being held by anyone but mom or dad, and the insult that is Cheerios.

nine months

This is Thirty Nine

Sunday was my birthday. And it was a good one. A quiet and seemingly boring, but good one, as most birthdays after age 25 are. Especially if you have children.

Thirty-nine is kind of a big one for me. I know it’s a totally random number, but I have my reasons. Not the least of which is the fact that my grandfather died of melanoma at the age of 39. And he was probably diagnosed (or should have been diagnosed) around the same age that I was, at 34 years old.

The past five years of my life have been…something. REALLY something. And one of the reasons was I was waiting out the five-year post-diagnosis period that the medical community waits before your cancer can be determined to be fully gone. Not that you won’t get it again, or some other kind won’t pop up, but the first cancer they found, if it’s not back within five years, then congratulations, you’re cured. I just hit that 5-year milestone at the beginning of this month. So, yeah, it felt pretty good to turn 39 and feel like I was (more or less) healthy. Alive.

The day started off with the dog somehow managing to escape to the driveway, get in a dog fight, possibly get kicked by a neighbor, (this is all hearsay from our kids who witnessed the whole thing but didn’t say anything) and then came inside to recover from the fight/kick and we all thought he was dying. Until we offered him treats. Then he was miraculously recovered.

I had brunch at a diner with Brien and Finley. And we then went on a hot date to Target to pick out the toaster oven we had wanted to buy for a while now. And I was going to get some goldfish for the aquarium that’s been sitting empty since our beloved George the beta died. But my husband was wondering if I wanted to upgrade to a bigger aquarium and get fancy tropical fish and after a mild panic attack and existential crisis, we left the store with nothing. Hashtag this. is. anxiety.

Then it was off to the mall for Dairy Queen, but it turns out at some point they ripped the whole Dairy Queen kiosk out. It’s as if it was never there. We got nachos instead, from one of my favorite restaurants in Tucson, that happens to now have a location in the mall food court. I bought a great little travel bag for camping essentials (we just got back from a four-day haul and I learned A LOT about my camping needs) and scored some deals at Gap. And I am officially more excited about the unicorn socks I bought Finley and the adventuring shirts I got the boys than I am about anything I got for myself. Mom life.

I went home to discover that while we were out, the boys had picked out an ice cream cake for me with the help of Gramps and Gram. Brien ordered pizza. We dined and discussed Bowie’s science fair project. I got a stomach ache (so classically me) and turned in early.

A few days later, a surprise gift from Brien showed up. He got me a metal detector! I have wanted one since I was a tween. This guy in the tiny northern Illinois town I am from had found my aunt’s class ring with his metal detector. I was enchanted with the idea that there were treasures like that just out there waiting to be found. My interest was sparked again when we lived in San Francisco. I combed the beaches for sea glass, but I always wondered what might be under all that sand. And now, we are out in remote parts of the desert in our Jeep. All the history of Spanish explorers and Native American battles and the mining industry–the excitement is too much! Great gift.

And today, I went back to the pet store and had Ferris help me pick out two small goldfish. They have yet to be named. I shall keep you updated.

fishies

I am telling you about my birthday in such detail so I can document it. Every year I fill out my year end review, and the question about how you spent your birthday trips me up every damn time. What did you do for your birthday? Um, gee, well, uh, that was 9 months ago so I HAVE NO IDEA. Anyway, now I have something official to reference.

And also to let you know what a big deal it is for me to be this age, and to my knowledge, be perfectly healthy. It feels good. The amount of anxiety I had thinking about this birthday way back when I was 34 and newly diagnosed was all-consuming. And now the day is here and I feel great, positive, capable. I got this.

Big thanks to every single person, near and far, who wished me a happy birthday. It was a happy one. Here’s to many more.