Stormy finds her “happy pill”

A couple months ago, KitKat posted a blog whose title caught my eye: Looking for a happy pill. This phrase jumped out at me because I’d been doing the same. But unlike KitKat’s metaphorical search, mine was literal. This wasn’t an overnight decision. As I mentioned in an early post, I was raised by WWII-era parents. One of the legacies of my upbringing is a strong sense of personal responsibility. In other words, if something was bothering me, I should just “quit whining and figure it out.” Therefore, my view of mental illness in general and depression in particular was that the only time medication was warranted was if the individual couldn’t manage to pull things together on his/her own.

dancing_drugsFast-forward to this past year. As readers of this blog, you know I haven’t hidden my struggle with the changing dynamics in my life—my husband’s illness, my kids leaving home, a frequently stressful job, aging parents, etc. But throughout it all I kept trying to will myself to keep a proper perspective (I’m still more fortunate than most of the world’s population, after all) and not dwell on things I can’t change. Despite this, I found myself sinking further into… persistent… unhappiness. It wasn’t full-out “depression” the way I had always thought of it (not being able to get out of bed, suicidal thoughts, etc.) but I found that things I could formerly let roll off my back were bothering me—a lot. Whereas I would normally be driven to tears once or twice a year, I was finding myself crying weekly. And I found myself raging against loved ones at little provocation. Basically, I felt like I was losing it, and I worried that if I couldn’t get a grip, I’d risk my job, my sanity, my friends and my family.

We're all madI explained it to my therapist this way, “I’ve lost my resiliency.” I asked for his opinion on whether he thought anti-depressants would help and when he said yes, I responded that maybe I’d wait until the fall to consider a prescription (thinking I’d really need it when the weather turned cold). He challenged me on that—why would you wait when something could potentially make your life better? We talked through my bias against medication and my general control-freak nature, but at the end of it all, his case was compelling and I made a consultation with someone who could prescribe the required meds. After talking with her and explaining how I reacted to various “triggers,” she commented, “You have a lot of stressors in your life—actually, I’m amazed you made it this long without needing something.” This made me feel better about embracing better living through chemistry. She made a recommendation that she thought would best address the combination depression/anxiety I was experiencing and gave me a low-dose prescription.

At home that night, I read up on the medication and my concerns came creeping back. The drug required a slow ramp up and had a long list of potential side effects. Yet, at that point, the potential gains still outweighed the drawbacks, so I swallowed the pill—both figuratively and literally.

My experience with mind-altering substances is limited to alcohol and caffeine, so I didn’t know what to expect. When you take something that is supposed to affect your brain, it’s natural to analyze every feeling and thought—is this me or is this the medication?—I asked myself a dozen times a day. I felt a bit “spacey,” but knew it may have been my imagination since I was told it would take at least three weeks for the medication to take effect.

Eventually, I determined that I had noticed a subtle improvement in my outlook. It was by no means a “magic pill,” and my biggest concern—that the drugs would alter my core personality—was unfounded. I was the same person and the same things made me upset, only I had my resiliency back. Minor setbacks didn’t drive me to tears. I was able to put things in the proper perspective and deal with things without falling apart.

I wished I had sought treatment months before, instead of buying into the notion that medication would be taking the easy way out. However, I ultimately decided I’d rather seek help and be happy than be self-sustaining and miserable. After all, when I think about my mother (who has been moody and challenging for as long as I can recall) I wonder if maybe she doesn’t have a serotonin imbalance?

Funny-crazy-peopleYet, even after gaining a clear benefit from the drugs, it wasn’t something I wanted to broadcast (after all, it’s one thing to have people think you’re a little crazy and it’s another to give them proof). 😉

Then what has changed? Obviously, if I’m making this a blog topic my perspective has shifted and I can tell you when that happened. In mid-August, I was mourning the death of Robin Williams—along with the millions of other people whose lives he’d touched with his exceptional warmth and humor—when I learned that he had recently been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. A disease my husband has had for more than a decade. I think our thoughts about this news were the same: This disease we live with every day was the thing that tipped his depression over the edge. That was an incredibly sobering thought. It made me realize that it’s impossible to know what other people are dealing with, so I thought if I could admit to a little bit of craziness myself, maybe it would make it easier for someone else to seek treatment if they need it. So there you go. I’m a little bit crazy. Crazy like a fox.

Reflections of an “innie” in an “outie” world…

I just got done with an 11-hour strategic brainstorming session with a client and my brain is mush. Now, let me explain that I’ve met all of the attendees before, this is a client I like, and the ideas we were discussing were interesting to me. Nevertheless, I’m completely exhausted.

Why? I’m an introvert. And trying to be “on” all day has resulted in the depletion of my energy. Worse, I had something on my mind that was troubling me—nothing to do with anyone in the room—but for someone who wears her emotions on her face, it required overcompensation to not look as though I was bothered by any of the topics we were discussing.

introvert-not-shyThis introversion comes as a surprise to a lot of people, because I’m not necessarily lacking in self-confidence and people don’t think of me as “shy.” For example, I once gave a sermon at church—something I know many people would be terrified to do—and was fine with getting up in front of a bunch of friends and strangers and expounding on the topic of faith. Yet, this sermon was delivered by the very same person who religiously avoids going to parties if I don’t think I’ll know anyone but the host.

I’ve been this way for as long as I can remember. As a kid, I wanted to be invited to my friend’s slumber parties, but I didn’t really want to actually go to them. I remember one time when I was trying to leave a friend’s house after an afternoon of playing together. She wanted to continue our games, but I was completely drained by all of the togetherness. I needed to go home and read a book or something and literally begged her (an extravert, clearly) to let me leave.

Because of this tendency toward introversion, people who don’t know me tend to think I’m aloof and unfriendly. That’s not true, however. I just detest small talk and polite conversation for the sake of filling the silence. Cocktail parties find me either talking to a small group of people I know or staring at my phone pretending I just got an important text or email to which I must respond.

On the other hand, once I know you and trust you, you’ll have trouble shutting me up. Heck, if I’m comfortable and in a sociable mood, I can be downright chatty. (My dad lovingly called me “Motormouth” as a teen—a name that I’ve used to describe my daughter Lucky once or twice.) However, even in these discussions I disdain small talk and usually prefer talking about Things That Matter over sports and weather.

In fact, those who know me well can attest to the fact that I rarely hold back my opinion and enjoy engaging in a lively debate. This can make people uncomfortable—particularly when you come from the land of Minnesota Nice. However, there’s usually no hostility involved. I just appreciate a well-articulated argument. In most people, these traits add up to an outgoing nature, so many of the people who  have observed me in these situations are surprised to learn that being in groups for too long can suck the life out of me if I don’t get a chance to recharge.

As a working parent of young children, I’d try to step  outside of my comfort zone and chaperone a field trip once or twice a year. (Here’s a tip for the rookies: Choose a play over the zoo, it’s much easier to chaperone kids when they’re sitting still.) But as much as I enjoyed getting a peek into my child’s school life, these outings always left me horizontal on the couch for several hours afterward, lying in the dark with a glass of wine, repeating to myself: “Must…recover….sanity…”

But part of being an introspective, introverted grown up is realizing these things about yourself, so I know when I’m being “taxed” by too much extraversion and need some alone time to recharge. My husband understands this, too. For example, there was always a predictable point on a family trip—the epitome of togetherness—where I’d declare “I need to be by myself for a while.” (In my defense, we didn’t have cable TV at home, so my kids viewed any stay in a hotel room as their chance to have a Nickelodeon marathon. By the third day of this cartoon smorgasbord, I felt like an Animaniac myself.) But my patient, indulgent husband would grant me temporary asylum and hold down the fort while I abandoned him at the Embassy Suites with three squirrelly kids watching Pinky & The Brain.

One of the most challenging places to deal with an introverted nature has been at work. Marketing and Sales teams are heavily comprised of extraverts. So, since that’s where I’ve spent most of my career, I’ve had to convince each new set of coworkers that I’m not unfriendly or stuck up, I just work more effectively on my own (with input and review at appropriate intervals, of course). Just don’t ask me to create a PowerPoint while a group of sales people sit around me throwing out ideas. These same folks can toss ideas back and forth all they want and I’ll sit and patiently listen. And, then I’ll go back to my quiet little office and try to make sense of it all. Trust me, you’ll have a writingbetter end product letting the introvert get her way. Being a manager of people has been challenging as well, since most introverts gravitate toward individual contributor roles. My marketing team may tell you I’m not the most nurturing boss, but (I hope) I make up for that by working very hard, looking out for their best interests and advocating on their behalf.
While I am probably a bit atypical as an introvert—I think most of them are “quieter” than me—I’ve noticed that Facebook gives introverts a way to recognize and acknowledge each other in a heavily extravert-oriented society. The Internet has numerous “quizzes” a person can take to determine where they fall on the introversion/extraversion scale, and it’s been interesting to learn via Facebook just how many friends and acquaintances are introverts trying to adapt to an extraverted world…like me.

Introvert4In my family, four-out-of-five of us are introverts (on the other hand, my youngest daughter, Blossom, could be the Poster Child for Extraverts), so adaptation is the name of the game. But I’m encouraged by the increased awareness around the differences of introverts and extraverts. It’s a positive step toward gaining acceptance—or at least understanding—for those of us who are otherwise too easily misunderstood.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Looking for a happy pill

I am sad. Why? No particular reason. At least none that I can directly point to. I am not even sure if “sad” is the right word. Wistful, blue, blah, wishful, lacking … all I know is don’t call it mad. That is what had me walking out of the house the other night.

I can’t say what set me off. Perhaps my hope, or need, for a fun family dinner to dispel the dark mood cloud I felt settling in. A dinner that instead had my son angrily sticking up for, or throwing a tantrum about, Adrian Peterson. “It’s just what they do in Texas,” (said the boy who may have had four spanks/light swats EVER which left me as the only one hurt, due to my guilt over losing my temper). His only motivation was 11-year -old warped thinking that if he argued his point, miraculously the Vikings would have their star back and win again. Or maybe it was my daughter, who left the table ten times to look at her wiggly tooth (her first one). And then there was my husband who just didn’t pay attention to any of us. I wanted laughter, smiles and talk – a distraction from my looming mood. Basically, a pretend TV family. That was not happening.

Click to watch my version of fun family dinner
Click to watch my TV version of family dinnerblack-play-button

I was craving having a feeling – and not the kind of feelings I have been having lately.

I’ve been busy worrying about family members: Breast cancer, undiagnosed but life-affecting illnesses, and a liver laceration (of a child who might as well be family – our kids call each other cousins).

I have also been feeling stressed: busy working at a crazy pace with insane RFP responses added to my already over-packed job (and they’re not a marketing favorite), branding and marketing a friend’s new hair salon, and exploring a little side business idea.

Add on to that, dealing with raising a middle schooler and his Jekyll and Hyde emotions.

Maybe my need for the “right” feeling was brought to the surface from the heartbreaking tragedy of a school mom who died in her sleep a few days before. Maybe that is what kicked up the dust, woke me up in the midst of being lost in the hecticness, and made me want to feel something special. Or, perhaps it was just plain and simple craziness. Or it could be my hormones. (I have hit the age where I can blame them for everything). All I know is I needed to laugh. I needed to feel pure joy. I needed to enjoy. I was needing one of those moments of bliss like girls’ night at the cabin, sisters drinking wine on a Sunday, or dancing would give me. I’d had a taste of it recently – a couple of hours with my stepmom and sister just laughing in the kitchen together. But I needed more of that silly stuff that makes the rest of it all worthwhile.

With dinner not going as planned, and my family not giving me what I needed (admittedly it was a losing battle for them before it started), I got distant. Annoyed. Bummed. Resentful. I can’t tell you exactly where it escalated, but basically the words “I can’t do anything without you getting mad. Nothing I do is right,” were the final words muttered to me that set me off. I stood up and left the house without a word.

I walked and walked. I tried to sort through what was wrong. I just knew I was missing something. I stopped and had ice cream. (That helped a little – simple pleasures). Then I walked some more. My head was reeling with how to fix it.

Nothing came and two hours later I went back. My daughter was still wiggling her tooth in a mirror. The guys were each on a couch (squishing my pillows!) and I walked upstairs without saying a word and went to bed. My drama basically unnoticed by anyone else.

Nothing like starting a day a few bucks richer
Nothing like starting a day a few bucks richer

It’s a new day – starting with the announcement of a missing tooth. “This is such an exciting day!” squealed my six year old. Decidedly a new attitude was needed from me too. So along with my Daily Love dosage, I added on another cheesy self-love prescription and decided to take the advice to write three things I am thankful for today.

  1. I am thankful for the smile from my beautiful daughter with her first tooth missing.
  2. I am thankful for reading that my son did notice I was upset and texted “you ok? coming home? love you.”
  3. I am thankful for all of the special people who have made me smile and laugh in so many different and wonderful ways, that I miss it when I am down.
A moment of bliss in NY with my special people
A moment of bliss in NY with a couple of my special people

Damn, this stuff works. I am smiling at the flood of fabulous memories. I found a natural happy pill. And I’m not crazy – I just like to smile.

Running away from home… Cali style

As I mentioned in my last post, KitKat’s tale of Vegas fun inspired me to schedule a trip with my two best girls—my darling daughters. The impetus for the trip was to use an airfare credit my youngest had, and the premise was visiting a high school friend who had moved to LA a few years earlier. However, as I mentioned in my last post, the real motivation was trying to regain my sanity by getting out of my frenetic rut and spending some quality time with my girls.

First of all, I was just pleased that my daughters wanted to travel with me. It’s true I was paying for everything except the one plane ticket, but even so, I can’t imagine myself at that age wanting to take a trip with my mother to visit one of her friends—or at any age, for that matter. Our tastes are just too different.

I’d never taken a trip with just my girls before, but from our family excursions I knew that traveling with Lucky (22) and Blossom (19) would be akin to vacationing with The Odd Couple. Indeed. To illustrate my point, we were leaving on an early Thursday a.m. flight, so I asked my girls to drive home from their respective cities Wednesday afternoon with everything packed. Blossom arrived two days early to babysit for KitKat (whose regular summer sitter was unavailable) and had her suitcase ready and waiting in the living room the day before. Felix Unger all the way.

Lucky started the long drive home on Wednesday afternoon, forgot her contact lenses, realized it an hour into the drive, returned to her apartment to get them, and finally made it down to our house at about 9 p.m. on Wednesday night—a bit bedraggled and with a suitcase full of dirty laundry that still needed to be washed. Clearly our Oscar Madison.

Both girls were ready by the appointed time on Thursday morning, though. So after a quick trip through the security lines, we were sitting on the tarmac, waiting for stormy weather to pass. We touched down a bit late at LAX and got our rental car. Blossom (our Felix) was my human GPS. She pulled up all of our destinations on her smartphone and gave me real-time directions out of the rental car area and smoothly onto one of LA’s infamous multi-lane freeways toward my friend’s house. (Her quick-draw-with-an-app skills also came in handy later, when we were looking for a pharmacy and grocery store.)

I already knew my girls would click with my high school friend. Dot is just one of those people who can make friends with anyone—because she is interested in everyone and everything. In fact, her pseudonym comes from her role in a high school performance where she played an Uber-Geek with complete and utter commitment (something the self-conscious Stormy wouldn’t have been able to accomplish at 16). As Lucky said after meeting her, “I love her. She just radiates positive energy.” Not a bad sort to hang out with 😉 which is good, because that was our plan: An unstructured vacay comprised of some cheesy Hollywood/LA type of activities and lots of hanging out.

That first afternoon we hung out at Dot’s pool and plotted the rest of our visit. We decided to tackle Universal Studios the next day. Since Lucky graduated with a film degree and Blossom was deprived of the Disney Experience bestowed upon her older siblings, it seemed like a clever way to kill two birds with one stone. Or in my case, entertain two diverse daughters with several hundred dollars in admission and overpriced burgers.

Universal Studios was a blast. It had been a long time since I had been to an amusement park, and I was amazed by what can be done with computer generated special effects. Likewise, the studio tour was fun—spotting familiar scenes like the town square from Back to the Future (a favorite movie for our family of Michael J. Fox fans). Throughout the day, I was acutely aware that it would have been a very different experience with my husband. The crowds, long lines and sprawling theme park would have been challenging for him to navigate. It was fun to have the freedom to explore all parts of the park and not be worried about wearing out my spouse.

That evening, we went to the Hollywood Fringe Festival to see one of Dot’s friends perform. It was a sweet, engrossing play and our front-row seats put us nearly on stage in the tiny theater. After spending all day at the theme park, we were a bit tired. But since we were trying to pack as much as we could into a short vacation, we were glad we were able to catch this unique performance during our trip.

Lucky was inexplicably delighted to discover Nicholas Cage's handprints. Yes, Nick Cage.
Lucky was inexplicably delighted to discover Nicholas Cage’s handprints. Yes, Nick Cage.

The next day was our “tourist” day. We went into Hollywood to see the famous sign (from a distance), tour the Walk of Fame and people watch. Afterward, we drove to Santa Monica and had a late lunch on the pier. Lucky was excited to play in the ocean—she couldn’t recall the earlier Disney trip to Florida that Blossom missed and had no real memory of swimming in the ocean as a child. After a long day, we got home early in the evening, but Lucky wasn’t ready to call it a night just yet. She said, “You know, if I was on vacation with my friends, we’d probably go to a club or something.” I said, “You know, if I was traveling with my friends, we’d probably do the same thing.” So Lucky determined we should go back to Universal and explore the “City Walk” portion of the park—which is basically shops and restaurants and rather reminiscent of our own third-floor Mall of America. And Blossom, being Blossom, was happy to go with the flow.

hiking_LASunday was our last full day, and after the previous two jam-packed days, we decided to dial it down a bit. We texted Dot in the a.m. to see if she wanted to go hiking, and she led us on a beautiful trail up in the hills. Afterward, we hung out in her pool again, where Blossom (my usually practical child) learned you shouldn’t try to scoop a bee out of a swimming pool with your bare hand.

Dot is married to an actor. He’s not Brad-Pitt-with-paparazzi-hiding-in-the-bushes famous, but he’s recognizable, respected and steadily working…while still able to live a pretty normal life. (Which, when you think about it, is probably the level of success one should strive for, if one goes into that business.) He joined us at the pool where the girls got a big kick out of talking with him and realizing that—even though they’ve seen him in multiple TV roles—he’s a pretty normal guy, all in all.

Later that afternoon, we drove through Topanga Canyon and up the coast to Malibu to meet my husband’s sister and her husband for a seaside dinner on the deck at Duke’s. Lucky ordered King Crab legs and kept her eye out for dolphins and whales (no luck spotting them, though). I had fish tacos and the house specialty—a Mai Tai. It was fun catching up with my sibs-in-law, and I was envious that what was a vacation outing for us was just another Sunday night for them. Our Minnesota summer has been turbulent from the start, so the consistently 80-and-Sunny LA weather was mighty attractive.

Oh those vacation romances! Meet Blossom's new boyfriend...
Oh those vacation romances! Meet Blossom’s new boyfriend…

On our last day, our agenda centered around going home: Get up, shower, pack, hang out by the pool for an hour, have lunch, return the rental car and check in at the airport. (Can you see my control-freak side rearing its head?) I had timed out how long we had for each activity, but Lucky (Oscar) wasn’t operating on my timetable. We got into a bit of a tiff about it…the result of too much togetherness, I think. The fact is, I could travel with Blossom for a year and experience nary a kerfluffle—we’re just that compatible, and she’s a great traveling companion. On the other hand, Lucky and I are not much alike in terms of our hobbies, but we’re emotional twins. I’ve just been on the planet longer that she has, so I’ve learned how to fake my confidence. It frustrates me to see her wrestle with the same insecurities I had at her age when I know—KNOW!—that she has such strength and competence and intelligence inside of her. But I also realize she has to figure that out for herself, so I apologized to her once we were both in a better mood.

We arrived home tired and slightly crabby, but with some fun memories to carry us through the next long winter. All in all, the trip was a success. Not only for me getting a rare chance to spend time with my darling girls, but for being able to take a “vacation” from Parkinson’s—something, sadly, my husband can’t do. I think there are more such forays in my future (as long as I’m paying). After all, there’s some truth to this adage:

If momma ain't happy

Because I know that when I’m happy, everyone around me is happier, too. I just hope Lucky learns this lesson sooner than I did. And, more importantly, realizes that her happiness is in her hands.

 

Baby bird gives mama bird lessons in flying solo

I’ve mentioned in a few posts how my youngest has flown the nest and how this has left me in a bit of a free fall. After spending 24 years actively parenting, it’s a little unsettling when you’re no longer needed except to dispense money and advice on occasion.

Child #3 left for college on Labor Day weekend and has barely looked back. She settled right into the collegiate routine, making friends and getting good grades. As her mom, I’m very happy that the transition was so easy on her, but I found myself missing her tremendously during the fall months.

A picture really does say a thousand words. Her smile in this orphanage photo was a promise of everything that was to come once she joined our family.
A picture really is worth a thousand words. Her smile in this orphanage photo was a promise of everything that was to come.

That’s because she is not only my baby, but from the time that she was very small, she was also my steady companion. Whether I was running errands, cooking dinner, visiting my parents, or doing chores—Blossom (in Stormy fashion, not her real name but a variation of her Chinese name) was always at my side, ready to help. However, during the last couple of years of school, I didn’t see much of her: Between school, work, sports, and volunteering, she simply wasn’t around.

So I was pleasantly surprised to be given an opportunity to spend time with my youngest over her Christmas break. Originally, Blossom had been planning to leave town shortly after Christmas, but her trip fell through and most of her friends had to head back to campus before her, so she found herself home for an extended break without any real plans.

During this time, we hung out a lot. We went shopping together. Despite my daughters’ no-holds-barred fashion critiques, Blossom wanted some pointers on how to evolve her look from high school jock to sophisticated undergrad. I remembered shopping with my mom at the same age (something I used to hate because my mom—having birthed nine kids—was never very happy with what she saw in the dressing room mirror) and was flattered that my daughter actually wanted my help. Being the experienced shopper that I am, I helped her get the most for her dollars and she came home with a bunch of new looks.

She accompanied me to the gym a couple of times, once as my personal trainer—a task she took very seriously. Why was I paying someone else to do this when my little sadist was as effective as any of them?! We also went grocery shopping, cooked together, and she visited me at the office, meeting my coworkers and going out for a “business lunch.”

pantry
Six boxes of lasagna noodles. Are we anticipating a global pasta shortage?

Blossom also helped around the house, taking down all my Christmas ornaments—heck, she even tackled my pantry solo. A daunting task, given I’m an impulsive grocery shopper who loves to cook.

I reflected on how much Blossom had grown up since leaving for college just a few months earlier. And I realized that, in many ways, she was a more functional adult than her older and ostensibly wiser mother.

My youngest is incredibly competent. The family joke is that it’s because she doesn’t share our genes or that it’s the result of “that good Chinese orphanage training.” She just dives in and does things. She doesn’t hem and haw or overthink things or dither around and get sidetracked (as I’m known to do). And it’s impressive to watch. She’s not intimidated by anything and she’s incredibly organized. As an employer, I’d hire her for any job in a heartbeat.

At the same time, she’s incredibly thoughtful and compassionate. When I was staying with my dad who has dementia after my mom’s hip surgery, she offered to go with me because, “I want to get to know Grandpa better and I know this whole thing has been hard on you.” She must have made an impression on him, too, because I was surprised a week later when my dad actually remembered where Blossom was going to college. (Heck, after 7 years, he still can’t remember where I work.) In fact, after one particularly trying day at the office, I came home late and she offered to 1) make me dinner and 2) give me a backrub!

The night before Blossom was to leave, I told my husband how much I was going to miss her. I realized she had temporarily filled a spot that my husband’s Parkinson’s had left vacant in my life. Although I’m an introvert, there are some activities I can tackle better with someone at my side—cajoling, challenging and encouraging. That’s Blossom in a nutshell. I know I can’t rely on my grown kids to fill that gap, however. They have their own lives to live and their own adventures before them. It left me thinking about how to address this on my own, and that’s when I realized my baby bird could teach me some lessons about flying solo.

A fierce competitor...against herself
A fierce competitor…against herself.

I decided I would do well to model a few of her behaviors—the ability to jump into a task without procrastinating, for example, or the genuine interest she shows in everyone from the butcher at the grocery store to her older relatives. As parents, we usually think of ourselves as the one teaching our kids, but as my kids have grown, I realize it’s a bit like horticulture—we’re propagating the strongest features, cultivating the best traits—and so I’ve learned there are many things they can also teach me. I hope that by learning from my kids, I’ll be able to fill my own garden with more blossoms and less weeds.

New year, new resolve…

Happy New Year, Dear Readers… Welcome to the Clean Slate that is 2014! As you may recall from one of my first posts on this blog, I take New Year’s Resolutions seriously. Last year, for example, I chose three:

  1. Assume good intentions in other people.  
  2. Do something nice each day for myself and another person.
  3. Don’t overthink things.

These were excellent resolutions for me. But while I made progress, I can’t say I mastered any of them. So I was tempted to recycle these, but meanwhile I had dozens of new ideas swirling around in my brain—things to try, ways to grow, mantras to live by—and I didn’t want the end result to look like this:

Woody Guthrie’s “New Year’s Rulin’s” – While number 3 is amusing, 19 is the one I like best.

Rather than try and commit 33 separate ideas into actionable behavior, I decided to categorize them into a few Big Ideas that I could focus on for the year. Once I settled on this year’s themes, I realized that my new resolutions are really just an expansion of last year’s.

For example, I’m modifying Resolution Number 1 to “Assume the Best.” This expands the original idea beyond assuming good in other people’s motives to assuming positive outcomes in all aspects of life—everything from work projects to getting stuck in traffic. There’s a quote my dad has used (although my Google search attributes it to a number of people) and that’s something to the effect of “Worry is like paying interest on a debt not yet incurred.” This strikes me as particularly true. There have been a number of times I worried about something that didn’t turn out nearly as catastrophic as my mind had imagined.

I was tested on this my first day back at work after the holiday… and I failed, giving into a bad mood. Sure enough, the thing that was stressing me out—not being able to find a hotel room for an upcoming client visit—turned out just fine (thanks to a resourceful coworker)… Now, I’m not naïve enough to think the worst won’t happen on occasion, and I’ll still think through how to deal with a negative outcome—but I’ll make an effort to not waste valuable energy stressing out about an imagined problem until it actually occurs.

An outing to a wine bar to "make my own happy day"... This is NOT Stormy & KitKat, but most definitely are "Troublemakers" as the wine indicates.
Making “my own happy day” with a couple of friends and a bottle of wine that obviously has found its rightful owners.

Resolution Number 2 is being expanded to Make Your Own Happy Day.” Credit for this one goes to my niece. During my last hair appointment (she’s also my stylist) we were catching up on all sorts of things and we got on the topic of how each of us is responsible for our own happiness. She said when her young son is crabby about going to school, she tells him, “You have to make your own happy day” and I thought that was excellent advice. We all hold so much power to make our own days better and happier—by calling a friend, indulging in a small treat, kicking back with a good book for half hour, taking a walk outdoors on our lunch break—yet we often fail to seize these moments. In 2014, I’m going to be mindful about doing the small things I can to “make a happy day.”

Resolution Number 3 is becoming Turn Negative Inward Thoughts into Positive Outward Actions. This is loosely related to Resolution 1… KitKat and I both tend to get caught up in negative thoughts at times and while assuming a positive outlook is one step toward fixing that, the best antidote for a control freak who’s feeling out of control is to control something—anything—in a positive way. I can either become overwhelmed at the thought of making all the cosmetic touch-ups needed to put our house on the market OR I can tackle a small job and cross one thing off that list. I can fret about the overdue mammogram or dentist appointment OR I can take five minutes and schedule them. I can beat myself up for not working out OR I can jump on my exercise bike.

994400_10152061525469523_665319223_nA coworker once had an insightful screensaver message that said, “The best way to get rid of an unpleasant task is to do it quickly.” So my last resolution will focus around taking action toward the things that are bothering me rather than just stewing in the stress.

KitKat made an observation in our last post that jumped out at me, “you are great at giving sound advice and not so good at taking it yourself.” Does this mean I’m doomed to fail at these resolutions? Well, time will tell, I guess… but meanwhile I’m going to assume the best! 😉

Happy Anniversary!

Our EasierSaidBlog is one year old! Last November, when we started discussing the idea for a joint blog, I don’t think either of us knew how it would go and whether we’d be able to keep it up, but in January we launched it and have been muddling through ever since.

At this reflective time of year, we thought it might be interesting to interview each other and share our perspective on the last year of writing together.

KitKat, what did you set out to do by starting a blog and do you feel like you’ve accomplished that?

I think there were a couple things wrapped into doing the blog for me. First, I had a constant “to-do” item on my list to start journaling. When you mentioned doing a blog together, it seemed like a good way to be held accountable to get that checked off. The other, bigger piece was it was always the talks with you and other friends that got me through times my mind was spinning. Whether it was talking over inane things, kid concerns, wishes and wants, or feeling overwhelmed, simply talking it through always ended up lifting my spirits and let me know I wasn’t alone. The blog seemed like another release to let out some of those thoughts and to share with others that none of us have it perfectly under control, are above making mistakes or have it all figured out.

As far as accomplishing what I set out to do, I did stick with it so my “to-do” was accomplished. As for the less tangible goal … when I wrote about Learning to live in the maybe, I had friends—some I haven’t had a chance to talk to for a long time—reach out and let me know they were there for me without judgment and no matter what happened. They didn’t need details, just wanted to support me. So I’m not sure the blog has helped anyone else feel “not alone,” but it has certainly reminded me!
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Stormy, do you have favorite parts of, or experiences about, the blogging process?

Well, it sort of changes how I look at the world. I think you’ve mentioned this as well—how you look at odd situations or funny experiences and think of them as “blog material”… The interesting thing is, sometimes episodes that seem ripe for documenting just don’t translate into the written word very well. And other things that seem simple can take on new dimensions when you start writing about them.

The other thing that I find fun is looking at our blog stats—reach of readership, who follows, likes and comments. We’ve been read in 44 countries! Who is reading us from the Maldives? Introduce yourself and say “Hello”! And let’s not forget the copious offers to help us with SEO. (Hint to same: We’re both marketing directors, if we were concerned with site optimization we’d hire someone we know to do it, not an Internet spammer.)
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KitKat, what has been the biggest challenge of doing a blog?

TimeTime! Though once I do sit down and write it always calms me to be doing something reflective and just for me, finding the time to do something that isn’t a “have to” is tough. A kid who won’t go to sleep on time, an unplanned work project taken home, or an extra hockey game scheduled can all derail a planned time slot to sit down and write.  

For this blog post, the biggest challenge is my kids are on Winter Break so I am writing this with a ton of chatter in the background and a house strewn with holiday gifts. It is hard to think, much less write, in such chaos.
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Stormy, have there been any posts where you hesitated before pushing “publish” or decided not to make public?

Yes! Basically any of the posts about my mother. For a grown woman, I’m ridiculously self-conscious about my mother’s opinion of everything I do. I know she would be appalled at some of my posts, but the process of getting these frustrations down on paper is strangely cathartic for me.

There are other posts where I might hint at something from my real life, but keep the details veiled. Like Stormy’s identity, I don’t like to reveal everything about myself to the masses. I need to maintain the illusion that I (mostly) have my act together. (LOL)
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KitKat, where do you find inspiration for your topics?

It seems my life is full of inspiration for topics, the good and the bad. Kids for sure. Girlfriends. Family. The biggest, though, seems to be wherever my mind is wandering at the moment I write. There have been lots of times, for example up at the cabin with a girlfriend, that I will jump up in the middle of a funny conversation and jot down an idea. Friends and family have grown accustomed to that. The funny thing is now I have this long list where, at the time each was jotted down, my brain was already creating the post around the idea. But when I actually have time to sit and write, the inspiration has passed and I end up writing about something that is currently on my mind—even when I struggle with knowing that my list has the potential for more interesting posts than where my brain landed on the day I write. 
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Stormy, have there been times when you have had writer’s block or struggled with a topic?

Oh yeah. I definitely need to be in the right mood to write a post. Some topics I mull over in my mind for months before they slowly, painfully make it onto the page. Others come spewing out in 20 minutes of frenetic writing. There’s no logic to it either. Sometimes, the more I have to say about a topic, the harder it is to get those thoughts on paper. 
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KitKat, we’ve known each other a long time and used to work together. Have you learned anything that surprised you about me?

Admit it: He's creepy!
Admit it: He’s creepy!

Big Bird, belly buttons and wool were all oddities I knew you hated. I actually remember tormenting you on your 40th birthday at work when we all hung photos around your office of your least favorite things. I also knew you had my control freak nature and not a lot of tolerance for things you found stupid. So I had no illusions that you didn’t have some “idiosyncrasies.”

I have learned the boss and mentor who “had it all together” is a lot more like me. Actually, I learned just how much we are alike. I also learned that you are great at giving sound advice and not so good at taking it yourself, whether from me or from your own wisdom. I also was surprised about your “whimsical side.” Very out of character and an interesting dynamic. For some reason, I think you will keep surprising me.
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Stormy, back at youanything that surprised you about me? 

The cushion confession absolutely slayed me. And the “wet bread” thing will forever color my menu choices when I invite you and the hubby to dinner. Other than that, no big surprises—by this point, I think we understand each other pretty well. Actually, I take that back. I’m surprised by the fact that you’ve been able to stick with this so long, given all the other demands on your time.
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KitKat, which do you consider to be your favorite post?

That is a hard one! Do The Bloggers and About count as posts? I think those and the initial stories you and I posted were my favorites simply because it was the beginning to our blog. We admitted who we were and started down the blogging path.

I do still get a kick out of writing and reading our joint blogs like the True Confessions and Phobias. I would like to do more of those this year.
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Stormy, do you have some posts or overall blogging plans already on the agenda to tackle in 2014?

We’ve talked about doing a “cabin post,” but I have trouble trimming that down to a manageable length. And I’ve thought I should do one on adoption—but that’s another topic that I could go on about for days. When I can come up with “that one key idea,” I’ll be ready to tackle those topics. Otherwise, I’m just curious to see what unfolds in 2014. I’m sure there will be no shortage of material. 🙂

The rantings of a bad daughter

I yelled at my elderly mother tonight. If this blog is supposed to be a slice of life—an honest chronicle of being a certain age—then I should be “mature” enough to admit this ugly fact. I’m not proud of myself, of course. As soon as I stormed out of my parents’ house and slammed my car door, I turned to my husband and demanded to know: “What’s WRONG with me?!? Why do I let her GET TO ME like that?!” But my outburst had taken him by surprise, too, so he just shrugged sympathetically.

Everyone pitches in to do yardwork at Stormy's parents house
Everyone pitches in to do yardwork at Stormy’s parents’ house

I alluded to my aging parents in an earlier post. My dad has dementia and my mom has a host of other ailments, yet she’s reluctant to move into an assisted-living facility, even though my parents are no longer capable of maintaining a home and living independently. Now, my mom needs surgery on her hip and both knees. Despite her advanced age (86), the doctor is willing to do the hip surgery because he thinks she “still has a lot of life in her.”

That’s no understatement. While my dad is continually amazed that he’s lived this long and greets every day as a pleasant surprise—a gift to be slowly savored—I believe my mother fully expects to achieve centenarian status. She is in complete denial about the limitations that aging is placing upon her and who knows? If “will to live” counts for anything…or sheer stubbornness…she’ll be leading the chorus of “Happy Birthday” at my 100th birthday.

So if you’re half as astute as I know our readers to be, you’ve likely surmised that the aforementioned “yelling” had something to do with my mom’s impending surgery, her stubbornness, and the general stress a grown woman feels when she’s trying to do right by all the people in her life and constantly coming up short. Short of time, short of patience, short of grace.

box_ornamentsWhile it’s tempting to try and garner sympathy by relaying the whole conversation or past childhood laments, that’s all irrelevant. Overall, my mom has been a good mom. I know I’m not the only grown daughter who has baggage about her mother, and I’m fully aware that these incidents will seem small and insignificant when she’s gone and I’m facing my first Mother’s Day, birthday or Christmas without her.

But it’s sort of like telling the exhausted parents of a newborn to cherish the sleepless nights because “they grow up so fast.” After all, hindsight is 20/20—today’s myopic view is the result of a gray November day, relentlessly busy work schedule, upcoming business trip, Mom’s impending surgery, my equally stressed siblings trying to coordinate schedules to care for Dad, etc. So my mom’s assertion that it’s perfectly reasonable to expect one of her kids to spend hundreds of dollars and take several days off work to fly down with her to Florida so she can retrieve old Christmas ornaments (and let me add that one of her sons did this just last spring, but she didn’t take the gesture seriously enough to pack up the items she wanted to bring home) Just. Set. Me. Off.

The key to our harmony? I hadn’t learned how to talk back yet.

As I said, I’m not looking for sympathy. I don’t deserve it. She’s 86 and she raised me and that’s enough justification for me to go recover a moldy Santa or two. All I really want is to get this anger out of my head and onto this blog post, so I can let go of it and do the hard work of trying to regain my patience…because I know I’ll desperately need it in the days ahead.

And if any of you can relate to this story—and know that you’re not alone in your frustration—then that’s the silver lining.

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Postscript: This was obviously written a couple of weeks ago. My mom has since had her surgery and although it went well, the recovery process (with mom in a transitional care unit and dad at home with us kids trading off staying with him) is about as challenging as we all expected. However, I’m so blessed to have an abundance of siblings who are working peacefully together to shoulder the burden, and I empathize with all of those who must navigate the challenge of elderly parents on their own. My siblings are truly my parents’ greatest gift to me.

When the going gets tough…

April is Parkinson’s Awareness Month, and this is a disease that impacts me daily. About a decade ago, my husband was diagnosed with PD at the age of 44. This hit us out of the blue—there was no family history to foreshadow the condition and we were attributing his symptoms to something very mundane—a pinched nerve, carpal tunnel syndrome, etc.

I could write a lot about my husband and how terrifically he copes with the hand he’s been dealt… The man never complains or feels sorry for himself whereas I’m pretty sure that, in his shoes, I’d be the hostess of a 10-year pity party.

There are lots of nuances to his symptoms, but the upshot is this: His day is ruled by his medications and whether or not they are working. We sometimes refer to it as a Jekyll and Hyde existence but that doesn’t seem quite appropriate—while it’s “good” when his meds are “on” and “bad” when his meds are “off,” the whole Jekyll/Hyde analogy makes it sound like he turns evil, when he actually handles his off times with as much grace as any human being could muster.

Recently, he came up with another analogy—when his meds are off, he’s wooden and can’t move and when they are on he becomes “a real boy.” This seems more appropriate, and the transformation of how my husband comes to life when his medication kicks in is not unlike Pinocchio.

But I won’t presume to tell his story and instead will share my own. This is what I’ve learned having Parkinson’s “by proxy”…

1) There isn’t much I can control. I have a control-freak nature. And while having children was my first lesson in learning the limits of what I can control, dealing with my husband’s Parkinson’s is like being in graduate school. I find myself reciting the Serenity Prayer a lot. It’s a good prayer. I’m hoping one of these days it will sink in.

“I know God will not give me anything I can’t handle. I just wish that He didn’t trust me so much.”       –Mother Teresa

2) There’s a method to His madness. While I think the adage, “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle” has some truth in it, I also think He likes pushing you right up against your limits at times. For example, I’m not the stop-and-smell-the-roses type. For a Midwesterner, I’ve got a rather intense East Coast approach to life and Parkinson’s is a condition that could try the patience of the most easy-going Southerner.

When I would think of my husband or myself dealing with illness, I imagined being struck with a more common condition, like cancer. This is a horrible, awful thing to deal with—no doubt about it. However, in many cases you can “battle” cancer, and if you’re lucky, you can win. Trust me, I’m not wishing my husband had cancer instead of Parkinson’s, but I sometimes think that fighting cancer would be more in line with my temperament. I like to think I would bravely don my armor and be at his side to help slay the dragons. But Parkinson’s isn’t a dragon—it’s the mosquito in the room whose buzzing keeps you up all night and slowly drives you insane.

There’s a David Byrne song with some slightly blasphemous lyrics that captures my perspective on this, “Green grass grows around the backyard shithouse. And that is where the sweetest flowers bloom. We are flowers growin’ in God’s garden, and that is why he spreads the shit around.”

Now, I don’t believe in a spiteful God, but I do think He is aware that my Serenity Garden is a bit overrun with weeds–and that my husband’s illness is part of a larger plan intended to help fertilize the flowers.

3) God provides help where you least expect it. Despite the negative lessons I’ve learned about myself, I’ve also learned that I’m not completely on my own. While testing me big time on the patience front, God has also sent some unlikely angels to support me through this process. People who accept me despite the aforementioned shortcomings. I’m very thankful for these people in my life.

Diamond or basketcase? The jury is still out...
Diamond or basketcase? The jury is still out…

4) We all need to cut each other some slack. There’s one aspect of my lack of patience that I’ll accept, and that is my growing intolerance of hatred and judgment and negativity. Life can be tough. But most of us are doing the best we can, and we all need to remember that. When it comes to disability awareness, I’m probably on the “more enlightened” end of the spectrum having worked for two organizations serving people with disabilities and consequently spending a lot of time around people with various conditions. Despite this experience, I cringe when I think about past incidents where I might have thought someone’s slowness was just disregard for other people’s time or assumed that someone’s lack of balance was the result of too many drinks. I know there are times when my husband’s symptoms are probably misinterpreted and that if others knew the true cause they would be more tolerant and considerate as well.

5) It’s anybody’s guess. Parkinson’s is a very individual disease. While there’s a typical progression to the illness, not everyone experiences their symptoms the same way. Some people’s illness progresses very quickly, others more slowly. I have no idea exactly what’s in store for my future–but then again, does anybody? I also have no idea how well I’ll continue to cope with it all. My only hope is that I continue to recognize the blessings in my life and appreciate those who are helping my husband and me along this journey.

Rules were made to be broken… even those of our own design

According to our blogging schedule, it’s KitKat’s turn to write a post. However, she’s on vacation with her family, enjoying the sunshine and warm weather. Rather than drag her away from the fun, we’ve decided to mess with our sequence and have me post instead.

Coincidentally, this is an excellent lead-in to my topic. Some of you may be able to relate to this, but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve found that I’ve settled into a few routine “tendencies.” For example, let’s consider the subject of direct-selling parties. As you probably gathered from my previous post on the topic, if I get an invitation to one, I have a tendency not to attend.

Other tendencies include:

  • Not helping my kids with school fundraising. (I would perhaps buy something myself, but I wouldn’t go to any lengths to promote the fundraiser du jour among coworkers or family like some parents might.)
  • Disregarding charitable appeals that don’t fall into my selection criteria (which is fairly narrow) unless it happens to be a case of supporting a friend’s cause (in which case, it’s actually about supporting the friend more than the cause). The fact is, there are millions of worthy organizations out there competing for the same buck and giving it any more thought than that would cause my head to explode.
  • Not buying any white bottoms. That’s an easy one to explain. I’m a klutz and buying white pants or a white skirt is just asking for trouble.
  • Only watching “non-taxing” movies on Friday nights. These would be romantic comedies, slapstick comedies, classics I’ve seen 20x before, etc. Nothing with a complicated plot or that otherwise requires full attention. After putting in a full week at work, I simply don’t have enough brain cells left on Friday night.

And last, but not least:

  • A policy against having policies. I’ll call these tendencies “preferences,” or “guidelines,” but I don’t like to think of them as “policies.” While these kinds of rules can form a code of conduct that simplifies decision-making, I’ve seen a number of people apply their preferences too rigidly, disregarding the consequences of their inflexibility or its effect on others. As a result, you might say that I have a policy against policies.

Surprised by that last one? Here’s an example from close to home: My dad won’t wait in lines—which he is quick to point out if he encounters one. Like most of his Greatest Generation peers, he enlisted for WWII as soon as he could. Dad left for basic training the first day after the end of his senior year in high school, and at the age of 17 he was immersed in a new world—one that apparently included a lot of lines. As he explains it, “The guys would have to wait in line for hours to go through the chow line for breakfast and then after eating would get back in the line again for lunch. I swore when I left the service, I’d never wait in line again.”

And as far as I know. He hasn’t.

Wasn't Stormy adorkable?
Wasn’t Stormy adorkable?

That’s an exaggeration of course. Realistically, I’m sure my dad hasn’t been able to avoid every long line he’s encountered during the 68 years since this “policy” was formed. But I’m sure he did if he had any say in the matter. Which is why—when my family went to Disneyland in the late 70s and the line for Space Mountain was “too long”—we skipped what was then the hottest ride in the theme park. And I still remember the omission 30 odd years later. (You’re probably thinking here that I need to learn to let things go—and I do—but that’s a topic for another post.)

Today, my dad’s policy is usually cited when my mom wants to eat at a popular restaurant. Would it kill him to wait it out once in a while? No and doing so would make my mom happy. So I try to keep this in mind whenever I find myself clinging a little too stubbornly to my own “tendencies,” and remember that every rule has its exception. Because knowing when it’s okay–or even necessary–to bend the rules is key to living a balanced and exceptional life.

 “The wind does not break a tree that can bend.”  – African Proverb