Test driving the new brain

In my last post, I explained the process my husband was undergoing for brain surgery. I’m happy to report that the results are better than either of us were expecting. I’ve described his off and on periods before, but this video shows his results better than I can explain. The “task” is to go back and forth between two pieces of tape as fast as he can. In the first snippet, he is completely “off,” no DBS, no meds. In the second, both are working together.

The beauty of his DBS device is—even when his meds are “off”—he still has about 70-75% mobility, compared to about 20% without the device (see the chart below). As you might imagine, this has been life-changing. (Editor’s note: That’s not a word I use lightly—I once wrote an article about getting braces as an adult and the magazine publisher wanted to edit it to have me say it was life-changing but I refused to put straighter teeth in that category. My teeth weren’t horrible to begin with and it was really more of a vanity thing.)

For the first couple of days we were stunned—we kept waiting for Oskar to go “off” to the extent he had previously and it never happened. Well, actually it did one evening when we were going out to dinner. Oskar felt the familiar slowness associated with being truly “off” and we were both a bit depressed—thinking the results had been too good to be true—only to discover afterward that he had accidentally shut off the device. He pressed the on button and surged back to mobility. It was truly a miracle.

Oskar and I realized over the next week or so that many things that had been difficult or impossible for him to do while “off” were, once again, on the table…such as:

  • Driving
  • Cooking
  • Going to Target (invariably, if Oskar tried to go to Target while his meds were on, they’d crash on him just as he was needing to maneuver the checkout line/payment process)
  • Visiting his deceased mom’s elderly partner, Harold (see driving, above)
  • Riding a bike
  • Hiking
  • Standing while waiting for a table at a restaurant
  • Taking walks around the park
  • Sight-seeing

Actually, that last one was my realization and I thought, “What better way to test-drive his new brain than by going on vacation?” We had had a grueling, busy winter and were ready for some fun in the sun, so we booked a spontaneous trip to California to visit some friends and Oskar’s little sister—and to see how much of a contribution his DBS device would make to our vacation.

DBS_chart

The vacation was enlightening. The first night, we stayed with my high-school friend Dot and her husband. We had a fun afternoon and dinner out, catching up on Dot’s new hobbies (painting and pottery—which reminded me that I have to make time for more art in my own life) and her husband’s acting career.

The next day, after going out for breakfast, Dot was chained to her home waiting on an important delivery, so I decided to take Oskar on the hike we had done with Dot and my girls on our last visit, in a park near her house. I remembered the trail as being fairly long, but not too strenuous, and it had beautiful views of the LA area. Still, it was the type of hike that Oskar would have had problems with in the past—but I wanted to see if the “New Oskar” could handle it. We found the trailhead and headed up the path. The trail went up…and up…and up… I kept asking him, “Are you okay?” “How are you doing?” “Do you need to rest?” and each time he said, “No, I’m fine…” And here’s the thing: He WAS fine.

The next day, we went to meet Oskar’s little sister and her husband. They’re both scientists working for a biotech company and have a lovely home in Thousand Oaks. We had dinner at an interesting outside restaurant in the Santa Monica mountains. The next morning, we sat out in the backyard contemplating how to spend the day. (Interesting observation: Oskar’s sister and husband have a lovely backyard, complete with swimming pool, but don’t spend much time in it. “Do you entertain out here?” I asked, thinking of my love for outdoor parties. “No, not really” was the reply. It was a clear geographical difference—in Minnesota, it’s nearly mandatory that if it’s nice, you’re outside. No debates. We don’t have a lot of nice, warm weather, so we cherish every sunny day, and nobody knows how to celebrate the beauty of summer like a Minnesotan. California, on the other hand, sees so many nice days that its residents TAKE IT FOR GRANTED. This is nearly an unforgiveable sin, but our hosts did a good job of indulging our craving for Vitamin D.)

We grabbed a bottle of champagne and headed to an oyster food truck that parks along the ocean in Ventura. We ordered a variety of oysters—raw, fried, baked—and had a picnic on the beach. It was awesome. Oddly, my sister-in-law had gone running on the beach past the food truck many times, but had never stopped for oysters. So our visit prompted her and her husband to try it out. How many great experiences do we all overlook in our own hometowns, and how many cool things might we discover if we looked at our city through the eyes of a tourist?

Afterward, we went to a microbrewery and continued our day of indulgence. Later, we went up the coast and met an old college friend of Oskar’s at another microbrewery. (Do you see a theme here?)

IMG_3109The next few days were spent in the Santa Barbara wine country and one day consisted of a long day trip up to Big Sur and Carmel. All along our trip, I was evaluating how Oskar was handling things. He was able to drive more than he normally would (although I drove most of the PCH, he took the wheel for most of the route home).

On our last full day, we visited a number of wineries. We noticed that for the first time since Oskar’s DBS device had been switched on, he was experiencing some noticeable “off-time.” This tempered our “New Brain—New Life!” outlook a bit, and we were both a little quiet and reflective. What seemed too good to be true apparently was.

We returned home and back in his everyday environment, Oskar quickly rebounded to his new-and-improved self. We decided that Oskar’s off periods while on vacation were caused by a little too much beer and wine, combined with him taking a more lax approach to his medication schedule.

The vacation had mixed results… We learned that Oskar’s surgical success didn’t mean he was cured, but we also discovered that it was possible to turn back time to a point where Parkinson’s didn’t rule our lives. And we have to admit, we’re pretty excited about that!

 

 

How to tackle a to-do list

I am constantly beating myself up for all of the things I don’t get done. The never ending, always growing to-do list is my daily reminder of all the things I failed to accomplish each day. Around 9:00 p.m. each night, once I am home from work, everyone is fed, back from various activities and a bit of quiet has settled in the house, I look at my to-do list on the counter and inevitably choose to sit on the couch and watch a show instead of tackling something productive.

Sadly, I end up not even enjoying my relaxation time because I am haunted by thoughts of what I should be doing instead and how I failed to make the most of my time. These nagging feelings continue to build nightly. Then, eventually, one evening I am so overwhelmed, crabby and stressed that I lash out. Like when I walk into my daughter’s room, filled with the strangest hoarding collections that could trigger an avalanche. Or I open up my son’s daily grade information online and see homework assignments he didn’t turn in or a low score on a quiz in an easy subject…which just proves his lack of effort. (The negatives to both a parent and child from giving parents access to a kid’s daily school life is a whole other blog in itself.)

I will say both the kids deserve “the talk” they get after these encounters, but maybe not with the level of frustration present when I snap.

After one such instance, I finally decided it was time to whip myself into shape. I decided to organize and figure out what I was actually doing with all my time so I made a list one day. (Yep, another list!)

  • Woke up for Pilates
  • Came back home and got kids ready and on the bus
  • Went to work
  • Grocery shopped over lunch
  • Back to work
  • Got dinner served and eaten before son’s practice
  • Answered a few quick work emails
  • Helped daughter finish cereal box book project
  • Quizzed son for the next day’s science test
  • Tucked in daughter
  • Went back to daughter’s room to explain why I couldn’t go on tomorrow’s  field trip (was less comforting and more annoyed as 20 minutes passed until I yelled,“Just go to sleep!”)
  • Looked at to-do list but didn’t do anything
  • Watched a show
  • Went to bed

The next morning I looked at my “what happened today” list and was somewhat impressed with all I got done. Plus, the cereal project box wasn’t part of the normal routine and did suck up my time that was available to work off my to-do list. Also, usually grocery shopping would be on my to-do list for the week, but running out of milk that morning forced the quick lunch-break shopping trip. I decided to add those two items on my to-do list and then immediately crossed them off. Strangely, that felt great.

In fact it felt so good to cross something off the list, I started adding things like, “do the dishes,” “work out,” and “fold laundry” to my weekly to-do list just so I could actually cross something off. It was a high being able to cross something out each night. This “cheat” helped me let go of all the other things I wasn’t actually getting done. It also helped me feel like I was a fairly productive person. I certainly felt better while on the couch watching Orphan Black.

I am now in the process of changing jobs with an unheard of luxury of one week off before I start my new position. This week, I had big plans of productivity with all the extra hours I was granted. So, what did I do? I made an even bigger list, of course. The first day I actually was able to cross off “organize the linen closet” but that was it. Though, I did think often about how in 20 minutes I would get up and conquer more of my list.

“Every passing minute is another chance to turn it all around.” Vanilla Sky.

(Yep, I should have added watching old movies with a glass of wine in the middle of the day to my “week off” to-do list.)

Until Thursday morning, I really didn’t stress too much about not doing anything at all. But then I felt that shadow of panic and self-blame approaching. Thank you to Stormy for the reminder that maybe I just needed to relax and do nothing. I am really happy her advice wasn’t just to get up and start doing something. So, I added “relax” to my list and enjoyed the day free of guilt.

Interestingly, on Friday I woke up, made coffee, organized my own closet, got rid of clothes, cleaned the house, bought a living room rug, wrote a blog, signed the kids up for summer camp, did some work to prepare for my new gig, and planned the next week’s meals. Maybe there is something to be said for giving yourself a break once in awhile.

Well, it’s not rocket science…

Right now, I’m sitting in a hospital waiting room as my husband has brain surgery. The road here wasn’t short. When he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s 13 years ago, we investigated treatments but found that there weren’t many options. The gold standard for Parkinson’s Disease is a drug called carbidopa/levodopa that Oskar has been taking for a number of years. As I’ve written before, it’s not a predictable treatment—sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Moreover, the longer one takes carbidopa/levodopa, the more likely one is to experience dyskinesia: Unintended movements caused by a surplus of dopamine in the system. These can be annoying (like when Oskar dropped my favorite mug) or potentially dangerous (for example, while driving).

For more advanced Parkinson’s patients, there is one surgical option—Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS)—but it isn’t a cure and the procedure can only be done once, so it’s usually not recommended until the disease is more advanced.

In recent years, Oskar started to reach a dosage level that brought on the dyskinesia. While the excess movements didn’t bother either of us much initially, it was becoming quite pronounced, and when he considered that along with the increasing frequency of “off” times, Oskar decided it was time to explore DBS.

Oskar volunteered to participate in a clinical study for a new device and underwent a series of tests to see if he was a good candidate for the surgery.

One of his consults required him to go off his medication overnight so that he was completely “off” while being evaluated. Then, they had him run through a series of motor tests to record his movements on video and time how long it took him to perform certain tasks. Then they let Oskar take his medication and re-did all of the tests with the carbidopa/levodopa in his system.

Now, I have seen my husband in both his on and off states hundreds of times, but the truth is I don’t pay attention to him much when he’s off. Oskar generally doesn’t like me to help him when his meds are off and it’s frustrating to watch him struggle and a bit depressing to see him sit there motionless. Truth be told, he’s not the best company when he’s off, so I usually go do other things while he waits for his meds to come back “on.” However, during the medical evaluation, I watched intently as he went through all of his motor tests both “off” and “on.” The difference was amazing. When he was off, he had a pronounced tremor, a blank expression, softer voice and very slow movements. When his meds came back on, you could see the relief flood his face. The tremor was replaced with dyskinesia, but he was more relaxed and able to do most of the motor tests with ease and greater speed. But throughout both on and off states, he kept his sense of humor and grace and reminded me once again what a classy guy he is.

The dramatic change in his motor skills was good news, though, because how well a person responds to the medication is an indicator of how they will respond to the surgical procedure.

brain surgeryOskar’s first surgery (left hemisphere) took 6 and a half hours. Time that he spent mostly awake with a halo screwed into his head, while the surgeon drilled a dime-sized hole in his skull and placed an electrode into his brain, looking for the optimal spot. They would test the location by having Oskar move his hand and leg and listen for the sound of the electrical impulses going from the brain to the muscle—basically listening for static. It took them five “pokes” to find the right location, but the doctor was pleased by the results once they hooked him up to the transmitter because Oskar responded to very low levels of stimulus.

Before the procedure, family and friends offered their support—Do you need anything? Do you want someone to sit with you in the waiting room?—and I was actually a little confused by it. This was a voluntary procedure expected to have a good outcome. It wasn’t an inoperable tumor or something… But as the hours wore on I started to get concerned; I hadn’t expected such a long time in surgery. My default coping method is denial, but that strategy requires one to keep busy so the real concerns don’t creep in. And that’s hard to do when you’re sitting in a hospital waiting room, alone, with a spotty wi-fi connection. After the successful completion of surgery number 1, I was grateful for KitKat’s company as I downloaded the day’s events to her over a glass of wine.

Writing this in real-time, Oskar just completed his second surgery (for the right hemisphere) last week. This time, they were able to place the electrode on the first “poke,” although they took two more passes at it to ensure they had the proper placement. Although both procedures were somewhat exhausting and wore him out more than he was expecting, we were glad to get past them—all jokes aside, it was brain surgery, after all. We’re anxious to get through his final surgery later this week (implanting the transmitter in his chest) to see how much of an improvement he gains when they switch everything on later in March. The large scars on his head seem like a small price to pay for the increased mobility he hopes to gain.

It's a good thing scars on guys are "rugged and sexy"...

It’s a good thing guy’s scars are “rugged and sexy”…

And there’s nothing like spending time in a hospital to remind you how fortunate you are. During these procedures, we both crossed paths with a number of people facing bigger challenges than us, and those encounters served as a humbling reminder of how lucky we actually are. We’re very optimistic about the outcome, but are trying to temper our hopefulness with reasonable expectations.

I don’t know what the future holds in terms of Oskar’s DBS results or how it might change our future, but I’m curious to find out. Yet, one thing Parkinson’s has taught me is to take it one day at a time—so you’ll find out when I do…a few months from now.

2016: Stormy’s year to “Choose Different”

New Year’s and its related resolutions are a perennial theme for KitKat and me. (YES, we’ve been doing the blog long enough now to have “perennial themes”—and the fact that this blog started out as a resolution proves my point, I think…)

From vision boards to attitude adjustments, we’re both a bit obsessed with self-improvement. Or at least identifying our shortcomings on a regular basis (ha, ha). Seriously, with how much I think about these things, I should be perfect by now. But as you probably realize, thinking and doing are two different things.

While I can be decisive and even a little impulsive, and I sometimes abandon my efforts when they don’t yield immediate results, I’m also a big believer in adopting the approach of the tortoise over the hare—slow and steady wins the race—and over time, small incremental changes can have a large impact on my life. Case in point: the bachelor’s degree that took me 11 years to earn.

Most of the time, it’s just about the choices you make.

Back when KitKat and I worked together, I had a 2 p.m. pop habit. (I suppose I should explained to some of our unenlightened readers that “pop,” not “soda,” is the proper nickname for carbonated beverages like Pepsi, or in my case, Diet Coke.) Each workday at 2 p.m., I’d saunter down to the break room and stick my two quarters in our company-subsidized (boy, in those days we were livin’ large!) vending machine. You could almost set your clock by my daily pilgrimage.

diet coke imagesWhen I left that job, I was unemployed for a while and quickly got over the need for my 2 p.m. caffeine jolt. However, on my first day with my current employer, I found myself in the breakroom at 2 p.m., dollar bill in hand (no subsidized vending machine there!) and as I was about to slide my money into the slot, I asked myself, “What am I doing?” Here I had successfully broken myself of a habit that was unhealthy and I nearly resumed it based on…what? A habit? A memory? I made a conscious decision NOT to buy the pop and have consumed very little since then—about 10 cans a year vs. the previous 60 or so.

GR_headerbooksThis remembrance inspired my resolution for 2016. What could I accomplish by simply making different choices? I was reading Gretchen Rubin’s book “Better Than Before” about the process of creating and breaking habits—if you’re a self-improvement junkie it’s a must-read. Around the holidays I received her e-newsletter, which included an article about choosing a New Year’s theme instead of a resolution. This theme would consist of a word (or words) that would guide decisions for the upcoming year: “Health,” for example, or “Learn.”

As someone with new-found time on my hands after our recent downsizing, I wanted to get in touch with activities I wasn’t able to pursue when I was taking care of a house and three kids, so I originally was going to make “Discover” my theme for 2016. Then I realized that word wasn’t broad enough to encompass the other changes I wanted to incorporate into the year ahead, so I revised my theme to “Choose Different.” This has a few meanings for me: One is synonymous with “Discover”—because I still want to explore new interests. But “Choose Different” also reminds me to challenge my dysfunctional thinking patterns and alter behaviors that haven’t been serving me well.

Apple

Srsly? I chose a variation of an old Apple slogan for my New Year’s theme? How derivative!

We’re only three weeks in, but so far it’s yielding some positive results. One change I made was to force myself to be less of an introvert at work. It’s something I’ve told myself I needed to do a dozen times before, but a 360 review coupled with a tongue-lashing by a coworker friend convinced me I needed to make a change. Well, it hasn’t killed me and it IS improving some relationships at work, so I’ll keep plugging along until it feels natural. There are other examples as well, and I’m curious to see where this theme might take me in 2016. I guess that is one of the benefits of getting to 50. I can see the horizon ahead and know that even if I don’t get to my self-actualized destination overnight, I can become a better version of myself along the way…simply by making smarter choices most of the time. Are you making any changes in the new year? Please share in the comments…

Another Year, Another Goal

A more appropriate title may be, another year and hopefully a goal. I don’t mean my vision board goals, which I never even put together in 2015. The kind of goal I am working toward is achieved on the ice.

Though life hasn’t slowed down and I am behind with all my normal to-dos, I have spent the year with a feeling that I need more. That something was missing. (Perhaps the curse of ditching the vision board.) Not coming up with any good ideas, I decided instead to try out hockey.

The idea first formed this summer but came to fruition while I was working off some of the forced hockey parent volunteer time in the concession stand. (Stay away from the slushies. Anything that can stain your skin can’t be great for your stomach!) During my shift, another hockey mom working with me mentioned she has been playing hockey for the past three years. She had fallen for the game watching her son through the years and decided to give it a try herself. She found it one of the hardest and most thrilling things she has taken on – both physically and mentally challenging. That aroused my interest. She also assured me that there were all levels of play including the most basic beginner teams. The association does a formal assessment to place you anywhere from AAA to C3. C3 being a lower division than the lowest found in the kids league. That is where her team is ranked, and in fact she just got her first goal ever this year.

I started thinking that maybe I would try the summer clinics offered to women who wanted to play and then join a team next season. That night I went to the WHAM (Women’s Hockey Association of Minnesota) website and saw there was an upcoming assessment. Being impulsive and impatient is my nature, and with summer clinics so far out I decided why not just jump in feet first? I was sure I could figure it out. I had watched enough games. So with confidence, I registered myself even though I have never been on hockey skates. (It couldn’t be that different from being on figure skates?) The season was half over so I would be unlikely to get picked up by a team but I knew getting assessed would commit me to the following year and get me focused on a training plan. The next morning, to the dismay of my horrified son, I started trying on his old equipment and I was all set.

I was able to get three practices in at a local rink before the assessment. I used the time to try to learn to stop and skate backwards. I quickly found out that stopping in hockey skates is a totally different world from figure skates. I somewhat figured out stopping on one side, or more like turning myself into a half circle to slow me down. As for going backwards, I moved in that direction a little bit. I brushed it off that I would probably be offense at first anyway. I even started wondering if I possibly could make C2 level if I could score like I do in my son’s shooting room. I was having so much fun daydreaming, feeling proud and laughing at myself that I amused myself out of realizing how bad I was. You would think it would have been apparent to me with the comparison of the six year olds darting around the rink.

Then came assessment day. Recent college players down to … well down to me … gathered at Augsburg Ice Arena to show off our skills. The first half hour was skating, passing and shooting drills. All of which I failed miserably. The puck is much easier to shoot in the basement when both it and I are standing still versus crossing paths on the ice. And for the skating and stopping drills, they did not go well forwards or backwards. I was becoming concerned since the last half an hour was a scrimmage.

That is where I shined. Not in my skills, but in sweat and smiles. It was so fun hockey sayingpretending to play. I didn’t really do anything but chase the puck around during my shifts and watch the good players actually move the puck and play. I also learned it is very difficult seeing out of that cage, which was a good excuse when I completely missed a puck right by me. But even as bad as I was, it was fun to hear the other skaters on my bench cheer me on. I also loved how each two minutes on the ice had me dying for my next two minutes on the bench to catch my breath. It was exhilarating.

That night ranking came out. My name was registered as a C3 player. Seeing my name on the list felt like I won an award. Granted everyone made the list and I was the lowest ranking possible. Still, I told all my family the good news and emailed my hockey mom/player friend that I did it and would take clinics in the summer so I could be on a team the following winter. Next thing I know, I get an email back asking me to join her team. They were short players lately at games since the whole team has overbooked lives like mine. If I was willing to dedicate myself to showing up and practicing as much as I could, they would take me on so I would be ready next season as they try to advance to C2 play. I registered as a USA hockey member and signed on!

Thus far I have had one practice and one game. At the practice I didn’t embarrass myself too badly. Though one of the coaches took me aside and tried to teach me crossovers. Which basically is a more efficient way of skating, but first he has his work cut out for him just teaching me to trust lifting one skate up and trusting the other to glide on its edge. I prefer both skates firmly planted on the ice and even better a stick in my hand for extra balance support.

The first game went well in the fact that we won. Another plus, was that I have watched enough games to understand offsides and icing so I didn’t get the whistle blown on us.

Playing left wing at my first game - and still staying upright!

Playing left wing at my first game – and still staying upright!

My plan though was to get one goal or at least one assist. It would be my thank you to the team for taking a chance on me. I skated as fast as I could and often I would hear the coach yell to me “that is your puck!” meaning it was up to me to do something. I would have my eyes on it and a deep desire to take it and skate up to the opponents’ net. My biggest motivation was seeing the other team’s player also approaching and knowing if I didn’t at least hit it away from her I would have to skate all the way back across the ice again.Well, the closest I got to a break away was falling across the ice on my face trying to reach for the puck. No fairytale ending here. Three days later I am still sore and I have a bruise on my chin. But I can’t wait to get out there again.

I have never played a team sport and am excited to learn about being part of a team. Even the locker room is foreign to me but I like listening to everyone’s chatter and then the silence as the coaches came in for a pregame strategy. (Not that I could follow or carry out the moves they marked up the board with.) I still feel like a kid hoping to fit in and become one of them soon. So far, all the players have been encouraging and forgiving. Plus having the coaches pull me aside on tips and mistakes, even yell at me on the ice, is what makes me feel most included. They actually think I can maybe contribute.

It is a totally new feeling to be so new to something. As my teammate said, “It is not often as adults we have an opportunity to start the learning curve so low.” Physically and mentally there is so much to learn. It is draining and thrilling to push myself in a direction I have never tried. It has also made me realize how good these 12 and 13 year old boys are. It makes me truly appreciate the strength, skill and grace they have. It may tone down my yelling “move your skates” and “get that puck” as they race down the ice.

Wish me luck in the playoffs! If I have nothing else to offer the team, I am competitive and hopefully that drive will help make up for my lack of skill and talent. I am hoping to report back that I finished my first season with one goal.

Living fearless

Sometime in my early 30s, I had an epiphany about fear. I had wanted to adopt an orphaned child (not an infant) ever since I was a kid myself, but when I finally got to the stage in my life where I could afford the process, I had doubts. I already had two wonderful biological children and a happy marriage. What if I adopted a kid who was deeply troubled and screwed all of that up? This fear was holding me back.

Meanwhile, a guest speaker at church told us about a mission trip she had taken to work with Mother Teresa in India. I won’t describe the story that changed my perspective (I’m sure it would lose something in my retelling) but the upshot of it was I realized I needed to have faith in a good outcome and plunge ahead despite my fear.quote-inaction-breeds-doubt-and-fear-action-breeds-confidence-and-courage-if-you-want-to-conquer-fear-dale-carnegie-32059

Those of you who have met my daughter Blossom know that I was immeasurably blessed by my leap of faith.

A conscious choice to “Be not afraid”

Fast forward a few years to when my husband was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. A highly individualized illness, some people end up in a wheelchair in five years. Others still work for 15 or 20 years. About a quarter of those diagnosed end up with dementia. There was plenty to fear, but we made a conscious decision to not immerse ourselves too deeply in what “could be” and just focus on what he still could do in the here and now. So far, that decision has served us well, and we’ve been pleasantly surprised by the relatively slow progression of his disease.

I recently was alluding to some challenging family issues, mainly concentrated around my elderly parents, and I’ve determined that the source of these difficulties comes back to this same issue: Fear. My mother is living in fear more and more as she gets older. It’s causing her world to contract and leaving her confused and angry. It’s challenging for her adult children because the fear colors her perception—and our concern about her well-being is interpreted as attempts to take away her freedom.

We have nothing to fear but fear itself… and daycare costs

There are many times our lives require us to overcome our fear in order to move to the next phase: Going away to college, moving out on your own, interviewing for a job, asking someone on a date, proposing marriage, deciding to bring a child into the world, letting your children strike off on their own, learning to trust your adult children, learning to trust that things will work out, and finally trusting that, even when death is inevitable, God is by your side.

baby_moneyHaving a baby is a common example. Many young couples fear the responsibility of parenting. With news articles estimating that it will cost  a quarter of a million dollars to raise a newborn to age 18, it’s no wonder. Yet most of us plow ahead anyway—adjusting our lifestyles along the way—and consider ourselves the richer for it (even while our bank account takes a nosedive). Which brings me to my next point:

Bad things still will happen on occasion…but you’ll be okay

Living a fearless life doesn’t mean that you’ll experience smooth sailing from that point on. Some of the things you fear may actually come to fruition. But there is power in forging ahead anyway and usually you’ll find that 1) Most of the time the thing you feared doesn’t actually happen, or 2) On the rare occasion the bad outcome occurs, you’ll cope with it the best you can, learn something in the process and feel even stronger when you emerge on the other side. And because you’re now living a fearless life, you’ll view these episodes as infrequent storm clouds in your otherwise sunny life.

quote-you-can-sway-a-thousand-men-by-appealing-to-their-prejudices-quicker-than-you-can-convince-robert-a-heinlein-41-65-49Recent terrorist activity seems to have activated our society’s collective fear response and the result is ugly. The birth of this country was not a fear-based decision. Our forefathers (and mothers) had good reason to fear the quest for independence—after all, one man’s revolution is another man’s treason—but the shimmering ideal of a free nation was too enticing not to move forward despite their fears. Most of us lucky enough to be born in this country are here because we have ancestors that didn’t let fear stop them from leaving their homes behind in pursuit of a better life. As we watch our neighbors react to terrorist attacks by proposing fear-based restrictions on innocent people in the name of “protecting ’Merica” let’s remember that nothing could be LESS American.

 

 

A Charity Case or a Case for Charity?

It’s a bad sign when KitKat asks me, “…any blog ideas?” which happened just this morning. If you look back at our postings, you can see that the longer gaps between posts are when we’re waiting on KitKat. Of course, this is justifiable because she has school-age kids and other obligations that keep her very busy. I have way more time to write. Usually, KitKat’s thrilled to have the blog-ball in my court because it gives her more time to work on her next post. But even she can tell I’m in a serious drought—and when she starts gently prodding me, I know it’s time to settle on a topic and get to work.

It’s not that life has been boring. On the contrary, there have been a lot of serious issues consuming my thoughts lately. However, both KitKat and I have noticed that the more something is on our mind, the harder it is to organize our thoughts on the topic and write about it. Consequently, you’re not going to hear about my challenges with my parents (although I’m sure that will be a future topic), or my thoughts on the recent terrorist activity in Paris (my brain will never be able to organize such a cowardly, inhumane act into a coherent post).

Paris_attack

There’s plenty of fodder for a blog post in this situation, but I can’t eloquently articulate this level of evil… I don’t think anyone can.

I’ve mentioned before that I’m an introvert and the worst part about that is it it’s easy for negativity to get stuck inside my head. That’s what’s been happening lately, and I know what I need to do in order to counter that: Turn negative inward thoughts into positive outward actions.

For the last couple of years, ever since my youngest flew the nest, I’ve been aware of a lack of purpose in my life. Raising three kids has been my primary activity for the last 26 years and now that they are largely independent, I’ve felt a void. I’ve been seeking out a volunteer opportunity where I could feel like I was doing something worthwhile and after a couple of false starts, joined a program that provides mentors to unemployed/underemployed women.

My first mentee match was unusual, to say the least. I looked up my match on LinkedIn before meeting her—a native of Zimbabwe, spoke multiple languages, won several scholarships, was working on an advanced degree, had previously been Miss Africa, and had started a couple of businesses and non-profits. I met her and we had a great conversation; however, I wasn’t sure how much I could help her. She was a force to be reckoned with and it was clear she would go far in life. In fact, she made me feel a bit inadequate about my own achievements: I had done far less with far more. We tried to coordinate our mentoring sessions but she had too much going on in her life to meet with me. (She was interested in public policy and had been chosen for an internship with the United Nations—seriously!) So while I was happy to have met such an ambitious young woman, I didn’t get much personal satisfaction from “helping” her.

Enter Ellen, my second match via the mentoring program. As with my previous match, I tried looking her up on LinkedIn beforehand, but there was no profile to be found. We met at a coffee shop. I was surprised to see that she was older than me. And then she told me her story. Her first son had died quickly of a brain tumor at the age of four and that sent her into an emotional tailspin (which anyone who’s a mother can understand). She became divorced and later became pregnant and had another son. She never married the boy’s father but supported him by cleaning houses. (After losing her first child, she wanted to make sure her schedule allowed her to be there for her son, as caring for him was her top priority.) Now her son had graduated from high school and she wanted to find a better paying job with benefits so she could start saving money for retirement.

floppy-disk-iconNow here was someone I could help. We talked about how to translate the skills gained from her house-cleaning business into marketable experience—managing a staff, scheduling, selling her own cleaning products. We talked about online applicant tracking systems and how to best present your information to potential employers. (When I suggested that in addition to completing the online application, she also should attach a PDF of a nicely formatted version of her resume, she asked, “You mean put it on a floppy disk?” That’s when I knew I had my work cut out for me.)

volunteerAt our next meeting, she excitedly told me about a job interview she had the next day. I told her what I knew about the company and helped her research the position online. I gave her tips on what to do/not do during the interview and stressed the importance of sending a thank you note afterward. Driving home, I thought about how the mentor/mentee relationship was benefitting both of us. Although I have been frustrated with my job of late, from Ellen’s perspective I was living the glamorous life—a well-paying job, an experienced team, global responsibility, fulfilling work—and I was reminded how fortunate I am to have all those things.

Meanwhile, I realized that the value I was bringing to Ellen wasn’t in the employment-seeking pearls of wisdom I was bestowing on her (those could be found in any job-hunting book), but in the faith and encouragement I was bringing her: From my vantage point, she was a strong woman who had overcome a lot of challenges and was willing to work hard. I believed in her success, but she needed encouragement.

At one point she said to me, “There’s no dignity in being a housecleaner” and I immediately disagreed: “You provided for you and your son by doing honest, hard work—there’s plenty of dignity in that!” And hearing it from me, she started to believe it as well.cleaning supplies

I’m happy to report that Ellen got the job for which she was interviewing. While it’s starting at the bottom of the company and her shift begins at 3 a.m., she was thrilled to have benefits and hopes to work her way up to a customer service job with regular hours. With some help and support, I have no doubt she’ll get there.

And I gained something from the mentorship as well. I learned that getting out of my own head for a while is as restorative as any vacation—not to mention cheaper—and what I take for granted can make a difference for someone else.