Taylor Swift, Socrates, And My Brain Walk Into A Bar At 3 A.M.

“The unexamined life is not worth living.” ~Socrates

Ruby asks me again if I’ve seen her keys

It’s 3:31 a.m. All the male creatures in our house are asleep. I am wide awake once again, sitting on the sofa in our living room. Beneath my feet, our fourteen year old border collie has settled temporarily, taking a break from her mid-night wanderings. In a minute, she will jump up and trot off quickly as if she just remembered she is late for an important meeting. She will get halfway across the room, stop, then look left and right, confused about where the hell she was headed. Ruby and I are simpatico lately. We’re either both deep thinkers with too much on our minds or we’re both losing our shit. Maybe these things are not mutually exclusive or untrue.

Aside from desperately needing the sleep, I don’t mind being awake in the middle of the night. I appreciate the peace. I find solace in the hum of the heater kicking on, the faint crash of ocean waves coming from the ambient noise app on my phone in the other room, the click of Ruby’s nails on the hardwoods as she trots around looking for the car keys she can’t find. I try to focus on my surroundings and stay rooted in the present because this is good practice. Mindfulness is the antidote for the poison of overwhelm. But the truth of these late-night, sleepless hours is there is something, perhaps many things, out of kilter in my life. In these moments, I become innately aware I am adrift. I’m on a flimsy, inflatable raft in the midst of a vast ocean, mere inches above multitudinous unknowns lurking just beneath the surface. I’m fine for the time being, but my situation is precarious. I’m one rogue wave away from drowning. My sleeplessness is a sign. It’s time to gather my shit in.

I attempt to pull disparate thoughts from my spinning mind to categorize and file them away so I can get back to sleep, but I might as well be trying to pluck tree branches and airborne chihuahuas from a churning, F4 tornado. The desire to right all the wrongs in my messy life at 4 a.m. is admirable, though ill-advised. In the back of my head, Taylor Swift sings my story:

“I should not be left to my own devices, they come with prices and vices. I end up in crisis, tale as old as time…It’s me. Hi. I’m the problem it’s me. At tea time, everybody agrees. I’ll stare directly in the sun but never in the mirror. It must be exhausting always rooting for the anti-hero.”

I have good days. Most of the time, I feel I am on the right path. Sometimes, though, while I’m sleeping, everything that has been running in background mode in my head pops up at once and overloads the system and I end up here. Deconstructing old trauma, adapting to life in an empty nest, managing a household, navigating health issues, raising a puppy, dealing with the manifestations of aging, trying to figure out who I am now and who I might like to be if there is a later, and accepting the incontrovertible truth that I have not been bringing my best self to the table for myself or the people I care about for years now, well, that’s quite a quagmire to wade through during the most opportune moments. It’s a bit much for the middle of the night. And it’s still going to be too much to face on three hours of sleep once the sun rises and I have to make an early morning trip to the grocery store ahead of hosting Thanksgiving at our house. Sigh.

While I can’t address my issues now and losing sleep isn’t going to make things one iota better, at least I can come here and let you know you are not alone. Most people are hurtling through life feeling frenzied and lost and imposter-ish. And the majority of the people you know who seem to have it all together? Well, they pull off that feat by living unconsciously, which, believe it or not, is worse than being painfully aware. Us up-all-night-with-our-thoughts folks may be sleep deprived, but it’s only because we’re honest and paying attention. So, I am here now to remind you and me to take heart. Today is another day in which we might still not figure anything out, but we’re alive and awake and that means we have lives worth living.

My Autobiography: In Five Chapters

Along my path to a healthier me, a me who isn’t stuck operating from the trauma responses I adopted as a child, I found this poem. It has been my goal post as I move through the stages of recovery.

Autobiography in Five Chapters by Portia Nelson

Chapter I

I spent most my life unable to move beyond Chapter I. I was self-unaware. With no understanding the dynamics that had been in play when I was a child had heavy consequences, nearly everything I encountered was a challenge for my nervous system. Normal interactions and situations triggered my fight, flight, or fawn defenses. Without those defenses, I would have collapsed in on myself like a dying star. I had no real idea who I was underneath the overthinking, perfectionism, people pleasing, boundary ceding, bullying, and negativity. Worse yet, I didn’t see there was anything unhealthy about my MO at all. I was stuck for a long, long time.

Chapter II

Six days before my 46th birthday, I was sabotaged in public by a family member. Because my eleven year old son had been used as an unwitting pawn in the scheme to humiliate me, something in me snapped. It was my roller shade moment. After decades spent repressing abuse I endured as a child, the window shade I had pulled down to protect myself from repeated trauma flew up. I could not unsee what had been lurking behind it. I was bumped into Chapter II, forced to acknowledge my past and reckon with my trauma responses and their repercussions. I couldn’t stop using them to protect myself yet because I still needed them. So, I kept behaving mostly the same way I always had, only now I was aware how unhealthy my reactions to every little thing were. I didn’t know how to stop them, but I knew they were wrong. Every time I caught myself in an epic overreaction, the shame was overwhelming. I read a stack of self-help books and realized I needed to start regular therapy. Through therapy, I faced my past. It was painful and slow going. Every time I hurt my husband or my sons because I could not control my responses, I felt like the worthless person I was told as a child I was. I was a skipping record, stuck in a groove, doomed to repeat my patterns.

Chapter III

After some research, I decided to shift to a new therapist who offered EMDR therapy, which has helped thousands of people suffering from PTSD see their trauma in a different light. I’ve spent most of the past two years in this chapter. It has been an endless cycle of acting out my old habits, catching myself, acknowledging my behaviors and thoughts are not helpful, apologizing to myself and others for my missteps, and then forgiving myself and trying again from a more mindful place. Sometimes I would react in a more healthy manner immediately. Other times I had to sit with the negative pattern I had repeated for 5-10 minutes before understanding how I could do better and then ameliorating the situation for myself and those I had been unfair to. I saw my progress and was encouraged, but I also knew I could be in this chapter for decades until I was skilled enough spot the hole before falling into it.

Chapter IV

Recently, and with some extra assistance, I’ve had some legitimate success walking around the trauma hole. I can bump myself out of my well-worn groove and react differently in the moment. I’ve made it to Chapter IV. I don’t live here full-time, but I am finally here. I catch negative thoughts mid-stream and I make a choice to walk around that hole. Holy shit. There is no way to explain what a monumental life shift this has been for me. While I still stumble into my old patterns a few times a day, I also stop them a few times a day. I’m owning my mistakes because I know I’m not expected to be perfect. I’m beating myself up less, looking in the mirror and seeing myself in a positive light more than a negative one. I’m stopping my inner bullshit before it gets loose. I’m holding myself accountable. Best of all, though, I’m holding others accountable too. I differentiate between a me problem and a you problem. And I am able to stand up for myself, walk away, and let someone else deal with their own inner bullshit. I no longer think I am broken or horrible or perpetually wrong. I am still working but I am more present. I am proud of myself.

Chapter V

A lot of people have lofty goals for their lives. They know what legacy they would like to leave behind. Me? I don’t concern myself with any of that. I just want to get to Chapter V and hopefully live there for a bit, with a reasonable level of control over my actions, some mindfulness, and a lot less reactivity. If I get to a place where my childhood trauma responses are a faint whisper or dull memory rather than a full-fledged fire alarm, I will have walked the path I believe I was meant to walk. My goal in this life is to recover, to do better for myself, my spouse, and my children, to break a cycle.

The light at the end of the tunnel is growing brighter. I know someday I won’t have to negotiate my way around the hole at all because I will have already walked down another street.

Go Ahead — Ask For Some Help Already

This post is for all of you helpers. You know who you are. You are the ones who take on more responsibility than you need to, who feel overworked and under-appreciated because you don’t know how to share the load, who don’t know how or when to ask for help or even that asking for assistance is not only important but healthy.

I am your people. I grew up believing I could only count on myself. I had no problem helping out others. I learned that if I wanted something done the “right” way, I had to do it myself. It never occurred to me that perhaps someone else might have a better way of doing something or that I might learn something useful from their efforts. I didn’t know how to ask for what I needed, so I told myself I didn’t need anything from anyone else. If someone disappointed me, which happened on occasion precisely because I didn’t know how to ask for what I wanted, I labeled them as untrustworthy and went my own way. It was a vicious cycle. Each time I tried to trust someone and was disappointed, it was further proof I could only count on myself. And so I went through most of my life taking on more and more, trusting less and less. Since no person is an island, I created for myself an untenable situation. I became stressed out. I continually felt put upon. The truth is, eventually, we all can use some help. Wise people understand burden sharing provides insight, camaraderie, and a sense of belonging. Taking on everything solo fosters isolation, frustration, and bitterness.

Every night as I’m finishing with dinner prep and we are about to serve, my husband asks if he can plate some food for me. Most nights I still say no. Most nights I tell him I can get my own. I grew up feeling self-sufficiency was proof of competency. Other people ask for help. I don’t need help. That was the lie I told myself. The more I took on, the more others relied on me for that service and the more exhausted I became. My life only began to improve when I started letting others share the burden.

I’m still learning it is okay to let others do for me. They might not do it exactly the way I would have done it, but that can be good. Sometimes when I let someone else do something their way, it’s a growth experience. Other people can be a great source of fresh ideas if you let them bring their gifts to the table. I’ve learned a lot through watching others do things their way. Sometimes I adopt their method because it makes that much more sense.

So, my challenge to all my control freak comrades is this: find a few moments this week when you are feeling overwhelmed and ask for help. You can start small. Ask for help bringing in groceries or walking the dog. If you’re meeting a friend for lunch, suggest a place closer to you for once rather than driving across town to meet them like you have always done. People who are willing to seek help and rely on others occasionally create for themselves a sense of belonging. I think we could all use a little more of that feeling these days.

I promise you this. Once you start asking for assistance, once you start allowing others to be there for you the way you’ve been there for them, you won’t go back to your old ways. It’s liberating to let go of unnecessary responsibility. And, believe me. When someone is insisting on contributing, it’s because they want to. Understand that accepting their offer doesn’t mean you’re incompetent; it means they feel they have something positive and useful to offer. Maybe it’s not about you at all. Maybe it’s about them and their desire to be involved.

There’s nothing wrong with asking for what will make your life a measure easier. Sharing life’s burdens makes life better. You just have to be willing to let go of a little control. No one of consequence will think less of you.

Evolution Isn’t Just For Finches

If anyone is wondering, I am finally sick of my own bullshit.

I am tired of my whining about people who put me in a box, closed the lid, and then sat on it to keep me in my place. I got strong enough to topple them, to push my way out, and then I complained about being held down for so long. I spent so long bitching about it that then I was holding myself down. I think that is a common pattern for people recovering from abuse. You have to process it to make your peace with it. And part of processing is wallowing. It’s the wallowing that makes you sick of yourself. And getting sick of yourself is a good thing because it pushes you out of the track you’ve been running in and allows you to begin a new track.

I understand now why I operated the way I did. And now I know how to operate differently. I don’t always get it right, but forward progress in any measure feels like a win. I will never let anyone speak for me again or tell me who I am or what I like or what I should do or be. I might solicit advice, but that doesn’t mean I’ll take it. No one is an expert on me, not even me. I am in the middle of an evolution.

All the best people are.

Is That All There Is?

Some call this puppy jail. Ruby calls it peace of mind.

When we brought our corgi puppy home late in September, we knew our older dog, Ruby, would be against the whole sordid scenario. To ease her (and him) into the transition, I purchased a large, plastic corral to serve as a temporary border. It was, indeed, meant to be temporary. Turns out it has taken our senior dog much longer than anticipated to adjust to her new, four-legged housemate. For months, she avoided walking near the pen after its inhabitant lunged at the corral, causing it to shift a couple inches closer to her. Because Ruby is in kidney failure and has bad days, we decided that she deserved control of the majority of the main floor. Loki remained in his pen except for the few times a day we would allow a 20-30 minute, spirited “play session” (read: practice the “drop it” command while attempting to retrieve from the puppy all the items he has sloppily pilfered with his mouth). During the Loki free-for-all, Ruby enjoyed the spa-like comfort of our closed bedroom with the knowledge that she was safe from the chompers of the small, furry landshark we had brought home and inflicted upon her without consent.

In March, once Ruby had finally acknowledged that Loki was here to stay (the horror), we began letting them co-mingle for periods of time with supervision. Ruby spent most of those moments snarling and snapping as Loki attempted to play with her. Loki, completely unfazed by her snarls because he innately understood she would not harm him, continued to annoy the hell out of her. The humans in the house have grown accustomed to the sounds of Ruby telling Loki, not so politely, to f**k off, and Loki continuing to press the issue because how dare anyone not acknowledge the power of his cuteness.

A month and a half into the co-mingling experiment, things are beginning to calm down. Loki is starting to understand that Ruby will tolerate him if he stays out of her face. And Ruby is starting to acknowledge that having another four-legged around is not entirely horrific. She will even approach him when he is sleeping and flop down within a two-foot radius of his resting figure. Two feet appears to be the minimum distance for safety in Ruby’s mind. Loki now is able to remain out with Ruby for hours. The pen has become the place we put him when he needs to chill for a moment. We are trying to acclimate him to life on the outside and hoping he will learn to settle.

Today, though, I noticed something different in Loki’s demeanor when he was out and about. He was mostly avoiding Ruby, walking from closed door to closed door (he doesn’t have full house access yet), and looking curiously at everything. It felt like he was settling into the pace of life here on a Saturday morning. Then he seemed to get a little lost, as if he isn’t sure what he’s supposed to be doing to amuse himself now that he has a lot bigger enclosure than he is used to. He sniffed at his basket of toys, but seemed uninterested. He would approach the sofa where I was sitting, collapse into a sploot in on the floor, and then a minute later get up and go back to wandering around. He was antsy and seemed dissatisfied somehow. I couldn’t figure it out. He couldn’t wait to get out of his pen and then at one point I looked over at him and saw something that felt distinctly human about his behavior. As he sat there in front of the coffee table, his head swiveled and surveyed the room. He looked forlornly at me, and I swear I could almost hear him thinking, “Is that all there is?”

After all the time he has spent in the pen, wanting to be free on the outside, now he is on the outside and he doesn’t get what the excitement was about it. It’s like he just now realized the entire house is actually a large pen. So he has his freedom, but it isn’t what he expected it would be. And this, of course, led me to The Shawshank Redemption because, maybe after all that time with restricted access, he now isn’t sure he can survive on the outside. I wondered if he was thinking of ways to wreak havoc so we would pick him up and deposit him back into the safe space he has had for six months.

“There’s a harsh truth to face. No way I’m gonna make it on the outside. All I do anymore is think of ways to break my parole, so maybe they’d send me back. All I want is to be back where things make sense.” ~Ellis (Red) Redding, The Shawshank Redemption

So, we put him back in his pen, he settled onto one of his comfy blankets, and fell right asleep. Everything made sense again.

Shit Is About To Get Real — Can We Handle It?

This kid literally cannot

To protect my mental health these days, I keep most of my news consumption to online articles because when I watch television news and see the strength and resolve of the Ukrainian people as they undertake what may well be an in-vain attempt to salvage their nation, I often have to leave the room to cry. I just can’t. It’s too much. Coming off two years of a global health crisis that kept us indoors and away from the greater community that binds us, my coping strategies have reached their limit like an old, elastic band that has been sitting in a drawer for ages and now will break when stretched. Just when the light at the end of the tunnel came into view, an aging white autocrat in Russia decided to push his limits.

I saw a video today of a four year old who approached his waiting school bus, got within fifteen feet of its steps, bent over to put his mask on, and then fell backwards with dramatic flourish onto the concrete, as if the prospect of the school week was more than he was capable of handling at that moment. We are all that kid right now as we wonder how much more insanity, unrest, upheaval, heartbreak, hardship, and stress we can take both at home and around the world.

For almost 77 years, the world has known peace in Europe. That peace has existed my entire life and all but three years of my parents’ lives. While my parents had a solid concept of the horrors of war through their parents, I had only what I saw in films. Aside from the 1980s era nuclear holocaust fears I had courtesy of our Cold War with the Soviets and “The Day After” television movie that haunts me 38 years later, I have felt mostly safe in our geographically isolated American bubble. That ended the other day when Putin’s army invaded a sovereign Ukraine, and then shit got real when he dangled the threat of a nuclear attack.

In an opinion piece on the CNN site this morning, six global voices weighed in on Putin’s invasion. Marci Shore, an associate professor of modern European intellectual history at Yale, had this to say about Putin: “This no longer felt like a man playing a high-stakes chess game, now it felt like a scene from Macbeth. My intuition was that an aging man facing his own death had decided to destroy the world. Ukraine is very possibly fighting for all of us.” This does indeed feel like the situation. While texting with my geopolitically savvy son last night, we discussed what can be done about the war as Putin begins to feel the squeeze of the joined hands of the free world around his neck. Joe told me, “The goal of the west should be to sanction as much as possible and create a counter propaganda machine to turn the oligarchs and Russian people against Putin.” And while I realize he is 100% correct, it means this war in Europe does not stay in Europe. We are a global economy. People around the planet will feel the sting of Putin’s actions in higher fuel costs, and those higher fuel costs will trickle into the costs of goods manufactured and sold around the world. The sanctions imposed on Russia will touch us all one way or another.

These financial hardships will be our contribution to squashing tyranny and, hopefully, restoring stability to Europe. Are we up to this task? I’m not sure. For the past two years, we’ve witnessed a steady cavalcade of tantrums over wearing a mask. If we weren’t all on board with covering our noses and mouths to suppress a transmissible, deadly virus, how willing will we be to suffer financial hardships for the sake of protecting democracy on a continent across the Atlantic? Are we smart enough to recognize that our peace and freedom are tied to the peace and freedom of citizens on the European continent? Will we be able to channel the ghosts of our American predecessors and adopt the WWII war-effort mindset of “Use it up – Wear it out – Make it do – or Do without”? Will we withstand financial hardship inside our own households and country, however long it takes, to protect the freedom and peace we have taken as a given for three quarters of a century? Man, I hope so. I would like to think we still have better days ahead.

We are a global people now. We need to act in the best interests of others to maintain our own best interests. As long as the majority of us in free nations are able to comprehend and live with that fact, we might be able to vanquish Putin, return Europe to peaceful homeostasis, and avoid nuclear fallout. The question remains, though, do we have it in us to continue living in an uncomfortable and perhaps increasingly painful holding pattern until better days arrive or are we just too soft now?

Fear, Superpower, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Shakespeare

Photo by Rohan Makhecha on Unsplash

After a long, heartfelt, open discussion last night, I am feeling much better today. Sometimes, you have to face your fears, speak your mind, listen carefully, and breathe through the discomfort of it all to reach a better place. I woke up this morning a little anxious because it’s hard when you’ve opened up and been vulnerable. It’s difficult to know if others were able to see and feel your heart. As the day progressed, though, I became more and more relaxed as a realization sunk in. I’ve spent my entire life giving other people power over me. It started when I was young and I gave up my power because it was a survival strategy. Then I was older and still operating under the rules of that previous paradigm, wanting people to like me, wanting to be fair to everyone else, wanting to be the “good girl” I was told I should be. I stayed in that good girl bubble for a long, long, long time. And then it hit me today. People only have power over me because I have continued to give it away. I can be both a good person and a person who holds her own power. I can help people with love and compassion and not be a doormat. I can listen to and hear people and still speak my truth. I can be and do those things because that is my superpower. So today is a good day because I finally realized I am a goddam superhero.

Now, not everyone is going to get me or like me or agree with my previous statement, and that is okay. Some people may even puke in their mouth a little bit when they read this. And that too is okay. I am not for everyone. But the people in my tribe know my heart and benefit from my light, and those can’t or don’t want to see my goodness may never. And that also is just fine. Whether or not others see my goodness doesn’t determine whether or not it exists. It does. It is always there even when others deny it. As long as I know it, as long as I feel it, as long as I try my hardest every day to be decent and kind while respecting my own choices and gifts and goals, nothing else can touch me. I will make mistakes. I will upset people. I will land in some awkward situations. No doubt. But none of that detracts from who I am. It only proves I am human. But now I am a human with an invisible but powerful cape.

All of this reminds me immediately of Eleanor Roosevelt. She was a brilliant woman. During her lifetime, she dispensed a great deal of wisdom. Here are a few of my favorite quotes:

“You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’ You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”

“Do what you feel in your heart to be right — for you’ll be criticized anyway.”

“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

“When you have decided what you believe, what you feel must be done, have the courage to stand alone and be counted.”

And the final quote is the one that inspired this blog, Live Now and Zen:

“Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. And today? Today is a gift. That is why we call it the present.”

So, put yourself out there. Be vulnerable. Don’t let anyone dim your shine. Own your shit, but own your brilliance too. And if you won’t listen to me, listen to Eleanor Roosevelt or even Shakespeare, who penned in Hamlet:

“This above all: to thine own self be true.”

Go get ’em, Tiger. Or, as my sister says, TOWANDA!

Talk To The Hand

Photo by Isaiah Rustad on Unsplash

I am in the final fifty minutes of my time away and wishing I could have the rest of the day in this adorable cottage to sit and write, but alas check out times are a thing. Sigh. After I leave here, I am meeting a friend on Pearl Street for some coffee at my favorite local spot. Then I might spend some time wandering up and down the mall to see what has changed. I haven’t been on Pearl Street for dining, shopping, or people watching for ages. I am long overdue.

I have spent some time this morning reflecting on the mental work I’ve done while I’ve been here. When I am somewhere safe, quiet, and private, that is when I do my most meaningful processing. It seems to be the only way I can reach a calm mental plane. So the first thing I have to do when I get home is establish a place like this for myself, somewhere I can hide for a few minutes when I need to regroup, take a deep breath, and get to a better head space before responding or reacting. The second thing I need to do is a deep dive into my plans for my writing. Do I continue blogging with a focused goal to grow readership or do I work on a larger project, whatever that is? I also plan to set up some routines around exercise and rest. I’ve let things get out of control and I’ve spent too long doing for others before taking care of myself. That has to end. The way I’ve been surviving? Not sustainable in the long term. I realize that now. To get to the point where I can do that, though, I need to do some housecleaning, both mental and physical. I need to eliminate from my circle of influence people who are not good for me and I need to eliminate from my life many of the things. Yes, things. I need to pare down. I have a lot to take care of, to fuss about, to attend to. I need to dispense with things that are weighing me down. This means my husband will be taking some trips to the thrift store. (I’d say I would do it, but the back of my car is still full of things to take there and they have been there for four month already. True story.)

I have my plan of attack. I have peace in my heart after some long overdue time to focus and center. And now I can hit the ground running. I’m not feeling lost anymore. I’m feeling empowered. And that is what time alone does for an introvert. I am ready to take a long hard look at my goings on each day and figure out where I can cut back. I’m ready to tell other people that I will get to what they want when I get to it, and that may be after my work out or meditation, and not a minute sooner. I am ready to help my youngest finish off his senior year and launch so I can start the next phase of my life. The first four decades of my life were devoted to achieving things I thought I was supposed to achieve (college degrees, husband, children, a home, etc.). The next decade was about managing all the things I thought I was supposed to achieve. Now I am at the place where I am free to decide what I still want, what I don’t need, and where I would like to go. It’s exciting. Not going to lie.

I don’t plan on slowing down any time soon. I am retiring from full-time parenting, not life. I simply plan on putting my hand up to stop the insanity as it approaches. I don’t have room for that in my life anymore.

The Collapse And Crumble Condition

“For a star to be born, there is one thing that must happen: a gaseous nebula must collapse. So collapse. Crumble. This is not your destruction. This is your birth.” ~Noor Tagouri

Photo by Nathan Anderson on Unsplash

I committed to writing here every day, but on some days that is a tall order. Today, for example, was not my best day. Still tired from my travel and long weekend, I woke up and took my son to school. This trip takes me about an hour and ten minutes round trip. Made it home in time to get in a quick shower and turn around and get back into the car to drive 35 minutes (one way) to therapy. I had a productive, but emotional and exhausting, therapy session. Left therapy and drove home to grab an apple for lunch. I finished it and a few slices of cheddar and hopped back in my car to go to my hair appointment. When I left the salon, I had just enough time to make it to pick up at my son’s school. I grabbed him and drove home. I was home for about 30 minutes and was able to sort through some Amazon packages. I then went with my husband to pick up take out Mexican food for dinner because I haven’t made it to the grocery store since returning from our trip to Portland. We made it home around 5:30. While carrying the food in from the car, the bottom of the paper bag gave out and all the containers dropped onto the floor. Some sauce splashed out but, thankfully, the majority of the food remained in its containers. Still, the incident made enough of a mess on the entryway rug and floor that I had to pull out the steam mop before dinner. We managed to get all the food plated and warmed and served by 5:45. At the dinner table, it was noted that I haven’t cooked a meal in a while, well, since last Wednesday, the night before Luke and I left for Portland. Sigh. I finished my meal, put dessert on the table, loaded the dishwasher, wiped down the placemats, table, and counter, and thought I would get a minute to work on an actual blog post, but then the puppy got angsty so I took him outside. He pooped and peed and rolled in the snow, so I thought he might be ready to settle. Instead of settling as I had hoped he would, though, he tore around our bedroom grabbing anything within his jumping range. He then chewed up a KN95 mask before heading into the bathroom to pee on the tile floor (and partially on one of the rugs in there too because why not). I pulled out the steam cleaner again, and then folded a load of someone else’s laundry to clear up the washer and dryer so I could put in a load with the towels I had used to clean the puppy mess and the bathroom rug. When I finally sat down to attempt to write something here, it was 9:45 p.m. So, here we are with me simply providing a litany of complaints about my subpar Monday because that is all I have energy and brain power for. I know I live an incredibly fortunate life and, as a rule, I try to focus on the gratitude I have for that fact; but today was not my best day, so I’m not feeling very grateful. I’ve also learned that just because someone is fortunate does not mean they are immune to struggles, frustration, sadness, and exhaustion. Everyone is entitled to a bad day.

In an earlier post, I mentioned my word for the year, the one I wanted to focus on, is boundaries. It’s clear from my day today that I am not doing an exemplary job of establishing those thus far. I am worn out, physically, mentally, and emotionally right now, so much so that I broke down and sobbed while cleaning up the puppy pee. It’s safe to say I am a little overwrought. So, while boundary setting is on my list and will be set in motion soon, for tonight and the rest of the week the word is self-care because I am feeling stick-a-fork-in-me done.

There is some good news, though. I have known for weeks that I was heading towards this emotional breakdown, so I planned a weekend away for myself starting this Friday and ending early Sunday evening. I hope to read, sleep, meditate, write, work on a vision board, and eat raw, healthy food. If the weather holds, I might take a long walk or two. My last solo trip (one where I had zero responsibilities to anyone other than myself) was in September 2020. My introvert brain is due. With any luck, I will be able to return in a better headspace and with a plan to establish some boundaries that will make my life more peaceful for the remainder of the year. Fingers crossed.

Post script: Not two minutes after I had finished this post, the older dog decided she needed to be let out. So, I opened the door and went out with her into the cold and dark in my socks and pajamas only to have her stand out there for two minutes. Then our house alarm went off because apparently we’re setting it again now.

Is it Tuesday yet?

Out Of The Rubble, Into The Reconstruction

My happy place

A few months ago, my sister sent me a journal so I can practice some narrative therapy. Narrative therapy helps an individual become an expert in their own life through telling the stories they have carried around. Putting the stories of your life into writing gives meaning to your experiences and influences how you see yourself and the world around you. When my sons were younger, I used my blog as a form of narrative therapy to help me rearrange my negative perceptions about their struggles and create a better path forward for all of us. More recently, I’ve used blogging to tell stories from my childhood as a way to validate those experiences and increase my own voice and messaging around those pivotal events that shaped who I am. Through these exercises, I’ve begun to understand myself more fully. I am more aware of why I am the way I am and more capable of making adjustments in areas where I’m not fond of the trajectory I’ve taken. The process is helping me have greater self-compassion because I understand that my fears, coping mechanisms, and judgments didn’t originate in a vacuum. These behaviors arose to protect me. Now that I understand why they existed in the first place, I can begin to jettison habits that once protected me but no longer serve me .

One thing my sister and I have challenged each other to do is start some reconstruction. We are creating lists that outline what we like so we can recreate ourselves fully as the people we actually are and not the people we were told we were. We are rewriting our stories. That may sound odd or even disingenuous but, when you have spent your life in a pattern of reaction borne out of the fallacy that you are not an expert on your own self, you need to start with the basics to reclaim your identity.

Today my sister threw a gauntlet down. She sent me a photograph of a page where she has started listing things she knows she likes. To keep things equitable, I too started a list. My criteria? Things that make me happy or give me a sense of hope and possibility. Here’s what I have so far:

  • sunrises
  • dogs
  • a sunny day in the mountains
  • medium roast espresso
  • attending concerts
  • puzzles and word games
  • all types of travel, including long road trips
  • writing
  • cheese
  • smelling lily of the valley and lilacs
  • long, hot showers
  • deep conversations about faith, life, death, philosophy, space, current events, politics, or anything that avoids the pointless drivel of small talk
  • skiing, camping, hiking, cycling, kayaking, snorkeling, being active out in nature and not in a gym
  • documentaries and foreign films
  • anything with the flavor of passion fruit
  • the color of a green apple
  • lectures presented by experts in their field
  • Coca Cola and Bugles
  • the Buffalo Bills
  • hammocks
  • Wes Anderson films
  • wool socks
  • satellite radio
  • flip flops
  • down comforters

I will keep adding to this list in my journal as items come to mind. In the meantime, I know that being bold enough to enumerate here these items is the first step reclaiming my story. I know who I am. I know what I like. No one knows me better than I do. And I’m finished letting others dictate to me who I am.