Wednesday, March 29, 2017

'Culturally Responsive Native American Approach' in Honors English.... Honestly, funnier than it sounds.

It’s not every day (or even every week) you can get your High School aged child to tell you about their day at school.
Today was an exception – and its comedy gold.

My daughter has a student teacher in her Honors English class this term. The student teacher is not a young person—she’s in fact the age when many others would retire, so perhaps this is a second career for her or she’s always hoped to teach and now after all these years she’s getting her teaching license.

She looks like… well, a bit like an aging Flower Child. I don’t know if other people know this term – but I’ve referred to folks like this as a bit “granola”. It’s not a negative connotation per se; I’d probably really like her as a person.

I won’t name names or give any incriminating details – but I am including the handout that gives, verbatim, the things the student teacher said and it’s essentially her lesson plan as well. It appears to be her own material and was presented today on the only occasion thus far that the supervising (regular Honors English) teacher was not in the room for the full class period.

First, a disclaimer: I don't think there is anything humorous about the Jim Crow laws, segregation, our history of white privilege and abuse of African Americans. Nor is the pervasive racism that continues to this day in any way acceptable or humorous.

It’s the WAY the teacher approached this lesson that is so funny I cannot pass up sharing this story. Of course, it was better when our daughter explained it out-loud, but in lieu of a recording my writing will have to suffice.

The class was given a short article on Jim Crow laws. Nothing new to my kiddo as she’s studied AP History and has read extensively, and with much better content, on this topic.

The teacher placed a rock on the floor of the classroom and then insisted the kids sit on the school linoleum floor in a circle around the rock. My daughter was wearing a skirt, but fortunately she also had shorts on under the skirt. Not sure how this worked out for any other girls not wearing the standard issue yoga pants to school, but I digress.

Once they were all seated in a circle she proceeded to ask them to close their eyes and breathe 10 counts in and out and then place their hands on their chest and abdomen and focus on their breath so they could have a REAL, spiritual, deep conversation.

After some time of deep focused slow breathing they were directed to open their eyes. The teacher held a stick. It was the “talking stick”. They were only to speak when passed the stick. (I’ve heard of this and have no problem with this—I get it, it’s a tool so no one interrupts while another student is expressing their thoughts.)

The statement the teacher wrote (and said out loud verbatim) was that the stone and the stick represent a shared nature of all those in the circle. Huh? Ooohhkay…

Each student was then instructed to share how the article mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually made them feel.

Yes. You read that right. She wanted them to provide (and she said it this way) how their SOUL responded to the article. It wasn’t in a religious context – it was just meant to tap into their spirituality.

Yep. This one missed her calling as a yoga teacher.

She started to be an example and said that this article made her physically nauseous and spiritually caused an earthquake in her soul.

If an article causes an earthquake in her soul, I wonder what losing her job and/or not receiving licensure as a teacher will do to it?

I’m just glad my daughter’s best friend is in the same class so that they could talk about this class. Also, I adore her best friend and it gives me the giggles that she (the best friend) accidentally broke part of the “Talking Stick” as it was being passed around.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Silver Linings and No More "Someday"

The past several months – let’s say the last six months - have been so eventful that I find myself needing to step back and take it all in repeatedly.
Being in the present almost requires pinching myself to absorb the new reality as things shift so frequently. It takes self-protection, humbling myself, looking at things through other’s eyes and reminders of what is good and normal and what is not. Also, to realize that life goes on whether you want time to pass or not.

There are times this past year when my world stopped spinning briefly.

November 9th. When Trump was elected. I wasn’t watching the results the evening before as I flew from Boston and then drove on the rainy New Jersey turnpike to some godforsaken industrial zone to find my hotel.
I woke to the news that Clinton had lost in a generic hotel room in New Jersey as I was ironing my work clothes for the day.

I remember thinking I couldn’t go on with my day. That I needed to be at home curled safely in bed with my family.
My world had fallen off its axis. I sobbed and wondered how I could get my shit together enough to meet with customers (warehouse management particularly) that may very well have voted for Trump and likely be unsympathetic to my red-rimmed eyes.

Somehow I pulled it together enough to fake it through the day. I cried randomly for the next two days. On airplanes. Driving. In the comfort of my own home. I proceeded to denial and stayed there for a nice long time.

I saw I wasn’t alone in my shock and disbelief. That helped a bit.
Then, when Trump rescinded the Title IX protections for transgender students, I went to war. I found out there are active hate groups. They quietly languished after the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage during the Obama administration but now they’ve mobilized again. They can’t repeal a Supreme Court ruling so they’re taking aim at anything ambiguously defined - especially transgender rights.

I’ve been a regular at school board meetings ever since. It’s ugly, and it’s necessary and I’ve stuck my neck out there with my voice and my pleading as sugar sweet as tea in Texas.
I’ve been asked to run for the school board. I’m not going to – I’m busy enough and there are fires to put out in more places than just the school district.

This has shaken my world – but broadened it, too. I’m a part of communities I didn’t know existed and have become a mentor and ally to a greater degree than before.
It’s not that the struggle and the hate groups didn’t exist before—it’s that I was less aware of them and the world looked like sunshine and rainbows until they began to feel empowered and began to really push their hateful agenda. They’re going after our kids, and I’ll fight them, their misinformation and hidden agendas and deep funding from radical right wing so-called Christian organizations.

But, Trump and the hate that has crept out of the dark shadows with his rise to power, is not what has shaken my world the most in 2017.

It was Sam’s death. 

He’s not my son – but he grew up in tandem with my son. The Millers are like family, even years after Shelli isn’t raising my babies.

I knew Sam’s heart. His kindness. His tenderness and goodness.
I knew he struggled and I felt like a kindred soul in that struggle. We’re all broken and I’m working hard and knew he was working hard, too.

He loved his son and fiancée so much – it’s like the same tether that has kept me from harm from time to time, too.

When Sam died, the world stopped, again. I could only watch Shelli and Jason’s raw pain and FEEL it. I imagine what the pain of losing your only son, your youngest child might be like and then know that it must be more excruciating than even my imagination can fathom.

Again, the world tiltled off its axis and it didn’t seem like time could move forward. But then, once again I had to rush to the airport with scant time to hug Shelli and her family and cry with them. At least I has home in time to attend his funeral…but even that was a haze of pain where I didn’t feel like I could be useful.

There were other moments that stopped time. A more trivial one was when I worked my ass off all of 2016 – harder than I’ve ever worked in my life – and was looked over for ANY recognition at the start of our fiscal year and sales kick off in Jan. 2017. 
I’d seen people recognized in multiple categories and for less effort the year before and had been told already by my boss that I was the top; the highest in our group and that I’d be taking my husband to President’s Club (which has been at a resort in Mexico).

The names went up on the screen for President's Club and I wasn’t there. We had small group meetings and no one said: “Good job, you’re number one this year.”
No one acknowledged the 80 hour weeks and the sacrifices I and my family made.

I would have worked hard no matter what; but to be overlooked entirely for any recognition burned. It hurt. I’d been promised something that didn’t happen. I got demoted in title, too. I’ve had to suck it up and continue to do my best work. Suck it up Buttercup.

It stings – it pisses me off from time to time, but aside from being another suck part of the past 6 months, it somehow feels trivial and petty by comparison to others’ pain.

But then I have to stand back and also acknowledge all the bright spots. The beautiful things that have happened that almost don’t feel fair. That I’m almost embarrassed to share because savoring this happiness during a dark time feels like not sharing my candy with the other kids.

My new car. My dream car. It was unexpected and yet…it’s a dream come true. I’m like a 16-year-old kid looking for any excuse to drive anywhere just to sit in my car.

My cello, and taking cello lessons at last. It’s been a wish for as long as I can remember. A promise I made to myself for “someday”.  “Someday” I’ll learn cello and write a book. “Someday” I’ll spend my days quilting. If I win the lottery then…

And this one I made come true. Not someday, but now. And my cello teacher is fascinating and wonderful and FAR better than I deserve or need (she’s a published author, retired principal cellist for the MSO, and a daughter of Holocaust survivors…I could talk to her for hours on end).

I’m running. I’m healthy and strong and able to do what I want to do.
I’m not injured or unable to run with my friends. When I run, I run with a smile and I think: “I run because other people can’t”.  It’s true. It’s a gift (even at my slow pace) to be able to use my body this way. To run with my friends. To do yoga and improve my balance and strength.

Trivial though this may be, I’m also pleased that I got my “turn kick” in swimming back after decades. I haven’t done this since I was a 5th or 6th grader—but I’m swimming while Lucy takes her lessons each Sunday and my flip kick to push off the wall is back after lots of practice. It’s a bit show-off-y, but damn it’s fun. It’s amazing to do something I haven’t been able to do for nearly 3 decades.

All this reminds me of when I was in Israel with Grandma Elaine in 1996.
I remember being in a car with the guide when she and I had ventured out on our own to walk through a very Orthodox neighborhood. I wanted to see the culture up front and it wasn’t part of the tour with the little old ladies, but the guide, who was younger, took me on this side-excursion and educated me on the Hassidic culture in the process.

On our way back to central Jerusalem stopped at a traffic light I saw a young man, maybe late teens, with his arms folded across his chest and no hands on the steering wheel or brakes of his bike just coast through the intersection (downhill) at high speed. He didn’t have the green light, he didn’t touch the handle bar. He just sped through on his bike and no one hit him and he kept going.

I gaped and pointed and the guide explained: “They live their life like they could die at any moment. You can’t give in to the fear. You could be blown up at a café, or shot while you’re drafted into the military for your mandatory service at age 18. If you live in constant fear, perhaps you become fearless.”

Maybe this, to a lesser degree, is what has happened to me in 2017.

I’ve fought back from the edge. From illness, injury and constant mental health struggles. But damn it, I’m not letting it hold me back from my bliss. I can't live in fear. The uncertainty and fear - eff 'em. 

I’m going to smile every moment I drive, savor the new car smell, hug my cello and play it (poorly for the moment) every day.
I’m going to work less and do yoga and run more. 
Screw work. There is no reward in killing yourself with too much work and they don’t pay me enough to go the extra miles I’m already going to do excellent work.

I’m going to ask for a god-damned raise. I deserve it.
I’m going to take vacation time and NOT ANSWER THE WORK CALLS this time.
I’m going to stop working earlier and make time to see friends even if it’s a 2pm on a Monday afternoon. I work more than my 40 hours; I don’t feel like I should apologize one bit for taking time for me.  

I’m going to not apologize, needlessly and reflexively like many women do, and tell people how I feel more.
I’m going to say “I love you” and “I appreciate you” and “I hurt for you” and I’m going to SHOW UP. I’m going to hug people and let them know I’m on their side.

If time has to march forward, then I’m going to squeeze every bit of joy, love and goodness out of life. I’m going to fight for what is right and protect those who need our protection.

I’m humbled by the good health, family and material perks that bring me happiness. I still hurt…but I am consciously focusing on living my life like that Israeli teen. (Though not as recklessly.)

I won’t live in fear. I won’t wallow in the pain and disappointment. If time presses on relentlessly then I will make time my “someday” and do what I need and want to do right now, in the present.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Gluten Free Travel

It’s been a while since I’ve finally given in and accepted I have Celiac or at least severe NCGS (Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity). I thought it was so faddish to go Gluten Free that I fought the diagnosis. Even after the blood test came back positive for Celiac. 
Even after the endoscopy - I clung to the comments that the biopsy didn’t come back as definitive for Celiac though I had significant upper-GI damage. I was on expensive medication to make my GI system work. I was physically miserable. 
I remember crying to Jeff and thinking over and over... how could I go on like this for the rest of my life? Not just the $60 copay per month - but the pain and unpredictability with my GI system.

Then came the day an Orthopedic doctor asked me, after a slow-healing stress fracture, if I’d ever been diagnosed as Celiac. This surprised me. Then he sent me for a bone density scan (DEXA) and warned me osteoporosis and more bone injuries were in my future if I couldn’t properly absorb calcium. 

That shook me. It was no longer about resisting a fad. 
It made me stop and think. I knew my mom had to be gluten free. Could I have some of the same issues? I know that food allergies can crop up at any age in life…did I suddenly grow "allergic" to gluten? Most of all, I couldn't bear to go on with the discomfort and expense (and unpredictability) of my GI issues without at least giving it a try. 

I sucked it up and made the effort. I went completely gluten free and within a week or two my guts worked. Like a normal person. I no longer needed that expensive prescription medicine. I no longer felt sick, bloated, or in pain. 
Avoiding any other (gross) details – suffice it to say that I was thrilled my body was acting “normal” at last. 

Here’s the funny thing…a lot of people (again with the fad aspect) go Gluten Free thinking it’s a “healthy” diet and they’re likely to lose weight. That's not what happens. 
Not that you can’t eat healthily while avoiding gluten (wheat, barley, malt and more) - if you substitute by eating more fresh veggies and fruits and quinoa…However, if you rely on packaged foods and snacks you'll find they are packed with fat! Moreover, I’ve actually gained weight now that my body is finally absorbing more of the nutrition in the food I eat. 

Anyhow--it’s easy enough to be Gluten Free (okay, for brevity – hereafter GF) at home. We already eat a lot of white rice. Baked potatoes. Grilled chicken or steak. Veggies & fruit. A normal family meal wasn’t too difficult. The rest of the family could have bread or rolls – I just skipped it for a nice arugula salad with my favorite (GF) vinaigrette. 

BUT. I travel. A lot. It is not as easy to find GF options when you travel. 
Below are my tips and things I’ve learned that help me. 

1. Whenever you can – get a rental car. 
You can find your nearest Chipotle or Noodles & Company where they have GF options. 
a. At Chipotle just be sure to get a bowl. 
b. At Noodles & Co. just before sure to ask specifically for Rice Noodles. 

They can make it with any sauce (just be sure to avoid Soy Sauce or dishes that might include it. Soy Sauce is not GF). My “go-to” is the Pesto with mushrooms and tomatos (their Pesto Cavatappi – but with the rice noodles). They will even denote “Allergy Aware” on your order – which may (or may not) help with cross contamination.  

c. With a rental car and potentially a hotel with a microwave you can find your closest Whole Foods and find a lot of options. 

2. Pack your own snacks. You can bring it through TSA. Really. Pack a lunch box if you want. I bring baby carrots, almonds, my favorite GF chocolate covered pretzels and fruit snacks. 

Note: this was inspired by a particularly snooty Flight Attendant. When Delta had no Gluten Free options with a meal in First Class she told me: “You know, you can order a special, like Kosher, meal.” 
And then chided/reminded me about it 3 more times during the 2 hour flight. At one point she leaned in and said: “So why didn’t you bring your own snacks?” Well, first I was on a quick in & out trip with one small bag and a computer bag— I didn't have room for snacks. 
Second, how was I to know I’d be upgraded to 1st Class? Sure, it’s great to sit at the front of the bus—but I rarely (if ever) have time in advance to order a meal and 99% of the time if I’m in First Class it's because I lucked into an upgrade. 

3. Simple meals are your friend. Ask for a plain grilled chicken breast and a baked or mashed potato. Side salad. Avoid dressings if you can – or go for a vinaigrette (odds are pretty good that’ll be safe). 

4. If all else fails, you can order Dominos to your hotel room. They have a GF pizza and it’s been reliably safe for me. 

5. Culvers. They have a safe GF bun. They serve the bun and the burger separate so you assemble it on your own. Many Culvers serve their fries from a fryer dedicated to non-breaded items only – so it’s worth asking. I tend to be OK eating their fries. Also good news: their frozen custard is GF! Watch out for toppings beyond what they recommend on their website. (Hot fudge = OK) 

Tips: MSP (airport) MSP doesn’t have a ton of GF options. One I’ve found is that Surdyks has a really nice packaged salad with fresh greens & goat cheese. It’s even marked GF. My preferred side dish with this is a bag of Kettle Chips. (Also marked as GF). 

Another option – especially if it’s breakfast – is Ike’s. (This can be spendy, but hey, I’m on an expense account.) They can do an egg white omelet (create your own) and side of bacon – and you’re good to go. 
One note here – they prepare ALL the food on one single grill (currently – because their toaster is broken). So, you might ask about cross-contamination and/or have to educate your server on what you cannot eat. If you don’t you might get a pile of toast on top of your breakfast entrée. 

I used to prefer Caribou. Then I read up and found out that Starbucks has ALWAYS been more GF friendly. From the get-go. Their coffee mixes (i.e. Frappuccinos) are GF which means just about all of their drinks are GF. 
Their website is also a wealth of information on what is GF safe. On top of all that they offer a lot of snacks and all the GF ones are clearly marked. They are go-to at most airports…even if all I can find is a salad, almonds, and a fruit bar. 

Other airports: SLC 
A bunch of the Delta gates are near a Smashburger. Smashburger has a GF bun and as long as they aren’t out of them – then you have a good option for a grilled chicken sandwich or burger. Note of caution: the fries –should- be gluten free…but I have had to avoid them due to cross contamination. They’re making them in the same place they make breaded chicken strips/sandwiches and so on occasion I’ve felt sickly after eating them. If you get a bigger Smashburger you can ask if they have a dedicated fryer for fries only (GF stuff only). Some of them have that…but typically not at the airport!

I'll add more airports and "safe" eats as I go. But in the meantime - my advice:
  • Bring your own food as much as possible. 
  • Expect to not have a meal you can eat on the Room Service menu. (Hilton, Hyatt, Omni, Marriott...I'm looking at you.)
  • Vietnamese restaurants are a great option (helloooo rice noodles!)
  • Thai is good, too (same reason)
  • Even a steakhouse is better than an Italian place - because you're likely to find a grilled something that you can eat and a potato.
  • Did I mention bring your own food as much as possible?

Monday, April 25, 2016

Another attempt at breaking the stigma..

Below is a lovely video. It's message, the lovely Irish lilt of Doug Leddin and his plea that others seek help and speak out are all very much worth your time to watch. 

However. I know that the stigma is very much real. His fears about losing his job - I share those fears. I DO know people that have looked at me differently when I've shared that I have had mental health struggles. Not everyone is supportive. Not everyone is understanding. 

I think the same way people used to throw around the word: "gay" as a negative and how offensive that is to non-hetero folks is similar to the way that I hate when people say "he's crazy" or "she must be bipolar" to describe someone's behavior (key word: behavior, normal, human, perhaps dramatic behavior) in front of me.

I can't really fault them if they don't know. I haven't told them. Sometimes I'm tempted. But, the fact that they're throwing it around so casually or as a sort of "slam" about someone's abrupt change of opinion or state of mood tells me maybe it's not 'safe' for me to share my diagnosis. 

Still. Food for thought. If we don't talk about it, people die. If we don't come forward and say: "Look, you know me as a hardworking and congenial co-worker/friend/employee but let me explain how hard I have to work at this with a combination of medication, sleep and exercise."

I'm down for putting in the work. A little understanding for those that have different (harder) circumstances is called for - as is the knowledge that everyone is fighting a battle you may know nothing about.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

8 Comebacks for Transphobic Relatives Over the Holidays (or really anytime of the year).

There is this nifty YouTube vlogger (is that the right term? I'm over 40, I 'm too old for this stuff) named Franchescha Ramsey. She makes lots of great videos (many for MTV Decoded). I especially like this one she made just in time for the holidays (or really any day) called: "8 Comebacks for Transphobic Relatives Over the Holidays":

It's useful for just about everyone - but especially CIS gendered folks. 
I bring this up because I notice that advocacy and "comebacks" may not be naturally born talents - but something we can all learn! And, as a CIS gendered white woman - it's up to me to use that privilege ensure equality (see this if you don't understand what I'm talking about): 

Two recent cases come to mind.
Last Monday I'm on a flight home from the west coast. The San Francisco based crew on my plane landing in Minneapolis includes an attendant named Marie. Marie is lovely, has a bit of a fake French accent, but is nothing but kind, welcoming and pleasant. She's doing her job as a flight attendant and she's doing it well.
I am sitting in a different section (ok, so, I was upgraded to business class where I got dinner - haters go ahead and hate) than the section Marie worked, but I still heard her announcements and saw her walk through the cabin doing her safety checks.

After we landed and were taxi-ing to the gate at MSP she was making final announcements and wishing us all Happy Holidays. She had some confusion letting us know what time it is in Mpls. (Heck, happens to me all the time. I subtract or add the hours wrong - I know it's a 2 hour time difference, I just don't add or subtract it where I should.)
She laughed and made a joke about it... and just then the guy in the seat ahead of me says to his seatmate, and loud enough for all of us seated around him to hear: 

"Not only can't he count but he's cross dressing today."

I took a deep calming breath, leaned forward and said quietly: "Her name is Marie. SHE is not cross dressing."

He turns around in his seat and says louder yet: "Same difference" 

At this point my blood is boiling. I'm sure my face is red and flames are coming out of my ears and singeing my hair. 

I finally don't lean forward - I just use my regular volume (which isn't as quiet as I'd been using so far) and say: "Those of us with transgender children would beg to differ."

That shut him up. After a pause he said: "I'm sorry." I answered in what I hope was a non-angry voice: "You should be." The man next to me looked at me and smiled. The woman across the aisle caught my eyes and nodded at me smiling as we began to deplane. 

Case 2: Today our mail-service pharmacy company calls up (they have some talented and understanding employees, but today I was called by one that doesn't fall into that category) - and starts referring to my son (noted on their record with his correct name) by his incorrect, but legal still, name on the insurance. 
OK, no big deal. I'll just correct the confusion. I'll just explain again the reason his name says Erik on the record is because that' And, please use his pronouns when talking with me: he, him and his. 

This guy was slow on the uptake. I think I had to re-iterate my son's name and pronouns three more times. Moreover, he works for a company where he talks about medications all day and he couldn't pronounce ANY of the medications he was calling about for our I'm just going to write him off perhaps a new-hire or seasonal temp-worker and hope that the company recorded that call for quality assurance.

I take the approach of being kind. Firm, but kind. So far I've only run into uneducated people. No one has been hateful, deliberately rude or intentionally hurtful to me and for that I am grateful. I'm sure the day will come. Until then, in the words of my jam, Chuck D & Flavor Flav (Public Enemy), "I gotta do what I gotta do". 

Saturday, November 21, 2015

It is What it Is

This particular post has been brewing in my head for a long time now.
I've not been sure how to title it, how to share it and whether it would be detrimental to my friends, family and even to my career to "put it out there".

Frankly though, the older I get the less I care what other people think of me.
I care more about my actions, how I show love to others and being the best possible me I can be. I have less patience for people who are close minded and critical and if they're going to be toxic, I'm just going to move along and "pay them no mind".

The older I grow the more I think in my head a wonderful phrase my cousin Eric uses: "No Fucks Were Given".  (Side note: Eric, if you ever see this, you should know you are my hero. Your candidness, intelligence, fabulous sense of humor and ability to call it as you see it are beautiful qualities I aspire to emulate.)

This post is about removing stigma. This post is about how I have overcome shame. This post is about the pain caused by those those who judge or unknowingly hurt me from a place of ignorance.

Here's the story for you:

In late 2013/early 2014 I began to feel very sick. I lost a lot of weight. It was clear to people around me something was really wrong. I was struggling to keep up in the face of a really busy time at work (and yet I still managed to close a HUGE deal at work). 
I eventually became so sick I had to go to the hospital by ambulance. I was hospitalized and diagnosed with cancer and placed on life saving medication. 

I was afraid to tell my company - specifically my boss and colleagues and friends. I made up a lie and told my boss I'd had a heart scare related to my blood pressure and it sounded plausible enough to explain my hospitalization.

Also, I was a bit in denial. I couldn't process the diagnosis and sometimes it felt..unreal. This couldn't be happening. I did tell a few very close friends (and I apologize in advance if you weren't one of was distressing to share my news with even close family. Many of them still don't know.)

My job provides our medical insurance and time away from work would put us in (greater) financial distress. I didn't want to be assigned fewer accounts or provide my boss a reason to fire me. I didn't want anyone to see my weakness. I decided to just "gut it out".  
My family was shell-shocked and afraid for my survival and it damaged us all. It changed our entire family dynamic. 

Through it all, I hid the twice weekly in-clinic treatments with bogus appointments on my work calendar so my boss wouldn't know. It took more than a year for me to go in to a sort of remission and grow stronger. It took major health changes - diet changes, more self care like yoga and meditation, really dedicating myself to get enough rest. 
These changes also impacted my family. The more I took time to heal, the less was doing my share of "being with" my family and doing the normal things it takes to run a busy household with kids.

Also, I lost the ability to do things I'd always loved to do. For a very long time I was literally unable to read. (I had always been a voracious reader - a huge book lover.) I would stare at the walls in pain and couldn't even escape into NetFlix or a book.

Moreover, the (costly, but necessary) medications are not something I can live without for the foreseeable future if I want to hope to remain in this tenuous remission. 

I have come to accept that I may well have to be hospitalized for treatment again someday, and while I dread this, I am determined to fight like hell to avoid it. This hangs over my head and weighs on my family's mind and each sign of a symptom - any twinge or sign - is enough to worry my kids and husband and this makes me feel horrible guilt despite the fact it is beyond my control.

I hated 2014. Hardest damn year of my life. Painful for my family in many, many ways. In November of 2014 I had major surgery unrelated to the cancer. I was in the hospital for nearly a week - and this time it wasn't in the cancer ward. (And fortunately it was at HCMC, rather than Abbott, which held the bad memories of my prior hospital stay.)

My boss was definitely unhappy with my time away from work - and this just strengthened my resolve that she and my coworkers should not know about my health. It garnered some awkward and in many cases unwelcome comments from my coworkers and that once again validated my decision to hide the cancer treatments (which were ongoing at that point).

This led to tremendous shame and stress at work. Eventually I was put on a sort of probation at work (I still think this was not due to my professional performance, but who cares) - and this was enough to finally spur me to look for a new (and better) job. 

The fresh start has been wonderful in many, many ways. Sure, I miss friends and colleagues from my old job...but the new work environment I'm in is...freeing. I feel more able to speak my mind and be honest and up-front. I'm not fearing for my job and I feel that my performance and hard work are being valued and that any medical appointments I need won't cost me my job.

I tell you all of this not because I want your sympathy. I am confessing all of this because I want to reduce the stigma. The stigma of mental illness. 
Go ahead and re-read the story above and every time you see the word cancer replace it with Bipolar II or mental illness.

Yes. In my 40s, after career success, marrying a wonderful husband and building our lovely family with these amazing kids... I almost died.

I can't explain it adequately...but there are a few songs and lyrics that I think might help.

Try listening to Sara Groves song "From this One Place

The lyrics she wrote were about her late-in-life diagnosis of an Anxiety disorder:

[ I was about to give up and that's no lie...

...from this one place I can't see very far
in this one moment I'm square in the dark
these are the things I will trust in my heart
you can see something else
something else ]

And another song she wrote sums up how Jeff has provided support for me.
It's called "Twice As Good"

And..finally the song that I heard long after it was popular, but that really helped spur me to write this post is by Mary Lambert. You've probably heard "Secrets" before..but her FIRST line in this song were the confessional words I need everyone to hear. 

I can just slightly adjust the lyrics and it fits me perfectly when I sing the song (rocking out in the privacy of my car!):

[ I've got bi-polar disorder
My shit's not in order
I think I'm overweight
I'm always late
I've got too many things to say
I rock mom jeans, bee earrings
Extrapolate my feelings
My family is dysfunctional
But we have a good time teasing each other

They tell us from the time we're young
To hide the things that we don't like about ourselves
Inside ourselves
I know I'm not the only one who spent so long attempting to be someone else
Well I'm over it


I don't care if the world knows what my secrets are, secrets are ]

That one fits pretty damn well. 
And it's comforting to see her success. It's comforting each time I read my BP magazine (yes, there is a magazine that gets mailed to my home monthly - and they have a website) and read about other people 
People diagnosed late in life. Or not. People who nearly destroyed their lives. Or not. People who have been "successful" in spite of major mental illness. Or not.

I say "successful" because even if earning an income and not losing my family are considered "success" - that doesn't mean that other people with Bipolar are any less successful even if they're just putting one foot in front of the other and surviving. 

I told my story (above) the way I did not to minimize cancer, but to help point out the difference between how people treat those diagnosed with the two illnesses. 
I have two people near and dear to me fighting for their lives at the moment and going through chemo and soon radiation and it SUCKS. It is probably the worst season of their lives to-date. From all I can see from the outside it looks like hell on earth. 

However, when they were diagnosed they received sympathy. People send cards and flowers. People embrace them. People make meals for them and drive them to medical appointments. Sympathy, empathy, understanding...not stigma, avoidance and even doubt.

My careful balance to "get better" has involved DBT (google it), medication carefully tailored to my needs - and one of them at the maximum dosage because my particular form of bipolar is the most dangerous - because in the depths of a mixed state (google that, too) I am more likely than others to very skillfully commit suicide. 
My recovery has included exercise, a routine, getting adequate sleep and mediation/spiritual focus. My year of DBT is completed, and I use the skills constantly. I'm in a good place - good enough to not really need frequent therapy. I have to be mindful that this could all change at any moment. For now, my 5 pronged approach is keeping me in "remission". 
I can take care of others again. I can be a supportive friend. I can socialize and make friends. I can honestly present a happy face to others. I can be a loving mother and wife.

I am tentatively going back to reading and quilting again. At first I could only read books in paper (no Kindle)..but I'm experimenting with my first kindle book this month and I'm half-way I have hope.
TV doesn't usually interest me anymore..but reading and writing have come back, and frankly those capabilities are far more important to me. 

I am sometimes a better wife and mother than I used to be. 
In general however, my changes - mainly for better, but perhaps some for worse, have taken some major "getting used to" for my kids and Jeff. 
Imagine knowing someone for nearly 2 decades, or in the case of my kids - their whole lives - and then their personality changes drastically
Like I said, on the whole, they are good changes. My kids appreciate that I am a more compassionate, mellow person, don't drive aggressively like I used to and I am slower to anger.

But they are disturbed when I am friendlier with strangers - chatting in the checkout line or any other "outgoing" behavior they don't remember from "before". 
They are wary for any act that might signal hypo-mania. They are suspicious anytime I spend money (a sign of possible mania can be impulsive purchases - although this is not one of my common signs of mania). When I rush around because we are late they worry that my moving "too fast" = mania. Basically, they worry. Which is horrible because they shouldn't have to worry. 

Running has been a major (and cathartic) component of my recovery. Vigorous exercise is actually recommended for those with bipolar. It's part of one of the many DBT coping skills. 
The time that running takes away from my family is also something that they (understandably) resent to a degree, too. 
It's a solitary activity for the most part - and not one of their it appears (and often to me, feels) "selfish". 

The main reason I am finally divulging this, however, is because of something that happened to me this past week.

Jeff was traveling so I had to get Michael to Catechism and pick him up.
I haven't been to church much since I "retired" from teaching Sunday school - mainly because it's been tough to go back. And, moreover, I've been getting my spiritual needs fulfilled elsewhere (a women's Bible study, yoga, meditation, prayer while I run)..and I sometimes I also falter in my faith. 
This is in large part to the sort of dogmatic "religious" (rather than Christian - notice I'm discerning between the two) reaction to mental health. 

I know a lot of people (and frankly, to a large degree I used to be one of them) that are skeptical of mental health diagnoses. 
Thoughts like:
Is it real? C'mon, isn't depression just an excuse for laziness? They don't look sick. Sure, he blows up sometimes - but he's got a good/stressful job and so what if he drinks too much. Or...some people are JUST EVIL. That's why they do/did that.

This week a man I know very well from my church saw me waiting for Michael to finish up in Catechism and approached me. He said: "Long time no see!" (Fair comment. I've been avoiding our church.) We chatted for a while on a variety of topics. 
Let me stress first that I really LIKE this person. He's an older man who helped me very much in the past with a mission project. He is generous and a humble servant of God. He is a faithful and longtime member of our church.

AND, early in our conversation, seemingly out of nowhere he shook his head and rolled his eyes and said: 

"I mean, c'mon, this Bipolar and Schizophrenia - that's just the devil. You know what we (this country) need? A REVIVAL. Bipolar and Schizophrenia - those are entirely of the devil."

I was stunned. So much so that I wonder if he noticed that I stopped responding in our conversation for a while. (He kept talking, and eventually we got to a topic I could respond to...but my brain was still reeling from the shock.)

I walked away and thought to myself: My very Christian and godly Psychiatrist with a Doctorate in Chemistry, Psychiatry and Pharmacology would beg to differ. My Christian DBT instructor and therapists would also disagree strongly.

If you look up the definition of Cancer it reads: Cancer is an abnormal growth of cells which tend to proliferate in an uncontrolled way and, in some cases, metastasize (spread).

If you look up the definition of Bipolar it reads: Bipolar is a treatable illness marked by extreme changes in mood, thought, energy and behavior. Bipolar disorder is also knows as manic depression because a person's mood can alternate between the "poles"--mania (highs) and depression (lows). The change in mood can last for hours, days, weeks or months. There is no single cause. Genetics, neuro/biochemical changes and stress can play all play a role.

In my case there was certainly a genetic and stress component. And, I can see, in hindsight that I had undiagnosed cyclothymia. (Apparently people with cyclothymia can easily be "tipped" into full-blown Bipolar by a stressful life event. This came as news to me - but is apparently very common according to the doctors I met in the hospital.)

I can also tell you that like many women I have "rapid cycling" Bipolar II and mixed states. This is challenging, and yet helpful in the sense that I can often employ DBT skills to "balance" things out before the pendulum swings too far to one extreme or another - IF I can observe (or in DBT speak: "be mindful") what I am experiencing and employ a counter strategy.

If it sounds like hard work - that's because it is. If it sounds like a rough thing for my family to experience - to live with someone with an entirely different personality and new behaviors - that's because it is.

If it sounds like I'm shamed by this...I can honestly say that is no longer the case. Like the song says: "Well, I'm over it. I don't care if the world knows what my secrets are, secrets are..."

This is an illness. Like cancer. Or diabetes. It is the hand I was dealt and I didn't ask for it - but it's up to me to live with it. Like it or not, it is what it is.