Friday, November 20, 2015

Ghost of Christmas Present

When the layoffs came to Aaron's work in May of this year, we were not surprised. The corporation that owned the school had been in the news for at least 14 months. Their fraudulent dealings and misuse of Federal education funds, and falsified data had been reported nationally for months. In October of last year the school was sold to a nonprofit organization. The new organization met with personnel, stating that they "had no plans to lay off employees."

But we knew. The fraudulent corporation had made the decision to fire all recruiters for the school in 2011. By the fall of 2013 the student body had dropped more than 80%. It's not really good business practice to hire a large number of instructors for very few students.

So we were prepared. And when the news came in May, Aaron felt confident that he would find a job in a couple of months and all would be well.

And now it is nearing the end of November. No job. No scheduled interviews. No responses to the many, many applications he has submitted. For awhile there were interviews that ended in no job offers. Aaron's last interview was two weeks ago. Now there is nothing.

Alex is worried about Christmas. He, too, was out of work for about nine months, and now, even though he is employed and looking at the possibility of a very good new job, he's behind on many of his bills and has little money to spare.

Natalie, too, is struggling. Her job pays so little that she would be unable to support herself if she were not living at home. She's seeking employment elsewhere, also with little luck.

Chris has had financial ups and downs in the past six months, as well. Currently, he's employed and liking his job, but the time period when he was between jobs was recent. January will bring financial relief, but November and December will bring little wiggle room in his budget.

So we had a family meeting. And we talked about what it would mean to not give generous gifts at Christmas time. Alex thinks we should just postpone Christmas until May. Natalie is mostly silent. Chris says he doesn't care.

I have money put away for stockings (something the kids say is very important - and as adults, the tradition has been that everyone contributes). I have budgeted enough for a gift or two for Aaron and the kids. It doesn't feel like a big deal to me, but I've never been one who cares about lots of gifts. I have personal reasons for this.

It doesn't feel tragic to me that gifts will be sparse this year. I told my kids that the day is coming - quickly - when we won't have Christmas together anymore. So this year is important to me. We're all here. We plan to spend time celebrating during the month of December. We'll have our "What would Jesus eat" meal on Christmas Eve. We'll make pastries and Christmas cookies. We'll play games and sing and make Aaron crazy with the continuous stream of Christmas music in our usually silent home. We'll tell silly jokes and make blanket forts and read books even though we're all grown up. We'll probably watch a Christmas movie or two.

And while I would give every child of mine every item on their Christmas list, were I financially able, that's not what I would remember in the months after Christmas anyway. I'll be remembering that I have had the privilege to raise three of the finest human beings I've ever met. I'll be glad that they still think it's cool to spend time with Mom, and they make time to do that - not just at Christmas, but throughout the year. I'll be remembering that regardless of what is happening in the world, there is a small corner of Peace on Earth in my home, and that each of my children harbors love for all God's children. Their love allows for different beliefs and traditions and accepts that disagreement is a springboard for learning. In short, I don't really care about the stuff that comes in pretty packages. My children - the people they have become - are gift enough.

Having said that, I recognize the difference between Chrismas as a 20-something person and Christmas as a 40-something person. So I'm trying to think of ways to make this not just an enjoyable Christmas, but one that is memorable in ways that are different from those that are traditional. And in the meantime, I would love it if Aaron's Christmas surprises included a new job. I'm guessing that won't come from Santa. I stopped believing in him many years ago.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

House of Cards

My life, for as long as I can remember, has been structured by people. I think that's probably a normal thing for many. Parents and siblings are constructs from whom we derive, even under the worst of circumstances, a sense of belonging and identity. As we grow older, we incorporate others into that structural framework - people who remind us who we are, or who support our ideas or beliefs. Sometimes we don't even realize we've added them to the system until they're no longer there.

My experience has been that I randomly add people for no distinct reason and neither intimacy nor longevity in our relationship dictates that addition. Something happens when we meet and in my mind that person becomes a permanent fixture. This realization became annoyingly obvious to me this year when two of my clients passed away.

The first was a man who was my neighbor when I was growing up. I saw him at least weekly in church, and spoke with him frequently. He would shake my hand and smile, remembering my name and asking a brief question about things that might be happening in my life. He was just younger than my grandfather. His wife enthusiastically sang in the choir with a very wide vibrato that begged for imitation by my sisters and I when we believed no one was listening. I liked my neighbor. I loved his wife. They created a predictable, dependable, structural element as I grew into adulthood.

The second was a woman I met occasionally, but never for very long. My dad and I took care of some estate planning for her parents, and she became a client through our interaction with them. I first met her after her mother's funeral. She remembered me as a young girl, though I had no recollection of meeting her. She called me beautiful and hugged me. Not really a typical client response, but this lady was not typical in much of anything. She was lovely and capable and accepted people into her life with cordiality and delight. Following our meeting that day, I had many opportunities to speak with her as she sought tax-related financial advice, or checked in on my parents as they endured cancer and other difficulties.

This year both of these clients became cancer victims. I received a phone call from the son of the man I had known most of my life. The tax documents were late because of his father's death. He assumed I had been told. I hadn't been. The funeral was past. The documents for the final tax return would come shortly. I expressed my condolences to the son. Then I ended the phone call and cried a little bit. I would never shake that man's hand again, or see his smile, or answer a question while wondering how he found time to be concerned about me and my life. That realization was coupled with the knowledge that it had been a long time since I had heard his wife sing. She lives still, but has dementia. Probably she doesn't know me anymore.

My second client passed away this month after a five-year battle with brain cancer. As they removed portions of her brain to control tumor growth, she fought to remember names and events. She didn't forget me, though. She told me she was grateful for my help-- that she felt she could trust me. There was feuding amongst she and her siblings. She would mention some of the disagreements to me with a brief, cryptic statement, then laugh and say, "You don't want to hear about our childish squabbles. Some adults never quite grow up, you know." Then she would move on to talk about something she loved or that brought her joy. I've still not quite accepted the reality that I won't be speaking with her on the phone anymore.

My life feels out of balance as people exit mortality. These are people that made me feel life was sane when everything else felt crazy and unstable. They weren't part of my every day existence. They were just there. I knew they were there. The fact that they were there without my having to check in with them, made life feel calm and predictable. And now they're not there anymore.

At some point, most of those people of my father's generation and older will go away. Some who are younger will exit this life, as well. I know it happens. I've experienced it multiple times. But there is a part of me that wishes things might stay the same - that I'll go back to that old church building where I grew up and find my friend waiting to shake my hand, or speaking in church, or just waving as he passes my house in his old pickup truck. Or maybe I'll go to the office next week and there will be a message from my client - she has a question - she's spoken to my father - but she'd really like to talk with me, as well - might I call her, please?

It won't happen. I'm going to miss them.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Happy Sunday!

Today I sat with my children and said this:

At church today, you will hear things that will feel upsetting and wrong. You'll want to respond in kind. I'm asking you to think about these things:
1. With the Supreme Court legalization of gay marriage, there are many good, wonderful people who feel vulnerable and afraid.
2. Those feelings, whether or not you agree with them, are valid, and often motivate those people to say unkind, defensive, or inflammatory things.
3. Your job is to be kind. It's okay to say if you agree or disagree, but always be kind.

This led to a conversation that was good, but also brought up several points that I am sharing here.

The first is that I keep hearing from people of my faith that Armageddon is coming and this is the first step. It makes me wonder why they feel the need to state that. If you read the Bible and believe it, Armageddon has been on its way for more than a century. Nothing has changed. Gay marriage, I do not believe, is a catalyst of that. I believe it will come about because of true wickedness, the root of which will be because people become unforgiving, hateful, and selfish. Weak arguments have been posed to me indicating that gay marriage is the embodiment of those things. I disagree.

The second point was that fear is an indication of lack of faith. If one truly believes that we were sent here by God to learn and to grow, and that He maintains a hand in our lives, AND that he is ultimately omnipotent, then one must concede that He's aware of what's going on. His plan, whatever that may be, will not be thwarted by any decisions made by a tiny Supreme Court in one country on His Earth, and who are we to say that that Supreme Court decision was not a part of God's ultimate plan. We don't know. And while our church has deeply held beliefs about marriage and family, if God is, indeed, omnipotent, it seems a good idea to throw our lot in with Him and allow Him to determine the rights and wrongs of the issue. Also, to allow His voice to be heard and not ours. We are not God's mouthpiece. We are his children.

The third point is that we've not been asked to be strident or ugly but instead, to love one another. People keep forgetting that. Or they remember with reservations or conditions. So I will simply conclude this post with the words of a brother I have never met, but love and respect deeply because he speaks as my heart would:

No issue brings out so much hatred from so many Catholics [or Mormons] as homosexuality. Even after over 25 years as a Jesuit, the level of hatred around homosexuality is nearly unbelievable to me, especially when I think of all of the wonderful LGBT friends I have.

The Catholic [or Mormon] church must do a much better job of teaching what the Catechism [or Church leaders] says: that we should treat our LGBT brothers and sisters with "respect, sensitivity and compassion." But God wants more. God wants us to love. And not a twisted, crabbed, narrow tolerance, which often comes in the guise of condemnations, instructions and admonitions that try to masquerade as love, but actual love.

Love means: getting to know LGBT men and women, spending time with them, listening to them, being challenged by them, hoping the best for them, and wanting them to be a part of your lives, every bit as much as straight friends are part of your lives.

Love first. Everything else later. In fact, everything else is meaningless without love.
                         ---Fr. James Martin, SJ

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Time to Become

When I first began therapy, my counselor (not Nathan) told me I needed to file a police report about what had happened to me. She said I didn't need to press charges. Indeed, given the time that had elapsed and the lack of physical evidence, it would be very difficult to prove my claims. But a police report would substantiate the claims of any other victims, should they choose to come forward in the future.

The idea of filing a report was appalling to me for a few reasons:
1. I was repulsed by the fact that I would need to tell my story to a stranger - possibly a man - who would simply note what I said, ask a few questions, and dismiss me.
2. The thought of there being other victims was nauseating and overwhelming.
3. I had yet to become comfortable with the reality that I, myself, had been a victim.

In the end, I told my counselor that I was choosing not to file the report. I knew she was disappointed in me, though in my mind, her role was not to be disappointed, but just to help me move forward from that point. For a long time that disappointment lingered. I felt that I had failed, that I was cowardly, that somehow I was responsible for any of the conjectured victims who might be stronger and braver than myself - who were able to talk to police and other officials about the things done to them - who needed my story to corroborate theirs.

It took years for me to understand the fallacy of the logic behind those feelings. But they were fallacious, and my counselor was wrong to make me feel that I was letting someone - anyone -  down.

There are times when friends and loved ones bring a scenario to our attention, something that is currently happening in their lives. They seem to need advice and we, who so clearly see solutions when the situation does not involve us, are quick to provide that advice. We provide another scenario in which the loved one confronts and solves the problem in the best way possible: our way. And then we wonder why that loved one seems confused or frustrated or even upset by our response. The answer seems crystal clear, and their failure to grasp and act upon the few basic steps we provide, in turn, confuses and upsets us.

They seem deaf to our entreaties that non-action might endanger an innocent bystander. They ignore the fact that by a few simple words or actions they can turn around a potentially dangerous situation and in the process, prevent pain. They do seem cowardly, or stubborn, or just bent on their own self-destruction.

Here's what the well-meaning advisors have forgotten: There is a person in the equation, and that person needs space and time.

I never doubted my counselor when she told me I needed to make an official statement. I just knew that I could not do it. That was not cowardice.

I believed that my statement would help others who were in a situation similar to mine. Still, I could not do it. That was not disregarding the needs of others.

I knew that making a statement would be a positive step toward healing. I also knew that it wasn't going to happen. That was not an expression of desiring to remain a victim.

What I have come to understand after all these years is that it was too soon. I needed time to become.

I needed to allow myself to become a person who had been raped. That's huge. After addressing the immediate pain of allowing myself to be the rape victim, I was overwhelmed by all the nuances of what that might mean. I needed time to sort through all of those and discard the falsehoods while clinging to the truths. I had to become comfortable saying that it happened and I had to stop trying to be a person who would never allow herself to be raped. Reality was a difficult pill to swallow.

I needed to allow myself to pass through the victim step and become a survivor. Strangely enough, that was more difficult. A survivor has been through something difficult and/or traumatic and continues to live life. For a few years, I vacillated between victim and survivor, trying to understand what each meant. Becoming a survivor, for me, meant I could never turn back. I could no longer pretend that nothing had happened. That was scary. I wasn't sure I wanted to take that step.

I needed time to figure out who I was if I had been raped, and who I would become if I moved through that pain to see what was on the other side. For a long time, my persona had been a strong, self-assured, completely emotionally isolated human being. When I began therapy I had to become vulnerable. I had to look at things that were horribly frightening - things that made me feel physically ill. When I added to the mix the fact that I didn't know who I would be if I allowed healing, I felt completely inept and cowardly.

Finally, I needed to understand how to talk about what happened, and I needed to be able to do so in any context. I practiced the brief explanation when someone unthinkingly asked why I had PTSD, and I was grateful that they asked regardless of their obvious embarrassment when I answered the question. I practiced written essays and exercises exploring each aspect of what it meant to me to be the person I was in spite of what had happened. I said the words, "I'm a rape survivor," in doctors' offices, in church, and at business gatherings. I didn't provide details and I said it pleasantly, in tones similar to those I would use if I said, "I like to eat fresh raspberries." I wasn't trying to downgrade or dismiss what happened. I just wanted to be able to say it and remain calm.

In short, I needed time to become before I could attempt what was asked - the thing that seemed simple and logical to my counselor, but overwhelming and impossible to me.

Almost ten years after the request, I made the report. The officer in charge turned out to be not a stranger, but a friend from high school. He sat quietly in the room while another officer allowed me to recount what happened. My friend asked gently for pertinent details and slid the trash can toward me when I looked like I might throw up. He checked in with me several times to make sure I didn't need a time-out to breathe, and occasionally changed the subject briefly when it was clear that I was panicking. Before I left, he took a moment to ask me about my family and tell me about his own. Then he told me he was sad about the circumstances of our meeting, but he was still happy to see me.

At the end of my six-hour drive home, I experienced one of the most physically painful panic attacks of my life. I couldn't breathe. My entire body hurt. I was crying and gasping. I made it home and into my bathroom before I threw up. Then I went upstairs and taught piano lessons. Because that's what you do when you're a rape survivor with PTSD. You just move on to the next thing.

What I learned was that if I had attempted making the statement 10 years ago at my counselor's request, I might never have returned to therapy. The resulting depression was intense enough that I don't know that I would have survived it a decade ago. I wasn't as strong then. I needed time to become.

When a loved one comes with an "easily" solved dilemma, it's good to remember that people grow at differing paces and in many different areas. What seems simple to one might seem impossible to another. Allowing time to build strength and understanding is always more important than an immediate solution. Showing disappointment when a loved one does not act on good advice is never helpful.

The thing that brought me the most growth and strength was the unwavering and constantly growing love I felt from people who were a part of my support system. Their willingness to let me choose what I would and wouldn't do and the unceasing trust I felt from them, allowed me to learn to trust my own judgment. Their belief in me strengthened my resolve and brought me to the point when I could finally do what had been asked nearly a decade before. They allowed me to become - whatever that might be - and they supported my choice to become what I would. I think that's beautiful.

Sunday, May 31, 2015


My grandma is one month and two weeks shy of 98 years. She has seven siblings. Of the eight children in her family, four are still living - all are nonagenarians except her elder brother who just had his 100th birthday. That's a very long life.

A couple of years ago Grandma stopped taking her daily walks. We used to joke that they were called "daily walks" because it took her a day to walk around the block. There are many people in the neighborhood who have told me they miss seeing my tiny grandma who always greeted them with a smile and a wave. She stopped walking because she had begun falling down unexpectedly and was afraid of falling where no one could help her. She also refused to use a walker because people might think she was getting weaker and falling down or something. When I pointed out to her that that was exactly the case, she laughed and said, "Well, I can't figure out how to use that big old thing anyway."

Until last month, Grandma made bread every week. Years ago she had surrendered the mixing and kneading of the bread to a machine, but I have loved to visit her on Bread Day and watch her shaping the loaves when the dough was mixed. Grandma always poked a fork from the top to the bottom of each shaped loaf prior to baking, so that no holes would form in the dough while it was rising and baking. My mother has done the same thing all her life. Until I was 12, I had no idea that a loaf of homemade bread could be made without the design of small holes across the crusty top. For the last decade, if I was visiting on Bread Day, Grandma sent me home with a warm loaf--not for me. It was for Aaron. Always for Aaron.

My boys always note that when they visit Grandma, she tells them about something she's heard recently that she thinks is funny. Sometimes it's not funny at all, but they laugh anyway because Grandma's giggle is infectious. And it's fun to laugh with her. She's always had trouble remembering Alex's name so she put a Post-it Note on the mirror in her sitting room to remind her what "Dian's second boy" was called. I love seeing the note. It's been there for more than three years now. It reminds me that I'm important to her, and so are my children. Her 90+-year-old mind is too full to retain one more name, but she wants to remember anyway so she writes it down.

My children have had the privilege of knowing all their great-grandparents. Both great-grandfathers passed away when my children were very young, but the grandmas lived long enough for them to establish a deeply loving relationship. Natalie called my dad's mother, Grandma Ruth. She passed away about 10 years ago. But my children have known Grandma Erwin all their lives. We visited her often both before she moved in with my parents, and after. When I was a child, Grandma was 5'4" tall. She was lovely and energetic and always treated me as if I was someone very special. The Grandma my children have known has lost many inches due to osteoporosis. She is now about 4'8" and struggles to weigh more than 90 pounds.

Natalie has always felt a special bond with Grandma. When she was three, she said, "I have lots of Grandmas. Grandma Erwin is like me. She's my little grandma." Over the past decade, I've watched my daughter quietly take Grandma's arm and walk her through the store, or from the chapel to Sunday School class. She spends time in Grandma's sitting room chatting with the elderly woman who can barely hear her. She makes sure Grandma gets a hug. When Nat was in a Utah facility for treatment for depression, Grandma missed her. She was losing her memory at that point and couldn't understand why Natalie was gone. I finally just told Grandma that Natalie had gone away to school. Grandma would smile and nod and say, "She needs to write me a letter."

Grandma had a heart attack last month. At that point it was clear that her death was very near. She's in Star Valley right now with my parents. Grandma's death will come in the next few days. Her body is shutting down. Her digestive system no longer allows her to eat or drink very much and her body is beginning to swell as her kidneys shut down. Breathing is labored, and Grandma sleeps most of the time. She's unaware of where she is or who is with her. Hospice will ease her pain as Grandma passes away.

She's almost 98. Her body has been unable to heal itself from minor cuts and bruises without the aid of intravenous antibiotics for more than a year now. She's lost her ability to read, do handwork and quilting, and even dress herself some days. She told me a few months ago that she's ready to join Grandpa whenever the time comes. But I'm realizing there will be no more days of watching her aged hands shape bread dough, no more giggling with my sons, no more moments for Natalie to gently take her arm and provide stability as Grandma walks. There will be no more smiling through hymns at church as I listen to my Grandma sing. No more questions about whether Chris is ever going to find a girlfriend, or what I named "that second boy."

I understand that death will be a necessary release for my Grandma, but I'm missing her already. And I'm feeling a little bit sad.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

"Laughter is timeless. Imagination has no age. And dreams are forever." -- Walt Disney

If I enjoy the same longevity as most of my grandparents, I've not yet reached middle age. However, the life expectancy of a woman in Wyoming is 80, which means by that definition, I have. There are some presumably advantageous things I've left behind in this last half of my life. I find it liberating to leave them. I've pondered for the past year why I love being older. Today, I'm listing some of those thoughts.

1. I've never been great at following fashion trends--and I've never felt happy about spending the money necessary to do so. I live in comfy jeans whenever possible. I'll dress up if I have to, but the occasion needs to end within five hours or I'm ready to strip down and finish the event in my underwear (don't worry-- I won't). I kind of love that when you hit middle age you can wear whatever you want. People might think you're weird, but when they remember that you're halfway to death your fashion sense is tolerated, and even celebrated as you get older. I have fashion plans that will mortify my children before I'm 80.

2. This one goes hand-in-hand with the first: hairstyles. Let's face it, having curly hair like mine doesn't allow for a great deal of style flexibility. Add to that the fact that I hate doing my hair, and suddenly middle age feels great. People don't expect those advancing in years to have immaculate, gorgeous locks unless they're celebrities of some sort--and I'm not. I straighten my hair most days because that's predictable and fast. The curls might stand up and break dance on my head if they're allowed to develop naturally, and I'm not excited about attracting that kind of attention. However, there are certainly days when the straight hair is less straight than is trendy, and I don't care. If I've spent 10 minutes on my hair, that is enough. I have things to do outside of my bathroom.

3. In accordance with the first two, since I am now middle-aged, I don't wear a ponytail to the gym (that's right, I just let the morning hair hang as it chooses), nor do I sport cute workout clothes. I wear leggings because they're comfortable and they don't chafe, and one of Chris's or Alex's old t-shirts. I used to wear the t-shirt given me by the surgical department when I had my appendix out, but it wore out. I also wear whatever running shoes I want to. I don't care if they match the rest of my workout clothes. And most days I walk out of the gym tired and sweaty because I prefer to shower at home.

4. When I'm at a social event and I want to go home, I do. I used to worry about staying an appropriate amount of time, or making sure I talked to everybody, or some of those other obligatory things, but now that I'm middle aged I can just poke my head in the door, wave at everyone, and go home to read whatever book is currently claiming my attention. Okay, that's an exaggeration. But the truth is that I don't worry anymore about doing what's expected. I come when I choose and leave when I feel like it and I'm comfortable with that.

I suppose what I'm saying with my above list is that life is better when you stop trying to look or act within the confines of societal expectation. I've never really been swayed by that, but now that I'm not trying to attract someone sexy, or make new business connections, or climb some weird social ladder, everything feels happier and I expect the trend to continue as the years slip by. I don't need to wear makeup unless I feel like it, I don't have to fill my calendar with lunch dates. I don't have to buy something just because a magazine tells me it will make me, somehow, more beautiful.

As for beautiful, I stopped worrying about that years ago. People are just people, and the representative beautiful images we see in magazines are photoshopped. They're not real. I refuse to emulate something imaginary when there are so many amazing people to admire. I'd prefer to make life-shaping choices that follow the wisdom of Mother Theresa, rather than break my hair straightener attempting to emulate the glossy locks of Kim Kardashian (seriously--why is she famous? Probably not for her hair...). And the truth is I'll never be sexy or gorgeous, and that's okay. I don't have to be those things to appreciate the beauty of a sunset, or be entranced by shiny beetles or colorful butterflies. I can share my smile with everyone I meet and I'm guessing they won't be evaluating the whiteness of my teeth. And when I dance, the last thing I'm thinking about is whether or not my hips need to be photoshopped.

I'm loving this middle-aged thing. I should have done it years ago.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

"You can't patch a wounded soul with a Band-Aid." -- Michael Connelly

Especially me, because I'm allergic to Band-Aid adhesive.

I had a very long chat with a friend yesterday. We met about a year ago and have spent some time getting to know each other. I'm always surprised when I actually connect with a person also feels connection with me. This was one of those times when we both realized we have a great deal in common, we like to talk, and we like to listen. That last part is rare. Anyway, it's a good idea for me to meet new people. I think, for someone with my kind of life, it takes the heat off people who have been supporting me for a long time.

When we met I told my new friend that, in order for me to sustain friendships, I have to be in contact with people regularly. If we're not, it doesn't mean I won't talk or socialize with the person. It just means I'm not able to share and confide. It's impossible for me to develop a trust threshold that allows me to do so. Aaron says it's weird to tell new friends those kinds of things. I think it's vital. And it also gives that person a chance to run away if they need to before we decide we love each other forever. Aaron says that's a little weird, too. I would have to agree.

Anyway, this friend understands PTSD on a level that many others do not. I need friends who do not have PTSD, but still understand when I'm struggling. I also need someone who will let me laugh and cry and be available when those moments happen. Usually that person is Aaron, but he was gone yesterday. And yesterday turned out to be one of those unexpectedly awful days.

This isn't going to be a post about PTSD exclusively, but sometimes I will post about it. It's a part of my life right now. I don't believe, contrary to what I've been told by medical and psychological experts--because why would I believe them? I'm Dian. I choose who/what I will become--that this is a lifelong disorder. I think at some point I will figure out how to make it through all the emotions (scary!) and become less overwhelmed by the symptoms I now deal with. And I just have to say, that moving through those emotions by myself is terrifying. So I'm pretty grateful to that friend who allows me to call on a whim, or who catches me online and stays with me. And I know you read this blog. I'm saying thank you again.

I awoke this morning feeling almost normal, which means I woke up feeling like I needed to get outside and go for a run. The weather, however, is telling me to wait. It's still less than forty degrees, cloudy, and the wind is blowing. Also, a rest day might be a good idea for me. I usually hear the songbirds in the morning, but today the seagulls are out in abundance, their louder cries distracting me from the conversational chirping outside my window. We're supposed to get rain today. I would like that.

Aaron attempted apricot jam yesterday. He reads directions--usually several times and aloud at high volume, which sends the rest of us running for cover. Chris called Aaron while he was in the middle of jam making, with an auto emergency. I said I'd finish the jam. That's when I found out that Aaron did NOT read the instructions correctly. I did what I could to remedy the mistakes, and I think we ended up with a good product. It tastes good, anyway. Apricot jam usually takes a few days to become jam. We had waffles with apricot jam in the syrup stage Friday night.

Natalie pointed out to me yesterday that I've marked the wrong week on my calendar for Summer Music Institute. It's June 14-20th, rather than the week before. This means I might actually get to attend my nephew's wedding. It depends, of course, on Aaron's job prospects. If they're looking slim, I might stay home anyway, just to ease our budget. Still, it's nice to know I might be able to go. Also nice to know I have an extra planning/recuperation week before I have to teach.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

"...everyone's in love and flowers pick themselves" -- E.E. Cummings

I had a follow-up appointment on Friday, at which time my surgeon let me know that closing leaky incision holes is very hard work which is why my body feels exhausted. Also, it seems my sodium levels were very low when my blood was tested. He said that can lead to fatigue, too. Today nothing is seeping out of me. I'm still tired. Sigh...

However, it means I'm getting better, and that's very good news.

Yesterday there was an oriole in my backyard. He stayed in my tree for awhile, allowing me to admire his bright orange coloring. I've never seen an orange bird in Laramie before. On Saturday we had canaries migrating through. This is one of my favorite times of year because of all the birds that stop briefly-- ones I would not otherwise have the opportunity to see in person.

Mother's Day brought a huge snowstorm for the second year in a row. The blossoms on my trees seem unscathed. I'm hoping more will bloom as it warms up. Our lawn is very green and needing to be cut. Aaron wanted to do that today, but we had rain instead. I'm guessing, based on the forecast, that lawn mowing will not happen this week.

This time of year is filled with performances-- too many for me, given my physical state, I think. Usually it's busy and hectic and I really love it. Today I'm just wanting it all to be over. I have two more major performances and then life should swing back toward normal.

Aaron completed a mammoth application for a job with the school district. It's distinctly possible that the 11-page application drained him of motivation to keep applying for jobs. He's taking some time to relax today. I'm hoping he'll get back to job search/applying tomorrow. Looking for jobs can be a thankless, time-consuming, life-sucking task.

I took some time to watch the sunrise this morning. It wasn't spectacular-- muted colors in a gradually lightening sky. But it was peaceful and quiet, and really necessary for me. I've been working in the early hours to get time in before I have to leave for rehearsals, which has caused me to miss the sunrise. I think I need to put "Watch sunrise" on my daily schedule.

Things I need to do by Saturday:
1. File documents left on the floor by my desk when I was working on my taxes (yes, they've been there for a month).
2. Make apricot jam.
3. Send a hat to my friend, Danny.
4. Read. Read a lot. Read fun things-- not stupid work regs and tax law changes.
5. Make arrangements for long business trip that is happening the end of this month. That would be in two weeks.  Sigh-- I cannot procrastinate this.

Okay, break time is over. I'm going back to work.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015


Sunday morning after my last post, I awoke to find blood and clear body fluid coming out of my navel. This is where the main incision was made and the site of removal of my gall bladder. Also, the pain I was previously experiencing had decreased. In spite of that fact, I freaked. No one wants stuff coming out of their belly button, especially when the month before, a surgeon has used that place to get into one's guts.

Monday morning I called my surgeon and explained what was happening. They told me to watch the color and amount of fluid, and also to watch for signs of infection. They would see me on Wednesday. My head was saying, "WEDNESDAY??? Did you not hear me? I'm leaking STUFF out of me! Wednesday is two whole days away! Don't you mean, 'COME IN IMMEDIATELY!!!'???"

I waited until Wednesday. I felt miserable. I had no idea why I was leaking, and the area was swollen and sore.

When I saw the surgeon, he determined that my incision had developed a tiny hole. There was even an official medical word for it. I have no idea what it was. I was a little distracted by the fact that body fluids were seeping out of my tiny incision hole. The surgeon stuffed packing into my already sore belly button and placed a gauze bandage on my stomach, assuring me that in two or three weeks the hole will seal. I didn't mention that I'm allergic to the tape he used to fasten the bandage to my body. I'm a little tired of all the things my body hates, and a rash right now is the least of my worries. Also, Aaron got laid off that day.

I see my surgeon again on Friday. In the meantime, I feel really, really tired. I don't know if it's the time of year-- this is when I accompany millions of students for juries, festivals, and concerts, so I'm rehearsing several hours daily in addition to my regular jobs-- or if it's the result of leaking constantly. Maybe it's both.

Yesterday was grueling. I had my first rehearsal at 7:45 a.m. and my last one ended at 7:30p.m. I had three hours in-between different rehearsals. I spent that time working on a rush file for transcription. My hands were done around 6 that night. The final rehearsal did not go well.

Aaron asked for some help with his resume last night, but I was still working on the transcription file. I finished at 10 p.m. and offered to help. We were both too tired. Aaron had hoped to have several job applications in by this time, but he's working for the school one last week and this eats up much of his day. I'll see if we can work on his resume sometime today and get it to a couple of jobsites he's been looking at.

I keep telling myself that this will all slow down after next week. I have performances every day and then nothing big until June, so I can spend some time regrouping and lesson planning for summer music institute. I have a feeling nothing will ever slow down, and actually, I'm okay with that. But I would really, really like to wake up one morning with a normal belly button. This thing that's happening now is not okay.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Surgery can have complications.

It's been a month since my gall bladder was removed. Eating has been easier. Life has been better. Then Tuesday rolled around this week. I was sitting on the couch when I realized I was having pain around my navel. That's the site from which the gall bladder was removed. But it's been a month. I decided to just go to bed.

Wednesday the pain was worse and extended from my belly button upward about three inches. By the afternoon I was having pain when I stood up after sitting. That didn't seem good, so I called my surgeon's nurse who made an appointment for me on Friday. Yesterday the pain increased to the point that I was not really functioning at all. Natalie took me to the emergency room where they poked me, took tons of blood, did a CT scan, and gave me drugs that took away the pain and also my ability to move, speak, or think.

The tests came back and showed a very healthy me. Surprise!

Today my surgeon checked me over and this is the diagnosis: My body hates stitches. Apparently the dissolvable stitching inside of me takes about three months to be gone, and in the meantime, my muscles are rebelling. The stitches have caused some bleeding and swelling (read: PAIN). So I'm told to continue as much physical activity as my body will tolerate (currently none), take NSAIDS every 4 hours, and use ice to help control the swelling. If the pain isn't reduced drastically or gone in two weeks, I'm looking at more surgery. My brain can't figure out what that means, exactly, since I'm still going to have to have stitches of some sort.

In the meantime, I'm not loving the time necessary for practicing. I have many performances in the next couple of weeks. I'm really hoping the pain eases up by Monday.

Also, the weather is gorgeous right now. I need to be out running.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Just in case you were wondering how it feels to have PTSD (yes, I know you weren't wondering, and that's okay)

People are problematic. Under the best of circumstances, with the best of intentions, people are still problematic. We need them--we want them--but they highlight our insecurities and vulnerabilities in dramatically uncomfortable ways. I spent a large part of my therapy time and my therapy blog discussing how difficult it was for me to navigate people and relationships.

One reason those who live with PTSD have difficulty with relationships is that the disorder amplifies whatever one is feeling. This can be wonderful when connecting with another person. The depth of love feels amazing. The bonding seems permanent. And when reality returns and I remember that what I was feeling was completely off the scale in comparison to what the other person was feeling (thank you so much, PTSD), I feel betrayed and angry--not at the other person, but at myself. At PTSD. At the entire world.

I am loyal. I am dependable. And this is completely attributable to PTSD. I'm not going to forget a date, a phone call, or a meeting because I am connected with people in the wrong way. It's normal for people to forget. Those with PTSD, however, do not understand that. The result of this warps my thinking: If they really cared, they wouldn't forget. They would make time for me. I make time for them. I don't forget. Why don't they care?

I've had to step back and realize that my reality is wrong. Forgetting has nothing to do with caring. It has to do with living. I've had to understand that my brain works differently from one not shaped by trauma. Mine focuses with depth and clarity on things that other brains label as less important. My understanding of the workings of human relationships is basically wrong. The black/white reasoning I apply does not translate well into the day-to-day interactions of real people.

I spent years feeling hurt and forgotten by people because I did not understand what PTSD was doing to me. Normal human behavior was confusing and painful for me to process. Finally, I simply stopped forming relationships outside of the one I had with Aaron. It was too hard. I just did not understand how things worked in casual or close friendships. I still socialized. I was warm and friendly and funny. But I refused to allow myself to bond with people, nor did I allow them access to the reality of who I really was. This can be lonely.

I remember ignoring the loneliness for many years. I was busy. I had children and jobs and hobbies. And I read. I practiced the piano. I taught students. I immersed myself in fitness and details of my own solitary life. And I felt content. Except one day when my children were with my parents, Aaron was at work, and I had a day to myself dedicated to spring cleaning, the loneliness caught up with me, I fell to knees and allowed myself to whisper the words,"I'm lonely." I stayed there for about 10 minutes, refusing to cry, repressing the intense emotions--and then I got up and ferociously cleaned my house.

A decade ago, when I began therapy, I identified relationships as a place I needed work. And I worked on that as ferociously as I cleaned my house that day. I looked at every scary part of me. I identified the powerful effect that PTSD had on my social actions, emotions, and thought patterns. I learned about normal human social behavior and used that knowledge as I tried to navigate the process of allowing myself to have relationships with other people.

I would like to say that I'm better today. I think I'm better at knowing when I'm wrong, or understanding that there are just things that people do without malice or forethought--things that can feel unintentionally hurtful to me. For awhile, in my most important/close relationships, I tried telling the other person what was happening inside of me. Initially, this was welcomed. After a few years, it just became hackneyed. Why, if I understood what was happening, couldn't I change? Why did the same emotional misunderstandings occur repeatedly? Why hadn't I done something about this?

All very good questions. I, myself, would like to know the answers. All I know is that right now, I can't seem to change anything. The best I can do is say, "I understand that I'm built wrong. I understand that my feelings are aberrant. I understand that it's not easy to have a relationship with someone like me. I understand."

It feels unfair sometimes. I try to have a good attitude. And I really do try to work on managing what PTSD throws at me. I try to balance what is real for me with what is normal for others. I'm trying. But there are definitely times when I wish someone could say to me, "I understand that it's difficult. I appreciate what you're doing. And it's okay--I can wait for you to get it right someday."

Monday, April 20, 2015

"...the poets are at their windows because it is their job for which they are paid nothing every Friday afternoon..." -- Billy Collins

My post titles very rarely have anything to do with the content following them. Most of the time I just write whatever words are circling inside my head. I like them. I don't, however, want to write a post about them, so they just go at the beginning, and I write whatever follows-- pertinent or not.

Natalie wants to plant flowers this spring. We haven't done this for nearly three years. We've just allowed the perennials to fill the tiny garden space in our front yard as we've spent the summers traveling or catching up on other things. Our annual tradition used to be that I would take my kids to the greenhouse and allow them to choose five or six plants each. Then we would go home and plant them. There was no landscaping scheme to follow-- we simply placed the tallest plants behind the shorter ones, then waited a couple of weeks for the flowers to bloom. Chris was less enthusiastic about this than Alex and Natalie, but he's always marched to the beat of a different, but very lovely, drummer.

It would be nice to return to the planting tradition, haphazard though it is. I love having flowers in front of my house, mixed in with tomatoes and herbs. As my children have grown to adulthood, though, I'm noticing that while they miss many of our traditions-- some of which were instituted simply to occupy small hands and abundant energy-- they don't really want them. I understand that. There are many things I did as a child that were fun and I miss them, but I'm okay if I don't do them anymore. We'll see how Nat's enthusiasm holds out as planting time approaches.

I'm trying the 30-20-10 training program for running for the next few weeks. It's supposed to have better overall results than just running and I need to increase my stamina. The theory is that one begins with a slow run (30 seconds), amps up to a moderate run (20 seconds), followed by a 10-second sprint. This is repeated five times and sandwiched between a moderate 1K run. It's not as long as what I'm used to, and I'm a little nervous that I won't be able to run for as long if I don't continue doing it regularly, but my PT assures me that this will allow me to run longer and with less effort because it's pushing my cardio fitness to a higher level. I'm not sure I believe her. She also thinks I should lift a 25-pound weight (three sets of 12) with one arm while maintaining perfect plank position with my other three limbs. Form is everything, she tells me. I would glare at her, but I'm too busy maintaining position and staring at the floor... and trying not to die.

I'm hoping the spring snow gets tired of hanging around soon. It will take 2-3 days for the ground to dry out enough for me to run on the ridge, but I'm antsy to get up there. A couple of weeks ago tiny wildflowers were carpeting the trails. I want to see them again.

On a side-note, I'm still not having great luck managing PTSD. Nightmares are rampant, and today I was trying to manage panic attacks among other things. It's frustrating. Someone posted an article on Facebook about vets with PTSD, how they don't get adequate care, and how their suicide rates are lamentable. I'm not a vet. I'm just a rape survivor. I read their stories and mine is paltry by comparison. That doesn't make the PTSD go away, though. Nothing makes it go away. Nathan tells me I'm amazing-- that the things I do to manage the symptoms are "simply awesome." Then he tells me maybe it's time for me to find a "self-project" to help fill some of the void I'm feeling right now. I'm not sure what that means, quite honestly. I'm a little bit afraid to pursue it. I have a habit of being extreme when it comes to creating/finishing assignments he gives me. I have no idea what I will end up with should this "self-project" come to fruition. I have a feeling it will be frightening.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

"There's not much downside to being rich other than paying taxes and having your relatives ask you for money." -- Bill Murray

When I'm actively blogging, I don't usually go two weeks without posting. The first two weeks of April, however, often find me too busy to think, let alone write. This year was a little more frantic than most. The first week of April did not find me preparing taxes. Instead I was sitting on my couch, too weak to do anything but hate the fact that I had the stomach flu. The bug floated around different family members for nearly three weeks. Only Natalie escaped.

Being incapacitated by flu made the final week of tax preparation even more unpleasant than normal. Add to that the fact that I got a call letting me know I'd be sitting at the court as a potential juror on April 15th-- subtract that day from available work days. So from April 6th to 11th I was working about 12-hour days to get all my returns finished (I needed the 13th and 14th for my own return).

When I got to the courthouse on Wednesday, I had two things on my mind: 1. I was tired, and 2. I was not going to be any use on a jury. Also, I was scheduled the following day to be accompanying choirs at the CU Jazz Festival in Greeley. I pled my case-- no release from jury duty. So I just made sure I asked lots of questions about the questions they were asking us. And I was unsure about being able to make unbiased decisions, given the parameters of the questions asked by the lawyers. And in the end, I was not a jury member. This is good. I needed to go home and rest.

The trip to Greeley was canceled the next day due to a 60+ car pileup on the freeway leading in that direction. The road was closed for three days for cleanup. This is also good. I needed another day of relative rest.

Friday was crazy, as I had bumped all my Thursday work so I could go to Greeley, and by the time I found out I wouldn't be going, it was too late to rescind the bumped work. So yesterday, I did pretty much nothing. All day. I thought about working and cleaning. That's all.

I think tomorrow will be a good work day. I'm actually looking forward to it. I admit to being a little daunted by all the performances piling up in April and May. And I'll be teaching at summer music institute the second week of June. I'm thinking it might be necessary for me to run away to Star Valley for a while toward the end of that month and stay for a couple of weeks. I need to do something to regroup.

Our spring snowstorm of all last week is leaving today. I've loved it. The temperatures stayed between 30 and 40 degrees, and the snow is plentiful, wet, and absolutely lovely. Our air has been filled with birdsong. The robins made a birdbath beneath our trampoline (which we desperately need to disassemble and discard). Beneath the snow our blossoms are waiting. I think we'll see them in a couple of weeks. We're supposed to have rain next week. I love spring storms.

I have a lot going on in my head right now. I've spent a lot of time trying to make sense of it over the past few weeks. Maybe now that taxes are finished I'll be able to sort through it all. I'd like that.

Monday, March 30, 2015

I often ramble in my posts. I call it un-gathering my thoughts.

When I walked away from blogging last year, I did so for many reasons. Chiefest, however, was the fact that I was tired and I had a nagging feeling of being unwell most of the time. I was also overwhelmed with life and work. For a long while not writing felt like a relief. Then a few weeks ago, I began to wonder if it was worth returning. I think I knew I would. As I said, this blog has been hiding here for many years. I've written in it sporadically, but most of what I wanted to say was placed elsewhere. But I kept this blog around. I believe I knew that one day I would be moving here.

Last weekend I was drawn to my first blog. I flipped through the entries and realized there were many that chronicled the growth of my children. I talked about different phases and funny things they've said and done. And I was reminded of how much I've loved being their mom. They are three of the best humans I've ever met. Now that they're older, I don't know that I'll write much about them. They're adults and deserve not only privacy, but a say in what is published about them online. But I began thinking that maybe it's worth writing about other things. A decade from now perhaps I will value the posts waiting to be written right now.

During the past ten years I changed a great deal. I learned how to accept the person I am. I learned that the results of trauma can be scarring and invasive for a long time. I learned that being a whole person is better than fragmenting oneself. Mostly I learned that there is no shame in being a victim, and that eventually one becomes strong enough to be a survivor. Once survivorship is mastered, it is possible to remember that some things should never happen, but they do not define those who experience them. They shape us to an extent, but at some point we choose the power they have over us. No one knows when that point in time will come. For some it happens quickly. Others, like myself, might wait years and undergo extensive therapy. Perhaps for some, an entire life might be spent trying to find that moment.

I went to a therapy session the first week of this month. I've been seeing Nathan Gibbons for the past ten years. I love him because he allowed me a great deal of control as I tried different strategies to work through my past and resultant post-traumatic stress disorder. I've seen three other therapists who wanted me to work within formulaic structures to resolve those issues. In the end, I left them to seek out someone who would help me think of ways tailored to meet my specific needs, and I found Nathan. Much of what I tried in the course of therapy was unorthodox. Sometimes the results were less than stellar, but often I found answers and met needs as I researched, studied, and discovered. During my most recent therapy session, Nathan said he's not really helping me anymore. I check in with him, but I'm doing everything on my own now.

I'm not sure how I feel about that. I know Nathan's right. But I've been relying on him for a long time. It feels odd to know that even though mentally I think I'm still relying on him, the actuality is that I'm applying what I've learned and coping on my own when stress hits. Well, on my own-- using the support network of people who have walked with me for the last decade. I don't believe anyone with PTSD can be successful without continuous contact with people.

That same weekend I had the opportunity to speak at a fireside about building Zion in the church. It focused on groups of people who typically feel marginalized when they attend church functions, specifically those who are black (a group of people denied the priesthood and temple ordinances until the mid-1970s), transgender individuals, and those who are homosexual (referred to as same-sex attracted by many in the church). I will state right now that I don't really care about terminology and I've been called insensitive more than once. I'm guilty of referring to those who are homosexual as "gay" simply because it's easier to say than same-sex or same-gender attraction, and it doesn't sound like a disease. To me, the word "gay" means your sexual preference is in line with homosexuality. The word has no other connotation. For many in the church, it indicates a lifestyle choice. I think this is stupid, and I have advocated for many years to allow people to choose what terms they wish to use when describing themselves. After all, they know better than anyone else what makes them comfortable. Correctness, or political correctness have a place, but so does autonomy, and I'm pretty tired of the debate in the church surrounding the word "gay."

Here's the thing: Let's suppose if someone says they're gay, that it does indicate a lifestyle choice. This matters because... ?

I hope what I'm saying is coming through loud and clear. It shouldn't matter at all. That choice belongs to the person who made it and has no bearing on the commandment we've received to love one another. In my book, love doesn't mean that I tell you how to live your life, or the things about your life that I wish you did differently, or the people in your life I wish you didn't have sex with. It means that I love you. That's all. It's pretty simple.

And this opens a Morm-norm societal can of worms because then I hear things like, "If I hang out with openly gay people, they'll think I condone the lifestyle." Hogwash. Do you really believe that gay people spend even one millisecond wondering if you condone what they do? They're busy living. They eat, sleep, go to work, spend time with loved ones, enjoy good times and grieve bad ones-- just like you. I promise, they don't go to bed after spending time with you thinking, "Well, that was nice. X spent time with me so now I know she/he condones my lifestyle." Seriously. No one does that. It's time to get over yourself.

So I spoke at the fireside and I'm linking it here. Years from now the video will be gone and that's a good thing because I look stupid on camera. But for now it's available, and it's me, so it goes here. (Note: When I first tried to link this it was not available because the site was down for maintenance. Now it's not, so I've linked it above, but I'm also embedding it here:

Completely random and off-topic experience: Saturday night I was driving to the store. I got to a crosswalk at a busy intersection and Natalie warned me of an approaching pedestrian. He was in dark clothing so I had not seen him. I stopped rather quickly to stay out of his way. He walked aggressively toward my car and pointed at the pedestrian "Walk" sign. I nodded and waved. The man stopped directly in front of me, peered at me through the windshield, then walked on while shouting something I couldn't understand. I turned to Natalie and asked, "Did you understand what he said?" She did her best drunk-man imitation and said, "Yes. He said,'You're beautiful! You're so, so beautiful!'" Then she giggled all the way to the store.

So there you have it. Drunk men staggering through crosswalks find me incredibly beautiful. It doesn't get much better than that.

Sunday, March 29, 2015


This blog has been around for many years. I've written in it sporadically but not religiously mostly because I am, by nature, not a person who wishes to tell people who I am. There are many reasons for this, but most of them stem from experiences with childhood molestation and eventual rape. Those kinds of things don't lend themselves to building an emotionally healthy adult.

About a decade ago, a number of unexpected life events catapulted me to a place where I had to get help. And so I did. And it was awful, exhausting, painful, and daunting. It took an enormously long time to finally come to a place where I could say I was better. During that time, I assumed a blognym and poured out my emotions and experiences in one main blog and several smaller ones. It was there that I could say what I needed to say without worry that someone would be hurt or would take my experience and personalize it, thus annulling my need to talk or feel or just be self-centered for a moment while I figured out what I needed to heal.

Last year I began to feel those blogs winding down. I began by shutting down all the smaller ones, and in November I closed the main blog. I gave myself a few months to think about whether or not I still wished to write and if so, what that would look like.

I preface this post with all that past history because in the end, my answer was yes, I do want to write. I want to continue blogging. But I want to do it in my own name, in this space. I want to be who I am. That means that I might occasionally reference past events or talk about things in my life that have influenced me. And some of those might touch on therapy, abuse, sexual molestation, and rape.

While I don't believe that this will happen often, I think it's fair to give warning of this. My life is better today-- I am better today-- thanks to loving family members; staunch, supportive, nonjudgmental friends (many of whom I met through the blogging community); The Big Guy who rides shotgun in my car and chats with me often (mostly telling me what I need to do better, but always reminding me that He loves me); and an amazing therapist who allowed me to figure things out for myself, but also was very certain to let me know when I was being stupid.

So what are my plans for this blog? I have no idea.

I suppose this blog, like all the others I have written, is for me. It's a place to record things I find funny or aggravating or joyful or beautiful. I need a place to say what I think. This is it. When I'm writing, I don't often think about anyone else seeing my words, but the fact that I'm putting them here says that I also don't care if what I write is read by others. So should you stumble upon my blog and read my words, I hope you'll say hello and link your own blog so that I may visit you. And if you like being here, I hope you will come back.