Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Hi There

The holiday season is about to launch, and I know that it's hard. There's so much emotion dumped into all of it. Family. History. Angst. Baggage. It's hard sometimes to let a turkey dinner just be a turkey dinner when it's tied to memories of sitting at the kids table with cousins you don't talk to anymore, or your grandmother getting mad and storming upstairs because "no one cares about her, no one cares about her feelings, no one calls or comes near" (even though your family is literally there every weekend), or when the mean aunt who never shows up to anything makes a dramatic entrance just as you are saying grace.

It's hard when everything seems like it's about family and you're away from your family. Or maybe you don't have family. Or maybe you've had to sever those ties because of abuse. 

It's hard.

But you should know this: you are not alone. You are never alone. (Unless you want to be, and if that's the case than I totally respect your space.)

You are brilliant.

You are uplifted. You are borne aloft on the warm thoughts and well wishes of everyone and everyone who has been there and is there and who understands.

You are embraced. You are held in the arms of people who, like you, find the holidays difficult and challenging.

You are validated. Everything you feel? Is okay and acceptable. Joy, sorrow, rage: they are all real and they are all yours and none of them are forbidden. Honour your feelings. They are perfect and you are perfect.

You are free. Choose to celebrate --or not. Choose to explain -- or don't. You get to dictate what you do, what traditions you follow, what ceremonies you create.

And you are loved. Yes, you. Whether or not you feel like you deserve it. Whether or not you understand why. You are loved and you are amazing.

Sending you out the warmest wishes and thoughts,


Monday, November 23, 2015

Crazy Thanksgiving Lady

As I may have mentioned, last year Mother Nature took a good look at the plans The Fella and I had made for Thanksgiving and sneezed all over them. While not particularly fancy, they were our plans for our first Thanksgiving together, and having to throw away all of our perishables due to a lack of power instead of happily nomming pizza we had made together was, well, kind of sucky. We ended up having a lovely, cozy time, but still.

This year, we decided to have a mildly more traditional Thanksgiving, albeit one sans turkey (which probably causes everyone who read this to breathe a sigh of relief) with stuffing and veggie dishes and mashed potatoes and pie. It's like a no-carbs left behind nom-fest.

So, casting one wary eye on the weather report, I went in search of side dish ideas while The Fella declared that he makes really good cranberry sauce from scratch and did I like homemade cranberry sauce?

Homemade cranberry sauce?

My kind of cranberry sauce comes out of a can, I said. Like ... um ... cranberry jello.

He looked at me with horror.

I bet I'll like it, I said quickly. I mean, I'm sure I will! Please make it!

The only problem is this: I am crazy. CRAZY. Like, "some of my friends call me Martha Stewart" crazy. As in, there is no way he's making HOMEMADE cranberry sauce and I'm not making something equally amazing. Because COMPETITION (and, uh, did I mention that I'm crazy)?

I found some fancy schmancy recipes and went grocery shopping. Of course, by "grocery shopping" I really mean "Lost my mind at the grocery store and spent too much money and had to make four trips to haul my treasures into the house" because that's what happened. That was the first sign that I had lost my mind.

The second (and probably more telling) sign happened as I found myself scolding what might be the largest head of cauliflower that I have ever seen because it wouldn't fit in the crisper. "YOU ARE RUINING MY MOJO," I hissed at the vegetable as it continued to jam in the drawer. "YOU ARE STUBBORN AND I HATE YOU."

I heard myself saying it.

Then I sat down on the floor and started to laugh. Okay, and cry a little. The cat climbed into my laugh while I giggled and snorked at the same time. I patted her fuzzy head until I regained some semblance of composure.

Here's my problem: I want to have a magical holiday where I create something super impressive because ... well, to be honest I don't know. To prove I can? To demonstrate to everyone that I have mastered Adulting?

But the truth? The truth is that it doesn't matter if the damn cauliflower fits in the crisper, or if I make food that looks and tastes like a professional chef has made it (although that would be nice), or even whether or not we have electricity or heat.

The truth is that the fact that I get to spend this or any holiday with The Fella makes it pretty freaking magical.

For that, I will always be thankful.

Nicest Thing Ever

I ran into an old friend over the weekend and she said one of the nicest things I have ever heard, which was this:

"Every time I think about you and The Fella, I smile. It's like -- you guys remind me that really good things happen in the world."

Which, awwwwwww.

And also, awwwwwwwww.

If I'm giving thanks this week (and of course I am), it's for just that: this beautiful life that I never expected to have.

It's for good things that happen, when we're not looking for them.

And it's for being lucky enough to recognize them when they do.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Saying Goodbye (PeteSaahgent)

My dad recently left the job he's had since my parents relocated to North Carolina. Leaving a job is difficult; no matter what the circumstances are, you walk away from friends and routine, and that's hard. The older you get, the harder it is.

I know a little something about that.

On the same day that my dad left his job in North Carolina, he found out that the plant he'd worked at for thirty-two years in New Hampshire had been sold off by GE.

It was, and is, really hard to accept.

That building was a fixture in my father's life from when he was eighteen to when he was fifty. Even though he retired, it was the place he identified with. He moved away, but he knew it was there, its old school neon sign rising above the landscape of downtown Somersworth, New Hampshire.

Of course, as I mentioned, my folks don't live here in New England anymore. They'll probably adjust faster than I will because they won't see the plant. It's easier to get used to things when they're not in your face. I'm still not used to driving past the house I grew up in and not being able to pull into the drive and have a cup of tea, and I never got used to the loss of my dad's buddy and supervisor, Pete, who I used to get on the phone when I called the tool room at GE so I could talk to my dad.

Pete was old school New England and he had the accent to prove it. He'd pick up the phone and say his name like it was one word: "PeteSahhgent."

"Um, Mr. Sargeant? This is Dan Hayes's daughter Danielle... Can I talk to him?"

"A'course. One minute." And then you could hear him call out: "Daaaaaannnnnnyyyy!"

It was more awesome if you got his voicemail, because there would be a cool, automated female voice saying: "You have reached the desk of--" and then a recording of Pete, saying slowly, in the exact opposite way of that which he answered the phone: "Petah. Saahgent."

I used to drive past Pete's house on my way to my teaching job. Sometimes I'd see him, walking out to his mailbox. I always waved. He'd always wave back. 

When my mom called to tell me that Pete had died very suddenly, I didn't believe her. "I just SAW him," I said. "He waved to me." As though friendliness pre-empts death. As though by the act of waving to him, I could keep him safe. 

"I know," my mum said. She was crying. I think my dad was too. I just said, "PeteSaahgent" and then I had to hang up.

I still drive by Pete's house sometimes, on my way from here to there. I wave, even though there's no one there to wave back. When I drive past the GE plant in Somersworth, sometimes I say "Petah. Saahgent" even though no one lives here anymore who understands.

I probably still will, when it all boils down to it. Even though it's not GE anymore. Even though nothing remains the same.

But it will make me extra sad.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Giving. Thanks.

Last year was the first Thanksgiving that The Fella and I spent together. Because he doesn’t eat meat, and I wasn’t feeling the traditional foods (I was still burned out from the great turkey roast of 2013), we decided that we would make pizza and be quietly festive. This was an excellent plan right up until the day before Thanksgiving, when we had an unexpected, giant snowstorm and the power went out.

And stayed out.

For two days.

Takeout, anyone?

This year, we are going a slightly more traditional route (albeit sans turkey) and, hopefully, will have power so we can actually cook things instead of having to throw out all of the things in our fridge because they have spoiled. Fingers crossed.

As we were thinking about what we wanted to do for the holiday, though, I was remembering the fairy tale story that we all learned in elementary school  about the first Thanksgiving. You probably remember. You made a turkey out of a tracing of your hand. You made a buckled hat out of construction paper. Your teacher told a story about how the Pilgrims and the Indians pooled all of their resources and had a magnificent meal.

History tells us that this version, though kid-friendly, isn’t, erm, accurate.  I know that.

I love the spirit of what I think of as Disney Thanksgiving – cleaned up, adorable, probably including singing animals – because I think that there should be more sharing. More generosity. More pooling of resources.

What I would like to challenge every person to do for Thanksgiving and the holiday season is just that: share. Be generous.

·         Be generous with your knowledge – consider the things that you have been through and the lessons you have learned, and how you can share those things.

·         Be generous with your time – give time to someone or something who needs it. Maybe you have a friend who needs your listening skills. Maybe you have an elderly neighbor who needs someone to check in on her. Maybe your child’s school could use a helper. Maybe the local food bank could use someone to pick up or sort donations.

·         Be generous with your heart. Offer kindness and love to people. Even when it’s hard. Maybe especially when it’s hard. Let the people you love know that you love them. Send your mom a card. Call your siblings.  Write a note to a friend.

·         Be generous with your resources. Donate an old coat to a program that distributes winter coats to people who need them. Buy a couple of extra items at the grocery store and donate them to a food pantry. Pick up an extra toy and give it to Toys for Tots. Drop your change into the Salvation Army kettle. Smile at the person who’s standing out in the cold, ringing the bell.

This world needs more kindness. It needs more shared knowledge and experience. It needs us to take the time to be human with one another. It needs us to love each other. And it needs us to share.

Be generous, when you can, however you can.

And if you want to make a construction paper Pilgrim hat while you do it? That’s fun too.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Anxiety and Me

So, I have this anxiety issue.

If you don't have an anxiety issue -- well, don't feel left out. You probably have other issues, and if you want we can talk about them later. Let me know.

I wish I could give a blanket explanation of what it's like to have an anxiety disorder, but I think it's different for every person who lives with it. I can only tell you what it's like for me and for me,  when I'm having a full blown episode, it's as though my system goes into full flight or flight mode. My heart beats too fast and I can't breathe. It's like having an asthma attack but my inhaler doesn't do anything (in fact, I have to be careful not to confuse the two --  panic and asthma  -- because my inhaler will actually make my anxiety worse), and I usually stop talking because I can't figure out what words to use. I feel isolated and stupid and my body feels wrong. My skin feels too tight. I want to find a warm, dark space and hide in it until it passes.

It's not, you know, the most fun thing ever.

I've figured out that some things trigger my anxiety. For example, I find large crowds triggering. I used to love going to concerts; now I know that I can only really go to small venues, because the idea of navigating in and out of, say, a stadium and being surrounded by all of the people is too much. I don't like being in super noisy places. I respond poorly to shouting and to conflict.

Can I take medication for this? Yes. I can. Medication helps manage anxiety. It does not control it or take it away. It helps to smooth it out, but it doesn't erase it. There's no magical pill that will rewire my brain so that it's not convinced that I'm going to die in a Chuck E Cheese (please, never ask me to go to a Chuck E Cheese) or if I attend a party where I don't know very many people. I would love it if there was, but there simply isn't. As a result, in addition to medication, I have tried to figure out some of the things that cause me to, um, lose my shit.

Because the reality is that if I'm NOT able to figure that out and I go into full anxiety mode too often, Anxiety's BFF, Depression, will join in the festivities. This, in case you can't tell, is the opposite of awesome. It's terrible when you spend a lot of time wanting to hide and then, when you don't want to hide, find yourself sobbing uncontrollably at the drop of a hat because you are too tired and sad to cope.

I'm a freaking party to be around, obviously.

The hardest part about anxiety is this: sometimes, the thing that causes it to spin and dance through your system? Isn't something you can quickly remove yourself from.

For example, it might be your job. Okay, my job. It might have been my job.

I worked with wonderful, kind, funny people who I adored, but I would wake up feeling like I needed to vomit and spend hours at work in "Can't breathe, weight on my chest, I feel like I'm going to die, I can't escape" mode.  Every. Day.

I don't think I need to explain that this is not good for one's overall health.

I was tired all of the time because, to add to the fun, anxiety also causes me to have insomnia. I would sleep for a few hours and then wake up with the "skin too tight, can't breathe, racing heart" feelings while I was overwhelmed by thoughts of what had happened at work and what would happen at work the next day and the realization that there was nothing I could do about any of it.

Until finally I realized, as I sat in the tub crying as quietly as possible for the what might have been the hundredth time: I cannot live like this. It's not fair to The Fella or my family or my friends, who are watching me very slowly fall apart. It's not fair to ME.

I was lucky. I was able to find another job in a field I love and in an environment that's perfect for me.   It's been four weeks since I left my previous job and I have had exactly two panic attacks since then. One was the night before I flew out to train for my new job (I don't love to fly), and one was a few nights ago. That one was random. They sometimes are. I know that I'll have them. I also know that I cannot tolerate any life situation that causes that every day. I deserve more than that.

Everyone deserves to have a life that brings them joy, no matter how disordered their brain chemistry.

So, I have this anxiety thing. I'm used to it, mostly. I don't expect that I'll ever not have it.

But right now? I feel pretty damn good.

I'll take it.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Open Spaces

Acts of horror and violence take place daily. They take place on small scales, within homes, as children cower in fear from an upraised hand, and they take place on large scales, with bombs going off in market places and guns fired into crowds. We pay more attention to some of these acts than we do others. Some of them get a lot of media scrutiny and some do not. Some of that’s political – probably a lot of it is – and some of it is racial and some of it is economical.

When we pay attention, we like to find someone to blame. I think this is understandable. When something horrible happens, we want to know why. It might not make us feel safer, per say, but it makes us feel better if there is someone – anyone – we can hold responsible.

Someone we can vilify.

Someone we can hate.

That’s what I want to talk about here. The hate.

The thing that disturbs me most about large scale acts of horror and terrorism, as much as the acts itself, is the hatred and the blame.

I saw an exchange on social media about recent acts of terrorism, in which the original poster said, We should pray for everyone. Pray for the people who were injured. Pray for the families of the dead. And pray for the people who did this, because they have lost their humanity.

The responses to her post were angry and encompassed not only the people who committed the terrorism, but all of the people of their background, and also refugees from other nations and said, quite simply. No. No, we will not pray for these people – we will not pray for any of these people. No. We should take up arms against all of them. They are vile and disgusting and we hate them. Look! Look what they did! How can you ask us to pray for them? What is wrong with you? We need to destroy them.

I can’t help but think that this is the same conversation that the group who committed these acts had, if someone among them dared say, “Let us not do this thing. Let us pray for these people instead.”

I can’t find it within me to hate anyone. I just can’t. I understand the inclination but I can’t embrace it. I hate the violence. I hate the horror. I just don’t know how to hate people. I don’t know how to hate people who can’t see another path. I don’t know how to want to hurt someone because they are so desperate that the only thing that they know how to do is lash out. I don’t know how to declare war against an entire people for the actions of a few people.

This is what I think: the heart is full of open spaces. They can be filled up with love, or they can be filled up with something else.  I will always choose to fill the open spaces in my heart with love and light and hope, because to do otherwise is to become the thing that I abhor.  When that happens? That’s when the people who would cause harm win. They cannot win unless you allow their actions to fill you with hate and fear.

Please don’t fill the open spaces in your heart with darkness.