change

Always Gone Til November

I've been thinking a lot about the rhythms, patterns, and cycles that exist in my life lately, particularly those related to my mental health.  After years of living off and on with depression and anxiety, I was diagnosed with rapid cycling bipolar disorder type 2 in July 2011. Looking back 4 years later, the significance of the timing of such a critical diagnosis isn't lost on me. Since I was 19 years old, July has consistently been a month of conflict or strife either in my relationships with others or my relationship with myself. It is also THE month where definitive moments or events take place that transform my life on some level. 

Some examples include...

  • July 2002: I enlisted in the United States Air Force at age 19 while being estranged from my family. 
  • July 2006: Found out I'd be raising my first, Brennan, on my own without his father. 
  • July 2009: Conceived Alex, shortly after beginning to date my husband. 
  • July 2014: Read my piece "America's Not Here For Us" as a VOTY honoree at BlogHer 14
  • July 2015: Took part in my first art exhibit + Moved to California

I don't really know why Life decides to show up exactly in the middle of the year and begin rearranging everything I've spent the first half of the year building...or sometimes just getting through. I don't understand why it feels the need to test the bonds and boundaries of my relationships with others either. Seems like kind of an asshole thing to do in my opinion, growth and forward movement notwithstanding. What I do know is that once August arrives, I'm reeling from the impact, my mind and mood thrown off kilter. What adds to this particular rhythm of mayhem and fuckery is my annual onset of seasonal affective disorder, or SAD. I'm not really sure why my SAD symptoms get triggered as early as mid-August. I think some of if it is due to stress from whatever was kicked into motion in my life the month before, and I think it's just my body & brain chemistry's natural response to Fall's impending arrival. Whatever the case, it descends and stays, triggering the rapid cycling aspect of my illness until the end of October. I also notice a similar pattern with milder symptoms when Winter starts to near its end, and Spring begins to awaken. 

While medication has helped stem the frequency, some days the cycling between hypomania and depression still occurs hourly once Fall kicks into high gear. Others it's daily, but usually I just find myself in what they call a "mixed" state: hypomanic and depressed. Only my hypomania doesn't manifest as boundless stores of energy that send me skyrocketing through the stratosphere, and rarely does the depression have me sink so low into its gravity well that I become enveloped in a darkness I can't see my way out of. For me, a mixed state usually just results in my living in a daily state of agitation and unreconcilable tension. The weight of it rests in spread eagle fashion across my shoulders. The pressure causes migraines. Bearing it means I'm exhausted but sometimes unable to turn off my brain enough to sleep before midnight. Thoughts buzz incessantly and noisily around. My focus and concentration fragment into abstract bits and pieces, leaving me to sweat from anxiety while I stand in the bread aisle in the grocery store and try to remember why I'm there and who these kids are calling me "Mom". My productivity goes down, way down, throttling my creative practice and output. I become withdrawn, selectively social, unable to tolerate the noise of social media, and the desire to disappear from it rages strong. I want to accomplish all the things and then abandon them for someone else and some other life where I'm only responsible for myself. It's this constant see-saw action that I am the first to admit renders me a less than pleasant person to live with...but I fight to contain it. I spend so much of my time working to keep its grubby paws off my relationships with my husband and children, I have little energy to keep it from impacting the one I have with myself, and that's what always winds up suffering the most. 

Then as quickly as it shows up, it leaves, dissipating until the next shift in season, until the following July. Literally overnight. I awake on November 1st and feel the fog that was clouding my brain lifting. My body suddenly feels lighter. Simple bodily movements like lifting my arms, extending my legs, and turning my face toward the day are easy again. My mind is busy but calm, quiet but ALIVE with ideas, focus and concentration locked in on exactly how I should structure my day, my mothering, our living. My desire to create roars voraciously. Words return to dance impatiently upon the tip of my tongue waiting to be brought to life, and my eyes turn back to viewing my world through paint and color. I become introspective and hyper-focused on dreams and life goals, asking intuition to guide me on where to head next. I go back to being the more congealed, fuller and more embodied version of myself. The one I like and recognize when I look in the mirror. 

I went to bed Saturday night with a flailing, disjointed brain chemistry, and woke up on Sunday morning with it having fallen back in step with a much steadier rhythm, working more fluidly in conjunction with other components of my treatment plan. I woke up feeling alive and released from Fall's vice like grip. It hasn't been the worst Fall I've experienced, but it has still forced me to accept it's the one time of the year I'm the most vulnerable and susceptible to my illness, and that is why when I woke up on Sunday, I took full advantage. I threw myself into the tasks that in weeks prior triggered overwhelm: cleaning the house, meal planning, grocery shopping, cooking, yard work, preparing us for the week ahead, cleaning up my workspace in the garage. 

 It was a relief to feel the desire to thrive coursing through my veins, pumping in rhythm with the hope beating wildly in my heart again. Hello, November. I've missed you. 


Turkey Baby!

First, some snaps from Alex's post bath photo-shoot...

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And secondly, I'm pretty sure my heart grew 2-3 sizes thanks to all the love pouring in it while these moments were captured. Which, if you ask me, is just the kind of expansion my mama heart needed seeing as though a new resident is moving in...

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Looks like I'll be having more than just turkey for Thanksgiving this year, y'all :)

Change Really Is Constant

Maybe I was being naive, but I thought once we moved here to Austin and got settled in, we'd be done with Mr. Change.  I mean after going through so much of it the last 8 months, and all of it permanently altering our lives, I thought our season was over once we moved into our apartment. I was wrong. Dead wrong. I forgot that change is fluid, always there, weaving its way throughout our lives daily. It doesn't matter if it's life changing or something we wouldn't think twice about or deem trivial, change is a constant companion in our journey through life.

Some of the changes we've experienced since moving here were planned, well-thought out and goals we set for ourselves. When we talked about moving here back in April, we sat down and talked about what kind of changes in our lifestyle we wanted to make. For example, we wanted to get back into being more active and doing the kinds of recreational activities we enjoy-running, hiking, being outside, exercising, yoga, taking the boys on bike rides, all of us learning how to swim, etc.

I'm happy to report that we've done that. We joined the YMCA in September and we're addicted to it. The kids love going to the child watch play area and basketball courts, Brennan's going to do track this winter, and both are being signed up for swimming lessons. I'm addicted to the rowing machine, Bertski to the strength training and BOTH of us are addicted to the running trail just across the street. People-I can leave my kids in the child watch at the Y and go run on the 3 mile trail that loops around Lady Bird Lake.  IT'S FREAKING GORGEOUS . What I love the most about it is that you see all kinds of people out there walking or running, whether they are in amazing shape, young, old, or trying to get into better shape. There's such a huge focus on health here in Austin-you can see and feel it. It's really been one of the best parts about our move. Being active is super easy in this city and we're in love with it.

Some of the other changes that have happened have been surprising, incredible, and disappointingly difficult to deal with.

The surprising? Brennan being in school. Why? Well for one, he's in school. Kindergarten. My baby boy has grown into an incredibly intelligent and dynamic 5-year-old BOY who goes to school. I knew when we moved here that he'd be going. But in the chaos of moving, it was just some intangible theory in the back of my mind. When it came time to walk him to his classroom I was a wreck. Bertski even teared up.

Something we didn't know when we moved into our neighborhood was that we moved into the one with the best elementary school in the city. A huge part of why it's so good is because it has access to money (it's an affluent area, so the parents who are in the PTA pour a lot of money into the school-and they fundraise LIKE CRAZY.) which means they have access to a wealth of resources that other schools do not. Brennan goes to music, art, PE, spanish, and other "specials" offered during his school day in addition to his regular curriculum. His teacher rocks, keeps us well-informed of what's going on week to week, and to say that Brennan is thriving there is an understatement. His mind has literally exploded with knowledge and he comes home every single day with a huge grin on his face as he tells us about what he learned.

That's the incredible part. The surprising part? Kindergarten is a LOT of work, yo. We haven't even gotten to the homework stage and I'm already terrified of the next 12 years. There are projects to do, (which is a first for us because I'm craft challenged) Teacher Appreciation lunches to bring food for, library volunteering to do, car lines to wait in (pause for a breath) school carnivals to attend and donate to, booths to work at said carnival, online resources to practice on, apps to download, music performances to go to.... are you getting what I'm saying? Trying to remember what's due when, and all of the other details has been more overwhelming than I'd like to admit. I wasn't expecting it to be this tough of a learning curve. But overall? It's good. We'll get through it.

Our lives overall are good. It's been an incredible experience to have something that was just a dream and a plan become tangible and just plain awesome when you start to live it out. We've been so fortunate.

The really disappointing part? Well there are two. One-while Austin is a progressive city, the VA system here is not unfortunately. Actually it's f*cking awful. I've never been to a place where they don't have operators to answer the phones whether it be at a clinic, hospital, or whatever. It's so frustrating when you're in crisis and trying to get ahold of someone and a) no one answers the damn phone b) your new psychiatrist treats you like you're inconveniencing them and doesn't listen you, and c) you get the run around when it comes to treatment options or question the lack thereof. (ex: they don't offer individual counseling. WTF?!)

More on that later, but the last disappointing change is that today Bertski started a new job and I'm a little sad about that. A lot of sad. Even though he spent a lot of time during the day previously working remote for his old client, he was still here and I found a lot of strength and comfort in that. The boys loved it, he loved it, I found relief in it and loved the routine we had developed. He already told me that this new contract is going to involve a lot of late nights, impossible to meet deadlines, and frenzy we've experienced with his previous contracts. That worries me, because it tires and stresses him out. He has less time to spend with us and on his side A.I. projects. In the past when he has a contract like this, any routine we've developed dissipates and we just kind of let things go. I'm hoping that as tough as this new contract will be, we'll still be able to adapt ourselves to it and maintain what's been working so well for us since moving here.

Whether it's good or bad, large or small change is and will remain constant. I'm going to try to remember this and focus on learning to be even more adaptable to it as I move through these new stages of my life.

Yes, I'm Scared of the Dark. Terrified, Really.

I have a lot of fears. Well, maybe not a lot, but at least two or three that seize my body with terror & fill my mind with awful images & scenarios whenever I think of them.

Like drowning.

The thought of not being able to draw in a breath without choking on water & being submerged in a body of water petrifies me.

And snakes...my toes curled up & my heart nearly flew out of my chest just typing that s-word...so I think it's best we just move right along to my final fear:

I'm terrified of the dark.

Yes, I'm 29 years old and I'm afraid of the dark-have been since I was a kid. Even as grown woman & mother of two kids, a small part of me is always convinced something will emerge from it to "get me," even though my rational mind knows this isn't the case.

But that's the thing about fears, right? They aren't always rational, are they? (Follow me, I'm trying to go somewhere, I promise.)

I think what scares me the most about darkness is that it places everything it covers into The Land of the Unknown...what was sure & recognizable in the light becomes shadowy, fuzzy & unclear in the dark. For a control freak like myself, I'm sure you can imagine why this freaks me out. I wish I could tell you that I don't stay awake some nights wondering if the shadow in the closet is really from the ironing board that I KNOW is there...or from some horrific figment of my imagination it's put there to f-- with me. Seriously, I wish I could but I can't. I don't do it much when I'm with someone else but if I'm by myself? Forget it. I'm cowering under the covers trying not to think about how unsafe I feel...Sometimes, just to shut up & shut down the fears screaming in my mind I have to actually get up, turn on a light, and go physically touch objects around the room I'm in...just for reassurance.

Crazy, right? Weird, right? Yes I know. Stupid? Probably...but as I lay here in my bed typing this and trying to tell myself I'm not going to wake up with some stranger laying next to or on me, and that the boys & I are VERY safe, I'm realizing that my fear of the dark is really just a fear of uncertainty. I hate not knowing. Ambiguity and I are not friends. Not being able to see & know everything around me leaves me in a very unsettled place emotionally...which disrupts me mentally, and manifests itself physically into agitation, irritability, paranoia, and crippling anxiety. I even get intrusive thoughts sometimes. My mind smells any hint of fear & just takes off in about 20 different directions, all of which lead to something horrific happening. If I can't see or know everything there is about something, a person, or where I have to go, I'm a wreck and not too pleasant to be around. This is one of the reasons I hate getting lost. Can't. Stand it.

And it's one of the reasons why even though growing up a military brat acquainted me with change & taught me the importance of adjusting & adapting to it, I'm not very good at embracing it like I should be. I know, you're thinking to yourself "The chick who changes her hair color every time she blinks is afraid of change? What the hell?" But seriously, while I may not be afraid of changing how I look, I am terrified of how change impacts my life in other areas.

I like change...There are times my restless and adventurous little soul yearns for it...but then when it shows up ready to deliver I promptly begin to freak the hell out. I know-I don't get the contradiction either, trust me.

So even though I was dying to pack up & move across the country...am giddy at the thought of marrying the nerd of my life...am relieved to be taking a break from work & school and looking forward to just being MOM....here I am, laying in a hotel room in Austin, TX, (IN THE DARK!) absolutely paralyzed by my fear of the uncertain...of what's unknown...imagine Usain Bolt running around at record speed inside my head waving 500 "what if?" flags stirring up a fear tornado. That's my mind right now.

A fear tornado. I'm dead smack in the center staring wide eyed at all my fears & questions swirling furiously around me.

What happens if Bertski doesn't come back from PA next week because his train derails and crashes and I'm forced to be here by myself? How would we survive & live without him?

What if someone breaks in here or attacks us while he's gone? How would I defend us?

What if he changes his mind & doesn't want to marry me?

What if he hates it here?

What if I hate it here? And the boys? What if this was a mistake?

We haven't found a place yet-what if we don't? How long can we stay here at the hotel? Will they kick us out? Where will we go?

What if by choosing to "just" be Mom, I lose the other parts of me that make me...ME? What will happen to my passions, my goals, my ambition? What if I don't go back to school & I regret it? Will my children think less of me if I don't have a degree? Will I be setting the bar too low for them if I don't go back?

Can we survive off of just one income?

What if the boys get sick or need to go to the doctor? Or me? Or Bertski? We don't have health insurance...

What if I'm not strong enough to handle all of this change & I sink into an episode or my illness rages out of control again?

I could go on...but I'll stop the list there. I know some of these fears are irrational, slightly silly & maybe even stupid-I know this, I do. But there are others that are valid & real and they're the ones that cause me the most unease. I'm incredibly happy we moved. Grateful for the people we've met here & the connections we've made despite being states away from family & friends who have supported us for years. Thrilled that I'm doing this with the man I love dearly and my boys...

But I'm also scared shitless over the unknowns of this venture, of everything that sits in the dark, and restricts my vision of the future. We've executed a plan that brought us here, but large amounts of that plan have been rooted in uncertainty & our desire to just stick together & "make it happen"until we're settled.

I'm afraid of the dark, because not being able to see what's in front of me leaves me feeling very unsettled...uneasy...uncomfortable. I'm trying to take it all in stride & just learn to be okay with not knowing. I'm trying to embrace the nuances of change without trying to control it too much. It's not easy, but I'm trying.

Well there you have it. I told you some of my fears, what are yours?

Sometimes Life Happens so Fast You Can Barely Process it All

So. I haven't been here nearly as often as I wanted to this summer.

My goals for the summer included wanting to paint & write every day, even if it was just a little.

But things don't always go according to plan, no matter how good our intentions are.

Life doesn't always happen the way we plan or expect, right?

My life, our lives this summer have been consumed by change...transition.

From preparing for our move to Austin in just 13 days, to buying our first space shuttle (we refuse to call it a minivan) to family members getting sick, to me just becoming engrossed in just LIVING life, everything has happened so fast, I can barely process it all.

So, that's why I've been silent here. I've tried writing the words, my desire has been to document the nuances of this new season in our lives, but...the words haven't found me yet.

I'm hoping they will soon, but for now just know that I haven't forgotten about this space.

I'll be back...

Oh yea. I'm on my way to BlogHer. More than the conference itself I'm happy to finally meet those who have become friends over the past year, Jaime, Susan, and others.

So I'll fill you in on my experience there as well as everything else when I get back. Hopefully.