Thursday, December 30, 2010

Taking a Hint from a Facebook Friend - 2011 Things to Do

It's the end of the year, when all of us begin to think, "What resolutions did I make last year that I fell down on by January 3rd?"  Everyone seems to be making resolutions.  My biggest is no different than most - I want to lose weight.  Not surprising, considering the unwanted 15 pounds I've put on since the hysterectomy and unfortunate switch from my trusted Lyrica to my doctor's preferred Neurontin.  I know that GABA meds make me gain weight.  I can't believe I went along with his urging me to change over, resulting in several severe wardrobe crises and some difficulties in the self-esteem area.

A Facebook friend posted up a 2011 "Bucket List" this morning and I thought, what a great, positive way to bring in the new year.  Think about what you want to accomplish over the next twelve months and then maybe, just maybe, accomplish a few of the things on the list.  So, with that in mind and a thank you to the friend who put the idea in my head, here is my bucket list for 2011:

1.  Lose the 15 pounds and the Neurontin so I can squeeze back into all of those clothes taking up space in my closet right now.  I've already made the med switch, so hopefully with a little will power and exercise, the pounds will go back the way they came.  The four pounds that have come off since Monday are certainly encouragement that it's possible.  I'm resolved to get the weight off because not only do I feel it's unsightly on me, it's actually uncomfortable.  I don't like being at a weight that I have only experienced when on certain medications and while pregnant.  You've got to weigh (haha) the benefits against the side effects and this time, the benefits of a different medication far outweigh the weight gain.

2.  Spend more time with my kids.  This may be easier said than done, since they are in the throes of adolescence, they're boys, and Mom is just not cool right now.  But there have to be things I can do to get to know these offspring of mine.  Although Winchester is not exactly a hoppin' town, I think there should be places to go and things to do that even I can come up with.

3.  Spend more time working with the Cujo I brought into the family in August.  Clearly, the dog is smart.  He just needs a little training and a little discipline.  The unfortunate fact is that I tend to have ideas that I think at the time are the best ideas I've ever come up with, but quickly lose interest once I've gone ahead and done whatever it is I was so wild to do.  The dog would have to fall into the category.  The idea of having a dog has always seemed important, but the actual having of a dog is a lot more work than I ever imagined (not to mention the unbelievable amount of dirt).  Think having a new baby if you're thinking of bringing a puppy home.  They really do require about that much work.  Justin has been a true trooper and taken over the majority of the dog chores.  But it's time for me to step up to the plate.

I should probably set this goal as "become more of a dog person."  I've always understood cats way more than I've understood dogs, but I know the benefits you can get from having a canine that loves you and I want to experience that bond.   Now if I can just get Jack to cooperate.

4.  Get the children's book I've been working on finished up and out to some publishers to see if anyone might show the faintest glimmer of interest in actually buying something I've written.  If I'm going to be a writer, I need to get serious here and do it.  It's way easier to write this blog than it is to come up with new ideas for the fictional stories I've been creating, but I have seen that I have it in me and I want to find the discipline to not only get the one that's almost done out for consideration, but clean up the others I have sitting in my desk drawer and maybe come up with a new idea or two for a couple of new books in 2011.  I wrote five manuscripts for children's books in 2010, which is no small accomplishment, I know.  The publishing world is a tough world to break into, but I have just the right amount of stubbornness and perseverance to think that it's possible.

5.  Okay, we've been in this house since 2005 and, as much of an organizational and neat freak as I know myself to be, our basement is beginning to look suspiciously like an episode of "Hoarding: Buried Alive" on TLC.  Although we wanted to get the space finished, the housing market took a big nosedive and, not to anyone's surprise, the bank cut our line of credit off like the French with a guillotine when Frederick County decided our house was no longer worth anything near what we paid for it.  But...there is still a quite nice space down there with pretty good light and big French doors that just might make a nice place for me to write.  Right now that space is filled, literally, with trash.  I do not have the OCD problem of not being able to let go of my things and am not sentimentally attached to much of anything down there besides my wedding dress and the old photographs.  It's time to get off my butt and donate the boxes of clothes that have been sitting down there in time for a tax write off and haul the trash to the dump.  So add cleaning up the mess that is our basement, along with cleaning out all of the stuffed to the brim cabinets, cupboards, and closets in the rest of the house to my list of things to do next year.  One small drawer...one giant leap for mankind.  The smallest journey begins with one step...so take the step, Chelle, and quit bitching about the mess.

6.  Unfinished projects.  I counted up in my head this morning how many sewing projects I have currently sitting around in various cabinets and cupboards (speaking of full cabinets) and I think I came to the unmanageable number of ten.  Ten projects started and not finished.  One project for charity, two for gifts, and the rest are things I just started and never finished.  So add the first three to the list of things I will finish in the next twelve months and maybe, just maybe, I might try to add a fourth to the list if my hands will cooperate and stop cramping up on me.

7.  Spend some couple time with my husband.  This is a must do.  Every year except this one, we have always taken at least one weekend away from the kids and the responsibilities and the chores to just be together.  This year, things didn't quite work out for "couple time" and we felt a family vacation was much more important than the getaway we had originally planned.  You can never spend too many vacations with your kids.  No, stop laughing, I'm serious.  But, this year we have to get at least 48 hours away to just have some fun.  I don't even care where we go or what we do, but it's got to be just the two of us and not in this house.  No "staycation." 

8.  Finally, become a recluse.  Oh, wait.  Been there, done that and I. Don't. Like It.  The agoraphobia (at least I think that's what you could call it) has gotten severely worse in the months since I lost my job in October and suddenly leaving the house has seemed frightening.  But, every time I force myself out, I realize the freedom of not being cooped up and frozen by the anxiety of crowds, traffic, and the fear of running into some people I really do not want to run into.  It's a small town and suddenly, since October, it's felt stifling.  But, new year, new me, right?  I made a bold move yesterday and ran a couple of errands.  I felt like I'd won the Olympic gold medal in venturing out.  I also actually managed to take the dog for a walk (instead of the dog walking me and thanks so much to whoever invented the harness for that leash) both yesterday and today, prompting Justin to express the vague hope that if I could walk the dog every day at lunchtime, he might actually get to use his gym membership again.  As long as the temperature stays above, oh say, 35 degrees, I might actually be able to do that.  Benefits all the way around, as this tackles not only the agoraphobia issue, but also the canine bonding issue, and the exercise issue. 

My friend's list had quite a few more numbers than mine, but looking at the eight things I've listed above, I think I'm going to need all of 2011 to accomplish them.  So here is my "list" of things I am planning for 2011.  I'll check back this time next year to see how many of them I gave up on by January 3rd.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Need to Address Bullying Behavior

I have been wanting to address the issue of bullying for quite awhile, initially thinking of the recent rash of suicides by teenagers in response to both in person and cyber-bullying.  I, of course, am concerned with two children in middle school, that they might be targets at one time or another of other adolescents seeking to assert their "dominance" or "coolness."  What I never expected was to be addressing bullying as an adult target.

I've spent a great deal of time over the last two months wondering both to myself and also online as to what exactly it was that I did wrong in the thirteen months I was recently employed.  After finding my blog, the humiliating treatment I received has continued in the guise of "helpful" advice from "anonymous" posters, with little inserts attempting to bait me and trying to make me feel even worse about what happened.

Knowing that the little barbs inserted into the negative blog comments being posted were the work of the person responsible for getting me fired, I decided to do a little research.  I wanted to take an honest look at myself to see if it was possible that the treatment I received was in any way my fault and if, as suggested in one of the snide remarks, I could use what had happened as a "learning experience."  Yes, I can, but not in the way that was suggested. What I found in my research was nothing short of astounding when I recognized a myriad of behaviors I experienced, both while employed and then in response to my online writing.

The following information comes from www.bullyonline.org:

What is bullying?
  • constant nit-picking, fault-finding and criticism of a trivial nature - the triviality, regularity and frequency betray bullying; often there is a grain of truth (but only a grain) in the criticism to fool you into believing the criticism has validity, which it does not; often, the criticism is based on distortion, misrepresentation or fabrication
  • simultaneous with the criticism, a constant refusal to acknowledge you and your contributions and achievements or to recognise your existence and value
  • constant attempts to undermine you and your position, status, worth, value and potential
  • where you are in a group (eg at work), being singled out and treated differently; for instance, everyone else can get away with murder but the moment you put a foot wrong - however trivial - action is taken against you
  • being isolated and separated from colleagues, excluded from what's going on, marginalized, overruled, ignored, sidelined, frozen out, sent to Coventry
  • being belittled, demeaned and patronised, especially in front of others
  • being humiliated, shouted at and threatened, often in front of others
  • being overloaded with work, or having all your work taken away and replaced with either menial tasks (filing, photocopying, minute taking) or with no work at all
  • finding that your work - and the credit for it - is stolen and plagiarised
  • having your responsibility increased but your authority taken away
  • having annual leave, sickness leave, and - especially - compassionate leave refused
  • being denied training necessary for you to fulfill your duties
  • having unrealistic goals set, which change as you approach them
  • ditto deadlines which are changed at short notice - or no notice - and without you being informed until it's too late
  • finding that everything you say and do is twisted, distorted and misrepresented
  • being subjected to disciplinary procedures with verbal or written warnings imposed for trivial or fabricated reasons and without proper investigation
  • being coerced into leaving through no fault of your own, constructive dismissal, early or ill-health retirement, etc.

How do I recognise a bully?
Most bullying is traceable to one person, male or female - bullying is not a gender issue. Bullies are often clever people (especially female bullies) but you can be clever too.  Who does this describe in your life?
  • Jekyll & Hyde nature - vicious and vindictive in private, but innocent and charming in front of witnesses; no-one can (or wants to) believe this individual has a vindictive nature - only the current target sees both sides
  • is a convincing, compulsive liar and when called to account, will make up anything spontaneously to fit their needs at that moment
  • uses lots of charm and is always plausible and convincing when peers, superiors or others are present; the motive of the charm is deception and its purpose is to compensate for lack of empathy
  • relies on mimicry to convince others that they are a "normal" human being but their words, writing and deeds are hollow, superficial and glib
  • displays a great deal of certitude and self-assuredness to mask their insecurity
  • excels at deception
  • exhibits unusual inappropriate attitudes to sexual matters or sexual behavior; underneath the charming exterior there are often suspicions or intimations of sexual harassment, sex discrimination or sexual abuse (sometimes racial prejudice as well)
  • exhibits much controlling behavior and is a control freak
  • displays a compulsive need to criticize whilst simultaneously refusing to acknowledge, value and praise others
  • when called upon to share or address the needs and concerns of others, responds with impatience, irritability and aggression
  • often has an overwhelming, unhealthy and narcissistic need to portray themselves as a wonderful, kind, caring and compassionate person, in contrast to their behavior and treatment of others; the bully is oblivious to the discrepancy between how they like to be seen (and believe they are seen), and how they are actually seen
  • has an overbearing belief in their qualities of leadership but cannot distinguish between leadership (maturity, decisiveness, assertiveness, trust and integrity) and bullying (immaturity, impulsiveness, aggression, distrust and deceitfulness)
  • when called to account, immediately and aggressively denies everything, then counter-attacks with distorted or fabricated criticisms and allegations; if this is insufficient, quickly feigns victimhood, often by bursting into tears (the purpose is to avoid answering the question and thus evade accountability by manipulating others through the use of guilt)
  • is also ... aggressive, devious, manipulative, spiteful, vengeful, doesn't listen, can't sustain mature adult conversation, lacks a conscience, shows no remorse, is drawn to power, emotionally cold and flat, humourless, joyless, ungrateful, dysfunctional, disruptive, divisive, rigid and inflexible, selfish, insincere, insecure, immature and deeply inadequate, especially in interpersonal skills
I estimate one person in thirty has this behaviour profile. I describe them as having a disordered personality: an aggressive but intelligent individual who expresses their violence psychologically (constant criticism etc) rather than physically (assault).

The unfortunate fact is that the above describes almost exactly what I went through for thirteen months and now continue to experience online.  The noted website gives a wealth of information on how to recover from being the target of this type of person, as well as how to recover from the post-traumatic stress disorder which often accompanies it.  (Not that I believe I have PTSD from this experience - far from it.)

There's always a question as to whether to address this type of behavior, because often bringing it to the attention of others or responding in any way will only make it worse.  But I think it's important for anyone (and the website estimates that 50% of people in the workforce - adults - are the target of this type of behavior) that people recognize this type of thing if it is happening to them and arm themselves in such a way as to protect themselves from psychological damage.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Best Christmas Gift EVER!

I have been an avid reader since I learned to read, probably around the age of five or six.  When I was in high school, my mother would take my brother and me to the library about once a week and I would come out with a stack of books as high as I could carry.  I can remember asking my mom if she would check out the romance novels for me because I was embarrassed to be reading "that kind of book" and my mom telling me that if I was old enough to read it, I was old enough to go up to the counter and check it out.  I had a part-time job one summer actually at the library and thought I had died and gone to heaven.  My job was to put away the books that had been returned and I can remember completing this task and then picking out books that looked interesting and sitting on the floor behind the stacks enjoying the printed word until the next batch of work came my way.

I'm way past the embarrassment phase of book choice and have outgrown the romance novels I thought were just so cool as a teenager, but amazon has made obtaining books as easy as a click of the mouse and I admit (rather guiltily) to utilizing that one click business to fill my house over and over with books on every subject.  I am ashamed to say that I am not a classics reader.  I much prefer books that are written within the last, oh, probably ten years in language that is easily understandable.  I have made an exception for Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol, The Scarlet Letter, and Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar.  Actually, The Bell Jar is written in a much more modern way, as was The Good Earth, another phenomenal read and great classic.  I hope to eventually work my way through some of the more difficult books that are on that list.

There was my forensic psychology period, which I think I am totally over at this point.  Reading about the dark, evil things that people are capable of can be entertaining to a point, but if you're not a really perky person to begin with, reading those books can make you downright morbid and who needs that in their life?

A friend recently loaned me a book called The Help, which I think is probably destined to be a classic and which I thoroughly enjoyed.  I also discovered a wonderful writer named Emily Giffin and have devoured two of the four novels she has published.  And of course, there is my need for new Stephen King work on a regular basis.  I have been with him since Carrie was published in 1977 and I would like to think I have read everything he has put out in novel form.  I made the unfortunate mistake (before realizing how important his work actually is to me) of donating or selling approximately half of his books that I had bought or been given and am now in the replacement stage.  Every year for Christmas, I put his new book that comes out without fail in November on my list, along with a few of the ones that I am missing and, slowly but surely, am regaining my collection.  I noted on his acknowledgments page in the new book today that he has published over fifty novels.  Can you imagine such an accomplishment?  Stephen King is one author I will always have to have in hardback.  Justin managed to find a hardback copy of Eyes of the Dragon for me this year from an independent seller.  The guy also had a signed first edition, but wanted $2,700.  I drool at the prospect of owning all 50 novels, first edition, hardback, signed by the man himself.  It will never happen, but I can at least have copies of all the books.  And if you buy the one that comes out every year, you're bound to get a first edition, something I realized with delight after Under the Dome was released last year.

As a book lover, I was slightly (okay, highly) skeptical of this Kindle device that Amazon so proudly unveiled a few years ago.  I've always loved the smell of a bookstore or library and the feel of a book in my hands as I turned the pages.  How can you enjoy a book on a screen?  When my all time favorite author started a book called The Plant and put it out in E-format, I actually printed it out just to have a copy.  I don't know what happened to my printed version, unfortunately, seeing as you can no longer get access to it.  It was a great story which he never finished, to my knowledge.  And one which I wanted to read on paper.

So when this new invention came out, I was firmly in the camp that said I will never read my books on a computer screen.  I just could not imagine it.  Then my mom bought one and got one for my dad.  My parents are also avid readers and my dad's taste is extremely eclectic.  Seeing as how they are a generation above me, I figured they would not have the slightest interest in books on a screen.  But I was beginning to waver when I found out they both had these devices and loved them.

As a surprise for Christmas this year, Justin decided to get me a Kindle.  I was still going back and forth on whether I would like it or not.  After we opened the gifts on Saturday morning, Justin began the task of getting my little device hooked up to our internet connection so I could download a book.  A task which should have been relatively easy, but, seeing as how the Kindle is not an Apple product and our network has multiple users (have I mentioned how many electronic devices my kids think they need?), it kind of turned into an all day project, complete with cursing and swearing and kids coming downstairs to ascertain why they no longer had internet access.  A blessing in disguise, since they don't come out of their rooms very often.

After finally fixing whatever the problem was (and props to my incredibly intelligent husband who knows so much about computers and networks and these complicated things I would never have figured out) he handed me my little device and I proceeded to see if I could figure out how to work it.  And discovered it was unbelievably easy!  You can shop the Kindle store on your Kindle.  It will actually bring up the New York Times Bestseller List for you and give you the option to just put it on your Amazon account if there is something you want to buy.  Okay, I'm game.

I downloaded John Grisham's latest book, which is number two on the current bestseller list and was immediately won over.  The only complaint I had was that the screen is not lit, meaning I couldn't read sneakily in bed after Justin went to sleep.  I spent the next 24 hours devouring a book on a little computer screen approximately 4" X 6" and marveling at how fantastic this little gadget is.

For the last 34 years, I have always said that the best present I ever got was the ice skates Santa brought me when I was 12 years old for Christmas.  We lived in upstate New York at the time and right across the street from a little boat dock that the kids would shovel off when the snow and ice hit around Halloween and play hockey and skate.  I used those skates on probably a daily basis the entire winter while we lived there.  I even used them after we moved to Virginia at the local ice rinks and was proud to have my own skates instead of needing the ones that other people had put their stinky feet into.  I might actually still have them somewhere in the junk area known as my basement.

I believe the skates have finally been knocked out of first place in the present department by this amazing little device.  I could easily get hooked into never letting it out of my hand and running up my credit card bill in order to read everything new that comes out after a ten second download.  The icing on the cake is that the books are actually cheaper to download than to buy in the bookstore.  And easier, because you never have to leave your living room.  For an agoraphobic bibliophile, this is heaven on earth.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Wow, What a CRAPPY Day I Had!

It's funny how life works.  I've been reading a lot of status updates and comments on Facebook about how crappy 2010 was for a lot of people.  And I would I have to say that I am in the category of people who had a crappy 2010.

I am aware that I have so much to be thankful for.  I have a wonderful husband and three mostly terrific kids.  I say mostly, just because two of them are teenagers and one of them is heading in that direction at full tilt.  No teenager is always terrific.  But blessings...I have a beautiful home.  My parents are alive and doing extremely well.

But somehow it seems like no matter how much you try to count your blessings, if you're the kind of person where the glass is always half empty (like, say, me), you dwell on those things that have been going wrong and not right.    Instead of seeing how well Ben is doing in college, I fret over the fact that he still doesn't want to talk to me much and is pretty much this silent person that eats our food and leaves me his laundry when I'm not looking.  (I try to think of him as being away at school.  It keeps my blood pressure down.)  Instead of seeing Jamie as being only a couple of assignments away from having pretty damn good grades, I focus on the weekly report that comes to my email detailing each bit of homework he hasn't done.  He's a great kid who hates school.  Can't I focus on the great kid thing?  And speaking of great kids, shouldn't I be thrilled that Joey, who has autism for God's sake, has almost straight A's, except for the B he has in the advanced math class?  My second children's book is slowly but surely heading towards being ready to go to a publisher.  I've even managed to put Christmas together for my kids and pay Ben's college tuition without the help of my former employer.

You'd think I'd be doing okay.  Um....well...

Yesterday, Jack took me for a walk all three times I took him out to "use the bathroom."  Because we had a couple of inches of snow on Thursday, the lawn is slippery and the first two times, he merely managed to pull me like a sled down the small hill of our front yard and I was able to catch him before he dragged me halfway to downtown Winchester.  On the third pull (yes, I was having a great day), our next door neighbors came home while we were out and, being a 70 pound golden retriever puppy, he decided how much fun it would be to go visit.  Whether I wanted to or not.  The leash got loose from my hand and I was yanking it with both hands, feeling the muscles all down my right side screaming in protest as he steamrolled me across the yard and into Linda and Sean's driveway to "tell them hello."  As he was loving all over them, entire body wagging, I slipped on the ice and went down hard in the driveway, landing on my right hand and hip, and knocking my glasses off my face.  I have never felt so much like Ralphie in A Christmas Story as I did at that moment, when I put the glasses back on my face and realized one of the lenses was missing.  Luckily, Linda saw it and picked it up before I could pulverize it, but the glasses were bent and there was no way I could get them put back together on my own...

Leading to a trip to the eyeglasses repair store, which has always, in my experience, been open on Saturdays.  I pulled out my old glasses to get in the car and Justin said, "I wouldn't go down Pleasant Valley if I were you.  Traffic is horrible."  Which made total sense, being it was the Saturday before Christmas and every idiot living in our area was out trying to figure out who to cut off in traffic.  So, I decided to go the back way, taking me right past my old office building.

Boy, you think you're over something...

I started getting light headed about three blocks away and, by the time I had come up on the building, I was seriously contemplating an act which would most certainly lead to jail time.  It wouldn't be too big a reach for them to figure out who had thrown the bricks through the windows or spray painted the word "ASSHOLES!" across the front of the building.  It can't be coincidence that there is a paint store right across the street.

I managed to take a few deep breaths and keep driving, immediately getting behind someone in a Honda who was either (a) completely lost or (b) looking for a drug deal.  He proceeded to stop and start all the way down the street and I was already not in a good mood.  My side hurt.  My hand hurt.  My hip hurt.  I was furious about having to drive by the place where they fired me in October.  And this jerk was busy looking to score.  By the time we got to the stoplight before the eyeglasses place and he hit his brakes at the green signal, I laid on the horn for about 30 seconds (which is really a long time, if you actually are sitting behind a potential drug dealer who could possibly have a gun), having completely reached the end of my rope.

Luckily, he appeared to be just lost and he went on through the light and it opened up to two lanes.  I pulled into the Pearle Vision and.....NOOOOO!!!!!  How could it be closed on a Saturday afternoon?  But it was.  I sat there for a moment with the engine idling, trying not to cry, and realizing I was going to have to go back the way I had come.

It was at that minute that every single bad thing in the past year that happened to me coalesced into that moment when a lot of people lose their minds and take out a post office with an AK47.  I managed to keep it to a few deep breaths and decide to go the busier way home.  After all, I have no desire to spend the holidays behind bars or in a mental institution.  At this point, the anxiety had become of epic proportions and I was wishing for a Valium prescription.  I managed to make it home (a little shakily) and decided that a hot tub would be a really great thing for us to consider purchasing at some point in the future.

I think I held it together pretty well.  I didn't do anything illegal.  I didn't come home and empty Justin's Jim Beam bottle (even though that seemed like a Really. Good. Idea.)  I didn't even come home and kick the dog who was responsible (from my point of view) for this really rotten day I was having and the fact that it was going to be three days before I could probably walk comfortably again or turn my head without screaming.  I got out the treats and proceeded to do a little training with this ill behaved animal who pays no attention to the woman at the other end of the leash screaming "STOP JACK!!!!!"  Because, after all, if I hadn't fallen down on the training to begin with, my day would have been nothing but reading, sewing, and laundry, all in the comfort of my own home.  So I put the blame where it belonged.

Does this mean that I missed the lesson I learned when I ventured out yesterday?  Not at all.  I totally get it that I am so not over what those people did to me two months ago.  I find myself periodically infuriated that people with children themselves would actually fire me two months before Christmas, knowing I am trying to put my son through college and have two other children who would like Santa to visit (or new shoes periodically).  I still find myself not understanding what exactly is was that I did wrong and how I could try so hard at something and be so unsuccessful.  And I realized as I was driving by that crappy little building that I have totally not worked through what happened, nor have I forgiven the people who told me I was doing a good job almost right up to the day they let me go.  I have my own theory as to why it happened when it did that I won't share here, but regardless of their reasoning, it seems just downright mean to let a mom who is trying to support her children go two months before Christmas.

When I go to bed at night, I go knowing that I did the best I could for as long as they would let me.  I wonder if they ever consider what they did and how it affected not just me, but my family, and how exactly they sleep at night.

Friday, December 17, 2010

A Happy Family Hanukkah Story

I wanted to share the following story that a friend of mine posted on her Facebook page.  Thanks Kate for letting me share.  I didn't know you could gamble with a dreidel.  You have SO got to teach me!



Mary Jane and our Garfield-like cat, Max.  She's grown so much since this was taken!

Kate's story:

Tonight, on the last night of Hanukkah, I finally got around to actually celebrating it.  We had a traditional Jewish meal of spicy chicken enchiladas and quesadillas, while I read the story of Hanukkah off of the internet (jewfaq.org).  Ha ha. While I was telling the story of Judah kicking some ass, James, while wearing his new Robin costume,  interrupted and said, "Mom, I'm one of those guys!! I fight the bad guys!"  It was really cute.  James and Peter and Mary Jane all listened to the story and I was really happy that they actually sat there and paid attention and listened!  But they love to hear stories, and it's kind of a cool story so I don't know why I expected anything less from them.  When it was time to light the candles, the boys repeated the prayer after me (since neither of them can read and Brendan doesn't speak the 'brew) while Mary Jane chanted "happy birthday" at the menorah.  After I corrected her to say "happy Hanukkah," she chanted that the rest of the night.  It was so adorable.  

There were three small gifts wrapped so after dinner, the kids opened their dreidels and Hanukkah gelt (chocolate coins) and we proceeded to do a little gambling.  Dreidel is really fun to play with kids even if you're not Jewish. :)  As Mary Jane stuffed her face with chocolate, James and Peter and I had a fun little game.  

It was a fun night and I just wanted to share it with you guys!
Happy Holidays!!!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

It's Official: Size Doesn't Matter!

In yet another effort to thwart my plans, the local school district here in Winchester decided, based on a forecast of an inch of snow, to cancel school early this morning.  We were awakened by the phone ringing at 6:00 am (which I promptly knocked off the night table) to hear that Frederick County schools were closed for the day.  There is nothing I like better than being awakened out of a sound sleep by the automated voice of the two year old who was assigned our "Alert Now" system notifying us of every emergency, such as the girls' volleyball team meeting times and wet paint drying at the local elementary school.

My plan for today was twofold...I have a beautiful cross stitch piece I'm working on and I was hoping to make tons of progress on it, after quite a bit of procrastination.  And, more importantly, I was planning to inventory all the gifts I had ordered to make sure they had all arrived and then, well, actually, you know, wrap them.

We've managed to puppy proof our Christmas tree in our dining with two baby gates, one on each entrance, and I thought that would be a great place to wrap presents without Jackson's very interested assistance and wet, dirty nose getting in the way.  The dining room table is also a perfect height to wrap, avoiding that pesky neck strain you get from trying to wrap gifts on the floor, my preferred spot every year thus far.  I never cease to forget that bending over gifts on the floor for three or four hours will leave my head permanently tilted at a strange angle for three days while I wander around the house sighing heavily and saying "OW!!!!" loudly enough to cause Justin to roll his eyes at me and wonder if he wouldn't have been better off joining the Navy at 18 and having a career where he could travel, see the world, and avoid marrying me.

After our 6:00 am phone call and waking Jamie to tell him to turn off his alarm and go back to sleep (can anyone see the irony in that?), I managed to go back to sleep.  Not much of a stretch for me, since I have made a habit of going back to bed every morning after the kids leave for school ever since losing my job in October.  There's nothing like being fired to help you into a little depression calling for about 12 hours of sleep per night.  Not that I'm complaining.  How many people would give their eye teeth to stay in bed until 8:30 or 9:00 every morning?  (I'm guessing Justin would be in that category.)  I have taken to scheduling everything I possibly can in the afternoon, just to enjoy the fact that I can crawl back under those covers every day and snooze just a little longer.

Anyway...after dragging myself out of bed around 8:30 this morning and realizing, coherently this time, what no school meant for my day's plans, I decided to do a quick inventory of the Christmas gifts anyway, since we are getting awfully close to the day.  One of my best friends has decided it is fun to post updates every couple of days, remarkably like that Hallmark commercial where the cute little blond girl watches the ornament which counts down the days, hours, and minutes until Christmas actually arrives and announces it continuously to anyone who will listen.  I love my friend, but these little updates are killing me because they keep reminding me of how much I have yet to do and how little time I have left to actually do it.

I was happy to discover that all but one of the gifts had actually been delivered and that the one that wasn't belongs to Justin, so if he doesn't actually have it on Christmas morning, he's not going to be horribly upset.  What I also discovered, and should have remembered from the last couple of years, is that as the kids get older, the gifts seem to be getting smaller.  In size.  Remember how much fun it was as a kid to come down on Christmas morning and see all of the big packages under the tree?  Somehow, the proportional size of the gifts seems to go down as the kids grow up.  I totally blame this on technology and the people behind it, who seem to think that putting more gigabytes of whatever into the smallest gadgetry possible is something consumers will want.  And really, who doesn't want smaller everything when it comes to their electronic thingies?  Just look at the hand held video game devices and the size of the games.  I am amazed that the boxes containing them are the size they actually are, since the games themselves are, literally, the size of postage stamps.

I was bemoaning to Justin the fact that while I've spent loads of money on gifts for the kids this year, the size of the pile is awfully small.  Justin was muttering something to the effect that he was going to handcuff me to one of the kitchen appliances without access to my computer or a credit card, when Joey snuck up behind me and said:

"But Mom, size doesn't matter, does it?"

Okay, this is one of those priceless moments.  It's a good thing I wasn't taking a drink of something at the moment, because it would have been sprayed across the room when I burst into laughter.  Oh, my little guy, you are definitely one of the three best presents I ever got.

No Joey, size does not matter.  It's the thought, care, and love that goes into the gifts and we're not even going to go anywhere near where my mind immediately went when he said that. 

I was still laughing to myself as I took a shower this morning and mulling over what Joey had said when it hit me.  I have so many large empty boxes sitting in the basement and garage from my beloved internet shopping.  For some reason, they seem to want to package these little things into big boxes when they send them.  And what I can actually do, because really, in a kid's mind, isn't it more fun to have big packages under the tree, is to put the little presents into big boxes and wrap them.  I'd had a stroke of genius!  Or maybe just a stroke.  When I came downstairs to unveil my amazing plan to Justin, saying "I've solved the problem!" he looked at me like I was crazy and said, "What problem?"  Okay, maybe we weren't continuing along the same thoughts lines within the half hour it took me to get my shower and come up with this idea so I shared my enlightenment with him.  He continued gazing at me like I was the crazy lady from the local mental institution (well, okay, I've been there, but I'm convinced this is a great idea) and just said "okay."

I've discovered a way to camoflauge the one gift I have that is large for the one kid who would know exactly what the gift is.  Just put all of them into big boxes and they can guess to their heart's content.

And no, Joey, size does not matter.  Unless you're a kid.  And it's Christmas.  And it's under the tree.  "It" being the gifts.  Get your minds out of the gutter people!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Oh How I Wish I Was a Writer!

Justin and I watched the movie Funny Farm last night.  If you haven't seen it, it's about a sportswriter from New York City who moves with his wife to a little town in Vermont to write the all American novel about "four poker buddies knocking over a casino."  Everyone's dream, right, because really, don't we all have a novel inside of us?  It seems like a lot of people believe they do.

The movie hits a little too close to home as Andy Farmer, the main character, discovers that it's just not that easy to write a decent novel.  Making up stories of novel proportion is much harder than writing a sports column.  And it doesn't come nearly as easily.  Andy makes a comment at the end of the movie that "as a novelist, I turned out to be a pretty good sportswriter."  I snorted at this line, because wow, that is just so true in my case.  I can write this blog, prolifically.  I've even written a couple of pretty good children's books.  But I can't seem to write my novel.

I have been trying for years to put my pretty good ideas down "on paper" (read type them into my word processing program) and failing spectacularly.  I can do about three pages before it becomes either derivative or permeated with my trying too hard to get all of the main character's past into the first part of the novel.  I can come up with a great idea.  I can even write an opening that makes people say, "What happens next?"  But my plots just escape decent writing.

As anyone who knows me is aware, I am huge Stephen King fan.  He is what is known as a "popular writer," as opposed to a "serious writer," much to his consternation early in his career.  But something just works in his writing and he finally admitted that being a "popular writer" really isn't so bad.  I guess not, since he's sold over 40 novels, many of which spawned movies that are almost as good as the books.  When you open one of his novels, you immediately get a sense of the characters without much back story and he can spread the plot out into a thousand pages with what appears to be no effort at all.  In an attempt to figure out exactly how he does this, I have recently been rereading some of his novels.  Most recently, I read the book Misery, a story as unlikely as it is unbelievable.  But somehow, he makes you believe this story could really happen.  How the hell does he do it?

I see a lot of referrals in his writing to his own life.  In fact, Misery must seem like a terrible irony to Mr. King, given the man who slammed into him with his van while he was taking a walk back in 1999 and broke numerous bones in his legs and pelvis.  Misery was finished in 1984 and told the story of a popular fiction writer, Paul Sheldon, who had just finished what he considered a "real" novel and was caught in a snowstorm with his only copy of the book.  In a highly drunken state, he careened off the road, sliding down an embankment, pulverizing all of the bones from his waist down.  He is "rescued" by Annie Wilkes, a woman who is a serial killer and (oh the irony to me) a severely bipolar psychotic former nurse who holds him prisoner, while forcing him to bring his melodramatic, vapid, Victorian main character from his wildly successful romance novels back to life in Misery's Return.

The likelihood of a man being trapped in this kind of situation is so unlikely that the reader should, if they have any intelligence, be laughing hysterically and putting the book down after only a few pages, in search of something a little more believable.  But somehow, Stephen King manages to pull you in and even, somehow, insert well-written excerpts from the new novel Annie Wilkes forces Paul Sheldon to write while holding him captive.  I reread the book in less than 24 hours and was left thinking two things: (a) this is how you write a novel and (b) I don't know how to do this!

I've made three forays into novel territory.  It always seemed to me that if I just had a good idea, I would be able to crank out 300 pages without blinking an eye.  Yes, of course, it would probably take me a few months.  From everything I've read, a good writer has an output of 3-6 pages per day.  Then there is the inevitable editing and rewriting.  But really, if the idea is good, shouldn't the story just flow?  Apparently not.

I think that I would make a great advice columnist or human interest story reporter.  You have to fit your ideas into a limited amount of space and you don't have to make anything up.  Thank God we live in the age of the blog, where you can blather on about pretty much whatever you happen to be obsessing about on any given day, make a point within a few hundred well chosen words, and still feel like you are exercising your writing muscle. 

When I am attempting to work on my "novels," I have lots of excuses as to why I can't write.  I can't concentrate because Justin's working behind me and has to be on conference calls.  I'm more creative after everyone has gone to sleep.  I'm really better at writing when I do it the old fashioned way - writing it by hand - and I don't have any notebooks or paper.  Excuses.  But what I finally admitted to myself last night is that while I am perfectly capable of coming up with a great idea for a book, I do not have what it takes just yet to put it into 300 pages of plot, character development, and limited flashbacks.  Yet.

So, for the moment, I'm going to accept the fact that I'm not quite ready to create 300 pages of something that people will want to read or that would even make it past the first rung of a publisher's ladder.  Instead, I think I should focus on exercising my "writing muscle" on a daily basis and keeping notes of those ideas I do have, while hoping that maybe I can find a writer's group in the area that can help me develop those ideas into the novel I know I have inside of me.  I admit it.  I need professional help with this!  As a novelist, I am turning out to be a pretty good blogger.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Wow, Universe, Really?

When I was growing up, I think I may have been a little hypochondriac in the making.  I can remember numerous times telling my mother that my stomach hurt, just to (gasp) stay home from school.  There was one particularly bad period around age 11 that I was the constant target of intense teasing, for reasons I still have not figured out, and I can remember my stomach "hurting" a lot that year.  I believe my mysterious illness cleared up fairly quickly after we moved away from the girls who were picking on me, but I know there had to be times that my mother knew I wasn't actually sick and just wanted to give me a day of peace.  Thanks, Mom.  You always have been there for me.  In retrospect, my stomach probably did hurt because intense stress can actually do that to a person.  My digestive tract for years was the recipient of my stress and the cause of most of my physical discomfort...well, until the fibromyalgia came along.  Then we threw the baseball into a brand new ballpark.

What I remember most from my childhood sick days, both real and imagined, was lying on the couch watching our one television to my heart's content, tucked under a homemade afghan, Mom bringing me Campbell's chicken noodle soup, saltine crackers, and flat coke, and her unending sympathy.  There is nothing more comforting than having your mom put her hand on your forehead to see if you have a fever, is there?  I remember that feeling whenever I am checking my own kids' foreheads and wonder if it's something they'll remember fondly someday.

For my entire adult life, I have sought to regain that feeling of comfort I got from my mom growing up when I was sick.  Was it Walden that said "There's no going home again?"  Maybe it was Emerson.  I could google it, but I'm sure one of my five (or is it six?) faithful readers can tell me.  Ahh, how nice would it be if every time you were hit with a line drive by life in the health department, you could go back to the days of being tucked in by your mom and given soup?

Now that I am married and have three kids, obviously things have changed.  I can't just call in my mother every time something goes wrong.  My husband is an absolutely wonderful person who, when he gets sick, wants nothing more than to be left alone until the misery stops.  This leads (I believe) to him thinking that when I get sick, that's exactly what I want.  I hate to disabuse him of this notion because I hate the fact that what I really want is for him to check on me every fifteen minutes and bring me soup and saltines.  Oh, and ginger ale.

This wouldn't be too much of a problem if I rarely got sick.  Unfortuately, for some reason (karma?), I am sick a lot.  I think the universe is paying me back for all those days I got out of middle school when I wasn't really sick.  Fibromyalgia is especially wearing if you have it...because...you still get to have all of the other crap that goes along with getting older.  Meaning, not only are you in chronic pain every minute of your life, but you still get non-working gall bladders and uteruses (uteri?) that need to be removed, entailing several weeks, if not months, of downtime.  The thing that usually brings me to my knees is that if you have fibro and you are so unfortunate as to have any other illness that requires surgery, it will probably take you way more time than a "normal" person to recuperate.

I recently read a book entitled A Day Without Pain.  I had to stop reading it when I came to the part that asks you to make a list of the positive aspects to being in chronic pain because I was laughing so hard.  Are you fucking kidding me????  There are no positive aspects to being in pain all the time.  I am not getting tucked into the couch and being brought soup anymore, damn it!

After undergoing my sojourn into hysterectomy territory earlier this year, I thought I would be pretty much in the clear, surgery-wise, (hell, doctor-wise) for a good, long time.  They've removed several organs.  What else can now go wrong.  Oh, I am So. Incredibly. Naive!  Apparently, even though I did indeed need the hysterectomy, get this.  It wasn't what was causing my pain!  Really?  Seriously?

I went back to my doctor several months ago to say (meekly) that even though I know I am a more complicated patient than the norm and even though I know I take longer to heal than most people, something still didn't feel right.  He sent me back to the guy who did my surgery, who dismissed me with "You can't possibly be having pain where I operated because there's nothing there anymore for you to have pain in and even if you are having pain, it's probably just adhesions.  If I go back in and 'clean them up,' it will just cause more scarring.  There's nothing else I can do."

Was I satisfied with this answer?  Um....no.  Not really.  Anyone who knows me knows that I don't particularly like being dismissed.  In fact, I was furious.  How dare this guy tell me I couldn't possibly be having pain?  I don't care how many damned diplomas you've got.  You're not the one in this body.  Don't tell me there's nothing wrong with me!

Back to my regular doctor, who is way more people oriented and has way better social skills, who said, "You shouldn't be having pain where you're having pain and I'm sending you for a CT scan to get a picture of your insides.  Probably nothing will show up and, if it doesn't, then I'm sending you to a surgeon to do exploratory surgery to find out what's going on in there."  Not exactly what I wanted to hear, but hey.  At least this guy was listening to and believing me.

So, after agonizing for three weeks about the prep (many of you felt my mental anguish along with me) for the test, I finally forced myself to drink the fat (oops, no, that's Friends), I mean the barium, and went and had the test done last Thursday.  Friday night I got a call from my so very well-meaning doctor that they had found a almost positively benign tumor on my liver and three "bright spots."  I didn't drop the phone, but I could only stammer "okay" when he said he would have his staff call me on Monday to schedule an MRI.

God, it sucks to not be a hypochondriac.  Because when they start to actually find things that shouldn't be in your body, your mind keeps wanting to say wait.  I'm really making this up to stay home from school.  Seriously, is anyone up there listening to me????

So now I'm waiting on the call from the doctor's office, a few questions they probably won't have answers to in my hand, to schedule the next step in this never ending shit-go-round that has become my health.  God, it sucks to be 46 years old and not faking a stomach ache.

Justin is always, always there for me when the going gets rough with a shoulder to cry on.  He may believe I need to be left alone to recover when I'm sick, but he still asks me if there's anything he can get for me and he will run to the store at 2:00 a.m. if there's something I want.  And my mom is still there when I wake up from surgery or if I just need someone to agree with me that God has been very unkind to me in the health department and it's just. Not. Fair.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Can I Put This Off?

In my ever expanding need to complete my transformation to total uselessness, I have become what I never thought I would be...a procrastinator.  I have recently discovered I apparently have only two strengths left in this life, bitching and laundry.  I'll let you decide which one is more productive.  The reason I can't decide which skill more useful is that when I got up today, I couldn't figure out which of my poorly fitting sweats to put on, making doing my own laundry rather pointless.  I am experiencing a wardrobe nightmare.  We've been invited to a Christmas party at a neighbor's house on Saturday and I am going to have to decline.  Because I literally have nothing to wear.  Unless you call four pairs of sweat pants that were loose six months ago and one little black dress I can't wear without showing way too many tattoos a wardrobe or an option.  The party is casual, so the black dress is out.  You could argue the tattoos bring me down to casual, but I tend to think they more likely bring me down to "redneck" trying to look classy.  My pride says the sweats are out.  Justin is probably going to have to go to the party stag, while I sit at home and bemoan the fact that (a) every pair of pants I've bought that actually fasten are too long or too big in the thighs and (b) if I can fasten them, they actually hurt me.  Is this normal?

I know you hear "I have nothing to wear" a lot from women.  But what they really mean when they say that is that they want to go shopping for something new and sparkly.  I don't want to go shopping.  I want to fit back into the clothes I already have.  Which would be oh so much easier if my doctor would realize that a total hysterectomy, my resulting slowed metabolism, and gaba medications obviously do not agree...leading to a 15 pound weight gain and me sobbing in my closet with a pile of clothes on the floor I can no longer fasten and a rack of empty hangers.  If I were to pull every pair of pants out of my closet that I can no longer fasten, there would actually Be. No. Pants.  I am even outgrowing the "new" clothes that I've bought since my surgery eight months ago that were loose when I bought them.

My beloved mother recently called to say she had no idea what to get me for Christmas this year, so she wants to take me shopping for clothes.  I can't tell you how grateful I am for this offer, aside from the fact that I am going to have to go shopping naked.  Which would probably be titillating if it weren't for the new roll of fat around my middle and the fact that gravity is now taking its toll...and I'm going to leave the rest to your imagination.  Or not.  You probably don't want to go there.  And, really, does it make sense to buy clothes when you have no idea how long they are going to fit?  My weight could go either way, but at this point, I only see that number of the scale climbing if I'm being realistic.  Leading to the question of exactly how much weight a 5'3" frame can bear...and that's not a rhetorical question anymore.

But I digress.

My original thought this morning (after squeezing into a shirt that is supposed to be a large, but obviously shrank in the dryer and the unstylish sweat pants that are becoming a little too short, most likely because more of the fabric is needed to accommodate my expanding waistline) was that the laundry needed to be done.  I was a day late because of a rough day yesterday.  Between the morning long agonizing about the prep for the CT scan, the actual prep for the CT scan, the time for the test itself, and the resulting hours of recuperation from the strain that drinking all of that chalk put on my already dysfunctional bladder (can you say Depends?), I was behind and my 19 year old son hadn't brought me clothes in over a week.  To be fair, that's just plain lazy on his part and just plain overindulgent on mine.  At 19, he should be doing his own laundry and I know I'm doing him no favors by sneaking into his room while he sleeps late to snag his dirty clothes so that he will have something to wear to work tonight.  But when laundry (and bitching) are all you have going for you, you tend to get protective of the one thing you are good at that's productive.  Well, the bitching might be considered productive...but not by anyone in my household except me.  (Did I mention that writer's block is a total bitch?  Can you call yourself a writer if you aren't actually writing anything?)

So I gathered together the dirty clothes, knowing I was in for at least two extra loads because of my extra day of procrastination and whining and suddenly realized that, while I have in essence completed my Christmas shopping via internet (either agoraphobia about mall shopping or the extended illness leaving me repeatedly uttering curse words I hope my 12 year old can't hear), I haven't wrapped one Christmas present.  It's now the 10th of December.  The tree is up, thanks to my incredibly wonderful husband and the efforts of the kids to decorate it, I've put out the snow globes and the Santas, and packages are arriving daily in the mail.  But it's 15 days before Christmas and I haven't even checked to see if we have wrapping paper or tape.  And I should probably buy the dog a gift.  Seriously.  All of his toys look like they were dragged through the mud, which they probably were.

I used to pride myself on starting my Christmas shopping in August, finishing by Thanksgiving, and having wrapped gifts to put under the tree by the time the tree was up.  Which means I'm behind.  (Did I mention useless?)  I think this whole weight gain thing has done something to my organizational abilities.  Or my cognitive abilities.  Or maybe just my ability to get off my fat ass and get something done.  I am praying that my laundry abilities do not go the way of every other domestic chore I've ever tried to do, because if they do, we are left with just bitching and I can't imagine that's going to be acceptable to my unbelievably tolerant husband.  Or maybe he's just too tired to either insist I become useful or walk out the door.  How I got so lucky, I'll never know.  Maybe it's because I am trying to keep the bitching to a low mumble while folding the clothes, so that he is constantly asking me what the hell I am talking about.  Leading me to smile and say, "Just talking to myself.  Pay no attention to the woman behind the curtain."  It's really better for both of us. 

Monday, December 6, 2010

Oh Christmas Tree

I was going to head this entry up with a beautiful picture of our newly decorated Christmas tree sitting in our front dining room window, but the battery in my camera died....which naturally leads to...

I need a new camera. 

When digital got really big, what, five years or so ago, Justin bought me a state of the art (at that time) Kodak Easy Share C340 digital camera for Christmas and I was in love.  I think it has 5 megapixels (stop laughing), but I can't find that information.  It was love because I could actually (a) see if a picture was worth saving and (b) print the picture right off of the nifty little printer that came with it.  What's not to love? 

This camera has been a steady companion for the last five years, even as digital has become sleeker and more focused.  The printer gave up any semblance of printing about one year into owning it, but I could still upload the pictures to the computer and print on my nifty printer/scanner/copier thing....or just send them off to Kodak via computer if I really wanted prints.  Of course, nobody really needs prints anymore, since you can put them into albums on your Facebook page and look at them anytime you want.  What could be more organized?

My camera will also take video, but it turns out that you can't actually upload the video to anything.  It just takes up all of your camera memory so you have to delete the video if you want to take any new pictures.  I lost Jamie's first band concert this way.  Oh well.

So my point (I have one, I promise) is that I was going to take a picture of our Christmas tree, decorated by all five of us last night, but then the battery died.  Again.  I missed a Newton family moment, damn it!  No matter how much you charge these little babies, eventually the lithium battery in the camera becomes no longer chargeable and you have to replace it.  Seriously?  Three weeks before Christmas?

Maybe someone can tell me where I can quickly buy a "Kodak Digital Camera Battery Pack Precharged Rechargeable Ni-MH KAA2HR 1.2Vx2."  I kid you not.  I think the last time I replaced this thing, it cost me about $20 with shipping.  Should I buy another battery when I can get a new camera with 12 megapixels that will probably take pictures inside that don't come out completely dark with not even a hint of the subject?  That happens (coincidentally) with my current camera at every one of Jamie's band concerts.  That can't be right.  I have 0 pictures of either one of my older two kids onstage during a band concert.  Annoying, to say the least.  Heartbreaking, in Ben's case, because he gave up band during his junior year of high school to take a tech class and we sold his trumpet.  Thank God for those marching pictures I was able to get outside or I wouldn't have any band pictures of Ben at all.  Luckily, Jamie's only in eighth grade, so I've still got another four and a half years to capture a good shot of him onstage banging on a drum.  Oh, I also didn't get Joey's fifth grade graduation last year.  We're missing the moments here, people!

The last time I checked, I think point and shoot digital cameras were on sale for around $80.  Does it really make sense to sock another $20 into this puppy when if the picture's indoors, I can be pretty sure I won't be able to see the subject matter unless there is bright sunshine coming in through the windows?  I certainly wouldn't want anything fancy, since I can't even figure out how to reboot my computer without Justin's help, so I doubt a new camera for me would set us back much.  I've already replaced the battery twice.  If I replace it two more times, I could have bought a new camera....hmmm...that point seems to make itself.

And no, Justin, if you're reading this, I haven't ordered myself a new camera.  Yet.  But the one that wouldn't take a picture of our Christmas tree is sitting here on my desk mocking me.  With the battery lying beside it.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Can I Be Twenty Again? Where's My Time Machine?

I can't seem to resign myself to the fact that every time I go to the doctor, it is either an event, or the scheduling of an event.

I had major surgery back in April of this year and although I thought this was going to resolve my issues by removal of the supposedly offending organs, I find myself yet again at the beginning of yet another round of testing and possibly exploratory surgery to see why my body is once more failing me and why the surgery didn't solve my problems.

Why do I feel like I'm 80 years old most days?

I don't want this to seem like a whine fest, but sometimes I feel like God kind of spit on me twice - mentally and physically.  I can't seem to get the mental part under control because I am constantly being assaulted with yet another medical procedure which is intended (I am SURE) to cause the maximum emotional distress.

There is a psychological test that they give to chronic pain patients to determine their readiness for future medical procedures and one of the statements for which you have to choose an answer is "When I am uncertain about what the doctors are going to do to me, I get extremely anxious."  At least, I'm pretty sure that's how it read...if that isn't it, it's close.  Every time I would read that question to a potential surgery candidate, I would cringe, thinking of how every test I seem to have now involves something nasty or invasive.  What is it about being over the age of 45 that means if you are going to have a medical test, you either have to fast for three days and then drink something so nasty it will probably come right back up (assuming you can choke it down in the massive quantities they are requiring you to ingest) or them wanting to look up your rectum with a very long hose?

I made the unfortunate mistake of allowing my boredom after surgery in April to propel me back to work after three and a half weeks.  In retrospect, that was a huge mistake, considering they decided they no longer needed my services in October.  I probably should have saved myself the ensuing medical nightmare.  Three and a half weeks to recover from major surgery is Just. Not. Enough.

I now find myself, almost eight months after my surgery, experiencing symptoms I won't describe here, but which are of concern enough to my doctor to order testing.  Can I put some creepy music to that word?  If the testing fails to show anything, the next step would be exploratory surgery (cue the music again).  What the hell?  I thought I was done with this.  I am running out of organs for them to remove, which should mean  that I am done with the whole testing and surgery thing.  Apparently, the body being the complicated thing that it is, you can never give over too many organs to be completely done.

I find myself frustrated, annoyed, in pain, and worst of all, extremely anxious.  My CT scan is scheduled for this Thursday and I had to pick up the "prep" from the diagnostic center last week.  Last week, this Thursday seemed an eternity away, but I find with each passing day that Thursday looks like it's going to actually arrive and I am going to have to down the contents of that large bottle sitting in my refrigerator after all.  All of a sudden, three weeks from now has arrived and I'll admit it.  I'm scared.  Not of the test.  Of drinking that foul crap in my refrigerator and what it will do to my already sore and most likely scarred insides.

The doctor tells me that the CT scan will likely show nothing (which is a good thing, right?) and that, when that happens, he would next send me to a surgeon for possible "exploratory surgery."  Oh. My. God.  Again?  Seriously God?

Speaking of God, if he's up there, I have to believe he has a serious sense of humor.  My particular genetic makeup has spawned bipolar disorder, fibromyalgia, arthritis, and a host of other seemingly unrelated symptoms that probably point to some sort of autoimmune disorder or vitamin deficiency (Justin is leaning heavily toward vitamin deficiency since my agoraphobia has become of epic porportions since losing my job in October.  I keep telling him, "Look what happens when you actually leave the house!"  I like it here, where it's nice and safe and I don't have to worry about what people think of me.

When I found out that CT scan "with contrast" meant drinking 450 ml of white, chalky crap starting two hours before the test, I went into full panic mode and my mind immediately started attempting to get out of it.  I know what drinking that stuff means - I've had a HIDA scan people and this is the same thing!  The more rational people in my life managed to convince me that the CT is actually a good idea and they would help me get through it. After annoying my doctor with a totally off the wall theory that maybe my medications are causing my symptoms and him telling me he could prescribe herbal tea if I liked, but that wasn't going to change the need for the testing, I finally agreed to down contents of the dreaded bottle on Thursday and have Justin drive me over to have the test done.

Again, it's not the test itself that scares me.  It's what I have to do to prepare for the test.  If anyone even suggests the word colonoscopy, I am so out of there.  I won't be 50 for another four years and then we can talk.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

The Dancing of the Species


Jackson does not understand that Max is not a dog...and Max has decided that Jack is really a cat in disguise.  And that Jack's bed is really his bed, as you can see.

When we brought this "little" puppy home, he was the same size as Max and I think Jackson still believes this is true, even though at six months, he probably now weighs somewhere around 60 pounds.  He's still got a lot of puppy in him, although I now believe he will actually become a dog that we can live with.  But the puppy part of Jack hasn't quite figured out why this ball of fur with feet...Just.  Won't.  Play.

Max seems to be equally confused.

The cats' area of the house is the upstairs and the basement and Jack is confined, by both baby gates and training, to the main level of the house.  We recently put up the baby gates to block our dining room off for the Christmas tree, anticipating that breakable ornaments and strings of lights and a six month old puppy were not a good pairing.  Jackson is treating the gates pretty much as walls, much to my relief.  Max has decided, however, that he does not particularly like being confined anywhere and he wants to be where all the people are, as well as this interesting new animal that keeps getting bigger and bigger by the day.  He will squeeze his big, round, Garfield-like body underneath the four or five inches that Justin left at the bottom of the gate to the kitchen, resembling something like John Candy trying to do an army basic training maneuver on his belly, all the while looking at us with an expression that says, "Why won't you people help me?

Once he has made it to the living area, Jackson is immediately Max's bodyguard.  He will follow him around,  towering (now) over top of him.  If Max moves, Jack moves with him...it's a strange dance.  Max will rub up against Jack's muzzle with adoration, wondering why the hell this new addition to the family won't pet him.  Jack thinks Max has come for a play date.

For Jack's part, he is absolutely smitten with Max, as you can see by his willingness to give up his bed for him.  Jack is in no way under the illusion that he is in charge, even though he could eat Max for an appetizer and still be looking for the main course.  He will trot up to the cat, toy hanging out of his mouth, the entire back end of his body wagging, imploring Max to get with the program.  The cat looks at him like he's crazy...and reaches up to rub his head (containing a brain with an I.Q. of approximately 3) against Jackson's slobbery mouth.  And then wonders why his head is wet.

Jackson is turning into the dog I had hoped for, although I am now not physically able to take him for a walk.  It always turns into him walking me, while I battle for control and the use of the arm holding the leash.  The only walking of the dog that I do now is right before bed, when he is way more interested in doing his business while he still can than ripping my arm out of the socket.

Jack and I have an ongoing dance of our own, which involves me sharply saying "Stop IT!" and towering over him until he slinks over to his corner, puppy dog eyes fixed on mine like I am the meanest woman in the world.  You'd think I'd repeatedly beaten this dog, the guilt trip he tries to lay on me for reprimanding him for sniffing everything on the coffee table (and usually licking my water glass, if I'm stupid enough to leave it sitting there) or poking the kids in the butt with his nose on their way by.  He believes that Joey is another puppy, so if Joey is in the room, I am continually saying, "Stop IT!" if Joey wants to simply sit and watch a movie, as Jack slinks by me to pull at Joey's pants, begging him to "PAY ATTENTION TO ME!"

It's puppy love...for the cat and the people.  The other cat is smart enough to stay upstairs.  I think that's the only reason I don't need an increase in my klonopin prescription.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Why Suicide is Never a Good Idea

When I was around age 10, we lived in upstate New York in a little subdivision right outside of Syracuse.  It was a great neighborhood.  There was a lot of snow in the winter (duh) and right across the street, behind the houses, was a boat dock that froze about a foot thick with ice from the incredible cold.  Every winter, we would go down to the boat dock, shovel the snow off of the ice, and skate.  How cool is that, being able to skate every single day, just because you feel like it, not having to go to a rink and pay for the privilege?

At the top of our street, I think it was the house on the corner, there was a family of four - a mom, a dad, daughter, and son.  Nothing unusual, typical family, no one would ever have guessed there was anything out of the ordinary.  The biggest problem with depression and mental illness is that there are so many people who either don't know their neighbor has it because the neighbor hasn't shared because they're ashamed or they feel it would take too much energy to suck anyone into their misery.  I would guess, back in the '70's, it was because she was ashamed.  Or maybe the rest of the neighbors knew and didn't want the kids to know, which makes sense because a lot of people still believe that the kids should be sheltered from the knowledge of mental illness from the fear that they will "catch" it just by hearing about it.  They might have known and just not known what to do to help or were afraid to get involved.  It could have been so many things, but if just one person had seen what was going on and asked her what she was thinking, would she still be alive?

I don't remember a lot of the particulars, but what I do remember is that one day this mom went into her garage, closed the door, started up the car, and killed herself.  I don't know who found her - my mother might remember but I haven't wanted to ask her the question.  I'm sure she remembers more of the details than I do.  Or maybe she doesn't.  But what goes through my mind when I think about this is that it might have been her children that found her.  And when I think this thought, I wonder just how depressed you would have to be to take the risk that your children would find you like that.  Because isn't this really the ultimate act of selfishness?  The kids will have to live with your decision for the rest of their lives.  They're more likely to try to kill themselves or actually do it because they have a parent who committed suicide.  They are always going to have to live with the knowledge that "Mom killed herself" and wonder if maybe it was something they did that made her do it.

More likely, the mother was living with the demon of depression or bipolar disorder or some other mental illness and it just got to be too much for her to stand.  She probably believed that her children would be better off without her.  She was completely flawed in her thinking, but that's what mental illness does to a person.  It makes them believe things that aren't true.  Because in no way were her children better off without her.  I can't begin to imagine what that woman's suicide did to her children and I wouldn't want to know.  I don't know what happened to the family.  I don't think my parents knew them well and it was just that thing that happened in the neighborhood.  I'm pretty sure we moved fairly soon after that, but I still think about that family and the people who were left behind and wonder exactly what drove her to do something so final when she had a husband and two children who needed her.

I tell this story because, when I was nineteen, I decided the world would be a better place without me.  I was in the very beginnings of my own mental illness at that time.  The main symptom was a deep, sucking depression that made me miserable to be around.  I romanticized the notion that my death would make people realize how they should have been nicer to me and how sad they would be that I was gone.  I didn't really have a good idea of what my dying actually entailed, how it would be irreversible (this is the problem with teenage suicide - they have no idea that they can't take it back) and how it would affect my parents or my friends.  My boyfriend had just broken up with me and, although that was really a good thing because we clearly weren't compatible for a long term, lifetime commitment, I didn't think it was a good thing at the time.  That wasn't the reason I made my decision, but it might have been a contributing factor.  I also had the incredible delusion that if I killed myself, he would see that he wanted me back and we would get back together.  See how mental illness skews your thinking?  But the major problem was this fucking depression.  Why couldn't anyone see how much I was hurting?  It's truly amazing how good you get at hiding how bad you are feeling from the people who love you when you suffer from depression.  But I think my boyfriend saw through me and was simply sick of being around someone who was so miserable and needy all the time.

I had toyed with how I would do it for a long time and the best way seemed to me to be to just take some pills and go to sleep.  I didn't have the advantage (or in this case, disadvantage) of the internet to see exactly what taking a bunch of over the counter sleeping pills would actually do to me physically, so I just figured I could buy a couple of bottles of Sominex, wash those down with water, and I would go to sleep.  The emptiness, sadness, blackness, insomnia, depression would all magically go away and I would drift off into a (hopefully) better place.  I didn't (and still don't) understand people who kill themselves in violent ways like putting a gun in their mouths or cutting their wrists or jumping off a building, because those things are going to hurt whether you "succeed" or not.  Why on earth would you want any more pain than you are already feeling psychically?  The thing that shocks me now, so many years later, is how much I didn't understand that if I had "succeeded" in my attempt, there was no coming back from it.  That would be the end.  I wouldn't be around to see the effects of what I had done.  It wasn't something romantic...it was scary, black, stupid, and selfish.

On the day of my suicide attempt, I went to the pool with a male friend of my ex-boyfriend's.  He thought it would help me to get out, so we spent a very pleasant afternoon sunning ourselves and talking (as I recall) and I gave no indication that I planned to go home and down the two bottles of pills that I had stashed in my nightstand.  I actually made plans with him to go to the movies (in retrospect, I realize this was to insure that my attempt would fail and someone would find me, but at the time it just seemed like the thing to do).  My brother and father were in Michigan visiting friends, so I knew I wouldn't have to deal with them.  My brother was in the throes of his teenage rebellion (which more likely was oppositional defiance disorder, judging from the intensity of his hatred of being told what to do) and I was literally tired to death of him tearing our family apart.  My mother was recovering from recent major surgery on the couch when I came in from my afternoon outing and I actually remember (I'm sure she does too) asking her if she wanted anything for dinner.  When she said no, I went upstairs, uncapped the bottles (no childproofing in 1983), and proceeded to down the entire contents with a large glass of water.  I then laid down on my bed and waited to go to sleep.  Easy, right?

Of course I realize now that it was simply a desperate cry for someone, anyone, to realize how depressed I was.  I was screaming for help.  Yes, that's very obvious now.  But back in 1983, they just did not understand the workings of mental illness the way they do now and my parents had no experience in recognizing what was clearly my total withdrawal from the world.  My mother says now that she kind of wondered if something might be wrong, but every time she would come to check on me, I was reading a book in my room.  Nothing wrong there, right?  I was the good student, the good girl, the one who didn't cause them problems or heartburn on a daily basis.  She was probably relieved that I wasn't giving them trouble and my brother sucked up so much of their energy and caused them so much heartache that I must have been a quiet relief, even though I was silently suffering and they had no idea.

Not "succeeding" at suicide is embarrassing, because when it doesn't work, you feel like you've failed at even the most stupid, easy act.  The ending to my story is that I didn't go to sleep.  My friend showed up to take me to the movies, I told him what I had done, and he implored me to make myself throw up the pills.  When I tried and it didn't work, he told my mother, who rushed me to the emergency room to have my stomach pumped.  I remember being extremely angry that nothing was happening and being furious with the drug manufacturers that taking large quantities of their product didn't make me just fade out permanently.  When we got to the emergency room though, apparently there were effects because my heart rate was up, my breathing was becoming shallow, and my blood pressure was all over the place.  If I hadn't made those movie plans, I probably wouldn't be here today and my poor mother would have been the one to live with finding me dead on the bed with the empty bottles on the nightstand, wondering what the hell happened.

Two things stand out to me about that stupid thing I tried to do.  The first is that while I was in the ER having my stomach pumped, I overheard the doctor telling a nurse that I was "just trying to get attention."  I think that really sums up the misunderstanding about depression and suicide.  If someone seriously makes an attempt at suicide, yes, they are trying to get someone's attention.  But it's not just an adolescent acting out.  It's a cry for help and I am furious in retrospect that the doctor was disgusted with me.  Where was the concern that should have been there?  Why didn't that doctor want to know why I had tried to kill myself?

The second thing that I remember, with a sick feeling every time I think about it, is that I learned later that my friend, who came to the emergency room to make sure I was okay, had lost his brother to suicide.  His brother had hung himself and I believe my friend was the one who found him.  I didn't know because he hadn't told me, but I still feel guilt that I put this guy through something that would so obviously be extremely traumatic for him.  I guess I didn't know him well enough for him to share this very personal information with me, but I wish he had.  Because if we had talked about that on that pleasant summer afternoon, would it have made a difference in my decision?  Maybe.  Probably.  Suicide should not be swept under the rug and if you ever wonder if someone you know is thinking about doing it, ask them.  If they are thinking about it, they will be grateful that someone cares enough to ask and if they are not thinking about it, you are not going to put the idea into their head.  It doesn't work that way.

It's not easy for me to tell this story.  But the reason I do is that suicide is such a major part of bipolar disorder.  I don't know the statistics - I've read them, but I can't quote them.  What I do know is that bipolar people are far more likely to die young from suicide.  It's a fatal disease...or it can be if you don't get help.  I got help back in the 80's by seeing a psychiatrist weekly, until I finally decided she just wasn't helping me and I wanted nothing more than to go back to college and be "normal" again.  Cycling, but I didn't realize it at the time.  Being bipolar, you have periods of remission of the disease when you actually believe that there is nothing wrong with you and I know now that this was one of them.  I had convinced myself that I didn't need therapy and they hadn't correctly diagnosed the bipolar disorder then, or put me on any kind of medications.  In fact, I don't think the SSRI's for depression even became popular until the 90's.

I was lucky that I was "unsuccessful" in my attempt to remove myself from this earth.  I went on to marry a wonderful man and have three incredible children, who wouldn't be here if I had died when I was 19.  But the disease did not go away and it never will.  I have what's called "rapid cycling" and "mixed episodes" where I am both hypomanic and severely depressed at the same time.  It's such a fun thing, both in my head and for my family.  And when I am sick, the idea of suicide still comes to me.  But every time I find myself thinking the world would be better off without me, I think of that woman in New York and wonder how her children are doing and how they felt.  I know that I could never be selfish enough to leave my husband and children wondering if it was something they did that caused me to swallow that bottle of pills.  I don't want my children to have to say, "My mother killed herself."  Ever.  So I take my medication, I go to therapy, and I listen to that voice of reason that says I don't really want to kill myself.  Those thoughts are flawed and I know it.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Where Did My Christmas Cheer Go?

There is so much I have to be thankful for, even in a year when I had major surgery, we have been touched very personally by cancer, and I lost my job.  I have a great family, a few wonderful friends, loving pets, a beautiful home, reliable transportation, and the ability to give my kids what I think is fairly good parenting (I hope) and a stable, happy childhood (again, I hope). 

The sad statistic is that there are many people at this time of the year who are reflecting on what they have to be grateful for and can't seem to count up many blessings.  They are either alone for the holidays or they have lost someone they love dearly and are suffering or they have no home.  Real, tangible things to be sad about.

And then there are those people, like me, who are counting their blessings and know they have it really good, yet are still sad and have no idea why.  For me, the glass has always been half empty, which I absolutely hate about myself.  I would like to turn that around and be a positive, cheery, perky (well, maybe not perky) person who sees nothing but the good in people and looks forward to every new day.  The fact is though...that just isn't me.  This has been a tough year and I can't seem to get past the bad things, even if it's time to move on and get on with life.  I just feel sad this year.

Justin and I took Jamie and Joey down to visit his parents and grandmother yesterday.  Justin goes down every couple of months, but it's a tough trip for me, because of my fibromyalgia, so I only go a couple of times a year, usually holidays.  Christmas Eve, we always spend with his parents, and at least one of the days of the Thanksgiving weekend.  He doesn't get to see them much and his grandmother will be 95 in April.  I know he wishes he could spend more time with them and I find myself feeling bad that he doesn't have that opportunity.  Justin and his grandmother are very close.  He can remember going over to her house while he was growing up and she would ask him to dust the furniture in exchange for a coke.  Since his mom restricted soft drink consumption, he would sneak over just to dust for Grandma. 

Justin has great memories of his grandparents.  His mom's parents lived two doors away and his dad's parents lived just down the street.  His great-aunt and uncle also lived on the same street and he can remember his brother being missing one morning when Justin was about seven and Monte was about four.  After looking frantically, they found him asleep in the back of his uncle's cow trailer.  Justin has lots and lots of memories about growing up.  He believes his earliest memory is of being in his crib.  That's amazing.  My earliest memory is probably from when I was six or seven years old and that is the memory of a lot of snow, because we lived in Minnesota at the time.

I think the reason Justin has these early memories and I don't is that he lived in one house his entire life...well, from the age of two, when he moved from a house "in town" to a house in the country, a few miles away.  In other words, he grew up in the same town, with the same people, until he was twenty-three years old.  He went to the same school every year, unless it was time to move up.  With the same group of friends.  What on earth is that like?

My dad worked for Honeywell and was transferred approximately every eighteen months as he moved up the corporate ladder.  I was thirteen when we moved to Virginia and, after a couple more years, he was offered yet another promotion and he finally decided it was time to find a job that didn't rip his kids away from their friends every couple of years.  I was so grateful he made that decision.  Virginia has been my home since I was thirteen, but before that we lived in California, Michigan, Kansas, Tennessee, Minnesota, and upstate New York.  For my parents, moving was kind of like breathing.  It was just something you did every couple of years or so.  In fact, I think they still get restless if they live anywhere for more than a few years.

Most people can remember things from when they were two or three years old.  I think that reflects a stability in early life that I didn't have because of all the moving around.  I don't hold it against my parents and I'm not angry about it.  But I didn't grow up surrounded by people I had known all of my life, the way Justin did.  When we moved to Virginia and were states away from both sets of grandparents and all of my aunts, uncles, and cousins, my mom decided we needed some traditions to make up for the lack of family and that's when my really good memories start.  Unfortunately, it's also when my mood disorder started and those good memories and stability are riddled with those horrible black depressions that made no sense and the feeling that nothing would ever be right.  What should have been the happiest, most carefree time of my life just, well, wasn't.

Holidays can be tough.  They were when we came to Virginia, because we didn't have any family or friends when we got here.  My parents took it in stride - they were used to moving around.  For me, I've always longed to be part of a big family with lots of sisters and brothers and a larger "family" of close friends that I grew up with.  It didn't work out that way and that's okay, but I still find myself occasionally struggling to get through the holidays, mood wise.  This year, again, something just doesn't feel right.

I have worked very hard to make sure my kids have stability, especially during the holidays. We have some simple traditions and the boys always seem happy to partake of those traditions - decorating outside with Justin the day after Thanksgiving, going to Justin's parents' on Christmas Eve, watching A Christmas Story while we decorate our Christmas tree.  Dinner is always the same, Thanksgiving and Christmas.  I try to make sure that my holiday malaise doesn't seep into our traditions, leading me to be much quieter than I would usually be.  Justin probably wonders what happened to my non-stop voice.  The fact is, I'm simply trying to be positive (or at least not negative) because I don't want everyone else to be as depressed as I am.

I guess it's only natural to be depressed when you aren't recovering from surgery the way you had hoped you would, you've watched someone go through a horrible loss, you've lost your job...all in the same year.  Maybe this year my depression isn't so unwarranted or unexplainable.  Not to mention that when you have chronic pain, it's going to make you depressed at least every once in awhile.  My goal for the rest of the holiday season is to function as well as I can and give my kids the best Christmas I possibly can.  And hopefully make a few good memories for them that they can take out and dust off when they are dealing with their own adult issues someday in the future.