A More Honest Look at My Year

Someone I follow online sent out an “end of year exercise” to think about all the aspects of the year that is coming to a close. There were many questions to think about as I reflected over the past 11 months. I was kind of surprised by the negativity I expressed. In my last post I said I thought it had been a “healthier, happier” year. Now I am questioning that.

When I compare the two years, I see that while 2016 had a series of dismal times that culminated in a tragic event, I was relatively unaware of the severity of the problems. So while the year was punctuated by a handful of unsettling and hurtful experiences, I feel like I passed from one to another with relatively little distress in between. On the other hand, 2017 saw me actively dealing with pain for the greater part of the year. Emotional pain, physical pain, and financial pain all found their way to my days. When reflecting on the year in free form writing, the words that surfaced were Pain, Money, and Fear. That surprised and concerned me. I’d like better than that. So I used them to develop new words for 2018 – Comfort, Resiliency, Enrich, and Assurance. I will use these words to shape my goals for 2018. I also chose a “Word of the Year” – Recovery.

 

As for my official goals, I have done so-so. I did pretty poorly on issues of creativity and self-care. However my goals for health & physical fitness and personal relationships were completely realized. Taking care of my kids and my house came in at pretty much the expected level of completion. I have a few more weeks to see if I can hammer out a little bit of progress on some of them (I give myself partial credit, remember?) In January, I’ll make a full report.

I am a positive, optimistic person in general, but I am given to Pollyannaism at times. I’m glad I stopped and took a better look at what I thought was a “good” year. I deserve better than what I have been getting, but I also need to realize that it takes a while. I’ll work on making next year just that much better again.

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Thanks for Reading

I wrote my first blog post a year ago today. It would be so easy to say ‘what a long strange trip it’s been’, so I will do better. These past twelve months have been difficult for me. There has been a lot of healing going on both internally and externally. There was significant, hard, emotional work to be accomplished involving my family of origin, the family I created, and the family I am recreating. I had a serious financial challenge coupled with extraordinary expenses (did I tell you my furnace was CONDEMNED??!?!) And it was a shit year for the country, a place where I thought we had well established rights, freedoms, laws, and expectations. But as much as I have been dealing with, it has been a healthier, happier twelve months than the previous fourteen.

While I am pretty sure you don’t care about the stats I looked up, I still want to list them for my own reference. I averaged nearly three posts a month and 20% of them had over 50 views. That’s really exciting to me. I don’t know that I need to post as much now since my life is again on track, but I am happy that I took the plunge. My therapist told me I needed to find a way to be both vulnerable and not care about how my vulnerability was received. It’s also been a good place for long form discussion of my thoughts. I still have some ideas on things to say from misophonia and prime numbers to chocolate and OCD, so I’ll keep going.

The good thing is that I am well settled into my “baseline state of being happy”, which is something I regained several years back, but had a hitch in the get along for a while. I know what I need, I want what I like, I am willing to fight for both. Just like the damned cliche of not finding love until you stop looking (yeah, I did that) so too you often have no idea how resilient you are until you are tested.

Thanks for coming along for the ride.

Yes, #MeToo

In light of #MeToo, I thought I’d speak out more specifically as one of my friends has. Not too many people know this story because I have always worked hard to repress it.

I’ll start off with the easier stuff to work up to it. Like most woman, I have been subjected to misogyny flung at me from a passing car, a guy being way too close to me for comfort, sexuality used a a method of humiliation. More specifically, I have had a company manager ask me what color my underwear was and my direct supervisor ask me to have sex with him (even knowing I was married.) Strangely (or not) when I left the workforce some 18 years ago, whatever harassment I experienced diminished. Or perhaps my perception of its danger reduced because I was no longer dependent on the people in power for my job. But the actual assault happened in high school.

I was one of the “smart kids” and never felt like I could attract the interest of a boy. When a boy two years older than I asked me to dance at a local dance, I was over the moon. I started dating him. Looking back, I am fairly certain he started manipulating me right at the start. My parents hated him. They were right. He somehow put a proprietary stamp on me and certainly after that no boy would even look my way. I’ve actually spoken to at least two men who say they were interested in me back then, but didn’t move on it. I told them I wish they had, they could have saved me.

We dated about a year and a half, and I freely admit that we did what was then called “heavy petting”. He worked his hardest to convince me to “go all the way” and one time I let him try. It was a disaster for me and I made him stop. The next time we went out, I was not so lucky. He was not interested in my protestations. We were in an isolated area and I remember trying to work out how far I’d have to run before getting to a house where someone would be. When he was done, he took me home. Without saying what happened, I told my parents I never wanted to see him again. I am pretty sure I was enlisting their help to protect me because I knew things were going to get worse. They did.

He tried to call, he got hung up on. He came to the restaurant where I worked, no one would seat him in my section. He glowered at me from the counter with a cup of coffee, colleagues made sure I didn’t have to go to the front area. He volunteered at my high school in the theatre (he had already graduated and the theatre was my only “extracurricular”.) He defaced property at my house and I was TERRIFIED he was going to burn down my house – copying a popular movie at the time. He also tried to kidnap me. I was driving to school early (for a National Merit Scholarship meeting!) and I saw his car in the lot across the street from my house. I tried to leave the back way, but he saw and started following me at a terrible pace. Being just 17, my only thought was “if I can get to school fast enough, I’ll be alright.” I did not, however, remember that I was going to school early and that there was going to be no one in the parking lot. I made it to school, jumped out of my car, and started to run. As you might imagine, I was not fast enough. He grabbed me, dragged me to his car, and started to shove me in. What I saw next has stayed vivid since that day. My father’s car came flying over an embankment and stopped feet from the front of his car. He leapt out, grabbed the guy by the shoulders, and threw him off me. My dad was about half a foot shorter than this guy, but he had fatherly rage on his side. This, by the way, is the reason I always believed I could “save” one of my kids if I needed to. My dad escorted me into the school office and frankly I have no idea what happened next. Were the police called? I don’t know. Did my dad confront him? I don’t know. Was the school told to bar entrance to this guy? I don’t know. I do know that the cop in my very small town  DID find him and inform him that he was no longer welcome and he better not show up there again. I never saw him again. Sadly, that did not mean the end of it though. Even though I went off to college the next year, he continued to harass my family. But that’s another story.

For years these events haunted me. When I started each new college year, I mapped out in my head two different ways to escape my dorm room and most academic buildings if I learned he was coming to find me. I decided what guys I could trust to be bigger or stronger than him so I could go to them if I needed it. I fantasized about shooting him (there were no guns in my household, so it was only a fantasy.) Eventually, it all faded. And yet, when I joined Facebook, the first thing I did was block him. When Google+ came into existence, I was signed up automatically because I had a Youtube account, but I never used it. In 2012 HE ASK TO ADD ME and I was momentarily thrown back into panic. I ignored it for months then blocked him. I didn’t want him to see he was being blocked in response to the request. And now, because of the bizarre climate we are living in, I am dredging it up once again.

Back then, “date rape” and “stalking” weren’t a thing yet. I wish they didn’t have to be a thing now, but they are. So……..

#MeToo.

Don’t Box Me In

I have a friend at the gym I have known for two years now. He’s more than just a “hi, how are ya” friend, we’ve had many meaningful conversations and talk about a great deal of different topics. Recently, I asked him about his accent. Growing up as provincial as I did I have NO CLUE how to identify different accents and have, on occasion mistaken an Aussie for a Brit (hanging head low low low.) I was curious but not burningly so, I have known him for two years and never asked ’til now. He answered that he doesn’t tell people; he often tells people he’s “from heaven”, and generally (politely) fucks with people who ask. Much like Jim, who when people ask “So, what do you do?”, “Drugs” is his pat answer, Alan tells inquirers of that same question “I’m a stripper and a pimp. Are you interested?” I also have been known to stymie people’s queries into “what I do” by answering “ask me something else, people in this area are too defined by WHAT THEY DO.”

We talked about this for a while; how people tend to put other people in boxes, make assumptions, and seem generally uncomfortable with not knowing someone’s provenance. He started his academic career at Oxford and currently teaches at Georgetown; he’s lived all around the world and can speak five languages. He doesn’t want a box. So many people have been put in a box recently. It makes me sad to think about. My neighbor now has family living with her and when her daughter hollered a hello across the cul-de-sac, I made sure to go over and talk to her and the newly arrived cousins. “They only speak Urdu” she informed me. That made me make sure I actually talked to the little boys. One shook my hand and both smiled brightly at me. I don’t want those boys put in a box either.

This isn’t a “this is what we should do” post. If I knew what to do I’d have done it and made millions doing so. Maybe it harkens back to my recent Facebook post (https://www.facebook.com/plugins/post.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Fcheryl.b.demas%2Fposts%2F10208482941186122&width=500)  about #justbebetter.  If everyone would #justbebetter, people wouldn’t have assumptions made about them. People could be freer with their countries of origin, sexual identities or preferences, their bodies, their mental health status, their interests; people wouldn’t be put in boxes.

Because only IKEA furniture belongs in a box.

Go West, Young Man

In May, I took my two teenaged sons on a trip I didn’t know I was dreaming of. The excuse was my older son’s graduation from high school, but really it took shape shortly after I returned from the Hot Air Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque last fall. Taking a trip always makes me think of what my next destination will be. I thought it would be Iceland. But after traveling, hiking, and sightseeing in the southwest, I was overtaken by the fact that I had never been able to take my kids on an extended trip out west like my parents had done during my incredibly impressionable summer between eighth grade and high school. Several years ago, I had plans to spend three months in a Winnebago doing just this with them but that fell apart through no fault of my own. Fault or not though, I had not gotten my kids the experience I had such fond memories of. The trick, of course, was how was I going to swing it? I didn’t have the courage or the time to travel across the country in my parents’ camper as my sister had. This left me with flying, getting a rental car, and hotel rooms. And that was going to be pricey. I didn’t want to skimp on my boys, but coming up with the money I would need stunned me when I priced it out. Fortunately for me, I had a stack of U.S. Saving Bonds from my grandmother and that made all the difference in being able to afford it.

I planned the trip for the week between Evan’s college courses – 9 precious days in the beginning of May. The route I picked was to fly into San Francisco, drive from Yosemite → Sequoia → Joshua Tree → the Grand Canyon, and then fly out of Phoenix. I didn’t get the kind of pre-trip excitement from the boys that I would have wanted, but during the trip, they were wonderfully engaged, active and pleasant in everything we did, and genuinely appreciative of the adventure we were having. The last night I had the sweetest exchange that simply melted my heart – I knew it was perfect that we had done this. I was so happy to experience my kids and think “hey, I like them” again.

Some stand out moments for me included watching the moon rise from the front porch of our house at the Grand Canyon, taking a plein air watercolor class at Yosemite, and making a very profound life decision while driving through the California desert listening to Bear’s Den. I also collected a lot of experiences and phrases from the kids and created this:

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One unexpected joy was watching the kids’ excitement when we flew over the Rocky Mountains. They had never been west of Ohio and I just forgot how magnificent that mountain range is. Evan said it was in his top three things of the whole trip! Another surprise bonus was that they were completely turned off by the dry, non-verdant environment of everywhere that wasn’t the actual National Parks of Yosemite and Sequoia. “It’s so brown” and “there’s no grass” was a common refrain. This spurred both of them to announce that they never wanted to live anywhere other than the east coast. Score one for close future grandchildren!

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Half Dome enshrouded
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This is a BIG tree!
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Sequoia National Park
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Kyle using his Life Straw to drink directly from the stream
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Rock climbing at Joshua Tree
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Mighty, mighty Evan
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This is as far down the canyon as we hiked
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Hiking under the rim at the Grand Canyon makes all the difference

I am thrilled beyond measure that I was able to take them on such a wonderful trip. We got along well, we were great traveling companions, we got to see majestic sights, and it gave us some special shared memories that I am pretty sure will remain with them for years to come. I am also hoping that it will inspire them to take their own children on a special trip out west some day as well. Even though teenagers can be tough sometimes, I love my boys.

I Tried So Hard and Got So Far

I was supposed to see Linkin Park play in less than two weeks. They are my guilty pleasure band (I know music lovers should proudly like anything they want, but I have some good reasons why I consider them a “guilty pleasure”.) I never managed to get tickets to a show, and finally rectified that this summer. Until yesterday. Chester Bennington hanged himself and took away a father, a musician, a human being who was clearly in a lot of pain. I read that he had experienced childhood sexual abuse, turned to hardcore drug use, and had to get clean more than once. He was also open about the fact that he dealt with daily, crippling depression.

I don’t claim to have an insight on depression. I have “been depressed” when I’ve had bad times, but that is COMPLETELY different from the insidious disease that is clinical depression. When I worked in Human Resources, I recall working with an employee who had that diagnosis and required an unbelievably large amount of time off from work. As a young person who had yet to experience much in the way of sadness or distress, let alone an actual illness, I had a hard time understanding how or why it could be so bad. I was then blessed with a child who’s special needs were apparent within the first few months of his life, although it was impossible to tell at the time how they would manifest. Fortunately, the depression he dealt with early on in life did not rise to the level of suicide (although the school counseled him for suicidal ideation at 7 YEARS OLD without my knowledge – is it any wonder I homeschooled?? p.s. his actual therapist disagreed with the school.) So while I don’t “know” what it’s like, I have had a taste of helping someone I love who simply cannot bring themselves out of difficult thoughts. Without my son, I might still be like the clueless youngster I was when I was in HR so long ago.

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I also have the challenge that the person I was going to take to see Linkin Park play deals with mental health issues themselves. I reached out as soon as I learned of the singer’s death to offer support in case they were feeling fragile. The brief exchange we had was a tad worrisome because it expressed concern over their ability to “have hope”, I want them to know I am here for them any time. I have been asked to assist them with getting some more activities that prevent isolation, so I am glad to have opened up the conversation with them. It’s horrible to know that people I love can be so crippled by this disease and I hope I am able to help anyone who needs connection. I will try my best to listen and help; I want others in my life know that I am a sympathetic ear and possibly even a pragmatic helper.

 

Because in the end, it DOES really matter.

This is a PSA for all my female friends who have not yet reached menopause. There is some shit they haven’t told you. Remember how there was shit they never told you about birthin’ babies? Well there is more shit they left out. And babies are optional – menopause ain’t!   PSA1

I am sure we all know about the “classic” symptoms – hot flashes, mood swings, and the dreaded “dryness”. I know that women suffer horribly from these and they are no small things. BUT THERE ARE OTHER THINGS. I have experienced only minor hot flashes out of the above list and yet my “other things” are serious enough that I am using hormones!

Disclaimer: I have had an IUD for 14 years and haven’t had a period since six months after the first one was inserted. When all this started, there was no way to determine that I was perimenopausal, let alone menopausal, without a specific blood test. So guessing menopause was the cause was not an easy leap. I finally had that blood test last Friday!

First non-common symptom: I got urinary tract infections, a lot of them. As in every six weeks for a year and a half until we figured this out. It was AWFUL. This was not your typical dryness-caused-irritation = infection type of thing. There was no dryness, which is why it took so long to suss out. Turns out that the loss of estrogen can cause the cells of the bladder lining to shrink which allows the naturally occurring bacteria in urine to sneak by and get to the bladder wall which gets infected almost instantly (hence the need for a LINING.) And ouch.

Second non-common symptom: Pain. Not painful sex as I think we’ve heard about on TV ads, but just pain. Like there is a sunburn all up in there. All the time. This is apparently because without estrogen the skin on the inside can become thin and inflamed. This is not a case of “just use lube during sex” because it’s all the other hours of the day that hurt. A topical estrogen cream was finally prescribed when this symptom popped up, finally guessing that menopause might be involved. It solved both issues.

Third non-common symptom: A shrinking uterus. I don’t think that this would go noticed by many people, but for me it caused acute pain that was confused first as a urinary tract infection, and then as a kidney stone. Turns out it was my uterus contracting around my IUD and trying to squeeze it out and summarily being poked from the inside by said IUD. Hence the need to finally have that blood test to determine if I really was in menopause and have that thing yanked out! Wouldn’t have discovered the Amazing Shrinking Uterus if I hadn’t gotten an ultrasound to determine if I had a kidney stone though….. Yikes.

That’s all for now. I suppose, since I am on the path of odd menopausal ailments I could run into some more. I’ll let you know. I tell you, this aging thing is not for sissies. Even when you are healthy it bites! So stay healthy, eat well, move more, see your doctor regularly. It all helps.