Sunday, September 9, 2018

Time turns flames to embers, you'll have new Septembers

For the past five years, my family has faced a rough September/October. It was five years ago, in September, that my dad was diagnosed with cancer. It was four years ago, in September, that my dad suffered his steroid psychosis and spent 6 weeks in the hospital. The two Septembers to follow? Complications that led to hospitalization. One of those included a brain surgery. Last September, he was hospitalized just before my wedding for shortness of breath/fluid on the lungs. He was there right up until my rehearsal dinner. It was only a week or so after my wedding that he went back into the hospital, and things began to go downhill.

Two really magical things have happened in September too, of course. One was that Tom and I became "official". That was right before my dad was diagnosed, so Tom has quite literally been there every step of the way. I also married him in September, and it was the absolute best day of my entire life, and he is the most amazing thing to ever happen to me.

So now it's September again. And she's brought her bad luck with her.

Tom lost his job, which has been heartbreaking and scary for both of us, as I wrote in my last blog. I know we will be okay, I know we will come out stronger, but that doesn't take away that this is a difficult situation.

Coupled with that, I have been suffering deep anxiety. I am experiencing difficult physical and emotional symptoms, ones that I would not wish upon anyone. I hesitate to share this kind of thing. I think that anxiety is something that is complicated, and difficult to understand. It's not just about being nervous or worried. I often feel deeply misunderstood with my anxiety, or that because I don't always seem like I am suffering to the outside world, it can't be that bad. Take it from me, it is that bad. Another reason I hesitate to share is that I do not want to be treated differently, or to be judged, for my anxiety. Even though I am struggling, I am still able to do my job, get myself to the gym, do the grocery shopping, and all the other tasks I need to do to get through. They just become 100x more difficult when I am feeling this way.

I push past the hesitation and open up because, well, we've spent way too much time shying away from being open about mental health. We still treat it like a secret, or something to be ashamed of. We're afraid to ask people how they are really doing. We're afraid to tell people how we're really feeling. So we just keep it in, which is only adding to the problems. We need to be more open. We need to understand that we are not alone, we need to understand that people in our lives need us as much as we need them. We need to be there for each other, to listen, and to take action when you know someone is suffering.

I go through these periods where the anxiety rattles me and keeps me captive. It happens. I usually know how to move past it. I have full confidence I will once again move past this, adding an extra layer of strength to my skin, ready to fight the next battle that comes. But just because I know all of those things, does not mean it goes away in an instant.

I know my anxiety is coming from Tom's job loss, combined with the past trauma's that September has brought creeping up behind me, trying to blind my view. It is like I am waiting for the next horrible thing to happen, so I turn nearly everything that happens into a worst case scenario.

When I get like this, here are the reminders that I tell myself, over and over, until I start to believe them:

It will be okay.
It's not as bad as you think it is. Your anxiety is playing tricks on you.
There is a logical explanation.
You have people that love you and support you.
You will get through this.
You are strong.

September may continue to deliver bad news, or maybe we'll get a break next year.  Anxiety, though, does not halt. It may slow down, or stay quiet for a while. But it will come back. And knowing that I have done this before is one of the key points to helping me to know that I can do it again. My anxiety is not a burden. It is not a weakness. It is part of who I am and it's made me stronger.

So there, September.
Image result for anxiety morgan harper nichols

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

24th Birthday

My cousin Laurence would have turned 24 today, if it weren't for cancer.  That's a hard concept for me to grasp, considering he was just 15 at the time that he died. 15, but known for being a humanitarian and a philanthropist. 15, with a passion for cooking, playing guitar, and soccer. There are so many paths that Laurence could have taken.

When I was 24, I was working my first "real" full time job. I'll never forget when a friend called me, celebrating the news that I got a job, and she shrieked "You have a door for your office and EVERYTHING?". It was all so exciting. According to my Timehop, on this very day when I was 24, I was making my dad watch Stomp The Yard with me. I was back living with my parents after a year of volunteer service, it wouldn't be until 5 months later that I moved out to live with a friend in a rental house. It just seems surreal to me that Laurence could be doing those very things right now. Although let's be honest, he would probably be the CEO of a nonprofit fighting against poverty, not watching Stomp the Yard at his parents house.

I miss Laurence deeply, he and I had a special bond and it is one that has continued since he passed. But I'll be honest, I've had a hard time truly feeling him lately. I begged Laurence for a sign today, on his birthday. I wanted anything, whether it be a U2 song on the radio or seeing a Florida license plate, or maybe something spectacular in the sky. I didn't get a sign. It left me feeling a little empty and sad. I wondered if I was doing something wrong. It made me feel lonely. 

Maybe I'm just not listening. Maybe Laurence is trying to show me what I need to see, but I am so consumed with work, with the news, with Instagram, that I am not seeing the signs as I once did. 

I'm not sure if it all works that way.

But here's what I do know.

I had made a promise to myself that I would always talk about Laurence and what he did. Laurence was a brave soul, speaking up for people without a voice. I can only imagine the kind of advocacy work he would be doing if he was still here. And although I may never be as brave as that 15 year old boy with brain cancer was, I do try to carry him with me. I fight for cancer patients because I hope that I can be part of eliminating cancer, so that 15 year old boys can play soccer with their friends and create new recipes in their parents kitchen and play guitar in their basement without having to worry about getting to chemotherapy appointments or having brain surgery or signing onto hospice. His fight has powered my fuel to keep fighting to end cancer. And to make life easier for those who are battling cancer.

My signs may not be as obvious, or I may not see them as clearly as I once did with all of life's distractions, but my connection to Laurence will never lose it's spark. 

Maybe Laurence is being a little quieter right now so that I can truly grow, listen to what is inside of me and run with it. 

All of this is a great Mystery, and it's part of what makes life and death so beautiful and complicated. Aren't we so lucky to have these kinds of things to wonder about and awe over? It's incredible, how connected we all are. 

Happy 24th Birthday, Laurence. I wish you were still here on earth so that we could all be putting your campaign signs in our front yard or taste testing meals at your own restaurant or sitting in the front row at your concert. The grief of what could have been is a difficult one to handle. So we'll hold onto the beautiful impact you left while you were here. What a gift you gave us, buddy. 

Maybe you and my dad could watch Stomp The Yard tonight. And yes, Dad, I heard the thunder as I wrote that. Nice dad joke.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

A New Road

Just last week, I started toying with the idea of blogging again. It started when someone commented on an Instagram post and asked if I had ever considered starting a blog or a podcast. I told her that I used to blog, but I stopped because I felt the posts were getting to repetitive, and that I had been using the #365daysofgratitude tag on Instagram for the past couple of years to replace my blog posts. I thought about her comment all week, and by the end of the week, I had come up with an idea for a podcast. I even started jotting down notes and investigating how I could record without spending thousands of dollars on equipment.

At the same time that this was happening, I was reflecting on my amazing summer. I posted a fun slideshow of photos and wrote about how much the experiences I had this summer meant to me, and that I felt truly lucky to have had them.

And then, not even 24 hours after I wrote that post, we found out that my husband lost his job. I felt everything get swept up underneath me as I fell apart. I cried for him, because he truly loved his job, and he worked so hard. I cried for us, because we've had an incredibly difficult newlywed experience already. I cried because I was scared, we have worked really hard to build up our savings to buy a house and I feared losing it all and never getting the house. I worried that this would mean we would delay having kids, and what if we never have kids? I selfishly and maybe childishly cried because we have plans to go to Disney for the very first time in our lives in a few weeks and what if we have to cancel? I cried because he was hurting. I cried because I felt helpless. I cried because I couldn't fix it. I cried because I felt insanely guilty about all those summer adventures I had just spoken so highly of. I cried because my dad isn't here to tell me that it's going to be okay and to give me his best advice. For two solid days, I cried.

Those two days felt like hell. Like I would never get out of that mindset and I would never feel calm again.

But somehow, like I always do, I pulled out of that. I'm not suddenly calm and worry free, but I am confident in the team that Tom and I have built together. We are a unit, we always have been, and we will move forward together. It will not be easy. Anyone who has ever had to search for a job knows how hard it can be. But we will not cave, and we will fight through this together.

I think maybe that's what my dad would have told me. To be there for each other through this. He'd also tell Tom to stand tall and stand proud, and remind him to follow up on applications and send thank you notes when he has interviews. And he'd remind us over and over again, that it will be okay, to take one day at a time.

To me this is another reminder of how surprising life can be. The next big thing, whether it's good or bad, is always around the corner, and you are never fully prepared for what it will be. So while this may test Tom and I in a way we were not expecting, maybe a really grand thing is coming for us. I've got to hold onto hope that our next turn is a bright one. It might be rocky along the way, but knowing that we are by each other's side, picking each other up along the way, is going to be our saving grace.

So here we go.... a new adventure. Maybe this will mean more blogging, maybe it won't. I'm just glad I'm living this life with him, I couldn't imagine it with anyone else.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Some grief truth bombs

I feel like I need to address something. This maybe should be one of those things that I keep private but I just worked 14 hours, I’m feeling tired and spunky. So forgive me for how this may come across.

I don’t have kids. And I know the responsibilities, worries, schedules, etc that come with having kids are incredibly tricky to manage. I can’t pretend to say I understand, or that I know all about it, or that what I’m going through compares to life with kids because frankly, I won’t know until I do have kids.  And also, my friends with kids are my heroes. I look up to them so much, because I know they are giving their all to those little humans.

But here’s the thing. I may not have kids, but I have an incredibly busy, demanding, and emotional draining schedule right now that leaves little “free time”. My one hour st the gym is usually my only hour dedicate solely to my own thoughts. Otherwise, I’m either working, getting errands done, or helping my mom. I am not complaining about helping her. Truthfully I love spending time with her and when we finish doing her laundry and cleaning her dishes I love to just sit with her. She’s one of the best things in my life right now and I love how our relationship is growing.

But, all that being said, I am balancing a very busy job, helping my mom, taking care of my own house, being a newlywed, and oh yeah- grieving the loss of my favorite person on this planet. I feel like I am walking up a mountain with a backpack full of the heaviest rocks you can imagine. All I can possibly do is take one tiny step forward and try to hold on so I don’t fall back. 

The loss of my dad is something I think about every single day. I want to call him to talk to him about all that’s going on in my life. I want to hear his voice. I want to hear a dumb dad joke. I want him back, with us, where he belongs. But he’s not here and I have to accept that, and get through that, every day. Sometimes I wonder if people think that because we knew my dad was so sick and because at the end we were praying for him to let go and make it to Heaven that maybe his death isn’t as tough. No. That’s not how it works. He’s still gone, and truly nothing could have prepared me for that feeling. And yes, I was praying for his suffering to be over. But thinking of that makes me feel guilty, and angry at myself, which just adds to the grief. So yeah, I’m still really sad. 

Something that I am not sure other people think about is that all of this happened just weeks after tom and I got married. Our “newlywed” phase has been one that meant I was away for days at a time to help my parents, and when I was home I was in bed, in a dark room, trying to find a little peace. Once my dad passed away, it wasn’t exactly like I could just jump in and say “okay, that’s done, time to get back to married life!”. Nope. It’s been really, really hard. I feel we’ve been a little cheated in the newlywed department. So when you ask me when we’re having kids, I get defensive. Let us live. We need like a minute or two, Please.

I don’t know what the future holds for Tom and I but I know I picked an amazing partner to walk through life with. He’s been so understanding and supportive of my family and of the person I am. I know my dad loved him too, and that brings me great pride. 

Please know that I get that everyone is going through hard things. I want to thank my coworkers who listen to me talk about my dad and tell the same stories over and over. This grief thing can be very isolating, but you all make me feel a little less alone.

I’m going to end this now, pray that I didn’t upset anyone with my honesty, and crawl into bed.