Monday, December 29, 2014

How to deal with Grief during the holidays.

Grief, in short, is the process of how we deal with loss. Loss of a person when they die, loss of a job when we get fired, loss of our self esteem when we are dumped by a romantic partner, even loss of our faith when tragedy happens and we can't make heads or tails of why it had to happen.  I've learned a lot about this process in my 4o years, and in my experiences working in the Emergency Room.  Here's a list of how to get through it during the holidays (or any day of the year).  These are just a few of my opinions - feel free to give other suggestions that have worked for you!

  • Find Fred Flintstone: That's right.  Eat your vitamins.  Your body's response to extreme stress can be at best just getting by to a full on depression, infection, rejection state of being.  As cortisol levels rise, you may gain or lose weight, and you are much more susceptible to real illness or all over body pain.  Each day you might feel like you got hit by a different Mack truck than the day before.  Same pain, different day.  Combat this by eating healthfully, limiting sugar, getting enough sleep, and drinking enough water.  
  • Where's Waldo?  Feel like you're searching for something, only you really don't know what that something is?  Answers to life's big questions? Where is God? Why did this have to happen?  Will the mean person who did the mean thing get punished, ever?  When you cannot find yourself, you definitely can't figure out those higher order questions.  So get away, preferably by yourself so you have ample time to think and reflect, cry and throw things, or indulge in a tiny bit of retail therapy.  Meditate, go for long walks, find a cabin in the woods, or let the highway be your guide and your favorite music be your companion.  Don't try to figure everything out all at once, but trust that you will figure it out in it's own time.  
  • Get your face licked:  Yup.  Go where you can find some furry friends.  A petting zoo? Your grandmother's cat? The pet store? Let them crawl all over you.  Watch their tails wag.  Contemplate what they are thinking! Let them lick your face and know you won't die from it!  There's something incredibly healing in developing a relationship with an animal companion.  While you're at it, give yourself a point for every time you notice a baby's laugh.  When you get five points, go get an ice cream! This is to remind you that LIFE goes FORWARD.  You have to hop back in and jump some more rope!
  •  Give a gift.  To someone else.  Not that there isn't value in treating yourself with something special when you are being hit by a proverbial asteroid! But giving to others leaves a longer lasting feel good type of high, and it reminds you that you still have something to give, even if you aren't in the same role, relationship, or job that you used to be.  Bake the mailman some cookies, go volunteer at a local hospital, or make something for a friend that you know she'll love.  Do that thing you've always wanted to do for so-in-so!  You will feel better at the end of the day.  Trust me, you will. 
  • Refocus your Life Lens: This is the one, huge, overarching lesson from my years working with aggrieved, homeless, and hurting people in the emergency room.  Although this may sound harsh at first, consider it.  Your life can always be worse.  Read that again.  Your-life-can-always-be-worse.  And believe me, it can.  Your entire house could have just burned down with all your pets and family inside.  Your company could have handed you a pink slip, and you totaled your new car.  Your child could have just been diagnosed with a fatal disease.  You might have just caught your partner cheating with your best friend.  Your best friend might have just died leaving her three kids to you.  All sorts of horribleness can happen out there.  Try to be thankful for the things that didn't happen, the people you have left, for the one person you can trust night and day, 24/7, or for the disease you don't have.  Someone else always has it worse.  Or equally as bad in a different way that you wouldn't want even more than you don't want what's happening to you now.  Widen your lens.  See all the horrible that could have happened so you can appreciate what you still have going.  

Anyone need a (really) old car?

This is a 1928 Overland Whippet.  Other than a little TLC, it only needs points and a 6-volt battery.  I've ridden in it myself and it's very taking a walk back in time.  We are taking serious bids over $6,000.  Thanks!

Thursday, December 4, 2014

The Blower's Daugther

There's nothing quite like a song you have never heard that strikes such an emotional chord that you know you've just been hit by a freight train, only you have no idea where it came from and why it's here.

And there is nothing quite like a song that can bring to the front of the stage in your head one of the most dramatic moments you lived and re-examine it in such a way that you hear, see, feel, touch, and taste it all again, like a bruised piece of fruit.  The thing is though, reliving these utterly devastating moments helps us heal.  Reliving them from an older and wiser perspective also helps us empathize and forgive.  It helps us unpackage the tender glass shards our hearts are ultimately made of and oh so gently place them back together in a way that feels a bit more whole and that doesn't prick us so painfully again.

It took me two full days but now I get why this song claimed such a giant space in my head.

When I was fourteen, for a moment, my father got really upset with me, and he sent me packing to live with my mother in Jacksonville.  The leaving was bitter, and nearly ripped my heart to shreds, but the thought of finally getting to know my mother and exploring thoughts of new experiences for myself kept me treading water, kept me wanting to engage, and ultimately to stay here and live my life.  Teenage angst can make you want to jump off a bridge.  The hope of having my mother kept my heart beating.

That hope slowly lost steam when, even as young and as naive as I was, I figured out she was a drug addict.  These were the days before she loved prescription pain medications.  Yes, these were the days of coke, and pot, and booze.  Only God knows what else.

Two weeks in, she left the small two bedroom apartment that we shared with her boyfriend Darrell and his brother (I had the couch), and she never came home.  At some point, Darrell shook me awake and took me to the hospital to see her.  She was hooked up to all sorts of monitors and wires and she was flat out unconscious.  She'd overdosed on cocaine.  Darrell left me there with her because he had to go to work.

Now I know what the medical staff was probably thinking.  "That poor girl. Who's going to take care of her now?" I remember the psychiatrist coming in to talk to me, and asking me questions about my mother that I clearly didn't know the answers to.  I remember when the line that showed how her heart was beating fell flat.  I remember them all running in and slapping my mama in the face to try to wake her.  Ushering me out, then back in again when they'd revived her.  For hours and hours I watched her as if she were lying there a superstar in a movie about some poor woman who'd gotten overwhelmed and overdosed.  Surely this was all an act.

For many, many years the feelings I have had that are associated with those six weeks I spent in Florida in 1989 have been buried very deep.  I went through therapy.  I dealt with the angst, the grief, and the loss of so much of my innocence, of my hope in better days for my mother.  I know now that those fear-filled days in that hospital in Jacksonville, and many of the strange days afterwards have helped me form my own understanding of my mother that I could never have had otherwise.  Some experiences just must happen.

I hope not to sound preachy here, but in the end, our love and understanding of one another is quite simply, all we have.  This song takes me back to those visions of her, the different times I tried to understand and feel things with and for her so that she could take a bigger space in a heart filled with only the ghosts of all the lost days and nights in between.  I get why she couldn't be there for me.  I get it and I understand it and I accept it, but unfortunately and quite fortunately at the same time, I can still feel the loss, the frustration, the anger, and the fear.

Never ever let yourself close up so tight that you cannot feel the emotions you need to keep feeling to consider yourself alive.  The heart will not stay hurt forever.  Use this song, or any that strikes your own emotional chords, to help yourself remember those painful experiences and continue to heal from all you have learned and been able to do since.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

The newest Bruin.

I finally did something for me! As you know, if you read this blog, I've always wanted to be a "real" writer.  Believe it or not though, I've never had any real training in writing beyond the undergraduate english courses I took at UGA (the first of which I was able to skip by advanced placement testing). I did get A's in all my English classes but never took the creative writing classes I wanted to take.  I tried once when I was in grad school - to add the class and make it work - but had zero time for it and eventually withdrew.  Now, at nearly 40 years old, I'm going to study and practice the art of writing for real from one of the best writing programs in the nation.  I'm so lucky too, because I get to do all of this online.  I get to become a real card carrying UCLA student, and I get to earn the Writer's Certificate and even become a Bruin alumni when I finish my coursework.

Awesome! I cannot wait to get started.  For fun, I may post some of the writing I do here on my blog.  My first class starts August 6th!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Getting serious about vacation planning!

Some of you know that I started working with Academy Travel in the fall of 2012 as an Independent Contractor selling & helping people plan their Disney vacations.  Going to Walt Disney World in Orlando, FL (actually Lake Buena Vista) was always a happy and positive experience for me growing up.  Crossing the Florida line meant visits with my mother and family in Jacksonville and sometimes meant a very fun and exciting trip to Disney! When I arrived home from taking my daughter on a very special Disney trip and was continually raving about how much I loved the Walt Disney company in general, a co-worker of mine suggested I look into becoming a Vacation Planner.  She said it would be perfect for a Disney freak like me!  She was right.  Every time I quote a vacation, I have fun!  Actual fun!  I love answering questions about all things Disney, and I'm well read on Disney travel, corporate news, and all things Disney vacations!  Most people don't realize that Disney also can take you on special guided trips around the world! There's more to Disney than the giant paradise dubbed The Happiest Place on Earth.  This fall I hope to go on a Disney Cruise for my 40th birthday celebration, and no I don't get discounts!

The Disney company is very smart.  Their prices are their prices.  I can sell trips to you for the exact price Disney sells it for and no less.  The advantage of using my services is that I help you PLAN your trip.  You can do Disney on a budget and cut costs at every corner or you can go all out and have the most amazing five star trip of your dreams. There are more than 25 Disney resorts on property in Florida alone, along with 4 theme parks and 2 water parks.  If you haven't been to Disney in a while, since you were a kid, or maybe you've never been at all...then I'm your girl!  Hit me up.  My services are 100% FREE! No kidding. 

I'm currently setting up my Disney home office, and I'm even re-painting the walls with Glidden Disney paint in a color called "pawprint" from the Winnie the Pooh colors! I also received my box of goodies for Authorized Disney Vacation Planners today that assists me in advertising and answering clients questions.  I'm so pumped.  Please let me know if I can be of any assistance to you as you plan your DREAM vacation!

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Vacation (finally), and the importance thereof.

My family just returned Sunday morning from an awesome 8 day trip.  I had 9 total days - in a row - off work.  Can I just say that I needed to have done that a long time ago?

One of the downsides of living in America and being a citizen who cares about working and contributing to society (because believe me, quite a few Americans do not) is that we work too many hours.  I have a rather nontraditional schedule which gives me 3 days on and 4 days off a week because I work 12 hour shifts at night, nevertheless, it wears me down just as much as the 8 to 5 grind wears folks down during the week.  We work and we work and we work because we have to pay our bills to live, and sometimes we fail to consider how much value there is in taking time off.  I'm very lucky to work for a company that gives me 200 hours of paid leave each year.  That's roughly 16 days off per year (because I work 12 hour days), and I've yet to actually take that number of days off in a year.  Sometimes it was because we were not staffed well enough to be gone for long, but mostly it was because I didn't recognize how vital these vacations are to my health and well being.

I mean, I had a really good time.  We went to Fort Lauderdale for 5 days and stayed at the Marriott Beach Place towers in a condo.  It was super duper nice and there were adequate stores and shopping (a mall actually) right in the back of our hotel on the beach side, including a 24 hour CVS.  I would definitely stay there again.  The staff was friendly and very helpful, the place was very clean and tidy, the decor was modern and crisp looking, and they had adequate hot tubs, pools, places to eat, and it was just a few steps to the beach!  The ocean was crazy crystal clear and a beautiful teal color, the beach was clean and very well maintained, and I appreciated a huge police presence over the Memorial Day weekend.  That city had its stuff together.  There was apparently some sort of gang activity nearby while we were there and the police were all over it immediately, closing roads and bridges temporarily to prevent further gang members from entering the beach area.  We took one afternoon/evening to ride to Hollywood, FL to eat at the Hard Rock Cafe because it's my personal mission to eat at and visit each one in the United States before I croak.  I collect the pins from each city and prominently display them on a Hark Rock burgundy felt banner that hangs on the wall in my upstairs hallway.  Traffic was a bit rough, but other than that we had a good time.  Collectively we won about $6 gambling in the casino!  Another item I can scratch off the bucket list.

On Thursday we left sun-shiny Ft. Lauderdale for overcast Orlando so we could hit Disney for a couple of days.  Oddly enough I wasn't the one (in the end) who was pushing for Disney but I'm so glad we made those last minute reservations.  We stayed at the new Art of Animation Resort and went to the Magic Kingdom on Friday and Hollywood Studios on Saturday.  We had a blast.  I remember most of it quite well.  Because I accidentally bonked my head on the granite countertop in the beach condo I had a bit of a delayed concussion that rendered me very much "out of it" for hours on Saturday, but nevertheless I trooped out the the park!  There are pics of me I have no memory of posing for!  Since I've never really been a drinker, at least I know now how it feels to "black out."

The hardest part was the drive back late Saturday night because we stayed for the awesome fireworks show at Hollywood Studios, called Fantasmic, and effectively left after the park closed. My family wouldn't let me share in the drive because I'd been mostly out of it earlier in the day with my concussion - and we were driving Hal's brand new truck! My car is still at the body shop getting it's dents fixed from the crazed deer that ran into me in May, so we couldn't afford to have another vehicle out of commission!

We got lots of exercise on vacation too, so much so that I needed a day or two to recoup from vacation, even though I came almost straight back to a 12 hour shift! But I was very emotionally and mentally recharged and ready for work again.  I learned a pretty good lesson.  Don't feel guilty for taking time off.  You'll do yourself and your co-workers and those you serve a favor by regaining your sanity once in a while!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Working on myself.

At some point last October I got rather sick of being sick.

I mean, I was used to feeling shitty pretty much all of the time.  Going to sleep was like running a marathon in my mind - angst wouldn't let it shut off.  I woke up tired and bedraggled, feeling like I'd not slept at all, and I was unable to sleep more than three and a half hours at a time without waking up.  I hardly had the brain power most days to do anything other than basic household chores, tending to my child, and going to work for my 12 hour shifts in the emergency room.

For years I'd complained to my doctor about being tired.  He'd diagnosed me with fibromyalgia (a diagnosis I'd never quite been sure of) years earlier.  My body hurt all of the time.  All.  There was never a day where I was pain free.  Never is a serious word, but I do really mean never.  There were better days than others, but most days it hurt to just be alive.  Any exertion made it worse.  Lots worse.  Roller skating, cycling, walking, working my shifts, sex, even rough and tumble tickling with my daughter made me pay the next day.  Always and forever I lived in pain.  No one could see the pain I was in.  It wasn't like I had a broken leg.  I had some sort of invisible illness attacking my body every day and there was little to do but grin and bear it and gripe to my family about how miserable it was.

My guts were sick too, only I was in so much musculoskeletal pain I couldn't really focus on how unhappy my digestive tract was.  Until a few months ago, when literally every day I was eating tums and zantac and still feeling bloated and gassy and downright miserable.  I attacked and cured an overgrowth of candida, but I still felt sick a lot more than I should have.

I started exercising on the direction of a dear friend who's also a dietician.  Slowly but surely I worked my way up to more than 10 miles a week at one point.  My heart was pumping good.  I had endurance, but my body was so tired and in so much pain that I literally had to fight to get the strength to go each time to walk with her.  Plus, she's wonderful at encouragement and harassment, because her job depends on motivating her clientele so they'll get results.

For me, no results came.  My doctor changed up my anti-depressant thinking that was the culprit.  No change in my weight.  Finally three months later he ordered a bunch (5 vials worth) of blood tests.

Turns out, my immune system was working a bit overtime (high white blood cell count).  I knew this because I frequently had low grade fevers - a side effect I attributed to my work in the emergency room where everyone is exposed to all sorts of illness.  Normal people with healthy immune systems build up a giant resistance after working in germ laden places.  But frequently I'd get sick, so much so that my coworkers made (nice) jokes about my crappy immune system.

Nevertheless, I came to work.  I never once have called out due to illness or feeling like crap.  Probably because I was so stinking used to it.  Feeling bad was normal.

Back to the blood tests.  My thyroid peroxidase antibody was elevated quite a bit.  This is a diagnostic tool for Hashimoto's thyroiditis, or when your own immune system attacks your thyroid.

I'd been feeling tired and had been unable to lose the "baby" weight from the pregnancy and birth of my daughter - 10 years earlier.  No matter what I tried I didn't lose any substantial amount of weight.  I constantly felt bad about myself, and my body image (which had always been a-ok) tanked.  Before pregnancy the heaviest I'd been was 140 pounds.  I was not skinny, but I was a very healthy weight.  I'd always suspected something might have happened to my thyroid, but each time I had blood tests the thyroid numbers came back low, but still within "normal" range.  Frustrating to say the least.

The doctor's office called in a low dose of levothyroxine to my pharmacy and I began taking it about a month ago.  Immediately after figuring out the thyroid issue, I began researching it.  I read message boards and forums and question and answer sites galore, and over and over I kept seeing people talk about GLUTEN intolerance and how it goes right along with Hashimoto's thyroiditis.

I researched the symptoms of gluten intolerance/Celiac's disease and found nearly a virtual description of how I'd been feeling for so long.  Unbelievable.

I stopped eating gluten that day.  Now, nearly two weeks out, the pain in my body has almost subsided entirely!  I have no more bloating!  When I eat my stomach and intestines do not rumble for hours on end and remind me that I shouldn't have eaten whatever it was I ate.  I am a carb-a-holic.  I may always be, but I'm no longer eating any carbs that contain wheat or gluten.

Now I'm reading the book by a cardiologist, Dr. Davis, called Wheat Belly.  He's definitely preaching in this book, but not only do I see his logic but I agree wholeheartedly.

I know that I'm now on a straight path to wellness, and quite honestly, I have felt very much "led" to each of my discoveries since that night in October when I prayed for help.  I asked God to please help me end my physical suffering, with tears in my eyes, and told Him that I honestly didn't know how much longer I could keep going as I had been for so long.

I now take a handful of vitamins and prescription drugs that are helping big time.  But ending the hyper inflammatory immune response to gluten might have been the single best thing that's happened to me since my child was born.

Moral of the story? Never be afraid to challenge your doctor, trust your instincts about your body, and use your own mind and brain to find the solution.  And of course, when you're searching for answers, never forget to pray for guidance.  Trust that the Universe has your back, and your best interest, at heart.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Laughing at life's poofy moments.

I know I haven't written in a while, but I've kind of been in a type of conserve-energy-and-just-keep-swimming auto pilot for most of the last year.  Sure, there have been bursts of energy here and there.  I started a coalition to help parolees.  I tried to write 50,000 words in a month.  I started exercising regularly (again).  I even found enough fortitude to make it through the holidays.  And mostly, I've written in that doggoned "Happiness Project" journal almost every day.  Even when all I can say is that I worked a twelve hour shift, I tried to write it down.  Not everything is happy.  Even when you stare at the glass for an hour trying to decide whether or not it's actually half full or half empty.  I'm just glad I have a glass to fill.

Sometimes life does indeed beat us up, drag us along, tear us down, and scramble our brains like a southern fried egg on a scorching pavement.  Is there any use in trying to find the "happy" during your life's rough and tumble days?

Is there?

I would argue that there is, even if you can't do it everyday.  Sometimes when the going is so tough it makes your head spin is when you have to stop, stop, stop and find something to laugh about.  Perhaps my 6 years in an ER and my ultra weirdo dark snappy sense of humor affords me a certain talent in finding the humor even in the craziest situations, but laughter HELPS.  Laughter seems to hoist up just the right amount of emotional wall in tough times that really does help you schelp on through to another day.  Start looking at your life in a 360 degree sorta way.  Some of the shit you do is funny, trust me.  Lots of the shit other people do is often ridiculously funny.  Sometimes their shit is so funny that your shit is small in comparison.  And that my friends, means your life ain't so bad.

Just as important as laughter is the lesson.  What is the lesson?  There are situations in your life that sometimes literally only last a few real moments...others last for days, weeks, months, even years...until they are -POOF- just not there anymore.  Sound silly?  But that poof moment is the one where you're like oh wow, or holy crap, or I'll be damned...and then suddenly you figure something out, some life changing well-now-I-know kind of thing.  So one day when your friend, or sibling, or grown up kid decides he or she is gonna try that which you've already POOFED your way through, you can say with one hundred thousand percent certainty...oh no, oh hell no you're not and let me tell you why!  Every hard thing in life has a lesson for you.  If you think about it, you know it's true.  So what are the difficulties in your life trying to tell you?  What is it that you still need to work on to get better to be happier?

Still, we get stuck.  At least I know I do.  Some days I ask myself, "Am I doing what I'm supposed to be doing?"  "Is this all I have to offer?"  "Is there some other greener pasture I could have more fun in?"  Or lately, my favorite..."did I do the right things educationally? Should I have just majored in Journalism & Creative Writing like I wanted to when I first went to college?"  "Would I be happier now if I had?"

Argh!  I've been driving myself crazy with this stuff.  There is one thing I do know for sure though.  There were lessons I learned along the specific path I took.  I don't believe those lessons were lost on me and I believe they were important for me.  Therefore I'm okay for having taken the path I did.  What I've done, especially my mistakes, is truly okay.

I'm still here.

Big question is what to do next.  Something, anything, or nothing?  When is the right time to shake things up and let the particles fly around and then settle back down again?  I know I've been holding on too tightly to safety and security and walking the worn path lately, but it does feel like the winds of change might soon be blowing my way.