31 August 2015

A retrospective on childhood and adolescent anxiety

Anxiety is a serious thing. It's something I have struggled with for a long time. I'm lucky because thanks to my support system I was able to get my anxiety under control and I'm doing extremely well now.

It wasn't always so.

When I was in childhood and adolescence, I was an anxious kid. But, being an introvert (or, as my family said, "shy" and "thin-skinned"), I didn't have the words to express how I felt or what I needed to feel better. So I thought that was just how my life would be.

I dealt with it because I didn't know what else to do. I laid awake at night worrying over insignificant things, replaying conversations in my head thinking how I could have handled it differently or better. I cried because I didn't want to go to school and talk to people I felt didn't like me or who openly teased me because I was quiet and anxious and didn't join them in gregarious games on the playground. And because, as a kid, I couldn't do anything about it, dreading school and being forced to go because my parents didn't fully understand simply made things worse.

Occasionally, I got some well-intentioned advice, such as, "You just need to make friends" or "Go out and play." As if an anxious, introverted kid who moved every three years could just go and make friends. As if it has ever been that easy for me.

Or ever will be.

At some point in my adolescence, I resigned myself to being alone and on the outside, using my isolation as a shield against anxiety. If I didn't spend time with friends, I didn't worry over what they thought of me or if I said and did the right things or that all I wanted was to go back home and crawl into my own skin and be left alone for fuck's sake.

I viewed my world as an outsider, watching even people I considered friends from a distance so I didn't have to let myself worry about how to handle close relationships. By the end of high school, I involved myself in extra-curricular activities to give me the appearance of normalcy and friendships. But I rarely spent time with my friends outside of school. I was busy, but still lonely.

Eventually, I found literature and writing and the world of grammar that helped me find people who shared my interests and made it easier for me to talk and make friends. College was transformative because I was able to immerse myself in literature and writing for about four years.

I'm still working my way through everything, especially when I meet new people or am among a lot of people for an extended period of time. I am an introvert, and that will never change. And I will feel anxiety about certain things in certain circumstances. That will never change, either. So instead of feeling bad (and anxious) about who I am and how it doesn't seem to help me fit in, I'm working on embracing it, seeing these aspects of myself as a strength rather than a weakness.

At least, that's what I'm trying to do. It's hard to change years of programming, isn't it?

30 August 2015

Renew your spirit with getting back into the office

Image by Danilo Rizzuti / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Tomorrow is the last day of my vacation. It's been...weird...having time off. I've enjoyed it -- especially getting to spend time with my family -- but I'll be glad to get back into the office. I even have some new office clothes for the occasion.*

I'm taking the day tomorrow to clean my office, finish up any non-work administrative tasks I have yet to do, and organize for the week. Then I'll be officially back in the office at noon on Tuesday.

Fall is full of routines. I have routines for work, and the munchkins are back in school with their own routines. It's nice, and helps the days pass more quickly until the next milestone (our wedding!). We all do better when we have routines, and it will be a relief for me to get back into mine.

Structure helps keep me moving forward each day, even when I'm feeling overwhelmed or frustrated about something going on or that's out of my control. All I have to do is follow my schedule and focus on the very next thing I'm doing.

And drink loads of coffee.

*Yes, I work independently from home, but dressing for the office helps keep me in a professional, workday mindset each day that I'm working, so I try to dress for the office every day that I'm working, including wearing shoes. (Saturdays are "casual" days, but still office-appropriate.)

28 August 2015

You can't unread this book....

Yesterday I finished reading Let's Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson (aka The Bloggess).

And there's a hole in my life in the shape of an enormous metal chicken that I think can only be filled by a deranged-looking taxidermied raccoon.

The Bloggess posts frequently on her blog that she has found her tribe, thanks to the Internet. She's found people just as strange and broken as she is, and has been able to connect with them and make friends and feel not alone, especially when depression is lying to her. I have found that through her blog and memoir, too.

Everyone is broken. And when we find somewhere in which we can be broken and still magical, we win. Not only does Lawson's memoir show people that they can be broken and magical, but she does it with the same brilliant, acerbic style that brings me back to her blog with every new post.

She manages to talk about the very serious, scary things she has experienced wedged between absurd comedy that makes the overall memoir feel much lighter than it actually is. When you get finished, it's as if you've read a comedy, not a book that talks about rare medical problems, mental illness, miscarriage, and traumatic experiences with all the seriousness those topics deserve.

Lawson's memoir proves that she is more than the sum of her parts. Yes, she has had these experiences and difficulties and an incredible weirdness in her life, but she cannot -- and will not -- be defined by any of them. Or even all of them. Because, in the end, we're all just stumbling around until we find our tribe. She found hers.

If you're still looking for yours, or want confirmation that you're not nearly as weird as you think you are, or need a reminder that depression lies, please pick up her book. Read her blog. Follow her on Facebook or Twitter. Reach out in some way and know that you are not alone.

We're all a little mad here. Jenny Lawson just manages to talk about it in a way that makes you laugh.

23 August 2015

Renew your spirit with an Amazonian duck flock

Morning constitutional
There is a flock of about sixteen ducks that live in our apartment complex.*

They are all female.

Earlier in the year (spring and early summer), the ducks had paired off, with some females unattached to male ducks. Babies were born, and the male ducks were still hanging around.

But those male ducks were asshats. They constantly harassed the female ducks, driving them away from their babies (who would then cry for mama and attach to another mama just so they weren't alone). As the summer progressed, the female ducks started hanging around together more often, even protecting each other from the male ducks.

Now there's a flock of all female ducks in our apartment complex, and I haven't seen a male duck in months.

We've dubbed them the Amazonian duck flock because they've banded together to be strong against the onslaught of harassment. They watch out for each other, and I rarely see any of them separated from the group.

They're my favorite ducks ever.

* By which I mean they live on the property outside, not that they inhabit units. Just to clarify.

22 August 2015

Challenge accepted!

Some time ago I tried (unsuccessfully) the 100 books in a year challenge. It was embarrassing how badly I failed.

I'm a different person now, and I have a different daily schedule and life, and I want to do it again. But I don't want to wait until January 1st to start, so I'm starting now.

My goal is to read 100 books by August 21, 2016. I'll be using my discretion as to what books count. Children's picture books that I read to the kids won't count, but if I read Alice's Adventures in Wonderland or The Wind in the Willows to them, that does count. I have to begin and finish the book for it to count. Rereads count (because there's nothing wrong with rereading a great book).

I'll be checking in around the 22nd of each month for an update, and I'll likely write little reviews and reflections of what I read each week (or at least once a month).

My amazing fiance gave me 52 books for Christmas last year, so I have quite a lengthy list from which to start.

I hope that this challenge will help me make more time to read for pleasure, which is one area I find myself lacking lately. If I need time for something else, reading is typically the first thing to go. I want (and need) to read more. For my sanity, for my writing, and for my own edification.

And what better place to start than with Jenny Lawson's Let's Pretend This Never Happened?

What are you reading this month?

17 August 2015

Steeling myself for fall

I miss Midwest autumns.
On the heels of my current vacation is launching myself into the busyness of the fall work season. The work with my current big client rises and falls on a predictable schedule, with fall, the holiday season, and around April and May being the busiest times.

This fall is set to be even busier. It will be stressful, but ultimately, it'll be a very good thing.

So I'm grateful for these two weeks to mentally and emotionally recharge myself before this next busy season begins.

It will take incredible patience to balance my life this fall. In addition to work (which will be more intense than previous seasons) and a chaotic school schedule (Tink is in half-days while Puck has a full day), I'm getting married in October, right in the middle of the season.

My office space,
complete with writing buddy.
Thankfully, I'm much more organized than I have been in previous years. My office space is much more conducive to effective work. I got a new (larger) desk and have spread out a little bit.

I'm optimistic about what the new work season will bring, and the progress I'm making toward my personal and professional goals. There's still lots to do, but there's also a lot that's been accomplished, and I'm happy about that.

I started this year with the mentality that 2015 would be a good year. For the most part, it has been. There have been some hiccups and complications along the way, which is to be expected. But, overall, it's been good. And the past seven months are helping set us up for 2016 to be even better.

And it all starts with this fall, when I come back from vacation and jump into work, recharged and ready for all the chaos and stress and excitement of work and clients and managing my schedule. And I'll be ready.

Do you have a busy season? How do you handle it?

16 August 2015

Renew your spirit with optimism

I'm facing a major obstacle at work that is impacting the rest of this month. It's unexpected, but manageable, and I'm trying to make the best of an awkward situation.

As a result, I'm going to have a lot of free time for the next couple of weeks.

So, in my continued efforts to stay optimistic about life, I'm going to be using this time to sort of let myself recharge mentally and emotionally. I'll be finishing my draft of the coffee house book, catching up on some reading for pleasure, and cleaning the apartment when I have nothing else to do.

The first few days have been strange, but I've been able to focus on Tink's appointments rather than obsessing about what I'm not able to do for work.

In talking with Bo about it, I've realized that, ultimately, it's probably a good thing. I've been working very hard all summer, and was approaching a breaking point. This "forced vacation" (which is what I'm calling it) is giving me the chance to take a step back from work, shift my focus, and then jump back into it with renewed energy and motivation.

I'm anticipating a very busy fall season, so I'm trying to be glad for the time off for now.

Pardon me while I go wander around the apartment and find something to occupy my time.

12 August 2015

The dangers of Christianity, in 8 easy steps!--step 6: stop doing the little extra things

Previous posts in this series:
  1. The first part of so much wrong
  2. Part two of so much wrong
  3. Step 1: rebuke her privately
  4. Step 2: rebuke her publicly
  5. Step 3: bring her before the church
  6. Step 4: stop taking her on dates
  7. Step 5: no unnecessary household upgrades
It took me a little longer to finish this post because, at this point, I really feel like I'm repeating myself.

I was going to combine this post with the remaining steps because I feel like there's not much new to say, but the next step is a really significant one, and it merits standing on its own. So I'm going to deal with this idiocy so I can get on to the next idiocy.

So step six instructs husbands to "stop doing the little extra things." Our esteemed blogger says (emphasis mine):
You know those dinners you cook, or that vacuuming you do, or those things that really she should be doing for herself, but you have simply been trying to be nice and doing for her - STOP doing them. Stop giving her those nice back and shoulder massages she loves so much.
You have to remember that in the context in which this post was written, wives handle all the domestic tasks. So all of these kinds of tasks, like vacuuming or cooking, are things that she should be doing. And when a husband does them, it's meant to be a real treat for a wife. Like, it's her birthday or something.

Does this seem unhealthy to anyone? Or abusive? Because it does to me.

See, I was under the impression that marriage is a partnership. An equal partnership at that. So it isn't so much about her responsibilities and his responsibilities as it is sharing the load and responsibilities of life.

I also thought that in relationships with designated roles, such as one in which the wife handles the domestic responsibilities, the other partner tends to do those kinds of things not just out of trying to be nice, but out of love. If you know your wife really hates vacuuming but does it anyway because she loves you, then you might find yourself inclined to do the vacuuming for her because you love her.

But I see now that marriage is much more a business arrangement. Each individual has their own tasks and responsibilities and apparently the husband is the supervisor who gives reviews and if you don't measure up (read: have sex whenever he wants) then you'll get more responsibilities added, thankyouverymuch.

I guess what it really comes down to for me is that I just don't understand how people can be so callous to another human being. Apparently, what a wife is expected to do is so much more important than who she is as a person or her feelings or--dare I say it--human rights, that it's perfectly acceptable to treat her like shit to get your way.

Either she'll give in or get out. Win-win.

How can anyone subscribe to this nonsense and still claim to worship a loving, forgiving god? Does any of this blog writer's ramblings seem remotely loving and forgiving? Seriously? Does that make any sense at all?

I'm glad we're almost to the end because I don't know how much more eye-rolling I can handle.

09 August 2015

Renew your spirit with a quiet walk

I like to walk alone sometimes (when it's not swelteringly Florida-hot outside, that is). It's a good opportunity to be quiet and alone and sort of recollect myself. There's no work or family drama or worries about Tink's upcoming appointments. I can just be outside and walk.

I used to walk more regularly, but life got in the way and it got pushed away. So I'm trying to reintegrate regular walking into my routines.

No cell phone, no Clara or other people. Just me. I wish I had a little forest to walk in. Or along the beach. But I'll take what I can get in order to have the time and space I need to think and breathe and ground myself.

My goal is to walk at least once a week by myself on Sunday mornings for a minimum of about half an hour. More if I need it, less if I'm pressed for time. But my goal is half an hour.

If I can manage that every week, I think I'll feel much better equipped to handle some of the stresses I've been facing lately. And when the weather starts to cool off, the walks will be even better.

07 August 2015

Tink's adventures in health: a primer

April 2015
Today, I take Tink to see a specialist at the recommendation of Dr. M, her pediatrician.

As is usually the case with Tink, this was a next step in a long line of "stuff" regarding her health. And since there seems to be no end in sight with my sweet little problem child, I thought a primer might be in order.

My pregnancy was a bit difficult. I was healthy, and Tink was okay, but there were problems. For one thing, as I was nearing the end of my pregnancy I developed a cyst on my ovary that grew for a while. Thankfully, after Tink was born, it ruptured on its own.

When I went into labor, Monty and I went to the hospital. I wasn't really far enough along to be admitted, but when the nurse took my blood pressure it was very high, and she muttered the word "preeclampsia" to a doctor, which got me admitted, and on drugs to move the labor along. Of course, with the drugs came an epidural. Unfortunately, the tech that put the epidural in was not as skilled as I would have liked, and ended up having to move it. Very painful. Then, when she did get it in, which was still felt strange, it worked really well on one side and only moderately well on the other. By the time it was time to push, I was definitely starting to feel pain again.

When Tink decided it was time to actually be born, she didn't wait for the water to break. I called the nurse because it felt like my water had broken. She came in to look and immediately called for the doctor because Tink was really ready. But my water hadn't actually broken. When the doctor came in and got situated, he looked at Monty and said, "I've never broken anyone's water on the outside before."

Then, to make the delivery even more interesting, Tink was a face-up meconium baby, and aspirated when she was born. So as soon as Monty had cut the cord, she was whisked off to the side to suction fluid and make sure she was okay. They let me hold her for a few moments and then took her for observation in the neo-natal unit, where they put her under a light for light therapy because she was jaundiced. (I had some additional problems after she was born, but they were taken care of.)

Tink had to continue light therapy for the couple of days we were in the hospital after she was born, and the hospital made arrangements for us to borrow a light blanket to continue light therapy at home for a couple of weeks. Then, in her final exam before getting discharged, Tink developed a low-grade fever, so the doctor decided she needed to stay another day.

Eventually, we went home. And things were okay.

When she was about four months old, she wasn't growing as well as she should have been, so I was told to supplement my breast milk with formula. Then my milk dried up, so we went to formula full time.

When she was about eight months old, it was determined that she once again wasn't growing like she was supposed to be, and the doctor even used that dreaded phrase--failure to thrive--that prompted blood work and weight check appointments and special formula.

She was behind in her developmental milestones, too. At nine months, she wasn't standing (even assisted) and nowhere near walking. Her fine motor skills, too, were lacking. So she had regular physical therapy and occupational therapy for about a year, during which time she caught up to where she needed to be.

And specialists. We saw a nutritionist, gastroenterologist, neurologist, and pediatric geneticist.

At one point through all of these appointments, one of the results of her blood work was incredibly high, prompting re-testing, which came back normal.

At another appointment, Dr. Illinois was concerned about some test results and sent us immediately to the children's hospital for blood work and urinalysis, and if certain results had come up, she would have been hospitalized that day. But then everything looked normally.

And in the midst of this, we had no answers.

The geneticist was the last specialist we saw, and he said, "Let's just wait and see." The pediatrician in Florida agreed.

Some time after that, I moved back to Florida. Tink was doing pretty well, so we followed Dr. M's lead and waited.

In May, Tink had her four-year check-up. She's always been below the growth chart (or right at the bottom), but this time, she had gained three inches in a year and absolutely no weight. Really. She weighed the same in May 2015 as she did in April 2014.

And she had been having leg pain for some time in her right leg. It started out that it seemed like her knee would buckle every once in a while when she ran. Then she started limping semi-regularly. Most recently, she walks on the balls of her feet occasionally, or she'll turn her right foot all the way out and walk that way.

So Dr. M ordered blood work and x-rays of her entire right hip and leg. An abnormality in the latest round of testing has prompted a follow-up appointment with a specialist.

So here we are again. Back to tests and specialists and asking lots of questions without enough answers.

I don't know what's going to happen today or in the near future or even in the long-term future.

So all I can do is keep stepping forward, one little bit at a time. And Tink will keep things interesting.

06 August 2015

Six on the sixth

July 2015
Puck is six today.

And I can hardly believe it.

Each year that passes, Puck continues to amaze me with all he learns and does and how he grows and changes. From the little skinny scrap of a peanut way back in 2009 to the tall, funny, silly boy he is today, Puck is a great kid.

He is sensitive and sweet and can be so, so kind-hearted. He's a good brother (when he's not being ornery) who cares for his sister fiercely.

He has always been a good kid. When he was a baby, he was clingy, but not colicky. He didn't have a lot of health problems. He was a happy, happy baby.

Now that he's in school, he's so eager to learn and grow. Most recently, he's decided he wants to be a geneticist so he can bring the dinosaurs back to life. But only the plant-eaters.

Spring 2014
And if he can't do that, he's going to make robotic dinosaurs.

Because he's practical like that.

He does well in school, though he's impatient which can lead to messy handwriting at times. Still, he reads well, and loves math.

In fact, one of his favorite car games is solving math problems from the backseat. Even if he gets tripped up and frustrated, he feels proud once he finally gets the answer correct.

Puck also likes to build things. It started with Legos and Chima figures, and has moved on to metal model vehicles (like the ones he got for his birthday from Mimi and Papa G) and wood (like the coin bank he built with Papa G this summer). I love watching him create with blocks or other tools, whether he follows "constructions" to make something specific, or creates his own structure based on his whims.

Fall 2013 (with his pre-K teacher)
And, of course, there are the Puckisms. He's a treasure trove of misspoken words (like "constructions" instead of "instructions") that keep my Facebook feed amusing.

One of my favorite is his consistent use of "rahmbo" for "bravo." He's said it that way as long as I can remember, and I don't think he has any intention of changing it.

Puck is also a bit fastidious.

There are days he doesn't want anything on his hands, even finger-foods.

And he likes to line things up "properly." Stacks should be even, and things on his toy box should be lined up with the edge appropriately.

He is full of spunk and personality and keeps us on our toes.

I'm so, so proud of the boy he is becoming every day, and I'm looking forward to seeing the young man he will become over the next twelve years.

Happy, happy birthday, sweet boy. Your mama loves you.

03 August 2015

New desk, new space

I have a new (bigger) desk and bigger office space. We didn't move, but we got rid of a big desk that wasn't being used to make room for a bigger desk for me, and a space much more conducive to my needs.

This is what it looked like yesterday as I was finishing getting it set up:

Much more room, much better view (I can see out the patio door now!), and a much better feeling. I actually like being in the space much more now. I think it's partly because the new layout makes it feel more office-y rather than a desk put in a convenient corner of the apartment. It's a dedicated office space rather than taking what was available.

It makes me feel more professional.

I know that when we move again I'll have something much closer to an actual office. But in the meantime, this is a very nice space. I'm very happy where I am.

02 August 2015

Renew your spirit with an impromptu family visit

This is the last time we got a picture of the four of us together.
Christmas 2011
I got to see my brother yesterday!

He and his girlfriend spent a week in Florida at the house of a friend of our mother's (near Tampa). They're headed back today, so on their way out of the state, they stopped by for lunch.

It was wonderful.

I don't get to see my siblings very often anymore. I saw them in 2013 when I took the munchkins up for Christmas, and I hope/expect to see them in October for the wedding.

But life has unfolded in such a way that it's not feasible for us to go up as often as we'd like, and they aren't able to come down as often as they'd like. So we make do with phone calls and texts and Facebook messaging.

My brother (the guy on the right in the picture) and I have gotten a lot closer as we've gotten older, even if we do live states away from each other. We're in similar places in our lives and have much more in common than we once did. It's nice to be able to have that connection with him.

And he's an amazing uncle. He hasn't seen the kids in ages, but jumped right into typical uncle duties as if he hadn't missed a day. He plays and jokes and gives them his rapt attention. Puck and Tink adore him. In fact, even though Tink hadn't seen him in over a year, when he came in, she ran right up and jumped into his arms.

It was a good opportunity to touch base with family to get me through until October when I'll get to (hopefully) see everyone again. And we'll make sure to get a picture.