Aly, Zak, family, faith, musings, photos, scrap, travel, rants

Sunday, May 29, 2016

To My Daughter on Her Graduation

Alexzandria Kate Edwards ... Summa Cum Laude

And with that, you did it. You graduated.

I keep saying how proud I am of you. But that word does not describe how I feel. From the moment you were born, you were my baby and I knew you would exceed in everything you did.

You are creative and artistic. Your drawings and paintings decorate the house. Your pottery is everywhere. We've framed your photographs. You can play the piano and taught yourself ukulele. You sing when you think no one is listening. Your creative writing is better than Dad's, and he's published two books.

You are smart. We sent you to boarding school because it challenged you. It meant we didn't see you often. We didn't get to hear daily stories of school or weekend fun. We couldn't see how you dressed (ok, it was a uniform) and how you did your hair. We couldn't help you when you were sick or celebrate when you had a great day. We gave up seeing you so you could fly. And you did.

Your teachers ask you to help teach, because the students understand things better when you explain them. Your English teacher is saving an essay to use for class next year. Math and Science might not come easy, but you persevere, and you won the senior class book award for AP Calculus and Environmental Science. You've had three years of Latin and had the top score in your Harry Potter Magic & Morality class. Your GPA is higher than a 4.0 and your standardized test scores are off the chart. But I know you had a good time through it all. There were late nights and early mornings. Trips for midnight snacks and sleeping on the floor. I hope you have fantastic memories of school and fun times with friends.

You chose carefully where you applied to college and made a tough decision. You'll be one credit shy of a sophomore thanks to AP credits, which means you'll probably double major. I know you'll have a fantastic time. You already know how to deal with a dorm full of girls and getting to class on time. You are a whiz at cards and board games. And now you can wear hoodies and gym shorts! You can schedule classes for late morning and sleep in! I'm so excited for your college career to start, but I also want this summer to last. We'll be spending a week in Italy to celebrate, and I know you'll want to photograph and sketch and learn all you can while we are there.

You love unconditionally. Dogs are your best friends. You miss your pets when you aren't home. Even your Senior Survival Trip on the Appalachian Trail included you petting a fluffy dog you met along the way. You love the mountains and the beach. You were excited to turn 15 so you could sit in the exit row of a plane. You want to go to San Diego just so you can eat tacos at the tiny taco stand we've visited twice. You sleep in the car on every road trip, including our two week trip down the west coast.

You are loyal to friends and buy McDonald's for whomever forgot their cash. You buy thoughtful birthday and Christmas presents that people cherish. You still let me call you Booger and walk arm in arm with me at the mall. You're witty and punny and make jokes when we're together. People love you and love to just be around you.

Congratulations, Alexzandria. I know you're holding off on official adulthood until your 18th birthday in a couple of months, but, don't you see, you're already there, and you're doing a job that makes us all proud.

We love you!



Sunday, July 19, 2015

I Keep Forgetting

Aly is home for the summer, and she's learning to drive. I can't believe my baby is so grown up! Mike took her out several times to the Middle School parking lot, but then he asked me to help since he is attending rehearsals for Shakespeare in the Park (hey, y'all go buy a ticket or something). Anyway, I've taken her out a couple of times and she is pretty good. A little fast on the turns, but Mario Kart doesn't require the use of brakes, so she's adapting.

We've ventured outside of the parking lot into neighborhoods with parked cars on the street and moving cars at stop signs. We've gone south of town in the country so she can work up some speed. Not Mario Kart, but getting there.

Yesterday, we were on the south side of town, and I guided her to the cemetery where I knew there'd be some sharp turns. "We can go visit Isaiah's rock," I said, thinking it might need some weeds pulled. There was a truck going the same way, so I carefully guided her off the one lane road so others could pass. Then I remembered....

Isaiah wasn't the only 'rock' to visit in the cemetery. In the row behind him and Grandma was Mom.
PHILLIPS engraved in the stone. Judy Kaye, August 16, 1950 - May 11, 2004.
I froze. "I forgot," I said to her. "I forgot Nana was here too." She didn't get out. I tried not to cry.

Yeah, I don't know what the big message is for this blog post is.

I just miss my mom.


Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Confederate Flag Hysteria

I don't get it. For hundreds of years, the Confederate flag has flown over state houses and hung in the back of pickup truck windows. Suddenly, a mentally ill person posts photos of himself with the flag and public people and companies are shunning it. Why did it take a tragedy? Well, you know, beyond the whole slavery thing. 

I'm not saying the flag is good or bad. Is it appropriate as a state symbol? I'm going to say no. Can Civil War re-enactments display it? Sure. Should it be used as a drape for a coffin? (Yes, it happened. I couldn't make that up.) NO. 

People are now saying roads should be renamed. Statues of historical figures removed. Where does it end? We can't erase that part of America's history. It was a different time, and one we shouldn't forget. Maybe even one we should learn more about. You might start here: People can change their beliefs more than once in their lifetimes. Maybe a lot of people still need to. 

But here's the thing, I think the people who are going to cry out about Walmart removing the flag from its stores won't be the Civil War enthusiasts; it will be the rednecks who see it as an anti-African American or "Southern" symbol. The good ol' boys who claim Uncle Sam will pry their shotguns from their cold, dead hands. The people that have beliefs, ingrained for generations, that won't change whether they can buy a flag at Walmart or not. The people who prefer to think of themselves as better than others. The people who hate. 

The recent news stories of Caitlyn Jenner spurred a flurry of comments and memes on social media. Sadly, many of them did not show acceptance or love for a fellow human. "God doesn't make mistakes!" one poster insisted. I think the mothers of stillborn babies would like to have a word with you about how life works. Science is far from understanding how the human body works, much less the brain. How do we know things aren't working for Caitlyn exactly as planned? 

At my work, I meet people from all over the world. As part of my introduction, I explain I live in a town named Boonville. It gets a laugh. Really, Boonville. But one day, a Asian man stopped me to chat and said he had been to Boonville. My Boonville. I was speechless. It was in his college days, and he worked for a book company. The company dumped a pair of students in a town, and they went door-to-door selling books. The man smiled as he recalled the number of shotguns he encountered that day. Even more the number of ignorant people making racist remarks to his companion about him because they assumed he didn't speak English. I was mortified. He, unbelievably -and sadly- was unfazed. 

No, those people aren't going to change, and I'm certain this isn't the only small town with this problem. When will we learn that all of us are created equal? When will humans see each other as brothers? Do we really think destroying Confederate symbols will make the U.S. a better place? 

I think that isn't even a step toward where we need to be. I can only hope that the children raised in these small towns have exposure to more open thinking - that they see blacks, Asians, Muslims, Jews, gays, and transgender people as humans. Just like them. Just. Like. Them. Because that's the only thing that's going to fix the problem of hate. 


Wednesday, June 10, 2015

When my husband is away...

Mike took Aly on a summer adventure - the second one since we returned from Jamaica, and this means I've been home alone and in charge of the house, and by extension, the dogs. Every time I move they jump up and follow me. I'm like the freakin' Pied Piper in my own house. Then there was the Kirby escape incident while I paid the pizza man. He's part whippet. Kirby, not the pizza man. That means he runs fast and far. But here's the latest.

I could not fall asleep. Part of it was the three Excedrin for my headache and part was excitement for my scrapbook trip with the girls Wednesday morning. I listened to white noise. I got a cold pack. I turned the tv off. I drank water. Then I had to pee. And for the first time EVER I peed in my bathroom in this house without turning the light on. No, I didn't miss the seat, but I tripped over the dog on the way to wash my hands. I could've cracked my head open, I told Charlie the border collie as he waited by the bed. But seriously, I dozed off finally around 1:30. And the dogs went bat shit crazy and woke me up soon after. I don't know why. Charlie acting like an axe murderer was in the house, and Scrappy yipping because he woke her up. I just yelled for them to shut up. Ugh.

More white noise. More water. So 2:00, finally asleep. Until 4:00. Charlie barked so loud I was in the living room before I was even awake. What is it boy? What's wrong?? And he brings me an effing hedgehog toy while Scrappy runs around him and yips. So I start to go back to bed, but realize Kirby isn't barking. Or running around. And I hear a whine.

I check to see if his fat butt is stuck under the bed. He likes the darkness under the bed, but Mike has been fattening him up so he can't run so far (not working, by the way), so his butt sticks out. No. The bathroom. I open the door and the stench of anxiety-crap hits me in the face. The trash is everywhere. Travel Yeti has been chewed (because I put my overnight bag in the bathroom to keep it away from the dogs). And there's a pile of crap in the middle of the floor. The carpeted part, not the tile.

So I clean up, thankful that it wasn't Charlie, because Yeti would be disemboweled and the cabinets would be chewed off. I head back to bed, and they're having a party. Reunited and it feels so good. It is like six tap dancing midgets in the living room. And they want to go out. Outside. At four in the morning. So I let them out. And in.

And then I get up at 6:00 and there's a pile of crap in the dining room.

This is why I need a vacation with the girls.

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Monday, May 11, 2015

"Coming Out" of My Head

My normal?

Crippling anxiety. Debilitating headaches. And living with my 'depression voice'. I named it that when I dealt with a particularly serious bout of depression in 2008. In the leadership class I teach, we call it negative self-talk. But just like my anxiety occurs on a grander scale than most and my headache isn't the same as your headache, this isn't normal doubt about your self-worth. This isn't being sad. It's not even that feeling when you lose a loved one. My depression voice speaks to me every day, every hour, telling me I'm not good enough. Telling me I'm a burden to my loved ones. Telling me life's not worth it. Luring me into dark, quiet rooms for three hour naps. The fantasy of television. The anonymity of the Internet. Pulling me into bed at night, with promises of a quiet sleep that never materializes. Keeping me from friends, from family, from enjoying the things I used to love, like scrapbooking and reading and blogging and leaving the house. Honestly, from leaving my bedroom.

I know what you're thinking. Wow, you need therapy.

You think? I've tried that.
Tell me how you feel. Like a big pile of crap.
Why do you think you have those feelings? I'm pretty sure it's a chemical imbalance in my brain exacerbated by stress. What is your job here?!
Have you ever thought of harming yourself? Like, who would say yes to that?!?! That's a one-way ticket to the loony bin. And don't think I haven't thought of taking that little vacation from reality. A few days of eating, sleeping, wearing pajamas, and chatting with a group of people who feel the same way? Sign me up!

Scientists have no idea how the brain really works. I recently learned there have been three theories around negative self-talk. (1) First, we decided you needed to find the events that triggered the thoughts in order to prevent them. Stress bad. Avoid stress. Oh. Easy. Ahem. (2) Next, the experts said we needed to just prove to ourselves the thoughts simply weren't true. I'll probably get a mediocre review with no bonus. False. My students trust me, people laugh at my jokes, and my survey scores chart higher than average. (3) The latest theory says that these thoughts are just chemical misfires in the brain that you can willfully ignore. I'm worthless. Hmmm, no I'm not. I'm not going to recognize that as valid. Next. Oooh, there's a shrimp sale at The Crab Crib! Duly noted. Next.

How is someone asking me how I feel going to help? How can I relate the last 25 years of my life to complete stranger and expect them to "fix me" all in the course of 50 minutes? When Aly was two, I tried a local therapist. He took my history at his desk with his back to me, verified that all my kids had the same baby-daddy, and condescendingly explained post-partum depression. I left his office in tears, feeling violated. He obviously didn't hear the part where this was my only normal newborn to toddler experience.

But you have a job, you think. How can you do your job?

True. I do have a job. A job that requires me at least every other week to get on a plane (or two) and stand up in front of a room of 100 newly hired people to teach them about our company. A job that starts at 7 AM and doesn't end until dinner is finished at 9 PM. And every other week I do that job. And I'm good at it. Actually, I'm great at it. I will be rated "exceeds expectations" this year.

Except some nights,during training weeks, I don't make it to dinner. Some nights, I collapse into bed at 6PM. Some mornings I wake up with a debilitating headache and a voice that tries to convince me to stay in bed. But I'd like to keep my job (because I once almost lost it, seriously), so I take a handful of Excedrin on top of my regular medication. Some lunches are spent in the ladies room, just breathing, trying to stop the shaking. And more than once I have frozen. Stopped mid-sentence. Looked at my co–facilitator and said "Can you take this?", and working with a high performing team, I've a gotten away with it. But most weeks, I do it. Most weeks, I'm a rockstar. Then I come home. And those weeks, those are the dark ones. It's like I only have so much energy, and I spend that energy at work. I spend that energy on "happy Tonya". And the real me is crumpled, broken mess. A ball of pain, and anxiety, and darkness. In fact, recently I've begun to wonder if my clinically diagnosed depression is actually bipolar disorder (also known as manic-depression). My work schedule may perpetuate the weekly cycling. Is it mania showing during my rock star work weeks? Am I just putting on a front those days I collapse into bed? If I trusted a therapist, maybe I'd go in for a new diagnosis. But for what? A label? Different drugs?

I know it's not fair. I know I'm shortchanging my family, my friends. Even myself. But I don't know what to do.
More drugs? I'm pretty sure my family doctor isn't going there. The last time I went in because I was feeling the slide into darkness, he asked the usual "hurt yourself or others" question and I gave the usual "of course not" answer. He said, and I am not making this up, "oh good. That really makes me look bad."
Therapy? Oh, I tried it again. My last therapist couldn't hold a normal adult conversation. She copied dozens of pages out of pop-psychology books and handed them to me at each of the two appointments I kept. She also recommended I do some Bible studies.
Ok, let's talk about Jesus. A random idiot on Facebook responded to a post about depression saying it was caused by spiritual warfare and depressed people just weren't praying hard enough. I do believe in God, and by extension, the spiritual realm. One of my favorite books is This Present Darkness by Frank Paretti, which tells the struggle of humans through the eyes of the angels that watch over them. But, NEWS FLASH, Christians can suffer from anxiety and depression just like they can suffer from diabetes or cancer or MS. The joy of the Lord is my strength. YEAH, and the chemicals in my brain are my weakness.

So do I just keep going? Can I? When will my energy run out? When will the darkness take over? When will it all just stop?


Sunday, May 10, 2015

Inside My Head

The Saturday that started as a normal day blurred into a Sunday, a Mother's Day, that wasn't. And now nothing's normal. Even a year later. Nothing.

Now, every "normal" day could be abnormal. Now, I can't fall asleep because of the racing thoughts in my mind. Now, random lines from songs play over and over in my head, like a broken record, keeping me from focusing. Now, I have horrible nightmares where the people I love won't speak to me, where they leave me, alone. Now, when I wake up, I imagine all of the horrible things that could go wrong with the day before I even sit up. My heart rate soars. I can have chest pains for days. It is hard to leave the house. I can barely drive a car. When my husband isn't home, he has to text me before and after he drives because I imagine horrible accidents taking him from me. I am perpetually on the verge of tears. I prepare to attend family events, dinners with friends, even trips to see my daughter, and invariably, I can't. I can't leave the house.

It's anxiety, you think. You can take medicine for that, you think.

I do, every night. If I don't, I'm completely out of control, a nervous wreck, wringing my hands, physically shaking, unable to stay still, but paralyzed with fear. Recently, due to poor planning on my part, I went five days without my anxiety medication. I couldn't make the simplest of decisions. I couldn't work. I lost one day to a migraine and had chest pains for three. I was terrified of driving to the doctor's office. After a 30 minute wait and three minutes with the nurse, I got to see the doctor, the general practitioner who was my mom's doctor too. "How's the medicine working? No side effects? Yeah, I gotta bring you in here every six months to be sure you're not - I don't know - dead. :eye roll: Obamacare." 90 seconds later I was on my way home to wait for the text from CVS. Quality healthcare in Nowhere, IN.

So, yes, medicine helps, but it's still not normal. It's just in your head, you say. Oh, I know. I know it's not rational. But I can't make it stop. People don't understand.

Try this: Imagine you are asleep while a loved one is out of town. Now imagine you are startled awake by a phone call from an unfamiliar voice identifying as law enforcement. Can you imagine that feeling, adrenaline and fear and confusion and helplessness? Capture that flash, that feeling. And imagine it continues for hours. For days. That's my normal.

And it's not just anxiety; it's chronic daily headaches. Yes, for nearly my entire life, every day my head would hurt. Just like my sister thought not seeing out of one eye was normal, or at least couldn't be fixed, I thought everyone's head hurt all the time and a headache was when it got really bad. About seven years ago I had an MRI (for another reason) and the neurologist discovered a Chiari I malformation (my brain hangs out of the bottom of my skull and compresses my spinal fluid). On the 1-10 pain scale, I usually have a constant "one" ache. Think of a headache you'd take drugs for. A hangover headache. A headache when you have a cold. Sinus pain. You might call that a two or three. That is my one. Every day, from the time I wake up until I fall asleep. It often moves to a two. At three, I take Excedrin (this would be your six, where you might go to the ER). Most days I don't take medication, I just deal, because the rebound when the medication wears off is worse than when it started. At four, I take Excedrin, a nap, and a cold pack into a dark room. A four or five can wake me in the middle of the night. This happened last week when I forgot to take my preventive meds the night before. 5:00am, awake to severe pain. It was too late to fix and I spent all day in bed. In a hotel.

In February, I had an eight. All day. Yes, where ten is childbirth without drugs (my first, trying to be tough), my entire head had a constant, sharp pain equivalent to 80% of that. Even swapping three Excedrin and three Motrin every two hours didn't provide any relief, To combat the pain, I pulled my hair, applied pressure with my knuckles, massaged my head and neck, slapped at my scalp, cried, and wished I was dead. Literally. Dead. These are the symptoms of cluster headaches. I don't know what causes these types of headaches. I cannot even identify a trigger for the worst ones.

I started taking Butterbur extract twice a day in March (on a recommendation from a learner who saw me devolve into a migraine in the middle of class and stagger out of the room), and rarely get anything above a three now. My neurologist recently adjusted my other medication, and the daily headaches are almost gone. Now I only have one or two headaches a week, and they don't last all day.

I still get the occasional migraine, where I don't necessarily have severe head pain but lose my vision, throw up, and/or hallucinate. I must immediately escape all light and sound. I can't watch TV or use a phone or computer. I can't read or write. I can't listen to music. I usually lose an entire day in bed. If I recognize the trigger (cologne, change in the weather, bright sunlight, high anxiety) in time, I can reduce the severity with a prescription medication that leaves me feeling foggy and unable to process my thoughts or have a lucid conversation. Yes, that is the better alternative.

That is my normal. Anxiety. Headaches. Oh, and depression. More about that next time.


Saturday, April 18, 2015

The Day That Wasn't Normal

It started like a normal day.

I wonder how many stories begin that way? Adventure stories. Love stories. 
Horror stories. 

This story.

I knew she was sick. She'd been sick for a long time. We'd been to the doctor, tried different medications. But I had been out of town all week for work, and my husband had been texting me. 
She isn't looking good. 
She needs to go to the doctor again. 
This might be the end. 
So when I got home, I knew I had to go. It was Saturday. He went with me.

The doctor said we had done everything we could. The doctor said it was clear that we loved her. The doctor said it was time to end her suffering. I put my hands on her as she drifted away. It was quiet, except for my sobbing. And she was gone. She wasn't even six years old.

We buried her in her basket with her name on the liner. We buried my sweet Cricket cat next to the roses a year ago on a Saturday. 

But that's not what made the day abnormal.

After I buried my cat, I went to the hospital - the people hospital. My mom was sick again. She had battled breast cancer for nine years, and it was back for the third time. She had gone to the emergency room via ambulance on Thursday, only a couple of days after the diagnosis, and now she was in the cardiac intensive care unit because of episodes of tachycardia. Even though we told them the mass in her chest was cancer and not pneumonia, the staff doctors believed it was pneumonia and would not let her eat or drink for fear of aspiration. We tried to keep her distracted with TV and conversation. 

For a while, we focused on the weather. There was a severe thunderstorm. The hospital alarms sounded. We had to draw the blinds. It was a microburst that caused severe damage, tearing part of the roof off of the high school in my small hometown. Mom was worried about a tree falling on the garage. We assured her everything was fine. We showed her pictures my cousin took of the damage. Still, she was fighting. Her prognosis was good. The ICU doctor said she could move to a regular unit in the next day or two. 

My husband called. Having lost his mother unexpectedly only two weeks before, he decided to go out of town for a few days. Everything would be back to normal soon. I kissed Mom good night, and told her I'd see her tomorrow.

The next day was Sunday, but it wasn't normal. It was Mother's Day. I called Dad, and he said she had gotten worse.  I contacted her cancer doctor and asked him to come to the hospital - he was not aware she'd been admitted. By the time I got there, she was frustrated but coherent. Dad was pacing the floor. I brought pictures from her recent trip across the country to the Grand Canyon, but I never got to show them to her. It all happened so quickly. Her breathing became labored. My sister came with her kids and flowers and presents for Mother's Day. Then the doctor came. He was puzzled by her heart condition. "You've thrown us a curve with this one," he told her, and they laughed. Then it got serious. Mom asked the doctor if this was it. She asked the doctor, was she dying. And the doctor said, "None of us can ever know the time, Judy." My other sister came and talked to the doctor in the hall. We didn't know what to do. Mom kept asking for Pepsi. I sneaked her a sip at a time from a medicine cup. 

She was restless, uncomfortable. Her breathing became ragged. She couldn't speak; everything was a whisper. Everything required so much effort. And suddenly, she was dying ... but how could that be?

Suddenly, they approved of Pepsi. The nurse said, "You give your mom anything she wants. The end is hard enough." I didn't understand. The end of what? They gave her medication for the pain. She gasped for breath. She became incoherent. And then, they pulled the curtains for privacy. And then I understood.

The three of us understood. Dad understood. There was nothing left to do. I called my husband. "Mom is dying," I sobbed into the phone. He was hours away; I felt so alone.

We three sisters held hands. We sang. First, religious songs and hymns. Then pop songs. Shania Twain. I don't know. Cher? We may have worked in "Row, Row, Row Your Boat". We were stunned. We were desperate. We told her it would be okay. We told her to go, that we would be okay. She wouldn't; she fought. She tried to get out of bed. She removed her oxygen mask. The nurse asked if we understood what would happen without oxygen. She turned off the alarms. 

Dad huddled on the couch or paced the tiny room, already grieving. I embraced him, "Well, we didn't expect this today." He could only shake his head, tears streaming. 

I prayed. I prayed for peace, our peace, her peace. I closed my eyes, and I prayed for something I could tell her, something I could do. And then I saw, like a dream in my mind, I saw Isaiah. My son Isaiah died at the age of two weeks in 1998, and when I let him go, I saw him meet Jesus. I saw him in his new body, just like I saw him now. And he was waiting for his Nana.

I held her. I held her head in my lap, and I told her she could go. I told her Isaiah was waiting. I told her he was the tall, strong, blond boy waiting at the gates of Heaven. He would take her to Grandma. He would take her to Jesus. And I told her to let go.

And, finally, she did.

It was quiet. The monitors showed her heart rate slowly decreasing. 

Then it stopped.

The Saturday that started as a normal day blurred into a Sunday, a Mother's Day, that wasn't. 

And now nothing's normal. Even a year later.