Sunday, July 10, 2016

This is Not Your Baggage

After I wrote this post, I felt a little vulnerable.  It was pretty raw, even for me.  Even so, I left it up.  What I have learned from writing this blog is that if it makes me feel nervous, it probably needed to be said, it will help me to have said it, and it will probably help someone else to hear it.  What I mean when I say it will help me is that anytime you speak about fear or shame, those feelings lose some of their power.

This time another kind of help came in the form of an email from a friend who reads the blog.  And this email was kind of a revelation--it really helped me understand these feelings that I have in a new way.  So I'm going to share some pieces of the email.

My friend wrote:

You have always been "enough."  It's your mother who fell short.  It's your mother who was so broken that she could not accept your unconditional love.  That's very sad for her.

It's even sadder that you internalized her dysfunction as your own because you're actually completely innocent in this regard....You have ALWAYS deserved to be loved and that continues to be true TODAY.

This is actually your mother's baggage and issues.  This dysfunction is not yours.  You've picked her baggage up and have been carrying it around...Maybe your mother's issues have caused you to do or think things that are outside of your true character (like believing you're not good enough).  But the source for that is still your mother.  It's still her baggage and you can choose to put it down at any time.

In other words, it's not my fault.

Holy crap.  It's not my fault.

It's like he was speaking directly to that little girl holding her tinsel wreath.  How powerful is that!

And I've honestly never thought of it like that before--as her baggage and not my own inadequacy.  My mother didn't treat me the way she did because there was something wrong with me that made me not good enough, not worthy of love.  She was the broken one, not me.  It's her baggage, and I can choose not to keep carrying it around.

Of course it's not that simple.  I bet I'll need a lot of therapy to figure out how to put down that suitcase.  My friend suggested writing a letter to my mother to give her back her baggage, which I am not quite ready to do just yet, but it seems like that could be cathartic at some point.

It's not my fault.  It's not my baggage.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Coming to Terms with My Sedate Summer Strength Training Plan

It took a couple weeks of working with the personal trainer at the gym in my hometown to come up with a personal training plan for the summer.  At one point she told me she's not used to training people who are in such good shape, and I am not even in good shape for me right now.  Between that and her concern about my back injury, which I keep explaining is all better now, I've ended up with the most sedate strength training plan I have had since I started strength training.

In the beginning I was frustrated.   To her credit, she was responsive to some of my concerns, adding more dynamic movements, for example, after I explained the kind of movement that is required in roller derby.  Here are the basics of my workout: I start with a long, dynamic warmup.  This is actually a class that the trainer teaches called "stretch and move" or something like that.  There's a lot of marching and coordinated arm and foot movements.  Like jazzercise or something, I guess.  There's also quite a bit of core work, which is good.  After the class is over, I do some basic free weight exercises, low weight/high rep.  Some stepping up and down onto a box, dead lifts and squats, things like that.  Then I do some upper body exercises on the machines.  There's this thing called a graviton.  I leave feeling like I've done some moderate physical activity, which is not how I'm used to feeling after a workout.

Overall, it's a better plan than I thought I'd end up with after our first meeting, but it's not at all what I have in mind when I think of personal training. Even so, I've slowly been coming to the realization that it's probably exactly the right plan for me right now given how physically and mentally exhausted I am from everything else going on this summer.  By the time gym time rolls around, I usually don't want to go.  But knowing that my trainer will be there waiting for me, and that my workout won't require the kind of mental energy it takes to train really hard make it easier for me to get there.  Meanwhile, I'm getting my share of heavier lifting carrying boxes and bags and furniture out of the hoarder house, and I'm doing my running for cardio.  I might not get back to my post-injury fitness level before the summer is over, but I can still feel like I'm at least making some slow, steady progress.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Miss Independence

Yesterday while cleaning out the pantry, I found this wreath in a drawer.  I made it in kindergarten and gave it to my parents for Christmas that year.  I think I remember being excited and proud to give it to them, but my mother also wrote that in my baby book, so maybe her words are what make me think I remember.

Either way, the idea of me as a child taking so much pride in such a simple gift brought me to tears.  (And the only thing that sucks worse than cleaning a hoarder house, in case you were wondering, is cleaning it while crying.)  I imagined all the innocent, childish love that would have gone into a gift like that, and the equally innocent and na├»ve belief that our gifts, however simple, will be accepted, will be enough, when offered with love.

This weekend, I cleaned for four days straight.  Today was Independence Day.  When I consider that I spent the last two Independence Days crying over men who broke my heart—the Oyster Farmer and the Summer Romance—I suppose crying over a relic from my distant past is better.  Except that tinsel wreath speaks so much to what I am feeling these days.  I think about everything I am doing this summer, and sometimes it starts to feel like some kind of cosmic penance.  If I can just prove to my family, my friends and the universe that I can do everything that’s asked of me, even if it’s hard, will it be enough?  Will I be enough?  Finally?

Independence Day, indeed.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

How I Spent My Summer Vacation, Part 2: Fitness

I've only been here eleven days, but I am working hard to establish a healthy routine.  Sleep is a constant struggle in my life, which I have written about from time to time.  In DC, my schedule is so unpredictable--out very late some nights, up very early some days.  For the last several months I have been taking antihistamines to help me sleep, which I know is not the best idea.  I vowed when I got to Maine I would get on a better sleep schedule.  I know from experience that, despite not being a morning person at all, if I force myself to get up early every day, and get some movement in, I'll be able to sleep at night.  That has been the case so far, and I have been working very hard to establish a schedule that has me up at 6:00 am and in bed by 11:00.

My plan for the summer is to run in the mornings three times a week.  I started that last week, and it feels good to have some physical activity out of the way before I do anything else.  On the days I'm not running, I am working on getting in the habit of taking a walk right after work.  It gives me the chance for a little quiet time outdoors and provides an energy boost that carries me into my evening chores of cooking and cleaning.

I also joined a gym last week and met with a personal trainer.  I’m planning to do strength training twice a week in addition to the workout I’m getting cleaning out the house.  To give you some idea of the physical demands of the cleanup, on Saturday I worked on cleaning out the second floor of the barn.  This involved throwing trash out the window and onto the roof of a one story addition on the back of the barn, then climbing up a ladder and throwing the trash off the roof into a construction dumpster.  I also made many trips down the stairs carrying out boxes for Goodwill.  It’s basically Crossfit, only dirtier.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

How I Spent My Summer Vacation, Part I: Feelings

It's not actually a vacation, this summer in Vacationland. In fact, it's basically two full-time jobs: My actual job, which I am doing every day via telework, and cleaning out my mother's hoard on nights and weekends.  Today and tomorrow, I'll share some of the things I'm learning, feeling and doing as I begin to get settled in.  Today's topic: Feelings.

Reaching Out
This is a very isolating and lonely experience.  I have found myself wishing, multiple times a day, that I had someone to talk to about it.  As a single woman, I have thought about how different this experience would be if I were still married and had that kind of emotional support.  That has been an interesting and challenging thing to think about.  In one way, it's empowering to know that I can do really hard things by myself.  On the other hand, it makes you think hard about your life choices and what you want out of the future.

One day it occurred to me that I'm not completely alone.  There are other people in my life who love me.  They are far away, but there's this thing called the internet.  So I started a little social media group with a handful of my dearest friends.  I can post stories about the crazy and emotionally wrenching things I am encountering every day, and they can tell me that they love me and everything is going to be ok.  I was a little afraid to do it at first--it's hard for me to ask for help, and I worried that people might not want to be in my summer support group, but one thing I am learning is that people who care about you are generally happy to help if you ask them.  It's just the asking that's hard.

Managing Introversion
Country people always talk about how loud the city is.  Maybe.  I guess I am used to traffic noise and the quietude of my apartment.  There are a lot of intrusions in the country.  In the house, there's the tv turned up loud for background noise, which I do not have back in DC.  There are family members stopping by to help while I am trying to work.  (Not that I'm not grateful for the help.)  There is a land line telephone, which seems to ring constantly.  Often it's scam robocalls targeting senior citizens, which is kind of appalling.  Sometimes it's family members checking in, which is perfectly lovely, but when the land line rings three times while you're trying to cook dinner after you've spent eight hours cleaning, you really just want to be left alone.  Last night I went to the beach, and I realized it was the first time since I arrived here that I just went off by myself to be an introvert and do something that didn't involve cleaning or running errands or something else that needed to be done.  I am going to try and do a little bit more of that in the coming weeks.  I have to remember this is a marathon, not a sprint.  I mean, it has to be a fast marathon because I don't have unlimited time to spend in Maine.  Nevertheless, in hoard cleanup as in fitness, I can meet my goals by doing a little bit every day and more some other days.  I can afford to take some downtime.

Ever since I got here, everywhere I go, I am hearing condolences from people who have no idea how complicated my relationship with my mother was.  I appreciate them, and I know they are well-intentioned, but the truth is, all I feel right now is anger.  When someone has treated you like dirt for most of your life and then left you with an unfathomable amount of actual dirt, which you have to put your life on hold to clean up, it is hard to feel much of anything else.  I can hear my mother whispering from beyond the grave--or, actually, from the table in the living room where her ashes currently reside until somebody (probably me) has time to plan the memorial service.  She's saying what I always knew, "I never cared about you or your life"  and "All this trash was more important to me than you were."  Condolences, indeed.

I remind myself I'm not doing this for my mother.  My father needs my help.  Sometimes I think about the year he was so sick, and how worried I was, and how hard I worked to help him get better.  One of the hardest parts of moving to DC was leaving him behind, and I am grateful to be here with him this summer.  When I see him playing guitar or working in his woodshop or talking to my nephew over Skype, I think to myself...these are all the things you lived for, Dad.  And it makes me happy.

Change is Hard
Sometimes you change your life, and sometimes life changes you.  This blog is all about how I changed my life, and how I work every day to shape it into the best life for me.  But this summer is about dealing with things that are mostly beyond my control and making the best of a challenging situation that I didn't create.  I know that living and processing this experience is going to change me. I'm not sure how, and I'm not sure who I'll be at the end of this summer.  But I do know I will have made it through one of the more challenging experiences of my life, and that will be something to be proud of.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

The Grief Workout

My mother died two weeks ago.

A couple of years ago, she was diagnosed with a genetic liver disease, a type of cirrhosis, and her health declined rapidly in the last couple of months.  Although I understood that she was dying, I didn't realize how quickly it would happen.  I had been planning a trip home to see her, but she died a week before I was supposed to go.  

There is a lot I could write about my mother's health.  She was overweight for much of her adult life and had high blood pressure and diabetes.  She struggled with mental illness.  When her cognition began declining several years ago, I thought it was some kind of early onset dementia caused by these health problems.  I spent a lot of time lecturing my mother about what she was doing to herself.  It never occurred to me that something else might be going on.  I guess it never occurred to her or her doctors either, until she passed out on the floor one day.  Although I'm sure her overall health and eating habits didn't help, the disease that killed her wasn't her fault.  

My mother and I did not have a good relationship.  I understand that complicated relationships produce complicated grief.  This is partly why I started therapy in April.  I had thought a lot about how I would feel when she died, but what I actually feel is different than what I'd anticipated.  There have been many times in my life, especially since my divorce, that I have felt unmoored--like some sort of lonely little boat floating away with nothing to anchor it.  But now I feel like somebody blew up the boat.  I look at myself and think, how is it possible you're still standing here?  Why haven't you dissolved or melted or blown away like a dandelion gone to seed?  Something irreplaceable has been lost.  And it doesn't matter that I know it was already lost, really, long before my mother died.  Now it is irretrievable.  

My mother was a hoarder.  I flew to Maine the day after she died to begin cleaning up the house.  I wish I had counted the number of bags and boxes I filled while I was there, not to mention the number of trips I made up and downstairs.  I do know at the end of a week, I had more than 30 bags of trash waiting for the garbage collector, and I took ten trips to Goodwill--a ninety minute drive, round-trip--in eight days.

There's more work to be done.  A lot more.  So I'll be spending the better part of the summer in Maine doing it.  I've gotten permission to telework for a couple of months, and I am very grateful to have a job that lets me do that.  When I'm not teleworking, I'll be cleaning.  It occurred to me that I couldn't have done this ten years ago when I was overweight and out of shape.  Maybe I was training for this, subconsciously, all along.

I've been thinking a bit about how to manage the summer, physically and mentally.  These last couple weeks when I was home, I was drinking way more coffee than usual to keep going and sedating myself with benadryl at night to sleep.  Clearly, I can't do that all summer.  I know I'm going to have to try and get on a good sleep schedule and pace myself with the cleaning, take a mental health day for myself every now and then.  And I'm going to need to eat well.  I've been eating my fair share of feelings these last few days since I got back to DC.  I mean, if you can't eat your feelings when your mother dies, when can you?  But to survive this summer, I am going to need nourishment.  

I don't know what I'm going to do for exercise besides carrying boxes.  I've had to retire from roller derby for the time being.  I was thinking I'd start running in the mornings like I used to.  I know at the end of the day I'm probably going to feel too tired to do anything.  I'm more likely to run if I get up and do it first thing in the morning, and doing that will also help me get onto a good sleep schedule.

Emotionally, I've accepted the fact that the grief work is going to have to wait.  My friend Robert texted me last week to ask if I was feeling my feelings, and I told him, "I'm doing that thing where you just keep moving and pretend you don't have any feelings."  This is something I never advocate.  I have written many, many times about how important it is to feel your feelings.  And I will.  Later.  Right now, there are other things to focus on, and I cannot afford to fall apart.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

My First Day of Therapy

I promise I’m not going to blog all about my therapy.  I mean, this blog basically already is therapy, but I’m sure some things will be said in the therapist’s office that probably shouldn’t see the light of day.  But I will blog about insights and experiences that I think will be valuable to other people. 

This one’s for my readers who have never been to therapy. 

Here’s one way you can tell it was probably a good idea to go to therapy: If you start crying before the therapist has even said anything besides hello, that probably means you need therapy.

I said, through my tears, to the therapist, “I feel so relieved to be here.”

We spent the hour talking about what brought me there and a bit about my family background and other significant relationships in my life.  At one point she asked me if I woke up tomorrow and everything was how I wanted it to be, what would that look like. 

That sent me off into a whole big fit of tears.  Thinking about it now, I am reminded of one night when I was still married and living in Maine, and I was riding in the car with my husband and beginning to describe for him the different life I wanted for myself.  It was the first time I had said out loud any of the desires that eventually led me to where I am in my life now.  And I remember crying so hard because I was so afraid to speak those dreams.  It is so painful to hope for things you don’t believe you’ll ever have, and at that time everything I was saying seemed impossible.

But those things weren’t impossible.  And some of those dreams came true.

I hadn’t realized, until today, the extent to which I had stopped believing in the dreams that haven’t come true yet.

I sort of already knew what cognitive behavioral therapy was, but the therapist explained it to me like this: First you change your thoughts.  That changes your feelings.  And that changes your actions.  The therapist’s role is to help you identify the unhelpful, untrue, limiting thought patterns (you know, that mental tape recorder I sometimes talk about) that don’t serve you and help you change them.

The therapist said, “I can tell you are a thinker.”