I’m still alive.

abHello faithful reader (s),

I am still alive. But barely. 2016 is an asshole of a year that I would very much like to forget. Of course there is the obvious. A putrid, orange piece of racist garbage was elected president of the United States. A woman who I have loved and admired for most of my life, was defeated. A woman who my daughter loved. Who my daughter wanted to see president. She lost to a man who bragged about grabbing a pussy without consent. So yea, 2016 is an asshole.

But 2016 was also something else. For me, it was life changing. As lame as it sounds, it was the first year of my life that I really and truly opened my eyes. I had a health incident happen towards the end of the year that changed everything. I am not going to go into detail, but I will say that after months and months and months and months of not listening to myself, not listening to what my inner self was fucking screaming for, it all came to a head. And my body basically said, “yea, I’m done here”. So in September of 2016, I started to listen. And I began to talk to professionals who could help me listen, who could help me really hear myself for the first time in more than 30 years. I’m still very much on this journey, I am far from finished. And so for that reason, I do not have the answers. I have not figured myself out. But I have learned this. And I think it is important for mothers, in particular, to hear this: You have to take care of yourself.

When you ride on an airplane they say “put the oxygen mask on yourself before putting it on your child”. That never made sense to me, even when I was a child. Why would the parent ever try and save themselves BEFORE helping their child? As a mother, I’ve thought a lot about that advice. We are told to, again, put the proverbial oxygen mask on ourselves before our children. In essence, we are being told to take care of ourselves before trying to take care of another life. Not because we are more important. Because we are only good at taking care of another, if we ourselves are healthy. And for the past several years, I have not been healthy. And it destroys me to admit this, but my children suffered the most because of it.

So while 2016 remains a relatively piece of shit kind of year (see: election of repulsive, vile dickhead), it was also profoundly life changing.

So yeah, I’m still alive.

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A wish to forget.

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So maybe I write about this a lot. Maybe I talk about it a lot as well. But for me, writing this blog is cathartic and freeing and so I’m going to talk about it. Again.

Sometimes I forget that I have a really bad disease. I blend in to those around me, I eat what they eat, I work out the way they work out. From the outside, everything looks fine. And because of that, I find myself forgetting as well.

I forget that my life expectancy is shorter than my husband’s or my best friend’s. I forget that my body is defective. That my organs don’t work right. That I will very likely face really scary complications at some point in my life. That I will face complications at some point in my life.

I think about my eleven year-old self. My gangly, unshaven legs, oversized pink Umbros and hand-me-down tee-shirt from my sister’s youth soccer tournament. I think about my face and what it must have looked like when my mom said “you have diabetes”. I think about my bony, undefined little girl arms as they received their first of thousands of injections. The way I cried and looked to my parents to make it better, to heal it, and I think about their faces as they realized that they couldn’t. I think about how it felt to walk into Junior High wielding a bag full of needles and blood glucose test strips. I think about how it felt to like a boy for the first time and to wonder if he would like me back, if he would think I was gross or scary or strange. I think about what it felt like to be hospitalized after a severe hypoglycemic episode, and how my friends knew, and how they looked at me when I came back to school that Monday. I think about the conversations their mother’s had with them. “Anna has a serious disease”; “You are to never give Anna candy or eat junk around her”; “Anna is very sick”.

I think about the years and years that followed. A life reel of frustration and grief and anger and self-pity. Of rejection and defiance. Of of pizza and binge drinking, cigarettes and late nights screaming through tears “Fuck This!!!!!” and “That’s it God. I give up!!!!!”. Of sadness at the realization that it’s never going away. That I will probably die of this disease.

I think about my feet and how much less feeling I have then I used to. I think about my eyes and how glossy and sore they get after a long day of high blood sugar. I think about my future and how there is no reprieve. No fucking break. There will never be a time when I don’t have to inject myself with something. I think about my skin and how much it hurts. How red it is from poking and poking and poking. How profoundly heartbreaking it is to have something broken inside of you. To have been made incorrectly.

And you know what? Today I feel sorry for myself.

I feel really scared about what’s waiting for me in the future. I feel panic to think of leaving my children or my husband without a mother or a wife. To leave my parents without a daughter. To be a sad story that my friends tell down the road.

And of all the pain, and all the fear, the anger, the worry, the frustration, the sadness, you know what is worst of all?

The undeniable fact that after writing this entry, I will put away my computer. I will take a deep breath, and then I will check my blood sugar, I will inject myself with insulin.

Again and Again and Again and God Damnit, Again.

And tomorrow, and the next day and next week and next month and next year and next decade, I will still be a fucking diabetic.

And all I want to do today is forget.

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Me and myself.

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I am in an unhealthy relationship with myself. And it permeates into so many crevices of my life. On some level, I’ve known for sometime that the way I see myself, the way that I value myself, is unhealthy. And yet I don’t change.

I’ve been reading Tara Brach’s “True Refuge” (https://www.amazon.com/True-Refuge-Finding-Freedom-Awakened/dp/0553807625) recently, and I’ve been trying to focus on the following two tenants:

  1. Everything that happens, everything that occurs in the world is utterly, completely and naturally devoid of emotion. Each occurrence, whether it be a death, a divorce, an illness or a change in employment, each occurrence is just an occurrence-a thing that has happened in the world that we just happen to inhabit. WE-the humans-attach emotion and feeling to these occurrences. We internally decide if a new job brings pain or joy or that a divorce is the right move or a disaster. So in other words, we are in control of how we respond to life’s occurrences. They are not innately sad or hard or joyful. They are just things…that happen…in our world.
  2. There is a process that we as humans follow, and for me at least, I have subscribed to it unknowingly for the past 33 years.  This process begins with a feeling. The feeling can be a twisting in our stomach, a pounding in our head, a speeding up of our heartbeat. It can also be a surge of serotonin-a burst of sunshine in our soul. Whatever it may be, the feeling occurs and is inevitably followed up by a thought. After the thought, comes the action. Here’s an example.

I got out of the shower yesterday morning and caught a glimpse of myself in our full-length mirror. I had a visceral response. A feeling in my stomach of discomfort. Of a big tangled ball being pulled apart slowly at each end. This feeling drifted up into my heart which began to beat faster. From there it moved into my chest and I felt that all too familiar feeling of anxiety. Of regret. Of shame. Next came the thoughts.

“You look fat.”
“Your stomach is saggy.”
“Other people who’ve been pregnant look better than you.”
“Why aren’t you skinnier?”
“You work out so hard, you try and eat so well, what a  joke. You’re an impostor.”

And then most importantly,

“You aren’t good enough.”

And then, the action. Even though I am a smart woman and I know that what I am about to do is wrong, I do it. I will skip breakfast. I will skip lunch. I will allow my blood sugar to rise (this surge causes your body to eat it’s own fat, you lose weight but you also slowly kill yourself). When the evening rolls around and my head is pounding from hunger and my energy is depleted, I will find myself standing in the pantry, stuffing food down my throat to try and raise my low blood sugar, to try and fuel a body that has worked out, worked a full day and is now expected to entertain and care for two perfect, beautiful little children. Children who mean everything to me. Children who lived inside of this wrinkly, stretched out stomach. Children who fed off these breasts. And I think about how I would feel if my daughter thought she was fat or ugly or worthless. It would kill me I know.

How do we break this cycle? We know-we really really really fucking know that we are incredible. That we are superheroes that grew people inside of us, that produced food to keep those people alive. That somehow these bodies wake up and work out and drive to work and work a full day and drive home and clock-in for the second job and love and care for the people in our houses. These bodies bend over and pick up crayons and legos and wash counters and feed dogs, and wipe butts and wash clothes and kiss boo-boos and band-aid scrapped knees. These bodies are the most important bodies in our children’s lives. These bodies are absolutely perfect in the eyes of our children. Why why why can’t we hear this? Why can’t we remember this as we gaze in the mirror at our various “imperfections”? Why can’t we fucking believe this?

Truth is, I don’t have the answer.

I am only just now beginning to understand the problem.

 

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Mother 1 and Mother 2.

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Inside of me lives two mothers.

The first is silly and creative and kind. She is patient. She is funny, she plays music and dances and makes art projects. She is good at her job. And  she is madly in love with her children. This mother craves her children throughout the day with an insatiable hunger for their touch, their voice, their selves. This mother’s heart lurches when the door to their room closes at night, signalling the end of another day with them-another day in a pool of days that will at some point in the future, cease to exist. This mother is sturdy and solid and knows in some part of her body that she is doing exactly what she has always wanted to do-exactly what she was put on this earth to do, and she is profoundly fulfilled.

The second mother is different. She is short tempered. She is irritable. She is tired in a way that she never knew was possible. She is angry and resentful and impatient and lonely. She isn’t sure that she should have become a mother. She isn’t sure that she is doing a good job. She isn’t sure that she will survive this moment, much less this life. This mother sits alone in a dark room and weeps for her old life. This mother leafs through old journals filled with worldly travels, romances and life-changing experiences-experiences that are long gone and likely to never return. This mother feels cheated. This mother feels shame.

Mother 1 and Mother 2 are consistently at battle.

The moment I wake up, I crave my children. I literally long for them. I run to their room to wake them up, all the while my heart is beating fast as I imagine hugging them, kissing them, being near them. I’m like a schoolgirl with a crush. The door opens and they smile and yell “Mommy!” as though they are genuinely surprised that I’ve come back. I hug them both and inhale their nighttime smell, kissing the tops of their messy haired heads. My son pulls my face to his and says “Mommy, I always have loved you.” My daughter kisses my nose and says “Mommy, is it the weekend time together?” My heart throbs. I feel as though I’ve never been happier, I’ve never felt more perfect and complete. I smile and scoop them up and head into the kitchen to begin breakfast.

And then I hear it.

“Nooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!!!!!!!!!!!!!! That was MINE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”
“Give it to me! I hate you!”
“I’m gonna hit you!!!!!!”
“I don’t like you anymore”

And just like that, Mother 2 begins slithering towards the surface. I take a deep breath. I sip my coffee. It will be ok. I can do this. I am a good mother, I say.

“Mommy, I don’t want breakfast.”
“Mommy, I don’t like you-I’m gonna hit you”
“I don’t want to do anything today”
“I don’t like anybody, I’m not eating”

And then the plate of oatmeal hits the ground. The cup of milk is turned over. The pancake is fed to the dog. The toy is thrown across the room. The hair is pulled. The crying begins. The whining has never stopped.

Mother 2 swallows me whole. My eyes turn red, my heart beats fast, the bile rises in my throat like lava. It spills out of my body as I turn and yell.

“Goddamnit!”
“What is wrong with you?!”
“Why do you always do this?!!!!!”
“Go to your room!”
“That’s it, we aren’t going.”
“I’m so sick of this crap!”

The moment the words leave my lips, I feel the sharp and familiar sting of regret. I watch as their faces absorb my words. Their little mouths turn under. Their eyes well up. Their shoulders slouch. The tears spill over and just like that, my throbbing heart is breaking.

“Are you still mad Mommy?” a little voice asks me.

“We are sorry Mommy.” she says.

“Do you have a ed-ache Mommy?” they wonder.

Two pairs of eyes watch me. Two pairs of eyes, waiting, hoping, wishing for me to smile and to comfort them and to love them.

“No, mommy has to go to the bathroom” I say.

I retreat to any empty room in the house and weep. I hate myself. I hate myself. I hate myself. I am terrible. I should be stripped of my duties as a parent. They hate me. I don’t blame them. I can’t do this. I can’t do this. I’m sick of it, I’m failing at it. I can’t do this. I sob into a pillow.

But Mother 1 begins to claw her way back. She is strong like that. She reminds me that I am tough, that I don’t believe in giving up. That I am good enough. That I am trying. And that I can actually do this. I take a deep breath, I swallow Mother 2 into my belly, into the recesses of my body, to be ignored for another day. I step out of the room and listen.

“I am eating all my breakfast up. But I will share with you if you want?”
“Thank you. No thank you I am full now. Let’s be kitty cats.”
“Ok, you can be a kitty cat first.”
“Ok, we can be kitty cat friends together”

And just like that, I’m back.

 

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Lucky to be at a loss for words.

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I have written and erased the beginning of this post multiple times. Because I am at a loss for words. People use that expression so frequently without stopping to think what it really means. Being at a loss for words. Feeling so much inside but somehow lacking the ability to find words to capture the emotion. And so you sit with the feelings, and they swirl around inside of you-touching your heart and your mind and your fingertips. And you open your mouth to reflect, to say something to summarize what is going on inside of you, but you can’t find the words because words are insufficient and empty.

Yesterday news broke that Alton Sterling, a husband and a father, had been fatally shot by a white police officer in Baton Rouge (http://abcnews.go.com/US/slain-baton-rouge-mans-son-breaks-mom-addresses/story?id=40370065). And later that afternoon, his wife got to stand in front of reporters with her 15 year-old son weeping by her side and discuss “what happened”. What happened was her husband was murdered. What happened was that child’s father was murdered. Plucked from this earth because his life is considered less important, less valuable than others.  This morning, driving back leisurely from my morning workout, not a care in the world, I got a Google alert that Philando Castile had been stopped for a broken taillight and  fatally shot in front of his girlfriend and her four year-old daughter (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2016/07/07/minn-cop-fatally-shoots-man-during-traffic-stop-aftermath-broadcast-on-facebook/).  I sat in the driveway watching my two white children run through the backyard, collect sticks, pick up acorns and race their bikes. I looked specifically at my white son and watched him dance and wiggle and shake through the morning sunlight.Through a system built to protect him-built to prioritize him-built to value him above others. And that’s the goddamn truth isn’t it? The system that we operate in, values my son’s life more than that of our neighbor’s son who is black and the same age. I cried in the car while I watched him and then I felt guilty for crying because I’m not the one suffering. I’m the one with a son who the cops don’t want to kill.

Parents know what worry feels like. That soul-crushing anxiety that wakes us in the night like ninjas ready to battle and destroy anything trying to harm our children. The worry that keeps our heart beating fast and our mind racing. We worry about molesters, child predators, tornadoes, car wrecks, drunk drivers, cancer, drugs, bullies, school pressure, eating disorders, terrorism, depression, mental illness and so on. It’s terrifying to be a parent.

But you know what I don’t worry about? What has never crossed my mind? What has never woken me in the night sweating?

That a police officer will shoot my son. That a police officer will fail not only to protect my son, but put him in harm’s way. That is mother fucking privilege. 

On those occasions when I wake from sleep, worrying about terrorism or tornadoes hitting my children, my cortisol rises. My heart rate speeds up. My blood pressure soars. My organs suffer. And then I reassure myself that everything is ok, that we are safe, that we have resources, that we have money, that WE will be ok…and I go back to sleep. My cortisol lowers, my heart rate slows down and my blood pressure decreases. My organs are healed. When a person is consistently worried, when a person is consistently inundated with trauma-with images of people who look just like their children being murdered in cold blood, their cortisol doesn’t lower. Their heart rate stays up. Their blood pressure continues to soar. Their organs continue to suffer.  I had a black friend tell me once that being black felt like “their insides were like a car that had the gas pedal revved at all times”. I don’t feel that way. I don’t spend my life, my days on this planet feeling that way. Why? Because I’m white.

And today I find myself at a loss for words. And let’s not forget, being “at a loss for words” after two more African-American men are murdered is in itself a fucking privilege. I can be “at a loss for words” because I don’t have to sit my son down tonight and warn him about the dangers of sitting in a car while black; walking down the street in a hoodie while black; being stopped for a broken tail light while black.

And if that isn’t the definition of privilege, I don’t know what is.

 

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A letter to myself.

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Dear self of 2016,

First and foremost, you are doing a great job.

You spend countless nights tossing and turning, worrying that you aren’t doing enough, that you aren’t making enough, that you simply aren’t…enough. You worry that the day flew by and that you never stopped to be in it…to relish in it. You worry that your babies are growing up and that the one job you have ever truly loved with all your heart-being a mother-, will be over soon. You worry that you yelled too much and loved too little. You worry that you failed. Again. And again. And again.

You worry that you aren’t where you “thought you would be” in life. That at 33, you would have been bigger and better and more impressive. That you would be this perfect package of patient mother, skinny wife and impressive professional. You long for the days of the past. “If only” you think. “If only I could go back to being first married…to being pregnant…to having babies…to having toddlers…to having…”. You are haunted by “if only’s”. Your stomach lurches and your heart races at the idea that you are getting older. That your kids are getting older. That your parents are getting older. You wonder where the time went. And then you hate yourself for falling into that trap. Somehow acknowledging it makes it real. You know where the time went. It went to long walks and snuggles and diapers and stomach viruses and kisses and absolutely perfect moments and absolutely horrible moments and zoo trips and beach trips, and pediatrician visits, and car rides and silly songs and silly faces and nighttime routines and bath time. It went to changing seasons and to holidays. Those moments that you miss so dearly and that you long for, those moments are LIFE. And right now Anna? THIS is life. And while you roll around in your bed at night, worrying about what was and what will be, you are literally, literally fucking missing what IS. What IS RIGHT NOW.

So hear me. You are doing a good job. You are enjoying the day. You are fun and spontaneous and silly with your children in a way that your mother was. And her mother was. You are working out, you are eating well, you are enjoying your children and loving them and loving your husband. More than anything, you are trying. You are putting in the work. And while you may suffer at the surface with depression and anxiety and fear, in the deepest corners of your body, you are genuinely, profoundly happy. You are doing well at work. And if you aren’t where you thought you would be, that is fucking OK. Because there are no rules about where you “should be”. And if there are, they are stupid and bullshit. You are where you are-where you are supposed to be-doing what you are doing and on some level, what you are supposed to be doing. Believe that. Be ok with that. More than anything Anna, be here now. Be here now. Be here in the good, be here in the bad, be here in the “I won’t survive this” as much as you are here in the “I’ve never been happier”. Because this right here is life. And it’s yours to live.

You are enough.

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Chronic.

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And another year goes by. 365 days.

One year ago, I wrote a post “celebrating” the fact that I have had type 1 diabetes for 20 years. This week, it becomes 21 years. And it’s made me reflect on what the word “chronic” means. Chronic illness, chronic sadness, chronic pain. If you’ve never suffered a chronic condition, you have no idea what it does to the body and to the mind. To your view of the world, much less your view of the day in front of you. It eats at you like a fungus. Some days, you forget it is there and for just a moment you feel normal. And then the next day, with no warning at all, it starts to nibble away at your hope, your faith. You view the day as a challenge, as something you just need to get through, as opposed to something you celebrate and relish. Getting out of bed feels impossible. Smiling, talking, interacting with the outside world feels inconceivable.

And it doesn’t necessarily show to the outside world. Your friends and your family can’t see your chronic illness. People are often shocked when they see my pump for the first time, or observe a dramatic low blood sugar incident. In some ways, that makes the struggle easier because I can hide, I can pretend, and most importantly, I can blend in. Other days, it makes it harder. I look at my husband or my sister or my friends and I want to scream, “you have no fucking idea how hard this is. you will never understand what this feels like.” But I don’t, because at the end of the day, it is mine. And it has been now for 21 years.

A week or so ago, another Facebook post came out about how “close” researchers are to finding a cure for type 1 diabetes. Those of us with the disease know how this feels. We’ve learned to curb our excitement. We know these are more often than not, empty promises. Don’t get me wrong, there aren’t words to describe my  appreciation for these brilliant researchers. But I have also had this disease for most of my life. I can no longer remember a time when I didn’t prick my finger, or calculate carbohydrates, or suffer through a debilitating episode of high or low blood sugar. This disease of mine is as much a part of me as my left arm or my ankle or my eyes. That, that right there is the definition of “chronic”. My disease reaches back into my earliest memories and taints basketball games, sleepover parties and hospital stays. My disease reaches in front of me, intertwined with my children growing up, going to college and growing old with my husband.

And yet these times of desperation are episodic. They come and they go. And on the other side is something much nicer. When the episode concludes, and I wake in my bed and the sun is shining and my heart is healed, a perspective that very few in life are granted emerges. The blessing of a day in which everything works. A day where I don’t have a migraine, my blood sugar is steady, my anxiety and depression in check, and I am reminded what a beautiful life I have been given. The two children that I fought for and that make every finger prick and every injection and every sobbing cry worth it hold my hand and tell me “You is a good mommy”. And I emerge a better version of myself. My skin is thick and my resolve to survive is stronger. I feel better than my disease. I feel stronger than my disease. It doesn’t own me, rather I own it.

And I know I can conquer it, if not today than tomorrow.

 

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