Highly Sensitive Introvert

I’ve always been a super sensitive person. It’s actually something that I’ve always hated about myself because the sensitivity adds so much to my battle with depression. An animal laying on the side of the road will almost instantly evoke tears. A sad picture or commercial–especially one involving animals–will bring tears and haunt me for weeks. This past winter there was a commercial that aired for the Humane Society. Every time it came on, I would have to leave the room, and my husband would still mute the television so I didn’t hear it. The problem, though, is I knew what was playing and tears would come regardless of the measures I tried to take to avoid the emotions.

Recently I saw something that has left sad images burned in my brain. I won’t go into details–they are too sad to recount. That incident, though, sent me into a downward spiral of depression. I was researching, for the millionth time, natural remedies for depression when I came across an article that discussed how many people who are introverted, like I am, an also be classified as highly sensitive. The article was like a light bulb switching on in my brain. The characteristics listed for the highly sensitive person (HSP) described me to a tee. Traits of an HSP include:

  • feelings of not fitting in
  • social interaction can be draining
  • needs stillness
  • overwhelmed easily
  • takes on feelings of loved ones (yeah–I am so guilty of this with my kids difficulties)
  • deep connections with nature
  • introverted
  • forms deep bonds with animals

That last one sealed the self diagnosis for me. I literally avoid the back wall of PetSmart because the cats in the cages waiting for adoption make me so sad.

Living as a HSP is not an easy thing. I probably cry more than the average person. My heart breaks when the hearts of those I love break. When my teenagers got their heart broken, my heart broke as if I was the one hurt. I still shed tears over the loss of my beloved cat, Molly, and our dog, Yogi–both have been gone over a year. But, by far, the hardest aspect of living as an HSP is the fact that few around me really understand the depth of emotion that I bring to the table of life. Sometimes, when I think about living the rest of my years with that kind of emotion, it can cause such discouragement. For whatever reason, though, this is the way I was created so I have to continue to live. Well, I guess I don’t have to, but the alternative is frowned on.

I sometimes think about the day I enter heaven. I have always hoped that I will be able to meet the animals that I shed tears over on this earth. Bunnies, deer, squirrels, turkeys, geese, ducks, the black bear we saw on the side of a Wisconsin highway, and, of course, the pets I have lost–I hope they are all waiting for me when I finally leave the sadness of this earth and enter a land with no more tears. I want to hug and hold them all…and let them know that while some may not have cared enough to avoid hitting them or hurting them, I loved them more than most.

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Old Me

Recently, I reconnected with a friend from years back.  As we got together to catch up on years gone by, I was struck with how young this person looked despite the fact that we are the same age. I’m not sure what, but something in the last few years has accelerated the aging process in my body. That fact was confirmed last week as I sat and got a much needed haircut. As my hairstylist blew the cut hair off the apron that covered me, I couldn’t help but notice that the majority of the hairs were gray. A quick glance in the mirror when I got home revealed deep wrinkles and age spots on my face and even more on my neck. Discouragement set in quickly as I thought about the inevitability of the aging process–at least for some of us I guess.

I’ve heard all the words of wisdom about aging–how gray hair is a sign of wisdom and growing old is inevitable but growing up is optional.

Newsflash: at least for me, those sayings are crap.

Sometimes I feel like I just graduated from college or just became a mom. Sometimes I forget that I’m not 21 anymore. Well, I forget until I wear myself out trying to do something that I used to be able to do with ease. I remember, like it was yesterday, being a high school soccer player, running to the practice field a mile away, putting in 2 hours or so of practice, and then running back to the school. Fast forward a couple years. As a college soccer player, the long days of classes coupled with the long nights of studying and working full time didn’t take anything away from the energy I had to give on the soccer field. Even after getting married and becoming a mom, I coached my kids’ soccer teams and played on an adult team once a week in addition to the rigors of keeping a house clean and homeschooling.  Now, just typing all this out exhausts me.

Now, when I look in the mirror, I don’t like what I see. Sometimes I don’t even know the person looking back at me. I was talking to a friend one day and this subject came up. He is much younger than I am but said that even he sometimes forgets that he is getting older. Yes, I chuckled when he said that given that he is probably the same age as my oldest son. (Gosh, that makes me sound even older–I have a son who is older than 25) My friend said that he believes the reason we tend to often forget that we have grown older is because we were created as eternal beings. In other words, our natural inclination is to know that we are going to live forever and it is the body that is wasting away–not the soul. I get that. I even believe it. Still, as I push my limits each day at the gym in hopes of achieving a fraction of the fitness level I once took for granted, I can’t help but feel down about the thought of never reclaiming youth. To add insult to injury, yesterday we went to brunch for Mother’s Day…our waitress charged the senior price for my meal. I wish I could have laughed about it like my family did. I pretended to, but inside it was one more crushing blow to a weary body.

Ponce de Leon set sail for the New World in search of a fountain of youth.

The book Tuck Everlasting revolved around the idea that a potion was found that would keep someone at the age they were once they drank it.

Beauty companies like Loreal and Olay produce products they claim will give one back the natural beauty that was once held effortlessly as a younger version of themselves.

Walmart has an entire aisle devoted only to hair color products, each one promising to hide the gray that may be adorning the head of the consumer.

Companies like Sephora and Cover Girl produce makeup that promises to hide the lines of aging and make one’s face youthful again.

The list could go on.

As I left the hair salon, as has been typical lately, I found myself fighting back tears once again. Each haircut takes away more of the natural brown color of my hair and leaves me with more gray. The thought repeatedly creeps in that maybe I should bite the bullet and color my hair. The only reason I haven’t done that yet is because I know, once I start, it will need to become a regular action. Not only do I not want to devote the time every month to sitting in a chair while my natural hair color is restored artificially, I don’t want to spend the money that involves either. I mentally have added what a monthly hair coloring would cost and, honestly, I can think of better places to spend that money–like spoiling my grandson or treating myself to something that I have cut out of my diet. In addition to these things, where does one stop at the expense of trying to reclaim youth? Do I spend hundreds of dollars then on a cream that promises to take away my aging look? Do I have injections or plastic surgery so that I can look like a woman instead of an old woman? I’ve seen Hollywood celebrities who have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to look young; after a while, it doesn’t matter what you do. Age is going to happen and it is going to catch up with you.

Are there advantages to growing older? Definitely. But those advantages do not seem to outweigh the disadvantages for me. Society loves youth. The plethora of products claiming to return youth to the aged proves that fact. The rate of married middle aged men who leave their wives for younger women proves that fact. Television shows and commercials starring young, beautiful, fit people proves that fact. The loneliness of elderly people in nursing homes proves that fact. There doesn’t seem to be much incentive to live once old age sets in. For someone like me, who seems to be aging faster than my peers (who seem to look ten or more years younger than me), it is just another battle to fight–a battle that requires strength that just isn’t there.

I wish I could figure out why some grow old but do not seem to age. Perhaps there is no secret; instead, maybe it is just God’s blessing on their bodies. Today, I will once again avoid the mirrors in my home. I will avoid having my picture taken–why give myself a permanent reminder that I am no longer the person I used to be? I will spend time, again, contemplating why my friend still looks like she is in her twenties or thirties while I look like I am in my fifties or sixties. I will rationalize that I am a grandma after all, so I am supposed to look old. I will try to push out of my mind the images to which I compare myself. I will wonder, for the millionth time, why I am still alive given the limitations I seem to have mentally and physically. And, hopefully, at the end of the day, I will remember that age eventually catches up with everyone.

I just didn’t run as fast as some I guess.

 

Posted in Change, Culture, depression, empty nest, Grandma, Grandson, loneliness, MS | Leave a comment

The Lost Art

We live in an age of instant communication. Social media sites like Facebook and Twitter and Google Plus allow us to instantly communicate whatever happens to be on our minds and hearts. Did you and your spouse have a date night that was an absolute blast? With the click of a few keys, your happiness in wedded bliss is shouted out to all your “friends” and followers. Did you have a bad day at work ? With the click of some keys your “friends” and followers can know that tonight may not be a good night to tell you that your boss gave you an extra week of vacation–paid!

It’s always interesting to me to read my Facebook news feed. Some people share very little personal information but strive to make sure all their “friends” know their political position through their re-posting of news articles or the like. For some, they may not even have read what they posted but the headline of the story aligned with their beliefs so on their timeline it goes. Some people share everything positive about their lives. Their timelines glow of reports of Johnny winning his school’s highest award for excellent behavior and many pictures of Johnny with his award. They are quick to post how Susie graduated from college with highest honors all while volunteering thirty hours a week for a non-profit global impact organization that strives to impact our world in positive ways… Okay. Still others post every time something changes in the day. Their post may read “Just had lunch with my bestie!” at 1:45 and then at 2:00 they update again, “Just got home. Now to tackle that awesome Bible study I’m part of!” and then at 4:00 they update again, “Wow, Bible work today was so eye opening! Thank you __________ for leading such a wonderful study!” (and of course they tag the person leading) and then at 5:00…you get the idea.

I’ve written before about the darker side of social media. For me, that dark side involves the emotions perpetuated by reading all the happiness in the lives of my friends and those I follow. Now, don’t get me wrong. I think it’s great that people can be happy–that life is handing them sweet lemonade instead of sour lemons. I seldom thought twice about a status that read something like, “I am SO blessed because __________________…” I’m sure you can fill in the blank with something you have seen on social media. I’m not sure I agree with the usage of the word “blessed” there but that is for another entry. This week, though, I saw something that made me re-think some of those types of statuses. One of the sites I follow is a meme site. Each day, sometimes several times a day, I will see a picture in my newsfeed with a funny caption. The post is usually intended to give the reader a chuckle over something. This particular post was simply a word poster that read,

“I can only hope that someday my life will be as good as my Facebook statuses claim it to already be.”

I read that and had to smile. Studies have been done that show the majority of Facebook users only post the good and happy things about their lives. In fact, one person admitted to having two Facebook accounts. The first account she used to post all happy things. The majority of her friends on that account were former high school and college friends. These friends would see a happy smiling wife, a mom who seemed to have it all together with children who were smiling. Her other account was where she posted more honestly. Her friends on that list were mostly family and people who saw her on a regular basis. In essence, this person was living a lie, at least in part. For whatever reason, she didn’t want those who knew her as a younger person to think she was not successful.

I am definitely not in that camp. In fact, I probably go too far in the other direction. I am very real in my Facebook posts…and I have been criticized and have lost friends because of it. In all honesty, I don’t have the energy to pretend to be something that I’m not. Being who I am and living with the demons I live with (depression and MS–not my husband) exhaust my energy resources usually by lunchtime each day.Do things happen in my life that make me happy?  Definitely. A scroll through the photos section of my Facebook page reveals many occasions where I have found happiness–usually in the form of a little boy who, when he is old enough to talk, will call me grandma, my own children, my husband, and my furry kids. But I definitely do not hide the raw emotions that constantly bubble at the surface of my life. Daily pain, sadness, and loneliness often are revealed in the status updates I post. I can understand how that makes some people uncomfortable. They are sometimes quick to tell me that I have so many things for which to be thankful and I should have joy and happiness…

The thing is, I know I have much to be thankful for. This blog is not my only writing outlet. I still enjoy the old fashioned way of writing–pen on paper–and I do so daily in several journals. One of those is a thankfulness journal. In it, I discipline myself to find 2-3 things each day for which I am thankful. Some days the same things are repeated, but that’s okay to me for that means I am still thankful for them. I also write even more honestly in one of my journals, describing the pain, sadness, and especially the loneliness that accompanies living with chronic illness. I often wonder about the day I die–will my family read these writings and fully and finally understand what life inside this broken body was like? I’ve often thought about burning them at the beginning of each new year, thereby sparing my family any hurt upon my death. Maybe my writings will not impact them at all. I have no way of knowing. Regardless, I plan to continue to write.

Writing and music are two powerful forces in my life. I could get lost in both of them for days, ignoring the world around me. Writing with pen and paper is a lost art that I do not intend on losing. Facebook may have its place in my life. Without it, the world of my “friends” wouldn’t get to see my precious grandson–that would be unfortunate for them! And I refuse to change the way I post on Facebook. I live a real life–full of pain and sadness. I won’t pretend that I don’t. But I also refuse to give up the therapy of writing where no one can see the words…where what is written is between me and the page to be filled, and when that is complete, to close the cover and know that it will be waiting for me the next day, helping me to maybe come to terms with the hell that is often my life.

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A Giving Tree

When my kids were little, we had a book titled The Giving Tree. I can still see the cover of that book. It was mostly green with a black and white picture of a tree and a human figure. The storyline is a tree that meets a young boy. The boy wants to play so the tree gives him his branches on which to swing. The boy grows and the tree always offers him something. Soon, the tree has given everything–all that’s left is a stump. The boy is now an old man and can no longer play anyway. The tree tells the old man to sit and rest on what is left–it is all he has to give. Although I understand the premise of the story, it is a sad read.

It is also sadly true.

It seems life goes by quicker as we grow older. We spend our current season wishing for the next one. When the next one comes along, we are no longer satisfied and are looking ahead to the next one. I know I have been and am very guilty of this. When my children were babies, I couldn’t wait for them to sleep through the night. When they were big enough to do that, I couldn’t wait for them to understand how to sit on my lap and actually listen to a story. When that time came, I couldn’t wait for them to be big enough to play on their own…I could go on and on.

But back to the tree.

Right now I feel a little like that tree. For over twenty years, I have given to my husband and children. There were days I literally thought I would drop over from exhaustion, especially in the years where all four kids were under five years old. I also felt that same exhaustion when the calendar was full of soccer schedules, softball schedules, band schedules, etc. The majority of my days were spent in the van. I kept food in the glove compartment for the times I would inevitably be waiting for a kid. Regardless of the busyness of the day, dinner still needed to be prepared and I still had a husband who needed me. Oh. And a house that needed to be cleaned–and I didn’t live with neat people nor did my people clean! I remember thinking that when all the kids moved out, I would finally be able to get some rest. The kids did all eventually move out and I have been able to have days of rest. While the physical demands have decreased, the emotional demands have increased. That may not be an issue given normal circumstances. If you have read much of what I’ve written, though, you know I do not live under normal circumstances. My body has been invaded by two diseases that feed off of each other. Many days it’s all I can do to convince myself to get out of bed to battle the pain another day.

I am still a mom and a wife. I am also a grandma now. And I don’t want to let anyone down. I do my best to make sure my family gets everything they want from me.  Like the tree in the story, I will give and give until there is nothing left to give. If for some reason I cannot, the guilt that weighs me down is indescribable. Last week, for example, I had told my daughter that we would keep our grandson overnight and the next day so she and her husband could have some much needed away time. In the days leading up to that time, I was not doing well. I was battling a huge cloud of depression in addition to physical symptoms from MS. I wasn’t confident I would be able to follow through with my promise. The guilt and self-hatred hit hard. I hated what this disease had done to me and what it had taken from me. Mistakenly, I took to Facebook to vent my feelings. I should know better. People read a sentence or two of raw emotion, not knowing the entire back story, and quickly make a judgment as to how I should feel or not feel. MS and depression are lonely diseases. The raw emotion that forces its way out during times of guilt and stress pushes people away. One piece of advice I have learned from people who are farther down the road with this illness than I am is that illness will show your true friends–expect to lose people as you walk the road of illness. I sat in my chair and sobbed at the thought of disappointing my daughter. There was no way I could let that happen. Knowing that fatigue could be relieved a little by rest, I retreated to the bedroom to take a nap, hoping that upon awakening I would feel the strength to keep our precious grandson as promised. In the end, I did get to keep him. It was so much fun! We went to the park and played and read books…and made precious memories that he won’t remember, but I will treasure forever! Was I tired? Definitely. Was it worth it? Oh yes!

I wish disease was not a part of my life. I always wanted to be a younger grandma so that I would have tons of energy to do all the grandma things I never got to experience as a kid. I want to go to the park, play catch, cook in the kitchen–make memories with my grandson that he will treasure long after I am gone. I get angry that MS has taken some of that hope from me. Sometimes I feel like the stump of the giving tree. No one has any use for an old stump. Thankfully, the squeal of delight when little man sees me, the smile when I sing You are my Sunshine, the way he holds his arms out for me to take him–all these things make me feel that maybe, even though I have little left to give most of the time, I still serve a purpose.

I hope I can continue to be all my family needs me to be. I also hope that if a time comes when I cannot, they will understand that it affects me in a much more profound way than they could ever imagine.

Posted in depression, famiy, Grandma, Grandson, loneliness, MS, Parenting | Leave a comment

Wishing

“I wish I understood things better than I do.
I wish I had made better choices in so many areas.
I wish my dad was still around to talk to.
I wish I could re-live my kids’ childhood.
I wish I could re-live my own childhood.
I wish my family of origin wasn’t so messed up.
I wish I had better coping skills for the daily pain that lives with me.
I wish I could grow a garden.
I wish doctors could figure out what is wrong with me.
I wish I wasn’t so sensitive.
I wish I was a better mom.
I wish I knew what my gifts are…if I even have any.
I wish my above wishes could come true but since wishing doesn’t work that way for real, I will keep on keeping on as best I can.”

The above showed up this morning in my Facebook memories. I wrote it originally in 2008. At that point in time, all my kids were living at home. My oldest hadn’t even graduated from high school yet. I was homeschooling. I was a theatre mom, a soccer mom, a choir mom, band mom, marching band mom…the list could go on. Reading the above wish list, I see that pain was a part of my life at that point and doctors had not been able to figure out what was wrong. Fast forward eight years to present day 2016 and that mystery has been solved. It was actually solved in 2013 when a doctor told me the reason for all that had been plaguing me for the previous several years (and probably before that). As you may know, that reason turned out to be MS.

What struck me as I read this list, though, was that many of my wishes are still the same.

There isn’t a day that passes without me thinking about my dad and wishing I could talk to him again.

My wish for a garden came true for a short time. I did enjoy growing vegetables that eventually made their way onto our table and into canning jars to be preserved for when winter’s chill dominates. That is no longer a possibility, though, having left the house and the garden beds behind, exchanging them for a townhouse where there is no land and rules against raised garden beds on the property.

Sensitivity is still an issue. Just this past weekend, fresh tears fell as we passed a rabbit dead in the street. I imagined him innocently hopping out into the road and suddenly being hit by a passing motorist. Even as I type that line, I fight back tears.

I once thought that growing older would bring the fulfillment of most of my wishes. Sadly, that has not been the case, at least for me. In fact, I could probably add to my list of wishes.

The last line is also still true. I know merely wishing something doesn’t bring about fulfillment. I also know that sometimes the things we wish for will always only be just that–wishes. That leaves me with a hollow feeling, though. You see, sometimes the pain, both physical and emotional, is just too much. In my mind, I visit the place where wishing draws me away from reality because the alternative to retreating to that wishful place is not pretty. To keep going, though, is sometimes difficult. It sometimes takes every ounce of strength I have to make myself continue this path of life that is often difficult.

One foot in front of the other. Stumble. Fall. Get back up, a little slower but up none the less. Right foot. Left foot. Suppress the fear that looms large and tells me I’m going to fail anyway so why try. Ignore the voice that tells me to just throw in the towel, that life is not worth it. Sometimes that voice is really loud. Other days I barely hear it. Keep walking because wishing isn’t going to keep me in the game.

Posted in depression, empty nest, faith, famiy, fear, loneliness, MS | Leave a comment

Fear Knocks Loudly

I have a beautiful grandson.

He brings sunshine to the darkest days. When I go to my daughter’s home to visit or pick them up to go somewhere, he squeals loudly when he sees me walk in the door. He holds his arms out for me to take him.

To say I love him to the moon and back would almost be an understatement because I’m pretty sure I love him even more than that.

Tonight, I am in tremendous pain. This disease is taking its toll tonight on both my mind and my body. Specifically, tonight, my eyes feel like someone is inside my head stabbing my eyes with a fork over and over and over. The pain in my eyes, coupled with the echo of the doctor’s words in my head warning of the possibility of losing my vision, is driving fear deep into my mind. Living in a dark world of depression inside my own head is hard enough on a regular basis. The thought of living in a dark world physically, in addition to living in one emotionally, is just too much to take in. And one of the first faces that come to mind when I think of not being able to see is that of my beautiful grandson.

Please don’t misunderstand. There are many faces I would miss seeing should my vision be lost. I love my husband. I love my kids. I love my friends. The thing is, all of those people won’t change much. Of course, there will be some change, but, for the most part, I would remember the faces of those mentioned. My grandson, though, is just a baby. He will change very much in a short timeframe. I look back on pictures from just three months ago, and I am amazed at how different he looks. Additionally, I’m sure–I HOPE–there will be more grandchildren in my future. The thought of not being able to see them at all is heartbreaking.

It is that heartbreak, those thoughts, and the intense pain tonight that are compounding the fears that are looming large.

I read an article recently, written by someone with MS, that hit a nerve close to my heart. The author wrote about how, had she known the course her disease would take, she would have taken more time to enjoy the things that she no longer is able to enjoy. For her that includes walks in the woods–she is now in a wheelchair. It also included the freedom to drive a car and grocery shop–a chore she used to despise. I thought about the course this disease has taken in my life. I have seen many things with my eyes…babies, animals, mountains, flowers, sunsets, a few sunrises, corn fields, pumpkins, fall leaves, Christmas lights, sparkling snow, a dark sky illuminated by flashes of lightning, rainbows, harvest moons, stars, death, ocean waves, sandy beaches…the list could go on. I would like to think I always appreciated the things I have seen. The truth is, though, I often took them for granted. If I was up early enough to see a sunrise, I probably complained that I needed to be up that early. Flowers often brought complaints from my lips about the bees attracted. I didn’t complain about everything, but I know I also didn’t treasure the gift of all that I saw. As I face the possibility of losing the ability to see the world God created, I find myself sad, fearful, and wanting to soak it all in so if the day comes that I am unable to see, I will have images of the beauty around me burned into my mind.

I know that fear is not of God. I try to remember that God is in control, that He knows what He is doing. Remembering them, though, and living them out are not the same thing. Both are difficult, but the latter is definitely difficult to a greater degree.

Fear knocks louder than peace.

Fear demands all the attention.

Fear wants to paralyze, take me out of the game before the time is up.

Once again, with a weak grip, I cling to the promise that God has this all under control.

Posted in depression, faith, famiy, fear, Grandma, Grandson, MS | Leave a comment

The Unfortunateness of Hindsight

There was a saying my dad used quite often that I now find myself using as well. He loved to say it when I had made a mistake, recognized that mistake, and begged for leniency from whatever punishment he was getting ready to dole out. Near the end of his life, an end that was cruel and torturous as his body was ravaged with emphysema, brought on by years of smoking cigarettes, he would look back at decisions he made and, once again, his mouth would utter the words:

Hindsight’s twenty-twenty.

I understood the saying, even as a kid. I knew what it meant to look back and see something clearly that at one time wasn’t so clear. Unfortunately, decisions have to be made in the here and now. Sometimes those decisions turn out to be correct. Other times, they prove to be detrimental if not disastrous.

As a teenager, I wanted desperately to try alcohol. My dad was a borderline alcoholic at one time so my parents never kept it in the house. When I started working at my dad’s business, a gas and service station, I made friends with many people older than me. I was 15 at the time. A few years later, as my desire to experience what all the older friends I had made were experiencing, I talked a coworker into buying some alcohol for me. In hindsight, that was a very poor decision on my part. It didn’t take me long to get used to the taste, nor did it take me long to desire harder liquor and more of it. After several years of being able to control my alcoholic intake, I found that I was losing that control. Long story short, I ended up in a hospital detox program and was sent home with a prescription for a drug that would make me violently ill if any alcohol entered my system.

Hindsight’s twenty-twenty. I should have recognized my addictive personality and stopped drinking…or never started in the first place.

Nowhere do I see the truth more of this hindsight saying than parenting. The last several years, especially, have opened my eyes to the twenty-twenty vision of the past. Maybe it’s because as I have grown older, and my children have grown up and moved out, I have much more time on my hands. I also wonder if maybe because I have more years to look back on than I do years to look forward to (most likely) that hindsight comes to taunt me on a daily basis. The frustrating thing about it, though, is I only seem to remember all the times I screwed up or lost my patience or jumped to conclusions.

Case in point…last night, my husband offered to treat me to ice cream. We have been following a healthy lifestyle and diet for the past two months so ice cream was indeed a special treat. We stopped at an ice cream place near where we had been doing some shopping. This particular place is a chain and has been around quite a while. We used to take our kids there when we had extra money. I ordered my usual–chocolate with caramel–and sat down. A family came in with a few little kids, and I started thinking about when we were a young family going out for a special treat. I remembered a time when we had taken our four kids to this very ice cream place. Our son, an ice cream fanatic, wanted the largest size they had. I told him he could only get a small. Then he asked for a medium. I again repeated that he could only get a small–all of us were getting the small size. He had a major meltdown in the store and ended up not getting anything–his choice. I literally fought back tears as I sat and ate my ice cream. What would have been the harm in letting him get a bigger size? I am convinced if one looks up the word “guilt” in a dictionary, one would find a picture of a mom and her kid(s). Motherhood is filled with things to feel guilty over. And all those things are seen so clearly in hindsight.

This week, a Facebook friend posted the following graphic:

I cried as I read it. It resonated deep within me. I know there is no such thing as a perfect parent, but hindsight has allowed me to see that not only was I far from perfect, at times I was lazy, selfish, angry, apathetic…you get the idea. I used to say that I did the best I could. The truth is, I know I didn’t always do that.

Hindsight’s twenty-twenty.

 

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Discouragement

When I was a freshman in college, my first assignment in English 101 was to write a narrative. My professor said she did not care what we wrote about, fact or fiction, as long as it was grammatically sound, sensible, and believable. I had never had problems with writing in high school, so I did not expect to have problems with this assignment. I dutifully wrote my paper and showed up at the next class prepared to read my paper as she had told us would be required. When it came to my turn to read, I stood up and read my the paper I had written that told all about my twin sister, Roberta, how close we had been growing up, and how hard it was adjusting to the fact that she and I had chosen different colleges and were separated for the first time in our lives. When I finished reading, my professor said that my paper was a good example of how we can take facts and make them compelling and interesting. Imagine her surprise when I told her that I didn’t actually have a twin sister at all. In fact, while I did have a sister, she had married when I was seven years old, so we never shared a bedroom or secrets or any of the other fun things I had written about in my narrative. And her name wasn’t Roberta.

I share this to make the point that I can sit at my computer and write a blog post that, in all likelihood, you readers would believe to be true, regardless of the authenticity of that status. When I first started writing this blog, though, I promised myself I would not do that. I have said before, and will repeat for effect, that I write first and foremost for my own therapy (for lack of a better word). Putting my thoughts and feelings into words, making myself type them, backspacing to erase and re-word, titling, publishing, and all the other aspects that go into my little corner of the internet is often therapeutic for me. Getting some of those difficult thoughts out of my head and spelled out in black and white can be a good thing for me. I vowed to not pretend to be something I am not in this space. I realize that some do not agree with this style of writing, believing that I should only write positive, happy thoughts. I could do just that and fool everyone who reads it into thinking that my life is all roses and sunshine. The truth, though, is that is just not the case. Life, right now especially, is more thorns and dark clouds. I can’t betray myself and pretend to have everything under control when, in reality, my life is often spinning out of control. Or at least it feels that way.

I’ll get back to that in a bit.

Today my husband and I spent the day with our youngest daughter. These days are always special. I don’t get to spend as much time with her as I do the other kids. Not only does she live the farthest away from us, but she is also a full time student and works 30+ hours a week. She spends a few days with us for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Beyond that, she doesn’t get our way. We had a full day helping her with some of the things a twenty year old sometimes need mom and dad to help with. We dropped her car off for some LONG overdue maintenance, (way worse than we thought–and way more expensive too!) went grocery shopping, did some clothes shopping, solved some computer issues, (well, her dad did that…she and I didn’t have anything to offer in that department), replaced some furniture, took out some garbage, loved on the grandkitty, and took her for lunch at one of her favorite places. After a long and busy day, we said goodbye and headed toward home, knowing we needed to make a stop at our older daughter’s house to pick up some laundry…and hopefully see our grandson. Since we took my vehicle, I was driving. We weren’t even ten minutes away from our youngest daughter’s place when my body began to let me know I had definitely overdone it. By the time we reached our oldest daughter’s, I was in rough shape. Details aren’t important. My point is, once again, I found myself hating so much about living with this disease. Tears flowed once again as pain, anger, and discouragement invaded my body and mind. I honestly cannot remember the last time I had a day where tears did not fall from my eyes.

I said I would get back to the idea that I often feel like life is spinning out of control. There are two truths that go along with that statement. One of them, many people in my life would be quick to agree with. The other, though, is one that I’m not sure many understand.

First, my head knows that my life is not spinning out of control. God is in control. He sees. He knows. And He has a plan through all this pain. I can almost see many nodding their heads as they read those words.

The second, though, may cause more eyebrow raising among Christians who may be reading. That truth– the feeling that life is spinning out of control for me, regardless of its truth or untruth– is very real. I remember someone once telling me, after he had asked me how I felt about something that had been happening in our marriage, that feelings were real and needed to be acknowledged. Whether or not I know that God has a purpose and plan for all I am dealing with right now, the feeling of discouragement is very real. The grip of depression is very strong. I cannot will it away no more than I can will away the MS that is affecting my eyes, feet, vocal chords, and balance. I think depression and discouragement are close siblings–maybe even twins like I wrote about in my college paper. For me, at least, this has been the case. Do I believe what God says about working things for His glory and my good? Do I believe He can make beauty from ashes? Yes. I really do believe these things. It’s just, right now, although my head believes them, my heart is putting up walls to those truths.

I am discouraged–a cold, hard fact for many to swallow, that a Christian could be discouraged. It doesn’t mean I do not love God. I do. It just means that, right now, my heart can’t wrap itself around the fact that God loves me.

 

Posted in depression, faith, Grandson, MS, trust | 1 Comment

The War of Contrasting Emotions

I’ve never been much of a morning person. I was one of those kids who hid under the bed covers with a small flashlight reading a book way past the time when I was supposed to be asleep. Being an introvert all of my life, my room was my sanctuary. I had everything I needed in it to keep me content for hours. Good thing, too, because my mom could hear a feather hit a carpeted floor! Sneaking downstairs to watch television was not an option. Of course, that problem was solved once I got my own television for Christmas one year. Yes, my room had everything I needed and very often, especially during summer vacation, I would be awake until the very early hours of the morning. Of course, I would pay for that the next morning. You see, my mom was a morning person, and she believed that everyone else should be as well. There was no sleeping in allowed in our house. If memory serves me correctly, the latest I ever got to sleep was 8:00 AM. If I wasn’t up by then, she would come in, open the curtains to let the bright sunshine in, and clap her hands loudly while somewhat shouting, “Alright, enough’s enough…time to get up!” My night owl ways didn’t go away as I grew older. As a mom, during the school year, I had to be up in the morning to get the kids lunches made and get them off to school. Eventually, I homeschooled, which meant there wasn’t quite as much of a time crunch but still, I needed to be up and ready to start the day–or nothing would get done.

In contrast, my husband is very much a morning person. His alarm used to be set at 4:30 AM. He would get up, shower, get ready for work, have coffee, watch some television, and head out the door before I even opened an eye. I used to say there wasn’t enough air for two to breathe that early in the morning so I needed to stay in bed. Being on two separate schedules meant we seldom had any quality time together. He would be tired by 8:00 PM and in bed by 9:00 PM, while I was still energetic and ready to chat at 9:00. You may be able to see where this could cause some problems. Anyway, a few months ago, my husband and I started a new health journey. This meant he would need to have breakfast every morning–something he never used to bother with. Now, I suppose I could have told him to make his own breakfast, and I could have stayed in bed. But, my mom didn’t raise me that way. She made my father the same breakfast every morning for their 47 or so years of marriage. I felt as a wife, and one that didn’t work outside the home, it was my responsibility to provide meals for my husband. I know some may find that to be strange. Of course, this meant I would need to change my sleeping patterns. I have to say that while this has not been easy, it has been good in several ways. I get to see my husband at his best time of day. Before, I only got the leftovers from a day at work. I also love knowing that he appreciates my getting up with him to make him breakfast, even if that breakfast is just a protein shake. Another benefit of my transitioning to a morning person is that it has allowed me to form a habit of exercising in the morning. Experience has shown me that if I put off exercising until later in the day, I just don’t do it at all. As a person who deals with the effects of a chronic autoimmune disease, exercise is a very important part of my treatment plan. Most days that takes the form of simply walking.

My morning routine isn’t always an easy one, though. There have been many mornings that I have gotten up, made my husband his breakfast, saw him off to work, and then have gone back to bed–my body unwilling and unable to do what it needs to do. There have been many other mornings that I have had an intense inner battle in my head about whether I could actually get into my van, drive to the gym, and walk for 40 minutes. Many, many mornings, I just want to throw in the towel and give in to what this disease has done to both my physical body and my mind.

This morning was one of those mornings. The holiday weekend took a huge toll on me. Hours spent on my feet preparing an Easter meal left me in tremendous pain by last night. Nothing I tried alleviated that pain. I finally took extra medication and painfully headed to bed in hopes that a night of rest would be the answer. Unfortunately, when my alarm sounded this morning before the sun had started its wakening journey, I was not feeling much better. I knew all I had to do was tell my wonderfully understanding husband that I couldn’t get out of bed. He would have turned off the light and told me to go back to sleep. The inner battle started again. Do I give in to the disease? Do I let it win? Or do I force myself to get up and follow through with what I said I would do, knowing I would, as always, pay for it the rest of the day? This battle gets tiring. It’s constant. It forces me to choose between the lesser of two evils every day. Each day, I fee I get closer to just giving up, to just letting the disease win. There are more days now that I do just that then there were two years ago. I guess that’s the nature of a progressive illness–as it gets worse, it gets harder and harder to fight. This morning, though, I did fight once again. I forced myself to get up, get dressed, make my husband breakfast, and head to the gym for my morning walk.

Again, I find myself hating what this disease has done and is doing to me. I hate the depression that has gripped my life as I fight to be the person I was just three years ago…a fight that on most days, I lose. At the same time, though, I want to be thankful that I am still able to walk at the gym most days. It is the tension between those two contrasting emotions that wage war in me nearly every hour of every day.

Posted in depression, Holidays, MS | 1 Comment

I Miss Me

Yesterday was one of the worst days I have had in a very long time. One of the most difficult aspects of living with disease is the unpredictability it brings. I have said this before, but it is worth repeating. I can wake up in the morning feeling okay. A couple hours later I may be in so much pain that walking is difficult. There is another difficult aspect, though, of living with a disease like mine. Yesterday, that manifested itself in a big way.

There is a song on Christian radio right now that I replay over and over in my head. It is sung by Danny Gokey who was an American Idol contestant several seasons ago. He finished in third place and has become popular in Christian music. The song is titled Tell Your Heart to Beat Again. Here are some of the words:

“You’re shattered, like you’ve never been before,
The life you knew, in a thousand pieces on the floor.
Words fall short in times like these when this world drives you to your knees,
You think you’re never gonna get back to the you that used to be.
Tell your heart to beat again, close your eyes and breathe it in.
Let the shadows fall away, step into the light of grace.
Yesterday’s a closing door, you don’t live there anymore.
Say goodbye to where you’ve been and tell your heart to beat again.”

It is the fourth line that struck me yesterday as I heard the song play. I miss the me I used to be. I miss the athletic abilities I used to have–the stamina to finish a day’s work and know that the next day that energy would be replenished so that I could wake up and do it all over again. I miss the ability to finish an entire book in one day. I used to ignore household tasks in order to spend time reading a book that had drawn me into its storyline. Now, I have the time to read but find my eyes no longer cooperate to get very far let alone finish a novel in one sitting. I miss the creativity I once possessed. I enjoyed baking and creating delicious dishes in my kitchen. Now, standing on my feet too long causes excruciating pain.

This week I visited with a friend who understands what this disease can do to a person. His daughter-in-law passed away in her early forties from MS. She left behind a husband and three children. Her family watched her body deteriorate to the point of it being completely non-functional. As we talked about the cruel nature of this disease, my friend, who is also a pastor, remarked that one of its cruelest components is that the mind stays sharp while the body wastes away. He said he often wonders what was going through the mind of his daughter-in-law as she lay in a nursing home, unable to see, hear, talk, or do anything for herself at all. It was good to talk to him and not feel like I was complaining.

Yesterday, as I was driving home from a friend’s house, I thought about my conversation earlier in the week. I thought about the person I used to be. I thought about what this disease has done to me physically and emotionally. I thought about what I’ve let it do to me spiritually. The more I thought about it, the more agitated I became. I started to go down that path of believing others would be better off if I were not part of their lives. No one would have to listen to me complain. My husband wouldn’t need to worry about me when he needs to be gone for work. He wouldn’t have to deal with medical bills. My kids wouldn’t have to watch their mom deteriorate and not be able to do the things I have always done. By the time I reached home, I was deep in the muck of not wanting to go on. I don’t like the person I have become and I was sure–still am to a degree–that others don’t like that person either. I didn’t know what to do. I knew if I called anyone and told them what was going through my head, I risked them panicking and calling 911. I didn’t want to risk that. I went on Facebook, pulled up my daughter’s page, and started looking at all the pictures she has on there of my beautiful grandson. I thought about what she would have to tell him about his Grammy and I knew I needed to hang on. I cried–sobbed actually–to the point that I hoped the neighbors weren’t home. (Shared walls can be a disadvantage in many cases) I finally remembered my conversation with my friend. Before I left his office, he told me if I ever needed special prayer, just shoot him an email. I opened my laptop and did just that. I also emailed a friend in another state who I knew wouldn’t panic. Then, something happened that was wonderful and excruciating at the same time.

My text message notification went off on my phone. I looked and it was the associate pastor of our church. He was just checking in to see how I was feeling. I debated not answering him or even lying. Instead, I told him his timing was amazing, or maybe not so amazing depending on how honest I was. I simply then said I wasn’t doing very well. We texted back and forth for a few minutes. He asked me if I wanted him to tell my son who is on staff with him at church. I said no, that I didn’t want him to know how bad I was. He understood and asked me what I needed. I told him I really needed to know people were praying. He said he would let the other pastors know and they would pray right then. I finally relented and asked him to please let my son know that I was having a rough day. I was in so much physical and emotional pain that I could barely talk when he called. It didn’t take long for me to see my son walk up to the door. I mustered all the strength I had to stop the tears. I didn’t want my son to see me that way. You see, a mom is supposed to be the caretaker of her kids…not the other way around. I didn’t want my son to see me so weak. I missed the me I used to be…the mom who always had it together, the mom who could handle a schedule that seemed impossible to execute, the mom who cleaned, cooked, taught, coached, played and still managed to have energy leftover for a quick game before bed. That’s the mom I want my son, and all my kids, to remember. Inside, I was so thankful he came even though it meant I had to fight to stop the tears.

Last night I was half watching a television show my husband had recorded. A line from a character caught my attention. He said, “I’ve been fighting myself, trying to be a new version of the old me. Maybe I need to focus on being the me I am now.” I thought about the line from Danny Gokey’s song…”You think you’re never gonna get back to the you that used to be.” I realized that for me, that is true. As my pastor friend from earlier in the week said, “MS doesn’t get better. It gets worse. You can plateau for a while. Enjoy those moments because the nature of the disease is that it will come back.” I need to learn to be a new version of the new me. Maybe that means not trying to hide from my kids how I am really feeling. Maybe that means letting others help even though that goes against everything in me. I don’t know what it means to be honest. I just know that yesterday, I needed to know that others were praying for me at a time when praying for myself was beyond difficult. I believe God’s timing was amazing yesterday. My faith is not strong right now. I often wonder if God even is there. Yesterday, I saw Him show up when I needed Him desperately. No, he didn’t take away the pain. The disease still wracks my body. What He did do, though, was give me a little peace. As our associate pastor was texting me, and eventually talking to me on the phone, I felt a peace that just an hour before was not there. In fact, in that hour before, I struggled with the idea of even continuing to live.

I still miss the me I used to be. I can only hope that somehow, God shows me who I am supposed to be now. I hope He shows me how to live with this disease and how to handle it better than I have been. I hate the person I’ve become. Only God can change that.

 

Posted in Children, CHURCH, death, depression, faith, famiy, fear, Grandma, Grandson, MS, persecution, trust | Leave a comment