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The Things I Carry

June 24, 2020

Sometimes a writing idea will come to me in minutes and I’ll feverishly draft the entire thing in the Notes app of my phone. Other times, it takes months for the idea to come to fruition. Or it starts as one thing and morphs into something else. This post is an example of a piece that started out one way, took a turn, and then became something else.

I had been playing with this idea in my head for a few months. … It started when I read “The Things They Carried,” Tim O’Brien’s masterpiece on Vietnam War soldiers and the things they “carried with them,” both mentally and physically, as they fought in Vietnam and also went home. Around the same time I was reading that book, Mary Chapin Carpenter performed her song, “The Things We are Made Of,” as part of her Songs from Home series. The lyrics focus on the small, brief moments of life that create our memories.

That idea about what we carry intrigued me. I thought a lot about what I hold onto and what I carry with me … physical mementos, memories, beliefs, self-fulfilling prophecies, favorite songs and stories … all the things that make up a person. I couldn’t think of where to go with this idea, so I left it alone and moved on.

And then Monday, my Timehop app alerted me to a memory from four years ago. On June 22, 2016, I published a blog post about packing my San Diego house in preparation for our move to Indiana. During the packing, I decided to drink the souvenir bottle of Coke that I received from Disneyland. I’d been holding onto the bottle as a memento; but then I realized that sharing that Coke with Sophie while packing for Indiana would become a memory in itself. That was Sophie’s first Coke and the blog post became one of my favorites.

As I looked at that photo, I thought about how so much has changed in four years. I thought about how appropriate it was that I was packing my life away – all the things, hopes and wishes I would carry from California to Indiana – and here I am, four years later, with this kernel of an idea about the things we carry. And that’s where this post finally started to take shape.

So what do we carry? What do we hold on to, mentally and physically? What do I carry?

Let’s start with four years ago when I was, literally, carrying my life from one part of the country to another.

I was 40-years-old in the summer of 2016. Bryan had already moved to Indiana to start his new job. So I spent that summer packing up my house and all its contents. I was packing Sophie (who was 8 at the time), still with a big personality, but also with naivete and a missing front tooth. I was packing Casey and Cody, the two dogs that are still with me today, and Tess the cat (also still here). Box upon box, I filled with photographs, books (so many books), kitchen supplies, home decor, play room paraphernalia, holiday decorations, clothes, and everything else that makes up a family and home into a Bekins moving truck that would arrive in Terre Haute ten days later.

But while those physical items came with me, I also left behind so much I carried for 40 years.

I left California, the place I spent 39 years of my life. I left my parents’ house, the only childhood home I remember separately from photographs. I left my mom and dad, whom I’d never really parted from. I left my three sisters, and my nephews and newborn niece whom I barely knew. I left my job as San Diego editor for Red Tricycle family publication, a teaching job and various other local clients. I left San Diego State University. And while I left that campus four years before, that university was a part of my life since my dad took his job there in 1979, and where my first real job at KPBS was located. It was my college experience, where I found true friendships for the first time, and where I met Bryan. I left behind the three homes Bryan and I shared and our foundational history as a couple.

Essentially, I left the only life I knew and my past. I left 40 years behind me when I packed that house and drove away. And while all that makes up who I am, those are the things I did not carry to Indiana.

What did I carry to the Midwest?

I carried hope for a new beginning. I carried ideas for a new life, and plans for how to make myself and those around me happy. I carried anticipation for meeting new people and having new experiences. I carried excitement for seasons, snow, fireflies, and crunchy autumnal leaves. I carried A LOT of fear of the unknown and for the changes that would surely come, and fear of the things that would not change. I carried loneliness, so much of it I didn’t even know I carried.

A lot has changed in four years. In many ways, I’m such a different person than that fearful girl packing up her home to start anew.

I no longer carry my marriage. I still carry my daughter, but I carry her differently. Sophie’s now an almost 13-year-old with her very own (BIG) personality and she’s so much stronger than I ever was. I live in my own home. And when I packed my belongings for this move, I took with me less than half the contents I started with; because I only packed my things (and Sophie’s, of course). I don’t even carry the car I drove from San Diego to Indiana. And I no longer carry 40 extra pounds of weight on my body.

I carry physical strength and the ability to run, to move my body outside in nature and against the wind, in rain and through snow and humidity, on trails and on roads. I carry the ability to propel myself forward through life with movement. I still carry the songs I love, the books that impacted me, the movies and shows that shaped me. And I carry my core beliefs, the ideas of myself, and the values that shape me.

But I no longer carry that deep loneliness (although it does creep up on me, from time to time, as a gentle reminder). Now I carry emotions I didn’t have before (or they were buried deep within me), and I’m not scared to express those feelings. I carry vulnerability and the special fear that comes with it. I carry deep and meaningful friendships and relationships with people, and feelings I never thought possible to have. I carry strength – physical and mental – that I didn’t know I was capable of having.

So here I am, four years from when I was packing my life to move to Indiana, and I carry much of who I’ve always been. But I’ve also left so much behind. And that’s okay, because we’re supposed to let things go to make room to carry so much more.

Something I think about often is what my life has in store for me. The truth is, I don’t know what my life will look like in the future; just like I had no idea what today would bring when I published that blog post four years ago. But I do know that my heart, my mind, body and soul will carry with it what it needs – all the things that make up my past, present and future – the things that make up a life, MY life.

Buying My “First” House and Living “Alone” at Age 44

June 3, 2020
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Other than my college dormitory rooms, I never lived alone; by myself. And one could argue that despite the fact I had my own dorm room, living in the residence halls is hardly living alone. My senior year of college, I shared an apartment close to the San Diego State campus with Heather. For two years after college, I shared a townhouse with a friend, Barbara. In June 1999, I moved into a two-bedroom apartment with Bryan, my boyfriend at the time. I was only 23 years old. We got engaged a year later and married in 2001.

When I was planning to move in with Bryan, my friend Tammy (whom I still consider one of my oldest and dearest friends) said something to me that has stuck with me for decades. She said, “If you move in with Bryan now and then get married, you’ll never have the chance to live by yourself. And that’s okay, but if you want to live alone for a while, do it now because you won’t have the opportunity to do it later.”

I assured Tammy that moving in with Bryan is exactly what I wanted and I was eager for my life to begin. I believed that then, and I don’t regret my choices at all. That being said, I think there’s a reason her words stayed with me all this time.

Over the course of 20 years, Bryan and I shared an apartment and bought three homes together. Until we separated last August, I never physically lived by myself. Yes, I still had Sophie living with me. But when she started spending nights and days at his apartment, I was truly by myself and physically alone for the first time in my life.

We sold our Indiana house earlier this year, and I went on a search for a new home for me and Sophie. I came upon this little blue cottage-type house that was just over two miles from my former neighborhood, and still close enough to parks and paths that I can run from my front door. The minute I walked into this house, I knew it was destined to be my home. This was like no other house I’ve lived in. It had a front porch and a beautiful green backyard with a back patio with the perfect sitting view of the moon in the night sky. Every room or corner had character, and there was no denying the vibes and warmth I felt inside. Sophie loved it too, and quickly picked out her room.

Fortunately, my offer was accepted and I bought my first house, all on my own. When I signed my closing escrow documents in March (just days before we were forced into COVID-19 quarantine), I took Sophie with me because I wanted her to see her mother signing loan papers and buying her own home. She was bored and sat on her phone the entire time; but I have to believe that she’ll remember that experience one day.

After the final paper was signed and I was given the keys, I pulled out a keychain I bought myself months before. I wanted a new keychain for my new life. It’s inscribed with the words, “She built a life she loved.” I attached the key and Sophie and I went to look at our new home.

I’m proud of the homes Bryan and I bought together. But it was a completely different feeling buying this house and moving just for me (and Sophie). I’m now responsible for things I never was before. While I always paid the bills when I was married, this mortgage payment is all my income. I solely provide for my daughter.

I started mowing my own lawn for the first time in my life. I troubleshoot home maintenance issues, such as when my air conditioner needed a repair. It was up to me to figure out why the porch awning wasn’t working or how the outside garden lights are configured. It’s not that I felt incapable of doing these things when I was married. But I feel confident in a new way that I was not before. And I want Sophie to see that confidence and know that she can also own her own home one day, if she chooses that path.

After moving into my house, I was reminded of a scene in the 1980s movie “St. Elmo’s Fire,” in which Mare Winningham (who played the kind of awkward one of the group) is talking to Rob Lowe in her first apartment. She tells him she woke up in the middle of the night and made herself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. And it struck her that it was HER OWN kitchen, in HER OWN own apartment, and it was the best peanut butter and jelly sandwich she ever had. That scene has always stayed with me, maybe because I never lived physically alone before either. But when I found myself making my French Press coffee in MY kitchen in MY house for the first time, I knew exactly how she felt.

Reasons, Seasons and Lifetimes of Relationships

May 27, 2020

When I was in my early 20s, I had a friend named Karen (name changed). We got along so well because we had tons of similar interests; she was hilarious, made me laugh and was never boring. We could hang out for days in a row and never get tired of each other. Friendship with Karen was the best … until it wasn’t.

Karen believed the world revolved around her. She had very strong opinions about others and if you didn’t agree with those opinions, obviously you were wrong. She wanted any and all praise and to be the center of attention. Karen rarely asked about my life or my problems, but we always talked about her and her issues.

I enjoyed my friendship with Karen for years because, for the most part, I got so much joy from our interactions. I had fun and she fulfilled a need in me. And I didn’t mind that she was self-centered, as long as I was getting that need fulfilled and still enjoying the relationship.

For reasons I won’t go into (because it will make a long story even longer), I had to cut Karen out of my life because she crossed a line with me and I could no longer tolerate her behaviors. This happened eight years ago and I haven’t spoken to Karen since. I made peace with the end of that friendship, yet she still pops into my mind every now and then, especially when I find myself facing similar people and situations in my present life (amazing what the subconscious will do).

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Since my friendship with Karen, I’ve had several meaningful relationships and friendships. I got married and then divorced. I’ve had close friendships with people in San Diego, as well as in my new home in Indiana. These relationships have their ups and downs. Some have lingered and some have gone by the wayside. And some are deeper than others.

I’ve talked extensively to my therapist about the concept of friendship, and the relationships I’ve had that have changed over time. Some of these changes have troubled me more than others and I was struggling with understanding why I was experiencing foreign emotions with people that I had not before. Why was I suddenly seeing people in a new light?

My therapist shared with me a poem entitled “Reason, Season, or Lifetime.” The anonymous author writes that people come into your life for a reason, a season or a lifetime.

When someone enters your life for a reason, it is to meet a need and for the reason you need them to be there. And then without any wrongdoing, this person will say or do something to bring the relationship to an end. What we need to realize is our need has been met, this person served their purpose, and now it’s time to move on.

Some people come into your life for a season because we need to share, grow or learn something new. They bring you an experience, give you peace, make you laugh or teach you something. It is joyful and it’s real, but it’s only for a season.

Finally, lifetime relationships teach you lifetime lessons. These are things you must build upon in order to have a solid emotional foundation. Your job is to accept the lesson, love the person, and put what you have learned to use in another relationship.

Reading this poem changed the way I look at friendships and the people in my life. I realized that every person, every friendship and relationship I have serves a purpose and important reason. Every person is here to teach me a lesson, help me grow and fulfill a specific needs.

Some of those relationships/friendships will never go back to what they were in the beginning, because I don’t have those same needs anymore. I’m not the person I was when that friendship first started. And that’s okay, because in order for us to grow and evolve, we need people to serve those roles and give us the opportunity to learn those lessons.

The difficulty, however, lies in society’s idea that friendships and relationships — especially marriage, but also family bonds — are “supposed to be” forever. And change is scary and hard! I could have easily stayed in my marriage; a relationship where I was not happy, but it was “safe.” The future was certain and I didn’t have to be scared of the unknown and what change would bring.

Yet change is inevitable. Growth occurs whether we want it to or not. And it happens every single day, all around us. We see it when the sunny day turns to clouds of rain. We see it seasonally when the leaves on trees turn brown and gold in autumn, fall to the ground and grow bare in winter, and then return to green in the spring.

We post Facebook photos of our kids on the first and last day of school and the most common remark is, “Look how much she’s changed!” We think nothing of it when our kids outgrow certain friends. So why wouldn’t adults, friendships and relationships also be expected to change?

Life is change. And we need to grow and move on, so we can continue learning life’s lessons and put those lessons to use in other relationships and areas of life. We don’t have to stop loving the people that have been in our lives for reasons and seasons and lifetimes. We just need to embrace what they’ve given us and continue to grow.

Memorial Day Running: Pain Becomes Truth

May 25, 2020

Memorial Day 2020 • Today was a warm morning as I pushed myself out the door to run. All the fair-weather quarantine walkers and runners were nowhere to be found in the early midst of summer weather. Physically, today’s run was cursed before I got out the door. My heart was racing before the heart monitor went on. My breathing was a struggle, rugged and shallow even while walking. Anxiety ran through my blood with a vengeance and I was yawning, despite the fact I woke up not long before.

But mentally, my mind was determined to go. I knew yesterday I would run. Something was pushing me outside. It was a force that was relentless. I had to run. I even knew the route I would take. The reason why was unclear, but knowing I needed to was clear as day.

I pushed through the heat and humidity, which wasn’t terrible, especially under the trees and shade. And then I got to the third mile and my body felt like it was giving up. The anxiety never quite left my body. Running turned to walking, followed by shorter bouts of running. My heartbeat thumped in my ears. My breath was nowhere to be found. My stomach turned on itself and sips of water did nothing to quell the pain.

But through it, I ran around the memorial stadium lined with flags of the fallen. I kept pushing. There was a moment when I didn’t know if I’d make it around that mile. But my mind had a plan, and far be it from my body to stop it.

And then suddenly, when it all became too much, my legs stopped. And I had a moment of clarity that transcended everything. It was why I came out today. I saw it all; the truth, reasons and directions were right there. I momentarily parked myself on a bench and wrote all the truth in my phone notes. This was the gift the pain gave me. And I wouldn’t have found it had I not pushed beyond my limits.

At the end of the year, I publish a blog post that includes photos and the word that characterizes my year. That word comes to me when I’m not expecting it. Last year’s word, endurance, hit me while I was running the Smoky Mountain Half Marathon in September. Awakening, 2018’s word, hit me late in December of that year. My word for 2020 came to me during that moment of clarity on today’s Memorial Day run. I won’t share it until December 31, but I know without a doubt, it’s my truth.

I typically publish these “micro-blogs” exclusively on Instagram. But I’m breaking my pattern and publishing it here so I can refer back to this day when I write my 2020 wrap-up post.

Mental Health and My Journey with Antidepressants

May 8, 2020

I have not publicly shared a lot about my mental health. Mainly because it’s very personal and being that open and vulnerable scares me. I also don’t like a lot of attention. That statement may sound ironic since I openly share about myself on my blog and on Instagram. That being said, even though I am comfortable writing and sharing my feelings, I don’t want what I write to be an invitation for people to think they need to reach out to me. I don’t want pity, and I don’t like people worrying about me.

However, when it comes to mental health, I’m very much a believer in being open and talking about those struggles. There is so much stigma attached to mental health, and I truly believe the only way to diminish that is to talk honestly about it. I have also seen how sharing about difficult personal situations helps people directly. And if my words can help people – even one person – then I feel compelled to do it. So to honor my truth and what I believe, I’m going to share a bit about my mental health struggles.

The first time I recall struggling with mental health was in 2010. I was 34-years-old, had a 2-year-old daughter, and feeling a lot of anxiety. I talked to my family doctor and he prescribed Paxil and I began a half-year journey on that medication. That antidepressant hindered more than helped me. I gained 20 pounds without intention. I don’t recall my anxiety lessening much even as I started working with a therapist. In October 2010, I talked to my doctor about going off the Paxil because of the weight gain. The doctor told me to simply join Weight Watchers, but I knew it was the drug that was the main cause and I embarked on a gradual plan to wean my body off Paxil.

I had a terrible time going off Paxil. My body felt electric “shocks” on days I didn’t take the medication. My brain could not concentrate on anything. I was more anxious than when I started the pills, and I was an emotional wreck. Around that same time, I was dealt with a huge emotional blow that was triggered by my work. Those few months were extremely scary for me. I never considered myself a person who struggled with her mental health. But not being in control of my emotions and my body was frightening.

My therapist put me on medical leave because I wasn’t myself and my coping skills were non-existent. She also referred me to a psychiatrist to manage the medication withdrawal. That doctor put me on Prozac as a “bridge” medication. Often times, you need to take one medication to lessen the severe side effects of going off another one. That was what happened to me. I don’t recall how long it took to feel “normal” again, but I successfully transitioned off Paxil. By late 2011, I had a new job, was feeling more confident in myself, went off Prozac, and stopped therapy. That was the end of my mental health struggle … or so I thought.

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In early 2018, I decided to see a therapist again. I wasn’t feeling physical symptoms of anxiety but I needed an outside perspective to help me work through some issues I was facing. The therapist made a few comments that got my mind turning, and I made a few deep discoveries that I wasn’t ready to confront. So I ended therapy after a few sessions and after my “issues” were worked through.

Fast forward to July 2019 … I was in the midst of separating from my ex-husband and it was a VERY difficult time for me emotionally. I was feeling incredibly anxious all the time. The half dosage of Xanax at night wasn’t doing anything to calm my mind. The anxiety was starting to affect my sleep, my running, and I had trouble concentrating on my work. I also started feeling depression for the first time. I cried a lot and I couldn’t stop it. That never happened to me before and it scared me.

My sister suggested I talk to my doctor about an antidepressant, but I refused. I didn’t want to be tied to medicine to make myself feel better. I should be able to feel the emotions and work through them, I thought. I remembered the horrible experience on Paxil and I would not go through that again. But eventually it got to a point where I knew I needed help beyond what I could do myself. And after learning a close friend had also started taking antidepressants, I realized I needed to find that same bravery and help myself.

My doctor saw me a few weeks later. I fell apart in her office and explained my personal situation, and she agreed I needed medication to navigate the long road ahead. She was very sympathetic and said my emotions were extremely common when dealing with a major life change such as divorce. I was very adamant about finding a medication with little side effects. I did not want something that would affect my running (my salve) I told her. And after I just lost 40 pounds over the course of two years, I couldn’t gain weight. Since I reacted well to Prozac all those years ago, she put me on a very low dose of that medication to start and we agreed to monitor my reactions to it.

My doctor said to stay on the antidepressant for at least one year during a divorce or life change, to get through the year of “firsts” (i.e. first holidays, birthdays, etc.). I naively thought I’d take Prozac for a few months, finalize my divorce, and transition off the drug. After going through the last year, she was absolutely right about those triggering events.

After being on Prozac, I started to feel more calm and more like myself. I was able to cope and better manage stressful situations. My responses to situations were more measured and realistic. I still felt emotions, but I didn’t become overwhelmed by them. And I didn’t feel them quite as physically as I did before.

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When 2020 began, I fully expected to transition off Prozac at some point this year. My divorce was finalized. My ex-husband and I were getting along. Work was thriving. I had my close friends. I was running. Life was feeling pretty good.

Well, then COVID-19 hit, the subsequent quarantine and moving into a new house. I did not expect those things to hit me, mentally, as hard as they have. Any feelings of loneliness I had were intensified by 1,000 in this situation. The unknown future and not knowing what will happen with me, my life or when I can see my friends and family again weighs heavily on me. I started feeling those familiar feelings of sadness again. I was struggling to get out of bed at times. And while this wasn’t an everyday occurrence, motivation wasn’t always there.

I thought a lot about whether to increase my medication, but I just did not want to do it. I’ve been in weekly therapy again since January, so I’ve been working on coping and cognitive strategies, and recognizing my emotions. I really wanted to get through the days myself and work through difficult feelings. I even checked in with my doctor a few weeks ago and told her these things. She said my feelings are VERY common and so many of her patients are feeling the same, and she’d support whatever decision I made. I decided not to increase my dosage.

And then over the last few weeks, the anxiety has taken hold of me again. I’m feeling it in the form of agitation and physical symptoms (e.g. little appetite, stomach issues, increased blood pressure, headaches). I’ll have a few good days and then I’ll feel as if I’ve taken ten steps backwards. I question my reality and my perceptions of situations. The anxiety is seeping into my running again. And since running is one thing that provides an outlet for me to manage my mental and physical health, to feel intense anxiety before and during runs is incredibly frustrating to me. My sleep has been terrible, and I’m tired of feeling tired.

So this week, I made the difficult decision (for me) to contact my doctor and increase my Prozac dosage. If I’m being honest, I’m sad and very frustrated with myself. I’m concerned it will get to a point that no amount of antidepressant will be enough; that the anxiety and depression will return when my body normalizes the dosage. I feel like a failure. I feel like I should be able to handle my emotions cognitively.

But like last summer, I also knew it was time to get help. I am tired of feeling the up and down, the push and pull. Eventually, I hope I can go off Prozac. But I do know it has helped me tremendously and I have hope it will help me get through right now as well.

I’m trying to give myself some grace and accept my decision. I’m trying to remember that nobody planned for a pandemic and its far-reaching effects. I’m trying to remember that I’m not alone in how I feel. And I’m trying to remember that the only way to help myself, and others, is to ask for help and be honest. That’s where I am now.

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