Saturday, May 31, 2014

Coping Chronicles: Self-Care

As I write this, I am thus:
feet in sink of hot, soapy water
thinking of the nail color I'll do next

For a long, long while, I was too tired, too busy, too distracted by babies to do any such things (except for the pajamas part. I think we all know: I hardly ever made it out of the pajamas ((said every mommyish blogger ever))). Then, I got sick, sick enough for other people to pay attention, and everyone started telling me to "take care of yourself." Ummm. OK. What's that?

I have really, really struggled with this notion of "self-care." I do think that in our overly-busy, self-inflictedly stressful lives, we can be really lured by the false god of self-care- it looks like over-indulgence. Like binging on things that don't really fill us up. I wanted to avoid being selfish, so "self" care seemed like a slippery slope on my way up the heights of Mount Good-Mama-Sacrifice-aRama. This goes back to my theological ponderances over how to enjoy God without feeling like I needed to pay him back for everything. If we don't have a God who loves us and wants good things for us, then things like peace, joy and enjoyment are not on our list of acceptable activities. "Self-care" brings all of those, and I am thrilled to have come to the conclusion that God just really, really loves me.

Self-care can have many appearances. Maybe it's taking 20 minutes to exercise or take a solo walk every morning. Maybe it's one afternoon of babysitting every week. Maybe it's massages, physical therapy, juicing, reading, piano-playing, nights with friends, painting, journaling, etc. It includes anything that you do to remind yourself of a few crucial facts:
1. Your body is important.
2. Your spirit is important.
3. Your people and YOU need your body and your spirit to be refreshed.

Beyond these few thoughts above, I don't have much more to add to the "why" of self-care. Hopefully by now you have been told that you need to "secure your own oxygen mask first..." you know, so you won't be DEAD when someone else needs you!! We all know that mommies (doctors, teachers, friends, pastors, whatever-it-is-you-ares) need to have a long rope so that we won't be at the end of it when we are needed most- which, by the way, you do NOT get to plan. And, for my spiritual friends, consider this: you are going to have the same body in Glory that you have now. True; it will be recreated, but it will be the same material. God does not see it as something to throw away! Jesus' glorified body displayed the scars from God's work he had accomplished on the earth. Beautiful, remade stretch-marks, anyone?

I am still not very great at self-care. It is definitely hard to learn how to balance self-care with self-sacrifice because they are both essential to a loving lifestyle. Though, not at all mutually exclusive, au contraire, they are hard to integrate successfully because humans are just so dang good at extremes. I don't have any fantastic plans, but I'm going to share what has/is worked/working for me.

1. If you are a mom, figure out a go-to childcare solution.
- I know, I know. This is very tough. But, if you value it, you can and will figure it out. I have seen a zillion examples. You let me know if you actually need help figuring it out. I observe that none of us have a true logistical problem; we, instead, have problems with value, willingness, and trust in others. I HOPE that women have partners who are willing to help with this in HUGE ways. They can see Brendan for lessons as needed.

2. Remember what you love. I love painting, writing, 90's indie rock, make-up, nail polish, hide-and-seek with my kids, yummy happy hour specials, fancy cocktails, Italian wine, spa days, Magnusson Park, Fran's Chocolatier, piroshky, Thai, novels, friends, Bible studies, books on prayer, etc. Make a big list like mine (my real one is much longer).

3. Do what you love. I don't do this in any organized fashion, but I think that I probably engage one big thing a quarter (spa day with girlfriend, day-trip, hair-cut, etc), one medium thing per month (party with friends, girls' night, book club), one small thing per week (happy hour with hubs, book-store perusal, art project, jewelry making, searching for beach glass), and one tiny thing per day (bath, reading, writing, nail polish, glass of wine, cup of tea, etc.) And, for Bible readers, a quote from a beloved mentor of mine: the Word is food. If you don't eat it every day, you will starve. I am not always good at this, but when I am I instantly feel the benefits.

4. Do what you need. JUST GO TO THE DOCTOR. JUST GO BUY THOSE NEW PANTS THAT FIT. JUST REPLACE THAT SPATULA. JUST STOP EATING SO MUCH SUGAR. JUST EAT A REAL BREAKFAST SO YOU WON'T BE SO HANGRY. And then there's this one: WORK. OUT. (I am but a mere novice and have not yet reached such lofty heights.) I think you get it. Please do not assume that I think these needs are YOUR needs. They are mine. We ignore our needs, and then we suffer- big or small. I really, really need to go to the dentist... if only someone would write an inspiring blog post...

5. Ask for help. This is last, but, naturally, not least. I ask for help a lot now. It may not be in the ways people think it should be, but I get the help that I actually need. It is wonderful, and it endears you to your friends and family who love you and WANT to know how to love you in a way that you will feel and appreciate... just like you bend over backwards to do for your family and friends.

In the time it took me to write all that, I also exfoliated my feet. BAM. Double points for self-care.

You are loved. Quit acting like a thow-away paper towel. I am hoping that you will be around for a long, long time.



P.S. I don't typically ask for comments, but if you have feelings on this subject I would LOVE to read them. What works for you? Why do you or do you not take time for yourself? What most gets in the way of you taking time to do number 4: what you need to do? What are your favorite big, medium, small, and tiny self-care activities? Feel free to leave comments on FB too! I can repost all your great thoughts in a follow-up blog! Share so we'll get a wealth of wisdom from all the great people we know!

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

You've Changed

I have a few ideas for posts regarding the nuts and bolts of dealing with illness as a parent (and umm, human) that I want to post here. Even if you are not ill, you will have days and weeks of it, a period of postpartum convalescence,  or have friends facing longer term struggles- even ones we sometimes forget to give credit for like thyroid malfunction, depression/anxiety, IBS, etc. For your consideration, I present my first installation of Coping Chronicles ;)

First Up: You've Changed

Before I was sick, I was the kind of girl who could and would push through anything, the one making all the plans, the one with energy and ideas to spare. Not so much now. Changes like these greatly diminish one's capacity for coming up with grand, creative, new ways to run a household- adding to frustration with self and scene. Illness (along with babies, moves, death, accidents) is a huge disruptor. I think most of us crave comfort and order in the face of disruption, but when you are at the center of it, it can be nearly impossible to recreate the conditions of comfort and order you enjoyed before.

I feel it is important to note the above facts before launching in to "Easy Tips to Make It Seem Like Nothing Has Happened" or "How to Feed Your Family While Never Cooking." While it is very tempting to find a "new normal" as quickly as possible, I don't think that works. Friends and family will be ready to gush about all their great ideas for how you ought to now live, but they may be forgetting the important fact that you have, indeed, changed- no small thing to face. It's OK to need some time to just sit and stare at the new surroundings (and your new personal interior) before you begin to plan how you can get up and move along (not on). I read a great little book called Cereal for Dinner that I found extremely helpful, but more than the tips and tricks, it was the empathy and grace that I most craved and enjoyed in its pages. The first thing I want to convey as I seek to share some of our family's discoveries is that same empathy and grace. I wish I could say that stages of grief and the reintroduction of order happen on some kind of predictable schedule, but they don't. I can say that giving myself time for both, stumbling my way ahead, has been a necessity, and that the time required has been much longer than I expected.

I see a counselor weekly; doing so has been the best way for me to process the ways I and my circumstances have (and have not) changed. I can remember in the far off, misty past when I considered going to regular counseling appointments to be a sign of weakness and inadequacy (ugly opinion, but one I held nonetheless). Not so any longer. Although, at this time I do feel weak and inadequate, I also feel strong for being willing and able to admit that I need someone's help. Processing loss just feels weird because we were made for glory and order- painful illness and loss are contrary to our design. However, I of course believe that pain and change can be used to make us richer and more glorious. Working with a counselor has done much to improve my view of myself- NOT because she forces me to look for the bright side but because she has helped me to give myself credit for what I'm going through.

So, my first tips are these:

  • Take the time you need to inventory what has been lost and what remains and the requisite time for mourning. Some of you may not be praying types. Even so, everyone should know that God has capacity to listen to our crying and even our angry shouts.
  • Consider finding a counselor. Churches love to help pay for counseling fees, and many therapists have sliding payment scales for those with financial limitations. It may also help to simply identify one good friend who you believe has the capacity to give you time to process and listen well. Make sure this friend knows that you aren't coming to them for solutions, per se, but for empathy. Most close friends are able to identify patterns in our thinking, and those may be helpful for them to point out to you.

Friday, May 16, 2014

POTS Still Sucks

I love writing my happy little Texa-rina memoirs. I think part of my love for writing them is that they provide me a little vacation and are helping me to appreciate the parts of my life that were not tainted with POTS. I am on a mission to value the ballet experience I have too. Meanwhile, POTS is still wreaking havoc. Last week was one of my worst weeks in a while. I still have trouble seeing any rhyme or reason to the flares, but I do have some suspicions. Exercise is a tough trigger to have. On one hand, I'm getting so frustrated with my sedentary life, but on the other hand, activity makes me feel sick! I took the dog on an uphill walk for about 30 minutes that knocked me out for about 3 days. Lame. Lame. Lame!

I decided that I needed to just take time again to be sad. I really struggle to let myself mourn the losses POTS has brought to my door (mostly my youth, vigor, and dreams of being an active mom). I try to be thankful for what I have and feel like it's just unthankful to linger over the parts that suck. Not to mention, not everyone is ready and able to jump into the sadness with me- which I understand.

One thing that I have somewhat comfortably concluded in the last few weeks is this: I will feel terrible if I'm going to feel terrible. I cannot spend my life conserving energy just for the sake of not having flares of POTS. They come even if I do everything perfectly- whatever that means. I would rather spend my life as a series of bright bursts. Party! rest rest rest rest rest. Beach day! rest rest rest rest rest. Yard work! rest rest rest... It seems like a much more attractive plan than just being mildly well and extremely boring. Taking care of oneself means so much more than just putting your feet up and taking your vitamins. I have a soul to look after (and FAMILY), not just a sick body. Being sick is giving me the opportunity every day to decide who I really am and really want to be.


A few days ago, I walked into my room to find my kids playing with my laptop and Fountains of Wayne's “Radiation Vibe” playing from it. Of course, the children were reprimanded, but that song puts me in such a good mood that I didn't get too mad. That song reminds me of being 16 years old. When I was 16, everything was still possible. I was smart, hopeful, talented, and blessed with parents who were actually considering letting me pursue a ballet career instead of attending college.

My sixteenth year was my senior year of high school. I skipped the eighth grade as a homeschooler so that I could attend classes at a specialty math and science school run by our public school system in Amarillo, the Amarillo Area Center for Advanced Learning, or AACAL. I was still thinking I wanted to be a doctor then (cardiology, specifically). I made choices to impress and to attempt to live up to the potential I knew I had. I enjoyed making good grades and knew it was reasonable to expect academic success at whatever level I decided to reach. Ballet was my after school activity. At dance, I felt most challenged and felt the most pleasure, but I still didn't exactly understand how one would have a life in dance. So, I was going to be a doctor. I was a big dork at the magnet school. I was one or two years younger than the other kids and was the only homeschooler. I remember being teased for wearing my dad's old letter jacket which I thought was super cool. I was still loosing teeth (lost my last one my junior year... not. cool.) I managed to make friends, though. I love friendship. I have had so, so many wonderful friendships and find them to be my greatest sources of fun and energy. My AACAL friends were no different. We had a great time competing in medical spelling and biomedical debate at our Health Occupation Students of America competitions. I know, I know: dripping with cool.

Maybe it was to make up for all the extreme lameness I felt I was at AACAL or to try to become the big city kid I knew I really was somewhere inside, but the main things I learned at AACAL (probably an exaggeration!) was how to look like I was actually smoking a cigarette and how to casually drop a curse word or two. I never got in trouble for these activities, though I was nearly caught several times. It was easy to talk my way out being an ace student and the goody-two-shoes homeschooler that I was. After about 6 weeks of this silliness, though, I confessed all to my mother in a tell-all expose of my newfound bad-assery. I swore to never do it again, and I didn't. Though, I did drink half a wine cooler or two at some dancer parties a couple years later... shame shame. My little rebellious phase was great for me in one particular way: it gave me a way to stop and decide what I really wanted. I don't think my parents were too thrilled with AACAL in the end, so I had the option of choosing to go hardcore for dancing rather than medicine. By that point, I knew what I had to do if I was going to actually make good on what so many little girls tried to claim and become a ballerina when I grew up.

The classes and rehearsals that I wound up being committed to at the West Texas A&M Dance Department were a lot of work, but it felt like Heaven to me. I belonged! No one thought I was lame. In the dance ensemble, I was 3-5 years younger than everyone, but I was treated so sweetly, like a little pet, and with respect because I could keep up. I loved everyone so much. I still do. We had friendship like I have never experienced outside of dance. There's just something so bonding about changing together, sweating together, exhausting ourselves together and even trusting each other for our lives. One thing that I think has attracted me to childbirth and my current “job” as a doula is the closeness with other people. My relationships at the Lone Star Ballet, as we were called, were great too because there wasn't this huge element of competition that existed in every other context I experienced. We just wanted to dance together and get as great at it as possible. I have many wonderful, hilarious stories to tell from my days with the Lone Star Ballet.

For a year and half, my poor, poor family had to drive me back and forth to the university in Canyon, Texas twice a day on weekdays and once on Saturdays and Sundays. I especially loved when my dad would come pick me up at night. We didn't get to see each other very much because he worked a lot, and so did I. I loved trying to convince him to drive through a fast food place. Once, we each got about half way through our cheeseburgers and halfway back to Amarillo before we realized that they hadn't put any meat on them! Delicious. My poor little sister lived much of her life in the back seat of my mom's car waiting for me to get out of ballet.

But, then, the magical day arrived when I received my license. I looked absolutely beautiful in my license photograph- tan, wearing a cerulean blue scoop neck t-shirt, made-up with silver eyeliner that I got from my grandmother's make-up stash with lipstick, gloss, and more gloss. Even at the time I thought it was a good picture- how lucky is that? That license was the ticket to a new chapter in life. I kept the windows down in my red, Saturn station wagon and the radio up. I loved music. I was very in tune with what was happening in indie music and worked hard to learn the names of all the songs and bands I liked. We had two absolutely fantastic college radio stations, and I had them on at every possible second. When I did my school work in the mornings (alone), I would keep the clock-radio (that I still have) on my desk playing very quietly. If my mom came into check on me, I would reach for the eraser that I had strategically placed on the snooze button and turn it off. My goal was to get all my favorite songs recorded on my many mix-tapes.

Each day, I would blow through my school work as quickly as I could. “Yeah, yeah, yeah: math, history, science. I get it. Absorbed. Get me out of here.” It wasn't that I didn't like academics. I wanted to be smart and well-read, but I loved being with people and working on dancing so very much. I was red-blooded and alive in the studio. Around 11:40, it was finally time to get in my car and leave. That 20 minute drive was such a happy part of my day. I felt like myself. I wasn't a loser trying to fit in at the magnet school (even if my last tooth had finally grown in!). I wasn't trying to impress anyone. I was wearing lots and lots of lipstick and earrings because I loved them. I listened to my music loud and dreamed about all the dancing to come. Even the landscape became more and more interesting the closer I got to Canyon.

I have changed a lot from that 16 year old self, but she is still in here somewhere. She's the one that wants to throw parties. She's the one who still practices double attitude turns in the living room and checks to make sure I can still do the splits. She's the one who still loves Fountains of Wayne and is teaching the children to ask for Beck and Flaming Lips albums by name. She's the one who makes sure I've got my lipstick.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

The Palo Duro Canyon and TEXAS

I live in the Pacific Northwest, Seattle, specifically. It is beautiful and has all the natural elements that little girls from the Texas Panhandle dream of: water, mountains, and trees- lots of them. My family and I took a drive to the tulip growing fields of the bulb farmers in Skagit Valley about an hour north of Seattle to see the shocking fields of colorful tulips in bloom. It's like the pictures of Holland on the gardening catalogs that came in the mail which I would use to plan my imaginary estate gardens when I was young. On the way there, I sank into the perspective of my childhood self. I love driving around my new state with my child eyes. All the evergreen trees on the side of the highway remind me of drives to the family cabin in the Colorado Rockies- promising a few days of water, mountains, trees.

The natural beauty of Seattle is the backdrop for man-made beauty in architecture. The city's tagline was dubbed “Metro-natural.” I love this perfect description. I dreamed of big buildings and busy streets full of people when I was a kid too. I remember being about 6 years old and thinking, “I don't think I want to live here.” I cannot put my finger on it, but I just didn't feel like I fit there in Amarillo. I'm not sure anyone would call Amarillo itself “beautiful,” and it's tallest buildings would be the shortest ones here. I haven't been there very much in the last decade or so, but I'm pretty sure that the streets are still not teaming with people. There is so much space available (due to the lack of water, mountains, and trees), that parking lots and roads can be absolutely huge. People drive everywhere. My Amarilloan friends would be quick I'm sure to tell me all the reasons I'm wrong not to adore Amarillo, and I'm not necessarily saying that I don't. It's charms are many, to be sure. 

In fact, there are a thousand things to love about the Texas Panhandle. Around the edge of Amarillo, the land is terraced and stepped. Desert plants like Yucca and Prickly Pear Cacti dot the landscape. Scrubby old Mesquite trees that could be a hundred years old look simultaneously perfect and out of place in the fields. Cattle stand and relax before being faced with their end. Some people swear that you can tell if there will be a storm coming by how the cows group together. The sky is in such plain view that to city people it would almost seem indecent- just showing it's whole self for everyone to ogle. I get frustrated in Seattle because for all the abundance of clouds, you can barely see them. Texan clouds are like sculptural blimps. I would stay outside too long for comfort when a storm was blowing up just to watch the how the cloud formations were changing- to watch and see if they'd start spinning. Oh, how I miss that weather! As a Pacific Northwesterner, with children who are native to the region, I appreciate the Texas landscape I grew up in more than ever.

Even when I was a girl, though, I loved the Palo Duro Canyon. The PDC boasts being the second largest canyon in the United States, the “Grand Canyon of Texas.” I've seen the Grand Canyon, and I can confidently say the Palo Duro lives up to it's monikers. The entrance to the canyon is about a 40 minute drive from Amarillo. We would go there for field trips, barbeques, and camping. It is a feast for the eyes and a treasure trove for any rock or fossil hound. On an off-trail hike with my dad, we once found a fossil the shape and size of a bull's horn. A professor sort told Dad that it's likely a sloth toe bone of some kind. My favorite fossils to find are seashells and even coral; imagining that place full of water makes me feel how small I and my place in time are. The Spanish Skirts are festively beautiful- hillsides made from striated dirt and clay in yellow, white, red, and purple. I slipped and fell on my rear more times than I can count when that clay was wet.

The other claim to fame for the Palo Duro Canyon is that it is home to the Pioneer Amphitheater and its resident production, TEXAS, a musical drama that tells the stories of early Texas Panhandle settlers, both farmers and cattlemen. I have no idea what the national impression is of TEXAS, but I do know that locally it is treasured. To me, it might as well have been The Lion King or Phantom of the Opera. I knew many of the performers because the show was mostly cast with members of the West Texas A&M dance, music, and theater departments with whom I performed The Nutcracker and took summer classes. Mr. Hess, my ballet teacher, was the Director. Lucky for me: my dad's band was the pre-show entertainment on the weekends. The Prairie Dogs are a group of buddies who play music together still for fun. I love each one of them like an uncle (or, as the case may be, like a dad).

On Saturday evenings, I would go down to the canyon with my dad and run amok with all the other little band kids who had managed to be brought along on a particular night. There was a small mesa that rose behind the gift shop and barbeque area that we could easily climb and enjoy. It was our wonderland. We named every nook and cranny. We knew every hidey-hole and bluff. We named all the different routes for going up or down. Being little Panhandle kids, we knew how to watch out for snakes and what to do if and when we found them. We would save our allowance money to buy trinkets, cap guns, and rock candy from the gift shop that smelled like all the cedar it contained. My favorite thing to do, though I wasn't bold enough to do it often, was to beg barbeque off the vendor who sold styrofoam plates loaded with deliciousness to the droves of geriatric visitors who came on tour busses. Slow smoked barbeque beef and sausage swimming in Texas-style barbeque sauce, potato salad, coleslaw, beans, thick white bread with preserved apricot topping, sliced sweet onions, and hamburger dill pickles. Sometimes when the line had died down and we knew how much food was left, Joey, the proprietor or one of his managers would let us get a 20-something ounce styrofoam cup and fill it with whatever we wanted. I have put away more potato salad than anyone I know. I'm sure of it. A while ago while my husband was working as a programmer for a website that makes restaurant recommendations, he and his friends began frequenting a new barbeque spot in Wallingford called RoRo. He told me about their “barbeque sundaes,” layered bowls containing barbequed meat, beans, slaw, and hamburger dill pickles. With such a thing on the menu, I figured the place was legit and must be run by a Texan. Thankfully, I was right. A rockabilly styled woman with tiny body and loud, Texan accented mouth is running a place filled with Texas memories. Every time I bite into my “sundae” I am transported to the canyon floor.

My other favorite pastime whilst at “the play TEXAS' was to star watch. Like a Hollywood tourist, I would camp out and wait to catch sight of either Mr. Hess or any of his dancers, my teachers from Dance Camp that I loved so much. These were the only professional dancers I knew about, and I could not wait to join them. Sometimes I would sneak up to the top of the amphitheater to watch the opening number of the show while my dad packed up equipment with the band and then ate their plates of barbeque that Joey had saved for them. I loved everything about what I was seeing, every time. I learned the choreography and would show it off to the dancers whenever I had a chance. I never did dance in TEXAS, something I hugely regret, but I never had the chance. In order to become a ballet dancer, I needed to be away during the summers when I was in highschool to try to be noticed by a professional ballet school. The TEXAS dancers, who by the time I was in highschool were my best friends, were always thrilled for me and encouraged me to go make it in the big time. Some of them went on to be dancers and performers all over the world. Some of them are still running TEXAS. These are the people who taught me how to entertain. Their faces are burned in my memory with expressions that could read all the way at the back of the house. My ballet life didn't allow for me to fully use my facial skills. Once for the Pacific Northwest Ballet School's annual School Performance, I was cast in a leading spot for the finale of the George Balanchine ballet, Who Cares? which is all set to Gershwin classics. To the energetic “I've Got Rhythm,” I gave lots of face while kicking and spinning. It was the most TEXAS moment I had, and I didn't even get reprimanded for being too silly.

My time spent down in the canyon hiking, laughing, and stuffing barbeque holds a place of high honor in my heart. I am so grateful to have stories from the canyon and TEXAS to tell. I miss tornadoes and snakes and fossils by the dozen. I long for the distant pound of the base drum and my dad's harmonica reaching me while I explored. These are the memories that make exotic stories for me to tell my children. They all begin, “Once, in the canyon...” I tell them as though I were on a stage keeping the attention of a huge audience. The rapt listening of my 4 and 6 year old boys is just as much a treasure to me. Now when I walk busy Seattle streets or wade through a soggy day at the playground, there is a little part of me that pridefully claims: “I'm not from around here.”