Reflecting on 2015

One of my favorite podcasts is Around the Table. Jacey and Maggie make me feel like I have these two girlfriends I've never met, and I look forward to hearing what they're talking about every week. 

This was their last podcast for 2015, and they did something I thought was neat, and so I'm shamelessly stealing it for my own blog reflection. Tsh Oxenreider over at The Art of Simple has Twenty Questions for a New Year's Eve Reflection. Now, I don't know about you, but I don't have hours on New Year's Eve to pause and reflect on all twenty of these, but I figure if I tackle one or two here and there, it will be a positive way for me to reflect on what has easily been one of the hardest years of my life. 

To start, I'll answer the first question (seems as good a place as any to start.) What was the single best thing that happened this year? 

There are things I could pick, individual moments that were precious, or that I will carry in my heart for a while. I could talk about my new job, that allowed me to provide for my family in a way I would not have been able to otherwise. I could talk about a wonderful trip to my mom's in July and a great weekend with them. 

I could even talk about the way John and I have grown closer through our challenges over the last twelve months, and how the hard times have made us stronger. That's been something I am very, very grateful for. 

In the big picture, I think getting a real diagnosis for what is wrong with me is the best thing that has happened. And the reason I say that is because now I have more than just a feeling of being wrong, or sick, or tired, or all the other things I tried to power through, because I am a Strong Woman (c) and Can Handle Stuff.

I have made so many mistakes this year because I couldn't put a finger on what is wrong with me. I kept forgetting things, trying to find ways to remember, and then forgetting them too. So stressed I could just manage to get through hours and days. It affected every relationship I have, it affected my work, my volunteering, my everything. I tried it on my own, and I failed, so miserably.

But the positive of that is that I have learned a big lesson on being okay with asking for help - not just with "stuff" but with the emotional stuff of life. I have learned to depend on God, on my family, my friends, and that there is nothing wrong with not being okay. Most people aren't, is what I'm finding out.

We can all be "not okay" together, and that's the best part of 2015 for me. 


On not being okay

I have struggled to figure out how to write this, and have decided to just come out and say it.

I have anxiety and depression, which manifests itself in panic attacks, among other things. 

I am not suicidal. I don't want to hurt myself. But I feel guilty. I worry. My brain cannot stop itself from going to a worst-case scenario just this side of complete and total disaster. I worry that I am not good enough to do something, and that even trying is pointless, so why expend the energy?

This is not a new phenomenon, but I finally took the step of going to my doctor and talking about it. It has gotten worse over the last couple of years, and in the last few weeks has been fairly non-stop. I started having honest to God panic attacks. 

I truly thought I was going to die. I have never, ever in my life been so scared. My brain knew, somewhere, that it was not really that, and that I needed to pull myself together, but I just was incapable of doing that.

I am grateful for a good doctor who understands, and was able to explain that it's okay that I can't manage this, and that's why he is there, and why they make medications to help with this sort of thing.

I still feel guilty. There are so many worse things going on in the world. There are people who have problems that make mine look small in comparison. This confession is not an attempt to get attention, or meant to imply that somehow what I'm dealing with is worse than what anyone else is. But for me, this is now normal. I at least understand that there is a reason for why I can't stop the reaction, and hopefully it won't take long for things to kick in.

But part of me thinks - you used to be the person who had things together. Do you really want to admit that you don't? To say that you're not okay and that you are asking for help... that's not what strong people do. (Even when asking for help means taking a pill.)

What I'm starting to understand is that sometimes the hardest thing to do, that takes the most of the strength you have, is to say that you're not okay. I talked myself into and out of my appointment on Wednesday. But if I want to be a better wife, a better mom, a better person.... I have to do this and work on taking care of whatever is going on in my brain.

It means I have to get through the holidays, and they're stressful enough already, and figure out how to create calm in the midst of the storms of life. That's going to take time, and change (which terrifies me in a different way.)

So 2016 suddenly takes on new importance for me. A year I'm starting off by admitting there is a problem, and taking steps to correct those problems. My prayer is that by this time next year, all our lives are improved because of the change I need to make. 

Until then, I have to be willing to say "no" to some things, and not be afraid to ask for help. 


The Power of the Stories We Tell Ourselves

I love listening to Michael Hyatt's This Is Your Life podcast. Season six, episode three is called "Change Your Story, Change Your Life" and is all about the narrator voice in our head, and how to deal with the story your narrator tells you.

One of the key things I took away was the idea that we need to write down the negative comments from our narrator, and determine whether that voice gives power to your life, or if it is just being ridiculous. Once you recognize it for what it is, you have the opportunity to re-write your narrative voice, and give life to that story.

I am so guilty of allowing my fears, my insecurities, and other feelings to write my internal monologue. It goes a little something like this...

Self, we should start taking classes to finish that Bachelor's Degree we want so badly.
Oh, but you're way too old for that, and you have a little girl to think about. Do you want to be an absent mom? Do you want her to remember Mama playing with her, or do you want her to remember Mama with her nose in a book all the time? Won't she grow up feeling like her best is never good enough, if Mama was always pushing herself?
But Self, we're doing this for her too. So we can have a better life...
 Really? You want to deny part of this is about your own personal ambition, to finish what YOU started and didn't complete? This is really all about you; stop fooling yourself.

And on, and on, and on... my internal narrator finds a way to make everything somehow selfish, somehow about my own ambitions and nothing more, and that if I were a Good Christian Person I would simply plow along the row I am in, working hard and not focusing on moving too far out of my own line, for fear I might somehow be greedy or overly ambitious or not a good wife or mother or daughter or whatever it is I am doing at the moment.

Yet somehow, I think God makes us for "more than this" - we have this desire to do more, and be more, and give more, and love more, and grow ourselves larger than we can imagine, because what is the greater demonstration of God's love than to allow it to overflow in your life, and give out of that abundance.

I stink at filling my own cup. I'm lousy at sharpening my saw. But what I learn more and more as the years go by is that I cannot keep filling someone else's cup when my own is empty. What I pass along is less than my best, and if I want to keep passing along the best to others, then I need to keep my own cup full of good things.

That's the real lesson I want to teach my daughter and my bonus daughter. Take time to take care of yourself. Remember it's not selfish to do what you need to do for yourself. You only have one body - treat it well. You only have one mind - feed it all the information you can. You only have one soul - give it the best of your time. If you can't do those things, what you give to others will be less than your best.



Two Years

It doesn't get easier.

You just learn how to live with it. 

I don't know that I have the right words to explain it, which is odd for me.

I miss my little brother, and life has not been the same since.


What they don't teach you

So I've come to the conclusion that there need to be some required courses in high school or college to teach you how to be an adult. (In no particular order)

  • House Keeping - Not like Home Ec, wherein I was required to sew a sweatshirt and learn to make cookies, but stuff like reading laundry labels, how to not burn microwave popcorn, and basic cooking skills (like, don't turn the heat up really high on most things, or how to cook pasta without overcooking it.) Throw in a little bit about cleaning things and you've got a winner.
  • Maintenance - How do you check the oil in your car? How do you unclog a drain or toilet? Want to hang a picture in your first apartment? Make sure that chimney is clear before you light the first fire. Yes, you REALLY need to change the batteries in your smoke detectors twice a year, or risk the annoying beep that you can never place for a couple of weeks before you remember it's been a year since you changed batteries. 
  • Realistic Budgeting - How do you balance an account? How do you figure out how to make your "paid once a month" income last the whole month? How much should you REALLY budget for things like groceries and gas (not based on percentages necessarily, but on actual cost) or how to adjust when you need to make tough decisions.
  • Work Etiquette - there are some universal rules for the workplace that transcend all boundaries. Don't heat up fish in the microwave. Don't burn your popcorn. Don't take someone else's stuff in the fridge, even if you mean to replace it soon. Make sure if you take candy from the dish that you're reciprocating every now and then. Be nice. Don't be nosy. 
  • Shared Space Etiquette - Don't have long and loud personal conversations in the restroom or hallway. If you're sitting on stairs and someone comes up to use the stairs, don't be unpleasant when you get up. Walk on the right side, but if someone isn't moving, that doesn't mean you get to play chicken. 

Never mind things like what really happens when you become involved in a relationship with someone, or become a parent, or find yourself on a committee or board and have to be responsible to other people. That's a post for another day.

I just find myself thinking that I wish I had paid a lot closer attention way back when my mom tried teaching me some of this stuff, and wishing I wasn't a mom myself before I figured some of this out. Trust me, kids. Just do that hard, unpleasant thing that you think you don't want to do right now. Don't wait until you're 37 and STILL trying to figure out how to budget the right way. Dave Ramsey can only do so much. 


Five on Friday - Stuff Edition

Five things I'm loving this Friday:

Please note, none of these are affiliate links. I get nothing from what I've shared today, other than the knowledge that someone else will know about the small things I'm loving right now.

  1. I'm studying Adam Hamilton's Revival on Wednesday nights, in a group led by our pastor. Having not been raised Methodist, it's interesting for me to get more information on the roots of our particular brand of Protestantism, and it's also helping clarify the things I love about the United Methodist Church. To top it off, it's just a great read. 
  2. K-LOVE's Spotify Channel. I listen to Spotify at work, and I love the K-LOVE Today channel. It's updated regularly with new stuff, and it works particularly well on days when I need a little pick me up, and the classical at work stations don't quite cut it. Besides, who couldn't use a little Crowder in the afternoon?
  3. I've been feeling sort of yucky lately. It's a combination of of the ragweed and junk in the air that sets up my annual October sickness. But, I've been drinking Lemon Zinger tea and it either really helps, or it just makes me feel good so I don't think about how crummy I've been feeling. 
  4. I typically don't start eating any and everything with pumpkin spice, but I like these Kashi Pumpkin Spice and Flax granola bars. I tried one a few weeks ago (at church of all places, thank you Jean for sharing!) and love them. They're in my desk snack drawer, along with my regular Luna Mint Chocolate Chip protein bars, and they're delicious. 
  5. My Frye loafers. I have had these shoes at least ten years, probably longer, and they are amazing. They still look good, they are ridiculously comfortable, and fit perfectly with my preppy sort of style. I can't even find they style any more to share, but here is the pair I keep looking at - the Erin Oxford. I did not pay anywhere near full price for mine, but considering the wear I've gotten out of them, it would be worth the price. 
So, what are you loving this week? Did I lose anyone when I mentioned pumpkin spice anything? 


October Is a Mixed Bag

October is such a mixed bag of emotions for me.

Sarah and Briana both have birthdays in the middle of the month, so it's a happy time in our family. The temperatures start to cool off, football is in full swing, and I'm thinking ahead to Thanksgiving and Christmas, looking forward to the holiday season.

But there are two days in October that I now dread. October 6th is my brother's birthday. I say "is" with meaning, because of October 22nd, the date two years ago when he was taken from us much too soon. I can't bring myself to say "was." (I still talk about my Daddy and my grandparents' birthdays in present tense. They're not gone from us, just gone from this world.)

So I plan around it. I know that I need to stay busy while I'm at work those days, and try to keep my mind occupied with as many other important and urgent things as I can, so I don't walk around in tears all day. I know that I need to find something at home to occupy my time as much as possible, so I put off the inevitable come-apart as long as I can.

And I try to keep those happy times as close to the front of my mind as I can. I remember riding bikes in circles around the yard. I remember mowing grass and taking turns on the riding lawnmower (and getting stuck with the push mower on the hills.) I remember picking blackberries from the bushes near the edge of the woods, and digging a giant hole next to Daddy's workshop for our adventures. I remember the tree house Daddy built, and how we pulled the cats up in buckets because "cats like to climb, right?"

Or sitting in the back of the car on our rides "around the block" or "to town" for lunch on Sunday. I remember when we were teenagers and at each others' throats, because a brother and sister that close in age are probably incapable of anything BUT that as teenagers. And I remember the change that happened as we grew up, and how I would call him when I needed an objective opinion, or when there was something only he would understand.

It makes me sad for all the years we will miss together here. I'm comforted in knowing I'll see him again one day, and laugh thinking about how he's probably up there grinning like a Cheshire cat because he got to find out the answers before I did. He'll probably meet me there and bust out with this list of stuff he knows before my second foot hits the inside of the Pearly Gates.

But what I can do is keep his memory, and memories of my Daddy and all those other family members, alive here. I can talk about them, laugh about them, and tell my daughter, so that she can remember them and hopefully pass them on to her kids one day.

Until then, I'll be enjoying what passes for fall in Houston, with a nice stiff drink from time to time, and a well-placed come-apart as far from the proverbial maddening crowds as I can manage.