The Invisibles

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I took my mom to a doctor’s appointment a couple of weeks ago. Due to her chronic illness, she tends to forget things easily so I go in the room with her. As the doctor asked his routine questions, I noticed that he was directing many of them to me. Understand that, although my mom can be forgetful at times, she has all of her faculties intact. And while I am blessed with many of my mom’s attributes, that does not make me my mom.

At one point, on the verge of tears, she slammed her fist down and said, “Listen to me, I’m trying to tell you something!”

That’s when I realized that what my mom had been telling me for years was true – when people get older, they become invisible.

At first I was angry. Angry that this respected doctor would be so dismissive with her. I wondered if he would have been the same with a younger patient. And then I was  profoundly sad. My mother deserves better. As does every other senior citizen.

I’ve since been paying more attention to the way I see the elderly treated, and I am embarrassed by the lack of respect and the patronizing tone I’ve seen many people take with a senior citizen. They are often treated like second-class citizens with no opinion, and nothing to add to society. It’s as if, once a person reaches a certain age, she is no longer needed.

Let’s work on recognizing the contributions these seniors have made, and those they have yet to make. Allow their voices to still be heard. As long as they are still on this Earth, they are a viable part of our society.

When we were children we were taught to respect our elders. Today’s culture is a disgrace to those very same elders. The elder-care “system” is rife with neglect and abuse. Nursing homes are nothing more than understaffed holding places for those seniors who are dependent on others for care. There is very little home happening there. I have heard stories of seniors who are malnourished because they need help eating and there is no one to help them. This is shocking, or at least it should be.

In a culture that seems to care so little for its aging population, it might do us all some good to remember that we are cultivating a system that will be the very one we wind up in when we are seniors. I, for one, am not okay with that.

Take a moment today, and every day to show the seniors in your life that they matter.

 

**My post in no way condemns all nursing homes. I am aware that there are some that are actually well-equipped, and staffed with nurses who care.

 

My Boys

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You have been mine from the moment I held my Baby Tender Love in the back of  Mrs. Womble’s kindergarten room.

You were alive before you were born, a little wish from the whispers of a five-year-old who had no idea what she was asking for, but knew you were exactly what she wanted one day.

Mine

You have always been mine.

I sang your song before I knew you.

I loved your voice before it was formed.

I held your hand in mine every single time I dreamed.

I waited for you.

Now you are mine and I have to let you go one day.

You are my always, my forever, my breath, the clock by which I start each day and end each night.

You are the reason nothing else and everything matters.

I never knew that someone else’s tears could drown me.

With you I  feel the edges of existence.

With you I walk on tightropes of hope.

With you I hear the world turn.

I have thunder in my veins when you need me.

My feet are winged when you call.

I am your thread from place to place.

I am because you made me.

I saw you and nothing else remained.

It was always you.

 

Brain Spill

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* I am writing this so that others can see one of the many faces of depression. I am not seeking pity or attention.

One thing I have always been in my writing is honest. So this is me being honest, unfiltered and raw.  I am not editing this at all, so please forgive the James Joycian run-ons and stream of consciousness, it’s the most accurate representation of how my mind is working (or not working) right now.

Tonight, I feel broken. I feel like I can’t move. I can’t breathe. There is something inside of me that won’t work no matter how much I tinker with it. And, believe me, there is much tinkering going on.

I don’t like this. I don’t want this. But this is me. I have clinical depression. At any given moment it visits me. It doesn’t care if I have everything I need, everything I want. It comes without warning and stays for as long as it wants. The sun may be shining. The clouds cleared, but inside of me the storm rages despite the current forecast. I try to fight it, but it’s like fighting the undertow. It. Just. Doesn’t. Work.

But think of all the good things you have. You have so much to be thankful for. No shit. I know that. But my depression doesn’t care. Those of you who say this, I don’t fault you. I don’t hate you for thinking it’s as simple as that. In fact, I think you know it isn’t, you just don’t really know what else to say. It’s okay. I don’t know what to say either.

It’s like someone asking you how you are. They are being polite. It’s what you do. It’s not like I’m going to answer by saying, you know what, I’m not good. In fact, I feel like I’m disintegrating. You just don’t say that. It makes people uncomfortable. I get it. It makes me uncomfortable too. 24 hour kind of uncomfortable. Unless there is wine. And then it’s only mildly annoying. Until there’s a sad song. And there’s always a sad song, isn’t there?

But I’m a mom. I can’t “self-medicate” like my mind tells me I want to. I can’t keep a travel mug full of “peace” with me at all times. And, honestly, I don’t want to. It scares me that the wine helps as much as it does. I don’t want to be that person. But a part of me is that person whether I like it or not.

Then there’s the most awesome part of all. My oldest son also has anxiety and depression. And every time I look at my youngest I wonder if I have passed the curse on to him as well. Do I think I shouldn’t have had kids? Absolutely not! This world needs my kids because they are incredible. But it doesn’t stop me from feeling guilty, which fuels my depression…vicious circle.

Did I mention I’m tired, but I can’t sleep?  I feel like I’m losing it most nights as I try to drift off with all of the what ifs shooting off like firecrackers in my mind. Problems that aren’t even my problems. Sadness that doesn’t even belong to me. I am too connected. So connected that I disconnect in order to survive.

I just want to rest. I just want to feel like everything will be okay. I want to trust the words I feed my children every day. It will get better. You just have to believe.  There are plenty of days where I feel like I’m just setting them up for the firing squad.

I’ll find my way out. I always have. But every time I surface, I can’t help but wonder when the next wave will hit.

 

 

 

I Am

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Original mixed media artwork

I am a notebook lined with intimate inkings that are not my own.

I am an untrained runner in a marathon with legs that quiver and quit on  me.

I am a brittle-backed leaf on bare limbs, desperately hanging on.

I am the earthworm tirelessly trekking the sun-soaked concrete path in search of the cool dirt, my skin shrinking around me.

I am a discarded bag forced by the wind to kite dance, dipping and diving, an empty carcass of plastic skin.

I am bone-tired, and every breath breaks me.

I am all these things on any given day. But I am here, and I am trying.

 

Got Compassion?

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An original piece of my artwork inspired by two beautiful compassionate children – Pippa and Sunna

 

“Oh I don’t know, Tourette’s can be kind of fun. I knew someone with TS and he would throw the “F” word around all the time,” the stranger said with a laugh.

Silence. Suddenly I was bombarded by the image pain of Jake sticking his finger down his throat hundreds of times a day. I was reminded of the time I stood in the kitchen doorway, unknown to him, as he repeatedly punched himself in the stomach, tears running down his face. He was six. I recalled the angry stares of strangers who judged him every time we were out. And I felt my words stick in my throat as they so often do.

Sadly, this is a scenario that has played out in many forms over the years. I have since learned to speak out for Jake and other people like him who live with the suffering that accompanies Tourette’s and OCD. I can assure you none of them are having fun.

When Jake was diagnosed I was under the impression that his biggest problem would be peer bullying. Kids can be cruel. What I have learned instead, is that adults tend to be the worst bullies of all.

Over the years I’ve wondered about this. Why, when adults have so much more life experience, are so many lacking in compassion? How do they justify such insensitive remarks?

As adults we tend to inhabit our own space, both physically and mentally. The longer we remain earthbound, the easier it is for us to grow cynical and care less and less about the “big” world, concentrating instead on our personal lives. Unless a person’s life has been touched in some way by disability, and special needs, I think they just don’t get it. Instead, they are driven by the media’s skewed stereotypes.

All people with Tourette’s curse. False. Less than 10% are afflicted with coprolalia – a tic that causes them to use obscene language. I once met a twelve year old boy who was deaf because one of his tics was to box himself in the ears. I’ve seen a fifteen year old girl in a wheelchair because one of her tics was squatting while she walked. Hilarious,right?

All people with OCD are neat and are germaphobes. Just give them some hand sanitizer and all is well. False. Jake’s OCD immobilizes him at times, making him unable to leave the house. He struggles every day with repetitive thoughts and fears, causing him severe social anxiety. Good times, yeah?

Clearly, there is no humor in these conditions or any others.

So what’s different about how children process these differences. I think that children are simply more connected to the world than we are. They are newer beings on this Earth and are naturally curious. They haven’t been media-trained in the ways of callousness. We have so much to learn from them, and such a responsibility to protect them from becoming hard-edged.

But I think it’s important to note that compassion is more than just caring. As connected Beings we all need to practice empathy more than sympathy. And if we allow ourselves to reconnect with our spiritual side (not religious – that’s completely different and man-made), we will realize that it’s our natural state because we are all connected.

So how about you? Got Compassion?

Character Soundtracks

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Me listening to one of my character soundtracks

Music moves me. I’ve always imagined my life as having a soundtrack playing in the background. Seriously. I’m sure it’s just a result of my being an 80’s mixtape kid combined with my former career in music store management. Whatever it is, it’s still hanging on even though record stores and the 80’s are long gone.

When I’m working on a novel, I have a habit of creating a soundtrack for my characters. When I am writing that character, I listen to her music to get into her head. It really helps. Plus it’s fun to figure out exactly what kind of music my character would listen to. I’ve found some very interesting songs researching my books.

As an audiophile it just makes sense to me that my character would be defined by her music choices. And for me it’s the lyrics. The type of music is not as important as the sentiment. On any given playlist you could find Johnny Cash alongside My Chemical Romance. It just depends on the character and the character’s mood.

It’s hard to write a novel and not write parts of yourself into it. So my characters will always reference music and use it as a way to process parts of their lives, give voice to their emotions. It’s very natural for me.

If you’d like to hear one of my character soundtracks and you happen to be on Spotify (which I highly recommend) here’s a link to a playlist I created for a character in one of my books. I won’t give you a character analysis, but you might just get a peek into another world if you listen to Anna’s music.

 

 

Writer’s Block

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View from the ranch at Texas Writer’s Retreat

Writer’s block. We’ve all experienced it, and chances are we will again. But just remember, it’s a block, not a wall. Blocks can be jumped over, moved, or built upon.

While attending (that seems such a formal word for such casual, intimate gathering of writers) the Texas Writer’s Retreat a week ago, I had the opportunity to get to know John Grogan, author of international bestseller Marley & Me, and The Longest Trip Home. I’m always surprised when I meet  people who have a certain celebrity status because, more often than not, they are just normal people – well as normal as writer’s can be. 🙂 And John was no different. Very down to earth and full of great stories.

Over several dinners and glasses of wine, John shared some of his insights on writing. He encouraged us all to read an essay in The New Yorker by John McPhee, Draft No. 4. The essay gives a great tip for dealing with writer’s block. I won’t spoil it here because it’s well worth the read.

More than anything, just keep writing.

 

 

Just Keep Moving

*This post is honest. It is painful to write, but I feel that it needs to be said for those who can’t say it.

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Jake on a very bad day

My son bears the weight of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) daily, but this post is not for him. This post is for the parents and loved ones who must learn how to live with OCD as well. I do not wish to take away from the burden he carries; believe me, I have seen him crippled by this intrusive, invisible bully and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.

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Half a day’s worth of gloves

But I am here to acknowledge the others who are involved in this journey alongside them. I am here to remind you that we, too, face a bully. However, our bully is easily recognizable every time we pass a mirror.

How often have you retreated behind the safety of a closed, locked door and screamed into a pillow? How many times have you been blinded by the hot tears of frustration as you drive anywhere just to get away? And how familiar is the feeling of guilt that gnaws at you for all the times that you lost it, yelling at your son out of anger? The emotional turmoil is unrelenting.

I have slammed doors and punched pillows.

I have felt so much pent up rage that I’ve resorted to hitting my thighs with fists clenched so tightly that my nails have drawn blood, just so the bruises on my legs hurt more than the ache in my heart.

I have escaped the tension with a few too many glasses of wine. And then slept through my sadness.

I have sat outside my son’s door listening to the quiet of him sleeping, pretending that he’s just like everyone else. Enjoying the silence maybe a bit too much.

 I have driven to an abandoned lot, turned the music up as loud as I can and screamed until my throat was raw and I was out of breath.

And each time I’ve berated myself with ugly, angry words.

The same kind of sharp words I have heard my son use on himself on his worst days as he curls up in his chair, the chair that is off limits to the rest of the family because we aren’t clean enough, and cries until he has nothing but shadows left inside him.

The same words I save for the days when I hate myself most. You are worthless. You are a burden. You can’t even help him. Loser. I can’t do this anymore.

 There are times that I think if only I had done this instead of that. Said these words instead of those. Maybe things wouldn’t be so bad for him. Maybe he would be better. Maybe I’ve made it worse.

I make myself physically ill worrying over the things that I think I did wrong. But the truth is that on any given day, I’m doing the best I can. My best may not be perfect, but I. Am. Trying.

There is a song in the Sondheim musical Sunday in the Park with George that really resonated with me one day when I was out trying to walk off the voices in my head that were telling me how wrong I was.

Stop worrying where you’re going – Move on.

If you can know where you’re going, you’ve gone.

Just keep on moving.

 I chose and my world was shaken- So what?

The choice may have been mistaken,

The choosing was not.

You have to move on.

 As parents and caregivers of kids with special needs, it’s easy for us to forget that the best thing we can do is to keep moving.

Some days we will move backwards, tripping over yesterday’s mistakes. Other days we will move forward full of a hope we can barely see. But the only thing that matters is that we are moving. We may not know where we are going, or how we are going to get there, but we will get there.

Yes, we are exhausted. We are overwhelmed. We are heartbroken. We are afraid. We are angry.

But we are here. We are here and we are moving.