Feet First!

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I’m not sure exactly when it clicked for me. The past 6 months, I’ve been doing a lot of soul searching. Not just the sitting in silence, pondering life part. I mean the making lists and digging REALLY deep into who I am and who I want to be. Maybe it was turning 44—a mid-life crisis sort of thing. Maybe it was having my dream job and still feeling unhappy and unsatisfied. Whatever started this ball rolling, I am glad it did. I have never felt more empowered, motivated, and aligned as I do right now, in this moment.

This uneasiness I was feeling, this sense of having  no purpose, no path—it literally brought me to my knees. And I’m being completely honest here. I spent much of April and May of this year in bed. In tears. In complete and utter hoplessness. If I had the job I always wanted, the love of my life by my side, two magnificent boys ensconced at top-notch colleges, my elderly parents still alive and living with me, all the material things I wanted, why the hell was I in complete and utter despair? What the hell was wrong with me?

Yes, I’ve lived with depression my entire life. I know its in’s and out’s. I know its lies and destruction. I know how it seeps into your blood and into your soul. I know how that bitch sneaks into your bed at night and steals every ounce of happiness you had, with no reason, no rhyme, no warning. This was beyond that. This was a completely new thing. This was me floating helpless with no idea where I was going. I was no longer just depressed; I was lost. I, the real me, was gone.

I’ve been changing my eating habits and fitness habits since the first of the year. I’ve blown up over the last 18 years. I mean, BLOWN UP. I was about 100 pounds overweight. And I think here is where the moment of clarity came to me. It was on a treadmill, when I thought I couldn’t go any further. I was about to push the “stop” button on my treadmill, when I looked at my time. I was on there for 40 minutes. At a high speed and incline. When I first started in February, I could barely do 10 minutes with no incline and at a low speed.

Wait a second? Did I really do that?  Did I really come this far in a few months?  And I did this on my own. Yes, with support, but ultimately I was in control. It was when I realized how strong I could be physically that I realized how strong I am emotionally and mentally. I have been through so much shit in my life—I mean seriously. And here I am. Still. No matter what life has thrown at me, I’ve gotten through. And there it was, the truth I needed. Everything I needed was inside ME. I didn’t need to look to a job, to my love, to my nice car—-what I needed to thrive was me.

Now, I feel free. Is everything perfect and happy? No. Is my depression suddenly gone? No. But, now I know that the power lies inside me to overcome anything life throws at me. I am scared to death. I’m flying without a lifeline. I’m starting my own business to coach others to find themselves, to harness their power, and to do so with writing. I’m so excited I can hardly contain myself.

I’m jumping in feet first! And I’ve never felt so fearless in my life.

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Time Machine

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My Mother’s Day wish this year is simple: a time machine. Just for a few hours. No, I wouldn’t take it back to buy Microsoft stock or witness some historical event. I would go back to an ordinary day….just a typical Wednesday, maybe 2001. I would go back to our humble house on our less than great street. The one I never really liked, but at a young age, was lucky to have. It would be a sunny, nice spring day. I would go back to the morning. When my boys, then 7 and 4, would still be asleep.

I would creep into their rooms, and sit down and watch them sleep. I would take in everything about that moment–each hair on their head, the sound of their sleeping breath, the smell of the room. After lingering a bit, I would wake them up and we’d go downstairs for breakfast. And they could have whatever they wanted—-ice cream? Sure!! Chocolate chip pancakes with extra chips? You got it!!

After breakfast, we would move head back upstairs to our “learning room” to get started on the school day. Lego on the floor?? Again??!!! As the plastic missile makes its way into my foot, I would smile and enjoy the searing pain shooting up my toes. As the school day begins, I remember how difficult it was homeschooling two boys. But, this day, I wouldn’t yell when Holden didn’t want to do his English lesson, because he wanted to read about space and rocket ships. I wouldn’t get frustrated at Harrison when all he wanted to do was look at the photos in his animal books. I would grab all the books and sit with them.

I would do every single thing they wanted all day—-no matter how silly it seemed at the moment, no matter what I had planned for the day. I would hold the hugs just a little bit longer. I would kiss just a little bit more. I would cuddle up on the sofa just a little bit longer as we watched silly cartoons, which I used to think were a waste of time. The extra cookie that they wanted after dinner—I’d give them 2.

As I look back now, fifteen years later as my boys are now a senior and sophomore in college, I realize how much time I spent on things that weren’t important. I complained about things that didn’t matter. I didn’t spend time taking in those mundane moments that become the best memories. I look at them now with their own lives and their independence and I long for them to need me just a bit. I long for days of Sponge-Bob on the TV and Lego all over the floor. Days of rough and tumble boys laughing a bit too loud and being a bit too silly.

Time flies so fast. We are so busy looking to the next moment that we miss the beauty of the current moment. We miss the beauty in the madness that is the day of a mom. Those mundane moments are what I miss the most. Those days when nothing special happened, except it did……I was spending the day with my boys. The two halves of my heart. My eldest, who taught me how to love, and my youngest who taught me that that love was limitless.

They tell you a lot of things when you’re pregnant—what to eat, what you should or shouldn’t do when the baby is born, how to stay healthy. But, what they don’t tell you is how you lose your heart. How you lose part of yourself. These babies that grow inside you for 9 months, take a piece of you when they are born. And no matter how old they are, no matter how far away they roam, they carry that with them. A piece of you will forever live outside of your body, but you still feel it. Like a phantom limb, you ache for it.

Every Mother’s Day, as I celebrate my own mom, I also thank my boys. They made me a better person. They made me love deeper, they made me stronger, they made me who I am. As I marvel at their talents, at their compassion, at their humanity, I continue to miss those ordinary days. But, I’ve learned to hold onto each moment they are with me. Now, if I could only get that time machine…. just for a few hours.

 

A New Silence

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My house is quiet.

Their rooms are empty.

There is no laundry in the hampers.

There are no messes to clean up.

There are no diapers to change.

No faces to wipe.

There are no lunches to be made.

No 3 p.m. drives to school for pickup.

There was no rushing around this morning.

It’s silent. A deafening sort of silence. Almost mournful.

My head is loud.

The voices frantic and scared.

I try not to listen. I try to tune them out.

But they become deafening.

Destructive.

The silence is an unwelcome friend.

A New Beginning

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He looked at me and kept walking. Too wound up in laughter and conversation with new friends to acknowledge Mom. A knife through the heart, yet a heart bursting with overwhelming pride and love.

So, was my day yesterday. My youngest son had college orientation–a 3 day event including scheduling, fun, and just getting to know his new home. We went to pick him up and pulled in front of the auditorium where he would be coming out. I wanted to walk with him to his dorm and help him pack up and come home. There he was, my boy, walking out among the other college freshman with wide eyes and wide smiles, knowing that this was the start of a new chapter in their lives. He was surrounded by a group of new friends, but the way they were chatting and smiling, you would have thought they knew each other forever. I yelled for him, so he knew we were there. He looked around, then kept walking, kept talking. My heart hurt. He was in a new city, but seemed completely unfazed and completely courageous.

We drove to his dorm. There he was standing outside, bags in hand, like an old pro. He jumped in my car with the enthusiasm of a kid on Christmas morning, full of stories and excitement. He didn’t just like his new home, he LOVED his new home. “It’s kind of weird,” he said, “we come here and then go home and have to wait another 2 months to start college.” He wanted to be there now, no waiting. He was ready to fly my nest. His wings were dry and he wanted to soar. I just smiled.

It’s what we are supposed to do, isn’t it? We are supposed to nurture our children, give them the right tools to be successful adults, then send them on their way with encouragement, But, somehow when that time comes, we want to stop it. We want them safe at home where we can protect them from the ugliness of the world. But, it’s in the ugliness that they find their beauty. Things have to get messy sometimes in order to become harmonious. I wonder why it hurts so much when it’s what I always wanted. I wanted to raise 2 successful, creative, intelligent, funny, interesting citizens of the world. I wanted them to face life with enthusiasm and sheer abandon. And I did. I should be proud and happy and move on to this new phase in my life with a sense of adventure as what will come next, not just for them, but for me as well.

And I am….but it still aches. Aches for the little blonde boy picking up bugs in the yard and worried for their safety. Aches for the little redhead who loved Elmo and wanted to read every book he got his hands on. Aches for the blonde boy whose first word was “firetruck” and who insisted on becoming a vegetarian at age 5 and still is, by the way. Aches for the curly red-haired boy who asked the principal on the first day of Kindergarten, “Where’s the science lab?”

But those boys are still here, they are just in the guise of extraordinary men, ones ready to conquer the world. The blonde boy now shows me his visions through his lens, a lens that now captures the bugs and the firetrucks with a love that permeates and radiates through the photos he takes. The redhead that sits for hours on his computer, coding games and creating fantastical lands and creatures with that enormous creativity. They are still there and I am still their mom.

So, as they continue on their journeys on the streets of Pittsburgh and the walls of the Corcoran, they know I will always be their number one supporter, unconditionally and with my whole heart. In an odd twist of the universe, there is a bird’s nest on my front porch, inside a hanging basket. I’ve been watching it for the past 2 months, from egg to chick to bird. I watch the mom and dad hover over their babies, feeding them and squawking away at invaders. I watched as the babies began to grow and fight for space in the nest. Today, I looked out, as I do every morning and they were gone. They had left the nest. They were now soaring off to new adventures, creating their own lives. But, there was mom in the tree, chirping away as usual. Ready for her own adventure.

Thank You

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Once again I find myself in this unwanted position—the mother of a graduated senior. It feels like I was just here and now three short years later, I’m back here again…..for the last time. I’ve sat through my last parent/teacher conference, read my last report card, attended my last awards ceremony. The past week has been an emotional roller coaster. I’ve been happy one minute, a sobbing mess the next.

I’ve heard a lot of graduates talking about gratitude and thanking their parents and teachers for helping them get through the 13 years of school and supporting them all the way. As I sat at the Graduation ceremony, a few nights ago, I thought about how thankful I am to both my sons. So, I write this to them.

Dear Holden and Harrison,

I want to thank you. I know I should be soliciting gratitude from both of you. I mean, I did create you(well, I guess your dad helped). I did nurture you both for 9 months, through 2 high-risk pregnancies. I did spend excruciating hours trying to birth you into this world…..years of breast-feeding, late nights, bumps, bruises, hospital visits, temper tantrums, etc. etc. etc. Then, let’s not forget the 11+ years I home-schooled you both. Some days, I just wanted to send you to the principal’s office, but that wouldn’t have done much, would it?  Oh and all the money spent, time given, tears shed, did I mention money and tears? But, through all of this, there isn’t one moment I would change. Not one single tear, I would take back. Every second being your mom through the years has been a pleasure. It’s an honor being the mom to two such magnificent creatures.

Today, though, I want to thank YOU both. Thank you for showing me what unconditional love truly is. You taught me that I have a capacity to love that I never dreamed I had in me. You taught me to laugh more. Thank you for the laughter that was always around both of you…..from Holden’s squirrel friend to Harrison’s love of my credit cards(inside jokes), there was never a shortage of fun around the house.

Thank you for showing me how to be a nerd. I had always liked sci fi and all that geeky stuff, but you both opened me up to a whole new world of geekdom and I couldn’t be happier. I love watching tv with you, going to all those superhero movies(who likes those crappy rom-com’s anyway).

Warning: Mom is going to get serious now. I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart, for being the lights in my darkness. I know having a depressed, Borderline mom has not exactly been a walk in the park, I know. I know it’s been extremely difficult some days. I know it’s felt like Mom is crazy and the craziness was spilling over into you. But, it was never about you. It’s just me. Always has been. Always will be.

The days I couldn’t get out of bed. The meltdowns. The tears. The screams. When I was in the darkest recesses of those caves in my mind, there were these 2 points of light that always hovered around me. When I was on the edge, contemplating whether or not to jump, there was always something tugging on each of my legs, pulling me from the brink. That, my beautiful sons, was both of you. YOU saved ME.

The thought of not seeing those blue eyes. The thought of never hearing the word, “Mom”…..that is what pulled me back to reality. My reality. Not perfect, kind of broken, but MINE. You were my salvation. My saving grace. So, while I may have given you life. You returned the favor.

As you both continue on this journey of life, take with you my absolute gratitude. You made me want to be a better person. You made me want to survive. You made me want to live. Because, in giving you life…I found mine.

I love you both to the moon and back times infinity.

Love, MOM

Tears of a Clown

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I’m not one to follow the crowd. I know everyone is writing about Robin Willliams’ death today. But, as a huge fan and fellow depression sufferer, I have had so many thoughts that go through my mind since I heard the sad news last night, that I couldn’t get it out of my head. I am doing the only thing I know how to do, write it down.

I fell in love with Robin Williams watching Mork and Mindy as a kid, as so many in my age group did. I was so struck at this odd, hysterically funny character. He truly was unlike anyone I had ever seen on tv. I followed his career and always appreciated his humor. I believe his demons were always there, right under the surface. I think that’s why I related to him so well. As a life-long sufferer of depression, I could see it. I can see those demons peeking out between the smiles.

Dead Poets Society was an integral part of my formative years. As a long-time English geek, Mr. Keating was a hero, an inspiration. Walt Whitman had been on my bookshelf for years. To see a film all about life and how literature contributes to our life and nourishes our soul, was awe-inspiring. I cannot tell you how many times I have since seen this film. It seriously had an impact on me studying English in college.

When I had my two boys, they loved watching Disney movies and dancing and singing along to the musical numbers. We would act them out and sing along. Aladdin was a favorite. Robin Williams started the whole tradition of big name movie stars lending their talent to these great Disney characters. I can measure times in my life with Robin Williams’ body of work.

It’s hard to describe depression to someone who has never suffered from it. It’s not the opposite of happiness. It’s not extreme sadness. It’s a lack of every emotion. It’s hollow. It’s empty. It’s darkness. It’s a hole. It’s a void. It’s like a black hole within your soul that everything gets sucked into, leaving you with nothing. It’s a chasm that nothing can fill….not love, not money, nothing. You feel such a lack of hope that you cannot imagine that void ever getting filled, you cannot imagine that things will ever get better. Some of us try to fill that void with something, anything—–drugs, alcohol, sex, money, etc. But, that just makes it a million times worse. It causes a vortex that just pulls us deeper into that chasm and make the climb out even harder.

I’ve been there a few times, at that point where the only thing that I could imagine would bring me some sort of peace was death. I made a few attempts over the years. I think, deep down, they were half-assed. I think I was far too much of a coward to make a real attempt. The devil I knew was better than the devil I didn’t know. My depression has been difficult to deal with over the years, but they absolute hardest thing I’ve ever dealt with was the severe depression of one of my sons.

I saw the warning signs in him, but by the time I knew the whole truth, it was almost too late. A 2 a.m. visit from the police after a desperate call from a friend about his safety, led me to having to go into the bedroom to see if my son was still alive. There will never be words to describe those few seconds. They will never, ever leave me. They are tattooed on my soul forever. My son was okay. We called a hotline who spoke to him for a while. We got him help, therapy, and medication. But, I knew what he was feeling and I was helpless. I could lend support and give him all the love I have, but I knew from battling the depression demon on my own, that he needed to slay the monsters on his own terms.

It took a while, but he’s a normal teenage boy now. I am in a much better place than I have ever been. Through therapy, medication, and lots of love and support, we are not only surviving, but thriving. Every once in a while, without warning, that darkness starts to seep in. But, we are prepared this time. I think about Robin Williams bringing so much happiness and laughter to everyone, all the while suffering in this cesspool of pain and it makes me so sad. But, I have worn that mask. I have put on that smiling face and made the world think that everything is okay when deep down, all I saw was blackness.

I just hope that someone who reads this knows that they are not alone. I just wish that Mr. Williams’ death helps someone reach out for help. But, the problem is when you are down there, you don’t think to look up in the darkness to find a rope to hang on to, all you see is a noose to end the pain. I send all the love in the world to his family, especially his children. I know that the one thing I’ve learned through all the pain I’ve felt, all the lack of feeling I’ve had over the years comes from Mr. Keating himself. “Carpe Diem. Seize the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary.” Thank you, Robin Williams for making our lives extraordinary through your humor and being the extraordinary human being you were.

Suspended Animation

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If someone came up to you and asked you this question: “Who are you?” What would you answer? I guess I’d answer with my name. That’s a start. But what if they said, “No, Who are you REALLY?”  I’d probably pause a minute and say, “A mom, a wife, a writer.”  But, I don’t think that really describes WHO exactly I am . I’m a hodgepodge of idiosyncrasies, emotions, mental issues, memories. None of us can truly be defined in a few words or phrases. That’s what makes us human. But, when I look back at my second answer for a second, I’m struck by something. I said “mom” first. Most of the time that’s the first thing out of my mouth. “I’m mom to two teenage boys.” Of course, that will never change. I’m their mom forever….like it or not. But, I’m no longer a full-time mom. They are independent and don’t need me anymore on a daily caretaker basis. 

I know I’ve written a great extent about my boys and what their growing up and moving away feels like for me. But most of my posts are about how I feel as their MOM. What about me as a woman? The honest answer to “Who are you really?” is “I honestly don’t know.” I got pregnant with my oldest while studying abroad as a college junior. I wasn’t even set on a college major at that time, much less a life path. I did know that I never wanted kids and never wanted to get married. But, when I got pregnant, those were the only two things that happened. So, there I was at 21 years old, with a baby and a husband. I’ve read research that the pre-frontal cortex of the brain, the part that controls impulses and reasoning, doesn’t fully develop till we are 25. That explains a lot. I was too young to be a mom, too young to be married. My first marriage failed after 16 years…to be honest, it never should have lasted that long. But, I defined myself as a person, as a woman all those years as a wife and mom. I finished college and went to look for work, but it was always part-time or freelance work. I never was a 9 to 5 career woman. I home-schooled my two boys for 15 years, so that was my main focus. 

So, in 18 months, I will no longer have a child in my house on a full-time basis. No more school functions, sporting events, homework, dinners, illnesses to take care of, no more mothering on a daily basis. It’s started already, the slow move into my non-mothering being. But, once my youngest goes off, that ends. Then what? I keep asking myself that question. And right now I have no answer. I have absolutely no idea who I am as an adult woman. Yes, I have my writing and my husband. I’m an only child to two aging parents, so I still have that caretaker job to fill. But, still that isn’t WHO I am. I think that’s why I sometimes forget I’m a 40-something woman. In my head, I’m still that 21 year old college co-ed wondering what to do with her life. Like I’ve been in some sort of suspended animation. 

There are so many things I want to do in my life and haven’t done yet. I asked my son the other day, “what in the world am I going to do when your brother goes to college?” His response, “Do whatever you want to do. It’s your time.” Wow!! Words of wisdom from my 19 year-old son. I had to stop and think for a moment. What exactly are those things? I think before I figure out what I want to do with the rest of my life, I really need to figure out exactly who I am. My mom had me at 40. I was her first and only. I can’t even fathom that. But, she was set in her ways by then. She was a mature, responsible adult who had lived a lot in those 40 years. She was married, had a career, found out who she was and was comfortable in her own skin. 

I didn’t have that. I was a 21 year-old scared to death young woman, forced to become a responsible parent and adult, before I truly was one. I’ve been the best mom I could be to my boys. I think I’ve done a good job. They are strong, kind, intelligent young men who do good things. They’ve never been in trouble. They see the world in all its glorious shades and see everyone as equals. They want to give back to society. I think I’ve taught them well. I wouldn’t change my life for one second. Let me make that perfectly clear. I have never once regretted being a young mom. My kids are the greatest thing that’s happened to me. But, now that the full-time mom part of my life is over, I need to figure out who I really am and where I want to go with this next stage of my life. Let the journey begin. I hope you will come along with me for the ride.