Do You Remember Me?

To my sons,

There was a time I was active. We went on hikes after school, even though you couldn’t figure out “Why do we have to do this?” Watching out front when you went out to play in order to intercept fights with neighbors or general mischief. I did yardwork while you rode bikes and ran around.

Remember how I came to school for special days, events, and holidays? I volunteered in your classes, but you acted like you didn’t know me. Working from home doing medical transcription, I was able to care for you when you were sick or pick you up from school. I was also available to respond when the school called because there was trouble, but we don’t have to go there. I was able to pick you up from school to attend guitar or piano lessons.

Can you see me in your mind, running after a dog or climbing a trail in the woods? Do you recall I was present for your childhood? When one of you requested we do more homemade family dinners, I listened and made it happen. In 2009, after I almost died, one of you said you wanted to see me up and about more, so even though I was unknowingly severely anemic, I made sure not to lie down until you were home from school, did homework, ate a snack, and then went on to play, though my whole body ached for relief.

When you were younger, even during high school, I was working, fitting in school and sporting events. I was right there, supporting and cheering for you. The pride I felt watching you guys grow filled my heart, still does as I see you becoming men.

I hope you have memories of me coming to your rescue when an older boy took your bike at the park. How about me getting you out of trouble for throwing snowballs at a car? We went to Disneyland for spring break one year and you enjoyed the pool at our hotel just as much. After swimming lessons, we explored local lakes and pools; I swam out to the log jutting from the waters at Skookum Lake, suprising you and your dad.

My heart aches for you to remember me, not as I am now, but the way I was all the years of your growing up in Gleneden. Please don’t let my current condition be all that comes to mind when you think of me or describe me to others. Please, please remember more of me.

Love, Mom

45+3

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My mother-in-law sold her house, pending appraisal, less than a week after putting it on the market. There’s a 45-day escrow plus three days for moving. She’ll be relocating to our home immediately after Labor Day. The plan that was drawn up after the death of her husband in January is coming to fruition imminently.

The train ride down will take 36 hours, which is about the same as driving and far less stressful than flying. After my husband arrives in central California, his mom will rent a truck for her move out of the state in which she’s lived for a bit more than 50 years, after growing up in Germany. She’ll drive her own vehicle with her dog and cat, following my husband in the rental. The trip will take two full days on the road in the first full week of September.

The pets will be interesting additions to our home. Our blue heeler is nearly 11 years old and slowed down by a deteriorating liver for the last couple. Here come a seven-year-old dog and maybe ten-year-old cat my mother-in-law adopted from my sister-in-law when she was dying from ALS. She moved into her boyfriend’s house for safety reasons and he didn’t let her bring these pets. So, this cat and dog are special members of the extended family, just as our dog is to us.

Shiloh, the sweet dog, lived in town for a short while at the nearby home of a friend, so my SIL was able to visit for that time. They were unable to keep the dog long-term, so my MIL was happy to take them; she is very much an animal lover. On one of my visits to see her in Southern California, we spent time with the young dog just prior to him moving to central California. Driving away from his “foster” home that night, with him standing quietly at the fence watching, his eyes reflecting the headlights as we pulled away was so sad. Adjustments such as these made the reality of the progression of the cruel disease unavoidable. Five years later, Shiloh is coming to live here and he’ll have grass for the first time since leaving a small yard in southern California. This makes my heart happy.

Firmly dog-lovers, my husband and I have never had a cat. We both regard felines as aloof animals who do whatever they want and create the need for a litter box. I know we’re not wrong. I also understand they can be in relationship with their owners, purring on laps, etc. Growing up, we did have a couple cats, but they were outdoor cats. The last cat we had brought us a bat and, as soon as we got the rabies ‘all clear’ from the vet, Bandit disappeared following a night of coyotes howing in the woods at the end of the street. Apparently, this cat keeps itself to itself and will be seen only occasionally. We’ll leave the laundry room door open, so the litter box has a place. My MIL was offended when my husband referred to stinky litterboxes. She assured him no odor will accompany the cat shat. We’ll find out soon.

Crazy days here in the midst of two bathroom remodels and no bedroom yet cleared for our son to move upstairs before my MIL moves in downstairs. Fibromyalgia has not improved since I started reminding myself there is no threat, no need for fight, flight or freeze. The unwinding I credit to merely a few months rewiring of communication involving the amygdala by frequently reminding myself that there is actually not a current threat has been rewound as I juggle thoughts regarding the recent disability hearing, complexities of fibro, and the listing with fast sale of MIL’s home.

As predicted this winter when my husband and I played out what this process would look like as well as the timing, my German mother-in-law will be moving into our home in September. The plan worked out just as we thought it would. That’s one definition of success, yes?

Rest assured, updates to follow.

Haulin’ a Whole New Life

My mother-in-law listed her home Wednesday, July 13th. It’s located in middle California, east up a canyon from Bakersfield. She had one potential buyer come through this morning who is very interested, looking through the house twice this morning. It’s 11:30 a.m. PDT. Her house now has a few people looking, and she may benefit from a bidding war. Another buyer is scheduled to visit at 1:00 pm. The move from the Kern River valley to the home where my husband and I live in eastern Washinton State may come sooner, much sooner, rather than later.

The house is not yet ready for her to move in, with bathroom remodels under way and bedrooms still not cleared out. Our oldest son begins his new job on Monday and will soon be making plans to move out, but not until he gets a few paychecks. When I remind him he needs to start working with his dad to move his thingsfrom the basement, across the hall from our bedroom, I’m met with radio silence.

My husband responded to his mom’s news about several people looking at the house and making positive comments by telling her that she’ll probably be living in a bit of a mess for a while. She said it would still be a while; she’s hoping for maybe a 45-day escrow. That is still soon in my book.

When my husband sent her a picture of the vanity we’d purchased for the downstairs bathroom (Not her bathroom, I’ve had to remind.), she texted back, “It’s in two pieces?” After the explanation that these two pieces would make one, she texted, “With no handles?” to which my husband assured her there would indeed be drawer pulls. Her follow-up comment was, “Make it nice for your mommy!”

Should she complain about any of the accomodations, I will need to let her know we’ve done fine without her oversight. I won’t say it that coldly, but I will express that I’m not interested in her concerns or corrections. Any ideas about how best to deliver this sentiment are greatly appreciated, in the comments. Bitte schon.

Updates about the German mother-in-law revolution (I certainly wouldn’t use the term ‘invasion.’) will follow as events unfold. Danke.

p.s. For anyone wondering, my husband reads my posts. His reaction to this one? “Did you have to look up how to spell bitte schon?” and we laughed about my 20 minutes spent trying to type in umlauts, which I never did figure out.

Hearing Hangover

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Following my discouraging disability hearing yesterday, I yet felt weight move from my shoulders, down through my hands. I had my husband brush the negative energy down my arms and out my fingertips. Sleep was spotty with blurred edges.

This morning I woke up at my usual time, about 7 am, and had a cup of coffee. As I looked through news articles and saw what was trending on Twitter, my eyes got heavy and that’s a sign I am going to sleep very soon whether it fits plans or not. Lying back down in bed, I slept for a bit more than four additional hours.

After waking, again, and having my second cup of coffee a bit after noon, my body started talking. It felt as though all my pain spots were shaking their fists at the psych expert from the hearing yesterday, yelling, “Oh, yeah? We’ll show you!” Fortunately, they took turns, a few at a time. From the top of my head to the arches of my feet, moderately severe pain punched back at the notion I’m not debilitated by all my physical and mental pain resulting from years of illness. My body systems seem to mostly quieted down, but I do feel like I could go right back to sleep at 5:00 in the evening. And I just might.

Experience with hangovers has, repeatedly, schooled me in how to deal. Knowing relief is on the horizon does give one a lifeline when the cause is alcohol. Such certainty does not apply to a fibro flare.

Nevertheless, I am so relieved to have the hearing in the rearview mirror and thankful to be rid of the stress I couldn’t talk myself out of beforehand. I told myself I wouldn’t give the hearing or its outcome a thought, and I expect my plans to brush the notice of the ruling out of my mind, giving it none of my time or energy, will be just as successful. Lifey life. Cheers!

Hard of Hearing

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The problem with having slow thinking, trouble expressing yourself, and difficulty focusing is trying to describe your situation and limitations effectively in a disability hearing with an administrative law judge.

The hearing started with a medical expert who concluded I had no limittions. None. She referred to notes from my past therapist and more than once mentioned my last visit there. In her notes, the psychiatric PA described me as rude, angry, loud, disjointed, tangential, sarcastic, emotional and blaming. Today’s expert said without knowing the context of that episode, she really couldn’t consider it. “Anyone can get really emotional about something and become angry and this wasn’t typical for the complainant.” When my attorney referred the expert to my current psych provider’s notes, pointing out repeated references to being anxious, fearful, and irritable, the doctor stated that “anyone can get irritated. It doesn’t rise to the level of an impairment.” (For the sake of completion, the explosive exchange between the previous therapist and I was because I finally opened up and told her I couldn’t handle listening to her talk about the end of the world at every appointment when I’m trying to climb my way out of suicidal depression. Her response was, “Well! I thought you were a Christian!” I was just trying to stay with her to have her regulate my meds. So, yeah, I got emotional and sarcastic after she became offended at me, the patient, trying to set healthy boundaries! Did I mention this today, inserting it in when I had a chance? No. Was there an opportunity for that? I have no fucking idea at this point.)

My attorney asked me questions next. I’ve taken pages of notes, scattered pages addressing things I might say in response to questions about my circumstances. Last night, I distilled them all to a few pages. I don’t know what the hell I said today. I know I missed some info I definitely wanted to provide.

The vocational therapist spoke last. The judge presented him with a hypothetical claimant who had several limitations and then asked specific questions about availability of work. My attorney asked about the effect of chronically missing work and not being on task.

After the hearing, my attorney called. He said that medical expert was really bad, and he couldn’t believe how she refused to acknowledge current notes with discussion of symptoms. He was pleased that the judge did include a few limitations in the hypothetical. Eric said he definitely thinks we should appeal if I’m denied. The ruling will be issued in six to eight weeks.

I’m soooo tired. My body aches. The 45 minute hearing, for which I’ve prepared the last year or so in a process that’s gone on three years so far, is over. It’s over. I said whatever I said. I know my judge usually follows expert’s conclusion, so it doesn’t look good. Whatever. At least it’s over. Trying to let it go and relax. Sigh.

Paper Thin

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Shallow breaths are all I need. Feeling hungry is satisfying. If I can take in tiny sips of air and spend most of the daytime feeling the effects of eating a minimal amount of food, I can almost disappear. Just a slip of person, thin as paper. No matter my physical weight, I nearly disappear. When my self requires little and it’s just a wisp, I may absent responsibility and release myself to just be, not trying to “get better” or “have fun.” A handful of minutes in the hours in the day, maybe I can get distracted from pain, nausea, vertigo, cognitive impairment, etc. My stomach growls to remind me it wants food, and that reinforces my desire to be nearly nothing. My brain wants to predict everything that will happen at the disability hearing scheduled for Thursday, on the phone, but I’d rather be still. Quietness, shedding trappings of opinions and personality. Becoming minimal. I feel peace there.

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A New Loo!

Fortunate to have three bathrooms, we are currently remodeling two. The primary bedroom has a three-quarter bath, while the daylight basement has a full one. The only lavatory not taken down to the studs is the full guest bath upstairs.

For now, one of our adult sons lives in the downstairs but, so proud to report, he very recently got a job in his field and will be moving into a place of his own, just in time for my mother-in-law to move into his rooms. Her home reportedly goes on the market in California in the next few days, and as soon as it sells my husband will make final plans to bring her here, following months of prep. Due to the remodel, everyone in our home is using the full guest bathroom; this has led to urgent pleading with one another, but not as often as I’d have guessed. Hopefully, we’ll complete the renovation before my MIL arrives.

The two rooms we’re redoing had sinks and bath/shower original to the house from the late 1970’s. We’ve been in the house for 21 years now, and I’ve been longing for an updated bathroom in our bedroom. When my husband started talking about the need to remodel a bathroom for his mother, I was quite vocal about the need to redo mine. My mother-in-law told my husband she wanted him to remodel mine first, not wanting to get between me and my new loo! Thus, the decision was made to bring in a crew to do both at the same time.

The beginning of a project is all fun and games! It was so exciting to imagine the atmosphere I wanted to create in my little washroom. The shower had been a dark, single stall in a prefab pan. Everything needed updating. My husband gave me the go ahead to pick what I want and make it my own. He is, though, a project manager with a commercial flooring and tile company and, of course, he’d be managing ours. Given my license to shop decor, I thought his management would apply only to the physical labor. The following, though, is a typical conversation we’ve had as I share with him my choices of tile, vanity, light fixtures, etc.:

Me: “Okay. I found the (blank) I want.”

Him: “Let’s see. Did you take into account this, that, or the other thing.”

Me: “I’ve spent hours going through pages and pages online, looking at ratings, comparing prices….” perhaps defensively because the actual shopping was not so much fun, after all.

Him: “Huh. So, that’s really your top choice?” “You’re going to mix finishes?” “You don’t have that much space.”

Me: “Yes, I’m going to mix finishes,” something not happening in his condo and hotel projects. I also do not want the whole room in one color/shade. My husband has a hard time seeing my vision.

That said, I am relieved now that the shopping is done. It’s a lot of pressure to choose things that will be permanent, as far as we’re concerned; I do not see us remodeling these rooms while we’re still the owners. My part is mostly done, but I still need to pick my accent tile that will serve as backsplash behind the sink as well as the corners in the new shower enclosure, which is now twice the size, as the result of using dead space, and built out of tile. I’m thrilled with the final choices I’ve made and can’t wait to see them in place.

The basement redo is focused on durable, economical materials, which is fine by me. I shopped for the accessories and accents online, and they’re being delivered piecemeal along with features and fixtures for my bathroom. We’re making progress, slowly but surely. My husband is doing the work he can manage on his own, and the crew will return when we’re ready for the tile to be set. Believe me, after 21 years, a few months doesn’t seem long at all.

My husband and I always forget to take ‘before’ pictures when beginning a new project, but above and below are photos of the demo and I’ll definitely post ‘after’ pics upon completion!

The old, sad shower stall

Ramble Gamble

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Rambling posts are a collection of thoughts I have that don’t warrant a post of their own. I also include personal life circumstances, usually near the end.

Do you speak your mind? Are there folks with whom you avoid voicing your opinions? Is it a risk to share your thoughts? I find I keep many thoughts to myself, sometimes putting them on the table with my counselor because I know she won’t judge. Such a people pleaser am I, troubling or controversial ideas are rarely shared with friends and family at this point. Keeping the peace.

This has probably been addressed in one of my prior posts, but I have to say it. When you are referring to a specific point in time, use the word ‘when.’ Ex: When the plane lands, I’ll shoot you a text. If referring to a period of days, weeks, months or years during which something may occur or an open-ended time frame, use the word ‘whenever.’ Ex: Whenever you get a chance will be fine. Serious overuse of whenever seems to be the order of the day, but I will protest (evenly silently) to the end.

Several years ago, I worked in the garden center of a large retail store. There were two keypads for employees to use for clocking in and out, and sometimes this was the only chance I had to visit with people from other departments. One summer day, prepared for the outdoors with my straw cowboy hat and sunglasses, one of the butchers approached the time clocks, greeting me cheerfully, “Hey, garden girl!” I answered, “Hey, meat man!” before giving it a second thought, until it was out of my mouth. His response, “That’s one of the nicest thing anyone’s said to me!”

Our future housemate, my mother-in-law, is radio-silent. I’m sure she’ll let my husband know once her house is on the market and she hasn’t, at least as far as I know. When my husband was with her recently, they held a three-day garage sale and unloaded much of the furniture, tools, and other household items she won’t be bringing with her. My husband told her she can bring her yard art. He wants her to feel she belongs and to enjoy her last years. (She’s not ill.) So, she has a set of seven gnome dwarves on her front steps and onto her porch. They’re faded from years of sunshine in California. She walked past them and pronounced, “These are going.” My husband doesn’t know why these are so important to her, but I never wanted plastic dwarves or gnomes in my yard. As my husband moved things out of her house for the yard sale, his mother advised he should move those dwarves so nothing happened to them. He said it wasn’t necessary. Later, he carried a load out and the last dwarf, I’m assuming it was Dopey, fell off the step and broke. It’s plastic but very dried out. That’s how many years these plastic gnomes have been sitting outdoors. My husband’s mom was furious. He assured her he’d buy a replacement and her retort was, “Yeah, sure you will.” He’s in the middle of moving her into our home, taking care of her at significant expense of time and money. I can’t believe she spoke to him that way. Following, she gave him the cold shoulder for hours. (This is one of the topics, my German MIL moving in with us, I address but bury in the “Rambling” series,)

Overwhelmed by pain, depression, and cognitive impairment, I’ve been having thoughts I’m only sharing here, but I understand this topic may be painful. My husband will read my post and see that suicidal ideation is are predominant again; after he expresses his desire that I not opt out, he’ll explain that so many people have it so much worse and are able to keep going and take away the means by which I would quit life, if I told him. This morning I’m facing myself, unsure if I really want to make that choice. The most important reason I have to keep going, is my sons. They’re 23 & 24, building their own foundations for adulthood, and I wouldn’t want to cause them to go off the rails and have to deal with the impact of my choice on the rest of their lives. The need to protect them, above all, continues just as when they were 3 & 4 or 13 & 14. I do, however, feel like giving in to fibromyalgia and depression, quitting medical treatment and counseling, staying in bed without urging myself to go outside or keeping in touch with friends and family. I’m so tired of dealing with the wide array of fibro symptoms, especially the impact on my mental functions. In my previous life, I was super smart and sharp. Not bragging, just explaining the contrast I feel and the difficulty I have adjusting to impaired cognition. I will keep going, putting one foot in front of the other, wanting to see my sons’ lives unfold. Update 7/2/22: It’s not the end of the world today.

The fourth of July approaches and, as is true with most years since our sons began making their own plans, we aren’t going anywhere or going to see fireworks. It would require more trouble than it’s worth and I’d pay for it afterwards, at least for a few days. We’re in the middle of remodeling two bathrooms, so that is our focus. (You can read more about the ups and downs of this remodel in my next post, “Under Construction.” It will most likely be published July 2nd or 3rd.)

Do you have a barbecue happening or a day at a lake? Will you engage in conversations that go beyond surface niceties with your family or friends? Do you set off fireworks or go to see a large, professional display? Personal fireworks are prohibited where I live, but we’ll still hear several M80 fireworks, which sound like a really loud gunshot. They’ll be set off a bit over the weekend, and several will be heard on the holiday. My dog will hide behind furniture to escape the danger, but she does that every time I sneeze!

p.s. I found a great description for what I call “fibro sick.” There are so many symptoms. For me, I have times where my body feels the way you do if you have a really bad cold or the day before you realize you have strep throat. Just icky all over.

Parent is Also a Verb 6/30/22

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Dedicated to my late dad on his birthday.

My sons were both encouraged to sign up for sports and other interests they thought might be interesting. The older one preferred to achieve his personal best in track and cross-country, while the younger enjoyed competing on a team, including basketball and baseball.

In the early years, I was a full-time mom. Even so, I needed help when one boy had something going on at one setting while the other needed to show up across town. My folks were a huge help. Later, as a personal contractor doing medicial transcription online, I was able to set my own schedule and attend my kids’ sporting events, which were usually in different seasons.

One beautiful, sunny day I sat watching and cheering the 7th grade baseball game, in my comfortable outdoor chair with my waterbottle at hand. My parents joined me after the first couple innings. They set up next to me. We followed the game, appreciated the sunny spring day, and visited.

My dad smiled at me and said, “You really enjoy being here, huh?”

I agreed, “Yes, I do! Nowhere else I need to be or should be.”

I hadn’t given it much thought before, but it’s so true. Whether or not your child admits it, they love having you attend their games and events. Don’t think it’s a big deal? Talk to someone whose parents didn’t. So, whatever you have to do to arrange it, show up for some, even a few, if not all. They may profess embarrassment, as young teenagers are wont to do, and you might not get any feedback from your son or daughter.

As a teacher, parent, and parent educator, I can assure you the number one commodity your child needs from you is attention, whether they realize it or not. Attending games, events, recitals, concerts, and ceremonies is a wonderful way to provide healthy, positive attention. These are opportunities to expect sportsmanship, reinforce a healthy lifestyle, and show the importance of family time. You will model appropriate competition behavior by not going negative on the other team or arguing with a referee or umpire.

A few weeks after that baseball game, I sat on the grassy bank at the edge of a field for my other son’s track meet. Another mom sat nearby and we talked a bit about who our kids are, what school they attend, and the individual events in which they’d compete.

She said, “I just love this!”

I answered, “Me, too! There’s nowhere else I’d rather be or should be.”

“I know, right?”

“We’re good moms! just sitting here doing nothing!”

Batter up! – Go watch your kids explore their interests.

Sara’s education and experience: B.A. Ed; M.S. Counseling; teacher grades K & 2/3, educator for childcare providers, training in Positive Discipline and Growing, parent educator, program director of crisis nursery, including parent support, staff management & training, stay home mom 16 years with two sons born 19 months apart, medical transcription for 10 years in order to stay home, substitute teacher grades K through 12. Blogs about a wide variety of topics on survivingsara.net.

I Can’t Care

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Recently, I shared that I have writer’s block. A draft was completed and I posted that, which felt good. Since then, I just can’t care about writing or blogging or connecting. I forget to even open SurvivingSara.net.

I’m sick. This is a bad fibro flare. Stress about life events is heavy with no relief for at least a couple months. Unless I address it with relaxation techniques. Can’t think of any besides breathing right now. Thankfully, I don’t have to remember to breathe.

My brain is fogged in, no landings or takeoffs. The inability to operate cognitively is stressful. Each of these sentences takes concentration and time. It feels like I’m plucking one word or phrase at a time out of the ether.

When I do check in, seeing days of inactivity would typically be a stressor, Right now, I just can’t care. I don’t know when I will.

Parent is Also a Verb 6/19/22

Happy Father’s Day!

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When my babies were very young and we lived in a cozy starter house, my husband parked his work van in the alley behind our yard at the end of his work day. More than once, I stood watching out the kitchen window, calling my husband on his cell phone when he pulled up, urging him to please come straight in, unloading supplies and tools into the dilapidated, single-car garage later. The memory has faded of what led to my “get the hell in here now” condition.

If you’d asked me back then if I would remember the chaos, you would’ve received a, “Hell, yeah! I will never forget this and how it feels.” Now, those little boys are 23 and 24. I find myself reminiscing about when they were small, memories seen through rose-colored glasses of playtime at the mall or taking them to the little kiddie rides at the beautiful park in the center of the city. It takes a little more thought to wipe away the pink fog around the edges; truth is I was so exhausted by parenting these guys that I took them to playland and parks so they could play and I could just sit.

Thankfully, my parents were retired and available. We three were at their home at least once a week, and they came to my place regularly, giving me the opportunity to shop for groceries without two toddlers in the cart. My dad taught my kids to ride bikes when they were itty bitty and took them for walks. My mom played games and read. They were also occasionally my backup; I’d call when I was desperate and unsure of how much more I could take. What was I taking? Was it the volume? Them tag-teaming me with misbehavior? Maybe the part where I would change one kid’s diaper and the other disappeared to another room, quietly?

In the midst of the hamsterwheel of parenting, at all ages and stages, it is more than okay to ask for help. Whether it’s a family member, a friend, a playdate (which comes with its own set of issues, and not just between the children), getting the kids in their carseats so you can drive around, knowing they will fall asleep. I did that frequently subsequent to my two-year-old deciding he didn’t need a nap every day while the one-year-old still snoozed regularly.

You won’t be a perfect parent but you can be a really good one, and asking for some help or engineering a break for yourself is actually a gift to your kids, not a weakness. I know it feels like you’re going to be in the thick of it forever. It is going to be a while but once those days are gone, you’ll probably look back with fondness; hopefully, so will the rest of the family!

Sara’s education and experience: B.A. Ed; M.S. Counseling; teacher grades K & 2/3, educator for childcare providers, training in Positive Discipline and Growing, parent educator, program director of crisis nursery, including parent support, staff management & training, stay home mom 16 years with two sons born 19 months apart, medical transcription for 10 years in order to stay home, substitute teacher grades K through 12. Blogs about a wide variety of topics on survivingsara.net.

Warriors

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During the seven years I was living in the Mojave desert, the northern most reaches of Los Angeles County, the round trip back home each summer had become routine. In my early 20’s, I drove on I-5, the major north-south freeway on the west coast, avoiding two-lane highways that may cut drive time but would be lonely if I had car trouble. In the time before cell phones, the freeway had frequent call boxes, which made me feel more secure.

Next, in 2015, I began making recurrent driving trips to Southern California to spend time with my sister-in-law who had been diagnosed with ALS. My father-in-law had died of the dread disease four years earlier. Soon after learning of Steph’s diagnosis, I told my husband that our youngest and I were going to see her when the school year was over. He acknowledged but didn’t interject any thoughts or plans. Roughly five days before takeoff, it finally struck my husband that I was leaving to drive to Southern California with our younger son. I wondered why he’d been so complacent. I’ve not driven to So Cal by myself since we got married.

Opposition to my idea of driving straight through was strong from my husband and my traveling partner son. Substantial plans were then put in place. One practice that I maintained from my early days was stopping overnight in Redding, CA on the way down (if stop I must!). Upon return, I stayed in Medford. The drive was 24 hours, and these stops broke it up in two 12-hour days. I tossed aside my mom’s fears about a 22-year-old, blonde woman traveling more than 1,000 miles alone. The current plan did take me on the two-lane highway through the middle of Oregon, stopping at Klamath Falls for overnight rest. Cell phone and a teenager changed the course.

Over the course of the next few years, when my sister-in-law lived, the regular annual trips resumed. Varying combos of parents and sons allowed everyone in our family a chance to visit each summer, while providing SIL two separate breaks in her routine. It turned out my visits were all in June, and every year the Warriors were in the championship series, aside from 2016 when they went to conference finals. Now, I’m not much of a basketball fan. When I lived in So Cal in the mid-to-late 80’s, I had a great time cheering on the Lakers but mostly because it was a reason to go out and watch on big screens in bars.

This was different. I found Steph Curry. I really like that guy. He seems to be a standup guy of strong character and high expectations, for himself and the team. Some of the names are the same today: Steph Curry, Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala, and Klay Thompson. These players, and more, were part of my stayovers in Redding every year. They kept me company.

Then my sister-in-law died and the travels came to an end. I’ve still paid attention to the NBA finals, some. This year, I’ve gotten involved again, cheering Steph Curry and the Warriors. Watching them play brings a sense of comfort, warms m heart. It takes me back to a roadside motel at the halfway point of my trip, first in my independent 20’s and later, when my sister-in-law was still alive. I’ll be watching game 6 tonight and cheering for Steph Curry again.

p.s. Warriors win the championship in game 6! Steph Curry was star of the series.

Slow Thinking

I’ve taken to sharing with people that I have cognitive difficulties when I have trouble in the midst of a conversation, usually about scheduling an appointment. A friend and fellow blogger, Ashley https://mentalhealthathome.org, used the phrase ‘slow thinking’ in her writing and I think I like it. This week, I’ve been seriously slow thinking. I’ve been writing each day but not much, and the result is three more drafts living in limbo. Can’t trust my ability to actually write well and I’m unable to complete anything – except this. The fibro fog is strong and I have no idea how long it will last this time.

Rambling On

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Hello, there! Here’s one of those posts where I share some random thoughts and ideas that do not warrant posts of their own.

The process of moving my mother-in-law into our home continues. My husband is headed to her place for ten days, completing final preparations before it goes on the market. Yes, that’s right. When he leaves her place this time, she will put it up for sale. The realtor they met with a month ago said the most recent listing she’d had sold after one day. When it sells, here she comes. Instead of moving into the bedroom across the hall from me, she’ll have the daylight basement for some space of her own. Her cat can hang out there and so can its litter box. I try to stay present, not chasing imagined problems down rabbit holes.

Physical therapy involves a therapist massaging my scar, tissues surrounding, and all of my ankle and foot. It feels great but I’m pretty sure I got bumped down from the exercise level begun on my first visit to the massage level, maybe something about me being near tears on the second appointment, suffering vertigo every time I lie down on the PT table, and nausea the last two sessions. One day, as I left the PT office, the lurching I do in the hall at home became a serpentine stroll down the sidewalk. Progress with therapy is slow.

We finally got central air conditioning the end of last summer after 20 years in this house, so as we near official summer, my area is cloudy and wet. It’s my fault.

My eyebrows are disappearing. What’s next? Aging. Ugh.

Because my mother-in-law is moving in straight to the basement, it will be our 24-year-old son who moves up across the hall from me. Downstairs, he’s had a pretty sweet setup, using one bedroom for an office, with his bed and clothing across the hall in another. He primarily comes and goes using the code on the garage, avoiding upstairs parent people completely so they don’t ask him to do anything. Perhaps, he will be more motivated to move after getting dislodged from his rent-free, two-bedroom space. He doesn’t want to live here in a crowded house. That works.

My current affirmation or mantra is, “There is no threat. No need for fight, flight, or freeze.” I’m using this to address concerns about living with my German MIL. She is not a threat. No need for fight, flight, or freeze. Having her in my home, and possibly making suggestion or helpful hints about homemaking, is not a threat. It is something, but not a danger to my survival. There will be no escape from her audio output. I’m writing with code words, as though it obscures my intent. My MIL doesn’t know about or read my blog, and I want to keep it that way. In the case she ever peruses my posts, I couch statements that may imply a negative connotation. I know I’m not fooling anyone. Red alert post will be published if she does read my blog. This saga will be reported further in future ramblings. Breathe.

Here I provide a factual example of interacting with my MIL In 2019, I’d purchased a women’s t-shirt with a V neck of an ALS t-shirt that had the names of both my sister-in-law and my husband’s father, my MIL’s ex, who had both been lost to that awful disease. This was arranged by family on FIL’s side, so it wasn’t mentioned to MIL. She wants nothing to do with them, although it’s been about 50 years since the divorce. Gathering before the funeral of my SIL, my niece gave me the t-shirts I’d ordered for my sons, husband, and myself. I tried on mine. My niece said she had a few extra shirts if MIL wanted one. Well, of course, she wanted one. Those extras were size mediums and they were not cut for a woman’s shape, no V neck. MIL said she sure wished she could have one like mine. Although I knew she would never wear this black t-shirt in the California desert and I’d actually wear it frequently up north, I went into the bedroom where we were staying, take off the shirt, and put on something else. Back into the living room, I told MIL she could have mine and I would take hers. I knew I would never wear the medium because it was snug. She feigned surprise, as though she had no idea I would respond to her complaints about what she was given. I teased her, “You can tell your friends your daughter-in-law is the kind of person who would give you the shirt off her back!” Her reply, “Well, I would if I thought it was true,” straight facial expression though, if reminded, she’d say she never said such a thing or she was obviously teasing. I’ll keep you posted about how the new living arrangements play out. Keep me in your thoughts. I will ramble on…

If You Want Something Done…

After receiving a diagnosis of fibromyalgia in 2009, I accepted it as well as the repeated professional opinions that nothing could be done to address the situation. Huh, I’ve got a condition and the only advice I get is to deal with it. When fibro was googled, I found many check lists of symptoms, which aided me in proceessing that these many, diverse signs combine to construct the picture of fibromyalgia vs a constellation of random, disparate experiencees.

For more than a decade, this was it. Upon meeting a new doctor, I’d list fibro as a previous condition. Most doctors gave it a nod, “Fibromyalgia, that’s no fun.” I would agree and indicate I had no plan to treat any part. The doctors agreed, noting how tough it is to address.

Fast forward to this year. Though previously ignoring fibro videos online, I decided to check out a couple. In the past, I skipped them because I already knew it all, right? I had it, needed to cope, and best to simply accept, attempting to ease symptoms as they arose. When I saw videos from ‘UCTV Mini Medical School – Fibromyalgia’ (See post Mini Medical School) and ‘David Ruthermore – Cutting through the bs Fibromyalgia,’ I decided to give them a try. Imagine how surprised I was to realize medical research has continued and progressed so much over the last decade.

So, learning new things: Fibromyalgia has been thoroughly studied and medical findings are clear. At some point, in most patients’ history, the fight, flight, or freeze response was triggered by childhood/young teen trauma, either physical or emotional. The amygdala kicks in the most basic of all human survival instincts, begins pumping out stress hormones in reaction to the serious threat, but it doesn’t get the message later to call them off when the threat ceases. Sometime following, those hormones have been flooding the whole organism long enough to wreak a little havoc. The body shows signs of distress but the diagnoses of a variety of seemingly unrelated symptoms begins sporadically, each one a domino added to the line. Fibromyalgia has begun and the patient has started a long, tortuous journey, searching to make sense of what’s happening once they see the dominoes set closer and closer. If you’re not lucky enough to stumble across a medical provider knowledgeable about fibro and willing to address it, those dominoes all fall down. Daily life with work and family gets complicated and debilitating.

The first steps to putting even one domino away involve quieting the stress hormones. Long-term heightened unnecessary release of adrenaline, testosterone, cortisol and more leads to a wide variety of issues in systems of the body: Neurology, thyroid, bad gut, immune, dermatological, etc, all are affected. A major problem is peripheral small-tissue neuropathy. The coating that protects the pain nerves dies off as a result of the sustained onslaught by the body’s survival mode. Pain nerves become less able to differentiate and the system is on overload. Traffic jams compromise nervous system communication, hindering the synapses’ ability to send clear messages effectively.

How to stop the inordinate amount of threat stress spewed by the amygdala? Strategies include aromatherapy, yoga, therapy, meditation. Repeating the phrase, “There is no threat. No need for fight, flight, or freeze,” has been my first effort. I’ve been able to physically feel stress in the area of my diaphragm for more than a decade, near the adrenal glands. I knew it was stress I held tight between my lower ribs but no idea why. I am feeling a gradual loosening of the knot of nerves, and I’m still talking myself off nonexistent ledges.

Other recommendations involve explaining to your medical provider why you need to have a particular blood test conducted, although it’s outside the regular complete blood count tests. It’s obvious to me now that long-term easing of symptoms, maybe even eliminating a few completely, requires the patient advocating for themselves. This includes education, adopting proven strategies, requesting specific testing or other assistance of physicians, which may require convincing your insurance company to cover it. Apparently, many general practitioners are reluctant to get into the thick of it. They certainly haven’t offered me anything in the way of treating symptoms or the source.

I’m not a doctor, physician, or provider of medical services or advice. I am a complete novice, newly beginning my own journey to find a way to cope, to live with fibromyalgia. Reading that last part of the paragraph immediately preceding, about advocating for yourself, makes me feel overwhelmed. This is why I’ve started with repeating one thought. “There is no threat. No need for flight, fight, or freeze.” That’s what I can handle right now. Being fully present, mindful of where I am and what’s around me, is a habit I have yet to adopt. I am trying, but it’s not my main perspective, or even frequent. Onward.

I do have an annual physical exam coming up. I’ve written previously about my doctor who listens to me describe what’s happening, and provides a menu of options. She asks me what I want to do about it, and every time I feel like a deer in the headlights. This time, however, I will be prepared to ask for a specific thyroid test I want that is not included on the usual run. Look at that! My doc supports me in advocating for myself and I didn’t even know it.

I may have written much of this before; it sounds familiar! After more than two years, I’m forgetting exactly what I’ve penned previously, not to mention my fuzzy memory and cognitive function. Earlier, I did check a couple times to confirm or deny an inkling that I may have posted quite a similar expression previously or used a title more than once. Now, though, advocating for my reduction in stress, I’m not going to give a flying fig.

Pooped

Woke up worn out My get up & go got up and went. Exhausted

Fatigue is one of the most difficult fibromyalgia symptoms to deal with for me personally. It affects every fiber of my being when it makes itself at home, whether that’s around lunchtime or even first thing in the morning. Today, I opened my eyes and felt wiped out immediately. Ugh.

Worn out Spent Tired Wiped out

The word ‘tired’ doesn’t accurately describe fibro fatigue. It’s deeper. When I say I feel it in absolutely every bone and muscle in my body, it’s not exaggeration. Just as one can be tired without being sleepy, so it goes with fatigue. I may lie down because my neck can’t handle the weight of my head or because being upright is a step too far.

Deflated The tank is empty. Weary Drained

Cloudy brain, or fibro fog, sets in, an inextricable partner to fatigue. Movement of extremities is in slow motion, feeling as though you’re moving through soup, thick soup. Reaction time is slowed. My gait is unsteady, unstable when I’m weighed down with gravity plus. Breaking a leg must be avoided and all I require is being on my feet. Driving can be performed but I don’t think it’s a safe choice for any of us.

Burnt out Sluggish Prostate Collapsed Enervated

Consistently, I’m plagued with fatigue most days. On a good day, I’m free of it until after lunch or even 2:00 p.m. Planning would be seriously aided by a schedule of fatigue and time of arrival. Sometimes, only occasionally at this time, the weariness is there to greet me when I first awaken. Today is one of those days. Managed to get myself to physical therapy, slept for about an hour, and here am I – pooped.

Lil’ Old Ladies

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You’ve seen a senior woman and thought, “Did she look in the mirror when she put on that makeup? Does she know what she looks like? Can’t she see the clumpy mascara, messy bright blue eyeshadow, and too thick eyeliner? Why is her lipstick covering more face than her lips?” I am here to explain these mysteries.

Embarking on this mission implies the author has a level of familiarity with the topic at hand that is, unfortunately, well and true. It began with needing to wear my reading glasses to look in my makeup magnifying mirror to see the eyebrow hairs that were waiting to be plucked. The first time I did this, I could not believe how many strays had escaped both of these measures separately. This was the first inkling that I wasn’t seeing all there was to see and didn’t know what I couldn’t see.

Memory brain kicked in, and I remembered years ago, I was involved with women’s ministry at a presbyterian church, helping to organize and host events for women of all ages. A mental picture I still recall, though a bit blurry or faded, is an elderly woman, walking with her cane, to whom I gave an arm and then helped to one of the spring tea tables. The decor centered around beautiful teapot, some with cozies.

Her cosmetics were colored outside the lines, all of them. I marveled at the bright sky blue eyeshadow reaching up to penciled eyebrows, which were not adhering to a natural brow shape and which were not penciled in equal to the other. Her mascara and eyeliner seemed to be one and the same with serious eyelash clumps. And I thought, “Did she not look in a mirror while applying her face or before she left the house?” I vowed to quit wearing makeup if I couldn’t wear it well. She’d done her best to get ready for this tea, and here I was critiquing. All these thoughts raced through my mind.

As petty as it was, petty as I was, the memory of this woman was a guideline for me, when my vision became deleterious. So began the inconvenient tweezing of eyebrows with reading glasses to look in a magnifying mirror. Over the years, applying mascara and eyeliner required use of the enlarged reflection, but eyeshadow? Not much can go wrong there, right? I believed I’d addressed the issue by sticking to earthtones. No blues for me, no matter the current trends. Oh, I’ve also learned that fashion styles are not meant for women of a certain age. For me, I avoided the shifts and drifts in ‘Do’s and Don’ts” imparted by fashionistas.

The eyeshadow failed me eventually, disappearing after I’d been satisfied with my application. I’d reapply to both eyes, but by the time I finished, it was already soaking into my skin. Most times, the saturation of the powder was uneven, with some areas maintaining the intended color but others appeared much lighter. Attempting to add eyeshadow to the light spots results in darker color than I wanted for daytime. It was driving me nuts. Add face primer, before painting. I’d never anticipated this challenge. I am streamlining my makeup regimen and am comfortable going without, though my eyes disappear. Talk about disappearing, where the hell are my eyebrows going?

That older woman has:

  • done her best, using a mirror. This was a big event, tea at the church. She is not aware of clumps or lipstick pips here and there. She feels beautiful.
  • put on some makeup. She’s sure it’s not perfect and she doesn’t give a hoot. She likes bright colors. She feels beautiful.
  • been made up by her sister. You know sisters. She feels beautiful.

Yes, how petty of me.

Color Me Pleasant

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Having received a brief litany of my current state of fibromyalgia (frustratingly reluctant to improve), my husband grew quiet and then began, “It’s so weird. It seemed like when you had a broken leg…” his voice fading.

“What? When I had a broken leg, what?”

“I don’t know how to describe it. When it was broken, it was almost like you had a different … aura. It’s so weird.”

After reminding him that it’s not ‘weird’ for me to have ups and downs with fibromyalgia, I explained, “Because you were doing everything, I was totally dependent on you, and I knew how hard the entire circumstance was for you, I chose to be pleasant and patient. Doing my part.”

The look that passed through his face made me feel like I could see him thinking, remembering. “You’d go around on your scooter with a smile, so cute.”

“You didn’t see me cursing you when I was alone and you left the barstool in my path, again. And I can’t keep that up indefinitely. Now that I’m back on my feet and much more independent, my aura is back to normal.”

Hook, Line, & Sinker

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A little neighborhood in the Mojave desert called Lake L.A. had no lake and was a two hour drive north from Los Angeles. It, nevertheless, saw an explosion in population mid 80’s as people were priced out of the Greater L.A. market, and that drew an interesting mix of people recruited to serve the rapidly growing school district. One school, grades K-8, had sufficed for decades. In 1986, the schools in the Antelope Valley could hardly keep up with hiring.

In my little district, several recent graduates of my university in Washington State relocated to Southern California to begin their careers when I did. A surprising, to me, number of teachers came from back East. Our eclectic mix of personalities blended with the Lake L.A. community. The teachers who been with the school district for many years welcomed us outsiders. The fall I joined the faculty, a middle school was opened, and three years on, a second elementary school was added.

We were fortunate to have a middle-school science teacher from South Carolina land way out in nowhere. Marlene was an award winning educator, including State Teacher of the Year. By this time, Challenger Middle School was separate from K-5 on their own campus, so I only superficially knew the folks who joined that staff. A month or so post Christmas break, trouble started for Marlene. I didn’t hear about the harassment until just before spring break.

Beginning sometime in February, Marlene shared with her colleagues notes she’d found notes once in a while in her classroom that said things like, ‘bitch’ or ‘go away.’ Occasionally, she’d find a desk item where it didn’t belong or missing even, but it always reappeared. in a spot Marlene knew she’d searched. She wondered if anyone else had that kind of experience or maybe saw anything. They agreed it was just middle school pranks, simultaneously acknowledging the number of incidents was odd.

Everyone understood Marlene’s concern when just a day or two after speaking with her teaching team, her classroom lights were on when she returned from lunch. It was common for lights off and door locked when they ate midday. Perhaps, the lock hadn’t engaged? F0r whoever was messing with her, this fell in their lap after noticing her door ajar. Next day, Marlene turned off the lights and locked the door, pulling it shut. Again, when the teachers returned from lunch, the door was locked, shut tight, but the the flourescents were bright. With a locked door.

News about this finally got through the grapevine. My good friend who taught math to 7th graders mentioned it to me. Weird. That’s all the attention I gave it for a couple of weeks. Marlene’s classroom thermostat would be turned up or down, happening after she’d gone home or before she arrived. Lights on/lights off continued intermittently. Classroom items, science equipment, now went missing but stayed gone. At this point, the grapevine was heavy wih fruit. Everyone heard about the creepy events. Who could it be? It must be someone with a key. Why would someone do this?

Could it be done owing to Marlene being gay? That was hard to believe. Our superintendent was gay, one of the principals was gay, and other faculty members were gay. For the late 80’s, this was quite an accepting environment.

Are other teachers jealous of Marlene? She’d written for science education grants and received a couple. Her classroom was outfitted for a menagerie of rodents, bugs, a bird, a snake and a couple fish tanks. Her personality was outgoing and she fit in immediately. Could it be a custodian? Gotta be careful there, not too many from whom to choose. Might the motive simply be someone doesn’t like her, really doesn’t like her?

One day, a couple cages were left open and I think a hamster and some crickets were loose in the classroom. A small reptile disappeared. This was so bizarre. Some unknown powder was poured into plant soil. No one understood who or why. The crescendo occurred upon return from spring break. Thermostats on the fish tanks had been hiked up far past appropriate for a fish environ. They were floating. And falling apart some. All the fish were muerto. Seemed the deadly act happened before the week-long break. Marlene was distraught. All of the other animals were removed for their safety.

Everyone, and I mean student, staff, and the community, was talking about the stalking behavior. The death of the fish raised it to a higher level of concern. What if students had walked in with her? Luckily, it was an adult who shared Marlene’s shock, another science instructor standing in the hall when the door was first opened. People offered their support for her, so bothered were they by the stealth badgering.

Apparently, a bit of investigating had begun quietly before this event. It stepped up in response to the horrible killing of those poor fish. Cellphones and other small cameras were still being developed in Silicon Valley, no nanny cams; surveillance was indeed transpiring, old school.

The result was shocking! Shocking! Almost no one saw it coming. The person cruelly antagonizing Marlene was….Marlene! She was behind the whole thing. Who would do this? She wrote the notes. She switched lights. The cages left open, vandalism and damage, were all orchestrated by Marlene. And the fish, the innocent fish!!! She cooked them sous vide.

Without alerting her, a few individuals had been watching Marlene’s classroom before and after school, during short breaks and lunch. During surveillance, only she was coming and going. No one else entered the room without Marlene unlocking the door. The few in the know had no way to anticipate that she’d turned tank thermostats as high as they would go before leaving for spring break. When the sick denoument had been revealed, school authorities knew they had to insist on other animals being removed for their own safety. They double-checked the accounts written of Marlene entering and departing from her classroom. It could only be her, and it was announced.

It seems a few of the colleagues in her wing had been uncomfortable, and then suspicious, at the outset of the aggravations. Support staff familiar with her had gone to the principal to express doubts. The whispering and watching had begun with Marlene oblivious to either. When the pestering elevated to involvement of the animals, the district administration agreed that it was time to expose the true culprit. The discovery wasn’t publicized but it didn’t need to be. Staff and faculty were sharing the news through the branches of the grapevine faster than powdery mildew, and Marlene was put on leave, which proclaimed the truth for any left still wondering, and she no longer was a part of our little district in the desert.

I, for one, was shocked. My math friend told me as soon as she found out for sure. “She did all that herself?” I asked incredulously. “Yep, the notes, the missing shit (we were off duty), the animals let free, and the fucking fish!”

Everyone expressed sadness for the fish lives cut short.

Disclaimer: I added some of the little details that I’ve pictured in my mind from the very strange days of Marlene. The exact animals she had, the ones that were let out, etc. but I certainly remember those fish.

p.s. Perhaps another time I’ll share more about my California school district with the former nun and the Aussie motorcyclist, both principals, who had an affair on out of town recruiting trips, were spotted entering a hotel together during school hours, left their respective spouses, and held a wedding where nearly the whole school district showed up, plus one, to celebrate. Great times in So Cal.

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