Losing My Favorite Aunt

***My aunt passed away almost a year ago in September. I wrote about my love for her, but did not publish it at the time. I hadn’t reconciled with her dementia yet. Today she gets her tribute.***

I am heartbroken. My Favorite Aunt, Jackie, passed away over the weekend. I was her Favorite Niece Amy, not to be confused with her favorite niece, Amy.

We used these titles for one another for as long as I can remember.

I have many aunts, and I love them all very much, but Jackie was my favorite because she hugged me best. She hugged like life depended on it. She was soft and squishy and put her whole body into hugging me, lingering just long enough and squeezing just tight enough to really nestle into her arms. Then she would lay a big old kiss or two on my cheek. Her affection left the delicious smell of her perfume on my shirt and skin as a constant reminder of how much she loved me, or anyone she hugged.

Jackie had a keen sense of humor. She had one word punchlines and comebacks for days. She was quick and clever with her words, logical and precise in her opinions, and she definitely had opinions. She was the founder and CEO of the Bitching and Complaining Club, but I took it as a lesson in minding my own business while secretly relishing in the unrepeatable bits of gossip she dropped here and there.

Though boisterous and fun, Jackie took it upon herself to make sure all us kids were decent and respectful. Every single one of my cousins has a good Jackie and the Wooden Spoon story. I’m not sure she ever actually whacked any of us with it, though. She would chase us a little, then make us sit down and pout it out for awhile. A few minutes later it would be over and we’d get our fill of those squishy hugs and scented kisses.

Jackie had Alzheimer’s Disease. I hate that word – Alzheimer’s. As an adult raising young children during the height of her demise, I did not spend time with her in her last years. It’s easy enough to say I’m glad I didn’t see her “like that,” or that I should have made a greater effort to see her no matter what, but I recognize that there can be no perfect scenarios with Alzheimer’s Disease.

I saw Jackie a couple of times in more recent years, both pre- and post-dementia diagnosis. I slept the night on her couch once, and she fed me kuchen and soy milk for breakfast at her round wooden table with quilted placemats. We talked for hours. She showed me how her Roomba worked. As I was about to leave, she pulled out three very old handmade quilts and gave them to me to share with my sister. I kept two of them and they are the only earthly things I have to remember her.

The very last time I saw Aunt Jackie, she was living in a special home for dementia patients. She recognized me immediately and held out her arms for a hug. Her perfume had changed, but she smiled her biggest smiles and was bubbly and sweet to my kids, transporting me back to when she doted on little me 30 years ago. She said just enough strange things to remind me that she wasn’t the same person anymore, and while dementia had a pretty good grip on her mind by then, it hadn’t destroyed her personality at all.

I often wonder when was the last time she remembered me. It’s an unanswerable question, but I hope it was a good thought, and I hope she was proud of me. I was lucky to have her.

A Post-Election Guide For Democrats

It’s 4 AM on Wednesday, November 9, 2016, and I’m so very wide awake, as many are after last night’s stunning election upset. We have a new, unlikely president-elect and his name is NOT Hillary Clinton as we might have expected.

The questions are many. How do we tell our children, especially our little girls, that Hillary didn’t win for them? How do we respect the office of a president that is so reviled and detested? How do we wrap our head around this new, unexpected reality? How do we hold our heads high and simultaneously work through our emotions, which according to anecdotal evidence across the web, range from anger and extreme sadness to rage and complacency?

I cannot stress this enough: It is what it is. No take-backsies.

First things first. There will be a segment of buffoons on social media who will gloat and gloat and gloat. I anticipate this to be a larger-than-average amount of people than one might expect. Let them have their day. They aren’t speaking directly to you or to me, but it will feel like it. Resist the urge to fan their flame. It will go out on its own, unattended.

Secondly, let the sunrise be your guide. It came up, after all. Today is also a day for Democrats to rise and shine. Half of America may claim victory, but the rest of us have a chance to show grace, decency, kindness, and respect. Our children are watching our reaction to defeat. This is of greater importance than any victory celebration.

Third, and finally, because I hope to get a tiny sliver of sleep yet tonight, do not waver on your beliefs even a millimeter. For the briefest of moments in the throes of shock in a sleep-deprived haze, I wondered if I was wrong. Do not allow yourself this thought. We have important work ahead of us, some of it known by nature of the election results, some of it not yet known, and we must be watchful for those opportunities.

As you wake up today, stay proud in your political affiliation. Keep showing kindness and love, generosity and fairness toward others, and be bold to call out anyone who won’t adhere to our high character standards.

It may not feel like it right now, but we do live in the greatest nation on Earth. The power is still in the people, and we can and will make forward progress in the face of this setback.

If you do nothing else today, put your feet on the bedside floor, rub the sleep from your eyes, and get up. You are courageous and bold. You have lost nothing.

A Motivational Speech to Myself

I don’t spend a lot of time doubting myself, but when I do, you can bet that I put myself through a rigorous question and answer session usually tedious enough to make me forget what it was I doubted.

No lie.

Occasionally, though, I come across a truth I hadn’t noticed before, then take to my keyboard to tell the world what they most likely already know.

I aspire to be a peacekeeper, a giver, a helper, a fixer wherever I can. I cannot keep all the peace, I cannot give what I don’t have, I cannot help or fix when helping or fixing hinders forward progress (like a four-year-old putting on his own shoes). But when I see a unique opportunity to give my time, talent, resources, help, or advice, I jump on it and speed off.

Today, I fully understood for the first time in my life how easy it would be for me to give up on others.

It is quite one thing to throw a 20 into the offering plate every week and let the church take care of my contribution. It’s quite one thing to let a stranger with a full cart go in front of me and my 3 items at the store. It’s quite one thing to pick up an errant piece of trash on a public sidewalk and dispose of it. It’s quite one thing to gather up all my discards and donate them.

It’s quite another thing to have my generosity rejected by a man digging in the trash. It’s quite another thing to give up on a woman whose only desire was companionship because my time and patience ran out. It’s quite another thing to pour myself into building someone up and realize rather painfully how much they didn’t want it or need it. It’s quite another thing to let anxiety in new situations ruin everything.

I could continue to help others the easy way, but that is not my objective. I want the challenge, I crave the challenge.

It’s so plainly obvious why people quite helping others – it’s hard. Helping others is fraught with rejection and fear of the unknown, it tests character, and the “mind your own business” line in the sand is actually a poorly excavated gash in the landscape that frequently changes position.

No matter how much good I do, one negative experience has the power to invalidate every positive thing I’ve ever done. It would be so easy for me to give up right now, focus my attention on something new, and be perfectly content.

Except quitting for the sake of personal discomfort is not being true to my self.

I am not a quitter. I haven’t quite got the hang of helping others, but I cannot quit trying either.

seuss

Self – Dr. Seuss nailed this one, “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing’s going to get better, it’s not,” and you’ve been chosen for this duty. You have the strength to try again and again with the full knowledge that it will never be easy for you. It is time to embrace the difficulty of the task of helping others and to keep pushing forward no matter how defeated and deflated you feel. This is your calling. Keep going!

 

Two Years Later

If I may start with a cliche…

Wow, does time fly.

(That’s actually personification, but I’m sure no one at all is keeping track of my grammar usage.)

Two years ago I surrendered. I reached the lowest possible point in my life – daily fantasies of being hit by a bus, complete and total confidence that my kids would be fine without me, anger that I still can’t comprehend, agony, indecision, worry – and I forced myself to pick up the phone and make an appointment at the clinic. The phone shook in my hands, my whole body shivered, my voice was weak and wavered, but I placed that call. And several weeks later, I forced myself into my car and drove myself to that appointment with clammy hands, a nervous stomach, and anxiety off the charts, but I did it.

One of the first things I did at the clinic was fill out a survey on mental health. Even as I was filling in the blanks and trying to rate my state of mind on a scale from 1 to 5, I was terrified that my “score” would be fine and I would live forever in misery.

Of course, that’s not how it ended (or began, depending on how you look at it), but anxiety is a master of deception and disguise.

The first year was rough. I remember just two weeks after I began taking medication, my anxiety was triggered, and I had a visceral reaction inside my chest, as though the anxiety was a sentient being grabbing my heart and squeezing, making my ears ring, my head swim, my breathing quicken, and my fingertips tingle. I read through the medication’s lengthy informational packet, so I knew it could happen, but it was worse than anything I had experienced before.

And eventually, my anxiety went away. The depression lingered and the anxiety broke through quite a bit, but three dosage adjustments later and all is well.

Recently, I read through some of my blog posts from before I sought help. They made me incredibly sad. Not like that threatening, overwhelming sadness brought on by depression, but the pitying kind, the shameful kind. I am, on occasion, ashamed of my mental health.

cookie

I am chained to a pharmaceutical indefinitely.  The other night, I snuck a snack around pill-taking time, and just stared at the scene before me with near-disgust. Three Oreos, a glass of milk, and a pill. I’d had a long day, I was tired and emotional, eating Oreos for comfort, and washing it all down with my 20 milligrams of salvation. This is my life.

This is my life.

I wouldn’t go back to my life before I got help for all the tea in Boston Harbor, but sometimes I get maudlin when I think about needing a pill to get me through every day. Nevertheless, I have the extreme privilege of bouncing back now, something I could not do two years ago.

So here I am, feeling ridiculous with myself for washing down a rough day with Oreos and an anti-depressant, but I am alive and worthwhile and loved, and I would sell my soul to the pharmacy all day every day to be able to have this pity party. Bottoms up, my friends.

Different In A Good Way

About a week go, I was introduced to the idea of mental illness as a good thing.

(Hear me out!)

I have anxiety and depression, and it is no picnic. Unmedicated, there is not one good thing about it, and even medicated, though the days are more sunshine-y, I still drag around the medicinal ball and chain every day.

Let’s back up a little bit, though. Several years ago, depressed and anxious all day, every day, I was frustrated beyond despair that I could not “be the change I wanted to see in the world.”

I had a deep desire to help the homeless, the hungry. I wanted to be seriously involved in politics. I wanted to work with charities or even start a charity. I wanted to be a better human for other humans. My imagination ran wild with ways to save the world.

Except my imagination and reality did not match up. I could not do anything. I was strapped with an unshakable fear of failure, embarrassment, and a laundry list of other irrational thoughts about my abilities. Anxiety does that to a person. I was the cliche incarnate: all talk, no action.

What good am I?

I could not find my niche in the sea of humanity.

ship

I put my philanthropic hopes and dreams on the back burner and worked to pull myself together for awhile. Even so, my imagination still frequently tried to figure out how to make the world a better place despite anxiety trapping me in my own body.

I realized that my destiny is not to help the homeless and hungry or to save the planet or advocate for human rights. My destiny, my only hope (at the moment) to save the world, is to suffer from anxiety and depression and use my experiences to be a candle in someone else’s darkest place. All of us with anxiety and depression have this unique gift. Do you hear that? WE HAVE A GIFT!!!

We are a formidable group knit together by a common struggle. We are each other’s greatest assets. We understand one another like no one else can. We stick up for each other. We let each other know that it’s OK to be sad, OK to be worried and anxious. We build one another up on dark days and rejoice together in the sunny ones. We understand the vast nuances of each individual’s anxiety and depression.

My destiny, my higher calling in this life, is to bring anxiety and depression into the mainstream and make people understand it, embrace it, accommodate it, and ultimately accept it. My destiny is to help others on their journey and come out stronger and more empowered on the other side.

I gladly carry this burden to be a light for those who cannot find it themselves. I believe that working to help others with anxiety and depression is a life-saving endeavor. I cannot solve the hunger crisis, I cannot provide resources and shelter for those without a home, I cannot single-handedly save the planet, but I can help a person with mental health issues move toward brighter days. This is my calling.

I accept.