The Depression Cure- 6 Week Check-In

If you have ever or do suffer from depression, you know what havoc this complete bitch can do to your life and your happiness. Six weeks ago, I found this TED talk by Dr. Stephen Ilardi and it has CHANGED my life (https://youtu.be/drv3BP0Fdi8). If Dr. Ilardi had a fan club, I would join, he is my hero. Yes, my hero is a profession at the University of Kansas. Thank you, Dr. Ilardi, from the bottom of my heart. I’m totally going to write him a fan letter when I finish this blog post.

After watching his TED talk, I researched some of the six steps he outlines in his book, The Depression Cure. The one I started doing that very day was taking Omega 3’s as he suggests in his book, but I messed up and was only taking half the recommended dose. I’m sensitive to medications due to being hypothyroid, so it was probably just as well. In late August, I had taken two online depression test which both came back ‘moderate depression’. Disclaimer – Use these tests only for a marker and not as an actual diagnosis. The one I put weight on is the “Psychology Today” depression test because there are 120 questions meaning it’s more in depth and is put out there by a reputable magazine. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/tests/health/depression-test. If you take the test and score within a certain range, they will suggest you see your doctor. Please do so, especially if it’s serious.

But anyway, the first two of the six steps I put into place was taking Omega 3’s daily (accidentally 1/2 dose) and at least 30 minutes of vigorous cardio (brisk walking/jog – for me) three times a week. When I took the one test at http://www.psycom.net on 8/31/2018, it showed me at moderate depression. The Psychology Today test I took that day showed me the same results. Ever since I was actually diagnosed with depression at age 35, I’ve used these marker tests to just gauge if I needed to see my doctor and/or therapist. In all honesty, looking back, I’ve struggled with depression from childhood until just recently. That’s around forty years of my life.

A few weeks after starting the two steps of Dr. Ilardi’s book, my depression for the Psycom.net test dropped to minimal depression. It had never been that low. ‘Mild depression’ had been the lowest. Same with the Psychology Today test. I retook that test as well and for the first time ever, it came up with a score of “12” in a scale of 0-100. The higher the score, the more you rated on the depression scale. The words “You show absolutely no signs of depression” underneath my 11/25/2018 score shocked me.

Now six weeks in, I’ve added another one of Dr. Ilardi’s steps where you stop your tendency to ruminate about things in your life, especially negative ones. I’m still working on this because it really is a bad habit especially of those who have been struggling with depression for a long time. You catch yourself doing it and distract yourself or tell yourself to stop, focusing your attention on something positive. It’s that proverbial snowball turning into an avalanche kind of things. Starts small but takes on a life of its own.

The other step I added is light exposure especially in winter. Though I have yet to order the light box he recommends, but I’ve been wearing my sunglasses less right now during these bleaker Ohio winter months. I wouldn’t recommend this mid-day in summer, but right now sunlight is at a premium. And it seems to boost my mood as well. We spend so much time indoors but our eyes/body/brains need some sun. He explains it in his book.

So today I took the Psychology Today depression test again. I scored a 12 on 11/25 and today, 12/22, the day after the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year, I scored a 3! These steps are working! I’m not even full into them or even taking the full dose of Omega’s 3’s yet and the difference is staggering. I can’t wait to write Dr. Ilardi and tell him. Along with a string of ‘thank you, thank you, thank you, bless you’. I feel like a different person.

Okay I’m going to take the smaller quiz from Psycom.net and see what it says. Hold on I’ll be right back…. NO DEPRESSION!

The first time ever it said that. Even back in 11/25 it came up ‘minimal depression’. Amazing. I was skeptical about The Depression Cure and I receive no money or benefit for recommending this book or to view the TED talk at least. I just want people suffering from this shitty, time-stealing mental illness to at least explore the steps outlined in the book. Fish oil isn’t hugely expensive and I buy huge bottles of it at Sam’s for less than $20. I don’t even eat fish or like the taste but I don’t get the burps, etc. from it. I really thing the Omega-3’s has been the key component in my recovery. The other steps have also helped but Dr. Ilardi explains in scientific terms why we have too many Omega 6’s in our diets and not enough Omega 3’s.

If I knew this back when I was a teenager or young adult, how my life might have been different. Depression has robbed me of motivation, confidence, happiness, and time. So much time. I’ve been beating myself up about not following my dreams. Earlier this year, I gave up on writing a fiction novel after not hearing back from the first and only publisher I sent it to. I self-published it and didn’t even promote my book. Now, I’m totally rewriting it, using a different format and really working at. Crafting. The story and making sure every sentence is my best. Before I was just worried about getting the word count where I wanted it and just getting done.

That’s what depression does, it steals the joy out of your life. It robs you of enjoyment when you do the things you love. It puts you in a grey cloud bubble where you stalk around the house feeling put upon, sad, despondent and worthless. Then you turn around and beat yourself up for being that way. But it’s a chemical imbalance of some sort. It’s physiological and not just psychological. I’m not a doctor but it’s explained more in the book.

Please check out this book. I’m cautious to say I’m ‘cured’ because I’m always a little skeptical but right at this moment, I’m for the first time in many, many years, actually decades, not depressed and life is so much better. I feel like a new person. My life feels like a new life and nothing really has changed. I’ve already put 20k words down in my novel rewrite but most importantly, I’m enjoying writing again. I’ve even rewritten half of the first chapter. Tomorrow I’m going to sit down and edit the third and fourth chapters.

The crazy thing is when I would try to edit before when I was depressed, I would get upset at myself, think I completely suck and give up for awhile. Now, I see where something might not flow very well or I wrote a crappy paragraph but instead of giving up, I just fix it and go on. I don’t berate myself and tell myself ‘You’re a miserable writer, you suck.” I just fix it. I don’t quit, I don’t even want to quit. That’s such a strange feeling. But again, it makes me a little sad thinking of all I’ve lost out on in my life because of depression.

I’m even excited for the new year. I’m excited for today and tomorrow. I’m actually excited about things again, anything. I’ve been living in this dull grey existence for so long. I attributed it to middle age. Been there done that, nothing is thrilling or exciting anymore. Again, here is where depression was robbing me of my enjoyment of life. Yes, I’ve experienced a lot in my life but there is so much more out there I haven’t. A few months ago, I had 0 desire to explore or find new things. Today, I can’t wait to find new adventures. Night and day. Crazy isn’t it?

Well, I have already gone on enough about this new change in my life. I truly am going to write Dr. Ilardi a letter, some fan mail. Thank you for dedicating your time and energy into this research! And if you’re suffering from depression, check out this book and of course if you are in a doctor or therapist’s care, please talk to them before making any changes. If you decide to try The Depression Cure‘s six steps, I’d love to hear from you on your results. I pray they are as dramatic and positive as mine.

Xoxoxox – so much love to my fellow depression sufferers…

Laura

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Living in Joy After Abuse

Recently, I’ve realized I’ve been living my life according to some ideas I have stuck in my brain. These ideas have formed over the forty-eight years of my life for different reasons such as how I was brought up, my peers, constant media blasts, social norms, religion, so on and so forth. Truly, it’s hard to sort out what I really want in life through the many layers of ‘Shoulds”.

You need to go to college and pick a career that earns a lot of money.

Money is most important.

You need to not be outspoken or different. Follow the rules (social norms).

You’re a woman, you can’t do that.

Keep your mouth shut. Keep out of sight.

That’s a nice dream, but it won’t make enough money. You won’t be able to support yourself.

Are you crazy?

Why are you so shy? Why don’t you speak up in class? Are you stupid?

Go to church every. Sunday. Live a pious life (as the speaker does not)

Women are weaker, inferior to men.

Don’t associate with black people or people of color.

You’re a failure. Don’t do better than me. Don’t do anything that makes me uncomfortable. Don’t color outside the lines…

You get the idea. I have had so many expectations and rules (that aren’t truly rules) throw at me throughout my life, that I am just now unwinding all those messages to find my true self. All that I listed above has been said to me in some manner or another, usually out of love and misguided direction though some of what has been said to me is so that I don’t “do better” than the person giving me that message. People are threatened by you, especially when you don’t fit into a neat little box.

I’ve always been kind of the odd duck. I’m quiet and introverted; therefore, I’m either assumed to be socially awkward or shy or stuck up. I’m none of those things. I have never seen race as an indication of people’s worth or unworth. People are just people. I don’t believe one religion is ‘right’ and the rest are wrong. “God” to me, takes many forms and going to church every Sunday doesn’t make you a good person. I find “God” in nature, in people and in many places.

I don’t believe you have to be rich to be happy. I think having enough money to pay your bills and a bit extra is the sweet spot. I don’t believe you have to be what the general public deems as ‘successful’ such as being a doctor, lawyer, etc. Sometimes the people we look up to are the ones hiding the most. I don’t believe that “God” is wrathful, I believe “God” is love and therefore doesn’t give 2 shits about your sexual orientation, gender, color, if you tithe 10%, if your butt is in a church pew on Sunday, so on and so forth. I do believe “God” wants us to show each other love and kindness. I also believe that “God” wants us to find joy in our lives, not be cowering in the corner because we sinned. God wants us to feel his love not feel guilty all the time.

Over the years, I’ve tried different volunteering activities and each time, I found myself not sticking to them. I felt bad about myself, guilty. These people need my help, am I a selfish person? Then recently, I signed up to be a Lunch Buddy through Big Brothers Big Sisters for a 5th grade girl in my school district. Every other week (or more – she likes me to come weekly), I have lunch with her at her school, just listening and talking. to her while she eats her lunch. To be honest, I think I get more out of i t than she does, it brings me such joy. This made me realize that no, I wasn’t a bad or selfish person, I just hadn’t found my right opportunity. I was telling myself, everyone works with kids, I should work with the elderly or abused women, so on and so forth. For whatever reason, I was too stubborn to allow myself to do what I really wanted because I had some ideal in my head that I shouldn’t work with kids.

Where did this come from? Who knows. But that’s how I’ve treated myself throughout my life. Ignoring what brings me joy because maybe I don’t feel I deserve it or happiness. Growing up in a dysfunctional family situation, you rarely feel that you are important. The narcissistic nature of someone who is an addict or alcoholic takes over everyone’s lives and as a kid and adolescent I was lost in the shuffle. My needs were not important, I was overshadowed by my father’s issues. I’ve been essentially punishing myself all these years because of essentially what I was taught indirectly. And frankly that’s bullshit and I’m angry about it.

I’ve done a lot of self-reflection and therapy to get over my past and the fallout into my adult life. The last thing that I am struggling with is anger. I am calling bullshit on every single person who ever excused my father’s behavior because he was “sick”. Sure he tried rehab a few times but he just bullshitted his way through it and came home to do the same things usually worse. My childhood, my adolescence even though my parents divorced when I was 13 was a flat out abusive mess because of his f’ing sickness. Bullshit to each time someone excused his behavior – you were enabling him to not be responsible for himself. I understand it’s a sickness and people can’t help it but it doesn’t excuse the shitty treatment of your children. We didn’t deserve it.

Bullshit to the lack of domestic abuse laws that allowed my father to hit and beat my mother because they were married. If they had not been married back then, he would have been arrested. Again, this was overlooked and my mother was told basically that you are stuck, until she finally had enough and left. She would have left years before, saving us all a bunch of heartache if it had not been for those preaching religious shit about sanctity of marriage. Really? God wants a husband to hit his wife and kids? I don’t care if he was sick or drunk, none of us deserved it. No one deserves it today. The damage from this treatment is long reaching. I’m mid-life and still struggling to just allow myself joy. This is ridiculous.

Being addicted or having a mental illness is tough. It’s a big struggle, but please don’t forget about the persons, the loved ones in the addict’s path. Don’t let the addiction overshadow the victims. In my father’s case, he was never going to get better. I wonder though, if people had stopped enabling him, feeling sorry for him, and hadn’t expected him to take responsibility for his actions. Would the result had been different? What if he went to jail for beating my mother the first time it happened? What if she left the first time she wanted to, gotten support instead of shamed and pressured because they were married? My parents would have divorced when I was very young if she walked away when it started to happen or at least separated until he straightened up his shit. If he couldn’t straighten himself up, then none of us had to live in that hell. She could have still helped him get to rehab and such, but kept herself and us out of the firing line.

I’m not saying stop caring about the person but they have to take responsibility for themselves. They won’t get better until they decide that is truly what they want. It doesn’t matter how much begging and pleading you do with them, it really has to be up to them. But this is their responsibility especially when they are an adult. It is further complicated though by mental illness as in my father’s case. There is little resources to dealing with an adult with a debilitating mental illness. When my father was in nursing care, he was this wonderful pleasant person but outside of constant care, he reverted back to how he was. Dealing with these issues are very complex and I know it isn’t simple. But as victims of the disease, we can remove ourselves and take care of ourselves even though it’s hell watching someone you love self-destruct.

So now, I’m learning what truly brings me joy. In order for me to finish healing over my past, this is a key element. Letting go of the “shoulds” and finding joy every single day. Allowing myself to be happy because I deserve that as does everyone else. We don’t have to sacrifice our joy in life. I need to stop trying to live up to old expectations that never made sense to start with. To stand up for myself when my boundaries are crossed. Granted we all have to do things in life that we don’t enjoy to survive but outside of that, we are free to find our joys. We deserve love and good things no matter our past.

Go find your joy!

Free, Less, & Me

I was writing in my journal noting that it hadn’t even been a month since my youngest moved out. As I reflected on how I was feeling, I noted several words came to mind.

“Free”. “Less”. “Me”.

I dreaded her moving out, cried for days before and after she moved out. It truly was the end to an era of my life. As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been struggling with this whole empty nest idea for about eight years. What will I do? How will I feel? How will I fill the time? How will I feel useful? Needed? I’m not great with the unknown. I want to control everything after growing up in a dysfunctional family. But you can’t control this event nor do you want to. It’s our jobs as parents to raise the baby birds into full fledged adults allowing them to leave the nest and forage on their own. Looking back, I couldn’t wait to move out of my mom’s house. Freedom! Adulting! Doing what I want! Yay! Of course, we all know that it’s never as great as we think because there is always: Bills! Employment! Taxes! Car Issues! Health Insurance!

My life has never really been my own. Maybe a few years late in my teens as I moved from 18 to 19. Then I met my daughters’ father and I allowed my life to get hijacked. So on and so forth, this is all covered in previous posts. But I recovered and made a good life for my daughters and myself. I’ve achieved the majority of my goals that I had from years ago that seem relevant today. Being a famous rock star died out once i had the first baby.

“Free”. I have 4 things I’m responsible for: Myself, Pets, Home and Job. Suddenly I find I can spend a lot more time doing things I enjoy. It’s been going this way for a long time but now it feels more permanent. Outside of my responsibilities, I can chose how I spend my time. If I want to hang out with my kids I can. If I want to spend the day hiking in the woods, I can. If the hubby and I want to spend the day out driving in the Corvette we can (at least until the first salt hits the road). Holy shit! Freedom, or as much as a grown mid-life adult can have.

“Less”. Less cleaning, less cooking, less toilet paper, less grocery shopping, less picking up, less drama, less expectations, less responsibilities, less shit in general. I’m in the process of streamlining household chores, grocery shopping and so on to spend less time on these activities. Less = more freedom, more money, more fun. Essentially less becomes more. More of my own life to life.

“Me”. I’ve spent my life care taking people due to my crazy upbringing and then jumping into young motherhood. Now I can focus on me for the first time in my life. There are no grandparents or parents around pushing their expectations on me. Sad they are gone but it’s simply the truth. These people can really influence your life choices and in my case, I didn’t follow what I truly wanted. I hope I haven’t pushed too much onto my daughters though I know I have in the past. I try to just be supportive now. Me – Doing things I enjoy. Me – Spending quiet time alone which is an introvert’s paradise.

Though I will admit, it has taken me some time to adjust to this time and not try to force myself to be more extroverted because of some odd expectation I had set in my mind. I have the rest of my life; however long that is, to focus on myself for the most part. Which this may just be simple things like doing what I enjoy or pursuing a goal that I find I desire or taking naps. Aren’t naps amazing?

My biggest issue with this change of seasons in my life has been my fear of the unknown and the fear that I would no longer be relevant or useful. I’m not a helicopter mom, nor did I get so involved in my kids’ lives that I forgot my own but the change was significant for me. At times, I miss having kids in the house but mostly, I don’t. They all seem pretty happy on their own and I work at remembering that. I gave them a better shot than I had. I gave them a better childhood than I had. I did my best and honestly, I failed a bunch. I would never get “Perfect Parent of the Year” award but I would get “If You Fuck With My Kids, I Will Kill You” award. They never had to doubt I had their back. They still don’t. I would go all psycho mom on anyone who hurt my kids, grown or not. It’s my job. If they need me, I’m there. No questions asked. Okay, about 100 questions asked, but still there. Some things don’t change.

Bottom line is that you will live through this change. Yes, it can be very sad and you can feel very lost at times. Being a parent is the toughest and most rewarding job I ever had so it’s hard to replace that in my life. I’m really trying to look at it as I was successful at it, as much as anyone can be and now is time for new adventures. Now is the time to get back into my own life, take care of myself, buy myself fun things now and again, relax and enjoy. My life is in a rare quiet moment (knock on wood) so I need to enjoy it. Instead of worrying about what do I need to do now. Who cares? If I look back on my life at the end, will I think I should have started another business, went back to school, filled up my free time pronto? Probably not.

I did though sign up to be a Lunch Buddy for Big Brothers Big Sisters for a young girl who attends middle school. I’m excited (and nervous) about our first meeting next week. This is a volunteer activity that I can have face to face contact with one person with little commitment. I meet her for lunch for 30 minutes every other week (or more often if the Little wants). I chose older children because everyone wants the little kids because they seem less daunting and more cute. My hardest time wasn’t in elementary school but middle school. Nothing more awkward than my 5th grade self. I desperately needed a Big Sister in 5th, and 6th, and 7th, etc. (Shout out to my friends, hubby and boss who gave me a glowing reference – love you guys). I didn’t want to jump full in to a volunteer thing so this seems perfect. Wish me luck! I hope my Little likes me! I love that I have some time to give back to others.

One thing I did promise myself (outside of the BBBS gig) was that I am going to just take a deep breath and not make any major decisions or changes until after the new year. This is to allow me to continue to acclimate to my new reality and to really take time to think about what I want to do, if anything. I tend to knee jerk when I am feeling lost and uncomfortable. I should start a soap making business! I should sign up to volunteer for something I deep down don’t want to do but think I should do! Anything to fill the silence and uncomfortable moments. But those are the moments that I need to truly find my purpose, calling or what makes me happy.

Thats been my folly all my life. Not taking the time to sit in the uncomfortable silence for as long as it takes to find my next path or listen to my heart. I avoid the uncomfortable unknown like the plague and this has never served me well. Running around like a chicken with its head cut off does not lead to smart decisions. Nor did listening to everyone else close to me in my life. Sometimes their advice was right but when I ignored what I really wanted, I did myself a huge disservice. Not trusting my instincts/gut – another disservice. Huge one in fact. Since I can’t fix the past, I can be more cognizant of my future. This time, I am forcing myself to stay still. To listen. To just be for a bit. A few months will not kill me. Learning that I don’t have to be productive 24/7 or have some big goal at every moment, is a good lesson for me.

Be kind to yourself through this entire transition. No one can tell you how to feel (though they will try) or minimize your feelings (also will try – ‘well you knew they were going to grow up’ – no shit – thanks, so helpful). It’s okay to be sad, just don’t get stuck. Your feelings will be up and down or maybe you’ll be elated. Everyone is different. I never can figure out why people expect you to look, act, think and feel just like them. If you don’t, then there is something wrong with you. Stupid.

If you are going through this and need someone to talk to, shoot me a message. I’m here for you. I’ve been blessed with a wonderful support system and realize not everyone has this. Try to remember to be a little excited. This is the next phase or season of your life! Make it what you want! Hugs!

No More “Empty Nest”!

To clarify, my nest is technically ’empty’ now since my youngest daughter just recently moved out and I have no more offspring living in my home. But my nest isn’t “empty”. No I don’t have any babies at home but I do have my husband, myself and my fur babies. ‘Empty’ is such a harsh word for this part of my life. Let’s look at the definition of the word:

1 containing nothing; having none of the usual or appropriate contents: an empty bottle.

2 vacant; unoccupied: an empty house.

My home and life are not vacant, containing nothing, unoccupied. My nest has changed, it had one less occupant but it is far from empty.

I’ll admit it, I suck at change. Growing up in an abusive alcoholic home where from day to day, minute to minute, you never knew what crazy shit was going to happen, change becomes the enemy. Even decades away from my childhood and adolescence, I struggle with change but mostly I struggle with any kind of a major change whether it is good or bad. Ask my husband, getting me to move out of a house I lived for fifteen years was no small feat even though I love my new house. I sat outside with my three daughters and two of their significant others last night around a big fire looking up at the million stars. It was the perfect summer like night that I would not have enjoyed living in town. We talked, laughed and made s’mores. It was awesome. I haven’t lost my kids, I thought as I stared up at the sky. They are right here. We can still get together and do the things we enjoy, it just takes some scheduling around our lives.

Since 2011 when my oldest moved away to college, I’ve been preparing for the ’empty nest’. Except I couldn’t really prepare for it. Because I didn’t know what it would be like. I could only guess at it. I started making lists of what I could do with all my new found time I would have since I wasn’t taking care of kids. I fretted and worried over this new ‘season’. I read books on empty nests, blogs, articles and so on but nothing clicked. The advice they give you is pretty lame but I think that’s because none of it resounded with me. Frankly, for me at least, it’s not that huge of life change when I think about it. My kids don’t disappear and I never see them again. Plus, I’m not cooking every day which is a bonus!

Logically, I wasn’t taking care of my 22-year old college graduate. She took care of herself. We spent a lot more time together after her two sisters moved out. But now she has moved in with her boyfriend and is starting her own new ‘season’. In a way, as a parent, you feel a little left behind watching your chicks fly the nest and starting up their own lives. It makes you think of when you left the nest, all full of goals, hopes, ideas and excitement. Maybe in a way, I was envious of them because my life never turned out how it was planned. But then when you think about it, so few people ever have everything turn out exactly as they planned anyway. Life isn’t like that. We get crap in our heads that we are a failure because we didn’t exactly reach this goal pristinely. But maybe we achieved it in another way. Which is pretty much how my life went. I achieved most of my goals, just not exactly as I saw it when I came up with the goal or imagined my future. We need to be flexible when we plan our goals and realize, they may happen differently. Flexibility is not a strong suit of mine in this area. I’m going to work on it though.

I’ve spent months dreading my youngest moving out. Who would I go for walks with? Who would I make ice cream runs with? So on and so forth. She was moving almost an hour a way. Her sisters both work second shift which is opposite of mine but they live ten minutes from me. My husband works a swing shift so 7 out of 28 nights, he works. OMG what was I going to do with myself with so much time alone? I was going to be this big loser that sits around her house feeling sorry for herself because her kids were all gone and her husband was working nights that day. As I type this, I realize I really can work things up in my mind, can’t I? I go to the worst case scenario and work my way out. It’s how I am wired. Then whatever it is that I’m afraid of happens, I recover after a few days or weeks, then I’m fine. I think it is more the fear of the unknown.

So I’m alone more often. Big deal. I’m also freer, with less responsibility and a lot less mess in my house. I’m spending less time cooking and cleaning now. Grocery trips and expense have significantly reduced. More time and more money to do fun things or buy myself something frivolous if I chose. I’m mainly an introvert though I hover close to extroversion on the tests. No, I’m not socially awkward or painfully shy or afraid to talk to people. That isn’t necessarily introversion. Introversion just means that people and noise, etc. drain me where extroverts are recharged by these interactions. Hence, I need a lot of quiet alone time compared to an extroverted person. I’ve just recently accepted this is who I am and stop beating myself up because I’m not a fan of group activities, loud parties, a lot of social interaction (social media is a blessing for me), and so on. I’m not a loser because I prefer to take a journal to a coffee shop and write rather than gather up a bunch of friends and go out to dinner. Bottom line: More alone time – good for me.

In preparation for my empty nest, I had joined some social media groups for Empty Nest. Which was depressing. It was either people trying to convince these heartbroken (mostly moms) parents to buy into whatever business they were selling to ‘fill the void’. That pissed me off. Nothing like preying on people who are hurting. Yes, I grieved a bit the passing of that part of my life but on the flip side, it’s wonderful in it’s own right. I’m not saying there won’t be times where I miss my girls or that I feel wistful for the past but that’s normal.

When I miss them, I just open my messenger app and shoot them a group message. One or all three will respond. Thank you messenger app. It’s not like twenty some years ago where you might get a call once a week. We can be in touch all the time if we want. But I’m also lucky in the fact that the fours of us are extremely close. I read posts in the empty nest groups and so many people don’t have this kind of relationship with their kids so I am fortunate.

So no “Empty Nest”. I’m not an “empty nester’. That’s not a label I want to put on myself or my life. I’ve allowed myself to grieve that passing phase of my life. It is a big change after 28 years to not have kids in the house. But I did my job, they are out there in the world being responsible, contributing adults who are for the most part happy. It wasn’t easy, it was pretty damned tough at times. And I’m sure the future won’t be all roses and kittens but for now, it’s all good. My life has changed not ended. It is all part of living, seasons come and go. I need to learn to embrace change better.

Make your own path in this life. Decide what you are willing to accept and not accept. I’m not accepting that my life is empty because it is actually full. I accept that I am fortune and blessed. I chose not to put any label on this part of my life either. I just am, life just is. The end.

Empty Nest – #1 – Second Season

My youngest daughter graduated college a few months ago and yesterday she left to spend an extended period at her boyfriend’s apartment almost an hour away. They are doing a test run of living together, which when compared to me, is way more thoughtful and smart than anything I did when it came to relationships. But it has brought on a serious case of empty nest for me. The end of an era, twenty-seven years of having kids living with me. Granted she hasn’t moved out yet, but it’s soon and I’m a preparer, I need to figure out how I will handle the quieter home, the next or second season of my life.

They don’t really tell you that sometimes being a parent really sucks. They don’t have a good way to prepare you for life after the kids move out. The advice is all the same, pursue that career you always wanted (not applicable for me), take up a new hobby (I have a ton already), travel (can’t do that every day), take classes (maybe if I can find something I like) and so on and so forth. The thing is, I didn’t really put my life on hold when I was raising my daughters, especially the last ten or so years. I don’t believe you should give up your entire person to raise kids. Granted I had less time for hobbies and such back then when we were full on into school activities, etc. but I still kept time for me. I believed had I done that, lost myself to raise my kids, this moment would had totally crushed me since the majority of my identity would be wrapped up in being a mom. I’m still a mom, but it’s different and in some ways, it’s better because it’s a sense of freedom not being responsible for them and our relationship becomes more like friends.

So while I’m grateful I kept my own life while raising my daughters, I’m still a bit shell-shocked on this ‘second season’ (or whatever you wish to call it but I feel empty nest seems to be a negative term). I’ve been sitting here in my bed this morning, trying to sort out my feelings and thoughts when I decided to put them into my blog. Maybe someone else needs to hear this as well.

I am choosing to look at today as the start of my next chapter or season or whatever. Today is the first day of the rest of your life attitude. So lets start with my assets being 48-years old:

1. I’ve raised my family and am in awe of my daughters and their successes. They have done so much better for themselves at their ages than I did. Goal accomplished.

2. I own my home, need little materialistically. Household established. Live in my “dream’ home (though I am a bit of a simple person so I’m happy even without Italian marble floors). I have everything I could ever want and more. Very blessed.

3. My retirement is on track so I can retire at 67 and live comfortably barring any catastrophes

4. Have a good job with flexibility and excellent benefits. Pays well, not my ‘dream’ job but I believe in our mission, enjoy the people I work with for the most part, some are like family to me. Career – check. (PS – I have no idea what my ‘dream’ job is anyway)

5. Health – Could improve a bit, but overall good health. Very important.

6. Family and friends – Don’t have a huge family or friend group but I am close to my ‘tribe’ as they call it. I’m an introvert for the most part so this is exactly my style. I have a lot of love in my life and am very loved. Again, very blessed.

7. Hobbies – I have a lot of different ones. Interests – I pursue what I am interested in. I have the resources to take on new hobbies if I wanted them.

Reading that list, I am one very blessed individual. Granted, some of it is luck but most of it is hard work. Even with all the stupid decisions I’ve made in my life, I survived. And thrived. I am going to sit with that knowledge for a moment, soak it in. Sometimes we forget to stop and enjoy the moment, the present. I’m really bad about that. I always want to push forward to the next thing.

And maybe that is part of my problem. I’m always pushing for what’s next. What would happen if I just stopped that tendency and just live in the moment? Why do I feel like now that this ‘job’ as a parent is done, that I have to rush out and immerse myself in something new? Why not just stop and enjoy life? Why not just work on my writing when I want. I’ve been considering just self-publishing my last novel as is and then starting a new, fresh project. I’ve been trying to rewrite this novel for 6-7 times and frankly I’m tired of it. Who says it has to be some art of perfection? What if I just did what I wanted for once? Instead of always pushing myself toward some expectation from where I have no idea it came from.

What if I just stopped and allowed myself to breathe? What if I stopped expecting myself to have some ‘great, fabulous’ goal? Would the world end? Deep inhale, full exhale. Repeat. Let go. Just let go of all my self-imposed ideas of what I am supposed to be doing and let’s make a list of things I have to do at this stage in my life (I love lists can you tell?):

1. Feed and take care of myself. Aim to be more healthy – physically, mentally, etc.

2. Feed and take care of my two pets: Baron and Lexington

3. Go to work, make money – pay bills/ taxes

4. Take care of home/yard

5. Spend time with husband and family and friends. Be a better wife, mother and friend.

Really, just the basics of living are left. Is that such a bad place to be in? I don’t think so.

Breathe in, breathe out, let go. That’s what I am going to work on right now. Letting go of the urgency to find the next big thing now that I have raised my kids. Allow myself to decompress, get off the hamster wheel, and just live in the moment. I will admit, this idea of letting go the need to always be achieving something makes me incredibly anxious. It feels as if I stop this track, I will fall apart and I don’t know why I feel that way. Old habits, old expectations, or being busy is my way of coping with hard things? Probably the latter.

I have a hard time just sitting with my uncomfortable or sad feelings. I’m learning to be able to do this and have found that each time I do, I feel better in the long run even if it does feel like I will drown in my emotions or feelings when I experience them. Considering the fact that I am still breathing, still here to write this blog, that’s an overreaction on my part. I have not drowned from experiencing my feelings. No matter how yucky it feels, I will survive by facing them down, by feeling them, by allowing them to pass through and go on their way rather than holding them inside, stewing on them for years. Not good.

The bottom line is, I’ll be fine. I just need to let go.

Growing Up With Alcoholic Parent(s)

For a long time, I’ve been wanting to blog about growing up with a raging alcoholic father and I’ve. finally gathered the courage. But please don’t feel sorry for me or pity me, that’s not what I want. I want the other children of alcoholic (or addicts or mental illness) to know, I got your back and you’re not alone and you’re not weird and you’re not crazy. This stuff affects you way into your life even if you do get help, therapy, etc.

One of the most frustrating things about growing up this way and being in mid-life is that your coping behaviors still exist on some level. Maybe there is that random person out there that has conquered them all but they are so engrained in you just to survive, that occasionally or frequently they pop up in situations where you don’t need them especially if you have created a good, positive life for yourself. These old mechanisms, these protective coping behaviors are no longer needed but they can create havoc in your life.

As a child, I knew we weren’t a normal family and my father’s alcoholism was always center stage. You were told not to feel things, say things, to hide the fact that your life was a crazy mess. So you go to school, never invite friends over and you end up creating this persona that provides an iron clad (you hope) curtain around your actual life. You lie, you fudge, you lie some more. It becomes a habit, you create your own alter ego to present to the rest of the world where you’re A-ok and your family isn’t a crazy mess. You live in a constant shroud of shame, some because you hide this from the world and mostly because you’re most likely abused. For me it was emotional, verbal and physical abuse. You never knew what you would get when you came home. Would you get back-handed for being happy and smiling? Who the hell ever knew. The key element is that you, as a child, was not important, your feelings were wrong, etc.

When I got older, I sought out therapy and self-help books. I married young, I had three daughters. I dedicated myself to giving them a much better life than I had. I went through two marriages until I found someone who really loved me. We’ve been together almost ten years but yet I struggle with being honest with him. Not about most things, just about how I feel, what I struggle with, and hiding my coping behaviors because I’m ashamed they are still there. So now I’m working on that.

I’m adverse to change. When you get to a point in your life where your life is steady and more certain, getting you to move from that comfort zone is likely to take a stick of dynamite. The older I get the more difficult change gets in general. Honestly, this is frustrating as fuck. I don’t want to be this way. I miss out on things in life when I fight change or hide at home. When my husband thought it would be a good thing for us to move out of the house I lived in for 15 years after my mom died because I couldn’t work in the yard without crying and other reasons, he hit a wall. But he was right, it was a positive move. I unintentionally fight good things. I stay with things that aren’t working just because they are familiar.

Deep down you have a fear of not being good enough, not deserving even the things you may have hard-earned. Sometimes you feel like an imposter in your own life because you weren’t allowed any self-worth growing up. Or even for a good part of your adult life. You seek out people who will treat you poorly because it feels familiar. You will create self-defeating scenarios just because of the fear or deep belief that you aren’t worthy. Logically, you know it’s stupid and a whole lot crazy. But this happens so quietly, sneaks up on you so stealthily that by the time you realize what bullshit you are doing, you’ve already created an issue. Maybe it’s a small fixable issue or it’s a huge issue that hurts someone else. And it always hurts you because you are set on punishing yourself for being alive.

My mother, rest her soul, would tell me as a kid, “Your father didn’t drink until we had kids” as if to blame me. I don’t think she realized that to my tiny ears, that it sounded like she blamed me. I think it was more a statement of fact. As if my presence was the cause of his bullshit. The cause of his alcoholism was probably a mental illness left undiagnosed and treated. Not me. But I have walked around on this earth for 48 years feeling like I wasn’t worthy, deserving and that I was the root cause of my family’s problems even when my brain tells me it isn’t.

It’s exhausting fighting all this deeply engrained crap. It hurts you and others. My cousin and I lament on how we are so tired of this shit still leaking into our lives, affecting us. We’ve come a really huge way but still, we struggle. And it pisses us off. I think the anger is the key to exorcising these old demons. Using the anger to get that next bit of really tough therapy or making up my mind to just short circuit the behavior by really being cognizant of my cues and feelings that precede or accompany the self-defeating mechanisms. I’m so done with this stuff. I’m tired of it affecting my life. It feels as if my father or whatever craziness from my youth is still controlling me and I have had enough. Enough is enough is enough.

I’ve never used my past as an excuse but I’m tired of my past hurting me. Sick of it. So sick of it. I’m done. Completely done with this stuff. I’ve come a long way but it’s time to finish off the last bits of it. To really focus on when I’m doing things to hurt myself or others even if it’s always unintentional. To stop the self-sabotage because I have a deep seated fear that I’m not deserving or not good enough. I’m just so done.

The bottom line is that I didn’t cause my father to drink, I didn’t ruin their life, I made a lot of mistakes, I did a lot of stupid stuff in my life, I allowed people into my life that definitely did not have my best interests at heart. No more. I’m done.

Sometimes It’s Just Hard Work

I went through this whole intuitive eating/ movement kick earlier this year. Renouncing diets (still do) and advocating doing what you feel like doing. I gained roughly 25 lbs. I know because I went back to weighing myself occasionally but without judgment and criticism. I noticed my clothes were getting tighter. I felt crappy. I was happier because I was free from diets but what these ladies preach may not be completely great for me.

My employer is participating in the Global Challenge where you set up teams of seven of your co-workers and record your steps each day trying to outdo one another. You get this little digital pedometer that syncs with an app to your phone. The challenge runs for 100 days and I’m 51 days in. My daily goal has been 10k steps the first part and now it’s 10.5k steps. I know I have to set achievable goals or I will drive myself crazy with the failure of it.

Many of these anti-diet promoters also promote moving when you feel like it along with eating what you want when you’re hungry. However, participating in this challenge lead me to an interesting discovery. The first week of achieving 10k steps a day was definite a struggle I’m not used to being that active every day. I also discovered how little I move when I’m at the office. If I reach 3000 steps in my work day, I’m lucky. This has prompted me to really push to get out of my chair and take a walk to the other side of the facility. Or walk uptown for my once a week lunch date with my BFF. Or walk a few laps around the building.

I didn’t feel like doing this most days and really had to push myself. So if I followed the advice of the anti-diet, intuitive eating crowd, I’d never really exercise much because I just wouldn’t feel like it. Another interesting result is the daily 10k+ (I’m currently averaging 15,500 steps due to frequent cycling – 229 steps per minute for moderate cycling) is that the exercise has quenched for the most part my desire to eat when I’m bored, stressed etc. It’s counteracted my overactive appetite. Seven weeks in, my ravenous appetite hasn’t returned. Not that some days I’m hungrier than others, but I’m not binging much on snacks and such anymore for just the activity of eating. Which with exercise has netted me an 11.2 lb loss without dieting at all.

It’s not easy to get yourself up and move like that every single day. I’ve fallen short 3 times out of 51 days but my average step count has kept consistent. I haven’t jumped for joy to get up on my bike another time when my inner thighs have painfully chafed because I got rained on the day before and my wet bike shorts rubbed against my delicate skin. I put on some skin protectant and got my happy ass back out on that bike the next day because I didn’t have the almost 2 hours to walk to get in my steps. It take 44 minutes of cycling to hit 10k steps at a moderate pace.

Tonight, I wanted to go up and lie down because I haven’t been sleeping well at all. I forced myself to gather up my dog and my walking shoes. Then I drove to the lake and walked 3 miles to get over 10k. I had to really push myself to walk that far. I picked out a shelter house in the distance along the path and made it my turn around point. When I got back into the car, the skies opened up and it poured. Tired and sore, I smiled to myself with the accomplishment of making my step goal and moving. Also, I was rewarded with a brilliant rainbow over the lake when the sun peaked out. The result – happiness.

Living a healthy lifestyle is work. Eating healthier takes thought and planning. Exercising every day definitely requires planning and dedication. It’s hard some days. Really hard others. I still believe in not dieting, to intuitively eat but I’ve also started focusing on eating more veggies and fruit just because it makes me feel good. As far as moving when I feel like it, joyful movement, eh. I believe you need to choose activities you enjoy, mix it up, try new things but this one you have to really prioritize and make it part of your life. Few of us are so super happy to exercise every day but it is so worth the effort.

My weight loss is just a marker and has not been my goal. I haven’t tried to lose weight at all. I just find it interesting that it happened without dieting. Just to be clear, I don’t believe you should measure your success by a scale. But I do love that my clothes are getting looser. But even more, I love that I feel good (outside of being sore some days), I’m out in the world more and experiencing cool things like rainbows where I may have missed them.

Like the old adage “nothing worth having ever comes easy” or however it goes, is so true. Sometimes I want everything to be easy but easy doesn’t pay big dividends.