Wednesday, November 23, 2011

losing track of thankful

It is so easy in the chaos of  regular life to forget the bigger picture, to be overwhelmed by the daily grind.

To lose track of thankful.

At the moment I'm fraying at the edges. It's been an intense fall and at times I've felt like I'm barely surviving. It's often easier  to keep my head down and just skim the insanity. Finding space, opening my eyes to what's beyond feels almost impossible when I'm stretched so incredibly thin.

But, there is so much in my life to be thankful for that a slight shift in perspective brings it into focus.

My life has been usurped by school tours and tutors and testing and unbelievable stress. But we get to live in NYC where there are great options out there and I know, deep down, that wherever Iz and Jack end up will be fine.

I spend more time picking poop up off the street than I every could have imagined but Moo and Gracie are the most remarkable creatures and I can't imagine a life without that pure, delicious love.

I've been dealing with a torn rotator cuff and chronic pain. But, I'm healing and at 47+ am in the best shape I've ever been in.

Not a day goes by without whining or complaining from someone. Drama. Bickering. Full scale battles happen far more often than I wish they would. But it's my family. I would do anything and everything for them.

My design career stalled and I can't seem to get it started again. But, I'm working on my first monologue, to perform in public, and am taking on a producer role in new projects.

Not everyone I know is in a good healthy place. But, they're still here.

And while I went through voluntary surgery, have 4 new scars on my abdomen, can't take Advil anymore, gave up salt, am down a kidney, I radically, amazingly changed my brother's life. I still hold onto that being a true miracle.

I am thankful beyond thankful for that opportunity, for that transplant, for being able to help. For the remarkable people in my life. For the city I live in. For the time to volunteer. For the opportunity to reinvent myself yet again.

For the ability to step back. And to be thankful.

Monday, November 21, 2011

living by committee

Right now just about every single aspect of my life is ruled by someone else.

From the dogs needing to be walked in the morning to timing Jack at night while he reads, there is barely a moment when someone else's needs aren't coming first.

This morning even my car managed to usurp work time—I got downstairs to do alternate side parking and found the battery completely dead. Instead of working I spent hours dealing with roadside assistance. Even that was a challenge as ATT has dead spots on my street so I couldn't even get help while sitting in my car.

I just spent the last 10 minutes searching for missing yoyo accessories that the dogs thought were toys, much to Jack's utter frustration. And now, I've got to write with my legs up on my desk so Gracie can lie across them, frantically chewing a bone. At least I'm hoping it's a bone.

Last night I was a slave to apple support as for some unknown reason iTunes can't play the Wizard of Oz.

Before that the emotionally careening teen in my house was having a day.

My surgeon's office just called asking if I could come in early tomorrow which means I can't make the knitting club meeting that I organized and can't take Jack to school.

This morning someone asked me about ads for the yearbook and I didn't even know what school they were talking about.

I turned on my laptop and found a desktop littered with someone else's files and a calendar issue I can't resolve.

Jack's yoyo is broken and my new unexpected project is to research how it can be fixed.

My life is all about everyone else at the moment but rarely about me.

Most of the time I can handle it but right now my edges are fraying. But, instead of curling up in the corner with a book, which is what I'd really like to do I have to feed the dogs, make sure homework's done, complete the NYC high school application with Iz, fix that yoyo, find dinner for kids, finish an invitation and review a postcard for work, pick up shipping supplies at the stationery store. I'm sure there's plenty more I'm blocking and even more than will come up. Like ordering shoes for Iz, which I did while I was writing this and dealing with amazon about her kindle that arrived 2 days ago and already broke.

Usually I find some light at the end of the tunnel with these, but that's not happening today.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

late blooming

Last week were auditions for Jack's 5th grade play, which is a huge event for all involved. We've been through this before. Iz had decided from the time she saw her first PS41 in kindergarten that she wanted to be a lead when she had her chance. So did just about every other girl in her class. Much to my surprise (shock), she won the role of Lina Lamont in "Singin' in the Rain." I'd never really heard her sing before and had absolutely no idea she had spot on comedic timing. She was brilliant in her part—watching her sparkle on stage, the audience drowning her out with laughter, her face glowing at the impromptu standing ovation she got when she walked out to take a bow? Priceless moments from a Mastercard commercial.

Jack, on the other hand, decided he wanted to go the crew route. He was fine, excited in fact, about participating backstage and keeping a low profile. But it seems every single student has to do a dance audition and he rocked his. So much so that he's reconsidering being in the cast.

For many reasons, I'm blown away.

When Jack was younger he couldn't balance on one foot. Couldn't catch a ball. Couldn't run well. His coordination was, well, it wasn't. He'd been diagnosed with sensory integration issues and started OT and PT before he was 4. He'd had speech issues as well and was in therapy for that too. It was almost like systems in his body didn't really understand what they were supposed to do and he had to work so damn hard to master things most little boys took for granted. Along with the above he had a host of strange health issues, none of which were permanent, but often took ages to get to the bottom of. Digestive problems, febrile seizures, severe allergic reactions—we spent much of his childhood at doctor appointments, evaluations, therapy.

And so as he mastered riding on his rip stick, snowboarding, reading above grade level, becoming a leader amongst his friends, I appreciated all the more what it took for him to get to those places.

Someone recently called him a late-bloomer.

He's ten.

I think, these days, we have such ridiculously high expectations of what our children should be doing that we forget that they're kids. Just kids. When I was ten I rode my bike to visit friends, made pom pom animals and painted on rocks. Read like crazy and played with stuffed animals. I know beyond the shadow of a doubt there is no way at that age I could have done the things he's doing now, with the confidence and sense of ownership he's discovered.

It's different to be a kid these days. While part of me wonders if all the pressure to accomplish so much is a healthy thing, another part watches in awe at what he can do.

As for the play, whether he's opening a curtain or dancing in front of one, I'll be watching with tears in my eyes at the experience he's having.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

me, from different points of view

Yesterday, after wearing my PTA president hat at a school tour I got a compliment so thoughtful my heart swelled. I'd spoken in front of a large group of prospective parents and students and someone in the administration noted that not only am I a great speaker: poised, confident, able to make the audience feel both comfortable and welcome, I am a great mother. She hoped she be as good a mom when she has kids one day. That I am engaged, present, a remarkable role model. I said I happen to have great kids. She said they were great because of me. 

I then met a friend for coffee who called me a needy drama queen. 

And that was not an inaccurate observation. At times, rarely these days but it still comes out, I can be. 

Later that night, at dinner with friends, we were talking family angst. It's rare that someone can top me when it comes to dysfunction and this was no exception. I know, as I openly shared how I can now separate and let go that I was being judged as heartless, cold. Detached. I can be that too. My life has taught me that lesson. 

I also spent part of the day working on my kidney project.  That one act changed the way many see me. While I'm  the same person I was before, I chose to save a life and that's an amazingly brave, selfless thing to do. I still have trouble owning that about myself but those 4 red incisions on my abdomen are a constant reminder. 

All these disparate pieces. All these experiences. All these scars have made me into someone I never could have imagined I'd be. And yet, sometimes I'm still wracked with insecurity, with feeling like a failure, a loser, that I haven't accomplished enough, done enough, am good enough. If only I'd followed a more conventional path. Had greater professional success. Tried harder, dug deeper, pushed more. 

As I'm standing on the edge of reinventing myself into what I don't know, I wonder if I'll be able to do it again. 

Or maybe, worrying about it is just the drama queen desperate to be heard. 

Friday, November 11, 2011

saying no to drugs

(actually, it's saying no to meds, but that wasn't as catchy a title)

It's been just about a month since I swallowed my last dose of Lexapro, after a year and a half of taking it religiously every single morning. And stopping was almost as terrifying as starting. But, much to my surprise, I'm finding myself stronger, more cohesive, more integrated, more capable than I've been in longer than I can remember.

Medication always terrified me. It was about losing control in any way. Having a chemical alter how I felt, what I thought, how I acted was a far worse thought than the benefits that might be achieved. Even nighttime cold medicine made me nervous—drifting off into a Benadryl haze I'd consciously try to fight the effects so that I wouldn't fall asleep to never wake up, an irrational but real fear. Whenever prescribed something for pain, after childbirth, after an exposed nerve in a tooth, after kidney surgery, I'd never take a full dose. The hurt was almost easier to handle than the fears that went along with meds.

But a year and a half ago I started cracking. Both my brother and sister were spiraling downward, not nearly to the rock bottoms they'd both hit over the summer and into that fall, but things for both of them were getting out of control. Both were struggling with issues beyond my help, one physical, one psychological, and for long stretches of time I wasn't sure either would survive. It was getting hard for me to get out of bed, to accomplish anything beyond the bare minimum, to be in my normally glass half full mindset. I started to panic. I was afraid to pick Jack up at school, that I'd fall apart in the yard and not be able to get it together. Sitting in my car during alternate side parking mornings, I'd feel so trapped I couldn't breathe. Anxiety is my kryptonite. More terrifying and destructive than anything else out there.

I couldn't talk to anyone about what I was feeling. As if putting it into the world I'd crack faster.

Finally, I opened up to a friend and started sobbing. At a table in the window of a busy restaurant on 6th Avenue. Just saying it out loud, once, made me realize how fragile I'd become. I knew I couldn't live like that anymore. I knew I needed help.

The idea of help though was as scary as the panic that was now a constant companion.

I started taking Lexapro, in spite of scanning every single rant about how life destroying it could be posted on message boards and in online forums. I could quote side effects of strangers. I intimately knew how people reacted, gained weight, felt more anxious than less, lost interest in sex. I couldn't stop reading, for hours on end, even though it did nothing but make me feel worse.

In the end, the meds worked. It wasn't as if all bad feelings were washed away but I wasn't panicking all the time. Life got brighter. I started taking subways again. Talking to people. Being social. Eventually I realized the constant fear of a breakdown had quietly slipped away. And I was able to cope with all the life threatening illness surrounding me.

As I was settling into this new, medicated mindset, my kidney donor journey began. I know that without meds I never would've been able to handle the stress, the fears, the pressure, the unknowns. It's not that I wasn't freaking out on a regular basis, but that leveling off of emotions kept me from completely losing my mind.

I was vaguely aware, as I was going through tests and exams and the endless waiting that the meds also shut down my creativity, my drive, my energy that sometimes borders on frenetic. That was my fuel but that wasn't the person I needed to be then.

Turns out I couldn't maintain that forever. After surgery, after healing, after settling back into myself, I knew more and more I wasn't myself. That a vital part of me was being kept in check. But, I was terrified, petrified, to let go of this medical crutch. What if I stopped taking drugs and I was worse than before. Anxiety ramped up. I started panicking again and that was a new rock bottom. If I was freaking on meds, what would happen when, if, I went off? But, at the same time, I was subconsciously weaning myself, often forgetting to take them when I first woke up.

I made the decision at the end of the summer to cut down. So slowly it must have been almost imperceptible to my body.

I survived.

The less I took the more drive I had. Ideas started popping into my head. I'd forgotten that's how I used to be all the time. I started crying more. It was almost impossible to cry on meds, but as they left my system, I'd tear up more quickly than I ever had.

I started putting ideas together for a kidney book. And sobbed as I read through the blog I'd written almost daily through the experience.

All the while still unnerved about the breakdown I'd thought was imminent.

Turns out I'm stronger on the other side of this tunnel. Anxiety will always be a part of me, but I have tools to handle it better. I don't want to be that person anymore, crippled by the thoughts in my head that are nothing but that, made up mindsets that have the power to paralyze but aren't real.

Life without Lexapro is a different kind of living, feeling, experiencing. And I'm finally ready to jump back in.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

riding the waves

At the moment I'm sitting in a public atrium on Wall Street. Right in front of me is the weekly NYC yoyo club meet up. Behind the spinning discs and neon strings are extras for the final battle scene in the new Batman movie, waiting for their scene to start shooting. Across the way is an Occupy Wall Street organizational meeting with 20 or 30 people in a circle sharing information and ideas. 

15 minutes ago, in search of snacks for a hungry child (and me) I was wondering streets that alternated between deserted and preparing for a cinematic battle. Skyscrapers cutting off almost all sun, patches of blue glancing off mirrored facades. 

25 minutes ago a random text to an old friend led to passes to the 9/11 Memorial. 

An hour and a half ago I walked down subway steps only to find I'd forgotten my wallet. 

3 hours ago every network in my apartment failed and I fought back absolute frustration and tears staring down tech problems I don't know how to solve. Hey, I don't even know what the problems are. 

4 hours ago my brother and I spent far too much time on speakerphone with Daisy at TiVo and managed to accomplish nothing. Except drive ourselves crazy. 

5 hours ago I was just finishing a yoga class. 

7 or so hours ago I was writing out morning pages as the puppies wrestled on top of me. 

So far this day has been utterly frustrating, completely  inspirational, filled with urban beauty, parental pride, personal exasperation, apartment angst, exploring new neighborhoods, boundless love, technology hell, embarrassing hair, and a quiet satisfaction. 

I have to give that last one a shout out. The transplant was 5 months ago today. Iz asked me if that was a memorable anniversary and I realized that every single day my brother is out in the world with a healthy kidney is memorable.  Of course the time we spent together today was aggregating to no end. But, that is incomparable to what the alternative could've been. 

I'm learning, slowly, to ride the waves, to hold it together when they're crashing over my head, to appreciate the moments of calm, to revel in streams of sun reflecting off the water and not let go when storms are ripping me apart. 

After all this I'm thinking an Arrested Development marathon will be a great way to end this day. 

Friday, November 4, 2011

a fork in the creative road

Ideas are smacking me so hard in the head, I'm feeling dizzy at times. I've had 4 or 5 flashes of what to write today and at this point I'm curious as to what trajectory this blog post will take and where it'll end up. I kind of love these pieces - they unfold and lead me somewhere unexpected. 

Last night I was struck by yet more synchronicity and signs about where I should be focusing. While checking blog stats (yes I do this) I saw someone had check out a post from just over a year ago, a post about my brother and sister, who were both just out of the hospital and how I was feeling helpless, hopeless, frustrated watching them suffer. I desperately wanted to make them better, to radically change things, but I was powerless to do anything but be a support system. 

The post ended with me knowing that should there ever be anything I could do, of course I'd do it. 

A month later my brother asked me to be tested. 6 months after that I drastically, dramatically, positively changed his life. I've been wondering if a book about our kidney would be worth exploring and then I realized what a truly profound story it is. To choose to save someone's life. And have it work? Inspiration is a great launch pad. 

Which led me to my next potential blog post: for the love of drama. As soon as positive wraps its warm arms around me and holds me tight, doubt comes creeping softly in. I start spinning negative and last night, as my dad and stepmother, whom I haven't spoken to in almost a year, took hold of my thoughts, I was able to more clearly see just what my destructive process is. It doesn't have to be new drama. It doesn't have to be in the moment. I can dredge up pain and angst from years back to beat myself up with. And, I've learned, the most debilitating kind is focusing on not being wanted. Rejection, for whatever reason, is my kryptonite. 

I have to say that again: rejection is my kryptonite. Or, to push it even farther, fear of rejection. Of not being important, acknowledged, of being pushed out, ignored, marginalized. 

Whew. I can spend copious amounts of time and energy blaming other people. And then blaming myself. That place isn't easy for me to get out of. It's comfortable - as I've often said, there's comfort in the discomfort. 

And then, this morning as I was blasting my stereo in the car, listening through a genius playlist based on my new anthem, I heard this:

And what it all boils down to
Is that no one's really got it figured out just yet
'Cause I've got one hand in my pocket
And the other one is playing a piano

And what it all comes down to my dear friends, yeah
Is that everything is just fine fine fine
'Cause I've got one hand in my pocket
And the other one is hailing a taxi cab - Alanis Morissette

Yup. No one's figured it out just yet. But everything is fine. 

Everything is fine. 

As I'm getting back to myself, post book mania/Lexapro/kidney anxiety, these swings, these bursts, these flashes are feeling more and more comfortable. Intense yes but damn, to feel like myself again is awe inspiring. For a long time I forgot what that felt like. For a long time I was afraid that feeling like me meant falling apart. But maybe, I'm finally learning, that to be me is to accept all there is - the creativity, the drama, the anxiety, the fear of rejection - and to treat myself with acceptance and kindness regardless of where my thoughts and feelings are spinning. 

Hmmm. This feels like a good place to stop for today. Love Shack just came on. 

Thursday, November 3, 2011

I have a theme

Nope, not a dream (although I'm sure I could conjure some interesting things up here), but a theme. A theme, as in theme song. I'm trying it on, trying it out, as I start this new road back to myself. After starting The Artist's Way last week, I've been looking for synchronicity, potential pathways, changing my point of view.

One of the exercises is to list 20 things you like to do and when you last did them. Listening to music was one of mine. Throughout my life I've always had anthems, or songs that powerfully resonated with what I was living through at that moment. I can't think of how many times I listened to Like a Rolling Stone while my parents were splitting up. Muddy Waters was the soundtrack of my art school portfolio. Traffic got me through FLOW.

But, I don't get to listen very much anymore. Living in an apartment where everyone is always in the same room, my background noise is reruns of The Office mixed with Jon Stewart, Assasin's Creed and an occasional Abba interlude. But lately, I keep coming back to this one song: Praise You, by Fat Boy Slim. Its positive power washes over me every single time I hear it..

Here's the synchronicity part: last night in a mind-blowing, thought-provoking, inside-looking yoga class, the teacher challenged everyone to let go of their stuff. The blame. The shame. To go deeper and appreciate and accept.

Which is what The Artist's Way is saying.

Which is how I'm starting to feel when I look at all I've accomplished and where I am.

"We've come a long long way together,
through the hard times and the good.
I have to celebrate you baby.
I have to praise you like I should."

Damn. Those words are ringing really true right now. For me. About me. I am proud of who I am. Of what I've done. Of all I've overcome. Of the person I've become. The writer, the mother, the volunteer, the donor, the designer, the friend, the partner, the support system, the motivator, the organizer, the inspiration.

We all deserve some of this. Some appreciation and acknowledgment of who we are. Of how we handle these crazy lives, the stresses we'd never imagined, the challenges that continue to show up.

A little praise goes a long way folks.

Try it.

(this post would not have been possible without Ashleigh Beyer and Emily Stone)

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

just do it already

When I mentioned to Jack the other day that I was happy I'd started writing here again, he said: yeah, but if you took all the time you spent blogging and worked on a new book, you'd be done already. And it would be a good one.

Words of wisdom from a 10 year old - at least about the getting it done part.

And yet, I can't start. I'm not sure why. I know how to write a book. I've done it plenty of times before. Then again, every single other project I've worked on has had a subject that I could research, find images for, background about. I've spent countless hours scouring ebay for vintage ads and ephemera, trolling online for obscure facts to share with the world.

I'm not thinking about that kind of book this time.

Perhaps that's why I'm stuck here.

I want to write my kidney book. Or, I feel like I should. Even more honestly, I feel like I should feel like I should. It's now a part of my past. Would anyone be interested reading it? Would I be interested writing it? And if not, what? There are plenty of other ideas I could grasp onto and delve into, but nothing is calling to me. Compelling me. Screaming my name and making me make it real.

At least not today.

But just thinking about it is a really good first step.