On Being Single

I do not like the phrases “transitional time” and “between relationships” because they imply that being in a romantic relationship is the epitome of life while not being in a relationship is a passing phase—a phase where life has less value and one is not as whole.

Don’t get me wrong: Despite two failed marriages, I am still a sucker for romance.

I like the warm sensation of being with another person, the giddiness of feeling in love, and the stability of knowing that person is there for you.

But is it the epitome of life?

I have a daughter who has two university degrees, both with distinction. Now she is in a relationship with a fellow. Does that mean more than her six years of accomplishment? She was a great person before him, and she does not need him to be a better person. Sure, she seems happy, but she was also happy before the relationship, and she will continue to be happy if the relationship ends.

In an ideal world, happiness is always intrinsic.

Yes, there are times when we call up other people for emotional support; that is healthy. However, I do not need to rely on someone else to make me happy. I like standing on my own, regulating my own emotions, and creating my own happiness.

It took a while for me to feel comfortable being single, and it took a while to feel comfortable doing things on my own, such as going skiing in the mountains, going to movies, and going out dancing.

Now, I am completely fine with it.

I feel free, I feel powerful, and I feel like myself instead of an extension of someone else.

I am not against relationships. In my idealistic world view, a good relationship strengthens both people. It is about loving one another, so both people can fulfil their potential. It’s about being happy for the other person, appreciating them, and supporting them in their dreams and endeavours while receiving the same space and respect.

Controlling another person and/or minimizing another person is not love.

It is selfish and childish.

Unfortunately, some relationships are like that.

How can that be the epitome of life?

I do not see myself in a transitional time or as being between relationships. I am single, and I may or may not stay this way for the rest of my life. Either way, when I reach the end of my life, I hope people will define me by my actions and not because I was an extension of someone else.

Since my last blog, I have been on a few dates, and they have been fun. I like going out and connecting with people, but I also like having time to myself and doing things on my own, as well as devoting time to my children. As a single person, I do not feel incomplete nor do I feel the need to rush into a relationship. I am happy with who I am and where I am in life.

 

 

I Feel Happy

Six weeks ago, I went out dancing Friday night, Saturday afternoon, and Sunday night. I also went running two of those days, and I went running Monday. Fifteen years ago, when I was struggling with stress fractures, I was sent to a sports clinic where I learned to diminish injury by not placing impact on the body for more than three days in a row.

I knew I was over doing it, and I had a feeling my body would break down in some way; I just hoped it would not be serious. Sports injuries are frustrating because they happen to people who like to move, and often, the treatment is to rest. For me, those rest periods have been six weeks from stress fractures to over eight months with both my sciatica and a torn hamstring.

I have felt so good physically this year that one of my fears was that I would injure myself and have to cease activity once again.

On the Monday that I went running, my left hip hurt, but I ignored it, despite that nagging voice in my head telling me not to.

The run felt good, but the pain worsened.

So, I took a break from running, I modified my dance style to put less stress on my left hip, and I made appointments with my doctor and physio therapist.

I had a feeling that it was not going to be as serious as my past injuries because walking did not hurt; it just hurt to sit down and during impact.

Fortunately, I was right.

My diagnosis was that I stressed the lateral rotator muscles in my hip, and it would only take about a month to heal. In the meantime, I did not have to rest entirely; I was encouraged to keep walking, and I could still dance as long as I avoided stressing my hip too much.

I have kept up with the core exercises I learned when I had sciatica, and I have kept up with my leg exercises when I damaged my hamstring. Now, I have exercises to strengthen my lateral rotator muscles. In addition, I do breathing exercises that I learned in voice lessons that help keep me calm. Every second day, it takes me three episodes of The Office to get through them all; on the other days, it only takes one episode.

I started running again two weeks. The first time, I was only allowed to run for five minutes. Then I was able to increase it by five minutes each time as long as the pain did not worsen. A week ago, I ran for twenty minutes, and I felt fine. I took a break for five days while I was sailing on the west coast with my parents and two younger daughters. Now that I am back, I will start at ten minutes then increase from there.

In addition, I went for Intramuscular Stimulation (IMS) treatments. It’s kind of like acupuncture except the needles go into the muscle. It hurts, but it stimulates the muscles, resetting them, so they can be strong again. I firmly believe that without it, my sciatica and hamstring would never have been cured. Because I have responded well to IMS in the past, my physio therapist started treatments right away.

To deal with the pain from my injury and IMS, I drank more red wine than I usually do.

Writing a blog while drinking too much is not a good idea.

My last blog was sloppy and went off on tangents. When I realized what I had done, I edited out the sloppiness and the tangents.

I might come back to those tangents some other time.

In the meantime, I finished my IMS treatments a week ago, and my pain is completely gone. Soon I will be able to run 8K again, and I have more exercises to make me stronger which should help to prevent more serious injuries later on in life. In addition, I am learning to relax more.

I have an amazing voice teacher who has a Zen approach to singing and to life. She has taught me to trust in myself, to be mindful, and to not work so hard to make things happen. As a result, I feel more present, time has slowed down, I feel comfortable with my life, and I feel happy.

 

Most Times, I Don’t Drink Enough

I miss being on Facebook, partly because every time I had a new blog, I promoted it on Facebook, and I enjoyed the conversation that took place afterwards. Now, the only comments I receive are negative, but I’m not going to let that stop me. If anything, it spurs me on.

The latest comment referred to me as anorexic, alcoholic, mentally ill, delusional, and deserving to be alone. I thanked the person for writing it because I really did not think anyone read my blog any more, which is fine. I have said before that I like to write, and I don’t care if I have an audience. While it is nice, I can do it without the extrinsic rewards of likes and loves.

As for the recent comment about me: I am not anorexic, and I am not super skinny. I could lose another six pounds, and I would still be in a healthy weight range. I could also gain another twenty-four pounds and still be in a healthy weight range. I brought my weight up in my previous blog because I have maintained my weight for at least seven months now which is healthy. Also, I have dealt with sport injuries for the past fifteen years, including stress fractures, sacrolilitis, sciatica, and a pulled hamstring. All of those injuries have made me more aware of my body, including my limits. So, I feel comfortable in my skin. As far as weight goes, I do not like being too thin just as I do not like being overweight. I only weigh myself once a month, and I leave it at that. People who suffer from anorexia have an obsession with food, and I do not. I eat when I am hungry. Other than that, food is not that important to me. For example, I am not going to down a pint of ice cream because I am depressed. Instead, if I am feeling down, I turn on music and dance, or I go out and dance. It’s a healthier solution, and it is more fun.

As far as me being mentally ill, the blog I wrote about my experience with bipolar was the scariest one for me to write because I felt that people would always see me that way. While I do get sad sometimes and excited over things other times, I feel those are normal, genuine emotions. There is such a thing as emotional intelligence, and because I have experienced a wide range of emotions throughout my life, I do feel that I am emotionally intelligent. That helps me as a writer and with getting along with other people. I am not suicidal and I do not have racing thoughts. If I stopped my medication, yes, I would get that way. However, I know that is a bad road to go down, and I am not going to do that. I take care of myself.

While it wasn’t pointed out in the criticism, I do remember stating that like fine wine I get better with age. What I meant is that all women get better with age, as long as they take care of themselves. Ageing is one thing that does not scare me. I do not need to pretend my life is over when I am only in my forties, or when I am in my fifties, sixties, seventies, eighties, nineties, and beyond. I can be sexy well past the age of one hundred because it is a mindset, and we have the medical advances and knowledge to keep people feeling young. I know I have more energy than a lot of twenty year olds, and that is good enough for me.

As far as delusional goes, I do not know what you mean, Anonymous, so you might have to clarify that. I believe that it is important to keep learning and to push boundaries. So, please tell me what is delusional about that. You mentioned something about me being alone and deserving to be alone. Human contact is nice; I like touch and being with someone, but it is not the focus of my world. I do not need a romantic relationship to feel satisfied in life. If I do get into that kind of relationship, it will be because I want to, and not because I need to. My life is full, and, overall, it is happy; I do not need to rely on someone else to fulfil me.

As far as alcohol goes, sometimes I do drink too much (like when I initially wrote this blog–it’s a good thing I can edit). But the truth is, most times, I don’t drink enough. I also do not obsess over alcohol, and I can have a good time without it. So, no, I do not consider myself to be an alcoholic.

Good Enough to Give it Time

I am a teacher and a vice principal, working in the inner city where the majority of the students suffer from severe behavioral and/or emotional disorders. It is a stressful job, but also a rewarding job. I have a tremendous amount of patience, and I am good at seeing the potential in people. As an English 30 teacher, I have an important role in seeing students graduate, and it makes me feel good. It also makes me feel good to see my students develop their potential as writers and critical thinkers. I am so proud of them, and I wish them all well in life. I firmly believe that education is for everyone, and it is especially important to educate those who may not have had opportunities in the past. It is never too late to learn, and it is never too late to bridge gaps. Some students come from families where education was not important, some students come from families that have been torn apart so the parent does not want to push them to attend school, and some students come from backgrounds that middle class people cannot even begin to imagine.

It is summer holidays, and I have been off work now for a week. My estranged husband and I have an arrangement over the summer where we alternate weeks with the younger kids. The first week was his, and it gave me time to reflect on some of the things I have learned over the past nine months since our separation.

To start, I learned that I like to dance. While dancing, I do not have to think about anything, and I can be entirely in the moment. Years back, when I was on maternity leave, I remember watching Ellen, and she always had a segment where she played Lady Gaga’s “Let’s Dance”. It was always fun and she was always right: dancing does make everything okay. So, when I do not have my younger daughters, I go out and dance. I like rock and roll and blues because the music is gritty and the structure is loose. I also like Latin dancing because I admire the rhythms and the smoothness in how the dancers move their hips and feet. I have no training as a dancer, and I have no interest in taking a class, because that would take something fun and turn it into work. I just like to hear the music and let my body respond.

I have learned to accept myself and to be present. If I need to cry, I will cry, and I will not be ashamed because it is good to feel. I am forty-four years old, and like fine wine, I do think I am getting better with age. Many blogs ago, I wrote about gaining weight and losing weight; I have maintained my weight loss, and I feel good. There is a certain weight range for every height, and I am towards the lower end, but I am still within the healthy range. I do eat more than I did in the fall, but I have maintained good habits: I rarely drink pop or eat sugary foods, I don’t usually eat after supper, I watch my portions, and I eat a lot of salmon, eggs, and vegetables. In addition, I have maintained my exercises from physical therapy: core exercises that eventually helped to cure my sciatica and leg exercises that helped to cure my damaged hamstring muscle. I feel healthy, and that has given me confidence. Also, I continue to read a lot, and I do feel that I am getting smarter and wiser as time plods along.

Along with being present in the moment, I have learned to try new things. I tried learning how to play the guitar, and I didn’t really like it a whole lot. Maybe with lessons I would; however, it got me back into playing the piano again, and I enjoy that. There is something therapeutic about the repetition of practicing technique and learning new songs. While learning guitar, I realized I had to sing. I recorded myself one time, and there were parts that were okay and parts that were not okay because I was off key and/or ran out of breath. So, I decided to take singing lessons. And, I am so happy I did. I have only been taking lessons for just over a month now, but I have learned exercises to help control my breathing and to use my whole body to sing. I had never thought of singing that way before, so it was an eye opener to me. I enjoy it because I can practice breathing and singing while I am driving in my van or when I am cleaning my house. My goal is to eventually feel comfortable enough to sing on stage because I have suffered from severe stage fright all my life. To conquer that would be an accomplishment for me. Tonight, I sang for my seven year old and eight year old, and they are a tough audience. If I can sing for them, I think I can sing for other people.

Finally, I learned to set boundaries for myself. I know that everyone has something they need to work on, just as I have things to work on, and I cannot allow someone else’s struggles to become my own. People will say mean things because they are close-minded or they do not know any better, and I, as a sensitive person, have learned not to take another person’s struggles to heart.  I always do everything with the best intentions, and I am not out to hurt other people or get revenge; I just do not think that way. I have class, I carry on, and I try to grow to be the best person I can. At the same time, I do have a shell around me. When I go out, I do get hit on and asked for my phone number, but I do not feel the need to respond. I have a male friend who talks to me about his dates, and then he seems to feel bad as he asks me if I have been on any dates. I tell him that in time I will, but I just do not feel the need right now. I am happy being single, and I feel that I am good enough to give it time.

 

Re Monroe

I came up with the name Re Monroe for a pseudonym about a year ago, and I still like it, so I’ll keep it. I mentioned in the past that I was working on a novel. After my separation, I went through a lot of ups and downs, and during my downs, I hated my work and gutted it several times. Fortunately, I am astute at saving every draft, and I think I can still salvage things. While there are things I hate about it, there are still things I like about it. Now that summer is approaching, and I am in a good head space, I’ll have time to make it the way it should be. And, I’ll be using my pen name Re Monroe.

I came up with the name because I wanted something that sounded more gender neutral. I first thought of Re because it is the first two letters of my name spelled backwards, and a lot of my favorite words start with re. Words such as rejuvenate, reinvent, and recycle.

A running joke in my family is my insistence that I will live forever. With that expectation is that I will find the fountain of youth. I will continuously rejuvenate, and I will remain on this planet healthy and full of life. Naturally, my daughters remind me that it is impossible, but I will fight that one as far as I can, because I want to be alive and I do not think that it is right that we are created only to die. Yes, my genes are passed on to the next generation, but I have an intelligence, and I want to be here; I don’t want my time to end.

Reinvent: we are always reinventing ourselves with each change of life. We adapt, we push limits, and we evolve. It reminds me of Shakespeare’s Macbeth (I am a high school English teacher, after all):  “Out, out, brief candle. Life is nothing more than an illusion. It’s like a poor actor who struts and worries for his hour on the stage and then is never heard from again.” Yes, our lives are brief, but actors are constantly reinventing themselves. And, our lives probably are an illusion, but we can continuously be heard from if we take on new roles.

As for recycle, yes it is good for the environment, but it also goes back to my philosophy of life and how I want to live forever. I devoted a number years to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons). I was drawn to the religion as a teenager because of the knowledge that people could be resurrected, live forever, and keep evolving. I am no longer a part of the church for various reasons, but I still love the philosophy of being able to live forever and continue to grow for eternity. I now consider myself to be agnostic (I will write more about it next week). As far as recycling goes, I want to remain alive in some form. If there is no such thing as resurrection, I hope there is such a thing as reincarnation, and that my essence—my intelligence—will remain. Even if it’s downloaded onto a memory stick, or whatever device is available in the future, I want to live. I could be an ugly tarantula, and as long as I had life, and could move, and be here, I would be happy. Just let me live in some form.

The name Monroe comes from the screen goddess Marilyn Monroe. I am a fan of her films, and when I came up with the name Re, I had been reading her autobiography and I watched Niagra with my older daughters. Earlier in the year, my English 30 students studied Thomas King’s Truth and Bright Water where there is a male character named Monroe and there is an allusion to Marilyn Monroe through another character. Through the past year, I have been trying to find a surname that goes better with Re, and the only one I can think of is my married name, but obviously, I do not want to use that. So, I am going to stick with Monroe.

I am still figuring out how to change my email name and to delete photos, so I can separate my private life from my writing life. It will take some time. In the meantime, I will continue on, I will evolve, and I will just be thankful I am here. Thank you for taking the time to read my work, and love to all.

Facebook Goes On Without Me

Last week, I deactivated my Facebook account. I didn’t give a warning, and I didn’t say good-bye; I just faded away, and people have so many Facebook friends these days that I don’t think anyone even noticed. Photos, thoughts, inspirational quotes, articles, and events continue to be posted while likes, loves, sad faces, angry faces, and laughing faces continue to be given.

Facebook goes on without me.

I do miss my close Facebook friends; they were always there for me when I felt lonely or sad, and they always helped me to feel liked, loved, and connected.

I do not miss the darker side of Facebook: being watched, examined, and judged as stories (whether true or not) unfold through trails of activities, along with the temptation to watch, examine, and judge other people.

I did not like that my estranged husband, who does not have a Facebook account, was somehow aware of my Facebook activities. It caused me a tremendous amount of stress feeling like I was constantly under the microscope.

I also did not like that people could witness my activities without understanding the context. As an example, I have a Facebook friend I worked with for many years who went through some struggles and turned his life around. He is also quite humorous, so I liked and loved a lot of his posts. There were some people who did not know the context of the relationship and misunderstood my reactions to his posts. Naturally, I felt upset, not only for being misunderstood, but for my lack of privacy in a public forum (as odd as that sounds).

And, I have done that to other people as well. I have a friend of mine who was constantly receiving posts to his timeline from a woman, and I assumed she was an over possessive girlfriend. After I sent a long, over-the-top message of concern for him through Messenger (a private forum), it turned out that she was just an old friend. Fair enough, though I still think she is over possessive; a few months ago, I ran into her on Facebook, and after that experience, I was afraid to comment on any of his posts.

While I like seeing anniversary photos of people who have been together for a while, I do not like seeing pictures of new relationships on Facebook. One of my guy friends had a girlfriend who broke up with him, and within a few days, photos of her and her new boyfriend were all over her Facebook page as though having a boyfriend was the epitome of her entire existence. What was even more cringe-worthy was that she often changed her profile picture, and he always placed a like. A few months before the breakup, he placed a like while her soon to be new Facebook boyfriend placed a love. I felt bad for him; not only did he have to deal with his girlfriend cheating on him, but he had to deal with it being exposed on Facebook.

I have been meeting a lot of new people in real life, and eventually, I will go on dates. While doing so, I would like to maintain some mystery about myself. A friend of mine (another male friend . . . I swear, I do have female friends) was on a first date with someone he met online. While on the date, she checked out his Facebook page in front of him and made derogatory comments. I do not want to be creeped and judged like I am a thing and not a real person; I want someone to actually take the time to get to know me.

While I have felt somewhat sad this week, mourning the loss of Facebook, I also feel a sense of freedom. I am still on Messenger, and I hope that throughout the summer, my Facebook friends will contact me to get together in the real world where we can share photos and have meaningful conversations about our experiences.

As for my blog, I am going to keep it going, because writing is something I enjoy and something I do whether I have an audience or not. To maintain some privacy, over the course of this week, I will be deleting my real name and replacing it with a pseudonym.

As always, thank you for reading.

How We Treat Other People: an Examination of Thirteen Reasons Why

Back in January, I blogged about my favorite books I read in 2016; one of them was Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why, so you can imagine my excitement when I scrolled through Netflix one day, and I found it had been adapted to a series. I watched the first episode, and then I got busy with life and couldn’t watch anymore. Soon I heard stories of schools banning the book and I saw articles about how struggling teenagers should not watch the show because it could trigger suicide. So, I made a point to finish watching the series.

I remember when I read the book thinking of it as a tragedy and hoping that Hannah’s tapes were all a hoax, that she was still alive out there. It’s similar to the feeling of when I read Hamlet with my English 30 students. Every time, I know Hamlet is going to die; that is his fate, but I still have some hope that he can divert it somehow to live a long life and fulfill his potential.

Yes, I know they are fictional characters. However, as I tell my English 30 students, we can learn about life, passion, and the human condition through fiction. And, that is why I love it so much.

So, what can we learn from Hannah Baker’s story?

By the time I got around to watching the series, I had forgotten most of the book (that’s what happens when you are over forty and read a lot).  With each episode, the story came back to me, but it was like watching it with fresh eyes.

Initially, I did not like Hannah Baker. I thought she was a narcissist, similar to the psychopathic Amy Dunne in Gillian Flynne’s novel Gone Girl. She appeared to be someone who thought the whole world revolved around her, she blamed everyone else for her problems, and she took the time to create tapes that appeared as some sort of revenge.

Then my interpretation of her changed.

It was the episode when Courtney rejected her because their secret rendezvous was exposed. I know one of the criticisms of Thirteen Reasons Why is that it does not address mental illness. Is there enough research to support the fact that every teenager who suicides is mentally ill? Or, is it possible that someone who is mentally ill can put up a front to appear completely normal? What about someone who is highly sensitive? Think about how rejection would hurt that person, especially someone who has been rejected again and again, or told several times throughout their life they can hang out with various people as long as no one knows about it. Apparently, they are not quite cool enough for other people to know they are friends. We live in a day of swipe left and swipe right where people become commodities: something to use and something to discard. Never mind feelings, because that would just complicate things too much.

But Hannah Baker was resilient; she held her head high, and she kept on going. She even found a hobby she was passionate about: writing poetry. Allowing herself to be vulnerable, she exposed herself, only to be laughed at by idiots who do not understand art and self-expression. How many times has someone come up to you, excited about an idea or a project, only to be torn down and told it is stupid or they will never be good enough, so why bother trying? In our jealousy or couldn’t-give-a-fuck attitude, we destroy the spirits of other people.

Then there is the incident with Bryce, the entitled one. Apparently, his life is more important than anyone else’s, and other people are just a commodity, something to be used, and something to be discarded. He takes Jessica and he takes Hannah, and he thinks it’s okay. Prey upon girls who are unconscious, prey upon girls who are vulnerable, because it’s all a game. Destroy their reputations and destroy their lives, as we do when we spread rumors, and never strive to hear someone else’s story, because clearly, the whole world revolves around us, and fuck everyone else. We are entitled; no one else matters, just as long as we are heard and get what we want.

So, Hannah Baker killed herself. It wasn’t glorified; her mother found her, and it was sad how she hoped her daughter was still alive.

The whole point of the novel and the series is to examine how we treat other people. I know we are not supposed to blame ourselves when someone suicides, but sometimes a smile, a like, a kind word, or a willingness to hang out with someone who isn’t popular or other people hate upon, can go a long way.

As for Hannah Baker, she was too young to realize that life gets better. Clay liked her, and if she would have talked to him, he would have understood. Also, the story, through the counselor, is a criticism on how professionals can get caught up in their own lives and beliefs, causing damage to other people. If he would have told Hannah that she needed to work harder to get to Columbia instead of saying it was unrealistic, or if he would have understood the fact that she was raped, she might have been saved.

As for banning the book or telling people not to watch the series, those who identify with what they’ve heard about Hannah will find a way to get their hands on the book or see the series. And those who could learn something from Hannah’s life would miss out. Good literature is supposed to inspire us and question our position in this world; that is what Thirteen Reasons Why does.

To Anonymous

During my first wedding reception, a guest took my husband and me aside and told us to always be kind to one another. At the time, I thought it was a strange comment; we were in love, so of course we were going to be kind to one another.

Last week, an anonymous person made the following comment on my blog: “Really you are full of crap. You really need to be honest as to why your marriage didn’t work out and what you had hoped to gain from this split.”

In my blog “If I Would Have Stayed,” I wrote about choosing my older children over my husband. I also mentioned that there were other issues.

When we first started dating, there was that blissful feeling of being swept away. We talked for hours, went for walks, went running together, and went on several dates. We had the occasional disagreement, but overall, we got along and enjoyed being together.

Two years later, we got married, he adopted my three girls from my previous marriage, and within five years, we had two more kids.

Between work, caring for children, and lacking sleep, our lives became regimented and we stopped having fun together. Conversations that were once easy became a chore. I felt that any time I spoke about my day or my interests, I was met with hostility and immediately shut down. In essence, any kindness that existed at the start of our relationship had vanished.

I also felt that I had molded myself so much into his life that I lost who I was. Before I met him, I played the piano, figure skated, and socialized. After we got married, I still skated a few days a week for a few years, but I stopped playing the piano, and I rarely socialized with other people.

The marriage should have ended earlier than it did, but I was stubborn. When we got married, I made a vow to myself that I would not go through another divorce, so I accepted the life I had chosen.

He was unhappy, and every day was a struggle. I felt I could handle it impacting me, but I could not handle it impacting my older daughters.

As to what I had hoped to gain from the separation, I hoped, above all, to gain peace in my home, and I did that. I also hoped to untangle myself from a lonely, unhealthy marriage, so I could break free from the drudgery of day to day existence to live a life filled with a sense of wonder and passion.

And I did that as well.

Since my separation, I have cried a lot, and I have laughed a lot. It’s great to feel again, and lately, it has all been laughter. I do not feel sad, nor do I feel like there is a void in my life. I am happy with my ability to navigate my own life and to create new experiences for myself; I am satisfied with my life.

As for my ex and me, we completed our last mediation meeting last week. While the whole process was exhausting, it was better than fighting things out through lawyers. Not only did we deal with custody arrangements and the division of assets, but also parenting plans, communicating with one another respectably, and how to introduce new partners to the children when the time comes. While the latter is not an issue for either of us right now, the advice made sense: wait six months after dating someone, so the relationship is stable; and inform the other parent forty-eight hours ahead of time, not for their approval, because they really have no say, but to mentally prepare them.

Our final meeting was amicable, and he took me out for supper afterwards where we were able to have a conversation without any snide remarks and criticisms. I was even able to tell him about my trip to Hawaii I took with my oldest daughter over spring break without him getting on my case for spending money. That was the kindest we had been to each other in years.

To Anonymous: Did I provide you with a good enough response, or are you searching for something else? If you still think I am full of crap, please let me know. I am curious as to why you think I am dishonest with myself and why you think my marriage did not work. I am also curious about what you think I hoped to gain from the separation. All insight is welcome.

Thank you for reading.

If I Would Have Stayed

My ex and I have nearly completed mediation. While it has been exhausting, I remind myself that dividing up equity in a house and a pension plan are first world problems. When my first marriage ended, there was nothing to divide because we did not own a home, nor did we have any savings; we each left the marriage with our respective student loans.

My fear with separation was the impact it would have on our two younger daughters. It was difficult for a while: Olivia had moments of irritability while Sophia, my little rebel child, decided to be horrible at bed time.

We have seemed to move past all that, and both girls seem a lot happier now.  On Friday morning, I overheard them talking to one another about whose place they were at this weekend. What struck me was how normal their conversation seemed, and for the first time since the separation, I fully felt like they were okay. Then I dropped them off at after school care, I gave them hugs, we all smiled, and they said, “We’ll see you on Wednesday, Mom.”  I was happy to see them in good cheer.

I know their father cares for them, and he does a lot of activities with them. I appreciate that, and I know the younger girls love him a lot.

And, their father has told me that he is a lot happier since moving out and his health has improved due to leaving a stressful household.

So, good for him.

Our marriage broke down for a number of reasons, and he would give one story while I would give another. From my perspective, we had two completely different ways of handling stress. His way was to get angry and let it out of his system, so he could feel better, not realizing the impact it had on everyone around him. My way was to not let everything get to me, remain calm, and maybe shed a few tears now and then.

He adopted the older girls not long after we got married, and they are girls who have not caused any problems. They were all honors students, two were valedictorians, they all had part-time jobs and contributed half their pay cheques to their university funds, they have all gone to university, they did chores on the weekends, and they were never lippy or rebellious. Instead of showing appreciation for what they were doing right, he always focused on little things they were doing wrong.

Simple things, like chores and car rides, became a battle. He believed that kids should just be expected to do chores without being told and without any extrinsic motivation. I believe that the best way to motivate kids to do chores is to set a good example by doing chores the same time they are, and to take them out for a hot chocolate or lunch afterwards.

When the kids were in junior high, he believed that they should be taking the bus everywhere and not getting any rides from parents. I explained to him that having that time in a vehicle with a child is a great time to bond, and if I feel like driving them somewhere, I will do so. It became a battle every time, leading to stress for both of us.

Birthdays and special occasions were also stressful. I feel it is important to celebrate, and he never felt that way. While I was in good cheer during those times, he was always grumpy, and I felt like I had to be a mediator within my own family.

Those are just a few issues, and I know they seem kind of trivial. We were in counselling for a long time, and it did not seem like we could get anywhere. In the end, I wanted a home that was peaceful. Also, I knew that the older girls would be moving out in a few years, and I wanted them to feel comfortable coming home for visits. I did not see that happening if I would have stayed with him. So, like the mama bear that I am, I chose my kids over my husband.

 

Okay with That

Five months ago, I wrote a blog titled “Cling to this Life,” sharing my experiences of being a suicidal teenager due to a mood disorder, and my fear of the stigma associated with sharing my diagnosis. I appreciate all the people who thanked me for writing the blog. My motivation was to illustrate that a person does not have to be defined by a diagnosis; it is possible to get better and to go on to live a happy, healthy life.

I know I have blogged a lot about crying due to the circumstances of my current life, and I have had friends and family ask me if I am depressed and feeling sick again. I appreciate the concern, and while I do feel sad sometimes, I am not clinically depressed.

When I feel sad, I cry, go for a run, listen to music, play a musical instrument, dance, write, or call a friend. Then I feel better.

When I was severely depressed, I often lacked the motivation to cry, go for a run, listen to music, play a musical instrument, dance, write, or call a friend; and when I did find the motivation to engage in any of those activities, I felt like I was just going through the motions. Nothing helped me to feel better until my mood would swing and I felt high, but it was still not a sense of feeling happy and feeling better. The best way I can describe it is the feeling of not really being there.

My older daughters have commented that I tend to zone out at times, appearing absent-minded. It’s not because I am depressed; it’s because I have a lot on my mind. When I was in graduate studies, one of my professors made the comment that when she was doing research, the milk would often end up in the cupboard while the sugar would end up in the refrigerator. While I am not doing any kind of research right now, I am busy with work, my kids, and mediation to develop a separation agreement. So, I might be lost in my thoughts from time to time.

The good news is that I do not cry as much as I used to, and overall, I have adjusted quite well to my new life.

I have been hurt, though, by some stigma that still surrounds mental illness.

For starters, I had someone tell me that if I used to have thoughts of killing myself, it’s not much of a stretch to think that I would have thoughts of killing other people; therefore, I am dangerous to others. That’s a ridiculous comment; I am a gentle, sensitive person who can’t even eat red meat. I internalize everything; therefore, the only person I was ever a danger to was me.

Another comment I have received is that medication is not enough to control my illness; I must have psychotherapy as well.

Affective disorders are complex; there are various causes and treatments. In my case, I have a family history of bipolar, and lithium is a medication that has worked. Within two weeks of starting lithium, my thoughts of suicide went away and my mood swings stabilized to the point where I felt normal, so I’m not too sure why I would need therapy when feeling normal. If I could control my illness without lithium using cognitive behavioral techniques such as positive self-talk, I would be happy to do so. Unfortunately, I was unsuccessful with that in the past. I am not going to mess with something that has kept me healthy all these years.

The implication that I need therapy is that my illness is not under control. That is coming from a few people who disagree with me about certain aspects of life, and it is mean-spirited. I have been single for half a year now, and I am experiencing new things in life. Not everyone is going to like me, and I am okay with that.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Messenger

A few weeks ago, I received a nasty text through Messenger where the f-bomb was dropped thirty-seven times, along with all sorts of insults hurled at me. I didn’t take it too personally because I knew the person was angry and needed to get it out of her system.

I gave her enough respect to read what she had to say, and then I tried to engage her in a discussion to explain my side of the story, only to be blocked because she refused to understand my perspective. In any situation, there are always two sides to a story, sometimes three of four sides. It’s a lot easier to play the role of the victim and think that everyone else is wrong than to try to understand where the other person is coming from.

I am not a malicious person. In fact, all of this came about because I was trying to be nice and not hurt anyone.

I’m not going to tell that story; it’s too personal.

I only bring it up to illustrate the negative parts of social media. Access to other people is too easy. Abusing another person is also too easy.  Finally, assigning blame and accusations without attempting to understand another person’s point of view is also too easy.

About a week after my experience, I deleted my Messenger app, determined to never use it again.

That only lasted a few days, and then I uploaded again.

I like Messenger because I find it is less intrusive than calling someone on the phone. A simple text is put out there, and if the person receiving it is busy, they do not have to return the text right away, if at all.

I like to read, I like to think, and I like to write, so it is a nice form of communication for me. It does not mean that I cannot talk face-to-face with people. If anything, it helps me to communicate better face-to-face because conversations that begin in Messenger continue in real face-to-face conversations, and it allows me to be more thoughtful.

It reminds me of when I was in graduate studies. I had courses on-campus during the summer and on-line classes during the school year. Class discussions during the on-campus courses were a gong show because the overly extroverted students dominated the conversations and really did not have a whole lot to say. I much preferred the on-line courses because we read articles, thought about them, posted our responses, and then engaged in on-line discourse with others who read the articles. Through the process, we all gained a greater understanding. And so it goes with Messenger, if used correctly.

While I wrote of access to people being too easy as a negative, it is also a positive. Around Christmas, my school counselor from elementary school sent me a thoughtful message about my brother that truly touched me. When my brother Dean was in elementary school, he was kind of difficult at times because he was outspoken and often got into trouble for it. The school counselor wrote to me about how he always stuck up for my brother, and how his experience with my family shaped his career. He even drove all the way into Edmonton from Leduc to see my brother before he died, but was unable to see him at the time.

I was so touched that he took the time to contact me after twenty-six years. Ultimately, that’s what I like about Messenger, and I am not going to allow one bad experience to scare me away. For every negative in life, there’s always more positive, and that’s what keeps me going.

 

 

And it was Fun

My greatest fear about separation was the impact it would have on my two younger children, and it is that impact that leads to me feeling sad and not always able to handle things so well. When my first marriage ended, my older daughters were around the same age, and when I married a second time, I swore that if I had more children, I would never put them through a divorce.

But things change.

I have enough experience to know that I should not take it personally when Sophia, my six year old, continually asks why I don’t love her daddy anymore. I also know I should not take it personally when she tells me she hates me. At least she is expressing her frustrations, and that is healthy.

But it still hurts.

I reassure her I love her, I maintain routines, and I keep things normal.

Earlier in the week, I found out her dad let her stay home from school for the third time in the last two months because he felt bad for her. I teach in an environment where students have gaps in their education due to missing school, and my research for my master’s degree focused on students who were often away from school. Needless to say, I was angry and told him he cannot be doing that anymore.

In time, things will sort themselves out. My older girls are resilient and have all done well in life, so I know that is the bigger picture for my younger girls. I need to be patient, have quality time with them, take interest in their interests, and keep encouraging them to be the best people they can be.

As for me, I am resilient as well, and I am adjusting to this change in life. Friday was the fourth start of five days without Olivia and Sophia, and it was the best I have handled it.

In the past, I blogged about my tears and being upset; this was the first time I did not feel down about them being away, mainly because I am learning to be comfortable being by myself.

On Friday afternoon, I decided to go see La La Land, and I did not know anyone who was interested, nor did I feel like contacting anyone, so I made plans to go by myself. I know that does not seem like a big deal to some people who are used to going to movies or other places on their own, but for me it was something I was not used to.

And it was fun.

I ate shrimp tacos, drank Coca-Cola and escaped into the beauty of the film.

I love the scene where Sebastian and Mia are at the observatory, and they float away and dance into the night sky. It reminds me of the scene in Kurt Vonnegut’s short story “Harrison Bergeron” where Harrison and the ballerina dance into the air, defying gravity, except it works out better for Sebastian and Mia who are able to float back down into their seats and continue with their romance.

Even better than that scene is the whole segment before the end of the film where Sebastian and Mia dance through an alternate journey of their lives, capturing happy moments that seem to stretch on forever.

I left the theatre in a few tears, because the film transcended my everyday life and I realized I witnessed something beautiful.

This weekend, I also watched Arrival and Manchester by the Sea. Both of those films also transported me to another place and touched me enough for me to cry. So, there were some tears this weekend, but not for myself.

As much as I enjoyed being alone this weekend, I appreciated my friends who contacted me. When I was married, my whole life revolved around my husband and my kids, so I did not take enough time to develop friendships; they mean a lot to me.

And now I’m crying . . . a typical weekend for me.

Take care everyone, and have a wonderful week.

 

About Life and Existence

Friday night was the start of another five days without my two younger kids, Olivia and Sophia. It was also the day I had to upload my financial disclosure for mediation, and the end of a hellish week dealing with real estate agents for house appraisal and fights about selling the house earlier rather than later.

All week, I have been having existential moments wondering about the whole purpose of life, my existence, and if any of it matters.

A few weeks back, I was feeling the same way, wishing I could fast forward my life two years, when things will settle, and all of this transitional phase will be gone.

A friend of mine told me to not wish the void of oblivion to come too soon. I thought about that, and I agreed that this can be a good place to be, as it is an opportunity to try new things in life, and grow in other directions.

So, I decided to take on a new hobby: I have been learning how to play some rock songs on the guitar. The fingers on my left hand are calloused, and it is fun. I have also been playing the piano again; growing up, I trained in Royal Conservatory, and I enjoy playing classical music.

I have also been drinking too much again, and I need to not do that, because it can be a dangerous way to fill my void.

On Friday night, a friend of mine called. We had plans to go for lunch on Saturday, but she had to cancel because she wasn’t feeling well. Then she told me that she hoped I would not be crying all weekend, like I blogged about a few blogs back. I told her I was feeling down, but I would be fine because I had plans to go out dancing with a friend.

Then another friend texted me, and she took some time out of her busy schedule to ask me why I was feeling down. It gave me another opportunity to talk, and I was grateful for that.

Dancing was fun, but I drank way too much, and was not in good shape the next day. I need to stop doing that.

About life and existence . . . I am thankful for my family and the opportunity I have to see my children grow and to see the world through their eyes with their sense of wonder.

I am thankful for my job and my amazing students who have struggled with issues relating to poverty, but still manage to come to school. On Friday, I started reading Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s short story “The Yellow Wallpaper” to my English 30 class. I love that feeling of having them hang on my every word, letting the madness of the story emerge, and hearing their passionate responses.

I am thankful for my friend who told me not to wish the void of oblivion to come too soon. I appreciate the patience with me, the ability to make me laugh when I am feeling down, the good advice, and all the fun.

I am thankful for all my friends in real life and my Facebook friends. Sometimes I get frustrated with social media; I don’t always like the immediacy of it and the exposure. . . . It kind of scares me, but I like seeing the various posts by my friends. Often, they make me laugh and think.

Going back to my existence . . . I matter because I am here, and for now, that’s good enough.

 

 

Feminist, Not a Man-Hater

Last weekend, I watched with pride the fabulous speeches at the Women’s March on Washington. Celebrities such as Ashley Judd, Scarlett Johansson, Alicia Keys, and Madonna spoke passionately about equal rights, rising above tyranny, and not allowing government to control women’s bodies.

Soon after, there were images on social media comparing a toddler throwing a tantrum to the ladies who protested, claiming these women were throwing hissy fits just because they did not get their way.

To compare intelligent, politically-informed, mature women to a toddler who does not understand the world or his or her emotions is incongruous. The protests are not about someone not getting their way; they are about standing up to misogyny—to actions and words aimed to destroy equal rights for all people. They are about being heard and refusing to be silenced by a new president with an old agenda.

In addition to comparing the Women’s March on Washington to a toddler throwing a tantrum, articles appeared completely misunderstanding and misrepresenting feminism. A few years ago, Emma Watson, Goodwill Ambassador for UN Women, gave a moving speech, chronically events in her life leading her to become a feminist.  At the age of eight, she could not figure out why she was considered bossy because she wanted to direct plays yet the boys who wanted to direct were never given that title. At the age of fourteen, she was sexualized by the media.  At the age of fifteen, she saw her female friends quit sports out of fear they were becoming too muscular. And, at the age of eighteen, she was saddened that her male friends felt they could no longer express their emotions.

She then went on to say that, unfortunately, the term feminism has become synonymous with man-hating; while by definition, feminism is the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities.

Articles misrepresenting feminists as man-haters upset me. I am a feminist, and I do not hate men. Sure, I do get frustrated with the behavior of some men at times, but I also have some great male friends who are sensitive and help me to view the world from other perspectives. I appreciate them, especially because they also believe that women should have equal rights and opportunities.

It is sad that there are still women in our society and around the world who make less money doing the same job as a man. I am fortunate to live a privileged life with the opportunity to receive a good education that has led to a great career where I do not have to worry about being paid less because I am a woman. And, I have employers who did not overlook me for a promotion when I was pregnant.

As a single mom, I can support myself and my kids; I do not need a man for financial support, and that is liberating.

As a mother, I have always stressed the importance of education to my daughters, so they will be able to make their own decisions and support themselves. Furthermore, I feel blessed and honored to have the opportunity to raise strong, intelligent, well-informed women.

The protests will go on, and society will continue to progress as women and men stand against archaic policies and attitudes.

Weight Gained, Weight Lost

Weight Gained: 20 lbs.

In the fall of 2015, I went for an 8K run, and I felt some pain in the back of my leg. I ignored it, thinking I had just strained my muscle, and I continued my run. The next day, the pain was still there, and I panicked, thinking my sciatica from a few years earlier had returned.

I went back to physio therapy, without seeing a doctor (too busy), I stopped running, and I resumed my core strengthening exercises.

By February, I was still in pain, and with some prompting from my physio therapist, I finally decided to go see my doctor. As it turned out, my sciatica had not returned; instead, I pulled my hamstring. I was prescribed a topical pain medication, and my physio therapist added exercises to strengthen my hamstring, as well as acupuncture and Intramuscular Stimulation (IMS).

It took me a few weeks to fill my prescription; and when I applied it, I broke out in hives. I went back to my doctor, and I was prescribed Amcinonide, a topical corticosteroid.

At the time, I was unaware I was allergic to class A and B topical corticosteroids. All skin exposed to the cream (my hands and both my thighs due to sleeping in shorts) broke into a rash that within a few days blistered and spread all the way down my inner legs.

I was in Las Vegas at the time, and I went to a clinic where I was prescribed Prednisone. For four weeks, I was on a high dosage, and I wore the same yoga pants every day as my skin scabbed, flaked off, and healed.

It took another two weeks to wean off Prednisone, a horrible but effective drug.

Through all the inactivity and medication, I ended up 20 lbs. overweight.

 

Weight Lost: 40 lbs.

I was able to start running again, but just for ten minutes at a time, and I was given a strict schedule to follow, so I would not reinjure myself. The only way I could lose weight was by changing my eating habits which included daily sugary chai tea lattes, Coca-Cola, alcohol, and sweets, as well as eating too much at supper and snacking in the evenings.

So, I came up with a plan.

The first thing I did was buy some pretty clothes. I know it seems counterintuitive while trying to lose weight, but I wanted to feel good about myself just the way I was.

Then I waited until summer, and I came up with a list of gradual changes for my eating habits, along with a game I created with myself: I would weigh myself once a week, and if I did not lose at least one pound, I would make one change.

Here is my list:

  1. Give up hard alcohol
  2. Substitute sugary Chai Tea Lattes with London Fog sweetened with just a small amount of honey
  3. Substitute Coca-Cola with non-caffeinated pop
  4. Give up all carbonated drinks
  5. Stop eating sugary foods
  6. Only take one plateful at supper, and eat slowly
  7. Stop snacking in the evenings
  8. Give up red wine

In the meantime, I ate a lot of vegetables, as well as eggs, fish, and some chicken. I also continued with my physio therapy exercises, and I was gradually increasing my running.

I lost weight with each change, except when I gave up Coca-Cola (I gained two pounds), but I knew that would happen. It was more of a step in giving up carbonated drinks. In the end, I did not have to give up red wine to lose weight.

By October, I lost 15 lbs.

Then my marriage ended, everything went crazy, and I did not feel like eating as much.

As a result, I lost another 25 lbs.

I feel healthy, and the weight loss has made running easier and more fun. I now deviate from my list every now and then, but overall, I have developed good eating habits. And, it was not too difficult.

 

 

 

 

Motherhood

I joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints when I was seventeen, and I was indoctrinated with the need to find my eternal companion. A year later, I met him between classes at university. Two months later, we started dating, and in four months, we were sealed in the temple for time and eternity. We were poor university students, living in low-income housing, but we lived with the hope that we were on the right track, and things would get better.

A year and a half later, we had our first daughter, Julianne. It was March and I was near the end of my third year of university; he was finishing his second. We planned ahead by arranging our schedules, so we could both complete that year.

I am the youngest of two kids and as a teenager, I never babysat. So, I did not have any real experience with babies. Yet, it didn’t bother me; I had faith that I was capable and that it would all work out.

When Julianne was born, I experienced an intense need to take care of her, so I constantly held her or put her in the baby carrier to go for walks. And I also brought her in to bed to cuddle.

Having no money at the time, I was so appreciative of friends, family, and church members who gave us a crib, a high chair, an umbrella stroller, a swing, a bouncy chair, a diaper service, and clothes.

She was born on a Friday, and a week later, I bundled her up, and my husband and I took her on the bus to go to university where we took turns caring for her while the other one was in classes.

We did that for another year, so I could complete my university degree.

The greatest adjustment to becoming a mother, especially one still in university, was that I had no time for myself. The moment she napped or was in bed for the night, I studied.

Then we had another baby just before my husband completed his degree and then a third when he was done, and there definitely wasn’t any time to myself.

I didn’t mind, because I loved taking care of my kids, and I cherished every moment.

When my youngest was four, I separated from my first husband, and eventually had the seal to our eternal marriage broken.

He had the kids every second weekend, but often could not make it. For me, it was a busy time: I took the kids to early morning figure skating practices, I taught piano lessons, I dealt cards at a casino, and I went back to university to complete an after degree in education.  Every week, I had at least one day where I worked until 2:00 a.m., got home just before three, and got up at 4:30 a.m. to take the kids to their skating lessons. Then they went to school, and I went to university. Fortunately, I am capable of napping anywhere, and I survived those days on catnaps, as well as Coca-Cola, and the support of my parents who kindly took us in.

A few years later, I remarried, and my first husband asked my second husband to adopt the girls. Then he was out of their lives.

Now I am going through another divorce, and we have a six year old and an eight year old. This time, things are different. Their father advocated for shared custody, and it scared me, because I love my little girls, and I did not want to be away from them for extended periods of time.

He had them for a week during Christmas break, and I cried when he picked them up. He is normally a black-and-white thinker and I thought he was incapable of being flexible, but he surprised me by inviting me to come see them throughout the week.

We have a two day, five day arrangement, and this weekend was the start of his five days. For the first time in the twelve years I have been teaching in the inner city, I did not look forward to Friday. My older kids still live at home, but they all work and have boyfriends. Normally, I don’t mind being by myself (that’s why I like to run, read, and write), but for the first time since becoming a mother, I was coming home to an empty house. With that, came the realization that I wasn’t needed. And to make it worse, I was alone, with no one to give me a hug and comfort me.

Instead of reading, writing, or going for a run, I flopped onto my bed, and I cried all night.

The next day I was able to pick up my six year old, Sophia, in the morning to take her to a research project I signed her up for. I then took her for lunch afterwards, dropped her off at her dad’s, then went home, flopped on my bed, and cried some more.

Today, I was able to take the kids skating all afternoon. They fought with each other and complained, but it was great to see them. After dropping them off at their dad’s, I felt sad again, but for the first time this weekend, I actually felt like writing.

And, I haven’t cried yet.

I’m sure that will come later.

In time, I know I will adjust and things will be easier. For now, if I feel like crying, I will.

My Week Without Alcohol

Between the ages of 17 and 28, I abstained from alcohol due to religious reasons. Then I separated from my first husband, also a separation from the religion, and I had a few drinks. Nearly four years later I remarried, and I abstained from alcohol while trying to get pregnant, as well as during pregnancies and nursing.

When I was on my last maternity leave, I watched a lot of Dr. Oz, and he talked about the benefits of drinking red wine: good for the heart and high in antioxidants to help reduce aging. Because I was a somewhat older mom (in my late thirties), and I was tired due to the lack of sleep that comes from having a baby, the thought of something that could make me feel younger appealed to me. So, when I was done nursing, I started drinking red wine, occasionally and proportionally (5 to 6 oz.) with my dinner. To be honest, I didn’t really like it at first, and I forced myself to drink it.

Over time, I developed a taste for it, and I found that during the day, I looked forward to dinner and my little wine buzz.

Eventually, I discovered that drinking wine while making supper made a mundane task fun, so what was one glass a day turned into two glasses a day.

After my second separation, I found myself drinking further into the evening more and more. It always made me happy, never miserable, but I found myself stating that I was not proud of my drinking and apologizing for some of my behavior. It’s not like I did anything too shocking (well, my mom, my dad, my kids, and some friends might find it shocking . . . . best to keep a few things to myself), but I felt I needed to make a change.

So, a week ago, I gave up alcohol, and here are my notes from the week:

Day 1: I feel low, hungover, like the party is over. I am zoning out, I have no motivation, I want to cry, I am tired, and I am just not myself. I woke up this morning cringing over the night before, and realized I need to stop this. I messaged a friend who was aware I was drinking too much—but never judged me for it—that I needed to make better choices. I appreciate the support; that, taking things one day at a time, and willpower will get me through this.

Day 2: I messaged my friend in the morning excited about going a whole day without alcohol, and the response was “Great work.” That made feel good, but I am not going to message every day about my progress because that makes me feel pathetic. It was a long day today due to a whole afternoon of mediation, but some good progress was made. When I got home, it was late and I did not feel like cooking. Two of my older daughters were home, and we decided to go to the bar for fish tacos. Wine was half price, and people around me drank it, but it did not bother me. My girls did not drink either, and it was funny that they still had to provide identification.

Day 3: I woke up in the morning with an overwhelming desire to go skiing in the mountains: something I have not done since my teenage years. So, I went online, booked a trip for tomorrow, and waited until 9:30 to wake my older daughters up to see if any of them could come as well. My nineteen year old daughter Odessa was available, so I booked her a ticket. Then we devoted the rest of the day to getting ready for the trip. When we finished shopping, I told her it was my third day without any alcohol, and her response was, “I’m proud of you, mama. That’s a good change, and think of all the money you will save.” I love her.

Day 4: It’s 4:00 a.m., and I feel good, alive, excited, and energized. This tops feeling buzzed any time. Can’t wait to hit the slopes.

Day 5: Being outdoors yesterday, doing something fun, rejuvenated me. I need to get my younger kids into skiing. It’s a shame I never got my older kids into it; yesterday was Odessa’s first time skiing in the mountains. She loved it, and I had fun skiing with her. As far as drinking goes, I don’t miss it. I like having a clear head and not having to straighten myself out by drinking water part way through the night. I feel confident, and I like myself.

Day 6: It feels normal now to drink water with a splash of lemon juice at supper instead of wine, and I like that I can accomplish more in the evenings. I also realize that I am still a fun person without alcohol.

This is day seven of my week without alcohol, and I have learned that it is possible to change habits, that grapes and blueberries also contain antioxidants to reduce aging, and that I am a naturally happy and fun person capable of facing life without getting buzzed every day. It doesn’t mean I will never drink again, but I can go another week and another . . . until I feel I can do so in moderation.

 

 

 

Keep Reading

It’s a new year, and I am dedicating this blog to some of my favorite books I read, or listened to commuting to and from work, last year. I have eclectic taste, and I am always looking for a good read, so feel free to comment about your favorites. Happy 2017, and here’s to curling up with a good book.

Hausfrau by Jill Alexander: This novel is a modern Anna Karenina, so I know damn well where it is going and I hope it doesn’t go that way, but I know it has to. It’s about a housewife who has affairs, and the most brilliant part of the book is when her son, on a field trip at the zoo, sees her making out with another man; she is brutal in convincing him he didn’t see what he saw, and of course everything unravels. So beautiful.

Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf: What a wonderful story about an elderly widow and widower who make a pact to meet at night, not to have sex, but to talk and cuddle because they miss that connection. Their grown children eventually meddle by telling them what they are doing is wrong, but they keep finding each other. A truly touching story.

Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff: I love Lotto’s sensuality, purity, and dedication to Matilde, as well as Matilde’s manipulation, practicality, and unraveling of her darker past. It is a love story so beautifully told from each perspective.

Suicide Stitch: Eleven Stories by Sarah L. Johnson: I met her at Chapters, and I told her she had ten seconds to tell me what her book was about, and all she said was it was dark and sexy. I told her she had me at that, and I bought her book. She was right: it is dark and it is sexy. Through a series of short stories, she takes the reader on a journey to forbidden places.

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher: This novel came out in 2007, but I just discovered it this year. It is YA fiction dealing with the suicide of a teenager who leaves cassette tapes telling her story to those who victimized her. A story so brilliantly told.

Fairest and Winter by Marissa Meyer: YA fiction and both part of the Lunar Chronicles. I found Fairest to be more disturbing with the rivalry between two sisters: a delightful read. I love the whole series because it combines fairy tales with science fiction, two of my favorite genres.

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins: How could you not love a middle aged, slightly overweight, alcoholic heroine with memory lapses caught up in a mystery? I listened to this one on CD, cherishing the lovely British accents of the three women interweaving their stories.

Mr. Mercedes, Finders Keepers, and The End of Watch by Stephen King: I have been a fan since reading the Bachman Books when I was in high school. What I like about Stephen King is his stories are clear, easy to follow, and fun. My favorite is still 11/22/63, but I love the whole aging detective Bill Hodges series.

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King: I have read a lot of books about writing, and this one is by far my favorite because of the basic practical advice of improving one’s craft through continued writing and reading. At the end of the book, King provides an extensive list of all the books he read, or listened to, in the year he wrote the book. Also, he writes about his wife’s support in overcoming his alcohol and cocaine addiction, as well as getting back into writing after his accident.

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson: This is a memoir of Stevenson’s work as a defense lawyer for wrongly convicted African Americans on death row in southern United States. While reading this book, I had to shake my head several times over the structural violence existing in society. Thankfully, Stevenson wisely offers suggestions at how to improve the system.

Marilyn Monroe: My Story combined with Fragments: Poems, Intimate Notes, Letters by Marilyn Monroe. I enjoy reading about the starlet’s life, and the two books combined provide for a more complete read. My Story ends abruptly at her honeymoon with Joe DiMaggio while Fragments includes her brilliant poetry as a drama student in New York. Both stories depict an amazing dedication to a craft.

Chris Hadfield: An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth: Such a joy to learn about life in space: something foreign to most of us Earthlings. In addition, I absolutely love Hadfield’s optimism; here’s a guy who prepares himself for future endeavors despite seeming impossible. I also enjoyed his children’s book, The Darkest Dark. Yesterday, Col. Chris Hadfield posted on his Facebook page 46 positive stories of this past year, and that just adds to his coolness. https://www.facebook.com/AstronautChrisHadfield/posts/1502900363061029

Some books I look forward to reading in the next few months include Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind and Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow by Yuval Noha Harari, Dark Matter by Blake Crouch, When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi, The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney, Leave Me by Gayle Forman, and Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by JK Rowling, Jack Thorne, and John Tiffany.

Keep reading and love to all.

 

 

 

Alive within my Mind

On November 30th, my dad posted on Facebook that my brother Dean told a nurse he was not afraid to die, but he feared the impact it would have on his family: thoughtful words from a twenty year old diagnosed with a spinal cord tumor four and a half years prior.

I was thirteen when Dean was diagnosed. On his sixteenth birthday, he developed a headache in the back of his head. He thought it was the result of partying with friends the night before, and he did not want Mom and Dad to get mad at him, so he did not say anything. Our family drove from our home in Leduc to Edmonton with plans of going on the new roller coaster at the mall. As we were buying tickets, Dean backed out, confessing his headache and stating he couldn’t handle it because he had pressure on his head. I was shocked that he backed out because this was my brother who skied black diamonds with me. Why would he let a headache and some pressure on his head stop him from riding the Mindbender?

Over the next few days, his headache and the pressure became more severe, prompting my parents to take him to the University of Alberta Hospital.

The diagnosis was encephalitis, and he was immediately operated on to insert a shunt for fluid regulation. Over the next four and a half years, he had surgery at least once a year to replace the shunt, and that often led to infection, increasing his hospital stay. Every time, my grandmother raved to him about how good he looked with a shaved head. She was right; the look suited him, and I always thought the staples closing his surgical cuts looked cool.

After the diagnosis of encephalitis, the doctors ran tests to figure out what was causing fluid to build up in his brain, and that led to the discovery of his tumor.

My brother’s tumor was benign, so it would not go into his lymph nodes and spread to other parts of his body; however, during a surgery in an attempt to remove it, the doctors discovered the tumor intertwined with his spinal cord, and there was no way to remove it cleanly, making it cancerous in its location. In addition, the mere act of opening him up caused surgical damage: his right leg became partially paralyzed, and he spent several months in a wheelchair. When he was able to walk again, he needed a cane and a brace for his leg, but over the years, he became strong due to his faithful workout regime.

After his surgery for his spinal cord, my brother went for radiation treatments, and it did not cure him.

But he never gave up hope. And he maintained his sense of humor by constantly telling me to pray for a miracle. He wasn’t religious, but I was fanatically so at the time, and he enjoyed making fun me.

The saddest day of my life, other than the day he died, was when he woke up from his last surgery. At that point, his tumor grew into his brainstem, and the surgery was to buy him some time. I remember him looking at me with hope in his eyes, and when I could not reciprocate his hope, he looked away, and I knew he knew.

A few days after his surgery, he talked about dying, but still occasionally threw in the odd “pray for a miracle.” The ICU allowed us to sneak in our dog, Nova, for a visit, and for the last week, my mom and dad slept on chairs in his room while I slept on the floor. We occasionally went home to shower, and I walked across the street to attend my first year classes at the University of Alberta. I am grateful I had that time to be with him, as well as all the other time I had with him.

As for the impact of my brother’s death, I still get emotional in November, and I always look for the relief December brings. This year, I was so busy with work and my kids that I didn’t think about the anniversary of my brother’s death until the actual day, and then it hit me hard, causing me to not handle it too well. I am thankful for friends and family who posted condolences and for a friend of mine who stayed up late with me to chat on the phone to cheer me up. It meant a lot to me.

I can look back on my life and think things could have been different if Dean would not have gotten sick and died, but I could never know for sure. While I haven’t lived a happily ever after life, I am living a happy and fulfilled life.

And I have wonderful memories.

After Dean recovered from his spinal cord surgery, my dad got him an adapter for his car, so he could drive with his left foot, and we often went into the city to go shopping and have lunch. In Leduc, we went for a lot of walks, and we enjoyed hanging out at home listening to music, watching videos, and playing video games, Risk, and Trivial Pursuit. Above all, I enjoyed talking with him, especially about his two favorite subjects: history and politics.

One of my fears is that time will erase him, and I do not want that to happen. As painful as November can be, I am happy I still feel emotion because it keeps my brother alive within my mind.

 

 

Silenced by Fear

In “Cling to this Life,” I wrote about a negative voice inside my head; fortunately, I also have positive voices, and I have learned not to question them, because they always push me beyond my comfort zone into unchartered areas of growth.

My blog is a good example.

The concept, title, and ninety percent of my first blog came to me during a forty-five minute drive to work.

“All right,” I said to myself. “I am going to do this.”

In all fairness, there were three friends who planted seeds in my mind. A few weeks prior, one of them told me about someone he knows who works as a blogger and how that might be good for me because I am an English teacher and I like to write. At the time, I didn’t think anything of it.

Earlier in the week before the birth of my blog, another friend told me that people should always do what they love, and never do anything for money. That made complete sense to me. I have a great job that provides a great life, and I am free to pursue artistic endeavors just because I want to.

Also earlier in that week, a friend made a comment to me. I cannot remember the exact words, but I do remember initially interpreting them to mean that I was boring and did not have much in my head. Naturally, I was pissed off and thought he was a jerk. Then I thought about it, and I think he meant that I don’t always say what is on my mind, and it’s true. It’s part of being an introvert and analyzing everything to death before I say anything. I don’t have that problem when I write.

So, seeds were planted: It was possible to become a blogger, I needed to do what I love (writing), and I do have a lot swarming around in my mind.

If I would have taken a day or two to think about my blog some more, I would have given it a different domain name. Yes, it is about my fears, but there is more to me than being a single mom. I should not have defined myself that way because some people get the impression that hey, I am single and I want to hook up with people.

That’s not what I am about.

But if I would have taken a few days to come up with a better domain name for my blog, I would have talked myself out of it, and that would have been a mistake.

So, let me redefine what it means to be a single mom. For me, it means I have taken on more duties such as shoveling the driveway, keeping the kitchen clean, and singing lullabies to my kids. It also means that I am free to go out with friends and have fun. And, I am free to make my own decisions and not mold myself to someone else’s world. This is my life, and I can experience it the way I want.

Contrary to what my haters have expressed to me, I am not writing my blog to seek validation. After all, one of the prevalent themes throughout has been living life to the fullest without giving a fuck what people think.

I am fully aware that this blog goes out to anyone who wants to take the time to read it, so I am careful with my words. Still, haters have dissected my words and taken them out of context because they do not understand literary concepts such as persona, mood, metaphor, and subtext. So, they attempt to shame and silence me, which is sad because the other prevalent theme in my writing is optimism.

Overall, I am happy I created my blog.

It has allowed me to connect with people I did not know that well, and people who have known me for a long time have told me they have gotten to know me better. It has provided me with a platform to write about issues important to me, and it is an outlet for expression which has helped me to open up more while talking to people. In addition, it is an opportunity to share my writing which I am able to place on query letters in an attempt to have a novel I have been working on for over two years published. Above all, it is fun, and I enjoy doing it.

So, I will continue to write and to listen to those positive voices in my head. And for those haters who do not understand, positive voices are a metaphor for inspiration. They do not mean that I am crazy; however, if it gets interpreted that way, I will embrace it, because it’s better than being silenced by fear.

 

 

Unapologetically

Before my separation, I did not care about social media because I had my insular life, and the world beyond did not matter that much to me.

After my separation, I had a strong urge to feel connected to other people, so I turned to social media, specifically Facebook, and it was exhilarating.

I enjoyed chatting with people, sending and receiving likes and loves, checking statuses, and posting the occasional selfie, always with a self-deprecating comment to prove that I’m really not that into myself.

It was all in good fun.

Then something happened. I felt the allure more and more and I could no longer contain myself: I was obsessed, and Facebook had taken over my life.

I really didn’t think I had a problem, but of course, I was too busy walking in the wonderful clouds of Facebook to notice.

Then Friday morning hit, and my older daughters began an intervention. It started with a note with a checklist of things I needed to do on my day off. It included simple things like cleaning the kitchen, cleaning the living room, and shoveling the driveway. But towards the end, it included some questions for me: Have you been exercising every day? Have you been taking care of yourself? Have you sent off any query letters for your novel?

I couldn’t honestly answer all three questions with a yes. Then at the bottom of the page, they wrote, “We love you!”

I set the note aside, and I laughed, thinking it was cute that my older girls cared for me, but clearly, they were overreacting.

Throughout the day, I found myself pulled back to Facebook: checking, always checking, and not really too sure what for. Then at supper, my daughters and I went to a restaurant, and as we waited for the food, I checked in some more.

It was at that point that I realized, yes, I did have a bit of a problem.

So, I agreed to go 48 hours without social media.

The first few hours were tough because I still felt that urge to check in, but I resisted, and it got easier.

I filled my time visiting friends face to face, reading, playing Beethoven on the piano, teaching my younger kids to play the piano, grocery shopping, buying thermoses so my kids could have better lunches, cleaning and organizing my house from top to bottom, shredding old documents, creating a budget after discovering I had accidentally overpaid one of my credit cards, planning meals with my older daughters, creating a chore chart with all my kids, exercising, writing query letters, getting caught up on all my laundry including hand washing my nylons to rid them of red wine stains from a week ago, binge watching Black Mirror, and correcting the poor bedtime behavior of my six year old daughter Sophia by offering the reward of going to see Moana and not giving in Saturday morning when she chose not to behave.

I also devoted my time to some introspection and being present in the moment. I laughed while watching Elf with my kids, and I listened intently when my eight year old daughter Olivia told me her Harry Potter name and that she took the quiz for who would be her Harry Potter boyfriend three times so the answer would be Harry Potter. In addition, I took my kids for hot chocolate after having fun outside, and after a stress-free bedtime on Saturday night, I rewarded them with seeing Moana the next day.

Now it’s Sunday night.

The younger kids are in bed, the older kids are doing their thing, and my self-imposed ban from social media is over.

And you know what?

I’m bored.

So, I will return to social media, and I will do so unapologetically. Only this time, I will be more discreet, and I will not allow its intoxicating feel to overpower me.

At least for now.

 

Cling to this Life

There is something about me I do not tell people because I fear judgement, and I fear having to deal with ignorance, but this blog is about overcoming my fears, and I do not think I should have to remain silent about a part of me that is instrumental to who I am.

Not long after I turned sixteen, I was hospitalized for a week. It was after my fifth suicide attempt, and I was diagnosed with manic depression (yes, I know the correct terminology is bipolar, but I still think manic depression sounds cooler.)

I do not talk about it because I do not want people to think that a diagnosis means that my life is tumultuous and unstable. It is not.

When I was a teenager, I did not understand what was happening to me. I constantly cycled through feeling high and invincible to feeling depressed to the point that I heard a voice inside my head telling me to kill myself. To look at me, I don’t think anyone would have known anything was wrong because I did not appear gloomy, and I did everything I could to cover up the fact that anything was wrong with me. I even joined cheer team because I wanted to be around happy, positive people.

When I was in the hospital, a family member who years ago was diagnosed with manic depression wrote me a letter, telling me that she knew how I felt and I needed to have faith and trust the doctors. She also told me that her life was very happy now and that she never thought of suicide. As I read that, I could not comprehend how my life could be happy or without suicidal thoughts.

I feel fortunate to have gotten sick back in the 80’s because there were not a lot of experimental drugs back then for manic depression. Lithium was still the main form of treatment and today it is still the gold standard, but a lot of doctors shy away from it in favour of newer drugs. So, a patient can go from one drug to another without making progress.

After being placed on lithium, my hallucinations stopped within a week, and within two weeks, I felt normal, even happy. I know it is not like that for everyone with an affective disorder, but for me, it was that simple.

During my pregnancies, I went off lithium to avoid side effects to the fetuses, and I had wonderful pregnancies. With my first three children, I went back on my medication right after they were born. I was unable to nurse them, but I did not have any problems with postpartum depression. If anything, I felt constant joy at the intense love I felt for each of them.

When I became pregnant with my fourth daughter, my doctor informed me that research had changed and I could remain off my medication if I breast fed. At the same time, I did research on the internet about lithium-rich foods, and I got in into my head that I could control my illness through my diet, and I would never have to go back on my medication again.

I was still breast feeding my daughter Olivia when I got pregnant with my daughter Sophia, and then I breastfed her until she was nineteen months. When she was ten months, I started feeling mildly depressed due to returning to graduate studies then work, preventing me nursing her as much. I coped through positive self-talk and remaining optimistic.

Five months later, my grandmother passed away, my milk dried up, and I started deteriorating, yet I was still convinced that I would be fine without medication. While at work, I coped with my depressed states by finding menial tasks to keep my mind going. For my graduate studies, I waited out my dark times and did my work when I was feeling high. Gradually, coping became more difficult, and then my hallucinations returned.

At that point, I knew I needed help.

So, I called my doctor, went back on my medication, and I told myself that I just had to endure the next two weeks and I would be well again.

Readjusting to my medication after not being on it for four years was difficult due to the side effects of weight gain and horrible fatigue, but if given the choice between living on the edge, wanting to kill myself and dealing with fatigue and weight gain, I would gladly take the latter. Now that I have been back on my medication for a few years now, my body has adjusted and I do not feel any of the side effects. Through healthy living, my weight is under control and I have an excess amount of energy.

I do not regret my illness; in fact, I don’t even like referring to it as an illness. If anything, it is a gift. Being able to experience such a wide range of emotions has added to my creativity, helped me to be empathetic towards others, and has given me such a strong appreciation for life that I will cling to this life and never take it for granted.

Navigating the Unknown

The scariest night of my life was when my daughter Justine was born. On that night, I went to the hospital and after an internal examination, I was told I was not in labor and needed to go home.

I was twenty-two years old and good at doing what I was told, so although I was in pain, I complied, trusting the information I was given.

Back then, I lived in low-income housing, and I was in the fourth townhouse at the end of the row. I remember stopping at the white fence of the first house and doubling over in pain then walking to the second, third house, and my house doing the same.

When I went inside, the pain worsened and I didn’t know how to manage it, so I took a quick bath, and when I got out of the tub, Justine was born within a few minutes.

I was alone with her for those first few minutes as the paramedics were let into the house, and I remember my intense fear of not knowing if she was alive. As I checked to see if she was breathing, she cried, and my fear subsided.

Fast forward twenty-one years, and I am so proud of the lovely young woman she has become. She is kind, intelligent, dramatic, and she speaks her mind, especially regarding feminist issues. Above all, she is a survivor.

As for me, I am learning to push boundaries and to not always do what I am told or what I think society expects of me.

I got married a second time because I honestly wanted to have someone I could be with for the rest of my life. Early on in the marriage, I knew there were problems, but I believed that if I just did everything right, things would get better. Also, I did not want the stigma of going through another divorce with all the pettiness and ugliness that accompanies it. And, I feared facing my life alone.

I get sad sometimes, and I cry.

Then I shrug those emotions away as I prepare to go for another run, turn on some music to dance, or check out my recent likes for my quirky Facebook posts. When I am feeling down, it all means a lot.

I am now walking through the unknown, and it is scary. But I do not feel all alone as I did during those first few minutes with Justine. With the love of family and good friends, I will navigate this unknown, and life will be okay.

Welcome to my site: Fear Less, Single Mom

I have recently found myself single after eleven years of marriage (well, twenty-one years if you count my first marriage). I’m in my mid-forties, and I have five wonderful, vivacious daughters: three in university and two in early elementary, who all live with me.

There have been some challenges over the past few weeks: I forgot about my eight year old daughter’s friend’s birthday party, and I have two bins of laundry for the younger girls that they dig through every morning because I have not gotten around to putting it away.

Aside from that, overall, I am doing well. I have a glass or two of red wine pretty much every day, I run every second day and relish the high it provides, and I have returned to the original love of my life: Mr. Jon Bon Jovi.

I created this blog to embrace my fears by challenging myself to do what scares me. So, what scares me? Spiders of course, as well as public speaking and displaying any kind of art form in public including my writing (horrible anxiety issues that I need to deal with).

But my greatest fear is realizing that I am not quite half way through my life (hopefully–shooting beyond a hundred), and I don’t want to get to the end only to discover that I played everything too safe by confining myself to a monotonous existence.

This weekend, my younger girls are away at their father’s place for the first time, and I’ve already gotten into the wine, so tonight I am going to listen to music and dance. Tomorrow, I am going to devote respect to our veterans by participating in ceremonies and visiting the grave site of my grandfather, Charles Schneck (the most handsome man to grace our good Earth). He went to war when he was a teenager, was a POW, suffered from TB due to the awful conditions he lived in, coped with PTSD, and died at the age of 53 from a heart attack. Now that’s service to our country.

Then I am going to lock myself away in my office (without my red wine) and complete the final edit of a novel I have been working on for the past two years. So, here’s to life and embracing fears.