Saturday, November 17, 2012

A Final Update for My Birthday

Yesterday was my birthday... the big 3-0. I was actually excited to turn 30, but I was a little sad that I left so many projects unfinished. I knew that things came up, but that also isn't my personality. I don't let things get in the way of a goal.  I have to be flexible, and be able to roll with the punches, but I also need to hold onto my goals so that I actually reach them.

What are the goals I didn't reach?

1. Ride in a hot air balloon.
2. Raise $1,000 for charity.
3. Read 10 books (I had three left).
4. Run a 10K. Finish a 10K.
5. Buy and drink an expensive bottle of wine.

I want to mention what happened yesterday, because it seemed almost surreal. I know I didn't finish my list, but it was a good memory for a birthday...

Yesterday morning, my kids were dancing beside my bed, screaming "Your birthday!!! You have presents!!!"

We woke up and got ready (since the motivation of presents made them get ready quicker). Once I was ready, I began to open my presents. 

One of the presents? 1 giant pencil (by giant, I mean a foot long!). Alex told me I can use that because I am a writer, and I write a lot of things.  His next present? A hot air balloon suncatcher. He told me this was a great hot air balloon because we can sit and look at it together. I thought that was incredibly sweet.

Carly's present for me? A purple sparkly piggy bank. She told me now I can save money for all my new adventures. I can already tell she is going to have the adventure spark like me.

I went through my day at work, talking with students, teaching a bit, and having a fairly good day. I was able to make it to Carly's Thanksgiving meal, so I enjoyed being able to spend time with her.

When we made it home, my mother took me to a benefit for a school in India. It was a Murder Mystery Dinner, and we were able to talk with all sorts of people (including Gandhi's grandson). How much did we raise for charity?


YAY!!! One more project off the list, and on my birthday! Fantastic!!!

So, that renewed my interest in finishing this project, and in starting my new one. I know I need to finish these goals, and I imagine that it will be complete soon.

And for the new project? I wrote a list of ten goals that include life goals and places to visit. I want to finish the project by the time I am 40.  Obviously I won't be running around crazy, trying to complete these items.  I will enjoy working on each step, and will capture tons of memories along the way.

The new site is:

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Samurai

I completed a work report, and took a break from behavior shaping to surf the Internet. I love the fact that I can get on the computer and look up anything my heart desires (this is also the downfall of the Internet)...

I know that my third and final tattoo (and another project) will be a Japanese Cherry Blossom branch. I came across a picture of the tattoo a while back, and I knew that would be my final tattoo.  I want it to spread across a corner of my back, and I love the contrast of deep colors.

 Japanese Cherry Blossom Rib Tattoo

I decided to look up the meaning of the tattoo. I know that the last thing anyone wants is to permanently ink themselves with something unless they know the meaning. I dodged the bullet of not adding someone's name to the tattoos, so at least I was smart in that area.

I came across an absolutely fantastic site that listed the history of the Japanese Cherry Blossom tattoo. The story is that it was a common symbol of the Samurai. I never considered myself even the faintest warrior... until a few years ago...

There was a passage on the site that caught my attention, and it's been on my mind all day:

"not being fully prepared to die was something that was considered a restraint when it came to living life to the fullest."

I had to read it again to make sure I wasn't making this up. Whoever wrote this was a fantastic writer, and quite an inspiration.

When I pondered this quote for a while, I realized the tattoo was perfect for me. All I've been trying to do for this past year (and really for the past few years) is to embrace each moment and live life to the fullest.  After all the grief and illness, I was tired of being at someone else's will. I was tired of imagining life pass me by.

The key to all of this is to be content with one's life.  If I am not content with where I am at as far as relationships go, then I am not ready to die.  So, for all of the people I have dealt with, it would mean examining my relationships, saying what I need to say, and knowing that everything is at peace.  This is easier said than done, because we all seem to have at least a few people that we wish we had said or done something differently.  When looking at the passage above, I am seeing that I cannot have regrets.  And if things didn't go the way I would like, I need to make peace and move on.

I began thinking of basic interactions over the past few years.  I wish I told my ex-husband that he is no longer in control of my existence, but that I wish him well. I wish he knew what incredibly awesome children we have, and I am blessed to spend all my days with them. 

I want to thank Tom for departing from my life. No one wants a breakup, but I wasn't prepared for what was coming around the corner. It's strange that we haven't talked since the breakup, and I guess it seems even stranger that I want to thank him. Without Tom, there most certainly wouldn't have been a Jeremy. That sounds absolutely ridiculous, but entirely true.

I know I need to sit and talk with my parents.  I need to tell them how absolutely in awe of them and how they are able to support me so much.  They have an incredible amount of love for me and the kids, and they have shown it in their support of me, and of the time they spend with the children.  I am amazed at all they have accomplished, and how many people they love and that love them dearly. They are really an inspiration of how I would like my life to be.  They are the relationship I hope to establish, and they are the parents I have been striving to become. I am blessed to be back in their home (though I know it can be stressful at times). 

Taking a step out on the edge and appreciating the adventure of danger is exciting when you think of all you are sacrificing- all that you are leaving behind. It takes incredible peace to prepare for battle and know that you are ready to die at this very moment. That you have made peace with your life, and there are no regrets.

I want to be there. I want to be at the point in my life where I am settled in everything I do, where I am honest and intimate with the people around me, and where I am free to share what I feel and free to make goals and go out there and live.  I feel like I have had a good start living, but that it's taking a bit of time to get into the swing of things. 

I received an email from my friend, Robin, this morning. It said something very simple: "Don't stoop!" I sent her back an email telling her that I was happy with where I was in life, and with who I was with. I told her I was thrilled to have met someone that I can talk to for hours on end, someone that shares the same core values and goals, and someone that I am attracted to as well (it's hard to find all of those things in one person!).

Her response: "I meant don't stoop down! I notice whenever you aren't dating people that are super tall, I see you stooping down."

Oh... I thought it was some sort of metaphorical stooping, and really I just have bad posture. I was the tallest girl in sixth grade (I grew six inches in two months), and spent many months being gawked at. I never really grew comfortable being around people of my own height. Well, I WAS becoming comfortable until she went and said that...

That defense I gave her did make me realize that I am happy where I am at in regards to my romantic relationship. I can say I would go to battle being content with how things have turned out in this respect (even though it really hasn't been a long stretch of time yet). Well, perhaps I would tell him how special he really is, and that I have seen what's out there and I am glad he chose me. I would tell him that I appreciate all of his kind words, and of the time he spends in the day concerned with how I am and what I am doing. I would definitely tell him that there are times when I know that things are really "good" in life, and that I can say that about my time with him now. (It's kinda easier to write this than to say it aloud. He also knows this and has tricked me into saying things like this anyway...)  Whatever aligned in the cosmos to make our initial encounter happen, for that moment I will always be grateful.

When it comes to my children, I would easily say I would die for them. I would gladly go through a miserable death to make sure they had life. They make my life such a joy, and I am proud to be their mother, and to accompany them on this journey.  I am thrilled to wake up each day and spend it with them, even when I am exhausted and may not have the most patience. I know they love me, because we exchange "I Love You's" often, but I hope that one day they really appreciate what this love means. 

In my work, I have agreed to defend the students that others couldn't handle. I am not saying this to be mean--I am saying that I chose the students that were less than ideal. They are not easily taught, or they have behaviors that are not readily controlled in the regular classroom. I decided that I wanted to "solve the puzzle," and see what I can do to make them tick. I have days where I drive home wondering what I was thinking, but I realize that my job has been so rewarding, even when I was dealing with the stresses of the attack.  I am able to build relationships with students, to help them deal with life's major decisions, and to almost "raise them." I have a great deal of influence on them, since they see me for a large portion of the day.  I am glad that we can discuss important issues, and that I can be there to talk with them about what is on their mind.  I know people become teachers to "make a difference," but I also know that many people have an ego and believe they can change the world. I just want to leave an impression on each of my students. I want them to leave my classroom and their time with me changed. I want them to look at the world with a little more wonder, and to reach outside of their comfort zone and take chances. I guess to make great social change, this was the best career move.

When I think about those words about the Samurai, and realize that my life really is in order, I can see that this project has given me the ultimate reward: I have figured out that I have my life figured out. I still have many mysteries to solve, and many places to visit, but I know that I am content in where I am at. I have said my piece to my family, I have loved my children fiercely, and I am attempting to tear down the giant concrete wall that surrounds my heart and let someone in. I don't know many people out there that can say this, and to me that is an ultimate birthday present and end to this project.

And the tattoo? That's part of my NEXT project (and blog!).

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

One Project Ends, Another Begins

     I was riding in the car yesterday with one of my best friends, Robin.  We were headed to a painting class, and it had been a couple of weeks since we could actually sit down together and talk (even though I was driving at the time).

     She asked me how it felt, turning 3o. I told her I was ready for the next part of my life, and actually excited about the opportunities of the future.  It’s true that no one likes to get older, but I think that I know I can have a much more solid decade than my twenties. I am not saying I regret anything—everything that has happened before brought me to where I am today.  For that I will be forever grateful.

     We began talking about the man I am currently dating, and she asked a lot of questions.  I know she is concerned about me, after dealing with two past relationships that she deemed “toxic.”  She is truly a great friend that wants nothing more than for me to be happy.  I know it hurts her when I am in situations that aren’t the best for me.  I wish everyone could have friends like that.

     We stopped at the Nissan plant to see Jeremy, so he could take a look at my car. I know Robin was so excited to take a look at all of the new cars.  She began jabbering about how quiet the electric car was, and how blind people would be hit by the cars. I gave her a puzzled look (because I was clearly thinking about something else), and she went on to tell me that the Prius had to add something to their cars that made “noise” so blind people would know it was coming.  I began to wonder why they didn’t attach a jingle bell like people do with cats. Surely they would hear it coming…

     My car has given me nothing but grief for the past year. I am starting to believe that it is the last thing from my ended marriage long ago, and there’s something in the universe that wants to keep giving me grief. Like maybe I got off to easy getting out of the marriage, and now I have this evil car that causes trouble just to make me suffer.  It’s the kind of suffering I felt when I was still married… Jeez

     When we got back in the car, Robin gave me her evaluation of Jeremy. True, they had only talked for about 20 minutes, but now she was becoming pretty good at spotting trouble.  Even when she is making nonsensical comments, she is listening and evaluating responses.  She is watching body language, and seeing how people talk to others. She’s like my real-life Dr. Cal Lightman (which is from the show Lie to Me). One further plug for the show: it’s one of my absolute favorites, and if you have never seen it, you must!

      I was a little nervous to hear what she had to say, because she tells the truth and doesn’t worry about sugar coating it.

     “He’s a little soft-spoken… but very confident… he was always at ease… and could you have possibly found someone cuter? He’s adorable!”

Well, I know they didn’t interact for too long, but I guess this is a good start…

     She changed subjects and asked me about the project, since my birthday is around the corner. I told her I was almost done, but had a few projects that I didn’t get around to completing (since the ridiculous stuff got in the way).

     “That’s so nice how you can be so kind to yourself, giving an extension and all that…”

     I couldn’t tell if she was pulling a passive-aggressive mother comment. I think she was just being funny.  She went on to tell me that she thought the project was neat, and wondered what my mind would do for all the rest of the years of my life, since there weren’t a hundred things to occupy it.

     I told her I was starting a new project, to complete by the time I turn 40. This would be more of a long-term project involving classes, life goals, travel, and embracing my family as they grow.

     I told her I had a conversation with Jeremy, and he wanted to help me complete some goals.

“Oh! That’s simply fantastic! This is quite the ending event of Project One!”

I glanced over at her, and asked “what do you mean?”

     She started laughing, “Don’t you see? All through this first project, you learned to love yourself. You learned to deal with life, and you were healing from all the grief you have been through. You even dealt with getting back out there in dating, and realizing what you want and don’t want now.”


     She went on “Now, at the end of this grand event, you found someone that wants to continue the journey with you! That is more than fantastic! Someone to plan things with, join you on your journey! You need this at this point in your life, and I am beyond happy for you!!”

     I guess she was right. I had been completed all of these goals and learned a lot about myself. Now, I am standing her confident and content in my future. It is quite fantastic that I’ve found someone that wants to join me for the next part. I know we would all be so lucky to find this.

     Lucky enough to find someone that sends a message to wish us a good morning. Lucky enough to find someone that cares about our comfort and safety, even if it might ruin his clothes. Lucky enough to find someone to talk to for hours on end, and that you can’t wait to talk to again.

I will say this journey has been a success, and another one is about to begin…

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Looking on to more goals...

There are five days left until my birthday, and I will not finish my list.

What didn't I finish?

1. Finish a 10K.
2. Ride in a hot air balloon.
3. Raise $1,000 for charity.
4. Buy and drink a really expensive glass of wine.
5. Read 10 great works of literature (I did make it to seven- so 3 more!).

I received an overwhelming response of emails and conversations with friends that told me I should give myself an extension. I did have a couple of surgeries in there, and encounter a few strange setbacks that aren't typical for my life.

I really don't know what kind of timeline I can give myself for running the race, since I am not very certain what the outcome of the back surgery will be. I know I will need to take it easy post-surgery, so I will not be out there running. I won't be sitting like a bump on a log either, so I am sure I will be able to meet this goal by the end of the school year (even if "running" isn't very fast).

I am going to contact, recontact, and brainstorm on how to ride in a hot air balloon. Like I had said before, the company is out of business, so my gift certificate is not valid. I can't imagine how this could be allowed, and there has to be someone I will come in contact with that can make this happen. I will keep thinking on it.

I really want to raise the money for charity. We were planning a music event at the school, to raise money to bring creative after-school programs to my students in Moore County. I wanted to expand their minds and bring them hobbies and classes that will help them in the long run (like photography, a book club, intramural sports, etc).  I know if we can get to planning, we will be able to have the event planned for winter (January?).

I can read three more books in a matter of a few weeks, so that really shouldn't be a problem. I do start classes in January, so I am very certain I will be doing a lot of reading over the next four years!

And I am not really certain where I was going with the wine. I know I wanted to really understand wines and learn something about the higher end wines. I know if I bought an expensive bottle, I would not be thrilled about opening it. I guess this is something I was reserving for a special occasion, so perhaps New Years Even would be a good time for a bottle that's special?

I already had in my mind that I wanted to create another list. I am definitely finishing this list, but I know that I have more goals that I would like to achieve by other milestone birthdays (40 being the big one!). I would like to put some thought into another list, and maybe organize it so that I can complete a major goal each year for the next ten years? I would love to hear if anyone has ideas on a good goal. I am excited and ready to embrace 30, and I imagine I will be at a completely different point in my life by 40.

I had dinner with Jeremy last night, and we talked for hours. I told him about the purpose of the project, and how it was important for me to have goals when looking at a major life change. As you will remember, I created this list on the heels of a divorce being final. I was looking out into the world and seeing all of the opportunities that lie ahead. I feel this way now--I see that I am a strong and independent woman, and can do anything I set my mind to.  I also see that I can take care of myself, and am very self-reliant. 

But now, more than any other time in the past year, I realize that I don't want to live the rest of my life that way. I remember a few weeks ago, when I was traveling around Washington. I went to Wal-Mart to buy something, and I can remember thinking to myself that in fifteen years I would be able to take off and do whatever I chose. I would be able to live my life of independence, and I would finally be free.

Sitting on the couch last night, talking with a glass of wine in my hand, I realized I don't want to be alone. I like that I am capable of doing things alone, but I don't want that to be my life. I want to sit and talk with someone, and share my life. I want to have common goals, or to have the support for those dreams that are my own. I liked the idea of being free and being a drifter, but I realized I liked the idea of being part of a couple. I liked the idea of sharing my life and all of its stories with another person.

I remembered that book I had mentioned long ago, by Elizabeth Gilbert. She talked about the fact that she didn't want to be married. She didn't want to be tied to someone, and after divorce she thought that the whole idea was a joke. She was looking at a forced marriage to her love, and she was panicking. I remember reading toward the end of the book that her travels out on her own to Cambodia were not what she hoped, because while she was out there "finding herself," she was missing the idea of being with Felipe even more.

At the beginning of this journey, I understood her free spirit. I wanted what she had, and I was ready to take flight at the next opportunity. Now, I feel more like she does after her trip to Cambodia. I have a rich and exciting life now, even when it is just reporting to work most days. I want to share those experiences, and my hope and dreams of how my life will be with someone. I want to plan holidays and raise children and have a life. I feel like I've been ripped off in that department.

Maybe that will be one of my goals for the next project. 

Friday, November 9, 2012

One More Week: A very long post, to explain a lot of things...

        I realize that I have one week left before turning 30.

        I also realize that the project will not be completed by 30.

        I guess I need to back up a couple of weeks.  I know I haven't typed about anything for a while, and there were some good reasons.

        My last post was all about changes that were happening in my life.  I was (am) excited about my acceptance to graduate school, and will be registering for my first semester Monday.  I am really thrilled to look at the next few years, and the actual fun of returning to college.  I am not going to lie--I am a geek.  I love being in school, and I always love learning new things. I remember the first semester after I graduated with my Masters Degree.  The novelty of being out of the classroom wore off after a few weeks, and I was itching to get back.  Luckily I had a baby a few months later, so that occupied my time for a while. :-)

        My last post occurred on a Tuesday. I took a look over my past year, and talked about how I almost reached an important goal of accomplishing 15 goals.  I realized it probably wasn't going to happen, because I was running out of time.  I knew I could complete possibly one or two more goals, but I wasn't going to reach my major goal.

        What happened between then and now? Two things...

         Three days later, I decided to take a break from the pressures of dating for quite a while. I also decided to get out there and be social again.  I attended a Halloween party in Nashville, and the unthinkable happened.
          I met someone.

          Yes, it sounds completely ridiculous that I gave myself four days to bounce back from a breakup. The reality is that I was giving myself a long time. I also wasn't really that upset by it. I know now that it was because I knew it would be happening, and the wheels were already turning in my head to have a discussion about what wasn't working. Complete reality would be admitting that there was a LOT that wasn't working.

          I took a few days to do some deep thinking, talked to a few wise friends on my phone, and came out of all of this realizing that I had fallen into the same pattern.  I had found two men that really made me change my life to accommodate them. I had found two very similar people, but they were dressed differently. I found two people that were always blaming other people for their problems, who always needed to be the center of attention or have their egos stroked, and didn't make an effort to make me happy.

            I am not saying that I need someone that only lives to make me happy, but if there isn't even a puppy dog phase in the beginning, you know you are in trouble...

            So, back to the Halloween party.  After I had been thinking all of these things, I realized what I did not want to see. I realized that I needed some time to dedicate to myself before I could worry about fending off those creatures.

            I don't dance, and anyone who has seen me try knows that I am terrible. People only want to watch me dance after they have been drinking for a long time. The sad truth is that I am completely sober when I dance so terribly.  At the party, much of the event revolved around dancing to music provided by the DJ.  I placed myself at a table with some other people, and proceeded to talk about my life and what we had in common. After a while, I did get up to go to the bar and get a soda. While standing there, I looked down and saw a $20 bill on the ground.  I picked it up and looked around to see if it was just dropped. I walked up to the party director, and asked her if she could figure out who lost it. She gave me a funny look, then told me that would be pretty hard to do, since most everyone had already bought a drink from the bar.  We finally decided to give it to the bartender as a great tip, since I was not going to keep money that wasn't mine.  As I went back to the bar, I walked up and put the money into the tip jar.  I heard a voice, "you are supposed to get a drink in return..."

            I turned around and saw the Phantom of the Opera staring at me. I explained to him quickly that I found it on the ground, and would not be keeping the money since it wasn't mine.  He commented that I was a Good Samaritan, and I smiled and said I guess he was right. I walked away, thinking my time talking to the Phantom would be over.

           I met up with a friend over at the other side of the dance floor, and we talked as the music continued to play.  I did talk with a pirate (and his parrot) about teaching and welding.  This was definitely not the most exciting moment in my history of party-hopping.  I heard a voice behind me, and turned to find a strikingly handsome man. It was the Phantom with his mask removed. He was talking to me, and it took me a moment to realize what was going on.

           As we continued to talk, the music changed from fast to slow, and back to fast. I commented on my terrible dancing, and even displayed an old move known as "feeding the chickens." I wondered in my head, "what the heck are you doing, Michelle?!?" At this point, I really felt no control in admitting my dancing faults.

          As we continued to talk about how to best cook salmon, a slow song began. I felt an arm scoop me up around the waste, and we glided out onto the dance floor. It was nice to dance, but we talked the entire time.  I remember the conversation was very smooth, and we didn't even realize that we were dancing halfway into AC-DC's "Back in Black."  I remember looking around at that moment, and realizing there were a lot of people staring.

          The rest of the evening was fun, and we talked a lot about our childhoods, hobbies, jobs, and likes/dislikes. I told stories about when I was younger, told him about favorite John Hughes movies, and listened to stories of him growing up in Minnesota. We would move out onto the dance floor for a few dances before the night was over.  We ended up leaving only after the DJ started packing up and turned on all of the lights in the room.

           He walked me down to my car, and I thought it would be the end of a great moment, and of the idea of being with someone. I told him about my children, which I thought would scare him away. He pulled out his phone and showed me his three boys (two of which are very close to the age of my two!).  He asked me if he could give me his number, and I was completely dense as to what that meant. I told him I would just text him, and then he would have mine. His eyes brightened, and he gave me a quick hug before leaving. 

           I opened my car, and jumped inside.  As I was turning out of the parking lot and heading home, I saw my phone light up. I found a message thanking me for a wonderful evening. I wondered to myself how the heck something like this would happen.

          Over the past few weeks since the party, I will have to admit that it's been wonderful.  We talk on the phone for hours at night, I receive messages in the morning telling me to have a good day, and we shared a wonderful night out to dinner (where the waitress realized we were there for two hours talking, and wasn't too happy!). It was nice to talk with someone that shared the same ideals and goals, and thought I was fantastic. It is nice to be around someone that thinks about me often, and tells me I need to call him when I get out of a sleep study and am driving home by myself at 4am.

           THAT is exactly what I needed at this point in my life.

           Tomorrow is another date, to celebrate my birthday.  I can't say what will work out in life, and what won't.  I will say that I am terribly happy about the fact that I have someone that is ready and willing to hear the good and bad about my day whenever I need him. I like it when someone sends me a message to tell me he is thinking about me, and that he hopes the meeting went well.  You never know what will happen, but I can say I am not used to how this is turning out (and my friend says that's because I have dated idiots in the past...).

         So, I mentioned that there were two things that happened to me. Meeting Jeremy was definitely one of them.  Another was a phone call I received a few days ago. It was from my doctor that is completing my upcoming back surgery. I answered, expecting for them to tell me that my back looked fine for surgery.

          Instead, she told me they found a mass on my thyroid, and they are concerned.  I was told they were sending the films to my doctor, who will coordinate the appts for an ultrasound, and probably a specialist.  I wondered if my luck was too good. It was at THAT point that I gave up on the rest of this project.  I am never a person to give up, and even with the hot air balloon company going out of business (after I had a gift certificate), I was still coming up with creative ideas for reaching my goals. 

         I dealt with bad news about my legs with enough coolness and calm to realize I could keep fighting. I dealt with the news of my upcoming back implant with a great amount of grace and calm. What was different about the thyroid?

        I knew what was causing pain in my back and legs. That was from injuries and failed surgery. Those were from things that happened to me, and I was going to work the rest of my life not to let them get the better of me. A quarter-sized mass on my thyroid was different. 90% of them aren't cancerous, but that meant 10% were. I have already beat so many odds, what if my lucky time was over? What if this would be the event that did it for me?

       It's funny that when I was breaking up with Tom, how he brought up my health. It was very hypocritical, being that I went to the gym and worked out, dealt with my pain on my own, and he wasn't very active in any health decisions (I am quite a trooper. I even work while sick.).  He didn't have any idea about this blow...

       I was apprehensive about bringing these things up to someone new. I do know they need to be out there, because if someone can't handle all this, it wasn't going to work out anyway.  When I mentioned the attack and leg issues, Jeremy told me he couldn't believe it, but that I was strong. When I mentioned the sleep trouble that happens now, he had only concern that I will be ok now. I am fairly sure it will all turn out ok, but I guess it's one thing that has to come out now. I really don't want to deal with another hypocrite or narcissist. Not at this point in my life...

       So, what does this mean for my project? I can either call it quits, or give myself an extension. There are still a lot of projects that I want to complete. I am glad that I did complete so many of them. I learned a lot about myself, had goals that I created and set out to accomplish, and I ended up meeting some cool people along the way.  I also taught my students about setting goals and making plans to reach them.

       One of my students was giving me a hard time about the fact that I had less than two weeks to reach the goals. The same student walked into my room as I was receiving the news about the mass from the doctor. He saw the tears stream down my cheek, and he heard me ask about what tests I would need.

       He hasn't said another word.


Tuesday, October 23, 2012

A New Chapter...

“I want to believe that there is good in everyone.  I think people are inherently good, but when they are faced with fear and stress, they fall back on behaviors they know.  This can be a good thing, but more than most of the time, it is a bad, bad thing.”

I sat in an interview for graduate school last week.  I was chosen as one of a few to attend Round Two interviews for the field of Mental Health Counseling.  I was asked a question about how to deal with difficult people—people that wrong you, or that lie to you, or that shift blame, or that do illegal and unimaginable things.  I was asked if I handled it well, and if it caused a great deal of stress in my life.

I didn’t exactly imagine that I would be single four days later.  I didn’t imagine that I would have to go through a difficult situation, blame shifting, distortion of truth.  I imagined I would most likely get a letter that told me I was accepted into the program.  My vision only stretched that far—I didn’t think that major life changes would soon happen.
There’s always blame to both sides in a parting.  When one side appears innocent, I have always believed their fault was in accepting too much.  When we become too tolerant of craziness and loosen our boundaries, it is then that we are at fault.  We fail ourselves.

I woke up today with a strange peace about me.  I really thought it would be a rough day, but I made it through work with a level of calm and matter-of-fact attitude necessary to make sure I dealt with work only for the day.  At the end of the day, I did talk to a coworker.  She was aghast at the things she heard me tell her, but I told her I was ok.  I realized it had been my fault—I tolerated way too much and was too accommodating.  The reality is that I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life tolerating other people’s craziness while they were critical of my life.

I realize now that I have not been on this blog in well over a month, and I have a project that is due in about 23 days.  The reality of completing five more items seems nearly impossible. There has been too much going on to focus on the project, which also means I haven’t been focusing on what I want.

If I don’t complete the list, it won’t be the end of the world.  I can tell you right away that I have grown so much in the past year.  I will admit that I let my guard down the past six months, but that has taught me to be stronger than ever.  I am tired of unhappy people trying to steal my happiness.  Enough is enough.

And what about me? I will be happily single.  I will still be crazy smart.  I will still have insanely beautiful and endearing children that are strong, compassionate, and fiery creatures.  I will still have tons of friends and family that support all my passions and goals and, from now until the end, I will be happy.  That’s the least I owe myself…

Monday, September 3, 2012


It was never my intention to go this long without writing. I know that I don't have a long time before my project ends, and this is the last time to start slacking on my notes of the project.

In the past month, I have been visiting doctors. I have actually visited a few different specialists, trying to get an answer to my pain.  This intense pain has been going on for over three years, but it really peaked in the past two weeks.

One day at work, while I was standing up teaching, I burst into tears. The muscle in my leg had contracted so fiercely, I was barely able to breathe. The pain was shooting through my leg, and I felt unable to move. This is happening while taking muscle relaxers and pain medications.  I was not sure where to go from here, but I had to do something.  After my history of the wheelchair, braces and cane, I was NOT going back to using a device to help me walk. I am NOT giving up my independence without a fight.

The problem of pain meds is that I need to remain alert while teaching.  The goal is to find the medication that relieves the symptoms while allowing me to stay focused on my job.  This is hard when the spasms are so strong they are causing bruising.  

Leaving my job is not an option. I love teaching, and I also have to provide a home and a life for my children. I am their only source of support (besides the obvious "support" from my family and friends), and I cannot bend on my work because of discomfort.  Even on days when I am miserable and can barely move, off to work I must go.

I try to be mobile, and do as much as I can.  It actually helps to exercise (within reason), so I am working on exercising with my students.  I need to keep my body active but rested, and this is a fine line I teeter along.  Until a treatment comes along that will help me with the pain, I am forced to toss all the plates up in the air and try to juggle.

A treatment was recommended at my last visit with the physiatrist.  It was actually a treatment that was discussed years back, but I really didn't think about it since I didn't believe I was getting out of a wheelchair or returning back to work.  The treatment is a spinal cord stimulator, nor neuromodulator.  The device is implanted in my back, with electrodes planted along the nerves in my spinal cord.  The goal is to send out electrical signals that block the pain signals of my back and legs. Instead of feeling pain, I will feel a steady buzzing or humming feeling.  I remained skeptical, because all treatments before have been miserable.  I am either too doped up to function or screaming in pain.  There have rarely been days that I have a feeling in the middle.

So, now I get to decide if this is something I am ready to try.  I wake up throughout the night, screaming in pain.  I find myself limiting my activity because of the pain it might cause.  I can feel myself becoming prisoner again.  I think it's time for a change...

I have continued to work on the project, but have taken a bit of a mental break while I dealt with these issues.  I do have one bit of news to provide: To reach the goal of raising $1,000 for charity, we did decide to hold a big birthday bash and collect donations.  There is a local band I am talking with about playing a concert at the party. This could turn out to be quite a shindig that would raise money for increasing creative experiences for all students in Moore County (in light of the fact that art is gone...).

Monday, August 13, 2012

One More Project Down!

I become frustrated often when I am not able to create my ideas.  I blame this excuse on my lack of attempts to pursue art. I am a perfectionist, and sometimes I will admit that I don't attempt something because I am afraid of the results.

One of my projects was to learn to decorate a cake.  Now I can bake, and have been doing so for many years.  Ever since I was a young child, I remember helping my mother bake cookies for Christmas, and decorate cakes.  Decorating a cake really meant smearing icing on the top of a cake in a pan, and decorating it with letters and candies.  My mother decorated cakes for a hobby, but she knew better than to pursue such a project with tiny hands around.

As I grew older, I knew that making cakes would be interesting.  I also knew it was hard work, and I gave applause to any person that was patient and steady enough to handle such a tedious task.  My hands shake terribly, so I pretty much assumed I would never write beautiful script on a cake.

I had a dream for many years that I would make my children's birthday cakes.  I knew they wouldn't be perfect, but they would be homemade, and from the heart.  The biggest thing that kept me from making their annual cakes was that I was afraid they wouldn't be cute enough.  I actually had nightmares of a cake that looked less like a monkey and more like an evil gremlin.  I really didn't want to be the cause of any toddler fears...

Tom decided he wanted a frog cake for his birthday.  I appreciate that he had no other real requirements than that it was a frog.  Or that it had a frog on it. Or it had some sort of frog theme.  Really, it would be pretty easy to make something that fell within those guidelines.

So, I started out with a design in my head.  Then I realized I didn't have THAT much talent, and went for something more realistic.  I scoured websites and watched YouTube videos my friend Becca posted for me. I really thought about the process, and what it would take to produce a realistic frog.  I accepted the fact that the cake was not going to look like my mental image.

And Carly wanted to help... I know that any time a 3-year old gets involved in a baking project, it's more about the experience and less about the result.  She was wielding a spoon of green icing through the decorating process, so as I looked at the final project, I was pretty darn impressed.

It's definitely a more cartoon cutesy version of a frog, but I think it turned out pretty darn cute! And we had a leftover cupcake from the batch, and the cake was delicious!  Looks like another project down!!! Hope he enjoys the results (even if it's a month late!!!)...

Tom's Frog Birthday Cake 

Onto the next project...

Sunday, August 5, 2012

The Start of Another Year

I wanted to write a nice reflective piece about how the past year has been one of significant evolution. I wanted to write this eloquent piece on the anniversary of my moving back to Tullahoma, and talk about all of the events.

Then I ended up with a 103.8 fever, so I decided on Plan B...

This past week, I ended up with some sort of illness.  Over the years, I have really stopped trying to pinpoint exactly what I have each time (mostly because it will end up driving me mad). I don't know if I can remember being so miserable in my life (which really says a lot when you know about the level of daily pain I have).  I felt delirious from fever, everything in my body hurt at a level I had never felt, and I couldn't swallow. Even drinking small amounts of fluids caused me tremendous pain.

I continued to go to work, because I knew I needed to hear what was going on before school started.  I also knew I am a single parent, and can't afford to give up sick days unless absolutely necessary.  So, I minimized my risk at work, decided not to lick anyone for those days, and sat through meetings while I shivered.

Now that I made it through the week and am feeling somewhat normal, I can get back to my original intention.  I wanted to look back over this year...

I remember a little over a year ago: I packed up my necessary belongings, two children and a dog, and moved to Tullahoma.  The car overheated on the way, and I wondered if I was going to make it to my parents' house in one piece.  I was moving in about twelve hours before starting my new job, and took enough clothing and personal items to last us a few weeks.  We would be moving the remainder of the house two weeks later.  

Well, the two weeks turned into a month, and eventually we just wanted to get everything to Tullahoma.  It's hard to "start over" when everything happens in stuck stages.  What I mean is that the moment of me driving down the road toward Tullahoma- THAT should have been starting over.  But I knew I was in limbo until I had my belongings.  

Then fighting moving companies and packing up everything by hand (and with the help of incredible neighbors and family!).  I remember finally driving away from the old house and FINALLY realizing I never had to go back to that place... There were a lot of rough memories there, and it was a great feeling to let go.

A few months later, the divorce was final. Another pivotal moment when I walked out of the courthouse and realized that I was finally free.  I had done a lot on my own for quite some time.  But I was finally ON MY OWN.  Some people feel terrified after a divorce is final.  I felt liberated...

And it was after this time, I decided to put this project into full-force.  I had a list floating around in my head, but it took the divorce being over for me to realize my life was ultimately up to me now.  I had two children to care for, but I didn't have anyone to answer to.  I didn't have anyone to tell me that a place was "too far," or an idea was "too crazy," or we didn't "have time" to try something.  There were no more excuses.

And so I began this journey. It really had everything to do with me--what I wanted, what I needed, and what would heal my soul.  There was an awful lot of hurt that had been piling from years of events, and I needed time to sift.  This really had little to do with the divorce, and more to do with recovering from my injury.  I realized I didn't have time to deal with the injury because I was enduring a miserable existence at that time.  I believe the brain is an awesome tool, and it only lets you deal with little bits of information at a time.  If you had to deal with the reality all at once, you would most certainly go crazy.

I didn't have the advantage of having a fully-functioning brain.  

So, I had a flood.

And I felt like I went crazy.  Never in front of others, and it was never noticed.  I just felt like who I was slipped away and returned frequently.  I am not sure who was there, filling the void, during all the other times. I know my eyes looked vacant often, and I imagine those were the times my soul attempted a vacation.

I try to be optimistic and enthusiastic on here. I. try.

Let me say briefly: recovering from a brain injury can be maddening.  There are days three years later that I don't remember a connection I have with someone.  I wake up and don't remember that I love this person? I can stand next to someone, and have to question my exact feelings, because my mind has to remind me how I am supposed to feel. It isn't depression or any sort of mental flatness.  I can't remember who I am connected to and who I am not.

This doesn't happen often, so I hope people don't read that and think I am on the edge of doom here...

But it happens enough to make me very afraid.

And the other part that has been hard? The recovery of my muscles.  For every two months forward, it's one to three months back. I have been working and training, and then resting and moving again.  I wonder if my training did any good, since I ended up with two surgeries and one leg that will never be the same.  In fact, the surgeon is now referring me to a manager for the pain, because a resulting condition from the surgery has no cure.  As long as I have the condition, I will have the miserable agony.  And I will have the miserable condition forever.  Fan-freakin'-tastic...

I do have to pick myself up out of this hole now and focus on the positive of the year.  Any more of the miserable, and I could be stuck for quite a long time...

In the winter, I did meet a most fantastic man.  I will say I was skeptical of the idea of connecting with someone again.  I had an almost analytical approach to dating, and tried to sell myself on all of the reasons I didn't really even need to worry about finding someone.  The reality: penguins have it figured out. They find a mate, and stick with them.  It's better for their physical well-being, emotional security, and sanity.  Being a pair and having a bond with someone is incredibly important.  I get it now.

So, through these months, life has seemed to evolve for Tom and me. I have pushed through these goals, we have taken a lot of walks, had a lot of talks, and tried briefly to solve some of the world's problems.  I appreciate that he endures my enthusiasm for many topics, that he encourages my ideas, and is patient on the days I am feeling rough. I will say that last part was the major reason I really thought about not dating for a long time.  I know I was in pretty bad shape after the accident.  I know it will never be that bad again, but I also never want to be a burden like that for someone.  

I know that none of us can control what will happen in life.  If something happened to him, I would of course do what I needed to do to care for him, and not think much of it.  I guess it was a lot for me to expect someone to do the same.  I'm not sure why, and a therapist would probably have a field day with that revelation...

In a little over 100 days, I will turn 30.  That really doesn't seem like a lot once I write that number.  I still have quite a few projects to mark off the list before the big day.  It seems that life has changed drastically in the past year, and there are many more memories to make in the next hundred days. 

And as some sort of evil cosmic joke, I see a Twilight movie is being released on my birthday... So, there are people with tickers on their Facebook statuses, counting down the days to my birthday... with a wimpy vampire's face next to the number...

Happy birthday to me... :-P

Monday, July 23, 2012

Road Trip... One More Down

Last week, I took a few days off from reality to take a random road trip with Tom.

And where do people go when they want to take a road trip?

Cornfields of Indiana...

We had about 48 hours to touch four different states, and managed to get a lot done.

My requirements for a road trip are pretty simple:

-Good music, and the ability to change music to suit my mood.
-Entertaining car games/ discussion
-Stopping for whatever whim I deem fit

That's really it. I make an easy road companion, and I was really excited to get out of town for a few days.  Tom was actually in charge of the schedule and arrangements, which suited me fine.  I wanted to maintain my free spirit. :-)  Hotel reservations do not equal free spirit in my book... ;-)

So, we headed out of Tennessee on Wednesday, and made our way to Evansville, IN.  It had been my first real journey into Indiana.  I had made it barely into the state once, but I had never ventured around.  We stopped in to visit his grandmother at the nursing home, then hit the bookstore (yay!!!) before hitting the hotel. I would like to say I appreciated a hotel with a comfy bed and cozy setting.

Welcome to Indiana!

Early Thursday morning, the spontaneity began. On our journey further into Indiana, I saw that we weren't far from seeing Santa Claus, as well as Lincoln's boyhood home.  Of course we had to stop!!!  Here's a few pics from our stop...

Me and Tall Santa...

Tom and Tall Santa...

After that adventure, we had to book it down the road to make it to Bedford, IN.  We met Tom's childhood friend, Tod, for lunch. Afterward, we stopped at the Magic Morning Bakery to get Tom's favorite, Smiley cookies...

Next, we delivered a computer to Tom's cousin, Trent, in Indianapolis.  After that stop, we made our way to Terre Haute, to see his cousin Ryan in a play at the community theater. It was a fantastic show, and a wonderful end to the evening.

The next morning, we decided to venture over to Illinois to make our fourth state.  Here's my picture with the sign...

Welcome to Illinois!

We stopped back to see Tom's grandmother on the way home. We also went over to see his aunt and uncle, as well as cousins and twin second-cousins (that are two!).  Seems like we crammed in a lot of visits in just a few days!

One more thing off the list! At first I had envisioned a week-long journey out into the middle of nowhere by myself. This was back when I was dealing with the idea of being alone (and learning to like it).  Now, I am at a point where I am content to trade that idea for two days with an incredible someone.

Onto the next project...

Friday, July 13, 2012

A Plan Is a Start

This is when I become a model…

I was sitting in a training session yesterday, listening to the speaker and looking around the room. I noticed that the people were wearing clothing with very intense colors. I mentally scratched my head, and then realized that all of my symptoms for the week began to make sense.

It’s one of those moments when you realize it is really going to suck. There’s no turning back, and it’s probably going to get worse before it gets better.  Fortunately, I have been here before and I know what it is like.  I know what it meant to see those colors and notice those sensations.

Two weeks prior, I had intense nausea—the kind of nausea where I wasn’t even able to move my head without fear of losing my lunch.  I remember one of the days I went from feeling a little off to quickly looking like death. One of my coworkers drove home behind me to make sure I even made it home a mile down the road.  I was miserable, and there was something terribly wrong. Even when I started feeling better the next day, I wasn’t completely better.  My sleep started getting jumbled and I began having intense pain through my legs as I slept.  I was tired and achy in the daytime, but not enough to really think something was wrong.

This week, I hadn’t slept.  Ok, that might be exaggerating. Over four days, I had probably nine hours of good sleep. I had become absolutely miserable.  I was feeling dizzy and felt a lot of pain during my sleep.  I was also hyper-sensitive to sounds, smells and touch. Bumping into things hurt, textures and clothing bothered me, and I noticed there was quite a bit of tension in my jaw.

I looked back over these paragraphs and realize there is quite a bit of whining going on.  I need for people to understand I am a person that walked on a broken foot for five days before going to the doctor, and I have dealt with pain often without getting assistance.  I have realized now that this is ridiculous.  We have a culture where pain is glorified and we are supposed to be miserable.  I am not always the best example (mostly because I don’t make time for myself), but I would like to change this.  In fact, the rest of this post will be about the brain, how it works, and self-advocacy. I know it’s a break from the project, but it’s part of my life and my hope is that this story will reach people that don’t know about people with different needs.

So, here goes:

 Fibrofog: My brain was already a bit jumbled from fibromyalgia before the accident a few years ago. Fibromyalgia/chronic fatigue causes something called fibrofog.  For those of you out there with children, think about the first few months with a new baby—massive sleep deprivation, where there is little ability to have a clear thought.  This is exactly how it feels to have fibrofog.  To people without children, I liken it to what it is like in college when you cram for exams and stay up for days on end. After a few days, you lose the ability to function. 

Energy: Loss of energy can be difficult if you have your cognitive wits about you, because your mind still tells you all the things you NEED to be doing.  I am a goal-oriented person by nature, so when I am in the midst of a flare, I hate taking it easy and not doing everything I am supposed to.  It makes me miserable to have zero energy. I want to be active and participate.  I want to work. I want to have a family. I want to get out and have a life.  I don’t know of a person that enjoys a life on a couch watching television.

Pain: There is constant pain, and it comes from things that shouldn’t cause pain. An excellent example happened this week.  We have had a drought for the past few weeks, as well as intense heat.  I went to run errands after training this week, and we happened to have some fairly steady rain. I went without an umbrella, and the raindrops actually caused burning pain on my skin as they hit my arms. Touch that is inconsistent and is not deep pressure is painful. During a flare I do not like to be hugged if it isn’t deep.  I am not a fan of someone just patting my arm, and I become edgy if people bump into me.  I am not a mean person by any means—my body just interprets these signals as pain.  Until they can figure out a solution to these crossed wires, all I can do is apologize.

So, all of these issues (and many more, really) were present before I had the accident that reset my world.  The accident caused exponentially more pain and a lot of memory and organizational issues.  After I was about to move about from the accident, I created a notebook to organize information. It made sense to get all of my needs in one place.

I realized now what this notebook is: a self-advocacy notebook.  And now, I realize that I need one. I teach my students that they will succeed if they identify their needs and tell people what they need to help them succeed.  I guess the best model I can be for them is to model how to do such a task.  So, I am going to sit down and identify what it takes for me to function best and what I need from the people around me.  I am fortunate to have a wonderful support network.  I have a great group of people that work best when they are educated on how they can help me. 

My irritability stems from me being tired and in pain, and when my family knows that, they will know how to help me. They will also know it is temporary and it is not their fault. Communication is important, and another vital need of this notebook.

This reminds me of the emergency behavior plans we have for students with behavior problems. It is a Plan B of sorts for students that often require de-escalation, isolation or restraint. I remember reading a student that had a “mad and sad plan,” and wishing I had one of those.  We all probably really need one of those…

So, the notebook is in its preliminary form, and will develop over the next week. It will grow as I become stronger in what I want. I know there is a lot I can expect from myself, because I carried a lot by myself for so long. I also know that I function best when I don’t carry everything on my back (which keeps me from having flares). So, the more I share the weight, the healthier I will stay!

I am hoping that this intervention came in time.  I think I am finally getting smart enough to realize the flares before they get to be too strong.  I remember the last one—I was stubborn enough to wait a month to see the doctor.  I finally sat in her office in tears. I told her I hadn’t slept in over a month, and I needed my sanity. I was in constant pain, and I was losing my mind. Fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue will make your body feel like it is failing you. In fact, your body is short circuiting, and is in effect failing you… I felt like I had the flu for the past few months, even though I had to continue working full-time to maintain a living.

I will not go there again.  I cannot do that again.

A plan is a start.