A Vulnerable Life Update

I’ll be honest. I’ve had more than one conversation in the past few months about how I am a sensitive person. They weren’t, for the most part, people telling me how great it is to be sensitive. I’ve often been told I’m sensitive like it’s a bad thing.

I’ll own it, though. Sensitive comes from the Latin sentire, or feel. And I feel things.

I also allow myself to be vulnerable. Or at least, I try. Vulnerable comes from the Latin vulnus, or wound.

I feel wounds.

I may be sensitive by nature, but I am vulnerable by choice.  And I think everyone should strive for more vulnerability.

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Seven years ago today I graduated with my undergraduate degree. I was living in Boulder, Colorado in university-owned apartments at the bottom of campus called Smiley Court. I rode my bike uphill to the main campus in first gear, dripping in sweat, for classes. I coasted back down the hill to my home with nothing but forward momentum, sometimes barely keeping control I was going so fast , and I was usually helmet-less. .This is not the kind of vulnerable I advocate for.

My mom had, a year earlier, jumped off a bridge in a suicide attempt. My last year of college was spent living two lives: the student who tried to blend in while learning about foreign policy and allowing herself dreams of changing the world, and the daughter who drove 6 hours every other weekend to the state mental hospital to visit her mentally ill mother, going through metal detectors, speaking to social workers and doctors (though, in all honestly, my husband and dad did much of that, as I tend to get angsty with authority figures).

For anyone who knows me, this isn’t news. It’s just my story.  I graduated college, we all moved to North Dakota, and lived happily ever. Right?

No.

Vulnerable stems from the word wound, but its modern definition is:  the state of being open to injury, or appearing as if you are. It might be emotional, like admitting that you’re in love with someone who might only like you as a friend, or it can be literal, like the vulnerability of a soccer goal that’s unprotected by any defensive players. (Vocabularly.com)

You see, I didn’t want to be vulnerable. Not then. I just wanted to make things tidy, and help my parents get moved to this utopia I’d created in my head: Fargo, North Dakota. I thought it would be everything they needed, and my husband Alex and I could move to Washington, D.C. after spending a summer helping them get settled in and, to be honest, me fulfulling my need to mother my parents.  But we’d taken a road trip to D.C. to check out our future. I saw myself walking those streets, changing the world.

Then my mom had emergency bowel surgery late that summer, and we didn’t move.

Okay, one more year would be okay. We put in our notice on our apartment the next May, and moved everything to my parents’ garage.

Then my mom got respiratory distress and was hospitalized in the ICU for a few scary days before being sent home with orders to live a different, healthier, life.

We didn’t move. Another year would be okay, just to make sure everything was okay. Okay?

I slowly felt my dreams changing. Like John Mayer sang in Born and Raised, ‘I’ve still got dreams…they’re not the same…they don’t fly as high as they used to.’ 

My husband and I had a baby. I decided to go back to school to be teacher instead of a politician. It seemed Fargo was our destiny. I believed in destiny, after all.

Back when we’d all moved from Colorado to North Dakota, it was me convincing both my mom and dad it would all we’d hoped for and more. I remember signing my mom out of the state mental hospital after a long year. She had no money, no possessions. She loved Colorado. She loved it so much. But I had lived in Colorado since 7th grade and it was just another boring state to me.

“North Dakota is where you belong, mom,” I said, and she protested that it was a stupid idea but I was stubborn and she had no leverage.

I didn’t realize how emotionally vulnerable it is to move. I had expectations, and vague memories of my younger years in Fargo. When these didn’t pan out, I grew mad at North Dakota. I didn’t WANT to be vulnerable.

I felt stuck, though. The perfect solution – the only solution- was a temporary move. It was the only way to do something good for Alex and I without sacrificing too much time away from helping my dad care for my mom.

And so in 2013, we made a purposeful, vulnerable decision. We moved to Scotland for one year, dates set.  My husband’s family was there, and our son got to know his other grandmother, his cousins, etc.

When I stepped into my new classroom in Scotland, I recognized the buzz I got from new experiences. From exposing myself, emotionally. I guess I always knew this, but it was during this year abroad (where everything seemed condensed- our flat, my quickly-forged friendships, my writing) where I felt I was really able to look at my husband and son clearly. From a distance, everything in the USA seemed clearer, as well.

It’s always a risk to lay yourself out there. I think I learned to be purposefully vulnerable, and not just sensitive, when I was in Scotland that year.

And while my blog often speaks of authenticity, I think being vulnerable is an important part of that. It leaves you open to being hurt. It leaves you open to fail. But it also leaves you open to great things, new things, better things.

The only way to know…. is to be vulnerable.

I think social media (and I’m a fan, I am) encourages us to hide our vulnerability. I try not to. I do, on a quite regular basis, have old friends contact me to ask if everything is ‘okay’ for me? (And if this is you, I actually really appreciate it  and I love people showing they care). When this happens I wonder if I’m being *too* visibly vulnerable. But that quickly passes as I realize it’s actually a bit like a pat on that back that I am doing it right – being authentic, being vulnerable.

I think ‘real life’ also encourages us to hide our vulnerability or not seek it out. No one wants to be seen as weak, right? No one wants to look like they’re floundering.

But it’s no secret I am a flounderer. And I don’t mind floundering for a bit, as long as my family is safe.

This summer, my husband, son and I are moving back to Colorado Springs. After seven years of trying to make North Dakota work for us, we just know the life we want for ourselves and our son Alistair lies elsewhere. It’s nothing against North Dakota. I’m like Josh Duhamel. I will wear shirts that say Fargo and go on the TODAY Show and talk about how wonderful it is, if they want me.

 

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An entire Daily Mail article on his North Dakota attire 

 

Because…if you have what you need here, North Dakota can be nice. If you have a house (not a tiny apartment) — to get you through the cold winters with a space to run and play — the winters can be okay. If you have auto-start on your car, you don’t HAVE to freeze. If you have ‘toys’ for summer – a boat, heck, a paddle board – and a place to go, summers can be lovely. The people ARE as nice as everyone says, as a general rule. I’ve found great community within my church and within a local mom’s group. If you have your people here, North Dakota can be great.

But we don’t have a house, a paddle board, a lake, auto-start or a clan. Our ‘people’ move a lot (thanks, friends, for always moving away -ha-), the family we ARE in touch with in this area don’t live close to us at all (except my dad, but he is part of ‘we’ , my immediate family) and the magical life we envisioned for my mom never happened. (She’s in Minnesota’s mental health system, which, for the record, isn’t any better than Colorado’s….)

So, we are returning to Colorado in stages this summer. I find Colorado to be MY roots and they are Alex’s American roots. The details are tedious, but by summer’s end, me, Alistair, Alex, my dad AND my mom should all be back in Colorado.

My mom, who kept telling us over and over as we drove through the midwest to bring her up to North Dakota, ‘This is a bad idea!’ is not going to be left behind. She’s under a psychiatric commitment until September, but essentially lives in a central Minneapolis slum nursing home. I’ve never seen anything like it in Colorado. The housing couldn’t be worse than where she is, so it seems like a good time to bring her back to where she raised me. (She has two sisters in the Minneapolis area who are very, very good at visiting her and being there for her, but they are the same sisters who used to visit us in Colorado, so same difference, more or less). Most importantly, it ‘s my mom’s ‘dream’ to return to Colorado.

And if we can make dreams come true….we should.

Life goes in cycles.

I’m goin’ back to my roots.

———————————-

I think this blog post goes under YAGE.

See ya later, Fargo. Hello, graduation, teaching, and a fresh start…..again.

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A heart shape in the sand. Woooo. 

 

Since this blog was mainly autobiographical , I’d suggest this TED Talk for an actual expert opinion on being vulnerable:

 

 

 

 

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Of Peaks and Troughs

As I drove home after dropping my father off at his house after our week’s vacation, I was singing along to the radio and felt so happy, tears sprang to my eyes and I thought ‘Wow, I’m crying tears of happiness!’ I came home and relaxed in bed, reveling in the week of joy from a roadtrip with my dad and my three year-old son, Alistair.

Alistair and my husband, reunited after seven days, were out playing. They came to wake me up and I smiled at the joy on Alistair’s face, reflected in my own soul.

Then my husband, Alex, came over and gently told me he’d taken a few phone calls in the past hour.

My dad arrived home to find his beloved cat Curious dead under the couch.

My mom, living in a group home due to bipolar disorder, had set her bedroom on fire and had to be dragged out in an apparent suicide attempt. She was back in the mental health ward.

All of a sudden I was crying again, but the anguish felt out of proportion. More severe. Cats die all the time. People lose pets. My mom has been involved in episodes like this in the past. Pull yourself together, Alana!  But I cried and cried, and it all felt so cruel.

How had I been so incredibly happy just hours before?

Our vacation wasn’t perfect. It started with a banking mistake leading to a gracious bail out by Alex (thanks, honey). My mobile phone broke, our day in Boulder consisted mostly of rain, and we left Alistair’s traveling tablet in a South Dakota hotel. Oops.

But these things didn’t phase me much at all, because the rest of the vacation felt….perfect. The mountains rejuvenated me, experiencing the joy of a road trip through my son’s eyes was magical, and the quality time with he and my dad made every wee pit stop an adventure. Theme parks, national monuments, friends, spontaneous stops in America’s heartland.

Joy, and a crash back to reality .

The post-vacation blues are nothing new to me; I always get them. I’m a wanderer, and feel best seeking novelty and experience. Going home is always a let down to my traveler’s spirit.

But this felt stronger, no doubt due to the nature of the bad news I received.

I almost didn’t want to let myself feel my mom’s sorrow. I usually take it on right away, anguish at what she must have been feeling. What she is feeling in the hospital.  How unfair mental illness is.  How it’s robbed she and my dad, my husband and I of a normal life. I cried, but I tried to avoid taking on the pain. I didn’t want it. I wanted the joy. But I couldn’t find it.

I kept thinking of my dad, walking in to see his beloved cats and finding one dead. Curious, who moved up with him to North Dakota  from Colorado. Curious, the rescue, the recluse, but one of my dad’s companions. I tried not to think of it too much. I just let myself cry and then I went to the gym, where I cried some more to my friend.

I avoided praying. I always do when things get rough. I was full of praise to God for the amazing experience of the road trip earlier, but nothing came to me later today.

I watched my husband’s own reaction to the events. Although he did everything right taking care of our dad’s cats, his sadness was overwhelming him (from my perspective). What was meant to be a joyful reunion with his wife and son, stolen from him.

But that’s the thing.

Life.

Ups and downs, peaks and troughs. There isn’t joy without sorrow, as everyone says. But it’s true. Today I felt both, and the juxtaposition has never felt more real. The pendulum of events…with little control over one end.

This is all just personal to my own experience….something no one but me can fully  appreciate. But as our tumultuous world turns, one doesn’t have to look far to know the peaks and troughs everyone faces. Death, murder, divorce, illness. Every day people are experiencing sadness far worse than my bad day.

Which is why I feel compelled to experience joy even more. And spread the word,  to anyone who reads this,  to seek joy as well. And make sure to help create joy for others. One thing I know is that helping others find joy results in a much greater increase of your own.

May your days be full of tears of joy, so when the tears of sadness come, they aren’t alone, and are diluted by their predecessors.