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.

Don’t Give Up On Me.

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This was just another day living in Scotland. I try to remind myself of the person I am there.

I drove alone across Minnesota this weekend. I passed through rain showers, bouts of sun, road construction and traffic jams. I sang along with music blasting until my throat grew sore. I listened to Joel Osteen Radio until I was in floods of hopeful tears, though I’m not usually a fan of televangelism. I even drove in silence with nothing but the tarmac to invade my senses, but my mind still wandered the entire 9 hours, into areas I’d learned to forget. I indulged in dreams long since cast aside. My thoughts went to dark places. To hopeful places. On and on I drove.

I embarked on this solo trip to visit my mom in her care facility. It’s not a stereotypical group home for the mentally ill. It’s a house of Somalian women, one rotating staff member, and my mom. The state of Minnesota is providing, but I still feel sad every time I see the grot in her bathroom. The dank darkness of her bedroom. Her very few possessions, all lined up in a few rows along her dresser and night stand. A cell phone without a charger (which she doesn’t have the eyesight or memory to use, anyways). A clock radio she can’t work properly, stuck between stations with static intercepting the music. Half used bottles of body spray….so much lotion, and greeting cards and photos. These take up most of her space. Photos of her family members making memories. I’m one of those. I send her pictures of everywhere fun I go, and here those photos sit amongst the rest, reminders of all she’s not doing. The limitations of her life.

I visit my mom a lot, but she’s receiving ECT treatments which mean she rarely remembers my visits. It doesn’t deter me, but the way she treats each visit as a fresh treat from the heavens, a joy beyond joys, makes me wish she were able to hold on to the memories a bit longer.

On this visit I decided to take her somewhere I’d want to go with my mom if it were a ‘normal’ circumstance. We embarked on a day trip to the scenic town of Stillwater, MN.

I tried to reason with her paranoid comments, always left not knowing what got through. I tried not to feel the weight bearing down on me, the pressure she imposed by extolling every aspect of my existence, my visit, my role in her life.

It’s so hard to be somebody else’s everything, when you aren’t even enough for yourself.

We found a nice beach to park by and walk. I felt soothed by the sand and the sun, but my mom wouldn’t join me. She was happy to sit on the bench in the distance and watch. I tried not to cry as I watched her sitting there, so frail and small. Lacking any autonomy or choice in her own life. She reminded me of a little child in a grandmother’s body.

I loved being with my mom, but I missed my old mom. My ‘real mom.’ I’d catch glimpses of her as we spent the day together.

Why did bipolar have to steal her from me?

This is what I’ve been asking for years.

But I got a strong impression this time that I’ve been wrong. I’ve been….giving up, so to speak. Is it to prevent myself getting hurt by her setbacks? I’m just not sure.

It was while we were ordering food in this gorgeous waterfront restaurant. She sounded just like my ‘old mom’ and as she looked over at me, I saw it in her eyes.

“Don’t give up on me.”

I won’t, mom.


Upon reflection, it’s obvious.

I’d become such a fatalist over the past six years; hardened by life’s troubles. “You have it so hard,” people would say to me. “You have so much responsibility for someone your age,” my therapists would tell me. “You’ve had to give up so much for others,” they’d all say.

And I heard it all, and instead of blossoming from it, I turned it into armour. Not to be strong, because I hopefully already was. But to become hard.

Tomorrow doesn’t matter, I’d think, because there may never be a tomorrow.

I’ll stop planning for the future now, I’d reason, because we never know if the future will come.

I’ll just live for now and not think about later, I’d decide, because ‘later’ is scary and unknown.

This translated into all areas of my life. I just stopped planning long term. It made it easy to gain weight, because the future didn’t exist. It made it easy to be lazy in my marriage, because I didn’t see a forever in my future. It made it easy to treat my mom with tenderhooks, because any time she got ‘better’ I was just waiting for her to get ‘worse’ again.

I’d given up her, and I’d given up on myself.

Over the past few months, as I’ve been blogging, I’ve been doing a much better job at self-care. The future is still murky, but it’s no longer opaque. I’m making choices that will effect greater change in the long run – such as working out six days a week. A few years ago I wouldn’t care about a work out because the results were too far in the future.

I’m not going to give up on my mom. Or myself.

I know that change and healing is possible.

Mighty change is waiting for me, for us…as Joel Osteen might say.

NOTE: I’m very honest about my past and present struggles in this blog. I have had some readers express worry about me. Please be assured I’m taking all necessary steps to keep my own physical and mental health in order. I see a therapist, I’m being treated for GAD, and I practice holistic exercise and medicine, including EOs, aromatherapy, mindfulness and meditation, yoga, and nutrition supplements, all of which I’m happy to share more about if asked. 🙂

The very least that you deserve

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What do I encapsulate here as a joy-filled preschooler? Knowing I’m loved and with people I love and reveling in that security. It’s the very least that I deserved.

You deserve to be loved, by others and yourself. You are worthy of that love.  And if you aren’t finding that love in your current circumstance, you can change that.  As I learned in mindfulness- we cannot control what happens to us but we can control our own actions. Our freedom lies in the space between stimuli and response.

My two-year old is obsessed with the song “Shake it Off” by Taylor Swift, and singing it all the time has gotten me thinking about the concept of self-love and how it relates to how others treat us.

My son and I shake our shoulders as we sing, “And the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate….and the fakers gonna fake, fake, fake, fake….heartbreakers gonna break, break, break, break….just shake it off, shake it off, ooh ooh.”

This is so much easier (sung) than done.

And when I’m feeling really down on my current life, which is sometimes full of literal and figurative haters, fakers, heartbreakers and players, I need to find the strength from something other than the present. I wish it could always be pulled from inside my soul, but I’m not at that point yet.

Today someone called me a name. I don’t think anyone deserves to be labeled through name calling. It’s easily acknowledged to be a petty way to make a point, but the sting is the same. And we’ve all done it. But today I was on the receiving end and it helped fuel some righteous indignation. Which isn’t always good, but it usually feels good at the time.

I decided I needed to dig deeper. I needed to think about self worth and how mine was formed.

All of our life experiences differ, but I believe that there is a level at which we all deserve to be treated. A certain level of love and respect owed to us, by ourselves and our loved ones. It’s the very least that we deserve.

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We all deserve to have parents who will paint our vanity our favorite shade of pink, even if they don’t know how or don’t have the means to actually put a mirror in the vanity. Face it, this is just a pink dresser with two talons.  But it’s also a perfect encapsulation of the 90’s, with an Uncle Joey and Michelle poster, a Strabwerry Shortcake, and a “Talk to the hand.”  But I was so loved. We all deserve to have people who will paint our bedrooms our favorite color, and we need to appreciate the effort and look less at the missing pieces.

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We all deserve to have friends who will come and play dolls on our couch, despite the cushions seemingly have been sat upon by centuries of bums. Those friends who judgeth not how the seat cushions are white and the seatbacks a tacky 80’s  (maybe even 70s; it was old) pattern, now indiscernible. We deserve to have friends who love us despite our yellow walls and who aren’t afraid to be with us, no matter where we live, because they like to spend time with us. We matter more than our possessions, and those who care more about things deserve pity (although they’d prefer presents).

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We all deserve to have friends who will go to Wal Mart with us on a school night to pick up the newest Nsync CD. Heck, we all probably had friends who did that. What we REALLY all deserve are friends who will go with us to Wal Mart on a school night to pick up the newest  Nsync CD WITH HAND WRITTEN SIGNS ON OUR BACKS. Nothing says “I love you” like walking around shamelessly with a girl who has “JC’s Only Space Cowgirl” taped to her back.  The less-informed shoppers may have wondered what “I’ll Be Good for Justin” really meant. Perhaps people thought we were cult members. They would probably be right. Everyone a deserves a friend to share in pop culture obsession, and late night phone calls and early morning ticket lines and terribly written fan fiction. Everyone deserves a BFF.  Everyone deserves a BFF who you know so well, you no longer recognize each other’s stupid ideas because they’re one and the the same.

I wonder who took that photo.

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Everyone deserves a person who will be there for you in the bad times. A person who will take care of you when they can barely take care of themselves. A person who will protect you with all of their power from their own personal demons. A person who loves you so much, they do whatever they can to be healthy so they can be the best version of themselves for you.

In this photo, my mom was just home from her first long-term stay in a mental hospital. I was 17. Both my mom and dad sacrificed so much so I could live a normal life while my mom was an hour away in an institution, and totally not my mom during that time. I was scared and confused, but I was also so well taken care of. My dad did everything he could to take care of my mom and myself and he all of a sudden had to be both parents! My mom worked so hard out of love for us to get better and get home to us, and she did. (But mad props to my friend Kristi who more or less moved in that summer)

Having witnessed how difficult mental illness can be, I know everyone deserves to be loved so completely they can disappear for months on end (in their brains) and those who love them will be there like they never went away. I saw this in many manifestations. My dad took care of my mom. My dad took care of me. My mom took care of me. I took care of my mom. I took care of my dad. We all loved each other enough to care for each other in the darkest of times.

Everyone deserves love like that.

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This is my mom a few months later, so you can note the comparison. She bounced back with a lot of therapy, and medication, and mental health care. But her motivation was her love for us.

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Everyone deserves to have experiences so perfect they will just as fun to talk about a decade later. Everyone deserves to have magical moments.  These usually have to be created yourself, and it makes them all the more rewarding. When I look at this picture of myself at 19, about to go to an Oscar party, I don’t see sparkles or curly hair. Well, I do. But what I really see is satisfaction, pride and confidence.  My best friend and I made this happen because we wanted it badly enough.  We worked for it. We dreamed about it. We turned our passion into an experience we will never, ever forget.  Everyone deserves at least one Oscar party in their life. It will look differently for everyone.  But everyone deserves to have those perfect moments as a human. They are short moments, but they make life. They’re worth it.

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We all deserve to grow up with someone, to change WITH someone, at some point in our lives. It doesn’t have to be siblings, or spouses, or family. It can be friends. We all deserve the experience of growth with a companion by our side to make the changes manageable. With my best friend, we went from taping signs on our backs to traveling the world.  We didn’t just travel to places like California or Europe. We also travelled together to Adams, North Dakota.  This photo is in my grandmother’s house in a town the size a few blocks. But my best friend and I found some defining moments there, amongst the gravel and the humidity and the lack of people. Sometimes it’s not where you are, but who you’re with, and I feel we all deserve to have someone to help us come-of-age.

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Everyone deserves to be protected. Everyone deserves to know that there’s one person who has their back, not matter what. Everyone deserves to know that someone will help them get through the day. That someone will be on their side. Everyone deserves to have one person who they can count on for anything. Everyone deserves that unconditional love.  When my son is in his father’s arms, or mine, he feels safe. He deserves that safety. He deserves to know that we will care for him and he can count on us. He deserves to know that we will pick him up when he falls, that we will be his biggest supporter and cheerleader and confidante.

Not everyone has that in parents. Not everyone has that in families. But everyone deserves, in some capacity, to have a person they can count on for the big stuff and the big emotions.

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Everyone deserves a kindred spirit. A person who comes into your life when you least expect it, but connects with you at your soul. Everyone deserves that one person who knows where you’re coming from, and doesn’t judge you, because they just…understand. Everyone deserves that person who has similar hopes and similar fears, to help make life’s journey less lonely, for both of you, hopefully.  Everyone deserves to make friends past adolescence, sometimes when you least expect it. I met this dear friend when I was 29, and I’m sure we’ll be giving each other advice at 79.  Everyone deserves a friend who is borderless, where time and space apart become meaningless. Everyone deserves to know they have kindred spirits out there in the world and they’re on each other’s side.

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Everyone deserves to bring joy to another. And everyone deserves to belong. Is nothing sweeter than seeing someone else happy because of your actions? Because of your words?  Because of your unspoken bond, conveyed through looks and sentences, meaningless to others?  There is happiness in inclusiveness, but also happiness in exclusivity. Of being theirs and them being yours. Of belonging. We all deserve to belong somewhere. And we all deserve to belong ‘to’ each other. The connections that forge us together lead us to great lengths for others’ happiness. And somehow their happiness is our own. It’s even more important in some ways.  Since becoming a mother, I get far more joy from taking my son to playgroup than I do from wheeling him around a store to shop. Both make me happy, but the act which he prefers makes all the difference to my day. I understand holidays and celebrations much more as a parent. The anticipation of seeing his joy makes me want to put up Christmas decorations in October. But I refrain. There are plenty of  less ridiculous opportunities to bring him and others joy, and to enlarge my circle of belonging.

We are all worthy and deserving. Life isn’t always going to hand us what we deserve. It’s often completely unfair. But I’m learning on my journey to wholeness that we as humans deserve to do our best to carve out the relationships which help us be happy, healthy people.