Saturday, August 29, 2015

Jog? Blog!

The oatmeal is burning my hand through the plastic bowl in which it sets.

It's steaming.

It is adorned with dried cherries and cranberries, niblets of pecan, with cinnamon measured in.

My body is sore.

My mind is anxious.

I need to do a big workout today, and it has been an embarrassing amount of time since I have last done so.

I am in my clothes, sports bra and neon shorts -- the official uniform.

I've started a friendship bracelet this morning. Two, actually. Finished one, valiantly started another difficult pattern.

I made coffee. I drank coffee.

The roommate is sleeping, so I am tiptoeing around, Pandora on low.

If she were awake I would be less anxious. I like to think we calm each other down. Encourage. Support.

Alex makes jokes that Abby and I are in a relationship, which we are, just not a kissing one.

I played pool last night, and -- AND! -- laser tag!

Never thought laser tag would be a part of my evening. But it was. And we stayed out 'til almost 2, which was very big for us. Especially for me.

Despite the late night, I awoke rather early, and then started humming with anxiety.

So many chores to do. Kitchen needs major attention. Laundry. Library. Post office.

Breathe. Breathe.

I just heard stirring. Thought it was Abs, but I think it is the cat and a paper bag. Best friends.

I hung up my "Race Bling" medal holder in my room. It has two medals and a plastic pink lei on it. There are two more medals, which, like my yoga DVD, are missing. And there is one more medal at my parents' place.

I might hang up the medal that Rosie and I won on our December cruise, for claiming second place in the 90s music trivia contest. It wasn't a race, per se, but we were in a race to win it!

Abby bought us inflatable floaty chairs for the pool, and after much drama and heaving of breath we got them blown up. We've used them in the pool a couple of times, always accompanied by laughs, but we mostly use them as our living room TV chairs. We have two couches and a futon, but we sit on the air furniture thank you very much.

I am syncing my workout playlist to my iPod shuffle.

Supplies needed for a long treadmill workout?:

iPod shuffle (with full battery. I may have learned the hard way that no charge equals no smile during a recent 15K)
Gatorade
H2O
phone -- to text for encouragement and entertainment
Shot Blok chews
bag to carry all of the above

I have dinosaur candles for Alex's next birthday. Which isn't until January.

OK I'll stop boring you now. Gotta sync the pod, hydrate, and get my arse on the t-mill. Holla.

Friday, August 28, 2015

The family room

There were a couple of things I was very specific about regarding home life as a child.

One was the "guest gets to choose the activity" rule.

Don't mess with me on this, People.

I don't know if y'all had this rule in your cul-de-sac, but we certainly did in our corner of suburban Kansas.

If you're the guest, you pick the game or toy that is played with. If you're not the guest, you have to play whatever your guest wants to play. Weren't up for playing "House" today? Well you should have thought of that before you decided to invite someone over to your house, shouldn't you?

Now I know this may sound harsh and unjust, but, well, that's the rule. And if you have to get rid of your Barbies just to avoid ever having to play with them again, well then that's life.

[True story. My Barbies led a short existence. [Tomboy for life.]]

The other thing I just could not get my head around was this crazy notion of a "family room."

Y'all that had family rooms, I just did not understand your kind while growing up. The Brewer household(s) (we moved a lot) had basements, a loft, even a solarium for crying out loud.

But what's that about a family room? Oh no, we never had one of those. We were too high brow for a family room. Or, at least, that's what my adolescent brain thought in order to explain to itself the inexplicable conundrum of why some of my friends' homes had family rooms and others did not.

Am I the only one who struggled with this?

Logically, probably some homes had two rooms for general living space and dubbed one the "living" room and the other a "family" room. But I couldn't accept such a simple conclusion.

Another piece of information I picked up in my sleuthing about this topic was that the family room often did not contain a TV, while living rooms usually did. So I thought of family rooms as the "boring room" where you did Little House on the Prairie activities, like sew* and read your primer, while the living room was for loud, fun, wreckful activities like watching football, dancing, and wrestling, sumo or otherwise.

Yes, all such activities listed above occurred in the Brewer living room.

*And clearly I have come around on my views of stitchery.

So long story short I thought that family rooms were boring and decided in my head that my family didn't need one because I needed some sort of way to explain why we didn't have one. So I concluded that we never sat quietly (in fairness, we rarely did, except at church, and bowed in prayer before dinner and at bedtime) and thus didn't need a room for quietness or togetherness.

But it occurred to me recently that we did have a family room.

It took me 30 years to find it, because sometimes I need things to have clear labels, and our family room wasn't necessarily deemed as such, but was rather tucked away in the nooks and crannies of each of our homes. I lived in five houses before leaving for college, yet the family room managed to follow us to each place, like Santa Claus and his crafty ways.

In the mornings, the family room was hidden in the kitchen, where we had strawberry Pop Tarts with milk, before slipping off in six directions, to work, school, daycare.

The family room was in Patrick's bedroom, where I mimicked his assembly of binders and pencil cases before starting middle school. I learned to open a combination lock, following his patient instructions as he told me about the new school where we would attend together.

The family room was in the loft, under a G.I. Joe tent, reading books to Riley, eating trail mix and drinking Kool-Aid.

On occasion the family room was in the basement, where we took all of our Nerf weapons and had a full on war, each brother or sister in an assigned corner to (lovingly) pelt each other with Styrofoam ammo.

Sometimes the family room would meander to the backyard, where we smashed melons with baseball bats. I admit, my siblings and I were a little Neanderthalish in our youth.

After school, the family room snuck its way into (of all places) the living room, where we fought over the remote and ate corn dogs before starting our homework. We usually ended up watching each other's shows, even if they didn't appeal to us, just to hang out and put off our algebra and social studies.

The family room was in the minivan, where we begged (chanted, actually) Dad to take us to Sonic for lunch after church.

I've spotted the family room in hotels, with delivery pizza on laps. It showed up the weekend of Patrick's wedding, when all the kids were in a hotel room without the parents -- and, naturally, immediately started jumping on the beds, as a soon-to-be sister-in-law looked on in quiet terror.

The family room came outside with us even in bitter cold, as we spent days packing snow into empty trash cans to construct the sledding ramp of the century.

The family room was in the laundry/storage room, where Dad rehearsed his sermons. We kept mum as we snuck in to grab baskets of laundry, while he practiced for his audience of boxes.

The family room has divided and multiplied across the country these days, but it's still alive and kickin'.

You can still find it on my parents' upper deck, with feet up on the railing, glasses of red in hand.

It runs along phone lines, and lands on computer screens, windows of Skype opened wide.

It's in Kelly's living room, my nephew watching Sesame Street from his high chair, Jenny feeding him spoonfuls from baby food jars.

It pulses in the motors of our kitties, and the warm belly of Riley's dog, stretched on our laps after busy days at work (we decided to keep Riley, even though he crossed to the camp of Canine).

It spends a lot of time on my patio, where glasses clink and my sister Abby and I recap our days, make plans for decorating our apartment.

It's everywhere, really.

Some people were smart enough to actually label their family room, but if you look for it, I've found you can spot the Brewer family room all over the place. You just have to be ready to laugh, relax, maybe cry, and hug and say "I love you" a lot (it's kind of a rule, like in Full House). Sumo wrestling optional.

Sugar packets

Plagiarism alert!

I'm stealing this post idea from the lovely Hilary Miller. Go give her blog some love, and laugh at her humor. Because she's funny. And sweet. And all the things.

But as you may know, I am pretty big into "gratitude lists," AKA "sacks of sugar," or sugar packets for short.

[Real quick:] There is research that shows writing down things we're grateful for can affect our overall positive mental health. So if you're havin' a moment, or a day, or a week, or a month, or even a year (cue the "Friends" theme), might I recommend sitting down and hammering out a gratitude list.

Even if it's just things like:

My butt is not sore from yesterday's workout session

or

We get to wear jeans at work today

or

My strawberry gum tastes good

It can be bigger things like:

My parents love me

and

I've been listening to the new Taylor Swift album for months and I'm still not sick of it and it still makes me think of the early days of dating Alex

and

I have a full time job with benefits

Some days you may only be able to muster things like:

My coffee is hot

or

There is gas in my car

or

I spent five minutes at the ocean today

Whatever it is, I urge you to write it down. It really does help. And I've actually been making a continual list of 1,000 things I love in life, and when I go back through and read them, I actually get some happiness bubbling up inside of me. I'm serious.

So anyway. My friend Hilary made a list of things that are good in her life, and I thought it would be a good idea for me to do the same. Lately I've been harping on all the things -- chores and even happy hobbies -- in my life that aren't completed, and getting upset about it. I need to do ALL the laundry, put gas in my car, air in my tires, register my car with California plates, cross stitch 8,000 projects, etc. etc. etc.

SO! I've decided, at Hilary's lead, to list the things that are good. So here we go.

My parents love me!

My kitty is such a precious baby, and lately he's been sleeping just north of my pillow, so sweet.

Abby and Alex are watching Friday Night Lights.

Some girlie girls are serenading me with some good tunes right now: Taylor, Sara Bareilles, Kelly, Christina, Tegan & Sara.

Oatmeal for breakfast.

Gonna have another cuppa, because it's Friday.

The roomie and I both needed a night in last night, and we laughed together a lot.

We have a ginormous printer at work, and I've worked with the company long enough that I can use that thing like a champ, whip bang zoom (that's a phrase, right?).

I get to see my Alex tonight, and snuggle into his hugs.

I made magnets for our fridge! (By the way I have a new obsession with magnets. Ask Abby.) I took beer bottle caps, a sheet of foam, a quarter as a template/stencil, glue, and little button magnets and made colorful, cute, useful button-like friends for our fridge! (I just called magnets "friends." Again, obsession problem.)

[Here's where I'd post a picture if I had a camera or smartphone or Instagram account.]

I get to see my bestie Shelly sooooooo soooooooon!!

Abby and I have plans for a super-healthy September (we have a calendar that we will adorn with happy face stickers, as if we are five-year-olds), and meanwhile are shoving as many burritos and beers in our faces because "It's still August!"

I made two pretty friendship bracelets recently.

OK, I think I'll stop for now. Another thing that I can honestly say about gratitude lists is that for me they are truly addictive. Once I start noticing the good, it's hard to stop. Especially if you count the little things among the big. And I hope you have a little of both kinds in your life.

Happy weekend. Love.

Oh, and your turn. Get to gettin' on your own list. Count those sugar packets!!

Friday, August 21, 2015

I feel like buying workout clothes

What do you feel like doing?

I am ready for the weeeeeek end.

For the week to END!

My boy toy is out of town this weekend, which makes me sad.

My roommate is out of town this weekend, which makes me sad.

But oh boy do I need to relax and just chillax.

So I'm planning to, well, not plan. I'm putting a death grip on my calendar, like I'm a celebrity and my own feisty, protective secretary at the same time.

I just put a massage on the calendar for this evening and I feel guilty about it.

But it's a massage for crying out loud!

I also have a Skype date planned for tonight, so I'm already double booking for this weekend of supposed-to-be-nothing CAN I DO ANYTHING RIGHT???

I might have tiny little issues with being busy all the time. In theory I hate being busy all the time, but I happen to be busy 98 percent of the time (data suggests) so there must be something going on there.

So, possible activities for my non-planned weekend:

Vacuum
Clean
Unpack
Make a friendship bracelet*
Cross stitch
Work out?
Lay by the pool
Make a smoothie
Read
Write?

*I'm perpetually in the 4th grade

Busy busy busy I have a problem.

I've cried twice this week, each time to my bewilderment.

Make that thrice.

I cried on Sunday in the car with Alex.

I cried last night on Skype with Alex. (Alex isn't making me cry, by the way).

I cried at lunch today (they were chopping onions, and whoa).

"Now I know I should wait," said the sweet young man who made my salad and then did the onion chopping.

Did the week end yet? Not yet, but we're almost there.

Hugs.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Please don't stop TALKing

I know I talk about it a lot.

But I'm here to tell you that I'm not done talking. And I know I might sound preachy, or annoying sometimes, but guys, it's just too important to me not to talk about it. I've found my platform and my feet are on it.

A year ago the world lost a beloved gem, Robin Williams, to suicide.

To many, today is probably just August 11th. But I have the anniversary of his death seared in me. Not simply because Robin was a celebrity, and one of my favorites to boot, but because I can relate in many ways to the pain he suffered leading to his death.

Obviously I didn't know him personally, and I realize that some of the reason for his choice to take his life seems, at least, to have been in response to his developing of Parkinson's disease.

But as the media also reported, Williams suffered from depression for much of his adult life, in addition to struggling with alcohol and drug abuse. So while very few in the world were privy to his very intimate feelings, we cannot overlook, as his fans, and as fans of the people in our life who also struggle with emotional pain, that depression played a real part in his unfortunately cut-short life.

~~

This past week I sat with a beloved friend, someone I've known going on 14 years, who has adopted me into his family as his own, though he and I both know that the family I've got is pretty superb. He decided I could remain with my given family, but that he wanted to claim me in some part as well. We've made the arrangement work.

We shared a bottle of red zinfandel, with an orange label, and slices of Monterey and cheddar cheese on a small china plate.

My child neighbors whizzed past on their razor scooters, making it hard to hear each other, but we talked over them. My friend has kids, and grandkids, so he knows that kids are kids; he didn't seem to mind the noise.

"I read your blog," he said, between sips and statements of "We really don't see each other enough," etc.

"One of your posts scared the hell out of me."

"Which one?" I asked, knowing the answer.

"Abilified."

My friend proceeded to tell me how he couldn't believe that he didn't see any telltale signs of my longtime struggles with depression, anxiety, and serious mood swings -- struggles that have so thankfully receded twentyfold, thanks in large part to really good medicine, great family and friends, and well-learned habits regarding diet, sleep, exercise and routine.

Things have turned around, praise God, but for a long time there was a lot of dark. There was a lot of light, too, as my moods went both directions, but for my friend he mostly just saw the light.

And so did a lot of people in my life. Everyone, really.

Several people saw the dark, too, as I came to be pretty open about things as I struggled more virulently further into my twenties. But no matter how much I told people about my struggles, they didn't see them all.

Because when you're living in the darkness of depression and anxiety, you are very much inside yourself. That's one of the ways they rot you; they are wounds that fester -- don't quite kill you but you feel the blister, the ooze, the infection.

And while you can look on another's wound and wince as you imagine the pain, our wounds only belong to ourselves. We only feel the festering to the point that our own body festers, based on the chemistry we're born with, our circumstances, our attitude, our personality.

Some of us get little scrapes, maybe one giant broken arm -- or heart, as it were -- in the middle of our life somewhere, but otherwise remain pretty unscathed. Some of us have an open wound that never quite heals, or festers for some time -- most often, this is how depression and anxiety, two of the most common mental ailments in our society, present themselves. Yet we tend to keep silent about these everyday life-suckers.

~~

I could talk ad nauseam on this -- and over the years, as a writer, I will, so buckle up. But for now I'll try and keep my message of today brief.

And that is this:

I believe, wholeheartedly, that all of us are affected by depression or anxiety, if not some other form of mental illness. Either we will experience one of those things ourselves, or we will know someone who will suffer.

I believe that this is nothing to be ashamed of, yet years of socialization and community structuring have caused us to find it deeply fearful to talk of such things. We have developed one bedroom apartments, we spend hours in our cars by ourselves, we reserve grief and tears for private locations, etc., etc., etc.

I work for a mental health center, and I see colleagues miming a gun to their head to express casual stress, and I hear them making jokes about "taking their meds." It's not a joke. We can make fun of ourselves, sure, and if we don't laugh in this life, we will die, but there is no reason that our culture should have to be one where licensed therapists feel that the only people who are affected by such common human emotions (depression and anxiety) are those who sit in their office for 50 minute segments.

Bitter as it is to swallow, the truth is that even therapists sometimes take their own lives.

It's not a joke, and depression is everywhere. I wish to God it weren't, but it is.

Here's the good news: we can fight it.

How?

In my humble opinion, we need to TALK.

It will never cease to amaze me how much it helps to ease serious tensions in life when we do no more than speak. Or write, or sing, or cry in front of another, or what have you, but the point is to let something inside of you OUT, and to have an audience.

WE ARE SOCIAL CREATURES and WE ARE NOT MEANT TO BE ALONE. I am convinced this is why we are designed to eat. Think about it. Eating didn't have to be necessary in the human body; we could have been self sufficient. But designing us to get hungry three times a day -- that gets us in front of each other, talking.

But I digress.

Think of a time -- any time -- when you have spoken your mind, been heard, and felt better.

From a quick vent to a coworker about something that's annoying you, to sharing a hatred for nuts in brownies, to telling someone that you feel sad continually and you don't know why -- no matter what, if you had a compassionate audience, I bet you felt better after you talked it out.

There's a reason psychologists get big bucks. Talking is powerful.

**Talk about mental health. Don't make jokes about the seriousness of mental illness. If you're comfortable, be honest about your struggles with painful emotion. Those around you may not thank you for it in an obvious way, but most likely in hearing your candidness they will breathe a sigh of relief that they are not alone. And this, this this this, is what I believe will begin to change our society. I believe this SO MUCH.**

Like I said, you can -- and will -- hear more from me on this as we go forward, but for now please, if you will, for your sake and for those who you love, join me in TALKing:

Tell people how you're feeling.

Don't keep it in. I know this is SO hard, but tell someone. Start with small stuff if you're not ready to talk about the big stuff, and earlier in your life if you can, but know that it's never too late.

In the same way that you drink water before you get dehydrated, practice sharing your feelings before you get to a point of desperation. But if you're desperate, more than ever, start talking. If you only feel comfortable at a therapist an hour out of town where you won't be recognized, by all means go there. Talk to the bartender. Just get those words out of you.

Ask others about themselves.

Inquire about others. I'm not saying your opener needs to be "Are you depressed or anxious?" But everyone, I promise, has a story, and if you show interest in someone long enough, then you're probably going to learn something you didn't realize was under his or her surface.

In asking others about themselves you will:

a) learn that you are not alone, and that we are all more alike than we thought, and
b) discover that your friend will benefit from being heard by you and being considered valuable and interesting.

Listen.

After you ask, listen. Show genuine interest, look for patterns of mild to severe unhappiness (or, for that matter, extreme and manic happiness). Watch body language. It is easy to hide depression, but if we pay attention we can hopefully see the things that peek through, and let those in our lives know we care about them.

Keep people close, and keep up on your good habits.

Don't isolate yourself. Please, please, please, I implore you. You're an introvert? I got it. Guess what, my homework for you is to get yourself out of the house at least once a day.

Second, learn how to maintain your mental health, and do what you gotta do to keep it up as much as you can, every. single. day.

Read. Write. Sing. Take medicine if you need it. See a therapist. Call a friend. Get caffeine. Limit caffeine. Go outside. Keep to a routine. Sleep. Exercise. Find someone in your life to check in with everyday with the magical words: "How was your day?" (Answer beyond "Fine" or "Good"). Travel. Get a pet. Clean. Cook. Bake. Knit. Create. Play with LEGOs. Get a new job. Go back to school. Eat a bowl of ice cream heaped with sprinkles. Watch this.

Need more suggestions? Hit me up.

Take it from someone who's seen the dark side and come back to light. If we talk, we have a chance at healing. And I so want you all to heal.

No more silence.

Please, don't stop talking.

Love,
Me