End-oh no! Not Again!

**WARNING:  THIS POST MAY CONTAIN ADULT WORDS LIKE (AND NOT LIMITED TO):

•   VAGINA

•   RECTUM

•   OVARIES

•   MENSTRUATION

•   PERIOD

•   TAMPON/S

•   BLOOD

•   PERIOD BLOOD

•   BLOODY

•   DIARRHEA

•   SHIT

•   BLOODY DIARRHEA/SHIT

•   TITTIES (Okay, maybe not, but I can never rule it out)

IF YOU ARE GOING TO GIGGLE LIKE A 12-YEAR OLD BOY DURING SEX-ED, PLEASE GATHER YOURSELF FOR 3 MINUTES AND GET IT OUT OF YOUR SYSTEM**

THANK YOU,

MANAGEMENT

 

If my memory serves me correctly, my most recent laparoscopy was on March 7th, which was 12 weeks ago, and 12 weeks (and 3 days) before June 2nd. Why is June 2nd relevant, you ask?  Well, you curious little monkey, you, let me tell you why:

I am having my first second third fourth laparoscopy for the lovely, virtually invisible, chronic illness with which I begrudgingly live:  Endometriosis.  Or, Endo, as I commonly refer to it. However, FUN FACT:  as it was recently brought to my attention, apparently “endo” is also another name for a type of pot?

 The bottom tips of the marijuana plant that accumulate the most resin and crystals after being hung to dry.

“Because it’s so dank, endo usually costs more.”

Thanks, UrbanDictionary.com.  My very sheltered little mind has just been expanded, and my horizons broadened.  And I also had to intervene and add an apostrophe to “it’s,” because…Urban Dictionary.

via GIPHY

So, no, when I say I have “endo,” I do not mean that I have the bottom tips of the marijuana plant at my disposal.  Sorry to disappoint.  Go find your Dealer.

I feel like I am talking about this illness every single day, all day, to everyone.  Always.  If you’re sick of hearing it, you can only imagine how sick I am of having it.

 

But I feel like I should back up a tiny bit.

 

What exactly is Endometriosis??

It’s funny, seeing as I have had this chronic illness for a few years now, I should be able to rattle off the exact definition of this damn disease.  However, every time I try to define it out loud, I stumble over my words and I look like I have zero clue what exactly is going on with me.  I typically look up (with a look of humiliation and exasperation) at the Walking Dictionary (aka Aaron) for an actual definition of what the fuck is going on inside my body.   #embarrassing

Well, for your betterment, I have looked up a pretty concise definition from the Cleveland Clinic because Aaron isn’t here right now, and I can’t embarrass myself in front of him again:

The inner lining of the uterus is called the endometrium. During a menstrual period, the lining of the endometrium is shed through the vagina. In endometriosis, fragments of endometrium develop in places other than the inner lining of the uterus. These fragments may develop on the ovaries, or sometimes on the fallopian tubes, the vagina, the peritoneum, or the intestine.****

Most women find out about their diagnosis of endometriosis when they note pelvic pain or severe menstrual cramps. Endometriosis can also make it difficult for a woman to become pregnant. Mild forms of endometriosis are common and may not require treatment.

****Except in my case, where, yes, the fragments and lesions are on my ovaries, my tubes, my vagina, peritoneum, and my intestines, but ALSO in my bladder and rectum.  Rectum?  Damn near killed ’em!  Ugh.  Son of a bitch, right??!

 

What can I say?  I’ve always been an over-achiever.

 

My Cleveland Clinic surgeon (yes, I have graduated to an illness shitty enough to be treated at CC Main Campus) scheduled an MRI for me, in order to see the extent to which my Endo has grown.  I have had these crazy UTI-like symptoms during my most recent periods.  Pain so, so bad, my vision has been blurred, and I honestly can’t see straight while I pee.  However, I only had these symptoms during my period, and not any other time, so it didn’t seem like a true UTI.  He suspected that the Endo had spread to my bladder, but an MRI would reveal to what extent it had spread, if at all.

Also, during my periods (and other times, occasionally), I have sharp, stabbing, shooting pains in, well, my butthole (or, rectum, if you’re an actual adult). Like…doubled-over, I legitimately can hardly breathe, stabbing pains in my butt.  I’ll be in the middle of a sentence and I actually have to bend over at the waist and take deep breaths.  Pretty much out of nowhere. Oh, and I also suffer from painful diarrhea.    Because, why not just have cramps and bleed during your period, when you can also have butthole pain, bloody diarrhea, and fiery urination?

Don’t you just love it when I share?

 

So, with these reports, he scheduled an MRI to take a look at my bladder and rectum.   FUN FACT: They inject lubricant into your va-jay-jay and into your butt for the MRI.  So, ladies, if you ever plan on getting suuuuuper freaky-deaky with your significant other at any point in your life…immediately following your pelvic MRI is the most opportune time.  No, I did not take advantage of this.  I am here only to provide advice and encouragement.  I am not your sexual guinea pig.  Ok, this got super weird, yet I am not going to delete it.

…Where was I?…

Ah, yes, the debilitating illness that has, essentially, interfered with ALL aspects of my life.  Right.

The MRI revealed “extensive” endometriosis in my bladder and rectum (and vagina, and ovaries, etc.).  I believe my surgeon used the phrase, “It looks like there was a dump truck full of endometriosis, and it was emptied into your rectum.”  Awesome.

Because of the location of the Endo lesions, and the severity to which it is in my bladder, I will definitely need a catheter for a few days.  Hey, FUN FACT:  I don’t have many fears in this world, however having a catheter is one of them.  No joke.  I am legitimately terrified of having one, having it removed, and possibly having it put back in, if my bladder and ureter don’t cooperate.  So there’s that.  And, depending on where the Endo is in my rectum, there is a small (ok, pretty large) percent chance that I will need a colostomy bag for a while, because my surgeon may have to take out part of my rectum when he removes the endometriosis.  I am meeting with my Colorectal surgeon tomorrow morning, and I’m sure he will fill me in (no pun intended) regarding the Shit-Bag, and if I will need one.  I think it’ll be a wait-and-see type of deal, and I will either wake up on Friday with a Shit-Bag tethered to my stomach, or not, and I will either wake up relieved or pissed off.  50/50 chance. What a shitty situation.  Heh.  Pun totally intended.

Ok, I get it.  I probably seem like I am making light of this illness.  According to two of my surgeons (yes, kids, I have more than one type of surgeon on June 2nd), I have an “extremely severe case” of Endo.  So, no, I am not sitting here with a tiny little case of it, and making fun of the disease.  I really don’t want to come off as ignorant or rude when discussing this topic.  The amount of heartbreak and anger and sadness and depression this stupid illness has caused me is UNBELIEVABLE.  However, I use humor to tackle my “big, bad” issues in my life:  Mom, Dad, and now…this.  Here is how I see it:  If I can’t laugh at all this mess, what am I going to do?  Cry?  And, believe me, I do that, too.  

Because of Endo, my body shape and weight fluctuate like you wouldn’t even believe. There are days I honestly can’t fit into any of my pants and I am embarrassed to wear anything slightly form-fitting on top.

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Chipotle burrito? Nah, just Endo.

But, that comes and goes.

Because of Endo, I have debilitating pain all over my body.  Not just my pelvic region or in my nether-regions.  Lower back pain.  Leg pain.  Swelling that just slows me down.  Days I physically can’t move and literally can NOT get out of bed.  Working out at the gym?  Ha!  I try, but when it hurts to walk, I promise it hurts to run.  That, and I don’t like showing off my massive guns in front of the girly-men.  *hair-flip*

But, that comes and goes.

Because of Endo, my depression level has skyrocketed, and there are days I don’t want to get out of bed.  I don’t want to shower.  I don’t want to talk to anyone or make plans.  I cry, randomly.  I feel really sorry for myself.  The depression aspect of this scares the living shit out of me (not a colostomy joke).  And the fatigue?  Don’t get me started about the level of fatigue I feel on a daily basis. The fear I can’t have children one day is crippling.  Now, with the severity of my case, the fear is even bigger.  Bearing children, and being able to give Aaron his tiny, little brainiac mini-Aarons is something that I don’t want to do – it’s something I NEED to do.  I am not going to get on the topic of “your womanliness is directly related to your ability to carry children,” because I absolutely, 100% with all of me, do not feel that way.  I understand we could try in vitro fertilization if need be, and I also know we could adopt.  I don’t feel like “less of a woman,” if I am unable to carry my children.  But being able to have a baby and go through the pregnancy is something I have wanted since I can remember.  So yeah, the fear and depression and embarrassment of this illness is about as real as it gets.

But, that comes and goes.

Because of Endo, I had to step down from a management position at work, and, with my tail between my legs, resume my previous level of employment.  I couldn’t make meetings, I was missing days because of the pain.  It directly interfered with my ability to carry out my job as well as I could have.  I couldn’t shout, “HEY, PEOPLE, I HAVE A DEBILITATING CHRONIC ILLNESS, THAT’S WHY I MISSED THAT MONTHLY MEETING!!!!!!” so I powered through as best as I could, despite how I probably looked to those who didn’t know any better.   Sometimes, Endo directly impacts my ability to go to work.  Like I’ve said…

But that comes and goes.

 

Want to know what doesn’t come and go?

 

The support I’ve had from my family and friends.  The strength my loved ones have shown when I have been at my worst.   Driving me to my surgeries.  Being there when I came out of anesthesia.  Giving me Lorna Doones and apple juice.  Tending to my every need when I recovered at home, despite my horrible attitude (I am THE worst patient, oh, my, god).  Being a literal shoulder for me to cry/sob/snot on.  Feeding the EndoMonster whatever it was craving that night (usually lasagna, and I have no idea why).  Taking my mind off of this stupid illness when nothing else could.  Understanding that my mood swings and depression aren’t an act or directly related to them…it’s part of the Endo gig.

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Post-Op Surgery #3, this past March. Please note the Lorna Doone wrappers and apple juice on my tray table. And the fact that I am clutching onto my hospital panties in my right hand.

 

Want to know what doesn’t come and go?

My absolute passion and drive to find a cure for this dumb life-disrupter.  I talk about it, incessantly.  To everyone.  Always.  Why, though?  Because so many people don’t even know what it is. And the cause?  It’s unsure at this point in time, what exactly causes Endometriosis.  I have researched it, and this is the most common answer:

There are different hypotheses as to what causes endometriosis. Unfortunately, none of these theories have ever been entirely proven, nor do they fully explain all the mechanisms associated with the development of the disease.

Thus, the cause of endometriosis remains unknown.

Most scientists working in the field of endometriosis do agree, however, that endometriosis is exacerbated by oestrogen. Subsequently, most of the current treatments for endometriosis attempt to temper oestrogen production in a woman’s body in order to relieve her of symptoms.

At the moment there are no treatments, which fully cure endometriosis.

Several theories have become more accepted, and reality is that it may be a combination of factors, which make some women develop endometriosis.

 

-Endometriosis.org Website

 

It affects an estimated 176 million women worldwide.  There are some walks and races and things of that nature for this illness, but none in Ohio.  No walks, no 5ks.  Nothing.  The statistics regarding infertility are staggering, and it remains this silent nuisance that affects women not only physically, but emotionally, too.

 

Why is it hardly discussed? Actress Lena Dunham is so open about this illness – you should read some of her heart wrenching posts and articles about her.  But why is it so unknown, other than her blogs and occasional media attention?  Is it because it has to do with girly things, like menstruation, tampons, vaginas, and icky topics that make little boys giggle and even turn grown adults various shades of red?  I don’t know.   I do know that when you’re a teenage girl and you have bad cramps, other people (not just teenage boys, but grown-ass adults) will make you feel bad about it.  “Get over it.”  “You’re fine.”  “Stop using cramps as an excuse not to go to school.”  “Why do women have couches in their bathrooms?  Oh, it’s because of their (eye-roll) *periods*…”  It has been a taboo topic since I can remember – a measure of a woman’s strength -whether she whined about her period, or not.  I was very lucky that Mom never made me feel bad for having bad cramps and occasionally staying home from school, but I don’t think I had this illness when Mom was alive.  Actually, who knows how long I’ve had it?  It can stay dormant and quiet in your body for years, without a sign or symptom to be had.

I was very lucky to grow up in a family where it wasn’t taboo.  Who knows how long other women have to silently suffer with this disease before it’s too bad to ignore?  What about countries, like Nepal, who shun menstruating women, or other countries that don’t have the funds to provide adequate forms of  protection and sanitization?  Women are sent to huts, literal huts, while they are on their period.  Some impoverished countries cannot afford sanitary pads, and little girls and women are forced to use leaves!  What about them?  What about those women?  It is bad enough to have a typical period, but can you even imagine having Endometriosis in a country like that?  It makes me sick, and this is why I talk about it, nonstop.  To everyone.  I am extremely lucky.  I have been blessed with living in a suburb that is 30 miles away from one of the best hospitals in the nation.  I am blessed to have two of the best surgeons in this field.  But some women aren’t as lucky.  Some women aren’t even allowed to discuss this topic, let alone seek treatment for it.

 

Want to know what doesn’t come and go?

This illness.  Unfortunately, despite numerous surgeries and doctors’ visits, I will always have Endo.  Always.  The pain won’t always be crippling, and I won’t always have swelling and flare-ups.  But, I will always have this illness.  My game plan is to have another surgery on Friday, and start progesterone treatment, which will hopefully suppress the estrogen growth and reduce the risk for Endo, because I won’t have as many periods.  It was explained to me like this:  “Imagine you’re frying chicken, and grease splatters. It goes all over the place, but it only splatters when you’re frying chicken.  If you don’t fry chicken, no grease will splatter.”  Endometriosis works like that.  Only instead of frying chicken, I’m having a period, and instead of grease, it’s blood/endometriosis that’s splattering all over the walls my body.

 

Also, in addition to progesterone treatment, I will resume a “Whole30″ish diet to reduce symptoms and pain.  There is an actual Endo Diet, which is extremely similar to Whole30, and, as I have said in the past, when I was on Whole30, my Endo symptoms were basically nonexistent.  That lifestyle isn’t super easy to maintain indefinitely, and I have totally fallen off the wagon as far as my diet is concerned.  But man, I would rather cut out dairy for the most part than live like this.  People ask me, “Won’t it go away if you have a hysterectomy?”  Unfortunately, no.  The illness can come back in the same spots, or in other parts of my body. It has been known to spread to organs outside of the uterus, including the liver, lungs, and even the brain.   My surgeon said the words to me, “When you wake up from surgery on Friday, all the endometriosis in your body will be gone.”  I wanted to cry, it sounded so good.

 

And, as I sit here, on my front porch, I am mentally prepping for the next few weeks.  My surgeon told me today I *should* be out of the hospital by Tuesday next week (yay!!!), but “the pain is going to be pretty severe” (boo!!!).  I am also told that I will definitely need some recovery time on the couch, which means I’m going to drive Aaron up a damn wall, and Heidi and Larry will, probably, jump up onto the couch, and land directly on my incisions.

 

So, until Friday, I will sit on my porch, read a little bit, write a little bit, and enjoy the sunshine.  I hope, pray that my life will change (for the better), at least temporarily, after Friday.  While it’s scary to think of all the things they’re going to do to my tiny little body (my poor rectum), it is a relief to think that I may find some relief after all is said and done.

With all this said, I will gracefully and eloquently end my blog like this:

 

I don’t have enough middle fingers to salute this illness.

 

Please check out these websites, which are full of information:

Endometriosis Foundation of America

World Endometriosis Foundation

Cleveland Clinic

National Institute of Child Health and Human Development

Love,

Al

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Growing On

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CVNP, 7/16/16

Today I cried.

Today I cried, but not because I was sad.

I woke up this morning  at the crack of 10:30 a.m., and  had an absolutely delightful morning:

I jotted down everything I needed to get done in my bullet journal (aka: my new obsession), I drank coffee and ate breakfast on my porch, I read another chapter in Shonda Rhimes’ book, The Year of Yes (which is freaking hilarious, might I add), and I did some cleaning.

On a spur-of-the-moment whim (aren’t all whims spur-of-the-moment?), I decided to pack a little bag full of snacks, slip on my running shoes, and take Heidi for a hike in Cuyahoga Valley National Park. [sidenote: How does she know we’re going on a walk?  I didn’t even say the word ‘walk.’ I literally put some human and dog snacks in some baggies, put on my running shoes, opened the garage, and she ran outside and jumped in my car.  Uncanny!]  A hike technically wasn’t on my list of to-dos, but I just felt the need to go.  You ever get that need?  To just…get out?  No matter what else needs to get done?

I drove the 50 mins to CVNP; she shook and panted the whole drive. I found the Boston Mills trailhead, and she and I went on the most peaceful, scenic walk/hike I’ve ever had.  In the woods, it was cool enough to wear a long-sleeved top, but in the sun I could get away with a tank top.  She was sniffing everything, peeing on everything, and seemed genuinely happy.  We could take our time; we had nowhere that we absolutely needed to be.  No agenda.  It was silent.  Yes, I took a few pictures on Snapchat and some others on my phone (thank God for the 10 second timer setting and some logs as makeshift camera-holders), but for the most part, I had my phone turned off.

I walked at my own pace (okay, I walked at Heidi’s pace). I stopped, and I just… breathed.  And you know what I heard?  The sound of my breath.  The sound of branches crunching.  The sound of Heidi walking and sniffing.  The sound of birds and of a gentle breeze.  The sound of my own breath.  And my heart.  And my whole body buzzing in the silence of – being alone.

I have felt alone in the past, as I have discussed in past entries. And it was a terrifying, desperate, drunken, shallow, dark loneliness.  It was a loneliness that I wished upon no one.  Relying on myself, talking to myself, working out problems and hypotheticals and issues in my own head.  Laughing at/with only myself.  Being my own and only decision-maker.

Today, though?  Today I relied on myself.  I talked to myself.  I worked out problems and hypotheticals and issues in my own head.  I laughed at/with myself.  I was my own and only decision-maker.

In the woods, in that single moment, overlooking the valley below, I was the only one in charge of my next move.  Do I stay here longer? Do I keep walking? Do I go back in my car and head to Pennsylvania?  Do I spend all of my money on a plane ticket and fly somewhere?  Do I sit and meditate?  Eat all of my snacks and stare into the open space around me?  Do I go back home and make dinner?  Do I go back home and go to bed?  Do I continue to clean?  Does it matter?  Who is going to stop me?

No one.

As it turned out, it was around 5 till 6, and we had a couple of miles ahead of us.  If we wanted to reach the car at a decent time, we needed to head back.  I begrudgingly took Heidi back to the car, she as upset as I, and we headed back home.  I opened the back door to my house.  Heidi and I walked in and we both took one very long drink of water.  I put my bag and my car keys on the counter, slipped off my shoes, and sat on the floor next to Heidi.

And, I started to cry.

And cry.

And cry.

Overwhelmed with a rush of emotion that I can only describe as: relief

I have no idea why.  Is it a result of a Mom and Dad issue?  Is it a hormonal issue (Random crying is typically a result of the former, but you never know)?  Is it related to the semi-recent breakup?  The realization of where I was a year ago:  a place I honestly didn’t know was so, so unhealthy, and the sort of scary shock you feel when you realize you’ve dodged a huge bullet.  Like when you’re thisclose to getting in an accident on the freeway. After the initial scare is over, you’re almost more scared, totally jarred after the fact, once you’re home safe.  Like, holy cow, that could have been really, really bad.  Yeah, I’m feeling a whole lot of that as of late.

{I absolutely will NOT go into detail, however, some general backstory –  I was accused of some very nasty, very untrue things not too long ago, in reference, or rather, rebuttal, to me wanting to be alone.  All I’m saying is, I think today could have been a big ole “fuck you” moment and an unplanned response to those accusations, and therefore related to the semi-recent breakup.}

Am I overwhelmed with happiness?  With change?  With uncertainty?  With this whole, “I-have-no-idea-what-I-want-or-where-I-want-to-be-right-now-but-today-was-pretty-fucking-amazing-so-let’s-just-revel-in-the-moment-as-it-is-right-now,” situation?  Lately, I have been suffering a type of identity crisis, or rather, quarter-life-crisis (shit, am I too old to have a quarter-life crisis??  Isn’t that usually at 25?  Ah, shit, third-life crisis, then).  Oh and also…

I had a really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really bad breakdown about Mom and Dad on Thursday night.  Ironically, I re-read some old blogs, and an overwhelming sadness took over.  And I realized it:  I still (still!) haven’t accepted their deaths.  Still.  As fucked up as it sounds, I somehow feel, without realizing it, like Mom and Dad are still alive; they’re just living in our old house, and I’ve moved out.  I just haven’t seen them in a long time.  Right?  …right??  So, when I re-read the blogs, a mixed feeling of, “OhmyGod, ohmyGod, ohmyGod, they really are gone,” and panic took over, and I basically crumbled into a tiny ball of screaming and crying and dizziness that I can’t even describe.

I was in a total funk on Friday.  Like, I couldn’t shake the hungover feeling of the night before.  I somehow felt like I had taken 10 emotional steps backwards, and I was reliving sadness all over again.  All of the the Mom and Dad feelings, money issues as a result of the aforementioned breakup, endometriosis flare-up, feeling  like I totally suck at my job, constantly feeling like I’m spinning my wheels and getting nowhere, knowing that there is (there has to be!!) my calling, out there, somewhere… all of these feelings:  I’d just about had it.  Money.  Loneliness.  Worry.  Endometriosis pain. Identity crisis.  It was all…in the forefront of my mind.  Like one of those sleeping eye-masks you wear.  I had it on all day long, and I was really struggling to focus and see around it at work.

So to wake up today, and deal with my business on my own, not even think of all of the issues I just mentioned, and then heal myself quickly and also on my own (no alcohol!), actually realizing that, you know what?  I got this shit – it took over my entire body and I broke down sitting on the floor next to Heidi. My breakdown wasn’t sad.  I felt… alive.  I felt…happy.  I felt…excited.  I felt – relief.

And, as suddenly as it came on, the crying stopped.

What used to take days of sadness and healing, took one day.  A day of being alone. Don’t get me wrong – I’m usually alone.  And I enjoy it.  I live alone, by choice.  I go out to eat alone.  I go to concerts alone.  I truly love it.  But today seemed…different.

Maybe my random outburst while sitting on the floor was a realization that I may actually be…growing.  Growing up, and growing on.  Not moving on, growing on.  Moving on implies a slightly negative connotation:  Something is here, and you leave it behind, as it stays, stagnant. You drive away, and watch it grow smaller and smaller in your rearview mirror.  In this case, Mom and Dad and my overall situation would be what’s hypothetically “left behind.”  And, obviously, I will never be able to leave that all behind; all the feelings, all the pain, sadness, and also lessons I’ve learned.  Rather, I feel like I’m growing on.  I’m taking all of that, well, stuff- all the negative, all the positive- I’m taking it all with me as I go about my life.  I’m growing up, in a way (yes, you can continue to grow up), and I’m growing and learning better ways of dealing with my whole life:  my emotions, my losses, my health, my relationships with friends and family, and my spirituality.  I am growing on.

I got up from the floor, turned on my Spotify, danced it out to some Ben Rector (because, obviously). I made an amazing, colorful, paleo, whole, clean dinner.  I did not drink one sip of alcohol (my go-to, kryptonite, and crutch in the past).  I cleaned up, headed to my front porch.  I lit a candle, lit some nag champa, turned on some music, and here I am.  The world is quiet.  The world is good.  I am good. I am growing on.

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xo

 

(Pretty)Happy Holidays.

‘Tis the season.

‘Tis the  season we join loved ones, gather ’round the Christmas tree (or menorah, or festivus pole, or whatever you gather ’round), and make memories with our family.

For most of us, we have our parents, and possibly their parents, our husband’s parents, our girlfriend’s parents, our own grandparents, etc.

As for others, we don’t.  And it f-ing blows.

You know what?  I was totally, 100% fine this Christmas.  For the first time, I was okay.  I’m okay, even with the casual, “How are you doing?…No, really.  How are you…doing? (?…?)” I get from concerned family and friends. I was fine, even with the “We want to celebrate your mom and dad as best as we can,” attempts.

Even when I was in Barnes and Noble a few weeks ago, and I smelled Mom’s perfume out of nowhere, I was fine.

Even when a random gentleman at work had on Dad’s cologne, I was fine.

But, I finally broke down.  Tonight, I had my annual Christmas Breakdown.

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This scene, as random as it may appear, sent me into total Christmas Breakdown Mode (CBM).

Let me explain.

The candle night light, which is plugged into the outlet in our kitchen, is something that is the epitome of Christmas and Home.  Mom would plug that into the wall in our kitchen every Christmas.  It’s one of those foggy, long-ago, first memories I have of Christmas.  That night-light.  God only knows how old it is.  It’s older than me, I know that.   I remember standing in a dark kitchen, after Dad had already fallen asleep, talking to Mom about random stuff (school, boys, college), with only that “candle” as a source of light.  That candle lit up a scary, boogey-man haunted kitchen many years in a row.  It reminds me of comfort.  It was always, always, always, exclusively in our kitchen.  So, with it, comes the additional smell-memories, of Christmas cookies, coffee, Christmas appetizers and such.  Snacking on Christmas cookies after a long night serving at Outback.  Or after coming home from a friend’s house.  Right now, that light is lighting up my own kitchen, as I type this.

Jamie bought me those three boxes of tea, and also that awesome teal blue tea kettle.  Mom always had a tea kettle on our stove, and boxes of teas in accompaniment.  Mom would make everyone a “cuppa,” as she truly believed she was from Wales.  Or England.  Or from  anywhere across the pond.  She has a “tea cozy” to put over the kettle, to keep the kettle insulated and the water hot.  She loved it.  She would wrap her hands inside it and say, “See how cozy my hands are?  This keeps the tea water warm, so you can have another cup!”

The clear, broken-glass style tea light in front of the boxes of tea was Mom’s too.  “Doesn’t it look like a little snowball when it’s lit?” she would ask.

The little figurines on top of the stove (the little Valentine’s Day cat and the scarecrow) hung out on top of our stove at home, year round.  “They’re just too cute to put away.  The scarecrow will cry if he’s put into a box.  He needs to be out all year,” was her reasoning for keeping a Thanksgiving decoration out for 365 days  a year.  She personified everything.  That is one of the things I miss the most about her.  She could take an inanimate object and make it have feelings, a whole family, a job, and entire story.  Like those two ceramic figurines, for example.  She is half the reason I have trouble throwing anything away,

The wooden recipe holder next to the scarecrow was always on our stovetop.  I believe Jamie made it for Mom in Shop Class in 1986 (?) I could be wrong. It has held many, many recipes.

The teapot next to the recipe holder was a gift for Mom, the Christmas before she died (Mom died in January, so this was one of the last gifts she received).   “It’s just too cute to use.  I don’t want to put hot water in it.  Just keep it out as decoration.”  To this day, that teapot has never held even a single drop of water.

As my Christmas wrapped up, and as Alex and I were getting ready for bed, I turned off the overhead kitchen light, and I was presented with the above scene.  And an overwhelming feeling of…nostalgia, sadness, happiness, regret, memories, and helplessness filled me.

I do NOT like being sad.  Especially during stereotypical moments (holidays, birthdays, etc.).  But this moment caught me off-guard.

It encapsulated so many memories at one time.  The low light, the items, the date (Christmas!).  It all hit me at once.

And that’s when I realized – People who experience grief, don’t always break down at the expected times (e.g. Christmas carols, Christmas gift exchange, Thanksgiving meal, being with other family members). No, no.  No, no, no.  After a year or two or three or four, its the random times that will hit home.  It’s the moments of quiet.  It’s the moments you’re left alone with your thoughts.  It’s the accumulations of all the little things that will break you down.

Almost 3 years later, I think I’ve come a far way.  I think I’m doing just fine. But man, after all is said and done, and all the presents are bought and unwrapped, you’ve exhausted all your hello’s and goodbye’s, you’ve caught up with family, and you’re left to your thoughts…that’s when it hits.  The feelings of “Aw.  Crap.  I won’t ever be able to visit Mom or Dad on Christmas ever again, huh?” and the “I won’t ever get to have Mom’s Christmas cookies again, unless Jamie or I make them.” The moments of “All I want is to smell mom’s perfume and Dad’s holiday cologne,” moments.   The “Wow.  My kitchen looks just like Mom’s kitchen.” Those are the times of breakdown.

The moments aren’t as frequent, or as painful.  But they still exist.  I’m thankful for them, though, because it reminds me of how lucky I am to have experienced the memories that cause me such pain now.  It’s a fair trade-off.

With that said, Merry Christmas, everyone.  Merry Christmas, Mom and Dad.  I love you, and I wish i could have bought you something this Christmas.  I believe Christmas in heaven is like a giant birthday party for Jesus.  Do you get gifts, or does He hog them all?  Let me know.  It’s something I’ve always wondered. Thanks.

 

The Healing Point


After a breaking point, there is usually (hopefully) a healing point.

After my most recent (very morose, serious, and heavy) post, I feel like I need to identify the fact that I found a healing point.
Rather, I am still finding it.

After I graduated, the weight and pressure had definitely been lifted.  But, despite that huge accomplishment (my graduation was on Mother’s Day, too, ironically enough), and despite my huge sense of relief, the upswing and bounce-back weren’t so quick.

You know when you’re anticipating something huge (your wedding, your first date, finishing an exam, etc), and it’s finally over, you’re left feeling…exhausted, right?  You have been so overwhelmed with all the craziness and madness and stress and sleepless nights, that when it’s finally over, you’re left with only your own thoughts and the “coming down from the high” feeling.  Well, with this “coming down,” I realized that I had actually been dealt a blessing in disguise during that whole “breaking point:”

Graduating from CSU is what kept my mind busy, and it’s what kept me from dwelling on Mom.  It made me feel not as alone.  It was an ass-backwards blessing in disguise.

After I graduated, after all the hype and graduation cards, and well-wishes and celebratory drinks and dinners, I was left with… myself.  I experienced the same sensation after mom’s funeral.  I was surrounded by SO MANY PEOPLE that week, and for a few weeks after.  And, once it had all passed, and everyone else went on with their own lives and jobs, I was still left.  I was there.  Alone.  So, combine the winding-down of sympathies and constant “Are you okay?  I’m here if you need me” texts, with the relief of graduating, and I am left with…myself.  Crickets. I went from constant bombardment, to nothing, within the matter of a week or two.

I was living in an unfamiliar house (unfamiliar, because to be truthful, I hadn’t even begun to enjoy it, seeing as I was too busy with school to unpack and unwind), with my animals, wine, beer, cable TV, and that was it.  No more school – after 7 straight years of school, I was done.  I loved school.  I was good at it.  And now it was gone.

I lived with Mom and Dad my whole life, and now I was alone.  Now, for those of you who are thinking, “I moved out as soon as I could!  You were alone…big deal,” I need to tell you that when the rug is pulled out from underneath you, and you’re forced to find a place on your own (oh, and go through and throw out your parents’ belongings in a very short time-frame because you have to downsize), it’s not so cushy and ideal.  I had every intention of moving out; just not so fast.  And not at that time.  And without a choice.  And with cats and a dog.  And NO income.  Literally, no income.
#graduateschool

It was in this time, when I was forced into solitude and time to think, that I began my healing point.11907208_808076009151_2280962008719023270_n

For the first time in my life, I had to rely on myself.  Don’t get me wrong, please don’t get me wrong:  I have been absolutely blessed with Jamie and the kids, some wonderful cousins and aunts, and all of my best friends (oh, and somewhere along the way, I met this guy named Alex, and he’s pretty okay, too).  But, all of these aforementioned blessings have their own lives, and their own problems.  While the offer of, “Al, if you need me, call.  I am here if you need anything,” was/is ALWAYS there (and for that, I am forever grateful), I felt like a huge burden.  A huge, huge burden. Jamie would drop anything and everything for me, and she still would.  No matter what or when, she was/is there.  But, at that time, I knew that she was also dealing with losing Mom.  At that time, I felt like, “Why would I ask her for help if I know she’s grieving, too?”  I had cousins and aunts telling me to call, visit, vent any time.  But I knew that once I called, visited, and began to vent, I would be a one-track, sobbing, yelling, swearing, depressing mess.  I couldn’t put any of them through that.  My best friends, who are states away or dealing with their own issues, constantly offered help.  Again, I didn’t want to be that friend who was put on speaker phone while they did chores, balanced their check books, and carried on with their own lives.  And Alex?  Well, I was more-than “just interested” in him, and I didn’t want to scare a potential boyfriend away by being the dramatic, crying, depressed orphan.  I’ve been told that that’s not exactly a turn-on for men.  I could be wrong.  So, no, Alex didn’t see my “true colors” until a few months into our relationship, and HOLY COW, he deserves an award for being so wonderful.  He really is wonderful.  I hope he knows how much he means to me.

What was I saying, again?

Oh yeah, the alone time.  The self-reliance. The down-time. The breathing time.  The first time in my life that I had to only worry about… me.  Mom and Dad were NEVER burdens.  Ever.  Even when I was cleaning up vomit or walking her to the bathroom or shaving dad’s scruffy face or not going away to college for fear that, if I was too far away, I would miss out “if something bad were to happen to Dad or Mom.”  They never were burdens.  But, this was the first time I could be totally selfish, and not feel bad about it.

You know what – and this may sound absolutely horrible – I had a sincere, gut-wrenching fear for a very long time:  That one day I would move out of the house, and Mom would be left alone.  Dad was gone, and mom was still sick.  And her youngest, the one who lived at home the longest, was gone.  There were nights, and I am not even exaggerating, that I would lay in bed, sobbing, thinking that eventually, I would move out and leave Mom all alone.  The mental image of my mom, living all alone, was enough to keep me at home.  There was something so pathetic and sad about the mental image of Mom, sitting on her loveseat, watching Golden Girls all by herself, without me to laugh with. She and Jamie always agreed that once I moved out, she would move in with Jamie and the kids, which she was excited to do.  But for whatever reason, the thought of moving out and uprooting, and flipping our lives upside down, was enough to send me into a depressed mess.  But now – I was living alone.  And I didn’t have to move out and break her heart. Granted, something MUCH, MUCH worse had to happen to get me to this place, but I avoided one of the biggest fears I ever had.  It’s ironic: in my constant worry of leaving Mom alone, I never once considered the alternative: that I, in fact, would end up being the one who was alone.  And for whatever reason, that didn’t upset me nearly as much.

But, having said all that, I avoided the biggest, scariest decision of my life, so far.  I was on my own, and I didn’t have to break my mom’s heart to get there. For some of you, you’re probably thinking, “Ummmm, no, you didn’t break her heart, but she had to die for you to get to that point.”  And, like I’ve said before:  the thoughts and “ah-ha!” moments from people who are grieving aren’t always totally sound and logical.  It’s kind of like a, “whatever helps you sleep at night,” type of thing.  And, at that point, the fact that I finally lived on my own, and I didn’t have to abandon Mom in the process…that was a resolution for me.

This realization was a sigh of relief.  Weirdly.

Mom and Dad spoiled me rotten.  I’ll be the first to admit it (or actually the second…Jamie will be the first to admit it).  But now, I learned how to check the air pressure in my tires.  And I did all my own laundry.  I made all my own appointments.  Took Heidi to the groomer and to the vet’s.  Grocery shopped.  All of the “adult stuff,” that most of my friends have been doing on their own for a long time.  But, this time, I didn’t have Mom or Dad to double-check with.  Am I doing this right?  Mow my lawn?  I don’t even own a lawnmower!  Wait, wait, wait, utilities?  Aren’t those the things that just get paid for by some magical Utility Fairy?  It was a harsh, rude awakening that I needed.  It felt liberating and scary.  I was independent.  I was literally kicked out of the nest, and Momma and Poppa bird flew far, far away.  Forever.

There are milestones, though, that I really wish I had Mom and Dad here to see.  Graduation?  That was so, so very rough (my Speechie Sisters were there to witness the shit-show that was me, breaking down mid-ceremony at Wolstein Center).  My birthdays.  Their birthdays.  Mother’s Day and Father’s Day.  Meeting Alex.  Seeing my first house.  Telling me how proud they are that I keep my house (kind of) clean.  Mom buying us knickknacks for the house.  Mom giving Alex and me leftovers when we have a combined $6.00 in our accounts and can’t afford to grocery shop (side note:  I miss Mom’s cooking more than I can even express – hence, the original intent to make this a cooking blog.  But really, I never realized that her cooking would be something I miss so very, very much).  Dad inspecting EVERY.  LITTLE.  THING.  IN.  OUR.  HOUSE.  Dad being with me when I was looking for a place to live, and giving his two cents (which was A  L  W  A  Y  S  right).  Alex and Mom drinking scotch.  Alex and Mom ganging up on me.  Alex and Dad watching Ancient Aliens.  Dinners with Mom and Dad at their house.  My wedding.  Mom helping me get ready on my wedding day, and Dad walking me down the aisle and giving me away.  The birth of my first child.

These things will always resonate with me and sting.  But, I have found some strange comfort in the fact that these are things over which I have absolutely no control.  There is no amount of whining, crying, begging, pleading, praying, and bargaining with God that will bring any of these milestones back into my life.  Does it suck?  Absofuckingloutely.  But – and this is where the healing point comes in –

I have accepted it.

I don’t like it.  But I have accepted it.  And that is how I know that I am beginning to heal.  All of these scary moments have happened, and I’m still here, ready for whatever is next.  One day, I will walk down the aisle wearing my wedding dress, and Mom and Dad won’t be there.  But you know what?  The rest of my family, and all of my friends will be there.  And Mom and Dad (their memory, their spirit) will be there.  There will be moments of remembrance within all of these milestones, where, in fact, they will still be here.

When I have kids, they will ask about Grandma and Grandpa Fifolt.  And I will have to tell them (in kid-friendly terms, of course), what happened.  And it will be what they know.  Kind of like Dad’s dad died when Dad was in his 20’s.  I never met my biological grandpa on Dad’s side.  I wish I had, but what can I do?  My kids will be filled with stories and pictures.  So many pictures.

This Healing Point is ever-adapting, ever-changing, and always scary.  Each time I feel “okay,” I feel equally guilty.  Every time I am able to inform an inquiring stranger that my parents are gone, without crying or choking on my words, I feel guilty.  Any time I can see a photo of Dad and me without feeling sad, or if I see Mom’s handwriting and I don’t immediately burst into tears, I feel guilty.  There is something extremely guilt-laden about not breaking down into a sobbing mess like I used to.  But, I know that is a part of The Healing Point.  My sadness has started to morph into guilt.  As much as I can’t wait to be “fine,” I feel horrible that I’m not a drunk, depressed, angry mess anymore.  Because, in my mind, being a drunk, angry mess means that I still miss them.  It didn’t occur to me that I can still miss both of then just as much, but in a different way.  There is always something so bittersweet about moving on, in any facet of our lives.  This is just another example, I guess.

Most days, I’m okay.  Most weeks, even.  But sometimes, I am a wreck.  How long is this “the norm,” I wonder?  How long will it be until I am totally okay and normal?  Is there a timeframe?  As someone with even an ounce of intellect, I know there is no timeframe.  It’s kind of like when patients at the nursing home ask me, “When will I be able to go home?  When will I be healed?”  My answer is always the same:

Everyone is different.  Everyone heals at a different rate, and to a different degree.  It’s all about your attitude, motivation, and willingness to want to get better.  If you work hard at it, ask for help, and stay determined, you will heal.

I guess it’s about time I follow my own advice, huh?

The Breaking Point

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As I sit here, halfway through my third glass of red wine that smells exactly like permanent marker, with my dog’s nose buried in my lap, wearing my food-stained pajamas for the 8th day in a row, unshowered, watching home movies, I can’t help but think, “What in the fucking hell am I doing?”   Not as in, “what in the fucking hell am I doing right this second?”  But more along the lines of, “What in the fucking hell am I doing with…it all?  My life?  Right this second?  Tomorrow?  Next week?  Next year? ”  Drunk, slurred self-talk echoing in my head.  At this point in my life, the farthest I can look ahead is… 6 minutes.  When I will probably need to pee (dark yellow, smelly, unhealthy, concentrated, alcohol-infused pee) and then refill my wine glass.  And maybe wash dishes.  But probably not.  It’s 4:00 in the afternoon.  Fuck it.

It is early March 2013, and I am supposed to graduate with my Master’s Degree in approximately 8 weeks.  Maybe less (Wait, do I have more than 8 weeks? Who knows).  And yet, here I sit, day-drunk and alone, crying, watching a 5-year old VHS-version of myself riding my dad’s lawnmower, chasing my dog in our perfectly-manicured yard, while I eat 4-day old Chinese food out of an empty sour cream container.  Or Mexican food.  Yeah, Mexican (at this point, it all tastes like MSG, depression, anxiety, and alcoholism).  But there I go, riding in circles, with my pin-straight, dark brown, French-girl haircut, overly-tanned skin, wearing my elastic-waisted denim shorts, a pink and white striped shirt with a ruffled collar, and a huge, goofy grin on my little face. A far cry from the expression I am currently wearing on my face.

I should be typing out my huge graduation portfolio that’s due later this month, as all of my classmates are probably done with theirs. But I legitimately haven’t touched my laptop for anything other than:  to check my Match.com account, update my Facebook status, and chat on Facebook Messenger.  I really, really should be typing an in-depth account of the wonderful, spiritual, fulfilling experience of completing the second-half of my student externship at University Hospitals Case Medical Center.  I should be creating super-awesome therapy materials and laminating shit, while collaborating with my peers, bragging about the cognitive therapy lesson I just created, and, oh how excited I am to use it tomorrow!  But, oh, OH wait, there are no lessons, or collaborations, or laminated anythings, as I was recently kicked out of my externship, seeing as my supervisor was “on the verge of failing” me.  Yes. I, at that moment, was deep in the throws of a “forced sabbatical,” if you will, “for my own good.” (In my experience, “for your own good” really translated to, “So you don’t fucking kill someone at the hospital.”)  While in class, our professors assured us, No one has ever been kicked out of or removed from a student teaching placement, not unless there was a serious issue. And here I was, mid-week, halfway through a bottle before 5:00 p.m., not at UH. Leave it to me to “be the exception to the rule.” How does this happen, you ask? Rewind to two weeks prior, when I am woken up by a phone call from Cleveland State University, at the ungodly early hour of noon o’colck. I answer my phone, only to hear my professor on the other line.

“Allison? Hi. How are you?” Well wasn’t this a totally formal introduction from a woman with whom I have spent the last 7 years….five times a week…year-round.  Like a second mom.

“Um, I’m good (?) How are you (…?)” I responded to her awkward nicety in an equally-awkward, totally bullshit response, seeing as I was probably still drunk from the night before.

“Oh I’m good. We’re all good. I have the other ladies here, too. We have you on speaker phone.” At that point, I could hear the stale, metallic echo of the room in which they were all sitting, probably staring at the phone like I was going to pop out of it at any second, and then a choral, in-unison, “Hi, Allison!” produced by 1…2…3 familiar voices. My professors. I had been a college student for five years and a graduate student for two, and not once had I been conference-called because they “wanted to say hello.” This phone call had “DISASTER APPROACHING. YOU ARE OFFICIALLY SCREWED. YOU’D BETTER GET OUT THE BOTTLE OF VODKA NOW, AS YOU’RE ON THE PHONE WITH THEM, BECAUSE YOU’RE GOING TO NEED IT,” written all over it.

“Hi, guys,” I managed to squeak out. “What’s up?” I asked, hoping the phone call would immediately get disconnected, and that my phone would burst into a ball of flames and turn into tiny pile of ash on my kitchen table. Brush the ash into the palm of my hand, dump it in the garbage, wash my hands, go back to bed. Pretend like nothing ever happened.

“Well. We would like to talk to you about your student placement. How is it going?”  I love when a question is asked with an answer already in mind.

How is it going. How IS it going. Well, other than the fact that my mom died two months ago at the same exact hospital in which I am completing my student placement, and that I’ve had to go into the same exact room in which she died (more than once), I’d say it’s going pretty-fucking-swimmingly. Or, how about that time my “supervisor” (I use the term loosely, because, Jesus Christ, there was nothing super about that hag) told me that I, and I quote, “look like a deer in headlights” every time I show up to my placement, and also asked me the lovely question, “What, exactly, are they teaching you at Cleveland State?” Or, my personal favorite sentiment, “Listen. I get it. My brother died when I was in graduate school, okay? But I was able to move on. You need to separate your personal life from your professional life.” Other than that. Other than those things, then, yeah. I’m just swell. Thanks for asking.

“Well. We’ve been talking to your supervisor, and, hmm, it seems like you’re having a difficult time there. She has informed us that she “can’t pass you,” because she doesn’t feel like you’re doing well enough in that setting…” blah blah blah, Charlie Brown’s teacher’s voice took over, and I don’t remember what else was said after that.

From there, when I tuned back in to her apologetic monologue, I was given two options (both of which, at this point in time, made me cry hysterically): One, I could continue. Go back to UH. Work harder, do better, kiss her ass a little bit more, and hope that she didn’t fail me. Which she was going to do, regardless. Because, you know, I was giving 110% every day (waking up and getting out of bed, at this point in time, was a fucking struggle), and apparently “mediocre” was all I could muster. Or two, I could be pulled from a student placement permanently, “take a break,” and finish my degree in the summer. You know, “take some time” for myself (pat, pat on the head, hug, awkward, patronizing embrace). Graduate a semester behind all my Speechie Sisters, alone, with some other random people I didn’t know.

So…one, continue at UH and fail. Two, give up and give myself some “me time.”

My response to both options: Go fuck off, all of you (Okay, I obviously didn’t say that or mean it, as I knew, in my heart of hearts, that these wonderful women were trying to save me from failing and were only doing what they thought was right. But, really, all I could think of at that moment was, fuck off. Fuck this. Fuck you. Fuck UH, fuck my Master’s Degree, fuck Mom and Dad for leaving me here, fuck literally everyone and everything). The only appropriate response I could muster, between sobs, was, “No.  No way.  Absolutely not.”

After a few minutes of nonsensical bargaining (“I’ll do whatever it takes. I will. I will go anywhere and do anything. I have to graduate with my class.  I have to.  I’ve worked too hard and have been through too much to graduate alone.”), my professor assured me, “We will try to find a new placement so you can finish with your girls.” Finding a nursing home or hospital ¾ through a semester was damn-near impossible. Who wants to take on an unstable, depressed, manic, desperate orphan? No one. And, honestly, did I really want to do this? Was it smart of me, really, to place myself in a NURSING HOME or HOSPITAL, with sick, dying, old people, after having just gone through what I went through? Like, really? Am I a masochist? Pride was worth more to me than my mental health, obviously, no matter what it did to me, psychologically. This moment. This phone call. Was the absolute lowest point in my life. To this day, I can’t think of a time I felt more alone and helpless. It was my breaking point.

So here I was now, a couple of weeks later, sitting with my dog on the couch, in my nasty, dirty pajamas, waiting to be placed in a nursing home or hospital so I could hurry-up and graduate. Totally unsure of my future, whether or not I would actually graduate. Trusting that my professors would make magic happen. And, as it turned out, long-story-short, I was placed into a nursing home, and I graduated on time, with my Speechie girls. How I managed it, I honestly don’t know. I’m not saying this for dramatic effect, either. I literally have no idea how, in God’s name, I did it. But I did.

Everyone tells me now, “You know, you really could have gone off the deep end after your mom died. But you persevered and went on, and look at you now.” I want my friends and family who say/think that to know that I went through an extremely low, dark, lonely point following Mom’s death, when I was absolutely not okay. Not in the least. I’m pretty sure I kept it hidden for only me to see, so no one would “think less of me.”

I have felt this pressure, my whole life, really, to “not become like everyone else.” I pressured myself all through Elementary, Junior, and High School to always make the Honor Roll. I made sure I was the best student I could be. Honors English. Honors Chemistry. Honors, honors, honors. I wanted to be the best at karate. I wanted to be the perfect daughter. I wanted to triple major, because “everyone else has just one or two majors. I want three.” So why, at that point, should I have responded any differently? I mean, yeah, sure, my parents are dead, and I was evicted, essentially, from my home (on a grad student/server’s income, with 3 cats and a dog and a house-full of my mom’s belongings), while trying to graduate with a Master’s Degree. I’ve been through worse (right?…right??).

Most people, I assume, would get shit-faced daily or start smoking or doing drugs, or (the worst thing I could ever imagine) put their education on hold. Not me. No sir. I needed “to keep going, keep being strong, no matter what.” I put on a happy face when I had class. I joked with my friends. I made light of the situation: “It happened. There’s nothing I can do about it. Right? It is what it is. How am I dealing with it, you ask? I just am. You can’t let it slow you down.” That was the rehearsed line of bullshit I told everyone. You know, to show them how strong I was. Really though? I was a lonely shell of myself. Lonely, sad, and absolutely terrified of what was next. I don’t remember a lot of January-April 2013. I really don’t. I don’t think I truly relaxed even once in that timeframe. I was always worrying: about money, about finding a place to live, about graduating. Doing all this “adult stuff” without Mom and Dad to help guide me. On top of all that, I was still dealing with heartbreak, trying to sort out my own personal life, in some desperate attempt to “remain normal” (spoiler alert: if your mom dies and you’re scrambling to find a new home, graduate school, and still work part-time, you probably shouldn’t be worried about your ex and all the dramatic shit that goes along with exes. But what can I say; I wasn’t the best at prioritizing life-stuff at that point in time, and that was the most “normal” issue I had going for me).

Now, looking back, I think I would have been okay had I let my guard down. If I had gone a little bit easier on myself. If I had let myself make a mistake, or two, or ten. My “few-month period” of day-drinking and unwashed clothes and dirty dishes and eating takeout was the worst it got for me. For some, that isn’t even that bad (hell, that may be their daily routine). For me, though, I still feel slight regret for how I handled it (the perfectionist in me thinks I still could have been stronger, drank less, etc.), but I also feel some sense of relief: I am human. That period of time was proof of that. Some days, it was okay to not want to get out of bed. Some days, it was okay to turn my phone off and just do…nothing. At that point in my life, that was my only logical, sensible option. And so that’s what I did. And here I am today, and I’m doing pretty damn well (Okay, I’m drinking wine as I type this, but come on. I didn’t drink the whole bottle by myself this time).

I’m writing this, because about an hour or so ago, I broke down about Mom and Dad. Out of the blue. It’s the strangest feeling: To be thinking about literally THE OPPOSITE of that, and then, BOOM. Mom and Dad. Are dead. And they’re never, ever coming back. The self-pity. The act of feeling sorry for myself. Saying it out loud: They’re dead. They’re dead. They’re dead. Over and over again. It’s a morbid ritual that happens without having any control over it. I don’t understand it. I don’t like talking about it, I don’t like thinking about it, but I absolutely crave it. Does that make sense? It’s like that weird sensation of when you drive by road kill, you really don’t want to see it, but you always end up looking at it. That’s the feeling I have, sometimes. Do I like feeling sorry for myself? No, not that I know of. I honestly hate the attention this has brought me. And yet, I need to share it. Share the burden, like it lightens the load off of my shoulders. Like someone out there actually wants to read this.

Maybe it’s helping someone? Helping someone deal with their own loss? Helping someone I know get to understand me better?  I don’t know. I don’t know why this happens, or why I feel like I need to share it.  I’m sure there’s a handful of (if not more) people who say, “For Christ’s sake. We get it! Your parents are gone. It’s depressing, and we feel bad for you, but stop talking about it. Stop blogging about it, stop making a spectacle of it. Stop advertising it to get attention. We get it. Move on.” Or, maybe I’m wrong.  I promise I don’t share this stuff “for attention.”  I don’t type this because “I want a blog, and I want everyone to know my business.”  I swear to God, even though it may seem that way, I think this blog is a type of therapy.  It helps me feel less alone and more candid.  People may look at me on the outside as funny, outgoing, cheerful, etc., but this little story shows you that we all have a bigger story.  You can’t tell what someone has gone through just by looking at them.  I have my demons, just like you do.  Sharing it with whoever chooses to read this is my way of “turning my burden into something I can talk about.”  Does it help me heal?  I like to think so. (?) Does it open up a scab that’s just about to heal?  Haha, yep.  Yes, it does.  But, I like to share my thoughts with everyone, and this is part of me.  It’s made me who I am today, and who knows- this may help someone else, in return. The ironic thing about all this: as I type this, I am debating whether or not to post it, or keep it just for me to read.  I guess we’ll find out.

-Al

Happy Mother(less)’s Day: Things You Should and Should Not Say to the Motherless on This (kindofawful) Holiday

Here we meet again, 365 days later, on the most awkward/painful/meaningless/meaningful/eh/whatever holiday that I go through. Er, rather, one of the two most awkward/painful/meaningless/meaningful/eh/whatever holidays that I go through. (Happy Father(less)’s Day edition: TBA.)

Now, I write this post with a happy heart. I write this post, having “gotten through” the worst Mother’s Day Yet (i.e. the first Mother’s Day without Mom, which just so happened to be the same day I graduated with my Master’s Degree).  Despite feeling “better,” I’ll be honest:  This.  Day.  Blows.

Despite blowing HUGE chunks, this day can be:  a) made better, or b) a giant, sloppy, snotty, shit-show of sadness.

So, for those of you who are lucky to still have a Momma, I have written out a cheat sheet, if you want to call it that, of all the things you should and should not say or do to those who are not able to celebrate this day with their own mother. You know, to avoid the sloppy, snotty, shit-show of sadness.

With no further adieu:

  •  DO:  Acknowledge the fact that your friend/significant other has lost his/her mom, and that this day sucks. It’s the giant elephant in the room. Address it. This person wants to talk about it. They do, but they equally don’t. Acknowledge the elephant.
  • DON’T:  Dwell on it. Their mother is gone. It sucks. Give a quick hug or a concerning look, a text, a quick call, and move on. Discuss something else. Show you care, and that you’re not an ignorant asshole, but don’t beat a dead horse. Or mom. (cringe)
  • DO:  Celebrate your own mom’s Mother’s Day! If you have a mom, celebrate that shit up, yo!  Because, one day, you won’t be able to. It’s a sad truth, but it’s a truth, nonetheless.  Cherish it.  You may HATE calling her or visiting her.  Because she can be a nagging you-know-what, who reminds you that you’re not where you “should be at almost 30,” or she talks too much, or she embarrasses you in front of your girlfriend, or she always has a wine buzz, or she always bickers with your dad, or she talks too loudly at the grocery store, or she just might be a raging “female dog.”  But.  She is your mother, and she pushed your slimy bobble-head out of a hole ______ this big.  Or, maybe she’s your adopted mother, and she CHOSE to raise your ass for at least 18 years.  Whatever.  Celebrate her.  Love her.  It is her day.  And your significant other/friend does NOT want you to make light of such an important day.  Because it will make them feel even worse.  I promise.  And then you’ll add ‘guilt’ to the list of emotions he or she is feeling on Mother’s Day (some of which may include, but is not limited to: anger, hatred, isolation, sadness, jealousy, loneliness, depression, apathy, fatigue, blurred vision, dry-mouth, and an erection lasting for more than 4 hours).
  • DON’T:  Avoid talking about your own mom in front of your friend/significant other.  It makes that awkward elephant in the room into a whole goddamn zoo of elephants in the room.  And let’s be honest – I don’t care how big of a house you live in, no room is big enough to fit more than one elephant in it.  Unless you live at the zoo.  Then I guess you can have a few elephants in the room.  But then, you’re not really in a room anymore, now are you?  Rather, you’re in an outdoor space, made specifically for elephants. …
  • DO:  Let your friend/significant other get sad.  They probably need to vent or cry or swear or drink a lot (or all of the aforementioned verbs). Let them do this. Ain’t nobody got time to deal with the aftermath of someone who hasn’t properly vented.
  • DON’T:  Let the person wallow in his or her own misery for more than…oh…10 minutes. Seriously. It will bring the entire mood down. Not just yours, but theirs, as well.  Giving a grieving person too much time to grieve is not healthy.  Take it from someone who lived alone for a brief period of time immediately after her mother’s death.  I had all day and night to grieve.  And think.  And think about being sad (and drink copious amounts of 10% ABV beers).  But the minute I took my mind off of it, and surrounded myself with positivity, I was better.  Let me clarify: I was not OK.  I was better.  There’s a difference.
  • DO:  Say, “I can’t even imagine how hard today is for you.”
  • DON’T:  Say, “I understand how hard today is.”  Shut up.  You don’t.  In fact, let me make an addendum to this rule:
    • DON’T EVER: Tell them you “understand” anything they’re going through or have gone through, or assure you’ve “been there before,” even if you’ve lost your own mother or father or brother or anyone, for that matter. Because, let’s be honest: you never, ever understand another person’s situation, no matter how similar it is. While I know I may sound caustic and “bitey,” right now, I realize that people say “I understand,” because they want to make you feel better and probably have no idea what to say to make you feel better. And, what better way to make someone feel better and less alone than finding a common ground? But, this situation is something that no one can relate to. Even siblings, who share the same parent, grieve differently, and honestly can’t fully relate to one another. Just…don’t.
  • DO:  Understand that you significant other/friend will probably say or do something TOTALLY bitchy at some point on Mother’s Day. Probably more than once.
  • DON’T:  Take it personally.
  • DO:  Realize that your friend/significant other may, actually, have a few moments where –wait for it – they are actually NOT thinking about how sad they are (gasp!).  It’s possible that, at one point, you may look over at him/her, and they’re smiling.  Shit, they may even be laughing.  Giggling.  Chortling.  Snickering.  Guffaw-ing.  So you think to yourself, “Aw, look how strong she’s being.  She’s pretending to be happy today.  That’s so noble and “big” of her.”  Actually, it’s just the opposite.  She’s actually happy.  In that moment, she’s happy.
  • DON’T:  Forget that, at times, the smile Is. Totally. Fake.
  • DO:  Encourage him/her to share memories about their mom. It might cause him/her to cry, but memories can warm even the coldest feelings. Encourage him to recall his favorite recipe that his mom would make. Encourage him to describe the best Mother’s Day gift he bought her. Encourage him to feel love, and to celebrate his mom.  Today is a day to celebrate, not mourn.
  • DON’T:  Force memory-sharing.  As much as memories can fill him with nostalgia, it can equally be as painful as the moment he said goodbye to her.  When he says, “I don’t feel like talking right now,” honor his request, and let him open up on his own, at a later time.
  • DO:  Realize that this is only a 24-hour long day, just like any other day, but Mother’s Day advertisements start a week or so in advance. 1-800-Flowers, Kay Jewelers, Hallmark, Target, Yahoo!, Facebook, YouTube…everywhere you look… “Buy your mom what she deserves this Mother’s Day.”  To you, it is a helpful reminder to stop by CVS and buy a $10.00 Papyrus card and a Yankee Candle.  To your friend or girlfriend, it is a punch right in the gut.  Every. Single. Time.
  • DON’T: Pretend like the holiday isn’t happening.  Discuss plans to see your mom.  Discuss gift ideas.  Again, acknowledge the elephant.
  • DO: Understand that time heals.  Okay, “heals” isn’t the right word. Because “heals” implies that something that was broken or bleeding is now fixed and whole, again.  And this loss will never be fixed.  (This is going to be SO cliché, and I understand that) Mother’s Day is like…when you’re shaving your legs, and you shave over an old cut on your shin or on that damn bone by your ankle (all you ladies know what I’m talking about, and are probably shuddering).  And you’re trying to hurry up, and shave your damn legs because you’re wearing a skirt and you HAVE to shave (AKA you’re going to HAVE to acknowledge Mother’s Day), so you attack your leg with the razor, hurrying to finish up, you start bleeding all over the damn place, you scream, you cover it in a piece of Kleenex, and it heals.  Until the next time you shave your legs.  You’re fine, until next Mother’s Day.  Hopefully you shave your legs more than once a year, but you get the (horrible) simile.  So, when your boyfriend cuts the shit out of his chin, and there’s a little scab, you notice that it eventually heals.  But you know that, eventually, he’ll probably cut that same area wide open again.  That cut hasn’t totally disappeared.  His loss, for the remaining 364 days, is healed.  Until it’s cut wide open again, in the middle of May.

With all of this said, I hope to have shed some light on this subject.  It’s not an easy one, but it doesn’t have to be hard, either.

Acknowledge the elephant.

Squeeze a Mom today.

Squeeze a Mom today.

Happy Mother’s Day to all of the mothers – here or up there.

-Al

Momma’s Chicken Scampi AKA “A Pain in the Ass to Make”

Kids, I’m going to tell you a story about a time I fell in (food)love.

One night, I walked into the house from the garage, after a very long day at school. I’m sure I was body-full of book bags, tote bags, satchels, and an oversized, tie dye cross-body purse from Passport to Peru (the best store in Coventry).  Because, you see, Speech-Language Pathology students are actually vagabonds who carry all of their belongings with them.  And by belongings, I mean textbooks, notebooks, portable laminators, Chutes and Ladders, a dry-erase board, Legos, squeeze balls, breakfast, lunch, dinner, a snack, another snack, Purell bottles, a tape recorder, a clipboard, a penlight, every colored highlighter/marker/Sharpie/crayon known to Man, a stethoscope, a roll of Velcro, and a bottle of Tums. In another 10 years, my entire graduating Speech-Pathology class will need spinal realignment.

As I opened the door, I was literally punched in the face by the smell of garlic and lemon.  And butter.  And pasta.  And something being sautéed on the stove.  Drool.

And, at that exact moment, I was introduced to my mother’s sexy brainchild:  Chicken Scampi.

Accompanying the intoxicating aromas were also the sounds of boiling water, grease spattering, and,

“Goddamn sonsabitches, you little bastards, goddamn it, THIS IS THE LAST TIME I’M MAKING THIS GODDAMN, SONOFABITCHIN’ RECIPE.”

(Apparently the task of egg-washing and breading pieces of chicken breast was all-too taxing for my mother, who, for the record, was THE least-patient person in the entire universe.  Anyone who has ever had the ultimate pleasure of riding in the passenger seat of a car that Mom was driving will attest to the fact that my mother had Z E R O patience.  For anything.)

In front of me, on the stage that was our kitchen stove, I found tiny, perfect little chicken nuggets, becoming perfectly sautéed to a golden brown.  Next to that pan was a pot of boiling linguine pasta.  And, most sacred of all, on the back burner (literally, not metaphorically), was a saucepan filled with, what appeared to be, Heaven’s Nectar:  Garlic, butter, and lemon juice.

Dear, sweet, fancy PastaJesus.

The next few moments are hazy.  I can tell you it probably looked one of two ways: Waterman's Kitchen

or cartman A few weeks later, I asked Mom to make the recipe again.  Seeing that she really didn’t feel like it, because it’s “a pain in the ass to make,” I begged.  And then I just offered to make it.  And when Mom realized that, (a) I didn’t find it difficult to make, whatsoever and (b) I cooked it like a damn CHAMP, this recipe soon became my responsibility.

Flash forward a couple of years:  I met Alex, and I wanted to woo him.  So, very early on in the relationship, I made him Mom’s Chicken Scampi.  We’re still together.

And here you go.  Mom’s Chicken Scampi recipe.

Chicken Scampi

  • 1 package boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces (like an inch or two in diameter)
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • plain breadcrumbs, seasoned with salt and pepper and parsley flakes (to your liking)
  • A 1 lb box of pasta (I like linguini the best)
  • A stick of butter
  • 1/4 c of lemon juice
  • A shit-ton of minced garlic (“shit ton” was a frequent unit of measurement in Mom’s kitchen.  “How much garlic do I need?” “A shit ton.”  Oh, hey, thanks for clarifying)
FullSizeRender-2 copy

this is what a shit ton of garlic looks like

  • More salt and pepper
  • 1/2 tsp parsley flakes

After you beat the eggs and cut up the chicken, create an egg wash/breading station for your nuggs. Dip the chicken in the egg wash, and then coat the nugget in  the breadcrumb/salt/pepper mixture.  It gets messy.  I think this may be the point in the recipe which caused Mom to become irate and profane. FullSizeRender-2 copy 3

If your hands don’t look like this when you’re finished, you’ve done something wrong.

Heat up some olive oil in a large sauté pan.  Once the oil is hot, place as many of the little suckers in there as you can.  Don’t over-crowd the pan, but do as many as you can (that rhymed), so you don’t have to keep reusing nasty oil.  The more batches you do, the more burnt the oil gets, and the more burnt your nuggs get. No one likes burnt nuggs. IMG_3925

Take them out of the pan, and set them aside, on a paper towel-lined plate.  At this point, they’re probably not cooked all the way through.  Fret not, young grasshopper, as you will continue to cook them in a second or two.

Once your nuggs are golden and resting on the plate (or, as you sauté them, it depends on how good you are at multi-tasking), place the stick of butter, lemon juice, minced garlic, 1/2 tsp of parsley flakes, and salt and pepper to taste in a pan. Melt the butter, and bring it to a wimpy boil (I think the pros call it a “simmer”).

OK, so this is when you need to use your judgement.  If you were to taste the lemony, garlicky goodness, it would probably taste way too lemony.  But, once you toss everything together, it balances out.  Scout’s honor. If you prefer more lemon, add it in.  If you wanna get totally crazy, throw in some red pepper flakes.  Adjust it to your liking.  Go crazy. FullSizeRender-2 copy 2

Mother of God.

Once it’s all melted and bubbling, add the big, fat hunks of chicken that you’re nervous aren’t cooked all the way through.  There are some little nuggets that you just know are cooked through, so you don’t need to add ’em.  You can if you want.  Whatever.  But the other ones need to be finished up, or else you have a big ‘ole case of salmonella on your hands, and, well…that’ll ruin any dinner. The chicken won’t dry out.  I promise.

IMG_3928

Salmonella be gone!

Meanwhile, cook the pasta.  I added some of the pasta water to my lemon garlic sauce. Once the pasta is al dente, carefully add the chicken/lemon/garlic sauce to your pasta and toss to coat.

One tiny deviation from E. Frances’s (Frances’? Damn apostrophe usage gets me every time) recipe:  I add crumbled feta cheese (aka crack cocaine of the cheese world) to my pasta.  Alex was skeptical, “Don’t mess with a good thing,” however I talked him into adding some feta to his dish, and he was hooked. Anyone who tells me to not use feta is no friend of mine. FullSizeRender-2 copy 4 MouthSex.

Somm’s Note: According to Alex, my handsome Sommelier, he would pair a Vernaccia di San Gimignano wine with this meal. 

“Something with nice acidity to cut through the breading on the chicken, the starchy pasta, and the butter. It needs to be pleasant and work with the garlic and lemon juice.”  

Just trust him on this one.

Mom was so modest about everything she cooked.  “It’s not too bad.”  That’s what I loved the most about Mom’s meals – she just threw stuff together, and it always turned out amazing.  Chicken Scampi reminds me of coming home from school, only to have dinner cooked and ready for me.  I could have THE worst day of classes.  I could have sat in hellish traffic coming home from Cleveland State.  I could have taken an Anatomy and Physiology exam and vomited EVERYWHERE.  But, I came home to an amazing-smelling kitchen, a swearing mom, and a stomach full of pasta.  The previous events of the day didn’t seem to matter too much anymore.

Another memory:  My mom “sampling” the pasta in the pot before she served it…4 or 5 times in a row.  I would catch her in the act, and she would hiss, “Don’t judge me!” hunched over the pot like a hyena eating a meal at the zoo.  Okay, to be fair, I’ve actually never seen a hyena eating a meal at the zoo.  Or, anywhere, for that matter.  With the exception of The Lion King.  And those bastards were hungry and ravenous.  Except for the one voiced by Whoopi Goldberg.  I liked that hyena.  But I digress.

Sidenote:  I never said the recipes I will post were going to be gourmet.  To be fair, I am posting homemade recipes cooked by my momma.  Not that she wasn’t talented, but these meals are meant to evoke memories, not appear on the Food Network.  I am not saying that they’re super fantastic, Michelin-starred dishes, but they’re obviously pretty damn tasty.  So don’t come here expecting some impossible to cook, technical dish.  Hopefully they’ll sound tasty to you, and hopefully they’ll give you a little glimpse into what it was like to eat dinner cooked by E. Frances.

Enjoy! -Al