What I Gained by Giving up Weekday Drinking

Here’s my second finalist article for the Parent.co monthly writing contest. I don’t think either of them won, but it was fun to enter–and always nice to see something you wrote published!

https://www.parent.com/what-i-gained-by-giving-up-weeknight-drinking/

 

Sometimes you just have to quit: How I prepared in advance for my own mental breakdown

I’ve always been an independent person. I don’t like to ask for help. I’m slightly on the introverted side, so I prefer to work by myself. Or with one or two people I really like. But most of all, I like to be creative. This was a good place to be, more than 20 years ago, when I started my career in corporate communications and was in a small team, managing a small publication on my own.

Then things started getting uncomfortable. There were promotions, there were children, there were projects and people to manage. All normal milestones in life, and of course there were many aspects of these changes that I enjoyed. And I was good at it. I could work 12 hours a day, take care of the kids, pay the bills, and all with a sunny disposition.

On one hand, I was proud of being able to accomplish so many things at once. But being good at getting things done is exhausting when the things you’re getting done are not ones you want to be doing. I’m talking about the work side of things, not kids or my home life. Those areas of my life I always cherished, but I never had enough time to really pay attention to them. To just enjoy them.

A slight buzzing had started in my head, a kind of background noise that crept in during times of stress and faded when things got quiet. Things were never quiet for long, and the moments of peace got to be few and far between.

The moment I knew I was in the wrong place, doing the wrong thing, was when I was at home, giving a presentation to our CEO on the phone, with my boss on the line to assess my performance, while holding a squirming, sick, screaming toddler. I thought: Ok, now is the time to start hatching my escape plan.

You would think that planning ahead to leave something you don’t enjoy would make “that thing” easier to deal with. It didn’t. It made it worse. Watching my nest egg grow much too slowly, doing the calculations to determine when it was “safe” to leave . . . And the guilt of knowing that I was making a conscious decision to go from supporting my family to potentially making no money for a long time. It was suffocating.

The buzzing got worse.

I was anxious all the time. My heart raced, my blood pressure rose. I sweated even when I was cold.  In quiet moments I would sit and listen to my pulse pounding in my ears, and I could feel it in my nose. Sometimes I would get nosebleeds.

Eventually I got depressed. Nothing could make me happy. I withdrew from friends, family, activities, everything. I just wanted to be left alone.

One morning I found myself in my hotel room, pacing up and down the floor in my towel, gasping for breath. The reason? An event I was running later that day, one that I had run for 5 years in a row. In fact, one of many events and large meetings I ran throughout the year. Nothing major had ever gone wrong at any of them, and there was nothing special about this one.

But as I was getting ready to dry my hair and get dressed, I had a horrible thought: I couldn’t imagine the event happening. Usually before an event, I run through it in my mind, and I can see everything happening the way it should. That always gave me peace of mind, like I was just following a script that was already written. In this case, however, I couldn’t “see” the event. I took it as an omen that something was going to go terribly wrong, and my brain was protecting me by not letting me see it.

I panicked. I thought about packing my bag and running away. But I didn’t. I got through the event, it went well, and I got on the train and was happy to see my family when I got home. Fortunately that was only a few weeks before I walked out the door of my building for the last time, because I don’t think I would have survived another challenge.

I’ve been “free” for 9 months. Quitting wasn’t easy. I felt like . . . a quitter. And I still do.

If I had been a stronger person, I could have gone to therapy, taken antidepressants and continued on in my job for another 20 years. But even the thought of that depressed me. I don’t want to look back on my life and think “wow, I really hung in there, didn’t I?” There are no medals or rewards for suffering in silence.

So here I am, hustling to get freelance writing work every day, getting some here and there, writing personal things for my own amusement, and slowly adjusting to a life without constant stress. It sounds easy, but ironically, it’s a little . . . um, stressful. But there’s negative stress that eats at your mind and body, and then there’s constructive stress, which drives you to work hard at doing something you enjoy.

I can deal with constructive stress. So . . . Here I am. And here I go!

“How Far I’ll Go”

Well, apparently I’ll go all the way to WordPress, since Facebook won’t let me post audio files! But if you’re a Disney fan, maybe you’ll like this homegrown pop/punk version of “How Far I’ll Go,” from Moana. Enjoy!

Goodbye, Weekday Drinking . . . Hello, Weight Loss (Well, sort of)

I just had my first paid web site article published. Woo hoo! I don’t have any more to say about that, so please check it out!

https://thereset.com/punch-bowl/goodbye-weekday-drinking-hello-weight-loss/

 

Is it Wrong to Want to Escape?

Planning a fantasy life on the road, someday

When I was a child, maybe 7 or 8 years old, I fantasized about having a “house within a house” that snaked its way through the hallways and living spaces of my home. Only I would have access to this house, but since it was located inside my real house, I could easily visit my parents and pets.

I would draw pictures of how this house could look—kind of a cross between a child-sized doll house and a hamster habitrail. I would draw it as if a house had been sliced in half, kind of like they do on that HGTV show I’ve forgotten the name of, where they show how the layout could look for the owner’s space and the renter’s space. This sliced cake house would be fully furnished, with family rooms, bathrooms, kitchens, closets and furniture. I never put any people in the drawings, because I would be the only one living there.

In this house within a house, I could have solitude, but still feel safe. Which made no sense, as I was an only child. All spaces were my solitary space!

I had forgotten all about my strange fantasy until a few years ago when Tiny Houses became the biggest thing since everything bagels. And there it was! An adult escape pod on wheels. I couldn’t stop thinking about the appeal of a Tiny House. But, you know, I’m a grownup. With the usual assortment of responsibilities and things that keep you in one spot.

If I were just starting out in life, I would surely be one half of a hipster couple, shopping for a tiny house with all the money I had saved since college, planning a mortgage-free life traveling all over the country, pulling up in camp sites and any open space we could find and calling it home for however long we wanted to stay. I’m not sure what all those hipster couples with tiny dogs do for a living that they can live on the road, but they sure do look happy.

Obviously that wasn’t going to be my story. But what if I flipped the timeline, and a tiny house isn’t the beginning of a lifelong adventure, but the end of one? I mean, in a happy way, not a depressing way. That’s when the cogs in my head started cranking.

I’m a planner. Not just a day-to-day planner. Yes, I keep a “to do” list that accounts for nearly every hour of the day. It makes me feel accomplished to see everything crossed of the list at the end of the day. Except most days there are a few things that have to be carried over, which drives me crazy.

I’m also a long-range planner. Even when I had a steady job and a salary, and I knew exactly how much my 401K and pension were going to pay out each month based on the year I decided to retire, I would run different scenarios in my head to see how my life might turn out if I were to make a small tweak here, a big change there. I would make calculations while driving, running errands, in the shower. Sometimes I would have to break out the calculator. (Not in the shower.)

“Running Scenarios” is what I call it. Is it weird that I have a name for it? Imagine one of those “If yes, then move here, if no then move here, if neither then go back to the beginning” charts. That’s the way my mind works. If I don’t like the outcome, I can go back and rearrange the blocks and arrows.

Whatever you call it, the process of running scenarios is calming. Kind of like telling myself that however this kooky life goes, it’s all going to work out in the end.

So back to the Tiny House Project. This appealed to my Running Scenarios mentality, so I started going through all the possibilities. Such as: If the value of the house were $X by the year I turn 60, and the cost of a tricked-out tiny house and the truck and all other accoutrements needed to pull it were $X, then the money leftover after the sale of our house would cover our monthly cost of living (including gas) for 20 years without having to touch our savings.

It sounded pretty damn good!

Of course there are few things to consider. Such as: Would we have a home base, or would we just travel all the time? I decided that would should have a home base either somewhere warm (with a tiny house, you would probably want or need to spend some time outside) or somewhere near wherever the kids end up. So factor the cost of a small plot of land into the scenario and recalculate.

Also: Where would we put all the stuff from our house that we couldn’t let go? That’s easy. Get a rental container near home base and store everything there. We could always go “visit” our stuff whenever needed. Factor monthly rental of container into the scenario.

There are other, more mundane things to sort through. Like, would I still be able to have a garden? At home base, sure. But on the road? I went back to my mental blueprint of the tiny house and added window boxes for flowers, and some larger boxes attached to the back of the house for herbs and vegetables—all of which would need to have a storage container inside the house for when we’re on the road.

Then there is the bathroom issue. Do I want to have to be hooked up to a water source, or could I live with a “mulching” toilet? I mean, a mulching toilet? Gross.

At that point I ran out of things to add to my mental schematic, so I decided that spending my older years traveling and writing from a tiny house was actually a viable option.

Except . . . my husband might not agree. I neglected to work him into the scenario. Damn it.  Now I have to start over.

Cat of a Thousand Names

It all started with a case of gender confusion. One of our “twin” cats, Baxter (sister and brother, actually, but they were practically identical), had just passed away after a fairly long and ugly battle with stomach cancer. I wasn’t ready for another cat, but my family had other ideas.

I left for a trip just before the 4th of July, and my parting instructions were: “Don’t get another cat while I’m gone. But if you do, make sure it’s a girl. We don’t want another boy cat beating up poor Betty.” We loved Baxter more than anything, but he really could be an asshole when he wanted to be. Which was any time (1) Betty was anywhere near, (2) he spied something on a surface that should be knocked off–preferably glass and breakable–and (3), breakfast time, which could start as early as 4am with insistent yowling. So, basically most of the time.

There’s Betty. A softy at heart, but always ready with a few claws if necessary.

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I wasn’t surprised when I started getting texts with photos of an adorable orange and white kitten.

Enter Waldo.

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He was the cutest little thing, athletic and possessing an impressive alley cat swagger at only 3 months. We decided to keep the name Waldo, thinking how fun it would be ask “Where’s Waldo?” every time we were looking for him. There’s no way that would get old, right?

The time came to have Waldo neutered. I took him to the home of the woman his foster mom recommended for his last distemper shot, and she offered to make the appointment through the vet she works with. She flipped him around to have a look at his rear end, and said “Uh . . . I think you mean spayed. This one is a girl!”

Enter Wilma.

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We didn’t want to change his–er, her name too drastically, and Wilma was a good fit with Betty, if you’re a fan of the Flintstones. Their coloring even matched their names: Betty has black hair, and Wilma is mostly orange. Cute, right?

Except that somehow the gender switch activated a naming switch, and we started calling her everything under the sun. Wilmer, Wilderama, Wilmy, Wilma Lou, Wilma Lou Hoo, Willy Wonka, Little Willy Willy Won’t . . . Go Home, Silly Willy, Little Willy, Willy Loman, Willy Willy Oxenfree. And probably more that I can’t think of now.

Every morning when it’s time for breakfast, I’ll start calling all of her names (and a few for Betty, just to make sure she doesn’t feel left out), and by the time I finish running through them all, they have both finished eating and are settling down for their morning nap.

Next, I suppose we’ll have to round out the family with a Fred, Barney, Pebbles, Bam-Bam and Dino. I can only imagine how long breakfast will take.

 

 

Looking at life from behind: In no particular order

I have an empty photo frame that has been hanging on our stairway wall for three years. Every now and then, my daughter will ask why I haven’t put any photos in it. Until now, I could honestly say “I have no idea!”

It’s not like we don’t have photos in frames all over the house. We have tons of them. All happy, smiling faces of our family at different points in our lives—soon after J. was born, at the beach, us beaming and her peering out from her Baby Bjorn with an expression both concerned and nearsighted. A posed family Christmas photo when J. was about 6 and S. was a toddler, where only I noticed the slight yellowish bruise on her cheek from the latest episode of S.’s “enthusiastically throwing board books” phase. In front of the Eiffel Tower, the week after Princess Diana died, long before we had any idea how full and chaotic the next 20 years would be.

I kind of felt like, “been there, done that” in the hanging photos department. But the stairway wall was bare, and needed something. So up went the photo frame, and there it sat. Somehow filling it with more of the same types of photos didn’t seem right. This frame should have its own special type of photos.

But what?

Recently I was transferring photos from an old hard drive to my laptop, and it struck me: The photos that I found most poignant were the ones taken from the back. Photos that spoke to me not through the expressions on the subjects’ faces, but their poses, their posture, their surroundings. The photos where no one felt obligated to create a “hey we’re having fun” face, but were simply going about their business, thinking who knows what.

Here’s one of my favorites: A perfect late spring day, after coming home from a joint birthday party for both kids. He was three, she was seven. We had to explain to S. what a pinwheel was, but he was fascinated. He didn’t let go of that pinwheel the rest of the afternoon. Here he’s taking a breather and watching the rest of the kids running and doing cartwheels in the yard. Who knows what was going through his head? Not knowing, I’m free to make up stories about what could have been happening in the photo.

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Here’s another one–walking to our first ride on the Tower of Terror (and many more to come):

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And there are more:

Even though I know the back story (sorry, pun really wasn’t intended but I like it so I’m keeping it) for all these photos—after all, I was always the photographer—it makes me happy to think that they could have been telling any number of stories. I can make up new ones to match them if I want. There are no faces or expressions to prove me wrong.

Which reminds me of something I sometimes think about: What are the stories of the people who randomly appear in your family photos? What were they doing at that moment? I know what we were doing, but their narrative was completely different that day. And come to think of it, wouldn’t it be cool to be able to locate all the family photos that YOU have randomly appeared in? Those photos alone could tell the entire story of your life, in no particular order.

But that’s a whole separate line of musing that I’ll get into later.

J. and I finally took that empty photo frame off the wall and filled it with a crooked collage of our favorite photos. It took some wrestling (“Aw man, now there’s a HAIR between the two pieces of glass! Ok, take it apart again.”), but now it accurately represents us: Not perfect, a little askew, slightly messy, memories overlapping, mostly happy.