Friday, September 21, 2012

The Continued Adventures of Celia in Liverpool…

In June I decided to write a series of blogs about my experiences as a college student in a study abroad program with the University of Liverpool. This is the second installment, you will probably want to read the previous blog first.
It’s long enough ago that I really cannot remember the names of any of the students I met in Liverpool. What lasts firmly are more sensory; I remember the damp chill of the spring air that gave way to summer warmth, but always the scent of diesel fuel and fresh asphalt. I remember the gentle and rhythmic repeating pattern of hill and dale giving way to the sites we visited. Learning the cadence and deciphering the local dialect. One of my greatest appreciations became the clear delineation of leaving a town and ending up in the country; no sprawling mass of humanity. Even the light… when most of the landscape includes deciduous low growing trees, the sky stretches so far that pure clear sunlight can be seen shining far, far off on the horizon, and overhead the clouds can be soggy with unshed rain. When I think of this specifically, I think of Wylfa Nuclear Power Station on the northern coast of Wales, its towers drenched in sunlight as we drove in a charter bus along a far and distant hill.
There are many experiences I miss; living in a world where there is the dense core of the city center, where bustling seas of bodies weave in and out of each other after work and on the weekends; stopping in at Tesco’s (grocery chain), Boots (pharmacy), the myriad of clothing stores looking at what was fashionable and different, very basic living. As students of Architecture, Landscape Architecture and Urban Planning, we trolled the streets of these towns to absorb the beauty of the old adjacent to the new, to travel by foot the worn paving of many generations and to literally feel what people have always travelled, the path that was most direct.
In school we had been taught to observe the paths that people wore out in the landscape, because they were the paths we needed to design into a space. There should no “left over space” in design. Grass does not exist as filler, it is planned; you do not plant shrubs around a foundation to hide where the building erupts from the earth, you plan the transition so that it is discreet or celebrated. It turned out these simple lessons became the foundation for our academic experiences at school in Liverpool.
As mentioned in the previous blog, the school didn’t really know what to do with Landscape Architecture students, so “they” sat us down and asked us what we’d like to do. In the end we served as critics to graduate architecture students, and helped them work on the relationship between their buildings and the environment. One of my favorite projects was a Breast Cancer treatment center that had been designed for below ground, the concept was that the building represented the womb; not only to represent another part of a woman’s body, but to represent growth and nurturing. When the young male student and I visited the site it turned out to be on the edge of town, the old building recently demolished, the rubble still lying on the ground. The buildings surrounding it were industrial, and there wasn’t a living plant in sight. It was the least nurturing location one could imagine. Do I remember the 24 year old fellow’s name? No. What I remember were many conversations about whether to leave the site in its raw and brutal state to express the devastation of cancer, or whether the site should be enclosed by plants; a sensory garden, to help bring the patients and their families back to the basic elements of life, a place to reflect, and possibly, heal.
It’s interesting when you pose these thoughts as design exercises versus real life experiences. Fundamentally both are great design concepts, but with seventeen years of life passing and many dear to me having suffered the pain of breast cancer, I can artistically perceive both as viable, but as a woman I can feel only one. It would be interesting to know what this student, now 41, would design.
At the same time there was a request made to the college by a local elementary school for assistance in designing a playground. What makes me laugh about this now is that I have children and everything those parents ended up asking us for are the same things parents still ask for now. I love it! To be honest I think the staff was a bit overwhelmed by how involved we got. We had children give us wish lists and drawings, we asked parents for input, we asked the staff to help us refine the needs. We took thousands of pictures, we drew thousands of drawings, and in the end we wrote a book which included not only the designs, but how to fundraise and implement the project. The only downside is that we never learned whether any of it happened.
So, back to the beginning of this adventure; on day one of trudging around Liverpool and getting our bearings in terms of food, shelter, and provisions, it started to snow. It was March! So, with as many layers on as we could put, we trolled looking like bag ladies (and gents), and tried to appear appreciative of our tour guides efforts. Every pub, tea shop, or restaurant was a sought after haven. Students disappeared into them, and by the end of the day, there were only a handful of us left, at which point we disappeared into the pub with Steve, the Professor who had picked us up from the bus station the night before.
I have shared on a number of occasions, I’m sure, that my mother is from England. I think unconsciously, until we sat in that pub, part of what I was trying to understand was what life for me would have been like had my family never moved from England to the U.S. When I had previously been in England, it was mostly under the kind guardianship of relatives. I just wanted to feel all by myself what daily life might have been like. To look left then right when driving or crossing the road, to stand next to a building built five hundred years ago and not think it odd or tremendous, to understand the responsibility of the daily grind of living life there. I spent many hours driving the roads of the U.K. not only admiring the sites, but contemplating what life would have been like to live there, with extended family, with different expectations.
There is a phrase that goes something like this, “You cannot know where you are going if you do not know where you’ve been.” So, this trip became the spur, became the beginning point that was plunked down into the present (or past present as is now the case).
Again, back to the agenda: We arrived in Liverpool while most of the students were on some form of a break, only a handful of students and faculty were around. They quickly suggested a Pub Crawl; sounding like great fun, off we went, twenty two Americans and half a dozen Brits.
If you don’t know what a Pub Crawl is, the very short version is that you go from one pub to the next, the end goal being that you only go home, when crawling is the only form of transportation your body allows you. Most of my memories from that night, I must admit, are diminished by vast amounts of lager that I consumed, not the passage of time. Two highlights from that night… I was in a Mexican Restaurant and needed fresh air and privacy desperately. So I did in fact crawl up the stairs to the street level. I was sitting on the curb, head between my knees, investigating the installation of cobbles, when I heard shouting.
It became quite clear that the shouting was being directed at me, and though not at full capacity, I could recognize anger. Just as I was coming to this realization a lovely man emerged from the Mexican Restaurant, shouted back at the woman, yes by now I was focusing enough to determine gender. She stalked off, looking “quite put out!” The fellow who came to my rescue helped me to my feet and it turned out that I was about six inches taller, fifty pounds heavier, and the street lights glowing around us, illuminated his red hair and freckles. Seriously, and with no intention of offending my Irish friends, he could have jumped right off the Lucky Charms box.
The conversation went something like this:
Me: “Thanks! What was that all about?”
Him: “She heard your accent and knows you're American.”
Me: “Oh! Does she dislike all Americans or just me?”
Him: “She doesn’t like Bill Clinton.”
Me: “I’m pretty sure I’m not him.”
Him: “Yeah, well, Clinton met with Gerry Adams today.”
Me: “Sorry, who’s that?”
Him: “Who’s Gerry Adams? He’s the leader of the Sinn Fein.”
Me: (Knowing who the Sinn Fein are) “Oh, my apologies. If it helps, I think Bill Clinton is a bit of an ass.”
Him: “It helps a bit. Let’s get you home.”
Me: “Gotta get my friends.” (Still had the presence of mind to not let myself wander off with strange men, even if they were diminutive.)
Him: “I’ll go get them; you sit here with your head between your knees.”
Soon we all departed, stumbling in relatively the correct direction, when there was a sudden request by my Irish defender to stop in a pub. I think I had a glass of water, but I distinctly remember singing a rousing rendition of “My Girl” while my cohorts, primarily the Leprechaun, sang back up. Needless to say, it was a painful day that followed.
Part of the next day’s pain was a minor flirtation on my part with a lovely twenty two year old student whilst pub crawling. When we clambered onto the tour bus the next day, he had saved me a seat. We’d only been in town for forty eight hours and I was already in trouble. We’ll shorten the story and say that he and I spent an awkward day playing “Dodge the Dude” and I oohed and ah’ed as we drove the highways and byways of Merseyside; taking in the Strawberry Fields (Beatles), Tudor Architecture (Speke Hall, built in 1490), Toxteth (where the riots had been held and where I lived), the shipyards of Liverpool, Penny Lane, and finally, back to the University, from where I trudged back to Toxteth and got ready for our second night of Pub Crawling.
I will only say about the second night of Pub Crawling… it was shorter, less enthusiastic and much more innocuous than the previous night.
So, the next installment in The Adventures of Celia in Liverpool will include: Phantom of the Opera, a ride in a cop car, and driving in the Cotswolds.
As for gardening tips: Well, having skipped writing all summer, you probably think that there isn’t much to say. But there is!! With perennials dying back and the fall clean-up getting under way, it is an excellent time to divide and move perennials around (share with friends), dig up shrubs that outgrew and out-competed other plants, oh, also, trim all your ornamental grasses back, so that next year you have all fresh growth and no winter burn. It is a fabulous time to go to nurseries and look for discounted plants, but much more importantly – plants that bloom in the winter, or have spectacular bark or texture. Some of my favorites are Hellebores (many varieties bloom from October through May) and Witch Hazel (have delicate and fragrant flowers in the winter).
Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Out and About in the Wilds of England

As promised, a little bit of insight into my psyche and my student exchange program in Liverpool, England…

My hero, Tom, who rode through the eye of a storm with me, always encouraging me to be me, let me live in his beautiful house on Lake Washington while I was finishing up my degree in Landscape Architecture. He lived out of town quite a bit of the time, but was contemplating a return to the Pacific Northwest, and being a lover of solitude, the least I could do to repay his  years of generosity was to find new digs. Fortunately, in poking around to find a place to live I learned about an exchange program between the UW and the University of Liverpool. It served not only to get me out of Tom’s house, but it gave me the much needed physical distance from everything and everybody, to shake up my world just a little bit more.

Things got off to a slightly shakey start before I ever left. Sparing you the painful details of boxing up my stuff at Tom’s and then the stuff that was still in my Ex’s house, I will share the sad and woeful tale of the “Romulan Do.” Knowing that I would be needing a hair-cut while I was gone, I decide to have my hair cut a little on the short side. No offense to anyone intended, but I said to the stylist, “I need it to be short, but still feminine. I don’t want it severe or butch.” Butch I got! I think he, a gorgeous man whose name I banished from my memory as soon as I saw my hair, thought I said just the opposite. I am not exaggerating when I say that it was six months until I needed a trim. Not a cut. A trim! I inherited my father’s hairline and all I can say is that I looked like Mark Lenard in the Balance of Terror episode from the original Star Trek Series.

My mother is from East Anglia, Suffolk, England. First stop on my adventure was a visit to my very entertaining relatives. When asking where I would be living I said something like, “I dunno, the University sets it up.” My Uncle strongly discouraged me from living in Toxteth; going on to describe the violence of the racially driven riots of the early 1980’s. Not ignoring his advice, I just let it drift to a distant corner of my memory, because this is bucolic England we are talking about. Not inner city Chicago or Philadelphia. On one rainy Sunday morning a week later I took a bus from the east coast of England to the west coast. It took around twelve hours. We passed through countryside, under Tudor-esque city gates, down narrow lanes, stopped at a military base, and then made our way to some of the UK’s largest industrial centers, Sheffield (watch “The Full Monty”) and then Liverpool. Eventually the bus driver had reached his final destination and parked us in a modern bus station on the eastern edge of downtown, where I was to be met by my advisor and tour guide.

Dragging luggage out from the belly of the beast, Steve, my advisor, plonked what I’d brought with me into the boot of his car. Now would be a great time to insert that I encouraged a very dear friend to come along, she, also a Landscape Architecture student and lover of travel. So, her stuff was plonked into the boot next to mine. His accent was fairly easy to follow, unlike quite a few people we were soon to meet, and we were given the lightning fast tour of town as we travelled down and around many a windy road. It was late, we were tired and hungry, and when the word Toxteth briefly came up. I thought, “Oh boy! Here we go.”

So, our dwellings… honestly, when people say, “You couldn’t make this stuff up,” believe the phrase. Steve, our only connection to the strange new world we found ourselves in, shared with us that we would be living in rooms above a homeless shelter with other students from other parts of the world. We were clearly in a different part of town. Burnt windowless brick buildings that were historic locations were now filled with trees, shrubs, weeds and other stray living matter. Trying to take this in as if it were absolutely no big deal, I sought to identify the local night life. Seeing as it was around 9:00 pm, Sunday and raining, there was little to be seen. Screeching to a halt I absorbed the front of a building recently built; brick, steel, glass, weeds, regularly located street lights, musty smell. “Hmmm,” I thought.

After fumbling with the keys, we made our way through a side door into a private elevator reserved for those dwelling above the homeless shelter. More musty smell accompanied by yellow fluorescent light, faux wood doors, off-white linoleum; the ambiance escorted us, our two backpacks and passel of keys. Facing the back wall of the building, if you went left, you went down the “Male” wing of the facility. If you went right, you met the ladies. So, another key lets us enter our wing. (My haircut might have made my presence questionable.) We reached my room first. It was about 10’X12’, and had a single bed, desk, armoire, bookshelf, night stand, side chair, and sink. A window was just above the headboard. All the furniture was faux brown wood.

Pamemelis’s room, right next door, was identical to mine. As it turned out all of our wing-mates from Zimbabwe, Birmingham, and London had rooms  that were identical. They had just heavily personalized and rearranged furniture. There were a total of six of us sharing the space. There were two water closets and one room with a bath tub. The other space was a communal living area that had two or three refrigerators, metal table and chairs, some old but functional furniture, and “stuff” covering the counter tops.

Now, I am by no stretch of the imagination a Prima Donna, but I had been living in a colorful, well furnished, architect designed, uber cool, several thousand square foot house (mostly by myself) with an extended lake and city view. So, I was a bit… giddy. Why giddy? No other word quite describes it; I wasn’t upset, horrified, underwhelmed, impressed, depressed, or repressed. I was thrilled to be there but it was a lot to take in. Moments after unloading back packs and other stuff we’d been advised to bring, Steve gave us brief directions to the University and then said he’d see us in the morning.

Fortunately, Annie Grace, from Zimbabwe, was a gregarious person who quickly made herself known and helped direct us to somewhere to eat. Pamemelis and I wandered the streets of Toxteth and looked for food. My memory tells me it was Indian, but it could have been a sandwich. Odd, I cannot remember. I just remember that everything was closed and we took what we could. Eventually we did find our way to and sat inside one of the most architecturally splendid pubs ever and sat about absorbing that we were there and our adventure was about to begin.

As an aside, many who would immigrate to the US from the UK in the 19th century would begin their journey West from Liverpool. As a way to earn the money for passage, many would enter the building trade. Some of the finest wood and marble craftsmanship can be found there.

Later we hoofed it back to the homeless shelter, cautiously looked around, identifying useful landmarks, and eventually made it back to the shelter, got ourselves inside after several failed attempts (the keys all looked the same) and put ourselves to bed. The morning would come soon enough. Now, if you’ve read my blog “Shh Woo” (dated January 6, 2012) you know that a curtain free, open window (stuck that way), strange space, was an unlikely location for me to be well rested in. The many nights to follow would prove the exception to the rule. More on this later…

The next morning was bright and sunny, though chilly, and we set off on the trek to the University, architecture department, location unknown. We began what was to become a daily habit of inspecting the narrow cobble road we walked along as part of our journey to school, as it was being replaced. The fellows working on the road were gentlemanly, helpful, and for the most part completely impossible to understand. Their Scouse accents so thick! I have wondered if I could have understood them if I would have heard them say, “Pity about that bloke and his voice. He sounds like a girl.”

Another regular habit began that morning; with literally no food to eat, we decided to find something along the way. At the edge of the campus we saw a long line of people, mostly construction workers, lined up outside a window. The smell emanating was rapturous. People walked away with varying breakfast sandwiches and cups of tea. If there were pastries and such, I don’t know, because my favorite became fried egg (yolk runny) with bacon (back bacon, not streaky bacon), brown sauce, tomato, on brown bread. OMG!! I could have easily eaten two if my budget had allowed for it! In the time that followed, I would start salivating the moment my foot hit the questionably stained concrete sidewalk outside our shelter.

It is here that we will continue the “Amazing Adventures of Celia in Liverpool!” We’ll cover a pub crawl, a leprechaun and the Sinn Féin (nothing like going to another country and getting caught up in its politics).

At this point in the adventure I was already reveling in my bravery and spunk. I was also keenly aware that I was already deciding whether I would return to the US or not. In previous trips to England and the rest of Europe I had wanted to stay and I knew that with the right set of circumstances (ie. a job) I could be easily persuaded to stay. A professor at the UW always said that you should work in a foreign country, it makes you more exotic. I believe him. In Liverpool there was no clutter or baggage, it was a clean slate, and only mine to fill.

Landscape Design Tip of the Week: Small textures make the space bigger, big textures bring the object forward, much like warm and cool colors on a painting. An issue I often get asked a great deal about is how to make a garden more interesting, my answer generally is, change up the textures. People seem to be afraid of plants and so they find one they like and they plant a bunch of it, or they plant a bunch that is similar, therefore it lacks something for the eye to grab onto. Like a painting you want your eye to seek out what is interesting and the rest should be a place where the eye can rest.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Sunnyside Up!

I sit writing this blog in a fairly unusual environment; on my back patio, enjoying the sun, wearing my sunglasses.  A hot sunny day in May in the Pacific Northwest is unheard of, so we all rush out to grab whatever Vitamin D we can get. My legs are covered in bruises from wheel barrows, pick axes, and unruly plants. My short fingernail cuticles are stained from compost and soil. My heart is happy… my flowers are thriving. What a perfect segue to my story…

One rainy March morning about twenty one years ago I sat in my office at Microsoft and stared out the window. The window in my office was at ground level and just a few inches on the other side of the glass was a herd of humans installing spring flowers. They were wet, covered in muck, and had a full days hard work ahead of them, and how I envied every moment of it.

I had been dabbling in an interior design program for two years and wasn’t really finding my niche, so on a complete and total whim I logged onto the University of Washington’s website and looked for something that spoke to me. One month later I sat in a huge lecture hall with several hundred other students; the class was four hours long, five days a week and had two instructors per day. When I tell you that was a challenging three months you must believe me because I could drone on endlessly about how hard it was. The only people who can truly stand to listen to me talk about it are the others who survived it. But of course with the complaining comes the complete pleasure of earning admission to the College of Architecture and Urban Planning.

I took several Architecture classes, built little models, burned my finger tips on the hot glue gun, learned to read building plans, and found out that what I really liked about Architecture were buildings – the ones other people had already built!! So, I took my credits, and focused on Urban Planning for a while. I went on to take the most tedious, monotonously boring, discussion intensive classes that were typically taught by Philosophy majors. Just yesterday I was clearing up my desk and came across a million page paper I wrote for a class comparing a very trendy neighborhood in Seattle with an uber boring suburban neighborhood (near Microsoft). Fork in my eye time!! So, I took my credits and went in search of something “else.”

Interestingly I was living with someone who had found his passion years before, I think at the gestational phase, and we had discussions about the certainty that he had when he was reading, discussing, exploring the world of physics. Now, I have a fairly sharp brain in my head, but for those of you who watch the Big Bang Theory, you could think of me as Penny and “him” as Sheldon… with a little bit of Leonard thrown in for fun.

There were two other options in the College of Architecture, Landscape Architecture or Construction Management. Having taken a brief overview class in Landscape Architecture previously, I decided to try it out. For a person with a speck of creativity and a fairly logical mind, you have found Nirvana. Think of a design exercise where real life needs have to be met (bathrooms, lighting, parking, handicap accessibility, etc.) get  crossed with a world where seasons change, plants grow, plants die,  climatic situations alter, critters use it (including humans), to name a few, and it is supposed to be pretty and functional. What could be more glorious? I could sit at a drafting table for hours and doodle copious options before forcing myself to focus on one. I had finally found my place in the universe and I could finally relate to Sheldon/Leonard… sort of.

On the way to becoming a Landscape Architect a funny little thing happened. My relationship was at an end and an exchange program became a possibility. So, the next thing I knew I was signed up to attend the University of Liverpool (England for those of you who know of more than one Liverpool). The birthplace of The Beatles! Now I know a lot of people would like to find out that I had studied in Rome, London, Paris… but Liverpool? Well, Liverpool is a seriously industrial town and I love all things industrial, so I was pleased as punch! To be honest one of the things that added to the pure pleasure of the experience was that I had always wanted to be an exchange student in high school, college (the first time) and then finally at the ripe old age of 29 off I went!

There were three landscape students combined with about 18 architecture students. To say I had the time of my life is an understatement…  After the program was over I spent several months backpacking with friends all through Europe. On the one hand it felt a bit silly, I was old enough to be an exchange students mother, but on the other hand, there was nothing I didn’t want to see, eat, smell, touch, experience in any way possible.

Upon reflection, I have decided to retrace some of the places I explored and experiences that I had in the next few blogs. I promise to keep the stories short, but the idea really speaks to me for a variety of reasons. Firstly, most are hilarious. Secondly, I really started making serious life altering decisions there. Thirdly, it was on this trip that I realized that all the migrating from one place to another in the back of a car as a child had been, in many ways, a really good thing.

So, before ending this blog I have to share some interesting facts, and one very funny story. I would like to say a sincere “Thank You” to those of you who have read faithfully. I can track my stats, and I have regular readers from the US, UK, Canada, Russia, Ukraine, India, Slovenia, Germany, China, and Poland. There are some odd blips, like once or twice I have had a reader from a small village in Africa (had to look it up on the map) and early on there was a strong following from some people in the United Arab Emirates.

Before we get to the funny story I would like to add this (cause it came to me after I had typed the previous paragraph, and I am practicing “flow writing” (where you just keep going and don’t stop and edit every thought)). For five years, what free time I had I mostly volunteered on various and sundry Boards and Committees. People kept asking me if I would ever go back to work as a Landscape Architect. I said, “No.” pretty firmly. I took quite a bit of time last Fall to understand why and came to the conclusion there was no “why.” I’d simply been away from it for a long time. This spring I have had the chance to get back into the game quite a bit and I have rediscovered a part of myself, an essential part and I feel really great about it. Never forget your passions.

Okay, onto the funny story. It was a hot spring day in El Paso, Texas, 1976. By then the daily temperatures were probably in the upper 70’s/mid 80’s. I walked to and from school, usually with a gang of kids. For some reason, long since forgotten, I was late meeting up with them. I could see them several blocks ahead, the land being utterly flat and wide open. A person could see clear to the high school many blocks away. In any case, I was content to wander behind them, lost in the thoughts of an eleven year old girl. Suddenly the stench jolted me back to earth. Oh, how my face burned red and embarrassment rolled over me. My parents had covered the front and back yard, not an inch spared, in fresh horse manure! The icing on the cake was that my very British mother had opened all the windows while she boiled kidneys for Steak and Kidney Pie!! My house smelled like an outhouse/honey pot/whatever! It reeked. I am not the kind of girl that believes in fate, but I tell you, if I were to, someone/something prevented me from walking with those kids as they passed my super smelly house.

Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

You Used to Know

For the last month or so my brain has been a maelstrom of thoughts and I’ve been trying to organize them, both for me to make sense of them and also so that I can write them down.

When Mac and I were deciding to get married one of our shared beliefs was that having a long history with the person you were marrying was really important, that the knowledge you had gained from day to day life would offer insight and understanding into the other person’s reactions and decisions. While I still believe this is true, I have stumbled upon a curious component of shared history, which I’m going to call the “stop gap.”

After writing my last blog I received a very emotional response from a family member. Given the strength of that person’s feelings I was initially worried about how to buffer what I write, but then I began to think about one very important issue, I have the right to be honest about my life. Understandably people who have been in your life a long time read between the lines and add the details that they know. But this is where the “stop gap” comes into play. A person may be in your life a long time, but that doesn’t mean they know the details of your life, or even who you truly were and are now.

I spent a great deal of time in therapy discussing the fact that I have held who I am very close to myself. The motivation of my last blog was to share my belief that if those of us that could were willing to reach out to children in need, perhaps even lay our insecurities on the table and show them how we cope, that we might literally save a life. In the telling of my taking the Adverse Childhood Experience Survey I was accused of being disloyal to my family; the person questioned my honesty and accused me of damaging our family name. Initially the old feelings of my being too much work set in, but Mac helped me dig my way out. In truth I feel no remorse. Owning a secret in order to remain falsely loyal is what gets a lot of us into trouble. As for damaging our family name, I am fairly certain that it was done long ago and others did a bigger whammy to it than I ever have. So again, no I feel no remorse. I could care less about a name and care deeply about words and actions.

In complete contrast, another family member reached out to me and asked me how they missed out on many of the issues I wrote about last time, could they help me now, wanted me to feel strong. I’m fairly certain that I can never express how powerful that conversation was. I have waited a very long time to be me and not feel the need to veil who I am for self-protection. It was such an emotional release. I feel so much love and appreciation for that person and thank them for asking me about who I really am. I felt accepted. As for feeling strong, I feel stronger every day.

Anorexia. I was asked by many people to share my story. There are components of control, dysmorphia and punishment. Moving a lot as a child left me uncertain about myself and affected my development; social skills, fitting in emotionally, physical appearance, how to handle confrontation and conflict, just to name a few. Bullies have a keen sense of smell. I bought into their cruel words (dysmorphia). Along the way I developed “Survivors Guilt” and didn’t feel I deserved to be happy (punishment).Many things in life came easy to me, and for many around me that wasn’t the case (control). What I would like to share is that I believe Anorexia is very much like any addiction, it takes effort every day to overcome it.
I started starving myself in my teens. My parents, therapist and family priest were active in trying to help me. It took almost ten years of wearing many layers of clothing, pushing food around my plate, “eating at friends’ houses,” and exercising hours and hours a day and talking for hours and hours to my support group to get a handle on things. I had a brief relapse in my thirties. I was settling into family life with a husband who loved me and we had everything we needed, while so many that I loved didn’t have all of this, and again guilt set in.

The angry family member told me I should focus on the positive. To a person such as me those words just feed the disease. If anything, the philosophy of only focusing on the positive can be destructive. Bad stuff happens and why can we not recognize it, sit with it, feel it, talk about it and then move on? Sometimes it takes a while. Do I have to follow some prescribed timeline so that someone else doesn’t feel uncomfortable?

Long ago I decided that a family member didn’t get allowances simply because of shared DNA. I believe that in order to have on-going relationships with family the relationship must be built upon respect and trust. So at the end of the day I need to say publicly that I will not change who I am, I will not bare my soul to someone who hasn’t earned it, I will not write only about happy things, in order to have a dishonest relationship. With regards to this person I am not angry, I am sad. I mourn the loss of who we were to eachother; in truth our paths diverged many years ago. Is there a future relationship for us? I allow for any possibility.

Fear is a powerful foe. It stops us from being who we are, from telling our truth, from confronting bullies. It wounds us, sometimes mortally. Why do I want to write? Because I understand how powerful words can be, I for one do not believe “sticks and stones can break my bones but words will never hurt me.”

By now you’ve probably noticed that music of all kinds resonates deeply within me. Today Somebody that I used to know (Gotye) is on my mind; my favorite version of this song is by Walk off the Earth.

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

It's A Doozy...

There are times when writing is easy and then there are times that writing is not. Much of the difference has to do with how much is on my mind and what I can get my mind to settle on.

In past blogs I have been very open about the fact that I have been in therapy. For a series of reasons I went cold turkey in early February and decided to go it alone. For four days a week for almost eighteen months I had a singular person who I could say anything to; I could cry, rant, dissect, blame, expel, purge all feelings that seemed unseemly to lay before anyone else.  The weeks following ending my sessions I walked around a depressed mess. I wasn’t worried I couldn’t handle what came my way, in fact I embraced the opportunity to see how I would handle the things that did. What I felt was a deep loss of “relationship.”

The reality is that I didn’t become friends with my therapist. I barely knew any personal facts about her. What I did know was that when I was proud of myself for handling something well she “smised.” (Smiled with her eyes.) There were times that I weeped in uncontrollable pain and though she held back tears, I could see in her eyes that she was sharing my grief and loss. Not just feeling sad for me.

Years ago I had a blow out with an acquaintance. At the time I think we thought we were friends, but I have long since learned the difference between the two. If she were to read this blog she might feel upset to know that I no longer remember what the blow out was about, but I don’t. What I do remember, with startling clarity, were the words she used, “I look at the world positively.” The punch that packed was massive. She couldn’t have picked more provoking words had she tried. Our acquaintanceship didn’t end that day, but it went into some kind of continual holding pattern. We still hover there.

One of the things I’ve learned over the years is that I was born into the world wearing not the rose colored glasses of optimism, but whatever color one would attribute to compassion… still feels rose colored-ish, but perhaps more coral. What happened is that I grew up in an imperfect environment and the rosey coralesque hue might have played a more predominant role in how I saw the world had thick layers of grey not been piled on top and it was the grey that won out more often than not.

Sometime in the last six months MacGyver asked me if I would take a survey. It was a survey compiled by the Center for Disease Control and Kaiser Permanente. The study is on Adverse Childhood Experiences. Over 17,000 people participated and the data, though still being evaluated, revealed to the professionals involved that the health, social, and economic risks that result from childhood trauma are very real.  Mac asked me the ten questions on the survey, I answered five affirmatively. He answered a resounding zero out of ten positively. I’m not sure who was more shocked, he or I.

I really still cannot fathom that he answered zero positively. I know him and I know he isn’t lying to himself. Though his life hasn’t been perfect, most of what has impacted him negatively came in later years, when he was more fully formed as a person, not in the raw uncoagulated state I’d been in.

I’m not writing this blog because I want people to feel sorry for me, nor do I want people to say, “Wow, she’s doing really well for a person who had a messed up childhood.” I’m writing this because of what I learned over the course of the two or three years I was in therapy. It’s fundamental. I went into therapy thinking that if I could wade through the mire and find out how life events had really affected me, then I could go back into many relationships and all would be well or at least much better. The reality is that I can only go back into these relationships a better me; my being a better me, does not make them a better them. I have learned that there are some relationships best said good-bye to so that I can make room for healthier ones. I have learned that who I am is enough and that I don’t have to keep trying to be someone else. By enough I don’t mean “I’m okay.” It means that I bring as much to a relationship in any moment as I can.

Sadly too many people fight struggles every day that leave them feeling insignificant and unworthy. I wish I could type loudly because I want to say loudly, that if it weren’t for those rosey coralesque glasses that I was born with I don’t know what I would have done to myself. What about people who aren't born with rose colored glasses? Mine helped me get through periods of serious depression, an eating disorder, self-esteem issues, abusive relationships, and over-achieving to the point where I have damaged my body. (All behavioral issues found amongst the 17,000 participants in the Study for Adverse Childhood Experiences.)

I think what has stopped me from feeling like writing recently is the combination of quitting therapy and the resulting separation anxiety along with the seemingly endless reports in the media of young people committing suicide. In early February my cousin’s son, Robert, committed suicide. He was 19. What do I feel about this? Confused, sad, regretful. For all the people out there who feel so small, who feel that they are inconsequential, who don’t fit into the mold of what has been deemed “acceptable,” I want to say loudly, “LOOK AT ME! I’m imperfect too! But let’s fight this fight together.”

I know what it is to slowly and deliberately disappear and wonder if I will be missed. I know what it is to pin my self-worth on what I do, not who I am. I know what it feels like to lose relationships because I am too much work (not only did I feel this, but people have told me this). I know what it means to feel beautiful because I weigh 80 pounds. I know what it means to love a jackass, because if the jackass will love me, then I’m at least that good.

“LOOK AT ME! I’m imperfect too! But let’s fight this fight together.” No child, no person, no one should ever feel that there is no hope. When I go out into the world, when I look into the mirror, I always, always, always remember that someone loves the person I am looking at; even if they have forgotten to love themselves.

In my life I have been fortunate in more ways than I have suffered. It took many years of therapy, mediation, ruminating, and testing the waters, to find this out. I remember feeling my first real loss when I was seven and I felt my first real sense of hope when I was thirty. I am proud that I never completely gave up hope. So on this crazy snowing day in the middle of March, when I should be planting my flowers, I accept that the world isn’t going according to plan and that I have to roll with it.

Thanks for reading!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Remind Her of when You Fell in Love

I was driving in my car, listening to the radio, when I heard a commercial for a jewelry store promoting Valentine’s Day gifts. The sing song voice of the announcer said, “Buy her a new diamond and remind her of the day she fell in love.” If you live inside my head you find yourself parsing things in different ways and what you might hear is that the woman fell in love with her fella the day he gave her a diamond.

I wish I could say better things about the person I dated previous to Mac, but I will be very kind when I say that generosity wasn’t his thing. If he had given me a diamond I would have gone catatonic. By the time Mac and I began dating I was more than a little bit raw, downtrodden, and very aware of how much money influenced relationships. When we officially began dating I was a completely impoverish college student and he had a career (reading between the lines this means he wasn’t in dire financial straits). Though we had been good friends for a long time before we dated, I don’t think I had ever told him how bad things really were, but I knew he had his guesses.

We had an abbreviated dating period, starting at the beginning of Fall and ending with us getting married before Winter was over. One day in November Mac decided he needed some winter boots, so off we went to a fairly posh sporting goods store to buy snow boots. We browsed, he tried on a pair or two, I looked at price tags and gently set things back down, and waited for him to be finished. “Do you want to try some on?” He asked. I politely declined. I didn’t dare look down, because looking down meant looking at my shoes, and my shoes were in a dire state. They were my only pair of winter shoes. Did I fall in love with Mac because we left the store with a beautiful pair of boots for me that he insisted on buying? No. I knew that I already loved him, but I didn’t know what it meant to feel truly loved; in that moment I began to, because it bothered him that I had one pair of shoes and they weren’t going to keep my feet warm and dry. He wanted for me what he did for himself.

My fluff ball often asks when Mac and I are going to renew our vows. I think she has a preoccupation with this because, as she states, “been married five times.”

The first time I stood in front of Mac and spoke my vows I was full of love, excited about the future and absolutely confident. But I must confess to having a somewhat out of body experience while he spoke his vows to me. I looked up into his beautiful brown eyes and wondered at the enormity of what we were promising. I was literally awestruck. It’s one thing to feel it and another to say it. As I’ve said before, for me it all becomes real when it is said out loud; hearing his commitment to me out loud made it all real.

One of our five ceremonies was by a sea captain on a boat. Okay, more specifically the captain of a cruise ship. I wouldn’t say it was hokey, but if you were on the outside looking in (literally, through the door to the enormous party lounge where we had all gathered), it could. However, three years had passed since we had last spoken our vows, we had faced some major ups and downs, and we were celebrating finding out I was pregnant with our Fluff Ball. Looking into those brown eyes, I knew I understood those vows in ways I never had just three years prior. No out of body experiences this time, I was firmly planted body and soul in front of him and knew the commitment I renewed.

Skipping forward two children and three more years you would have seen physically exhausted parents who were wearing worn out clothes, barely had time to get a real haircut, or spend any real time relating to each other in ways other than parents of young (not sleeping through the night) children. The beauty of the situation is that we were in it together and had gotten ourselves into it together.

One particularly blekky January 9th afternoon there was a knock on my door. My friend Trina was had stopped by, “How ya doing?” She asked. Well, given that I was tired, a little depressed, and looking very unfeminine due to a horrific haircut, I said, “Great! Come on in.” Then the strangest thing happened. After a few minutes of chit chat she asked if she could take a shower, while pointing to her bag, showing me a change of clothes. Well, it was really odd, but naturally I said yes.

We were chatting, post shower, when Mac walked in with a bag of fast food. It was about 3:30 in the afternoon. He handed Trina the bag and told me to take a shower. I asked him what was going on, he told me to get ready to go out, and to put on my LBD (Little Black Dress). I was excited, suspicious, and a little worried.  Trina had agreed to babysit our kids while leaving her little one with a sitter and it felt too indulgent. Both assured me it would be okay and to just go and enjoy myself. So, I did!

After Mac spruced himself up we got in the car and drove away. We took the long way to the restaurant, and because we were a bit early, Mac asked me if we could take a little detour to see where some new building was. In the bliss of being on a date and wearing Dry Clean Only clothes, I didn’t care where we drove. So enraptured, it took me a minute to realize he had parked the car. It took me a minute longer to realize that I recognized some faces.

Mac opened my door and my beloved friend Pam came to me and gave me a huge hug. Mac opened the trunk and handed me a bouquet of flowers. It was only then that I realized we stood in front of the new courthouse building. Along with Mac’s close friend Jeff, the four of us hurried inside, and there in her chambers, was the judge who had guided us through our vows once before… at exactly 6:15. The same date and time she had married us years before.

I stood before Mac barely able to speak my vows because I was so overwhelmed. I cried and I beamed and I fell so, so, so much in love. This man had taken an ordinary day and turned it, once again, into a day that seems like a fairy tale. Forget my childhood fantasies of my wedding day, this day surpassed all that, because after six years of marriage, for better and for worse, in sickness, and in health, for richer and poorer, through good times and bad, I had always stood beside him, under the umbrella of our commitment and love for each other.

Afterwards we celebrated with Jeff and Pam and had Crispy Crème donuts in the parking lot! It was perfect. After hugs and kisses good-bye, Mac helped me into the car and told me not to worry, we were still going out to dinner. However, he turned left when he should have turned right and I immediately knew where we were going. We were headed to the resort where we had spent our wedding night! When we arrived in the parking lot he went left when he should have gone right.  I said, “You’re parking in the overnight guest parking.” He didn’t say a word, he opened the trunk, took out our packed bags, and ushered me out of the car and into lobby. While I was beside myself with glee to be there I was a tad bit flummoxed! Who was staying with our kids?

It turned out that Pam had dashed from the courthouse to our home to relieve Trina. She, and Mac’s close friend Christoph, took on the challenge of watching our two kids overnight! Pam and Christoph had never met.

We were checked into the exact same room we had spent our wedding night in! After settling in, we went to the restaurant where we proceeded to eat a seven course dinner with all the appropriate pomp and circumstance. Sometime after returning to our room, with fire built in the fireplace, we were hunkered down in bed and watching TV! How perfect was that? No Barney, no diapers, no baths (okay there was one), and a TV that we could watch without interruption.

In every way imaginable, it was perfection. My husband, the man who chose me over and over had gone through enormous effort to give me something I desperately needed and wanted; a night free of meeting someone else’s needs, to be able to focus on my husband, and to tell each other once again what was most important, that we were together, come what may.

Long ago, sixteen years now, we decided that December 9th would be our special day. It was the day he asked me to marry him and the day I said yes. So, when I hear advertisements for Valentines’ Day, anniversaries, and all the rest, I want to share what my Mac has done for me. He looks at me and sees what I need; heart to heart moments where I can speak the words that become ever truer, ever more felt, ever stronger. I have long since learned that he wants more for me than he wants for himself. Given that I feel the same way, there is the assurance that we can grow and change, that life can happen, and that through it all, at the very end, we’ll be together and who we were meant to be.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Cause' I said so...

Looking back on last year’s blogs there were a number of issues I said I would get back to you on. So, I thought it might be fun to re-read the blogs and see what some of the topics were…

First stop, North Pole! I was hoping to get away with not wrapping any presents this past Christmas. I want it to go on record that I actually asked my kids if we could skip it. I received a resounding no! In what I think was a subconscious response to having to do something I didn’t want to do, I agreed when MacGyver came up with a somewhat devious plan. Our family is comprised of night owls. Over the holidays it wasn’t unusual for all of us to be up until midnight and sleep until ten or eleven in the morning. On Christmas Eve this proved to be a bit of an issue. Santa cannot come until everyone is asleep. So, we watched a movie and then at 11:30, when everyone should be in bed, we climbed in the car to take in all the Christmas lights we had been meaning to appreciate. A very hilarious and unpredictable outcome was that we saw a number of friends scurrying around mostly darkened houses, making sure the treats for Santa had been taken care of. We finally made it home and got our kids tucked in bed. One of our Christmas gifts to our bundles of loveliness were really nice sound systems with a clock. Mac set their alarms to 8:00 am, set the radio to their favorite stations and then set everything up in their rooms once they fell asleep.

Bright and early the next morning I heard confusion and tapping of hands as our kids attempted to turn off their old alarm clocks. Little Mac figured it out first, he is the most alert of the four of us first thing in the morning, and then went to assist his sister. We laid in bed listening to them running between rooms and checking everything out. I have to say I enjoyed getting to lie in bed a few minutes longer and listen to their delight, but not actually having to move. I’m thinking there is a lot to be said for the unwrapped gifts in the pillow case at the bottom of the bed. I'm going to keep working on this.

Moving on to the discussion of the weight loss, I did really well until November and then things kind of fell apart for a few weeks. So, the good news is I only gained four pounds last year. Oops!! I think that was the wrong direction. Okay, the really good news is that I was inspired to try much harder. After a strenuous walk on a crisp and clear winter day with my lovely featherweight friend whose feet seem to float above the ground, I went home and signed up for one year of fitness classes. It isn’t that I don’t work out… I have realized that I need a lot of variety in my life… I need yoga, Zumba, Jillian Michaels, walks, hikes, Jazzercise… all in one week just to keep me motivated!

As for growing old gracefully… I went for the kitchen remodel instead of the eyelid reduction, jowl redistribution, breast augmentation, liposuction reduction, bum reconfiguration. I love my kitchen. It completely suits our family, our taste, our budget, and it is a pleasure to be in. I kind of think of it as an inspirational makeover of sorts. I am growing old gracefully and while my bits are a little more uniquely arranged than they once were, my spirit gets lifted every time I walk in my kitchen. It is a combination of the living in the moment with having perspective. It’s definitely a win-win situation.

This next issue is a part of the whole “Where am I going” subject that I have been working on for the last year. The school play! I loved working with the kids the last couple of years; as I said last year, there is magic in watching the kids discover themselves and forming friendships. I love being part of a big thing. This year a great friend is taking it on and I am helping out just a titch. She’s going to do a fabulous job and I can focus on my book. “Book?” You say! “Yes, book!” I wrote a book and have had several readers take a look at, have submitted it to a variety of literary agents, and have made more revisions and have had more people read it. So, this is the year I throw myself at one of my biggest challenges and I get this book published. I have partially written one more and I really, really, want to work on it. I love to write and so that is what I will do. Wish me loads of luck!! (And when you think about it, my predisposition to a sedentary lifestyle fits in nicely.)

Decorating… that’s my segue. I am back to wanting more color in my life. I went through a phase where I wanted the flowing harmony of white everywhere! It’s clean, it’s crisp, it’s peaceful, and it’s easily re-accented. However, last summer I realized that my soul was dying for some zip, some verve, some woo-hoo. So, off I went to the paint store. It’s been three months since any real work has been done on the house. For those of you who live in houses that don’t have plywood flooring, ancient bathrooms, and ¼” molding, you can take a break. For those of us who are following our dream to fix up a house from stem to stern, three months is recuperation time and then the hammers and paint brushes have to come back out. “We” cannot decide if the next project is replacing the stringers and stairs, building a shed (to free up the garage of all the building materials), or finishing up all the other projects while we save some money up to relocate our closets and remodel our bathrooms. Around here there is always something. So a gallon of paint and a few hours of splashing it around is well worth it. I just want to note that I will not be sending this blog to Mac as he will most certainly take my credit cards away from me if he even hears the words, “What do you think about…”

Speaking of not telling people things… this is the year of talking. Somewhere back in December I mentioned to my therapist that I wanted to drop back to twice a week. She is sly, clever, and really good at her job. Within moments we were discussing something I’ve long since avoided. Anger. I like to use the words conflicted, frustrated, hurt, irritated, sad, but sometimes I am plain old fashioned angry. So this is the year of learning how to discuss my anger. Don’t worry, there will be no rants and vulgarities. I think it is another step on the path to living in the moment. You cannot really live in the moment if you are trying to paint your feelings with words that don’t accurately describe them. So, I am putting the correct words to my feelings. There must be a Barry Manilow song in here somewhere. (As a side note, most of the criticism I’ve received regarding my book is that the conflict isn’t developed well enough. Every time I hear that I chuckle internally.)

That reminds me of a once well-known but now obscure fact about myself. I was once a human juke-box. Tell me a thought/story/feeling, I can tell you a song. This reminds me of two things. I wrote about a song called “Remember When” by Alan Jackson. I later found out that the song was on the soundtrack for the movie “Up.” Couldn’t imagine anything more perfect… Okay, only one thing. Nope! I will mention the other thought, not really sure why I thought I shouldn't, but I have decided to share that I love the song, “I’m gonna love you through it” by Martina McBride. For all of you who are starting to plan for the 3 Day Walk, you must watch the video for this song.

Roll to Me by Del Amitri; I have had many wonderful responses to the blog I wrote about my romance with Mac. I’ve loved hearing your stories. For those of you who’ve shared your hopes of finding such acceptance and support, my hope is that you do too. Just a few nights ago a group of us were sitting around having dinner and a friend asked Mac for his side of the story. He shared his version and admitted to having had strong feelings for me for a long time. It was decided that we were just really “lucky.” For the most part I believe that luck plays a huge part in all things, not being a believer in fate or destiny. I believe that both Mac and I had been pretty kicked around by love (or what we thought love was) and that once we were on solid ground we were willing to take big risks based upon what we knew, not what we hoped for. It is something that we try and teach our children every day.

As for continued thanks, I have many. I am super-de-dooper thankful to have reconnected with my lovely sister-in-law, niece and nephew. They are fabulous and it was a huge mistake to let time slip through our fingers. I'm learning to crochet (thanks to my fabulous niece)! Given my wonky shoulder, I've had to quit knitting and crocheting is filling the gap nicely. I am eternally grateful for my friends, who I am gradually getting to know better. We seem to have broken through some chunks of goo lately and the acceptance has been emotionally overwhelming. As for my family, well, that is impossible to quantify. To paraphrase Jack Nicholson in As Good As It Gets, “You make me want to be a better woman.” Everything I am and all that I work on is because of my love for Us.

In closing I would like to share my latest favorite You Tube video… check out Emmauel Kelly X Factor Auditions 2011. Imagine…

Thanks for reading.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Sshh Woo

For all my grumblings about disliking the weather in the Pacific Northwest I have to admit to one thing that I do like about it, during the winter it is very dark in the morning; a critical element to my very survival.

Starting at the beginning, because I often prefer to jump in the middle, or tell a story in reverse, I think like all children I started out as a sound and decent sleeper. I remember waking up in my bed some mornings, wondering how I got there, since I had fallen asleep in the car or on the couch. I remember waking up Christmas morning when I was nine finding a new comforter on my bed. I hadn’t felt the old one carefully being folded back and untucked; the new one being carefully spread and retucked.

Somewhere along the way, that all went “South.” I started noticing in high school that I had bionic hearing, because I could hear people walking around on carpet on the floor below me and it drove me to distraction. Initially I would go downstairs and ask the silently seated television viewing audience to please keep it down. They’d look at me like I was insane. Returning to bed I would wonder what was wrong with those people. Eventually all it would take would be me opening the bedroom door and I would hear, “We’ll turn the TV down.” I’m guessing the attitude and glaring had become a little   aggressive.

Eventually I started running a white noise machine in my bedroom and that solved the bionic hearing issue. Then came the shards of piercing light. I began to notice that when the sun rose, so did I, and I lost the glorious haze of dozing off and on all Saturday morning. I would wake up and lie there wondering, as Frasier Crane would say, “What fresh hell is this?” So, the worlds of blinds were explored and I added those to my heavily draped windows. It turns out that the light that shines on the floor at the base of the curtain, and squeezes out the sides or bounces out the top can be an issue as well.

The wonderful world of sleep masks made their way into my life. This was a fabulous solution when I remembered where I’d put it, If I remembered to pack it, or if I could buy one when I had failed at the previous two issues. One of the many ways that I know MacGyver loves me is that he now has a sleep mask that he packs in his toiletry bag when we travel, just in case.

Speaking of MacGyver, by the time we were married my sleep nuances were reaching a fever pitch. We spent the week or two before we got married painting the master bedroom a lovely dark shade of bluey-green. We then had black out curtains made, and Mac built a cornice to go over the curtain, painted the inside dark bluey-green. There were even pieces of trim added to the side of the window frame that the curtains sat inside so that light that tried to squeeze out was contained. Mac created for me a sleeping nirvana.

I had just finished my degree at the UW when we married, so between the exhaustion from school, the ideal bedroom and a loving spouse that was not working, it wasn’t unusual for us to sleep ten hours of deep, peaceful, comatose sleep. Months of pure sleeping joy.

Leaping down the path of life, different houses, jobs, and children entered our lives. My sleeping issues were brought completely to the foreground with two baby monitors, a white noise machine, two waking children and a mostly comatose husband in my life every night. One particularly exhausted night as I drifted off to sleep, I was startled awake by a sound coming from one of the children’s rooms. “Who’s that?” I asked Mac. We sat quietly for a minute and listened, and heard nothing. As we were letting ourselves fall asleep I woke up long enough to say, “Which monitor is which?” I couldn’t remember I was so tired. Mac said, “Fluff Balls is ‘Sshh’, and ‘Little Mac’s is Woo’.” We laughed so hard. To this day when there is confusion about something or we hear a strange noise we look at each other and say, “Sshh-Woo.” We laugh really hard all over again. It’s one of those many moments that weld you together as a couple. You have to laugh.

Waking up to take care of the kids wasn’t a challenge because I was barely asleep. Eventually I sought out medical help and tried various naturopathic and pharmaceutical remedies. My doctor had me journaling how many times per night I woke up, how long I would stay awake, and how long I would sleep. At some point I was down to an hour or two of sleep, several hours awake, and then catnaps for a few hours. It was horrific.

Why it took so long, I truly cannot remember – sleep deprivation wreaks havoc on your memory- but I finally made my way to a sleep disorder doctor.

Now, I have to share something really funny. I show up to the standard looking medical office and fill out my forms, have my blood pressure taken and get asked a few questions, and eventually make it into the exam room. Well, inside this room is a queen sized bed with the most inviting white, super fluffy, comforter and pillows. I imagined climbing underneath that comforter and taking a short nap while I waited for the doctor to wake me up. As I sat there contemplating the idea, the doctor walked in, and he was gorgeous. I have to tell you there are fewer things that are funnier to me than to discuss my sleeping habits, my partners sleeping habits, with a gorgeous doctor next to a scrumptious bed.

After a lengthy discussion I leave the office with a survey, a prescription, and a scheduled return visit. I dutifully filled my prescription and that night took my little pill. I woke up the next morning and it was like the world was a kinder, friendlier, more inspiring world. Gone was the morning despair. I felt like leaping out of bed and singing a song. I reported to any and all who would listen how fabulous I felt, how I now understood how most people felt in the morning, I was truly elated.

For a few years that one little pill did the trick. Along the way I made my yearly trips to the sleeping clinic for annual checkups and bedside discussions. I learned quite a bit. For example, elderly men start to lose the ability to produce the hormone that prevents them from physically acting out what they are dreaming. So, they are more likely to strike/kick bed partners in their sleep. I learned that a hormone is released while you sleep that clamps your jaw shut while you are in R.E.M. sleep so that you cannot harm you tongue or lips. What I didn’t learn was why my sleeping troubles were rearing their ugly heads again.

So finally an overnight sleep observation appointment was scheduled. Given all that I had learned about sleep disorders, I have to admit I wasn’t surprised when I showed up at the clinic at 7 pm on a Sunday night and the four other patients were elderly gentlemen. I chuckled to myself, got checked in and found my way to one of those delightful rooms with the super scrumptious looking beds. Finally I was going to sleep in one!

So, the nurse proceeds to measure my head, write on my head, face, neck, and body with a black grease pen. She glued electrodes all over my head, face, neck and body, plugged them all in to a computer that was hung from my neck and resting on my chest. At some point a belt was strapped around my torso and air flow tubes were taped to just below my nose. By the time we finished doing all this, with a trip to the bathroom, it was around 8:45. I then was given a few minutes to settle in and the study would begin.

Problem number one: I don’t go to bed at 9 pm. I go to bed around 11 pm. I got a sharp knock on the door at 9 pm and a nurse enters. She tells me to take my medication and go to sleep. I don’t do that at 11 pm. I take my pill, read for ½ an hour, and then go to sleep. So, I take my pill and lay in the dark.  An important note to make here is that the data gathered needs to be based upon 7 hours of sleep. I laid there a very long time.

Problem number two: I have wires and electrodes all over me. I cannot just roll over and get into a more comfortable position. Imagine Pinocchio sleeping. When he rolls over he has to move his strings with him. So I was wide awake and trying to stay still because after moving the first time I realized it was too much work.

Problem number three: People who are observing you are wide awake. At some point the nurse comes in, flips the lights on, and tells me in a normal voice that the computer monitoring my electrodes isn’t working. So she checks the computer in my room, my electrodes (which requires pushing, pulling, and pinching me), announces she is done, says goodnight, turns the light off, and shuts the door. I endeavor to sleep.

Problem number four: Just as I am dozing off, the nurse walks in, turns on the light, talks in a normal voice, announcing the computer still isn’t registering me and rechecks everything. I lie back down and endeavor to sleep.

Problem number five: I’m awake, the nurse walks in, turns on the light, starts grabbing my bags and noise machine, and a male nurse comes in to help. They tell me in normal volume voices that they are moving me to a new room because my computer still isn’t working. I Pinocchio my way out of bed to stand exhausted in front of these people in my pj’s that seemed appropriate at one point but now feel revealing.

We stumble down the corridor, and find another room, hook my computer up, fling my stuff in a chair, and the male nurse goes to find a cd player to play some white noise because the machine I had been using is no longer working. Lights are on, people are talking, and I am tired. Everything gets hooked up, set in place, lights are off, people are gone, I am alone, tired, and have to pee. I decide to ignore the fact I have to go to the bathroom.

Problem number six: I-405 is just outside my room, the curtains have a crack allowing street lights to blaze in, and I wake up from a twenty minute nap because I have to go to the bathroom. I barely make a move to get up when the nurse comes in, turns on the light, and asks in a normal voice if I have to go to the bathroom. She helps me stumble into the bathroom, and then helps me get back in bed. I pass out from exhaustion.

Problem number seven: At 5:30 in the morning I am woken up because the sleep study is over. Critical reminder: they only need seven hours of sleep time, and so I’ve been in (and out) of a bed for seven hours. I look at the nurse who has turned on the lights, it is dark outside, and she correctly interprets my facial expression and tells me in a normal volume voice that they let me sleep an extra half hour due to all the problems.

I stumble home with globs of wax, black grease pen marks, and dark rings under my eyes. Mac is waking up, I share the story of my night, we laugh hysterically, wake the kids up to go to school and I stumble around the house the rest of the day.

I go to the follow up appointment and sit next to the once longed for bed, turns out they aren’t all that comfortable, and wait for the handsome doctor to come in and tell me the results. Upon arriving and going through the pleasantries, he announces that they didn’t really find anything out. I laughed until I snorted. He smiled and asked me what was so funny. I asked him if there was any documentation about the computer failure, the moving of the rooms, the lack of seven hours of sleep. He flushed a little and said, “Actually no, there isn’t any data about that here.” He proceeds to show me the data gathered and it does show intermittent sleep, it shows measured sleep cycles, and that my air intake and carbon dioxide output are all normal.

I looked him dead in the eye and said, “Okay.”

Now, he knows me “well-ish” at this point, I mean we’ve been meeting annually for six years. He says, “If you aren’t convinced, we can do another study.”

I recoil into my chair and stammer, “No, nope, I’m good.”

After a little discussion he tells me that I don’t stay in Deep Wave sleep quite long enough. At which point I snort, because of course I didn’t because I never slept long enough. However, having blown off the opportunity for another sleep study, I realize I must put my polite cap back on and listen to what the man has to say. In the end, I decided to stay on the same medication, slightly stronger prescription. Go home and tell the story to Mac. We laugh pretty hard once again.

For many years I have pondered a hypothesis with Mac. Initially when I shared it with him he didn’t just laugh, he laughed until there was no sound and tears streamed from his eyes. Finally I brought it up with my sleep doctor two years ago. Sitting face to face in metal and plastic chairs next to a new bed that looks like it could be super comfy, I say in all seriousness, “Has there ever been any research done on whether or not people have varying thicknesses of eyelids.”

His response was, “What?”  There was an initial smile which quickly was swiped away and a serious mask replaced it. Without my restating my question he ponders it and taps his chin thoughtfully with his pen while he stares at the ceiling. After a polite amount of time he looks at me and says, “No, I don’t think so. That’s a fascinating idea. I’ll have to look into it.”

If you hear of any research into eyelid thickness, you’ll have to let me know.