Catcher in the Rye

Empathy: the ability to share someone else’s feelings or experiences by imagining what it would be like to be in that person’s situation.

“How are you? I haven’t seen you in so long! Gosh, I thought of you all day on Sunday. My dear friend <redacted>’s friend killed herself on Saturday night after learning that her husband had been having an affair with her best friend.”

She went on with some additional details, the two teenage sons left motherless, the years of marital counseling that were ultimately an exercise in futility, details I barely heard through the roaring train echoing through my head. Embarrassed, I hastily wiped away the tears that had immediately sprung into my eyes without warning before she even finished the first sentence. I took a few deep breaths, willing my pulse to slow and hands to steady while she murmured sadly, “I just kept thinking of your strength. I remember you all those years ago, how you put one foot in front of the other. Do you know what strength that takes?”

Yes. I know.

It’s been two weeks since that conversation, and I can’t get that nameless, faceless woman out of my head. I’ve thought of her, that woman I never met and did not know, as I’m running. Watching a television show. Playing with my dogs. Having dinner with my girlfriends. Doing the laundry. That woman who was so blindsided by despair and devastation that she couldn’t imagine spending one. more. minute. with the agonizing, searing hot pain inside her. Seeing the mind movies, concocted by her own insidious imagination, unbidden and certainly unwanted, but ceaseless in their loop. The replayed conversations, with their subtexts now uncovered, like subtitles in a foreign film, only you didn’t realize upon first viewing that you didn’t speak the language.

It is a foolish and useless desire, but I wish I had known her, or rather, she had known me. I wonder, pointlessly and perhaps, arrogantly, if the outcome would have been different if she knew of someone who had walked through the fire and come out the other side, charred and scarred but alive. I think that I would have gone to her house and held her hand, sat with her on the bathroom floor, and said “you want to die and you might feel this way every second of every minute of every hour for weeks or months but you will not feel this way forever.”

I could make her that promise with confidence, and maybe, just maybe, she would believe it. And if she didn’t, I would say it differently, emphatically, repeatedly, until she did.

I want to be like Holden Caulfield, catching women if they come too close to the brink of double betrayal insanity, keeping them safe from the rabbit holes of their own madness.

The sad truth, of course, is that just like no one can stop children from losing their innocence, no one can heal or fix anyone else. Ultimately, I had to do all the hard work, all by myself, stop my own self from going over the cliff.

But a little piece of me wants to believe that if that woman just knew of another mere mortal, an ordinary woman with no superpowers to speak of, who could draw on reservoirs of strength and courage and fortitude she never believed existed within, that maybe she could have held on until she discovered her own.

 

 

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Summer, continued, and triathlon musings

Well, here we are, halfway through July, and nearly a month since I posted last, ​with the “I can’t believe I’ve been out of work for 3 weeks and have no time” post. I’m wrapping up week 6 of 11 weeks off, which means my summer vacation is officially more than half over; I feel like I have nothing to show for my summer vacation – which is weird, because if I look at it objectively, I’ve done 2 trips to the East Coast, a bajillion mom appointments, and a lot of triathlon training.

I get unsettled without daily structure. Happens every single summer. Even when I know I’m being fairly productive, I *feel* like I’m wasting my life away, without really relaxing or taking time off. I’m sure my husband can’t wait for me to retire. Fortunately, with 3 kids to put through college, I will probably have to work until I die. #silverlining

Anyway, the animals have been very happy to have me home. Their favorite time of day is when I (attempt to) plank and do push-ups. They like to “help”.

I’ve been sticking to my twice-a-week strength training with the husband. For the first time in probably ever, I can see some muscle definition in my thighs.

We celebrated the 4th of July with some dear friends, and an (early) cake for my birthday.

On my actual birthday, we flew to Boston for my cousin’s wedding. It was an awesome 3 day affair with multiple parties and celebrations. My cousin married a Pakistani-American girl, so we were able to experience a piece of their culture with the festivities. It was beyond gorgeous and fun.

out celebrating my birthday at a Boston pub with my family. That’s the groom in the center, who was the most composed of all of us at that point. 

the bride’s family provided us with traditional clothing for one of the receptions. So much fun!

at the mosque for the wedding ceremony. 

I’m teaching a summer online class, and working on some “list” items of cleaning and organizing (some people do “spring cleaning” – I’m pretty sure most teachers do “summer cleaning”), but other than that, it’s pretty much daily workouts, errands and household chores.

Boring routine makes for boring blog, I guess.

I *am* brainstorming my upcoming year’s race schedule, and trying to map out a trajectory of goals and training to focus on. Other than my triathlon in September, I don’t have anything officially on the agenda. I’m currently debating whether I want to do an early November triathlon or focus on road races once my September triathlon is over. I have such a love-hate relationship with triathlons; while I love the mash-up of workouts rather than the drudgery of mostly running, the time + expense factor makes me stabby. It’s really hard to find the time to train when I’m not off for the summer, and I really should consider getting some more gear if I’m going to stick with it (wetsuit. bike that’s not a $250 Schwinn, etc) but I have a hard time reconciling the cost factor of triathlons.

Not to mention I still sort of hate the bike.

Secretly I’m hoping I’ll fall in love with the marathon in 2018 and just focus on that.

Realistically, I think the odds are better of me winning the lottery and having all the money in the world to spend on triathlons rather than loving training for and running 26.2 miles, but anything can happen, right?

I know a lot of runners and triathletes read this blog – feel free to weigh in on whether you focus solely on one vs the other (or how you balance the two if you do both), and (especially for middle class ish parents with kids at home), how you handle the ridiculous cost of triathlons. I’m pretty lowkey when it comes to racing, and I know you can do triathlons on the cheap(er) – heck, I’m doing it – but I’m wondering how you approach it. Only a certain number of races per year? Stick to sprints on cheaper/less equipment?

I’ve been approaching it with the mindset that this is just a fun off-season-from-running-cross-training-workout, but I feel like the (few) triathletes I know “in real life”, as well as those I follow virtually, are all hardcore triathletes – as in, they invest a lot more time and money on the sport than myself, and take it seriously. Wondering if there are other “casual” triathlete moms out there who are content with lowkey racing/training?

Rock bottom, relapses and revelations

Even though this blog is mainly about running and triathlons and pretending to be an athlete in my middle age, I’ve found my most enthusiastic and loyal readers are women who connect with PTSD (or, as I like to reclaim on my good days, post traumatic growth).  Seven years after my divorce, and five years after taking down my previous blog, I still regularly get emails and communication through social media from women about infidelity and divorce. Sometimes it is a mother, or sister, worried about a family member going through the discovery phase; sometimes it is a heartbroken  or angry betrayed spouse herself, either struggling to get through the next hour, or battling to let go of the rage and fear and sadness after many years.

While the circumstances and backgrounds differ, the women have a strikingly similar plea: tell me it’s going to be okay. Remind me that it gets better. Reassure me that there is life after this.  Tell me that I, too, can have that happily ever after.

Happily every after? Oh dear. What type of snow job have I been pulling in this corner of the internet?

I would love to tell you that, with enough time, all heartache and trauma ceases to exist. That falling in love with a new man, even several years into a very happy and healthy relationship, magically erases the scars left from profound deceit and betrayal. That children are so resilient that divorces don’t leave scars, no matter how much they are loved and protected. I would love to tell you that PTSD can be “cured” with therapy and medication, guaranteed never to rear its ugly head again.

I wish more than anything that was all true. But it’s not. Or at least, not in my case.

I’ve been in a hell of a storm since 2017 very nearly began. Well, more accurately, according to my therapist, I’ve either been in a storm or battening down the hatches since 2010, because the delightful thing about not being able to go cold turkey is that you never really get a chance to heal. You can smooth those rough edges over, strengthen those coping skills, and even fool yourself that the horizon is clear, but it’s not, not really.

And so, relapses happen. They happen to many. The alcoholic takes “just one” drink, the drug addict takes “just one” hit, the panic attacks and insomnia and intrusive thoughts say this is “just one” bad week. Only before you know it, weeks turn into months, and one day you get on the scale and realize you lost 5 pounds. You get on the treadmill and can’t run a mile when just two months ago you ran a half marathon. You get up in the morning and can’t remember the last time you slept for more than a few hours at night.

So you get yourself back on the therapist’s couch.

Thinking goddammit but I got over this.  Thinking that you thought the worst was over, but you failed to take into account that it can always get worse. Rookie mistake, and god knows, you’re not a rookie, so now you’ve relapsed and feel like a fool.

 

But, here’s the thing. The women who are asking me to tell them it gets better? That it’s going to be okay? I can honestly say that while happily ever after is illusory, and there’s no such thing as unicorns and fairy tales, it absolutely and totally does get better and it will be okay.

How do I know? Because there’s only one real rock bottom. And once you’ve hit it, I mean really hit it, you never go there again. You might relapse, you might bungee jump down and spring back after your face hovers, inches, millimeters from that concrete floor that could shatter your bones, but you will never hit it again. Want to know why? Want to know how I know?

Because once you’ve clawed your way back from rock bottom, you know you can do it again.

In 2010, when my then-husband told me he was leaving, and the truth slowly came trickling out over the course of several months in Chinese water torture fashion, I completely lost my shit (I’m sure there’s a better, more clinical DSM-V term, but let’s go with that). I had never felt so unmoored, so alone, so without any hope or vision for my future. There was no manual for this insanity. I was trapped in a bad Jerry Springer episode, only there was no “off” button on the remote, no channel to change. My entire life, forwards and backwards, ceased to exist; my identity –  that of a wife, a best friend, a partner – stripped from me; my most beloved and cherished role as a mother downgraded to a 70% position, without my input or consent.

It was gone, all gone. They talk about a light at the end of the tunnel? All I saw was a yawning black chasm.

That was my rock bottom. I will never hit that again. I know now that I can survive. Once you know that? Really know that? It’s etched in your soul.

Sure, relapses happen. I have returned to therapy after a 4 year hiatus, brushing up on those coping skills, reminding myself of how to deal with the PTSD triggers that will assuredly not abate for another 5 years. I’m circling my wagons, conserving my energy and finances, following professional advice, both therapeutic and legal.

Recovery does not mean that the struggle ceases to exist. Recovery is about knowing that you can fight the good fight, and that if it’s not okay, it’s not the end. That there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and taking comfort in the knowledge that the light is there, even if you can’t see it.

Ultimately, it’s about faith. Hope, instead of hopelessness.The belief, no matter how shaky it feels some days,  that rock bottom only hits once.

*This post inspired by Glennon Doyle Melton’s article.

 

 

Five years

for better or for worse,

for richer, for poorer,

in sickness and in health,

to love and to cherish;

from this day forward until death do us part

Today is our 5 year anniversary. I think this is supposed to be a “bigger” anniversary, because it’s a half decade, or at least, my husband seems to think it is, since he has repeated several times over the past month, “It’s our five year anniversary. We have to celebrate! It’s a big one!”

But while the sentiment is sincere, the enthusiasm is strained.

2017 has not been good to us, on so many fronts. As I alluded to in my last post, we’ve been dealing with so much. We’re exhausted, and depressed, and overwhelmed.

Put simply, we’re dealing with the “worse”.

Last weekend, as he once again drummed up some forced enthusiasm for our impending anniversary, I realized that I needed to somehow, some way, carve out a little corner of gratitude for this day. Despite the, for lack of better word, clusterfuck that has been our lives for the past few months, we are good.

Really good. I mean, distracted and strung out and broke and sleepless, but good. I realize that sounds weird. But I know what it is to take stress and anxiety and depression out on your partner. Been there, done that, have the divorce decree. I know how easily the planets in the orbit can chip away at the sun.

Our life has been hard lately. And it would be so easy to take all that anger, and resentment, and anxiety, out on each other. But we’re not.

We’re in this together.

So, in an attempt to acknowledge gratitude for that not-so-small favor, I put one picture from each year of our marriage up on my Instagram this past week. I included the following description with each picture:

Q: What do 2010, 2012 and 2017 have in common?
A: Therapists, lawyers, children in crisis, PTSD, medical bills, and oceans of tears.

But you know what they also have? My silver lining, my fearless warrior and the love of my life. Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light. Hatred cannot drive out hatred, only love. This Friday will be our 5 year anniversary. I’m counting down the years.

Summer 2013 – married one full year. Our road trip to Florida with a 13, 11 and 8 yr old. I don’t have a blog post for our 1st anniversary – this blog didn’t exist yet.

January 2014 – our 2nd year of marriage. This was our trip to Cancun to see my dear friend Sarah get married. 2nd anniversary blog post here.

August 2015: 3rd year of marriage, and first day of school (ie work). No, we don’t plan to color coordinate. Yes, we often do. 3rd anniversary blog post here.

March 2016: 4th year of marriage, and my husband’s 40th birthday trip to Seattle and Vancouver, Canada. He likes “real” photos. Like us in an elevator heading to Stanley Park. This is typical of the photos he takes of us. 4th anniversary blog post here.

Traditionally, for our anniversary, I revisit some pictures from our wedding. I was lucky enough to have my very talented friend Wendy do our wedding photography, and I have countless gorgeous photographs from that day.

But this year? This is the picture that rings true for me.

I know, I know, it’s not a “traditional” wedding moment. This was taken just after my best friends gave our wedding toast; if you look carefully, you can see the remnants of the verklempt on my  husband’s face (I had just finished a full out cry). My friends spoke, in not-so-specific-terms, of my fight to get to this moment. Of how they were so worried about me. Of how so many people in that room weren’t sure I would make it. And of how my husband came along and helped me piece myself back together again.

At some point, as we stood there, holding hands, me crying, listening to women who knew me, and loved me, best in the world, my 2 younger children came up and clung to us (my oldest is just out of the shot, behind my daughter). There we were, hands clasped, standing firm, with the boy wrapped around my husband, and my daughter curling into me.

Five years later, in so many ways, we are still holding this pose.

Right now, at this moment in time, 5 years into our marriage, we’re not able to focus our attention on each other. We’re not romantically gazing into each other’s eyes. Right now, at this moment in time, our children need every ounce of strength, time, attention and resources that we have.

But we’re still clasping hands. United. Protecting our family.

Happy anniversary to my rock, my partner, my amazing role model and provider for our 3 children. Their eyes are always on us, and I am so grateful and proud to have someone like him holding my hand, and holding me up.

 

Full stop

There are bumps in the road.

And then there are the brick walls. The ones that, quite literally, stop you in your tracks. Not slow life down. Not adjust the weekly schedule. But put everything else in your life on the shelf while you deal with what is in front of you, so impenetrable, that you must figure out an alternative route before you can go anywhere.

The brick wall that makes you fervently hope that you’ve earned enough of a solid reputation at work  that you can, emotionally and physically, check out in order to manage it (I have). That your bosses are kind enough and supportive enough to green light it (they are).

The brick wall that necessitates immediate care and trained professionals and mountains of paperwork with legal mumbo jumbo and very, expensive. fixer uppers.

The brick wall that steals sleep and erases appetite and brings day to day functioning to its barest essentials. When breathing feels like a victory.

The brick wall that makes you feel so incredibly alone because it is so scary, and stressful, and overwhelming, but you are the one in charge of taking it down, piece by piece, brick by brick. Only not really, because it is someone else’s wall. So you feel completely, 100% responsible, and wholly, utterly helpless, simultaneously.

That kind of full stop.

That’s what it is going on in my neck of the woods.

If this seems vague, it is. Because it is both my story, and not my story at all, to tell. I want to write it out, because writing is my therapy, and not write a word, not utter a syllable to anyone about any of this, because speaking of it makes it real.

I have all, and none, of the words about this.

I am hurting, on the most profound, basic, instinctual level, but also surviving. Taking care of business and doing what needs to be done. Because that is what I do.

I can say that my muses, for whatever rhyme or reason, this week have been my badass writer friends. I am an English teacher, and a writer, and a lover of words, so when I need strength, it is words, and mantras, that come to me.

This is my letter to the world that never wrote to me.

I don’t know why this is the Dickinson phrase that tolls inside my brain. The poem it draws from does not particularly apply to my current situation. Certainly “hope is a thing with feathers” would be far more appropriate – but there it is.

Grace always bats last, and the lightness always overcomes the darkness.

I am not a Christian but Anne Lamott has gotten me through more dark times in the past 7 years than I care to admit. She has a way of making the dark and twisty and messy human crap seem beautiful and noble and essential. We need more of her in this life.

I can also say that, with all due respect to Gretchen Rubin, who seems like a perfectly lovely human being, that her Happiness Project book appears to be my own personal doomsday. Remember the first time I tried to blog the Happiness Project? Round two is NOT GOING SO WELL PEOPLE.

I’m not overly superstitious but I’m also not blind to signs from the universe. Consider this my official resignation from that writing project, round two.

I have a triathlon on the docket in 13 days. Suffice to say I’m not in training (and have not been for several days). Full stop, and all. Right now, it is very. very. very. far down the totem pole of priorities. Maybe I will show up, if I can manage to run for more than a couple miles without feeling lightheaded and nauseated (I attempted an easy run the other day in the interest of self-care, and discovered that running after not eating or sleeping for several days, even at an “easy” pace, is not so “easy”.)

In the meantime, I know grace bats last. And I know lightness always overcomes darkness. But if that “last’ could come sooner rather than later, that would be fantastic.

Amen.

 

The Happiness Project: April

For 2017, I am blogging my way through Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project. Read here to see my intro post.

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Lighten Up – Parenthood

For April, Rubin focused on parenthood, specifically her effort to “lighten up” when it came to parenting her (at the time of writing) two young daughters.

I totally get this. Parenting babies, toddlers and preschoolers is hard, y’all. I’m a decade out from it, but trust me, I haven’t forgotten. Rubin writes of the research, “Marital satisfaction nose-dives after the first child is born and picks up again once the children leave home” (91).

Picks up again once the children leave home.

I know when the kids are young, and you haven’t slept in years months, and you’re cooking dinner with a baby on your hip and one wrapped around your knees, and you are, literally, assisting little human beings with their shit and snot, that the thought of those little people having the independence to wipe their own asses, never mind make their own snacks, seems so intoxicating and alluring that anytime in the future seems like a better alternative.

People, I survived the early years of three offspring delivered in a 4 year span. They eventually grew older, started sleeping and taking care of their own bowel movements, and I had several blissful intermediary years of post-early childhood but pre-adolescence. Those were the magical years.

I now have 3 teenagers living at home.  To follow up on Rubin’s notes about the impact of children in general on happiness at home, “Marital satisfaction, which typically declines over the course of marriage, reaches its all-time low when the oldest child reaches adolescence.” To put it simply, if having kids at home is stressful and exhausting and on a day to day basis lowers general levels of happiness, then having teenagers at home is the bottom of the barrel.

Let it be said, before I go any further, that I actually have really good kids. I mean, I hit the jackpot. Furthermore, after working with teenagers for nearly 20 years, I’m going to make the claim that I *get* teenagers more than the average parent. So I have a leg up.

But still.

I’m not sure how “light” my load is.

Here is the problem with me (and I totally own this as my own dysfunction). I just can’t not worry, nag remind, obsess, stress, and perseverate over any little box that is left unchecked. It’s not even so much that I want to control the outcome, rather once something is on my radar, on my to-do list (even if it’s not my list, but someone in my orbit), I can’t let go of it until it’s taken care of.

Let me give you an example.

My oldest child was recently invited to apply for the National Honor Society. He was given the invitation to apply on a Friday, with a Wednesday deadline to declare his intention. So the 5 days went something like this:

Friday: Me to him: “So what do you think? Do you want to go for it?” Him: “I don’t know. I’ll think about it.”

Sunday afternoon: Me to him: “Don’t forget you need to decide by Wednesday.”

Monday after school: Me to him: “Have you made a decision about National Honor Society? You need to decide by Wednesday.” Him: “Um. No. Still thinking about it.”

Tuesday morning before school: “Okay, so you’re going to your Dad’s tonight. Don’t forget that application is due on Wednesday if you want to apply.” Him, noncommittally, “Mmm”

Wednesday afternoon: Me to him: “So what did you do about National Honor Society?” Him: “Meh. I didn’t apply.”

First, slow clap to my oldest for his A+ game on dealing with a type A mother.  But more importantly, while I disagree with his choice not to apply, I really wasn’t ever pressuring him on what to do. The decision was all his. I just needed to get it off my list. Now imagine this times 3 very busy children with a myriad of activities. A husband, who loves to be helpful and take things “off my list” but doesn’t quite have my rapid-fire timeframe for checking things off.

And the kicker: 103 seniors who I shepherd through a multi-faceted senior program with multiple components, plus 30 kids in English class, plus 11 advisees.

“Light” I am not.

So, where does that leave me? Because, listen, while this project is about happiness, it’s not about fantasy. I have been like this my entire life. It’s part of the reason why I am excellent at my job, highly productive, and high achieving in multiple facets of my life. But I will also never be “laid back”. “Light”, if you will. I am okay with this. That doesn’t mean I can’t dial it back a notch.

So, I’m working on letting go. Only reminding my kids once or twice instead of daily (and yes, I know that better serves them. Again, this isn’t about me trying to helicopter parent them into a certain outcome, rather my own obsessive list-making). Trying to let Jesus take the wheel instead of feeling responsible for others’ choices (especially the 103 young adults that I am kicking, nagging, cajoling and pleading with to get across the finish line).

My goal, like Rubin, is to modify my natural proclivity for order and control so that I’m lighter. She wrote (after working on lightening up), “The difference was that, although my nature was unchanged, I had more happiness in my life each day; … through my actions I was successfully pushing myself to the high end of my inborn happiness range” (111).

Lighter.

 

 

 

 

The Happiness Project goes rogue

I’m doing a 2017 blogging series on Rubin’s The Happiness Project (for March’s “official” post, see here).

This is the unofficial March post. It’s March. And it’s about happiness. So I’m counting it as part of the series, even though I’m breaking format.

I’ve alluded recently to how difficult this academic year has been, both professionally for my husband and me, and personally for two of our three kids. The junior has been fairly miserable, swamped with AP classes and SATs and ACTs and the grind of the dreaded junior year. The 7th grader has been wrestling with some personal issues, some having to do with middle school (is there anyone who survived middle school unscathed?) and some her own #2010 demons.

But that is her story. As her mom, it’s been heartbreaking, and stressful. We want to fix everything for them, and there’s nothing I can do but sit beside her, hold her hand, and tell her that she, too, must find her own peace with it all.

So it was with this emotional baggage that we all eagerly packed our suitcases and took off for spring break. We take a family vacation every other year (the years we have them for spring break), and the 24 months between each are spent budgeting, planning, squirreling away funds, saving Christmas checks from Grandma, parceling out some of the summer second job income, and anticipating family adventures.

Our next spring break, the currently cranky and overworked junior will be a (knock on wood, fingers crossed) college freshman, and off on his own spring break adventure, so this was likely one of our last trips all together.

Where better than Jamaica to escape reality?

They called me over, with a “Mom, come see what we made for you. Thank you SO MUCH for this trip.”

This picture might be my favorite from the entire trip. To see her so joyful in her soul, after the past few months, was worth every penny.

This girl.

They didn’t have a good time at all.

It was the first time out of the country for my kids, and our first time at an all inclusive. If you have teenagers, I highly recommend paying for the all-inclusive option. Sure, the food isn’t as high-quality as other resorts, but unlimited food and virgin daiquiris for 3 teenagers more than compensates. The kids were in heaven. As were Mom and stepdude, who never had to stress out about feeding the bottomless pits.

finally had a chance to decompress, and get quiet, and do some beach reading. I whipped through Glennon Doyle Melton’s Love Warrior and Shonda Rhimes’ Year of Yes.If you have read Love Warrior and if you know my story, you are probably waiting to hear what I have to say about that. It was … an experience, reading that book. I have an entire blog post about that. I have an entire book to write about that.

Perhaps, for another day. Because I am no longer on the beach, watching the surf, processing and reflecting and composing. Actually, if you want to know the truth, I’m typing this in a doctor’s office waiting room, where I come every Monday night.

Back to reality.

So, I know this isn’t a post about Rubin’s book. Or a race report. Or PTSD recovery.

But it is about happiness. Even if I had to run away to Jamaica to find it.