Better choices today

Immediately after bleeding my angry rage post yesterday, I was off for a visit with TM (my therapist, for newer readers unaware of my tribe of experts). Even in the midst of my own crazy, I understand when the walls have closed and boxed me in and how I need help getting out of a funk. It was a hard conversation, especially through the blur of angry, raging tears and having to continually blow my nose. As is typically the case of talking stuff over with TM, it was also productive.

The downside is there is still more work to be done in this area. No matter how “done” I feel with the whole series of chapters in my life, it seems there is always an unread page or 10 to go back and thoroughly read, review, digest, turn. Perhaps this is life for everyone. Happily there are huge swathes of the population who have more normal and mentally/emotionally healthy families of origin and cannot comprehend the legacy of my type of crazed and complicated coping mechanisms. I seem to have to tug and unravel something else every, another thread every few years these days.

I am choosing to believe that it says a lot about my evolving maturity that I can report  such things without feeling the old humiliation that my issues are somehow my fault, that I am not handling it more successfully without having to publicly admit my shortcomings and air my dirty laundry. If anything, I am more motivated to sort this shit out and put it away in a neat and orderly manner, kind of Kon Marie tidying of my horrific childhood events. And no matter how much I try to woman up and tell myself it was not as bad as many others endured and survived, it was pretty bad. There is no competition or comparison on who suffered the most when it comes to childhood sexual abuse and assault. To be healthy and the best me I can be means I have to dial direct and deal with it; no avoidance, no raging against the unfairness, no tantrums about not wanting to do it. My choices of action or inaction have their own types of consequences, both are painful and difficult in their own way. From long experience, though, action is more like the sting of ripping off the supersticky bandaid versus delaying the inevitable and peeling it slowly while the wounds fester underneath.

Ewww – so gross to think about.

Today is a better day already. I went to bed early and slept a deep, mostly dreamless sleep and woke up refreshed. The only “nightmare” I had was that it was actually Monday and I had overslept and was going to be late for meeting trainer J at the gym. Except it’s Saturday, not Monday. If that’s the biggest problem I have in my sleeping hours, I am going to be okay.

I was completely on fire and in-focus in my gym practice today. Had some time to chat with J and other members, and while others might have found the extended rest distracting, for me it just made my focus feel sharper and more on-point. TM had an interesting observation yesterday. When I phoned for the appointment on Thursday, my voice mail stated that I really hoped to get in this week because I was having an issue that was disrupting my focus and distracting me in the gym, making me feel like poser member, and thoughts of giving up were starting to creep in while I was already struggling to get through a List. All true. It was not just the recurring rage and anger and pain that dragged me back to his office; it was the fact that it was interfering with my exercise routine. I have worked too hard and come too far in my better health pursuits to be derailed now by old wounds, and I am determined to stay on track with the training no matter what. TM just found is ironic that all the years he encouraged me to get more exercise and I could would not do it, only now to be calling for an urgent care appointment because my head is trying to disrupt my gym time.

Progress has never been described more accurately.

TM and I agreed that a couple more “tune up” appointments are in order. Life is in a state of flux this month with the job changes and recruiting new clients, settling back in with former clients returning, plus accepting more work from existing clients. As far as life issues go, these are good problems to have and I feel very, very fortunate. However, I would be lying if I said there is not some struggle with adjusting to self-regulating my work schedule and mostly being on my own every day. M is around, of course, but with regard to coworkers and that interpersonal interaction, it’s an adjustment. I miss my crew. I miss my role within the firm and working together toward a common goal. While I still feel like a vital component in my clients’ business goals and objectives, it is very different from being a hands-on part of each day after day.

Again, I am very appreciative to have work that continues to support us and keep us moving forward on our financial goals. There is no shame in admitting it is takes some effort to get used to this new normal.

I’m also grateful for this space, where I can download and offload my ugly insides without fear or anxiety of harsh judgment. My intense craving and need to feel safe is a ruling impulse in my life, and if there were a hierarchy of vices and poor choices (thanks trainer J for putting that image in my head), blogging as an exercise in reclaiming power over my own thoughts and emotions is a lot better than self-harm in so many other ways.  Food remains a trigger for me in this state, and thankfully we have purged most of the junky choices I might select and it is far easier to resist the allure of the nearest convenience store. Dill pickles (my latest food obsession) are mild on that harmful scale, as is a peanut butter sandwich I had for dinner last night. At least there were roasted veggies on the plate as well.

Choice

I am in a very dark and dreary sort of headspace and it makes focusing on anything other than the immediate more challenging than not. I wonder if this is a character weakness in that I feel incapable of simply sucking it up or if there are some areas of life where we have extremely limited choices in our behaviors and reactions?

Earlier this week I was going through the last boxes of documents, photographs, and albums that came from my mom’s house. It’s mostly depressing, soul-crushing sort of work, because not only do I have no idea who a lot of these people are/were, I have been forced to relive dozens (yes, plural) of albums from my sister’s life and times. If we had been closer and I did not feel that old stab of resentment that comes from being the younger, less favored daughter, the process would not be so dreadful. Making it worse – I have no relationship with my nephews and no idea how to reach either to see if they desire this stuff. I am decent enough to feel some guilt about tossing out these boxes of photos and books, but not quite generous enough to continue to store crap I will be happy never having to think about again.

But in the midst of all these my sister’s life and times memorialized in pictures, I found an envelope where I am actually in some of the photographs at various ages. Unfortunately, and this is where my wondering about “choice” comes into play, of the 17 photos, the man who molested and sexually abused me as a child is pictured with me in all of them. At birthday parties. At backyard bar-b-ques. At holiday dinners.

I remember the events and the occasions and it makes me want to barf.

It not only made me feel ill when I looked at them the first time, it also started me on the nightmare treadmill once again. But since finding them, I obsessively looked at and examined them frontward, backward, sideways at every available opportunity, always in search of clues to the why of it all, the endless, inexplicable question – why me? Was I such a naive, stupid, fearful, dumb, ignorant, or worse child that made victimization easy? Years passed – 8 years – and I never said a word, my parents never thought anything amiss. I had choices, even then.

I can spin this in a bazillion different ways and never come to a satisfactory conclusion. I live with the choices made for me and forgive my childhood self for being young and scared.

Finally last night I put those pictures through the shredder to force myself to stop. Then I burned the shredded photographs and drowned the ashes in water before dumping the whole mess – baking pan and all – into the trash. Then this morning I fished it out of the trash and threw it into a gym trash can at the far edge of the parking lot. And all day long I have been wondering if the gym trash can has been emptied and when the garbage collector comes and takes it away.

I feel unclean. I feel as if I have now tainted the club’s parking lot and I need to find somewhere else to leave my car. I feel ridiculous in my overreaction. While I know these feelings are all transitory, temporary, and a method to distract me from my crazy, it sure as Hell feels real to me to be this level of crazy.

The worst part is it has made me feel so much less. In my head I have become the incredible shrinking woman, minimized and marginalized as victim of circumstance. For all my foundational believe in free will being a guiding principle in how to live my life, I am helpless and hopeless when it comes to this shit. I don’t really want to talk about it even this much, yet I cannot stop the endless loop now projecting in my head no matter what I happen to be doing as a productive human being.

So I am pondering choice. Am I really this helpless, this hopeless? Knowing it will pass, eventually, makes little difference in hurrying it along. I have spent so much of my life battling back and fighting to be all I can be, only to be brought down and left writhing in mental and emotional agony over a small envelope of photographs.

I like to think my mom forgot about them, that they have been sitting in this box of stuff in a storage closet for the last 25 years. But it takes me back to being in my therapist’s office, stating my truth about the childhood horror show, and having her flat out deny it ever happened. Had she shot me dead that day I doubt it would have hurt so much. But it is what it is, and I’m left with my bewilderment over her own childhood that brought forth such a coldly cruel person to her own child.

That’s another unpleasant thing to ponder, another unanswered question to speculate about or to set aside and choose to not let it matter to me any longer.

I do not seem to be making good choices right now. But I tell myself it’s okay, that tomorrow will be better, that the powerlessness will fade and my ability to be the decider or at least a better decider within my own life will return. I know this, and I will strive to be kind to and patient with myself until my strength returns.

At which time, I will choose to put the past away with hopeful resolve that it will not return and catch me unarmed and off-guard again.

I will choose me, the woman I became despite poor circumstances. And I’ll believe it when I remind myself it’s good to be me.

When I have the strength to exercise my choices once more.

The aviary, anxiety, and getting on with it

Mish-mash catch-all post with updates on various happenings in my life. Busy days this shortened work week, but before I get too engulfed by various things I wanted to provide a quick update on current events.

Cheepers

I wish I’d thought to take a more recent photo, but Cheepers is still with us and appears to be thriving. That said, I have concerns about his longevity, visions of setting him free in the wild only to be snatched on his first freedom flight by the hawk, the big bad boogey bird of the greenbelt behind our home. Or worse, crashing down and within reach of our cats, who then dash off to consume him in private and well out of reach of M’s wrath.

He eats pretty well when M feeds him, drinks water pretty well from an eye dropper that M puts in his beak, and can fly a bit when M launches him from the floor a couple of feet off the ground. Other than that, Cheepers is pretty much completely dependent. He’s not a terrible housemate – he either stays in his box (in the air conditioned comfort of the house) or on his paper plate (when we are at home to ensure he doesn’t fall off whatever surface his plate is resting upon). He goes outside in the cage for a few hours each day in the nice temperatures of the mornings and evenings. Overnight, he sleeps uncaged on his paper plate on M’s nightstand. He starts cheeping for breakfast when the sun comes through the windows, but even with me rustling around getting ready to leave for the gym at 4 in the morning that bird stays with beak tucked into his wing and happily sleeping.

I’m not sure what will happen to him, frankly, but I can envision a future with us having a bird pet for however long he lives. It’s now been 2 weeks, and while other birds of his species – that may or may not be the parent birds – are out in the yard, they seem pretty indifferent to him and he to them. Birdy-Bird, his predecessor that also fell out of the nest and ultimately died in our care, was older when M found him and would interact routinely with his parents while ensconced in the yard in his cage. Cheepers was younger and likely abandoned, so essentially M is his parent and family. Unfortunately M cannot teach him how to hunt and feed himself. M cannot get Cheepers to eat food or drink water he places in front of him.

I think M has become, by necessity, a helicopter bird parent. And unfortunately, I see little hope of getting him “launched” successfully and safely.

Yep, M enables him. Cheepers goes off in his cage to jobsites or on runs with M during the day, his worms in their own cooler for snacks and lunch. There are certainly worse fates for the little bird, but he seems far too domesticated and tame now to survive on his own in the wild. Time will tell.

I have always been a dog person if I were to have a pet. Now I have cats outside and a bird in my house. The bird is unlikely to live a long life either way, and the cats were already adults when we met them 6 years ago, so they are settling into the “mature” cat years now. But after this, I want no more pets.

Anxiety

The Big Law Firm (BLF) transition was paperwork-ly completed last Friday. Monday began the first day for remaining staff as new employees with BLF, and of course yesterday was a paid holiday. I had really, Really, REALLY hoped for a soft landing in this change and that despite my personal misgivings and worries about it, that the staff would find the experience positive or mostly positive. I really wanted future communications with them to contain sort of tempered excitement at worst, that they miss working with me but things are so damn great even without me it’s hard to contain their enthusiasm. I also really hoped the first day would be more off-hand and casual as they all adjust to the new normal.

Yeah, Pollyanna still lives here.

Monday was fairly brisk for me setting up my own new normal as far as self-employment continuing and restart with client work and appointments, so it was a rare mid-morning to late afternoon period of not reading texts except those from clients I was meeting or expecting to be hearing from about schedule-related issues.

I had 117 texts from various staff members when I finally sat down to read them. About 30% were of the “so weird without you here” and “we miss you already” and “it’s lunchtime – where are you?” type messages, which made me smile. The rest were descriptive about the changes being implemented from day 1 and how it felt like BLF had executed a military coup and drafted all of them. Or worse. Change is hard.

I wish it were different, but reminded them that change is difficult at first and to give BLF staff a chance. They do operate differently than we did, than I did, and it’s a new era and practically a new job, so be patient and smart about learning the new systems and procedures. Give BLF a chance to not only adapt to a new firm, new cases, new staff, but also a chance to evaluate the office work flow and adapt to and incorporate some of our best practices. While I am realistic about there being no place for me in the new business world order of the firm, I know these are very smart and talented attorneys. They will adapt to the new culture and the culture will adapt to incorporate them as well.

Even the former partners are having to adapt somewhat. In their roles as consultants and advisors they will be in the office periodically for meetings with clients and consulting/transitioning ongoing matters, but they too are having to adapt to not being primary decisionmakers and expected to be somewhere throughout the day. As I will be assisting them with the wind-down of the firm throughout the next 6 months to a year, I will still see and speak to them regularly, although of course it’s not the same as it was. But as I have reminded myself hundreds of times since this all came about, things are constantly in a state of flux and nothing stays the same forever, nor would I desire that.

But I am also facing the reality of my new normal. Monday I was busy with work-related things both planned and unexpected, as is typical for all aspects of life. I have had 3 clients that I had to cut loose back when I accepted full-time employment express happy-happy-joy-joy at the opportunity to return to the fold, and before the calendar even turned I was already engrossed in resolving a bigger problem and found myself with a short-fuse deadline for today that I was only able to get extended to Monday and even then only because the regulator knows me well and is delighted to have me back on the case. While grateful for the reprieve, I’m furious at the person who spent more than a year collecting fees for work she was not actually doing. I am actually so furious about it I am making a list and planning to market directly to her clients, probably all of them.

Because I tend to hate marketing, this is an added layer of stress. Fortunately for me, all my work has come from referrals from people I know or clients I work with or have worked with in the past. I am not very good at talking up my services or expertise; I am pretty black-and-white about what I can or cannot do for someone. Schmoozing is not normal or easy behavior for me, especially in a marketing-type capacity. While I can and do negotiate (I buy all the cars in our family because M hates dealing with salesmen), I dislike the process.

Beyond that, though, I have some concerns about what to do with myself all day. I mean, right now I have plenty on my plate – through the end of July my to-do lists overfloweth. There is just this sense that a “regular” workday and workload will be inadequate to fill up my typical work hours. What do I do then?

In my experience, the anxiety is unfounded. It is the mostly unknown workday right now, and being such a schedule-keeping creature of habit, I dislike that uncertainty. So, I have decided the only course of action is to stay on some semblance of my presently normal schedule. Stick to my regular wake-up and exercise schedule, plan my workday around its normal timeframe. I have more flexibility to actually meet with clients in their offices now, although I imagine my Tuesdays are pretty well set and will continue.

My routine-loving stress puppy will be soothed by sticking to what we know. For at least the month of July, that will be good enough.

Life (and Work) Does Go On

I am cutting myself some slack on my present-level of anxiety over the changes in life and career. While I am not at all worried about finding enough work, being capable enough to do the work, or even juggling and managing my time to ensure stuff gets done, change is hard, even change I have been anticipating. Unfortunately things have been sort of ethereal in nature during that period, and now that July is here and full-time self-employment is again a thing, I have to get busy wrapping my arms around it and sorting it into orderly priorities.

This week I have appointments outside the office with existing, returning, and potential clients. Which means I have to be on best and most dressed-up behavior most of my days – none of my favorite capris and tank tops at my treadmill desk much this week. This is one of the true perks of working from home into the future and I’m impatient to start enjoying it.

From the messages and support from friends and clients alike, I am lucky to have such great influences from those who populate my life. I am not “losing” friends by leaving the firm so much as gaining a different slant on the friendships built there.

Between the negotiated severance package and terms of my separation, money is not even top 5 of concerns I have about this transition. In that, I am extraordinarily fortunate and genuinely grateful. While so far from “frugalista” I should probably consult the dictionary regularly to refresh my memory when my brand of financial restraint seems too confining, ours is a pretty simple life. Biggest splurges are probably training for me and fuel for M’s travel to and fro to run, both of which have a direct benefit on our overall and ongoing health.

That said, I always do have a bare-bones budget in mind, our go-to in the event of financial famine. I update it regularly as our circumstances change, but typically very little changes unless we have acquired new debt (ha ha) or have become gazelle-intense about saving for something or paying off the mortgage.

I am mostly chasing my tail because big changes give me some sense of anxiety. Since this is not a change I wanted but more one I had to implement and accept, it makes adjustment that much more difficult. I am and will continue to adjust to the new normal, and from there I expect less aimless frothing on a spin cycle and more productive use and practical applications of time and energy.

Onward, ever onward. The adventure continues, even with me whimpering and weakly wiggling my feet in protest.

 

In my book of life, another chapter concludes

Last night we had our final dinner as a firm. While I had my doubts about it when first announced, the partners wanted something special for the staff offsite to commemorate the firm that once was. There has been a wide range of emotions about the sale, but joy and elation were not within that range. Mostly it has been anger, sadness, uncertainty, ad some bitterness that the partners would sell out and abandon what is a great firm, great jobs for all of us.

I do not disagree. While intellectually knowing and understanding their position and desires to pursue some other type of life, it has been a struggle to accept and let go for me. But accepting what I cannot change has been for my own good, and I’m in the best possible shape for this parting. I am staying positive 90% of the time about it.

Thursday afternoon we had a boozey-schmoozey final lunch. It was fun – good food, lots of laughter, booze – and at 4 p.m. I was putting the last tipsy lawyer into an Uber and saying goodbye to my receptionist. He gave me a parting gift and I opened it in the car. It’s a copy of Shel Silverstein’s “Where the Sidewalk Ends” and he wrote the sweetest note inside for me. I didn’t cry until reading it, but it was powerful. I love that kid and expect he will do well and have a great life.

We were closed for the day on Friday at the partners’ insistence. They were moving their personal belongings from the offices and did not want the staff around to witness this final phase. I stopped by in the late afternoon to put a personal note and goodbye gift on each desk. The empty offices, the framed degrees, the photographs of the firm and staff through the years off the walls nearly broke me in half. The finality that this would be my final stop in this volume of my life and career hit hard.

But last night, last night went from semi-serious and nearly morose to something more typical of us as a group over the course of the evening. Good food, open bar, and a lot of funny and touching anecdotes from the partners about each of the staff members made for a good evening. I’d been asked to share something as well – about the state of the firm on its last days as well as anything else I cared to talk about. I was still trying to write it all down 3 minutes before we were due to leave the house.

In the end, I quoted numbers from my notes, because I’m a numbers kind of person and that is part of my role. For me personally, I spoke from the heart about what they have all meant to me, how it has been both a pleasure and a privilege to work with such a scary smart group of people with such unlimited potential for greatness in careers and in lives they live. Ours is not a Hallmark movie inspirational tale – our clients are primarily big insurance companies and not some little guy seeking justice in the form of monetary damages – but being our best selves, using our intelligence and experience to do the best job we can has its own rewards.

My career has spanned longer than a few of these kids time on earth. While I have not always been a manager or a leader – I was 47 before finishing my degree – it has been many years since I have discounted or pooh-poohed my professional accomplishments in comparison to others. As a very young woman I came to understand that I could have everything I wanted in life (assuming I was willing to put forth the sweat equity to make it happen) but I could not necessarily have it all at once. I married, divorced, raised children while working progressively responsible administrative support jobs, a role that I still feel is mostly undervalued. Every job I have had, no matter how low on the food chain or how lacking in respect, has taught me something, even if it is how to not conduct myself or the ways I manage work-related relationships. I remain hopeful that this new big firm experience will benefit my (now former) associates in positive ways. To the very end I continued to encourage them to have an open mind about the possibilities and experiences awaiting them.

And I meant every single word of it.

I debate with myself the value of authenticity and sincerity in the professional realm. There is an edge of cynicism that continually tries s to expand within me yet gets tamped down at every turn. I am realistic that people are people and there is a segment in every workplace that are ruthlessly ambitious or insecure and will do whatever it takes to realize their vision of getting ahead. The work I do is not deeply personal or life-altering to my clients, but it must be done and putting forth quality effort and using my education and experience is satisfying to me. I have grown accustomed to a higher level of autonomy and control in my work, and I see going back to self-employment as the best option for maintaining that. I know how fortunate I am to have this option, to have retained enough part-time clients to ensure our basic living expenses are covered, but already a few clients I referred out 18 months ago when I went with a full-time job have gleefully returned and other firms have been contacting me about projects of various lengths. I should have no problems keeping myself busy, off the streets and out of Baskin Robbins (purely medicinal purposes, of course).

Returning to employee status – I don’t see it happening for me unless something extraordinary happens to my stable of clients. The law firm offered me an unique and challenging opportunity where I felt certain I could and would make a difference. At the end of it, when the old firm is now just a shell that we will be winding down and closing out as a corporation in the next year, I know that my presence and efforts made an impact and a difference for the partners and the staff.

It’s hard to be sad when I know this to be true.

My book of life continues to be written, only one chapter is now concluded. Fresh page, fresh start. Let the new adventure begin anew.

 

Parents

Out and about at lunch today with one of my associates, she asked me if I miss my parents. Second anniversary of her father’s death is Saturday and she is already feeling the oppressive sadness processing her ongoing grief.

At work, in most of my face-to-face life, I rarely think about much less mention my parents. When I do, it is typically in the context of their shortcomings. While I wish to be fair and balanced in my observations and remembrances, truth is there is not a lot of positives to talk about my childhood or my family of origin. There truly are few happy memories.

The simplest answer is no, I do not miss my parents. When I think of my mom, it is the last few months, and then only when M and I are doing something or are somewhere that she might have enjoyed. It is the reflexive part of me that wants to be kind, even to people I do not especially like as people. With my dad, it is more a curiosity of who he was, what he was like as a young man. All I know about him, really remember about him, is that he was drunk much of the time and seemed miserably uncomfortable during the periods of my life he was trying to get and stay sober.

My associate comes from a closer family. Her mother and twin sister live in southern California, and they talk on by phone or text every single day. Her vacations are spent with them or her boyfriend’s family. And right now, her ongoing grief over her father’s sudden death 2 years ago still weighs on her heart. I feel for her, yet wonder what that’s like. Tempering that grief this year is the eager anticipation of birth of her first niece or nephew later this year. She will make a wonderful aunt, and someday, when she has children of her own, I strongly believe she will be a wonderful mother.

She has good examples to draw upon.

Me, not so much. And I wonder whenever I depart from this life, if my kids will miss me and mourn my passing. Not something I dwell upon, but it is a point of curiosity that I will never know for certain. #relief

Despite not having good parenting examples to draw upon, I did okay. I own my mistakes – I married the wrong guy and had children with him, then divorced him and broke up a family. There are scars there, I’m sure. While I do not apologize for making a poor choice in their dad as a husband, I worked very hard to be a responsible parent and give my kids the tools they needed to grow up and successfully launch into independent lives of their own. In his own way, I feel equally certain their father did the same. My relationships with my children and their spouses are loving, honest, open. M and I am parents who respects boundaries and their sovereign adulthood, but if they need us, we would do just about anything to be there for them. And truly, I believe the same is true of them for us. Thankfully there has not yet been a situation that tested those theories.

Relationships change with time, because we have different experiences that alter our perceptions and beliefs – I believe they call it growing up. Does not mean we all grow up well, or evolve into better, smarter, more powerful or intelligent people; growing up to me just means we are not exactly the same people with the same thoughts we were the year before. Or such is my hope, anyway.

In the last couple of years – it feels like big growing up years. I started taking better care of myself, getting regular doses of exercise, learning how to use weight training machines and equipment in the gym, making better and healthier food choices. For most people this is just one tiny aspect of what they do in life, a hobby, but for me, it’s become The Hobby and The Gamechanger for most aspects of my life. I went from an employee working for an employer to expanding my side hustle (accounting) into a full-time, self-sufficient small business and back to full-time employee with part-time small business and now back to full-time small business owner. The impacts of these two things on my overall health – I went from insulin-dependent diabetic to well-controlled diabetic without any medication. I lost long-time friends along the way, people who perhaps felt threatened by a trimmer, healthier, freer, more financially empowered me. At the same time, I have made and added new friends that share my hopes and dreams, understand my health aspirations and mindset. Other relationships deepened, the bonds of our tribe strengthened and became closer. Both my kids, while living on their own for awhile, married their partners and solidified and expanded our family.

How does this all come back to my parents? Expectations. Or lack thereof, in my case.

I had no sense of my parents investing in me growing up. Go to school, get good grades, get a good job. Nothing at all against blue collar families, but my parents had no idea what was involved in getting into college, how much it would cost, how much – if anything – they would be willing to contribute for me to get my degree. So I was middle aged before I finally finished my degree. I got a job, got married, had a family, got divorced, got married, raised a family, and through it all got better, progressively more responsible, high paying jobs before I finally finished college. My success – I’m perfectly frank and honest that my parents did little to nothing directly to contribute to it. They had relationships with my children, until the kids grew up and into the initial stage of independence.

I did learn a few things from my folks. From my dad, don’t drink alcohol – you have no self control and will be an alcoholic. From my mom, don’t try to trade on your physical appearance – you’re not tiny, pretty like me, and learned helplessness presents more like a mental handicap than charming, attractive, rescue-worthy. And from both: we cannot or will not protect you from the predators of the world, so resign yourself to being a disposable commodity and expect everyone to steal your virtue, your dignity, and anything else you value.

There was such obvious favoritism between my sister and that it disturbs me to this day, yet made my adult life so much simpler despite that. The great hopes and dreams landed squarely on my sister’s shoulders, and when you are not expected to amount to much, the bar is set so low it is not that difficult to step right over it. It created this huge sense of resentment and distrust between my sister and I, because while accepting the benefits of being the golden child she resented the responsibility of being the older daughter and having to cope with the conflict of blazing her own trail. Me, I didn’t much care. Being viewed a the fuck-up (or the potential fuck-up) for having a mind of my own and speaking frankly has its benefits.

Because of that family dynamic, with my own children I have some very hard and fast rules about treating them equally. I do not see or sense the resentment between them that once existed between my sister and I. And I am very happy about that.

At the same time, I cringe and squirm in discomfort when I recognize my shortcomings and challenges that have been passed down from my to my kids. My bitter battles with food – C shares that. My hesitation and freaked-out-ness about school and education – I see the same sort of challenge with discipline and focus on topics and subjects of less interest with G. At the same time, I see a lot of good qualities that come from their father and I as well. They are both intelligent, have personal integrity, and are good citizens within their own communities. Far more than I was at their age, they are fiscally responsible and not buried in credit card debt, so they obviously learn from mistakes, mine as well as their own.

My associate and my friend, I am glad she loved her dad so much that she continues to process her grief 2 years after his passing. It’s moving to me that she tears up a little when talking about precious memories, that her family are people who express love in ways she could and can feel.

Breaking cycles, breaking family patterns – it may take generations to get to the right and more perfect balance. For me, it’s enough to come from my background and having children who grew up into balanced, responsible adults that I like as people well as love because they are my children.

My parents did the best they could, and their imperfect, flawed examples taught me to try other ways. My mistakes are mostly original and my own. For that, I am grateful. But I still do not think of or miss them much. That’s my character flaw to bear.

The elbow and the sock

Today I had a weird elbow twinge pain. Which for me is unusual. Shoulders, knees, even wrists I could understand. But elbow?

I know it was not from the gym – I did all lower body stuff this morning and somewhere deep within my glute muscles some bundle of fibers are bleating out “we don’t like you anymore!” It wasn’t until a couple of hours into my workday that the pain twinges began. I felt fine this morning when I got up and to the gym, and I felt fine through the other trauma-drama of my morning. Around lunch time that I noticed straightening it out completely made this little twinge of pain, but only sometimes. After chatting with my friends about it at lunch as one of this current events of our days, we decided it was stress elbow, because nothing else came to mind.

So after lunch one of the associates comes in with a white crew sock. I eyed is suspiciously and backed away, just in case it was stinky, which earned me an eye roll and assurances it was clean. He says I continually bump my elbow on the arm of my chair, and he sock was to protect it. Thinking about it, I figured okay, agreed that I do periodically have that behavior, and accepted the sock.

Now, this seems perfectly logical to me, but living with M and his many, many cuts and scrapes and injuries from running or working around the house, I thought the intention was that I cut the sock part off the sock and use the stretchy part to protect my elbow. Not very stylish – walking around with half a tube sock on your elbow – but at the time it seemed fine.

The associate who gave me the sock was out at anther firm this afternoon, but one of the other associates saw it on my elbow and did a double take. He then informed me that the intention was that I put the intact sock over the arm of my chair to cushion the impact of my grazing elbow. I was really embarrassed and hyper-responsible me immediately thought I should text an apology and then run out and buy him another pair of socks. But work happens, and all afternoon the guys were cruising by my office to examine my elbow sleeve and tell me about how meaningful the hacked up socks. They are – were – his favorite basketball socks. They were his lucky basketball socks. Those socks didn’t get washed for a year after he won some team won the basketball championship in college. They were his only pair of gym socks. He would be laughed out of the gym for wearing black dress socks going forward. Forget getting married and fathering children; he’d never get another date, having his prized athletic socks hacked to bits.

They were relentless. It reminds me how much I will miss the camaraderie and the teasing, and how special this firm has been for me. Surprisingly, the normality of our days thus far this week – even though I am typically not in the office on Tuesdays – has made it easier knowing these are the last of our days together. Work is getting done, fires being extinguished, everything is running smoothly. For them, next week will mean new faces in various offices and new procedures in how things are managed. I suspect the real transition will begin Monday morning.

Until then, this is my office, this is my crew. They can joke around and tease and try to make me feel ashamed of hacking up a coworkers loaned socks. I did run out and buy replacement pair after work, and they are waiting on his desk. And the legend of me and my elbow sleeve will live in infamy.

It is as it should be. I don’t do that much truly dumb stuff all that often.

And my elbow? It feels better. Maybe it’s purely psychosomatic, or maybe the sock sleeve did something beneficial. Or maybe it’s all the laughter of the afternoon. I am now sure it’s the result of all the mousing this week – editing a lot of invoices and writing a lot of emails. Yet another silver lining of using my MacBook more during the workday.

 

Fear, anxiety, friendship

One of my very best friends is in the process of long-term recuperation and rehabilitation from a very serious illness. His return to health has been an arduous journey and is not over yet, but he has been improving and all our hopes are for a full and complete recovery. Along with that, though, we are really hoping he will be capable of flying home within the next month.

Not going to lie – it’s been extraordinarily difficult for him to go from strong, active, and vibrant to this point of weakness, much less active because of his health, and having to fight to recover in all sorts of ways that are unfathomable and unimaginable to me. As far as mood, it’s been an almost textbook cycle of anger, depression, resolve, and wanting so badly and trying so hard to get back to baseline normal. Physical recovery and moodiness aside, there is a cognitive relearning curve in many areas that has been occurring concurrently.

He is family. M and I would no more turn our backs on him than fly to the moon by flapping our arms. Does not make it all rainbows and unicorns to cope with and to watch despite our care and commitment.

I preface it this way for a couple of reasons. It seems the closer we come to his return, the more unraveled he seems to be becoming. Thing is, I don’t care what he looks like – how skinny, how hairless, how much muscle he has lost. I don’t care about his memory loss and what he has had to struggle and battle to recover. I don’t care if he wallows in self-pity and must try to climb out every single day. I don’t care about any of that at all. I want him to be healthy, be all he can be, and his recovery is just short of miraculous in how far he has come in 9 months. Being him home and nearby where we can help and hang-out and communicate in more efficient and effective ways that the geographical distance presently allows is our ultimate goal. The rest we can cope with and fix. In a lot of ways he sees it, but depression, anxiety, and fear make him unpredictable in how he may react.

My Pollyanna-ness gets on his nerves; I know it and try to temper it. However, we tend to communicate primarily via email and online chat, occasional Facetime, text, phone call. I have ongoing concern but am not hovering and wringing my hands over him. Don’t want to see or read my sunnier outlook? It’s fine to delay or even delete my communications. It’s also fine to tell me to shut the f**k up. We’ve been friends for a very long time, and as I said, he’s family; he can say that to me without penalty or long-term hurt feelings on my part.

But our affection and respect is mutual. I know this, and I know his situation and circumstances are unusual. I make huge allowances and give him a whole lot of leeway.

The last few weeks, though, have been trying. With my work-related situation, he has been a most supportive rock and sounding board for me. It is part of what makes him special to me, that he is so stable and sensible much of the time. Outside of me and my issues, though, he’s been a pain in the ass. He’s been alternatively empty shell bright and fluffy to surly and snarling in general conversation. Frankly, I generally prefer the surly and snarling; I can work with that by snarling back. The bright and fluffy? I may as well be chatting with the cardboard cutout of him about the f**king weather.

Over the weekend he sounded in good spirits, but almost too good. Flying is painful for him, makes his brain literally hurt from the pressure. Knowing he was boarding a plane causes anxiety and fear, which he of course does not want to flat out admit, even though it’s the big giant dancing pink elephant in the room. I get it; I didn’t push. I also restrained myself from asking yesterday how the flight went, instead asking him about a Jordan Peterson video series on biblical stories, wondering if he knew it was available and/or started listening. He barked back that he wanted to “put a bullet in his brain to make the pain stop and I wanted to know what he’s listening to?” That’s actually fine – pain talking; I am also grown-up enough of a big girl and can take it. I didn’t reply right away, knowing his head is hurting and not wanting to make the situation worse. Told M that flight had not gone that well, and figured I would write an email instead. Before I got an opportunity, though, got another text that stated “Don’t fucking email or communicate with me any further. Done for now.”

Ouch. Rational Pollyanna in me understands this is pain talking, but it smarted. I resolved to honor his wishes, and when his head stops aching and he wants to talk, I am not going anywhere and we can and will hash it out. Family is family; we say shit we mean in the moment and regret later. Unfortunately. And if this is the worst way we treat one another (and it pretty much is), we are surely not that bad.

So there’s that.

Then this morning while I am at the gym, M gets a phone message from a hospital in Berlin regarding friend J. M had been outside feeding/playing with the cats and getting Cheepers situated in his cage when the call came in, so he came back to a voice mail asking us to call. M texted me and I immediately ceased what I was doing and practically ran out of the club. By the time I got home, M had returned the call and was told it was a next-of-kin notification that friend J was safe, being treated, and his doctor had been contacted. Unfortunately, there was no consent to share information about his condition, but it was policy to notify us.

Under the best of circumstances, this would freak anyone out. Family member in a hospital in another country – fear, anxiety, worry are all normal emotions. Unfortunately for me, this brings flashbacks to the dreaded school phone call regarding my daughter, perfectly healthy 12-year-old, falling ill at school on a Thursday and being told less than 24 hours later that she is brain dead and not going to wake up ever again. My emotional reactions are overreactive and warranted. The fear – oh my, deer in the headlights has nothing on me in this situation.

While we are frantically calling his regular physician to try and find out what’s happening, friend J calls himself when he learned we had been contacted to explain that had happened and reassure us that he is fine. Simple accident – woman fell into him, he fell over and banged his head on a doorjamb. Because of his ongoing recuperation and head injury, his coworkers insisted he be seen by emergency doctors. He was to be released soon and is fine.

I listened. He sounded normal, angry with the staff, assured me that it’s nothing serious. I listened, said okay, handed M the phone and went to throw up. Fear and anxiety released.

In the moments between the hospital conversation and him calling, our last interaction played and replayed in my head. Would his harsh, angry, frustrated-with-his-life words be the last thing he said to me? Is this what 25+ years dissolves into?

It was several moments of awful, hollow feelings. So many years, so many good times, great memories replaced with his last couple of messages on his part and retreated silence on mine.

No clear answers. I don’t want to be angry with him, yet I am. I don’t want him shitting all over me because he’s having a hard time, but I’m allowing it right now. It seems we still have time to sort out the sibling crap in our relationship. But for a few minutes this morning, I had the dreadful certainty that I was going to be living with my regret for all I coulda/shoulda/woulda said.

I do not want to ever live with regret. But my emotions are as highly reactive and hair-trigger ready to fire as they ever get, with this week’s final days on the job and dealing with this today.

I am going to let this sit awhile. I am not going to reach out directly, because my feelings are pretty raw. What I would likely say right now – you’re a selfish, self-centered jerk engaged in an ongoing pity party and I hate you right now – is mostly unproductive.

And now I’m really, Really angry, the kind of angry that comes from a big giant scare and the relief that it was a false alarm. Since he also reads this blog from time to time: I’m really angry and it’s all your fault, you ass. Doesn’t mean I won’t get over it, forgive and forget. Eventually. But interactions with me could be HELL between now and then.

But right now, friend J, I hope you stub your toe or get an irritating hangnail.