You are not alone

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you arenotalone

This week has been hard for me, a survivor of sexual assault. I wrote a book which includes the experience I had and a bunch of other things I’ve survived from. I firmly believe that going to therapy and treating the PTSD that I developed with EMDR saved my life. I also believe the support of friends and family and at the time especially my boyfriend (now husband) saved me.

This week has seen a 221% spike in calls to the RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) on the day of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony.  I am not here to be political. Nope. What I am going to say is that a survivor should be listened to and heard and believed. That’s it. I tried to tell while hospitalized in 1986 (I think that was the year) and nobody heard me. It was turned around and I stopped trying to tell anyone til I was 18 yrs old. When I was 18, I had already quit high school and was at the local community college finishing up my Associates degree (I had gone to college at 16) and I told one of my classmates- this guy I had a crush on. That did not go well. It went well in the sense that this guy listened, heard and believed me but when he realized that I told him because I was a young girl and he was 27- he removed himself from the situation because prior to that he had no idea how old I was and didn’t want to damage me even more. Thank you Steve, I will never forget your kindness.

You are not alone. No matter when you were assaulted, who assaulted you, how severe the assault was (how is that even a thing? if you were assaulted you were assaulted and it was wrong and it was severe to you) I believe you. I hear you and you are NOT alone.

Life is very hard. I have chosen to turn the bad into good and I wrote a book. I believe firmly that anyone can Continue to Live and Flourish despite anything bad that has happened to you. I believe that if you heal thru therapy and continue to give yourself the space you need to feel safe that you can do anything in life you choose to do.

I could relate to Dr. Ford when she said she was afraid at times and was claustrophobic. I can’t close the bathroom door when I use the restroom. I can if people are over but my kids are over the fact that if they find me- the door will be open- they just avoid eye contact. Our master bath has this weird door to a shower/toilet “room” and I took the door off the hinges. That means our “bathroom” in our master has no door. I can’t wait to renovate it this coming Spring 2019 so we can finally have some privacy but there will be no door to a tight space. There will be a door to an open and spacious bathroom. See I can close doors to open spaces/larger spaces but I have a hard time closing a door to a small half bath type room. I get it.

Every survivor needs to be heard but what I want to do is change the conversation and ensure that my sons and my daughter both know about consent and it’s not very hard to teach actually. When my youngest was 9 years old we found this great video about consent from the UK. The video compares a cup of tea with sex. It is animated and easy for kids and adults of all ages to understand. You can never force anyone to have a cup of tea and thus cannot force them to have sex. It goes on to several scenarios. It’s really awesome. So this week when my son (age 12) asked me about what was on the news he said to me “Mom did that man not see the tea video?” I laughed and told him that when I grew up the internet and videos like this were not available to people. “Well at least it’s available now and nobody should not know about consent if they watch it!” That’s the thing folks, we need to teach our children.

My 13 1/2 year old daughter knows self defense from Karate. She knows that you don’t go anywhere without a friend even to the bathroom if you are at an event and that you should not go to an event if there are no parents home. Does this mean she will not do any of the above no. Do my sons know the same thing, yes. Do my sons know to respect others and their space? Yes. The other thing kids need to learn about is drinking and to try it at home first. I’m not suggesting we line up our teens and give them a beer but if we make our dining room tables the places to talk about life and their friends and what is really going on and you find out they are aware of friends that drink then your kid should sit down at the table (if you feel ok with this) and try alcohol. I know my parents let me and it made me realize after the 3rd wine cooler at age 16 that alcohol was not for me. I couldn’t walk straight, I couldn’t make proper decisions. It held me off from drinking too much my entire life. Obviously do what you feel is best as a parent and certainly do not offer alcohol to anyone else’s kids but kids need to understand what it does to their judgement and you do not want them to find out at the first party they attend.

Our society needs to go back in time and have manners. Our men need to ask our women permission to hold their hand and to ask to kiss them and vice versa. Our kids need to understand that love is love and love feels good. Domestic abuse occurs within teen age relationships and that is not ok. I am probably hyper focused on the teenage aspect of things because I have 3 of them in my house, right now. I worry.  But I know no matter what they will be ok.

If you are a survivor and you need help this week, call the RAINN hotline . They can help you. Back in 1999- I called, several years after the assault and got a referral to a local support group. Through that group I found my therapist and I saw her thru 2001 and it was an amazing experience, albeit hard. I healed and began the journey to Continue to Live and Flourish despite it all and I have.

 

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Breathing to reduce pain, writing to reduce stress

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My daughter sees an amazing Cardiologist, Dr. David Thoele, at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Chicago. She had been experiencing chest pain of late and we went back to see him and sure enough he had a low cost, no medicine fix and it’s working. Check out this amazing video on how to breathe to stretch out your muscles to prevent chest pain. Most chest pain is a result of a muscle spasm not heart issues. Chest pain can be caused by heart issues so if you are NOT sure be sure to consult a physician. Meanwhile- the breathing exercises can help in a multitude of ways. It can reduce stress, help with insomnia if you do it before bed and increase your lung capacity. Be sure to check it out today!

Another amazing tool that Dr. Thoele shared with us is the 3-Minute Mental Makeover. It’s a therapeutic writing approach that can help reduce your stress, increase your mood and it’s scientifically proven! Dr. Thoele has done a study of patients from Advocate and their families and will be published in the American Academy of Pediatrics journal of medicine in the coming months. Here are the steps he shared with us last week:

  1. Get a journal/notebook
  2. Begin the 3 minute mental makeover
    1. Write down 3 things you are grateful for (be specific)
    2. The story of your life in 6 words (does not have to be a sentence, list of words is fine)
    3. 3 wishes (like you are asking a genie in a magic lamp)
    4. Share with a family member (ideally do this with a loved one- they do theirs – you do yours at the end share with each other)
  3. This all takes just 3 minutes and you reduce your stress, increase your mood and feel just great! Meghan and I are doing it and it’s working!

Thank you Dr. David Thoele for being an amazing doctor, for taking such good care of Meghan and for helping us figure out easy and low cost ways to live a healthier life and reduce our stress. Thank you!

I stand with HER

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I think I’ve been offline for a few reasons. One of the reasons is I was not sure what to or how to speak in regards to Dr. Ford’s upcoming testimony. I am here as with many Americans watching the testimony. I stand with HER. As a fellow  trauma survivor I totally understand where she is coming from and why she waited to come forward. I understand how moments are drilled into her memory and other aspects are not remembered. I too recall the events of the night, the play by play of the actual assault but I don’t remember the exact date. I remember the movie I watched prior, I remember waking up and going home but I do not remember the date, the month, nothing. I’m sure I could whittle it down. The movie was new to theaters so I could track the movie’s release dates and narrow down the timeline but I can’t tell you everything.

It irritates me sometimes that I can’t recall the entire night. Maybe it’s a self protection mechanism that our body provides to help us cope. I am not sure as to the why. But I can tell you that we must listen and we must believe. Nobody would ruin their lives to come forward. I didn’t come forward, I never came forward. I have told my story in a book but I have not told the person’s name to anyone except family, my husband, my therapist at the time and 2 good friends. Because this person was also a minor I actually kept their identity private for good reason.

Sadly this wasn’t the only trauma in my life. I had 2 others and both of the men, I also didn’t reveal their identity. Again, family, therapist, and husband know but otherwise it’s private and that was my choice and it should have been Dr. Ford’s choice as well. I wish I had said something at the time of the 3rd assault. I think had I gone to authorities that man would have been held accountable. I wasn’t so much worried about him I was concerned for his extended family for reasons I won’t reveal here. Now, I can breathe freely of the pain and the trauma. Why? Because I dug deep and in 2000, 2001 and 2002 I went to therapy and processed the trauma using EMDR therapy and traditional talk therapy and I am no longer traumatized.

I am here today watching Dr. Ford’s testimony and I feel for her. I empathize with her and I know just how hard this is. There was one final, 4th, assault- a groping incident on the train in the summer of 1999 and I did press charges and I testified in court. I was believed by the judge and the attorneys and even the defense attorneys. They simply wanted him to receive probation and that is what he got. When I was asked if he should be placed on the sex-offender registry, I said no. Why? He groped me, my clothes remained on and I didn’t want to ruin his life. Was it a wrong decision? I don’t know. I don’t recall his name so I can’t look him up to see if he did anything to anyone else. I can only hope that he took the probation as a lesson and he changed his ways. I will never know.

What I can tell you is that I stand with HER. I am very upset that folks that I thought I knew are so hell-bent on the fact they want Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court that they don’t believe Dr. Ford. I am awakened to the sad reality that sometimes people are so convinced that if they get another conservative on the bench that their belief in him is what is needed. I do not agree. It has helped me clean up my friend group and maybe that’s what I will take from this. I know who I can trust and who are my allies and I know people that I know that are living with fear and afraid of a balanced Supreme Court.

Menopause- Your skin might fry like chicken…

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So going into Menopause I suppose is called Peri-menopause. The lovely period of time before your period ceases to exist. The period of time that you go from having glowing supple skin to dry, peeling, skin. To where your lovely pale skin is now speckled in age spots. The time of your life that your period my sync to your teen and your husband and son’s want to go anywhere but where you both are. The time in your life when your period comes once every 2 weeks or once every 3 months or anywhere in between. Where cramping becomes a thing again. Where suddenly at night you are stripping naked because you’ve sweat thru your tee-shirt AGAIN!

Yes- this lovely information is not told to you. One has to google symptoms. This past week- I enjoyed 2 hrs from 4-6pm in full sun. It was a hot day in Chicago-land and I didn’t wear any sunscreen. I was happy to catch some rays and maybe some Vitamin D in the mix. I had no idea that a day later I’d wake up with hives up and down my arms as if I’d been a piece of fried chicken. By Friday I had scratched my pink itchy bumps and by Friday night I was a raging red and hot mess (my arms) and I was off to the doctor. Prednisone on board and the hives are beginning to fade. But why does nobody tell you that going thru peri-menopause and menopause that your skin can be sensitive to sunlight when it may have never been before? Did you know you can even become allergic to the sun? ALLERGIC??

Why does this happen? Well according to WebMD and other lovely sources of medical information online I have discovered it’s because your estrogen levels drop. From the website, My Menopause Doctor, I got to read up on this wonderful news:

What are the common symptoms of the menopause?

Some women have very few or even no symptoms and their periods simply stop happening. However, for the majority of women it is not so straightforward and around 80% of all women experience several symptoms. The symptoms you may experience vary between different women. These symptoms often have a very negative impact on your life and can really affect your relationships with your partner, family and work colleagues.

Symptoms include hot flushes, night sweats, sleep disruption, insomnia, exhaustion, mood swings, palpitations, chest pain, breathlessness, depression, anxiety, hair loss or thinning, vaginal dryness, bladder weakness, incontinence, urinary tract infections, lack of libido, change of body shape, dry eyes, dry mouth, memory loss, poor concentration, brain “fog”, aching joints and muscles, headaches and migraines.

Lovely- currently I experience all of them aside from hair loss or thinning, UTI’s and memory loss. GOOD GOD! At least I know I am not going crazy but egads.

I love the “change of body shape.” Is that what this is? I used to have a waist. USED TO…and now I feel like I am just one universal blob. Two years ago at my physical I weighed in at 150 and they cautioned me “Be sure to exercise and eat well etc etc.” And I did and I always have. I actually weighed my heaviest (aside from pregnancy) when I met my husband. I was 175 lbs and 5 ft 6″ and that wasn’t awful but after each pregnancy I went down 10lbs from there so after having Cole I was 145 lbs and I loved it. I felt good so by the time Cole was 10 yrs old I was 150 and I accepted it. I was a bit older- into my 40’s and I didn’t mind. But now just 2 years later and I’m back to 173.8 lbs. WTH? I haven’t worn dresses on a regular basis in years and now all of a sudden I’m in lovely Lularoe Carly dresses which look great and I don’t mind that I love them but I am only wearing them daily because MY PANTS DON’T FIT!!! Seriously- I had to buy like large underwear to cover my “change in shape” so I have no bumps appearing on the outside of my clothes. Seriously? What is happening?

I never wore v-necks before and now that’s all I wear for tee-shirts. A v-neck keeps me cooler. Dresses provide air flowing all over so I don’t sweat thru my pants- not that it matters since said pants don’t fit anymore either. I am NOT going to wear a size larger. NOPE- so dresses it shall be. I broke down and put on my fit-bit. I acknowledge that the last 10 lbs has gone on because our dog died and I stopped walking throughout the day. So the fit-bit is on and I’m cranking out 6,000 steps a day thus far. Next week my goal is to up it by 500 steps a day, so on and so forth til I hit 10,000 daily goal. I realize I became sedentary with my job (sit at my desk and type) and also with my volunteer jobs (sit at desk and type some more). I get it. I need to move and I am open to it. But this week alone I know I have walked more and eaten less and the damn scale has not budged. Maybe I need to give it more time but I swear every single night with these darn hot-flashes I am losing a pound if not more of just sweat.

Nobody shares this lovely information with you. Similar to when you are all excited about being pregnant and someone lets it go that you might poop in child-birth and you nearly vomit at the thought of it. Yeah- it is sorta like that. (Sorry if you are pregnant and reading this because in fact you poop when you give birth- one birth canal is right on top of your colon and it happens). Menopause is like that secret nobody talks about.

So if you don’t want your skin to erupt in a burn that looks like fried chicken I suggest you cover up and wear sun screen even if it’s 4pm outside. I was told to wear linen long sleeved shirts as my skin has become so sensitive. Apparently I am prone to the sun sensitivity in peri-menopause and menopause and post-menopause because I have very fair skin and I am allergic to environmental allergens. Joy.

I know my husband would love it if my libido was raging and I didn’t sweat at night. I’m hoping the sweating at least goes away and I wouldn’t mind being jazzed up for sex on a more regular basis either. Getting old sucks and I think us 45+ year olds need to band together and share what’s going on with our bodies because I’m fairly certain it ain’t just me sweating to the oldies. 

How to survive the first days of Middle School

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So in our town- it’s actually called JR. High as it’s only 7th/8th graders. My advice to your middle schooler or your Jr. High Schooler or even your High Schooler (I have one of them too) is what I told my kids “Kill them with Kindness!”

Today, August 15, 2018, is our first day of Jr. High. Monday was the first day of High School for my 10th grader as well. This year I have 2 kids at the Jr. High- one in 7th, one in 8th. They were both really nervous last night. Both had a few run-ins with aggressive kids last year. I gave my daughter a suggestion. What does Stacey Smith (not her real name) mean to you? Meghan explained “MEAN” and “HURTFUL!” So what can you do? How does she make you feel ? “Crappy like POOP!” she said (she may have said it with more swearing involved). So I suggested that she make a character of her in her head- like a fake funny comic like being- of said “poop.” And Meghan died laughing. I said now imagine this bag of poop (as we decided it would become) with arms and legs and when you see Stacey Smith see that image in your head. She giggled. I said now with that giggly smile go up to Stacey if you have reason to and see her- and say “Good to see you!” and keep on going.

Why? I have always found that if you “kill them with kindness” bullies and enemies or folks that are not your real friends don’t know what to do with that? They often just leave you alone. It’s not the end all and by all means if you are truly being bullied tell a trusted adult, but if it’s just normal teenage angst- smile sweetly, go out of your way to say HELLO with a big smile and keep on, keepin’ on!

I have actually given this advice to friends my own age (mid-forties) because I swear the circles of mom friends act the same as if they were in Middle School. Some people are caddy but you can avoid it all if you just grin and say “Mary- so great to see you today!” and keep on moving.

My youngest wasn’t as convinced…”SERIOUSLY MOM?! Do you think that’s really gonna work? That just gives them one more reason to tease me!” I’m not sure how he’ll handle his first day but I do know that he’s a good kid with some great friends in the school with him. He knows at least one person in each of his classes (this Jr. High brings in about 4 elementary schools and has about 700 kids total). It’ll be ok. But no matter what I hope he realizes it’s best to smile and keep on truckin’.

So here is to a great first day of school for my two kids and for all the kids out there starting school in the next few weeks. It’s a new beginning and if you smile- it can only be better.

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First days…

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First days are hard sometimes. First day of school can be full of anxiety for some, first day of work can bring a case of the jitters. But then there are other first days- First Day of Spring, First day being a parent. I love and sometimes dread first days.

When I first became a mom it was full of worry. My brand new baby had a seizure and I stayed in the hospital while they transported my teeny tiny guy to the big city hospital. I convinced them to discharge me and we slowly followed. NICU for a week. My first days were not great at all in 2003. My first day of work at a new job in 2001 was a great first day. So many nice people, and I eased into it like I’d been there forever. First kiss – not so great. First love- not so great either. First (and may it be only) marriage/husband- amazing. So firsts can be GREAT and not so great.

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No matter what Firsts happen and First Days are part of that. Today was my son’s First day back at school as summer break has come to an end. And how that is even rational on August 13th- I’ll never know. There is a lot of summer left and a lot more hot days. But for him- it’s over. The younger 2 start on Wednesday so they have a few days left to sleep in and enjoy the pool. Their first day will be full of nudging and waking them up for me and seeing friends for them. It’ll be a good day.

I can only hope my firsts continue to be good ones. First days of college- I bet you I will be crying- and I have 2 years to get adjusted to the idea so it’ll be ok. First days with a completely empty nest? EGADS (7 years away). And the cool thing really is – every day can be a first day. You can restart and reboot any time you want. So I think I will think of today as my first day too. A First day that starts the rest of my life. WOW- does that sound like a good idea- what will I do today!? The possibilities are endless. GO and make some FIRSTS of your own!

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It’s ok to say NO…

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NO. It’s a complete sentence. A friend once gave me this advice, “Stop saying YES to everything and for once just say NO. No explanation. No, is a complete sentence.” I am so thankful that I got that advice but it took me nearly a decade to put that sentence in place.

NO. No, I do not want to volunteer for something else. No. No, I’m not free this afternoon. Why? I don’t need to tell you. I’m not free because I’m doing something else, even if that something else is sleeping, or watching TV or just breathing in my house, unshowered and okay with that fact. No.

For years I have been the “yes” mom. Yes, I’d be happy to volunteer hours of my time that I don’t have to help you out. Yes, let me do that for you. Yes, let me drive your kids from here to there because I might as well. Yes, let me make you dinner even though now I have to get take-out because I forgot to buy enough for your family and mine. Yes, let me volunteer every Sunday at church and miss service so others can opt to not volunteer. Yes, let me do this too. No.

I’m not that yes mom anymore and I’m okay with that. I am not mean or unkind by saying no at times but I must do it. I must realize what our life looks like when I always say, yes. Yes means that I have to say No to myself, my kids, my husband, our pets. Yes is fine if the rest of the family, household is not impacted. It’s like the rule our Scout Troop has- “Have fun as long as that fun doesn’t impact someone else’s ability to have fun.” It’s the same for yes and no. “Say YES as long as saying YES doesn’t impact someone else’s ability to live well. Say NO if that means you are preserving your household ability to live well.”

Obviously in life we sometimes need to say YES even when we want to say NO and that’s normal. Yes, maybe you have to have family visit when you really would rather they didn’t come at this exact moment or time but in the long run, you’ll probably be happy you said yes because family memories are precious. You may have to say YES to volunteer at your kids school even when you don’t have time but we are all in the same boat with this. Saying yes is okay once in a while even if it’s not convenient.

But most importantly say YES to yourself every single day. Make sure you say YES to exercise time, and time to prepare and eat healthy foods. Say YES to your kids when they want to put together a puzzle or play a game. Anytime I am asked to do anything with my teens I am thrilled, even if I don’t think I have time. MAKE TIME.

So my mantra for this year is to just say NO. I am maxed out on volunteering- 4 organizations- several hours a week of my time. Work- manage the contracts I have and don’t add any more at this time. Family- encourage and demand that household members pull their weight (chores, etc.). Family- call when you are able but stop the demand to be in daily contact. It’s ok to say NO to family too. Friends- say YES to time with friends but say NO when you just can’t do things even if you want to.

I’m so grateful for that advice a decade ago. I just wish I had learned to say NO with no explanation years ago. It makes it so much easier to live and say YES when you learn to say NO.