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I’m not gonna lie.  I was happy to kick 2018 to the curb.  The very best thing of 2018 was taking our kids to CT and NYC to spend time with family and show them one of my absolute favorite places on Earth.  The place where my soul feels truly alive.  The only others that make me truly feel that way are Amsterdam and Ireland. But really, 2018 was just a year that seemed to continue the shitshow of events in our lives that culminated with me battling depression and raising my hands to the universe and shaking my fists with “enough already.  ENOUGH.” 

So, 2018 is in its rightful place of yesterday.  Today I’m focused on today and what a brand new page of a 365 page book really means.  I’m going to write a good one.  I’m promising myself that.  

Somewhere along the way I lost my spunk and gumption. Two things I’ve always loved the most about myself.  If you told me I couldn’t do something, I made damn well sure you saw that I could. I made goals. I surpassed them. I didn’t limit myself.  I believed in myself.  Somewhere along the way in the last 7 years, I lost that.  It could have been the lawsuit that pretty much destroyed my career – because it pretty much destroyed me – in ways I didn’t even realize until recently.  It could have been the loss of my father in law and all that came after.  Perhaps it was my husband’s health issues and all the surgeries that came along with them. Maybe it was my son’s concussion.  Or my other son’s endocrine issues.  The deaths in my circle of family and friends. My depression.  My depression.   Likely it was a perfect storm of all of these things – constantly trying to keep the plates spinning with a smile on my face but a spirit that was broken.  

I miss my spirit and my gumption. I’m determined to get them back.  I’m no longer going to live in fear of what might happen or what people think.  Fear has driven so much of my life the last few years.  I wrote several years ago about the other F word – fear.  I haven’t followed my words from that piece.  I’ve let others get in my space and my head when they have no right to be there. I’ve led myself to believe that I was no longer good at the things I’m good at.  And while I’ve grown in a lot of ways – being present for one – especially with my kids – I still have a lot of growing to do.  

So, I made a promise to myself that I will not break this year.  I’m going to write more.  I’m going to post here every day.  Some days it might just be a line. Some days a summary of my thoughts that day.  Maybe a longer piece here and there.  But I’m going to write. And I hope that if I start to break this promise to myself, you will call me out on it. 

I’m going to read more and Netflix binge less.  I used to read several books a week – I have shelves of books in my home and all of them tell a story – their own and where I was in my journey when I read them. I miss reading. So, I joined a book group and I’m going to read. I’m determined to make my sons, who at 7 haven’t yet found what they love to read, into readers as well.  Open to any and all tips in that regard.  

I’m going to work my skincare business that I started as a side business to give me supplemental income and time to write (I have made the promise to myself to write more for years – I’m tired of not giving myself that gift).   I’m not teaching full time and without my law practice one of the hardest adjustments I’ve had to make is not having my own stream of income. Yes, I’m married and I have my husband’s income, but it’s different.  I’ve never been this fully dependent on anyone (well since I was a kid and dependent on my parents) – and I admit I miss having my own income. Not only because it allowed me to not think about spending money on mani-pedis or a splurge at a clothing or kitchen or book store, but because I enjoyed taking that stress of being the “sole provider” off my husband.  I’m busier as a stay at home mom than I was when I had my law practice – just in different ways. The goal of joining some friends with my side business was to be present and earn income. It also gives me a sense of community because I’m surrounded by the best women I know.  But I also felt like a failure.  Lawyer to skincare? Again, worried about what other people would think.  Not about what I need or how I feel.  So, this year I go all in. I stop apologizing for choices I’ve made. 

Last, I’m going to continue to be present – with my children, my husband and the other people I love and enjoy.  That is the one thing I did pretty well this year.  I put the phone down and really talked to my kids.  And listened. And played.  Time goes so fast.  There have been so many events and distractions in our boys’ first years on Earth – and sometimes I feel like  I’ve missed so much because of them – that I want to drink up this time when they still actually want to be with me and share with me. 

So, write more, read more, stop apologizing for my choices, focus on my business, be present for my family and myself  and find that spirit and gumption again. 

Year 2019. Let’s link arms and chase our dreams together. Today I can say I know I deserve that.  

So, here’s to all of us who shoveled all that shit so we could finally find the pony. 

What are your goals or dreams for this year? I’d love to hear them. 

Thanks for reading and being a part of my journey.  Happy New Year.  Happy New Me and You.  

The Demon of Depression

Things are about to get real.  Terrifyingly real.  I’ve written about suicide, grief, infertility, pregnancy loss, rape and my struggles with my weight.  But this has been the hardest thing I have ever written.  It’s amazing how you can think you have done the hardest thing and then BAM! life shows you there are plenty of hard things to process.  So, this is terrifying to write.  But, I knew that I had to.  Being who I am, it didn’t seem right to stay silent anymore.

Recently I have been diagnosed with major depressive disorder.  Major depressive disorder.   I know, it took me by surprise too.  I have been an advocate for mental health and speaking out and removing the stigma and coming out of the shadows, yet I couldn’t be, and didn’t want to be, open about what has been going on with me.

When I lost my first husband to suicide in 2002, my life was devastated.  I had some really, really hard days, weeks, years.  I had days where I cried all day.  I had days where I didn’t want to get out of bed.  But, having never dealt with depression before (anxiety, yes, but not depression), I truly didn’t (and still don’t) believe I was depressed.  I was suffering from grief.   Life altering grief.  Unless you have also been punched in the gut by life altering grief, it’s hard to understand what it does to you physically and emotionally.  Grief is what was making me want to stay in my pajamas all day and watch mindless TV.  Grief is why I couldn’t eat or I binged on ice cream.  Grief was normal.  And with time, it got better.  I always knew I would carry my grief forever, and I do carry it with me to this day.  It was manageable.  I was working.  Training for a marathon.  Seeing friends and family.  It was HARD.  But it was grief, and not clinical depression. I am very clear on that.

Fast forward to 2009  after  remarrying and  working and managing a successful solo law practice and living a life I never imagined I would have, the rug was again pulled out from under me when I couldn’t get pregnant.  So began our journey with infertility.  Blood tests and ultrasounds and IUIs and failed pregnancy tests and then IVF and a pregnancy.   Hallelujah.  Then, 10 weeks in being told the pregnancy wasn’t viable and waiting another week for a miscarriage that didn’t come and a D&C two days before my birthday, which also fell on Mother’s Day that year. Yes, that was a lovely timing by the universe. Grief.  Questioning the universe.  Not wanting to leave the house.  Crying so much I thought the tears would never stop.  Wondering if I could ever even undergo another procedure.  Maybe I wasn’t meant to be a mom.  Maybe my husband and I should just spend our years traveling and seeing the world.   Deciding that because we still had embryos available for IVF, that we wouldn’t stop until those were gone.

Becoming pregnant with twin boys and feeling like everything I had gone through was worth it just to see those two little fluttering bleeps on the ultrasound monitor.  Loving every second (after I stopped vomiting and getting the most horrific migraines I have ever experienced during the first trimester) of my pregnancy.  Feeling them flip and turn and kick and watching my huge alien belly move in bed at night as they both decided to stay awake from 2 am – 7 am and keep me awake with them.  Delivering them both April 30, 2011 and  looking at both of them and knowing that yes, I was meant to be a mother.

Then, when the boys were just two week old, while trying to survive on little to no sleep and struggling with breast-feeding and realizing that as much as I loved babies and was a star babysitter in my youth, motherhood was a whole different level, I was served with a multi million dollar lawsuit.  Everything I had worked for – professionally and personally – was at risk of being destroyed – all because of a bitter ex client.

At 8 weeks post partum, I was exhausted beyond belief, so exhausted I was convinced the breast pump was speaking to me at night, and I was  still bleeding heavily and due to sleep deprivation and stress, didn’t even realize how NOT normal that was.  My husband drove the babies and I to the doctor, where another ultrasound showed I had retained placenta, growing in my uterus, tricking my body into thinking it was still pregnant.  So, all the emotions I was feeling – all the tears I had shed – all the feelings of being totally overwhelmed – well, they sort of seemed to have a medical answer.  So, a D&C was performed and I was sent home  – with my husband, my twin babies, one with severe reflux, and a multi million dollar lawsuit hanging over my head (11 million to be exact).

I fought the lawsuit and it was a thorn in my side and a dark cloud over our home for two years.  The first two years my sons spent on this Earth.  I missed so much.  Moments I will never get back.  Moments where I was dealing with my lawyers or totally distracted.  I thank the Good Lord every day that we had our very own Mary Poppins with us during that time.  She was the magic and love and presence that our children needed.  When mama was just stressed to the maximum.  Everything about my career was being examined.  Everything I did was being analyzed.  My entire career was on the line.  I was mad.  I was mad at the person suing me; I was mad at the attorney who took the case; I was mad at the people I worked with.  It took me a long time to realize just how much that lawsuit destroyed me.  Destroyed my belief in the universe keeping a balance.  Destroyed my belief in the field that I had been enmeshed with for over a decade.  It made me question everything.  But throughout, I knew that I did nothing wrong.  I knew that my ethics and integrity in my field, if anything, were more of a hindrance in terms of referrals and other things, but in the long run would speak for themselves.  I had an attorney who knew that this was incredibly wrong.  She knew the pressure I was under, and she fought hard for me.  The way I always fought for my clients.  After two year and buckets of tears and missed moments, a Judge found the lawsuit completely without merit and it was dismissed.  Vindication.  And relief.  But, I was a completely different person and my career would never be the same.

With the lawsuit dismissed, I could refocus on our precious boys and my husband who was having some health issues.  Life could get back to normal.  We could breathe again.  Until we couldn’t.

A few short weeks after the lawsuit was dismissed, a dear friend who was family, not by blood but by love and affection, died by suicide.  And we were shattered.  So again, our sweet boys had parents who were either crying or distracted.  We didn’t think our hearts could break any more.  Until they did.

About 7 weeks after we said goodbye to our dear friend, we had to say goodbye to my father in law, who died suddenly and unexpectedly.  My husband lost his two best friends within weeks of each other.  Sometimes I don’t even know how we were mildly functional.  The truth is that with two year old twin boys we had to be.  They deserved as normal a life as possible.

 

The last almost 5 years have been a complete blur – and what has occurred during that time – sometimes I don’t believe it myself.  In a nutshell, my husband endured over 12 surgeries in a 3 year period – the first a spinal fusion – I actually created this blog and wrote my very first piece in the hospital waiting room – typing instead of emotionally eating during that 9 hour procedure.  That surgery unfortunately caused a three month loss of his voice.  3 year old twins who can’t read and a husband who couldn’t speak.  Then, one of my sons took a freak fall down the stairs at my sister’s house and suffered a moderate concussion, which became severe when on day 3 he lost virtually all his language skills.  Changed his life in ways I am still discovering.  My other son dealt for two years with chronic strep until we finally decided to go ahead with the surgery to remove his tonsils when he was just 4. My career was in the toilet.  We moved to a new neighborhood, which in Los Angeles terms is the equivalent of moving to Siberia – Angelenos get very tied to their geography and having to cross large intersections or freeways mean you won’t see your friends as often.  We had to put our beloved 16 year old dog down.  All the unresolved grief of all the years before came surging back as we cried buckets of tears for our sweet Roxy the Wonder Dog.   The boys started kindergarten. We all tried to make new friends.  I fantasized about moving to Ireland daily.

When the boy were about two, shortly after the deaths of our friend and my father in law, I hit a pretty low point. Crying a lot.  Zero patience.  It’s hard to be raising two year old twin boys with zero patience.  I wasn’t sleeping.   At the time, I was sure it was unchecked post partum, and I started making sure I was taking care of myself – running, exercising, and even seeing a therapist again.  Luckily, I have never had any shame in seeing a therapist.  Frankly, if we were ever considering making anything compulsory in this country, I would vote for therapy.  And my therapist acknowledged how much stress there was in my life and what I had been dealing with and told me to put on my oxygen mask first.  So I did, and for a while I started to feel better.  It passed.  So yes, definitely post partum, now controlled and explained and processed.

Fast forward to the last almost two years.  If I am being really honest with myself, the foundation started to shake and crumble when we decided to change neighborhoods before the boys started kindergarten. So much had happened since my father in law’s death.  It shook so many things to the core.  Deep grief alters life – I know this.  Yet, it still knocked me totally off balance watching life unfold in those years after.   I was anxious.  All the time.  People irritated me on a level that they didn’t before.  My boys would engage in normal, age appropriate shenanigans and I would be SO IRRITATED.  I yelled.  Then I felt guilty for yelling.  I was convinced I was the worst mother on the planet.  My husband and I argued over the DUMBEST things.  I gained more weight.  I stopped exercising.  I engaged in zero self care.  Because, honestly, I didn’t think I deserved it.  My career was in the toilet. I was trying to work, but honestly I couldn’t sustain a career in the field.  It’s a book for another day, but the lawsuit just showed me way too much.  Things I couldn’t stuff into the trunk and lock up.  As a result,  I could no longer support myself.  My husband wasn’t even asking me to support myself – he just wanted me to be happy – but the fact I was no longer bringing home 6 figures seriously destroyed my self esteem.  I couldn’t pay for nights out, or the groceries or even for clothes for the kids on my own anymore.  I used to save for retirement and vacations and then it was nothing.  I couldn’t just say we were going to Disneyland for the day and not think twice about it.  And, I realize, to many, these are luxuries and it sounds like I am whining.  But it was hard to not have that means to support myself and my family anymore.  When my first husband died, he left me an avalanche of financial mess to dig through.  And I did.  I worked my ass off and paid off the debt he left and made a life and career for myself.  And I swore that even if I remarried, I would NEVER be dependent on another person again, because my life taught me you just never know.  But there I was.  My credit shot (so many people don’t understand how a lawsuit, even one that is dismissed, can destroy your credit), my income a pittance of what it was, and completely miserable.  In my career.  As a wife.  As a mom.   Completely miserable.  And guilt ridden.  I waited years for these babies and I wasn’t even happy as a mother?  How dare I?

 

Sure, I was great at pretending.  I smiled and I showed up and I played the role of a lifetime. Social media showed a completely different life than the one I was living.   I’d like to thank the Academy………..

 

But I cried whenever I shut myself in the bathroom.  I looked at social media feeds of friends and their supposed perfection of marriage and motherhood and career and fitness and travel and I felt completely less than.  People saw it.  My family noticed it.  They saw how I withdrew.  Didn’t answer the phone.  Was distant.  Never wanted to go to in depth with anything.  Here and there I would reach out to my therapist and psychiatrist friends and ask for referrals or their opinions.  But the truth is, I felt deep shame.  Shame that I couldn’t pick myself up by bootstraps like I had been able to do my entire life and fix things.  Improve things.  I worried what people would think of me.  I worried about losing credibility in the advocacy world.  I know.  It’s not rational.  But it’s how I felt.

For over a year, I’ve known I needed help.  I’ve known I was depressed.  I tried homeopathic herbs.  I tried walking.  I tried praying.  I tried taking 15 minutes after school drop off and meditating (and never was successful at quieting my head).  Until it simply didn’t work anymore, and I knew that if I wanted to get back to the woman I wanted to be for myself and my husband and my kids, especially our kids, I needed to get my shit together and ask for some help.  Some serious help.

The funny thing is, I have co-facilitated grief groups a survivor of suicide loss for over 15 years.  I have seen when group just isn’t enough support for someone. I have had ZERO problem talking to them about seeking additional help.   I have told countless people there is NO SHAME in asking for professional help.  NO SHAME in taking medication.   Yet, there I was.   Afraid to ask.  Afraid to look weak.  Afraid to look like a person dealing with a mental health issue.  Afraid of all those things and feeling like a huge hypocrite.

If you came to me today and said “Kate, I am really struggling.  I don’t know what to do, but I know I need help.  I feel like I am slipping into the abyss” I would take your hands and hug you and tell you that we will find help together.  But I couldn’t do it for myself.

And then, one day, I was so low, that I was truly and legitimately scared.  I finally knew what it meant to be depressed.  I realized what people meant when they  said they couldn’t muster the energy for basic things.  Sure, I got the kids fed and to school.  And on a majority of days, when I wasn’t volunteering or teaching or pretending that life was awesome, I came home and while pretending to work at a new venture I wanted SO DESPERATELY to be successful, I crawled into bed and set the alarm for 30 minutes before school pickup so I could throw clean clothes on and add some mascara and lipstick to my face so I wouldn’t look how I felt.  I knew that exercise would help but I couldn’t even muster the energy to walk a around the block.  My husband would come home to huge messes and laundry piles  and mail piles and piles of piles and dishes in the sink (a total and utter deviation from my previous Type A, everything has its place personality), nothing prepared for dinner, and ask me how I was, knowing the answer, but seeing if today was the day I would finally say it.

Finally, I did.  When the kids were finally in bed, I broke down and cried and told him how I didn’t feel any worth anymore.  I felt like a horrible wife and a horrible mother and I had no passion for anything, and I couldn’t see a way to dig myself out.  That the only thing keeping me alive was knowing how devastating suicide is to those left behind.

So we asked for a referral from our therapist.  I actually called him.  I set an appointment and I cried the entire hour and a half I met with him.  He was kind and considerate and told me that we would get through it.  He told me that everybody has a breaking point and I had been through a lot over the years.  He told me it was ok to be angry.  It was ok to be sad.  He asked me what I wanted.  I wanted to have the drive and the dreams to make our dreams a reality.  I wanted to be a better wife and mom. I wanted to look in the mirror and love the person I saw looking back at me.   I wanted to be the girl that didn’t make goals but surpassed them.  Most of all, I wanted to believe in myself again.  The worst part of all of this is that depression has stolen my belief in myself.  He told me I probably need medication to get me through the hardest part.  He asked me if I would be ok with that.  I told him I would.

So, I left his office with a prescription for an anti depressant and an appointment scheduled for two weeks later.  For the first time in a very long time, I felt hopeful.  Hopeful that I would get back to me.  Hopeful that my husband would start to see the woman he fell in love with – the woman with big dreams and the drive to make them a reality.  Hopeful that my children would grow up with memories of a happy and joyful and present mama who made amazing memories with them and for them.  Hopeful that there was light at the end of the tunnel.

After 15 plus years in the mental health advocacy community, I have talked a lot about what I have seen depression do to  my late husband and friends and family.  I have read and researched a lot and have talked a lot about what it might mean to be depressed.

Now, I know exactly how it feels.  I understand the darkness on a level I never have before.  In an odd way, I feel closer to the loved ones we have lost to suicide, because I now understand how our brains can trick us into thinking that is an option.  Now I understand how important it is that I be honest with myself, my family, my friends and all of you, so that I might be able to help you understand that this is more than “get on with it” or “just be happy” or any one of the other platitudes we throw at those suffering in a way we don’t understand.

My name is Kate and I have just been diagnosed with major depressive disorder.  It’s something I have.  Not something I am.  I will let this be a defining moment in my life experience, and I will learn from it and hopefully be able to help others with my own experience and understanding. I am lucky that I have the support of my spouse, my family and my friends.  I am grateful for that.  So very grateful.

But most of all, I am hopeful.  And that feels so very good.

 

 

 

 

 

The Eighteenth of May 

15 years ago today I had the very last conversation I would ever have with my late husband. It was intense. There were things that were said that I wish I could take back (and I’m pretty sure he’d say the same). But it also ended with both of us telling each other we loved each other. But it’s a conversation that haunts me still. Even 15 years later. It’s the voice inside my head so much of the time. Reminding me to not let words said in anger and frustration linger.
At the time, I had no idea or even inkling that my husband was planning his death. But he clearly had been. It was evidenced in the money he compiled, the letters he wrote, the post its he left in certain places reminding me of things. Evident in the careful steps he took to duct tape vents in our townhouse. Evident in the trunk he carried down to the garage so he could be surrounded by all our most important items in our treasure box. It still pains me to think about that.

So every year I wake up on May 18, or more accurately, I go to bed at about 1:30 am May 18th and wake up at 6:30 the same day and all these thoughts flood my morning. Sure, this morning my brain was also filled with packing snacks and lunches and getting the kids to school. Making sure I didn’t forget anything that was needed for Open House later tonight. Last minute lecture prep for my class at UCLA.

I’m no longer paralyzed by May 18th. But it does still stop me in my tracks. That last conversation does still replay in my brain.
It’s an odd few days as well. While my last call with my late husband was May 18th, I didn’t receive the call he was dead until May 20th. This was after I asked a dear friend to please check on him since I was in California. I feel a lot of responsibility for sending our friend into that. Finding him. Having to make the initial calls to law enforcement and me.

So, in a way, it’s like this death occurred over several days. And every year, my body tells me when those days are coming. Cellular memory is powerful.
One thing my late husband and I shared was a love of music. And we both had very eclectic taste. Anything and everything. So much of that music brought comfort in the days following his death. Much of it brought deeper insight and knowledge into some of the burdens he carried.

The album Euphoria Morning by Chris Cornell was a favorite in the last years of his life. “When I’m Down” was often played. While I always thought it was a beautiful song, I didn’t really pay attention to the lyrics until I was left alone to really hear them.

When I was going to bed last night, news of Chris Cornell’s untimely death was breaking. And I just couldn’t face it or process it so I didn’t. I went to bed knowing I would have to face it today.

The lyrics have been running in my head on a loop. Again, new meanings I didn’t hear before. And all I can say to those of you who have never heard it, look it up. It’s beautiful. One of his very best.

May is a shitty month. I’ve said it before. I’ve written about it. It hurts in ways other months don’t. So much loss. So much grief.

But, in the same moments of remembering pain, I was reminded of two birthdays that also happen to be on May 18th.

A dear friend from childhood who has become even closer as we navigate having twin boys and health issues and work and life together. She is worth celebrating.

And, today, the child of a client from my very first days as a reproductive law attorney turns Sweet 16.  She started out life being born way too early and weighed barely a pound. She was born to a gestational carrier in California, thousands of miles away from where her parents, and later she, would call home.  Her mother lived at the hospital for months. I started to stop at the hospital on my way home from work to support this warrior mama and her little one, who was covered in tubes and leads and fit in the palm of my hand. She and her mama were my very most important clients. They gave me purpose at a time that was a little wonky with wedding planning and an impending move and not knowing if the field of reproductive law was for me.
A friendship grew in those months of hospital visits and bad cafeteria dinners, and we have kept in touch all these years since. They have watched my life fall apart and watched me put it back together again. I have watched a tiny preemie baby grow into a beautiful, smart, talented young woman. A fighter, indeed. She didn’t give two shits about her odds and neither did her parents. They knew after all they had been through to even get to that point, she would not just survive, but thrive.

So amidst the pain, I’m remembering the love and life in my life. The people who are so worth celebrating on this day that also brings tears.

Without sadness, there can be no joy.

May 18th taught me that.

***********

If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs assistance/ help, PLEASE call the toll-free, 24-hour hotline of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) to be connected to a trained counselor.

Or, text HOME to 741741 for text support 24/7. 
You are NOT alone. This world needs you. Your story matters and it is not finished.  

43

It was a few months ago when it first crossed my mind.  I was co facilitating a Survivors After Suicide Loss Support Group and we were talking about significant dates – birthdays, holidays, anniversaries, the day our loved ones died, and it was just a flash thought in my head.  I remember sort of catching the thought in my brain and my throat, but I didn’t say anything to the group about what caused me to pause mid-sentence.

It’s something that has been in the back of my mind in the months since, and in the last several weeks it’s become like a shadow following me around daily.  It surprised me, really, how it started to affect me.

I don’t really get surprised anymore, when May rolls around and my emotions become a little more unpredictable.  The tears come a little more frequently.  Moods become a little more up and down.  I’m laughing one minute and crying the next.  But this was different.  This May seemed just a little heavier, and it surprised me since it’s coming up on 15 years since I lost my first husband to suicide.  It’s not that new anymore.  But it was oddly heavier.  And I know exactly why.  It’s my birthday.  I am turning 43.  The age my late husband will always be because he died at 43.  43.  Not just a number.

I was 28 when I became a widow.  Obviously, my late husband was several years older than me – 15 years to be exact.  To some that was an issue.  To us, it meant nothing.  When we met in 1994, after my sister’s wedding reception wrapped up and the wedding party and a dozen guests headed to a local bar to continue the festivities (I had a fake ID), I thought he was one of my new brother in law’s friends.  I thought he was maybe 27 or 28. He thought I was 24 or 25. In our heads, there wasn’t that much of age difference.  In reality, I was 19 and he was 34.

I was still in college; he owned his own tech company.  We were definitely experiencing different chapters of life, but our connection was immediate and it would carry us through the next 8 years – all the ups and all the downs and the magic and all the harsh reality of life.  It was not all sunshine and roses.  There was also a lot of uncertainty and a lot of pain in those 8 years.  Those were life issues, not age issues. To me, our ages truly were just numbers.

Just numbers. Until this year.  This year, 43 became this haunting,  taunting shadow that seemed to represent any and all unresolved feelings I have had about anything. Including my late husband’s death.

The first time I experienced this roller coaster of emotions was in 2010 – the year that what I call the reverse time clock started.  The year that signified my husband had been dead longer than we had been together.  You don’t think of these things in the throes of grief.  Then, the day hits you like a ton of bricks and you wonder HOW you didn’t think of this before.  It’s the same with 43.  When he died in 2002, I never thought “someday I will be 43.  I wonder how that will feel.”

So, here I am.  Basking in the myriad emotions that come with what has always just been a number.  Feeling so many feelings and trying to make sense of as many of them as I can.

As I have written about previously, my life is currently in transition.  I am transitioning out of the practice of law and winding down the solo practice I have managed since 2002.   As much as I know it was the right decision for me, it’s created a crazy amount of anxiety.  Financially, the impact is stressful.  I’ve gone from having a relatively steady income to income that is completely unpredictable. I’m totally dependent on my husband.  That’s a first. It’s foreign.  It’s stressful.  In fact, it’s about as stressful as the days and months and the first year after the suicide, when I was a new widow staring at a mountain of financial calamity like nothing I had ever experienced.

I have never wanted to base any decision on just finances.  I know plenty of people who make money hand over fist and are completely miserable.  I know people who have dedicated their lives to doing what they love – even if it means the paychecks are few and far between and never stretch far enough – and who are the happiest people I have ever met.  So, I took a leap of faith.

Point being, I know that my professional transition is contributing to this heaviness of 43.  I know that when my late husband  ended his life, the financial stress was a huge contributing factor.  I think at 43 I understand this far better than I did at 28.

But even the financial aspect doesn’t completely explain this heavy, sometimes anxious feeling I have in turning 43.

I think that some of it can be explained by the fact that for so long, my late husband was always older than me.  Years older.  He had experienced more personally and professionally than I ever had.  He had wisdom that he would impart when I needed it.  He’d experienced much of what I was experiencing at the time – new kid on the job, new kid in a new city.  Life lessons.  He had experienced them.  He helped me through them.  He always won the years and experience race.  When he died, I lost my compass.  For so many years, all things had always pointed to him.

And, even though 43 is far too young to die, at 28 it still seemed a ways off.  Far enough away that I didn’t need to worry about it. Until it wasn’t.

I’ve thought a lot about all the pressures he was feeling in the final months of his life.  We were newly married.  He was dealing with chronic physical pain that affected even his ability to walk long distances.  He was trying to manage his pain without the use of heavy prescription meds, after becoming dependent on them and relapsing after a period of sobriety. He’d been diagnosed with bipolar disorder which explained so much but was so hard for him to accept. His professional life was in a huge slump after massive success just years prior.  There were legal issues tied to all of it.

I understand that pressure much more now that I am re-married and have children that depend on me and their father/my husband.  I know how much of a toll the lawsuit I was named in several years ago took on me and my family.  Having also suffered from post partum depression after my twin sons were born, I also understand that feeling of thinking nothing will ever get better.

But now, I am 43.  The same age as my late husband.  And I just can’t even put into words how it feels.  I’ve tried with this entire essay.  I’ve written and deleted and re-written and it still isn’t coming out the way I want it to.

What I feel, more than anything, is a deeper connection to him.  And I didn’t think that was possible.  I feel like I have a better understanding of what he was facing, on all levels, in the final months of his life.

He’s been gone longer than we were together.  I’m now the age he will be forever.

So, my pledge to myself is to make 43 as life affirming as I can.  Take better care of myself.  Lose the weight.  Exercise. Wash my face before bed. Take the time to listen. Be more present.  For myself.  For my husband and children. Bask in joy, not sorrow.  Share myself in ways that bring me closer to what I feel is my true purpose – helping others.

With that, I think it can be a Happy 43.  We both deserve that.

Finding Me Again

 

It has been a long time coming.   From next year, to next month, to next week, to tomorrow.  It has been lingering in the back of my head and heart for years.  It came to a head about 6 days ago, where I just found myself sobbing at my dining room table while typing on my laptop.

I didn’t know who I was anymore.  I was spinning a lot of plates, but I didn’t know anymore where I was in any of it.  Mom.  Wife.  Attorney.  Writer.  Mental Health Advocate.  Visiting Professor.   Where was I in all of this?  My few years on the audition circuit for theater and TV gave me excellent training in looking like everything was ok.  But there were cracks.  People saw them.  I felt them deepening.

What I did know is that I didn’t wake up with the zest for the day I used to.  What I knew is that I didn’t have nearly the patience I usually had.  What I knew is that simple tasks were REALLY really difficult.  Was I a little bit (maybe even a lot) depressed?   You bet.  Did anxiety sometimes paralyze me to the point where I could sit and have 20 minutes pass and not know it?   Indeed.

Since giving birth to our twin boys almost 6 years ago, my work has been an ongoing conversation.  I have been a sole practitioner in the area of Assisted Reproductive Law since 2002.  It’s a unique and exciting and when things go right, fulfilling area of the law.  I help people become parents – what isn’t to love about that?  It’s a field full of compassionate, intelligent and beautiful (inside and out) people.  At my very worst, as a new widow, this field picked me up and gave me back my life.  I worked for it sure.  I gave it everything I had, and sometimes that was 24/7 for weeks on end, and sometimes it wasn’t so much, but my colleagues supported me in ways I will always be so grateful for.  Tears form in my eyes even typing those words.

As a soon to be mom, I couldn’t imagine a better job.  After having an office and realizing that most of the time I was in that office by myself because the vast majority of my clientele didn’t live near me, I adopted a home office approach.  It was the perfect scenario as a soon to be new mom.   I would take a couple months off when they were born, and then have a nanny to help  – and an amazing nanny we had until the boys were about 9 months old.  Then we were beyond lucky to find another amazing nanny to take over.  Mary Poppins came to save the day – and mommy – in so many ways.

What I hadn’t told many people is that I was served notice of a lawsuit two weeks before the boys were born.  Against me.  For millions of dollars.  What should have been the most amazing time of our lives was marred by this ridiculous turn of events.  And even though everyone told me I had nothing to worry about, and I knew that I did nothing wrong, it hung over me and us like a dark cloud for the first two years of the boys’ lives.  It was always there.  I worried about it all the time.  Even on the days it was just supposed to be “Mommy and Dudes Day” I found myself checking my phone constantly for updates.  As dates for motions and trial prep came closer, the anxiety and mood shifts I experienced were palpable.  It wasn’t fair.  It was heartbreaking.  I still ache for those years.

I prevailed.  The claims against me were dismissed.  But the damage was done.  As hard as I tried to dive back into my work, I couldn’t at the level I had before.  Before, I always, always saw the good in everyone.  Always gave them the benefit of the doubt.  The lawsuit against me changed that.

Several weeks after the lawsuit was dismissed we lost a dear friend to suicide.  The hole in my heart grew bigger.  Then, 7 weeks later, my father in law died suddenly.  And my heart shattered more.  The hits, they just kept coming. And, they continued.

I share all of this because it’s not surprising that it all finally came to a head (almost 4 years later) in the last few months.  Came to a head 6 days ago with me sitting at the dining room table and sobbing because I didn’t know who I was or what I wanted professionally anymore, or if I even WANTED to be a professional anymore.  What I wanted was those years back.  But life doesn’t work that way.  So I had to come up with the next best thing.

So after several heart to heart talks with my husband, we made the decision that I would close up shop.  I would stop practicing law and take some time to teach and write and find myself again.  As so many of us do, without even realizing it, I have ignored myself in a lot of this along the way.  I’m horrible at self-care, and I am now realizing what that has done to me over the last few years. Physically.  Emotionally.  Spiritually.

It was such a hard decision.  There has been a lot of self-doubt.  Delays.  Thinking that something else might work.  But the reality is that I need to take a step back.  Instead of looking at this decision as something that will limit me, I am choosing to look at it as something that will actually fully open me up.

There is a famous saying by John Burroughs: “Leap, and the Net Will Appear.”

Here is to leaping, full force, open armed and open hearted, ready to see where the net meets me.

23 Years Later …..

23 years ago. 23 years ago my life changed simply by grabbing someone’s arm in a line, waiting to get into a bar.  
Since today is my sister and brother in law’s wedding anniversary, it’s a day that’s always on the calendar. But my heart and my soul bring me back to it each year for different reasons.  

At 19 years old I could not imagine how this man would change my life. At almost 43, I am just so grateful for all of it. Life is a Festival of Disruptions (to borrow the words from David Lynch and his artist festival each year). Some take you higher you could have imagined.  Some so fiercely knock the wind out of you that you wonder if you will ever breathe again.  
When you are breathing again, you realize all of it is beautiful.  
Here is something I first wrote a few years back, as a Facebook post, updated for today: 
23 years ago today, I met my first husband, Greg, for the first time. The Cannery Restaurant, in my hometown. I was tipsy, having just come from my sister’s wedding and still in my bridesmaid’s dress which was also semi covered in groom’s cake (a giant chocolate mousse golf ball that I made). Greg was in a suit, and standing behind the wedding party and chatting a bit with some of the guys. When the bouncer told us we could jump the line, I grabbed Greg’s arm and pulled him in with us. When we were inside and ordering drinks at the bar I asked him if he had gone to college with my now brother-in-law. He said “I have to admit something. I am not part of your party. I don’t know any of you.” My response? “Well, you do now. Let’s dance.” And we did. To a cover of Don McLean’s American Pie.  
After that, we were together. From Feb 1994 until his death in May 2002, there was not a day where we did not speak or email (once email became available!) or communicate in some way. Even when we were mad and even when we were both taking some time and space to figure things out. Despite our age difference, despite being in completely different places in our lives, despite the fact I still lived at home with my parents for part of it, despite his soon to be apparent drinking problem and mental health issues, we were together. We were in love. There was nothing easier and nothing harder than loving my Greg.  
Not everyone understood it. Not everyone supported it. And I totally understand that. Some of it could only be explained by the two of us. We met plenty of obstacles and roadblocks and challenges along the way. But, at the end of every day what I wanted more than anything was for Greg to be healthy and happy. And, I believe if you asked Greg the same question he would say the same thing. For both of us.  
The last 11 years of processing his death and his place in my life have been a journey I would never wish on anyone. But, it has been extremely profound for me. It has altered my thinking, my tolerance, my priorities. It has taken away a lot of my fear. People wonder why I still write about Greg; why he still holds this place in my life. My answer? I grew up with him. It was wonderful and messy and fantastic and painful. He was a part of me. When someone loses a limb to disease or accident or war, they often speak of the “phantom limb” – knowing the leg is gone but still feeling it there. I understand that fully.  
When he died, he left me beautiful letters. A treasure trove of memories. A heart full of love and longing. Grief. Painful, life altering grief. And that, ironically, may have been his greatest gift. For as we know, grief is the price we pay for love. And I would never change loving Greg.   
He also left me a Sonnet by Pablo Neruda. I read it at his memorial service in CO and had our dear friend, Ellen, read it at his service in CA. I continue to hold Greg dear, and I continue to write about him because his song is important. And because he taught me so much of what I know about love. I can love because of him. I can be a wife, a mother, a daughter, a sister, a friend, because of him. 
Pablo Neruda, Sonnet LXXXIX
When I die I want your hands on my eyes:

I want the light and the wheat of your beloved hands

to pass their freshness over me once more 

I want to feel the softness that changed my destiny. 
I want you to live while I wait for you, asleep,

I want your ears still to hear the wind, I want you 

to sniff the sea’s aroma that we loved together, 

to continue to walk on the sand we walk on.

I want what I love to continue to live, 
and you whom I love and sang above everything else 

to continue to flourish, full flowered:
so that you can reach everything my love directs to you, 

so that my shadow can travel along in your hair, 

so that everything can learn the reason for my song.

Thoughts After the Election –

I am currently teaching a graduate level Child Welfare Policy class. My students are a diverse and extremely intelligent and compassionate bunch – and in the spring they will gradate with a Masters in Social Work (MSW) or Masters in Public Policy (MPP). If we were going to run a census on my class, we would find they are Black, Latino/Latina, White, Native American, Asian, Armenian, Christian, Catholic, Buddhist, Muslim, LGBTQ, Students with Disabilities and that is still an incomplete list.  Did I mention they are a diverse group?  And then there is me.  A straight, white, Episcopal raised, question everything, lawyer teaching a policy course.  

We meet twice a week and our focus is Child Welfare Policy.  These are students interning and working in the community with high risk populations and children in need.  In need of stability, of family, of love, of understanding.  Like me, my students feel.  All the feelings.  It takes a special person to want to go into this type of work.  It’s high stress, but not high pay.  Of course it’s rewarding when things go right.  It’s heartbreaking when things go wrong.

I’m not gonna lie, when I started the course, I was pretty sure it was going to be my roughest teaching experience yet.  I’m not teaching my area of expertise – experience, sure, but not what I feel most confident teaching.  And, I am a lawyer.  Teaching soon to be counselors and social workers.  Believe me, I get that dynamic after years in Children’s Court.  For the first few weeks I was pretty convinced I was failing them in every possible way.   I contemplated quitting.  But I am not a quitter, and I knew that I was chosen to teach this class for a reason, even though I wasn’t sure what it was.  Now, I’m pretty sure I was put in this class, with these students, because I needed to learn a few things too.  If I am totally honest, I think they have taught me far more than I have taught them.

We met the day of the election, November 8, and there was definitely a different vibe in the room.  This election cycle was a circus, and I don’t think anyone can deny that.  And there was plenty of criticism to go around both sides.  We all recognized that.  We left class knowing that when we met again on November 10, the world would be a different place, no matter who won.

On November 10, the air was thick with feelings I still can’t quite describe.  And, so, I decided to do the only thing I really know how to do when things are stressful or scary or causing anxiety or uncertain – I talk.  About feelings.  And where we are.  What we can do.  Where we go from here.  I sort of went into Survivor After Suicide Loss co- facilitator support group mode.  I told my students I knew a lot of them were upset.  Scared.  Not knowing what it all meant.  So I asked them to write down what they did think, feel, wonder about the results we were facing.  And we spent an hour talking about them.

Frankly, since I am teaching a policy course, I couldn’t think of a better use of our time than to discuss how policy COULD change over the next four years, for better or for worse, and how we feel about all of it.

There has been a lot of “get over it” lobbed across the aisles this week.  And I guess in sharing this, what I want to make clear is this is not about not accepting a loss.  It’s not about arguing the validity or non validity of the election or results.  It’s about people having legitimate reactions to how this new administration could impact their lives and the lives of their children and their families.

So, if you have come this far, I ask that you continue to read knowing these are people I share space with every single week.  These are real people, with real thoughts and fears and feelings about everything that is happening right now, in this country.  And it’s not about red or blue.  It’s about respecting each other and knowing that even when we have a difference of opinion, we can still treat each other with respect and kindness.

This isn’t posted to argue or to debate, but to simply try to put yourself in another’s shoes.  To understand.  I am thankful to my students for allowing me to share this here.

Thoughts on the Election – November 10, 2016

 

  • I’m so scared for LGBTQ people – especially children

 

  • I am most concerned with the uncertainty we face. The words that were spoken during this campaign can’t be unsaid and I worry that radical policies will come out of this administration. And, even if they don’t, we are still broken.

 

  • I’m really worried about this Presidency traumatizing people.

 

  • Should I bother having children? Everything is shit.  Why bring in a new life?

 

  • I am afraid for my safety as a woman of color. Also, I am afraid for all marginalized communities (LGBTQ, immigrants, Muslims, etc).

 

  • Everyone will have different reactions to the election result – Quiet, Angry, Sad  and I’m not really sure how I feel. Kind of numb.  Haven’t reacted yet.  I don’t know

 

  • I feel like I truly don’t know anyone anymore. I am afraid to interact with my peers, because it hangs in the air that we may have very different core beliefs and opinions.

 

  • I fear people may make assumptions about me and think I support Trump and hold me as an enemy because I am a white woman.

 

  • I am anxious about having to live in constant fear to see how it all plays out each day over the next four years and beyond.

 

  • I am lost because my church has promoted a view different than I hold.

 

  • I am very angry because those I held as friends are indifferent and I don’t know how to not hold that against them.

 

  • My mom voted for Trump and I really resent that.

 

  • I am as concerned, if not more concerned that conservatives control the House, Senate and Presidency, as I am that more than 50 million people voted for someone who has said such hurtful things.

 

  • Fearing for the mental well being of my cohort and our ability to work towards change while living in fear.

 

  • I worry about deportation of family members

 

  • What political power does he have as an individual to make changes?

 

  • He has no experience – what does this mean when it comes to such BIG decisions?

 

  • Hatred, discrimination, racism, sexism, ageism, etc. How much worse can it get?

 

  • Where does this election result leave us as social workers?

 

  • White privilege has proved to be paramount to misogyny

 

  • Concern that the most vulnerable groups will be negatively affected through erosion of the social safety net.

 

  • Having to re-evaluate the company I keep now.

 

  • Fear of increased racism due to Donald Trump normalizing it and the openness of hate groups supporting him.

 

  • I’m thinking about my undocumented relatives and friends. I can see/feel what they are going through, but I can’t do anything.

 

  • I am afraid for my family and many others that can be torn apart.

 

  • I can’t believe there is so much hate in this country. I don’t understand how people can support someone like Trump.

 

  • I am afraid for my family and my community.

 

  • I am afraid my family will be torn apart.

 

  • Do we sever relationships with those who voted for Trump? Am I supposed to believe they endorse his beliefs? Am I supposed to believe they are showing their true colors/beliefs by voting for him?

 

  • I’m scared to be in an interracial relationship for BOTH of our safety.

 

  • I fear this country will not be stable for the upcoming years (eg, riots, safety, living in constant fear).

 

  • Fear for undocumented immigrants who now live with a great sense of uncertainty/instability in their future.

 

  • Fear. Disbelief. I feel like I have been sheltered by living in CA and feeling the full force of hatred, racism, sexism and more now.

 

  • Fear of Affordable Healthcare being taken away from family and the lower socio economic status communities

 

  • I’m scared for many things with Trump being President. As a woman, I fear that rape culture will continue and that Planned Parenthood will lose funding and women will lose their rights to reproductive health, and all the repercussions that come with that.

 

  • Scared that we have lost all ability to see each other as people – as friends and family and colleagues who might have a difference in opinion, but that doesn’t make either of us inherently bad.

 

  • I just don’t understand how people don’t understand why I am upset and why I am not allowed to be upset. This isn’t about “my” candidate not winning, it’s about what this all says about humanity.

 

  • Scared for the environment – what this means for our protected lands and water and air. Even if you don’t believe in big government, it seems like having clean air and water and regulations and policies to ensure that would be welcome.

 

  • As a mixed immigration status family, I fear for my undocumented parents, my sister and brother who have DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) , aunts and uncles who are undocumented. I fear that my family will be separated by a border.