Chasing Happiness

Warning: This post is long and discusses depression, shame, body image, and other related topics that may be triggering to some. I’m very honest about my feelings, particularly about my body, but I’m not looking for confidence boosts or compliments. I appreciate everything that you guys do to lift me up when I’m feeling frustrated and stuck, and I do understand that there are some of you who take inspiration from hearing about my struggles and my refusal to quit. As I’m sure you’ve all experienced, however, a person’s personal struggle and their feelings may not exactly reflect those of the people around them. This post was something I needed to expunge from my thoughts. I feel lighter for writing it, though that doesn’t erase those thoughts and feelings. I process my grief and struggles through writing, though, so I’ve decided to publish this despite it being such a negative post. Please don’t worry about me, I’m okay. I just needed to write a few things.

I’ve suffered from depression since I was ten years old. When I look back over my adult life, from the time I left for college until now, I see very few spots of bright light and happiness. They are so few that I can name them off and make a photo collage. The summer of 1999 when I went on a study abroad program to France. The summers of 2006 and 2007 when I was in contact with my favorite band (and got to meet them in person). January 2011 through June 2013, while I was losing weight (more on this later). January through April 2014, after my abdominal surgery helped me regain my body’s true figure. Two weeks in the summer of 2016 while on vacation, which hardly count since it was vacation. That’s it. The sum of happiness in my adult life. About 3.5 years of the last twenty-one.  Continue reading

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Sunday Coffee – Chopping Down the Chinaberry Trees

Chopping down trees – this is a thing I do not like to do. Unless the tree is dangerous or dead, I’d rather keep them up no matter how annoying. At my pre-Boston house, we had two ash trees that would drop so many seeds each year that they would blanket the entire front yard. We basically had to rake up ash seeds, which is extremely difficult. But we still never cut them down.

When we bought this house last year, the front yard was done up nicely. There were five trees providing plenty of shade, and despite the slope, everything looked beautiful. Then a couple things happened. First, there was a hurricane-turned-tropical-storm that blew through San Antonio. Our neighbor had a tree fall where it was sitting on a similarly-sloped lawn, and we decided we needed to build a retaining wall around the tree that was on the most sloped part of our lawn, making sure it could stay upright. Then all the chinaberries began to drop from two of our trees, littering the entire yard and driveway. With that litter came the flies. Thousands of them, feasting on these dropped berries, which is just gross gross gross. Then we realized the sloped yard was eroding, and began to xeriscape. We built carefully around all our trees to make sure none were damaged. We researched local, non-invasive species to plant. And once it was all done, thousands of little tiny plants started sprouting throughout all our new beds, all identical.

(yard, before)

As it turns out, chinaberry trees are pernicious and highly invasive. Wherever they drop berries, new trees will grow, and when you pull the seedlings, new trees will grow from the same damn berry over and over and over again. And we had thousands of these berries in our yard. Back when there was grass, the seedlings would get mowed and we never even noticed them. But we did notice the way that grass didn’t keep growing in our yard, and how the lawn was slowly turning into a dirt pit. We thought it was erosion, and that was some of it, but some of it was just that the berries acidified the soil and made it impossible for grass to grow and hold the dirt down. Every week post-xeriscaping I would pull these weeds, and yet they kept taking root. They would grow in the most unlikely places, like under rocks as the one in this picture.

When the berries started dropping again this year, we bit the bullet and called someone to chop down both of our chinaberry trees. In researching, these and hackberry trees are the only two that San Antonio recommends cutting down even if the trees aren’t sick or a danger to structures. They are that invasive. We couldn’t really afford the cost – not to mention needing to plant a new tree to eventually replace the shade to our yard and house – but we did it.

Our yard looks very different now, and we have to restructure our xeriscaping around where the new tree will go. I suppose it’s good that we were having to do this restructuring anyway due to the plumbing issues, and that there was nothing permanent for these trees to destroy as they came down.  It’s frustrating nonetheless, and we just hope we can find a good place to plant the new tree, far enough from structures, driveway, plumbing, and the previous chinaberry tree roots. And we hope that the trees won’t just start growing back, given their pernicious nature. In the meantime, we’ve chosen a native, non-invasive species to put in our yard, a live oak. It’ll be years before it’s fully grown, but that’s totally worth it for a tree that won’t cause all the trouble that those chinaberries caused!

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A Heart in a Body in the World, by Deb Caletti

Annabelle is running. Running from her past. Running from her future. Just running. From Seattle to DC, her grandpa as her support team in his old RV, her friends at home a self-appointed publicity team. She’s not running for a cause, but her journey is embraced across the country nonetheless. And as Annabelle’s miles pile up and she meets supporters along the way, she begins to unravel the trauma that changed her life the year before.

It’s been several years since I’ve read a Deb Caletti novel. Honestly? I worried that I’d outgrown her stories the way I’ve outgrown many of the YA authors I loved a decade ago. It happens. Furthermore, I wasn’t sure this was my kind of book. I wanted to try, though. As I said, it’s been a few years.

A couple chapters in, I wasn’t sure I would keep reading, but now for a different reason. This book was stressful. In our current political climate, it’s difficult to read a story of a young woman who loses control of her personal autonomy. It’s difficult to read about violence against women, and bullying, and male dominance, and entitlement, and the taking of a future purely out of selfish pettiness.

This was a very good book. It discusses some deadly serious subjects and charged political issues, but handles them with grace and subtlety. (As much as that is possible, anyway.) The psychological changes that Annabelle undergoes are gradual and believable. The events of her past are uncovered slowly, revealing a series of warning signs that are all too easy to overlook.

Because that is the crux of the issue: Women are taught to be nice, to forgive everything, to empathize. Unless a man is showing blatant, overt hostility (and sometimes not even then), we’re taught to ignore the warning signs and give them the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps the man is sensitive or awkward or just needs someone to care for and understand him. We’re taught to disregard our intuition in favor of the man’s needs or feelings, even when that intuition is screaming RUN RUN RUN, and when we act on our intuition, we’re dismissed as “paranoid.” All the while, too many women don’t act on those instincts, and suffer the consequences of not being “paranoid.” None of this is okay.

And it was not okay for Annabelle, for her friends, for her family. One person in this book characterizes such psychological and physical violation against women as “a permanent life sentence.” The book, to me, is encapsulated in this one incredibly powerful paragraph:

“I live in this system, you know, you do, we do, where the control and the shutting up is such a regular thing that we sometimes don’t even see it. Where there are rules and rights for him and rules and rights for her and they are different rules and rights. The system says who gets to control who, and who is entitled to power and protection and who isn’t, and every day I run because I just don’t know what to do about it or how to change it.”

It was a very hard book to read, but entirely worth it. My love for Caletti’s writing and stories is confirmed. I never should have doubted.

Posted in 2018, Prose, Young Adult | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

Happy 18th Birthday, Morrigan!

My oldest child is now officially an adult. He can vote, and plans to next week when early voting starts. He’s finished college applications and has been accepted to his top choice (Kansas University). In the spring, he’ll be getting his first job to save money for college. It’s crazy to think he’s been in our lives now for 18 years. It just doesn’t feel that long. Welcome to the world of adulthood, oldest child of mine.

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Wellness Wednesday – Health Glitches

It’s been an interesting month so far. On the first, I found a lump in my left breast. On the third, my doctor confirmed that there was something there, though she suspected it was fibrocystic tissue possibly related to perimenopause. On the eighth, I had an ultrasound and mammogram, where they (thankfully) found nothing abnormal. So that first week was a rollercoaster of emotions that ended in relief.

Then last week, I had blood drawn for my semi-annual health checkup. The last time I did this, I had mostly good improvements from the previous autumn. This time around, I was expecting bad bad bad. After months of living on restaurants and microwavable meals, hardly able to exercise, and dealing with stress and weight gain on top of that, I knew my numbers would be much worse than in April. I was surprised, then, to get my lab results and discover mostly positive changes. All aspects of my cholesterol were better than before, some the best they’ve ever been. My glucose numbers are up slightly, but still within normal range and right close to where they usually stay. My insulin is back to normal for the first time in years, and my inflammation levels have gone from very elevated to only mildly elevated. My iron levels are smack in the middle of normal instead of being super high. My liver-function numbers are doing fantastic. Everything looks great, with one exception that ties in to the first part of this post.

Both my estrogen and progesterone levels are at post-menopausal levels. The progesterone in particular came in at nearly the bottom of post-menopausal range. My doctor already suspected I was in perimenopause despite only being 39 years old. That would explain a few symptoms I’ve had, as well as the development of fibrocystic tissue. It also ties in with family history of early menopause (usually by mid-40s). But I’m not menopausal or post-menopausal yet, not by a long shot. Those numbers shouldn’t be nearly as low as they are. This means two things: First, these numbers are likely being affected by my PCOS, and I need to work with my Ob/Gyn to get them back to normal. I have an appointment in January for specific hormone work after specific blood tests to come in December. Second, these out-of-whack hormones are possibly affecting my health in many ways, from difficulty losing weight to the bizarre changes to my senses of smell and taste over the last nine months.

[Side-note backstory: In January, I lost my sense of smell completely (anosmia). I thought it was related to a series of illnesses that lasted until I got strong antibiotics in April, but my sense of smell didn’t return until June 1st, when I came home to find my house torn to pieces and plaster dust everywhere. After that, the only thing I could smell for two months was plaster, and any food with a high fat content tasted spoiled/rancid. I actually threw out a jar of peanut butter, thinking it had gone bad. This isn’t the same as when you’re sick and things taste weird. This was a full-blown change in sensory perception. My doctor put me on prednisone for something else, and since then I can’t eat 90% of dairy products because they taste like copper. (That’s a common side effect, but it’s supposed to go away after you finish the medicine. It’s been three months since I finished.) Then one day, very sudden, the plaster went away and everything smelled like undercooked sweet bread. Rancid and copper tastes stayed. Then after another month, another sudden shift occurred and the only thing I could smell was sewage. That’s where I stand today. If there’s a strong odor of gasoline or pizza or rain, it smells like sewage. If it doesn’t smell like sewage, then I can’t smell it at all. Obviously, this is a problem, and I’m at a loss to explain it. I thought it might have been my previous antidepressant because I lost my sense of smell after we increased the dosage, but I’ve been off that medicine for nearly four months and nothing has changed.]

I saw my primary care doctor yesterday to discuss the lab results. Unfortunately, he was called away on an emergency and I had to see a different doctor in the practice, but I still told him about the anosmia after he went through my lab results. My next step – sigh – is to get a brain MRI to make sure there are no physical obstructions in my brain, pituitary gland, or sinus region. The anosmia might also indicate the development of full-blown hemochromatosis (a genetic high blood iron disorder that runs in my family, and which I’ve been tested genetically-inclined-to-develop with two abnormal markers in my DNA). I had no idea that changes in sensory perceptions could be caused by hemochromatosis, and since my iron, ferritin, and iron-binding levels are all on the lower end of normal right now, I’m pretty sure that’s not it. But I’m also hoping that this brain MRI thing comes back negative. It’s kind of a scary time for my health right now!

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The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein, by Kiersten White

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein revisited through the eyes of Elizabeth Frankenstein.

I read Frankenstein about twenty years ago and honestly, I barely remember much from the book itself. I remember some of the class discussions afterwards, but that’s it. If I had remembered it well, I most likely wouldn’t have read this book. I tend to dislike retellings or reimaginings of classics except in very specific circumstances. So I have no idea if this book follows the events of the original, no idea if it touches on the same elements, no idea if it follows the same timeline, no idea if it introduces the same characters. I have to take it as its own entity, with the original Frankenstein far in the background.

And I’m not sure I liked it. There were certainly many interesting elements, and I liked the idea of following Elizabeth through the story. One big thing got on my nerves, though, and eventually caused my interest to fade. There were too many flashback sections that served to fill in exposition backstory. I would have loved to see those integrated into the story instead of being a constant stop in the flow.  By the time I was just past the halfway point of the book, I almost gave up on it. I think I kept reading purely because it was a quick and easy read, even though I kept getting annoyed. By the end, while it felt like a good story, I missed the deeper, thicker elements of the original. This felt like just a story, not a philosophical and religious struggle, or even a gender-related struggle, which is what it seemed to imply in the beginning.

I don’t know. I guess I was just disappointed. I loved White’s Vlad the Impaler series so much. It was thick and rich and full of intricacy, and I wanted this to be the same. I think it could have been the same. But it wasn’t, not for me, and in the end, it would have been better had I stopped reading at the point when I realized the book wasn’t going to work for me.

Posted in 2018, Prose, Young Adult | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

Sunday Coffee – Ghost Stories

Audible has started giving away two of its Original productions to members each month. This month, I picked a nonfiction listen for November, and a short ghost story for RIP. The audio was just over half an hour long, so I put it on one morning to accompany my walk. The story – Lullaby by Jonathan Maberry, narrated by Scott Brick – was deliciously creepy. It’s so rare to find ghost stories in the traditional sense of the word. Not thrillers or mysteries or supernatural horror, but full-on ghost stories with subtle hints and maybe-just-a-coincidence and all the details left to the imagination. Because the imagination is a scary place. Just think about the ghost stories we tell as children and how we can’t fall asleep afterwards, even though we know it’s not real.

When I was a kid, the best creepy stories came in my grandmother’s basement. There were no windows in the basement, and there were rooms full of pickled things (food, but hey, as kids, rows of jars pickling things are scary!), and there was a buzzer that scared the crap out of us every time the adults used it to call us upstairs. We told stories and terrified ourselves, especially after the lights went out and we were literally in complete, total darkness. The taxidermy deer and bear heads on the walls took on a sinister air. Once, we shined flashlights into the bear’s glass eyes, saw movement in them (our flashlights!), and were terrified that there were spies looking out at us. This is the stuff of creepy horror childhood, and Lullaby had exactly that feel.

I love this kind of book. I had chills nearly the entire time I listened and walked. I crave more of this kind of story, better even in longer, novel form.

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