Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The Things That Matter

The past year and a half has been rough for my family. For lots of families, I am sure, but also for mine. That's the less than fun thing about the internet, if you write something about yourself, you have to specify that you are only speaking to your own story. You have to let the world know that your experiences do not reflect on them. On the internet anecdotes become opinions and opinions become facts. All are fighting words, in this place where differences are meant to be debated and acceptance of those unlike ourselves are only celebrated in inspirational memes. For example:

Unless you are different from me. Then I'll yell at you.

The past year and a half has left me holding on with both hands. Put down the phone. Log off. Pay attention and HOLD ON TIGHT.

The past year and a half made me realize, when something REALLY matters, nothing else will.

It's easy to become enveloped in the things that don't matter here. Here in this quiet glow, where all keyboards are created equal. Here where our lives are laid out in black and white narratives, our filtered pictures calmly tell our stories. We stand up for injustice with strongly worded keystrokes,  and practice superhero diligence over crimes of semantics. We pass our days, sustaining our egos with like counts and validating our worth by refreshing our character.

Like Oscar speeches and open letters, none of it really matters. And so, when our eyes eventually grow heavy, because no amount of caffeine and blue glow can keep us up forever, we X out and log off. We sign out, plug our lives into the charger and we move on to tomorrow's theme. If it weren't for #TBTs and Timehops we'd almost forget what we thought we cared about.

So much of what we do here just really doesn't matter. It's filler. It's busiwork, sent home as proof that we are DOING. Proof that we are LIVING. Proof that we are Keeping Up With Someone. I'm not downplaying the importance of a good laugh. Laughter is the best. And I'm not ridiculing the importance of social relationships. Loving and sharing, both giving and receiving each, is the very stuff that makes life beautiful. These things can matter very much. I am a strong believer in finding truth in the world of make believe. It's just that when something else REALLY matters, nothing else will.

So, over the past year and a half, I've needed both hands. Because of my children. Our children are what make us strong, make us roar, makes us love and make us believe. Our children are who we hope for. Our children lead us to the knowledge of what matters, that decisive line between courage and serenity, the wisdom to know the difference. My children, quite simply, are my Why. In a world where we each have so much access to that which doesn't matter, the children lead us to that which does.

Once in a while, something here, in the virtual world where we crop thoughts like photos, really matters. Two years ago I became part of that. Donna. Donna matters. Because every three minutes a child is diagnosed with cancer. Every three minutes parents get news that force them to hold on with both hands and navigate a world that is unjust and cannot nor will not be forgotten. There is no Xing out. It forever matters. Donna forever matters. It can't stop mattering, because cancer doesn't stop. IT DOES NOT STOP. So even this once upon a time blogger, squints at captchas, resets her Blogger password and sits down in hope that someone is reminded.

Reminded that we still need you, YOU MATTER.    DONATE HERE.

Reminded of why this is important, CHILDREN MATTER.  ST BALDRICKS

Reminded of Donna. DONNA MATTERS.    DONNA'S STORY

If you've never read Donna's story, please, do it now. Take time for the things that matter. Be thankful to have them and grateful to know them. May the children guide us on the delicate journey of holding on tight and gracefully letting go.

To the things that matter.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Don't Turn Away, It's Donna's Day

Something happened to our family one year ago.

An idea, one spark of life, an acorn seed, was planted inside our hearts.
One day. One moment. One decision that will touch us forever.
One chance to make a difference.
One opportunity to be a part of something greater than us all.
One day, decorated in memories BUT beaming with HOPE, that ONE DAY children will not die from cancer.

Surely by now you know her story. If not, visit her mama Mary Tyler Mom. Donna's Cancer Story has reached into the hearts and souls of many, giving a face and name to our hero. I first met MTM a year ago when we shaved our heads for St. Baldricks in honor of Donna's Good Things.

I've written quite a bit (for someone who never blogs) about the effect Donna and her story have had on my family: as parents, as shavees, as friends and as advocates for children's issues. She touched my heart. She is family, even though I never knew her physically. She is our Donna and she is our inspiration.

We love her as if she were our own because she could so easily BE our own. At least her story could be.
The reality is that every 3 minutes a child is diagnosed with cancer.

And that is scary.

But not hopeless. Give hope.

This year I am not shaving my head. Neither is my daughter, son and husband. And I feel tremendously guilty for that! How can I not be fundraising? How can I know what I know and not ACT? How can any of us TURN AWAY? I even hid from the internet for a while. I have a fear of uselessness.

But every 3 minutes chimes in my head.

We all have a voice and we all have the ability to become acorns for Donna. We can all plant seeds. Some of us will shave and some of us will give, some of us will paint and some of us will share. Most of us will weep and many of us will rejoice. Hopefully, more of us will empathize than will relate. But we can all do SOMETHING.

For Donna, because it's HER day. If you are able, PLEASE donate and help other children in Donna's name. DGT has already raised almost $200,000 for cancer research. DONATE HERE!

(I'm not a real blogger. I'm not even sure anybody will see this. Really, THIS below is what I want to say. And I guess I believe that words somehow find their destination, if you say them out loud)

Dear Donna,

I never actually met you, I didn't get the chance. Can you believe all this? You're a world famous dancer. We all know your name and your ridiculously adorable smile. And your strength. You are a WOW. Just like your mom. The love she has for you inspires us all. She will NEVER let you disappear or your life be unimportant. She is funny and rambunctious, serious and brilliantly smart, silly and beautiful. She commands an audience and then presents the best of you. Her love for you radiates in everything. 

I get that. My first born, my daughter, has my whole heart. She is my very best friend and I am SO proud of every thing she does. She shaved her head last year to raise money for Donna's Good Things and let me tell you, middle school kids are ROUGH. But she didn't even flinch. First born daughters are tough stuff. I think it's a rule! Here's her picture: 

That's her with her little bro. He shaved his head too, but it wasn't a big deal because he's a boy and boys shave their heads all the time and nobody says anything. And that's not fair, but that's a whole other story!
Anyway, she got a LOT of questions about being bald and do you know what she did? She told a LOT of people about YOU. She also told them about children and cancer and how little money goes toward research and how many children are diagnosed. And she told them about Donna from Chicago.
Donna, you made her feel strong when she could have been scared.
Do you know how powerful that is?

It really is. POWERFUL. You have touched our lives in ways that words could never do justice. And I want you to know that I love you for that. I love you. I think of you when I look into our woods and the wind blows against the oak trees. Thank you for what you have given this world. And continue to give. I will never turn away from you. Or hope.

Pinky swear :)
Miss Jeanna

Give to St. Baldricks, Do Not Turn Away

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Why I Hope You Fail At Your Resolutions (But Not All Of Them, I'm Not An Asshole)

2014 is upon us. A New Year, holding  new hopes and goals, and the promise of possibilities for old dreams. Yesterday, I posted a status on Facebook listing all the day to day resolutions I make and then break. I have always felt to be in a constant state of self improvement. My point was, I always have goals that I am working on, no matter the time of year. It made me chuckle to see how many I had not met. It was impossible to think of starting fresh on January 1st, when I have so many resolutions that I have abandoned, forgotten or lost the will to achieve. I accomplished a million things I had not even planned to attempt and failed the dozens of things I had. 

 And so goes life. Uncontrolled. The New Year resolutions of “The Unplanned Life”.  

My friends rallied behind me. Some laughed and some encouraged me to focus on the all the positive things I had done this year, as to not beat myself up. Focus on the positive and positive things will come to you, they assured me.

Except, I am positive. Positive I failed at these things! And I’m OK with that. In fact, I’m glad.
And I still had an absolutely incredible year.

I am positive and I am negative. I am generally happy and I am sometimes sad. Sometimes, I succeed, sometimes I fail and that is what makes me human. It’s OK to not achieve everything you set out to do and it’s perfectly fine to be in a constant state of self-improvement. In fact, I’m pretty sure it’s awesome. If life is an adventure, then a wrong choice, here and there, is necessary. Screw ups keep us on our toes, keep us motivated, give us confidence and teach us gratitude.

I am OK with screwing up. I am OK with being imperfect. Aw hell, I ENJOY IT!

Happiness is not the absence of sadness.
And success is not the absence of failure.

Happiness thrives on truth, acceptance and gratitude. It is possibility and it can be present even in the face of despair. I am usually a happy person, often a sad person and generally, optimistic to a fault. I remember lying in my own blood, razor in hand, on the bathroom floor and still knowing that if I “ended it all” I would be missing out. In fact, I remember being mad at my optimistic mind for reminding me, despite my hatred and pain, there would be a silver lining. I’m lucky to be an optimist, genetically given the nature of a child, reluctant to go to bed and miss out on the fun that must occur when only the grown-ups are awake. Optimism is happiness wrapped in possibilities BUT it realistically acknowledges the presence of negativity. It tells us to keep on keeping on and whispers promises in our ears when the negative noises weaken our resolve.

Another friend suggested that maybe I needed a shorter list. Truth be told, if given more time, I could added dozens of active personal pursuits to my list. We should be constantly striving to better ourselves; physically, mentally, socially and intellectually. Attainability should not determine what we strive for. Because growth does not end and the presence of failure should not detract from success.
Hurdles are for jumping and jumping makes you strong. True success requires practice and true self-improvement requires failure. Acknowledge those failures! Relish in them. Let them make you laugh. Screwing up can be hysterical. I am fully aware of the mistakes and unaccomplished goals that led me to here. I do have regrets. I regret the decisions I have made that hurt other people. But I also look to my errors with complete gratitude for molding me into the person I am and lighting my path. Being imperfect is the most universal thing you can be and therefore, the last thing anyone should be ashamed of.

If I could suggest anything for anyone in 2014, it would be to EMBRACE YOUR TRUTH. Become ridiculously comfortable with your imperfections, fall shamelessly in love with your story and stay incredibly excited by your potential. Other than that, don’t change a damn thing.

Much love and Happy New Year ~~ Jeanna

Monday, November 11, 2013

The Happiest Moment

Right now I am the happiest I could be.

Granted, I would be happier if I had paid time off left and my son were not sick; but these are the hurdles that brought me to this place of happiness, so I embrace them. They are tiny hurdles and from darkness comes light and all that yin and yang jazz. Any which way, I couldn't be more content.

Plus, he's not THAT sick.

Sniffles and a cough. The cough is just nagging enough that he was up all night. It was just enough that I knew I had better not send him to school. So, after a brief jaunt to work, to open and ready the office I came back home.

Now we lay in front of the woodstove. In a nest of blankets and pillows and yawning dog we lay. We are surrounded by tissues, bellies full from toast and homemade jam. We are snuggled in thick, watching Rescue Bots on Netflix, while the first snow of the season falls outside. The gentle fire crackles and I stare at his fat, little toes, unsocked, peeking from the end of a green blanket. They wiggle enough to keep him awake and then they stop. His rhythmic breathing turns to stuffed up snores.

I am happy.

There is no place on the entire earth I would rather be. And I am the luckiest person alive.

He opens his eyes and I tell him it's snowing. He runs to the window and says, "do you hear it?!"
"What?" I ask, not following.
"Santa's sleigh! I hear it! It's snowing, Christmas is almost here!"
I laugh, "not yet, but soon."

Tomorrow he will head back to school. Tomorrow I will be back at work. Today I will will relish the absolute deliciousness of simplicity. Nothing is as sweet and everything is soon.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Self-Harm: What I Believe.

I wasn’t going to put this here.

I haphazardly typed out my story of self harm and threw it at Plucky. I thought I’d let her anonymously divulge my disease. Because I am acutely aware of the risks of being considered crazy.

I have always been aware of the risk involved in living out loud. These risks have wrapped themselves around my heart for as long as I can remember. No matter how much easier it makes things, Jeanna can’t fake it to make it. I am always 100% passionately myself. Even if it makes me look bad.

Well, sometimes I photoshop my under-eye circles.

But my story of self-harm? The whole story? I didn’t want it here in black and white, where one day my children could read it. Where my ex husband could read it and think “SHE IS RAISING OUR KIDS!” Where my husband’s ex-wife could read it and think, “SHE IS CO-PARENTING MY KIDS?” Where my mother could read it and think, “I didn’t give her enough or treat her enough or do enough.”

See, I don’t want to hurt anyone else and I don’t want to hurt myself.

I don’t want to hurt myself.

Those words are why I must share. HOPE. 17% of young women self-harm. SEVENTEEN percent. How many days did I feel to be the loneliest freak alive? Our stories build awareness and awareness brings action. By not hiding we allow ourselves to be seen, to reach out, to get help.

And help is possible.

The day after I checked myself into the psych ward I called my mom. Disappointing her has always been the scariest thing to me. But I called her to tell her what I did and I expected her to be mad. After all, no responsible mother goes and has a nervous breakdown! What she said to me was this: “Are your kids OK? Were they away for the weekend? IT IS THE PERFECT TIME TO TAKE CARE OF YOU. No judge would EVER take away children whose mother is looking to get better, who admits defeat and is battle weary and exhausted. There is nothing saner than admitting you need help. You are proving you are responsible.” Now, I know some judges would. Some judges, like some people, are just dicks. Because 90% of the time I AM awesome. But those words, "nothing is saner than admitting you need help," they chimed through my collapsed mind.

So I will hold those words, hope for the best and share my story.

I remember being a child, laying in my closet, wanting to die. I had a big white and green toy box. It was covered in fantasy pictures, unicorns and Technicolor rainbows, I remember being huddled next to it and sobbing. I begged God to let me die. I wasn’t old enough to know I could have a say in Life and Death.

I don’t remember a time where I didn’t think about suicide. Still, when I am angry, frustrated or sad, it’s the first place my mind goes. Habitual imagery it seems. I look at ceilings and see places that I could hang myself. I picture my body lying in a bloody bathtub. I imagine cold on cold and apologize to the person who will find me. I cannot help where my mind goes; it’s always the first response. I will be suddenly overwhelmed and it’s what I see. It’s the bad habit. It’s my dirty secret.

I was 14 when I began to self harm. Barely, older than my daughter now. I watch her skin and follow her injuries with strategic inquiries. I wonder if she thinks like me and hurts like me. She is my clone in so many ways, will she inherit this? God, I worry. When I was 14, I swallowed a bottle of Tylenol and then threw them up. I lit matches and burned designs in my skin. I found razor blades and acquired scars. I practiced bulimia not because I wanted to be skinny, but because I liked to cause myself pain. I enjoyed making myself binge and then purge. It was about power and discipline. I smoked, I drank bottles of cough syrup, I did acid, not to try and fit in, or have fun, but because I knew it was hurting myself. And I wanted that.

I wanted to control my pain and numb my pain at the same time.

I was able to be the catalyst (controller) for my external pain, while releasing endorphins to calm my internal pain.

Cutting saved me from suicide. Cutting calmed my mind. When I was in the hysterics of anxiety, cutting was Xanax. It was an addiction and soon, when I was upset, I wasn’t thinking, “I want to die,” I was looking for a blade. I wanted to cut. As soon as that familiar sting hit my brain, the rest of the world melted away. The rest of the pain melted away. I had something I controlled.

And I had a secret.

I have heard people say that cutters are just out for attention, but nothing is further from the truth. I hid my wounds and guarded my secret as if sworn by magic. NOBODY saw them. As I grew up, I cut less. Adulthood gave me external responsibilities and no longer could I internalize the world. Parenthood made me fear judgment. Fearing judgment made me fear madness.

Adulthood brought on 2 main points of relapse. In fact, I almost thought I had grown out of the behavior. The thoughts were still there, the cravings still present, but I didn’t give in. Until my world (my marriage) fell apart. At that point I began to harm myself in all the ways I could, except drugs.

The last time I cut myself was July 29th, 2011. (If you’ve read Unsinkable, you know the story). I admitted myself to the mental ward that night. I admitted my addiction to self harm, on a physical, mental and emotional level. Whether it was physical injuries, self-shaming, alcohol, sex, suffering, guilt driven over achievement or co-dependent behaviors, I needed to stop. I was addicted to pain.  

I decided to no longer remain silent. And that keeps me honest.

Like any addiction, it doesn’t go away. My first urge when I’m upset (still) is to self-harm. I have not let myself go there. And I have been successful, so far.

Reasons I feel successful:
1. I am doing this for me. I do not WANT to be a self-harmer.
2. I admit to my sickness. I acknowledge I suffer anxiety disorders. I admit to an addiction to self harm. I hold myself accountable to my promise of honesty.
3. I recognize the addictive properties of my illness. I recognize cues that drive me to crave self harm.
4. I can speak to others about self harm without being embarrassed.
5. I am dedicated to July 29,2011 being the last quit date I ever have.

What does any of this have to do with National Suicide Prevention Day and why do I tell this story?

Because I am just like you. I mean besides living in a treehouse and wearing aprons and stuff. But I am just a regular mom and wife and professional woman. I am actually pretty frickin "together". I am college educated and own a home. These people are all around us. And they might be overwhelmed and need help. Or they could be scared to seek help. But they are helpable! Life can be beautiful, even for those who don’t think so. And self-harm wears SO many hats, this isn't just about razors and matches.

I said above that self-harm saved me from suicide. Indeed, I feel it was a coping mechanism for stress. It was habit forming and addictive. It allowed me to deal. But I wanted to live. I never truly (other than some VERY bad moments) wanted to DIE. Strangely enough, those moments, are stories I’ve never told and because of the hysteria in my mind, barely remember. I wanted to live, but for many self-harm is still one of the strongest indicators of suicidal tendencies.

I believe by removing the stigma, and looking to have a better understanding of the self-harmer’s struggle, we can save lives.
I believe by recognizing the addiction component of self-harm, we can treat and save lives.
I believe by sharing our stories we can unite.
I believe in wellness.

I believe in hope.

And I know they are all possible.