“You’re missing, but you’re always a heartbeat from me.” ~ Enya

So, it’s been a month now and I’ve been in denial about the permanence of ma being gone. Unfortunately my head…and heart…must think it’s time for me to break through this and it’s like a storm has suddenly washed over me.

It’s funny that what you wish for isn’t always what you can handle. For the last couple of weeks, I’ve wanted to get past this wall I had up and start ‘really’ feeling the grief I know is in me. And bam. It’s a’happening.

T and I were at ma’s yesterday helping someone pick up a quilt ma was making for them. After T left to go to the dentist, I walked through the house ma and pop built and that I lived in from the age of 6. I could see ma in every room, remember her laughter, and hear her voice. I could even smell her in that ‘house scent’ we all have in our homes.

You know, whenever I used to go over to the house, I’d walk in and yell: “Ma?! Are you there ma?!” And she’d say: “Kristi?! Is that you?!” Then I’d hug her hard…always always always hug her first thing. I yelled that yesterday. Again and again. And I was wanting so fucking bad for her to yell back; when she didn’t, I think I finally realized that my ma died. And honestly, I feel a sense of loneliness I’ve never…ever…felt before.

Me, ma and O in Texas!

Of course I’ve been lonely at times in my life…sometimes it’s hard being single and living by myself. But no matter how down I got, ma was there. Always there. I could call her…go to her…and just always know that despite anything else in my life, she was within reach. Always my constant. Always my anchor.

Knowing that’s no longer so makes me feel like I’m adrift in the sea…no focus…no path…no direction. I’ve never felt this emptiness and it’s one tough son of a bitch to handle. Today I was just needing a hug. A simple hug. But my hugger’s gone and as someone who craves affection, it’s hard to not have that physical comfort. My neighbors across the street are getting used to me popping over in my boxers and t-shirt so they can give me a squeeze. It helps.

It also helps to keep busy so I’ve got a huge coloring poster hanging up and I work on that. I’ve done some jigsaw puzzles…just finished a 1000 piecer…and have been getting some more African violets to fuss with. There’s around 16,000 different varieties and even though my collection is growing, I do know my limits with these.

Anyhoot, I’m going to take this grief thing one day at a time…I guess that’s all you can do. I’m going to let myself cry. Vent. Yell. Whatever I need to do to start working through this heartache. I know I’ll never…ever…get ‘over’ ma. I know I’ll grieve her until I see her again. But I also hope it will become if not easier…then ‘less’. My pain will turn to an ache that will always be with me. And that’s OK. Because I know ma is with me…in my head and my heart. And I’m going to keep her there. Forever.

Love you ma. Love you more.

Kristi xoxo

“But there never seems to be enough time…” ~ Jim Croce

So, one day O’s dad came home from work when I was 8 months preggy and found me sitting on the living room floor shoveling Oreo’s down my gullet, watching All My Children, and bawling with umpteen parenting books spread all around and all open to different chapters. He sighed, stomped into my pity bubble, scooped up all of these tomes and proceeded to chuck them in our dumpster. And yes son, this is before us old folks regularly recycled.

Trust me, this was an act of mercy. I don’t know about you all but when anything happens to me, I turn to books to try to figure things out. The only problem with this is that every book has conflicting advice, ideas, and tips to use for such a task. For example, EVERY parenting book I was reading on that day of infamy said something different about ‘how’ to raise my baby. Every one. I was so befuddled I thought about calling my OB/GYN (who had the bedside manner of a turnip 😳) and telling him I was calling off this ‘birth thing’ that was ultimately B’s fault. But know what I figured out after being a new ma for a few months? That they were all right. And all wrong. And my job was to do the best I could with the personality of the little guy I had and hope for the best. Luckily, it worked. Very well.

And now? I find myself doing the exact same thing with books on grief. I’ve read tons of info on ‘how to grieve in the right way’ and if I put into practice all of these, I’d be once again bawling, watching soaps throughout my day (which I actually wish I could🤔 ) and gaining 10 pounds a week. Hmmm.

However, I have come across advice that does help me and while searching I found this from Everyday Health (paraphrased):

“Saying goodbye to a parent is a life-changing experience, marking the end of a bond we’ve known for our entire lives (Heidi Horsley, PsyD). Until it happens, we don’t know what our lives are like without our parents and to have them gone can be traumatic, whether it’s sudden or expected.”

“Our biological parents give us life, and the parents who raise us (whether biological or not) shape our lives in really big ways. They’re with us from day one, forming the foundation of our identity.” (Alexandra Kennedy).

Research show that people continue to report trouble sleeping, concentrating at work, getting along with people, and a strong emotional response one to five years after losing a parent. Other research suggests losing a parent puts someone at a higher risk of numerous negative mental and physical health outcomes, including higher likelihood of binge drinking, self-esteem issues, and overall decline in happiness. This evidence also reinforces that parents often play critical roles in our self-confidence and sense of purpose throughout our lives.

Carmen Chai

Honestly, reading this comforted me in a way nothing else has because it helps me to understand the gut-punchy feeling I’m walking around with and why I have such a hard time accepting ma’s death itself.

Ma really did play such a role in my self-confidence…no matter what else might be happening around me, ma ALWAYS supported me and believed in my abilities to handle whatever it might be. I did feel a sense of purpose being ma’s daughter…that was (and I guess still is) a HUGE status for me and at night, when I’m used to talking to her and reviewing our days together, brings that home to me. I know how much I needed her attention and love and how ‘less than’ I feel by not having it now. She made me feel like I was so important in her life too, and never passed up an opportunity to show her appreciation for me.

Crystal Raypole wrote a great article in Healthline and gave 10 ideas for how to navigate through grief which is a great compilation of advice I’ve read elsewhere. Some of these are easier than others…and some are going to take me a lloonngg time to either begin or traverse through.

The first couple are to both validate your feelings and then allow yourself to fully experience the grief. OK. These are the toughies. I keep apologizing to people for being in such a ‘sleep walky’ type of existence right now and when others ask me how I’m doing, I always say OK which is actually not the truth. I know saying fine isn’t true at all and saying horrible probably is a bit harsh to put on someone else, so OK is my go-to right now. However, a friend of ma’s, T’s and mine said this yesterday: “Fine simply means fucked, insecure, neurotic and emotional.” I guess with this definition, fine really does sum up my day to day right now. (Love you, Teeeny 💘)

And fully experience the grief? I think this is different for everyone and right now, I can only take it in dribs and drabs. I find myself vacuuming yet again when I feel these waves come upon me and I know that if I open that door, I’ll drown right now. I eventually will…but right that that tsunami would be way too much.

At a walk for cancer research.

Caring for myself is one I’m working on and I definitely have support from the fam but what’s ironic is this: I get to crying over ma and start to call her so I can talk to her about it…after all, that’s what I always did when I was upset. What a tough habit to break.

Sharing and honoring memories is another idea and T and I are doing just that in a lot of ways. Ma made so many beautiful quilts and we have given a quilt to all of our family, ma’s friends and neighbors, and are going to have the rest professionally cleaned and then donated to the local Cancer Care center for them to give to those getting treatment. This is the same place where we asked for memorials and it honors ma’s 25 years of having been a cancer survivor. We know she’d love knowing others getting comfort from what she made. Every time we talk, T and I (and O and I too) share memories and some make us cry…some make us laugh. And you know, having T is a gift. Only she knows what I’m feeling since she’s struggling with it too…we are truly a team in this loss.

Finally, a suggestion I’ve seen in various places as well says to forgive the person for past wrongs, unresolved issues, etc. Here’s a true testament to ma: I don’t have any. I know people make the dead into saints when in fact, no one deserves that title. However, ma was an amazingly, perfectly imperfect parent and she was there for T and I no matter what. We were lucky that we got to talk to her so much up until a couple of days before she died, and at one point she tried to apologize to me for having married her ex husband (yes, he’s a fucking bastard and had he shown up at her funeral, my nephews and O were going to ‘escort’ him out 😠) and putting T and I through these horrible years of domestic violence and the abuse he heaped on us as well. I stopped her. I told her she didn’t need to apologize…she needed to absolve herself of any guilt she had towards us because he was the abuser…not her. And I know that she was the one that had to ultimately understand when she could get away from him with her life. How can we blame her for going through hell? I blame him.

Maybe I’m reading too much about this grief thing and maybe I think that by doing so, I’ll glean quick fixes to this shattered life. The best thing I’ve learned is this: it’s going to take a LONG time to grieve ma…I’m going to feel things in my own time and way…I’m going to have to re-learn life with having a ma in it…and I have to make sure that the life I have is lived to it’s fullest and the people who are in it simply know how much I love them. If T and I can both do this, I think ma would be proud.

Love you ma. Love you more.

Kristi xoxo

“When you Love Someone” ~ Bryan Adams

So, it’s been 2 weeks since ma died and the emotions I’m feeling are all over the place. I grieved my grandparents and was devastated by their deaths but ma’s has hit me like a truck. It’s almost like my brain doesn’t know how to process all of this yet.

Elisabeth Kubler- Ross wrote about 5 stages of death in her 1969 book called “On Death and Dying”. I’ve never read this entire book but am aware of the stages from psychology – Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance.

Obviously these stages are going to be traversed through differently by everyone and they aren’t necessarily linear. However, I know that I’m in the denial stage which is common after a quick death.

An article in Washington.edu talks about the stress and trauma that grief entails and how it can overwhelm the person grieving. The stress hormones released affect sleep, appetite, ability to focus, feeling detached from self and others, and an overall feeling of constantly being in a nervous state physically and emotionally. I know my heart rate is higher (an effect of the sympathetic nervous system being the cause of the release of the stress hormones) and eating is difficult. I’m ‘forcing’ myself to eat meals but honestly, snacking and eating comfort food is a norm for me right now. Thank the Lord for peanut butter and jelly.

Me, ma and T!

In the same article it talks about what these stages of grief look like and denial includes: avoidance, procrastination, forgetting, easily distracted, mindless behaviors, keeping busy all of the time and saying “I’m fine” when asked.

If this were a checklist, I’d have a red mark by all of them. I know I’m avoiding the permanence of ma being gone. When I allow myself to think about it, I become so overwhelmed at the thought of my life without her that I can’t handle that flood of emotions yet. I find myself shutting it down. Keeping busy helps me postpone this grief I need to process: my house has never been cleaner and I’ve read more books these past 2 weeks than in the previous 2 months. I may not be absorbing what I’m reading but it’s an escape.

Experts say this denial can feel like shock, numbness, confusion and just shutting down…all things I relate too.

My sissy and son are being awesome. T and I are both grieving and I know she’s having trouble processing our loss as well. O was very close to his gramma and misses her terribly. We check in with one another and support each other the best we can.

Ma and Mally!

I feel guilty that I’m not crying all of the time. I feel like I’m not doing this ‘grief thing’ right. I’m scared this weight will be with me always because I’ll never allow myself to work through it. But, it’s comforting to know that denial is common, but losing ma so quickly is still hard to comprehend.

All I know is this: ma was an amazing mom to me. I loved her more than words can ever say and I know she loved me more than anyone else on the earth ever has. I think that’s why this is so hard for me to face: to think this one person is now gone and I won’t feel that depth of love anymore. I have a huge depth of love for O…but he also has his own life and his own love and his expression of his love for me is very different from ma’s. My family is not touchy-feely at all…just me. Ma hugged and kissed me every time I was with her and she fulfilled that need for affection that I have. I miss that so so much.

I also miss having someone I can lean on during this (aside from my fam). Being alone is tough right now…I wish I had someone ‘there’ that I could hug and cuddle and get comfort from. Luckily, Edward and Mally are sweeties and they’ve never been hugged more in their lives…they’re loving it!

Anyhoot, I miss ma more than I can say and it’s so overwhelming that when you lose a parent, you are losing the way your world has always been.

Love you ma. Love you more.

Kristi xoxo

“Regret is useless in life” ~ Marlon Brando

So, the worst thing about not being able to blog much this semester is that I have so many ideas that when I do get time, I don’t know which to choose. In fact, I regret I have less time for this outlet than I’d like. Ooooo…I have a regret. Hmmmm.

I’ve been thinking about a lot about regrets lately. A few weeks ago, one of my friend’s daughters called me and said her mom had died…she had simply laid down for a nap and never woke up. I was gobsmacked. Linda was a really genuine, down to earth, sweet woman and it didn’t matter how much time went between seeing each other; she was the type of friend you could pick right back up with as if a day had never passed. She’ll be missed.

You know, I think I’ve always just ‘assumed’ that I’ve got a lot more time to live. Ma and pop are both in their late 70’s and one grandma lived well into her 90’s. Ma’s parents died young…at age 63 for both of them…but they also lived a very sedentary life. Grandma was a chain-smoker and had been for decades and grandpa died of cirrhosis of the liver because of life-long alcoholism. So, their young deaths were definitely tied to these lifestyles (but, they were the BEST…most of my happiest memories are with them 🙂) and since I’m fit, eat well, don’t smoke or drink, and otherwise take pretty good care of myself, I tend to think I have years and years left. But…that’s not guaranteed, is it?

Car accidents, cancer (which there is a family history of on both sides…ma is a breast cancer survivor!🌞 ), Alzheimer’s (which my older grandma died of…it is such a horrifying disease and broke all of our hearts), falls (like from my roof when I’m dancing a jig while cleaning out my gutters just to make my bestie across the street laugh 😬), and simply being bipolar. Yep…that’s one I think about more than I probably should. The National Library of Medicine reports that studies show female bipolar ‘patients’ have about a 10.6-8.3 years lesser life-span (while men lose 12.0-8.7 years) than the general population. This is even a bit higher than the 10 year reduction in life-span for chronic smokers. Charmed.

And suicide: again, the National Library of Medicine found that the rate of suicide among bipolar patients is approximately 10–30% higher than the corresponding rate in the general population. Research has also found that up to 20% of (mostly untreated) those with bipolar will end their life by suicide, while 20–60% of ‘us’ will attempt suicide at least one in our lifetime.  In other words, being bipolar ain’t so great. Go figure.

So, because of my friend and the suddenness of her death, I’ve been thinking about my life and ruminating over regrets that I have. Regretting something is really wishing it never happened…in fact, regret is often called a useless emotion since you can only regret what has already taken place which makes it too late to change things. All that’s left is the sorrow of that , which leads to guilt, shame, remorse, etc.

Daniel Pink (author of The Power of Regret) says there are 4 major types of regret: 

  • Foundation Regrets: these are failures to be responsible or conscientious which can center around money and health.
  • Boldness Regrets: not taking the action you wanted…being INACTIVE in terms of going after a job or reaching out to someone you want to get to know. In other words, passing up chances that could have changed your life. Pink’s study found that these inaction regrets outnumber action regrets. So, what we don’t do makes us more sorrowful than what we do do. Interesting, isn’t it?
  • Moral Regrets: pretty self explanatory but let me phrase this in my Kristi language: those times when you fucked up royally. Pink found that although these tend to be the fewest of all our regrets, they are actually the most painful ones for us.
  • Connection Regrets: neglecting the people that you should be connecting with more.

Bronnie Ware, an Australian palliative carer and author of The Top Five Regrets of the Dying says that the 6 most common regrets those with serious illness have are:

  • I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me. 
  • I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
  • I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
  • I wish I’d stayed in touch with my friends.
  • I wish I had let myself be happier.

Hmmm…is there anyone of us that can’t relate to these? Good Lord, as I look back on my regrets, I see them in all of these categories and in this list of common ones. Before I even started reading Ware’s work, I actually had thought of these very ones. The worst for me? Not living my life authentically…and actually, still not doing so in many ways.

We’ve talked about masks and how those of us with mental illness hide behind them out of shame, embarrassment, pressure, expectation, etc. I did for most of my adult life. Who wants to admit they have a mental illness that is so stigmatized? So misunderstood? Has so many myths circling around it like vultures who want us to believe we’re ‘crazy’ and violent? How can anyone in their right mind (yes, that pun was intentional 😳) want that rosy attitude directed towards them? The solution? Hide. Pretend. Be who others want you to be. Expect you to be. Demand that you be. That’s a tough thing to do and in fact, many of us know that it’s fucking (sorry, ma) exhausting and really does nothing at all in the long run anyway. Masks fall off…they disintegrate…they shift and budge. They are simply unsustainable. And when the elastic does break on them people say things like “You used to be so ‘normal.” Or, “You never used to speak up like that.” Or, “Ummmm…no…I don’t think I can do lunch with you today…ummmm…something came up.” Or, “Of course Kristi is to blame for that, she’s bipolar…you know, they’re all nuts.” Is it any wonder we put them on in the first place?

But then I think about WHO I put them on for and realize they can all fuck off anyway (not gonna apologize for that one ma, since you say the same too 😐). Those I pretended for were really going to love me forever? Or be my best friend? The assholes (I’m on a profanity roll here…) who wouldn’t accept someone mentally ill in their midst were really worth me being someone I wasn’t? Well no…they weren’t. And believe me, the only regret I have with this one is just how recently I learned it.

Another one I’m still working a lot on is a boldness regret…one of inaction. Look, I’ve been bullied a lot in my life…as have many of my sweet peeps. My sister is a badass and this is why: she isn’t rude or mean or a fight-picker, but by golly she’ll stand up for herself with absolutely nothing held back! In fact, she still does it for me in place of the times I can’t! My inaction regarding standing up to people was more understandable when I was young and sickly and skinny, but still doing it at 55? No…it’s pretty much bullshit by now. After all, I’m in my 50’s (yeeeeesh…) and shouldn’t be so hesitant to say what I really want and need to say. Right? I can do this for my son…in fact, sticking up for him has always been easy no matter what his age. I’m quite the mama bear! But to do it for myself? Hmmm…perhaps I need to harness that bear for myself as well.

But, I don’t. I think it’s why the other people have usually blamed me for their actions: cheated on me…my fault. Yelled at me…my fault. Accused me of things…my fault. You get the point. And why do I acquiesce to this? Hmmm…maybe in some part because I had to be more timid and accommodating around ma’s bastard of an ex. If I stood up to him…didn’t agree with him…didn’t nod my head and smile no matter what he said, ma was the one in danger. Period. So, that ‘I’m sorry’ became a sort of mantra for me. And now? Bipolar is to blame. No matter what I say or do or feel, it can be easily turned around to the fact that since I have bipolar, I must be the one in the wrong. It’s a great scapegoat for anyone to use against me when they need someone outside of themselves to blame. Blech.

And of course there are all of the other regrets too: I do work too much at times…let friendships get pushed aside in all the busyness of the week…not spend the time I should with those that mean the most to me. But the good news is this: regrets are things that have their origins in the past…and don’t have to be our futures. So, my pledge to myself? Be me with no excuses. Reach out and make time for those I love and if papers don’t get graded that day, the world won’t end. Stand up for myself and say “Hey! Lay off!” Nurture the friendships I’ve built over these last couple of years. Take a bit more care with my moolah so there won’t be regret with that later in life when I’ll be looking into what old folks home I want to spend my golden years in. And not be scared to be happy…whatever that happy may look like.

But one thing I don’t regret? Starting this blog, getting to know all of you, and making some pretty awesome friends along the way. Thanks, peeps.

Kristi xoxo

Good Lord, I wanted Billy Ray’s hair so badly (along with a few other ‘things’ too😳) !

“I really want to tell you I’m sorry.” ~ David Foster (Chicago)

So, I love to peruse TedTalks and various websites like psychologytoday and PsychCentral and read as much as I can in terms of new topics, issues, ideas, and what-not. In other words, I’m a nerd (and actually, I’m OK with that! 🤓).

Anyhoot, I came across a Ted video with sociologist Maja Jovanovic (author of ‘Hey Ladies, Stop Apologizing and Other Career Mistakes Women Make’) who talks about how women apologize way too much and the consequences of it. When I saw the description I immediately watched…twice. It was scary how much I saw myself in what she was saying in terms of needlessly apologizing. Dr. Jovanovic is a self-proclaimed ‘apology hater’ and I think she drew me into this mindset…I’m now one too. 🙂

I was amazed that as I watched this video (and read the transcript a few times too) I thought about how often I say the word ‘sorry’ everyday. Of course there are real sorry’s that need to be said for actual things I’ve done wrong, and believe me, there’s a lot of ’em. But, the ‘unnecessary apologies’ need to go. I say sorry for everything: someone bumps me and I say “I’m sorry”, a waiter forgets my ranch (which I put on everything) and I say “I’m sorry…I think you forgot my ranch”, I need more info from a salesperson and I say “I’m sorry to bother you, but I have a question”, and someone does something wrong to me and I say “I’m sorry I’m so upset about this.”

Hmmmm. Why do I feel the need to say “I’m sorry” when I’m the bumpee…not the bumper? Why do I say it when it’s the waiter who made the mistake? Why is it I preface a question to someone whose job is to answer them with “I’m sorry”? And why in the hell would I apologize to some boob who hurt me? Shouldn’t that be the other way around? So my answer to why I say sorry so much? I have no freaking idea 🙄.

Dr. Jovanovic talks about a conference she attended that included a panel discussion with 4 professional, educated women who had published numerous articles and books. She says that even when introducing themselves, each one minimized their accomplishments and discounted their expertise while using an apologetic tone. Dr. Jovanovic also noticed that the men at the conference never did. She believes that for women, “Apologies have become our habitual way of communicating.” And after all I’ve read, I agree wholeheartedly.

Sharon Martin, MSW, LCSW and author of books about Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (I just ordered her CBT book for Perfectionism 🤨) has also talked about over-apologizing and why we do it. Let’s take a look-see at these reasons (in my own words):

  • I think most women feel they have to be nice and polite and capitulate to things that they might not want or agree with in the first place – in other words, many of us want to be people pleasers. I can see myself in this one…a LOT! It’s kind of like “Everyone Loves Raymond” where I have this need for everyone to like me as well. This has caused me to do things I really didn’t want to do simply because I didn’t want to upset the person. Disappoint them. Hmmmm. Writing this makes me realize how much power I give away (all of it at times😳) simply to keep the peace.
  • Low self-esteem is another reason and because of this there’s worry that you are in the wrong. That it really is your fault you have a naked salad sitting in front of you. We don’t want to be difficult or ask for too much or to be seen as unreasonable. In other words, we don’t deserve to NOT take the blame. Yeesh. You know, my self-esteem is pretty darn good but it’s taken me quite a while to build it up these past few years; however, self-esteem is also contextual: I’m at a 100 in my classroom in terms of how I see myself, but in relationships? I tend to dip down to around the 60 mark based on negative experiences I’ve had and the fact I undoubtedly received the blame for them. In other words, I’m a ‘D’ in this case. Charmed, I’m sure.
  • Feeling inadequate because of perfectionistic standards is a sure way to never feel like you’re enough or have done things well, so it makes sense that those of us in this category feel we need to apologize simply because we aren’t living up to the unreasonable standards we have set. This is a toughie.
  • Feeling uncomfortable or insecure can often make us blurt out an apology because there’s nothing else we can think of saying. I think this is a common one for a lot of us.
  • Often times we make ourselves responsible for someone else’s bad: “I’m so sorry they did that…I’ll ask them not to again.” Why isn’t the actual person doing the apologizing? Why in the world do we take on the burden of someone else’s faux pas? It is that we can’t see ourselves as individuals in the relationship…not enough differentiation? Or is apologizing for someone else a strategy to have the person be seen in the best light by others? “I’m sorry…they are just upset but are usually so calm.” I’m so guilty of doing this myself! 🙄
  • And, the apologizing can become habitual and I know that often the words just pop out of my mouth before I’ve even really processed the situation. It’s like I’m on automatic pilot.

Larry Weidel, author of ‘Serial Winning’ states there are things out there that you simply don’t have to apologize for. I’m trying to keep these in mind so I can be more consciously aware of why I might feel the need to apologize in order to determine whether it’s warranted or not. I also think that knowing these helps break that apology habit so many of us are locked into. Let’s take a look-see at a few of these non-apology situations:

  • Wanting more and being disciplined in how we are living our life – I’ve had men who have told me “You are so set in your ways with how you do things.” And I always apologized…but for what? For organizing my life in a way that suits me? For having preferences for how I like things done? Seems to me everyone does that.
  • Our own failures – “I’m sorry…it’s my fault I still haven’t been voted faculty of the year for the 25th year in a row that I’ve been nominated. My bad.” Ugh.
  • Saying NO (which is VERY hard for me…every time I say no to something I end up apologizing regardless 🤨)
  • Our beliefs, opinions, and priorities – why in the world do I tend to preface my opinion with ‘I’m sorry…’? It’s MY opinion…nothing to apologize for after all.
  • Trusting our instincts – I go with my guy every time. No more sorries for that since I’ve never been let down by it…yet. (Except when it comes to choosing men…that gut instinct must be broken…right ma?😬).
  • Telling the truth – Wow. As I was typing this, I suddenly thought of all of the times I’ve told the truth about a situation, truthfully shared my own feelings, or shared my truest thoughts and have been chastised (or worse) for it. Hmmm. In fact, not long ago someone who did some pretty horrible things to me came by my house and I asked them for an apology before I could try to at least establish peace between us. They BLEW up at me and cussed me up one side and down the other. I ended up apologizing for wanting an apology that was completely justified. AAAGGGHHH!
  • Being ourselves – Terri and I were talking about this yesterday at my house and I shared this with her: one of my colleagues came to my new office the other day (it rocks! 🙂) and literally said this to me: “Kristi, you are too loud and get too excited here. I’ve heard you down the hall and don’t like it.” So, I said ‘I’m sorry.’ BUT WAIT! I’m apologizing for being excited at work? For being happy to see my students? Because I love love love teaching and refuse to speak in a monotone that would put the Pope to sleep?
  • Following our Hearts – been there…done that. But it’s MY decision. MY heart. MY want. And…my consequences. Right?

So, I’m going to try to be much more aware of my apologies and try to break this habit which Dr. Jovanovic says can make women appear smaller and more timid than we really are, all while undercutting our confidence. I’m going to start stating my opinions/wants/beliefs in a straightforward way without an “I’m sorry” after it. I want to work on my ‘people pleasing’ and recognize when I’m simply ‘bowing down’ to this person to keep things ‘nice’. I want to work on my ideas of perfection and not apologize for anything that’s not perfect. And now that I’ve read through this, I think that’s plenty for me to tackle right now.

One more thing: I’m sorry this post is so long. 🤓🤓🤓

Kristi xoxo

This song ALWAYS made me cry when I was in high school. Always! And yes, I wanted to marry David Foster. 🙂

“We will only talk of peace when we have won the war.” Hitler, 1939

From Newsday

So, like all of you no matter where you are, my eyes are on Ukraine. It’s unimaginable what the Ukrainians are going through…literally unimaginable. Empathy is the ability to understand and be able to share the feelings someone else is experiencing but how can we do that when the people of Ukraine are experiencing something that is so out of the realm of comprehension? It’s impossible to even try to put ourselves in their shoes. A young woman was interviewed the other day after her apartment complex was destroyed and said this: “One day I was taking care of my kids and going to work and spending time with my husband. Today, I’m digging my life out of rubble, my husband is fighting in the streets, my children are terrified and I fear for their lives, and we’re living in a basement of another building which could be hit any minute.” There are no words.

Of course this all centers around Putin and since I teach Psychology and Sociology, my students and I have been discussing not only the war itself but the why’s behind why Putin would do such despicable acts. Examples? Before the invasion of Mariupol, about 600 Ukrainians had been killed but 2500 have been added to that list in the last couple of days. Eighteen hospitals have been bombed including a maternity hospital and right now, a hospital in Mariupol has been taken over by Russian troops and 500 doctors and patients are being held in the basement of the partially bombed building in which the ICU was targeted. Further, at least 85 kids have been killed in this war and over 100 wounded. I know the word evil is greatly overused in our society but Putin is evil. I believe he’s the most evil tyrant since Hitler and the comparison between him and Putin in what’s happening now is horrifying.

The ‘why’s’ that my students ask are impossible to answer…no one knows what’s going on this man’s head. However the ‘what’ of Putin is very easy to grasp: he’s a psychopath. This isn’t based on my own opinion or that of the many pundits that agree, but on the Hare Psychopathy Checklist (revised) which is the leading tool we use to determine this in people. Let’s take a look at the characteristics of a psychopath and what Putin shows (I combined some of the traits):

  • Glibness/Superficial Charm: Putin being filmed fishing, riding horseback shirtless, driving a Formula 1 race car, and playing hockey show this ‘charm’ and his glibness shines through with every insincere comment he makes.
  • Grandiose Sense of Self-Worth – I don’t think this one need illustrated. At all.
  • Proneness to Boredom and Low Frustration Tolerance – once again, the activities already listed plus daily swimming, weightlifting, hand gliding, being an advanced black belt in Judo, using a crossbow to kill an endangered grey whale, and the list goes on. Lots of stimulation there.
  • Pathological Lying – “Yes, there will be a cease fire.” ” “No, we haven’t targeted civilians.” “Kids have not died.” “We’ll open a corridor for evacuees.” and these are just from the last 2 weeks.
  • Conning (Manipulative) and Lack of Sincerity– silencing all news outlets in Russia and bombarding the people with propagation is only 1 example of thousands.
  • Lack of Remorse or Guilt – Wow. Yes.
  • Lack of Affect and Emotional Depth – Putin’s face rarely shows emotion, even when talking about his ‘own people’ being killed.
  • Callous/Lack of Empathy – Killing children? Bombing maternity hospitals? Displacing millions of people from their homes? Attacking apartments where families live? Hmmm.
  • Parasitic Lifestyle – This is one that’s hard to determine since it’s usually meant to be one person (the parasite) using another (the host) for anything they desire. Maybe Putin isn’t this on a personal scale, but he does feed off the people he rules.
  • Lack of Remorse or Guilt – a given
  • Short-Tempered and Poor Behavioral Control – can’t stop killing children? Threatening nuclear war?
  • Frequent Marital Relationships   – Putin was married to his ex-wife for 31 years so this is a no.
  • History of Early Behavioral Problems and Juvenile Delinquency  – Putin was born into poverty and lived with his parents in a single room in an apartment with 2 other families and had no hot water, little if any heat, and scarce food. He was basically left to fend for himself (and was possibly adopted by another family around 9 or 10) while his parents worked, and was bullied severely until he learned to defend himself which he did often and ferociously. Needing to prove himself was learned very early in his life.
  • Lack of Realistic, Long Term Plans – taking over the world, which is what many say his final goal is, is unrealistic. I hope.
  • Impulsivity / Irresponsibility – oh yeah
  • Many Types of Offense – invading countries, killing off political dissidents, committing war crimes again and again, working for the KGB and doing what are undoubtedly horrific things, and the list goes on. And on and on.
  • Revocation of Conditional Release – another one we can say no too.

In terms of determining psychopathy, each of these characteristics is given a score from 0-2 and people with psychopathy score a 30. Criminal offenders average 22 and the general population is 5.  And, a “prototypical” psychopath would receive a maximum score of 40 and there’s no doubt Putin scores this. The top.

A control brain and Dr. Fallon’s brain.

So what causes psychopathy? James Fallon, neuroscientist extraordinaire, is a man who thought nature was everything in this development and to prove this, he studied the brains of psychopaths and found astonishing differences in brain physiology as compared with non-psychopaths. However, he came to realize the importance of nurture in terms of how these inborn traits are played out when he scanned his own brain and found it to be that of a psychopath. He talks about how this reveals itself in his life in terms of lack of empathy (he has ‘cognitive’ empathy), how difficult it is for him to be close to people, how he wants people in his world for the attention/adulation, and how he’s always on the ‘make’. However, he has no criminal tendencies which he states are because his early environment was loving, stable, nurturing etc. So psychopathology begins in the brain but how it’s expressed is definitely based on environmental influences. Seeing the early years of Putin show the trigger that enhanced these traits, including the criminality, to their fullest. In other words, nature gives the psychopathy and nurture determines how and what is expressed with it.

How can those of us without psychopathy understand Putin? We can’t. We simply can’t get in the head of someone whose brain is dark and evil with absolutely no conscience at all. And that’s what makes him frightening.

I’ve heard so many people say “He’ll back down. He’s all talk.” Really? A psychopath will just ‘back down?’ Capitulate to what’s asked of him? Stop what he started and take blame for it? Make amends? Promise to never do it again. Right now there is info that peace talks show promise. I don’t believe anything this man says…pathological lying is such a trademark of psychopathy (and narcissism which Putin has in spades) that nothing can be taken at face value. Nothing.

From The New York Times

I don’t think he will stop this war unless he’s under attack himself. After all, he’s the most important man on the planet…in his mind (and right now, maybe it’s true). It’s simple machiavellianism: the ends justify the means no matter what the means are. Gaining back the lands that were once a part of the Soviet Union is what Putin’s end-game apparently is…and the means to accomplish this can be anything and everything just for the win. So, he’s understandable in terms of ‘what’ he has. But his behavior is so beyond what we can even imagine in terms of the essence of humanity that we’ll never truly understand.

I don’t know what’s going to happen next but I do know that we’re all in danger. Everyone. He’s purposely targeting civilians and kids to force NATO to go against him. It’s a bully saying “Cross this line…I dare you.” And eventually we have learned that the only way to take down a bully is to be stronger than they are. This was a lesson learned in terms of Hitler, albeit a horrible lesson that killed so many across the world.

From hindustannewshub.com – Volodymyr Zelensky is a hero.

In fact, a video meeting with congress and Vladimir Zelensky just ended and he asked for US and NATO support. He reminded Congress that after Hitler invaded Poland in 1939, France and Great Britain declared war and the US followed suit in 1941. He stated that the severity of the Ukraine invasion is parallel to the invasion of Poland.

I pray another World War doesn’t happen again. I pray that Ukrainians be free of these atrocities. I pray that all those in Russia who are against this war are heard. I pray that our young men and women won’t face a war that could potentially destroy countries with the push of a button…which I have no doubts Putin would do. I pray for peace. And lastly, I pray for us all.

Take care, peeps.

Kristi xoxo

                                                                     

                                                 

                                                             

                                                                                       

“This is our life, this is our song” ~ Twisted Sister

So, I absolutely hate not having time to blog! You know, I love that you readers are spending time with me and reading my stuff but honestly, I actually do this for myself as well. Sometimes probably more so than others (see…I’m not lying…I don’t want my already point nose to grow anymore than it currently is 😳). For me, writing is therapeutic and let’s me work through things that I’m mulling or feeling or experiencing. When I try to keep a personal journal, I’m all gung ho for the first 2 days and then nothing. Writing here kind of keeps me doing it since ma likes reading these while consuming her quarter cup of Grapenuts but doesn’t open this until the Jumble and Wordle puzzles in the newspaper have been solved. I know where I stand.

Anyhoot, I get articles from PsychCentral delivered to my inbox and one came through the other day entitled: “Bipolar Eyes: Myth or Fact” and I was intrigued (took me 4 tries to spell that right 😐). I had absolutely no idea there was research confirming that those with bipolar actually have eyes with unique physiological features. I went to the actual scientific study to read more but after terms like ” inner plexiform layer” and “peripapillary RNFL thickness was reduced in all temporal sectors (P < 0.005)” I went with the summary from PC.

Apparently, these changes include:

  • Pupils tend to dilate during times of emotional arousal during both unusually high or low moods. This dilation can cause more sensitivity to light and that is usually during a manic episode.
    • This happens to me! I usually am pretty manic in the summer and last year was a doozie (it was BL – before Lamotragine). Working in the sun was causing me some headaches which are rare for me and I could feel myself squinting more and more despite having clip-on sunglasses (🤓). However, the other downside to this is my squint wrinkles are deepening.
  • The excitement from a manic episode might cause the eyes to look more ‘energetic’ or even wider.
    • Ma has said this to me so many times! Last summer she kept asking me if I was ok since she saw more and more rooms painted everyday when she stopped by (ma lives 2 miles from me and 8 from Terri…Terri is the smart one – and the pretty one 😎 ). I’d tell her I was fine because she worries enough about me and sissy…and I put her through hell 4 years ago. Anyways, when I would say “Ma, I swear on my original sociology text that I’m OK” she’d look at my eyes and say “Bullshit.” Yes, ma has a mouth on her. That’s where me and Terri get it.
  • Bipolar impacts eye movement and there’s slower reaction times in these during a depression. It also affects ‘vergence movements’ which allows for depth perception since the eyes are moving toward and away from things.
    • Well…this would have been keen to know since I was scampering around on my roof last summer while my neighbors laughed and took pics of me. 😬
  • Research is also showing that it’s more difficult for someone with bipolar to discern different colors. This is said to be due to thinning retinas and the rods and cones (something I know absolutely nothing about 😐).
    • This is so weird: The other day, I took down a plant hanger from my kitchen wall and patched the holes. I didn’t have any left over paint to touch it up so I took some of my cabinet paint…which is very similar…and doctored it up with some black, white, and any other color I thought would work just to make it a tad darker and a tad bluer. I was convinced it was a perfect match when I looked at my finished product. But when I used it, it was very very BRIGHT BLUE when I needed a soft BLUE GRAY. Now I know why!

When I read through all of this, I was amazed because I do complain about my eyes at times. Some researchers are saying that by looking at some of the physiology of the eye could help determine if that person has a higher chance of developing bipolar. Wow.

After reading all of this fodder-all, I searched for more physiological differences in terms of bipolar and found this in TechnologyNetwork: “In the largest MRI study to date on patients with bipolar disorder, a global consortium published new research showing that people with the condition have differences in the brain regions that control inhibition and emotion.”

I also found this from Pronhorpsych: Studies have shown that bipolar disorder reduces the amount of gray matter in your brain which affects processing info, thoughts and feelings; controlling impulses and sensory info; and regulating motor skills. The authors of the article state this: “This may explain why manic episodes often seem impulsive, careless, and thoughtless. Less gray matter might also lead to feelings of sluggishness and frustration, as well as trouble doing simple tasks when you have a depressive bipolar episode.” Charmed, I’m sure.

And genes play such a role:  “Research has identified 64 regions of the genome that are associated with an increased risk of bipolar disorder which is more than double the number of genes previously identified.” (Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology News). This explains why we see it passed down throughout generations.

Finally, Frontiers in Psychology report that those with bipolar tend to have an attraction for negative emotions and focus more on threatening images than positive ones. You know, I like to think of myself as being a positive person and I really am with others. But, often times when I’m alone I do ruminate over negative things I’ve done or seen or have experienced. Maybe that’s why I sometimes hold on to anger more than I need too. Hmmmmm.

So, ya’ll are probably yawning now (like some of my students 😦) but all of this info that I slugged through did something very powerful for me: it validated that my emotion, behavior, impulses and struggles are real. Really real. Not just me ‘acting up’ or ‘allowing myself to get so down’ or ‘being way too out-there.’ It’s the disease (the term used by many researchers) that’s affecting my life. My way of being. My actions. I take meds to counter-act this and for stabilization but no medicine can take all of this away. No medicine can change brain structure or genetic make-up.

But this information can maybe change the stigma that’s associated with bipolar and other mental disorders. Just understanding what underlies bipolar and then the physiological underpinnings of other disorders such as depression and anxiety can maybe help people look at ‘us’ through a different lens. A lens that recognizes that who we are is greatly affected by what we have. No one asks for mental illness. You’d be a fool if you did. The fault lies in our brain, not personal weakness. And you know, my realization of these things normalizes my condition in my eyes. I hope this lessens how hard I am on myself. How guilty I feel when I’m cycling. How less than I feel as a person.

And more than anything, I hope it changes how all mental illnesses are seen. As ‘real’ illnesses that need to be treated as such and not to be ashamed of.

Kristi xoxo

P.S. Best 80’s video ever! 😉

“Why you gotta be so mean?” ~ Taylor Swift

So, a cliché is an expression that may have been original and but has lost its novelty because of being overused. Examples? “You win some…you lose some.” or “Every cloud has a silver lining.” or “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” (you know, this one really sucks…I’ll either die or get strong…hmmm 😬). You get the drift.

Anyhoot, I was thinking about the cliché yesterday that says “Haters gonna hate” and thought that some of these sayings are valid and very very true.

When I was with J, I was a freaking hot mess. After his first round of ‘indiscretion’ (isn’t that a nice synonym to use? 😐), I started to go down a trajectory into a breakdown (there were a LOT of other factors that fed into this). During this time I had who I considered a really good friend. We talked a lot and got each other little things and I’d go to her house on occasion. When J stopped seeing me for a period of time, she was very supportive and was a shoulder to lean on. I appreciated it so so much. But, when I chose to go back to him she was enraged and from that point on, never spoke to me again.

Anyway, she is someone I work with at the college and yesterday, as I was coming out of my office to traipse down to my classroom, she came out of a bathroom and was on her way down the hall. When she spotted me, she turned around and went back into the bathroom in order to avoid walking by me or seeing my masked face. 😷

I’m not going to lie to you…it hurt. It really did. I texted Terri and she said exactly the right thing to me…but I better not repeat it here or ma will have a conniption fit. Let’s just leave it there! But I still stewed over it all day because I’m the type of person who wants everyone to like me. Silly and unreasonable, huh?

But being hated to the point of such blatant avoidance of me…by someone who I truly cared for…is something I’ve never experienced before. And honestly, something I don’t know I deserve. I wasn’t myself during that time. I was a broken down, un-stabilized, defeated person who needed help so badly. Not to be turned away. I’d like to think I wouldn’t have done the same but you never know… the whole “NOT ME” syndrome.

Have I ever felt hate? You better believe I have…and do. Ma’s fucking (sorry, ma 😳) bastard of an ex-husband is #1 on my list and I doubt I’ll ever lose this regarding him. So, I understand the feeling…and I understand we’re all capable of it. But I also understand this: it’s something that isn’t just projected onto the targeted person, but affects yourself as well.

I hate (!) the fact that I carry hate for this man. I hate that he triggered something in my heart that caused this loathing because it becomes a part of you. And when we go back to the cliché “Haters gonna hate” it’s almost like the hatred can spread. That if you start hating one thing…you’ll start hating more. Did you know that when you express an emotion, it amplifies that emotion? Like when I use my punching bag to take stress out on. I start with some little punches but then get fueled up and beat the shit out of that bag (which actually is a bit impressive! 😎) Hate becomes a dark space in yourself that you’re forced to recognize . And it makes me wonder how much it could grow.

We see it so much now in our society. It’s almost like we have this polarization of how we see people and issues: we either love ’em or we hate ’em. There’s often no in-between. Think about the Trump – Biden election. If that doesn’t show love or hate, I don’t know what does.

So, what are some clichés that I think are valid to live by? That I really consciously want to live by? Hmmmm…

“Treat others like you treat yourself” is one. I think I haven’t always done this because I haven’t always treated myself well. I know ma and Terri have taken the brunt of this at times and I know I’ve been rude and selfish to others. It’s kinda like the cliché that says “You can’t love another if you don’t love yourself.” I tend to think that’s true.

Another one I want to make sure I put effort into? “Be kind.” Just 2 words…and little ones at that. But the power behind them? HUGE. Maybe this includes smiling more at people (our IL mask mandate is officially lifted in a couple of days so I’ll actually be able to ‘smile out loud’! 😊) or saying ‘hello’ or asking about someone’s day and actually listening and empathizing. Maybe it’s about looking people in the eye and really seeing them…or asking people in your life if they need anything. And maybe all of this stems from being kind to ourselves where we know our hearts and perspectives and beliefs. Understanding these might help us to understand someone else’s situation or perspective which can help us to be kind because of it.

You know, as I write this I’m thinking that it’s really kind of easy to hate, isn’t it? But is it easy to be kind? Compassionate? Just plain ole’ nice? It doesn’t seem so. It seems to be something we have to consciously focus on and nurture and remember. It’s also a reminder that when we’re not kind because we’re having a sucky day or what-not, we need to apologize. Part of me thought about sending my hater (and I’m sure I have more out there…hopefully they’ll stay hidden 😐) a card thanking her for what she did for me and apologizing for my decisions. But then I waver and wonder what is it I’m actually apologizing for? Being human? Making a mistake that I took the brunt of? Not doing what someone else expected me to do?

We all do these things, don’t we? Making mistakes that have tentacles that touch others. But really, it’s how we learn and grow and re-build ourselves over and over again, isn’t it? I don’t believe people deserve “hate” for that. Maybe disappointment. Frustration. Anger. But in the end, I think most of us just deserve understanding.

Kristi xoxo

‘Cause it makes me that much stronger’ ~ Christina Aguilera

So, this has been such a BUSY semester and I hate that I’m not blogging! I’m re-vamping all of my online classes along with videoing (is that a word? 😳) full lectures for each chapter in depth. It’s a crap load of work but worth it…the students are giving me some great feedback. Yea! (However I will admit this: I do my hair before that webcam goes on and when I’m recording, I do my best to channel Katie Couric 😃).

Anyhoot, another project that’s keeping me busy is that I’m a team lead in bringing the JED program to our campus! This non-profit works with high schools and colleges in helping them recognize the specific needs of the school and students and then helping them implement mental health resources and such. We need it so bad on our campus…so many students come to me to talk about their depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues and just today, a student talked to me about the time she attempted suicide. Our teens are really suffering right now and I worry about them.

Why are they struggling so much right now? According to The Light Program: “…there are multiple factors involved, including pressure to succeed in academics, financial stress, uncertainty about which major or career path to choose, increased social media use, and less stigma around seeking help.” In terms of the reduced stigma (which is still not where it should be 😐), it may be that students have always had these issues but are now feeling more open about seeking help for them. Hmmmmm.

The Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds says that the mental health among college students is a crisis and backs up this claim with reporting this:

  • Almost half of college students had a psychiatric disorder in the past year
  • 73% of students experience some sort of mental health crisis during college
  • Almost 1/3 of college students report having felt so depressed that they had trouble functioning
  • Mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, eating disorders and substance use are associated with lower GPA and higher probability of dropping out of college
  • More than 80% of college students felt overwhelmed by all they had to do in the past year and 45% have felt things were hopeless
  • 20% of female students report sexual assault or threatened sexual assault according to the Center for Disease Control
  • Only 25% of students with a mental health problem seek help

In addition they state that there is a tremendous lack of services in colleges and universities with the ratio of certified counselors to students overall being about 1:1000 – 2000 for small to moderate size schools.

At any rate, research has recognized the 5 biggest mental health challenges that college students face and having the resources in place to help address these is needed so badly. (In fact, studies clearly show that these issues greatly affects student success).

  • Depression: the American College Health Association found that 40% of students experienced at least 1 depressive episode during the 2018 school year and this was pre-pandemic. We know depression is even more of an issue now. In addition, severe depression rates have doubled in college students between 2007-2018.
  • Anxiety: A study from Pennsylvania State University (I know a GREAT blogger from Pennsylvania 😃) published a study in 2016 that found 61% of survey respondents (100,000 of them!) said anxiety was a ‘leading student mental health issue.’ In fact, The American College Health Association’s (ACHA) 2015 Finally, the National College Health Assessment survey, reported that nearly one in six college students (15.8%) had been diagnosed with, or treated for, anxiety. The same survey found that 21.9% of students said that within the last 12 months, anxiety had affected their academic performance, defined as receiving a lower grade on an exam or important project, receiving an incomplete, or dropping a course.
  • Eating Disorders: Sadly, the National Eating Disorders Association reports that 10-20% of female college students and 4-10% of males have an eating disorder which can include anorexia nervosa, bulimia and binge eating. In fact, anorexia is the most deadly psychiatric diagnosis with a mortality rate of 5.86 which means those who suffer from it have almost a 6x greater chance of dying (both suicide and physical issues stemming from the self-imposed starvation) than others in the general population.
  • Addiction: Stats from 2019 show that alcohol plays a leading role in the more than 1,500 annual deaths on college campuses. 35% of students have or do binge drink and 25% abuse other drugs including prescription painkillers, cocaine and ecstasy.
  • Suicide: this is the 2nd leading cause of death among college students and the suicide rate among people 10 to 24 rose 57% from 2007 to 2018 (CDC). Around 11% of college age respondents in a June, 2020 study  said they had seriously considered suicide over the past 30  days with people aged 18 to 24 being significantly more likely to  report this and 25.5% said they had seriously  considered suicide. That’s 1:4 of our young people having considered suicide. Honestly? That scares the shit out of me.

So what’s my point? I believe college’s number 1 job is education and that’s what I do…teach my curriculum as best I can. BUT I also believe that in order to ensure student success in terms of academics, we need to address these mental health issues as well.

You know, when I was struggling so much 4 years ago and had a break-down, I could barely function. Luckily, the worst time was in the summer and my online classes are always completely ready to go when a semester begins. I have all of the work, lectures, etc. posted as well as the modules I use set up to open and close automatically each week. In other words, they pretty much run themselves in terms of the nuts and bolts and I spend my time grading, communicating, discussing, etc. I was able to get by that summer…although I know I wasn’t at my best by any means. And now? Despite the stability I enjoy, I still have issues with having bipolar everyday. No medication is going to ‘erase’ this brain illness: I still have ups and downs (and am in a bit of a depression right now for various reasons 😕), still have to force an effort to be the Professor K I’m expected to be each day, still have heightened emotions that are just part and parcel of bipolar, still ruminate over things and beat myself up easily, and the list goes on (and on and on…charming).

Students and their ability to work and function is the same. Had someone reached out to me in college and recognized what I was refusing to address in the way I needed too, my life could have been very different. Actually, I think that even with no resources offered at that time, just being ‘seen’ for who I was and what I had would have been a relief. A validation. Someone outside of ma or pop who would have said “What you’re dealing with is important to me and I’m concerned” and validating my struggle.”

All of us want to be seen. All of us want to be heard. Not everyone struggling needs intervention…after all, doesn’t everyone struggle at various times in their lives? However, we all need to feel support and know that no matter what, there is a place that we matter. For so many students that I see everyday, that somewhere is here. On my campus. And it’s up to us to make sure we are ready for that task.

Kristi xoxo

“Lean on Me” ~ Bill Withers

Dear Terri,

So, I know you don’t get quite as mushy as I do, but bear with me because I promise to make this as painless as possible! Anyhoot, I don’t know if you realize this but you are a great sister to me and always have been…right from the start.

Remember when I couldn’t talk at first before I spent a few years with the Speech Pathologist and no one could understand me well…including ma and pop? The thing is that you always could; so from the very beginning you had to help me by being my translator and my voice. I wonder why you could get my words when others couldn’t? Maybe because it’s just a ‘sister’ thing? Or maybe because as much as we’re different, we’re so similar too (except in the ‘chest’ department where you were blessed more than me 🤨)?

There’s that arm!

Almost every single picture I have of us as kids, you have your arm around me. Not just casual like, but grippy…possessive…like you were broadcasting to everyone that not only were you my big sis (remember, you are significantly older than me 😐) but my protector too. And you had a job with that, huh? Both of us were bullied in elementary school…especially by that kid ‘B’ who would not only taunt us at school but also follow us home while making our lives hellish for that 2 block walk. But honestly, you remember that better than I do because you shielded me from so much of it. You took the majority of the bullying and pushed me aside. That was such a selfless thing to do, particularly for a kid whose instinct is often to protect themselves first.

I loved it when we would go to gramma and grampas. Getting on the floor with gramma while playing triple solitaire and squawking when we beat her. Running errands with her in the VW bug and arguing over who got to sit in front. I know…I won most of the time since I got carsick so easily. It was either win or have you see me puke. I honestly think you dodged a bullet in that case. And then we’d spend the night and grampa would make us something special and always had teen magazines for us to read. I think we both felt so cozy and loved and sharing those memories of all 4 of us together makes me smile every time. They both would be so so proud of you for the grandma you are today and your grandkids are just as lucky to have you as we were to have our own.

Thanks for the fashionable dresses, ma.

Did you know I started getting jealous of you when you hit Jr. High? You got to go to a HUGE school and have a locker and have more than 1 teacher and ride the bus (which come to find out sucked balls😬 ) and then the best part: go to dances and get calls from boys and have secrets behind closed doors with your best friends. I wanted to be a part of that so badly! And, you were beautiful too! I know you’re shaking your head or rolling your eyes or retching right now, but I’m being honest. You were…and still are! Being the first to try make-up made me long to be older and acting as the guinea pig for your hair styling skills was fun…but to a point. That damn nozzle on your hairdryer would whack me in the nose everytime…and I know it wasn’t YOUR fault…it was the dryer itself…right (🙄)? You know, I just realized that may have been the cause of my deviated septum, and not the broken nose I had years ago. Hmmmmm…

(Did you know I saved all of the letters you wrote to me when I was at summer camp those 2 summers? I saved every one!) 🧡

I loved talking to your boyfriends and even keeping them company while you finished getting ready for dates. I remember when Ben and you were an item and had an argument: he called and I was so pissed he was fighting with you that I yelled at him and called him a ‘hoodlum’…the worst word I could think of at the time. You were gobsmacked I’d do this but here’s why: it was my turn to stand up for you! And a secret? I always had a HUGE crush on Jack. HUGE! I pictured you dumping him and then him looking at me, scooping me up, and carrying me off into the sunset like a prince. A prince in a cowboy hat no less. Did it matter that I was 12 and he was 16? Nope. I figured that would work itself out in time.

And for a couple of years, I was your voice too! Calling into the high school, pretending to be ma, and telling the secretary you were too sick for classes that day. How I wanted to play hooky with you and your friends! When I’d be sitting through yet another lesson on biology which I had absolutely no chance of understanding, I’d wonder what you guys were doing. Make overs? Talking about boys? Sneaking a smoke? Exciting stuff to a younger sister!

You and your cute boys!

When you got married and left home, I missed you so much. The house seemed so empty. It was just ma and me and the vibe changed…the energy. That’s because you had brought it in. But it was exciting when A was born and I was an aunt. I could finally drive and loved visiting you in the country and playing with him. I can still see him on the walkway to your front door, riding his trike with his curly blonde curls bobbing up and down. Then when D was born and I was a bit older, I finally was comfortable changing his diapers and taking more care of him…that was so much fun for me and gave me the even bigger desire I had to be a mom myself. You are a great one.

Does this all sound too Pollyanna-ish up to this point? Like we never fought? Of course but these good memories stick out much better than the bad.

Showoff!

We fought like cats and dogs sometimes…we said things we didn’t mean…we did things we shouldn’t have to one another…and we sometimes couldn’t stand each other and made that clear. In other words, we were sisters. And yes, this sometimes still happens. But we always work through whatever it is and come out stronger on the other side. It makes these fights worth it just for that. BTW, the maddest I’ve ever been at you in my life was when you won the twisted balloons at the Mueller Christmas Party and you REFUSED to let me wear them. It still gets me going. 😬

I know you hear a lot about me being bipolar, especially since you read this and hear me talk about it with others. But I also know you battle so much with your own disorders too…after all, mental illness runs in our family and were both blessed to continue the tradition. Charmed, I’m sure.

The anxiety and depression you experience is horrible and I know your life has been affected by it in so many ways. We didn’t know much about mental illness when we were kids/teens…it just wasn’t talked about or recognized in younger kids. But our struggles were real…even if not always validated. I know these issues can cripple you at times and when they do and you reach out, I often don’t know what to say…because there’s no words that can truly help. It makes me feel powerless to protect you from this like you used to protect me from things. So we both listen to each other…commiserate with one another…and know that no matter what or when, we’re both there to listen. No matter what.

I know you’re hard on yourself for having anxiety and depression…in fact, we were talking about it this week. You said how you feel guilty for letting your grandkids see it…that you want to be ‘perfect’ like gramma and grampa were to us. But the thing is, you are. Your sweeties love you like no other and here’s what you’re teaching them by being who you are: that it’s ok to struggle…ok to express feelings…ok to say you need help. In other words, you are providing the example that being perfect isn’t possible, but being honest and true to yourself is. Think about how valuable of a lesson that truly is.

And today? You are still protecting me. Still keeping me in your grip. Still standing up for me and believing in me and loving me. In other words, you are still the sister I’m so blessed to have and my life would have been so lonely without you. I know this is getting long…and starting to get mushy…so I’ll stop here. But, just know that I love you. YOU. Imperfect, mentally ill, emotional YOU. Because just like you see the real me…I see the real you. And the vision that I see is wonderful.

Kristi xoxo

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