Migraines. And depression. And broken feet. And anxiety.

Basically, being really sick but not appearing to be really sick and then feeling guilty for feeling sick but not looking sick and then feeling judged even if no one is judging but sometimes people actually are and...ugh.

A few years ago I had surgery to correct my left foot. The surgery required breaking my foot in half, cutting some tendons and then sewing it all back together again. Kind of a big deal for a foot. Shortly after my surgery, I went to the grocery store, put my crutches in the cart and tried to tough it out with a kind of hop-hop-push dance. After 20 minutes, I was exhausted. So the next time I went to the grocery store, I went with a friend and I used the little electric riding cart that they so graciously provide. I thought it was kind of funny, so I laughed a lot. And people stared. Like...HARD stares. As though maybe I didn't deserve to use the electric riding cart. After all, it wasn't really obvious that my foot was broken. And besides, if my foot was broken so badly that I couldn't use it, what was I so happy about? It got so bad that I just started responding to the hard stares with, "my foot is broken. I know you can't tell, but my foot is actually broken. ha. hee. hee." awkward silence. ride away. feel shame. repeat.

This week, I have had 3 migraines. Unlike a broken foot, I cannot show you an x-ray of my migraines. Or a lump where they put in some screws and a plate. You can't touch a lumpy spot on my head to feel where the migraine is. The only way that you might be able to tell that I have a migraine is by me not being where I'm supposed to be because I can't move, or, if I can move and you see me, I'm kind of squinting and swaying and maybe I look really pale.

Or green. I might look green.

My doctors had me keep a food/weather/exercise/everything under the sun diary for about 30 days so we could try to pinpoint the triggers for my migraines. We couldn't really figure it out. I mean, we figured out that I have 3 partial triggers, which means I have 3 things that will trigger a migraine but only if some other factor is in play and nobody is quite sure what those other factors are. So... some mystery factor paired with weather, hormones or alcohol will trigger a migraine. But if the mystery factor is absent, then those three things probably won't trigger anything. Maybe. We're not completely sure.

So here's where depression and anxiety come in. First, if I get a migraine and I had plans, I feel guilty. I feel like I should suck it up. Just hop-hop-push through my day. But I can't really stand-up and move around with a migraine, so that's not super realistic. Luckily, I have a prescription for something that kills the migraine. And it does. In about 3-4 hours. Then I just feel beat up for a couple more hours and then I'm good to go. So 6 hours lost. Which is actually better than the 24-48 hours lost before I was prescribed medication, but still - plans for the day are pretty much toast. So I feel guilty. Which leads to depression. Which leads to me really just wanting to give up on the day. And then anxiety kicks in. Probably no one believes me. I probably just come across as flaky or irresponsible or not dependable or a liar. Who gets sick this much, anyway? You're always sick. Everybody gets headaches. You don't see everyone else staying in bed all day. LAZY. WEAK. WORTHLESS.

With a migraine that has alcohol as one of the triggers, it's even worse. My family has a super hardcore history of addiction so I'm really careful about alcohol and drugs (even my migraine prescription is non-narcotic) but I'm also really weird and sensitive about anyone's perception of my relationship with alcohol and drugs.

For instance, I worked a really long shift yesterday and afterwards, I was craving a cheap, domestic beer. So I went home and I drank two.

Because I'm hyper aware of my relationship with drugs and alcohol AND because alcohol can potentially trigger a migraine, I know that those 2 beers added up to a grand total of 3 alcoholic beverages in two months. And unfortunately, those two beers also worked with whatever mystery factor there was to trigger a massive migraine this morning. But migraines feel a lot like hangovers. And alcohol was a trigger for this migraine. Three times in one week. Plans canceled three times this week. Maybe I should suck it up. Maybe I'm weak. I shouldn't have had the alcohol. I'm irresponsible. Ow. People are going to think I have a problem. Do I have a problem? Wait. Am I sure I just had 2 beers last night? Yes. Of course. That's stupid. But definitely don't tell anyone about the beer. They might think you're an alcoholic. This really hurts. They might think you're lying. Migraines sound like hangovers. People might think you're making excuses. This hurts so bad. Alcoholics lie. You sound like an alcoholic. Also, why did you even drink those beers? It feels like a bomb keeps going off in my head. You know you get migraines. This is your fault. Also, completely irresponsible. I think I might puke. You might actually be an alcoholic. Wait. No. Maybe. No. Maybe?

And so on and so on. Migraine, anxiety, shame, confusion, depression. And it's all hidden away in my brain where no one can see it, which means, for a lot of people, I'm not sick. Especially if they see me on a migraine free day. And I'm happy. Sick people can't be happy. It's some weird rule that someone made up somewhere along the way (ask me how often people tell me that I don't look like I have depression - it's the smiling that throws them off. People with depression can't smile ever. Against the rules).

My point is...I'm on the tail end of my 2-beer-triggered migraine and I've just run this gamut of emotions for the umpteenth time and I'm cranky and I'm exhausted and I'm so over it. And I have a lot of friends who each suffer with their own "invisible illness" nightmare. And we are a judgmental society and we the people decide if you actually look or act sick enough to deserve our compassion. If your foot isn't in a cast AND you're laughing, your foot isn't broken. Those are the rules.

Except those rules suck and they're grossly unfair to the millions of people around the world who struggle with illnesses and disabilities and injuries that you can't see. Illness and disability and injuries that are very real and very painful and very debilitating even if you can't see them.

You know this picture/meme that randomly comes across your facebook timeline or instagram feed?

Truth. So much truth. Sometimes I forget. And then life hands me a migraine to remind me that every person I've ever met is struggling with something I can't see. And I'm reminded to practice compassion and empathy and to just be kind.


I'm a mom! Sort of! Kind of? Not really? Also, I have no idea what's going on...

About 3 months ago, James and I briefly talked about having my niece come and live with us.

James and I talk about once or twice a year about our decision to not have kids. Just checking in, making sure we're both on the same page, making sure neither of us has changed our minds. Every time, the answer is the same for both of us.

No way.

So when the idea of having a 17 year old come live with us came up, naturally we both kind of freaked out and shoved the idea under the bed. In a box. And buried it under old cds and mismatched socks. Because no way.

And then about 2 months ago, we pulled that box out from under the bed and really started to talk about my niece again. And how we weren't prepared. And that didn't this count kinda sorta as "having kids?" And wasn't that a "No way?" And check out this 27 page list of all of the things that could go wrong! And what if, instead of being a positive impact on her life, we just fucked it up completely? And what if she really is a "bad kid" and we just don't see it? WHAT IF WE DON'T FEED HER PROPERLY AND SHE BURNS OUR HOUSE DOWN????

Basically, as lifelong non-parent types, everything we knew about raising kids came from a combination of horror movies and Gremlins. So obviously, since we were armed with all of that wisdom, a month later, she came to live with us.

For the 2 weeks prior, I read absolutely everything I could about raising a teenager. OH! And because we're crazy, we went the home school route as well. So throw in extra research about home schooling. And a room! We had to give her a room! So there was cleaning and moving and painting and consolidating. James and I stayed up late every night throwing what-ifs back and forth and coming up with responses. What if this happens? What are the consequences? What are the rewards? What are our expectations? What are hers?

I met with my niece and had a really honest discussion about what it was that she wanted and needed and expected and afterwards, went home and made up a household contract for all of us.  We all met, we went over our contract, and about a week later, we had a teenager.

Like...for real. We have a teenager.

Apparently teenagers hug inanimate objects. I guess. I'm not sure.

We're about 3 weeks in and people keep asking me how it's going ...and the truth is, it's going really well. We take it day by day and so far, we all feel pretty good.

And of course, people wonder how we got here. Like...how and why did this happen? And that's a tough thing to answer. I would love to say that every time I answer that question, I answer it honestly and beautifully and respectfully and just...well. I answer it well. But I don't. Because the thing is, my family is dysfunctional. And I've never tried to hide that my own relationship with my family is strained and awkward and weird and sad and angry and confused. So when I'm asked exactly how it is that my niece came to live with us, I go through this huge internal struggle of trying to answer with grace and beauty and dignity and love and honesty while feeling awkward and weird and angry and sad and confused.

Because there's also the really big thing that I'm trying so hard to adhere to (and I fail more often than I'd like to admit) - it is not my place to tell other people's stories. And it is not my place to pass judgement. And I am less than perfect and have made an infinite number of mistakes in my life AND in the way that I have handled and loved other people. So the question of how it is that my niece came to live with us seems so simple, but in reality just sets off a tornado of epic proportions inside my heart and in my soul.

Of course, there are those who would say it's no one's business. And that's true. BUT....(but, but, but)...I live my life publicly. And I live healing and recovering and loving VERY publicly. And with my niece's permission, I've shared a small piece of her life here with us, on my social media pages. And with her permission, I want to share why it is that she came to live with us:

My niece came to live with us because somewhere along the way, her soul got trampled on. And her heart got smashed. The world wrapped up absolute garbage, tied it up in a pretty bow and told her that that was love. And the world told her that she was bad. And unworthy. And after hearing that long enough, she began to believe that it was true. That she was bad, and unworthy and that garbage was love. And she began to act according to what the world was telling her. And then the world was like, "see? I told you so."

And when my niece and I started to get close, I realized what was going on. Because I had been there. I had believed that story of being bad and worthless and that garbage was love for more than half of my life. And I had also acted accordingly.

But I also survived it and found all of the beauty and worthiness and love on the other side. And I thought that maybe James and I could help her find her way out of all of this ugliness and towards some light. And that's why she came to live with us.

So, I don't really know how we are at "parenting." But so far, I think we're pretty good at being loving and forgiving and enthusiastic and optimistic and challenging and encouraging and just doing the best job that we can of showing her that everything that the world told her was true was just flat out wrong.

She is worthy.
She is loved.
She is smart.
She is courageous.
She is capable.
She is good.
She is so much more than enough.

And she can have peanut butter and jelly sandwiches after midnight. Because she's not a gremlin. But only on the weekends. Because bedtime. And school. And you can't have peanut butter and jelly everyday. Right? No? Yes? Maybe?

What to Say?

I've always felt like my very favorite paintings showed up when my heart hurt the most. As though working through all of that pain was somehow translated into something beautiful on the canvas.

I kind of feel the same way about my writing.  When everything is confusing and hurting and difficult and painful and ugly, I write and write and write. I learn. I discover. I hurt. I write.

But...when everything feels pretty good...my muse just...disappears. As though she can only survive by feeding off of my pain, and my happiness causes her to shrivel up and die.

I thought about that today, because I'm having what I can only call a "bad mental health week." I'm anxious. Moody. Depressed. Freaking out. (And navigating it pretty well, I might add - yay for healthy coping mechanisms!). But today I thought, "But now I have something to write about because I am less than happy!"

And I was weirdly happy about being less than happy because I missed writing.

What. The. Fuck.

I think that because I have really opened up, in a really public manner, about the things that I struggle with - depression, anxiety, gossip, feelings of inadequacy, not fitting in, not feeling worthy, the mess that is life - and really connected with people through these discussions, that I'm afraid of losing that connection by writing about things that are NOT a struggle. Writing about happiness. About being strong. And healthy.

I think that I'm kind of afraid that if I write about being healthy and strong and happy, that I might alienate the people who felt connected and safe with me when we talk about the really hard stuff. That they might feel left behind. Or less than enough because their healing journey isn't taking the same route or pace that mine is. That I might lose them.

That I might lose you.

And that scares me, because this blog, and this journey, and the connections that I have made with people in the last year are so important to me.

You are so inspiring to me and such an important part of my life. Falling apart really kind of saved me, because it connected me to people in a way that I have never been connected before. And that has been really, really amazing.

I'm so glad that I feel good. I DO feel healthy, and I DO feel happy and I DO feel strong. And I want the same for every single person that I meet. I want that for you. But I don't want you to feel as though you're not healthy enough or strong enough or happy enough if your journey doesn't match mine. If your healing process takes a different path. If you want to crawl into bed on the day that I want to talk about running. It's ok. You're still enough. I promise.

So, I guess I'm just hoping that we can make a deal.

I want to write. And I want to write about life as it happens. Right now, it's pretty good. I don't want to ignore that. I want to celebrate that.

I also want to respect you.  I know that I have a lot of readers that came here because sometimes shit gets really bad and it helps to talk to someone that is going through the same thing. I haven't forgotten what that's like. And I know it could easily happen again.

You're still safe here. I respect your journey and where you are. But I believe things can get better. I believe that we have incredible strength and stamina and at the end of the day we can handle whatever life throws at us, and throw it right back. But you at your pace, me at mine.

I'll keep sharing my journey because I want you to know that healing is possible and that from the deepest despair, the most amazing life can emerge. I fight for this life every day and it is truly beautiful. If you're fighting, I'm on your side. But if you're a little too tired to fight today...I'm still on your side.

Because we keep going, right? You at your pace, me at mine. We keep moving forward, in the best way that we can, and we remember and embrace and celebrate the fact that we really do deserve to be happy.

And if my muse isn't ok with that, honestly...she can suck it.

Because there's nothing wrong with happy.

Love and Betrayal and Love in Peoria

I live in Peoria. I love Peoria.

I hate Peoria.

I live in Peoria. I love Peoria. I hate Peoria.

And back and forth, forever and ever, amen.

I'm going to talk about a bunch of old news but please stay with me...I really do have a point.

A few years ago, I think you would be hard pressed to find anyone who loved this city more than me. I believed in this city. I believed in its people. I believed in the power of neighbors helping each other and of businesses working together for the greater good. I believed. I believed so hard.

And then the bottom fell out.  And a lot of people know that the bottom fell out of my life. A lot of that was due to the fact that I have anxiety and depression and I suffered an extremely devastating bout with both of those.

But there were triggers and those triggers were so unexpected and so far removed from what I thought about how the world works that for months on end it just felt like people were running up and sucker punching me.

Multiple people who are members of a local (and well known) organization were hit with complaints from the city liquor commission and health department. The rumor started that I turned them all in. My business lost customers.

A neighboring business got hit with a complaint from the liquor commission about live music. They told many of our shared customers that I had turned them in. My business lost more customers.

Multiple people who are members of a local (and well known) organization were hit with complaints from the city zoning department.The rumor started that I turned them all in. My business lost even more customers.

In each of these incidents, I tried to address the rumors.  Regarding the initial complaints from the health and liquor departments, I proposed a solution that would keep everyone compliant. I stated that I had turned no one in. I asked the city council a few questions.  One city council person e-mailed me back and asked why I was "bothering with all of this again." Members of the organization e-mailed each other back and forth about how horrible I was. How I couldn't stand competition. How of COURSE I was a liar.

I asked my neighbors why on earth they thought that I would ever turn them in - it's not my style and I don't believe that's how communities are built.  I was told that "I was always going to be the first suspect and besides, there were just too many coincidences." Those people never spoke to me again and most of their regular customers actually boycotted my business based on the rumors.

When the business neighbor who had actually started the rumor that got all of the rumors started apologized to me for starting the rumor, I thanked them and asked them to please let people know that they had started the rumor, because it was impacting my life in a really negative way. The response was radio silence. To this day, I still get asked why I did this thing that I never did.

Around this same time, the person who started the rumor worked with the city to start an organization that was designed to sort of...unite people, I guess? And the public loved it. And I met with this person about a project and this person told me that they were not willing to work with neighbor a, b, c, d, e,f, g, etc. etc. on this project.  And then they would publicly continue the narrative that they were there to unite people. And then continually be unwilling to work with those same people.
And while all of this was happening, my health got worse. My business suffered. I was disillusioned. Confused. The rumors kept coming. People asked me about them all of the time.

And then the person who started the rumor that started all of the rumors that were pretty much killing me and my business used their new "unite people" organization to promote local businesses. Including mine.

SO - an organization that behind the scenes nearly put me out of business publicly promoted me. An organization that refused to work with most of its neighbors publicly sang all of their praises. And the city ate it up. And the people loved it.  And many of my "friends" told me to ignore it and quit starting "drama", all the while frantically posting on facebook about standing up for yourself and others and justice and whatever it is that you're willing to fight for online but not in real life. And the hypocrisy just ate at me. And I got really depressed. And paranoid about what the next rumor would be. And who had heard what. And would our customers ever come back? And why on earth were so many people willing to believe so many terrible things about me that went against everything that I had ever been? And why did people keep dismissing my experience? What was wrong with me?

Everything was spiraling and many "friends" started to distance themselves from me.

I got bitter. I got disillusioned. I had a nervous breakdown. And the person that loved Peoria with all of her heart...fucking HATED Peoria.

But it's been a while and life is better and I'm healthier and happier and I'm starting to fall in love with my city again...so why on earth am I bringing this all up?

Because you guys...I was so naive. I had all of the hope and love and trust and faith and love in the world and I got the shit beaten out of me. And the recovery has been long and hard and also beautiful, but it fucking hurt really, really bad. And I absolutely spent a very long time talking myself out of slitting my wrists. I don't want all of this current happiness to somehow hide the ugliness that happened.

So today, as I start to fall in love with Peoria again, I do it with caution.  And as I start to work with other people who really love Peoria, I love what they love right alongside them...with a word of warning.

Some people aren't into my warnings. The idea for some people is, if you love Peoria, you mustn't speak poorly about any part of it. We must all support each other, no matter what, and no one and nothing is bad. Blinders.

*sigh*...I get it. I remember those days.  I remember loving Peoria so hard that you couldn't convince me that anything about it was terrible.

But you guys...that's not real life. You can't love with blinders on. I was living in a fantasy. And when the bubble burst, I nearly took my own life. No one who loves their city and contributes to their city with all of their heart should ever have to go through what I went through.

(My therapist actually told me that she could start a support group for people who went through something similar to what I went through and that her waiting room would be overflowing. Real life. This shit happens a lot.)

So let's be real.  Peoria is home to some of the best people I've ever met in my life. When all of the "friends" fell away, the real friends showed up to do the heavy lifting. There are some organizations here that are kicking ass in so many beautiful ways, that it is awe inspiring just to watch them work.  There are businesses who live and breathe #CommunityOverCompetition and who would bend over backwards to help fellow businesses succeed. There are some breathtaking views. Fantastic restaurants. Cool things to see and do and amazing opportunities. Communities and people who share the same values and desire to lift each other up. I love this side of Peoria.

Peoria is also home to people who are faking it. Who will use social media to tell the world how supportive they are and then quietly tear you down behind closed doors.  Businesses who believe success means making sure that their neighbor goes out of business. Who believe competition is to be feared and therefore destroyed. Politicians who say the right things to the right people to make sure that they get their vote, while telling you the exact opposite of what you literally just heard them say in front of a room full of people. People who won't think twice about ruining someone's life. People who literally just don't give a shit about other people...unless it makes them look good online and in the news.

That's real. That's not just Peoria. That's every city. And anyone who gives any city their whole heart should know that.  These ugly political games don't just play out on the national stage...they play out right here at home, too. Right in our backyard.

I really am falling back in love with my city...but my eyes are wide open this time. And honestly...isn't that the only way to fall in love? All in...but with your eyes open.


We don't shame people.

I have to repeat this to myself on a daily, sometimes hourly basis.

Before I am allowed to react to anything, remember...we don't shame people.

This has been a month of learning about who I am and learning about who other people are.

Almost 4 weeks ago, I joined the gym. I joined the gym because I hated my body. I called it my "depression" body. I spent a year barely getting out of bed. I drank a lot of stout beers. My recovery process involved sitting in one place, for a very long time, painting. So...depression body.

I knew I was starting to get really uncomfortable in my own skin, but I kept on thinking that it was going to magically get better.

Probably because I believe in unicorns, I think bodies can just "magically" get fit and healthy.

Turns out, that's not a thing that happens. Bogus. So I joined the gym.

Going to the gym is hard. I feel gross. Out of shape. Unattractive. I'm awkward around people. I try to have conversations with new people who don't know that I'm awkward and anxious and trying to fake my way through it...and I usually say something that causes them to stop and stare oddly at me for a minute before getting away from me as fast as they can.

There are people who will tell you that they don't see these interactions with me and other people, but trust me when I say that EVERY interaction with people I'm not close to feels this way.

Anxiety is SO much fun. Especially at the gym.

But shame is what we were talking about, right?

So there's an elderly woman who is in the gym locker room around the same time I am a couple of times a week. I don't know if it's me, I don't know if there are some issues with her, I don't really know what's going on except...every time she sees me she calls me a "fucking bitch" under her breath.

I'm not even kidding.

The first time she did it, other people heard and we all just kind of stopped and stared, with no one really understanding what or why or who it was directed at. The woman just said it and walked out of the dressing room.

But after a few weeks, it seems like this is directed at me. The other day I was walking behind her, at her pace. She must have sensed me behind her, so she turned around and then she moved aside as if to let me pass....so I thanked her and I passed by. And as I passed by, I heard her mutter "fucking bitch."

You guys...I have anxiety. I think that everyone hates me. I'm nearly sure of it, all of the time. So this keeps happening and I'm freaking out. Like ...what? What did I do?  And I wanted to ask other women in the dressing room what was wrong with this woman. And I wanted to go to the front desk and describe her and ask if anyone has complained about her. I wanted everyone to know that I am just fine and NOT a fucking bitch and why is this woman so terrible every single time she sees me?

But here's the thing. We don't shame people. Whatever is going on with this woman, it isn't about me. And due to the oddness of the situation and the woman's advanced age, I would guess that it has more to do with some brain wires getting crossed for her. And that sucks.

I can bring everyone's attention to the exchanges between this woman and I, and potentially cause a big scene and make other people look at this woman as though she is crazy and somehow "less than." I could definitely do that.

Or I can remember that we don't shame people. And this is more than likely a complicated issue that has nothing to do with me. I can remember that I know who I am. That this woman and I have SO much in common. My brain tells me that I'm horrible. Her brain tells her that I'm a fucking bitch. Both of our brains are wrong. And neither one of us deserves to be shamed for it.

Who knows...maybe eventually I'll work up the courage to talk to her and we'll become super best friends! Right? Maybe?

Lessons, you guys.  Every week life is teaching me some hard ...and interesting...lessons.