The Racist Bones in Our Bodies

I have racist bones in my body.

When I went to Germany, I was really struck by how they owned their ugly history. There were monuments and memorials, very much a country of "this is not who we are, but we will not erase this ugliness, but rather, own it, so that we do not do it again." I mean - I'm not speaking for Germany, but that was the impression that I got. And it struck me that as Americans, we really prefer to sweep our ugly history under the rug. To pretend that it didn't shape who we are today.
The thing is, there isn't anything wrong with saying, you know, yesterday I had some beliefs that were kind of fucked up. Today, I have fewer. Tomorrow, I hope even less. But fucked up beliefs have always been part of my history and in order to purge myself of them, I have to be willing to admit that they're there. I can't sweep them under the rug.

These pieces of my past...
My grandparents used to make me cross the street when people of color approached. It was ok, though, because they were just being cautious. Right?
My 6th grade boyfriend was black, and my mom and stepdad made me break up with him, not because they were racist, you know, but because "society wouldn't approve." I mean, how could they be racist? They had black friends. Right?
When my husband and I opened a business in a very diverse neighborhood, I spent the first 6 months hoping we would be ok, despite what I perceived as the neighborhood's "sketchiness." (it wasn't sketchy. It was economically challenged and it was diverse.)
I've let my sticker on my license plates expire for up to 9 months at a time, drove up and down a street where people of color are regularly pulled over, and never received a ticket. I've actually only been pulled over for it once. And they let me go.
I went on vacation once to a southern plantation and thought nothing of the history of such a place. Thought nothing of the fact that I would be horrified if someone wanted to vacation at Auschwitz, but plantations are cool because they're houses and maybe haunted and look at all of the pretty trees.
I am 100% positive that I have made jokes or insensitive comments in the past and still put myself in the "not racist" category.
So I went through most of my life thinking that I wasn't part of the problem, because I believed segregation was wrong and slavery is wrong and racist insults are wrong and discrimination is wrong and I'm a good person and I don't have a racist bone in my body, right? Because I don't see color, right? And it's not my fault if the police don't want to pull me over EVER, for repeatedly breaking the law, for 9 months, while people of color are pulled over all around me.

Looking back, it's embarrassing.


And then a couple of things happened, and I had a "holy shit" moment. The moment I realized that I am indeed part of the problem. And ever since, I've been trying very hard to recognize that and work against it. I'm sure I fail regularly. Part of that failure is probably being really willing to point out racism in other people, but shoving my own past under the rug. It's not me, it's you. So here it is - have some of my history. It's gross and this is just a tiny chunk of it, and probably not the worst. And it makes me feel gross. I'm not better than you. I'm flawed. I've made so many mistakes, I couldn't possibly count them all. But here is something that I'm glad that I eventually learned:

We do need to see color. Privilege is a thing and if you're white, you've got it. Systemic racism is real and if you're surrounded by mostly white folks, there's a reason that you're not seeing it. If you were raised by people who regularly said racist shit and engaged in racism, you were influenced. And I know that everyone wants to believe that they're not part of the problem and that they're "one of the good ones," but man...if you really don't want to be part of the problem, you're going to have to take a very hard look at who you are and what you believe and how you were raised and how this American society currently benefits you in ways that it absolutely does not benefit others. When we say, "this is not us," and people of color are saying, "no - this is how it's always been. People are just feeling a little more emboldened these days, and also, you haven't been paying attention," we should listen. We should pay attention. And we should examine our actions and our belief systems and the things we casually say and do and we should listen to people's stories and see color and not try to sweep our history under the rug because we're embarrassed. It sucks to be embarrassed, but I guarantee you it's far worse to fear for your life and the lives of your loved ones and to watch your rights be trampled on while people confidently tell you "I don't see color."

We have racist bones in our bodies. It's not helping anyone to pretend that we don't. Those racist bones are there - we have to be conscious of them so that we can work against them every single time they try to come to the forefront.

If yesterday we were very wrong (and so many of us have been so very wrong - I have been very wrong), we can be thankful to have been given today to correct our course and do the work to be on the right side of history.

I wish we were better.

I've read approximately a million stories this week on Chester Bennington's death and the impact he had on people who were/are struggling with mental health and/or traumatic pasts. Each one made me cry.

Like so many others, his death hit me hard - much harder than I would have expected. And it wasn't because I knew him - I had met him once, but did not know him. But for some reason, I was and am absolutely grief stricken about his death.

I'm a pretty sensitive person - I cry about everything and I feel things intensely. But this is different.

I'm gutted.

You know that cliche about being "raised by rock and roll?"

That's me. In 1999, I was fresh off of a failed marriage (I am a failure). I had serious childhood trauma (even your family hates you), so no family that I spoke to. I had no education (you're stupid) and no skills (worthless), so I was a stripper (slut). I was worthless. I was a failure at everything. I had terrible self esteem. I slept all day, I was haunted by memories and feelings of inadequacy and I would spend my nights taking my clothes off for strangers, being told by some that I was the most beautiful woman on the planet while others flung quarters at me, commented on my fat thighs and called me a whore.

I went out a lot. Got some tattoos. Pierced my face. Slept around. Probably drank too much.

I was deeply, deeply unhappy.





It was ...not the best version of me.

I didn't have much, but I had music. Korn, Linkin Park, Disturbed, Breaking Benjamin, Cold, Marilyn Manson, Tool, Nine Inch Nails...I was angry and sad and fucked up and the music was angry and sad and fucked up and for me, that was home. I went to concert after concert. I went backstage. I became a metal version of Penny Lane, only dirtier. Sleazier. More naive? Didn't matter to me. We were all in it together. Some musicians and crew were less than kind. Some were beyond kind. I was the same. For me, it was family. I took the good with the bad. They sang and screamed what I felt, and I really needed to be around people who felt the way that I did. It felt...less lonely.




So I did meet Chester once, backstage at Ozzfest. My boyfriend at the time (we're still friends to this day) knew him and introduced me to "Chester."

I didn't recognize him - I had a few months to go before I *really* got into Linkin Park. He was talking about his throat being sore and me, being ever so helpful and not realizing who he was, told him it was probably the midwest and allergies and that he should drink some tea with honey and he would probably be just fine. He didn't look at me like I was crazy or "don't you know who I am" or be dismissive or any rock star type behavior. He was polite, said it was nice meeting you, and walked off after our conversation. Uneventful. Nice guy. Who was that?

Later, we were backstage for their show and I was like...oh. These guys are so good. Oh. That's the same dude. I'm an idiot. But really - what a nice guy. He didn't seem like a rock star at all.




And I really loved Linkin Park after that. They got it. There are only a few bands whose music still resonates with me today, all of these years later, and Linkin Park is one of them. So Chester dying...it feels like losing family.  In a way, it is losing family. And losing the same battle that I fight? It's scary. And the grief is compounded by the fact that some people just love to be mean and no matter how often I witness it, I always feel like I get sucker punched. Like -whoa. People are mean? Why? When did that happen? It's like I forget...

The internet is a front row seat to cruelty, so people have been predictably heartless and terrible and judgmental. It's ok to joke about people dying, as long as they're famous, right? It's ok to call them cowards for losing their battle, because it's not like they're here to defend themselves and anyway, you get sad and you didn't kill yourself, right?

And there are a couple of things to say about that. First - why? Would you walk up to someone in WalMart and ask to take their picture so you could publicly shame them online for the outfit they're wearing? Would you make jokes about the dead at their funeral, to the people who loved them? If you say terrible things about your neighbor online (and it's ok because you're not facebook friends anyway), would you say it to them in person? Be who you are, all of the time. Stand up for your words. And if your words are terrible, at least have the courage to say them out loud, in front of the people they are designed to hurt. Or, recognize that your words have power, that the internet reaches every corner of the earth and famous or not, absolutely everyone should be off limits when it comes to you being hurtful and cruel and indulging in shaming behavior. Use what you have to shine a light in the darkness. Don't increase the darkness. Don't make an already hard life worse.

And cowardice? No. No. Absolutely not. And no.

For me, childhood trauma and depression and anxiety is a bit like being afraid of needles. Only, imagine that the needles have really hurt you and also, the whole world is actually needles.

THE WHOLE WORLD IS NEEDLES.

And so the whole world is needles and you have this awful history with needles, but every day you get up and you go out into a world that's all needles. You are grateful for a day where you're not triggered, where you don't cry, where you don't drink, you don't cut yourself, where you actually left your house, you did something productive, you are grateful that you made it through 24 hours in a world made of needles. But you're tired. And you try to focus on all of the great things that happened today and what will happen in the future, but goddamn it, you just wish that the needles weren't there. They're really, really difficult to navigate and you're really, really tired. And to make matters worse, your brain is all messed up and keeps telling you that 1.) the needles are bigger than they actually are and 2.) that things that aren't needles are actually needles. It's exhausting.

Someone who fought that battle everyday, who not only went into a world full of needles but talked about how hard it was and gave comfort to people who knew EXACTLY what he meant, but who also had legions of people who love to be cruel on the internet tell him how stupid his battles were and how the songs from his heart didn't matter because he sucks because hey! It's fun to be mean to people on the internet! - that person is not a coward. That is a person who did battle every single day, 100% of the time, publicly, and gave countless people hope in the process and won every single battle ...until he didn't.

And so the answer isn't to jump onto our high horse and talk about the cowardice of others while bragging about how well we manage our own pain. The answer isn't to make cruel jokes.

I don't know what the answer is... but I know what it isn't. And I KNOW we can be better. I know I can be better.

We can hold the hands of people walking through darkness. We can not add to that darkness. We can show people that in a world full of needles, there are safety measures. There is protection. And here is my hand. I believe that your battle is real. I will go with you. I will be with you.

Shine a light. Be that light. The world is very, very hard and we can all do better. Please let us do better. We need to be better.


The Edited Version of This Week's Anger


They say grief is a roller coaster.

I'm going down.

I'm so angry. I'm sad. I'm miserable. I'm furious. I want to break everything. I want to crawl into bed and never get out.

I feel nauseous.

My head hurts.

Every post I write is a different emotion and here's where we are today:
I'm really, really angry at my parents.
I'm really angry at God.

I've tried sorting through every one else's experiences. I've tried to honor their feelings. I've choked my own feelings down until they made me physically sick. I have smiled and laughed and cried with everyone else and their wonderful memories of my parents and I have tried to see them through a different lens and I have tried SO HARD to pretend that my parents didn't hurt me more than I have ever been hurt by anyone and...

I'm exhausted.

Most people have better memories of my parents than I do. Which can mean a couple of things. Either my memory is completely wrong, everyone else is lying, or I just wasn't someone my parents could love.

I still don't think everyone else is lying. And I have witnesses and a box full of history that backs up my memories.

So my parents just didn't love me. It sounds whiny and bratty when you say it out loud, but when it's true, it absolutely wrecks your life.

And when you look at a bunch of pictures and hear so many stories about how much they loved everyone else and the great things they did for them...it's hard not to just completely lose it.  Even when people who you know and love and respect promise you that you are NOT a garbage person and that you ARE worthy of love...

It's hard not to be angry and sad and confused and to try and pretend that you're not angry and sad and confused until you make yourself physically sick....and just repeat. Over and over and over again.





I am not perfect and I have made more mistakes in my life than I can count. That is true. I have done a lot of good in my life. That is true. My mom was mean to me and my mom lied to me and my mom lied about me and my mom did a lot of damage to my soul. That is true.  My father disappeared and reappeared just enough to make me love and miss him and just enough to do a lot of damage to my soul.  That is true.  My parents were also good to a lot of people and most people have a lot of praise for them and their memories. That is true.



So now, I'm stuck. How can I have a relationship with people who have all of these great memories, when everything hurts?  How can I honor their memories but be true to my own? How do I exist with them in the middle of these opposites? How can I let go of my own awful bits and focus on being good but not only focus on the good in others? Why do the bad parts hurt so much? Why are they so BIG?

I don't know that there's a space for that. For this mess.  I don't know that there's a place for me not to remain isolated from my family. And that makes me sad. And scared. And angry. And sick.

I've been sick for weeks.


And this bothers me: Do they get to be in heaven now? Because they said the right words and poured water over their heads and broke the bread and drank from the cup and went to church, they just get to be in heaven now? Forever and ever, amen?  With nothing to be sorry about? And all of their sins forgiven and forgotten and a rotting pile of garbage, sick and sobbing daughter left here on earth to try and figure out what this all is, exactly?




I found myself screaming at the sky, "ARE YOU EVEN FUCKING SORRY?????"

I found myself thinking that God sure has a funny way of building character in humans and that all of these trials and tribulations and the constant pain for everyone, all of the time, is really just starting to piss me off.

God and I are fighting right now.

I found myself arguing with myself. Maybe there is nothing to be sorry about.  Maybe you really are garbage. Maybe your memories are false and your parents are in heaven where everything is forgiven and forgotten and they don't worry about you because this is all in your head, and you are nothing, nothing, nothing...

My husband pulls me back from that.  He reminds he that he is my witness. But he leaves and I spiral again...

I'm angry about the spiraling.  I feel like I should have a better handle on this, but I just don't.  I posted this yesterday and it was all anger and only anger. And I deleted it, and this is the edited version, because I am trying to be fair to my family and to be fair to their memories. This space, where I tell my stories, is now tied to other people. And I can be fair to me about this or I can be fair to them about this, but I cannot be fair to everyone. My truth is the opposite of theirs. And writing is my therapy. So I'm stuck. I don't really know what to do. But I'll figure it out.  We always figure it out, right?


Mother's Day


Mother's Day is hard. It always has been.

I didn't want to go to church today. Mothers everywhere. Mother's Day in your face.
But I went.

We're in the process of cleaning my mom's house and packing her things.

It's hard for my sister and my niece. Less so for me, to pack up the things of this woman that I didn't know, but who somehow was my mother.

I said goodbye years ago.

I did, right?


I asked my sister if I could organize the photographs and letters, put them into order, and give them back to her. 

My mom and I fought. She was better than me. I was all wrong. My mom had everything under control. I needed to get my shit together and find Jesus...or something. We fought. And we fought. Until we didn't. Nothing but space between my mother and I.

I didn't like her. I didn't think she was honest.

But I took these photos and letters and documents home and I read and organized for hours and I did not meet the saintly mother that everyone spoke so highly of...

But...

I met the mother who was human. Who struggled. Who suffered loss. Who was scared. Who was tired. Who struggled but cloaked her struggle in unhealthy coping mechanisms and so much kindness towards others that she didn't leave much for herself. 

She lied to me about who she was. She lied to herself about who I was. 

My mom was broken and flawed and human and she didn't know how to be broken and flawed and human so she tried to be perfect.

It doesn't work, mom. I tried that. I know.

I never really met my mom until she died. And now, it's like she's everywhere.

Lilies of the valley remind me of my mom. It's a positive association, from when I was much younger. I've tried for years to grow them, but they never came. 

Until this last month, right after my mom died.




Church today, and dread. I go early because I like to sit in a certain spot (with a quick escape route because anxiety anxiety anxiety). I also go early because the music keeps me still. 

I like the stillness.

My mom liked church music. There was only one song that my family really wanted played at my mom's celebration of life - "Oceans." They said it was her favorite. I'd never heard it before, but it's really beautiful. They played it at her celebration of life and the pastor spoke in depth about my mom and the meaning of that song.

I've never heard that song at my own church.

Until today. Mother's Day.

I cried and cried and cried through the whole thing.

Life is weird, right?

My mom is everywhere.




I know.... I KNOW... that my relationship with my mom was the only way it could have been. I still don't have any regrets about that. We weren't going to change each other. But it makes this whole thing...this appreciation for the side of her that we found in boxes in deep corners of closets, so much...so...

...it's...

...it's hard. And beautiful. And eye-opening. And healing. And strange. And constant. And weird.

It's really weird.

I did not like my perfect mother. But I have so much respect and empathy and love for my broken, flawed human, struggling and trying so hard mom. That's the mom I wish I could have met before.

That's the mom I'm meeting now.




A friend from church posted this today and I thought it was beautiful and it fits even if it doesn't quite fit:

“They offered to take me sightseeing. We had time for only one major attraction: they suggested either Sonoma Valley or Muir Woods. I remembered the postcards and photographs of the redwood forests, where branches grew higher than houses, and cars could drive through trees. I chose the woods.
I knew nothing about redwoods, except what my mother had told me about their size – which, as it happened, was pretty accurate in Muir Woods, except for the part about the cars. I’d never seen trees so big.

As we shuffled through the ferns and sorrel, we reached a small, odd group of redwoods growing in a circle around a charred stump. The burned down trunk stood maybe six feet high, but the trees surrounding it were young and healthy. Park rangers call these clusters “the family circle”. The less botanically inclined usually call them – and I swear this is true – the mother tree and her daughters.
Nature often offers metaphors more elegant than any we can manufacture, and Muir Woods is no exception. Redwoods have evolved to turn disaster into opportunity. In these coastal forests, death produces life.

This is what I mean: In the redwood exosystem, buds for future trees are contained in pods called burls, tough brown knobs that cling to the bark of the mother tree. When the mother tree is logged, blown over, or destroyed by fire – when, in other words, she dies – the trauma stimulates the burls’ growth hormones. The seeds release, and trees sprout around her, creating the circle of daughters. The daughter trees grow by absorbing the sunlight their mother cedes to them when she dies. And they get the moisture and nutrients they need from their mother’s root system, which remains intact underground even after her leaves die. Although the daughters exist independently of their mother above ground, they continue to draw sustenance from her underneath.

I am fooling only myself when I say my mother exists now only in the photograph on my bulletin board or in the outline of my hand or in the armful of memories I still hold tight. She lives on beneath everything I do. Her presence influenced who I was, and her absence influences who I am. Our lives, are shaped as much by those who leave us as they are by those who stay. Loss is our legacy. Insight is our gift. Memory is our guide.”

Motherless Daughters
The Legacy of Loss
Hope Edelman




Life is weird ...people tell you how to feel and you tell yourself how you're going to feel but the truth is, we just don't know how life is going to hit us.  

This is hard...

...and life is weird and full of struggle and loss and confusion and pain and light and joy and suffering and loss and...

... And we keep going because there's beauty and wonder and love and amazement and...

We keep going.

We just keep going.





Hello, Anger.




...I knew it would come.

Have you ever noticed that no one dies who was less than perfect?

Everyone who dies is elevated to sainthood.

There is no room for complicated grief.  Just perfect memories of perfect people.

At her Celebration of Life, people kept telling me how much my mom loved me.

"She loved you so much."

I smiled. I nodded. I hugged them back. I told them how sorry I was for their loss.

And I was. I am.  She sounds amazing and I'm so sorry that you will have this hole in your life where she was. These stories are incredible.

I wish I could have met her.

And I wanted to scream.



I wanted to beat my fists into the floor and scream and break things and disparage her memory and...

I smiled.  I nodded. I hugged people back.

I can recognize and appreciate who my mother was to all of these people.  I can appreciate the deep affection and love that they had for her, and all of the good that she brought into their lives.

I am not mad at people who saw the good in my mother and who loved her for it.

But...

I found myself writing my own obituary this week. I implored my husband, "if I die first, don't let them make me perfect.  Tell them I was flawed and broken and struggling and succeeding and failing and trying and human. Don't let them put me on a pedestal."

And I cleaned my house for hours and days because everyone dies suddenly and my house has to be clean...just in case...

And I walked around the house dazed and I asked my husband," was I fair to my parents?  If my mom was so perfect and my relationship with her was just this...mess...was I fair? Am I awful? Am I crazy? Did I make all of this up? Was I fair?"

And he assured me that I was fair. That he was my witness.  That I was not crazy and that yes, I was fair.

This mess...

My mom said "our secrets make us sick" and I laughed.

My mom had a secret.  And I believe, and I will always believe,  and I know that she sacrificed her relationship with me in order to keep her secret.

When she died, people who knew her well but had never met me looked at me with disgust.  People assumed that I was an alcoholic, a drug addict, in trouble with the law, any number of things I must be that would lead me not to speak to this woman who was a saint among saints.

I must be a bad child.  There must be something wrong with me. I am terrible.

And through the years, I isolated myself from everyone because...everyone thought I should speak to my mother.  Everyone thought I should be nicer to her.  She was such a good woman and it hurt her so much that I wouldn't speak to her and why was I so awful and...

No one believes me anyway and she always said that I was a liar.

I just closed myself off. And now she is gone.  And there is no room for complicated grief. There is no room to wish that your mother would have actually loved you the way that everyone says that she did. When people tell me how much she loved me, there is no place to do or say anything but agree. There is no place to refute the perfection of the deceased.  There is no room to say that this hurts me too, but in a different way.

She is gone, a saint in Heaven. And I am her child in continuing isolation.

And no one dies who was less than perfect.








Sorting



The day after my mom died, the outpouring of love for her was incredible.  People said how amazing she was, how she took care of everyone, how she was like a second mother to them, that she had the most generous heart and on and on and on...

I was furious. Who were these people? Were they blind? Were they stupid? Kind? Generous? A second mother??? Did they even know my mom? Had they actually met?

That was Day 1.

I'm not there anymore.

I'm still navigating these waters and I find something new every day.

Today I was thinking about cruelty.

How my mother thought that I was cruel and I thought that she was cruel and how people who knew my mother and loved her so much could not understand how or why I could be so cruel to her and how people who know and love me so much could not understand how my mother could be so cruel to me and people who love me do not think that I am cruel and people who love my mother do not think that she is cruel and how on earth did we get here and it is

so. 
much. 
to. 
unravel.





I am not cruel. My mother was not cruel.  But we are broken. We are all broken. And I guess with my mom and I, that brokenness came across as cruelty.  Because to be sure, no matter what anyone else might see in either one of us, my mother and I could be very cruel to each other.  No matter how beautiful we each might be, our brokenness could make us hurtful.

Not intentionally malicious.  But still...cruel.

So there's that. I'm still working on that. I have nothing profound or wise to say, except how strange it is to try and see my mom and I's relationship through the eyes of others, and to simultaneously take her side and mine. And to try and find a place where there are no sides to take.

I'm not there yet.




But I am at brokenness. And vulnerability.

And here's where things are weird...

My mom and I, for at least a little while, were the same guy. I'm trying to wrap my head around that - that my mom and I, who generally could not be in the same room with each other without everything turning into terrible, were incredibly alike.

Broken and in pain, and trying to fix it by ignoring it and trying to save the world instead.  My mother was kind and generous and thoughtful and loving and took care of everyone around her. I cannot deny that. She would have taken care of me if I would have let her (I did not, and that was the right choice, as difficult a choice as it was for everyone involved. She was not wrong for wanting to take care of me. I was not wrong for not letting her). My mother wanted people to be happy, and if she could help them be happy, she would.  I didn't know this version of my mother, but I can see it and hear it from everyone who talks about her.  Literally, everyone.

Those people are not liars. They are speaking about someone that they loved and that they knew well. They speak the truth.

And I think that there are many people who might say the same about me - that I am kind and thoughtful and generous and loving and I take care of people ...

BUT...I now take care of myself first, before trying to take care of everyone around me. And I had to learn that the hard way, by completely falling apart.

(aren't all of life's most valuable lessons learned the hard way? And doesn't it piss you off?)

I think that desire to fix the world comes from not wanting to confront our own brokenness and pain. Because seriously...who wants to mess with any of that when instead, you can shove it aside and just have people love you and think that you are good?  And what would happen if people thought that you were flawed? Would they stop loving you?

It is best not to even find out.

I think that's where my mom was. And I think that, because I was there... for a really long time. "Nothing is wrong with me as long as I am good enough for everyone else."  I think my mom was everything to everyone for her entire life, and in being that, she completely ignored the parts of herself that needed the most attention. That hurt. And brokenness.

And I wish my mom could have opened herself up to that and just fallen apart, because as painful as that is, it is also such an incredible place of healing.

To say, "I cannot do this. I cannot help you. Or save you. I'm in pain. I cannot be perfect. I am flawed because I am human. I need help. I need to rest for a while."

And I wish that I would have had the courage and the wisdom to have recognized that struggle in my mom, and let her know that as angry as I was, if she would have asked for a lifeline, I would have provided it. I wish I wouldn't have been so arrogant as to think that I knew the whole of who she was, and that there wasn't anything left to know.


The things we realize when it's too late...
...let them be the things we carry going forward...
so we don't have to do this again.





So I am sorting through all of this. Finding out who my mom was and who she was not.  Fighting with her in my head. Trying not to fight with her in my head.  Trying to balance between my truth and the truth of others. Trying to be kind. Trying to be true. Trying to be fair. Trying to stay afloat on these weird, rough, and unfamiliar waters.

And knowing - you cannot be an effective lighthouse if you don't actually maintain the lighthouse.  A lighthouse that burns out cannot light the way for anyone.

And realizing - a lighthouse shines a light for all - even the people that you are angry with, the people you don't know, the people that you judge even when you're trying not to judge them.  The light does not switch on and off.

You have to keep the light on.
And you have to maintain the building.

I wish you Grace and Peace, today and always.
I am so grateful for you.








Guilt



It's a process, this letting go.

We don't exist alone. Our stories are so intertwined with the stories of others. How do we tell our own story and the stories of our pain while still being compassionate and respectful to the stories of others?

Did I say that I don't feel guilt?

My hands are shaking.

I was wrong. I was wrong about so much.

Here is the guilt...

Boundaries are appropriate and necessary...but I wish I would have set them...better?

"These are my boundaries and they are necessary for my survival and health, but if you decide that you want to battle this beast, I will battle it with you. Do not be ashamed. I will not judge you."

This is my regret.

This is what I wish I would have said.

This is the person I wish I would have been.

I call myself a lighthouse and I failed to shine a light for the person who needed it more than anyone.

This is a very painful lesson to learn. And I'm quite sure that I'm not done learning it...
I will do better.
I am so sorry.



A letter to my mother, the week of her passing



Dear mom,

You and I never got along. We were not so much oil and water as we were fire and gasoline.

I couldn't talk to you. I stayed away from you, not only to protect my own heart, but to protect yours. You could be hurtful. I know that I could be, too. It was best we didn't talk.

I didn't understand you. I never did. And I was quite sure that you didn't love me. I knew that you thought that you loved me, but I have never felt like you actually did. You might have felt the same about me. I wanted to love you...but I didn't know how.

I have spent my life trying to outrun the definition of "bad kid" that I have always been so sure was the family narrative. I am not bad. I am not bad. I am not bad.

I am not bad.

What is this mess?

I made my peace with letting you go years ago. I thought that when you passed it would be easier for me,  for the "bad kid."

As it happens, that's not how that works.

This week, I took up chain smoking and staring into space.

I've become very good at smiling and nodding politely when people tell me how much you loved me, knowing in my heart that it wasn't true.

Except...maybe it was true.

I don't feel guilt about our relationship. This distance was the only possible way. But regret...there is regret. Wishing things could have been different.  Wishing that you could have been more honest about your secrets. Wishing that I would have had more patience for what you struggled with. Wishing that it hadn't gone so far that there was just never going to be any closure or resolution.

Just distance. And hurt.

I am trying to navigate this. I am unwinding my head and my heart, I am holding all of this in my hands and trying to put it back together into something that resembles...something.

I don't know what this is.

My niece told me today that you loved my art and my writing and that you believed in me and thought that I had a good heart and I am just.....undone.

Here's the thing, mom: I think you had a good heart, too. I know you loved your kids and I know you loved people. I know you just wanted to take care of them. And your oldest daughter is opinionated and strong willed and doesn't take any shit and gets angry and apparently...you saw that I also have a good heart. Even if our good hearts couldn't line up.

I am angry at you. There are things in our past that you never wanted to talk about. Your oldest daughter shouts the truth from rooftops. We couldn't get past that, could we? But...

But, but, but...

It is so clear how loved you were. And how much you meant to others. And that says something.

I know who you were to me. But I also know who you were to others. And one truth doesn't negate the other. They reside simultaneously.

And so, this week, I am trying to know you through the eyes of other people. See you through their truth. And it's really beautiful. It doesn't negate my truth or experience. There are things that I will wrestle with forever. But my experience doesn't negate their truth and that truth is that you were loved and that you did love. And you did your best. I see that. I want you to know, I do see that.

I want you to know that when you and Anna were struggling, that I always told her that I wanted her to have a healthy relationship with you. I know you were scared that I would try to turn her against you, but I didn't want that. I never wanted that. I slipped up a few times. I got angry and said things that I immediately regretted, but I caught it and I always, always, always told Anna that I wanted you guys to be ok. That my relationship with you did not have to be hers, and I never wanted it to be. I didn't want this for her. I wanted you both to be ok. And it was. She knows who you are, she sees your humanity, your ups and downs and she loves you with all of her heart. And....

And it has...

It has just struck me...

That Anna was your youngest and so precious to you and...

...you entrusted her to me. Even though you were scared. Even though we couldn't communicate without crying and screaming at each other. You trusted me with your youngest daughter. You trusted me to do the right thing. So...

I guess you didn't think I was so bad.  And you know...Anna is this beautiful, strong, courageous, hilarious girl, growing into this amazing woman and that was nurtured in your home. So you can't be that bad.

I'm sorry that we couldn't figure this out while you were alive. I will always be sorry for that. But I promise you, I can let this anger go. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow. But I can. I will. And I thank you for the gifts that you gave me, even when I couldn't see them.

Bye, mom. Rest in peace.








Let's just look at some dogs



I'm easily distracted by shiny things and political stuff has always been (to me) a REALLY shiny thing.  So my anxiety is super high right now. I'm trying to focus on work but I just realized that the sound of machinery and metal grinding (which is how I work) is setting me on edge in a pretty intense way.

Then I thought, well I'll write, because that's working! And I just stared at the page...

And then I thought, I'll paint, because that is also working! And I remembered that I'm on crutches and not allowed to take the basement stairs (where all of the paint stuff is).

So, listen...I'm just going to post some pictures of dogs. And I'm going to do it every week, because the world is heavy and I know we're fighting and doing the best that we can and sometimes pushing ourselves even further than what we thought was the best we had and...damnit.

You can take a ten minute break and look at some cute dogs. These are my 10 favorite instagram dogs from today. Some of them are old, some of them are young, all different breeds, and every one of them absolutely perfect and the best medicine right now:


A photo posted by Brinks (@smilingbrinks) on









A photo posted by Amber (@amburgaler) on






A photo posted by euro&family (@eurosaurus) on






A photo posted by Jennifer (@j_lynn863) on













Self Care Quicksand



If you are an activist, people who are not activists will always pick apart your activism. These are the "cheap seats people". I think Brene Brown covered it when she talked about people who weren't willing to get out on the field and get their asses kicked, but rather, just hurl criticisms from the safe zones. The cheap seats. And how, if they weren't willing to get their asses kicked, then she wasn't entertaining their criticisms. Which is smart.

BUT - people who ARE activists are also going to pick apart your activism. Because our activism is borne from personal experience, and as the "fragile little snowflake" activists tend to be, we are incredibly unique in our experiences. I remember a fundraiser that our bar did, and I wanted to donate the proceeds to the Human Rights Campaign. I received an equal amount of praise and disdain for that choice. Which seems to be a common theme for fundraisers.  Every organization is either an angel or a devil to every activist and fundraiser out there.


Snowflakes. So fragile. Made from participation trophies and liberal tears. Etc. etc. (image via Flickr)


What do you do?

You go to city council meetings and you speak up about injustice and offer solutions and you are an outsider and you basically get ignored.

You go to court to fight for homeless people and judges laugh at you. And the system is...impossible to navigate. Broken.

You fight for a neighborhood and its community and you get smeared and trampled by people with deeper pockets and bigger agendas and "better" connections.

Election season comes and I researched my choice thoroughly and received both praise and disdain for my choice (it was Hillary Clinton).

The election ended and I chose a very specific way to deal with it - by reaching out to Trump supporters and asking them about their politics while resisting the urge to talk about mine. Just to try and understand what I really did not understand. Again, both praise and disdain.

If you talk about what you're doing, you're waving your own flag. But if you don't talk about what you're doing, you can't get the help that you need. So you talk about what you're doing so you can get help with what you're doing and praise and disdain and praise and disdain and...

And finally...I just got sick of it. All of it. I used to be just ...all in. I worked myself weary to support the causes I cared about, most times at my own expense. For years. Until finally, the toll it took on every aspect of my life led me to pull back drastically. I said fuck it.

And I rested for a while, preferring to be active, but a little quieter. A little less obvious. With a little more care for myself. But damn...I still felt stuck in the middle of that praise and that disdain. I don't want to be praised for doing what feels right - it feels ...gross. But I could really do without all of the harsh judgement, too. Why can't we just talk? Why can't we just do the work? Why can't we just ask for help?

So I quit people. I was so tired of feeling pulled in every direction, trying to navigate feelings and politics and my heart and keep my paycheck...ugh. I just quit. I've barely talked to anyone outside of my immediate family in almost 2 months. I had a major surgery and if you don't follow my Hey Lola social media accounts, chances are you don't know. Because I barely leave my house. And I stay off of facebook. And away from comment sections.

I think I just needed some time to figure out what I was truly passionate about, without feeling pulled in the direction of what anyone and everyone else in the world was passionate about. I needed some time to quiet the noise. (Which is hard, because having an anxiety disorder makes it nearly impossible to quiet the noise. The praise and disdain rules the minds of those with anxiety)

But you know - I recognize that that is a privilege. To just bow out. I'm a bi-sexual woman who is a former sex working, homeless, high school drop-out, so I've had my fair share of struggles. But I'm also a white woman in a monogamous marriage with a white guy, we both have jobs and I managed to get to college. We have a house. We have health insurance. I can check out but I can check back in anytime I want to and generally speaking, life will be kind to me. If people truly do judge books by their covers (and they do), then my cover affords me an enormous amount of privilege.

On December 3rd, I gave myself a 90 day "cleanse." I'm on crutches now, and hopefully by March 3rd I'll be able to walk normally again. And I'll be ready to fight.  Because truthfully, it's been really nice not to fight. Not to cry all of the time and be so fucking frustrated with this system and the way it's just set up to benefit the same people, over and over and over again. It's been nice. I've settled into it very nicely and I could easily stay here forever. In all of this privilege. But that's not really ok.

The Women's March was today and it was the most inspiring thing I've seen in as long as I can remember.




And I lamented that I couldn't be there and remembered that a girl on crutches with a broken foot should NOT be in a crushing throng of people and I mentally patted myself on the back for taking care of myself and then I saw...





And oh shit. Because it is SO nice here in all of this self care and let other people take care of shit for a while and I'm done fighting the city and the old white guy politician brigade and apathetic and critical armchair activists who have your back until you need them to have your back and I really, REALLY like it here and that shit sucked. IT FUCKING SUCKED. I like this silence. I like not leaving my house. I like this safety.

But how can I roll around in all of this safety when others are not safe? How comfortable can that remain?

It can't.

So what I need to do is find my happy medium. I have until March 3rd. Figure out what I'm truly passionate about, figure out where my strengths truly lie, and figure out how to balance my needs with the needs of others. And definitely figure out how to hold strong to my own truths and my own fight and not get distracted by every single battle or by disdain OR praise. Take care of myself, take care of others, navigate the noise...goals.

Please share your favorite organizations with me. Tell me what they do and why and how you support them. Share how you balance your life. Tell me how you handle the noise. How you empower those without a voice? And please keep me accountable, you guys?  Don't let me get sucked into self care quicksand. Call me out. I've done the work before. I can do it again. I just need a better approach.




What Depression Looks Like When You're Not Depressed


When life is good and you're showering regularly and smiling and wearing bright red lipstick and being productive and people find out that you have depression...they are shocked.  Because your current state is not what they understand depression to be. I've had people flat out tell me that I don't have it...because I laughed at something. Because they saw me dancing.  Because I wore yellow. Because I post pictures like this:


Apparently there is some rule that people who have depression must ALWAYS be depressed. Forever and ever, amen. And they cannot laugh or make funny pictures or have a sense of humor, because they are supposed to be depressed. Which is...um...well, that's not really how that works.

Allie, from Hyperbole and a Half, is pretty much hilarious. And has depression. She wrote about it - if you've never read it, it's hilarious and sad and a pretty good illustration of the depression journey.

Depression is here...until it's not. Except when it's not here, you always know it's probably going to come back. So there's a little bit of anxiety about that. Which, if you already have anxiety, is now more anxiety. I don't know many people with depression who don't have the double whammy of depression and anxiety. They seem to like to hang out with each other. They're friends. They're the mean girls in your brain.


When you pick out an outfit and your brain is like, "yeah!" and then you put it on and your brain is like,"oh no." Except then your brain also calls you ugly. And over / under dressed. And unpopular. And finally convinces you to stay in sweatpants and not leave the house.



So what depression is (for me), when you're not in the throes of depression, is constantly looking over your shoulder for it. And feeling anxious. On top of your anxiety. And maintaining. Making super healthy choices, just to try and keep it at bay.

My doctors originally put me on fluoxetine, which was not the right answer for me. My experience with fluoxetine was bad enough that I elected to try to manage without medication.

This is not the right answer for everyone. What works or does not work for me is specific to my circumstances. I'm not a doctor. I would never make recommendations regarding management of mental illness with or without medication. That's between you and your doctor. I'm just sharing my journey.

I elected not to medicate. I experimented with supplements. HTP-5 for a while, and then I switched to Sam -E. Neither of them really made a huge difference, and the difference I thought I felt could very well be attributed to the placebo effect. I thought it should work, so my brain was all, "Yes! This is working!" Until my brain was like, "I'm actually not sure this is working."

So I quit taking supplements. I read a lot about depression. I read that sugar is a drug and takes your brain on a roller coaster of a journey that can contribute to depression. So I cut down on sugar. ( I really love cake, so I really cut down on daily sugar consumption, so I can still have cake when I want cake. Because cake is life.) 

I read that processed foods can contribute to depression, so we eat fresh food as much as possible now.

A friend commented that my caffeine intake was high and that caffeine could contribute to anxiety, so I cut back on coffee.

When the cloud over my head gets too dark, I make sure that I'm seeing my therapist. I paint. I write. I try to work through it. I try to get out of bed.

My therapist suggested I get my thyroid and my vitamin D levels tested, so I did that. My thyroid was fine, my vitamin D was super low. I take Vitamin D religiously, now.

I'm triggered by social situations, so I'm very careful about which ones I attend, and truthfully, I rarely attend anything.  I don't force myself to attend events I feel really anxious about. I know my brain. It's not going to just be magically ok when we get there. When I do attend anything, I try to have a buddy system - going by myself generally turns out badly. 

I exercise because exercise creates endorphins and endorphins make your brain happy.

Facebook became a trigger for me. I had read that social media could contribute to depression and I felt like that was becoming a factor for me, so I've taken myself away from that for a bit.

My point is, even when I look like this:



...I'm still fighting depression. I make choices every day that are designed to keep my brain as healthy as possible. I'm vigilant about it. And my husband knows all of the details, so that if I start to slip, he can talk to me about what I need to stay on task. On the days that I can't fight the dark cloud, he can hold my hand through it, and check in with the steps I'm taking to stay safe.

Depression doesn't look like something. It's a funny little beast that hides in our brains, and if you don't live in our brains, you can't see it. So you don't know what it looks like. And you don't know what it doesn't look like. Today, I am sunshine and rainbows and big smiles and life is good...but I'm still fighting. I'm always fighting. And it's important that people know that, because I have all of these coping mechanisms in place (reduced sugar, lower caffeine, limited social engagement, physical activity, etc.) that I need people to respect. And when the beast shows up, sometimes out of the blue, I need people to know what's going on, because I need a support system. I'll need help.

And I bet you know someone like me. Or you are somebody like me.

So here's to the fighters, who may or may not look like they have depression. I see your beast, even when she hides. Let's be vigilant. Let's keep fighting. Let's ask for help when we need it, and hold the hands of others when we're able. We're all in this together. We'll just keep going. Together.