Writing right along

Greetings!

A few readers (all two of you) recently asked me why I haven’t been writing on my blog. As Christmas approaches and 2016 winds down, I thought I’d take a minute to give a brief update on what’s-a-happen’ in my writerly life.

First off, lack of voice on my blog does not mean I haven’t been writing. Quite the contrary. I joined two writing groups in State College, and in November I went to a monthly meeting as part of another group. Exciting and flourishing times for my pen. I am concentrating primarily on writing creative nonfiction in the first-person. True stories are what bring us together, offer hope, and help us understand each other.

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What didn’t make me happy about my day

Last fall I came up with a ritual that my husband and I could do with our kids during dinner every night. I called it, “What made me happy about my day.” While eating we would all go around the table and share one thing that made us happy about our day. The point was to highlight and focus on the good in our lives.

Before long this ritual was commonplace and we would take turns going first, making family dinners that much more communal. When we had guests we invited them into our happy circle.

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Mental illness: The unsung heroes and information

In the spirit of Mental Health Awareness Month, this post is a second installment about revealing my struggles with mental illness in order to help fight stigmas. You can read my first post here.

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Today I’d like to tell you a little bit about the unsung heroes behind people living with mental illnesses, provide some factual information, and share a few thoughts that have come to mind since “outing myself” about my own struggles with mental illness.

In some of the response I received after writing my blog post, people called me a hero. Although that is an extremely nice thing to say, the true heroes are the family members and friends who have to live with or be around a person who is mentally ill. The people who try to convince a mentally ill person that they need help or do not understand what they are going through, I imagine, is frustrating.

My husband is one of those heroes. Although he likes to maintain a low profile online — he’s German and stoic and private like that (unlike his wacky wife!) — today I am going to acknowledge him anyway. There were many times when I was sick that he was not only my first point of contact, but the only person who’d see my worst symptoms rage up in fire. It’s a lot for a person to handle.

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An honest take on mental illness

In the spirit of Mental Health Awareness Month I am revealing my struggles with mental illness.

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Lately I have been thinking about what got my blog started. I decided to go back and read the very first post I ever wrote, almost five years ago.

It’s titled:

“First post as I try to learn WordPress… You gotta start somewhere, folks.”

The body is a whopping 23 words long:

“So I was thinking… Most of the information I process and concepts I learn in life seem so obvious after I learn them.” 

(Wow, I was like SO smart back then. And, damn I have gotten long-winded since then).

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Over the last year I have had pain in my right forearm in wrist. I’ve put off going to an orthopedic doctor because I feared I had an injury that would require me to stop writing and stop doing yoga until it healed. As a writer and someone who enjoys exercise, those orders would not mesh well with my commitment to practicing them regularly. Even worse — as a person living with mental illness, those orders would be part of a death sentence because writing and exercise are an integral part of my treatment plan.

I started this blog in July 2011, three months after I had my first psychotic episode that led to being diagnosed with a bipolar disorder and an anxiety disorder. I was deeply embarrassed and ashamed of the complete loss of control I felt during the paranoia, hallucinations, delusions of grandeur, insomnia, mania, and intrusive thoughts. I completely lost my grip on reality and was involuntarily hospitalized. The racing and incoherent thoughts, sleepless nights, impulsively, agitation, and reckless behaviors were not a pretty sight.

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Sunday sentiments

The granddaddy of one of my friends said to me one time, “Don’t look down when you are walking or people will think you are talking to the devil.” His remark has always stuck with me, and whenever I am stewing over something and the urge to look down feels natural, I try to pick up my chin and look toward the sky.

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10 reasons why moms need a girls weekend

This post is the final installment of banter about my recent girls weekend in NYC. If you missed the first three, you can read them here: NYC Part 1: Feeding my soul, NYC Part 2: Round metal Ray-bans, NYC Part 3: Staten Island.

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Before I made the decision to go on a girls weekend to NYC with three of my girlfriends, I had to justify the trip in my mind. What was I seeking? Why was it important? Did I deserve to go on this trip and leave my husband and kids behind for three days?

The answers I came up with were simple:

1. Freedom-filled fun with other young moms who understand this phase of life.

2. Because everyone deserves a break even, and especially, moms with small children that depend on them 24-7.

3. Heck yeah! I work hard and hard work deserves a reward.

My day job as a stay-at-home-mom of preschool age children involves all the joys and rigors that come with raising babies. I am the one who gets to hug and kiss my kids all day long, who picks them up when no one else will do, who is the recipient of their smiles when they learn something new, and who they run to when they need help.

In that same breath, I am the one who gets frustrated when things don’t go right, who loses sleep when they are sick, who loses patience when they defy me, who tires from using my shirt as a dish towel for sticky hands and snot when necessary, who breaks up fights, and who receives little to no daily affirmation that I am doing things “right” or appreciation for my hardest efforts.

When I returned home after the trip, I gained a much deeper sense about why moms need a girls weekend. Here are 10 reasons:*

  1. To know that your old self is still in there. Taking a trip with longtime friends will remind you that you haven’t lost that younger, carefree version of yourself. Every mom needs personal time to uncover all the added layers motherhood piles onto our being. I started the trip with make-up and a nice outfit.
  2. To learn and pursue a personal interest. Even though I spend a lot of time learning and reading about motherhood and parenting, I still have other interests. Writing and photography are two of them. On the bus ride into the city, I re-read my camera manual and played around with the different settings. Once in the city, I took one of the mornings to tour the NYC Public Library on 5th Ave and 42nd street. Boom! I felt alive!

    Entrance of a photography exhibit at the NYC Public Library at 5th Avenue and 42nd street.

    Entrance of a photography exhibit at the NYC Public Library at 5th Avenue and 42nd street. The exhibit featured the evolution of photography over time. From old black and whites to digital media, photography has always been social.

  3. To get a break from your kids and give them a break from you. You will be pleasantly surprised when you do not have to put anyone in time-out or wipe a butt during girls weekend. In turn, your kids will get away with things at home that you might normally put the kibosh on. Good for them. Let’s face it kids are sanity-suckers at times. Taking a trip with girlfriends will remind you that adult conversation centered around fashion, art, music, books, food, and nightlife still exists. IMG_1242
  4. To reconnect with old friends. It was so refreshing to reminisce with my friends about childhood and college days as the stress from daily life fell to the bar floor ground. In the process, we made new memories on top of all the old ones. Traversing through new territory and laughing all the way with your best friends is a dream.IMG_1533
  5. To revel in freedom from responsibilities. In other words, not be in charge. It is tiresome making the decisions for one, two, or three plus kids all day long. Add on the pressure of constant demands (e.g. hunger, thirst, hygiene) and by the end of the day you’re likely in a tailspin. The hardest choice I had to make on the trip was choosing between red wine and white wine at dinner. And even that wasn’t hard because I let the waiter decide based on what I was eating.
  6. To silence your to-do list. This is a big one for many of us. Life is busy and practically every waking moment is devoted to some kind of chore on top of taking care of the kids. Laundry, housework, pets, hobbies, bills – it is exhausting! On girls weekend you don’t have to constantly look at the clock and think about what you have to get done next. Decisions made on a whim result is a delightful reminder that to-dos don’t have to rule your life.

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    Trying on a fancy dress at Prada wasn’t exactly on my to-do list, but what a treat!

  7. To give your mental health a boost. Three months after both my children were born, I experienced an array of postpartum difficulties that eventually forced me to seek medical attention. After I bounced back I was able to see clearly the importance of mental health. No matter what struggles women face postpartum, I think we can all agree that a tired and sick Mommy is of no use to her babies. Some may call taking a girls weekend trip selfish or unwarranted in this junction of life, but I call it necessary. Not doing so and not taking care of ourselves is all part of the downward spiral many of us end up facing.
  8. To realize you aren’t indispensable. No one can take care of your kids as good as you can, but others can take care of them for a few days and they will be just fine. Trust me. Your kids will even grow from the experience, too, and actually enjoy a little distance from the person who lays down the law all of the time.  Don’t carry around a warrior badge of honor with you that says you have to do everything. Because you don’t. Outsource the responsibility once in a while. I am still learning this and thank goodness for that.
  9. To gain support from other women and moms. A girls weekend will put your mind at ease reminding you that others share similar struggles. Sometimes merely listening to another mom speak is soothing. Being away reminded me not to sweat the small stuff and laugh at some of my mom blunders that caused me unrest at one time. I coined the trip a Mom Conference (of sorts). I enjoyed hearing some of my friends new and happy motherhood moments, as well as exchanging a few parenting ideas and tips. It was also fun to forget about motherhood entirely and just be a women. I took the diapers out of my purse, painted my nails red, enjoyed an adult beverage at lunch, had my hair done, and lingered over two-hour dinners with out someone spilling something on me. It was heavenly. And liberating. And I felt so wild. Ha! IMG_1530
  10. To gain a new perspective when you come home. People joke about how moms feel like their babies are little appendages. It’s true, yet we are BIG appendages for them and they truly see us as a vessel to carry out their needs. When I came home, it was joyful for me to see them waiting for me at the bus stop all happy and smiley. They looked so little and so big all at the same time. I loved looking into their eyes and hearing about what they did. And to my surprise, they were equally curious about what I did and looked through my pictures with interest. That felt pretty good. I had a new sense of patience for their needs and the realization that as they get older I want them to see glimpses of me that have absolutely nothing to do with them. Becoming a mom is an identity shift. Maintaining the balance of you as a person and you as a mom is so important.

That said, please keep these reasons in mind and encourage yourself to take a trip so you can reconnect with your old self. You’ll be glad you did. I came home with the notion that I work harder than I give myself credit for, that I am still an interesting person, that my mommy instincts are strong, and that the rest will fall into place. All too often women become plagued with guilt about leaving their kids – stay-at-home-moms and working moms – but I’ll advocate for anyone: Take some leave and feed your soul on a trip with some good friends.

On my last morning in the city I got a massage. At the end of the massage the therapist simply said, “Welcome to the new you.” She couldn’t have been more right.

Please share this post with other moms who might benefit from the information. Don’t let time and money get in the way. We chose NYC – it’s kind of tradition – and I save up for it in between trips, but you can go anywhere and there are so many ways to cut costs. The key is putting it on the calendar.

Planning a girls weekend or just got back from one? Where would/did you go? What others important reasons do other moms need to hear about going on a girls weekend?

I’d love to hear from you.

Happy trails!

 *(Note: Most of my reasons involve the view-point of a stay-at-home mom with pre-school age children, but I did solicit the opinions of my three friends who went on the trip with me. Two are working moms, one with a school age child, and the third is a stay-at-home-mom  like me).