Here we go again…

So.

Here we go again. It’s the Saturday before the Wednesday.

Before you think I’ve completely lost it-in 2014, the 23rd of August fell on a Saturday. That was the first day that Jake asked to be taken to the hospital for severe depression and suicidal thoughts. They gave him a prescription for Ativan (which has side effects including suicidal thoughts) and a pamphlet recommending that he take a nice bath.

The worst day of our lives was four days later.  Wednesday, August 27, 2014. In my opinion, this sculpture best captures the pain we endured that day. I remembering lying on the floor, feeling like I was filled with stones.  This year-like the past two-I am continuously re-living every day between the Saturday and the Wednesday. Every conversation. Every text message. Every meal. Every event. Everything.

Here’s the thing. I honestly believed–I had myself convinced–that I was going to be okay this year. This year would be different. Haha! I know better!

At the end of last year, I registered to run a 1/2 marathon on August 27th of this year. I didn’t really think about what that meant for me. For the most part, it just meant doing something healthier than I’ve done the past two years (in case you missed it, 1st year mark–beer and whiskey shots, 2nd year mark–didn’t leave my bed). I guess in the back of my mind I also figured I would be honoring Jake (who we all know was an avid runner), by running that day.

But, recently, I’ve really been thinking about this. I don’t ever want to honor or memorialize August 27th in any way. So, why am I running this stupid race on August 27th?

Because it’s not about Jake. I’m running, jogging, walking, and possibly crawling across that finish line to honor myself. I’m running to honor the fact that my kids and I, Jake’s family, Jake’s friends, and my family lived through that awful day.  I’m honoring all the people affected by this loss–the widening concentric circles that I’ve talked about in the past. Friends, old and new, who were there to support all of us who loved him-because it has sucked for them too. It sucks to watch people you love hurting.

On August 27, 2014, the unimaginable actually happened.  There are those of us that at times thought that we might not make it through such heavy, debilitating pain. So, when I run this Sunday, I’ll be thinking of all us who somehow lived through that day…and every day after. My body and brain may feel like they are filled with stones, just like the sculpture-but I’m going to drag them both across the finish line no matter what it takes. And I’ll be taking you all with me.  XO

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Navigating the 3rd Christmas

Yesterday, I found myself wishing I was a kid again. I remember Christmas being so magical and so exciting. Watching out the car window looking at all the Christmas lights. Decorating our live tree. Watching all the Christmas specials (including my favorite “Emmet Otter’s Jug Band Christmas”). My dad’s I.B.E.W Christmas party every year. The anticipation of Christmas Eve and Christmas morning almost more than I could stand.

I had really bad nightmares this morning. Really bad and very disturbing and I can’t get them out of my head. Here’s the thing. I have been thinking that I really have my act together this year. The past two Christmases I couldn’t even really make an effort. Loved ones supported my children throughout the past two Christmases. But this one–I had it. I started at the beginning of the month. Christmas lists in hand. Grand surprises planned. A very nice person spent two days putting Christmas lights up outside my house (which we’ve never had–and my kids are always sad about that) so that when I pulled up to the house-the kids would gasp in wonder and excitement at the beautiful wonderland he had created (I even pulled over to video tape their reactions but it didn’t quite go down the way I had imagined). I bought our first live tree and colored lights that reminded me of my childhood trees. I white knuckled a weekend trip over the pass in a giant snowstorm so my kids could experience a ton of snow and play in it and go sledding. The kids and I even ran out of the house one morning at 6:30am so we could buy teacher and staff presents and they could all wear festive hats on the last day before the break. The one thing I didn’t get to was Christmas cards–and I was okay with that. I was way ahead of the game and we would be visiting Santa long before Christmas Eve morning.

It’s Christmas Eve morning. I couldn’t even bring my kids to see Santa. My parents had to do it for me. Yesterday, I crashed. My kids were staying with my parents and I was going to watch Christmas movies and wrap presents and get up early this morning to go see Santa. But, when I got back last night, I crashed hard. My brain kept going to a very bad place. This one survival mode of my brain trying to think of ways to escape the pain. The other reasonable part of my brain reminding me that I can get through this. Just get through the next minute. Then the next minute. Fortunately, a good friend showed up at my doorstep right in the middle of it all, and although her visit was short, it was all I needed to come out of that dark place. I begrudgingly wrapped the rest of the presents, ate a salad and watched “Shameless”. Not a whole lot of Christmas spirit-but I was moving along. Then this morning I woke up from the nightmares. My parents were texting me about getting the kids out early to see Santa. I tried. I told myself “Come on! This is one day-one day out of the year when you really need to fake it and get the kids to see Santa. You can do this. You NEED to do this”. But I was stuck. Stuck in my nightmares. Just stuck.

I’ve been thinking about the holiday season a lot since yesterday. There is this idea of magic, joy, singing, happiness and family. But there are so many people out there-for whom the holidays are painful, agonizing, and heartbreaking. I try really hard not to give in to those feelings. I think about others and try to keep things in perspective. I really tried this year. But I crashed. Hard. I don’t want to celebrate. I don’t feel like celebrating. I have to, because I have kids. But I would say-this is not just about my pain this year. It’s actually fully recognizing the state of the world, and all the people–so many people–who are suffering in one way or another, and feeling so sad about THEIR pain, THEIR suffering, THEIR losses, THEIR hunger and THEIR heartbreak. I think I’m so overwhelmed with how painful the holidays are for so many people and I can donate to charities until I run out of money, but that doesn’t really make a difference in this world. So, I’m sad for all of the people who are suffering. I wish I could invite them all to my house for a sleepover and feed them and clothe them and let them know–its okay. It’s okay that the holidays suck for you and you don’t have to pretend.

I’m very lucky that I have memories of magical Christmases. Even as an adult. I’ll end with a Jake story.  One Christmas, we went out to buy a tree.  I think it was the last Christmas we had a live tree (maybe 10-11 years ago).  The place where we bought the tree didn’t have any twine or anything to secure the tree to the top of the car!  They encouraged us to go into the store and buy some rope.  Jake and I were frustrated.  So, Jake threw the tree on top of the car, opened his window, and drove home with one hand on the steering wheel and one arm hanging out the window, holding onto to the tree on top of the car. Simple story–one of those “you had to be there” events.  But, I’m so grateful that Jake was Jake and we were fortunate enough to call him family.  I really miss him.

 

PTSD and the Pretending

Jake used to make me laugh so hard.  I mean, gasping in pain, clutching my stomach and pleading for him to stop, kind of laughing.  Most of those times, he wasn’t even trying to be funny.  I smile just thinking about it.  He would sit and look at me like I was crazy.  I am very thankful for those times.

A couple of weeks ago, something very bad and very sad happened. Some people will read what I’m about to write and roll their eyes at me. That’s okay–because all I’m saying is what happened and how I felt (and continue to feel) about it. I had two of my kids in the car. I had just picked up one from his friend’s house and tried to take my daughter to soccer practice, but there happened to be a torrential downpour at that time, so I spoke with her coach for a bit and left. I was headed out to pick up my youngest. I was on a side street. I thought I had left my phone at home so I wasn’t distracted by my phone (have to throw that in because I’m sure people will think I was texting and driving or something). All I caught was a black blur out of the corner of my eye. Then I felt it. It was big. I had just run over something big. In the seconds before I knew, I remember thinking coyote or raccoon. I stopped my car and jumped out-but couldn’t make sense of the scene around me. There was an awful, horrible wailing sound and a man lying in the street. As I ran over, I realized this awful, horrible wailing sound was coming from the man who was lying on top of his dog in the street. The dog, the black lab, that I had just run over and killed. Everything that happened after that is kind of a blur. I remember kneeling in the street beside this man and his dog. I remember sobbing and saying “I’m so sorry” over and over again. But what stands out the most in my mind was all the blood. There was so much blood. How could I have done such a thing? I killed someone’s beloved pet. He was a black lab and was wearing a collar with all his requisite tags. I’m sure he was – in case he got lost. His eyes were open-but lifeless. And he was lying in a very large pool of blood. The poor owner had presumably seen the entire thing-given that he was lying over the dog before I could even get out of my car. A few neighbors came out to help and when they helped picked up the dog to move him out of the street, I remember noticing how limp and boneless he seemed. That’s what happens when your life ends. Your eyes are open, but unseeing. Your body goes limp and grows heavy. There was so much blood. I was in and out of my car, frantic and inconsolable. I didn’t even have my phone to call someone for help. At some point, the pet owner came over and hugged me and we cried and cried. I kept saying “I’m so sorry” and he kept saying “It’s not your fault”. It was very important for him to tell me that it wasn’t my fault. I remember he had black dog hair in his mouth and on his face. He apologized to me for not being able to talk at that moment and that was the last time I saw him. I was shaking and crying. What had I done? Then the “if only”s started. I am very familiar with the “if only”s–they have formed quite a rut in my brain where the chemicals have fired over and over again throughout the past two years. If only I had chatted with my daughter’s soccer coach for 30 seconds more. Or 30 seconds less. If only I had decided to tell my friend some story I thought was funny or ask more about what was going on in her life when I picked up my son. There I was, desperately wishing for my DeLorean and flux capacitor again. There was absolutely nothing I could do. How was I going to live with myself? How could I make it up to this poor man who had just seen his dog get run over and killed by a car driven by me?

Obviously I can’t. I can’t go back in time. I will never be able to heal this pet owner, now traumatized forever, I’m sure. I’ve learned this lesson. Every weekday, at least four times a day, I have to drive past that spot, when I drop off and pick up my kids from school. That street, and that house–a house I had never even noticed before–are changed for me. Supercharged with the energy and memories of this very bad and very sad event.

I have been picturing that we are all born with a certain capacity for trauma.  I imagine it like a balloon.  Some trauma is smaller than others but it all gets stuffed into this balloon-with some taking up more space and some taking up less.  I imagine this accident like a bulge out the side of the already full balloon.  The balloon is stretching so tightly that the color is gone and you can see what’s inside.  It’s about to burst.

There are no support groups for “people who run over and kill other people’s pets with their cars”.

I realized recently that I am always pretending.  99.9% of my life is spent pretending.  Pretending to be okay.  Pretending to be strong.  Pretending I want to talk to people who I don’t want to talk to.  Pretending to be engaged.  Pretending to be interested.  One night I laid on my bed and started crying because I am so tired of pretending.  I want to be my real self.  I don’t even I think I know who that is–because I’ve been pretending for so long.  I don’t think I knew who I was before Jake died and the past two years have heaped layers and layers on top of my true self so I think I’m even pretending to myself most of the time.  I want to peel off all the layers and discover who I actually am and for those people who don’t like it, they can go away.  But what if I don’t like what I discover?  Then what’s left? I like to tell myself and others that this blog is raw and emotional and true.  But then  I wonder, is it really?  Do I really put it all out there?  Or are my words part of my pretending?

I can tell myself I’m okay.  I can tell myself I’m strong.  I can convince myself that I’ve come to terms with one thing or another.  Then, out of the blue, two months later, 4 days later, an hour later…whatever…WHAM–something hits me so hard that I’m shaken to the core.  Wait!  I thought I had that one covered!  I was done with that!

November 8th was my 13th year wedding anniversary.  After we were married, every year on our anniversary, I would make Jake sit and watch our wedding video with me.  The video is cringeworthy. The editing, the music, the special effects….so hard to watch.  It is a very cheesy video.  I know Jake hated watching it–sometimes he would even leave the room at the really, really cheesy parts.  But he always came back.  He swallowed his pride and manhood and everything he believed in 😉 once a year to watch this video with me.  I also thought the video was awful.  But as I was watching the edited version, in my head–I was back there on November 8, 2003.  Replaying memories of that day that you can’t see on the video.  Like how I was feeling at any given time during the day.  I am smiling throughout the video, but I can see through that smile and remember my feelings. I know that in that one day I probably felt a mixture of 372 emotions, not all of them “happiness”, yet I smiled through them all.  I was even pretending then.  I guess to some extent maybe we all pretend at different times.

So, in the process of trying to “not pretend”, I’m going to say some things that may not be popular.  People may not like these words.  They might stop reading.  But I can promise you-there is no pretense in the words I am about to write.  This is me-feeling what I feel and actually telling you.

Probably before Jake died, I might have been the person to recite the mantras “Create your own happiness!”, “Choose happy!”, “Everything happens for a reason”, and “What goes around, comes around”.  The last two phrases make me want to throw up.  If anybody ever says any of those things to my face, I may just land in jail for assault.  But the stuff about “creating our own happiness” and “the happiness principle”–I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about this concept.  I’ve decided that these platitudes are not only stupid, but harmful as well.  The stupidity lies in the notion that we actually control our emotions.  Happiness is a fucking emotion, just like sadness, anger, irritation, fear.  Nobody chooses to feel any of those feelings.  They just happen.  YOU FEEL WHAT YOU FEEL.  No emotion is wrong.  No feeling is wrong.  Because they are just there.  They make us human.  We have zero control over our emotions so why would the assumption be made that we can choose to be happy?  (Sidenote: I do believe that there are many times we can control our own behavior/reactions to the emotion.  But I also believe that there are times in everybody’s life when we just aren’t strong enough-for whatever reason-to respond to our feelings in the manner that we’d like to.)

Recently, I had parent-teacher conferences.  Not a single one went the way I expected it to.  I try to schedule them one after another.  That way I have fewer appointments to forget. As I proceeded from one to the next and the next, I went from pleasantly surprised to numb.   The numbness wore off within a day and very unpleasant feelings hit me really hard.  It turns out one of my kids is having a particularly difficult time-socially and emotionally.  I had no clue.  Apparently, he’s been leaving class in tears and spending time with the principal, but not because he’s in trouble.  He was with me during the conferences (which is a concept I totally don’t get-the teachers see the kids everyday.  Why do they need to talk to them some more?) and he cried during the conferences.  It was then that I understood that I have no grasp on the depth and intensity of this child’s pain.  My emotions were a tangled knot of sadness, guilt, compassion, self-loathing, and anger.  Asking myself–“what have I done to this poor kid?”, then “what can I do to fix it?”, then “this is too hard–I can’t figure this out all on my own”, then….fury at my husband “How the fuck did you choose to do this to your kids? How did you do this?  How could you do this to them?” I was actually in the car alone, screaming at Jake, pounding the steering wheel, heart racing, gasping for breath…like you see an actor do on television or in the movies.

It took a few days before I came back to compassion.  Although it seems to the rest of us that Jake made a choice–he didn’t.  That’s the whole point.  He didn’t see any other option.  In his brain, this was the only way.  I need to remind myself of this often and really try to process it.  If his brain thought there were other options, he wouldn’t have done what he did.  So hard to imagine.  But, we can’t choose our feelings.  We don’t choose to be happy or sad–because why would anyone choose this?  If he thought he had a choice, he would still be here.  He would have known he had a choice if the Chantix hadn’t made his brain so sick.  There are actually people behind this drug.  People who have no clue or just don’t care what they did to my 4 young children, and to the thousands of others whose loved ones’ sick brains told them “You have no other choice”.  Chantix is just a thing.  It doesn’t think or choose or love.  The people behind Chantix, the people who create it, market it, and approve it with the knowledge of what it does to people’s brains, those people killed my husband.

Proof

Jake Valentine 1 insideJake Valentine 1

I came across this yesterday and can’t let go.  This. This is my proof that the Jake that I knew and loved existed.  Very accurate picture portrayal of the two of us–I have to say!

Some days I walk around in a fog wondering “How did I get here?”, “How could Jake be gone?”, and most disturbingly “Was he ever here in the first place?”.  This is my proof.  This was my Jake.  He was here.  And now he is gone.

I’m still extremely angry.  But, my anger is directed at Pfizer (maker of Chantix) and the Federal Drug Administration.  The number of suicides directly linked to the drug, Chantix, is staggering.  We’re talking thousands of people who have taken this drug, reported suicidal thoughts, and/or committed suicide.  These “adverse effects” have been reported in patients who have taken the drug for as little as two weeks.  I believe Jake was on it for 4-6 weeks.  In that last month, he wasn’t my Jake anymore.  He was a walking depiction of every “adverse effect” listed in the “black box”.

I copied the following directly out of the medication guide I found in Jake’s office after his death:

“Some people have had changes in behavior, hostility, agitation, depressed mood, and suicidal thoughts or actions while using Chantix.  Some people had these symptoms when they began taking Chantix, and others developed them after several weeks of treatment, or after stopping Chantix”.

What the FUCK?? SOME people?

“If you, your family, or caregiver notice agitation, hostility, depression or changes in behavior or thinking that are not typical for you, or you develop any of the following symptoms, stop taking Chantix and call your healthcare provider right away:

  • Thoughts about suicide or dying, or attempts to commit suicide
  • new or worse depression, anxiety, or panic attacks
  • feeling very agitated or restless
  • acting aggressive, being angry, or violent
  • acting on dangerous impulses
  • an extreme increase in activity and talking (mania)
  • abnormal thoughts or sensations
  • seeing or hearing things that are not there (hallucinations)
  • feeling people are against you (paranoia)
  • feeling confused
  • other unusual changes in behavior or mood”
Jake experienced every last one of these adverse effects.  He did as directed.  He went to the Emergency Room on a sunny Saturday afternoon in August (4 days BEFORE it happened).  I was with him.  I heard everything he told the doctor and the social worker.  He told them he had been taking Chantix but had stopped.  (Please refer back to above warning listed above that some people have developed these effects “or after stopping Chantix”.  Jake told me, the doctors and the social worker that he never, ever in his life had a thought about killing himself until he went on that drug.  Jake was not seen by a psychiatrist that day.  The social worker gave him a pamphlet telling him to take a walk or a “nice bath” when he was feeling sad.  She also told him to start calling psychiatrists on Monday to get an appointment. Wait. What?
I could dissect everything I’ve mentioned so far into all of the things that are so very wrong about this story. But that will take a hundred more blog posts.  On that Tuesday, the 26th, Jake went to another doctor.  He went to see the doctor who had prescribed him the Chantix.  The primary reason listed for the visit was “Major depression”.  I don’t know exactly what transpired, I only have medical records to rely on.  But this doctor also let him go.  That day he ran 14 miles.  He was able to make an appointment with a psychiatrist for Thursday August 28.  But on the day in between–Wednesday, August 27th, 2014, those “adverse effects” got the best of him.
Why the fuck is this drug still on the market?  Pfizer holds no liability in Jake’s death, because he was “warned” that he might kill himself while taking it.  This is okay with the FDA? Several years ago children’s cough medicine was pulled from the shelves because a small group of parents weren’t following the dosing instructions accurately.  A few years ago, my favorite weight loss pill ever was pulled from the shelves because one person in Hawaii didn’t follow the dosing instructions and developed kidney failure (I miss you my magic purple pills…).  How does the FDA justify keeping a drug that actually causes people to kill themselves on the market?  Thousands of people (even more if you count loved ones) have been affected by this drug in the worst ways possible.  Oh, I remember now.  It’s because they put the warning about these “adverse effects” into a black box so physicians who prescribe or treat people using the drug will know what to look out for.  Yeah.  That worked wonderfully for Jake. Two doctors with their little black box warnings and they just said “take a relaxing bath”.  Another major issue with this drug is the insurance companies.  Most insurance will cover the cost of Chantix itself, but will not actually cover the cost of the doctor’s visits in order to monitor the patients taking the drug.  Everything.  Every little thing about this drug, is so wrong.
I might be biased because it is ultimately what took my husband’s life.
My brain gets stuck often on what happened to Jake.  The details of the time immediately before, during and after what happened run through my mind day after day.  That’s why I need to keep finding cards like the one I posted.  Because that was my Jake.  That’s my proof and a reminder to try hard to remember more of that Jake.
This is not over people.  I may not have cause to sue Pfizer or the doctors who “treated” him.  But I have a really big mouth (I’m a Jersey girl after all) and I am going to be talking.  A lot.

Setbacks and Moving Forward

I guess there are bound to be setbacks. This one caught me very much off-guard. I’ve been feeling different for the past two months. I realized I was spending a lot more time just really missing Jake and a lot less time obsessing over every last minute of that tragic day and the days that surrounded it. I noticed I was focusing better and more often. I even found myself singing in the car with the kids!

Then the other morning I got a phone call that my dad had been admitted to the hospital and it felt like I was reliving August 27, 2014. My mother was saying a lot of words to me and I couldn’t even put them together to have them make sense.  Anyone who knows me, probably knows my dad and knows what an incredible person he is. I can’t even think of an adjective superlative enough to describe my dad. For the past few weeks he has been in horrendous pain and unable to leave his bed. My mother has been taking care of him and watching him continue in such pain has really taken its toll on her. He had been to the ER once already, but this time they admitted him because he had pain with breathing.

I now can truly tell you what a flashback is and how it is different from a terrible memory.  A flashback is the feeling of being in the moment of a tragic event. My heart racing, my body shaking, visions of everything I saw and did that day in the immediate AFTER. I had to pass by Harborview on the way to the hospital and that is an area I have avoided. I vividly saw myself jumping out of the car of the wonderful stranger who drove me there that day and running into the ER. As I walked through the hospital to my dad’s room, I felt myself walking through the halls of Harborview, not knowing much (because the police were assholes…have I ever mentioned that?)–not understanding that when you are taken to a private room for your family by a social worker–that means something very, very bad has happened. It seems like all hospitals have that same smell. I lived with that smell when I stayed with Jake and I didn’t even really smell it. But, it hit me like a brick wall when I went to visit my dad and I saw and felt everything-Jake in the bed hooked up to many machines and not even looking like my husband, all the blood, the crushing feeling that dropped me to the floor in the worst emotional pain I have ever felt. It was all happening again. Except that it wasn’t.

I was able to speak with my dad’s doctor, who explained what is going on and the plan of action.  My parents were happy that it turned out to be something less serious than they had originally thought.  But, sitting in that hospital room was torturous for me.  I was back living in the Neurology ICU at Harborview, numb, shocked, traumatized.  Cleaning the blood off of Jake’s face, holding his hand, making crazy promises to the universe, and wondering how I was ever going to leave that place–how I was ever going to leave Jake and walk out of that hospital without him.  I texted people from my dad’s hospital room, trying to bring myself back to the present moment.  It helped, temporarily.  But I had also spent a lot of time texting, and making phone calls (or having other people make phone calls for me) from Harborview.  I was there again.  My phone never stopped ringing, the texts never stopped coming.  As much as I adore my dad, I couldn’t wait to leave that hospital.  How awful is that?  My dad–who made sure I was never alone when I was living at Harborview with Jake for four days–and I couldn’t wait to leave.  I’m wondering what kind of person I really am.

I nearly fell asleep driving on the way home from the hospital.  I was so completely drained.  I was back in those first days and weeks in the AFTER where all I could do was climb into bed.  I couldn’t even pick up my boys from school.  I had made fun plans for the Memorial Day weekend.  I had to cancel the first days’ plans.  I couldn’t leave my bed.  I almost cancelled my evening plans, but told myself I had to play grown-up.  I needed to pick up my own little ones from school and proceed with my plans.  So, I did.  I’m glad I did.  It helped me to return to the present and get “un-stuck”.

I’m not completely back to where my mind was the morning before that phone call-but I know I will get there again.  Although doctors, nurses, and my mother insist that this surgery my dad will have is very common and he is going to be so much better afterwards–I am very skeptical of doctors and health care in general these days.  I don’t have faith that everything will be okay.  I don’t believe in happily ever after or that life only throws at us what we can handle.  I’m jaded and probably will be for the rest of my life.  I know bad shit happens and I don’t believe that everything happens for a reason.  However, I do truly understand that life is most definitely short and people should take advantage of every exciting opportunity that comes their way.  Sometimes, I dwell on all the stuff Jake really wanted to do, and will never get to.  But, more often now, I am so grateful for all the stuff that Jake did get to do. The list is too long.

After Jake died, my parents stepped in and took over for almost everything that Jake had taken care of.  I learned about things like probate, our monthly finances, budgeting, etc.  Both of my parents took care of the kids.  But my dad took over pretty much everything else–taking out the garbage, fixing stuff around the house, mowing the lawn, dump runs, etc.  All of a sudden, my dad couldn’t help me anymore.  He was too sick.  I called my brother and asked him if he had a handyman to recommend.  He looked at me blankly and said “Dad”.  I decided I would need to find and hire a handyman for such things and started looking into it.  But yesterday morning-something happened which required immediate action.  In the early morning hours, my two youngest (ages 5 & 3) disappeared from the house.  My oldest found them down the street, in pajamas and bare feet–looking for slugs.  It was early-the time of day when there are a lot of bear and coyote sightings.  They could have been hit by a car.  The worst possible scenarios ran through my head and I did my best to make it clear to them that they could never do that again (e.g. punishments, long talks, explanations, etc.).  But, they are only 5 & 3 years old.  I know they didn’t really get it.  How to handle this?  First–I freaked out.  Second–Contacted my friends and asked their husbands to come and install something on my doors (e.g. locks way up high) so my children could no longer escape unnoticed.  Third–Calmed down and decided I had to learn to do these things on my own.  My girlfriend was on call–ready and waiting to send her husband over to help me.  But I was determined.  I was going to be brave and figure this out all on my own.

Guess what?  I did it.  I went to Home Depot and spent way too much time (without asking for help) determining the best option.  Scoured my garage for tools and drill bits (didn’t really know what they were–but I figured it out!) Finally, I installed those locks on every door leading to the outside (4 in total).  Using power tools and non-power tools and 3/32″ drill bits.  I did it.  So, although I spent a few days feeling low and drained because of the flashbacks and worries about my dad–I also was able to pull myself out of it, put on my tool belt and move a step (or maybe more) forward.

That started me thinking of all the other things I have started doing on my own.  Like killing spiders.  Putting out the garbage.  Paying bills.  Budgeting.  Going to Costco (ugh….possibly the absolute worst thing I have had to do on my own…).  I may get stuck in the past sometimes, but I am also moving ahead.  Most of the time without even realizing it.

My dad’s surgery is tomorrow.  Send good thoughts to him–for a successful surgery and speedy recovery.

*Healthy* Coping Strategies for the Grief-Stricken (*sarcasm)

I had a dream about Jake this morning.  In my dream, I was looking all over for him.  It seems as though I was stuck somewhere and when I finally got out, I ran to his sister to find out if she had heard from Jake yet.  She said she had and she thought he had gotten in touch with me.  Then his buddies started calling me–they were looking for him too.  I feel like I was on the verge of speaking with him on the phone, when I woke up.  I wanted to go back to sleep.  I wanted to talk to him.

Yesterday, March 23rd, marked seven months since the first time Jake and I went to the emergency room looking for help for him.  The doctor sent us away with pretty little pamphlets that said “Take a walk” and “Treat yourself to a nice bath”.  Five days later, Jake was dead.  Anyway, I was really very sad all day yesterday-that sobbing, sick to my stomach kind of sad.  It wasn’t until the end of the day that I realized the significance of the date.  It could have been coincidence.  But, sometimes I wonder if at some deep, cellular level, our bodies and brains just know the time frame, even when we don’t recognize it on a conscious level.

I still run past the stump.  Recently, another item that I had assigned meaning to (an angel) was missing.  It had been there for a long time.  I searched all around the tree and on the ground.  It was gone.  I’m not sure why I let this crush me the way it does.  Like I’ve mentioned before, these are just things that my brain assigns meaning to.  But it has such an impact on me.  I try to blow it off-but it keeps coming back.  So to the person who keeps taking the stuff off the stump where I run–STOP TAKING THINGS THAT ARE MEANINGFUL TO PEOPLE-YOU STUPID LITTLE JERK WHO STEALS STUFF!  (I think I might leave that on a note next time I’m there.)

Time for another confession-this is a tough one to admit.  It’s about a very sensitive subject—F-O-O-D.  I could write an entirely separate blog on food and how I use it to cope.  With eating, there is no moderation for me.  Since Jake passed away, I have been one of the following:

  • Too sick to eat anything
  • Taking complete control by restricting my calories severely (usually 700-1000 calories per day) and spending my thinking time obsessing over calorie intake
  • Stuffing my face with anything I can find–resembling the Tasmanian Devil–whipping through my pantry and fridge–until I feel so sick that I can’t think about anything except how sick I feel.  It’s easy–1. Have a bad feeling 2. Don’t let it surface–STUFF it back down with food 3. Feel sick until you don’t feel sick anymore and the whole cycle starts again.

Anyone else do this?  I’d bet money I’m not alone.  If anyone else has conquered this–and actually eats food for nutrition and sustenance–I welcome your advice.  Let me rephrase–don’t tell me to take a walk or treat myself to a pedicure.  I work out most days of the week and can’t sit still long enough for a pedicure.  I would guess I would need a total brain reset.  Imagine–being my age–and not even knowing how to eat.  I’m sure this subject will come up again down the line.

Last night, I felt closer to a nervous breakdown (whatever that is) than I have in a long time.  I walked into my closet and everything that caught my eye had a memory, a story about Jake associated with it.  Every article of his clothing brought back memories.  His shoes–my gosh–you wouldn’t believe his collection of running shoes (I think he had a running shoe addiction).  I felt like curling up in his stinky shoes and non-stinky clothes and covering myself with them.  I actually considered it.  But then I thought about how someone would end up calling my parents for help and I didn’t want them to get all upset and come all the way out to my house.  So I walked out of the closet and didn’t go back in.

Given these stories, what do I say when someone asks “How are you doing?”.  I can formulate at least a dozen responses (most of them sarcastic) in my head, but most of the time do not say them out loud.  I either respond with “I don’t know how to answer that question” or “Hanging in”.  I’ve said this before and I’m going to say it again now-it irks me (oooo–“irks”–that’s one of my mom’s words and rarely do I have the opportunity to use it), when people say things along the lines of “Wow–you’ve really got your act together”, “You’ve pulled yourself together”, “You look like you’re doing great” (most recently said to me this weekend).  When someone says these things–I literally want to punch them in the face (I haven’t yet, though).  PLEASE don’t say that shit to me.  Read my blog.  I am MESSED UP.  I have no other choice than to function.  I have no other choice than to put one foot in front of the other (one of Jake’s top songs, by the way).

I have a very close friend who is very protective of me.  Fiercely protective.  I love her for that.  She packs bear spray and mace and is super strong.  She has said on more than one occasion “I will beat the living shit out of anyone who hurts you”.  I’ve decided everyone needs a friend like her.  She will never let me NOT put one foot in front of the other.  I actually have incredible friends (far and near).  I am so grateful because every friend has purpose and reason.  While I am flailing about trying to stumble through each day, my friends are there making sure I don’t fall down for good.

You are all my favorites.

 

 

 

 

Confessions of the Heartless

A lifelong friend from home recently wrote to let me know he’s thinking about me.  In his very nice letter, he stated that any decisions I make, if I make them from the heart, I won’t be wrong.  I shivered when I read this.  I thought to myself “I don’t have a heart anymore. It’s gone.”  So here, clearly I am not talking about my heart, the actual organ. I’m talking about my brain heart, my inner being, my soul–whatever else you want to call it.  The things that made Kristen–Kristen (in the BEFORE).  This thought has been on my mind for a few days and I just kind of accepted it.  Okay–there’s nothing left inside of me.  I have no heart.  Now I can be a bitch whenever I feel like it.  Cool.

Then, a few days ago, I was diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  I did some research and found these symptoms on http://www.webmd.com:

  • Reliving: People with PTSD repeatedly relive the ordeal through thoughts and memories of the trauma. These may include flashbacks, hallucinations, and nightmares. They also may feel great distress when certain things remind them of the trauma, such as the anniversary date of the event (or a tree–not actually on webmd.com, added in by me).
  • Avoiding: The person may avoid people, places, thoughts, or situations that may remind him or her of the trauma. This can lead to feelings of detachment and isolation from family and friends, as well as a loss of interest in activities that the person once enjoyed.
  • Increased arousal: These include excessive emotions; problems relating to others, including feeling or showing affection; difficulty falling or staying asleep; irritability; outbursts of anger; difficulty concentrating; and being “jumpy” or easily startled.

Well-DUH. I guess that diagnosis was no shocker.  Now I could tell myself that I’m not actually a heartless person–its all a part of the PTSD.  Except I didn’t believe that.

My oldest son tried out for the swim team at the beginning of last August.  His dad took him for the try-out and he was offered a spot on the team.  Then, everything happened and the swim team thing just got lost in the shuffle.  Recently, I contacted the swim team coach and asked if Jake could start now.  He asked me to bring my son in to swim with the team and see if he liked it before we committed to it.  My son hadn’t been swimming since last August-but we went.  My son was the smallest and youngest kiddo there.  He didn’t understand the numbers the coaches were yelling at everybody.  He was terribly out of shape.  But, he stuck with it.  Some kid was mean to him and he wanted to cry, but he stayed in that pool and swam his little heart out.  I watched my son from the sidelines and I felt my heart break for him.  I wanted to run over, pull him out of the pool, hold him tight and kick the kid that had been mean to him in the head.  (No I didn’t do any of those things).  My heart broke as I observed his vulnerability.  My HEART broke.  In order for it to break, there had to be one there in the first place.  Phew.

I remember the first time I felt this way about my oldest son.  Jake and I were at a BBQ at a co-worker’s home.  My son was about two years old.  For the first time ever, he tried to hang with the “big kids”.  He was running around, following them, trying to play their games.  The big kids weren’t very welcome or accepting of my son.  But my son was oblivious.  Later, Jake and I talked about how we felt watching that happen.  We discussed how we wanted to take the “big kids”, shake them and scream “PAY ATTENTION TO MY AWESOME KID!”.  But most of all we agreed we had never felt anything like that before.  Like our hearts had been ripped out of our bodies and were running around trying to keep up with the “big kids”.  That’s how I felt watching my son at swim team.  That’s when it occurred to me that I do still have a heart.  It may not be completely intact, but it’s still there.  Hopefully, it’s a little piece of the BEFORE Kristen that might still be there.  Even if it’s confused, and hurting, and has no patience or energy right now to pretend to feel badly for other people’s problems.

So, the good news of the day is–I am not heartless.  But if I come across that way to you-I’m totally fine with that.