Everything Else, Writing

At home in the world

Downtown Champaign. Image credit: Vallejo Center for Learning Spanish, Champaign, IL

I didn’t love Champaign at first. Really, I didn’t even want to come here. 20 years ago when it was time for me to decide where to go to college, I didn’t fill out my application to UIUC—I hid it under my pile of first-choices, hoping my parents wouldn’t see. But they found it and I ended up applying, turning in my application a day before the due date, kicking and screaming all the way. I would never go to a state school. I was much too much of a snob for that.

But then my first choice wait-listed me. My second rejected me. And the third came back with a tuition fee that was double what we were expecting. So by default, I accepted my acceptance to U of I and at the end of that hot, lazy, 1997 summer, I reluctantly drove down to East Central Illinois (not Southern Illinois, like I’d originally thought) (oh my goodness I am a child of the suburbs).

The main Quad at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Image credit: StudyUSA.com

I don’t remember much about my Freshman year other than that it was a total blast. Sophomore year I met my two best friends, both of whom I’m still close with. Junior and Senior years were spent deciding not to go to med school, adding a major, and graduating with no idea what I was going to do next. After doing a summer internship in downtown Chicago my Junior year, I was terrified to live in the city by myself, so I took a job my professor put me up for in the marketing department of a Champaign publishing company.

I was young and inexperienced and the people there took me under their wing, helping me find my first apartment downtown and teaching me the ins and outs of the office world.  I worked there for three years, during which I met and married my husband. He’s from an even smaller town than Champaign. And that’s why I’m staying.

Not because he told me he would never move to the city. Not because he told me Champaign was the biggest town he was comfortable living in. Not because he’s forcing my hand in any way. But because I want to. Champaign, compared to the city and the suburbs, is simple. Life here is easy in a way I never felt it was up north. Across the street from me is a cornfield. I pass cows every day on my way to work. These novelties were things I only experienced in my childhood when we would drive up to Lake Geneva for a vacation. While I occasionally feel that keeping-up-with-the-Joneses jealousy here in Chambana, I mostly live in the niche I’ve carved out for myself, experimenting with my personal style in dressing and home decorating, driving my SUV around the farm machinery that takes over the roads every spring and fall, and watching as more and more farmland is given up for homes and businesses, watching as the “suburbs” of Champaign move ever closer to the city, watching as even this little town in the middle of nowhere succumbs to the name of progress.

I am now the proud owner of this mug. Photo credit: @shopartmart; Art Mart, Champaign IL

I’ve dreamed of living other places: Chicago, Seattle, Oregon, Florida (or really anyplace that doesn’t have winter). But as the days fly by and my calendar points to May, summer weather and all that brings, I’m thankful for the changing of the seasons. The familiarity of the trees outside my window. The ebb and flow of the planting and the harvest that I now have a front-row seat to. There is a peacefulness to living here that I have not experienced anywhere else. And though I dream of other places, other cities, and other, busier, more glamorous ways of life, this will always be home.

This was written as part of Tsh’s celebration of her new book, At Home in the World, which comes out today. You can read more about it here: http://theartofsimple.net/athome/

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Everything Else

Thankful for the little things

There is so much going on in the world, and in my little corner of it, that I wanted to take some time to reflect on the all little things I’m thankful for every day. These are the little patches of happiness that bring me unmitigated joy, the seemingly unimportant pieces of my life that put a smile on my face and help me look forward to a morning of errand running, a quiet evening at home, or even a day at work. Before I list the things, though, I want to say thank you for YOU, for reading this, for following along, for commenting when you feel led to. I appreciate your thoughts, your words, and your support through this journey. I am grateful for all of it, truly.

My thankful list:

1. Red cups at Starbucks

2. Feet under the Christmas treefeet

3. Love between brothers

4. A caring touch from my husband

5. A compelling audiobook on my commute to work

6. A surprise package from a good friend

7. Finishing ALL my Christmas shopping early this year

8. The extra quilt on our bed

9. New recipes that turn out right the first time

10. Holiday traditions that our whole family looks forward to

When I notice these things, I pause and take them in. I try to enjoy the moment, to embellish it into my brain, so I can come back to it again and again. There are days when I worry too much about our budget and paying back my school loans and I think to myself, “We have so little.” But the reality is, we have so much.

Happy Thanksgiving to each and every one of you.

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Everything Else

My mini makeover

Well, I got my hair cut. I scheduled the cut in July, eight weeks from my previous one, but my stylist was on vacation so it ended up being nine. After week five I was desperate for a cut. My thick hair was frizzing daily in the summer humidity, to the point where the five minutes between drying it and walking out the door was the only time my hair looked good the entire day.

Which is fine, really. I don’t need to impress anyone. I have one of those husbands that likes to tell me he loves me no matter what. I work in a basement with people who have become my friends and who accept me for who I am, frizz and all. I might meet someone important during a grocery trip to Wal-Mart but do I really care what that gorgeous girl from nursing school thinks about how I look today? No. No, I don’t.

But with my 10% weight loss, the hair appointment I knew I had coming up, and the breaking of my three-year-old glasses, I thought it would be fun to do a little mini-makeover. New hair, new glasses, maybe an eyebrow wax. Something to keep me motivated as we begin the journey into winter, which historically is my worst season for overeating (although, isn’t it everyone’s?). I began to think about short hair, pinning styles on Pinterest and quizzing my girlfriends who have pixie cuts about maintenance, products, and styling.

I never thought I could pull off a short style because I have a pretty weak chin, and have always used my hair as a sort of curtain, both to cover it up and to create shadows where none exist naturally. But losing almost 20 pounds meant some of the weight came off my face, and all of a sudden, I felt like maybe I didn’t need that curtain to hide behind anymore.

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I do feel like I need to start wearing makeup again, because now my face is front and center, people. And maybe earrings too. But I’m OK with that. As a grownup, I probably should never have stopped wearing makeup anyway, right?

The first day, buoyed by the excitement of the girls at the salon, I loved the cut. The second day, after sleeping on it, I wasn’t sure. I would catch glances of myself in the mirror and wonder what the hell I did to my beautiful hair. The third day, more glances, more self-doubt. The fourth day, today, I finally washed it and tried to dry and style it myself. And while I couldn’t get that one piece in the front to cascade effortlessly down my forehead like my stylist could, I’ll work on it. I do like it. And I’m so glad I did it.

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Everything Else

Craving familiarity

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With fall just around the corner, and the kids going back to school this week, and me going back to school next week, and all the changes that this new season brings, I’m finding myself more and more wanting to do things that are familiar to me. I’m rereading Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache series instead of starting something new. I’m rewatching Gilmore Girls from the beginning instead of finding a fresh series on Netflix. I’m reverting back to old patterns, because so much of what I’m experiencing now, and what I will experience this semester, is new.

I have one more year left of grad school, this year actually, and if all goes well I will graduate in May. Between now and then, I have to do 150 hours of clinical time, complete a research project, and write my thesis. And after that, there is the Great Unknown. Will I be able to find a job in my field? Will I like teaching as much as I think I will? Will I be happy after I turn my life around yet again?

Then there’s CJ. His classroom assignments went out last week and he’s not in class with any of his close friends. That is, any of the friends whose moms I’ve gotten to know. I was in shock when I first looked at his list—how could they do this to him? He’s such a good kid, he listens and he follows the rules (most of the time), and it feels like because of that he’s just getting thrown in anywhere. But then I showed the list to CJ, and he’s excited about it. There’s a girl in his class he’s asked to have a play date with, and he’ll get to see her every day. He’s happy about his teacher, who’s new to his school, because he thinks she’ll be glad to be there and in turn make his day-to-day a fun experience. If only I could see things through his eyes.

Sam is your typical four-year-old, he doesn’t want to go back to school but once he’s there, I know he’ll love it. He’s already talking about seeing his friends and having them over to our house. He’ll be going to preschool five days a week, partially to accommodate my work/clinical schedule and partially to get him ready for kindergarten, which will be full-day next year. He’s ready for this change, definitely more than I am.

It’s raining today, as it is on all of my quiet, thoughtful days, and I think I’ll take the gloomy weather as a sign to embrace the familiar. I can do all these new things, all these hard things, if I have a backbone of comfort to rely on. For me, for this season, that means familiar stories, well-worn routines, and pumpkin spice everything. I’m looking forward to this season, with all of its changes, along with everything else that will stay blissfully, thankfully, the same.

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Everything Else

Getting over it (Part 3)

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The final change I made to help me get over my depression was to my diet. I stopped drinking—did you know alcohol is a depressive? That it disrupts your sleep? You wake up more times throughout the night than you would without it, and you don’t get as much REM sleep, the kind you need to wake up feeling rested in the morning. So now I don’t drink. If I’m with strangers, I tell them I’m taking a medication that doesn’t allow me to drink alcohol. And I sort of am. But what I’m really doing is avoiding something that could make me feel much, much worse in the long run. I’m doing something good for me. It’s not up to everyone else to understand that, and they don’t need to know why. As an obliger, it’s hard for me to not do what everyone else is doing, but in this case, worth it.

And, I started Weight Watchers again. For some reason, I was ashamed to admit this, like I shouldn’t need help to lose weight. But I do. I have only lost weight twice in my life—the first time with a personal trainer, the second with Weight Watchers. So here we go again. I am counting points and eating fruit like it’s going out of style. I’m trying a bunch of new recipes, which as you know, is fun for me, and I’m figuring out ways to make my old favorites a little healthier. I like the challenge, and the planner in me likes to know what I’m going to eat the next day, whether I’ll stay within my allotted points or not. So far the weight loss has been slow-going—I’ve consistently lost about a pound a week, which isn’t much. But to sustain this kind of lifestyle, I’m told that’s a good thing. So I will continue to trudge along, to eat healthfully, and reap the benefits to both my body and my mind.

I had an appointment with my psychiatrist last week and she did the depression screen again, and my score was a fraction of what I started with. My suicidal thoughts, which once occurred almost daily, have disappeared. My outlook on life is happier, my attitude more easygoing. Medication works, people. Talk therapy works. Exercise works. Taking care of your body works. I’m here to tell you that recovery is possible, and if you’re even considering making an appointment to speak with someone about how you’re been feeling DO IT. At first it will feel overwhelming but it will get better, I promise. Just remember, we’re in this together.

I’m looking forward to summer for the first time in years. I’m going outside and looking at the sunshine and thanking God that I now have the mental capacity to appreciate it. I want to go out more than I want to stay in. I want to go to the pool with the kids and get a tan and not waste one more second of my life wondering whether I’m important enough. Whether I’m good enough to take up space on this beautiful Earth. I now know that I am. That there are people here who need me and love me and depend on me. I am important to them. And I am important to me.

I am enough.

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Everything Else

Path to recovery (Part 2)

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If the first step getting over my depression was admitting I had a problem, the next was asking for help. I found a therapist and started seeing her on a regular basis. At our fist appointment she did a sort of intake questionnaire, and at the end of the hour she put down her papers, turned to me with her hands in her lap and she said, “Well, I think we need to make some changes.” I can’t even begin to tell you how relieved I was to hear those words. In that simple sentence, she validated everything I’d been feeling over the past few months. All of the doubt, all of the shame, all of the sadness—none of it was normal, and I could get better.

She told me I needed to be on a different medication. She told me what I’ve been hearing for years, that taking care of my body will actually help my mind. That exercising and sleeping better could be key factors in my recovery. She made an appointment for me with a nurse practitioner that specialized in mental health, a saint of a woman who spent SO MUCH TIME WITH ME. Our first appointment lasted ninety minutes. We talked and analyzed and talked some more. We have regular follow up appointments, even now. I never felt like she was giving me a random medication and putting me out to pasture. She wanted me to get better as much as I did, if not more. She got me off the Ambien, a crutch for sleep that I had come to depend on more and more. She switched me from Effexor to Cymbalta, the last medication I’d been on before I had the kids, and one that had worked well for me. She performed a depression screening at my first appointment, which I scored highly on, meaning I had severe depression, even while taking Effexor. The next appointment she did it again, and my score was half what it was. The changes were working.

She scheduled me for some lab work, wanting to rule out anything physical that could have been contributing to my depression. Everything came back fine except my vitamin D levels, which were less than half of what they were supposed to be. I was shocked—I’ve always done well on tests, even ones on my blood. But it made sense. During the long winter months, even on those sunny days when the glare off of the snow is almost blinding, I stayed inside. I had no desire to go out and run errands, to meet people, to do anything but be in my cozy warm house, tucked into my cozy warm bed, everything I needed (book, phone, TV, more pillows) in arms’ reach.

I started taking a vitamin D supplement, and my outlook started to improve. I joined our local YMCA and began swimming twice a week. I used to swim in the summers when I was little, and then in high school, and I really enjoyed it. I wanted to start with something easy, something that my body would remember and something I could look forward to doing. I also took a weightlifting class on Saturdays (BodyPump, for those of you who are into that sort of thing). Almost overnight, I started to feel better. Suddenly I had more energy. After exercising in the morning, I’d have more drive to complete my chores the rest of the day. My desire to take a nap after lunch all but vanished. I was so physically tired by nighttime that falling asleep was easy. I was getting better.

To be continued…

Photo by Markovich Photo Art.

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