Friday, June 26, 2015

Happiness

I was recently interviewed for a program that I am very passionate about: Project Reveal! (See the video here.)  The topic was happiness.  What is happiness? Is it a choice? Can things make you happy? What truly makes me happy?
This is what I've come up with:

Outside; These are the things that make me happy for a little while.  They may not have anything to do with inner soulful happiness, but they are still great.

1. Turtle sundaes--Vanilla ice cream smothered in hot fudge, caramel, pecans, and whipped cream? Yes please.  While a turtle sundae will only make me happy for an hour or so, it DOES help my mood for that time too.  About an hour in is when I realize that maybe it wasn't such a good idea and start debating whether it was worth it.

2. Comfy clothes that make me look good--I love some serious comfort, and mega bonus points if I happen to look good while wearing them too.  I have this great cotton pencil skirt that I love because it makes me look pretty classy without restricting my breathing or giving me a major muffin top.  Yes, yoga pants are great too, but they aren't the bees knees in my opinion; I just don't feel very nice in yoga pants unless I'm on my way to yoga.

3. Snuggles--They really are the best way to help my mood for a little while.  Extra special Annika & Mayzie & Andy snuggles are the BEST way to turn my frown upside down

Inside: These are the things that touch my soul and make me feel whole again when I'm down.  The happiness that these spread through me cannot be touched.

1. Relationships--This is what really makes me happy on the inside.  All kinds of relationships influence my internal happiness.  My family relationships come first for me.  The time I get to spend with my children, husband, brothers, parents is essential for my happiness.  This is one of the reasons we moved closer to family upon our return from Berlin.  My friends are also essential to my happiness, including the ones who are far away and that I don't get to talk to very often.  Is there anything better than getting a random phone call at 9pm on a Tuesday from a friend in a far off state? The conversations we have fuel my soul and keep me grounded in a way that I sincerely appreciate.  The way to my heart is through my brain, and the best relationships I have are with people who understand that.

2. Experiences--There are so many experiences that have made me happy, that I can't even begin to count. Meeting amazing people, working hard on a big project to completion, doing something new---all of these things are experiences that soothe my soul and make me feel happy.

3. Helping Others--There is no greater way to make me happy than to make other people happy and/or to bring them comfort.  As I say in the episode, this is why I became a doula.  This is why my life's passion is to help others enjoy and understand childbirth.  This is why I volunteer my time doing things that promote well-being in the community.  Helping others helps my soul too, which is why there is this debate as to whether or not there really is such a thing as altruism since we all get something back from helping others.  This debate does not interest me, mostly because who cares if we get something back from helping others, whatever the motivation is to do it doesn't matter, only that you do it.

Both: Then there are the things that feed both my soul and my yearning for a little happiness right in this very moment.

1. Yoga--Is there anything better than getting out of your head and getting fully into your body while at the same time focusing on your breath and changing your perspective? A great yoga teacher gets me to do all of these things, and a great yoga class will make me be introspective and feel physically better at the same time.  Other exercise also helps, but yoga feeds me body and soul.

2.  Sunrise/Sunset Walks/Runs--Similarly, walking anywhere while the sun is rising or setting speaks to both my body and soul. I become contemplative and reflective.  The moments are fleeting, and remind me of the brevity of this life.  I've had so many of these walks, but some of my favorites:
2003: Sunrise walk on the beach with Andy when he asked me to marry him.
2007: Sunset walk on the beach with Nadia talking about our future plans.
2009: Sunrise run on the beach in northern California, when I planned my running re-entry.
2014: Sunset stroll along the Mauerweg with Andy and the girls past a canal and horse pastures.


3. Travel--Nothing comes close to making me happy in the moment and for a long time as traveling!  It doesn't even need to be far away, but sometimes is.  Oh the places I have gone that are forever etched in my memory and soul.  My travels are so much more than stamps on my passport or miles on my car; they are the memories that I go back to again and again when I need a little happiness in my day/week/month/year. They are the dreams that I have for the future too. Yes, the list of places I want to visit is a mile long, but I know that I can die a happy woman from my travel experience memories.  Bonus points: extra great stories for the old folks' home.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

13 Year Cycle

13 years ago I lived in Bloomington, Indiana.  I was working as a waitress/bartender at ChiChi's Mexican Restaurant.  I walked or took the bus to work and lived in an apartment with one of my best friends.  My favorite things to do were go out to the bar with friends, meet cute boys, and try my damn-dest to figure out how to afford to finish my undergrad degree.  Ok, that last one wasn't that fun, but it did consume a large part of my thoughts.

13 years ago in Bloomington, IN there was a humongous swarm of cicadas.  I love cicadas.  I love the noise that they make; it always reminds me of summers gone by.  Cicadas remind me of the movie Lucas. I love finding their little shells all over tree trunks.  That summer the cicada chorus was more of a deafening roar than a sweet summer serenade.  They were EVERYWHERE!  We couldn't walk outside without being reminded of their presence.  One even flew into my face that summer as I walked across a hot parking lot, prompting much face swatting and spitting as the guts got all over my face and hands.  Yuck.

I will never forget that summer of the cicadas, but they were really only one highlight.  You see, that was the summer that I met Andy (my now husband).  That was the summer that I trained him to be a server at ChiChi's.  We went out for drinks with friends, after his week of training during which I had been flirting with him mercilessly while still also pining for a stupid boy that really had no interest in a relationship with me.  After that week of training, we went out in a big group of people for a much needed night of drinks.  That night, Andy asked me to go on a date with him the next day, and I said, Yes!"

The next day, with cicadas blaring, I played my very first round of disc golf.  We laughed so much, and I was surprisingly nervous.  He drove me home to shower and change, and picked me up later so we could go to dinner and a movie.  We watched the Bourne Identity (whoa that was 13 years ago!), and went to dinner at a lovely Italian restaurant that has since been razed.  Afterwards, we went to play pool at a local watering hole famous for their signature drink the AMF (Adios Mother F*****) and for the bras that hang from the rafters.  He took me home.  We talked for hours, and then he was going to leave.  He was going to leave without kissing me.  I could not abide that, and kissed him instead.

The next day, we hung out again, and every day for the rest of the summer too.  I was hooked! I was done for and didn't even know it yet.  That summer was filled with hours of hanging out, going on dates, working together at ChiChi's, and lots of kissing! It was wonderful.

Here we are a mere 7 months after we met...on the Spring Break when he asked me to marry him!

So this summer, when the 13 year cicadas came out and started their deafening din, my first thought was of that summer 13 years ago.  My second thought was how much has changed since then.  My third thought: how much really hasn't changed at all.  While our lives have moved forward and we've been on so many adventures together and separately, we still love each other just like we did that summer 13 years ago when we fell in love.

Where will we be when the 13 year cicadas come back out? I honestly have no idea.  We will have a 20 year old Annika and an 18 year old Mayzie.  Now THAT is a frightening thought.  Another thing I know for sure: we WILL be together, hopefully sitting on our porch swing drinking glasses of wine and remembering that summer in Bloomington when we met.



Monday, June 1, 2015

Morphing of the Ugly Cry

Last night I finally got around to watching the Book Thief.  I had been wanting to see it for a while, and my MIL just so happened to have it on her DVR while we're housesitting.  Andy was off playing soccer.  The girls were in bed. So I thought, why not watch it.

Let me say that I thought it was a beautiful and moving story.  I loved it, but then again I am a bit of a sucker for movies about girls who end up being writers.  Of course, the ending of the movie made me ugly cry, and I mean snot running down onto my lips and uncontrollable sobbing type of ugly crying.  Yes, I cried because of the sad ending.  Duh, of course it is sad; It's set in Nazi Germany! One small note of annoyance about the movie from a German speaker.  The foster mother in the movie constantly calls the protagonist girl "it."  In English, this really makes her sound like a jerk.  In German, calling a girl "it" is proper grammar and implies nothing.  I chalk this up to most likely a bad translation.

But then my cry morphed into something completely different.  The cry itself didn't exactly change, but the reason for the crying changed.  The movie is about children during the war, which is probably what set me off on this mental tangent.  It was just so hard for me to think about it while my own innocent children slept upstairs.  They are, as of yet, completely oblivious to the evil-ness that lurks in the world around them.  They have no idea how evil and callous the world really can be.  I was overwhelmed by the thought of their innocence as it compares to the ugly world that exists.

I was overwhelmed by the sheer weight of the thing that is parenthood.  I was overwhelmed at the responsibility we have to explain these kinds of things to our children.  How do you explain WWII to a child?  How do you talk about all the horrific monstrosities that have happened in this world and continue to happen?  I imagined their faces and the thoughts that will go through their mind, and the loss of innocence that will happen in that moment when they learn that the world can be a horrific place that is filled with REAL monsters that look like humans instead of being round green single eye-balled humorous characters voiced by Billy Chrystal.

I know that we have to tell them about it.  I know that we will find the right time.  Is it odd that I would rather we be the ones to break it to them?  When does this happen anyway?

Again, the cry morphed in a more ridiculous direction.  It's going too fast.  All the stupid cliches are TRUE and I HATE it.
It all goes too fast! TRUE
They're only little once. TRUE
It's just a phase. TRUE
They grow like weeds. TRUE
Etc etc etc.

Rarely do we take the time to reflect on this parenting ride as it is happening to us.  It really is a luxury to do so, and I fully acknowledge that.  I'm enjoying it, I swear.  But sometimes, just sometimes, the sheer weight of it bears down on me and I can't help but ugly cry, and that's ok.


Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Kicking It Old School

I am a strong intelligent and beautiful woman on my good days. 
I wonder what my life would be like if I had made different choices sometimes. 
I hear my phone buzzing with notifications all day long, and it kinda drives me nuts. 
I see my children growing way too fast. 
I want to freeze time so often. 
I am happy with my amazing life right now. 



I pretend to be some kind of animal almost every day with Mayzie. 
I feel lucky to be able to spend so much time with my kids yet still have plenty of my own ventures. 
I touch my girls' hair and kiss them every night before I go to bed 
I worry that I will give them some sort of body complex because of my own issues. 
I cry often and mostly without shame at movies & music all. the. time. 
I am silly and serious and intensely loyal to my friends.


I understand 2 languages fluently, and whining is not one of them. 
I say "Goodnight my beautiful, smart, funny, brave, strong girls" when I tuck them into bed at night. 
I dream of simple things, like owning our own home and decorating it the way I want. 
I try to be the kind of woman my girls can look up to and be proud. 
I hope that someday my house will be more organized when there is more than 1000 sq ft of it.
I am busier than I have ever been in my life before, juggling multiple projects and businesses and family, etc, and I am more content than I have ever been before. 


Happy to be hooking up with the fabulous Elaine from Miss Elainous Life & Angela at Jumping with My Fingers Crossed for this old school blogging link-up! Thanks for hosting ladies! 

Monday, May 11, 2015

I Get to Be There

I am still on a post-Listen To Your Mother HIGH from Saturday night and I'm losing my voice.  
I wanted to share the essay that I read on stage to a packed house at our show.  I feel so privileged to have been able to share this essay on a local stage that will then be put up on YouTube.  
Let me know what you think in the comments please! 
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I am a doula.  
Now, MAYBE you just nodded your head because you know what a doula is and think they are awesome, OR you shook your head because you think doulas are super crunchy and only for hippies who birth at home OR you got a really confused look on your face because you thought I said something in another language and have no idea what a doula is. 

To be fair, Doula is a Greek word that means “mother helper.” Most specifically, I am a birth doula.  I give pregnant women tons of information about how to get the birth experience they want and help women physically, psychologically, and emotionally through labor and birth.  It is basically, the coolest job ever…most of the time. 

I recently went to a performance of Eve Ensler’s Vagina Monologues, and one of the monologues is titled, “I Was There.” The piece is Ensler’s reflection on the awesome beauty and power of the vagina to bring life into the world.  I was sitting near a doula friend of mine and we turned to each other after the show and talked about how we get to be there all the time.

Doulas have this great privilege to be invited into the intimate space of new beginnings for families.  We not only see babies be born, but mothers as well.  We hold hands, suggest position changes, and squeeze hips until our arms are exhausted beyond belief sometimes.  We voraciously read everything pregnancy and birth related, and bite our tongues when we hear misinformation and bad advice being given to pregnant women.  Personally, I quietly go hand these women a business card and tell them to call me, but not every doula is so brazen. 

I have seen all kinds of mothers be born into this world as their child comes earth-side.  I have seen mothers weep at the sight of their wrinkly vernix covered child being thrust into their arms while their umbilical cord is still attached and their physical connection is not yet separated.  I have seen mothers reach for their phone to update Facebook as they hold their 1 minute old baby wanting to share the moment with the world.  I have seen a mother scared to death and waiting to hear the cry of her baby as it is pulled from her splayed abdomen in the operating room.  I have seen a mother numb as she feels her baby slide out far too early and without a heartbeat.  I have heard the joyful moans of a mother who is no longer concerned about the waning pains of labor, who is absolutely in love at the sight of her family of now three.  I’ve stayed with a mother as her newborn is rushed to the NICU and the father follows not to return for several hours.

It is sacred, this space that a doula occupies as a mother is being born.  The mother is completely consumed with their baby and the task at hand, and I get to be there just for her.  These beginnings are magical, no matter how they happen.  Being there so many times has changed the way that I look at motherhood altogether.  I come home exhilarated from the experience of yet another beginning to a motherhood journey for someone else, and so thankful for the journey that I have been on so far.  I squeeze my two girls tight, no matter the hour, and smell their hair remembering their own entries into the world and my beginnings as a mother. 

Every birth is different.  I have never attended two births that were exactly alike, and I believe this reflects the journey of motherhood better than I could ever put into words.  We all experience beginnings in different ways, and our journeys take us many different places, but we are all part of this lovely club of motherhood.  Not one of us performs motherhood exactly the same, and for that I am truly grateful. 


I get to be there all the time to see the birth of mothers, and I never forget their faces as it happens to them.  I feel nothing but awe for these mothers every single time.  Doulas get to occupy this singular space between expecting and beginning.  We’re invited to bear witness and to help usher in the beginning of motherhood journeys for our clients.  We get to be there, and for that I am truly grateful.  
Here I am with our lovely photographer Erin Merris, our Emcee Stacey Godbold of Project Reveal fame, & the always beautiful Mary Rose Stewart! 

Friday, April 24, 2015

Mommy's Medicine

"Are those vitamins?" Mayzie inquires one rushed school-day morning. 

I ponder my answer as I hold my pills in my hand and look at Mayzie now 4 and Annika now 6.  Two of the pills I hold in my hand are in fact vitamins.  The large beige pill is a multi-vitamin and the small squishy gold one is the extra vitamin D that I take because I live in the Midwest and don't get nearly enough sunlight.  These two pills are not the issue.  My girls take vitamins every day, so they surely understand the fact that mommy takes them too.

The other 5 pills in my hand are the issue.  There is the long capsule that contains the medicine that supposedly regulates my serotonin, or something like that.  Then I have the medium-sized round white mood stabilizer, two small white anti-anxiety pills, and finally a diamond-shaped one that is supposed to boost the power of the other ones despite the fact that it is marketed as an anti-psychotic.  These are as much a part of my morning regimen as my coffee, and all of the above will give me a headache if I don't have them.

Yes, I am one of the millions of Americans that takes psychiatric medication on a daily basis.  I am not ashamed of my mental illness.  I come by it honestly with a loooooong family history of mental illness on both sides of my family, including some institutionalization (not me) and too many stories to count.  No, I do not believe it to be a moral failing on my part.  I refuse to be defined or stigmatized because of it either.  My diagnosis: Mood Disorder Not Otherwise Specified, which really means that my awesome psychiatrist thinks I should probably be diagnosed something that isn't recognized in the Diagnostics and Statistics Manual (DSM) anymore.

I have wrestled with my mental illness for all of my life.  I remember contemplating suicide in the 5th grade.  I got so depressed my senior year of high school that I stopped eating for a while, but it thankfully never developed into a full-blown eating disorder.  One of the worst episodes happened just after Andy and I got married.  I could NOT get out of bed or stop crying, and I was soo mad at myself because being a newlywed should have been one of the happiest times of my life.  Funny enough, I never got post-partum depression, despite having all the predispositions.  I have crippling anxiety, which typically leaves me incapable of making or receiving any phone calls or leaving the house sometimes too. Our year spent in Germany was especially trying!

Upon our return to the U.S., Andy finally convinced me to go to a psychiatrist.  I am admittedly not a very good patient.  I question everything a medical doctor (or PhD for that matter) tells me, like the good medical anthropologist that I am.  I understand the cultural patterns of mental illness and the culture of medicine that likes to throw medicine at people instead of solving underlying issues.  Intellectually, I struggle with my own personal need for medication, often to my own detriment.  I question classification of illnesses, doctors' intentions, and all things psychiatry related.  I read too many anthropology and medical academic research articles.  I am either a doctor's most hated or most beloved patient, and I can tell.  I can dissect everything, but it always has to come back to my bottom-line of the fact that I mostly cannot function without taking some sort of psychiatric medication.

The question then becomes: how do I relay this information to my children without making them think that I'm a sick person and at the same time convincing them that mental illness happens and is manageable?  How do I teach them in a way that is age appropriate and won't scare them?  How will they process this information?  I want them to understand that I'm alright, and that they shouldn't think about me any differently because I have a mental illness.  I don't want to burden them with too much information or with worry for their mother.  This conversation isn't in the mother's handbook.

So I sit down at the breakfast table with the morning light streaming in our back door.  I take a deep breath and gather all the wits and bravery that I can muster.  I AM going to have this conversation this morning.  I will answer their questions to the best of my ability.

Me, "Yes, two of these pills are vitamins that I take every morning."

Annika, "So what are the other ones?"

Me, "They are pills that help my brain work better."

Annika, "Do they make you smarter?"

Me, "No, they help me think more clearly."

Mayzie, "Are you sick mama?"

Me, "No buggy, mama's not sick."

Annika, "So why do you have to take them?"

Me, "My brain doesn't work right.  Sometimes it makes me really sad and I just want to cry.  Sometimes it makes me really scared and I want to hide.  But this medicine makes my brain work the way it is supposed to."

Annika, "Oh, ok. So it keeps you healthy?"

Me, "Yep.  Any other questions?"

Mayzie, "Can I have some juice?"

And that was that.  That was the whole conversation we had...so far.  I know this will come up again.  I know this will be a conversation that happens over and over.  For now, my answers sufficed, but they won't always.  As I continue to struggle with my mental illness, so will I continue to struggle to define it to my children.  Difficult conversations are certainly in our future.  For now, mommy’s medicine makes her brain work better, and that’s all they need to know.




Thursday, March 5, 2015

What I've been up to...

I'm not even going to apologize for not posting more, because...well...LIFE happens.

I've been busy working with my friend Katharine McKinney to bring Listen To Your Mother to Evansville.  We have a cast and are now working on all the finer details of putting a show together for the very first time.  Holy mackerel is there some work that goes into it.  Good thing we are passionate about this show and making it the best that it can be.  Also, it is such a good thing we have some great mentors to help shepherd us along the way.

I'm teaching at UofE again this semester, though it looks like I won't be teaching the same class in the Fall.  Departmental restructuring cut the list of adjuncts to zero, so I'm happy to know it isn't because of anything I did.  I really LOVE teaching, and will be really sad if I don't get to do it at all next year.  That being said, I also will be fine if I don't teach at all.  It isn't like adjuncting pays the bills or that there is ANY glamour in it whatsoever.  I honestly do it because I love teaching and love being around college students.  Their energy is contagious!

Doula work has been going GREAT.  I've had some amazing clients that I've loved working with so far, and I find myself becoming more and more excited about this kind of work the more I do it.  The Doula Group of Evansville is getting off to a great start to the year, and I could not be more excited to get this business up and running smoothly.

What else?  Well...LIFE.
I'm writing an RO3 that's due next month.
I'm trying to help an awesome fund get off the ground with some truly inspiring women.
I'm going to start using my grant writing skills for a local non-profit that is dear to my heart.
AND...well, who knows what else I'll try to cram on my plate.

This post is all business, but I desperately want to get back to writing my heart more than anything right now.  I'm juggling too many balls at the moment and getting worried as I approach this revolving door while walking backwards that I might drop one at any moment.  This, coupled with my normal anxiety, could be a recipe for a breakdown at some point, but certainly not before May.  There is just too much to do before then.  I know I should slow down, but honestly, this is my normal right now.  Slow moments are typically fleeting in my life as sitting idle is not my forte.

Am I overly ambitious?  Probably, but I'm trying to take the 20 years perspective, which isn't always easy, but is almost always worth it!

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