Wednesday, August 30, 2017

I Was Okay Until You Asked if I Was Okay


My boss's father recently passed away quite unexpectedly. He had a history of heart troubles, but he had been healthy of late. He even recently traveled to Minnesota from the east coast to visit family, and was feeling good up until the morning he died.

The family is saddened that no one else besides his wife got to say good-bye to him, and yet, truly, isn't this how all of us want to go, quickly, not linger on in the care of someone else?

In the days that followed, his widow did not want to go out. She would look out the peephole of the condo door before taking the garbage out, because she didn't want to run into anyone and have that person ask how she was.

Many of us are like her. We are fine on the outside, seemingly functioning, taking care of ourselves, getting up in the morning, eating, working, even laughing.

But the minute someone asks "Are you okay?" it becomes very obvious that we are not.

Living with anxiety or depression is like that. It can sometimes take all your strength to get out the door, to leave the security and comfort of your home. Even the very thought of leaving brings tears, but finally, by God, you're out the door, into the world.

And then some well-meaning person sees red-rimmed eyes, the aftermath of the effort to join them, and says, "Are you okay?"

Well dammit, you were until someone asked. Suddenly all of the struggles you've worked so hard to shove away deep inside are right there on the surface, exposed. You find yourself on the verge of tears, fingers trembling, face reddening at the lie you have to tell.

For me, my well-perfected answer is, "I'll be fine, thank you for asking." End of conversation, or at least I hope.

Except, I have people in my life who ask, "Are you suuuure?"

And unless this person is a confidante, someone who is in my inner circle of people I connect with, lean on and share my life with, usually s/he is just curious. People living with anxiety or depression do not just walk around spilling their guts to everyone who asks "Are you okay? Are you suuuure you're okay?"

Those who are dealing with the aftermath of a loss, like my stepmother or my boss's mother, often don't need or want to rehash every last detail of their loved one's final hours. Some do, but then you never need to ask "Are you sure?" because they'll be talking your ear off and you'll be nodding and looking at them while practicing your sympathetic expression.

Those suffering from anxiety or depression look a lot like grieving people; if you were a part of their healing circle, you would know it and wouldn't be asking "Are you suuuure?"

I guess my point is...

Please ask "Are you okay?" and be okay with whatever answer you get. If you somehow feel urged on to ask, "Are you sure?" stop yourself and instead say "Let me know if I can help." If you can, that person will let you know.

Sometimes this small kindness is all it takes.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

A Pause for a Health Update

Lindsey behind the lens of my Dad's camera, in Michigan.'s Lindsey?

She's fine.

She went through quite a health spell this past winter/spring, missing 6 weeks of school, missing many more days after she returned, and having a not-great end to her 8th grade year.

What we discovered, through many tests and trials, discussions and theories, is that her anxiety was so high that it was affecting her physical health. It caused such severe stomach cramping and nausea that she lost 5 pounds in four weeks, the girl who doesn't have a pound to spare.

Yes, a mental illness causing a physical illness. A true, real, physical pain that has no expected, typical cause.

We already knew that Lindsey has anxiety, which we thought was under control. We learned a lot of things about nutrition, the digestive system and her anxiety triggers.

Smiling mouth, pained eyes.
We learned that eating small meals four to five times a day seems to work well for her. Sugar in excessive amounts really whacks out her system for a good 24 hours. (No desserts. No pure juices.)
While she does not have celiac disease, gluten really does a number on her system, so gluten is still off limits.

She is under the care of a team of physicians who are working together, between her nutrition and her mental health needs, to get her back on track. And now, at the end of August, I feel like she is finally back to herself.

In the meantime, her dad and I much of what's going on is related to her anxiety and how much is related to her being 14? We have no idea, we've never parented a teen before. Poor firstborn, gets to be the first to trial-balloon every parenting technique we have.

We are grateful for all the parents who have shared their journeys with us, who have broken the code of silence to let us know what they've faced behind closed doors.

We are grateful for our friends, for Lindsey's friends, for our family who have supported us through this. And we are grateful to live in a city that has such incredible resources for health care. While it took us a while to navigate the system to figure out who to call or who to talk to, there was always someone there to help, in specialties we never knew existed.

At the end of the day, Lindsey will be stronger. More resilient. Amazing, at anything she chooses to do.

And we will be her loving parents.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Lasagna and Dad

My dad visited me last night.

He gave me one of his classic big bear hugs, the kind would envelope you in warmth from head to toes. He said, "My God, it's good to see you, it's been such a long time. I can't wait to catch up."

I was preparing a lasagna, two single servings (homemade, of course). I took it out of the oven and the aroma filled the kitchen. Of course my dad loved food of all kinds, especially lasagna, which he asked for his birthday dinner every year for decades.

I put the finishing touches on, and we sat down at the table in the kitchen of the house I grew up in Sheboygan Falls. As we sat at the table, Dad said, "Well, I wish your sister could join us, but I understand that she has to work."

We tucked in to the meal, and the scene closed.

I awoke with a sense of being visited, of missing my dad, of truly seeing his spirit. And after a few minutes I realized that he was right -- my sister was working that evening, she was working right that minute.

 I texted her to let her know that Dad had visited, and we had the nicest text conversation about it, as if Dad had just left my kitchen.

These visitations are bittersweet, reminding me he is gone, but knowing he is near.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Pecking Order and Your Food (They are Related, Really)

 You've probably heard the term "pecking order," it usually means something about corporate  or social hierarchy, also expressed as "Sh*t rolls downhill."

Except there's an actual reality to pecking order. They're called chickens.

You know, those pink, small pieces of meat you buy from the grocery store? That chicken. My daughter was 4 before she realized that a living chicken was the same thing as a roasted chicken breast on her plate.

Long ago, back when farmers were farming for their families mostly, and hoped to sell a few items on the side to support their family, they raised chicken by what we now call "free range" methods.

Chickens could roam freely through the farmland. They could go anywhere they wanted, eat anything they wanted. And they established a pecking order, because that's how chickens work as a species.

The strongest chickens would "peck" the smaller and weaker chickens for food and water, which would peck weaker chickens in turn, and a social order was established. Chickens were hurt. Many had wounds, lost their eyesight, their mobility and their lives.

Cartoon of a chicken pecking another because showing an actual photo would be graphic and cruel.
Farmers got frustrated losing so many of their chickens. The birds had clearly suffered. It was expensive. So they started putting the chickens in cages.

In cages, the strongest chickens could not get to the weakest. They could not establish a "pecking order," and they had no need to. Their world was as small as the cage they were in -- they didn't give two clucks about the chicken in the cage over there.

Mortality decreased. Production increased. And farmers could finally sell more eggs than their families consumed.

Yes, this is simplistic. Yes, this does not take into consideration all that is known about animal science today. But...the clamor for cage-free eggs does not take animal science into consideration either. Because guess what: forcing farmers to raise chickens in the old way, the "cage free" way, is forcing them to have more chickens die. Do they get paid more for eggs raised from cage-free chickens? Not necessarily.

As a matter of fact, in California, where legislation has required that shelled eggs, the kind most of us know from grocery stores, must come from cage-free farms. Instead of paying, say, $2.00 a dozen, they cost $4.00 a dozen to cover the losses. (And by "losses" I mean the higher chicken mortality rate.) The people who advocated for and voted this into law order their groceries online, get them delivered to their house, and pay twice as much for eggs as they paid before, and don't think twice about it.

In the meantime, the family that is barely scraping by, the one with a single parent working two jobs, can no longer afford eggs. At all. Since the $2.00/dozen eggs are no longer available due to legislation, they are left with what is available at the food bank; powdered eggs, which are not required to come from cage-free chickens, if they purchase eggs at all.

Then the price of eggs drops, because the demand did not keep up with supply. The cage-free farmers don't actually get $4.00/dozen, they get more like $2.50, because people without the means to buy $4.00 eggs stop buying them. Now the farmers are in a lose-lose proposition, and because this is the law they can't go back to raising chickens the way they used to. Some choose to raise some other livestock, thus reducing the supply of eggs, permanently keeping fresh eggs from the lowest socioeconomic people in our society.

This is not a free capital market.

I am not an economist, nor a food producer. I am a consumer, seeing and hearing the news, and listening to people who don't know what "GMO" means clamor for non-GMO food. (FYI, "honey crisp" apples exist because of GMO practices. So do poodles.)

We are not them. They are not us. 
I am sure there are more factors pressing upon the market than the one I just described. I just ask that people listen and be open to more possibilities than the one being spooned to them by advocacy groups, no matter the intention. Being organic, cage-free, non-GMO is not necessarily better, just different. Choose wisely.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

The Final Tween Year

One day Marissa asked me why Lindsey's birthday parties were always so cool and elaborate and hers were always so "blah." I explained to her that since Lindsey was our first-born, we loved her more and made sure her parties were extra special.

No, of course I didn't. And of course that's not true.

I told her it's because Lindsey plans her own parties, has for years. She put together her American Doll themed party when she turned 8, her murder-mystery party when she turned 13. She planned the food, activities, invitations, all of it. I simply execute what she has put together. Marissa's 11th birthday party had been planned by Lindsey as well, a surprise spa party.

The last time Marissa had a sleepover I asked her for weeks to come up with activities for all of her friends, things we could have them do. She would not give up a single idea until 30 minutes before guests were going to arrive, at which point she announced all of the amazing games they would do. Which, of course, they weren't, because none of it had been purchased or planned. That turned out to be one of the worst birthday parties she had, with drama between grade-school girls being the main party entertainment.

This year was different. She made a guest list weeks in advance. She took a henna summer class and loved it so much, she wanted a henna artist at the party. Booked.

A friend had a "walking taco bar" for her party and she wanted that for dinner. Planned it.

Lindsey suggested a costume game from a friend's sleepover that was entertaining. On it.

We had leftover sparklers left from the 4th of July in Michigan, and a beautiful backyard to use them in. Made it so.

And God bless my sister, she came over the morning of the sleepover and made all the homemade waffles for 10 girls, coming off a 12-hour night shift. She disappeared before the girls were even up as she had to sleep for the next night's shift, like a waffle angel.

What a special way to celebrate turning 12.