Triggered

The news is getting to me this week.

For those of you who don’t know my story… when the Munchkin was five years old, I was sexually assaulted on a first date. Now, I’m no idiot. I had done my homework: I checked public records on the man. I Googled and checked social media. Professionally, he was who he said he was, and he had no criminal record.

But that night, I broke my own rule and went to his house. And I paid dearly for it. It was eight days before Christmas.

I didn’t report it.

Not to the police… he warned me (via text message and email afterwards) that it would be my word against his. And who would believe me, a poor single mother, against the word of a well-established financial professional?

In a moment of overwhelm, my outcry witness was my ex-husband. He was the only one who ever saw my bruises in person. And yet, a week later, he told me that he would use the fact that I had had such an “error in judgment” to prove I was an unfit mother and take out son away from me.

I later told my pastor at the church I attended at the time. His first question to me was, are you sure you’re not pregnant? Not was I hurt, or what did I need… his concern was whether I was “at risk” of an abortion.

I didn’t told another soul for three years.

These days, my family knows. I talk about being a survivor. The statute of limitations had passed, so nothing will ever happen to the person who attacked me. On the day the statute expired, I burned all the clothes I’d worn that night. I can read (most) articles and have considered volunteering for our local women’s shelter. Sometimes I can even watch episodes of SVU (which used to be my favorite show, before he took that from me).

So the story about Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford shouldn’t bother me… except it does, for one detail of her story: his hand over her mouth.

You see, that night I struggled to get away until he pressed his forearm over my neck, choking me. At that moment, it became all about making it home alive. My son needed me to get home. I had to survive.

Nothing triggers me like a reminder of that instant. Breathing as best I could with an arm compressing my windpipe while I tried to hold still against the blows of a man who had no concept of a safe word or consent.

I believe Christine Ford. I have been there. And I’ve spent this whole week wondering what I would do if, some day, the person who attacked me were ever to be cast into the public eye. Would I be brave enough to come forward? To try to protect other women and the public? I already sometimes regret not having reported him. I did what I had to do to protect my child. I later sought trauma counseling with a RAINN-trained therapist. I found an attorney who could protect my from my ex’s empty threats.

But reading all day long every day for a week the back and forth of the Kavanaugh story and how so many people think “she waited too long” or “she’s just looking for attention” or “she must be a Dem operative trying to throw the nomination” or “he was too young to be responsible” or “that was so long ago, don’t let it ruin his future”… it’s awfully hard to fight back the flashbacks when the reminder is everywhere.

Christine Ford was doing what she had to do to protect herself and keep living. She tried to forget (like me), she built a good life (like me), and she moved on as best she could, finding a healthy relationship with a good man (like me). I honestly don’t think the politics matter one damn bit. If it were me, I wouldn’t care if the patron saint of my political party were the culprit: someone has to stand up for us women and survivors and potential future victims.

Our culture lets men get away with behaving badly. And it’s bullshit.

So this week, I’m triggered.

And I believe Christine.

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Where were you?

Where were you that day?

I’ll never forget… I was watching cartoons with my younger cousin Reed at my aunt’s house. Normally my grandparents watched him, but my grandfather was recovering from surgery, so I had taken a few days off work to go help out. Back then, Reed was obsessed with Bob the Builder, and we were still watching on VHS tapes. Around 9:00am, one movie had ended and I took it out of the vcr to change tapes. Through the static on the screen, at first I thought I was seeing some awful movie. Suddenly, the realization came over me that it was not a movie but the news.

And then… the second plane…

How little did we realize in that moment how much the world was about to change forever?

I distinctly recall the difference in existence before and after that day. All innocence that I had vanished. This was different from Kosovo or East Berlin or the Persian Gulf of the 1990’s… this was something bigger. Something scarier. I had never watched the news so much in my life before that day, but spent the next several days glued to CNN, unable to tear my eyes away. Fearful… we don’t live far from a large military munitions base; were we still safe here, despite being far from a big city? Working at the church, I spent hours getting in touch with parishioners and families who were living out of state, including one whose husband was in the Washington Navy Yard that day. All were safe. I didn’t lose anyone that I was personally close to. And yet, the loss lingers… it makes my throat close up any time I spend too long a moment in thought of it.

Seventeen years ago, I didn’t know Antonio. He was here in the States by then, but he was in college and our paths hadn’t crossed yet. Back then, he hadn’t even finished his private pilot license, but he was well on his way. Today, seventeen years later, I can’t help but feel a more profound sense of trepidation over what that day meant for aviation families.

That morning, 8 pilots and 25 flight attendants headed out for an early report. They called their final cross-check and taxied out for the last time. Those flight crews never made it home.

I deliberately try to avoid thinking about everything that can go wrong when Antonio is flying at 35,000 feet. As a pilot’s partner, as the granddaughter of a pilot, as the friend of an FA, I know how (relatively) safe the sky is. I roll my eyes along with other passengers at the ridiculousness of TSA sometimes as we stand in line to remove our shoes or throw out the coffee we haven’t had time to finish yet. The anthropologist in me balks at the racial profiling, just as Antonio – as a Latino – tries to ignore the stares he gets in airports sometimes as a “brown” man in a pilot’s uniform.

But sometimes, if I let myself think about it… in the pit of my stomach, I am grateful.

Because the pilot-wife in me wants bags searched. Wants the extra scans. Wants everyone to have to remove their shoes and open their laptops.

Because the pilot-wife in me wants my pilot to come home.

What happened on 9/11 will probably never happen again. The world learned a tragic and immeasurably catastrophic lesson that day. And yet… never again will we ever say “that could never happen”. Because that day, it did.

What You Don’t Know…

Some of you may have noticed that I haven’t written a blog post in months.

Not really a big deal, right? Life gets busy. Other things take priority. That’s not that remarkable.

Yes, I’m a working parent. Yes, I’m a special needs mom. A single mom. And I am a person living with a chronic illness. But none of these facts by themselves is truly extraordinary. There are thousands of people out there who are single parents, or working parents, or are raising special kids, or live with ongoing health challenges.

But there are some things you don’t know.

So, I’m going to let you in on a little secret.

It’s something I’ve been trying to pretend wasn’t there. It’s something that I’ve tried to be okay with. It’s something that I feel guilty for admitting, because I have much to be grateful for, and so I have held this hand close to the vest. But there are some days when keeping the secret becomes a shrieking cacophony inside my soul, and I feel like it may drown me. So I’m going to take a leap of faith and just put it out there…

My life is incredibly lonely right now.

What you don’t know… is that, despite being around people, and feeling overwhelmed with What you don't know...busyness most of the time, I am so incredibly isolated that at times I think my chest may explode.

What you don’t know… is that I got really sick last semester. So sick that I had to withdraw from school temporarily about half-way through the semester. And not just because of the fibromyalgia.

What you don’t know… is that last March, I was diagnosed with Type 16 HPV, the form of the virus that is the most high-risk for cervical cancer, and that I had to have a biopsy. And that even while that biopsy came back mostly okay, I will remain at high risk for developing cervical cancer for some time… and there’s no way to tell if my body will fight off the virus like most people’s do or not.

What you don’t know… is that because of how sick and critically exhausted I had become, I was essentially put on “home rest” for four months. I spent my whole spring and summer at home, mostly alone. For the first time in years, I had all the time in the world to spend with friends and family… but I didn’t get to do hardly anything.

What you don’t know… is that – after I spent about a month doing not much more than sleeping – I still had a long hard road to walk to learn how to balance my days. I had to learn how to not steal energy from tomorrow for today. Or, if I do, I have to plan ahead, because borrowing an advance on the next day’s energy means a day of recovery afterward. And I’m still learning.

What you don’t know… is that, even with all that free time, I felt more isolated than ever. I was at home while the world moved on without me. And now I didn’t even have the social outlet of a job. On top of that, my FM/CFS and thyroid issues make me really intolerant of heat. So with no income and everyone I knew working, I spent the entire summer indoors with my 11-year-old, too tired to do much of anything and getting really depressed.

See, here’s the thing:

A thirty-something-year-old undergrad with a kid and a mortgage?
She doesn’t really make friends at school.
The people I meet that are my age are usually my professors, who can’t really be my friends right now. Other students my age are grad students – I know they exist (in theory) but I’m not on their level or in their classes.

And all my friends?

They’re raising their own families.
They’re spending their weekends at band tournaments and corn mazes and soccer games.
They’re NOT spending their weekends recovering with a body that doesn’t want to cooperate with life.
I don’t begrudge them that. I really don’t.
But I miss that life. I miss THEM.

And it’s not just missing them.

Because the other thing you don’t know?

It’s that NOBODY CALLS.

My phone rarely rings these days. No one texts me to ask how I’m doing. No one asks a single question about how treatment is going or how I’m managing my pain or how school is going or what’s new with the Munchkin’s therapies (and I don’t mention it, because I feel guilty). No one offers to make plans to get together anymore.

Look, I get it… I’d probably say I was busy.

Maybe I was busy one time too many.

But despite having lived in this town for a dozen years now, I have very few friends here.

Oh, I *know* people.
You don’t work at the big places I’ve worked or volunteer for the organizations for which I’ve volunteered without knowing people. Meeting people.

But I guess what I didn’t realize along the way was that I didn’t really make many new friends… not the kind of friends who call just to ask how things are going.

I have friends like that. Or, I did.
Back in my hometown.
It’s funny… I’ve long joked that I grew up “30 minutes and a whole world away” from here. I always meant it culturally. But now it seems to have taken on a new meaning.

The last time “The Gang” (the core group of people I’ve called my “extra family” for around 20 years) got together was over a year ago, and we weren’t even all there.
For some of them, it’s been more like two years.

I haven’t had a night with my girlfriends in over a year. The last time we had something planned, it got called off at the last minute due to someone’s significant other making other plans for her.
And yes – it was for a good reason. Really, it was.
But I was hurt.
And I didn’t say anything.

I didn’t say anything because not only was it really a good reason, but because ever since I was diagnosed with FM/CFS I feel like all I ever do is talk about my pain, and/or ask for help.
Ask and ask and ask, without being able to give back.

Combined FM/CFS is a selfish condition.
It takes. It takes from me, it takes from my son; it took away my old identity.
I’ve been working with a therapist for over a year now trying to rediscover who I am, after the identity and self-worth I had built on my professional abilities was ripped out of my hands.

I had to start over.

On the one hand, I’m proud of myself. I fought my way out of a bout with depression that hardly anyone even noticed. I’ve been learning a therapeutic technique to manage my conditions called pacing, which has given me back some semblance of normal. I took a class in mindfulness over the summer, where I began to learn how to meditate and incorporate mindfulness practices into my days, since stress has an intense physiological impact on my body. I’ve been learning to be self-compassionate for the days when my body can’t accomplish everything my mind sets out to do.

But I’m still lonely.

Part of me knows that I made this choice. That going back to school when the road forked was the right thing to do. For now, this is my life.

I just had no idea that I would be so emotionally isolated.

I didn’t know that I would miss all of my surrogate nieces and nephews growing up. I didn’t know that it would be so hard. I didn’t know that I would often feel like no one understands where I am right now. This life is busy, and it’s lonely. And while I know that every single day puts me one step closer to a degree and the return to a somewhat normal social life, I just can’t seem to bring myself to beg for company at the last minute on those rare days when I finally figure out I’ve got some spare time.

So listen…

I’m not putting this out here as a guilt trip. More than ever, I’ve been leaning on my parents, and my little sister (who has stepped up to the plate in a big way). I’m learning to feel less guilty about asking my family and my boyfriend for help. And just like always, I will figure things out and get through this.

What I want to put out there – not just for my people, but for everyone – is this:
There are people in your life who need you.
Friendships have to be reciprocated to be maintained.
Life will always get in the way if we let it… work, kids, spouses, houses… it can all make us too busy forever, until one day we look up and realize we aren’t really friends with our friends anymore.
I know, because I’m guilty, too.

But that is a choice.

One of these days, I won’t be an undergrad anymore. One day soon, I will graduate, and I can go back to doing the things I want and spending time with the people I love. One day, not so far from now, I can – and happily will – reclaim my role as Cruise Director, the one who makes things happen and seeks after those friendships no matter how long it takes or how distant we become.

Because those things matter.

Because I treasure being able to say that I have friends that I’ve had for twenty years or longer. Because in a time when the world is moving faster than the speed of light, I want to know that slow summer nights by the lake filled with the sounds of laughter and guitars is still possible.

Right now, the leaves are turning. The time for nights at the lake is coming to a close for the year, and we’re getting dangerously close to the holidays, which means the window of opportunity for friendly get-togethers is closing for 2016. We share memes on social media saying we need to get together and that we miss each other, but these days that’s usually as far as it goes.

I understand.

I do. We are all busy. Yes, I’m in school, but my friends have jobs and children and houses and obligations, too. I’m not the only one who hitched a ride on a Busy Boat and now can’t figure out how to drop the anchor and float a while. It’s hard.

So, I guess all I’m really saying here is:

I miss you all. And it would be really nice if you wanted to call… I promise I’ll try to answer.

Searching for a Silent Night…

For several days, I’ve had a few bars of a song stuck in my head. Problem was, I couldn’t get quite enough of it to put a name to. But there it was… just a few bars of a chorus, drifting into my thoughts as I went about my days.

All through the errands.
Through the stressing over the Christmas gifts.
Through the worrying over finals and my sister and visitation schedules and HDMI cables and postal delivery times.
Through juggling phone calls with the Munchkin’s school and health insurance companies and pharmacies and doctor’s offices and banks and the mortgage company.
Through laundry and bill-paying and house-cleaning and therapy appointments.
Through the daily efforts poured into shoving aside the dark December memories that tried to push their way to the forefront.

All the while, I was tangled in an internal tug-of-war… an extension of my ongoing existential discord between allowing myself to rest when needed, and feeling guilty over all the things that went undone. Continue reading

Random Saturday morning musings…

Well, technically, it is afternoon now. But I was up late, the Munchkin isn’t home, and I didn’t have any plans today. So I slept in, and I’ve been trying to get motivated to get some things done, but I’m distracted. Figured I’d jot down some quick thoughts to try to clear my head…

  • I know I said I was going to take a break from dating. I meant it. But just around the time I said it, I met someone online. A pilot. A cute one. (Who also speaks fluent French… Tais-toi, mon cœur!) But we were both in very transitional places in life back then, so we said we’d just chat and be friends. I didn’t give it much credence.But then we kept talking. And started to get to know each other. This has been going on for 3 months now. Last night, we spoke on the phone for the first time… and ended up talking for almost 3 hours.

    I’m not really sure what’s going on with that. He seems like a great guy, and we seem to have connected in a fairly uncommon way. But there are obstacles and some very large unknowns. And as of yesterday, his course seems to have changed and is now even more uncertain. So I don’t know what is going to happen or how to feel about it. On the one hand, I have always been one that is open to the possibility of the improbable. On the other, the cold of reality has thrown ice water on my rhapsodic imagination more times than I care to admit. Do I dare to hope that one innocent conversation be life-altering?

  • About a week ago, one of my very best friends did something that I never would have imagined possible: He chickened out.

    He took the coward’s way out of telling me something to my face. We were together, in person, for the entire afternoon on Sunday, and yet he chose to tell my by text message on Monday. And the thing is, it’s GOOD NEWS for him. A good thing. There wasn’t any reason for him to be afraid to tell me in person. I feel betrayed. Lied to. I feel like I’ve been shown – not just told, but SHOWN through actions – where I rank in his opinion. And Grandma always said, actions speak louder than words. And the thing is, he doesn’t even get it. He thinks that the fact that I was upset is about my feelings about something else entirely. And I haven’t tried to explain because I feel like he wouldn’t listen anyway, and I refuse to take his announcement and make it about me.
    But I feel so heartbroken. No one understands the time and the love I have invested in him. All the middle-of-the-night conversations spent convincing him that his life was worthwhile. All the long emails and IMs talking him through the dark moments when post-Afghanistan PTSD and depression threatened to overcome him. All the time spent worrying about him. All the groceries bought and meals cooked and miles on my car spent driving an hour to his place just to check on him, or spend the weekend, so he wouldn’t be alone while he struggled through a year of unemployment. And I’ve never gotten what I ever felt was a sincere thank you. I’ve heard “Well, you didn’t have to do that,” or an off-handed “I appreciate it,”… and I don’t want to seem ungrateful, but it feels like so very little comparatively. But maybe that’s on me. Maybe the fact that I feel things so deeply puts an expectation on others. Maybe he isn’t able to express his emotion in the way I need him to. I’m not sure. All I know is that right now, I still hurt, and I feel cast aside.

  • Yesterday was my last day of classes for this semester. I have to say, I’m so glad… but it feels sort of unresolved. I still have finals next week, but I don’t think that’s it. I think it has more to do with me feeling like I never hit my groove this semester, and so all the plans I had to get my grades up even more, to do all this work to catch up, my plans for studying, just didn’t play out the way I wanted. I will pass (without taking any Ws), but it is so hard for my perfectionist side to accept what I feel could have been better. But I also know there’s not much I could have done to change the outcome.
  • There’s this thing going on. It’s not good. And I can’t talk about it publicly, because it’s not my story to tell. But it is a family thing, and it’s affecting a lot of people around me. There is a lot of fear and sadness. Maybe still some hope, but the outcome and decisions aren’t up to any of us. It’s a big weight, and I’m worried.
  • This fibro and CFS is driving me nuts. Some days I feel good. I feel like I’ve reached a much better level physically – I’m always some level of stiff/sore, but with meds and new glasses, a lot of the bigger issues have been resolved. But this last week has been rough. I couldn’t sleep last Sunday night, and it threw my whole week off. And it’s frustrating. I feel like it has stolen some of my spontaneity from me. I feel like I’m torn between taking care of myself and coming across as an invalid. I’m not an invalid. I need to modify and adjust, and I’m working on trying to get back some of my upper body strength, but I’m still taking care of myself. But it’s hard, and I never really understood how people feel when they live with an invisible illness like this. I suddenly get the shame and embarrassment. I don’t know how to talk to anyone about it. What do you tell someone new? How does it color their perception of you? Besides my pilot, I made another new friend at school this week… a great gal from my French class who may just be my kindred spirit (despite being 14 years my younger)… but I fear telling her. I fear telling anyone. But then I feel like I’m lying, and I detest lying. I don’t know what to do.
  • Munchkin is gone this weekend. With SD. I wish he weren’t. Not that I don’t want him to have a dad; I do. But I want him to feel safe and happy, and my mother’s intuition is telling me something isn’t right. I’m trying to figure out a way to make this better, but courts and evidence and psychologists and emotions are all complicated, expensive, and time-consuming. Still, the crestfallen look on my child’s face when I have to tell him again that he has to go for the weekend despite his tears and pleading to stay home…. it breaks my heart.
  • I had a bit of a lull in the massive purge I started on the house. I think that the supercharged all-in-one-weekend bedroom makeover for the Munchkin’s birthday in March sort of wiped me out. Fortunately, my mom is a rockstar. She’s sort of kept the embers burning in the interim, and let me delegate several things to a “Mom List” this week. Today, even though I have a severe itch to go buy paint and start ridding the living room of the drab sage walls and finally start the transformation to my “vintage map/world exploration”-themed decor, I think I’m going to try to force myself to focus on the rest of the organization for the office and on getting the old broken wine rack out to the garage. If I can do that this weekend, then maybe I can reward myself with some fresh sunny yellow paint next weekend.

That said… I do feel better now. (Never doubt the power of therapeutic writing.) I’m going to crank up Pandora and go tackle the assembly of my new wine cabinet.

Parlez-vous plus tard, mes amis! Joyeux Samedi! 

On sadness, social media, and the last few days…

Ed. note: This is a bit long. Bear with me, because I had some things I needed to say, and had to explain circuitously.

It’s been a rough few days.

There are several reasons why. But I’ll get to that in a minute. First I want to talk about social media.

Specifically, using social media when we’re sad.

I’ve read many articles about the psychological effects of social media. How we use it, how positive versus negative information in our feeds affects us, how words and topics and ideas trend. And every single bit of clinical research done, to date, tells us that our Facebook lives are perfect.

Perfect? Surely, that can’t be right…

Continue reading