Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Perspective Damn It!

I am constantly searching for lasting perspective. Some major, life changing event will happen, and I will think this is it! This is the event that will help me gain major life perspective. I'll slow down. I'll take life in. I'll be kind to myself. And then there's the competing side of that: I can slow down when I'm old. Life is too short. There's too much to do/see/experience that I don't want to miss any of it! Say yes to every single social opportunity!

When I lost my dad a little more than a year and a half ago I thought the deep perspective I'd gained would be permanent. Six months later I was blogging about my complete exhaustion. I think back now to how I felt last March when I wrote that blog, and I had so much energy compared to now. When will I listen to my body? I think we all know the answer is never. The question then becomes how will I balance a busy life and a chronic illness without sacrificing the things I don't want to miss?

The last few weeks have been crazy. My husband has taken several work trips. We went to Richmond, Virginia a few weeks ago and returned late on Monday evening. On Tuesday I was in Ann Arbor (an hour away). On Wednesday I fought metro Detroit traffic on both ends of the day, spending four hours in the car to go to meetings. On Thursday evening we threw a fundraiser for our friend at our house. By 8 am Friday morning we were in the car driving north three hours to Traverse City for my work. We spent the weekend and upon returning on Sunday my husband drove almost directly to the airport to leave again. Yes we've scheduled all these things, and at the time they get added to the calendar it seems manageable. But then that time gets here and it's brutal. This week we have something every evening but one, and I have no idea when we will do small things like yard work or have the plumber out (something we've needed to do for weeks). 

I'm not complaining. Honestly I don't know any other pace. But this weekend I've warned my husband to plan nothing. NOTHING. If you want to see us too bad. We are making zero plans, and I will not budge. I am unavailable not because we have plans but because I refuse to have plans. It's 48 hours with nothing on the calendar. Then next week it starts again: a wedding, an overnight getaway, college friends in town, a trip to Chicago. And then there's August. Don't get me started on August. And I don't want to miss a second of it; not an instant because we have a lot of fun things planned. But that does mean that sometimes I'm going to bed at 9 pm (and by sometimes I mean pretty much every night that we're home with no plans). 

Last week I was sitting in stopped traffic on the way to Detroit having left my house at 6:30 am. I was feeling really overwhelmed and started crying in the car. I was desperately seeking that perspective that I sometimes feel can be elusive. Then I started thinking of my friend John who we lost last month so abruptly. Life is just flying by and I'm pissed sitting in traffic, and then it's just gone. It's so fleeting. I think about him frequently, and I had this moment where I realized in the scheme of life it's just traffic. I've created this busy, stressful environment, and it's mine to manage. And the only person who will notice my lack of perfection is me. I felt John's presence as surely as he was sitting beside me saying, "Relax little buddy." 

Running has been a stress reliever for me for years, and my abbreviated running schedule over the last eight months has presented quite the challenge to my psyche. I had iron infusions last week and this week, and next week we switch my medication again because the latest didn't cut it. I'm hoping in the next month or so to be back to running, and to encourage myself have registered for two races in July. 

I'll be running again soon! But first iron.
I will never be a calm or relaxed person. My schedule will never be clear, and I will always want to be in the middle of all the excitement. But every now and then I need a little smack in the head to be reminded of the perspective. Life is supposed to be perfect. It's messy and fluid and I, more than perhaps anyone I know, need that reminder. Today, right this very minute I feel calm and have so much perspective. Tomorrow is a different day, but I'll hearken back to this moment. These words. I will still feel stressed, but I'll embrace it. I'll remind myself to relax little buddy.



Trying to spend more time at the pool this summer with my little dude.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Joining the Team

I didn't read any parenting books before we had our son. Parenting advice is varied and nobody disagrees on the same parenting style. Plus parenting books mostly just stress me out. We're smart, educated adults. Sure we're going to screw up our kid (because that's part of the gig), but we'll figure it out. Lots of people with less resources than us have. 

When my son was two months old I wrote what may be my most controversial blog about how parents have to prioritize what's best for them. I declared that I wouldn't leave the house with my hair wet or phone in my work attire. It wasn't intended to be judgmental. My point is that these types of things were important before I had kids and would remain so after I had a child. Two and a half years later what I wrote in that blog remains true to me. And it also goes to follow that even once you have children you prioritize what's important to you, whatever that may be. I think people use children as an excuse to not do things (which I will admit that I've intentionally done to get out of things.) But if something is really important to you, having a child may make it harder. Because as in all things the hard is what makes it great, right?

I'm currently reading a magical book that has made me seriously reflect on my own parenting style. It's called Bringing Up Bebe, written by an American journalist raising her child in Paris with her British husband. She noticed things about French children that she wanted to research including they are well behaved, they eat anything, they play among themselves without interrupting adults. The book is phenomenal and has me wanting to raise my child like the French. It's the one book I really wish I'd read before my son's birth. 

I would say we are already about 50 percent on board with French parenting, although now I desperately want to raise my kid 100 percent like a French mom. One thing my husband and I decided early on is to focus on our life as a family. Sure having a child changes your life, but our life would not entirely revolve around our child. It would revolve around our family. That includes putting time into our marriage and focusing on ourselves. I adore my son. I'd throw myself in front of a train to save him without hesitation. But on a daily basis our life revolves around our entire family. We love to travel. We love to eat at restaurants. We love to have lengthy brunches with friends. It is a requirement that our child fit into this lifestyle. 


I couldn't get him to eat sushi, but he ate all the rice and loved chopsticks!
One thing the author discovers is that French parents don't throw their children in 14,000 activities and act as chauffeurs constantly shuttling their kids to the next place. I LOVE this. We had our son enrolled in tumbling on Saturday mornings, and then football season came. We are a football family, so Saturday morning anything doesn't work. He can do another activity. I won't say that there won't be a time when Will won't love a sport or activity so much that we find ourselves up to our eyeballs in practices, games and travel. But it's going to be when he's old enough to make that choice. And there will always be a family balance.*

When I was a kid I was involved in sports and academic endeavors. But those things revolved around school. There was no travel team that took up the entire weekend. As one French mom quips, "We go away on the weekends." YES. YES. YES. I want Will to have activities he loves, but we will still travel. We will still go out and have dinner. When we had our son he joined our team. He's one of the three MVPs, but he's got to go along with us. 

We were in Richmond, Virginia two weekends ago. We were home for three days, threw a political fundraiser and then headed to Traverse City, Michigan for three days. My son has flown three times this year. Kid's got frequent flier miles. Being on our team means being social, being busy, and going with the flow. He's a pro. 


Racking up miles in the Richmond Airport
Enjoying the bay in Traverse City, MI


In less than 16 years Will is going to graduate from high school. I don't want to look back on this precious time and think our family left anything in the tank. My husband and I have careers we value. We have a marriage we cherish. We have a son we love with a fervent passion and to whom we want to give every opportunity. Maybe he will decide he wants to play baseball or hockey (please no) or some other sport, and discovers he loves it so much. Maybe it will upend our lives, but we won't push him there. We have high expectations of achievement (particularly academic), but he also needs to be a kid. We travel a lot and seek out playgrounds and children's museums. Life is about experiences, and we want him to have so many of them.  


Testing the water in the James River at Richmond's Belle Isle Park
Vacay includes giant cookies
There's a lot we won't get right, and maybe someday Will will get tired of the blistering pace of the life we lead. But for now he's on the team whether he wants to be or not. He seems to like it. Hotels are his favorite. He loves room service. He loves airplanes and pilots. He appreciates travel and being social. He invites everyone at his daycare over to his house and to ride his boat (for what it's worth we do not have a boat. It belongs to my husband's grandmother.) But for our family life is meant to be busy and social. We won't have it any other way.

These days I'm channeling my inner French mom in a lot of ways.  No parenting style is perfect, but I want...no I expect my son to be well behaved, social and a rock star traveler. There really isn't an option. That's part of what being on our team is about. There's also copious amounts of love. I think we're a pretty good team. 

*For the record I am not judging those who spend their weekends and more doing sports. That's totally fine. I'm simply saying it's not what we envision for our family, and we don't want to give up travel and other social family time. 

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Am I Still a Runner?

I've been hospitalized three times in the last twelve months. I have to let you in on a little secret: I'm over it. For the first time in nearly 20 years of suffering with Crohn's Disease, Crohn's has defeated my attitude. People have always told me I'm so positive, and they don't know how I deal with it. The answer is you just deal with it. What's the alternative? But the last year and in particular the last eight months has wreaked havoc on my body and my positive psyche, and I'm not amused.

I had an abscess drained in October, and the plan was to keep it draining until the abscess was healed. It's now June, nearly eight months since that procedure, and the abscess is still draining. It's as delightful as you might imagine. I've discovered things I never thought I'd know, like the best gauze for my constant abscess bandage is the 4x4 squares at Meijer. Tuck that away for future reference in case you need a constant supply of gauze.

Funny side story: a few months ago I wrote down a store list, and my husband went to the grocery store. On the list I wrote "4x4 gauze". My husband came back with four boxes of small trash bags wondering why I'd put that on the list. I laughed really hard. In his defense I do have the handwriting of a serial killer.

Despite hilarious grocery store mishaps, the abscess is discouraging. It's not getting better. I'm under the care of two doctors: a colorectal surgeon in Lansing and my gastroenterologist in Ann Arbor. The consensus is that it's best if the abscess gets cleared up with medication. Surgical options have been casually tossed around, like we're dipping our toe in the water of the surgery conversation. My surgeon said options include having an illeostomy for a few months to let the abscess heal or filling the fistula tract that's causing the abscess. Neither surgical options are ideal. The problem with surgery is that each surgery adds new scar tissue and possible future complications.

For now we've doubled my dose of Humira (weekly injectibles), and I'm taking antibiotics indefinitely. And I'm frustrated because what if it doesn't work? What if this is my new normal? 

Back in January I had hopes that I'd start running again. I've run two 5ks this year, not the running year I'd planned for. Maybe it sounds silly to miss running when it's so challenging and aggravates the abscess, but I miss it. It's my stress relief and such a part of who I am. Not running makes me feel like I'm missing a limb. Maybe more like an internal organ (ha! Crohn's joke!) 

I started swimming again a few weeks ago, and it turns out even that is an uncomfortable form of exercise. The problem is the movement rubs against the abscess despite the lower impact of the exercise. Barely working out means my body has changed. I haven't really gained much weight, but my body is different. I don't feel strong. I feel very frustrated.

I know it could be worse. I have friends struggling with cancer and other terrible illnesses, and they do it with a grace that I could only hope to possess. Being physically sick the last eight months has been rough. Letting my frustration get the best of me is even tougher.

Maybe I won't be able to run again in any real way for a while. Maybe I'll have to learn who I am without a rigid exercise routine. Right now I feel so much guilt for not being at the fitness level I'm used to, and I know I need to let that go. I need to heal. 

If I'm being totally honest for the first time I'm scared. I'm worried that it won't heal. I'm worried about other complications like kidney failure. I'm worried that this is the beginning of Crohn's Disease winning, and I can't fix it. I don't know how to make it better. I'm worried that my son will think of me as a sick mom. I'm worried that my husband will grow weary of having a sick wife. These things have been keeping me up at night.

Right now I can't fix anything except my attitude. I'm making a conscious effort to think about my broken body in a more positive light. I'm trying to give myself a break if I don't look exactly the way I want to. This is still a runner's body, but right now it needs that energy and focus I've put into running for so many years to go into healing. The miles will be there when my body is ready.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Wedding Crashers

In eleven years of togetherness my husband and I have been invited to 47 weddings. This includes five weddings this year. We've already received three invitations and two save the dates. We have attended 33 of the weddings to which we've been invited, and we plan to attend all five this year, taking us to having attended a grand total of 38 weddings by the end of the year. I've attended more weddings than most caterers. I also decided for purposes of this blog to try to find photos from all the weddings we've attended. I mostly succeeded, and I've discovered 1) my hair has really evolved over the last dozen years and 2) I have several dresses that were really fan favorites.

I've been thinking a lot about weddings lately mainly because we continue to be invited to so many of them. In 2008 we attended six weddings, the last of which was our own in December. I've learned a lot about what makes weddings good (or average. The goal is to leave thinking it didn't suck). But I really know what makes them bad. When I reflect back on all of these weddings there have been a lot of fun times, but the bad ones stand out the most.

Let me start by saying I love weddings. We have a lot of beautiful people in our lives, and if I didn't love them so much I wouldn't attend all of these blessed events. But when you've been so many of them you have very strong opinions about how weddings are supposed to go. To my friends getting married this year and beyond the number one most important thing that will kill your wedding, even more than food or booze, is timing. We left a wedding once that had great food, good booze, and I imagine a promising deejay. But when we didn't finish dinner until 9 pm I was over it. Keep it moving. 

Obviously next on the list are food, booze and entertainment. I don't care how you serve your food (although I am partial to family style and it's a rarity), but make sure it's decent. In all honesty in 33 weddings I can think right this minute of one whose food stands out for being amazing. It was a casual outdoor wedding with a small reception at a delicious cajun restaurant in Northern Michigan. Perfection. I can think of the bad ones, but for the most part in my experience wedding food is average. Just make sure it doesn't suck.

Then there's booze. Go all out people. A cash bar is obviously verboten, and I don't think I've been to a wedding with one. Have an open bar with good booze and don't cheap out here. 

I don't care if you have a deejay or band, but either way it's got to be good. I went to a wedding recently where the band was so out of tune it was laughable. They couldn't remember words to the songs. I think the wedding was fine otherwise, but the only thing I remember was that terrible band. It overshadowed all else. 

Then there are the bad weddings. The worst ever was one we attended a few months after we'd been dating. It was a friend of my husband's who had a full mass ceremony at 10 am. We drove to Sandusky, Ohio for the wedding which ended promptly at 11 am. The "reception" was at a museum where there wasn't enough seating and the food was basically cheese and crackers. Oh and did I mention it was a dry wedding? Nothing says I hate my friends more than a dry wedding. Nothing.

I'm not sure who took this at the worst wedding ever, but it's hilarious. I was so annoyed. And blonde. Also we were babies.
We've had so many fun times at these weddings, but I don't remember details. It leads me to believe that again, unless the details are just awful, nobody really cares. 

Some more memorable moments:
  • 2006: my BFFs wedding reception on a boat in the Potomac River with the climax being fireworks over the river. Gorgeous.
At my BFF's wedding in 2006. Holy eyeshadow and hair on both of us (also my most worn dress).
  • 2007: my husband and friends deciding to "ruin" a guy's wedding (they're jerks). We double fisted drinks and played "wedding bingo", checking off cliche wedding events. We got the deejay in on the game. I was in line for the dollar dance (check bingo square...also please don't do a dollar dance), and the deejay announces, "This one goes out to the troops". I proceeded to shout: "Bingo motherf#ckers!" and run around the room getting high fives. It was the most fun wedding ever despite its ridiculousness. This wedding was also the first of four consecutive wedding weekends. I hated life by the last one.
My eyes are not even close to focused. Also wear #2 of the dress.
  • 2008: I married my great love in a Christmas wedding with snow on the ground and my heart exploding. Also my husband loves old music and I let him be in charge of the deejay. At one point nobody was dancing, and I told our deejay to ignore my husband and play whatever he wanted. Later I noticed the dance floor was packed, and everyone was dancing to Britney Spears' Womanizer. Whatever works.

  • 2009: attending two weddings in one night in West Virginia. My cousin and old friend/college roommate got married in the same town on the same day. Fortuitous.
With my family before my cousin's wedding
  • 2012: being a bridesmaid in my friend's wedding and drinking so much champagne I took of my shoes (I think taking off shoes at a wedding is a cardinal sin and have only ever done it after consuming copious amounts of alcohol). I may have also thrown up in my mother-in-law's yard. I'm not sure if she reads my blog, but if she does, I'm sorry.
Before the wedding
After the shoes came off.
  • 2014: heading to Northern Michigan for a good friend's wedding. We rented a house with three couples and danced our tails off. Hands down best deejay of any wedding we've ever attended. Also my husband ran to the dance floor and grabbed my hand only for me to lose my footing at the same time. It appeared to all that he'd thrown me across the dance floor, and we still laugh about it. 

Weddings can be super fun and momentous occasion. Keep the event moving, have at least decent food, good booze, and awesome tunes. I found photos from nearly every wedding we've attended, but I'm missing a few. Looking for the pictures has reminded me of what an amazing adventure this is: this life my husband and I share. Thank you friends for including us in your beautiful days and for letting us drink your booze. It should go without saying that we'll drink a lot of it. Cheers!

Pontoni wedding 2007 in  Northern Michigan. Best food ever. Also only time I've ever kissed the bride on the lips.

Bratney wedding 2007 in Plymouth, MI. This purple dress is also a repeat offender.
Raha wedding 2008 in Grand Rapids. Super fun dancing.
Curry wedding 2008 in Morgantown, WV. My husband may or may not have gotten into an argument at the bar during the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Weishart wedding 2008 in Philippi, West Virginia.

Nobis wedding in 2008 in Southeast Michigan
Little/Johnson wedding in Las Vegas in 2009. Is it wrong to still refer to it as the "Little Johnson" wedding? I think not.
Herron wedding in Detroit, fall of 2009
Sweeney wedding, fall 2009 in Southeast Michigan
My brother's wedding in Norfolk, VA in June 2010
Chris as a groomsman in a college buddy's wedding, 2010 in Grosse Pointe, MI
Espinoza wedding, Howell, MI in July 2013. My husband's cousin. I was still hungover from a work conference and dance off the night before.
Mann/Perschetz reception in Detroit, 2014. I may have taken my shoes off on this night. I may have also walked barefoot on the streets in Detroit. 
Awesome dancing at the Turco wedding. I may have just groped the bride in this shot.
Mulchay wedding, Detroit in May 2015. When I learned babies and weddings are a tough combo.
O'Meara wedding in July 2015. A Friday night reception at Spartan Stadium
Will's first wedding in Manistee. Also our first weddings on back to back days.
There are no photos of Chris and me from this wedding last summer, so this one of my girlfriend and me will substitute!
Before my sister-in-law's wedding last October 

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The Wisdom to Know the Difference

Last week my friend lost his battle to alcoholism when he took his own life. I've spent the last week reflecting and thinking about the impact that disease has on so many. My family and I drove 400 miles one way to Michigan's Upper Peninsula to celebrate his life. It was the most genuine service I've ever attended. I laughed, I cried, and I forgot about the way in which John lost his life. He was an alcoholic, but that was only a part of a wonderful human who touched so many lives. It's a disease we don't discuss or we discuss with shame, and so many people are affected by it. It forces those suffering to hide.

My dad, Rick Jones, was an alcoholic. I talked to my mom before writing this blog because there is a stigma. It's hard to say those words out loud let alone see them on the screen. But alcoholism affected every member of my family in different ways. My mom bore the brunt of it, but this is not her story. My sister is six years older and had a different experience with my dad. Their stories are not mine to tell. I think we each have a different story, and honestly mine isn't that bad. My dad was an alcoholic, and it played a role in how he ultimately died. But while he was living we pretended like it wasn't a thing. We joked about it or didn't talk about it at all because it was hard. 

As a child my dad was larger than life. He worked in the coal mines and worked a lot. When he was home he was often drinking a beer, but it's not something I thought much about. We'd go hiking and my dad would climb the tallest rock. It was a special challenge if there was a sign that said "Do Not Climb". If we were swimming he would dive from the highest point possible. He never stopped moving. He was invincible, a sentiment I believed until the day he died a year and a half ago.


Love this photo of Dad pulling m car out of the mud nine years ago. He was in his element.
We'd go on trips and my dad often had a six-pack (or what was left of it) on the floor as he drove. It was the 80s. That's what people did right? In fairness we never wore seat belts, and as a kid who got car sick I often sat in the front in the middle sans seat belt. I obviously escaped unscathed.

I don't really have negative memories of my dad drinking. But when he was home, he was drinking. He smoked and chewed tobacco when I was a kid too. They were all things he just did. I do, however, remember the day my dad stopped drinking. I was nine, so my memories of actual events may be skewed. But I recall my dad playing with me and my brother probably more roughly than he should've. He had my eight-year-old brother on his shoulders and was spinning him around. My mom was mad and kept telling him to stop. It culminated in a serious adult moment where my mom took me and my brothers (the youngest of whom was an infant at the time) upstairs and locked us in one of the bedrooms with her. My dad was knocking on the door, and she told him if he drank again she'd leave.

To my knowledge my dad didn't drink again for 13 years. Life continued much the same way as it had when dad was drinking: he worked a lot, he was a daredevil, and he adored his family. Not much changed from my childhood perspective.

I acutely remember the day my dad started drinking again: May 19, 2001. I looked across the room, saw my dad with a beer in his hand and was shocked. But I was away in law school, and a year later moved to Texas. My dad was drinking again, but I wasn't around to see it or how it affected life at home.


With my parents at my law school graduation
I was living in Texas in November of 2003 when my dad had his heart attack. At that point I often joked that Dad was like the Keith Richards of regular people: he smoked for years (he quit at some point when I was in high school maybe? I honestly don't remember), was in the Chemical Corps in Vietnam with constant exposure to Agent Orange, worked in the coal mines and was an alcoholic. We'd say Dad was a heart attack waiting to happen, and once it did happen we all figured we could stop waiting.

I drove from Texas back to West Virginia. It took two days, and because I wasn't working at the time I stayed home for a few weeks and helped. I drove Dad insane. He was lucky to survive the heart attack, but he had congestive heart failure. We were told his heart would continue to get weaker. He was forced to retire from the coal mines at the young age of 54.

Over the next 13 years he had numerous procedures and a pacemaker and defibrillator implanted. His heart grew weaker, but his status as invincible didn't change. When I moved to Michigan in 2006 he helped move furniture into my second floor apartment. He pushed and pushed (wonder where I get it?) despite having less oxygen because of his weakened heart. He received full disability from the VA because of his significant exposure to Agent Orange. They sought him out and pushed for him to get disability. Dad was to proud to ever consider that there was anything wrong.

Throughout the last dozen years of his life my dad drank. Every day. When I picture Dad it's often on his recliner at home with a Michelob Ultra in his hand. It's easy to pretend like Dad didn't have a problem with alcohol. He would say "I don't get drunk. I just like the taste of beer." He never appeared drunk. He was never belligerent or angry or difficult. He always had a smile on his face.

I'm so grateful that we went on a number of vacations with my parents in the last 5-6 years of Dad's life. As we drove out west to Montana, the only state at that time my dad had never visited, he would crack a beer in the back seat by noon as my husband or I drove. He would open a beer at 11 am and say, "I'm on vacation!" I'd say "No Dad, you're retired." But even then I loved and laughed at his fun life outlook.


Mount Rushmore 2010
With Dad at the Badlands in South Dakota

Following the Knoxville Half Marathon in 2011

This photo sits on my desk. My favorite. After the Pittsburgh Half Marathon in 2013.
As he got older Dad didn't drive as often anymore, happy to relinquish driving duties to one of his kids. I was often relieved because even though Dad didn't appear drunk, it was not at all unusual for him to drink a six-pack in a single sitting every day. We'd go out to dinner and Dad would down 2-3 beers before the food came. He didn't seem drunk, and it's just how it was.

In the fall of 2015 my dad was scheduled to have a routine heart catheterization,  and my mom found out she needed one the same week. My husband and I drove to West Virginia with our ten month old son to help my parents, neither of whom could drive for a week following their procedures that were two days apart.

My dad's cath revealed 100 percent blockage of his main artery, and they recommended bypass surgery as soon as possible. Dad was scared, but his cardiologist, whom he respected and trusted, told him he'd die for sure without the surgery. It was only a question of when. 

My dad's cath was on a Wednesday, and they admitted him to the hospital after the procedure. On Saturday evening my son went down, and I headed to the hospital late in the evening to watch college football with my dad. I scored coffee from the nurse (just like him I can drink regular coffee at any hour without it affecting my sleep), and we watched TV and talked. At this point he hadn't had a drink in four days, and he seemed fine. I asked him if he noticed the effects of not having alcohol, and he said he did not.


The last photo of Dad with Will. I cherish it.
The next morning we visited him before we left town. The plan was for us to drive back to Michigan, and then I would fly back two days later on the day of my dad's surgery. As I got in the car I sobbed for the first half hour of the drive. I genuinely thought he'd be okay, but I was still scared. I was worried that my dad didn't know how much I loved him.

My dad's heart was too weak to beat on its own after surgery, and he was in a medically induced coma for several days. They air lifted him to Pittsburgh where he did wake up for a few days. But he wasn't himself. He was irritable. He was confused. The doctors told us he was detoxing from the alcohol which seemed weird because at this point it had been over a week since he'd had a drink. While the doctors had tested his liver function before surgery, in Pittsburgh they told us his liver was too weak. His heart was weak, but combined with the weak liver it would be very difficult for him to pull through.

I didn't tell people about my dad's weak liver. I felt embarrassed. Maybe he was predisposed to have a weak liver anyway, but he wasn't kind to his body. Obviously drinking wasn't the only hazardous factor, but it was the longest and most consistent. It was hard to reconcile.

My dad was the epitome of the functioning alcoholic. You never would've known he was drinking regularly if you didn't see it. He didn't try to hide his drinking, and I never saw him out of control. While his story is different than my friend John's, my dad's drinking was something that was always there as a worry. I remember being in the hospital in 2014,  and my mom tearfully telling me she was going home because my dad was drinking so heavily she wasn't comfortable leaving him there alone. My dad's alcoholism was a constant in my family to the point that in large part we didn't even realize it.

I did not party in high school. My dad wasn't drinking then, and drinking was a taboo subject in my house. Even after Dad started drinking again it was years before I drank in front of my parents. I certainly have my fair share of crazy party stories, but my fear of inheriting my family's alcoholism (my dad's dad was also an alcoholic) is always in my mind. I'll give myself little rules about drinking and make myself abstain at random times just to prove I can. Addiction is a terrifying prospect, and it's something I force myself to check on a regular basis.

My dad was incredible. He was a great dad, and even though he's gone I still think of him as invincible. Being an alcoholic was part of who he was, but it did not define him. I tell his story because if you know someone struggling with alcoholism, don't be ashamed to discuss it or confront it. It shouldn't be something we discuss with shame. It's a disease, and we should help those we love get the help they need. 

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

How Can You Mend a Broken Heart?

Writing is one of my biggest forms of therapy, and tonight I need some therapy. But I've been sitting here for about ten minutes, sipping a glass of wine and starring at the blinking cursor on my computer wondering what to say or if I should say anything at all. It hurts a little to breathe, and I feel numb. Grief does that to me.

I should warn you I'm probably going to swear a lot. I'm so fucking sad that I can't even articulate it. Today I lost a good friend, and it's devastating. Is there a word that's means more devastating than devastating? The thesaurus gave me 'annihilating'. Yeah, that's how I feel. 

I'm typing and erasing and retyping, and I can't get it right. Bear with me as I figure out what to say. Having worked for a statewide association I know a lot of local officials. When those officials get elected to the legislature there's always a special connection, but John was different. He wasn't just a former member who was now a legislator. He and I became good buddies. He became friends with everyone, and I don't know anyone who ever spoke poorly of him. How amazing would it be to say that about so many others?

A few years ago I worked on a project in Marquette, Michigan, John's hometown. I got to hang out with him there. I had dinner with him and his lovely wife on several occasions. I got his local tour of the city. We did an editorial board meeting together with the Marquette Mining Journal. He adored his family and raved about them. It was inspiring.

At a work event with John in 2014 (to the left behind me). Always a smile on his face.
He lived around the corner from my son's daycare and would walk by and say hello to Will when they were playing outside. He joked that the daycare workers seemed concerned about this creepy guy who claimed to be Will's friend. But he won them over (like he won everyone over) in part by bringing one of his adorable St. Bernard puppies over for the kids to pet.

Will meeting Rosie, one of John's dogs, while John supervised
Anytime I was sick or in the hospital the last few years I was on the receiving end of a lecture from John. When I spent a month in the hospital in 2014 he told me he was going to send an ambulance to transport me to Marquette (six hours north) because I wasn't taking care of myself and someone needed to watch over me. Last year he called me and left me the funniest voicemail telling me that he didn't want to raise Will by himself. I laughed and later told him he wasn't exactly in the line of succession to raise Will...no offense. But John wanted to take care of others. When I was in the hospital this last time in February he texted me every day. He wanted to come visit, but I didn't feel up to visitors. Why the fuck didn't I let him visit?

Last summer when I was trying to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up, he and I would meet in the park near our houses (he lived around the corner) and chat. He'd bring coffee, and we'd just talk about whatever. I sought his advice. He told me funny stories. Once I came straight from a run, and he told me I needed to find a new job ASAP because I was looking and smelling like a hobo. He thought that was hilarious and has teased me about it ever since. 

We were supposed to have breakfast a few weeks ago, and John was uncharacteristically late. I texted him and asked if he was standing me up, and he called and said he was sick. He sounded terrible, and I told him not to worry and we'd reschedule. I'd reschedule at some point...we had tons of time right? 

Last night I heard he was struggling, and my heart hurt. This morning I sent him a text reminding him of how he'd joked that Will wasn't going to raise himself. I told him it cut both ways, and I was worried about him. He never responded to that text.

This afternoon I didn't hear my phone buzzing. When I saw it later I had a missed call from my husband followed by a text that said "Call me". I had texts from three girlfriends, and one of them said she knew John and I were close, and that John had taken his own life. I called my husband and said, "It's not true. Tell me it's not true." He sighed and said the media was reporting that it was.

I got into my car and sat there crying for probably 20 minutes. I drove home in a fog and sat poring through social media. The posts both comforted and haunted me. Everyone loved John. Everyone. I wish I could tell him that. I wish I could tell him that he's not alone, and so many of us would do anything to help him figure it out.

It is unfathomable to me that John is no longer part of this world. As we picked our son up from daycare tonight there was a news van in front of his house. I wanted to shove the reporter and tell him to leave. I wanted to tell him it wasn't true. There's no way. 

Tonight I sit here annihilated. I am so grateful to have known John and to be one of his many friends. He was a good man, and I will be forever grateful for his friendship, his counsel, and his example. He didn't always get it right, but none of us do. He taught me that we have to own up to our mistakes and try to figure it out. Ever since I heard the news I've had Al Green's song How Can You Mend a Broken Heart stuck in my head. I wish I had the answer. 

We don't always have time to reschedule breakfast. I am going to make an effort to tell people I love them. Life is short. It's important to tell people what they mean to you. Who knows how important those words are at any point in someone's life. I wish I'd said this yesterday: I love you, John. You are a great friend, and the world is not the same without you.  


Tuesday, May 2, 2017

I Don't Play Well with Others

I don't like to play team sports. It's totally not my thing. I enjoy watching sports, but I prefer activities that I can do alone and get into my own head. I almost always run alone. I have a gym membership, but usually go to the gym at our country club that rarely has others using it. When I work out I want it to be quiet and reflective. I do listen to music when I run on the treadmill, but I don't need anyone to be around to hear me singing Bruno Mars or Justin Timberlake at the top of my lungs (a different type of reflection).



I'm used to running 4-5 days a week, and the Crohn's infection I've had for the last six months has sidelined me. I've tried walking, and I've been doing high intensity interval training (HIIT) videos at home. But nothing replaces running. Nothing clears the cobwebs out of my head like a hard run. I haven't run more than 4 miles since the Detroit Half Marathon last October. It's my biggest running drought in a decade, and it's taking a mental toll.

I've been thinking maybe I should take an exercise class. Maybe signing up for yoga or something will motivate me. Maybe what I need is to play with others instead of trying to power through it on my own. 

Last week I got back into the pool to swim laps for the first time (minus one time in Colorado last fall) since my son was born. My arms were on fire, and I was mostly able to get into a zone. It's not running, but it hurts pretty good. Here's my problem with the pool: people bug me. The only time I could go last week was late afternoon, and three lanes were taken up by an aqua aerobics class. One day I had to share a lane with a guy who was not really interested in sharing a lane. I was hugging the lane divider while he kicked me every time he passed me. I did not get in the zone. I got a good workout, but I hated having to be around other people. 

I'm not antisocial; as a matter of fact I'm quite the opposite. But my socially ambitious calendar requires some time to myself. If I don't in a reflective workout, I'm a grouchy human.

That brings me to my love, running. I ran on the treadmill today for 20 minutes. It felt amazing while I was running. Then I got home, my runner's high wore off, and I took four Advil to numb the pain of my Crohn's infection. Crohn's is an asshole. Literally. Before I ran I knew it wasn't a good idea, and I'd planned to only walk. But then I simply couldn't help myself. I'm an addict. 

My doctor still can't figure it out. I've been on antibiotics six times this past year. I've been hospitalized three times. I switched medication and give myself weekly injections of Humira. And yet the infection lingers like that stalker I dated in my mid-twenties (awkward). If I could change my phone number and move to get rid of this infection I'd do it. 

Last summer I blogged that having a chronic illness is like having one's body invaded by aliens. I wrote that before this infection, and now I feel like there may be a colony of aliens inhabiting my body and it's not cool. I'm not patient. I don't play well with others, so group classes and relying solely on the pool for my workout fix isn't going to cut it. I need to run again. I long for the days when I can run for 2-3 hours on a Saturday morning. Does that sound crazy? You bet your ass it does. 

In the scheme of life this time will be short. I understand that logically except that I don't. What if this is the new normal? What if this infection stays for six more months or years? What if I can't run anymore? I don't know who I am if part of me, a big part, isn't a runner. It scares me. 

Okay here's the deal Crohn's: you don't get to win. You don't. You've had your fifteen minutes (ahem 19 years), and now I need you to get back into the background like a good autoimmune disease.  I've got races to check off my bucket list, miles to run, and most importantly a precious small human and awesome husband who need me to be there. I'm taking it one day at a time, and I'm not always my cheerful self. I'll try to play well with others while this gets resolved. I can't make any promises.  

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Infertility is Half Agony, Half Hope

There has been no greater struggle in my life than our struggle to start a family. One might wonder why I still give credence to that pain given that I have what I'd argue is the cutest toddler in the history of toddlers (no offense to other cute toddlers). I love my son with a fierceness I didn't know existed in the world, and I wouldn't change a single minute of my path to be his mom. But it was brutal and emotionally harrowing, and it is the hardest thing I've ever been through.

This week is National Infertility Awareness Week. Unless you've been through it I imagine it will be difficult to explain, but I'm going to try my hardest. I spent three years trying to get pregnant and then waited three years during our adoption process. Those six years were a roller coaster of emotion. Every step forward and every positive result was battered back repeatedly. It was exhausting.

I was 30 years old when we got married. I had a gut feeling given my health issues that it wouldn't be easy for me to get pregnant. We said to one another that we weren't "trying" to get pregnant exactly, but we were no longer preventing it either. Six months into our marriage I went to my OB/GYN for a checkup. She told me at my age that after six months I should've gotten pregnant. She suggested we do blood tests to make sure I was ovulating and start Clomid (an ovulation inducing drug) if I was not. It felt early on in the process, but I went with it.

Clomid is a horrible, evil beast. It made me a crazy person, and I was miserable. I lashed out at my husband for no reason. I knew my behavior was irrational, but I wasn't able to control it. Blood work revealed that the Clomid was working, and I was ovulating. After months on the devil's drug with no results we decided to reevaluate.

My husband and I were both tested to make sure everything was working properly. Given my abdominal surgeries, resulting scar tissue and my severe endometriosis, my OB recommended a Hysterosalpingography (HSG) where they run dye through the Fallopian tubes to make sure there's no blockages. The HSG and all other tests revealed no issues. We were given the tepid diagnosis of "unexplained infertility". I switched from Clomid to Femara, a breast cancer drug also used for infertility with fewer side effects

Every single month when I got my period I had a giant meltdown. I began to have the meltdowns in private because I knew my husband felt helpless and couldn't fix it. I began avoiding baby showers, and the happy announcements from friends and family that they were pregnant became daggers in my heart. I was happy for them, but I was so sad for us that I couldn't see through it. I felt like nobody, not even our closest friends or family, understood what we were going through. I felt like nobody else had ever dealt with it.

We decided to take a break for a few months from the hardcore work of trying to have a baby. It was eating away at me. I was at the OB again to discuss next steps, and she made an offhand comment that with my abdominal surgeries and the extraordinary amount of scar tissue she'd be worried about getting to a baby quickly (we already knew I'd have a C-section if we could get there). Then she said she had concerns about my ability to survive a pregnancy. She didn't say those words exactly, but that was the tenor. We knew if we could get there it'd be high risk and really hard on my body, but I really wanted to get pregnant.

She referred us to a fertility specialist where we'd discuss IVF and IUI and all the other fun acronyms. Something about it didn't feel right. I will never forget the moment I decided to stop trying to get pregnant. My husband and I were walking the dogs and he said, "I can live without a baby who is biologically ours. I can't live without you." I grieved the baby I would never carry. I knew adoption was our best option if we were going to have a family.

We decided to adopt and began the arduous process of picking an agency and deciding between domestic and international adoption. We chose Adoption Associates, and they were our guides through the tumultuous process. While it was overwhelming at first, I felt like we were finally doing something. It felt like the years of not being able to get pregnant were behind us, and we were being proactive.

I thought it would happen quickly. We finished all the paperwork and home visits in record time, and started the process of waiting. We set up a nursery. And we waited. About eighteen months into the wait we got the call: we were linked to a birth mother. We headed to the agency's Farmington Hills office and met this young woman who was already a mom to a 14 month old girl. She was having another girl in two weeks, and that little girl was going to be our daughter! I had friends buy us girl clothes. I washed and folded onesies. We bought and installed a car seat in my car. We named her. This was it. We were going to have a daughter!

The plan was that we would head to Ann Arbor when she went into labor and be there when the baby was born. We got the call on a Wednesday afternoon, and I left the office unable to concentrate. The case worker called and said labor can take a long time, so we should wait until we got the green light closer to the baby being born. I didn't sleep Wednesday night. 

On Thursday we were told the baby still hadn't arrived. My husband and I stayed home from work. We went to Home Depot. But there was a nagging sense that something was wrong. It didn't feel right. Then we got the call that she had changed her mind and decided not to do an adoption plan. It was crushing. We then did what any reasonable people would do: got insanely drunk and booked a weekend trip to Toronto.

In Toronto the weekend after a birth mom changed her mind. I look happy. Booze helps.
A year later I decided to broach the subject of IVF with my husband again. My previous proactive feeling had dissipated leaving me wondering if we were ever going to have a child. Before we could have that discussion I ended up spending a month in the hospital and having two abdominal surgeries and a blood clot. I knew definitively at that point that carrying a baby was a terrible idea for me. 

Exhibit A for why I should not have a baby biologically (summer 2014)
The wait was long - nearly three years. But we got the call again on a November afternoon. I was having lunch with a colleague and answered the phone. He knew before my husband. We were having a boy, and we had three weeks' notice. Because of our previous false start I didn't want to get my hopes up. We had everything ready to go, and on a Saturday morning in December, on our sixth wedding anniversary, we got the call. We drove an hour, and at 3:35 pm, when our son was two minutes old, they placed him in my arms.

Our first night in the hospital. So much love.
I have never and will never forget the pain of trying to have a baby both biologically and through adoption, but my nod to infertility awareness week is also a pro-adoption plea. At this point I can't imagine having created our family any other way.

A non-traditional baby shower when Will was three months old.
If I had gotten pregnant right away eight years ago I know I wouldn't have appreciated it like I do now. I would not have the patience. I would not have the same appreciation for the absolute blessing that is getting to be Will's mom. Despite its pain, infertility has made me a better mother, and for that I am grateful. 

Will's fist birthday
If you know someone who is trying to conceive, please be respectful. DO NOT say things like "God has a plan" and "it'll happen for you". Those sentiments may come from a good place, but they sound trite and insensitive to the want-to-be parents who are suffering. Realize when someone can't come to a baby shower or isn't thrilled at your pregnancy announcement that it's not because they don't feel joy for others. It's because that extraordinary pain outweighs the joy. 

Even now as the mom of a healthy toddler when I hear of someone getting pregnant quickly I feel bitter. I feel resentful. It's not because I'm not happy with my life, but it's because when I least expect it the pain of that struggle rises up and grabs my heart. If you're reading this and are struggling to have a family, I hurt for you. Cry when you need to cry. Drink when you need to drink. Avoid babies if you need to because I remember that feeling of not even being able to hold a baby because it hurt so much. Deal with it however you have to deal with it, and don't let people make you feel selfish. Those who love you will try to understand, but they may fail. And someday, whether your journey ends in a pregnancy, with an adoption plan or with a decision not to pursue any additional options, know that this pain will ultimately make you stronger. 

Our monkey at six months old. Heart. Explodes.