It has been kind of a tough week. Not anxious, more down, just another low of grief and anger to process. Between the session a week and a half ago and going through some photos of me as a child I've been stuck in a kind of anti-social funk all week. Once I just accepted that my week was going to include this processing, made space for it, I was able to find things I felt like I could accomplish and was also to take moments to really feel the happiness the exists concurrently, in the same space as the grief and anger.
Despite my hermit-y mood, I did make it out Friday to a neighborhood, small-business owner lunch. It was held at a place I was familiar with and knew food wouldn't be an issue. I got to practice saying things like, 'I'm a yoga teacher." and "I'm an artist" with strangers. Also practiced acknowledging I got really ill this past winter due to extreme stress and sleep disruption with both my old job and living with my Mother. I left with someone possibly interested in some private sessions to help her create a home practice she is comfortable with.
Today I got up and walked Dora then started puttering around the house most of the day. I may have over done it about, especially since there was a lot of moving stuff from upstairs to down and from down to up. However, I look around at the work done, much of it to improve my own studio space, and it feels good to make progress despite feeling a lot of aches.
After some dinner and watching a little MLS on television I went out to soak in out hot tub, listen to the frogs singing, and appreciate the "super moon" rising. We never really had any wish to have a hot tub when we were house hunting in 2012. That said, we're appreciative of the house having one that's so convenient to use (right off the kitchen on the deck). My doctor and other care-givers strongly urge me to soak every night before bed, and I do think it has been helping a lot with sleep and the level of nighttime-to-morning pain.
Tomorrow CK returns from London, briefly, before heading down to California. It will be so nice to have her company for a little while. Her laugh and made-up songs always lift my mood.
I couldn't resist a haiku in honor of tonight's moon:
Summer moon rises.
Golden and full in the sky.
Frogs sing gratitude.
This week CK is in London. My big goal is to try and do some good photography of the artwork I began working on this past winter. I feel like it has been a whole new expression for me. At times it is almost as if the lack of creative output during those last 18 months or so dealing with my Mother and my job just condensed into a more complete expression if that makes any sense.
Last month at the World Domination Summit (WDS) I ended up sharing my newer work with quite a few people. I was pretty blown away by the positive response and the interest to purchase pieces. I'm going to be exploring the wonders of setting up an Etsy shop in the next week or two and start selling artwork. I've also started to post about art projects, technique, etc. on our new blog, ZenZada; there's even a post up about a co-creative project I've started because of a workshop I took during WDS. I'll continue to explore what art means to me, and how it is part of my healing, here.
Last week had a tough therapy session. After nearly a month of nightmares with a pretty consistent thing, we looked into what was coming up around it. I was disappointed that it is one of those Big Trauma incidents from when I was 9, which was a year really filled with upset all around, but one thing in particular really haunts me. I always hope each time it comes up that I'll be done with it and moving on. Apparently not yet. My therapist says she thinks I need to work on forgiving my 9-year-old self.
All that and CK in London, plus my planned Saturday beach trip has been canceled due to illness. Just enough to make me sigh and feel a little blue. On the positive side, the creatures are happy to spend quiet time with me, I'm seeing a concert tomorrow evening, and this summer has had us listening to frogs singing, which suits our treehouse-feeling home perfectly.
Frog song in the night.
Wind whispering the bamboo.
Waxing moon arises.
tap. tap. tap. Hey, is this thing on?
I feel that at least a short summary on all the things that have been going on is long over due.
By October of last year work became intolerable to the point of triggering my PTSD and my Mother flat out told me that she didn't want to work with me/us to live together or even have a relationship with me. In early November 2013, as I was trying to put on Ignite Portland, Mother pulled the granddaddy of all tantrums in order to get her own way and strike out in one massively hostile, abusive, dangerous action. And I? Well, I just had to stop and was encouraged by HR to go on short-term disability.
I was granted the benefits for two months, but instead of personal recovery I had a couple of frantic months where I was still dealing with Mom's stuff and hostile behavior. I also frantically looked for another job. Then day came where I was supposed to go back to work and I really just kind of halted, the human equivalent of a core dump. My health care providers told me to stop all of it and sleep, take walks with the dog, make art, read and take lots of hot baths. There's new medications too, which have helped me to start sleeping again and keep my PTSD at a more manageable level. I have also officially left my position at my old company.
So I run errands during the weekdays and have been working on organizing more things around the house. Spending a couple of years constantly dealing with my Mother's stuff has had me taking quite a few trips to Goodwill to get rid of things I realize I no longer use, read, wear, etc. A friend of mine and I created two new flower beds in our yard last month, one in the back and the other right outside the front door. I love that whenever arriving home or leaving, the first thing we see now are flowers.
My health care providers remind me that I am doing the necessary work of healing after years of exhausting work from being on-call for so many years and the even harder work of healing the wounds from the abusive relationship with my Mother. Lately there's been more good days than bad, which helps me feel like there's "progress".
Still, there are days were I find it hard to get myself to leave the house. Seeing old co-workers causes panic attacks. News or contact by my Mother causes a week of nightmares and days-long anxiety. Finding yet another box of her hoarded, expired medication exhausts me. I'm told that the level of breakdown and extreme exhaustion I was at in December was pretty severe and recovery may take a long while. I have been strongly encouraged to "retire" early from high tech positions and instead teach yoga and start selling my artwork.
If I were to be hoping to return to tech, my doctor has said that she would consider releasing me to that kind of work until January at the earliest. However, my care providers have enthusiastically released me to start teaching occasional yoga classes. I'm going to be trying to get on the substitute teacher list at some of the community centers, athletic clubs, and yoga centers.
I also am now legally married to CK, which is amazing and wonderful. In early June Oregon's ban on same-sex marriage was overturned and we got our license within hours of the legal ruling. On June 14th we were legally wed in our backyard with a few close friends, CK's Mom & Step-dad, and sister were in attendance.
I've been adding a few new recipes to Vegan Nosh. I love that my food photography has improved so much from the class CK and I took together last year. I've found a linoleum block carving class the day before my birthday and have broadly hinted to CK that I'd love us to go together.
This weekend I will be attempting to spend some time at the World Domination Summit. Ticket was bought a year ago, when spending a crowded weekend with a few thousand people sounded fun. Giving myself permission to just go for the things I want to go to.
Warming up for April, National Poetry Month, and my annual attempt to post 30 poems in 30 days.
There are the days
When a grey fog
Rolls in to
On other days
Rolls in and
Over me and
I am chilled
The hills and I
Long hours for
Either strong wind
Or warm sun to
Turn the cold,
Since Mom's abrupt departure this past November we've been slowly making the house feel more like our space. We've made the guest room more welcoming and moved in the dressers CK's Mom and step-father brought up for us. What was Mom's bedroom has become our practice room; a space for meditation and yoga.
Several years ago, when Mom was moving out of the home she and my Dad shared I took home the remaining of her Seven Dwarves, a little gnome, and leprechaun. Mom didn't want them, given that she was downsizing to an urban apartment she didn't have the space, and the dwarves themselves reminded her of her mother. We'd put them and a few other things at the front of the door, hoping that the familiar might help Mom in the transition to living with us.
My grandmother had made each daughter a set of the Seven Dwarves. She had got around to making a Snow White for her oldest daughter, her favorite, but never managed to get around to making one for my Mom.
As we've reclaimed the space there's been a lot of discussion about the disposition of these yard ornaments. They really weren't in good enough condition to donate, one even being broken at the back, and having them around just reminded me of the dreams for Mom I've had to let go of.
I took all the ideas and decided to put them all into play in different ways. Those ornaments that weren't already breaking I would "release into the world". Today our friend MC and I took Dora for a walk and placed the 2 unbroken dwarves and the gnome out along a trail in a small park not far from the house. It felt good to place these, I hope that these bring a smile to people walking in the park, a bit of whimsy to brighten their day.
Today is my Mom's 71st birthday. I've not sent her a card and will not be calling her later, in fact I don't even have whatever number she now has.
I feel like a terrible daughter, but I'm working on that because I know that having set this boundary with my Mother is the best choice for the sake of my health and they health of my marriage. I wisely scheduled a visit from friends for lunch and therapy this afternoon.
A year ago we were trying to make a celebration in Hawaii for Mom's 70th birthday, an age I never expected her to see. Even though we'd made all the arrangements and took special care, I was left feeling like Mom found her birthday a let down. On her birthday itself we went out to a restaurant where we could all get tasty food and she could have the fish she had said she was craving. She'd have rather gone to a different restaurant, but knew it would leave CK and I with no real choice for something we could eat. Later she'd make a point to tell me how the fish at a restaurant we like wasn't good, in fact she'd tell me at least a couple more times while in Hawaii that her birthday dinner wasn't very good. The travel back home was miserable.
I feels like things started to deteriorate rather quickly after that trip. Mom's increasing dissatisfaction in living with us; snide comments escalating to sharp words. Again overhearing her telling friends how it wasn't what it seemed here, that we didn't really take good care of her or make anything nice for her to eat or special dishes. Worse, her intimating to people that she felt I was misusing my access to her bank account. Attempts to take her out for lunch on weekends were spent in near silence, her eating but not really interested in engaging with us at all.
When Mom came to live with us I still had this desperate hope that I could really help. I had an even more tightly held hope that my Mom wasn't as bad as I thought, that some of my tense, defensive behavior toward her wasn't warranted. Seeing Mom through the lens of CK's view, free of my history, would let me heal some of that distrust that came up for me.
Only that turned out not to be the case, not entirely and not how I hoped. True, we managed to tremendously improve Mom's health. She was in better health than she'd been in for a few years. She was in much better health for making the transition to an assisted living facility. One of the things that hurts is finding out that Mom didn't really want her health improved, she didn't want to let go of her personal mythology that her health was an insurmountable obstacle and she a helpless victim of her bad health. She resented that careful blood glucose monitoring and insulin adjustments, along with a healthier, vegan diet improved her health noticeably.
The rest of it, the harder part, is how quickly CK saw the narcissistic, petty, ill person I'd been raised by. Not only was my feeling the need to defend myself warranted, it needed to be bolstered by setting the kind of boundary I've now set. As painful as this has all been, devastatingly so, I know I wouldn't have been able to see my Mom and my childhood quite so clearly if we hadn't moved Mom in with us. I was correct that in changing my view by seeing her as CK sees her would teach me a lot, the sad part is that it wasn't what I was hoping for. It wasn't that changing my stiff interactions with her would improve anything, not in the long run, since my Mom has never really wanted a relationship with me. The only relationship that is possible with her is the one where I'm not me, I'm her "miracle daughter" who takes care of her every selfish need. The mirror of the person she wanted to be.
That explains it so well, that she expected me to mirror back to her the girl she had wanted to be. Between trying to force me into becoming the person she wished she'd been, and either subverting and punishing me for asserting my own identity, it makes sense. When called on this behavior she attacked us.
I wisely scheduled a visit with one of my therapists today. She asked me what it was I was losing by sticking with my boundary-setting not contacting her. I thought about it a lot, I mean I'm clearly "losing" many things that do not further my life or my health. What is it that I feel loss for, what do I grieve, that's what I thought about. I finally replied that I was losing the fairy tale; a mother who cherished, supported, and believed in me. A mother who cheered me on as I made my way and who would always have my back. The kind of mother I see so many friends write about having. I have to set that particular hope aside so that I can move forward with healing and becoming the person I want to be.
I can still hold her in my heart, sending thoughts of loving-kindness her way along with my earnest wishes for her to experience peace and happiness, or even just contentment. I can feel great compassion for her inability to move towards health, but I cannot see her. Having compassion for her does not mean I set aside my own health or sacrifice my relationship with CK.
The last several weeks have been strange, new territory for me. Sleeping. Creating. Learning how to be cared for. Letting go into rest.
I've had a few interviews and a lot of interest, but nothing solid yet. Perhaps as spring arrives new opportunities will as well career-wise.
There's quite a lot up in the air, awaiting decisions from other parties. My goal is to try not to think too much about the unknown. As always, the practice of just being present.
We've made quite of lot of changes around our home since November. We've hung up a few more things, moved furniture around, had a few more pieces of art framed. It feels more like a home now, safer and more comforting. All the companion animals feel it too. Obie particularly has come further out of his shell and plays much more than he ever has, sometimes even bringing me one of his favorite toy mice.
Perhaps one of the most significant signs of healing has been my return to making art. In December I devoted some time to emptying boxes and really making my desk in our shared, basement office usable. I have unpacked Igal's acrylic supplies and have now added several more paint colors and mediums to the mix. At times I'm really mindful of the grief I still feel for his death, how I wish I could share with him how he's influenced my art.
I first started out by making a mixed media collage ATC. Experimenting with how the underlying black or white gesso changed the look. I made a little piece with a bit of scrap cardboard as a base and a great octopus off of a business card I'd picked up somewhere along the way. I started on a shine to feature a bit from one of Mary Oliver's poems. I finally made a page to send to Seth Apter for a combined artists project he's been collecting pages for. I've also worked on two very personal pieces that have helped me process some of the emotions around my Mom.
The puzzle pieces really are inspiring me. Those along with finding phrases and words, either torn from old kids' books found at thrift stores, or specially printed off on laser printer so the words stand up the the acrylic mediums. I had several puzzled pieces that I'd grabbed from the "conference game" at OSCON this past summer. These quickly began to take on layers of collage and acrylic medium. It has been really healing to work a little at a time with these projects, going through materials, finding words, and creating each piece.
I've made small tin shrines in the past, but really focused on using paper to cover the tin almost entirely. Now using the acrylic medium I feel like I'm creating something that has a lot more depth.
A friend recently sparked an idea I had to make a cigar box that would be filled with reminders of what to do when I'm anxious or cannot sleep. It would also have things like a small plush toy, a nice rock to hold in my hand, maybe a couple of nice marbles. I discussed the idea with my therapists and brainstormed lists of things I can do. PB suggested that rather than just note cards I use my puzzle pieces, so that each suggestion was also something lovely and tactile to hold. I then observed what I needed even more was something "travel-sized" so I could have safe, soothing activity reminders that I could do anywhere and I could carry it with me.
I've made a couple of what I'm calling "self-soothing boxes", one for myself and one for CK to take when she travels. The trick is finding the right sized puzzle pieces to fit in them! In my search for them I've found some that I want to try making into brooches. I've also found some as big as my head and am having fun working on a larger piece using one. I finished the box with the Mary Oliver quote, "Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" (from "A Summer's Day") and am really pleased with the outcome.
I'm not yet ready to write about the past few months. The high level summary is that Mom has not returned and is living at an assisted living facility not terribly far from here. On the advice of multiple healthcare providers, and even more importantly, my wife, I have asked my Mother not to contact me further. Thus far, she has respected my request.
I was asked today by one of those care providers if making this request and having Mom respect it made me feel happy. It doesn't, it doesn't at all, it makes me feel a great deal of sorrow. I fully accept that my Mom's view of reality cannot be challenged, ever. When that happens she either reacts to destroy or flee, or both really. I've stopped responding in the way I was trained to as a child and now threaten that view of reality. For the sake of my health and the health of my marriage, I am moving on with my life.
It is really hard. The holidays, particularly as compared with all the hope I'd been filled with last year, were painful. I'm still at the stage were animated movies with a princess in it can be triggering.
What I have been allowing myself to be fine with enjoying is the feeling of rest. Not having to time my entire life around blood glucose checks and insulin adjustments for a person who was hostile to both CK and I. My relief & gratitude and my grief can be part of me concurrently, within the same space.
Since then? I've been making art again. It had quite honestly been over a year since I'd really created anything, aside from what I'd made in a workshop last May. While I still need to get back to that large project, I've made a handful of new things. I am continuing to enjoy connecting with other artists, mostly all women, once a month.
At the meet-up at the start of this month, we had all brought supplies to share at a common table. Kind of the collage artist equivalent of a party where everyone brings clothes they're no longer wearing and you pick through all the other clothes, taking home something awesome to you. I'd brought a bunch of traditional scrapbooking paper, since I've been really moving toward using mostly things I've created, and stickers. Upon overhearing how I love finding ways to use real stamps in my work, several other women started looking through the pile on the table to help find all of the stamps (quite a bundle) that someone else had put there. Likewise for to giant puzzle pieces, from another women who'd noticed the smaller, altered puzzle piece I'd brought to share. I left with my heart full at how giving, including, and supportive this group is and how grateful I am that I've made space fr it.
I've been continuing to practice my photography. Last week I was fortunate enough to get a few days in Yachats with Dora while CK was away on a business trip. A good friend joined me for 2 of the 3 nights I stayed. It was the perfect time to practice what I'd learned in November.
CK and I have been working on projects around the house and are having some more art professionally framed. It feels like bit by bit we're reclaiming the energy of the house. I've been napping a lot, which I've been advised to find time to continue to do. The same group of care providers have noted that I've been dangerously exhausted. Physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually exhausted and it may take more than a few weeks to recover.
While I don't feel it is possible to be happy about making the decision to separate my life from my Mom, I do feel some wonder and enjoyment at starting to feel like it will be a year of changes to improve my life.
CK pointed me to Henry Miller's 11 Commandments of Writing & Daily Creative Routine. I am particularly taken with his third commandment:
"Don’t be nervous. Work calmly, joyously, recklessly on whatever is in hand."
Not bad advice as a new year begins.