The Weight We Bear

As of this morning, I am officially 25 pounds lighter than I was 9 months ago. It was a shock and a relief to make that realization on the scale this morning, although this post is not actually about weight loss. This post is about depression.

Minutes after stepping off the scale, I settled in with a cup of coffee to read the news. Immediately I was confronted with the brutal headlines: Anthony Bourdain is dead at 61. I knew it was suicide before I even read the story. My stomach turned, and I sighed “oh, no” under my breath. Griffin, my now seven year old, perked up and asked me what was wrong. I told him that a famous chef and tv personality had passed away. “Did you know him?”, Griffin wanted to know. No, I didn’t know him, kiddo. Except for, in a small way, I did.

I have struggled with anxiety and depression for most of my life. It ebbs and flows, and the medication I currently take makes the flows far more manageable. I rarely have the same sharp panic and same depths of depression that I did as a teenager and young adult. But in a way, that makes what I do experience a bit more insidious. I am a person that struggles with mental health issues, that is intimately familiar with the symptoms and patterns, and yet even I sometimes can’t recognize when I am in the throes of it. Instead, it just feels like this numb new reality. This is just the world now, and this is the me in it. That is how people with access to mental health care, medication, loved ones, and the suicide hotline phone number still die. It is an illness that clouds everything.

I want to make clear that although I understand how this happens, I myself have never struggled with suicidal ideation. It is just not the way my brain works, or the way this illness manifests for me. For that, I am exceedingly LUCKY. I use the word luck purposefully, because that is simply all it is. It has nothing to do with who I am, my strength or lack of it, my love for myself or others, my willingness to deal with pain. Just like some people are born with blue eyes and some with brown, depression touches people in different ways. What I experience is not what others experience, the way I respond is not how others respond. It isn’t a choice.

What I do instead, is try to fill a hole. I eat, I drink, I sleep, I curl into a ball and try not to move. I spend hours on social media or engrossed in television trying not to think about anything for as long as possible. I stop cooking, yet crave comfort food, so I fill myself with whatever I can quickly pick up. I am hollow and I try to make myself whole. But none of that is conscious at the time. It isn’t a “case of the sads”. If you asked me what was wrong, I would say nothing and mean it. Or sometimes the depression and anxiety would dig its heels in just a little bit more, leaving me with a dull ache in my chest. I’d know then I was being haunted again, but even still would never be able to articulate why.

Most recently, I spent nearly a year- from fall of 2017 until fall of 2018 depressed. Although there were some external factors that I’m sure contributed to it (disappointment and stress at work, being overwhelmed by my doctoral program, the difficulties of raising two small kids, reverberations from the Trump administration), there was no actual “cause”, it just was. Of course I didn’t actually realize in the moment that I was depressed. I still joked with my coworkers, I still had high standards for myself at work, I still took care of my responsibilities at home and with the kids. In every way, I looked successful, and like I had everything together. I had recently been promoted, I was a doctoral student with passion in her research areas, I had a beautiful family, I had amazing friends. But I was hollow, and I spent a year trying to be whole.

It is important for me to note here before I go on that there is a horrible stigma against fat people that I refuse to take part in or condone. There are millions of people, like my hero Brittney Gibbons, that are heavy AND healthy, happy, and beautiful. I was just not one of those people. When I woke up one day in September and realized I was the heaviest I had ever been in my adult life, heavier than I was at 9 months pregnant, I was miserable. I had woken out of my depression and into the heartbreak of seeing what it had done to my body. I didn’t recognize my own face anymore, I felt painfully swollen, simple physical activity seemed REALLY hard because I had barely moved in a year. I started the slow process of healing. I found a great therapist, I rediscovered my love of cooking, I invested in myself and things that make me happy. I am awake, I am well, I am whole.

During my dark year, I spent a LOT of time with Anthony Bourdain. I loved No Reservations, Parts Unknown, and the places he would take me. Places that were so magical and mysterious, so unbelievably beautiful, so far away from the place I was hiding in. His humor, kindness to people of every culture and way of life, and of course the food and drink, spoke to me. Tony allowed me to escape my own struggles while giving me a new understanding of the world around me. This morning I realized I had finally lost 25 of the pounds I had gained while living with depression. On the same day I lost a hero who could just no longer live with his.

If you are struggling, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: Call 1-800-273-8255 Available 24 hours everyday
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Academics

This is a big week for us! Most importantly,it was Griffin’s first full week of elementary school! His first day was actually last Thursday, but they did a slow transition so it was only a half day, and he didn’t go back on Friday. But starting Monday it was the Real Deal complete with a backpack full of papers & packing his lunch every night! Griffin has been ready for months, so he handled the change like a champ. On his very first day I got him all settled and asked him if he wanted me to stay for a few more minutes and he goes “uhh… NO. I can take care of myself, mommy.” TEARS. Today when we got to school, he told me I didnt have to come in with him because he knew the way. SO I left him at the front door with his buddies and felt so amazingly proud and so incredibly sad all at once.

Then, yesterday was MY first day of school! I am officially pursuing my doctorate in Higher Education and Student Affairs Leadership with the University of Northern Colorado (so when I reference UNC, you can be 99% sure I’m not talking about a Tar Heel). I’m excited and terrified and proud and really,really stressed out- but it is a new chapter in my life which is pretty cool. I’m taking 2 classes this semester (and probably will every semester until I die) so it’s going to be a huge adjustment as far as time management. Drew has been a CHAMP so far though and has totally stepped up with housework, taking care of the kids, preparing things for the following day,etc. I’m so lucky.

Work has been incredibly busy as well with typical beginning of the year preparations. I led Peer Mentor training all last week, and the students were back as of Monday! All the new first year students are in freak out mode over their schedules, so my email has been blowing up amid walk-in appointments. And I’m teaching two classes this semester (both on Tuesdays) so yesterday was INTENSE.

Of course on top of all of this (or because of it) the whole family has a nasty cold and we’ve all been tired & crabby. Except for Drew who has avoided it thus far and wont come within 10 feet of any of us.

In the absence of creation

One of my coworkers is having a baby, and I decided that I was going to make her a pair of earrings or a necklace as a token of luck and love.

Although I wouldn’t necessarily call myself “good” at making jewelry, it is something I really enjoy doing, and the end result is something wearable (hopefully) but meaningful (for sure). When I make someone a piece, I think about them for a long time. I pinpoint their style, the colors they like, even the shape of their face. And then I find the beads that seem to whisper that person’s name.

Today was a long day and after getting the kids to bed, I was excited to relax and create. I sat at my beautiful craft area, I opened my box of beads, and immediately I found a few that wanted to be hers.

I reached for my jewelry making kit, with my hardware and tools in it, to decide on a shape and a style, but it was nowhere to be found. I checked everything on and under my desk twice, three times… I was getting frustrated.

Drew and I decided to rearrange living spaces a few months ago, and Griffin’s old bedroom became our new office/ guest room/ and craft space. Unfortunately, the move was rather spur of the moment and wasn’t carried out as well as I would have liked, so apparently not everything has made it to their proper homes. Most notably, my jewelry making kit.

I marched downstairs and checked Griffin’s extra closet (which he, still awake, found endlessly entertaining). But no luck. I came back upstairs and checked the closet in the office. Nothing. I RE-checked my desk area, and then moved to my bedroom, the living room, and then on to places I KNEW it wouldn’t be (like the linen closet) because what the heck. Nada. All the while I was imagining exactly where it USED to be before we moved everything around. I was brimming with irritation. But the answer is it’s disappeared.

My frustration was actually quite fleeting. It easily transitioned into sadness. And that’s where it sits, rolling around like one of those gray beads in the back of my head and inside my chest. A hard, icy gloom.

But WHY? It’s not because it’s really GONE- it will show up. And if it doesn’t, it’s easily replaced. It’s not that I couldn’t make this gift, she will still be celebrated. It is more that I sat down with an idea and a full heart to take time for myself and my friend, and instead, those few moments that in my life are so rare and cherished, were wasted. I work to carve out this time, every moment means something to me. And now it’s evaporated. And I think today, of all days, I wanted to feel like my time mattered.

I have nothing to show for my evening except for a handful of beads that whispered my friend’s name and these words. But tomorrow I will try again. And maybe tonight, realizing my own worth is really what I needed.

 

Lollipop Moments

Tonight was our student staff banquet where we celebrated all of the hard work our student employees do throughout the year. It was a nice event and I got to give a speech about my staff I so adore. At the end as things were wrapping up, one of my students lingered with me. We chatted grad school plans and relationships. She paused. And then, with tears in her eyes, she told me about the time I changed her life.

She said she had been miserable and decided that Mines was no longer the right place for her to be. She had decided to transfer out and had an application at another institution. She came in to talk it through with me and I gave her options, told her I supported her, reinforced that the decision was hers. And then I told her she would make a good Peer Mentor if she wanted to try to get involved on campus.

She isn’t just a good Peer Mentor, she is an AMAZING Peer Mentor. She has brought an insight and perspective to the program we never had before. She is spearheading philanthropy, community service & volunteerism for us- something we’ve been wanting to take on but couldn’t quite figure out. And this year she was promoted to Lead Peer Mentor. She belongs here, she thrives, she makes us better.

She told me that being a Peer Mentor changed everything for her. Once she became involved, she found her niche and decided not to transfer. She has been incredibly successful with one of the hardest majors we have on campus and she took on a biomedical minor as well. She will graduate next year and have her pick of grad schools. She told me that conversation we had is something that she will never forget, so she needed to make sure I knew. We both cried.

But here is the thing. I have zero recollection of that conversation. I absolutely believe that it happened. I have no doubt I said those things. But I don’t remember saying them to her. And I was blown away yet again at the magnitude of my role and the impact everyone on campus has on our students. A five minute chat and you have changed someone’s life and given them a memory they will carry forever. It was one of my lollipop moments for sure.

So while that initial conversation did something powerful for her, the fact that she shared it was a gift for me. I will never forget her face, her words, her tears in that moment. It reinforced why I love my job, why I am in the right field, why I need to continue to work at this, why I should treat every student as though their question is important, because to them, IT IS.

I walked out of the banquet lost in my own thoughts. I was so humbled, so moved, I walked to my car in a fog. And then I looked up to see this:

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Breathtaking. Another gift. Another reminder of how lucky I am. Another affirmation that I am doing the right thing at the right place at the right time.

#100dayproject #jesscreates

100 Days

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I love mass projects. There is something about knowing that I am part of a group working for a common creative goal that really inspires me. It is why I have done things like the A-Z Blog Challenge, the Curvy Girl Write Your Face Off event, NaBloPoMo, and other endeavors. Sometimes I’m successful, sometimes I’m not, but it always gets me inspired and investing in a part of myself that I don’t always invest in.

I first heard about the 100 Day Project a few weeks ago when the ever inspiring Amma Marfo wrote about it on her blog. I remember thinking “oh, that sounds cool. But I wont have the time. I wont finish. It will just be another thing I fail at.” I decided not to bother. But then other people in my circle started talking about it, it kept appearing. And then it was just in my head.

I was still planning on ignoring it until last night- the first night of the project and I had this interaction:IMG_7061

So simple, right? “Not too late.” Somehow those 3 words were so incredibly motivating. And exactly what I needed to hear.

So I thought about it and decided to throw my hat in the ring. And my project? 100 Days of Me. I am not committing to one specific medium, rather I am committing to doing SOMETHING that inspires me, makes me happy, gives me a sense of accomplishment, and pushes me to keep going every day. This may be a blog post, a photograph, a piece of jewelry, a craft, or a letter to a friend. I CAN’T WAIT.

I will be posting my projects here, as well as on Twitter and Instagram using the hashtag #jesscreates . Feel free to follow along.

Some

I cant tell you how many times I open this page to write something and then get overwhelmed or interrupted before any words are typed. So much happens around here so quickly that I can’t keep up. When I do get a moment to share, I struggle with what gets to be recorded, how I can possibly synthesize a month of events, conversations, changes and feelings into a paragraph. I can’t, of course. Not well, anyway. So I’ll just let go of capturing “all” and be content with being able to capture “some”.

Yesterday (the day after I went for a run in nearly 70 degree weather) we had another snow day. This had all of campus praising our new President given that we went years with no closures at all, and now all of a sudden we’ve had two. This one was necessary though as we had a record breaking and news making blizzard that shut down highways, stores, and the entire airport. Griffin and Evvie’s school actually closed for the first time ever due to weather! So we had a very lazy day filled with snacking and napping and reading and movies. Drew had to work, of course, and I was nervous about him being out and about but he made it home all in one piece!

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The mail man got stuck in front of our house. I was actually surprised to see him out at all, but I guess neither snow nor rain nor heat and all that…

Digging the car out this morning was AWFUL and I sliced my hand open in the process, but I was SO GLAD to be back to work this morning! I am just not good at having unstructured time off alone with the kids. I love them so much, but I am really bad at entertaining them for long stretches.

The day before the crazy snow, Griffin had his VERY FIRST FIELD TRIP!!! He and 10 of his buddies took a bus to the Museum of Nature and Science. They got to see dinosaur bones, mummies, chocolate being made, how stars are born, and experiment with water. He was SO EXCITED for weeks leading up to it. But the best part for Griffin? The school bus. Hands down. He LOOOOOOVED the school bus.

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My Big Kid on field trip day!

I went to the ACPA Annual Conference in Montreal two weeks ago. It was an INCREDIBLE trip, and professionally, my best conference experience ever. I was elected to the ACPA Commission for Admissions, Orientation & First Year Experience directorate board this fall, so this was my first working meeting with the group! I learned so much about myself and my career trajectory while I was there, all the while making new friends and connections… and touring around Montreal, of course!

Snow Day

Yesterday Mines actually closed for the first time in YEARS. We got about 2 feet of snow, which was CRAZY following our 60 degree weekend! The kids were THRILLED though and immediately started plotting snowmen and snow angels.

They had to wait though because instead of a lazy, cozy, relaxing day off, Drew and I had to spend most of the day dealing with car drama. I had a near death experience on Monday night (I’m being dramatic, but I swear I saw my life flash before my eyes) that resulted in a blown out tire. Apparently that’s a bigger deal than one would expect for a 4WD vehicle, and we spent more time, energy and money on taking care of it than I could have ever imagined.

But it got done. And we picked the kids up from school early. And then this happened:

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And that was my favorite part of the day.

Old Lady

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gotta love Snapchat filters

I turned 38 last week.

I wasn’t really excited about my birthday this year. I haven’t really been excited about a birthday in a long time. There is just something about being reminded that I’m growing older that is difficult for me. I’m well aware that there are many joys that come with age and experience. And, of course, I’d prefer growing older to the alternative. But I still couldn’t shake the dull sadness of impending age leading up to January 22.

What I forgot- what I forget every year- is that my birthday isn’t about how old I am. It’s about the people that love me. It’s about loving myself. It’s about gratitude. Every year I dread my birthday and then I fall in love with it again.

This year was no different. I was celebrated by loved ones near and far. I got incredible gifts from both sets of parents (mine, and the ones I inherited through Drew). I was sent cards, texts, and phone calls. My coworkers decorated my office and treated me to breakfast, lunch, dessert, and drinks. The kids hand picked hilarious presents for me (a set of grill tongs housed in a light saber from Griff and a Sophia the First necklace from Evvie) and sang me happy birthday. I went to my favorite restaurant for breakfast the day after my birthday and then an awesome mountain hike.

And I loved every second. I overcame my fear of growing older and embraced the joy and love of that weekend. I was (and am) so very grateful for the people in my life- the people that made sure I felt special on my birthday (I did feel VERY special). I even felt vibrant, strong…young.

And then Sunday night I messed everything up. I was walking down the basement stairs with a full, heavy laundry basket and the dog tried to get under my feet. I moved awkwardly to avoid tripping and I immediately felt it in my back. Since then, I have spent the week in various forms of pain- from stabbing and excruciating to dull throbbing and everything in between- never completely gone. I know in the grand scheme of things it’s minor. Probably a torn muscle or sprained ligament. But I am hobbling around, unable to do the things I normally do, and I feel so… old.

Two years ago, to make myself feel better about growing older, I wrote a list of things I wanted to accomplish before I turned 40. I revisited the list and was happy to note that I was able to cross several of those things off, and I have definite plans to do others. I still have two more years before then- plenty of time.

And, honestly, 40 is young.

On Your Fifth Birthday

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Big Kid

Dear Griffin,

Somehow we have managed to keep you alive for half a decade. As a new mother up with you at all hours of the night, learning about you, learning about myself, I wondered sometimes how we would make it through this together. Not physically surviving, of course- I was pretty sure we could manage that much. But I was so tired. You were so delicate. I had expectations. You were demanding. My entire life morphed into something unrecognizable overnight. So my questions were more- how will we get through this all in one piece? How will we get through this and be happy?

You haven’t just existed for five years. You have thrived. Each struggle we’ve had has been dismantled and replaced by the next, because that is life. But there are far more joys than struggles. There is far more pride and awe and laughter than stress.

You are a miracle dressed as a boy.

Five years ago I didn’t know who I was. I didn’t know exactly what I wanted out of life. I was immature and selfish. I was self-indulgent and flighty. But more than anything, I was insecure. I was 32, married, working a good job with a new Masters degree, and I didn’t believe in my own strength until you insisted that I find it.

You pushed me to believe in myself because you believed in me, and I never wanted you to stop. I wanted to be a person you could always look up to, respect and be proud of. I wanted to challenge myself so that you would challenge yourself one day. I wanted to live outside of my comfort zone and take on new responsibilities so that one day you will live up to your own potential. I wanted to do the things that scared me so that you would never be scared.

I am a different person than the one I was when we met. I am braver, more honest, more empathetic. I am sure of myself, my place in this world, and my family. I am ambitious, stable, and strong. I am grateful for everything that I have. Because of you, I am the woman I always wanted to be.

But this isn’t about me, this is about you and the incredible human that you are. You are five. FIVE. Fiiiiiiivvvvveee. That word gets stuck in my mouth. I just can’t believe that my first born, my tiny baby, my sweet guy is now a Big Kid. It’s completely unavoidable. You have friends and play dates. You have hobbies. You are learning to read and do math. And most astonishing, I am going to register you for kindergarten at your new elementary school tomorrow. Luckily, you still let me call you my baby. In fact, when Evvie stomps and yells “I’m no baby!” you even counsel her “we’ll ALWAYS be mommy’s babies, Evvie.” And its true.IMG_6011

And that is just the tip of the iceberg with you and your sister. You really are best friends and I feel like it is the most important thing I have ever contributed to in my life. The fact that you and Evvie love each other so much and will always have each other to lean on is the greatest gift your dad and I could have given you. I know your relationship will change over time. There will be moments that you hate each other. But right now she thinks everything you do is the best thing she’s ever seen. And you are so patient and kind to her. She plays every game you ever make up with glowing enthusiasm. And sometimes, out of nowhere, she’ll just turn to you and say “I love you, Griff”. This is something you have grown and cultivated. She adores you because you are so wonderful, but also because you adore her right back.

You are charming and everyone loves you. All the kids at school want to be around you and you get invited to all kinds of social events. You know exactly what to say to people to make them swoon, though it really is genuine. You know exactly how to make daddy and I melt, especially when it’s what we really need to hear. At the same time, you are sharp and fiery. When you are angry, words do not escape you, and you know exactly what to say when you’re looking to twist the dagger. The good thing is that because you know what you’re doing, you always come to apologize once you’ve cooled out. You never want us to actually hurt.

In fact, you mostly want us to laugh. You love being silly, telling us jokes, and repeating funny things you’ve heard. Your greatest joy is having a punchline land, and you will join us in peals of hysterical laughter until none of us can breathe.

But my very favorite thing is the way you greet me when I pick you up from school. Every single day, no matter what is happening in your life or what your day was like, you look up with a HUGE grin, scream “MOMMY!” and nearly knock me over with a running hug. In that moment, everything is perfect.

Five years ago, I spent night after night sitting up with you, both of us sleepless. I talked to the universe about all of the wonderful things I wanted for you in this world. I marveled at your every feature. I wondered why nothing was as I had planned. I was tired and so completely in love with you. We’re both such different creatures now. And yet not much as changed.

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I love you more than I ever knew possible.

love, mama

Getting Out and Having a Life

Last weekend (mostly because I am the best wife ever)  I bought tickets for the whole family to go to a Broncos game. They weren’t cheap, but I got them through a friend so I only paid face value,  I had just gotten a bonus, and I knew they’d make an incredible surprise for Drew.

They were. I haven’t seen him so happy and excited in a long time. And the kids were pumped about taking the train to the stadium! I felt really good about changing up our routine and doing something fun as a family.

So we packed up the kids (complete with snacks, noise cancelling headphones, changes of clothes, and blankets) and headed downtown. The kids were AMAZINGLY good for most of the game. I had to do a lot of walking up and down stairs for potty breaks and boredom walks while Drew watched the game, but it really was worth it.

Just after halftime, the kids started to get restless. Luckily I had thought ahead and plugged them into Netflix for a bit while they chilled out. It gave Drew and I some quiet time to enjoy the experience!IMG_6235

Drew was thrilled because they brought Peyton Manning back out for this game and he played super well. And I just love the electricity of major sporting events. I was really happy about how well everything had turned out.

And then I heard someone behind us having a conversation. About us.

“Look at those kids watching tv like they’re not even at a game.”

“Can you imagine how much those tickets cost? They’re either rich, or they got them for free.”

“That’s the world’s most expensive babysitter.”

“They should have given those tickets to someone that would actually use them.”

And so on.

I was so hurt and so angry. And embarrassed. And then angry that I was embarrassed.

Because here is the thing, it WAS expensive. But we don’t have a regular babysitter we can use spur of the moment. And to be honest, babysitters are so expensive it would have cost us about the same as one of their tickets anyway. We spend a LOT of time at home because of the fact that we do have two small kids. Occasionally we do what we can to still get out and have a life.

But more than that, we WANTED to bring the kids. We knew they’d probably fade, but these are the types of memories we want to provide them with. And we wanted to remember being there as a family.

I learned after being a parent not to judge other parents. Parenting is HARD. By far the hardest job I’ve ever had. Most of us are doing what we can- scraping together money, dealing with stress and too little time, embracing the chaos, to keep each other happy.

So maybe those other people aren’t parents yet. Or maybe they’re just mean. But in the 4th quarter when Griffin had his earphones off, and was standing on top of his seat cheering at the top of his lungs, I made sure to turn around and give them a thumbs up.