Dumb Things People Say

Stepmom Magazine is a digital magazine that has had an impact on my life. I never subscribed to it, but I have seen articles and videos here and there that have helped me. I have stepmom friends who have been subscribed to it. They printed it out and read the whole thing, then shared it with the rest of our group to help someone else. It’s been immeasurably helpful to many many stepmoms, often keeping second and third families together.

A blended family can be a mix of first, second, third, and even 4th families. A first family is when an unmarried and never married person marries someone of similar marital past. They have children together and raise said children together. A second or even third or 4th family is a family created after a divorce, especially if there are children involved. Ours is a first/second/third family. I am on my first marriage as Jeremy’s second wife; his ex wife is married to her third husband.

Someone who hasn’t experience being in one of these situations has no idea what the participants go through. I am in part of this family, but I can’t even imagine what Jeremy’s ex or her new husband go through in their part of our family. Every little bit is different, making roles hard to navigate and communication tough to keep up with.

The most common thing that happens to those of us that are on the inside of a blended family is criticism. We get it from each other, from others in the family, and from outsiders. The outsiders part is really the most irritating. The people that are part of the family have a right to have feelings about what I do or say. Those of you not involved in it do not have any right to criticize. Even if you have had a blended family, you don’t know our exact situation.

That said, I know that many of you love people in blended families. You want to help and offering support or advice can be helpful. Sometimes, you don’t really understand what you’re saying though. This is a topic that has been addressed over and over again in the Stepmom magazine. Just in the time I’ve known about it, I’ve seen this topic addressed 2 different ways on the screen. One video is one that came up today for me on social media as a memory. I posted it 2 years ago.

Here is the video: 5 Dumbest Things People Say

Although they may be a little harsh, some of these original statements feel pretty harsh too. I still feel this way about most of these things people say:

#1- Like saying “You knew there were grizzly bears in the forest” or “You knew that cars get in crashes sometimes”… just because someone has kids doesn’t mean you knew how complicated that would be or what wrenches could possibly be thrown in by other people.
#2- Does anyone ever really “need” to have children? The point is that if she wants children or not has nothing to do with whether he already has them.
#3- I’d like to hear you say that to adoptive & foster parents and see how you come out… Here’s some protective headgear.
#4- Because love is just based on being nice… right? Oh… it’s not? Good, that explains the massive loyalty issues, love/hate complications, and painful baggage that my stepchildren have to deal with. It’s not about being nice, no matter how much you try.
#5- My horns are under this cute hairdo…

Read the comments of the video too. You might get some good feedback on how your “help” might be perceived.

Some things you CAN say to help when a stepmom is frustrated and needs to vent to you:

#1- That sounds really complicated. Can you tell me more about how you’re feeling on this?

#2- How are you feeling about his kids? Are you planning to have your own? How do you want to involve your step kids?

#3- Just listen and ask open ended questions. Advice isn’t always necessary. Comments on “parental status” aren’t necessary either. One question that may be helpful is “This is all really hard stuff to navigate. How much parenting do you feel you want to be doing in this situation?”

#4- Tough love is often hard to do, especially if you don’t get supported by all parents involved. Here, have another glass of tea/wine/coffee/etc.

#5- You look great today, despite all of the hard stepparenting work you’ve been doing. Nice job, lady.

If you must comment on these things, there are better options than criticism or assumptions. You can do it, I know you can. I’ve had some great support from people who previously were not so good at it. Communication and listening are a big part of that.

So, keep supporting your loved ones through their struggles and we’ll see you on the road.

A little RV update today: We are plenty warm. In fact, it was 80 degrees inside the other day when it was -20 degrees outside. Win! We’ve done some double insulating on things you’ve never thought of adding insulation to. We’re looking forward to even more time living in the Girl Next Door. How’d you weather the storm?

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A Million Ideas

When life is busy, it’s easy to come up with ideas to write. Ideas jump out of the minute details of life. The only problem is that my brain doesn’t flow to typing when I am stressed.

You’ll remember that we recently (well, a few months ago) had Jason (16) move in with us in the RV. He’s had quite a few struggles so far in his short life and we were all hoping this would be a new start. At first, everything went along for a few weeks. Then, the bottom dropped out. I haven’t written about it because I just didn’t have the emotional energy.

Since that day, there have been multiple law enforcement involved events, as well as a few hospital visits. Jeremy took himself to the hospital twice, just to be sent home. These million ideas don’t flow from me, but they do get lodged in his head.

You see, with Jeremy’s mental disorders, he has a hard time letting things go. He also has a hard time sorting through the millions of ideas that already sit in his head. They all become jammed up when he gets stressed and collide in a horrific noise of anger and confusion. I have a feeling Jason has something like this happen too at times. Throughout the last few months, getting anything done was hard because their collisions were both happening simultaneously and being spewed out on each other.

Our place wasn’t a healthy location for Jason and it wasn’t healthy for us to have him living with us, just like his mom’s. It was toxic for everyone involved because of how he takes out his mental collisions and confusions. We (all of the parents in this situation) are not professionals and we are not equipped to deal with Jason’s myriad of mental illnesses, just as we wouldn’t be equipped to take care of a cancer surgery. Jeremy and Jason have both admitted that, when they’re amped up (excited, anxious, or angry), it’s hard for them to hear and see things as they really are. It’s not so much a loss of reality as it is a selective hearing that they don’t get to select. Then, that delusional state attacks them and tells them that they’re not good enough because they miss so much when they’re stressed.

That’s a dysfunction we’d like to change. We have multiple counseling appointments a week between all 3 of us and one of the regular focuses of these sessions is finding ways to deal with the delusions and the loss of memory tied to emotional dysregulation. #1 is to take breaks if anyone starts to get emotional. That’s hard when they’re already functioning lower because they’re the ones getting emotional.

That lower functioning has recently lead to some violence. Many forms of violence: physical, emotional, verbal, and property violence. Don’t know the difference? Ok, let’s address that:

  1. Physical violence is often what most people refer to as violence. In our house, it has recently come out as grabbing, shoving, punching, kicking, and spitting. Jeremy and Jason got into a physical altercation on December 4th. It resulted in Jason moving out of our tiny living spot into his brother’s house.
  2. Emotional violence. This can be paired with verbal violence, but does not entirely have to be. It could be a breach of trust. It could be violating someone’s privacy. It could be gaslighting. Intimidation is often an emotional violence tactic. It could be getting someone’s hopes up about something, then repeatedly disappointing them (most often a visit or something you tell them you’ll do with them). It could be just creating drama and picking verbal arguments. The emotional labor that’s necessary for these situations is staggering and makes it impossible to think of anything else.
  3. Verbal violence: Many people know this, but don’t talk about it as violence. It’s name calling. It’s swearing. It’s also gaslighting. It’s telling someone that their worth is nothing or that their hopes don’t matter. It’s the words someone uses to bring about emotional violence. It can be spoken, drawn, written, or digital. It can even be signed; with more than a middle finger sometimes. This violence has been part of our household for years. Many people don’t view this type of violence as as “bad” as other forms. Let me just tell you… It IS.
  4. Property violence is attacking your victim’s property in some way. Most recently in our house, stealing has happened. Jeremy came home from our vacation trip to find our business address locked, but had things moved around. Our electronics had been used. The Square credit card reader was stolen. The iPad had a factory reset done on it, deleting ALL of our apps and data. The safe had been moved, although not opened that we could tell because, thankfully, Jeremy had locked it. Jason is the only person other than us who knew where any spare keys were. He’s been hanging out with a man who has a felony credit card fraud on his record. I hope that man realizes that his parole can be revoked if Jason gets in trouble because of him. He could be charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor if he let’s Jason keep coming around.
    Other property damage that’s happened is breaking or damaging someone else’s things. On the night that Jason attacked Jeremy, he also attacked Jeremy’s car. He was kicking and hitting it, which lead to dents. He was also purposely smoking in the car with the windows rolled down, so that it would smell up the car.  Jeremy and his oldest have put holes in walls before, both as intimidation tactics and property violence. Jason’s favorite form is to create more chaos. He will spread the contents of a car all over the yard or tear off the decoration from walls or remove the skirting from the RV. It’s a common occurrence that someone will steal money from others as a form of property violence. Property violence is a way to control someone just as much as emotional abuse, verbal abuse and physical abuse.

And that’s what it’s all about. It’s about controlling another person. That is disrespectful and creates many rifts in relationships.

I need to note here that this is NOT the same as a parent taking a child’s phone if they are doing something wrong or requiring a child to put money into an account to save for the future. It is not the same as a parent giving a child consequences if they are rude or disrespectful. It is not the same as an adult teaching a child by enforcing the rules. There are times when violence and consequences feel the same because no one wants either one to happen to them. The difference is that consequences are something that come because of our own actions. Violence is something someone enacts upon us.

We are sad that it didn’t work out how we had hoped to have Jason live with us. We will continue to love Jason and try to help him straighten his life out. We hope he will stop self-sabotaging by perpetuating violence and getting involved with people who lead him astray. That doesn’t mean we have to be in the way of the tornado until he starts to take responsibility. We will continue to work with his care team and hopefully, he will come clean and get straight before he has a consequence that is permanent.

So, it’s just Jeremy and I in the RV now. We are planning to continue to focus on our own health and wellness, trying always to help others when we can. Hopefully, you’ll join us. We’ll see you on the road.

Teenage Turmoil

Sometimes I can’t believe I wrote something. I went back to read the blog I wrote last week about Jason. I got a little teary and wanted to click “Like” on it, then realized that it’s kind of bad etiquette to like your own post.

Last time, I told you, “The primary medical treatment is through pharmaceuticals and anxiety control. I’ll try to discuss this soon when I talk about why the last year has been hard for Jason sometime this week.”

Jason has always had a little bit of a hard time making friends. Kids are harsh and tics are not the norm. It’s hard for children to look past a constant motion like that. On top of that, Jason’s always been extremely sweet. This didn’t work in his favor with young children. He was easily hurt and often went running back to the adults crying “Bully”. There were a few good apples that were very sweet as well. We had them over as much as possible.

This outcast persona in his life, Jason tried very very hard to make friends. He was pretty impressionable and fell to peer pressure regularly. As parents, none of us knew what to do. You’d think with 4 of us, we’d be able to come up with something. Alas, we kept playing defense on the latest scheme he and his friends came up with.

When a child is this easily swayed, they tend to fall in with friends that may not be the best choices. As children get older, these choices of friends start to create situations that may lead to bad choices in behavior. These bad choices in behavior can lead to addictions, whether it be drugs, sex, stealing, or fighting.

Jason fell into some rough crowds. As parents, we were happy he had friends, and unhappy with which ones they were. We tried to keep him safe by allowing less overnights and asking him to have them over to our house instead. We met the parents and discussed what the rules at our houses were. We pried into his life in ways that make all teens irritated and all parents more anxious.

No matter what we did, Jason out smarted us. You see, this sweet young man is also fairly smart. The IQ tests say he’s high average, but I know better. He’s good at playing dumb. It’s gotten him a lot of what he needed in his life. His mom felt needed because he couldn’t remember things. His dad felt like a protector because he “couldn’t take care of himself”. And he got out of doing wrong things by “forgetting” or “I didn’t mean to.” I’m not saying that every one of these times was a play; I just know that many of them were put on to keep us complacent.

Complacency is something all parents crave. We don’t want to nag, be anxious about your behavior, or check into the person’s alibi. We want you to be trustworthy in all you do so that we can just ride through parenthood without a hitch. And we all know that no one is perfect. We all make mistakes, especially when learning about life.

Learning about life is something Jason’s done his share of in the last 2 years. We’ve run into mental health issues, drug issues, stealing, and some questionable choices in how he handles school and other responsibilities. I don’t think these are uncommon. We’ve done the best we can to field the challenges as they come. Jason’s mom took most of the paperwork and agonizing because he’s lived with her most of the time for the last 3 years. We tried to help when we could, but there’s only so much we can do without undermining the other parent, which still happened from time to time because we’re not perfect either.

I want to go back to the sentence I brought forward from the last entry: The primary medical treatment is through pharmaceuticals and anxiety control. I’ll try to discuss this soon when I talk about why the last year has been hard for Jason sometime this week.

When a child starts extreme medical intervention at a young age, they generally start using different pharmaceutical drugs very young as well. Prescription drugs such as sleeping pills and anti-anxiety medicines are some of the most abused substances among teens. The availability of these drugs makes it that much easier to abuse. Plus, once you’ve realized that some substances affect you much stronger than other substances, you might start to try to find the “one” that “fixes” you.

Experimenting like this happens very commonly with children that have medical issues. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) published an article in 2010 about Prescription Drug Abuse. Here’s what presenter, Nora D. Volkow M.D. had to say about teen drug abuse: “Nonmedical use among children and adolescents is particularly troublesome given that adolescence is the period of greatest risk not only for drug experimentation but also for developing addiction. At this stage the brain is still developing, and exposure to drugs could interfere with these carefully orchestrated changes. Research also shows adolescents abusing prescription drugs are twice as likely to have engaged in delinquent behavior and nearly three times as likely to have experienced an episode of major depression as teens who did not abuse prescription medications over the past year. Finally, several studies link the illicit use of prescription drugs with increased rates of cigarette smoking, heavy drinking, and marijuana and other illicit drug use in adolescents and young adults in the United States. Thus, prescription drug abuse may be part of a pattern of harmful behaviors engaged in by those at risk for substance use and other mental disorders.”

After some scrapes with the law over domestic violence, stealing, running away, and e-cig usage, Jason went into a residential treatment program last October. He was there until June. During that time, he was watched pretty much 24/7. It was grueling and transformative. I think all 4 of us parents started to feel like we had our caring, sweet Jason back.

Jason went from treatment back to his mom’s house. It went well for a time. He was part of an intensive day program for the summer, he got a job, he even had a girlfriend for a while. His mom dealt with all of this in stride for the most part. Once the day program was over, the county still hadn’t set up some of the services they had been going to get before the move home. Jason and his mom both struggled to keep it together. They did well for the most part.

Then, a few weeks ago, Jason started school. The added stress of school, work, and pleasing his parents seem to have become too much. Just over a week ago, Jason was found unresponsive by a friends’ parents. He had taken some prescription drugs from his friend’s prescription pills. Thankfully, he did not take enough to kill himself, but he was in the hospital for a night and his parents were terrified that he might not make it.

When they were done at the hospital, Jeremy and his ex wife decided it might be better for Jason to live with us. That is how we acquired our new resident. He is enrolled in a high school that is 45 miles from where we are parked right now. Getting him to school at a reasonable time before we have to go to work has been the biggest struggle. Picking him up after school has been just as hard.

With all of that, we are doing pretty well, though. There has been disagreements about rules, screen usage, and space. Those are bound to happen, no matter how much space you have or what your teen’s been through. I think those are natural discussions at all households have. But we love each other and all 3 of us are working really hard to gain trust and put the past behind us. We’re hoping to move The Girl Next Door closer to Jason’s school without taking us out of range of the jobs that we currently hold. It should be an adventure. With that adventure coming, we’ll see you on the road.

We have a New Resident

I think middle school and high school teachers are saints. They work very very hard to come up with engaging, thoughtful lesson plans and are often met with eye rolls and inattention. When they try to talk to the parents about it, they’re often met with “Well, maybe you’re just not teaching it well.” Still, there will always be that one kid that gets something out of a lesson; that one kid who participates and loves that class. Every teacher has one kid who inspires them to keep going.

It’s no secret that I’ve never had any plan to have my own children. Something that many don’t know, though, is that I have always taken care of children that were birthed to others. I babysat from the time I was 11 years old. I taught Sunday School and I visited my mother’s kindergarten class regularly. As an adult, I even had a job doing personal care work for 14 years, in which I often ended up having children as clients. I knew I would probably raise kids, but I knew I wouldn’t have biological ones. I don’t even know if I could; I just never felt a leading to be a biological mother. I assumed that I’d probably adopt or be a foster parent. I never dreamed that I would be a stepmom.

I don’t know if ANYONE ever dreams of being a stepmom. Disney movies have made it very impossible for young girls to think of stepmoms in a good light. Between Cinderella, Aurora (Sleeping Beauty), Rapunzel, and Snow White, why would anyone want to be the villianess? Disney stepmonsters not-withstanding, this woman would have to take on the job of mom in a household without any of the recognition because the biological mother is given that recognition very naturally. Who really wants to clean, cook, and nurture the household of someone else?

Now that I’ve been in this household for 11 years, I’ve learned that it’s not someone else’s household. I have helped raise 2 young men. I met these guys when they were 5 & 10; we married a year later. Now, at 21 and 16 I have moments where I see the lessons I have tried to teach them come through and feel a small amount of parental pride. As they get holder, I have more moments like that and less at the same time because they are not around as much. The 21 year old rarely sees us anymore; he’s a man who’s too busy for his parents. The 16 year old is finding friends and moving toward driving and has a job. Plus, they both have been living elsewhere; the man where he wants, the teen with his biological mother.

That changed this last week. Jason, who’s the 16 year old, has moved into The Girl Next Door with us. Jason, Jeremy and his ex have decided it is in everyone’s best interest for him to be in our household.

You see, Jason’s had a hard year. I mean, all teenage years are rough. Teens brains are growing and changing. My sister says that it’s like road construction: While one part of the brain is developing, it may be closed down and take some detours for different thoughts to get through. This is where the moodiness, “laziness”, inattention, and indecision of teendom come in. “It’s a little like a traumatic brain injury, only the hormones make it happen,” is what my mother said. Her Masters degree is in early childhood development, but she definitely has a unique perspective on the development of teenage brains because of her 35 years in teaching.

Jason’s hard year came after a pretty hard childhood too. Development is something that really gets stung hard in children of divorce and Jason’s parents split when he was only 2. Along with the divorce, his father has a mental illness that greatly effects the ability for relationships and healthy coparenting.

To put some icing on the cake, Jason was diagnosed with Tourette’s syndrome when he was 9. Tourette’s is an anxiety related disorder that creates tics through shorts in the brain’s wiring. Much like OCD or ADHD, it is led by compulsions, so it can be hidden for a time. Jason hid his all day at school, then had to let it go at home or he would have exploded. At 9, he was diagnosed and began medical treatment. The primary medical treatment is through pharmaceuticals and anxiety control. I’ll try to discuss this soon when I talk about why the last year has been hard for Jason sometime this week.

For now, I’ve run out of time to type. I’ll pick up again sometime this week, but just know that 2 have become 3 and we’re loving having the boy we love sleeping so close. Have a great day and we’ll see you on the road.

We have Been Doing

Obviously, I’ve been having a  hard time getting here to write. I love writing for you all and I love doing all the things. I can’t always do both.

Since our California trip Here>>>>Golden State of Mind
We have been as busy as summer allows. Jeremy was training and massaging, our youngest got out of treatment and we transitioned him back into his home life, and I’ve been working on finding organization in The Girl Next Door, along with my full time job.

The weekend after we got back, we met my family of origin in Mauston, WI at some cabins on the lake. Seeing all of my nieces and my nephew was refreshing and exciting. Great conversations were had, as well as some delicious s’mores. We had fun playing on the beach and catching up. Babies are part of what make these trips worth it (although they’re not the only thing!)

When we returned, there were presents waiting for us. We got new hoses for waste removal. With the new hoses, we don’t have to move The Girl Next Door to reach the septic on the edge of the property. Jeremy took the time to spray off and open all of the awnings, as well as spraying down the rest of the siding and windows. Thankfully, I remembered to close them before he started.

Sometime in the middle of all of this, Jeremy noticed that he had a pain in his knee. It didn’t seem to be the type of pain that he could take a day off and ice it to help it get better. The pain persisted through weeks of lightening his training. The problem with it was that he was signed up to participate in the Shell Lake Triathlon on July 22. In the end, he gave away his registration for Shell Lake Tri AND sold the registration for Twin Cities Marathon in October. He saw a doctor finally this week, got a knee brace, and has been forced to do no training for at least a few weeks, when he’ll take a nice long ride with my mom. No impact training (read: no running!) for a month. I think we’ll probably have a pretty irritable Jeremy in a week or two. He’ll be seeing a sports medicine doctor soon and hopefully be able to figure out what’s been causing his pain. Once that happens, he’ll be back on the road, I’m sure.

Speaking of being on the road, that’s something I’m loving about working where I do. Aveda recently started a campaign for the employees that includes a Wellness challenge, a free fitness tracker, and a website for accountability. I saw this as a sign that I need to really put some more effort into my health. After having to cancel my Spartan Sprint race in June, I hadn’t been training much and I had started to feel down about my progress. I’m really thankful that Aveda offers this type of thing for us and their care for their employees is one of the main reasons I came back here.

Jeremy’s also been still in the midst of a med change. We are looking at the end of the transition, which is nice. He’s started to be able to focus and calm himself long enough to do self care again, to see how to make healthy nutritional choices, and to take his medicine on time regularly. He’s recognizing the things that are bothering him and getting to the point where he can really voice his needs. It’s an amazing thing to see how the medicine helps him become himself again; the man I love returns. This is a good point to be at because of his physical injuries. Now he’ll be able to force himself to really listen to what the doctors have to say.

Last weekend, Jeremy got the motivation to finish fixing the exhaust on The Girl Next Door. She now has 2 full exhaust pipes and purrs like a kitten…. a very large kitten with Glasspacks. Either way, she’s lovely and idles at a rumble instead of a roar.

He also decided today to take out the original RV futon so that we can add a newer, more fashionable, storage-heavy futon/sleeper to the living room.  He gave it  to someone from Facebook and the rest is history.  Here’s to “renovating the guest room”.

So, Jeremy will be sitting out for a while, but I’ll be out training again. I’ll be adding some hiking regularly, as well as a few runs and strength work. I hope I will have time to start writing something worth reading again. Until then, I’ll be doing all the things worth writing. Come back to catch up on our adventures; we’ll see you on the road.

You can’t be Cancer

No one ever tells you that you are pneumonia or cystic fibrosis. You are not rheumatoid arthritis or heart disease. You have diabetes, eczema, PCOS, or a row of stitches.

And for some reason, you are bipolar. You are borderline. You are Schizophrenic, depressed, OCD, or “mentally ill”. Once diagnosed with mental illness, it becomes part of your identity in most circles.

That’s one thing that bothers me in the public eye and I think it’s part of the stigma. When I was first trained as a personal care worker, I was trained that my clients are people first. That means that “He’s a person with autism” was a perfectly acceptable statement in that company; “He’s autistic” wasn’t. It was a model that brought dignity to the people that I was there to help. It allowed this person to decide if they were going to identify themselves as their illness or as something else. With this model, the person with mental illness can be anything they want to be still. If they want to be depressed, they can. Or they can choose to be a ballerina, an artist, or a lump in bed. If they want to be crazy, they can. Or they can choose to identify themselves as a person with mental illness and explain that they’d rather not talk about their diagnoses.

I like this model. I like seeing people be able to identify themselves how they would like to. I especially like it when people choose to identify as other than their illness. It gives us more purpose than to focus on our pain.

Focusing on our pain is happening this week. There’s a lot of reasons that may be throwing our lives into a tailspin. I kind of lied to some of you because of it. I cancelled appointments and shut down friend time because of a “family emergency”. That family emergency was an emotional dysregulation that has turned dangerous.

Recently, there’s been a lot of stress. 2 months ago, we moved into our RV and parked it at a couple of friends’ place. They helped us immensely to improve The Girl Next Door to at least a running status. A few weeks ago, they asked us to leave so that they could better serve their customers, who come to their business at the house. We were in the way, where we never had wanted to be. So, Jeremy fixed the fuel pump and we were on the road within hours of it being fixed. It was 2 days after they asked and way before the date that they had told us we had to be gone. Jeremy’s emotions started to get out of control then: when he took one sentence said as him being “unwanted”.

You see, when Jeremy starts to go away and the monster of his illness comes up, it usually starts to happen the most prevalently when he’s rummenating on something that can easily be misunderstood or taken the wrong way. You didn’t say anything wrong, or even mean. His dysregulated brain latches on to anything it can to torture him. Then, it plays that thing over and over again for over-analysis. He probably won’t say anything about it right away. He knows, logically, that his brain is being a jerk.

Next stress: Jeremy found out that his oldest son was in a hit and run accident 4 MONTHS AGO!! We didn’t know anything about it. He’s an adult and totally free to keep his secrets. What hurt Jeremy the most was that his parents knew about it and kept it from us. While his son wasn’t hurt, it reminds Jeremy of his ignorance of his son because his son chooses to cut us out and use Jeremy’s parents as a shield of sorts from life’s consequences. That hurts Jeremy; it reminds him that his adult child doesn’t trust his reactions. It also reminds Jeremy that his parents are coddling this adult child; that hurts too. Pain like this is a big stressor for any parent.

Jeremy’s younger son came to stay with us from Friday to Monday of the Memorial Day weekend. This may not seem like something out of the ordinary for most of you. However, this child has been dealing with mental health issues of his own. This is the first time in almost a year that he’s been in our house for more than a few hours, much less an overnight. There was anxiety on everyone’s part, Jeremy and his son the most probably. We all want a successful relationship. The trust that was lost last year is slowly rebuilding. I don’t know about them, but I want it to be back, darnit! I’m tired of learning how to forgive and how to renew the relationship. I can only imagine how the two of them feel about it. So, for 4 days, there was the constant stress of being a good parent and learning how to trust and how to earn trust again.

On top of all of this, Jeremy’s doctor changed his meds last week. That means that this week is when we’ll start to see some of the changes that this new dosage should bring about. In the past, on this medicine, there is an initial spike of mental illness activity when there’s a change. Eventually, it evens out and Jeremy is back to himself again. And while we’re in this week and maybe next week, there will be some loss of stability with the change. This will be happening for Jeremy for a long time. He and his doctor started him back on this med back in December. He’s been very slowly and steadily increasing the dosage since then. It’s a hard place to be, the middle of a med change.

Some medicine changes happen very quickly. When Jeremy went off of Lamictal before, it was an instant thing. His doctor told him to discontinue immediately and come in for a consultation. They changed him to Lithium and that was that. Some happen more slowly. Sometimes, finding the right medicine for anything takes forever. Jeremy was on Lithium for 4 months last year. It didn’t help; in fact, it may have made things worse when he was on it. Imagine that happening 2, 3, maybe even 4 times with different medicines. This can be a multi-year process for some.

This week has erupted beyond our normal feeling of “off-balance”. Every day there is usually some uncomfortable feeling of anxiety or neuroses from one or both of us. Usually, we’re able to pull the thought train back to forward and make life work. On a normal week, it’s hard to get day-to-day life finished, but not impossible. The laundry may pile up for a few days, the bills may get paid only after a reminder letter, the dishes look icky for a whole 2 days instead of getting washed daily. It isn’t usually so off that we can’t live.

Over the last month, that hasn’t been the case. We’ve been living on bought meals and restaurants because we don’t have the foresight to make dinner. We’ve been allowing the dishes to overflow the sink. Our laundry took 5 loads the other day and I still have a basket full of dirty. We could really use the help of someone willing to help us organize, get things done, and lift our spirits. Let’s face it, isolation is another side effect of mental illness breaking down. It’s not as simple as just having the people we need in place to help. There’s arranging that needs to be done if those things are going to happen. Neither of us is up to that task. So, this week, it has all come to a head and we’ve had to try to hold the pieces together.

In the end, the month of May was extremely stressful on both of us. Jeremy hasn’t been able to regulate his emotions like he wants to. He doesn’t want to have outbursts and breakdowns. In turn, I respond by pulling inward, letting my self-care go, and riding the depression train. Neither of us wants this; we want to be happy and healthy. We are working together to find a way to make that happen. Hopefully, once we’re through this hard time, we’ll be able to go out and see you on the road again.

In Need of Progress Reminders

I think that sometimes, God reminds us of how far we’ve come by sending us back to where we were for a short time.

This weekend was an awesome weekend for the most part. Friday was a day fully dedicated to working on The Girl Next Door. I’ll write a whole entry about this week’s work on her soon. Let’s just say it was a lot of work and very satisfying.

Saturday, we worked on her in the morning. After doing as much as we could, we left to attend the Minneapolis RV vacation & Camping show. We had a TON of fun there. Next year, we will probably take either one whole day or come back for more than one time. We really enjoyed looking at new models of Class A, B, C motorhomes and travel trailers. We’re not much for pop-ups or 5th wheels, so we stayed out of them. We dreamed about what we might buy in the future and got a few ideas for The Girl Next Door. Catch us in 10 years when we’ll buy the 2017 Thor Vegas RUV Class A or a 2016 Pleasureway  Plateau XLMB Class B. They were both glorious. Plus, we were super excited to get to meet The FitRV after months of watching their videos.

After the show, we had some yummy food at Good Earth. We have found very good paleo options at stores that celebrate local suppliers and organic food. I had a wonderful blood orange smoothie, a Go Green lemonade (kale, spinach, & honey added), and some yummy BBQ pork chops over greens. Jeremy had a chopped salad that looked delish. And when the delightful dinner was over, we went to see one of our favorite local bands play. Dancing the night away is just as fun at 34 as it was at 21. I just don’t drink anymore, so I enjoy the music that much more. Good for Gary plays so many great dance tunes that all 4 of our party got on the floor. There was even a return of the BackStreet Boys that Jeremy danced to. What a goofy guy on the dance floor; that’s why I love him.

At 2am, we rolled into our friend Sarah’s place to stay the remainder of the night. All 4 of us quickly passed out, not being used to this kind of late night. We all slept pretty soundly and woke by 9am. Erin and I went to a local church, Hosannah! Church in Shakopee. It was definitely a style of church that I enjoy and I think I might go back the next time we stay over at Sarah’s too. Church gave way to breakfast; Wampachs had a great special for both of us: cajun eggs benedict. Yum. After some more hanging out at Sarah’s house, Jeremy, Erin, and I headed to a late lunch at Merlin’s Pub where there was mussels, tater tots, and sausages galore.

That was the extent of the wonderful weekend we had. Once we got home, things got hairy. On the way home, Jeremy had some conversations with his son and ex-wife. This tends to get him on the defensive in the first place. The anxiety of co-parenting can often be overwhelming. On top of the anxiety of this talk, he got more than one instance yesterday of his decision making ability being undermined by other adults. When he got home, the stress had taken over his ability to cope. He lost control of his temper and went into a tailspin. There was some yelling and swearing. I was not devoid of responsibility when it comes to the ramped up state of things. Between both of us not sleeping as much as we should and both letting go of control of creating our own food, we did not take good care of our bodies. I was caught very off guard by this turn of events.

You see, I had begun to take Jeremy’s good state of mind for granted. For over a week, he’s seemed very stable. He brought me breakfast in bed three times last week. He laughed, danced, and joked around. He worked hard, played hard, and slept when he could. We had a phenomenal weekend of happy times, fun work, and building our future. It’s easy to fall into a feeling of security in that. It’s easy to miss the early signs of a trigger. It’s easy to take for granted the stable times when they last for a few days or more. That state of complacency makes the meltdown that much harder.

Boy, it was hard for me. I did not deal well the way I have in the past. As a result, Jeremy and I spent the night struggling alone. Trying to be around each other was way too hard. We did apologize to each other; our mental health and relationship were able to turn around after some cool down time. It was just too tense to spend the time together. We’re lucky to have quite a few options when it comes to nights like that. We have friends and family that understand our situation, we have an office that gives us some space to cool off, and we have a whole bunch of great places to stay in our town. Right now, we also have a second bedroom in our apartment. We’re lucky enough even that The Girl Next Door even has extra beds in the living area of the coach, so we could sleep separately if we need it. That was one of the selling points for me: extra space if we need to sleep in more than one bed, whether that is for guests, the boys, or a night break.

We are still both very blessed to have each other. We are good at apologizing; we are both good at making amends. Over the years, we’ve learned to forgive. That’s part of our faith, but even more, it’s necessary to keep our marriage afloat. When mental illness is rampant in a marriage, forgiveness becomes an every day event. There are times that the forgiveness is small; there are times it is very very significant as this one was. Sometimes it is as little as forgiving the dishes only getting half put away or dropping something on the floor. Other times, one of us is apologizing for a major monetary hit from damage done in a rage or in an anxious outburst. Sometimes we risk our relationship by saying hurtful things. Other times we are remorseful for our massive insecurities stemming from past abuses. No matter what is going on, we have both agreed to communicate and forgive. I am bone-of-his-bone and flesh-of-his-flesh; we are united by marriage and need to work through those inconsistencies until we are one.

No matter what kinds of things hurt you, be ready to forgive. That is something that will always help both your mental and spiritual health. Embrace letting the desire for revenge go. Open yourself to new opportunities by releasing cherished wounds. Let yourself chase your dreams and we’ll see you out on the road.

The end of Writer’s Block

I wrote the rest of this post yesterday here. Thank you again to Bill for giving me a topic I could bite into.

Back to my thoughts on the subject of drug use and mental illness sufferers.

Speaking of sufferers, I am one. I have dealt with a cyclical recurrence of minor depression through out my adult life. Judging from the statistics above, that set me up to be very likely to become someone who used and even abused recreational drugs. Bill wanted to know how I’m not someone who’s done much use. For a background, I am a social drinker with 1-2 drinks a week average. I spent about 6 months smoking an average of one-two cigarettes a day which I quit cold turkey and never went back; it isn’t a lot, but it was enough to be addicted and smell like smoke for weeks. I have tried marijuana once and did not like it in the slightest. I have had only minor pain pills given to me for pain relief after the few surgeries I have had.

So, my use never has even really bordered on abuse and one could say that I avoided a significant use even to be called more than average. How did that happen? I can say that when my symptoms of mental illness came on is a big part of it. My most harrowing bout with depression was when I was 16. I feel I became a different kid at that time. And, by that time, my frontal lobe of my brain was already developing at a nice pace.

You see, I was pretty lucky in my upbringing. My parents kept me busy with mind-occupying challenges, body-wearying activity, and spiritual direction to something higher than myself. They also loved me without condition; no matter how bad I screwed up, I always knew that they loved me. Those aspects of my life prevented me from even being exposed to drugs much until I was in my mid-late teens. I couldn’t steal cigarettes from my mom because she didn’t have any. I was so busy with school clubs that I didn’t even know where I could have gotten any drugs, much less how to use them. The only thing I was exposed to was alcohol, as 95% of kids in Wisconsin are. With a farmer who was a Marine for a father and a teacher for a mother, I couldn’t bring  myself to even steal a swig of alcohol until was almost 16. By that time, I had acquaintances who were already going to drinking parties and getting high in the back woods. I was definitely not up for that. I didn’t want to disappoint my parents. This strict yet loving atmosphere is what I credit with staying out of drugs.

Also, the late onset of my depression symptoms made it so that I was able to develop some coping skills during my preteen years before I got to the point where my brain was attacking me. On top of that, I didn’t have the typical stresses that a teenage girl has. I didn’t start dating until I was 16, again because of my parents’ strict training. I was pretty much a nerd, so school and extra curriculars offered by the school were what I spent my time on. I did not care about fashion, being raised on a farm. Makeup wasn’t even an option for me because it was so expensive and I didn’t want to give up the time necessary to wear it; the same idea went for my hair. Basic and simple was my approach to all things “girly”. Having less stress about these sorts of things kept depression something far away until I was 16.

Being able to develop my brain normally for most of my early and mid teenage years was important for my impulse control. Although I still had slips of impulse control, I was able to reason easier than someone who has mental illness symptoms and substance use from a young age. I also knew that I didn’t want to deal with the consequences of use. I was too lazy to pay for fines and too easily bored to sit in a holding cell. Being sheltered in a small town kept me out of the rings of dealers and having lots of people watching out for me kept me accountable. I also hate feeling out of control of my own body.

It all adds up to me being able to be part of the non-users that experience psychiatric disorders. I’m grateful that I don’t have to wonder if my mental illness is a side effect of my drug use. About 6 months ago, I did notice that drinking lead me to feel more depressed for a few days afterward. You’d think I would have predicted that, considering I have my degree in Chemistry and had extensive classes on recreational drugs in my classes for a Criminalistics emphasis. I guess I hadn’t put 2-and-2 together until I was feeling like staying in bed for 17 hours after having a few beers the night before. Giving up drinking helped me for a time, but the depression symptoms held on. Psychiatric Disorders are not always created by recreational drugs, but are almost always exacerbated by them. I’m glad I noticed before it became danger level depression.

Mental illness and substance abuse are something that obviously go hand-in-hand. We have seen the repercussions of them both in our family. It’s helpful to both of us that we try to keep our noses pointed in the right direction and we have some great support systems to keep us out of a bad lifestyle. We’re hoping that will come soon for our boys too and they’ll be able to be more stable as they grow into the great young men they both are destined to be.

We’ll keep you informed on how our adventures in mental wellness are going. It’s not an easy road and it’s not immediate, but we will continue on this path. Stay safe, all, and we’ll see you on the road.

When you fall off the wagon

We’re talking a proverbial wagon. Don’t worry; we did not go farm this weekend or anything. Although that would have been a great workout, had we done it.

A year ago, Jeremy and I were both very very dedicated to our health. As a result, he was at the lightest he had been in 20 years and I was at my strongest. We planned our meals ahead of time; we planned our exercise and followed through; we took our medicines daily; we spent time regularly doing self-care. All aspects of our life were kept at our healthiest options.

In March 2016, our youngest had some mental health issues start to take over his life. For the next 6 months, our life was filled with massive stress, doctors, and cops. The stress was too overwhelming for both of us. We doubled our counseling sessions. Jeremy and his doctor agreed that he probably should increase his mood stabilizer medicine. As a result of increasing too quickly, Jeremy got a dangerous rash and had to go off of the medicine that had worked for 2 years. This medicine is mostly to treat his bipolar disorder by keeping his moods in a “normal” range and help him focus better.

The new medicine to replace it was Lithium. Jeremy was on Lithium while he trained for the Twin Cities Marathon and I was training for the Rails to Trails half-marathon. A med change when there is little stress is hard. Noticing side effects and getting through the mood swings can be overwhelming. It’s triple hard when you have something that is a goal or some kind of stress in your life.

He made it through the marathon. He even had a pretty good time, even though he hadn’t trained as hard as he had hoped. For those that don’t do long distance races, there’s important information that you probably don’t know: the after crash of a race. Think of it like another life event: a wedding. You plan for months, you spend hours every day thinking of this event and planning for it. You may work to lose weight, make decorations, and pick out the perfect dress/DJ/location/cake. The day comes and you have a major high. You love your event and it goes off without a hitch. Afterward, you’re faced with a slight depression. You spend hours thinking “what do I do now?” and “There’s no purpose to my time anymore.” You looked forward to this event for months and now it’s just over. The same  happens with athletes after a major race/game/event.

Jeremy had that happen. On top of the medicine changes, Jeremy went through a pretty extreme depression. We don’t know if it was a side effect from the Lithium, a outcome from the kid stress, a downswing from going off of Lamictal, or the after-race crash. All we know is that his thoughts started racing, his self-talk got dark, and he became despondent about life in general. There were days that I had to help him get out of bed for work.

Needless to say, he was not doing any kind of exercise at that time. I was also still untreated for my depression. Between the two of us, it was hard for us to do enough thinking just to make ourselves eat, shower, and work each day. Eating healthy was the last thing in our heads. We were lucky if we made frozen pizza or mac & cheese; we weren’t even going to attempt salads.

So, what happens when someone is unable to be physically healthy? In our experience, not only does their physical health deteriorate, but their mental, spiritual, and financial health all suffer as well. It stands to reason that it’s hard to get out of that spiral. We had to keep going to work and we knew it. Thankfully, we were able to push through in that area.

We’re both pretty grateful that we have found some treatment that helped. I was put on Fluoxetine (Prozac) in December. It made it lots easier for me to get out of bed, do the work I need to do, and help him with what he needs. He also went back on Lamictal in December. This needs to be a very gradual process. Even though he is still at a very low dosage of this mood stabilizer, getting off the Lithium seems to have brought him up out of the suicidal thoughts and deep depression. We are functioning again, that’s the important thing.

Something to realize though is that “functioning” is not the same as “thriving”. It was something we talked about when we walked out on the land we plan to park on this summer. Jeremy’s lamotrigine dosage is still low enough that he’s not 100% stable. Counseling helps and the low dosage does help; it’s just not ideal yet. We are both about 30 lbs heavier than we would like to be. Neither of us are exercising as much as we need to. We’re still not eating as well as we’d like. Now that we’re functioning, we can start to address these issues that keep us from thriving. We may soon get back on track to be healthy in all parts of our life.

We start a new eating plan today with Clean & Simple Nutrition. We are hoping that a change in nutrition will give us a bit of a boost toward motivation. Within the month, we will both start training for our next races. We hope that you take some motivation to keep going, to get started, and to get healthy from our story. Stay safe and we’ll see you on the road.

God’s Plan

I’m a very spiritual person. Whoa… whoa… don’t run away yet. I swear I’m not going to start badmouthing anybody. I love people, whether you’re spiritual or not; atheist, agnostic, dont-care-ist… I accept you where you are and would love to hear your side and thoughts of anything we talk about.

I’m a born-again Christian. (Again, please don’t leave…. hear me out) For those of you that the term “born-again” sounds weird to, it is. Those of us that say that don’t mean we entered back into our mother’s womb. The idea is that we had a second “birthing” or awakening to God’s plan in our lives and that Jesus of Nazareth is our Messiah that will build and maintain the relationship between us and God. We have accepted this awakening as truth to us and apply it to our life.

I used to be very religious. I went to multiple Bible studies, church every single week, volunteered as a greeter, taught Sunday school, and attended Women’s retreats. I studied my Bible every single day and got down on myself if I didn’t. It’s been a waxing and waning kind of style throughout  my life. But this style of “religion” was not fulfilling to me. I felt like I was looking outside myself, outside the Holy Spirit, for my beliefs. There are verses in Hebrews 5 & 6 that talk about being yet a child and needing to be reminded of the basics over and over again. The most powerful for me in these chapters are Hebrews 5:11-13, “11 We have much to say about this, but it is hard to make it clear to you because you no longer try to understand. 12 In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! 13 Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness.” I was doing all of these things, spending hours and hours and hours being taught by others. What I really needed was to lead myself; I needed to mature past being fed by others and start feeding myself. Let God carry me some instead of my faith in the schooling and leading of other people. 

I’m not very religious anymore. I want to know why we do the traditions we do and I still do some of them if I like them. I don’t regularly go to church. I do often watch and listen to podcasts from good preachers that are teaching more than the basics. I weigh what they say against what my study of the Bible has shown me. I feel reading my Bible, praying, and living my life the way Jesus would have is what God plans for me right now. I try to live every day of my life in a way that makes people think “There’s something different about her. I need to know what it is.” I will talk about my faith if people show some openness to it. I also will not often share the other parts of my religious beliefs with someone who doesn’t believe that Jesus is the Savior of the world from Hell and the grave unless they ask me.

Whatever you do with your spiritual life, do it because it’s right for you. Talk to your higher power (mine is the triune God of the Bible) or yourself if you don’t have one and really decide if this ambiguous “religion” that you’re practicing matches your values and beliefs.

For my own spiritual health, I need to be relying on God for my teaching and my growth. I felt I needed space from organized religion. I’m glad I’ve taken it. I have learned so much about myself in relation to God and His world through this process. I’ve learned to assess the reasons for a Bible book’s writing before I apply it to my life. I often ask myself “Was this written for all of humankind, including me? Or is this more of a history written for the people of that time?” That’s a big question. If you don’t know, maybe find that out before you read a book. There are so many things I’ve learned from asking that question. And ask yourself “Does the God/power that I’m modelling myself after show any of the traits I’m being told are part of my ‘religious duties’?” That’s an important one too. Celebrate with your spirit and you’ll find truth. Be kind, be patient, and show care. Stay safe, my friends, and we’ll see you on the road.