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?

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.

How does genetics fit in?

Genetics is the study of inheritance; it’s finding out what traits are handed down from lineage and what is environmental. Everyone is affected by genetics because we all have parents, who we got our genetic traits from.

Many factions of scientists track genetics through the generations. Most use a “genogram”for a reference for their research in one line or for one person. A genogram is like a family tree in that you put all of your ancestors, siblings, and relatives into the chart. Then, you track who had the trait in question and who may have had the trait but was unconfirmed. The creator may use interviews with family, birth & death records, as well as criminal records and past diaries to fill in the blanks. This is usually a good way to find out if a trait is environmentally induced or if it is genetic.

Talking about and noticing these types of traits gets me jazzed. I have my Bachelors of Science in Chemistry with an emphasis in DNA analysis & Criminalistics. Genetics was my favorite college course because the connections are so interesting. When you know a lot about a subject, it becomes more interesting. Plus, genetics is kind of a puzzle with clues as far as I’m concerned; it’s like a mystery novel.

It got even more interesting for me when Jeremy and I started talking about mental illness. He and I are both strong believers that mental illness can be both genetic and environmental. How this is described in the scientific world is usually comparison of expressivity and penetrance. In layman’s terms, expressivity is how much an individual displays a given gene trait and penetrance is how many individuals in a genetic pool are likely to have the gene for that trait.

This is where most average people hit a wall right now. There hasn’t been a phenomenal wealth of research done on the genetics of most mental illnesses. There are also a lot of barriers to proper diagnosis of mental illnesses because of the lack of research.

The National Institute of Mental Health, a division of the National Institute of Health (NIH) is trying to remedy that. They have greatly increased their research basis in the fields of mental health in the last 10 years. As a result, new medicines, treatments, and diagnosis protocols are being created every day.

Now, we are hoping to be a part of some of the research. The NIMH is currently running a research study called “Investigating the Genetics of Bipolar Disorder in those affected and their family members”. Finding this study has really opened our eyes to how our family members, primarily Jeremy’s family of origin, may be affected by Bipolar disorder. We’re hoping they will also partner with us to help with this study.

To really understand why we’re interested in it so highly, we need to talk some about Jeremy’s illness. He was diagnosed at 28 years old after years of struggle. He was divorced, had two children, worked the same job for 8 years, and had recently lost another relationship. When first treated, he was treated only for depression. He was given Effexor. As was common with this medication, when Jeremy still didn’t feel “well”, they increased his dosage. The more they increased it, the more his symptoms grew. He started having days and weeks of mania, very high anxiety and agitation, and delusional thoughts. One day he couldn’t take it anymore and he was taken to the hospital.

He ended up in an inpatient psychiatric treatment program. This is what you’d do for anyone with a severe illness; for severe pneumonia, they’d go to the PICU; for an infection they’d stay in the ICU. Think of inpatient treatment as the Intensive care unit for psychiatric cases. While there, he participated in many tests and many group sessions, as well as individual counseling. The psychiatrist determined that his response to Effexor was because he wasn’t depressed; he has bipolar disorder or cycling manic-depression.

Finding the right diagnosis makes it a lot easier to get the right treatment, but it is still not easy. Many of you have read my entry here about the mental illness in our life and the treatments we are currently seeking for it. There are hundreds more treatment options that we haven’t had to seek out yet. There are also a lot that we have tried that have not helped a lick. While in the hospital, the doctors tried many different medicines with Jeremy. Since going back on medication in 2012, there have been a few more added to the list. For some, they never find the “right” medicine for them. We are grateful that Jeremy’s found one that helped him.

Now, bring in the fact that his children struggle with illness too. The youngest is currently in residential treatment. Over the last month, the doctors there have reached out to see parallels between Jeremy’s evolution with mental illness and his son’s. In turn, they tried the medicine that’s been helping Jeremy. Lo and behold, his son has started to see some progress with impulse control and mood stabilization. That got me thinking of genetics.

When I started searching information on genetics and bipolar disorder, I found the study on the NIH site. Jeremy and I have discussed a little how his illness may be genetic. We have looked at his kids dealing with what the do, but we’ve also taken information from his family about some of Jeremy’s relatives and possible mental health issues.

Mental health is just becoming something that is viewed as a health issue instead of a stigmatized character flaw or weakness. In generations past, people were billed as “crazy”, “unstable”, or “psycho”. They were pushed out of society because of their odd behaviors or ideas. People with mental illness were avoided instead of being understood. There may well have been quite a few people who had some high functioning form of mental illness that were just outcast because of their odd life. Even in more recent generations, such as our parents, people with mental illness often didn’t seek diagnosis and treatment because of the stigma attached to it.

That’s what a genogram looks at. Jeremy and I both believe that doing this kind of exercise could be very telling for our family. We are hoping that this NIH study will accept him as part of the study; we are also hoping that some of his family members will join him in participating if they can. It would be telling to find out if there are genetic markers for bipolar disorder. To have a definitive way to diagnose this horrible disease would be one step in the right direction for a viable treatment.

Until then, we’ll keep doing what we can find that helps; we’ll be working on running the race that God has put in front of us. Stay safe out there, my friends. We’ll see you on the road.

Little Red Riding Toad

Until about a month ago, we owned a beautiful, big, blue 2007 Chevy Tahoe LT. We had gotten it a few years ago when both boys were still at home. You see, our family is a big family. It’s not that we have tons of kids or animals. We are all just large people.

At the tallest, the oldest is 6’5″ tall. He’s no string bean either. This is a man who has worked on a farm since he was 14 and has hands big enough to hold a calf bottle in one hand. Size 15 feet needed some room in the back just to sit in the car.

When we bought this behemoth of a vehicle, Jeremy was the largest he’d ever been and the largest in the family. At 6′ tall and 290 pounds, he was a mountain of a man. The youngest took in his foot steps already at 12 years old. At that time, he was 5’8″ tall and 260 pounds and had size 12 feet. We knew that he’d keep growing taller and probably get stronger, thus maybe heavier. He has since gained some size 14 feet and is about 6′ tall. He’s still around 245 pounds, so he’s slimmed down, but still tall.

So, a full sized SUV was not a frivolous buy for us. It was also WAY at the top of our price range. When we went in, I knew we could handle about $100 a month for insurance and about $300 a month for a payment comfortably. When we came out, we had signed a loan for $412 a month, plus the insurance was still $100 a month. On top of that, this large of a vehicle only got about 14 miles/gallon of gas. Less if you used the flex fuel option. So that we could have a comfortable vehicle, we tightened our belts, worked some extra hours, and paid a hefty sum.

The need for the Tahoe changed about 2 years later. The oldest was an adult and moved out of our house. With his own vehicle, he could get himself where ever he wanted to go without our monstrous motor. Jeremy’s ex moved to a town 20 miles away. That meant that the custody agreement for the youngest had to change. He started an every other weekend schedule of visiting us and we agreed that he would stay longer during the school breaks. We started paying some child support so that he had everything he needs when we couldn’t be there. So, we stopped having to drive him to work & school events.

We held onto the Tahoe for a while longer just because it was nice to have all that room. With a massage business, taking a portable massage table anywhere either means you give up your back seat or you need a big vehicle to haul it. Eventually, though, that payment “adjustment” caught up with us. We were no longer able to pay so much for such a large car.

At the same time, we decided that we would soon be changing our living situation. If you’re unfamiliar with RVing, you probably don’t realize how people with RVs get around. Our RV is a Class A motorhome. That means it has its own motor to pull the “house” part. Most people that have one of these also tow a smaller vehicle behind (a towed vehicle or toad). It gives them the flexibility to leave the motorhome where it’s parked and use the smaller car for errands. So, in short, the grocery-getter is really used for getting groceries and the RV sits parked. A large SUV like the Tahoe is not really conducive to tow behind a Class A.

We started the process to get rid of our luxury blimp. At first, we thought we’d downsize by just getting rid of the Tahoe and keeping our 1994 Chrysler Concord to tow behind our RV. We parked the sizable wheels right outside our office with a “For Sale” sign on it with our info. We waited… and waited… and no one called. We reduced the price each time that we made a payment so that maybe someone would bite. The Tahoe’s picture ended up on Carsoup.com, Craigslist, and even Facebook Garage Sale sites. No one was biting. Apparently, our unseasonably warm autumn made people far more comfortable with their tiny little gas-getters.

After 2 months of trying to sell it ourselves, we started looking into consignment, trade-ins, and dealerships that might buy it outright. Jeremy spent one Saturday visiting the local dealers. Eventually, he came back with some numbers. Most places would give us $2,000 less than we wanted as a private buyer and a few didn’t even feel the need to have us buy a different one from them. He finally did find one place that would trade-in the Tahoe for only $1,000 less than we wanted.

In the meantime, I took the Chrysler for its regularly scheduled maintenance. The mechanic did not have a good word for me when I picked it up. He told me that he wouldn’t put very much more money into this car. The body was rusting and he didn’t see it lasting too much longer. One of the bolts holding the engine on had already rusted through and the others weren’t far behind.

Back at the dealership, Jeremy did some test driving. After a few hours, he called and told me he’d found the one for only $6000. That means a total debt reduction of $6,000. I showed up to test drive a 2010 red Ford Focus, manual transmission. I was ecstatic that we were looking at a manual. She is gorgeous and drives very well. The number one plus: We can tow a manual transmission “4-down” very easily. That means that we will not need a tow dolly. Plus, we will not need to disengage the transmission when towing. I like the feeling of power I get when driving a manual transmission.

So Ruby became ours. She’s only $160 a month payment, $100 a month insurance, and gets 35 miles/gallon. Plus, she’s a cute little speedster once you get the handle on second gear. Now, we’re ready to hit the road with Ruby and The Girl Next Door. What do you think? Stay warm everyone and we’ll see you on the road.

New Year; New Life

I am the same person that I was yesterday; you are too. The only differences are that we’ve learned things that we didn’t know then. We may have learned good things: knowledge, love, efficiency, patience, kindness, wisdom, how to avoid cheesecake. We may also have learned bad things: pain, hurt, betrayal, anger, loneliness, and ignorance. In the end, we are still the same people; we have the same minds, the same bodies. We might have changed what we do on a daily basis or the way we wear our hair. All of these things aside, I am the same person today that I was a year ago with a lot of things I’ve learned.

I learned that my family was struggling so much more than they had let on. I learned that our kids were both struggling with drugs. I learned that my perception of what my husband and his children go through every day is not the whole story. I learned first hand what it is to have your brain attack you. It’s not a physical battle when someone is struggling inside their brain. Fighting with your own delusional thoughts is exhausting and hit my family this year. When you have cancer or diabetes, muscular dystrophy, or asthma, there are physical symptoms that show on your face, hands, and speech. You may slur, you may be unable to walk, you may throw up, you may have a hard time breathing. You may have to use a wheelchair or walker. Other people can see those symptoms.

When the war of mental illness is involved, it isn’t so visible. The vomit is an emotional vomit that often comes out sideways that has nothing to do with the person you’re spewing on. The slurring is in your inability to stay on one subject for long. The stumbling is in how you treat the people you love, even though you really want to show them love and respect. Your brain may tell you that it isn’t worth it to get out of bed today; that you are better off staying in the warm dark and letting your job fall away. Your illness tells you that your psychiatrist doesn’t know what he’s talking about and that the drugs do a better job than pharmaceuticals. There are no wheelchairs for someone who is so depressed that they are paralyzed. There are no walkers to help you find the thoughts that got lost somewhere in the racing conversation of your brain.

Thankfully, we have doctors that are beginning to know how to help my family. This year, we were able to find some stuff that is finally helping. I got some antidepressants that help me feel like a real person again; I can actually get out of bed daily, smile when something’s funny, and I am  not having random crying sessions for seemingly no reason at all. Jeremy’s doctor and he have decided to go back to the medicine that worked for so long even though he got a rash from it. Hopefully they can increase it slow enough that no rash happens this time. He also found a chiropractor and nutrition doctor that is helping him do better to fuel his athletic pursuits. The current doctor for our youngest took Jeremy’s past into account and found a medicine that seems to be helping him feel like himself for the first time in 2 years.

This year, Jeremy learned that he can do so much more than his brain tells him that he can. He ran his first marathon in June. He did multiple half marathons, tons of 5ks, and Ragnar Great River. Jeremy participated in 3 triathlons, one duathlon, and hundreds of group fitness classes. He ran his second marathon at the Twin Cities Marathon in October. This year, Jeremy continued his weightloss from last year; at his lightest, he was 215. He’s learned that Lithium is not a med that will work for him. He learned by gaining 25 lbs on it and experiencing some pretty severe depression symptoms during his trial-and-error phase of his med change. He learned millions of hours worth of information about RVing, motorhomes, fulltiming, and heaters. His phone  has been stuck on YouTube videos for about 6 months. By the time we move in, he’ll be an expert at all things RV.

We learned to coexist in work and home life. We learned a little harmony in our life; we learned a little struggle. We learned that 1200 sq. ft. is just too much space for the two of us. We learned that we have WAY TOO MUCH STUFF!! We learned a little bit of Spanish by using the Duolingo app. We learned to lighten up and to relax some. We learned that we want to have a life, not just be alive.

We are looking forward to 2017. Both of us have some physical goals, financial goals, and household goals. Resolutions aren’t our thing, but we do review our goals regularly and today is as good as any day to do that. We hope that everyone has a safe New Year’s Eve. Stay warm and we’ll see you on the road.

Belated Christmas Tidings

Happy Holidays to all!

I realize that I’m a day late for those of you that celebrate Christmas, as I do. I figured that we have a whole season of holidays, thus there are lots of options to celebrate the season. Besides, no one knows exactly what date Jesus was born on and it was probably some time between April & August…. so it’s really just symbolic anyway.

We spent the weekend visiting our family. Jeremy’s parents hosted on Saturday. It is a nice, small family and was one short due to some mental health concerns with the youngest. We always enjoy a great meal, made better this year by some healthy sides and great steak cooking. Yum Yum. And the gifts are always fairly extravagant, or at least one person ends up speechless from emotion. We laugh, we joke, we catch up with everyone’s lives. It’s always a nice relaxing time together.

Afterward, there was a short lull before we took to the road toward southwest Wisconsin. That’s the region where my parents live and we wanted to make it before the rain started. Jake, our oldest, came with for the first time in years. It made it a pleasant drive and a great time to catch up with him.

We got to the homestead an hour or two before my mom told us to visit my dad’s father, who lives 2 miles away. We got there to a boisterous crowd of my uncles, grandparents, and family friends. Oyster stew, lefse, and cookies were served. We got to sit down with my grandma & grandpa who have been snow-birding for 25 years. It’s nice to pick someone’s brain about our future endeavors. It was a good homecoming.

On the way down, I was informed that my grandmother had been asking for me. She was diagnosed a few years ago with Alzheimer’s and has been struggling to remember family members for a while. Recently, she wasn’t feeling well and had to spend a little time in the hospital. So, first thing Sunday morning, my mom and I loaded up to go visit her in the hospital. My aunt was there with her husband and we all chatted a while about options after the hospital, as well as my Mexico trip. Check off seeing both of my dad’s parents for a Christmas visit.

Sunday at noon was my mom’s extended family’s Christmas celebration. They’ve started holding this get-together at a public community space just because there are so many people. This gives us enough space to decorate, have table space to eat, and let the kids run around without worrying about heirlooms being broken. Only one of us grandchildren was missing and there were 8 great-grandchildren present. There was ham, sweet potatoes, salad, cherry salad, tiramisu, and of course milk and coffee. The chaos was manageable and well managed by the hostess, my aunt Sharon. Pokeno was played and won as usual, gifts were uniquely distributed, and even a raffle made things interesting. Check off seeing both of my parents’ parents for the holiday. Double win!

Finally, on Christmas at 5pm, we started the festivities at my parents’ place. This is still a large group with 3 grown girls, all married, and all with children. The most fun part of the evening is always the meal. With 6 courses, each daughter takes 2 dishes to prepare this year and next. All other years, each daughter and husband gets to pick the courses. But, after 6 years, our parents get to pick for 2 years. This year, there were margaritas (and a supplement of brandy slush), shrimp cocktail, bakery made white and wheat bread, grandma’s apple pie, beef stroganoff, and waldorf salad. Delicious, every bite. Gifts were ripped into after dinner by the young grandchildren and the adults followed. Everyone got at least one thing that they loved. It was a warm, intimate time with much discussion, laughing, and reminiscing. We always miss this feeling inbetween our visits, but we realize that the distance is what makes these times special.

All in all, it was a successful Christmas for us. Please, feel free to share with us what your family does for the holidays? Do you go to any religious ceremonies? Do you celebrate solstice, Chanukah, or some other holiday? What traditions do you have that you feel are unique for your family?

Our crazy beautiful life- Part 2

I wasn’t kidding when I said that everyone in my family struggles with mental illness. My husband is the longest diagnosed and probably the most integral case in the family. He is diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder 1, Borderline Personality, Generalized Anxiety, and Intermittent Explosive Disorder. He is currently only on one medication for it, but he does take multiple supplements, as well as a blood pressure medication that may or may not affect the ability of his psych  meds to work. He also participates in almost weekly counseling and still tries to do some natural supports. For 5 years, he was unmedicated and trying to treat his illness with natural methods. In 2012, he agreed to go back on medication to help him be stable for our family. It has helped immensely. He’s gone from an angry, erratic man that we didn’t recognize to the husband and father the kids and I have always really needed. Thank God for medication and counseling.

I am diagnosed with minor depression and mild PTSD from some emotional abuse I’ve suffered. The PTSD was treated in my early to mid-20s through counseling, exposure therapy, and lucid dreaming. I have very few symptoms now, although I still deal with some of the anxieties brought on in my relationships because of it. My depression has been recurring since my mid-teens. I wasn’t treated at all for it until I sought treatment for my PTSD symptoms as well. For the depression, I was on an anti-depressant for 6 months then and I have recently started them again. I have spent the last 6 months just more sad than I should be; life is harder to function than it should be; I recognized that I needed a boost to my usual natural & lifestyle “treatments”. Usually, my depression would go away on its own with added vigilance in self-care along with nutrition and exercise changes. This time, it did not go away, so 3 months after it started, I started seeking medical care. I have been on Prozac (fluoxetine) for just over a month now. It is helping quite a lot.

Our oldest is not diagnosed with any mental illness. However, I have seen him struggle with anger and anxiety, as well as some impulse control issues. He’s 20 now, almost 21. He’s an adult, so we can’t really help him other than getting him the numbers for places he can get help. We can only help him as far as he’s willing to reach out himself. He has to make his own appointments; he has to get himself to the appointments. I hope at some point he is able to deal with the demons that haunt him.

Our youngest is in the midst of massive turmoil right now. He’ll be 16 in January. Just being at that age is hard enough for any of us. On top of that, he was diagnosed with many different illnesses; when he was 9, Tourette’s syndrome; generalized anxiety came a year or so later; ADHD and Emotional Dysregulation disorder came later in middle school; just in the last 6 months we have had to add Chemical dependency to the list. He is currently on multiple meds and placed in a residential treatment facility to try to stabilize his life and his medications. He’s a great young man and we’re all pulling for him to get through this time. We’re looking forward to what he can do once he has his treatment under control.

The whole family has dealt for years with Jeremy’s illnesses and the implications of what it brought to our lives. That is what we will primarily try to focus on in our blog when it comes to that part of our life. We have seen this illness from many different treatment perspectives and many different levels.

This tangle of diagnoses is not always bad. There are times that hypo-mania is a lot of fun and brings creativity and excitement to our lives. None of us can even begin to claim that there was any extended times of boredom. We have experienced a lot of things that other people never will experience because of those times. We are also a lot stronger than many other people because of dealing with mental illness. I have noticed that both of the boys are more empathetic toward others with disorders because they see what happens to people in these situations. Jeremy and I have grown extremely close as a couple because of how we need to lean on each other for support. We don’t just want to be around each other; we need each other to survive and we’re ok with that level of dependence. I am bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh. God could not have created a better life for us to share together.

First blog post

This is our very first post. Yay!! Most of the “me” and “I” discussion will be by Candy. If Jeremy takes over for an entry, we’ll make sure to make that clear.

We have been talking about doing a tiny house for about 3 years. Early in 2016, we decided we needed to get really serious about paying off our debt. The main thing taking income from us is our rent. Right now, we’re paying $850/month just for the place we stay. It’s beautiful and the perfect size if we still had a family life. The problem is that we don’t.

We never really have had a regular family life. Jeremy was married and divorced before I came along. In that first marriage, he was blessed with 2 boys. Those boys have now grown into young men. When I came along, they were 10 and 5. So, I’ve gotten to be a part of their life for half of it so far. Because of the blended family, our “regular family life” consisted for years of the boys going back and forth every other week. They’d stay with us one week, the next week with their mom. Thankfully, she lived in the same town for most of it, so they didn’t have to be driven for school or miss their friends. But we’ve always had an ever changing schedule of kids/no kids, sports/no sports, triple laundry/no laundry.

Our “regular family life” ended a few years ago. Jeremy’s oldest was out of school and getting ready to go on his own. The youngest was still at home and his mom wanted to move 20 miles away into her fiance’s house. Youngest had been having trouble with bullies and his grades. Everyone agreed that it might be good for him to move to a different school district. This also meant that the week-on/week-off schedule wasn’t going to work anymore. We switched the schedule to every other week and some extra in school breaks. Recently, his illness has created some turmoil in our lives that made it so he won’t be coming to our house at all for a while. We hope he’ll get to visit us in The Girl Next Door at some point, but probably will not be living with us in the motorhome.

That all being said, we no longer have a need for a second bedroom. We also don’t really need the living room or dining room. We own a massage business. To accommodate for our 1000 clients, we need to be at our office a LOT. So, during the week, we pretty much use the refrigerator, the toilet, and the bed. We even shower at the gym most of the time, so we don’t really need that much. Out of our 1400 sq. ft. townhouse, we probably only use a good 500 sq. ft. on a day to day basis and half of that is only because of the hall way and the empty space between our kitchen and bedroom. On top of rarely using it on weekdays, our weekends are crazy!! We are part of so many different social groups that we rarely stay at home on weekends. We visit my parents in Southwestern Wisconsin, we visit friends in the Greater Minneapolis Area, and we travel all over for races. We are almost never home on weekends.  So, the tiny house seemed FAR more within our reach.

To remedy that rent situation I discussed earlier, we decided to start looking into the tiny house a lot sooner than we had planned. Once we started looking, we realized that we might have the same exact problem on our hands. There were lots of draw backs. The cheapest tiny house we could find that we liked was $25,000!! And most banks won’t finance them as a home because they’re often built on wheels. Therefore, at a 5 year loan with a 5% interest rate, we’d be paying about $600 a month just for our “mortgage”. That didn’t find us a place to park it, which was another problem. Most RV parks and trailer parks don’t take tiny homes because they’re built as a house. Most residential areas have a specific type of house that needs to be on a property, which tiny houses usually don’t fall into the requirements. If we buy our own land, we pay another $300/month. We are then right back to where we don’t want to be with the payment.

In April, Jeremy came up with a solution: Isn’t an RV just a tiny house that’s already been built? It would take care of where to stay for races sometimes too! We started looking through some ads. Of course, we saw that many RVs run at a quarter of a million dollars or more and got a tad discouraged. It wasn’t long before we found out that the vintage models tend to go MUCH MUCH  cheaper. After a small inheritance from his grandma, we decided to start getting serious about an RV. So many to choose from. Class A, B, C, Travel trailer, 5th wheel, camper van, truck topper, converted busses, and other custom models…. and within those different classifications, there are thousands of floor plan layouts.

Oh my, we had our hands full looking, but we knew that it was what we wanted. This way, we don’t need to worry about building a custom model. We don’t need to find a plot if we don’t want to. We can really use it to travel when we desire. So, we picked a few floor plans and classifications that we liked and got busy. We checked out CrankyApe.com to see if an auction would have “the one”; we scoured Craigslist and Facebook sales sites; we even checked the paper. We knew that we had time, so we wanted to find the exact right place for us. My grandpa was even selling his 1999 Winnebago Grand Tour and we looked it over. It was slightly out of our price range and didn’t have quite the right layout for us, but it felt comfortable to sit and hang out in. In the end, it wasn’t for us. We knew we had time and wanted to get the one that fit in our budget AND in our hearts.

Then, one day, Jeremy found the perfect one on Craigslist. It was $2200, class A, no slide outs, and a floor plan we liked. She’s a 1990 Tiffin Allegro 30′ motorhome. We looked at it and instantly fell in love. Unfortunately, it wasn’t quite ready to drive away. The fuel pump had recently gone out on it while it sat without the previous owners’ knowledge. He was very gracious and replaced it for us before we could take it away. While we waited, we came up with names, got our cash in order, and prepared Jeremy’s parents for her to be parked in their yard for the winter.

3 weeks later, we went and picked up The Girl Next Door. She was a little rough around the edges when we picked her up. Little things here and there that need some fixing. But, she’s pretty, she’s homey, and she gets the job done. She’s not right for everyone, but The Girl Next Door is just right for us.

We are done with our lease on April 1 of this year. Before then, we will be going full time in the RV. We will stick around Wisconsin for now. We like our business and we want to be close to our friends and family. This little town has treated us really well so far. While we are around here, we have some little things to fix up on The Girl Next Door. We need to redo the caulking and trim; they’ve been weathered while she sat. She has a bump in her back bumper; we’ll probably try to fix that. Her exhaust pipe is rusting through. Her windshield is cracked and there’s a dent in her side. Little things here and there just need a fix and a straightening. However, she’s road worthy and she is livable. Starting sometime in March, home is where she goes.