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?

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.

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.

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.

There are lots of those weeks

I’ve always been pretty high functioning and this addition of coping skills and recovery strategies hid my depression even more. From that point forward when depression hit, I could usually get it to start to go away in a few weeks. I’d give up drinking, plan some outings to “catch up” with friends (that were really just counseling sessions for me), change my eating habits and my exercise habits. I also forced myself to maintain my routine, even if I didn’t feel like  it. I studied at certain times; I went out with friends on certain days; I went to all work that I was scheduled for; I made a few dates with my boyfriend and eventually husband. Eventually I would always snap out of it somehow after 2-4 weeks.

3 years ago, I couldn’t handle how my environment was affecting my depression. It was happening more and more often, for longer and longer periods of time. Being part of a blended family contributed; having a family with multiple people with mental illness contributed; being in the beginning stages of starting a business contributed; being unable to care for my dogs contributed. I sat down with my husband and had a ultimatum. Something had to give and it had to be our mental health. We had to focus on treating ourselves with more respect and preventing others from treating us without respect.

First, we started with counseling. He and I did couples counseling at least monthly at the time. I did individual counseling once a month; he did individual counseling every other week. So, there was one week a month that we didn’t have counseling. He also saw a psychiatrist about his bipolar disorder and got some pharmaceutical help. After 6 months, they found a med that worked for him. I got my boyfriend back and the boys got a father who was really able to parent. My depression was under control and out of mind for a good 2 years.

With no apparent new/unique stimulus, a mild bout of depression started for me in the beginning of June 2016. I followed the same procedure that I had before: the routine, the scheduling, the eating habits, the exercise. A month came and went, then 6 weeks, then 2 months. At 2 months, I told our counselor that I thought I should see a doctor. The depression was deepening. I was having a hard time getting up, I wasn’t exercising the way I should, I was having a really hard time eating well, and I really wanted to drink but it made things worse.

Realize that finding a psychiatrist and getting antidepressants isn’t as easy for us as some. We do not currently have any health insurance. We are in the strange situation of making too much money for state Medicaid, but all of the plans are way out of our price range even with a subsidy. I can’t go to my insurance website to see “who’s covered”.

I started with the county Behavioral Health clinic. They have a sliding scale that currently has us at $0 for all services each month. What’s the problem? Well, the waiting list is 187 people long; I was informed that it would take at least a year to get through that long of a list. Plus, they had just lost one of their doctors, so it would be even longer until the end more than likely.

Next option, the free health clinic. St. Croix & Pierce counties join forces for a free clinic. It is specifically for people in our situation. For whatever reason, you can’t get Badgercare (Medicaid) but you don’t have insurance or can’t afford your deductible/co-pays. It’s held on Tuesday nights on a triage basis. Meaning, if what you have is not severe enough, you might not be seen. But, you fill out paperwork then you wait for your number to be called. The earlier you get there, the more likely you are to be seen.

I was pretty lucky. The only other people there when we went were a family full of sick kids and a few return customers just trying to get their prescriptions filled. (By the way, anything prescribed at the clinic can be picked up there for free as well.) I saw a doctor after waiting only 35 minutes. We talked about my history of depression, what I had been on before, and what side effects had happened before. He decided that a different SSRI might be the ticket. Prozac (fluoxetine) became my only pharmaceutical daily.

I can tell you that it helped within a week. I feel like myself, although I still do have one or two very mild side effects that are easily controlled with diet and exercise. I’ve been on it now for almost 2 months. I still have not had a call from the Behavioral Health psychiatrist, but I think I’ll be able to tell them that a GP doctor was more than capable of treating my simple mild depression.

I take my medicine and a bunch of supplements every day first thing in the morning. I try to continue my routines, but end up sleeping a little too much if I drink even small numbers of alcoholic drinks, as I did one day this week. We continue to do counseling regularly; right now, we see our counselor every other week for couples and the other weeks for individual.

I still have some pretty major hormonal swings thanks to my PCOS (my ovaries don’t quite work as effectively as my body needs them to). This week, I spent a day or so in a bit of a fog; I felt a bit like a zombie; Jeremy was genuinely concerned for my mental state; the counselor even noted a strangeness. As my hormones have moved to the next stage of the month, I have begun to feel better. This is the nature of mental illness and hormonal imbalance: everything affects it and you can never truly know just by the feeling if it’s caused by your surroundings/nutrition/habits or if it’s a flare that needs some pharmaceutical intervention until you’ve sat with it, dissected it, and tried changing some of those situations.

Now, I move back into my usual life and our wonderfully crazy life goes on. We make doctor appointments, work, and force ourselves to face every day. So, stay safe, readers. We will see you on the road.

To the running part

It’s the time of year when the gyms are packed, diet plans sell like hot cakes, and Weight Watchers sees a membership increase of up to 5% according to the Wall Street Journal. We are not immune to the hype that happens this time of year.

Last year, I started getting rid of things. I had read the book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. I took 8 garbage bags full of clothing to a clothing swap and got rid of it all. I still have a dresser and closet WAY TOO FULL of clothing. I believe I’ll go through again and get rid of half of my clothes again.

Last year, Jeremy made his goals for physical wellness. He planned the year of his 40th birthday to reflect the number 40. He participated in the 40th Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth in June. He also did the Twin Cities Marathon in October. His year-long goal was to swim 40 miles, bike 400 miles, and run 400 miles. He annihilated all of his year-long goals! He ended up with a grand total of 67.8 miles swimming, 1419.5 miles running, and 1238.6 miles biking. He also lost 40 more lbs throughout the year to reach that lowest weight of 215. Physical fitness was really a big deal to him last year and will continue to be in the future.

One thing that we didn’t make goals for is our mental health. We both view this as a failure on our parts. We found throughout the year that our mental health is really what went awry. I fought with depression for 5 months before seeing my doctor for a medication. Our youngest had a lot of instability because of some other issues. Jeremy had some med changes that lead to some instability as well.

I won’t be neglecting my mental health this year. I’m realizing how extremely important it is with moving into our motorhome. I will need to be able to face myself in this space and we will need to be able to communicate and live together well.

Yet, not neglecting my mental health means also not neglecting my physical health. Jeremy has always said that he needs to run to get rid of the crazy. There’s something to be said for how endorphins effect the brain after physical exertion. Not only that, when you’re exhausted it is very hard to over think things or pick fights that don’t need to be picked. It helps reduce anxiety and gives you a quiet time to reflect on your strengths. It also pushes you to gain some accomplishments, which can help self-esteem. I’m hoping to force myself into all of these positives.

I have a mix of health goals for this year. I hope to do 2 mud races this year: the Spartan Sprint race in Chicago, IL June 10 and the Tough Mudder in Plymouth, WI on September 9th. To get ready, I need to get back to running regularly, lifting weights, doing the local par-course at least weekly, and fuel my body correctly. For my mental health, I have a few goals also. I want to participate in at least 1 yoga or BodyFlow class a week and I want to get a 90 min massage each month. Both of these goals will obviously help my physical health as well. I do believe that eating correctly will help my mental health as well. A final mental health goal that I haven’t partaken in for a while is that I’d like to start reading my Bible more regularly again. I find myself relying on video sermons and podcasts to feed me spiritually, but I really need to spend some alone time with God more often.

Now that it’s posted publicly, I’m less likely to miss these goals. No, these aren’t my only goals for the year. There are financial goals, relationship goals, and housing goals that I have. I’m sure they’ll all come up at some point. This entry is so that you know that you’re not alone in your quest for something different physically. Start where you’re at and find people to do it with you. Find someone to push you (they’re a little bit farther than you), someone who you can push (they’re right where you were or they’re just starting or they have longer to go than you), and someone right where you’re at now (you’re about the same speed, same weight, some stage of goals). With these three people, you won’t be able to sit on your butt all year the way I did in 2016.

Our Journey to Health and Wellness is a never-ending quest. It’s something you’ll hear about often from me. Health and Wellness isn’t about being perfect; it’s not about being skinny. This journey is about becoming the best people that we can be. There will always be something else we can work on; some other goal to reach. We are hoping to take you along on the ride. Stay safe and we will see you on the road.

P.S.- The latest news on the RV is that we got a Mr. Heater Big Buddy Heater and tried it out in The Girl Next Door today. It worked great!! The whole place was comfortably heated in about 45 minutes. After wiping down the surfaces to remove condensation, we just hung out for a good hour to get used to our space. We haven’t really tried the furnace yet, but we will make sure of that next. Now we know we can live at least warm enough not to get hypothermia, even if our furnace doesn’t work. We wanted to make sure that we have a few alternatives no matter what. Heat; check. One anxiety down; 75 more to go. Adios!

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.

A Mexican Nightmare… Finale

After Day one, things got better. In day 2, we went to see the doctor. My client got approved for the treatment that the doctor had first suggested. He even started treatment later that day.

Also, during day 2, we found a company that was willing to build a ramp for his wheelchair to be able to take some tours. This is a big accomplishment in Mexico. There are very very few people with wheelchairs there, much less people with power chairs. We were lucky to find a company with caring staff that built a ramp just for my client and took the middle seat out of their van so that we could go around San Miguel.

Day 3 we changed some money and got used to our surroundings. Day 4, my client got a double dose of treatment and we took a tour of the city. Our first stop was Atotonilco, a church with a rich history and great paintings on the ceiling. Our tour guide told us that it is considered the “Sistine chapel of Mexico”. It was beautiful. Then, off to a local high end artist market. There was nothing there for me, but my client got his wife a very nice necklace. While he shopped, our driver and I talked some. We got to know about each other’s families and life outside of this day.

After shopping, we returned to the hotel. My client got another treatment. Oh, did I mention that the doctor made “house calls” to our hotel? It was much easier than trying to treat my client in his office, as his office was on the upper level with no elevator. It was very nice of the doctor to be willing to do this. I know the concept of a doctor coming to your  house or hotel seems foreign in this day and age, but this doctor still does it.

I finally go to do some authentic shopping at a large market that evening while my client got a shave. It was an alley littered with vendors. Every ounce of extra space was taken up by booths filled with handmade and reproduced souvenirs and Mexican goods. Every vendor took USA dollars and would give change in pesos. About 75% spoke just a little English. It was nice to find a few things to bring home to my family and friends while trying out my Spanish.

Saturday, day 5, was probably the best day of the trip for me. My client was pretty tired from his week. He wanted to rest up for the next day, which was a travel day. While he rested, I got a spa treatment. For 155 minutes, I got a body scrub, a mud wrap, a facial, and a massage. I fell asleep half way through, which almost never happens. It was glorious. Thanks Norma for a great treatment. Afterward, I went to get some fried chicken for supper and hit another, smaller market. It was much more unique than the previous day. I found some great gifts to bring back, as well as some of San Miguel’s wonderful leather in some wallets and a bag.

All in all, I felt very at home in San Miguel. Leaving on Sunday was hard for me. For one, I knew that things would probably not go swimmingly on the flights. Second, I did not want to return to the -20 degrees of Wisconsin. Third and finally, I was really starting to feel like I was hitting my stride in touristing.

We left the hotel at 1pm. Thankfully, we got our sweet cab driver from the week to take us to the airport too. It was a leisurely drive that we stopped to get a melon on and enjoyed the scenery as we went. That was the best part of our return trip. Thanks, Freddy, for a great trip. If ever you get to San Miguel, look up San Miguel Magico tour company. They were more than accommodating and very helpful.

The airport was a mad house. The day previous, there had been a snowstorm in the Midwest USA. That meant that many of the flight crews were stranded there for extra days, which delayed everything. The Leon airport had multiple cancellations and every single flight was delayed. Yikes! On top of that, their baggage check area is the same as their customer service. As I said, madhouse. Our flight was delayed 2 hours, moved to a different gate, and renamed. We were just happy to be able to have a flight at all. But because of our delay, we missed our connecting flight by 30 minutes. Ugh. This time, we had to wait for them to bring the wheelchair to us behind immigration and customs before we could go to the hotel. It took over an hour for them to bring the wheelchair to us. At one point, they even LOST THE WHEELCHAIR!!!

For those of you that know me well, you know that I do not lose my temper often. In fact, I tend to be very very chill and patient. So much so that it is annoying to those around me. When they said they couldn’t find this chair, I lost my temper. Not just a little bit; my client was visibly a little scared of my new stance. This is not a manual chair that folds and can be stowed somewhere under something. This is a humongous 350 lb specialized piece of equipment. Eventually, they found that the staff from the tarmac had taken it to the domestic side, rather than the international side.

We got the chair back after going through immigration and customs, since they would be closing soon. Then, on to customer service again. They were swamped again, for the same reason that Mexico was. We waited. Once we were in customer service, we mentioned our horrible time last time with Houston airport. They gave us a special person to help us with our damage claim. Except there wasn’t really a damage claim. There was a number that lead to a confusing bit of badly worded explanations and no names of who to contact. We found that the number the supervisor had given us the week before was to the woman we were now talking with. This, along with updating the badly written damage claim, took a few more hours. By the time that we were done with all of this, it was 2:15 in the morning. We had to be back by 8 am to get ready for our 10 am flight. If we had decided to find a taxi with a wheelchair ramp or lift, then the hotel room we were supposed to go to, then transfer to the bed, then back up in the morning, find a taxi back; we would have maybe gotten 2 hours of sleep.

We decided to stay the night in the Houston airport. It was cold, it was uncomfortable, it was ridiculous. Every 30 minutes or so, I would wake with another idea of what could be done to gain back some dignity and care. I called about 10 numbers that night searching for information and help. I took a picture of my client in his wheelchair sleeping in the Houston airport. It shouldn’t be like this.

To top off my anger, at midnight it had become my 34th birthday. I was supposed to be home shortly after midnight. I wanted to sleep in my own bed. I wanted to be held by my husband. I wanted to wake up refreshed and enjoy my birthday.

A young girl traveling with her family was tired of being in airports. She didn’t speak English, so I told her in Spanish that it was my birthday. She felt bad for me and congratulated me on my birthday. Her mother and I spoke a little in broken Spanish and English. I told them to call me when they got as far as MSP. I’d love to see them again.

16 hours in an airport or on a plane on my birthday was not my idea of a great birthday. 1 hour of sleep did not make it a really fun day.  It absolutely could have been worse. I had my health, my client was not in danger, and my husband knew I wasn’t going to be home yet. While his anxiety was high, he also was able to understand that I was safe. It was an adventure that I came out of.

I came out of it with first class seats, some knowledge of how to get my client a possible refund on his seats, and knowing some helpful people in 2 states in the US and at Leon, MX BJX airport. Adventures like this don’t usually come easily. It’s the times that you roll with the punches that things become real adventures.

As we embark on our next adventure, I’m even more prepared to roll with it. So, if you get a chance, come visit where ever we are at. Good luck with your travels and we’ll see you on the road.

A Mexican Nightmare… Part 2

When your connection is missed, as ours was, most airlines will put you up in a hotel if it’s overnight before the next flight takes off for that destination. Remember with a wheelchair, you need to check ahead of time if it’s an accessible room.

So, here, we wait for the power chair to come back. That  means that tomorrow we go through all of that again. If we could have gone without it, we probably would have just to save the hassle.

Boy, were we glad that we made them get the chair. When they finally brought out the power wheelchair, there was a collective gasp from my client, myself, and the attendant that the airline had sent with us. The chair was folded out all the way flat. You could see spots where the cover was cracked and one of the controllers was missing.That left controller was, thankfully, for the tilt of the chair. On the main controller on the right is where the computer and driving options are stored. The supports for the armrests were lose and the headrest was extremely off center. Thankfully, the chair was still usable by the computer override.

The extensive damage brought out 4 levels of management to deal with it. While I was on the phone with our Mexican taxi company and our hotel for the week, my client spoke to the managers present. When I turned back around, there were Italian suits and placation vouchers all around. We each got $400 for future flights, a new voucher for a free cab ride, and informed that a technician would come to our hotel room to try to repair the controller. Our attendant was instructed to help us get all the way to our hotel room. So we stepped on the Houston subway to go to the Airport Marriot. It was a nice room and we were well taken care of there. After so much excitement, we went to bed fairly early.

The next morning, we woke early. We called the doctor in Mexico to inform him that we had flight issues and would be a day late. We called the number given to us the night before for a repair technician and got no answer. By the time we got done with the room, the breakfast was over, so we got a small coffee and some scones in the hotel coffee shop.

After going through the excitement of check-in and TSA again (we had already checked our bag the night before), we went straight to the gate. At the gate, we informed the gate attendant that we would need an aisle chair and we would need to talk to the baggage attendant that would be getting the wheelchair. They came up to the gateway and were given much better instructions. We made it so all they had to do was push the chair, no power necessary. Then the 3 hour flight to Leon.

In Leon, the Mexican airport dealt very well with helping us with immigration, customs, and getting the chair back. The chair was in the same shape when we got there as when we left. They brought it out quickly when we were ready to get it. Here’s the thing, though: Mexico is NOT a very accessible place.

The number one issue we had was that our prearranged cab ride was for the day before. And they weren’t here for the rearranged pickup on Tuesday. We got an email from them saying that, because of the “no-show” the night before, they wouldn’t be there at 4 today. So, I guess it turns out that my horrible grasp of the Spanish language really did leave us fairly stranded. The Airport transport gave us a “free” cab ride voucher and set us up with the AT supervisor… who had no idea what to do with us. Mexico being as inaccessible as it is, the AT did not have a van with a ramp or lift. After about an hour, he says, “I think I have something. 15 minutes” We wait and a full sized van pulls up. My client is transferred into the van seat with very little supports. The chair is rolled to the back of the van. 6 AT employees work together to lift the 350 lb power wheelchair into the back of the van. No one puts the brakes on the chair down.

2 miles down the road, my client and I realize that the chair is rolling around in the back. Time to try my Spanish again. I convinced the driver, who spoke no English, to stop quickly so that I could climb into the back and stop the chair from rolling. The rest of the ride went well for my client and I.

We arrived at the hotel at around 6pm. Between hotel staff and the van driver, we got the chair unloaded and finally checked in. The room was accessible, beautiful, warm, and best of all, had nice beds. Finally, “day one” was done…. a day and a half later. This is akin to what must have happened to the person who first said “The important part is not the destination, but the journey.” This journey is not yet over… you’ve only heard the beginning.

Check in tomorrow for the rest of the trip.

A Mexican Nightmare… An education

I talked in Part 1 about all of the preparation I did getting ready for a working vacation on a client’s medical travel. This is a first time for me. I’ve done 14 years of personal care work, but never had a client pay for me to travel like this before.

So, we left Monday, Dec 12 with high hopes of a good trip. Our cab came just a tiny bit late, but still got us to the airport 2 hours early. Our check-in at MSP went without a hitch. Checking our bag in was 5 minutes. TSA spent a total of 8 minutes on testing the wheelchair. There were almost no lines and we were even able to get a snack on the way to the gate.

Here’s where we need to go over the difference between travelling with a wheelchair and without one. Here is my experience without a wheelchair: You get to the airport 1 hour before take-off. Check-in takes a maximum of 5 minutes, bag check another 5-10 minutes, TSA maybe 10-15. If you’re running over on those, you’re totally able to run down the stairs, up the escalator, and through crowds to get to the gate, where they will be loading by this time. You board just by handing your boarding pass to the gate attendant and you find your assigned seat. You have no need for anything extra beyond a seat and a spot for your carry-on. Total time from curb to boarded: 42 minutes.

Now, add a wheelchair: First off, the preparation is so much more. Before you buy your tickets, it is prudent to call ahead to the airline and see what size of aircraft is right for your needs. Wheelchairs, especially power wheelchairs, often take up more space and need extra support from staff to get the client on and off the plane. So, you spend an hour on the phone with the customer service of your chosen airline. If you “shop around”, you need to do this more than once. You also should find an assistant to come with you to help carry bags and direct the airport staff as to your needs. You’ll be tired, you don’t want to do this yourself. Then, you need to get to the airport at least 2 hours early. Here’s why- Check-in takes 5 minutes, as usual, with one extra click and double checking that there’s some special accomodations. Bag check takes 10 minutes easily because you have to explain to the check counter that you also have a power wheelchair and ask them to call ahead to make sure there’s an aisle wheelchair available. TSA usually takes between 20-40 minutes, depending on how your prep went. Sometimes, you can do TSA Pre check, so that helps cut down on time. If you have dry cell batteries (which many modern wheelchair companies are going to) or you have a manual chair, you cut down the time a little too. But, TSA needs to wipe every surface of the chair with a small tab that tells them if there’s explosive or drug residue on the chair. They also need to pat down the inhabitant because they’re unable to see any bulges that may exist. After TSA, let’s say you need the bathroom. You need to wait an extra 5 minutes for the special stall. Not only that, if there’s stairs, escalators, or crowds, you’re going to take double time to get to where you’re going. Elevators are notoriously slow; picking your way through a crowded terminal can be even worse when people’s eye level is above your head. By the time you get to the gate, you hope that it’s still before they start boarding. You have to pick your way right up to the gate attendant and warn them that you’ll need an aisle chair. Often, no one was informed of this, even though you’ve taken proper precautions. They call for customer service to send down an attendant and an aisle chair. You wait until the gate is opened and are the first person boarded. Hopefully, when you got your seats, you thought to put your assistant next to you. If not, you’ll have to discuss that with the gate agent also. First, you roll to the end of the gateway where the aisle chair and attendant are waiting. You are transferred into the aisle chair. Your assistant informs the baggage supervisor in attendance about how to move the chair. Your assistant also sets the chair up for travel, often having to lay the chair out flat, unhook controls, or remove pieces that may fall off or get damaged during transport. (Think doubling your carry-on) The baggage crew takes your chair while you pray that they were really listening and pass on the information. You are rolled into the plane by no less than 2 attendants, plus your assistant. The three of them coordinate moving you to a seat depending on where your seat is. We recommend an aisle seat; there’s less moving to get to that one. They take away the aisle chair. VERY OFTEN, your flight will be delayed because of maintenance. Do not be fooled; this is often because someone is trying to move your chair and have no idea what they’re doing. Ok, you finally leave and everyone’s boarded and ready to go. Time from curb to boarded: 156 minutes (2hours, 36 minutes).

Now, you guessed it, you’re only on the plane. Most people just debark and you’re done once you land; 5 minutes. Nope, not when travelling with a power wheelchair. You have to wait until every other person has gotten their stuff and gotten off of the plain. The flight crew has to call ahead and warn the destination that you need an aisle chair and an attendant for help. You wait for them. They get there and you reverse the process. If you have a connecting flight, it is my opinion that you should leave at least 4 hours between flights. Yes, you may be sitting for 3 hours if EVERYTHING goes correctly. But, you are much much less likely to miss that connection. Less than an hour for connecting with a wheelchair is just tempting fate. Hell, 2 hours even tempts it a little. Get ready to tempt fate over and over again if you’re travelling with a wheelchair.

This last week, we dealt with all of these and more issues with our travel. Next, I’ll tell you all about these great adventures in purgatory.