"There's a bit of magic in everything, and some loss to even things out." -Lou Reed

Thursday, December 24, 2015

How I Wish I Could Have Met You

I try to encourage my husband Shea to write more often, because he is a gifted writer, especially involving matters of the heart.

When we first started dating, one of the things I loved most about Shea was the compassion and love that was so apparent when he talked about his grandmother, and how he repeatedly said he wished she could have met me.

He also repeatedly talked about the pain and regret he had over not being able to speak at her funeral, for reasons he and I and few others know. But even though it hurts me knowing he didn't get to give the eulogy in person--because he wanted to so badly--here it is now. His love for her shines through. I know I would have loved her, too. 

You can see the post on his blog here, or read it in its entirety below:

Dear Grandmother

I have been honored to deliver eulogies at the funerals for several close relatives, including my maternal grandfather and my paternal grandmother.  My dad's father passed away several years before I was born, and for reasons I won't get into, I did not speak at my Grandmother Canupp's funeral. 

I have regretted it ever since.  I am sorry these words are eight years late.

Dear Grandmother,

I miss you so much every day, but I miss you most at Christmas time.  Especially Christmas Eve.  Christmas Eve was always our day.  Our entire family gathered at your house for our annual celebration.  But luckily I grew up within walking distance of your house, so I was always the first to arrive (and the last to leave.)  I just loved every part of that day with you and granddaddy, and I wanted it to last as long as possible.

I loved helping granddaddy bring in wood for the fire we would build, or serving as your unofficial food taster, or as I got older, driving to the store for last minute purchases.  I treasure the memories of the planning of those days as much as the actual parties.

There was one unplanned tradition that dominated my childhood.  I would get so excited about Christmas and food and presents, that I would literally throw up at some point during our Christmas Eve party.  This happened every year.  Until I was 11 or 12 (In an effort to stop the embarrassment, I finally decided to avoid food for 24 hours before the party.  I wound up passing out and falling down a flight of stairs.  But, next play, as they say.  Keep pounding.)

The rest of the family would always make sure I was OK and then (rightfully) enjoy a few laughs at my expense.  But grandmother, you always knew the right thing to say to make me feel better: "Santa Claus is coming. I don't know why everybody isn't throwing up."

Christmas was and remains my favorite time of year, but the truth is, every day was special with you grandmother.  I was lucky that I got to see you almost every day growing up.  I don't know how I was able to stay so skinny as a child, because a lot of days I had two dinners- at our house and yours.

In fact, everyone who knew you grandmother, will remember just hard it was to leave your house without eating or at the very least taking a plate for the road. It was next to impossible, whether you were hungry or not.  It almost became like a battle of wills.  But grandmother, you were going to win. Actually, everybody won.

Everybody thinks their grandmother is the best cook in the world.  But they are wrong.  Because you were, grandmother.  From the dressing at Thanksgiving and Christmas, to the biscuits that were made from scratch virtually every day and so much more.  And it was all delicious.  (I have to admit that fried squash was not my favorite, but yours was better than any other I've ever had.)

And grandmother, you were responsible for the single best meal I ever had: country fried steak after my high school graduation.  I can still remember being in your kitchen that night, thinking this was as good as it gets.

But grandmother, any time spent with you was automatically more special.  Our family vacations at the beach were always fun, but were off the charts when and you and granddaddy were there.  My favorite little league games were when I saw you in the crowd.  And I am so, so thankful that you and "Ma" Griffin were both able to be in Boone when I received my college diploma.

Everybody who knew you knew how much you loved the Lord.  It was powerful, and it was genuine.  And I have never known a better example of what a true Christian should be than you and granddaddy.

My favorite days in church were when I sat beside you and granddaddy.  (Actually, my very favorite days were when I sat beside you while granddaddy delivered a sermon.)  I remember you always had the little peppermint hard candies in your purse.  We would try to unwrap them as quietly as possible, then try not to laugh when we would inadvertently make too much noise.

I worked for nearly 20 years as a sports broadcaster and, whether you realize it or not, you and granddaddy had a profound influence on my career path.  Granddaddy was the biggest baseball fan I ever knew and I loved to watch games with him.  I spent nearly every Monday night of the summer at your house watching "Monday Night Baseball" (back when baseball on TV was a true event).  I also read the sports page at your house nearly every day, and you gave me my first subscription to "Sports Illustrated".

I'm sure you thought that, if anything, I could possibly write about sports some day.  I am certain that the thought of that quiet, shy kid talking about sports for a living never entered your mind.  But I loved seeing the videos of you "watching" me on the radio.  I always knew that you were proud of me.  I hope you know how much you inspired me.

There are so many more memories that spring to mind when I think of you, grandmother.  All good.  All special.  Just like you.

But you gave me my most special Christmas memory of all time, at your last Christmas on this Earth in 2007.  Alzheimer's had ravaged your memory, and I wasn't sure if you had recognized me for quite some time.  But when I walked into the nursing home to see you that day, you lit up and said "Shea Boy", the name you called me as a child.  It's a moment that still give me chills.

This Christmas Eve, as has been the case for the last few years, finds Kim and me 3,000 miles away from most of our friends and family.  I really wish you could have known Kim, grandmother.  I think the two of you would have been thick as thieves.  She had this photo of you and granddaddy printed on a canvas and framed and gave it to me for Christmas several years ago.

I just hope you knew how much I truly loved you. And still love you. Always. Merry Christmas.

Actually, Merry Christmas Eve.

by Shea Griffin 12/24/2015 


Thursday, November 19, 2015

Time of Year

Some years it sneaks up on me, at others times I can feel it coming. From about mid-September until mid-January, I struggle. In the strange irony that supposedly makes life interesting, this is also my most favorite time of the year, my favorite season, by far.

I love fall the most, when the air gets cooler, and unfortunately just when all of "this" starts to set in, and on the years I forget it's coming, or when a few more weeks have passed before whatever this is “hits”, it breaks my heart all over again that I can’t just get past whatever is hard-wired in me to drop a little lower this time of year.

It’s the only way I know to explain it. I think people that have had relatively "normal” lives, (I use the word normal with caution here- it’s hard to define what is normal, so just bear with me) with no severe depression or anxiety, with no trauma--or timing tied to that trauma-- who didn’t experience abuse or severe dysfunction-- well, there's a certain base level in life that they walk along, their pathway if you will, with some hills and valleys, but nothing that consistently sets them reeling that is tied so close to the earlier suffering.

For the rest of us, the category I find myself in, I don’t really know what to call it—but that “level” I tread on is a bit lower. It’s closer to more pain, more associations with trauma and traumatic events, and memories that won’t erase or ease, no matter how much therapy or time I throw at them. It’s where I reside, and I understand that it also makes me who I am, and there are things about that level I am grateful for—deeper compassion, understanding those who suffer similarly, and just an overall awareness of my tenuous place in the world.

So, there I am walking on this lower line, and the thing is, that’s during the rest of the year—spring and summer. That is my “normal” line or level, lower than some others—but it’s there. And it’s fragile. And I know that.

Then, as in the past, let life throw in a curve ball like getting laid off from a job, severe financial stress, the loss of a love, experiencing an abusive relationship, or just re-hashing family pain to the point of insanity, and there’s a crack that gets bigger and bigger on that level, until I fall through. How big the curve ball, how close it is to past pain, defines the width of the crack, and I can either (barely) hang on to the edges and climb out, or slip through and fall. And fall. How low, how deep I fall before I try and catch myself is key--and it varies. 

There have, at times, been moments when it felt better to fall and fall, rather than to try and catch myself, grasping  on to dirt and rock that gave way constantly, knowing then that I would just have to fight with every ounce of strength to climb and cry and struggle to get back to my semi-normal level. But I have done it. More than once. Not without scars. And certainly not without help.

This year, the crack came fast and opened up and swallowed me quickly. It wasn’t some obvious curveball this time. It was a combination of things where I kept nodding and saying “I am ok”, until there was no more “I am ok” left. My lower level gave way. That overpowering feeling hit me--hard. I am tired of this. I am tired of feeling exhausted, overwhelmed, and dealing with not ever feeling like I have had what I would have deemed a normal life one day-- looking ahead through ten-year-old eyes.

I am finally smart enough now to know that when that crack opens, I need to call for someone with a good, strong, ladder to send down to me in that dark place and help me climb out a little easier. I called a therapist. I found her randomly on my insurance website, and hoped that I would get lucky. Sometimes it takes a few tries to find the right person who fits and “gets” you and what will help. I told her I was trying to be proactive before things got worse. I called just to make the appointment and I told her I was terrified I was going to slip back into a massive depression as I had before. I told her I was scared to come because somehow, it would throw me further down the black hole.I told her I was talking to friends, and my husband, maybe that would be enough. I even tried to call back and cancel.

She was having none of that. She gently pushed me to keep the first appointment. And boy, did I ever get lucky. This woman is the most perfect therapist I could wish on any human.

She listened for a few sessions as I lamented that I didn’t understand why I was falling through the crack again, why I couldn’t just be a normal person and get through things without feeling this way. I have love in my life, I have my husband, I have a house-full of rescue animals that are an incredible comfort, I have these good things--I have a childhood friend who checks on me constantly when I am like this. Why isn't it enough? I cried a good bit. She helped me catch my breath.

After a few sessions, she reminded me that I lost Lucy last year at this time in a very traumatic way—and that I had to quickly press on with everything else, while not necessarily having the time to grieve for what happened and the horrible way it all took place. Anniversaries are hard, no matter how tough you are, and I am approaching that one.

She listened as I told her that I lost a friend of decades recently—only a few months ago. He was always one of my closest friends, I considered him (and others in his family) within the small circle of people I trusted-- one of my safe places. And then, with great pain, I discovered that to him, I had all along really been (along with a line of other women) nothing but an odd person to have in reserve for ego boosts to draw from when he felt inadequate in his life. Several times recently, he tried to overstep with me (with confidence behind a virtual screen)—completely disregarding my marriage and his, and making me feel used, sad, and foolish for believing he had always been a close friend. It hurt both me and my husband, and I ended all communication with him. I didn't know how to handle the situation. The realization of the truth of this friendship--or lack thereof--made me doubt my value as a friend--and a person. I feel so insecure about the few truly close friends I have, and losing one that I trusted was devastating. (another situation over the last few weeks that I kept telling myself “I was ok” about).

We talked about how recent layoffs at my job have left me covering extra duties, when I already work so many hours. I told her how overwhelmed I feel at times when I can’t be on top of everything at work the way I like to be---and how that can feel like failing—when somewhere in me, I know it’s not.

She reminded me that even though I am no longer alone for the holidays, that I was for many years and it was so painful, and that paying some type of homage to surviving those times was going to always linger with me. As I told her stories of painful moments from so long ago—from childhood and in college that very few people know—that I write off as just my family history-- she listened.

During one story, she got a look of horror on her face as I shared a particularly difficult Christmas eve episode—and she told me I wasn’t grasping how strong I was to have faced all of this, survived it all—and found the strength to reach out for help. That anyone in my situation would need help to navigate all of this loss and pressure. That I was strong, not weak—which is how I always feel when I reach out. Why do I do this--even knowing the value of therapy and how it has helped save me before? Why do any of us? Why do I think I have to have superpowers in the face of a lot of things going wrong, or just too much to handle all at once?

She is helping me re-define that. The strength in reaching out. No matter how much I preach it to others on social media, or in one-on-one conversations with others who are struggling, I see myself as weak for needing help. 

So many of us do. We think we are more flawed, more unworthy, more wrong about things if we ask for help. We are not. Life is hard. There is love and joy and beauty and friendships, and surprise moments that make the ride worthwhile, but it is hard. For all of us.

Today I left my session feeling so empowered, that I could take on everything in front of me, including these ghostly memories, these haunting associations, these struggles, pain, losses, and just my exhaustion, and crawl back up to my “normal” level a little faster.

This therapist of mine...she is wonderful. She has a beautiful, long ladder, and as she lowers it down to me, under my breath, I thank her as I climb every single rung to the top.

There is breathtakingly beautiful art throughout this post. All of  the black and white gorgeous pieces can be found on etsy in The BlackraptorArt's Shop- Unique black and white art by Joonas Ennala.

The beautiful angel kitty photo is by Krista May and more of her work can be found in her etsy shop

And finally, the ladder image, named (appropriately) Above All Odds, is by the artist Daniella Fishburne. More of her beautiful work can be found in her etsy shop.


Thursday, November 12, 2015

Back to Me

Take the pain from my heart this night-
Let it be swept into the undercurrent that frightens me.
Bring it to the surface clean, another beginning--back to me...
Allowing me to forget the hours and time before.

Take this ache from my being-
In unnamed places, grief in flashes, that won’t solve mysteries;
The somber cloud that promised never to come--back to me...
Yet slithered through the inky black cracks of night to find me.

Return the things I gave away-
Too easily, too cheaply, at such a high cost.
Then, their honest value could never be returned--back to me…
Not in any way that resembled my true worth.

Lead me back to an unknown winter-
Snow so deep, the air so silent--small flakes dancing;
Promising the beauty in my beating heart--would always be mine…
No need to come back to me; just safe and warm in my unbroken soul.



Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Two Years with Boone

At two years old, Boone is the baby of the family. At 110 pounds, and several inches taller than Bear, he is also our biggest baby. We could have never guessed the joy and laughter he would bring into our lives when I first saw his picture on a local rescue site.

While he is the baby, he has matured a lot in the past year especially. He now bounds up to people at the dog park happily, and accepts their attention and praise so easily—something that has been a struggle at times. He is still reluctant with other dogs, he gets skittish when excited pups run up to him to play. But every time we go, he is a little braver, a little more curious. I never tire watching the magic of rescue and love that work together to make a dog’s life so much better, every day.

Someone recently commented on a picture of Boone that I posted on Facebook: He is such a lucky boy. My immediate thought and response was, WE are the lucky ones. Boone is so loving, so sweet, just a perfect dog. I have never seen an animal so happy all the time. Boone is rarely without a smile, and he bounds through the house, absolutely grateful for every treat, every bit of attention, every time we come home from a trip to the grocery store, every snuggle with his brother Bear—just every single moment.

He also loves to watch television. Bear at times has watched a particular commercial, or might see something that caught his attention for a few seconds at most. In comparison, Boone is a couch potato. He especially loves anything animated—and if there are dogs on TV, whether in a commercial or on a show, he freezes and his attention is completely diverted to the screen. At times, he will cry out and run to the screen with such sweetness—wanting to play with the dog on the screen- that I have to get up and hug him right on the spot.

Boone’s only challenge is spacial awareness—as we like to call it. When Boone runs up to one of us, that usually means running into us. He tears through the house, taking a flying leap to land on our king sized bed, without any consideration that there are bodies under the blankets. He will flop down right on my chest and lick my face happily, while I laugh and groan with the weight of him at the same time. It is impossible to be upset with him, his smile is so constant.

Since he was a puppy, Boone has swatted at us with his paws, usually trying to grab on to us in one way or another. It is a way of showing affection for him, although his huge paws are a little more painful than his puppy paws were. Shea and Boone share the sweetest little ritual. Boone will sit in front of Shea, and Shea will say, I love you and hold out his arms. Boone will respond by sitting on his back legs and putting his paws in Shea’s arms. I like to think Boone is trying to hug us.

I often call Boone our “sunshine boy” because he is a burst of happiness every morning. He sleeps on the bed with us sometimes, but most of the time he sleeps on his doggie bed next to Shea’s side of the bed on the floor. Once a little bit of light comes through the window, I know that Boone’s head will pop up as he stands on his hind legs and starts swatting at Shea, covering him in kisses before he is fully awake. I am not a morning person in the least, but Boone’s happy morning greeting makes me smile every single day, and definitely starts my day on a good note.

He is also the most sensitive of all of our animals. When he dissects stuffed animals at lightning speed, and we hear him chewing on a squeaker he just removed, we rush to get it to keep him from choking or ingesting plastic pieces. Even though we talk sweetly to him while we take it, after returning from the trash can, Boone will inevitably be pouting, his ears back, and his head down. It only takes a few seconds to get him smiling again, but his feelings are easily hurt. I love that sweetness about him, though. There is a certain baby-ness about him in that respect that I hope he never loses.

Boone has learned so much from his big brother Bear, and it has been so good for both of them to have a sibling and a co-conspirator in backyard chases, and barking at squirrels on the roof. Whether he learned it from Bear, or just had a stubborn streak of his own, Boone can hold his ground at times to an exhausting level. His favorite stubborn moments are demanding to go outside (when he just came in five minutes ago). Although we may protest and get him to lay down for a few seconds, he is up, barking and stomping his front paws—and smiling—until we give in. He knows we will cave.

His other hilarious show of stubbornness involves coming in from outside (a little less hilarious at 2:00am). Both dogs will go outside and Bear comes back fairly quickly, barking to be let in immediately. The up and down of opening the back door to our fenced in back yard can be a little tiresome, so we try to get Boone in at the same time. He will stand or sit in the yard and stare at us as we call his name. But, if we say the word “treat”, he dashes in. He has us trained very well.

Bear and Boone have always been so sweet with each other. They have their moments of struggling to share toys and they worry if they are getting an equal number of treats (they are), but Boone has been good for Bear, and Bear has been so, so good for Boone.

I say all the time that Boone is the biggest love on four legs. He is. He is also funny, sweet, emotional, and just pure joy. He makes us laugh on days when it seems impossible to smile. He and Bear both share nursing duties when I am fighting one of my frequent migraines. He is an absolute ham, and knows how to work his cute face to get just about anything he wants. He is another love of our lives, a furry, smart, endearing, adorable creature that has a huge part of our hearts.

As he snores next to us tonight after two days of celebrating two years with us, I am so thankful for chance, fate, coincidence—whatever it is that brought Boone into our lives. I am so thankful that we were a part of rescuing him, that we are the ones who get to love and spoil him.

Happy 2nd birthday sweet Boone--we are the lucky ones.


Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Tangled Web

I couldn’t put my finger on why I was upset. It was just another phone call to soothe my mother’s nerves. But, my father had answered. His tone was upbeat, and he shared that he was excited about buying a new bicycle. He is 74, and is in better shape and spirit than most people twenty years younger. He tells me he has signed up for a 10-mile bike trek and sightseeing adventure along the Gulf Coast. It’s just his voice—there is something pleading in it. He is trying.

Over a lifetime of calls with him, the effort has been lacking. The calls ranged from the normal quick calls back and forth when I lived at home, apprising him or my mother of my whereabouts, to violent, angry calls, filling me in on all of my flaws, lashing out at the latest disappointment he had been dealt in life, courtesy of me, his youngest daughter. There really was no in between, except perhaps, for the years that he wouldn’t come to the phone if I called, even if I pleaded. Sometimes he would answer, and knowing it was me, he would pick up the phone without a word and slam it on the nearest table our counter. He would call to my mother, saying “It’s her,” in a tone that let me know he couldn’t muster the energy to say my name.

This latest version of our calls is harder to understand. While we don’t talk about anything that happened over the years, there is something there in his voice, asking me to connect. Is this his version of an apology? My emotional response is one I recognize—guilt. I feel guilty for not giving more, for not just coming out and telling him I hear this in his voice, that it’s all ok. I am angry and confused that I somehow still feel guilty, that the repetition of the calls over the years has left me this way. No matter what our calls were about over the years, I ended up hanging up the phone and feeling awful. More often than not, I ended up sobbing. I don’t know how to react or feel any other way. After I talk to my father, my knee- jerk reaction is to examine what I am doing wrong, what is wrong with me

That has never been a challenge.

The voice I hear in my head is his. Second-guessing every single decision I make in life, constantly putting myself down, thinking the worst. I have to battle to hear the faint whisper of my own voice, trying in vain to protect me. Years of therapy finally helped me adjust the volume so that on my best days, I hear my own voice clearly. But try as I might, I can’t mute his completely. It will always be an echo, or a drumbeat, and at times it still thunders so loud that it takes all of my energy to drown it out.

To keep myself from becoming lost yet again in guilt and worry, I make myself remember everything over the years that has gotten me to this point. I cannot connect any deeper with him because of all of those things--very real things--that my mother and father both choose to place in their world of denial. Drudging all of that up is necessary, but it takes its own toll. Being raised in a family that chooses to not only deny the truth, but bury and forget it altogether, can make you feel the need to return again and again to your memories, to ensure that you, too, don’t get lost and buried.

There’s a nagging tug in hearing his voice age and my mother’s become more frail. I watch as friends lose their parents and I debate in my head if I am doing what I should. I stare down a rabbit hole that I have fallen into many times, too deeply—worrying more about my mother’s or father’s happiness than my own. I stare long and hard, and make myself back away. It is not a simple decision, it is a battle. I think it will always be.

Even though it is hard, I have kept communication with them. Most of this I have done for my mother, who needs the connection with me. I love her, and I know that nothing that has happened was intentional on either of their parts. My mother did not set out to marry an alcoholic, unfaithful man. My father did not set out to be a bad husband or father. But they both made choices that impacted my life and theirs. Those choices paved the way for a very painful life for me, and incredibly poor self-esteem. Each time I go through these feelings of guilt, I have to connect to a particular memory to remind me why I have to keep my distance and take care of myself.

The one this week that helped was fairly recent, back in 2009, when I was living in Charlotte and working for a women’s magazine. I had just gotten back on my feet after a really horrible time with deep depression, that had me still shaky at times. My mother and father were driving through town, back to their home in Florida. Charlotte was merely going to be a pit stop, to see me. My father’s birthday was coming up, so I had put together a gift for him, trying hard to do something nice. It took me hours just to pick the wrapping paper. We were to meet for breakfast, near my office, so I could go into work right after.

I got there early, not wanting to disappoint anyone. Soon after I arrived, my father called my cell phone, obviously angry, demanding directions. His anger, as always, panicked me, and I scrambled to think of street names and exits off the interstate. He wasn’t clearly explaining where he was, and was cursing –every other word was “fuck” or “shit”. I was sitting at a table in an Einstein’s Bagel’s restaurant, breathing heavily, trying to calm my father down, and figure out where he was and how to get him to my location. After ten minutes of back and forth, he angrily growled that I “didn’t know fucking anything, and had ruined every fucking thing…just like always”. The line went dead. I hadn’t looked up from my table during the call, and realized that people were staring. I was still breathing hard, and somehow didn’t realize I was crying. A woman next to me reached over from her table and put her hand on my arm. As is my usual response, I apologized. She looked me square in the eyes and said, “Please stop. Stop apologizing.” I just shook my head, for a minute back to being five years old and in my father’s shadow. “I could hear every word he was saying,” she continued, “stop. You aren’t the one in the wrong.”

I managed to thank her and then got into my car and fell to pieces. Somehow, I was able to walk into my office 30 minutes later and no one was the wiser. I have had a lifetime of experience in covering my emotions.

This, in comparison to many other incidents with my father, was minor. This was nothing but words. I remember telling myself that on that morning, over and over. Nothing but words, nothing but words. But words have meaning. I believed he meant it when he said I ruined every fucking thing—always. Hearing things like that your whole life makes an impact. I still have to remind myself—daily—that I am not someone who ruins things. I am someone of worth.

It took me 38 years to begin to speak out loud and really begin to tackle my depression and the reality behind it. I slipped during the process and barely regained my footing. More than anything during all of the therapy, the tears, the hard conversations, and reliving things too painful to endure once--much less countless times in my therapists office--the thing I gained that is most valuable is the realization that I had to save myself. Actions I was taking, that I thought were the choices that made me a good person--a good daughter, were actually weighing me down more and more, and eventually pulling me under. The people around me, who were supposed to love me unconditionally, who I should have been able to rely on no matter what, were actually helping me drown.

I almost did drown. It was a very close call.

There are moments today when I feel the weight, I feel the water rushing over me. After a lifetime of fighting this, of battling constantly to feel better about myself, to hear and trust MY voice, I sometimes feel exhausted. I want to just settle in and let it all go. Just let the water take me.

Then I remember how far I have come, and that once I saved myself not too many years ago, I came out of the water, gasping and barely alive, but I made it. I survived. It was a long, hard fight, but I did it. So many beautiful things came after—that wouldn’t have unless I had freed myself to allow them.

Unfortunately, guilt still lingers and my heart still questions things. I have to go through this process—even after a simple 5 minute phone call-- to remind myself what it takes to be free, and how much I can invest before it’s too much. It’s still a hard long process, but it is worth it.

I am worth it.


Friday, March 27, 2015

Six Years with Bear

I am terribly behind in writing this post. Months behind. I made excuses, and some were valid. We lost our cat Lucy near Christmastime, and the weeks after that were difficult. There were added stressors, and other things that seemed to get in the way. 

But, every year, I have looked so forward to writing this post and sharing my memories of sweet Bear. I realized finally that my hesitation is rooted a little bit in fear. Time is passing so fast. Bear is six. How can that be? For some reason, this year is hard. Passing the five year mark, he is less of a baby, and at times, I can see it. His once cast iron stomach, which was affected by absolutely nothing he ate—from lipstick to light bulbs—now gets queasy and upset from overdoing it with treats. His boundless energy, which I used to beg for a break from—is now a thing of the past. He has spurts of it—definitely—but prefers napping and sleeping in on lazy Sunday mornings. He’s had a few aches and pains, too, back strains that left him unable to jump on the bed for a few days (which had me sleeping with him on the floor) and a few hurt paws and leg strains that made him limp for a few days.

He is actually healthy and in great shape, the vet assures me, as I worriedly take him in for every little concern. He is just getting older. He is not even “old” at this point. It is just hard to watch the transition.

Bear is more than a dog, more than a companion. He is one of the loves of my life, and I say this without doubt or hesitation. A part of my heart will always be his. He found me (and I believe that in some cosmic way he did find me) at the very lowest point of my life. Even then, I didn’t realize that’s where I was. But he came to me then, and was the only heartbeat strong enough to pull me completely out of that pit I was in. There is a magical connection between us, I can’t fully explain it, and I don’t expect others to accept or comprehend it. I am so grateful to him, for loving me, and teaching me to love and laugh again.

This bond with us was unfortunately formed at a time when I was deeply depressed, and now Bear has a sixth sense with me of when I am drifting towards that abyss. There is a knowing look in his eyes that both comforts and scares me a bit. How can he know? How can he know when no one else does? He pulls a little closer to me in those moments and stares and at me long and lovingly. I am here—he seems to say. I feel it.

The best example of this is a recent moment in my life that I will never, as long as I live, ever forget. My husband was there to see it, and I am so thankful that someone else saw how special it was.

It was Saturday, December 13, 2014. My husband and I had just come home from letting our cat Lucy go, having her put to sleep, after a traumatic ordeal. Just minutes before we walked in the house, I had cradled my cat of 14 years in my arms for the last time and felt all the guilt of the world rush over me. The moment was bigger than that; I felt I had failed in one of the few things I could rely on knowing how to do—taking care of these fur babies. I came into the house and although Bear and Boone were doing their usual wiggly, happy, welcome dance, I couldn’t engage. 

I tried to make it to my bedroom in the back of the house, and couldn’t. I made it as far as the guest bedroom and collapsed on the bed, lying on my side facing the wall, sobbing in a way that I haven’t in years. Boone came in the room, utterly confused, jumped on the bed and back off. At first, Shea didn’t realize where I went and was looking for me. In the meantime, Bear came slowly into the room. He carefully got on the bed just as Shea entered the room and sat behind me on the bed. Bear crept slowly to me, and began licking the tears from my face. He then carefully laid down next to me and slid his two front paws under my head and neck, something he has never done before. Then, he put his head between my head and shoulders and pulled me close. Shea actually gasped. He said Bear had the most human expression, that he shut his eyes tight as he pulled me close. I sobbed into Bear’s chest for a good bit and held him, amazed at this act of comfort. I won’t ever forget that. I can’t do it justice with my words. But in moments of sadness, loss, and despair, Bear has found me, always.

Bear has a really good life. He is spoiled by anyone’s measure. He wants for nothing. We tell him every day, over and over again, how much we love him. He has a big back yard to romp with his little brother. Boone idolizes him, and the two of them love to play and bark at all the threats that dare come too close to our house, real or imagined. The two of them are regular visitors to the local dog park and one of my great joys is looking across the park and seeing Bear’s huge smile as he takes it all in. He still does laps around the huge park in bouts of what we call “crazy dog”, which actually comforts me, letting me know that he still has some puppy energy in there somewhere. 

Bear and Shea have an incredibly close, special bond that was instantaneous when they met, and part of the reason I was able to open my heart to Shea, when I had thought true love was something for the rest of the world, not me.

Bear is an unapologetic bed hog, taking up most of the space in our king-size bed every night. He will playfully growl if I try to move him, and often kicks both of us in annoyance when we interrupt his comfortable sleeping positions. There are times when it would be easier to make him move to the floor, but Shea and I will share a glance, and although we don’t say anything, I know we are both thinking that he won’t always be here and he gets to sleep however he wants.

At his last vet visit, Bear, as usual, charmed everyone and the vet laughed as he himself was tricked into giving Bear another treat in exchange for cooperation during his exam. The vet let me know that Bear really could lose a few pounds, and that we needed to cut back on the treats. We try, but this face is hard to resist.

He makes us laugh, with his stubborn, funny attitude—his sneaky way of tricking his brother out of his bones and toys, and his human-sounding burps and farts, that still, after 6 years, make us belly laugh every time. He is unapologetic about those, too.

As I write this, Bear is lying next to me, snoring a little, snuggled up as close as he can get, with a paw on my knee. I have been having a rough couple of days, and today for some reason, has been tougher. He knows that. Somehow, he knows.

Thank you for a beautiful, love-filled, happy, hilarious, special, flying-by-too-fast six years my sweet boy. We love you. I love you. You are my sunshine.

All of my Bear posts, year by year:

Five Years with Bear


Saturday, March 14, 2015



If I had to describe one word for how I feel right now, that would be it.

Overall, in general—career, personal, just life.

In reality, I am not. Well, in some ways, I guess it is true.

I hate this feeling.

This past November, I started a new job that I am so well suited for. I have felt needed, respected, and know that I am in a place where I can make a difference and do good work. I am old enough now to know that this doesn’t come along every day. I have worked in some places over the past decade that made me so miserable, where I felt so horrible—where almost everyone felt horrible. Toxicity was almost applauded. Those workplaces are more common than you think. It’s scary how accepted that kind of atmosphere is in a lot of offices. Nowhere is perfect, but I finally landed somewhere that feels…right.

So, there’s one check mark for the areas of my life that I worry about. Career/Job—check.

My marriage just passed the four year mark, and we still love and support each other. I honestly worried for so long that I would never have that kind of love in my life. So, there’s another big area I can add to the list—personal/love life—check.

There’s this stupid thing I do all the time—it’s a habit I started so long ago that I can’t remember when it began. I know it was borne out of me making promises to my depressed, worried younger self. I was really struggling with my self-esteem when I was younger, with everything that was going on with my parents, my father in particular, and just the overall cloud of worry that hung over me a good bit of the time. So, I have this bit of an imaginary check-in with my younger self. I ask myself, what would 10-year-old Kim think of where I am now? Have I lived up to the dreams she wanted? Have I lived up to the things I promised myself?

When I was battling really serious depression as an adult, this little game was horrific. I knew I was letting my younger self down. I was barely surviving every day, and knowing I had blown every promise I had made to myself—in such spectacular fashion—was feeding the depression’s flame.

Then, I got the right help, the right therapist, and took on everything, and after a few years, my life turned around. Things started falling into place, and when I did my check-in, I realized the 10-year-old me would be proud—not only for where I landed—but for how much I had endured to get there.

I haven’t had any weak moments again in this check-in scenario, until now. In comparison to where I have been before, it doesn’t make sense. Things have been worse. Things have been catastrophically worse. Am I just peering over some ridiculous fence dreaming of perfect green pastures that don’t exist for anyone? Or do I know that if I don’t push myself, I won’t have a chance at making my dreams come true? 

Or, am I losing my freaking mind?

All I know is, when I had a frustrating moment at work this past week—nothing too crazy—just something that made me sit and take a few beats alone at my desk. I asked myself the check-in question—and I had to head to the restroom in the office for a few minutes. I paced and stared at myself in the mirror and paced a little more.

An important note here, that I am all too aware of: I think too much.

But, anyway, I got outside and walked around the block.

This city, on a clear day, is nothing short of breathtaking. I have to pinch myself—even after riding the cramped, sometimes unpleasant BART train to work each morning—I get off the train and see the tops of the buildings cutting into the clouds and fog and wonder how in the hell I got so lucky to be here, walking  to work in this amazing place.

When I walked outside on this particular day, it was later in the afternoon, the fog long gone, the clouds cleared, the sky was crystal blue. I just walked and wondered what in my head was making me feel this way.

I tried to force myself to think clearly. I remembered one of the tactics I loved that my therapist used to get me to cut to the core of how I was really feeling. She would ask me to be raw and real. I would say something about how I felt, and she would tell me to tell her the truth—what I was really feeling—be raw, be real. To not think about what was appropriate or what sounded good. It wasn’t always pretty. But it kept me from fooling myself. It also helped me heal faster. For instance, in one of my sessions, I was talking about someone in my life that was honestly being toxic. I started off my saying, “she makes me uneasy sometimes”, but when I got to the raw and real moment, I finally said, “She isn’t kind to me--I really don’t want her in my life anymore”. It was hard for me to get to that point, but I needed to learn to put myself first—something I don’t always do.

So, when I was walking around the block, I reminded myself to be raw and real. The first thing that popped into my head was –“I am so tired”. I know this. Anyone looking at me probably knows this. The fact that I have had a migraine for over two weeks means my body probably knows this. As I am writing this now, I am tearing up. I need a break. It’s no one’s fault, but I have had a lot of financial responsibility for myself and then for our family for awhile now, and the weight sometimes seems so huge. Even though we are in a good place now, I haven’t had a real break in between jobs, without stress, to just relax, disconnect, and breathe for literally years. In truth, I don’t know how long that break would need to be though, for me to recharge.

The fatigue goes back further than that, though. I have been working since I was 16, and in college, I worked up to 3 jobs at a time to barely survive. Once out, I have only rarely and in spurts felt financially strong. It wasn’t for lack of working hard or long hours—or having great jobs. It was just timing, being single, life, living in the Bay Area during the last dot com bust, layoffs, etc, etc. It feels like a long, long marathon that is never going to end. I know that my journey is no different than anyone else’s, and in many ways, I am incredibly fortunate. I am making a good salary, and now have a love with a growing company in a strong market. I just ache for a time, a decent span of time, when I feel like things are more solid financially, that I don't feel so pressured, and that I can breathe. I feel like I have been holding my breath now for about 20 some odd years waiting for that to happen, and I need to be able to let go, to get some relief. When I think about worse struggles others have, I feel ridiculous in even thinking these things. But, I can’t help feeling tired. I just can’t.

The other part of this, is, of course, my dream of writing and making that the focus of who I am and what I do. Every day, the writers I follow on Twitter share similar struggles, even though many of them have known success—at least success in my eyes—having published a book or books, and working on the next one. Many of these writers work another day job, as I do. Somehow, they find a way to do both. I haven’t been able to do that. Especially lately, I have felt this huge setback. It has felt more like a loss, a death. I haven’t been able to feel the true inspiration and hope in months now. For a long time, I had this glimmer that might fade now and again, but it was always there. Then, it went dark. It just feels like I am never going to get this dream accomplished, and more than anything, I don’t know if I have the energy anymore to keep trying.

I hate the part of me that is so envious of people, in particular people I don’t know, that have the luxury of a life where they can concentrate on nothing but their writing. I follow these writers on Twitter and catch myself scowling when they complain about anything. How dare you! I think.You are living a dream.

So, back to my walk. I asked myself what I really want. What would make it better? Real and raw.

Winning lottery ticket.

Very funny.

I can't control the financial part any more than I am now. I am doing my best, working sometimes insane hours, always working hard. So, that's all I can do.

The other part, the writing...I have to somehow find a balance in my life, where my writing is the focus, where I am on a set course to making this happen. Otherwise I am not going to feel fulfilled or even at peace. It may be crazy, but that is my truth--real and raw.

It may just mean that I start making myself go to the library one day every weekend and devote that time to writing. I don’t know yet.

I could also be having a stupid mid-life crisis and this could all mean nothing. But, for whatever reason, this keeps gnawing at me. I honestly don’t think you necessarily choose to be a writer. It is tortuous—and not hugely profitable, especially now in the digital age, when a lot of writers are expected to simply be thankful to be published in a popular online forum—even without payment—or for nearly nothing. Only a few writers really make it big, really make a huge splash and can live comfortably. So, to want to write, there has to be this drive, this other thing in you that won’t let go. I certainly don’t have to write a book. It won’t help our bank account. There is just a story in me that needs to told. There is just  a yearning to do that, to feel I am a writer in that sense.

I wish more than anything I had gone after this dream earlier, set out to be an editor and work in the publishing world long ago. Right now, my life feels so much like a zig-zag maze that is being built as I go, and has no clear path and no clear destination. It is well-built, the structure is fine, there just wasn’t any pre-planning or design. Some would say, “that is life”. Right now, it just feels like lost time, confusion, and poor planning.

Who knows? If I had started down that path, maybe I would be unhappy now. I know that 10 years ago, I wouldn’t have been able to write the way I am now, I didn’t have the experiences behind me, I hadn’t gone through the right therapy to resolve things I needed to. It’s pointless to ask all of these questions—it’s probably just as pointless to play the little game I play—asking if my 10-year old self would be happy with where I am now.

I can’t stop though. It’s become part of my life’s pattern. I think it is also what has helped drive me, and even when it’s made things painful, helped me to survive. Even when I believed I was disappointing my former self so deeply, and a part of me felt it might be better to give up—there were times when there was just enough fire to say—I owe it to her, to that little girl in me, to make this right.

When I finally got into therapy and really started digging into things and being honest, one of the very first things my therapist had me do was write a letter to my younger self. I remember bursting into tears as she described the process. At the time, I had truly hit rock bottom, and I was slowly realizing that I had found the right therapist to help pull me out. When she talked about the specific things she wanted me to address in the letter, I realized I had been writing these letters for years, in my head, over and over.

I am waiting to write that one last one. The one where I say, finally, it’s done. I finished. I did this thing I have wanted to do for so long, that I felt I was meant to do. You can be proud of me.

I can be proud of me.

Fulfilled life's dream--check.

The beautiful artwork featured in the post is entitled "October Wind at the Beach" by the artist Fanny Nushka Moreaux. To see more of her work, visit this site.



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