Browsing Tag

hope

empty nest, Guest Posts, motherhood

Undone

November 18, 2019
cab

By Peg Conway

The unraveling began after we finished dinner at a Thai place in Lincoln Park. Our young adult son, his girlfriend, and another friend — all Chicago residents — had joined my husband and me for a drink at our hotel’s rooftop bar before riding together to the restaurant. After we feasted on sushi, stir fry, and bottles of wine, I expected more chatting outside during the wait for our separate transportation, a relaxed goodbye that would manage tectonic shifts beneath the surface where molten emotion simmered. Two weeks before, Michael had informed us that he and Kathryn will be moving in together this summer when their current leases expire.

Instead, I had barely exited the restaurant when a random cab appeared at the curb. Kathryn turned to Michael and said, “Should we just take this?” In the next instant, they hugged us in thanks and piled in the back seat. Michael waved and said, “See you tomorrow!” as the cab pulled away. Suddenly void of their youthful vibrance, the neighborhood became sinister.

Just as abruptly, my switch flipped, and I launched a tirade about the cavalier behavior of our son and his friends. “‘Well, dinner’s over, so let’s take this cab.’ Leaving us alone on the street corner!”

“They probably thought our Uber was on the way,” Joe said, his face angled toward his phone as he tapped out a ride request.

Perhaps, a tiny corner of my brain suggested, they treated us as they would their friends, assuming competence to summon our own transport. Pacing the sidewalk, impatient for our ride, I was not yet ready to listen to that rational voice. Finally, our driver did a U turn to pull up in front of us. I ranted softly about the slow Uber response, the traffic, and then the loud crowd in the bar as we crossed the hotel lobby, rode the elevator to the 7th floor, and entered our room. I imagined sending Michael a snarky text: “Safely back at hotel. Not that you cared.”

Then, suddenly deflated, I rejected the idea. I did not want negativity to define the evening or ruin the next day, the final one of the trip before our return home to Cincinnati. Standing rooted in place, I covered my face with my hands as tears leaked from my eyes and my breath came in gulps. The feelings that combusted there on the street corner came from something. What was it?

*****

Back when I was our son’s age, at another street corner in a different Midwestern downtown, early on a June morning, I prepared to make a right turn in my car, having just dropped off my friend Bitsy at work, when suddenly I heard a terrible, terrible THUMP half a block behind me.

“NO! Please, no!” I said aloud to myself, but I knew someone had hit her.

Without thinking, I stopped my car, jumped out, and there she was, lying in the middle of the street, her purse and tote bag beside her. I watched her attempts to get up, a dazed, almost vacant look on her face, but she was unable to muster all the necessary motions to stand. Bystanders were already gathering. A woman crouched next to her, a hand placed lightly on Bitsy’s shoulder. Stiff with fear, I forced my legs to walk over there. As sirens became audible in the distance, I realized I should notify her parents and ran into the bank to use the phone. Then I went to the fourth floor and recruited a co-worker to accompany her in the ambulance.

The two of us returned to the street in time to see Bitsy being placed on a stretcher. The sight of her in a cervical neck collar made my knees feel weak. “I really have no idea how seriously she’s injured,” I thought. I waited until the ambulance departed before returning to my car – which I’d left unlocked with the keys in the ignition and my purse on the front seat – and drove the few more blocks to my own office, where there were client projects to wrap up in preparation for flying out that afternoon on vacation with my brother.

The anxiety of not knowing the extent of her injuries numbed my limbs and tightened my chest, and I could not concentrate on the tasks I needed to accomplish. Neither could I overcome the fear of actually finding out what had happened. Seeing my distress, my colleague called the emergency room and obtained concrete facts: broken leg, broken nose, bruises and contusions, teeth damage. Bitsy was banged up, but she would heal. My exhale of relief released trembling and a few tears, clearing my mind enough to focus.

Several times during the trip, I called Bitsy’s family to receive updates on her surgery to insert a rod in her leg and her general well-being. Back home afterward, I began to notice how lost and empty I felt inside, as if I were falling through space. Perhaps it was the letdown brought on by the stress-laden vacation, but this inner void persisted. The sensation seemed out of proportion to Bitsy’s condition and in comparison to how others were handling it, but also strangely familiar in a way I couldn’t quite identify. I wept intermittently for no apparent reason, and my clothes grew loose as I dropped weight.

*****

During our afternoon in Chicago with Michael, Joe and I attended a middle school boys’ basketball game at a YMCA where he and his friend coached. The impetus for our weekend trip was to witness something of his life. The pounding of the basketballs on the gym floor, the loud whine of the horn, the piercing tweet of the referee’s whistle and the shouts of players and parents, all of it mirrored Michael’s grade school playing days. The opponents sank a bunch of outside shots early and were up by 15 points at the half, but the momentum shifted in the second and they were tied at the end of regulation. Michael and Fran’s guys went on to win by 4 in overtime, a major accomplishment for them.

Kathryn joined us in the row of metal folding chairs by the sidelines part way through the first half, and we chatted easily for the rest of the game, eventually striking up conversation with the parents on our left.

“Who is your child on the team?” they queried.

Our response — “The coach!” — evoked chuckles all around, but the interaction brought an empty feeling. Being at this game choked me up with happy memories of the past, but also sparked mourning for the present. I enjoyed watching the basketball, because of Michael’s involvement. It was something we had shared during his growing up. Now it wasn’t the same. He was out of college, working, living his own life. We were truly just spectators.

*****

Soon after Bitsy’s accident, I connected the lost and lonely feelings to another traumatic early morning, years before during childhood. It was late autumn during second grade, and my dad entered the pink-walled room I shared with my sister. His distinctive wavy black hair, normally combed smoothly back from his forehead and temples, looked tousled, and his blotchy face, eyes red-rimmed, made my throat constrict. “Well, kids, we have an angel in the family,” he said quietly, his voice cracking as he finished.

“Mom?” I whispered, launching into his arms sobbing even before he nodded yes. Soon after, I left his lap saying, “I need to get ready for school,” but Dad said we wouldn’t be going to school that day. Down in the kitchen I discovered my mom’s parents cooking breakfast. My aunt arrived shortly after. Their presence at our house on a weekday morning when I should be at school heightened my sense of wrongness. My insides felt empty, like I was floating in space, untethered. I had known she was sick and in the hospital, but no one had said the word “cancer” aloud to me. I sat in my older brother’s lap sucking my thumb as the grown-ups conversed in subdued tones.

A few days later, we stood silently at the church entrance watching the smooth unfolding of the metal stand on which the casket was placed after its removal from the hearse. Walking in procession behind the rolling casket down the long church aisle as organ music boomed, I noticed my classmates all seated together in the first few pews of the far left section. I felt glad to see them but funny about it too, the first taste of being motherless as setting me apart from other people, somehow different in a basic way.

*****

Standing there in the Chicago hotel room, the mother of a grown-up son, I confronted the specter of long-ago loss that had surfaced like it always did when life presented a transition. The feelings were the same whether it was moving to a new house or being the last to leave a social gathering or watching as a beloved child flourishes independently. I want so much to be “over it,” but the truth is that childhood loss never ceases to reverberate.

Of course things evolved as Michael became an adult. In theory I hoped that he would find someone to share his life, but this juncture has arrived sooner and in a different manner than expected. It was normal, but I was not. Broken by mother loss, I was inadequate to the task of letting go while also staying connected in meaningful ways. I’d come to understand that such harsh self-criticism pushed me to the periphery, creating the very separation that I fear. Over the nearly three decades since Bitsy’s accident shattered my defenses, this emotional cycle has played out hundreds of times. Circumstances trigger an outburst, followed by self-recrimination and then trembling vulnerability as the acute phase ebbs.

Now I asked Joe to hold me. He hugged me tight, saying little, and the physical contact broke the spell. Tears fell softly. My breathing slowed. My body anchored to the ground again. I returned to the present, knitted back into relationships, to a kinder self-understanding. It’s ok. It’s always part of you. Just let it be there. You’re ok. Breathe.

The storm’s passing washed clean my perspective to reveal the ways that Michael maintains family ties. In reality, he calls home often, and besides welcoming us in Chicago, he visits Cincinnati regularly. Though I miss him being nearby, I am not abandoned. Our relationship is not over; it’s changing. My task is to nurture this new stage gently, like a seedling, allowing it time to strengthen as it emerges and trusting the growth process.

“See you tomorrow,” Michael had said earlier from the cab, words that now resounded with hope and possibility.

Peg Conway’s memoir of early mother loss is out on submission, and an excerpt has been published at The Mighty. Her writing has appeared in America and US Catholic magazines, including an article that received Honorable Mention from the Associated Church Press, and online at Energy magazine and Feminism and Religion. She lives in Cincinnati, OH, and can be found on Twitter @peg_conway. Learn more at pegconway.com.

 

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chronic pain, Guest Posts, Hope

The Shame of Pain

October 24, 2019
pain

By Francesca Louise Grossman

I have tried 46 different times to launch myself out of chronic pain. I know this because every time I try something, I write down what I have done, what it feels like, what it costs, whether it’s covered and how worth it is in a small purple book. No one knows I do this. I scribble in it like I’m confessing to my sixth grade diary. In it is the same kind of anxiety about the future that I had in sixth grade, just not about Andy Apstein and whether he was going to kiss me or ignore me. Instead, it is about the treatment or therapy I try, and whether this one will be the one to finally help.

I opened the book the other day to pen a possible 47th.

The book is chronological, of course, but I put it in alphabetical order for clarity. I flipped through.

It starts:

Acupressure: December 2010 – Feb 2010 – dull pressure, not much change, $120/hr not covered – not worth it

Acupuncture – July 2002 (on and off) until March 2018 – sometimes painful, usually calming, blood flow, lasts less than a day but is relief $75/15 mins – sometimes covered – worth it but has to be ongoing

Acetaminophen – When needed – does nothing – over the counter – $9.89 a bottle of extra strength – not worth it

Bioelectric Therapy – October 2016-April 2016 – possibly dulls pain a little – for about an hour $165/hr at office – not covered by insurance

Cupping – February 2014 – one time, hurt like hell, not worth it. $85/30 mins – not covered by insurance.

Codeine – March 2009 – April 2009 – numb, good, not a long term option – covered by insurance $20 copay

Craniosacral Therapy – September 2000 – October 2001 – When in conjunction with other body work  – Myofascial etc – decent relief but dizzy – lasts a couple of days maybe $200/session – sometimes covered by insurance

Cryotherapy – June 2018-October 2018 – feels great right after, like putting ice on a knee. Lasts a couple of hours, heart races. $60/3 min session. Not covered by insurance

And on and on—and on.

The book is 24 years old. The same age as my chronic pain, more than half my lifetime, all of my adulthood, eons.

This book exists because all this time I have had a continuous faith that there is a valve for this pain; that I can escape it, or, more accurately, it can escape me. For all these years I have I known this to be true. I will find it. I will heal. I am a warrior, a survivor; tough, strong, and able. People have told me that pain is weakness leaving the body in all different scenarios, with all different motivations. I don’t have this recorded as studiously but I wish I did.

I have other lists I don’t love revisiting, but help to explain the pain. In my twenties I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, an illness of the intestines that leads to violent pain and an urgent need to empty your bowels. I developed Colitis later, a more general type of the disease that bloats my stomach to look four months pregnant. I have had surgeries for my stomach, some of which were determined later to be unnecessary. I had thyroid cancer through out my twenties, finally treated when the tumor on my neck was the size of a ping-pong ball. I developed arthritis along the way, both as a peripheral malady and also it’s own disease. My body is gouged from piles of polyps removed from my insides, and (usually) benign tumors removed from my outsides. My neck doesn’t turn all the way to the right. My hips need forty-five minutes before letting me walk in the morning. I have an unidentified liver problem that swells without notice and bends me in two. If the saying is to be believed, there’s a lot of weakness in there, and it seems to be stuck.

*

When I was twenty-nine, I had surgery to remove my thyroid. The overnight nurse was a doozie of a lady.  Opera singer large, big calloused hands that vice-gripped onto my shoulders. Thighs thick as trunks that she used to pin me against the side of the bed so she could administer my catheter without “so much squirming.” She was brutal and brutish. A small silver peace sign sunk deep into her cleavage, drowning in flesh.

She had a hard time getting the catheter in, and as she struggled, she noticed my twisted face.

Pain is weakness leaving the body, my love, she said, repeating it over and over like a command until I could actually pee.

This is an extreme example, but at least once a year, often as much as once a month, this phrase earworms into my psyche. Related to illness and chronic pain or not, this saying has appeared like a subtitle again and again at the bottom of the screen of my life. When I was a weak child? A coach. A teenager who could not stomach even occasional beers? A boyfriend. A young woman unable to go to a bar without scoping out the bathroom situation ahead of time? A roommate. A thyroid cancer patient: a nurse. Doctors, PA’s, med techs. Physical therapists, friends, masseuses, acupuncturists, pharmacists, bosses, guy on the street.

*

I went to the doctor a few weeks ago and a delicate med tech took my vitals. She asked the normal questions, made the normal small talk, took the normal introductory tests. Her thin fingers flew across the keyboard, recording my responses. She asked me if I had any pain.

I wasn’t sure I heard her correctly.

“You mean right now?”

“Yes,” she smiled softly.

“Nothing acute,” I said.

“So no pain?”

“No. I mean, yes, I have pain, the same pain I have all the time.”

“What would you rate it, 1-10?”

How do you rate pain on a scale made for people with no pain?

“I don’t know, 4?”

She nodded and her hands took off. That was the wrong answer. I knew this, I knew that anything under 5 wasn’t worth her noting, that saying 4 was like saying I had a dull headache, or a splinter in my toe. But what should I have said? 7? Wouldn’t that be alarmist? Especially when that pain had been a relative constant for over twenty years? Especially when I knew from decades of experience that the litany of potential remedies for that pain were not going to help?

*

My husband stepped on a quarter inch wire sticking out of the ground near the beach in Fire Island this summer. The metal went a good inch into his flesh, and when he pulled it out blood sprayed mercilessly all over the sand and sidewalk. He howled. He made noises that I have never heard him make before and I have been with him through a lot of painful things. He was pale and sweaty, teeth gritting, eyes rolling back, that kind of pain.

Later that night, his foot gauzed up and iced, still throbbing, he looked at me and said “I’m so sorry you are in pain all the time.”

I didn’t know how to respond. This wasn’t about me, he was the one in pain, and yet a part of me felt smug at his discomfort. Now you know how I feel, was a momentary thought, I’ll admit it, and not one I’m not proud of.

But it got me thinking about pain and the way people relate to it. It is very hard to relate to pain if you aren’t in pain. Which is why I have such a hard time with the 1-10 scale.

Instead, for chronic pain patients, they should ask what kind of sharp thing is in your foot. Splinter? Pushpin? Nail? Quarter inch wire? Razor blade? Glass shard? Burning glass shard?

Nail. I would have said. Occasionally glass shard.

But instead I said 4 and she smiled.

*

I have fought against my pain and weakness for a very long time. I have tried, often unsuccessfully, to be like my friends. In my twenties I tried to stay out all night, I tried to ski, I tried to walk down the street without doubling over. I worked, I played, I drank, I sat as still as I could so that no one would notice the aftershocks. In my thirties I had children, pregnancy an event that paused my pain for a while so that when it came back it felt like a tsunami. Like many mothers of babies I didn’t sleep and then I had severe postpartum depression; I found having small children so physically demanding I came undone. I’m forty-one now and I am very often a prisoner in my house. My stomach bleeds, my liver pulsates, my head spins. Not all the time, but enough.

From my teens until today, this minute, and all those in the foreseeable future, there is pain. At least nail in foot pain. Sometimes glass shard. Never pushpin. A splinter would be welcome. In fact, when I think back on my childhood and that which was difficult – most sports, endurance, gym class, partying, anything else that required my body to function – I think it’s possible that I have been in pain all my life. Back then I never considered that my resting state was anything less than normal, but now I know better. Most people do not live with nails in their feet.

I hurt. I hurt in the morning when I turn over to get up. When I walk, when I carry groceries, when I turn my head to the right to reverse in the car. My stomach burns, my joints swell, my liver rejects everything I eat and drink.

I don’t talk about pain very often. I tell myself it is because people don’t want to hear me complain but it is more than that, I can admit that. I’m ashamed of my pain. I’m ashamed of my weakness.

What is it about pain that is so shameful?

We live in a culture in which wellness equals strength. People my age do cross fit and triathlons, women have babies without drugs, are lauded for their tight abs, their thick skin, their ability to play tough. I have never been strong like this. I have tried, but I have failed. I was never scrappy. I don’t think I will ever be. I am soft. My belly, the place of much of my pain, is squishy. Distended, bloated, doughy, depending on the day. I’m sensitive. I cry at pop songs.

Our society’s greatest hero story is about overcoming obstacles. We love a fighter. We love an underdog who comes out on top. We love triumph and happily ever endings. We love to fix a hoarder, intervene and send someone to rehab, remodel a decrepit house. We love treatment. We love survival. We love hope.

But hope is complicated. After all of these tries, this list of 46 different treatments and therapies, I no longer have hope that things will get better. I have hope that things will not get worse, which is not the same thing. I have a hope that feels a lot more like mercy than it does like faith.

When I ask myself this question about weakness and shame I hear a quiet hum suggesting a better question: why am I fighting so hard?

In my experience, pain is not weakness leaving the body. I realize this is a trope, and any mantra is nothing more than a slogan. But slogans have power. They convince. And I’ll admit I have always believed this – that the suffering I endure might one day let me free.

When I was pregnant and exhausted, a friend of mine told me that of course I was tired, I was making a person in there. Though not the same, pain sometimes feels like that too. Of course I’m tired, I’m fighting against myself all the time, trying to quell the pain so that I can live my otherwise fortunate life.

I’m not delusional about this. I know I live a charmed life in almost every way. I am educated, from a family that loves me – even when I behave idiotically. I am not from a country ravaged by war. I have a husband who cares for me, does not abuse me, even dotes on me sometimes. I have two healthy children whom I adore. I am from a privileged minority, I have more than I deserve. I can walk, breathe and think to exist in my daily life. I can afford therapy, eastern medicine, treatment outside of insurance sometimes, to do part time work. I can try 46 things. In short; I’m lucky. Unfairly so. And yet.

Here’s the whole list, abbreviated to just the titles:

Acupuncture, acupressure, acetaminophen, alcohol, aleve, aromatherapy, bioelectric, CBD creams and oils, cupping, chiropractic, chanting, codeine, cranial sacral therapy, cryotherapy, dairy free, hallucinations, gluten free, guided breathing, fasting, fentanyl, flotation, ibuprofen, oxycontin, marijuana, massage, meditation, myofascial, quell, reflexology, radiation, salt baths, saunas, steroids, sugar free, sodium free, sound bathing, surgery, swimming, percocet, physical therapy, psychotherapy, psychiatry, praying, vicodin, xanax, yoga.

Everything helps a little. Nothing helps enough to be worth the life altering work and piles of money it takes to keep it up.

Here’s a truth: the things that actually take the pain away feel a lot like addiction. They don’t remove the pain, that’s the trick. They numb. And they are delicious. But they don’t last and they unleash other pain, often more severe that the original. It’s never worth doubling the pain tomorrow to have numbness today, no matter how attractive the reprieve.

So the pain is there. It’s always there and most likely it will always be there. I don’t know how it got in. Maybe the pain was waiting for me when I came into this world. Maybe it comes from my ancestors, my DNA, my parents’ tragedies, my childhood bullies, or little or big assaults. Maybe I am sensitive to the world for some reason, and it simply hurts to be here. As woo-wooey as that sounds, that’s the one that feels the most accurate, the most likely.

I think it’s actually softness that makes us strong. It’s not skin made of iron. It’s showing the underbelly. It’s not bracing for the storm, it’s putting a kite up in the wind. It’s the willingness to see the world as a series of experiences some of which are going to hurt like crazy and the ability to just keep going anyway. It’s vulnerability. It’s asking for forgiveness. From ourselves as much as from others. It’s mercy.

Mercy is an open palm. It’s the meaty bit. Curling your hand so that your knuckles face the world is so much easier. But a fist to heart feels quite a lot different from a palm to heart, resting square on your breastbone, staying there, the heel of it pulsing the same rhythm as the heartbeat on your chest, marching your body along in a long trek to some sort of quiet absolution.

My husband’s foot healed in a few days. He stopped limping. The knowledge that he would get better permeated and defined the experience – the faith that this would be over soon.

Therein lies the difference between acute and chronic pain, of course: in how we define hope.

So what kind of hope can I have? What if I looked at my years and piles of pain and perceived weakness not as a failure but as a step towards becoming who I am? What if I forgave myself the years of fighting myself and sank into the deep cool water of acceptance? How would it feel down there?

I do not mean that I should give up. I’ll try things if they look promising. 47, 48, that’s fine. But what if instead of fighting so hard I allowed the pain to be part of me? What if, for a while, instead of the restrictive eating and the therapy and the medicine and the exercise and the planning and the trying (and the failing), what if I just stopped? Even if it hurt? Even if the pain never left? Could I recalibrate to “0”? Could I see that as the most radical act? Doing nothing at all?

For now I’ll put the little purple book in the drawer. I’ll cap the pen and sit quietly. I’ll let what’s in me stay put. I’ll put my feet up, expecting and accepting the pulse of the nail that might be forever lodged there.

Francesca Louise Grossman is a writer and writing instructor based in Newton, MA. Her work includes contributions to The New York Times, Brain, Child Magazine, Word Riot, Drunken Boat Literary Magazine, xojane, Kids in the House, Ed Week/Teacher among others. She is currently working on a memoir and a novel. 

 

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Guest Posts, Mental Health, Surviving

Grab Life by It’s Horns and Don’t Let Go

September 30, 2019
horns

By Erin Barrett

Life is a road with many twist, turns and forks. It is about how you perceive your obstacles in life that can make or break you.

Grab life by its horns and don’t let go is my philosophy and my way overcome the road blocks and keep moving on.

In any rodeo the cowboy faces the deadliest challenges of his life. He gets up on top of the bull that could injure, paralyze or even kill him. The cowboy still climbs on top of it, knowing that he could die and hangs on to dear life for as long as possible. With determination and perseverance he doesn’t let go, no matter how many times the bull bucks to throw him off.

You are the cowboy or cowgirl, the bull is your life. Although it can be intimidating and scary you have to be strong and take control.

When I was a child I had to transfer to a public school, after four years of feeling safe being with kids like me.  It was scary, I didn’t belong with the “normal” kids in my school. They made sure that I knew that I never belonged there.

In Junior High I was the outcast. The boys called me names like “ugly” and “retarded”. Making unwanted sexual advances at me. It got so bad that I hid  in the copy room until the next bell. Not a single soul came to help me, I was by myself. I tried my hardest to kick him and fight him off.

The sexual harassment continued through out high school. During my senior year I wanted to prove the boys wrong. I prepared a speech, one with meaning and practiced it every day until it was time. On the day of graduation, it was cloudy and it was my turn to speak. When I walked up on the podium, not one but two rainbows appeared above me. I made it in the newspaper and inspired moms giving them hope.

I could have given up but I didn’t. I survived 6 years of depression through poetry and hypnosis. I do believe through the obstacles we face, we get stronger. Through the pain and hurt there is light at the end of the tunnel, you can’t give up.

My freshman year in college, guys would call me and say things like “he wants to fuck me against the wall.” Got so bad that I had to file a complaint. I tried to fit in sororities but  I didn’t belong there, so I had a bunch of guy friends I hanged out with. We would watch vampire movies and  go karting.  One of them had a crush on me and proposed to me Even though I had a blast with them, I still felt like I didn’t belong there. I would take long walks around the campus,  I would even get the nerve to get hit by a car.

I was working on an autobiography about myself and as I was writing, I met a black man. He read my story and invited me to his place. That was the first time I kissed a black man. He asked me how old I wanted to be to get married. He also told me his dream was to defeat George Foreman. One day he was coming back from a boxing match and told me he had something for me. All I could think was “Oh no what if he wants to propose to me” “ what if it’s a ring?” Luckily it was just a t-shirt.

When I turned in my autobiography into the teacher. She wanted to share it with the class. As she read it, the entire class became dead silent.

Although there were awful times at the college, there were also some memorable ones. I met a guy who could take my breath away and move me like no other.  I had my first angelic experience which will always be a mystery.

My life got a little better for a while then I met my husband on an online dating website. Back then it was considered to be dangerous and unsafe. Out of desperation and worried about dying by myself, I married him. It wasn’t love at first site but I grew to love him. With him I’ve been through 2 miscarriages and 2 C-sections. We have 2 beautiful girls now ages 10 and 13.

Of course like most marriages we had financial troubles but it wasn’t until Labor Day weekend in 2017 my world came crashing down around me. The police searched our house, trashing it like a tornado came through the house. Children Services took my kids away and the house was condemned for 2 weeks. We spent 2 weeks at a hotel.

Through this experience it has empowered me. I could wallow in my self-pity or rise up to the challenge and take the bull by its horns. So instead of moping around all day every day after work I would go back to the house and clean. I turned on my motivational music and cleaned the house from top to bottom. When I was done cleaning, I painted the entire house. I wanted to show children services that I can do this and that I am not giving up.

I followed my gut instinct, I got a part time job and set up my own checking account. It is a good thing because on May 18 2018 my husband got arrested. I lost his income to help me with the bills, my part time job saved me from losing the house. Now I am in the beginning stages of divorcing him.

Since I am separated, I am freer and have a strong hold on my life. Better control of my finances and a clearer sense of myself. I did not let myself get bogged down with pity and depression. I used all the emotions running in my veins to empower me to keep moving.

I taught myself how to cook, how to cut the grass. All the tasks I relied on him to do. I kept my head up high and kept moving forward.

I am not angry with God or even with my ex. I looked uncertainty and doubt  in the eyes and said give me your best shot.

In order to move past the pain and hurt you need to visualize your future and find your strength. Get a new perspective in your life and stay positive.

If I let my bull get the better of me I will have never seen the bigger picture. I chose to move forward and take it head on, leaving my fear and doubt behind. I chose to see my life in a positive light.

There is good everywhere sometimes its difficult to find. I’m  a strong believer that things happen for a reason.

Whether you lost a love one or lost a job and life has you down. There is a cowboy inside us, you may need to dig deep within you to find him but he is there.

When things are at your lowest, find one thing that inspires you and motivates you. For me it was my kids that keep me going. Turn that sorrow and pain into your strength and grab your bull by its horns and take charge.

As a person once told me when one door closes another one opens. Be your own champion, find your strength, grab hold and don’t let go. It might be hard and it may hurt at times but you just need to keep moving forward never looking back.

I promise one day when you find your peace and happiness you will look back at all your pain and heart ache and know deep in your heart that you survived and got stronger from the experience.

You will soon realize who you really are. All the pieces to your journey in your life will fit like a gigantic puzzle. You will be able to see the big picture.

It is in our human nature to take the easy way out instead of taking the road less traveled. It takes one moment in our life to impact us for the rest of our lives. Life is too short to not rise above the obstacles and challenges that come across our path.

Don’t let that bull scare you. Don’t let it control you and turn you into someone that you are not. We all face pain, we all hold onto the hurt and scars but it’s those who persevere and rise to the challenge that become champions.

With each heartache you come across and downfall you have, it will make you a stronger person in the long run. You have to rise above the occasion and persevere. There is light at the end of the tunnel. In order to reach it you must keep going and never give up.

That cowboy inside you wants to conquer the bull and live in history for the longest ride. It might be scary and it might think he has the best of you but it doesn’t. Not if you don’t let it get to you. You have to believe you can do it. Nothing is impossible if you have courage to take charge.

Take charge of your life, find strength to overcome the obstacles that stand in your way. Grab life by its horns and don’t let go no matter what.

Erin Barrett is a poet and essayist who believes in the power of language. She lives in Cincinnati Ohio where she is the mother of 12 and 15 year old girls. Erin has a bachelors degree in management and currently work as a medical assistant with cancer patients full time. 

Upcoming events with Jen

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Guest Posts, Hope, Young Voices

Hope, The Minotaur

August 5, 2019
hope

By Amanda Loeffelholz

Hope. I spend a lot of time trying to understand it. On one hand, it kept me alive and still does. On the other, I’m not sure if that constitutes it as good. Hope is heroin for the masochist. It provides the justification for repeatedly putting oneself in painful situations under the guise of waiting for the probability of one percent, the one scenario that never happens. Hope never involves the expectation that something will happen. Hope is the barely hanging on, the prayer opposite the barrel of a gun.

What is the one percent anyway? What we all want so desperately that we put a piece of ourselves on the line for it, aware we may never get it back? What we close our eyes and kneel at pagan alters for against all odds? Something is behind the whisper in an otherwise empty room, the clenched fists and the held back tears. The one percent is not situational. It transcends what an individual merely hopes for. It is the thing that cannot be given up on, the thing that is shameful to need and impossible to disregard. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Miscarriage, Pregnancy

The Day Before You Will Be Born

January 29, 2018
pregnancy

CW: This essay discusses miscarriage.

By Anna Burgess Yang

Dear Baby,

This is it. The day before you will be born.

I sometimes feel guilty for my feelings toward you over the past nine months.  Detachment, fear, anxiety… that these will hurt you in some unforeseen way in the future.

How could I avoid these feelings?  When we lost your sister, Nelle, at 21 weeks of pregnancy, I thought that I would split open with grief.  We had no answers as to what happened – why I inexplicably lost a baby after two previous uneventful pregnancies with your older brothers.  Without any reason, we were told that we could try again right away.  Then we lost your sister, Iris, not even six months later.  Going through labor and delivery, twice, to give birth to your sisters when they had already left the world were the worst experiences of my life.  It traumatized me.  Continue Reading…

Current Events, Guest Posts, Hope

My Idols Are Dead and My Enemies are In Power

January 1, 2017
idols

By Meghan O’Dea

Two days after Christmas a fellow author posted to Facebook an image of unknown origin I had seen before. A pale hand, female, dangles a thing white cigarette between calves wrapped in black pantyhose, bent at an insouciant angle. The smoke from the cigarette wraps around the subject’s right hand, a gold band around her middle finger. Below a caption, in a yellowy sans-serif font, introduced by a hypen like a subtitle or Emily Dickinson poem, the quote at a tense angle. It reads: “— My idols are dead and my enemies are in power.”

It was, coincidentally, the same day that Carrie Fisher died. My friend, the author, posted the photo before the news broke that Fisher’s heart attack some days before had resulted in her passing. But it summed up well a year in which so many idols died, from those of my childhood (Richard Adams) to those who inspired my teen idols (David Bowie) to those I had little sense of connection or references to (George Michael). The image appeared four days after I showed up at my parents’ house with a suitcase, face still puffy from crying over the end of a relationship I had thought would end in marriage.

Around the time that I had been dreamily listing out the songs I would like to make up the soundtrack to my wedding, Leonard Cohen passed away. At the time, Cohen’s was one more in a procession of celebrity deaths and personal losses that had marked the almost two years I had been with my former partner, a series of blows that took a subtle, steady toll on a new love. The much-beloved cat, hit by a passing car. The friendships faded and fraught, just when they seemed the most needed. My mother’s mid-life crisis, set off the previous summer when I had spent three months at my grandfather’s house and unwittingly stepped into a tight woven trap of family tensions. The mounting pressure and humidity of the political climate, like the Tennessee summers of my childhood just before a storm comes screaming in off the plateau.

Despite living my whole life in the South, I had never seen so many Confederate flags as I had that summer in western New York, so close to Canada I had brought my passport along in my bag. The stars and bars lined the porches and truck bumpers in that sleepy Rust Belt town for weeks after Dylann Roof’s massacre in Charleston. In hindsight it’s hard not to imagine they heralded Trump’s victory, the coming appointments of Steve Bannon and Jeff Sessions.

It had been so strange to explore a brief, unfamiliar sense of romantic happiness in the midst of what often seemed like the world falling down around our ears. But there were those before us who had survived equal or greater tumult. The very elders who were dropping like flies were a testament to what had changed and what had endured since before we were born.

Cohen had been first introduced to me by another former lover, who had played me “Anthem” in a moment of crisis, and unwittingly given me several minutes of of balm to the inevitable heartbreak. There is a crack in everything. That’s where the light gets in. As I drove to the gym after hearing of Fisher’s passing, the strains of Cohen’s baritone drifted by chance out of the local radio tower, through the speakers, and soaked into the worn upholstery. Everybody knows the good guys lost. Everybody knows the fight was fixed. The poor stay poor, the rich get rich.

In a year of endless losses, the partnership in which I’d sought solace became one more unexpected casualty. There was the subtle toll my mental health had taken on my lover’s, the way my history seeped into our present. There are, as Cohen and Fisher and so many others know so well know, cracks and fissures that may let light enter, but which even love cannot fill or heal.

The day after Christmas, the night before Carrie Fisher died, I watched one of my very favorite movies, Meet Me In St. Louis, for the umpteenth time. After I fell down a rabbit hole of re-reading articles and essays on Judy Garland’s life, along with the inevitable mention of the scandals that she felt defined her.

Then the news broke that Fisher had died, and in a way it was all so beautiful in its synchronicity: the timing of finding myself attuned to the parallels and lessons of these two extraordinary women’s lives. They each lived through mental illness, weight fluctuations, disappointments in love, the pressures of their professions, and the burden of existing in a system that was not made for or kind to them.

There are the women you want to be— the women you idolize and wish you could inhabit. And then there are women like Garland and Fisher, whose lives are not exactly enviable, but who have shown that life does not have to look any particular way to be considered a success. Moods shift, bodies fluctuate, lovers come and go, careers rise and fall, times change. It is art, intelligence, and sheer presence that endure. There are the women you learn from.

It was a year that tore us down, and stripped so much away. The year that has become infamous in the lore of internet memes and obituary sections. Yet so many of our fallen idols left behind last works of startling beauty and darkness and celebration. Fisher revisited her younger self in The Princess Diariest from the perspective of one who views youth as something to survive, not maintain. Bowie spoke of resurrection on Blackstar. And Cohen left us with an accusation, a dare, in the title of his final album: You Want It Darker. Perhaps I did. Perhaps we all did, and that is why the world is in the state that it is in. Perhaps this is simply a season we must walk through.

My idols are dead. My enemies are in power. The man I thought I would marry did indeed, in the words of Cohen, dance me to the end of our love. And yet I stand here hopeful. There will always be lovers and enemies, work and slow songs, black nights and bright ribbons. These things unfold endlessly around that which is both ephemeral and enduring, that which is ceaselessly reborn. In the face of all this loss, I am writing again. It is here and now, when so much has faded and changed, when I feel the most certain and strong. I have learned that in the middle of the darkness and tumult, we will always have ourselves.

Meghan O’Dea is a writer and editor who just completed a masters in Creative Nonfiction at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. She writes primarily on space and place and the meaning of home. On the weekends she is the homepage editor for Fortune Magazine. She has been published in Washington Post, Fortune, Huffington Post, Hello Giggles, ink&coda, and has an essay forthcoming in The Rumpus.

What’s Jen Pastiloff’s workshop all about anyway? It’s about being human. Connecting. Finding your voice. Not being an asshole. Singing out loud. Sharing your fears. Bearing witness. Telling your fears to fuck off & fly. Listening. Moving your body. Laughing. Crying. Finding comfort. Offering comfort. Letting go. Creating.
Next one after this is NYC Feb 4 at Pure Yoga West. You don’t need to be a yogi at all. Just be a human. Click photo to book.

 

Join The Manifestation Retreat: Manifesting Under The Tuscan Sun. June 17-24 OR Sep 9-16. Email retreats@jenniferpastiloff.com or click the picture above.

Guest Posts, loss, Pregnancy

Choices

December 4, 2016
survive

TW: This piece discusses medically necessary termination of pregnancy

By Leslie Wibberly

A while ago, a friend and colleague received some devastating news. She and her husband were expecting their second daughter, and at over three months into the pregnancy they had assumed everything was fine. A routine ultrasound unexpectedly revealed multiple birth defects and a tumor, called a terratoma, attached to the base of the baby’s spine.

They were told they could choose to terminate this pregnancy, as the effects of those birth defects were not clear. Or, they could try to carry the baby to term and hope that surgery might be able to correct the problems.

As she shared her news with me, her despair carefully but not completely masked, I was brought back to the moment many years earlier, when I had received similar news. A tiny tsunami of nausea intermingled with terror and regret, flooded my body.

My first pregnancy was planned, but happened sooner than expected. Exhausted from full time work and a year of studying for a post-grad certification, my body was not in peak condition. My husband and I had fully intended to start trying for a baby once my exams were over, but the universe was impatient and so conception was precipitous.

We were overjoyed none-the-less, and I did what assume every mother-to-be did. I bought parenting books, baby-name books, maternal vitamins, I started to worry about never sleeping again, and I prepared to say goodbye to my thirty-something pre-baby body. Continue Reading…

Grief, Guest Posts, Hope

When Despair Tried To Settle

November 23, 2016
despair

By Melanie Brooks

On a Sunday morning in June, when my sixteen-year-old son reported the news that a gunman had walked into a nightclub in Orlando, Florida, pointed his assault rifle at a festive crowd of people dancing to a Latin beat, and gunned down over one hundred of them, killing forty-nine, I felt it. An unseen hand reaching into my chest, grabbing my heart, and squeezing. Hard. Its fingernails punctured, leaving behind aching wounds.

The ache intensified with every new photograph or video of victims fleeing the horror of the scene, every interview with family members who learned their loved ones were among the dead, every narrative of a beautiful life taken, every media brief on the ongoing investigation that solidified the gunman’s motives of terror and hate.

There was an enticing drag to the hate that pulled at me in the days that followed, and my anger flared. Targets for my fury, the ones that crept into my social media feed or sought sound bites on the news, weren’t tough to find. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Hope

Detangling the Knot

September 1, 2016
hope

By Jennifer Rieger

People close to me know that I have psychosomatic reactions to stress. Many do, but sometimes mine are downright bizarre. When I found out I was pregnant, I kept getting these muscle spasms… in my face. As I studied for the Praxis Exams, I had a relentless burning sensation in my left boob. When I was writing my Master’s thesis, my tongue felt like it itched, for weeks. A few years ago, my work kept getting rejected by every publication I sent it to, and the blood vessels in my left eye burst causing a two-month scary zombie eye. My students couldn’t even look at me! I contend with these nuisances, but my typical reaction, and I believe the one most common to normal individuals, is the lump I get in my throat. It’s different than my stress symptoms though. I imagine it as an intricate little ball of nerves woven together in times of sadness and pain—when life is too much to bear, and I can’t seem to find the right words. A little bit of wine, but not too much, can provide temporary relief. Overindulgence usually results in one pathetic alter-ego that even my husband, God love him, cringes to deal with. The one thing that really helps globus—the proper medical term for Jen Rieger’s imaginary, but very annoying, lump—is time. Ah, time, that selfish, fickle bitch that quickens at every lovely occasion and halts at every boring and difficult moment of life. The knot has appeared at sudden moments of sadness, or even weeks later causing me to run to the doctor’s office in a state of hypochondriatic frenzy crying, “It’s cancer, isn’t it?” It’s there when loved ones pass, when my own child is sad, and when favorite graduates leave me.

It reappeared this summer just by watching the news. Continue Reading…

Abuse, Grief, Guest Posts, healing

Things the Missing Would Tell You

December 12, 2015

Trigger Warning: This brief essay deals with child abuse.

By Keema Waterfield

Halfway through my first pregnancy I imagine my mother, age 19. She is unwed, the weight of my future self putting a bend in her back, widening her hips. The ghosts of her childhood trail behind her like lost buttons: all those years with her brother, the powerlessness, the shame, the guilt, the angry mother, the denial. That black place the hurt goes, overflowing. A baby sister she can’t protect looking at a lifetime of worrying at those same choppy waters.

How my mother’s heart must have ached at the thought of me.

It isn’t hard to imagine.

My own ghost is a man we knew by the name of Ray, but whom we later learned was wanted in fourteen states, give or take. He had one eye and a gun, both of which he laid on me in my top bunk somewhere around my third birthday, his pants around his ankles. Mom away for a few days, picking up furniture. My baby sister in the bottom bunk making a noise in her throat that no person of sound mind could hear without offering comfort.

I think of Ray when I hold my growing belly on dark mornings after another visit to the bathroom. I think how ponderous the shape of sorrow is. How little it takes to upend a childhood, like a table on its side: dishes broken, food soiled, water glasses emptying themselves onto the hardwood floor.

At dinner now the table is upright and the lamplight has grown reluctant listeners, but there is still a world of missing children out there. Missed. Misused. If you’re lucky and some part of you makes it back people tell you slow down, be a kid, but the missing learn early that childhood is a mercy only sometimes granted, and dessert is offered only to those who suffer gently.

I’ve been thinking about silence lately, how much it makes me want to break open all the windows in the world and scream. Because I know now what my mother knew then: the missing don’t have a say.Keema_Waterfield-Author_Photo

Keema Waterfield is a 2011 MFA grad from the University of Montana’s nonfiction program. She has been published in Pithead Chapel, Redivider Journal, Understory, and the Anchorage Press. The title essay from her forthcoming memoir “Inside Passages”, won the 2011 Cross Genre Award at Mason’s Road.

Join Jen for a weekend retreat at Kripalu Center in Western Massachusetts Feb 19-21, 2016. Get ready to connect to your joy, manifest the life of your dreams, and tell the truth about who you are. This program is an excavation of the self, a deep and fun journey into questions such as: If I wasn’t afraid, what would I do? Who would I be if no one told me who I was? Jennifer Pastiloff, creator of Manifestation Yoga and author of the forthcoming Girl Power: You Are Enough, invites you beyond your comfort zone to explore what it means to be creative, human, and free—through writing, asana, and maybe a dance party or two! Jennifer’s focus is less on yoga postures and more on diving into life in all its unpredictable, messy beauty. Note Bring a journal, an open heart, and a sense of humor. Click the photo to sign up.

Join Jen for a weekend retreat at Kripalu Center in Western Massachusetts Feb 19-21, 2016.
Get ready to connect to your joy, manifest the life of your dreams, and tell the truth about who you are. This program is an excavation of the self, a deep and fun journey into questions such as: If I wasn’t afraid, what would I do? Who would I be if no one told me who I was?
Jennifer Pastiloff, creator of Manifestation Yoga and author of the forthcoming Girl Power: You Are Enough, invites you beyond your comfort zone to explore what it means to be creative, human, and free—through writing, asana, and maybe a dance party or two! Jennifer’s focus is less on yoga postures and more on diving into life in all its unpredictable, messy beauty.
Note Bring a journal, an open heart, and a sense of humor. Click the photo to sign up.

The 12 Day Detox is here. Sign up now for the next cleanse on November 30th. Space is limited. This detox comes at just the perfect time. Reprogram your body and mind as we move into the holiday season. This is your time of rejuvenation and renewal.This is not a juice fast, or a detox based on deprivation.

The 12 Day Detox is here. Sign up now for the next cleanse on November 30th. Space is limited. This detox comes at just the perfect time. Reprogram your body and mind as we move into the holiday season. This is your time of rejuvenation and renewal.This is not a juice fast, or a detox based on deprivation.

Compassion, Guest Posts

The Audacity of Hopelessness

December 5, 2015

By Leta A. Seletzky

I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for Ebola. When I mentioned this to my mom, she laughed. I laughed, too. It’s a dramatic statement, but that doesn’t make it untrue.

Ensconced in my vacation home near Lake Tahoe in summer 2014, I followed the news reports about a Liberian man who arrived by air at Lagos, Nigeria’s Murtala Muhammed International Airport and collapsed. He was surrounded by people, some of whom tried to render aid. Shortly thereafter, the man died of the Ebola virus, but not before infecting other people in Lagos—he was Nigeria’s index case. The virus, which had previously gained a foothold in other parts of West Africa, went on to claim over 7,000 lives in the region by the year’s end. My children and I were Lagos residents, but we were fortunate to be “stranded” in our vacation home during the crisis.

***

Have you ever watched a calamity unfold with such grim assurance of the worst possible outcome that you drew perilously close to siding against hope? It’s not the same thing as explicitly wishing for the worst to happen. Rather, it’s believing that to have hope is foolish—and maybe even counterproductive.

Last summer, I was beginning to feel that hope in Nigeria was counterproductive. I had moved to Lagos, the country’s economic capitol, in April 2013 with my husband and our two young sons. My husband was working for an oil company. I was raising our boys, playing tennis, and planning vacations as my framed law degree sat in a cardboard box in our townhome’s attic. We had a driver, a gardener, a stewardess (the local term for a nanny or housekeeper; in our case, she was both), and a steward (the male version of a stewardess; in our case, he came to our house twice a week to chop vegetables).

I had arrived in the country with great hopes for a meaningful and joyous experience. Having spent the previous two years in southwestern Kazakhstan, with its somber apartment blocs and merciless winters, lush Nigeria looked like paradise for the first couple of months of living there. Strangers on the street in Nigeria actually smiled and spoke to me instead of shooting me a surly stare. The standard greeting is a hearty “You are welcome!” Fat ripe fruits hung from the branches of trees I couldn’t identify alongside teeming urban streets. The first time I saw a Traveler’s Palm, I imagined Adam and Eve walking amidst its luxuriant, fan-like fronds. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Inspiration

See Me In September.

September 11, 2015

By Beth Levine.

I’ve seen a few sunrises since the days when I eagerly picked out my first-day-of-school outfit or packed the car to the roof for the ride back to college. So why, when September rolls around, do I still feel that rush of expectation, of the excitement of new possibilities? While most people are grabbing at the last BBQs of summer, I am eagerly anticipating getting back into action. For me, New Year’s isn’t in December–it’s Labor Day.

It is coded into my DNA that September means getting back to school and friends, and picking out new clothes, pencils, erasers and books. (Yes, I know, I am dating myself. These days it would be new iPads and laptops.) The smell of new textbooks and the knowledge that the path of my next nine months lies within them. Would my teachers be nice? Who was in my classes? But most of all, when I was a school kid, September was the time when the slate of the previous year was wiped clean and there was the chance to start all over. Maybe this was the year I wouldn’t feel like a monstrous dork, maybe this was the year (dare I say it out loud?) a boy would notice me and the world would recognize my immense genius. Hey, why not think big? Anything was possible.

Continue Reading…

Binders, Guest Posts, Life

Requiem for a Fallen Catholic.

February 12, 2015

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88 

By Trish Cook.

Confession

I hate going to church. Especially funerals. I am only here in the hopes that my presence will comfort a hurting friend, not because I believe in this bullshit.

Sit, kneel, stand, cry.

Remember how losing a parent is like a having a body part amputated. How long the numbness where they used to exist lasts, how searing the pain is once the feeling returns. Remember why, ever since my dad died decades ago when I was twenty-four, I havent been able to sit through a religious service without getting angry, teary.

More pomp, more circumstance, more hollow promises.

Prayto whom, I do not knowthat my friend John, who has just lost his father and is the reason I grudgingly sit, kneel, stand, and cry today, finds comfort where I no longer do.

Wonder, as I have so many times since my own fathers funeral: Why would a loving God let us walk the earth so wounded? Lie so battered? Allow us to become so bruised, each and every one of us?

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the Tuscan hills above. No yoga experience required. Only requirement: Just be a human being. Yoga + Writing + Connection. We go deep. Bring an open heart and a sense of humor- that's it! Summer or Fall 2015.

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the Tuscan hills above. No yoga experience required. Only requirement: Just be a human being. Yoga + Writing + Connection. We go deep. Bring an open heart and a sense of humor- that’s it! Summer or Fall 2015.

  Continue Reading…

Grief, Guest Posts, healing, loss

The Other Side of Loss.

January 21, 2015

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88

By Rene Denfeld

I come from a family of suicides.

My older brother killed himself by eating pain pills and then putting a plastic bag over his head—just in case. My mother followed a few years later, willing herself out of this world. Cousins, siblings, nephews: dead. Even those who survive often bear the marks or memories of trying.

When someone you love kills himself or herself—and when it happens over and over again, as in my family—suicide becomes as ordinary as crossing the street. It becomes your hand on a glass of milk. It becomes you opening the mail, you going for a walk: see that bridge? See that truck? It becomes the freeway ramp you recall your brother made his first attempt to kill himself, driving the wrong way, desperate for collision. It becomes the plate of food you look at and see your mother, denying herself until she literally starved to death, a gasping skeleton clutching your hand in a bed, so devoid of fluids she could not cry.

When the people you love kill themselves, it becomes a common thing, a normal thing, and an everyday you-could-do-it-too thing. It haunts you. It asks, why not you? What gives you the right to survive? Continue Reading…

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