Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Kristin is her own lady: Navigating a Big Move

Over the next few months, I'll be running a series about women who have embraced their own-ness by operating outside of the norm, namely by choosing not to have children, choosing to move far away from their support systems, or choosing to make a major career switch. There are many ways to be your own lady; here's to celebrating your path!

Kristin is my cousin and one of the moms I've looked to for guidance since I've had my first child. As her family has grown, Kristin has moved around the East Coast, in each place creating a special environment and always holding onto her hobbies (turned side business!) and family routines. Like the good millennial family that we are, we follow each other's lives on Facebook, and I am always amazed at the way she settles in and finds community in her new home. I asked Kristin to share her thoughts on making a big move. Whether you are moving for an obligation or of your own accord, there is wisdom here!

1. Tell us a little about yourself (where do you live, what do you, what is your family like, how do you enjoy spending your time?)
I'm a 34-year-old mom of three living in Laurel, MD. I work part time teaching online but my current passion is sewing. Honestly, it's probably my passion because it allows me to hide from my three kids in the basement now and then ;). Kids are 1, almost 4, and 5.

2. Tell us a little about the places you've lived. Which move do you consider your "big move"?
I have lived in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Michigan, Ohio, North Carolina, and Maryland. All of them were big moves in their own way, but my first really truly adult move was uprooting our family of 5 from NC to move to MD. 

3. What was the reason for this big move? Was it a decision you came to on your own or were you subject to outside forces? 
Casey, my husband, had worked at his job in NC for 10 years and had been casually job hunting for at least half that time. While the job in NC had been an amazing career experience, as he'd completely climbed the ladder there, it wasn't ever what he'd intended to do as a career. So he went back to school for four long years, during which time he continued working full time and we both teetered on the brink of insanity having three babies, moving into four different homes, and more...and at graduation he was offered exactly the job he most wanted in his new field. In Maryland. So here we are. While I was not in any way excited about the idea - I really felt like we'd made a home in NC, including building our dream house - there was just no question in my mind that refusing to move for this job would mean crushing all of my husband's dreams and completely negating all the work and stress and strain of the previous four years. I couldn't trade all that for the relative security of staying in NC, so we made the leap.

4. What was your support system like before your move? What does your support system look like now?
I had built a great support system of fellow parents, the babywearing community (I helped establish a fast-growing local babywearing group and had just stepped down as president), and work colleagues. I had a fantastic and flexible job teaching college composition at one of the best programs in the country. I was constantly engaged and inspired by the work of my colleagues. 

Now, I am still working, teaching online for the same university. The difference in my motivation is depressing - without the renewing energy of faculty development workshops and casual interaction with an office full of people doing the same job, I feel kind of at sea. But it's a job and a clear connection to what I was doing before, and that is a good thing when everything else feels new and strange.

It's been hard to make friends here. I remember when we moved to NC, it literally took years to make friends. I think it would/will be the same way here, if we stay that long. At least I have the memory of how hard it was to make friends to remind me that it isn't me. I'm not a horrible person. It just takes a long time for a new person to become part of someone else's comfortable, established orbit. I already have met a few people through the same parenting networks I used in NC - the babywearing group, the local Facebook parenting groups. Thank goodness for Facebook - although some complain it makes relationships too disconnected and is used to avoid face-to-face meetings, my experience has been the opposite. Being home with small kids is ISOLATING. But I don't actually feel bereft of adult communication, because it's all right there: other parents in my situation, reaching out. And there are plenty of opportunities for meet ups; I've just had to get brave enough to show up and start the harder work of face to face conversation.

5. What advice would you give to someone who wanted to make a big move?
As these questions suggest - people are key to making you feel comfortable in a new place. Everything else (moving house, finding a place to live, a new job, a new daycare, etc.) is just logistics. Force yourself to go out of your way to meet people. You might join 5 new social circles to make one friend; don't give up.

Know it will take awhile to find your groove. That it may be actual months before you start feeling like you actually live there and are not just on some weird vacation. That your kids may do great or the one you were least worried about might also take months to adjust. But eventually, anywhere will become home.

Thank you so much, Kristin! You can check out the gorgeous bags Kristin designs while hiding in the basement at Chrysalis Designs Fiber Art (Shop / Facebook). Do you have any questions for Kristin? Tips for navigating a big move? 

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Be Your Own Lady Mission: Write a Summer Syllabus

My heart is heavy about the state of our world. I'm feeling more angry than I have in awhile. I am paying attention to my elected officials  I am trying to listen to the groups who deserve to have their say. And I am dealing with this the way I deal with most things: books. I am working on my summer syllabus.

I've done this twice now. I wrote about it for Book Riot. I barely ever never finish the full thing, but it's a rite of passage. A look ahead that lets me run through my whole summer. A list for those torturous moments where nothing looks appealing and I have no idea what to read next, an uncomfortable feeling that has been happening more and more lately. It's optimism in list form- sure, I'll really get through all these books! 

I've kept a bunch in mind while researching what I wanted to read this summer. In July our family is moving into a new house. We are planning for two family vacations (which means I'll turn to graphic novels). I want to read some of the authors I'll be seeing at Book Riot Live in November. I'm previewing a lot of middle grade books for the dream book club I'm hoping to get going in the fall. I'm also trying to spend some time resetting my mind. Tuning into the voices of people from different backgrounds and lifestyles. Thinking about how to use my voice on the internet and my role in the lives of my students as a place to encourage inclusivity and open mindedness.  Add it all together, mix liberally with iced coffee and sunscreen, and you've got my summer syllabus.

Books to Prepare for Book Riot Live
Burn Baby Burn by Meg Medina 

Bitch Planet Vol, 1: Extraordinary Machines by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine De Landro 

All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders

Books to Prepare for The Move
The life-changing magic of tidying up by Marie Kondo (for the move) 
*I'm nervous that this might just make me feel crappy. I've heard people rave about how much they've hated and loved it. It's worth a try.

Apartment Therapy: Complete and Happy Home by Maxwell Gillingham-Ryan and Janel Label 

Graphic Novels
American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang

In Real Life by Cory Doctorow and Jen Wang

Lumberjanes (the entire series) by Noelle Stevenson and a ton of other talented ladies
*This is a reread, but it's been forever since I've read the first, so I'm going to catch up

Teaching With Intention by Debbie Miller 

The Read Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease

Book Club Previews
The Girl In The Well Is Me by Karen Rivers

Wonder by R.J. Palacio

George by Alex Gino

Becoming Naomi Leòn by Pam Muñoz Ryan

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor

So there's that sorted: my summer plan for reading to grow my mind, support my goals, and keep me happy in the sun. Here is my mission for you: write a summer syllabus. Add things you've been meaning to watch, listen to, or do. I wrote a how-to article about making your syllabus to help you get started. Whether it's one book or something more elaborate, I'd love to see what shape your plan takes. Feel free to comment here, and if you blog, use the hashtag #beyourownladymission so we can all read each other's work! 

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Thoughts After 3 Weeks on Medication

It's been a little quiet here. It's been a little quiet in my reading life. It's been a very quiet in my Scrivener document, where I write my novel. I have been laying low, for many reasons. One big one? I started medication for generalized anxiety disorder, and I've been sleeping. A lot.

I had a physical three weeks ago, and it happened to fall right in the middle of a Very Stressful Time. We had just accepted an offer on our house, and we had a small window of time to find a new home. You know, the home we expected to meet our family's needs for the next thirty years? That one. We needed to find it in a matter of weeks, while working full time with little to no childcare for ANY non work hours. Our family rhythms had also shifted in January, with Ben home during the day and working nights and Saturdays, and it was hard. Hard on the (bored) kids, hard on Ben and I. Add in evenings and weekends being dragged to look at houses where you weren't allowed to touch anything, and our family was...raw. Snapping at each other. We were in survival mode.

What a beautiful problem to have, right? Touring potential new homes? I don't fail to recognize that only privilege of a special kind can turn this opportunity into something to be endured. House worries were not my only anxiety, though. Over a stretch of several months, I had found myself getting into something that I would describe as "thought loops." I would say something at work or write something on the internet and then obsess over my wording, terrified that I had offended someone or that my words would be taken the wrong way. I would think of a possible worse-case scenario involving one of my students, and then perseverate on it until I had to hide my phone so I wouldn't call and check with parents at three in the morning. For all my talking about myself, I'm a terrible self-reflector, but I'm fairly certain these were recent personality developments. I used to be good at shrugging things off, or at least as good as the average citizen. These new worrying behaviors were making me miserable.

So at this well-timed physical, I checked off "nervousness" on the form where you talk about recent symptoms. The chatty nurse came back to the room with another mental health form, rolling her eyes. "Sorry, but you checked off one of the no nos, so you have to fill this one out. Circle all zeros and they'll leave you alone." Yeesh. I answered honestly, marking off how many times in the last month my nervousness had made me feel sad or unmotivated, how often I was unable to stop thinking about something upsetting, how often I had mood swings. When my doctor came in, she read the form, checked her schedule, and said that because she had no appointments after me, we were tackling this today. We talked about coping strategies, meditation, regular physical exercise, and therapy, all things that I have tried and some of which had been extremely helpful to me in the past. Very quickly, though, we arrived at medication, and I was surprised at how easily it was brought up an how much it was encouraged. I thought she would push other methods of handling my anxiety and ask me to come back. The thing that really got me was her description of it as a tool that could get you through tough times (house buying, legal paperwork, moving with toddlers?) and her insistence that we could constantly revisit whether I wanted to stay on it.

I left with a birth control renewal, a directive to take a women's one-a-day, and a prescription for an anti-anxiety medication.

This was about a month ago, and things have changed. In fact, it is a whole new world in our family. This new medication has altered our home life in a way that I could not predict. See, I knew my worries were making me upset, but I had no idea how much they affected my moods. Whenever I am scared or unsure, my knee jerk reaction is to get mad- I've been this way my whole life. So when I was worried a lot, I was mad a lot. When I am mad in public, I tamp it down. I am a Libra, a diplomat, and I make sure everyone is happy. When I am mad at home, my anger is loud and quick and huge. No one outside of my family is privy to the way I can fall apart when I lose my temper. It's big. Big decisions make me fight or shut down altogether. Until now.

A week or so into my new med, Ben and I had to decide what offer to put in on a house that we were fairly certain was The One and The Only One For Us. Ben wanted to offer low, very low, figuring that the house needed a lot of work and it was the opening of negotiations. I felt that we were buying someone's family home and I didn't want to insult the owners. We went back and forth, explaining our sides. I was nervous, but Ben insisted, "They'll just counteroffer! This is the right move."  I nodded. "Okay." He looked at me weird. It took him three more cautious days to admit it, but he told me, "I've known you for 12 years, and you have never stopped in the middle of an disagreement with an 'okay.' In fact, the entire process of putting in that offer would have caused huge blowouts a month ago." I realized he was right. Moving into our first home had been incredibly stressful, resulting in huge fights that I am humiliated to recall. My fear and worry about the big changes in our lives had translated into little microbursts of rage. I was blamed "my temper." I never ever realized that medicine could affect these unpleasant emotions that I just figured were an unwelcome part of my personality.

In the past month, I cannot recall one single outburst that felt like a loss of control. I have been able to face challenges and stressful scheduling and minor family emergencies without spiralling and taking out on my husband or berating myself mentally. It has been truly life changing.

I don't want to sugarcoat this experience. There have definitely been drawbacks. As the medicine builds up in my system, I can feel myself getting more and more sleepy during daytime hours. I'm a person who has always loved waking up early, but in the past month, that has gotten harder and harder. Sometimes my eyelids flutter shut even as I'm drinking my coffee. I've had an incredibly difficult time getting to the gym in the evening, which used to happen at least three times a week- these days, I'm just too tired, even with extra sleep in the morning. The gym is my number one reading time, so as that time has dropped away, so has my interaction with books, something that greatly improves my mental health. I've had trouble getting into any book lately, and I can't tell if that's because of the medicine or just where I'm at right now. And my writing has taken a huge hit. I can usually sit and have a post come flying out of my fingertips, edit it up and have it published within an hour. This post has taken me three days four days a solid week to write, not because I'm unsure about sharing, but...sentences are harder to find. Words are more jumbled. And it's easier to just save what I have and drift away, where leaving a post unfinished used to really bother me.

The best way I can describe it is that everything feels like it's turned down. Like before I was at eleven, and someone clicked me back to five. 

There are ways to tweak this. I have an appointment tomorrow to discuss my progress on the drug and I am going to ask if I can try a lower dosage. I can also flex my willpower muscles a little more for the things that are truly important to me. I used to use my willpower to try and keep from blowing up over little things. If I failed, I yelled at my family. If this new normal means I exercise willpower to keep my hobbies in my life, and failure means a missed day of writing or one less chapter of a book, my more pleasant home life is worth it. For my husband and my kids and myself.

I want to make sure to stress that I am not a doctor and I am SURE that this course is not the best for everyone. This is definitely not a tacit endorsement of medication for all. It's a little spooky to realize that a small pill has so much control over my life and my emotions, but for me, it's also comforting to have help quieting a part of me that keeps me from feeling like the woman I want to be. I may not feel this way forever, but my doctor assured me that the conversation about whether this is the best for me is always open, and that, too, is comforting. 

I've always shared about my health on this blog, mostly because I overshare and talking about myself is one of my favorite hobbies. I also felt drawn to write this down after reading this great piece by Veronica Roth, a popular YA author who shared her story to encourage others who are struggling with mental health. Nothing is too small or silly to go unnoted- talk to your doctor about how you're feeling. If they dismiss your concerns, find another doctor. I have built a really special relationship with my primary care provider by being blunt even when it's uncomfortable, and she, in turn, listens to me and guides me. I trust her.  If your doctor doesn't make you feel safe and cared for, find another. You deserve a positive health care experience, no matter who you are or what symptoms you're struggling with. 

I would be happy to answer any questions you have about my personal situation, building a relationship with a health care provider, or anything at all that crosses your mind. Take care of yourselves as best you can, accept help whenever you want to, and never let anyone question the way you choose to live in your glorious body.

Some links for further reading: A list of fat friendly doctors listed by state and region, a great starting point for finding an open minded health care professional.  Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator- completely anonymous, let's you find the help you need in your area.

Both of the above links are from the indispensable resources page put together by The Militant Baker