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Lost, that is what I would call him.

Never to be found?

Wandering around.

Trouble, the kind he might never find a way out of.

Keep him in your prayers because no one else cares.

Homeless, yet at times living in my home.

It’s too cold to be sleeping on a park bench.

Sleeping on the floor in my son’s room.

Arms wrapped around the dog at night for comfort.

Keep him in your prayers because no one else cares.

Bouncing from home to home…only 17.

Skipping out of school.

No hope?

Will he even graduate?

Keep him in your prayers because no one else cares.

Numbing his mind with whatever he can find.

He could die on the streets and no one would lose sleep.

Numb, the word permanently etched on his face

under his eye with a vacant stare.

It’s been a long time since he cut his hair.

Keep him in your prayers because no one else cares.

He’s drowning and pulling others down with him.

We had to break free of his grip.

Our son, we can only help save one.

But he is not out of the water yet..

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Emerging from the ashes

I am angry.

I am angry with my mother.

I am angry with Matt.

I am angry about my childhood.

I am angry.

There I said it.

It was difficult to admit and hard to post yesterday about feelings of anger. I must have edited the post a million times as the minutes slipped away. I cut and hacked the angry words away. I almost scrapped the post altogether. I thought about deleting it after I posted it.

Anger…I was taught that it was wrong to feel that way.

You shouldn’t feel angry, it agitates Matt.

You shouldn’t feel angry, he can’t help it.

You shouldn’t feel angry, you are normal.

You shouldn’t feel ANGRY!

You shouldn’t feel angry…

You shouldn’t feel…

I didn’t feel…I stopped feeling. I was numb inside. I could no longer feel pain, but could no longer feel joy. I was empty inside. I became devoid of color. I lived in a cold, barren desert. No more tears, no more laughter. I could stare at the same spot on the wall for hours. I was sinking inside of myself.

My mom sent me to a therapist.

How do you feel, Alissa? I don’t feel.

Yes, you do. Take a look at the feelings chart. I don’t know.

Over time I started to feel again. But the feelings right away weren’t good. I felt everything that I wasn’t trying to feel before. It was a dark place. I was afraid that I wouldn’t make it through to the faint light in the distance. Sometimes the empty void called me back. You don’t want to feel if you have to feel like that.

It was a long journey to get to the place I am now.

I had to lock away the demons that tore at my soul. But I still kept the key.

Sometimes, in the dark of night, the flame from the fire that burns through the keyhole draws me in. I’m curious if I can stoke the fire without getting burned. I keep looking in. I pick at old wounds to see if they still hurt. The scars are starting to fade.

I’m holding the key. I feel strong enough now to slowly unlock the door…

I think the person that emerges from the ashes will make walking through the fire worthwhile.

 

 

Survival stories

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Over this past week, we have been hit by several severe storms. There was one day that it didn’t storm. Tornadoes blew through the area.

My daughter, Arabella, was at camp all week. They had to take shelter several times due to the severe storms. For once, I didn’t worry too much. I grew up fairly close to the area that my daughter went to camp. I knew exactly where the storms hit. I knew the campers weren’t in the storms path. By the time I knew a storm was coming, it had already passed that area.

After I picked up my daughter from camp, I went to the cemetery to see if my grandparents ‘survived’ the storm. I checked on their parents and siblings too. It seemed like a strange thing to do, since they all have been dead for almost a decade or more. I don’t get out that way to visit too often.

I remember going as a child along with my grandma and Aunt Grace to check on our family at the cemetery after a storm. Now, regrettably, it felt like my turn.

I drove by my grandparents house. The new owners put up a decorative fence in the front yard. At Aunt Grace’s house, the new owners put in a new front door and constructed a flower bed where a tree used to be. It is still painful to drive by.

I stopped at my parents house, but they weren’t home. It was oddly silent. I feel a certain sadness when I go home. I can’t explain it. I feel nostalgia for what was. I feel grief for things that happened that shouldn’t have. I feel an emptiness, a sense of being alone. It is a painful feeling, but ever so slightly, an uneasiness that almost cannot be pinpointed.

I picked asparagus in my parents backyard as I saw lightening and heard the rumble of distant thunder. I felt empty, alone, and a little afraid. Afraid of being vulnerable out in the open. I felt the emptiness of it all. Soon my parents will be gone. I still regret not spending every moment with my loved ones that I could before they were gone. Guilt. But not even deserved. I spent a lot of time with my family. My mother didn’t want to let me go, so I stayed. I’m the dutiful firstborn that never went far from home. I was needed.

As I ventured out and about this week, I talked to others that faced the storm. People are drawn to tales of destruction, to view the carnage. People want to share their survival stories. I spoke to a stranger that said his family had several collector cars that were destroyed by the tornado after the shed they were in blew away. Cars that were loved, the original parts sought after. I saw pictures. How often does a stranger show you picture after picture on their phone??

I heard the story of a barn the was destroyed in the storm. The cows were lost and some blew away. Half of the cows were found down the road impaled into the ground. These are survival stories being told by people grasping for others who can relate.

I thought about the stories I heard, then realized that I am the same way. I want to tell my story. I want to feel united in life’s collective struggle. They may not be the same stories, but have the common key of surviving something difficult.

I told you this week about a couple of stories where we survived sailing under difficult circumstances that were unexpected. I tell you about my races, how grueling the last triathlon and marathon were. My struggles as a parent, spouse, business owner, and with my own personal issues. I speak of surviving a very difficult childhood. I often feel alone because I don’t hear a lot of people with a similar story.

Who else out there has a severely mentally ill sibling that threatened to kill the youngest most vulnerable family members? Beside my siblings, I know of no other person who has that story to tell. It is lonely struggling alone.

My favorite bloggers are those that have struggled too. I don’t read your stories because I like to see you in pain or your failure. Your stories motivate me to go the extra mile. They inspire me to keep telling my story.

I almost feel sorry for people that don’t have a story to tell.

Depression, my old friend

In response to my neighbor’s suicide…

I understand your struggle…

When I grew up, my childhood was very difficult. It was so difficult that the big people in my life could barely cope with the circumstances that they had to deal with. In early childhood I developed two friendships to help me cope, depression and anxiety.

Depression was a close friend of the family. My dad made friends with depression too. Sometimes when the house was really quiet, I was afraid of what he might do. My brother Mark found friendship with depression too. When he was a teen, my mom found several nooses in the tree. I knew the temptation. I knew the struggle.

In late childhood, I tried to break my friendship with depression but she fell in love with me.

When I became an adult, I learned how to live with my friend. I kept myself very busy so I wouldn’t have time for my friend to visit. I worked harder and harder. When my friend noticed I was free, she would visit me.

Have you ever been suicidal before? Do you know what it is like to be that depressed? I do. It is very frightening. Thoughts and images popping into my head of my own demise over and over again. Me in the bathtub with slashed wrists. Driving very fast into a tree. A loaded gun. An empty bottle of pills. Horrible, intrusive thoughts that invade my mind unwanted. The more I try to push my friend away, the more she clings.

Over time I learned how to cope with having a difficult friend. I am a workaholic. Keeping busy keeps her away. I have a strong faith that exorcises my demons. I try to outrun my demons by running 100 miles a month. I take massive doses of vitamin D over the winter months. I try to have something to look forward to. I find the support of family and close friends who have survived difficult times.

What can others do to help that haven’t experienced it? Listen without condemnation. Allow venting, even if it means listening to things you don’t want to hear. Don’t tell them to get over it even if it has been several years since they experienced the initial pain. Sometimes being a good friend is encouraging others to seek professional help.

Does that mean that I no longer get depressed? No. Sometimes when I go through hard times, my friend comes back to help me. A few months ago when I was having difficulties with my son, she visited me for awhile. I spent a long time staring off into space. This is very hard to explain, but when I stared off into space I felt peaceful. When you sink down low enough, sometimes you feel so empty that even the pain is gone. It is a very alluring trap. I had to pull myself out of that dark void. I feel sorry for those that struggle to break free.

Over the years, I learned a few things about my friend. It is okay to feel sad. Sometimes the negative feelings in our life motivate change. During difficult times and emotions, I tell myself that the feelings will pass. I also tell myself over and over that I have felt this way before and survived it. I know how to cope, how to get through.

I am trying hard to face all of the feelings that were locked away for so many years. Writing has been very therapeutic. Maybe if I write honestly about my experiences and struggles, then others won’t feel so all alone. I am okay. You will be okay too. Find a way to cope. Be understanding toward others that struggle. Maybe it will prevent one more unnecessary death.

A storm is brewing

I feel the edginess right before the storm hits. The peacefulness and calm from my vacation is leaving slowly like a summertime tan. I feel the wind surround the emptiness inside of me, trying to find a void to fill with cold icy snow. The warmth and sunshine are gone now. Sorrow, darkness, and anger encapsulates me. I cry out to God, but He doesn’t seem to hear my prayers. I feel the tug of emotions trying to drown me in a river of despair. I am alone. I want to be alone. I don’t want to talk. I really don’t want to do anything.

It has been a hard start of the year. I miss my neighbor and friend that passed away a couple of weeks ago. Every time I look at her house, I think that she is still there. She will pull her car out of the driveway and wave at me. We were supposed to do something together next week. But guess what? I can’t go. I looked over the old messages that she sent me. My heart tells me that she is still alive. She just can’t come outside. My brain tells me to stop being such a fool. Stop pretending that things are fine.

Last summer my best friend moved to Florida. I had the opportunity to spend time with her while we were there on vacation. I didn’t realize how much I missed talking to her and seeing her. I miss her. I don’t feel like talking to anyone else. In 4 months, my oldest daughter will be leaving the house. I am excited for her to start the adult chapter in her life, but I am at such a loss. I started crying while she performed her solo and ensemble song for me. It bothered me that she sold her junior prom dress. It just seems so final.

Then yesterday we found out that my mother-in-law has stage 4 terminal lung cancer. They are giving her around 15 months to live. Wait a minute, I am not ready to deal with the loss of our parents yet. I have been having a hard time with this since I saw her last week. I have been feeling sad and angry. With all of the people that were praying for her and my friend that passed away, why didn’t God heal them? I don’t have any control. Why should I expect miracles? I feel helpless. Who can avoid death? It has given Paul time to say goodbye to his only parent. That has been good for him to spend time with her.

This morning my son got suspended from school. He got in a fight with someone in the hallway. It has been no secret that my son has been struggling with school for the last couple of months. He has been begging us to switch schools for a couple months now. Apparently a boy called him a faggot on facebook back in December and has been bullying him with some other kids. My son got in his face today. I suppose that it shouldn’t surprise me that the day after my son finds out that his grandma is dying that he confronts this other boy. Words were exchanged between my son and this boy. They were pushing and shoving each other in the hallway. Then I received a call from the school that my son was suspended for 3 days. He was trying to provoke the other kid that was picking on him. Maybe this is a good thing. Maybe we can finally resolve this issue head on.

We are expecting a snow storm today. We should be getting somewhere around 8 inches of snow with blowing winds. It just started to snow.

My soles are worn thin

It seems I haven’t gotten too far on my travel series yet. Maybe tomorrow..

This past weekend I shared with you a dream that I had about having to run a marathon I am not ready for. I think the marathon symbolizes the second half of my life. I looked down to see that my soles on my shoes were totally worn out. The reality is that the first half of my life is over. Then I noticed that at the beginning of this marathon I was wearing shoes that fit but they were on the wrong foot. I don’t want to start the second half of my life on the wrong foot. I request a new pair of shoes, this time they fit but they are uneven. I won’t be able to run the race very long wearing these shoes. I think this is symbolic of parenting. My children will start leaving the house in a few months, things won’t be the same (uneven), and soon I will be actively taking these shoes off. The last shoe brought out is the most comfortable but it doesn’t fit yet. Ah, retirement and living without the stress of working and actively parenting. But it is going to be a long time before this shoe fits me.

I took comfort early on in the dream marathon that Gu and broccoli were at the beginning of the race. I chose to go down the path of exercise and healthy living. Not only does being an exercise fanatic ward off my depression, anxiety, and stress. It makes me think that I will live longer and healthier. Because if I really think about it, which is something that I try to avoid doing, I am terrified of death. We are not going to exist forever like we do now. Even though I have a firm faith in God, I am still absolutely terrified of my own demise. What if I am wrong? What if there is nothing out there? Forget the physical pain of taking your last breathe. What if there is only an empty void? A void like the one before our existence. I just can’t bear the emptiness of that. I want to think that I am going to see my loved ones again, even if I am wrong.

When I started this dream marathon, I saw people wander off the path before it began. I went to sleep that night worried that my neighbor in her mid 40’s was not going to make it. She did pass away during the night. She was one of the people that left the race early before it really even began for her. Another thing that I noticed was that the path looked straight and the weather was fine. I seemed to have the tools I needed to run the race but I couldn’t see very far ahead of me. I needed to figure out what shoes to wear, what my role is going to be in the second half of my life. I wanted to wait to start the marathon before I figured that out, but I ran out of time.

I suppose at this point it is pretty obvious that I was a psychology major in college. LOL

 

 

Still the classical music plays

My mom called me in the say that Mr. Smith died today. Tears fall from her eyes but all I want to do is go back outside to play. The snow is over my head and I want to go back to my little hill to sled. My little brothers are busy ants digging underground tunnels in the snow. It is cold and quiet outside. Sometimes I sing a song to hear my voice echo back to me. Then I don’t feel so alone. I am always alone. None of my friends are allowed to come over and play. Matt scares them away.

My mom takes me over to see the really old people in town. She said they like it when little girls come over to play. They don’t have any family and are all alone. I like Mr. and Mrs. Smith. Sometimes Mrs. Smith gives me cookies and one time she took me upstairs to see the dolls she used to play with. The dolls are really old and I can’t play with them. Mr. Smith showed me his card shuffling machine. I really liked it. Mr. Smith is sick. He coughs a lot. Sometimes he doesn’t get out of bed when we visit. Mom said Mr. Smith died today. Maybe I’ll see him tomorrow but right now I really want to play.

Mom keeps crying. It is making Matt upset. We can’t sleep. Matt rocks back and forth in his bed. He rocks until his face bleeds and blood is on his sheets. My little brothers can’t sleep because Matt is making too much noise. My three brothers share the room next to me. Mom cries. The day Mr. Smith died, mom put a record player in the hall at night. She thought that the classical music would soothe us to sleep.

Night after night, the classical music plays. But it doesn’t relax me. Instead I feel afraid.

 

 

Hoarding, clutter, and cleaning freaks

I am knee deep in fall cleaning right now. I thoroughly clean my house twice a year, once for spring and once for fall. Spring cleaning is the big event of the year where I scrub the whole house with a toothbrush. Fall cleaning is more of a hairbrush clean. I used to thoroughly clean my house after every season, but I really hate dusting. Talk about a useless task! I dust everything and within a half an hour new dust takes over. Then I sneeze for 3 days.

I threw out and donated many items to the point of guilt. I come from a very long line of hoarders. When we sold Aunt Grace’s house, we moved everything into my grandma’s house. When we sold grandma’s house, we moved stuff into my parent’s shed. Now their very large shed is full. Time to build another shed! We did get a large dumpster for my grandma’s house which was emptied 3 times. We made multiple trips to Goodwill to the point where they didn’t want any of our crap anymore. Did you ever hear of anyone getting turned away from Goodwill for over donating? Yeah, me neither.

Yesterday I went to my parents house and watched them struggle to maintain their property. There was a pipe that was leaking into the basement. Mom took me downstairs to look at the damage. There was some water that pooled around food items that expired in the 1990’s. I feel overwhelmed at the thought of cleaning it all out someday. My mom has always been a food hoarder which she attributes to growing up poor.  She has 4 freezers and 2 refrigerators. The cupboards are full of mostly expired food. There are grocery bags sitting on the floor with new food. Downstairs the situation is worse. Multiple peanut butter containers that expired in the 90’s, homemade canned food items from the 80’s, glass containers full of stale grains, corroded cans, juice separating in bottles.

My parents also hoard other things like cars, magazines, paper, newspapers, clothing, blankets, wood, books, movies, old toys, candles, soap, empty jars, tools, and parts. My dad collects electronics, broken parts to fix other broken parts. The floor and chairs are stacked with papers. The dining room table is never clutter free and neither is the kitchen counter. Nothing is thrown out even if it is expired, broken, or useless. Paul’s mom and step-dad are hoarders too. They have 2 refrigerators in their small kitchen. One doesn’t work and is used for storage. Both of our parents have given us some of their junk which we throw out for them. Thankfully Paul and I share the same motto of when in doubt throw it out. Looking at my kids rooms, I think we may have a few future hoarders on our hands. 

As a clean freak, the clutter overwhelms me. I can’t breathe. I feel a lonely emptiness in a room stacked full of clutter. It rises within me a feeling of absolute despair which I cannot explain. It feels hopeless. I want to throw everything away. I want my house to be clean, but no matter what I do it still feels dirty and messy.

A few years back, my brother Luke and his wife brought her sister to my parents house with them for the weekend. Luke’s sister-in-law told my brother that my parents house was so messy that she would never stay there again. Luke told my mom. This started a big fight with a lot of tears and stress from my mom. Luke was hoping that my mom would throw things out like he does, but instead they built another shed. My mom gets very attached to items and needed a lot of moral support to throw out my brother’s baby blanket a few years ago when he was well into his 30’s. We also did not want our old baby clothes for our children. Why do items attach so much hurt for the people who don’t want to part with them and the people that don’t want to keep them?

I have helped my parents countless times in the past. It is so overwhelming to me. It is like emptying a lake with a cup. I feel guilty for not helping them more. I’ll be totally honest, I can’t handle it. It elicits such a strong negative response within me that is unbearable. So I scour every corner of my house. After cleaning I still see all of the streaks in the windows, all the stains on the carpeting, the little yellow rings that don’t come out of my sink and bath tubs, the grease that lingers around the oven, the little spots on the walls, and the cracks in the linoleum. Will we ever be free from cleaning or hoarding? Will we be forever haunted by earthly treasure or trash?

Judged

I always thought that I was a really good judge of character. Don’t we all? I have heard people admit that they are selfish, lazy, unorganized, vain, but I don’t recall anyone ever saying to me that they are a bad judge of character. Why is that?  Do we want to see the best (or worst) in people despite contrary evidence? I have been struggling with this concept lately. I think most people are embarrassed to admit that they were wrong about someone’s character when their hearts were broken or money was stolen.

I met Jake a couple of years back when he still was a boy. The first time I saw him, he was walking his dog by our house. At the time, I thought maybe he would be a good friend for my son. One day I just happened to be looking out the window when Jake walked by. I just let my dog out and was looking towards the road when I saw Jake’s dog drag him over the meet my dog. In the process, Jake got clotheslined on our mailbox. The dog further dragged him into the ditch. Jake laid wounded on the grass with blood coming out of his neck. I freaked out. I sent my oldest daughter out to get him while I panicked. Eventually I bandaged up some of his wounds and gave him a warm washcloth to put on his scraped and bloody neck. I tracked down his muddy mutt and loaded them into my car to give them a ride home. Welcome to the neighborhood!

A few days later, Jake’s mom sent me a note thanking me for taking care of her son. I still have it which is remarkable because I throw everything out. Over the years, Jake and my son became very good friends. I always liked Jake. He was courteous, quiet, happy, friendly, and kind. He always thanked me when I gave him a ride to school. He was the kind of kid that I wanted my son to hang out with.

Then this summer, things changed. Jake grew into a troubled teen. He was no longer happy. He stopped thanking me for rides. He went to the gas station and stole a pack of cigarettes. His parents made him return them and apologize to the owners. He was grounded for over a month from everything. Then one cool rainy night, he ran away which I blogged about previously. He vanished for almost 48 hours, then went back to school like none of it ever happened. He was present, but not quite there.

A few days after Jake went back to school, his mom texted me with concern. She said that a teacher asked the students to draw a picture of what they were doing for the weekend. Jake drew a picture of himself alone in the corner of his room with his knees folded and his head down in despair.

Then a few weeks later, a note came home from school stating that a student talked about bringing a gun to school. Apparently, a boy had created a hit list with 6 names on it and stated that he was going to bring 7 bullets to school. It was Jake. Jake said that he didn’t mean it, but he was sent away for a couple of weeks for treatment.

Last week I saw Jake walking his dog when I went on a long run. I asked him how he was doing. He smiled and replied that he was doing good. I just have to wonder if his smile was sinister or sincere. I always liked Jake and thought he was a good person. I still want to believe that despite all of the contrary evidence. How could I be so wrong?? In my mind, he is still the sweet and caring boy that I first met years ago. Not the troubled teen that he has become. I have been having a really hard time with this. I feel unsettled, I want to trust him again but can’t. I feel thankful that the troubles with my teens are trivial in comparison. I worry about his family. I pray that Jake can find the friendly and happy boy he once was.

The dark unfeeling cardboard box

When I was a young child, I never really liked school a lot. Sure, there were some bad teachers, some good, and some everywhere in between. But it really wasn’t that. It was never that. It had more to do with Matt, my autistic brother. Being less than 2 years younger than me, I could never get away. The school really didn’t know what to do with Matt. He was the first autistic child to come through the school district. When he couldn’t function in a regular classroom, they cut the library in half to make it a special ed room.

For a long period of time, Matt was nonverbal. Oh, he did scream and cry but he did not talk. He was uncontrollable. His teacher at school set up a naughty box for him between the library and special ed room. Almost every time we had library, my brother was in the box screaming and flailing around. The box seemed high at the time because I was so little. When my class lined up to look at books, the kids could peer into the box. Most of the time the kids laughed and I hated them. I put my feelings in a big box that seemed even bigger than the box that Matt was in. Many times I would rather be trapped in that empty box devoid of feelings, life, and light than to face the pain of the real world.

For a long time I floated around in my own little world. How could I make friends with my classmates? How could I like the kids that called my brother a retard? I went deeper and deeper into that box. I stopped eating. I didn’t talk to anyone. I started failing my classes. The only thing that touched my heart was music. I had this focal point that I would always stare at so I didn’t start crying in that class. I was so lost. My mom was very concerned, she had the school counselor talk to me. She was a wonderful person who tried to help me make friends and talk about feelings.

My mom wasn’t in much better shape herself. Mother daughter outings with the extended family ended up with my mom sharing with the family how much she hated autism and all of the things that Matt did or didn’t do. The family just wanted relaxation and fun. They were uncomfortable that my mom was crying and needed their support. They stared at me all the time. When I was alone with family, they peppered me with questions about if my mom was ok and how was Matt. I didn’t feel like anyone cared about me. Most of the time they were just trying to help without being very helpful.

One day Matt started talking again. He told stories of how his teacher in the grade school was abusive towards him. She shoved him under her desk and sat down at her desk squeezing him in there. He also said that the teacher would place him face down on the floor and sit on him making it hard to breathe. My mom asked me if this could be true, she was very upset.

After everything that happened, my mom tried to keep my younger brothers sheltered from going to school with Matt. She sent my brothers to parochial schools and schools that were out of our district. I wonder if that had anything to do with me not responding well to being in school with Matt. Did I save my younger brothers some pain? I hope so.