Wednesday, November 15, 2017

38

I looked back at last year's birthday post with hopes of big changes. This time last year, I was battling the paranoia that came from the election, as well as the normal feelings of wanting my life to count for something.  

This year came with a wave of unexpected sadness. I say 'unexpected' and immediately feel like I am lying to myself because it is always expected, just never welcomed. Since Warren died, all my joy is tinged with sadness. As often happens, I had a bout of tears that wouldn't stop popping up at inopportune times. At work: tears streamed down my face. Writing a scene: tears when the scene wasn't even sad. Driving: more tears. I was like WTF?!? Basta! Enough of this! There is so much to smile about and be grateful for! But, internally, the wound of loss was irritated. I wanted to talk to my friend about all there was to celebrate and that was not possible. I have other friends. I have a caring boyfriend who listens to my nonsense on a daily basis. My family is full of support and listening ears. Yet, here I was, almost six years later still yearning for the one thing I will never have. 

I've said it before and I'll say it until my last breath: GRIEF SUCKS. It hits you when you are least prepared and keeps pounding on you when you want peace. It gives you some moments of relief and you think you've gotten stronger, and then BAM it comes to show you who is really in charge. 

A thoughtful token of love
Something else I've said over and over again: I am a lucky woman. I am loved and grateful for those who love me. That love turned my mood and my day around. It started with my boyfriend downloading and playing my favorite song first thing in the morning. He surprised me with a beautiful and thoughtful gift that pays homage to my love of dragonflies, which has been a source of comfort since Warren died. The necklace is bright and delicate, two words that also reflect our relationship in lots of ways- yet another reason to be happy and thankful this year. He also gave me lots of hugs and well wishes that helped me get through the day.

I gave myself the gift of two hours to write before work. I am in the thick of a new manuscript and in that phase where it's super exciting to be in the story and watch my characters take shape. It's similar to being around your crush - there is never enough time and there are butterflies.

After work, family and friends came together to indulge my craving for sushi and Thai food. During dinner, I looked around the table full of smiling faces and thought about how much I am me because of them. Everyone at the table, plus those who couldn't make it are the reason I move forward. They inspire me, motivate me, love me and accept me on my good and bad days. They are my weapons against grief. They counter the sadness and bad feelings that try to dampen my soul. 

Grief is a part of who I am and will always be. It is intertwined with everything I do and every emotion that flows through my body. It will never leave me but I am armed with so much more. Even on the days when it is hard to see that, love is just as strong and it fights through the negative, countering it and bringing me through to the other side. The people in my life are my armor. It is for them and because of them that I can fight back and feel stronger so that I can be armor to someone else. Being surrounded by their love helped me push past the grief that tried to shadow the celebration. 

As I look forward to my thirty-eighth year of life, I see that the good and bad are what life is made of. As long as the good never leaves me, I will continue to feel that even with the grief, I live a good life filled with love. This is the mantra to remember when grief tries to tell me otherwise. 

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Out with Anxiety


In the time that I've been away from blogging I have been trying to exercise self-love and doing a crappy job of it. For the last few weeks, I have been at war with my own thoughts. This is how my anxiety starts and then manifests itself in a variety of ways.

I was first diagnosed with anxiety when I graduated college but have had it as long as I can remember. All my life I recall physical reactions to events and situations. I would feel sick to my stomach before major events like my sweet sixteen and prom, and in reaction to things like being bullied. Sleeping the night before important events was nearly impossible. I would have epic meltdowns that my mother had no idea how to control and at times didn't know what brought them on. I wish I could say that these tantrums subsided as I matured but instead, they have matured right along with me. 

In college, my anxiety took the form of bulimia. As long as there was a toilet nearby, I felt like I could control the constant negative chatter that lived in my head. While the behavior started before college, it wasn't until then that it took on another life, the only way I knew to calm myself. It was about so much more than being thin. 

I still remember the meltdown that scared me into action. I was alone in my tiny apartment and it was a few weeks from graduation. I was juggling two jobs, an internship and leading college organizations. To top it all off, I had an unsupportive boyfriend and was trying to save a relationship that couldn't be saved. On the surface, I looked like I had everything under control. When alone, it was another story. I shook with the fear of failure. I ate less than five bites of food per day and never kept any of it down. I cried for hours when I should have been studying or sleeping. I spent hours on cardio machines trying to sweat away the restlessness. The night of my eye-opening meltdown, I burst into tears that rocked my body like I was having a seizure. I fell to the ground and every muscle felt tight. It was like there was a weight on my chest and I couldn't breathe, even as I cried. I couldn't even get up to go to the bathroom and flush my feelings away. I think about that night and get goosebumps recalling the fear that gripped me. No doubt it was due to months of malnourishment, lack of sleep, unhealthy habits and stress. It was also fueled by my propensity to constantly worry about the "WHAT IF."

I am a master at coming up with the worse WHAT IF scenarios in my head and then panicking because I don't feel equipped to face them. WHAT IF has been my companion as long as I can remember and it has never been positive WHAT IFs, it's always been doom and gloom in my head. 

That night, when I was finally able to calm down and catch my breath, I knew something wasn't right. It was scary to go through that and I wanted to know what was happening so I could prevent it. I had heard about anxiety attacks and wondered if that was what had just happened. 

After I graduated I was on a mission to find out if I had clinical anxiety. I met with a few different therapists and psychiatrists before finding one and she did a series of tests. We had difficult and lengthy conversations. After an extensive evaluation, she prescribed medication. Like many, I was weary to take medication for the rest of my life.  She said it could be a crutch or a tool, it was up to me. I wanted it to be a tool. She said I had to put in a lot of work if I wanted that. She encouraged me that anxiety could be controlled with lifestyle choices, but made it clear that there was no cure. Even with the medication, I would have relapses. There would always be triggers and I would have to learn new coping skills. 

Over the years I have gone on and off meds and have tried various combinations. I have learned to identify what helps me get rid of the WHAT IFs, or at least get them to quiet down so I can have more realistic thoughts. My psychiatrist was right, though. It takes constant work to live with anxiety and as I change, so does my condition.

When Warren died, my anxiety around night time and sleep became a more ferocious beast. There were so many nights I would lay in bed and my heart would pound and my mind would race and my stomach would churn for hours. It was common for me to get three hours of sleep per night, usually less. On nights it was really bad, I pulled out my laptop and wrote. Other nights I popped melatonin like it was candy. After about a year of this with little to no success, I saw my doctor and got on meds. The same meds that had worked before no longer worked and I spent months trying various combinations. Fast forward to today, and while I've been off the pills for almost a year, I recognize that they help more than what I can do on my own. 

Recently, I have felt some familiar symptoms. Sleep has become difficult again and the faintest sound wakes me up and I am awake for hours. I have bent over a toilet bowl and burst into tears at silly provocations. Over the years I have learned to hold it together during the day but the comfort of home is a different story. My poor daughter and boyfriend have been bearing the brunt of it and it's not fair to them. The worst burden is in my own head. It has become loud again. I continue to workout, read, knit, write, keep busy and be social - all tools that have helped me maintain a life without pills but I am vigilant and aware. I have noticed a shift in how these activities affect me. When this happens, I have learned to reach out and get help. Life is much easier when my brain can rest, which allows the rest of my body to do so as well. 

Mental health issues are taboo and I don't understand why. I didn't bring on my anxiety. It is as much a part of me as my curls. It was formed in my DNA. It is also common. I see the signs of it in others and depending on my comfort with the person, I feel proud helping them by sharing my story. My methods may not work for everyone but if it can be helpful knowing that someone else sees you and understands, then I hope these words can do that.   



Wednesday, September 27, 2017

The Daily Task of Rising

Tomorrow I am scheduled as a Women at Noon Series speaker at Des Moines University. It was an honor to be asked to share my story, especially among the stellar line-up of exceptional women. It was not the first time I had been asked to speak about my journey but it felt like it. Part of the reason is that the event is open to the public. I have done a lot of speaking for private events. Being that this is open to the public, I have no idea how many people will show up - if any, and what they want to gain from hearing my story. That triggers my desire to please everyone as I try to imagine why anyone would be motivated to spend their lunch hour learning about me.

As I worried and wondered what to focus on, I thought to presentations I've heard in the past. The more personal the story, the more I related to the speaker. The vulnerability of being in front of a group and sharing innermost thoughts and experiences is a great show of humanity. I have had the privilege of having heard many speakers and their examples came to mind. It also filled me with doubt.

  • Can I be as truthful as those who put it all out there and drew me in?
  • How can I hold myself accountable to the truth?
As I prepared the presentation I kept telling myself to relax. I have spoken to large groups before. There is a reason I was asked to speak. I needed to own that. It's tough to do that when you aren't feeling in your prime.

The last few weeks have come with some parenting challenges that have made me question who I am at my core. I am in a constant state of processing that but when something brings that to the surface I become guarded and protective. I didn't want that to come across as me being less than honest in my story. I want to be like the speakers who have uplifted me. If people are going to take time out of their day to listen to me, I want them to go away with not only a message of hope, but a better picture of who I am. My goal is to connect with my audience at a level that surpasses the event and opens the door for further interaction. That means I can't be restrictive. I have to share the good along with the ugly. 

There were and still are ugly parts of my journey. It is a daily part of my life and I am not alone in that. We all face the daily task of rising. For some it might be rising to get their day going because they face circumstances and situations they would rather not deal with. For others it might mean rising to an occasion they fear. We all walk paths of challenge and choices. Sometimes they are easier than others but it is the ones that want to knock us down that move us to choose to listen to the stories of others. We rely on their narratives to fuel our own. In the end, it is this that helps us choose to rise to our own destinies, even if the stories are unrelated.

With that as my guiding principal, I will rise to confront my doubts and insecurities and tell a story that comes from the deepest part of me. It won't be easy and I'll have to fake confidence with every word but I owe it to every listener who comes to find a piece of their story in mine. If nothing else, it is part of the legacy I hope to leave. It is part of my ultimate life goal to leave this world a little better than I found it, even if that is only true for one person. 

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Pura Vida


Last month I checked off a ten-year bucket list item - I went ziplining over the rainforest in Costa Rica.  It was as amazing as I dreamed it would be and I'd do it again in a heartbeat. 


Aside from the adrenaline of the zipline, the trip was filled with hiking, horseback riding, thermal hot springs, an impromptu trip to Nicaragua and scalping tickets to a World Cup qualifying match at the National Stadium.

It's hard to pinpoint what I liked best about the trip because the truth is, I loved every minute of it. I often like to check off countries and move on to other continents, but I would gladly return to Costa Rica and Nicaragua if I have the chance.

Here are some more highlights. 
Eco lodge in the rain forest
Volcán Arenal

One of many hiking trails

View of the volcano from our lodge balcony

Lodge grounds

Scenes from the lodge grounds

Arenal volcano in the background

The beach along the northwest coast

Impromtu trip to Nicaragua

Lake Nicaragua

The largest lake in Central America

Small town in Nicaragua

Gases from an active volcano

Monkey Island
Scene from Monkey Island


More scenes from Nicaragua:





World Cup Qualifier: Mexico vs. Costa Rica:
National Stadium in San Jose
Scalped tickets
Stadium lit and ready for the match
Costa Rica's team

75,000 fans






Wednesday, September 13, 2017

A Conversation and Discovery

True to their promise, my parents in law came for their annual visit. They timed it so they would be here for the Warren Morrow Music Festival I help organize every year. They also wanted to be in his home on what would have been Warren's fortieth birthday and arrived on that day. Unfortunately, I was out of town the day they arrived but luckily my mom had planned a family party to celebrate their arrival and his birthday. 

Their visits bring us closer as a family, and in particular, my nieces and nephews love having an extra set of grandparents doting on them. One of the things they loved most about their visit was a party game my mom created where she wrote a question about Warren on a slip of paper and put it inside a balloon. Each child took turns popping the balloon and answering the question and Warren's parents helped them with the answer or shared a story related to the response. The kids learned more about their uncle and my in laws said they felt proud and touched at how eager the kids are to remember Warren and learn more about him. 

I was sorry to have missed that celebration but thankful for a chance to learn more about Warren's childhood in a more intimate setting when his dad and I participated in StoryCorps. For those who do not want to click on the link, StoryCorps collects personal stories through people interviewing one another and archives the stories at the Library of Congress and eventually on their website.


In any case, the conversation was enlightening and it was one of few times Warren's dad and I were able to talk about him, just the two of us.

We shared some interesting stories and I was proud of myself for not crying. I really thought I would get in the room and lose it, especially while looking at his dad, with whom he shares the warmth in his smile. I see bits of Warren in his dad so I knew that talking about him to his dad would be difficult. All day before the interview I told myself to calm down, to focus on the present and to make the experience about the conversation and not about the topic. That was easier said than done but in the end, I was happy that I kept it together and we shared a dialogue and some quality time we would not have had otherwise.

I had hoped to have a clip to share on this blog but I haven't received it. Stay tuned and I will share it when it becomes available.



Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Gone Again

With the floods in Texas and Louisiana and the hate group uprisings we're seeing, it's challenging to overcome the guilt of living beyond that dismal backdrop. Donating money, marching and calling representatives seems more all-consuming and definitely more important than self-care. In my case, I often confuse self-care with overindulgence, which is dangerous, unhealthy and untrue. Focusing on myself comes with a wallop of thick, hot guilt. How dare I look forward to traveling when there are people losing everything a few states away? Who am I to be happy when there is so much to fear as a WOC living in the Midwest? These thoughts and more have been ravaging my thoughts and robbing me of sleep. Yet, I have to fight those feelings and move on with an agenda I have set and reset for myself my whole life. Thankfully, I have learned a few ways to ignore the side of me that can easily fall into despair, and appease her with promises of action plans that will get done along with caring for my sanity.

In times such as these it is important to take care of one's self so you have the energy to face the tasks that take so much mental strength. Life is tough and lately I have been finding it harder and harder to find peace. While there are some areas in my life that bring me joy, all it takes it to read a current headline or see an all-too-frequent scowl on my teen's face and that joy evaporates. It is replaced with the feeling that I am not doing enough. But when is enough really enough?

I have never had the answer to that and sadly, I can't imagine I ever will. Every day I feel like I fail at being enough. That has always been my normal. I don't know if it's my Type-A personality, my need to please, or the constant unrest that comes from feeling like I am forever chasing my true purpose, but I cannot think of a time where I felt that what I put into the world was enough. However, when your world is rocked as mine was, even your inadequacies take on a new feeling.

Death has given my "Me" side a louder voice. Seeing how fragile we are as humans put things into a different perspective. At the end of my life there will be countless instances of when I was not enough. There is no escaping that. However, I try hard to shift that thinking to look inward. I want to be the one who matters in the end. When my time comes, I want to have done enough for myself.

I don't mean supporting myself financially or being independent. I want to feel fulfilled knowing whatever ending I get, I created the opportunities that fed my soul. 

I do that in a variety of ways but my favorite is through travel. I have the privilege to leave all the negativity behind and force myself out of my comfort zone. There is no therapy like traveling. It renews me better than all the counseling and gym time in the world. I crave it. 

That's why I am answering the call to leave all that I know and go explore a new part of the globe. It's been two years since I've done it and that is by far too long. While I plan it that way, if luck and funds were on my side, it would be a way more frequent occurrence. That said, I planned, pinched and saved and am going to put aside my guilt and visit a place that is high on my bucket list. I am going to unplug (mostly) and focus on hiking, snorkeling, soaking in hot springs, zip lining, sightseeing and my favorite travel activity of all time, no matter where I go: EATING.

Past blogs have explained how I used to think that traveling was gone forever the night I lost Warren but I have since readjusted my thinking and realize that only my own death will take that from me. Can you guess where I'm headed?




Wednesday, August 16, 2017

#WMLMF


As I've blogged before, every year a group of friends and I organize the Warren Morrow Latin Music Festival. We like to call it the WMLMF, or #WMLMF for the savvier among us.

It started as a concert in 2012 and grew into a festival in 2016 when we broke the bank (our little bank) bringing a Grammy-winning band, La Santa Cecilia as a headliner. It was their first time playing in this city and we hope they will be back. 

This year we brought QUITAPENAS, which translates to take away your worries. The group had performed in neighboring states but never in ours, so we were proud once again to host a unique band to the lineup. 

On all accounts, minus a few hiccups, the event was a success. The venue looked beautiful and river and skyline backdrops were amazing. The weather cooperated and the crowds came. It was the largest we've had since the inaugural year. 

It was made possible by a small but mighty group of dedicated volunteers who believed in the event and in the legacy it preserves.

These events are always bittersweet. On one hand, it revives me to feel the positive energy and love that's been shown since the event started. On the other, it is painful to be fully happy putting so much work into an event that Warren would love, yet will not be part of. Every year I think it will be my last year, and every year I can't walk away. Aside from the positive impact such a celebration has on sharing culture through music, I stay because I have built a family through these volunteers who give so selflessly of their time and talents, just as Warren did when he was alive. It is more than a labor of love to us and it shows in how much time and sacrifice we put into the festival.

The Crew that makes WMLMF possible
Highlights of this year's festival included:
  • Warren's parents dancing to nearly every song while making new friends
  • The 2017 t-shirt designed by a 14-year-old high school student
  • A bilingual radio commercial
  • Being featured on a local television station
  • Ticket searches throughout the city 
  • A stellar lineup
  • More advance ticket sales than ever before
  • Seeing my family enjoy themselves
  • The feeling of survival and accomplishment when the event was over and we had another peaceful, beautiful festival to look back on
  • All the hands and hearts that came together to make it happen



Wednesday, July 26, 2017

The big 4-0


July 26, 2017 would have been Warren's 40th birthday.

When he turned thirty, I threw him a surprise party. It was a big deal. His dad came from Arizona, his cousin came from Moline, IL and some of my family came from Chicago. We had a house full of friends and I achieved my goal of surprising him. It was a great time. His bright smile was plastered on his face all night. To this day friends remember that party and comment about how much fun they had and how Warren glowed with happiness.

Warren arrives - SURPRISE!
It may be strange, but on that night I started thinking about doing the same thing for his fortieth. I wanted to fill the house with the same love and celebration. I didn't get as far as imagining all the details but there was one thing I knew for sure - my plan was to see him smile like that. Little did I know that every day I would long to see that smile again. 

That party was built around things he loved. I ordered food from his favorite restaurant. I got the cake from the same baker we used for our wedding. All his friends, co-workers and fellow volunteers were invited. I made sure the tequila and beer flowed and the house filled with people who loved him and helped him welcome the milestone birthday.

At his fave hot dog stand in AZ
A few weeks ago I wondered what his fortieth party would look like. Some things would definitely be different. For starters, there would be a lot more children celebrating with us. He loved being a dad and uncle and our family has grown by many little ones since that party. Our friends have changed. Some of them have moved away, others have moved closer. We met lots of people and lost touch with others.We had traveled and I would incorporate some of those experiences, perhaps reflected in the food and drinks, like serving Amarula from S. Africa, Sherry from Spain, and more from places we had planned on visiting, like Brazil and China. Every place we went he liked to find street food. His favorite was hot dogs. I would have honored that with a hot dog bar with the various toppings we'd had on our travels and ordered the sweet buns he loved when we visited El Guero Canelo hot dog cart in Tucson.


In my head, I can see the party, lit up by his smile. I feel the warmth of love from our friends and family coming together again to celebrate his life and I know that he would have made sure everyone felt welcome and comfortable, connecting our various groups of friends as he so often did.

Life didn't offer this vision to come to pass. Instead, I am traveling for work and my mom is hosting a hot dog dinner for the kids to keep his memory alive in our family. As I work, keep the antacids close to juggle the arrangements of the second annual Warren Morrow Latin Music Festival from one-thousand miles away. I will celebrate him in a more personal way with memories and the letter I write him every year on his birthday to catch him up on life and bleed my grief on to a page between me and him. I will cry on my boyfriend's shoulder and feel grateful to have someone like him who insisted on traveling with me so I would not be alone on this day. I will smile because I am happy and life is difficult and hectic but good in so many ways. I will be thankful that I got ten years of him in my life, and celebrate the person his influence helped shape. I may even splurge on a brownie, his favorite dessert.

I love you Mi Amor and wish I could hug you and see you smile on your 40th. Happy Birthday! I hope you are celebrating in bliss, knowing that your legacy lives on in those of us who love you and think of you often as a role model and example of kindness, integrity, and selflessness. 

Thursday, June 29, 2017

More Waiting

The BF: Be patient.
Me: I don't have time for patience.

That is my life motto, especially lately. My plate runneth over with a self-imposed deadline for finishing novel #2, planning my daughter's grand entry into teendom, and begging for money and finalizing other logistics for the Warren Morrow Latin Music Festival. In all these areas there are times I need to wait for various things and it drives me nuts. My default when I have to wait is, "Get out of my way, I'll do it myself," but that isn't always the best method.

As I try to slow down and remind myself that life isn't a race, I spent some time looking back and almost spit out my coffee when I read last year's blog entry. It feels like I was in the same place a year ago. The difference is that today I am working on a different novel. Other than that, I am still playing the waiting game. Waiting to hear from my agent; waiting to see who applies to be a vendor at the music festival; waiting to get sponsorships; waiting for my daughter's next moody outburst; waiting, waiting, waiting. I wish I could say that over time I have become better at it and have a better outlook but that isn't the truth. 


However, I have learned that moving full speed ahead on every aspect of life isn't healthy. Lately, I have been reminded of that in various ways and need to take heed. In response, I am scaling back on some things. Blogging is one of them. I stress over making my weekly deadline of getting this blog written and out there. It's an important outlet for me. However, I can't keep up with the blogs that I follow and I am guessing that my readers can't keep up with mine, either. Therefore I am combining my looking back and slowing down. On occasion, I am going to look back on blogs from the last few years and see where I was and where I am. When it fits, I will share the journey from then to now, or I will reflect on the stagnancy of my life, as I did today. I hope to be able to do this every other week or so. That will give me some space to breathe and allow readers to get caught up. I'll see how this goes and surprise readers (and myself) with new content as life gives unfolds. Until then, let's look back together and hopefully see how much can change in a year (or two).

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