Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Don't Turn Away, It's Donna's Day

Something happened to our family one year ago.

An idea, one spark of life, an acorn seed, was planted inside our hearts.
One day. One moment. One decision that will touch us forever.
One chance to make a difference.
One opportunity to be a part of something greater than us all.
One day, decorated in memories BUT beaming with HOPE, that ONE DAY children will not die from cancer.

Surely by now you know her story. If not, visit her mama Mary Tyler Mom. Donna's Cancer Story has reached into the hearts and souls of many, giving a face and name to our hero. I first met MTM a year ago when we shaved our heads for St. Baldricks in honor of Donna's Good Things.

I've written quite a bit (for someone who never blogs) about the effect Donna and her story have had on my family: as parents, as shavees, as friends and as advocates for children's issues. She touched my heart. She is family, even though I never knew her physically. She is our Donna and she is our inspiration.

We love her as if she were our own because she could so easily BE our own. At least her story could be.
The reality is that every 3 minutes a child is diagnosed with cancer.

And that is scary.

But not hopeless. Give hope.

This year I am not shaving my head. Neither is my daughter, son and husband. And I feel tremendously guilty for that! How can I not be fundraising? How can I know what I know and not ACT? How can any of us TURN AWAY? I even hid from the internet for a while. I have a fear of uselessness.

But every 3 minutes chimes in my head.

We all have a voice and we all have the ability to become acorns for Donna. We can all plant seeds. Some of us will shave and some of us will give, some of us will paint and some of us will share. Most of us will weep and many of us will rejoice. Hopefully, more of us will empathize than will relate. But we can all do SOMETHING.

For Donna, because it's HER day. If you are able, PLEASE donate and help other children in Donna's name. DGT has already raised almost $200,000 for cancer research. DONATE HERE!

(I'm not a real blogger. I'm not even sure anybody will see this. Really, THIS below is what I want to say. And I guess I believe that words somehow find their destination, if you say them out loud)

Dear Donna,

I never actually met you, I didn't get the chance. Can you believe all this? You're a world famous dancer. We all know your name and your ridiculously adorable smile. And your strength. You are a WOW. Just like your mom. The love she has for you inspires us all. She will NEVER let you disappear or your life be unimportant. She is funny and rambunctious, serious and brilliantly smart, silly and beautiful. She commands an audience and then presents the best of you. Her love for you radiates in everything. 

I get that. My first born, my daughter, has my whole heart. She is my very best friend and I am SO proud of every thing she does. She shaved her head last year to raise money for Donna's Good Things and let me tell you, middle school kids are ROUGH. But she didn't even flinch. First born daughters are tough stuff. I think it's a rule! Here's her picture: 

That's her with her little bro. He shaved his head too, but it wasn't a big deal because he's a boy and boys shave their heads all the time and nobody says anything. And that's not fair, but that's a whole other story!
Anyway, she got a LOT of questions about being bald and do you know what she did? She told a LOT of people about YOU. She also told them about children and cancer and how little money goes toward research and how many children are diagnosed. And she told them about Donna from Chicago.
Donna, you made her feel strong when she could have been scared.
Do you know how powerful that is?

It really is. POWERFUL. You have touched our lives in ways that words could never do justice. And I want you to know that I love you for that. I love you. I think of you when I look into our woods and the wind blows against the oak trees. Thank you for what you have given this world. And continue to give. I will never turn away from you. Or hope.

Pinky swear :)
Miss Jeanna

Give to St. Baldricks, Do Not Turn Away

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Why I Hope You Fail At Your Resolutions (But Not All Of Them, I'm Not An Asshole)

2014 is upon us. A New Year, holding  new hopes and goals, and the promise of possibilities for old dreams. Yesterday, I posted a status on Facebook listing all the day to day resolutions I make and then break. I have always felt to be in a constant state of self improvement. My point was, I always have goals that I am working on, no matter the time of year. It made me chuckle to see how many I had not met. It was impossible to think of starting fresh on January 1st, when I have so many resolutions that I have abandoned, forgotten or lost the will to achieve. I accomplished a million things I had not even planned to attempt and failed the dozens of things I had. 

 And so goes life. Uncontrolled. The New Year resolutions of “The Unplanned Life”.  

My friends rallied behind me. Some laughed and some encouraged me to focus on the all the positive things I had done this year, as to not beat myself up. Focus on the positive and positive things will come to you, they assured me.

Except, I am positive. Positive I failed at these things! And I’m OK with that. In fact, I’m glad.
And I still had an absolutely incredible year.

I am positive and I am negative. I am generally happy and I am sometimes sad. Sometimes, I succeed, sometimes I fail and that is what makes me human. It’s OK to not achieve everything you set out to do and it’s perfectly fine to be in a constant state of self-improvement. In fact, I’m pretty sure it’s awesome. If life is an adventure, then a wrong choice, here and there, is necessary. Screw ups keep us on our toes, keep us motivated, give us confidence and teach us gratitude.

I am OK with screwing up. I am OK with being imperfect. Aw hell, I ENJOY IT!

Happiness is not the absence of sadness.
And success is not the absence of failure.

Happiness thrives on truth, acceptance and gratitude. It is possibility and it can be present even in the face of despair. I am usually a happy person, often a sad person and generally, optimistic to a fault. I remember lying in my own blood, razor in hand, on the bathroom floor and still knowing that if I “ended it all” I would be missing out. In fact, I remember being mad at my optimistic mind for reminding me, despite my hatred and pain, there would be a silver lining. I’m lucky to be an optimist, genetically given the nature of a child, reluctant to go to bed and miss out on the fun that must occur when only the grown-ups are awake. Optimism is happiness wrapped in possibilities BUT it realistically acknowledges the presence of negativity. It tells us to keep on keeping on and whispers promises in our ears when the negative noises weaken our resolve.

Another friend suggested that maybe I needed a shorter list. Truth be told, if given more time, I could added dozens of active personal pursuits to my list. We should be constantly striving to better ourselves; physically, mentally, socially and intellectually. Attainability should not determine what we strive for. Because growth does not end and the presence of failure should not detract from success.
Hurdles are for jumping and jumping makes you strong. True success requires practice and true self-improvement requires failure. Acknowledge those failures! Relish in them. Let them make you laugh. Screwing up can be hysterical. I am fully aware of the mistakes and unaccomplished goals that led me to here. I do have regrets. I regret the decisions I have made that hurt other people. But I also look to my errors with complete gratitude for molding me into the person I am and lighting my path. Being imperfect is the most universal thing you can be and therefore, the last thing anyone should be ashamed of.

If I could suggest anything for anyone in 2014, it would be to EMBRACE YOUR TRUTH. Become ridiculously comfortable with your imperfections, fall shamelessly in love with your story and stay incredibly excited by your potential. Other than that, don’t change a damn thing.

Much love and Happy New Year ~~ Jeanna

Monday, November 11, 2013

The Happiest Moment

Right now I am the happiest I could be.

Granted, I would be happier if I had paid time off left and my son were not sick; but these are the hurdles that brought me to this place of happiness, so I embrace them. They are tiny hurdles and from darkness comes light and all that yin and yang jazz. Any which way, I couldn't be more content.

Plus, he's not THAT sick.

Sniffles and a cough. The cough is just nagging enough that he was up all night. It was just enough that I knew I had better not send him to school. So, after a brief jaunt to work, to open and ready the office I came back home.

Now we lay in front of the woodstove. In a nest of blankets and pillows and yawning dog we lay. We are surrounded by tissues, bellies full from toast and homemade jam. We are snuggled in thick, watching Rescue Bots on Netflix, while the first snow of the season falls outside. The gentle fire crackles and I stare at his fat, little toes, unsocked, peeking from the end of a green blanket. They wiggle enough to keep him awake and then they stop. His rhythmic breathing turns to stuffed up snores.

I am happy.

There is no place on the entire earth I would rather be. And I am the luckiest person alive.

He opens his eyes and I tell him it's snowing. He runs to the window and says, "do you hear it?!"
"What?" I ask, not following.
"Santa's sleigh! I hear it! It's snowing, Christmas is almost here!"
I laugh, "not yet, but soon."

Tomorrow he will head back to school. Tomorrow I will be back at work. Today I will will relish the absolute deliciousness of simplicity. Nothing is as sweet and everything is soon.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Self-Harm: What I Believe.

I wasn’t going to put this here.

I haphazardly typed out my story of self harm and threw it at Plucky. I thought I’d let her anonymously divulge my disease. Because I am acutely aware of the risks of being considered crazy.

I have always been aware of the risk involved in living out loud. These risks have wrapped themselves around my heart for as long as I can remember. No matter how much easier it makes things, Jeanna can’t fake it to make it. I am always 100% passionately myself. Even if it makes me look bad.

Well, sometimes I photoshop my under-eye circles.

But my story of self-harm? The whole story? I didn’t want it here in black and white, where one day my children could read it. Where my ex husband could read it and think “SHE IS RAISING OUR KIDS!” Where my husband’s ex-wife could read it and think, “SHE IS CO-PARENTING MY KIDS?” Where my mother could read it and think, “I didn’t give her enough or treat her enough or do enough.”

See, I don’t want to hurt anyone else and I don’t want to hurt myself.

I don’t want to hurt myself.

Those words are why I must share. HOPE. 17% of young women self-harm. SEVENTEEN percent. How many days did I feel to be the loneliest freak alive? Our stories build awareness and awareness brings action. By not hiding we allow ourselves to be seen, to reach out, to get help.

And help is possible.

The day after I checked myself into the psych ward I called my mom. Disappointing her has always been the scariest thing to me. But I called her to tell her what I did and I expected her to be mad. After all, no responsible mother goes and has a nervous breakdown! What she said to me was this: “Are your kids OK? Were they away for the weekend? IT IS THE PERFECT TIME TO TAKE CARE OF YOU. No judge would EVER take away children whose mother is looking to get better, who admits defeat and is battle weary and exhausted. There is nothing saner than admitting you need help. You are proving you are responsible.” Now, I know some judges would. Some judges, like some people, are just dicks. Because 90% of the time I AM awesome. But those words, "nothing is saner than admitting you need help," they chimed through my collapsed mind.

So I will hold those words, hope for the best and share my story.

I remember being a child, laying in my closet, wanting to die. I had a big white and green toy box. It was covered in fantasy pictures, unicorns and Technicolor rainbows, I remember being huddled next to it and sobbing. I begged God to let me die. I wasn’t old enough to know I could have a say in Life and Death.

I don’t remember a time where I didn’t think about suicide. Still, when I am angry, frustrated or sad, it’s the first place my mind goes. Habitual imagery it seems. I look at ceilings and see places that I could hang myself. I picture my body lying in a bloody bathtub. I imagine cold on cold and apologize to the person who will find me. I cannot help where my mind goes; it’s always the first response. I will be suddenly overwhelmed and it’s what I see. It’s the bad habit. It’s my dirty secret.

I was 14 when I began to self harm. Barely, older than my daughter now. I watch her skin and follow her injuries with strategic inquiries. I wonder if she thinks like me and hurts like me. She is my clone in so many ways, will she inherit this? God, I worry. When I was 14, I swallowed a bottle of Tylenol and then threw them up. I lit matches and burned designs in my skin. I found razor blades and acquired scars. I practiced bulimia not because I wanted to be skinny, but because I liked to cause myself pain. I enjoyed making myself binge and then purge. It was about power and discipline. I smoked, I drank bottles of cough syrup, I did acid, not to try and fit in, or have fun, but because I knew it was hurting myself. And I wanted that.

I wanted to control my pain and numb my pain at the same time.

I was able to be the catalyst (controller) for my external pain, while releasing endorphins to calm my internal pain.

Cutting saved me from suicide. Cutting calmed my mind. When I was in the hysterics of anxiety, cutting was Xanax. It was an addiction and soon, when I was upset, I wasn’t thinking, “I want to die,” I was looking for a blade. I wanted to cut. As soon as that familiar sting hit my brain, the rest of the world melted away. The rest of the pain melted away. I had something I controlled.

And I had a secret.

I have heard people say that cutters are just out for attention, but nothing is further from the truth. I hid my wounds and guarded my secret as if sworn by magic. NOBODY saw them. As I grew up, I cut less. Adulthood gave me external responsibilities and no longer could I internalize the world. Parenthood made me fear judgment. Fearing judgment made me fear madness.

Adulthood brought on 2 main points of relapse. In fact, I almost thought I had grown out of the behavior. The thoughts were still there, the cravings still present, but I didn’t give in. Until my world (my marriage) fell apart. At that point I began to harm myself in all the ways I could, except drugs.

The last time I cut myself was July 29th, 2011. (If you’ve read Unsinkable, you know the story). I admitted myself to the mental ward that night. I admitted my addiction to self harm, on a physical, mental and emotional level. Whether it was physical injuries, self-shaming, alcohol, sex, suffering, guilt driven over achievement or co-dependent behaviors, I needed to stop. I was addicted to pain.  

I decided to no longer remain silent. And that keeps me honest.

Like any addiction, it doesn’t go away. My first urge when I’m upset (still) is to self-harm. I have not let myself go there. And I have been successful, so far.

Reasons I feel successful:
1. I am doing this for me. I do not WANT to be a self-harmer.
2. I admit to my sickness. I acknowledge I suffer anxiety disorders. I admit to an addiction to self harm. I hold myself accountable to my promise of honesty.
3. I recognize the addictive properties of my illness. I recognize cues that drive me to crave self harm.
4. I can speak to others about self harm without being embarrassed.
5. I am dedicated to July 29,2011 being the last quit date I ever have.

What does any of this have to do with National Suicide Prevention Day and why do I tell this story?

Because I am just like you. I mean besides living in a treehouse and wearing aprons and stuff. But I am just a regular mom and wife and professional woman. I am actually pretty frickin "together". I am college educated and own a home. These people are all around us. And they might be overwhelmed and need help. Or they could be scared to seek help. But they are helpable! Life can be beautiful, even for those who don’t think so. And self-harm wears SO many hats, this isn't just about razors and matches.

I said above that self-harm saved me from suicide. Indeed, I feel it was a coping mechanism for stress. It was habit forming and addictive. It allowed me to deal. But I wanted to live. I never truly (other than some VERY bad moments) wanted to DIE. Strangely enough, those moments, are stories I’ve never told and because of the hysteria in my mind, barely remember. I wanted to live, but for many self-harm is still one of the strongest indicators of suicidal tendencies.

I believe by removing the stigma, and looking to have a better understanding of the self-harmer’s struggle, we can save lives.
I believe by recognizing the addiction component of self-harm, we can treat and save lives.
I believe by sharing our stories we can unite.
I believe in wellness.

I believe in hope.

And I know they are all possible.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Post I Wasn't Going To Post Until My Daughter Unblurred My Lines

I didn’t really want to write about this or talk about it anymore. But sometimes things come up. Sometimes, discussions take a certain turn and I feel the need to navigate my thoughts to a destination. This is one of those times and I’m taking the time to write my feelings.

A few weeks back I made a post on my Facebook page addressing Miley Cyrus’s recent comments regarding her song ‘We Can’t Stop.’ She stated that it was indeed about drug use. The lyrics “everyone in line in the bathroom, trying to get a line in the bathroom” and “dancing with Molly” were indeed about using drugs (probably ecstasy as the reference is normally used). She stated it was time for people to stop viewing her as a child. As in, adults can use drugs, it’s our bodies, lay off. This upset me and I stated drug use was a stupid way to express maturity.

I am a sobriety advocate. Sobriety, for me, is in no way an immature choice. On my page and in my life it is a reoccurring theme. I am fully aware many adults choose otherwise, whether it’s getting high, drunk, tipsy or the many other points in “under the influence”. I know and love many people who use some substance or another to cope, medicate or release tension. But, I advocate sobriety. It could be the next door neighbor, the 8th grader at my daughter’s lunch table, my good friend or even a pop star, but when someone makes a blasé statement about drugs, I respond. It’s kind of my THING. So, after I read her statement, I made my post. While some people agreed, quite a few attacked me for being “judgmental”. Being that every opinion is a judgment and I stand fast to mine, especially when it comes to my “thing”, I let it go and moved on with my day.

A couple of weeks later we were at home listening to the radio. “Blurred Lines” came on and immediately we all started moving our hips. My 12 year old daughter came over to me and said, “mom, do you know what this song is about?” I replied “yes”, instantly feeling a bit bad about enjoying the beats. By age 14, I was a self-proclaimed feminist. I heard “you’re a good girl” the first time I heard the song and knew the lyrics would irritate me. It was the good girl vs. bad girl categorization that I had fought, as an outspoken woman, most of my life. “Yeah, I know.” I told her. “Mom,” she continued, “do you REALLY know?” I turned down the music and I looked at her, “what do YOU think this song is about?”

She told me the kids had been talking about it at school. She told me it was about date rape. “It’s about getting a girl drunk and talking her into doing things. So she won’t know what’s right or wrong. So the lines get blurry.”

I smiled, “but it has such a fun beat!” She didn’t smile back.

Now, I have been aware, for 20 years, that the best way to make racism, sexism and all other forms of hate OK, is to make them a joke. Tell a joke, people laugh, and those who don’t are haters. “It’s just a joke, get over it” is how the stereotypes are able to flourish. Blonde jokes, man jokes, Polish jokes, women jokes- they perpetuate a much deeper expression of hatred. I could mark this up to “just a song”. But this song was teaching my child, and her peers, about dating, about boundaries and about the blurred lines. And it was making them cool and acceptable. In fact, the easy beats and “hey, hey, heys” were blurring my lines as an equality advocate and parent. I was missing the bigger picture. She was right.

Those who enjoy the song can make excuses; it’s actually about infidelity or it’s actually a parody of women pitting themselves into “good girl/bad girl” roles and how they should just do what they want. Certain people could even make us think the song PROMOTES equality. But not to our children. To our children it is a song about date rape.

Perceptions are where we derive our reality.

Fast forward to the night of the VMA awards. My husband went on Facebook and immediately turned to me, “woah, Miley Cyrus did SOMETHING.” We went to YouTube and looked up the video of her performance. As we sat and watched it on his Kindle, my comments went like this, “what’s up with the teddy bears”, “this song is about ecstasy,” “I like her new haircut,” “she’s dressed like all pop stars, what’s the big deal?” We continued watching, “why is he dressed like Beetlejuice?” And then, I was hit with that sinking feeling…”this song is about rape.” Then I giggled a little about her boning him with giant foam finger.

Because that’s something I would do if given a giant finger.

The next day the internet was in uproar. The same people who admonished me for being judgmental were hoping Miley could find Jesus. She was vulgar and disgusting and her parent’s must be ashamed of her. It was everywhere in Facebooklandia. I, like so many others, brought it up. But I wondered 3 things:

1. Which female pop stars DON’T use sexuality to promote their careers? Was her outfit all that different from what we’ve seen on Gaga, Rihanna, Nicki Minaj, Brittney Spears, Christina Aguilera or Madonna? Why was it even an issue?

2. It’s a performance. On a stage. If you have ever been in a stage performance or SEEN a stage performance, they are supposed to be over the top. Especially at the VMA awards.

3. Why was no one discussing the guy in the Beetlejuice suit? But I didn’t state it like an asshole. I made it a joke. Easy to accept. WHY? He was as much a part of that performance and HE has the song that blurs the lines of rape. HE was the one the kids at my daughter’s middle school were talking about. Why was HE cool and SHE not? Why was HE good and SHE not?

She was not a good girl. We all knew she wanted it. We all knew she was animal. He was cool. These are all the factors that blur those lines. Our anger at her propagated the lie that the “cool” guy was in the right and the “bad” girl doesn’t get our support. No, we judge her. We know she’s bad by the way she dresses (or doesn’t dress). We know she’s bad by the way she dances and sticks out her tongue. She’s a bad girl and she deserves to be judged. Her parents should be so embarrassed.

Have you ever been on a date or in a social situation where after the fact you aren’t sure if you were just raped? It’s a weird feeling, knowing you said you didn’t want to, but were just so uncomfortable that you went along with it all. I mean why the hell not? It’s 2013 and you’re not a virgin waiting to give your goats to some man. Plus, you were horny. You kind of did want it. Just not there with that guy. One thing leads to another and eh, you said no, but finally you just said, “fine”. That happened to me once. “No, no, no, FINE.” It’s a weird feeling, the feeling of shutting down. Blurred lines are strange, even when you’re completely sober. Because we don’t want to fight. We don’t want to hear, “it’s just a joke, lighten up.” We don’t want to be judged. I don’t want my daughter to ever think I will make light of blurred lines.

I continued to read about what a poor role model Miley Cyrus was for our children, so when my daughter got home from school I asked her, “was everyone talking about Miley Cyrus?” She looked at me strangely, “no, why?” I was kind of surprised. I told her what happened and she told me no one cared. If anything, her age group likes Miley better now. No middle school child is going to be interested in Hannah Montana, after all. “So, do you think your friends view her as a role model?” She laughed, “uh, no mom.” I wondered why all the parents online were so concerned. Their children saw Miley Cyrus for what she was: a performer. Why, as adults, could we not? She wasn’t a role model, she wasn’t out to become a role model and our kids don’t care for her to be one.

Over the next few days, today included, I explored this subject more with my daughter. “who in the entertainment business, WOULD you look up to as a role model?” She told me no one. “Mom, most of them have made mistakes, or tried drugs or done other “bad” stuff. Some worse than others, they are just people, but I don’t look to any of them as role models, even if I like them.” I asked her, “well, who influences you and how you decide to act and how you make decisions and stuff? Anyone?”

She answered, “you.”

“Maybe it sounds corny or whatever, but I learn about stuff from you and think about what you’ve taught me when I make decisions. I guess, you are my role model. Not those people, I don’t even know those people.”

And it was that simple. Just because our children LIKE something doesn’t mean they want to BECOME that. The main role models in our children’s lives are not singers on a stage or musicians in a studio. They are US. They aren’t formulating strategies as to how they will conduct themselves for the rest of their lives based on what they read in magazines. UNLESS WE LET THEM. If we, as parents, decide that we will let entertainment icons be responsible for the role modeling of our children, if we let them see or hear, without discussion of moral and social consequence, then entertainment icons will fill the role. But our children will first turn to us. They will turn to us to learn if they are supposed to judge a person by the color of their skin OR the clothes they wear. They will turn to us to determine who is “good” and who is “bad”. They will turn to us to learn what qualities are most important to us, to know WHO we judge and why.

And if what we teach them has blurred lines, eventually they will turn away.

She's always helping me see more clearly