Today. November 9, 2016.

Oh…where to even begin.

I just don’t know. This most certainly can’t be summed up in a tweet, Facebook rant, hashtags or meme. This deserves all of my words.

In high school, I was sexually assaulted for the first time in my life. It was uninvited, it was painful, it was terrifying. And it was on school property. I didn’t report it, out of shame and fear. I didn’t talk about it, out of shame and fear. I didn’t think that I would be believed and I did not feel safe. Yesterday, all of the votes for Trump reminded me that I am still her – still unlikely to be believed, and still not safe.

My father, who worked his ass off all of his life to provide for us via his union job, and who served in Vietnam before that at the request of his country…he was injured a few years short of retirement and my parents lost their healthcare access. The Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) was a blessing. My mother, who is going through some potentially extensive medical stuff right now, is protected via The Affordable Care Act. Protected via the access it provides and the pre-existing condition clause that prevents her from being “untouchable” in the eyes of insurers, which will disappear under Trump and his Republican Congress.

Should I have children, they are now set to grow up under a Supreme Court that will most likely make decisions further jeopardizing or eliminating voting rights, reproductive rights, and civil rights. Decisions that could undermine the role of the federal government to protect land, and water, and freedoms in that important big picture kind of way. They are set to grow up in an era kicked off by the destruction of climate change progress, leaving the wound gaping and probably terminal. Their global employment prospects will probably be lost to closed borders and trade upheavals. And we don’t even know the scope of wars that will be set into action from this election.

But these things that devastate me so personally, do not even hold a candle to the bigotry and hatred that exist for my beautiful, kind, loving, generous friends – the POC, LGBT, immigrant, “other” people who have been living in fear for decades or more and were reminded yet again that America does not value them. And it resents the shit out of them for trying to climb up out of the oppression in which they live every day. This is not new. It is in everything we do: when we reject the black lives matter movement, when we reject transpeople sharing a bathroom with us, when we harass muslim business owners for not assimilating, when we justify the police shooting deaths of mental health/disabled/culturally different people over the ability to follow directions. And sure, you may exclude yourself from this – but what do you do when your loved ones and friends show their support for these things? Do you challenge the structure that allows people to discount other human beings based on their skin color, sexual orientation, gender, citizenship status, ability, etc? I know I’m not nearly as good at this as I need to be. I challenge, when I feel mostly safe and when I feel charged up enough to take on the battle. But damn is it nice to fall back into my comfy privilege chair when I’m overtaxed and overwhelmed by the sheer volume of conversations I’m having these days. So many people just don’t get that option.

I did not do enough. We did not do enough.

We unfriended, we blocked, we disconnected. We put barriers up between ourselves and “those crazy Trump people.” We let people hem and haw over their apathy or disdain for Clinton and run to third party candidates. We wasted time arguing on why we should pick Clinton when we already felt Trump was never an option. We watched our fellow Americans sit out the vote all together (almost 200 million of them it seems). We stopped reading books, we accepted media reports at face value, we moved to our urban areas where everyone thinks like us, and we sat in our little “post-racial, post-feminist, globalized and progressive” bubbles – and missed the rest of the country getting swindled.

When you are being abused, when you are being taken advantage of, you do not realize it until it is too late. I lived for years in an abusive relationship. I didn’t seek it out, it found me. And I stayed well past the warning signs, making excuses.  Hateful things said, and then promises made, and then excuses for all that inexcusable behavior.

The answer here is not to chalk this election up to something so simple as hate and go about your life. It is so much more involved and damning than that.

If you are anyone under serious threat from your neighbors, coworkers, government – I stand with you and will do all that I can to help you survive.

If you are one of my lucky friends that is white or male or heterosexual or able-bodied or any combination of non-oppressed qualities that can protect you in the face of bigotry and hate, I challenge you to do these things:

1) Do not move out of this country. Stay, (and bonus find a swing state to move to) so your vote can change the tide. Learn why people voted for Trump – where you live and beyond. Learn the issues: absence of media integrity (both sides!), globalization of the workforce, educational disparities, climate change, lack of cultural understanding, lack of empathy, fear of the unknown. This knowledge will serve you well and provides a foundation for future change. If you see it, you can’t ignore it.  You can start here.

2) Create safe spaces for the oppressed. When black people talk about their lives mattering, listen. When immigrants talk about fears of deportation, listen. When women talk about abuse, listen. When people talk about mental health issues, listen. Listen to yourself and how you contribute to or fight the system.

3) Actively support your oppressed communities. Spend your dollar at businesses that are owned by or directly support the communities at risk. Vote with these communities in mind at all levels of government. Use language that does not denigrate them, even in jest.

I will be doing all of the above every single day, as I have been since Trump won the primary…and even before, but it was not nearly enough. In the last 24 hours, we’ve lashed out at our country and our government in anger, frustration, and pain. But I refuse to let the KKK win.

For all the Trump supporters that swear they did not vote for Trump out of hate – prove it. I invite you to do the three things above with respect to Clinton voters. Show your neighbors and your kids, your coworkers and your extended family, your fellow citizens that you support their very right to live arm in arm with you no matter who they are.

To the people that voted for Trump as an avenue of change, I think you missed something. Your vote also supported a politician of 15 years for Vice President, who has legislatively proven he IS anti-science, anti-woman, anti-POC, anti-LGBT, and anti-immigrant.  Your down ballot votes kept 30 of the 34 Senate seats in the hands of those already in Congress, though change squeaked in a TINY bit via only 24 of the 43 US Rep open seats staying with members of Congress (if I did my math wrong – let me know because I am definitely in a fog today). The rest of the 435 Reps are still there too. 

Trump is our president. Congress is still the same. There is plenty more work to be done.

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#DearMe

#DearMe at 10: You’ve always been faster, stronger, smarter than the boys at school. When the hormones start to kick in, the boy you like will like the girls that he can catch up to so he can kiss them. Don’t stop being better. Run hard, stay strong, and keep outpacing the boys in class. Because you’re ten and he’s just a boy and that strength is going to serve you well later in life. It will get you to your dreams and you’ll be really happy.

#DearMe at 12: Junior high is going to be brutal. You’ll get braces, and boobs, and so will all the other girls. Don’t stress about how you look, it’s a transition period. You’ll grow into yourself and the right people will dig that. Your friends are going to change a lot, and while that feels really scary and sad – it’s a good thing. You’ll find new friends, friends that know what you’re going through because they are too. Also, that depression you’re starting to battle now will hang over your head for a long time. But you learn how to manage it and keep going. Seriously, you are amazing.

#DearMe at 15: By now, you’re learning that people can be really mean. And dishonest. You’ll probably get a lot of advice on being kind to them anyway, to assume they are fighting their own battles. But some people just don’t try very hard to be nice to others, and it isn’t your job to take their bullshit. So, stick up for yourself. Let go of friendships with people that just bring you down.

Also, you’re in love. Enjoy it. Yes, it costs you a best friend – but you were always in her shadow and I don’t think you would’ve figured as much out about life as you do from letting her go.

One last thing – you’re going to have sex for the first time soon. It’s going to be painful and not great, but it is your choice and that is the most important thing! Don’t feel bad when your friends give you a hard time, they’re just as confused about it all as you are.

#DearMe at 18: I feel like I should warn you about getting back together with and ultimately marrying that guy I mentioned at 15. He doesn’t treat you as well as he should, and that’s going to get worse. You also lose yourself in the process of loving him, which means you’re not a very good partner either. I feel like I should tell you to go to Penn State and see what happens on that trajectory. But your marriage (and the brutal process of divorce) help you become a really stellar person. So go ahead and make those mistakes if you want – it’s how you get to me.

Big hugs and lots of love,
Your future self

10 Steps from your Couch to a Half Marathon

It’s been a little over a month since I ran my first half marathon and a little over a year since I took up running altogether! Being the geek that I am, I spent as much time training for my first half as I did researching training/prep recommendations on the internet. Now that the newness of my shiny medal and personal goal completion is starting to wear off, I thought I would add my take to the internet on what can help a couch potato become a runner!

1) Pick a race that gets you excited!  Signing up for a race that inspires you and makes you hungry to cross the finish line can make all the difference when you get behind in training or you’re trudging through the last few miles. It also gives you a date to complete your goal, which will help you plan your training schedule and keep your commitment to it. I had tried several times to “become a runner” and signed up for events that didn’t really strike a chord with me. It wasn’t until I signed up for the inaugural Star Wars Half Marathon at Disneyland with several inspiring friends that I actually followed through on training and completing an event.

2) Find a training schedule that fits your needs, and don’t give up if you get off track.  The most distance I had covered in one outing prior to my first half was just under 8 miles, and I certainly didn’t run it all. I had gotten off track due to work, vacations, and holidays. While I did find out on race day that my knee is pretty disagreeable once 9 miles have gone by, I still finished. And I finished happy. If I had been too hard on myself during training, I would’ve lost the motivation to keep going. If I had given up because I fell behind on “the plan” I never would’ve made it to the race and found out what I was made of!

3) Sign up with friends.  My friends (a mix of new half marathoners and seasoned runners) kept me excited and moving when I started to focus on the distance and the pain. I was able to share my joys, share their joys and feel the experience so much more than if I had tackled my first half marathon alone. Also, it’s really nice to have someone with you to take those important photos! If you don’t have friends that will run a half marathon with you, join a running club or meetup and make some new friends!

4) Tell everyone you know that you’re training for it.  Even if you spent the week eating junk food and sitting on your ass, the more you say you’re doing it – the more you start thinking like a person training for a half marathon. Also, peer pressure can be a real motivator. And you’ll find people in your life to support you in your goals! You can also do this via social media – I used the iPhone app Map My Fitness to track my training (and friends “liked” my workouts), and I made a Pinterest board for motivation and half marathon tip bookmarking.

5) Stretch! Stretching was a huge piece of the puzzle for me.  The more I stretched throughout my day, the better I felt on run days. I started stretching more as a part of daily life a couple of years ago when I started seeing a chiropractor – while it helped me get more out of each visit with him, I didn’t really start seeing the importance until I began running. Miss a day of stretching and see how far your muscles are willing to carry you! I came across this great stretching guide for runners. Remember to stretch a lot! At your desk, when you wake up, when you unwind for the day.  Get a foam roller for help stretching those muscles!

6) It’s okay to walk if you need to!  I did. Though as the race wore on it was easier to jog than walk – my knee didn’t like the long steps of my walking pace. There were plenty of other people walking, and I was still passing a lot of them. I wanted that medal!

7) Make a running playlist that you use in training and use that playlist on race day!  This really helped me in the middle of the race, when the excitement of the start was over and the adrenaline of the finish had yet to build up. It helped me keep pace and zone out instead of worrying how many miles were left.

8) Go shopping!  It turns out, if you have the right clothes and shoes running long distances is a lot more comfortable. I ended up treating myself to a pair of Brooks running shoes, and I’ll never look back. Plus, they’re Seahawks colors! I bought some nice running shorts two days before the race, at the race packet pick-up event. I bought a Flip Belt there as well, and man do I love that thing!

9) Record your training and your experience on race day!  Yes, you might feel like your time is slow or face is too gross and sweaty for a selfie. But when you look back years from now on your start – these memories will be priceless. Seeing my training stats for the year on my MapMyFitness app was pretty awesome too (92.6 miles in 2014, which is 92.6 miles more than 2013!).

10) Be happy.  Running for fun is a luxury. Be happy that your legs move, your heart beats, your lungs exhale. And when it hurts, remember how lucky you are to be doing what you’re doing.

My Health is in my Hands.

Three years ago, I had a strange health scare. I developed discoloration on my skin at my joints, followed by edema (swelling) of my legs and feet. I visited my primary care doctor soon after the swelling started, he put me on a basic anti-inflammatory and sent me home unimpressed. I took the anti-inflammatory as prescribed but the condition worsened. I returned to my primary care doctor and he prescribed another anti-inflammatory without so much of a raised eyebrow at my condition. In addition to the swelling I also had some other red flags – blood pressure steadily increasing at every visit, headaches, fatigue. Yes, I was overweight so these things weren’t totally unusual but I was very concerned with the fact that my status quo of physical capabilities was suddenly turned upside down.

I decided the following afternoon to go to urgent care. Something was wrong and I didn’t want to just sit back while I lost my ability to walk. Urgent care took one look at me and said I should go to the emergency room immediately. They were concerned that something life-threatening like a blood clot was the problem, and didn’t want to take any chances. Even though I knew something was wrong, hearing a medical professional say it was an emergency scared the shit out of me. I called my mom in tears in the parking lot, she met me at home and drove me to the ER. They admitted me as soon as they took my blood pressure – it was 200+ over 120 (which is really bad I soon found out). My condition was a mystery to the ER doctors – they ran every test they could think of while they pumped me full of drugs to bring my blood pressure down. At one point all four ER attendings were standing at the foot of my bed, reviewing my chart and scratching their heads.

They released me early the next morning once my blood pressure was reading normally, with medicine in hand and an appointment for a rheumatologist later that day. They didn’t have any answers about the swelling, and so I just had to wait and hope the rheumatologist could come up with something. My mom came back to my house and we tried to get a little sleep before the appointment, then off we went to the next round in mystery illness. My rheumatologist and her staff were amazing. They made me feel comfortable and I knew they were working hard to figure out what was going on. I probably had each test they could think of, ran at least twice. Everything came up negative or inconclusive.

To deal with the swelling, my doctor put me on prednisone. What a terrible drug to have to take (essentially poisoning your body), but it brought the swelling down and I was able to walk normally again. I visited my rheumatologist almost weekly to complete lab work and talk about symptoms. Being the only person in the waiting room under 60 was a bit odd, but my unusual circumstances made me a high priority. The first round of prednisone didn’t finish it off, the swelling came back and since we were no closer to an answer They started me on another round of prednisone. I of course was doing a fair amount of googling symptoms at this point, trying to find something that might put us on track to an answer. The results were scary – everything I read had me thinking I was facing a lifetime of autoimmune disease. At 28.

My doctor kept looking, and I kept taking my prednisone. This course of treatment finished up, and we waited. Waited for the swelling to return. Waited for something else to go wrong. But nothing happened. Just as suddenly and unexplained as it came, so it went. At my final appointment, I could tell my rheumatologist was happy for me but still concerned because she couldn’t tell me what had happened to me. And it became clear to me that was what really drove her – knowing the why about things. I really lucked out – I had a doctor who was still passionate about the why.

This experience taught me a few things:

1) You MUST be your own health advocate. If you feel something is wrong, don’t stop until you get someone that believes you and helps you understand what is happening.

2) Life is short, and should be appreciated as much as you can physically do so. I had several months of limited mobility and the mere possibility of lifetime or terminal illness, and all I kept thinking was how much I had wasted not getting out in the world and taking in every last bit in any form that I could. Physically, mentally, emotionally.

3) It’s never too late to change! I just had my annual physical with my doctor a few weeks ago and thanks to taking up running at the first of the year, I was able to come off one of my high blood pressure medications! And all of my other vitals are outstanding! I could tell my doctor was actually proud of me, for being proactive in my health!

My Lens of Depression

Last week, Dr. Sophia Yin committed suicide. Her death rocked me a bit more than Robin Williams’ in August (don’t get me wrong, that was a rough one too). I wrote this piece back when Mr. Williams died, but didn’t get around to posting quickly and started to doubt the idea of posting something so heavy as my third post. Dr. Yin was (is) a celebrity in my field of work, and her fate is considerably more common among animal welfare professionals than other industries. I actually assisted her for a few days when she visited my work to teach low stress handling techniques on animals. She was all business, good at what she did, and seemed to have a dedicated support staff in tow. A woman who had it all together, changing the world of animal handling/training one book at a time. And just like that she’s gone.

I didn’t write this looking for sympathy. I wrote this because mental health is not a topic people talk openly about in this country, and it costs amazing people their lives. Sharing our truths out loud can tear down the stigma. So my hope is that my story, it helps one person think differently about a loved one or themselves. And they decide to try for at least one more day. Because sometimes that’s all it takes to get help in the form of a true diagnosis, a supportive hand or a different direction.

The first time I recall contemplating suicide as an option was in junior high. My uncle had committed suicide in fantastic fashion while I was in elementary school – he jumped in front of a train. I don’t believe that my uncle’s fate influenced my desire for it, but looking back now it seems obvious that mental health issues were/are very prevelant on my father’s side of the family. What I also know is that puberty colliding with new friends and the new environment of junior high awakened my own tendency toward depression.

My parents, while flawed humans in their own right, were actively trying to give me everything I needed to be successful. My dad worked hard to put food on the table, my mother ran a business from home to be there for me whenever I needed. My father taught me skills to be self-sufficient, my mother always had time to listen to my struggles. Yet even in a relatively stable environment, I was engulfed by self-loathing and hopelessness.

Going through puberty and finding depression at the same time was absolutely overwhelming. This was not something I could talk to my parents about (at least, I didn’t think that I could). I couldn’t confide in guidance counselors who would quickly intervene because I feared I’d be labelled and the whole school would start calling me “that crazy girl.” I wasn’t cool enough to be depressed. I didn’t wear black, or like horror movies, and I wasn’t all that into Nirvana. I was just a girl who wore thrift store clothes, listened to country music, and liked soap operas (it’s funny how much we are mini-versions of our parents until puberty hits and we want to be anything but).

I did however find someone to talk to about it, and I know it saved my life. It wasn’t the best context – two of my close guy friends and I were all struggling and we made a suicide pact. It prevented any of us from going rogue and doing it solo, and it made it okay to talk to each other about how we were actually feeling. I know any child/mental health professional would probably cringe at that thought, but it was partly responsible for me living to adulthood so I will be forever grateful to those two boys.

The other thing that kept me alive was my parents high expectations for me coupled with their generosity of love. They wanted me to have everything they didn’t, and every time I thought about suicide, I thought about what kind of mess it would leave my parents. I struggled to find a way that would be easy on them. My misery was so heavy that some days, this didn’t really matter. But the struggle of trying to find a way that was less harmful to them made me wait a day. Wait a week. Wait until I had come up with a decent plan. And that waiting to figure out the right way to do it kept me alive long enough to actually get help.

I wasn’t actually diagnosed and medicated for depression until I was 24. For over ten years, through a lot of big life decisions, I struggled to get out of bed in the morning. I struggled with waking up itself. Sleep was a refuge from all of the harmful thoughts swimming around in my brain. Sleep was the only safe place. I was just waiting to die. Depression is an ugly beast that swallows every feeling, color, sound, breath into a black hole leaving you empty and alone (see this awesome artist for an incredibly accurate depiction of what it’s like to live with depression).

I look at who I am now, seven years out from my diagnosis and I am glad I had the patience to wait. I am no longer on medication, and I use therapy when I need to. I still have very rough days, and my life is by no means perfect, but every day gives me something that is mine alone. And I am grateful for that. I have a lot of tools at my disposal – affirmations, quality relationships, a support system, and the knowledge that the bad days don’t last. None of this came quickly or easily, and it’s hard work to maintain. But the alternative? I don’t even want to give it a chance.

I’ve found these links helpful, so I’m sharing them.

Talk to someone, National Suicide Hotline

Bipolar or Depression?

Compassion Fatigue & Animal Welfare

Everyone has secrets.

Hyperbole and a Half

Sara, deconstructed.

So, in my first post I told you everything I’m not. Now we can dig into the good stuff! According to Buzzfeed, Mindy Kaling would play me in a movie about my life. I’m flattered and think she would have a blast digging into this role. I’m 31, and very happy to be in my thirties but also shaking in my boots because that make me old (by the standards of my ten year old know-it-all self).

I am a left-handed, Gemini, only child as I like to point out in all of my online dating profiles. And yes, that means I’m single. Or divorced. Depending on the boxes provided to check. That right there is enough to blog about for years – all the mishaps and laughter of marriage, divorce, and online dating that I’ve experienced. I also love to travel, as far and as often as I can – which unfortunately isn’t often enough since I work for a non-profit saving cats and dogs (not always successfully).

I use my spare time to digest all the Netflix, Hulu, Spotify, Pinterest, and EHarmony I can when I’m not out finding new restaurants or outdoor spaces to revel in this thing called life. I also occasionally show up on the internet, playing video games while drinking and providing commentary with my good friend and supporter of my blogging endeavors, Curley. Oh, and there’s this crazy idea I had to sign up for a half-marathon this coming January – so I spend a fair amount of time running (or sweating and wheezing depending on the weather). And then there’s my dog Finn, who is so stinking cute I’ve moved several times just to keep him in my life. He keeps me and my old lady cat Lola in check, should we ever start to think he’s perfect.

Welcome to my mess!

Why am I unpacking? Well, I like to move and grow. I like to start over from scratch just as much as I like to build on what I already have. My life is a constant stream of starting something new and unpacking the literal and emotional baggage I’ve brought with me. In the literal sense, I’ve moved 9 times in the last eleven years. In the emotional sense, I’ve lost and forged more relationships than I can count in those same eleven years. I’m 31 now, I am just beginning to get a sense of who I am. Writing has always been a safe place for me, and if I’m not writing I’m reading someone else’s words. Livejournal was my home eleven years ago, but we both grew up and apart and I’ve been looking for a new “home” ever since. The perfectionist that I am struggled for a long time with becoming a blogger – it’s something I’ve been drawn to since my early days on the internet, but I never fit a niche so it seemed like something I shouldn’t do. I’m not a mommy blogger, a chef, a gamer, a fashionista, an expert on any one thing in particular. Except for me. I’m an expert in my own experiences. And I’ve realized in the last few years that my experiences are just as important as anyone else’s. So, here I go. I’m going to put my life on the internet for people to relate to or challenge and see where it takes me. Hopefully you’ll come along for the ride.

This is my story, one piece of emotional baggage at a time.