At the Closing of the Year: 2016 edition

A lot of people have said that this has been a terrible year. And in many ways, it has. For many people, it has. However, coming off 2015 which was arguably the worst year of my entire life (at least in the top five worst years), I’ve been thrilled with all 2016 has brought with it. At the end of the year, I like to write a reflection of the previous twelve months. I enjoy going back, comparing notes, and seeing how far I’ve come. At the end of a bad year, it’s comforting to know that things change, time is fluid, circumstances are rarely permanent. But at the end of a good year, I sorta want to think that things can stay the same for just a little bit longer. I don’t want to see the good times end so my “New Year’s Resolution” is simply for more of the same. Usually, at my birthday, I write a post about my goals for the upcoming year. Didn’t bother with that this birthday.

Now, in no particular order, I will reflect upon what this past year has looked like for me, how it’s made me feel, and why it’s been such a great period in my life.

*Health: I’m very fortunate to have my health. Dear friends around me have suffered devastating illnesses and this only makes me more thankful. In 2015, I ended up in a wheel chair but in the first half of 2016, I improved dramatically from my back injury. For instance, in the first show I did, I had to wear flats but by the fall, when I was in a second show, I was able to maneuver around stage in heels with barely any discomfort. I was also never sick, with the exception of a stomach virus in January and a small cold after Thanksgiving. Additionally, exercise was able to become a part of my daily routine again and by the summer, I was back to doing my online dance workouts. Since the fall, I’ve been adding small hand weights as well and working on rebuilding the strength I lost last year.

*Art: I painted, drew, decoupaged, visualized and made come to life several pieces of art work. I’ve always seen myself as a potential artist but I felt like I couldn’t put brush to canvas without knowing what I was doing first. This year, I learned I must not wait on classes or teachers. I must just create and the experience would teach me better techniques. Each piece has meant something important to me. One was therapeutic beyond measure. I created it knowing I was going to cover it up… which I did. I did cover it up with an empowering message but I know what is underneath that feminist piece hanging in my kitchen and something about that secret makes it that much more special to me. For 2016, I have a few ideas for pieces in mind but basically I just hope to make more art, no matter what that looks like! In 2016, I completed four canvases that I kept and one I gifted. Maybe I’ll set a goal of covering 10 this year!

*New Hair/New Clothes: This year, I invested in cute new clothes. Dresses mostly. And they are delightful. I started rocking a haircut I used to only wish I could have but, fearing repercussions at home, I never went for it. Now I just do what I want to do and I don’t worry what anyone else might think. I also played around with henna tattoos and at times I had all kinds of things written up and down my arms and that was okay. It was what made me feel better at the time.

*Fangirling: Being a fangirl is always one of my favorite parts of any year. 2016 was filled with wonderful opportunities to be a fangirl extraordinaire. Early in the year, I had the privilege of seeing my favorite band of all time, The B-52s, in concert along with the Nashville Symphony. It was cold that night and I was still just able to walk again. My husband was so sweet to drive me right up to the building and pick me back up again. I went with a dear friend and her sister. It was the perfect night. Later on, close to my birthday, I went with the same friend and a new friend to see Pet Shop Boys, an item on the top of my bucket list. It was as amazing as I dreamed it would be. So much color, so much happy. Then, of course, there was the opportunity to grow closer to my online Kate Pierson friends. We all worked together to send a special gift to Kate for her birthday. My contribution was something I wish I could go back and tell 13 year old Mandy about… I had the courage to send Kate a copy of the poem I wrote for her back then. It was called “The Blue Rose”. With it, I included a needlefelted blue rose that I made for her. The thank you I received on social media is a memory I’ll treasure forever. In the fall, I discovered a reality show I’d somehow missed for a LOT of years called RuPaul’s Drag Race. My daughter and I had a great deal of fun catching up on a few seasons and I personally fell in love with a few queens in particular. So I spent a lot of time fangirling over Jinkx Monsoon and Sharon Needles and Adore Delano and Alaska Thunderf*ck. Not to mention, the treat we Gilmore Girls fans received at Thanksgiving when a new season landed on Netflix and we got to visit Stars Hallow all over again. Finally, here at the end of the year, I have enjoyed going to Twin Peaks again, but this time, I had my kids with me.

Birthday Week: Last year I swore that if I was well for my birthday this year, I’d do it up right. And boy did I! I celebrated my birthday in several different ways (Drag Brunch, Gilmore Girls marathon, another delicious brunch, dinner and Opryland Hotel with friends,  drinks at the Green Dragon) with several different people and it made me feel so amazing about turning 39. I highly recommend making a big deal about your own birthday to anyone. It’s an excellent path to self-care.

Homeschool: In 2015, I felt like I failed miserably as a homeschool mom. I realize that most of us in this career have off years so I wasn’t too hard on myself about it. But I can’t help but be proud to report that in 2016, I did a great job. Letting myself off the hook by signing up for an online school this fall, I was better able to devote time to extra activities and studies while the online school took care of the core needs. This year we studied graphic design, sewing, and civil rights. The kids took fun field trips, raised and released butterflies, lived and learned at the theater, attended wonderful summer camps, and experienced a few specialized programs at the Wilderness Station and through an organization called Girls to the Moon that I found to be valuable and I’d repeat them.

Theater: Guys, my year in theater was magnificent. First of all, I saw a crap-ton of amazing shows featuring and starring some of my favorite people in the world. But I also got to do theater myself… breathe life into characters, make people laugh, get nominated for a local acting award, experience the anxiety of waiting for that first theater review and the relief of seeing, not only did you get a mention but, holy crap, it’s a good review. A generous, kind, wonderful review which gives you the confidence to keep auditioning. The best parts of doing theater this year, though, was having a chance to bring my husband into that aspect of my life, kiss and punch him repeatedly on stage, and, last but not least, make new friends. My family has expanded dramatically this year and the theater has a lot to do with that.

A few other things worth mentioning about my year are:

-helping plan the first ever BoroPride event and becoming connected to more members of the LGBT+ community, a step I’ve needed to take for a lot of years and, now that I finally have, man, do I feel good about it.

-seeing my baby cousin for the first time in way too many years.

-getting plugged in as a volunteer, alongside my kid, for Leukemia Lymphoma Society.

-Pokemon Go!

-writing and connecting with a local poetry group.

-good food, good music, podcasts, and being able to focus again

-removing negativity, being able to say, “No, you won’t treat me that way. I won’t allow it.”

-vinyl… I finally organized my records, honoring the collection the way I should have a long time ago.

So, as you can see, there is very little I need to change or add. However, I do have this play I’ve been writing for a long time hanging over my head and I need to follow-through and finally write it. I also want to get those 10 art pieces created and have enough completed pieces for the poetry book I’m working on: 40 Poems Before I’m 40.  Rather than resolutions, I’ll just make a point of intentionally working toward those goals and, this time next year, hopefully I’ll be typing up a post about how 2017 was just as amazing as 2016 because it would be hard to beat!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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PTSD, Pill Poppin’, and Preparing to Face the Past

It seems trite to start this post by pointing out how I haven’t blogged much in a long time. But the truth is, I have not blogged much in a long time and there is a reason for that. For a while, I told myself I was in an “acting phase” and not really into writing but this week, I figured out that the truth is, I’ve been scared. I have realized that if I didn’t blog about everything that’s happened this year, I’d never be able to blog again. Like I couldn’t go over it, I couldn’t go around it, I couldn’t go under it. I have to go through it. So, here I am. I’ve poured myself a giant glass of red wine and I’m going to write about it the best that I can because I’m not okay.

I mean, on the surface, I seem okay. Better than okay. Great even. My Instagram and Facebook posts are happy and I’m not lying. I am happy. Life is going well. But that’s all on the surface. Underneath the surface, it’s black. Gross. The PTSD is bubbling up and bubbling over, like a volcano about to erupt, and it’s leading to scenarios like falling apart on my sweet husband’s chest while I ask him how I might find marijuana or tearing up at girl’s lunch and my precious friend who knows knows having to rub my back until I can participate in the conversation again.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m so glad I have people in my life who are aware of what has happened to me, who know I’m not okay, who listen and don’t judge and say things like, “You are a brave and courageous person. You will beat this.” Without these people, I’d be an even bigger mess and I get that, so my walking prayers in the morning involve a lot of thoughts like, “Thank you for the people in my life and the love I have. Please help me give that love back tenfold.”

It’s just that anniversaries are hard and this weekend is an anniversary of sorts. Not a traditional anniversary. Nothing to celebrate exactly unless you think it’s worth celebrating the fact that something derailed me, nearly destroyed me and everything I thought I knew and understood about this world came into question as a result of this situation which culminated last year at an annual event I attended. The same event I must attend this weekend. Same place. Same group of people. Same person who literally held my hand last year, leading me down a dark, disturbing, destructive path.

The PTSD is strong right now. There is a rehearsal for said event and then the event itself. My husband has agreed to accompany me as my date and my best sister friend will be with me and I will be fine. Technically. No one can hurt me. I am safe. I will be safe. My brain knows that. But my brain also knows that, if I break down in sobs every time I think about it now, once that night arrives, when I’m actually in the place, in the situation, near the person, it’s unlikely I’ll be able to keep it together. In fact, I’m so sure of my impending meltdown that I’ve had my husband locate some sedatives I was prescribed last year when I was scheduled for an MRI that never happened. He still has them and I’m pondering taking one which says a lot because he practically has to force feed me ibuprofen if I have a rare headache. I’m googling things like, “Valium for anxiety” and “What to do when your gut tells you someone is bad” and “How to tell if someone is a sexual predator”. It’s all coming back. Like it’s happening all over again. This isn’t fun.

Why am I attending the event, you ask? Because I have to. It’s my responsibility, for one thing. But there is also the simple fact that I’m one of those people who hates to be defeated. If I don’t attend this event and that person does… then they win. And I can’t let that happen.

I won’t let that happen.

Looking at my life today compared to a year ago, I can’t help but feel incredibly lucky and like a gigantic winner. Yes, I lost friends but every friend I lost has been replaced by three. Yes, my marriage went through hell but today my husband is my best friend and I know I can depend upon him to take care of me and be here for me when I need him. Every single part of my life is better than it was a year ago. There is so much to which I am looking forward, I’m having a blast, I’m not hurting, I feel pretty good, school is going well, I’m heavily involved in causes that matter to me. Stuff’s just great. So I know once this event is over, I will return to my regularly scheduled life and I’ll feel so good about myself for not letting anyone and their scariness run me off from something I love to do. And maybe then I’ll feel strong enough to blog about the rest of what happened to me. But until then… I think I will just have to accept that no one is invincible, everyone has a breaking point, and most people in my situation would have been run off soon as this happened to them so, the fact that I’m even writing about having to attend this function means I already win.

Even if I have to pop pills in order to make it through in one piece.

Pregrieving

Burning intense and with passion in the beginning

And it flickers out leaving nothing but ashes

This is how he describes all of my relationships

This is why he says I can’t keep friends

Because it is never just friends

Clearly I am building a wall

Stone by stone, daily I make it taller, wider, thicker

And I dare anyone to try and climb over it

As there I will be, on the other side, shaking in fear and ready to run

“You weren’t invited here,” I’ll scream

YOU WERE WARNED.

Best of luck

Everyone leaves eventually

Either I push them away or scare them away or won’t let them in to begin with

The results are all the same

It doesn’t matter

But this is how I feel and I know it doesn’t matter

That connection is so hard to find and so hard to live without

Because when I make a connection, I have to fear that the connection will be severed

So it is simply easier to avoid the connection in the first place

 

Vulnerabilty and New Friends: The Struggle is Real

Sometimes it’s scary trusting new people to come into your life and not make a giant mess of things.

After being hurt, repeatedly, by people I once trusted wholeheartedly, over and over and over again this past year, I’d nearly decided to not let myself love new people. It’s like I’d put in a place a cut off date… my friendship suddenly had an expiration date of sorts. If I’d met you prior to August of 2015, the friendship was viable otherwise it was too late.

And I’d built up walls. I’d convinced myself that no one could be trusted and I needed to be careful no matter what because everyone was out to get me.

It wasn’t a fun way to live but at least, so I thought, I was safe.

Then something amazing happened. I met a person. I met this person in the exact same context in which I’d met the last person who nearly destroyed me. Only this time the red flags were missing and my stomach didn’t lurch when I was around them.

At first I was terrified of making a new friend. And to be honest, I still am. But I feel a lot less alone and a lot less worried that I’m unsafe in the world. Not sure where I’m going from here and once I’m taking a break from theater, I might revert back to having those walls up. Still, I can’t help but think it’s super healthy for me to be dabbling in the art of “getting back out there”.

It’s terrifying to be vulnerable and to have to admit that you are, every single day of your life, not only to others but to yourself. I’m learning to navigate vulnerability. I’m also learning to recognize that others are also vulnerable. I’m not the only one out there scared of being hurt. I’m also learning to recognize that, when I let my vulnerabilities show, sure, yes, I get hurt but I am also given the unique opportunity to make some pretty incredible friends and connections. There are advantages and disadvantages to being so authentic and transparent.

Right now, I just know that I hate myself a little less and I hate other people a little less. So, I guess, that has to count for something.

 

 

A Letter To My Mother on the Tenth Anniversary of her Death

Dear Mama,

It’s been a long time since I wrote you a letter or even felt compelled to write one. That doesn’t mean I don’t still miss you and think of you… just that the pain has dulled and the place you left empty in my life has been filled by other people and things. So that desperate need to connect with you isn’t quite as urgent as it was a few years back.

The daffodils didn’t bloom in time for the anniversary again this year. We moved into this house a few months after your death and every anniversary, I was comforted by the bright  yellow blooms. Until last year when they didn’t come. While it was a disappointment last year, this year it feels more like a sign. A sign that I am okay and that I don’t need them as much. I know you are with me, in my heart, in the faces of your beautiful grandchildren, and I don’t need yellow blossoming flowers to remind me of that. Though a yellow blossom in springtime will always bring to mind thoughts of you.

This week I was on business-related conference call with Allison, you remember my old pen pal? I know it would bring you such joy to realize that she and I keep in touch and that our children are exchanging letters these days as well. Anyway, the other woman on the conference call asked me what things I would change about my life if I could change anything. I was stumped. I honestly could not think of anything I sincerely wanted to change about my life. A bigger house would be nice right now in this space of my life simply because we homeschool and we have three children who are outgrowing the small rooms this home provides. But it’s really not something urgent… I can totally get by with the space we have and besides, in the past ten years, this place has become my home. Giving it up would be hard to do. The lady who asked the question said she didn’t usually hear answers like mine… most people have a long list of things they would like to change. Of course, I’ve never been most people.

I do things and have done things that would not make you proud. I also do things that would. I have committed to homeschooling your three grandchildren, who are shaping up to be quite likable people. And I am good at the homeschool thing. I drive my children to activities. I am heavily involved with the theater right alongside the kids, which is a dream come true. I listen to my old records. I make art. I journal. I write. I wear whatever I want. I still love passionately. I’m surrounded by beautiful souls who love me in ways of which I don’t feel worthy. I’m still in my marriage and loving the man with whom I was blessed beyond measure. I take care of my health. I listen to the birds and I feel the wind on my face. I still follow Kate Pierson closely and I still love television.

My life is good and I don’t think you’d have any trouble recognizing me. I never change that much. Most importantly, I think it would comfort you to know that I am satisfied in my life. Your daughter is healthy, happy, loved, and surrounded by the things and the people who bring her joy. Really, what more would a mother want?

And so, as we mark a very significant anniversary since your passing, I can honestly say that I have created a life for myself that is filled with joy and I am content. So many of these anniversaries have found me floundering, desperate for one reason or another. But not this year. Perhaps it is because I spent so much of last year broken and I have learned to embrace what good is in my life. Pain certainly brings about a new appreciation for the pleasures found in day to day living. Or perhaps it’s simply because I have stepped out on faith and deliberately put into my world the things which bring out my strengths and forwent those which highlight my weaknesses. Regardless of the reasons, today, on this tenth anniversary of your passing, I am living the life I always hoped I would live. And I think you would be pleased with me.

Love,

Mandy

12 Things That Didn’t Suck about 2015

Here is, in no particular order, a list of things that didn’t suck about 2015. Because I’ve focused enough on what did suck.

  1. I did theater. And while it led to a lot of suckage, it also led to my learning more about costuming a show and how to run the theater and, well, now I’m directly involved with the theater in a more specific way and that makes me happy. Right?
  2. I did more theater. Another show at a different theater… a big part where I got to be funny and make people laugh and that definitely made me very very happy.
  3. Made new friends. Like brand spanking new people I didn’t know this time last year are now folks I text with and visit with on a regular basis. Awesome!
  4. Grew closer to friends I already had. Several folks I already considered to be my friends are now even closer friends than they were, say, a year ago.
  5. My marriage. Dude, the hubby and I are in a better place than we have been in years. This is pretty amazing considering the year we had.
  6. Kate. Kate Pierson, the love of my life before the people in this house were a part of it, released a solo album (which I now own on vinyl, cd and mp3) and proceeded to go on tour which included a stop in Nashville where I drank too much wine, watched her play an incredible show in awe and snagged a couple of hugs and pictures and had a sweet conversation with her and… gosh, I just love her so much.
  7. TV. Seriously, there was so much amazing television this year. It’s hard to imagine a time in my life when Kimmy Schmidt didn’t exist now that I’ve watched the entire first season a good six or seven times. Thanks, television, for giving me something to do while being pathetic.
  8. I got better. Had nervous breakdown. Broke my body, literally. Broken in every possible way. And then healed and survived and am starting the new year out in an improved state. Sweet! High five!
  9. Christmas. We had a lot of fun this Christmas. I didn’t cry. I laughed and smiled and felt loved and not alone and… yeah. Good memories were made.
  10. Star Wars. I’ve spent my whole life trying to get on board that fandom train but just could not force myself to care about the force. (See what I did there?) But man, 7 has totally stolen my heart and now I’m ordering Star Wars skirts on the internet.
  11. My kids. For goodness sake, my kids were rock stars this year. They met their goals from last year, they stepped it up when things got rough around here, and they matured immensely. Gosh, they just bring me such joy and I’m so thankful for them.
  12. Vinyl. With Christmas money last year, I treated myself to a fairly cheap record player which was followed by the hauling of the vinyl into the house and then finding a shelf appropriate for housing these treasures. Finally, I ended up with what is now my favorite part of my house… a record-playing station that is practical and aesthetically pleasing plus a rocking chair next to it for my aspie stemming needs. In fact, a couple weeks ago, I realized I must have subconsciously been recreating a childhood memory by purchasing a cheap rocker to place next to my record station because I spent every afternoon as a preschooler rocking myself and playing records. It was such a comforting ritual and if there is anything I need right now in my life it is a comforting ritual. If you stop by unexpectedly, don’t be surprised to find me rocking so hard I nearly tip backward (according to my Mama, this is what I would do), belting out “Islands in the Stream” at the top of my lungs.

And finally, a few things to which I’m looking forward in 2016…

Walking along the beach, seeing the B-52s with the Nashville symphony, a less complicated schedule, revamping homeschool, a full year of health, making art, and even more amazing television.

I’m Mad

My dear friend who has been battling cancer just sent me a text telling me she’d learned today of an acquaintance her age being diagnosed with the stage four version of the cancer she herself has. She said the news pissed her off. It pisses me off too.

I’m pretty mad in general right now.

The more that I think about the people who keep have dropped out of our lives, who haven’t fought even one iota for the relationships I thought meant something to them, the madder I get.

The more I think about the family member who chose to cut me and my children out of his life for four years, the madder I get.

The more I think about how it would feel if he did that again, the madder I get.

The more often I see my children cry over the friends who have been ripped from their lives because mom and/or dad decided something or other about their mom and/or dad, the madder I freakin’ get.

Life is short. It is so very short. When we find someone who loves us, even if they are imperfect, even if they screw up, even if they have a lot of work to do, why do we think it’s even an option to cut them out of our lives? Why aren’t we more prone to remaining loyal to people we supposedly love?  What gives anyone the right to decide that you are no longer worthy of their love? Please, someone, tell me the answer to this question.

I cannot sleep at night I am so often awake pondering why and how anyone would be willing to walk away from my family, knowing it must be breaking the hearts of my children. Yet, if they came back now, I’d never be able to trust again because if they did it once, they might do it again. And once I’ve gotten them over this hurt, I swear, you may have to fill out an application and sign a bloody contract before I ever let you close to my kids again.

What has this world come to that we are so covered up with close friends that it’s absolutely nothing to just discard one once in a while, much like you might toss out last season’s shoes or an old newspaper?

I am just so tired of it. I’m exhausted and weary and, sadly, quite leery as well.

None of us are promised tomorrow. I keep wondering what would they say of me, if I died today? “She was a whore and I am glad she’s out of my life.” “What a loser that Mandy was. Good riddance.” It’s hard to imagine anything else after the way I’ve been treated.

But I know in my heart of hearts that I was a good friend. I cared. I listened. I helped out. I loved. I stepped in. I served. I was there.

If they can’t see that, then whatever.

But it doesn’t change the fact that I am mad. Madder than hell. And frankly, I am so mad, I might be blogging about it a lot until the anger fades and all that is left are the memories, and the trust issues, and the ashes of friendships that seemingly never were mixed with ashes of my former self.

For this is all part of my journey.

And I supposed it’s part of my children’s journeys as well though I think that really sucks. It really really really sucks.

After this though, I swear, if you hurt my children, you will be dead to me.