At the Closing of the Year

This week, I couldn’t help but notice people posting the latest Facebook generated link. Click here to see so and so’s favorite memories from 2015. All the while, I’m sitting over here thinking, “Dear GOD, I don’t want to be reminded of much of anything about this year.”

Funny how typically, on my birthday (which happened to fall on Thanksgiving this year), I write a post about the life goals I met from the previous birthday and ones I want to work on for the upcoming birthday. Couldn’t bring myself to do that on the most recent anniversary of my birth. In fact, I couldn’t so much as look at last year’s post to remind myself of what I had wanted to accomplish this year. I’m almost certain it said something about, “Do more theater” and, well, I definitely did more theater.

Was doing “more theater” enough to make this a redeemable year? I can’t say as it was. Frankly, when I look back all of the way to the beginning of the summer (all I can recall from before that is memories of my friend’s cancer diagnosis and the mental state of anguish that left me with), the only thing I can think is, “2015, good riddance”.  I know what you’re thinking because I’m thinking it too. But Mandy, you are safe, you have a roof over your head, family who loves and cares for you, and you are healthy (at least physically). Really, what more can you ask for? And this is true, to a certain extent. I am very blessed and I have little, today, about which I can complain. But if there is anything I have learned from the positive psych class I am taking online just because it is that, if we are experiencing stress, it doesn’t matter what our physical state and environment is all about, we are in survival mode and we are suffering.

Folks, my stress level has been through the roof this year and, let me tell ya, it finally broke me. I’m pretty sure I just experienced a nervous breakdown and it’s been accumulating for years. Decades even. There have been times when I almost went ahead and had that nervous breakdown so I’ve had touches of them here and there. However, finally, this summer and fall, all of the stress and unhealthy shame messages and toxic self-images and unrealistic expectations I’ve put upon myself… well… I guess I found the straw that finally broke this camel’s back?

As I sit here, clinging to my warm coffee cup (vat) in front of an open window during an unseasonably warm December, one week from Christmas Eve, I can honestly say that I am completely and totally broken. Each day, I am gluing the pieces of my heart, my spirit, my mind, and my trust back together. But I know that I will never ever ever be the same. And I’m not sure that’s a bad thing.

The loss. Oh my goodness, the amount of loss I have suffered is unspeakable. But then again, many assure me that what I “lost” was never real anyway. What is real has shown up in major ways via visits and gifts and text messages and “I love you”s and meals and forgiveness and kisses on the head and hands being held and still, quiet presence. There is nothing quite like going batshit crazy that will  show you exactly where you stand with people and precisely who is on your team.

Last year, I spent my birthday watching Rocky Horror with my kids and waiting for Thanksgiving. My birthday “celebration” was one I requested with friends where I brought the meal and when I arrived, realized that basically the entire party had been forgotten by my host. It was an embarrassing spectacle and I may have gotten a little too drunk to help me cope with my humiliation.

This year, though  I was in pain, two of my closest friends, despite it being Thanksgiving, came to my house, one in the early part of the day, one in the evening, and brought me cards and gifts and sat with me while we watched Seinfeld, swept my floor, and in general, kept me company through what was one of my most difficult days during my (physical) healing process. I did not feel alone. I did not feel embarrassed. I did not need to get drunk.

While on the surface, it seems I was in a better place last year, I’m not sure that is true. Last Christmas I sacrificed the happiness of my family to make myself available for another family who literally left me waiting all night long on a call telling me that I was needed. I was so eager to help, I didn’t mind staying up all night awaiting notification for me to head on over. I loved to serve. When the call never came, I fell asleep on the sofa for a little while and spent the rest of the day too exhausted to enjoy myself or my children, curled up in a fetal position in my bed. I was, yet again, humiliated that I cared so very much for this friend who was willing to use me and not bat an eye.

This year, there is no way in hell I’d offer up my free services to another family on Christmas. At least not for something as trivial as babysitting. Especially not to the detriment of my own family. Not a chance. I can now see how often I’ve put the needs of my own family and myself below the needs of people who live outside of this house. Never again.

As I reflect upon 2015, all I see is a blur of pain and hard work and suffering and shame. I am utterly ashamed of the situations that put me in a place where I’m up at 4 am writing about my nervous breakdown. On the other hand, I cannot help but be thankful for the opportunity for growth that this year has brought me. I know myself so much better now. I know what I need and want in a friend. I know that I believe with every fiber of my being that I deserve to be loved as much as I am willing to love. I know that the people living in this house are on my team and I can trust them all with my life. I know that my in-laws are MY family too and I can depend upon them when times get rough. I know that being able to take a walk, make a meal, care for my home, be present with my husband and children are the things that I missed most while incapacitated. I know that I don’t want to write right now (I say as I sit here writing) and instead I want to read and watch good tv and lesson plan and make things with my hands.

I also know that I have a lot of healing left to do, both emotionally and physically, and that in order to do that, everything must come to a screeching halt. I’ve removed myself and my kids from various commitments and intend to spend the semester simply being and resting and learning and loving. Being gentle with myself is my number one priority. 2016’s theme is quietness, stillness, nothingness. I intend to ask myself a lot of questions like, “Is this serving me? Is this bringing me joy? Is this stressing me out?” I look forward to seeing what life looks like next year after months of letting the answers to these questions guide me.

 

Blessings From Brokenness

Turns out, my body has finally caught up with my spirit. Emotionally, I fell apart this summer and my poor back was literally right behind. In fact, I keep making the joke that the “derailment” was the straw that broke this camel’s back. At the beginning of August, I started having sciatic pain which, even after a round of steroids, persisted and continued to make my life miserable. Finally, a week and a half ago, I was forced to see a chiropractor and find out the discouraging news that the damage is far worse than I could have imagined. Though it came as no surprise really. After all, for decades, I have pushed through the pain, pushed through the pain, pushed through the pain. Eventually, under the weight of such stressful circumstances, my body became so inflamed that I broke. No more pushing. Only rest and intense chiropractic treatment for me. I am strictly forbidden to do a thing over the next week and a half.  And we are 10 days into this ordeal.

Overall, this has been a fairly unpleasant experience. The losses are great. I’m having to sit out theater duties, I’ve resigned from teaching the second semester of my art class and will be teaching the rest of this semester from a seated position, our income and resources are quickly being drained due to the financial cost of daily adjustments and my husband’s having to be available to help out instead of working his extra job, and my quality of life is suffering. I certainly miss exercise but I’m in so much pain that I couldn’t do it even if I was allowed. So for now, it’s lots of sitting, lots of lying around, and lots of time on my hands.

However, I’d not be my authentic self if I ended this post here. It’s impossible to not see the staggering number of gifts which have come from this event. That’s what this post is about.

Just Being.

Being broken emotionally forced me to seek therapy. And not just any therapy but therapy with a person who is truly helping me. I am learning to slow down, allow myself to feel the stuff going on inside of me, and to just sit with things. There is no rush to keep “filling up” and I can just be for a while. Because I am enough, even without all of the million things that I do. Before too long, I’ll be able to just be cool with being me and existing, minus the pressure to perform and do. I’m looking forward to that time. For now, I’m noticing that I feel okay with taking a break from everything *else* while I recover. I remember feeling a similar relief five years ago when my oldest son had cancer and I had permission to not do anything but focus on him. I think that the upcoming year’s theme might be “Nothingness”.

True Friends.

This experience is showing me that, not only do I have a decent number of true friends but that it’s not that hard to figure out who your true friends are after all. I’m learning that, when you feel judged and ignored by a friend, it’s probably not a great relationship. When you feel like you are being used, you might reevaluate the friendship. When things feel very one-sided and you are having to try very hard… chances are, this isn’t a great relationship. Sure, I’ve “lost friends” over the past few months but I’m uncertain that what I’ve lost was of any value to begin with. Additionally, for every “friend” I have lost during this ordeal, I’ve seen three old and new friends show up in my life. People have visited me nearly every single day since I was told I couldn’t do anything. Old friends, new friends… they have been here for me. Bringing food, sending gift cards, doing my dishes and laundry… you name it. I’ve been covered up with help and support and love.

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Reconnection.

While I pushed through pain this fall, I was performing in a play. I had an amazing time, made two fantastic new friends, and thoroughly enjoyed being this character. It was a fabulous and important life experience but it also took me away from my children. There has been much snuggling and tv watching to catch up on. I’m playing video games with my youngest. I binge watched The Great British Baking Show with my daughter. Just simply being in the same room with them while a Minecraft session is happening has been so very nice. I missed them so much while I was preoccupied with a show, the derailment, and then another show. That’s a lot of months to be both physically and emotionally disconnected so I’m loving this time to just stop and be with those I hold most dear.

Helplessness.

Feeling helpless is not something I enjoy. I’ve rarely felt entirely helpless and when I have, it’s been for a much shorter period of time. Not to mention, it didn’t involve intense pain and such dire consequences if I didn’t allow myself to, indeed, remain helpless. Accepting meals, gifts, and assistance from those willing to offer it has been a challenge at times. It’s humbling to watch your old college roommate cook your dinner or a busy homeschool mom sweep your floor. Worse even still is having to depend upon your children to deal with meals, laundry, dishes and everything else in between. I cannot even get the clothing out of my drawers or the socks from my laundry basket. They must help with everything. I suppose there is a lesson in here somewhere… an opportunity for them to pay forward the TLC I’ve given so freely for nearly 12 years or a chance for them to learn what the face of gratitude looks like. Above all, I’d imagine the most important lesson they are learning from my helplessness is that people are kind, they want to help, and what it looks like to be a decent person when someone you know is struggling. I imagine they will take the memories of this experience and be inspired by them when the time comes  to lend a helping hand.

My heartfelt gratitude to each of you beautiful people who has stepped up to make our lives easier over this difficult period of time. Each day, I am growing stronger.  I am forced to see the many blessings in my life and the wonderful work that is happening in my heart. Much healing is taking place, both in my spirit and in my body.

Yesterday’s Artists, Today’s Inspirations: Homeschool Art History Class 5, Mary Cassatt

Last week, my class was finally able to add a female artist to their timelines. Being the feminist that I am, I was beyond pumped to introduce my students to this woman who, not only gave her male peers a run for their money, but who also fought hard for women’s right to vote. What a lady.

We began class listening to a biography about Mary Cassatt while the children placed their pictures and information onto their timelines.  The following is what was to be written under her photo on the timeline:

Mary Cassatt

1844-1926

Born: America (Pennsylvania)

Died: France

Children were given a map of the US and were able to color in Pennsylvania.  We talked about why Cassatt was the first artist on our timeline who died in a country different from the one in which she was born (transportation improves as time passed, increasing the chances that people will move great distances within their life time).

Fast facts were:

  1. She perfected her art by copying the famous art works of others.
  2. Her art often focused on relationships, especially mothers and children.
  3. Cassatt was active in the women’s suffrage movement in the United States.

The children were then taught how to use oil (or hard) pastels in order to create drawings of a relationship important to them. I saw pictures of imaginary spouses and children, dogs, and even one of poop!  It is always so much fun to get to know my students a bit better via their art.

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After they finished their pastel drawings they moved to the back of the room where they broke into groups to create posters for a Women’s Suffrage advocacy. On the white board, I wrote the following phrases which I had seen on actual posters related to the fight for the vote:

Women Pay Taxes!

Women Obey Laws!

Women bring all of the voters into the world.

Give mother the vote.

Are women citizens? If not? Why not?

Let women vote.

These quotes were meant to either be used directly or to inspire.

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As you can see, some kids took the quotes and used them while others made up their own!  I love them all so much!

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This was a wonderful class session where I was able to combine so many of my favorite subjects… art, literature, feminism, women’s history, and poop! Ha!

My children and I very much enjoyed this dvd, a type of historical fiction film based upon the life and true events that took place. We checked it out at our library.  Please know that the content in this film might not be suitable for all viewers so either read about it first or preview it. 

Stay tuned for next week: MONET!

Yesterday’s Artists, Today’s Inspirations: Homeschool Art History Class 6, Claude Monet

Boy! To say this week’s class was my favorite so far would be an understatement. Not only because MONET but also because we had amazing weather, I was feeling pretty well, and the kids seemed extra interested in our project. So much fun!

We started class by copying our information into the timeline.  Under Claude Monet’s picture (who I’ve decided was very handsome) we wrote:

Claude Monet

1840-1926

France

Our fast facts were as follows:

  1. Monet loved to paint outside. He would get as up close and personal with his subject as possible.
  2. He loved to paint the house and gardens he had created in Giverny, in France.
  3. In the summer of 1899, he completed twelve paintings of the Japanese footbridge.

I read aloud from a book about Monet and then we looked closely at one of the paintings of the Japanese footbridge. We talked about how Monet loved to work outdoors and then I told my students that we were moving our work outdoors. It was a beautiful day and I knew it might be our last chance to be outside for art class.

This week we learned about chalk (or soft) pastels. I sat among the children and showed them how I had, earlier in the day, created my own Japanese footbridge on cardstock. Every student was given two cardstock sheets upon which I had created a bridge using masking tape. The idea was to use chalk pastels to create our sky and lily ponds. Once we had created the background, we’d be able to remove the tape and a white bridge would magically appear on our paper.

Each student was given the instructions to create two different bridge scenes, using completely different colors in each picture, indicating a change in the time of day. Monet would often paint for several hours, outdoors, using one canvas and then switch to a different canvas once the light changed. He’d repeat the process the next day, painting earlier in the day on the first canvas and then switching at the exact same time as he had the previous day.

A few students preferred to only create one picture but every student seemed to enjoy the process (except one of my own children who was having a hard time, sadly). After the chalk pastels were completed, we used Mod Podge spray to seal their work onto the paper!  It was smelly and windy, which posed a few problems, but my wonderful helpers made it all so much easier. Our kids all seemed to love the process and most chose to share when we returned to the classroom.

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We are taking a few weeks off from art class but when we return, we’ll be learning about Grandma Moses.

For more on Monet, your local library will be a great resource. I think we checked out at least ten items on his life and work. Our favorite item was this dvd, however.  Make sure you review the material before showing it to your children because everyone has different standards on what is acceptable!  My children and I loved it. We also thought that the actor playing Monet looked like Jared Padalecki.

Meanwhile, keep your eyes open for a video I will be creating where I walk you through our student notebooks!  Thanks for reading.

Yesterday’s Artists, Today’s Inspirations: Homeschool Art History Class 4, Edgar Degas

Last week, my students and I jumped forward several hundred years to the period of the Impressionists and Edgar Degas.  As I explained in class, the reason I jumped forward is simply because I only have time to introduce them to eighteen new artists and so I simply chose the ones I wanted to  study based upon personal interest.  There are plenty of artists one could study during the time between Michelangelo’s death and Degas’s birth, but I chose to skip over them. When you are writing your own curriculum, you can do this sort of thing.

Timeline information is as follows:

Edgar Degas

1834-1917

France

Our fast facts for Degas are:

  1. He was a perfectionist.

2. Was considered to be a founder of impressionism.

3. His favorite subject was ballerinas.

I started out reading aloud some biographical information about our artist which I found on this link.  Once I finished reading the information, each student was given a color sheet of The Dance Class and were encouraged to color the picture as I read aloud from Chasing Degas, a beautiful picture book told from the point of view of one of the dancers in this famous painting.  Not only does this book introduce the children to Edgar Degas and his ballet painting but it also allows the reader to catch glimpses of several of his contemporaries.  After reading this book, students should have a firm grasp on the Impressionists and their place in time (the 1800s)  and location (Paris, France).

Children also received a map of France for his or her notebook.

After we read the picture book, I told the children about the 14 Year Old Dancer, the only sculpture that Degas ever displayed during his career as an artist.  Together, the students all created their own version of this sculpture using aluminum foil, pipe cleaners, and coffee filters.  Since we had so many wooden craft sticks leftover from a previous project, each student received a wooden platform onto which their dancer was hot glued upon completion.  The class seemed excited and proud of their creations and, yet again, I was fascinated by how original all of the creations turned out to be.  No one created a dancer that looked like any of the other dancers.

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For further study, if you have access to it, please check out this dvd. We were able to check it out from our local library.  My daughter called it fascinating!

Next week, I’ll be introducing my students to Mary Cassatt, the first female artist to appear on our timeline!

When I hate myself

A few months ago, I didn’t hate myself.  I wasn’t completely in love with me either, but I was better able to look past my many flaws and focus on the things that I did right.  The things that made me who I was and that weren’t so bad.  Then, the “derailing” occurred and as I sit here, trying to put together the pieces of my shattered self-image, I find that I don’t love me so much anymore.

I ask myself why, exactly, is it that today’s version of me isn’t as good as the one I saw back in the spring?  What is it that makes me avoid looking at my face in the mirror and that has me sobbing into my pillows at night?  And I think I’ve come up with a few answers.

For one thing, the derailing involved being bombarded regularly with another’s self-hatred and while I did not agree with this person’s assessment of self, I was pained to see that the characteristics brought into question for being justifiable causes of self-loathing were ones I shared with this individual.  So if they were hate-worthy in someone else, they are hate-worthy in me?  If I wasn’t allowed to love this person who was so like me, how could I possibly love myself?

Next, I think I had covered up my self-hatred by creating a list of a few traits which I found to be admirable and using them to help me ignore the ones inside, the less admirable traits, the ones of which I was not so proud.  Apparently, I had begun to base my self-esteem on what I could do.  I could get up at 5am, work out, create food from scratch, unload the dishwasher, plan and execute school lessons, and just plain old nail everything.  As long as I was doing these things, these tangible things, I was at least okay and not being some of the qualities I least liked in others (wasteful, slothful, lazy, useless, boring). However, the past few months have left me less able to “do”.  Between nursing a broken heart, a shattered self-image, the loss of several relationships with people who may or may not have been my friends, it’s hard to say, and intense physical pain… well, I’ve slowed down.  It’s all been a vicious cycle.  When I don’t sleep, I am exhausted.  When I hurt, I can’t exercise.  When I don’t exercise, I deal with stress in my life less efficiently and I become depressed. When I’m depressed I don’t sleep.  I’m finally at a place where I can work out somewhat again but it’s been very difficult to get motivated.  If I look around and I see only half as much in the accomplishment department as I used to see then, well, I feel like a failure.

Then, of course, there is the pressure to be a better wife than I was for the past 12 years so that my husband doesn’t leave me.  Because he could leave me.  He should leave me, maybe, even.  Other people have left me and my actions had little to nothing to do with them so why shouldn’t he?  When I look at myself through his eyes, I have a hard time seeing what is making him love me.  Is he just pretending because it’s what he’s supposed to be doing or has he genuinely had a change of heart?  How much longer can he keep up this facade before everything slips back to the way it was?  And now that I’m not as useful around the house and with the kids, what could he possibly like more about me?  I’ve put on a little weight due to lack of mobility.  That has to be a deterrent.  Eventually he’ll notice that, right?  Besides, people don’t change.  So, all of the good stuff around here is basically a ticking time bomb.  When I see myself, all I see is a chubby, out of shape, emotionally wrecked, mentally challenged, useless drain on him, her children, and all of the people around her.  How can he see something so considerably different?

Once upon a time, I had the unconditional love of a mother.  She thought I hung the moon and the stars and the entire universe centered around me (not healthy, I know).  Still, I knew what it was like to be loved. At least by her.  This week, we got the tubs of old pictures belonging to my mother out of the attic.  Among the photographs of my childhood memories was a journal she was keeping near her death.  In fact, there were several journals she’d started about that time.  She never finished one.  Never stuck with it.  Annoyed the living daylights out of me.  As I thumbed through this one journal, though, a gratitude journal, I started to realize that toward the end of her life, her focus on me had shifted.  Not one time, in the pages upon pages listing for what she was most grateful did she ever once mention me, my children, or anything related to us.  By the time my mother died, she no longer saw me as the entire world.  In fact, I’m not sure we even liked one another.

I hold my babies in my arms, day in. Day out.  I wrap my arms around them and try to send them all of the love, strength, and positivity I can muster.  I imagine being able to somehow, magically, let them know how much they mean to me.  Are they my entire world? No.  I have other stuff in my life that brings me joy.  I’ve made sure of that.  And while I know that I will always love them more than life itself, and right now I know we have solid, healthy relationships, I cannot help but fear that one day, in the distant but not-so-distant future, my self-hatred will eventually destroy even that. That one thing I’ve managed to do right.

As the dust settles

The past two days I’ve had a change in perspective.  The dust is starting to settle after the craziness of the intense drama which finally blew up in my face.  My perspective has changed in that I’ve been able to see the important gains and positive results of this traumatizing experience.  I’ve been able to look beyond the losses and see what has been given to me.  And folks, it is so much.  More than I ever dreamed possible.  In no particular order, the gifts which I have received…

My husband.

I’ve never tried to cover up the fact that my marriage wasn’t exactly perfect.  Okay, it was not good, guys.  One terrible thing after another has happened to me and my husband throughout the course of our relationship and frankly, we never had a chance to catch our breath and reconnect before the next storm would hit.  So we were hanging on by a thread.  Living a very mundane existence of “waiting it out ’til the kids were grown.”  This wasn’t what either of us wanted but it was what we had.  Over the past two weeks, my husband has more than made up for any shortcomings and any wrongdoings I might have been holding against him.  He’s proven to me, once and for all, that he loves me, he’s not going anywhere, and he’s been willing to make changes he’s needed to make in order to truly be in a marriage with me again.  I’ve been changing too.  I’d say, “We still have a lot of work to do” but that doesn’t even feel right to say.  We’ve been doing all of that work for the past 9 years.  Now it’s time to just enjoy each other.  I was ready for that old marriage to be over.  This new one is way better than that old one ever was. We’ve divorced the old marriage. Not each other.

Friendships.

The chiz went down and when it did, I had to figure out to whom I could turn.  And the people I chose weren’t the ones I usually chose in the past.  Through this ordeal, I learned thtumblr_muqc21nqys1rsyukao1_1280-534at some people in my life were ready to move up to “the friend you call when you need someone right away” ranks.  I was reminded that a couple people who were on that list to begin with were still on that list.  And I was shown that ones I thought were on it?  Not so much.  I also reached out to new people who seemed cool and that went very well.  And, I reached out to one bestie who has always been here for me but, for some reason I never imagined I could be 100% myself around.  Yet, it turns out, no matter how ugly. No matter how imperfect my life becomes? She’s still there.  Loving me.  I’m in awe.  I reconnected with my cousin through this difficult time and learned that we are as compatible as friends as we ever were.  Best of all? I discovered that my very best friend, for life, is the man to whom I’m married.  He’s willing to fight for me.  He’s willing to tell me the truth.  He’s willing to forgive me and tell me that, just because I may have made a mistake does not mean I’m not lovable.  I’ve never been so loved by him.  Yet here I am, at my most unlovable.

My precious children.

Of course, I’ve always had my kids.  They didn’t go anywhere.  However, I must say that they have shown me more compassion and love during these dark weeks than children should ever have to show their mother.  The kindness is immeasurable.  Their love is tangible.  The sweet hugs, the wiping away of my tears, taking care of me and the house, the looks of compassion, a tender hand in mine or on my shoulder.  They may not have been blessed with a perfect mother but they have been blessed with a training program for learning how to be great listeners and empathetic friends.

49587f1ebb377cf5ac35a8d1f69323a5Discernment.

Turns out, I’m pretty book smart but my street smarts aren’t so hot.  I’m about as naive and mature as a teenager, at best.  At times I think I might be less mature and more naive than I was as a teen, even.  Like I might be developing backwards.  I look young, I act young, and I think young.  I also trust and love young.  Easily, openly, and hard.  I love hard. This is all well and good when it comes to my immediate family.  Those people I can safely love hard and no harm will come to me.  Unfortunately, I’m not always able to refrain from loving everyone around me.  Once in a while, that love is dangerous.  Abused. Taken advantage of. Exploited even. I keep thinking about how, if I can’t even protect myself, how am I to protect my children?  Hopefully, and it seems as if this is the case, they already have more discernment even at their tender ages of 11, 9, and 6 than I do at 37.  I’m not sure I’ve gained discernment but I sure have read a lot of articles about red flags and manipulation and, well… hopefully next time I’ll be able to just go to one of my family members and say, “HEY?! Is this dangerous?” and they will be able to guide me.  Also, my gut? It’s pretty on target it would seem.

Focus on new (old) things.

Many of the things I love are bringing me down right now because the are connected to bad memories.  So I’ve had to force myself to focus on either new stuff that interests me or bring out the old stuff that isn’t somehow connected to the icky stuff.  This has helped me refocus on things like my love of the B-52s, my art, my writing, movies in my Netflix queue which I’ve been meaning to watch, working out, my love of healthy foods and coffee.  I cannot remove all of the bad feelings and I cannot control all of the triggers but what I can do is continue to reintroduce non-triggers as regularly as possible.

Have you ever been able to see gifts and precious rewards given to you as a result of a difficult time?  I’d love to hear about your experiences!