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This Traumatized Nurse

Part of my practice that I never planned on but am incredibly grateful for are the nurses. Nurses sticks with nurses. So it makes sense that many seek treatment with nurse practitioners.

Nurses are a crazy bunch but we wear our crazy on our sleeve. I’ve said to nurse clients many many many times…”You have a high tolerance for crazy because of your work, so I’m telling you, what’s happening in your life- insert something crazy here- is not okay, and you are tolerating it because your ‘crazy’ tolerance is way too high.” This is actually generally well received and then we process how to address whatever issue they are dealing with.

So here I am in my therapy session today. I said, listen, there’s been a lot of crazy in the last couple weeks, but I need to focus on these panic attacks I’ve been having. I’ve never had panic attacks before, and I kept forgetting I was having them because they were so infrequent.

The first one was two years ago. I was working inpatient and a patient became agitated and stood over me and threatened me. My heart raced, I completely froze, then when I finally left the room I couldn’t calm down. I had to go outside to my car, not speak to anyone, and just sit there and let myself freak out.

When I tell you this is not me…this is not me. I was an ED nurse, I’ve worked inpatient psych, and I’ve had a lot worse situations come at me. Like actually come at me. I went home that day and forgot all about it. Thought it must have been a fluke. Then I worked inpatient again. Similar situation except this time a patient told me he was picturing shoving a knife in my throat while standing over me. Again- this was not out of the ordinary for inpatient work.

Then recently I had music playing and at the end of the song there are two men who become agitated and start fighting. I forgot the song was playing and all I heard was two men yelling at each other, and I freaked out. I looked all over the house and out in the driveway thinking there were actually people getting agitated. Heart pounding. Etc. So I tell all this to my therapist and I say, we gotta do something about this. Because I’ve never had this happen before and it keeps catching me off guard.

She asked me to describe what happened. I did. Then she said, “You know those experiences where you have people physically and verbally threatening you- it’s normal for a person to have their heart race, it’s normal to feel threatened because you were being threatened. Those are not typical panic attacks, they are normal reactions to a stressor.”

Dude. I actually argued with her. I was like, uh no, those are normal occurrences when I work in the hospital. Then she argued back, and then we literally argued about me being threatened. And of course I was threatened. Of course those are normal bodily responses to feeling threatened. What’s messed up is that I literally never thought that.

I thought there was something wrong with me for reacting to people threatening me.

Sit with that for a moment.

That’s what happens to nurses who work in high acuity settings. We are led to believe that there is something wrong with us for expecting to feel safe. I argued with my therapist about my reacting to being threatened. I tried to rationalize that being threatened is normal and there’s a problem with me- not the setting.

Is it any wonder that nurses are fleeing the profession? Why do I feel weak for having a normal physical and emotional response to being threatened? Why do I feel less than and ashamed? Because I have been trained to feel that way. I have been trained to see the problem within me instead of in the messed up hospital systems who do not protect us.

I have been- kicked in the ribs, bitten, spit on, rushed at multiple times, had a chair and a laundry basket thrown at and over my head, had a knife pulled in my office (twice), been verbally threatened countless times including outpatient “I will drop your ass” “I will fuck you up” and so much more. I have witnessed horrific assaults. I have witnessed horrible takedowns. I had a patient, most memorably, leap across a table and land on his knees nose to nose with me, hands fisted on either side of my head and say, “All it takes is a punch. And poof. You’re fucked.” I sat there and stared back at him, and as the entire staff gathered outside the door because the whole unit saw what was happening I calmly leaned in closer and said, “You done yet? Take a fucking seat.” Without blinking. When the laundry basket got tossed, I said, “Dude you are not,” He said, “Ma’am, you better put that pretty head down.” I ducked. He threw it. Not aimed at me.

So many more stories. So many more memories. So you see, when a patient stood up agitated, and I epically panicked, I thought there must be something wrong with me. Because I’ve been through so much worse so many times. I never got time off after any of those events. Except the kick in the ribs. And literally only because there was some minor damage to my liver and a visible large bruise over my right ribs. I never got debriefed after most of these events. I certainly never got a raise or hazard pay.

And in fact when I got time off for the rib kicking- my manager and co-workers made negative comments about it. As if I was weak for being told to take time off by occupational health.

It was all a day in the life.

But now that I do mostly outpatient, and I’ve had space and distance and time to heal. My body and my brain are telling me this is fucked up. When I go back to inpatient and am threatened I apparently react appropriately now. I’m not in survival mode, so I can’t just compartmentalize it out.

I am not sure what the answer is. I do not want to give up inpatient. But my therapist seems to think it’s kind of a messed up place to work. And after much reflection I don’t disagree. It makes me sad to realize that this work I used to love is actually totally ass backward and so detrimental to people’s mental health. Nurses. To nurses mental health.

Even writing this feels bad. I feel shame? for having such a perceived weakness. Then I think this is soooo messed up that I think a weakness is having a normal physical reaction to being threatened. I’ve been told it’s not a panic attack when it’s a normal stress response to being threatened. So my not-panic attacks suck. Being threatened sucks. Being a nurse who thought there was something wrong with me for having an emotional and physical response to being threatened…is just tragically sad.

To all my nurses. It’s not you. It’s them. You are not wrong or bad for demanding safety in your workplace. You are not wrong or bad for having feelings in whatever capacity about being unsafe in your workplace.

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30 Days Without FB/Insta/Snaps and How My Dog Handled my Nightmares

Sometimes I haven’t blogged because I’ve been busy and I seem to spend my nights lately posting ERA payments to accounts, reviewing accounts receivable, and all the endless micro-details of running a private practice. But the past twelve months when I’ve sat down to blog I have also generally written pretty damn depressing blogs.

I usually end up crying and it’s all just horrible. Then it’s another week before I get time to write a non-crying blog but end up still writing a horribly depressing piece. There are a few reasons. 1. Since 2019 when my Dad died, life has been generally rather depressing in some ways. Actually three major events that are not really bloggable due to NDA’s, my children one day reading this blog, and general violence that is rated R or maybe even…What’s the one that’s worse than R? I dunno. See the great thing about me is that you don’t know if I’m kidding or not. (I’m not;)

Life’s been rough. What’s ironic is that my life outwardly looks like I have made huge strides in the last three years. My kids are thriving as is my business. I am up to ten? employees. I think ten. I just hired another one and I can’t remember if they make ten or eleven. But it’s a thing in small business when you hit ten employees. It’s a landmark.

I am opening a second location for my practice, and making plans for 2023 for a third.

I decided recently to take a 30 day social media break. No snaps, Insta, FB, and…well that’s all the social media I use. I’m on day 4. It was Christmas Eve at 5 AM as I lay in bed that I made the decision.

I may not go back to it at all. Nothing is missing. I realized how incredibly fake it is. I was writing one of those super depressing blog posts that will never be published and realized how my two closest friends at the moment are not even on FB. Well, one is, but she rarely posts anything and only follows dog mom groups. I realized that the people who show up for me will keep showing up for me whether I’m on social media or not. And the people who judge me, hate me, fear me, whatever, will still do all of those things except they won’t “like” or “love” my pictures and posts pretending to care about anything I have to say or do.

My day to day hasn’t changed. Except I don’t spend minutes mindlessly scrolling through posts. And as I said, my communication with my friends hasn’t changed at all. They are still my friends. We still text and talk and see each other. I just don’t talk to or hear from any one else whose presence in my life was a facade.

I got a dog 5 weeks ago. I’ve never been a “dog person”. In fact I still probably am not a dog person. But I like my dog. I’ve had nightmares as long as I can remember. I can go months without one, and then have three in a row. Completely unpredictable. A couple weeks ago I shot up in bed, heart racing, palms sweating, terror gripping me as it always does. I’m 36 and a nightmare can still completely wig me out. Over the years I’ve learned I have to get out of bed and walk around. Usually I have to walk about the whole house and catch my breath and ground myself to reality.

But that night, my dog lifted her sleepy head and looked at me as a I breathed frantically in and out; reliving whatever terror I just dreamt. It’s always tornadoes, tidal waves, or a grisly death (You can die in your dreams. I’ve done it. Many times- being stabbed is my least favorite). I reached out and hugged my puppy and she rested her snout on my shoulder. I felt her breath on my back and my heart rate slowed down, and I could breathe normally. I laid my head back down on my pillow and she scooted over to put her whole body up against my back, and for the first time I can remember I was able to fall back asleep almost immediately after a nightmare.

It was an odd, intimate moment that I shared with my dog, Cheetah. She’s only five months old. She drives me insane in many ways. And she’s a big baby in many ways. But in that moment she was wise and grounding and real.

I’ve been through a lot in the past three years and what I’ve learned is to lean into what’s real. Lean into who shows up. Lean into who can handle your darkness because they can help guide you to the light.

Cutting out social media is a reminder for me as to who my friends are and to invest my time and energy into people who are truly here for me. It’s a grounding exercise to remind myself whose presence in my life is grounding versus not. That moment with Cheetah reminded me of the moments in the past three years that I’ve felt terrified and alone. She reminded me to focus on who helped me through those times and to appreciate all I have instead of staying stuck in the dark.

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Raising Kids Lesson #45732…

When I worked in the ED there was a tech who came out of a room after I had been in for my initial assessment. The kid was sick-ish. Meaning probably admission material but not ICU level and potentially could go home if he had a robust response to treatment. I was maybe twenty-five. I was good at what I did. But I was and still am in a sense; controlled chaos. I remember the tech came out laughing and I asked him what he was laughing at? I was assembling my IV equipment, glucose machine, i-stat for chemistry, and an 02 mask. He said, “The parents, they looked like woah! When I went in right after you walked out, so I told them, ya know she’s good. That’s just how she is. Your kid is gonna be the best taken care of kid here though with her as your nurse.”

I remember I stopped what I was doing. I had big curly hair. Still do. It was everywhere. I was sucking on a cough drop because my asthma was acting up and there had also been a GI smell I just couldn’t get out of my nostrils earlier from another kid. I had a pile of stuff on my IV cart. Other nurses would, set things up, make it all pretty, put the tubing in the same spot every stick etc. I don’t think it was ever in the same spot. That tech held for me for countless IV starts. He knew to just hold the kid. That as much as it looked disorganized I was actually crazy like a fox and never dropped anything on the floor. And if I did I had a spare. In my pocket. He’d had to fish out a spare from my pocket. Once. Maybe twice.

I got the line in that kid in one smooth shot. By the time the Attending saw him he was sleeping soundly, his parents each had a coffee in hand, and they all had blankets. The kid had 02 going and fluids and meds. He went home five hours later.

I’m still sorta that way in psych. Sometimes I think clients don’t know what to make of me. I still am completely unable to recognize how chaotic I can seem but in psych I think it’s more maybe I seem detached, distracted. When in reality I’ve already got you assessed and am narrowing down my medication options and also deciding what gem I’m going to slip in to shatter your defenses to get you to really feel something and maybe by default cry.

I don’t realize that I have a style or a way or a presence until people tell me. That moment was eleven years ago. I still remember the look on the tech’s face, and can imagine the look on mine. First off I didn’t realize I came across like a tornado in that room. Second I had no idea the tech thought I was good at my job or that he remembered after hundreds of lines where to find the spare three way stopcock I always kept in my pocket. Never know when you’re going to need to push adenosine. Just saying.

In psych though clients have a different relationship than in the ED and different expectations. Over the years I’ve been asked directly by a few clients at the intake what my assessment is, diagnosis, and some have even asked what I think their personality traits are. It’s kind of fun for me. I may totally geek out in the moment when I get to be like the cop at the end of a case explaining and divulging all the things I’ve picked up. The ones who ask after one appointment ask because they are skeptical. Skeptical that I’m paying attention. Skeptical that I know what I’m doing. Skeptical that I could get to know them enough in sixty minutes to make recommendations like medication. I get it. But I kill it. Every time. Because hello people. Since 2007 I’ve done nothing but rapid assessment in one form or another every day for hours a day. I also got a couple degrees and training in it. That moment when I relay straight faced, with eye contact, everything I’ve observed, surmised, and suspect and how that relates to my recommendations they usually stare back, jaw drops a little, and sometimes their eyes well up with tears, sometimes they just open in surprise and sometimes a little hint of admiration. It’s that moment they feel seen.

I felt seen by that tech in that moment eleven years ago. It doesn’t happen often that some one catches me off guard. I generally think I’m invisible so am always surprised if some one reflects something incredibly accurate about myself back to me. The scariest time that happened was last week. In the car. With my sons.

I asked the boys if they like living in our town. I bring it up now and then because I’m not sure if we will move or not. They rambled on in their 5 year old way about yes, maybe, no, but we should live next to their cousin, because that’s their lifelong goal and dream to live next door to their cousin. I laughed and said, well if we move with your Aunts and cousin you won’t be in school with…then listed their friends. Then they were contemplative, and I said somewhat surprised, “I kinda like living here.” Never thought I would like rural living. Declan says, “Because there’s no people Mama. You don’t like people. That’s why you like it here.” I looked in the rearview smiling and surprised, “What do you mean baby?” “You don’t like big crowds, (how the hell did he know the word crowd?!) that’s why you didn’t want to go to the Fair. It’s why you like to just be by the pool. It’s okay Mama. We like living here.” Damn. Just like that. I was actually speechless.

None of it was wrong. I don’t like people. Especially big crowds. The pandemic didn’t help. I also blame working in healthcare. We see the worst of humanity. Makes it hard to want to really engage with random people. And yes, the yearly town fair is the bane of my existence. I will not work at it. I will not attend. In every way it is completely abhorrent to me. Cow manure. People. Bees. People. Hill. People. No parking. People. I also do prefer my pool. To everywhere in the world. My two favorite people are my sons. After that there are maybe ten-fifteen people I think I need regular contact with (Yes Mom. You’re on the list;).

Aside from that though, the point is my son. I think I am raising a future mental health professional. Because he saw me. What’s funny in those moments is his twin brother is totally silent. He’s the observer. He’s going to be the politician. He doesn’t agree or disagree outwardly but I know if I asked him he’d know his brother was spot on. He just wouldn’t be the one to call me out. Twins. It’s a whole thing. I am so often trying to survive the grind of single mom-ing, business owning, and being a clinician that I forget they are watching. Seeing. Learning. They know me as well I know them. It’s a scary thing. This vulnerability with our kids. I feel it more as a single mom. Because they spend 85% of their time with me. And I with them.

These boys are perceptive and caring and it’s weird to start to shift from thinking of them as these dependent beings to independent beings who can make assumptions about me. Learn from me. Emulate me. They did not get my general disliking of socializing. These boys talk to every one about everything. It’s cool that they can see this part of me, and be different from me, and we can all be okay with that.

That moment in the car was a parenting first. Feeling “seen” by my kids. In a way I really hadn’t ever experienced with them. I just keep hoping what they see is good enough, wise enough, and strong enough for them. It’s such a shift from childhood and seeking our parents approval, to adulthood and seeking it from our kids. It’s part of parenting I didn’t expect and still find it hard to define at times.

This is one parent’s reminder. They are watching. Always.

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Laughing At Myself…(it involves falling)

There are moments on a daily basis that people actually wouldn’t believe occur to the same person over and over unless you spent an extended period of time with me. For example, one of my best friends in high school spent a lot of time with me. Small town. Limited things to do. Lots of time. As we grew up and grew apart, we still touch base at least a few times a year. He always asks how I’m doing then eventually I will share a story of something and he laughs and says “It literally has never stopped with you has it? Your life should be a reality show.” When my admin started she spent the first few weeks working out of my house. She was definitely with me at least 4 hours a day 4 days a week in my home. This was the month in between office spaces when we were still fully remote. As I stumbled through the house one day and ran to my car because i was running late for a doctor’s appointment…she looked at me said, “Wow, you really are a total hot mess in a super funny but also somewhat unbelievable way. Like people who just meet you would never know.” I proceeded to run back into the house three times because I forgot my keys, forgot my phone, couldn’t find my phone, searched the car, came back in to find my phone again, then eventually found it in the car.

Tonight was one of those moments. I brought the boys to their first official karate class. We did an intro session on Saturday just them and the instructor. They of course loved it, are obsessed with it, and want to be black belts. I’m not social. I talk to people all day about their deep emotional traumas. When I leave work I’m not into making small talk with Moms. 1. They are usually straight. 2. In my town it’s 50/50 that they support #45 and think we have a fake President. 3. I’m usually just freaking tired.

My own Mom is one of those people who will chat with someone in line at the grocery store or anywhere for that matter. Then she asks all these questions, and smiles…and yeah literally the opposite of me as I slink off to find a freaking self check out so I can talk to no one. Sometimes she asks me follow up questions about an interaction I have with some one and then I just stare at her and then she remembers that I in no way went further in the conversation then I had to.

This week I had to sit on the soccer sidelines and go to karate class. I have somehow become this Mom of creatures who are social and like other kids and stuff. I don’t know where they come from.

I’m also a business owner. So I’m on all the time. I get a call from the landlord who is discussing my latest request which is insane. I own that. I make insane requests. He laughs at me. He realizes I’m serious. Then we put our heads together and figure it out. I’m a good and profitable tenant.

Anyways. I get the phone call, I’m walking outside, I have a mask on so I can’t see below me, I have my AirPods in so I’m all discombobulated anyway because my freaking phone keeps putting the sound on my phone then back to my AirPods and I’m looking at my phone, trying to rip the mask off as I push open the door…and then epically fall.

There’s a step.

I have on flip flops. I’m holding my brand new iPhone which I do NOT let drop on the ground can I get an amen! So my left hand was on the door handle, my right hand held the phone, my mouth was open behind the mask going “AHHHHH” my body swung, literally swung, with the door, my flip-flops got all bent and crazy, my ass did not hit the ground, I was actually able to stay in a squat like position. But it was intense and there was rain and the door swinging and my body flying around.

So inside were a few parents who clearly, I mean clearly, saw the whole thing because I actually held eye contact with one of them as it was happening. Then the rest of the parents were sitting in running cars facing said door and sidewalk I just fell onto. Then there was my poor landlord John. He also probably thinks I am not okay. Because unfortunately he has spent enough time with me on the phone designing my current office space, and now designing our add on space, that he knows random crazy shit is going to happen while we talk.

I literally scream/yell. Pull myself up. Realize that no parent is going to ask if I’m okay. I am also cracking up because if any of my friends were there they would have been breaking my balls hardcore. I finally get John the landlord into by Airbuds. After being like “Can you hear me” a million times, and he’s trying not to laugh at the chaos of the last two minutes, he was like “Uh yeah, I could hear you the whole time.” silence. Me cracking up. “Dude I literally just fell out of my kids karate studio. I can’t.” He sighs like he’s not surprised at all this is happening and then asks about my most recent completely irrational and costly update I requested to the new space we are designing.

The problem with AirPods and holding the iPhone anywhere is that I can talk with my hands. I’m a big walker and talker with my hands. I’m not Italian. I’m Irish and Swedish. Literally the least emotive people. But there I was. Walking and talking with my hands waving them around, running them through my massive humid induced curly hair head and trying to convince him it’s maybe not that costly or irrational. It’s maybe a six minute conversation. I am animatedly making my case the entire time after recovering from my fall.

When we hang up I stop. I look around. I realize all those parents who are sitting in their cars who saw me fall just also saw me have a very animated conversation with my hands, barefoot, because apparently at some point I kicked off my flip flops, as I paced on the sidewalk in front of the very large karate studio picture window where the parents sitting inside also had a great view.

At that point I start cracking up again. I apparently had also ripped off my mask which I picked up off the sidewalk next to my flip flops. I am obviously very passionate when I’m making a case for more things and less money after heinously falling and screaming in the beginning of our call.

With as much dignity as I could muster I put on my flip-flops. I put on my mask. I walked back inside and returned to my chair. No one said a word. Not a word. I texted my friends and told them I fell and they sent me GIFs of models walking the runway and falling. It was amazing.

I gotta be honest. I’m sore. My back and shoulders and somehow my arm took a beating. I told the boys after karate and then walking out I almost fell a second time. Damn stair. I blame the mask. But yes I’ll keep wearing it even though no one else was wearing one because Delta. Covid. Science. Blah blah blah.

My point to this rambling retelling of my epic fall out the karate door on the phone with some one who could cost or save me thousands of dollars is…be real. I am not fake. I have never hidden from any one the hot mess that I am. It’s just a matter of who I let in that sees it.

I love my life. I love my kids. I love that I can laugh at myself stumbling onto a sidewalk in the rain. Laugh at yourself. Laugh with your friends. I was going to say talk to other people at your kids sporting events, but that would be super hypocritical. Baby steps. I’m just not there yet. Oh, and always fight the good fight for seemingly irrational requests that cost a lot of money. Know your worth because I know my mine. (it’s a lot).

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Dear Americans,

I read an article about what Europeans found the most shocking about America. One item was the “number of American flags. They are just everywhere.” I thought about it. I would have to agree with that assessment and until 2016 I never thought of that as a bad thing.

As I drive into work every day I pass through mostly rural communities. Many houses have flags. A few in particular have an American flag, underneath which is a “F&ck Biden” flag. I gotta be honest. That irks me. I had to reflect on it for awhile to come to a non-partisan rationale as to why it irks me.

I am the granddaughter of a World War II veteran. I am the daughter of a Vietnam veteran. My Dad also served in Utah as one of the first homeland security details for the Winter Olympics. My Dad was an epic patriot. And it was one area in life we never fought about. I respected, and still do after his death, his love of his country. One of the most meaningful moments at his funeral were three of his former Army friends showing up in dress uniform and seeking me out of the crowd. Saluting me. Asking me politely what happened to their friend and their utter dismay at finding out my Dad at the very end made it clear he did not want a military funeral.

I’m still unclear why my Dad declined what he was entitled to with more than half his life given to the military. His feelings toward the military were complicated by the men he lost in Vietnam, the men who died for him to live, and later on they were further complicated by his understanding of Agent Orange and how that impacted his health until the day he died.

My grandpa and my Dad both kept quiet about their service but they did not ever hide their pride in their service and in their country. I grew up watching them march in our Memorial Day parades. Attending military ceremonies whenever my Dad would be promoted. I visited armories with him throughout the state over my childhood and it was a normal occurrence for me to be around men and women in fatigues. When I went to work with my Dad some times I remember sitting in armories and chatting with soldiers.

When I married a woman nothing about my relationship with my Dad changed. Nothing about my relationship with the American flag changed either. I was raised to be proud of the service of my family members. My Dad served under many Presidents he disagreed with in terms of rhetoric but we did not disrespect a President in front of my Dad. We could disagree with policy and opinions but if I ever said F&*$ Bush my Dad would have slapped me in the back of my head. Because he got that even if we disagree with policy he is still the President and he is deserving of the respect of that office.

2016 changed my Dad. He was still with it enough to know that this was bad. I think that also contributed to his decision to not pursue a military funeral. He had never come against some one who disrespected the office of the President as much as he felt it was disrespected during that administration. But I still would never have used the F word in the same room as my Dad in regards to the President. No matter how much we may agree that administration was not okay. We still had some level of respect and decorum for the office.

When I drive by a flag that has the F word on it (and I swear a lot. So if it bothers me it’s bad) that not only names our current President but also is touching the American flag. Every atom of my being rebels. I feel like my Dad and Grandpa are turning in their graves. Because how disrespectful is that to our flag, our nation, their service, and the office of the President of the United States of America. That is not patriotism. That is hateful and overt disrespect to every veteran, every active service member, and every person who has held the office of the President.

After I had this heated discussion in my head about how and why this was bad, I thought well their response could be they feel the same about seeing the Pride flag with an American flag. That was a head scratcher for me. I can say that, I hear you. I get that. BUT, at the same time- the Pride flag does not disrespect the office of the President. The Pride flag creates safety and perhaps can start to acknowledge and thank all the Queer servicemen and women who have served our country just as proudly and bravely as my Dad and Grandpa. It also doesn’t place the F word in line with our flag. Our flag is a symbol of unity. To have its counterpart say F our President sews divide. It literally does the opposite of what we are supposed to feel when we see our flag.

Somehow “Patriots” have become these neo-nazi homophobic, anti-semitic people like “Proud Boys” who spew hate and division. Well I won’t live in fear of our flag. I am proud of the American flag and I challenge any one flying anything so disrespectful as F Biden next to our flag to remember our veterans. Remember the men and women who served and died under our flag. Because I remember my Dad and his pride in our country and our flag and I urge you to take the parties and politics out of our flag because all Americans are united under one flag whether we like it or not.

And listen, I may disagree with what you do and say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to do it and say it. But in this case, I’m going to call out general bad form; and hope that you can open your eyes to maybe taking things a step too far. Maybe disrespecting the American flag is actually not patriotic but in fact insulting to many fellow Americans.

Sincerely,

Irked In Rural America

#COVID-19 · Uncategorized

How I Sew My 5 yr Old Sons Favorite Masks

I taught myself to sew when I was in high school and college. During a lonely Summer when I was doing an internship in nursing I spent my days with my cats sewing curtains for my apartment. I’ve sewn scrub tops when I worked in the emergency department and fleece tops and bottoms. Never did I think I would be sewing masks.

Obviously March 2020 threw me for a loop. I hauled out my sewing machine and every scrap of fabric I’d saved over the last ten years suddenly made sense. Perfect sizes for masks. I also started saving Joann Fabric coupons and buying kid friendly fabric with Frozen themes, Spiderman, Paw Patrol, etc. I ordered a lot of elastic. Some from sketchy places. I have to say though the sketchiest order I placed is the one that pulled through and delivered a large spool of elastic six weeks later.

I watched a lot of YouTube videos and read a lot of articles. I tried multiple patterns and had multiple failures. When I perfected the cotton with elastic mask I watched videos on how the filtration effectiveness of rayon blends aka chiffon are significantly higher than cotton and the closest to an N95 that fabric can make.

I bought more fabric. I had one lovely cashier who gave me 60% off my entire purchase. So much fabric.

I struggled with the chiffon. I had many failures. I actually stopped trying with two particular fabric patterns because I think they are bad luck. I literally could never make a functional mask from them. Eventually I got it though. I watched a youtube video on making a single layer chiffon mask and looked all over the craft passion website at the many mask patterns. I found that my way works best for my now 5 year olds, then 4 year olds which is a combination of many instructional videos and patterns.

The pattern is the Olsen pattern found on craft passion website.

Outside of Mask after long edges are sewn

The wire is roughly 10 or 12 gauge framing wire. About 4-6″ pieces. I cut scraps of fabric into 4-6″ rectangular strips. Then I iron them in a trifold pattern. Then I sew the piece of wire into the trifold cotton strip. If you angle the pouch correctly you can do the whole thing in one go, you kind of curve around the wire. Make sure both ends are solidly sealed because you don’t want the wire poking out. (pictures are below)

I like to sew several wire pouches at once so I have a nice stash of them. It is more efficient in the long run.

I do a double sided mask. One layer is a chiffon (rayon blend) and one layer is a character cotton fabric such as Spiderman or Frozen. For Halloween I used a pumpkin/witch fabric on top with a brown chiffon/jersey type fabric on the back.

I cut a bunch at once. I fold the fabric twice so I can cut four pieces at once- right side together. (picture below)

Then I sew along the curve of the mask pieces- 2 right sides together (pic below).

Then I take two of the sewn pieces and put right sides together, make sure center seams are aligned, and I sew the top and bottoms together. When I sew the top pieces I hold a wire pouch on and sew it onto the two pieces.

Then I turn it right side out, and fold over the edges to cover the raw edge, and form a channel that the straps will go through. Make the channel wide enough to get a safety pin through. I sew it so the “inside” of the mask is the jersey fabric, as that will be softest against the face.

The nice part about these is they are very forgiving. You don’t have to sew a perfect seam in a perfectly straight line. The more you do the faster you will be able to go, and the straighter the lines become.

So I take a safety pin, pin it through some of the chiffon/jersey fabric that I cut in thin strips along the edge of the fabric and run it through the now sewn channel. Up from the bottom for both ends. Then you should have a neck strap, and two ends at the top that can be tied around the head or I use the black buttons so kids don’t have to tie a bow they can just tighten or loosen as needed.

I’ll add a video to this. If you have questions just ask.

Below you can see finished products- I make them for me and my family and I wear mine as a double mask/top layer when I work at the hospital. Declan is running in the arcade with it hanging around his neck- that’s one of the nice parts is it doesn’t fall off. Declan as Batman has his on inside out so you can see the under seam where I lace in the fabric for around the head. My sister prefers the ear piece be around the ear with an adjuster there, so I do that kind for her and my niece and sister-in-law. My son’s and I like it around our head so it doesn’t bother our ears. You can see in yoga class I have mine tied on the back of my head, as I said the boys I use a button.

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The Scent of Grief

Some things still catch me off guard. It’s been over two years since my Dad died. But Father’s Day this year snuck up on me and I got the email from daycare at the end of their day. “We will be talking about Dad’s this week!” it said cheerfully.

I shot an email off to the director knowing I was already too late as they had circle time already that day. They were on their way home to me with my ex. “The boys do not have Father figures. Please do not try and force them to find a male figure during this week’s discussions about Father’s Day. My sister has a wife, the boy’s have two mom’s, my dad died in 2019, and there are no extended male family members they have any ongoing relationship with especially in light of COVID. We literally haven’t seen any one for over a year in our extended family who are male. Do not try and find a substitute father figure for them. Just acknowledge they have two Mom’s who love them and Aunt and Auntie, Gramma, and cousin who love them very much.”

That night at bedtime one of them cried and they talked about how they miss Poppy (my Dad) and I asked if they were upset because they talked about Father’s Day at school. They were. I reminded them of all the people who love them. I reminded them that some people do not have Dad’s and that’s okay. Meanwhile I was trying not to be irrationally angry and Mama Bear wild tempered at their preschool teacher for trying to place a male figure into their lives when they do not have one.

They told me they didn’t have to do the Father’s Day craft. I said why don’t they do it for Mommy or Mama? They didn’t want to. I didn’t push it.

I realize this is going to be a yearly event unless Father’s Day happens to fall late enough that they are not in school by that time in June.

Single Mom guilt can be bad. In that moment hugging my sons as they bemoaned their Dadless lives I felt lower than dirt. Not only do they not have a Dad, but they do not even have intact parents. Their two mom’s couldn’t cut it. I realized I was disproportionately angry at preschool (it’s called displacement or projection in mental health) because I was really angry at myself for 1. forgetting about Father’s Day and not having a discussion beforehand with their teacher 2. for being smack dab in the middle of a divorce with their other Mom and 3. for literally having no male family members for them and for missing my own Dad so hard.

Dude. It was a rough week. I had a client who said she had trouble setting limits with her kid because of single mom guilt. I reflected that I am a single mom. I definitely feel guilt. A lot. But I still make the boys clean up their toys, put their clothes in the laundry, and most recently clean all the bathrooms with me because they climbed over the back of the couch for the hundredth time after me telling them not to for the ninety-ninth time. We laughed that Mom and I. She totally understood what I was saying and she felt seen. I validated that single mom guilt is a real thing. Because lord it is.

The Spring is the anniversary of my Dad’s death, Easter, Memorial Day, Father’s Day, and my Mom’s birthday and then the 4th of July all in quick succession. It feels wrong still. All these holidays without my Dad. He was disorganized and often didn’t plan my Mom’s birthday until the last second. But he managed to pull through usually. Not with the same attention to detail when my Mom plans birthday parties, but he got the job done. The last two of her birthdays with him alive were not fun as he was in the throws of Dementia and we all were watching and waiting as he declined.

What I wouldn’t give to give my sons the experience of my Dad. But I can’t. Instead I have to tread carefully around Father’s Day because I am grieving and my sons are questioning why they do not have any one to celebrate. It’s a hard thing. And it’s freaking yearly. Couldn’t be biennial or triennial. Nope yearly. In the past I’ve tried to celebrate their other Mom on Father’s Day and we called it second mother’s Day. But honestly this year we were in the midst of mediation sessions that haven’t all been super amicable and I just wasn’t feeling like I wanted to do anything. Sundays are her days with the boys so they were with her anyway.

My sister invited me over to her house with her family and my Mom and her in-laws who are just lovely and who I actually like very much. But I stayed home. I painted my fence. I thought my Dad would nod in approval to that. I had to stain it this year. It’s a lot of fence and deck. I made some heavy progress that day. I blasted my music and painted up and down the fence and rolled it on the deck. My Dad wanted above all else for us to be happy. I’d say I’m seeking happiness and that I am at least on the other side of unhappiness.

I try and practice gratefulness. I am grateful for my sons, and I hope one day they can be Dad’s to their own children. I am grateful for the time I had with my Dad pre-Dementia. I am grateful for the stroke he had during Dementia because for some bizarre reason that was one of the last truly lucid conversations I had with him was in the emergency department as he was recovering from the stroke. It was like having my old Dad back. It was bizarre and wonderful and heart wrenching and I ate up every second of it. He laughed. Actually laughed. And cracked jokes and was his old self.

I am grateful for my marriage because without it I would not have become who I am. I am grateful for divorce because without it I would not be able to be who I am. I am grateful for my cats because those rascals keep me company when the boys are gone on Sundays. They keep me sane with their insanity. I am grateful for my mom, my sister, my sister-in-law, and my niece who have been a constant presence in my life and supported me unflinchingly through this divorce and who love my sons as much as I do.

I am grateful for the intense and sometimes debilitating grief I feel for my Dad because it is a reflection of the love I felt for my Dad the truly unconditional love he felt for me. I wish he were here. I wish I could talk to him about my divorce and mediation and hear him tell me he would support me no matter what and ask me what I need and tell me to just keep moving forward because that’s what we have to do. And he’d make some comment about how at least I’m not Catholic because when he got divorced the fucking priest told him to get the feck out of the church. (He was still a little bitter about that). He’d tell me he met my Mom after he got divorced from his first wife, and look at how lucky he was to have my Mom and me and my sister. He’d tell me he’d never have had me in his life if he hadn’t gotten divorced.

I know he’d say these things because I knew my Dad. So well. We had all those conversations. He always told me he was grateful for divorce because it gave him me and my sister. He told me he felt lost after his divorce felt like he was a failure and that he missed his kids from his first marriage so much. He told me he loved my sister and I and he was always so incredibly proud of us both. He told me he didn’t know how I came from him because he admired me.

It’s been raining the last few days and so I did a 550 piece puzzle. I don’t think I’ve done a puzzle since before the boys were born. I listened to an audiobook and actually had time to do it because the boys occupied themselves with toys, games, and tv. They would intermittently pop in and “help” me with the puzzle and also make me take breaks to play Memory with them.

The audiobook I listened to had a line about grief. It hit me.

“Smells are the worst. Smells can put you right back into the belly of grief. When you love too hard you can lose the will to live without them. Nothing feels right and everything cuts.” I remember giving my Dad hugs and digging my face into his left chest. If he was wearing his army uniform there would be a pocket there and maybe some pins or his name pin. It always had a starchy smell to it mixed with his deodorant. If I hugged him on a holiday he’d smell of cologne and still have a pocket on his left chest that I would rub my face into. If I close my eyes I can almost feel his shirt, smell his scent, and feel like I am with him.

Dear reader if you take nothing else from this post: remember that grief is a reflection of your love for someone. True grief is a reflection of true love. Do not run from it, do not hide from it, let it in, little by little so it can be felt in pieces and can help you remember how deeply you loved. For what is a life without love? My Dad would say it is a life that is empty. My Dad would say “You have to do it Muffin, because you might just get lucky like I did.”

lesbian mom · mom of boys · Uncategorized

The “D” word. No not #$@%.

No one posts on social media when they get a divorce or have a break-up. Eventually pictures of the person and a new person start popping up. At least that’s how it’s been on my feeds. I only have about three hundred FB friends so it’s definitely a skewed sample size.

There is no divorce rule book and there is such shame and stigma and pain around it that we cannot discuss it openly. It’s funny because most people would think that divorce is the opposite of wedding. Whereas for me divorce provided the same hope that a wedding does.

We were both unhappy and ironically she moved out the night before our thirteen year anniversary. Also ironically I have COVID to thank for a few things. COVID delayed and solidified my decision and actually helped bring me a lot of peace around my decision.

I feel sad for my sons but I feel relief and hope for myself. Then intermittently I feel this tremendous grief that sits like a pit in my stomach

Our marriage was never abusive or horrific but to live in unhappiness is taxing for everyone.

The why isn’t important though. It’s the how. The how to tell everyone. Who to tell? Who to let just figure it out on FB as we slowly start to separate our lives. When to tell our sons and how. I’ll admit that was the one time I broke down seeing them break down. I think it was confusing for some people I told because I didn’t present my now ex as horrible. I didn’t give details I just said we were separating. I remained very neutral and still do.

It takes me awhile to get somewhere emotionally. By the time I’ve announced it I’ve already been through the anger/hurt/resentment and all that’s left is a sadness that we couldn’t be saved because God knows we tried.

We’ve talked a lot about co-parenting the boys and remaining amicable and it’s hard to trust that we both will keep our word but we don’t have any other choice but to trust each other during a time when we really shouldn’t or perhaps can’t fully.

I’ve treated clients who are divorced. Clients who are divorcing. Clients who are children of divorce. I’ve seen the worst and the best of people through and around divorce. People who knew asked me how I was doing. I didn’t know how to answer. Because I’m deeply terrified of being a single, self-employed Mom. I’m hurt, so deeply hurt that a thirteen year relationship is ending. I’m hopeful because I can start healing and so can she.

I miss my Dad. I wish he was here to give me a big bear hug and tell me it’s going to be okay. I’d have been able to tell my Dad the truth and I’d have been able to cry with him. He was one of the few people I trust.

I miss my best friend because again thank you COVID. Having an out of state friend is rough right now. I miss all my friends near me because with the numbers now I can’t really even see my friends close by.

There is a lightbulb that needs to be replaced, a bathroom faucet that needs to be replaced, and about a 1/4 cord of wood left to be stacked. As I was stacking the first 1 3/4 cords I kept thinking how this all on me now. The lightbulbs. The faucet. I’ve replaced faucets. But I can’t find my stupid wrench piece thingy. No I don’t know what it’s called but I know what it looks like and how to use it and I know that faucet’s going to be a pain to replace because they always are.

Pretty sure my Dad made up names for his tools. So when I go to Lowes and ask for the stupid wrench extender piece thingy I may just start balling. Or laughing. You never know. It’s a complete roller coaster ride one second to the next.

The other one that stumped me was family photos. We have a lot of family photos up. Do I take them down? Do I replace them? Do I leave them up? Do I clump them ALL into the boys room? Is that too morbid? Again. No guidebook. It’s not like I want to erase her from our lives. She still their mom and after the acute horrible pain phase I hope she’s still my friend.

Then people who knew me before her have already asked if I’d date men or women. I’m like, yeah so I’m bringing three cats and two kids to the table…not sure I’m going to have many takers of any gender.

I asked myself many times whether I should write a blog about this. Because my kids will read some day. I didn’t want them to come upon anything painful. I also bought into the stigma around separation and divorce. I felt shame. I felt fear. But then I remembered my clients. I have some of the strongest and most resilient patients who have been through so much worse. I thought if they have the strength and fortitude to face what they face then I should dig deep and find my own.

My cousin said it was good we separated before we got hateful and angry. She wished more couples would recognize when they were done and not try and stick it out and let the hate build. I knew that my friends and family would support me. Without a doubt I knew. Any hesitancy I felt in telling people was simply because I didn’t want to rehash it. Because how do you explain the end of a marriage? It’s not one thing. It’s years of things. Often those things are deeply intimate and really only my wife and I know the full story and we are the only two people who ever will.

There’s something powerful in that but also scary. Our friend who sort of introduced us thirteen years ago came and helped her load the moving truck. Then we all had dinner together. It was this weird full circle moment. We were all older. Hopefully wiser. And still all friends. We ate Indian food. It felt like one of those moments in a movie where you know nothing will ever be the same again.

I’ve listened to Andra Day’s “Rise Up” about a thousand times. Imagine Dragons “Rise” same. I should make a playlist with just those two songs on repeat. I’ll name it “Divorce blows.”

I’m not sure how much I’ll write about divorce. Because it is still raw and painful and intimate. But I felt it was important to write about at least once. Because it’s not a failure. It took incredible strength to end it. It’s not just ending. It’s also a beginning. And more people should know that; feel that. I’ll find my wrench extender thingy or buy a new one. I’ll fix the faucet. Maybe cry. Maybe laugh. My adventure is just beginning.

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30 Second (or 8 minute) Moments That Make a Family

In case you missed it we got kittens. This morning I didn’t have clients scheduled so I wanted to take my time and do a 9 AM yoga class. About 8:50 AM I was sipping my coffee enjoying the peace as the boys sat in the other room watching cartoons. I heard a growl. The growl of Ginsburg when she is guarding food. I turn around and there she is with a huge piece of chicken tender in her mouth that recently had been on one of my son’s plates. Yes. He wanted chicken tender for breakfast and I didn’t want to battle him on it. There are worse things for breakfast.

So her sister Scooby was sitting close by waiting for a stray piece of chicken and Ginsburg was trying to figure out how to eat the monstrous piece of chicken without dropping it from her mouth.

I sprang up and started yelling at her to put the damn chicken down. The next eight minutes are minutes of my life that I wish had been filmed by a secret camera simultaneously grateful there is no camera in our house. It involved me chasing a tiny kitten with a huge piece of chicken tender behind the couch, under the table, intermittently yelling at the boys to get away from her because she was now full on growling and I was afraid she would hurt one of them trying to guard her food.

The boys of course could not help but be completely in the way the entire time, now also yelling, about how they were scared and Ginsburg has my chicken…and so much more but I was just focused on getting to the damn cat.

I cornered her under the sink in the laundry room which was perfect for her, because she could just claw me when I tried reaching for her still yelling at her to drop the chicken and still with the boys yelling and literally running in circles in the background.

I have a lot of vacuums. Don’t judge me. I’m a clean freak and I love vacuums like I love psychiatry. (A lot). There was a long extender of one my vacuums handy (again don’t judge they are all over my house) and I grabbed it and found myself yelling at the cat while trying to get the chicken and the cat with the vacuum extender. Eventually a large portion of the chicken tender fell on the floor and I was able to get it with the vacuum arm. Ginsburg ate the rest of the piece. I was also pushing Scooby back this entire time as she wanted to get in the corner with the snarling Ginsburg and her chicken.

I got the chicken. I put it in the trash. The boys ran from Ginsburg screaming. I grabbed Ginsburg by the scruff and held her up and spoke to her about not growling at me. Ever. And not going on the table and not eating chicken…and everything else I could think of.

She was looking properly shamed as I threw out my yoga mat and connected via Zoom to my class.

I laughed to myself sitting there on my yoga mat. Because to anyone on Zoom they would see me sitting calmly on my mat with my mug of coffee. A kitten or two sitting close by. The boys intermittently walking by. No one knew the chaos of the chicken and the kitten only moments before I connected.

Gins eventually joined me on my mat for the class and has been much better behaved the rest of the day.

Later in the day I gave myself my monthly shot for my asthma and the boys watched and screamed and ran in and out of the room. I mean. I was overdue. I had to do it. Jackson eventually mustered a “Poor Mama”.

These are the moments though. These are those thirty second (or eight minute) moments that make the fabric of our family. I’ll always remember Ginsburg running around with the chicken hanging out of her mouth as the boys screamed and ran in circles. I’ll do many more shots. I usually time them after bedtime so the boys don’t see. But they have seen me struggle to breathe. They know what I deal with.

I was talking with a client recently about the time they came out to their parents as trans. There is about 5-10 seconds after some one comes out when we sit in complete terror of the reaction. It’s in the parents court. This parent in particular failed. Many do.

Mine didn’t. It’s one of my favorite memories of my parents. My Dad didn’t have Dementia. It was normal. He putzed around in the kitchen and my Mom and I sat on the couch and my Mom basically told me she had already done this with my sister so what’s the big deal. My dad asked me “So, does this mean you’re bisexual?” I cringed and laughed and said “Dad I’m not putting a label on it.” He did this thing with his hands like okay, okay, I’m just asking.

To this day I’m confident my Dad got a kick out of having two daughters married to two women and wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.

It was a quick visit that night. Just an in person coming out to my parents, then I went back home to my apartment at the time. Many of my patients, friends, and my own wife don’t have this same experience. There is violence. Hate. Failure. Failure on the parents end to provide unconditional love and acceptance. Even if in future years you come around and accept your kid, I promise you, they remember your first reaction to the first time they came out.

It’s probably the most important and defining thirty seconds of your relationship with your child.

So don’t fuck it up.

What’s the right reaction you ask? What’s the right moment that makes a family? It’s me bringing Ginsburg over to my sons for them to pet her so they aren’t scared of her after seeing her growl and act totally insane over a piece of chicken. It’s them watching me do my injection. It’s me dropping what I’m doing, no matter what, when they ask me for bedtime kisses. It’s one of my best friends telling me, “You know we are going to have cis-het kids and they will be wasted on us!” because she knows that if any of our kids ever come out as anything we would hug them and tell them we love them no matter what because that’s what you’re supposed to do.

***The pic is Ginsburg staring fixedly at my yoga instructor: the picture of innocence.

Uncategorized

Seeking Hope

Six months is a long time to be isolated. I am on a biologic agent for my asthma which puts me in an at risk category for COVID. While I tried to reassure my pulmonologist and allergist that I only get bacterial infections and viral infections seem to skip over me they both made it clear that I am at risk and not to see clients in person. For some clients this is not okay.

For me it’s been a struggle. I miss the in person contact. There are certain clients I’ve seen in person. What’s stuck out to me is those moments that feel so normal to me but when I step back and think about them they are so messed up.

Therapists across my state know that I specialize in Queer mental health. Most know either from me or through the grapevine that I myself am Queer. So when I get referrals, especially for teenagers, I know that somewhere in there will be some Queer stuff. The parents often have no clue or are pulling the ostrich.

Those are my favorites. Because there’s nothing I love better than calling out the elephant in the room.

A trans teen intake usually goes like this. Both parents and kid are in the room. Parent gives long timeline of depression and/or anxiety. Potentially some self harm. Past trials of medications. Therapy. Maybe a hospitalization. Maybe some family history of mental health. Maybe a divorce or a move, some transition that occurred that could have triggered everything.

The kid sits quietly looking aggrieved and cringey especially whenever their parent pronouns or names them. I can’t ask the kid direct questions because the parent keeps interrupting. I kick the parent out. Me and the kid.

“So what’s the story?”

“I’m trans.”

“Got it. You out to them?”

Sigh. Literally a sigh. “Yeah they don’t believe me.”

“They never use the right pronoun or name?”

“Nope.”

Sigh. Literally a sigh. “You want to be in the room or out?”

It’s that moment. When they realize I’m on their side. When they realize the trans stuff all over my office means they are actually in a space where some one will stand for them. The look I get is hope. I didn’t know how badly I missed that look until I saw it again.

I’ve agreed to do some in person intakes in the last few months, and when I have that moment. That hope. When I do some work with the parents afterward. It feels so right. Educating people not to be transphobic is not my favorite part of the job. But apparently it’s a part I’ve missed. Because the outcome, the hope, touches me. Motivates me to keep doing this work.

It’s hard work. Mental health. I hold a lot of secrets. In between my own patients I receive calls from other providers, former co-workers, former and current friends, relatives, etc. all wanting to tell me a story. All wanting some support, referrals, help. Hope.

One of my mentors always told me that she didn’t know everything but she knew how to be confident and that made people feel better and when people have the illusion they can feel better then eventually they will.

I didn’t get that at the time. But I do now. Prescribing medication is a small part of what I do. Giving hope and instilling confidence in the future is a big part of what I do. That’s been harder and harder to do in a world turned upside down by a pandemic. But I often think of that moment in Armageddon when they are flying away from the asteroid with Bruce Willis left behind. He hasn’t detonated the bomb yet and Ben Affleck says, “Harry doesn’t know how to fail.” It gets me every time. I mean literally sobbing hysterically which begins when Harry pushes Affleck into the glass elevator. Same with Titanic. I start crying during the opening credits. Because why do they show pictures of the freaking ship in the opening credits?

I digress. I like to think I’m like Harry. Not on asteroid willing to die to save my planet. But not knowing how to fail.

I’ve seen it throughout the last six months. Those little looks when Queer people feel hope. Hope for acceptance. Hope for love. Hope for their parents to use the right pronouns. Hope. It’s out there. You just have to know where to look.

***Parents****IT’S NOT A PHASE.