Writing the worst day of my life.

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I’m currently writing a book about the year my dad died. It’s geared towards young adults and is more of a love letter to my confused thirteen year old self more than anything. I’m trying to fill in the gaps and make sense of what happened with a mind matured by time and distance.

Last night I worked on a chapter that covers my dad’s accident and the first time I saw my dad in the hospital. Writing the details and figuring out the timeline leading up to that day was fairly difficult, as nothing significant enough had happened in my life to form concrete memories. I had to figure out the small moments of my life that filled in the space between the larger dates, like the day my cheerleading coach quit or my birthday, to help move the story along and introduce the people who colored my life that year.

In some ways, it’s easier to write about the weekend my dad died. Time was frozen yet spiraling out of control at the same time. I replayed a lot of the memories before physically sitting down to write the book. Child psychologists would ask me to play back the day as if saying the words out loud would get me to accept what had happened or forgive myself for the mistakes I made. The three days were etched into pages of diaries that I abandoned after striking a memory too raw to compose. Moments spilled out to the few people I confided in because the sickness I felt in the pit of my stomach from holding onto them became too much to bear. At night I would replay the final days we spent together. Those days always felt more like movie clips than my history.

From a writing standpoint, it’s easy. I remember how I felt in every moment of those days. Emotionally, it can be tough. While I’ve become numb to most of the pain and guilt I feel recalling the days, I still get a craving to see my dad again. It makes me miss him as a person more than any other memory has. Which is both haunting and sweet at the same time.

Certain parts of those days have come up again and again over the years, but others I haven’t thought much about since the day they happened. It’s interesting to look at the days with a wiser pair of eyes. Small things that were so normal to me proved to be crucial to my survival.

Last night I finished a section about finding out my dad was in an accident while at my best friend’s house. Their house was one where everyone slept in, and when her mom woke me up with the morning dew fresh outside and a hint of a sunrise still lingering around, I knew something was wrong. Writing this section reminded me of their home and how comfortable I felt in it. I used to go over without an invitation so often that her mom made extra food for dinner in case I came through. The year before my dad died, my brother and I went over every day after school. Our school bus didn’t take us to our new apartment because we moved halfway between the school year, so we took their bus home and hung out until our parents got out of work. So in addition to earning my frequent flyer miles on weekends, I spent every afternoon there. This house became as important to me as my own childhood home.

I used to resent finding out about my dad’s accident over the phone at my best friend’s house, but as I wrote about that moment last night, I realized I was fortunate. By not being at home, I was able to avoid the anticipation surrounding what actually happened. I didn’t have to see my mom fresh from finding out that my dad was hurt and didn’t have to worry as she grew more and more concerned about why he wasn’t home from his gig yet. Instead, I got to hear the details from my mom once the facts were gathered in a home I was comfortable in. My best friend’s family got to pour all of their support and focus onto me and me alone.

Not only did I find out about my dad’s accident in their house, but they hosted the party after my dad’s funeral. Our apartment wasn’t even big enough for the 3-4 visitors that would pour through in rotation the week after my dad’s death, let alone the fifty or so family members and friends that were planning on sticking around after the funeral. When I started feeling overwhelmed at the stories of my dad or well wishes, I knew the best spaces to get away and hide for a bit to catch my breath. I knew the path to the bathroom and where they kept their old toys so I could play with my little cousins to distract myself for a while. Since it was at my friend’s house, other friends felt comfortable joining in and parts of the party were able to feel like a normal middle school hang out.

Growing up, I don’t think my parents set out to create a second home for me where I felt comfortable. It just happened. But they never resisted it. They always believed that it took a village to raise a kid because they were raised by villages themselves. My dad’s mom was so sick most of his childhood and he was raised by different family members at different times. My mom was one of eight children, and she looked to her friend’s families to get a little extra quiet and care. So they never grew jealous of how close we were to our friends. If they did, they never let us catch onto it. They couldn’t have predicted what happened to us, and how beneficial it would be to have a home away from home, but I’m glad they laid down that foundation for when shit did hit the fan and I needed something familiar, yet not filled with memories of my dad, to sit back into.

After hearing about my dad’s accident, my mom came to pick me up and told me that she and my brother were going to visit my dad in the hospital. She asked if I wanted to go with them. I only had a few hours until my gymnastics lesson, which I didn’t want to miss, and was still processing what was happening so I asked my mom to drop me off at home while she and my brother went ahead. For years after my dad died, I regretted this decision. I still wish I would have gone with them. Had I known what was waiting around the corner, I would have spent every second of the next two days by his side. I don’t necessarily live in the regret of the decision anymore though. Last night when I was writing, I realized how important the few hours that I had alone proved to be. For starters, they were the only hours I’d have to myself for weeks to come. But beyond that, it gave me time to come to terms with what happened before being thrown into it. At the time, my dad was fine. A little banged up, but there was no reason to think he was in jeopardy of losing his life. Yet I was a breathing morsel of exposed nerves. I thought he was dying, even though I was told that he was fine. I often wonder if it was me thinking worst case scenario, or if that feeling I couldn’t shake was my instincts being so in tune with his life that I knew things weren’t going to end with him coming home. Either way, I needed an hour or two to be alone in my guilt and fear before having to face my dad. After letting myself sob and scream then nap, I went to my gymnastics class where I got my last hour of being a normal teenager. During practice, I was able to forget about everything that was going on and just worry about whether or not I’d get my back handspring before the end of the season (I wouldn’t.)

I’ll always be grateful that my mom gave me autonomy. She didn’t force me to go straight from finding out about my dad to seeing him in the hospital. She gave me the freedom to choose my own path and delay seeing him until later that night. While I wish I had gone that afternoon, it did help to have been able to make a decision on my own when I would soon lose control over everything around me. I admire my parents’ ability to let me choose my own actions instead of pushing me to do what I may not be comfortable doing.

I also will never take being active in sports for granted. Should I have kids on my own, some sort of physical activity is a must for me. Whatever that may be. Whether a team sport, solo sport, or just an affinity for hiking and walks, I find having the body and mind connected to an outside goal incredibly useful in navigating tough waters. While I’m a huge arts person, the arts are invariably linked to exposing your emotions. Physical activity allows you to let that part of your brain rest while you work on creating a healthier, stronger body.

In the years after my dad’s death, the only time I ever felt remotely normal was on the cheerleading mat or softball field. I could focus my attention on the sport and performing well. Plus, it provided me a sense of self that wasn’t linked to my dad’s death. It was a bridge to the version of myself that existed before November 11th. It almost felt like I was cheating time – traveling back to before everything happened for just an hour or so.

While challenging, writing this book gives me the ability to trace back over my steps and gain some closure. It gives me faith that even when everything feels horrible, there are small plants there to sustain you. The ability to look back and understand why certain things happened and what it would mean for me in the future helps enrich my life and understanding of my own story.

Even if I sometimes can’t wait to get to the end.

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November 7th, 2003

Grief, Uncategorized

It has been quite some time since I wrote a post about grief.

I couldn’t tell you why. Maybe it’s that I’ve had so many things happen recently that I’m too distracted to think about my dad. Maybe it’s because I typically write during downtime at work and am unwilling to go there. Maybe it’s part of getting older and distancing myself from my dad’s death. Don’t get me wrong – I miss him often. The Eagles Super Bowl, my brother having a baby, my nephew’s music career taking off… but it has been awhile since I’ve felt true grief.

Today I’m breaking that streak.

I’m writing a book about the year my dad died. All of the time I’ve spent on the book so far has been on the events leading up to his accident. The weight of replaying his death was pushed aside as I reveled in taking a walk down the path that led me to my 8th grade friends. It stung a bit when I talked about the ways my dad and I didn’t quite see eye to eye but I’ve made peace with a lot of that.

Maybe I’m more of an optimist than I give myself credit for because I didn’t think it’d be hard to replay the days right before his accident. I thought that since I replayed them in my mind hundreds of times, writing them down would be no different. Oh, how naive I was mere hours ago. Because as I started to write about the last time my dad picked me up from school, I had to choke back tears and fight to keep myself together until I got to a good enough stopping point to grab my stuff and head back to my apartment.

I know writing this book is ultimately good for me. It’s helping me realize things about myself that I truly didn’t know existed. It helps me process my thoughts and gives me some sort of control over such a horrific part of my life. But sometimes it reveals parts of me that I wish didn’t exist.

My guiding light is to be as truthful as humanly possible when writing about events that happened fourteen years ago. The whole reason I’m writing this book, aside from my own selfish desire to record my life and prove that I went through it for something greater than pure pain, is that I want other kids going through similar situations to know they’re not alone. I would have given anything to know a story like my own when I was a teenager. I would have loved to be told by someone who has been through it that it’s okay not to be okay. That I’ll never fully have it all figured out but the good days will eventually outweigh the bad and at the end of the day, the worst year of my life would also hold some of the best days of my life. So I’m not masking how I feel, which I’m coming to find is hard as fuck.

The chapter that got me today is called November 7th, 2003 and is about the last time my dad picked me up from middle school. He called me out on wearing a skirt that my mom told me I couldn’t wear to school and I was irritable. He took me out for ice cream and our conversation was forced. He was trying to reach me and I just wasn’t there. I didn’t want to be reached. I was a pissed off teenage girl who just wanted to be anywhere but with her parents.

I told him that he needed a new car. I was embarrassed because we had an old car and I was now going to a school where a lot of my friends were more well off than we were. He told me the only way he could afford one would be if someone crashed into him. I secretly hoped it would happen. I didn’t want him to be hurt, or anything like that, I just wanted the car to be banged up a bit so we could get a new one. That’s not what I’m having a hard time with. I understand and accept that it was an uncanny remark that ironically foreshadowed what was to come. While I was convinced at first that those words caused my dad’s death, I didn’t live in that ridiculous theory for more than a day or two.

The part that haunts me the most is what came next. My dad parked in our driveway and sat for a few seconds in the driver’s seat. I wondered why he wasn’t getting out. I followed suit and allowed the awkward silence to float over the car. After a few more seconds he looked at me and said the sentence that I wish I could erase from my brain.

“Sometimes I feel like you don’t love me.” 

“Of course I do!” I shot back. But despite my best attempt, I don’t think I convinced either of us. He smiled at me, got out of the car and headed into our apartment. I remained there and felt like I had just been punched in the gut. Because the truth was, I couldn’t find it within myself in that moment to love him. I wanted to. I knew my dad was one of the best around and that even our recent inability to see eye to eye couldn’t erase that.

I sat in the car for a few minutes eating my ice cream between sobs. I wanted so badly to be able to tell my dad that I loved him and mean it. I searched and searched for the love I knew he deserved but kept on coming up empty. I wanted so badly to be able to run up to him, throw my arms around him, and tell him that I loved him but my broken thirteen year old heart had been through too many changes in too short of a time and I blamed him for all of it. In the moment, I couldn’t tell him that I loved him. And I knew I couldn’t fool either of us.

I felt like the worst daughter in the world. I knew my dad was a good man and that I was lucky to have him as a father. I wanted so badly to say that I loved him, I knew deep down I did, but I didn’t feel it in my heart. I couldn’t help but wonder – What was wrong with me? Why was I so broken?

After calming myself down, I made my way up to our apartment. My dad, resilient as ever, already outwardly moved past what must have been one of the most heartbreaking exchanges of his life. He was all smiles when I walked in, as if nothing had happened. Looking back, I’m sure I hurt him. Every parent fears the day their child resents them. While they recognize that it’s the natural way of things, and that it’ll pass, no one enjoys the moment it knocks on their door.

And I know every teenager goes through a period like that. But not every teenager’s dad gets in a car accident the next night that would eventually end in his unexpected death.

That’s what’s so cruel about losing a parent at thirteen. You don’t get to grow up and apologize for how selfish you were as a teenager. On the day you finally realize everything your parent did for you, they’ll be long in their grave. You don’t get to look back and laugh at the way you acted and you don’t get to make up for your mistakes.

With my mom, I was able to have that conversation where I tell her I see how much she sacrificed for us and she tells me it’s a mother’s job. Where I tell her that I’m sorry for the way I treated her and she reassures me that every teen is like that. I didn’t get to do that with my dad.

And yes, I know he knew. I’ve been told every single comforting phrase from every single person in my life. He’s watching over me and knows. Everyone is like that as a teenager. He would never want to see you beat yourself up. He loves you and you love him and that’s what matters. I’m a good person.

But there’s a difference between the closure you get when you can have that physical conversation with someone and trying to read the mind of a ghost.

No matter how much I’ve tried to forgive myself, or how many times I’ve been told that he knew I loved him, I’m sitting here fourteen years later with the same pit in my stomach and hole in my heart. And honestly I don’t think it can be repaired. The only way I could ever patch it is if I had been able to have a conversation with my dad about that day. That opportunity is just something that can’t happen.

And that’s okay.

We all have sharp, broken pieces. We can smooth out as much as possible, but there will always be some holes. It’s part of being human. We try to ease our suffering as much as possible but there will always be some things that hurt as bad as they did on the day we got those wounds. And we will spend so much time trying to twist them and pretend they’re not there. We’ll search for any words from friends, family, therapists, teachers, books… anything to try and fix it. Our loved ones will try and patch it up for us because it hurts them to see us hurt. But at the end of the day, we can’t fix everything. And that’s one of the most beautifully human things about us.

I don’t hate myself and don’t live every day regretting what happened on November 7th. It’s one unfortunately timed day out of a million wonderful moments that made up my relationship with my dad. It wasn’t the defining moment. My worth isn’t defined by that single exchange and I can live with what happened. Most days I forget it even happened.

But sometimes it creeps up, or you decide to rip it wide open by writing a book about your life, and you want to crawl back into your thirteen year old body and hide away in you reading teacher’s classroom or group therapy room or behind your stack of books. Those nights are hard, lonely, and unable to be smoothed over with good intentions or reassurance.

I’ve been down this road before, and know that at this point in my life, it ends with waking up tomorrow feeling fine. But tonight I’m sad. And that’s okay. Because my dad died as the result of car crash when I was thirteen and that really fucking sucks.

That’s what grief is.

It’s ugly, it’s uninvited. But it’s real, and it’s the truth.

Aunt Bird, part 2.

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I get to be an aunt again!

This time I won’t look like a teen mom whenever I take my future niece/nephew out.

I was thirteen when my nephew was born. It may seem young, but I was begging my sister for one since I was about four so I was ready. It’s a strange but pretty great age to gain a niece or nephew. Side note: the gender neutral term is nibling, but it never caught on. The great thing about becoming an aunt at 13 is that you’re old enough to not be a playmate, but young enough to have a more relaxed relationship. My sister has four siblings around my age, so the shorter age gap is relatively normal for my nephew.

I started babysitting when I was twelve, so by the time my nephew was around, I was comfortable with taking care of babies. I liked having authority over someone and was proud of my ability to calm him down or not give in when he was upset that his mom left the room. I felt special – I was the only one out of my friends to be an aunt and it made me feel more mature than the rest of the group. I loved having a baby in the family, especially one that I felt like was mine. While my little cousins, only a few years older than him, were split evenly among so many other family members, I felt like I got to be first in line when my nephew came into the room because I was his only aunt.

Being a young aunt and uncle was good for my brother and me. When we went on vacations, we would always have a special outing with my nephew with just the three of us. My brother would drive us to mini-golf, or to grab pizza, and we always had a blast. Besides loving the fun of the outings, it taught us responsibility. We were responsible for making sure my nephew behaved in public settings and had authority to take him wherever we wanted, which helped us practice restraint. Though my nephew definitely benefited from our young age as well. Our version of “a little treat” was making a mud pie with every candy we could find on it, or grabbing a waffle cone after an already indulgent dinner, because we were still kind of kids too and wanted to go a little crazy. We behaved more like grandparents – unable to say no because… well, why say no? I remember my nephew on vacation looking at me after finishing a slice of a mud pie that had to have been 10,000 calories per slice and saying, “Aunt Bird… I don’t feel too good. This was too much.” In my defense, my nephew was skinny as hell and chose to eat healthy things so the mud pie seemed harmless. As my nephew grew, I enjoyed the age gap even more. I understood his language (to a certain extent) and felt like we can communicate on a closer level because he’s like “Oh, she’s with it. She gets it.” Especially when I worked at Apple. That gave me a sort of golden ticket to “getting it” because his world revolved around iPod Touches. As he became a preteen, I tended to enjoy pushing my sister to allow my nephew to do certain things we were allowed to do at that age, like watch South Park, to earn some brownie points. Now, I just name drop comedians that I saw to earn them.

Not everything is great with a shorter age gap. When you’re a college student, you’re not the most in touch person in the world. I can count on one hand the amount of times I sent my nephew a birthday gift and would usually compensate with a more generous Christmas gift. I always took pride in being his aunt, but it wasn’t until recent years that I really started to understand that I really was his aunt. Not an older cousin, or babysitter, but aunt. I’m starting to look more toward the excellent example my own aunts set on how to be a more mature and thoughtful aunt. I no longer have the excuse of being young and selfish for being absent half of the time. The two of us have a really special bond, but I tend to be better in person than long distance. And seeing as how there’s a small chance we’ll ever live less than four hours apart, it’s something that I need to work on.

So now, 15 years after I became an aunt the first time around, I’ll be an aunt again. This time at a socially “normal” age. With the announcement of my sister in law’s pregnancy last night came some reflection around what I’ll do differently this time around. The answer is… nothing really.

With high school and college out of the way, and my family being more central to my life than my friends, I’m sure I’ll be able to spend more time with my future nibling than I was with my nephew as a teenager. I know that I won’t forget birthdays. My nephew taught me how to be an aunt, and the combination of my age back then, and my age now, seems to round out the role. I’m still going to feed this child a mud pie so sweet they will choose to stop eating it themselves, but will also understand the nutritional importance of not doing it every chance I get. When the kid gets to the ripe preteen age, I will initiate them into the Taylor family by watching South Park, even if it is against the will of their parents and grandparents. I’m sure my sister and nephew will join – though my nephew will be in his mid-twenties and probably touring with his band.

One big difference is that I now know the things that I love sharing with the younger Taylor generation. I can’t wait to read this kid to sleep when we go to Cooperstown each year. I’ll try and hijack my brother and sister in law’s Red Sox/Yankees feud and convince my nibling that cubbies are too cute to not be their favorite baseball team. I failed with my nephew, but my sister worked for the Orioles and the two of them have too much Baltimore pride to veer off the tracks, but I’ll succeed this time around. I look forward to the days mom and dad want a night out in Cooperstown and Aunt Bird gets to take this kid on some sort of adventure.

Most of all, I’m excited that this kid gets to call my brother and sister in law their parents. My brother is one of my favorite people in the world, and as his sister, I can say that I’ve seen the best of him and have been on the receiving end of the worst of him. And the worst of him is basically that he’s a Red Sox fan, so it’s not all that bad. I know that he and my sister in law are going to be incredible parents, and that this kid is going to have one hell of an extended family.

Aunt Bird, part 2 coming in late October.

The Girl with the Bloody Finger

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If I had a book a la The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, it would probably be called The Girl with the Bloody Finger.

The other day I was working from home. Right before my morning break, I decided to wash my porcelain bowl in my sink. While my hipster apartment has many fantastic amenities, a dishwasher isn’t one of them. While washing out the bowl, it slipped and hit the bottom of the sink. It broke in two pieces at an angle and wedged itself into my pinky finger. My finger started bleeding profusely. I wrapped it in a towel like the semi-pro I was and waiting to see if it would stop.

This isn’t my first time slicing my finger. The first deep cut I got was during my freshman year in college. I was fixing a pin with a pair of scissors when the scissors slipped and went into my pointer finger. I freaked, pulled out the scissors and immediately put my hand under running water. Wrong move. It thinned out my blood, which caused a huge mess.

As I was a college freshman, I had very few life skills and did not own any basic supplies. I had no paper towel to cover it with, so I went around my bathroom searching for my first aid kit. In the process, I got blood EVERYWHERE. It was a small cut but very deep, which caused a lot of blood. I grabbed a bunch of the cheap 1-ply toilet paper that I had in my bathroom and wrapped my finger, but it bled through. I started freaking out because of the amount of blood coming out of me and almost passed out. I steadied myself against a wall and sank down, covering both my bathroom wall and floor with hand prints.

Since it was spring break, I was alone in the dorm. Instead of going home, my mom was coming to visit me. While my roommate was also staying in the dorms during break, she was out. I was terrified that I was going to pass out and bleed to death, while was such a practical fear from a tiny cut on my finger. I gathered my strength and started making my way to my R.A’s room. I dragged my bloody hand along the wall on the way there, stopping periodically to sit down. At one point, I decided to just crawl to his room. Behind me was a path of blood. It’s a shame there wasn’t a film crew following me.

After answering the door, he called our public safety officers who brought me to the hospital. I sat in the waiting room alone, sobbing because I was lonely and hated hospitals. I was sitting among the drunk bar fighters and felt like the child I was. After a few hours, the doctor glued my finger together and I went back to my dorm. When I got back, I was worried my roommate would be terrified by the blood and fact that I left my cellphone in our room. Obviously, she thought I was murdered. Upon returning to my room after THE MOST DRAMATIC MOMENT OF MY COLLEGE LIFE, my roommate asked me if I cut myself shaving. That’s how smart she was. Yes, I left a hallway full of blood behind from a shaving nick.

As I was standing in my kitchen almost ten years later, I thought back to that day and how funny it was. Instead of crawling around my apartment building in a pool of blood, I wrapped my finger and applied pressure. I kept changing the paper towel when it bled through. I went to my computer and googled how long I should wait before seeking medical attention. Most sites advised to wait 20-30 minutes. After 30 minutes passed and the bleeding didn’t slow down, I started googling what urgent care centers provided stitches so I could avoid the ER fees and waiting room time. I found one that fit my needs and had good yelp reviews, typed a message to my boss explaining what happened, then called an Uber to take me there. I rode in my UberX with my finger covered, but noticeably damaged, and told my co-rider that yes, I was indeed okay.

At the urgent care center, the doctor washed down my cut then cut off the flab of skin still remaining. He burned the area to cauterize it then sent me home with a wrapped up finger and instructions for how to care for it. I followed the instructions as much as I could (it’s nearly impossible to not get your finger wet for three days) and moved on with my life, sending unsolicited pictures of my finger to friends because I felt like it was the closest I could get to knowing how it felt to send a dick pic.

I thought my finger was a fun anecdote until this past Monday, when the bitch decided to perform an encore. I went to the bathroom to change my bandage during work and the cut reopened and started bleeding profusely. I tried handling it myself, but realized that it was a little beyond my capacity. The woman next to me was horrified and not at all reassured that everything was okay, as I mentioned while my hand was pouring blood in our sink. I felt bad bleeding everywhere, so I wrapped it up in paper towels, cleaned up the blood as much as possible, and headed back to my desk.

At my desk, I told my boss who is a very smart but very inexperienced person, that I needed some help. He looked down and saw a blood soaked towel. As he ran around looking for a first aid kit, I patiently sat in my very silent and very open office with about a hundred of my closest coworkers. When he returned with the first aid kit, I suggested that I may need a little more help and asked if he could call our EMTs?

How did I know we had a bunch of EMTs that worked for us? Because about two years ago I hurt my finger at work. I sat down and kicked my foot under my butt, which ended up kicking my finger and dislocated it. I put it back but the swelling was fast and painful so I wanted an ice pack. I asked my boss if I could have one, and she was required to call in the EMTs to tend to my finger. It was hilarious hearing her attempt to explain that the employee, yours truly, dislocated her finger by kicking it.

So the EMTs, two incredibly kind women who were also moms (so badass women) came and tended to my bleeding finger while the rest of my company looked on. They cleaned it and put a huge gauze pad on the wound then left me supplies in case it reopened. About thirty minutes later, my finger soaked through the gauze and I had to fix it again. This time I wrapped about two gauze pads and four Band-Aids around it so it would hold up through the end of the day.

It is the finger that just won’t stop bleeding.

I don’t know what it is about my life that makes these silly, stupid and very public finger injuries happen. I would blame being a klutz but the bowl break was somewhat of a freak accident. And while it gets tiring and annoying, I have to just laugh at it. I would rather not have these incidents, but whenever I do, it just reminds me that I’m somehow meant to keep writing my story. My life is complicated and colorful and ready to be told.

Learning to run.

Uncategorized

So most of my life is still revolving around my physical therapy schedule.

The recovery time for the type of surgery I had is about a year. I’m expecting that I’ll be in physical therapy until June. I don’t mind it – aside from how costly it is, I enjoy the sessions. Though it’s painful and challenging, I enjoy the coaching and staying physically active. I’ve been with my PTs for over two years now and I’m convinced they’re the best Chicago has to offer.

Two weeks ago, my PT and I opened up my manual, which outlines my recovery for the next year, and realized that I’m in a sort of holding area. The surgery I had is so new that I’m the youngest patient my surgeon has had, so I’ve been progressing a lot faster than expected. We were at the point where I would typically progress because of the strength I gained, but we’re unable to do anything because I’m not at the six month point quite yet. The surgery I had was to regenerate cartilage, so the progress points are extremely important. If I were to move on too fast, I would risk damaging the growing cartilage, making the entire surgery a massive waste of both time and money.

My PT added a few modifications to my exercises to make it them as hard as possible within the frame we’re given. But without anywhere to go for the next month and a half, we decided it would be best to just do my exercises at home instead. I have a full gym with everything I need in my building, and already had everything memorized at this point. It would be a waste of time and money to continue to come in twice a week. We decided on a schedule where I come in twice a month until I reach the six month point. I’m not very self-motivated, so I knew I needed some sort of check point to make sure I continue my exercises at home.

After going over my plan, my PT took some time to look over the next phase of recovery. He said that I’d start learning how to run again in May, along with other common, higher impact, exercises like box jumps and jump roping. I played it cool, but internally I was freaking out.

The rest of my appointment I was in my head thinking about how impossible it seemed to run. Everything else we had done over the past two years seemed within grasp, even when it was hard. Sure, there were things that felt relatively impossible like squatting or even lifting my leg without using my arms, but I always knew that in time I would get strong enough to achieve those goals. They were everyday tasks, so it seemed obvious that I’d get there. But something about running and working out more intensely freaked me out.

Over the past two years, I haven’t been entirely inactive. I would try to stay as active as possible within my pain tolerance. I walked and hiked a lot. When I was recovering from both surgeries, I’d be on the bike until I gained enough strength to use a cross trainer. I did a lot of yoga and Pilates. I tried to lift weights and do core exercises as often as I would without an injury. But I could never do anything higher impact. My knee was too screwed up.

I’ve been waiting two years to be able to return to the gym and the higher impact activities I love. I was never one for swimming laps and using hand weights. I love sports, dance classes and anything that is a burst of energy. But it has been so long since I’ve been able to do anything, that it’s terrifying to even think of running again. I wasn’t even a great runner before the surgery… I can just imagine what I’m going to look like starting again with my new knee.

But what’s the alternative? Stopping physical therapy short of returning to my normal workout routine and never being able to do high impact activities again? A huge part of my decision making process with this surgery was that I didn’t want to have limitations. I couldn’t fathom not being able to do something like rock climbing or Zumba at 27 because of my knee. I wanted to be able to do everything I could possibly want to do. I wanted to be an active person instead of having to worry about my knee with everything I did. So I got this fancy surgery to fix it all and I’m not going to stop short of the finish line because I’m scared of how hard and humbling learning how to run will be.

So I just told myself to remember that I trusted both of my PTs entirely and that they would do what they’re there to do and help me overcome these upcoming obstacles. That even if I didn’t think I could do it, they wouldn’t force me to do something beyond my capacity, so I need to trust them and just listen to what they tell me to do. It’s exciting to know that I’m getting to the point where I can no longer have to do everything abridged, but it’s definitely scary getting there.

That’s where the human part of physical therapy, where you have someone you trust with your wellness encouraging you to push on even when you don’t believe you can, is definitely worth both the money and time.

Cheers to slumps!

Uncategorized

I was in a slump for a while.

We can place the blame on whatever we want. My knee surgeries, winter, a busy summer, being in the back end of my twenties, the fact I spend three hours a day commuting… there’s always something.

But the fact of the matter is that I lacked motivation. Everything that I wanted to do, I would save for another day, only to find that day never came. It wasn’t all bad – I enjoyed the way I spent most of my days. But at night I would think back on all the things that I wanted to accomplish and feel guilty for not accomplishing anything.

I thrive off of creativity. It is a major goal in my life to make a living off of it. Yet in the span of a year, I didn’t create a single thing.

Yes, I had two surgeries, and yes, I had to relearn how to walk twice. But that’s an easy excuse for the simple fact that I was unmotivated to create. I was too lazy to actually deliver a product. If anything, I had more time on my hands than I knew what to do with. I was on medical leave for almost two months. Instead of creating anything, I watched a lot of holiday baking shows and watched the days pass.

When I started recovering – working, going to physical therapy, venturing out of my apartment – I was exhausted. I had no energy because my commute felt like a marathon. I relied on the takeout places around me for food and starting buying my lunch at work. In addition to not being fulfilled creatively, I was starting to feel bad physically. Loss of mobility plus eating the wrong food led me to feel pretty shitty all around.

After the excitement of the Super Bowl concluded, I found myself feeling like I was in a slump both creatively and physically. I was a little broken. I was upset with the way my life was going and angry that my accident sucked so much joy from me. Up until that point, I was doing really well in all areas of my life, and going back I could point to the night I broke my knee as the moment things went downhill.

I took inventory. To help boost my morale, I recognized where I was doing well. For the first time ever, I wasn’t worried about my financial situation. While there’s a lot of room for growth, I was finally able to keep a savings account open for longer than a few months and was on top of my student loan payments. As someone who spent too many years scrounging pennies for rent and hoping a babysitting job would come my way to tie me over, it helped settle my stomach to be on my feet. With the financial security came the ability to fly home more often and increase my presence in my family’s life. For about eight years, I was only able to come home for Christmas and a week in the summer and I was now finding myself able to come home for more events. I loved being around for Thanksgiving, bridal showers, weddings, and the occasional weekend trip for the Super Bowl or a high school graduation.

After recognizing where I was doing well, I had to be honest with myself in my shortcomings. Even with two big improvements in my life, I still wasn’t happy. I wasn’t doing well in my day to day activities. After work, I often went home to watch TV and go to bed early. Weekends were spent cooking and hanging around my apartment. Without constant rehearsals and deadlines, I had no idea how to spend my time. When left to my own devices, I was lazy. Most of my unhappiness was caused by my own laziness.

So I set goals for myself. The first big change I made was doing the Whole 30 diet. Unable to exercise much because I was still healing from major knee surgery, it was one way I could regain control of my body. When you go through a couple surgeries, you feel like you no long own your body. It only takes a few walks through a hospital with your ass hanging out of a hospital gown to no longer feel self-conscious about throwing your body over to doctors. The type of surgery I had requires major limitations to allow for my cartilage to regrow safely. There is an entire manual that outlines what I can and cannot do, and the list of cannots still exceeds the cans. I was sick of not being able to do anything and felt like the ownership of my body lied more with my doctors and physical therapists than it did with myself. So I turned elsewhere. I started Whole 30 partly because I wanted to feel better physically, but mostly because I wanted to regain control.

After the 30 days, I felt great. I was finally eating real food again. Food that I liked but often told myself I didn’t have time or energy to make. As you are what you eat, changing my diet helped my regain some reins in other areas.

With my body taken care of, I looked at my creative slump. I had ten thousand projects that were all calling for my attention. All I had to do with filter through and find what I was most passionate about. To get myself back in the habit of writing daily, I started writing in this blog again. I always seem to be happier and more productive when I do, so I forced myself to find some time in the day to devote to a post. I made a goal of writing four posts a week and have met it more weeks than not. Through writing here, I filtered down my large writing projects and realized that I was ready to write my young adult novel. So I began and made more progress in the past two months than I have in the four years it’s been sitting on my laptop.

The last area that I needed to improve was my social life. Living alone in the winter proved difficult because I always wanted to hibernate. I wasn’t good at keeping in touch with my friends. Two years ago, we all lived close together but with moves and the addition of boyfriends, it gets harder to stay in touch. I started saying yes to every opportunity to hang out and invited more people over. I started repatching some friendships and felt less alone.

I think it’s easy to resent a slump, but without mine there would be no way to take a step back and reassess my goals. Since I was so unsatisfied, I was able to set measurable goals and work towards progress.

About a year ago, I read The Bell Jar and the following quote haunts me. It helps me recognize a slump, and become proactive about it:

“I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn’t quite make out. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.”

Cheers to slumps!

Girls Incarcerated

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There’s a growing interest in the juvenile court system.

A new Netflix show called Girls Incarcerated was recently released. I avoided the title for a bit, thinking it was going to be some sensationalized, Lifetime-quality, Dance Mom’s-esque, reality show. I’m not bashing those shows. While I would love to point out all the ways Dance Moms was a form of child abuse, I also was a huge fan of the show because we’re all shitty hypocrites with some dirt in our closet. Something about watching Abby Lee Miller’s inflated ego reminded me of my very competitive cheerleading squad and equally cultish coach and I enjoyed the circus. But it seemed that exploiting girls in a juvenile detention center took the genre to the next level, so I avoided watching it for a while. Eventually curiosity got the best of me and I caved, swearing I wouldn’t tell anyone that I ended up watching the show.

I was relieved to find that Girls Incarcerated was nothing like I expected. Sure, working with minors means that we can’t completely be sure that they will look back on the experience favorably, but the show focused more on the system and life experiences that led the girls to the detention center than the spectacle of it all. It stayed well within a documentary series and didn’t dip into a reality show. When it seemed like drama was unfolding for cameras, the cameras were turned away. It was a well done series outlining what these girls have gone through and provided enough empathy to have me rethinking my career in an office. I couldn’t recommend watching it enough.

It was incredibly heartbreaking for a couple reasons. There were a handful of story lines, but I’ll highlight three.

The first, and most common story, was one of parental drug abuse. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that 9/10 of the girls in the juvenile center were daughters of parents with severe drug addictions. Many of them were single moms left to take care of their kids, only to find themselves unable to. The girls felt that they were invisible and turned to the streets and drugs to find some sort of worth. They were young enough to know they were making a mistake. It felt unnatural to them and it was hard for them to recognize their own addiction because it was still forming. They started using because they were angry with their parents, only to find themselves unable to stop. Without anyone around to give them extra attention, they sought attention in the older teens in their neighborhood. They figured that if they became a problem child, someone would want to fix or yell at them and then they would get some sort of attention where there was none. There was an especially heartbreaking story of a girl whose mother got her addicted to heroin by forcing it on her. These are children.

The second story was that of a fourteen year old girl. She was sent to the detention center for some unremarkable reason – not coming home, drinking, drugs… I really can’t remember. But whatever the reason, she was only supposed to be in the center for a few months. However, neither of her parents wanted to claim her so she had been sitting there for over a year. Unable to leave because there was no guardian to release her to. She was well-loved by the staff and they really tried everything to find someone to release her to. At one point in the show, she had an outburst that was reminiscent of any teen girl and one of the guards was trying to get her to calm down. She looked at the guard and asked why she needed to calm down – if she’s bad, more time is added, but even if she’s good, she can’t leave because there’s no one to claim her. So what’s the incentive for behaving? If I were three years older and lived in a proper apartment instead of a studio apartment, I swear I would be making calls to find out how to foster this kid. It was devastating to watch her stuck.

The last one was a girl who was about sixteen years old and checked herself into the facility. Over the summer, she was driving some friends home from a party. She hadn’t been drinking or anything, but lost control of the car and was in an accident. The accident killed her best friend. While her parents and the parents of her best friend tried to help her understand this was just an accident, she couldn’t forgive herself. She said she couldn’t understand how she could have caused someone’s death then just walk away without punishment. So she researched and decided to punish herself through checking herself into the facility.

It was hard to hear the self-awareness that the girls gained through counseling. They knew that they had to make some serious life changes before they turned 18. It was heartbreaking to see kids who are supposed to worry about gossip and who they were going to flirt with at the movies instead recalling stories of child abuse and neglect. But I have to tip my hat at Netflix for taking such a heavy and sensitive topic and presenting it well.

Through the show, you see how some girls were released and motivated to use their story to inspire others. Some had dreams of becoming social workers themselves. You also saw girls released only to find themselves back in the same situations. You learned how much of a role neighborhoods played in their potential outcomes and how hard it was for them to escape their friend groups that got them into trouble to begin with. Remember, these are still teenage girls. I know at that age I wasn’t able to walk away from toxic friends. You also saw how hard they worked to better themselves. At one point, they held a high school graduation that had me sobbing. At my graduation, I remember thinking the spectacle was a little silly because it was easy to graduate high school. This made me realize my story was vastly difference because of the support system I had to make sure I stayed on the right track.

If I had a teenage daughter, I would make her watch this show right away. Not to scare her. Actually, I’d have the opposite conversation with her. I’d show it to her so that she understood to be empathetic towards the “bad” girls. To recognize that there may be a reason they served time and to be willing to be open-minded as they came back to school. I remember when kids in my grade would go away to whatever institution or alternate high school and the judgement that I cast towards them upon their return. While it’s no one’s job to fix someone, I think granting them a blank slate and allowing them to prove that they are trying to be a better person is warranted.

There’s so much that we don’t know about other people. We assume that teens act out in moodiness or angst and have little to no patience with them. Especially girls. When in actuality, these girls have a past that is far darker than any path we had to go down at that age. When we cast them out, we push away the possibility of their reformation.

It’s always helpful to have a program that reminds you to look at others with a little more empathy. I highly recommend the show.