Do What You Can Do

Chaos was what I was born into, I was born from two creative 60’s parents, both amazing artists and musicians. They were barely out of their teens when Vietnam hit. Their parents were WWII pilots and heros that had lived through the depression before there was maternity leave, birth control, or anything related to mental health care. After Vietnam the short love affair they had was gone and the reality of the harsh world set in. My mother and I lived alone for a few years as she worked at anything she could, leaving her amazing talents to the curb for practicality and I secretly loved every moment we had alone together. She soon married her best friend who had a career and a soon a home. My two sweet sisters were born ten years after me and I learned the care taking role. Addiction though plagued my family tree, and friction was a part of every day.

I joined the military at 18 and left the minute I graduated. The lesson I am focused on today, is the one I have been fighting against my entire life. You can only control your choices in life but you cannot control all the other factors of your choice or other people’s choices. I chose the military, for opportunity, and a sense of control over my life. Just months after I finished basic training, I was shipped off to a war torn country. (Excuse me, that’s not what I signed up for!). In that situation all I could control were my choices for that day, who I would spend my time with, the words that would come out of my mouth, the way I would act, my attitude. For some reason at 19, I had less of a problem with that in 1991 than I do now. I was not anxious, I was not overly sad. I think because I knew all I could do was what I could do. Why has that been so hard since then?

I tried to finish college but I lacked support in all ways. I married a few years later and had two kids back to back, a four year gap and another set of Irish twins making a busy house of 6. I finished school and went on to go to nursing school, able to do so with the support and stability I needed. But life still had a lot of curveballs and line drives to the forehead awaiting me.

I remember the first one being an ADHD diagnosis with one of my daughters, and another curveball with another daughter having an extremely high IQ. I thought ok, I’ll learn all about this and do all the things I need to do. I moved the kids to a school more equipped to deal with both. I even helped start the talented and gifted program at the new school. A few years later another child was diagnosed with a very rare learning disability, that affects anything spatial. I threw myself into years of research, IEP meetings and honestly still I am trying to learn and teach people about it. It took years, but I finally learned that I had to teach my daughter about her disability and how to advocate for herself because I couldn’t be in her pocket for ever.

In 2014 we hit the wall with depression and eating disorder behavior with one child and my husband and I threw everything we had at. I never could wrap my head around what we could have done wrong. Our children had everything they needed, they had love, and education, activities, pets, faith. (Ah, but you cannot outrun genetics, and depression is genetically linked to addiction, eating disorders, OCD, ADHD. They are all cut from the same cloth). In remission, she came out the other side but her sister soon followed and in 2018 she lost the battle with her depression before we could even get a handle on what was going on.

The loss rippled through my family like a grenade. It left shrapnel inside the rest of us that we have been adapting to for over two years. My remaining three girls each fighting their own battle that I could not fight for them. The part of the story most outsiders are unknowing, the devastation didn’t stop with the loss of my daughter. My oldest a year later, December 2019, lost the person she planned to start her life with, to untreated bipolar depression and moved home a couple months later the pandemic hit. All I could do then and still do, is to hold her and remind her of all the talent and beauty that still lives inside of her. I remind her daily.

My middle child, broke-up with her three year boyfriend that spiraled her into facing her the loss of her sister also, the realization that people you love can leave without warning and again I couldn’t fix it, she had to fight her way through it, learn to control her own actions and claw her way out of the pit she was in while loosing every friend around her. Going from the most popular, to being ridiculed, her property vandalized, being cyber bullied and deserted my friends instead of supported by those around her. From my observation, people just back away from anything they don’t understand and look for the easiest explanation instead of taking a closer look and sitting down in the mess with someone. I can honestly say I am so proud of her for literally putting a crown on her head at her senior parade and managing to still keep her scholarship. She is day by day moving forward in this Covid world at college. All I could do during those darker days was make accommodations for her the last few months of school, encourage her to talk and to keep moving forward one day at a time.

Today my youngest battles her own major depression, with learning challenges she has always battled some, but in a similar fashion to her sister, the recent loss of her year-long relationship with the one person she trusted more than anything, knocked her depression into turbo gear and brought the loss of her sister even more to the forefront. Learning that you have no control over people leaving, can bring everything you know to a complete halt. I wish I could fix it, but the words of my mother come to mind. “People do only what people can do.”

She told me this on the day of my wedding, when the turmoil of having my husband’s west coast family members and my Ohio family member all together in one building had me stressed and crying. Basically she was trying to tell me to not focus on things out of my control, you do what you can. People do only what they can. Focus on those things. As my youngest works through her depression currently in militant-like therapy center all I can do is be her cheer-leader. I can advocate for her and support her in any way I can through it, but the up-hill battle is hers and I am proud of her because she has always had to work twice as hard as anyone else in the room, though she rarely gives up. I am proud of all my girls for pulling themself up, without a lot of outside support to cheer them on.

I sit this morning with fires raging in my county ten miles away, with a pandemic still silently threatening, smoke filling the city streets making the sky like a scene from Twilight. I debate if airing my family struggles in my blog is helpful or damaging, but ultimately I believe talking about mental health is more important than any negative opinion lobbed my way. It is therapeutic for me to write and maybe someone will read it this and see they are not alone.

I can only control, what I can control. Today I can slowly work on cleaning up my office space, organize some of my non-profit, http://www.mikennavanekproject.org paperwork and maybe brainstorm ways our non-profit could help those affected by the fires or pandemic. I can try and figure out how to use my new air fryer and make something new or different in it, I can open up one of the games I love to play tonight and play a game with my husband and daughters. Instead of focusing on the fact I can’t breathe outside, and that I can’t socialize or travel, I will focus on what I can do and that’s all I can do.

Grief is like….

Grief is like your life was like a beautiful pool until one day a storm came along placing a giant crack through it and releasing a large amount of the water.  Now, you are still grateful for the pool you still have left but it will never be the same.  You still can sit in your pool, but every now and then without warning a few teaspoons are drained from the pool as a result of the storm. 

I sat in the river and felt the water roll over my toes the other day.  It was a tiny peaceful moment as I let go of another little human activity with my autoimmune disease.   As I felt the mud squish between my toes, memories of my childhood came flooding back.  Running with my next door neighbor through the grass, my first bee sting where I figured out I was allergic to bees as my father dumped my entire leg in an ice bucket.  The feeling of the different types of grass on the soles of my feet.  My cousins and I could never be wrangled down when we were together, there was no need for sunblock or shoes most summers days.  We would run outside through the hose, through the yards and sometimes across the Metro parks river rocks laughing and splashing on endless summer days.

I had finally had the chance to go for a tiny hike after the weather subsided enough that I could at least hike a trail on the Clackamas River.  My daughter ahead of me took her shoes off following a trail in and out of the water along the river.  I happily took mine off also, walking along the river rock happily following behind. Within minutes the rocks became painful on my feet. Most of the rocks were smooth but my type of autoimmune disease targets small joints.  I was determined to keep up so I trudged on. Before long my eyes were watering and I stopped for a break, letting the water roll over my toes one last time.   It seems silly, but for me it was giving up another tiny thing, like the tiny things I had already given up, sitting in the sun, being in the snow, gardening, etc.     I was thankful it wasn’t worse, but it was one more teaspoon out of my pool. A tiny injustice.

I made a quick decision and threw on my expensive tennis shoes and started back through the water.  Shoes could be replaced, time with my daughter couldn’t.

Though grief and autoimmune diseases are nothing alike, I keep finding similarities in them when I would think about it.    Both of these groups have only found solace in others going through the same thing.  The truth being that most people don’t understand until they are unfortunately walking the same path.   Both are somewhat lonely and how I imagine my daughter with learning challenges feels sometimes, as if no one understands all the challenges you face unless you also face them.

Later I sat with my youngest watching a movie.   It was a cute movie called “A Thousand Words” with Eddie Murphy.  At one point he says something along the lines of “I guess you never know if the last time you see someone is going to be the last time you ever see someone” and instantly the image of my beautiful smiling daughter, standing on the steps of her new apartment holding the laundry basket of goodies I had just brought her came to mind, the last time I saw her.   It was not that big of a deal, tears don’t really phase any of my family members at this point, and I’ve always supported showing your emotions, but it reminded me how I can’t always be prepared when I am watching a movie, even when looking it up first.

It may seem like a tiny thing, but I am a huge movie buff.  As a matter of fact it was something my daughter that passed and I had in common.  I now try and see all the movies that her and I would have seen together, even alone, in her honor.   We would spontaneously grab a movie whenever we could though sometimes I regretted not reading about it before hand like when sex scenes would pop up. She would laugh at how uncomfortable I would get.

Now though, If a friend ask me to see a movie, I have to look it up, and unfortunately there are many movies I have to give up.  Not just movies but entire genres.   I cannot sit through desensitized any more, horror, war, crime, it’s just not for me.   My grief or PTSD rocks me still to see the devastation.   It’s a tiny teaspoon out of my pool.  It’s another thing I give up to the storm.

Along those same lines, we also both were avid readers.   Both Harry Potter heads, we were sometimes almost competitive with our books.  After my daughter passed I took a hiatus from reading for over a year.  A unknown side effect of an initial tragedy, is the inability to focus on much of anything.  To help with some of that, I started a little book club recently, thankfully most of the people in it are ok if someone decides to pass on a book.   We adapt, like wearing shoes in the river. 5F539D02-F442-470C-A9FF-91D647D14E19

If you have experienced loss, what is your metaphor?

 

Grief is like…

Grief is like a catastrophic physical injury ~ Louise

Grief is like riding a roller coaster that never stops without a seatbelt. ~ Kris

Grief is like getting up every day to a job you hate and which you feel completely unskilled for. ~ Louise

Grief is like trying to comprehend what is beyond comprehension. ~Amy

Grief is like a shadow. ~Ann

Grief is like waiting for a bomb to go off. ~ Joni

Grief is like a mixture of recreating an identity and a bittersweet processing of memory. ~Peter

Grief is like trying to sort through the rubble of what’s left of your life after the earthquake of loss has hit. ~ Cathy Lee

Grief is like walking through hip-high mud. ~ Loretta

Grief is like being a walking dead zombie. ~Jackie

Grief is like crazy weather. Sometimes showers and storms pop up when you least expect them. ~LauraJay

Grief is like walking in the dark and feeling your way as you slowly go. ~ Deb

Grief is like a guilty addiction, reminding you of a time when your life was right. ~ Geri

Grief is like a boomerang, it keeps coming back and wounding you anew. ~Susan

Grief is like an image which recalls a bad acid trip. ~ Phyllis

Grief is like being extremely homesick but knowing your home no longer exists. ~ Leesa

Grief is like a constant pain that never goes away and is worsened by “triggers”. ~ Vicki

Grief is like being burned alive. ~ Deborah

Grief is like a landmine. ~ Kevin

Grief is like waking up to a hundred pound monkey on your back. ~ April

Grief is like being in a constant nightmare. ~Kathleen

Grief is like a soaking wet wool blanket over your whole body. ~ Alice

Grief is like having an incurable affliction. ~ Allen

Grief is like being in the middle of a twister that wreaks havoc all around you. ~ Leslie

Grief is like losing a part of yourself. ~ Peter

Grief is like being continuously hit by a tsunami. ~ Teklya

Grief is like being in a chronic state of anxiety. – Frankie

Grief is like being the pinball in a game you never chose to play. ~ Miss Mac

Grief is like sitting on the sidelines. ~ Michelle

Grief is like your insides being munched away by parasites and wanting to vomit but you can’t because you’re empty. ~Kay

Grief is like a bottomless pit. ~ Tara

Grief is like a concussion that lasts for months. ~ Lillian

Grief is like a wound. Over time it heals but it leaves a scar. ~ Theresa

Grief is like waking up every day as a stranger in a foreign land. ~ Elizabeth

UNDERSTANDING GRIEF : ELEANOR HALEY, https://whatsyourgrief.com/grief-metaphors/

Unconventional Times

FD1F108D-7F28-45C1-BB6C-B53C0765A7D8The world is in a pandemic.  Duh, you say.   Well for some of us you are experiencing just a glimpse of what many people have already been feeing, fighting and struggling with.   For two months now I have been struggling to figure out this weird emotion I have towards hearing people complain about not being able to keep track of what day it is, to have any structure to their day.  They are becoming forgetful, unmotivated and isolated. People struggle with being able to focus long enough to read a book or lack energy to go back to work even with being gone for so weeks.   Reading and hearing these words irritated me, and at first I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.   Oh yeah, welcome to my life, my husband’s life, my mother-in-laws life, my surviving daughter’s lives, as they tried to navigated high school feeling this way, along with all the other people I have met in this club of traumatic loss.   People that have suffered and unexpected tragedy such as the loss of a child, sibling or spouse unexpectedly, usually deal with complicated grief, or PTSD, or prolonged bereavement.

(Here is an explanation of the cycle of isolation from  The Center for Growth website, “isolation is kept in place by the PTSD symptoms themselves, the person’s coping mechanism’s to these symptoms, and other’s responses to the trauma survivor.  The person with PTSD is not the only person impacted by the PTSD symptoms.  Family, friends, co-workers, even strangers will respond to the behavior that the trauma survivor is engaging in.  Without understanding and explanation, there is a lot of room for misinterpretation on both sides.  Sadly, the negative experiences that the trauma survivor have in interacting with others, and the experiences that others have interacting with the trauma survivor, can reinforce the desire or need for isolation.” https://www.therapyinphiladelphia.com/tips/understanding-the-role-of-ptsd-symptoms-in-the-cycle-of-isolation)

The last two years has changed my behavior to the point where I no longer consider myself an extreme extrovert.  I am considering retaking the 16 personality test and seeing if I am still the Protagonist. https://www.16personalities.com/. Spending time socializing takes more effort, and though I still can enjoy it, I don’t seek it out.  That makes it difficult when we are trying to reach out to our isolated friends.

The only thing I miss now is the ability to go where I want and to plan where I want to go in the future. To be honest, nothing for me at home has changed except I get to actually spend more time with my young adult daughter, teens and husband.  Honestly it is a mother’s dream to have her child have to actually spend time with her.

ED33027F-87DE-4084-BFAB-F0794B2DCCE3Speaking of mourning a loss, I have a high school senior.   She should be graduating with honors, walking across a stage, showing all her haters through the worst period in her life what she managed to accomplish, 4.0 GPA, an academic and sports scholarship while struggling with the death of her sister, anxiety, and depression.  The last two years were sometimes torturous as she navigated it all and alongside her was her younger sister struggling with similar issues and a rare learning disability.  Their oldest sister, then losing her boyfriend, only a year later traumatically.   Somehow through the grace of God,  they have managed to keep it together and now my child number three should be graduating.   Yes, it is a loss.

But it’s not the same.  Am I disappointed at the turn of events?   Yep.   Most likely they will be doing a drive-through graduation.  It is unconventional.   It is not optimal, but it will be remembered that is for sure.   One of my friends recently posted about how Covid-19 is sad, the deaths are sad, and the economic issues are sad, but she is mourning the loss of her daughter’s graduation.   It was like fingers on a chalk board reading her statement.   I am sure she didn’t mean to, but she had put the loss of her daughter’s graduation right up there with the deaths from Covid-19.  Loss has a hierarchy.  Mourning has a hierarchy.   The loss of my husband’s grandmother was sad.  She will be missed.   She lived until she was in her 90s.   The unexpected loss of my 19-year-old is not the same.   The loss of a beloved pet, is not the same.   The loss of my daughter’s graduation is very sad, but it doesn’t. even. compare.   If you asked her, she would say she is bummed, but it doesn’t compare to the last two years of hell she has navigated, not in the least.  For that I would give her an award if I could. I would call it the Overcomer Award.

E2ACB698-B916-434F-958B-D2D09F25CB9DI’ve had a couple of recent difficult days at work related to my loss.   There are days I struggle with different emotions attached to what I have gone through, but I consider myself a decent operating room nurse, so I usually just march through it most days.   Last week I had a patient about 18 years old.   Something about the way the young adult talked reminded me of Mikenna, my daughter.  There was talk of bipolar and eating disorder issues, but you wouldn’t know it hearing the silly bantering between my patient and the friend that had come along side.   I wondered where the parents were?  Did they disapprove of the kind of surgery, did the patient not want any parent in the waiting area.  All I could think of is how I would do anything to have my girl next to me and how I would have been there no matter what kind of surgery she was having.   Luckily I was able to shake and set aside those thoughts until later, an unexpected ability I have mastered.   Then Mother’s day came and went and it was pleasant.   Of course I had more than a few moments of missing my sweet girl, but it was ok.  I hope that someday I can feel true joy without a touch of sadness, but I am not sure if that will be possible.

Yesterday, back at work. I opened Facebook while drinking my coffee before the day was to begin.  My heart sinks.   My childhood friend, one that was in GirlScouts with me, played Barbies with me, and my neighbor for 18 years, lost her 24-year-old son unexpectedly.  It didn’t matter how.  Tears filled my eyes and nausea filled my stomach with the thought of someone I cared about ever feeling this kind of grief.   I remembered those initial days and how they were a blur.  I remembered when all the food and family left how I felt.   How could people during Covid help?  Would there be a funeral or memorial? Maybe an unconventional later date memorial?  I wanted to fly across the country and hold my childhood friend.  I was irrationally mad at myself for not somehow preventing it.  What about my newfound cause of wanting to prevent mental health related deaths in our youths? I just want to know of one thing, anything that can help.  I will keep trying though my heart aches.   It doesn’t matter if mental health was related in this situation, It makes me feel helpless.   I don’t want anyone else to ever feel this pain, no matter how it happens, I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy, and I have a bit of a vengeful side, trust me.

I still believe in signs, or gifts from heaven or messages or synchronicities.  I went on to set up for my cases as the anesthesiologist came in the room, I hadn’t met him before.  I looked at the name on his badge.  Dr. McKenna.  My heart did a little leap.  I had never heard of it as a last name.  I introduced myself.   I said I had a daughter Mikenna was his last name by chance Irish?  Yes he responded.   I felt like it was a little hug to me.  It’s ok mama was what I felt, real or not.

What can we do? What can we do for those hurting during a pandemic from loss, depression, isolation, PTSD?   We can do the awkward things.  We can make a phone call (yes I am the worst at this).  Not a text.   Sending a text instead of making a call is like the difference between instant coffee and french press, or drinking coffee from styrofoam or a ceramic mug, or the difference of watching a movie in SD instead of HD.  You get my point.  We can check in on each other, we can just listen (also something I struggle with a problem-solver).

Go for a social distance walk with someone struggling, six feet apart of course.  One of the only things that got me through the most difficult days of isolation after my loss was walking.  I had a couple people make me walk long after the flowers had dried.  They still make me walk or get out, because we don’t give up on those we care about even if we have to be unconventional.
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