The 7 stages of moving

Stage one: Create a brilliant plan and set a budget

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Relax. It’s all in the plan!

First, you make a plan. Not just any plan, but a Donald Trump-level plan — AKA the greatest plan in the world! This move is going to be different than your last move, because you were so ignorant back then. Now, you have your shit together. Now, you have 12 moves under your belt. You’ve learned! So this time, things will be easier. You talk yourself in circles figuring out every last detail, and spend way too much time convincing yourself that moving over a period of 2 weeks will definitely be easier than doing it in one shot. You won’t be stressed out, you tell yourself, because you’ll have so much time. SO. MUCH TIME. Luxurious time! You dismiss the nagging thought that dragging your move out might prolong your stress rather than relieve it. Your plan will surely save you!

Stage two: Make a pact with partner/roommate

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“I totally promise never to snap at you.”

Before you really start packing, you take your partner’s (or roommate’s!) face in your hands and you promise not to turn on them. “Let’s not let the stress get to us!” you say. “Let’s make sure we make time for one another. Let’s try to have fun with this.” At this point, you still naively believe in your perfect plan, and that everything will go smoothly. You are gushing with excitement for your new life and are still a few weeks out from being buried in boxes. Being kind to one another through all of this seems somehow feasible. You have your priorities in order and your ducks in a row. Continue reading

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Moving has set my brain on fire (in a good way!)

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Moving got me like

I’m moving this week. So as you can imagine, I’ve been kind of freaking out. Ok, so I’m only moving about three blocks away from my current house. But still! Moving is a lot. Especially if you are a person with anxiety and being in a state of upheaval causes you to temporarily lose your damn mind. There is so much to keep track of; so much to remember. As a side note, I have no idea how military families do this like all the time (RESPECT!). But of course, I digress.

The reason we decided to move was to downsize significantly. Or current house, which I’ve written about before, is both huge and crazy. The rooms are gigantic and some of them have a single purpose (like the music room, or the bar room). When I left NYC to move to the Jersey Shore, I wanted ALL. OF. THE. SPACE. But once Dave and I had to actually clean all of the space, it didn’t seem so glamorous and attractive anymore. I do love having a place where I can entertain large groups of friends in the summer. Many of my people inevitably want to escape their insane city lives for a weekend of easy living at the beach come June. But for the other 42-ish weekends of the year, when it’s mostly only Dave and I, we’re usually just wandering around in these gigantic rooms, wondering how we’re going to get the house under control.

Yes, “under control” is the phrase we typically use. And that’s to say nothing of actually getting ahead. There is no getting ahead when you live in a giant, hundred-year-old house that has a mind of its own. You simply trail from behind and try to put out fires as you go (the metaphorical kind of fires, of course… we’re not pyromaniacs or anything). There are about a million projects I would very much like to do, but it’s impossible to find time for them when we spend so much time just catching up on the chores.

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Me on the morning of cleaning day.

When Dave first mentioned wanting to move because our current place was too much work, I scoffed: “You obviously have amnesia about how terrible moving is. Cleaning this house for the rest of our lives might actually be easier.” He dropped it, but the seed was planted.  Continue reading

What I wish someone had told me about grieving

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Photo credit: Annemariebusschers

When my mother died unexpectedly of a stroke, there was no shortage of platitudes offered:

“It will get easier with time.”

“One day this will all make sense.”

“She’s in a better place now.”

As I’ve written before, I found these types of sentiments, at the time, to be rather empty and unhelpful. Nonetheless, I learned to appreciate the fact that the people who said them were just looking for something, anything to say to ease my pain. And I can’t fault anyone for trying to comfort me as I faced the unimaginable. Dealing with death is not easy. There’s no playbook. You simply offer your condolences and try to be there for the bereaved as much as you can.

But there are so many things I’ve learned through grieving; things the platitudes never mentioned and that no one ever warned me about. Things I wish somebody had told me before I started the process. Things I want to share with all of you so that you might be able to better understand a friend who is grieving, or your own feelings if you’re going through the process yourself, like:

The world won’t wait for you. 

You will stand still, very very still for a long time. I cannot say how long. Everyone’s journey is different. You may try to fight against this stillness by filling up your calendar, or going about life as normal, or ignoring your pain. The world will continue to move at a breakneck speed, but try as you might to keep up with it, inside the stillness will remain. You will not be ready to move on; to pretend as if it’s all ok. Not for a long while. I call this the zombie phase. As I wrote in the Long, Lonely, Road of Grief, it went a little something like this (for me): “I looked on at those walking amongst the living, exasperated, wondering if I would ever join them again; wondering if promotions, moves, petit social slights, new workouts, or politics would ever matter to me again. I wondered if I would ever again feel anything but longing and despair.

Your friends may stop asking you how you are doing after a few months, assuming your loss is old news and that you must have compartmentalized it by now. They may talk to you like they always have, assuming if you wanted to talk about “it,” you would do so — they don’t want to upset you by bringing it up. You will learn to forgive them; for both assuming that you aren’t conscious of your loss every moment of every day, and for failing to address the elephant in the room, when you just don’t have the strength.

You will be angry at the world for spinning, and frustrated because all you want is to get back to moving with it. Eventually, you will get there. But this time, this space of stillness is sacred. It means you really lost something; that you’re learning to live with a massive hole in your life. It is normal, and it is ok.

Grief knows no timeline.

One day, you will start to walk amongst the living again and you will be thrilled at your re-acquired excitement for life. It is the surest sign that you are healing; that you will move on, even if you’re never quite the same again. You will start to feel excitement, rather than dread, at the big happenings coming up on your calendar. Your good days will outnumber your bad. You will breathe a sigh of relief — I am getting there, you’ll think, I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Until, after many months of feeling great, the tunnel closes in on you and you are thrown back into despair. Just as you’ve gotten the hang of your new life; your new normal, you’re thrown for a loop. You might need advice on your taxes, or a new career path, but you find that nobody can guide you like your mother could. You feel the loss all over again as if it happened just yesterday, even though it’s been years. You are depressed. Nothing feels right. Your skin crawls with an unshakable wave of grief. I thought I was past this, you will chastise yourself, dammit, things were really looking up!

They’ll look up again, but give yourself time. The “active” grief comes and goes. Things get easier until they aren’t anymore. This is because grief knows no timeline. There are no definable stages to be found. Grief is fluid and, at times, unpredictable. You can only take your time, roll with the tide and accept that sometimes the waters will be calm, sometimes you’ll get smacked in the face with an unexpected wave, and sometimes you’ll be thrown violently by a tsunami of pain.

The ripples will affect every area of your life. 

Nothing in your life, or in your psyche is an island. Your loss will have a “ripple effect” and touch every aspect of your life. You might get easily knocked down by small setbacks (like an injury or your car breaking down), and start to feel like the world just isn’t fair. You could find yourself suffocating those you love; terrified to lose them — or pushing them away to avoid the inevitable pain that their loss would bring. You may become anxious at holidays, unable to explain why.

You might adopt a puppy and struggle to bond with him, because you are so afraid to love him, knowing that you will most likely outlive him. Yet, the hole inside you that your mother’s death left begs, screams to be filled and you let it, partly, by a sweet dog with a red beard and boundless joy. 10 months later, that puppy might get very sick and now that you love him unimaginably, the concept of losing him is already too horrible to bear. The anxiety grips you as you make your way through the snow to the emergency veterinary hospital at 2 AM on the first night of spring, tears streaming down your face, as you relive your middle-of-the-night drive to the hospital the night of your mother’s emergency surgery.

Some of the ripples you will see and understand, and others will elude you. You will learn to accept these ripples, even though they make your life more complicated. They are part of you now.

You will be changed, forever.

This one is hard to swallow. Nobody wants to be defined by their trauma, and we go to great lengths to remain “ourselves” in the face of earth-shaking sadness. But the truth is, it is nearly impossible to avoid these changes. Losing a close loved one will most likely irrevocably change who you are, for better or for worse. There is a growing body of evidence that trauma can actually change our neurobiology. You may find that your priorities suddenly shift, or that grudges you’ve long held against loved ones simply aren’t worth it anymore. You may decide to sell all of your stuff to move to an island somewhere, because the grind seems totally worthless to you.

You might grow up nearly overnight, finding yourself making decisions about end-of-life care and funeral prayer cards when just 6 months ago, you were seriously considering moving to Buenos Aires on a whim. You might lose your wanderlust, or your deep love of watching sports, and not understand why. You could suddenly hate crowds, when you used to thrive in them. You might move to the Jersey Shore (an idea that would previously have seemed absurd to you) to get away from a city that was once the only place you felt at home. You may find yourself holding onto ridiculous things, like a shirt your mother bought you that you always hated, for the simple fact that she’ll never buy you a shirt that you hate ever again.

The good news is, these changes aren’t all bad. You will likely grow in ways you never imagined, and find yourself more easily prioritizing what’s important to you. You can even come out better than before: more empathetic with your ear and far more careful with your time and limited resources.

Everyone grieves differently.

This one is very important. In your pain, you may have a hard time understanding the pain of others, especially those in your family dealing with the same loss you are. Remember, everyone handles grief differently. Others’ actions may be truly confounding to you. One person may experience PTSD or battle depression (or both). Another may try to go on as though everything is normal, but be haunted by nightmares and anxiety. Still another may compartmentalize their pain. None of these reactions is “right” or “wrong,” though, in your pain, you may be pulled to assume differently.

You may find yourself angry with your family as they ignore the empty chair at the holiday table, rather than bringing her memory into focus. It might be difficult to talk to them about your pain, because they process things differently than you do. You might judge them, and assume they’re doing it all wrong. You might find yourself at Hamilton: The Musical, a full two years after your mother has died, unabashedly weeping, realizing your resentment towards your family is wrongheaded, as the cast sings:

There are moments that the words don’t reach,
There’s a grace too powerful to name,
We push away what we can never understand,
We push away the unimaginable.

They are standing in the garden,
Alexander by Eliza’s side,
She takes his hand-
Forgiveness… can you imagine?

There is no wrong way to grieve. Some grievers may not be able to relate to a word of this, and that’s ok.  We are all different. It’s important to remember to give a grieving person the space to do it their own way, on their own timeline, even if it makes no sense to those of us on the outside.

With that said, I hope these words can be of some help or comfort to those struggling with grief, whether you’re just starting the journey or feeling stuck.

I can’t tell you that it will be ok, and I will not feed you a beautiful platitude. But I will offer you this: You are not alone. Please know that.

The Most Important Issue the Democratic Primary is Ignoring: Voting Rights

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Much has been written about the long lines at the Arizona Democratic primary, with some voters waiting for as long as five hours to vote. Some Bernie Sanders supporters have cried foul and claimed that Hillary Clinton’s campaign must be responsible for the lines, which were meant to disenfranchise Sanders voters. Clinton’s campaign responded immediately, with Marc Elias, Campaign Counsel, posting on Reddit that the long lines were a result of the GOP-led voter disenfranchisement and gutting of the Voting Rights Act, which also hurt Clinton at the polls. In Maricopa County, Arizona, one district with a large minority population had no polling locations at all. Considering Clinton’s strength with minority voters, this particular instance of disenfranchisement would hurt her campaign more than Sanders.

It’s surprising that this is first time voter suppression has really come to the forefront of the discussion this election season. With so much focus on Citizens United and campaign finance reform, one would think that individual voting rights would be a major priority for both Democratic campaigns. Voter suppression has been plaguing our democracy for decades — long before Citizens United was decided and long before the Voting Rights Act was gutted by the Supreme Court in 2013. Voter suppression helped elect President George W. Bush in 2000 and has reared its ugly head time and time again in our elections, with cutbacks to early voting and lines as long as 7 hours to vote.

The gutting of VRA is an American travesty, and one that will continue to have long-reaching consequences for our democracy. It should arguably be the most important issue of this election, more dire than breaking up the banks and getting the money out of politics combined. The freedom to vote is one that we citizens (who aren’t white, male and land-owning) fought long and hard for — it is our most important right outside of the Bill of Rights. Without fair and equal voting, we are a sham of a democracy. According to “Why Voting Matters,” a report by Demos: Continue reading

The balancing act of vulnerability and self-preservation

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If you’ve ever spent any amount of time with me, or even if you read my blog, you’ve probably noticed that I’m a very open person. I wear my heart on my sleeve (for better or for worse) and my empathy for those around me knows no bounds. For example, I routinely find myself listening to the struggles and life stories of complete strangers.

“It’s like they can sniff you out,” a friend joked, “I’m not sure how you do it.”

But really, how could I not? If there’s something happening on my face that’s telling people, “you can trust me with your secrets and I won’t judge you,” then who am I to refuse an ear?

While my empathy and sensitivity tend to help me connect with people, these traits also leave me quite vulnerable. My openness actually makes me the perfect target. And my penchant for forgiveness and seeing the best in people means that opportunists often take advantage of me. A vulture can quite easily cash in on chance after chance while I make excuses for their behavior.  Continue reading

Survivor speaks out: why we must believe Kesha

Back in 2011, I distinctly remember listening, for the first time, to Kesha’s gut-wrenching, tearstained cover of Bob Dylan’s classic “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright.” As soon as I heard the pain in her voice, and her open weeping, I was blown away. I immediately recognized her as a fellow survivor — of what, exactly, I could not tell. But being someone who has survived both sexual assault and an emotionally abusive relationship, her pain was so real; so familiar to me. This was a cry for help; a declaration that this beloved glitter-covered, whiskey-drinking, dirty man-loving pop star was not, in fact ok underneath all that fame and fortune.

I read every article I could on the recording, which was set to be included on “Chimes of Freedom: The Songs of Bob Dylan Honoring 50 Years of Amnesty International.” The song really struck me, because it deviated from everything Kesha had released up until that point. I had always been a fan of her music, but I’d never really thought much about the woman beneath the glitter. Through my reading, I learned that the powerful cover was actually intended to be a demo. She had recorded it on her laptop, sitting on her bed in the middle of the night. Her tears were not manufactured. According to Rolling Stone magazine: Continue reading

Perspective from a pink-haired angel lady

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For the last few weeks, I have been feeling uninspired and dragged down. A wave of grief has come over me like I lost my mother yesterday. Even as I remind myself that grief knows no logic, rhyme or reason, I find myself constantly surprised by how it catches me off guard and sweeps me into its tide. Despite my best efforts (and of course, constantly berating myself), I can’t focus on my goals. I can hardly even motivate myself to take on my to-do list. January felt like I was running a marathon without my feet even touching the ground. February feels like I’m walking through quicksand; going nowhere fast.

My long, careful progress at the gym has turned on me. My knee injury is flaring up for reasons I don’t understand. Despite going through a full stint of physical therapy last year and doing everything in my power to prevent re-injury, I’m back to experiencing pain, patella maltracking and limited mobility. Needless to say, I’m very frustrated. It’s been starting to feel like no matter what I do to care for my body (Healthy food! Frequent and safe exercise! Vitamins! Getting enough sleep! Stretching and yoga! Cutting out high-impact activities, despite loving them desperately!), it betrays me.

My researcher brain demands answers for my injury flare-up: Is it the weather? Did I go too hard with the squats? Am I being punished for wrecking my joints with youth sports? Am I doomed to stop-and-go activity for the rest of my life? How can I nurture my body when it screams out in pain every time I try to do right by it? Why does it insist upon rebelling against me, even as I pour love into it day-in and day-out?

My grief compounds the injury. Everything feels more difficult without my mother to lean on. She had a way of making everything feel manageable. Without her, I sometimes feel like I’m aimlessly paddling a canoe out in the middle of the ocean without knowing which way is land. It’s enough to drive me up the wall. Yesterday, while in the pool working out with my trainer/mentor/friend/cheerleader/counselor Coretta, I started to weep.

“This is good,” she assured me. “We need to talk about it. And I need you to understand that as you age, injuries are an inevitability. You don’t just go through rehab and bounce back like you did in your early twenties. Your body has to reckon with all you put it through when you were young and destroying it with sports. This is not going to go away. We’re going to have to find a way for you to manage it and not let it derail you.”

While technically (ok, fully) correct, this was obviously NOT what I wanted to hear. I stubbornly fought her, the woman who has saved my life on more than one occasion, by listing off my reasons why it isn’t fair; why this shouldn’t be happening to me.

“I know. It sucks. But you’ll get through it.”

“I feel like I’m back at square one.”

“You’re not. You can’t see it, but you’re not.”

I resisted her tough but empathetic love throughout the rest of my workout, stewing in my anger. I wrongly assumed that if I did all the “right” things, my body would fall in line; that by my sheer will and grit, I could put myself back together both physically and emotionally. It all felt so unfair. Have I not suffered enough? I’ve always known that life isn’t fair, but for some reason I thought that the universe would recognize how much I have been through, and cease my suffering accordingly. Why should I be hurt again? I played by the rules and it didn’t matter. I was despondent.

Coretta left me and proceeded to worry about me all day. I know I hurt her heart every time I hurt, but I can only be where I am, even if that place is Shit Palace. Thankfully, she always understands.

This morning, I woke up and could feel my will beginning its triumphant return. I arrived at the gym with a decent attitude. As Coretta and I worked out on the floor, I could not keep my eyes off of a woman working out nearby. She was super fit and trim — an obvious gym rat — with long blonde hair adorned with pink streaks. Not going to lie, I was pretty envious of her body, and feeling a little insecure working out next to her. Coretta complimented her hair, and we all got talking. The woman proceeded to tell us that that she had recently undergone neck and knee surgery to correct decades-old injuries from a car accident she was in over twenty years ago. Like, we’re talking screws in her neck and building a new ligament in her knee. These were serious surgeries! “My neck isn’t working so great,” she explained. “I have limited mobility, it cracks all the time and it hurts every time I turn my head.”

“How do you do it?” I asked, gesturing towards the weights she was lifting.

“Well, it’s going to hurt either way. I figure I may as well be here, doing something that makes me feel good.”

I was shocked. I mean, completely shocked. Suddenly, my gimpy (but fixable!) knee didn’t seem like such a big deal. And knowing that this woman has been through so many physical setbacks, but still rocks it at the gym and has maintained a body I can only dream of, really lit a fire in my belly. If this woman can drag her ass to the gym after neck and knee surgery, I can, at the very least, have a good attitude about the things I can still do. I am not back at square one. I am so much further along than I give myself credit for. I guess I just don’t let myself recognize my progress. Typical!

The woman finished up her workout, and left me with some words of encouragement: “you’re doing great. No matter what, just keep going.”

Talk about eating a piece of humble pie.

As I pushed through the rest of my workout, I could feel my perspective shifting. I could also see the elated (and maybe a little smug) sense of self-satisfaction Coretta was feeling from watching me have my a-ha moment. I’m not really one to see signs, but this happening felt so pointed; so necessary for me in this moment.

“Sometimes, a pink haired angel lady shows up just when you need her,” Coretta said.

Indeed. Thank you for the lesson, angel lady.

And now, I keep going.