Kale, Broken Glass, Maureen, and Decluttering; Coping Strategies for Life’s Ups and Downs.

I’ve been told that life is a roller coaster ride, and while I appreciate the metaphor, and metaphors in general, I hate roller coasters and I would prefer that my life be like the teacup ride or a bench with a plaque on it. At least until I can find some Dramamine or a cup of vodka.

It seems that during the past year, my life roller coaster has been stuck on the part of the ride where you’re screaming and hoping the engineers that designed the loops that you’re spiraling through weren’t on drugs or angry at their wives and looking to kill random strangers as revenge.

That is to say, my life has been tumultuous. (Insert tiny violins here). ****If you don’t know me and are reading this, first of all, thank you. Second, scroll to the bottom to read the whole story.*****

To be fair, as my mother says, “There’s always someone who has it worse than you do,” which is horribly comforting sometimes. Case and point, a few months ago, my daughter (who was struggling to walk at the time because her arthritis pain was so severe) was watching “Soul Surfer”, the story of Bethany Hamilton, and said, “Well, at least my arm didn’t get bitten off by a shark.”

I hate being someone else’s Bethany Hamilton, but this is the story of how metaphorically getting my arm bitten off by a shark scared someone into making me a casserole.

I was having a lovely day at our community pool. Perfect weather, the kids each had a friend to play with, and I had a paperback that was calling my name. I was hiding in the shadiest corner I could find (because stress ages you, and I didn’t need the sun to help me get more wrinkles on top of everything else) when I felt a gentle tap on my shoulder. It was a friend that I hadn’t seen in ages, and after several months trapped in solitary confinement in my house with my sick kid, I was pretty psyched to see her.

After filling her in on the clinical details of my daughter’s progress (something I am compelled to tell people even though I’m not sure they actually want to hear it when they ask, “How is she doing?”) she said, “I just don’t know how you do it.”

Normally, I would have responded with one of my standard generic statements like, “Well, we have our good days and our bad days,” or, “It’s not always easy, but we have a good support system,” or, “It helps when people bring casseroles.”

But I was feeling chatty and I felt that I could trust this particular friend, so I decided to tell her the truth.

I replied, “There’s a bucket of broken glass in my garage.”

“What?”

“There’s a bucket of broken glass in my garage. That’s how I do it.”

I went on, since we were past the point where anything normal was going to come out of my mouth. I hadn’t slept more than four hours a night in over two months and my stress level on all of the online anxiety tests that I was compulsively taking said that I was at the dangerous level of 90/100, and described it as “Implosive”. So to say that I was slightly unhinged was an understatement.

“I keep a bucket in the garage, and when I’m really angry, I just go out there and smash wine glasses in the bucket just to hear the glass shatter. It’s supposed to be psychologically freeing. I do it in a bucket because it’s easier to clean up. I may be having a life crisis, but I still like to think ahead, and I have a dog.  Glass on the garage floor isn’t good for his paws and he refuses to wear those little booties because they make his legs look skinny.”

She paused, probably to gauge whether or not she should laugh or call social services to pick up my kids from the pool.

“Where do you get all of the glasses?” she asked instead.

“Well, I had a lot of extra glasses from my Japanese Decluttering Phase** A decluttered house is supposed to lead to a decluttered mind, which I obviously need. So, when you do the decluttering, you’re supposed to hold all of the objects in your home in your hands, and if they bring you joy, you keep them. If they don’t, you move them on to Goodwill or the trash, or give them to your sister. It’s a little (lot) bit more complicated than that, but that’s the gist of it. Whatever. So the wine glasses got moved on to the shatter bucket in the garage. Killed two birds with one stone actually, so it was almost rationally sane.”

**Japanese Decluttering Phase is my way of referring to the truly (no sarcasm here) wonderful book, “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” by Marie Kondo. It is a book everyone should read, but take with a large grain of salt.  I was going through a life crisis when I decluttered and the only things that brought me joy were sweatpants and Netflix, so now my house echoes and it’s challenging to find something to wear if I’m going anywhere but Walmart.

Her mouth was gaping and no sounds were coming out of it, so I handed her my ice water (wine in a Tervis Tumbler; we were at the pool and it was 3pm, so cocktails were appropriate) and continued. My husband had started looking at me with a mix of pity and concern lately, so this kind of attention was nice.

“After I finished the decluttering, I decided that we should move. We had already gotten rid of 2/3 of our possessions, so it was the perfect time. Also, I thought that the walls were physically moving in on me at the rate of about ½” per day, and that if we had a bigger house it would solve all of my problems.

So in the middle of the night I emailed a real estate agent and told her I wanted to look at some houses, then promptly fell asleep. I forgot about it until the next morning when Maureen (my new real estate agent) called me and wanted to know when we could get together. I was pretty sure that if I met with a real estate agent while my husband was at work, it would stir up some trust issues( I’d be better off just having an affair; cheaper) so I ignored her calls for the rest of the week until I couldn’t handle the guilt.

I emailed her and told her that it wasn’t her, it was me. I wasn’t ready to take this next step, but that I was sure she would meet someone soon who would make her happy and buy her houses from her because she had a very nice phone voice and was very positive and persistent. And her hair looked very shiny and the red suit she was wearing in her team photo looked like it was a flattering cut. Then I blocked her emails.”

“In the end I just rearranged all of our furniture and repainted three rooms so I could pretend that we moved and stay married to my husband (who must have made the mistake of praying to God for patience at some time in his life, because he’s certainly been put in a place where great amounts of patience are required on a daily basis).

“That was embarrassing, mostly because of how I broke up with Maureen, but the next phase was worse. I like to call the next phase the “Eating melted cheese out of a bowl” phase.”

She, having obviously never struggled with a depression that Prozac couldn’t touch, didn’t know what I meant, so I elaborated.

“It’s the phase of depression where you’re past wearing sweatpants, you’re wearing old, dirty sweatpants, and even if you put on normal clothes, you leave the sweatpants on underneath. You want to eat something warm and comforting, but you don’t have the energy to actually cook anything so you just put a bunch of shredded cheese in a bowl and melt it, and then eat it with a fork. It kind of spirals, like really thick fondue, but it’s bad for dipping. Too elastic.”

She seemed intrigued, so I promised to make it the next time she came over.

“I also started writing deep, meaningful quotes about struggling through life in notebooks and working on really fancy lettering to make them pretty. They were inspiring things like, “Embrace your reality even if it burns,” and “Oh, Shit, what the f*uck is happening?” Some of them are ready for Etsy, some of them aren’t, but it is a hobby and it keeps my hands too busy to eat melted cheese.”

I was showing her the Instagram photos of some of my better quotes, but I felt she was still listening, even if it was only so she had something fun to talk about over dinner with her husband that night, so I continued.

“The “Surprise Amazon Packages” phase was fun. That was when I would have unconscious middle of the night Amazon shopping sprees but forget I had ordered anything by the time they arrived….two whole days later. It was mostly vitamins and supplements and arthritis cream, but one time it was a box of 100 Sharpie markers. I’m still not sure what my intentions were there.” (Insomnia is a theme in a lot of these anecdotes. I have a second life when everyone else is asleep. I’ve solved some of these problems by changing the default setting so that I can’t order anything off of the internet without getting my physical credit card out of my purse, which has cut down on the middle of the night shopping dramatically because in the end, I’m too lazy to go get my wallet. It doesn’t keep me from emailing realtors or commenting on Facebook status’s, unfortunately.)

“One of the Amazon orders had a book about Auto-immune diets and how you could miraculously cure every disease simply by eating a carefully planned out meal plan, so we did go through a phase of eating nothing but non-processed food grown on farms with dirt imported from regions of the world where no disease exists. It was mostly kale and we all suffered through about two weeks of hangry diarrhea before we jointly decided to start eating food from Kroger again, although we still banish gluten like it is made from Satan’s own hands.”

She was shaking her head now, laughing, crying (?), and patting me on the knee in a consoling/solidarity gesture.

“I did all of the normal stuff, too. I exercised more (aka, sat on a bike in the back of spin class and cried because it was a dark room and the teacher didn’t judge me). I ate healthy food (other than the melted cheese and abundance of kale), I took lots of baths and went to bed early and leaned on my family and friends for support.

I appreciated the small moments of joy, I practiced mindfulness, I took the dog on a lot of walks. You know, textbook stress relieving techniques.

Yup. So that’s pretty much how I got through it. Oh, and I use a lot of post-it note reminders. And I started buying wine in a box because it’s cheaper.”

The kids were expelled from the pool for adult-swim, and I felt I had depleted myself of any additional words of wisdom that might help her to get through a similar situation should she be faced with one, so we packed up stuff and went home, promising to meet again soon.

About an hour later the doorbell rang. I paused “The Fixer Upper” on Netflix and got up to answer it, only slightly embarrassed that I was wearing the dirty sweatpants, but mostly glad that I hadn’t gotten rid of them during the decluttering. There stood my friend, casserole in one hand, bottle of wine in the other.

“Here. I made this for my family for dinner, but I think you need it more than I do.” She hugged me and walked away.

So, boys and girls: If you’re on life’s roller coaster and you feel like you’re stuck upside down screaming on a perpetual series of vomit inducing loops, take my advice. Shatter some glass, do some decluttering, get a real estate agent, order some random crap off of Amazon, eat some kale. Then tell someone about it. Be the person in someone else’s life that had their arm bitten off by a shark and lived to talk about it.

They’ll probably bring you a casserole later as a thank you for making their lives look awesome.

This is not serious writing.

However, it was inspired by serious, true events in my life that require explanation so that you can appreciate the horrible humor that follows the italics.

Our daughter was diagnosed with Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis, an autoimmune disease that will affect her for the rest of her life, causing her chronic pain, possibly limiting her mobility, and forcing her to take an arsenal of medications, including several weekly injections, to reduce these symptoms (all of which have the word CANCER written somewhere on the label in big black letters). Until five months ago, she was a completely healthy, very athletic child, and now we have to have her rate her pain daily on a scale from 1-10. We get excited when it’s below a 4.

A 10 is when you are in so much pain that you want to die. She’s been a ten only twice.

So yeah, sometimes it is pretty shitty. 

It isn’t always. We have lots of lovely, normal life in between the shitty times. She’s a truly spectacular girl, with a lot of spunk and internal strength. She’s motivated and I haven’t seen her feel sorry for herself more than a handful of times since this started, although I’ve felt sorry for myself at least five times a day.

I have dealt with this situation in a lot of different ways, and it changes daily. One of the most prevalent ways is through humor; sometimes things are so horrible that you have to laugh because if you start crying, you’ll likely drown yourself in your own snot and tears. There are other ways, too, and this “story” (slightly embellished) is an explanation of some of them. I hope that if you are unfortunate enough to be stuck upside down screaming on life’s roller coaster (and we all do sometimes), this will make you laugh, if even for a minute or two. Or maybe it will just give you some handy tips. I love to be helpful.

 

 

 

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