Trauma

Now. Now. Now.

I’ve never been great at living in the now.

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My mom sent me this image this week as a subtle reminder to chill the heck out.

Now. Now. Now.

They say that’s all that matters. The NOW. And I want to believe them. But…

The giant BUT.

I find my over-eager brain jumping all over the place. A lot of time reflecting back to last year. To crisis. To loss. To memories of my dad. To what it felt like to be plunged underneath the churning waves of grief. To feelings of failure and uncertainty and just plain old awful.

Then I bounce back and arrive in the present again, eat my cereal, head to work. I go about my day, and today I got stuck in this moment, a memory.

Rewind six years and I’m sitting in a small theater on a college campus. Black robes swishing on a wooden chair, square cap on my head, chords of accomplishment round my neck. The tassles tickling my fingerprints as I anxiously await my turn across the stage.

A distinguished professor stood at a podium and read from Alice Walker’s book We Are the Ones We Have Been Waiting for: Inner Light in a Time of Darkness. A passage from  Chapter 4. All Praises to the Pause; The Universal Moment of Reflection.

Alice Walker writes, “The moment when something major is accomplished and we are so relieved to finally be done with it that we are already rushing, at least mentally, into The Future. Wisdom, however, requests a pause. If we cannot give ourselves such a pause, the Universe will likely give it to us. In the form of illness, in the form of a massive mercury in retrograde, in the form of our car breaking down, our roof starting to leak, our garden starting to dry up. Our government collapsing. And we find ourselves required to stop, to sit down, to reflect. This is the time of “the pause,” the universal place of stopping. The universal moment of reflection.” 

The professor reminded us over-eager, naive, twenty-one year olds that life is going to hand you pauses. Big ones. Transitions between jobs, times of sickness, a move, or days when feelings too great prevent you from your greatest work, or from accomplishing anything productive at all.

Last year was darkness. Double job loss. Loss of a parent. Hours spent staring at walls wondering what to do. Loss of a hopeful political candidate. Loss of routine, of schedule, of income.

A big, fat, Pause with a capital P. A giant rippppp in my picturesque magazine cover. Horrible coming-of-age experiences where you start to realize those depictions in advertisements lie. Not everyone’s parents get to die in their sleep at the age of 92.

Ding. Back in today. I looked at my flipped through copy of Walker’s book and was drawn to the chapter titled “When life descends into the pit” – ha. Maybe I should reread that one too.

This week I also read The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact by Chip Heath and Dan Heath.  They spend 250 pages exploring the science and magic of moments. Why do we remember some for years, and easily let thousands of moments of our lives slip through our noodle brains and onto the floor? What qualities come together to delight and make us feel important, accomplished, worthy humans? Read the book. Their analysis is pretty sound.

I’ve thought of that commencement speech often, and have wondered why that one moment left such a big mark on my perspective of life. I’m sure the graceful academic was trying to subtly say to eager graduates, ‘Hey, cool your jets. It’s ok if you move home for a few months, or wait tables, or feel lost in this break.’ I’ve carried this moment with me, though,the bigger implication always in the back of my mind.

Things take time. They fall apart. We must pause. I’ve trusted this truth in my journey and shared the chapter with friends, and my husband, and other people feeling lost.  This passage gave me permission to accept and even expect the pause. As painful as they can be. Remembering, too, that we will be able to press play once again.

In the last Grey’s Anatomy episode (yes, I still watch that show) a doctor had a brain tumor removed. After the operation, she is frantic to see her latest brain scans, certain that something is still wrong. Her kind, patient friend brings instead, her tumor in a jar. “You’re looking for this,” he says (and I paraphrase here), “You’ve been waiting for the last shoe to drop for so long that it’s hard for you to believe that everything is ok. That the thing causing you pain and suffering is no longer yours. It’s gone.”

Her body was growing against her, her relationships suffered, she was most afraid to believe that maybe, just maybe, things are ok now that the mass has been removed. I turned to Dylan as we watched and I said, “I can relate to that.” To that feeling of expecting the worst because it is easier than placing hope in the shaky notion that maybe things are ok again. I have a hard time believing my pain can be gone.

Because when trauma happens, in whatever form, it takes a hell of a lot of time to trust the universe again. Grief is never gone, but its intensity lessens.

I’m no longer on pause. Dylan is working again and I’ve got a new full-time job I love. I’m doing side-work I feel makes a difference. I struggle to find time to write this blog post. My family is healing, slowly, but still, and we are working on creating moments that make us feel good, inspired, and worthy of celebration. We can create more positive moments. We can press play.

Moments worth mentioning?

– Family photos – our first professional session without dad – with a caring and empathetic artist who captured us beautifully.

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– A lunch date with my husband – we each drove ten minutes to have lunch together – why haven’t we done this more?

– Sopping up dog pee – poor puppy has issue with us being gone ten hours a day and has been peeing in our house, yipee. As Dylan says to me often, “well you couldn’t hold it that long either.” He’s right.

– Raking up leaves. A chore, but the beautiful crunch of leaves under your feet only comes round once a year.

– Made a haircut appointment, called the insurance agent, paid the mortgage. Basic to-do list items that took extraordinary effort and produced high anxiety this time last year. Progress. Not perfection.

– Made it to yoga. Check the exercise box. My teacher reminded us to wiggle and shout. Get energy moving through our blood. Release. Breathe on a mat.

– Filled a jar with Candy Corn and love how it sits on my desk. People stop by for a handful and a chat and the sugar connects us.

– Planned a girls weekend with old friends from high school. Scheduled a catch up call with an old girlfriend from college. Investing in relationships matters.

These moments aren’t grand in gesture, or spectacular in effort. Rather they reflect every day opportunities to live in the now. To invest in the people around me. To take care of my loved ones and myself.

In ten years I may not remember any of these moments. The ones in the Pause may be more pervasive in my thoughts, but here is my commitment to me and to you, to keep making moments beautiful. It’s our choice to glorify the ordinary moments and that is a beautiful thing. I hope Chip and Dan would agree.

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Hospital Room Drama

I was in a coffee shop recently and I overheard a group of women my age talking about tv shows.

“You know what they should let die?” spat one of the women. “Grey’s Anatomy.”

All her friends nodded along, offering better replacements of shows like Scandal, House of Cards, or Game of Thrones.

I can’t handle watching suspenseful tv. I think the world is too icky in real life to watch trauma unfold on screen. Affairs, politics, sex, incest, murder set in the White House or in fantasy worlds just doesn’t sit well with me.

Let me also mention that comedians and actors across many platforms keep joking about how even the writers of House of Cards could not make up the story lines unfolding in our current White House. It’s a crazy, uncertain world out there.

Though if you switch out the Oval Office and drop the scene in an operating room I may consider the suspense just for a moment. I like hospital room dramas.

Ok…. I’ll admit it. I still LOVE Grey’s Anatomy

This show is kinda like the annoying neighbor you grew up with who lived down the street. Its ever-present story line has become background to my life, showing up once a week with really absurd knick knacks for me to examine.

You want the neighbor to be gone but you keep answering the door when they knock, just to see what oddities or treasure they might offer this week.

Even if the neighbor keeps knocking for 13 years.

If you have abandoned this series long ago, forgive my passion. You may want to skip ahead to the photo below, but I’ve still got love to express. TV producers stopped Gilmore Girls and that revival is over, so Grey’s continues to be the show with which I grow.

I’m not ready to let this show die – even though all of my favorite characters have been killed off. There have been so many crises and trauma that all of those surgeons should be in therapy.

I watched the season thirteen finale last night *spoiler alert, spoiler alert* and in an hour episode there was a rapist, an explosion, a fire, a missing girl, a soldier missing for ten years. Choking babies, bleeding arteries, divorce and firings.

I squirmed on the couch as the level of suspense escalated to a level of unbelievable discomfort.  I thought of this blog post that my dear friend wrote on fear.  Her words kept ringing through my ears and I sat watching threat after threat play out at Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital.  Jenny writes,

“Many of my fears involve unfamiliar situations I’d be terrified to encounter — assault, debt, sickness. Just knowing these things can happen stresses me out.

I’m not unique in this. As a world, we have greater visibility of fear inducing events than ever before. Videos of disease, genocide, famine, and terrorist attacks are just a click away. It’s natural that we begin to fear things we see affecting others.”

So why, I keep asking myself, do we want to watch these risks, scandals, crises, terrors for entertainment? How much crazy can we absorb – how deeply do we let the immense potential for loss seep into our awareness? Or are we purely being entertained by horror?

Resilience. That’s why.

The world can be scary, threats to our safety, our security, our families, our lifestyles lurk. Sometimes I ask Dylan why we should ever leave our house.

Then I remind myself, “Katie, your dad died at home.” No place is free of vulnerability.

When we keep focusing on the potential for loss, on the threats, on the prevention of pain we miss out on living. Face the fear, choose to live anyway.

All of the surgeons on this show have faced tremendous, outrageous amounts of loss. Body parts and spouses and jail time and positions of power. Mothers and written words and friendship and brain capacity – these themes and tangible absences tangle with real life situations that many of us don’t want to face.

But Shonda Rhimes keeps writing in the necessary themes of resilience – the power of facing our emotions connected to the human experience. She writes in threads of healing, and humor, and love and reminds me, at the very least, that it is an amazing thing to be alive.

On Thursday, even before I sat down for a three hour tv binge, I found an older bottle of champagne that someone had given us when we moved into our house almost two years ago. It was dusty and tucked in the back corner of our liquor cabinet. I was saving it for something special. As if purchasing a home for the first time wasn’t special.

For whatever reason when I got home that evening I pulled the bottle out, wiped off the dust, and stuck it in the freezer to chill. I took down two delicate champagne flutes that we have never used.

When my husband got home from work, I asked him to pop open the sparkling wine. I poured the sticky liquid into our glasses and plopped in a few raspberries in for good measure.

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We toasted to being alive. To Thursdays. To the ordinary. To resilience. To bubbles and fruit and each other.

When all those threats lurk around us, in the news, on tv, in our neighborhoods, we have to choose to celebrate the beautiful thing it is to just simply be breathing. Life is special just cause it’s life.

Shonda Rhimes gets that. I’m working on learning it too.