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Wednesday, December 7, 2016

The Couch of Life

Sometimes, practicing gratitude is very similar to digging for change in your couch. No matter how hard you dig, you just can’t find it. You have a million blessings staring you in the face. Common sense, obvious things. Things like your cozy warm house on this cold, snowy night. Things like your four kiddos, all tucked under their blankets, sleeping like angels. Things like a fridge with food in it. Things like friends and family to support you. This is your Couch of Life. You can see it, feel it, it’s right in front of you and you know you should feel gratitude just because it’s there. But sometimes you just can’t find that elusive change that’s elbow-deep in the couch cushions. Sometimes you just can’t find the gratitude you know you should feel.

Gratitude—its presence staring you in the face. And you wonder why you just don’t feel it.

Sometimes, friends, the couch is not enough. It’s not enough to sit on it and feel its comfy divets from the years of love and wear. Sometimes, although your brain knows you’re grateful for the couch, your heart feels something is missing. Sometimes, you have to scrounge under the couch cushions to find change, or a nugget of gratitude. Once in a while, gratitude is so scarce that you have to dig your fist into the side of the Couch of Life, sliding it under the cushion, twisting your fist to maneuver around the crumbs that your four darlings have smashed and past the Lego pieces that haven’t been eaten by the dogs, and dare to stick the tips of your fingers into that crack in the back of the couch that no one ever touches (because really, who knows what moist, slimy, long-forgotten-kid-thing lurks in there??). All in the name of trying to feel the gratitude. Your brain knows it’s there. Your heart seems to have forgotten. 

Which makes you feel incredibly guilty, because you see your blessings right in front of you and your brain knows your heart should feel grateful. But sometimes ‘knowing’ is not the same as ‘feeling.’
I’m having trouble finding gratitude. No matter how hard I dig, how hopeful I feel about finding a nugget of thankfulness, I can’t find any gratitude in those good ol’ couch cushions of my life. Looking at the bigger picture, I understand where my heart is coming from. But it doesn’t make me feel less guilty that I am not more grateful and happy.

In the past six months, we’ve had our life blown apart in a zillion directions. We’ve had a few major appliances break down. The van has broken down multiple times, and we have to take it in again because something is making a God-awful squeaky wail that can't be good. Kids have been sick. Alex has been sick. Doctors have been idiots. (When I say “idiots,” I just mean total dummies. It’s astounding to me how some people in this world choose to be safe and status quo rather than awesome, ground-breaking, and courageous. I’ve decided to find doctors who live up to my standards.) I’ve found out more interesting craziness about my health. Some of our extended family members have had major health issues. Alex found out he will be laid off in March because his company is outsourcing. A couple of our kids’ support team members have moved on to beautiful opportunities where they will continue to make the world a better place. (I’m so happy for our friends. I’m just sad for us, because these special people have made quite an enormous, positive impact on our lives. We’ll miss them, even as we wish them all the best in their new opportunities.) Some of our kiddos continue to struggle at school. Alex had foot surgery and was off his feet for 6 weeks. Unable to drive. Unable to do much of anything except warm up the recliner, poor guy. So “Uber Mom,” as one friend termed me, chauffeured four little darlings to all of their activities, and one big hunky darling to all of his doctor appointments, and the occasional outing to the office. Oof. That’s a lot of miles for Uber Mom. That’s a lot of everything for Uber Mom. Because this isn’t enough stress for one Mama, THEN our shower started leaking. Into the ceiling of the floor below, into the walls, down to the basement. Great. Mold, anyone? Obviously, mold is unhealthy for anyone. But when you have mold toxicity, aka Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome, mold is a death sentence. Or at least a “you’re going to feel really horrible and really really ill” sentence. So we’ve been scrambling to get this fixed. But because of ‘life’ and insurance agents who are slow, the repair took weeks to begin. It got underway today. But on Thanksgiving, we found that our OTHER upstairs bathroom is leaking too. *sigh* And then Aidan got sick in the middle of Thanksgiving dinner and had to come home from Grandpa and Grandma’s house because he felt like he was going to throw up or have diarrhea all over their house. *more sighs* I almost got to finish my turkey dinner. Not to mention the HUGE allergic reaction I had to something I ate at a restaurant a couple weeks ago- probably the fish. Scary.

So I’m having a little trouble finding the nuggets of gratitude, or the coins of change in the couch, as it were. I still feel pretty rotten, which is annoying since I’ve been in treatment for mold toxicity for two years now. I started searching for other missing pieces of my health. I’m trying to find out why I still feel like garbage even after all this treatment.

During my search, I’ve stumbled upon a new doctor. He is an osteopath. He is holistic, and looks at the whole picture of the patient- not just the symptoms that make you feel miserable, AND he takes our insurance. I literally cried when I found out about the insurance. Do you KNOW how many times I’ve felt like my only choice, in order to survive, was to take my crazy body and my kiddos’ crazy bodies to doctors who don’t take insurance??? This new doctor has given me hope that we can find out what else is going on in The Mystery Of The Body That Feels Like Crap. He has many ideas of what’s going on in my body as well as what to do about it to make me feel better. AND he’s not just throwing drugs at me and telling me it’s stress from my kids.

My new doctor has other doctors in his practice who complement his methods of care. I’m seeing one who is an expert in pain relief. He uses special manual therapy, and lasers, and all kinds of cool things, to really dig into the tissues of your body and realign everything and make it work more efficiently and less painfully. The first time I went to the doctor for a pain relief session, I laid on this mat. It’s called a Pulsed Electromagnetic Field mat (PEMF). You just lie there. The mat does whatever magnetic mats do. I could feel my energy shifting, but there weren’t any other physical signs that anything was happening. When I got up off that beautiful, amazing, glorious, non-descript mat, I felt as though the pain had MELTED right off my shoulders. I could. not. believe. it. I have not ever in years and years felt anything like the relief after I got off that mat. I cried all the way home. With gratitude. And relief. And I was just dumbfounded that that is what it feels like to have pain at about a 2 on the pain scale instead of an 11. Just think- that’s what people are supposed to feel like. Incredible.

I’ve been seeing my most favorite person on Earth- the pain doc- for three weeks now. It’s slow going. There’s a lot to deal with and unravel. I told him that I feel like he un-crunches me. I feel so crunched up from my pain in all my muscles that sometimes I forget to breathe. He said it’s like a cage, when you have chronic pain. Yes! That’s what it is! It’s my Pain Cage. My pain doc said that the goal is to let my brain out of the cage more and more often, so that soon it will learn that we don’t have to stay in the Pain Cage. We can live outside of it. What a miracle that would be.

Last week when I saw my pain doc, he pushed on this spot on my right shoulder and I burst into tears. We talked about what was going on, and he said that we hold emotions in our cells. I’ve read that we even hold memories in our cells. When he pushed on my shoulder, it was a trigger point and there is a lot of emotion held there that oozed out when he worked on it. In the form of me being a blubbering idiot. I’m lying face-down on a massage table, nose running, tears dripping, can’t breathe…so dignified. The best part was the doctor’s reaction. He kept saying, “That’s good. Let it out because otherwise this emotion is trapped in your body. We need you to cry more. Let the emotions out more.” Did I mention he is my most favorite person on Earth? He also said this trigger spot on the body corresponds with “burden.” In other words, I feel a heavy burden is on my shoulders. Uh, ya think? The last time I had a Reiki session with my teacher, we were talking about my neck, shoulder, and back pain, and I told her it feels like the weight of the world is on my shoulders. My new doc validated that.

So I’m supposed to do more crying. Like big cries. Not just the frequent tearing up that I always do lately. I’m working on it. It’s actually harder than you might think. The other very weird thing that happened twice last week is that I felt flashes of this strange emotion called “happiness.” Twice. Which felt so foreign to me that I realized how I am functionally depressed and anxious. I’m diagnosing myself as functionally depressed and anxious because I would bet that if you asked any of the people in my life, no one would say I’m depressed or suffer from anxiety. I’m functioning just fine. Or at least that’s how it looks on the outside. That’s how I HOPE it looks on the outside. When I was lying face down in my own tear pool on the massage table last week, I told my pain doc that it’s actually difficult for me to be honest with him about how completely horrible I feel. Because I’m used to just making the choice to get up and live the day the best I can and not give in to how crappy I feel all. The. Time. I’m used to trying to ignore my pain and just pretend the best I can that I’m happy and fine. The sad thing is that when people do find out how I really feel, they usually can’t believe it, because I’m really good at pretending to be fine. Fine is so over rated, isn’t it?
How are you today? Fine.
How was your day? Fine.
How are you feeling? Fine.
How was school? Fine.
How was your meeting? Fine.
How was dinner? Fine.
Everything is fine. Because if you told people how everything really was, most of them would run and hide and never speak to you again. Because you’re such a downer. And the others would put their arms around you and make you cry with their kindness. So it’s a no-win situation. Better to just claim that everything is fine.

Here’s the big secret. No one is fine. At least not all the time. Everyone is fighting some battle that you may not know about. Everyone has moments (or weeks, or even years) where they’re desperately throwing the proverbial couch cushions across the room, elbow-deep in the crumby aftermath of children’s snacks, searching for any small nugget of gratitude they can find deep in that Couch of Life. Me- I’m stuck in the Mediocrity of “Meh.” I just feel very beige about everything. Everything is “meh.” I hate beige. I hate “meh.” I adore being exuberant. Exuberance should be my middle name. Not “meh.” I figured I was just momentarily in The Land of Meh, and that I would be taking an exit soon and get the heck out of there. But sadly, my stay has been prolonged and no matter how hopeful I am that I will soon find change in the couch cushions, it hasn’t happened yet.

BUT, being the ever-optimist that I am, I WAS able to find some teensy tinsey moments of gratitude these last couple days. First of all, I’m grateful I felt flashes of happy twice last week. Because it made me see how not-normal-me I am.
Second. On Thanksgiving, Ella was sitting next to me at dinner. I turned to talk to her, and she interrupted me with an audible gasp. Oh, this girl. She exclaimed in hushed awe, “I LOVE your eye makeup.” (You know that emoji with the big huge eyes and tiny little circle mouth? I’m sure my boys know the name of it, but whatever, you know what I mean. Picture that here.) That girl brings a smile to my heart. Later that night when I put her to bed, I was reading to her while she slipped into sleep. All of a sudden, she interrupted me and said sleepily, “Mama, you have the voice of an angel.” Ok, come on!! Who wouldn’t kill to have a kid like this??? I’m so lucky to be the Mama to these four kids.

Here's more of what I’m grateful for. On the way home from Grandpa’s house on Thanksgiving, with my sick Aidan in the back seat, about to turn 11 in a couple days, he said softly, “I love you Mom. Thanks for always taking care of me.” Alright, seriously. I have the sweetest kids, right? When he missed his best friend and crawled into my lap during his birthday dinner at a restaurant, teary, he said, “I know you know how I feel because you miss YOUR best friend a lot too because she doesn’t live here either.” My little boy put his arms around my neck and we sat with our sadness together. Sometimes that’s all you can do- sit with someone in their sadness. And hold them tight. I love being there to hold my babies tight.

I’m grateful that Ben is kicking life’s butt these days. He seems to be getting the hang of turning off the Rage and turning in to his beautiful soul. Who is this kid? He has social events, he’s involved in things at church and school and with friends, he’s always on the go, he volunteers for all kinds of things, he’s got the hang of keeping up with homework, he SHOWERS…well, when we have showers that work and don’t leak. We took two cars to Grandpa’s house on Thanksgiving. When I pulled up with Aidan and Ella, Ben was already at Grandpa’s house. Ben opened the door for us. He looked incredible. He was dressed up all fancy in fancy grown up Thanksgiving clothes. He was happy, calm, beautiful, just happy. All a Mama wants in life is for her babies to be happy. After all the years of so many torturous challenges of all kinds, Ben seems to be finding his way in life so well.

Jonah. I’m grateful for so many things about Jonah. Every Thanksgiving, Ben and Jonah write a speech for Grandpa to give at dinner. The rule is the boys write the speech before dinner and Grandpa cannot read it until we’re all seated around the table about to eat turkey. The boys get a kick out of seeing Grandpa tear up when he reads all the sentimental things the boys have written. Things about the past year- how we’re grateful for everyone’s good health. How we love each other. How we’ve made so many fun memories this past year. Things that make sweet Grandpas cry. Jonah had to read Grandpa’s speech this year so that Grandpa could just listen and take it all in and not worry about getting a little weepy.

I’m thankful that Jonah is showing up at school every single day, pulling out his light saber of courage every morning and slaying Anxiety the best he can at every turn. I’m SO thankful Ben and Jonah go to the school they do. Get this—every single time I let the school know about a little bump in the road, or concern we have about the boys, I am consistently met with respectful action and compassion. Every single time. No matter what is going on. This school amazes and astounds me. It’s such a foreign concept and feeling, to be validated and supported. I love it. I love every single person who touches my boys’ lives there.

I have a lot to be grateful for. I am grateful for all of it. It’s just that life is pretty overwhelming and stressful right now, and honestly it’s depressing and anxiety-producing in many ways. Given everything that’s going on, it’s no wonder I feel functionally depressed, anxious, and meh. BUT, being the ever-optimist that I am, I have total faith. I have total faith that we will get through all of this crud and life will be fine someday and we’ll have more beautiful moments, and more stressful moments. In the meantime, I keep getting up every morning and doing what I have to do. I’ll keep looking for the tiny nuggets of gratitude that are buried deep in the cushions of my Couch of Life. I know they’re there, and I’m hopeful that it will become easier to poke around the crumbs and find the beautiful moments of gratitude.