But First, Write

My morning pages come more easily today. I don’t hate them. Morning pages are essentially just the bare minimum of writing that I encourage myself to do. The term is not mine, but one I learned from a book called “The Sound of Paper”. It’s a good read for any creative type.

I’m beginning to feel that writing for the sake of writing is valuable – that my thoughts maybe could be valuable? I like the idea of putting them on this blog, chronicling them, maybe assigning some pretty pictures to go with them.

It’s fun. It’s creative.

I have no idea how I could do any of this if I were working. Its so hard to find time for even the bare minimum. I know, from some experience, that if I write like this daily, then usually I begin to write more during the day – even 2-3 hours more, which is a lot for the mom of four.

I’m feeling so much better, so relieved after setting aside the need to “market” myself and submit things all of the time. Blech.

I do think I will submit things from time to time, but first I will do the work. Write first, then see if it fits for  submission. I had transitioned to developing work for submission.

All of it sucked.

I can’t create that way, I suppose. I think this was the first time that I really experienced a block in my writing. I *think* I’ve come through it.

At least that is what I am hoping.

Candidly,

Ash

That Great Journey Into Ourselves

Someone suggested to me recently that I don’t have to work for my destiny. Now, I’m not sure I even believe in something as ominous as destiny, but they did pique my interest. This idea she shared was that simply being who we are and doing what we enjoy will lead us to the right path. In fact, we don’t even have to scheme or pull out extreme hustle. Those things actually cause friction against our destiny, she said.

I really loved this, because I have no idea what my destiny is. Hence, my uncertainty that *it* even exists. I look at this blog and I love writing it. I have no idea where it is going though. I’ve been hesitant to share it in my social circles, because I’m worried about the critique, the naysayers and the well-meaning pity-prone people. In sharing my fear with a friend, she reflected that it might be important to know “why” I’m doing this, as a way to hold onto myself when I do share.

That’s when I started churning and ruminating about this Candidly Ash thing. Why am I doing it? Honestly, all that I have is that I like sharing and divulging my inner depths. I, also, really, really hope that people who read it are able to come more closely to themselves and accept what they glimpse. My greatest mystery is myself and I’ve started to find it an enchanting process to know her.

I want that for other people.

Originally, I had thought to focus on parenting a special needs child or mental illness. These are things in my life that are easy writing targets, so to speak. I could write about them endlessly.

But maybe easy isn’t really what I am looking for, but neither is hard or difficult.

And so the mystery of myself comes to mind. It is challenging, at times difficult, but always enriching. The discoveries are worth the pain of exploration. No journey is without obstacles, but perhaps the obstacles also need not be monumental. For instance, I could choose a subject like Montessori education, which I love, and develop a blog around it. Yet, I know down the road the strain would set in – the lack of focus, the ensuing disenchantment with something I love…those are obstacles that aren’t necessarily worth climbing over.

But the mysteries within ourselves? Those are simultaneously infinite and yet knowable. I hope to not only journey into myself through this blog, but also help others to do so.

Hopefully, when the critiques come in or the naysayers chant or the pity-prone people offer to pray, then I will be able to say to myself, “They may have a point and I will reflect on it, but it is also possible that they are not quite ready for this great journey into themselves. And that is okay. But I am and this is my path.”

Here’s to not forcing my path into something it’s not.

Candidly,

Ash

The Story I Tell

I’m not sure how I made it to the age of thirty without hearing of the poet Rumi. Personally, I think this a basic flaw in our educational system. Of all the poets I have ever read, Rumi is by far my favorite. And today’s post is fully inspired by him.

I am not this hair,

I am not this skin,

I am the soul that lives within.

-Rumi-

(No doubt, I have a college professor snickering at me for my poor referencing skills. This is a blog. MLA and APA shall be outlawed.)

I love the simplicity of this poem interwoven with deep meaning. I find there is a constant dialogue in the world about our appearance. Even those who want to de-emphasize its importance actually end up doing the opposite. I mean, if you have to teach me that my appearance doesn’t matter at all, then maybe you are not being quite honest with me. Appearance is influential, which can make it important at any given time.

I know what “they” are trying to communicate though. Your appearance is not all you are and this poem says the exact same thing, but in a better way. It seems poetry can do what a 60 second Dove commercial does too – and in less time.

For me, when I read this poem, I extrapolate. I am not the surly wife or disconnected daughter – I am the soul that lives within. I am not the college dropout or failed business owner – I am the soul that lives within. I try to respond to pretty much anything I dislike about myself or that I’ve failed at this way. I’m not sure its entirely effective 100 percent of the time, but what is?

Control Your Narrative

Control is one of the words that makes me cringe, truly. Yet, this is a phrase that I think people are hearing more and more. Despite that icky word, it’s an empowering process. Maybe they should change the phrase to “Participate in your narrative”. Yeah, not quite as memorable.

My best friend once saw a therapist who shared that we all tell ourselves our own story, regardless of whether it is the truth. When I said earlier that I was a college dropout – that was a story I told myself. Now, as a demonstration, I’m going to attempt to rewrite that story here in this blog post.

**Cracking knuckles. Stretching muscles. Let’s do this.**

What Happened.

My siblings were older than me and the dialogue about college was a constant in our home before I can even remember. My brother went to college when I was in fifth grade and we would visit him in the great city of Charleston, SC (seriously, my favorite). College was adventure, independence and growth to me. Those were the things I saw about college from a young age. My brother entered the Citadel as a boy. I remember him. He graduated as one of the best leaders I have ever met to this day.

Yes, college held the answers.

When I arrived on campus at Indiana University, a young inexperienced freshman, I would get stopped and asked for directions. Now, I’m a smiley person, but I also looked like I might actually know the answers to their questions. Most of the time I did or, if I didn’t, I helped them find it. I remember talking to my dad about it on the phone and laughing. I gave someone directions on my first day!

He was proud of me. He knew I was going to succeed. I was responsible. These were the loving things he said in my ear. I believed him. (Also, I have really great parents.)

I had been at college for all of six weeks when I started to feel claustrophobic. No, not in the traditional sense, but in a metaphorical, restless sort of way. Classes that were interesting at first, became boring. Quizzes, tests and papers seemed pointless. I remember turning in a paper and the teacher really liked it. She wanted to share it with the class. Then, she proceeded to give me a “C” due to incorrect formatting in my MLA citing (now you know why I hate that shit).

Maybe she was just a bitch. Maybe quizzes, tests and papers were pointless.

On a campus of 40,000 students, college felt small. I was depressed and stopped attending classes, reading, studying. I managed to pass with decent enough grades. As I looked at my courses for the next semester, I decided that maybe I just needed a class or two that would be more interesting, more challenging. My first day of class was spent outside my advisor’s office, waiting my turn to make changes.

I told her that I had hated last semester and I didn’t want to keep doing this if it was going to be so boring. She asked what I had liked. I said that I loved my Italian course. We decided to keep that one then. She noticed I had aced Spanish 375. Maybe foreign language was more of my thing than music. We added French, because it was applicable to some classical music. A way to test things out. She asked if there was anything else I was interested in.

Jesus, was my answer, because back then I was a religious zealot. We added Biblical Hebrew.

I loved it – Italian and Biblical Hebrew. French was annoying and to this day, I really don’t have a desire to go to France or know French at all. Yet, college still felt constricting and small. My depression was awful and I started going to the mental heath center regularly, without telling anybody, of course. My dad, as always, knew there was something “wrong”. I still didn’t love college. What was wrong with me?

They paid for me to move to a single person room that semester. Maybe I just needed some autonomy. They gave me a car so that I could go places when I wanted. They bought me basketball tickets. Yes, more than one! They bought them so I could take a few friends. They tried. I tried. I almost failed that semester.

(All of that support from my parents – they really are amazing people with lots of love. They just didn’t know what was really wrong, because I never told them about my depression or that I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life.)

Convinced that living off campus in an apartment would be better, I returned for sophomore year. I don’t even remember most of that semester. My good friend, Matthew, tried to encourage me – go to class, get out, do things. He was worried about me. I tried. I really did. I was so depressed. Again, I almost failed the semester. In fact, I got an incomplete for my vocal jury so that I didn’t have to do it until after break.

I came back after Christmas break and didn’t even bother going to any classes besides Italian. I even skipped my voice lessons. I wanted to die, but I told no one. The one bright shining star in all of it was my engagement to Jesse, who didn’t know I had suicidal thoughts either. I’m pretty sure that without his love, I would have killed myself that January.

It was the beginning of February, I was still lying in bed at 2 pm. I didn’t want to get up, because I was pretty sure that I would hurt myself if I did. My phone rang and it was my dad. I’m not really sure why I answered, because I was definitely not up for talking. I am so glad I did.

“Honey, I need you to drive home today.” He said. I sat up in bed. Someone had died, that had to be it.

“Why?” I said with alarm.

“Nothing serious, we just need to talk and I have a meeting so I can’t come down there today.” I wasn’t doing anything better so I picked up and drove the hour and a half home.

We met at a Paradise Bakery. It is still very vivid to me, as I remember it. He told me that he wanted me to dropout of college. I wept, literally wept. And then, I could finally breathe.

It felt like I was breathing for the first time in years.

Life moved on and I called myself a college dropout for the next 13 years, except when I took courses. Because I did take courses, many courses. I tried to do college in different ways over and over again, different career tracks, different methods. I never finished, though someday, maybe even soon, I might.

That is the story. How it happened. What happened when I went to college.

The Story I Tell Myself

College couldn’t contain me. I couldn’t be forced into studying ONLY one thing or even two things. I needed the freedom to breathe, to search and quest. And now, at thirty-three years old, I finally have found it. This writing beast within me that can’t be tamed. She’s a writhing, living thing that must be let out.

It has been worth every tear, every college loan, every disdainful look from my family, every moment of time spent in the cage – to set her free.

And I can finally breathe again.

Candidly,

Ash

 

 

 

 

 

 

Illusions of Sadness

When my first child was about six months old, she started to spend a lot more time playing, trying to roll and crawl. She was adorable. I loved her infinitely.

I did not love playing with all of the rattles and various infant toys. In fact, sitting with her, playing with her, it was not my favorite – at all. I was, of course, guilt-ridden by this. How awful is it to NOT want to play with your child? I reasoned that it was because she was so small. I mean, rattles are only so enchanting to adults.

Maybe that was all it was.

I didn’t have much time to figure it out, because we proceeded to have two more children in the following two years. Three children in three years made for endless messes, exhaustion and lots of sibling entertainment. Playing with my children wasn’t as much of an option in those days. Yet, every now and then, on a low-key weekend, I would remember with great mortification that I had such little tolerance for play.

Seven years later, our fourth child was born. It was so different this time. First, my mental health was addressed thoroughly in prenatal and post-natal care. It meant that I couldn’t nurse this small one like I had the rest. It also meant that I enjoyed caring for him since I wasn’t fighting with my mental illness 24/7. Yet, as he turned the corner of six-months-old, I found my old familiar “enemy” emerged.

Playtime.

This time, after years of therapy, I could feel all of it.  No longer shutting down all emotion, I now felt all the emotions.  All of the happiness and joy, but also all of the guilt, all of the sadness. I could no longer chalk my dislike of playtime up to boredom, because I didn’t feel boredom.

But what was it that I felt?

I spent a good number of days sitting with the discomfort while we played. Actually, I spent weeks that way. I wondered if I had some sort of inner deficit because maybe my mother didn’t play with me or enjoy the day-to-day play. It was possible, but it didn’t really resonate. As the youngest of three siblings, I knew I had plenty of playmates around from the very start. Plus, it just didn’t resonate with that feeling inside me. I wasn’t sad. I was just taught – like a rope stretched tightly.

An inner tensions, that’s what I felt as we played and I pretended to be surprised by simple peek-a-boo. If I sat playing long enough, then the inner tension would manifest as frustration. Not really with the baby or in that moment, but in snappy responses to the older kids or a penchant for eruption at disruption.

Then, one day, and it took much too long for this to occur to me, I realized that tension was basically anxiety. As I watched him attempt to capture a rolling ball, something clicked inside of me. Anxiety takes us away from the present moment.

All of this time, I had been playing with the little ones – I had actually been somewhere else. Sometimes, I was imagining all of the things needing to be done elsewhere. Other times, I was imaging the future in which my child would finally realize that the source and basis for all of the problems in their life was one thing – me.

An utter, incapacitating fear gripped me. What if I was doing all of this incorrectly? What if I was screwing up an entire human being? I tried deep breaths, to stay in the moment, but I couldn’t and we ended our already short fifteen minute play time early.

For days, I tried to reason with the anxiety, to improve this playtime experience, but nothing would alleviate the escalating tension during our play.

The intimacy of playtime gnawed too sharply at me – my inner rope fraying as the strands were severed one by one. As I began to see the way that anxiety affected me during play, I started to see it in other areas too. The distraction of playing on my phone while he slept in my lap or took a bottle.  The avoidance of starting new foods or routines.

Yes, my parenting was riddled with anxiety. I started breathing through the routines of our day, staying present in the moment, but found trying to do it for an entire day? Way too difficult. I narrowed my focus onto just breathing and experiencing playtime fully. I reminded myself that there indeed was no wrong way to play. I wasn’t screwing this up. Slowly, I found the joy in that one little area.

One by one the areas of my parenting, the moments in my day, became softer, richer, more alive. I remembered how often my therapist had said, “Anxiety keeps you from living.” I knew it to be true, deep in my core.

It was the start of something very precious, not just for my children and family, but for me as well. As I worked my way through the areas of my life besides parenting, I found deeper meaning and less fear. With less fear, I felt more free and I began to do one of the things I had stopped doing years ago – writing.

Now, hear this, I’m not saying I don’t have anxiety anymore. It is just as large and infiltrating as before, but I’ve found a way to cope, to live, to grow.

I hope you have or will too. Wishing you well.

Candidly,

Ash

 

Overcoming Survival Mode

Sometimes victory seems hollow. For the last few months, I have been in survival mode. Our recent move proved to be more of a challenge than I had anticipated. I mean, no one expected the school system here to refuse full day classes to my son with autism. No one expected the bus to randomly not pick him up or not wait for him to make his slow progress up the driveway. They were common ordinary things basic student rights for which we fought.

Being at home with Evan is simultaneously enriching and exhausting. Just imagine all of the things your third grader might do when you are not at home and had no internal safety alarms. Things that toddlers might not be able to do, but would if they had the ability. Right now, I’m struggling to put into words the constant energy, the constant vigilance that goes into caring for Evan.

Nothing is Autism-Proof

Our home is “child-proofed”- locks on doors and cabinets, refrigerator and stove. Really, they should call it “toddler-proofed”, because that is the only age group those locks and latches protect against. Despite all of these efforts, I constantly worry that my son will eat something poisonous/harmful or escape from my home while I’m moving the laundry. He’s a nine-year-old. You can’t child-proof for that ability. They can figure out locks and mechanisms just as quickly as any adult. Our only saving grace are alarms that we mounted above all exterior doors. Literally, it sounds like a bank has been robbed every time I open the door. (Note to self: Video tape our safety measures so other parents can see what we’ve done. Also, how freaking ridiculous that alarm sounds.)

I’m still not sure I’ve given a glimpse into the taxation of daily living with Evan. I love him so, so dearly and sweetly. Yet, the three hours I was getting each day of the week was not enough to care for myself or the needs of my family.

I was in survival mode.

Today, I get to emerge from survival mode as Evan starts his first full day of school.  Yes, I need this desperately. (Mostly, I need it because later today he has a dentist appointment – no picnic, I assure you.) For weeks, I’ve been wondering, considering what I will do with this prolific freedom. Yoga, exercise, bake homemade bread, actually mop the floors (Swiffer can only do so much), file our taxes, go to the doctor, find a therapist, take the babe to the park, grocery shop, run errands, write fiction (that sounds fun), finally watch that last episode of Scandal…

I mean, really, the list is endless. Time has opened up before me like a cool, spring morning. Refreshed, relieved – those are things I might feel.

Overcoming Survival Mode

Instead, I slump around like a sloth in pajamas, fixing copious amounts of coffee and scrolling Facebook. As usual, my mind starts the barrage of insults about my productivity, my ungratefulness at finally being offered that precious diamond called time. I shake my head at my perceived awfulness.

Then, a voice pops into my head (metaphorically speaking, of course). It’s the voice of my very best friend in the whole universe. She says it’s okay to stare at your phone for as long as you need, to play candy crush for hours, to ignore that giant to-do list. This is only day one. Recovery from survival mode takes time.

Here is the lesson I have been learning for the past seven years:

When your basic needs haven’t been met for a long, long time, then you forget what they even are. Coming back into myself, learning to recognize what I need? It doesn’t happen overnight. Remembrance is a tricky thing, because you can’t control it. Its pace and path are valleys and oceans sprinkled with twilight.

All I know is that today, I don’t know what I need. I do know that my pajamas feel really, really good and that the coffee feels very, very warm. I start there and honor those feelings. Perhaps tomorrow or in three weeks or five months, I’ll emerge from pajama kingdom and remember that makeup exists and hair dryers are for straight-haired people. Husbands are for loving and laughing and dating. Children are breathtaking when they try something new. Spring unfolds like fresh wind on dry, packed earth.

This is just one season – overcoming survival mode. There are other seasons coming too. Hopefully, summer, but one never knows….

Until the season changes, I’ll be here, remembering….remembering what is I need.

Candidly,

Ash

Jessica Jones A.K.A. My Spirit Animal

I am Netflix binge watcher. Truth. Their latest is the second season of Jessica Jones.

She’s a kick ass antihero. She saves peoples lives and punches people who piss her off. When she goes to anger management, she gives a run down of the atrocity that is her life, all while throwing a ball at the wall. The ball and the wall break. Then, she hands a form to her group therapist to sign. He signs it, terrified of what she will do if he doesn’t. As she walks back to her apartment, she confronts another a**hole entering her building. She says something like “I just about beat up my support group. Back off!”

Oh yes, Jessica is my spirit animal.

I think there is a little bit of antihero in all of us. We long to be great, do good things. Yet, there is something completely insufferable about the world that leaves us ready to punch a whole in a Tesla (yeah, another thing she does). Okay, I might be projecting all of this onto you.

I think there is a little bit of antihero in me.

Some vicious anger at injustice combined with a benevolent spirit twists all my interactions into battles and wars. I don’t really want to fight or view it as a fight. I don’t want to be a victim, but I also don’t want to be an overcomer. Somehow being an overcomer feels too close to accepting the past as truth and the future as a reflection of its power. Why is letting go so damn hard? Why does letting go feel like a concession?

Yes, I like Jessica. She embraces that the future is fucked, but still saves the innocents so they can have the hope, the future, that she wishes she had. Does she wonder if she is a monster sometimes? If she is out-of-control? Absolutely. Every step of the way. I see her try to reason with those questions. Looking at the carnage of someone else’s crimes, she audibly says, “That’s not me. That’s not me. That’s not me.” She’s not saying it for the benefit of others. She is saying it to herself – to remember who she is and who she isn’t.

I relate. When I rage and my children see it, I look into their eyes and see the monster. Then, I say, “That’s not me. That’s not me. That’s not me.” When I hide in my room instead of playing fun games with them or we stay inside on a beautiful afternoon, I say, “That’s not me. That’s not me. That’s not me.”

Healthy me is adventurous. Healthy me loves the outdoors. Healthy me takes deep breaths before speaking. Healthy me holds the space. Healthy me…

I wish I was always healthy me.

Then, there are days where I know, deep down, that the future is fucked. I won’t be healed of a mood disorder. Depression isn’t a one and done deal. Pills don’t fix these things; they moderate them, temper their effects.

There is no cure for what I have.

I desperately want for there to be people with hopes and futures that are bright. I desperately want to give what I can’t have – to others.

Sometimes, I hide. Alone is safer for the world. I don’t want to drag other people into my abyss.

But the world needs antiheroes.

Because super heroes don’t actually exist. Only antiheroes are real. Flawed people doing good things. That is what we really have. Somehow, I think that’s actually better. When Jessica refuses to kill a guy who cheated on his girl…it’s reluctant and ugly, but still possible. When she does the right thing even though the wrong thing makes more sense, would be more cathartic. Well, that’s when we are actually inspired.

Superman might make me want to fly, but Jessica Jones makes me want to actually save the world. There is power in saving a world that doesn’t necessarily deserve it. There is power in saving ourselves, even when we don’t necessarily deserve it.

Now, who wants to be an antihero with me?

Candidly,

ASh

Pressing Pause

aThere are so many days that I come here to write and have nothing to say. At least, that is what I think to myself. Then, I come to the page (err…screen) and discover that I am not an endless void after all. Today is one of those days.

Today, I pressed pause on my routine. I woke up with a headache and sore throat. Once I had solved those problems, I started to go about my day except that in picking up the toddler, I discovered that my lower back was not well. I sat with ice on it for an hour, added pain medication. Then, the toddler went down for his nap. Still in pain, I collapsed into my bed, laying yet another ice pack under my back.

I awoke with a groan of fatigue, but no back pain. It felt like a very, very, very small victory. With no excuses left, I returned to my daily routine and felt the crashing weight of a daily rhythm four hours behind schedule. I really don’t have words for this feeling, but its something like…

Ugggh!

I think I may be a productivity fiend. What I mean is that I am sort of detrimentally obsessed with it. For instance, I am one of those people with tons of lists. I am always writing list, daily. Literally, I daily write down my quarterly goals and that is not even the start of it. I mean, there are grocery lists, Evan’s various to-do lists (foods to try, sensory items to buy, sensory items to make, applications for assistance, insurance claims to review, bills to pay, etc. Seriously, managing a special needs child’s lists…Well, it is a small military operation), business to-do lists, household cleaning lists, household maintenance lists, financial lists. I’m obsessed with lists and here is why.

I get to cross things off.

It’s a wonderful feeling, a high to which I am addicted.

Except, I also have major depression, along with a mood disorder. My life doesn’t quite flow like the average person. The morning I described above – pain, fatigue? Well, that is my morning 4-5 days a week. Incidentally, my list making obsession and productivity addiction become inner casualties to the ongoing battle of living with depression and a mood disorder.

Now, finally, I have arrived at what I actually wanted to say.

You are not your lists. You are not your struggles. You are not your depression. You are not your diagnosis. If there is something with which you measure yourself or your day, then pressing pause for rest also means pressing pause on arbitrary measures.

I know it is not easy. In fact, our brains are wired to detect abnormalities, make comparisons, decisions and judgements. In truth, the ugly thoughts I have, the judgements I make about my productivity – they never stop coming to mind. I’m  guessing, if you have read this far already, then you may understand that a bit too.

When I say to press pause on the measures and judgements, I am not actually talking about the thoughts or the comparisons. I want to let you know that you can’t actually get rid of those. You can, however, choose not to accept them. Moment by moment, I must rise up and observe those thoughts. Acknowledge that on some days they are the very thing that helps me move forward. Today? Not so much. In fact, if I let those thoughts run the show today, then I would never have sat down to write these words. I would have laid in bed bemoaning my awfulness instead, which helps absolutely no one.

So here’s to pressing pause which really means rising up and observing our thoughts for what is helpful and what is not. Stay strong, folks!

Candidly,

Ash