Category Archives: Uncategorized

What happens when you get there…

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It has been about seven years now that I have been living on my own. And when I moved out of my ex-husband’s house and into that first post-divorce apartment, I was in rough shape. Fast forward to now. A couple of weeks ago, I told my psychiatrist that I felt like there was something that I had been chasing for the past seven years, and I had finally caught it.

You guys, I am doing really, really well.

There are two questionnaires that my therapist gives me every once in a while that are designed to measure a person’s level of depression and anxiety. My scores are approaching zero. I am not hiding from the world, sleeping all the time, or numbing my feelings with food or shopping or overworking. My thoughts are not racing or jumping around. I feel better than I have in a really long time…possibly better than I have ever felt. I am pretty comfortable saying my depression and anxiety are in remission. It feels like a miracle. In reality, it took a lot of hard work, some false starts and do-overs, the support of all of my people, and a fantastic “treatment team” to achieve something that I wasn’t convinced was actually possible. I am so grateful that no one ever gave up on me.

Now that I am not living in any kind of fog, I get to think about what I want my life to look like. And ever since I read Brené Brown’s best-selling book Braving the Wilderness, there has been a short phrase from that book that has stuck in my mind and replayed itself on occasion, kind of calling to me…

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Strong back. I don’t think that needs explanation. In this weird political and social climate (I don’t even know quite how to write about this), women really have to keep their backs strong in order to avoid being run over. And it is on these strong backs that we carry our family obligations and our careers and our relationships and our causes and our beliefs and try to get it all done.

Soft front. I am not by nature, I don’t think, a very soft person. I am naturally sort of prickly, with sharp corners and rough edges, sarcastic and snarky. At least, that’s how it used to be. But as the constant background noise of my sometimes crippling anxiety started to fade and the heavy weight of depression began to lift, I went from being someone who could not figure out how to cry to being someone who sought out those in need of comfort in order to sit with them and share their sorrow. I went from being a non-hugger to being someone who always aimed to “hug like you mean it.” I went from being someone who listened with half an ear while planning out my reply (which, by the way, is not really listening) to being someone who could sit and listen to someone as long as she needed me to. It feels so much better.

Wild heart. I’m not there yet. I still listen a little bit when someone thinks I can’t do something. I am not so big on adventure and still would rather spend my time alone at home. But I can see that the world is bigger than my living room, and I might start exploring a bit more. My heart may get a little more wild and start seeing what else is out there.

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Retirement

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HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

Now that I’ve got that out of the way…

So I am 42. And I feel very similar to how I felt when I was, say, 35. But the difference between 35 and 42 is that I am, you know, seven years older now, and that means I am seven years closer to retirement.

I have not so much started preparing for retirement. That has always seemed like something I would do someday. I met with The Guy at work today to see about fixing that a little bit. My employer offers a pension, but on top of that I am able to contribute to a 403(b), which I did for a hot second right after my divorce happened when I was feeling all “I am woman, hear me roar” and “I will survive” and “Stick it to the man.” And then I realized that my new budget did not have room for such extras as The Future and I needed to bring home as many of my dollars as I could so that I could do things like feed my pets and also myself.

Thanks to some guidance from my therapist (as well as some big changes and hard work on my part), I am thisclose to paying off $42,000 of credit card debt (through a debt management program because there is no way I was going to be able to tackle that on my own). I was also, thanks to the generosity of my grandmother, who passed away a couple of years ago, able to pay off some student loan debt and buy my house. All that consumer/extraneous debt is basically gone. I am down to home and car debt. This seemed like a good time to look at my retirement plans. I love my job, but I don’t think I still want to be doing it when I am 80. So today, I put on my big girl panties and did something about it.

And then I was so tired from all that adulting that I drove to the Starbucks that is farther away from my house because it has a drive thru and that meant I didn’t have to get out of my car again. Steps forward. Steps back. It’s like a cha-cha.

Shoes

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I first wore Dansko clogs my first semester of nursing school. I picked them out, in their blinding white glory, to be my shoes for clinicals. I lied to the shoe lady who asked me if I had worn them before, as she warned me they could be hard to get used to (PS – She was maybe a little right.), but I adjusted, and I would say that I have mostly loved wearing them for the 15ish years since then.

I have accrued quite a collection over the years. I no longer have those white ones, but I have them in red and cordovan and black and brown. I have a couple of pairs with patterns on them. I have a wool pair. I have some on my wish list (It is surprisingly hard to convince your that you “deserve” a new pair of $150+ shoes on the regular.). Right now, I have the red ones on my feet (purchased on a vacation in Bar Harbor, ME, back when I was still married, which places it in the 2010ish era).

Over the last year or so, I have started wearing my Danskos pretty often with my usual bottoms, which, when I am not working, are usually either a cropped or a skinny jean. I think the ankle jean and clog look is probably not one that most people are fond of. The jeans I have on today, coupled with my red shoes, do make me look as if I were waiting for a flood (and it has been raining for weeks here in Pennsylvania, so…).

I am 42 years old, and finally, FINALLY, I do not care. I look in the mirror. I think the combo is kind of cute. I am not setting out to impress anyone. It’s a(nother) rainy day here. I don’t have many plans for the day. I want to be comfortable.

This is not to say that I don’t ever care. I still struggle with body image issues. I still want to find the “right” diet that will help me lose The Weight (Someone once remarked after I had lost weight that I looked really good because I had lost The Weight. He meant it innocently, and I don’t hold it against him, but it did give me something to call the nemesis I was constantly at war with.). I have been, more or less, stuck at the same weight +/- five pounds for the past year. And I know that is because my eating disorder has been pretty active for much of the past year. Today I feel happy though, in my red shoes. Today is going to be a good day.

September 11, 2018…Remembering Dennis O’Berg

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The world is a completely different place than it was on September 11, 2001. On that day, I was a Program Director at a small social service agency running afterschool programs for the mostly minority population in the immediate neighborhood. I was living on my own for the first time since graduating from college. I learned about the 9/11 attacks when my mom called me on the landline phone in the office in which I worked and told me that something strange was going on in New York. My coworker and I tried to get reception on an old TV with some broken rabbit ears and managed to get enough of a picture to hear Bryant Gumbel tell us first about the Pentagon and then about Flight 93 going down in Western Pennsylvania. By lunchtime, our Executive Director had sent us all home.

Five years later, I joined a project called the 2,996, which was created to memorialize all of the innocent lives lost on 9/11 through what was a relatively young platform, the web log (blog). My blog is not super active, and I have not monetized it and turned it into a profit-maker, but it has been in existence, in one form or another, for most of my adulthood. And every year, since 2006, I have posted a tribute to Dennis O’Berg, who was snatched from his family on that day by the actions of terrorists who tried to break this country but did not realize that we cannot be broken. Many will try, but they will not succeed. We are made of stronger stuff than that.

At 494 Dean Street in the Prospect Heights section of Brooklyn stands the building housing Engine Company 219 and Ladder Company 105. The two companies have shared that building since 1977. Prior to 1977, they were located in separate houses, about ½ mile away from each other. Ladder 105 has its roots in a volunteer company, Ladder 5, from the Greenport section of Brooklyn that was organized in the latter half of the 19th century. After spending time as Ladder 5 of the Brooklyn Fire Department, Ladder 5 of the Fire Department of New York (FDNY), and Ladder 55 of the FDNY, Ladder 105 was organized on January 1, 1913, as a part of the FDNY.

One member of Ladder 105 who was lost on September 11th after responding to the rescue efforts at the World Trade Center site was Dennis O’Berg. Dennis was 28 years old at the time of his death. He was a resident of Babylon, on Long Island, where he lived with his wife of less than one year, Christine. Their first wedding anniversary would have been September 28, 2001.

Dennis didn’t always plan to be a firefighter. He graduated from the State University of New York at Geneseo with a degree in accounting and worked for the Big 4 accountancy firm Ernst & Young after graduation. However, he followed his father’s footsteps as a firefighter, entering the academy because he felt shackled to his accountant position. He graduated from the academy not long before the September 11th attacks and was assigned to Ladder 105. Being a firefighter changed him into a happy and smiling and easygoing person. On September 11th, he had been a firefighter for only seven and a half months.

Dennis’s remains were not found in the wreckage at Ground Zero, and his family held out hope that something would be found so that they could plan his funeral. After only his helmet, his jacket, and one of his boots was found, Dennis’s family held a memorial service for him on June 28, 2002, burying an empty casket. Dennis’s father, Lt. Dennis O’Berg, retired from the FDNY on September 11th to dedicate himself to finding his son. However, when all the wreckage had been cleared, it was not to be so.

Family and friends remember Dennis as someone who was young at heart. He was a fan of Harry Potter, Norman Rockwell, Star Wars, and the New York Rangers. He collected baseball cards and enjoyed all kinds of music. He was a romantic and often gave his wife roses for no particular reason, took her on long drives and picnics on the North Shore, and left her notes telling her that he loved her. She found one of those notes in her bed the evening before September 11th as she was preparing to retire for the night. His dream was to be there as a husband and father for his wife and kids and to raise a family on Long Island. He never got to fulfill that dream. Instead, his life was cut short by the terrorists who attacked America on September 11th.

Dennis P. O’Berg. Forever in the thoughts of his friends and family. And now, forever in my thoughts as well.

To learn more and pay tribute to other heroes lost to us on September 11, 2001, please visit Project 2996.

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My Best Boy

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Back in 2006, I was finishing up nursing school, planning my wedding, and living with a boy for the first time. It seemed like a month before our wedding was a great time to get our first pet together…a little black mutt who we named Otto Graham (that boy was a Cleveland Browns fan).

Fast forward almost twelve years, and that mutt and I had been through six years of marriage, my eventual divorce, a move into an apartment complex, the buying of my first house, and my entire (so far) nursing career. Sadly, Otto’s time on this earth came to an end two days ago, when I had to let my Best Boy go.

I could recount for you endless moments from his life that would illustrate this dog’s enormous personality. Back in the early days, he would eat anything…shoes, baseball caps, walls. He was never trustworthy off-leash. He loved people food and got the last bite of almost anything I ate in his presence. Most of those memories, however, I am going to hold close to my heart, which is just where Otto will always be.

Otto’s sudden decline over the weekend was both surprising and expected. I had long hoped that I would know when it was time to let him go and that I would not make him stick around this world for me when the quality of his life became less. I had struggled with the thought of staying with him as he crossed over to the other side. I wanted my face to be the last face he saw, but I wasn’t sure that I was strong enough to stay by his side. I didn’t know what I was going to do without him. He had been with me for so long, but it is never long enough. That’s the only downside I can see to sharing your life with a pet.

Otto’s vet has emergency Sunday hours, so we were able to go somewhere that was familiar to him and sit together and spend last moments together before it was time to say goodbye. An ultrasound showed an enormous tumor on his liver, untreatable and likely making him uncomfortable. I always knew that when his eyes no longer smiled at me, it would be time to do this. He looked at me, and I saw love in his eyes but no smile. He looked tired, and I knew it was time to make this impossible decision. I sat on the floor rubbing the soft fur around his ears as he very peacefully slipped from this life to the next. And although not having him by my side is more difficult that I could ever imagine, I am so thankful for the almost-twelve years we had together.

I will love and miss you forever, my Best Boy.

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Otto Graham Casey
June 30, 2006, to May 13, 2018

But here’s what really happened…

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The time after the holidays, at least for me, is always hard. The days are shorter and much, much colder than I prefer. The urge to hibernate is strong, and if I don’t have somewhere that I have to be, I often hunker down on the couch with a pillow and blanket and ride out the day. This usually involves some combination of TV, internet time, and reading, sometimes with something like coloring or sudoku puzzles thrown in. As you might imagine, these are not days that I am taking care of my mental health very well. Instead, everything that has been exhausting me or discouraging me or frustrating me since my last couch day settles itself heavily on my shoulders, where it keeps me down and out for as long as I can manage it. Most often, a Responsibility (school, work, doctor’s appointment, therapy) is what gets me off the couch, often at the last minute, and I find myself rushing around to make myself “presentable” so that I don’t have to let everyone outside know how I am feeling inside.

When I am feeling this way, some of the most important parts of self-care fly out the window. The first thing that often happens when I am having a depressive episode is that I stop taking my antidepressants…or at least stop taking them as often as I am supposed to. Sometimes, walking across the kitchen and opening the pill bottles feels like too much, and they aren’t working anyway, are they? I stop hydrating myself and feeding myself well. I drink a lot of diet soda and eat a lot of simple carbs. I don’t bother with much protein…it’s too hard to prepare it. I buy fruits and vegetables, but I don’t necessarily eat the fruits and vegetables. My meals consist of quick-grabs, like peanut butter crackers or cereal or yogurt with some granola in it. I fall back on my “uniform” of jeans, a black t-shirt (with a black tank top underneath), and a cardigan. Sometimes, I wear the same jeans and the same black tank top and t-shirt a couple of days in a row, figuring no one will notice, as long as I change my cardigan.

My sleep patterns become erratic. I fall asleep on the couch at 7PM but am awake a few hours later. I drag my pillow and blanket into my bedroom, crawl into bed, and…lie there staring at the ceiling for as long as it takes me to fall back to sleep. This could be a half hour, or it could be two hours. Often, I sleep in little spurts and am up for the day by 3:30AM. I try to stay in bed so I don’t wake anyone up (mostly because I don’t want my dogs to think that this is breakfast time).

Once my little break is over and I have to rejoin the real world, I have varying degrees of success with starting out my day. Sometimes, I get up and shower and dry my hair and put on make up and go to work with my best face forward. Sometimes, I hit snooze a bunch of times, pull my hair back in a messy bun, wipe yesterday’s mascara out from under my eyes, and head out the door. Work always pulls me out of myself. For the hours that I am working as a nurse, I am often my best self. My patients matter to me. Their families matter to me. My coworkers matter to me. The hours I spend with the NICU team, all of us working toward a common goal, are often some of the most “me” hours of my week.

I think it’s really hard, when you are someone who is a caretaker, to take care of yourself. I know I struggle with it mightily. I want to give my time and energy toward service to others, whatever that may look like. But I have a really hard time remembering (or even thinking of) taking care of myself so that I can do that. And I don’t even mean exotic self-care like going to the spa or taking a vacation or lighting a bunch of candles and lying in a warm bath. I am talking about BASIC self-care. Keeping up with laundry and dirty dishes, washing my face every day, eating real meals that have some kind of balance. Staying up until a “normal” hour so I can sleep through until morning. Taking my meds. Being honest with my therapist about how I am doing.

And maybe faking it until I make it. That one is hard for me…REALLY hard. Changing thought patterns can create new pathways in the brain so that, if you think something often enough, you begin to believe it. That is what therapy can be about. Take the words that are keeping you down and challenge them. Tell yourself something new. And don’t let depression win because depression lies.

Sixteen years gone…still, we remember.

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Every year since 2006, the fifth anniversary of the terrorist attacks on our country, I have posted this tribute to Dennis O’Berg, a firefighter with Ladder 105 of the FDNY, as part of Project 2,996. A few years ago, I was in New York at the World Trade Center site, and my mom was there at the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, so I was able to add new photos (found at the end of this post) to share of other ways that he is being remembered. I never met Dennis, but I think often of his sacrifice and also those who he left behind. I am sure that this day still brings them unspeakable pain…and I hope if they ever read these words, it brings them some comfort to know that he is not forgotten.

At 494 Dean Street in the Prospect Heights section of Brooklyn stands the building housing Engine Company 219 and Ladder Company 105. The two companies have shared that building since 1977. Prior to 1977, they were located in separate houses, about ½ mile away from each other. Ladder 105 has its roots in a volunteer company, Ladder 5, from the Greenport section of Brooklyn that was organized in the latter half of the 19th century. After spending time as Ladder 5 of the Brooklyn Fire Department, Ladder 5 of the Fire Department of New York (FDNY), and Ladder 55 of the FDNY, Ladder 105 was organized on January 1, 1913, as a part of the FDNY.

One member of Ladder 105 who was lost on September 11th after responding to the rescue efforts at the World Trade Center site was Dennis O’Berg. Dennis was 28 years old at the time of his death. He was a resident of Babylon, on Long Island, where he lived with his wife of less than one year, Christine. Their first wedding anniversary would have been September 28, 2001.

Dennis didn’t always plan to be a firefighter. He graduated from the State University of New York at Geneseo with a degree in accounting and worked for the Big 4 accountancy firm Ernst & Young after graduation. However, he followed his father’s footsteps as a firefighter, entering the academy because he felt shackled to his accountant position. He graduated from the academy not long before the September 11th attacks and was assigned to Ladder 105. Being a firefighter changed him into a happy and smiling and easygoing person. On September 11th, he had been a firefighter for only seven and a half months.

Dennis’s remains were not found in the wreckage at Ground Zero, and his family held out hope that something would be found so that they could plan his funeral. After only his helmet, his jacket, and one of his boots was found, Dennis’s family held a memorial service for him on June 28, 2002, burying an empty casket. Dennis’s father, Lt. Dennis O’Berg, retired from the FDNY on September 11th to dedicate himself to finding his son. However, when all the wreckage had been cleared, it was not to be so.

Family and friends remember Dennis as someone who was young at heart. He was a fan of Harry Potter, Norman Rockwell, Star Wars, and the New York Rangers. He collected baseball cards and enjoyed all kinds of music. He was a romantic and often gave his wife roses for no particular reason, took her on long drives and picnics on the North Shore, and left her notes telling her that he loved her. She found one of those notes in her bed the evening before September 11th as she was preparing to retire for the night. His dream was to be there as a husband and father for his wife and kids and to raise a family on Long Island. He never got to fulfill that dream. Instead, his life was cut short by the terrorists who attacked America on September 11th.

Dennis P. O’Berg. Forever in the thoughts of his friends and family. And now, forever in my thoughts as well.

To learn more and pay tribute to other heroes lost to us on September 11, 2001, please visit Project 2996.

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