Surviving Renovating: Deep Breaths Required

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Renovations aren’t near as fun as they seem on HGTV. We’d love for Chip and Joanna Gaines from Fixer Upper to come save us, but the reality is we are the renovators. And we’re living in the area we are renovating. We can’t escape. It’s our home. And I might be just teetering on the edge.

I’d say we’ve been renovating for months, but it’s really been years. The other projects were smaller. I was conveniently traveling so my exposure to it was less. I’m sort of longing for airports and hotels right now.

But this project that includes the kitchen, dining room and living room was close to a full gut. The hope for a six week timeline went out the door fast. First, we have real jobs; the kind where you don’t get home until after six and then have responsibilities like walking dogs, making dinner and doing laundry. It’s hard to get motivated to work in the house after a 9 or 10 hour workday.

I have to interject that the majority of the work has been carried out by my love. He’s amazingly skilled at anything, and if he doesn’t know how to do it, he just watches a YouTube video on it. However, I’m not completely on the sidelines. I have some skills. As a young girl, I loved to build things from scrap wood. In high school, my bestie and I took shop class (we were the only girls). And for most all other relationships I was in, I was the handy one! I’ve painted many walls and done my fair share of small projects.

But this is mostly over my head. And he’s been reluctant to let me help too much. I was actually fired from taping but later reinstated me (something about a labor shortage). He’s very particular about the prep work. I’ve sanded a lot. And painted like it was my job; thankfully it’s not. One of the hardest parts was scraping the popcorn ceilings. If they’ve never been painted it can be easy, but nothing’s easy about this place. Nothing is square or even or was done correctly the first time. We’ve spent a lot of time repairing and fixing things right.

We didn’t have a stove for two weeks. You don’t understand all you can’t do without a stove. But we have it back now that the new countertops are in and the cabinets are painted. It’s just little things and clean up right now with the final step being the new floors, which are set to be installed (by us) in about six days.

Then these rooms will be back in order. The couch will actually be somewhere you can sit. Then we will start on the bathrooms. Why are we doing all this? Do we want to punish ourselves? Test our relationship? No, not at all. We are doing all this because we want to sell our condo. It just doesn’t work for us. It’s a great location, but we’ve encountered many challenges, mostly do to having some of the worst neighbors in the history of neighbors (more to come on that). Most importantly, we just want the pups to have a little yard to run free.

Home is an important place. It should be a place where you feel safe. It can get a little rough out there in the world. We all need a soft place to land. I’ve never needed a huge house with rooms I’d never even use. I do adore my closet room; it’s nice to be able to see everything I have, but I’d give it up in favor of a house with a nice yard for the girls.

We had this chat the other day that the house in this state has become our new normal. We’ve become complacent. So I had to light a fire under us, and set a firm date for the floor install so we can get back on track. We need to be done by the end of the year, and we have to account for the fact that we can’t be dedicated to renovations during football season (that’s not just a mandate from him; I’m just as crazy about it as he is).

So please keep us in your thoughts that we survive this and don’t kill each other (okay I’d probably be the one to kill him). Deep breaths…..

So This Happened: Life Gets Wet Sometimes

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From the So This Happened Stories

That sudden summer storm always hits at the worst possible time. I drove into work last week because I had an appointment that afternoon. I have to park in a lot about eight blocks away because it costs the bargain price of $7 (compared to $25!).

The sky was looking dark, but I had an umbrella. Only a block in, the sky opened up, angry with rain, wind and hail. I was able to take shelter. I think storms are worse downtown because the wind gets trapped between the buildings. Things started whipping around. The top of a trash can flew off and came down about a foot from where I was standing. So I’m trying to hide, thinking it will pass. But it’s going to cause me to be late. I send a quick email to advise I’m running late to be courteous. After about five minutes, it’s not getting any better. So I just go for it. The water is about two inches deep. It’s hailing on my head; I can feel it through the umbrella. But I’m determined. I press on. Finally, I get to the lot. I’m on the sidewalk about to turn into it when a car speeds by and splashes me. When something like that happens, you think really? Am I in a freakin bad sitcom? But it happened. This is real life. At this point, I can either laugh or cry. I chose to laugh.

I get to the car. I’m wringing out my dress. Luckily, I have other shoes. I also happen to have lots of supplies in my handbag, which has been categorized as being very “MacGyver” like because of my many supplies. I turn the air on to dry out. I suppose I could have just given up at that point and not gone to the appointment. I was wet, tired and defeated. But a lot of life is about showing up. So I did, apologizing for my appearance. We laughed about it.

So it was embarrassing and funny, and I wanted to share it. Little things like this are just part of my believable life. And there’s a story and lesson to be shared.

Go Find Your Best

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Depression is part of my life. Maybe a lot of people wouldn’t admit this. Depression is still one of those whispered words. However, I’m not ashamed. It’s something I want to talk about. It’s something we should all be able to talk about. I don’t believe suffering from depression makes me deficient or that there’s something wrong with me. Depression for me isn’t just an episode or something that comes and goes. It’s always there, but with a great therapist and medication (also something I’m not ashamed of), I’m doing okay. Some days are better than others, but I would dare to say I’m pretty emotionally healthy.

It’s been a long road though. I went to see a therapist for the first time at 15. My mom had enough insight to know that whatever was going on with me wasn’t just typical teenage angst. At that age, I had already been through a lot, but this deep sadness I had didn’t seem linked to one specific thing, and it wasn’t something I could really articulate yet. I couldn’t just have a good cry and be back to normal. I couldn’t get happy. I didn’t really understand how therapy worked then. I was scared and had no intention of being open with someone I didn’t know. She was a very nice lady and didn’t pressure me to talk about my feelings. It was a good first step.

As my teen years progressed, life got even more complicated. I was thrust fully into adulthood after my mom was diagnosed with cancer. Gone were worries about boys or popularity. I was watching my mom die. I had to be strong. I had to quell feelings of fear. I had to survive.

At 17, I started going to a new counselor who was a really wonderful woman. Eventually, I began to trust her. I also began to understand how therapy works. It’s not simply about going in and talking. Part of it is, but it’s about what you do with the words and feelings that start pouring out. It’s about redirecting internal dialogue, learning coping mechanisms and being open to change. Although cognitive therapy helped, there was still a lot of crippling darkness. By 18, I would begin taking an anti-depressant to help. Medication didn’t solve everything or make me feel “better.” It just kind of got me to a point where I could function better.

When I went away to college, I stopped therapy. I thought I was capable of facing the world and had learned some tools to manage the depression. And honestly, I felt like it was a stigma to be depressed or go to therapy. Very few people knew that I had been in therapy or was on medication. It wasn’t something I wanted to broadcast. At that time, I was ashamed and embarrassed. Even though I knew therapy was a good thing. Why couldn’t I just get through life on my own? After all, I was beginning to understand that the only person who would always be there was me.

So there I was on my own, coping. Just not in a healthy way. I tried to push darkness and worry away. Then my mom died, and the world kind of stopped. I had just turned 19, halfway through my freshman year of college, and I just kind of froze up. I have never been the same. But I did a good job of seeming fine. I was the person that wouldn’t fall apart.  I was the person that didn’t need help. I was the person that would survive. But those people that really knew me, knew that I was not okay. They knew that I was pushing them away and fading away. So one of my friends made me find a new therapist. I agreed to go back to therapy.

My next therapist got me back on meds and met with me sometimes twice a week. She was a very smart lady. I wasn’t going to lie my way out of this or hide things. We talked a lot but also did a lot of role play, where I could have conversations with people in a safe environment. But in a way I told her what I thought she wanted to hear. I still wasn’t convinced I needed therapy. I had a right to be sad. It would pass. This was a whole lot of denial. But we believe what we want to believe about our lives. We build our own house of lies. And feelings were just too much. I didn’t want to feel them or talk about them. My preferred feeling was numb.

So I quit therapy again. I was fine. I was making my way through life, graduating college, surrounded by lots of friends. Feeling like a pretty normal early 20-something. Except my life was nothing like my friends’ lives. I bought my first house in college and that was my home. There was no other home to go to. But I had my life together. I got a job, met a great guy, made plans for the future. And then I was married and working in the industry I wanted to be in. I had a nice house, a closet full of beautiful clothes and plenty of money in the bank. Why would I be sad?

Then I turned 30 and realized everything was a charade. My preferred feeling was still numb, and the truth was I had dealt with nothing. A friend recommended a therapist, and for the first time, I think I was really ready for therapy. I connected with my therapist like none of the others. It was here I began to learn how to save my life. And she helped me feel feelings, which was something I had avoided for over a decade. It was overwhelming, even paralyzing. I started to understand that feelings aren’t permanent. It’s okay to feel them. It’s good to feel them. They don’t last.

It took me years of focused therapy and trying lots of meds before I fully became aware of everything that had happened to me; to look back over all the pain and loss. I’ve dealt with some things better than others, learned a lot about forgiveness and acceptance. But I’m not “cured” or no longer depressed. It doesn’t work that way. Even after you become aware, depression doesn’t disappear. It’s been 8 years since I first walked into my therapist’s office. I still see her every other week. It’s a good gut check. It’s a time I can be brutally honest about my choices, my past, my fears and most importantly my hopes.

I’m not perfect! I consider myself to be beautifully damaged. And I know that “damaged” may seem like a negative word. But we’re all damaged. Life changes us. It beats us up a lot, throws us down dark holes, surprises us with grace and shapes who we are. I don’t let depression define me, but I accept it as part of me. There’s nothing “wrong” with me or anybody else who suffers from mental illness. So it’s okay to say it out loud. To say, “I’m depressed.” If I can say it, you can say it. If you’re depressed, get help. If you are getting help, keep at it. After all, you’ve already made it through the worst. Now go find your best.

How I Developed a Work Ethic

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I owe much of my work ethic to my mom who was my number one role model. My mom worked hard and believed that in doing so she could make a better life for us. When I was five or six years old, she had a full-time job as a teacher, went to graduate school at night 45 minutes away and had a second job on the weekend. As a single mom, this was hard work. She was lucky to have help from her parents, who often babysat.

But I knew that my mom was trying to better herself, not just to make more money but to be better educated and prepared for the future. My mom pushed me hard academically. We began discussing where I’d go to college when I was in kindergarten. She made it very clear that she had big plans for me, and I embraced those plans. I wanted nothing more than to make her proud.

So by watching her work hard and having her push me hard, work ethic became engrained in my brain. As a child, I won lots of awards and was routinely the brightest star. I won those awards because I worked hard – this was way before the “participation” trophies.

I was always very interested in making my own money. Before I could actually get a job, I talked my friends into having yard sales and made hair bows that I also sold to my friends. By the time I was 12, I did have a job, although it was only on Saturdays cleaning offices. At 16, I had a real part-time job and never stopped working. I worked throughout college as a nanny and then of course after graduation, I got my first post college job, which was a wonderful experience, mainly because of the mentors I had. I already knew how to be on time, be reliable, ask lots of questions, think about the things no one else was thinking about and never think something wasn’t my responsibility just because it was outside of my normal duties.

No one is born with work ethic. It has to be developed. Even if you didn’t have to get a job until after college that doesn’t mean you don’t have a work ethic. We shouldn’t equate having a job to work ethic. It’s not the same. Work ethic is about looking at a position or your career as more than just a paycheck. It’s about looking at any job as an opportunity. I’ve had lots of jobs I didn’t love. But I always showed up and tried to find opportunity in all of them.

I thank my mom almost every day for so much that she imparted to me. I’m so glad that she was such an amazing role model who told me I could be and do anything. Not everyone has that kind of cheerleader. And maybe that’s why not everyone is able to develop work ethic. Whether you are 20 or 40, you have learned or will learn that life’s not fair, and it rarely turns out as expected. But we must make the best of the hand we’ve been dealt. Having a strong work ethic has helped me get through many of life’s hardships. To me, it’s a critical asset to have in life. And even if I won the lottery, I’d still want to work (just maybe a little less and with a view of the beach!).

Can We Just Talk About the Weather?

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I’ve read many articles over the years about how to engage with others, whether it’s peers, co-workers or romantic interests. Again and again, a lot of the same advice resurfaces, urging readers to ask questions and get the person to talk about him or herself. Because obviously everyone’s favorite topic is themselves. I’m sure that’s true for a lot of extroverts or people who have an exceptional self-image. But for some people, asking a lot of questions of a personal nature is their worst nightmare. I certainly fit into that category. Not as much now as it was years ago because of a lot of work I’ve done. But I was recently shocked at meeting a stranger and being bombarded by personal questions. I answered them as indirectly as possible with a smile and fought back the urge to tell her it was none of her business. Some people are just nosy. I’m not saying it’s horrible to be nosy. But the notion that everyone wants to tell you their life story just isn’t true. Sure, it’s nice for people to take an interest in who you are (as long as it’s genuine), and most questions, which make me pause, are pretty harmless. The answers are just too complicated.

The simple question, “Do you have children?” is harmless enough. It’s certainly a normal question to ask, but to me it, it’s not casual. It’s often a trigger and flood of feelings that all leads to the simple answer of “No.” Yet, I don’t say no. I say, “I have two dogs and a cat. They are my children.” It’s an answer I’ve crafted that represents who I am and where I am in life.

For me, I’m not very forthcoming with my life story. It takes a long time for me to be comfortable with others and build trust. There are only a handful of people in the world that I genuinely trust with real information about my life, and I’m fine with this; I’m more than fine actually. I’m happy with this decision.

This is in no way a condemnation on those that like to share. I’ve shared many deep and personal stories, too, through my writing. It’s my outlet, but it’s also on my terms.

And while I no longer feel like a deer in headlights when asked simple questions, I’d still prefer conversations with strangers to focus more on movies, books, travel or other interests, which certainly provide insight into someone’s personality but don’t get too personal.

So to all those posts and articles on tips to influence, engage or win people over, I say it’s not the ideal approach for every person. Not everyone has the ability to answer your questions without feeling a bit traumatized by the experience. I don’t have simple answers to simple questions. My life just hasn’t been simple or conventional. I’ve learned how to answer questions that allow me to be comfortable. But not everyone has this awareness (it’s taken me years to cultivate). So I ask that you pause and consider your inquisitive tendencies, regardless of how well the intention may be. Because there’s always a topic to chat about that doesn’t have any implications: it’s called the weather.