It’s My Birthday, and I’ll Blog If I Want To

(🎶 Blog if I want to, blog if I want to. 🎶 You might blog, too, if it happened to you 🎶).

December 30th came and went. Celebrations commenced with family and friends. And my heart is full. This year proves that good things come to those who wait.

My 2018 began in approximately 400 square feet at the La Quinta where we (a trio of Byers plus our Rainy dog) would rest and breathe for six more months. Reconstruction continued on our Harvey-wrecked home, and the year whizzed by in a blur. The first half of the year now seems like a fuzzy dream that left me with an eye-opening perspective and an ever-expanding heart, I carry 2018’s lessons forward. I carry them in my heart. While trudging through flood water with a water-proof overnight bag on my shoulder and my chihuahua in my arms, I stumbled upon life’s deepest secret.

Are you ready?

Here it is.

Life’s Deepest Secret.

You can’t take it all with you, and you can’t save it all, but in the end, things don’t matter.

But people do.

People.

Will.

Save.

You.

My dear friend Pamela introduced me to e e cummings. I carry his words, and he shares my deepest secret. Thank you Poetry Foundation.

here is the deepest secret nobody knows

(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud

and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart
i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)

#feelingthankful #icarryyourheart #goodbye2018 #hello2019

  Dear friends and family, I carry you with me.

Sharing Our Gifts

‘Twas the day before Christmas at our humble abode.

Kody scrambles eggs, I wrap gifts in a simple mode.

“You’re wrapping really is a gift,” I hear.

“Thank you. And so is your breakfast, my dear.”

Drew’s cello lies in the middle of the floor.

“Put your cello away or play a tune I’ll adore.”

And that’s how it started. I had to share.

From the overflowing heart of a Mama Bear.

I’m Not an Interior Designer

I’m not an interior designer, but I play one on my phone. The game—Design Home. The object—to decorate a room with required elements to win prizes like money and diamonds, both of which can be used to purchase furniture and accessories for your room. Each day brings multiple, changing challenges: an industrial-style living room for an engineer in Krakow, Poland; a modern dining room for this new, critically-acclaimed chef in Moscow, Russia; a luxe bedroom for a tennis athlete relaxing in style after a match in Wimbledon, London. It’s a guilty pleasure. If only designing real homes could be that clean and easy, you know, with prizes involved and all.

Two weeks ago after ten months of flood displacement, we were given the okay to move back into the still incomplete but livable house. We had then and still have one completed bathroom, just missing a vanity mirror, which we have—outside—in the POD—in our driveway.

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The POD has been a sore spot for the past ten months. Our contractor had some of his guys load it, and my husband had specifically asked to be there to supervise. Instead they moved everything without a heads up. Kody had specifically asked that our wardrobe boxes be loaded last, so we could access our winter clothes. Instead the wardrobe boxes went in first, and last, barricading what I could unload myself and what I need now, is an extra refrigerator and a large garage shelving unit. Back in October, our contractor offered to have everything moved out and back in for us, but moving everything two more times than necessary screamed trouble to me, so I just shook my head and played Design Home.

At the moment, silverware and pots and pans—inaccessible in the POD—would be useful. And our newly installed lower kitchen cabinets wait for cabinet pulls—the ones we saved from the moldy cabinets that we dumped on the curb—the ones that must be in the POD. And speaking of kitchen problems, some of the white subway backsplash tiles had to be replaced, and just when I thought the kitchen was practically complete, I discovered that the newly installed wavy tiles did not match the original flat tiles. So now we have more demolition and more tiling and more construction dust everywhere, in the garage, on the street, not to mention in the unfinished kitchen, in the incomplete master bathroom, and on the souls of our shoes. First world problems, right?

So I could go on complaining, but what good does that do? I could also move forward in gratitude. I realize I have a choice, and so I will try. After the thumbs-up on the move-in, I drove to Dallas on a Tuesday and helped our daughter Lauren pack. Turns out she has missed us since our move south two summers ago, a mutual feeling. Even at age 26 1/2 , she will always be our baby girl, and we want her near. Kody joined us in Dallas that Thursday, we picked up a U-Haul on Friday, and the three of us loaded the truck bound for Houston. In return Lauren has been my super helpful sidekick, assisting me with the minutiae of moving and decision making, not to mention the building of some IKEA furniture as we refurnish our house from scratch. Lauren will live with us temporarily while adjusting to her new life in a new city, and having her here makes our house seem like home. For my family, I am MOST thankful.

After the final furniture delivery last Monday, we packed my Mazda once more and drove far, far away to the Oklahoma Panhandle for the fourth of July with family…

and then on to the mountains and the cool, clean air of New Mexico with my sister and brother and other brothers.

My nostalgia for these places and my people runs deep, the peaceful skies unforgettable. Where I grew up in Oklahoma, the waving fields of wheat and corn kiss the endless cornflower blue. Where I snow skied all my life in New Mexico, a gazillion stars sprinkle the midnight navy. Especially in these places, I realize the world is larger than one life, and I know there is a God who designed this home for us all.

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Ode to the La Quinta

Ten months ago on the 27th,  I felt as if the sky was torn off my life. In short, Hurricane Harvey had flooded my home. My family and our dog Rain evacuated along with our neighbors and their dogs in the rain. Houston fire fighters rescued us in a flat-bed city dump-truck and then dumped us in a dry parking garage. From there we sloshed on foot a little over a mile to a pet-friendly La Quinta, a safe haven in the face of crisis, where we’ve lived ever since. (More details @ That Time When I Met Harvey)

The Flood

The people here have been so kind. My La Quinta family—Raven and Shanta and Amber and Chad—all from the front desk. They’ve been there on good days and bad days. They’ve witnessed us at our best and worst. Raven was here on day one. She had answered the phone when Kody called from the parking garage to make our reservation and allowed us an early 9 AM check-in. That same day she loaned us her personal umbrella to run across the street in more rain to the Hilton for lunch. And whenever Raven works, she recognizes the click of Rain’s nails on the tile, and she always says, “Hello, Rain, I heard you coming!” A friend of Rain’s is a friend of mine. Shanta, the general manager, was the first to welcome me into the hotel laundry room for our personal needs. She was there for the excitement of an upcoming interview, she was there for the disappointment of a terrible previously mentioned interview, and she offered me a job at the La Quinta as a consolation. I just might take her up on that, and if not, I can totally see myself dropping by just to visit these people whom I will miss. Then there’s Amber, who works the night shift and goes from here to her other job at a memory care facility or vice versa. We had some good heart-to-hearts…about my mom…about Drew. Throughout this past school year, I left the hotel each morning between 6:15 and 6:30. Amber was always there to tell me to “Have a good one!” And Chad, well, he’s most often here in the evening, and Kody and I tend to have adult beverages in the evening, and sometimes Kody raps in the evening, and Chad, well, he gets it. He’s entertained. He’s a nice audience. I have another friend named Joanna, also displaced from the storm that displaced so many, living here since November with her kids Bella (11) and Bun (9, given name Toby) and their dog Storm. Bun loves Rain, too, and the irony of our dogs and their names does not escape me. Recently Joanna and I had a conversation about our time here winding down. “Everyone here has been sooo nice to us,” she said. “When we leave, it will be bittersweet.” Her words echo my thoughts.

Don’t get me wrong. Of course, I’m excited to move back home, and it’s finally, ten months later, happening. As I recline on my last night here, propped up on pillows, in my bed with clean sheets, I feel there’s something to be said about good people who care. There’s a special place in heaven…

Good People

 

There’s a Fungus Among Us

For nearly a year I’ve consumed a plant-based diet. Yes, I cheat from time to time, usually with fish. Kody and I did split a Sweet and Spicy Bacon Burger from Whataburger not long ago. I have no regrets. We used to eat that way all the time. Without the split.

Last week I indulged with a Frito pie at Local Foods here in Houston. Topped with cashew queso, a soy protein, the most beautiful tomatoes, fresh red onion and jalapeño and cilantro and a little hot sauce, it was soooo good. I’m confident I can make a similar pie myself when we move back home soon.   

Frito pie

And this Hopdoddy Impossible burger is in the weekly rotation. Hold the cheese, please. The meat-free patty, developed by former Stanford biochemist Patrick Brown and a team of researchers at Impossible Foods, is made entirely of plant-based ingredients. Potato protein allows the exterior to sear, and coconut oil melts like beef fat. However, heme is the magic. This legume-derived, iron-containing molecule also found in blood, gives the “meat” its texture, smell, and a pinkish interior.   

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I used to have a cholesterol problem, but plants don’t have cholesterol. Problem solved, medication and cardiologist no longer needed. Anyway speaking of doctors, I’m reminded of my fungus. Seriously, it’s on my right foot—uncomfortable and ugly, itchy and flaky. I thought maybe it was eczema and tried to treat it myself like I did the cholesterol. I’m embarrassed to say how long I self-medicated, just hoping it would go away (for years) before realizing that I needed professional help, and then even knowing I needed to see a doctor, how much longer it took me to make an appointment (another year or so).  

I searched my insurance company’s website for a dermatologist for the first time ever, and within a day I had an appointment and saw the doctor who diagnosed the fungus and prescribed me some cream. In my head I had exaggerated the difficulty of seeking treatment. From beginning to end, the process was painless, which is more than I can say for my foot. The doctor, who specializes in skin conditions, was compassionate and kind. 

A long-time good friend of mine recently reached out via text to tell me about a silent health struggle: “I am seeing a [insert type of doctor here] for more tests…All I know is that the pain has been almost intolerable and I need an answer and some relief. I didn’t want to say anything because it sounds like I’m complaining, but it’s time I let you know that something isn’t right and I’m trying to get answers.” 

sometimes-all-you-need-is-for-someone-just-to-be-11933760 With my mind on my fungus and my fungus on my mind, I continue to think about health in general and suffering people and reasons why a person might choose to delay the help they need and challenges for those pursuing relief. Like other illnesses, fungus does not discriminate, and our medical problems, like a fungus when ignored or denied, grow and fester. I’m thankful to live in an age of medical access, and I’m thankful for friends and family who have listened to me when I needed to talk about my fungus.  And that’s really what life is all about, right? Friends and family and being there.

Impossible Burger sources:

http://www.nydailynews.com/life-style/eats/meet-meatless-impossible-burger-veggie-burger-bleeds-article-1.2727141

https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2016/06/21/482322571/silicon-valley-s-bloody-plant-burger-smells-tastes-and-sizzles-like-meat

Mental Health Recovery : A Marathon Not a Sprint

When I compare each year to the previous one, I measure our progress and remind myself that the road to recovery is a marathon not a sprint. After three months of three separate hospitalizations from the fall of 2010 through the spring of 2011, Drew continued to deny his diagnosis and refuse medication. For about three years, we spun our wheels, going nowhere fast, and our family bus broke down. In the summer of 2014, Drew agreed, as a condition for continuing to live at home, to see a psychologist weekly. In the fall of 2014, with some arm twisting of another kind, Kody accompanied me to the 12-week NAMI Family-to-Family class. By January of 2015 with encouragement from his psychologist Dr. Hanna (which I may have instigated), Drew started a NAMI class of his own, 10-weeks, Peer-to-Peer. The wheels on the bus went round and round and forward once more.

Each Tuesday night, I drove Drew to his class at a hospital about fifteen miles from home. He attended. I waited. A teacher by day, I had transportable work, papers to grade, books to read, and I tried bonding with Drew during the drive time.

Receiving a weekly e-mail reminder about the class, I looked forward to the class when the attendees would tell their stories (even if I would be hanging out in my car). I wondered how Drew would describe the last few years of his life, especially as I consider my own version. More than anything, I wish I could completely understand and accurately convey Drew’s perspective, but I can only give you mine. Mine is a story of a mother’s heartbreak and hope in the face of mental illness, a story of navigating the rocky road to recovery with my son and trusting that the pavement will smooth out ahead. It hasn’t been easy for any of us, but Drew NEVER talks about it, living an isolated, non-communicative existence in his bedroom, leaving mainly to eat and smoke. No one would choose a life like that. It’s not that I don’t think Drew can do more, but making him do more is a full-time job, and I work full-time already.

While going to my own NAMI class, one of the teachers e-mailed a CNN video link of Anderson Cooper taking part in a schizophrenia simulation experiment. He wore headphones to simulate hearing voices while going on with his day. If you have five minutes, please watch.

Uncomfortable, right? This is mental illness. How would you react to voices commenting on everything you do? Criticizing you endlessly?

I cling to the hope that through the doctor and the classes and forward momentum that Drew will gain insight on brain disorders…that he will come to an acceptance of his “new normal”…that he will seek further help…that he will someday contribute to society…that maybe one day he will enjoy and maintain relationships once more. These are the things that I wanted to say to Drew during our car rides to and from Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas on Tuesday nights. After the Tell-Your-Story class, I said, “I saw the e-mail that said you all would be sharing your stories tonight. How did it go?”

“I just listened.” And that was that. Our conversation usually consisted of Drew asking, “Will you turn up the volume?” And when I did, he would usually say, “Not that loud. Turn it down.” Pause. “A bit,” followed by a “Thanks for driving, Mom.”

And after class, I would usually ask, “Are you hungry?”

And he would usually say, “I could go for some burgers.” And we would drive through McDonalds, and he would say, “Thank you. I love you, Mom.” And I appreciate that. I really do. I just want so much more for him.

One night after class, Drew and a young lady emerged together through the hospital doors. She stood in the spotlight of the entryway as Drew’s backlit silhouette approached the car. He opened the passenger side door and leaned in to ask, “Could we give Rachel a ride home?” Rachel lived in Rowlett, a Dallas suburb, not exactly on the way home, probably forty-five minutes to an hour out of the way. As much as I didn’t see Rachel’s transportation situation as my problem, Drew wanted to help out his new friend, and I want Drew to have friends, so in the darkness of winter, I found myself driving Rachel toward home.

Rachel talked up a storm, but I welcomed the break to the typical silence. She told me about her family, her high-school experience, her church, her job. I wondered about her diagnosis, not that it matters. Her cheery, chatty demeanor just differed so dramatically from Drew’s. On the way toward Rachel’s house, her mom called to say she could meet us at Collin Creek Mall, which would just be a stop on our usual way home. Around 9:30, we pulled into the empty JCPenney’s parking lot about five minutes ahead of Rachel’s mom.

Drew said, “Will you pop the trunk?” and I did as he hopped out of the car.  From the trunk Drew grabbed his banished backpack, unable to contain the stench of his glass water pipe inside. He loaded the bowl with organic Natural American Spirit tobacco and smoked under the halo of parking lot lighting.

Alone with Rachel, I seized my opportunity, “So Rachel, does Drew say much during class?”

“No, he’s pretty quiet and doesn’t say a lot.” She paused, “He doesn’t laugh at the same things that the rest of us do.”

His affect is off, the neuro-psychiatrist’s words echoed in my thoughts. “Hmm, I just wondered because when I ask him about class, he doesn’t tell me much either.” I hesitated, “He doesn’t really believe he has an illness, so he refuses to take medicine even though he has been hospitalized a few times.”

“Maybe he hasn’t found the right one.”

“Yeah, he has tried quite a few, and he was doing really well on one, but he said he had a seizure, so he quit taking it. A doctor told me he didn’t think Drew would know he had had a seizure, so we don’t know for sure, but now Drew believes the medicine is poison.”

I felt myself overstepping my bounds. After all, I had just met Rachel. I didn’t really know much about her relationship with Drew other than he had gone to dinner at her house once.  I wasn’t sure if she might say anything to Drew about this conversation, and I didn’t want to make him mad, an ongoing concern. Then she asked, “What was the medicine?”

I had to think. The “seizure” had been four years earlier, and while I tried to remember the name of the medication, Rachel said, “I think Andrew has some anger issues.”

That’s interesting, I thought, wondering what had happened in front of Rachel.  “I think you are right. He sees a therapist,” I said, and we sat in silence for a moment, my mind racing. Do Dr. Hanna and Drew discuss his anger?  I silently cursed HIPAA. I should call Dr. Hanna and mention the hole Drew punched in his bedroom wall and the one in our kitchen pantry door, the yelling and mocking, the “Fuck yous” and gibberish behind the closed door of his bedroom.  Even though Dr. Hanna can’t discuss Drew with me, he’ll listen. He always doesAbilify. I suddenly remembered. “Abilify.” I said. “That’s the medicine that made the biggest difference.”

“Oh,” Rachel said as if she didn’t have any personal experience with Abilify. She went on to tell me about how well her medication worked and how her “commanding voices” had gone away.  “To be honest, I kind of miss my angel a little bit. Just the parts where he would touch me gently and kiss me on the forehead and things like that—the nice parts, not the horrible chains and fire and things like that.”

“Right?” My nonsensical response was cut short as headlights flashed in my rear view mirror, and Drew opened the car door, rejoining us.

Rachel’s mom had arrived, and Rachel said, “Thanks so much for the ride. Nice to meet you, Mrs. Byers. See you next week, Andrew.”

Alone with Drew again, I said, “I like Rachel.”

He responded with silence, and I waited.

“She likes to talk.” There was another pregnant pause. “Are you hungry?”

“Yeah, I could go for some burgers.”

marathon not a sprint