I’ll Be Okay

Not long ago, my routine mammogram came back suspicious. I examined myself repeatedly and found nothing out of the ordinary. But there was a certain sensitivity I somehow hadn’t noticed. Was it in my head? I distracted myself with a mantra: I am fearless and therefore powerful.  

Two weeks later, I endured a repeat procedure, a more thorough and painful flattening of my left boob, followed by an ultrasound, performed by a technician, and again by a doctor. The doctor told me to come back for a biopsy the following day. He scrunched his mouth to the side and locked eyes with me. He said, “I’m sorry. We caught this early. It’s tiny.”  

He didn’t say cancer. I reasoned with myself. I’ll be okayI’ll be okay…I’ll be okay…

At home, I told my husband about the biopsy and failed to mention the rest.

Kody drove me to my appointment the next day and waited. In a back room, they took the tissue they needed with a needle and inserted a tiny titanium post to mark the spot of the tiny tumor.

On the way home, I said, “It’s cancer.” There was silence in the pause. “I mean, I don’t want this to be a self-fulfilling prophecy, but I know.” All of this happened on a Thursday.

Friday. Saturday. Sunday. Monday. Tuesday. I waited for the official word.

On Tuesday, the second day of school, I received a call that went to voicemail. A call from a voice who requested a return call.  

I knew.

It’s cancer, confirmed, tiny, and we caught it early.

At my first appointment for repeat testing and a second opinion, I met a woman, three years cancer-free. Similar diagnosis and situation caught early. She had flown to Houston from South Carolina for a follow-up. I have a quick drive across town.

And I have treatment options. Not all include surgery. One of my doctors, I can’t remember which one, said, “If you had to pick a cancer, this is the one.”

So, I feel lucky.

I’m waiting for my next appointment and thinking good thoughts.

I’m thankful every day is a new day, and I’ll be okay.

Thinking Good Thoughts

Last week started with a recurring thought from Maya Angelou’s mother. She was always…

I want to be like that. Unfazed by whatever happens.

Another thought came from the Book of Proverbs…

I want to be like that. Strong and Dignified. Fearless and Joyful.

Meanwhile, I’ll name it and claim it.

When Saturday rolled around, I mindlessly scrolled Facebook when a book caught my eye:  

The post said, “Found this book in our move. Everyone could use a little more positive in their life! Ready to apply this with my family, friends, and students! If you’ve read this, what was your biggest take away?”

I read the book about five years ago and remembered the part about energy vampires. I pulled the book from my shelf and flipped to that chapter. These words jumped off the page: “If you want to be successful you have to be very careful about who is on your bus. After all there are people who increase your energy and there are people who drain your energy…Your job is to do your best to eliminate any negativity on your bus and this includes negative people.” Noted.

Charles Dickens once wrote: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” What a paradox! Our times can be both the best and the worst. Let’s choose our focus.

Alexandre Dumas once wrote: “Life is a storm, my young friend. You will bask in the sunlight one moment, be shattered on the rocks the next. What makes you a man is what you do when that storm comes.” The storms of life happen—bad weather, catastrophes, flat tires, politics, rude people, illness, death—and when storms happen, I protect my energy.

I seek out good. I redirect my thoughts. I choose faith and gratitude, peace and hope.

There’s energetic power in the thoughts we carry. And energy, good or bad, travels. It transfers into our cells and to our loved ones. I don’t know about you, but my molecular make-up, my loved ones, too, could use some good energy. So, today I’m thinking good thoughts—for you and me—strong, dignified, fearless, joyful thoughts. Pass it on.

Bleh vs. What If?

Bleh, bleh, bleh, bleh,
bleh,
bleh,
bleh.

Bleh and bleh,
worry and fear,
sad and mad,
shame and guilt
and regret.

And yet—

What if?
I have the power
to rewrite my story.

What if?
My words and thoughts
have creative power
to transform.

What if?
I think on noble things:
health, wealth, and love,
faith and gratitude,
peace and hope
and joy.

What if I believe?
Life is good and generous,
and miracles are in motion
beyond my wildest dreams.

What if I say?
Thank you, thank you, thank you.

No Feeling Is Final

June has been my least fruitful writing month in years. With bigger priorities, I didn’t care to write about bleh and couldn’t muster any enthusiasm for fluff.

Then, a week ago, I attended an online workshop led by my former student Monique Mitchell.

Monique was my student in sophomore English back in 2007. I’m not sure I realized at the time that she had moved from California to Texas to live with her aunt, but I remember her as a gifted writer. We just connected and stayed connected. I never suspected she almost failed her freshman year.  

Three years ago, Monique was living in LA, working for a literary organization, freelancing, and teaching writing workshops. She invited me to lunch at the airport Marriott in Houston, where she was guest speaking at a conference. In the hotel lobby, she oozed good vibes and embraced me with love. In the hotel restaurant, she told me how a job opportunity had presented itself in Ghana. She planned on moving soon. We spoke about our wildest dreams, the power of words, and self-limiting beliefs.

As we parted ways that day, she said, “The world needs your voice,” and she told me she loved me. I said it back. Speaking of powerful words and wildest dreams, I suddenly found myself pursuing a master’s degree in creative writing.  

While scrolling Instagram not long ago, I saw that Monique has returned to LA. She had created an online workshop called “Into Existence,” a beginner’s course to speaking your dream life into being. Needing inspiration for my dream life, I signed up.

Within the first six minutes of the course, Monique said so much that resonated. I wrote down these words:

“Life is a reflection of my beliefs. It’s a reflection of my language, and it’s a reflection of my choices.”

Monique Mitchell

This idea isn’t new to me. My dad always said, “Crystal, you can choose your attitude.” And sometime along the way I discovered Dr. Wayne Dyer’s teaching.

For years, I’ve said, “You can choose hope or choose despair, and who would choose despair?” Then that time after a hurricane flooded my home, I settled on a formula for life:

Faith + Gratitude = Peace + Hope.

But for the last year or so, after watching several of my loved ones suffer, I’ve felt justified in my anger toward God. Yes, things have gone my way, but I had chosen to wallow in worry and fear and anger and sadness. At the end of the workshop, I realized the need to uproot my toxic thoughts and plant some healthy ones—like a renewed faith and gratitude and peace and hope.  

A week passed and so did my father-in-law. He was the best dad and grandpa, kind and generous, an amazing golfer and a gifted joke-teller. Tommy fought the good fight and finished the race. Cancer sucks, and of course, I’m sad, especially for my family. Still, I’m thankful he no longer suffers. That feeling in my heart, the one that catches in my throat, means I loved him. And love is life, life is love, if we’re lucky.

Anyway, God, I’m sorry about being so angry for so long. Please forgive me and help me with that. And thanks for welcoming Tommy home. ❤️ P. S. Thanks also for your words in Jeremiah 29:11. “‘I have plans to prosper you…plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” I’m open to receiving miracles beyond my wildest imagination.

February 26

Today is my mother’s birthday. Just thinking those words makes my heart sink. She would’ve been 82.

But just now outside my window, I spied a cardinal hopping through the grass. I remembered hearing about cardinals being symbolic of angels.

I tapped cardinals and angels into the search bar of my phone.

“Cardinals mostly symbolize devotion and determination; it is the visitor from heaven.

‘Cardinals appear when angels are near,’ as Victoria McGovern said, the Cardinals are platonic, a precious message God sends to the world. The Cardinals are the messengers of God for those who hope and seek blessings for their ailing souls.

The Cardinal represents beauty in the dark times, hope in the sorrow, and renewal in the harsh winter. It is said that if you see a cardinal bird, it symbolizes your deceased loved ones are watching out for you.”

kidadl.com

My mother was always an angel. Now she has wings and a halo to prove it. And today I heard from her AND God. Happy Birthday, Dear Mama! I hope you hear me, too.

May your day be blessed.

For December 30

I wished for insight in my year-end reflection. Especially since today is my birthday. I should now have the wisdom of an official 52-year-old. Upon pondering, however, I could only take so much of 2021. In some ways, it was the best of times. A completed graduate degree, a new job I love, a trip across the border to the beach. In other ways, it was the worst of times. Nothing I care to rehash. In fact, there’s no better time than a new year or a birthday to let bygones be bygones and let it go. A gift to myself. Peace. I Believe our struggles strengthen us. I suppose that’s my 2021 takeaway. Strength. Perseverance. I made it. You did, too. As for 2022, I choose Hope. Maybe we’ll all be surprised.

Devote.

Sometime before the first of February, I decided to devote some time each morning to God. I have a devotional book on my shelf—Jesus Calling by Sarah Young—a page for every day of the year written as if Jesus himself were speaking. Each day a sentence or two leaps off the page, and I try to remember the message in its simplest form all day long. Please accept a few jewels from this month so far:

“Talk with Me about every aspect of your day. including your feelings. Remember that your ultimate goal is not to control or fix everything around you; it is to keep communing with Me.”

April 1

I didn’t grow up talking about my feelings, and once upon a time some counseling revealed my tendency to stuff them inside. At the time, I felt I had no one to talk to. Since then, I’ve opened up more. I understand vulnerability makes certain people uncomfortable, so I choose what to say to whom with care. We all need at least that one person, and God invites you to talk to Him about every aspect of your day, including your feelings. I find great comfort in an honest relationship like that.

Your deepest, most constant need is for My Peace. I have planted Peace in the garden of your heart, where I live, but there are weeds growing there too: pride, worry, selfishness, unbelief. I am the Gardener, and I am working to rid your heart of those weeds…Thank Me for troublesome situations; the Peace they can produce far outweighs the trials you endure

April 2

Oh boy, do I ever need peace? Sometimes I forget to thank God for my troublesome situations, but I’m trying so hard to remember this simple formula:

Faith + Gratitude = Peace + Hope

In Me you have everything. In Me you are complete.

April 3

Despite your beliefs in God, these are beautiful affirmations. I have everything. I am complete. It’s so easy to want more and to feel less than. Say it again. I have everything. I am complete.

A person who is open to My Presence is exceedingly precious to Me…I see you trying to find Me; our mutual search results in joyful fulfillment.

April 4

I’ll admit I was a little angry with God this year for just plain personal reasons, but I continued to feel His presence. It’s a comfort to know He considered me precious through my tantrum. Reading a devotion a day was a way to make peace with Him and find some balance for me. You know what they say about anger—it’s like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. I knew I had to let my bitter feelings go. I acknowledged the emotion by sharing it with God, and I’m trusting the Gardener to rid my heart of the weeds. Who doesn’t want to be filled with Love, Joy, and Peace?

Thanks so much reading my 2021 A-Z Challenge post today. That means a lot to me. This April, I’m sticking to a theme of action, mental and physical, things I might already do or haven’t attempted in years or maybe never. You know what else I’m trying for some balance? Answers found in these links: Abstain, Ballet, Cartwheel.

It brings me joy that you made it to the bottom of this post. Thank you so much for reading! For the April 2021 A-Z Challenge, I hope to stick to a theme of action—I’m thinking both mental and physical, continued current activities, those of days gone by, and possibly a few never attempted. You know what else I’m trying for balance in my life? Click links to posts so far: Abstain, Ballet, and Cartwheel.

To Blog (A-Z) or Not To Blog (A-Z) That Is the Question

One year ago, and for the first time ever, I blogged A-Z during the month of April as part of a challenge. I committed at the very last minute, wrote my first post A is for Apple on April 1st and posted it on the 2nd. I chose a theme of gratitude, which seemed important at the beginning of a pandemic and in keeping with the nature of my blog:

Faith + Gratitude = Peace + Hope.

Other than that, I didn’t have a big plan. I chose an attitude of gratitude for twenty-six days according to each letter of the alphabet and posted on the fly. It was all part of keeping my own sanity.

I missed this year’s big theme reveal day on March 8, and I read that technically I don’t have to stick to a theme. That’s what I love about blogging—freedom of voice. Whew!

This semester my MFA program comes to an end, and the deadline of my thesis looms on the horizon—April 26. Revisions continue on my memoir, a quest for help for my son who has a severe brain illness and a coming-of-age story of a middle-aged woman who realizes the only person she can truly help is herself. I see my work as a playbook of sorts for someone in my position and hope it’s relatable despite a person’s circumstances.  

During the spring semester of 2021, I’ve submitted the first two-thirds for feedback from my professor, and the next third is due at the end of March.

Parts I-III: 20,650 Words and 74 Pages

Parts IV-V: 23, 271 Words and 87 Pages

Parts VI-VII: 23,882 Words and 84 pages

Grand Total Today: 67,803 Words and 245 pages

Then, two more rounds of MAJOR revisions on my part, and after that three more professionals will read for extra opinions. So I might be mad to even consider a challenge. Then again, if I go for it, I might be building my audience of potential readers when the time comes to publish Help in the Time of Schizophrenia.

Three Minutes with Denise

I love new beginnings—the opportunity to start over—to get my mind right. May March bring you joy, fulfillment, perspective, and hope.

A few weeks ago when I stayed with my daughter in Dallas, my bestie Denise let me do some of Lauren’s laundry at her house, which was awesome. Even better, what comes next. Our conversation started like this. “Blah, blah, blah…I’m angry,” I said.

She sat in her chair beside me, listened to my woes, and said, “Do you know where your thoughts are when you’re angry?”

I thought for a moment and said, “The past?”

And she nodded her beautiful face up and down and launched into some sound advice.

I said, “Wait, could I video this?”

Denise coaches golf. And for me, life. She should have her own YouTube channel. Our backstory goes like this—I crashed her birthday party when she turned five. I went uninvited with another friend. That’s how we met. The year was 1975. Later, we shared homerooms—first, second, and third grade. I was always happy to see Denise’s name on the list for my class. Flash forward through twelve years of school, and then I didn’t see her for almost twenty years. We became besties closer to age 40 when we realized we lived within twenty minutes of each other. There’s something about having friends who know exactly where you are from, and I’m just lucky to have a few of those.

Purging and Mental Health

My 31-year-old son has a collection of clutter to the point where one of our rooms is unusable. It’s called being a hoarder. I decided to look up the term. According to the mayoclinic.org, hoarding is a disorder. Signs and symptoms may include:

  • Excessively acquiring items that are not needed or for which there’s no space
  • Persistent difficulty throwing out or parting with your things, regardless of actual value
  • Feeling a need to save these items, and being upset by the thought of discarding them
  • Building up of clutter to the point where rooms become unusable
  • Having a tendency toward indecisiveness, perfectionism, avoidance, procrastination, and problems with planning and organizing

Years ago, our garage included a home gym. Now, circular, cast-iron barbells litter the floor on all sides of the weight bench centered below a 7-foot weight rack. I haven’t counted the weights. There are probably close to thirty of them, of various size, from five-and-a-half pounds to forty-five. Some lay haphazardly on the foam mats beneath the bench, some on the concrete amid dead leaves, bits of rope, PVC, a weight bar, a circular saw, timber, a sledgehammer, empty cardboard boxes, and sawdust. A collapsible elliptical machine leans against the wall. A freestanding heavy bag lays on its side on top of a toppled bike. There is a Honda Grom with a large plastic storage container strapped to the back. Something is wrong with the motor. There is another mini-motorbike shipped in pieces from China, put together at one point, now in pieces again. Lots of destroyed and broken things. There is more, much more. Plus, regular garage stuff. Sawdust covers all of it. Our son Drew thinks he is building a house. The clutter is beyond clutter. It’s excessive. We don’t have the space. We would like to park a car in the garage. The mess belongs to Drew, but I take responsibility for allowing it to happen. He lives with us, well, not exactly with us. He sleeps in his car most of the time, by choice. He has schizophrenia, and his thinking suffers.

The hoarding was motivation for the Less Is Now 30-day challenge. Day One—get rid of one thing, Day Two—get rid of two things, and so on. That equals 175 things to sell, donate, recycle, or trash during Week Four. My husband and I usually avoid the garage like the COVID. But during Week Four of the challenge, I turned my focus to the garage. One day I trashed or recycled 45 items. Lots of cardboard boxes and packaging pieces. Another day 72. Add those numbers to some other household items, and I’m currently 22 items short, but today is the last day of my fourth week. I still have time. Plus 29 for tomorrow and 30 for the next for a grand total of 453 items to be purged. I’m almost there. The challenge has been a challenge, made easier by a hoard. Progress is progress.

The Mayo Clinic also claims that many people with hoarding disorder also experience other mental health disorders, such as:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

I think we could add schizophrenia to the list. However, my son also has the OCD label. We’ve gone through ten plus years of a rocky, uphill battle. Do you give up on people who are ill? I’m trying really hard not to. I wouldn’t give up if the illness were physical.

Back on the Mayo Clinic website, they say schizophrenia involves a range of problems with thinking (cognition), behavior and emotions. Signs and symptoms may vary, but usually involve delusions, hallucinations or disorganized speech, and reflect an impaired ability to function. Symptoms may include:

  • Delusions. These are false beliefs that are not based in reality. For example, you think that you’re being harmed or harassed; certain gestures or comments are directed at you; you have exceptional ability or fame; another person is in love with you; or a major catastrophe is about to occur. Delusions occur in most people with schizophrenia.
  • Hallucinations. These usually involve seeing or hearing things that don’t exist. Yet for the person with schizophrenia, they have the full force and impact of a normal experience. Hallucinations can be in any of the senses, but hearing voices is the most common hallucination.
  • Disorganized thinking (speech). Disorganized thinking is inferred from disorganized speech. Effective communication can be impaired, and answers to questions may be partially or completely unrelated. Rarely, speech may include putting together meaningless words that can’t be understood, sometimes known as word salad.
  • Extremely disorganized or abnormal motor behavior. This may show in a number of ways, from childlike silliness to unpredictable agitation. Behavior isn’t focused on a goal, so it’s hard to do tasks. Behavior can include resistance to instructions, inappropriate or bizarre posture, a complete lack of response, or useless and excessive movement.
  • Negative symptoms. This refers to reduced or lack of ability to function normally. For example, the person may neglect personal hygiene or appear to lack emotion (doesn’t make eye contact, doesn’t change facial expressions or speaks in a monotone). Also, the person may lose interest in everyday activities, socially withdraw or lack the ability to experience pleasure.

All of it applies to my son. The hoarding is sort of down the list of problems we have at our house…or that my son has in his car. What happened to my little boy who made straight A’s and became a cellist with a full ride to college? I’ve learned I can’t reason with schizophrenia. There are people close to me who wish I wouldn’t be so open about Drew’s mental illness. But for me, secrets are heavy, and people keep them when they don’t want others to know the truth. Maybe it’s guilt. Maybe shame. Maybe grief. Secrecy perpetuates the stigma of those seeking help. I’m not ashamed, but I do mourn for the person he was before. Still I cling to hope. Hope for Drew to take responsibility for his symptoms and treatment. Hope for better medicine…a Team Drew…better days…a cure?

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