Month: May 2015

Letting Go of Who I Was

There are boxes in my office waiting for me to sort them. The presence of boxes awaiting my attention is not that unusual. Things stack up when I get busy, but the contents of these boxes make them unusual. They are things that were dragged out of the back recesses of a storage closet that had to be emptied so that my sons could have it as a closet for their new room. This process of moving them has unearthed many an object which we’d forgotten existed. I’ve found partially finished projects and things I acquired because of something I intended to make. We found toys that had been long outgrown. Load after load has been hauled off to be given to a thrift store. The same fate awaits much of what is in the boxes waiting for me.

I used to sew. I made costumes for kids, Sunday dresses, and other pretty things. I enjoyed sewing and I acquired many fabrics because of their potential. Some of those fabrics became beautiful things. Others sat in boxes waiting. I am not sewing very much right now. When I pulled out those boxes of fabric, I remembered the things I intended to make. It was quite nostalgic, but none of those projects interest me anymore. If I were to make time in my life for sewing, I would pick different projects. So I gave away most of my fabric. I retained the tools and books, but the projects in potentia are all gone. This means that my sewing supplies fit into two boxes. I have more space for the things than interest me right now. At some point in the future I may sew again. If I do, then the sewing supplies will expand. In the meantime, I have more space and that is good.

The sewing things are only one example. This process of clearing out keeps bringing me in contact with who I used to be. I find remnants of old dreams and I remember them being important. Part of me wants to hold on for memory’s sake. Yet if I want to fully become who I am now, I have to let go of who I used to be. This is the process of life at all stages. We don’t stop growing and changing just because we hit adulthood. Realizing this is one of the reasons that I cut eight inches off my hair. For ten years I was a person who truly enjoyed having long hair. I liked the interesting things I could do with it. Lately all that hair started to feel more like a burden than anything else. So I let it go. Now I can discover who I am with shorter hair.

I sorted my closet and got rid of used-to-be-favorite clothes. I culled the bookshelves of books that no one in our family loves. I dug into the electronics bin and got rid of things which have no real purpose for us anymore. We packed beloved family toys for young children into boxes and put them into storage to await grandchildren. I am making space in my house. It is time to clear all of this away because I want space to grow. I want space for my children to discover who they are as teenagers and fledgling adults. I want our surroundings to reflect who we are now. Reminders of who we used to be are fine and good. We keep the the things we still love, but we don’t want to be burdened with caring for and storing the past.

It feels like a good process.

The Scorecard

Just a few days ago I had a day where I didn’t feel like I was failing. Today that feelings of failure returned, so I took the opportunity to consider the differences in the two days to try to figure out where this sense of failure is coming from. The answer is: Dozens of tiny places. It is in the phone calls I have to make to schools or church youth group leaders to explain why my kid won’t be meeting their minimal expectations. Again. It is in the household tasks that I see still aren’t done though I intended to do them weeks ago. It is in my to do list which has spent two days growing in size instead of shrinking or at least staying steady. It is also in the fact that the things I’ve been succeeding at are big and nebulous where as the failures are small and concrete.

Also, the successes are often attached to some large emotional thing which I really wish wasn’t a thing in our lives at all. It is a huge success to spend four hours talking to my son, assisting him in managing an unstable emotional state. It was absolutely the right use for those hours. Yet at the end of them I have no way to know if anything I said will stick in his brain and make a long term difference. I don’t know if we made progress or if it was just a holding action. I do know exactly what things I would have accomplished in those four hours if I hadn’t spent them with my son. I can measure the failures. The successes are intangible.

The good news is that the ending of the school year gives me a clean slate from a pile of failures. We get two and a half months to re-set, stabilize, grow strong. My son needs that as much as I do. He needs to be out from under the many small-but-measurable failures of the past few months.

Usually the last week of school is a playground with all the stresses lifted. That has not been the case these past two days. Tomorrow and Friday look to be better. Then we are free to make of our days what we choose. One of the things I hope to do is take away the pencil from that one piece of my brain that wants to make tally marks on a parenting scorecard. Keeping score of failures and successes doesn’t help.

Walking Away from an Event

“Mom, I don’t want to do this.” Patch said the words into my shoulder. We were sitting on the floor in the school hallway side by side, his head snuggled up to my shoulder. The snuggling took some creative hunching on his part since he’s taller than me these days. I looked down at his combed hair, his white shirt, and cool bow tie. (Bow ties are cool.) He was dressed to take part in his 6th grade graduation ceremony and that was exactly what he didn’t want to do.

I thought about Kiki and Link sitting in the audience, waiting to see their brother’s ceremony. I thought about Patch’s teacher who has loved him through his recent difficulties with anxiety and panic attacks. She certainly hoped that he would at least be able to walk with his classmates. I thought of the reasons that humans arrange for ceremonies, their emotional purposes. Then I kissed the top of my boy’s head and thought about how much of his anxiety stems from the fact that he’s an instinctive people pleaser. He never wants to disappoint anyone. Ever. And if he thinks he has, his stress levels rise tremendously. My boy knew that deciding not to walk could make other people sad, yet he found the courage to say “I don’t want to do this.” It is huge progress for him to be able to be aware that his desires conflict with what is expected, to be able to speak those desires in a calm way instead of being caught between what he wants and what he feels he ought to do until he curls into a panicked ball.

While I was thinking these thoughts, I heard the principal begin to welcome everyone to the ceremony. I had a choice. I could probably coax my son into a partial participation. I could try to help him match what was expected by the structure of the event. Or I could listen to him and back him up in his desire to opt out. Ideally we would have made this choice in time to have explanatory conversations with school staff. It was too late for that. Patch’s teacher was on the stage in front of everyone. No way to consult her. I pictured them calling his name on the list and being confused when he was not in his place in line. I’ll never know how they handled that moment.

“Of course we can go.” I said. Then I waded past the crowds of other parents and grandparents. I gestured to Kiki and Link to gather their things and mine. I saw the confusion in their faces, but they came. And once in the hallway with Patch, they completely and happily accepted his decision. Maybe Patch’s teacher saw us leave. I left a note on her desk to explain. I checked Patch out through the office, so that school personnel would know where he had gone and with whom. Then the four of us went out for lunch. Patch lost the hunched-shoulder sad-faced look he’d been carrying. Instead he laughed with siblings and ate chocolate cake. In the end he will be more glad of that lunch than with sitting through speeches and walking in a line to shake hands.

Patch has growing and healing to do in the next months. He’ll be better able to do that if his family listens to him when he says what he feels. Even if doing so creates awkwardness for us.

Good Day

I’ve reached the end of the day and I don’t feel like I failed at anything. This is a new and unusual experience, since I’ve spent most of the last few months with this constant looming sense of failure. Today has been lovely. I got some things done. I procrastinated others. I took a nap. I look at my To Do list for tomorrow and it feels like I can do that too. Hopefully this will continue, but for now I’m just going to sit here and enjoy the cool evening breeze. It is nice to feel content.

Almost, but not quite, Summer

Memorial day is almost, but not quite, summer. Some years I attempt to practice my intended schedule for the summer months. Other years we just play and stay up late. Then with a mental screech, we remember that we have to do four more days of school schedule.

Only it isn’t really a school schedule. The high school kids have finals, and given that Link is only attending a few classes, he’s pretty much done with school by 10am tomorrow morning. He’ll wander back to retrieve his yearbook on Thursday, but that’s it for him. Gleek has locker clean out, turning in text books, getting her yearbook, and general housekeeping that culminate in a very short day on Friday. Patch has a smorgasboard of events. Graduation/BBQ, Dance Festival, Field day, and the final day on Friday. It is to Patch’s events that I’ll be making daily trips out of the house. By Friday I can close the door on this school year. I don’t have to interface with teachers or school systems again until August. I can close off a host of worries and not think about them until then. This thought makes me very happy.

The summer ahead is far from empty. Cello and horseback riding lessons continue. Link has some classes that he is taking as part of the WIA youth program. Link will also continue to work on his independent study courses. Both Link and Patch have therapy appointments weekly. All of us need to be walking more in preparation for our coming pioneer trek. Yet even with all of these things, my days will open up tremendously. I felt that this morning when I was able to let the kids sleep late and putter around doing things of their choice. I got to focus on my priorities. It was lovely. Business tasks that have been lingering for far too long, got completed. I was able to give them morning brain instead of the brain I have left after making a dozen judgement calls about kids and school.

All of this bodes well for the coming summer.


SPOILER ALERT: The following blog post will contain spoilers of major plot points for the movie Tomorrowland. In order to say what I want to say, I have to discuss these plot points. If you don’t want the movie spoiled for you, go see it before reading this blog post.

tomorrowland It was the movie that Howard and I picked for a date. We left the kids to put themselves to bed and ran out for a ten o’clock showing. There is something incredibly freeing in abandoning responsible weeknight behavior to just to see a film that intrigued me. I’m so very glad I did. I loved this movie. I don’t know if everyone will love it as much as I do. It might seem too simplistic to some, too optimistic to others. It is often silly and there is a climactic rant that really doesn’t work the way it needs to. Pulling all the dreamers, inventors, and creators from general society and putting them in a separate place is not likely to result in the futuristic world that is shown on the screen. There are large swathes of realism missing. It is fantasy. For most people I think it will just be a fun adventure movie. For me, it drilled into the very core of issues I have been struggling with. The movie becomes a metaphor for my struggles and left me feeling hope. Hope has been in short supply for me lately. I never expected a movie to gift it to me.

I will freely admit that lots of media things have been hitting me in oddly emotional ways lately. I’ll be listening to a song and suddenly find myself crying because the theme of the song opens up a pocket of emotion. The most memorable was in December when I found myself sobbing during the movie trailer for Annie, because in that moment I did not believe that the sun would come out tomorrow. I couldn’t see how anything would ever get better, yet I remembered when that song was uplifting and joyful. I cried because there were people in the world for which waiting a day would make things better. And I wasn’t one of them. All the tomorrows felt bleak.

Tomorrowland begins by showing a bright and beautiful future. The characters see it and are thrilled by it. I saw it and was filled with a sense of wonder. Then we are told that somehow modern life went awry. We are not aimed at a future with jetpacks, flying trains, and floating swimming pools. Instead the modern world is falling apart and aimed toward destruction. The big plot reveal is that the huge tower that was created to analyze and predict the future has instead been broadcasting a miasma of hopelessness. The tower has been self-fulfilling its own prophecy of destruction. This is only discovered because the protagonist, Casey, is determined and refuses to give up. She works with others to destroy the tower and the bright future becomes possible again. Not easy, but possible.

I envisioned a bright future. I think most parents do when they have young kids. It is hard to be on duty 24-7, cleaning up messes, teaching, and loving. You must to have hope to keep going. Those years when my kids were small I watched them become smarter and more capable. All my experience as a parent led me to expect that would continue. Yes there would be bumps and struggles, but they would grow and in the end my job would be to let go so they could fly on their own. That was the future I expected: watching my children fly and build lives based on their own dreams. My oldest did, but my second child has grown smaller, less able to manage, as he is buried under depression. My third is growing and strong, but she wasn’t two years ago, and I’m very afraid she will struggle again. My youngest is developing a panic disorder while I watch. I can’t see the bright future anymore. It feels as if we are doomed to struggle forever.

So when I see Casey touch a pin and her gray world vanishes, I want to take that trip with her. I would dearly love to find the hidden tower that is sending out the fog of depression and anxiety. Then I would blow that thing up into tiny, tiny pieces. The movie shows me that when all seems lost, determination and a moment of inspiration can transform loss into victory. I long to believe it is true. I’m willing to try because the movie had clever story elements. It delighted me and made me laugh, so when the hard parts came I was willing to mourn. The story and characters led me through despair and out to a place where people have power over their future. I was able to believe in it because the victory was not free. There was a cost, and for once Disney did not remove that cost once audience tears had been produced. This movie reached inside my heart with its story and unlocked a hidden reservoir of hope that I didn’t even know I had. Tears rolled down my face for half of the credits. They’re rolling now as I write.

This is the power the right story has in a life. Before the movie, I couldn’t see any bright future, after I could believe that one is out there, I just can’t see it from where I’m standing. I need to find the right tool to let me get glimpses of it while I navigate the real world around me. We’ll keep wending our way forward and trusting that the process will help.

It was after midnight when we walked out of the theater. The theater itself is new and full of the most advanced technology currently available. It was just shiny new enough to make me feel as if I were walking through a hallway of Tomorrowland. No one else was there, just Howard and I walking down the empty hall to the exit. I loved that moment too. At home, I got online and ordered a movie replica Tomorrowland pin. I felt a little silly doing so, but I really want to hold one. I want to have a talisman to remind me that bright futures are possible even when it seems that they are not. It is not rational to think a pin can make a difference in my life, but then the things I am struggling against are not rational. Depression and anxiety defy logic, so maybe I need some irrational tools to fend them off.

Tomorrowland is not a perfect movie, but it is exactly the movie I needed right now. It gave me back the belief in bright tomorrows. I will wear my pin and remember that on the days when things are hard.

Reasons I Haven’t Been Blogging as Much

This post was written four days ago. On that day I didn’t have the emotional resources to publish it. Today I can. I think the biggest difference is that the Planet Mercenary kickstarter is now closed. Even subtracting one of the list items has made that much difference. We’ll see what further difference is made when “interface with school systems and administration” is taken off my task list for the summer. For now, the words I wrote four days ago:

I am having a problem with blogging. This is may have been apparent to some who have noted that my posts have gone from almost every day to about two per week. When I do write, it is shorter and less full than what I used to write. I spent some time today listing the things which are making blogging more difficult. This is what I came up with.

1. I’m depressed. Yes, right now, this very minute. It may not be obvious in my online interactions or even during in-person interactions. I’m getting things done, filling social obligations, and going to all the places that I’m supposed to be. Only, if you look closer, I’m not. I’ve dropped out of things. I’ve canceled things. I let slide things that I would not let go if I had more focus and energy. My twelve year old has not done homework in weeks and that is squarely on my shoulders. (Yes his homework should be his job, but he’s more depressed and anxious than I am, which is part of the problem.) I keep doing the things which must be done in order to keep our family and business running. This includes doing some deliberate things to take care of me, because I recognize that if I break, everything will fall apart. But I’ve abandoned most of my creative efforts. I don’t feel like anything ME is worthwhile. I’m not writing fiction. I’m barely blogging. And every time I write anything I wonder why I even bother since none of it matters to anyone but me. Please note, I’m not saying this to ask for affirmation. I’m saying it because that train of thinking is a huge marker of depression. If you feel those things about yourself and your creativity, please consider that you might also be depressed. I hear that exact refrain from my depressed seventeen year old. And I tell him he’s wrong. He does matter. It will get better. He doesn’t believe me. He can’t. But he keeps going to please me. And I keep him moving in the hope that something we do will make a difference. And maybe if he is less depressed and if my other son is less anxious, then I might feel better. I’m having trouble believing that much of what I do makes any difference at all, but I keep doing things because logic tells me that actions make a difference. But all of that makes finding words more complicated.

2. I don’t want to be a burden. I’m aware that this miasma which surrounds my thinking is burdensome. I’m very aware that my bleakness comes out in my posts. I know that if I wrote post after post about depression, anxiety, parenting, stress, then it would be too much. People would go away. And they would have every right to do so. I don’t want to be that person who is always in crisis and who is frustrating to try to help because nothing ever gets better. And most days lately I have trouble believing it will get better. Logically I can see that things won’t be hard forever, but logic and emotions are barely on speaking terms inside my brain.

3. The Kickstarter. During the push for funding I want to be putting positive energy out in the world. I want to be expressing confidence in the project. I want to spill gratitude for the trust we’ve received. I want to share my excitement for everything we get to do. I really feel all of these things, but only in short bursts. And on any given day those emotions are hard to find in my brain. Instead my brain fills with the parts of running a Kickstarter that are hard. I am drained by the steady stream of interactions via email, Kickstarter message, Kickstarter comment, facebook comment, facebook message, twitter post, and any other internet-based communication method people can think up. People are happy about the project. They have a question. They have a request. Each person is owed a sliver of my time and attention. They are supporting our project, the very least I can do is spend a few minutes crafting a reply using my professional, competent, grateful, excited voice. Then there is the need for me to write my own excited tweets. I need to participate in spreading the word. All of this is part of my job as part of the Planet Mercenary promotional team. It is wonderful and it is exhausting. Lots of my writing has gone into email rather than blogging. I’m very aware of the dissonance if I’m attempting to put out positive energy around the Kickstarter via social media and then I’m blogging about how hard and depressing things have been inside my head. Blogging about depression derails the narrative surrounding the Kickstarter. It is bad marketing. Yet my blog should be mine. It should not be subverted into a marketing presence. I should feel free to write my thoughts. Round and round go the arguments. In the end I don’t write, because I can’t resolve the arguments before I’m too worn out.

4. Some stories aren’t mine to tell. There are a lot of emotional and therapeutic things going on inside the walls of my house. Exposing them to view might destroy some of them. Yet the various progress and regress are consuming much of my mind. I’m monitoring things, deciding what path to take, and weathering my own reactions to all of it. This takes up large portions of my problem solving and creative brain. Much of it would make fascinating blog posts, but I can’t write them now. Maybe later. And there is a distinct probability that if I can get my own depression to lift, I’ll have a clearer view of what I can and can’t write about. Yet in the meantime all these thoughts take up space in my brain like emotional clutter.

5. I don’t have enough quiet spaces. There are people in my house all the time. Most days I only have about thirty minutes between the time when my (anxious) twelve year old leaves for school and my (depressed) seventeen year old gets home. Sometimes I get an hour. For the rest of my work day I have to decide between doing something educational / therapeutic for my child or getting work done. We have at least two appointments per week, sometimes more. Lately a lot more. I’m also making appointments for myself, requiring me to get out of the house and spend time with friends. All of this chops my days into pieces. My work has to fit around all of these things. There never seems to be time to clear away all of the parent obligations and all of the business obligations at the same time. When I do manage to ignore all the other things, I dive into something restful (like watching a show) instead of something that would pull more effort and focus from me. I haven’t tried setting an appointment for creative time. I haven’t wanted to. It is hard to care enough for me to make that appointment with myself and right now I’d be unlikely to keep it.

6. I have too many jobs. Right now I’m managing customer support for The Out of Excuses Retreat, Our Schlock Store, and the Planet Mercenary kickstater. I’m supposed to be setting up the back end for the post kickstarter pledge system. I should be working on design. I’m managing mental health care for multiple children who are in various stages of meltdown. I’m interfacing with school systems and administration whose expectations need to be adjusted because of the meltdowns. I’m in the final stages of construction in my house as the carpet gets installed soon and then I can finally put all the things away. I should be doing accounting regularly and crunching numbers for things that happen post-funding. I’m teaching for my son who is working on school things from home. I also have to ship regular orders from our online store. Then there is the regular parenting tasks, enforcing bedtime, providing dinner, checking in with kids, driving to lessons, etc. Each of these tasks eats a portion of my brain space. Often I’m having to choose which thing to fail at. Having Kiki home has helped with some of this, but there is a huge backlog and things continue to accumulate daily. Every minute I’m aware of all the things I should be doing, but am not doing right at that minute. This awareness takes up the space where writing thoughts form.

The good news is that when some of these things clear up, it is very likely that writing will flow back into my life. That has happened to me before. It is the reason I’m okay with letting writing languish right now. Something has to slide, and I know that writing will wait for me. Yet the consequence of not writing is a feeling of disconnection with my writing communities and, more importantly, a sense of disconnection with myself. Disconnection aggravates depression. I haven’t found a solution for that yet.

After note: The fact that I was even able to write up this post indicates that some of the fog was beginning to clear. Me being able to post this also is a sign of clearing. I’m not going to read too much into it. I’ll take one day at a time, because contemplating more than that is not what I need to be spending my brain on right now. What I do spend my brain on is noticing that the emotional experience of my day does not necessarily match up with the facts of my day. When people say depression lies, this is what they mean. It feels like I’m doomed and nothing will ever get better, but I can clearly see that in a very short time I’m expecting changes. This is why I keep going and doing all the things. Also because in between the hard things, I get to feel flashes of the joyful things. I do feel excited for the kickstarter stuff. I see how well my fourteen year old daughter is doing. I get to enjoy my kids all playing together with my college daughter and her roommate who is visiting for a week. I am extremely grateful that the depression I feel is not a pit of despair and it does not wipe out every happiness. I’m aware that my life is a very good one. Hopefully I’ll find a way to feel that more often.

Planet Mercenary Funded

The Kickstarter closed at noon today. I was watching when it happened. How could I not watch those final seconds count down? It tipped over into Funded and there was this pause in my head. For a long few seconds I looked at the number of backers and the number of dollars. Well now I know. It was the first clear thought in the pause. I know what the budget is for all the things we must do. I know how many people to whom I am responsible for spending that money wisely. Hitting funded is a solemn and awestruck moment as much as it is a happy one.

I have so many fears going forward. I know some of the stressful things that are ahead. I know that there will be other stresses that I do not expect. It seems that every project we do has some huge and potentially disastrous problem hidden in it. Thus far we’ve always avoided the disasters, but it felt really close many times. (Some day I really should give a full account of how the Massively Parallel bonus story was rescued from a major misprint at the very last minute.) I’m also very excited for what we get to make.

So this first few days after hitting funded is a time for Howard, Alan (our partner and game designer), and I to breathe. We need to pause and reset our minds for the new tasks ahead. We need to pick up some of the tasks we let drop. I need to give my youngest child some attention as he nears the end of his last year in elementary school.

But while I’m pausing to breathe, I should use some of that breath to say thank you to all the people who backed our project. Thank you to the people who spread the word. Thank you to the people who wished us well. Because of all of you, we get to make Planet Mercenary, and it is going to be amazing.

Big New Projects

Every time I think I’ve done the most complicated shipping project I’ll ever do, Howard and I manage to come up with something new. The Planet Mercenary RPG currently has over 4300 backers. And it doesn’t close until Monday. Each individual package will be simpler to assemble than the challenge coin packages were, but there will be more of them. Fortunately I have some time to plan. Shipping won’t begin until sometime next year. Also fortunately I have a loyal crew of people whom I can ask for help, because this is going to take many shipping days to get done.

And shipping is not the first big job. We’ve got to make the books amazing first. I am excited and daunted by this project. I’m honored that so many people trust us to get it done.

My first task will be to set up the pledge manager and get all of the backers into that system. I figure that will take most of the two weeks between the close of the Kickstarter and when we receive funds. The other project for those first two weeks will be to plan work schedules and assign deadlines. We’ll start commissioning some of the art and Howard will work on building the buffer. This is going to be a busy year and I’m excited to get started.

Dark and Bright

Is it the end of the school year yet? No. Two and a half long weeks remain. It feels like an endurance slog. Which is strange since in theory we’ve reached the part of the year where things are becoming complete. Yet Patch has melted into a big pile of stress instead of gaining energy as we near the end. It is the opposite of what I’d hoped for in the month of May. The quantity of things that I am behind on, and the quantity of extra tasks that get dumped on me at a moments notice are enough to crush me. I can hardly believe we’re only on Tuesday. So much has been crammed into the hours since Sunday morning.

Yet things are bright as well. Kiki is home, following me around and taking jobs away from me to do them herself. The weather has been lovely. My front flowerbeds are so beautiful that my neighbors have thanked me for the beauty they enjoy seeing when they come home. (I credit the flowerbeds to the hours Kiki and I put in last year. We will also not mention the beds around the trees which are mostly waist high grass.) The Kickstarter will close in less than a week and it has done very well. We’re going to have the resources we need to make lots of very cool stuff. I’m going to get to go to GenCon with Howard in July and I’m very much looking forward to that trip.

I have to remember the bright things because some of the hard stuff has nearly overwhelmed me in the past weeks. It is hard for me to find a hopeful perspective. At some point I need to write a post about how parenting depression is different from being married to it. I don’t have the energy for that post right now. Not on four hours of sleep and the careful management that will be necessary to land my kids in bed without any further emotional upheavals today.