Saturday, September 14, 2013

Finding the Happy

It's a good thing I have never been one who is afraid of sharing parts of my life with others.  Because this is another very personal post.

To say the least, life has been frustrating lately.  It has been scary.  It has been a roller coaster of ups and downs and I am riding without a safety harness.  I have been letting life happen to me instead of embracing the lessons that it is offering me.  I don't learn well from life.  I can look back at decisions I've made, and they are the same ones over and over, and yet I keep expecting different results.  I decided it's about time for me to take a moment and try to figure out how I need to change.  Because I'm tired.  Tired of being steamrolled by life.

I'm a high school teacher.  Whenever June rolls around, teachers get very excited.  They start making plans.  THIS summer is going to mark THE summer where EVERYTHING gets done.  I will turn into this amazing Martha-Stewartesque person and my house will suddenly get cleaned, I will become a baker, I will travel everywhere, I will work out every day, I will do everything I've ever wanted in this minuscule amount of time, but I can do it because I am free!  I thought I had all summer.  I was wrong.

In late June, I got a phone call from my dad.  He said that Mom was in so much pain she couldn't move, and she was being so stubborn and wouldn't go to the ER.  I went over, took one look at her, and told her she had no other option.  An argument ensued, but I won.  I was going to win that one.  We got her in the car, screaming and yelling in pain, barely able to sit up.  They diagnosed her with sciatica; a nerve was pinched and would require physical therapy.  A few days later, we returned.  She was still in excruciating pain.  This time, she had a bladder/kidney infection; oh yeah, and still sciatica.  A third visit, this time by ambulance because she couldn't move, resulted in a swift "we're sorry, but you're just going to have to let it work its way out."  Physical therapy started.  They said there is no way she can be in this much pain with this diagnosis.  They ordered an MRI and finally found the correct diagnosis: an incredibly dangerous and massive staff infection located in her spinal column and attached in three places to the muscle tissues and nerves along the outer spine.  Not sciatica.

A few days more of missed diagnoses and she would have died.  Her doctor has told her that most people with this condition never walk again.  She is lucky.  She is walking again with assistance.  They are expecting full recovery, but it is going to take a lot of time, hard work, and patience.

It is a hard thing to watch a parent struggle.  I swore up and down I wasn't strong enough to go through this, and I wasn't even the one in pain.  But it was painful.  It is the most painful thing in the world to watch.

As soon as I started thinking, "I can handle this.  I've got this Life.  Bring it on," my dad got sick.  My dad.  My rock.  My foundation in all things life.  It's now August.  My mother is in a rehabilitation home learning to walk again.  I am having to drive my dad to his doctor's appointment because over and over his doctor can't figure out why he is short of breath.  They can't diagnose why he can't walk more than 10 feet without having to sit down.  They have done chest x-rays, blood tests, poked and prodded, and come up empty-handed.

The nurse puts an oxygen monitor on my dad's finger.  It reads 77%.  She puts a different one on his finger.  "Maybe that one's broken," she says.  Still 77%.  She puts it on her own finger.  "98%."  She tells us "You need to go to the ER now."  They put him in the cardiac ward thinking he's had a mild heart attack.  I'm watching him struggle to take in every breath, hunched over, pale, and not responding to me when I speak.  I run and get the nurse.  She comes in, tries talking to him, and he looks up at me with terror in his eyes.

I have never seen my father look scared.  Ever.  He is my hero, my spider killer, my person who attacks monsters in the closet, my arm to grab onto in a scary movie.  He's not afraid of anything.  And here he is terrified.  Suddenly there are doctors and nurses everywhere.  People flying around the corners and pushing me out of the way and trying to poke him and give him oxygen and asking me about his final wishes.  His final wishes.  No no no.  I can't hear those words.  Not while I'm alone.  Not while my mother is miles away, deathly sick, too.  "Do you know his DNR orders?  Does he have a living will?  We may have to intubate him.  Does he want us to take all precautions if his heart should stop beating?"  YES!!!  A resounding YES! You do everything you can!  And then I panic.  I am standing there holding his feet, looking at his struggling body and the world is falling around me.  I cannot watch this.  I cannot be there for him right now.  I walk out into the hallway for fresh air and crumble to the floor sobbing.  He is not allowed to do this!  He is not allowed to leave me.  My father is NOT allowed to die!

I walk back in and tell him so.  Thank God my dad listens to me.  His stats go up and he starts breathing on his own.  Final diagnosis: a rare form of pneumonia.  He spent a few nights in ICU, a few days in the hospital, and took some meds at home.  Done.  All better.

My summer was filled with running around, paying bills, making sure my parents kept their house and their water on, seeing to my mother's laundry and every need, buying deodorant and bringing it to my dad in the hospital (because, good Lord, a few days without it and he was ripe), cleaning up their house and making it ready for a walker, puppysitting their dog, taking them to doctor's appointments, kicking my nephew out of the house, and trying to find sanity time for myself.  All those summer dreams?  Vanished.  No time to cook healthy meals.  Gotta eat fast food on the go.  Cleaning my house?  Psh.  No time for that.  Fun travel plans?  Plenty of travelling occurred from home, to rehab, to hospital, repeat.  Sadly, I visited all 5 floors of that hospital at some point during the summer.  I also know what you have to buy in the gift shop to be able to use your credit card: 1 soda, 1 bag of popcorn, a danish, and 4 mini candy bars from the counter.  Boom. $5.04.

I fear I am starting to sound selfish here or that I want self-pity.  That's not the purpose of this post.  First, I needed to write all of these events down.  I've told my students that the best way for me to get over something is to write about it.  So, there it is.  There's the story of my summer.  Most of it.  There's still other struggles I had, struggles that seem petty when compared to everything else.  Struggles like my dog eating a half-pound package of gummy bears, like my various dating/boy issues (that's a whole entire post by itself), like my car not passing inspection, like my mom missing my birthday, like my best friend being diagnosed with cancer, and so many more troubles that, if they had happened without all of the other major problems of my summer, I would have been able to shake them off, to take them in stride, to bear them.  Instead, they became the icing on my sagging cake.

I kept allowing life to happen TO me, and something had to give.  I needed to stop caring so much about what everyone else had.  I would sit there and look at Facebook at everyone's posts.  Oh look.  Someone else just got engaged.  Oh neat.  Someone else is having a baby.  Oh yippee.  Those are awesome vacation pictures that someone else is posting.  Oh yay.  Your boyfriend allowed you to put "in a relationship" on your page.  High five.  I was becoming bitter.

Everything in my summer was happening to others, both the good and the bad.  And I was letting life make it feel like all the bad was happening only to ME.  Finally, this morning, I was like "Dude, you gotta snap outta this.  Somethings gotta give."  So, my only solution was A) to write about it, B) try to figure out a reason for all of this while I write about it, and C) (my answer to B) start looking at everything in a better light because life is going to suck sometimes but I gotta live it and not let it bring me down.  I can't change life.  I can only change my perspective on it.

Last night, I found out that my ex is having a baby.  At first, those bitter thoughts began to crawl back into my head.  "At least someone gets their happy ending."  But, I woke up this morning with a different attitude.  Yes.  He gets his happy ending.  And good for him.  That wasn't the ending I wanted for myself anyway.  I didn't want him.  So good for him to find his happy.  Now, where is MY happy?  It's somewhere.  In the future.  Hopefully, not too far away.  So far, my happy has started with cheesy eggs and hashbrowns and a great kickball game with a game-winning kick. My happy has started with a father who is well again and a mother who is on her way to recovery.  My happy has started with knowing who my true friends and family are through their allowing me to lean on them this summer.  My happy has started with an amazing job teaching children and being there for them.  My happy has started with a clean slate in the dating world, shaking off those horrible decisions I keep making and a desire to learn from my past.  My happy has started off with puppy kisses and the ability to get out of bed this morning.  My happy has started off as a single, strong woman, with hopes and desires to be able to share it with someone who isn't a part of my happy yet.  But they will be someday.  The point is, I will have my happy.

 Life isn't going to change.  Life is still going to have its moments.  But I can change.  I can look at things from a better perspective and force it to change me for the better.


  1. Jen, that was extremely powerful and brave of you to write...and post! I hope we can become better friends this year. :)

  2. I agree, Jennifer, this was such a baring of your soul. Despite all of the struggles and pain of this summer, I don't know anyone else who could have come through it with as much positivity and strength as you did. The people in your life are truly lucky to have you in their lives. You deserve happy. I hope it finds its way to you very soon.