What I Learned Watching The Girls Next Door as a Grown Woman

Originally appearing on Huffpost on October 1, 2017.

After being bombarded with Hugh Hefner’s death on my newsfeed, I decided to revisit one of my favorite shows as a 16-year-old, The Girls Next Door, for a nice nostalgic venture down memory lane last Friday evening. Within ten minutes of settling into the first episode of the series, my expectations of a fond recall quickly turned into unexpected disgust. It had been about a decade since I actually watched an episode of The Girls Next Door, which wrapped production in 2010. Watching the show became increasingly unsettling as a 28-year-old grown woman living in a society where women’s rights are constantly in jeopardy of being modified. These are the following observations made while watching the first five episodes of season one.

 

1. Kendra Wilkinson appeared to be the most genuine and the only one with a somewhat healthy sense of self-esteem.

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Truth be told, Kendra was my least favorite girlfriend up until I rewatched the show. Now I realize her portrayed genuineness and excitability is something that only a 20-year-old experiencing the unthinkable for the first time could express.

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Recalibrating the Reality of a Mother-Daughter Relationship

Although I have been known as a chronic daydreamer and an outward over-optimistic person, my grasp on reality has always been firm. While this momentarily causes me to be figuratively and literally unsteady while recalibrating myself, it has been the reason that throughout everything that has erupted throughout my life, I have managed to stay upright. But at this point in time, more than ever, all I want to do is run as far as possible beyond the grasp of the reality surrounding my mother.

Right now it is a struggle to accept the person my mother has become, trying my best to learn to love her as she is now, but is beyond hard. It has been so fucking hard. Perhaps this appears harsh or selfish. Despite my best intentions to convince myself things will go back to the old, not-even-close- to-perfect normal, the reality playing before my eyes cannot be ignored.

This is not the first time I have had to reconfigure my senses regarding my mother. At barely twelve years old, I was forced to adapt with the changes our mother-daughter relationship endured under the strain of chronic illness, as her physical and mental health conditions became the fourth member of our household. For over sixteen years, more than half my existence, I’ve lived with this adjusted role as my mother’s only child. Now as an adult who is acutely aware of the gravity of what is happening, the realistic outlook for the future and the pain plastered across my father’s face, this shift to this new ‘normal’ has been absolutely gut wrenching.

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Kinda, Sorta, Maybe Writer’s Block?

The most frustrating thing for a writer to experience is the inability to transcribe the message from the heart onto paper. Sometimes we struggle about what to write about, staring at the blinking cursor unable to come up with a string of sentences worth reading.

Other times, the content is there- jumping around our subconscious screaming to be let loose on the keyboard. But the feelings bubbling up inside just are too strong, too raw, too vivid to translate. They’re often times too intense to even sort through without having a physical reaction.

And sometimes life and situations require a hyper-focused period of time in life where it takes all of your energy to continue to stay afloat. When adulting requires your energy to be focused on the writing and projects that, for the moment, pay the bills. And by the end of the day after spending all day writing other messages, working to push other projects and spending the last waking hours of the day taking care of personal needs like summoning up the energy to wash your hair- there is nothing left to give to  the process of teasing out the ideas floating around the writer brain.

As much as I feel like a failure for not writing more essays or for taking a brief pause from writing my book, I have to remind myself- nothing lasts forever. In the not-so-far-away future, the pace of other areas in my life will return to a trot, rather than a fierce gallop that leaves nothing left for me to use. The holidays will not always be poking or irritating my barely scarred over emotional wound of dealing with family chaos. And the tiredness of life in general, from just having myself pulled, stretched and grown in so many ways this past year, will subside. While everyone knows about growing pains, what often times isn’t communicated well is the overall fatigue that accompanies it. The tired feeling after being in survival mode to adapt, often times unwillingly- while your muscles begin to unwind and your mind is trying to process ‘what did we just live though?’

But things I have done since over the past 3 months that will eventually be written about when the pace begins to even out in other areas of my life include:

 

  • My first solo vacation ever- to Disney World!

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  • Bought and successfully used a crock pot!

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  • Made my own Thanksgiving Eve dinner that involved cooking a turducken!
  • Celebrated my 2 year anniversary at my full-time job- officially making it the longest I’ve ever been somewhere!
  • Voted for the first female presidential candidate on Election Day, then vomited when I woke up the next day realizing she lost to B-rated reality television show shmuck.

 

At least writing this is a step, a tiny step, to getting back into the swing of personal writing.

This Too Shall Pass: Figuratively & Literally

14203089_10157310096840063_1061076551_oAt this moment in time, I am content. Not this day, not this hour. This moment at 8:42 am. The sun is streaming in from the floor-ceiling window with a gentle breeze causing my fly-away hairs to move. Despite the threats of terrible weather predicted all week, rain is nowhere to be found.

Sitting at my laptop with a large mocha iced latte beside me, I feel more at peace than I have in the last month. Maybe this sense of calmness will only last for the next few minutes. But being able to be in the moment, soaking in the slow introduction of fall and the realization that I infact made way through a rocky month of August, is a gift from the universe I am embracing with open arms.

Another reason I’m grateful for this moment in time is that my body finally feels like my own again. It only takes a short bit of time to know me until it becomes apparent that part of my sparkling personality involves a splash of hypochondria. Okay maybe a few liters or a gallon.

The night before making my First Holy Communion in the 2nd grade, I kept my parents up throughout the evening because I was positive that chicken poxs were going to appear and prevent me from finally getting to eat Jesus.

In college when my hands would begin to tremble, I had convinced myself that it was an early onset of Parkinson’s disease or ALS – at age 20. I totally ignored the fact that I was living off iced coffees and pop tarts, forgetting to eat several times a day while working on the student paper and juggling 20 credits.

13942217_10157160752825063_1537420903_nAnd I’ve lost track on how many times I have been convinced that my headaches were a warning signs of a brain tumor or impending aneurysm. Forget the fact that I was dehydrated/not wearing the glasses/forgot to take my medicine/was over tired.

So when my stomach began to feel increasingly bloated early last month with cramps, my anxiety began to skyrocket. My doctor listened to me as I rattled off potential diagnoses, which I then took a breath and asked her if I had ovarian cancer.  Why ovarian cancer? Because I read the preventive pamphlet in the waiting room lobby and took it as a premonition.

This was all before she had a chance to exam me, order or any tests, or get out any words besides ‘Hi there, so what brings you in today,’.

From being my primary doctor for over a year now, she smiled and knew that this was typical for me. After poking, prodding, a pelvic ultrasound and a blood test, I was given a clean bill of health with the caveat of keeping an eye on the pain as it could be an early sign of gallstones.

Basically the reason I was so uncomfortable was that I was full of shit. Literally. Of course knowing it was nothing more than a back up, my worry subsided. Ha….wishful thinking!

The next phase of my hypochondria was figuring out why I had this sudden back up in my plumbing. Of course, working in healthcare marketing does not help a hypochondriac manage fears. My job actually fuels my fears similar to the pumping a child with pixie sticks- it can get ugly fast.  Part of my work involves capturing patient stories, learning about their sudden onset of illness that caused them to almost lose their lives out of the blue. These diseases and diagnoses swirl through my mind, while I google despite being banned from it from both my primary doctor and my therapist, Dr. R. In the midst of this anxiety all while managing to work full time, I embarked on operation get my shit moving again.

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Things I learned during this unpleasant tasting discovery:

  • Prunes smell horrible, and taste just as bad
  • Prune juice now comes in a 6 pack
  • Miralax tastes best in apple juice
  • Kashi cereal has more fiber than prunes
  • It is never a good idea to take 6 stool softeners at one time
  • Anytime when buying laxatives, it is a rule of the universe that at least 2 people you know will magically appear in the checkout line, causing you to have to awkwardly hide the poop pills
  • An all natural colon cleanse supplement will make you cry out of horror of what is coming out of your body, and joy that shit is FINALLY coming out of your body.

While this ordeal was enough of a shit storm (pun totally intended) to derail a positive frame of mind, I also was alone in my apartment for 2 weeks while my roommate was traveling, and because of scheduling issues, I was unable to go to my weekly therapy sessions with Dr. R for 3 weeks.

Needless to say that this was the perfect setup for a spiral of self pity, worse case scenario planning, and a not-so-compassionate inner dialogue.

14182428_10157310096845063_1757199719_nBut the last week of August brought both cool weather to Philadelphia, and much needed relief to multiple areas of my life. My body finally has working plumbing again, meaning my pants and shirts finally fit again.

Rather than stressing about what my body is plotting against me, my energy can now be redirected to doing productive things like cooking dinner, writing and not being a miserable toad.

I finally went back to therapy, which was like an hour massage for the psyche. And after two weeks, my roommate is in route home from abroad. As much as I love Annie the cat as a roommate, she is not the best person to watch Jeopardy with after work.

Now it is 9:22 am and I am still enjoying the moment of the coffee shop calmness. And that I am breathing. Because the thing that continued to help me move through the hot mess of August was the phrase ‘this too shall pass’.  

Every moment is fleeting. The amazing moments of life surrounded by family members and friends. The terrible situations of grief and heartache that in the moment feel eternal. But no matter how joyus, how soul crushing a moment is, it shall pass.

Cartoon Bears and Dealing with 2016

Huff-Post-WTF-GOPThe world has become super depressing in recent months.

Not that this breaking news for anyone who happens to be plugged into any type of media these days.

Every few weeks the profile photos of my Facebook friends change to pay tribute to the latest victims of devastation. Outcries for justice, law reform and just civilized humanity continues to trickle into all walks of life.

As I’ve shared before, acts of terrorism and public shooting sprees have always been part of my life as I am the generation  that was in preschool during the Oklahoma  City bombing, elementary school during Columbine High and junior high during 9/11. But as a 27 year old living in a major US city, recent weeks watching the evening news as left me nauseous.


orlandoA man (if you can call him that) has become a presidential nominee because of support behind his asinine ideal of building a freaking wall to shut refugees out of our country, in addition to calling for a registry of an entire population based on religion. Apparently he and those who support him are totally oblivious of what happened during World War II.

Innocent young men are being tasered, beaten, assaulted and shot to death by those who are supposed to be charged with protecting our freedom through ensuring safety because of the color of their skin.

Police officers who drastically differ from their disgraceful rouge colleagues now face increased fear for their lives while enduring open hatred aimed towards them, serving as the scapegoat for the sins of dirty cops.  Memorials around blood stained sidewalks are the new norm serving as a reminder of the fate of so many who made the decision to leave their house at the same time a mentally unstable, terrorist acted on plans of destruction.

webarebears_promoWith the heaviness of the news being almost panic-attack inducing, I decided to take a break from the evening news. And what better way to break from reality for a brief moment is to watch the complete opposite? This past week while eating dinner, my television has kept me entertaining with the hijinks of We Bare Bears.

Incase you don’t have any kids or haven’t made a recent break from reality, the 30 minute cartoon on Cartoon Network is about three adopted brothers who are fond of the internet, eating and scheming.

cn_cee_we_bare_bears__cn3__wallpaper_01_1600x900As much as the word lol is written in my daily text messaging, nothing has made me actually laugh out loud like watching this show- so much so Annie Cat was quite startled (we need to work on her sense of humor).

In case you’re wondering, my favorite character is Ice Bear because of my soft spot for polar bears (stemming from the Coca Cola Christmas Bears), and how he refers to himself in third person. Also, he sleeps in the refrigerator and for most of my childhood I tried to come up with a workable way to figure out how to sleep in one without suffocating. Spoiler alert- the puzzle was never solved.
tri-movie-postersDuring the 30s and 40s movies, especially cartoons, were massively popular because of their cheap ability to allow people to escape war and poverty plaguing the world. And while the movie theater has become a site of mass murders, the concept of becoming lost in a clear-cut world for a bit of time still remains therapeutic almost a century later.  

As an active adult who is plugged into to social media and the real world, a full escape from reality would never happen. Besides, in order to be part of the solution there cannot be retreating and avoidance. However for a brief hour each day while decompressing after work and everyday human-being stressors of the 21st century, We Bare Bears is unexpected soul food.

Redefining a Mother’s Love

Originally published on Huffington Post

Happy-Mothers-Day-716527Mother’s Day is a punch in the gut for anyone not celebrating with their mother. The ache doesn’t discriminate against the reason of absence. The social media feeds that will be saturated with Mother’s Day tributes will be downright painful for all of us coping with a void.

The feeling of motherlessness is overwhelming countless times throughout the year, but near Mother’s Day its intensity can be downright suffocating. As the days creep closer to that Sunday, my anxiety level continues to steadily increase to an agitated state. This will be the first Mother’s Day without my mom, since making the decision to cut off contact with her for my own sanity earlier this year. Conflicting feelings are battling inside my heart- dread of the actual day and anticipation of its passing until the next year. While traditional holidays celebrated on my own have been developed over the past several years, the awkwardness of establishing a new way to get through the day is fresh.

Not surprisingly, my past several weekly therapy sessions with Dr. R have centered on making sense of the emotional tornado brewing. While working through this, Dr. R has repeatedly encouraged me to really figure out what I needed in order to comfort myself. Pulling the covers over my head with the companionship of pinot noir and Grey’s Anatomy reruns was my first instinct. Or to abandon my smartphone for the weekend and seclude myself at a hotel. To not be reminded of what I am missing on Mother’s Day was the answer I continuously kept arriving at.

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Severing The Ties That Bind

Originally published on Huffington Post

Without a doubt, I am currently fumbling through the complicated, messy and overwhelming grieving process over the loss of my mother. The past three months have been filled with unexpected waves of emotions that continue to catapult both my heart and head in a million directions. Moments of denial, fueled by longing, sometimes try to creep into defuse logical with false hope that things will go back to normal, or at least as normal as my family could muster. That her voice would be able to be heard over the phone, rambling on about the characters encountered at the food store trip with my father and the latest antics of the family dog that only will eat dinner if someone sits on the floor beside her.

 

detail-of-left-mirror-car-while-driving-on-a-rainy-day-highway_e126zjuh__S0011Driving through the streets of Philadelphia, I sobbed alone in the car navigating rush hour on my way home from work last week, smearing mascara all over my sweater while navigating rush hour traffic as ‘Knock Three Times’ blared through the car. The song was one of her 70s favorites like Joy to the World and Bad Boy Leroy Brown that served as the soundtrack to summers of my childhood. To happier times spent floating in our above ground pool, playing gin rummy with Mickey Mouse playing cards and drinking our matching margaritas, mine sans tequila. Those summers took place so long ago, before either of us had the terms bypass surgery, stents, blood thinners, disability, cognitive impairments and brain damage in our vernacular.

 

At times, thoughts tangled in unfairness and pain tend to raise my blood pressure. I try to be mindful not to venture too far down the path where there are unturned stones of unproductive feelings that will only cause me to mentally stumble. Why didn’t she fight harder to mend herself physically and mentally? How can someone who has a daughter and a husband not care enough to be there for them- in all capacities. If these questions had logical resolutions that brought any comfort, then myself and others dealing with complex emotional wounds would be all over it faster than flies on a garbage heap. But questions that tend to haunt us in the middle of the night, when there are no distractions for the grief, are more elusive than Bigfoot.

 

51Zu5zbzWDLWithout a doubt there are ebbs and flows of peacefulness that accompanies not having to anticipate the illogical but certain chaos associated with my mother. No longer does my stomach churn while driving up the street I grew up on, because I longer go there. I removed myself from participating in the emotional version of Russian Roulette-not knowing what version of my mother would be waiting for me when walking into the door or picking up the phone. And the role that guilt has played through this experiences tends to flair up when coming across stories or posts on social media. Stories focused around the heartache losing someone who was actively participating in life until fate decided to be an asshole and cut their time short, impacting their loved ones. Because their grief is accompanied by literally burying a body into the ground. Exactly where my current journey with loss and grieving differs.

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Untangling Myself from an Emotional Rock Bottom

Originally published on Elephant Journal on 1/28/2016.

 

RG-Mermaid-2Not being able to see instant gratification from a newly-incorporated healthier lifestyle can snuff out any enthusiasm for sticking with it.

But sometimes we find ourselves in situations where there is no other choice but to stick it out for the long haul, clinging to the promise of an elusive “one day.” The alternative is to continue down a path of self destruction, whether it be emotional, physical or often times both.

A person does not suddenly wake up one morning and find themselves unexpectedly at rock bottom. The trail is paved by half-hearted attempts to integrate new routines that always seem to be sidelined by discouragement, before being forgotten for tried and true habits. The cycle repeats itself indefinitely until the build up of poor choices leads to a derailment of everyday life, serving as a gut-punching S.O.S.

Hitting rock-bottom is similar to sitting on the bottom of a swimming pool and looking straight up to the surface. At the bottom of the swimming pool, there is an awareness of sound and movement whirling above, but nothing is clear enough to be understood. Although a person may be able to avoid the wave-making commotion and chaos transpiring above, it comes at the price of never being able to experience the direct warmth of the sun.

Two years ago, I had realized that years of unresolved feelings and continuous unhealthy choices had navigated me to an emotional rock-bottom. Continue reading

33 Articles Published in 365 Days

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For me, 2015 can be described as wordy – literally! Over the past 365 days, I have had 33 essays published across multiple outlets- 20 syndicated and 13 original. Having the opportunity to allow my work to be introduced to new readers has been the best thing to happen this year.

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365 in 365- Kinda, Sorta, Let Me Explain

il_570xN.483656551_25qxAlmost exactly a year ago, I had decided to embark in an ambitious endeavor of completing 365 things 365 days. At the time, it was a creative way for me to continue to try new things while regaining a new life balance, something that was lacking in 2014. The original list was full of mini road trips, photography projects, wish list items and many, many, many random to-dos

Forgive me if this sounds cliche, but there is no other phrase that can describe why all of the items on the list did not get completed. The unexpected happened in my life early in the year, placing me on a winding path for the rest of the year. Instead of focusing on this list that was sure to bring me enlightenment, circumstances caused me to rise to the occasion at work, where I had barely been for four months. An unintended Master’s class was upon me, expanding my industry knowledge and skills sets in a baptism by fire way. Somehow I blinked, and 2015 is in the final stages. In total, 95 items have been completed on the original 365 list. Yet there is no doubt that over the past year, the amount of new experiences, purchases, projects and skills developed total that target number of 365.

doallthethingsWhile all of the items are not included on here, each one has impacted who I am. From discovering my uncanny ability to multitask high priority tasks, to exploring my strengths as a professional, the direction of my future is clearer now than I had anticipated it would be this time last year. In respects to my writing, in 2015 I have had 33 essays published including 20 syndicated pieces and 13 original. My mind is still reeling about that reality. The gratitude I have in my heart for the opportunity to share my stories to help others feel less alone cannot even begin to be explained. Personally, the items that were completed (both planned and spontaneous) served as additional crumbs of insight leading me the path of learning more about myself. Self acceptance and inner peace is still a daily struggle, but maintaining an undistorted viewpoint has become more manageable.

To check out my favorite moments of 2015, including a photo gallery, click here!

To check out a photo gallery of my favorite photographs that I’ve snapped in 2015, click here! 

To check out all of the 33 articles I’ve had published in 2015, click here! 

Below are the list of the 90 items checked off the list, as well as a few of the additions: Continue reading