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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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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Finding My Voice, Baring My Soul, and Pissing People Off

baby-writingOver the past year or so I’ve grown as a writer. I’m learning that part of that means that at times tears will be running down my face as my fingers bang out the words that are pouring out of me. Other times, it leaves me unpopular with others as I refrain from wrapping each essay with a cookie cutter ending.

For years I’ve searched for articles and essays that ring true to my heart. And there have been times where I stumble across pieces of writing that make me feel less alone. That is what drives me to be a writer. My latest piece on Bustle took months working on with the amazing editor Rachel Krantz, but she pushed me to turn in into one of the proudest pieces I have ever written. Feel free to check it out! 

Stroke Awareness Month Thoughts from the 25-Year-old Daughter of a Multiple Stroke Victim.

American-Stroke-Month-2-The irony that Stroke Awareness Month takes place during the same month as Mother’s Day is not lost on me. For the past ten years, the words ‘stroke’ and ‘mother’ has become intertwined. Both have played a substantial role in shaping the adult I have become. Coming to terms with my relationship with both is an ongoing struggle. This is not a Stroke Awareness Month essay to bring awareness to the importance of healthy habits and early detection to lower stroke risk. Nor is this an inspirational essay about life after stroke and the lessons it taught has my family. What I write is about the reality of being a 25-years-old daughter of a multiple stroke victim, and how the it can make the future a bit terrifying

Unpredictable. That sums up what I have learned from the decade long experience of being the daughter of a multiple stroke and heart attack survivor. The other day, the news segment on the car radio reminded me that May is National Stroke Awareness Month. Ironically, it was the moment I pulling into the driveway of my childhood home for my weekly visit. The place where my family and I were unwillingly indoctrinated into the world of stroke in 2004 when I was 15 years old. In this household, every month is Stroke Awareness Month.

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New Publication: Skirt Collective

SC-icon-5I’m thrilled to have my first essay published on Skirt Collective!  Per their website ‘Skirt Collective aims to be the modern woman’s compass for navigating culture, fashion, and the real world. Nestled between street smarts and book smarts, SC connects readers with practical information and opinions from a diverse array of voices in an honest, virtual space.’

You can read my latest article on their website. 

Hopefully this will be the first of many pieces that will be shared on their website! Make sure to follow them on Twitter and like them on Facebook.

Generations Of Dysfunctional Body Image Ends With Me

Originally Published on Bustle in 2/2015

When you think of the phrase “eating disorder,” who do you picture? Young girls with visible ribs poking out of their barely-there pubescent bodies? Teenagers with their heads dangling in a toilet bowl?

Most likely, you don’t picture someone who looks like me. From a young age, I was praised for being a “good eater,” meaning I was open to all different types of foods, and my weight was always “healthy”.

Eating was a popular pastime in my family growing up, but cooking was left out of the equation. My mother’s goal each night was to serve a meal without using the oven, because she thought it made the house too hot. We ate packaged food covered in butter or cheese. Our proteins consisted of any meat my father could put on the grill, which oscillated between cheeseburgers, hot dogs, and pork loin.

At some point during my childhood, food became the reward. When my parents would have a major fight, or when my mom was sick in the hospital, my dad would bring me to a fast food place to eat. Over a Taco Bell Mexican pizza, he would promise me that things would get better, and that we would be a happy family one day. For a brief moment over that cheesy meal, I felt safe.

My mom had her first heart attack when I was twelve years old, and required an emergency quadruple bypass at age 43. That was the catalyst for other health issues, including several strokes, severe depression, and anxiety. It was a rare moment when my parents weren’t fighting over her health, the inability to pay bills, or even how I was being raised.

My self-image, like most young girls, became skewed around the fifth grade. Not only did I want to look like the models on my WB shows or in my CosmoGirl magazine —  I wanted to look good enough for my family to be happy. During fall semester of my junior year, I began restricting myself to eating only kidney beans. My college roommates would beg me to eat something else. When I called home to lament to my mother about their negative overreactions, she only fueled the fire. “They’re just bitter you’re losing weight. Keep it up,” she reassured me over the phone.

My mother’s weight yo-yo’ed throughout my childhood, and my father would belittle her for not being the size 8 she had once been. At night, I would sit at the kitchen table, watching her pop diet pills; each month, she’d try try a different brand that promised even better results. Sometimes, she would skip meals, but then, late at night, I would come down to find her binge-eating a container of cookies.

My mother never talked about exercise or eating in moderation. She never once considered signing up for a gym, or even walking around our neighborhood. After she became chronically ill when I was entering my teen years, she pushed her own looks to the side — and began to zone in on my appearance instead.

“We need to get you thinner, without that horrible stomach,” she’d say to me as a 17-year old. “You’re just not that kind of thin girl like [insert skinny friend’s name],” she’d point out.

For years, every time I left the house, I would ask her, ”Do I look pretty, do I look skinny?”

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A Ribbon-less Holiday: World Stroke Day

89759 (1)During the entire month of October, the color pink has been splashed everywhere. City lights, donation canisters at cash registers, and the plethora of products that are branded as ‘breast cancer awareness’ have made it impossible for anyone not to know that October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. At an event I attended this month, the speaker asked all those who have survived breast cancer to stand while the audience applauded. No doubt- these women are survivors. However, October is also a time to raise awareness for another severe health crisis.

You probably didn’t know that every 40 seconds, an American has a stroke, equaling 795,000 victims each year. Or that that October 29 is World Stroke Day.

According to the American Heart Association, the acronym F.A.S.T. is an easy way to recognize stroke symptoms: Face Drooping, Arm Weakness, Speech Difficulty, Time to Dial 9-1-1. Chances are that if I went up to people on the street, most would be unable to identify stroke symptoms, but all would be able to share the importance breast examinations. Continue reading

Throwing Warm and Fuzzy out the Window

As seen on Huffington Post, published on 05/14/2013

IMG_2288While browsing the card aisle trying to pick out a card for my mother on her special holiday, I began to feel overwhelmed. Most of the cards spouted messages of thanks for always being there, for always showing the right path in life while being an amazing role model. As nice as the inscriptions were, they did not portray the relationship I have with my own mother.

The sentiments seemed more appropriate for the maternal figures portrayed in televisions shows — the flawless ones that always seem to make the right decisions and can fix everything in under an hour. All of the messaging seemed to sugarcoat the intense, strong but complex love I have for my her. My mother is a lot of things, but she is not flawless. And neither is your mother. Continue reading

I’ll Be Home for Christmas

As seen on Huffington Post, Published on 12/10/2012

IMG_4321
Kathy the Christmas Elf!

Last Saturday night, my house was discombobulated. Strands of colored Christmas lights covered the floors, snow man figurines were lined up on the coffee table and garland was draped over the loveseat, nearly tripping each person passing by trying to get to the bathroom. In the middle of it all, my mother sat Indian-style carefully surveying the situation. Like a commander in chief, she was trying to figure out the best way to decorate, making sure each smiling snow creature could be scene and every light was appreciated. “What are you doing” she squeaked when I tried to pick up the garland to begin hanging it. I soon learned the best way to help was to sit on the floor, assisting to hold and pin things when she was ready. Instead of being annoying of her Christmas decoration takeover kick, I found myself smiling watching her get into the spirit. It reminded me that almost 11 years ago to the date, we almost lost the opportunity to ever decorate together.

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