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Sad, Scared, Scarred; Serene

Here’s a snippet of what my head was telling me last night. I’m estimating that these thoughts all took place in about a five minute period:

Yesterday, I wrote a blog post on what not to say to a depressed/anxious/suicidal person, when they’re in the thick of things. I hope today’s post helps to give more insight into how people (like me,) think, even when we’re NOT in a deep depression. I hope it helps someone cope with their “loud” head.

When I get sad, I almost always feel scared and self-critical. It takes abundant, repeated practice of coping strategies for me to realize that I’m just sad and in actuality, okay. No matter, I can get pretty panicked by it.

Last night, I felt sad. Over the past year or so, when I feel sad I am oftentimes missing my former super energetic and enthusiastic approach to virtually everything. (Okay, I have never been enthusiastic about anything related to taxes or health insurance enrollment, but almost everything else.) I miss the “old me,” and when I’m sad, I usually feel my scars; both literally and figuratively and my worst self-critic emerges ruthlessly.

Before I realize I’m not in a deep depression, my head questions and criticizes a million things, real or imagined. It can be a mean place upstairs.

Here’s a snippet of what my head was telling me last night. I’m estimating that these thoughts all took place in about a five minute period:

Continue reading “Sad, Scared, Scarred; Serene”
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“Just Think Positive!” …sigh…

I urge you to challenge your own biases where mental illness is concerned. As you read this, you may be thinking you’re not biased. If this is actually true, you’re amazing.

If you have a loved one who suffers from major depressive or bipolar disorder, anxiety, BPD, PTSD, c-PTSD etc., and they may even be suicidal or have suicidal ideation, I have compiled a list of things said to me by well-meaning loved ones who sought only to support me. With their words, I was left feeling even worse than I already did. So, I’m giving mere suggestions here in this blog post, based on my own personal experience.

Continue reading ““Just Think Positive!” …sigh…”
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Sick-lic Supercell Storms

Cyclic SupercellA thunderstorm that undergoes cycles of intensification and weakening (pulses) while maintaining its individuality. Cyclic supercells are capable of producing multiple tornadoes (i.e., a tornado family) and/or several bursts of severe weather.

Sick-lic Supercell: A storm that undergoes cycles of intensification and weakening (pulses) while not caring about individuality. Sick-lic supercells are capable of producing depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation, PTSD, bursts of mania, overeating, undereating, recovery, tentative single-parenting, severe guilt, financial stresses, perfectionism, people-pleasing and a buncha other stuff.


In 2019, one of my daughters seemed really down about something. Like most moms, I worked hard to help her get to the bottom of it. After incessant (and “very annoying”) prodding on my part, my daughter finally shared that she was devastated to realize I wasn’t the pretty princess heroine of a mother she once thought I was. The jig was up — She knew the real skinny; I was actually just a human being with all sorts of imperfections, quirks and challenges. She was most obviously disappointed to learn of this truth. My other daughter was also grieving “the old me,” and I was grieving my daughters’ idyllic perception of me. All of this inspired a blog post titled, “The Practice for the Panicky Parent.”

After the dust of this harsh news settled, I assumed we’d all get on with our lives per usual. It never dawned on me that we might remain in a storm that at times, became increasingly more unpredictable and severe.

I could rattle off a whole slew of reasons as to why our family has been in a cyclic/sick-lic, perfect/imperfect storm. I’m not going to do that here. Instead, I’d rather focus on how, as a family, we are learning to take shelter. What really matters is getting okay around co-existing with and accepting a sometimes brutal storm system that will likely hover and surge in perpetuity. On occasion, it may pelt us with thunder, heavy rain, and hail damage, for good.

Even still, I am grateful for the peace, love and hearty laughter that occurs when we find ourselves in the calm eye of the storm. Sometimes, we can even hang in the eye for a good chunk of time. When there are signs that the wind is shifting and precipitation may increase, my daughters have learned to take care of themselves. They must. Oftentimes, this means leaving me to contend with my own storm surge, without them. Then, it is up to me to reach out to the meteorological masters who know best how to help me brave the harsh elements.

I’m not going to lie. As someone who has been coined, “Supermom,” (even though I have NEVER thought of myself that way,) I have walked through an almost unbearable amount of shame and self-judgement. On the upside, I have learned a whole new level of forgiveness of self, the understanding of and forgiveness of others and effective methods of course adjustment. Naturally, all of this wavers. I am, however, deeply grateful for my commitment to daily practice. I do not always succeed and I will never always succeed. The acceptance of this fact is a welcome gift for this perfectionist.

Through practice and A LOT of practice, I am starting to figure out ways to make it through inclement weather, erosion, sinkholes and other unforeseen circumstances.

For some time, (which felt like an eternity), there were no breaks in the cloud cover. I was nearly sure I’d never see the sun again and while I want to write an inspiring blog post about how I rose from the darkness and emerged into the light, the truth is, sometimes I do and sometimes, I don’t. I never stop trying and practicing and I can’t do it by myself no matter my level of tenacity and will.

Some good news is that I do understand a bit more about how my cloud patterns move and where the breaks might be. This may not sound like much, but it’s improving my personal weather forecast and in turn, benefits my beautiful family, friends and colleagues.

Several years ago, I was taking a walk with someone and she said, “Pam, It’s like you have a dark cloud over you or something!” While I was taken aback and couldn’t believe anyone would ever say this to someone, I responded, “No I don’t have a dark cloud over my head and I don’t ask why certain things happen. I mean, we can’t REALLY know why, right? Asking “why?” doesn’t help.”

Today, my response wouldn’t be that different except that sometimes, I really do have a dark cloud over my head and even inside of me. I still don’t ask why it is. I just do what I can to remember that I am enough in any kind of weather and may my kids know they’re enough no matter what. NO MATTER WHAT.

Through action and a commitment to practice, I find myself capable of believing there will eventually be a break in the clouds. In absolutely any kind of weather, the sun is above and bigger than the clouds.

Also, the sun is patient.

It’s just waiting there, excited to shine once again.

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Pam or “Ma’am?”

Today’s crankiness could be attributed to the fact that it’s Monday and some Mondays are extra Monday-ish, (like this one.) It’s also a million degrees outside with 150% humidity and I may or may not be menopausal, but whoa… I’ve really disliked being called, “Ma’am” on this particular day.

Argh.

I visited just two places and at both locations, I was addressed multiple times by the moniker that sometimes, makes me shudder;

  • MA’AM, your prescription can’t be filled today.” (Pharmacy staff)
  • “Polly’s prescription is ready for you, MA’AM.” (Vet staff)
  • MA’AM, do you want to put your rewards number in?” (Cashier)
  • “Pardon me, MA’AM… (Customer sharing the aisle with me)
  • “MA’AM? MA’AM? MA’AM?!” (Pharmacy staff trying to get my attention)

Sometimes, I really don’t mind being addressed this way. Today, it was different. It happened so many times in a period of about 60 minutes.

I do know some women who are downright offended by the term AT ABSOLUTELY ALL TIMES, because it somehow makes them feel old; but really, isn’t it a polite term of respect more than age?

Please discuss and do let me know your thoughts. I’m genuinely curious!

Look, I don’t care much about age, so whether or not someone thinks I’m old doesn’t matter to me. What bugged me most about today is that I felt like “ma’am” put a type of formal distance between me and the human beings who were addressing me. I’m a person who really likes to get to know other people.

So, yeah… it’s my problem. If other people feel more comfy calling me, “Ma’am,” (cringe) I’ll have to be okay with it. I can’t envision myself correcting someone when in actuality, they’re pretty correct. I probably am a “ma’am.” I’m a “ma’am” named Pam. Speaking of which…

don’t eeeeeee-ven get me started on how “Ma’am” rhymes with my name. I often think people who know me are calling out my name when in fact, they’re really saying, “ma’am.”

This minor quibble definitely falls into the high-class kvetch category. Also, on a brighter note, it would be even tougher if I was a man named, “Adam” and I thought people were calling me, “Madam.” 🙂

P.S. I haven’t yet made it to “MADAM/MADAME” status unless I’m at a French restaurant which of course, I frequently dine at. I love French doigt de pied-fou.

Le Yum.

Really, no matter what the moniker du jour, One thing I continuously remind myself is that even when I’m cranky over silly things such as this, I’m a very lucky Pam

and sometimes, “Ma’am.”

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Stick in the Mud

Whenever I try to figure out how I became such a stick in the mud, I am mindful to stop trying to figure it all out. One thing I have always liked about myself is that I haven’t spent much time pondering, why this or that happened to me.

Last May, for whatever reason, I started getting severe migraines at an alarming rate. Sure, I’d had migraines as a teenager but they were sporadic. I could take to the bed for a day and then, move on with my life. Last spring, it became completely different and nearly constant.

Now, I know that I’m not the only one who suffers from chronic migraines, but in the past, I thought, “Meh, it’s just a headache, so no big whoop. Suck it up.” One of my dearest childhood friends began suffering with chronic migraines as a child and she still suffers. It wasn’t until last spring that I truly understood the challenges my girlfriend was up against.

Migraines have mostly ruined the last year of my life. They’ve battled with my relationships, my ability to be at my best at work, at home and absolutely anywhere I happen to be, and therefore, my sense of identity and self-esteem took a big hit.

I haven’t wanted to address the truth about this, even to myself. I mean, seriously… it’s just headaches. “Take some aspirin and move on. There’s a freakin’ pandemic going on and I have no right to complain about anything!”

Of course, I have been working with a neurologist who I believe is the bees knees. I trust him implicitly. We’ve tried a slew of medications and procedures, most of which I cannot pronounce. Last week, in partnership with my neurologist, we embarked on a totally new regimen. So, I’m writing this today because I feel better and I want anyone who’s reading this to know there’s hope for chronic pain sufferers. I’ve had time and space without my head hurting and it feels like a miracle. I’m sharp, funny and loving; all of which I desperately needed to be reminded of. It’s eerie as to how much my chronic pain seemed to alter my identity. In my own painful head, I became so completely miserable, I thought I would die. (And sometimes, the pain was so bad, I felt like I wanted to die.) Today, I feel more “me-ish” than I’ve felt in almost a year. I am very grateful for it.

So, if my clear, pain-free head continues, great. If not, I will keep trying new things to try and help myself.

For chronic pain sufferers, I see you and love you exactly as you are. You may be feeling 100% unlovable, but it’s just a lie your pain is telling you.

You are lovable, exactly as you are.

Me too.

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Can/Can’t Canteen Can Can

…my smorgasbord of feelings…

It’s fully impossible for me not to notice AND acknowledge that when I reflect on my *smorgasbord of feelings over the past five months, it’s almost always associated with food. (see aforementioned reference to *smorgasbord)

Okay, it’s more than a casual food association. It may not even be “almost” always, but ALWAYS. My moods and feelings are like a vulnerable-loving-forgiving-physically-stagnant, casserole of emotions, covered in crispy french fried onions, located on an all-you-can-eat buffet of mostly unpredictable, hungry/foody/full feelings.

Buffet…Smorgasbord…Canteen…Chow Fest…FEELINGS.

It’s so interesting, because these days, I am generally peaceful. In many ways, I have never actually liked or loved myself (and others) more than while this pandemic has been going on. P. S. I am thinking about food right nowcheddar cheese on an egg bagel with honey mustard

Okay, I’m back.

If you follow me on Instagram or Facebook, you’ll see that my daughter, Charlotte, has been baking and creating decadent treats on nearly a daily basis. A key fact is, I am not overindulging in her amazing culinary creations.

Bearing witness to Charlotte’s visionary process has helped me understand myself better. My imaginative and often funny thoughts of food – casseroles, carbs, KETO, vintage gelatinous “aspic-tacular” platters, buffets and canteens are all really healthy ways of coping with:

  • Missing people
  • Craving human touch
  • Concerns about money and being able to provide for my kids
  • My worry over other people’s health
  • Wearing pants inside out and backwards
  • Simply wearing pants
  • Wearing pants that, once fit and now feel like medical-grade compression wear
  • Seriously though… I’m not going to list everything. This is the last bullet point. You catch my drift.

Like you and most everyone, I’ve had to sit (long stretches) alone with myself. I never, ever forget that we’re collectively in this trauma together and not being alone, even though I’m physically alone sometimes, is incredibly comforting.

Also, even if I’m a little more than slightly flabby, I’m really not too shabby. I imagine the same is true for you.

So, even though I ate two dinners last night, (and thought of food even more), it’s not the end of the world. I mean, it doesn’t happen every night and in evaluating what transpired in that extra meal, one could say that I just had a really early breakfast. (Three hours after my original dinner.)

On a physical front, I KNOW I have to move my body more. I haven’t been too into “getting physical,” until I decided to start dancing at least 45 minutes per day.

Oh fine. I’ll move my tush.

Today, I danced for 90 minutes. As I moved my body, I thought about the aforementioned, vintage gelatinous “aspic-tacular” platter. I laughed as I danced, because the committee in my head was entertaining. It was hard to breathe, but I just kept going.

I even danced a “Can Can,” that I think seemed more like a “Can’t Can’t.”

But, it’s all okay. I mean, everything I mentioned in this post is okay.

Sure, I hope I eat only one dinner tonight. I pray that I’ll dance as hard tomorrow as I did today.

And all the while, I hope I can continue to laugh at and enjoy all of my food associations, my temporary flab and life on life’s terms in general.

I’m sending you so much love and virtual hugs. Please be gentle with yourself. You are a gift and very brave to be walking through this surreal time.

Stay safe and healthy. I hope we can have dinner together, (just one) soon.

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How are you?

So… How am I?

“How are you?”

Most of the time, I have no idea how to answer that question. Do you?

In some respects, this collective trauma has left me feeling less alone than any other time I can recall. I’ve also found myself growing quieter and maybe a little more peaceful. I can’t really explain why but I’m not too into exploring or even asking, “why?”

Some key things I have noted in the past several months:

  • A lot of things are less funny, including me. I’m okay with that.
  • I notice little wonderful things in my daily life and I’m on the lookout for them.
  • I do a gratitude list every single day, even (especially) when I feel crappy.
  • I have become much smaller and I don’t mean in the physical sense, but my emotional investment in things that once appeared to matter, really don’t. I’m grateful for this too.
  • I forgive my sloppy eating but not in a way where I’m giving myself permission to eat five dinners. I’m just kinder to myself and I think, others.
  • I pay far more attention to how I use my own physical, mental, emotional and financial resources – I’m more discerning.
  • I don’t think I’m ugly even though I am physically not even close to my best.
  • I am sometimes incredibly sad, but rarely depressed.
  • I am shocked by other people’s behavior and especially meanness. I have learned in the past several months that I’m actually more naive than I ever thought possible.
  • I’m not becoming cynical.
  • I have a new appreciation for my previous trauma. The silver lining is that this is just another trauma and this time, I’m not alone in it.
  • I miss human touch.
  • Some of my favorite family moments have happened during this time period.
  • I generally think more in “we” and not “me.”
  • I’ve grown less judgmental.
  • I have fallen more deeply in love with fundraising and nonprofit management since the pandemic began.
  • I am very impressed by my (and other people’s) children and their ability to cope, hope, adapt and act for positive change.
  • I’m inspired to and must help the arts community.
  • I’m devoted to learning how to be an antiracist and I have a lot to learn and do.
  • I am sure I’m not destined for greatness but am good enough. What a relief.

So…

How am I?

I am okay with not knowing what’s coming down the pike and when I’m uncomfortable, I just sort of sit in my uncomfortableness. It always passes, comes back, passes again and so on…

How are you?

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The Practice for the Panicky Parent

So now, with my daughters, the jig is up. The jig is totally up.

I recently learned that my kids see all that I am. They’ve known about my flaws for some time now, but I am just starting to someday, maybe, sorta, etc., get okay with this fact. My hope is that I can use their truths about me as a learning tool for personal, parental and professional growth. Continue reading “The Practice for the Panicky Parent”

A Seder for One

Dayenu!

Passover is traditionally a holiday that is shared with family and friends. I’ve attended Seders with more than 100 people in attendance.

Last night, I held a Seder for myself. Yep, just me. (I did set out a cup of bubbly, non-alcoholic water for Elijah, and even though I left my door open, he didn’t show up and hasn’t shown up yet. <– maybe because eventually, I had to lock the door?!)

To celebrate the first Seder of Passover, there are soooooooo many places I could have gone and been welcomed with open arms. Alternatively, I could have invited a few wayward Jewish and non-Jewish friends over to my home to share in my lil’ Seder. I did neither of those things…

Here’s why I had a Seder for One:

These days, I so rarely get any time to be by myself and last night, I just had to take advantage of the calm and quiet peace in our home. It was absolutely beautiful.

I did veeeeeeery minimal preparation (thanks to Max’s Deli,) and read through A Global Justice Haggadah with my furry friends beside me. I guess I wasn’t really alone because my pets, Erin, Kishke and Polly were all begging me for food. I could also feel the presence of my amazing grandma, Faye Lazar, as I do often and especially on every meaningful Jewish holiday. With every bite of matzo ball soup I slurped, I could feel my grandma judging because there was dill in the matzo balls which she would have seen as an absolute shanda!!!!!! “Dill in matzo balls?!?!?! Fish from a jar?!?!?!?!” Faye Lazar forgives my shortcuts and I’m sure G-d does too.

I did have a moment where I wondered if G-d was cool with how I was doing the first night of Passover this year. I’m pretty sure G-d was good with it and maybe even applauded it a little.

It was a perfect Seder. Perfect.

Dayenu!

Lost Deep Within My Kishkes

…when kids asked me if I was Jewish, I usually told them I was French and Catholic…

In the 50+ years I’ve been alive, I’ve kept my own internal turmoil over my Jewish journey, pretty close to the vest. It was buried deep within my kishkes for a long time.

I was adopted at birth from the Jewish Children’s Bureau (JCB, now known as JCFS.) Even though I was adopted by Jewish parents from a Jewish organization and attended Jewish preschool, I had this idea that I wasn’t really Jewish.

As a little girl, when kids asked me if I was Jewish, I often told them I was French and Catholic. (Just for a frame of reference, I also told them I had an elephant living in our family room.)

It’s not that I didn’t want to be Jewish or was ashamed of being Jewish, I just didn’t believe I was Jewish. At the tender age of five, when my parents told me I was adopted, it hadn’t occurred to me that it didn’t matter if I was Jewish via my bloodline or not.

Like so many adopted kids, I felt really confused.

disclaimer: My parents did an excellent job of telling me I was adopted. I felt loved, special and taken care of... and also, confused.

As I grew, I didn’t believe I could simply choose to be Jewish. My parents were obviously raising me Jewish, in a Reform temple that I went to for what seemed like an eternity. (I was confirmed at 16.) Why in the hell didn’t I think I was Jewish? I wanted to tell my mom I didn’t feel Jewish. I thought about telling my rabbi I didn’t feel Jewish. I was so ashamed of not feeling Jewish. So, I just kept “acting” like I felt Jewish.

My temple, Temple Judea Mizpah in Skokie.
Photo credit: Svitlana Varacuta

I grew up in Skokie just north of Chicago. Skokie was once coined, “The World’s Largest Village.” Back in the 1970’s when I was a kid, Skokie was home to approximately 7000, Holocaust Survivors. I vividly remember the incident that made Skokie famous. I was there and they even made a movie about it… — Neo-Nazis wanted to have a rally and march in my village.

A large group of anti-Nazi demonstrators chant at a park in the predominantly Jewish Chicago suburb of Skokie, Illinois, July 4, 1977, protesting a possible future march in Skokie by Nazis.
Photo credit: Charles Knoblock/AP

I was terrified; worried for my family, friends and all of the Jews who lived peaceful lives in my little, “big” village. By now, antisemitism, racism and other inequities infuriated me. I remember yelling when The Phil Donohue show had Nazis and Ku Klux Klansmen on his show…ON HIS SHOW!!! I screamed at the TV at the top of my lungs at how wrong it all was. (I imagine my mom still remembers this. I was 12.)

Between the Skokie Nazi rally fiasco and that “Donahue” show, I quickly learned that injustice mattered to me and that it was my obligation to do all I could to fight injustice, racism and antisemitism. I had no idea how “Jewish” that was at the time.

Over the years, I rarely dated Jewish boys. It just didn’t seem that important as long as I was in love! (insert eye roll.) Ultimately, I went on to meet the non-Jewish man I would eventually marry and after two kids, divorce.

Before I got married, I made a decision to hire a private investigator to find my birth family. We didn’t have much information and I wasn’t very hopeful I’d get any answers to health history, who I looked like, and….. was I Jewish?

Three days after I hired the private investigator, my birth mother and family were found. “WOW!” followed by, “EEEEK!”

I was fortunate to meet my wonderful birth mom and from her, I learned that she’d converted to Judaism from Catholicism when she was pregnant with me.

So technically and according to Jewish law,

JEWISH! I was JEWISH!

I embraced and celebrated my Jewish-ness except, I still didn’t know if I had any Jewish BLOOD in me. Why this mattered, I will never understand.

Maybe you have to be adopted to totally get this, but not knowing what other blood relatives can know so easily, was hard! And, even though I knew my birth mother, I didn’t know anything about the other half of my bloodline. No one else in my birth mother’s family was Jewish and by the time I met my birth mother, she wasn’t Jewish.

Was my birth father Jewish? For reasons, I won’t get into here, I do not know who my birth father is and probably never will.

So, this past year, once and for all, I decided to take a DNA test to find out more about my ancestry. When my results arrived, I glanced at my surprising and unique genetic combo…

18.8% Ashkenazi Jewish!!!!

18.8% Ashkenazi Jewish!

As a reader, you might be thinking, “Why in the hell does this even matter to her?” I can’t explain it. When I saw that I had genetic Jewish roots, I cried tears of joy. To this day, I can’t explain why it mattered so much, but it mattered to me and that’s all that matters.

I know in the deepest core of my kishkes, I was born Jewish, have always been Jewish and will always be Jewish. For much of my life, I didn’t know I had Jewish genetics or a converted Jewish birth mother. As I obsessed about “not feeling Jewish,” through all of my questioning, I lived Jewishly and still live Jewishly today.

And like most Jews, I have personally experienced both blatant and “subtle” antisemitism; not just from strangers, but from friends and family who could really benefit from a commitment to education on what is simply NOT kosher to say or do.

When I worked in Jewish social justice, in accordance with the organization’s mission and values, I was loud and proud about working to fight racism, poverty and antisemitism in Chicago. I loved this work and the organization, (JCUA,) and still do.

Today, I am still that same girl who was yelling at Phil Donahue on the TV in 1978. We must continuously fight poverty, racism and antisemitism, together. If you’re not doing anything on Monday, April 4th at 5:00PM CDT, I urge you to attend, ORT in Conversation – Combating Antisemitism Through Education: A Global and Local Perspective. (It’s being held on Zoom and is a free event. Once you register, I will personally send you the link.) I want you to be there and ORT wants you to be there. If you think this is an invitation for Jews only or Jews in St. Louis, think again. More than anyone who makes it into this virtual event, I want my non-Jewish readers to join. It’s only by working together, through our differences, that we can chip away at antisemitism, racism, poverty and really, all societal inequities.

Okay, okay…Yeah… I’m Jewish.

Shabbat Shalom.

When Thanksgiving sucks…again

I’m posting this again, not because the post below is so great, but because I hope anyone who feels sad, lonely, pissed off and/or fearful on Thanksgiving, to be reminded that:

  1. You’re not alone
  2. It will pass
  3. Holidays come with stress, often veiled in “should-ing,” pressure and lots of carbs, sometimes topped with crispy fried onions.

I hope that if you do feel crappy on Thanksgiving, you don’t beat yourself up for feeling the way you do.

I’m sending you love and acceptance of wherever you are, exactly as you are.


When Thanksgiving Sucks…

Continue reading “When Thanksgiving sucks…again”

Jake Lawler

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