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”

“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…”

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.

Lost Deep Within My Kishkes

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?

For Juliette: A Love Letter You May (still) Hate, (for now.)

Nov. 24, 2019

I wrote the letter that follows today’s entry, to Juliette, exactly five years ago, one day before her 11th birthday. It’s interesting to look back to see what’s changed, what hasn’t and what will likely never change.

There’s so much in the past five years, no one could have ever predicted, but we walk through and not around. This is something I so love about you and our little family. 

You are without question, one of the smartest, most empathetic and beautiful human beings I know. I’m not even being biased about it because I’m your Mom.

Tomorrow, you turn 16. This is an age I’ve been warned about from many sources. I don’t know, but I am really enjoying this time with you and witnessing all of the many ways you’re blossoming into an extraordinary young woman. (Okay, but you still live under my roof and follow the rules!)

While you’ll always be my baby and the one who made me a mother, I respect the very mature young person you’ve shown yourself to be.

And I won’t even get started on your singing. Your vocal gifts blow my head off of my neck. When others compliment you, believe them.

I love you endlessly and this is something I know you know. I’m so grateful that no matter what doubts we may have, we never doubt that one essential fact.

Happy Sweet 16! I hope our homemade Ramen and purple cake will bring you joy. You know that experiences are everything and stuff is just, well… stuff.

Love,

Mom


Continue reading “For Juliette: A Love Letter You May (still) Hate, (for now.)”

Lightening up about mistakes

Tonight, for some unknown reason, I suddenly thought of a beauty product I tried a few weeks before my wedding in 2002… Epil-Stop.

Please see below for happy customers.

Like most brides, I wanted to feel and be as lovely as I possibly could.

Continue reading “Lightening up about mistakes”

A Smart Old Bird

A smart old bird had vision.

She could see the tallest peaks and the deepest trenches,

at the same time…

And, even while she flew blind,

with clipped wings.

She never lost sight of the rich landscape.

The bird spent lots of time jumping over and around injurious terrain,

while awkwardly trying to flap her compromised wings.

One day, the smart old visionary bird

chose to look at her clipped wings for the very first time.

She noticed they were taped to her body

and not clipped at all.

She pecked off the gooey tape and celebrated her wings and the key lesson she’d just learned:

If she was to be a true visionary bird,

she had to look at and care for the condition of her wings,

even more than viewing the entire landscape.

Then, she soared

to look for other birds to fly beside.

You = VIP: an Experiential Experiment

Last week, I took time off from work. For a brief shining moment, I acted like a stay-at-home mom to my beautiful daughters. It was wonderful. (See photo for proof of great time. Also, we have actual seating in our home.) Continue reading “You = VIP: an Experiential Experiment”

Single Working Mom Seeks Understudy

This morning, the dogs woke me at butt o’clock, A.K.A. 4:20AM. I bundled up and took them for a long, slippery walk. It was crisp, dark and slightly foggy. I was moved to take photos because it was just so beautiful outside. I was grateful to my pups who forced me to be out and about in the quiet, without any cars or cares. After I snapped the photos, I put my camera away so I could be fully present for my walk. I tried to extend my freedom from thought or worry about anything in my day to day life. My brain, body and spirit are continuously seeking a breather no matter how brief it may be. Continue reading “Single Working Mom Seeks Understudy”

Directions on Escaping Your Private Hell

ESCAPE ROUTE: Make it less private.

Ask for help.

Tell the truth. Continue reading “Directions on Escaping Your Private Hell”

Jake Lawler

Writer | Director | Motivational Speaker | Storyteller

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