Thursday, March 10, 2016

Chaos

The airplane surges up and down as an amusement park ride without a track, my stomach tries to keep up with each dip, and my head is filled with life insurance policy questions. While not truly afraid, the anxiety rises as the turbulence seems to drone on and on, not breaking as it normally does.

F*. This is like my life. Somehow the chaos and the bumps never seem to stop. Oh this weekend, oh next week, oh next month, those will be better. I'll have less to do, more time, fewer demands, and some room to breathe. But I didn't count on that illness happening, or that storm, or that part of the house to break, or that work problems, or that crazy person, or whatever... The uncontrolled part of life rapidly outweighs the small part that I get to claim ownership on. Even my sleep obeys some clock that is not my own.

This is the definition of chaos. I am the definition of chaos. Random occurrences that happen all at once, in no particular matter, with no discernible reason. Why does the car break down on the day when I cannot miss a meeting? Why does my kid sleep in only on days when I cannot be late? Why does she wake up early on weekends?! Why does my computer break when I am writing an important report?

The more anxiety one feels and feeds into the universe, the more the universe seems to laugh. The more in control I am, the more out of control things spin beyond my grasp. Oh, and I know better.

Don't lecture me about what I can and cannot do. I have given that lecture plenty of times. Don't remind me of the healing elements of yoga, massages, and exercise. I cannot find even find enough time to get my hair cut. Don't dare mentioning how a better diet might help. I'm proud of myself for eating anything. I know about priorities.

All those cute little memes that come across my Facebook feed about making sure to keep the first thing first, and to feed your heart... those things are lame. I could write them - I'm all cute and poetic and shit. See, all this chaos is because I love life. Because I drink it in. Because I cannot stand to miss a moment. And because I'm a fixer. Because I do wanna suck the marrow... there is little time for rest. Because I cannot change the world if I'm not in it.

So this is my chaos. It is bumpy. And sometimes it makes me nauseous. The plane levels out for a few minutes long enough for me to write this. And that is just long enough.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Heroes

Mimi Ito gave the keynote address at the Emerging Technologies for Online Learning (#ET4Online) in which she challenged us to think about our "Learning Heroes," those people who have help shape our learning in some ways, clearly articulating that connected learning happens within relationships. Beyond the obvious immediate people who came to mind, I began to ponder what it really means to be a hero to someone. In my world, there are two kinds of heroes I encounter: Everyday Heroes and Life Heroes.  There are, of course, "extraordinary heroes” that make the news; viral videos are full of them, history books and wikipedia chronicle their lives. I don't know that I have personally connected with any of them, but I certainly know a lot of heroes.

My everyday hero is that person who does something unexpected at just that moment when you need it.  When I was 12 and traveling across country by myself, before cell phones and overprotective parenting, I was delayed in the Chicago airport for six hours. My everyday hero was a guy who let me use his credit card to call my folks, bought me lunch, and told me funny stories.   When I was 17, before cell phones and overprotective parenting, I worked until 2am in the mall engraving Christmas presents by myself because all the other workers had quit. My everyday hero was the security guard who brought my coffee every night and walked me to my car.  

As I got older, the everyday hero incidents seem to come more infrequently, but have more lasting effects. When I left my cell phone in a taxicab, my everyday heroes were the security guard who tracked the cab down and the driver who came all the way back without an extra fare to return it.  When my husband and I were stranded in Paris, my everyday hero was the taxicab driver, “Michelle Schumaucher,” who braved Friday night traffic going up sidewalks and going the wrong direction on streets to find our passports and get to our train on time. 

Everyday heroes come as the young man who actually holds the door open when struggling with a toddler and bags in my arms.  Everyday heroes sometimes change the course of a day with a smile, or a few words. Sometimes, an everyday hero is a friend who sends that text just at the right time.

My life heroes are closely tied to Ito's "Learning Heroes" but to me they are even more than that. They are the people who changed the course of my life, who challenged me beyond my own imagination, and who made (and still make me) me.

My early adulthood was full of them. The Youth Group pastor who reminded me often, there is always time to do the things you want to do. The Journalism Professor, "Coach," who used my age as weapon to the community college class, when he realized I was only 16. He challenged me beyond my years, and never doubted my abilities.  The speech communications professor who keep me so late after class that she would drive me to my car on the other side of campus where we would just talk into the night about what i could be and do with my life.  The gay university professor who was a Catholic Republican and challenged everything I thought I knew about politics and religion.  

Career ultimately trumped school and my life heroes showed up as bosses. The boss who said told me I would go far, but needed the doctorate and said he would do anything he could to make sure I would get it.  And then did.  The boss who was gracious when I told him I was leaving after only a few weeks, who taught me about pride in your people. The boss who took a chance on my ability to lead an organization and gave me all the tools to do it. And never doubted me, even when I screwed up, gently correcting me. 

My life heroes certainly come close to home as well. My mom who was tenacious about everything she took on, going back to school when I was in High School. She hasn't met a challenge she cannot handle. My dad who's positive view of the world, shaped me into believing that I too could make a difference.  Then of course, there are friends. Those special ones who have challenged me, loved me, shaped me. 

As I take stock of the heroes in my world, I am both in awe and further challenged. I am in awe of the great people who have been there to support me, and they certainly exist today. But I was also concerned, that in my privileged life, how few there really are - and I wonder, do other people have enough heroes in their worlds?  Are we so engrossed in our own worlds that we forget to be someone’s else hero?  When was the last time I was an everyday hero? When was the last time I changed someone's life for the better?  Would someone count me on their list as their life hero? 

Be a hero. It isn't that hard.



Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Waiting

Waiting.The pain in my chest.
Heart pounding, blood pressure spiking.
Peace, a fairytale almost forgotten.

Waiting. Moments that stand still.
Watching minutes tick with glacial speed.
Work, piled as concentration wanes.

Waiting. Mind obsessed with possibilities.
Hoping the universe knows.
Home, that place of neither here, nor there.

Waiting. Clash of emotions.
Laughing at the anxiety and dread.
Anonymous, undefined by the in-between.

Waiting. Sleep is a lost friend.
Fought with, and make-up sessions fail.
Medicated, only makes her more angry.

Waiting. Cleanliness surrounds me.
Sense of loss and loneliness.
Sterile, this place is not familiar.

Waiting. Friends promise goodness.
Doubt, uncertainty looms larger than hope.
Unwritten, new chapter, blank pages.

Waiting. Out of my hands.
Ran, and passed the baton.
Cheering, my invisible relay team.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Applause

A room full of brillant women. Their bios are complete with impressive degrees, coveted positions in universities, and interesting lives. We were asked to share one thing that wasn't in our bio; something unique about us. The stories awkwardly flowed, and we shared feats of scaling the sides of mountains, spending nights in caves, writing books in a month, learning to swim as an adult, among dozens of unique and admirable accomplishments.

Near the end of the introductions, one woman shared that she had just become engaged.

The room broke out in applause.

She had found love. We were sharing in her joy. It did not bother me that we shared in this joy. What did bother me was that we didn't share in the joy of anything else. We did not applaud for anything else.

Often times as successful women, we struggle to share our accomplishments. We forget to tout our joys. We hide behind our pride of others; often our children. Sometimes, we forget that we ARE successful women.

So, to those women, I want to add some additional clapping.

I applaud you. For putting your lives on hold for a few days, putting your phones on silent, and not answering emails, while you learn to be a better leader.

I applaud you. For managing 50+ hour a week jobs, while juggling your kids' needs, your partner's needs, and somehow still managing to keep clean clothes on everyone's back.

I applaud you. For being amazing mothers, whose children do see your brilliance and may not understand it now, but they will be positively changed by it in the long run.

I applaud you. For running marathons, hiking mountains, writing books, performing speeches, giving to charity, and helping others.

I applaud you. For not sleeping, getting up while it is still dark to run on the the treadmill to keep your sanity, staying up late to answer emails because of all the meetings, and using your sleeping power to come up with new ideas.

I applaud you. For still knowing how to laugh, finding the humor in the insanity of our jobs, and not taking it too personally.

I applaud you. For being willing to open your hearts up to each other, and share your hopes, and dreams, and fears.

I applaud you. For changing the world.

 I applaud you. For being you.



Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Contradictions


Do more in life, change the world, make a mark
Stop trying to do too much, smell the roses

Work hard, be your best, strive to be better
Don't be a perfectionist, do what you can

Early bird gets the worm, don't delay
Burn the candle at both ends, exhaustion

Princesses, lovely, femininity
Equality, sameness, feminism

Highly sexualized, always be interested
Mamas are not sexy, never be interested

Make more money, don't be poor, prosperity
Money doesn't buy happiness, be content

Have the latest toys, buy more, stimulate
Have less stuff, throw things away, simply

Feed them, whatever they will eat, convenience
Food allergies, restrictions, only healthy

No GMO's, no processed, only organic
Restaurant frenzy, eat what tastes right

Full calendar, keep the pace, go go go
Think, write, breath, remember, solitude

Introduce music, art, sports, well-rounded kids
Don't over-plan, free and imaginative play

Share your feelings, rely on each other
Dependency is weak, counseling for suckers

Honesty is the best policy, authentic
Truth hurts, sugar coat, keep a smile

Guilt is a permanent state of being
Endless choices, and too many judges

Contradictions, discrepancies in advice
Just be brilliant, comfortable in your skin

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Depression

The world around me mourns Robin Williams. I, too, will miss him. And I, too, appreciate all that he gave us. Growing up with Mork, laughing along with the comedy films, and crying along with the drama films (Dead Poet's Society is definitely one of my top 10 films), Robin made an impact in my life.

But my thoughts tonight are not about Robin. They are about his wife, or actually his wives, and his children. My thoughts are taken up with his caregivers, those who loved him the most, who spent their days dealing with his depression in its deepest and darkest form. 

His wife and kids grieve now, and no doubt it will be hard, and they may never recover. But they will be supported. People will rally around them. Death brings out compassion and love, death scares the crap out of us, and death makes us realize how short life is; we find our own comfort in supporting each other. 

But it isn't now that I think about. I wonder how supported his family was during the last few weeks, months, and past years of struggling with Robin's depression. I wonder about his wife, who undoubtedly spent her own hours desperately pleading with him to get the help he needed, reassuring him things were okay, feeling helpless and frustrated. Even knowing she had every resource available to her, she found herself in a losing battle. 

Google “depression” - you will find millions of resources for those depressed, you will find advice, help sites, counseling, and meds. If you are a caregiver of a depressed person, you have already done it. You have done it a thousand times. You have already searched everywhere for help.

But what you won't find, is enough support for you. There are a few articles here and there, and  yeah, sure you could buy a book (which you don't have time to read). But truly, you are on your own. 

We recognize depression as a disease, we talk about it in the media, we share about it as if people really understand it, and we pretend that we care.  The reality is that you cannot find a proper support group for caregivers of depressed people (and you wouldn't have time anyway), you cannot find intelligent groups of caregivers to share information with, and you will not find the support in your friends, because they will not know what you are going through.  You cannot tell them. They will not understand. 

So, my call to action is to the friends. If you know of a depressed person, you probably know their caregiver. Or maybe you just know the caregiver. Listen carefully. 

Depression casts a cloud on a family that is larger than one person. It drags its mysterious shadow around the entire family and it doesn't appear obvious, nor are the symptoms easily identifiable.  Sometimes the depression is shrouded in suicidal thoughts, sometimes it is in immense fear of everything, sometimes it is in deep seeded anger of nothing. It is not the same as what you have seen, nor what you have read, nor even what you have experienced. 

Your caregiver friend does NOT need your advice, they need your support.  They already know what needs to be done, they already know should happen, they get it. Or maybe they don’t. But they live it. 

But maybe you didn't know: 
  • That sometimes caregivers cannot get their depressed person out of bed. And it makes them want to stay there too. 
  • That at a social event, the depressed person may appear perfectly fine, and then break down completely out of the public view. 
  • That sometimes just getting to that social event is like World War III.
  • That caregivers are playing parent, teacher, counselor, nursemaid, and spouse all at the same time.
  • That caregivers are never allowed to break down, they must remain strong. That is part of the unwritten rules.
  • That caregivers can lie well, cuz their job is to make everything appear normal.
  • That caregivers don't have time for things in life that they want. Let alone for the things they need.
  • That caregivers oscillate between feelings of guilt, helplessness, fear, and anger themselves. Repeat.
Guilt - that they can smile sometimes still & enjoy life, while their loved one does not. 
Helplessness - that they cannot ever do enough to fix the problem.  
Fear - that this is never going to end.
Anger - that this is happening to them.

Your job, O Friend of the Caregiver, is to not rally around the family when the depressed person is gone... but to be there for them right now. Take a meal over. Take the kids for a few hours. Do the things you would do for a family struggling with cancer... remembering this is the "unspoken" disease. Speak about it if they want, and don't if they don't want.  Let your friend cry. Help your friend laugh. Surround your friend with love. 

When you ask how their day was, and they say, "fine," you hug them and understand they are lying. And when you ask how their day was, and they honestly say "shitty," you buy them a drink. And when you ask how their day was, and they say, "it was actually okay," you celebrate with them.  Because "okay" is as good as the days get sometimes. 

Above all, do not judge. Do not judge when they don't show up to your party, or when they cannot stay to the end, or why they aren't as happy as they used to be. Do not judge their messy house, or their fight in the parking lot. Do not judge when they don't return your phone call. Do not judge when they don't share with you everything. Or when they do. You do not know the struggles. They both are trying. 

Find that caregiver. Hug him or her. Tell them you are unconditionally their friend. And then prove it.





Friday, June 6, 2014

Firsts

First time I've posted a video on my blog.
First time I delivered a closing keynote.
First time I've done Spoken Word poetry.
First time I ever memorized a poem so quickly.
First time I admitted to a massive screw-up in a speech.
First time I was proud of a screw-up and my recovery.
First time I used a story (& picture) of my daughter in a public setting.
First time I had a team of people who supported me through this.

First times that will not be the last times.