Sunday, October 25, 2020

Love Bats

 This weekend marked 11 years since Bryce and I got married at our favorite Mexican restaurant -- we are dorks and have SO MANY anniversaries (our date-o-versary, our engage-o-versary, two wedding anniversaries, 10/23 and Halloween)... but I figure nothing's wrong with extra celebrating. 

Usually we do something where we go away for at least one night, typically local, and have a lovely dinner and enjoy each other's company. Well, with COVID that isn't happening. We have been enjoying each other's company pretty much exclusively since March, but we wanted to somehow mark the occasion with something special. 

So, I did a thing. 

I have a friend from grad school who has turned out to be an insanely talented watercolor artist. She has done a lot of songbirds, some lovebirds, a friend's fluffy gray chick... I love her style and had an inspired thought. 

What if, instead of lovebirds, she painted us LOVE BATS? 

What is a love bat, you may ask? It's just like a lovebird but nocturnal. Bryce LOVES bats. He adores them. We both get excited when the little brown bats in our neighborhood go whooshing around in the summer, and we're sad when they go away. A bucket list thing for us is to see the kajillion bats that live under the bridge over the Rio Grande in Austin, TX fly out at dusk. It's supposed to be AMAZING. We did go to Austin once, but for a day trip and had to leave before the bats came out. It was a bummer. 

So anyway, I was like, "can you paint us some bats? As a secret anniversary prize for Bryce?" 

She did not disappoint. This was the hardest secret to keep. Like, legitimately, Bryce got his love bats as soon as I brought them home because I was SO EXCITED that I knew I wouldn't keep it secret. So he got them 10 days early. 

My friend and I settled on flying foxes, because they are adorable and actually Bryce's favorite bat. (Yes, he has a favorite bat.) They're kind of like cats with leathery wings. 

She got going on some sketches, and every time she sent me a text with progress I just couldn't stop giggling. I am great at other people's secrets, but HORRID at poker-facing my own. 

I know flying foxes are technically tropical and so they wouldn't have fall leaves nearby, but the lady bat also wouldn't be wearing an autumnal crown so I just don't care. Suspend that disbelief! 

It was so cool to see them take shape. And then, I got to pick them up. And catch up with my friend, which was lovely (from a distance, tailgate-style, in the parking lot of a Starbucks). 

Then, it was time to give them to Bryce. Like, an hour after I brought them home. I just couldn't wait! 

It kind of looks like a 9 year old decorated that.

I think he likes them...

Love bats in their new home! 

Anniversary shot with the love bats. And of course I'm wearing my bat dress. 

Anniversary prize success! I love it because it is not just for Bryce, it is for our home and for both of us to enjoy every single day. It's unique to us. I can't say there are other people jumping on the Love Bat train! 

If you are interested in my friend's work or commissioning a piece, she can be found at @free_bird_artistry on Instagram. If you have not the Instagram (I don't) I can email you get contact info! It was such a fun process and so cool to have a gift that is so personalized to us. 

We may not have been able to go out for our anniversary, but it was a great weekend of celebration, hiking, food, and wine. And love bats! We really couldn't ask for more. 

Monday, October 12, 2020

A Balance of Hope

Hope is in the air (the blogging air, see Mali and Mel) and it's made me think on my complex relationship with the concept.

I am capable of hoping was against the odds and looking for all the ways things can go right, instead of wrong. I loved that in the presentation I saw as part of our conference day Friday hope was defined as "finding something positive to hang on to, believing that at some point things will get better." That is a lovely, realistic definition. 

Sometimes my kind of hope can be misconstrued as callous. I have been on the receiving end of calls from family telling me that someone got a bad diagnosis, or is waiting for scary test results. I am not a crier in these cases. I feel that I need to save my tears for when there's really something to cry about. 

I guess it's more pragmatic than callous, but it's really hope -- everything is going to work out, and there's no sense getting super upset until the news is REALLY really bad. This pretty much only works for things that are real. I'm capable of imagining and then getting plenty upset over all kinds of horrific things that never come to pass.

I was not great at managing hope in infertility and adoption. I either swung to complete magical thinking (this WILL happen! Because I'm going to do all the wacky  things possible to guarantee  it!) or utter despair (actually apologizing to my embryos AS THEY WERE BEING TRANSFERRED towards the end because I was sure my uterus was going to murder them).

Hope is funny. You can have too much, and too little. It's sort of like a spice -- too much and it's overpowering, too little and nothing tastes good. Finding that just-right balance can be tricky.

Want to read more #Microblog Mondays? Go here and enjoy! 

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Uncertainty, Compassion Fatigue, and Me

Friday was our Superintendent's Day Conference, and the presentation for 8:00-9:15 was a lecture on toxic stress and compassion fatigue: "Are We Going To Be Okay?" presented by a well-known social worker who has a practice focusing on trauma, grief, loss, and life transitions. 

Initially I laughed about it and was like, "Are we going to be okay? UM, HELL NO! This is End Times! You know what helps you deal with chronic stress? An HOUR OF TALKING ABOUT CHRONIC STRESS, bwahahahahaha." 

But then I listened and watched the presentation from our library reading room Smart Board, and I was less flip and a little sarcastic about the thing and more "Okay, let's take some notes on this business." 

First, I loved that she talked about herself in many terms, including "as a parent," but when she talked about teachers, she said, "Those of you who can relate to being parents." Which made me all warm and fuzzy inside because it wasn't that assumption that everyone in the room is a parent, or worse the blanket statement KNOWING that everyone in the room is not a parent for whatever reason. 

Then, she said, "The phrase, We're all in this together is NOT comforting." Which I agree with, even though we are all experiencing this collective trauma it is not quite the same for every person, and it means that there's no one who has a magic answer. 

Then she said, "Uncertainty is life's way of saying there are only a few things you can control." 

This is a lesson that I keep needing to learn and I just. can't. learn. it. I hate uncertainty. HATE IT. You would think I would be a pro at it by now, as most of my life has been spent in some sort of haze of uncertainty, but all this current situation does is remind me that I don't have control and so I try to grasp at it in ways that are probably not super helpful. 

The focus of the talk was on Compassion Fatigue, and how this is exhaustion from caring so much, from wanting to solve all the problems and be a fixer, but that it's JUST NOT POSSIBLE at this moment in time. Or really, any time (but especially pandemic time). 

I am most definitely experiencing Compassion Fatigue, as I am trying to keep track of all the things and help my students with all of the many assignments that they have (five days' worth!) when I only see them really two times per week (the math just doesn't add up!) and try to get those who have been absent to get caught up. 

Let me take us on a tangent and tell you a story about how this did not work out well for me. 

I was working with a student who has been absent a lot due to a sloshy-full bucket of family trauma and personal health concerns, and when he was in last Monday I stayed after to help him. Because I pretty much will never say no to anyone who is willing to stay after or come see me for extra help. Like an idiot, I sat at a table with him for a good 30 minutes while helping to take notes on videos and see what he was doing on his laptop. On Thursday, the next day I saw him in person, he was absent. His mom let me know that he had a sore throat, but no worries because he also gets strep a lot. Fast forward to that evening, when I saw on social media (because this mom has a public profile for a variety of professional reasons) that the mom had come down with flu-like symptoms. OH SHIT. Sore throat, flu-like symptoms in the house... my anxiety started to build. And then broke the next day, when I was supposed to meet with the student virtually but when I called the mom said that he had a bad night and was real sick, and the strep test came back negative, and she was feeling awful, and so she was also getting a COVID test (I knew the student was getting one, because he went to the doctor for a sore throat and that's just a given). Enter massive freakout. I was convinced that they had COVID and I had exposed myself by sitting in close proximity for 30 minutes, albeit masked, and then I became acutely aware of a headache and sore throat I was feeling as well. It turns out I have a headache every Friday from the stress of the week and wearing a mask for 8 hours and trying to talk loudly through it, and that same loud-talking-through-a-mask can make you feel sore-throated, and I was super tired (probably from the chronic stress), so I burst into tears and left early to get a COVID test. Which left me feeling like I was about to sneeze for about 12 hours. 

Spoiler alert -- I did not have COVID, and neither did they. But it took all weekend to get that official news, and in the meantime I slept in a different bedroom and we wore masks in the house and I freaked out but also slept a lot, which was actually pretty healing. Except that when I put my mask on in the house when I got home, I somehow managed to get a paper cut from the inside-metal-edge by my nose IN MY EYE. No joke. So I ended up in Urgent Care a second time to get my eye looked at on Saturday, and because of my history of eye inflammation and scleritis from 2017, the year of unholy hell, I had to make an appointment with the fancy eye doctor before I could get any drops of any kind. Luckily, the prednisone drops they gave me seem to be working, but my eye pressure in that eye was already high and all I could think was GOOD LORD HERE WE GO AGAIN, I SWEAR IF I GET SCLERITIS AGAIN AND HAVE TO GO ON PREDNISONE LONG TERM I WILL TAKE A GODDAMN LEAVE. I don't think that is going to be what happens as my eye is pretty cleared up at this point, but I was at a total breaking point. 

Which leads me back to the presentation this past Friday. It spoke to me, and it spoke to me hard. If I am going to survive this year, I am going to need to reframe how I do things, how I DON'T do things, how I manage my guilt and self-imposed standards, how I truly and fully embrace the idea of self-care and don't feel bad about it. 

It's a tall order. 

But, here are the Cliff Notes of the presentation in case it is helpful for you, too, wherever you are in this pandemic living: 

Compassion Fatigue Impacts Cognitive Messaging, so try these: 
- Acknowledgment (THIS IS REAL. Be gentle to yourself.)
- Reframing (perspective shapes how we spend our energy and see the situation. PS I am fairly bad at this and go to WE'RE ALL GONNA DIE pretty quickly, but I also can pull it back. Goals.)
- Positive Affirmations (Say things out loud and maybe you'll become kind of like your own cheerleader, even something as simple as "I'm doing the best I can.")
- Hope (it will get better, somehow, some day; look for positives to hang on to)
- Mindfulness (I can only do one thing at a time to do it well, you can't hold all of the things on your plate at once or you'll lose your mind, so stay in THIS MOMENT and do the one thing, then worry about the next thing.)

Compassion Fatigue Impacts Interpersonal Relationships, so manage these: 
- Boundaries (stick to them, respect them. What are your limits? How can you protect yourself?)
- Support System (This is every bit as much about who is in your circle as who is not -- figure out who is truly supportive and who is an energy vampire, to quote Infertile Phoenix...reevaluate and don't feel bad about spending time with those who encourage your better self and letting go of those who encourage you to circle the drain, learn how to express your needs and be okay with accepting support)
Openness (willingness to stretch your learning and opinions, to be willing to consider other viewpoints and alternatives)
- Empathy (See others' struggles without judgment -- ex: "She must be really having a tough time," VS "What a freaking bitch." This can be an amazing gift for others.)

Collective Healing is possible, and can look like: 
- Being a Role Model (model these things for friends, family, students, coworkers)
- Find Intention/Purpose (what drives you? What makes you keep coming back for more? What's important to you? What are your core values?)
- Practice Gratitude (Slow down and connect with what's going okay, give appreciation to people who make your days brighter, embrace those moments that are beautiful and acknowledge them.)
- Teaching About Community (What does community mean now? We can be a community even if we're not all in the same place at the same time, even if we don't see all the people all the time.)
- Loving-Kindness (This is a type of meditation, to extend compassion and care to others, to humankind, and put that out into the universe. It feeds our heart and reminds us that we're part of something bigger. 

And lastly, my favorite: 

Healing is a process. 

The Childfree-Not-By-Choice core of me let out a (silent) WAHOOOO on this point. Yes. Absolutely. It's a process, it's a step forward and a half a step back, it's neverending but not in a hopeless way, in a "constant evolution" kind of way. 

I left that presentation feeling energized, feeling like these are coping skills I have employed through my family building journey that ended child-free, sometimes more so than others, but also they are coping skills I can continue to develop and sharpen in this crappy pandemic time. 

I am committed to finding a way to survive this year with my sanity and health intact, even if it is hard and feels like a betrayal of my work ethic or passion. It's not beneficial to my passion for teaching if I suffer a nervous breakdown and can't be in the classroom. Hyperbole? Maybe. Maybe not. I have to protect myself and really practice letting go. 

Maybe this time I will be better at it.