The Kitchen

So, I need the insight and advice of all you wise women.

I have not mentioned the kitchen much in relation to my purging of ALL THE THINGS, mostly because I’m not quite sure how to proceed in that space. So far I have avoided even thinking much about it; I’m completely flummoxed as to how I should proceed.

You see, the kitchen is my husband’s domain. He is basically in charge of everything kitchen related. He cooks (usually). He does the dishes. He does the grocery shopping, keeps tabs on what we have and what we need, makes the shopping lists and cleans out the fridge. He organizes the pantry and manages the cabinets. The kitchen, in its entirety, is his thing.

How that came to be is a long story, and not all that relevant to the situation at hand, except in that it works for us and I don’t want to change the current dynamic. I appreciate that there is one part of the house that is not mine to manage. I do pretty much everything else (including actually cleaning the kitchen), but I have learned not interfere in my husband’s domain.

That’s not to say that there aren’t problems with the arrangement. I’m almost never happy with the state of the kitchen and most of the time it’s actually pretty stress-inducing. To be fair, the food part of it is fine–we always have what we need and I am never frustrated with my husband’s ability to keep the fridge and pantry stocked. And it should be said that while the kitchen is generally in a state of disarray, we usually have clean plates, glasses and silverware when we sit down to eat. It’s the dishes in the sink and the cluttered counter tops that stress me out. The kitchen always looks like it needs a good hour long cleaning session, but I almost NEVER do any work in there because I know that if I start, I’ll create a situation where I resent my husband for all the work he doesn’t do.

I let the kitchen remain a mess so that we can both feel good about what we each contribute to the housekeeping. It’s not ideal, but it works for us.

Now, with the rest of the house looking neater and tidier, the state of the kitchen is causing me more and more distress. The sink full of dishes and the counter tops covered in cook wear really bother me. Whereas before I never mentioned the kitchen because I respected it as my husband’s domain, now I find myself fighting the urge to nag him about when he’s going to do the dishes or wipe down the cutting board table. So far I’ve kept my comments to myself, but I don’t know how long I can hold my tongue.

I know we still need to purge in that space, and that getting rid of stuff there will help the general feeling of “ugh” I get every time I walk into the kitchen, but I doubt a cleansing removal of all the superfluous stuff will magically make my husband do the dishes more frequently. And yet, I can tell that as the rest of the house comes together, the perpetual mess in the kitchen will stress me out.

So what is a wife to do? Do I just sit back and let my husband do his thing and learn to accept that which I cannot change (serenity prayer anyone?)? Do I ask him to try to keep the kitchen in line with the rest of the house? Do I wait silently and hope that seeing the rest of the house in better shape will inspire him to keep the kitchen in better shape too? I want the whole house to feel welcoming, and the kitchen is a huge part of the house. At the same time, I don’t want to take on more work, or ruin the balance my husband and I have found in this arrangement.

So how would you proceed? Your sage wisdom is much appreciated.


I took two days off of work in an attempt to do some intense work on the house. My husband took off Monday as well so that we could tackle some of our shared areas together.

I knew we wouldn’t get as much done as I wanted–between dropping our daughter off around 9am and picking our son up around 1pm, there just weren’t many actual hours to be productive. Luckily I had anticipated this and spent some time over the weekend going through some of my stuff so that I wouldn’t be wasting our together time doing that. My husband did the same, so on Monday morning we were able to tackle our papers and other general junk stuff together.

I spent the last two weeks reading The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. In early December I had never heard of it and by the New Year I had seen the title fives times, so I took it as a sign, used a Christmas gift card and got the eBook. I plowed through it in less than two weeks and it was partly the author’s suggestion of doing your house all in one fell swoop–or as quickly as possible–that I took the two days off.

One part of the author’s method is to purge not by room but by category. Instead of going through your closet or bedroom you’re supposed to go through ALL the clothes in your house. So on Friday, while my son took his nap, I went through the house and collected all my clothes. I got the sweatshirts from my son’s room, the outwear from the entryway closet, my dresses from my daughter’s closet and of course everything from my wardrobe and dresser. I had so many clothes I couldn’t fit them on my bed at once, so I went through things in categories. First I went through all my outerwear: sweatshirts, sweaters, jackets, etc. I had almost 30 articles of outwear. In San Francisco it’s always cold and we are skilled in the art of layering, so I wear some kind of sweater almost every day of the year. Still, seeing the pile made me realize just how much I had, which is the whole point of purging by category and not by room.

In the end I got rid of two huge IKEA bags of clothes. Later I went through my books–again moving them from their various shelves around the house and amassing them in the living room. After going through my books I had three big bags to donate and one bag to bring to my free-reading library at school. I also had a small bag to return to my parents.

In the book I read, there is only one standard by which things are judged–do they spark joy. I had a hard time determining that in the beginning, but the more I sorted, the easier it became to determine if something made me truly happy. When I wasn’t sure I would create a pile and return to it later–almost everything from that pile ended up being discarded, though a few things remained.

Touching each object is also important, and I definitely did that. I tried on a few things, to see if I still liked how they looked. What was interesting was that some pieces that I used to love just didn’t do anything for me anymore, and other pieces that I thought I didn’t like very much actually made me really happy. It was definitely hard to get rid of somethings that held sentimental value–T-shirts from various trips, books from family and friends–but when I recognized that they no longer sparked joy, it was much easier to part with them.

My husband and I spent Monday going through papers and other small shit that has accumulated around our room over the years. We also finally unpacked three boxes that had never been opened since we moved. There was an entire box of picture frames that I didn’t even remember we had! It took me an hour just to get all the pictures out so I could donate the frames to Goodwill.

In the end our room was in much better shape, but it didn’t look like I had imagined it would. Ultimately I want every surface almost empty, with only a few select pictures on the mantel and chest of drawers. We have a lot to do to get there, but the bulk of the purging is done.

I spent Tuesday in my garage, which has been causing me increasing anxiety. Again, I didn’t get nearly as much done as I wanted but the trouble spots are a thousand times better and walking to the laundry machine no longer inspires a panic attack.

I’ve already donated seven garbage bags of clothes (mine and my husband’s) and one bag of shoes to Goodwill, taken four huge bags to the technology drop off, and given five big bags of books to the Friends of the San Francisco Public Library. There are still eight bags of trash we need to get picked up, and two bags of recycling, plus a smaller bag for the shredder.

We got rid or so many books and other junk that we were able to get rid of the bookshelf in our hallway. Today I put a ton of stuff from the garage on free Craigs.list and by noon all of it had been picked up. We really have gotten rid of a TON of stuff–stuff I can’t believe ever made it over here in the move 2.5 years ago.

We did get a lot done, but there is still so much to do. That was always my response when my husband commented on how much we accomplished. If it weren’t so hard to schedule the time to work on this stuff, I don’t think I’d be so disappointed that we didn’t do more, but I’m also exploring why I have such a hard time appreciating what I did get finished.

I do think I’m going to get there, to a place where it feels like we have the right amount of stuff for our family, but I’m realizing that my life won’t be perfect when I do. It’s not that I thought all my difficulties would disappear with my superfluous stuff, but I do think I have expectations for how easy it will be to keep my house in order once it’s all gone, or how good I’ll feel once my house is in order.

I’m exploring those feelings too, all while I sort through all the cleaning supplies under the kitchen and bathroom sinks.

Just What I Needed

A huge thank you to the women who commented on my last post. I feel like I have a much better handle on the whole situation, both why it is difficult for me and how to support my friends in the future. Yesterday I bought my friend my favorite pregnancy book, one that focuses on the preparing yourself mentally and emotionally for the huge transition to motherhood. In the gift card I mentioned that I was always available to listen if she needs me. I hope that gesture will make it clear that I am here to support her in any way. I owe my other friend a thank you note for some beautiful and thoughtful gifts she gave my kids this Christmas. I will include a message in that about being around if she needs to talk. I think these more formal gestures will help me feel that I’ve been intentional enough in showing support for my friends. I do hope they reach out if they need me, I want to be there for them very much.

Yesterday ended up being a strange and wonderful day. I got to school at my regular 6am, but at 6:30 I received a mass text saying that school was closed because of a broken water mane on campus. With no water to flush toilets or combat a possible fire we couldn’t stay open. We had to stay until 8:30am to make sure no families showed up, but the emergency message system must have worked well because we only had to turn away one car.

I was planning on working in my room until the need to pee forced me to a Star.bucks, but then a friend from work that I’ve been making efforts to get closer to found me and we ended up bringing our work to her apartment and watching silly TV while we graded papers and entered scores. It was an awesome three hours of productive work time AND I had a great time with a women whose company I thoroughly enjoy. She even invited me to join her book club!

I called my husband on the way home to tell him who grateful I was for the day; not only did I get caught up on grading, but I got to hang out with a friend. Usually aberration from my regular schedule remind me of how isolated I am; it was such a welcome surprise to have someone to spend yesterday with. I drove to pick up my son feeling refreshed and energized, ready for whatever the rest of the week had to offer. It was so, so nice and I was so, so grateful.

It was just what I needed.

When It Doesn’t Help

I have two friends going through two very different experiences right now, experiences that I myself have already been through. I always appreciate when I can understand what someone is going through because I’ve been through it myself; I rely heavily on my past experiences when I relate to others. Except what happens when my past experiences don’t help me to understand what someone else is going through, because they are clearly processing things in very different ways than I did?

One of my friends is pregnant. She’s in the middle of her second trimester. She didn’t really tell anyone until she was almost 20 weeks. I saw her two times after she was 12 weeks (we don’t see each other very frequently) and she didn’t tell me about it because she didn’t feel ready. She is feeling a lot of ambivalence about being pregnant and having kids though she is clearly really excited (I think–she always told me she didn’t want kids so I was really surprised to hear she was pregnant, I didn’t even realize they were trying).

She is obviously experiencing pregnancy and impending motherhood very differently than I did. When she brings it up I always feel like I say exactly the opposite of what she expects. I know she appreciates hearing about my how I experienced certain aspects of my pregnancies, but I get the feeling what I went through has little relevance to what she is going through. I’m trying to reach out and be there for her in whatever ways she needs me, but I’m increasingly unsure of what those ways are.

My other friend (actually, she is a mutual friend) is trying to get pregnant. From what I understand it’s been about a year, though she wasn’t “really trying” (as she put it) for the first six months. She has been using OPKs since June and had one chemical pregnancy in August (the same month our other friend got pregnant–they were evidently both trying at the same time and had been talking to each other about how it was going).

I have tried to reach out, sending open-ended messages and bringing it up gently when we’re together, but dropping it quickly when she chooses not to pursue the subject. She doesn’t seem upset about any of it. I know she feels some ambivalence about pregnancy and delivery and her overall attitude about having a baby is very different than mine was when I was trying. She seems genuinely okay with the fact that she isn’t pregnant yet; I’m assuming she’s not worried that it hasn’t happened yet but I haven’t asked her about that specifically. I’m never quite sure how to proceed when I talk to her, so usually I just don’t bring it up. She doesn’t seem upset that our friend’s pregnancy started at the same time as hers ended; a situation that would have been really hard for me to handle seems to be a non-issue for her. I know when I was failing to get pregnant it was all I wanted to talk about and I felt nobody understood. I was desperate for someone to recognize my struggle and validate my feelings. It’s hard not to approach her experience with my own in mind, even when it seems clear she is processing it in totally different ways than I did.

I want to be there for my friends, and they are dealing with situations that I have intimate knowledge of, and yet I never seem to know what to say. I never considered the possibility that my friends and I could experience the same things so differently; I feel like my own experiences are actually hindering my ability to relate to them.

Maybe I am over thinking this. Maybe I’m doing a fine job of being there for my friends. I just want to make sure that I’m giving them what they need. I know how hard it was for me when I was trying to get pregnant and then (ironically) when I finally was pregnant–I would hate to find out later that my friends needed support that I wasn’t providing. Even if our shared experiences don’t help me relate to what they are going through, I hope it will at least ensure that I reach out in the ways I wished others had reached out to me (even when I had no idea what I needed or how to ask for it).

So how to proceed? Do I tell them how I’m feeling, assure them I want to support them in any way I can and ask them what they need? Or do I just try to push my own experiences to the background and attempt to intuit their needs based on the cues they give? I want to be a good friend, and I’m kind of flabbergasted that, in these two situations, I really don’t know how.

Have shared experiences ever hindered your ability to relate to those you wanted to support? How did you handle it?

My Year of the Open Heart

It’s 2015. A new year. Clearly I have things I’m working on, but I don’t consider them resolutions. These are changes I need to make, for my family’s financial survival, for my own emotional survival.

I’m not making any other goals for myself, but I do want 2015 to be different. It’s not a specific action I want to take, but an attitude I want to embrace. I want 2015 to be my Year of the Open Heart. I want to approach everything this year with an understanding of the universe as a place of abundance, where there is enough (joy, peace, happiness, love, insert positive word here) for everyone. I want to focus more on giving to others and less on what I can get for myself.

I have been so very blessed in this life, I have so incredibly much, and it’s time for my to focus to be on giving some of that muchness to the people I love. The last seven years I have been in crisis or survival modes. There wasn’t anything left for anyone else and I walked around wanting something from everyone. I wanted love, I wanted support, I wanted validation, I wanted recognition. I wanted SOMETHING from EVERYONE. This year I’m turning it around. This year I’m reveling in gratitude for what I have, and focusing on giving back to those I love. This year it’s about how I can give love, give support, give validation, give recognition. This year it’s about how I can be the mother and wife and daughter and sister and teacher and friend that my kids and husband and parents and sister and students and friends need me to be. Because I can do that. I can be those things. I have everything I need to be happy. I have been given so many precious, invaluable gifts. I will not squander what I have. I will celebrate it.

And I will give back.

What do you want to do in 2015?

A Good Year

{A note about AWOL comments: I just realized that my spam filter has been a little overactive lately. I’m sorry so many legit comments were going to spam. I will check that folder daily and make sure to publish anything that is being sent there by mistake. I’ll also try to tell my filter not to send certain emails there. I’m not sure why it’s doing that, maybe because the name is sometimes changed? Definitely use the same name every time you comment, just in case that is what’s causing it to go into spam-filter overdrive.}

I was making the obligatory family calendar this year–it’s what I give both sets of grandparents–and I was struck by what a good year 2014 was for our family.

January is all photos from our wedding. I am so thankful to have finally married my best friend and the love of my life, in front of family and a couple of close friends. I cherish my memories of that day, those captured by the camera and those that live in my heart.

May is dozens of photos of my two children together. Every single one is a reminder of the other future I had come to accept, the one where just my daughter’s face graced those photographs. I am so, so thankful to have my son in my life, for them to have each other and for us to be a family.

June is photos of my daughter with characters from Disneyland. That was an amazing trip–stressful and intense to be sure, but also wonderful. I’m so glad we got to go together. I know it meant as much to her as it did to me.

July is pictures of my husband and I with our kids (we both have birthdays in July). Seriously, how did I get so lucky to have this man, and these sweet children, in my life?

October is the twelve monthly shots of my son that I took with the sticker ties saying how old he is. I never did those monthly shots with my daughter, but always wished I had, and they represent the opportunity I have with my son to do things differently, to try things I didn’t know about the first time around. I am intensely grateful for the second chances. I never take them for granted.

December is best-ofs from a photo shoot we did recently with the kids. We have a beautiful family and I love seeing all four of us together. There are too few pictures of all of us together.

I suppose it’s sad that I needed a photo calendar to remind me of all the amazing things that happened this year. I truly am humbled by what I’ve been given. I just hope that in 2015 I’ll honor these gifts in every way I know how.

What will you remember about 2014?

Coping Mechanisms

It seems everyone things I’ve quit all my vices cold turkey and left myself with no coping mechanisms. I can assure you, that is not the case. I have been indulging in plenty of behavior that I don’t really approve of (for myself) in my attempt to manage this feeling of wanting to crawl out of my skin. I know I can’t make every positive change in my life at once. I know I will doomed to failure if I do. At  this point I am focusing mostly on the compulsive spending, while trying to embrace the minimalism mindset (because I think ultimately it help me stop spending compulsively), but without a lot of pressure to “get it right”.

{The only other thing I’m trying to quit right now is biting my nails (actually I mostly bite the skin around my nails) because it got so bad that I was creating deep fissures that were excruciatingly painful, and also my daughter has started biting her nails (from watching me) so we’re trying to quit together. That actually hasn’t been so hard because I’ve found an alternate habit to insert in place of biting my nails, and I’ve become so mindful of my nail-biting triggers–it happens in specific places (the car, while I’m waiting for something) and for specific reasons (boredom, stress)–that I have been pretty successful at swapping out one habit for another. I’m not putting a lot of pressure on myself to stop biting my nails though, mostly I just don’t want to injure myself anymore, because man, the places where I broke the skin were really starting to hurt.}

So what are my current coping mechanisms? There are plenty.

I’m drinking a ton of Diet Coke, like 2-3 cans a day. I’m also indulging in a lot of coffee. I plan to stop drinking Diet Coke completely at some point, but right now I might as well be mainlining the stuff.

I read. A lot. I’m constantly escaping into books, articles and blog posts. I’m on my phone constantly. I’m listening to books on tape constantly. I’m reading all the damn time.

I have taken up TV watching again. I never made a conscious effort to stop watching TV but with only an hour in the evenings to do so, it wasn’t really happening. Lately I’ve been binge watching all sorts of TV. I have crappy shit on in the background while I fold laundry or grade papers and my husband and I have been spending out evenings watching something, anything, that will give us a reason not to talk much to each other. (Things aren’t bad between us, it’s all just A LOT and we appreciate some easy, mindless moments at the end of long days.)

I’m eating a ton of crap food. My diet is a fucking shambles right now (and when I say diet I’m simply referring to what I eat–I’m not on any specific “diet” to lose weight). My sugar consumption, which is usually almost nothing, has skyrocketed, and I’m doing absolutely nothing to curb that.

I’m giving myself a lose leash on the cash spending. That $100 a week does not include groceries (my husband buys those) or gas (I use my debit card) and I’m letting myself get snacks or treats or eat lunch out right now, because those things make my days easier and more fun. I don’t feel like spending money that way is a compulsion for me (like buying stuff is) so I’m letting myself do it, because it would be way too hard to just stop spending money entirely. Eventually I want to live on a much tighter budget that would exclude frivolous food spending of that kind, but right now, as I try to cold-turkey stop shopping, I’m letting myself indulge a little, and refusing to feel guilty about it.

I’m letting the house get messy again. It’s driving me crazy, and I’m constantly picking Cheerios from between my toes, but I just can’t let myself get stressed out about the mess right now. Hopefully, as I continue to get rid of stuff (and recreate the balance that was lost with the influx of stuff at Christmas) it will become easier to keep the house neat again.

Also, I’m not pushing myself to write. Sure there are times when I want to, and feel that I can’t, but I’m not creating an obligation that isn’t there. That is why I go weeks without writing here, or anywhere.

Finally I’m making exercise a priority, even when it creates situations that really piss my husband off. I am not letting exercise get crowded out by being home alone with two kids, one of whom doesn’t nap, most days. I’m making it work, even if that means encouraging my daughter to spend an hour or more on the iPad three times a week.

Those are just some of the ways I’m cutting myself some slack and giving myself coping mechanisms during this difficult time. I will admit I’m trying to reign in the really bad ones (ahem, excessive Diet Coke consumption) because I don’t want to replace one unhealthy addiction with a bunch of other unhealthy addictions that will be hard to give up at some later date. At the same time, I want to give myself leeway right now, so I don’t go crazy while I make these changes.

I have some positive coping mechanisms waiting in the wings as well. I’m participating in a online discussion group that is committing to meditation starting in January. I hope being a part of a community of people that are also trying to meditate will help me hold myself accountable. I really do believe daily meditation could be a HUGELY positive change for me.

I’m also going to start writing in my journal, as per Karen’s suggestion. I think that will be a really positive outlet for me too. Writing about 5 things I did well in a day will give me a reason to pick up a pen, even when it all feels too overwhelming to get down on paper. I hope with the addition of those positive coping mechanisms, I can dial down my dependence on some of the other more mind numbing habits I’ve taken up (*cough* internet, TV).

What are your go-to coping mechanisms? Are there any you want to change?


I’m sorry.

I didn’t mean to disappear again.

I hate that I’m becoming “that blogger,” the one who writes for a week or two and then disappears without any warning or explanation.

I know we don’t owe anyone anything in the Internets, especially not in our own spaces, but I also know that I consider many of you friends and I don’t want to be the kind of friend that just vanishes without a trace for weeks at a time. I don’t like it when my friends do that to me, and I don’t want to do that to my friends either.

So I’m sorry I’ve been away. I’ve tried to write. I’ve tried and I’ve failed. Miserably. This is where most people mention the many unfinished drafts waiting to be published, but I will admit that not a word has been written that you haven’t seen. Not even in my journal. I haven’t been able to write, not anywhere.

I’ve opened up posts. Sometimes I’ve even stared at them for a good couple of minutes, but not once have I written a word. Usually I just shut the computer down and start reading a book.

I just can’t seem to write anything.

I think there are a lot of reasons why, but it’s hard to pin any of them down. Everything is so intertwined right now, it’s hard to tease out one narrative and commit to it from beginning to end without mentioning all the other issues at play. Each strand is so completely, and complexly, a part of all the others, you can’t trace it under your finger without starting down the path of a totally different thread. And the hardest part is, half the time you don’t even realize you’ve gone astray, the colors are so muddled and stained, it’s hard to tell the individual strands apart.

Jesus, even that metaphor is a fucking disaster.

I really, truly don’t know what to say, except that this business of tearing oneself down and then rebuilding from the foundation is devastating, especially when you’ve removed (or are attempting to) all the scaffolding you depended on in the past. Brené Brown talks about abandoning the things we do to numb ourselves and how when she did it she felt like a turtle without its shell… in a briar patch. That is how I feel. It’s excruciating, and I want nothing more than to slip back into the well worn armor I’ve carried around for the entirety of my adult life.

So in the absence of a cohesive narrative, I guess I’ll just start writing and see what happens.

Winter break has been… challenging. 24/7 with both kids, no breaks, my son cutting four molars… It’s not the best environment to be managing all this. But I suppose none is.

Christmas Day was surprisingly nice. Low key. It was what I needed. I didn’t let myself get my hopes up; I’ve spent the last four years learning that what I used to love about holidays with family (actually spending meaningful time with them) is just not possible with young kids. Walking into the day with realistic expectations helped stave off the disappointment, and there were even some nice moments with my overly-stimulated, Christmas-crazed kids. (I realize that risks sounding totally ungrateful–please know I am not ungrateful, and that I appreciate every Christmas I spend with my kids, but–as are many things in parenting–it’s complicated.)

I finally saw my therapist, and we spent the hour tackling my compulsive spending. It was… unpleasant. She is clearly concerned. As per her suggestion, I came home and handed over all my credit cards to my husband. I am carrying around my debit card to buy gas and for emergencies, but on a weekly basis I’m only using cash. I’m giving myself $100 a week right now, but I’m not allowed to by anything non-essential and I have to write down how every cent is spent. (My therapist suggested $50 a week, and I’m going to work down to that in the next month.) I could tell my husband was freaked out by all of it, and I had to assure him (again, through tears) that I hadn’t told her anything I hadn’t already divulged to him. I think the difference is she knows what follow-up questions to ask, and what my responses to those questions mean. She recognizes when I get defensive or try to justify my actions. She knows me. We’re going to work on it. It’s going to be hard. I’m going to stumble and fall, over and over again, but I’m going to keep getting up and continue stumbling forward.

The next few weeks are a test of sorts, to see what kind of self-control I have. If I can stick to my spending plan it will be one thing, if I can’t, it will be quite another. The pressure is considerable.

I’m hitting the wall on the commitment to minimalism. Turns out I’m not just addicted to accumulating stuff but to the stuff itself. I’m having a harder and harder time letting go. And yet I realize I have to. I understand that the life I lead now, with the stuff I own, it’s untenable. And yet I’m not sure how to change. It’s hard. I don’t know how to do this. But I have to and so I keep at it.

I miss writing. And I don’t. I haven’t tackled it here (or anywhere) yet but the Creative Non-Fiction class had a big impact on me. Someone critiquing my work affected me deeply. And then I quit the magazine and can’t seem to maintain a writing schedule here. I recognize all these steps as a distancing of myself from writing, from my understanding of myself as a writer, but I’m not quite sure why I am taking those steps. I assume the reasons will present themselves, eventually.

In the absence of my usual coping techniques (stuff, shopping, writing, even biting my nails, which I’m trying to quit) I find myself scrambling to fill the space and pass the time. I am loathe to even transfer the laundry without an audiobook playing. At night, before I fall asleep, I’ve resorted to my old habit of telling stories in my head, mostly the tooling and retooling of scenes that I love, keeping my mind occupied so it won’t have to acknowledge whatever is brewing behind the projector screen.

This past weekend my husband and I lost ourselves in Broadchurch, the BBC version. I cried. A lot.

I am trying to be accepting of all this, both how I feel and how I’m coping. Maybe that is why it’s hard to write, because I’m trying so desperately not to judge any of this as good or bad. Or maybe it’s because I know I’m clutching at straws, and if I sit still long enough to get it down I’ll see it all for what it is.

I honestly have no idea. But at least I wrote this. And that’s something.

Update on Down There

I never gave an update on my busted lady business, and I do want to chronicle that journey for anyone else who is dealing with lingering physical issues post pregnancy and/or vaginal delivery.

The reason I haven’t updated is there isn’t much to say. The uro-gynocologist I met with was very nice and did a lot to validate my concerns (which I always appreciate from medical professionals). She did a thorough examination and clearly explained what was going on and what they could do to alleviate my symptoms.

Of course there was a lot of poking and prodding in my lady business, which didn’t surprise me. One procedure I was not expecting, and that was exceedingly weird, was when she inserted a catheter and FILLED MY BLADDER to make sure it could hold the requisite amount. Let me tell you, the sudden onset of a full bladder is a bizarre (and rather painful) sensation, almost as weird as the feeling of peeing cold water. That was seriously the oddest thing I have ever experienced.

Luckily my bladder can still hold plenty of liquid, and I don’t have any continence issues (for this I am supremely grateful), but I do have problems with completely vacating my bladder and even after I peed she was able to  “squeeze” a good 60 mLs out through the catheter. This doesn’t surprise me because it always feels like I need to pee, even when I just went and I still have to stand up to get the last drops out. Evidently even when I do that I’m still not voiding my bladder completely.

The doctor explained that they rate prolapse on a scale of 0-4, 0 being no prolapse and 4 indicating a protrusion of pelvic organs outside of the vagina. I immediately guessed I would was at a 2 and I was right. My issues are not severe, but they are definitely noticeable.

Surgery is an option but my doctor recommended I wait until I was done picking up my child regularly before I get it. That is at least two or three years in the future. She said the surgery has an 80% success rate and then in 20% of cases things eventually go “back the way they were.”

In the meantime I was fitted for a pessary, which is a thick ring that folds in half and is inserted into the vagina. The pessary acts like a trampoline, holding up the prolapsed pelvic organs and keeping them from the opening of the vagina. This isn’t super helpful for me, as my symptoms are worse in situations where I can’t wear the pessary, like during my period (I want to be able to wear a menstrual cup or a tampon) and sex. It does help relieve the feeling of pressure I have when I work out, but I don’t feel much of a difference otherwise (which mostly means I don’t notice my prolapse otherwise, which is a good thing).

I have to admit, I wasn’t quite sure how to feel leaving the doctor’s office. On the one hand I am very grateful that I’m not dealing with more severe issues and that waiting a couple of years for surgery is mostly just an inconvenience. On the other hand, I’m having my period one out of every three weeks (I still have my short 20-21 day cycles–thanks DOR!–but my copper IUD makes my periods longer, if not necessarily heavier) and it sucks to wear re-useable bamboo pads (so as not to irritate my fissure). Also, I’d love for sex not to be uncomfortable, but I’m feeling more and more resigned to that being an issue for the foreseeable future.

I think mostly the appointment was just a wake-up call that these issues are never going away, at least not completely. This is my life now and I need to figure out how to make it work without getting too down about it. It could be so much worse and I’m thankful that it’s manageable, but I miss my unscathed lady business and I long for sex to be purely pleasurable once again.

Man, those were the days.

Friendship Inventory

Last week I started reading Friendships Don’t Just Happen: A Guide to Creating a Meaningful Circle of Girlfriends by Shasta Nelson. I don’t think I need to explain why.

I’ve only just started the book. This weekend I finished reading about Nelson’s Circles of Connectedness, where she identifies five different kind of friendships and explains what each one entails. She diagrams her Circles of Connectedness on a continuum of closeness that increases from left to right, while explaining how and why each kind of friend is important and what roles they play in our lives.

Nelson introduces the “Left-Side Friends” first. Farthest to the left are “Contact Friends” which Nelson describes as women “we are friendly [with] when we see them in our shared context, but we have limited consistency and limited intimacy.” These are the kinds of friends we gravitate to at yoga class or maybe during our lunch break at work. They give us a “sense of belonging” in our shared context but there isn’t any expectation that we will remember details about their life outside of the context in which we know them.

Next are “Common Friends,” which are described in relation to Contact Friends as “increasing either in consistency or intimacy… getting to know them better largely in the area we have in common.” Contract Friends are like Common Friends except that “we spend time with these women in more intentional and personal ways, developing friendships that feel more substantial.” We probably see these women more frequently than we’d see Common Friends and talk about things that are more important to us. For the woman I sit with at lunch to move from the Contact to Common Friends category, I’d have to start spending some time with her after school–maybe getting a coffee before heading home some days–even if we still talked primarily about work.

Next Nelson jumps to the two farthest right circles: “Community” and “Committed Friends.” Community Friends are women with whom “we spend consistent time together growing the intimacy or our relationship” while Committed Friends are women we “intimately and consistently share our lives with.” Community friends are generally referred to as “good friends” and Committed Friends are the heralded BFFs.

The middle circle, or fulcrum as Nelson refers to it, is reserved for “Confirmed Friends.” They are the women with whom we have a shared past, but that we no longer see consistently, usually because one or both of us has moved (but maybe because of a large transition in one woman’s life).

The few negative reviews of the book (on Am.azon) disparaged the categorizing and inventorying of friendship, but I have found it very useful. I always knew I had different kinds of friends, but I appreciate someone clearly defining the different types of friendships. I find it helps me to understand what I can expect from people, and more importantly it helps me articulate why I can have so many friends and still feel like important friendships are missing.

At the end of the discussion on the different Circles of Connectedness, Nelson urges the reader to do a kind of friendship inventory, to see which circles are impacted and which could use a boost. She extolls the reader to be honest in her assessment, to categorize friendships based on the true conditions of the present, not nostalgic reminiscences of the past or hopeful projections into the future.

I took my own inventory and while I wasn’t shocked, I was still saddened, by the results. The majority of my friends fell in the two left-hand circles; most of the women I am close to are Contact Friends and a few can be considered Common Friends because we get together every once in a while outside of our shared context (work or play dates with our kids) or exchange emails or FB messages outside of our shared online context (blog comment sections). I also have a few friends in the Confirmed circle, all women I lived with during college or know from high school. I am still close with these women but I only see them once every year or two and we don’t connect regularly via phone, email or other social media.

I didn’t have one friend to list in either the Community or Committed Friends circles. The word that kept anyone from inhabiting those circles was “consistency.” There is just no one in my life that I communicate with, let alone see, consistently. That is what I am missing.

Doing this exercise has been incredibly validating. It really helped me to understand exactly what friendships I feel are missing from my life. I always knew that I wanted more, but in the absence of a clear articulation of what exactly it was I wanted more of, I felt I was being selfish and taking the friendships I did have for granted. I knew that something was missing, but I couldn’t easily determine what that thing was and in my clumsy fumbling to express how I was feeling, I disparaged the friendships I did have, the ones I cherish and thoroughly enjoy. Now I better understand how I can have so many wonderful, meaningful friendships with women, both in real life and online, and still ache for something different.

Inventorying my friendships also helped me understand why the loss of my good friend has been so devastating. She was my only “right-hand side” friend and in the aftermath of her abrupt exit from my life I had no other friends I shared with consistently enough to help fill the gaping hole.

Doing this exercise also makes me feel sad. I already knew I wanted more friends, but seeing that I don’t have one person I can say I share with intimately and consistently hurts. I think it would be different if I’d just moved or dealt with some other massive life transition, but I’ve lived in this city (and been at the same job) for a decade, and it’s been almost five years since I became a mother. I feel like I should have at least a few friends on the right-hand side, but in reality I have none.

I’m assuming the rest of the book focuses on how to populate these circles with meaningful friendships and I hope I find some good advice. I’m also moving through (slowly, it’s intense stuff) a workbook on attachment theory so that hopefully I will have healthy expectations of whoever ends up on the right-side of my continuum.

This friendship work is hard, but I think it’s really worth investing the time and energy into making new friends. I’ve read some alarming stuff about how important a strong support network can be to a overall health and vitality; in one study of over 3,000 nurses battling breast cancer, a strong sense of friendship and support resulted in survival rates four times greater than those without strong friendships. Being married made no statistical difference in survival outcomes. Lonely had similarly terrifying statistics about the sobering effects a lack of friendships can have on mortality rates. The last thing I want is to die young because I don’t have something in my life that I always wanted.

What do you think about making a friendship inventory? Can you guess which circles would be more full, and which would be more empty?