Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Life After Suicide - Part III - Changing

Catch up with Part 1 and Part 2.

I'm not 100% yet, I think I have a long ways to go before I become "Lealah" again - whatever that means, whoever that is. Mentally, things are still difficult. Thinking about my brother still brings a sharp pain to my very essence, but now at least I can appreciate and be thankful for all the good memories I have.

Writing this blog series has been painful, but I think it's something I needed to do. I needed to confront the terror from the past many months. Some days I get home from work and I'm just done, I have no energy left to do or think about anything. Other days I get my workouts in, try to do something creative or productive, eat a healthy meal... Some days I let the minor annoyances of life get to me and I'm so ready to give up, other days I work on looking for things that calm me and bring me positive energy. I'm about 40 pounds up now, where I was only 20-25 pounds up before October 12. Truthfully though, I've found that being skinny is not nearly as important as it used to be. I would really just like to be healthy and feel good now. I've only really started working out, eating healthier and tackling other health issues in the past couple months; already the difference in my physical and mental well-being is palpable. The main activities that have helped turn me around are Yoga and attempted meditation (surprisingly difficult activity to engage in!). Something I've discovered in the past months is that I do not really know myself, not completely and honestly. I think that true happiness is something only achieved once you know and are confident in yourself.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to say that I'm some newly enlightened, transformed individual that seems to have the answers. Some things have been impressed upon me though. I've come to realize that despite how over the years I've tried to "be a good person", I was still a judgmental hypocrite. I am trying to be different now, to really see people and to really give them the benefit of the doubt and to not pass judgement based on my perceptions. I have more desire to understand people. We never know if someone is treating us terribly because they'd been treated terribly, or because they are undergoing some hardship or trauma. That jack ass on the highway cutting everybody off and whipping in between cars may be rushing to see his dying son. Maybe the annoying lady at the office that won't shut up about herself really has something more serious going on in her personal life that she just doesn't know how to talk about. (That doesn't necessarily make her any less annoying though.) We never know when someone is struggling just to get through their day. There is a lot we don't know. I'm not sure if I was fully capable of real compassion and empathy before now. I find myself hurting for people, some I know, some I don't, in ways I was not able to before. I have begun to see things on a much larger scale, the "first-world" issues no longer bother me like they used to; it's the issues that really impact our ability to live happy and free that have drawn my attention now. These things I may blog about later. I'm still human, I'm not immune to the annoyances and gripes of everyday life; I'm just finding that I care less and less about these things.

I would be remiss to leave out the things for which I am grateful despite the tragedy we've endured. I am grateful for my family that recognized that I was struggling and taking things rather hard and checked on me almost on a daily basis. I am grateful for my best friend that dropped everything to be there for me. I am grateful for my friends who have reached out, without pushing, just to let me know they care. I am grateful for my work family and the support they showed during the most difficult time of my life. During the following months people who had suffered the loss of someone close due to suicide reached out and that helped too - being able to connect with people that really do understand. One person lost her little brother to suicide as well and I cannot put into words how much her support and her actions of kindness mean to me. I am grateful for those that recognized that I lost not only my little brother, but a child that I raised and loved as my own and never tried to minimize my suffering. I am grateful for the last words written to me by my brother, which cut me to my core, but are words that will comfort me for the remainder of my life. I'm grateful for the lives saved by my brother's death. I'm grateful I was able to see my brother alive and smiling in July 2015.

I believe that this gratefulness is a sign of growth and strength. Do I still wish that his death was a terrible nightmare? Absolutely. Would I still trade places with him if I could? In a heartbeat. My brother and I had a rough childhood, we both had to grow up fast and since his death I've often wondered and been smothered by guilt with the question of "Why him? Why not me instead?" Ultimately I know I won't be able to grow to my full potential until I've come to terms with my guilt and am able to stop punishing myself. I don't know if and when this may happen, or if I will ever be able to have peace on the subject of Amir's death, but I know now that I have things to do and a life to live.   I have a long road ahead of me. I cannot believe that my brother would want me to punish myself so harshly for the rest of my days, and I don't believe that he would have done what he did if he knew how much pain it brought us. When I feel weak, angry, depressed and guilty, I try to remember two messages my brother left me, sayings he had tattooed on his body and had always clung to: "Smile now, cry later." and "Hope".

I need to re-evaluate my life, my goals, my views, my values, my perceptions... I've learned that I can make a difference in the world. If I can touch even a handful of people's lives and make them better, in the slightest way, then those people will be able to help their own handful of people, and so on. The tree will grow, the branches will reach, and the world will be a better place. And less people will end up like Amir.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Life After Suicide - Part II - The Aftermath

Catch up with Part 1 here.

The first task we took care of was getting my littlest brother out of jail so he could be with the family during this time. It stabbed at me later when I found out that Amir was trying to save/borrow money to get him out before he died. It took one week to finalize funeral arrangements, for the ME's office to finish their exam, and for LifeGift to find recipients for my brother's organs. Five people's lives were saved due to my brother. We didn't eat, we didn't sleep, we did not do a whole lot except obsess and make arrangements. We talked to my brother's girlfriend, to some of his friends, to family... we sought answers to questions. Those questions remain unanswered. The only thing we were sure of is that my brother had a drug relapse before he died. Would he have done what he did if he hadn't relapsed? I like to think not, but we'll never know for sure. My own mind turned on me. I was given no relief, no rest, no freedom from my innermost thoughts and I felt like I deserved none, so I never resisted the attack. One night my dad fell from lack of sustenance, sleep deprivation, and grief. After screaming at him that he had to eat and drink something because I didn't know what to do, later that night I almost passed out for the same reasons. I realized that I couldn't keep going this way and I had to try to eat and sleep if I was going to hold the family together through the next few days. I managed to get by after that.

Services for my brother began at 10:00 am Monday, October 19th. We buried him in the town that last all five of us kids were together, the last place we were together before things fell apart when I went to college and left the kids. It was a beautiful sunny day and the services were suiting for him; he would have appreciated them. My family came together in a way that I hadn't seen in many years. I even saw my mother and father hug for the first time in 17 years. My dad and I stayed in town for another day before we headed back to Oklahoma.
The last Christmas we had together before I left for college.
The next several months were the worst of my life. I moved in with my dad when we returned, he didn't need to be alone and I had no purpose or desire or drive to do anything but grieve and punish myself. Like my dad had hit his limit in the parking lot of JPS, I had hit mine. I held my shit together long enough to do what needed to be done. I contacted my department head and professor and was given an incomplete for the classes I was enrolled in. I didn't return to work for a couple weeks and when I did go back, I'm not sure that I was actually ready. I was a wreck. I had to leave work early some days because I just could not handle functioning, other days I did not make it in at all. I am so thankful for the support net I have at work, I know I would not have made it without them. I was barely sleeping or eating for weeks after my brother's death. I was a chain smoking zombie that when not working did nothing but lay on the couch under the pretense of watching TV. In reality, I was trapped in my mind where the walls were cracking and crumbling and memories and emotions were flooding and pulsating at the seams. I cried, I fought myself, I hated myself, I asked why, why, why? I pitied myself. Grief is selfish. Most of all, the guilt and pain I felt for my brother are what crippled and suffocated me. How badly he must have been hurting to choose the path he did, and oh, how much more I could have done for him. Quite frankly, the only thing that kept me from choosing the same path many times throughout that time span was the fact that I just couldn't put my family through what we were already going through. I could never inflict on someone else the horror we endured. And my dad needed me. In my eyes, I did not deserve to live or enjoy anything if my brother did not make it, I had lost all hope. I tried to workout a couple times - that's what everyone said I needed to do; then when the endorphins were flowing and the post workout high hit, I would feel so guilty that I would hate myself for feeling good and have another break down, so I quit trying.

I turned 30 exactly one month from the day my brother died. This was hard, too. I was supposed to go to Vegas to celebrate with a half marathon and my FFTFL friends. Before I realized my brother was using again, I actually was wanting to bring him with me. He had talked about Vegas many times and I wanted to celebrate his freedom and make up for lost time by taking a trip with him. My poor brother had been through so much and never got to enjoy his youth, I wanted to do something fun with him. This was a double whammy, not only did I reach a milestone birthday, the big 3-0, when my brother didn't make past 24, but what could have been a great memory with him was cruelly stolen from me. The guilt continued.

After my birthday, I continued about the same, looking back, I must have known how rough the holidays were going to be and was subconsciously holding my breath until we made it through. I also knew that Amir's 25th birthday was coming up, the last time I got to spend my brother's birthday with him was on his 21st birthday.

I got to buy my brother's first (legal) beer.
We went to Texas a couple times, the presence of family and most especially my baby niece was comforting. In fact, seeing my cousins and their kids helped, too. Children have an incredible healing element in them. Every time I held her sweetness, I was reminded that there was beauty left in the world and that it was not time to give up.

My other brother came and stayed with us for a couple weeks, which truly helped because he helped get me out of my head. Maybe also because he reminds me of my other brother, and reminded me that I still have loved ones left. His presence gave me strength. My brother went back to Texas before the holidays and I resumed doing nothing but sitting/laying around chain smoking, eating or sleeping (albeit restlessly). At some point before, I had to start medicating to start eating and sleeping; functioning had become increasingly difficult. In fact, some would say I was not functioning at all.  The trend of losing weight switched to gaining weight though I did not notice. My dad would bring me food and pressure me to eat and I knew that seeing me like this couldn't have helped him, yet I couldn't change, so I would at least eat in a half-assed attempt to pretend that I was okay. My dad gave me strength. He had just lost his son and yet he still refused to give up on me.Once the holidays hit, the despair I felt was so heavy that I really gave up, I took leave from work and did not leave my dad's house for near two weeks and literally did nothing but lay on the couch. I became afflicted with crippling back pain and a respiratory infection.I drank heavily during this time, as well, although it only made things worse. On January 6, 2016, my dad and I drove to Texas to visit my brother's grave for his first birthday after death. At the end of the month, we visited my sister and her new little family in Indiana.
My beautiful sister and my precious nephew, yet another reminder of life's blessings.
This is probably around the time I really started accepting the reality of what was and where I started turning things around. I realized I couldn't continue down the path I was going. I had a niece and nephew that were going to be growing up fast and I did not want to miss out on that. I did not want them to see their aunt as a shell of herself. My brother would be ashamed of me. I decided I had to start getting better.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Life After Suicide - Part I - The Nightmare

 This is a post that I've debated writing for some weeks now. The debate as follows: To begin, who wants to hear about death and sadness, right? And really, making myself vulnerable on such a heart-rending topic is completely out of my comfort zone. On the other hand, some of you may have gone through similar circumstances and you should know you aren't alone, and others of you still might benefit from knowing more about what those you care about have been through. If my experience can in any way, shape, or form help someone else, then I need to share. Finally, since I am a writer at heart, perhaps putting everything out there will be a therapy of sorts. So here we go.

On October 12, 2015, at approximately 2:35 pm, I received a phone call that marked the beginning of the end of my universe as I knew it. It was Monday morning and I'd had a rough weekend, I was feeling down and Monday morning I felt especially depressed and anxious. I had no idea that this was a foreshadowing of what was to come. I was sitting in the break room having a late lunch with a friend, talking about my little brother whom I'd been worried about and trying to figure out how to help, when my sister tried to call me. We were almost finished with lunch so I figured I could call her back in a few minutes when I returned to my office. Then my aunt called and I stared at my phone for long seconds - something was wrong - the sense of foreboding was dense. When I answered the phone I tried to sound casual, I didn't get far before she said words I never even thought to imagine. She told me that my brother, Amir, had shot himself in the head. I didn't hear a whole lot after that, I could only stare at my friend sitting across the table, tears streaming down my face, as my aunt explained that it was serious and I needed to get down there (to Texas) and she already spoke to my dad. All I could think was no, no, no, not my baby brother, no, she couldn't be right, this wasn't real.

When I got off the phone I started crying harder and I started losing control. I was shaking and convulsing and I couldn't comprehend the call I just received and had no clue what to do next. My friend ushered me to his office and retrieved my supervisor. I cannot explain the thoughts that were rushing through my head. Guilt, horror, incredulity, the deepest sort of grief imaginable. I sat there shaking and crying and probably babbling for what seemed like hours, but was really only about 15 minutes. At some point I remember something along the lines of confirming the severity of the situation, something like: "This is really serious right? People don't typically recover from gunshot wounds to the head.. my brother is going to die, isn't he?" What a question to have to answer. The sadness in his eyes confirmed more than anything he could have said. I knew deep in my heart, that I would never, ever get to see my brother alive again in this lifetime. I thought of my father and I knew I must get moving, we were going to Texas and I was wasting time. I started rambling about what I needed to do and bless his heart, my supervisor really tried to help. I'm sure it was obvious that I was in no condition to drive, but I did not want to involve anyone in the horror that awaited and so I insisted on handling things on my own. Somehow I made it to my dad's house and somehow we got on the road. After talking to him on the phone, I was sure I'd need to drive, but my dad was adamant about driving and proceeded to do so better than any professional driver I'd ever seen, with more intensity and focus than I'd ever witnessed in my father. We flew across the state. Without a thought, I picked up one of my dad's cigarettes and started smoking again. And I continued to smoke the entire drive - whilst sobbing and staring out the window, praying to any and all sources of Higher Powers that be and chanting to myself that he was going to be okay. I couldn't remember the last time I'd prayed before that, funny how crisis suddenly instills hope and faith. The closer we got to JPS Hospital in Fort Worth, the more my chants changed from he's going to be okay, to: please wait, please wait baby brother, wait for me, for us, hang on, you're going to be okay, please wait, baby brother...

When we got to the hospital, my family was there. My uncles, my mother, my sisters, my niece, my cousin and his family. My aunt had to leave, but she was there with my sister until others could join her. My other little brother was incarcerated and unable to be there. The moment my dad stepped out of the car he fell apart and I knew he held onto strength as long as he could to get to his son, but that now it was my turn. We held each others arms, greeted the family, and went up to see my brother. I think I expected/hoped to get there and it come out that a mistake had been made; that either it was a terrible joke, or that the wound wasn't as serious as it sounded, or that somehow they had the wrong kid... anything other than what we encountered. Even though, deep down I know I knew. Why else did I start grieving from the moment I received the call? There, lying in a hospital bed, was my beautiful, strong, hopeful, selfless, stubborn, misunderstood, tortured baby brother. The first of four younger siblings that I held in my arms as a baby, that I loved with all my might at five years old.

The first to have been able to instill rage and laughter in me simultaneously as he would vandalize my "things" while looking at me with this impish, "aren't I cute" glint in his eyes.
See what I mean? 
The first to have my back when things were tough as a kid, the first to help me take care of the others when I really needed help (otherwise he really enjoyed causing me more stress), the first to protect, the first to pounce if someone threatened his family. He was the first being that I ever loved more than I loved my parents or myself. And he lay in a hospital bed looking fragile and nothing like himself. His handsome face was swollen and his head was bandaged and there were tubes and wires all over him. I went to his side and again "no" was all I could think. this couldn't be real. I held his hand, his left hand with the word "Hope" tattooed on it, and I tried to make sense of what was going on. I tried talking to him, telling him that it was okay, and he was going to be okay, and it was time to come back to us and we'd take care of him. I missed the part where the doctor said he had been pronounced brain dead approximately 15 minutes earlier.

We spent hours at the hospital the first night. A gentleman from LifeGift, the organ donor organization in Texas, met with us and went over numerous questions regarding my brother's health and lifestyle. If there were such a thing as comfort during this time, this man would have been a comfort. He seemed like a genuinely good person and was one of the few people I dealt with during that time that I could handle being around. The questionnaire was one of the hardest things to endure because the truth of the matter was that my brother had spent years incarcerated with short bouts of freedom and he had just been released in July. There was much we did not know about my brother over the past several years and coming to terms with how little time we had with him was difficult. It felt like a failure on our part. Though the prospect of lives that could be saved due to my brother choosing to be an organ donor kept us answering questions. Finally we finished, and though we didn't want to leave the hospital, staying there was unbearable. We said good night to my brother, got in the car to drive to my sister's and this song came on the radio:
Instantly I was flooded with memories, scents, images... How many times did my brother and I talk about being kids and wishing we could turn back time? How many times when we were kids did we talk about our dreams and plans? How often had we stressed over money throughout the years? I kept driving, tears never stopping, cracking under the surface, listening to the song, heart breaking. The song was only playing in the background, but I heard it loud and clear.

That night I did not sleep, I'm not sure if anyone did. I lay on my sister's couch in the dark staring at the ceiling with a terrible cacophony in my head: different flashes and memories of my brother throughout his life; endlessly screaming gibberish inside my head; all the conversations and letters that I should done differently; horrific images I won't describe ... I silently raged, cried, berated, shattered through the night until it was morning and time to make arrangements. (I repeated this process countless nights over the next several months.) I knew no one in my family was able to handle the business at hand and I honestly think that taking charge and having something to focus on is the only thing that kept me going the next week because otherwise I have no explanation on how I survived. I was desperately driven to make sure my brother was buried with honor. I used smoking as a crutch. I went from not smoking at all to smoking two packs a day. We had to drive back to Oklahoma the day following our arrival to get pictures of my brother. I needed one for his obituary and others for the slideshow the funeral home would prepare. So my dad and I sped back to Oklahoma, conducted our business and went straight back to John Peter Smith hospital.  My brother's body was still on life support until they could find recipients for his organs. I held his hand for the last time and whispered things I'd wished I'd said to him over the years, I told him how sorry I was for failing him and how I wish he'd given us and himself a chance and how that miracles happened and if he chose to come back to his body and awaken that we were there waiting and that there was still an opportunity to come back. I said a lot to him. I said a lot, but not enough. Too late I realized that I had never said enough.We sat there quietly for awhile. Then, when my pleas went unanswered and no miracles came, I told him it was okay, that I loved him so much and that somehow, we would be okay, and that it was okay to move on - it was okay to seek that peace he couldn't find in life. And then I told him that I would see him later.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Adventures in the Rain - A Short Story

As of late I have not had anything interesting to blog about. My runs have been boring. I've had good runs and bad runs - runs that have left me feeling clean and energized and runs that I thought I would possibly die before I finished because they seemed so long and exhausting - but all and all nothing new. I have been running 4-5 runs a week in distances of 4, 5.5, 6 or 8 miles; usually at least one 8 miler and two 5.5-6 milers. In addition to that I have been doing Body Pump typically twice a week and doing one session of cross-training cardio depending on how many times I've run and how the week is going; either Zumba, elliptical, or walking.

Saturday's afternoon run broke up the monotony of the past several months' work outs like a hurricane. But let us start at the beginning, shall we?

Friday night, rather than go for a run, I decided to stay in and enjoy thunderstorms and to listen to what I now consider THE BEST rain album EVER. Mark was shocked to come home to me listening to a record, I'm almost always busy doing something; relaxing is not a norm for me!

Just what a long week called for!
After Portishead, we moved on to Fleetwood Mac; another good mood-setter for the rain.

Saturday, I decided that I would go for an 8 miler; I wanted to make sure to get my long run in for the weekend in case it rained for the remainder of the weekend as predicted, especially since I did not run the night before. I putted around the house a bit in the morning - cooking and cleaning whilst I waited for a break in the rain. I finally got to a stopping point in my busyness and the rain had ceased so I prepared to head out for my run.

I put my phone in a sandwich baggy on the chance that it may start raining again and strike out. I spend most of the time I'm running daydreaming, meditating and planning, so the first three miles were cool and quick. I hardly remembered running them by the time I wind my way through the neighborhood and come upon the park, I'm engrossed in my thoughts. In fact, I barely notice the darkening sky and the stronger winds until I enter the drive of the park and start running into the wooded area. It's as though the sky is just barely sniffling as rain drops sprinkle around me. I press on. Who doesn't enjoy a nice spritzing when they are sweaty and radiating heat? As I continue forward, the thought crosses my mind that perhaps the sprinkling was temporary and I might ought to prepare for a downpour. The logical option would be to immediately run home. I am not always logical though. The thing is, I had already made the decision to run 8 miles and short of extreme physical pain, I was not prepared to quit now.

Lightning illuminates the sky and I can barely hear the thunder rumbling over the music on my phone. I have entered a land of magic. And then Zeus unleashes his wrath. The sky opens up and the clouds writhe, wringing tears from its' swollen pillows. Minutes in and I am drenched. The rain was relentless, yet rather than weigh me down, I feel rejuvenated, regenerated - I feel alive. I enter the heavily wooded area around the lake/pond at the park and already water was sweeping mud onto the paths. The lake bubbled under the downpour and the tree branches quivered and drunk from the water. I keep going. I reach a bridge over one of the streams that led to the lake and water flows ankle deep. My clothes are completely soaked and I've already submitted to the fact that not an inch of me would come out of this dry, so I splash through the stream and keep on. Soon there is no portion of trails not submerged in at least inches of water. I get to the final bridge in the park at one of the lowest points and muddy looking water pours over in rivers of murkiness. I wade through it as water clings to my body, crashing around my calves and reaching for my knees. Pearl Jam is reverberating in my head. At approximately 4.5 miles in, I've reached the other side and am running uphill; in my mind, the excitement is over.

I reach the hill peak and start my descent, running alongside a small street which wraps around the outside of the park and is lined with residential neighborhoods. This particular road is rather annoying as a driver, low points for which you must slam on your brakes to breach if you're not driving slow enough or else be bumped all to hell once you hit them (going at a liberating speed of 30 mph), but I love it as a runner. It's a steady downhill jaunt with increments of plateaus and valleys scattered throughout. Super fun to gain a bit of momentum. Water is still pulsing all around me, grassy slopes under inches of water with rivets carving maps into the earth; in some spots the levels are ankle deep and I feel like a giant smashing footprints into the lakes of the world beneath me. Cars are driving past, splashing water which I no longer feel up onto the sidewalk and into the grass. I hit my first "valley" about a third of the way down this portion of the street and find the water not only submerging my ankles, but sucking at my calves, as though trying to claim me as part of the earth. I break out of the suction and press forward just as one of those huge trucks (you know, the trucks that sometimes have balls hanging from the hitch and are often driven by really annoying dudes) flies past me and in slow motion I see a tidal wave coming at me. The wave literally sweeps over the sidewalk, slams into me, reaches above my head, and up the grassy slope to crash against the brick wall that separates the housing addition from the street. I waver, wobble and cannot keep from grinning as I continue on. What a dick! But man, oh man, what a rush! Do not get me wrong, it hurts, but not bad and the thrill of it overwhelms any other aspect. Thankfully I was not inhaling the moment I was submerged so I did not breath in the water, I merely sputter on a mouthful of it.  At this point I feel unstoppable. "I am Jack's inflamed sense of rejection"**, "I am Jack's smirking revenge"**, I am enjoying myself immensely. I reach another valley in the road and can barely see the sidewalk at all under the sweeping streams. I figure the walk is just hidden by the murkiness of muddy waters and do not hesitate to run forward. I make it only a few steps before the water is suddenly at my knees and I feel my feet start to sweep out from under me and I start to tumble towards the ground. The water is relentless and trying to suck me down into the street and I steady myself on the slope and scramble up the side until I can walk alongside the brick wall. I breathe a few moments, trying to gather my bearings as an SUV slows to a stop down in the street below me. A man leans out the passenger side window, I assume, to offer a ride, my headphones were streaming APC and I doubt I could have heard him over the rain anyway; but I just smile, yell my thanks and wave him off. I start running again until I run out of sidewalk/grassy hill to run on and to the point where I needed to cross the street. After nearly being swept off the sidewalk, I am a bit apprehensive of crossing the street with the water rushing as it is, but I have no choice and tentatively scuttle across the street in mere ankle-high waters. Phew. Onward I go. I approach the lowest point in the street and try to gauge the depth of the water rushing past and I imagine I hear a roar beneath the soundtrack streaming in my ears and I decide to very cautiously attempt stepping into the water to see if wading through it would be manageable. Keep in mind, this entire duration lightning is still flashing, the sky is dark, angry and sobbing tirelessly. I hedge down the sidewalk, going deeper and deeper still until the water is knee deep; my feet remain solid so I continue. I unexpectedly drop into the street (a miscalculation of distance from sidewalk to street on my part) and the water is swishing around my thighs, down from the horseshoe of homes above and flowing into the street, tumultuous and raging yet. I think I can foot my way to the landscape island in the middle of the outlet and slowly move forward and now I am hip deep and waves are crashing against me and pulling at me and pushing at me and I'm being pushed closer and closer to the street and I see a car. It's in the water tire deep and stopping and reversing and I'm losing my footing and I'm not going to make it, I'm not going to make it, I'm not going to make it. And I'm no longer cautious, I'm panicky and backtracking and stumbling onto the sidewalk, grasping at the brick walls, climbing out of the water and onto the bricks, and maneuvering my way up and into the neighborhood to go around the pit of waves. I walk walls until I reach the other side. More cars are backing up and turning around, unwilling to risk driving through the flood. I finally reach sidewalk again and start running again, endorphins are flowing and I feel like I'm running on air. I'm still high on the thrill I just experienced and I reach recess in the sidewalk where a drainpipe is pouring out more rivers of water and I jump across it, landing on the sidewalk on the other side and I sprint forward, leaving the adventures of A River Runs Furiously behind me.

Now I'm back to the neighborhoods, running through only inches of water and small waves rush the path around me as cars drive past. I'm running down a street that bottoms out on a bridge over a creek and there's more roaring and flowing. It looks at least knee deep. I step up on a ledge by a metal handrail that lines the bridge and am about halfway across when a car drives past and another wave of water crashes up around me, pushing me against the rail. I barely feel it. On the other side I jump off the ledge and continue forward, running on yards to avoid the deep waters, I hit a driveway where a young man is hanging out the driver side window and he looks disgruntled and is yelling at me so I slow and take one of my ear buds out - come again? He proceeds to profusely apologize and affirming that he had absolutely no intention of "doing that", I could only chuckle and stare at the dude. Seriously? I respond: "Look at me dude, do you think I even felt that? Haha, no worries!" and I spring forward... only 1.5 miles left! The remainder of the run is a cinch, water levels remain shallow and I'm kicking it, I feel rain-kissed and clean, no smelly sweat on this girl. I am running along, about 3/4 of a mile from home, passing a strip mall, glancing at people sitting in front of a small local grill/cafe and water is lapping at my ankles and bam! I hit what could only be referred to as a pot hole and son of a bitch I've gone and rolled my ankle! M&(*&*$#^ F#$(&#$*&#!!!!! SHIT! These obscenities are spewing out of my foul mouth as at least four elderly people sit in lawn chairs about a quarter mile from me under the eaves of the grill look on. I limp a few yards to steady myself against a tree and carefully apply weight to my ankle - ouch. I stop and lightning flashes nearby and I envision lighting striking the tree I'm leaning against. I stretch my foot out, roll it around a bit, and start walking. The pain starts to ease and surprisingly so does the rain, and I walk faster, then a bit faster and now... now, I'm running again; I'm running faster and I'm only a half a mile from my house. I'm running through puddles, the sun is peeking out, only a drizzle remains and I'm standing on my porch and the sun is smiling down on me and I'm exhilarated; I'm enthralled. I am Jack's sense of accomplishment.

** Fight Club quote.
Soundtrack to "Adventures in the Rain" includes music by: Pearl Jam, The Cure, APC, The Dandy Warhols, Coheed & Cambria, Our Lady Peace, Tom Petty, and New Order.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

The Perfect Snow Day AND Gumbo Soup

Monday, I got snowed/iced out of school and I am normally off work on Mondays for school, so I got to be a bum. For me, the best bum day goes as follows: sit in nightgown until 1:00 pm watching House of Cards and doing homework (I KNOW, bum days = no school or work, but I've got a serious problem!), do some laundry, get dressed and head out for a run with the intention of running 10 miles so you can say "I ran 10 miles in 10 degrees!", then cut the run short at 9 miles when you realize that the burning sensation in your hands is NOT going to go away and ending up with 9.25 miles on the books (hey it's a "bum" day!), shower, go grocery shopping, come home, set up laptop in kitchen with wireless headphones to continue watching House of Cards, cook dinner and..................... bake brownies. Okay, I know, I know... as a proponent of health, talking about baking brownies is a little counter-intuitive, but here's the thing. I really wanted some brownies. And not in one of those "eat some fruit to curb the sweet tooth" kind of ways, no this was a week-long, carnal, burning desire for some chocolaty, chunkity fudge brownies with pecans rolled up in them. After a week folks - you just have to give in. Sometimes you have to indulge and honestly all this running and being healthy isn't worth it if you don't get to indulge a little. So brownies were made and indulged upon, and they may or may not have included a handful of chocolate chips, a handful of white chocolate chips and a couple handfuls of pecans. (Thank goodness I have a 16 year old boy in the house to devour such things).

My hands were burning! 

That's the look of satisfaction.... and coldness!

Disclaimer: I have since been scolded for running in such cold weather due to it being unsafe (for various reasons), please keep that in mind on your own running endeavors.

I might also point out that last night (Tuesday), I made a point to get 7 miles in on the elliptical and do a taxing session of Body Pump so that I could indulge again last night guilt-free. With healthy eating throughout the day, I still managed to keep my calories at 1388 for the entire day!

Monday night Gumbo sounded really good, I was craving the spiciness of it and the protein rich foods that come in it... nothing about Gumbo did not sound yummy. I wasn't quite looking for something as heavy as gumbo, though, so I decided to try my hand at what I like to call Gumbo Soup. It turned out DELICIOUS and was super easy to make! So whilst I continued my House of Cards binge, I whipped up a tasty one pot meal:

Gumbo Soup

3 - chicken breasts, diced
1 lb - small shrimp (I used the cooked and just threw them in at the very end)
1 pckg - Smoked Turkey Sausage, sliced
1 bag - frozen broccoli cuts
1 bag - frozen okra cuts
1 bag - Barilla 3 cheese tortellini (everything is okay in moderation!)
1 bag of spinach (frozen or fresh - I used fresh)
1 pckg of mushrooms (I used sliced)
1 onion, chopped
1 bell pepper (I used a half a green and half a red), chopped
LOTS of garlic, chopped
2 cans of diced tomatoes
2 small cans of tomato sauce
beef bouillon to taste
Cajun seasoning to taste
Salt to taste
black pepper to taste
Cayenne pepper to taste
3-4 bay leaves
cornstarch or flour

Fill a VERY large pot (like the kind you steam crab legs in) halfway with water and bring to boil. Add onion, garlic, bouillon, diced chicken breasts and seasonings and cook on a medium boil for about 15-20 minutes. Add canned tomatoes, tomato sauce, sausage, spinach, mushrooms, okra and broccoli and bring to boil again. Once boiling, add either a roux of flour and margarine or a cornstarch and water mix to the pot to thicken to taste. (I did not measure this part at all so if you're not familiar with the technique, you may do a little searching on thickening of soups and stews... or some may just like a very light soup with no thickness at all.) I used the cornstarch method because I ran 9.25 miles on ice earlier in the day and had just gotten home from grocery shopping and was STARVING, so I didn't have the patience to make a roux (although it may have been even tastier). After stirring in your thickener (or not), add the tortellini and shrimp and cook at least 15 more minutes on a low boil (this may require a lowering of stove settings). I let mine cook about 20-25 more minutes after I added the cornstarch to achieve the optimal consistency. Add seasonings to taste. Serve and enjoy!

Saturday, March 1, 2014

New Goals, New Missions - Keep on Keeping on!

Ah, how fast time flies. You know how when you were a kid and you complained because Christmas took so long to come around? Or that you couldn't wait until your birthday came again? And so on and so forth. Every time someone would always reassure you to enjoy it while you could, because soon it would pass by all too quickly. I believe it's safe to say that I'm there, and that I'm terrified to see how much worse it gets the older I get. The amount of time I have available keeps shrinking and the things I have to do keep rising! It's a wonderful problem to have however; I'd much rather be able to say I have a full life than an empty one. So here's what's been going on.

First, the usual: My eating and exercise have been pretty well here lately. My weight has not changed, however my clothes are fitting better, so I'm happy. I've been running, doing Body Pump and the occasional elliptical session. I'm logging between 15 and 30 miles a week, depending on the week, and trying to get two Body Pump classes in a week. I've been playing around with my schedule, trying different times and classes to see if mornings or nights are better for what I'm trying to accomplish. I'm really not certain what my conclusion is on that yet. I've been eating much less sugary, refined and processed foods lately and have felt better for the choices I've been making. Over the winter I've enjoyed plenty of icy, snowy runs and have loved every minute of it. I have not done any races lately, but I am planning on doing the Memorial Half Marathon coming up in a couple of months!
Something about cold, treacherous runs gets my blood flowing!
For Christmas, my dad got my sister and I a Fitbit Flex. I love this thing, I've got to say. I know there is a recall on the Force, but I wouldn't have liked that one as much anyway, it's a little bulkier than I prefer. My goal is 10,000 steps a day, which I usually beat by thousands if I've gotten a run in, but is surprisingly more difficult to reach on a rest day. It has helped keep me moving knowing that I've only walked x amount of steps for the day.  

School has been going swimmingly, the first semester gave me the confidence I needed to keep trucking forward and this semester I decided to go ahead and take three courses. Last week was killer in that I had two exams, two quizzes, three new chapters, two papers, and three homework assignments. On top of all that, I am in the middle of a pretty intensive training at work, the first part of which I take online and the second of which I will go to a week long course and do training in person. It's safe to say that my brain has been a little mushy when I stop studying long enough to think about something! ;) 

I've also partnered up with a friend to work on a project he started over a year ago - Rev Hifi. The goal of Rev Hifi is to help unite the Oklahoma City area to develop our local culture and help promote thriving artists. There are numerous bands, filmmakers, photographers, and all around artists that are not recognized in OKC and we hope to help promote them through a Youtube channel that my friend has started. Since I've been on, I have had the pleasure of meeting some really cool people and we've already shot a music video, interviewed an awesome band and interviewed an insanely talented poet! It's crazy the kind of talent we're surrounded by that many are not aware of. Check out our promo video below:

This project, along with school and other forms of bettering myself, has become a large piece of the mission I've tasked myself with. Not only do I want to better myself, I want to help better society and people. I want to help people lose weight and become healthy, yes, but that's such a small step in what people are capable of doing. I want to make a difference, somehow, somewhere.

This brings to me where my mindset has been lately. Throughout every new experience, I strive to take something new away from it, if only a tidbit to become more self-aware. I've been introspective lately, struggling to figure out who I am and who I'd like to be. I find myself striving to be perfect, rather than accept myself for me. Rather than try to be "perfect", I need to work on aspects such as the way I think, being less judgmental, how I interact with people and being more optimistic. The problem with being introspective is that it can also trap you into being too caught up in yourself, it's a fine line. It's a tough task, to own up to one's flaws and to try to change them. Sometimes it's easier to play ignorance and just continue on in your own fashion as if you do not realize that you could be better. I did it for years. Now that I'm realizing how much better things could be, it's hard to take things as they are. But now I'm going into subjects way above and beyond our scope of topic at the moment! ;) It's suffice to say that I'm thinking about things way beyond my life, my house, my office, my school - all these little pieces are meaningless in the scheme of things, until you bring in everyone else and how we all make up a neighborhood, community, city, county, state and country... The broad scope of things make my everyday triumphs and struggles seem so trivial, I just wish I could see these things in advance, instead of retrospectively. Luckily, humans are adaptable and capable of improvement, we will see if that theory is applicable in my case. 

Anyway, that is what has been going on with me lately, nothing too terribly new. To end, I have a humorous conversation to share, I find it's something that both females and males should get a kick out of, although here is your TMI disclaimer!

Me: It's icky, it hurts. I hate being happy one minute and I hate being sad the next. I hate being crazy. I hate being a girl. It's not fair. I hate it!
<Insert my most pathetic of patheticist pouts here.>
Mark: I'm sorry... Why don't you take that Midol stuff or something?

This had me rolling for a good five minutes, because God bless him, gotta feel for dudes when they're around hormonal women! Maybe I can be psychotic, but thank goodness I'm not one of the ladies that throws a fit about being told to take Midol! And on that note, forgive me for I find all sorts of stupid things funny, TTFN!

Monday, December 16, 2013

Christmas Spirit

Hey guys long time no blog! Actually I wasn't even planning on posting tonight, I still have laundry to fold and presents to wrap, but there is something weighing on me that I feel as though I have to write about, so where else but here? First, the news:  I've enrolled in college again and just finished my first semester! I'm still teaching Zumba, but probably not for much longer, I just can't dedicate the kind of time necessary to be a good instructor and I'm not willing to do a mediocre job of it. This is pretty much the reason I've been MIA, what time I haven't spent on studying and school work, I've spent on my family and friends - trying to make up for the time I've been missing. Since this time last year, I've gained 12 pounds, but have lost 3 of them in the past month. I finally got out of my running rut and have gotten my eating under control and am back on track. Boy, that sure is a good feeling! Due to my knees, I've kept my running distances under 10 miles and have been just running for the sake of running and my mental health and knees have been in a much better state due to this.

I hope everyone is enjoying the season, it's flown by for me, I've been so busy!  The season is what I really want to write about. I really need to start with the fact that I've been a real bitch the past few days. I have made it my mission to organize the Christmas Charity project at my agency and it has consumed me for the past week. Doing this project every year is near and dear to my heart and I get extremely passionate about it and if you get in my way... watch out! People may try to talk to me or engage with me, but here's a tip, do not bother until I am finished, it will not be fulfilling on either side and I guarantee you that my mind is probably elsewhere. The reason I had to start with me being a bitch, is because I by no means am attempting to prove anything to anyone, I am a normal human being and can be just as awful as the next person so this is my disclaimer before I start on my rant. I get passionate about something and when it doesn't go smoothly I can tend to unleash my passionate disgruntlement on others who shalt bravely cross my path.

I did not know how much I would learn when embarking on this seemingly insurmountable task. Last year we sponsored 11 children and we pulled it off wonderfully, it was super successful! This year we had 23 children and approximately a week to pull it off. Um <insert Lealah freaking out here>. I was super stressed about making ends meet and fulfilling even some of the children's needs and requests on our list until we had a very generous donation that made it possible to give these children everything on their Christmas list and then some (the kids were very modest in their requests - ie: socks, snow gloves, and a candy cane full of kisses for one child). The letters just about broke my heart, so it meant the world to me that we would be able to do this for them. I set out early Friday morning (after a 7 miler - don't forget to get your run in!) with a pocket full of cash gathered from my coworkers and our benefactor and dove in headfirst. I managed to come across a candy store that donated 23 chocolate covered marshmallow trees without a blink, people that at least gave me a form to fill out because they would try to help us out, and then I got to the Ross in Edmond. This was one of the most eye-opening experiences I've ever had. I asked the store manager if he would like to help out our cause by giving me a discount on the clothes I was preparing to purchase for our Christmas Charity project. He proceeded to very kindly tell me that it had to go through corporate and he had no control over that as his security check guy looked on. I said thank you and continued to check out. Once at the counter, I noticed him engaged in a very apparently humorous conversation with said security check guy and overheard him crow while cackling that "Not everyone can be a hero!". The security check guy was laughing along until he noticed me watching and he quickly wiped the smile off of his face and stared at the ground. I can connect the dots. That self-serving disgusting son of a bitch. I very nearly threw down the clothes I had and walked out until I considered that I would be throwing away over an hour of work and that for the kids sake, I really did not have that time to spare, I had to shop for 18 kids before the end of the weekend and time was of essence. So I bit my tongue, burned red and saw fire until I could extract myself from the contemptuous situation. I could handle that the manager was cheap; I suspected that he lied about the corporate thing because most retail managers can give discounts and budget for such at their discretion; it was the fact that he was belittling me and what I was doing. It was the fact that he was making light the suffering of innocent children who went to school with duct taped flip flops and wanted nothing more than to have a better life or to see her daddy again, but if that wasn't possible then she would take a Jack in the Box. Really? Enough said.

I continued on and hit up Payless Shoes in Yukon. Here I was given a 30% discount with no questions asked, a little bit of salve to ease my scorched soul. Then I went to the Kohls in Yukon and received the same benefit, I started feeling good again. Saturday I did not receive any discounts, but that's okay because I succeeded in doing a LOT of bargain shopping and ended up pretty much wrapping everything up. Both nights I did not finish shopping until 9:00 pm. Saturday we drove over to our generous donors house to wrap everything at 10:00 pm (they are night owls) and wrapped everything by 4:30 Sunday morning.
Santa's workshop.
Throughout this whole thing I have been nothing if not single-minded. Sunday I got a 5 miler in, did some laundry, grocery shopping and picked up a couple more items for our project. This morning, I woke up in a grumpy fog of deliriousness and went to work to organize what all I had acquired with what others had brought in. It was beautiful.

What have I learned?

Despite how hard I try to make these things perfect, I am not going to fix the world on my own. Although I at no point will attempt to force or guilt people into participating, there will still be the Scrooges who will help to satisfy some social standard and will do so begrudgingly, or the ones that will look down on me because I believe I can make a difference. I knew this before, but what I learned was that I cannot change them, I cannot change their mind or make a difference in how they perceive the world. And to let them infuriate me only kills my own Christmas spirit.

I've learned that I'm blessed to know some people - a boyfriend that endures my stress mood swings, a friend that recognizes that I have my hands full and will do whatever I need her to help fulfill a cause (whilst dealing with my bitchiness), whom doesn't care about stirring the pot and will voice something that needs to be said. A man that doesn't celebrate Christmas, but whom will not blink at dropping cash on kids in need. A man that recognizes that children need coats and ensures that they get them. People that have worked hard to do well for themselves financially and will give back to society by donating to a cause. People that contribute what they can afford to. A woman who just endured a terrible tragedy, but still thinks of others and will do what she can to help. People that go above and beyond the call of duty because they care about those children, too, and will do what they can to spoil their "adopted" children. True friends whom will listen to me gripe and do what they can to make me laugh and smile when I've been disillusioned, that will put me in check when I need it, but still care about me despite my craziness. Those who dedicate time, emotional support, effort, money, love. Women who live off of low income, but still are desperate to help these little ones out in any way they can. I really had an eye-opener about Christmas spirit. I think Christmas spirit is the goodness that you carry around with you all year long, that when someone in need, friend or not, crosses your path, prompts you to come through for them - I think that is Christmas spirit. It's been harder for me this year, to get into the Christmas spirit, because while organizing our project, the thought that won't leave the back of my mind is "this won't fix their lives, this won't make their lives better". What I have to hang on to though, is that it will. For one day of one year, of 23 children's lives, that one day will be better - at least somewhat. And maybe I cannot go and rescue them all and bring them over for Christmas dinner and hot baths and warms beds, but I can give them clothes to warm themselves in, books to read, toys to play and candy to eat and that's only because a group of us got together and decided to make a difference. If every person in the world tried to give back just a tiny bit of what they've taken, whether it be money, food, time, effort or love - the world would be a better place. Perhaps to get myself into the Christmas spirit, the trick is to let go of the resentment to those that do not think like me or agree with me, and to just push forward with my own beliefs. It is not my duty to be angry and judgmental of people that do not share my values, but to exert my own beliefs and values, because honestly the only way for me personally to make a difference is to continue on my own and just hope that others come to the same realizations that I have. The real trick? To follow-through with these realizations, to keep my mind centered around positive thoughts and to not linger on negativity. It's nine days before Christmas and I think I am finally feeling it, perhaps this is an indication that 2014 will be the year that I exert my Christmas spirit! I hope you all enjoy the next couple of weeks with your loved ones, if you really want to enjoy it and feel warmed to your soul, take the time to do something nice for someone.