Sunday, October 30, 2011

My lost sister

It's 4:30 a.m. I found out a little more than an hour ago that my sister Mary Lee was killed early Friday morning. There's speculation (and with it come the judgments) as to what happened. I am going to try to be free of judgment (a true test for of the most critical people I know) and state what I know for fact:

1. A sister I never got to meet face to face is dead.
2. The man arrested for her murder is my nephew John, who served two tours in Iraq and suffered from a severe case of PTSD.

I can beg for knowledge and wisdom and answers from everyone all the way from the firemen to God himself and I will never understand what happened or why. I guess it's not meant for me to understand. I can hope that my sister wasn't in pain in the last moments of her life. I can hope that my nephew wasn't at all responsible for what happened to his mother. But hope doesn't change the facts: my sister is dead and my nephew was arrested for the crime.

I have my own share of regrets and visions of how my relationship with my sister should have gone. So my pain here is different from what most of her family is dealing with. While I appreciate the prayers and condolences, please don't forget her children...her grandchildren...but most of all, please don't leave out John. I can't begin to fathom what demons he's dealt with that could've led to these tragic events between him and my sister. I've got a support team a mile wide and while it will be difficult, I'm emotionally equipped to deal with my grief and the pain I feel right now -- he's alone. He's probably scared. And he's got pain deeper than anyone can possibly imagine.

A month ago, my sister's Facebook status read:
I am sitting in a very small room waiting for John to be discharged from the VA hospital. He has an extensive treatment plan with a lot of therapy for PTSD. They believe they have the medication correct. I hope and pray that we can get him the help he needs. he is almost 29 and has been to iraq twice and has been through more than I could ever comprehend. my son means the world to me and I pray he can finally find inner peace. Thank you for your continued prayers....and if you have any advice for me...i welcome it.
And this, posted just a week ago:

I am struggling about how to help my son with PTSD, as a mother I just want to make everything okay for him. It breaks my heart that I can't fix this for him. He is getting help through the VA, but it doesn't seem to be enough. I pray for him every day but nothing seems to quiet the flashbacks that he is experiencing on a daily basis.

No matter whatever Hell my sister endured before she died, I know that she wanted peace for her son. Mary's at peace now. I have to focus my prayers on John's peace. I ask that you do, too.


(For those who don't know the story behind my relationship with Mary Lee: Lost Sisters )

Friday, October 28, 2011

Reality Check

I was told last night that I am that person.

I fooled myself into thinking I was the positive influence in people's lives. That I brought humor and fun and entertainment into the mix and that my sarcasm wasn't mean and my snark wasn't hurtful. That my silliness and mockery wasn't racist or rude. 

Boy, was I wrong.

I've taken everything people said to me last night to heart. I looked back in my timelines, at the interactions between myself and my friends, conversations I've had with loved ones and the 'advice' I've so carelessly shoved down people's throats, whether they've wanted it or not. 

I make no excuses for my behavior - there aren't any. I will say, however, that my intentions have never been to be mean or offensive. I wish only to entertain with my sarcasm and snark and to protect those I love with my advice and suggestions. I will also say that I can't help how people take me. Because even when I say the most benign thing, it can be (and will be) (and has been) taken wrong. I can only state that I am a work in progress. Always.

I will try and be less judgmental and keep my advice to myself unless it's asked for. To change more than that would make me someone different from who I am. I may be opinionated and stubborn, but I'm also funny. And loving. And I have the best intentions at heart.

It's your choice whether I stay in your life or not. I won't make that choice for you, nobody should. But I hope if you stay that you'll accept me, flaws and all and for those times when I do offend you or cross a line that you'll have the courage to come to me privately and say "Tone it down, honey. You're being that girl again." I'd do the same for you. 

It's what friends do.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Dear Melly,

Dear Melly,
I read your blog and I believe it was divine intervention from God. I've been struggling with my self-worth as a person and [at work]. I don't know where this is coming from. I'm not normally a negative person and not sure where to go from here. Any advice?
A new mom (who has also been dealing with health issues)

Dear New Mom,
I suspect the majority of what you're dealing with comes from the stress of managing a career and a family as well as dealing with the health problems you've had going on. Everybody handles stress differently, of course, but in light of everything you have had to deal with since the baby was born, I highly suspect that's the biggest culprit to your emotions.

I'm sure you know by now that I don't support or encourage the use of medication to treat issues like these, so it should come as no surprise when I suggest that you NOT immediately resort to medical attention from an M.D. or a psychologist. So many times, at the urging of whatever pharmaceutical company is on the agenda for that week, they push to prescribe medications that sometimes may help the symptoms, but in the long run don't fix the problem and most often times, they only create more problems. In fact, did you know the most common side effect of most anti-depressants is "thoughts of suicide?" That's irony, huh? suggestions are easy in context, but will require dedication on your part. I know for a fact they help and overall instead of creating bad side effects like medications do, they create good ones.
1) Exercise. Join a gym, sign up for a class or two, even just get out a walk a half mile or more. SOMETHING that gets your body moving, increases your circulation and helps your body create more serotonin (the body's natural "happy pill"). You may find tanning will help your moods too. The UV rays help boost the happy stuff. :)

2) Take time for yourself. Have dad or the grandparents watch the baby for a little while and you spend a couple hours at the mall or a book store or some place that gives you a smile. If you're able to, find a hobby you can do with other people. Scrapbooking, for instance, is a great way to create positive energy. It's what got me through a lot of the tough times. It's also what led to my photography career. The point to this is that you can't be a wife and mom 100% of the time or you'll lose confidence in yourself because your entire identity is wrapped up in someone else's life and your happiness becomes dependent on how happy THEY are. #nothealthy!!

3) Eat a more-balanced diet. Heavy carb foods like pasta, potatoes and breads can really weigh you down physically, but emotionally, the sugars that they bring will take you on a roller coaster that you don't need. So ease up on the "comfort food" and reach for fruits and veggies instead. Drink less caffeine and more water. JUST PLAIN WATER. (And, don't substitute real sugar for some chemical crap. Sugar substitutes have often been linked to psychological issues such as depression and episodes of mania. They're NOT worth what they're trying to do. You're better off weaning yourself off real sugar or, if you MUST use a substitute, use Stevia in the Raw. It's a natural sugar substitute that isn't filled with chemicals and doesn't use chemical processing like some others). The purest diet you can eat is the healthiest for your body AND your mind.

4) Breathe. This is the one I'm the most guilty of. I have a horrible habit of taking short, shallow breaths. Sometimes, when I'm under stress, I even find myself holding my breath. That's not good. We need to take long, deep, even breaths as often as possible. It helps the lungs expand and blood flow reach everywhere it's meant to reach, but especially the brain. It also helps us to take pause and reassess our emotions. You've heard the phrase, "count to ten." It's not because you need to cool down. It's because your body needs time to catch up to your mind and the blood needs to flow evenly again.

Most importantly, though....remember that you're human. Don't hold yourself to a higher standard just because you're a mom now. We fuck up. We make mistakes. We're going to send our kids screaming into therapy at SOME point in their lives. And that's okay. Our parents screwed up, too. And our kids will screw up when they have kids. It's a cycle and it's unavoidable. So embrace it. Have fun. Remember that at the end of the day, if the kid is clean, fed and sleeping, the day was a success. And if he's not so clean or a little hungry or can't sleep, there's always tomorrow to get it right.

I have to take things moment by moment some days. I've been dealing with depression since I was nine years old. NINE. YEARS. OLD!!! That's a hell of a long time to deal with feeling miserable. You can see with the history of depression that I've dealt with how easy it is to fall back into old habits and let myself get down. But I have to keep plugging along. There are days (like last week) when I just say "to hell with it" and I crawl back into bed and succumb to the demons. And that's okay. But the next day, I get up and I press onward. That's all I can do.

We aren't meant to be happy 100% of the time. And unfortunately, that's what we're led to believe and if we fall short of that, we're made to feel defective and less than human. Screw that. Have a bad day. Have a bad week, even. Then get back up, brush yourself off and flip the middle finger to it before you move on. Those sad times or the times when we're feeling less than ourselves are necessary so we can appreciate the good stuff more.

Nobody can fix you. Nobody can snap their fingers and make things better. It's something you have to do for yourself. But if you need to vent, scream, cry or wail...I'm here.

Hang in there, babe!

** details have been generalized to protect the anonymity of the person sending the message
***Again, I am NOT an expert in ANY field, but I have done my research on this particular topic. This advice is NOT meant to replace medical care of any type. I just encourage you to find out more and do the research yourself before blindly following medical advice.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

I choose happy.

I spent the first ten to twelve years of my adult life wallowing in self pity. I blamed the death of my mom for my lack of drive and motivation. I blamed my drinking on the death of my best friend. I blamed my partying phase on the fact that I got married too young and had kids almost immediately. I blamed my negative attitude on genetics. I pushed the responsibility of everything in my life onto other people, so that way when I felt like a failure, it wasn't my fault. I was married to someone who was equally cynical and twice as conniving. Though, when my marriage ended, I wanted nothing more than to have it back. Why? Hell if I know, neither of us were happy.

And like the train wreck I was at the time, I didn't take time to figure any of that out. I headed ambitiously into a second marriage. With it, I brought the baggage I carried at the time. How my husband and I lasted the first five years of our relationship is still a miracle to me. It was not a positive place for either of us. We both fought depression and I battled with bouts of agoraphobia. My doctors prescribed medication after medication for me, but none of it helped. If anything, it made things worse for me. When we hit the rockiest part of our marriage in 2004, I'd given up. I had no job, no marriage (legally, yes, but emotionally, we had both checked out), no savings, no car. I had two kids and no where to go if I did leave.

I was at my breaking point.

Over the course of the next two years, I did a lot of self-searching and determined the only thing that was going to help me out of my downward spiral was to change my attitude. I started seeking out old friends. I started new hobbies. I started seeking natural alternatives to medicine. But most importantly?

I cut ties with the toxic people in my life.

I thought about all the bullshit I'd dealt with in my life and the friends I'd surrounded myself with. And I came to the conclusion that the bullshit and the toxicity were directly linked, not only to each other, but to my happiness, as well. I'd spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on therapy and medication when all I needed to do was ditch the drama.

I went through every relationship I had with a fine-toothed comb. I determined the positives and the negatives of each relationship and what they brought to my life. If the good outweighed the bad, they got to stay. If it didn't, they were gone. Even now, when I find myself being pulled under or dealing with excessive anxiety (like the freight train that slammed into my psyche last week), I step back and reevaluate what negative influences I'm dealing with. If I can see those influences are temporary, then I take other steps to deal with my attitude. If those influences aren't temporary, then I cut those people loose.

It may seem wasteful and even hurtful to some that I pull back like I do, but if you've ever overcome depression, you understand the importance of surrounding yourself with positive people. It's too easy to get sucked back into negative energy and before you even realize it's happened, the toxicity has consumed you. I refuse to spiral down again.

I have my down days and I have my moments of snark and cynicism, but most of the time, I am positive.  I smile. I laugh. I joke around. I can find the silver linings so much more easily now than I used to. I recognize the bullshit more quickly now and I cut it out before it can grow roots. Of course, I also have those moments when I try to rescue those I see being sucked into the vortex. Unfortunately, not everybody wants to be rescued and I tend to feel frustrated when they allow themselves to sink back down. I've learned to identify those behaviors ahead of time before I spend my own precious energy trying to fix them. Hell, for that matter, I've learned that I can't "fix" anybody. They have to fix themselves.

I've determined that happiness is a choice you actively make. Everything in your life happens for a reason and things are going to happen regardless of whether you want them to or not. So you can choose to be upset in those circumstances or you can choose to be happy. Either way, you can't make them go away. Why choose anything but happiness? Anything less is allowing yourself to be vulnerable. The more vulnerable you are, the less control you have over your life and where it takes you. The less control you have, the more susceptible you are to things like addiction and depression. Why would you purposely choose that life?

Sadly, I know far too many people who do chose that life. They do nothing but constantly complain about their circumstances, their marriage, their job, their relationships, their kids, etc. Granted, we all have days when we'd like to run away, but if you scrolled back through your Facebook statuses or Twitter timelines, would you see more complaining or more embracing? We're all entitled to have a bad day. Even a bad week from time to time. But when your life is consistently filled with complaints and crappy days for months on end, you may want to take a closer look at yourself.

These people are the ones I have to turn loose -- Set myself apart from them. It's not that I don't love them. It's not that I don't want to help. It has nothing to do with feeling like I'm better than they are or that I don't agree with their decisions (although sometimes I don't agree with them).

The bottom line is this: I choose to be happy and I can't be around those who don't.

(Thank you, Cynthia Occelli for the inspiration for this blog and for reminding me to "clean house," again.)

Sunday, October 23, 2011

I have the craziest conversations.

If you follow me on Twitter, you probably already know that I hang with some pretty funny peeps. But since many of you don't follow me, let me give you some examples.

Exhibit A
(Friend's name has been changed to protect the privacy of her hoohah)
My phone rings.
Me: Hello?
Julie: (right out of the chute) You know how sometimes you have specific friends who are there to answer specific questions?
Me: Yeah?
Julie: You're That Friend right now.
Me: Um. Okay. (Thinking, "This must have something to do with sex.")
Julie: So I'm thinking about getting my hoohah waxed.
Me: Uh... (Toldja.)
Julie: I figured you've done it, so I thought I'd ask you what you think about it.
Me: First? Not sure why you'd automatically assume I've done that.
Julie: Well, have you?
Me: Yes. Well, sort of. But that's not the point.
Julie: See? I came to the right person. So...what do you think?
Me: *digressing* I think it's the most painful thing you can possibly imagine and God himself would have to issue it as a commandment for me to go through with it.
Julie: So you'll go with me and we can get them done together?
Me: Oh, totally.

Exhibit B
(A discussion with my bestie in regards to a psychic reading she recently had done and referencing one of the ghosts who frequently camp out at my house - that ghost being her mother)
AM: (paraphrasing) So the reading I got back from Jess says my spirit guide is a loud-mouthed Portuguese woman who won't leave her alone.
Me: It isn't me. I swear. Although...that would explain a lot.
AM: Right? She says it's a great-great-great-howevermanygreats grandmother of mine.
Me: Huh. That's interesting.
AM: Well, I could be Portuguese, I suppose. I don't know anything about my mother's side of the family.
Me: true. I could see that.
AM: I wonder if it's my great (x20) gma that talks to you.
Me: Yes. Because I'm totally unaware of the difference between a Portuguese accent and a Filipino one. #Gibbsslap
AM: Ow! I didn't know it was distinct, dude!

Exhibit C
Midget: (On a note taped to my office door) Wake me up when you get home. I have some great news!
Me: Psst...(waking her up) What's up?
Midget: (sleepily) D___ and I are going out.
Me: That's great news! Congratulations!
Midget: Thanks! (beaming smile)
Me: He knows he has to meet us, right?
Midget: Yeah. He's nervous, though.
Me: As he should be.
Midget: Dad won't be cleaning his gun, will he?
Me: You can count on it.
Midget: That's what I was afraid of.

There's never a dull moment at our house. Ever. Conversations like these take place on a constant basis with everyone we know. Some topics are a bit more private, so I can't/won't share them, but trust me when I tell you, these are the milder of the funniest convos I've been a part of this week.

And while I'm thinking about it...if you wouldn't mind signing this "Hold Harmless" agreement...that'd be super! Thanks!

Thursday, October 13, 2011


By now, you've probably told yourself, "Damn, that Mel knows her shit!"

Okay, so maybe you haven't. BUT, you can't deny that sometimes I give some pretty spot-on advice. Of course, sometimes I'm a little out there, but hey, at least I'm funny, right?

People have told me for years I should have my own advice column. Well, as soon as the AP gets my phone number, I'll get right on that, but until then, I'm here. In the interwebz.

Now, I realize I'm no Ann Landers (Did you know even Ann Landers wasn't Ann Landers?) and I'm no Dear Abby (again, neither was she). I'm sure as hell not Miss Manners and I'm not Heloise or Dr. Laura. I'm not even Dr. Ruth (though I could TOTALLY rock a sex column!). I'm just me. I've got 37 years experience in this crazy train called life. I'm not an expert in much, but if I can't provide you solid advice, I can sure as shit make you laugh.
So let's hear your questions! Tweet or email me now. (I will keep you as anonymous as you choose to be.)

*DISCLAIMER* My "advice" is for entertainment purposes only. Any information I may provide is not meant to be taken as professional advice, therapy or a substitute for medical/psychological/financial guidance. In other words, don't fucking take me seriously because while sometimes I'll have some good suggestions, I am not a professional. If you do decide to take my advice, you're liable for the repercussions, not me. Don't be a dumbass, that's my job, k?

Friday, October 7, 2011

It's never too late.

This is my dad and me.

This picture was taken in 1983, just a few weeks before my father's heart attack.

I will remember August 4th, 1983 forever and honestly? I hope that I do. It's a lesson everybody should learn - what not to do with your health (I'll save that blog for another day, know, when I'm not stuffing myself with hot wings and liquor and won't come across like such a hypocrite). Anyway, he was an over-the-road truck driver, so he spent Monday through Thursdays on the road. He'd just come in off a run. He was sweaty, hungry and in need of a bath. He complained through dinner about not feeling good, and for some reason, our phone wasn't working (small town Iowa in August, what can I say) my mom drove into town to alert the First Responders. While she was gone, he started running bath water. He never got that far.

My mom showed up with the First Responders and the ambulance came shortly after that. He was rushed to the hospital 30 miles away and within a few days had two more heart attacks. When they went in to do an angiogram, he died on the table.

Three times.

My father was clinically dead three times. Yet he miraculously made it off the operating table. We still don't know how it happened. We were told he had a hole in his heart the size of a quarter and his life would be cut drastically short because of it. His heart was too weak for surgical repair and they weren't even sure if it would fix it. He was told to quit smoking, start exercising and take it easy on the truck stop food he'd become so reliant on over the fifteen years he'd been a driver. 

Typically, this is where the story would end. Somebody dies three times, they realize the error of their ways, they fix those problems and they live a long life. Or, worst case scenario, they don't change their ways and they die from the heart problems their doctors told them would kill them.

My father, however, was stubborn. He didn't learn his lesson. Ten years later, he had three more heart attacks and was pronounced dead three more times. Apparently, it took my dad six deaths to finally realize they weren't kidding back in the 80's. He retired from driving, quit smoking, lost weight and moved to the country. While he still went to his cardiologists regularly, he was in pretty good health.

We always expected it would be my dad's weak heart that would kill him.That's what was in his cards: death by myocardial infarction. He knew it. We knew it. His doctors knew it. But God had a different plan.

In late 2004, my father developed lung cancer. It spread to his lymph nodes and finally took over his brain. He was gone within three months. We buried him just three weeks before his 65th birthday.

The point I'm trying to make here is that we may think we know exactly what we're meant to do...what our destiny is, what our lives are supposed to look like. But the fact of the matter is, nothing is set in stone until we're buried beneath it. Heart problems killed my father six times, but he defied it. He refused to let anyone tell him what to do or that he was stuck with the cards he'd been dealt. While brain cancer is not the route I'm sure my father would've chosen to go if given the options, he did decide that a heart attack wasn't going to define him.

You may think that your life is paved out the way it was meant to be. It's not. Every minute that you have air in your lungs and a beat in your heart, you have the option of doing something different, being someone else, chipping away a different path for yourself. 

Don't squander it. Don't settle. Don't give in. 

Reach. Trust. Change. 

Sunday, October 2, 2011

I'd hate to be them.

You guys know me by now. I live life to the fullest and deal with the consequences later. I sing loudly when the mood strikes me (and usually off-key). I dance when the beat moves me (and usually it's to some 80's tune). I drive fast. I wear high heels that make my feet hurt. I drink when I get the urge. I'm me and I make no apologies.

Tonight, I went to my husband's class reunion with him. There was a social hour and dinner, then there was karaoke later in the night. I made new friends and got reacquainted with old ones I made at the last reunion. I sang, I danced, I laughed and when one of his classmates handed us the keys to his convertible, we didn't hesitate to take it for a test drive. Life on the edge!

I stepped back for a bit tonight and I realized just how happy I am being able to live out loud. The majority of people sat in their chairs and didn't even so much as nod their head to the music. I would hate to be so hung up on what people thought of me that I allowed their opinions to cripple me into being a stick in the mud. 

I guess the lesson in all this is: sing when you're given a mic, dance when music plays and when somebody gives you the keys to his baby, you slam it into drive, baby.