Reflections on Tornados, Taxes, & More

The past week has been a rough one for me. There is just no other way to put it.  To be clear, this post is not a plea for sympathy or anything of the sort.  I’m just trying to make sense of all the anxiety & sadness in my own brain so that I can face this new week in a better frame of mind.  Also, just to be clear, & this will make more sense once you’ve read further, yes, I am fully aware that this past week could have been much worse.  Certainly I am very grateful for the many blessings in the midst of crisis.  And yes, of course I am aware that many others are suffering in far “greater” ways than I right now. However, none of that diminishes the sadness I am experiencing right now, & despite my innate tendency to feel guilty for being sad about things, I’ve learned by now that trying to squelch or dismiss grief is a surefire way to never get over it & indeed to only make it worse.appo tornado

With all of that out of the way, let me elucidate why this past week has been so challenging.  Initially I had some rather difficult nights at work.  There’s nothing more I want to say about that; just know that I started the week off feeling a bit more anxious because of that.  Then Wednesday rolled around & a tornado ripped through my hometown.  Bear in mind I did not grow up in the Midwest so tornados are not exactly something we expect to encounter; in fact this was only the third documented tornado in the county & by far the worst one.  In any case, the result was that hundreds of houses were damaged, some leveled completely to the ground, leaving hundreds of people with nowhere to live & little to none of their belongings.  A cousin of mine was home during the storm & barely made it into the basement in time to survive.  When he walked out of the basement after the tornado passed, he found that his house was completed destroyed.  (You can read his story here.)  When his dad, my first cousin, sent me a picture of the house I was just flabbergasted. tornado

Once I started seeing more & more similar pictures online, I knew that my hometown was in great need.  Despite the many mixed feelings I have about my hometown, as I’ve written about here before, I just could not stay here in Raleigh doing nothing when I knew so many folks in my hometown were in dire need.  So I made a spur of the moment decision to go home & see my family & do what I could to help the community.  Off I went to WalMart where I bought a whole cartload of things to donate, everything from non-perishable food to towels to tampons to Gatorade & bottled water & more.  I’m so glad I was off work so that I was able to make this trip home & surprise my family as well as donate to those in need in the community, but the trip was still heartbreaking.  Driving around the county & seeing houses completely leveled with belongings, glass, pieces of wood, powerlines, & all manner of debris scattered all over the roads & the fields was nothing short of devastating.  I definitely had tears in my eyes as I surveyed the damage.  What has been heartwarming of course is seeing how the community has banded together to help those in need.  I just read yesterday that out of 375 people displaced by the storm, only two were left in shelters.  That’s amazing!  There have been volunteers & donations coming in from all over the state & even outside Virginia.  It’s wonderful to see all of this outpouring of good will, but nonetheless I cannot help but be sad for those who have lost so taxes

Next up, my husband did our taxes on Saturday morning & we found out we owe even more money than last year.  Let me just tell you nothing will make you a Libertarian so fast as finding out you owe several paychecks worth of money in taxes!  (Actually I was already a Libertarian because it’s just what makes sense to me, but the point stands regardless.)  And to everyone who keeps asking, yes, we have all of our forms filled out correctly.  We just don’t have any dependents (yet), & no matter what we do our employers never deduct enough money from our paychecks.  Argh.kindess quote

Following right on the heels of that I went to WalMart to get a pregnancy test because I got my IUD removed a month ago, my cycle has been all over the place, & for a host of different reasons I thought there was a possibility I might be pregnant.  In any case, I just wanted to know for sure whether I was or wasn’t.  Well, on the short trip there, a man rear-ended my car while I was stopped at a red light.  This marks the second time in four months that someone has rear-ended my car, & both times I’ve been kind/stupid enough not to call the police or file any insurance claims.  The first time I had nothing more than a few scratches on my car so I was truly not concerned.  This time there is a dent on the back of my car, but it’s pretty small & honestly I just feel like there are so many more important things in life that I can’t bother getting upset about a dented bumper.  In any case, I do wish I’d called the police or at least filed with the man’s insurance because my CD player stopped working after the wreck.  Now, as some of you know, music is basically my religion.  It is what motivates me on my darkest days & is the very lifeblood of my soul.  (Corey Taylor said it best: “Music . . . is the only real religion that is worth devoting your soul to. It is the last remnant of the primal scream, the funeral dirge, & the wedding march. It is the light that keeps me out of the shadows, & it is the reason my immortal soul is not in dire straits.”) When I found out my CD player wasn’t working, I can’t lie, that sent me over the edge & I truly cried for the first time all week. I had wanted to cry multiple times earlier in the week but I’d held it in for some ridiculous reason.  Thankfully my dear husband was able to rescue all the CDs that were in the CD player, & he found a replacement online for which the man who hit me has promised to reimburse quote

Now, I’m sure you’re wondering why I didn’t call the police.  The simple explanation is I’m an idiot. The more complicated explanation is I was already an emotional disaster & I just couldn’t stand the thought of dealing with the police at that moment.  Also the man who hit me was black & there was a part of me that worried the police would treat him more harshly because of that.  I also couldn’t help but remember what a blessing it was when I rear-ended a delivery truck years ago & the owner of the truck asked the policeman not to charge me because there was essentially no damage to his truck.  To my great surprise & relief, the policeman complied with his wishes.  I still remember how wonderful that felt, & part of me wanted to give that feeling to someone else.  I’m not sure if it’s a mark of compassion, insanity, stupidity, or some combination of all three that I was even thinking of someone else’s feelings at a time like that, but the truth is I was.You-are-nice-quotes-kindness-quotes-politeness-quotes

Back to the pregnancy test, as soon as I got home after the wreck I took the test & was greatly disappointed to find out that I am definitely NOT pregnant.  I knew the chances were slim to none that it would happen so quickly, but I just couldn’t help but be disappointed.  I keep remembering being in OB class in nursing school & thinking how ludicrous it was that a woman could want to be a mother so badly that she would cry when she got her period or had a negative pregnancy test.  It’s not that I doubted this could happen; it’s just that at that point in my life getting pregnant would have been a disaster for me, & I just couldn’t envision myself ever wanting to be a mom that badly, so I simply had no conception of how that would feel.  Well, here I am six or seven years later, whatever it is, & now I know how it feels.  It’s something I can’t explain, & part of me feels silly for even being upset about this when logically I know I “shouldn’t” be, but I can’t help it.  And that makes me feel weak & hormonal & ridiculous.  Ugh.

Lavendar hanging from an old vintage door, room for copy space

In case anyone’s wondering why I’m sharing something so personal as all this, there are several reasons.  First, writing out my thoughts & feelings keeps me sane.  And secondly I truly believe the world would be a better place if we didn’t all pretend we’re ok when we clearly aren’t.  With that in mind, allow me to say this: I do NOT have it all together.  Perhaps it’s self-imposed because I have such high expectations for myself, but I often feel like people just expect me to be Ms. Perfect all the time.  I feel like people automatically think “Oh, she’s smart, she’ll be fine, she’ll figure it out.  We don’t have to worry about her.”  Maybe that’s all in my head, but the truth is I really do NOT have it all together.  Yes, I have lots of wonderful things in my life for which I am very grateful (a loving husband & family, friends who have become like family, an adorable corgi, a great career, etc), & some of those are things I’ve worked really hard to achieve/keep.  But none the less, I am just as human as everyone else.  And right now I am feeling a bit fragile & broken.  On the plus side, this is the first time in a very long time that I feel like my anxiety has truly gotten the better of me.  That right there is a huge victory.  Honestly, when I remember the constant state of high-pitch anxiety I was in during college, I have no idea how I survived.  All I can say is I’m glad I’ve gotten the help I’ve needed in the ensuing years.humanity

I’ll end this by saying that I can’t give enough thanks to all of those who have reached out to me during the past few days.  Some of you I haven’t spoken to in person in years, yet you took the time to message me & send words of encouragement, & that means more to me than I can say.


As a final message, I’m striving to remind myself of the incredible wisdom of these simple words from the Buddhist writer Pema Chodron:

“Rather than letting our negativity get the better of us, we could acknowledge that right now we feel like a piece of shit & not be squeamish about taking a good look.”

Amen.corey taylor owe yourself

And just for good measure I’ll add a few more inspiring quotes from the great Corey Taylor.

“. . . the divine lies in all of us. We are miracles. We are “god.” If we shared a little more, we would not be left feeling less. We hold the keys to our own destinies. It is time we started looking for the locks.”

“Life owes you nothing. You owe yourself everything.”

A Veil of Sadness

If I have any regular followers on here, I apologize for my sudden absence.  I realize it’s been over two weeks since I’ve posted anything; indeed I had to actually pull up my own blog to even remember what my last post was about.  My life has just been a whirlwind these past few weeks between general insanity at work (including doing some overtime) & my grandfather being sick.

I'm including some pictures from our recent vacation to Asheville, so this post won't feel overly pessimistic.

I’m including some pictures from our recent vacation to Asheville so that this post won’t feel overly pessimistic.

To elaborate on the last point, I rarely post such personal things on here, but my grandfather had a bad fall about a month ago & spent several weeks recovering in UVA hospital.  He was finally released to rehab only to now end up back in another hospital with aspiration pneumonia.  Over the past few years I’ve noticed that his memory has been slowly worsening, but ever since the fall in addition to his injuries & subsequent surgeries, he’s had a lot of confusion & restlessness.  As a nurse, of course I know this isn’t uncommon in someone his age who’s been hospitalized, especially after such a traumatic fall.  But nonetheless I can’t shake this horrible feeling that he’s never going to recover to his baseline.  Statistically speaking, the odds really are against him, as I well know from the many similar patients I’ve cared for over the past few years.

Wildflowers at Mt. Mitchell, highest point in NC & on all of the East Coast

Wildflowers at Mt. Mitchell, highest point in NC & on all of the East Coast

This is one blog post I kind of hope my family doesn’t see because I don’t want them to be disheartened.  I really don’t want them to know how negative I feel about this whole situation.  But at the same time I feel like I really need to express the sadness I’m experiencing right now.  I know it doesn’t make any sense, but I am terrible at expressing emotions around my family, at least so-called “negative” emotions, that is.  For example, it’s very rare that I cry in front of anyone other than my husband.  I just hate for even my own family to see me being “weak.”  I know that’s ridiculous & totally unhealthy, but it’s just the way things have always been for me.  At times like these, I realize how much harder that makes things because in the end I’m just bottling things up which is never, ever a good idea.  So that’s why I’m writing all of this, in an attempt to be more honest about how I feel & not just try to put on a brave face for everyone.  In the end I don’t think putting on a brave face helps anyone.  It’s better to just be honest & say how we really feel.dr seuss quote

I guess since my grandparents on my mom’s side are so much younger than my dad’s parents were I’ve always taken it for granted that I’d have them around for a really long time.  I never really doubted that they’d be around to see me graduate from college, get married, & have kids someday.  As it turns out they’ve seen the first two of those things & for that I’m eternally grateful.  But I just keep having this horrible thought that even I if I got pregnant tomorrow (which is not going to happen, just to be clear) my grandfather might not live to see that child.  Or even if he does he might not have the mental capacity to really understand & appreciate the experience.  And my future children might not have the blessing of getting to really know him as the man he really is.  And that breaks my heart.

Most recent good picture I have with my grandparents is from our wedding 4 years ago. Photo credit to Triskay Photography.

Most recent good picture I have with my grandparents is from our wedding 4 years ago. Photo credit to Triskay Photography.

Of course it’s possible that I’m being fatalistic & overly negative here.  But the fact of the matter is that as a nurse I see a lot of similar cases & I can’t deny that the endings often aren’t pretty.  One of the first things I learned as a nurse is that merely surviving isn’t enough.  Quality of life is everything.  I know my grandfather would never want to live the rest of his life in a nursing home, so even though he’s made a lot of progress, for which I am very grateful, I still fear that he’ll never make it back to his baseline & thus his quality of life will suffer greatly.  I really do hate to sound negative, but I’m speaking from experience here . . .

The truth is I’ve never seen the point in being overly positive or overly negative in life; I just strive to be realistic.  I learned a long time ago that sometimes it’s best to have low expectations for the things in life which you can’t control . . . I find this prevents a lot of disappointment & quite often leads to unexpected happy surprises.  Maybe some people would say that’s a negative way to live, but it works for me.

As I finish this the same way I started it, with tears in my eyes, I guess the best I can do is prepare for the worst & hope for the best . . .

Misty morning at Mt. Mitchell

Misty morning at Mt. Mitchell

PawPaw, I love you so much.  Every time you hug me I can see in your eyes how much you love me & how proud you are of me.  I’ll never be able to say how much that means to me.  I want you to recover & get back home to the life you knew before all of this.  But if that isn’t possible & your quality of life is such that you don’t feel you can take it anymore, I want you to know that we love you enough to let you go.  Please don’t hang around being miserable just for us.  More than anything I don’t want you to suffer.  I love you.

In conclusion (for real this time), I’ll end with a few Pema Chodron quotes because her words always bring me a sense of peace & calming, no matter the situation at hand.pema chodron quote 2

Rather than letting our negativity get the better of us, we could acknowledge that right now we feel like a piece of shit & not be squeamish about taking a good look.”

“We think that the point is to pass the test or overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together & they fall apart. Then they come together again & fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.”

On the Meaning of Suffering & the Uncertainty of Life

My career as a nurse affords me a lot of opportunities to encounter suffering in all of its many forms.  Primarily of course I deal with physical suffering, but by its very nature physical suffering leads into any & all other forms of suffering including both spiritual & emotional suffering, particularly as people confront terminal illness & death.  As many other nurses will tell you, helping people to work through emotional & spiritual suffering is actually much more challenging than dealing with physical suffering.  Additionally I serve as a family service volunteer with a local hospice group which of course brings me even closer to those dealing with their own impending death or the death of a loved one.  People are always shocked that I would choose to spend additional time around those at the end of life, but despite my young age I’ve always felt a special connection with those facing the end of their life or the life of a loved one.  Unlike many people in the healthcare profession, I’ve never viewed death as the enemy but rather as the inevitable conclusion to life, which sometimes can actually be the respite a person needs when they’ve truly suffered long enough.  Indeed I learned very early in my career that there are fates far, far worse than death.

pema chodron quote

Being surrounded by so much suffering in life can be a bit overwhelming at times, & it certainly leads me to think about my own beliefs & ideas regarding suffering & the uncertainty of life.  The older I get & the more experiences I have, the more I’m learning that the only thing of which we can ever really be certain in life is that it is always uncertain.  Indeed, the only thing that never changes is that life is always changing.

Many people say that God allows us to suffer so we can grow closer to Him.  And that God chooses to heal some people while He also chooses not to heal others (for reasons that we, of course, can’t understand).  I just believe that some people get better & some don’t.  However, I do think that “mind over matter” can make a huge difference in how people handle both physical & emotional suffering.  There may very well be some scientific reasoning for this that we don’t yet fully understand, but regardless I don’t think it changes the fact that having a positive but realistic attitude really can change how we experience this life.

pema chodron quote 2

For thousands or perhaps millions of years, humans have struggled with the question “Why do bad things happen to good people?”  I honestly thing it requires more mental gymnastics to believe that God has some elaborate plan we can’t understand to explain our suffering than to simply believe that bad things happen because of scientific reasons such as bad genes or bad timing.  But that doesn’t mean that our suffering has to be pointless or that we are alone in this world.  I just think the only meaning to suffering (or really anything in life) is the meaning we assign to it.  We can choose to allow our suffering to teach us to be a better person & to reach out to others, or we can wallow in misery & cut ourselves off from any happiness that is left to us.  The latter response is only natural & perhaps healthy at first.  But we do have to move past it or we will be miserable forever.  The best way I can sum up my feelings on the meaning of suffering is by sharing a quote from the Buddhist writer Pema Chodron:

Life is glorious, but life is also wretched. It is both. Appreciating the gloriousness inspires us, encourages us, cheers us up, gives us a bigger perspective, energizes us. We feel connected. But if that’s all that’s happening, we get arrogant and start to look down on others, and there is a sense of making ourselves a big deal and being really serious about it, wanting it to be like that forever. The gloriousness becomes tinged by craving and addiction. On the other hand, wretchedness–life’s painful aspect–softens us up considerably. Knowing pain is a very important ingredient of being there for another person. When you are feeling a lot of grief, you can look right into somebody’s eyes because you feel you haven’t got anything to lose–you’re just there. The wretchedness humbles us and softens us, but if we were only wretched, we would all just go down the tubes. We’d be so depressed, discouraged, and hopeless that we wouldn’t have enough energy to eat an apple. Gloriousness and wretchedness need each other. One inspires us, the other softens us. They go together.”

kahlil gibran quote

What is boils down to is this: at the end of the day, you & only you are responsible for your choices in life & how you handle the things that happen to you, both good & bad, even those that are beyond your control.  This is both terrifying & empowering.  It’s terrifying because it forces you to realize that you cannot just blame your parents, the economy, your spouse, your children, your friends, your boss, or anything or anyone else for your own unhappiness or inability to achieve your dreams.  But it’s also empowering because it forces you to realize that you & only have the power to change your life.  Of course there are always some things beyond our control, but our attitude is never one of them.

change your life

I realize this might not be the most upbeat, encouraging post I’ve ever shared but it’s something that’s been close to my heart lately.  Trust me, there are days when I really struggle with the unfairness of life.  I’ve seen patients younger than me with cancer & other chronic illnesses who have died.  And I am only 25!  Seeing young people suffering with illnesses that are completely beyond their control is incredibly difficult, regardless of your beliefs.  The only conclusion I consistently reach is that life is both beautiful & terrible.  And the best thing any of us can do is to appreciate the beautiful parts as much as we can.

With that in mind, when you’re driving down the road & the beautiful Fall leaves are swirling around you, take time to notice how magical that is.  If you’re taking a hike, take time to soak up the enchanting, intoxicating smell of the forest.  Allow yourself to be caught up in the beauty of music.  No matter how hard life gets, don’t close yourself off or refuse to try new things.  As cliché as it sounds, live every day as if it were your last so that whenever that day does come, whether today, tomorrow, or fifty years from now, you will be able to face death with peace & without regrets.