A Blessing

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She sighs and rests her little hand on my chest as I protectively curl my body around hers. I gaze into her peaceful slumbering face and realize how blessed I am. It’s staggering. This beautiful miracle that sleeps in my arms each night and finds comfort in my presence – she is mine. My body grew her. My body nourishes her. My body comforts her, protects her.

This is my dream come true. I am a mother. I felt the flutters in my belly that became strong kicks. I pushed this little person out of my body and into the world. I feed her with nothing but my body, as God intended. I feel her pain when she cries, soar on the wings of her laughter, and revel in each new discovery she makes. I know what she needs and when she needs it. I understand her moods and feelings. I never want to leave her side.

But I have to work, to buy food and to have health insurance. For the basics, not for luxuries. So I must leave her, after having her in constant contact with me for a whole year. Eight months in my belly. Four months in my arms. Forever in my heart. This is the only life she knows. It feels like the only life I know – it is the only life I want to know. But I must leave her and go to work. Yes, she’s safe and well-cared for while I’m away. But how I miss her. And she cries for me. It’s not just gas, I know, because I know her as no one else can. And my arms ache to hold her. The drive home has never been so long.

I’m here, my love, my little one. Mommy is here. I bring her to my breast and she giggles with anticipation. She touches my face and smiles. And the long day melts away. We are together. Nothing else matters.

It took a long time to get here, to motherhood. It is worth every tear, every sacrifice. I know how blessed I am and I am deeply thankful. So tonight, the 147th night of holding my heart in my arms, I say a prayer of heartfelt thanks for the most precious of gifts – my daughter.

The Best Things in Life

I don’t much care about fashion or gadgets (I just want to look like I fit somewhere in the current decade and have a device that works). I don’t much care about travel, beyond the occasional getaway. I don’t much care about the so-called social scene.

I’ve been married for 10 years and experimented in each of the above pursuits. I’ve found each of them to be at best, a disappointment; at worst, a trap. Clever distractions to divert attention away from what truly matters in life – faith and family.

Let’s face it: Fashion is not much more than a lovely racket. Cleverly arranged pieces that appeal to the eye and make one feel “I simply MUST have that!” And after you’ve worn your perfectly paired finery, you realize you’ve spent more than you should have – on something nonessential. And just give it a season – you will find that you rarely, if ever, use it again. (Unless, of course, you are the type to choose essential pieces in classic colors and styles. In that case, you may use those pieces season after season.) And the never-ending parade of smartphones, tablets, and other devices is clearly just another trap, if you MUST have the latest and greatest. There will always be a new one.

On to travel. Don’t get me wrong. This girl has heard (but never answered) the call of the Australian Outback, the siren song of Paris, the timeless calm of the English countryside. But simply put, these things cost money. Quite a bit of it. And after the headiness of the experience has faded, all you have left are some pricey souvenirs and way too many photos. And perhaps debt. I may be in the minority here, but that seems a very fleeting source of happiness for such a high price. I’d rather have something I can hold on to. Besides an overpriced miniature Eiffel Tower.

As for the social scene, if I have to impress someone with my experiences in the world of fashion and/or travel (or anything else, for that matter!) to be accepted into a particular circle, I don’t want to be a part of that circle anyway!

Realistically, the majority of our lives are not spent in any of the above pursuits (unless we actually work in an industry relating to any or all of them). The majority of our lives are spent in making a living and, well, living. Why can’t making the most of the life we are building be THE pursuit? Instead of the next outfit, trip, or party, why aren’t we focused on the people that make up our lives?

The best things in life are not free. They cost, not money, but time and effort. Any relationship will give only what you invest in it. Therefore, I’m not going to fritter away precious moments with those I love. I’m going to enjoy them and truly love them. I married my husband because I wanted to spend the rest of my life with him, not just my spare time. I’ve found my calling: it is being a dedicated wife, mother, sister, daughter, aunt, and friend. The latest fashion will be whatever I can afford. The latest smartphone will be the one I get at a discount. The dream vacation will be the one I spend with my family – anywhere. My social life is full of beautiful people who know how to have fun – with children and pets, in a casual atmosphere, where there is no pressure to impress. Because in my world, my husband’s laugh, a sincere “thank you” from a family member, hugs and smiles from the children, my dog’s wagging tail – are the beautiful, intangible things of true value. And I wouldn’t change that for anything.

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New (Dog) Blog!

Hello to all of my readers and followers. I’m very happy to announce the launch of my new dog-centric blog, How Sweet the Hound! For those of you that enjoyed The Gracie Chronicles, How Sweet the Hound will provide more stories and posts that are only about dogs and the humans who love them. The Gracie Chronicles will be moving to How Sweet the Hound and on that site there will be a new feature, Gracie’s Diary. Please visit How Sweet the Hound and subscribe! Thank you!

Fear of Inertia

You know it’s a bad day when you’re asking yourself, “Is this day over yet???” and it’s only 8 am.

You know it’s a bad day when the coworker who doesn’t know you well mentions that “You’re pale as a ghost! Are you OK?”

You know it’s a bad day when you’re mentally paralyzed; immobile not from a physical cause, but from a mental and emotional exhaustion so profound that it brings with it a physical inertia.

Almost imperceptibly, these isolated days melt into weeks, and before you know it, your boss is telling you, “You’ve been miserable for like, the last three months.”

But here’s the paradox: Despite the fact that some notice your “misery” they still expect you to function normally, if not exceptionally well.

When you feel like you’ve emptied yourself of tears, when you feel like an enervated slave to the system, cornered in a terrifyingly complex trap, fear begins to reign – an irrational, terroristic dictator. The cycle repeats itself over and over until you begin to question your sanity. You tell yourself you just need a break, a chance to regroup and get yourself together. But there is no break in sight, not even on the far horizon. Working for a corporate giant that views its employees as pawns, emotionless drones that will feel nothing and continue to perform above expectations regardless of whatever upheavals the powers that be decide to cause takes a serious toll – especially when the day-to-day tasks require interaction with the rude public. Add to that living arrangements under the domain of a hapless, careless landlord that operates with a set of double standards; dealing with rude, irresponsible neighbors on a daily basis, and you have a recipe for Basket Case Extraordinaire.

The above effects are intensified by the fact that in each situation, you’re trapped. With the job market in the toilet, there are no other options for employment, even if you’re searching. The income is necessary – not to keep up a luxurious lifestyle, but simply to pay the bills. So, if you’re “lucky” enough to currently have a job, you’d better keep it! So what if you’re miserable? Suck it up, it’s not that bad! If you lose your job, you’ll be on the street. Which brings me to the other issue: a place to live. Because of financial issues, moving out and away from the frustrations of apartment life is impossible. So both sources of misery are inescapable. You need a place to live, so you need a job to pay for it. But you hate where you live. But you can’t afford to live anywhere else. And you can’t find another job. The end result is a painful state of desperation as you find yourself struggling to preserve two situations that bring misery; questioning why you are prolonging the agony. The only answer is that you are a responsible person. You hold yourself to a code of doing the right and responsible thing – even if it is to your own detriment. The only question that remains is: How long can this continue before you break down completely?

Mental illness runs in my family. A victim of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), I fear ending up like some relatives who suffer from bipolar disorder or severe depression. A state of mental inertia sets in – a seeming inability to perform even simple tasks, a lack of motivation, a neglect of even basic personal care – that is incomprehensible to others not suffering from the disease. This inertia frightens me more than anything else. As a person who tries to remain active and responsibly fulfill all of my obligations even despite my current emotional state, the thought that my anguish could escalate to the point of this dreaded inertia is truly terrifying. Considering the fact that I experienced it for the first time ever – this week – the fear is intensified. Questioning myself at every turn and fighting an emotional battle each day is exhausting.

I am blessed to have some wonderful people in my life. Yet I still have these awful feelings and my ability to cope has dwindled to naught – despite the love and support I receive in other areas of my life. These two major areas of life – work and residence – are taking an unspeakable toll on me.

Lab Rats and the Rat Race

I’ve been with my current employer for eight years. In those eight years, I’ve served under six different managers. I’ve liked several, feared a few, but respected only one.

At this moment, in the midst of unwarranted upheaval in my current location, I find it difficult to respect any of my superiors. After years of “musical managers” the stress of being expected to perform exceptionally well in an unpredictable environment is becoming too much for me to handle. Not knowing who my boss is going to be tomorrow or next week and not knowing what is about to happen is simply unnerving. The panic attacks I thought I had conquered have returned with a vengeance, even on days when I do not work. In an economy where countless families are struggling to survive, it is drilled into those that have jobs that we should be grateful, grateful, GRATEFUL for our jobs. This makes a difficult situation at work that much harder – the chances of finding another job are slim. Therefore, you’re trapped. You need the job and the health insurance, but the stress is unbearable. At this point, you become a ticking time bomb of emotional frustrations. Why am I saying you? I mean me. Myself. I am a ticking time bomb of emotional frustrations.

This situation reminds me of a classic laboratory experiment with rats. The scientist takes two normal, healthy rats and places each in a separate cage. The first rat’s cage has two levers in it. One lever produces food, the other, an electric shock. The rat quickly learns which lever is which and avoids the shock-producing lever, while using the lever that produces food. In this predictable environment where he feels he has some control, he is happy, normal, and healthy. He socializes normally with other rats. He is emotionally well-adjusted.

The second rat’s cage also has two levers. But instead of each lever consistently producing the same outcome, they vary. This lever sometimes produces food, sometimes a nasty shock. And vice versa. In this completely unpredictable environment, the rat has no sense of control over what happens to him. He becomes a nervous wreck, exhibiting hostile or withdrawn behavior, overeating or not eating at all, becoming ill and even engaging in autistic rocking behaviors.

Scientists say this model can be applied to humans living in any unpredictable environment – from living in a war zone to having an alcoholic family member… Or a job where the management is constantly changing and what’s right today may get you yelled at tomorrow – not to mention dealing with customers who blame the person behind the counter for everything from the color of the carpet to their own epic blunders. In unpredictable environments, people get stressed. They feel anxious. They feel depressed. I feel stressed/anxious/depressed.

I find it particularly interesting about the aforementioned experiment that the physical health of the rats was affected by their environment and emotional state. Rat #1, who has a measure of control over his surroundings, is happy AND healthy. Rat #2, who has no idea if he’s getting zapped or fed today, easily gets ill, in addition to becoming a blubbering neurotic.

“Study after study shows that the more in control people feel, the less stress they feel and fewer negative sensations they experience.” – Dr. Richard Fried, PhD

Obviously, when one feels a lack of control and is stressed, the first thing to do is try to regain a sense of control in other areas of life. Some suggestions:

• Exercise. Regular physical activity is essential to work off stress hormones.

• Stress reduction techniques. Progressive muscle relaxation, deep breathing exercises, journal therapy and the like can be helpful.

• Get professional help. Seeing a therapist or counselor to learn coping techniques.

I’ve tried all of the above. I walk vigorously for at least 30 minutes a day. I try to use deep breathing, especially when in the throes of a panic attack. I see a therapist on a regular basis. But these strategies take time to work. Not to mention, if a new difficulty arises while you’re still working on coping with the last one, you’re in trouble. And if you’re like me, having to be drugged to deal with work is out of the question. It just sounds completely outrageous and totally unfair.

Time does heal. Once away from work, it takes days to recover from the stress. But by then, it’s time to return to work. In a situation where people are treated as pawns in a corporate chess game, the stress of the rat race has a new dynamic – that unpredictable lever. Will it dispense a reward today? Or just another nasty shock?

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Human Frailty

I had an epiphany this morning as I grumpily drove to work: My biggest problem in life is that I’m an optimist.

Wait, WHAT???

Anyone who knows me knows that I am anything but Sunshine, Lollipops, and Rainbows! Not that I behave like an incorrigible pessimist – I try to be positive, but I’m not the “peppy” type. Simply put, I have high standards for myself and I hold others to the same standards. I give my best and I expect others to do the same. In this sense, I am an optimist. But this is a sure track to rampant disappointment.

Like Tracy Lord in “The Philadelphia Story,” I have little or no regard for human frailty. This is not to say that I am incapable of feeling empathy or understanding another’s viewpoint or position; often, I simply argue that if I must follow a certain rule or standard, there’s no reason why someone else shouldn’t. Perhaps it’s a case of the Golden Rule gone wrong. You know: “All things, therefore, that ​you want men to do to ​you, ​you also must likewise do to them.” (Matthew 7:12) I do my part and naively expect the same treatment in return.

Time to wake up to the cold, hard facts. While there may be some people out there who appreciate my efforts to treat them as I would like to be treated, the majority do not really care. I continue to hold myself to higher standards and at best am disappointed – at worst, crushed – by the failure of others to reciprocate. So what should I do?? Stoop to the level of those who hurt me, or take the high road – that is, hold myself to higher standards while accepting the fact that many people I encounter will not hold to those standards?? It would appear that the high road, while more difficult initially, will be easier on my peace of mind in the long run. And maybe, just maybe, it will eventually make me a better person.

“You’ll never be a first class human being or a first class woman until you’ve learned to have some regard for human frailty.” – C. K. Dexter Haven, The Philadelphia Story

Liberation

Those who participated in women’s suffrage and the women’s liberation movement had good intentions, I’m sure. But somewhere along the road to liberation, something went terribly wrong.

Now, don’t think that I do not appreciate having legal rights as well as varied options as to apparel. But I don’t appreciate being “liberated” from the hold of stay-laces and apron strings only to be delivered into the stranglehold of corporate America. In an economy where every penny counts, I’m thankful that I have a means of earning necessary income. But I strongly resent the fact that most households are now dependent on the wife and mother holding a job outside the home. Women have been so “liberated” from their traditional role that most cannot live in accord with that role, even if that is their heart’s desire. Or worse yet, some must fill the traditional role in addition to working outside of the home to bring in necessary income and/or healthcare benefits. And when I reference necessary income, I mean just that. Not working for “my OWN money” or the ability to acquire luxuries, but simply the necessary provisions for life – food, housing, healthcare, and education for the children.

It appears to me that something is terribly wrong when, in a free society, a woman is free to choose a corporate career, but is not free to choose the role of mother and wife – raising her own children and running a clean, healthy, efficient household.

This is not to say that women are not capable of excelling in any given career path. The issue here is choice. We can choose to be a CEO, managing partner, or a humble entry-level associate. But for most of us, the choice of the oldest and most time-honored career for a woman is simply not an option. Some women must resort to prescription drugs in order to function at a job away from all that they love – simply to provide the necessities. The fact that it must come to that is just wrong on so many levels.

I know I’ve written on this topic in the past, but it is close to my heart and something that I feel quite strongly about. Frankly, I’d rather be laced into a corset and spend the day in a hot kitchen and/or caring for cranky children than be backed into the corner that we modern women find ourselves in. But we must eat and have a roof over our heads, so pop a Xanax and get on with it.

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