Monday, March 30, 2015

An Unlikely Messenger

I went to the Salvation Army today to pick up some items for a client. Outside stood a older man, shoulders hunched over by age. He was very dirty and wearing tattered grey clothing. Next to him sat a rickety shopping cart which appeared to hold all of his Earthly belongings.

Now, this man was surrounded by several other men, all likely homeless(there is a homeless shelter next door). What made this man stand out to me was his pure joy. He was sitting on the ground eating a bruised banana as though he had not eaten in days. He was smiling as he chewed, practically bouncing while he sat in joy. My stomach clenched with the ever-present knowledge of hunger in my own community. I imagine I stood frozen for a minute. Frozen in horror at the idea of my full belly standing next to an emaciated man whose belly was empty. I tried to appease my own feelings with the sight of a bag of groceries sitting next to him that he had likely just received at the food pantry here. The man noticed me watching and smiled and waved at me as he continued to happily eat his bruised fruit. I smiled and waved back and went inside to retrieve what I had come for.

When I emerged from the building again, the same man jumped up to hold the door open for me. He was grinning ear to ear. I smiled and thanked him and, at those two simple words, his face opened in the same way it had when he was eating- as if he had been waiting for days for this nourishment. The nourishment of the simple kindness of another soul seemed to be as joyful and nourishing to him as the fruit. I found myself grinning back at him unabashedly.

We both stepped out of the shadow of the building and into the sunlight. He tilted his head up to the sun as though he were on beach, sunbathing on a careless day. Not bothering to tilt his back toward me, still basking in the sun he said, "It's the most beautiful day, isn't it?". And, I tilted my head towards the sun myself, my own worries slipping away as I remembered the simple joy of the sun on my face and replied, "Indeed. It is a beautiful day." We both began laughing, at what I am not sure. We stood there together for a few minutes until I had to say my goodbyes. He waved, his face still tilted upwards.

I left grinning like a fool as he stood basking in the mid-day sun. My heart was full.

Messengers come in all forms. Today, my messenger of joy came in the form of a disheveled, emaciated homeless man. And, I am forever grateful.

an unlikely messenger, sun

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Truth Telling: I Am a Fraud

I have a confession for you. A big confession.

I am a fraud.

What I often present to the world is a confident, intelligent, kind and hard-working woman.  I spend my days connecting with others, attempting to be a leader instead of a follower and juggling too many hats to mention.

What I really am is a woman who struggles with depression and anxiety on a daily basis. I am an introvert who would nearly always, no matter how fabulous the day’s plans, prefer to stay home under the covers and read. I am quirky and insecure and am always unsure of exactly where I fit in.

I started this blog as a way to connect with others who may feel the same way. I have meet so many lovely people who DO feel this way. And, yet I still masquerade around most days under the same veil of falsified perfection to fit the mold that society expects of me.

I vow to remove this veil, bit by bit. To present myself honestly to the world, however hard this may be.

I vow to live a more authentic life. I invite each in every one of you to join me. 


In honoring our truth, shall each of us be set free.


Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Check Your Baggage Here

I was recently scrolling through my social media feeds and someone had posted a picture of themselves in an airport, happily posing next to a "Check Your Baggage Here" sign.

I was having a rough, rough day. A sick child. No sleep for weeks. Work had piled up during my time out with my sick little one. My house was in shambles. I was feeling desperately torn between work and home.

I felt as though my knees would buckle under the weight of my own world.

Oddly, just the sight of that sign- Check Your Baggage Here- made me feel lighter. It was a smacking realization that some, if not most, of what I was carrying could be laid down. Everything was going to be okay. I simply had to keep putting one foot in front of the other. Everything did not have to be done today.


I hope that each of you have a sacred place where you can check your baggage at the door. Maybe some of that figurative baggage never needs to be picked up again- just leave that shit there on the floor, where it belongs. You have enough to carry already.

Lay down your worries, they have never served you anyway.

Lay down your to-do list, it will be waiting for you tomorrow.

Lay down the expectation that you must be perfect, no one is.

Lay down your negative thoughts, positive thoughts are so much lighter to carry.

Lay down your comparison to others, that is a game one can never win.

Lay it ALL down. Take a deep breath. Don't you feel lighter already?




Monday, March 23, 2015

Dear Anxiety

letter

Dear Anxiety,

I think that it is time we parted ways. I realize that my need to be rid of you may be shocking. After all, in many ways it was I who courted you. And, when my mind could not find rational reasons to invite you into my life, I made up completely fictional reasons. It is a sickness really.

I know that your influence in my life has not been completely negative. There were many days that your constant presence in my spinning mind, my churning tummy and bitten-to-the-quick fingernails made me push harder, prepare longer and finish stronger.

However, there were also the bad times. Many, many bad times. Sleepless nights. Paranoia over ridiculous things. Migraines. Stomach ulcers. And, the very worst of all-an inability to be present in truly joyous moments, especially those with my children.

You have been a force to be reckoned with in my life, in the most destructive of ways. I can never recover the hours that I spent with you as my closest companion.

In someways this is a bittersweet ending. I cannot remember a time without you, Anxiety. You have been my constant counterpart. Even my earliest memories include you. You have been an ever-present voice in my head reminding me of my every fault.

But, you know that I've been doing some inner work these past years. Meditation. Yoga. Journaling. Focusing on positive thoughts. Reading books and blogs that light my way to a brighter future. I feel better than I ever have. And yet- you persist to sneak in every moment that I let my guard down.

I feel that the only way to truly let you go is with a clean break. This is your official notice that you are no longer welcome here.

Sincerely,

Mandi



Thursday, March 19, 2015

Public Health Nursing and the Myths of Poverty



As a public health nurse I receive referrals for a myriad of reasons. I work with families at what is likely one of the lowest times of their life. They are nearly all living in poverty- that is pretty much universal.

Before becoming a nurse, I was blind to the pervasiveness of poverty. I think that I believed in the abundance of Iowa, of America- and surely all who wished to be would be sheltered and fed. I was so very na├»ve.

The truth of my job:


Today, my work days are filled with visiting the homes of families living under the shoddy umbrella of poverty. I slog into low income apartment buildings bearing my nursing bags, hoping not to bring any of the cockroaches, bed bugs and such that often permeate these buildings back home with me in one of my bags. I am saddened that I worry about bringing these things back to my home when my clients are so used to living this way. I advocate for them with their landlords, knowing that many times my words will fall on deaf ears. I realize that bugs are often the very least of my client's worries.

I am sometimes scared. The hallways of these buildings are often dark and smell of mold, cigarette smoke and other unknown, and I fear-unspeakable, things. I am going into these places in the light of day and often wonder what it would be like to stroll this hallway under the cover of night, with my children in tow. How scared I would be. I wonder if my clients are also scared, or if they have become so accustomed to this way of life that it is no longer scary. I wonder what is worse- dropping your guard so that you may become an unsuspecting victim or living a life of fear? I shudder away those thoughts, because they make me feel helpless. I spend so many of my work hours feeling helpless.


I know things now that I often wish I didn't know. How often children go hungry in this country. How prevalent abuse is. Just how little we actually help those in need.  How low we often make those living in poverty feel.



My fears seem very small compared to yours. I fear that I can never do enough to help you. When I lay down this nursing badge- this false badge of courage, and undrape my stethoscope from around my neck at the end of the day I am often saddened by how little I could do for you. I hope that it was enough.

On a daily basis, I hear the stories that my clients entrust me with. The stories that are only told behind closed doors. The stories that curdle my blood.

Refugees tell me of the horrors of their former country and I try not to weep unabashedly as though the pain was my own. They tell me of the gratitude to be in this country, but-if only it were safe again- how they would rush back to their home. They tell me that they cry themselves to sleep in longing for what once was. They dream and hope for their children to never see the horrors that they have seen in their lives.

Single mothers tell me of their past. Abusive boyfriends/husbands. The need to receive love, which they have often found in the arms of someone that never really loved them. The constant exhaustion.  The struggle to work and provide for children with no help at all. The deep desire they feel that their children should have a better life than they have, without the constant struggle.

The parents who have spent time in prison tell me their stories. They are often brutally honest of their past transgressions. They have served their time but live in a society that no longer allows second chances. Something that was done in their youth may haunt them for their entire lives. They want their children to learn from their mistakes, to go to college instead of being locked up. They beg for opportunities to prove to society that they have changed, so that their children can have a better life.

Former and current addicts tell me of their stories. Of  how young they were when the struggle with addiction began, often as children. They tell me of their mother's/father's/grandparents addiction and how they once promised themselves that they would not be like them. The shame that they feel that they are repeating an egregious cycle. The fear that they feel that they will not overcome it. They tell me the importance of taking it day by day, but that a single day can feel so very, very long. They pray at night that their children will have better lives than they.

The abusers/neglectors tell me their stories. These are often the hardest stories to hear. The thought of anyone hurting a child makes a pit the size of a black hole in my stomach and it is often hard to remember not to judge. Then, you hear the stories of their childhood. The stories of their own abuse and neglect as children. These stories are most likely the hardest I have ever had to listen to-let your imagination run to the bowels of what you believe a human being can be capable of, and then go deeper-the stories take me to a place that I wish did not exist. What has been done cannot be undone. The shame they feel that they have subjected their children to the same. The shame they feel often permeates everything around them- I cannot leave these visits without feeling that it may have permeated me, as well. They want so desperately to be better parents and for their children to live a life without any further pain. They cry, screaming into their pillows so that no one can hear, for forgiveness and for their children to have a better life than they have.

I hear the stories of those who are here, in this bleak place, because of the mistakes of others. The teen mother parenting the child of the man who raped her. The family who lost their lovely home after the loss of a job, and are now living in poverty for the first time ever. Those whose medical condition leaves them unable to work any longer, and who squeeze by on that tiny disability check. Those who have lived a life of poverty and know nothing else, have lost hope for anything better.

Each one of us has a story within us. Many of my clients have stories that would be far too gritty to be shown on even the most liberal of television stations. The ever more violent media has nothing on these stories. Nothing. Even my hardened nurse's stomach has threatened to purge at the truths coming from my client's lips.

Long after I have forgotten the names and faces of my clients, their stories will live within me. I am grateful for each and every word told to me in confidence. I carry the words carefully inside my heart.

 

What I want my clients to know about me:



Our program is voluntary, but I hope you will let me in for just one visit in your home before you decide if you will accept our assistance. So, that you will see that I am not like those who stare you down in the grocery store in anger when you pull out your SNAP card to pay for groceries. To see that I will not judge you and truly only want to help. To see that I will do everything I can to leave your family in a better place than where I found you.

I SEE you. Not just what society sees. They seen a downtrodden human being that they imagine is "screwing the system". They want you to feel shame for every WIC check, food stamp and rental assistance dollar that you take. There will be no shame, no groveling expected from me- that is pure bullshit.  I see you. Yes, you. I see how hard you are working to make a better life for your family. I see the love that you have for your children, even if you are sometimes unsure of how to show it. I see you, flaws and all, and am so grateful that you showed me the dark parts of your life as well as the successes.

I can teach you better parenting. I can assist you to find the local food pantries and apply for health insurance and sign you up for classes to learn English. I can encourage you to finish school, go back to school, attend AA/NA meetings, give you lists of current job openings and help you apply for child care assistance. I can teach how to live a healthy life, when to take your child to the doctor, give your information about your child's health care and educational needs. I can do all of this and more. However, as much as you respect me and my job as nurse- it is YOU who is doing the hard work. I will leave you after our visit today and it will be YOU who will stay up with a crying baby all night and apply for jobs tomorrow. It is YOU will administer your child's medicine and take them to the doctor. It is YOU who will make your life better by moving forward everyday in ways that will sometimes feel painfully slow.

I am grateful for you. I am inspired by my clients in a way that is impossible to verbalize. You make my struggles seem insubstantial. You make my life better simply by allowing me to be a small part of your life.

There is a lot of poverty hate in this world. You cannot turn on the television or scroll through social media without seeing the pervasive ideas of people "living off the system". People who want you to grovel simply because you need an occasional hand up. They don't see the truth, but what their every-angry hearts want to see- this misnomer of people sitting on their duffs and raking in the bucks. I see the reality- how you struggle for everything you have. How little we give to those in need. How bare your pantry constantly is, because the food stamps don't cover the entire month. How you go hungry so that your children can eat. How much of your hard-earned income goes to pay for this shitty, low-income apartment that you hate, but are ever so grateful for.

For every client that I have, there are hundreds, thousands more out there living in sometimes desperate poverty. Maybe you are one of the thousands struggling through each day. I commend you on your strength, even as society wants you to falsely believe that poverty equates with weakness. You are so very strong.

So-you there. Yes, you. Struggling just to make it through today. I see you. I commend you on your hard work. Screw the nay sayers- they don't know what in the hell they're talking about. You make this world a better place with your every effort. You may live in poverty of currency, but you are rich in so many other ways.  And, those of us who take the time to truly see you- are richer simply by knowing you.


Monday, March 16, 2015

The Shedding of Spring

With the first glimmers of Spring , humankind seems alight with celebration. One half of my weary wintered soul is, as well.

The truth, though. Ugh. The truth that I fear that no one will understand, is that a large part of me is fearful of the coming of warmer days.

Winter is a season for hiding, for hunkering down inside a warm shelter, safe from the howling winds outside. Burying yourself inside books so that you are lost inside of a world of problems that are not, and will never be, your own. Layering yourself in bulky clothing until your shadow is no longer recognizable to anyone-including yourself.

Winter is a time when it is socially acceptable to be an introvert. Hibernation seems sensible when the temperatures dip beneath zero and the snow is stacked in now dirty piles outside your door.

However, with the sunshine comes the uncomfortable task of readying yourself for the removal of your protective layers. Stripping off the bulky clothing to see what form of yourself is now left underneath after the long winter. I feel painfully exposed, physically and emotionally.

I love the sunshine, I truly do. Every cell in my body drinks in those first spring rays and do a Vitamin D happy dance of exhilaration. Spring and summer are lovely times of the year and my bared feet will be calloused and dirty soon enough from kissing the outside ground.

But now, now I must ready my soul to leave my warm, safe home and emerge into the light. I must prepare my body and mind to be seen in the blinding sunlight. I must prepare for the exposure, for everything looks ever so different in the light.

I remind myself that I am the same person, in the darkness and in the light. And, I emerge bare footed, face tilted to the sky- ready to receive the light.


Shine on, my dear Lightworkers. Emerge into the sun confident of your own place of light in this often dark world. I salute you.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

You CAN Have it All(But it's really damn hard)

Oh, Ugh. I get so damn tired of people talking about how women can "have it all" today. In many ways, it is true. I am so grateful for the opportunity to be a mom and have a career. In my time as a mom I have been a stay-at-home Mom, a full-time working mom and a part-time working Mom(all of these titles really meant that I was, and am, working all of the time- sometimes for money and sometimes for free, right?). They have each had their joys and their struggles, and I am grateful for each period of my life.

I am currently a part-time public health nurse and, of course, full-time Mama. I feel incredibly blessed to be able to work "only" three days per week. It means that I can volunteer at the children's school and attempt to do much of the housework, errand running, bill paying and other myriad of daily work during the time that my children are at school so that I can enjoy my time with them when they are home.

On the flip-side of this gratitude, is the fact that juggling home and work is just really, really damn hard. The truth of being a part-time employee is that there seems to be an unspoken expectation that you ONLY work part-time and therefore should be able to easily separate your outside life and work.

Working Mama truth: Your children will ALWAYS get sick on your work days.


 I work three days per week, thus having four days per week off. Statistically, this means that more of my children's sick days should fall on days off, right? WRONG. Their little bodies only get sick on my work days. I'm totally not kidding. Also, they always seem to know the days that would be the hardest to miss and pick those days(important meeting, very busy days, etc.) *sigh*

Working Mama Truth: You will feel guilt if you stay home with your child on a sick day. 


This week my poor littlest has been terribly sick with pneumonia, including a frightening trip to the ER when she took a sudden turn for the worse. It was a terrible couple of days for me to have to take off. I would not be anywhere else than with my children when they are ill, but I also felt a cloying sense of guilt that I was letting down my supervisor, my co-workers and my clients. Simply sending off the message to my supervisor that I would be out sick made me feel ill. I felt like a bad employee, even that my rational mind knows how untrue this is.

Working Mama Truth: You will think about your children when you are at work and think about work when you are with your children. 


I try to be present wherever I am. I love my children and I love my job. I want to be the best at both- I truly do. The sick truth is that I feel guilty nearly all of the time. I worry that I am not giving my all in either place, because I am always being pulled in another direction. 

Working Mama Truth: No matter what you do, there will be people who judge you. 


Now, this(and likely many of these truths) is just a Mama(and probably Daddy) truth. Oh, the Mommy wars. Gag. You will be judged no matter what you choose. 

I am so exhausted by the "Oh, you work PART-TIME? How lovely. You must have SO MUCH time to yourself?" WHAT? What is this "time to yourself" that you speak of. If I could just sleep 8 hours straight and be able to use the bathroom without interruption a few times for week, I would feel SO pampered!

We are judged whether we stay at home, work outside the home, breastfeed, bottle feed, homeschool, public school, private school....gah!

We all have the snarky judgers in our lives so I'll refrain from THOSE comments. You all know them.  I'm trying to work on a Screw 'Em mentality, but that's a work in progress. Like many Moms, I am uber sensitive about any criticism of my mothering choices. 

Okay, enough of the icky working Mama truths, even though we all know I could go on all.day.long.


Working Mama Truth: Being a Mother makes you a better employee. 


This is the big truth. I likely have more sick days than non-parents. I also likely am more empathetic, likely to see the big picture than non-parents.  Also, I am a bad ass multi-tasker. From the very first day I was a Mama, I learned to breastfeed my newborn while simultaneously paying the bills with my other hand, balancing a phone in the crook of my neck...you get the point. Mothers are the queen of multi-tasking and nurturing others to bring out their best. Who wouldn't want a mother on their team?


Working Mama Truth: Working outside of the home can make you a better Mother. 


I don't always feel this way. However, if I can push aside that damn working mother guilt(it's a bitch, isn't it?), I know that the time I put into my job is good for my soul. I come home to my children missing them and ready to be wholly there for them. I know that I am setting an example of chasing my dreams and bettering the lives of others through my work. 

(disclaimer: I am totally not saying that stay at home Mamas should go to work. That is a hella hard job and you rock! *high five to you*)



I could go on and on and on(I kinda feel like I already have). I truly feel like the "You Can Have it All" nonsense should have a disclaimer each time. 

You can have it all(but you'll always be exhausted)

You can have it all(but it's really, really damn hard)

You can have it all(but you'll feel guilty most days)


I am so very grateful for the sacrifices of the women before me which mean that I can choose to stay at home with my children or work outside of the home. I hope we'll continue to be progressive and move towards workplaces that make it easier to balance work and family. 

The guilt business? I don't know what to do about that, Mamas. We need to support each other's choices, whatever they are. That would help so, so much. We also need to remind each other to lay the damn guilt down. We are each doing the best that we can. 

So, Mamas- you kick-ass Warriors of Love, you. You rock! Every damn day. The hard days, the not so hard days- all of 'em. 

You can have it all, dammit. You DO have it all. And, my God is it hard. But, look at you- you make this working Mama business look GOOD. Keep up the good work. The hard work. You've got this.

mother nurse warrior
The Zen RN