What makes me happy right now

Coffee, daisies and a book to read. A beautiful combination, don't you think?

Coffee, daisies and a book to read. A beautiful combination, don't you think?

Happiness is one of those things that we're programmed into thinking is a life goal. Do what makes you happy. Don't worry, be happy. Live happily ever after. Happiness is...you fill in the blank.

I like feeling happy, but I also get how fleeting an emotion it is. I've learned to appreciate the depth and breadth of feeling joy - whether I feel happy or not. But happiness isn't something I'm going to turn away when it comes.

There's never going to be a list of things that make me happy that isn't topped by my family. Matt is the most kind, caring, funny, supportive husband. He's the yin to my yang. I'm messy; he's not. I'm a daydreamer; he's not. I drink wine; he doesn't (more for me). I don't like to vacuum; he does. I meticulously sort, fold and hang clothes (when I get to the laundry); he doesn't. I read and sing; he doesn't. I'm not into video games; he is. We also agree on a lot of things - both trivial and critical. 

When Matt walks through the door at the end of the day and smiles, it lights up my world.

Brandon's so much like Matt, it makes me smile. He's got his dad's quick wit and my tendency to tease. It's a combination that keeps us all laughing. But Brandon's also one of the most genuinely sweet children I've ever known. He's still an affectionate cuddler who isn't afraid to tell anyone how much he cares. I hope he hangs onto that as he gets older.

Every time I get a hug from my little guy, my cup of joy gets filled up.

I've spent the last few years focused on writing and stories, so I get immersed in story practically every day. The medium doesn't matter. I love a good story in a song, a book, a TV show or movie, pictures and more. I even make up stories in my head starring strangers around me. Most of those stories get lost in a vault buried deep in some unknown tunnel in my brain. This isn't a bad thing.

Stories help me see new perspectives, explore new ideas, and occasionally escape from the monotony of life.

When I was a kid, I used to think once you finished school there was no more learning. Back then I didn't think this would bother me in the least. "No more pencils. No more books. No more teachers' dirty looks," sounded awfully nice. But somewhere along the way, I realized how much I liked learning and I just kept doing it. There's so much interesting stuff in the world to learn. I want to soak as much of it up as I can.

Learning makes me a better writer and a better human.

I'm also blessed to have so many truly wonderful people in my life, from my family to friends to colleagues. Life is rich in unmeasurable ways when you're surrounded by so much good. Also, coffee. And daisies. Daisies are such a happy flower. :)

The ebb and flow of balance in our family - it's not "fair"

My friend, Annie, recently wrote about Marissa Mayer and Sheryl Sandberg  - two very accomplished women - and their decisions and comments that could be detrimental to families should their philosophies be openly implemented far and wide. Mayer's no-working-from-home inflexibility is already a reality in many businesses and I have no doubt that the law doesn't stop businesses from asking women about their plans for having a family. I have personally had comments made to me on more than one occasion that were at least borderline if not outright illegal.

A lot of the articles around these recent events are about achieving balance in families. The question of balance is often heavily weighted toward the need for it in women, but what about men? Or, what about overall balance in the family unit?

Actually, let me back up and say I don't believe there is such a thing as balance in the sense of a one size fits all amount of time to spend working and with family. I also don't think that balance for one family is going to look the same as balance for another family. I've written about the juggling act of work and family and gender roles before and - after reading it again - things have changed quite a lot for us in the last two years.

What our balance looks like

Since 2013 began, I've reduced my hours at my day job from full-time to part-time. This change was supported by my employer without hesitation. My co-workers have been equally supportive. My husband has given me an incredible amount of support as I pursue building a new business, but my new business is every bit as much work for him as it is for me. It's created an imbalance (temporarily for an indeterminate period of time) that was hard for him at first - change doesn't come easy to him. However, he worked through that adjustment in our lives and accepted it gracefully. His support of what I am doing has been unwavering since. I give him full credit for his efforts because it's just not easy to go from the surety and "security" of a salary to the ebbs and flows of consulting work.

I'm painfully aware that I allow Matt to do far more than his fair share of housework and parenting. He works full-time, does dishes, his laundry, cleans, vacuums, takes out the trash, buys groceries, gets the mail, and countless other things.

I've been sick for most of this year with one bug or another and working late most nights added to illness added to working through the day have made me drowsy and sluggish in the mornings. I wake up later and later and my poor husband bears the brunt of getting himself ready, getting Brandon ready, making breakfast for both of them, packing Brandon's lunch, book bag and daycare bag, packing the car and ushering everyone out the door. It's taken a toll on him and he's stressed and tired, so that imbalance has to shift.

We only have one car, so the commute involves first dropping Brandon off, then Matt, and I take the car most days. Brandon is at daycare for 9-9.5 hours. I pick Matt up first and he and I go spend some time at home alone. We talk about our day, do a bit of cleaning, then one or both of us will go pick up Brandon.

Imbalance in division of duties doesn't necessarily mean an unhappy family.

Imbalance in division of duties doesn't necessarily mean an unhappy family.

Unless Brandon has therapy. In that case, he gets picked up early and I take him to his appointments. I've taken on the lion's share of paperwork, appointments and other logistics of getting Brandon treatment. Matt is aware of what's going on and stays involved, but I have more flexibility for appointments and Brandon has many, many appointments. There is a perceived imbalance and I do more than my "fair" share, but it's working better than if I insisted Matt help.

We typically get home in the evening between 5:30 and 6:00. Matt or I prepare dinner for Brandon. I sometimes prepare dinner for myself. Sometimes we all three even eat together, but our dinnertime flexibility allows Brandon time to play, which is something he needs. He goes to bed early and he needs downtime as well. I dream of the day when we all three sit at a table at the same time to eat every night. We're not there yet, and it may take a while, but this is what works for our family right now. We're spending time together and that's the important thing.

After dinner and playtime, Brandon gets to watch a little TV before bed. At bedtime, I  lay down with Brandon for him to settle into rest more quickly. I enjoy this one-on-one snuggle time with my baby and I would miss it if he stopped wanting it, even though there have been many nights I wished I didn't have to do it. Matt spends this time eating his dinner or doing various household chores. Nearly every night when I leave Brandon's room, I head to the office to work some more.

By 10pm most nights, Matt is in bed trying to sleep, if not out cold. I try to shut down at 11pm and then spend some time reading to wind down my brain. However, it'snot unusual for me to stay up until 2am or 3am if I get really focused on something. (It's no wonder I'm sluggish at 6am.)

Some nights, I go out to functions, which leaves Matt in charge of doing everything for the evening. He doesn't complain and I know I've got it good.

This time in our lives is tricky. It's requiring Matt to sacrifice his hobbies and downtime. It hasn't been easy for him and I won't pretend it hasn't caused problems between us. The better my business does, and the more Matt sees that I'm not leading us down the garden path, the less he minds the sacrifice. I like to think he is seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. I know I am.

Like Sarah Lacy, I don't expect anyone else to want *my* life and *my* version of balance for themselves. This is what works for me and my family right now. A year from now, the picture will likely look very different. 

If individual couples can figure out that balance requires flexibility and constant renegotiation, then companies need to learn that as well. They may just find that employees enjoy their work and become more productive as a result.

Knowing isn't even 1% of the "battle", but it's still a huge relief

When I was growing up during the years we lived in central Florida, my mother was a special education teacher. Her class had children in it who could not be put in mainstream classrooms - not even by today's more lenient standards.

I asked my mom to let me go to the school where she taught, even though we lived less than two blocks from an elementary school. Every day after my class got out, I went to my mom's classroom and we would often have a student or two or three who remained at school for a variety of reasons. It wasn't unusual for mom to give students a ride home or assist their parents on errands. In one instance, I recall taking a profoundly deaf boy (with severe anxiety if I remember the situation accurately) to be fitted with new hearing aids. He screamed almost the entire time until his hearing aids were fitted. 

1983 - I proudly wore my school's colours (kelly green) and mascot at the Special Olympics. We always went when mom had students participating.

1983 - I proudly wore my school's colours (kelly green) and mascot at the Special Olympics. We always went when mom had students participating.

In another instance, mom went to each of her students' houses to pick them up and brought them back to our house for a sleepover the night before the Special Olympics. That particular year, they were held at the school close to our house and the families of many of her students could not transport them to the event. (Things were very different 30 years ago.)

I am not a teacher. I couldn't do the kind of work my mother did. But I learned so much from the care she took with the students in her class. I learned that children can be born with any number of challenges that may or may not be obvious at first. By far, the most important thing that I learned (even back then) is that there is help and people do care. 

I was really blessed to have those few years that I remember of Mom teaching. Her health forced her to make a career change when I was eight. As an adult, I never feared having a child born with a learning disability or emotional or mental handicaps, as such conditions were called back then. (Sorry. I'm not up on the current terminology at all anymore.) 

There is not much in the world that's cuter than a dinosaur at the dinner table. 

There is not much in the world that's cuter than a dinosaur at the dinner table. 

I've never been more thankful for being the daughter, sister and sister-in-law of special educators than I was on December 12th when I was told that my son has PDD-NOS. It was expected. I heard the words finally and I knew what I had to work with. There were no tears or regrets about anything I've done. I didn't feel a need to grieve over any aspect of Brandon's diagnosis. He has autism, but his future is as bright as it ever was.

Brandon's diagnosis changes little about what we're doing, except that more services open up to us with his diagnosis, but we were already on the right track. We will keep going the way we have been and I'm confident he'll continue to make really good progress.

I couldn't be prouder of him than I am. He is a truly sweet child with a lovely disposition (most of the time). He's funny and smart and so happy. It's exciting to watch this amazing little person growing up and learning new things. He will be fantastic - I have no doubt about it.

Anxiety with severe depression

I nearly had a panic attack when I heard those words last year from my doctor. It's been just over a year since she said them to me. I still don't fully understand what the catalyst was, though I have my theories. It wasn't a single circumstance.

Ultimately, I had a lot going on in life that was weighing me down. The previous summer, we started the process of looking at Brandon's speech and communication delays. Then found out he had motor skills delays in December, so moved on to the possibility of a developmental disorder. I registered him for kindergarten, but worried that he wasn't going to be ready just days before going to see my doctor.

I remember thinking in December that I was so out of shape. Walking to and from work was taking my breath away every time. Except the change happened overnight. One day I was fine, then next I was winded. Odd.

Except I wasn't winded. I was hyperventilating. And it wasn't just on the walk to and from work. It was at varying points through my day and I'd forgotten the months of hyperventilating when I started high school at 14. Just like those first few months of high school, I was so tired. I seemed to sleep well, but stress was weighing me down. I couldn't focus and my work was suffering.

I probably should have gotten help over a year before I actually did. The day I sat on the bus and couldn't catch my breath, tears streaming down my face for no apparent reason. To this day, I have no idea why I had a panic attack on that day at that time. 

It wasn't easy to go see my doctor last year. I'd been depressed in the past, but I was always (somewhat) functional. I kept going and tried to do things to help alleviate the depression. It was usually circumstantial, which seemed easier to recover from, not that PPD after a miscarriage is a walk in the park. Time did heal.

Last year, I had to admit that I wasn't functioning well at all. I was sinking further and further and I knew I needed help to crawl out, especially not knowing what we were facing with Brandon.

So, I went to the doctor, listened to her diagnosis and felt terrified and relieved at the same time. She handed me a prescription and a note for work. I was taken off work for six weeks and monitored.

It took a couple of weeks, but I soon began to feel more like myself. I was engaged, energetic and focused more so than I'd felt for a very long time. It lasted for several months and then I started sinking again, so I went back to my doctor. A temporary solution that was to have lasted just six months has stretched over a year now. I've missed taking my medication occasionally and I know I'm not ready to go without.

I'm writing this today because I've only ever eluded to my struggles in passing. It was an intensely private and personal struggle, much like my fears of the unknown with Brandon were last year. Even family members don't know the details of what I'm sharing today. It's not that they don't care - it's that I just wasn't ready to talk about it. I'm not totally sure I'm ready now even though I believe in talking about mental illness with everything in me. That's why I'm just going to put it out there anyway.

Today is Bell Let's Talk day which is all about ending the stigma of mental illness and helping raise funds for mental health. I don't have a Bell phone line, and most of my friends have iPhones (iMessage and BBMs don't count), but I can tweet up a storm and I'm happy to share the Bell Let's Talk image on Facebook. (Go do it from this link so you get counted.)

bell-lets-talk.jpg

When we have the flu, we go to the doctor. We go to the doctor with broken bones. We shout from the rooftops when we have cancer, because it sucks so bad that so many get it and there's no cure. We aren't afraid to tell people about these kinds of health issues, so WHY is it so hard to admit when we're struggling with mental health issues?

It shouldn't be. It's a sickness in a part of our body that needs treatment and attention. So, let's talk about it. Share your struggles so it's no longer considered a weakness. And if you don't have mental health issues, show your support. The world will truly be a better place for it.