Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Adventures with Zoë

Last August 1st with much consternation, foreboding, and flat out fear, Mr. Musky's sister birthed a beautiful baby girl. When I finally met Zoë Louise two weeks later, I immediately spiraled into a deep pool of love.
Always vocal in my willingness to watch her so Mom and Dad can travel, they took me up on the offer in May. For six glorious days, I spent every waking moment with this adorable little nugget.
She's an adult play toy. She mesmerized us all with her sweet face, her chubby little hands exploring the world around her, and her army crawl on our family room floor.
At first, she clearly showed signs of questioning wonderment at her new digs, and the crazy Aunt in her face all day.
But before long, she felt right at home and yakked up a storm with us while performing her main duties: eat, play, sleep. Eat, play, sleep. Eat, play, poop, sleep. Eat, play, sleep. Eat, play, sleep all night. 

Kept on schedule, Miss Zoë is quite possibly the best baby I've ever been around, and that includes my own children. She lays down for naps happy, and wakes up even happier. But as I quickly learned, the schedule is the dictator. If a doctor appointment runs long and she doesn't nap at the proper time, I might sneak a little golden moment of this...
...followed by Defcon 1. We're talking cocked pistol, nuclear war is imminent, crouch under your desk with your math book over your head. Luckily that only happened once, we plowed through to the next day, and all was right with the world again, despite her cousins asking twenty times each if she was ok.
Mr. Musky killed me with his feigned protests leading up to her stay.

"No!"
"She can't come!"
"We have no business watching a baby for a week!"
"I'm not changing her diaper."
"I'm retired from baby duty!"
"What if she cries?"
"How long is she staying?"

"Two weeks," I lied.

"ARE YOU KIDDING ME? SERIOUSLY? TWO WEEKS?"

"Yeah. I told Jen that if she wanted to scoot up to Oregon and Washington State for more wine tasting after hitting Russian River Valley that she might as well go. So she booked another week."

The wild panic in his eyes matched his soaring heart rate. He freaked out on a whole new level, considering his life would revolve around a baby for two weeks versus one. "Why didn't you talk to me about this first?"

"Oh relax. It's just two weeks. We'll be fine. Besides, I'm doing most of the work."

"But two weeks? TWO WEEKS?"

Finally I gave in. "Just kidding. It's Sunday through Friday."

Relief flooded his face. His breathing returned to normal. The redness creeping up his neckline and into his cheeks subsided. To say that he's not the world's largest baby fan is an understatement.
However, look at Mr. I-Don't-Care-For-Babies Musky. He couldn't stand it when we let her play independently one night, and he simply had to get down on the floor to keep her company.
And look again - he may have griped when I put her into his arms, but he willingly fed her plenty of bottles.
And huh. Trying to influence his baby niece with some Fox News. Her democrat parentals weren't too thrilled about that, I'm sure.
He later switched to a throwback that our kids loved. Teletubbies! The theme song still makes my skin crawl.
Sweet little Zoë commandeered an audience everywhere we went. On night one after Mom and Dad left, Kahley's boyfriend Nick came to the rescue for the initial calm down with baby massages. She loved it.
We all gathered around from morning one for breakfast, and every meal thereafter. 
She's likely viral on the internet as the kids took hundreds of pictures of her, many of which made their way to social media.
Picture proof that I have zero control in my own home. How'd that coffee cup get into my house? And how'd this sweet baby end up next to it?
Zoë went everywhere with me that week. She accompanied Kahley and me to doctor appointments, to the grocery store,
to buy some wine (apparently she's a big fan of the Cabernet aisle),
for walks to the park,
and to my daily workouts. A day earlier, I sidelined Tim the Trainer, asking him: "Hey, how do you feel about babies? Good babies?"

"I like babies."

"Awesome. What would you say to wearing a baby?"

"Wearing a baby?" dumfounded, he cocked an eyebrow at me. Apparently he's never heard of this phenomenon, so I enlightened.

"Yes. I'll provide the good baby and the wearing mechanism. All you have to do is wear her around while you call out our next movement. No yelling with Baby Zoë strapped to your chest. Deal?"

As you know, he's not a yeller.

"Um, sure. Deal," he agreed.
If he didn't think I was a nutcase prior to the day of baby wearing, he sure did then. The next day I brought Zoë in and strapped her onto him. And I kid you not, word spread like wildfire within MINUTES that Tim the Gym Teacher/Trainer was carrying a baby. No less than twenty people came running into the gym taking pictures, asking whose baby she was while making googly eyes and baby talk at sweet Little Miss. She chilled out the entire hour (despite bad Auntie Jen messing up her schedule that day) and decided she loves Kettlebell Class.
Tim patted her head and held her hand and stroked her hair while he quietly called out our next torture element. They were peas in a pod, those two.

Other days, Jake refused to let me take her to work out. He wanted to chill with her, on the couch, watching Friends together.
Melt me now.
Mid week, he observed the amount of work that goes into caring for a baby. "Mom, if I've learned one thing this week, it's that I'm NOT ready to be a father." 

I agree, my dear. Wait for several years until you're ready to alter your life around the one you bring into this world. It'll be the most rewarding and challenging lifelong commitment you ever make.
Upon his arrival home, Patrick (Zoë's dad) asked Jake: "So. Do you appreciate what your Mom's done for you all these years?"

What a thoughtful question - one I probably would never ask. Without missing a beat, Jake smiled at me and nodded with the sweetest, most heartfelt answer possible. "You know what? I do. I really do."

Kahley snuggled with her while watching the Bachelorette and drinking wine. Some habits must be taught early. Zoë told Rachel to just go with Peter - he is from Madison, after all.
She proved complete hands-on in caring for Little Miss. She fed her breakfast, gave her bottles, changed her diaper, dressed her for the day, and coughed repeatedly while doing it all. I mentioned doctor appointments earlier - they were for Kahley, so we could figure out the cause of an underlying, nagging cough. By night three, every time Kahley coughed, Zoë looked over at her and fake-coughed twice. We found it ridiculously funny, but of course when trying to video her response, she failed to perform. By the end of the week, Kahley walked into the house after running errands, and Miss Zoë greeted her with the following:

"Ah-heh, Ah-heh."

"Really, Zoë?" Kahley shouted. "I didn't even cough! ARE YOU KIDDING ME?"

I laughed so hard I nearly cried. "She thinks it's your name!" Yuk Yuk Yuk.

Watching them with their cousin, I see glimpses of my own kids as parents someday. I can't get my head around how truly full circle and amazing that's going to be. I wait patiently but with anticipation for the day I become a Grandma.

I had my kids quite young - at 25 and 27 - and I must say that being around a baby in my 40's is a completely different experience. I'm way more relaxed, for sure. I didn't freak out when I messed up her schedule and she screamed when I put her down for bed. Mr. Musky wondered if I should go get her, but I calmly reassured him that she was fine even though it sounded like red fire ants were chewing her skin off. (For the record - I did go in and rescue her, but in the end she really was just fine). 
Being an Aunt is one of life's greatest pleasures. My nephew, Jay, is the perfect blend of my brother and sister-in-law. The moments I share with him are few and very far between, but I remember them well. His sly, slow smile and quick wit. His introspection about everything. And his love of a good pizza roll. Homeboy can shovel back those little nuggets by the dozens.

Then came sweet little Chloe. My mom and I flew out to meet her when she was a baby, and we were both smitten. It was the first time I ever cried leaving my brother's house. Now Chloe's a beautiful teenager, and girlfriend can fire off an appropriate amount of sarcasm when necessary. She's artistic, creative, and to this day I carry around a little plastic rock in my makeup case that she gave to me when she was about six years old and we swiped blush on one another's cheeks.

I miss them both so much, it hurts.

So now that I've got another niece to love on, I'm going to cherish every second I get with her. She stole a little piece of my heart the day she was born, and she latches onto it harder and more deeply every time I snuggle and kiss her fuzzy, soft head. 
I know that soon distance will separate me from this little ray of sunshine, so I'm making the most of our geographic advantage while I can. 
It doesn't matter if you're near or far...being someone's niece or nephew is a blessing in life. I think of all my Aunts and Uncles and they're all wonderful and interesting human beings. Every one of them offered me a solid perspective on life in their own unique way. I think of each one with love, and consider myself lucky to have been influenced by them all, good or bad.
And that's my hope for this sweet pea. That someday, she thinks of Auntie Jen, and smiles. 

XOXO,
Jen

















Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Getaway

I love surprises. I fantasize about my lovely husband walking through the door one day, announcing: "Pack a bag, Honey. We're going on a trip."

In my mind, I feign surprise and protest, "But we can't possibly. We haven't planned a thing." With a wink and a devilish smile on his lips, he sets me at ease. "I planned everything. And I'm not going to tell you where we're going. It's a surprise." With that, I race upstairs and pack a bag according to his very vague instructions, (ideally, snowy mountain layers) and hop into a limousine that whisks us off to a newfound adventure.

Being that I do love surprises, I tried to impart my affinity for the unknown in a certain Christmas gift this year. With glee I wrapped two identical tiny gift boxes and placed them under the tree for Mr. Musky and Jake, with strict instructions to open the gifts together. I have this thing I secretly do - I always arrange for the most impactful gift to be opened last. Finally, both boys held their tiny jewelry boxes together and opened them, then took out the little pieces of paper I carefully scribed.

"Congratulations! You are going on a boys trip on April 28th to watch the World Champion Chicago Cubs take on the Red Sox. IN BOSTON!!"

Dead silence greeted my perked ears. Not even a cricket.

"Um, ok?" Jake said flatly.
"Huh," his dad remarked.

Whomp whomp.

Deflated, I immediately backtracked. "Well, I thought it would be nice for you two to have a bonding guys trip. Because when do you ever get to do something alone? And you both have commented multiple times that you want to go to Boston. And see Fenway Park."

Here's the thing - I should know better. While I might like surprises, not everyone else does. Particularly the man who lives and breathes third party logistics every day of his life. For a living, Mr. Musky schedules things. Plans. Makes arrangements. Moves items from point A to point B, with stops in-between if necessary.

Gently, almost sweetly, he asked: "Where will we stay? What if the weather sucks? How do we know this weekend is OK? Jake has tests the next week. How will he study? What if the flights are expensive?" Clearly he has not the romantic notions that I do about unplanned vacations.

"Pfft. Minor details," I retorted, feeling a bit hurt. "We've got months to sort that out. But the baseball tickets! I took care of them!"

A few weeks later, Mr. Musky said while he appreciated the sentiment, he just didn't think April a good time for them to take a trip together. The boys talked it over, and decided Spring Training in March would be be a better trip for them than the weekend before AP testing (no mom of the year award here). Arizona weather would be nicer and more predictable. It would be laid back. A shorter flight. Just...better.

Admittedly, while I thought the idea so unique and would foster ideal male bonding - Cheers! The Freedom Trail! Faneuil Hall! - I had to respect their wishes. My ideal is not the same as theirs, and the important thing was for my men to get away together. It's something I just had in my head that they should do, alone, before Jake graduates high school. So a few weeks ago the boys jetted off to Mesa, while my mom and I kept driving north.

Parent-kid time away is always a good thing, even when you're caught in the middle of still being a kid and a parent at the same time. I've always loved spending time with my mom on little getaways, throwing caution to the wind and being right in the moment. "Hey Mom. Get that phone out and look up reviews for Bublitz. It's a restaurant a few miles away."

"Doesn't sound very promising. But Susie's Home Cooking has 4.5 stars."

Unfortunately, Susie's was likely the worst meal either of us ever consumed. But it left a memorable mark - one that we'll never forget - and a confirmation that condensed soup is never, ever a good idea. Particularly for restaurants who claim "home cooking" as their cornerstone.

We arrived at the cabin in the evening, promptly built a fire, and enjoyed some Maple Old Fashioneds. Highly recommended. We switched to wine, leapt off the Monday night wagon, and frankly? We got shellacked. We drank all the wine and then some, and gabbed until well past midnight about everything and nothing at all. It was divine, until we had to rally in the morning to look at real estate in the area.

It's one of the best and hardest things wrapped all into one - your parents aging. I am so fortunate to have both of my parents still around, but in all honesty, they aren't in the very best of health, and it's hard to see them struggle with that. They're getting to an age where they have to consider options for their future, and it's a difficult decision, particularly for my Mom. Do they stay where they are? Downsize in their local area? Move closer to me? Selfishly, I want them closer so I can help Mom take care of Dad and see them both more often. But I know they have to do what's right for them, regardless of future consequences. If only that crystal ball really did magically project the future.

We looked at several town homes and even spent time with some local construction builders considering the possibility of building a new little woodsy home. Mom came away more confused and uncertain than ever, I think. But at least she knows what's out there in her price range, and it's a good bunch of options to have.

Our final afternoon we put the house hunting aside and went out for some fun. I tempted her with books and caffeine in comfy chairs at my favorite little coffee shop, but Mama wanted to get lost in the woods. I fall very close to the apple tree.

We set out on what I call the Chickadee Trail, uncertain of the conditions as the great snow melt of 2017 was in full force. It's a semi-groomed trail, so the snow and ice were really packed in but thanks to a warmup for the past few days, the top layer was slushy enough for our hiking boots to grab hold.
We enjoyed hearing twitters in the woods and more birds than normal. Things were definitely waking up, and we enjoyed moderate temperatures for our walk.

Having a knee replacement less than six months ago, I wasn't sure if Mom would be able to handle the trail. I carried a soccer chair for her just in case, and she found her own extra support aid along the way.
We walked for about a mile and a half then finally arrived to one of my most favorite spots on earth...
...and Mom joined the Chickadee Club.This time we had some extra entertainment.
The red squirrels were out in full force, and they are not afraid of a bunch of sweet birds when it comes to filling the ole pie holes.
Red squirrels are aggressive, and can border on downright mean. Once Mr. Musky and I dragged up a giant trampoline float from the lake to the garage, and a red squirrel kept charging us. That mean little  sucker freaked me out - I was convinced he wanted to race up my leg and go for a ride on my head. So I ran away leaving my poor man to struggle up the hill himself with the heavy, awkward float.

These squirrels were fine as long as I fed them, so I plopped piles of birdseed around.
Plenty for everyone.
And my little friends make the best selfie accessory. Period.
As we sipped our wine and snacked on cheese and apples, Mom and I watched our tabletop entertainment and talked some more. About what?
I can't tell you. Because knowing us, it was likely nothing important. But we had fun and I'll always remember my little date with her in the woods.
Starting with Susie's, we struck out on most of our dining experiences for the week. We tried a restaurant in Rhinelander on night two, and the following sign greeted us:

"Closed for the night due to employees calling in."

We rolled in laughter. Because the temperature soared to 70 degrees that day - the first true warm day of the year - the entire staff called in sick so the restaurant had to close. That would fall under the category, "Only in the Northwoods..."

But luckily we struck gold post hike at a new little restaurant in Eagle River called Catch 22. Local folks, I highly recommend this gem. And that's something coming from me, because I'm downright picky when it comes to eating out. But this place is doing it right.

I picked the boys up that Friday and enjoyed reuniting with them, hearing about their little stories and adventures. Kyle Schwarber slapped Mr. Musky's hand on a walk-by but passed Jake up. He's still complaining about it. They enjoyed the desert warmth, baseball, good meals, and time with Uncle Bob at his country club. All in all, it was a successful trip and the bonding seems complete.

I hope this finds you all enjoying your own version of spring, trips or no. I love the 70 degree days as much as I do the overcast, rainy ones. The door is currently open and a storm just rolled through, and the rain gently continues to fall. It reminds me of my big brother, who loves midwest storms and misses them despite the heavy rains seen in Northern California this year.

I just miss my brother.

Cheers to you all. Thanks for reading, and Happy Humpday.

XOXO,
Jen







Thursday, April 6, 2017

Anxiety Therapy

To understand the background for this post, please read the story here. 

Last semester in the height of first time everythings, Kahley took a hot yoga class at a studio on State Street in Madison. "MOM!" she breathlessly and excitedly announced. "I'm more relaxed than I have been all semester. That was amazing." The next day she texted me again. "I just slept really well for the first time since I left home. That yoga class was awesome!"

That should have been my calling card to buy the kid an unlimited pass to hot yoga for the rest of her life. When something works for a person with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, they need to latch on, clear the schedule to make time for it, and never let go.

But we're all learning alongside our girl with this disorder. Life stepped in, schedules dictated otherwise, and she didn't go back to yoga. Over Christmas break she felt better, and based on her ever changing schedule she postponed scheduling therapy sessions when she returned to campus in January. 

Staying on top of GAD is key. It does not go away, even if the person feels better due to changes in their life. It's always lurking in the background, waiting to rear its ugly head and make life messy.

When it reappeared with a vengeance second semester, Kahley immediately scheduled therapy again and made some appointments with University Health Services. If any of you parents out there are in my shoes, my advice to you is this: Encourage your child to stay in therapy no matter how well they feel. Don't let them quit it, even if they seem better. Take the therapist's lead on when and how to dial it back, if at all.  

Also - consider a multi-faceted approach. I am no medical professional, but studies show that therapy helps. So does medicine. A combination of therapy and medication works best. Add in some holistic healing?

Wonders. Kahley came home for spring break a few weeks ago, and we went together to a hot yoga class. Being in the warm room for over an hour focused her in the moment, eliminated distractions, and the intense heat forced her to breathe deeply, which is very difficult for her to accomplish in daily life. Sweat dripped from every pore of our bodies. The movements proved cathartic - bending and twisting deeper and deeper into our breath, it nearly impossible to focus on anything other than breathing in and out and stretching our bodies.

Yoga is hard! Some of those women and men can contort and flow from one movement to the next like poetry. I had to pay attention to others because I don't know what the hell I'm doing, and I need a crash course on Yoga for Dummies. The flow of many of the yogis is so effortless it appears artistic.
Then there's us. Snot flowing, guts hanging, ponytails loosening, falling into one another, stifling giggles, sucking in farts. Oy.

But we tried our best, and felt rejuvenated after the session. There's no judgment in that hot room - everyone started at some point and were giant, uncoordinated elephants like us. We both loved it so much that we returned twice more over her break. She now has a pass for unlimited yoga on campus, and it's something I am continuing as well. Just today I received this: "Yoga is the greatest thing, OMG. The 7:20 wakeup is hard, but I feel amazing afterwards." It's nice to share something like this with my girl. I look forward to future sessions with her.

In addition to yoga classes, I also scheduled float therapy for us one day. The concept of floating is relatively new and is catching on, despite being around for decades. It's a sensory deprivation experience, ideal for meditation, mindfulness, and relaxation. For all you Stranger Things fans, banish those submersion tank and kiddie pool images from your brains, because reality is far from how it's depicted on the show.

A friend of mine recently mentioned that she floats twice a month, and another friend texted me float therapy as a potential aid for Kahley. I looked into it further, and found a float club near our home.
Photograph from www.aniccafloatclub.com
We entered Anicca Float Club in Naperville and Lindsay, the owner, warmly greeted us. Lindsay and her husband Paul opened the float club based on their background in Vipassana meditation - a way to observe and understand things as they are, not as our minds might make them appear. Anicca means impermanence/continuous change. In their meditation practice, they came to learn experientially that everything is impermanent and we can observe what the mind does and how that influences the body.

Huh?

I know. This is not stuff I historically buy into. I’m the first to admit that I don’t know much beyond Christianity, and I’ve probably been way too close minded in my past about other ways of thinking, relaxing, and understanding the universe. I’m a Speech Communication and English gal, for crying out loud. I never even took physics, let alone advanced science anything. Never took a philosophy class. Never learned about any religion other than what the good old Lutheran Church Missouri Synod taught. 

But it doesn’t mean I’m not open to learning new ways of thought. And this floating / yoga / mediation stuff is intriguing. It’s why Lindsay and Paul sold most of their belongings, downsized dramatically, and dedicated their lives to educating as many as possible. Since they opened their doors two years ago, they’ve been amazed at the number of clients coping with mental health issues they’ve been able to help, not to mention the amount of mental health professionals that walk through their doors.

I scheduled our float sessions a week before the appointments. We began our day with a nice lunch together, then opted for some cappuccino while she studied and I worked.
We arrived at the float club 15 minutes before our scheduled time to meet Lindsay and receive some first time floater instructions.

In our own private rooms, we began by quickly showering to eliminate any residual oils or products on our skin, then climbed into the tank.
Photograph from http://aniccafloatclub.com
Standing in the shower area with the float tank behind me.
The actual float room is an enclosed rectangular space, about seven feet tall, six feet wide, and eight feet long. The tank is filled with 10 inches of water and nearly 1600 pounds of epsom salts, making the water effortlessly buoyant.
Not me - or Kahley. Photograph from http://aniccafloatclub.com
We floated on top of the water without trying. Since the water and the tank are the temperature of your body, you lose sense of touch when lying still in the water. It's interestingly eerie - I couldn't sense where my body was submerged in water and where it was exposed, other than around my temples. I opted for lights out - total darkness - and turned off the white noise wave sound for complete silence.

While in the float room I focused on breathing. Four or six counts in, and four or six out. For me, it's the best way to clear my mind of other distractions. Later I commented on how difficult it was to breathe deeply, and Lindsay said the magnesium sulfate actually lowers one's blood pressure and relaxes the body so much one's breathing naturally becomes more shallow. Between the epsom salts and the sensory deprivation, my mind truly uncluttered and my body relaxed. As I expanded and stretched my core I could actually feel my spine decompress - a deeply odd sensation. Any residual muscle or joint tension evaporated the longer I floated. But the most remarkable experience goes back to my concentrated breathing. At one point, I suddenly "came to" realizing I stopped breathing. Or did I? I wasn't gasping for air, so clearly I continued to take in oxygen. But I didn't fall asleep. Did I lose consciousness? The altered mental state proved deeply intense and relaxing, so I tried to achieve it again. I did another three or four times, and every time was better than the last. It was a bit of a rush, and so deeply relaxing. At the beginning I wondered, "How am I going to do this for an entire 60 minutes?" but when the lights came on and new age music softly piped in, I wished I had another 30 minutes to go. I wasn't ready to emerge.

The experience is like none other. I've had a few massages, and while they're lovely, I'd take a 60 minute float over a massage any day. I've never been so deeply undistracted. I didn't even consider the outside world while I was in the tank, and the feeling of calm lasted through our ride home, a glass of wine, and aided in one of the best night's sleep ever. My bathtub now feels significantly sub-par. I can't stop thinking about it. I loved it so much I bought additional floats so Mr. Musky and I can enjoy a twist on date night in a few weeks.

Kahley emerged from her float experience contemplative, and as she sipped a cup of dark chestnut tea that Lindsay prepared for her, she soon declared she was the most relaxed she'd been in over a year. Relaxing is hard for her. It doesn't come naturally, and she's most chilled out at home. It's challenging to unwind in a 12x16 foot dorm room when a roommate is nearly always present, and there aren't any "go to" places in the building that offer true quiet time. Meditation is something that takes practice, and hopefully over the summer she can find a time and place to begin to truly work at it.

If you ever need to escape the pressures of everyday life, suffer from anxiety, depression, or an autoimmune disease, experience chronic fatigue or pain, need a mini getaway, or want to disconnect from the world, then go float. In other words, if you're a human in this day and age, you need to do this. We all have stress of some sort in our lives. We all need time away. And while exotic vacations to the Virgin Islands might not be in our budgets, Anicca Float Club is making floating a bit more accessible with a discount for local Genuinely Speaking readers. Go to their website - aniccafloatclub.com  - and schedule a float. Use the discount code genuine for $31 off your first float, making it $49 for your first session! This is such a great offer, and it's available until June 5, 2017. I promise you - you'll emerge relaxed, renewed with less pain and stiffness, and more introspective.

Finally, thank you for the outpouring of love and support for our girl. The response to last week's post is overwhelming, as we both received countless private messages of people going through similar challenges. While there are similarities in our stories, no two anxiety sufferers experience the exact same struggles. Talking about this helps - both her and I. My hope with today's post is to shed light on alternatives to traditional approaches for alleviating the debilitating nature of this disorder, and to encourage other sufferers to keep an open mind when it comes to non-traditional healing methods.

I appreciate the comments and encouragement, and so does Kahley. For those of you who suffer alongside my sweet girl, please don't hesitate to reach out ANY time if you need a compassionate ear. Together we can make mental illness less taboo by sharing common experiences and ideas for health and healing.

XOXO,

Jen

Big thank you to Anicca Float Club of Naperville, IL for sponsoring this post. 

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

My Princess

I jest about our firstborn, "The Princess," and her antics. I occasionally exaggerate as if she's a little over the top, a little dramatic, and a little privileged.
Despite stretching the truth occasionally, oftentimes it's all true. I started this blog when she was twelve years old. Anyone who survived the teenage years and stumble through the hormone-ridden ages with your own kids knows the truth. They're a little over the top, a little dramatic, and a little privileged.
They're also wonderful creatures, full of insight and personality. They're funny, witty, charming and quirky. As they learn about life and the world around them they form their own unique opinions and viewpoints, and it's intriguing to watch them develop into young adults. 
Last summer something changed with Kahley. While at camp, her texts took on a different tone. Nearly every time we communicated, she felt negatively about her life, circumstances at the horse barn, and with camp in general. Our girl loves summer camp. Loooooovvvvves it. So why was her "happy place" resulting in such negative energy?
My gut sent warning signals to my brain, but I put them on hold. "We're going to Madison in a week for Student Orientation and Registration. I'll assess then," I assured myself.
On the drive to campus, she gushed about her campers. How wonderful they are, how they keep her motivated during the toughest times at camp, and how their smiles make the effort of running the horse program and being an in-cabin counselor worthwhile. 

I breathed a sigh of relief, happy to hear my girl shine through and the negativity at bay. I told myself she's fine, and that she just had a few bad weeks. Everything was fine.

Stressed about what to wear the morning of the program, Kahley finally decided upon a white tank top and cute pair of shorts. At lunch, she splashed a little soy sauce on her top. When she inspected it more closely and saw that it was stained more than she originally thought, she got extremely, unusually upset and nearly broke down in tears. I assured her it would be OK as she brought more outfits than she could possibly wear, and she could just change when we returned to the hotel before walking down to the second floor for the orientation. In the car ride back, she leaned forward, pressed against her straining seatbelt, tapping incessantly on the dashboard. I took note of her behavior, asking her to sit back and relax. "NO. I CAN'T!" she retorted. 

It was at that point that I knew something was very, very wrong with my daughter. My sweet girl, full of life and promise and youth, never snapped at me like that. In my mama bear gut, I knew I could no longer ignore that she was off kilter, and just not right. 

We made it through the rest of orientation without incident, and a week later she came home on her night off. She said she needed to fill out some health forms for college...immediately. I challenged her, saying they surely didn't need to be completed until the week before she arrived on campus. But she had her mind set, and insisted they needed to be done that night.

She sat next to Mr. Musky on the couch, and he tried to help her. She lashed out at him, and he became defensive. I didn't intervene - they could work it out together. Their interaction escalated to yelling, and they fought with one another. Again, I took note. She abruptly shut the laptop down and asked me to drive her back to camp. 

Disturbed by the scene with her dad, I pulled the Jeep off the side of the road, put it in park, and twisted in my seat to stare into my girl's pool of bewildered blue eyes. I said, "Kahley, you are a smart girl. I'm smart, too. We both know that college forms are not that big of a deal. What is going on with you?"

She broke down. Wracked with sobs, she started hyperventilating and eeked out a scary revelation: "Mom, something is so...wrong with me! I am so scared. My heart races all the time. I can't catch my breath. It feels like something is lodged in my throat 24/7. I haven't slept well since camp started. Everything is awful. Everything. I can't control it, I'm so afraid, and I don't know what to do!"

I was terrified. As calmly as possible, I spoke in an even voice while I stroked her hair and wiped the tears from her cheeks. "Honey, I don't know how to help you. But I will find someone who will. Will you see someone?" I pulled her into my arms and rocked her back and forth.

Through her tears and sobs she nodded yes - she'd do whatever it takes to feel better.

That was nine months ago. I'd love to say that she's all better and it was just a bit of drama in the life of a teenager becoming a young adult, but that's not true. A few weeks later, our sweet girl was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder. 

You know what? I just googled it again, for the thousandth time, and re-read the entire Wikipedia entry describing the condition. And while I'd love to tell you that I completely understand it, and all the science behind it makes sense, I can't. Because it doesn't. It's not like a broken leg - the bone is broken, there's a procedure or treatment to heal it, and it's all fixed up. With anxiety, it doesn't work that way.

Here's how I can break it down for you in layman's terms, as I understand it, from the help of a local therapist I saw in November to better understand what she's going through: Kahley's brain does not process emotion properly. Normal life events cause extreme duress and worry for her. Her brain focuses on the more dominant emotions of negativity and frustration. Happy-go-lucky, go-with-the flow are not in her wheelhouse. She fidgets, worries, over analyzes, and stresses to an unhealthy degree. Don't get me wrong - she still smiles, feels happiness, and gets excited about things, but the negative emotions prevail. Hourly. Occasionally the anxiety escalates and spirals into full blown panic attacks. I've witnessed two of them, and it's terrifying. She can hardly breathe, her muscles are rock solid, her eyes glaze into a million-mile stare, and she's incommunicable. When the anxiety rages through her and she's in full blown fight-or-flight mode, the only thing I can do is quietly encourage her to breathe. Once her breathing returns to a normal level, she may (or may not) be able to communicate about what happened before she panicked. 

I write this with her permission. For months none of us knew what to say around her, or how to behave. When we only get to see her for a few days at a time, the last thing I wanted to do is talk about something negative with our limited time together. Our family relationships were changing due to her being away at school, and the changing dynamic increased her anxiety around us. I felt the anxiety was contributing negatively to her relationships, and was fairly certain she didn't even realize it. If I brought it up, it would make her feel worse. But ignoring it felt completely wrong. It was a proverbial Catch 22.

We finally discussed it over Thanksgiving break. That was a difficult conversation - for both of us - but we muddled through. Once we started talking freely about her disorder, things got easier - for me. She still struggles with it, but she knows I'm trying to understand, I want to help when and where I can, and I will always listen with an open mind. I don't profess to know or understand what she's going through, but I am willing to learn. And I will be her unwavering advocate forever. 

The more we both talk about it, the more we realize that she's not alone. I have friends with kids going through the same stuff, but never would have known if I hadn't talked about Kahley's issues first. She's found multiple friends on campus with similar challenges. Talking about mental health must no longer be taboo. How are the millions of people who battle it daily going to get better? We talk openly about all kinds of health issues. Cardiovascular health. Preventative health. Cancer screenings. Heck - get a sewing circle together and they'll talk about their vaginas for hours. But WHY must mental health still carry a stigma in this day and age? For the uneducated comments like, "She just needs to get over it," or "Tell her to relax," I say this: If someone has cancer, you'd show compassion. If someone has pneumonia, you'd offer to run them an errand. Do the same for the person battling mental illness. They didn't ask for it, nor did anyone suffering from a physical ailment. They want to get better, just like anyone else does. The difference is there's no cure or treatment that eradicates it. They have to live with the mental illness for the rest of their lives, maintaining vigilance about learning cognitive behavioral therapy and taking medication to address the symptoms.

Think of a speech you delivered to a large group of people. Or an important meeting you facilitated, or an interview for your dream job. A pit of anxiety grows in your gut. You lose sleep leading up to the event. You wake up that day nauseous with anticipation. As you walk into the room, your palms sweat, your heart rate picks up, the sweat stains grow under your armpits, and a lump of nervousness rises in your chest. Your voice cracks, and you tell yourself to pull your shit together. Your confidence waivers, and you wish for a meteor to strike down so you don't have to go through with it. But you muscle ahead, and at the end of it you reward yourself and the return of your normal heart rate with a cup of tea or a glass of wine or a chocolate cookie.

For the person with GAD, those feelings persist every single day. Every moment is a battle to go forth, despite feeling anxious. Imagine never fully coming down from that fight-or-flight feeling. That's how my princess feels every day, to some degree. Every day.   

It's hard to understand, especially when we think the person can control it. THEY CAN'T!! As much as they'd like to turn off the worry and negativity, it's impossible for them. 

Recently on a Friday afternoon, Kahley contacted me worse than ever. Scared shitless, I ran through a series of questions with her to ensure she was safe, then asked, "What can I do to help?"

I'm finding that's the best question I can ask. In the heat of the moment, everything is bad, and I can't convince her otherwise. But asking what I can do to help shows I love her, and will do what it takes. That day, it involved making two phone calls for her. I did, and got results that helped. It didn't make it go away, but it helped. 

When I hung up the phone, Mr. Musky was in the room with me, and I lost it. I sobbed while he held me close. I looked up at him, and said, "If I feel this helpless and frustrated, how does our poor girl feel? 1000 times worse? 1,000,000 times worse?" With tears welling in his eyes too, he speechlessly hugged me harder.

That's the hardest part. How horrible we know she feels on the inside. 

You know what gives me hope? 
She does. In spite of this all, she fights every single day. She sees medical professionals who are helping her. She maintains logic. She KNOWS that how she's feeling is not right, and she clings to that knowledge. She WANTS to be healthy and happy, and she's determined to fight through this to get to the place where she knows she belongs. 
She's got a family who loves her unconditionally. Were the past few months tough? Sure. But in the end, we are a family who will see her through. 
She has a boyfriend who loves her for her, patiently reassuring her every day. He is her rock - her daily go-to in moments of stress. 
He listens to her worries. He talks her down the anxiety ladder multiple times a day. He reassures her with love, kindness and genuine care.
For that, I am forever grateful for him and his tender heart. He is a true gem.
She managed her anxiety at the beginning of first semester to make friends who have never known her without it. 
They'll rush to her side when she needs help, and they celebrate both good and bad times with her.
She's got a support group who will not let her fail.
People are amazing, and Kahley has some awesome ones in her life. Coming next week - how we both focused on health and well being over Spring Break, how my princess teaches me every day, and a discount for an AMAZING local business. 

XOXO,
Jen