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.