Hope is the Opposite of _____________

I should be writing. My novel, that is. For the past, oh, two years (I’m positive I’m shaving off at least 12 months there), I’ve been writing the hardest novel of my life. With the help of Kate Brauning, founder of Breakthrough Writers Boot Camp, I found direction. With the growth of the protagonist, Kylie Briscoe, I found the story.
And I should be writing it.
Right now.
But I need to write this first–I’ve put it off for far too long–so I cleared out the cobwebs on this long-neglected website [READ: I had to unsuccessfully attempt to remember my log in info then go through a couple days attempting to reset it.]. I’m embarrassed that one of the most recent posts was some New Year’s Resolution for 2019 that had as its goal to finish my work-in-progress and find a new agent. Alas, this post burning to get out of my brain is oozing with navel-gazing. It’s gonna be a bit of a long navel-gaze, too. Pack a lunch.


There’s a lot of my life in my first four books, The Patience Trilogy (Courage, Hope, and Truth)–which chronicled a teen girl’s journey to begin to recover from Childhood Sexual Abuse, and in Big Fat Disaster, in which the protagonist is the “fat girl” in an image-obsessed family. Being as “real” as possible in my writing and in my day-to-day life is how I connect with my readers (and family and friends and students.) I live my life out loud because I have learned that being human and fallible with others is a way of losing shame. Drag it into the sunlight and share the communion of being human and fallible. I believe that by acknowledging our struggles instead of existing in isolation, we are more able to see others as equal travelers on an arduous journey, so let’s tackle the trip together. Writing The Patience Trilogy and Big Fat Disaster led me to advocate strongly for others who experienced the same sort of trauma that lead my protagonists to destructive ways of coping–and I encourage people to seek professional help for what hurts. There is hope for recovery. Always.
It’s that same advocacy for recovery that led me to team with my former therapist, Dr. Matt E. Jaremko, to write Trauma Recovery: Sessions With Dr. Matt, again offering hope for recovery and practical steps to pursuing it while telling, if I do say so myself, compelling fictional backstories of traumatized people seeking relief while modeling application of the easy-to-understand concepts within the pages.

Anyone who reads my books and gets to know me eventually becomes aware that I rebuilt my life beginning in the early 2000s after decades of hanging on by a thread. My mind pretty much melted (nah, let’s be real: IT DID. IT MELTED, OOZED, SLURPED, BUBBLED, AND SLID AROUND FOR A WHILE. The years 2004-2008 are largely a blur; unfortunately for my children, those were formative years for them. Fortunately, their father, my husband is UH-MAZ-ING and any time anyone complements how fantastic my children are, I give their daddy all the credit. Fortunately, too, much of what they got into as far as trouble in those years is beyond my ability to remember it, AND also, when they tell me stuff that happened between 2004-2008, I’m usually hearing it as if for the first time, even though I was in fact THERE. )
I had a breakdown after decades of existing in a family-of-origin where I was only welcome as long as I was willing to pretend a lot of horrible shit did not, in fact, happen, and once I reached my saturation point and dared speak the truth, I–as well as my husband and daughters, were O-U-T out. It took a lot of time, blood, sweat, tears, money, determination, resilience, perseverance, other synonyms that mean “perseverance”, our pulling together as a family of five like YOU WOULD NOT EVEN BELIEVE, the steadfast presence and patience of Dr. Matt Jaremko, and mothah-effing-hard work to reach the point I’m at today, which is probably about as normal I’m gonna get [READ: not quite all the way but well-done enough that I can pass as “normal,” at least as “normal” as all the other quirky introverted East Texas bleeding heart liberals (the preceding descriptors, “East Texas” and “bleeding heart liberals” go together about as well as oil and water) who talk to her animals like they’re people and feed the neighborhood raccoons. Don’t look at me too funny, though; my husband bought the raccoons a wading pool. He’ll tell ya he did it for me, but do you really buy that?]

Took some fits and stops and starting over but as of today I am, at the ripe age of 53, in what I’ve thought of as “the best shape of my life”, which means in pretty good shape (I think…er I thought), and at a healthy weight (being able to write the preceding two words involved a lot of those fits and stops and starts, seeing as how Colby Denton, the protag of Big Fat Disaster, and I share Binge Eating Disorder,) but I’ve worked hard for the life I’ve carved out which includes rising at 3:15 A.M. Monday through Friday so that I can get my morning chores done–feeding animals mostly–yes, including those damned raccoons who are not above beating on my front door if I don’t get out there quick enough. You think I’m lying, but I’m not. I feed myself too and try to start working out by 4:30 A.M.–45 minutes on an elliptical–that’s my time to roll stuff over in my head and think about my day to come while listening to a podcast or audiobook OR while watching some true-crime TV show OR catching up on Colbert, etc. Then I hop on the recumbent bike and that’s my “write the book”-time and I do that until about 6:00 A.M., then I shower and leave by 7 to educate adolescents who fully recognize my weirdoness and seem to like it; at least most of ’em do, and those that don’t? Well, I generally wear them down to at least a smirk by Spring Break. I did have a girl tell me to my face that she hates my class and I told her that’s okay, ’cause some days I don’t like those people, either.
I believe it’s a trueism for humanity–pause to remind you and myself remember how I’m all “into” being human and fallible and all that–that anytime one thinks one has it all or even semi-together, that’s time for life to throw a curve ball.

December of 2018, I had some blood work that came back weird: my liver enzymes were high. Throughout 2019, the enzymes continued to rise, and I had every blood test you can imagine, gall bladder sonogram, liver scan, a liver biopsy, all arriving at the same conclusion: there’s nothing wrong with my liver enzymes. I considered replacing my job description on my tax form–“teacher”–with “lab rat”–because I feel as if I have been the subject of trial and error for the past 12 months. Anyway, the only other organ that produces the weirdo enzyme levels is the muscular system. I had a muscle biopsy on December 5 and I’m still waiting for the results, but at this point the strong suspicion is an autoimmune disease such as myositis, which causes muscle deterioration, and I’ve also developed symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, leading my primary care doc to suspect connective tissue disease. I see a rheumatologist tomorrow, hopefully to get some answers that will inspire hope.

I value being healthy and strong and the person I fought so hard to become–and yet even though I can look in the mirror and see muscles where none were defined before, I am dealing with fatigue and other symptoms of stuff beyond my control and that is painful to me. Yeah, the other stuff like the hands being a mess and the biopsy site being a mess and the leg and the knees and elbows and blah blah blah I’m boring myself–that’s painful too. But what’s most painful is the “what if”-part.

I’m exhausted from the uncertainty, the lack of surety–and other synonyms for WTF (NOTE: the results for that synonym query led me to this)–the lack of answers and I’m worn down and tired from those same conditions in our country. I value truth. I value authenticity. I value care for others and myself.
At this point, we are at the mercy of a person who assassinated the leader of another country’s government and his lack of consideration for the long-term effects is stunning. Jaw-droppingly STUNNING.
To coin a phrase my friend used long ago to describe one of his passions, “Politics is my favorite spectator sport.” Anyone who peruses my Facebook timeline would conclude that it’s mine, too, although mine is not so much politics in general as it is making an attempt to inform others of what the truth is in a country currently (but please, God, PLEASE NOT FOR MUCH LONGER) helmed by a pathological liar and overall Worst Person. I despise Donald Trump. I abhor his enablers. I remain in a fairly constant state of awe (not the good kind, either) of those otherwise apparently intelligent people who support him, and when he was elected, I wept. When I woke in the middle of the night to the news that Trump was elected, my only living blood relative outside of my children–the only person I have left from my family of origin– texted me to tell me how great this would be–to just give the man a chance–and I responded with my frank assessment that has borne out to a degree that is stunningly awful.

Two days after the election in 2016, I was in South Texas to do a series of school visits in conjunction with a book festival, and I stood in my hotel bathroom attempting to get ready for the first visit but could not do so because I was sobbing into the phone to my husband. My heart was shattered–broken into shards, y’all–that people I am related to–the aforementioned one blood relative I have left–as well as members of my husband’s family–people whom I love and trust– would actually vote for a man who admittedly sexually assaults women. I did not understand, and still do not understand, how people who witnessed what I experienced to recover from being sexually assaulted as a child could, in any way, allow themselves to vote for a person who put others through the same hell I’d endured. Who were these people? Who are they? I am still uncertain, and fear that they will vote for him again in 2020 keeps me from asking where they stand now. I don’t want to know. I won’t be able to continue to interact with them if their answer remains “I support him.”

I work with people that I know support the Orange Anus Howler Monkey in the Oval Office; I teach students who wear Trump 2020 gear (I don’t acknowledge it; I may be a quirky weirdo, but I’m not a stupid quirky weirdo); I live in an area so Red that Democrats do not even run for office. (Don’t ask me to do it, either. I won’t even phone bank or door-knock because even though I’m GREAT on paper/a computer screen, and I even have one of the scariest jobs (to some people anyway–but not to me–that is, standing in front of adolescents and talking to them about stuff they are not interested in a lot of the time–which is why ya gotta use Jazz Hands, y’all!–I have social anxiety that is palpable enough that I know I am NOT your public office-type person)– and I am at a loss as to what to do to make a difference other than continually sharing FACTUAL reports, TRUTH, about what Trump is doing and how we can fight it.
I give to candidates I support. I do behind-the-scenes stuff like writing letters/helping register voters in underrepresented areas. I write and call my Congressional rep & senators (Gooden, Cornyn, & Cruz: like they pay one whit of attention to anything I say or do).

And I’m coming to realize that I have to change course, find another way to cope– and I have to do that with the new reality I’m facing with respect to what I’ve come to think of as my “normal”–the physical self I’ve worked hard to gain, and what I am facing with the onset of condition(s) I did not ask for and it doesn’t look like there’s a whole lot positive to do about them but I’m gonna try my hardest and keep doing what I can to the best of my ability, damn the torpedoes– and I don’t know what to do with respect to our country except apply the same approach, albeit with less useless stuff like sharing news stories and more STUFF THAT MAKES A REAL DIFFERENCE.

To that end, I just completed John Pavlovitz’s Hope and Other Superpowers, and I cannot recommend it highly enough to you, too, whether you are dealing with health uncertainty or world uncertainty. It’s really uplifting and has concrete steps one can follow. And it’s got some fabulous quotes in it, too, one of my favorite being that John Pavlovitz would rather have explosive diarrhea or sit in a fire ant pile than have Trump in office (high five, John. Moi aussi.) And he also quoted Viktor Frankel, which is what I will leave you with:
Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.

Beloved stitched pieces by my daughter, Mandy Fehlbaum, with words inspired by wisdom I gained in therapy courtesy of Matt Jaremko.

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