31-Day Blog Challenge: Difficult Time in My Life

Day 20/31

Whew…  This will not be an easy post to write.  Namely, I am tired (actually, exhausted), but I know this post will bring up a lot of emotions I’d like to think I’ve succesfully “gotten over” during the course of the the last year.  But, in the hopes that sharing my experiences will help someone out there who may be going through similar challenges, I will share my story…

In late September 2012, we got the news that my uncle Dennis had passed away in Wichita of a heart attack.  He had been in poor health for some time, and my dad and I (Uncle Dennis was my dad’s brother) had just seen him a week or two before when we were in town for a concert.  My dad has had some issues with the rest of my uncle’s family, and we almost didn’t stop on our way out of town, but I told him we should and basically forced him to go.  I’m so glad we did, because when he waved to us from the porch as we were leaving after a short chat, it was the last time we saw him alive.  He was a generous, amazingly-talented person who helped everyone and anyone he met who was going through something or needed a hand up and, unfortunately, put himself last.

What was already a difficult time was compounded by what could only be considered a weekend of hell for his wake and funeral.  Basically, our family, my uncle’s biological side of the family, was basically shunned or ignored throughout the whole process.  People blamed people, no one from our side of the family were pall bearers (something I think was incredibly disrespectful and that my uncle would not have been happy about) or included in any aspect of the proceedings (instead, it was all my aunt’s side of the family – WTF?  Seriously.), wills and desires and estates were a mess, and it was just a very difficult time for our whole family.  In a sea full of people, our side of the family, our little group, felt pretty alone.

I was, obviously, very shaken with the news…  He was the closest person I had ever lost besides my grandmother, and I had spent more time around him than most of the rest of the family on my dad’s side.  I had dreams of taking him to Europe with me as he was always excited and proud of the fact that I traveled…  I had been able to keep it together for most of the week (did I really have a choice not to?), although I felt like the wind had been taken out of my sails.  I held up pretty well at the funeral until after I said goodbye to him for the last time and laid my hand on his chest.  After I walked away from his casket, I completely lost it and starting sobbing and crying without control or the ability to stop for a while.  My brother was close by and held me to his chest, and I am forever grateful that my family was there for each other – our own little group in a big sea of a mess.  My other uncle and his kids and family were there, as well as some of our extended family from out of the state, and I think that was probably the only way we stayed sane throughout the whole ordeal.

Approximately a week after my uncle’s funeral, my brother and his girlfriend – the mother of my niece – came over to our house to tell us that they were basically splitting up and that she was moving out of their house.  I had known they weren’t “good” for a while, but my parents were totally clueless to the whole thing until that day.  A lot of nasty words and statements were thrown around, and pretty much everyone in the room was full of tears amid the yelling and chaos.  I was so frustrated and angry and was just plain fucking pissed off (pardon my English).  Our family has very little history of divorce or separation, and to have that room feel toxic for months after because of what was happening that afternoon made me physically and mentally ill.

Obviously, I thought they should try to work it out.  Unfortunately, they were at two different places in their lives and, in hindsight, needed the separation to find themselves and get things out of their systems.  I believe each person resented the other for a variety of reasons, and I was worried and scared and frightened that – with the way things were going and how upset everyone was – that I would never see my niece again.  Looking back, it was probably unfounded to think that, but when emotions flare, we find ourselves questioning and worrying about everything.  I know that if I never saw my niece again, it would be the last time I spoke with either of the parents; we’ve become very close and attached to her, and I couldn’t imagine not being able to hold her and talk to her and give her a hug.  Luckily, as of the writing of this post, both parents are back together and have recently moved back in together in their own place, and I think the time of separation was good for them.  It was a long struggle, but things happen for a reason.

As if all of this turmoil wasn’t enough, I was still going to college full-time and working (supposedly part-time).  At work, we were converting over to a new billing system – a process I had been involved in for several months leading up to that, as well as a simultaneous conversion to our own cellular core so that we could handle our own cellular traffic instead of paying another company to do it for us.  With everything going on at work, mid-terms for college, and pressure mounting all around me, as well as what I mentioned above, I was super-stressed out and was feeling physically and emotionally drained.  I think I worked probably close to 45-60 hours on top of going to school full-time on the week of the cut, staying at work on the night of the cut until the early hours of the morning.

Unfortunately, due to all of these stressers and events that happened within about a month of each other that fall, I honestly believe that what I went through can only be described as depression, or some other mental trauma.  I had never experienced anything so draining in my life, and I felt angry – a lot – and that the world made no sense and that people were just completely out of control (it turns out this is still true).  I went through some days mechanically and at the end of the day couldn’t even remember what I had done, or at least in writing this today, I don’t remember remembering.  Maybe it wasn’t depression, I really don’t know, but it was absolutely, without a doubt, the worst time of my life.  My dad wasn’t the same after the loss of his brother (they were very close), and all of this happening around the holidays made it that much worse.  It took many, many months to finally realize – in the case of my brother and his girlfriend – that they were adults and had to handle things the best way they saw fit, and it took a conversation with one of my best friends to realize that everyone has a path in life, and we don’t get to hand out approval or judgment when those paths don’t jive with our perfect little world.

For anyone going through this kind of “blah” time, where the world around you seems to be spinning out of control faster than you can keep up with it…  Do I have any advice?  I’d like to say “distract yourself with something else,” but that’s just not possible.  Your mind is in overdrive…  You’re thinking of every little detail, whether it be about the personal life struggles you and your family are going through or other commitments (in my case, work and school).  You put yourself on the back burner because you’re too worried about everything and everyone but yourself.  If we had access to a decent restaurant, I would have gorged myself everyday (oh, wait, I did); if we had a spa, I would have been broke with how often I would have needed to go.  But, I didn’t have the time or the ability to concentrate on something else in the ways – healthy or not – that a person could use to take their mind off of what was going on.  I was literally too busy to think about things and do something about it for me.  And that is just not healthy.  Looking back, I should have taken a day by myself, for myself, doing something I enjoy and literally getting the hell out of Dodge – I was too close to what was going on around me, and I needed an escape.

I thought seriously and hard about whether I should post any of the details of my personal life that I’ve mentioned above.  I was worried that it would bring up emotions and thoughts for not only me but others mentioned, but I realized that I own these thoughts and feelings, and they are mine to share.  I had to do what was therapeutic for me, and what might give me at least some semblance of closure.  Hopefully, no one has to go through these things, but that’s not realistic – non of us are immune to “bad shit.”  But, I do believe it’s important to not keep these emotions bottled up.  It may seem shameful or difficult to share your feelings and struggles with others, but it’s only when you confide in friends that they can help you or try to help get you out of the muck.  I am so appreciative of those friends who – even if it was just for a few moments – provided a sounding board or advice, or just plain got my mind off of what was going on.

After thinking about my own struggle – thinking it was small or insignificant in relation to others’ issues, I realized that it doesn’t have to be compared to other people’s problems.  It was big to me, and that’s important to realize.  Just because someone else has it worse than you doesn’t diminish the difficulties that you are going through; I think that’s crucial to realize.  Guilt should not be added into your problems – you have the issue, and that’s OK.  With that in mind, I’ve come to realize how blessed I am that even with these issues, I have friends, family and support to get me through it.  If you’re going through this, don’t crowd people out – let them come in and let them help.

Wrapping Up A Wonderful Holiday Season…

The winter holidays are always a busy time – finding, buying and wrapping presents; making tried-and-true foods while giving new recipes a whirl; and, for me, end-of-year busies at work, including wireless inventory counts at all of our stores and agents across Southwest Kansas.

I saw lots of windshield time with coworkers the last week doing end-of-year inventory counts for work.  Despite the rather tedious tasks, I was still able to see the varying landscapes in Kansas, particularly the gorgeous hills and bluffs of Southern Kansas near Ashland; the snow dustings made it all the more pleasant.

I saw a lot of windshield time with coworkers over the last week doing end-of-year inventory counts for work. Despite the rather tedious tasks, I was still able to see the varying landscapes in Kansas, particularly the gorgeous hills and bluffs of Southern Kansas near Ashland; the snow dustings made it all the more pleasant.

I recently wrapped up an awesome vacation in Florida in early December to visit my friends, Laura and Charlie.  This was really the start of my holiday season this year, as Disney (we spent two days there at Epcot and Magic Kingdom) was decorated for the Christmas holiday and it just felt like the season was in the air with friendship, festivities and fun.  We happened to be at the park as they were filming the Christmas Day Parade that would later air on ABC (we saw Neil Patrick-Harris – holla!!).  While in Florida, I learned about healthier eating, enjoyed a coastal drive with beach-going and shooting (Nikon, not NRA!), did some shopping, and unfortunately – perhaps as part of the detox process – got sick with a cold (something I’ve been battling to varying degrees since).  But the good memories outweigh Luke’s knack of getting sick before or on vacation!

Disney - in particular, MK and Downtown Disney - was in high form for Christmas.  My friend Laura and I snapped a selfie in this ornament's reflection, she with her Samsung Galaxy Camera and me with my iPhone 5s.

Disney – in particular, MK and Downtown Disney – was in high form for Christmas. My friend Laura and I snapped a selfie in this ornament’s reflection, she with her Samsung Galaxy Camera and me with my iPhone 5s (Hipstamatic, all the way!).

We were blessed with my uncle’s presence for a few days around and including Christmas.  The house was filled with music as he and my brother both sang and played their guitars, good food and wine filled our bellies (my family loves the vegan three-bean chili recipe I picked up and adapted from my friend while in Florida!), and we all appreciated seeing Christmas through my 2 1/2-year-old niece’s eyes as she opened presents – she becomes more aware of the fun as she gets older!!  I can say without a doubt that it was our best Christmas yet – it’s always a pleasure to have good company to spend time with.  Christmases in the recent past had been marred by close deaths of family or pets and other sad things that sometimes happen near the holidays.  But this year was fantastic, and we are grateful for that.

Our family had an amazing Christmas.  We are so blessed to have been able to share the holiday with each other.

Our family had an amazing Christmas. We are so blessed to have been able to share the holiday with each other.

The week between Christmas and New Year’s Day was quite busy with inventory and work commitments.  Trying to count 14 or 15 locations’ inventories in such a short time is quite a task!!  I, along with several of my coworkers, have put in a lot of extra hours and miles on the road to fit it all in.  We still have quite a bit of work to do, but I hope things slow down a bit so I can get caught up with other aspects of my job.  Overtime is great, but I’ve really felt taxed with the early mornings and long nights!

This pig-mobile (what else can one call it??) was one of the many interesting things I saw while doing inventory for work over the last week.  Only in Southwest Kansas...

This pig-mobile (what else can one call it??) was one of the many interesting things I saw while doing inventory for work over the last week. Only in Southwest Kansas…

Finally, today with the New Year, my brother and his family came to our house for lunch, which turned into an afternoon of video game fun (the Nintendo 64 and classics like Mario Kart and Super Smash Bros. came out!) and an evening of Cold Stone and driving around looking at the remaining Christmas lights around town.  We drank lots of good sparkling wine to ring in the new year (I didn’t even make it to 10:30 New Year’s Eve – too tired from work!!) and read/answered questions from a new book I purchased – the answers were sometimes surprising and we had a good discussion!

Moscato & Burning Questions...  What fun!!

Moscato & Burning Questions… What fun!!

Lots of memories came back as we played games from our childhood!

Overall, it has been a wonderful – albeit busy! – holiday season this year.  I want to take this opportunity to wish all of my readers and friends a year and life filled with health, joy, relaxation, happiness, opportunity, creativity, and – of course – great food and reads!  Blessings to all!!

2013: What A Year

2013… What a year! I graduated from college, began working full-time at United Wireless, lost several great friends and strengthened bonds with others, traveled quite a bit domestically for work and play (holla for Florida, D.C. and Austin!! Europe, although I took a break, I will see you next year, my friend!), and learned more about myself and the path I wanted to pursue in life. I gained lots of weight (working hard to reverse this through healthy and nutritious eating!!), but reached an a-aha! moment with the help of friends and reflection that if I want to achieve all my dreams, something had to change.

2014 promises to be a big year. I plan to purge my life of the things and people that are taking up too much room or causing negativity, get back to my creative roots by catching up on processing photos and devoting more time to writing/blogging, continue to work on being healthier by cooking delicious-yet-nutritious meals and using my uber-expensive gym membership instead of just letting it sit there, travel gobs and gobs, move out of my parents’ house to open the next chapter of my life, take more risks, take advantage of more opportunities, and just enjoy life – this year has taught me that it is too short to settle or not continuously improve and experience it.

Merry Christmas & Happy New Year, friends, family and readers! May the comings weeks and year be happy, healthful and exciting (in the good ways). I love you all!!

A Not-So Brief Update

Hello! It has been quite some time since I’ve posted something other than a brief poem or photo on my blog. To say that the last couple of months have been crazy is a huge understatement!

In mid-October, someone I went to school with, traveled with, and who was part of our work family passed away in a car accident. It was incredibly shocking and I still haven’t wholly processed what has happened or that I won’t see him again. It’s one thing to see these kinds of thing in the news and think, “That could never happen to anyone I know” or “I feel bad for that family; I’m just glad it wasn’t someone I know.” It’s tough to write those words, but I think it’s being honest that those thoughts do run through our heads, regardless of intention. It was a blow when I actually knew the person in those news stories. I can’t imagine what his family must be going through, but I know it can’t be easy, and my thoughts are with them and another family in our community who has been dealt a particularly unfair dash of loss over the last couple of months.

Unfortunately, I was unable to go to that friend’s funeral because I was scheduled to go to Austin for a training for work. Despite the circumstances (all of us who went had either known or knew of the person who was killed), we had a great training and were able to fit in some fun activities, ranging from having fun and site-seeing on both sides of Sixth Street to visiting the gorgeous Texas State Capitol building. I believe I accomplished everything I wanted to on that trip outside of work commitments, including eating a delicious donut concoction from a Gourdough’s food truck (yes, bacon WAS involved)! As I have time to go through pictures, I will post more about that trip to Austin, including some pictures I took with my new camera! (New camera- blah! Another blog post is in store.)

In good news, the company I work for just recently launched the iPhone – the reason for my trip and something I have been wanting for many years! This has added some level of stress and further responsibility at work, but it is gratifying to see something I’ve worked on in bits and pieces for so long come to fruition. I can’t wait to travel with it next month to Florida – this camera is awesome!! And I am having fun discovering new apps that will hopefully help me keep on track with my creative endeavors.

Speaking of Florida, in just a short couple of weeks, I will be flying down to the Fort Lauderdale area to spend a week with my awesome friend and mentor, Laura, who you may remember spent a day with me taking pictures on the backroads of Southwest Kansas back in September (I will be posting more of those pictures soon!). We will be spending a couple of days at Walt Disney World, a place I never thought I’d want to go, but now that the opportunity has presented itself, I can’t wait to see and experience! I’ve heard from many that it is a magical and awesome place that can’t be described with words. (Cue any suggestions for Downtown Disney, Magic Kingdom and Epcot!)

Speaking of Laura, we are starting something I’m really looking forward to – weekly challenges or goals to help keep our creative gears running. This last week, our goal was to process and post 20 pictures (we both have WAY TOO MANY photos in our archives that we’re both itching to get through), and this coming week, we are focusing on writing a piece integrating two prompts from http://www.magatsu.net/art/index.php: “a gondola” and “evening glow.” I haven’t written anything substantive for a while, and with that combo, I think I am ready to get back in the game!

It’s hard to believe that the Thanksgiving holiday is just around the corner for those of us in the United States. I, for one, am grateful for many things – my family, my friends, my job, my dreams, and even those (many!) weaknesses that keep pushing me to become a better person.

In light of recent events, I am particularly grateful for life. It becomes more real after these events just how little time we have here and how we can have absolutely no warning, in some cases, of when our end is near. I haven’t really feared death in and of itself since I was much younger, but I am anxious and more aware that I won’t be able to accomplish everything I want to before that day comes. I have lots of things I want to do, and one of those things is to get back into shape. I haven’t been “in shape” for quite some time (ever???! Lol!), the last being the summer of 2012 after I had lost almost 30 pounds. In the subsequent year, I’ve gained that back plus some, letting myself and those who cheered me on down. I know, deep inside, that in order to accomplish my travel goals and see my beautiful niece grow up into a bright young woman (to say nothing of the rest), going forward, I have to give as much attention to my body as I have to other aspects of my life. Intellectually, I know what I should be doing, but putting that into practice will be a huge goal going forward.

Whew! I think that’s enough rambling for one night! I will be posting pictures from my Backroads Adventure Day with Laura, as well as a similar outing with my brother, throughout the next couple of weeks. And I pledge to do a better job of posting as I go about daily life, as well as fun updates from Florida!

Have a great week!!

Being Open to New Experiences

Boy, did I break out of my comfort zone this weekend!  As a single person who at this point really believes he will stay that way forever (no pity, please – I’m actually quite content being a doting uncle and awesome friend), I figured correctly that it was high time to get used to doing things (i.e. social events) by myself.  I want to eat at amazing restaurants and take even more amazing trips throughout my life, and as a reality, I will have to do some of that solo.

Case in point – I was recently invited to a Friday night Cabaret event at the Dodge City Country Club (where, despite having been a few times, I am not a member).  I had tentative plans to go out of town for a Battle of the Bands my brother was playing in, but things on the planning front weren’t going as I would have liked, so I decided not to attend and take a risk.

As pathetic as it sounds, I was pretty anxious about going to the Cabaret…  I knew I would enjoy the music and visiting with those friends I knew would be there, but I was anxious and nervous to go to a somewhat-unfamiliar place and be thrown into a social scene I was not used to… by myself!  I wasn’t sure how the seating would work, or how anything would go, and not knowing everything about what I’m about to do sort of freaks me out because I’m anal-retentive that way (OK, in many other ways, too!).

To be honest, the first few minutes sitting with the young-but-still-slightly-older-than-me couple at my table was a bit awkward, probably thanks to my old-soul nature of feeling more comfortable and at ease with people who are not my age (this goes both directions!).  However, a few minutes later, another couple joined “the fray” and they were easygoing, friendly and great table-mates who – probably with no knowledge of the fact – made the whole process much easier.  We chatted for a little bit, I gave my now-staple answer about attending university, and we found a link – I had attended high school with their son, which provided for a good icebreaker.

And then, the three musicians and the three singers (two of whom I know and are awesome friends!) took their places facing the patio, the gorgeous, lush, green course behind them setting a beautiful backdrop and a wonderful ambiance for the evening.  Drinks and hors d’oeuvres in hand, the audience of around 120 became captivated by the beautiful voices and the sumptuous music, turning their seats to better hear old tunes and new ones.  It was truly a night to remember, and the weather was gorgeous – it was cool out with a light breeze, a genuine rarity for Kansas evenings in July.  It actually got downright chilly!

At intermission, I spoke with the father of my high school acquaintance and, taking a genuine interest in my desire to seek further education online, he told me about a great site where he listens to lectures from college professors who are at the top of their game in their fields (www.thegreatcourses.com, if you are interested).  We spoke about the site and learning in general for a majority of the intermission, and this was just fun!  I started to loosen up and realize that I had freaked out for no real, logical reason (which, btw, is not always necessary – freaking out for no good reason is good sometimes!  Isn’t it!???).

I also got to visit with my fellow blogger and friend, Judy Smith from www.playingfortimeblog.com.  Judy is just fabulous and a great conversationalist and I really enjoyed catching up with her, as well as a family I am very close to but was unable to talk much with earlier in the evening.  When all was said and done, I really enjoyed myself.  I am super-proud that I did not let my (gasp!) fear get in the way of a great, new experience that taught me that yes, I can have a great time by myself, and that it’s okay to try new things – even something that scared me.

I had – in some sort of peer-pressurized situation – committed late in the workday Friday to walking for the company I work for in the annual Dodge City Days Western Parade, an event that kicks off a week-long celebration filled with special events (because there are like none the rest of the year, so it’s kind of a big deal).  I think I have only been in the parade twice before – once for United Wireless and the other time when I was a volunteer at our local public library.  Coming off the high of the One Night Only Cabaret event, I was like, well, my weekend can only go down from here!  Again, without a lot of details (only semi-freak-out time needed after my “victory” the previous evening), I met a coworker friend at the start of the parade and we got a game plan going.  As a team, our “parade people” handed out 4,100 bottles of water bottles and almost 10,000 popsicles from two trailers, preceded by our massive Roadshow RV.

You can just barely see me on the back row, third from left in the green cap.  I'm fortunate to work with a fun group of people, and their family members also helped out.

You can just barely see me on the back row, third from left in the green cap. I’m fortunate to work with a fun group of people, and their family members also helped out. (Photo Courtesy United Wireless)

I actually had a great time working the parade and walked the entire 3-4 mile route! I was so sore the rest of the day and part of Sunday, too, but it went by so much quicker than the 2 hours it eventually took us to make our way literally across town.  It was fun to see coworkers in a different habitat outside their normal day-to-day activities, and it was a great opportunity to see that a majority of kids (and adults!) still knew how to say “please” and “thank you.”  Sometimes, the small victories are the big ones!

To wrap up (if you’re still reading, that is), I think I have a new Dodge City Days tradition of working in the parade, and I hope the Cabaret becomes a tradition, too.  Life is too short not to take advantage of things you know you’d enjoy, all because you have made the decision and choice to put negative expectations on those experiences.

So, I reach out to my WordPress friends…  Have you ever had an experience(s) you were anxious for, but it really turned out okay?  Please share your experiences!