over the river and to the beach

snow-transparent-2017

For the past four years or so I’ve sent illustrated Christmas cards to friends, family and clients.  Last year I also made ecards, basically, adding snow and creating a gif then emailing or texting to the people that cheer me on throughout the year. Since we’ve moved to a new house I decided that I’d feature my furry babies with a packed car and Christmas tree, 2017 on the license plate. Not to get too “deep” about it (yes, I know it’s “just” a cartoon) but it’s a transitional time for us and a the car makes sense in this way…the inside of this year’s card continues the theme with an illustrated version of our new living room:

2017-card-©AimeeMcEwen

It’s Saturday and I’ve got a million things to do but first I’ve got to get dressed and drive out to the beach to talk with a client about a new project – which sounds much more glamorous than it actually is, really. Then I’ve got to go to the tiny townhouse to continue packing. Can’t get the big stuff until next weekend so I’ll be cramming boxes into my teeny Nissan with all my might.

Enjoy the rest of your weekend, guys! ♡

 

dark wings

gift

My Father was intelligent and funny, he played guitar for us and sang. He took my sister and I on adventures through the woods to hunt for berry bushes and pick apples. He’d build a fire in the backyard and we’d make “toast on a stick” or “potatoes on a stick”…any food you can burn on a stick, really. He was silly and enjoyed teasing Mom about pretty much everything. It’s not easy to get a laugh out of Mom, so making her giggle made Dad feel victorious.

He’d put iodine on our cuts and scrapes, baking soda paste on our bee stings, calamine lotion on the poison ivy we got from all the berry picking. Me and my sister brought an abandoned puppy home once. When he saw the pitiful little thing he dropped to the floor almost immediately and loved and squeezed on that puppy until I saw tears streaming down his cheeks. Dad was sensitive.

Being sensitive can mean several things…I consider myself to be sensitive but it doesn’t mean I fly off the handle, cry easily when embarrassed or hold grudges. My Mom would say to nearly total strangers: “She’s my artist, she’s sensitive.” As I grew older, she’d sigh heavily and remark, “You’re just like your Father.”

I always thought that meant I was logical and smart…but she meant sensitive.

What being sensitive means, to me, is that I pick up on things. My therapist actually called me a “noticer.” She once changed out her chair…it was the same antique wooden chair as before (with pink floral cushions) except it had arms. “Did that chair have arms before?” I’d asked about fifteen minutes into one appointment. She was amazed and said it was the same as the other chair only it had arms. Another time I noticed a pillow on the settee had tassels…she laughed saying she’d only recently added the tassels. I catalog my surroundings and behaviors of those around me; it’s all tagged, color coded, evaluated for safety and filed away for future reference. Where does this even come from?

Perceptivity isn’t a superpower, it’s instinctual; a survival skill I honed while learning to maneuver the ups and downs of a mercurial parent. My Father had a quiet violence about him. I’d try to stay a step ahead of the darkness, watching him for the slightest shifts in mood; a way of giving myself the illusion of control so that I could keep everyone safe. Even though there were moments of light, darkness seemed to loom over my Father. I was 17 before he would finally get a diagnosis (manic depressive/bi-polar disorder).

Remember the things that the darkness taught you.
It’s by learning to overcome our personal trauma (navigate the darkness) we become nuanced and enlightened individuals capable of empathy, forgiveness and love.

Forgiveness is key, forgive others, forgive yourself. From the darkness I learned to pay attention to my gut (intuition), to expect nothing (good or bad) from anyone except myself, to accept responsibility for my own emotions, to respect the grief, pain and love of others. I learned to look for the light and appreciate it while it lasts. ♡

What has darkness taught you? Do you struggle with forgiveness or does it come easily to you?

credits:
Artwork © Aimee McEwen. Photo: Annie Spratt
Personal use only. Not for commercial use. If shared, please link back to this post.

wild, wondrous and worthy

wild-wondrous-worthy©MOTHANDBLOOM.COM

May is Mental Health Awareness Month

“A mental illness is a condition that affects a person’s thinking, feeling or mood. Such conditions may affect someone’s ability to relate to others and function each day. Each person will have different experiences, even people with the same diagnosis.”

Did you know?
Approximately 1 in 5 adults in the U.S….43.8 million, or 18.5%…experiences mental illness in a given year.

Approximately 1 in 25 adults in the U.S….9.8 million, or 4.0%…experiences a serious mental illness in a given year that substantially interferes with or limits one or more major life activities. 

Whether you are aware of it or not we come in contact with people dealing with mental health issues every day…your neighbor, coworker, cashier at Publix…me. I write often about anxiety, empathy, coping, mental wellness and the human condition…did you know that I am one of the 1 in 5 adults living with mental illness?

The average person deals with a multitude of stressors, hardships, and difficulties, yet not all of them are mentally ill. How can we tell the difference? Should we be afraid of the mentally ill? Why do some people choose to take medication while others do not? How do you know if you are mentally ill or really just “terrible at life”?

First things first…you are NOT terrible at life…if you feel you may have a mental illness, see a behavioral health specialist and/or a psychiatrist. Depending on your situation you may do really well with talk therapy and not need medication or you might try a combination of both. I’m not a doctor so I can’t say what’s right for you. My best advice about doctors is if you don’t find a person you are completely comfortable with then keep looking, there are some really great professionals out there…and there’s some not so great ones…when it comes to mental health (all health) concerns you have to be your own advocate and speak up when something isn’t working. Speak up and make sure they hear you!

As for the questions you may have about those of us living with mental illness, they are a lot harder to answer. Mental illness operates on a spectrum…and we all fall in somewhere on that spectrum. There can be coexisting conditions, and mental illnesses can improve or get worse…or even seem to go “dormant.” Some people go years without an episode, and just as suddenly find themselves in a psychosis. What I’m trying to say is there’s a lot of layers to mental illness. If you care about someone, and want to get to know them, tell them you care and ask them about their diagnosis. The tricky part about that is it’s really difficult to talk about mental illness with “new” people. There’s still so much stigma surrounding mental illness that people will downplay their struggle or go as far as pretending to be “normal” until they’re alone or with people they feel are “safe.”

Sound exhausting? Yeah, it really is.  So exhausting that we avoid people and places and isolate ourselves when we don’t feel strong enough to keep up the facade.

I’ve always felt my slightly overdeveloped sense of empathy comes from living with or around mental illness. My Father was manic depressive but diagnosed very late in his life (around 50) which means I was exposed to all the terrible things that can happen when mental illness is left unchecked; self-medication, risky behaviors, instability, conflict, violence, abuse – a lot of suffering.

Awareness has come a long way since the 90’s but we have to do better; be better humans and let people know that just because they live with a mental illness it doesn’t mean they’re broken, fundamentally unlovable, or lost – and they definitely don’t have to go through it alone. ♡

If you want to learn more on this topic go to nami.org and here’s some books by Jenny Lawson that have helped me cope with my own mental illness:
Furiously Happy
Let’s Pretend This Never Happened

credits:
Artwork © Aimee McEwen. Personal use only. Not for commercial use.
Photo: Alisa Anton   Mental Health Statistics via nami.org
If shared, please link back to this post.

cat fight

big-bird

Long story short, I went to the ER last night for the first in a series of rabies vaccinations.

Short story a little longer: I was bitten by I stray cat while walking Mac around the block. The cat went after my dog and I was caught in the middle. Once we escaped, with the help of a neighbor, I noticed my injuries and performed triage; body check on dog, scrubbed my own bleeding areas, peroxide, antibacterial ointment, bandage, freak out, body check dog again…and again…and again.

Spent the next morning trying to get in to see my doctor, got a tetanus shot, antibiotics and a few compliments on my first aid skills. Called the Health Dept. and they said to be safe I’d better go to ER and do the rabies vaccinations (it’s EXTREMELY RARE, they said, buuuuut…..stray cat and all)…actually they told me to go look for the cat and observe its behavior…and I was like “…do they think I’m a fricken cat whisperer or some kinda rabies expert?” I know it’s hard to believe, but I am neither…which means 4 rounds of shots. Apparently the worst bit is the first round (which was last night) and then three more shots for the next two weeks…and sometime in May it’ll all be over with and I’ll celebrate briefly as I will be making my final car payment around that time then swiftly applying those no more car payment payments to hospital bills. Convenient, aye?

I’m not posting images of the bloodied areas (my left calf and left middle finger) because there’s already too much of that stuff on the internet. Trust me, I’m pretty sure I clicked on all the images already, which was completely unhelpful. I’m also not going to talk about how depressing it was to get discharged from the ER and have to go home to an empty house and worry that you’re going to have a bad reaction to one of the 4 things you were injected with that day…or have a heart attack from worrying about all of it – while your family and friends text you their best “rabies jokes” or skip your plight altogether just to complain about how much laundry they have to get done. Literally, they are having some kind of laundry EMERGENCY…hey, I just left the ER…and not one person was standing there with a basket of laundry in a panic, screaming “HELP!! WE HAVE NO CLEAN UNDERWEAR!!” – but, like I said,  I’m not going to even talk about THAT.

I would like to talk about one thing…and that’s SIDE EFFECTS or, rather, the list of side effects that the pharmacy gives you every time you pick up new meds. The list of possible side effects is always absolutely horrifying, right?? Blindness, internal bleeding…actual DEATH. I’m reading this thing thinking “Who wrote this? This is poorly written.” My favorite part was at the end it said something like “possible at the time medication is taken OR MONTHS LATER.”

MONTHS?? What kind of sneaky shit IS this??

Of course I also read up on the initial symptoms of rabies and I could very well have already had rabies before the bite…that cat could of caught rabies from ME…JUST SAYIN’
Fever
Headache
Nausea
Vomiting
Agitation
Anxiety
Confusion
Hyperactivity…etc…

It’s not funny, I know. It’s serious…I’m taking it seriously…I dragged myself to the ER and rambled on nervously to three nurses and a P.A., pretended to read a magazine (no worries, I brought my own germ-free magazine – note to self: burn magazine) while the lady in the next room screamed in pain, the poor thing (severe laceration to her foot) then I pretended to watch HGTV. I may have prayed, just a little. My blood pressure was a extremely high (147/95) and I was fighting off an anxiety attack, the worst part of the whole ordeal is my anxiety. That’s why I’m telling this long/short story to strangers on the internet. Maybe it will help calm me down and I’ll feel less alone than when I came home from the hospital to nobody. I mean, Mac was there of course, I’m never really alone…I snuggled him a little and did another quick body check (on both of us) before giving up and going to bed.

End of story…for now. I’m totally okay, everything will be alright (deep breaths).

I hope you guys have a safe and relaxing weekend filled with so much clean underwear and zero need of bandages. But maybe you should check in on your own at-home first aid kit anyway and make sure it’s fully stocked…because, you know, stray cats and all 

furry baby

My furry baby, Mac, is still fighting an ear infection. We’ve had problems with his ears since he was very little. He’s on Apoquel for the inflammation. His paws also get inflamed and he’ll attack them if I’m not around to distract him, so we spend a lot of time napping and watching movies. On weekends we sleep in and he gets extra snuggles.

A friend of mine lost their black lab to cancer a few days ago. She was such a good dog. I’m very sad thinking of the pain and deep loss my friend is feeling. Last year I lost my older cat (18 yrs) and 5 years before that I lost my Bassett Hound (12 yrs) to cancer. I don’t think you ever quite get over it, not really.

Mac is 6 years old, and aside from his chronic inflammation, he’s healthy…but that didn’t stop me from imagining my life without him…I can’t even type that thought without tearing up. I was extra sweet to him over the weekend, we went on walks and he got lots of treats then a bath with the full spa treatment. We went for a ride in the car and he fell asleep in the back seat. I love this furry monster. ♡

 

Click here for Mac’s favorite Homemade Dog Treats recipe over at Pinch of Yum. He really loves them.

reframe

The last month and a half I’ve worried and cried and worried and slept (passed out) and limped along (popping advil like tic-tacs) all while being ultra positive and finishing projects around the house (ripped out weeds, planted flowers, replaced large appliances, painted furniture, hung curtains) worked extra hard at the day job. And, I swear, I’ve made my bed every damn day. This habit of mine where I try to control everything when I feel least in control of anything is in full force. I’ve started and stopped a Whole30 twice (because stress, and jelly beans) and I’m going back in for a third go of it tomorrow…I feel awful and I’m desperate to make things better, to make myself feel better.

I get almost no updates on my Dad’s condition (last known: critical) except when something horrible happens and I might hear about it DAYS later. I talk to a few friends who already know most of everything I’ve just spilled out here in this weird space for strangers on the internet (hi there, stranger). I’m not good at this, feeling helpless and, like, needing help dealing with life’s harshness. I want to go into my aimeecave and be elsewhere. I’m holding my breath (not breathing) and clenching my teeth (hello migraine). If I could, I would jump out of my own skin just to get away from myself. And I’m feeling shame at this moment, while I type all this whining and rambling on in a blog post. It’s a mess, I know. Like how I stopped going to see my therapist when I felt like I was never going to get through it – because every week (yes, weekly visits) I felt like a complete failure.

My life isn’t shiny happy and I’m pretty sure nobody has ever got that impression from this space…but I still consider this my “happy space” where the good and the real things live, where I have a wee bit of control…even when sad “truths” are biting and clawing at me:

Your parents aren’t going to live forever. You’re a terrible daughter, sister, aunt, friend, human and all the flowers in the world won’t change any of that. Idiot.

Pain is part of life as is death and grief and hope and love.

hard and soft

DAD

A few weeks ago I traveled to New York to visit my parents. They live waaaaaaaay up north, so far north that my cell phone bounced off Canadian cell towers. I spent nine days with my parents which sounds like a lot of time but it’s not really, because it wasn’t a vacation. My dad is very ill, my mom is exhausted. The time spent over those nine days was mostly stressful, then quiet, then stressful again. My parents are doing the best they can, but they are only human.

Crash Course in Tiny Crisis Management

A few days into the visit my Mom had an emotional breakdown over a digital camera and Dad expended most of his very limited energy on a short burst of anger, bewilderment then apologies. My skills at diffusing volatile situations have dulled a bit over the last decade or so.

“It’s okay Dad, you’re not a professional sick person. We’re all amateurs here.” I said trying to sound cheerful. Then, in a firm tone, I asked my mother to go get some rest. I’m pretty sure she told me to go to hell, but I might not be remembering that right…maybe the trip to hell was merely implied.

Multiply that scenario (more than) a few times over the duration of my stay and by my last day there I felt just as much the helpless teenager I was when I left home 18 years ago. I managed one quiet anxiety attack in the basement around the 5th day. Aside from that instance I was resolute in my goal of not breaking down.

“What right did I have to spoil my Dad’s time with sadness and grief?” I thought.

“None.” I would answer.

We did laugh a little and talk about work and life and a little about dying and a lot about medical bills and doctors and nurses and emergency rooms and $1300 Rx co-pays, treatment plans and the VA hospital and oxygen tanks. I know my parents were glad to see me after so many years (over ten years). I was glad too. At least now they have WiFi and they think I’m “smart” even if I am “a liberal.”

On my way home to Florida there was time to think about my visit, about how people tend to change over a lifetime. My current conclusion is that personalities distill down to the good or the not so good…perhaps they soften or, instead, grow spikes.

That’s okay, because we’re all amateurs here.

And, as much as life lately has become like a bad movie…I’m still pretty sure it’s worth the price of admission.

 

 

image ©Aimee McEwen

short and sweet

Wow, shortest Christmas ever…am I right? I was wicked excited to start celebrating after work on Christmas Eve. I hopped around a few stores… all last minute like… even though there was nothing I really needed. By the time I made it home I was pretty tired though… so I did some minimal house cleaning and rested with my furry children and a squishy blanket. It was not cold at all so I cranked the AC to a chilly 65 degrees and watched It’s a Wonderful Life.

Christmas morning I was up early, I am not sure what I was expecting but I was in a really good mood so I got showered, put on **almost** all the sparkly makeup I own and took Mac for a long walk. It was 80 degrees that day but I didn’t mind. I was wearing a Santa t-shirt I got as one of my work-Christmas gifts which means for once, and on a few levels, I was dressed appropriately. I thought my family was going to call and facetime with me but they forgot or couldn’t or something. I made a joke about it on FB and instead of opening presents with family I blythely made a game of opening my gifts where I played tug of war with Mac. He would tear a bit of the wrapping paper off then run around the house like he just won the World Series. After about ten rounds of that we made breakfast and binge-watched Christmas movies.

Me and Mac celebrating his World Series win.

 

All that might seem a lonely day to someone else. For me, though, it was enough and to get through a holiday without feeling sad, worried or anxious was the best present I could ask for, really. Aside from the facetime debacle, I was content the entire day and even the weekend. Yesterday was a good day because I cleaned out the ol’ makeup bag and got some new stuff (replaced stuff, mostly). Actually, I got a new makeup bag AND new makeup (I’m so damn fancy)… I’m not sure why that makes me happy but it does. I’m also getting excited for the New Year… in which I will turn forty. I’ve always looked forward to turning forty… all my social media profiles say “nearly 40” and it will be awesome when I can change it to “actually 40”. I’m a weirdo, don’t even care.

In January I get to go to a wedding! I forgot about it actually until today and now I am super excited because it is going to be so freakin’ fun!!

thirty-nine

IMG_0443

It’s been an excellent day spent with excellent people, oh and today was my birthday! No biggie, just thirty-nine.

No cake this year, even though I told my co-workers they could eat a full gluten, full sugar cake (or CUPCAKES!), while I watch…not creepy at all.

Health-wise I am doing really well, my inflammation is waaay down and I can sleep for about 6 hours straight. That is a huge improvement. Of course, I was surprised with goodies on my desk when I got into work this morning. Some really thoughtful gluten-free treats and my girlfriend got me the most adorable Itty Bitty Kermit and a Kermit mug (Kermug!). I also received some very sweet text messages from family and friends. My phone battery died from responding to Facebook notifications all afternoon. Today I feel very loved. Thank you to everyone for the birthday wishes and virtual hugs, and actual hugs, too (sorry for flinching, I’m not really a “hugger”).

I tend not to make a HUGE deal out of my birthdays, not because I don’t like getting older…mostly because I can only deal with SO MUCH attention at once. My face kind of hurts right now from all the smiling. THEN there is the “special food” thing, that I tend to get self conscious about. I don’t need a parade, thoughtful gestures are more than enough and I’m so thankful for the people I have in my life that care.

I could probably be coerced into a birthday bash next year when I turn forty…no kidnapping though, please…I’ll have nightmares.

Tonight I will spend time with Mac and probably watch Patch Adams. I’ve been watching Robin Williams movies since the weekend. It’s not a good movie unless I’ve cried all my makeup off!

image © Aimee McEwen