Waiting on Focaccia

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On Friday, I kind of broke down about my body. I ended up staying home from work, sorting through my back pain and the urgent, panicked feelings that come up around it. I spent most of the day deep cleaning my apartment. And then, when I stopped vacuuming and cleaning out my essential oil diffusers long enough to sit with myself, I sobbed. I feel absolutely, suddenly, overwhelmed by my spine, and by my body in general. If you don’t know my whole story, I wrote a big long blog post about it here, two years ago when I found out that basically, my back is fucked. Which essentially translates to: I get headaches, my body holds tension like Beyoncé can hold a squat, and sometimes my back viciously mutinies against me, in the form of sudden, pulsing pain. Back spasms, and lately, neck pain so harsh that not only can I not turn my head, but it feels like a knife is slowly being inserted into the base of my skull. Cool!

Of course, because I am who I am, it took me half the day to decide not to go in on Friday. I thought, I can push through this. I’ll be better by 1. I rode this merry-go-round until about 12:30, when I realized that pushing myself was, duh, making it worse. God, am I an idiot. The truth is, I don’t want to have to deal with this. I also haven’t quite accepted that I do, and will continue to, which is part of the ongoing problem. I need to change my mindset around it. Let go of the idea that I’m doing anything wrong when it arises, and just treat myself with measured calm and kindness. When I experienced my first, and most vicious, back spasms 6 years ago, it was my fault. I had hunched over a computer in my bed for an entire summer, finishing my first novel. Now, not so much. I can have a completely normal week at work, and then boom, sudden pain.

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Today, I tell myself, “I can handle this. I can handle and love my body, even though I may not always know how.” My body knows what’s best for me, I just need to listen. Really listen, not hear it cry out and say, “Well, I think I can ignore you and push through, because I have a stronger will than you do.” The truth is, I feel weak, frail, and at fault. I want to love my body, feel amazing and sexy and strong in it. I currently do not. I feel like a frail, gawky chicken bone of a human woman. I’m embarking to fix that. Part of that means I bought myself a new heating pad, and it is AMAZING. You know you’re an adult when you get excited over a heating pad, am I right? Another part? I’m actually GOING to yoga classes. If we’re being honest, I’ve kept my yoga practice securely in my bedroom, because I do not feel strong, hot, or good enough to do it in public. I am seriously afraid that I’m going to do it wrong, so I did it in my room for so long that it stopped really being a helpful tool anymore. Last weekend I went to a Sunday afternoon yoga class, and my body released the tension for once. I didn’t do it wrong, because there is no wrong. There was something really healing in the knowledge that in that space, my body simply couldn’t be weak or inadequate. It could just do what it could do, and that was plenty. I need more of that right now. 

I got a little sad on Saturday, because I graduated college just about a year ago now, and I’m left wondering where I am now in comparison to where I was then. Nowhere near as far as I’d like to be, as far as I’d have liked to have gone in a year. In response, Eli said to me, “I love every day with you. Doing the shit we do, getting frustrated about dumb things. I’m happy our life is the way it is right now, and we’re not fast forwarding through this, or else we would’ve never gotten to do this. We’re waiting on focaccia and arguing about dumb shit right now. It’s great!” 

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In the last year, I’ve relaxed. Calmed down. I’ve lived life with significantly less stress. I started a podcast about mental health, which I now cannot imagine my life without. I went to NYC for an amazing writer’s workshop, started working on a new book, worked my ass off querying my first book to agents, started painting again after six years, went to a conference for entrepreneurs, and gained a new social circle. I’m rediscovering my body; accepting and loving it as it is. I’m rediscovering the creativity that can come from boredom. It’s all completely necessary. I am right where I’m supposed to be. 

I wish my body were different. I wish I didn’t have this chronic pain. But if I waste my twenties wishing my back were something it’s not, rather than managing it as is and working to be more comfortable and confident in it all, I think I’ll really regret that. So fuck it. I’m not waiting a second more for my body or life to be what I want in order to go out into the world. I’m not hiding. The only thing I’m waiting on is focaccia, because perfection takes time. In bread, and in life. 

Take Care,

Fran

Stuffed Mushroom

I don’t know how to tell this story in a way that only describes my portion of it. This situation, as is the case with most families, is inextricably linked and messy. I don’t know that I can tell my piece without inadvertently telling some one else’s. But this is my attempt. 

In August of 2010, when I was 14 years old, my dad told me that I had a half brother. It’s this whole weird story where he took me on a trip to the outlet malls, and before we even got there he told me about my brother and I was like… “Um, I really don’t feel like shopping now?” I believe my exact, 14 year old words were, “This is some General Hospital shit.”

I knew it was a secret. I was definitely not supposed to tell my younger siblings, because my dad was going to do that in his own time. So being the 14 year old asshole I was, when my 10th grade English teacher asked us to write about a moment when we were forced to grow up, I wrote about that. And then I shared it with the entire class. 

Sunday, January 13th, at 11 pm, my Grandma Rose died. My dad, brother, Eli, and I had actually gone up to visit her that very day, and she had slept the whole time and barely responded when anyone spoke to her. I told her she was a badass, and to give me a sign or something one day. On the drive home I was absolutely sure that she would be gone by the next morning at the latest. I went to sleep as early as I could, but jolted awake at 11 pm and checked my phone, sure that a text message or call had come through with the news. No such text had come, so I rolled over and back to sleep. I ended up missing all of my Dad’s calls at midnight. 

The next morning we began the process of planning and arranging. I decided to take my four days off from work starting Tuesday, since the calling hours would be Thursday and the funeral Friday. I barely made it through work Monday. I messaged Nick, the aforementioned long-lost brother, who I had gotten in touch with in 2012, to let him know. The next day I found out he would be coming to the funeral. I’m not going to lie to you, because we don’t do that here on this blog. My first thought was, “FUCK. This is a LOT.” I mean, losing my Grandma was big enough, but to add on to that meeting my brother for the first time? I wasn’t ready. I hadn’t prepared for that.

On Thursday, I was anxious. My dad didn’t leave early enough. We got to the calling hours exactly as it was starting, and I hadn’t eaten lunch or gathered myself together in any way, and I was anxious. I spent the first half hour of the calling hours upstairs in the private lounge, eating crackers and cheese and baby carrots, and feeling like a freak. When I joined my cousins in the corner of the room, I mellowed. We were together, and though my Grandma lay in the open casket 10 feet away from us, we were having fun. We didn’t cry. We didn’t really talk about it. We got to know each other again. We caught up. New boyfriends met old boyfriends. They bonded. An hour in, someone whispered, “Nick is here.” My heart stopped. My brother Ryan disappeared. They walked in together, and I immediately got up. Let me tell you, it was some Hallmark shit. I barely said hi, just walked over, hugged him and cried. Everyone around us seemed to be crying too. While I will admit that it was a little weird to be meeting him in front of an entire peanut gallery, I’m not at all mad about the way that it happened. It was time. 

Everyone made these little comments about how it was my Grandma bringing us all together again. And technically, that is true. We were at her funeral, after all. But I honestly think it was just time. Meeting him and figuring this shit out was on my to-do list for the year anyway. 2019 just sped it right up. 

I’m not sure how to talk about Thursday and Friday as a whole. How weird it was that all day at the calling hours, it was like we were just catching up, but when it was time to leave the reality sunk in. How my Grandfather cried and said, “Well Rose, I guess this is the last time we’ll see each other,” and talked at length for many minutes, not wanting, or knowing how, to say goodbye. How we all held hands and prayed and cried and said goodbye. How I held my older brother’s hand while we all bowed our heads and cried. How my Grandpa fell asleep during the family prayer and his brother-in-law had to knock him awake. How on Friday, Nick sat with us at the funeral. How the funeral was way too long and I was so hungry and also felt like I couldn’t feel the whole time because I was surrounded by people and I really don’t know how to process my feelings around 35 other people who all want to talk about “what I’m doing.” I’m here at my Grandma’s funeral, and my long lost brother is here next to me. That’s what the fuck I’m doing. That’s all I know. How, after a quick nap and a few hands of rummy with Eli, I was ready to hang out with everyone again. How it was a lot to have my brother there, and to feel like I couldn’t step away from all of these people I never see, including him, because that was all the time we would have for the foreseeable future. How that made me sad. How that made me mad. How scared I was. How fun it was. How I felt like I was ignoring Eli because I couldn’t pay attention to everyone at once. How my brother and my Dad talked. How my Mom felt alone, because she wasn’t able to make it, though she deeply, deeply wanted and was motivated to. 

Those two days were wonderful. I’m glad that I’m home, because I’m an introvert and now I’m fully able to process and feel the loss of my Grandma. And I hate that I’m home, because those few days were such a gift. I didn’t know how I was going to feel when I met my brother. I thought, as my brother Ryan said, that it would feel like meeting a complete stranger. But it did not. I looked at him, and I saw in his face a part of myself that I didn’t know I was missing. I know that’s melodramatic, but this whole damn thing is melodramatic in itself. I looked at him, and felt the way I believe only new parents feel. I don’t know you, but I love you. It’s not entirely like that either, because there’s this missing. This -Oh, I’ve been waiting for you and I didn’t even know it- feeling.

The simplest thing I can say is that I lost my Grandma and gained someone new to love. The complicated expansion of that is that meeting new people is hard for me. Realizing the expanse of time and life between us, all of the what if’s and regrets between us, is hard. Losing her is hard. I wish we could’ve all done this sooner, and I mourn that. I mourn her, and what could’ve been with my siblings sooner. But I also know that it happened at exactly the right time. I’m trying to move forward with what I know, rather than dwell on what I don’t. 

Going back to work feels absolutely insurmountable. How do you face people you see every day and say, “Hey. Can you take it easy on me? I’ve been completely changed by the events of the last week.” Because I have. I guess Italians really do go big or go home. Essentially, I’m trying to deal with what I’ve learned and experienced in the last week.

The morning after my Grandma died, I sobbed on the phone to Eli. “I’m so scared.” Scared of the depression returning in the wake of these events. I still am, even though I know it isn’t logical. But I think the reason I did not handle the last death in my life so well, was that I thought I could walk away from it unchanged. The change was happening within me anyway, and I wasn’t acknowledging it, so it came out in a deep, unknowable depression. The difference now is that I know that I am changed. Profoundly so. I’m not trying to force myself to feel anything. Right now I feel like a stuffed mushroom, due to a lovely head cold. But 2019 Fran is staying present, right? So we’re just gonna feel our feelings. Even if that means I gotta feel like a stuffed mushroom for a week. 

Take care,

Fran

Presence

I started the new year off with a bang. Well, if by bang I meant a five hour anxiety attack. From 2 - 6:50 am on January 1st, 2019, I was awake, shaking, afraid that I was going to throw up. This is what my anxiety attacks typically look like, though I haven’t had one this severe in quite some time. (Important fact: I was (meant to be) sleeping on the couch at Eli’s family’s house. He was downstairs in his bed, with what felt like an ocean of space and silence between us.) In 16 years experiencing anxiety attacks, I have never had one last that long. My body usually exhausts itself, and runs out of shakes to shake eventually. Not this time.

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Captain’s Log: From 2-3:30 I valiantly attempted to make sleep happen. At 3:30 I gave up, sat up, and tried to use my phone as a distraction. From 3:30-5 I texted Eli, desperate for help. He finally saw my messages around 5, sat with me and helped me for about an hour. He made me tea, gave me crackers that I couldn’t choke down, and nodded off intermittently, jerking himself awake only to see that I was still shaking. As the hours passed and I continued to shake with no end in sight, all I could think was “Will this ever end? Will I be shaking for the rest of my life? Will everyone wake up at 8 and I’ll just be here, shaking, never having gone to sleep? Is it physically possible to panic for more than five hours? Maybe if I make it to five I’ll just stop after that. Yeah. Let’s just make it to five.” I eventually fell asleep around 7, just about five hours after it began, having consumed a whole cup of tea and a single cashew.

On New Year’s Eve, I realized what my word for the coming year was meant to be. Presence. It came to me while meditating, though I initially thought my word was harvest. It makes sense. Harvests are slow. Bountiful, but slow. You have to wait for things to be exactly ripe, or you’ll have waited entire seasons for slightly underripe zucchini. But ultimately, I think the word is presence, and the theme is harvest. As I shook that night, I reminded myself of that word. Presence. Presence with the anxiety. Ultimately I believe the anxiety attack was extended by the fact that I wouldn’t let it go. “Why the fuck is this happening? I drank green tea all night, no way my blood sugar dropped that hard from one single sip of champagne at midnight. And if it did, my body is fucking stupid. Also, cool way to start the new year off. Awesome. 2019 is already ruined.” The next day, I narrowly avoided falling into another anxiety trap: the shame and blame game. No, I wasn’t going to spend the day feeling like shit for having felt like shit the night before. What a fucking waste of time. So even though I wanted to, even though I apologized to Eli for “doing that,” I really didn’t dwell. I moved on. (Psst. This is progress!)

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Two days before the end of 2018, Eli and I had the most depressed day we’ve had in months. I don’t want to get into the how or why of it, because I don’t entirely know myself. The point is, I was depressed. I didn’t want to do anything. I was propelled out of bed and into my day by sheer anxiety alone. But when Eli came over around 11 or 12, I was back in bed. We were absolutely slumped. We laid there, not talking, crying into each other’s shirts, for over an hour. I’m not trying to paint a pretty portrait of this. I hid in the bathroom. I acted like an asshole. He tried more than I did to infuse the dark situation with love and heal it. I did not. Eventually though, he held me. We both cried, stared at the ceiling, and watched the grey day turn to early evening. Then I looked at him and said, “Can this be okay? Because I don’t even have the energy to tell you ‘it will pass’ or whatever, because if I tell you that then I’ll have to tell myself that, and I’m just not ready to move out of this yet, as shitty as that sounds. I can’t. I just gotta be here.” He wholeheartedly agreed. So for the rest of the day, through a surprise party and making dinner and watching TV, we just were. We cried at random moments, felt completely exhausted, and neither of us tried to fix it. It eventually fixed itself exactly as I predicted it would. It passed. That experience was my first with presence presenting itself as the medicine of the moment. 

I know presence will be tested for me this year. It already has been. But I think it will also become a practice that will help me through everything that comes up this year. It already is. My grandmother is dying. She is dying and there is no way around it. She’s not going to recover from this. It’s pretty much over, we just don’t know when. I don’t know if that’s an okay thing to say, but it’s the truth. That isn’t to say that I’m not torn up about it. It’s awful to see my dad so anxious and sad. It breaks my heart to think about how unmoored my grandfather will be when she goes, and how in denial he is now. I don’t want her to go. But reminding myself of this word is helping. Whenever I find myself drifting to the future with worry or doubt, I call myself back with “stay here.” Because those thoughts are in the future, and I’m here. Here, we don’t know what’s going to happen or when. And that’s fine.

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I know that my relative ease and calm with this transition is due to one simple fact. I’ve been through it before. Just because I’m staying present doesn’t mean I don’t feel it. I’m afraid. Not of losing her, because I know that’s inevitable and there’s no point fearing that. I’m afraid, as any selfish human being would be, of what will happen to me after. The last time a grandparent of mine died, I slipped into the darkest, scariest moment of depression I’ve ever been in. It may have been worse than after my car accident. It was tumultuous. There was an upheaval. I know that similar circumstances do not cause depression. I know that I am in a completely different place than I was then. I’m doing so much better now! But dear God, the fear. It lurks in the back of my mind as a possibility, one that I know is deeply unlikely. For now, I’ve shoved it in a box and stuffed it away in the darkest corner of my mind. I just hope it gathers enough dust that I one day forget it’s there.

This may come as a shock, but I think I’m a little tired of being so vulnerable. Right now, all I want is to hibernate. I want to hide away in my little apartment, read and paint and watch movies, and I don’t want to tell anyone about any of it. I’m proud of myself. I’m doing well. At the same time there’s a part of me that wants to keep that a secret. Maybe I’m afraid of sharing the joy, for fear that it is 1) disengenuous and I’m really not as happy as I think I am, or 2) if I talk about it, the happiness will vanish.

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The truth is, I’m trying to make it through this, and I’m doing okay. I’m eating well and exercising and reading and trying to be good to myself. I’m feeling my feelings, staying present, doing what feels right rather than crossing things off a to-do list that I made based on a person I am not. I am going so slowly. I’m like a car on a snowy road, braking intermittently rather than speeding along and skidding on the ice. I mean, I’m basically stopped on the highway, but I hope that means I’m not going to fly off the road into a ditch. That’s all I really can hope as I decide to move this slowly. That it’s the right choice, and I’m not just stalling. 

Even writing this blog post feels like a win. I used to think like this a lot. Write like this a lot. Daydream on the page, come to exciting conclusions within my own mind. Over the past few years, I don’t feel like that has happened as much. As I’ve slipped in and out of depressive and anxious spirals, many of my daily thoughts have been exclusively about making it through. There hasn’t been as much theorizing about the nature of my own being. It feels good to be back here again, with the presence of mind to see each moment for what it is. Not something happening to me, not a reason for anxiety, but a world that I am existing with and within. Thanks for reading.

Take care,
Fran

PTSD Car Accident Girl

I guess I’m really in it right now. Last week I lost control of my car in the snowy weather, and almost skidded into a snowbank. After narrowly avoiding said snowbank, I then almost crashed into one of those wooden snow measuring sticks. “Oh, gosh, Oh gosh, oh gosh,” I basically whispered as my car did whatever the hell it wanted. Then, a deep breath. My brain stopped functioning. I didn’t have a single thought. I made it to the stoplight at the end of the road, and promptly started crying. 

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I had been begging all morning for a reason not to go into work. I had cramps, my back was sore, I was tired and already done with the week on only Wednesday. I didn’t want to be on the desk and talk to the public. I had been pleading with the universe all morning: please, just make it snow REALLY bad so they close the library and I get a snow day. I skidded into a spot in the parking lot. I stumbled, in a daze, through the staff entrance. I immediately started crying again. I sat on the floor in my cubicle and texted Eli. I found a donut. I went to the bathroom, sat on the toilet, and heaved. The sobbing took over, and I really, truly, could not stop. I hyperventilated. I screamed at myself in the mirror, “Come ON. Come ON. Come ON.” I desperately tried to pull it together and stop looking all pink and like I’d been sobbing because holy hell I really didn’t want someone to ask me why I looked the way I looked and what was wrong because if someone asked me what was wrong I would start crying at them and then they would be confused and I would have to find the words to tell them that I had almost gone off the road and I was FINE but I wasn’t you know? Like mentally, I knew I was okay. But physically, my body wasn’t quite sure about that. I cry because I’m upset that I’m even upset, and because I’m so sick and tired of being the PTSD car accident girl who can’t make it through the workday. I’m at war with myself about it, and I thought I made peace a long time ago. I keep thinking: I’m better than this. I’m better than this. I run a fucking podcast about mental health where every other week I’m urging people to take care of themselves and I’m telling my friend to give herself a break and I can’t fucking do the same because I’m so fucking ashamed that this is still my story. I know I’m good at talking about it. So good, that maybe you stopped reading these blog posts a long time ago because they’re all about the same thing and you have better things to do. I don’t want to keep telling you about this, because I don’t want there to be anything more to tell. But I’m going to keep telling you about it, because it makes me feel better to do so, and I can’t change the fact that there’s still story left to tell.

I so desperately wanted to go home, so desperately did not want to talk to a single person, and so desperately did not want to tell anyone about how I was feeling. But in order to go home and be alone, I had to talk to people. You see my dilemma. As I struggled to muster the courage to email my supervisor, I realized that this talking is a skill. It’s something I’ve perfected over the years, and one that my body forgot as it shook and heaved. But I was only shaking and heaving because I was not allowing myself to shake and heave. I did not let myself sink into it, because I was trying to force it down, choke it down, and tell the world I was okay. So I sat at the desk, emailed my supervisor and told her what happened and that I hate to be the PTSD girl but I was really going to have to go home after my desk shift since I could not stop shaking or crying. My supervisor called the assistant director. The assistant director stepped out of his office, and welcomed me in. I kicked the door closed, and immediately started sobbing into my hands. I had not kept it together very well during my five minutes on the desk. The first phone call I got, I answered it and immediately started crying. I barely answered their question. They were confused. So I sobbed at him, and told him I was so sick of being this. He told me it was okay, and that I should go home when I was ready. So I sat at my desk and I ate a donut and I tweeted about it and then I called Eli and then I drove home. I wrote this out, watched four hours of Sex and the City, did yoga, meditated and then my mom called and told me to stop calling myself PTSD car accident girl and then Eli came home and we watched The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel because I love that show. All the while, I tried not to feel guilty for not crying at home. I tried not to feel guilty for feeling okay once I got there. I tried not to think shitty thoughts like, “Wow Fran, did you really have to go home? You seem okay to me.” As soon as I talked about it for one second, as soon as I stopped crying, I stopped giving myself permission to take the time I needed, because it didn’t seem like I needed it anymore. I can only take time when I am at rock bottom. Everything else just isn’t low enough. You thought we only had good enough here? Well, you’re wrong. We have not bad enough too! 

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I’ve been thinking lately that a lot of our definitions and labels, and our incessant need to define and label, is evidence of the patriarchy at work. More than being sick of being the supposed PTSD car accident girl, I’m sick of labeling and defining myself. It’s all too simple, and it’s another excuse to take one look at a woman and her definition, and then look right past her. So I’m not going to label myself anymore, because you do not get to look at my label and decide what I am. I get to open my mouth and tell you myself. So I will stop labeling myself the PTSD car accident girl, just as I will not be so quick to label myself as a just a writer but not a director, or anything else limiting and untrue. I am evolving, and these definitions are all just a little too concrete for my ever-evolving self to feel okay with them. I am moral, I care about people, I’m worried about this world and our environment and the people in it and how there’s just so much to care about that we kind of don’t anymore. I’m a writer. I’m a woman. I’m in love with an Eli. And those are all the simple definitions and labels you get for me. The rest, you’ll have to talk to me for. Because maybe, just maybe, I don’t want you to figure me out before I get to speak for myself.

And if you think about it, of course that follows. The mantra of my college years was: I’m not going to fit into the college student box for you. This has evolved into the mantra of my twenties: Of course I’m not, but I’m also not going to define myself for you. In the future, I hope to take it one step further: I’m going to attempt to be okay with not defining myself at all.

I know, right?

Take care,
Fran