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

Feel and Expand

The other night I drove home through golden hour sunlight. In the photos, this looks amazing. Like a dewey, sun drenched dreamscape. In reality, it’s blinding. That’s kind of how I feel right now. So many amazing things are happening that I can hardly see straight, and then I think that nothing is happening at all.

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Two months ago, days before my birthday, I cried at my friend in a coffee shop at 7 am over the fraught, tense, loose strings of my life. Two months and nine days later, on her birthday, she told me what she’s dealing with. Figuring out how to relax, how to navigate new and old friendships, how to have time for herself with a full time job. Our similar birthday breakdowns fascinated me. In order to be a complete woman in our twenties, there are so many pre-requisites. We’re only ever told how to do it all- not how to do one thing really well. So when we get here, here being 23 with a job and some free time and no idea how to use it in a way that is actually useful to ourselves, we can’t even relax, because we’ve never been taught how, and because we wouldn’t know why we would even do that. What’s the value in relaxing when all we’ve been striving for is what we’ve already accomplished? And anyway, isn’t relaxing just laziness? Shouldn’t we always be striving for more, more, more?

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For a while, I longed for the quiet solitude of the months after my accident. Fucked up, I know. But I’ve been in the full time rat race for a while now, and I longed for the absence of expectations again. I need to move slowly. To do nothing, really do nothing, and not feel bad about it. Drive down long undiscovered roads by myself, stumble and get lost and find something new there. I don’t want to do the same thing every day. I get bored, and then I mistake boredom for depression. Or maybe boredom becomes depression, I don’t know. What I’m sick of is feeling like just because I’m not writing something right now, I’m not doing enough.

This year has been so important in my “calming down” journey. Last year I felt like a pot left unattended on the stove. Boiling over, destroying myself and alarming those around me in the kitchen. This year feels like a low, cooling simmer. The pot has been taken off of direct heat, and now I just need time and space. Room, distance so I don’t try to make myself or my life perfect. I got too caught up in the comparison trap last year, and truly could not extricate myself from the web. I needed this distance to create myself in solitude. I’ve learned that I am perfect. Just don’t compare me to the recipe. 

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I am so grateful for this November. I love this season, and I hope I am able to enjoy it thoroughly. Almost every weekend this month we went for a long walk and made applesauce. Making applesauce with my mom in November 2013 is one of the few happy memories I have from that time. Funny enough, early this month I experienced my first real back spasms since that year too. I cannot, though I proclaim to be a writer, express the anxiety I felt when I recognized that low, constant pulsing pain as a back spasm. It’s 2013 again, I thought. But soon after, as Eli’s dad pushed on the spasm and made it release, and recommended constant heat for relief, I realized that it is not 2013. It is 2018, and though the pain I feel now mirrors and mimics the pain I felt then, it is not then. I have an Eli. I have the tools to take care of myself. I have the tools to breathe through the pain. That night, as the pain subsided, I thought of Svadhishthana, the sacral chakra, whose mantra is “I feel.” When Eli’s dad pushed on the spasm, it hurt even more. I had to breathe, and breathe, and breathe and breathe…until he released it. “We’re going to do that again,” he told me, and I almost cried. But I breathed again. I felt it fully, even more viscerally, and then it was gone. The muscle literally had to have the pain be felt before it could expand. Maybe that’s what this is. Maybe I had to feel this pain of 2013 one more time…before I can release it and expand. Feel and expand. That is how we move through pain. That is how we move through life. Breathe. Cry. Allow it to hurt, allow it to release, and then move on into the quiet unknown of the vaguely outlined path ahead.

-Fran

It is Happening Again

September 24th is the day that my life as I knew it, ended. Twice. In 2015, it was the day I started dating Eli. Two years prior, it was the day I thought I ruined it permanently with a car accident. I’ve written about this countless times on this blog alone, wrote an entire novel about it, and made a web series based off my novel in which I acted out this trauma. If anyone has processed and made peace with her trauma, it’s gotta be me, right? Sunday night I had the worst anxiety attack I’ve had, possibly ever. I started thinking, and then my thoughts spiraled out of my control. When Eli asked me what was going on, I attempted to explain it.

I just got really freaked that I’ve been performing everything my whole life and with you or something? And it hasn’t been real and I’m not happy or something? 

I don’t know why my brain just thought that and I don’t think it’s true but now I don’t know what’s what and I’m very scared. My brain just went ‘yeah but what if all you are is friends and you’ve just been lying to yourself or something’ and now I can’t breathe. I don’t know what the fuck is going on but I feel like I can’t trust anything.

Then came the confusion, the actual disassociation. I didn’t recognize myself. I didn’t trust anything in my life as the truth. I didn’t believe that anything I had ever known was real, and I didn’t trust reality itself. One moment I was so confused I didn’t think my relationship was real, and the next I realized that I haven’t broken down about the accident since the start of my relationship. I have been so perpetually busy for the entire 3 year span of our relationship, that I guess once I had a spare moment my body thought— okay, good time for a breakdown. I cried harder than I have in a very long time, and sobbed on the phone to Eli, apologizing profusely to the point that I actually started to hyperventilate.

I just started to think about how identity is ambiguous and it’s a series of hats we try on and who we were at 15 is not who we are now and so who are we really and therefore can we ever really know ourselves and furthermore HOW can we ever really know ourselves and know what’s true? And then I just got to thinking- oh my god maybe I don’t know what’s true and that was so terrifying... ? 

And that sounds so fucking crazy I know but I think I just got worried about my choices, because we have so many in this life- and I got worried that somehow I was making the wrong ones and I was locked in or something but that is so absolutely not true— it’s just that there are so many infinite possibilities and choices and doesn’t that just freak you the hell out sometimes? That you can choose anything, so maybe you’re choosing the wrong thing and don’t even know it?

I want you!! I want our life and I want our kids and our cats and I know that you are my actual soul mate and I’m so sorry and I hope you don’t take offense that my brain tried to convince me that I didn’t know that.

This time of year fucks me up. Because 5 years ago I thought I knew everything, I thought I knew what I wanted and then it broke down and I realized what I really wanted and so I think I’m paranoid that everything’s gonna break down again if I’m happy.

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These past few years have been a conscious effort on my part to prove to my parents and everyone around me that I am okay. No, I’m more than okay. I’m great. I’ve risen above this thing that tore me apart. To be clear— I have. But in a single moment it hit me, for the first time in a long time, that I am absolutely terrified of it happening again. In the early days after the accident, I would tell my mom and therapist that I was afraid, that in the back of my mind I was waiting for the other shoe to drop. After a while though, real joy seeped into my life. I became less afraid of that shoe dropping. I took a leap of faith on this relationship, and I thought that meant I was past it. That I wasn’t still afraid. This enormous breakdown was evidence to the contrary. 

The truth is, I have been working to prove that I am happy while simultaneously fearing that happiness, because the illusion of happiness is what I perceived in my life before my first downfall. And now that I’m actually happy? Oh, we could fall so much harder. If I am happy, my body is probably lying to me and some terrible thing is going to have to happen to jolt me out of it and show me the truth.

For about an hour, my body was in control, out of my brain’s control, making me physically feel before it let me mentally remember and logically think. It moved through me like a tidal wave, and I was so consumed by it that I barely noticed that hour passing. I’ve always loved that Eli and I started dating on the 24th of September, because I thought- this is my life coming full circle. This is the universe healing me. What they don’t tell you is that healing involves feeling it all over again. I thought I knew my own feelings enough to recognize my PTSD flashbacks. This experience was entirely new to me. I’ve felt flashbacks before, usually in the car. This wasn’t a car flashback, but a flashback of how I felt in the days and months after the accident. Deeply hopeless. Purely lost. Questioning everything.

And it’s funny, because I had just finished a video that I had been working on for a month, about this exact thing. About the tension I feel between my relationship and my accident.

My mom said she thinks this might be the last bit of processing I need to do before I can release it. This thought comforts me, but it also produces an unfamiliar panic. I am no stranger to facing my shit. I encourage it in post after post on this blog. I thought I was good at it, ready for it, past it. Last night I expressed to Eli my fear of myself, my fear that there’s more of this coming, and my fear of being alone with my thoughts. 

It’s just isolating. You are all you can really trust, and when you don’t feel like you can trust yourself...what do you have? I’m also feeling like— dear god please let there not be more. I can’t take any more. Also, if this is some big final processing thing like the Boss on Mario or some shit, what comes after? Also, how does one “process”? What does the after look like? It’s fucking scary.

He replied with,
Well you can’t really deal with, or even know what’s after until something happens and you are *after*.  But I hear you.

I’m waiting for the after, paralyzed by the now. That is the honest truth. But Eli is right. You can’t be after without the gritty meat of the before.

Take care,

Fran

P.S.- If you enjoy reading these rambles about my mental health, check out the podcast I’ve started with my friend Frankie. It’s called CrazyAF, and the first two episodes are live on iTunes now.

What Comes After

Sometimes I think that if I didn’t buy into the bullshit thoughts my brain feeds me, I'd be fucking unstoppable. What stops me are thoughts like, “you didn’t accomplish anything today.” I had that thought following two days with PTSD symptoms after a terrible accident at the library where I work. As a result, the library was closed, and I had two days off. They weren't days off, in terms of the weight of being a person, but they were two days where I didn't have to go to work, I guess.

Instead, they were two days in which I had to fight to stand up and feed myself. I cried at the drop of a hat. I almost accelerated into the back of a car on the way to an appointment. A deer hit my car on the way home. I was shaky, on edge, crumbling, and judging myself, because I felt stupid for falling apart when I wasn’t even present for the accident. I fell apart at the thought of this happening where I work, where I spend so much of my time. 

Shoutout to  Gilmore Girls  for always getting it.

Shoutout to Gilmore Girls for always getting it.

Saying that I thought, “what if” about the accident at the library sounds inconsequential. It’s so much more than that. It’s like what if and PTSD had a demonic baby, which results in a much more realistic kind of nightmarish daydreaming. My brain thinks what if, and my body thinks right now. My heart races. Every social interaction feels like a battlefield.

As much as I don't love all of these PTSD symptoms, the far away feeling that comes after they pass is welcome. I'm not that anxious, because I'm just trying to be in each moment and not worry about worrying. I had a moment over that weekend where I realized that in some ways I felt irresponsible for not being anxious. If I'm not anxious, I'm probably just forgetting something that will stress me out when I remember it later. So, theoretically, I am doing later me a favor by being anxious now. At least when I'm anxious I know I'm not forgetting. When I'm anxious now I can convince myself that there won't be anxiety later. I'm partially right. Later there will be exhaustion, self-loathing, and what's that? Oh yeah, more anxiety. That I wasted my all of my precious time being anxious.

After spending two days trying not to fall apart, failing, and then giving in and just seeing where the falling apart took me (spoiler alert: I was 100% calmer once I gave in to not being okay), I thought to myself: man, you really should’ve used those extra two days to do some shit. Work on your book. Edit the podcast. You suck. 

I know I make a lot of bold statements in these blog posts. (It’s my public diary. I’m allowed.) But damn, I’m done. I’m done with beating myself up. So after I had this thought, I thought back to myself, “shut up. I did enough.” It’s going to be a battle to keep doing that. But I don’t care, because those negative thoughts stop me in my tracks and keep me from doing ANYTHING, let alone the to-dos in question. If I've learned anything from the fact that I felt better when I succumbed to feeling like shit, I think it’s that I’ll accomplish more if I stop jumping down my own throat about how much I accomplish. 

That first Monday back, I had no idea how I was going to do anything more than get through the day. When my therapist called me that morning, as I was on the edge of throwing up, throwing in the towel and calling it a sick day, he said that when something happens at our home or place of work, we can feel extremely disoriented, because those are places where we feel rooted, safe. I don't feel rooted here right now. I don't have answers. I am nothing more than a host to huge, incalculable feelings. Feelings that I am trying to honor and process, while also trying to navigate the potholes of professionalism and productivity

I don't have a neat ending to this blog post. This isn't a neat, or easily summarized moment in my life. But I felt the need to document it, to bleed out my feelings in the midst of feeling them. Feelings are messy. PTSD is messy. But I am here, in the middle of the mess, showing up on the page. 

Take care,

Fran