How do you find hope?

When I think of hope, I see a little glimmer of something sparkly and deep within a darkened heart. “A light at the end of the tunnel,” maybe. The sliver of a new moon against a chalkboard black sky and diamond stars lifting your heart to the point of possible.

There is a thought that has stuck with me over the years. I don’t know if it is something I read or saw in a movie or I just created this belief because it made sense to me and I like to find meaning in what feels meaningless. A person dies so that another can live. A life for a life. I like the balance in that. New life replacing one that had to leave us suddenly or desperately, or hopefully timely if only to avoid more suffering.

When I was 21 and just starting to take classes to get into nursing school, I took care of a woman named Sara, who had a severe form of cerebral palsy. She wasn’t expected to live past 17, and she lived until the age of 24, a year after I had the pleasure to start working with her in her home.

I became close to Sara and her family quickly and her mom Eileen was like a second mom to me. Sara felt more like a sister than a patient and although she wasn’t able to speak with words, she could laugh and smile and say yes or no by blinking her eyes and shaking her head. For Halloween, I brought her a squishy red clown nose and we made silly faces and laughed together. In the summer, I would go to their beautiful lake house on the weekends to give her parents a break from her full-time care.

She ended up dying rather unexpectedly in the middle of the night when the trach tube attached to the machine that breathed for her popped off and the alarm did not wake her mother in time. I didn’t know how to feel. I was numb, not prepared to accept the death of someone I loved who had been on borrowed time as it was.

I spent 9 months grieving and not working before I became employed with another family caring for a 9 month-old infant who had a rare disorder that affects the part of the brain that connects the left and right halves. Astrid, like Sara, would never be able to speak or walk. Like Sara, she had the brightest smile and ability to giggle profusely, especially when I made silly faces at her.

Rationally, I know that the timing was most likely a coincidence and it didn’t entirely fit with my theory. Astrid was actually born 12 days before Sara died, not the same day or hour as would make more sense if for whatever reason Sara’s life was given for Astrid. Their similarities in my mind were uncanny, though. Two round-faced, bright-eyed blond little girls with a bigger smile than my own and so much life behind their shining eyes that were the only way they could communicate.

Maybe it comforted me to think that Sara’s spirit was somehow inside Astrid, a part of her still there with me. I guess that is what gives me hope.

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Gratitude, Always

The last few months feel filled with one tragedy after another in the world, and that, unfortunately, is true in my personal life as well. It is not my place to discuss what has been going on with my family here in this blog, but throughout it all, I keep trying to remember what has helped me in the past. Gratitude. Always counting my blessings.

It’s not easy to do. It’s much easier to fall into despair and get sucked into the questions of, “Why is this happening to me? To us?”

A few years ago, my best friend Ahnuh asked me if I would like to start a gratitude practice with her. We emailed each other what we were grateful for that day. It could be anything, that the sun was out or that we had good coffee. It started out daily, then weekly, then tapered off to monthly or whenever we could until we eventually stopped.

For Valentine’s Day last year, Di gave me a gratitude journal. I can date each page and write what I felt grateful for that day. It gives me prompts of different ways I can change it up. One day it may direct me to write 3 things that happened that I am grateful for and why. Another may be to write about 3 people I am grateful for.

At one point Di and I found it helpful to tell each other the 3 things we were grateful for that day before we went to sleep.

I have never been consistent enough to make this a daily habit, but when I realize that I haven’t done it in a while, especially when it feels that life just sucks and nothing good is happening, I start in again, slowly bringing myself back to what is good in my life. Even if it is only that the sun is out and I had a good cup of coffee that day.

KT

When will it stop?

I know it is naive of me to ask that question. The hate and killing in our world seem to ebb and flow in intensity, but I realize it will never stop. My heart hurts from the almost constant horror both locally and abroad.

Just weeks after the mass shooting in Orlando, came the tragedy in Istanbul, then Baghdad, Bangladesh, the killing of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile leading to the ambush on Dallas police officers. It’s too much and it feels hopeless.

I wish I had more profound words. I see people posting on Facebook the many ways that white people can show their solidarity and support for #BlackLivesMatter. My good friend Allison posted a link to Curriculum for White Americans with a wealth of valuable resources on how we can educate ourselves on who can really make a difference in this fight. Hint: it’s not people of color.

I hope that it can make a difference and things will finally change, and maybe it will, but then what about the terror abroad, mostly from ISIS, that continues to inspire madmen to take lives in our backyards as well?

I don’t have the answers. I don’t think anyone does and that both scares me and makes me incredibly sad.

This Butterfly Brain

Those who know me well, and probably those who have observed me over the years, know about my butterfly tendencies. I flit from one idea to the next, one project to another, never fully becoming successful in anything.

Lately, I’ve started to realize these tendencies are similar to ADD and it makes sense as I look back on my patterns. I have difficulty concentrating, I’m easily distracted, I leave things unfinished and my mind is always one step ahead, forgetting about the steps in between. I dislike school and classrooms make me anxious. I was amazingly able to accomplish 4.0s in nursing school by sheer will and because I’m a good test-taker, I was able to cram the night before and ace the test, then promptly lost all that information as soon as the test was over.

I left behind my nursing career for multiple reasons, mostly because I felt miserable and anxious every time I had to put on my scrubs, even when I found a field I loved working in with moms and babies. I then pursued Chinese Medicine and I was convinced that it was where I was meant to be. After an intense and stressful year, I felt a huge sense of relief when I left the program and realized that whether Eastern or Western, medicine is not where I want to be.

I started my handmade jewelry business in 2012 and subsequently gave up writing the novel that I had spent 6 months on and that I had dreamed about for years. I was distracted by the shiny pretty things and also felt that it would be more lucrative than writing. I still needed a steady paying job, though, and that lead to running the hospital gift shop where I had worked for years as an RN, swallowing my pride because it was fun and I enjoyed it, and my anxiety fell to a manageable level.

Ideas for my jewelry business and the store flew too fast for me to handle and the stress of making ends meet in SF got to me. Diana and I even started working on a company designing pet products that we have too many personal projects to pursue it fully. I have three book ideas, multiple essay topics, short stories, and I’m paralyzed with fear because I need to make a living somehow.

I know that I am not alone, whether I have ADD or it is my bipolar disorder that I was diagnosed with in 2011, or that it is just that much more of a challenge to accomplish things with the unlimited number of distractions within our fingertips. It’s too easy to waste away minutes that turn into hours mindlessly searching through Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube, email. Even trying to do some kind of research for a project leads me into an endless pit of information overload that I struggle to find my way out of.

I’m slowly trying to make progress and find small ways that I can regain some type of control over my mind and my actions. Getting a proper diagnosis and the right combination of medication was an important first step.  It’s amazing how much better I can function without my moods fluctuating every day or week without rhyme or reason.

Creating a schedule for myself is important, and trying to develop an exercise and meditation routine is something that I still struggle with, but I know the benefits are invaluable. I have learned to focus on baby steps and giving myself a break when I am feeling down because I didn’t do x, y or z has been the most helpful for me on a day-to-day basis. It doesn’t work for me to sit for 10-20 minutes to meditate, so I focus on my breath throughout the day, especially when I notice I am tense and getting off track.

The 4-7-8 breathing technique by Dr. Weil has been a lifesaver for me and it’s so easy to do. Using a tip from an article I read about eliminating distractions, I turned off all the notifications on my phone except for text messages, reducing the impulse to check an app anytime that little red circle appears.

I still have a long way to go, and I’m trying to take advantage of the time I have now to develop better habits that will help me in both the short and long term. It is helpful when I find other people like me who struggle with similar issues, like Emilie Wapnick’s website for Multipotentialites. She has created a community called Puttylike for “multipotentialites to stop beating themselves up about being unable to find their “one true calling” or fit into a box.”

Can you relate? Leave a comment if you have any tips that have worked for you!

KT

Corporate Pride

Yesterday we spent the day at NY Pride watching the parade and basking in the joy of being with so many people who are a part of or support the LGBTQ community. The mood was up and it was truly a celebration, as well as a tribute to the lives that were brutally taken in Orlando just two weeks prior.

Today marked another historic event, with the Stonewall Inn being dedicated as a national monument of gay rights. I feel proud and blessed to be able to experience and benfit from the huge strides that have been made in gay rights, especially in the last few years. We still have a long way to go and the fight against job discrimination and the ridiculous bathroom bans need to continue to ensure our equal rights on all levels.

One thing we noticed and read some comments on Facebook about was the large number of big corporations with contingencies at the parade. Like many, I have mixed feelings about it, but overall I think it is important for these companies to show their support, especially in the face of companies like the infamous Chick-Fil-A who voice their flat out discrimination of the LGBTQ community, most notably their employees.

On another topic, I’m going to write more about my experiences with mental illness, as I’ve been so inspired by my friend Maggie Newcomb and her memoir Chocolate Pudding in Heaven. Maggie is an educator and stand up comedian and she writes a compelling and candid account of her three major episodes of bipolar disorder and her subsequent redemption of her self and her life. Truly inspiring, and despite the gravity of the topic, also a fun read! Click on the link above to buy on Amazon and check out her blog, too.

KT

 

Can Love Overcome Hate?

Like so many over the last week I’ve been trying to process and understand the horrendous massacre that occurred in the early morning hours of June 12, at the gay club Pulse in Orlando. I grieve for all of the 49 lives taken so brutally by a madman with an assault rifle. My heart goes out to the families of the victims, and the survivors, who will have to replay the horror of this night over and over again.

I’ve been struggling to finds the words worthy enough to share. I’ve read so many heartfelt articles from those who are also grasping to comprehend this tragedy. I admit that this hits closer to home for me, because despite what some have purported, it’s obvious to me that the killer targeted this club because of his hatred toward gay people and possibly himself, something he must have learned from his homophobic father and from the militant, extremist group, ISIS.

Part of my fear is that this tragedy will keep more queer people who are closeted or may be questioning their sexuality hiding and afraid. I remember when my brave younger brother came out at the age of 13 in 2000. Less than two years prior Matthew Shepard had been brutally beaten and left to die in Laramie, Wyoming. Although there is some controversy surrounding the reasons that he was attacked, he became the face of the LGBT’s campaign to protect the community against hate crimes, both by increasing awareness and advocating for new and better laws.

My mom was terrified that my brother would suffer abuse from other people for being gay and being out at such a young age. I was not as brave as my brother, and it took me years to acknowledge my own homosexuality, but I remember feeling so proud of him for remaining true to who he was despite the negativity he could have experienced. Thankfully, he was in a progressive school where the majority of kids embraced him and as far as I know he was not treated poorly nor did he experience any violence directed toward him.

It’s true that I feel more affected by this attack than I have with other previous tragedies (there are sadly too many to count) because they did not feel as personal to me. This terrorist targeted my community in a place where we should be able to feel safe. It’s disheartening that after so many years of progress we now have another level of fear to deal with on a daily basis.

I realize that I am more privileged than others because as a white woman who probably looks more straight than queer I can easily “pass.” Despite that fact, I have only truly felt comfortable walking down the street holding my wife’s hand in the Castro district of SF, or when attending the annual Pride celebration.

Did this man know that June is pride month and that people would band together in solidarity to make sure his hate did not overcome our love? Either way, I’m grateful for the opportunity to stand together with the group of people that I belong to who have been fighting against persecution and attacks for decades.  This year I will be at New York Pride where it all began 47 years ago during the Stonewall riots which lead to the current LGBT movement.

I know that there will always be hate in this world, and there will probably always be a new target of that hate no matter how much we are able to change. I’m buoyed by the outpouring of love after tragedies like this, such as the appearance of ‘Angels‘ to block the hateful protestors from Westboro Baptist Church at the funerals of the victims.

 

My new life in Jersey

My main motivation for starting this blog was to get more comfortable with putting my writing out into the world. I started a novel in 2012 that I am now working on again, after abandoning the project to make and sell jewelry through Katie Wood Jewelry. While it was fun to make interesting pieces out of found objects, at one point even using bees, moths, and butterfly wings; my heart is always pulling me toward my lifetime goal of writing a novel and becoming a writer. I’ve been continually dissuaded from focusing on this goal by a lack of confidence that I can be successful, as well as a fear of judgement, and of course, the big one–how to make a sustainable income.

My wife and I have been given the incredible opportunity to start out fresh and reinvent ourselves, something I have attempted to do for years. This time, though, we don’t have the constant stress of making rent payments each month…and when the projected income, according to SmartAsset’s recent study shows that you need to make over $216,000 to rent a two-bedroom in San Francisco, even doctors and lawyers I know are struggling to make ends meet. http://m.sfgate.com/news/article/Here-s-what-you-need-to-make-to-afford-rent-in-7709356.php

Needless to say, as I’m figuring out what I’m doing, my blog posts will hopefully evolve to keep reflecting this transition in my life.

I was inspired this past Saturday on a day trip with friends to New York City and Brooklyn, which takes us about an hour from where we are in New Jersey.

We met for brunch at Perla (http://www.perlanyc.com) in the West Village, an adorable corner cafe that felt like it could be at home in multiple SF neighborhoods, like Cole Valley, Valencia St., or North Beach. Lovely decor, clean and modern with a rustic vibe. Super friendly staff, and delicious food.

We walked around the Village after, and though it felt more like a fall day in the city rather than spring, I didn’t mind as the crisp air was also refreshing. One of the girls is getting married in November, so we convinced her to go to this fabulous wedding and vintage dress shop, that we would have missed completely if not for the wedding dress hanging overhead on the railing of a fire escape off the second floor of a nondescript brownstone. The NY SHAREEN and Shareen bridal location is in addition to her 7,000 square foot space in Los Angeles that is her original store. (http://shareen.com/shareen-bridal/)

As soon as we walked into the store/apartment, we were greeted by a diminutive, child-like creature who introduced herself as Cat, with an equally child-like voice that she later described as creepy. We assumed that she was the owner until we met Shareen herself, a woman I can only describe as confident, cool and effortless, wearing a black, sheer, tailored vintage blouse and loose black pants with converse sneakers. Shareen told us that she used to be an actor and public speaker, and when I asked her how she got into this business, she answered simply, “by the Grace of God”. She went on to tell us about her story, and I could write pages on the intense and fascinating conversation that ensued, with all of us rapt at her conviction and eloquent and honest speaking style.

So, I will end this post to be continued, as I have lots of thoughts on this subject that I’m sure will take up more than one post.

I hope you enjoyed reading and have a fun and sun-filled Memorial weekend!

KT