Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Why Me

I know the words "why me" are usually uttered in response to a terrible event in one's life. In this particular case, it is in reference to my overriding urge to say "why me" when it comes to taking care of myself.

It is ever so much easier for me to take care of others, particularly my husband and child. I have no trouble shopping for them, planning for them, plotting for them. I have a great deal of trouble doing the same for me. "Why me?" becomes a phrase implying that I am not worthy of my own consideration.

So, when did I forget how to allow myself to take care of myself? More than allow myself, make myself? When I was younger I had no trouble, but that was when I was young, unmarried, without a child. I think it has been a long, slow process. A process that has been so glacial I barely noticed it.

As I lived through my 20s and my 30s I began to value my strength, my sturdiness. I was strong, capable, un-frilly. I worked jobs where getting up 2 hours early to curl my hair and apply make-up made no sense. I got out of the habit, and then failed to see the need.

In my 30s I had my children. With the loss of my first child, so sudden and unexpected a large sliver of myself shattered away. With the arrival of my second child, just 15 months later, I dissolved into him with happiness I didn't know existed.

Ah motherhood.... For so long I was constantly covered with spit up, milk, food bits, at risk for diaper blow outs. I took to a very utilitarian clothing habit. I felt that as long as my child looked put together, cared for, what matter how I looked so long as I was clean and relatively presentable. Again, sturdy and un-frilly was what made sense.

Just as I began to think about changing my ways, I found myself rocked by serious and chronic illness. For well over a year I dealt with weight gain, lack of energy, hair loss, anemia. I felt like I was fading away. Surgery, iron supplements, and medicine has largely resolved my issues, and now it is time to leave it behind me.

Now comes the time to try to mend the error of may ways. It has to stop being "Why me?" and become "Why NOT me?" I have to relearn the art of caring for myself. I have to feel like I deserve to give myself the time to take care of myself. I have to stop feeling like I am wearing a costume when I wear nice clothes, put on make-up, and think about how I look. I need to re-discover what it feels like to feel pretty, and not just sturdy.

Maybe, if I work on my outer self, my inner self will begin to heal too. Why NOT me, indeed.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Run down to New Year

Christmas isn't here and I am already thinking of New Year's Resolutions. This time last year I was preparing to go to the hospital in the morning to have half of my thyroid removed. I thought the hardest thing was going to be the immediate physical recovery and that by New Year I would be raring to go. I made resolutions based on that. Boy, was I mistaken.

It turns out that the surgery and physical recovery were the easiest part of it all. The hardest part was the mental slide I found myself on once the stress of the holidays left and I had nothing to think about but life.

I'll be honest, I was gifted during that time by wonderful people, with huge hearts and generous kindness. I will never forget the flavor of the best and most soul nourishing soup, or the joy of sitting with a friend as she patiently helped wrap gifts. I will carry in my heart the perfumed scent of the knitted "neck cozies" my "second mother" sent me to protect my sore and scarred throat.

At the same time, I was deeply wounded by the lack of consideration by people I honestly expected more from. I didn't notice it at the time, but in the ensuing months, I admit to feeling seriously hurt at the lack of outreach, not even a get well card from places I would have thought would have reached out. Worst of all, there was one place I specifically reached out to prior to surgery with very specific requests for help (and this is a place that is designed and organized to help in situations just like this), and nothing was done.

This year, 2011, which I had hoped would be an improvement over 2010, the year in which I lost my faith in my health, has failed me. As is turns out, 2011 was to possess moments and events of great blessing, things I will remember with fondness and gratitude. It also contained some soul-shattering, confidence-busting events as well.

I feel like I have shut down in the past 12 months. I have no interior dialogue that doesn't involve mental ridicule. I feel constrained, but don't know how to change it. I think 2012 is likely to be a year of hard work for me mentally. I am finally beginning to feel ready to face it all and get it behind me.

Thursday, December 8, 2011


A new personal record is about to be attained. It is December 8th and I have yet to turn on the heat in the house. Only now am I feeling the lack and the need.

Tonight, I will curl up in warm jammies, nana socks, my thick robe, and blankets on the couch. The bed is already adorned with flannel sheets and thick blankets. Tomorrow we will have a fire in the fireplace most of the day. I think I can make it to December 10th, maybe 11th.

Yeah, I'm stubborn. Thank goodness my family is right with me on it. So far, nobody has complained they are cold.

In a battle of Mother Nature vs. me, I know Mother Nature is always going to win, I just want to be sure I put up a good fight.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Waking Up

It's been nearly a year since my thyroid surgery. My neck is healed and I am repeatedly told it is barely noticeable, though I still see it very clearly and vividly. I think my meds are pretty good, though maybe not perfectly adjusted. It has been a long and dismal year (let's be honest 2 years) and at long last I am beginning to feel like I am waking up.

For so much of the last 12 - 18 months I slogged through life. I dealt with details, arrangements, schedules, and necessities. I cooked meals, ran errands, paid bills, organized gatherings, dealt with crises. The one thing I did very little of was live and wake. It was like I was a sleepwalker, or someone just one step out of phase with the world around me. I was adrift, and carried along with the tide of daily life.

I have a long way to go, there are still lingering hurts and conflicts to resolve. Even so, each day I feel more like I have an inner life again, like I am thinking again and not just operating.

In this season, in which we are connecting with those we love, whether dead or alive, near or far, I am going to make the effort to come fully back to the life of the living and awake.

I miss me. Wonder if anyone else has noticed?

Thursday, November 10, 2011


I have been thinking about people who commit suicide lately. To be clear, not because I have considered it for myself, but because twice in the last 4 months it has peripherally touched my life.

In July, as I was overseeing the summer program in our community, a woman in our village chose to end her life. She didn't want her landlord or friends to find her, so on a soft Summer morning she called 911 and let them know what she was about. Of course, when someone calls and says that they are going to end it all, the police respond in force. As I arrived at camp that morning, there was already a police cordon, SWAT team members, and some evacuations going on less than two blocks from the location where I was responsible for 60 children and 10 staff. Conflicting reports said it might be a hostage situation, or maybe a murder/suicide. I was in touch with police and had to help staff plan a release of campers at the end of the day. Not fun, and seriously miserable when it became clear that this woman had simply called to say she wanted police to come and claim her body.

What was truly terrible was the outpouring of comments and concern that happened in the wake of this woman's actions. So many people were devastated to hear of what she had done. The heartbreak was palpable. Yes, she had suffered the loss of a dear pet, yes she felt alone, but at the end of the day there were many who mourned her choice and the fact that she would no longer be a part of the fabric of village life.

More recently, like in the last two weeks was the untimely death of a man who owned a local garden center. He was a minor celebrity in our area, everyone having been to this center at one time or another. A larger than life personality, he drew you in with his enthusiasm for his chosen profession. You might bulk buy at Lowes, but you went to Always the Garden for the real gems in your garden.

The news of his death began much like the news of the earlier suicide I experienced this year. Rumors, chatter, speculation, followed by horrible confirmation. Now, dozens of people I know are mourning the death of this amazing person.

So, here is the question I have...... Why can people not see the impact they have on the lives of the people around them? Why can someone not see that the threads of their life intertwine and tangle with so many others? By snipping their thread they leave us all at loose ends, trying to repair and restore.

Would it have been different for these two people if they had seen? Would the choices have been different?

I wish for peace for these tortured souls and peace for the people who ache with their absence. In those moments when feel the darkness and wish to silence the voices in our heads, I hope we can see and feel how what we do will leave others in pain. No person exists in a void, no person should act as if they do.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Too Long

It has been too long since I have posted. Too long since I sat and listened to what was in my head and put it down in a record. The Spring and Summer came and went and I drifted along in them, busy sometimes, bored sometimes, overwhelmed at times. Why was there never a moment when I stopped to write?

Fall is here and another year of homeschooling is under way. Big changes for us now that I am feeling better. More activity, more events, more coming and going is filling our calendar. It is good.

There is other stuff, baggage to be unpacked. I'll get to that, but for tonight I needed to break the ice and just put something down.

Saturday, April 30, 2011


Tonight is one of those night where I truly feel that my life is full to overflowing. No half-full vs. half-empty here.
It has been a good day. We got errands done as a family this morning, indulged in a trip to the Library, got some good chores done at home, and made dinner on the grill. The weather was agreeable, the temperature comfortable, the family in a good mood. With grass freshly cut we made burgers on the grill and had dinner on the porch. What a nice way to end such a nice day.

So here I sit on the porch in the fading light. I am listening to the birds singing, Connor and Drew playing in the yard, and the hum of the Spring evening. I feel full. Full of happy, full of hope, full of contentment. For a person raised to believe that life is frequently out to get you, days like this are soul healing.

Well, I am off to work out dessert for us all, though today has been awfully sweet already.

Monday, February 28, 2011

I wonder

Susie Isabel Clay- 1888

Was it a whim? Was it a long-planned for and much-anticipated outing with friends? Did she board public transit, walk through the cold Chicago streets, or get a ride with friends? How did she start her day? Did she read the paper, eat toast and coffee, indulge in a breakfast out? It was school vacation, was there a stack of papers to grade calling to her? Did she leave that stack behind to treat herself to an afternoon of fun in Chicago's newest and fanciest theater?

I don't know the answer to any of these questions. What I do know is that on December 30, 1903 Susie Clay, native of New York State found herself in the audience of the Iroquois Theater in Chicago. She was about to become a part of American history. The day, that may have started with such promise for so many was about to become the last of their lives, Susie included. They died when the Iroquois Theater, billed as "fireproof" went up in flames, killing 650 in the audience, mostly women and children on a school holiday outing to see a matinee in the City.

Susie is a mystery to me for a number of reasons and she haunts me more than any other ancestor I have uncovered. Susie is the aunt of my husband's great-grandmother. They shared a name, and I believe an affinity for each other because of it.

By the time Susie was 17 she had lost both of her parents, who had been Potato Famine survivors. I can't imagine facing life at 17 in the late 1800s as a young woman alone. She must have been feisty, a trait I admire and am drawn to. Instead of settling down and marrying a nice boy from the area, Susie became a teacher. She taught in her home area, I've seen her mentioned in teacher union information published at the time. She must have been innovative and dedicated, because she is particularly singled out for her teaching strategies.

Why she decided to move to Chicago is beyond me. Yet, in 1891 she appears in the Chicago City Directory as living alone in a boarding house. She is in her early 20s, far from home, hearth, family and friends and making her way in a new city. Susie spends the next 12 years teaching in Chicago and moving from boarding house to rental apartment. Each year her name appears in the City Directory as she determinedly continued with her independent and solitary life. No husband, no children ever appear in her life. What independence! Independence I believe it to be, I've seen pictures of her and she was lovely.

So now I find myself at the Christmas Break of 1903 (before we thought to call it Winter Break or wish Happy Holidays). For reasons known only to her she did not make the trek home to be with family. I don't know how long it had been since she had been home at all. When was the last time she saw her siblings, put flowers on her parent's graves, checked in with former students and colleagues? Did she feel lonely and at loose ends? How did she spend Christmas Eve and Christmas morning? Was the trip to the theater a mid-Winter "pick-me-up" for a homesick woman?

I can imagine the theater sounds and smells. It was so new I bet it still smelled of paint and fresh varnish. All those women and children were gathered to enjoy a matinee in Chicago's newest theater. I can hear the excited voices, mothers trying to still squirming children. The rustle of coats, the click of heels, the playbills crackling, and the frisson of anticipation in the air must have been wonderful to be a part of. I can imagine the lights going down, the last flurry of movement as everyone settled in to be amused. It was a comedy play, with a well know male lead. The laughter must have been wonderful. I can see doting mothers grinning at the delight of their children. Susie was there, I can see her as part of the crowd, with her smart clothes, and straight back.

I assume she was in the balcony, inexpensive seats, and the most dangerous. As the play moved on, none knew what was in store for them. At some point in the play, a piece of scenery came to rest against a stage light, it began to smoke, it began to flame. The audience saw what had happened and a small nervous energy ran through the crowd. The leading actor broke character and encouraged everyone to sit down and remain calm. The crowd responded and the stage hands began to lower the ASBESTOS curtain to contain the fire to the stage. The wooden bar that weighted the bottom of the curtain caught, allowing only half the curtain to fall. Someone opened a back stage door, giving the fire a blast of cold Chicago air. The fire blasted free of the stage, billowed out over the balcony, killing hundreds as they sat. Now panic would not be stopped, and everyone ran for exits. Children were trampled, doors and gates were illegally locked and bodies stacked up at them, fire escapes hadn't been built and people rushed out doors stories in the air with no ladders or stairs. The carnage is beyond imagining.

The chaos in Chicago should be easy to envision. Injured, dying and dead were transported to hospitals and morgues all over. Some by hearse, some by ambulance, some by public transit. Nobody knew where anyone was, and many were unidentifiable. There are tales of fathers losing wives and all children, entire families wiped out. One poor soul searched the city and when his daughter was found, he gathered her poor broken body and brought her home by public transit. For days the paper carried names of the injured and dead and where they could be found.

Susie had no family to worry, no husband to notice her absence. There was no person to wander the morgues and hospitals seeking her. Ultimately she was identified by a woman who identified herself as a friend. Was she a fellow teacher, a former student? What made her able to say that Susie was missing and go looking for her? How was Susie identified? By sight, by clothing, by jewelry?

Susie was sent home to New York State to be buried beside her parents. She was 34 when she died. Her life leaves so many questions for me. Was it a whim? A whim that took her to Chicago to begin with? Was she trying to start over, start at all? Why did she leave her home and her siblings to teach in Chicago and why did she find herself at the theater that day?

Susie haunts me. I feel like it is important that our family remembers this solitary, independent woman. I keep her picture nearby and look at it often, wondering about her. Someday, I hope to find a newspaper article from her hometown that might answer some of my questions. Until then, she makes me think about how seemingly innocent choices can lead to very unexpected moments in time. Imagine, she started the day a Chicago teacher out for an afternoon's amusement, and ended up a victim of America's worst theater fire EVER.

I remember you Susie, and I want to know your story. I wonder.....

Monday, January 31, 2011

Winter Weary

I never considered myself as a person that suffered from seasonal depression, but I will admit that this Winter has me on the ropes. It has been grinding cold since the beginning of December, and one snow storm after another since Christmas. I am so sick and tired of cold, snow, and frozen precipitation of any kind I could cry. I am so worn out I can't even dream of planting and gardens right now. I want to, but it seems so distant and remote.

So here is my little message to Winter- I generally like having a few days curled up by the fireplace (which is a whole other saga at my house this year), but I think we have had our fill. It would be nice if you retreated to those areas that are used to you being there year round and leave us to balmy breezes, green grass, and growing plants. I am ready for warm sun, swaying flowers, warm garden dirt and fresh vegetables.

Here I am, slogging through the snow and slush, trying to remember that this too shall pass.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Trying to Understand

My mother was adopted as an infant. This something that was never a secret. She never sought out her birth-parents for reasons of her own. After her death I found all the paperwork related to her adoption, including information about her birth parents that would have allowed me to track them down. Still, I did nothing out of respect for my mother's wishes, and for their privacy.

Many years after my mother died, I gave birth to my first son. He was born with a terrible genetic disorder that took his life at just two days old. I was devastated and terrified. This was the time that I decided I needed medical information at the least.

A bit of genealogical sleuthing quickly led me to their graves, and from there to a nephew of theirs. Contact with him, led me to contact with a cousin. Good news and bad- no known connection to medical history, but they had never had another child so who really knew? Years passed and I was able to find other distant cousins, none with direct knowledge of my birth-grandparents.

I've had my healthy son, but my curiosity remains. Recently, a distant cousin came in contact with another cousin who had a close relationship with these people I so wanted to know about. Hope sprang to life. Could I finally see their faces, hear something of the people they were?

I sent an e-mail and a Facebook friend request (ah modern life). Two long and anxious weeks have passed in silence. Deafening, heart-breaking silence. Tonight I wrote a follow up e-mail and wanted to publish it here. I know what this person is going to say (or not say) and I admit it breaks my heart. I don't think I am asking for too much, but perhaps I am wrong.

What do you think? Here is my letter, redacted to protect the innocent:

Mr. XXXXX- A couple of weeks ago I wrote to you about my birth-grandparents, Dorothy and William XXXXXXX. I have not heard from you, not have you responded to my Facebook friend request. I have to take that to mean that you wish no further contact. I will honor that wish, but please know that should you ever change your mind I would love to talk to you. Since you grew up surrounded by blood relatives, perhaps you don't understand why I would want to ask questions. Let me be plain, I loved my adoptive grandmother with all my heart. To this day I credit her with saving me from a rough family situation and allowing me to live a life I can be proud of and happy in. I can't imagine her not being in my life, I can't imagine a more perfect grandmother for me. That said, in my family my grandmother was the photographer. I am the family historian. When my grandmother passed away I inherited all of her photo albums. These were albums packed to bursting, well loved, and well worn. I can remember hours spent by her side as she turned pages and told me stories of the people in the pictures. Her relatives, my grandfather's relatives, my mother growing up, me growing up. I loved the stories and very strongly identify with that heritage and history. Since her death I have done the research to trace those family trees back as far as 1638. Though not my blood, they are my people still. Even so, as I look through those photos on occasion I will come across a photo of my mother as a child and she so resembles my son that it takes my breath away. Sometimes the same thing happens when I see a photo of myself as a child. There is a certain smile, tilt of the head, glint in the eye, even a way of curling up in a chair that tells me how much of me (and my mother) lives on in my child. This got me to thinking about how I never get that experience with my mother. Nowhere had I ever seen a photo of a relative that so looked like my mother that it amazed me. Only once in my whole life did that happen, when I saw the picture posted with the obituary of John XXXXX on oldchesterpa. He is my mother's blood uncle, but he could have been her father, older brother, grandfather. I burst into tears to see my mother's face, smile, eyes staring out at me from the computer. My husband happened upon me and he had to sit down when he saw the picture. It was stunning, humbling, and so unbelievable. I understand if you want no further contact. I respect that. I will ask one favor of you, and if you feel you can't fulfill it, I will find a way to live with your choice. I have never seen a photo of either Dorothy or William. I have gone to historical societies in the hopes of seeing a high school photo but Dorothy had no photo, and I haven't found William's yearbook yet. I know something of Dorothy exists today. In her yearbook she said she liked sports and history- my mother planned to be a gym teacher, and I am a history teacher. This scant bit of info, along with the bare facts my grandmother jotted down at the time she adopted my mother are all I have to build a person in my mind. If you could, I would love to see some photos of them- from the 1940s when they had my mother, and from later on. I would love to know something of the people they were. Were they happy? What did they do for fun? Did they seem content in life? Did they want a family in later life? Please try to understand and respect my curiosity as I am working to understand your silent request for privacy. Thank you for taking the time to read this letter. Thank for even considering my request. Whatever your decision, I'll try to understand. Respectfully Terri Hansen

Monday, January 10, 2011

Set for Self-Destruct

My recent thyroid surgery couldn't have gone any better. It was uncomplicated, over quickly, and has been relatively easy to recover from. While I was relieved to hear the word "benign" in reference to my now absent nodule, I was less please to learn it was autoimmune in nature.

Be definition, an autoimmune disorder is when your body develops an over-reactive response to things normally present in your own body. In other words, your own immune system sees your body as the enemy and goes on the attack. Talk about self-loathing behavior.

Currently, it appears that my immune system is having trouble accepting the presence of pigment in my skin, leaving me with vitiligo. I have large patches of de-pigmented "lesions" all over my body, and quite noticeably on my hands. These lesions do not tan, but will viciously burn, meaning that any time spent in the sun is fraught with stress. My skin actually stings the moment I am in the warm sun for more than just a few moments. People look at me, wipe their hands after touching me (strangers, not my friends), and I can see them wondering why I look like a calico cat. When I can, I explain, when I can't I try not to notice.

Curiously, it was the vitiligo that led me to discover my most recent self-sabotage. When researching the latest advances on vitiligo, I found out that only recently have doctors begun to believe that this has an autoimmune facet to it. The article then went on to say that if you suffer from vitiligo, you may suffer from other autoimmune disorders. A glance at the list of warning symptoms led me to have my thyroid function tested, and viola! I was indeed hypothyroid, with a large nodule, which was unclear in testing. Upon removal I got confirmation that my second autoimmune disorder had been found.

It is supremely disconcerting to know that your own immune system is out to get you. It is like hosting a self-destruct button that activates spontaneously on its own I wonder what it will take a dislike to next, what hapless part of me is in for the next attack. Up until now it has been relatively benign (there's that word again). What if it goes totally rogue and goes after an internal organ, my blood vessels, my eyes, my joints? As it is, there is a lingering question about whether the severe anemia I suffered last year might not be yet another autoimmune issue- seriously, my blood?

So how do you treat autoimmune disorders? Well, lucky me. Right now the treatments are worse than what I am living with, so the only treatment for me is healthier living and stress management. How is easy is that, right? Healthy living and stress management, huh? Well, it could be easier to live more healthy when I am not stressed about what my autoimmune system is plotting as its next target.

So here I am, set to self-destruct with no way of knowing what the countdown clock is set for. What a joy. Stupid autoimmune system doesn't know who it messed with though. Frequently I find the easiest way to deal with my stresses is more fight than flight. So I guess for stress management I am about to embark on a journey to identify my options and take on my own self-loathing, punishing autoimmune system.

I'd kick and cry but what good would it do? Time to get to work, hoping that by the end of the year I have found a way to stop the progression right where it is.