To Calvin On the Eve Of His Fifth Birthday

Dear Calvin (or Ninja, Maniac, Naked Boy, or whatever nickname you’re going by today),

As the youngest in the family, I am really struggling with this particular birthday. I know that you’re excited, SO excited, about turning five. And I’m genuinely glad that you are. Even if a little piece of my heart is breaking.

From the moment that I heard your heartbeat for the first time, my gut told me that you were a boy. The sound was slower than when I first heard your sisters and of course the myth is that boys’ heartbeats are slower than girls’. I still don’t know why that is, especially since absolutely nothing else about you is slow.

When I was growing your sisters, they made me sick all the time. I couldn’t eat anything and if I tried, I saw it again almost immediately. But oh, not with you. You made me HUNGRY. I ate like you probably will when you’re about 15. Or how you eat spaghetti now… ravenously. I couldn’t get enough.

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Maybe this wasn’t the first time that we got to see you on the big screen, but it was one of my favorites.  CHEEKS!

When we went in to see you on the big screen, we knew we would get to find out if you were a boy or a girl. After two girls, everyone assumed that Daddy and I wanted a boy. And honestly, going in, it didn’t matter to us. We already had all of the girl stuff. We already knew what we were doing with girls. But all I knew is that a boy would be a LOT of fun. So they put the warm goo on my belly and then put the magic wand on that helps us see everything on the inside on the outside. And the first thing we saw was… your penis. There was our answer… you were a BOY.

And in that moment, I got the thing I never knew I needed… a son.

And in the months that followed, you grew and you grew. You grew big and made my belly look like a giant basketball. You also grew when I had to say goodbye to your Gramps. You kept me strong during a time when I didn’t think I would be able to. During the time when I wanted to give up. But I had you. You needed me. You couldn’t survive without me. My little boy. I couldn’t give up.

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By baby #3, my body actually didn’t give me too many issues and I felt pretty damn good about myself.

And on May 30th, 2012, you decided that it was time to meet us. I roared you out of my body in 1 1/2 pushes and held all slippery 8 pounds, 11 ounces of you against my chest. I stared at you, in awe of the beautiful baby boy who in that moment, completed our family. You were it, your were my last. I was overjoyed. Maybe I should have been a little bit sad, but my heart was too full to feel anything but happiness.

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Riding my baby high

We named you Calvin Mark Lewis Brewer. Calvin, after the mischievous and intelligent comic strip character. Mark, after your Gramps, who would have rough housed with you and introduced you to old music and made you laugh like no one else could have. And Lewis, after your Grandpa Brewer, who would have told stories of days past and fed him ice cream with chocolate pudding on top.

I vowed from the moment that I found out that you were coming that I was going to make the most of every moment with you. So I did. When we came home from the hospital, I put you in our bed, patting your little butt after I nursed you and we snuggled together and fell asleep. And where do you sleep now? Yeah, not much has changed. But I wouldn’t trade the bedtime snuggles for anything in the world.

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We spent a lot of nights like this and there was no place I would have rather been.

You were my most talkative baby. You babbled and shrieked and made noises that I can’t even put into words. Daddy called you a baby velociraptor, which I think is pretty accurate. And your laugh… you had the best baby laugh. You were loud when you were happy. You were loud when you were sad. And you are still loud now. I sort of wish that you had come with a volume switch.

As soon as you were able to move around, you were looking for things to use as “cars”. Remote controls, hair brushes, your sisters’ Monster High dolls… whatever you could get your hands on that you could make slide across a surface. We were a house with two little girls. Not that I buy into gender stereotypes, but neither of them had ever expressed any interest in toy cars. I don’t know where your fascination came from, but it came naturally to you. So the moment that we gave you an actual toy car, your fascination turned into an obsession. And here we are, five years later, with countless cars, trucks, and trains, strewn all over the house. We could go into the details of some of the fancier cars that you have, but that’s a topic for another piece.

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Trains, but you get the idea…

As you have gotten older, you have grown more rambunctious. More curious. You have a thousand questions every day and don’t have the patience to wait for the answers. Your body doesn’t stop moving and you are always ready to test out some new stunt moves that you’ve created.

I often complain about how exhausted you make me. But then I remind myself that there will come a time when tiny footsteps won’t be running circles around my house.

I often complain about how crazy you make me. But then I remind myself that there will come a time when loud sound effects won’t fill the house and it will be a little too quiet.

When I found out that you were a boy, I was so excited what life with a son had to hold. But I realized very quickly just how unprepared I truly was. In good ways and difficult ways.

But you know, even those difficult moments aren’t enough for me to wish that you had been anyone other than exactly who you are. You bring excitement, hilarity, entertainment, sweetness, craziness, and a whole lot of joy in all of our lives – don’t listen to your sisters – and you are exactly what I always wanted. Even if I might not have realized it at the time.

So, sweet boy of mine, enjoy five. Stay wild and happy and 100% you. Because you are perfect just as you are.

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The Time I Lost Myself and Found Someone Else

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I’m bipolar.

There. I said it.

The word that I have been afraid of for so long. That I thought if I said it, I was giving it life. Making it real.

But guess what? It’s real whether I say it or not.

The road of mental illness is one that I’ve been traveling for about 15 years. Long. Treacherous. Unforgiving. I wanted to turn around, or find another route. But no. I am stuck on this one indefinitely and I don’t have a choice.

Somewhere along the way, I got lost. Everything I was, or thought I was, slowly began to disappear. I desperately wanted her back. She was easier. Happier. Safer. Who was I supposed to be without her?

But just as the last pieces of my old self dropped away, I started finding these new pieces. Pieces that I needed to put together to build this new person. This new person scared me. She was a stranger. She was reckless. She was complicated. But she was me, so I’d better get used to her.

The truth was, she was me all along. She had just been hidden behind this other version of myself, the one who I wanted to be. The one who I wanted the world to see. So when this outer shell began to crumble, the real me appeared. Whether I wanted her to or not.

Lots of people say that their mental illness doesn’t define them. That they are so much more than that. And they’re right. But at the same time, we have to own it. Accept it. Allow it to breathe and see the world rather than hiding it away.

It took me a long time to accept that I was struggling with mental illness. Depression. Anxiety. Whatever label I was given at the time. But once my psychiatrist dug deep and I was completely honest about my experiences, I was given my real and final diagnosis. The one that I deserved all along but refused to acknowledge. I was, I am, bipolar. And accepting that has been one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do.

The word caught in my throat, as if my body was trying to hold it in. But it needed to be released. Otherwise it would continue to eat away at me, as it had been doing for so many years.

Mental illness alone has so many negative connotations. But bipolar? That’s a whole other beast. One that is supposed to be caged. After all, its behavior is unpredictable. One minute, it is docile and sedated. The next, it is menacing and ferocious. You never know which side you’re going to be confronted with, yet somehow, you have to tame it. Train it, clean it up, and make it presentable.

Sounds easy, right? Imagine doing it every day. Sometimes every hour.

I tried to pretend that it didn’t even exist. Locking it away and willing it to disappear. But the funny thing about mental illness is that it never goes away. Not really. Not forever. And eventually, it became harder and harder to hide. So I made the decision to stop lying to myself. This is my reality and I can no longer be ashamed.

Sometimes, I’m able to be, or at least pretend to be, a normally functioning human being. Whatever that is, anyway. But other times, I am unable to be a part of the land of the living. I’m as close to dead as someone can be while still being conscious.

And then there’s the side of me that is volatile and raging. Where I’m not even present in my own body. Where I feel like I no longer have control of my actions. That is the scary side. At least Ashlie the Vegetable can’t hurt anyone. Ashlie the Monster is something else entirely.

But accepting these sides of me has made treatment possible. And treatment is absolutely crucial.

And just because I accept it doesn’t mean that I am going to let it overcome me.

I’m not asking for a miracle, here. I know that I will never be society’s definition of normal. But I think I can be okay. Or at least try to be. I owe that to my family. To myself.

Because even though I’m bipolar, I am still Ashlie. And she deserves to be a part of the world. She deserves to be happy.

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May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Too many people are unable to speak out and share their stories because of the stigma that surrounds mental illness. Often referred to as an “invisible illness”, those battling it usually blend in with everyone else. We suffer in silence… out of fear of judgment, of being misunderstood. But mental illness is no different than a physical condition that the world can see. It is beyond our control. It is an ongoing struggle. It is painful and draining.

In an effort to break the stigma, awareness and education have to happen. Acceptance and support have to happen. There are lots of things that you can do to help, but the easiest and most important is to show those with mental illness that you care. That you believe in their fight and want to be a part of it. Kindness and love go a long way, so if you can’t help in other ways, make your words and actions count. Build relationships and show support. Help others gain the confidence to share their truth. Let them know that they are safe with you. Just knowing that I have a strong support system has impacted me beyond words. I could not be more grateful for the friends and family who want to learn about what I go through and who are willing to help when I’m struggling. But not everyone is so lucky.

If you would like to find out more about bipolar disorder and other mental illnesses or learn about how to get involved, the National Alliance of Mental Illness is a great place to start.

10 Things My Four Year Old Doesn’t Give a Shit About

This list may or may not have been written during moments of frustration over the past few months…

Sleep. Okay, I can’t really complain about my kids when it comes to sleep because relatively speaking, they have all caught on to the idea that normal humans sleep at night.

But Calvin’s of the opinion that sleep is for the weak and really only gives in when his body can no longer remain upright.

He stopped napping at two years old. Despite the fact that he doesn’t stop moving from the time he wakes up. Which is probably why he passes out at a reasonable time. His body simply runs out of gas.

But if it were up to him, he would be mastering his ninja skills into the wee hours. And lately, he has apparently leveled up and been rewarded with extra energy, because he is now fighting sleep harder than before.

He runs and flips and zooms his cars when the rest of us are wearing down. We all want to snuggle in bed and he is all “Peace out, fuckers. Imma just stay here and burn the house down.”

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“So you think I’m going to go to sleep?  Here’s what I think about that.”

Potential injury. He is my daredevil child. From the moment that he was mobile, he was trying to climb. From the moment he could walk, he was trying to jump.

I never leashed any of my children, but with him, I’m wondering why I didn’t.

He darts in grocery stores or parking lots. He runs toward swimming pools sans floaties or other life saving devices. He is forever doing “tricks”, which involve cartwheels and handstands near brick fireplaces and coffee tables. He jumps off of furniture and finishes with a somersault.

Every five minutes, I am bracing myself for our first trip to the emergency room.

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He thinks he’s Spider-Man.  He is not.

What anyone else wants. He thinks that he’s the king of the world and that what he wants is paramount to what anyone else wants.

His show better be on TV or be prepared for a meltdown. The family is having chicken for dinner? Nope, he wants spaghetti. I want to listen to Dave on the car radio? He wants Twenty One Pilots.

Let me be clear, this doesn’t mean that he gets what he wants. And we don’t give in to his tantrums. But that’s just it… it’s all a battle of wills. We win, but not without a bit of torture.

He’s a four year old tyrant, hellbent on being in charge of the house. So we have to deal with the fallout when we break the news to him that he is not, in fact, the sole decision maker in the family.

Inside voices. As soon as he found his voice, he has never stopped using it. I always say that his body and his mouth are moving from the time that he gets up until he passes out. And he is LOUD. Whether he is playing with his cars or throwing a fit or chasing his sisters, he is almost guaranteed to be yelling or providing us all with movie quality sound effects.

My hope is that once he starts kindergarten, he will figure out what acceptable volumes are. Otherwise I will probably hear him all the way on my end of the building.

Clothing. More often than not, my son is missing at least one piece of clothing. Modesty isn’t something that he is concerned with.

In his defense, he does get hot easily and is prone to sweating. Probably because his activity level is on overdrive.

But nonetheless, he could at least be wearing appropriate attire. The most common item of clothing that he has done without? Pants. Also underwear, but almost definitely pants. He could be wearing a sweatshirt, but his bottom half will be almost bare. It doesn’t matter if it’s 80 degrees or 20 degrees, he doesn’t have any interest in wearing a full outfit.

We are usually able to wrangle him into something presentable when we leave the house, but at home, you never know how much of Calvin’s body you’re going to see.

Most of Delanie’s friends have seen his penis. He doesn’t care and over time, neither do they. They just expect for him to be half naked when they come over.

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In his defense, I told him to put his underwear on…

Tidiness. If you come over to my house, you can expect to see his cars everywhere. He can’t just play with a few at a time, he needs at least 30 to accomplish whatever race or crash he’s trying to create. He loves arranging them on the coffee table, but he also makes them fly across the hardwood floors and you have to tread lightly unless you want to step on one and go flying.

And lately, his toy explosions have extended to Legos, and we all know how dangerous those suckers are. So our house has basically transformed into a death trap. Be warned.

Public scrutiny. The girls would be punks at home, but when we were out in public, they behaved like angels.

So the first time that Calvin threw a tantrum in public, I froze. Totally appalled and embarrassed and helpless. I didn’t know how to navigate this foreign territory.

What would people think? That my child had been possessed by a demon? That he had been previously raised by wolves?That I was the most unfit parent they’d ever seen?

I have since developed a thicker skin and deal with his fits in a more experienced manner. Like the one time when he wanted to be carried while I was pushing the grocery cart. Walking was unacceptable, as was sitting in the cart. So here I am, pushing the cart with a screaming toddler hanging off of me like a damn monkey. And I somehow managed to do it without completely losing my shit.

Where’s my award for Mom of the Year? Because I earned it in that moment.

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The world is Calvin’s personal toilet.

The word “no”. In Calvin’s world, everything is up for negotiation. Every request is met with a “but”.

So while he hears us when we tell him not to do something or that he can’t have something, he’s just not willing to accept “no” as an answer.

With the girls, in the worst of times, they would reluctantly follow directions. They didn’t defy or refuse. (At least until Delanie became a preteen.) So reasoning with a slightly evil munchkin is not something that I have a lot of experience with. He’s not going down without a fight. And even then, the fight is more of a game to him, which is completely exhausting to us.

Consistency is key, yeah yeah yeah. And nine times out of ten, I stick to my guns. But there is the occasional moment when I am on the brink of insanity and just have to give in. You know that Mom of the Year award that I potentially earned? This is the moment when it was ripped from my hands.

Education. Kids of this age are tiny sponges, absorbing the world around them and seeking mental stimulation. You know what Calvin has absorbed? The names of various models of cars. The most effective ways to beat up his sisters. Every way to drive his mother up the wall. You know what he hasn’t absorbed? Books. Letters. The ability to properly hold a pencil or crayon. The girls were far more interested in these things. He’s listened to too much Pink Floyd, practically yelling “I don’t need no education!”

I’ve already established that he doesn’t stop moving from sun up until sun down. So why would I have ever thought that he would let me read to him? He starts kindergarten this year and as an educator who works at the school that he’ll be attending, I feel like a failure. People try to reassure me that it’s okay and normal and blah blah blah. I wish that made me feel better. It doesn’t. I can only hope that when he gets to school, he will see that the other kids are doing this shit and he’ll follow suit.

Or he’ll be the next Jackie Chan. After all, he’s well on his way with his plethora of ninja moves.

Time. Yours or anyone else’s. Like Veruca Salt in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, he doesn’t care how, but he wants it now. The world has to stop turning when he wants his drink refilled or his Lego man put into its helicopter perfectly. His time is more important than yours. Apparently this should be common knowledge, damn it.

Oh, it’s only 12:30? But he wants to watch Rusty Rivets! But wait… it doesn’t start until 1:00? That’s unacceptable! Calvin’s clock says that it’s supposed to start whenever he wants it to! Calvin’s clock doesn’t follow any rules!

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And just when I thought I was ready to throttle him, he goes for the dapper look.

My son is proof that no matter how many years of parenting you have under your belt, you still don’t know what the fuck you’re doing. That even if you’ve done an average or, dare I say, above average job with some of your children, you may feel like you’re failing most of the time with others. That children who were created from the same combination of DNA are still somehow completely different.

But as difficult as he can be, I wouldn’t trade him for anything in the world.

#musicmonday – Talking to Girls About Duran Duran

It’s #musicmonday and yes, I’m writing about a book. I’m aware of this, so just bear with me.

Being that I am quite the voracious reader, I joined my first book club about three years ago. A friend invited me and this group of women have since become dear friends. Our book club is a great opportunity for us, many of whom are mothers, to have a night out and discuss grown up things. The majority of which are NOT the book we read that month. Sure, we talk about it and share our opinions, but we mostly chat about our lives and other experiences.

Anyway, last month’s selection was Talking to Girls About Duran Duran by Rob Sheffield. The title alone should tell you why this book is being included in #musicmonday.

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Sheffield is a writer and editor for Rolling Stone and within the first chapter, I realized that this guy is way more obsessed with music than even me. Which is probably why he works for Rolling Stone. That is basically a dream job for someone who loves music and loves to write. And he sure has a flair for it.

It is not strictly about Duran Duran. It chronicles his life and the impact that music has had on him over the years. Each chapter is dedicated to a different song/band. He reminisces about where he was in his life when he first heard the songs… his adventures as a kid and young adult, his relationships with his sisters and various other girls in his life.

His story resonated with me, since music is the primary way that I rekindle memories. Certain songs, whether good or bad, remind me of different moments in my life. Remind me of various people in my life.

“Out of Touch” by Hall and Oates will always remind me of my dad, dancing with him around the house. “Brass Monkey” by The Beastie Boys will always remind of Amber, one of my best friends, and a road trip that we took to Louisville to see the band Good Charlotte. “Oops, I Did It Again” by Britney Spears will always remind me of my friend Nick, who was and still is Britney obsessed. “Someday” by Nickelback will always remind me of being pregnant with Delanie. “It’s Not Over” by Daughtry will always remind me of being pregnant with Elysa. “More Than a Feeling” by Boston will always remind me of Daniel, because it’s the song that he belts as loudly as possible every time that he hears it. “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” will always remind me of playing on my patio in the summer when I was a little girl.

Is there a rhyme or reason for these? Some, but certainly not all. Many of them were just songs that happened to be playing at specific moments. That’s often how it goes.

This book was a fun read and I’m now anxious to check out his other music-inspired books. If you appreciate music even a fraction as much as I do, I think you’ll appreciate this book.

Let’s Start a Revolution

By nature, I am not a confrontational person.  I prefer to keep the peace rather than stir the pot, even when it desperately needs to be stirred.  I don’t like tension or potentially hurting someone’s feelings.  I rarely make controversial posts on Facebook and I try to stay away from conversations about politics or religion at social gatherings at work.  Hell, I don’t even like to argue the price of something at the grocery store.

But you will occasionally reach a point where you can’t hold it in any longer.  You have to say your piece and stand up for yourself.  For others.  You have to start a revolution.

This election left myself and millions of others broken.  Voiceless, defeated, afraid.  And even now, months later, I am still in disbelief.  This cannot be reality.  I keep thinking that I’ll wake up and this will have all been a terrible dream.  But that hasn’t happened.  Instead, each day, my faith in democracy is chipped away just a little bit more.

For once, I refuse to be quiet.  I refuse to “suck it up” or “get over it” or accept what is.  I refuse to let those on the other side intimidate me.  I refuse to let them silence me.

I live in Indiana, a notoriously red state.  However, I live in Indianapolis, a big city that is far more progressive than what most other Hoosiers would prefer.  In the past, it has been hard to speak out against Republican candidates.  And I let that difficulty get the better of me more often than not.  Now?  It’s far more acceptable to express your political dissent.  Because so many others are feeling it too.  And even if they weren’t, even if it were still hard, I wouldn’t let that stop me.

I simply cannot wrap my brain around how our country allowed this to happen.  And honestly, I don’t WANT to understand it.  Because it’s downright appalling, no matter the reason.

I mean, I can sort of see how rich, white, hetero men could bring themselves to fill in that bubble.  It’s still gross, but I can see it.  These decisions affect them about as much as the threat of a volcano affects me (i.e. as indirectly as possible).  But if things move forward as promised, practically everyone else is going to be treated as a second class citizen.  Women.  Racial and ethnic minorities.  The LGBTQ community.  The poor.  Immigrants.

I don’t know about you, but I kinda like my rights.  I like being able to choose what goes on with my own body.  I want my daughters to feel like equals.  To be paid fairly and have access to decent healthcare.  I want my son to see that equality and respect are the norm in our world and not just in our home.  I want all of my children to go to school everyday in a nurturing environment that will effectively prepare them for life in the real world, not for potential grizzly bear attacks.  I don’t want them to be taught to a test.  To standards that will always be out of reach for most students.  I don’t want them reduced to a fucking number.  A statistic.

And even if I were too afraid to stand up for myself, I have to stand up for them.  Because I can’t let them grow up in this shitshow and not see it for what it is.  They can’t think that this is just how the government works.  Because this is not how it’s supposed to work.

Being the voice of dissent is often the hardest thing to be.  Scary.  Exhausting.  Seemingly impossible.  But the people in this world who have made the biggest impact are the ones who spoke up against the masses.  Against the voices in power.  They’re the ones who started a revolution.  And now it’s our turn.

I am just a 33 year old woman in Indiana, with no real ties to the business that is politics.  One small person with one small voice.  But to quote someone with a much bigger voice then my own… Though she be but little, she is fierce.  And I am fierce.  And I am teaching my children to be fierce.

We will stand up.  We will rise.  We will persist.

You say you want a revolution

Well, you know, we all want to change the world

The Beatles aren’t my favorite band for nothing.  John, Paul, George, and Ringo sure had a thing or two to teach us.  Maybe we just didn’t listen hard enough the first time.

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My Love List of 2016

There are some much more serious and important pieces that I have been working on that I probably should finish, but I needed a break. From the depressing and enraging and heartbreaking. I needed to focus on something, or many things, good. Because even in light of recent events, there is still so much good in this world. In my life.

So I give you my love list of 2016, a collection of what has made me happy this year and many that have been making me happy for a long time. Things, people, life experiences… you get the idea.

– My big ol’ coonhound, Beau. First and foremost, 2016 brought some new furbabies into our family. The biggest being Beau, the treeing walker coonhound that we adopted. A gentle giant, or what Daniel calls “a beagle on stilts”. Since, ya know, we have a beagle and he’s less than half the size of Beau and twice as stupid. I had originally been looking for a basset hound, which are hard to find at shelters. I came across several different coonhounds, but Beau was the one that I kept coming back to on Petfinder. So I drove over an hour away to a shelter in Muncie to meet him. At only a year and a half old, he was sweet, adorable and full of energy. We instantly fell in love. He is my enormous cuddle bug and loves our family fiercely. He suffers from separation anxiety and we’re doing our best to curb that, since we obviously can’t be with him every moment of every day, like he would prefer. I always say that he loves his people, but his people sure love him, too.

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See?  Adorable.

Wool socks. Bonus points if they are handmade, super soft, or super colorful. You see, as someone who suffers from Raynaud’s, my extremities are always cold. Regular cotton socks are not enough to keep my feet warm during the fall and winter months, so I rely on thick wool socks to keep my toes from feeling like they’re going to fall off. On top of that, there’s something special about wool socks. They give me this feeling of relaxation, of security. Like I’m about the hunker down with a cup of tea and a good book while wrapping myself up in a cozy blanket.

– Kate McKinnon. Few celebrities can make me smile from the inside out like Kate McKinnon does. Of course she’s been on SNL for a few years, but she really gained media attention this year in Ghostbusters, which is what really pushed me over the edge from being a Kate McKinnon fan to being a Kate McKinnon Super Fan. She’s delightfully quirky and true to herself. She seems to radiate joy and has more personality than what her little body can hold. So if I need a distraction, I can often be found on YouTube, watching her interviews or SNL skits. Because she’s guaranteed to brighten my mood.

– Purring cats on my chest. I love all of my pets, but only my cats can lay directly on my chest and purr soothingly until all of my stress melts away. It’s like having a newborn on your chest, but better. Like holding a newborn while sitting on one of those massaging chair backs. My cats help fill the baby void while also providing me with a sort of relaxation therapy.

Concerts. I have seen so much live music this year that it’s a bit unreal, even for me. Old favorites, bucket list bands, new discoveries, concerts with my kids… there was a little bit of everything. I saw Dave Matthews Band four times, two of which were in another state. And there was Coldplay and The Avett Brothers and Panic! At the Disco and Weezer and Fitz and the Tantrums. And there was LOLO and Rob Crow and the Gloomy Place and Trippin’ Billies. Did I miss any? Maybe? But you get the idea. Ridiculous and wonderful, all at the same time.

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When you’re this close to Dave Matthews and Boyd Tinsley, you know you’re having a good time.

– Cat and Jack. Shopping at Target spells trouble all on its own, but now they have added what is probably THE cutest line of kids’ clothes that I have seen in a while. On top of that, they’re reasonably priced. As in, I can buy Calvin’s entire fall wardrobe and not think that I am going to have to sell a limb in order to pay for it. I mean, a yellow and gray sweatshirt featuring a llama wearing nerd glasses? TAKE MY MONEY!

– Kindle Paperwhite. I am a reading purist. The feeling of opening up a paperback book, smelling the paper and feeling the pages between my fingertips, is one that can’t be replecated. Nor is that of walking into a used bookstore and getting lost between the shelves. So needless to say, I was a delayed convert to the e-reader cult. I didn’t want to give up the experience that turned me into a lover of reading when I was just a little girl. But wait, I can have every book that I want at my fingertips at any given time? In the form of this thin, lightweight little piece of technology? I can read at night without a lamp on, thus not to disturb my sleeping husband? And it’s easy on my eyes and resembles the pages of an actual book? And I don’t get any glare when I’m reading outside? These were all the big selling points for me. I was only vaguely interested in the original Kindle and had absolutely no desire to use a Kindle Fire for reading purposes, but the Kindle Paperwhite was too perfect to ignore. So Daniel gifted me one for Christmas a few years ago and it is basically an extra appendage now. I still adore physical books and wandering around bookstores, but from a convenience standpoint, my Kindle Paperwhite is a fantastic reading companion.

– Family photos. We had our first family photo session in FOUR YEARS back in October, so needless to say, we were overdue. Our last ones were from 2012 when Calvin was a little bald-headed four month old, so he’s changed just a little since then. One of my dear friends from middle/high school works as a photographer and is who I always go to when I want our pictures done. She’s not cheap, but professional, experienced photographers never are. The first thing to figure out were outfits. Not easy, but I did it. And after a lot of discussion on location, we decided to go to one of the beautiful, historic neighborhoods in downtown Indy. It worked out perfectly and she got some incredible shots that my family will treasure.

– The Hi-Fi. I’m going to share something that you all probably never knew about me… I love going to concerts. Shocking, I know! (If you couldn’t tell that this is sarcasm, either you haven’t been reading my blog or you don’t know me at all.) It was only this year that I discovered this little gem of a concert venue. Nestled in the Murphy Arts Center in Fountain Square, The Hi-Fi is a small, over-21 venue that hosts a slew of lesser known bands as well as some that you may have heard on the radio. The bar offers a handful of local beers on tap. It’s intimate, relaxed, and the sound is great. When I am craving live music and don’t want to spend an arm and a leg or deal with huge crowds, I always check the lineup at The Hi-Fi.

– Green coconut curry. I love almost all spicy food. Mexican, Indian, Thai… you name it. But one of my all-time favorite spicy dishes is green coconut curry, preferably from Siam Square, the best Thai restaurant in town. I always order mine hot, because Thai hot is just too much, even for me. You can get it plain or with your choice of protein, but I always go plain or with shrimp, depending on my mood. It arrives at the table piping hot with a side dish of jasmine rice that I promptly dump into the big bowl of awesomeness. Eggplant, bamboo, fresh basil… need I say more?

– Friends. Yes, this is about as vague, but I can’t possibly list all of the people in my life who I am lucky enough to call friends. And I don’t want to feel like an asshole and accidentally leave someone out. This has been a rough year for so many of us, me included, and they’ve all been there to lend a hand or an ear or pass the wine. I never really needed them to prove how amazing they are, but they did anyway.

– Streaming video services. We got rid of cable over a year ago and before we cut the cord, I was worried that I would miss it terribly. TV had always been one of my favorite ways to wind down and the thought of not having cable was one that I just wasn’t willing to consider for a long time. But the more and more people I saw who ditched it in favor of streaming video, I realized that maybe I could do it, too. We’ve had Netflix for ages, back when streaming took a backseat to the DVDs, but I wanted more variety than that. If we were getting rid of an expensive bill, I might as well spend another $8 a month on Hulu. There are certain shows that I have to seek out from other places, but for the most part, I can get everything I need from Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime. So if you love TV so much that you don’t think that you could ever get rid of cable, I dare you to try. It’s much easier than you think.

– Camping with the family. Before this year, we never really had camping equipment. Unless you count a 4 person tent that really sleeps two and some sleeping bags, most of which were the thin kind with cartoon characters. So we decided, in an effort to make family trips a priority, that we would invest in some solid camping equipment. We got an 8 person, two room tent with a screened in “porch”, a bunch of new sleeping bags that are good for cold weather (because Indiana), a camping stove, lots of cooking supplies, some headlamps, and more things that I can’t even remember. Daniel had a lot of fun picking everything out and the rest of us had fun using it. The kids had campouts in the backyard before we went on our first real family camping trip, which was to Clifty Falls State Park. We went the weekend before Halloween and had a blast. We did a lot of hiking, went on a candlelight cave tour, did a few different nature experiences with the ranger, and the kids even got to go trick or treating around the campground. But most importantly, it was a chance for us to spend time together with no outside distractions. No cell service, no social media,, no work emergencies for Daniel. And the cost of the equipment aside, it was a dirt cheap trip. We can’t wait to spend 2017 escaping reality, exploring our state and even the neighboring ones.

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This was before they all started complaining that their legs hurt.

– Therapy. In all the years that I have battled mental illness, this is the first time that I have participated in long term, bare your soul psychotherapy. I was in intensive outpatient therapy as well as therapy specific for eating disorders when I was 19, but nothing since. Meds were supposed to fix it all, at least that’s what I had convinced myself. People like me didn’t need therapy. I was FINE. Even in the midst of my own issues, I was still judgmental. Probably to cover up my own insecurities about it. But when I reached the point where I needed help that my PCP couldn’t provide, he referred me out to a behavioral therapist and psychiatrist. And I can’t get the meds that I need without therapy, so here I am, going to therapy once a month. And it’s one of the best things I’ve done. You know how you feel after a massage? Rejuvenated and weightless? That’s how I feel after therapy. After unloading all of these things that anger me or scare me or stress me out onto someone who is paid to let me do it. I feel a lot better and I regret all of my previous misconceptions about what therapy was and who it was meant for. Because it was evidently meant for me.

– Breweries and wineries. Okay, this one is definitely not exclusive to 2016, but at least I’ve been to some this year that I had never before. I don’t visit breweries and wineries to party and get drunk… that’s not the point. I go to try new things, to better educate my pallet, and to support local business. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t strictly drink Indiana beer and wine, but I probably drink more local than anything else. And Indiana offers some pretty fantastic grapes and hops, I gotta say. Breweries and wineries are also just really great place to hang out with friends and relax.

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I couldn’t possibly choose ONE kind of beer.

– Season 4 of Orange Is the New Black. The 2016 season of this hit show received a lot of mixed reviews, and I can see why. It was more intense, more controversial than the first three seasons. It was too much for some people, which I get. But for me, that’s what I look for in television and movies. Dark. Shocking. The stuff that feels like it’s stabbing you in the gut. And that’s exactly what this season of OITNB did to me. I was terribly sick when I watched it (not because of the show, because of some awful virus), so I was pretty much bedridden and unable to move. So I laid there and binged the new season, all while simultaneously sweating through my clothes and sheets and falling deeply into delirious fever dreams. But despite all of that, it rocked me to my core more than any other show has in a long time.

Band of Horses, Why Are You Okay. Lots of great albums were released this year, but I think this was my favorite. Lyrically, it’s emotional and raw. Poor decisions, love lost, internal struggle, regret… all of the things that pull at your heartstrings and dig deep into your soul. And it’s all strung together beautifully with the folk rock sound one would expect from this band. It’s not the album that I go after when I want something uplifting, but like I said before, my taste usually lies in the dark and tortured anyway.

– Meditation. I don’t get nearly as much time to meditate as I would like (do any of us?), but I really don’t know how I would have made it through this rocky year without meditation. As someone who battles anxiety, my brain has a really difficult time shutting off. It requires a lot of effort. And with three kids running around, it requires even more. But it’s become necessary to my survival (and theirs) that I take time to make it happen. So I shut myself away, light some incense, grab my crystals and stones, and get comfortable. Sometimes I’m not successful in getting to the place where I want to be, and that’s okay. At least I’m trying. I recently bought some sage and palo santo and would like to add more to my sacred space. I deserve it.

– Winter solstice. In our house, winter solstice is our reason for the season. I mean, it is scientifically anyway, but we’re not religious and we focus on the darkest night of the year and the light that comes thereafter. We do a solstice craft and this year, we made orange peel bird feeders. The kids had a lot of fun making them and they made a great addition to our trees. This winter solstice was probably the warmest that I can remember, so we spent a lot of time outside. And then we lit our solstice lanterns when the sky went dark. I would always love to add more to our annual traditions, though.

The Glue is Gone

My grandmother passed away on Friday evening, after a less than two month battle with lung cancer. Not even two months between her diagnosis and her funeral. It just doesn’t seem real.

Everyone says that I should be glad that she went quickly, so she wasn’t forced to suffer the horrors of cancer in the way that so many people do. And I am grateful for that. She deserved a peaceful passing after being on this earth for 83 years.

But selfishly, I wish we all had more time to come to terms with it. She was our family’s matriarch, for crying out loud. The glue that held us all together. And now that glue is gone. Ripped away, leaving us all to fall apart.

You see, she is/was my dad’s mother. My dad who passed away four years ago. His family is the only family that I have close by. My mom is from England and that is where all of her family is. So I clung to my grandmother, because she gave me roots here. She gave my mom roots.

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My cousin’s son did a biography project about my grandmother shortly before she passed away.  This is a photo collage that he put together.

My dad was the sole reason why my mom moved to this country. His family became hers. Not as a replacement for her family back in England, but a new one that welcomed her with open arms. My grandmother treated her like a daughter.

So first, my mom loses her husband, the love of her life. She lost the center of her life here. Of course she still had me and and my little family that I had created, but his passing made her truly long for her family back home. Even though she still had a family here, her adopted one. Which wasn’t the same, but it was enough.

My grandmother lived nearby. She called pretty much daily. She brought the whole family together on holidays and other special occasions. We all love each other, but we get so caught up in our own lives that we don’t often make time for one another. But for my grandmother, we were her life. She made sure that we came together as one unit and supported each other, even when we didn’t always agree with one another.

But now, the central piece of our family is gone. And it’s up to us to keep it together. That’s one hell of a job. We are going to try our best, but I think we are all scared. And overwhelmed.

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Mamu and Barb, her best friend of 65 years

And my mom. My poor mom. She loses her husband, and now her mother-in-law. The closest person that she had to a mother in this country. Her will to stay here is growing weaker, losing piece by piece of the family that she has here. She would never, under any circumstances, leave me, my husband, and my kids. But if she could get us to move back over there with her? She would be back in England.

And then there is my own reaction to her death. I know for certain that it has yet to sink in. She was my Mamu, the grandma that loved us all so fiercely. Each child born into the family was truly a gift to her. She could be a real pain in the ass sometimes, as elderly people tend to be. (But let’s be real, she was sort of a pain in the ass before she got really old). She was stubborn and argumentative and steadfast in her beliefs. She was a Taurus, after all. She had an answer for everything, and those answers would contradict whatever you were trying to say.

She struggled with the fact that I didn’t follow Jesus and didn’t believe in God like the rest of the family. She wasn’t terribly preachy about it, but I know that deep down, it ate away at her. Before she died, she told me that she was afraid that she wouldn’t see me in heaven because I hadn’t accepted Jesus Christ as my savior. I eased her worries by telling her that I don’t know what I’ll believe down the road. And I don’t. I am content in my beliefs now, but she may place something in my path that turns it all around.

But despite our differences of opinion, she accepted my “flower child” personality, as she called it. She said that I was born in the wrong decade. And she was probably right. She was proud of me. For being a hard working and successful student as I made my way through school. For being grateful and polite and humble. For giving her three pretty awesome great-grandchildren. For making time for her, despite all of my other obligations.

I will miss her voicemails of “Hi Ash, it’s Mamu. Give me a call.” And then five minutes later, a comment or private message on Facebook simply saying “Call me”. I will miss her asking for computer advice. I will miss her conversations about people who I didn’t remember or maybe had never even met in the first place. I will miss our restaurant visits where she insisted that I order whatever I wanted. Because of her, I ate lots of lobster and escargot and filet mignon before I was even a teenager.

We are all grieving. Wallowing in our sadness. We’re allowed to do that for a while. But eventually, we will pick ourselves up and work on what Mamu wanted us to do… love. Love one another and stick together. With new glue. Whatever or whoever that may be.

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Gone from this earth, but never forgotten

To The Girl Who Made Me A Mother

I am aware that my three most recent pieces have been about birthdays. I promise that I am working on other pieces. Time has gotten away from me this summer and I haven’t had many opportunities to sit down and write in peace. So in an effort to keep things timely and current, you get this before you get my next non-birthday post. Deal with it. 😉

Dear Delanie,

Twelve years. It’s been twelve years since you came into this world and forever changed me. For me, these twelve years have flown by at a ridiculously unfair speed. For you, though, I’m sure that they have dragged on painfully, as you wait impatiently to hit each milestone in your life. I remember what it was like to be twelve, despite what you prefer to believe, so I know how desperately you want to grow up and spread your wings. The time will come, dear girl. Sooner than you realize.

I probably don’t need to sit here and rehash your childhood because we talk about it a lot, but I am going to do it anyway.

At 21 years old, I was terrified of giving birth. I mean, we’re told from the very beginning how painful and exhausting it is, so who wouldn’t be? But when you’re 8 months pregnant, there’s no way around it. The baby has to come out somehow. But much to my surprise, it wasn’t nearly as awful as I expected. And I’m pretty sure that after you were born, I said something along the lines of “If having a baby were always this easy, I’d do it everyday!” Of course I changed my tune three years later, but that’s another story.

Since I got lucky with such a smooth delivery, one might think that I would end up challenged by a fussy or otherwise high needs baby. But no. You were perfection. The model baby. Aside from some issues nursing, you made adjusting to life as a mother a total breeze. You spoiled me with your easygoing personality… you slept well, you were content to be held by anyone or not held at all, you were happy and cherubic and completely lit up the room around you.

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See that happy baby?  She was like this ALL THE TIME.  I got lucky.

And because you were such an easy and mellow baby, one might think that your toddler years would be hell. Quite the contrary. Sure, you went through a short period where you made your displeasure known through temper tantrums, but they were brief and infrequent. And that phase passed within about six months. As opposed to, ya know, the 2+ years of defiance that your little brother has inflicted upon me. So as a toddler, you were about as easy as they came.

Yet again, because you cut me some slack during your toddler years, one might expect a challenging little girl. Sassy or whiny or demanding. Nope. You were polite and well-spoken and sweet as sugar. You charmed each person you met. And you weren’t just an angel in public, you truly were a wonderful child all the time. You made me look like I deserved the award for Mother of the Year.

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Sometimes it’s hard to remember when she used to smile all the time.

So because you were a purely angelic little girl, one would assume that you would become difficult as you grew into a young lady. And in that, they would be correct.

But dear daughter of mine, you are difficult in all the right ways.

You are independent. You are confident. You are strong-willed. You are sharp as a tack. You are ambitious. You are passionate. And most importantly, you are fierce.

The world doesn’t often see a kid like you. But the world needs more kids like you.

Don’t get me wrong, you’re not perfect. You’re pretty damn selfish and teaching you humility is an ongoing effort. You are a little too blunt and just because you don’t get your feelings hurt easily, it doesn’t mean that other people don’t. You don’t realize how much your words can sting. You don’t know when to just take your toys and go home. This is, of course, a euphemism because you haven’t played with toys in years. You complain… A LOT. You often forget that you are the daughter and sister and not the parent.

But you know what? I can accept and work with all of these things if it means that I get to keep the rest of you.

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She looks like she belongs on the sidewalk of a busy city street.

At twelve, your relationship with me and pretty much everyone else is tedious. Hormones and emotions are sinking their teeth into you and your moods are volatile. This isn’t your fault, we’ve all been there. And even though you think I don’t understand you or “know what your life is like”, I do. I remember all too well. Sometimes I’m your best friend, but five minutes later, you can’t stand the sight of me (and I don’t like you very much, either). You don’t know this (even though I’ve told you over and over), but one day, we will actually be friends. And one day, you and your little sister will be friends. We will all appreciate one another and be able to recall stories of days gone by… the good and the bad.

But at twelve, you don’t care about any of that. You care about going to amusement parks with your friends or nailing your back handspring. You care about traveling to Atlanta so that you can visit the zoo and finally meet the twin pandas who share a birthday with you. You care about perfecting the bun on your head and getting your eyeliner just right. You care about using the right filter on Instagram and how many likes your photo gets. You care about seeing Melanie Martinez and Panic! At the Disco in concert with your best friend, Norah.

And that’s okay. Because you’re twelve. And those are the things that you’re supposed to care about.

So thank you for being the soul that I get to love for the rest of my life. Who I get to look at and think “I made that”. For making me proud every day.

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Is she really mine?  I remain unconvinced.

Happy 12th Birthday, love. Enjoy this year and every year after. And I can’t wait to spend as many of them with you as possible.

Love,

Mom

The Ninja Is Four, But It’s Just a Number

I am the parent that always struggles with birthdays. I get sentimental and mopey and teary-eyed, thinking about how my children are growing up and moving one year further away from their babyhood and one year closer to adulthood. I look through old pictures and videos and cry, because I’m an idiot.

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Calvin, the cutest baldy to ever exist.  But he was also clearly teething, which was not so cute.  How quick I am to forget that part.

Needless to say, when Sir Calvin, my babiest of babies, turned four a week ago, I was a bit of a mess. I’m not having anymore babies, I don’t WANT anymore babies, but I also don’t like seeing the little boy who completed our family grow up.

I miss the tiny newborn who I would snuggle close and pat his little tush to get him to sleep. I miss the chunky, happy baby and his constant babbles and declarations of “dada”, regardless of how many times I tried to get him to say “mama”. I miss the curious toddler who turned anything he could find into a car, dragging it back and forth across the coffee table.

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I used to be so critical of how I looked in this picture, but now I have a hard time understanding why.  Because all I see is beauty.

And now he’s four, which seems SO OLD. Only a year away from kindergarten.

But four is just a number. He didn’t transform into a different kid overnight between May 29th and 30th.

He’s still the little boy who carries around his pile of security blankets (about five birdseye cloth diapers that he calls his Bs). Who says “lellow” instead of yellow, but is practicing the proper way to say it by repeating “Yeeees. YeLLOW” over and over. Who is more often naked than clothed. Who says “Mommy, watch this!” about 5,000 times a day.

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The tiniest hipster you ever did see.

Nothing has changed. No, he’s not that newborn or baby or toddler anymore. But I accepted that a long time ago.

Luckily, aging is a fairly slow and gradual process. We don’t see our children (or ourselves, our spouses, or our parents) growing older right before our eyes. We don’t notice it until it’s already happened. Until we look at proof from times passed that we all used to be in different phases of life.

But instead of mourning the loss of his babyhood, I am trying to allow myself to enjoy each phase as it comes. When he was a baby, I didn’t get to watch him attempt cartwheels with his sisters. Or listen to him say big words like actually and suddenly and enormous in his tiny little voice.

I mean, he spends his days playing tee ball instead of eating random things off the floor. If that’s not something to appreciate, I don’t know what is.

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He may not be wearing pants, but he’s wearing one of the best smiles I’ve ever seen.

He has grown into this amazing little boy with long, curly hair and the most infectious smile that shows off the dimple on his right cheek. He loves race cars and monster trucks and Nerf guns. He sings along gleefully to songs on the radio. He is addicted to Peppa Pig and sometimes talks in a British accent, just like Peppa and my mom. He is agile and fearless. His body and mouth are constantly moving and he just sort of passes out wherever he lands. He is stubborn and spirited and completely exhausting.

But he is still the same soul that I brought into the world four years ago. And he is still mine.

Happy Birthday, Calvin Mark Lewis. You may not be a baby anymore, but that’s okay. I absolutely adore the little person that you have grown into.

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I am convinced that we’re always just one jump away from a trip to the emergency room.

So I Turned 33…

I celebrated my 33rd birthday last week. Celebrated, in that the husband and I went to see Captain America and gorged on fancy pizza in one of my favorite cultural districts in town and then got to sleep in the next morning because the kids were at my mom’s. Celebrated, in that I made it through another year without needing to be confined to a padded room. Okay, let’s be real… there were moments when I probably needed to be, but somehow managed to avoid it by some unknown miracle.

Here are some of the things that I did last year: Got a job, started working out, took control of my mental health, got a guitar, took my whole family on vacation, sent my oldest off to middle school and attended my first political rally (with Delanie in tow). That’s accomplishment, yo.

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Delanie and I were feeling the bern at the Bernie Sanders rally in downtown Indy.  One of our best and most important mother/daughter experiences to date.

It might sound as if I’m minimizing what I did over the past year, but in all reality, I’m pretty damn pleased with myself. Jumping into a full time job after being a stay at home mom for nine years was no easy feat. The thought of leaving my son each day, even with my mom and a close friend, was gut-wrenching.

But I knew that it would be beneficial for my family and I in so many ways. I needed this. My kids and husband needed this, even though they may not have realized it at the time.

I am not an athletic person, so working out was never something that I made a priority. Even when I would sit and bitch about my weight and lack of muscle, I just figured I’d do something less aerobic, like yoga. I wanted peace, I wanted zen. Huffing and puffing to Jillian Michaels never sounded appealing. But then I did it, or at least a variation of it, and I was sort of hooked. It hurt, but I wanted more. The words of a true masochist. I blame the endorphins.

So between my awesome, encouraging coworkers and my Fitbit, I dug deep and found the motivation to work toward a healthier me. Doing that without focusing on my weight has been difficult, but I also know that it’s a slope that I don’t want to slide down.

And more than anything else, seeking help for my various mental health issues was the scariest and most important thing I’ve done in a very long time. I’ve been on this winding road to “recovery” since I was 19, a path of trial and error as we attempted to get a handle on things. For a while, I thought I did have a handle on it. Or at least for the issues that I initially recognized… depression and mild anxiety.

But buried underneath all of that were the red flags that have been there since I was a very small child. Uncontrollable, irrational anger. Fits of rage. Unreasonable expectations of cleanliness/tidyness. Constant need for organization. Everything in its place.

I figured that this was just all a natural part of my personality. Ashlie’s the neat freak who occasionally flies off the handle. When it started to affect the stability of my home and family, however, I knew that it was something that needed to be addressed.

Talking about myself to a therapist is odd. I feel a combination of narcissism, vulnerability and relief. I was nervous before my first session, but now I’m rather comfortable there. In that room, with a woman who shares my last name. Who, despite her chipper and innocent demeanor, seems like she truly understands me. And has given me a lot of tools to conquer my day-to-day struggles.

And drugs. New drugs have helped a lot, too.

32 was hard on me. Exhausting and painful and unforgiving. But it was life-changing. It was a pivotal year in my life that I wouldn’t trade for anything in the world. It was necessary in the creation of a happier and healthier Ashlie. I laid all of the foundation at 32, so my hope is that 33 is the year where I start reaping some of the benefits of all of that hard work.

And I really think it will be.

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My new mantra