um…hi, 2018?

Lying flat on the floor in primal, adrenaline-laced horror and fear, holding each other’s trembling hands while telling each other “I love you” in hushed whispers – all while bullets raced through glass and drywall like paper and shells of both rifles and pistols clattered to the ground – is not a scene either my husband or I ever expected our lives to contain. Tuesday night, that all changed.

I left work for the day at lunch, taking sick time for crummy feelings that just got worse as morning turned to afternoon. We chilled out for a few hours, my mom came by to drop off a small care package, and we were by ourselves again after a time. We got back to sitting on the couch, watching whatever we decided on – then in an instant, everything switched from calm to chaos.

First, we heard the ‘pop! pop!’ of a pistol high above (later confirmed to be from the shooter who chose the top of the stairwell of OUR unit as his perch, so no wonder it sounded the way it did), and we shared a look that said everything. “That’s not fireworks – get down.” Instinct or being taught of gun safety in active shooter situations constantly ever since the 1999 Columbine school massacre, or a strange combination of both, kicked in and we hit the floor just before the spray of semi-automatic rifles punctured the air. It was so much louder than I could’ve imagined up close, rattling every last nerve in my body as adrenaline gripped me and kept my breathing shallow, bearing down on us like an unending explosion.

It went on for what felt like an eternity but was in reality about 20-30 seconds. That’s still horrifically impressive. My husband had gotten down and made it to the back room but I was stuck in front of the couch. As soon as I registered the slightest hesitation in the gunfire, I bolted to the back. As he yelled at me to get down, I practically slid in, grabbed his hand, we said we loved each other, and then – silence.

That was it.

We got up cautiously but survival mode kicked in for me, and I started going around the apartment taking note of what I saw. It wasn’t much: a bullethole in one of nine windowpanes in our unnecessarily huge window, a missing blind – fallen behind the couch from the force of the passing bullet – and a hole on the far wall. (I didn’t even notice the final exit and lodging place of the bullet, inside our hall closet, until a police officer came in to do a quick once-over of damage and possible evidence.)

After minutes of silence followed by people speaking quietly outside, we decided we could open the window blinds enough to look out. What we saw was unreal.

The police found over 100 shell casings, some lodged in the brick walls, some in residents’ apartments, and the rest littering the parking lot. Police weren’t yet on the scene so it looked like a war zone, or like someone had taken all the shells of spent ammo from the gun range and scattered them everywhere. Black-tinted glass glittered in giant chunks and shards, resting on the ground in a now-empty parking spot. Police arrived after what felt like hours but was probably only 10-15 minutes. We’ve gotten much more acquainted with our neighbors now, so at least that’s one good thing.

We were out there with officers for about two hours. It took them even longer to clean up, and it still isn’t done.

I want to continue this, but not tonight. I’m the weird combo of exhausted of talking about it, and compelled to talk about it. I’m trying to address and express my thoughts and feelings after this, because I know from experience that burying this or pushing it aside “to deal with later” never ends well. I have only cried a little, but I know more is on the horizon. I need to cut this short tonight because I’ve reached my limit for it for today – and okay, because it’s 1am too.

Ending part one… for more emotional fallout and juicy deets of the situation, stay tuned.

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obligatory 2017 review

When I’m driving, I always think of what I want to write and I feel compelled to write it.  Then I get home, or work, or wherever, and just…can’t.  I’ve already written about the changes 2017 brought.  I’ve reflected on some of them more than others, but a review can be nice.  I’m a researcher so of course I’m gonna bullet-outline that beast of a year.

In 2017, I…

  • signed my very first lease and moved out of my childhood/early adulthood home
    • with a boyfriend
    • not just any other person
    • boyfriend 
  • got hospitalized briefly for two seizures close together (at work!)
  • had a seizure while driving; not cool, but somehow not a single injury
  • got officially proposed to and married within a 24-hour period
    • followed in parents’ footsteps with courthouse wedding
    • ‘official’ family/close friends ceremony still to come but the most important part is done
    • that marriage certificate looks AWESOME hanging on the wall
  • moved into first apartment
  • learned to drive a manual transmission
  • new mayor, new councilman for my district, new U.S. senator
  • all city employees got a raise courtesy of this new mayor

The manual learning curve was steep, but stubbornness and the help of my very patient teacher of a husband prevailed and I got it.  It was nice to have an intellectual challenge when I feel my job doesn’t provide that anymore.  It gave me that sense of real, tangible accomplishment that I don’t get anymore at work.

That lack of accomplishment isn’t great when this is my intended career field and I feel this stagnant.  I’m making more than one move to change that in multiple ways, but I still get a feeling of hopelessness most days.  Sometimes it feels we’re shouting into the void, like all those talks in library school of helping patrons with reference questions or exploring cool subjects you might not learn about otherwise were just empty promises.

I felt energized in library school when writing my research interests.  The representation of marginalized groups’ – and/or the LGBTQ community’s – lifestyle, culture, material in library collections, archiving and coming up with metadata for special online collections, building websites from the bottom up – these are the things that I’m passionate about in the library.

Helping people is great when it goes well, and I’ve met astounding people who come in both regularly and only once in their lives.  But overall, my social anxiety keeps me from desiring conversation – and forget about not being drained at the end of the day, I don’t even know what it’s like to have energy after work most days.  I would rather be a behind-the-scenes librarian, or something else totally.  This job has been wonderful in that it gave me a window into something I now know I don’t want to do forever, both administratively and in the inner-workings of the system.

Working in 2018 to change my situation, atmosphere, and tardiness will help those opportunities open up even more.

2017 was a mess for most of the world, but in my little bubble of a universe it was pretty good once the major bumps were out of the way.  Up until May, things were way too chaotic, but when they settled down, everything felt good.

So, bye 2017.

6 months in 3 weeks

6 months in 3 weeks

September 30 will mark six months since my last seizure.  Six months since I woke up in a park I’d never even heard of just off I-59, surrounded by medics and a police officer, who were all asking a million questions I could barely find the words to answer.  Six months since I walked up the stairs of the house my husband (only my boyfriend then) and I rented in Southside and calmly told him I’d had a seizure while driving – all not even an hour after it happened.  I’d been driving back from that house, back to work in Woodlawn – not even 15 minutes away by interstate – from my lunch hour.

One of the medics was exceedingly kind, offering to talk to my mother when I called her to get her to pick me up, as I didn’t know how to describe where the park was.  He told us his son has epilepsy and that he can relate, and was nothing but nice as my mom’s panic set in while I dealt with the postictal brain fog I’ve grown so accustomed to.  Another medic, however, was exceedingly condescending, asking me why I had gone home to Southside for lunch – as if that was any of his business or had anything to do with the seizure.

Had a tree or picnic bench not been in the path my car took as it careened down the hill between two guardrails that I miraculously missed while seizing, I would have ended up in Patton Park’s lake – windows down, buckled in, deeply unconscious.  The last thing I remember is quite a few miles back from where I lost consciousness, on an interstate interchange just moments after leaving Southside.

I didn’t go to the hospital.  Medics offered and my mom insisted that I should, but I had no head injury.  In fact, I had no injuries of any kind – aside from a single small scratch on my nose from the bridge of my glasses.  No reason to have to pay for an ER copay.

I don’t know who was driving my car that day, because it definitely wasn’t me.  Whether luck or something higher up looking after me, I narrowly avoided those guardrails, was travelling beside a woman who noticed something was wrong and called 911, and didn’t hit anybody enjoying their day in the park.  As people walked around the track and in the grass while I sat in my car coming out of unconsciousness, surrounded by medics and a police officer, all I could think was, “I can’t believe I didn’t hit anybody.”

I’ve been fortunate with my epilepsy.  It’s controlled by medications now.  My doctor put me on an extended release oxcarbazepine medication in addition to the lamotrigine I’ve been taking for close to ten years now.  I haven’t had a single side effect from it that I can tell, but my memory is still gone in big chunks from the last nine months or so of my life, when my seizures started up again with frequency.  When people mention events or parties or conversations I’d had since last October, there is a 70% chance I don’t remember it.

But when that’s the only side effect I’ve experienced from my many seizures over those months, I think I can deal with that.  Sorry to my coworkers who got really acquainted with epileptic me.

I still have repairs to make to my car.  Insurance didn’t cover it because it was a seizure.  Most of the damage is cosmetic as far as we know.  If it isn’t, I’ll just search for a new-used one.  And that is going to be amazing.  Getting around for six months when you can’t drive yourself is a challenge, especially in a transit-poor area like Birmingham.  I have relied on my husband, my mom, and my husband’s parents and am so very grateful for all the help they have given me.

I’ll be glad to have my independence back, but most of all I’ll be glad to celebrate this milestone.  Half a year of having some semblance of a normal life.

27: or, the Wildest Ride Ever

bride’s bouquet, volume 1

Love and marriage

My 27th year continues to be the biggest and most significant yet. A little over seven months from meeting him, I married the love of my life. I can’t believe the whirlwind we’ve survived, and certainly never thought the friend’s boyfriend’s cousin I met at a hippie festival would end up becoming my husband when we started on this journey. 

I never thought I’d be one of Those People, the “when you know, you know” people, but I’ve certainly learned you can’t judge someone else’s relationship on time. The minister who performed the courthouse wedding asked how long we’d been together; when we replied, he said he and his husband married after eight months…and that was four years ago.

When you know, you know. 

Trials and hardships truly forged the relationship in fire, and we’ve learned volumes about each other in a matter of months – and in some cases, weeks. The official proposal was no photographed event by some professional photographer, was no on-one-knee occasion – but it was absolutely and 100% perfect. And now, I’m so proud to call this man my husband. 

So much seems it was “meant to be,” that the events of our respective lives were leading us to this crash into each other’s existence, unavoidable and scary – but welcome. 

I didn’t realize how much I’d given up on romance and love until all this happened and I was forced to reevaluate my beliefs. I’ve never been so glad to be proven wrong. 

Medical fun

March 30, I suffered the most serious seizure I’ve had to date. It opened my eyes enough to finally take seriously the Alabama law that forbids driving for six months after a seizure, and I’m now 3.5 months into that period, seizure-free. This has undoubtedly been one of the most challenging times of my life in a city as devoid of good, readily available public transit in Birmingham, but the help and support of friends, my mom, and my husband have all made it that much easier. 

Just two and a half more months to go…

More importantly, it forced me to reevaluate life. I still get depressed and anxious, still fight through the darker urges and desires to be out of this mind of mine, but overall I’ve come to appreciate everything I have and the fact that I’m still alive after such a terrifying experience. 

Lessons well learned

I’ll certainly never forget the significance of being 27 and all it brought to me. Most of it still feels surreal. Signing or writing my new last name is still so awesomely new and awesomely bizarre. I’ve grown so much, experienced so much, been through more than I ever imagined for myself at this age. 

I wouldn’t trade it for the world. 

Here’s to you, 28 (on July 27). Let’s see what you got. 

remember how vast the ocean’s boundaries are

I came across a Facebook post I wanted to share here.

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Artwork © Jolene Lai
“Some people survive and talk about it. Some people survive and go silent. Some people survive and create. Everyone deals with unimaginable pain in their own way, and everyone is entitled to that, without judgement. So the next time you look at someone’s life covetously, remember… you may not want to endure what they are enduring right now, at this moment, whilst they sit so quietly before you, looking like a calm ocean on a sunny day. Remember how vast the ocean’s boundaries are. Whilst somewhere the water is calm, in another place in the very same ocean, there is a colossal storm.” —Nikita Gill, People Survive in Different Ways

When you’re depressed, you feel like you’re the only one in the world who can possibly feel so bad at that moment in time.  I’ve lived with some form of depression as far back as I can remember, but it hit like a bolt of lightning when I turned 10.  Ever since then, I’ve been on pill after pill to try and control it — but some days, nothing works.

At all.

And it’s usually the days I actually feel like doing something.  Whether it’s hosting friends at our new place (or just seeing somebody, not necessarily playing hostess), or going somewhere I’m invited and loved and among people whom I love, or trying to play video games  — or trying to write, my unarguably number one passion…it’s impossible for me.  I’m already having a tough time trying to get back into writing — art, crochet, and painting seem to be more my things lately — but days like lately make it almost impossible.

Depression is like an eddy you can’t quite escape from, pulling and sucking you in until your lungs fill with water and you sink to the bottom.  Sometimes it takes a lot to pull me out from the depths, but sometimes it disappears, leaving me drained but revitalized.  Every time somebody bashes pharmaceuticals, it leaves me wondering: “would I still be alive if it weren’t for some form of them?”  I’ve been on my share of ineffective ones and ones that made me feel like a zombie, and ones that (so far) seem to be working (mostly).

But I’ve noticed a pattern of behavior with my depression: it always seems to set in around the time of my seizures.  And unfortunately that’s been a defining part of the last five months, so it isn’t a mystery as to why my depression has set in a little deeper this time.

I’ve met a lot of wonderful people over the last five months especially, and I only hope to meet more.  I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface of Birmingham, and I’ve lived here my entire life.  That’s my challenge for the upcoming months: explore, expand my worldview, and enjoy the life I was given and am living.

Because it’s the only one I’ll get.

Settled (or settling in)

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I can’t believe it’s been over a month since I’ve written here.  February came and went, and I’m finally in our house.

Our house.  Not “our” as in my mother’s and mine, but “our” as in my boyfriend’s and mine.  The house I left never felt like mine, even after Dad passed.  It was always “Mom’s house” or “the house”; rarely did I use the term “my” house.  And now I’m in a place to say “our” house and it’s been incredible.  Things are turning out well, and I finally feel like I’m in a relatively stable place in my life.  Living with someone who cares about me and whom I care about immensely has definitely been fun so far – even when we have our small tiffs (as all couples do).

We were stressed to the max trying to get the money up for it in time, but caught a lucky break.  And soon taxes will be coming in, so that will help immensely.  But it’s been a journey complete with thieves, reports of crazy neighborhood folks, and struggling to leave even earlier for work in the morning (spoilers: it’s not going so well).  We didn’t have heat for the first 2-3 weeks of being in there, but finally got that turned on and it’s been even cozier since.

Since October, I’ve had six seizures.  Usually the cause is medication withdrawal because of missed doctor’s appointments and yadda yadda blah blah my fault, I know.  But seizures…man, lemme tell ya.  They suck.  Not just for me, but for everyone involved.  I’m pretty sure everyone at East Lake Library is well versed in seizure first aid by now.  Definitely not my intent, but honestly, seizure first aid should be something covered way more often.  According to epilepsy.org,

  • About 1 in 100 people in the U.S. has had a single unprovoked seizure or has been diagnosed with epilepsy.
  • 1 in 26 people will develop epilepsy (which is the tendency to recurring seizures) in their lifetime.

Time to get more educated.

Anyway, these increased seizures have put a lot into perspective.  It’s been a long journey of self-love and I still have a long way to go in that area.  It’s helped me realize what’s important, what I shouldn’t keep to myself when I feel something coming on, and who’s there for me in these times, who cares enough to stick around and make sure I’m okay.

It feels so strange to call somewhere aside from the place I lived in for almost 28 years “home.”  It’s definitely a process I’m still transitioning into, and probably will for a while.  But stepping inside fills me with a peace I haven’t felt in years, if ever.  It really has become home, and I have zero regrets about flapping my wings and leaving the nest.

My 27th year has been such a year of growth and change, which is unsurprising as one of my “numbers” is 27.  I’m so happy for this phase of my life; it really is what I make of it, and I’m determined to make it the best ever.  28 won’t disappoint either – I guarantee it.

blossom and bloom

bloom

A lot has been floating through my mind lately.  From seizures to medical procedures to just…a lot of weird stuff, it’s been a rough past year – but I’ve learned so much about myself already.  That I’m capable of becoming what I want, that I can chase and catch up to my dreams, and that putting positivity out in the universe means it will come back around to you.

My therapist said he can tell I’m so much more confident than I used to be.  I’m finally getting used to my body and loving that despite all my medical flaws, but I’m finally here.  Years of dysphoria from ballet have lessened, and I have a very healthy attitude of “This is me and I’m not apologizing for it anymore.”

The last 4-5 months have been a roller coaster.  Someone I never expected to come along did despite my strong desire to stay single/not even get into the dating scene.  Ever since, I’ve been on a roller coaster that seems like it never ends with him.  I’m about to rent a house, and getting utilities established in my name is a daunting task.  I’ve been through so much back-and-forth this week that I’m exhausted.  I need a nap daily.  But what gets me through is that the house is one I’ll be proud of, one I’m ready to come home to and to be happy, to be relaxed.  I’ll even have a craft room.

Speaking of crafts, I’m starting up my home crafting business again soon.  For a while back in 2009-2010, I created and sold crocheted goods at Kami-con (back then, held in Tuscaloosa).  I undercharged by a lot, according to the calculator websites I’ve been using, but it was a good learning experience.  When the festival up in Steele, AL – Cukorakko – starts, we’re hoping to rent out a booth or table to sell stuff.  Anything to help with rent and still being able to live life.  I love handcrafted goods.  Everything is unique, and everything has a piece of the maker’s heart in it.  (That’s why it’s so easy to want to keep things…)  I’m also getting back into painting.

So many times I’ve thought, “am I ready for this?” And the answer is: of course.  I’m 27.  I am grateful for my mother letting me stay in our house as long as I needed, but it’s time.  To walk into the living (ha) room and see the spot where my father died and his mother before him is painful.  In the back of my mind, I can never separate that from the way the room is now.  His final expression still haunts me.

He would be thrilled for me, for my future.  When I think about how he would have thought about my life path, I feel nothing but warmth.  His high school graduation card to me read something to the effect of, “keep being just the way you are and you’ll be able to accomplish anything in life.”

I’m not perfect by any means, but I have drive.  I have ambition and a tender heart and a pretty good sense of humor (unless I’m in a bad mood).

Every day I’m working on blooming from within.  I can only see myself blossoming more from here.  With every test life throws my way, I learn something new about myself.  And there’s nowhere to go but up.