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How to Make it Through a Rough Patch

I have a tiny wardrobe and I tend to wear the same clothes each week. I’m a huge fan of merino wool shirts, black dresses and my black Patagonia vest.

Last week, I organized my closet with gusto. I pulled out my pin-striped pants, a scarf, a pink sweater and a flowered blouse that I rarely wear and placed them on my kitchen counter. Now they are sitting on the top shelf of my closet, neatly folded, and I haven’t missed them. Soon my old clothes will be donated to Goodwill.

It felt good to organize my closet. The activity gave me a sense of control; something I’ve been needing. Why? Well, for the last few weeks I’ve felt off kilter. One minute, I’m happy and at ease, and the next minute tears stream down my face. It’s been three months since my step-dad, Mahlon, had two major strokes. He still can’t walk by himself, eat by himself, and his cognitive abilities are impaired.

Since the stroke happened everything feels temporal. The self-destructive part of me wants to numb my emotions with booze, sleep, and lots of sugary treats. The logical side of my brain knows that I need to take care of myself and to focus on work. Self-destruction isn’t an option, but it’s appealing. It would be easy to succumb to temptation and numb my emotions with too much sleep or alcohol.

I keep coming back to a quote by Diane Ackerman, in One Hundred Names for Love because it sums up my feeling so well. In the quote she describes how she felt soon after her husband’s stroke. Ackerman notes, “I went to a windowed alcove just beyond the Rehab Unit doors and wept. Out of shame that I couldn’t fix things, and out of grief. I’d never before had to mourn for someone who was still alive . . . The loss was too intimate. It had settled in like a lonely lodger with a scrapbook of memories.”

I’m grateful that Mahlon is still alive, but I can’t pretend that everything is wonderful. I can’t pick up the phone and have a conversation with him. He won’t be coming to Portland anytime soon and the reality is he may or may not recover from the strokes. In addition, I’m worried about my mom. As the primary caregiver it’s essential that she takes care of herself, but I don’t know if that’s happening. To ease my worries, I’ve been focusing on the following:

Ignoring guilt. I feel like some friends, and even family members, don’t understand why I’m so sad. And that makes me feel guilty. I feel like I should put on a happy face and keep trucking along, with no care in the world. But I can’t. I can’t stuff my emotions or dissociate from my feelings. Feeling guilty isn’t helpful, so I’m focusing on surrounding myself with people who understand the situation and me.

Exercise. Everyday I pedal to LA Fitness (LAF) for my workout. I decided to join LAF because they have a beautiful pool for lap swimming and I’m taking full advantage of it. I haven’t been doing much yoga lately, but I’m planning on taking classes after my trip to California. Overall, I’ve found that a little bit of movement makes my day a whole lot brighter.

Sauna meditations. I love sitting in the sauna at LAF. It’s a quiet space where I can meditate and sweat out toxins too. Usually, I sit in the space for fifteen to thirty minutes and breathe. By the time I’m done I feel like a new person.

Engaging in fun projects. I’ve been busy brainstorming article ideas for our next e-course, Make Time. I’m also thinking about the marketing plan for my print book and I’ll be finishing up a few more edits too. Doing work that I love makes me happy.

Parting Words . . . 

As I move forward, I’m going to ask for help when I need it. And I’ll be focusing on projects, both big and small, that make me smile.

How do you make it through a rough patch? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

Be well,

P. S. Since my theme for the year is experiment, I’ve decided to be brave and open comments on selected articles. Before you comment, please remember that I’m a human being. I will not approve comments that are hateful or mean-spirited. I do my best to operate from a non-judgmental frame of mind and I expect the same from readers. Be helpful, not hurtful. As Brené Brown recently said, “Embrace difference. Be respectful. Let’s take responsibility for our comments.”

One more postscript. Today is the start of the second annual Simplify Your Family Life book sale. Be sure to check it out!

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Gail April 16, 2012, 12:05 pm

    I started reading your blog right after your dear stepfather had his strokes. First, I pray for your family, that the ties that bind will draw you closer and, additionally, I pray for physical and emotional strength for you mom.
    Secondly, live the variety of issues you present in your blog.

  • Kate April 16, 2012, 12:05 pm

    Baths. And kittysnuggles. That…is about it, really. But it’s also about enough.

  • Deb Weaver April 16, 2012, 12:10 pm

    After a couple of hard, grief-filled years, I am also coming to the conclusion that I must take better care of myself all the way around–especially in the area of how I think about myself. On Friday I started (not completed yet) an article for my blog that I’m calling “Killing Myself With Kindness” because I really need to learn to be kind to myself–as kind to myself as I am to others–which is a hard but essential lesson. A couple of things I’ve thought about are: a. to listen to what my body needs, b. to recognize and stop playing my mental negative tapes, and c. to find beauty & joy daily… Cheering you on as you continue to feel and to take care of yourself.

  • delona April 16, 2012, 12:18 pm

    Your blog is very inspirational, and I’m sorry to hear that you’re feeling down. I can’t believe anyone would leave mean comments for you, but if they do, “shame on them!” Like you, when I’m feeling down, cleaning out and organizing makes me feel better. I also like to escape by reading fiction, often something set in the past or the future rather than the present. Maybe one of your cats will give you a little purr therapy. That’s always comforting. Feel better.

  • Caroline McGraw / A Wish Come Clear April 16, 2012, 12:26 pm

    Oh my goodness, Tammy — we are on the same wavelength. Thank you for being vulnerable and brave in this post; I just made a similar step in publishing my most recent one at A Wish Come Clear (entitled, “What You’re Going Through Is What You Have To Give: Confessions from a (Reluctant) Reframer”).

    Truly, this challenging time you’re going through with your family has expanded your capacity to write from the heart, and to connect with others who are giving and receiving care. That said, I totally agree with your statement about needing to express all the tough emotions that come along with it!

    Thank you again for sharing from your heart. I bet Mahlon is very proud of you.

  • Teri Kojetin April 16, 2012, 12:27 pm

    It will be almost 3 years since my mom died from a stroke. When she had her stroke in 2006 she was bedridden and in a nursing home. I had her moved near me and visited her at least 2 times a week. I too experienced morning for someone who was still alive. I mourned that I could not pick up the phone and talk to her every week. I mourned that I could no longer go and visit her and go shopping together, I mourned that I had now taken on the role of “parent”. I had started knitting because I knew she could help me and purposely started a sweater. But then she had a stroke and could no longer knit. She lost the ability to read since she could only use one hand and the stroke had ruined her eyesight.
    I too would find myself crying for no reason. I think the stroke was more devastating for me than when she passed on 2 1/2 years later. I coped by journaling, getting emotional and prayer support from a close-knit group of friends from church, developing a close relationship with my sister and finally (due to depression) taking the advice of those who loved me and going for some counseling. It took months to get through it but I did…and only with the help of God, family and friends.

  • Margot April 16, 2012, 12:33 pm

    Taking care of ourselves and maintaining our routines are often the first things to go when we are dealing with life troubles. Being in the present is often difficult in the best of times. I believe that it is essential when we are coping with tragedy and sadness. I wish Mahlon improved health and that you and your mom and any other family that cares for and about him can process through this experience as best you can and still care for yourselves.

  • Tomas April 16, 2012, 12:35 pm

    Sorry you’re going through such a rough patch right now. If you want to get coffee and/or beer sometime…my schedule is pretty open.

  • Emmanuelle April 16, 2012, 12:47 pm

    I am starting to recognize when I need to hold on and when I need to surrender to what is and wait for the lesson to appear. Short term strategies: unrolling my yoga mat, writing a lot (aka “brain-dumping”), crying when I feel the tears coming, kitty snuggling works well too, and eating a lil’ bit of dark chocolate (being perfectly aware that’s comfort food and not giving a damn about it).
    Take care.

  • The Frugal Ecologist April 16, 2012, 12:48 pm

    I recently started working out at a gym again and it has done wonders for my mood and motivation.

    I find I am very good in crisis situations – can do what needs to be done, clear headed, can make tough decisions etc. But eventually I need to allow myself to feel all the emotions that I kept under wraps at the height of the crisis. Maybe this is some of what you are experiencing? I am glad you are being gentle and taking care of yourself – my thoughts are with you and your family.

  • Catherine Chandler April 16, 2012, 12:54 pm

    That sense of loss of control is very apt for the situation. Frustration, grief, empathy, anger–they all go with it. While I would emphasize not letting your emotions take full control, there is a lot of benefit in feeling them, letting them wash over you, and going through the experience while also maintaining some logic. I’m so sorry about your stepdad, and I am so glad that you are taking steps to give yourself control and maintain some happiness and routine. Those will help immensely.

  • Minky April 16, 2012, 1:18 pm

    I understand and relate to what you are feeling 100%. I think it is really difficult for people who are not going through it to truly understand. My step dad (who is my dad to me) and my mom are aging and facing some really tough health challenges as well…they have traded off the caretaker roles over the years. The ways I find it easier to cope: I pray, cuddle with my hubby, play with the pooches, try to be as supportive as I can, clean the house and organize (it calms me for some reason) and sometimes when it is all too much, I spend some alone time, away from the situation to be sure I can take care of myself. As tempting as it is to curl up and shut out the world (and I do sometimes), it’s so important to take good care of yourself, so that you can continue to give of yourself. That old saying is so true, you can’t give what you don’t have, so I pray for you too, that you continue to have the motivation to take care of yourself, listen to your body, let go of guilt, give what you can, and find peace in this difficult situation. Wishing many blessings for you, your mom and your step dad :).

  • John Hayden April 16, 2012, 1:21 pm

    Great post! My main coping mechanism for rough spots is to escape into a good novel.

  • Alicia April 16, 2012, 1:24 pm

    Ignoring your feelings is not a good idea. Your words hit the nail on the head: “I feel like I should put on a happy face and keep trucking along, with no care in the world. But I can’t. I can’t stuff my emotions or dissociate from my feelings.” Taking care of yourself is important. I remember having similar feelings when my mother was diagnosed with MS, then breast cancer. “Find joy, gratitude, and beauty daily” is my mantra.

  • Alannah April 16, 2012, 2:11 pm

    I just started reading your blog, but I’m glad you opened up comments! I hope people will leave nothing but positive/helpful thoughts. <3

    I am quite familiar with "rough patches" and the main thing that helps me is meditation. I do it daily so that even when things are calmer, it is there as a staple and I can rely on it through rough times too. I agree with you about physical activity as well… it is usually the last thing I feel like doing, but I always am so glad after I do it. I enjoy lengthy, brisk walks with music. 🙂 I am also very careful to eat well and not let myself get too out of whack with alcohol or sugar. Sometimes I have to make myself eat but I refuse to start skipping meals unless I really feel ill. Self care is essential during rough patches for sure.

    I have found that most people don't understand and are uncomfortable with grieving. There always seem to be things people assume everyone should do, or feel, or say. It's different for everyone, and however much time you need to feel sad is perfectly okay. I'm glad you seem to know that feeling guilty isn't helpful!

    Best wishes & good thoughts to you ~ XO

  • Sara Nemeth April 16, 2012, 2:45 pm

    Dear Tammy,

    I can so relate to your grief at this point in your dad’s recovery and for your concern for your mom. My aunt is in the last stages of Alzheimer’s at only 58 years old. The progression of her illness happened so fast, that it threw my whole family for a loop. My mom (her sister) is her legal guardian and – until this past summer when my aunt became too aggressive – her caretaker. I agree that downsizing your life can be cathartic in times of stress and do the same myself. Hang in there and take care of yourself while encouraging your mom to do the same. Peace and God’s blessings to you and your family.


  • Trish April 16, 2012, 3:00 pm

    Exercise is definitely my way of making it through, along with rereading some of my favorite books. A good friend committed suicide a few years ago, out of the blue. I forced myself to the gym as often as I could. Exercise really has an amazingly uplifting quality for me. Last Sept I lost my mom, and that has been another painful loss to cope with – I can’t imagine how difficult it is for you with your stepfather, as it was so painful to see my mother in the few weeks before she died, when she had declined. Life is certainly a painful struggle.

    You really seem like a strong person, and I love the values you discuss and live by. Thank you for sharing them.

  • Becki April 16, 2012, 3:50 pm

    Hi Tammy,

    Just wanted to encourage you to keep moving forward the best you can. Take it one day at a time. Cry when you need to cry and do whatever you need to do to cut yourself some slack right now. I find that listening to upbeat or spiritual music helps to lift my mood – so I wanted to give you that suggestion in case it might be helpful to you.

    You and your family are in my thoughts and prayers.

  • Ryan N April 16, 2012, 4:12 pm

    Tammy, you are an incredible person. I’ve been following your blog for something like a year and a half now and I find it amazing just how much you are constantly involved in and doing, regardless of your circumstances.

    To answer the question about getting through a rough patch, I’ve tended to focus on school or work in the past when faced with adversity. An extreme example is I had a roommate who had a psychotic episode, and trashed and flooded our apartment about two weeks before Christmas in 1997. I got through all the insanity (and it was insanity as he had to spend thirty days in a psychiatric ward) by focusing on my schoolwork (including a couple final exams) and spending the holidays with family. We all handle stress differently and there have been times when I haven’t handled adversity nearly as well Dave’s breakdown, but your blog is still teeming with ideas, tips, projects, and so forth. Good for you.

    I took a creative writing course a couple of years ago and I would love to do what you do. My teacher told the class that writers often lead interesting lives. You’re right not to numb or shut off your emotions; I don’t think you can shut out sadness without then hampering your ability to experience happiness. The best movie example I can think of is “Crazy Heart.”

    You’ve got good people around you and loyal readers who are here to support you. Take care. I’d say you’re handling it all rather well.

  • Katherine April 16, 2012, 5:07 pm

    I realize how difficult it is to open yourself up, both to the emotions you are feeling and to the strangers who read your blog. Please know that we wish only the best for you. My step-dad (who is closer to me than my dad) had major heart surgeries about 3, no 4!, years ago. My mom was the primary care giver and I came down on the weekends to assist. It was difficult, but there were moments that looking back, I am glad we shared. I wish all the best to you and your family.

    I don’t know if this is the best place to share this with you, but my husband and I are truly and completely inspired by the lifestyle you and Logan lead. Our goal is to live in less than 200 square feet, and credit you as part of our inspiration. When Logan states, in one of those interviews, that living in 400 sq. ft was like living in oversized clothing, Chris and I looked at one another and said, Yes! That’s it! Our very best to you; I only wish there was more I could do to show my support from across the country (Virginia). xx

  • TamV April 16, 2012, 8:18 pm

    One of the best coping strategies I’ve found is writing. Journaling helps, as does writing notes/cards to other people. Sometimes I will explode on paper—-release the full extent of my sadness, fear, etc.—-then throw it away. Exercise works wonders, and again, sometimes I will sprint for a short period (about all I can do) just as a release of emotional and physical energy. It always helps to follow these ” outbursts” with calm time: a quiet walk in nature, soothing music, or the gentle touch of a trusted friend. Balance is very hard to maintain in these situations, but so necessary. Peace be with you, Tammy.

  • Annie April 16, 2012, 8:19 pm

    Take each hour of each day as it happens. Let yourself cry when you feel it coming on. Look after your diet. It takes time to work through your thoughts, but it will get better. Look for small beauties, a quiet sunrise, a flower, a gentle breeze, the perfect apple. Little things help you focus. Small joys in a hard time. Much love Tammy. Xo

  • Cluttered Mama April 16, 2012, 11:12 pm

    Thank you.

    I’m in a dark spot right now for totally different & much less grave reasons, but this post absolutely resonated with me.

    I shall be praying for you, your stepdad, your mom & your family. I cannot begin to fathom the depth of your sorrow, but pray that you will begin to see/steer your way out of it.

  • my honest answer April 17, 2012, 3:15 am

    I’m so glad you’ve opened the comments. I’ve been wanting to send you a message of support, but I just can’t fathom that google thingie. So I’m very pleased I get to say: be gentle with yourself, take your time, and remember to look after yourself (which it sounds like you are doing very well). I think of your family often.

  • Thera April 17, 2012, 3:31 am

    Sorry to hear you’re going through so much.
    I find that comfort foods are good on occasion and a biography on a woman who has struggled and made it through is always the perfect read with some tea.

  • Head April 17, 2012, 3:57 am

    My Dad went the same way. That roller coaster of hope and despair is enough to send anyone crazy so keep taking care of yourself and I hope whatever happens turns out to be the best for your step Dad. Thinking of you.

  • Erin April 17, 2012, 5:20 am

    I’ve only just “met” your blog, but I’m so sorry to hear about Mahlon. I very much hope that things go as well as they possibly can for you and your family and that you and your mom find some peace and time for yourselves amidst the stress and chaos.

    For me, giving myself permission to do what I need to do is so important. If I need to cry, then I cry. If I need to go out for a night and have fun, I do it without feeling guilty. As you said, it’s vital to take care of yourself — then you can better support those who need you.

    Sending positive thoughts your way. Thanks for opening up comments so that I could have the chance to say hello 🙂

  • Bekah April 17, 2012, 5:37 am

    I wish I had been reading this exact post a few years ago!! It was my first day of work at my new job, and my parents were on a work-related trip in Europe. And my younger brother went into a binge-drinking-related coma. Doctors told me there was a good chance he wouldn’t wake. So I had to call in to my first week at my new dream job, and I had to make potentially life-changing decisions for my family, who I literally had to have paged at the Louvre. The whole recovery process lasted months, and it was incredibly trying. I gained about 35 pounds in 3 months, and I went into a sort of depression.
    You had two sections that really spoke to me:
    “The self-destructive part of me wants to numb my emotions with booze, sleep, and lots of sugary treats. The logical side of my brain knows that I need to take care of myself and to focus on work. Self-destruction isn’t an option, but it’s appealing. It would be easy to succumb to temptation and numb my emotions with too much sleep or alcohol.”
    I always give into the temporary bliss that is the eating/watching TV/moping. I’m going to put this on a note card and look at it often.
    And secondly, you said: “I feel like I should put on a happy face and keep trucking along, with no care in the world. But I can’t. I can’t stuff my emotions or dissociate from my feelings. Feeling guilty isn’t helpful.”
    That really resonated. Too often, I feel like I have to be the strong, logical one, which results in me not really experiencing my emotions, which leads to them coming crashing down on me later.
    I know that this comment was a) long and b) not related to a stroke, but I just wanted to let you know that I really, really, really appreciate your thoughts.

  • Roberta April 17, 2012, 6:38 am

    Hello Tammy…btw…love the cute new banner ;} Wow…hard to believe that some people don’t understand your sadness? All’s I can say is that it would appear that they have not endured any major loss or “shifts” in their lives. I call it a “shift” because whenever life as you know takes a major change (be it illness, divorce, new baby, etc.) then life as we used to know “shifts” into a new direction. With this comes fear of the unknown but more importantly…we are mourning the “loss of our old life”. When my Dad passed over 7 years ago…everything in our family dynamics changed and we just were not prepared for it…no one talks about it. We always thought that it was my Mom who held the family together and we have since learned that in fact it was my Dad. It may take months (or even years as in our case) before you adjust to this shift in your life. Mainly because life goes on and as you encounter daily life there will be reminders of “how you use to celebrate” or how “you use to gather together” and you have to learn a new way to celebrate and gather. It’s compounded with your loving stepdad being in a body that he no longer can work and control like he use to so you feel his pain and fear as well. So you are all in mourning and there is no fast track to the end. Just being together and taking care of yourselves is the best advice I can share. It’s okay to be sad and blue and melancholy. Some people don’t like to be around that because it’s an indicator to them to “have to fix things” and they can’t fix this or perhaps they are uncomfortable because they also fear the unknown. For years I was the family “scrapbooker” and I quit after my father passed because it was too hard for me to look at the photos and face the memories. So I started blogging…now I’m getting back into my albums and blogging less. You have to do whatever works for you and be patient with yourself because it may take longer than you (or anyone else for that matter 😉 could have ever imagined. Best wishes, fondly, Roberta

  • philosophotarian April 17, 2012, 8:55 am

    Your courage is inspiring. I’m currently having a season of emotional fragility and so I, too, have been trying harder to take care of myself. I’ve been doing a lot more dissertation writing than usual (somehow, right now, it is a good distraction) and when I’ve done my work/chores for the day, I’ve been reading lots of lovely fiction and many memoirs. Those help a lot. As does bleaching my kitchen counters. Sweeping the floor. Exercise. I’ve been crazy about exercise lately. I’ve been spending time with people for whom my fragility isn’t annoying/embarrassing/irritating and letting go (at least for now) of the rest. Drinking lots and lots of herbal tea.

  • Sherri Dunham | The Budding Lotus April 17, 2012, 9:00 pm

    Sorry for your struggles these days. I find solace by being completely in the present moment during such times. Wishing you all the best.

  • DarrenKeith April 18, 2012, 4:33 am

    First and foremost I want to say you are in my prayers and I it’s refreshing to know that you can be open and honest about your feelings. You are human and it’s okay to show hurt, being lost at times. At this moment I’m going through a tough time in regards of working only part-time, getting close to full time jobs only to get called at the last moment letting me know that the position is know longer available (this has happened to me twice now within 4 months).

    What you are doing (getting out, being mobile) I find helps me as well. Funny, people who give so much of themselves(yourself with your blog, photographs, helpful tips) sometimes go through the roughest times but time and time again I find that when I turn to help others it helps me in the long run. Weird how that heals us at times.

    Whenever I’m in a funk for some reason, music wise, I put on Donald Fagen’s “Kamakiriad” and “The Nightfly” (I.G.Y. – my all-time favorite song) perks me up. I listen to mostly instrumental music, that helps me focus on solutions, helping others, work through my emotions. I’m learning to also just get out and let the fresh air and sunshine beam down on me. I have to force myself to get out but when I do in the end it was the best thing for me. Keep doing what you are doing but at the same time if you have to break down and cry…do it. If you have to take time to be in a funk…do it. We’re human, we are made of emotions and we grow weary from time to time. But just know you have people (online as well as offline) that care about you.

    Thank you for sharing your gifts with the masses. 🙂

  • amanda April 18, 2012, 7:16 am

    Tammy, I too am glad that you’ve decided to open comments up, and I’m also glad that the article I sent along spoke to you. I tend to handle things the same way as you. Putting the space around me into an order goes a long way toward putting my thoughts into order. Finding the words of others also helps a lot. I don’t know if you’ve ever read her, but the poet Marie Howe writes really simple and incredible poems about grief, especially her book “What the Living Do.” I think she captures more effectively than perhaps any other poet I know the way those of us who are left behind have to reorder our world. I just posted one of her poems on my tumblr for you, and there’s a link to an interview on Fresh Air if you’d like to listen: http://asiporaspoonful.tumblr.com/post/21325946699/the-promise-by-marie-howe

  • shel April 18, 2012, 11:54 am

    Tammy, it sounds like your intellectual instincts are herding you to act in the ways that will ultimately benefit you and the circumstances affecting your family. Taking care of yourself, encouraging that in others, and continuing to participate in the life you’re creating are paramount. You’ll feel sadness, guilt, frustration and myriad other “negative” emotions, but — as you pointed out — you’re a human being and we humans with arms-wide-open lives will experience the highs and lows of existence. Stay strong and as Caroline said, I’m sure your parents are very proud of you and that your presence (in body, spirit) is making a great deal of positive difference!

  • Stacey April 18, 2012, 3:44 pm

    Cooking for others is my uplifter. Nourishing others is such a positive and empowering contribution, both to the recipients and most definitely to the cook.

  • Ana April 19, 2012, 6:08 am

    Thinking about you and your family this morning, and hoping today is a bit brighter than yesterday. My good friend had multiple strokes about 2 1/2 years ago, and nobody ever thought he’d be walking, talking, or feeding himself. Now he’s riding his recumbent trike, talking, walking with a walker, and back to telling jokes and eating without a feeding tube. But, it took a long time, and all of these steps were really gradual, and took a lot of effort to get there. Which is all to say, yes, take care of yourself now, because you and your family will need the strength in the long run to be a help to your dad. For my friend and his partner, the important thing was getting logistical help from friends in the community so that nobody had to be Super Partner and take care of everything.

    For me, the most important thing is to consciously choose to be with people who “get it.” I find it’s a huge drain of energy to be continually explaining myself/my situation over and over again, when what I really need is someone who knows what the deal is and can just meet me where I am.

  • Susan H April 19, 2012, 7:15 am

    Your post is moving in so many ways, including your wise self-care solutions and your invitation to others. Among the many generous suggestions, may there be some that work for you.

    Caring for and loving my late husband through five strokes over five years held some of the experiences described and some of the following insights:
    () Making a list of what you have lost was a therapist’s suggestion, and after first denying that my husband and I had lost anything, I started to cry, and listed many buried things like talking about little things or eating a meal together without choking. That list writing can be a good place to acknowledge these losses. In the same way, realizing that someone you love is in distress and you can’t do much about it is deeply humbling, and can help identify what new things we can do.
    () My sister and I coined the phrase ‘tragic immunity’, when my father, my husband and my mother died within 18 months. Tragic immunity meant that if you couldn’t deal with some situation, say a friendly crowd that evening, you didn’t go, or other similar things. Seems like you’re creating that for yourself with deciding not to interact with people to whom you have to explain this .
    () Even though you can’t do of your previous rough patch strategies, like a three week journey to France was for me, cast about for something you can do, and savour the heck out of it. It may be a walk at sunset, or a snuggle, or …
    () Develop looking with eyes of love. Looking with eyes of love then meant that if someone else and I looked at my husband, the other person saw a drooling man who walked and spoke haltingly, and I saw his loving essence, all our memories, and how hard he was trying in therapies.
    () During and after those years, I came away with a couple of resolves and one was to tell the people you love how much you love them, in word and deed, while they can still hear you.

    Sending positive energy for your courage and love and for you all.

    Susan H.

  • Natalie April 19, 2012, 7:59 am

    Even though you are feeling such grief and uprooting with the unfolding of your step-dad’s health, I think talking about it, especially with people that have experienced anything similar is very important. Your blog has been an inspiration to me as I think about my own parents fates and caring for them in their older age. Sometimes support groups can help, but sometimes just talking to someone in a similar stage of life or predicament can be beneficial so that you know you aren’t alone. As you’ve always stated, taking care of yourself is essential too. I always find cleaning or cooking helpful because I feel like I am in control, and I can easily change something into something new (raw food into a meal) or change the visual appearance of a room by rearranging it or giving it a new perspective. I wish you and your family strength! Thank you for always sharing your experiences.

  • Pat April 19, 2012, 6:01 pm

    Dear Tammy,

    Like other readers, I have found exercising (walking, in particular) and journaling a comfort during stressful times. As a writer, you probably already journal, but perhaps you could create a separate journal just for this time in your life. Reading comforts me, as well. Kathleen Norris’ Cloister Walk always brings calm when life is difficult. My faith in God helps most of all. And as I have gotten older (60 this year), I’ve come to embrace times like this as part of the cycle of life. My prayers are with you and your family for comfort and peace.

    Pat in Eastern NC

  • Laurena Groeneveld April 19, 2012, 7:08 pm

    I appreciate your post. I have been going through a rough patch too and trying to find my way. My brother died last year in June but some days if feels like yesterday. He was only 21 and started showing signs of Schizophrenia. He was gone within 6 months committing suicide in Seattle. I was just a year and a half away from graduating with my Bachelor’s in Psychology and wanting to be a mental health social worker but everything suddenly stopped. I am now hiding in a small town in Washington and the journey of simple living has been a comfort. Finding how to take care of yourself and what works for you is so important because not everyone can live to simply to the extreme. I’ve downsized my possessions tremendously and last week moved my bed out into the living room and turning the former bedroom into a quiet room where I can do yoga and feel in solitude. I agree that taking time to exercise is so important even if you find it brings up emotions. I am so happy that the exercise has reduced my craving for alcohol to stuff down my emotions and be numb. Although, sometimes people will look at me funny as I run down the road with tears streaming down my face. I know how hard it is to go through loss but it is very commendable to take care of yourself through it because life is a gift. And never let anyone make you feel guilty for taking that time to nurture yourself!

  • Ember April 20, 2012, 3:23 am

    Hiya. I love your website, your blog and your choices.
    I have been through some desperately rough patches in my life. When that happens, I am just kind to myself and give myself treats shamelessly. I like doughnuts. The occasional glass of wine. But kept to treat-level not to binge-level or oblivion-level. The mother of the Queen of England, every morning, used to gather her ladies-in-waiting around her and ask 1 “What’s in the diary for today?” and 2 “What treats are we having today?” :0)
    I think that your grief and turmoil is not selfish. It is part of the belonging of your love. Using the language of the Christian tradition, I think I would recognise it as a form of intercession. You are walking the road with Mahlon, going through the nightmare with him.
    If you like stories, I wrote a novel exploring some of the challenges stroke brings. It’s called The Long Fall and is the 3rd in this one-volume trilogy. It’s here: http://www.amazon.com/Hawk-Dove-Trilogy-Penelope-Wilcock/dp/1581341385/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1297518488&sr=1-2 If you would like a copy, send me your address in a comment on my blog, or by email and I will mail one to you.
    I will be thinking of you, and holding you in the light, as you travel this journey that is asking so much of you. There’s a thing in the Psalms, “How blessed are they who, going through the Valley of Baca, find it to be a place of springs.” ‘Baca’ is adversity/aridity/hardship/sorrow. In tough times, life gives small comforting and encouraging things to lift us up and keep us going – springs of grace along the stony way. I’m 100% sure they will be there for you to find as you travel. May grace guide and sustain you xxx

  • Becky April 20, 2012, 5:27 am

    Oh, Tammy, my heart is breaking for you. I have also gone through sad times like this with both my parents and my father-in-law (We lost all three of them within a 14 month period!). Even though it was all during the years of 2001-2002, it still hurts when I think about it all. They are all three long gone, but I totally get the deal about not being able to just pick up the phone to call each of them. I miss that most with my own Mom. Now my mother-in-law is also gone, so we have no parents left, but it is something I don’t think anyone else can relate to unless they are going through it or have gone through it. I am sorry for those who have treated you badly, especially during this difficult time for you. I also pray for you and your family. Please take care of yourself. I agree that that is a very important thing in this type of situation. Thanks for all you share on your blog. I am a regular reader and enjoy it all so very much! Take care.

  • Donna April 20, 2012, 5:29 am

    I am intrigued by the number of people who have found relief with exercise. Being one who finds comfort on a cozy couch, I am looking at this with new eyes. I can see the benefit and will put your thoughts to good use. Thanks! I hear you when you talk about being off kilter. I have gone through so many cycles that I have begun to see them coming. Closets are too big a choice for me because of the mess I make in the rest of the room in the process. Drawers are perfect – small, easy to sort out and with satisfying results in short order. Cleaning, ditto. Puttering in the garden or painting in my studio gives me renewed focus. Reading for escape and the great outdoors for restoration. Nothing beats a soft wind on my cheek, sun beaming warmth deep into my skin, and a sky filled with change. No matter how thick the angry clouds can become or how intense the rain, it always clears and the sun comes out once again.

  • Anonymous April 20, 2012, 9:55 am

    Hi Tammy ,
    I so enjoy your posts and look forward to them. My heart goes out to you during this challenging time. I want to reassure you that you will get through this. You will feel better. Know that Mahlon would want it no other way. Sometimes I just try to “let go, and let God.” On another note, if you haven’t read the book Unbroken, run, don’t walk to get this. Also, check out the great reviews this newish book has received. It’s an inspiring, true story of redemption and forgiveness among many other things. Your reader in Davis, CA, Mary

  • Jt Clough | Big Island Dog April 20, 2012, 10:01 am


    Sharing your grief has brought so much to many, for myself it has been eye opening. I’ve had my own issues lately that honestly are quite pale in comparison. The one thing that keeps popping up is “take care of yourself”, and I often wonder why it takes something so painful in our faces to start the process of understanding what it means to take care of ourselves. Often times we don’t practice it in “good times”, no wonder it is so difficult when painful times whether physical or mental come along.

    The one staple I come back to in times of of personal need, since I was young is exercise. At 48 I’ve now added rest to that regimen, as well as making myself one fresh juice or smoothie using both fruit and vegetables daily.

    You have many who care and many who have been seriously helped through your painful process. I can only hope that knowledge can give you some sort of solace in all of this.

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