Addiction, Bipolar Disorder, depression, faith, mental health, Parenting, writing

An Addict’s Lesson of Love

This is Ricky’s story.

Ten Novembers ago Ricky died of pneumonia at the age of 43 which was ironic since he had battled addiction for most of his life and attempted suicide eight times.

Ricky was my father.

Photo by Ar Meftah on Unsplash

The Early Years

His childhood ran parallel to my childhood experience. A young kid raised in East Tennessee, a love for art, and an alcoholic father.

I was held by my 17 year old mother when I was born. Ricky looked down into the incubator at me soon after with a huge smile on his face. There’s a picture to prove that he was there and that he cared. I looked at that picture a lot growing up. I needed the reminder. He was 22 and I imagine he was hopeful. That’s what I get from the photo–hope and pure pride.

Ricky was gone by the time I was 4. He sped away one morning in his car and squealed the tires around the curve at the bottom of the road near the treeline. I went back inside and went about my day. I think I played with Barbies while Mama cried in her bedroom.

I saw him on the occasional Christmas and Birthday where he’d shower me with gifts that his mom had paid for and wrapped herself. Nobody told me that, but I knew early on. There was no way he would have known what I wanted for Christmas, my favorite color, or that I loved my presents to be wrapped individually, but stacked and tied together with a large bow on top.

When I was 9 years old I told him I never wanted to speak to him again. The anger had caught up to me. Besides, Mama had remarried and I had a real dad that knew my favorite color and took time to play Frisbee with me outside.

Photo by Julia Engel on Unsplash

Forgiveness

I stewed in my resentment for a long time which I still believe is perfectly reasonable for any girl that’s been abandoned by her father.

When I was fourteen, I saw Ricky sitting outside of the assisted living home where he’d been living for a year, smoking a cigarette in his wheelchair. I had mom stop the car and as soon as she shifted the car into park, I opened the door without hesitating. I knew if I hesitated that I wouldn’t be able to muster up the courage. I had to do this on impulse. He spotted me almost instantly and said, “Hey baby!” I hated when he called me baby. I kept walking until I was by his side.

“I forgive you.”, I blurted out. “You left me and I forgive you.”

His blue-green eyes filled with tears and he exhaled the last of his cigarette.

I don’t remember what he said or if I went back to the car immediately.

Cigarettes and Cassette Tapes

When I think of Ricky, I think of three things: cassette tapes of 80’s rock n’ roll, cigarettes, and fudge Pop Tarts.

I’d love to say that my forgiving my dad changed everything and that we grew to become best friends. The truth is that I still cringed when he hugged me when I was leaving from our weekly visits. I hated when he said I reminded him of himself. It made me incredibly sad when he talked about his alcoholism and pleaded with me to always choose my future family over anything else. Even though it made me sad, I changed the subject or made an excuse to get off of the phone. I couldn’t comfort him because I didn’t know how.

He would stay up late in manic episodes recording cassette tapes for me.

Side A: Kiss, Metallica, Guns N’ Roses / Side B: more Kiss, U2, and AC/DC

He would meticulously write out the lyrics in tiny perfect hand writing on the cassette cover. He’d give them to me almost every visit and I’d end up throwing them away during my next visit to the car wash. I still don’t know why I did that. Maybe it was to keep myself from loving him too much. In case things didn’t work out then I wouldn’t have remnants of him around my car.

The Last Chapter

I did grow to love him, though. It turned out that I always had. The little girl that had refused to care for so long had actually cared all along. I began to notice that Ricky’s mood was always unpredictable. Some of my visits he would spend laughing and cracking jokes. Other days, he would go back to sleep while I watched TV. He’d wake back up to smoke a cigarette and then go back to bed. I’d let myself out without waking him and would drive the long way home to sort through the feelings of abandonment that would resurface.

He was sick. I knew that the bipolar moods were not his fault and that the depression had a strong hold on him. Still, I felt like a little girl yearning for her dad to pay attention to her.

The last time I saw Ricky was at my wedding. He had saved large portions of his disability check so that he could buy my wedding dress. After the ceremony, I gave him a quick hug on my way to have photos taken. He said he wasn’t feeling well and needed to go home. The hug felt awkward as always and I found myself pulling away before he was ready.

Two months later I was watching his casket get lowered into the heart of the earth. He was only 43 years-old. He had left me again. This time, I couldn’t reconcile. I wanted to dig through the landfill and find the cassette tapes. I craved an awkward hug and all I wanted was to hear him snore while I watched the same infomercials again and again.

More than anything, I wanted to know his favorite color. I never got to ask.

Lessons in Love

I have Ricky to thank for teaching me what love is.

Love is complicated. It isn’t always pristine and comfortable. Love is putting in the hard work. Love is forgiveness. Love is apologizing for the past and doing your best to be present in the moment. Love is allowing people to be imperfect and realizing that we too are imperfect.

Love is more than knowing someone’s favorite color. It’s knowing that you’d give your very life for them if you had to. It’s sacrificial and it’s ultimately the only thing we will die remembering.

Ricky, I know your life was really hard.

I know you tried your best.

Me forgiving you changed everything for you. Realizing you loved me changed everything for me.

Rock on xx

Anxiety, Chronic illness, parenting, women's health

Money and Mental Health

It was time for me to face my fears. Money wasn’t just a tangible exchange of currency for goods. For me, it was a deeply rooted fear of going without, being out of control, and letting go.

Photo by Katie Harp – Pinterest Manager on Unsplash

To me, the world has always been a picture of souls interconnected by an invisible string. I’ve seen how just the “right” person enters my life at just the “right” time. It never ceases to amaze me and I find that it’s rarely easy to ignore.

The Way it Went Down

Matt and I have been struggling with our finances since we got married.

Money tips and wisdom weren’t shared with either of us growing up. In fact, money was a major trigger for stress in both of our homes. We were both raised by single parents for a long duration of childhoods. There was very little money and very little resources because of it. Ironically, both of our single parents married their spouses when Matt and I were around the same age. New income from new “breadwinners” in the home meant new opportunities that weren’t afforded to our parents when they were single.

All of a sudden both of our families were able to afford name brand cereal (heck, cereal at all!).

We got new school clothes instead of second hand clothing.

Matt looks back on his household and I look back on mine and it’s shockingly similar. Our parents essentially went from having nothing to having excess. This created a culture of entitlement, living beyond the families’ means, and debt. Then, as the credit card statements arrived in the mail, the arguments surrounding money began.

We both remember our parents and step parents fighting over money. Shouting matches over the stress of it all. Still, behaviors went unchanged and we both grew up in homes where money wasn’t dared brought up in discussion.

Avoidance became the key to keeping arguments under wraps.

Til’ Debt Do Us Part

Our lack of money smarts wasn’t all on our parent’s shoulders, of course. Matt and I never really talked about the financial specifics of our relationship, goals, or even pasts. Our conversations went as deep as:

“Yeah, my parents fought a lot about money.”

“Yeah, mine, too.”

Or, we would set lofty goals without any plan in place.

“The goal is to not go into debt.”

“Yeah, that would be horrible if we ended up in a financial situation like our families.”

The wedding came and went. We immediately spent the cash from the wedding envelopes immediately. On what, I don’t remember.

We opened credit cards for emergency situations because we didn’t have a savings.

Then, my health quickly and suddenly declined. Medical bills were thrown on credit cards and small personal loans with high interest rates became our cushion for survival. For years, and I mean years, we went into debt and total denial that our situation was as bad as it was.

Blank Slates and Fresh Chances

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

Years passed and debt increased.

Unforeseen circumstances kept mounting and throwing us into what felt like a whiplash state of saving then spending. We would make progress and then fall right back into spending and avoidance. We’d become stressed and then splurge on a vacation to get “away from it all”. (That doesn’t work, by the way).

Our daughter was born and we imagined a new chapter beginning. We dreamed new dreams. We made new lofty plans without any accountability or measurable goals in place.

Her 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th birthdays passed and we were sinking further into debt. In this span of 5 years I began and quit multiple jobs because of my health. I could not hold down a full time job which left our finances even more unpredictable. Finally, we enrolled in the debt management program with CESI and consolidated our debt. (they’re a non profit and I highly recommend them!)

With new tools in our tool belt and a breath of fresh air, I started back to full time employment.

Unfortunately, after nearly two years of employment, I had to resign due to health issues once again. I immediately talked to my therapist during this grieving process. It was so taxing on me and disappointing that I had to give up a position I loved so much. She suggested that I consider freelance work as a virtual assistant and writing. My love for administrative support (major geek over here!), writing, and desire to stay on track with CESI gave me the push I needed to jump into the unknown.

Enter Amazing Breakthrough

Photo by Sarah Gualtieri on Unsplash

My freelance profile posted and I got a message shortly after from the lovely Whitney Hansen of Whitney Hansen Co. It turned out she needed a virtual assistant ASAP and well, I needed a job! The thought of working for a finance guru intimidated me like crazy!

Day One: I pushed my fear aside and got to work on my newly assigned tasks.

I read all about her work, listened to her podcast, and began reading her blog. She had me hooked. Whitney talked about things I had never heard about: side hustles, how to start a savings, and manageable goals for paying off debt. I soaked in everything like a sponge. She wasn’t talking at me, she was sharing her heart and also her mind. In one of her podcasts she interviews Cait Flanders, author of The Year of Less . My intrigue was sparked. I bought the book used on Amazon and got to reading.

My Rude, but Gentle Awakening

Photo by Nika Akin on Unsplash

The first few pages of Cait’s book made me cry.

Whitney’s podcast made me cry.

Sessions with my therapist made me cry.

Something ran deep within me and I couldn’t figure it out. What was it?

I began to grieve.

I dug deep into the soil of my soul and there, just at the rock bed, was fear. On the surface everyone else saw my health concerns, my best intentions, and my polished facade. Deeper, there in the dark, was the fear I had buried as a child. Fear of losing what I held dear, fear of lacking control, fear of letting others in. Spending had become my salve. I shopped for comfort. I shopped to forget. I shopped to control.

“Tiny” well-meaning purchases over time had buried me.

It was time for a rebirth.

I could not be held responsible for what I did not know growing up, but I was responsible for choosing not to grow up.

The following weeks, I decided to stay at that root and to look it dead in the eyes. I observed the deepest and darkest places of my behavior. Places that I felt ashamed of–the impulsive spending, relentless excuses, and denial. I did not stay there, though.

We cannot dwell in a place of regret. Nothing blooms there.

I asked Whitney for help by joining her in her 1:1 coaching. She graciously accepted us and all of our nasty debt into her arms and began gently coaching us on how to take ownership over our finances.

I began working intentionally with my therapist about my desire for comfort, suppression, and hiding from fear.

This has been difficult. The first month of setting a budget did not go as planned. We basically fell on our faces. Whitney helped dust us off and encouraged us to keep going. I replaced spending with eating for a short time. My therapist listened with true empathy as I cried through the realization that I had exchanged one bad habit for another. (Cait highlights this common tendency in her book).

Matt and I are setting goals and working hard to be a team. It’s fun to be on the same page and dream together!

I’m learning to not be fearful of finances, but instead feel empowered by my choices.

Let’s End With This

You’re not defined by the mistakes you’ve made.

Evaluate the “mood behind the motion”. Are you eating, spending, sleeping, avoiding, or drinking when you’re stressed, scared, overwhelmed, sad, or angry?

You’re not alone.

Advocate for yourself. Ask for help. It isn’t easy, but it’s worth it.

I promise, there’s something beautiful waiting to bloom.

You are lovely + You are loved,

Nikki xx

Anxiety, art, mental health, parenting, slow living, women's health

Art and Mental Health

But I spend as much time as I can being creative, because it’s healing.

Dear Stranger, my name’s Caitlin and I have a mood disorder.

First things first…

I didn’t always have anxiety and depression. In fact, I used to be considered a class clown in my younger days. I remember being shy sometimes, but I was a pretty confident kid. As a girl I would love to make my friends laugh. I would draw funny pictures for them too, and make up characters. I’ve always been told I was creative.

greenery and a notebook laying on a white surface.

But things changed once I got a little older. I was sitting in a classroom in 8th grade, and suddenly I felt a fear I had never felt before. I felt trapped. I couldn’t breathe. I needed to get out of there. I didn’t know it then, but I had experienced my first panic attack. They say something traumatic must happen to a person for them to have an anxiety disorder, but that’s not always true.

Dear Depression,

As a teenager, I started getting depressed and anxious. I was too afraid to take pills or seek therapy at the time. But when I was feeling low, I always had my sketchbook. I drew fairies and elves and hobbits, mainly. And when I wasn’t drawing, my friends and I filmed brilliant (to us) videos. If Youtube existed back then, let me tell you we would’ve had our own channel. Just like in my younger years, I would play countless characters for the video camera, trying to make people laugh. When I did that, I forgot about my anxiety and depression. I felt like myself again.

Postpartum Depression

Fast forward to my years as a young mother. I had postpartum depression every time I had a new baby (and I had three kids in 5 years). I went through a period where I forgot how to be creative. I wasn’t drawing or writing anymore. But as the kids grew, I found that we could do crafts together. Making beeswax candles, making salt dough hand prints, …it was very fun creating things again, this time with my little ones.

The Spark of Creativity

I was still a lonely mom, but one day I had an idea. I decided to start hosting an annual tea party for my friends. It was called a Cupid’s Tea. We would craft Valentine’s together. Sitting there at my first of many tea parties, simply using a glue stick….it sparked something in me. From then on I never stopped trying to be creative.

Antique spoons on a white surface.

I started being more crafty. My kids and I made fairy gardens outside, and painted birdhouses. I started scrap booking. I even got more creative with my hair. I may have had depression, but dying my hair pink, purple, blue and teal cheered me up. I may have had anxiety, but I could rock a mohawk!

Healing Projects

When we moved from Virginia to Alabama, it wasn’t easy.

It was at this time I got really into painting wooden signs and making dream catchers. I made so many crafts that I was encouraged to start an Etsy shop, so I did. Knowing that people will pay money for the things I make is really encouraging. It helps me with my loneliness and my mood disorder.

Keep in mind, I still have a mood disorder. I have bad days. I manage it with medication and seeing a psychiatrist. But I spend as much time as I can being creative, because it’s healing.

Be Encouraged

I just want to encourage you, stranger, to try something just for you. Sketch, paint, blog, scrapbook, write, craft, or dye your hair red. There is something about creativity that has always helped me, and no matter what you’re going through, I believe it will help you too.

I will leave you with this quote by one of my heroes, which I love.

“You’re only given a little spark of madness; You mustn’t lose it” – Robin Williams

Pastel paint swatches, pencils, and botanical pieces on a white surface.

As David Horsey of the LA Times said: ” I very much doubt the “madness” of which he spoke had anything to do with mental illness. Rather, it is the spark of impulse, insight, enthusiasm and inspiration that is essential to creativity.”

Don’t lose that spark.

Caitlin xx

BIO:
Caitlin Moore is a wife and a stay at home mother to three boys. She’s a Virginia native living in Alabama. She also has two cats, Wendy and Tiger Lily. She spends her days cooking,cleaning and care taking, but she always fits in time for herself. (This is easier now that all three boys are in school).
Etsy shop: https://www.etsy.com/shop/DixiePixieShop
Tzargazing blog https://tzargazing.wordpress.com/
15 moments blog https://15moments.home.blog/

***All of the beautiful photos in this post are compliments of  Joanna Kosinska on Unsplash