Reflections on Turning 40

I turn 40 on Sunday. That’s hard to believe.

It’s something I’ve struggled to understand. I don’t feel 40. I don’t look 40. I certainly don’t act 40. But, then again, how is one really supposed to feel, look or act at 40, or any age for that matter?

To be honest, I feel like I’ve been trying to fill in blanks about my story for my entire life.

What I Do Know

I was a preemie. How early? I really don’t know, to be honest. I’ve heard weeks and even months. How small? My adopted mom always told me I was about a pound, and the doctors said I wouldn’t last the next 24 hours. She had a way for embellishing, I think:

When did I come home? I don’t know. Who did I call “mom” and “dad” first? I don’t know. When did I take my first steps? I don’t know.

There are things from my past, my own story, I feel like I should know. But I don’t. They’re a mystery to me. I just want the truth of my story. To know how I fit in. I just don’t know if I’ll ever have the answers I seek.

A Long Time to Reflect

I’ve had a long time to reflect on the last 40 years. Try and put the puzzle pieces together. It’s just sometimes I think they were never meant to fit. I’m just this missing piece, fallen to the floor, unwanted, discarded.

I want to know why my birth father wanted nothing to do with me. I want to know how he could start a family of his own. I want to know if he ever thinks of me and what I’ve become.

I occasionally Google him from time-to-time. See that he still lives in the hometown I grew up in. I know my half-sister went to the same elementary school I did. There was the street I was never allowed to ride my bike down. I didn’t ask why. I knew in my heart. My parents were trying to protect me from something, or someone.

Any my parents did protect me. From a lot of what life has to offer. For a long time. It took me a really long time to realize that. To open my own eyes and see the shroud and the fog that I had been raised in.

Don’t get me wrong. I loved my parents and I am so grateful for every opportunity that I was allowed.

But, they were emotionally unavailable. I see that now. They checked out well before I came into the picture. Fixated on their own world, their own problems.

I toe this line of wanting everyone’s affection and approval because of it. I don’t know how to ask for help or even how to put a name to some of the emotions I am feeling.

I was gas-lighted. For years. I was deemed “emotional” or “pouting” or “being just like your mom” when I exhibited any ounce of actual feeling. That last one always stung the most.

I Just Want a Normal Relationship

That’s easier said than done, right?

I’ve wanted nothing more my entire life than to have a normal relationship with my family, especially my mom. My birth mom.

I don’t know if that will ever happen. I have these expectations of what should or shouldn’t be. But things just are.

Life and experiences have made us strangers. We’ve tried at various times to make amends. Right now, we haven’t spoken in two years.

I just want someone who can ask me: How’s your day, honey? How are you feeling? Someone to hug me and just tell me it’ll be OK, sometimes.

Instead, I cling to the family I have chosen. Brett. My friends.

I hate that I have become estranged from own family. But it hurts too much to break open these wounds every time I see or talk to them. It has worn me down after all these years. The asks. The wants. The what-can-you-give-me. Not, the what-can-I-do-for-yous.

I know “normal” relationships don’t exist. It’s a vision in my head. But, is it too much to ask for something?

I Don’t Know What the Future Holds

I don’t know how to ask for things. I don’t know what I want for the future.

I don’t see 40 as a celebration. Especially in these COVID times. But I refuse to let the pain and hurt drive how I live. I refuse to let someone else put the puzzle pieces into place. I’m filling in the blank spaces now.

I am committed to becoming a healthier me, both physically and mentally. I am passionate about school and earning this MPH degree to make changes in this world. Mostly, because I feel so helpless in the small world I was given sometimes.

I am grateful to have a loving husband, a crazy-cuddly puppers, and dear friends who are there for me, and especially those new friends who have seen and helped me emerge from under some truly dark times.

And to my sweet, Emmett. Five years ago I learned you were with us, only to have you taken far too soon. I love you, baby.

2020 has…

It’s been a long time.

I honestly thought I had written this year. But, then again, 2020 has been, umm…well, different.

A lot has changed.

Personally. Professionally.

The biggest change? I started grad school this fall. Going back to earn my Master’s in Public Health from The George Washington University’s Milken School of Public Health.

Why go back to school after so many years?

I want to pay it forward after our pregnancy loss a few years ago and make some real changes in how we approach women’s health care and mental health needs in our communities through improving programs/resources (and access to care) as well as policies.

I haven’t stepped into a classroom since 2005. School is different, too. Especially virtual school. It has been a transition for me. I won’t lie. There have been tears. It’s been stressful. The imposter syndrome is real. Do I belong here? Can I keep up with my fellow students, most of them, just out of undergraduate programs? I question myself every day.

But, I’m doing well. Finals are just around the corner after Thanksgiving. I know what I need to do to bump my B+ in one class to an A, and then keep my other A where it is.

I get about a month off before the first spring term starts. And I’m excited for it. Social and Behavioral Approaches to Health plus a new Healthcare IT course. Right up my nerdy alley. I’m just afraid of what’s coming shortly thereafter…

Biostatistics and epidemiology.

I haven’t had a college-level math class since 1999. I’m terrified. I get cold sweats just thinking about it. Some other students say it’s just a bunch of algebra-like problems. If that’s the case, I shouldn’t be too bad off.

It’s a lot of balancing right now. A lot of time management. Online lectures, required readings, homework assignments, papers — oh the APA style! I was having some serious flashbacks to junior year AP English and needed to text one of my besties to commiserate one night.

I didn’t put forth as much effort as I could have in high school or undergrad. I skated by on what was easy. For the first time, I’m applying myself. I’m passionate about something I’m learning. It’s an entirely different feeling for me knowing that I’m learning concepts and skills that can help people like me, my family, my friends, my neighbors, everyone around me. I’m trying my best to keep my vision focused on the endgame. How I want to help others feel like they have the support they need. Something that was lacking when I needed it four years ago.

On top of all of this, I’m also still working full-time for a health system — managing websites and internal, employee communications. During a global pandemic. That’s another stress, too. I’ve had to suddenly transition to working from home. Something I struggled with mightily during those days just after the loss. But, I know how I struggled then and have been proactive at ways to combat those hurdles, the mechanisms of procrastination. No connection besides a Skype call with my colleagues. I miss not going into the office every day. I miss singing in my car during the commute. I miss normalcy of getting some coffee in the kitchen and having a random chat with someone about what’s the best new restaurant to try.

I know this pandemic won’t be forever. Even as bad as it is right now, there is a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. Things will get better. It may not seem that way, but they will. We just have to fumble through this hard part. Do the work. Feel the pain.

It’s a lot like grief.

That’s why I think I’m coping with all of the curveballs of 2020 so well. I lived through hell in 2016. The worst year ever. I never thought it would end.

But, it did.

And slowly, each day did get better. I was able to do more. Feel more. But I couldn’t get to that point without doing the painful work first.

If I’ve learned anything these past few years, it would be this:

Don’t be afraid to feel the feelings. They’re valid. They’re telling you something – whether it’s sadness, happiness, excitement, whatever. I had been so afraid to be vulnerable and feel things that I was just numb for so long, even well before the pregnancy loss.

I literally carry around with me on my phone an Emotions/Feelings Wheel. It helps me put a name to those uncomfortable oogie feelings I have. The ones that I’m like, I don’t like this but…what is it? Y’know what I’m talking about, right?

Source: Junto Institute, Emotional Wheel

Sometimes I can’t say what I’m feeling and I clam up. Brett’s used to me needing to take a moment. It may be even a couple of long moments (like days) to figure out what I’m feeling. We sometimes have to pause deep conversations so I can process how I’m feeling first before I even bring him into it and ask what I need, how he can help me.

I also had to change therapists. Last year, I just wasn’t getting where I needed to be. I wasn’t sharing as much about what I was feeling and thinking. I wasn’t being honest with my therapist. So, I changed. I hate to say “I fired” her but I had to make a switch. I was staying stagnant. Not making progress.

It’s been much better since I’ve switched. Honestly, the past 12-18 months are some of the best I have felt in a long time. I wish I could share all the reasons why…and maybe some day I can. But, right now, just please know, I’m good.

I still do think about Emmett. Every day. That hasn’t changed. But life has gone on. And I started to move along with it as well. I realized I was standing still, unsure of what I wanted and where I wanted to go. Now, I’m *slightly* more confident of the road I’m on but thrilled by the adventures and where’s it’s leading me.

I try to see the good moments each day. I’m thankful for just being loved by so many people. It’s the little things these days that make the biggest impact and matter the most.

2020 sucks. We’ve lost a lot of our routine. We’ve just lost a lot. It won’t last forever, though. It will end. We will come out of this. It may not seem like it now, but we will.

Just right now, hold on to those small moments. Let them carry you through the struggle, the pain. And they will. And you will remember them when you look back.

I hope you all have a wonderful (socially-distanced) Thanksgiving.

Love and hugs,

-Christina ❤

My Musical Mid-Life Crisis

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I’m having a bit of a crisis lately. A mid-life crisis. How did I just suddenly wake up one day and I’m almost 40. I turned 38 in January (more about that birthday in a second). According to the World Health Organization, the life expectancy for women worldwide is 78.2 years. If my math is correct, that means next year would technically be “mid-life” for me.

[insert groan here]

This June is also my 20th high school reunion. How is that even possible? It seems just like yesterday I was roaming the halls of Wauwatosa West High School, back in Wisconsin. The band geek. The school newspaper editor. The swimmer. The National Honor Society member. The friend. The girl who had the hugest crush on the football player/mall piano player.

I was looking back at my senior picture, all leggy as it was. The tomboy with studious glasses, puffy hair, dressed in a polo shirt, sneakers and khaki shorts, and a huge cross dangling around her neck. On the surface and in the eyes of that girl, I see someone completely different.

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The Emotionally-Neglected Child

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I’ve been reaching deep down into my past to uncover some unpleasant realities that have had a harmful effect on many of my relationships throughout my life.

First, let me say…I was, for the most part, a happy child and was certainly well-loved by my family. So, it’s difficult for me to admit that I was emotionally-neglected, even in a not-so-overt way by my loved ones. However, it’s something that has just surfaced in my individual counseling sessions so I’ve been diving into these long-buried feelings.

I recently finished Dr. Jonice Webb’s book “Running on Empty,” which covers Childhood Emotional Neglect, or CEN. The entire time I was flying through it reading the different scenarios or “vignettes” as the author calls them, I thought to myself, “This is so me!” This is a large, complicated topic and I will admit that I am not a trained psychotherapist so don’t take any of this as advice. These are just my reflections on a very small aspect of this issue and it’s an integral part of the work that Brett and I also are doing in couples counseling.

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The 10-Year Itch

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We’re starting couples counseling next week. Wow, wait. I didn’t think I could say that out loud. I’m so afraid of the discrimination and stigma from others at the mere mention of it. Like they’re thinking we’re already headed straight to divorce and this is a last-ditch effort to save a marriage.

It’s not.

We’ve been going back and forth on the idea of it for a while now. We know things have changed between us. That’s inevitable in any relationship. However, the entire bedrock of our marriage was put through a massive trauma when we lost Emmett. Needless to say, we have a lot of things to work on and we want to be proactive to cope with them together before we get to a point-of-no-return.

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We Need to Talk About It

This post originally was published on June 8, 2018, on my Facebook page after the suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain. Click here to follow Missing Emmett on FB.

This week has hurt. A little bit more than most.

It’s ok to talk about it, and that’s why I do. I struggle with depression and anxiety. I have for most of my life. I had my first panic attack in high school. Scared because I didn’t know that all of those emotions flooding my head were entirely normal. I wasn’t going crazy. It took me years to realize that.

I. AM. NOT. CRAZY. I. AM. HUMAN.

We all are.

We have feelings. We have hearts. We make connections with people that make indelible marks on our souls.

Most recently, I’m struggling with my past. To be specific…2001. It’s complicated grief. Sparked by Emmett’s loss but remembering the loss of my mom. At a time when I was just beginning to find myself. I was in pain and my heart was full of this emptiness, straining to find something to mask it. Until someone came along and made me feel alive.

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