Tuesday, November 22, 2016

11/22/16- Gratitude

Gratitude, I've heard that word a lot lately.  I think with Thanksgiving around the corner (2 days!), many people start to reflect and think about what they are thankful for.  I'm no exception; I'm one of those people reflecting on what I'm grateful for.

Before I start my list of gratitude, I have to say 2016 has been one sharky year for me, and it seems for the world as well.  Wars, conflicts, floods, earthquakes, record high temperatures, legends lost, clowns running countries, and probably other sharky things I'm forgetting (personally this year, there's been illness and broken bones and emotional trials, blah).  It's a wonder that anyone is in a thankful mood right now.  But ever the optimist (although old age sure is trying to beat that out of me and make me a COE, cranky old engineer; you know the stereotype), I do realize there are still some wonderful things in my life.

The first thing I'm grateful for is my friends and family. Thank you so much to everyone who reads my blog.  Hearing that you take time out of your day to read my blog means so much to me.   They like me; they really, really like me!  :)   Even if you don't read my blog, I'm so grateful for the care and support my friends and family give me.  Big hugs!

Some of My Wonderful Friends <3

Second, the Cubs winning the world series.  The Cubs winning made my husband (life long fan) so happy, and shark it, if we couldn't all use that kind of happy right now!  Sure, it could be a sign of the 4 horsemen riding, but that was one of the most amazing (sport) wins I've seen.  If we survive the apocalypse, that is one thing we'll still be talking about as we cage fight for food and water Mad Max style.

That One Time at Wrigley

Next on the list, the pug.  It was almost 10 years to this day that Bobby and I went to the cargo hanger at Skyharbor and picked up 2 dogs. They were both shaking in their crates from what I can only image to be the most crazy experience of their dog lives. They had lost their owner, my aunt, a few days before, and then were packed up into dog crates and flown all the way from Atlanta to Phoenix in the belly of an airplane, only to be greeted by 2 strangers and taken to a strange home that already had a dog occupant.

It was one of the best and worst Thanksgivings of my life, so I can only image for Chaps, the Pug, and Gomez, the Shih Tzu, what that Thanksgiving was like for them. Gomez is no longer with us (he passed away a few years ago), but Chaps is.  He is the sweetest dog I've ever had and was Jack's first best friend (okay, Jack's first best friend might have been the ceiling fan).  Chaps, you are getting a whole Turkey in celebration of your adoption birthday! I mean YOLO, right Chaps?

 Pug in 2006

To lighten the mood a little, the next thing I'm grateful for is Bobby and mine's Thanksgiving and Christmas tradition of watching holiday movies.  First movie up will be Trains, Planes and Automobiles. Even though I've seen that movie 20+ times, I still laugh. "Those aren't pillows!" And Christmas Vacation. And Home Alone.  And dozens others.  These movies just make me happy.  And seriously, a good laugh right now is something I think a lot of us can use, so queue up the holiday movies!

Finally, one of the things I'm most grateful for, and it's probably obvious, is Jack and Bobby. Even when they annoy the hammerhead out of me, the next minute their making me smile with a silly face or funny joke.  They also keep me going at work. When I want to quit (almost everyday), I think of how our family needs my income (I know that is so practical, but sometimes the practical reasons are good reasons to keep working).  I also think about how I'm setting an example for Jack. Jack needs me to be the working woman in his life if I want him to truly understand what equal rights in the workplace means (*opinion alert! opinion alert!*).

<3 Three's Company <3

And better than being a part of the motivation to work, Jack and Bobby are part of my inspiration to follow a dream.  After Jack was born, I knew I wanted to create more beautiful things in the world (Jack is the most beautiful thing I've created, but to keep him humble, let's keep that between you and me :)).  I believe with engineering that you can create and make, but the engineering job I'm currently in is all about maintenance (which is important too, but really not challenging me). There is no creating and making with my current engineering job.  So for me to create and make, I decided to write a picture book.

The first picture book was inspired by Jack, observing him being curious about the appliances in our house and how they work.  That manuscript is currently "in the drawer" (as author's call it).  Shortly after that first manuscript, I came up with an idea to write female animal characters performing STEM jobs, in hopes of encouraging children, especially girls, to pursue those careers (assuming the slightest hint of interest, of course).  Bobby helped me form the idea for the first animal character (an aardvark), and he's been a big support in getting the book to print.

That's right, the book is coming to print!  Bobby and I hope to release "Annie a Mathematical Aardvark" in January of 2017!  I'm so excited, happy and grateful to go on this new journey (publishing a picture book) with my guys. Jack and Bobby have been an endless well of support and inspiration, and I'll be celebrating that this Thanksgiving!

Introducing Annie!*

I know 2016 was a rough year for a lot of people, but if you think of something you're grateful and thankful for this year, please leave a comment.  I'd love to hear about the good things that have happened to you.  Happy Thanksgiving! Gobble, gobble! :)

*Update- I totally forgot to give credit to the illustrator, Davina, "Viv," Kinney for Annie!  I'm thankful that Viv and I connected and for all the work she's doing on the book!

Friday, November 18, 2016

11/15/16- Less Than, It Has Happened To Me

I am feeling very introspective right now.  Mostly because I want to yell at a lot of people, to lecture them, to educate them.  But that is not what I need right now.  I need inner reflection. I need to empathize and listen. I have to start with myself. I need to tell myself what has happened to me, so I can empathize and listen when others share their stories or voice their emotions.

Self, do you remember that time you were at the Costco parking lot in college? Yeah, that was like decades ago. It was only one decade ago. Okay, but do we have to talk about that out loud?  Isn't it better to think the world is good?  Just because it happened to you doesn't mean the world is a bad place. Okay, I guess I'm ready to talk to you about it, Self.

I was packing up the groceries into my parents' Buick, when a white male in his twenties with light hair approached me.  He asked me if I wanted to take a survey for a radio contest.  I really just wanted to go home, so I politely said no thank you.  He replied, but it will only take a few minutes. Again, I say no thank you, I need to get home.  Then he starts to get pushy, talking real fast, listing these reasons why I need to come take this survey.  I'm losing my patience, saying a terse no, I have to go. I also start having an uncomfortable feeling in my chest as he continues rambling.  This isn't sitting right with me.

I yell, "Leave me alone!  I don't want to take your fucking survey!"  Then he turns from pushy to ugly in a second, "You cunt!" He yells more things at me that I've blocked from memory (cunt stays with me to this day; it's a hard word to forget).  Two tall, dark-skinned men approach and ask, "Miss are you ok? Is this guy bothering you?" Before I say anything to these men, the guy leaves.  I thank the men and get in my car, not even sure what just happened, just that I'm upset and crying.

So you were harassed?  Yes, I was harassed in a Costco parking lot in the middle of the day. If it weren't for the other two men jumping in, I'm not sure where it would have escalated.  Does it make you mad that your 2 polite no's should have been enough for the 20 something male to say, okay, thank you for your time and walk away?  Yes, of course! Again while I'm thankful for someone interfering and helping me, I struggle as to why my no's weren't enough. That should have been enough.

Do you think this harassment happens to other women? Other women that you know?  Yes Self, it does.  Do you think it's happened to another friend, and she just hasn't told you? Yes Self, it does.  What do you think you can do about it? Just share my story with my friends and family to show them that harassment happens closer than they think it does. That it happens to someone they know.  Why haven't you shared it before? Because I am scared of what they say to me, that it's some how my fault, or I'm whining or complaining (that I'm being a "crybaby"), but most of all because I can't burst my own bubble and admit that I wasn't in control of the situation. To admit that to myself, is to admit that I'm weak.  I'm not weak, I'm strong.

When harassment has happened to me, I have been afraid.  I recognize that I didn't have control of the situation. It made me feel LESS THAN.  I would rationalize it to myself, compartmentalize, tell myself I'm overreacting.  I don't believe I'm alone in this rationalization.  I think that other people who have been harassed are scared, that they downplay the situation. "I'm not weak."  "Harassment happens to other people, not to me." "Others will look down upon me." "If I say something, it could impact my career."  And so on. 

Whether its feelings of shame, fear, denial, anger, each individual who has been harassed has their reason for why they might rationalize it.  It's easy to downplay. It was for me.  It is hard to accept that the world can be bad.  It's difficult when you see the worsts in people when you know that there are good people.  It's difficult when someone makes you feel LESS THAN, even though you know you are not. It's cognitive dissonance at its finest-- you saw the world as good, people as good, yourself as good and then those few minutes (or longer) of harassment crashes that all.

Self, I want you to know, it was okay to be afraid and scared. However, those feelings will pass because I know that no more will you succumb to fear, hate and harassment of others.  I know that you choose to rise above. I do choose to rise.  I choose to be BETTER THAN how someone might see me (a "cunt"). 

I choose to help someone else who is being put in a position of LESS THAN.  I will not be quite when someone is being forced into LESS THAN.  I will take action when someone is being pushed into LESS THAN. We are BETTER THAN. My fears, my shame, they can be replaced by hope when we are being BETTER THAN. 

Got it, Self?  Yep I do.  I am BETTER THAN.  

Friday, November 11, 2016

11/11/16- Happy Veteran's Day, Remembering My Grandpa and Thanking My Dad

As I am processing my own feelings about the election results (hurt, sadness) and working to understand others' feelings (happy, excited, scared, apathetic), I was reminded on social media that today is Veteran's Day.  I am not a veteran, but I do know some, and I want to say thank you and Happy Veteran's Day.

It's been a reminder that I am a descendant of a veteran.  My grandpa Charlie was a veteran.  He fought in WWII.  But those facts had escaped my memory.  How could I forgot that he was one?

Grandpa Charlie and Grandma Ruth (she was a working woman as well)

I forgot because he simply was grandpa to me, not war veteran.  I don't recall every seeing him dress in uniform (in person; photos yes). I don't remember him sharing war stories with me. I do remember him sharing an ICEE with me at the Walmart in Lexington, Nebraska while walking around and picking out Barbie dolls and fishing lures.  I remember him teaching me about gardening and how he ate green onions straight.  And watching Jeopardy and cow auctions together.

I do remember one 4th of July where he was running for a local town position on the Democrat ticket.  I don't remember him winning or many other details, but I do recall handing out pencils with his name on it (the things that stick with you, huh?).  Grandpa Charlie is my mother's dad, and her side of the family has a long line of Democrats. On my father's side, a string of Independents.

These Two Guys!

I also come from a family of strong working women.  My grandpa Charlie had 4 daughters, no sons (unless you count through marriage), and all four daughters went to college.  And I think they all got master's degrees. These daughters traveled the world and have been in the workforce since the day I was born.  Two of them worked while raising kids.

My dad, well he's not a veteran.  He would have been a veteran of the Korean War, but he had asthma and couldn't serve (that would probably be different today with new medicine/treatments and military medical requirements).  He did serve his country in his own way though; he worked on many military and government projects as engineer and researcher.  I also work on a government/military project as an engineer.  I come from a short line of engineers as well (as far as I know it's just me and dad, and we're literally short in height). :)

Like Father, Like Daughter

This line of engineer, veteran, Democrat, Independent, strong working woman, that is my history. It is a reflection of who I am, and well not all of my family history is good and happy, I am thankful for what these two men did so that I can be an engineer today (20% of engineering students are female, Women LeavingEngineering, if you're interested in stats).

Dad and grandpa, thank you for repeatedly telling me I could be anything I wanted to be.  That you thought I could go to college (or okay, stated that I was).  That you thought I could be an engineer (or vet or marine biologist or latest idea).

Thank you for never saying I belonged at home or that I was ugly or fat or that my only worth was in my looks. Thank you for encouraging me to use my mind and smarts. Thank you for your support of me in math and science (especially when I was unsure of my abilities in those subjects). Thank you both for raising strong daughters (side shout out: thank you to my mother and aunts for being role models).

Dad and grandpa, today I thank you for being that kind of man, for being my equality champion. Thank you for all that you did for me.  I will continue to make you proud by being the smart, strong, hard working, female engineer that you believe in.

And Uncle Denis, Jack's Bopa, family and friends who also served, thank you for your service.

(And if your curious who my old white male of a father voted, it was for Hilary.  Thanks dad!)

This picture might embarrass them, but shout out to my male cousins for being equality champions too!

Thursday, November 3, 2016

11/3/16- The MS

In the writing world, MS is an abbreviation for manuscript.  In technology, MS is an abbreviation for Master's of Science.  In the autoimmune disease realm, it's Multiple Sclerosis.  I know all 3 abbreviations well, but the one that has impacted my life the most, is Multiple Sclerosis. My friend Emma had Multiple Sclerosis.

It's been 4 years since Emma passed away, and I carefully choose my words when I talk to others (who did not know her personally) about her.  I tell them she lost her battle to MS. That is the truth.  It's the why.  I feel that in those couple of minutes conversation that is all they need to know- that I lost a good friend to MS.

But it is not the how.  Emma was struggling with MS and decided in January of 2012 to end her struggle.  She committed suicide and left a note to her parents, citing she wanted peace, to escape the unending pain of MS and the resultant depression.

I believe she was 24 when she received her diagnosis in 2007 or 2008.  It's hard for me to remember the details of her diagnosis because I was going through my own medical struggles from end of 2006 to beginning of 2008.  My own RA diagnosis came in  spring of 2008.  And in a way, Emma helped me get a diagnosis.

She came to a party that Bobby and I had in  late 2007 or early 2008 (again that time is blurry for me).  I told her at the party how I felt like I had the flu every day. I told her I was so fatigued and nauseated, but frustrated that the doctors (I've seen so far) couldn't figure out what was wrong with me. She told me about her own symptoms and how a doctor at the Mayo clinic diagnosed her with MS.  She suggested that my symptoms sounded similar to hers (the extreme fatigue) and that I should get a MRI to (hopefully) rule out MS.

I called an imaging place that performed MRI scans.  They asked me who the doctor was recommending this test.  I sheepishly said no doctor had ordered it, that it was me, but I really needed to know.  I was asking for this test before the act in Arizona where you, the patient, can order your own tests (at least blood tests, I'm not sure about MRIs).

I must have given a good speech because the worker said she'd assign a doctor to the test; one that they normally worked with.  I got the MRI, which lead to meeting the doctor (who the imaging place assigned).  He told me that everything was good/looked normal in the MRI. Then, we talked about my symptoms, and he tested me for Mono, Valley Fever, and RA.  I had Mono and a high RA Factor. The diagnosis of RA happened shortly after.

Emma gathered us for the Phoenix MS Walk in 2010

But I am digressing.  I am not angry at Emma for taking her own life.  I know how a disease can turn your mind dark. I battled my own depression while I struggled to figure out what was wrong with my health. Often thinking what I had was a mental illness- that I was making it all up.  Often wondering, at least when I die here shortly, they can perform an autopsy on me and find out what I have.  Days of just sleeping on the couch during the day. Not going to work.  Not doing anything. But getting lost in my own thoughts.

I know what it's to have an autoimmune disease and the depression that can follow, and I'm angry at myself for not recognizing her internal battle.  We had meet 2 weeks prior to her death, and she shared how she wanted to be more social; that she was feeling lonely.  I encouraged her to come to more SWE events and that I'd love her help with SWE outreach activities.  She said she didn't think she could because she was no longer an engineer (she had been fired by her company months before). I said, of course you can still be a part of SWE, because why else would SWE offer retired or unemployed memberships?   We later made plans to do dinner again, and she said she'd sign up to volunteer for one of the SWE events.

I feel that I failed to really hear what she was saying. That she was lonely and that she was hurting. My anger at myself is not as large as it was in 2012, but it is still there, broken tiny pieces residing deep in my heart. Then I feel disappointment in myself for being angry- well her death isn't about you! Tsk, tsk, as I scold myself.  After all, it's about her, and what she needed.  She needed peace.

The thought of knowing she found the peace she was looking for, it breaks my anger and guilt into even smaller pieces; the thought does comfort me. Then, I am able to remember all of our good times together, the memories floating happily in my mind, and the wonderful things about our friendship are there on the surface of my heart, overshadowing the anger and guilt.  You brought me joy and happiness my dear friend Emma, and I wish you the same.

In loving memory of Emma, I'm participating in the Phoenix MS Walk on November 5, 2016.  To learn more about MS, please visit: http://www.nationalmssociety.org/.  What to learn more about Emma?  Her blog (which to my delight, I found was still up and have enjoyed re-reading) is here: https://phern.wordpress.com/.

Phoenix MS Walk 2015