Rip Current Truths

I grew up in North Carolina, and while I didn’t live on the coast, my parents had a boat and a trailer at the beach for as long as I can remember. (Actually, they had to sell the trailer to be able to afford their first “real” house in Raleigh, so for several years we actually camped at Emerald Isle in a tent, or in the lucky years, in my aunt’s 1970’s era motorhome. Still kept the boat, though. When I got older and we moved from “lower-middle-class” to “blue-collar slightly above average middle-class”, they bought a home with a pool. I’m pretty sure I learned to swim before I could walk. I’m pretty sure I learned to swim by being thrown off the boat into a lake or sound, but it was before my earliest memories so that’s unverifiable. For two years, I was a Camp Waterfront Director, teaching swimming and canoeing to 60 campers. At one point my career was lifeguarding, teaching Infant/Parent swim classes, teaching adult swim classes, teaching group kid swim classes, and teaching private lessons. To get the certifications to do this was about 1/10th of the rigorous water training Marines have to do. (Not really, but I did have to demonstrate that I could swim all 4 strokes, a minimum of 200 meters without stopping, and tread water with my hands holding a brick for somewhere between 2-5 minutes.) And I grew up swimming in any body of water I was near, including the Atlantic Ocean.

So yeah, I’m an experienced swimmer. It’s been a while so my endurance isn’t where it used to be, but I’ve still got the goods. (And true story: extra fat means I can float. No one is winning any treading water contests to me. I could literally go all night.) I still swim frequently in the summer, and pretty much have to find an indoor pool at least a few times in cold weather, too, because it’s the best stress reliever for me. Most exciting, my kids are learning how to swim. My oldest son swam a beautiful, face in the water freestyle last night and can do front and back flips off the diving board. My 3-year-old thinks he can swim, and he actually can move himself forward underwater, but can’t quite get his head back up to breathe. We’re working on it, though. As a lifelong swimmer, this is one of my proudest parenting moments.

We also work frequently (ie: at least once every trip to the beach) on how to escape a rip current, something my parents ingrained in me from birth even though I always thought the likelihood of actually having to use that knowledge was slim. Incorrect. It took nearly 39 years, but it finally happened a few weeks ago. Obviously I’m still here, and I didn’t have to be rescued, but let me fill you in one some of the most terrifying moments of my life.

First step: don’t panic. For the first time in my life, I see how people freak the heck out when they realize what’s happening. As mentioned above, I have years of experience and consider myself a pretty strong swimmer, and my first thought when I realized I couldn’t make any progress to shore was “Oh, shit, this is how I’m going to die. My family is going to look over from the shore and I won’t be here anymore.” I first realized I was in serious trouble when I looked at people to my left and right, each about 50 yds away and parallel to me (so, the same distance from shore, only about 25 yds) and they were in waist deep water.

I. Was. Not.

Second step: stay calm. After experiencing fight mode for about 30 seconds where I would swim 5m and be in the exact same spot, I stopped swimming. I floated as high on the swells as I could, knowing that the current is strongest at the bottom. I collected myself, took some deep breaths, and let the childhood training set it.

Step three: Swim parallel or diagonally to shore. If there is nothing else you remember about rip currents, remember to swim parallel. I would rest between swells and then swim like hell with each wave, kind of positioning myself on a diagonal track. The rest periods are important, because this is still a slow process. I was only making up a few feet at a time, and I would imagine this part took me about 3-5 minutes before I could safely put my feet on the ground.

Step four: exit the water immediately. No explanation needed. First, you are just ready to get the hell out of the water. Second, no matter how strong a swimmer you are, the adrenaline will make you realize a sudden exhaustion.

When I collapsed safely in my beach chair, I was a little shook up. On the one hand, only about 20 people die each year from being caught in a current. And there were several boats out a few hundred yards from shore, so worst case scenario I would have probably opted to just swim to them and motion for help (and hope they weren’t sex traffickers). On the other hand, if I didn’t know how to save myself, I would have probably been a goner. The lifeguard stand at EI is about 400 yds away from where we were, and at that moment I realized that every lifeguard as well as police in a 5-mile radius were gathered around an ambulance on the beach. I thought maybe it was just other people getting into currents, but it turns out someone got stung by a stingray barb.

So yeah, someone had a worse day than me.

Moral of the story: I can now call myself a survivor and badass, right? Instead of making me fear the ocean, this experience has emboldened me, and I plan to spend my 39th birthday in a few weeks in the exact same spot, swimming alone in the deep water, and being thankful to be alive.

Live Through This

It’s time to address the elephant in the room (I mean, no one reads this except my friend Dawn anyway). I have never attempted suicide.

I have never attempted suicide, but I have been close enough to park my car 100 yards away from a really large tree and scream/cried for 30 minutes while I considered gunning it. I have thought about running my car off the road. I have come very close to slipping under the ocean swells I was floating in and just not coming back up. I understand why people get to the point where they feel an inescapeable, suffocating pressure to succeed, and also feel that whatever goal they’re reaching towards is unattainable, and that they’re not worthy of it anyway.

Being that I began this as a sort of “weight loss” blog, I didn’t expect to share so much about my mental health. The truth is, I think that my mental health and weight gain have always co-existed in some way. My depression didn’t cause the weight gain, but it certainly contributed to it, and in some ways my weight keeps the demons that fuel depression fed. Truthfully, all of us (not just women) are evaluated daily on the way we look. It’s hard to make strides in thinking you are a worthy, beautiful person when men stop holding doors for you (except as an occasional afterthought). I’ve been on both sides of the weight coin. I was teased in high school, called anorexic, broken up with by my Senior boyfriend in the 10th grade because I wouldn’t let him get to second base. I waited until 19 to lose my virginity, not because I was overly pure, but because I was too self-conscious about my underdeveloped body to develop any physical relationships.

In any case, this is where the weight conversation begins and ends today, because I’ve been trying to write this post for a week and I can’t seem to get through it. It’s been about 6 years since I was diagnosed with depression, and as I’ve mentioned before, it probably should have happened twenty years ago. Mental illness is different for everyone. It even changes the way the same person is affected over time. I barely remember much from my late teen/early 20’s when it came to mental health, other than brief flashes of being curled up in the bathtub crying, insomnia, or general lashing out at people when I felt wronged.

After my oldest son was born, it manifested itself as either being extremely overwhelmed (and again, snapping at those closest to me easily) or extreme apathy. It’s hard for someone who has always been “normal” to understand apathy as a symptom of depression, but it’s not always like the TV commercials for drugs. It’s more like the apathy and overwhelmed feelings go hand in hand, and I just want other people to make some damn decisions and NOT ASK ME ANY MORE QUESTIONS. Most people need their opinions heard and validated, but sometimes it just feels like an intrusion on my already busy day to have to discuss ideas for dinner, choose which load of laundry needs to be done next, or help my sister plan a birthday party for my mom. When this happens, it just shuts me down. No, I don’t end up not getting out of bed for 3 days because honestly, I can’t. I don’t have the option of shutting down. I have kids. They need food. I have to work for that. It seems to be a cycle…despite being an extrovert, I do need to have occasional time alone. The last time this happened at an extreme level, I simply told my husband, “I’m not coming home tomorrow night. You won’t know where I am, but I’ll be safe.” I didn’t talk to anybody for at least 12 hours. I got a giant beer and Thai food just for myself, booked a hotel room (SUITE) 3 miles from my office, slept in a king bed ALONE, took a shower that lasted at least an hour while watching a movie because I could see the TV from the bathroom, and got ONLY MYSELF ready the next morning. It was what I needed.

I’ve been on Wellbutrin for over a year now, with moderate success. My doctor and I raised my dosage about 3 months ago and I finally feel “normal” again. This is also something that is extremely difficult to explain to non-depressed people. It’s a realization of, “oh, this is how this is supposed to feel.” As if for years, other people have been eating guacamole and raving about it, but you couldn’t understand their excitement because you’ve just been eating plain avocado that someone told you was guacamole. (This is a ridiculous analogy.) It’s easier now to enjoy the best moments, and more importantly it’s easier to deal with the moments that used to feel unbearable. I still struggle with self-destructive behaviour, with shutting people out because I don’t feel “good enough”, with feeling like other people are doing so much more/better/happier than me. But I’m getting there.

More importantly, I no longer have any suicidal thoughts. All of the things I described above came between 5-1 years ago. In addition to medication, I found a website that I think helps so much. So many people suffering feel two things: first, like no one cares enough to bother hearing your darkest thoughts (and that they’ll think you’re crazy if you do share). Second, like no one else really has ever felt the way you feel. I randomly stumbled across this site from a friend of a friend’s facebook post, and I still have a small section of Lindsey Peterson’s interview saved on my phone to remind myself now and then how much damage I could have caused.

I know the Suicide Prevention Hotline is being tossed around like hotcakes right now, but I was never going to be that person. Many people feel that way. I hope that continuing to share this website’s mission of hope will help others.

The stories are long, but so worth reading until you find the one that really matches your story. Lindsey’s is mine. Not everything about it, but the self-destructive behaviour, the lying to cover things up, the feeling that I had so much potential that I threw away. I truly believe that I NEEDED to read her story, and I hope that she’s out there somewhere, living and thriving, and that somehow she knows that telling her story might have saved at least one life.

“Your child would never recover from that.” She’s like, “I’ve been doing this long enough to know that, if you kill yourself, that will affect your daughter in ways that you can’t understand, and she’s not going to recover from that. You’re a mom now. Sorry.” She laid it out there.”

“Don’t give up, don’t ever give up” Pt.2


This image is famous to pretty much anyone who enjoys sports, who watches ESPN, or who grew up in NC. Jim Valvano was no saint, but he is a legend, both for helming the team that won arguably the biggest upset in sports history as well as one of the most famous ESPY speeches (or really, any speech in the latter part of the 20th Century) ever. The bulk of this speech (which he actually gave several times at various NC events before the ESPY’s) can be summed up in its most famous phrase above.

When people ask how I am “doing this” as if I were the first person to ever finish my degree as a middle-aged adult with kids, that’s pretty much my answer. I can seem invincible at times. I can seem like I have all my shit together. Like I didn’t not bother to brush my toddler’s hair this morning, like I didn’t misread the last week of school info and almost send my son in looking like his teacher this morning when “dress like your teacher day” is tomorrow, like we don’t eat PB&J sandwiches for dinner at least once a week. Like my son doesn’t have to ask me at least twice a week if he has any clean shorts and I say “check the dryer”. Or like how I can’t afford the new laptop I desperately need for school because honestly, I’m not ready to cut down my “bourbon and beer” budget because some nights it’s the only thing that gets me through three hours of algebra and trig. I don’t get enough sleep. I do my makeup in the car or at work most days, if I bother at all. Sometimes I hit a wall and lash out at those around me, or just lie on my bed and cry for an hour.

But I Keep. Fucking. Going.

Why? Let me be brutally honest. Because of spite. Because of how angry I get when I read an article on a legitimate news site and there is a misspelling or poor grammar. When I see an ad with the same. When I see someone that I KNOW has a college degree (and sometimes a Masters) type “rather then” or “I don’t wear heals” on Facebook. It pisses me off that these people were able to accomplish what I should have but didn’t. I’m pissed at them, but mostly pissed at myself for being so lazy that I couldn’t even get through one year of college.

This is not the prettiest, brightest, most sparkling part of my personality, admittedly.

Of course I’m doing it for other reasons. To make a better life for my kids, to be able to pay off debt and travel one day, to continue working in a field that I love, to learn about all of the reasons for economic change. To finally become fluent in another language, which will hopefully open the door to finally learning a really hard language like Russian (dream big, kids, I want to be ready when the UN needs translators for Cold War 2).

But mostly, I’m doing it because I know I can, and it feels like a disservice to myself to quit (again) when I’m already halfway through. I’m a procrastinator, but I’m never going to be a damn quitter.

TJ Lavin hates quitters.*

So this will be me when I finally walk across that stage, but I will get there. Eventually.



*(Super Embarassing guilty pleasure no. 6: MTV Challenges.)

“Don’t give up, don’t ever give up.” Pt.1


Twenty years ago at this time, I was returning home from my first year of college as an utter failure. My plans to do a summer work-volunteer program and live in one of the “fun” houses on my Liberal Arts college campus, occasionally open-air camping with my housemates in “the Meadows” and probably experimenting with recreational drugs, never came to fruition. Technically speaking, I flunked out. All of those years of “Academically Gifted” programs, going to Duke’s TIP Summer Writing Workshop and being one of the select few 8th graders to take the SATs, way too many Advanced and AP high school classes, and hours of extracurricular time at school with theatre, Key Club, French Club, and Marching Band ended up doing…nothing. If I had a dollar every time I heard my dad say “you just don’t apply yourself” then I wouldn’t need a job at all. (Technically yes I would, because the market volatility of 2008 would have dashed my savings anyway, plus health insurance.)

Why did I burnout? Did I go too hard, too fast? Was it because I decided not to go to the uber-competitive high school in Raleigh and took the “out” when my parents bought a house in the suburbs? Did the bullying I faced (admittedly caused by my own actions) throughout my 8th grade year scar me for life? Nope. The answer is simple: I didn’t apply myself. I got lazy. I thought I was too smart for college. I wasn’t even a partier, I just stayed up too late listening to my hippie roommate sing with her band. It was some real kumbaya shit in my dorm. Seriously, not much has changed:


So I came home, tail between my legs, and started working. I became a lifeguard and a certified water safety and swim instructor. I taught swimming and canoeing at a day camp, often working the 4-hour 5AM shift at the pool before heading to camp, or working the early camp shift and then working 6-10PM in retail. By my estimates, I averaged about 70 hours a week for 2 summers. Between camp, I got my Early Childcare credentials and worked at a daycare, I taught private swim lessons, and eventually spent a summer as the Camp’s Director. I was 21 years old, getting my first experience in real leadership. I hired and trained a staff, gave evaluations, was responsible for the safety of 60+ children in an outdoor, wilderness-setting State Park every day. I had to worry about snakes, spiders, drowning, fighting, broken bones (or true story, broken teeth), field trips, and hydration (outdoor camp in NC is no joke). Thank God I didn’t have to worry about electronics.

When camp was over, I was asked to be the full-time assistant manager at the small private gift store I had been working in. Shortly thereafter, our Manager moved on and I was promoted. Once again, 23 years old, put in a position of responsibility. I would never think to label myself a “leader”, but over and over this is where I seem to fall. If you look at my work history, you can tell I’m definitely not a Millennial: 6 years at this location (3 promotions), 5 years here (promoted to Store Manager), 5.5 years here (3 promotions), and my shortest stint was 2 years in a miserable job where I despised my manager, yet still managed to become the team lead. Through all of that, I never thought to go back to school. I worked hard, and retail management jobs pay well. I took a pay cut to move to the financial industry and start fresh, but it was worth it for those bankers’ hours. (Actually, if I were just a single person with no kids, I would love to have retail hours again. I have always been a night owl, and I still hate waking up any time before 8AM.)

What changed? I came to work for a new company, a tiny little firm where I was employee #4. Where there are big plans for the future. Where I was hired because of my ability to not just manage an office, but to eventually hire and train a team. I work every day around discussions of market volatility, exchange rates, alternative investments, exchange-traded funds, and keeping the fiduciary interests of clients at the top of our process. I started reading articles on the gentrification happening in the poorest neighborhoods of Raleigh (the ones my parents and grandparents lived in as kids), and then found other articles about how New York and other urban centers are addressing the issue of adequate low-cost housing during rising real estate markets. I started reading about how blockchain technology will change literally everything eventually, and about the emerging cryptocurrency market and possible paths to regulating it. Basically, I decided that I want to understand these things better than I can by reading about them. And I want to offer a more well-rounded individual to provide the specific skills my firm will need in ten years. Or if that doesn’t work, you know, maybe go work for the UN or IMF (they have an opening in Fiji, although if I’m going that far off the grid I’d probably rather have Montana or Colorado).

And so at the age of 36, with a one year old and a 1st grader, I enrolled in Community College…

Thoughts on Paper

It’s been a minute.

Depression is a funny animal. You think you have it under control and then you just hit a period of self-destructive apathy. When that happens, I wonder if this is normal, do non-depressed people feel this way, too? Or is this symptomatic? If I were smart, I’d be seeing a damn therapist. But hey, ain’t nobody got time (or money) for that.

Speaking of animals, I suffered a tremendous loss at Christmas. My almost 11-year old baby girl, a spunky lab/collie mix that looked like a puppy until the day she died, had an internal bleed. I came home on Dec 23, kid-free, ready to blast gangsta rap while doing my baking and wrapping gifts (our strange Christmas Eve-eve tradition), and she was different. It was hard to tell at first, but I noticed. Usually when we come home without kids, she has a little running fit, a short burst of “boys aren’t here, they’re going to play with ME” excitement. But she was just lying at the top of the stairs, and it took her a moment to get up and come down to join us. She was just off all night. She would only take a few steps and then flop down. When we went upstairs she hobbled into the boys’ bathroom and just lied down. I knew then, she was telling us, “this ain’t right, people”. Long story short, I spent 1AM on Christmas Eve listening to an emergency vet explain how dog cancer is diagnosed, with a $5-7K surgery. The odds? 2/3 of tests come back as cancer, and they live days. For those that don’t have cancer, they typically survive another 5 months. It felt like the hardest decision I’ve ever made, but really it was easy. I could never leave her to sit in a cage at an animal hospital at Christmas, recovering from surgery that I can’t afford. Being that she was already becoming a senior dog, I knew that any option involving surgery just wasn’t viable, and so I said goodbye and held her while she crossed the rainbow bridge.

It’s been five months, and while it’s easier to experience day-to-day life without bursting into tears now, I still have moments where I can’t believe I’ll never see her again.

The other part of my life right now is just school. On the one hand, I feel really proud and empowered that I’m doing this. I have a 3.35 GPA (and that’s including my freshman year many moons ago when I just didn’t give AF). I took 9 credit hours last fall. NINE. I’m taking 4 credit hours in the accelerated summer session, and 3 of those are for mother-fucking algebra/trig. Some things never, ever change, like math being my nemesis. I have no problem with confidence when it comes to my perceived level of intelligence, but nothing will make me feel stupid like sitting down to take an in-person test and feeling like I have no idea what’s going on.

On the other hand, I want to cry every time I think about how much potential I had in 1998 when I dropped out. It would have been so much easier to do this without kids, without a demanding full-time job, without a mortgage and yard work to do, and without debt. I know that’s not how my life was supposed to turn out, because if I hadn’t taken the path I did (coming home to work at summer camp) I would have never met one of my greatest, lifelong friends. The one that introduced me to the man who would father my children. The one that I introduced to his wife. The one that we share so many inside jokes with, so many Thanksgivings, and all of those ups and downs from young twenty-somethings tailgating and celebrating Stanley Cup wins to late thirty-somethings with kids and businesses and rare shared vacations to the beach. Essentially, if I hadn’t dropped out of college, I wouldn’t have my boys. I would have a different family, different kids, different friends.

Maybe I would be happier. Maybe I would still have a gorgeous, voluptuous swimmer’s body. Maybe I would have more grey hair. Maybe I would be alone and bitter. Who knows? Rarely do I stress over decisions I made in the past. I have plenty of other shit to stress about without dwelling on what I did twenty years ago.

Just What the Dr. Ordered

In my last post, I talked about shutting people out because I feel sometimes like I’m unworthy of their time, like I don’t have anything to offer in return for their support, and like I’m just plain damn unlikeable. Well, a friend from my literal childhood (we’ve known each other since we were 15 and 17, or maybe earlier) called last week and said, “I really want to see you before I go back to the other side of the world”. This is not someone I’ve had regular contact with over the years, but she’s always held a special place in my heart, even though she went and got educated and moved away. I sat on her text for a couple of days, being the bad friend that I can be, unsure about taking a night off from parenting, a night off from studying, a night off from mature adult responsibilities. But then I said yes.

I have to admit, I wasn’t sure how it would go. As someone who thinks of myself as fairly intelligent, and someone who keeps my “bless his heart” disdain for stupid people pretty out in the open (it’s a flaw; I’m working on acceptance), I am intimidated by very few people, but this friend intimidates the hell out of me! She has always been one of the smartest people I know, and over the years she’s gained the credentials to back it up. On the other hand, college dropout over here, going to community college in my late 30’s trying to finally achieve the educational potential I know I’m meant for. In any case, it went fantastic. Better than I could have ever expected.

There was no judgment, no looking-down-upon (not that I expected it, but still, we don’t exactly align politically so there’s always a fear that those conversations will be off-putting), just good, free-flowing conversation while we ate, drank, and walked our way among some downtown hotspots (seriously, we walked over 2 miles). During one point, we were “those girls”, the ones crying and hugging in a loud and noisy bar, because we were filling each other’s buckets with love and support (and lots of sarcasm). She told me that she had always looked up to me, something that surprised the hell out of me, frankly. Because even though I’m the older friend, I have always looked up to her. We shared secrets, and hopes, and crappy things from our past that we hope to move on from.

And she gave me the greatest gift: she told me that she knew she could talk about things with me that she didn’t discuss with other people, because I am “candid and honest without being an asshole”. What a wonderful, thrilling complement. What a great thing that I can take and hold on to as proof that I *do* have value to other people, that I *do* have good qualities, and that I *can* make a difference.

Sometimes it takes someone else to convince you that you are not a shitty person after all, and sometimes that can come from the most surprising source (even after years of other people trying to tell you that). Oh, and she also told me that I am one of the funniest people she has ever known. Chalk one up to my Jester archetype. I might give you terrible advice, but I will, without fail, make you laugh.

It was exactly what I needed after the past few months (years? a couple of decades?) of being mired in the dark sides of my psyche, trying to cling to any bits of light I could find. It’s a slow process, but I’m ready to feel “good” again. Or at least, “Good enough”.

So much to say…

And yet, I still struggle sometimes. With so much. How to put “pen” to “paper” (I’m still an old-fashioned writer…with a literal pen and paper the thoughts flow so freely). How to stop myself from snacking. How to not have a panic attack any time I meet with my doc. How to stop self-destructive behaviours.

Let’s pause there…that’s really the root of it all, right?

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about “who” I am…I hide behind sarcasm and humor way too much. I think I’m tough. I don’t like being called “sweet” or “a princess” (really, really detest that). I revel in the attention of others, which is something I’m not always proud of about myself. I get involved in other people’s drama way too easily. I’m nosy. I’m a notorious eavesdropper. And I proclaim loudly, to anyone who will listen, what a “fucking mess” I am. Why? Why do I do this? Is it so when I share the mistakes I’ve made and the regrets that I have, they aren’t as shocked or disgusted by my actions? Is it so that when they get to know the me below the surface, they’re so pleasantly surprised that I care about people?

I think I label myself as selfish so often, that I forget how deeply I really do care about people. In the past couple of months, I’ve been really having a hard time liking myself, and it’s caused me to shut people out that I shouldn’t. I left a group of friends that I’ve been a part of since we were pregnant with our first babies. I turned a very good friend down when she reached out because she recognized how much I was hurting and offered to come and spend the day with me. I’ve avoided calling my “person”, who lives halfway across the world and understands me almost better than I understand myself some days. I’ve shut out my family, just choosing not to discuss these feelings with anyone. I feel, a lot of times, like I am unworthy of their time, attention, or love.

But then I surprise myself. I have another friend who is really struggling with many things: new motherhood, adjusting to a new normal, having to shoulder more than she expected alone…and I stepped up. She hasn’t needed me yet, but she knows the offer is there, and I’m willing to help.

So I’m still here on this journey. I’ll probably always be a work in progress. But maybe I can let just a little more of the goodness that I recognize deep down inside to bubble up to the surface more often. And maybe I can tamp down a little more of the “proud bitch” shell. And maybe one day I’ll recognize that it’s okay to accept that other people love me, even when they know me, warts and all.


*This post brought to you by the bottom of the pool. I swam laps Wednesday for the first time in over a year. It was not easy. But it felt like home. I hope to make it a weekly occurrence. Also, I’ve lost 12 pounds and I’m carrying a 4.0 this semester. So other things are going OK, too.