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I am about to speak the truth or "spill the tea" as my youngest would say. My kids keep me up to speed on all of the latest “tweener” jargon.  This “tea” isn’t going to be fun to talk about, but it is time.  If you are reading this blog post, thank you.  If you are reading this and think about feeling sorry for me, don’t.  Instead, reach out to someone and do a random act of kindness, you LITERALLY never know how that random act could change that person’s day.  If you are reading this and think, what a joke.  She posts pictures of working on the farm, apple trips with her family, and all of the fun.  When I see her she is happy and smiling, etc.  Please know, I am blessed.  I have a supportive, hard-working husband.  I have two wonderful daughters. I have a great family and the best friends a girl could ever want.  That doesn’t mean I don’t have times I struggle. It also doesn’t mean there aren’t others just like me that struggle quietly. 

So, with all of that being said, here comes the “tea” or “T”  or “truth”. Today, October 10, 2020 is World Mental Health Day.  Yes, I am someone that has to work real hard on my mental health, especially since March, when my little safe world became real crazy.  I am going to talk about how Covid-19 has impacted me. My story. From my lens, not from a political lens, not from a medical background lens, but from the lens of what this virus has done to me. From the lens of someone with a chronic disease for which I take immunosuppressants, from the lens of someone that is admitting that my BMI is in the obese category, and from the lens of someone that has experienced some health “ish” that has left a lasting mark that some may call PTSD.

I will also admit that March through August wasn’t awful for me.  As I have described to others when you have a farm with animals being born in spring, your farm is primarily a small grain/hay operation, school is closed, my work as a special education consultant was virtual until schools officially ended in June, county fair happened with several restrictions, we were able to be with our friends and family outdoors, etc. life was pretty darn good.  I was in my safe space. Then it was time for school to start.  Requirements in education were changing literally by the day. Would masks be required, would schools be hybrid or face to face, should we be worried about this virus spreading quickly through the kids, etc. The uncertainty that I had kind of been able to hide from was starting to literally smack me in the face and I couldn’t hide anymore. Every time I had a scratch in my throat or a sniffle or my own children complained of something, my arms and legs would go numb and my mind would immediately begin reeling with the worst case scenario.  My heart would race, I would sweat, and the thoughts would literally not stop.  Ironically, all similar symptoms to the stupid virus, which doesn’t really help a mind that is already spinning out of control. If you aren’t someone that is super close to me you are probably reading this and shocked as hell, yes, I am someone that can hide/hold all of this together until my kids are usually in bed.  Then all hell breaks loose, which leads to interrupted or no sleep, which only worsens the cycle. My amazing husband, that knows me well, quickly recognized what was going on and prodded me to admit it was time to talk to someone.  This could have been a result of the Amazon packages arriving daily that included more masks, a finger pulse oximeter, and extra batteries for our thermometer. But I think the reality is he could see I was really struggling. (What? Don’t y’all have a machine to check your blood oxygen? Told you that anxiety messes with your mind!) 🙂

Fast forward through early September which included some of the days as I mentioned above, but they were getting fewer and far between until COVID began hitting me more personally. A co-workers father in hospice due to Covid-19, a local nursing home being greatly impacted, my best friend's husband hospitalized due to the virus, another friend's co-worker on a ventilator. I literally could not escape the fear that was consuming me.  I get it “Faith over fear”, “pray”, “we can’t live afraid”, “living like this is going to lower your immune system”, “just stop the thoughts.”  I say those things to myself, I have others say those things to me, and I literally ride the roller coaster of being tired of being afraid but also wanting to never leave our little slice of heaven so that I don’t have to fear it. I deleted most news outlets from my social media and even limited my use of Facebook to keep it out of my face.

Well, this week, I couldn’t hide my true feelings or thoughts anymore.  They came spilling out to some co-workers during a meeting and then became crippling when I discovered I was a close contact with a covid positive case last week. Yes, as I am typing this, I am currently quarantined and feeling fine (regardless of every sniffle or sneeze that my mind tries to convince me is “it”.)  I have about 5 more days of quarantine and already had a negative test so truly I think I am probably fine, but that doesn’t change my fear or the stories that run through my head.  During that interaction with co-workers this week I realized that through all of this crap of 2020 I have avoided all of the things I KNOW are good for my mental health: writing, self-care on my days off of work, and talking about this crap because I was ashamed.  Guess what?  There is no reason to be ashamed, I know with 100% truth there are other people living with anxiety, people that play the worst case scenario in their head about being hospitalized in isolation (hello, lived it), people that have experienced worse case scenarios, and people that are ashamed to admit it. 

I am here to say, it is ok to admit it.  Do not feel ashamed. There is relief and power in naming it and “Doing it afraid”.  Relief and power in reaching out to friends and family for help and relief and power in seeking help from medical doctors and therapists. 

You may be reading this and think, “She is crazy, I am not going to live my life in fear.” That is an absolute ok opinion to have. Maybe you are someone that has said, “Just stay home if you are afraid.” Sure, I get saying that, but that doesn’t pay the mortgage, farm payments, or help our mental health at all. Maybe, just maybe you are someone that hasn’t looked death in the face and wondered if you should be saying good-bye to your family from a hospital bed, maybe you don’t have underlying health conditions, and maybe you do.  Everyone has the right to feel the way they do.  I guess what I am hoping if you have stuck around to read all of this is that you realize mental health is real. It impacts real families, your neighbors, your children, your best friends.  Mental health causes REAL physical health issues, that you will probably never understand unless you experience them for yourself. Mental health needs to be talked about and cared for just as physical health does because it impacts real life human beings every single day whether there is a pandemic occurring or not. 

To wrap this long post up on World Mental Health Day, please know that someone like me doesn't want to have people tip toe around them either.  Invite your friends with anxiety places, they can choose to go or not.  Encourage them to take care of themselves! Ask them to go for a walk. Shoot them a text, drop them a card, or just be present with them. Remember those random acts of kindness I mentioned 5 minutes ago in the first paragraph?  They can change someone’s entire day!

From the gravel and (sometimes windy) road,

Jen

This is dedicated to one of the strongest mothers I have ever known. Some know her as Sandra, many know her as Sandy, the most special known her as Grandma and one of my favorite people calls her, Maud. 

My aunt Sandra is one of the strongest mothers I know.

She is the mother to Brett, a strong, hardworking man. A man full of jokes and always a tease.  For some reason she put up with him skinning coons and other critters in her garage for many years.  I remember watching him as a kid thinking about how clean Aunt Sandra kept her garage and how she might not like that too much.   

The mother of Darcy, who was born with special needs in 1969. I know I wasn’t around for the beginning of her fight for Darcy, but from the many stories I am told she would have moved mountains to do what she could to care for her.  The community offered Cork and Sandra support and help with what they called “patterning” to try to help Darcy all that they could.  My earliest memory of watching her care for Darcy was of Darc sitting on the floor in her blue chair and the moment she would hear Sandra’s voice she would turn her head because she recognized her momma! Aunt Sandra literally wore out her back carrying Darcy to and fro, in and out of the bathtub and providing her care. Darcy passed away in Dec of 2007 and I will never forget hearing Sandra say that she wanted to make sure they had socks on Darcy because her feet were always cold.  She never quit thinking about her and how to take care of her baby girl.

Another reason I know my Aunt Sandra is one of the strongest mother’s I know is because she was also mom to Justin who was born in 1973 . She didn’t get the chance to care for him for more than one day in the world outside of her womb because he was born early.  At a time when she should have been preparing a nursery, she was burying her newborn son.  

After Grandma Patty passed away, Cork and Sandra’s house became our new place to come together as a family to celebrate Christmas Eve. All of us have so many fun memories of gathering in her living room around her bright white, flocked Christmas trees!  One of my favorite things to do was to sit downstairs by the fireplace hoping to catch a glimpse of Santa while the big kids played pool. There may have even been a Christmas where the joke was on  Aunt Sandra and she received a large number of spatulas because of a little spatula incident at Thanksgiving.

Aunt Sandra is the definition of a workhorse! Her garden is always blooming and kept in pristine shape along with her lawn. In fact just last week Rob called to see if she was ready to have her garden tilled and she told him, “Nope, it’s too early.”  She was right because as I type this I just finished covering all of my plants. I couldn’t even guess how many hours she has put into seeding, planting, working on her garden, and then canning her harvest over the years. When she was done for the year she would always call to see if I needed more cucumbers to make more pickles or green beans to feed my family. In 2010, I was pregnant with Ellie and I found out where the “workhorse” quality came from as she and Grandma Rosie literally picked 2 rows of green beans to my one.

She makes the best rolls or “shiny buns” as we like to call them. Field meals are never a sandwich, but more like a 5-course meal that was more than likely made from scratch with a homemade dessert. Not only is she an amazing cook, but she also makes the most amazing kitchen towels that you have ever used, some have animals, some have fruit and if you are lucky you have some in your drawer with the days of the week.

You may not know she has a jokester side, too. In her days working at Buy Low I swear she would hide on the back side of the cooler with her royal blue Warrior Booster Club jacket and just wait for me to reach for a pop to give me a scare. She has always called me Jenifire, even  a couple of weeks ago when I called and when I talked chickens with her she called me Jenifire. We had a few good laughs at the price of eggs in the stores and how crazy she was feeling with all of the social distancing and quarantine talk.  I didn’t ask her if her fingers were twitching from wanting to be playing the slots, but I would guess that she might have been getting a little antsy to step into a casino.

Beyond her nieces, nephews, brothers, sisters, mother, children, grandchildren and soon to be great-grandchild I believe her greatest love is my Uncle Cork. He has called her Maud for as long as I can remember. They love to attend baseball, softball, and basketball games together where she proudly sports her warrior jacket with the graduation years of her grandchildren.  They enjoy popcorn, chatting, and Cork always has a few mints in his pocket for little and (big) kids. I believe that she is the strongest mother I know because she has a strong husband beside her.  The trials they have endured as a married couple, and as a mother and father are some of the toughest that any should have to face.

This weekend, on Mother’s Day, they are once again facing another trial. This Mother’s Day has been a somber one as we prepare for her to gain her wings and be reunited with her babies, I feel like it is only right for us to pay tribute to one of the strongest mother’s we know, Sandra Kay Kuhlemeier.  

Sandra Kay Kuhlemeier gained her heavenly wings on May 14, 2020, although we all know she was already an angel here on earth.

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