Behind the Name 

I have a lot of new followers and I’m pretty sure not everyone gets the idea behind the name Shortstack Blogs, “One Day, One Blog at a Time, or even my Facebook page, which you can find at ShortstackBlogs

Field trip

Field trip with Lily

The Facebook page is pretty ordinary- Meredith is my middle name. Thanks, Mom and Dad. I’ve actually hated it as long as I can remember but in this case, it flowed and I ran with it.

The title of my blog comes from sobriety and blogging coming together. If you’ve ever heard of any kind of recovery phrases, I’m willing to bet that one of those is “One day at a time.” This phrase is tattooed on the inside of my left wrist.

I live this way because I know the feeling of planning out the rest of your life and then having it fall apart. I have spent almost four years putting myself and my life back together. I’ve literally had to do it one day at a time, sometimes an hour at a time.

One day at a time
“Shortstack” is a nickname. I’m 5’2″ and Jake was 6’3″. I don’t remember how this got started, but we had a long-running joke about our height difference and this was one of his nicknames for me. (I’m used to getting jokes about my height from pretty much everyone I know, including my own kids.)

His brother Josh still gets me every chance he gets. My blog was created partially to spread awareness about mental health issues, and Jake’s death was the background for it. As my therapist would say, it’s turning something awful into something good. The other part, of course, is to tackle the fun and sometimes not fun part of parenting.

One of my life’s greatest lessons

I am being myself everyday, no excuses.

The name behind the blog is as important as the blog itself. 😀

I have been raising money towards a book getting published. If you would like more info, please go here

The Road to Authenticity

I have written a lot about being yourself and being vulnerable, no matter how hard it may be. I’ve struggled a lot with accepting myself, flaws and all. It wasn’t until I met Jake that I realized that being me is the best thing to be. It took knowing him to realize that Being You is a SuperPower.

There is No Carbon Copy

The definitions of authenticity vary by who you ask and what you read, but the official definition from Webster’s is: real or genuine: not copied or false. : true and accurate. : made to be or look just like an original.

I’ll take that. I’m definitely an original, there isn’t another person who looks like me, except for maybe Julian. He comes pretty close. My personality can’t be copied, and I don’t have the ability to be false or “fake”.

I spent a few years hiding my true feelings pain, anger, sadness and hiding my personality. I felt it was necessary because it wasn’t helping the situation I was in. I wasn’t being appreciated for who I was- I was being torn down no matter what I did, no matter what I said.

I felt like I wasn’t the person I was supposed to be anymore. I simply stopped being me, but I wasn’t happy that way. I wasn’t sure who I was supposed to be. Instead, I became guarded, anxious, and quiet. Anyone who knows me at all knows that is not in my DNA.

I’ve been loud since I was able to talk, except for a very bad strep throat/laryngitis episode in eighth grade and post-thyroid surgery in 2017. I was unable to talk above a whisper for a couple of weeks during both times and that was not fun. I felt as if I was sinking to the bottom of the ocean without a lifesaver. I was drowning with no one to save me.

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I was saved- and I am forever grateful to Jake. I don’t think he ever realized what he did for me. I was told he died knowing how much I cared for him, and that has helped me immensely.

He once told me that he wanted me to be myself as much as possible around him and that opened the floodgates. I needed to be myself again, in a safe space, with someone who cared about me.

I can’t say this was the right way to do it. He understood me in a way few people have. Slowly, I allowed him to see my feelings and thoughts, and not once did he use them against me. He knew what it was like to be hurt deeply, and while other things occurred between us that wasn’t so great, he didn’t go too far in this way.

Carefully Stepping Forward

After Jake’s death, I re-examined my life in a lot of ways. One of those ways was whether to stay with Matthew. In that decision, I also had to think about letting him back in again. I would have to be vulnerable with him, let him see the strong person I had become.

He would have to see that I had regained my self-respect, and was working on regaining my self-esteem and self-worth. This meant that things would have to change between us and if he couldn’t accept it, our marriage was done. I wouldn’t stay for him to hurt me as he had in the past.

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I had to also admit where I had been wrong. I’d broken a few rules of marriage- it’s somewhat of a miracle that Matthew still speaks to me, much less stayed.

I’m sure that this was a hard decision for him, but it was his to make, and I am delighted that he did. We had to do a lot of work to stay together and even now it isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. It is a lot better than where we were before 2013.

This process set off an intense internal battle. I didn’t want to try this- what if I stayed, let him see me this way and I got hurt all over again? There was no way I could handle this. There was no way I wanted to see how that would end.

I didn’t even want to take the chance. I had already decided to stay, but I was still very guarded. I talked to my therapist extensively about this fear- it was a justified fear, considering Matthew’s past abuse. I made a list of the things that I was afraid of Matthew seeing from me:

  • Crying
  • Anxiety
  • Sadness/that he had said or done something to hurt me
  • Being overwhelmed (this was one of the biggest issues in the past)
  • Being open about my feelings, then him using them against me

I had changed and I wasn’t about to go backward. I was happy being myself again.

The Turtle-Like Process

With the help of my therapist, I did let Matthew see who I had become. I figured that if I stayed, I may as well let him see who I had become. It was a slow process because I still had terrible memories in my mind. I’m well aware of the fact that they will be with me for a long time. I took small steps because that’s all I could handle.

I think Matthew got a bit frustrated, but I was dealing with a lot. In a way, it was his own fault- he was the one who hurt me, so he would have to wait for me to heal. I reminded him more than once that it wasn’t an overnight process and that I needed time. I did have slips, in which I would shut down entirely, stopped talking to him when I should have talked more. This caused arguments and didn’t go well.

Being honest with yourself is not always pretty. You have to look really deep inside, at all the things you’ve done, good or bad. At that point, it’s time to hold yourself accountable for the screwups, apologize to those you’ve hurt (or at least try), and try to move forward.

Most importantly, try to forgive yourself. This part can be hard- it was very hard for me to forgive myself for hurting Matthew and the damage that I caused to our marriage.

It’s not easy to become authentic, especially around the person who broke you. It takes a lot of adjustment on both sides. The changes are real- it may not turn out the way you hope. Many hide behind fear of not being liked or loved like I did. That fear does fade away. I can’t say when it does, but it will as you change. I am much happier being me and not hiding.

I do have times in which I tend to hide my sadness a bit, but many others do so. That is something to be worked on. It is refreshing to just be myself- even my sense of humor has improved, and I’ve always been funny. I don’t hold a lot back, and most of the people around me appreciate this. I know I do.

Have you tried being more authentic? Do you think it would make you happier? Leave your thoughts in the comments.

Pic courtesy of Pinterest

Love Through Bipolar

This post might be triggering, as it discusses loving someone with a mental illness, so here is the official **TRIGGER WARNING** Topics discussed in this post include bipolar disorder and loss.

I Was Enchanted

I could go on for a while about all the good things about Jake because there were so many.

But yet, he struggled, like many of us do. When I met him, I really had no idea. Mental illness really isn’t the first thing most people talk about when they first meet someone. In fact, our first conversation was about Julian. However, ADHD and autism is a whole different story from bipolar disorder.

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Jake had beautiful blue eyes and a smile that would melt your heart. I didn’t know that he hid so much, even up until the very last day I saw him, the day before he died.

Meds and the Truth

I’ve tried many medications for migraines and one just happened to be Depakote. This is also used to treat mental health illnesses, including bipolar disorder. We were talking about this one day and finally…

I take that too, but not for migraines.”

What?? Was this it? I’d been waiting for Jake to say something. I’d seen signs of something going on, but I wasn’t sure what. Sometimes we would talk constantly and then go days without speaking. His birthday had just gone by and instead of wanting to hang out, he had said he’d rather be alone. He’d even told me he considered himself as a “project” for me to take on. I didn’t see him like that at all and made sure he knew it.

“What do you take it for?”

He looked away for a minute and then back. “Because I have bipolar disorder.”

Well, then, that was explained. He actually asked me if that changed how I felt about him (nope, not even a little). Apparently, this had caused issues in the past. Some people just aren’t equipped to deal with it, but that’s still really painful for the person involved.

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“The stakes are high, the water’s rough..” – “Ours”, Taylor Swift

Jake’s darker side did make a few appearances, but never once did he get aggressive towards me. We argued a bit, but that’s it. In two years, he only yelled at me twice. Me? More. But then, I’m just naturally loud.

Meds? It’s a well-known fact that many people that have bipolar disorder (and other illnesses) have compliance issues with taking medications, and he was one of them. Along with his brother, I tried to remind and encourage him to take his medications, but it didn’t always work.

Jake and I learned how to read each other- I have always been good at reading others. Thanks to this skill, I was able to tell when he was or wasn’t taking his meds, or when he was or wasn’t having a good day. This helped on his end when I was deeply upset and didn’t want to talk.

He tried so hard to hide this from me, but I still saw everything. I told him that I wasn’t scared of what he was trying to hide. I needed to see it to know what I was dealing with. There were days he just wasn’t the person I knew. He wouldn’t talk or return my texts, but everything was in his eyes.

In his manic episodes, he’d barely sleep, get paranoid (this went really bad a couple months before he died and we didn’t speak for a month), and other things would happen. In a depressive episode, he basically shut down. I would literally have to wait for him to come out of these periods.

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Google Became My Friend

I started researching. I knew a lot already about mental illness, but how to love someone with one? Totally clueless. I learned to give Jake his space, even though it hurt. I made sure he knew I was there when he needed me. I learned not to take everything so deeply, especially if he was agitated and it just wasn’t him. None of this was easy, and it hurt so much to watch him struggle.

This wasn’t perfect, not from the first day. Let’s start with the fact that I’m married. Jake was a huge flirt, and that’s a whole different post. I had to learn that just because he didn’t show me that he cared in the ways I thought he should have didn’t mean he didn’t care at all. He just cared differently. He made sure I took my migraine meds and had breakfast at work, asked me daily how Julian was doing, let me cry, and among many other things, he cared about me for me. That is the best thing he could have done. I did exactly the same for him.

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I know you can’t love someone out of a mental health situation, but you can definitely help them through it. Love helps with that. Jake was a bit quiet and distant in the days before his death, but none of us saw anything like what would happen on September 1, 2015, coming.

It is entirely possible to love someone with a mental illness. Just remember to take care of yourself, don’t let them get away with everything because of whatever they may have and as always, reach out if you need to.

NAMI

DBSAlliance

The Day Before

*Trigger warning: this post discusses suicide. Please read with this in mind.*

I wrote about “A Million Little Things” when it premiered and thanks to the 1/24/19 episode, it gets another blog post.

This episode discusses the day before John, the main character, completes suicide. His death baffles everyone around him. In the episode, he gets into an argument with one of his friends, Gary and promises his wife, Delilah, that they will have a long-needed talk.

John was freaked out about finances. The walls were closing in on him financially. He told his assistant, Ashley, to take the night off.

I’ll stop there with the spoilers, in case you want to catch up on the episode.

“Call Me Blind/But I Didn’t See it Coming”- P.O.D.

August 31, 2015, was my day before. I went to work at the job I loved- a mental health associate at a mental health facility. I worked on a unit for kids with autism and other developmental disabilities. I was days away from filing for divorce – Matthew and I were barely on speaking terms. Jake had been a bit quieter than usual, but I thought maybe he was just in a depressive episode.

Many people who knew about us have asked if I saw any signs, but I didn’t. I could see many things just by looking into Jake’s eyes. This wasn’t one of them. If I had even thought of him taking his own life, I would have done anything to stop it. It beats the hell out of losing him.

Jake and I texted like usual until he went to bed. He worked third shift and didn’t go to sleep before about 9 am. We made plans to hang out in a few days when our schedules would match up- I didn’t know then that those plans would never go through. I meant to text him later that day, but I got busy after work.

Early the next morning, September 1, 2015, I sent him a picture of Tails. He had blue ink all over him from Cameron picking him up the night before after a pen bled all over his hands. His very last text to me read: “Poor Tails”. He was still awake after not being able to sleep the night before. I had texted him on my way to work.

That was it.

Jake died later that day.

The Worst Phone Call

I’ll never forget the pain in Josh’s voice when he told me about Jake’s death. It is one of the worst phone calls I’ve ever had.

The aftermath of losing someone to suicide is.. shattering. It’s one of the few words I have been able to find to accurately describe how Jake’s loss affected me. This kind of loss will make you question a lot of things– I questioned who my friends really were, my strength and of course, my marriage.

Living without Jake has been difficult- but I am here, living the life he made me strong enough to live and having finished the work he started in 2013. I hope so much that he is proud of me, from wherever his caring spirit is.

There is a post about the day after, and you can find it here

Today’s PSA: If you love someone, tell them. You may lose that chance. The regret is hard to live with.

Pics courtesy of Pinterest

Resources:

AFSP

Going to Therapy: Setting and Smashing Your Goals

Therapy is rough work. Some sessions are great, some will leave you in tears.

Everyone goes to therapy for different reasons- for anxiety, depression, substance abuse (in some cases, this court-ordered), grief, and other issues.

I began therapy in 2015 for three out of four of those reasons- the substance abuse part came in later.

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Not As Much Fun To Pick Up The Pieces

That’s part of a Nine Inch Nails lyric from “The Perfect Drug”, one of the best songs from the 1990s. Therapy helped me pick up the pieces of my life- I found Rachel thanks to PsychologyToday. My life had just fallen apart in front of me- Jake died, I quit a job I loved, cut a lot of people off, I had no idea on what to do with my marriage and I was a complete wreck.

Let’s just say my first goal was to manage the grief. I started therapy in October 2015. The tears flowed so much that I wasn’t able to wear any makeup for two months after Jake died. I ate my feelings and started gaining weight, and the alcohol didn’t help.

One of the first things I did was make a list of all the things that I lost when he died. This was heartbreaking, but it helped me come up with ways to make something good out of something so awful. This led to creating this blog, volunteering for the AFSP and other great things.

My other big goal was to figure out what the hell to do with my marriage, or what was left of it. I was supposed to meet with my divorce attorney on September 9, the day before our 10th wedding anniversary (the irony) to sign the papers to file divorce paperwork.

I never made it to this appointment- Jake died September 1 and I didn’t have the emotional strength. I’m almost certain I spent that day crying in bed. This was a tough decision because our marriage was in a terrible spot. Matthew and I were barely speaking, and when we did, all we did was fight. I wanted out. The divorce had nothing to do with Jake, and I made sure he knew that. Our marriage was basically screwed before he ever came into my life.

So where was I supposed to go from there?

Rachel encouraged me to think.

A lot.

I emailed my attorney, who was very understanding about the change in my situation.

Over many sessions, lots of tissues and candy later, I decided to give my marriage a shot. I had changed a lot over the last couple of years, and I figured Matthew deserved a chance at who I had become. As he once said, Jake “fixed what I broke.” I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. I emailed my attorney again and told her that I wouldn’t need her anymore.

I began working on myself- the third main goal. This was work on self- esteem and self-worth. I’d already learned what I would and wouldn’t take, thanks to both Matthew and Jake. This time, I was working on watching for patterns of repeat behavior that I knew I didn’t deserve, feeling better about myself, among other things.

I finished therapy in May 2018. I knew it was time- I have processed Jake’s death as well as I can. None of us know what exactly made him decide to take his life, but I have been able to find some peace with it. This was not easy. I still have days where I feel crappy about myself, but I think everyone does. I’m able to lift myself out of it. I’m sober- Rachel was thrilled when I stopped drinking. My marriage isn’t and probably never will be perfect, but it’s okay. I think I still like Matthew, and honestly, I’m lucky he still speaks to me.

I told my story about therapy for a reason- to explain why having goals is so important.

Tell Me What You Don’t Like About Yourself

If you’ve ever seen the show “Nip/Tuck”, this is what the very handsome plastic surgeons asked their patients when they met them.

In a way, therapy is a time in which you can work on the things you may not like so much about yourself and may want to change.

If you don’t have goals when you get to therapy, your therapist will help you set them according to your needs. Be ready to do the work- it may not be fun. You might even be asked to do “homework”, small assignments outside of your sessions. For example, I was asked to open up to people more, to talk to my friends and Matthew more to help me trust others more.

I developed trust issues after Jake’s death- the people who I thought were my friends were the first people to show me they really weren’t. After that, I stopped speaking to a lot of people and now, I just don’t welcome a lot of new people into my life.

I don’t want to risk that again. I have a hard time telling those closest to me when I’m struggling because I figure they have heard enough of my problems over the last three years, so I tend to not say much.

This is still a work in progress.

These goals will help guide you and your therapist in sessions, help track progress, and most of all, help you see that you are moving forward. Your therapist can help you think of ways to get through your issues and develop coping skills- this is where I was given the idea of adult coloring books for anxiety. It does help and I have at least 10 coloring books and two sets of coloring pencils. It’s soothing and helps take my mind off whatever is bothering me.

Some issues take longer than others to get through and this is okay- smash your goals on your own time. It took almost a year for me to get through a session, talk about Jake and not cry my eyes out. It doesn’t matter how many goals you have- everyone’s needs are different. Don’t compare your journey to someone else’s.

You’ve Got This

I liked to treat myself when meeting a goal or just after a rough session. Sometimes I would go home, color and listen to a podcast as a way to decompress or reward myself. If I had met a small milestone, like when Matthew and I completed an assignment that Rachel had asked us to, we would go out to dinner. It’s the small things that keep us going. She was very helpful in getting us through some of the worst times in our marriage.

The goals can be big or small- but they are yours.

Have you been to therapy and would like to share your story?

Pics courtesy of Unsplash