Dam-Sized Gap Plan

This week marks a full year Emily has been home from school. She was out sick the last few weeks before we completely shutdown in California on March 13, 2020. It feels like only yesterday and like forever ago at the same time. Adjusting to all of her services being stolen from her in one day is still a hard pill for our family to swallow. I know the struggle is real for everyone but I believe it has been a little harder for the disabled and the elderly. That is just a thought, but one I stand by.

It takes so many people to care for Emily and to meet her needs. She needs full care. Our family could never do it alone. Well, that is not true, because we did it for the first few months of quarantine. When a world pandemic forced it on us, her care became ours alone. As we were all adjusting to having 4 people in a 1,000 square foot house all trying to find a corner of quiet and good internet connection to work, Emily was just confused. She became agitated. She was angry. She got louder. Her anxiety began to increase. She could not and still does not understand. Her agitation and anxiety echoed off the walls. It was audible and palpable. Imagine waking up one day and everything you know is gone with no explanation: your job, your friends, your support system and you have no idea why.

Emily looking out the front door

We managed for about 12 weeks like this. All of us clinging to a life raft to keep our heads above water. Weather permitting, I would take Emily outside for walks. Some days my hips and foot pain kept our walks short. I would bring a small blanket to park my bottom on the wet grass at the park as everything was taped or fenced off because the park was “closed”. I brought a speaker to listen to music or play a podcast.

On one of our walks we listened to Brené Brown’s Unlocking Us podcast. It was about debunking the myth that relationships are 50/50. In it she discusses that her and her husband developed a habit of discussing how much they had to give on a percentage basis and included the kids as well. If the family had at least 100% between them, then they were good and if not, they had to figure out how to close the gap. After I listened, I knew our family needed a GAP Plan. I was also certain there was no way Todd, Justin and I could ever get to 100% without help. We were going to have to open our circle to bridge the dam-sized gap in our home.

Emily and Sommer

I remember bringing up the discussion with Todd. He was not thrilled at first. COVID-19 is real. It increased our risk and Emily’s risk of getting it. I told him we had to come up with a solution because our family could not continue living like this. There is balance between mental and physical health and while we were all physically healthy, I could see our mental health dipping, especially Emily’s. After some debate, he agreed. I reached out to someone who has cared for Emily in the past and only lived with one other person that worked from home. Her job had been shut down since March and the risk was low to invite her into our home. She agreed to care for Emily a few days a week during peek hours when my job needed me to be available. Emily was happier getting out of the house for walks and to see a new face. I had a few hours to concentrate at work. The help also gave my back, my hips, my feet and my mind a much needed break. There was really nowhere to go, but just having someone else around lifted Emily’s spirit. We have continued to open our circle a bit over time to meet our needs and to give Emily more sense of community and her normalcy.

Park benches finally opened in 2021

I cannot say that I have loved quarantine. Emily and I are a lot alike in that we both love social interaction. Zoom and the phone is okay, but just not the same as in person connection. Our family has rallied together over the past year. We have all taken turns doing the heavy lifting when another is busy or physically exhausted. We have done the best we can with the resources we have but I still believe Emily deserves and longs for more. I have said for years that it takes a village to care for Emily. The last year has spotlighted the truth in that statement.

One of The Short Family “Road Therapy” Drives

48 Hours

KOFA Wildlife Refuge Sunset

Recently Todd and I got away for a glorious 48 hours. No, it wasn’t like the movie with Nick Nolte and Eddie Murphy (totally dating myself here). I did use a bucket toilet for the weekend, so for me that is about as renegade as I get. Respites away from home are few and far between. Add a year of no services for children and adults with disabilities in California due to COVID, and respite is as rare as a Gible (Pokémon ode to my sister, Carol). A few months into lockdown, we found a caregiver willing to come to our home and help with Emily a few days a week so I can keep my day job and my sanity. Recently she suggested Todd and I get away for a day or two, and she and Justin would hold down the fort we affectionately refer to as Casa de Chaos. Todd got super excited and immediately wanted to go camping. He asked me if I would go camping in the desert with him. Since I usually decide where we go, and I made 2021 my “Year of Yes” (thanks Shonda Rhimes), I said “Yes, I would love to.” That was certainly laying it on a bit thick.

I am not a fan of camping. I do not even like Glamping. I am more of a Palm Springs boutique hotel than tent and bucket gal, but Todd’s childlike giddiness and excitement challenged me to embrace the idea. The ladies in my accountability group got to hear me daily talk about my thought work. Each day I was writing about creating a “lush” experience of camping in the desert with my husband for two nights. I was serious about visualizing everything at home being fine. The caregiver not facing any challenges. The drive with Todd being drama free. I visualized myself staying calm in the passenger seat of his truck, and joyfully listening to music and loving our time together. I decided I could use a bucket toilet for a couple days, and it would be an adventure. I knew it was a stretch, but if you build it they will come, right? I was doing my part, I was preparing my mind.

While I prepared my mind, Todd was in full planning and execution mode. Every day packages would arrive on our doorstep with something that would be needed for our trip. Todd was making every effort to make sure my experience was amazing. He bought a raised cot mattress and a new tent that practically assembles itself. He pulled out his tent heater, and made sure it was in perfect working order. He bought new camping gear and containers to precisely hold everything in order, and made sure it fit perfectly in his truck bed like a game of Tetris. He got new tables, lighting, emergency chargers, and a new camp stove. He began confiscating my pans from the kitchen to use for our trip. He was planning the menu for our meals and doing everything. I didn’t have to do anything but show up with an open mind. I began embracing his excitement and felt myself actually getting excited about our trip too. Crazy what thought work does.

Todd bought me this Keffiyeh to keep wind and dust at bay without bulk

The night before we planned to leave, we got the weather report, and the place we planned to camp was expected to have sustained winds of 30-50mph. Todd could not hide the disappointment on his face when he told me we would need to cancel due to the weather. He suggested we stay at a hotel instead. I responded, “No, we will figure something out. Let’s get on Google and find somewhere else to go”. It took us a few hours, but we found a place in Arizona about the same distance as our original destination that looked like a good prospect. Neither of us had ever been there. Todd was not too sure, because he could not guarantee what it would be like. I told him we had nothing to lose by going there and it would be a new adventure for both of us and might be great. What? Who am I?

We arrived at KOFA Wildlife Refuge with about an hour of daylight to find a spot to camp and set up our site. All the hard work Todd had put into planning a great experience for me paid off. We had our site up in no time, and made a simple dinner of beer brats on French rolls. We made a lovely campfire to sit by, and we watched the sky delight us with stars that surrounded us and seemed to touch hills in the valley. The sky was amazing and the stillness around us so peaceful. We really just enjoyed the silence and slowness. We both adapted, and both showed up as our best selves for one another. It amazes me that after 35 years together, we continue to surprise one another.

The Bucket

Personal or Professional?

Do you want to create a blog that is personal or professional? This is the question I was asking myself when I decided to start writing. I love to write and always have. In the last twenty-five years, my writing has consisted of mostly to-do and grocery lists. Oh, and there was that one essay I wrote about my husband, Todd. I won first prize in an essay contest, and won tickets to see (and meet) Keith Urban. (I wish I had a copy of that essay. It was pretty darn good.) With the exception of a sprinkling of writing here or there, I spent most of my time caring and doing for others. I did not create the time to do things that bring me joy. Writing is one the many things that bring me joy.

Keith Urban private acoustic concert and Q&A .

As I started losing weight and began to journal consistently, it brought back the passion I have for writing. I began writing about Emily in my journal. I wrote about quarantine with her and funny stories of our walking adventures. I wrote about things that happened when my kids were little. It brought me so much joy reflecting on my life and past in written form. It also had me contemplating my journey going forward. What does Billie want? What does she enjoy? What fills her cup so she can give freely and openly to others without resentment? As a natural “helper”, I want to share what I have learned. I hope by sharing my experiences that I can bring hope and help to others.

When I decided to become a coach, I knew I wanted to have a blog as part of my message. I just was not sure the best approach. Do I focus on strategies? Do I share personal stories and lessons learned? First I started writing things that were not ME. I did not resonate with the message and did not LOVE what I was writing. I became frustrated and took a step back. I am not a polished and refined speaker. I do not sugarcoat the bad, but I do find the positive in any experience. I am who I am. I want to write freely what is on my mind, and have faith that the right person will receive a message that might bring them comfort or help them through a similar struggle.

Unexpected Journey

I am a self-defined caregiver. I love to care for my family and support my friends. I have always put others’ needs and desires above my own. Like most moms, I want the best for my kids. I want to support my husband and family. I take pride in being a good employee. I have spent over 25 years giving to everyone and everything except me. Yes, there were short periods where I would lose 20 pounds, take a trip with just my girlfriends, or solo, but not without guilt. I always felt like I was letting down my family or my job. Self-care was always attached to guilt or sacrificing my family.

Left in 2015: Right 2020

About five years ago, I began seeing the toll that caring for others, at the expense of my health, was having on both my mental and physical well-being. I was in constant overwhelm. I spent the day putting out fires. I was a victim in my life and just reacted to whatever obstacles or things came my way. I could see the damage I was creating, but I could not see a way out. I would end each day exhausted and desired an escape from my day. I would be tired and also want “me time” so I stayed up late indulging in things that added to the problem. I would binge on TV shows or snack and drink wine to “unwind and relax”. This only added to the exhaustion and overwhelm I thought I was escaping.

That is me in the front row.

2019 started, I was over 50, and carrying 50 extra pounds. I set out on a journey to lose some weight. I began the typical diet of restriction, but was not willing to figure out why I put the weight on in the first place. By April of that year, I was down almost 20 pounds, but nothing in my life had really changed except the number on the scale. I was still tired, deflated, depressed, and overwhelmed. A friend of a friend suggested I listen to a podcast about this lady that lost 100 pounds, and has kept it off for over 13 years. I had never listened to a podcast. You heard that right: I had NEVER listened to a podcast. I gave it a listen, and what the lady said made sense. Her “tribe” was opening for 5 days only so if you wanted to join, I better get after it. I am not someone who makes decisions easily. I need time to weigh out everything. The pros. The cons. The financial investment. You name it. It usually takes me months to make a decision. The host and life coach, Corinne Crabtree said something that has stuck with me to this day. Corinne said, “give yourself the gift of decision”. How the heck does she know I was still deciding? I went to her website: https://www.phit-n-phat.com/ to get more information. I broke out my credit card, and said I would figure out the money part later. I had no idea what kind of cult I had just joined, but it was something new and resonated with me.

This is a photo from June 2019 as I was a few months into my journey

I learned a new way to think about weight loss. I was learning a new way to think period. I was being hit with some pretty heavy circumstances in my life, and for the first time, I felt I had the tools to face them, while still taking care of my needs. Caring for others and myself could happen at the same time. I was learning as I began to listen to my body and my thoughts, that I was becoming better. I was a better employee, wife, mom, and friend. I had energy again. I began to feel good in my skin.

The journey to weight loss led me on a journey of self-discovery. In putting all my time and energy into caring for others, I had lost the ability to identify with myself. I did not know who I was or what I wanted. I am still figuring it out. I am sure the journey will be lifelong, but I am confident that I have the tools to create the joy and life I want. I also want to help others find what I have found. It is possible to care for others and yourself at the same time.