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Essay Contest Entry

22 March 2015
The Women's Services department at BYU had some kind of exhibition/contest thing last week.  The theme was "Courage is..."  Here is the essay I threw together for it.  

Legacies of Courage

I was 25 years old before I could distinguish the difference between courage and bravery.  Though I grew up with a legacy of courageous ancestors, for a long time the two words were synonymous in my mind.  But in my mid-twenties, I realized that the distinction between bravery and courage is that bravery is confined to a single moment in time, whereas courage is many moments of bravery added together over the course of months, years, or even a lifetime.  Prior to this realization, I had never considered myself courageous.  It’s hard to think of yourself that way when you come from a family like mine. 

Take, for example, my great-great-great grandfather, Andrew Gustaf Erickson.  When he was 14 years old, he decided it was time to leave home and make his way to America.  He found a boat leaving his native Sweden and stowed away on it.  He arrived in America speaking no English whatsoever, but somehow found his way to Idaho, where he claimed several acres of land, married, and made his fortune.  When I was 14, I was barely able to walk to the library on my own, let alone sail across oceans and travel across continents. 

Andrew Gustaf’s courage was passed down through his family.  My grandma inherited his legacy of courage.  In the 1970s, she stood up to an unfaithful husband and got a divorce, despite the fact that she had no education and two small daughters to support.  My grandma went back to school and became a teacher.  While raising her two girls, she held a full time job, ran a household, and eventually received her Master’s degree in Education.  It takes bravery to stand up for yourself, but it takes true courage to decide to change your circumstances in the face of adversity.  My grandma is a hero to me because during extremely difficult circumstances, she found the courage within herself to face her challenges head-on. 

My grandma’s example was passed down to my mother.  Abandoned by my biological father, she gave birth to me at age 19.  Instead of giving me up for adoption like so many other young unmarried mothers, she raised me —alone — and gave me the best home she could.  When she later married my stepfather, she helped support our family by becoming a kindergarten teacher, later earning a Master’s degree and eventually a Doctorate while also raising three children, running a household, and working as a full-time administrator for an early college high school.  

My mother’s example of courage has also passed down to me, though I was well into adulthood before I was able to recognize the courage within myself.  My story is more ordinary than my great-grandfather’s, grandmother’s, and mother’s. I have struggled with serious depression and anxiety since I was a child.  During my teens and early adulthood, I found solace in self harm and bulimia.  Upon the birth of my son, however, I realized that I had to change - if not for myself, then for him.  Finding healthy ways of coping with depression and anxiety is one of the hardest things I have ever had to do.  At times, it has been difficult to get out of bed in the mornings.  My story of courage is not an exciting one, but it is a persistent one.  Instead of giving in to my illness, I choose to fight it.  I choose to try my best to improve myself, day in and day out, that I might pass on a legacy of courage to my son and his children.  


One of my favorite books states “we believe in ordinary acts of bravery.”  I love this quote because it’s true; ordinary acts of bravery, day after day, forge courage out of the flames of disappointment, struggle, and fear.  The more disappointment, struggle and fear you face (and persistently conquer) in life, the stronger a person you can become.  No matter how ordinary the struggles you face may seem, just the act of persistently fighting them makes you a courageous person.  Recognizing the progress you've made and celebrating it also takes a surprising amount of strength every day; it's easy to focus on your failures, and so much harder to acknowledge your worth.  Courage is made up of days, months, and years worth of small acts of bravery.  No matter how ordinary you think your story is, if you keep pushing through the obstacles in your way, there's a good chance someone will look back on your own legacy one day as an example of courage. 

Kris Surname is a junior at BYU. She is majoring in English with an Editing minor. Kris lives in [location] with her husband, Nate, and their 7 year old son, Toby. Her goals in life are to become a crazy cat lady, to move to England, and to write novels for young adults. Kris is an expert in all things Star Wars, Avatar/Korra and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. In her spare time, Kris loves to read everything she can get her hands on, chase Toby, and make up Grumpy Cat memes. Kris’s friends give her an A+ in Awesomeness.

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05 January 2015
Ten years ago today, I set out on an adventure.


I was a barely-18 year old junior in college.  It was my first time living on my own, my first time across the Atlantic Ocean, my first time in a collegiate dorm-type setting.

It saved my life.  I spent most of October, November and December of 2004 alone and depressed and suicidal.  My best friend begged me to hang on until I experienced London.  I came within moments of actually killing myself twice in Nov/Dec of 2004, but I remembered her words and I hung on.  It changed me.  Within 48 hours of my plane touching down, I realized that I was actually happy for the first time in months.   It was like a miracle.


I enrolled in a study abroad program through BYU.  A group of 50 or so students, professors and their spouses/kids lived at the London Centre in the heart of London.  It was about a block away from Hyde Park, three blocks away from Notting Hill.  I lived smack in the middle of all the action.  I didn't take enough advantage of that, because I was young and poorer than dirt.  But I was there.  For six glorious months I breathed British air.

I have spent the last ten years missing that country with all my heart.  I belong there.  When I left, I felt sure that I would return within two years.  Instead, I got married.  And every time we've tried to plan a move across the Pond, something has come up.  Right now we are waiting for Sparrow to complete the 3rd grade (as he is in the German immersion program at his school, and we have been informed that once the student finishes 3rd grade they are considered fluent.)  And then I will go Home again.


No one in my family actually believes I will ever live there again.  It will be hard.  I will miss my grandma and my mom a lot.  But I miss England more.  Also, there are planes.  They're free to visit at any time.

So I will bide my time and get my degree and Hawk will get his, we'll start networking across the Atlantic and someone will eventually snatch our employable faces up.  In the meantime, perhaps I will get to visit my homeland for my birthday this year.   I will watch ALL the British television.  I will continue to research best ways to emigrate.  And I will eat all the British chocolate I can get my hands on.  Amen.





Albatross

24 November 2014
So, this month has sucked.  Quite a lot.  My life is eroding out from underneath me, it seems, and I can't find solid ground to stand on.

"Get over it," is some of the sage advice I have gotten from older and wiser people.  People who should know better than to offer "get over it" as advice.  You can tell someone with anxiety to get over it until your face turns blue.  Their face has probably turned blue from efforts in trying to get over it.  Sometimes you just can't.  I've done a decent job of getting over as much as I can.  Now I am stuck.

Long story short.  Recently, my local church congregation got too big and split.  Almost my entire neighborhood is now in a new congregation/"ward," with the exception of maybe 40 homes.  The boundary line is literally 5 feet outside my door.  This in and of itself is not a huge deal.  Sure, I can still meet people who live in my neighborhood and make friends, though honestly, I am a homebody and it will not be easy for me to get out there.

No, the problem I have is now with my ward leadership.  I tried talking to the bishop about it.  I told him "I am not asking for the leadership to be changed or adjusted in any way; I just would prefer to not be asked to be in a meeting alone with leadership.  I will bring my husband, and everything will be fine."  I explained the reasoning I have for this, and the bishop gave me a long, tired spiel about forgiveness.  "Yes," I said.  "I have forgiven, honestly.  But I am not going to put myself in a position where I could get hurt again.  That would be stupid, and it would be my fault for doing it a second time."  And then I was told, in so many words, that I was being ridiculous and that I am clearly a hysterical woman who needs to get over being "offended."

I stopped him there.  "I was not offended, Bishop," I said.  "I was threatened."  In any case, I don't care who you are.  You should never, ever invalidate someone's feelings based on your imperfect understanding or opinion.  It's easy to ask someone to "get over it" when, once again, you don't have the screwed up brain connections of a person who literally cannot get over it.

Luckily, Hawk was with me when this conversation was held.  He is not afraid to tell me if I am being ridiculous, and he said that I was being perfectly reasonable.  He also feels that I was blown off and told to move on and shut up.

Now what?  Now I no longer trust my bishop.  I don't know that I can feel comfortable meeting alone with him either.  For the first time, I find myself on Ordain Women's side (though I still don't want the Priesthood, thank you very much.)  No woman should be required to meet alone with a man, though.  At the very least, we should be able to have an advocate with us in meetings.

It's been two weeks since the split, one week since the meeting with the bishop happened.  I have been sick with stress over this.  If I stop going to my ward, I will lose my ecclesiastical endorsement for BYU, meaning that I can no longer attend university there.  Even if I attend the new neighborhood ward.  I won't be able to serve / hold a "job" in the new neighborhood ward, which is important to me.  But staying in the old ward means being sick every time I look at the stand.  It means panic attacks in the hallway.

Hawk doesn't know what to do.  I don't know what to do.  Sparrow is not doing well with the change either - not being able to go to church with the kids who live around him isn't much fun for him.  It wouldn't be so bad if 90% of our ward didn't live 20 minutes away, but they do.

I'd like to move.  This is my dream home (except for the lies and bullshit that we dealt with and are still dealing with - thanks Fieldstone! FYVM) but I hate the politics that have happened since I moved here.  If I could pick up my house and move it to the other end of the neighborhood, I'd do it in a heartbeat.

I don't know.  I don't see a solution for any of the problems I am dealing with right now, all of which popped up around the same time and have been giving me ulcers for weeks.  I'd really like to just turn everything off for a month or so.  I'd like to be in a coma for a couple of months.  It's like being dead without the commitment.


Blackbird singin' in the dead of night

05 October 2014
All your life, you were only waiting for this moment to be free.  



I am seized with envy.  What must it feel like to know your path in life?  What is it like to not be hunted by Melancholy?  I am haunted by Churchill's black dog.  I am a blackbird with a broken wing.

I feel lost.

I don't know what I want.  I don't know what I need.  Chemicals swirl through my body; briefly lifting me before letting me fall on a sea of glass.  Shredding cutting bleeding losing.  I am losing.

I am lost.

Since I was a child, I have been stalked by Mental Illness.  Depression and anxiety have pursued me for as long as I can remember.

I can stretch out my wings, but I am chained to the Monster.  My wings lift me and I want to soar - and I am yanked back down.  Trapped.

Lately I have wondered ... everything.  Who am I, really?  Who might I be if these chains were broken?  I don't know myself because I can't know myself.  I am part Kestrel; I am part Monster.  How can I be all Kestrel?

What am I supposed to do with my life?  I cannot find my path.  I don't know where to go.  I don't know what to be.  I don't know why I am going to school; spending money and time to get a little piece of paper that I may not ever use.  (Because how can I possibly hold down a job when I can barely lift my head?)

I started taking antidepressants after Sparrow was born.  They seemed to help me.  But they took away my gift.  I used to be a writer.  I have always wanted to be a writer.  But I can't write since I started a steady chain of Lexapro, Prozac, Wellbutrin, Effexor, Viibryd, Fetzima.

And I have always said: I would rather be a person who can function than a person who can write.

Hawk knew what he wanted his career to be when he was 12 years old.  And he's attained it.  He's incredible at it.  And I hate him (just a very tiny bit) for it.  I'm nearly 28 and I can't think of anything I want to do except for write.

But I am blocked all the time.

I... am just lost.  It seems like my sunken eyes should've learned to see.  But the view from here is as blurry as ever.  And I will stumble along, as I always do...wishing I could trust my wings to carry me to where I can be free.


This post brought to you by my horribly slow and painful transition to a new SSRI, by the existential crisis I seem to have at least once a month, and by the unsolved mystery of my health... weirdness.  I went to the ER 5 times last month.  

I just don't know what to do.  




Abs of Steel

26 August 2014
So, I survived surgery.  It's quite the story.

I woke up at 8 a.m. last Wednesday and immediately started work on my house.  I cleaned and cleaned and cleaned.  I wanted my house to look nice while I was recovering, mostly because I knew that people would be visiting and bringing over meals and I didn't want them to see how we normally live.  And also with the added bonus that if I died on the table, no one could judge my inferior housekeepery.  So I scrubbed as hard as I could; I mowed the lawn and weeded and at 2:00 I took my last bubble bath.  At 2:45 we dropped Sparrow at a friend's house and headed to the hospital.

I was supposed to be operated on around 5 p.m.  At 5:15, I was still hanging out in pre-op, bored out of my mind.  Luckily all my cleaning wore me out, so I was able to take a little nap while Hawk did some work on his laptop.  At 6 the doctors finally came in to consult with me.  The surgery was supposed to take around 45 minutes, with another 1.5 hours spent in recovery before I could go home.  Sparrow's first day of school was the following day, so Hawk and I were anxious to get going so that we could pick Sparrow up from my mom's and put him to bed at a reasonable hour.

Hawk and I said adieu and the anesthesiologist wheeled me to the OR.  He gave me some anxiety medicine and after a minute asked if I had felt anything yet.  "Um, no," I said.  So he gave me the rest of the syringe.  I still didn't feel it.  Sometimes when I go under anesthesia I can feel it kicking in, but this time was one of those times where it just went black.

The next thing I knew was pain.  Serious pain.  I entered the hospital at a pain level of 5/10 and I woke up from anesthesia at a 9.  The anesthesiologist gave me fentanyl before I had woken up all the way, but it didn't help.  The recovery room nurse gave me another amp of fentanyl, plus TWO amps of Dilaudid.  Then they gave me 2 oral Percocet, but I never got below a 7 on the pain scale.

While this was going on, I learned that the surgery had taken twice as long as it was supposed to and I started freaking out because Sparrow was at my mom's, and it was getting late.  Then I learned that the surgery hadn't even happened properly.

Apparently, there was so much scar tissue that the surgeon wasn't able to get through at all.  He tried to make a wider incision than normal through the belly button and that didn't work, so then he tried he to make a new incision through the right side and he still couldn't get through.  The poor guy tried for an hour and a half to make the surgery work and he couldn't do it.  I felt really bad (I still feel bad.)  The doctor said that in 28 years, he's never seen anything like this.  He said he's never not been able to do a laparoscopy.   What can I say?  I'm an anomaly.

Luckily, while I was under, Hawk called my mom and was able to let her know what was going on. She brought Sparrow to our house and put him to bed and then just sat around bored for a few hours.  We didn't get home from the hospital until almost midnight, so we were really grateful that she was able to do that for us.

It's been 6 days and the pain level is still unreal.  Especially for them not being able to do anything!  I had to go to the ER on Friday and they gave me 4 syringes of Dilaudid and it still didn't touch it.  I don't understand why I hurt this much.  I haven't dropped lower than a 7 throughout the entire recovery.

So I have abs of steel.  Or titanium.  Or there's a baby dragon in there.  Or maybe I'm part turtle shell. I don't know.

People keep asking me what's next.  I don't know what's next.  We've talked with the doctor briefly.  He wants me to get some gastrointestinal tests and rule everything out that way.  Then, once we've confirmed that it's not my bowel or stomach or anything else, he's thinking he will do another surgery where he opens me up and removes the scar tissue and checks for endometriosis.  This one will not be laparoscopic, so the recovery time will be longer.  Whiiiiich means that I can't even consider this surgery until the semester ends in December.

Realistically, it's not too bad.  I've lived with the same pain every day for 2.5 years.  I can handle 4 more months.  But I wanted this whole saga to be over.  I wanted it solved and I want the pain gone.  So the thought of hurting for the next few months is, well, painful.  Yes, there is a painkiller I can take to keep me sane through the whole thing.  But I just quit that medication and it was hard and I want to be done with it.

So that's the story.  I'm a medical anomaly with abs of steel.  And I'm not sure where we go from here.

But on the positive side, Sparrow has been doing well in first grade and he's coming home every day with new nonsensical German words to teach us.  Seriously, this kid is amazing.  I'm excited that he's learning a new language, but German sounds ... very pretend.  At least if he's faking it, he's doing it convincingly.  Ja, sehr güt.

Things from the heart.

19 August 2014
Tomorrow I am having surgery.  It's just a laparoscopic exploratory surgery, so nothing major.  But this will be the 9th surgery I have had, and the 4th I have had while in my 20s.  This is kind of routine for me, so I'm not technically afraid, but I am nervous.

Watching Sparrow has broken my heart.  He is terrified for me.  He is so scared and I don't know how to fix it.  I have explained that it will be okay, that the doctor is trying to help me.  I tell him that the doctor is going to fix the owie in my tummy, and that once he fixes it I will be able to play with him more and not be so tired and hurting.

I am afraid that I am lying.  I am afraid that I will always be broken; that I will always be in pain.  I am afraid that the surgery won't help, or that it will help but I will have to have it again in a few years.  I am afraid that the doctor will take my ovary out and I will only have one left.  I hate this ovary that seems to cause me pain, but I don't want it to be taken out.

Sparrow asked me today why he doesn't have any brothers.  My heart stopped for a moment.  I explained that my body couldn't have any more babies and that Hawk and I had prayed about it and decided that Sparrow was our family.  But then today I talked to Hawk... and both of us want another baby.  And I still have ovaries, so...

Sparrow starts first grade (!!!!!) on Thursday.  I will be out of commission for his first day of real school.  I am terrified for him.  He is brilliant, but he is innocent.  He is going to a real school, not a developmental school anymore.  There will be kids that are mean and kids that teach him bad things.  How do I counteract those things?  How do I protect his so innocent heart?  I look at him and I can't believe how sweet and innocent he is.  He doesn't understand normal kid behavior.  The other day a kid called him a name and Sparrow retaliated only because he thought the other kid was playing with him.  And when the kids exclude him on purpose, he is so confused and sad.  I want to protect his innocence, but I don't know how.

I'm confused lately.  I'm starting school on 2 September, and I don't know what I want to major in and I don't know what my classes are (I'm registered but the only class I remember is German 101.)  Why am I going to school?  I may never be able to hold down a real job, with all the health issues I have.  My degree is a dream I have always had... but will it be useless once I get it?

Hawk gave me a blessing tonight.  He blessed me that if I follow the directions of my doctors and follow the Word of Wisdom, I will have a body that is clean, clear, and full of light.

That is my dream.  I want that body.  I want a body that is clear and clean and can function.  I want to be able to play with Sparrow without getting tired.  I want to spend days cleaning, working, playing.  Not lying on the couch and trying to sleep so I can escape from the pain for a few hours.  I hate who I have become because of this pain.  I hate that Sparrow has learned to play by himself because he knows I will say no if he asks me to play with him.  I hate that we have completed almost nothing on my Summer Plans list.

I dream of that body - the one that is pain free, strong, and clean.  I will do all I can to receive that body.  But in the meantime, this pain is ruining me.  It is ruining who I am and who I want to become.

I am not afraid, but I am nervous.  My heart is aching for so many things.

I just want Sparrow to be okay, and I want Hawk to be okay, and I want me to be okay.  I just want to be okay.


I'm prone to wander, Lord; I feel it.  Take my heart - O, take and seal it - seal it for Thy courts above.  



Adulthood is not for pansies.

16 July 2014
Somehow, when I was very young, I became obsessed with the idea of eternal youth.  (Personally, I blame Peter Pan.  That jerk was supposed to teach me how to fly back at Disneyland in 1990 and he never did.  Rude.)

I doubt I was the only child who feared growing up, but I sure felt like it.  While all of my friends were obsessed with the thought of boyfriends, high school, driving... I was busy playing with my ponies.  Each birthday brought me to tears.  On my tenth birthday, I was near hysterical at being a "double digit."  Birthdays should be fun and happy, but for me they were always a reminder of how I was aging; I was running out of time to be a kid.  Soon adulthood would be upon me, and then what?

Here I sit at 27 years old.  I am, by all appearances, a real live grown up.  My heart breaks for the little girl I used to be, because no matter how hard she fights, no matter how hard she prays for a vampire to bite her so she can stay young forever (yeah, true story), it's not gonna happen.  Time marches inevitably on.  Sorry, little Krisling.  Stop obsessing and enjoy the time you have left.

But let me tell you a little secret.  Even though I look like an adult, and sometimes I can even sound like an adult, I am not an adult.  Inside, I am still a confused, befuddled 14 year old who just wants to be left alone to read.  Most of my days are a battle with myself to make me get out and do something when really I just want to sit at home and hide.

Sparrow helps.  He helps a lot.  He distracts me and keeps me from thinking about all the scary adult things.  I used to have panic attacks in grocery stores, but now when I take him with me, I focus on him and no more panic attacks.  Whew.  

I remember when I first met him in the hospital.  He was 3 days old.  The pediatrician came in and started talking about the tests they were doing and lots of medical stuff and I immediately tuned him out.  Then I thought "um, I'm a parent now.  I should probably be paying attention to this."

Yeah, a lot of my life is like that.  I am so lucky to have Hawk in my life.  Hawk is a REAL adult.  Hawk knows how to listen and how to have an attention span even when things are boring.  Usually I let Hawk listen and fill me in on the important stuff later.  Sometimes this backfires, but it usually works out.  It's a decent enough system.

Because here's another secret:  I get too worked up over things I can't control.  This week has seen us slammed with a series of tiny injustices.  One after another after another.  I decided to try and handle it, because Hawk is already so busy with work and keeping us alive.  So I started taking care of it on Monday, and by Tuesday I could think of nothing else except getting this fixed.  Guess what?  The other party has absolutely zero interest in getting this fixed.  No matter what I do, I am going to lose this battle.  And it makes me fight harder, and it pisses me off, and it's all I can think about.  And I can't turn it off, and it goes around and around and I can't make it stop.

This is why I don't get involved in politics.  This is why I don't do online debates, why I don't often post about Serious Business on my blog.  I can't turn it off.  Once I engage and get into a topic, I want to fix everything about it. And when I can't fix it, and fix it quickly, my soul feels crushed.

Right now I feel like my soul is one of these:


A tiny little crushed garbage cube. 

I can't make the injustices go away.  And I can't just flip this part of my personality off.  So instead I try to hide from the world and ignore the bad things.  Problems in the Middle East?  Bummer, let's get cake.  Election year is coming up? Sweet, I'm moving to Antarctica till November.  Apocalypse is nigh? I hope I die in the first five seconds so I don't have to deal with it. 

It seems that my obsessive fear of adulthood has grown with me.  I can no longer fear adulthood like I once did, so instead I fear all the grown up problems around me.  

Oh little Krisling, you knew adulthood would suck.  You tried to warn me.  You were so right, little Krisling.  Adulthood is the worst. 

I want my mommy.