When your child has special needs, especially when they look “normal” on the outside, life is different. There are fun times, happy times, but sooner or later the realities of your child’s struggles come bubbling to the surface. There is often silence when others speak about their children’s accomplishments. Not because you are jealous. Because you know your child’s accomplishments are different. Less socially accepted. Less understood. It can be lonely.
Yet there we were, sitting in the dark auditorium for Senior Night, as my son’s name was called to accept his award: the David A. Conrad scholarship for $500. As he walked back to his seat, the auditorium filled with applause. The look on his face…
<insert Mama Bear heart clench here>
I had a chance to sit down recently with Karen Conrad, who created this scholarship in her son David’s memory. I wanted to know about the young man whose legacy had given my son a such a boost of optimism and confidence. We were just two Mama Bears, fierce advocates for our boys all their lives, having breakfast and bonding over eggs, coffee, and shared stories. It’s important to share David’s story today, as it’s the anniversary of his passing, and his scholarship fund opens for donations.
David Conrad: Quintessential White Sox Fan for Mayor
David Alan Conrad loved the White Sox, politics, and history. In fact, his favorite colors were black and white for his beloved White Sox — when he was in eighth grade, he was lucky enough to see the Sox win the World Series. He loved politics so much that he used to ask his mom’s friends – “If I run for mayor of Downers Grove someday, would you vote for me?” Of course they all said yes. 😊
David was on the high school swim team and once swam so hard, for so long, he had an asthma attack. He gave it his all, in the pool and in life. He always saw the best in everyone. And even with the challenges he faced, he always said, “I’m fine.” He never wanted to worry anyone, let anyone down.
Like my son, David attended Downers Grove South (DGS) High School and was fortunate enough to be in the special education program with an Individual Education Plan (IEP). The program made a huge difference in both our sons’ lives. Both our boys went on to College of DuPage with their “blue cards,” a continuation of their IEP from high school. But sometimes, all the love, support, and blue cards in the world are not enough. David passed away at the tender age of 21 in 2013.
About the David A. Conrad Scholarship
Karen and her family started the scholarship to honor David’s memory in 2014 with their own money, after she read that starting a scholarship fund can be healing.
“David once wrote a letter to the Women’s Club, on his own initiative, for a scholarship, and he won. He was so proud! The look on his face when he won…” Karen trailed off, pressing the locket around her neck to her heart. Inside is her favorite photo of her son. She wears it always, keeping David close to her heart.
The David A. Conrad scholarship is awarded to student(s) at DGS in the special education department. Someday, Karen would like to extend it to Downers Grove North High School if she can raise enough money this year. While Karen leaves it with the faculty to determine the criteria and winners, she has said that it is typically awarded to someone like David: hard working, kind-hearted, and open to people from every walk of life.
I recognize that times are hard, and I don’t typically promote fundraisers. But this cause is near and dear to my heart, as are Karen and David. If you would like to donate to this special cause, here is the link to the scholarship Go Fund Me page.
David in Three Words: Sweet. Innocent. Loveable.
Karen says if he were alive today, David would tell students who receive this scholarship: “Believe in yourself! Do your best! Be optimistic. Move through your challenges! Even if no one else believes you can do it, know that you can. Don’t worry if you make mistakes. You got this!”
I know David is an angel now, watching over his mother and his family. I imagine his spirit is with my son, invisible wings now on his journey as he transfers to University of Iowa this year to study writing. Karen said she thinks David brought her and I together. I know he did.
We’re all struggling with the uncertainty of the world today. My heart aches for each and every one of us fighting our own battles. ❤️ I will tell you that as someone who has overcome generational trauma and domestic violence, and recently lost my father, the events of today are 100% triggering on many levels. I condemn all violence.
This is me about the time when I realized how my words and thoughts could get me in trouble and seriously hurt. I was 12.
My entire life, someone has been telling me what to think or say. In middle school, my mother used to scribble “scripts” for me to say on phone calls as she sat beside me and listened in to all my conversations. To this day I hate speaking on the phone. But I taught myself how to overcome that obviously as I’m on 100 Zoom calls a day for work. But seriously…
It’s scary not knowing what the other person will say.
My mother used to read my journals. When she could find them. I was reduced to hiding them in random locations once I became old enough to think for myself and wasn’t just writing I Love Mom poems. My words were deemed dangerous once I reached a certain age (12) and began to think for myself. Then my words were deemed unacceptable. My thoughts were unacceptable. I was unacceptable. I was all wrong. My ex-husband used to read my journals, too. No matter how good I hid them, he found them. He used them against me. Again, I learned I could not say what I really felt or thought. It was not safe.
For most of my life, my survival depended on my silence. Hiding my words.
The story to the world was that I was all wrong. I wasn’t telling the “right” family story. I was crazy. I was not “right.” The last time my mother found my journal hidden above the china cabinet, she looked at me as if I was a traitor and a lost cause. “No one wants to read things that are not happy.” Then: “You’re going to write about me someday, aren’t you?” I said no.
We both knew I was lying.
I paid a steep price for my silence. I still bear the scars.
But I kept writing. Hiding my journals. My words. My thoughts. Sometimes I still do. The point is, I am used to censorship. I have dealt with it my entire life. I know precisely the damage it does. I know exactly how it damages you, chokes you from speaking up, stops you from not speaking your truth. In alcoholic families, the party line is often some variation of, “What happens at home, behind closed doors, stays at home.” It is not okay to talk about the bad things that happen behind closed doors.
I know censorship. We are seeing it now. We must stop it now.
I know the price I paid for keeping silent throughout my childhood and my abusive marriage. I will not be silenced anymore. If you have never been silenced in your life, you will never understand the deep, passionate, commitment that many of us wonderful, strong, beautiful, humans feel about free speech. When you silence one of us – you silence all of us. This is unacceptable. Twitter is not my mother. Or yours. So why are we okay with them making decisions about what voices can be heard – or not? Are you seriously comfortable handing over “control” to someone else for what you hear, read, see?
You know who I worry most about today? Our kids.
The ones who have not yet been force fed a constant drip of “facts” that may or may not align with what you believe. Those kids – they are lost. I am talking about the kids we still have a chance of saving.
Your kids. Our kids. You know. The ones you are handing over to schools to tell them what and how to think.
Especially if you are not talking to them at home. Are you talking to your kids about what’s going on? If not, why? We must. I am telling you now we must. How do we help them make sense of it all? How do we reassure them when they are anxious and scared? How do we guide them when we ourselves are in such unchartered territory? What do we say to our kids who have special needs and struggle differently than others to get through this? How do single parents tackle this, especially when the other parent is MIA?
It’s tough no matter how you look at it.
But my child tonight, my child came to me. My young adult child came to me tonight in despair over the state of this world. My daughter has come to me looking for guidance, too. I realized I must do more. I must do more to be strong for my kids. To talk with them, guide them through these turbulent times. Our kids need guidance now more than ever. That means I have to get my political shit together – I have to make sense of the reality TV drama that has become “Congressional” business.
Business and drama we – me, you, our kids who work – pay for. Literally. Look at your paycheck. Look at the allocations. Keep checking over the next few months and years. We’ll talk again.
We know in our hearts what we believe. We know our values. The majority of us are willing to listen, try to hear and understand. We do not all feel the need to share our opinions on social media. There was a time when this was not even a thing. But the world seems so upside down and inside out. For soooooo long now.
It rattles you. To say the least. If not you, for sure me. There are so many in the last year…
…voices, opinions, lockdowns, mandates, protests, riots (peaceful despite the damage and death), masks aren’t needed/masks are required, condemnations, vilifications, media spins, offenses, narratives, perspectives, videos, memes, witty Twitter comebacks, Congressional letters and fiery speeches on the floor we pay for (that go nowhere), shitty female interactions on The View (why is this ugly, mean show still a thing?) resignations, special updates, cancellations, woke gestures, woke posturing, virtue signaling, apologies, micro-aggressions, fears, new amendments (hello 25), racist and systemic racism allegations, defund the police mandates, murders skyrocketing, unemployment exploding, economy turbulence, video angles, redistribution of wealth, political goals and agendas, financial motivations, calls for stimulus checks, unity, impeachment, claims of insurrection, taxes without representation, rules for thee, but not for me! Vaccine warp speed!! Vaccine passports! Election fraud! China! Russia! Fraud! Socialism! Fascism! COVID!!! COVID!!! COVID!!!! Death! Fear! Selfish if you even think about walking to the mailbox without a mask on you SELFISH ASSHOLE YOU ARE KILLING GRANDMA!!!!!! Follow the science!!! Flatten the curve! It’s just for two weeks!! Two months!! Four more months!! One year!! No Thanksgiving! No Christmas! You can go to Walmart or the liquor store or the marijuana dispensary but not church or a restaurant or Grandma’s house.
Hmm…no wonder why we are all eating more, drinking more, smoking more, doing more drugs, more depressed, anxious, sad, pissed off, sick, and divided. We’re fat and sedated because the people “running the world” are driving us into submission and despair.
If you dare to disagree – dare to say the “wrong” thing, think the “wrong” thing, do the “wrong” thing – “YOU” are the wrong thing.
Are we really okay with this?
My father, a Korean veteran, spent his last days alone in a nursing home. My sister and I made heroic efforts to keep him home with us for as long as we could; in the COVID world, medical professionals made it clear that once he “went in,” we were “out.”
My father died alone and afraid. I could go to Walmart and get bacon at any time of day. But I could not go to the hospital and hold my father’s hand as he lay dying.
I am not okay with this. I will never, ever be okay with this.
We are better than this.
I am sad and ashamed at how nasty, mean, ugly, and eager to gloat, shame, condemn, and cancel each other we have become. This is not who we are. This is not who we are as Americans. I appreciate those who are trying to stay positive. Love you and you know who you are. I am asking us to take one step more: those of us with the light, courage, and brilliance must shine our lights more, longer, everywhere.
But when your kids are scared and your father dies alone and America starts feeling like Communist China and your young adult kids come to you and say, I am afraid. I don’t understand. I don’t feel like I can say what I really think, what do I do? What do I say?
What do you tell your kids? The ones who are old enough to think about these things? If you’re not talking to them, you should be. Because if you don’t talk to them, if you don’t provide them with guidance and direction – Twitter and Lady Gaga and the Kardashians and random politicians will.
You do not want that.
My kids are 19 and 21, living at home while working and going to community college full time to avoid student loan debt while they figure out their plan. They look to me to provide answers, perspective, assurance. This is what I tell them:
We are strong. We do not let ANYONE tell us what or how to think. We focus on what we can control. We focus on being the best humans we can be. We love. We know who we are, what we believe, and what we value. We are open to other perspectives and listen to hear, see, and understand.
Our family values are – and always will be – kindness and respect. At the end of the day, we will always stay true to who we are, what we believe, and what we value. ❤️
Want to make a real difference?
Stop posting vapid political memes and adding to the negative discourse. Get off your woke pedestal. You are adding fuel to the imaginary political fire while people are dying, businesses are dying, and our nation is more divided than ever before. You are now part of the problem. the snappy slogan “Silence is Violence.” Who gets to decide which silence is violence – and which is not? Who gets to decide who and what gets silenced? Who gets to drive you to hide your thoughts and ideas in journals hidden around the house in fear of being…heard?
Are you really willing to hand over this fundamental right to someone else? To a company?
It’s about people. Not politics.
Make a real difference. Get off social media. Get out in your community and do something that actually helps others. No selfie “look what I did” required. Buy local and support your small businesses. Volunteer at a homeless shelter or a nursing home, Habitat for Humanity, something, anything, that will actually change something, someone for the better. Talk to your kids. Have real conversations about what is happening, ask what they think. Listen. But for the love of God, please…
Stop Polluting.Be the light in the darkness.We need that now more than ever.
Love and peace to all. We are all in this together. ❤️
Update: I called a family dinner for tonight (when your kids are young adults juggling work, school, and friends, it’s a lot harder to book time with them!).It’s an open forum to talk about the state of things, the world, how they’re feeling, how they’re dealing. I have no idea what I am going to say. I plan on listening more than talking, which is hard for me to do but necessary. It’s going to be a standing family dinner (or breakfast or lunch or whatever meal time they will give me) event going forward. One small change I can make in my little corner of the world. I will let you know how it goes. 🙂
When I bring up acupuncture to people who’ve never tried it, I get one of three reactions:
OMG hell no!!
What’s it like? I’ve always wanted to try it!
This post is for you #3 people and anyone who is curious about what acupuncture is and why someone would do it.
I’ve been curious about acupuncture since the first time I read about it years ago in a runner’s forum where runners swore by its ability to help heal running injuries. Beyond that, I have health issues that have challenged me to look beyond traditional Western medicine for approaches that complemented my treatment plans. This includes lifelong asthma, insomnia, and an autoimmune thyroid disorder. I’m also a stroke survivor (thankfully). Everything I am sharing with you here is based solely on my personal experience, and it goes without saying that you should work with your doctor or treatment team for a plan that is designed specifically for you.
So is acupuncture right for you? Here’s my journey, which may help you decide:
Step 1: Know Why You’re Going
While I was battling running injuries the first time I went in 2015, I was also battling “I just went through a divorce, a layoff, a major health crisis with my child, and life is kicking my ass” fatigue. While I showed up thinking I was going for my plantar fasciitis flare-up, I also knew that I was battle-weary, and the stress of it all – plus the nagging feeling that Western medicine was missing something – was driving me to research a doctor and book that first appointment.
Some will say acupuncture heals everything under the sun. I don’t know about that. But I do know that it has worked for me to manage stress and anxiety, as well as help with pain management and healing of running injuries, including chronic bouts of plantar fasciitis that always surface when I am going through a particularly stressful time. But acupuncture is just one tool in my arsenal, which includes other more “conventional” treatments and medicine.
I have come to look at acupuncture as a way to hit the reset button for my body, particularly after a stressful time in my life. I’m a firm believer in the concept that our issues are in our tissues.
Step 2: Get a Recommendation
I went for my first treatment about a year after my divorce. Since running is my go-to for managing stress and anxiety, I was desperate for something, anything, that would help me continue to run. So after reading yet another rave review about the benefits of acupuncture in a running group forum, I decided to go for it. All other Western medicine approaches seemed to be failing me. What did I have to lose?
The most important thing for me was to get a recommendation from someone I knew. A sports massage therapist I trusted recommended a Chinese doctor who I worked with for several years before switching last year to Dr. Chen, also a Chinese doctor, also based on a personal recommendation, and someone I have come to trust immensely.
Trust me when I say that it takes a lot for me to trust someone. 🙂
Step 3: Trust the Process
If you trust the acupuncturist, you can relax on the table and trust the process. The doctor will ask why you are there or how you are doing; they may ask you to fill out forms (my biggest pet peeve anywhere I go, honestly); they may ask you to stick out your tongue for an assessment.
My biggest piece of advice: be honest. If you just lost your job or a loved one, say so. If your back hurts, say so. If you’re sad, say that, too. You don’t have to tell them all the details. But you should be honest about what hurts, whether it’s your foot, your neck…or maybe just your heart.
Based on this consultation, the doctor will insert acupuncture needles in select locations on your body. I always stay fully dressed. Sometimes, they move a heat lamp over your tummy in the winter (I love that and always think of Winnie the Pooh for some reason lol). There is usually soothing music playing, and once the needles are inserted, they dim or turn off the lights as they leave and close the door.
And then – it’s all you. You get to relax. In a way you have never probably relaxed in your entire life. For an entire 25-45 minutes. It is absolutely delicious, I tell you.
Step 4: Enjoy the Stillness
For me, the first few minutes of acupuncture are like when I wake up at 3AM and can’t sleep. My brain is frantically going over every detail of my life, my day, my to-do list, my many failures and fuck-ups, the pizza I ate (again), how many glasses of wine I had with dinner, the stupid thing I said at the absolute wrong moment, the brilliant thing I should have said at the exact right moment…you get the idea. It’s like 27 hamsters in wheels in my brain at any given time. But I’ve come to learn that in a few minutes on the table, the wheels slowly stop turning. The hamsters get off their wheels to go drink beer and eat pizza.
My heart rate goes down.
I see colors behind my closed eyes. Blue, purple, green, white, gold, orange, and only once, red. The colors come and go like pulses of energy. Electrical current. It appears in different patterns like bursts of fireworks. Often it’s concentrated behind my left eye. If you are interested in what the colors represent, read this.
During my first acupuncture session a few weeks after my stroke, all I saw behind my closed eyes was a black blob moving up and down, struggling to move around sluggish dark green and brown colors. Eventually the black blob was absorbed into the colors and disappeared. In the next session, the black blob appeared but was absorbed more quickly into the other colors, which were less muddy and more clear. By the third and final session, there was no black blob; the colors I saw were bright and clear, and I felt stronger and more at peace. I felt like my true energy was back.
Hello, me! 🙂
During my session after the divorce (once a week for six weeks), I had what I can only call lucid dreams. In one, I was walking down a tree-lined path. I could see one of my children to my right, and the other to the left. We were all on our own paths, going our separate ways, but we could see each other through the trees. It made me sad but at the same time, I knew that this was what letting go looked like. It was coming and I had to be prepared, both emotionally and spiritually. I left that session feeling ready to accept what the future held for all three of us.
If you’re thinking – “This is too out there for me,” that’s cool! Not everyone sees colors or has lucid dreams. I’m a writer and have always been more on the creative/sensitive side, so it would figure that I would have a more “creative” reaction to acupuncture. If it happens for you, lean into it. See where it takes you. But don’t let my experience deter you from trying it, especially if it can help with your pain or anxiety.
Step 5: Take care of you afterwards.
Don’t plan anything the day you have acupuncture, at least for the first time, anyway. I do it on the weekends so that I have time to rest and recharge. You might feel extra tired for 1-3 days. You might feel energized. I have the BEST sleep of my life for a week or so after a session and I don’t run the day of or the day after. I usually leave feeling peaceful and a little out of it (until I get on the road, and then my road rage tendency sneaks back out. Note to self: Uber to and from acupuncture next time.)
Other tips: drink lots of water. Take a nap if you need to. Make homemade chicken soup and watch your favorite movies. Unless you’re energized, in which case you should follow that energy wherever it takes you. Clean your house, go for a run, write a book, broker world peace — if you’re feeling it, go for it!
I will say this – sometimes, I have emotional releases after acupuncture, usually within 24 hours. The very first session I had, as soon as the needles were inserted and before the doctor even left the room, silent tears streamed down my face. It surprised me and I was embarrassed, even though no one was in the room. (Emotions? Yuck!)
It was the first time I felt like I could release the sadness in my heart from the grief that I had been suppressing after my divorce and the ensuing life events so that I could get from one day to the next. After my father’s recent death, I had a session after many months of not going and the day after, I felt a release of pent-up emotions buried so deep, for so long, I didn’t even know they were there. After a good cry, I felt…free. I felt like I had more energy. I felt relieved.
I felt at peace.
Thinking About Giving Acupuncture a Go?
Although acupuncture is not for everyone, I have found it be to a wonderful addition to my “Feel My Best” tool box. What you’ll also find in there: journaling, reading, music, dancing, running, lifting, biking, yoga, snuggling my dog, and spending time in nature. I’m always adding new things that I discover as I go. I don’t do it all, all the time – I mean, I have to work and cook and do laundry and get my oil changed like everyone else. 🙂 But I do commit time every day to one or two of these things, even it’s three minutes of breathing on the porch in the fresh air with my steaming cup of coffee and a two-minute snuggle with my dog.
Even if you’re not ready to book an acupuncture appointment today, why not think about the things that help you hit the mental “reset’ button? Make a list and prioritize the things that make you the happiest. Then book time for those things in your day, every day. Look at your calendar right now. Work in time for you and the things that make you feel your best, your happiest, and most connected to you – the real, authentic, wonderful you.
“But I don’t have time!” you say.
“Bullshit!” I say.
See what you can give up doing to make room, i.e., mindless TV, scrolling on social media. Even if it’s five minutes. Trust me. You’re worth it. 🙂
I’ll leave you with you with that because my homemade chicken soup is ready, I have laundry to fold, and I’m going to build a fire and watch cheesy romance movies with my dog. Happy Sunday everyone!!
May is National Stroke Awareness Month, so it feels like the right time to talk about what I learned from having a stroke – someone with zero risk factors. In part 1, I shared the moment the stroke happened. Here in part 2, I’ll share what came after and what I learned from being a stroke survivor.
So where were we…
I had a stroke in the parking lot of Whole Foods 42 minutes after a great 10-mile run on my favorite trail. I had been training for a half marathon. I painstakingly made my way back to my truck. The symptoms seemed to subside. I drove myself home. In hindsight, not the brightest idea of mine but we’ll put that in the bucket with the rest of them.
I walked into the house feeling out of sorts but keenly aware that my kids were home. My 19-year-old son was on his way out the door to work. I waved bye and told him to have a great day with a new lopsided smile. My 17-year-old daughter came around the corner and asked how my run went. I said, in what was I hoped was a neutral voice, “I think I had a stroke. I’m going to call an Uber and go to the hospital. Just to be safe. Nothing for you to worry about. But I have to shower first.”
Needless to say, she said absolutely NOT to the Uber and insisted on driving me. I didn’t argue with her. But I did shower. I’d just run 10 miles in 65-degree weather. I figured I had time, I remembered reading you had 3-4 hours to get to the hospital and get the “stroke drug.” Rightly or wrongly, as a runner, I am extremely dialed into my body and trust my instincts. I knew and felt in my bones that I had at least time for a quick shower. (If, in fact, I was even having the stroke that every fiber in my being told me I was having, which seemed inconceivable, given that I ate healthy, ran 30 miles a week, and did all the right things.)
Taking time to shower was a bad idea, as I was later told by the healthcare professionals who treated me. If you even THINK you are having a stroke, get your ass, no matter how sweaty, to the hospital ASAP. Call 9-1-1.
It was a reality TV montage of moments forever seared into every fiber of my being that I can never run fast or far enough to forget.
May is National Stroke Awareness Month. The COVID-19 pandemic is at the forefront of the world’s concerns at this moment, rightly so, and all the more reason to highlight how important it is to listen to your body when you are not feeling well or right.
As they say, life is what happens when you are making other plans.
It was Saturday, August 10, 2019 and my plan was training for my half marathon in October. I had just finished a 10-mile run at my favorite trail. I had been traveling a lot for work domestically and internationally. I had a million things to catch up on now that I was home for a whole week before I had to fly out again. I was elated to be home with my kids and my dog, out running on a beautiful sunny day, surrounded by trees and blue skies.
It was the bestest day. 🙂
I sat in my truck afterwards, like I always do. I drank the right amount of water, consumed my favorite gluten- and dairy-free Evolve chocolate protein shake, ate my banana. I was doing all the right things. I was happy with my run. I even posted this on Instagram:
Twenty minutes later, I drove to Whole Foods as I always do after a Saturday long run. It’s my reward – once a month I splurge on my favorite organic vegetables, fruit, salsa, and pre-prepared meals like grilled rosemary chicken. It’s nice to have someone else cook for me. 🙂 I had a craving for organic oranges that day.
I parked, put my glasses on, got out, and began walking toward the store entrance. The sun was so bright it hurt my eyes. I felt like I was standing in a lava lamp. The world shifted and morphed in goo. If you’ve ever had vertigo, it felt kinda like that. But different. Worse. Sickeningly worse.
I thought – oh. Maybe I put my glasses on too fast and the change in perception is making me nauseous. I went to take my glasses off. But nothing happened.