Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Real Life Check In: Still Falling Apart, But With STYLE (& Flamingos)

Over breakfast yesterday afternoon I read a letter from one of you readers that got me right in the gut, in a good way. It reminded me how much we connect here over the hard stuff, and that it's been a while since we had a chat about Real Life and its accompanying Hard Stuff. 

I tend to get so caught up in my crafts and projects and photos that I leave out the messier things happening around here, which can be dangerous. That could make you think, "Hey, that Jen, she's got it all together!" Or worse, it could make me think you prefer this "more perfect" version of me, which ABSOLUTELY cannot stand. I'm a broken mess and proud of it, dangit.

So hey, let's catch up.

- First, a little bad: last week I had my first full-blown panic attack since March. I made it this long through a global Pandemic and the election - so what finally convinces me I'm about to die? Taking a test drive during rush hour. Arg. We got stuck in gridlock when I didn't have my emergency Xanax with me, which set off my agoraphobia. Plus the car we were test-driving smelled TERRIBLE and the seat wouldn't let me stretch out... basically a perfect storm of sensory overload and bad timing.

Our 11-year-old Kia broke down the other week, and we've been doing that whole "do we buy a newer car or fix the old one?" dance. (Ergo the test drive.) In the end we decided to keep our old car, so John's been working to fix it up, getting new tires, lights, widgets, gizmos, etc.

Quick Cat Break, because lookit that face:

And these faces:

D'awww. There's been an ongoing battle over this blanket, so the times they share are extra adorable.

Anyhoo, having a bad panic attack after you haven't had one in a long time is a valuable - though super sucky - reminder. It reminded me I can do all the right coping things: the belly breathing and rational thoughts and icing my hands and face - and still feel completely out of control, just free-falling off that terror cliff. It reminded me my mind and body can still betray me. Mostly, though, it reminded me how far I've come, and to never take the panic-free days for granted.

Here's a panic victory to offset that bit of yuckiness, though: on Monday I did the Big Scary Thing and went in for my first pap smear & exam in over 8 years. I'd been putting it off out of fear, since I had a traumatic exam roughly 10 years ago. (The doctor, who was later fired, performed an endometrial biopsy instead of a pap. I cried for 8 hours straight.) That fear convinced me to keep putting it off. I told myself it would be too hard to find a new doctor this year anyway, and if I did, they would only lecture me once I got there anyway. But you know what? I finally, FINALLY did it. And it went fine. The nurse was amazing, and the doctor was pretty nice, too - no scolding at all. The slight pain of the exam did trigger some terrible memories, but with a preemptive Xanax and John there beside me, I got through it. Booyah. Take THAT, panic monster. Take that, PTSD.

Hmm. I think we need a silly chaser after all that serious adulting stuff. 

And I have just the thing:

I can't look in this corner without smiling. THAT DERPY FACE, omigosh.

Let's see, other than those notables I've just been facing the same world you are: avoiding stores when we can, dodging people when we can't, and learning how to safely connect with loved ones. I'm both sad and a little relieved that my parents just cancelled their visit this year, and like you, I'm brainstorming ways to still celebrate and spread a little cheer through the season.  

My biggest joy this past month has been working on a bunch of home projects for some dear friends. I've been having a blast organizing, painting, redecorating, etc. My next post I'll show you what we've just finished over there, but here are a couple sneak peeks at Tired John Mid-Process:

(I really do think they paid off, can't wait for you to see.)

Our friends are high risk and have been in strict lockdown since March, so we've been extra careful. John and I are so used to wearing our masks they're nearly second nature now. In fact we're never near anyone mask-free anymore. I'll occasionally invite a friend over to chat in person, but we stay masked until we're seated at opposite ends of the room. 

We had a lovely little Thanksgiving last week: strict mask rules and 3 distanced tables for 7 people. I even put on a nice outfit to mark the occasion with, like, a BELT and everything:

Suki is really upping her photobomb game.

Some folks will say we should have stayed home, others will say all our precautions are "living in fear." All I can say is we don't know how many more Thanksgivings we'll get with some of our loved ones, and we're doing the best we can. If you're in that same boat, know that I see you. I get it. It's not always as simple as "just wait 'til next year." So wash your hands, wear your mask, and do what you safely can to make your loved ones feel loved right now.

I will say that across-the-room and/or masked conversations feel normal now, and those little one-on-one interactions do so much for my mental health. Since I work online all day I find it extra hard to socialize here: I just want to log off to relax, not join another zoom or chat. I still try, of course, since I know that's all most of us have right now. Plus our Friday night movies on the Epbot Discord are always a blast.

That reminds me, here's something pretty stellar from last week's "Men in Black Friday" over on Discord: During K's monologue he says, "I am a figment of your imagination," which got us all joking about Figment. Then maybe 15 minutes later, John had put this together:

::singing:: "The title held by me, F-I-G,
Means what you think you saw, you did not see!"

 Oh yes, it's the Figment MIB crossover we never knew we needed! Ha! John made the tie from felt since we don't have one, and that white shirt is actually from John's Dreamfinder costume! Aww.

Bonus far shot because it's so ridiculous:

This week I was texting with Joanie Fuller from my last Dapper Day post, who just celebrated her 40th Thanksgiving with her husband, Ray. She wrote something that's stuck with me, advice I think we all need today. She said, "Never stop having fun, even if it takes looking a little silly sometimes."

I know "fun" may feel like a million miles away, but do me a favor: look for it anyway this week. Find the little ways to laugh or be silly. Don't look too far ahead or all the way up the mountain; instead focus on right now

And hey, if you're feeling disconnected or just craving a little no-pressure socializing, give Movie Night a try this Friday or Sunday over on Discord. It's literally just a text chat  - no video or voice - while we all watch The Muppet Christmas Carol together. Consider it your "fun homework"; it's easy to lurk and/or just share funny .gifs. 

And finally, remember, because this is super duper important: I will never have all my stuff together.  I lean on you, same as you lean on me sometimes. That's what makes life messy, but also worth the mess - so long as we're falling apart together. ;) 


P.S. It's a new month, which means new Squeegineer winners! And this month we're upping it to 3 winners, just as an extra thank you to all of you for being here. So congratulations, Elizabeth H., Michele C., and Lisa T., and please check your inboxes for a message from John to pick your prizes! I added a few new prize options last night, too, which are pretty awesome, if I do say so myself. ::eyebrow waggle:: (I'm working my way through my office closet and finding all KINDS of goodies.)


  1. Hey Jen,

    I see you too; none of us have it all together but we keep moving forward anyway. The moments where we connect with one another are what being human beings is all about. There are safe ways to do it, so I commend you and Jon for taking the state of the world seriously. BUT I commend you so much more for your bravery in gong back to the doctor's office. I felt inspired by one of your "real talk" posts a while back and it gave me courage to do the same. (I'd been putting off seeing a doctor for several years because of bad experiences in the past.)I realized that it was okay that I was afraid- it was perfectly normal after what I'd experienced, but you also made me realize that things can get better if you try. Sometimes you have to go through the motions more than once, but when things work out in the end by god it feels invigorating. Thanks Jen for being you and being human; rooting for you!

  2. I do not know if anyone else has family who would appreciate Coordinated Silly Hats or felt crowns or photobooth-style props to make you all feel more "together" over Zoom, but if so: maybe get some sorted out and in the mail. :-) A surprise package *plus* a silly outfit addition for Christmas?

  3. I am sorry for your panic attack, I am not sorry for your openness. As an extremely open person I really appreciate it in others, as it fosters relationship and trust :)

  4. I follow someone on Facebook. Her father is high-risk and can't come visit. They did something awesome. They got a full-length picture of him and got a life-sized cardboard cutout of him. They call it "Flat Papa". He is included in all their celebrations, holidays, and just goofy stuff in general. They face time or zoom her dad and show him what Flat Papa has been up to, and he loves it.

  5. Replies
    1. The movie on Friday is at 8:30 PM Eastern. The Sunday showing is at 3 PM Eastern.

  6. Jen, if you had it all together, you'd be absolutely annoying. :p

    As it is, you're amazing and inspiring. Because you are willing to show us how you face your challenges, you help others find hope. Your projects and your blogs and your photos and your finds inject joy into a world that sorely needs it.

    Never ever think you're not enough: you are so very much and we are lucky to have you.

  7. Huge virtual hugs to you, Jen! You and John have continued to shine such a beautiful light through all of this - I love seeing all your projects you've been doing and how you've been such a wonderful example of still doing great things while protecting others with your safety precautions.

    And, as so often happens, this came on a day when I really needed to read a lot of what you said, so thank you so much for that.

    Agent FIG is super cool, I'm looking forward to Muppet CHristmas Carol, and I can't wait to see this next project reveal! ^_^

  8. Unless it's user error (which is possible) the Discord link didn't work. Please help.

  9. That flamingo placement is everything I needed today. Thank you.

  10. My household is a high risk for others (highschool teacher) so we're not seeing anyone this Christmas. Instead we're having a family video call remote escape room new year bonanza. Woo!

  11. Love the flamingo! Maybe you could get it a hedgehog friend to hang out in the tree? (and now I want to see Mickey earns on a hedgehog...)

  12. Love the cat pictures. And kudos to Suki for her photo-bombing skills!
    Time to go back to work.

  13. Hey, the whole making hard decisions during this crazy global pandemic we're all there with you. I dont know any two people who are making the same decisions so its hard to feel like everything/anything you do is right. All we can do is our best. And pray the people we love who arent being as careful will be protected and the people being more careful will have fun despite their self quarantine. This is probably the weirdest year we'l ever have (hopefully) thanks for encouraging us to be silly and fun because i think thats something that needs to be brought to the front again. Lets enjoy this season anyway we can.

  14. That FIG is hilarious! And I agree, it's not as easy as "just wait until next year." This has already dragged on longer than anyone expected it to, even in the areas with strong quarantines, and you just can't say what's going to happen. We have to find ways to live our live while still being safe. We can't just put everything on fast forward until "things go back to normal," because who knows when that will be? Make our new normal, and learn to enjoy it! Personally, I love being able to visit with family via Zoom that I wouldn't be able to see regularly even in normal times, and my dog adores me working from home.

  15. Oh my god smears where the person doing it SCOLDS you. I have a tilted cervix so at the best of times it's tricky. the last time I had already had 3 different people take a shot at it across two separate appointments before being referred to a gynaecology specialist GP (things are different here in the UK). I was so pleased to be seeing a specialist because I wanted to talk to her about my problems with contraception and could she recommend something else. But when I told her we weren't using any at the moment, before waiting to find out why, she just SCOLDED me! like I was 15 and not 48. like I was just stupid instead of having problems. She was horrible. And then of course I have to lie back with my knees spread for this woman who's just told me off to go poking and scraping around inside me. It was awful. I cried when I got home. A lot. so I don't blame Jen AT ALL for putting it off and I am SO glad that the next person she saw for it was kind.

  16. Love that flamingo. Perfect spot for him. 😆😆😆

  17. Thank you for sharing the hard, messy parts of life, and I'm SO PROUD of you for overcoming your trauma and doctor fear. Even though Pap tests are considered 'routine', they're really important. For reasons that I will never know, my sister didn't get one for years and years. By the time she finally saw a doctor (only at a friend's insistence), the cervical cancer was so far along that even with chemo and radiation, and then later surgery, she did not survive. I try to take the opportunity whenever I can to encourage all women & girls to make sure to get regular exams & Pap tests. It could save your life. Thank you for setting a great example and doing the hard thing, and then sharing that experience with all of us. You are a wonderfully imperfect person, but sometimes it's hard to see those imperfections, because you're so amazing!

  18. Jen, thank you so much for your voice. For embracing yourself, even when it feels impossible. It makes it a little easier for those of us in the same boat to think maybe we can do it to. Your websites (Cake Wreck follower for 15+ yrs) brighten my day more than I could ever express. Your stories and crafts inspire me to be creative, have fun, and accept myself, depression/anxiety and all.

  19. Hi girl! Just a note to say you (and everyone here!) are awesome. Now, for a tidbit to (hopefully) make you laugh: I seriously read your description of the pictures of John as "a sneak peek at John, mid-princess." I was wondering where his tiara was. He could totally rock one!

    You looked so cute for Thanksgiving, and Suki gave me a belly laugh with her photobomb. Eva, you need to get in on all the glam action and photos!

  20. You and John are so awesome. I love MIB Figment!

    Also, I've had an endometrial biopsy, and I think it was the worst pain ever. I can't imagine thinking you were getting a pap and getting that. That doc deserved to be fired and stripped of their medical license. But good on you for getting your exam! I'm glad it went better this time.

    Happy Holidays, Jen and John!!!

  21. I have a pair of those flamingos! I ordered them directly from Walt Disney World quite a few years ago. They have aged considerably in my front flower bed, and I’m afraid to try to order them again because I’m afraid they no longer stock them. I love them dearly, and seeing yours in prime condition put a big smile on my face!

  22. Well I guess I'll go ahead and add my story...

    A few years ago I had a period that lasted 50-60 days or so. I finally took myself in and the female gyn wanted to do a biopsy. I asked what it would feel like and she said it would feel no worse than the worst pap I'd ever had. I'm pretty tough so I told her to go ahead.

    I don't know how I didn't kick her teeth out. She didn't get anything the first time and had to go back in. The pain was worse than recovering from a c-section without morphine, which I had already done twice.

    Honestly though, the hardest part for me wasn't the pain. It was being lied to. My a fellow woman. The trauma is so bad I haven't had a gyn exam since, even though the testing found a fibroid AND an ovarian cyst. I even struggle laying back for a dental cleaning since that day. Anything that makes me feel physically vulnerable is very hard.

    I'm truly very sorry to hear others have been through anything even remotely similar. Hugs to you all.

  23. nicolebridget22@hotmail.comDecember 4, 2020 at 4:36 PM

    Oh Jen, I'm so glad you went for that PAP, and that everything's fine. And thank you for talking about your anxiety about that sort of thing. The PAP appointment was in my top 3 biggest fears in life, right between cancer and needles. I would lose sleep for 2 days before the appt, and I always put it off 2-3 years at a time before my husband or friend would drag me in there. Last time I went, it had been almost 3 years, and the ONLY reason I showed up was I wanted to go a period-reducing BC and they made me. Turned out they discovered "pre-cancerous" lesions on my cervix during my routine PAP. After a couple painful procedures to that area, biopsies and whatnot, they told me it wasn't PRE cancerous, it was actual cervical cancer, stage 1B1. I had to have a hysterectomy at age 39, but thankfully didn't need chemo or radiation. If I had put off my PAP for another year, the cancer would have spread and I would have needed chemo and radiation, plus the odds of recurrence (and death) would have skyrocketed. The universe REALLY toughened me up through all this, my top 3 biggest fears: cancer, PAPs and needles. And over the next 3 years I had multiple procedures from surgery complications where I was needled over and over and over, and recovery included PAPs every 3mos.

    I just want you and anyone reading my comment to hear this...I KNOW that PAP appointment is awkward and horrible and sometimes painful, but you guys, please just get it done. Do whatever you have to do to get there. Get it done every single year (I know they say we can go 3yrs now, but that's reckless and ill advised). I could have died. Please be brave or, if you just can't, get a friend to be brave for you and drag your butt in there.

  24. Hey Jen, thanks again for the mask pattern!
    I recently had to wear an ear-loop mask for ~6 hours and it was *so* uncomfortable around my ears. I'm so glad I have the masks I made to your pattern to wear when I go in to the lab.

  25. Thank you so much for your openness and vulnerability and for everything you've shared. Random question from someone also trying to navigate the not-black-and-white-ness of connection and risk management: since Florida is warmer, is there a reason to meet up inside instead of outside? All the data seems to show that being outside reduces the risks of transmission by a huuuuuuge amount - way more than just being 6 feet apart where air can still circulate. This is a genuine question, not a judgement! I'm in relatively chillier Boston and so wish I were in a warmer climate where I could just do all my socializing outside. Best wishes to you in navigating all the complexities right now, and tons of appreciation for doing so in public!

    1. You make a great point, and we did have "porch dinner" with another couple just last week on their screened-in porch. Tbh it's only JUST gotten cool enough here in Florida to be outside for more than a few minutes, which has been the main issue, along with mosquitoes and a lack of places to

      I know it's weird, but down here the weather is so hot and muggy 95% of the year that we live almost exclusively indoors. I'm hoping in another month or so it'll get cold & dry enough to keep the bugs away, and then I'll for sure be sitting out on the deck with anyone who visits. :)

  26. Thank you for your bravery in sharing this. I can't go into details rn or the panic monster may overwhelm me but I'll just say ME TOO. Lying gynecologists and traumatic procedures and PTSD and horrid and I'm so sorry for your experiences.


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