Mental Illness

I have struggled with the decision to write this.  In many ways, it is none of anyone’s business, but at the same time, I wonder if my experience can help someone else who is dealing with similar circumstances. And I know people have questions. This won’t begin to answer all those, but it’s a start.

My daughter, Sarah, struggles with mental illness.  Hers is not the type that can be medicated; it’s much more on the sociopathic side of the house.  This has resulted in all sorts of unpleasant behaviors, from continuous lying to manipulation to preying on those she considers to be “weak” to animal abuse.  She doesn’t have the “normal” emotions of compassion or regret, which makes real change almost impossible (why change when you are getting what you want by using people guilt free?). She is also incredibly charming, so those who only know Sarah on the surface can’t begin to understand our life together.

In October of last year, I decided we could no longer live under the same roof due to fear for my animal’s lives (as well as my own to be completely transparent). I also felt that after 8 years of structure, love, and more types of therapy than I can count, perhaps this was the last chance she had at making a real change. Kind of the “maybe if she hits rock bottom” theory of life. So, we went through the long process of having her moved to a group home; that happened in March.  According to the adults there, she isn’t making much progress. She is the most manipulative client they have had (is it wrong to be thankful they immediately saw that?), she preys on the weaker girls, she lies, her grades are not great (she has the intelligence to be a straight A student), etc. She tells me she is working hard in counseling, but somehow that isn’t reflected in her day to day life. I don’t know what the future holds for her, but it looks a bit grim from where I stand.

It’s been a rough time for both of us.  I’d like to say it’s much harder on her, but I’m honestly not sure she has the emotional capacity to be impacted much by life events. I have thought long and hard about what has “created” this in my child, and what we can do to prevent it from happening to other children.

The foster/adoption system is broken.  I don’t think that is news to anyone, but I have had a much closer view into it than most. And I am going to say something that the system might view as totally radical. Reunification should NOT always be the goal.  Sometimes, parents should get 1 strike, maybe sometimes they get 2… and then they need to be done parenting.  Sarah’s birth parents had approximately a million chances.  And the courts never did take away their rights to her; they eventually surrendered them (but were allowed to keep her 4 younger siblings, because THAT makes sense). Sarah and all of her siblings were physically abused by her father, and her mother stood by and did nothing.  Her father was in prison for a year for statutory rape of the babysitter, yet the children remained in the home, even after he was released.

In my opinion, this maniacal focus on reunification is what ultimately caused Sarah’s mental illness. When you are yanked in and out of the foster care system, reunited with your birth parents, abused over and over again… it turns out the young developing brain snaps.  And those wires can’t ever be repaired or reconnected.

I don’t know how to fix the system.  I have known amazing and wonderful DSS workers, both on Sarah’s case and others, but they are understaffed and underpaid and overworked.  When Sarah’s family moved from the mountains to the beach, I asked if the authorities there would be notified.  I was told that they can choose to make a courtesy call to the agency in the new county, but that honestly, no one would check on them unless something was reported, because they simply don’t have any extra cycles.

So what do we do about this? I don’t have answers, but it’s a discussion that desperately needs to happen.  There are 500,000 children in the foster care system, and many of them will wind up like Sarah. Attachment is impossible, trust doesn’t exist, and there is no fix. And then we throw them out into society when they are 18 and wish them luck. We owe these children so much more.


How to embrace the future?

It’s taken me a long time to write about the events of last November.  Mostly because I could not articulate my emotions about that election.  How on earth did people I know and love vote for a man who has shown such contempt for women, people of color, people of various religious backgrounds; basically anyone who wasn’t a white man?  How did my America reach a point where anything was better than the status quo?

I am registered Independent. I was raised on the right, and have certainly moved to the left in most of my ideology as I have matured.  But I will still always vote for the person I consider to be the “best” candidate.  I vividly remember when Clinton was up for his 2nd term.  In my head, I thought “There is no way he will be re-elected.”  We knew for a fact at that point that he had relations with a 22yo intern and had cheated on his wife numerous times.  I thought “America has values and morals; we care about the character of the person leading our country.”  But I was proven wrong, and here I am again, absolutely baffled.

I hate the political system, especially at the Washington level.  I believe with all of my heart that you can NOT be president of this nation without “playing the game,” being a little or maybe a lot dishonest, stroking some egos, going along with the system to get what you want even if you privately disagree with the folks you are supporting.  But how did we get this extreme?  How did we elect a man who has said so many incredibly ignorant things and shown himself repeatedly to be an arrogant rich asshole?

I do not think the next 4 years will make us great again. I am AFRAID for our nation. But  I will pray for Donald Trump. I will pray he finds decent people to surround and guide him.  I will pray we don’t end up in multiple wars in the next 4 years. I will pray that he commits not only to the police force, but to black lives, and LGBT lives, and all other lives, and that he does his best to end the corruption that seems to be so prevalent in so many of our systems.  I will pray that he rewards those who do the hardest jobs in America with better pay, while insisting on higher accountability. I will pray that our education system is not totally decimated. I will pray that those who need healthcare the most can get it. I will pray our national parks do not become oil fields. I will pray that global warming isn’t callously disregarded. And I will pray that all the wonderful folks who marched all over the country yesterday come out and VOTE next time.  Turns out, it’s really important.


My dad, a love story

My dad passed away today.  He has been sick for several years with a horrible disease called Multiple System Atrophy or MSA.  We always knew it would take him from us some day, but the timing was completely unknown. He went into the hospital with some weakness, seemed to rally, and then very suddenly and very unexpectedly stopped eating and drinking. And then we knew. Mom called in hospice and brought him home. I hurried up to Indiana and told him I loved him. He told me he loved me too. I rubbed his feet (one of his favorite things), and we sat quietly with him until he went to be with God.

Like many girls, my dad was my hero.  I don’t really know how to do life without him. He taught me so much about how to truly live.

I have so many wonderful memories and life lessons. Like the day when I was a teenager that he sat me down and visually explained credit card debt using pencil and paper.  I have never had a credit card balance in my life thanks to that lesson. I also have a near perfect credit rating due to his insistence that you don’t owe people money, you pay your debts ahead of time, and you live a financially responsible life.  He and my mom paid cash for almost every car they ever owned.  He invested wisely so my mom does not have to worry now that he is gone. We were never rich, at least in the way society defines it, but we were always secure.

We went on a family vacation every year.  They were fun, although sometimes a bit regimented.  One might have thought my dad used to be military based on the schedule he set for our travels. But they were amazing and I have vivid memories of caverns and Disney and San Antonio and so many other wonderful adventures.

My dad was a tall man with a deep booming voice. He intimidated the HELL out of potential boyfriends in high school.  They had to come to the door, ring the doorbell, and meet him before I could go out.  He gave a firm (probably bone crushing) handshake and said, in his deepest baritone, “Hello Young Man, come in.”  He was never a dad who threatened bodily harm if I wasn’t home in time; once they saw and heard him, it simply was not necessary.  And I never told them that he was actually a ginormous teddy bear; it was our little secret.

My dad rarely gave advice, so when he did, I usually listened.  Like “Regrets are a waste of your time. You can learn from the past, but you need to live for today.”  Or when I was choosing whether to accept UNC or Duke for my MBA, and he said “I understand what you are saying about their rankings, but if you don’t intend to live in NC for your entire life, a whole lot more folks will be impressed by a Duke MBA. You should go there.”

My mom and dad were married for over 50 years. Theirs is the ultimate love story. They truly enjoyed each other’s company. They continued to date and travel and golf and do life together until dad got sick. They said “I love you,” often followed by “forever and 2 days,” every single day.  My dad adored my mom and she was his rock through his entire illness.  To the very  end, he looked for her when he needed any sort of comfort or reassurance that all was well. And she never left his side. She stayed in the hospital and fed him and brought him home to finish his journey in peace. She sat beside his hospital bed, gave him kisses, bathed him, shaved his face, held his hand, and gazed into his eyes with the most brilliant love I have ever seen. I am so blessed to have grown up as their daughter, even if I never could replicate their love story.


These gingerbread men have been in my parents house forever. I don’t know if dad bought them for mom or vice versa.

Most of all, my dad was proud of me. And I knew it. He was proud of my heart and my intelligence and my degrees and my work with IBM and my commitment to Horse and Buddy. During my high school and college years while my dad was working, I would meet up with him for lunch and his friends knew all about me before I ever met them. It’s hard to explain how much that means to a daughter.

Anyone who knows my family or sees us on Facebook quickly realizes that I am the spitting image of my mother.  I’ve often wondered if any part of me physically resembled my dad.  We won’t talk about the stubborn streak or hard-headedness. We all know those came directly from him. But as I was sitting with him in his final days, he lifted his hand in the air.  I looked at that beautiful hand, the one that held mine so tightly when I was a little girl, and realized that all his fingers bend backwards, just like mine.  It may have been his final gift to me.

I will miss him forever.

I love you Papa.  SO SO Much.





The first day of the rest of my life…

I always think this phrase is an odd one.  Isn’t every day the first day of the rest of your life?  However, I guess there are some days that are a bit more monumental than others, and today is certainly one of those.

Tomorrow is my last day with IBM.  I graduated from college with a degree in Computer Science in 1987.  Back in my day, everyone in the techie world wanted to work for IBM.  Big Blue was the place to be; a great company with unparalleled talent, and a core value of Respect for the Individual. It was everything I imagined. I loved my boss, my coworkers, and the work we did. We were a team. We were rewarded when we did great things. We were appreciated and we knew it.

Somewhere down the line, that all changed, and it still makes me sad. However, they paid all my bills, sent me to Duke for an MBA, and helped me travel around the world to some amazing places for the greater part of almost 30 years. I have met some of the most talented, amazing, funny, kind people I have ever known at this company. Many of them helped me through the darkest days of my life. I will miss them, but I know many will be lifelong friends. While I will always be disappointed that the Big Blue ride switched from respect and loyalty to executives insisting you prove your worth through blog posts and Powerpoint presentations, I certainly appreciate the lifestyle and friendships that IBM has allowed me to enjoy.

Last year, I turned 50. In Ireland, which was amazing. My life is more than halfway over. A lot of “stuff happened” last year.  In hindsight, it was probably one of the best years of my life, even when it didn’t feel that way. It forced me to really look at my priorities. And my dreams. As most anyone reading this will know, I have run a non profit organization “in my spare time” for the past 15 years. For the past few years, that work has been the equivalent of a 2nd full time job, done nights and weekends. I have known for awhile that it was time to make some changes. But it was a very long leap off a very tall and comfortable cliff and it was super scary. It still is. But it’s time. Way Past Time.

So off I go joyfully into Part II of my life’s journey. The part where I wake up every day and know that I am making a difference in peoples’ lives. The part where I know my destiny on God’s Earth is finally being fulfilled. I hope Horse and Buddy is ready for me, because I am ready to be their full time fearless leader.

I don’t know how this will all work out, but what I know for sure is that life is short. We aren’t guaranteed one more day. We are here to help others. We are supposed to make a difference. What are we waiting for?


The year in review

2015 was one Hell of a year.  Mostly Hellacious to be perfectly honest.  But as with all things, there is good among the bad, and every experience brings something new to learn I suppose.  So, here is my list of lessons/revelations for 2015 with a pledge to focus on the good and leave the past behind in the New Year.

  • Life is way too short to be miserable. Or to hang out with miserable people.
  • Ireland is the most magical place I have been in my life.  Turning 50 there was a good decision.  If Trump is elected president, I may just move there permanently.
  • God blessed me with amazing friends.  I already knew this, but 2015 reminded me again.  And again.
  • When someone shows you who they are, you should believe them the first time.  And surely by the 10th time, you need to pull your head out of your arse and walk away.
  • My daughter is turning into a really wonderful person.  She continues to prove that you can overcome a really traumatic beginning if you put in the work required.
  • The heart and the brain are sometimes on completely different pages.  Maybe not even in the same book.  But eventually, the heart catches up and you move on.
  • I have the very best parents in the entire world.  Seriously.
  • At any point in life, you get to decide who gets to be part of your family, and who does not.
  • You can neither give nor receive too many hugs.
  • Having something furry and warm to greet you when you come home makes every single day better.
  • There is a reason your ex is your ex.  In most cases, trying to be friends is not a viable option.
  • Consumption of large amounts of alcohol never fixes anything and often makes things much worse.  However, a little bit of rum can help navigate some of life’s hurdles.
  • There are angels everywhere; you just have to let them touch you.
  • Regrets are useless.  Don’t put things off; tomorrow is not guaranteed.
  • No matter how bad things may seem, blessings surround you.
  • I am never going to love the gym.  I love the results though, so I will continue to drag myself there, kicking and screaming like a toddler.
  • A debate held on Facebook is never going to change someone’s mind.  If their opinions make you crazy, there is a fabulous little button called “Unfriend.”
  • My final lesson:  “Do for one what you wish you could do for everyone.” This was the message at my mom’s church on Sunday and it really resonated with me.  Invest your time, talent, and energy into helping ONE person, ONE organization.  Stop giving $10 to everyone and invest in a cause or person you can truly impact and stick with them for the long haul.  It could be the first step in changing the world.

Macy’s birthday

As most of my friends know, I lost my daughter Macy 15 years ago.  She died 3 days before her due date.  It takes top billing as the biggest tragedy of my life.

Every year on her birthday, I take the day off to do something “I would have done with her if she had lived.” I would love to say I came up with that brilliance on my own, but it actually came from my very good (and clearly brilliant) friend Jordan. When he told me to do that (vs. lying in bed crying with the blankets pulled over my head per MY plan), I was neither happy nor gracious.  But I got up in year 1 and went to the zoo.  And cried a lot.  And laughed a little bit at all the kids who were crying and whining (it was hot, there was a drought, and all water fountains were turned off).  My Macy was content to go where ever I took her and waited patiently as I wiped thousands of tears away.

Since then, we have gone back to the zoo, we have been to the water park, we have explored Mt. Airy, we have had mani/pedis, and for the past 2 years we have driven to the closest beach. It’s always a sad day; I write in my Macy journal, I read all my happy pregnancy entries and all the gut wrenching entries after she died.  I replay the days leading up to her death over and over in my head, and wonder why I was too stupid to know something was terribly wrong. Last year, however, was a bit better.  I had considered going to the beach many times, but I always woke up and thought, “Gosh, 6 hours of driving for 4 hours of beach/dinner time seems kind of crazy.”  It may be (although taking your deceased daughter places on her birthday may trump that), but the beach is my place. The ocean, with its endless horizon, feeds my soul like nothing else.  There seem to be two types of people – beach people and mountain people.  I am 100% beach.  Mountains make me claustrophobic, although I can certainly tolerate them for a beautiful waterfall (sensing a theme?).  I like to believe I was a mermaid in a previous life.

So after the success of last year, I decided that was it.  We would always go to the beach, assuming the weather supported it.  I got up this year, and was met with the usual overwhelming sadness.  I thought once again, “If I can get through this day one more time…”   I cried a bit, I packed up, and I got in the truck to head east.  And then something weird started to happen which is why I eventually had to write it all down.  First, the sun was shining through thin clouds.  You know how just a few rays come through and it’s So darned pretty and you think “How does anyone doubt there is a God in a world that is this beautiful?”  It was that sort of morning. And I thought, “Thanks Macy; I needed a sign and there you are as always.  Right on time.”


This is NOT the picture from when I was driving, but it is similar!

As I drove, I realized that I wasn’t sad at all.  As a matter of fact, I was almost happy.  I started thinking about the day she died, but instead of my usual tears, I remembered the people who were the gifts in my life. It started with my pastor, Ray Wickham.  He was one of the first phone calls we made when we realized she was gone.  I am certain he drove 120mph to get from Cary to Duke Hospital.  He arrived in what seemed like minutes while we were still in triage.  He held me for a long time while I sobbed all over him.  Then he said, “Janet, I know why this happened. There is a Biblical reason.  Do you want to know?”  I looked at him and said “OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKK” through my sobs.  He said “The Bible says, ‘It just sucks.'”  He made me laugh at a moment I was certain I would never laugh again in my entire life.  For those who wonder why I drive an hour to church every Sunday; that moment, combined with the most amazing memorial service ever delivered, are two big reasons.

My wonderful, amazing, one of a kind, damn I am lucky, mother somehow got on a plane and was by my side before that day was out.  I don’t know how I could have gotten through it without her.  Then again, I can say that about every single thing that has ever happened in my life, good or bad.  I am so BLESSED that God gave her to me.

Chris, Nick, Andrew, Marissa.  The children who own such a huge piece of my heart.  There were some dark years in the middle, but we came through them and found each other again.  We were always meant to be.

My friends, especially Mary, who dropped all her vacation plans and drove back home to be with me. My friend Cathy, who flew in from Illinois to stay with me and reminded me that “People say the dumbest things at funerals and you just have to nod and assume their intentions are pure.” My IBM coworkers, Kevin, Apryl, Sonal, Becky, Ginger, Dayna, Tom, Jason, John, Steve, Tuck, Maryann, Don, Robin, Lynn and all the others I am forgetting to mention.  They loved me through the pregnancy and they loved me through my loss.

My church youth group who were so crazy in love with my baby girl.  They wrote me amazing letters after she died.  I still have them all.

My friend Debbie and my cousin Jennifer who sent me cards not only when Macy died, but for years afterwards to let me know they were thinking of me.  I still have all those too.


The drawer of cards.  Should I throw them away? I think not. The purple ones up top are from the youth.

After replaying all of those memories for the first hour or so, I started thinking about all the amazing things and people that have come into my life in the past 15 years.  Especially those things that frankly, never would have happened if she lived:

  • Sarah, my amazing teenager
  • Marge, my 2nd mom
  • My dogs (6 may be obsessive, whatever)
  • Dakota, my awesome horse
  • My 100+ year old farmhouse that I adore even when I am freezing to death in winter
  • My Siler City posse: Joyce, Lea, Kris.  I love you ladies.
  • Trisha and Emma Reese, the first baby I was mentally ready to hold in almost 13 years.
  • Jennifer (still not sure how I made it through this without knowing you)

Maybe most important… Definitely most important… there would be no Horse and Buddy if Macy had lived.  I would never have been brave enough to commit so much of my time to something that was a leap of faith.  I would have stayed in the corporate world so I had enough money to buy her a pony :-), lived in the suburbs so she could attend the “good” schools, and kept a big safety net around me at all times.  I drove along I-40 thinking about the lives that the program has changed: the first words, the first steps, the improvements in so many important little areas, and the joy, and the joy, and the joy.

I finally reached the ocean, parked my truck, and started to walk across the street.  Some guy ran the light, but instead of going all the way through, he stopped in the middle of the intersection and backed up.  I was standing there trying to cross, but was afraid to go behind him in case he ran me over, and afraid to go in front since I would pretty much be in the road.  As I was contemplating this, the car behind him rolled down the window and yelled “JANET!!!”  In the teeny tiny small world we live in, there sat some Horse and Buddy parents.  Wonderful fabulous supportive parents who I love.  I ran across the street (behind the car who had stopped by this time) and hugged the wife.  She said they were just there for the day to celebrate their anniversary.  I said “ME TOO!  Not the anniversary but just for the day!”   The light turned green, we told each other to have fun, and I walked off to the beach, shaking my head.  I don’t know if I have reached the “Everything happens for a reason” stage nor do I think I will ever get there until I can ask the Big Man some important questions on the other side, but WOW.  I thanked Macy and God again for yet another sign that life is actually quite good.


Me and my Macy tattoo hanging out at the ocean


Clearly I AM the world’s worst blogger.  It’s so odd; I love to write.  The problem is that I tend to write when I am upset. It’s cathartic.  I don’t write when I am happy and content.  I need to fix that.

But today I rant. About Ferguson. Here’s the thing: I don’t have an opinion on whether or not the officer should have been acquitted.  You know why?  I wasn’t there. I don’t know what happened. Only two people truly do:  one is dead and the other would probably not want everyone to know every intimate detail of the encounter.  The violence seemed excessive.  The kid seemed troubled.  But I was not there and I do not know the truth.  

Here is what I do know.  We have an alarming problem with racism.  African Americans are treated completely differently than us white folk.  Every.Single.Day.  You can watch it on the news, you can read tons of statistics with a simple Google search, or better yet.. you can go out with your African American friends and see how people react.  Check out the looks you get when you have dinner with one of your BFFs who just so happens to have a darker skin tone than yours.  Heaven forbid one of them happens to be male and you are a white woman.  Go shopping at the mall and see how quickly a uniform is nearby.  Or how closely the store clerk monitors them.  It’s not your imagination and it’s not right and I’m not even sure it’s better than it was 20 or 30 or 100 years ago.  Sometimes I think it’s just more hidden.

I had a wonderfully kind friend who helped me a few years ago with projects in “this old house” where I live.  He felt a bit concerned when he saw the Confederate flag flying in a neighbor’s yard.  And please oh PLEASE don’t get defensive with your southern pride.  Have you ever asked your African American friends how it makes them feel? Every friend I have asked initially downplays it, but then admits it makes them a little tense, or a bit nervous, or more cautious.  Surely there is a better way to be prideful.

Of course, I also have the distinct pleasure of living not far from an idiot who used to fly the Aryan nation flag along with his Confederate flag, just in case any of us wondered where he stood. What flag do African Americans who hate white people get to fly?   It’s all freedom of speech right???  Of course, if such a flag existed and someone chose to fly it, I have to believe they would have a cross burning in their front yard by nightfall.  And just so you don’t think I blame the south in any way for this problem, the Ku Klux Klan originated in my home state of Indiana. I certainly find no pride in that.

I really like to think I am not racist.  I have tons of African American friends.  Many of them are like family to me.  I would do anything for them. I believe there are good people and bad people whether you are White, Black, Hispanic. Asian, Muslim or Pink with Purple Polka Dots.  However, several years ago, one of my close friends said, “If you go into a mall, and you walk by a group of black guys… does your hand reach over to hold onto your purse?  Because that happens to us all the time.”  I thought “WELL OF COURSE NOT!”  But you know what?  The next time I was out and about, I was hyper vigilant.  And my hand did do that. Unconsciously. Shame on me. Shame on a whole lot of us.

I adopted my daughter when she was 8 years old.  She was raised to believe black people were bad.  We had many long talks about it, and she met enough of my friends to change her mind. But when she got to high school, she started dating a boy who was racist.  She told him it was “OK as long as he didn’t say that stuff in front of her because it bothered her.”  She is 14; how many of us who are old enough to know better say the same thing?  “It’s OK for him to be my friend even though he’s racist; I’m not and he’s a lot of fun.”  But you know what?  It’s not OK.  I told my daughter it’s NOT OK.  We have to have integrity and values and then we have to stick to them.  All the time.

I would like to end world hunger, resolve educational issues, stop exploitation of women, and get rid of stupid politics based on party lines. But more than anything else, I would like us to look at each other and not see race.  Maybe a whole bunch of those other issues could be resolved if we could understand that we are all in this together.

Rant off.