Life By Kristen

Go, and embrace your liberty. And see what wonderful things come of it. – Little Women

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Book Spotlight: Committed

CAREGIVING FOR CRAZY

Introducing: Committed: A Memoir of Madness in The Family

by Paolina Milana

Los Angeles – May 2021 – Imagine keeping a family secret about your mother’s mental illness and growing up as one of the offspring charged with “caring for crazy.” Then, to compound the horror, witnessing another version of schizophrenia as it consumes your younger sister – who you practically raised yourself, thanks to your mother’s frailty. To see Paolina Milana as an example of resilience might be the understatement of all time. 

As a 20-year-old, Paolina gets a chance to escape her circumstances by attending an out-of-state school, but the madness she tries to leave behind will not let her be as letter after letter arrives, constantly reminding her of the insanity from which she longs to break free. Making matters worse, the voices in her own head whispering words she’s not sure are normal, further her fears. “Please don’t make me be like Mamma,” she prays to a God she’s not sure is listening.

The unexpected death of her father soon after she returns home leaves Paolina in shock—becoming fully in charge of her paranoid schizophrenic mother. But it isn’t until at age 27, when her younger sister explodes in a psychotic episode, is diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and must be committed, that Paolina descends into her own despair, nearly losing herself to the darkness.

Beautifully written with flourishes of handwritten letters (in Italian) from her parents, recordings of her own inner voices challenging her every move, and a heartbreaking slew of sticky notes revealing the harrowing thoughts of her sister’s delusional mind, Paolina’s epistolary memoir invites readers into her inner circle of intimate encounters with mental illness. Poignant and impactful, Committed is a story of resilience that teaches and inspires, not as a tidy narrative, but as an authentic and rare share that speaks to the struggle of staying sane despite being surrounded by madness.

BIO

Paolina Milana’s mission is to share stories that celebrate the triumph of the human spirit: To unleash the power that lies within each of us to bring about change for the better. 

Milana’s professional background is rooted in journalism where as a features writer for a major daily newspaper in the Midwest, she told the stories of other people. Then she moved to the field of PR/media and digital marketing as an executive in both corporate and non-profit environments. Given her experience in an emotionally tumultuous household where she was put in the position of caregiver to unstable family members, she is uniquely qualified to serve as a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) for children in foster care and as an empowerment and resiliency coach, using storytelling to help people reimagine their lives, write their next chapters, and become the heroes of their own journeys. 

Paolina has won awards for her writing, including her first book, The S Word, which received the National Indie Excellence Award. Her self-help picture book for adults, Seriously! Are We There Yet?!, and her holiday fiction novel, Miracle on Mall Drive both published in late 2020. Paolina is first-generation Sicilian, married, and lives on the edge of the Angeles National Forest in Southern California.

Find it here!

Languishing

That’s the word for what I’m feeling — and have been feeling- for much of the last six months or so. Part of the reason this space has been so quiet– is I honestly haven’t had much to say about anything.

Apparently, I’m not the only one– here’s a whole NY Times article about it!.

My family is well– all vaccinated! Well minus the toddler, who, somehow, is going to be 2 in May. How time flies and goes so slowly all at the same time.

We’re getting out of the house and the state soon to FINALLY introduce our son to some of the most important people in our lives who the pandemic has kept us from.

Nothing else to report, just to check in, months later, languishing still.

Is This Thing On?

This space has been quiet because honestly, I haven’t had anything to say that isn’t being said by more prolific folks, and because I’m in such a routine of life to SURVIVE, that I couldn’t quite seem to find the mental space and energy to write.

My word for 2020 was THRIVE. Which rhymes with what everyone’s word for 2020 ended up being- SURVIVE.

2020 will be a year that will take a bit more time away from to process what actually happened. It’s hard for me to say how it effected me– I was able to stay home, safe and healthy with my little family, and am grateful that all of my people can do the same. We never had to wonder where our next meal was coming from, we had toilet paper, and each other– and isn’t that enough? The unrest of politics and our cultural upheaval in the wake of the George Floyd murder and various protests left me feeling anxious and unsure of life- even with November’s victory for Biden, I’m still waiting for the sigh of relief that I hope January 20th brings.

So did I THRIVE in 2020? I guess in the definition of the word, no, but we did THRIVE as a family, growing and prospering over the hardships of the year.

Did I accomplish any of my goals? Sort of– I achieved 3 out of 7: I read 50 books (53 exactly). We did some stuff around the house to ready it for sale, though not as much as we hoped since we didn’t exactly want various contractors coming into our space.

Q and I had exactly 2 dates in 2020: one was dinner out for my birthday, a week or two before the world shut down, and a random Saturday in November where we did some basement cleaning, took a trip to the town dump, and took a daytime nap while my mother watched the little guy. We didn’t pay off the car loan, but will be doing that next month. I didn’t donate blood, we obviously didn’t travel anywhere, and my lack of writing here is about the same amount of writing I was doing in other places.

Yet despite the bummer of the year that 2020 was, it also was sort of a bit of a gift at the same time. For 3 months I spent every day with my family and I know that’s something we’ll never replicate again ( not sure we’d want to anyway haha). It made us realize what really matters in life and got us focused on our little family. I miss friends and family like crazy and want to go back to normal badly, but I know we are incredibly grateful for the life we have and the few disruptions we experienced over the last 10 months or so.

Going into 2021 I’m cautiously optimistic about what we might be able to do– hugging our friends and family and getting our son to meet his great aunt and great grandma is pretty high on the to-do list ( as is eating in a restaurant again). We’re mostly going to take things as they come with whatever circumstances come our way. I’m not going to set a word this year, but have in mind the changes and hopes we have for our family, rooted in the love and appreciation we learned in 2020.


2020: Thrive

I don’t remember exactly when I stopped making ‘New Year’s Resolutions’ and started choosing a word for the year and making goals, but it’s something I’ve found helpful to combat the ‘new year, new you’ push that seems to happen in the universe every turn of the calendar year. Having a leading word– even when I forget about it sometimes- gives me a good reminder to focus on myself and my goals.

I chose THRIVE for 2020 because its very definition inspires me- “to grow vigorously; to gain in wealth or possessions; to progress toward or realize a goal despite or because of circumstances.”

I want to thrive as a mom, partner, friend, and all the other roles that define me, but also to push myself to actually make steps to the next thing in life.

I talk ALL THE TIME about wanting a new job, doing something different, but it’s a lot of talk. I spent time and money with career coaches and online courses to try to get some sort of answer, but the only person who has the answer is me. Giving birth and becoming a parent is the scariest thing I have ever done and I survived/am surviving it. I can do hard things and moving on from the security blanket of my job over the past 11 years is one of those things I know I must do. It enabled me to get through the past decade of life and brought amazing people, things, and opportunities in my life, but it’s time to move on.

So here’s to changes, forward movement, growing, learning, and THRIVING in 2020.

 

 

 

What a Decade!

It’s been quite the whirlwind of the last decade- I think more has happened in the last 10 years of life than any other decade before?

In 2009, I bought a house and got engaged. 2010 I was married. 2011 I was separated. 2012 I was divorced.

In 2013 I turned 30, met Q, went to Holland with my mom, and unexpectedly lost my father- most certainly one of the most defining years of my life and often the marker in time in which I often refer to when trying to figure out what year things happened in.

2014 was a tumultuous year of figuring out grief, meeting Q’s son, and getting promoted at work, while 2015 brought new joys with brother getting married, but also the low of my mother selling our childhood home. I also went to Hawaii for work and we lost Q’s grandfather ( I was in Hawaii when it happened).

In 2016, there was a lot of job turmoil for me and a lot of job interviews in places near and far, but nothing worked out for us. We traveled to California to see family. 2017 was much the same unrest at work for me with a few glimmers of almost moving on to something new that never panned out so lots of hopes and excitement dashed. It was also tough second half of 2017 as we lost Q’s brother-in-law to suicide.

We were determined to make 2018 our year- we traveled to Utah and work conditions improved for me which made a big difference. We started house projects with our eye on moving within the year or so when we found out in September 2018 that we were going to have a baby!

2019 has been a roller coaster year– Q lost his biological father in January, and while we were overjoyed at the birth of our son in May, he entered the world in dramatic fashion and it was scary for a bit. We also unexpectedly lost Q’s stepfather in the beginning of December.

 

Friday Finds October 2018

On my travel list whenever I find myself in Atlanta- a new museum dedicated to the puppetry of Jim Henson.

Speaking of the amazing creations and imaginations of Jim Henson, the original Big Bird leaves Sesame Street after 50 years. Sidenote: I played Big Bird in my 1st grade play!

The trash that came out of Yellowstone geyser that has normally been quiet- stuff from the 1930s! Weird and fascinating.

How the Smithsonian helped the FBI track down the missing ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz.

There were never 57 varieties of Heinz Ketchup! Marketing schemes!

Duck sauce is an essential part of New England Chinese cuisine. I had no idea it was another thing that is only known in this end of the world!

Friday Finds January 2017

This is over a month old, but new theories on the capture of Anne Frank and her family.

The death of Debbie Reynolds the day after her daughter’s death broke my heart. I had no idea Reynolds played an important role in saving many pieces of Hollywood costume history too. 

I loved the TV Show My So-Called Life when I was a teenager- this oral history about the show made my month.

A history of the plus-size section in women’s clothing.

Ladies who launched space exploration. Cannot wait to see Hidden Figures!

Did you know rayon was a deadly fiber?

Remembering some of the great inaugural gowns worn by First Ladies.

 

 

 

Friday Finds December 2016

A holiday Friday Finds!

American Christmas holiday design and decoration is often inspired by two distinct periods- the Victorian era or the 1960s.

I love The Muppet Christmas Carol and have always wondered how Michael Caine felt about the movie– now I know!

The most popular toys by decade since the 1950s. Of course I had a Cabbage Patch doll!

The first department store Santa was in Brockton, MA!

 

Making gingerbread cookies is a holiday tradition in my family ( we made ours this past Sunday!) so I loved this video about the unknown history of gingerbread men cookies!

Why we eat candy canes at Christmas.

Dangerous holiday decorations of the past.

Baby, It’s Cold Outside is one of my least favorite holiday songs, particularly because it appears the dude singing spikes the girl’s drink. So a couple in Minnesota rewrote the lyrics.

Wishing you and yours all the best for the holiday season!

http://start.at/nevit Nevit Dilmen

Image via here

 

Lenten Promises

Somewhat lapsed Catholic here on Ash Wednesday. I saw somewhat because there are so many tenets of the religion that I believe in wholeheartedly and yet others ( their stance on women’s roles, divorce, and abortion, to name a few) that I wholeheartedly disagree with. Pope Francis’ views and public opinions on some of these topics have given me hope during a time when I’m questioning my spiritual life, what that means to me, how I practice it, and so on.

Even though I don’t make it to church every Sunday ( I have opinions on this as well), I hold my spiritual life as an important part of who I am. I pray on a regular basis and hold many of my Catholic beliefs as important in my life, though as I’m learning and exploring about religions, I’ve come to see that so many of these tenets are more Christian beliefs than Catholic specifically.

Every year for Lent I choose to give up something and many years that thing I’m abstaining from sticks. When I was in high school I gave up soda for Lent, something that, minus a bad migraine that only a cold Coca-Cola will fix or a ginger ale to sooth a tummy ache, has stuck. I gave up Candy Crush Saga two years ago and haven’t played since ( or even been interested!). This year, I’m abstaining from pizza because it has become too much of a meal crutch for Q and I ( though we had it last night and it was DELICIOUS).

This year, in addition to no pizza, I’m also trying to follow a bit of what Pope Francis said on the topic of Lent as well. I’m going to really work on my kindness- to others, to myself, to the world around me. I want to turn my head to indifference not just because I care about people, but because I realize I could care so much more. It’s something I hope to make mindful of over the next forty days instead of being so picky about not eating meat on Fridays ( a silly man made rule, for the record). And like the soda habit I kicked many years ago, I hope being more compassionate and kind is a habit that sticks past Lent.

Christmas Tunes

While I’m not the type of person who will start listening to Christmas music well before Thanksgiving, I do enjoy Christmas tunes throughout the holiday season.

Here are a few of my favorites:

Silver Bells: I like several versions of the song, but this one by Bing Crosby is a favorite.

God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, Barenaked Ladies and Sarah MacLachlan version

Christmas Wrapping, The Waitresses

Caroling, Caroling, Nat King Cole

O Holy Night: Also many gorgeous versions, but Josh Groban slays it for me

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas: I love this song, especially the original by Judy Garland, but the Carpenters version is lovely

Christmas in Killarney, Bing Crosby

Mistletoe and Holly, Frank Sinatra

The Man with the Bag, Kay Starr

Jingle Bells, Frank Sinatra

I Want a Hippopatamus For Christmas

 

Wishing you and yours a wonderful holiday!

http://start.at/nevit Nevit Dilmen

Image via here

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