Thursday, July 2, 2015

A Parisian Fairy Tale

(All photos taken from the explorers' combined 800 picture album.)

Once upon a time three friends made a journey to a different world.  On the wings of metal birds, they traveled far away to see an exotic place where people spoke a different language, ate (kinda) different food and paid nonsensical prices for stuff.

The strangeness of this land surprised two of the three friends.

The three friends fearlessly attempted to integrate with the villagers by staying amongst them. People in this place lived in secret alleyways so small that the electric horse carriage had to dump them a block away from their resting spot. While looking for their temporary lodging, they realized they had walked past it 4 or 5 times due to the fact that it looked positively post-apocalyptic.  This was the door to their magical apartment…

but much like a Russian doll, yet another door was opened to them.  Or not.  These doors were so fully protected by a security spell that it took all three of them to open AND close the cursed doors…each time.

Their little hobbit hole was as cold as eating ice cream in an igloo on an iceberg…

though one of them felt it was as hot as Donna Summer singing on top of a stove in the desert.
("Hot Stuff", get it?  BTW, M was too indecent to take a picture.)

Once they had refreshed themselves in the tiny bathroom made for an actual hobbit, they searched for a means to explore this new horizon.

Once aboard their blue beasts, they ventured far and wide.  One of the friends unexpectedly tasted the forest floor when she didn’t quite make the curb jump.  One of the friends found joy in repeatedly ringing the chimes of the beast.  (Never let Brigit near a bell.  NEVER. EVER) And one of the friends led the party in their explorations because he is such a butt-kisser he never left the tour guide’s side.

For the next 4 hours, though their behinds were numb within 5 minutes, our intrepid travelers saw many secret treasures, never seen before from anyone outside the village.

During the travels, they also found a pop-up hardware store.

 One friend hated to see so many locks being used in such a careless way.

Sustenance was needed if the friends were to continue on.  Luckily they happened upon a kindly couple who scooped up a sweet cream that came from golden cows.  These cows had names like Nutella, Salted Caramel, Chocolate Brownie and Mango and their sweet cream came shaped as a flower.

With fairy sugar rushing through their veins, they climbed aboard the blue beasts for more excitement.

They found the burial grounds of the original French hobbit, Napoleon Bonaparte.

They found the holy grounds dedicated to the Creator.

And even the very center of this humble village.

Not all of the villagers admired the spirit of these three friends and a few dirty looks were given.

But other villagers were walking on air to think they could share their talent for free. (cough, cough.)

When the feet of our weary travelers became too sore to carry on, they found other hospitable means to continue the journey. (No tickets were lost this time.)


Many of the secret spots they had ridden past before now loomed large. One such place tried to freeze the friends in a time warp with the intention of having them emerge years older.

Fortunately the friends were too wise to fall into this trap.  With their freedom and fortune firmly in hand, they were able to walk away from the diabolic wormhole and hop back on the Big Bus of Safety. 

And when the bus made the friends a little crazy...

...they took to the sea.

Enjoying the fresh smells of the pristine waters, our travelers were able to see the village from a whole new perspective.

The cuisine brought tears to the eyes of the friends. Its simplicity and layered flavors were unlike any other and will be remembered on the cold, dark nights that lie ahead.

 After a final attempt to share the joyfulness of the village with their friends in other lands, it was time to go home.

This new world had pleased the friends and opened their eyes to a culture not their own, leaving each friend to explore their internal emotions about leaving this fairy tale. In the end, it was something to call home about. 


(OK, those were from London, but they made me laugh.)

Join us tomorrow for the exciting conclusion...

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Seeing Clearly in London

When we moved to SwissyLand, everyone talked about how centrally located it was, how we could reach Paris and Munich and Madrid and Milan without ever catching a plane.  To be honest, we went to quite a few places, but when you live on a lake with a mountain view, it seems kinda silly to go somewhere 4 hours away to see a lake or mountains or hang out with different Europeans. 

Just like Paris, I can spend a day in Geneva and have the same great food, the same fun French conversations and get the same energy one gets from the French – all without having to endure the second-hand smoke.  Just don’t buy a club sandwich.

Missing Milan? Take a train to Lugano in Ticino where Italian is the sole official language, they have double the sunny days than Zurich, incredibly delicious red wines and the only celebrity that matters (George Clooney) within spitting distance.

Madrid?  Is that in Portugal?

My long winded point is this – living in Switzerland is pretty cool and it takes something special to make a journey elsewhere.  But when that “special something” is named Brigit and Michael?  Well, that is worth getting out the passport.

One Friday we were discussing possible dates and by Saturday we had planned an entire trip in about 3 hours of texting.  Our plan was to meet in London, go to Paris and end up in Zurich.  While Brigit was on shopping duty with her mom, she, Michael and I made an itinerary, booked plane tickets, booked train tickets and made hotel and Air BnB reservations.

The best part was that our travels plans were only a month away.  The countdown was on.

Meeting up at the airport sounded easy enough.  We failed to consider that it was Heathrow Airport. After an hour wait in the passport line (I thought we had a “special relationship”, England?), we played a high tech version of Marco Polo. A picture sent, a picture received. When I finally found my Polos, they were sitting on the floor, blitzed from the international flight and having pack-muled a lot of stuff for the Shoemaker household (and my closet).  I made the mistake of trying to pick up Brigit’s backpack and suffered an immediate herniated disc or 12.  A quick Heathrow Express and we were downtown. 

Michael was kind enough to use up a stupid amount of loyalty points to get us a hotel on the Thames, straight across the bridge from the Palace of Westminster and Big Ben.  Getting across the Westminster Bridge was a game of playing “Dodge Sticks”, trying to be courteous enough to not get in other people’s picture, but then realizing that the use of a selfie-stick requires way more space than we could afford to give if we weren’t going to get ran over by double decker buses.  Somewhere right now, people are wondering who the blonde is photo-bombing their vacation. 

After checking into the awesome London Marriott Hotel County Hall way early, they let us ditch our bags and freshen up in the spa. In a flash we hit the streets. This would be a reoccurring theme during the week.  I have never spent a week of vacation getting up earlier than I do on work days, but there was too much to see, too much to do.  I had forgotten the urgency you feel to soak it all up when you’ve traveled 5,000 miles to get somewhere.  Best of all, if I was awake I could hang out with two of my besties.  That was almost a good enough reason to get up at 4 a.m. to catch planes and trains all week.

I’ve been to London a handful of times and apart from seeking out Chipotle, it has always been about being in the thick of the locals, getting to Banana Republic and T.K. Maxx (not an error) and roaming aimlessly while Mr. Shoe is at work or in a conference.  This was not one of those trips. Piccadilly, Trafalgar Square, Tower Bridge, Buckingham Palace, the West End, Covent Garden, Hyde Park – no famous spots would go left unseen by our eyes.  We bought tickets to one of the “hop on, hop off” double-deckers, the perfect touristy way to get around. We listened to the guides spill random facts and flat jokes.  We heard more than we would ever need to know about Sweeney Todd.  Up until I lost my ticket, we hopped everywhere.

Having a bus waiting for us at practically every corner was too much fun and crazy easy. Primarily because I found myself doing something really annoying on this trip – acting like I knew things and where these things were located.  Maybe it was my medicines, maybe it was this awkward season in my life, but I was anxious and my anxiety was making me more anxious.  Brig and Michael travel together a lot and I spent way too much time on focusing how I would fit into the travel scheme as opposed to focusing on just being with my friends.  (Why yes, I am inside my head a lot lately.) I wanted this to be the perfect trip for M &B and took this stupid responsibility on that no one had asked me to shoulder.  I don’t think I fully grasped how to shut up when I wasn’t sure of something until we arrived in Zurich and by then, I did actually know stuff. Luckily, M & B know me and love me and didn’t beat me when I was wrong. Wait, there were a few punches to the leg…

But I digress, I will never not take a double-decker bus again if they are available to me.

After the Great Ticket Debacle, we walked. Brigit got her fish 'n chips, I got my guacamole 'n chips and Michael got his Cokes. We walked and walked, discovering things not on our bus routes, like the Westminster Equestrian Ring, artistic window displays and random alleys that turned you out at David Cameron's house. We ducked into pubs that delivered your food by dumbwaiters (the pulley system, not dumb people who wait on you).  We ate burgers and fried pickles at a place decorated as a butcher's walk-in freezer.  We drank coffee at a cool place called "Starbucks."

Over here, Michael
We saw the Westminster Bridge set up with lights and cameras for the new Bond movie, but didn't see Daniel Craig.  In the hours of Brigit's jet lag, she was lucky (?) enough to see the bridge on fire for the car chase.  I was lucky (?) enough to be asleep with the latest in white noise, the Schnetzer Noise Machine.

On our last day in London, we walked about 50 feet from our hotel and bought the Fast Pass to the London Eye. (Fast Pass for the win!)  We were able to see where we had been and what was left to find.  That ride cemented that I was a tourist.  Unless I faked a bad British accent, they were going to peg me for being one anyway, might as well embrace it. That Tuesday morning I realized I had to stop trying to be something I am not. I am not a London expert.  I do not know the Underground as well as I thought. I can get lost walking out of a Chipotle.  But man, once you acknowledge that, you find a contentment. Your shoulders are no longer carrying a Mini Cooper on them.  The elephant sits up and gets off your chest. 

Maybe more awesome is that you begin to realize what you are.  I’m a daughter, a wife and a friend.  And in that movement in time, I had been given 5 more days to be a friend to two of my favorite people in the world, who just so happened to be right beside me.

That was the best reason to get outta SwissyLand.

Tomorrow….more trip, less "I".

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Pits and Peaks

Long time, no write.  To be fair, I have been incredibly busy planted new plants!  That's it!  I also never let the laundry get to be more than 7 shirts and 2 towels.  We take lots of dog walks. I clean and ready our guest apartment for its next visitors.  I roam new parts of Zurich weekly.  I interview until my throat is hoarse.  

All of that to say, I am not in bed past 9am anymore. I haven't taken a 2 or 4 hour nap in ages. I go out to meet friends for lunch or coffee. I function. I have energy. I make the absolute best out of being unemployed. 

When you are severely depressed, you worry that these days will never come.  You don't have the energy to hope they might return. There is worry that the slightest glitch in life will throw you for a tailspin. I am here to testify that it is a horrid place to be in, but very,very little by little, you find yourself climbing out of the hole.  You don't leap and you don't jump, but you climb out, rung by rung, of the dark prison that your mind and body threw you in.  I am not afraid to say that it took (and continues to take) medications, a psychiatrist and lots of grace to get my head peeking out above the pit. Just yesterday I asked if we could taper off my meds and my shrink looked at me with bewilderment.  Her response was "I was going to order you to a 'wellness' clinic less than 4 months ago, let the meds do what they need to for awhile longer."

I understand her point.  Two weeks ago we had to put Phoggie Doggy down.  He had been seriously ill for 5 months.  Not only was it an obviously horrible stress on him, but my days revolved around vet and animal hospital visits, medication time, quieting his anxious barking for the neighbors and cleaning up a lot of unsavory things almost daily. There is a vicious guilt that eats at you for not only being stressed about your sick pup and all of those things, but also for the relief you feel when he is gone and life is easier.  But I have to keep going.

I've also been actively trying to find a job. I am required by the Swiss unemployment office to apply to a minimum of 15 jobs per month.  I've been doing this since last December.  As I am currently still unemployed, you can do the quick math on how many rejections I've had since then.  (Seriously, do the math.  I don't wanna know.)  The ones that hurt are the ones that I interviewed all the way to the top of the ladder.

One CEO mentioned that he had read my blog and asked why I was so open.  I didn't hesitate with my response, "Because I don't write about others unless they know.  I only write things that I would tell you face to face. And I cannot not be authentic."  I didn't get that job.

These positions are at least 4 interviews in, sometimes 6 or 7.  You ask for feedback, but all you receive is "another candidate best fit the position."  Why? Did they wear a cooler shirt? Walk comfortably in heels? Did they not blog? Not turn bright red all over? Did they toe the party line on how to interview?  My mind reels with the possibilities as to what is holding me back. But I have to keep going.

"Keeping going" was a painful action 3 months ago. Today it makes sense. It is a hard won attitude and still a minefield some days, but piece by piece your life returns to a new normal.  This new normal is an awareness that there are deep pits in life, but an understanding that you can climb out by reaching out if you fall into it again.  If there is a next time, I won't waste time running from the diagnosis.  Won't let my ego stand in my way. I will get help.

There is a scene in "The West Wing" that gets me every stinkin' time. Leo is talking to Josh about his PTSD.

"This guy's walking down the street when he falls in a hole. The walls are so steep he can't get out.
A doctor passes by and the guy shouts up, 'Hey you. Can you help me out?' The doctor writes a prescription, throws it down in the hole and moves on.
Then a priest comes along and the guy shouts up, 'Father, I'm down in this hole can you help me out?' The priest writes out a prayer, throws it down in the hole and moves on.
Then a friend walks by, 'Hey, Joe, it's me, can you help me out?' And the friend jumps in the hole. Our guy says, 'Are you stupid? Now we're both down here.' The friend says, 'Yeah, but I've been down here before and I know the way out.'"

For me it took the doctor, the priest and the friends.  For others it might take quiet time and a healthy diet. It doesn't matter if you build a tunnel out of the hole or climb, but it starts by saying "Hey, can you help me out?"

A lot of you jumped down into the hole with me. Thank you.  I know I'm not completely out yet, but your love and support is showing me the way.

And to my sweet boy, you are missed.

Monday, December 15, 2014

a secret no more

I have depression. In my head I hear it as “I have the depression,” but maybe that's just me trying to be all hipster about it.

What does that mean though?  Whatever you do, DO NOT go to WebMD or any other website to have depression explained to you.  If you weren’t depressed before reading their summaries, you will be depressed afterwards. 

Here is what it means to me.  To me it feels 100% physical.  On some days (most days) it means that I dread the walk to the train, a walk that takes seven minutes at most.  To someone who had been consistently running three or four times a week, that isn’t normal. It means that I can go to bed at 10, sleep until 9, get up, have breakfast, take a 2-3 hour nap, and go back to bed at 10 and sleep soundly as if I had the roughest, busiest day in the world.  Until recently, It meant going to work, sleeping on both trains, then figuring out where I could take a nap over lunch.  My depression means an extreme fatigue that seems to start in my bones.  If you’ve ever had mono, you are familiar with this type of fatigue.  Your mind may be up and at ‘em, but your body just isn’t having any of it.  And that is exactly how I described it to the doctors. 

The doctors.  God bless ‘em.  (For once I don’t mean that sarcastically.)  For the last 10 months they have tried so hard to find me an acceptable diagnosis.  I can safely say I have been tested for everything you have ever heard of on House or ER.  It got to the point where I was telling the lab techs which vein to use for the best blood flow.  I remember sitting down in the chair one day and counting fourteen (14....10 plus 4 more) vials to be filled.  I stammered “alles für mich?” (all for me?) and the tech nodded sympathetically with a “ja, genau” (yes, exactly). 

About three months into the tests, I went in for an unscheduled appointment.  Blood work had been done to see if the remaining half of my thyroid had stopped working.  This theory made all of the sense in the world.  I’d had half of my thyroid removed last autumn - surely the remaining half had just called it a day.  My symptoms could be fixed with a pill and I would be running again by dinner time.  I was convinced that my test results were sitting on a counter, the Holy Grail of What Was Wrong with Me.  But because my doctor was out for two weeks, my health was put on the back burner. Because I was exhausted and was exhausted with being exhausted, I asked to come in and speak to anyone who could read the test results.  I wanted a specific answer, a specific solution and a specific end to these symptoms.  

The poor doctor who saw me had no idea what was about to hit her.  She had to be thinking she was delivering good news when she told my my thyroid counts were great.  I literally burst out crying.  Like a sad Lifetime movie (are there any other kinds?!), I blubbered my frustrations out.  With no hesitation, she whipped out her prescription pad and started telling me how to take this anti-depressant.  I cried even harder.  She tried to soften the blow by telling me that depression is a typical side-effect of many other diagnosis, and that the faster we get the depression kicked, the better we can see the remaining symptoms for what they truly were.  She won me over when she wrote a second note and said, “The rest of the week off work would probably help too.”

I left the office in a daze.  I was embarrassed to tell my husband what was going on, he who is so strong willed and optimistic. I was convinced he would see me as weak-willed and negative.  I thought if I could spin it off of another diagnosis, it would be clear that it wasn’t my fault I was depressed. I did not want to be depressed, and yeah, I could see how putting up with whatever was REALLY wrong with me had started giving me those depression symptoms.  The doctor was right.  A little leveling-off couldn’t hurt.  And just like O.J., once I was out of depression jail, we could look for the real diagnosis.

Anyone who has taken an anti-depressant knows that they suck. They are the drugs on t.v. commercials whose disclaimer about their side effects is longer than the actual positive explanation of what the drug can do.  “Sure, we might cure your depression, but you also might grow a second nose, never be able to leave the toilet, will always have a headache and don’t even think about sex...that’ll kill you for sure, assuming your partner can get past the second nose.”  So while I’m looking for the real diagnosis, let’s add headaches, weight gain, nightmares and “crazy eyes” to the symptoms.  No wonder I prefer being asleep.

With all of this going on in the background, I started seeing the Internal Medicine group at the Zurich University Hospital.  I thought I had given copious amounts of blood before - these people were absolute vampires.  I began to feel like a liter of blood was the co-pay required. 

The only thing the blood work had shown was an acute B12 deficiency.  Normal ranges are 200-900 picograms per milliliter of blood.  My B12 readings varied between 50-90 pg/mL.  B12 deficiencies are common in vegetarians and the elderly.  While I had recently turned 40, no one was ready to blame it on my age.  And because I think meat and cheese are God’s gift to us, there was no viable reason to have such low B12.  Like a dog on a bone though, I bit into this and wouldn’t let go.  That’s it.  That’s the winner.  Let’s solve this B12 baloney and move along. 

So that’s what we have been doing - testing the reasons for a low B12 count.  In October my left bicep was the lucky recipient of six B12 shots in two weeks.  That mega-dose did move me up into the normal range.  Do I feel more energetic?  Nope. So my magic bullet?  It’s not so magic.  It isn’t the answer I wanted or the solution I hoped for. 

My University doctor laid it out last week, “I have to be brutally honest.  There is nothing left to test, nothing more to consider, other than mental causes.”

You know why?  Because I’m depressed.  The three doctors are now aligned.  Kelli is depressed. 

There are people out there who do not want you to know they are depressed. I am one of them.  I wanted to fix me before I ever had to talk about it.  I wanted people to comment “Oh, but you always seem to have it together, I had no idea.”  Yeah, that’s because I’m an awesome liar when you can’t see my face turn beet red.

Depression has such a stigma in our society.  When you aren’t yourself, you start to believe the lies. That a happy attitude can pull you out.  That healthy choices and exercise will fix you.  That eliminating all stress is the answer.  That simply getting showered and putting on makeup will set the tone for the rest of the day.  You know what?  I can take a nap in full make up.  Mascara isn’t the answer to a bad day when you have depression.  And stress?  The only thing on my to-do list today is to feed myself.  Doesn’t get much more relaxed than that. 

Now I’m saying this to my fellow godly friends with as much love as I can muster. Depression is not a lack of faith.  It is not an indicator of someone’s relationship with God. More prayer on my part will not cure my depression. Granted, God is a god of miracles, but that’s for Him to decide, not you and not me.  He is close, I believe this.  At this very moment He is giving me strength to write this, to make appointments with a psychiatrist and to continue my conversations with my husband, my family, my friends in a spirit of honesty.  Depression is not a symptom of a weak faith. 

Do I cry all day?  Only if I’m reading a sad book.  (I’m looking at you, Still Alice.)  Do I have thoughts of hurting myself?  Only if eating an entire box of Oreo Double Stufs falls into that category. Do I sleep a lot?  Not all the time, but a lot.  Have I lost purpose?  C’mon, I did just lose my job.  Is my weight changing?  No fair, it’s Christmas time. Do I have unexplained aches or pains? Yes, but I can explain them, I’m 40 years old.

Am I embarrassed to tell you that I’m depressed?  Horribly. 

That’s why I’m telling you.  I'm not doing this for the drama or the comments or the "atta boys." I am calling out the monster under my bed.  I understand I am depressed, but I refuse to stay scared and embarrassed too.  I’m telling you this very un-HIPAA personal story to ask you to do one thing this holiday season and all seasons - show grace.  We have no idea what is going on under people’s facades.  Those happy Facebook statuses are probably how people want to feel, not how they do feel.  (Unless they are serious over-sharers.)

When someone seems to drop out of view, do something to let them know you miss them - a text, a voice mail or, heaven forbid, a hand-written note on real paper.  You aren't going to cure them, but they aren't going to feel so isolated in that moment.

I am telling myself this now - show grace.  To the neighbor who asks too many personal questions.  Maybe they just want to know you better and be known in return.  To the doctors who are trying their best, work with them, not kicking and screaming against their perspectives.  To your family that is frustrated that they cannot fix this for you, listen to their efforts without being defensive.  Show grace.

When you are in Wal-Mart and you want to make fun of the person wearing their jammie pants - dude, they are a step ahead of me.  I didn’t leave bed until 11:30 this morning. 

When someone does over share or is like a dark cloud on social media, say a prayer for them.  Yes, they might be looking for some drama, but it takes 15 seconds to say, “Hey God, you know the story, I don’t.  Be with them where they are.”  If you aren’t religious, take a moment to think a kind thought about them.

That’s the kind of grace I’m talking about.

I’m surrounded by people who love me.  Maybe not physically, but I have no doubt about the support available to me when I reach out.  I am so freaking blessed in that way. Is that enough to pull someone out of depression?  No, otherwise I would have been cured months ago.  Does it help?  More than any one of you know. 

You might consider this a major over share.  That's ok.  You are entitled to your opinion of me.    Think a kind thought of me anyway, maybe even that 15 second prayer if you are so inclined.  

I will do the same for you. 


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