Tragedy Elicits Perseverance

My Mom and I at my brothers hockey game.
January 2017

Mother’s Day is hard for me. I lost my Mom to Hippocampal Sparing Alzheimer’s Disease July 9th, 2019.

She was diagnosed at age 55, while I was in college. Once I graduated, I took on the role of co-guardian and power of attorney.

I cannot put into words the heart wrenching pain you experience when you first hand see your loved one lose their mind, soul and spirit, while their physical body is still here. I call this ambiguous grief.

My loss started the day she was diagnosed. I remember so vividly being at Regions Hospital after my mom went through extensive testing. When my Mom discovered she had “Young Early Onset Alzheimer’s Disease,” she shouted in anger, disgust and fear, “I’d rather die than live with this disease”.

I’d rather DIE than live with this disease.

My Mom was a research nurse, and a very good one. At the height of her career, where she was working in clinical trials at the U of M, this disease robbed her.

She knew EXACTLY what this disease would do to her, and her loved ones.

I can’t imagine what it must have felt like to receive the diagnosis and death sentence that day at Regions.

Over the course of the next 8 years, we moved her out of her home into assisted living, then to a memory care floor, and then ultimately a smaller group home where she could have more attention.

Alzheimer’s disease is a bitch. It is violent, agressive, discriminative and manipulative. I went though an incredible amount of emotional pain and trauma while she was living and as I grieved.

She has slapped me, she has called me a fucking bitch, she told me she hated me, over and over.

I am not sure what was worse. The violent physical and emotional aggression, or the moment when she lost her ability to speak. When I would visit her, all she would do is violently cry. I couldn’t take the emotional pain seeing her like this.

That was the beginning of the end. My mom was aging in reverse. She lost her motor skills. She forgot how to chew and swallow. She couldn’t go to the bathroom on her own.

When she no longer cried when she saw me, I knew the end was drawing near. She didn’t even notice I entered the room. She looked at me, and had no response. It was like no one was home.

Hospice is a slippery slope, and a huge thanks to Brighton Hospice for being so absolutely wonderful.

We worked with Brain Support Network to donate her brain to research. It’s something else to coordinate a hospice team to prepare my Mom’s body and head to be dissected upon death. I provided explicit instructions from Brain Support Network to Brighton Hospice team and my mother’s care team at Legacy Home Care. I never knew my event and project management skills would be used in such a practical way. The orchestration of my mother’s head being iced, my moms body being delivered to Saint Paul, the extraction of her brain taking place there, her brain being shipped to the Mayo Clinic for further research and investigation came together flawlessly.

On September 6th 2019 I received a letter from the Mayo Clinic from Dennis W. Dickson, M.D. stating the findings of my Mom’s brain. My mom had a rare form and subtype of Alzheimer’s Disease labeled, “Hippocampal Sparing Alzheimer’s Disease”.

A huge thank you to the Alzheimer’s Association, Alzheimer’s Association Young Champions – Twin Cities, Dr. Michael H. Rosenbloom at HealthPartners Neuroscience Center, and my friends who didn’t leave my side when shit hit the fan. Especially Dayna Lund, Janet Marx, Alicia Marchioni, Katie Carlson, Alexandra Rhae, Kristin Jacobsen, Kelsey Julia Schaufelberger, Ali Payton, and Robyn DeLoss Henkler. I don’t know what I would do without my amazing support network.

We’re out here to make family, not friends. Our friends are the family we get to choose. I believe we are on this Earth to love one another, learn from one another, and support each other.

This tragedy was a catalyst to my personal development journey and growth. I now consider myself an expert on grief, trauma and loss.

If you are hurting, I’d love to show you support in some way, and validate your feelings.

2020 was a shit year, and that’s being generous.

Help me make 2021 the year of love, light, and perseverance. Who’s with me?

Xo,
Annie Rathman

✌️💜☀️🤙

Mental Health Update

Hi my dear friends. It’s been a while.

Yes, a while meaning the last blog post I wrote was day before my mother passed. My mother passed on July 20th, 2019. It has taken me this long to go through a season of mourning.

This season was probably one of the most tumultuous times that I have ever endured. I have recently been tuning into Brene Brown’s Ted Talks, specifically her talks about the Power of Vulnerability. So if you’re with me, check-in, lock up, and get ready for one of my most powerful, authentic, vulnerable posts yet.

Something you can always expect from my writing is that I will always be 110% unapologetically me. I write from my heart and soul. I use writing as a form of coping. You may be wondering why it has taken me this long to get back to posting on my site, or why I described this season of mourning the way that I have. The answer is revolved around my personal mental health. Upon my mother passing, I slowly slid down the treacherous path of depression. Grief is difficult to deal with, and when you add depressive symptoms to that as well, things get 10x harder. Layer in the season of winter in Minnesota, where the days get shorter, and less sunlight is available. Another thing I deal with is seasonal affective disorder otherwise known as SAD. (Fitting acronym, right?) As my season of mourning continued through the fall, I was finding it extremely difficult to give myself compassion to feel what I felt. I felt guilty that I wasn’t able to snap out of my grief, my depression, and just let it go. My depression came in forms of withdrawing from friends and activities. I stopped doing the things I found joy in. That is why I describe depression as a treacherous slope. Personally, once my depressive symptoms hit, it is a slippery slope. I found little joy in doing things that I used to love doing, therefore, I stopped doing them. I had this dark cloud over my head, and at times, it was difficult for me to get out of bed in the morning. I stopped working out, I stopped nourishing my body with the food it deserves, I stopped reaching out to family and loved ones. It was truly the hardest season of grief and mourning I have ever endured.

I often thought, “why is this so difficult?” I knew this was coming. My mother battled a horrible, wretched disease for at least 8 known years. Her days of pain and suffering are no more, and she has been set free. So why was it so difficult for me to get over my grief and depression?! I have dealt with significant loss in my immediate family before. I thought since I dealt with my oldest brother’s passing, the grief for my Mom would be a walk in the park. Boy, I was wrong.

If you know me, you likely know my role in my mother’s life for the last years that she lived. I was her legal guardian, and power of attorney. I played this large role in her life, one I like to call a caretaker. I often felt like I was not just a caretaker, but also a peacemaker between my family. Depending on the day, there would be intricacies of who is on speaking terms to whom, and I would have to carefully craft my communication in order for it to be well received. When my mother passed, I not only am grieving her, but I am also grieving this large role I played in her life. I took this role for granted, and often was annoyed that I was placed in this role. Looking back, it gave me a sense of purpose and pride. When this sense of purpose was stripped from me, I was left barren, confused, and alone.

You may be wondering how I am writing you today and what brought me here. Very reluctantly, I knew things had to change. I had to “fake it until I make it”. (Even though I truly hate that saying, what if I don’t want to fake it? Now what are you going to tell me to do?? I digress…) What I ended up doing was a little soul searching, and tried to remember the things that brought me joy in the past. I ended up joining a women’s volleyball league, I started exercising more, I started meal prepping again. I ended up hiring a nutrition coach, because believe me, I am the first to admit I need help and know the value in a coach and someone that cheers you on. I started therapy, and that has brought so much value and growth to me. It made me process my feelings in a productive and healthy manner. It has given me tools to succeed and helped me realize my patterns and habits. Truth be told, I have perfectionist qualities. Identifying as a perfectionist was a hard pill for me to swallow. I have a very hard time admitting that I have “something wrong with me”.

A reality that is even more difficult for me to accept, is something that I have dealt with my entire life, and just this past week, decided to accept that it is real and a part of me. I am living with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). I never wanted to admit this in the past. Previously when I sought therapy, a counselor suggested I had this disorder, and her mere suggestion literally threw me into a full blown panic attack. I have only ever had 3 panic attacks in my life, but I can replay those tapes and feelings as if it was yesterday. My ego did not want to admit I do have something wrong with me. I felt like if I admit this, I am assuming defeat. This rolls back to my perfectionist tendencies. I don’t want to admit that I am not perfect. I do need to admit that this is a real disorder that is affecting my life. This disorder makes me feel on edge, and stressed out all the time. So much so, the stress is affecting my sleeping habits. In fact, I am writing this right now at 1:32am. I have been waking up in the middle of the night due to elevated levels of cortisol (stress hormone). This is typical for someone who has the symptoms of chronic stress. Yesterday, I discovered the emotional reality that my disorder is responsible for the chronic stress I undergo.

DEEP BREATH

That is something I am really practicing to help cope with GAD. Breathwork, meditation, and relaxation. I have the hardest time trying to relax. I often feel like I am wound up so tight, if you say something to me that I could perceive with malintentions, it can push me over the edge and I can be sent down a spiral of negative self talk.

I have my cousin to thank for telling me to, “lower my ‘give a f*ck’ level”. When she first told me this concept I was thought to myself, “but how?!” I cared so greatly about what other people think of me. I wanted to appear perfect on the outside. Slowly but surely, I am certainly trying to lower this level and take a deep breath.

During this time of healing, growth, and self compassion, I have decided to not take on any clients and make my own health a priority. I want to come back better than ever, so I can serve clients that are going through similiar mental health struggles with empathy and compassion.

That’s all for now, thank you for taking the time to read through this in it’s entirety.

Love, light, and in gratitude,

Annie

Dog Days Are Over

I’m at the gym incline walking again. I feel like I do some of my best thinking here.

I have so much to say, and I don’t know where to start. Perhaps the best way is to just come out and say it. My Mother is dying.

Her battle with Alzheimer’s is finally coming to a close. It pains me to type that sentence. That another soul succumbs to such a horrible, wretched, disease. Not only just another soul, but it is my beautiful, accomplished, kind hearted Mother.

I aspire to be half the Mother she was. I notice nowadays parents severely struggling parenting 1 or 2 children, but my Mom had 4. My Aunt said last night how she would be breastfeeding one of us and holding another’s hand. She truly was Super Mom. 4 beautiful children, close in age, and each of us had several extra curricular activities. She never missed a pick up or drop off. She had this huge “At-A-Glance” calendar where she would use Crayola markers to color code each child with their respective activity or sport event.

She was our biggest cheerleader. She was at every single figure skating competition or test I had. I remember I was so excited when she allowed me to wear lipstick at one of my first competitions. I was probably 6 or 7 years old at the time.

She wanted nothing more than us to succeed, to be happy, and to treat others with genuine kindness.

She saw my talent for figure skating, and went to the lengths of open enrolling me into a specific elementary school that got out earlier, so I was able to make it to the more advanced ice time.

She encouraged me to go against the norm and learn how to snowboard. I was so excited to take private lessons with my cool older brother Eric at Buck Hill. I’ll always remember our vacation to Whistler, Canada. That was my first time to experience and snowboard real mountains. And damnit Mom, you spoiled me. It wasn’t very fun to go back to Afton or Buck Hill after that. Soon I realized Whistler is probably one of the nicest resorts in North America.

We had so much fun together. She used to dress me up in pink and make me a girly girl. I remember one year she made me a princess costume. Let me tell you, if I could wear that everyday I would have. She always made me feel so special. Not only did she make all our Halloween costumes, but she hand beaded every figure skating dress. She was incredibly accomplished in the world of sewing. She made me and Kate matching red peacoats and berets. I hope I still can find the first competition dress she made me. It was this beautiful ocean blue color, and she put a beaded bow on the back. It was super girly, her favorite color, and it made me feel so special that I had a one-of-a-kind dress, crafted by my very own Mother.

While we all can agree she wasn’t the best chef in the world, she certainly made up for it by the way she baked. I’m jealous Kate got the caramel recipe, and she perfected it. But that was my Mom. She went to the lengths of making several batches of these amazing, decadent, melt in your mouth caramels around Christmas time. I have fond memories of wrapping each caramel in its own little wax paper. Of course the wax paper had to be green or red, and then a handful or two caramels were placed in a decorative plastic bag, and a special gold foil twist tie closed the bag. She did this every year, and I could tell the joy it brought her, handing a bag to my skating coach, my teachers, her hair stylist, anyone she thought deserved them.

My Mom is probably one of the most kind individuals you’ll ever meet. She would often say, “The world could use a little more kindness”. That is definitely something that resonates in me. I always try to treat others with genuine kindness.

Let me now talk about the wretched monster of Alzheimer’s. There are very few things that can make me more angry than this disease. My mom was robbed of her life while she was in her prime. She was so proud she finally landed her dream job of being a research nurse at the U of M. She worked on diabetes clinical trails. I can’t imagine how she felt when she was told she couldn’t preform that job anymore from too many mistakes. I can’t imagine what she went through trying to understand why she was forgetting all the time.

I’ll never forget her shouting, “I’d rather die than live with this disease”. Mom, I can’t say who won this battle now, but I am so relieved that you are no longer living a life of misery and confusion.

You have taught me so much. You have shaped me into the woman I am today. You taught me to never settle, and to stand up for what I believe in. I have inhereted this relentless passion from you.

I am at a point in my life where I’m finally figuring out what I want, what drives me, and am chasing my dreams. I know you would be supporting, encouraging, and so incredibly proud of me.

I love you so much and always will. You legend lives on through the wonderful kids you have raised.

Safety is Never Promised

Today I spend part of my Sunday at a martial arts studio in Little Canada.  After being followed while I was on a run, I decided it was time for me to educate myself about what I can do to keep myself safe.  I didn’t realize how often I can really be in danger.  I do private party bartending on the side, and when alcohol is involved, it amplifies situations and often times I had to get security involved.  What would have happened if security wasn’t there to save me?  What about when I am taking my puppy outside early in the morning before I work out?  What about when I am walking to my car.  ANY of those scenarios can be considered dangerous.

Something that struck me during the class today was how they started it out.  The instructors advised that attackers are closer than you think.  Often, they are someone you know.  What can you do if you’re in danger?  Here’s a few key points I learned:

  1. Always carry mace, and one that holds enough mace (3-5oz is recommended)
  2. Scream for help
  3. Go with your gut, if something is suspicious, have your guard up
  4. Don’t worry about being polite in a threatening situation

I learned several different techniques, but one that I really enjoyed was their wrist break technique.  Using leverage, you can break someone’s grab on your wrist/forearm.  They broke down the move in this manner:

  1. Position your arm so your thumb is in line with the opening of the attacker’s hand (weakest part of your grip)
  2. Swiftly move around the attacker, so you come shoulder to shoulder
  3. Leverage your other hand to push away from the grip.

Here’s a video of me with my great friend Dayna demonstrating the move:

Now I’d like to share a little more about how I was followed.  I never really thought much of being on a run and listening to music.  I am just jamming out and getting some cardio in! WRONG. That was so irresponsible of me and I am embarrassed to say I thought nothing of it at the time.  When I was finished with my run, I ran to my condo’s building and went inside to my condo.  Less than 30 seconds later of me entering my condo, I had a neighbor knock on my door.  He told me he wanted me to be aware of a car that had followed me into the parking lot.  He told me the perpetrator watched me walk up the stairs and into the building, and once I got in, he left.  I justified the situation at first saying it could have been happenstance.  However, it got me thinking, if it was enough for my neighbor to warn me, it was a serious situation.  Your safety is never promised and I highly advise educating yourself.

If you’re in the Minneapolis area, Warrior’s Cove offers free Women’s Self Defense courses once a month.   I am very fortunate and grateful I took this course and plan on educating myself more about safety and self defense.

Thank you for reading, and please reach out if you are interested and want to learn more about what I learned in the course.

Love & Light,

Annie