Good, Bad, and Ugly

Welcome to 2018, folks! Apparently we’ve been living it for 24 days already… who knew?

(A quick word to anyone who is awaiting Christmas gifts, or sent US Christmas gifts: we are so very sorry we are so late with gifts and thank-yous. If you read this post, you’ll have a better understanding of what the holdup is. Rest assured that we are still grateful beyond measure, and we’ll get on top of things as soon as we catch a moment to breathe!)

Life in the Bruce household has been chaotic at best since my last update, and as things continue to progress, I want to take this brief moment to let you all know what’s happening – it’s possible that I won’t be available to post often (or at all) for awhile.

First off: John and I have completed our 20/20 journey in all but name. We’re now seeing all of the doctors and professionals that helped us during the program on our own recognizance. As I’ve said before, our plan is to keep doing what we’ve been doing, with a similar schedule and a similar amount of effort, until we reach our goal weights. That means we won’t be changing much day-to-day. The old saying “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” applies here! We don’t “officially” graduate until we’ve done our final assessments, blood tests, and final doctor appointments, which should happen by next week. John has his in hand, and his final photo and numbers are AMAZING! I’m still finding mine out – tomorrow I’ll repeat the assessment I took at the beginning of the program to see how much I’ve improved, and next Tuesday I’ll get the results of that plus my final blood draw.

It might be the first time I’ve mentioned it on this blog, but John and I have agreed to pay forward some of the kindness and support we’ve been shown throughout the program by letting them use us as advertising. Many of their most successful clients get to be featured in the gym’s Pro Pulse magazine, and this includes a professional photo shoot in addition to an article where we talk about our experiences with the program, what we’ve learned, etc. It’s a huge honor to be able to do this, and we’re so very excited to do our part to support other folks who might be thinking about taking the leap themselves. We tackled the interview process a month or two ago, and the photo shoot is the next step once we’re able to commit to a date. (More on that in a bit.)

We chose to celebrate our graduation, and ring in 2018, by visiting our beloved waterfront Silver Cloud Inn down in Tacoma. I’m proud to say that we were able to ring in the new year with BOTH of us together in our two-person hot tub! Up until now, it’s been a very large one-person tub by necessity. While it’s lovely to have such a huge thing to yourself, it’s even lovelier to realize that you’re now healthy and fit enough to share as intended! We toasted the moment with lightly-sweetened ginger soda water, which is delightful for us even if I’m sure it sounds like the definition of insanity to most of you all. I had hoped to use the opportunity to enjoy one glass of champagne, but… long story short, we’ve been taught that consuming alcohol outside of the amount you’d use for cooking will effectively negate two to three days of weight loss progress. It’s not something you want to deal with until you’ve hit your goal weight, you’ve had a stable week so far with your diet, and you don’t plan to splurge anytime soon. Plenty of clients push this boundary anyway and have to answer to their dietitians, but we’re not big drinkers in the first place, and haven’t felt an urge strong enough to justify “wasting” our progress! Hence… sparkling water.

We also had an amazing time discovering a place we’d never heard of before – Round One Bowling and Amusement. There are a few locations across the nation, but we have one over in Tukwila – that’s about a 15-minute drive from our place in Kirkland. In addition to the highlighted bowling alley, they’re known for having private karaoke booths, billiards, and a massive arcade that focuses on many of the popular, imported Japanese arcade games that John and I both adore. Every machine they have is in near-perfect condition, and they do a wonderful job of making sure that people are treating things with the respect they are due. Grubby, nasty movie arcade this ain’t! They are the only place in the Washington area to carry the latest version of Dance Dance Revolution, so we had to go check it out. We’ve been back a few times now and spent hours giggling and grinning our way through the hordes of games like kids in a candy store. I can’t think of a better way to ring in the new year! (We’re still planning to have our weekly date nights at the Seattle Gameworks though, as they run a deal on Thursday nights that offers endless play for $10. You really can’t beat that, even if the machines are older and often a bit broken.)

And then… after our beautiful, perfect vacation… reality tore down the walls. I ended up with a migraine. John fell sick with a cold that had been going around Google. Then I picked it up, because of course I did. I felt woozy enough over the preceding week to assume I was in the process of getting it; the really bad symptoms waited until Sunday night to take me from operating at 50% to about 10%. All this has kept me out of the gym for almost two weeks now, which is unbelievably chafing given that I was so excited to get started on my journey as a self-motivated gym rat! This bug is a beast, and even John was laid up and off work for a week and a half with it – he’s just now returning to normal speed. We were fortunate enough to stagger it at least; I got to help him before he got sick, and he’s been helping me now that I’m getting through the worst of it. At this point, I’m still a little congested and I have a nagging dry cough (story of my life when I’m sick… sigh) but otherwise I’m feeling lots better than I was!

That was bad enough. The real problem, and the one that might affect everything for the next few weeks (and possibly longer,) didn’t happen until last Wednesday.

Most of you that are reading this know my mother, and you know what a private person she is when it comes to her health and her life. She has already put herself in extreme danger in order to prevent me (her daughter) from knowing any of this has been going on – if my stepdad/second dad Chris hadn’t been willing to risk her anger by breaking the silence and telling me anyway after the straw that broke the camel’s back, I’d still be in the dark about the entire situation. That said – because of his bravery and honesty, and because I have been holding back so many of my own feelings about this out of fear of upsetting her, I’m going to say something anyway. If she is angry at me when she reads this someday, then I’ll accept that – but there are some things I cannot, and will never, accept when it comes to this.

My mom has been in poor health for several years now. Chris has gone above and beyond the call of respect, love, and duty to the woman he loves by caring for her when she is unable to care for herself. Though they are not married, their bond is stronger than many marriages I’ve witnessed in my life, and he has more than earned the right to call her his wife after everything they have been through together. For our part, John and I have been putting all the effort we can into staying in touch and helping her where possible; she knows and has always known that I am a phone call away if she needs help. Even though I moved away from Arizona years ago, and have no desire to return outside of brief visits, I am an only child and I have always been cognizant of the fact that someday, she would need me again. I’ve seen that day coming closer and closer for a couple of years now. It’s one of many reasons that I’ve thrown myself so deeply into the process of getting stronger and overcoming the hurdles that still remain on my physical and mental journey. My ability to become a parent myself was up against the clock, but so too was the process of becoming the kind of assertive, patient, and respectful person that is able to care for an aging parent.

That said, I watched my whole life as my mother repeatedly chose to care for others at dramatic personal cost to herself. I have watched the weight of others steadily break her down into a shell of her former self, and as fate would have it, almost none of the people she has cared for have ever thanked her for it. I know it weighs heavily on her heart to know that she could have lived a different, happier, more fulfilling life that was more true to herself and her wishes, but her duty to other people would never allow her to make that choice. Because of this, and because of the countless other people I have known that lost their own heart and soul through endless personal sacrifice, I’ve sought to do things differently in my own life. I do believe we owe our parents, and those we love, our respect and our commitment. I do believe that some level of personal sacrifice is necessary to honor that duty. But I also know that my mother WANTS me to live a life that I’m proud of. She’s told me time and time again how important it is to do my own things and be my own person, instead of feeling trapped and helpless in a life that never seemed to leave any time for her needs. I wanted to learn from her mistakes.

I left Arizona for Washington in 2006 with the understanding that I would have to find the balance I wanted in my life. My mom was always my parent first, but we were friends as well; having me at a distance, especially after my dad’s death, was hard for both of us. I knew it would be. Even so, I wanted to make my own life with the man I married, and live in a place of my own choosing, and believe the things I wanted to believe, and do the things I wanted to do. I wanted her to find her own strength as well; I wanted to see who and what she’d become without me or anyone else to take care of! (As it happens, she mostly chose to take care of other people again.) When the time for me to return to Arizona came, I wanted us to have lots to talk about, and to share our stories, and see each other in new lights – though she’d always be my mother, and I her daughter, we could respect, trust, and understand each other as best friends do. In the meantime, my hope was to bridge the gap with visits, phone calls, emails, Facebook, and whatever else it took to stay in touch. It was the only way to honor my duty to her AND still live my own life.

The last two years have been particularly difficult in terms of this, though. John and I didn’t visit in 2016 because my mom was adamant that she and Chris were going to drive up to see us; each new surprise medical problem of hers set the possibility of travel back by a couple of months. By the time I realized she wasn’t likely to be able to make it anytime soon, 2017 had arrived. As most of you know, January of 2017 was a major life changing moment for me – I found enough courage and strength, and overcame enough of my social anxiety, to begin looking into the rest of my life; namely, what pregnancy would look like for John and me. I knew that I’d be committing to a path of strenuous change – but I never expected to find myself joining an intensive program like 20/20! Though we COULD have traveled (with extreme difficulty – and we actually didn’t even know we had the option until six months in,) an insanely-expensive program designed to change the way you live your life isn’t something that you meddle with because you want a vacation or you miss your folks. Every day teaches you a little more, and helps you establish new habits; if you can’t commit to that, the journey gets harder and longer, and that’s not something I had the time to afford. John and I put our feet down: no travel until 2018 and the end of the program, barring an emergency, life-or-death situation that nobody could have foreseen.

We’ve spent the last year knowing that our families deeply wish they could see us. We’ve desperately wanted vacations ourselves, to relax and unwind from the stresses of the program. It took us months to even consider taking a single overnight trip to Tacoma. Nothing about this has changed the way we feel, or our commitments to the people we love; they’re just as important to us as ever. But for the first time in our lives, we’ve realized how important it is to set aside time, energy, and dedication to our own needs. We are people that have always anticipated and cared for the feelings of others in our lives, and we’ve always wanted to please them; there is a point at which you become so kind and understanding and accepting of others’ needs that you stop caring for yourself. It’s the lesson my mother taught me. It’s the lesson I learned when I realized that my beloved husband had broken under the weight of caring for me at my worst social-anxiety moments. It’s the lesson I’ve learned all on my own, too. If I’d considered my own needs/thoughts/beliefs more throughout my adult life, instead of expecting to change my entire existence at the drop of a hat because someone I like or love was sad/angry/tired/didn’t understand why I did something, it’s entirely possible that I would never have gotten social anxiety disorder, let alone allowed myself to ignore the importance of my own health.

One of the last times we talked on the phone, my mother actually told me she missed me. If you don’t know her well, you could be forgiven for thinking that’s just a sweet thing that all mothers say. My mom is a little different. She HATES asking for help. She can’t stand admitting weakness, sadness, loneliness, or fear. She never felt comfortable showing those things as a child, and she’s grown into a woman that cannot bear to face any of them in a healthy way. She buries them and tries her best not to tell anyone what she’s feeling or thinking – both because she doesn’t want to bother them, AND because showing that kind of vulnerability is impossibly hard for her. No matter what is going on, she’s “fine” and everything’s “great” and I don’t need to worry. Once I understood this years ago, I stopped believing her; I still don’t to this day. So when my mother tells me on the phone that she misses me, it’s not just something she’s saying. It’s not “just” being honest. It’s a huge deal. It means something is breaking down the walls she keeps up at all times. For the first time, I considered breaking my word on travel. But I talked myself out of it. Why? Because I’ve spent so much of my life trying to do for others and not for myself. Because this was supposed to be my year for undoing the damage I’ve done to myself over the last decade. Because I needed the space in which to grow and change for the better. And because we were already planning to visit for the Renaissance Festival in February of 2018 – after I knew the program would be over and we’d be free to stretch our wings.

“I hear you, Mom. I get it. I know you’re lonely. I miss you too. We’ll be coming soon, so just hold on until then, OK?”

It was the thing I tried to tell her at Christmas, though in not so many words. Depending on what happens now, I might not get the chance to talk to her in her normal capacity ever again. I just don’t know. Only time will tell.

As of this moment, my mother is living at a rehab facility in Tucson. She was admitted to the hospital last Wednesday with pneumonia as a complication of the dangerous flu strain that’s been killing kids left and right this year. Chris was forced to call 911 against her wishes because she insisted she was still fine while hallucinating and unable to breathe. She hid her symptoms from him for so long that he didn’t realize what was going on until this happened. I had no idea that she was even sick or that anything was going on, nor was I supposed to – per her wishes. She didn’t want to bother me. She didn’t want anyone to know she was sick or weak – she was so ashamed of her other physical ailments that she didn’t want one more. She didn’t want to be hospitalized and be at the mercy of strange people she doesn’t trust. If Chris hadn’t chosen to defy her, I’d be executing her will right now. I remind you – she has repeated back to me over the phone that she knows I will come and help her at the drop of a hat if there is something truly wrong and she needs me to care for her. She has a man that loves her and would do the same. She has now chosen to risk her life rather than asking us for help for a scary but normal thing that anyone could potentially face at any point in their lives. A few years ago, she nursed John and I through a bout of our own flu!

Her stay in the ICU was traumatic, for both her and for her caretakers. She was in very real danger of death for a couple of days, aided by her refusal to accept her situation or tolerate assistance of any kind; she insisted she was fine and needed to come home to do the laundry and dishes and, and, and. Keep in mind that this is a woman with enough medical problems that she shouldn’t be doing those things anyway, let alone with the flu/pneumonia. She repeatedly pulled out her IVs and oxygen mask and hurt herself several times trying to leave under her own power. For much of her stay, she was delirious and unable to hold reasonable conversations. In the end, the hospital stabilized her and sent her to rehab, where they hoped she could focus on regaining her strength and focus enough to come home.

She’s been there since Sunday, and she’s been refusing proper care ever since. She’s demanding to come home, and trying to pretend like nothing ever happened – she’s not sick, she’s not in need of help, and she just wants to be obeyed by the people around her and left alone. She’s angry at all of us for trying to help her, and for saving her life. She believes she knows better than any doctor or nurse and can diagnose and be responsible for herself until the end of her life – which I fear is right around the corner if she cannot stop this behavior long enough to recover from this near-death experience. I’m still concerned about her mental state, which remains a situation that is ongoing – I don’t know what to expect, but I’m preparing for the possibility that her mind will never recover from all of this. What she desperately needs is an understanding of just how dangerous her situation is, and the knowledge that the people around her are here to help. As long as she continues to view every helping hand as a fresh humiliation, recovery isn’t possible. Nobody that loves her has ever laughed at her or humiliated her; she’s not being mistreated or mocked. All of this is her own hatred of being weak and scared and powerless feeding things into her brain.

I have some knowledge of this. I’ve been fighting the faulty brain processes of social anxiety for years now. I know what it feels like to have thousands of kind, welcoming, gentle hands reaching for yours, only for your brain to tell you that they’re all just waiting for you to grab on before they drop or slap you. It takes a nearly-impossible amount of time and dedication from others to even crack the door open on the truth; then it takes an insane amount of bravery to step through. It’s an awful, lonely, frightening place to be, and I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. But I’ve also seen the other side – the dawning realization that you’ve been cruel to the people that have tried their hardest to love you anyway. The understanding of the real, tangible world beneath the dark veil that’s been clouding your judgement and understanding of others. People don’t look like monsters anymore; they look real, full of their own struggles and triumphs and glories. They’re capable of just as much good and wicked as you are – and the vast majority are far more willing to care about you than you can imagine. I’d give anything to help her find the other side of this, but I’m so very afraid that the experiences and struggles she’s been through that have taught her to fear and reject other people aren’t going to allow it.

If there is one thing that I have learned over this past year, it’s that there are times in a person’s life where they CAN’T manage their own affairs. Life can be cruel, and twisted, and hurtful, and we ALL need someone to fall back on when those things happen to us. It’s not weakness to know that someone is there to catch you when you fall. It’s strength to know that you are LOVED enough that there are people willing and able to catch you. The people around me have all watched as I’ve come to them with my head hanging and tears in my eyes and told them how terrified and broken I’d been; showed them how weak and fat and miserable I’d become. I never wanted to be any of those things. It hurt to admit so many of them. But those people believed me. They forgave me. And then little by little, they showed me how to let go of that person and find the strength inside me. Now? I’m strong enough to help others. I’m strong enough to survive the struggles I still need to face. And I know there’s nothing in this world that can stop me.

I couldn’t have done that myself; Lord knows I tried for a decade or more. I needed people that were smarter than me – and I’ve been a smart kid for most of my life. I hate feeling stupid. But until you decide to take a chance and do things differently than you’ve been doing them, you can’t expect anything to change. The only way to change is to try something you haven’t tried before, do something differently than you’ve done it before – and know that it won’t be easy. Nothing in life worth having is easy – that includes health. I can barely even comprehend the level of effort I’ve put into changing my own life – if I stop to think about it for long, I psyche myself out or burst into tears. It’s been such a tall mountain to climb – and yet I climbed it. Me. The person that was helpless and broken and stupid and worse. And I did it by relying on the love and support from everyone around me – even strangers. Those strangers? They’re now friends. People we see every day who cheer us on and laugh and joke with us on tough days. Maybe we’re not close enough to go out for coffee, but I know that if I need something, they’re right there to help me, and they won’t mind doing it. They WANT to help me. Because they truly care.

I also did it one. day. at. a. time. I haven’t just gotten stronger and lost 100 pounds in the blink of an eye over here, while y’all have been in your respective corners of the globe, living your own lives. I know it looks dramatic and impressive, and it IS! But you guys haven’t seen me sweat gallons every day. You haven’t seen the soreness and the pain on particularly challenging days. (And yet, I’m still here telling you about it.) You haven’t been here on those rare once-a-month nights where I come home and cry to my husband that I’m not working hard enough or losing fast enough even though I’ve put 500% into the week already – and my personal trainer tells me flat out that she could work me harder if I wanted to burn out and hurt myself in a week. By obeying her, whether she’s giving me a hard or an easy day, I’m making progress at exactly the rate I should. At no point have I ever wanted to kill her. This program has lasted most of a year for us, and I didn’t get here by taking days off. I didn’t get here by making excuses or complaining. I didn’t get here by suspecting everyone around me of mistreatment just because I had to do something I hate. I got here by bringing my best every day – even if that “best” is “today I lifted this wimpy little weight that would make a bodybuilder giggle five times instead of four.” For ME it’s a huge deal. And everyone around me understands that.

And yes, I do still notice when my powerlifter personal trainer can easily lift with one finger a weight that makes me struggle with both hands. Yes, it’s a little embarrassing. But it’s exercise – as Erin repeatedly reminds me, if it was easy, it wouldn’t be helping me! And I’m NOT a powerlifter. I’m someone that used to lift nothing heavier than a game controller less than one year ago. The weights I started with on day 1 are almost as easy for me to lift now as they are for her. One day at a time is how that happened – each day I’m competing with myself, not the people around me, to see how much better I can do. And some days… I won’t do better. I’ll do the same. Or I’ll do worse, because I’m sore or tired or didn’t sleep well. That just means I have to do it again next time, and keep doing it, until it gets easy enough to move on from. It doesn’t mean I’m a failure or I’m hopeless.

Like my mother… I don’t want to be weak. I don’t want to be lonely. I don’t want to be helpless. I don’t want to be afraid or angry or hopeless in this world. But the difference between us right now is that she thinks she can avoid that fate by resisting help and running away from the things that are wrong with her. If that were the case, I’d have stopped being sick and weak an awfully long time ago, because I spent years doing exactly that. What I had to do was face the reality of my situation and understand what I was robbing myself of – my future, my happiness, and the reasonable, logical side of my personality that I prided myself on. I had so many wonderful reasons to fight and overcome the things that were wrong with me! She does too, though I’m concerned she doesn’t see that. And the fight that I needed to have wasn’t a fight to be smarter or more clever than the people trying to help me. Fixing something that is broken doesn’t just happen, and trying to shortcut the process or get one over on people will only set me back. It’s paying back what I stole from myself while I was too sick and too weak and too stupid to know better. Every day I spend fixing it is a day I’ll have back once I’m strong.

I only hope and pray that my mom will come to her own senses about this. I have already stood by and watched as countless friends and loved ones have fallen victim to their own insecurities and suffering. I often feel as if I’m the only person seeing any of this, or trying to learn something from it. I can’t just let the tragedies that have happened in my life be without purpose or meaning – even if all they can do is inspire me to do better by myself, I will take that. But I would give almost anything for my learning and my journey to give the same back to others. It has nothing to do with wanting to be admired or cheered – though that has happened far more than I ever believed possible! It’s about wishing other people that are in similar positions to the way I used to be could see things through my eyes. I’m not special, and there’s no reason this is easier or better for me than it is for them. I’ve changed one day at a time, and I know that other people can do the same. It won’t be easy, and it will require the fight of their lives… but they can do it.

Life is worth it. The people I love are worth it. The things I love are worth it. I’m not ready to give up yet. And so I fight, one day at a time.

What future my mom wants… she’ll have to decide for herself. I’m not going to commit to posting updates on her condition, because things are so much in flux right now that I’m more likely to need to fly down there to help or visit than anything. The next few weeks of our lives will be figuring this stuff out – yep, you guessed it – one day at a time. My goal is to stay the course as much as possible and keep traveling the path I’m on, but visiting home is something we already planned to do and I’m still expecting to do, no matter what condition or mental state she is in. Right now, while her mental state is still in flux, I would ask that you please just keep her in your thoughts and prayers without trying to contact her, send her anything, or visit unless you’ve already been asked to do so; she needs time to recover in peace. I’ll be sure to let you know if or when that changes – she may be in rehab for quite some time, and if that happens, she’s going to need all the love and support she can get. As much as I am furious with her for how this all turned out, and we will need to have some very serious talks about this once I know she’s lucid enough to understand and respond to me, I want the best for her and I want her to know that she is loved.

My biggest fear right now isn’t that we’ll lose her. It’s that she will eternally hate Chris and me for daring to tell her the truth. Should that day come… I will be heartbroken. My mom is really the only immediate family I have left in the world, and protecting that bond has been the main reason I haven’t fought her harder over the years. But I would be more heartbroken to know that we DIDN’T love her enough to speak; that we allowed her to throw her life away without saying a word. If she doesn’t survive this, I want to know that I did everything I could to show her that we love her, even if that love might sometimes hurt a little bit.

Sometimes, love DOES hurt a little bit. Sometimes it hurts a lot. That’s a lesson most parents have to teach their kids, when they discipline them for things or correct their behavior. My mother once taught it to me. I hope that I can return the favor to her now.


  1. Arashikou

    Wow. That was a tough read, but beautifully put. I hope you get your wish.

    One small correction, though. Your timeline for how long it’s been since we were in Tucson is off. We DID go down to Tucson in 2016. That was the year you mentioned later, where your mom had to take care of us while we had the flu. I know for sure because you were playing the then-new Fire Emblem: Fates while I was sick, and that game came out in 2016. The year your mom said not to come because she would come see us was 2017, so that was ANOTHER reason we didn’t go that year, in addition to the ones you listed.

    • DterminD

      Thanks for the correction. It’s good to know we weren’t away for as long as I’d thought. Chalk it up to a heck of a year! (But at least the Conquest portion of the game was fantastic!)

  2. Carolyn Bruce

    Thank you for sharing all of this, Amy. Roy and I have been praying for your mom, and we will continue to. We’re praying for you, John and Chris too.

    Switching gears… I continue to send heartfelt Congratulations to both you and John for your amazing and well-earned progress! I look forward to the final results you have indicated will be coming. Not that numbers and pictures are everything, but I do think they tend to be an unbiased indication of how much and how well you’all are doing.

    Finally, I want to put in a request now for a copy (scanned or hard copy) of your article in 20/20’s Pro Pulse magazine. How exciting! I really look forward to this.

    Sending hugs and love, that I hope you both can feel

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