Opening my eyes at 6:20 this morning I am happy to be able to straighten my legs and stretch. For once the 8 pound dog isn’t taking up a third of the bed. Despite my efforts to unplug I realize my phone is in my hand without even making a choice to pick it up. I decide to start the day at an inbox of zero. I almost didn’t swipe right on the letter from the Denver Schools. For some reason I opened it, expecting to be invited (along with 45,000 of my closest friends) to sit in on a superintendent meeting.
Instead I read about a 9 year hold boy taking his life allegedly because other fourth graders bullied him about being gay. The note also referenced an unnamed teenager who was hospitalized and in critical condition because of a self inflicted gun shot.
These times of sorrow and grief call on us to take the time to reflect on what we can do — both small and large efforts, individually and as a community — to consistently support our most vulnerable children. We must do everything possible to protect our children.- Denver Public School letter 8/28/18
Fifteen minutes later our bed was made and Oliver was lying across it on his side, blue fuzzy jacket on. He wears this jacket to cover his stomach. He is worried people notice his weight. Now though he is not worried. He is cooing at a picture of a puppy in a burrito. He is 13.
This summer he sent his father and I a long text which started about screen time and ended somewhere darker. (He has given me permission to share this text.)
Ok so I’m writing you this text because I honestly don’t know if I can just clearly say and explain this in person.
I think my recent increase in screen usage stems from two main things and some other factors that all combined to result in this overuse.
The first thing and probably main culprit is puberty, it affects everyone differently and I believe that for me the hormonal swings are mainly amplifying my already present anxiety and introvertedness this makes it so right now interacting with others not only completely drains me of energy, but actually freaks me out and scares me. Additionally mood swings have generally brought me to darker places then ever before and lowered my general happiness and energy which only gets worse when I spend all day on screens.
Also I believe that summer and it’s extensive freedom and no real purpose has made my lifestyle worse in other ways, my sleep is completely off and I’m eating more unhealthily then ever. But mainly I’m lost, I don’t have school to distract me or focus, on and while I do have Colin here I left a lot of my life in Denver. As much as I love it here right now I’m struggling.
Of course this could just be a negative mood swing, but there is certainly a serious problem and I need to fix my life right now, but I just don’t think I can do it alone.So I want to ask for help, because I’m worried about where this might go. I’m sorry for causing you trouble.
The opening of this text gave me a valuable insight. Oliver is clearly able to think about and analyze his feelings (see above.) But he DOES NOT talk about them. After I got this text this summer I suggested to a few friends that they invite their kids to text them with problems if that was easier than talking. Guess what? It was. Screentime might have started as his problem, but it was part of his solution as well. The night we got this text Steve and I sat down with Oliver right away. As much as my 20 years of talk therapy made me want to turn this into a difficult conversation about his mother I decided to follow his lead and write instead of talk. I asked him to break down his concerns into different areas and gave him paper and markers to draw and write. He wrote SLEEP, EXERCISE, FREE TIME, MOOD, SOCIAL ANXIETY, and EATING. Then I asked him to list what these things would look like in their very best forms. His mood began to change. Listing them out into small steps made them seem like something he could tackle. We picked two areas to work on that week. Sleep, and social stuff. He gave himself two challenges. Getting into bed at 10:30 with lights out and laying in his bed waiting for sleep. And texting 3 friends. Within days some of this mangled mess of concern started to clear up.
Of course we also talked about therapy (I am a HUGE proponent) and I have a recommendation lined up for him, but we decided to wait a bit and see how things shake out. We also started a book group reading Freeing Your Child From Anxiety. We only met twice and then we just started drinking wine. I kid. It was ovaltine.
In any case Steve and I responded with lists and plans and Oliver responded to us.
This was not my approach this morning.
I walked over to the bed, rested my arm on his fuzzy blue shoulder and told him the facts of the letter from DPS.
“There are two sides for us to think about.” I told him.
He rolled up to sitting, eyes on mine.
One, of course, is keeping ourselves safe. You know I am depressed. You know I am in treatment. You know I take medicine and have therapy and have faced some real darkness. But despite that I am here with you and even when I am sad I am happy every day that I made it here. Even when I feel loathing or unaccomplished I can still go to sleep glad that I made it here, to you. I want that for you.” I tell him.
He is nodding.
“This summer you told us you were in a dark place.”
He has cast his eyes down. Maybe I should be texting this. But I continue.
“Sometimes you are not kind to yourself. Sometimes you expect to get 100 on an assignment and a 70 feels like a whole piece of your identity has been taken away, instead of just three incorrect bubbles on a computer.”
He is looking at me now. We have spent the past two nights with him in tears, me telling him that he is more than just a grade and him almost believing me.
“There are lots of worries in this world. Some are about problems that we should try to solve, like not getting enough sleep. Some are anxieties that we can notice and try to treat like background noise, like feeling as though being 15 minutes early for school is not early enough.”
Now he has a smile.
“And then there is that dangerous worry. When all of our fears and upsets come together and tell us the big lie that no life is better than this life. I know that feeling. I tell him. I will help him. If he ever feels like he wants to be numb and do nothing I will understand. I won’t tell him that he is just 13 and all of this is just temporary. I will get him treatment. I will slash away the things that feel as if they are closing in on him. I will give him a break from responsibilities.
Because at the worst of times our only responsibility is to stay alive.
He hears me. He is patting my hand on his shoulder.
There is another side too. I tell him. The side where you can save a life other than your own.
I used stats the article I read this morning that said LGBTQIA teens are three times more likely to report attempted suicide and four times more likely to commit suicide. Amongst those who didn’t have an attempt they cited having just one person helped.
He can help. He can tap into his incredible well of kindness. He can recognize people who are fragile and stand by them. Even just physically. He can remember that also people’s pain can be buried into a small ball invisible to everyone but corroding them from the inside out. Smiles, eye contact, greetings. These little things add up. After all, we all want to be seen.
I finished with this second part and he was sitting up straight. “I can do this.” He tells me. I am scared of talking to people but I can smile. I can sit at a different desk or lunch table. I could make someone a drawing. Maybe once a week.” He likes this.
So once again, despite my emotional speech, we have landed at a behavioral approach. It is not the way I would do it. But it is his way. And I imagine there will be some kids over the next week that feel seen by him and maybe will see him back, and maybe at night when they are lying in the dark there will be something about their day to enjoy instead of nothing. And that is something.
[Tweet theme=”basic-white”]Fear and upsets come together and tell us the big lie that no life is better than this life.[/Tweet]
It is 4:32 and I am lying awake, tender like a bruise.
At the meditation/writing retreat I sat on my computer and broke its casing. It lost the small screws that held its sleek aluminum back on and there is a small crack that is open to its insides. It is hard to see but I know it is there.
Leo brought my laptop with him on our vacation and after a bit of using it it’s fan wouldn’t shut off and it became hot, almost scorching to the touch. We unplugged it and it cooled off. But the battery was broken so without its connection it was useless.
I relate to the computer.
I have felt the depression coming and have tried to ward it off. Steve is gone for the week and I am going to have to be very careful if I want to get through this without having it effect the boys. I look at my calendar and try to find a time to see a friend each day. Taking a walk or eating lunch out, anything that keeps me from my bedroom helps. If I go through the motions of my life sometimes I surprise myself and show up in it.
I ask a friend to have lunch and her text back is brief. “I can’t. Too many errands.” What is this? I asked myself with fondness. She is such a grownup. I would never let errands get in the way of lunch. I can’t even imagine what these errands might be. They sound sort of good though. Maybe I need some errands.
Once upon a time there were errands. When I was a little girl, little enough to sit in the back seat of whichever incarnation of Volvo we drove, I went with my mother on her errands. Lying awake in the middle of the night trying to get back to sleep I reconstruct our route.
In my memory it is chilly outside and my breath is fogging up the window of the car window. She tells me to stop as I trace a heart in the mist, giving it two dots for eyes and a smile. She is worried that it will leave smudges and she is right. When it dries off I can see other hearts, older, marking the glass.
We start at the dry cleaner. Well, we start by circling he block several times looking for a place to park. We are in newton center, newton is a suburb 7 miles west of Boston large enough to have 13 of these little clusters of shops and restaurants (quaintly called villages) but this, true to its name, is the biggest. It is shaped like a large triangle made up of several blocks. There is a T stop here and I watch people trudging up the old steps from the train. The old railway station is large and beautiful but it is locked. This is before the time of reclamation and at least a decade before Starbucks will have lines out the doors. Instead the lines are at the payphones.
My mother has not found a place to park. She is swearing softly. “Can you just wait with the car?” She asks. I nod solemnly as if I could possible move the car if needed and sit tall in my seat. She double parks to run into the dry cleaner and I wait. Alert. Each car that passes us has to slow and some shake their heads at me. We are stopped in the exact spot that my father will park in years later and have his car stolen. He left it running, driver door open, to grab a coffee from the shop that doesn’t exist yet. The thief just got in and drove away. The police caught him before we could even file the report. He got pulled from the car so quickly that he left his butter soft leather gloves behind. When my father held them up triumphantly I understood his pleasure, the thief’s error would trump his own in the retelling.
Today I am safe. No one wanted the Volvo.
My mother has the rear driver door open trying to loop the many metal handles onto the impossibly small plastic hook. She is rushing. When she finally gets them in the clothes are bulky enough to be the size of another person riding next to me. My brother, I decide, someone who would not have been nervous about the other drivers making their way around us while we are double parked.
Now we have gone down the steep section of the road to the bank. This was he age before direct deposit but after the drive through window was installed. The sweet days of banking. Our bank is the first to install a second and third lane that are serviced by a giant vacuum/tube system. I wanted to be the one to take the Jetson’s like canister out of the tube. I crawled into the front seat and leaned over my mother. She tolerates this. When I roll open the lid there is a white envelope filled with crisp bills. Even better there is a lollipop.
Next I wait for her to get electrolysis. I sit in the small room, legs sticking to the padded vinyl chairs, picking chocolates out of a small bowl. I hear murmurs in a Russian accent and a Zap. My mother has been at war with a small handful of hairs on her chin. I am mystified by these hairs. Sometimes she has me look for them because they are too difficult to see. In my middle age I will understand the zap of the machine, know the taste of metallic saliva, and smell the burn. The electrolysis will not work for me either.
From here we go to the Chinese Laundry. This is the precursor to strip malls with beautiful brick and decorative parapets. My favorite Jewish bakery is here but my mother will get to smell its yeasty warmth as she picks up bagels and thin sliced rye. I am holding tight the paper ticket for the shirts. I walk down the stairs to an indoor alley. There is a loud bell as I use my full weight to push open the glass door. It is a good thing there is a bell because I am too small to see over the counter. My hand, clutching the tickets so fiercely that the paper has begun to sag with sogginess reaches up, but my face is pointed at raw wood wainscoting. I can see the staples where it is held together. The man, whose name my mother knows, exchanges the ticket for the shirts, plucking it carefully from my fingers. He offers me a mint which I take to be polite. The lollipop is waiting for me in the car. I carry the shirts carefully in both arms. They are wrapped in paper and crinkle pleasantly like a present.
My mother is not yet back to the car so I try to imagine her. I picture a cake box in her arms, one that might contain rugelach, or black and white cookies. Decades after this my Methodist husband will bake rugelach for me to take to a Christmas cookie exchange. Today there will be no cookies. Instead my mother comes out of the back door of the cobbler with two plastic bags in one hand with the bread and bagels. Shoe box in the other. I can smell the polish as soon as the door opens. I hold it all on my lap, shirts and shoes and bread and bagels.
I’ll drive slowly, she reassures me, as I try to keep our riches from sliding onto the floor. She is in a rush no more.
This bit of memory has centered me. Pun absolutely intended. You know why? Because when I am deeply depressed I don’t make jokes. It is 5:26am now and I am feeling better than I did just 12 hours ago. At dinner things were very quiet. Not a poop joke between us. Oliver, usually one to pose a question to debate, is picking at his chicken. I am sitting, missing Steve, gently poking at myself to see how sore I really am. I am worried that I am not doing well at all. “What’s wrong?” Leo asks, in a mixture of sympathy and accusation. “I’m not sure.” I tell him. “Everything and Nothing” is the answer I don’t want to burden him with. I want it to be a birthday, or 11:11 so I can squinch my eyes tight and wish him safe from these feelings or these lack of feelings or however this episode will play out. It is my most realistic fear, that I will damage my boys with these feelings. Or these lack of feelings. Or however this episode will play out. I find myself right on the edge of being able to help calm his concern, help myself, but I can’t. I imagine opening my arms to him, him sliding across the bench to me and everything feeling a bit better. I can see it because it has happened so many times before. I imagine over explaining something, like SSRIs and neurotransmitters, the way I do baby making and other things they ask about. I imagine his face opening in understanding and eventually in laughter as we take whichever science topic we are dissecting from the rational to the absurd. Instead I look at him in silence. I can’t quite do anything for us now.
I stand and clear my plate and the boys follow me, somber, into the kitchen to clean. Leaving the downer dinner table things are immediately better for them. They decide on a game to play together and I can hear their voices still in the high pitches of boys even though they are not so little any more. I have done this for them at least. Even on days when Steve is away, and I am slipping, they have each other, a fraternity of two.
I make myself stay downstairs until 7 and I turn on music and do a crossword puzzle. I try to take in the velvet of the loveseat, running my fingers across it. I am proud of this find, dug out of the storage room of a vintage shop. Well cleaned it is a precious place in our living room. It has hosted family meetings, and many cuddles. The boys have napped and wrestled here. I try to hear the echoes of joy from our everyday life. My brain is working slowly, songs are playing but I only hear static.
It is 7:02 so I release myself. I am allowed to go to the bedroom. Walking through the barn door I reveal the bed which is both a source of solace and of temptation to take a break from real life. I take a shower, I put on lotion. That is something that I do when I am not depressed. I have on new pajamas. They have stars on them that are so small that I keep trying to brush them off thinking they are lint.
Very deliberately I pick up the tv remote and set it out of reach. I lift the covers and climb into bed. It is 7:30. I reach for my book and stretch my legs and tell myself that I have things under control. Oliver walks in a little early for reading and catches me with my eyes drooping at 7:45. “Maybe you are too tired to read?” He offers me the remote. “We finished our last book anyways.” I realize he isn’t trying to tempt me, but is arguing his own case. “Sure.” I tell him. “We can watch tv.” “Wha did you and Leo end up playing downstairs.” He looks at me with confusion. “When you two decided to play together after dinner, what did you do?” “Oh, nothing, Leo wanted to play with his online friends.” He is not even the tiniest bit upset by this. This is standard. I watch him as he navigates the list of shows we have already recorded. He is tan from vacation despite sunscreen, he is here in my bed which for him is only comforting not a portal to a world apart. I try to breathe him in. “Do you mind if I scream?” He asks me and he is yelling YELLING. “LEO LE-OOOOOO.”
Leo tumbles onto the bed, fresh freckles highlighted by his grin. They are both laughing. They are fine. I haven’t broken them.
Now it is 6:04 am. I am giving up going back to sleep. It might be useful to blame my sluggishness on being tired rather than being depressed. I can hear Oliver in his bedroom, up before his alarm. He is ready to get going on his day. A hallway away
I am looking ahead at the next 12 hours even if I am not looking forward to it. I can tell they are going to be better than the last 12. I will go through today slowly. I will brush my teeth and put on a bra. I will write and walk and meditative. I will follow up on some things for the school and run an evening meeting. After all of that I will come in the side door and the dog will pee himself with joy to see me. The boys will be happy too. They will have eaten pizza, the box still out but the counter beneath it will be clean. I’ll ask them about their days and Oliver will tunelessly sing a song from the musical he is stage managing and Leo will tell me about the 100% on the math test that I already know about. I will sit on the loveseat and one of them will make ice waters and another will sit with his legs on my lap. I will stroke his shins noticing that the hair has grown just the littlest bit thicker even though it is still golden blond. I will think that it feels even more beautiful than the velvet I am sitting one.
I will have a headache, I will be tired, I will miss Steve.
One morning I walked into the bathroom and looked at the pill bottles lined up like soldiers going to war. Instead of being on my side, battling mental illness and hormonal imbalance the army seemed to be working against me. With each turn of the cap I was taunted by miserable messages.
Healthy people don’t need pills.
You are not healthy.
It is your fault you are not healthy.
I started every day thinking these things. The sun could be pouring through the bathroom skylight (and often was- it is Denver after all), my son could have woken me with a snuggle and still these condemning thoughts persisted above or below my consciousness. You are not well. It is your fault. Welcome to your day.
I noticed that I was holding my breath as I rushed though my routine so that I could get out of the bathroom away from the judgmental pills. I would brush my teeth with vigor, slap on sunscreen, stab myself with deodorant and gulp down the pills so quickly that they often became chalky lumps in my throat.
I decided to toss the pill bottles.
Not the pills. I needed them. But the bottles.
I stole one of the IKEA spice canisters from Steve’s masterpiece and poured all four pills together. I took time to notice the blue and brown and white and think that they looked like the very best local eggs.
I threw the bottles into the sap bucket that we use as a bathroom trash can with a satisfying clunk as each hit the bottom of the bucket.
Now each morning I carefully pick through the pills lining them up on the counter and take them one at a time sipping water from a mug my friend made that coordinates with the color of the pills. It felt a little ridiculous. Yet it made a big impact. This slight aesthetic change brought on a big mental shift. I was taking charge, I was taking care of myself.
I was not just a patient but a person.The pills were put in their place. It wasn’t their judgment after all.
If you want to make your life a little better go ahead and visit Jeremy online (or if you are super lucky in Waterbury) we enjoy his pottery in every room of our house. But none more than my bathroom.
Have you made any small changes to make daily struggles easier. Is their anything that you do to make yourself more of a person than a patient?
For the last decade of my father’s life he was a virtual shut it. He shuffled down the glass hallway between our house and studio in his slippers sloshing coffee as he went. By the end of each week it were as though our tiles were cow patterned with each brown splash on the white ceramic background. Each Thursday they were mopped clean leaving him a fresh palate for the upcoming days.
He wore a stretched grey sweatsuit and his sculpting assistant who camped in the loft above his gymnasium sized studio emerged each morning to do his bidding. Jaimie would take the crappy truck to the fancy store to buy soda and snacks and at the very end of my father’s life the cigarettes that probably played a part in killing him. On Tuesdays Jaimie would wake particularly early and roll our garbage cans down our long driveway so they could sit by the lake next to the tree that my father tried to kill to improve our water view.
My father’s few responsibilities were farmed out. The garbage was one of the last things remaining on his list so it was one of the first on Jaimie’s. Even as the margins of my dad’s physical life were shrinking his interior landscape grew. He got off the treadmill of daily tasks while he got off on art.
As a child I attributed my father’s limited repertoire of foods and experiences to a great satisfaction that he got from his life of creation. He didn’t need outside input to inspire him. When he insisted I open and recycle the mail I celebrated my father’s ability to keep minutiae from distracting him from his calling. As I age I wonder about my interpretation of my father’s choices. My own life is shrinking. And not because of creative pursuits.
Now when Steve travels the mail accumulates in our hall closet. When he retrieves it in a large stack my heart begins to race. Each envelope contains a possible task, a cost both literal and figurative. I imagine the envelopes flying towards us, debris to be dodged. I would rather they stay away.
When it is time to bring the garbage down our short driveway I wait for someone in our house with a Y chromosome to take it on its ride.
I don’t love to drive. I don’t like to drive. I rarely drive. My father had three cars in the last 20 years of his life and he gave two of them away and died owning the third. Together he probably drove them once every two weeks. I still drive more than that, but it is not too much. I have a 2 mile radius in which I choose to spend 98% percent of my time. It includes both boy’s schools a coffee shop, doctor and dentist offices, the JCC, a trader Joe’s, a Target, five restaurants, a strip club, and a pot shop. The last two are technically true but I don’t actually use them. They help me maintain the myth that my life is large enough. I mean, I can go to the chiropractor and see a woman’s bare back from the same parking spot. That is something.
I feel dizzy when I look at large spaces. The same vistas that I hiked towards as a 20 year old I now shy away from. Both then and now they remind me of my place in the world. Then I got off on an existential experience that left me swirling as one set of molecules in an unending sea of life and possibility. Now that same swirling feeling makes me feel sick, a vertigo that leaves me unsteady on my feet. So I want to get off of them and onto the love seat in our living room where I am safe and still.
When I was a kid I raced down our wide staircase jumping the last 2 or 3 or 5 steps for a moment of flight. Walking down the gentle curved staircase this morning I have to trail my hand against the wall. I still feel like I am flying, but off this earth. Ahead of me the dog runs with his curved tail and I am spiraling in the spiral of the stairs on the spiraling orbit of our planet. Sometimes I need to stop halfway down to keep upright. Then the dog twists to look back at me urging me forward so he can pee. He is more practical than me.
Today I feel two kinds of movement. The earth as it rotates and arcs through the galaxy and the responsibilities of life that move forward like a conveyor belt. Right now they both seem too much for me. I wonder about my father. Did he get off the moving walkway to make space for his own pursuits, or was he simply afraid the way I am. Did he stop seeing his place in the world as endlessly possible and instead see it as endlessly impossible?
Maybe he made his circle smaller and smaller until it was the dot of our house so the movement all around him was harder and harder to perceive and finally it was stilled. Perhaps he was looking for a way to get off.
Maybe I am doing the same thing. Fewer tasks, fewer places, less looking out and up and around.
Last night I dreamt that I was driving on an elevated road. My car was moving quickly around bends and up and down slippery tracks covered with moss and bordered with branches. I came to a clearing and the Taj Mahal glistened under the sun. It was a crisp contrast to the dripping green on my path. I had made it there. To the other side of the earth. And I had driven myself. Then I turned around and the road seemed treacherous. How had I possibly ridden this raised highway at full speed. I wanted to get off. I looked back at the Taj Mahal and then forward at the track which now seemed impossibly narrow. Then I was moving again and the earth was moving too. Surprisingly for some moments our motion worked in perfect offset and I felt still. Suddenly Steve was beside me, reaching his hand through my car window for me to grab. So I got moving again to the top of the mossy hill. I looked down at the world below, the arc of the earth and I felt afraid.
But I also felt ready to go.
So I let go of his hand.
And sped down with my stomach in my throat, the wind in my hair and my house in sight. For just a moment I was not looking to get off.
My love for the Patriots and my mental illness have been with me for about the same length of time. They are not causal, but transitive. They both blossomed at the time of my father’s terminal diagnosis. For better and for worse I have been living with them since my early 20s.
Last night I suffered through the eighth Superbowl of my fandom and my eightieth battle with the pharmacy. I handled neither with grace. As our first ranked offense was held to zero points I looked at Steve and lamented. “There is only one way a season can end well and so many ways that it can end badly.” Some teams and fans can celebrate small successes, the exact philosophy I am trying to embrace in life. But just like real life I struggle with it here. The Patriots only have one possible success, and that involves putting many fingerprints on a shiny silver trophy. It is depressing.
By the time my team was down 25-3 ( the largest Superbowl comeback in history was from 10 points down) I was numb. That is not true. Leo was numb. He was asleep. I was trying to lull my mind into a calm place. I figured distraction was the best tactic and so I turned my head to the computer which was showing a slideshow of family photos. That was pretty good. I watched my small tow headed boys frolic in the waves and climb into cardboard boxes as my team had a another three and out on the field. Before Leo was asleep he was trying to learn the game so I got to teach him about fumble recoveries (Good for Atlanta) and pick sixes (also a falcon feat.) It was easier to watch pictures of Steve teaching the kids to cook. Eventually a picture of our bathroom appeared on the screen and I remembered the worry that had been wiped out by what was happening on the football field.
It is a boring story. It was supposed to have a dull ending. I was running out of pills. I ordered more pills (a year of refills were still on my script) from Aetna online paid them $750 dollars for three months (this is one way our system is broken) and got the confirmation that my order would be processed in 1-2 days. That was on 1/24. Today was 2/6. Steve suggested I take a walk to the front door to see if I had missed the package of pills.
I hadn’t. I now had to deal with this imminent defeat.
Starting with the website I spent 2 minutes panicking that I couldn’t remember the proper username password combo, but I got in without being locked out and found that my order was on hold. I clicked through for the reason. None given. It instructed me to call the help line. Before I went through that entertainment I figured I would check the payment method (still current) and then the balance on the Health Savings account card that the pharmacy drew fund from. Actually I was getting more worked up than numb so Steve checked the balance. It was fine.
I had no choice left but to call.
I loathe the phone.
I loathe the Aetna help line.
I loathe losing the Superbowl.
I worked my way through their recorded line giving birthdates and last names “I didn’t quite catch that.” The robotic voice said. “Neither did Edelman” I told her as our clutch receiver failed to clutch the ball. “I didn’t quite catch that.” She told me again. Edelman seemed to be on the same page as he dropped another pass. Meanwhile Oliver thinks I am having a conversation with him and he is encouraging me. “It’s OK if we aren’t good in the first half….its the second half that matters.” He is sweet but I am busy working myself up into anger. Football is an emotional game, as is depression.
Now the recording is asking me for a prescription number which is totally reasonable but the info is on the phone. Which is on my face. “She wants a prescription number” I say to Steve, my eyes as wide as Chris Hogan’s the Patriots bug eyed receiver that we got from the Bills. This is impossible. So I resort to plan B. “Representative.” I say. “Do you want to speak to a representative?” She asks. There is hope! “Representative” I repeat with an uplifted tone. “What?” asks Oliver. “I didn’t quite get that. Do you wish to speak to a representative?” “Yes!” I cry out. “What?” Asks Oliver. “Look” says Steve as the Patriots hold the Falcons to a three and out. “I can’t look, it is only because I am not looking that they are doing well.” I explain. “What are you talking about?” asks my reasonable kid. “Excuse me Ma’am can you tell me your date of birth?” Asks my representative. “Look” Steve nudges me again.
I can’t look.
We go through the mumbo jumbo where once again I don’t have the prescription number. This dude is a step better than the robot though and he can access the info without it now that I have promised him my first (sweet and logical) born. “I see. You don’t have prior authorization.” That is IT. I have done this 4 times. I think. “I have done this 4 times” I shout. Six eyes look at me. They don’t know the pressure I am up against. The amount of time and training I have put into this. The Patriots are on their drive for five world championships and I am on my drive for five physician’s authorization. This must be how Brady feels when he is down 28-3 in the Superbowl I think. This must be how Anna feels when she struggles to refill her Viibryd prescription I am sure Brady is thinking.
“I’m sorry ma-am.” The representative who has no culpability for my problems responds. “Look” Steve is once again directing my attention to the screen where I am still averting my eyes. The team needs me not to look. “I’m sorry” I say to my representative. “I am a huge Patriots fan. And they are losing.” “Excuse me,” he says in his well trained voice. He is not so different from the robotic voice earlier I think. The image of the weird tackling robots come to mind. The ones that the Falcons love to practice on as they bob and weave away from them. It has made them good tacklers. But on the screen they are missing the tackles. I imagine my representative on the field. I am not a good tackler. But I will try. The game is not over yet. Then he reveals himself as a human, not a tackling machine. “Would you be willing to tell me the score?” As I allow my eyes to see the screen the score changes. It is 28-20. The Patriots have the ball. “How much time?” He asks me. “3:41” I tell him. “That is plenty of time.” He reassures me.
I begin my bargaining. I will go without my pills for a week. I will go through the shakes and vomiting of detox. I will miss my meetings. I will let my kids fend for themselves. All if the Patriots win the game. I don’t know which higher power is authorized to make this deal. Neither does my representative. He representative is searching my history. He sees that in fact I did have a prior authorization but it has expired. Right now I don’t care that much. “When?” I ask, because he has a job to do. “8/13/16.” He tells me. “So Aetna didn’t notify me then, OR when I paid them money last week.” “You just weren’t going to send the pills and I had to figure it out?” “I can get a senior manager ma’am but she won’t be able to authorize an override without prior authorization.” I am silent. I am watching my team. “What’s the score?” He asks. And there it is. 28-26. All we need is a 2 point conversion to force the first Overtime in Superbowl history.
There it is. Our 91 yard TD drive ends with a two point conversion. On the phone my representative is doing is own conversing. “So you will get the authorization tomorrow and then we will mail out the prescription on Wednesday.” That will leave me several days without pills. But it was the deal that I made so I will deal.
Because of the ridiculously unfair sudden death Overtime rules the coin toss is lucky to determine the superbowl. We call heads. This is a sign. I am dealing with medication for my head. It will obviously be heads.
We are clicking now. We know we have this. I watch through my fingers so I don’t jinx it. In my ear the representative continues. “After you receive the pills you should call back and see when the authorization runs out. You can mark it in your calendar.”
I won’t need to. It will run out right about the time Brady plays in his eighth Superbowl.
When Steve types my name into Facebook search it returns the result “Anna Rosenblum Palmer egomaniac”.
This upsets him.
But it doesn’t bother me. (See, that’s what an egomaniac would say). I spend almost every morning writing about myself. Then I often share what I wrote. At its best blogging allows readers to see the world through another person’s eyes. Sometimes they are enlightened by the differences in lifestyle and world view from their own. Sometimes they are comforted by the similarities to his/her own experiences and feelings. At its worst blogging is masturbatory and boring to anyone outside the author. I’d say this blog runs the whole spectrum. One thing that almost every blog as in common is the copious use of the word “I”.
It was during my second serious relationship that I realized that some people didn’t live their lives in the world of pronouns. I watched my boyfriend lean his curly head over tiny circuits and explain how they would come together to power the robotic knee he was helping to build. He was alive with the idea of these connections. The electricity from the circuit board lit him up more than our high school gossip. I knew that that was where his head and heart were meant to be. For a moment I saw my life as the 1x of an enormous microscope, and he was a magnification higher, looking into to systems that I barely knew existed.
I pictured it in the shape of a Hershey’s kiss with myself at the top (that what an egomaniac would do) the micro world had his circuits and the way the body systems worked together, then beyond, unfathomable to me, were atoms and quarks. I realized how deep his understanding and interest was but decided to ignore it. I would stay where I was comfortable analyzing our relationship to death and think about the life of the person who would get the robotic knee. Something my boyfriend had never considered.
It wasn’t long before I came face to face with the reverse of his micro world. My mother was a political theorist and studied democratic and other political systems. I knew this was her work life, but as I got older I realized this was also her life’s work. When I would talk about a particular problem in school she wasn’t as interested in the story or characteristics of the players but the general social workings of the school as a whole. When I began to realize the depth of my depression she would listen to me of course, but her main focus was on “experts” and what the overarching medical system might say, where my problems fit in a spectrum of issues. For me it was always about me. (an ego-maniac catch phrase) The particular trumped the general.
In college my friend and I rode for two hours in the back of a car while the two guys in front talked about the possibility of infinite solar systems. After quickly getting bored of their circular discussion I decided to count the pronouns in their conversation. In two hours they uttered 5 pronouns. All “he”. Each was in reference to research by scientists. The image of the Hershey’s kiss with me at the top morphed into an hourglass with me at the center (exactly where an egomaniac might live.) Below me were circuits and circulatory system, atoms and quarks. Above me were political systems and global trade agreements, the galaxy and the questions of humanity’s purpose.
I am in the middle of the hourglass. I live here with my husband and my family and my friends. I understand the world of pronouns where I learn and care about personal problems. When I talk about parenting philosophy I am referring to Steve’s and mine. When I talk about education I refer to the public school my boys attend. I think about the world and the carbon that it is composed of and the carbon that we spend…but not as frequently and without the same facility that I do when discussing a friend’s fears. It is the macro, the micro and me. I live in the center at the thinnest point of the hourglass where I can easily get my arms around it. As well as my head.
Over drinks I talked about my concept of an hour glass of magnification with friends. One made the astute observation that work life and personal life often required different levels of focus. At work he needs to understand a broad corporate culture. At home he focuses on family. Then his wife reminded him of his love for debate over foreign policy, a topic whose pronouns might be limited to us & them. He looked at her and nodded. He did like to discuss foreign policy. Probably more than he liked discussing each of our individual magnifications of life.
I see how my 1X perspective can make me seem like an egomaniac. Yet I think it is more a function of how I best analyze the world. Starting with me and the people I know and moving in and out from there. The fact that I write about it is another issue. One that I would be happy to discuss with you individually.
What about you? Are you at a magnification of one? (This is not a question an egomaniac would ask.)
[PS- there was an entirely different post that I meant to write about how some people are comfortable (and might even celebrate) being disliked and others have never been disliked in their lives. Any thoughts you have on that before I write it up are welcome.]
The first time I saw this picture (oh be quiet, you know you have a picture of gelatin desserts that you look at once a week too) I thought our little guy in the front was looking pretty jaunty. He was off to have a day of some sort. Probably a sweet day. He was no longer a mashed mess of bear limbs in a bag. I couldn’t quite see his expression (perhaps because his face just sort of fades away into a blob) but I imagined him smiling.
Today? Today he looks like he has turned away from the group. It is likely they are talking behind his back but because he is RIGHT THERE he can still hear them through his chewy ears. His blob face looks sort of alarmed. Just moments ago the four bears were together in a circle (Or maybe a square if their flat back were aligned correctly.) Now he is alone. And he doesn’t know if he will ever get welcomed back in to the fold. He might as well be eaten. Welcome to my gummy bear mood test. I have found it is a pretty apt determiner of your mad, I mean mood.
When you look at the photo do you think…
The Gummy Bear candy is the pinnacle of edible gelatin applications. Can you imagine if in addition to their good cheer, adorable appearance and delicious taste they could actually give us the vitamins we need each day? They do? Humanity is amazing!
Those other damn bears won’t share their square. Typical.
I want to bite the head off of that bear…. deadly red die just speeds up what is happening to all of us anyways.
After listening to this audio clip do you think:
Birdsong reminds me of spring and rebirth. I think of possibilities and the incredible cycle of renewal that can come for each of us, and for earth as a whole.
Do you hear that bird? I think it lost its mother. I think it might be starving. Doesn’t it sound hungry?
Those birds wake me every morning.
Now watch this video do you think:
No one can keep true love apart. There is a bond between families that we are born into and those that we choose that remains strong through all of life’s trials.
The mom seems to be looking for another dog. I think one of the puppies is dead and she knows it.
I hate puppies.
I cycle through all three. Glad, sad, mad and then glad again. I am like a beginning kids reading book with more swearing.
What about you, are you more like to respond with anger, joy or sorrow? Have you seen the cartoon that starts out as a brilliant and nuanced illustration of these emotions and ends up a formulaic mess? Wait…you might have another interpretation of Inside Out. Or maybe my zig zagging between the _ads just leaves you confused. When I started putting this together I was a 2. Now I am pretty sure I am a 3. In any case it is good that I am working from home today.
There is a fair chance that not a single one of you will weave through the trip I have below. It is my trip. But it is also my blog. There are times when I think I am writing about something personal and it seems to resonate with you…so I invite you to join me in the journey I took between 4pm and 2am yesterday/today.
At 4pm I watched Tim Urban’s TED talk. For those of you who don’t know or read the blog Wait But Why I offer you the gift insight, humor, and research in the form of that link. Such level of examination is rarely seen outside of graduate school. But before you think its all boring let me tell you that Tim is a major procrastinator, so his signature style of stick figure stream of consciousness lacks the pretension of the Phd.
Assuming that a fair number of you will never click that link allow me to bastardize it in atoo long paragraph. Tim’s TED talk was about procrastination. August Tim said yes to the talk that was set in the calendar for February. At the time August Tim had no idea how much he was screwing over January Tim. Life experience and a career catalyzed by illustrating and writing about procrastination might have given him a clue but August Tim was busy with stuff like ice cream. The Sept, Oct, November Tim’s were similarly engaged so the end of the year rolled around andDecember Tim was PISSED off. He was the one that was supposed to be memorizing the talk to “Happy Birthday” level of familiarity (that shit takes TIME) but the talk hadn’t been written yet. Just when he was going to get down to business the instant gratification monkey showed up. (Now this is Tim’s image and isn’t the same analogy that I would use but damn would it take time to come up with my own.) In any case the monkey shows up and gets December Tim busy with all sorts of things in the dark Playground. He needs to use Google Earth to REALLY study India. Every inch of India needs to be reviewed from a birds eye of about 20 feet. The procrastinator knows that a deadline is looming, casting its ever growing shadow over the playground. Yet it isn’t until true career meltdown or major personal embarrassment is at stake that the panic monster wakes up and shuts down that monkey. Freed from the playground the procrastinator gets to work on his editing/thesis/TED talk. Then he miraculously gets it done in 3 /minutes/hours/days We all know that the quality of the work could have been so much better if he had started early…but…next time. The second half of the talk (which I could totally tell had been prepped and “memorized” two days before he took the stage) talked about a life of procrastination. This is distinctly different from a lifetime of procrastination. In a life of procrastination things are not in a dark playground, they are simply dark. There are no specific projects and deadlines to ignore…in fact the monkey/monster cycle comes as a bit of a break from full time procrastinating. Tim tells of thousands of readers that email him to describe their pain. Their shortcomings. Their total sense of worthlessness. These are the feelings they have when their instant gratification monkey takes a nap and leaves them awake and alone with their thoughts. That is a state that those of us with a procrastination life try to avoid.
From 4:30-5:00 I listened to a patriots podcast and matched numbers in another nail biting game of 2048 (6 x 6 survival mode.)
At 5:00I ordered pizza to be delivered at 6:00 when Steve was due to return from skiing.
At 5:28 Oliver told me the pizza had arrived and he had signed for it.
At 5:28.35 I asked if he had tipped.
At 5:29 Oliver ran down the car before the delivery person drove away.
From 5:29- 5:32 we practiced figuring out 20% and enjoyed our dinner and each others’ company.
From 5:32- 5:50 we passed around a mechanical pencil and graph paper and sketched what we would want in our dreammedia room. Oliver focused on proportion and drew what I am pretty sure was a set of midcentury modern Eames chairs. Leo drew an indoor trampoline. I sketched the chase for the heating.
At 5:50 the boys went to the playground (light) and I tried to keep from going to mine (dark.)
At 6:00 Steve came home from skiing and was so tired that we barely spoke. When I went upstairs to watch election coverage (reason we would benefit from a media room…I might choose to watch TV somewhere other than bed.)
At 6:05 Steve was in his PJs which on many days would have beaten me but I had put mine on at 4:00.
At 6:30 Oliver came into my room where I sat with the TV on election coverage, my phone on 2048 (6×6 survival mode) and my laptop open to Facebook. The monkey had me all set up without the need to think at all. Oliver said to me “I am really surprised that you like that game so much.” With GREAT effort I lifted my head from the screen to meet his blue eyes. “Like it?” What is this child talking about? Then I remembered that his life is not the dark playground and the things that he chooses to do are things that he likes. This seems incredible. In a life of virtual leisure I do very very few things I like. Which brings us back to the monkey. He doesn’t care if I like the distractions he throws at me. He just wants to keep me busy. I have dabbled in enough books on mindfulness, awareness, and the power of now to realize that all of this mind numbing screen time is designed to keep me from waking up to the world. For now I have to get the 2048 tile, then 4096 and on and on. I can explore that other stuff some other time.
From 6:30-7:15 we have a great time discussing inflation and our National Debt. That sentence may be the least believable one I have ever written but it is true. Leo has proposed a global currency chase where we print more dollars to pay back out debt then quickly change US currency so we don’t flood our own market. As soon as other counties catch on we can change again. I imagine field trips to the Denver Mint would be more exciting. Right now the best part is standing on the stair that is exactly 5,280 feet above sea level. Oliver is involved, trying to explain inflation using a gallon of milk (clearly not organic), but Leo is down his own rabbit hole designing coinage. Steve is contemplating all of us through the tired eyes of a day skiing. I wonder if they would like The Big Short.
From 7:15-9:00 We watch the voice. I continue to match numbers so really I just listen to the Voice. (Its a good show for that.) Actually I listen to Leo who keeps a constant patter going about how much he enjoys certain backstories (his term) how funny Blake is, his preference for Christina over Gwen (Christina can really sing, Gwen cares only about outfits which is NOT SUPPOSED TO BE THE POINT OF THE SHOW (emphasis his)), and reviews of the battle round performances that are so stream of consciousness that I have to take his word for it because I can’t hear a single note of music. I can’t imagine where he gets that tendency.
By 10:00 everyone is asleep and I am lying in considering Tim’s talk while I work with my various screens. I am thinking specifically about the stuffed procrastination monkey which as a Patreon patron of Wait But Why I received as the most menacing holiday gift ever. Actually I was able to choose between he and the panic monster. But the panic monster scared the shit out of me so I picked the monkey and handed down Leo the gift of instant gratification. Which is an externalized representation of what I had already shared with him in genetic code. In any case I am thinking about the monkey and how for me he is no so much about keeping me from working as he is about keeping me from thinking.
By 1:00am I have an unfamiliar resolve. I’m going to take down that monkey.I’ll show him. I think. He can’t stop me from thinking. The fact that the monkey is me is not lost on my but I DECIDE not to think that. I send out this thought for consideration. I felt better after I wrote the post on drowning. True. That is a totally true statement. But I don’t FEEL the feelingas I think the sentence. I have given myself that line to think the way I might script dialogue in the fiction I always imagine I will write. I realize how many of my thoughts are like that. Narrated lines. Sure they are in the first person but it has the feel of a movie made from a John Irving novel. The hapless character thinks she is living her life as she chooses, but only the narrator knows her motivations. I am the narrator. I insist to the John Irving monkey. “Just match your numbers sweetheart,” the monkey soothes, “spend a little time with the Patriots Podcast and unload the dishwasher. You like the dishes. They are so pretty. Or chips. What about potato chips? I bet you would like to get yourself some salty crispy chips.”
That asshole is so infantilizing. I think. This is not even close to the first time I have called myself an asshole. I am watching ELECTION coverage. I yell at him. That is something people in control of their lives do. “I was just going to say that.” The monkey answers. “Look at you, so together, watching election coverage after facilitating a conversation about inflation with your kids. What a grown up you are.” Why are you saying you? I ask the monkey. Wait. Why am I saying you? (Even if I don’t figure anything else out I might have uncovered the meaning behind the title of Tim Urban’s blog) You and I are the SAME. We are the SAME person. You are just a monkey because Tim drew you as a monkey and you are John Irving because he came from New England just like me. I am Anna Irving and I like bananas.See? You can’t script what I think and distract me with shiny objects.
But of course the monkey me can. And almost all of the time does. Games on the iPad, walks with podcasts, falling asleep with the TV on. Monkey me limits the amount of time that I can think. And when the thoughts come they still seem to come as if they are composed.I have often said (so often that it shows itself as the scripted line that it is) that I can only think through talking or writing. It might be that I only let myself think when I am talking or writing. I am protected by a meta level of reflection that keeps me from falling in. In the midst of being a narrating narrator I stumble across the line. Falling In. That wasn’t what I was supposed to think. Fuck thats scary. If I am afraid of falling in I decide it might be beneficial to give myself a push.
At 1:45 am I turn off the TV. I plug in my phone, watch, iPod, laptops (So many screens the monkey tells me waving his hands.) and set them on my bedside table. I lie back on my horrible pillow and wait to fall in. I am thinking about the Patriots trade. I take several breaths like I did at the zen center but I don’t actually want to silence all of my thoughts, just my monkey chatter.I want to hear the rest of my thoughts and I even want to feel them. “NO YOU DON’T” screams the Irving monkey. “BANANA.” This time I don’t yell back. It’s OK. I’m going to be OK. And I am talking to myself this time not to monkeys and not to narrators. For a moment I approach a state of otherness like I am on the verge of sleep, a drug trip, or orgasm, about to lose control and I pull myself back up. This is scary. Yes. It is scary. I tell me. The monkey is away from this precipice jumping up and down screeching agin about the Patriots trade, they got rid of Chandler Jones for a second round pick. I wonder what the value of that pick is. Could we package it with another pick and get the first pick of the second round and tell Goddell to go to hell? Hey there. Let’s deal with that tomorrow. For once I am procrastinating the procrastinating. Come back to this. Lets see what you have been so afraid of. I edge closer, gently sending away thoughts of whether or not the kitchen light is on, what the traffic will be to get to volleyball, whether or not the new accountant emailed me back. WAIT. NOT. The new accountant did NOT email me back. I clearly need to deal with that. It is the ONLY responsible thing to do. But it is 1am so my only choices are sleep or check out that huge dark area beyond the cliff.
Cliff it is. I peer over and it is as if everything inverts. The earth that I was standing on is up at the sky and the sky is down here in the pit. It seems like if I fall I will be falling up. I am still on the edge, not sure whether to let go and I have a stomach turn like gravity is changing and I only think one word. This thought is different from the others. It comes from inside and out. It is not think like a line of dialogue but huge and wooly and it is the air I breathe. It is both full and empty and shocking and familiar. Everything is this word.
I scramble back, away from the word. I don’t want to feel how it can consume me. How it can be me. From back here on the earth it is less scary. It is weird even. I have a bountiful life. My father has died, some plans have never come to be, some money is gone but I have everything I need. And more. I have more than I need and even enough to share. The monkey looks at me mockingly.
Maybe I was wrong. But I know what I felt and I know how I act. The frantic academic life of my teens, the sex and drugs of my 20s, the six business start up and shut downs of my thirties, the comfort I can offer Volunteer boards, and Steve and friends and kids but never myself. The distraction of the mania and the defeat of the depression equally good at keeping me from spending any time with that wooly word. All of this scrambling and scrabbling to stay away from what? From where? This here? The monkey is jumpy again. “C’mon.” He says. “We are going to go play a game in this big comfortable bed over here.” “You don’t want to go there.” “You shouldn’t even look over there.” You can’t stop me. I tell him. You can’t stop me. I tell me. It is 2 am and I am going in.
This time my stomach doesn’t flip quite so much. I am surrounded but I am breathing fresh air. I am stroking the dark wool. It feel soft. I am soothing it. It’s OK I tell the part I am making smooth next to me. Somehow I know it is Leo. It is Leo at 4 years old afraid that he hasn’t been invited to the party he himself imagined. That’s alright I tell him. He squeezes my hand with too chubby fingers.. I am at my own table. There are treats. So many treats that I think it must be a trick and I start to feel sick looking at them. There are wings and fries and full on candy. There is nothing subtle on that table. Next to it is the vegetables. They don’t look very good either. You’ll still be here tomorrow I tell the treats. I am not telling you NO. I am telling you not now. They don’t talk back…they are food after all, but I guess that they understand because I feel less sick. Which doesn’t make me drawn to the vegetable table either. I am focusing on sending a breathe of air into my belly. Letting it draw my attention to my stomach. It is not screaming back at me. It is neither full nor empty.
Now I am at Thanksgiving with my father. He is alone at the table, too bright lights shining on the uncleared place settings with congealed gravy and picked over bones. “You left me here.” He tells me. His eyes are big, the anger that kept his engine running is gone. “I am alone.” I know dad. I answer. I’m sorry. And I do I leave him at his table and I feel sorry and so so sad. But it isn’t too much sad. It is not loss with a capital L.
Some of the wool is smooth from where I have been stroking it as I walk around. Beyond it tangled mountains rise up and I can hear distant crying. I can’t go there now. I haven’t made a pathway. I can only see the things right in front of me. I know there are Losses threatening far away. Losses of human rights, clean water, losses to big for me to name. My breathe is stuck. It is not going past my chest. There is no air going in. I stand still with the pain and then it passes. I roll my shoulders back but instead of focusing on stretching the tight muscles of my neck and scapula I send my attention to my breastbone. I don’t even recoil at the word breast like a ten year old. I lift up and out for the first time not thinking of my skeleton but of all of the fear I am holding there. The fear of impotency. The fear that I can’t fix things. The fear that makes me turn my shoulders and myself in. The part of me that needs 2048 to keep from thinking. It is simple. In this moment I know that. I am absolutely right. I can’t fix anything. I can’t change whatever is going on in those mountains over there. All I can do is stay right here with my eyes open, my chest open, and feel the fear and the failure. So I do. And it hurts. After a while I allow my eyes to close.And then I sleep.
I am trying to hold onto the words but they are as weightless as I am. In this moment all of my physical mass has left me. My ability to stand firmly on the earth is gone and I am aware of the slippery tiles beneath me. I am not sure I will stay upright. I am in the shower with Steve, a practice we began when the boys were so little that the only way to get through the day was to literally double dip, grabbing a moment together before we were back out on the battlefield of parenting young children. I spent almost five years raising them while I was still in a pit. A combination of therapy and medication and sunshine have helped me
Today the boys are middle aged kids, just like I am a middle aged woman and I can hear the clear tone of my older son saying goodbye as he leaves for school.I call out to him through the foggy shower glass to have a great day “lovebug”.I have lost the word. It is gone. Do I call him that? Have I called him that before? I whisper it again to myself, this term of endearment that has suddenly lost all meaning and it feels squashed like the bug it is. Now I am flattened. It feels like I have an exoskeleton that can’t do its job because I have asked too much of it. The water slices down me through the cracks in my armor and finds its way in. I wonder if I can drown from the inside out.
Steve reaches out with the fancy soap that he bought for the holidays to celebrate a special memory. We first found it on a spontaneous holiday in Mexico, where amongst piles of dirt and unfinished landscaping we showered in opulence in our casita and were introduced to l’occitane. I remember that trip for so many reasons. Oliver learned to swim, Leo wore his winter hat with his flip flops, and Steve planned the whole thing in response to my mounting misery that January in Vermont. In this shower the soap brings back the feeling of the resort. How it was unfinished. How we lived in a lovely little space amongst construction in an almost empty resort. How we rattled around grand dining rooms and the boys collected tiles and screws and cigarette butts and lined them up as armies. How much that is like our life overall. We polish up the little bit that we can see and the rest is untended, unfinished, until it is just done.
These thoughts must have continued for a bit because Steve is using the soap to gently wash me and I stiffen and pull back. “Don’t do that” I tell him. He hands me the soap in silence and I let it slide in my fingers. Before I can do anything I notice the water cooling. First a tiny bit of the temperature is gone then more and it has fallen off a cliff into freezing. I don’t have time to wash. The reality that the hot water tank can’t meet our needs is horrifying. The cold water seeps in.
Steve hands me a towel. I know I could be appreciating my husband, his hand helping through the next step of showering but instead my attention is on the towel. It is part of a beach set that I spent too much money on, imagining that the perfect bold stripes would turn us into the kind of family who hit the pool in the summer with bathing suits that fit and healthy chilled snacks filling sturdy tote bags. The towels failed at their job and have ended up the towels in our modern monochrome bathroom. Like too much blush and lipstick they mar the picture of elegance I have tried to create. I realize I am cold and Steve is waiting so I take my towel and try to avoid the spot where it is coming undone. For the millionth time I am thinking about Wally Lamb’s “She’s come undone.” I find the phrase comforting in its finality. The undoing is over. She simply needs to be undone now. I think I could handle that.
I studied archaeology as an undergrad but these days I only excavate myself. Even though it has been almost three years since I had a prolonged depressive episode I continue to examine the shards of individual events, trying to determine whether I am passing through the era of stability back into a time of tumult. I know from study of myself and the earth that strata can have inversions. We do not proceed through the time periods in a strictly linear fashion. We can have previews of what is to come. And for me we can have reviews. I have been collecting evidence for a while now. I am rooting through the dirt of the past month. There was the time I didn’t let Steve touch my wet hair. There was the time I wanted to weep over the blog post because I thought I could no longer see what was OK to share about my friends. There was the time that I felt as thought there was nothing in life today or tomorrow. There was the time that I cut my walk short because I couldn’t lift my legs anymore. There was the time that I watched a mother dog reunite with her puppies and became convinced that one was missing. That she could never feel complete. That her wagging tail belied an emptiness that she would never feel. While the screen filled with happy emoticons as other viewers rejoiced in the reunion I became more anxious. I watched the video several times seeking signs of the fifth dog. Which never showed up. That time was this morning.
After the shower I got back into my Pajamas and back into bed. I should log that evidence.
Steve brought me tea and banana bread and looked into my eyes. “Are you crying?” He asked me. “No.” I was surprised to hear that. “It must be allergies to the cat.” As he walked out the door into a life that has a today and tomorrow, I felt my face with my finger.
There were so many tears.
Here is what I say to my evidence. I can still measure you and collect you, but I am not buried by you. Facebook tells me I am not alone with my raging response to the stroking of my wet hair. Facebook, for all of its shit, also tells me that I am not alone. My upset over the blog post is in the past. Clear eyes read it and reassured me. I was able to listen. My judgment was not on tilt. At least not any more so than a typical day in my stable era. There are things to do today. An architect to meet, medications to refill, yoga to practice. It is quite possible I will do all three. In ten days my family heads to Italy for the first time. There will be ruins but I will not be one of then. Even though my walk was short there was still a walk. And there will be another one. As for the puppy. Maybe four was the number. Maybe the family was complete right there and I took her joy for anxiety.
I have a husband who celebrates our family and loves the bold colors of the towels without seeing the dangling strings that could make them unravel, and he brings me tea.
Maybe the tears coming down my face are the water leaving, so I don’t drown from the inside out.
Apologies to my mother who reads this blog and will be so so upset to hear these words. Lets take that for what it is…a mother’s worry is never done but it comes from love and connection. And lets look at the real evidence. I am writing this instead of keeping it in. If there is any sign to hold up to the light it is that one. See you in Rome. I am so looking forward to the trip. Almost totally.
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I remember the bulbs, squirrel eaten and buried upside down. They will have to fight their way through human error and forces of nature to open their faces to the sun. We planted them together my boys and I, looking ahead. Today the ground is snow-kissed..the bulbs blanketed in their sleep.
Inside the boys are bundled in their own blankets, the plastic fleece gone from soft to pointed peaks with lots of laundering. I wonder what happened to cotton, why is it not the fabric of OUR lives. It washes without creating fabric dreadlocks.
In the midst of this peace I feel the anger swirling up. It starts so small it surprises me. I am caught on the thread of the fabric and soon I am in a fog. I can’t believe there are blankets made out of plastic. It goes against the very nature of blankets. I can’t believe they are in my house. I think of the poison from the production process and it poisons my mood. Every. Little. Thing. Makes me want to SCREAM.
I walk away from my snuggling boys to work on my wrath. I am never sure which way it will go. I might nurse it into a frenzy, boiling with self righteousness over unmade beds, and the fact that a large portion of my country supports Donald Trump. Or I may talk myself down slowly slowly noticing and letting go of the waves of rage, running my fingers along smooth fabrics, thinking about everything until it becomes nothing at all.
It has been 12 years since I physically acted out in anger. A combination of therapy, medication, mindfulness and motherhood has changed me. I used to slam things, hit pillows and once even a person. I used to chase the dog around the table, scaring her until we both settled down, my rage receding, her big head in my lap while I stroked her and we both calmed down. It is horrible to remember. It is also important to remember.
In my room I stop fighting. I allow the thoughts to come. Why am I broken? What if I have passed this on to my kids? Why can’t anyone else clean the toilet? My thoughts stutter with my breathing. My lungs feel small and my breathe hitches as I try to slow down. In. Hold. Out. Hold. Here it is again.There is goes again. Almost as quickly as it comes it recedes and I can see outside of myself again. Fresh snow falls on the skylight above my head. Downstairs my boys are shedding their blankets and donning their boots. The kiss of the white snow has awakened them from their sleep. They are ready to head outdoors.
I offer myself forgiveness, just as the dog did so many years ago. I head outside to watch my boys play beside the bulbs which silently and slowly prepare for spring.