Everything and Nothing 12 hours of depressive awareness

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.

But I will be there in my life.

Which is certainly more everything than nothing.

What a long strange trip it’s been.

What I used to thing wool looked like.
What I used to thing wool looked like.

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.

I recommend the blog post on procrastination over the talk, but some of you are auditory learners so do whatever you wish.

Assuming that a fair number of you will never click that link allow me to bastardize it in a  too 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 and  December 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 5:00  I 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 dream  media 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 feeling  as 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.

Drowning from the inside out- what depression feels like

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.

screen-shot-2016-09-13-at-3-24-28-pmSteve 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.

For one of the most readable and relatable books on depression I have ever seen please try this one.

boat to keep from drowning in depression

Such a Pill

Viibryd. Plays hard to get.
Viibryd. Plays hard to get.

Standing in the sunshine chatting with a friend while she waters our community garden our talk turns from carrots and beets (why is it that 40 something women love beets?) to drugs. Despite being in Colorado, and standing amongst buds and leaves we are not talking about the green kind, but the pink oval pills that get me out of bed each day. She works in the field and confirms what I have been reading and experiencing myself…our system is providing less support for mental illness, exactly at a time when talk about mental health swirls around gun control rather than treatment.

After a year and a half of taking a “new” anti-depressant that requires special authorization and Doctor testimony as to its status as “the only medication this patient hasn’t gained a tolerance for” my insurance has stopped paying. NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness wrote a paper on funding cuts in mental health treatment  subtitled “a national crisis” in 2011. Things have only gotten worse since then.

Walking across the waxed to a gloss floor to the back of the pharmacy for the third week in a row I thought again about how lucky I am. Not that each WEEK I have to pay 94 dollars for an “emergency” supply as the doctor pharmacist and I wait for insurance approval but that I CAN pay.

While my boys load their arms with candy and chips and put on their most pleading expressions I wait for MY treats. I have the same conversation at the pick up window that I have had 18 times over the last four months. The same conversation that I had over the phone with this pharmacy 6 hours ago. I KNOW I don’t have authorization from my insurance company. I STILL want them to fill the prescription. I WILL pay out of pocket. To a person they respond in disbelief. Do I know how much it costs?

Why yes I do.

But do they understand the cost of not having it?

No, despite their training and status as medical consultants they don’t seem to.

They don’t know how looking at the loft that my husband and son built will make me cry. How the excitement and accomplishment that the 10 year old feels will be wiped out by a strange swirl of my rage and fear, which leaves me standing mute but nodding my head “no, no, no, no” . I imagine that wobbly thing collapsing, Oliver’s head smashed open on his floor. I feel rage, genuine rage, about the visible stamps on the 2 x4s, why did they use this material? They must have no sense of pride, no aesthetic standards, who are these people and how do I live with them?


Heading downstairs I see a miniature milky way wrapper on the kitchen counter. This reminds me of long ago, before my current medication where each leftover breakfast remain was a milky little bowl of fuck you. What kind of mother buys her kids candy? What kind of kid leaves out the wrappers to taunt her, to remind her of her shortcomings. I mean, other than every kid. But that perspective is gone, irrelevant.

So the loft and the small wrapper slay me. I have no choice but to head to bed. Staying in the mix will not work. It is not an option. I might see something else. Some crumb or drawing that will not meet my impossible standards, that will trigger my rage or sorrow, that will leave me a puddle of self.

Lying on bed, an important distinction that shows that the half life of the medication is still in there somewhere, I call the pharmacy. AGAIN. I explain the fact that I WILL have to pay out of pocket. That I NEED the medication. I want to tell him about the loft, about the imminent imaginary death of my child, and the candy eating aliens that live in my house. I want to tell him about the shrinking walls that make the boundaries of my life.

But I don’t. He won’t understand.

And anyways I will get another chance to tell him all of this when I visit him at his counter and re-repeat myself while my kids shop for more candy. Whose wrappers hopefully will represent only the small plastic of themselves, rather than the impossibility of life outside the bedroom.



Giving In to Depression

I have been reading the local and international stories with sadness over recent suicides after long battles with depression.

I haven’t been writing or talking much about it. Ok I give.

Then I read this on a friends facebook wall:

Robin Williams was a great man. His death was disturbing. As We all grew up adoring his movies. The one thing he is not is a role model. A self inflicted death is selfish and cowardly. R I P mrs. Doubt fire

To which I quickly responded:

I think everyone can agree that suicide is not an end we would wish for. I’m glad to be able to interpret from your post that you have never suffered from mental illness. I have. Suicide is a choice made from the darkest most desperate place, and the individual should not be judged. Perhaps the society that keeps us from asking for and receiving the right kind of help. But not the person suffering. Great sympathy to an amazing man, and even more to the people he left behind.

But of course there is more.

I have been writing and talking about my depression for years. More years than this blog shows. I am in therapy, and have been medicated and re-medicated since 1998. For the entire calendar year of 2014 I have been stable. Good, even.

I know this will be temporary. I grow used to meds. I need to find new ones. This is a painful process that can take years. In retrospect I can tell that I spent 2011-2013 in a state of clinical depression. But it takes perspective. The kind of perspective I didn’t have then. It is a battle.

Here is one of the very best visual and literal descriptions of depression I have read. And here is her book if you want to support her and you should.

This is what I sound like when I am mildly depressed.

And this when I am coming out of a major patch.

But I cant link to a period of real despair. Because my fingers don’t work to type. And my brain doesn’t work to form words. And I go one breath at a time. Fuck the day hour or minute. I just need to take this next breath. And worry about the next one following. You know that commercial about “Where does depression hurt?” “Everywhere” Who does depression hurt? “Everyone” And you see a small child’s hand trying to comfort a mother who cant get off her stoop. That slays me every time. It hurts in my belly and my chest. My lungs dont open wide enough for a full breath, my diaphragm collapses with deoxygenation. My arms feel like flu noodles and my legs are too stiff to operate. Light hurts my eyes like a migraine.

My kids come visit me in the bed as if I were Debra whatever her name is who played Shirley Mclaine’s daughter in that cancer movie.

Depression is as insidious as cancer. But we don’t see it that way. We are pressured to hide the fact of depression. And that sends people away from treatment and care. Towards suffering. And sometimes directly to the thought that the only way to end this misery is to actually end it all.

And this brings me to the point that I want to make. That I feel obligated to make.

I have been writing about depression for years. Because I CAN.

I don’t have a job that I need to get to every day.
I don’t have a boss at a job from whom I need to hide my stigmatized condition.
I won’t sit in front of a hiring committee and hide a regular part of my life.
I don’t have future in laws who will talk their son out of marrying me.
I am out of the public eye. Very few people will judge my backslides.
I don’t have a fiance who will rethink blending his DNA with mine.
I don’t have parents who are afraid of me.
I don’t have to try to get into the USA on a visa.
I won’t have to wait for a public hospital bed in underfunded mental health wards.
I won’t get turned down for the best depression medication because I CAN prove that I have been treated with everything else.

I have money. I can pay for a private hospital. I can choose not to work. I am already married to someone who has taken this on in the “sickness and health” portion of our vows. I am an American citizen, so I don’t need to worry about crossing the border.

Does this make depression easy? No. It just makes me lucky. Really lucky that I get to talk about this and ask for help. I can be honest, because there is not much in my life that I need to be delicate about. That is not true for most people. Many people have school boards, employers, or family members that they try to shield from the reality of their condition. Which means at the time they are going down, when they still can exercise judgement, they let the opinions and needs of other people factor into their choices for asking for help and care. This is the most critical time, and it is when they are most alone.

Because I am outspoken about my disease I have heard the prejudice first hand. Here are some of the things I have heard:

-You are just bored. If you had anything to keep you busy you would not be depressed.
-You are fat. If you exercised you would not be depressed.
-It is self indulgent to be depressed. If you had to get up you would.
-I couldn’t hire you. You are so smart and have great ideas but I know you would never be able to follow through full time.

These are things that people look me in the eye and tell me. It is easy to imagine the sorts of things they think but don’t say. So this is why most of us hide it. Perhaps underneath we feel weak and fat and lazy too, that depression is a symptom of some fatal flaw. At its worst literally so.


I have not stopped the battle. I am here to write this. I am well medicated and in regular therapy. I consider working at therapy something to be proud of for anyone, depressed or not. Trying to understand ourselves and our patterns to become better partners or parents or co-workers should be lauded, not looked down upon.

Being depressed is not something that can be cured by taking a jog. A complex pattern of treatment and behavioral change can minimize the symptoms. But biochemically I will always be depressed and I will be on guard against its effects.

If you consider suicide cowardly then you are lucky enough not to have experienced the depression that can lead to it. We need it to lead other places first. To supportive workplaces and friends who speak out for us, and borders that allow us to cross into other countries. We need to have sponsors with stories that you can come out the other end. That darkness is not forever. We need survivors to speak out, and our society to listen without judgment.

Then maybe we will not give in.

giving in- thinking about suicide and depression

Float or sink.

The oldest man in the world is doing laps in front of us. As the boys bicker over whether or not to play ping pong I watch him bob forward. I am both impressed and alarmed. I imagine he wouldn’t mind going this way…but I’d rather not be here for it. His loose skin, having lost the elasticity of youth is half a stroke behind him, dragging in the water like a peach parachute.

The boys have moved on to a tickle/taunt game. Right now giggles. Coming soon shrieks. The pool area is pretty empty, our fourth visit all summer and the first where friends haven’t swarmed. I’d call it relaxing except of course it isn’t.
The boys swam for 4 minutes and now drape their wet bodies over my chair. Asking “aren’t you bored just sitting here mama?” If only they would be quieter or further away I might be bored. Instead I am waffling between overly sentimental and disproportionately annoyed.
I’ve been thinking today about how I can feel myself lifting out of my bad weeks. A project pitch interested me. The firing of nerf gun bullets at my neck while driving upset me about the right amount. (Cheap refill here if you want to give them more ammo.)
I’ve been gifted the secondary view of my boys at our afternoon dentist visit. It isn’t that I care what the hygienists and office managers think about my kids, it’s just that I can see it through their eyes.
Like that diagram of the eye lens, where the image is first upside down then corrected. This is my boys at the appointment. I know about their flossing (non existent) brushing (1x/day for a length measured in nanoseconds) and their eating habits. Sugar=totally allowed.
Instead the office staff comments on their hair, manners (?!), honesty (genetic), and collaboration (fostered by lack of choice.)
The cascade of compliments keep coming. It’s not that I feel uplifted, just that I remember both/and. Poor flossing, and asks his hygienist how her day was. Not a bad blend really.
“Ok, now you try…like this? Yeah, like that. Try to drive into me. The pool side lounger is a race car. They are at “driving school” the chair car an imagined weapon/training tool. “Ok” “back to simulation stage” I’m not sure at what point the game left the simulation stage but they have returned.
Now they are gone and I am alone for a minute.
The post that has been in my head all day is about how to know when a bad mood is part of mental illness. I only know for me. It took a while to be able to know the difference.
I would sit across from my therapist telling him that I could manage. I could. It wasn’t like I spent the day in bed with the shades closed. I just WANTED to. And that’s normal, right?
His raised brow told me I just needed to suck it up and stop sucking it up. “If you are at a 6” his hand patting an imaginary horizon above his waist. “and you could be at an 8. Why wouldn’t you try?” Here his hand is shoulder height. I want to criticize his spatial parsing, but instead I focus on the numbers. He’s trying to improve a 6. I dream of 6. I’m at a 3 faking a 5. And my main complaint is the faking. I’d rather just claim the 3. Shower weekly, honestly answer the question “how are you doing?” See my kids 30 minutes a day. Preferably while they are napping.
I mean either I can roll with things or just decide I don’t care. Which is totally true. This is what I realize at the same time I am picking a cat hair off of my shirt, and thinking that the six needed to be higher if the eight is shoulder height in my therapists man sized measuring stick.
I really don’t care. And I could just go. I could leave this couch and go to some other couch and sit there. Or not. I wouldn’t even really mind if I wasn’t able to sit. If I could just be gone.  Some little piece of me said that that would be easier…no the big piece said it would be easier. The little piece said. Your kids can’t have this as part of their stories.
So I took the prescription.
And now, today, 4 years later my bad weeks aren’t like that.
When my kids ask if I am bored I say sort of. And remember that boredom is a feeling of someone who cares, who wants to be in this life. Even if it is poolside, rather than swimming laps.
He is finished now.
screen-shot-2016-09-19-at-10-30-43-amThe kids have come and gone, come and gone. And I might swim. It’s unlikely but possible. But either way I am here.

Love is an elective

Hands making the sign of loveHis face is unreadable.

I wait.

I’ve learned that it takes a while for him to answer, because, oddly to me, he thinks before speaking instead of thinking THROUGH speaking.

“Well, I totally agree with you, so go ahead and write it.”

Here is the “it” that needed my husband’s permission- unlike the past two graphic posts that I published first and asked second.

As much as I love Steve and love our life, I really believe we could both be happy with someone else. Probably lots of other people.

I don’t have to look any further than my mother to see evidence to support my soulmate debunking.

After a 40 year marriage, and 12 dateless, celibate years of widowhood without a hint of yearning to be coupled up she has fallen again. Head over heels in love. So smitten that she says, without a hint of irony, that her boyfriend “has no carbonon footprint.” It is the modern version of walking on water, and to her he does.

She had a passionate and extremely close relationship with my father, and now she loves again, differently but completely.

I am told frequently how lucky I am to have Steve. And I feel happy, but not lucky. First of all, I was married before, and had figured out some characteristics that would set my next husband apart from my first. Little details like employment, and a substance light existence. So I set out to find him. At the dog park. At 5:30. Because that is when working people take their dogs to the park.

Like most really solid relationships the beginning was easy and blissful. The first date that stretched for days, the virtual move-in, the easy communication, and never having to guess what the other one was thinking. For those of you in the does she doesn’t she, what magical combination of actions/ulitmatums should I take to get him/her to commit stage of a relationship I submit to you that the great ones are always easy at the beginning. You start with a base of confidence.

After that it gets tricky. You load the dishwasher differently. You have contrasting sleep cycles. You think his music sounds like shouting. He thinks your music sounds like whining. You are used to getting your way, he is used to giving people their way. It seems like that is a good thing, but you realize this is not a partnership and you help him learn how to say no to you and then you regret it. Because its better when he says yes yes yes.

And each morning, sometimes many times a day you choose each other again. You choose to ignore the spark you feel with someone else. You swallow your nagging, and ask would he be willing…and realize that is just nice nagging and nag even less. There is something on most Y chromosomes that disallows the ability to see crumbs, but you remind yourself that other things are mapped on that chromosome- like lawn mowing, and light fixing. And although you both know he can see the crumbs and you can mow the lawn you just go about it like this. Your balance untested.

And he works, and cooks, and mostly patiently puts the kids to bed, and you stay home, and do less, and he never once mentions that. When you pull apart. Which you do, like everything else natural it is cyclical, one of you labels it and you grab lunch or find something to laugh about and really kiss on the lips instead of brushing the cheek. You try to look him in the eye when he says goodbye instead of tweeting and waving.

And you start it all again tomorrow.

I’m in a rush to post this today, and the other posts swimming in my head. The ones where the woman leaving the cafe looks up from walking down the step and catches my eye and it is as if she broke open. I can just see into her, and I nod and smile to show we shared this moment and she says “thanks.” And I think “thanks,” is there a better syllable that she could have uttered. Probably not, and her socks are pulled up really high and her skin is flaking, and I wonder if she is older than Robert and she probably isn’t. And remember how we are all finite and we shared that tiny bit.

I want to write these things, and about Leo singing and the boys negotiating smart food and Leo telling me how he asked god to be born and god made him come to earth and he hasn’t had god talk to him since then. I want to put them here so I remember them tomorrow.

This love, connection, and feeling that working to be in a committed monogamous relationship is not a grind, but a great gift is about to go. I am pretty much two people, and I am ovulating so I am about to be the person to whom cereal bowls say “fuck you” and the chirping of birds means a mother has died. And every time. EVERY TIME. I think that knowing it is coming and labeling it will protect me, act as  a panacea agains the gloom, and sluggishness. But it doesn’t. So I will be her tomorrow with her thin skin, and pervasive judgement.

And I will choose again, to stay with Steve and stay with my life, and I will force lots of stuff until the forcing it isn’t hard and it becomes real again.

So this was supposed to be about how I don’t believe in soul mates. I had stories to tell about friends who thought they would be alone, couldn’t find that just right connection and then they did. Instead I will say, we have many possible lives. Look at yours. Choose it or change it, because tomorrow you may not be in a  place to do either. And I mean that in the most optimistic way.