Friday, June 2, 2017

Living Without Asterisks

Writer's note: I am aware that the main focus of this blog is supposed to be 'life with kids.' But as my very wise therapist says, "You can't take care of the kids if you don't take care of yourself." With that in mind...

I am a person who hates medication in any way, shape, or form (for myself.) I've skipped taking meds after c-sections because I'm so anti-medication. I like to be in control of myself. I don't like the way medications make me feel.

For that reason, when I began to spiral into a really bad clinical depression, I thought I could handle it myself. I've "managed" my symptoms for years--I'm an incredibly high-functioning person, and the worst thing about the perception of depression is that people think it only has one face. But in the span of ten minutes, both of these have been the face of depression:

I also have moderate-severe anxiety with agoraphobia, so there are days where leaving the house literally feels like it will kill me, but I'd gotten used to fighting myself to get out that door, despite that it was sending my mental health southward.

When it got to the point that I was missing more than I was enjoying, I went to a therapist, and found a great one. She didn't push me into medication, but she could see how badly I was doing and gave me every technique to combat it. Cognitive behavioral therapy, talk therapy, and mindfulness activities are wonderful things...and they helped, to an extent.

But they only stalled the speed of my descent; they failed to reverse the direction. Or maybe I did.

When I finally took that plunge and began medication, the world changed. This may not be the right medication--I won't know that just yet--but just in taking an SSRI for a few days, I already feel the "weight of the world" off my shoulders--as in, yesterday, I felt the sun on my face and I *enjoyed* it. I went to a volunteer cosplaying event and didn't have a panic attack on the way. I woke up this morning before the kids went to school and interacted with them before their day began. I took out the trash myself, walking in and out of the house several times without having to fight my repulsion of that damn hallway door.

I'm not at 100 percent yet...I still had an anxiety attack on my way to an appointment and I can't say I'm completely ready to roll out the door at the moment. But in that moment, feeling the sunshine on my face, I realized how much sincere joy has been missing for years. Every happy moment was happy, but with the underlying weight of depression. Every triumph had the nagging voice telling me it wasn't as good as... Every morning, every night, every special moment contained an asterisk. And if the good moments had an asterisk, the bad moments were bold and italicized with exclamation points.

I'm a sucker for punctuation.

I'm ready to go forward with no parentheses, no ellipses, and no quotation marks, only the occasional oxford comma to stop and enjoy the text.

Revising is never easy, so I'm not expecting instant success, but like any other project, the story is all the better for it.

Friday, March 17, 2017

My Poker Face

It's overshare time again. Well, overshare for my generation, anyway. We didn't talk about things like mental health and miscarriage. This week marks the 17th anniversary of my first miscarriage, but it's the former subject that I want to talk about today.

I've been plagued with anxiety and depression since I was in my late teens, beginning with a mild fear of social situations and leaving the house when I was about 19, and continuing throughout my life as depression, post-partum, and panic attacks. Grief, physical exhaustion, and stress all play parts in my mental health--or lack thereof, and when all of those things combine I begin to downright resist leaving my home, I hyperventilate, I sometimes have a pulse rate of 96.

This month I am experiencing something new on the mental health spectrum--and I should be concerned. I want to be concerned. But I simply cannot.

One afternoon about a week ago I experienced a major disconnection to my feelings. A separation--as in, I know when I experience something that makes me angry. But I don't feel it, not in my heartbeat, not in my breathing, not in a sinking feeling in my chest, not a thickening of my voice or a pooling of tears in my eyes. Just nothing.

My therapist calls it a form of disassociation. I call it kind of liberating.

I'm a worrier by nature. I spend most of my day worrying about a myriad number of things...but today, nothing.

I stress over things that have already happened, and as a component of anxiety I am stuck replaying them over & over. But today, nothing.

I have buyer's remorse, every. single. time. I leave the store--even the grocery store. This week I bought a car, fixed my oven, bought replacement pieces for the car's entertainment system and managed to make it to the register with two nightgowns for myself and a set of socks without putting them back, and felt, nothing.

I would be more worried, if I weren't giddy with it. I just read the most asinine federal budget I've ever read, and while I'm able to look at it and see its absurdity, I'm not stressing about it, because today, nothing.

My therapist assures me it's a defense mechanism, and it'll come back. But right now, I'm like this:

Why am I telling you this? Because maybe your anxiety has caused this in you, and you feel alone. Because maybe you think it's probably embarrassing (even if you can't feel it), it's weird, or that there's something sincerely wrong with you.

I'm telling you so that you're not alone. I'm here, and even if you can't feel the emotion of me holding your hand, you'll know that I'm here. We didn't talk about anxiety, and stress, depression and poor mental health when I was experiencing most of it. We didn't have internet support groups. I thought I was alone--not alone as in, no support--I have the best support system a person could have, with family and friends who care and empathize. But alone in the way that it made me think, "What's wrong with me? Why am I like this?"

You're not broken. You're a little bent, today, but a great therapist can help; mindfulness activities are useful; and writing it down can do a world of good.

You're not alone, not that it would bother you if you were. Not today.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Literally Driving Down Memory Lane

To most people, the car I've owned for the past fifteen years is simply a hunk of junk held together with duck tape and spit. It's seen better days, certainly. But the '98 Nissan Altima that rumbles like an angry lion and squeaks when it starts in the morning also holds the best and worst memories of my life.

I bought it after my brother passed away--using some of his life insurance money at my mother's insistence, because he "didn't want you driving his Goddaughter around in that dangerous thing" (my father's car was also sentimental for me, but wasn't exactly stellar in the winter with a baby.) So we did the thing, and we bought the car. We didn't know it would last so long when we bought it. We thought we'd trade it in after baby number two.

But we brought baby number two home in it, and, well, both car seats fit, and both kids would fall asleep at the exact same angle in the car. I have numerous pictures of them sleeping just so. Baby number three came home in her also, and separated one and two so there would be no fisticuffs in the back seat.

It was in this car that Punkgirl first got to sit in the front seat.

She took us from home to work and back every day, and home to school as well, churning out more miles but plugging along, with not too many complaints for our daily routine.

This was the car that took me to the Cape on a trip with my mom, back before that was too long a ride for her. It was the car that waited for us patiently at the TF Green garage while we were gone for the week, and was a welcome sight when we walked the long trudge through the airport.

This car, Serenity as we called her, took me through Boston traffic to Dana Farber four out of seven days a week to get chemotherapy. She was there to comfort me with a warm fan in the cold winter air and soft seats for my bruised derrière after the giant shot.

After my eldest brother passed away, it was this car that managed the drive back and forth to pick up my nieces in Hull, and later Marshfield, chugging it's way and making it so that I could have those precious ladies in my home.

It was the best car for trips to the beach, holding all of our things and giving us nice soft, cloth seats to sit on in our wet clothes. It was the perfect size for bringing home our Christmas trees and had the perfect horn for our youngest to beep before laughing maniacally and running into the house.

And it was most precious for playing the music. We listened to so much music in that golden sedan. And when I was alone, I would ask my brother to give me a sign, to let me know he was there, and always, always he would.

So now the gold car is going to her very well deserved rest, having held us in her arms for fifteen years, taking us from point A to point B. If it seems silly to mourn the passing of a car, I can only tell you that it has been part of our family, part of our life--has given all she's had to give, like The Giving Tree but better. I give her up not because she's no longer useful to me, but because my family needs have grown--with 3 kids and 2 nieces, it will be nice not to have to shuttle us all from place to place--but I'll always remember how the gold car *did* shuttle us, faithfully, for so long. Farewell, Serenity. And thanks for the memories.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Some Good News

In late November 2016, I came across a tweet that appealed to both my writer's heart and the newly awakened activist inside me. It was a tweet by Pact Press looking for submissions to a new anthology that would focus on diversity and social issues, and whose proceeds would benefit the Southern Poverty Law Center, a non-profit legal advocacy group specializing in civil rights and public interest litigation. I already donate to both SPLC and ACLU, but I've hit my yearly budget for donation, and I think we are going to need public watchdog groups in a big way over the next four years.

I submitted a poem about a subject that is near and dear to my heart, and lo and behold, I got an email in January informing me that my poem "40 Years in a Breath" will be included in Pact Press' inaugural anthology, available in March 2017. I hope to give more details as they become available.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Princess Leia, Anxiety, and a Little Bit of Poetry.

Carrie Fisher was bi-polar.

Yes, she was Princess Leia, too, but she fought to normalize mental health issues for a good portion of her life. She included a lot of information about depression in her one woman show. She talked about her addictions and mental health problems in her book Postcards From The Edge. In an interview with Rolling Stone this year, she said about her electric shock therapy that the biggest misconception about it was that "you have convulsions, or that it's used as punishment in a mental hospital, which is how it's depicted in every movie. It's very easy and effective."

She was brave and funny and cast a different light, a brighter light, on the benefits of getting help.

In Carrie's honor, I'm sharing my final accomplishment of the year. After breaking into a cold sweat and tears every week, after feeling a mountain on my chest throughout most of my days, after being afraid for half of the year that I either would have to go outside or worse, that when I was ready to go outside I wouldn't be able to just go, I finally decided that my anti-panic methods were no longer working. I needed help.

The first thing I did was dig through my emails, because somewhere in there a dear friend, a social worker, had explained to me some things to look for in a therapist. I didn't ask her because she is one, but rather because she's one of the most compassionate people I know, and I knew she would direct me to other compassionate people.

I found a nice lady who met all the criteria, and proceeded to dread the first meeting. I asked my social worker friend in (July? Maybe?) about where to look for a good therapist. I made the appointment in the last week of December. Procrastination lives in the heart of anxiety--it is both torment and relief.

I met my new therapist, and I had prepared how to tell her what was happening. I told her about the anxiety, the agoraphobia, the physical toll. Then I explained:

"So, in the past 16 years, my Dad died of cancer in 2000, one brother of meningitis in 2001, and another brother of cancer in 2015. I've had 3 miscarriages, and I had a cancerous molar pregnancy followed by chemotherapy. I was diagnosed with celiac disease. I have three kids--two teens and a four year old--and I had really bad postpartum depression after my eldest. Oh--and my mother recently had a stroke, and surgery for breast cancer. I don't deal with things. I box them away for later.

It's 16 years later. So, I know what's causing my anxiety. I want you to fix it."

To her credit, she realized her mouth had dropped open and she closed it in time to say, "Okay. I can see you have some reasons for anxiety."

As a lover of all things Marvel, I could laugh at being given a list similar to Jessica Jones' naming-street-signs-method of coping:

5 things you can see
4 things you can touch
3 things you can hear
2 things you can smell
1 thing you can taste.

But as I practiced it, I by-passed the anxiety attack, but kept the anxiety. Instead of breaking down once and feeling deflated for an hour, I was in a state of constant fight or flight all day.

5 things you can see
4 things you can touch
3 things you can hear
2 things you can smell

1 thing you can taste

The metallic taste of fear.

I tried slow, controlled breaths. Control is not my problem. Or rather, it is, because I control myself at all times. I control the anxiety, I control the grief, I control me. Until it has control over me.

After my eldest brother died, everyone got the flu. I didn't. I drove from my house to mom's for two weeks after the wake, certain that I would have one more bad event to add to my list.

Don't worry, there are good things in my event list, too. I have 3 children (yes, it's on both lists, because the physicality of having them was stressful on my body, and teenagers fight...and yet the joy of creating them and seeing them grow is exponential.) I married an amazing man who loves me and who allows me to indulge my inner writer. My brother and I have taken martial arts together and gone running together. I've gone to Disney seven times or so, and I even got to take my mom to California and Disneyland. I get to volunteer cosplay. I get to take my kids and nieces to comic cons.


5 things I can see
4 things I can touch
3 things I can hear

2 things I can smell

My unwashed body as it gets harder to force myself to shower
The blanket I wrap around myself as I shiver.

I get cold with anxiety. I hate to be cold. But I feel it in my bones and then I can't stop shivering. I bathe in the sink and shake and shiver and wish, sometimes, that I could step in the shower, that I didn't think I'd collapse if I did. I'm TIRED.

5 things you can see
4 things you can touch

3 things you can hear

My daughter knocking on the door. For a long time I tried to cope by letting the attack take me in the bedroom, but "Mommy, open the door" doesn't take no for an answer. The blood pounding in my ears--it's trying to hold me down, and keep me there, and I'm sure that my heart will stop if I can't get a breath in. My husband's voice saying, "Come away, Mama's busy right now."

5 things you can see

4 things you can touch

One time after my brother Jay died I swore he hugged me. My then two year old eldest was talking to someone in her room at night, and when I said it's bedtime she said, "I'm talking to Jason."

I told her he was sleeping, the baby I had named after my brother who had died. She said, "Not that Jason. Your brother Jason." The breath left me and I sat down, crying. She had been three months old when he died. He was her Godfather. I asked the air if he was really there and felt the crushing bear hug that only a big guy could give....maybe what I felt was depression, or anxiety, or wishful thinking, but it felt like my brother and I've never forgotten that feeling.

5 things you can see

I see the door oppressing me.

The door leads outside and I don't like the door. Or not the door really, but the hallway before it. Like a miasma of evil designed both to hold me in and hold me back, it becomes a tunnel to victory because I am stubborn.

The keys are on the hook, the keys will unlock my doors and unblock my path and I cannot go without them. The bathroom is to my right and inevitably I must go in there for a minute, not to relieve my bladder but to relieve my anxiety. I sit on the seat as if my body will release me, but it's only enough to give me a reprieve.

A picture on the fridge because of course I need a drink I cannot leave the house if I am thirsty.

My own stupidity. I feel stupid, I feel restless, I feel like I can run out the door now and it will be fine as long as I go right this second--

"Mom, I forgot my jacket." And "I can't find my phone."


Sunday, December 25, 2016

A Year in Review

Reflecting back on the totality of this year, the first things that come to mind (after the event which shall not be named) are that a lot of firsts occurred--Happyboy & my niece Sam attended their first Anime Boston over Easter weekend, and loved it. Nieces Sam & Ceci came with us to their first Boston Comic Con. All four teens dressed in Black Butler cosplay for BCC, and sometimes they wouldn't break character even when I wanted them to. I also, finally, got to couple cosplay with Roffey...well, kind of. He was Commissioner Gordon and I was Batgirl, so I guess calling it couple cosplay could be creepy...

Shaelin joined Theatre Tech Crew and loved it so much that she can't wait for it to start up again in January. She learned to measure and cut wood with a table saw, build a bench and a wall, and apparently, how to group-nap (it's a tech thing, I don't even know.)

Jason tried to get a GSA started at the middle school level--and while they had already thought of starting one, his persistence made him one of the first people the teachers asked to help draw up posters for the new club, which will officially start after Christmas break. His artwork has been evolving into this great thing, and he has found his "tribe" at school. He is a valuable member of concert choir. He started Anime Club two years ago, and this year was told that it will now be a "permanent club" at the school, so he's leaving his mark when he heads off to High School in September. He even got to choose next year's leader.

Lily started PreK and learned to write WORDS: MAMA DADA LILY CAT AMMA. She likes to text them to me with an emoji--yes, she knows how to do that, and when someone lets her at a phone, she will do it repeatedly.

Roffey and I both had great birthdays in Boston, with dear friends, rounding out the nights with memorable drinks at the Hotel Marlowe, my new favorite place to stay. We also ate at the Friendly Toast, which had amazing gluten free Turkey Club sandwiches.

I completed an entire manuscript, and started a second. The first one got picked for a second look at HerUniverse Press (though, alas, it wasn't ready when they asked for it--I knew it wasn't ready, but was too filled with excitement and sent it when it was unedited--so ultimately they declined. So I learned! Never send it without editing first.) I won NaNoWriMo, a month long commitment to writing 50,000 words. I took an online writing course--Storied Women in Fiction--through the University of Iowa. I made an author FB page, and reached 1000 new followers on Twitter. I also got back into sewing! I made a Hannah cosplay for Punkgirl and a Batgirl costume for myself.

Roffey photographed an amazing engagement photo shoot for his nephew and soon to be niece, and I got to tag along and shoot video, and we made a short movie of the photo shoot which was, honestly, a highlight of my year.

I started a Couch to 5K program with my brother Bill that had me actually running (and still does, though a 9 week program has stretched into about 20. Nevertheless, I'm still moving.) Like many others, we all fell in love with Hamilton, which has become my go-to running music.

I volunteered through a couple of cosplay groups at the Special Olympics/Summer Games, Make-A-Wish Foundation, Making Strides Against Breast Cancer, and Camp Miracles and Magic, and I walked 16 miles in the Boston University Relay for Life by myself, a team of one. I've met some of the kindest and generous people of the cosplay world, and am proud to call them friends. Roffey volunteered at the Magical Moon Foundation (a camp for terminally ill children owned by the lady who wrote a version of the Velveteen Rabbit.) He literally moved a house, and always leaves a little bit of his heart behind when he comes home. Jason volunteered at a booth that sold breast cancer awareness ribbons to benefit the American Cancer Society, going in early each day and standing out in the cold to sell them. Shaelin volunteered with GSA to help get people to sign a big card for the victims and families of the Pulse Orlando shooting. She is also volunteering for "8th grade night", where 8th graders get to come and check out all of the clubs at the high school. All of us, plus my nieces Cece & Sam, marched in the Boston Pride Parade (some with GLSEN and some with BCBS.)

I managed to meet up with two people who I never get to see in person--my cousin Kevin and my dear friend Lara.

We voted for the first female Presidential nominee. I cried as she conceded, as I sat in the waiting room at Mass General Hospital Yawkey Building most of the day, waiting as my mother had surgery to remove the invasive breast cancer that had been found when she had a stroke a few weeks before.

Oh, mom had both a stroke and breast cancer in the span of weeks. The stroke kept her in the hospital for a while, and the PET scan showed a spot in her breast. I sat in a little room with her when they told her her diagnosis, and I snapped at them because we had no idea why we were there (no one called after the mammogram), and we had waited days knowing only that we were meeting a "multidisciplinary team," which is doc speech for really bad news. It was great for weight loss--I literally lost 8 pounds from stress--but we had no idea what was going on and the giant Breast Cancer Center sign on the wall greeted us as we walked in.

If you know me, yelling isn't generally what I do, but I kind of flipped out after the third person came in without telling us anything but mentioning surgery...that was sort of an accomplishment, and it succeeded in getting someone to actually explain what was going on. They explained that it was invasive ductal carcinoma, breast cancer. Cancer, the enemy of my family, which took my father and brother and messed with my uterus for awhile, was back to wreak havoc again. They did surgery a week and a half later (because she refused to miss the baby shower, of course.) My mom came through surgery well, because she is the badass I want to be when I grow up, and things are looking good--nothing in the margins or lymphs. She has been rocking physical therapy for the stroke symptoms, all while recuperating from the surgery.

(This is where I could post the picture of her playing Pokémon Go in her hospital bed, if I wanted her to smack me. Instead I'll post this nice one from Thanksgiving.)

We hosted a successful Thanksgiving, even as we worried that mom might not be up for it (she insisted on making the veggies) and got to see our four favorite teenagers belting out show tunes from the top of a wooden bench after we stuffed ourselves on Roffey's excellently prepared turkey, and got to enjoy the company of my lovely, warm, caring 90 year old great aunt Theresa and my mother's cousin, also named Theresa.

I attended Rhode Island Comic Con as Press this year, which didn't allow time for cosplay but allowed a lot more time for getting the stories I wanted to get, and best of all, gave me a sense of "working" again (I work my ass off--but I'm not answerable to anyone; it's nice to sometimes feel like a professional again.)

Roffey got an acknowledgement from Southern Poverty Law Center for his continued support, and I got a letter from President Barack Obama after thanking him for his support of the LGBTQ community, making the world a better place for my kids in the process, and we considered both of those things highlights of the year.

The New Year is coming; I believe it will contain challenges; but I also believe that this year has encouraged me to act. I will begin the year with a march for women's rights in January. I will volunteer and donate as I can. I'll continue to support the rights of the most marginalized, whether with my words, my body, or my bank account.

Let 2017 begin. We'll be ready.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Why I'm Going To Keep Talking About LGBTQ Rights (or How To Shorten Your Christmas Card List)

So, I know, people are tired of hearing about emotions and elections and want to move on and "get over it." I'm feeling the need explain the depth of my feelings, because maybe it might change a mind, and if it doesn't, well, maybe it might mean I'll have fewer Christmas cards in that pile I forget to send out every year. I'll try to keep it as short as I can.

For the next 4 years, my government will not have my children's backs. My two eldest are LGBTQ teenagers who already have felt the backlash of this election--they've already faced kids who feel emboldened to put them down (though, in my next post I will talk about the positive activism that both schools have embraced in the wake of it.) The next President's cabinet is stocked with anti-LGBT crusaders. Now you might respond with "I suffered through 8 years of Obama, you'll survive Trump," and this is where I have to buckle down. You have every right to feel that President Obama's policies didn't do good things for you. Some people do feel that way. But the next government will treat my two LGBT kids (along with many friends and close family members) like they are less than people. Like their rights aren't as important as anyone else's. Like it won't matter if they can be fired from a job or refused service simply because they are LGBTQ. Like they shouldn't be able to marry, co-parent, or even bury their own spouse.

So what I understand, at last, is that in the absence of a government that supports them, I have to step up. I can't any longer turn a blind eye to qualifying statements about them. For instance: "love the sinner, not the sin." It seems simple. But it's a hidden qualifier--I've yet to see anyone saying about a divorcee "love the sinner hate the sin." I've yet to see about a rape victim who hasn't married her rapist (yes, that's a definition of marriage in the Bible, too), "love the sinner hate the sin." Why? Because those qualifiers are absurd. My children are human beings who are intelligent, kind, and strong, and yes, are imperfect, too. But loving another person of the same sex is not what makes them so. Loving another person is not keeping anyone from practicing their religion, any more than NOT being a polygamist (again, also one way that marriage is defined in the Bible. Look it up.) does. If you think it does, if you can look me in the eye and say that my kids do not deserve the same right to love, marriage, and happiness that every other person does, that a gender-fluid person doesn't deserve the same love and dignity that a cis (physically born into your gender) person does, that a person shouldn't be able to love another consenting person of the same sex or a trans person or a gender-fluid person, then you may not want to read further and probably we will never have anything more to discuss.

Image credit:

I'll attempt to put it another way: I try not to equate the struggles of LGBT people & people of color--they are, for the most part, different struggles. I see them as sometimes similar, often differing, mostly because people of color cannot choose to hide in plain sight (which no one should have to do, but which is possible for LGBT people who fear discrimination.) So they are different struggles with some parallels. Except in the case of marriage equality. Obergefell v Hodges fell back on the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment just as Loving v Virginia did, because those Constitutional rights were apparent even to the Supreme Court. And yet, I know people who, if I asked them if a black man should be able to marry a white woman, they would say, "Of course!! What is this, the 1950s??" They would be offended that I asked. And yet they cannot see the same absurdity in the question about a same-sex couple. To me, you're then saying that every other person (whether white or person of color) is equal--except LGBT people--they aren't. (And no, I don't think people of color are treated equally. They aren't.) I cannot say that I love and support my children and then say it's ok for anyone to say they are unequal.

In that same vein, no less than three people this month have said "I don't need to know what goes on in their bedrooms. I love them."

But love doesn't happen in the bedroom. Love happens with a look, or two hands holding, or a hug or a kiss goodbye at the train station. I have kissed both parents hello and goodbye on the lips for my entire life, and I kiss my husband of 18 years goodbye 3 times every single time I leave him. No one bats an eyelash. I kiss in front of my children--I always have, so that there will be a good role model of a loving relationship for them--and I haven't done that for fifteen years so that they can spend their adult lives hiding their own love, because love is not something that should ever be hidden.

Author's Proof: "Love Doesn't Happen In The Bedroom"

So there it is. It may feel like it's unfair for me to draw that line in the sand. But I can't protect my children from a President who condones racist, homophobic, misogynistic speech, a Vice President who thinks it's beneficial to use shock therapy to "convert" gay people (to what? The Church of Straightdom?), and a cabinet who has done everything from vote to make it illegal to have "gay sex" in your own home, to declaring that homosexuality is the same as pedophilia or bestiality, if I can't start closer to home first.

In the words of Lin-Manuel Miranda, "You will come of age with our young nation, We'll bleed and fight for you, We'll make it right for you..."