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.