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The Dark Cloud: A Day In The Life

It always sneaks up on me.  Always.

I’ll be doing fine – better than fine even – and then one day, I’m not.  And it’s not that it happens in one day, because it doesn’t.  It’s sneaky, and insidious, and oh so patient as it wraps its tentacles around me, little by little, day after day.  I don’t notice, until I do.

I wake up in tears, and suddenly realize I’ve been waking up in tears for the last 6 mornings in a row.  And wait, it’s been what, 3, 4 weeks since I’ve actually gotten a good night’s sleep, or any sleep at all?  And when was the last time I took a shower?  And why did I stop listening to music, one of my very favorite things?  Why did I stop doing all of my favorite things? And how long have I been messing with my diet… vacillating between eating everything I can get my hands on, or eating nothing at all?  When did my body start hurting again?  When did the bone-crushing exhaustion set in? When did it all – ALL of it: living, breathing, decision-making, interacting with people and places and noises, dear Lord the noises– get so, so difficult?  So difficult that the mere act of existing feels like it takes a Herculean effort?

The weight gets too heavy and the shackles too tight, and I see nothing but blackness. Deep, suffocating, oily blackness.  And finally I have to admit it, because it’s just too damn hard to deny anymore.

F*ck, I’m depressed again.

The world doesn’t stop for me either.  Doesn’t give a damn about me and my depression.  There’s still a whole house to take care of, and kids who need me, and a husband who tries really hard but doesn’t quite know what to do with me when I’m depressed. There are still errands to run, and plumbers to come, and appointments to keep.  There are still kids’ activities and places to be and people to see… and it hurts.  It physically hurts dragging around the cloud that threatens to drown me, threatens to swallow me whole.  I can’t see.  I can’t breathe. The breaths I dare inhale yield nothing but more blackness.  Blackness and desperation.  Fear and numbness, both existing at the same time.  Do people see it?  Do they know?  Part of me feels like they can’t miss it.  How can you miss a darkness this dark?   A weight this heavy?  But part of me knows they don’t see it at all, because they don’t see me.  I never feel as invisible as I feel when I’m depressed.  I’m wearing an invisibility cloak, completely encased in my own private hell.

I had to go to Walgreens today.  And when I say “had to” it was because my choice was either that or sit in on a drum lesson.  And drum lessons mean sounds.  And people talking, and jokes, and TOO MUCH WORK trying to act normal.

So I put on some clothes (with no makeup, and a messy bun in my hair… when was the last time I combed my hair?), drop off my kid, and go to Walgreens.  Walgreens carries Caramel M&Ms, my favorite, but they’re out.  And I stand there, in the candy aisle, trying to decide if I want to get another candy instead.  Some Milk Duds maybe, or Hershey Kisses, or a bag of miniatures.  But the CALORIES.  And do I want to gain weight or lose weight, because it’s always one or the other, and only one of them ever makes me feel better.  And I stand there and I stand there, and I agonize as if my life depends on this very decision.  It’s too hard.  Too much.  And then the tears are in my eyes before I can stop them.  Tears in the candy aisle.  But no one can see me beneath my cloak.

I slowly walk through the other aisles (sans candy), avoiding eye contact, looking but not seeing…. the makeup, the bandaids, the outdoor toys… until I get to the office supply aisle.  I pick up a new pen and a cute little leather-like journal, tiny enough to tuck in a purse.  I put them down.  I pick them up again. I don’t need a new journal or a new pen, and I know they won’t fix anything.  But they stand for … hope.  Hope for when I’ll enjoy them.  Hope for when I feel better.  I take them with me.

Before I leave, I decide to get a soda.  I’m not drinking coffee anymore, gave it up a week ago, and think a small jolt of caffeine will help somehow.  Some sort of elixir to my hurting soul.  I get a Diet Coke.  I haven’t drank Diet Coke in about 20 years.  The chemicals.  Today, I don’t care about chemicals.  Today I care about a memory of a different time, a time when Diet Coke was my drink, the thing that would get my newlywedded self through my late shifts at the mall.  I see they have a caffeine free Diet Coke, and I take that instead.  Maybe caffeine is a bad idea.  But I put it back.  And I take it again.  And then I put it back again.  And then I finally get the regular Diet Coke before I can repeat my candy aisle tears.  It says Stephanie on the bottle.

My total comes to $17 even, and on another day, in another time, in another place, I would have enjoyed that.  That almost never happens.  But today it’s just a number, taunting me on the little screen.  $17.00.  $17 isn’t enough to cure depression.  I pay the nice man at the register.  Might have even smiled.  Normal, normal.   See, I can do normal. 

“How we doing today?”  the friendly, if somewhat overly aggressive, voice greets me as I leave the store.  There’s a table, and some sort of donation jar, and flyers, and a multitude of other things I can’t deal with.

I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry.  But I don’t say it out loud.  I don’t look at her.  Can’t look at her.  Stare straight ahead through my tear-stained sunglasses.  I’m rude and I’m never rude.  But I can’t make myself do it.  Can’t make myself interact with another person.  I’m not invisible, and she sees me.  Sees me try to look at her and instantly turn away.  Sees me walk past her and walk to my car.  She says something to my back, but I can’t hear what it is.  Can’t hear it over the thumping of my own heart.

I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry.

I’m ready to fall apart, need to fall apart, but I’m not done yet.   I need to drop something off at UPS, and I need to get my kid at drum lessons.  The clock tells me that the rest of the lesson only takes a half an hour, but my head tells me it takes about five.  I sit in the little room, waiting, listening. I read a book, not seeing the words.  I look at my phone, scroll through Facebook, respond when spoken to.   I can do normal.

Home.  I just need to be home.  The thought beats a steady staccato in my frantic chest.  I can do this.  I just need to get home.

And then I’m home, as exhausted as if I’d just run a marathon.  Reality tells me I just dropped off a kid and ran a couple errands.  12 whole miles from home.

But I can’t breathe.

And everything hurts.

I know that alcohol will temporarily numb it (and seriously, WHAT THE HELL with all the Facebook memes that outright encourage moms to self-medicate with alcohol?), but I stopped drinking alcohol 13 months ago.

I know that Klonopin will temporarily numb it, and I have it – too much of it – in the cabinet with the rest of my meds.  But I don’t take that either.  Take it twice a day if needed, my prescriber tells me.  But if I take it more than every other day, I lose somehow.  Just like I lose if I buy the candy and the regular, non-diet Coke.  Today I choose to be a winner.  I choose to be a stubborn, miserable, winner, and I’m not sure I like what I’ve won.

I know that if I stopped to think about it, stopped to remember, that tools from my therapist would help too.  My therapist that I’ve seen for 13 whole months now – not that I’m counting – who’s simultaneously helped me and angered me more than anyone else in my whole life, ever.   I literally can’t even think about how much he’s helped me without tearing up.

But today, screw his tools.  Screw the sunshine and fresh air and exercise adages too.  Screw the “just think positively!” tripe.  Screw the “Have you tried this essential oil?” panaceas.

And you know what else?  Screw depression.

So I sit here, and I do the one thing, the only thing I can make myself do.  I write.  And I write and I write and I write until my heartbeat slows, and my breaths come more easily.

My soda is gone… I drank it too fast and it gave me a stomachache.  I find the stomachache oddly comforting.  It tells me I’m here.  Reminds me that I’m still alive.

My mind is fighting to answer the question of “why?”  Why depression after having done so well, for so long.  But I know the question is unhelpful and invalid. (That’s my therapist talking).

The “why” doesn’t matter.  It just …. It just IS.  And knowing that, truly accepting that, makes it just a tiny bit easier to carry.  It doesn’t make it better; doesn’t make it go away.  But it softens it, smooths out the edges, makes it more manageable to live with for one more day.  And that’s important, because tomorrow?  Tomorrow I’m going to get up – even if I’m crying while I do it – and I’m going to put one foot in front of the other, and I’m going to breathe in and out.  And as counter intuitive as it sounds, I’m going to try not to try so hard.  I mean yes, I’ll continue to try to get rest and exercise and all that good stuff.  And I’ll continue to do the personal work I need to do to get well.  And I’ll continue to take my meds.  And so help me, the next time I’m in a Walgreens I AM buying some candy.  But the mental gymnastics I do to try to figure it all out, the unrealistic pressure I put on myself to just hurry up and FIX IT ALREADY?

Never helped me.  Never will.

So instead I’ll focus on self care (That’s also my therapist.  Seriously, how my mind can simultaneously carry so much gratitude and so much annoyance at the same person at the same time is beyond me.)

I’ll trust that it won’t be forever.  I’ll trust that I’ll feel better.

I’ll trust that when I feel this bad again, I’ll find a way to stay home, and have the good sense to avoid drug stores completely.


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Why I (Continue To) Take a Stand Against Organized Religion

I don’t remember when I broke up with organized religion.

It wasn’t like one big, a-ha moment.  It wasn’t a cataclysmic event, or a major act of egregious affront, or a single person or a single church or a single event.  No, it was something that happened over time.  It was years of systemic conditioning and oppression.  It was years of being okay with hypocrisy.  It was years of being okay with self righteous indignation.  It was a decision, over time, that I no longer wanted to prize being “right” over being compassionate, or being judgmental over being loving.  It was an admission, over time, that I’d in fact gotten it very wrong.  That I’d given into a system of beliefs and attitudes that were, at their core, contrary to the very God that I claimed to worship.

And the thing is, I never turned my back on my belief in God.  I actually found God during this whole process, for perhaps the first time in my life.

I know that opting out of everything God-related is a common thing for many people with my background.  I see it every day.  People feel just like I felt:  disillusioned, angry, burnt-out, betrayed… and they decide they don’t want anything to do with any of it anymore.  And honestly, I can’t say as I particularly blame them.  The damage runs DEEP.  I have a friend who grew up in a very strict Catholic church who used to say something to the effect of, “Want to ensure your kid grows up to be an atheist?  Force them to go to church every Sunday.”  (By the by, she’s an adult now and is, in fact, an atheist)  But for me, it was two separate issues.  My beef wasn’t with God.  My beef was with a deeply flawed and broken man-made construct.  One of the most defining moments of my life was when I was able to say – to myself, to the people around me, to the world – “You know what?  I want Jesus.  I don’t want religion.”

Lest I forget why I made that decision, I have articles like this to remind me.  This article, titled Worship Leaders Must Take a Stand Against Homosexuality, was proudly shared by someone from my former life.  And as I read it, that little voice in me screamed, “THIS!  This is why I left.  This is why I’m opting out.”

Too many churches have become about turning people away.  They’ve become judge, jury and executioner.  They’ve become hurtful, vitriolic clubs of exclusion.  Strong words?  Sure.  Deserved?  You bet.

My mind automatically wants to fix it, to substitute other words for homosexuality.  Worship Leaders Must Take a Stand Against:

Lying
Stealing
Hatefulness
Pride
Arrogance
Gossip
Adultery…

You know, things that actually hurt people.  But we never see those articles, because people are too busy thinking about, and writing about, and preaching about those darn homosexuals.  I ask you –  in all sincerity – if you nod your head in agreement with articles like that one, how does someone else’s sexual orientation harm you?  The world is full of problems, to be sure, but is who someone happens to love really one of them?  No one’s threatening you or the sanctity of your heterosexual relationship, I promise.  Your neighbor or your co-worker or your family member who’s gay?  They’re just trying to make it through the day like the rest of us.  The difference is, they’re trying to make it through a day in which churches have made it their mission to ostracize them, in which churches have decided that their mere existence is so objectionable that they must write entire articles about how we must Take A Stand against them.

Instead of loving people like they’re commanded (Matthew 22:39.  This is covered in Christianity 101.  Or at least it should be), they’ve cherry-picked an already maligned segment of society, and they’re taking a stand.

Well I’m going to take a stand too.

I’m taking a stand against bigotry cloaked in religion.  I’m taking a stand against keeping people out instead of inviting people in.  I’m taking a stand against judging people instead of loving them.  I’m taking a stand against discrimination, in all of its shapes, forms, and flavors.  I’m taking a stand against a man-made system that does the very opposite of showing others a God that is full of grace, and love, and mercy.

And as I sit here, getting ready to hit that “publish” button, I do so knowing that this post is going to earn me unkind comments, and bible verses used as weapons, and (if the past is any indication) offers to send me books that’ll save my poor, misguided soul.  I’m okay with that.  Truly.  Because it all serves to remind me where I came from, and why I chose to leave it behind.

I can’t control what anyone else chooses to believe, or do, or follow.  This much is true.  But I can control me.  I can control where I stand.

If ever I’m given the option (and let’s be real for a second here:  we’re always given the option) I’m standing on the side of love.

Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”


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Yes, She’s Cut Out For That (And So Am I, And So Are You)

Tegan, age 9, as Edmund in the Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, getting threatened by the witch.

I need to tell a story about Tegan.

Two years ago this summer – when she was 7 – she decided she wanted to try acting, so I signed her up for a two-week-long camp at a local theater.  The play was Annie, and everyone who auditioned had to sing the song “Tomorrow.”  She knew the song, and she sings very well.  But she’d never done anything like it before.  She was (understandably) nervous, and she (understandably) had some trouble with the audition.  But she did it, and I was so proud of her.  I told her that no matter what, she could feel good about herself.  She’d successfully completed her first audition, and they’d only get easier from there on out.

She was cast as Grumpy Man, and she had one line:  “Keep it quiet down there!”  She delivered it with aplomb.  Because they wanted to give everyone as much stage experience as possible, she also played in all the orphan scenes, singing and dancing and generally enjoying the heck out of the whole experience.

But that’s not really the story.  At some point in the process, one of the directors told me about Tegan, “I don’t know if she’s cut out for this.”  I’m still not sure why exactly, unless it was just because of her nerves and/or shyness in the beginning.   Whether or not that was an appropriate thing for a director to say about a 7 year old during a rather expensive summer camp that was just supposed to be about learning and having fun is probably a subject for another blog post.  This is my obligatory acknowledgment about the huge run-on sentence.   Not fixing it; sorry.  But she said it, and for better or worse it was a comment that stuck with me.

The following winter, she decided she wanted to try another play, so we joined a local homeschool theater group.  I’d heard good things about it, we had some friends & acquaintances there, and neither of us were too keen to go back to the first theater.   That spring she played a witch’s assistant in Wizard of Oz.  She had a good handful of lines, and loved playing the goofy, not-too-bright little minion.  She fell in love with the group, with the process, and with performing.  She’d found her “thing.”

The following fall she played Alice in Alice in Wonderland.

And last month, she played Edmund (one of the four siblings) in The Lion, The Witch and Wardrobe.  She said it was her favorite play to date.

And please understand, this isn’t about getting the lead role.  I mean, maybe it is a tiny bit, for vindication for that unattractive part of me that is happy she proved that initial director wrong.  But the story would have been the same no matter what parts she’s played.  Because she stuck with it.  She found something she loved, and she just DID IT.  It didn’t matter that she wasn’t particularly favored in her first play, for whatever reason.  It didn’t matter that she messed up the words to Tomorrow in her first audition.  It didn’t matter that someone else had decided that she was or was not cut out for acting.   The thing about Tegan – my favorite thing about Tegan – is that she doesn’t question whether or not she can do something.  She is one of the most self-confident people I know.  At nine!  She believes she can do the thing, no matter what the thing might be.  And she just…. does it.  Nerves and naysayers be damned.

It’s like Everett (13 at the time of this writing) who was utterly undeterred when he’d gone most of the season of pee-wee basketball without having made a basket.  “If I keep throwing it up there,” he’d say, “eventually it’ll go in the net.”  And by the end of the season, it had.

Or Paxton (16), who learned the harsh lesson of the betrayal of false friends last year, and is still (literally and figuratively) playing his own music.

Or Spencer (20), who has spent his whole life dealing with people continually misjudging him because of issues like his speech, but keeps on telling his story with a smile on his face, and his confidence intact.

These kids.  They get up every day, and they’re just so proudly and unabashedly and perfectly themselves.  And my God do I admire that.

When I was growing up, I remember these popular posters that said things like, “Everything I need to know I learned from my cat” (or my kindergartner, or my dentist, or whatever).  I imagine that they all probably exist  in meme form these days.

As for me?

Everything I need to know I learned from my kids.


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Wear The Purple Polish

The following was recently sent to me by a friend.  I was originally going to use it as a jumping off point for a blog post, until I realized it IS a blog post, all on its own.  We all have our purple nail polish stories.  Or at least I know I do.  Multiple stories in fact.  As an adult, I’m currently trying to wear all the metaphorical purple nail polish that I can, and to shed all those old negative ideas and beliefs and stories that were never even mine to begin with.  And as a parent?  I’m currently trying – with all I’ve got – NOT to be the reason that my children avoid wearing… or trying or thinking or experiencing… anything, based on my own personal biases.  I want them to wear their purple nail polish.  If they so desire, I want them to wear ALL the nail polish. 

I’ve decided to wear purple nail polish as often as possible and I’ll tell you why.

Because one time when I was 13 or so, I wore purple nail polish. Around this same color but minus the glitter. Anyway, my grandma and cousin made a really UNUSUALLY big deal about how ugly it was and it hurt my feelings. 

So a few days ago we were at the store and my daughter asked for this purple nail polish. My gut reaction was to say no because purple nail polish = bad in the ol’ subconscious. Then I realized what my brain was doing and I was like, “You know what? F*** ALL Y’ALL.”

And that’s how something you say to a 13 year old kid can stick around until they’re 36+.
Do the thing. Whether it’s nail polish, or a nose piercing, or writing that novel, or singing that song, or taking that trip, or wearing those damn pants that you love that your mom said made your hips look big.

Do the thing.

“You aren’t scared to do the thing, you are scared to let go of your old story.” ~ from Kyle Cease


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Lost (And Found) In The Forest

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. ~ Henry David Thoreau

Up until a couple of weeks ago, I’ve never been alone.  Is that weird?  I mean, yes, I’ve been alone in my house of course, and my car, and a million and one other little ways, but it was always within the context of my other responsibilities.  I went from my parents’ house, to having a roommate in college, to getting married at 19, to being a stay-at-home parent for 20 years (20 YEARS.  Is that right?)

 

Which brings us to now.  I’m 43 years old, and I’d never been alone.

 

Earlier this year, I decided that it was really important that I get away.  Just for a couple of days, all by myself.  It was almost painfully difficult to describe why I needed to do it, but I just knew it was something that had to be done.  And it specifically had to be done around April or May, as the pièce de ré·sis·tance to my year of self-care and self-discovery.

I had to be alone.

I had to give myself total space… to think, to feel, to grieve, to celebrate.  I had to know, beneath the mom and the wife and the homemaker and the blogger, I WAS ALSO STILL ME.

I went into it with no expectations, other than to let it teach me what I needed to learn.  I brought books (but it was okay if I didn’t read).  I brought my laptop (but it was okay if I didn’t write).  I brought journals and crafty things and sketch books (but it was okay if it all remained untouched.)  I brought hiking shoes (but it was okay if they never made it out of my suitcase.)  If I needed to cry, that was okay.  If I needed to sit outside and drink coffee and watch the squirrels, that was okay.

As it turned out, I needed all of the above.  I had no phone, no internet, and no outward distractions.  It was just me… alone with nature and alone with myself.  It was intense, and it was scary, and it was important.


From my journal, on the first night:

I’m sitting alone, in my little cabin.  I feel… I don’t even know what I feel.  I feel overwhelmed, and yet relieved at the same time.  Broken, but so strong.  Lonely, but empowered.  I am crying, and don’t remember when I started.  Crying for the girl that so badly needed this, crying for the girl that was so, so broken for so long.  Crying for the woman, who needs to know, perhaps more than she’s ever known anything, that she is enough.  Not enough as a mom, or a wife, or a daughter, or a sister, or a friend, but just ENOUGH.  As a person.  Stripped of all those other labels.  I’m enough and I’m crying and uncomfortable and I needed this.

I’m not sure what made me think to do it, but I decided that first night (in the midst of a rather severe mental health crisis) to make a little video diary to chronicle the experience.

The rest of my story will be told through those short videos.   They’re self-explanatory, but a couple of notes on the first one:  It’s real and raw and not especially pretty.  Also, notice how I have trouble catching my breath?  That’s what the end of a panic attack sounds like.  Or the beginning.  I don’t even remember.  To be honest, most of the first evening was one long panic attack.

So..

Did I learn something new?  Am I a new person because of my little 48 hour excursion?  Well, no.  The thing with life is that it keeps going, no matter how much we’d like to stop it sometimes.   No sooner had I arrived back home, I was thrust back into responsibility and errands and obligations.  Real life called.  But I lost myself in those woods, and then I found myself again.  And what I did realize is that that momentary peace I felt, that brief grasp of ataraxia (look it up) is something that I can work on feeling in the midst of the busy.  In the midst of the chaos.  In the midst of LIFE.  And if I’ve learned anything in the past year – anything at all – it’s that life and relationships, even (or especially) relationships with yourself are not something that you can just anoint with a 48 hour balm and expect to be successful.  They need constant, mindful, attentive care if you expect them to thrive, and expect them to be healthy and rich and fulfilling and worthwhile.

And as for myself?  My little trip reminded me, more than I’ve ever been reminded before, that no matter how much I fight it, no matter how many times and how many ways I keep having to tell myself…  no matter what society says or anyone says:

I am me.

And that’s enough.


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Filed under about me, life, mental health, self care, vacation