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Arizona

Screen Time Is Like Crocheting

Last night, I was trying to crochet.  I say, “trying”, because I’m really not very good at it.  It’s just one of many hobbies that I’ve picked up, played with a little bit until I got bored, then moved on to something else.  It’s also one that I return to from time to time, because I really do enjoy it.  I’m quite confident that with a little more practice I could make a coaster, or, if I’m feeling really adventurous, a scarf.

But right now, I make little misshapen rectangles.

So last night, I was feverishly working on my latest misshapen rectangle.  I was incredibly focused… frustrated every time I dropped a stitch, elated every time I successfully did a few in a row.  I’m a creative person by nature, so the feeling of creating something new with my hands is exciting and empowering.  I started with yarn, and with it, I was making … well, a misshapen rectangle.  But I was making something new, something that literally had never been in existence until that very moment.  It was just me, my crochet hook, and my yarn.

And then people started talking to me.  First, it was my 9 year old, and then it was my husband.  I could feel myself getting irrationally impatient and annoyed at the perceived intrusion.  (“CAN’T YOU SEE I’M CROCHETING HERE, PEOPLE?!”).  I answered them, but I was vague.  Distracted.  The truth was, I was really into what I was doing, and wasn’t taking kindly to being interrupted.

I did finally stop long enough to eat dinner but even then I was sort of “out of it.”  I’d stopped before I was ready, so my brain was still focused elsewhere.  I wanted to get back to my project.

And it wasn’t because I’m “addicted”, and it wasn’t because crocheting is “bad.”  It was simply because I’d gotten super involved, and sometimes it’s hard to immediately shake out of that.

I fail to see why playing video games, watching movies, or browsing YouTube is any different.

And yet it’s such a common refrain among those who are new to the idea of unschooling:

“He gets so angry/irritable/frustrated when we tell him it’s time to stop playing”

“Every time she watches videos for too long, she just zones everyone and everything else out.”

“We have to limit his time on the computer or he’d never do anything else.”

“When she’s wrapped up in a game, she doesn’t eat, won’t take a break, and barely gets up to go to the bathroom.”

Short translation:  Activities involving screens are harmful and addictive.

But there is literally nothing in the above statements that couldn’t also be applied to someone who was super involved with crocheting.  Or reading.  Or drawing. Or gardening.  We all have our outlets, and we all have our activities that demand our full-attention.  Maybe we’re creating.  Maybe we’re learning.

Maybe we’re using all our brain power to solve the puzzle and save the princess and make it to the next level.

Getting involved to that extent is normal, especially if the activity is new.  If I can get inpatient, frustrated, and irritated when interrupted while crocheting, why is it unacceptable for children?  As an adult, I can generally handle such feelings without taking it out on the people around me.  But kids feel the same frustrations, and don’t have the years of experience or maturity to know what to do with their feelings.  The solution then is understanding and assistance …. not taking the offending activity away.   Help them, don’t punish them.

“He gets so angry/irritable/frustrated when we tell him it’s time to stop playing”

Yup, I’d feel all those things if I was suddenly and unexpectedly made to stop doing something I enjoyed too… especially if it was something like a video game, that could not be saved at that particular point.  Give plenty of warnings and advanced notice.  Help them plan their time, and understand what’s happening when.  Transitions can be hard, especially for little ones.  This is not the fault of the video game.  Work with them on transitions, and over time, they’ll get easier.

“Every time she watches videos for too long, she just zones everyone and everything else out.”

I love the feeling of getting so lost in a good book or a good movie that everything around me disappears.  It means the author or filmmaker did their job well.  We all – every one of us – are allowed to “zone out” sometimes… whether it’s to a good book, a movie, a song, a TV show.  IT’S OKAY!  Getting lost in an activity helps us relax, rest, and reset.  I would frankly be more concerned for the kid who was denied the opportunity to regularly zone out for awhile.

“We have to limit his time on the computer or he’d never do anything else.” 

When something is limited, it becomes more attractive.  Like the proverbial forbidden fruit, it starts to be more enticing, more alluring, and disproportionately important.  It’s just human nature.  Any child (or adult for that matter) who is forbidden from using something is going to appear to be unhealthily obsessed with it when they do get the opportunity.  Not knowing when they’re going to get to use it again, they feverishly devour it while they can.  When the limit is lifted, and the initial inevitable binge moment has passed, it becomes just one of a million different choices they can make in a day.  When they truly trust that you won’t take it away, their interest tends to “normalize”, and you realize that they aren’t so obsessed after all.  My kids all use their computers daily (often for hours).  They also write music and poetry, read, bake, make things with their hands, hang out with friends, act, sing, play musical instruments, hike, research, make YouTube videos….

“Never” is an extreme and loaded word.  It is highly unlikely that your child would honestly and literally never do anything else if his computer time wasn’t limited.

“When she’s wrapped up in a game, she doesn’t eat, won’t take a break, and barely gets up to go to the bathroom.”

So this is a real thing.  When I’m lost in a good book, I lose all sense of time.  It’s not often that I get the opportunity to read for hours, but when I do, it often ends in a confused, dehydrated, starving stupor.  It doesn’t even have to be something that I’m enjoying now that I think about it.  The other day I was deep into my math class (College Algebra is my Everest), getting crazy frustrated, and refusing to do anything else.  When Mike suggested I take a break, I just about bit his head clear off.  I was committed, dammit, and I was going to see it through*.  I know the feeling of not wanting to take a break.  I’ve seen it in my kids, in my husband, and in myself.  The solution?  Connection.  Understanding.  HELP.  Instead of vilifying video games, and grumbling that they make your kid neglect their own needs… meet them where they’re at.  Chat with them about what they’re playing.  Ask if you can bring them a snack.  Help them deal with any frustrations.  And yes, gently suggest a break if things are getting too intense.

Screen time is not the evil that it’s so often made out to be.  It’s just not.  It’s simply one (actually many – since “screen time” is a catch-all term that refers to an infinite number of activities) of a million different pursuits that one can dive into, learn from, grow from, and get lost in.

It’s like crocheting. 

And if your kid gets frustrated in their pursuit of learning to crochet, you help them.  You don’t vilify the very thing that they’re trying to learn.

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*I did eventually heed his advice to take a break.  And it helped. 🙂

 


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Filed under screen time, unschooling

The Holidays Are For Giving, Not Manipulating

Let me paint a picture for you.

You’re 6 years old.  You just came off the excitement of Halloween.  Thanksgiving is coming, followed by Christmas just a few short weeks later.  You’re going to holiday parties and special events, your schedule is all out of whack, and you’ve been eating all kinds of rich, sweet, and complicated foods.  You’re spending time helping to decorate, and make gifts, and make cookies and other treats.  You’re probably not sleeping very well because you’re excited and everything’s thrown off, and your six-year-old self is buzzing with restless energy, anticipation, and – if we’re being honest – likely some exhaustion and over-stimulation too.

And then, right at the breaking point, right at that moment when what’s needed most is some collective down-time, some deliberate slowing and reconnecting and a heap-load of grace….. your (probably well-meaning) parents tell you that a magic old man is watching your every move, that if you make any missteps he’s going to know about it, and that if you’re not good enough, you’re not going to get any presents at Christmas.  And then, lest you don’t believe it, they install cameras, just to be sure you’re properly submissive.  Or afraid.  Or both.

Surely I can’t be the only one who realizes how completely manipulative, not to mention illogical, this is?

In Christmases-past, I’ve written about my issues with the Elf on a Shelf, but I’m new to the whole concept of Santa Cams.  When I first heard about them, it was in the context of ornaments for the tree.   Cutesy little balls painted like cameras, sold by about a million different vendors on Etsy.   The premise is as simple as it is creepy; Santa watches you through the camera, and if you misbehave (a word I can’t stand, but am using for the sake of illustration), you won’t get any presents.  As if those weren’t bad enough, someone recently brought my attention to the more insidious – and much, much creepier – version: cameras that are meant to mount on the child’s bedroom wall or ceiling.

You guys, I cannot overstate how disturbed I am by these Santa Cams.

Because there are just so very many things wrong with them, and because I think better in lists, here are my top five reasons to – at a bare minimum – carefully consider whether or not you want to instill (and install) something like this in your own home.

1. It teaches that giving is conditional

Let’s just start there.  No one should ever have to “earn” their gifts, Christmas or otherwise.  By definition, a gift is something that is given freely, without condition, and without expectation.  Something that – ideally – comes from the heart and the generosity of the giver.   Teaching your kids that they need to behave a certain way in order to get Christmas gifts not only destroys and mocks the whole premise of giving, it ensures that their future relationship with giving will be a warped and unhealthy one.  I want my kids to give because they want to give, not because someone jumped through some requisite hoops in order to be deemed worthy.

2. It encourages behavior that is driven by extrinsic (rather than intrinsic) motivation

So let’s get this question out of the way.  Do Santa Cams “work”, in terms of getting children to behave in a certain way?  Quite possibly, depending on the kid.  But just to be clear on what’s really happening:  They’re being driven by something external. They’re performing strictly because of the promise of reward and/or the fear of punishment.  That’s it.  It doesn’t actually teach them anything, except that gifts are conditional, that it’s okay to manipulate people into doing what we want them to do, and that the only reason to behave reasonably is because a jolly fat man might take away your stocking if you don’t.  Take away the promise of presents, and what motivation do they have then?  People, of any age, should act according to their own inner sense of right and wrong, their own innate wisdom that informs them how they want to behave, and how they want to treat others.  Children by nature are incredibly giving, and loving, and kind.  They are, by nature, good …. until and unless that natural inclination is squashed and skewed by things like punishments and rewards.

3. It’s manipulative.

As parents, we know that there is no literal Santa Claus that lives at the North Pole.  We know that if our kids are going to get presents, we’ll be the ones providing them.  We know that the Santa “camera” is nothing more than cheap plastic (and, if we’ve splurged on the fancy one, a set of AA batteries for an LED blinking light).  We know that our children are already overtired, under-rested, and all hopped up on sugar and adrenaline.  The kids know none of that.  They just know that they’re excited.  They know they want fun new presents on Christmas morning.  They actually believe that Santa is watching them, because that’s what their parents told them.  Parents take advantage of that trust and that naivete because they know that by controlling them through the threat of punishment and the promise of reward that it will make their lives just a tiny bit easier.   It is the very definition of manipulation, and manipulation isn’t nice.  Which brings me to:

4. It is damaging to your relationship

Nothing good ever comes from taking advantage of and manipulating someone in a relationship.  Ever.  In fact, people spend entire lifetimes trying to recover from being manipulated by parents, partners, siblings, friends, churches ….

Relationships, including, or especially!, between parent and child are precious, and need to be treated with care.  Once trust is broken, it’s a tricky tricky thing to repair.  That is not to say that wounds can’t be healed, or that wrongs can’t be righted.  Sometimes they can, and sometimes the damage is just too deep.  But given the preemptive choice to do the unkind, manipulative thing, and to… well, NOT do it, the latter is always the better option. The age-old adage still holds true:  treat others how you would like to be treated yourself.

5. It raises some serious and confusing messages in the realm of privacy and consent.

I saved this one for last because it’s at once the most disturbing, and the one most likely to prompt people to say, “Oh come on, you’re taking this way too far.”  But I beg you to hear me out.  Hearing that this was something that people were actually hanging in their children’s bedroom raised major, major red flags for me.  In this current climate under a president who brags about “grabbing women by the p*ssy” I think it’s safe to say that there’s a really grossly blurred line when it comes to privacy and consent.   I think it’s also safe to say that it’s more important than ever to talk about these issues at home, whether you have boys or girls.  Kids need to know about privacy.  Kids need to know about consent.  So I ask you, in all sincerity, where does a peeping, spying old man fit into a healthy model of consent?  How do you ever reconcile sending your young kids the sickening and confusing message that it’s okay if someone watches you undress and sleep if they hold the power to give or withhold presents??  Yes, they’re not actually being watched.  But the kids don’t know that.  The kids believe they’re actually being watched.  They believe their parents know about it.  And they believe it’s okay because it’s a benevolent old guy with a magic sack of gifts.

It’s creepy.

It’s disgusting.

It’s dangerous.

Regardless of your religious beliefs, regardless of where you stand politically (I’m already wondering if I’m going to kick myself for including the Trump reference, not gonna lie), regardless of how you do or not celebrate Christmas or Hanukkah or Kwanzaa or Festivus … I hope that we can agree that the holidays should be about love and kindness, giving and generosity.

Which should never, ever include manipulating the people we love the most.


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Filed under control, holidays, mindful parenting, respect

Making Peace With Self-Care (Again)

Last night, someone was mean to me on the internet.

And when I say someone was mean to me, what I really mean is:  I got my feelings hurt.  In a big way.  Because they were not “mean.”  Incredibly condescending, but not mean.    I’ve (mostly) learned to deal with it when people actually are mean.  When they swear at me, I can laugh it off.   Tell me I should I die?  Cool.  Tell me that my kids are going to grow up to be ax murderers and drunk drivers and rapists because I don’t spank them?  Whatever.

But admonish me, however politely, for not being a good enough human?  To use patronizing language to call my character into question?  To tell me, as a stranger, that I need to do better, to be better, no matter how well intentioned… holy hell.  HOLY HELL, does that cut deep.  I’m pretty sure that I have the years of damage from my fundamental Christian upbringing to thank for that.  The great irony (because my life is one big example of irony) is that I was being chastised for not having enough grace for people.  That I never knew what someone else was going through – which, of course, is absolutely 100% true – so I shouldn’t judge them based on one unkind and nasty snippet on the internet.  What I wonder is if this person would have shown me more grace if they knew more of my story?  Because yeah, I overreacted.  But there was a reason.  It doesn’t excuse it … but there was a reason.

I haven’t been sleeping lately.

It’s only been 3, 4 weeks now I think.  Usually it takes a couple of months before it causes a complete mental break, which means if I can get on top of things, there’s still time to catch it before I end up where I was in July: suicidal and threatened with involuntary hospitalization.

Anyway, I haven’t been sleeping.  First because of mania, then because of anxiety, then … I don’t know.  And I’ve learned that nothing, nothing, unravels me faster than lack of sleep.  I could eat nothing but junk food for months on end, sit on my couch like a sloth, ignore everyone and everything and still manage to function (relatively) normally.  But take away my sleep?  I start to slip.  Like rapidly, rapidly, down-the-rabbit-hole free-fall.  If I’ve learned nothing in this past year and half, it’s that I need to watch my sleep.  You’d think that I would have learned that sooner, having been a chronic insomniac on and off since my early twenties, but… sometimes I’m a slow learner.

So I haven’t been sleeping, and I got my feelings hurt on the internet, and last night I found myself rather violently cleaning the kitchen at 9:00 PM, just to give myself something to do with my angst.  It was the second night in a row that I’d gotten swept up (Swept up.  Ha.  See what I did there?) swept up in the act of rage-cleaning before bed.   Second night in a row that I’d gotten into bed depressed, and anxious, and jumping out of my skin.  I’d deleted the offending post and all its comments on my Facebook page, but I still felt gross about it.  And I realized as I was slamming the sixth plate into the dishwasher that it was at least the fourth time this week that I’d deleted something because I’d gotten my feelings hurt.  Or felt shamed, or embarrassed, or angry.  Which made major alarm bells go off, because I only start doing that when I Am Not Okay.  Or at a very minimum, on the verge of Not Okay.

And rather than trying to push through – which never works.  Which never, ever works – today I’m sitting with my not-okay-ness.  I’m admitting it; I’m saying it out loud.  And I’m breathing, and I’m being gentle with myself, and I’m working out what has to change in order for me to start sleeping again, in order for me to start interacting like a reasonable human again.  Letting go of my own self-care, letting myself get swallowed by the Big Black Hole, and then couching it in, “It’s not my fault; it’s the bipolar!” helps no one, least of all myself.  Or my kids.  Or my husband.  Or anyone who has the (mis)fortune of being within a 50 foot radius when I am as jacked-up as I am right now.   Whenever I feel myself starting to slip, self-care is the very first thing to go…. and the very first thing that I should turn to.  I know this.  I know this.  And yet, here I am, once again.

It’s time to make peace with self-care.  If I can’t do it for myself, I can at least do it for my kids.

And so, to the person who (rightly) reminded me of the importance of giving people grace last night:  Thank you.  You were right.  I absolutely do need to give people more grace.

But today I have to start with myself.


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Filed under about me, anxiety, depression, mania, mental health, self care

Conference R & R

It’s been almost a month since our fourth Free to Be Conference.  I would say fourth “annual” conference, but I don’t like the word annual.  Too much commitment.  🙂  It’s always been a new decision every year.

Last year, the conference was… well, it was honestly painful in a lot of ways.  The program itself went well, I think.  All the talks, workshops, etc pretty much went off without a hitch.  But the hotel hated us and threatened to kick out our group on the very first day, there were behavior issues, and there was personal … ickiness.  (Ickiness, by the way, is the technical term.)  We were very certain that we weren’t going to do it again.  Except:

We had to.  We needed a do-over. We needed a Hail Mary.  We chose a new hotel, looked at it as a fresh start, and hoped for the best.

Still, I didn’t know what to expect.  I really didn’t.  After 2016, I almost didn’t want to have any expectations. Registration was highly stressful this year because so many people waited till the last minute.  (Was it a mistake to do it again?  Was no one going to register? Were we going to end up in the poor house because of this?) And then, one month before the conference the bottom fell out of my own life, so it was all I could do to keep afloat, let alone think about anything conference related.

But then it came – funny thing about planning things like that.  They come whether you’re ready or not – and it was… well, it was magic.  I honestly could not have asked for a better conference.  Or attendees.  Or experience.  Were there tiny wrinkles?  Sure.  Were there little issues, complaints, comparisons to other conferences?  Of course.  That’s all part and parcel of hosting an event for 400 people.  But overall it was largely, and overwhelmingly… OVERWHELMINGLY… positive.  And the amount of healing it brought?  Ridiculous.  It was truly a redemptive year for us.

And the thing is, we don’t do it for us.  We do it for the money (KIDDING!  We don’t make any money to speak of.)  We do it for the attendees.  We create the vision and the framework; the speakers, the funshop hosts, and the volunteers bring it to life; and then the whole thing is gifted to the attendees, to do with what they wish.  This year though… this year, it was gifted back to us.  And it was beautiful and it was healing, and it was honestly one of the most positive and empowering feelings I’ve ever experienced.

People keep asking if we’re all recovered.  People have actually been asking since a few days after it ended.  And by all means, I feel good, and I feel peaceful.  But recovered?  Well, no, I’m not.  Mike, being the more logical, business-minded of the two of us, says that he’s back to normal.  A couple weeks back to work and he was good to go.  But me… I invest way too much emotionally to be recovered in a couple of weeks.  Plus, it was a year’s worth of blood, sweat, and tears.  You don’t just get over that in a couple of weeks.  Especially when life doesn’t stop in order for you to do so… when you have to get right back to school, and life, and appointments, and running kids around.

I know that just attending the conference is exhausting and requires its own recovery.  For real. We’ve been on that end of it, too.  A four day event is no joke, no matter how smooth it is.  You’re running around like crazy, you’re sleep deprived, you’re not eating right. But it’s still not quite the same thing as planning, executing, and running said event.  (Um, on that note, my apologies to those I may or may not have grumbled to – I hope good natured-ly – when they complained to me about how tired they were.  Do you know about the ring theory of venting?  Ever since I learned about it, my venting mantra is “Never vent IN”.  I miss the mark sometimes I’m sure.  But I try.  Really really hard.)

And now it’s been a month, and I’m still working on re-entry.  A weekend at my cabin would be lovely, but … real life beckons.  And so, rest and recovery is happening in the pauses.  In the quiet mornings on the days when I don’t have anyplace to be.  With my happy playlist, and a venti cup of coffee in the car.  With a good book and a long bath.  In the stolen meditative moments of chopping vegetables for dinner, or washing my hands longer than necessary in the bathroom.  In the smiles brought by a rapid text exchange with a trusted friend.  In the hibernating.

In the breathing.  Always in the breathing.

I will rest, and I will breathe, and then I’ll be ready to do it again for 2018.  In the meantime, I will watch this.  And I’ll remember.  xo


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Filed under about me, conference, unschooling

6 Things My Kids Have Gained From The Internet And Social Media

I remember when the internet was born.  I was in my 20’s, newly married, and thought it was the Coolest. Thing. Ever.  The ability to browse for information, talk to new people, and communicate through email… all from the safety of my home, in my pajamas?? An introvert’s dream.

And as the internet grew, I grew with it.

I remember when everyone had dire warnings about meeting up with people you connected with online.  Stranger danger!  Now, all of my closet friends are people I met online.

I remember when everyone was afraid to shop online, for fear that it wasn’t secure and that their credit card numbers/identity/life would be stolen.  Now I shop for everything online… from prescriptions, to Amazon, to Etsy.  We even order our groceries online.

My kids never knew a world without the internet.  How lucky they are!  Like it or not, we live in a digital age now, one in which everything you can imagine can be learned, bought, consumed, transmitted, created, and communicated online.  It doesn’t replace 3D life of course (and the intricacies and experiences and connection that go with it) but good grief does it enhance it.  I feel so fortunate, and so glad for my kids, that there are such endless opportunities to explore, to learn, and to connect, right there at their little fingertips.  For years the big joke has been the math teachers from years ago saying, “You need to learn to do this manually!  You won’t be carrying around a calculator in your pocket.”  Now, not only do we carry calculators in our pockets, we carry powerful computers.  Portals, if you will, into an entire other world, a world that is seamlessly integrated into our physical lives.  Pretty cool, right?

This is 2017.

Which is why I’m surprised and well… saddened… at the number of people who still want to so tightly control and limit when it comes to the internet and social media.  At the number of negative, fear-mongering articles that still come across my Facebook news feed.  At the amount of disdain aimed at apps, programs, and websites that allow kids (and adults) to express themselves in creative ways.

There is still so much FEAR.

But it can’t be overstated… this is the world we live in.  The internet is only going to continue to grow, so it only stands to reason that we should equip our kids to grow with it.  Case in point: A friend of mine has a son who was rejected for a program he really wanted to take.  Why?  Because he didn’t have a big enough digital footprint.

Now, is there yucky and dark and stuff to potentially stumble onto on the internet?  Sure.  Does  learning to navigate social media in a healthy way require an involved and connected parent, someone who’ll stay close and present as they figure things out? Of course.  But keeping them away is not the answer.  Especially in a time when there is so very much for them to gain – important things for them to gain! – by letting them explore and learn from the digital world and everything it has to offer.

Here are 5 things my kids have gained or are gaining from the internet and social media (and this is by no means a comprehensive list!)  In no particular order:

1) Knowledge  This is an obvious and broad one, but it couldn’t be left off the list.  Remember growing up with those sets of Britannica Encyclopedias?  Well, the internet is just like a million different sets of those encyclopedias.  On steroids.  In Disneyland.  On the fourth of July.  It is a constantly updated, ever expanding, veritable treasure trove of information.  Want to know how far a person sprays when their sneeze goes uncovered?  Google. (200 feet, in case you’re curious).  Want to see a detailed map of the world, of your country, of your town?  Google. Can’t remember the name of the guy in that movie with the song you like? Google. Want to learn a new language?  Google. Want to learn how to knit, how to build a shed, how to bake a souffle, how to apply a perfect cat eye with eyeliner?  YouTube.  I’ve finally learned to stop asking my kids, “Wait.  Where’d you learn that?”, as the answer is always and inevitably somewhere in their travels on the interwebs.  There are websites for everything.  There are more formal classes if that’s what they like (lots of which are free!).  There are tutorials and history lessons and peer-reviewed articles. As long as you can figure out the right search terms, you can learn about anything your heart desires.  Which brings me to,

2) Critical thinking skills Learning to navigate the internet means learning the nuances of searching and browsing in general. And you may not have looked at it this way, but these are critical thinking skills that are easily transferred to other areas in life.  These are the skills that help us to be clear in our thoughts and in our questions.  These are the skills that help us to be discerning.  To learn how to scan, discard, and sort information. To think about what it is we’re learning, and how it does or does not apply to our lives. To make decisions about what we do or do not want to be filling our heads, and where we do or do not want to spend our time.  It teaches us to ponder, to question, to go deeper.  To jump down that rabbit hole of vast, intense learning, and smoothly and expertly ride down all the never-ending little trails and offshoots it has to offer, stopping only when we’ve had our fill, and picking it all up again (or not) when we are ready.

3) Enhanced relationships. My daughter is the biggest example of this, but no one in this family is excluded.  The only extrovert in a house full of introverts, she lives for and thrives on her play dates, and theater practice, and sleepovers.  But when she can’t be with her friends in person?  Skype to the rescue!  She learned to navigate Skype at an extremely young age, and my house is always filled with the sounds of her and various friends chatting, playing games, and singing together.  And if a friend does not have Skype?   No problem.  They just email.  Dozens of emails shot back and forth, in real time. (This is a great starter email for kids, if you’re looking for one. It’s parent-moderated and extremely user friendly) And my boys?  My oldest has been in two long-distance relationships online.  He regularly chats with, and games with, friends from all around the country.  He watches movies, virtually, with friends who are thousands of miles away.  My younger two boys recently made friends with two sisters at our unschooling conference.  They spent hours and hours and hours together at the conference, playing board games, and strategy games, and bluffing games  (This feels important to mention, as some detractors of giving kids freer reign on the internet think that it causes them to be unwilling/unable to play and interact in person, without a screen in front of them.  Not so much.)  They live just down in Tucson, so meeting up in person is not at all beyond the realm of possibility, but in the meantime the internet – and Discord in particular – have allowed them to continue to grow their friendship online.  They have spent pretty much every evening together, chatting, laughing, and playing cooperative games together.  And for me personally?  I have one invaluable group of women that laugh with me, cry with me, and give me honest advice … all mostly within the confines of a private Facebook group.  And last month, one of the hardest months I’ve had in a long time, I had one friend who just refused to leave me alone (in a good way).  She doesn’t live particularly nearby, so she texted and messaged me daily.  To check in.  To encourage me.  To push me.  To remind me to get dressed and take care of myself.  None of that would have been possible if we didn’t live in a digital world.

4) Conflict resolution. Lest I give the impression that digital interactions are always smooth sailing, this is the real world.  Stuff happens.  I’ve helped my kids navigate disagreements, deal with unkind behavior, and understand the nuances of playing and interacting with large groups of strangers.  I don’t know about you, but I would much prefer that they go out into the world already having this foundation of knowledge to stand on, and letting them interact digitally allows them to do just that.  They’re able to figure it all out at home, with me by their side… whether it means involving me or my husband to help sort the problem, or talking things through, or standing up for themselves, or – in some cases – utilizing that “block” button.  My kids are far more adept at skillfully and confidently handling any interpersonal problems that crop up than I ever was (heck, than I am at the present time as well), largely because of their ability to practice online.

5) Entertainment. People are really weird about this one, as if there is no inherent value in being entertained for entertainment’s sake.  But as a lover of all sorts of creative arts, AND as someone who’s worked really hard to learn how to protect my mental health, I can tell you that it’s not only okay to let yourself be entertained, but vital to a balanced and healthy life.  And the internet makes it so easy!  From streaming movies, to satire websites, to the ubiquitous funny cat videos, they is no shortage of ways to relax, reset, and enjoy the hard work and creative output of others.  My 13 year old loves to cook, and he’s been watching a YouTube channel that is part comedy, part recipe tutorials.  I love walking in to the room to find him laughing over its latest funny antics.  (Side note here:  As parents, we’re not always going to understand or appreciate the same sorts of things as our kids.  That’s okay!  We can still enjoy it through them, and appreciate their appreciation, and share in their excitement.)  It always breaks my heart to hear a parent talk about their child’s interest as “stupid” or “a waste of time.”  If they find it valuable, it’s valuable.

And finally,

6) A creative outlet to express themselves. You know those apps like Facebook, and Instagram, and Snapchat, and Musical.ly that so many people love to hate, and choose to fear?  They can be amazing tools for expressing yourself, for interacting and sharing with your peers, and for staying connected with others in a fun, real-time, meaningful way.  If I wasn’t able to follow my kids on social media, to see what they have to share, and how they choose to express themselves, I would be greatly missing out!  It has allowed me to see and appreciate a whole new facet of their personalities that I might not have otherwise gotten to enjoy.  It gives them an easy way to create.  To communicate.  To stretch their social muscles.  The argument, of course, is that those apps are dangerous.  And I mean, can they be used in harmful ways?  Can they give them possible access to people with less than positive motives?  Well sure.  But that’s not unique to digital interaction!  When I was in junior high, I was horribly bullied.  I once had a group of girls chase me into the bathroom, where I hid in a stall, and they proceeded to lean over the walls and spit on me.  I had no “block” button.  And I wouldn’t have had the confidence and emotional fortitude to use it even if I did.  My kids though?  They have confidence and emotional fortitude in spades.  And they possess this confidence in part because of apps like this, not in spite of them. The answer isn’t to live in fear and forbid these apps (because, let’s be real for a minute, if they want to use them they’re going to find a way.)  And would you rather that decision be an acrimonious one, filled with resentment and secrecy?  Or a transparent one, happy and respectful?  The answer is open communication. If you’re worried about a particular app, ask your kids about it!  Do they use it?  Do they want to? How does it work? What do they hope to get out of it?  My kids are always more than happy to talk to me about what they’re using.  And because I know that 1) they have a healthy amount of self-respect and personal boundaries, 2) they’re skilled at navigating interactions in a healthy, constructive way (see point #4), and 3) that they would be comfortable coming to me if they ever did encounter a problem, I truly don’t worry.  Instead I’m genuinely happy and grateful that they have so many fun ways to communicate and express themselves, and that they are so savvy in a world that didn’t even exist when I was their age.

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The internet isn’t going anywhere.  It’s something to embrace, to enjoy, and to learn to use responsibly.  It’s not the boogeyman. It’s a valid and useful (and important!) tool, for both the present and the future.  In the very wise words of my friend:

 


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What 24 Years Of Marriage Are REALLY Like

 

Last week, Mike and I celebrated 24 years of marriage.

We’ve never been ones to really jump on the train of public declarations that start with things like, “24 years ago, I married my best friend”… in equal parts because it’s just not us;  because it seems somewhat strange and.. insecure, maybe?… to paint a public, rosy, perfect picture about something that is private (and also, if anyone’s been honest, not at all rosy or perfect); and because we find it all sort of nauseating.  Nauseating too strong?  Annoying.  We find it a little annoying.

Still, it’s been 24 years – which is twice as long as 12, and just one shy of 25 – so I thought it deserved a little more than a passing mention.  Not of the, “I married my best friend” ilk, but the real-life variety: where people fart and pets die and you live through a wheel flying off your car at 75 mph on the highway.

Here’s just a small, uncensored sample of what 24 years of marriage has really looked liked (one for each year of wedded bliss, plus one more for good measure):

1. Working a combined 3, 4 and at times even 5 jobs to put food on the table and keep the lights on

2. Spending a summer living in a camper (with a toddler) at a long-term campground so you could save up enough money to buy a house.  Living with no running water for 9 long months at said house, because your well runs dry and you can’t afford to have a new one drilled.

3.  A dog that got into so many non-edible “foods”, and caused so much trouble, that you could fill a book with her vomit stories alone.  And… crying together in the vet’s parking lot after you had to have said dog put to sleep.

4.  And speaking of pets:  gently and compassionately and respectfully dealing with your wife’s cat’s body (a cat you hated with a passion) after it died in her arms

5. Staying up all night with crying kids and puking kids and middle-of-the-night sheet changes

6. Dealing with cancer scares, and shoulder surgeries, and kidney stents and 5 day hospital stays (when you have a newborn baby, no less.)

7.  Sometimes going to bed angry, because despite the oft-touted rule of marriage that says, “Never go to bed angry”, sometimes in the real world… you just go to bed angry.

8.   Occasionally justified and often ridiculous fighting about pets, and about politics, and about asparagus.  Getting to practice, again and again, the art of “I’m sorry.”

9.  Wading through four pregnancies…. two fairly text book, one with hyperemesis gravidarum (and its accompanying 9 months of vomiting and weight loss), and one with a self-destructive gall bladder and too many ER visits to count.

10.  Camping trips and upscale vacations to beautiful places like Bryce Canyon and Pagosa Springs, Colorado… that are mostly spent indoors because all four of your kids come down with stomach bugs.  Can I just stop right here and note the fact that 4 of the first nine points had to do with vomit?? 

11.  Hurting when your kids hurt, and wishing you could do anything – anything – to take away their pain

12.  Navigating the tricky path, and the highs and the lows and the really really low lows, that comes with a spouse with mental illness.

13.  Broken appliances, broken cars, and leaky roofs… sometimes all in the same week.

14.  Middle-of-the-work-day phone calls to tell you that your spouse has heroically saved a stray dog from certain danger, and that he’d stay just long enough to find his owner, and that, oh, by-the-by, his owner still wouldn’t be found three years later.

15.  Getting talked into getting a cat (and while you hate most pets, you particularly hate cats), and dogs and chickens and rats and snakes and fish and mice and hedgehogs…..

16.  Not realizing until after you’re married that you’re pretty much polar opposites… in politics, in personality (a very strong thinker, and a very strong feeler), in strengths and weaknesses (numbers and words, puzzles and ideas, practicality and creativity).  And yeah, have I mentioned the pet thing?

17.  Dealing with an extended family who thinks you’re utterly crazy for making the decision to homeschool, at which point you realize that your differences, those strengths and weaknesses, actually work very well together, and fit together like pieces of a puzzle … a sensible, creative, beautiful mess of a puzzle.

18.  Making the even crazier decision to uproot your family and move across the country, only to find that despite the ups and downs, hard days and really hard days, that Phoenix makes you happier than any other place you’ve ever lived, by a factor of a hundred.

19.  Making yet another crazy decision to start a homeschooling conference together, and again being pleasantly surprised at the ease of which you collaborate together, even four years in.

20.  The red wine and Fireball incident.

21.   Living through car accidents, rip tides, getting straight-up-lost in the middle of a mountain hiking trip, and the aforementioned red wine and Fireball incident.

22. Spending your anniversary at home, eating take-out, because one spouse just wasn’t up to going out… and being okay with it.

23.  24 Christmases, and 24 Thanksgivings (there was some vomit involved there, too), and 24 years of birthdays … 24 years of regular days and quiet days and boring days … 24 years of vacations and road trips and sporting events and rock concerts and movies …  20 years of celebrating and enjoying and rooting for your kids … 20 years of scouts and football and t-ball and basketball and gymnastics and dance and theater….

24.  20 years of collectively raising and watching and loving four gorgeous humans so much that it actually physically hurts.

25.  Knowing, in your heart of hearts, in the deepest part of your soul… that you wouldn’t change a thing.

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Rock Bottom

A happy photo for a not-so-happy post

Note:  The following is a raw, honest, mental-health related post.  I know some of you don’t like those.  I write this for three reasons:

  1.  It is crazy cathartic for me.
  2. It helps me feel less alone
  3. It helps others feel less alone.

If it’s not your sort of thing, no hurt feelings if you skip it.  Otherwise, grab a cuppa and read on:

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One week ago on Tuesday, my therapist recommended I go to the hospital for stabilization.  I wasn’t allowed to leave the clinic until I saw a psychiatrist for a “risk assessment.”  I sat in the waiting room, terrified out of my mind, for 2.5 hours to wait to see her.  Sometime during this time period, he called my husband (something he’s only allowed to do if he feels I’m in imminent danger) to tell him how concerned he was.

And then the bottom dropped out of everything I’d been trying so hard to hold together.

I ended up declining the hospital – with the support of both the psychiatrist and the PA who’s my normal prescriber – but I (gladly) accepted a new medication for sleep, and I (gladly) accepted an increase/change in my regular day-to-day meds.  It was time, and I needed it, and I knew it.

The past week has been horrifying and messy and painful, but….

I’m glad it happened.

The entire situation, especially the call to my husband, rang a bell that couldn’t be un-rung.  I’ve known I’d been spiraling since the middle of June.  And I kept pushing, kept holding it together, kept pushing some more.  And I spiraled more and more and more until I said the things to my therapist (Tony.  His name is Tony) that made him concerned, that set off this whole chain reaction that just made everything …. stop.  It dropped me to my knees.  It forced me to admit that at the present time I AM NOT OKAY.  I am safe – it feels important to make that clear but I’m not okay. I’ve hit rock bottom.  The lowest rock bottom I’ve ever hit.

For the first few days after that appointment, the world came to a standstill.  I slept and I cried.  For about 5 days straight.  I cancelled a chat I was supposed to do; I cancelled all plans; I emailed my professor to ask for an extension (and she was wonderfully kind and gracious about it);   I had Mike run the kids to their activities;  I had Mike deal with all the conference stuff that came up; I had Mike deal with, well, basically everything.  And I just let myself be there, in that deep, dark, scary place.  Again, I was safe.  But I stopped trying to pretend that I had everything together.  I stopped trying to pretend that I was okay.  And I’m slowly, so very very slowly, starting to make motions to heal.  The overwhelmingly positive thing about hitting rock bottom is that there is nowhere to go but up.

As for today?  I’m still not okay.  I’m still not able to deal with most of life.  I’m not able to deal with people needing me (good God, all the emails!).  I’m not able to deal with questions. I’m not able to deal with extraneous noise.  I’m not able to deal with anyone or anything else but me.

That sounds selfish, I know.  But depression is selfish.  It is a selfish, selfish beast.  And I’ve decided that it’s selfish for a reason.  It’s selfish because when it gets to this point, you HAVE to be selfish.  You HAVE to be selfish in order to get well.

So in the interest of selfishness:  I’ve gotten dressed four days in a row (which sounds silly, but if you’ve ever been depressed, you know it’s a really big freaking deal).  I’m getting up.  I’m making myself do things around the house.  I’m writing this blog post!  The meds are starting to kick in, though at the moment they’re mostly making me drowsy and a little bit – or a lot – out of it.  I hope I’ve written in complete sentences.

I have a couple of friends I’ve been texting with, but if I may, a little bit of honesty:

I want to be left completely alone.
Except I don’t.
I want to hear reassuring words.
Except I don’t.
I want someone to remind me to put on pants and get myself some tea.
Except I don’t.

In short, I don’t know what I want.

The only thing I know for super sure that I want (and this is actually something I said to Tony the day this all went down) is for someone to SEE ME.  I have never felt more invisible in my entire life.  And I pick up my phone, and I scroll through my contacts, and my thumb just hovers.  This one is not very good at listening; this one would probably rather talk about herself; this one is very anti-psychiatry and psychotropic meds and there would be thinly veiled judgement; this one minimizes everything and would likely think I just need a good night’s sleep.  So I set down my phone, and I text no one.  And these are friends!  People I love!  It makes me feel terrible, and…. selfish.  But, well, see above.  I feel selfish, and alone, and just want someone to see me.

Yet at the same time, I’m pushing everyone away.

Depression is a terribly manipulating monster. But I’ve beat it before, and I’ll beat it again.  It’ll take time, and effort, and patience, and gentleness, and grace (so much freaking grace).  It’ll take faithfully taking my meds that I often hate myself for having to take.  It’ll take even more visits to Tony that I often hate myself for having to make.  It’ll take ACCEPTANCE, for who I am, and what I am, and where I’m at.  Even if no one else can see me, I can see me. Right here.  Right now.

And I’ll do it.

A quote I recently saw that resonated so deeply it hurt:  It helped me, so maybe it will help one of you.

We’re going to be okay.


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We Need To Talk About Chester Bennington

I didn’t know Chester Bennington, but I know that millions of people were touched by his music.

I didn’t know Chester Bennington, but I know that he was a gifted man, a creative man, a man who fought through his own demons in order to share his soul with others.

I didn’t know Chester Bennington, but I know he had a family who loved him.  I know he had a wife, and I know he had six children who are going to have to continuing growing up without their father.

I didn’t know Chester Bennington, but I know he was only 41… younger than I am right now as I write this… and that he should have had another 40 years on this planet.

I didn’t know Chester Bennington, but I know what it’s like to live with pain.  I know what it’s like to be consumed, to be swallowed whole by something that feels out of your control.  I know what it’s like to feel like you have no more choices.

I didn’t know Chester Bennington, but I get him.  I do.

And every time another brilliant soul is taken by suicide, my heart and my mind collide in such a way that it makes it hard to breathe.  I have been there.  I get it.  And each publicized death chips away another piece of my heart even as my mind tells me, “YOU’RE STILL HERE.  Let this be a reminder to you to keep fighting.  To hang on.  To give it another day.”

Because the thing is, I know that pain.  I know what it means to fight demons.  I know what it means to be tired.  And the insensitive comments blaming the victim?  The ones calling him cowardly and selfish?  Fuck that.  (This is the part where I’d usually apologize for swearing, but not this time.  Not when another artist, another father, another human loses his life to suicide.)

Chester Bennington was BRAVE, not cowardly.  Every day that he got up, and he faced his pain, and he poured his heart and his soul and his demons into making music so that others would feel less alone, he was brave.  Every day that he fought, every single second that he fought, he was brave.  And in the end, the illness just won.  It didn’t make him cowardly.  It didn’t make him selfish.  It made him a brave, broken, fallible human.  Someone who fought for a long time. Someone facing something terrifying… more terrifying than most can ever imagine.  A living nightmare, played out in real time.

I think David Foster Wallace says it best:

The so-called ‘psychotically depressed’ person who tries to kill herself doesn’t do so out of quote ‘hopelessness’ or any abstract conviction that life’s assets and debits do not square. And surely not because death seems suddenly appealing. The person in whom Its invisible agony reaches a certain unendurable level will kill herself the same way a trapped person will eventually jump from the window of a burning high-rise. Make no mistake about people who leap from burning windows. Their terror of falling from a great height is still just as great as it would be for you or me standing speculatively at the same window just checking out the view; i.e. the fear of falling remains a constant. The variable here is the other terror, the fire’s flames: when the flames get close enough, falling to death becomes the slightly less terrible of two terrors. It’s not desiring the fall; it’s terror of the flames. And yet nobody down on the sidewalk, looking up and yelling ‘Don’t!’ and ‘Hang on!’, can understand the jump. Not really. You’d have to have personally been trapped and felt flames to really understand a terror way beyond falling….”

Chester Bennington deserves nothing less than our deepest compassion; our sincerest desire for his soul to finally find the peace that it wasn’t able to find on earth.

To Chester, and to all the loved ones he left behind:  I see you.  And I am so very, very sorry.


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Six Months of Bullet Journaling

You know how sometimes you try something new, and you jump in with both feet, all excited and gung-ho?  And you love it and you gush about it, and then…. two weeks later it’s completely lost its luster, and gets relegated to the “tried it, didn’t like it” pile?  And how sometimes, you try something new, and you jump in with both feet, all excited and gung-ho?  And you love it and gush about it and then… you only love it more and more as time goes on?

For me, bullet journaling has been the latter.

I honestly have never found anything that so beautiful combines my love of: lists, organization, calendars, creativity, planners, journals, crafty/doodly/artistic stuff, and my not-so-secret true love:  stationery products.  Sigh.  Pen and paper.  It just doesn’t get better.  It is not an exaggeration to say that bullet journaling has quite literally changed my life.

I first wrote about my bullet journaling experience here (so definitely check that out if you prefer words to videos.) But for those who want to go even deeper, I walked through my past six months in video.

My obligatory disclaimer… There are decidedly two camps in the bullet journal world:  Those who are purists, I guess you’d say, and keep their journals very simple and streamlined, and similar to the original system started by Ryder Carroll.  Then there are those who use them just as much as scrapbooks as journals, and utilize them as artistic outlets as well.  THERE IS NO RIGHT OR WRONG.  Seriously.  I have seen the silliest arguments and drama and huffiness from both sides.  The world is big enough for all kinds of bullet journals, I promise.  I’m quite confident we can co-exist.

In fact the best part about bullet journaling is its flexibility and its ability to be customized.  You build it one page at a time.  Don’t like something you’ve done?  Turn the page and do it differently next time.  Feel like adding a page for weight loss, or a savings plan, or a fitness regimen, or a shopping and meal plan?  Just stick it in wherever you’re at, and add it to the index.  Literally anything can be translated into a page in a bullet journal.  I of course have many lists and collections and trackers that I did not share in the video (I figure telling you about my stomach issues is enough personal sharing for one video. :))

In short, bullet journals just rock.

Having said all that, here is the video, followed by all the links to my favorite supplies, including everything I mentioned in the video (there are affiliate links).  And one last disclaimer!  All of the below is OPTIONAL.  All you need to start is a pen or pencil, and a notebook.

Happy journaling!

 

The original bullet journal site – a great place to start

Boho Berry – This is where I got the circular mood tracker.  Kara is incredibly artistic, and has tons of videos, inspiration, and ideas.

Leuchtturm Dotted Journal, Emerald – I have mine covered in a leather cover from Etsy

Sharpie Fine Point Pens, Black

Sharpie Fine Point Pens, Colored

Staedtler Triplus Fineliners

A good starter set of inexpensive colored fineliners

Staedtler Dual Tip Colored Markers

Pentel Energel Gel Pen

Pigma Micron Pen Set

Pitt Artist Pens

Tombow brush pens, bright

Derwent Watercolor Pencils

My favorite kneaded eraser

Acrylic Ruler

Sticky Note Page Markers


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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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