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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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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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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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