Working with What is Right in Front of Me

Recently, rather than working on my blog or my second book, I have been focused on my work in the home–the house, yard, pets, Ada, Jim. The days are longer, the sun is out more, and it rains less. Spring is arriving, and it’s such a relief. I feel like working on stuff. I feel more energetic and motivated. Since I needed a break from writing, I have put my extra energy into my home. It’s incredibly healing for me. Physical activity is healing; I really don’t enjoy exercise, but cleaning is exercise at times, and I appreciate the results of cleaning.

It has been making me think back to my most recent severe depressive episode, which started in 2012. After months of, at times suicidal, struggle, I decided to take a good, old fashioned rest cure in November of that year. I took an extended vacation from the pressures of adult life and got myself back together. It started as a desperate need for help with my depression. I was in treatment; it was useful, but I was past the point of managing my life and my depression. My best chance for recovery seemed to be where I had been able to recover before. So, I went home. I booked a one way ticket for myself and my daughter and flew from Washington to Texas without any plan other than to stay alive and get healthy. My parents welcomed me, provided for me, and nurtured me. They found me a doctor, and my sister found me a counselor. All I had to do aside from get better was to care for (pre-t1d) Ada. She was 3, and generally more of a joy than trouble. 

The best thing I did, though, was to move out of my parents’ house, after a couple of weeks, and into their cabin close to the lake. It’s very small and secluded, inside the church’s gated property. One family lived on the property fairly close by, but we could not see or hear them from our cabin. I loved that I could hear the birds moving from tree to tree even though I was inside with the windows closed. It was so quiet and peaceful. But more importantly, it was mine and Ada’s, and it was my responsibility to keep it livable. My parents paid most of my bills, and Jim took care of others. My jobs were to cook, clean, grocery shop, and take Ada to and from preschool three days a week. It wasn’t much, but it was constant work. I had plenty of time to rest and work on my health, but I also had chores and errands. And Jim wasn’t around to do them. It was good for me. It was like I was retraining myself after forgetting how to live. I had been severely depressed for months before I began to get better. I was no longer functioning. So the four months I spent in that cabin gave me a chance to relearn, to readjust.

And, recently, I have been trying to remember how healing that time was not just because of the seclusion but because of the work. The daily tasks. The visible results. The physical exertion. It’s good for me. It’s boring. It’s tedious, but it can be rewarding. I think it has something to do with control. There are so many things that I cannot control, but I have a better chance at controlling what’s right in front of me. I can clean my house, I can care for my pets, I can play with my daughter. Depression makes everything difficult, but I find I have far more success when I focus on what’s right in front of me.

Even though I am not terribly depressed right now, I was struggling a couple of months ago, and I’m finding–again–that the domestic work has been helping. I don’t feel pressure to do it for anyone’s approval. I don’t feel like it’s my job. It’s good, old work, and when done in manageable doses, it is not only doable but it is also beneficial. Not everyone responds this way to domestic work, I imagine, but we all benefit from setting small, manageable goals and working to complete them in a personalized way. I start small and slowly take on more. I take lots of breaks as a reward for the work. I find that I get more accomplished when I try to do at least one chore a day. The hardest part for me is just getting started. The more I do, though, the easier it is to keep going until I need a break rather than just stopping because the task is complete. 

It really is a one-step-at-a-time kind of life. I can’t predict the future, and I can only work with what I have. When everything is too much, I find comfort in my ability to function in my small sphere of life. If I can do this, then all is not lost. If I can keep moving forward in even the smallest increments, then there is hope. I’m sending you all good energy, and I’m hoping that you, too, can find some comfort in what is right in front of you.

Stopping By

I guess it’s been about 6 weeks since I wrote to all of you, or wrote at all for that matter. Every year the winter gets to me and I start to crack. It has happened every winter I have been in the Pacific Northwest, and this was my 5th winter. The key is when I crack. If it happens before the new year, then I am in trouble because there are still months of winter weather. This year I made it past the new year and now spring is beginning. We have sun and breaks from the rain and it’s getting warmer. Things are going to be okay because things almost always feel better when the weather is good. 

By the time I left you all, I was on a bit of an undeclared strike. A lot of things had come to a head, and I felt vulnerable and on edge. I felt out of control. I didn’t feel myself because I was feeling myself too much. I was living in my head. I was thinking a lot and doing little. Then I started doing less. I was sleeping to avoid being awake. I was unhappy. I didn’t like things the way they were. So I just stopped. Everything. I stayed in bed mostly and did the minimum for a week or two. I just thought about what I wanted to do next. I wasn’t sure, so I just thought or slept.

When I was 19 I had this image in my mind of walking down a path in a lavender field. And when I was really depressed, I thought of myself as having gone off the path and lying in the lavender just waiting to know what to do next. Trying to decide whether to get back on the path, make a new path, or just lie in the lavender forever. I was kind of there again. Lying in my thoughts just off the path, trying to decide where to go next. 

What I realized was that I was not suicidal. I didn’t want to die. I wanted to live. It may not seem like a big deal, but when you’re used to having suicide on the table, it matters when it’s not. I wanted to be happy, not dead. I still believed in happiness and hope and love. I just didn’t feel it. I wasn’t worried about never feeling it again, I was worried about being too scared to work for it. 

So I got out of bed a month ago and just started living with what was right in front of me. If I didn’t want to die, then I needed to get up and do. So I started doing dishes. I started spending more time with my daughter. I started trying to laugh more. 

One day, early in March I was doing some dishes and decided to put music on my headphones for the first time in a couple of weeks. This stupid song got to me. It was a pop song and it wasn’t the words, it was the way it made my body move. I love to dance and I am a sucker for a good pop song. I started dancing to this song while doing dishes, and for the first time in weeks I felt energy surge through my body. I felt feel-good chemicals surge through my body because I was moving and listening to something upbeat. I got this lump in my throat. I wanted to cry, but I didn’t. I just kept moving. I just kept going. I didn’t want to stop and think about what was going on. I just wanted to feel it.

And that’s about what I’ve been doing for the last month. I’ve just been feeling and acting. I’ve been trying not to think too much. If I get back in my head I’ll get lost again. But I’ve been working with what’s right in front of me and blocking out pretty much everything else. If I can’t see it, I don’t think too much about it if I can help it. In the last week I have been thinking about re entering the larger world. I miss many of you, I still don’t quite feel myself without all of you, but I don’t want to get lost again. 

Time is weird. It just keeps moving and we change with it in ways we don’t expect. Things happen that we couldn’t have possibly foreseen. Depression complicates things because it can make it impossible to see things clearly. I don’t know how much of what was going on with me was depression, how much was winter weather, and how much was just life. It doesn’t really matter though because I got up and got back in the ballgame. I decided that I wasn’t a diabetes robot. I wasn’t a prisoner of depression. I wasn’t hopeless. I wasn’t lost. I wasn’t stuck. I was just me. Now. And it’s all I have to be. Just me, now. 

This doesn’t mean I feel all better. That I am now happy, fixed, healthy. Nothing went away or changed. I just realized that it wasn’t going to break me so why should I let it stop me if I had the energy and will to keep going. I don’t know what to write about next. I don’t know whether I’m back or just stopping by. But I am here today. And I’m okay. I’m living, breathing, smiling, working, and being. I’m sending love to each of you as you walk your own unpredictable journey. May you face the twists and turns with hope and fight. Don’t give up. It isn’t over until its over. 

Another Day

I feel so much better today than I have the last few days, so I’d like to write something good, but I’m not exactly sure what to talk about. I guess one good thing is that despite all the crap that I’ve been feeling, I have not done even the slightest bit of self-harm. I just slept a lot. I spent a lot of time in bed and took it easy on myself. I tried not to think too deeply about what I was feeling. I wrote a bit but mostly because I was feeling like I had been neglecting the blog. I didn’t really have anything to say. Yesterday I was kind of working through stuff, but I didn’t really say anything of import; I just expressed stuff and posted it.

I’d like to say something better today, but I don’t really know what it should be. As a response to my growing unhappiness with things out of my control and my discomfort with things in my control, I did some reprioritizing. No major changes other than cutting my Facebook friends list in half, but I just tried to think about things that mattered to me versus ones that make me unhappy. I’m trying to think about some things less and others more. I’m allowing myself time and fluff; meaning, I have spent much of the day watching mindless music stuff on youtube just letting myself enjoy things without analysis or evaluation. 

I’ve been feeling like I need a break, a vacation, a rest cure (my favorite), but I don’t really have space in my life for that. I can’t just walk away from my day to day right now for more than maybe a weekend. So I’m kind of trying to just take a mental vacation. Just relax a bit. I feel okay today, so I’m not trying to do too much that might change that. I’m pretty content just chilling, so today I can just do that. Maintaining balance is more important today than anything else. My problems can wait a day. And if I need tomorrow too, then I’ll just deal with that tomorrow. 

The only take away I can come up with from all this is that it is truly ok to be gentle with yourself. Part of me feels foolish for some of the mopier things I post. I feel pathetic often when I let my depression spill out. I say and do things that I regret. I push things too far and say things I don’t mean outside of the very emotional moments I say them. But sometimes my lowest, most pathetic posts are the ones that touch people the most–not the majority of my audience, but my readers who need to feel like they are not alone in the fight. I guess that’s why I do it. If I’m willing to put myself out there at my most unpleasant, awkward moments, then maybe one or two of you won’t feel so terrible about yourselves. I’m not perfect, I’m not great, I don’t know everything. I’m flawed and dramatic. I’m mopey and tortured. I’m annoying and clingy. But I’m honest. I’m forthright. I’m genuine. And I like those things, even when they make me look pathetic. I’d rather be myself than be popular and I have always been that way. It’s nothing new. I just forget sometimes that that is what makes me feel good. I forget that that is what makes me special. I forget that that is what makes me different. 

I hope each of you are having a beautiful day, and if not, I honestly hope that tomorrow is better for you. Do the work you know you need to do to feel better and prioritize your happiness. Make time for a mental vacation when you need one, and don’t be ashamed of who you are, even when you are ill. Love yourself, forgive yourself, and be gentle with yourself. 

I keep thinking about the end of Gone with the Wind. I haven’t seen it in years, but it is certainly one of the most memorable scenes in the history of film. Rhett says his famous line about not giving a damn and Scarlett ends the film talking about how tomorrow is another day. I say it all the time, but as long as you don’t die today then tomorrow is coming. Even if no one else gives a damn. Just hang on. 

February 14

The last 3 weeks have been messed up. Just one thing after another falling away. The timing is weird. In 2001, the last few weeks before Valentine’s Day were weird, too. The fastest part of the decline started in the latter part of January, and by February 14 I was in the hospital. Every year this day comes and goes, and literally no one in my life–no matter how close–ever remembers that this is the anniversary of my suicide attempt. That this holiday hasn’t meant shit to me since 2001. For the world, it’s a day of love. For me, it’s a day of death. A day no one remembers but me. A day everyone forgets, but I can’t. My heart breaks every year. Alone. 

This year is weird because it kind of mirrors 2001 more than many years have. I’m clearly unhappy, and all kinds of bad shit has been happening since the latter part of January. For a moment, it actually seemed like this year might be better than the last. It’s only February, I know, but it’s off to a shit start. I feel driven inward. Rejected, dismissed, unwanted. 

I can’t give up like in 2001. I’m not paranoid or psychotic. Just depressed and anxious. Lost and tired. I feel it more keenly this year. It’s too close. I wrote this “poem” about it. It’s really just fragmented thoughts, so pardon my pretending to write something out of my genre. Sometimes it just spills onto the page that way. 

It was 16 years ago.

It doesn’t feel that long ago.

So many things closer seem farther away

Than that day.

I want to stop thinking about it.

I want to forget how it felt.

I want to forget the reasons why.

I want to just move on.

Maybe if I could get well then it would be gone.

Maybe it wouldn’t haunt me.

It follows me around.

I see it all the time in my mind.

I see it. It’s too real.

I feel it too deeply.

I can still smell it.

I remember.

I see her fixing her hair.

I see myself staring into the mirror.

I see the pills in piles of ten.

And I remember sitting bent over saying, “I’m wrong.”

I felt hated.

I felt rejected.

I felt trapped.

I felt afraid.

If only I could forget that day.

If only everything had been different.

If only I had been braver sooner.

But it didn’t turn out that way.

It happened. I can’t forget.

And I haven’t escaped it.

I changed, but it came with me.

(And it ruins everything still.)

It’s painful to remember so deeply.

I still remember.

It hurts. My heart breaks over and over.

But I don’t wish I could do it differently.

It became the escape I wasn’t expecting.

I thought I would die.

Instead I got out.

I got to start over.

There are things I lost.

There are things I mourn.

There are mistakes I made.

But I got out.

So why does it feel like a ghost?

I got out,

So why can’t I forget?

Why do I see it so clearly?

Why does it feel so fresh?

I remember.

I know why I did it.

It wasn’t a mistake.

It was my way of saying no.

I was saying that I can’t.

I still can’t.

And I have to keep saying it.

Just not that way.

Never that way.

It wasn’t a mistake.

I got out.

But now it has to be different.

Even if I can’t forget.

I still remember.

But it has to be different.

Love and Emptiness

One of my favorite tv shows is Sons of Anarchy. I’ve watched through it a few times, and one of the widely agreed upon best characters is named Opie. At one point, his estranged wife asks him if he ever loved her, and he answers, “I don’t know if I love anything.” Sometimes that scene makes my heart break for Opie and sometimes my heart breaks for myself. Sometimes I feel like I don’t love anything. Like I don’t have it in me to love. I don’t feel love for the things I ought to. I don’t feel it. I can feel moments of happiness–those are bursts of serotonin or oxytocin or other feel good chemicals. But sustained love? I am too mercurial to feel anything consistently. And I am too empty to feel love for anything more than a brief moment. 

Some days are easier than others. Some days I can’t hug my daughter enough. Other days I feel so guilty for the emptiness I feel with her in my arms. I isolate rather than interact because I am driven mad by the guilt and emptiness. I want something to reach in deep and make my heart start beating again. I feel buried. Dead and buried. But I’m awake. My brain is awake but my heart isn’t. It has to change. It can’t go on this way all the time. I’ve done this before. It’s maddening. 

The worst is when it feels like it will never end. When I feel trapped in a life that will forever be empty. Moments of feeling cannot counter the hours of emptiness. I just don’t care. I don’t want help. I want rescue. I’m tired of working for normalcy. I want to be freaking airlifted out of this mire. I just want it all to be different. 

Life is far more difficult than I ever imagined. Just day to day. What really is the reason for a boring day to day? What is the purpose of any of it? One of the nicest things my parents have ever said to me is that all they want for me is to be happy. It’s a beautiful thing to hear from people you feel you want to please. All I have wanted for many years is to be happy. Maybe it’s all I’ve ever wanted. Just to be happy. So it’s cruel that it’s the one thing so ephemeral for me. I can’t quite grasp it. I can do everything right and still I am depressed. Still I am afflicted. It’s maddening. And when I stop caring about doing everything right because it doesn’t seem to matter, things just get worse. 

I’m tired of trying to be happy. Maybe I’ll feel like trying again later, but for now I’m just tired. I don’t want to feel guilty for this emptiness anymore. I don’t want to think about the things that made me happy that have gone away. I don’t want to think about the things that make me unhappy. I just want to do the minimum to get by. Be responsible and then slink away into my dark corner. I don’t want to be coaxed out. I just want to sit in it. Be enveloped. I’ll reemerge when I’m ready. I’ll fight later. Now I’m mourning the absurdity of it.

I’ve been praying a lot. But to be honest it is because I feel really alone. Like I don’t know why a loving God would make me the way I am, but when I doubt him fiercely is when I talk to him the most. I’m shit at praying correctly. I forget to be thankful. I rarely speak praises. Mostly I have questions. Always questions. Why? Nothing makes sense. My affliction is not so great, so why does it feel so heavy? My life is not that bad, so why can’t I enjoy it? Why mental illness at all? Why all this suffering? Why all this punishment? Why am I always drowning? 

Some sharp pains but still its mostly just an ache. Some tears but mostly just numbness. Some moments of levity but mostly just stillness. It won’t always be like this, no matter how deeply I fear it. Feelings come and go. My illness maybe here to stay but I change and grow despite it. As much as I loathe my mercurialness, it at least guarantees change. Things will change one way or another. For better or for worse. Nothing stays the same. Maybe at least time is on my side.

Moving Forward

It’s been a while. I needed a break. I needed to just be and not talk about it. I needed to clean up my day to day a little bit and reprioritize the things that are important to me. Days have been good and bad. I feel like I don’t have much to say right now. I’m so busy trying to get my own life in order that I don’t have advice to give. There’s shit going on, but I don’t want to talk about it. I’m just trying to hang on and be happy just a bit whenever I can. But happiness has been hard to come by it seems. Things are floating away rather than coming closer. I’m drifting away, too. Lost in the chaotic current of life these days. Just trying to hang on. 

Mostly, I just try not to think about the loneliness, the emptiness, the insecurity, the sadness. I get twitchy from holding it all in. I don’t know how to begin addressing all the stress in my life, but writing about it isn’t a start. It’s just another way to avoid it all. Sometimes the best I can do is just keep moving forward, even if it’s into the fire. Just move forward wherever it leads.

But that’s pretty scary. Moving forward without knowing where you’re going. Moving forward not knowing if you’re about to step off a cliff. I guess I still feel like I have a purpose, but it seems to matter little. Life is too cruel. Times are too tough. Things are too unstable. I can’t tell you to keep fighting if I don’t know what I’m fighting for. Some days you just keep going because you are supposed to. You just do what is expected of you and it gets you to the next stop. The question is how long can I go on like this before I quit? Quit what? I don’t know. I just know I need some clarity. I’m living in the dark and I don’t like it. I don’t know who I’m trusting or why. 

Every bit of light seems to dim too quickly. I watched a Star Trek episode recently where the Enterprise was stuck in a void in space. On occasion an opening would appear and just as they would get close to escaping the void, the exit would disappear. I feel like that’s me. I’m in a void and every exit disappears before I can reach it. And it feels personal. It feels intentional. Like karma.

It’s the depression that makes me internalize it and feel it all so personally. I can’t just accept that sometimes things are just shitty for no reason and the world goes up in flames just because someone randomly lit a match. And I feel like I have no agency. No way to do anything but keep moving forward or quit.

Sometimes depression isn’t big and dramatic. Sometimes it is small but constant. It doesn’t let up. Sometimes it’s an ache rather than a stabbing pain. Sometimes it’s just emptiness. And sometimes you can’t find anything to fill you up. And sometimes you find something but you can’t have it. But you keep moving forward robotically anyway. It’s better than quitting. And it may not always be this way. Life is unpredictable. Things change. But if you don’t keep moving forward you won’t ever know. If you don’t keep moving forward then you’ll miss it. If I quit, I’ll never find something better than this. Even in this moment, I have hope. Not hope that the world will stop burning, but hope that maybe I’ll find a little solace despite the flames around me. That something good might come my way. That things won’t always be like this. 

A Love Letter to Virginia Woolf

Dear VW,

I want to thank you today–your birthday–for influencing my life more than any other writer. I didn’t know who you were until I was 18 and read A Room of One’s Own in a cultural survey honors course at Baylor University (of all places). I secretly became a feminist. For the first time in my life I believed that women were as important as men. That women deserved the same rights, opportunities, and treatment as men. You persuaded me that equality was more desirable than chivalry; that my education was more important than my dates. I felt like the veil had been lifted from my eyes. 

At 23 I read Mrs. Dalloway in a 20th Century British Literature Survey course at The University of Texas at Tyler. I secretly fell in love with you. For the first time in my life I recognized that my pain was not limited to me or my time. That I was not stupid for finding the mundane loathsome. You showed me that I was not alone in daily fighting the meaning of my existence to the point of feeling compelled to end it; that we can talk about these things and create beauty out of prescient pain. I felt like the veil had been lifted from my eyes.

I love you because part of me can’t help but want to be you. To be the master of turning the tragic into something heartbreakingly, breathtakingly beautiful. I am so sorry that you did not win your battle against mental illness. I miss what else you had left to give. I used to believe that I would follow in your footsteps. Suicide in my 50s. I just figured if you of all souls didn’t have the endurance to live beyond 59 then I couldn’t either. I don’t believe that anymore. I believe that I can better honor your life and work by sticking around. I can better love you by telling people that they need to read your work. I can better honor you by being a feminist. Thank you for your work. Thank you for your voice. 

With love,